Caught Up: Epilogue

Kai

Six months later

 

“Max, which color pants do you want to wear today? Red, blue, or green?”

My son lays on his back in only his diaper and a T-shirt that says “Two Wild” in bold black letters, looking up at the three pant selections I’ve got on display.

“Gween!”

“Nice choice, my guy.”

“Mama, gween.”

As he lays on the floor, I slip his legs through his olive-green pants. “You’re right. Green is your mama’s favorite color, huh?”

“Yeah.”

While I’ve got him sitting still in one place, and most likely the only time he’ll be this way today, I take the opportunity to slip on his socks and checkered Vans.

“Who are you going to see today, Bug?”

“Mama.”

I chuckle. “Yes, but you get to see her every day. Who else?”

“Zaya.”

“Yep, your uncle Isaiah will be here. And . . .”

“Monny.”

“Yeah. I think Grandpa Monty will be here any minute.” I lift him off his back, placing him on his feet, all decked out for his second birthday party. “And why are all our favorite people coming over today?”

Max’s smile widens as he uses both hands to point to himself.

“For you! Because it’s your birthday, huh?” I give him a little tickle on his belly. “How old are you today?”

My son holds a hand up, showing off all five fingers.

“You’re five?! When did that happen?”

He laughs at himself as I help him put three of his fingers down. “Or are you two?”

“Two!”

And how the hell is he already two?

My happy boy with so much energy, confidence, and bravery. He’s thriving and I couldn’t be more grateful.

“Should we go show Mom your cool outfit?”

“Yes!”

I stand from the ground, letting him put his hand in mine. “I think there might be a jungle outside waiting for you.”

Max looks up at me, wide and excited blue eyes.

“Maybe even some giraffes and elephants and zebras.”

His little smile is so sweetly hopeful as he hops around on his feet. Turning the corner to the living room, he stands slightly behind my leg, using it to shield his eyes. We stop walking and he peeks his little face around, as if he were nervous to see his birthday party.

There are endless balloons in all different animal prints, palm leaves draped all around. Banners hang on every flat surface, and the décor is finished with an array of giant toy animals you might find in the jungle.

I get down on my haunches next to my son, pulling him between my crouched legs. “What do you think, Bug? Is that jungle for you?”

He nods excitedly, but leans back on me, like he’s not so sure if he should go outside yet.

But then he spots Miller at the dessert table, rearranging the endless display she’s been busy baking.

“Mama!” Max pops off my chest, running his way outside to go find his mom.

I stand at the back door as I watch her scoop him up, resting him on her hip.

This is my favorite view—the two of them.

“What do you think of your birthday party, Bug?” Miller bounces him on her hip. “Is this all for you?”

“Yes,” Max says, hiding against her shoulder.

“I think we should go explore.”

I already knew they were close, but that bond has only strengthened since Miller officially moved in six months ago. A day hasn’t gone by that she hasn’t kissed him before bed or been with me to wake him in the morning.

Their love for each other is so evident.

Last month Max caught a little cold and, instead of me, the only person he wanted was his mom. My ego took a small hit but getting to see her confidence towards motherhood grow was well worth the blow.

I follow them into the backyard as Miller puts Max on his feet so he can play with the giant toy lion sitting on the ground by the dessert table.

“This looks amazing, baby.” I slide my arms around her waist from behind, chin leaning on her shoulder.

“Yeah? Do you think there are enough balloons? I have more inside I could blow up.”

I couldn’t tell you where she’d fit more balloons. There’s a balloon arch around the dessert and drink table. Over the photo backdrop. You walk through a balloon arch in the entryway of the house. I couldn’t count how many giant gold number two balloons are floating around out here.

I chuckle. “Yeah, we should probably get more out here. I’m not sure if people will understand this is a birthday party.”

She swats me in the thigh, but I catch her hand, pulling it to my lips. “It’s perfect.”

“Is it, though? I want it to be perfect for him.”

I sway with her as we look down at our son, who has now found his way to sitting on the toy lion as if it were a horse.

“I’m fairly certain this is going to be the best day of his life.”

My eyes drift back to the dessert table she’s working on. A tiered cake sits in the middle, each layer a different animal print. Cupcakes, brownies, and mini pies surround the table as well, all done in some sort of safari-themed way.

“These look perfect, Mills.” Reaching around her, I pop a mini brownie in my mouth. “Holy hell,” I moan.

“Kai,” she scolds with a laugh. “Those are for the guests.”

“We should cancel. The three of us can polish these off.”

“I worked way too hard on those not to share them.” She turns back to the table to cover the small gap I made on her brownie plate before she finds me over her shoulder. “But yeah, they’re good?”

Even after all this time and all this success, she still looks for approval from the people she loves, wanting them to love what she created.

