Before: Part 3: After – Chapter: 6

Hessa

Easter

Hardin, Auden is up.” Tessa’s voice breaks through my cloud of sleep. “We need to wake Emery up and let them find their Easter baskets.”

She shakes my shoulder, begging me to wake up.

“Hardin, come on.” Her voice is low, but excitement rings through her barely contained whispers.

If this is how I’m woken up for the rest of my life, I’ll be a lucky bastard.

I groan, barely opening my eyes as I pull her to my chest. “What’s the ruckus?” I ask, pressing my lips against her temple. Her hair sticks to my face, and I brush the strands away. She’s topless, her soft breasts pressed against my side.

She sighs, wrapping a stubbly leg through mine. I flinch away in jest, and she playfully nudges me. “The kids need to find their baskets and I want to start breakfast, so you need to get up.”

And like that, like she’s not totally turning me on, she wiggles her body free of mine and rolls over to climb out of bed.

“Come on, baby,” I complain, missing the warmness of her body.

As she opens the dresser, I glance over at her naked chest. A whine leaves my throat, and I wish I’d woken up earlier to keep her in the bed with me. I would be inside of her right now, buried deep inside her warm, wet…

A pillow smacks me in the face. “Get out of bed! We have a busy day today, you know.”

Sighing, I roll out of our king-size bed and toss a shirt over my head before she throws something else my way. She spent months redecorating the place only a little bit ago; I’m sure she doesn’t want to damage any of the precious decorations she picked out with the insane decorator she convinced me we needed. The guy was a loon, painting the living room a salmon color, then repainting it a week later with a slightly less nauseating shade.

“I know, darling. Baskets, bunnies, eggs, and shit.” I catch my reflection in the mirror hanging on the wall and run my fingers over my hair. Using the band on my wrist, I pull my hair up and look over at a glaring Tessa. The corners of her mouth are attempting to stay straight, but I can see the struggle.

“Yes, and shit.” She laughs finally and reaches for her hairbrush. “We have to be at Landon’s at two. Karen and Ken have flown in, and I haven’t even made the potato salad we’re supposed to bring.”

After finishing with her long hair, she goes to hand me the brush with a smirk.

I shake my head. I don’t need to brush it; my fingers do the trick.

“I’ll make the potatoes while you get ready,” I offer. “Now let’s go watch the kids find their baskets.”

She makes a face, judging my ability to make the potatoes for her an iffy proposition at best. I’m fully capable of this… except maybe last Christmas, when I burned the chicken.

Tessa is dressed in white cotton pants and a navy-blue T-shirt; her skin has a hint of a tan from spending time out on the patio tending to her small garden. She loves our small yard here in Brooklyn; it’s her favorite part of the new town house I bought her to celebrate my newest book deal.

In the hallway she stops by Emery’s room. “Wake her up and meet me in the living room.” She kisses my cheek and yells for our son. I slap her ass as she walks away, and she rolls her eyes at me—the usual.

When I go into Emery’s room, she’s lying sprawled out on the bed, her long legs hanging over the edge of her small Disney-themed bedspread.

“Em.” I gently shake her arm.

She stirs but keeps her eyes shut.

When I do it again, she whines “Nooo” and turns onto her stomach and buries her face in the pillow.

Dramatic little one, she is.

“Baby, you have to get up. Auden is going to take all your Easter candy if you don’t…”

And just like that she’s hopping out of bed, her blond hair a wild mess. Her hair is wavy like mine and thick like her mum’s.

“He better not!” she declares as she pushes her feet into her slippers and bolts from the room.

When I catch up, she’s pulling open every cabinet in the kitchen.

“Where is mine?” she shrieks.

Tessa laughs, and Auden messily unwraps a chocolate egg with his chubby little fingers before shoving the entire thing into his mouth. He chews for a moment, then opens his mouth wide.

Tessa leans over to him and pulls a piece of aluminum wrapping from his tongue, and he smiles, chocolate covering his crooked teeth. He lost his front tooth last week, and it’s absolutely fucking adorable. I give him shit about his lisp, because that’s a perk of being a parent: I get to tease them when I please. It’s a rite of passage.

“Mom!” Emery complains from the hallway closet. “Dad hid mine—didn’t he? That’s why I can’t find it!”

I laugh at her dramatics. “Yes. Yes, I did.”

She’s a sweet girl, just full of sass and opinions at the young age of eleven. It’s why she doesn’t have many friends.

Emery continues rummaging through the town house as Auden devours half his basket of candy, tossing little strings of fake grass onto the floor.

“There’s a drum in there, too,” I tell him. He nods, mouth still full of candy, not seeming to be too interested in anything that isn’t made of chocolate.

“Daddy.” Emery walks into the kitchen with empty hands. “Can you please tell me where you hid my basket? This is too hard. Harder than last year.” She stands next to where I sit on the barstool and wraps her arms around my waist. She’s so tall for her age, and she’s trying to play me for a fool.

“Pleeeeeeease,” she begs.

