Faye’s sweet voice pulled him from the spiraling cycle of his thoughts. He blinked down to see her looking up with her wide eyes. She tugged at his trouser legs.
“I want to play on the horsie!”
“Right, right,” James murmured, somehow conjuring up a smile and reaching down to scoop his daughter into his arms. He debated asking Faye if she had seen him – if his father had just been some strange dream seen only by him – but thought better of it. If he drew attention to the event, she might mention it to Jessica, and James wasn’t sure if it was worth the inevitable heavy conversation.
James just had to hope his father wouldn’t pop up again. There had been an unnerving edge to him, and although James Senior had never been violent, James Junior had subconsciously placed his body between his daughter and his father, just in case.
He shook his head.
It had been so bizarre.
“Look, just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean I can’t still look good!” Aja pouted at her friend. She couldn’t keep up the mask, though, and eventually broke into a nervous smile. Her hands began to fidget with each other. “I didn’t know it was possible to be this terrified and excited at once.”
Jessica laughed. “How do you think I feel? I’ve got three toddlers and two more babies on the way.”
“Hey, look, it’s not my fault James couldn’t keep it in his pants.”
“It takes two to tango,” Jessica retorted, automatically jumping to his defence even though it had only been a joke. “Anyway, tell me more about this. Aiden managed to convince you, then?”
“Sharing the burden gets easier,” Jessica promised. “James and I… there is nothing we don’t tell each other.”
“It must be nice,” Aja said wistfully. “Maybe one day.”
“Maybe one day,” Jessica agreed.
Each morning she woke, and each morning she only seemed more content.
Seeing her friend – her best friend – excited and joyful only increased that.
In the flurry of activity of the twins’ birth and the tiring job of caring for them constantly, the strange meeting with his father slipped ever so quietly into the back of his mind, where it shrunk and shrunk until it was not thought of again.
With the twins’ arrival, and the triplets steadily growing taller and taller, (and becoming more and more mischievous), time seemed to zip by.
James desperately wanted it to slow, because these precious moments weren’t going to last forever.
It was kind of terrifying how smart he was, but given that Loxley’s first word had been ‘daddy’, James wasn’t complaining.
Liam, however, was much more withdrawn than his brother. It was easy to be overshadowed by him, James supposed, and so tried to encourage Liam to do things in his own time. He didn’t want any of the kids to feel in competition with each other. As both he and Jessica had been only children (until his mother had remarried, at least), they had no idea what issues siblings could bring up.
“I wish we could stop time,” James mumbled, watching the triplets play outside. The weather was cold but they didn’t seem to care much. They were so tall now, it was terrifying. They’d be starting school in the Autumn. How had time gone so quickly? The people that they had been when they had first met were not the people that sat on the sofa together now.
“The best we can do is savour the memories.”
James blinked. “Wow, you sound like you stepped straight out of a shitty romance book. Please stop.” He poked Jessica in the side and laughed when she squeaked and jerked away.
“You’re an asshole,” she muttered.
“I know, sweetheart,” James replied, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiled.
No matter how fast the triplets grew up, they were still very young. It wasn’t a rare thing for Skye to complain about nightmares, for example.
Still, it was something they would eventually grow out of.
“Thank you for the pancakes dad,” Faye said sweetly, finishing her last bite between coughing fits. She wiped her nose on her sleeve and peered up at her father, who was about to slide his plate into the dishwasher.
“Next time,” he grumbled, voice nasally, “think of how wonderful I am before you give me your cold.”
Faye grinned and picked up her plate. “But it means you get a day off work! Days off are fun.”
“No, it means I have to try and work from home,” James sighed, pausing to sneeze into the crook of his arm. “Ugh. Anyway, I like work. I studied lots and lots to get where I am, so school is important.”
Faye rolled her eyes and went to the dishwasher. “Sure, but getting a day off is still fun.”
“Honey, you need to go get changed for school.” She glanced out the window, wondering why the car pool was so late this time. She should just take James’ fancy car, but her work was trying to implement a eco thing to gain points with the locals and media.
“But Faye gets to stay home!”
“Faye is ill. You’re not ill.” Jessica bounced Loxley on her hip as the familiar car pulled up. She placed Loxley into his crib for now, glancing quickly to ensure Liam was still happily dozing, and smiled tiredly at Skye.
“Me and Summer don’t like going to school without her,” Skye tried again. “School is boring and horrible otherwise.”
“Honey, Faye can’t be with you all the time. I know you and Sum are quiet and shy but that doesn’t mean you have to leave it up to Faye to get things done, okay? Anyway, it’s just one day. She’ll probably be fine tomorrow. I need to go to work, and you need to get changed.” Jessica kissed her daughter’s forehead and rushed out of the room, giving Summer and Faye the same goodbye and a short wave to James, who was busy blowing his nose noisily and groaning about man flu.
Skye sighed to herself and, with dread, went to get changed for school.
“Will you be in school tomorrow?” Summer asked, voice hopeful. She played with the hem of her jumper. Faye was her bravery and her shield from the older kids that could get boisterous during playtime, and it always made her more worried and quieter when Faye wasn’t around.
“Maybe,” Faye said. “I might not feel up to it tomorrow.”
“I’ll do your homework for you,” Summer added, making her tone as pleading as possible.
Faye glanced between her sisters. Why they were so desperate to have her around, she didn’t realise, but she wasn’t going to pass up feeling so needed. “Ugh, alright, I guess,” she sighed.
“TAG!” Faye yelled, out of the blue, startling both Skye and Summer. Summer raced off out into the garden and Faye teared after her, barely hearing her father’s words.
“If you’re up for running then you’re definitely up for school tomorrow!”
“Takes after you,” Jessica teased.
“Harsh, sweetheart, even for you.”
“Not as bad as nasty Faye,” he said, sticking his tongue out at her.
They only giggled more.
“MINE!” Liam yelled, kicking his feet in his excitement.
“And Loxley, don’t forget,” Jess cooed, tickling her youngest son and laughing as he squirmed.
“No cake for Lolo, all for me!”
“I think he’ll have something to say about that…”
“Don’t start without me!” Summer said, rushing into the room.
“We haven’t blown out the candles yet, don’t worry,” James promised. “Are we all ready?”
His prompt sent the triplets into a cheering frenzy, exciting Liam and Loxley even more. They blew out the candles with all their might (and help from their parents) and then happily (and loudly) demanded cake as soon as it could be cut.