I lean over her shoulder to kiss her. “They’re amazing. Everyone is going to love them.”

And when I say everyone, I don’t just mean our friends and family. I’m referring to all of Chicago.

Back in October, Miller became the owner of a little brick building on the North Side of Chicago. She spent the winter months hard at work gutting the place and turning it into her very own bakery. M’s Patisserie has only been open for six weeks and has yet to make it through scheduled business hours before selling out of her baked goods.

Violet, Miller’s agent, went to work spreading the word about the James Beard winner’s latest endeavor. She’s been written about in travel and food magazines. Her business’s social media already has an incredible following and each morning when they open, they’re greeted by a line around the block of both locals and tourists eager to try her creations.

I wouldn’t be surprised if she opened a second location by the end of the year, but for now, she’s enjoying finding success in something she loves, something with her name on it.

Though, she has yet to admit who M’s Patisserie is named for.

It could be for her own name or for Max, Me, or Monty. But when asked, she simply says it’s named after all her favorite people.

The bakery has a back room that serves as a cooking classroom. On Tuesdays she teaches baking basics, but every Thursday, she features a specialty dish on her menu. They’re the type of dishes she would’ve showcased when she was in the high-end restaurant world. She sells out every Thursday before noon then, that evening, she hosts a class and teaches people exactly how to make it for themselves.

That particular class is booked three months out already.

Miller works four days a week and entrusts the other three to her staff. And every day she comes home from work, she’s wearing an exhausted but fulfilled smile on her face. It’s the daily confirmation that she made the right choice all those months ago when she returned to Chicago. She came back not just for me or Max, but also for herself.

Sliding my hand down her lower back, I rest it on her ass. “Can I help with anything?”

“I think we’re good to go.”

Pulling her in, I kiss her temple. “He’s lucky to have you and so am I.”

She looks up at me, jade green eyes so full of happiness. “I think we’re all lucky.”

Just then Monty turns the corner, coming in through the side gate with a giant gift bag in one hand and a case of beer in the other. Because even though this is a two-year-old’s birthday, all my son’s closest people are well over twenty-one.

“Monny!” Max cheers when he sees him.

“There’s my birthday boy!”

“Let me go help your dad.”

Jogging over, I take the beer from his grip.

“Thanks, Ace. There’s more in the car.”

“I can go get it.”

“I’ll go with you,” he says, giving me a look that tells me exactly why he needs to go back to the car with me.

We get the present on the gift table and the beer in the cooler before we make it back out to his car.

“Do you have it?”

“Eager,” he laughs. “Yes, I have it.”

Monty dips into his pocket, pulling out a small rust orange velvet box.

A few weeks after Miller moved to Chicago, I went to Monty’s apartment and asked how he felt about me asking his daughter to marry me.

He cried a little, mostly out of joy, before pulling out a ring he had kept with him for over twenty years. It was the ring he was going to propose to Miller’s mom with, but never got the chance to.

When he asked if I wanted to use it, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation when I told him yes. This ring is not only beautiful and unique, but it’ll mean more to her than any ring I could buy from a jeweler.

My hands are a little shaky with nerves as I take it from him but when I pop the lid, an overwhelming calm washes over me, knowing how right this is, knowing how much our family belongs together.

I was tempted to propose the second she came back, but with so many life changes happening for her at once, I decided to wait. Until today.

“It’s beautiful, Monty.”

“It’s going to look beautiful on her. Her mom would be so proud of her.”

Glancing up, I find Monty with shiny brown eyes, staring at the ring box in my hands.

“Are you sure you’re okay with me using this?”

“I’m positive. It’ll mean so much more to see it on her finger instead of it living in that box the way it has for so long.”

Swinging an arm over him, I pull him into a hug. “Thank you. Not just for the ring, but for . . . everything.”

He hugs me back. “I love you, Kai, you know that. And I love your son.”

“Your grandson, you mean?” I ask in a teasing tone.

“I swear to God if you start calling me Grandpa at work, I will kick your ass. But yeah, I love my grandson too, and I’m happy you’re finally making this all official.”

 

“To Max turning two.” Ryan holds his beer out to cheers with mine.

“To Kai and Miller,” Zanders corrects. “For keeping him alive.”

“Yeah, well we’ve got a pretty good support system behind us.”

The backyard is full of our friends, including the team staff and Miller’s employees from the bakery. The only people missing are the guys from the team, most notably, my brother.

Every year before the season starts, the team takes a trip together. They like to say it’s for bonding purposes when in reality, it’s an excuse to spend a few days drunk by a pool. This year they chose Vegas and, though Isaiah begged me to come, I made the very easy decision to stay home with my family.