“You aren’t fooling me, my dear. I’ll give you a hint, but a hug and a sweet voice won’t work to bribe me. You have to work for things, remember?”

She purses her lips and hugs me tighter. “I know, Daddy,” she says into my chest.

I smirk at this new tactic and look over to find Tessa watching Emery with suspicious eyes.

“It’s somewhere you never, ever go. It’s where your clothes are that you refuse to help us fold.” I rub my hand over her back, and she unlatches her arms from my neck.

“The washer machine!” Auden shouts, and Emery squeals. She rushes over to her brother and touches the top of his head. He smiles, looking awfully like a little puppy as he gets praised by his big sister.

Within a minute, Emery is running into the kitchen with her basket. Tiny chocolate Easter eggs fall onto the floor. Ignoring them, she continues to dig at the full basket. Tessa stands up to help her clean up the mess Emery herself doesn’t seem interested in cleaning at all.

Emery sits down on the floor. Her basket rests on her crossed legs, and she’s scarfing down a handful of colorful jelly beans. I turn toward Tessa and Auden. He’s in her arms with his arms wrapped around her neck. In her arms he looks almost as big as his mum. I have no fucking idea where the time has gone or how I—a fucked-up rebellious little shit—produced such empathetic and calm children.

I mean, Emery has had her share of tantrums, sure. Like when she threw a plant into a wall. But that wasn’t hard to deal with: I took her door off the hinges. I don’t fucking play that spoiled-child anger bullshit. She doesn’t have anything to be angry about at eleven, not the way I did. She has two parents who love her and are always here.

Really, they are both great kids.

Tessa and I are always here for both of our kids. They’ve never gone without a hug, kiss, and at least two mushy I love yous before the end of each day. Emery gets some of the trendy stuff that circulates as social currency among the popular kids at school. I never want my kids to be like I was, the kid with the holes in his shoes. I want them to know how it feels to want things like toys and then teach them a way to earn them, by doing simple things like hugs and kisses on the cheek and encouragement, which are never going to be scarce around here. We decided that the moment they were born. I wasn’t going to be like my father, either one of them. I was going to raise children who knew they were loved, never having to guess or assume that they were alone in the world. The world is too big to be alone in, especially for two little Scotts.

I stopped the pattern of piss-poor dads right in its tracks before I could ruin two little lives.

Within an hour, Emery is passed out, one leg sticking straight up on the back of the couch and one arm dangling over the side. Auden is on his favorite couch that, while supposedly “miniature,” takes up too much space but that Tessa brought home over my protestations anyway. The couch came complete with a nice overpriced ottoman, which also takes up too much space for a Brooklyn living room. I was overruled in the furniture discussion, so here I am staring at my six-year-old, who’s sprawled out in a candy coma with traces of chocolate still smeared on his square little chin. He’s got more of me than his mum in him.

“Look how sweet they are,” Tessa says from behind me. When I face her, she looks exhausted; her eyes are cloudy and her skin is slightly pale.

I touch my lips to her cheeks, hoping to kiss some of the color back into them. She sighs, and I feel her hands rest on my stomach.

“What do you plan on doing during this nap time?” I ask her. She always manages to use every valuable minute of the kids’ nap time—which has been getting shorter and shorter—for productive things. She’s too busy, that woman, but she doesn’t listen to shit I say, so there’s nothing to be done here.

I watch as she mentally checks items off her list. “Well,” she says slowly, then begins spouting off things like “call Fee about the cake” and “get Posey to double-check those bouquets” and something else I don’t hear when I bring my hand to the front of her loose pants. She eyes me carefully as I tug at the drawstring and dip my fingers into her panties.

“Don’t distract me,” she complains, but pushes her body toward me, making me apply more pressure.

“You’re working too much,” I tell her for the thirtieth time this week. She rolls her eyes for the thirty-first.

She grabs my free wrist and lifts my hand to her chest. “Says the man who doesn’t sleep for days when he has a deadline.”

She’s open to being distracted by me today, a little different than usual, but I’ll sure as hell take it. I palm her roughly and watch as her tits push up to her neck and back down. She whines, whimpering for more of me. I’ll give it to her.

Grabbing her hand, I lead her down the hallway. She walks quickly, anxious to get to our room. The moment we step through the doorway, Tessa slams the heavy thing, nearly knocking loose a giant framed painting of the kids from the wall. When she’d first proposed getting it done, I found it creepy, but Tessa loved the idea of having an image of them the size of a damn billboard in here. The only part of this I had a say in was that it be placed on the opposite side of the room from our bed. No way am I staring at an abstract neon-painted version of my children while fucking my wife. No fucking way.

“Come here,” I tell her, beckoning her to my lap. I’m sitting on the edge of our king-size bed. We shared a bed with both of our children sporadically over the last few months. Auden went through a nightmare phase, one where I kept myself awake at night wondering if this was something he had inherited from me. Emery followed suit, being jealous of her younger brother, and came asking in whispers for protection from her “bad dreams,” which I knew wasn’t true. She was wiping her eyes like she was six again and everything.

Both of them lay between us.

It was awesome, let me tell you.

“Hardin?” Tessa’s voice is soft, raspy, and her eyes are on mine. “What are you thinking about?” she asks. Her fingers trail up and down my stomach, her nails gently scratching at my skin.

“The kids and when they used to sleep in our bed.” I shrug, smiling at her.

“That’s awkward,” she says with a shake of her head. But a smile peeps through her lip.

“It’s only awkward because it’s me who’s distracted instead of you this time, my darling.”

I tease her hardened nipples, and she moans. I lift her shirt over her head. It drops to the floor, and she shakes her hair back, making her look wild, red cheeks and pink lips. Wild blond hair and hungry eyes. I reach out, tracing my finger over the lining of her black lace bra. This woman wears the sexiest lace bras. I dip under the material and tug at her nipples. “Lie down, baby,” I instruct. She drops her pants and panties, kicking them to the floor, and lies back on the bed. She reaches for a pillow and tucks it under her head. Her eyes tell me exactly what she wants: she wants me to go down on her. It’s her favorite lately.

She’s tired, worn down, and her feet hurt, so she simply wants to be pampered. This will be reciprocated, of course—my woman returns the favor, taking my cock down her throat on mornings when the kids let us sleep past 7 a.m. Tessa lifts her legs up, bends them, and opens her thighs wide directly in front of me. I bite down on my lip, trying to squash a groan before it falls from my lips.

She’s soaking, glistening under the light, and I have no self-control when it comes to her. I nearly lunge forward, pressing my open mouth against her soft, wet skin. My tongue moves in a single harsh line down her, sucking gently as I go.

Her hips shift, pushing her body against me. I hook my arms around her thighs and roughly pull her to the edge of the bed. She yelps, an adorable little sound of surprise mixed with her excitement. My hands are gripping her ass and my mouth is devouring her as she moans my name mixed in with yes and oh my and a thousand other dirty things.

I love her little exclamations of encouragement. They cause me to make her legs shake, to make her hands clutch the sheets. Now she’s gripping my hair, an entire handful. I fucking love it.

“Har-din…” Her voice breaks, and I bring a finger to her pussy, sliding it in, driving her mad. I circle her clit with my tongue, humming and circling, humming and circling. I taste her as she comes, the sweetest flavor.

I come up for air and lift myself up to lay my head on her stomach as she catches her breath. She tugs at my hair, dragging me up her body. I’m still hard, and lying on top of her naked leaves little room for anything except sex in my list of wants and needs. Tessa knows this, which is why she’s lifting up off the bed again, rubbing herself against me.

“You want me to fuck you? You haven’t had enough?” I ask her, pressing my hardness against her wetness.

“I’ll never have enough…” she whines, and I whimper as she wraps her hand around my cock and guides it inside her. I make one long drag inside her and watch in awe as her eyes roll back in her head. Her tits are pressed up against my chest, her thighs wrapped around my waist.

“More,” she begs, wanting me to move inside of her. I oblige, thrusting quickly. One of her hands is in my hair, and the other is digging into the skin of my back.

I won’t last long.

At all.

I feel her legs tightening around me, and I reach my high at the same time, riding out my last few pumps as her body turns to gel with mine. She keeps her eyes closed, and I collapse next to her.

As my breathing slows, I glance over at Tessa. Her blue-gray eyes are closed, her lips are parted, and she’s just as beautiful as she was the day I met her.

I can barely remember the kid I was when I met her, but every detail of our lives together since runs through me like a song.

This stubborn woman still refuses to legally marry me, but she’s my wife in every way that matters, and she’s the mother of my beautiful children. We want to have at least one more, when her work slows down.

I’m anxious about bringing another child into the world. I get a little worried each time.

The responsibility to raise decent human beings weighs heavily on me, but Tessa carries half of the weight and reassures me that we are great parents. I’m not like my father was. I’m my own man. Certainly, I’ve made my share of mistakes. But I served my penance and came out forgiven. I’m not a particularly religious man, but I know there has to be something bigger than Tess and me at play here. My world went from nothing to everything, and I feel pride in who I am now. I see my own light in my children’s eyes, and I hear my happiness in their laughter.

I’m proud of the difference I make in local teenagers’ lives with my fund-raisers for the community center. I’ve met thousands of people whose lives were affected by my words on pages. I fought for so long to keep everything in, but once I let go, my heart opened up. It would have been selfish for me not to share my experiences, not to help teens who suffer from addiction and mental-health disorders. Through the years, I learned not to focus on the past, but only look toward the future. I’m aware of how cliché and just flat-out fucking sappy my thoughts sound, but it’s my truth.

I lived in darkness for so long; I want to help bring light to others.

I’m blessed with a family that I couldn’t have dreamed of, and I’m raising kids who will be better than I ever was.

Tessa’s head falls to the side, and I brush her hair away from her sleeping face. She’s been my calm, my fire, my breath, my pain, and no matter what we’ve gone through, every second was worth getting to the life we have now.

I dragged Tess and myself through hell and back, but here we are—After everything, we made it to our own version of heaven.


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