With the season starting in a couple of weeks, I want to soak in as much time at home as possible. Max and Miller won’t be traveling with us this year. With Miller’s business taking off and Max getting older, it’s time to transition him away from my hectic schedule.

The two of them will, however, come join us on the road for a night or two every month and that feels like a good enough compromise until I can be home full-time with them. And Miller’s office at the bakery can double as a playroom so Max can spend time with her there. Between the two of us and the friends who have offered to help us fill in any gaps in our schedule, I don’t think Max will ever need another full-time nanny.

Ryan looks around the party. “Miller’s really stepping into this whole new mom role, huh?”

I find her sitting on a blanket with Stevie and Indy, baby Taylor laying on her back with Max watching his new friend adoringly from above.

The crew is growing and I’m excited for Max that he won’t be the lone kid around here anymore.

“Dude, she loves it. It’s wild to me that just six months ago, she thought she wouldn’t be good at it. She’s a natural, and every time I see her with Max, I get hit with the craziest baby fever.” I shake my head. “I want to knock her up so badly.”

“Yes,” Zanders agrees. “Watching Stevie be a mom over the past four months is seriously one of the most attractive things I’ve ever witnessed.”

We both turn towards Ryan, who is attempting to suppress his smile. He’s going to understand how we feel real soon because they just found out Indy is pregnant.

He nudges me. “When are you and Miller going to have another?”

“I’m ready, but she’s so busy with work and everything that we agreed we’d try once I officially retire.”

“Stay-at-home dad.” Zanders nods in approval. “Sounds amazing.”

“I can’t wait.”

The truth is, in theory Miller and I are going to wait, but we aren’t doing much to prevent it from happening now either. So, if we get hit with a surprise pregnancy, it won’t be much of a surprise at all. And there isn’t a person on the planet who could change my mind. I will be retiring once baby number two is here.

A bit of noise comes from inside the house, and I turn to find my entire team finally here to join the party.

“I’ll be right back,” I tell my friends. “I need to go check on my brother.”

I welcome my teammates, pointing them in the direction of the food and drinks, before I make my way to the front entryway where Cody, Travis, and Isaiah seem to be having a private conversation.

“What’s going on?” I ask, my tone suspicious. “And why are you guys so late?”

The three of them look to each other, silently communicating.

“Your brother is an idiot,” Travis finally says.

“Trav, what the hell?” Isaiah shoots him a warning glance. “We agreed not to say anything today.”

Travis simply shrugs.

“I don’t know,” Cody cuts in. “I think the whole thing is romantic.”

“It’s not romantic,” Travis corrects. “It was a drunken mistake. A very dumb, drunken mistake.”

Confused, my attention bounces between all three of them. “What the hell are you guys talking about?”

Travis looks right at my brother. “Just tell him.”

Isaiah plasters on a smile that is so forced, it’s clear he’s trying to convince me I shouldn’t be mad at him.

Then he holds up his left hand so I can see the wedding band living on his ring finger.

“What the fuck is that?”

“It’s a wedding ring because . . . surprise! I got married!”

“You what?”

“Got hitched. Tied the knot. Took the plunge.”

“I understand what it means to get married, Isaiah, but who the fuck did you get married to?”

“Oh, I love this part!” Cody pipes up.

Isaiah’s smile is equal parts sheepish as it is thrilled. “Kennedy.”

“Kennedy?” I ask in disbelief. “Kennedy Kay?”

“Kennedy Rhodes as of last night, but yes.”

“But she . . .” I stutter. “She hates you.”

“Well, you see about that. Turns out, after about eight shots of tequila, she doesn’t hate me all that much.”

I look back to the other guys, waiting for someone to tell me this is one big joke, one of their stupid pranks they like to pull.

It’s evident by their expressions, it’s not a prank.

“Wait, what? You’re telling me Kennedy went to Vegas with you guys? She never goes out with the team.”

“She was there for a different reason. We ran into each other on the strip.”

“And you got married?”

“Yeah, we were both a little surprised over that part when we woke up this morning too.”

“Kennedy will lose her job over this.”

Isaiah quickly shakes his head. “She won’t.”

“You need to get this annulled and just pray that team management doesn’t find out about this, because if they do, I can promise one of you is getting fired and we all know that someone isn’t going to be you.” I shake my head in disbelief. “I assume she’s not coming to the party anymore.”

“Probably not.”

“I don’t know what’s more unbelievable,” Cody laughs. “That Kennedy married you or that Dean fucking Cartwright is now your brother-in-law.”

“Oh fuck me.”

“Kai!” Miller calls from the backyard, Max’s hand in hers. “Are you ready for cake?”

I turn back to my brother. “Take the fucking ring off before you go sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to your nephew. Miller can’t find out about this today. I’m proposing tonight and the last thing I need is for my brother to steal her thunder over a drunken mistake.”

“Mistake seems harsh,” he counters. “I like the term, ‘happy accident’.”

“Is that what Kennedy is calling it?”

“Oh, no. She definitely called it a mistake.”

Miller gets Max situated in a seat with his birthday cake on the table in front of him. He’s got an adorably cute smile on his face, rosy cheeks from all the attention. I get the candle lit for him and make sure he’s enough of a distance away while the entire backyard of our friends start to sing him “Happy Birthday”.

I wrap my arms around Miller’s shoulders from behind, holding her as we sing to our son. He’s so giddy, his blue eyes scanning the crowd to see everyone who loves him.

When the time comes, we prompt him to blow out the candle, but he needs a little help so his uncle steps in to blow it with him and, when they finally get it out, Max sits up straight and claps for himself, urging the crowd to clap with him.

Miller laughs in my arms and I pull her closer.

Leaning down, I kiss the skin under her ear. “You and me, Mills, we’re doing good.”

She finds my forearm, holding me. “Yeah, we are, aren’t we?”

 

Once the party is cleared out and only our closest friends remain, we let Max open a few gifts as we sit around in a circle and watch him do his thing in the center. Miller is curled up on my lap with a glass of wine in her hand at the end of another one of our good days.

“Wow!” Max exclaims as he pulls out a small wooden train from the gift bag Monty brought. “Twain!”

Every present he’s opened has been revealed with a “Wow” and it has yet to get old.

“I got you a whole train set,” Monty explains. “Your dad and I are going to set it up in your room tomorrow.”

Max gets on his hands and knees, pushing the train around on the ground, making choo-choo noises the entire time.

“It looks like there’s one more present,” Isaiah says, holding up the tiny gift bag.

The nerves instantly take over and I feel my body tense.

Miller looks at me over her shoulder in confusion. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” I exhale, shifting in my seat, trying to figure out how I’m going to casually get her off my lap so I can get down on one knee.

Isaiah looks around the bag. “I’m not sure who it’s from, though.”

That seems like a good opening. “Let me see.” I usher Miller off my lap and onto the chair. Taking the bag from my brother, I look inside, pretending I have no idea what this is.

“Max, come here for a second.”

He leaves his train behind, shuffling his way to me.

I hold him close, showing him the inside of the bag before I whisper, “This one is for your mom. Can you go give it to her for me?”

On a mission with a smile, Max takes the bag right to Miller, holding it up for her. “Mama, you.”

“For me?” she asks him. “But it’s your birthday. Why am I getting a present?”

Her confused gaze finds mine, but I simply shrug her off.

“You’ll help me open it, right?” she asks, and Max nods before climbing into her lap.

Miller sets her glass of wine down and holds the bag down in her lap so Max can feel like he’s helping.

I make quick eye contact with both my brother and Monty, the two of them so obviously excited, as I find my way in front of my two favorite people.

“What do you think this is?” Miller asks Max in a high-pitched voice, not quite catching on to what’s in the bag.

That is until her fingers graze the velvet box and her eyes shoot to me. “No.”

I chuckle. “You’re saying no already? I haven’t even asked.”

“Malakai.” She tilts her head, her lip jutting out.

“What is it?” Indy asks from behind me.

Miller pulls out the small box just as I get down on one knee.

“Let’s go!” Ryan cheers.

“Miller Montgomery,” I begin, but she cuts me off before I can continue.

She points at the tear that’s already falling down her face. “I hate you for this.”

“It really wouldn’t be a proper proposal for us without you telling me how much you hate me, huh?”

She laughs that watery laugh, and I carefully take the box from her hand.

“Miller Montgomery—”

“Yes! The answer is yes.”

“Okay,” I chuckle. “Thank you for the vote of confidence but I still got to get this out.”

She hugs our son to her chest, her chin leaning on his head as I make this little speech to both of them.

“I wanted to ask you the second you came back, but I was trying to give you the space to grow into this new life without asking too much of you. But I can’t wait any longer. There’s no one else I want to raise him, and hopefully a few more babies, with. You’re my closest friend and the person I have the most fun with. I love you, Miller, and I’m pretty envious that Max gets to call you Mom because I’d really like the opportunity to call you my wife.”

She huffs a choked laugh.

I open the box and Miller’s eyes dart to her dad when she sees the ring, clearly knowing its original intention.

With her tears falling quicker now, her attention comes right back to me where I’m kneeled in front of her. “What do you say, Mills? Will you marry me?” I glance down at Max. “Us?”

My entire world is looking right back at me, this family I’ve longed for, dreamt for, and the three of us have never felt more complete than when she takes a deep breath, smiles at me, and simply says, “Yes.”

 

THE END

Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset