“It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good times and bad, it settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses. A friendship that has caught fire.”— Ann Landers
Windenburg Isle Everett & Maeve's previous home
Even after months of living together now, still displaced while the Cameron Estate underwent repairs, and living in the now otherwise vacant former home of Maeve and Everett, Abby still gasped when she looked up from the coffee maker at the shirtless man who just walked into her kitchen, his upper body something for a magazine cover, if it weren’t for the burn scars.
They had already faded significantly from how it looked about a year ago, especially those on the face, Abby’s grandparents had been taking him to some sort of treatments for that.
“Morning.” he greeted, rustling his fingers through his hair, still slightly disheveled from sleeping, when he reached her he kissed her cheek, a sweet ritual that had started … oh, Abby couldn’t even remember when. It wasn’t anything intimate, just a friendly peck on the cheek, nothing more. Like you would kiss your grandma. That’s probably who started that with him, Abby’s grandma Rory, while he lived with them. He had moved in with Abby temporarily to help with the babies, while her parents were staying at the Lake House with her grandparents.
She handed him the cup she had just poured for herself, it was still black, the way he liked his coffee, then filled another for herself, watching him head to the window as he greedily sipped the dark, strong brew, wondering what those full lips would feel like on her.
WHAT?! Abby, get a hold of yourself! she yelled at herself in her mind, shaking her head at herself as she added loads of milk and some sugar to her own mug, while thinking
‘You KNOW what they feel like. Been a long time, over two years and it was a mistake, an accident then, but, girl, you already tapped that.’
Abby blushed deeply at the memory. Oh, he had felt good. Better than Elliott in a way, and much better than Ronan. But what did she know? She had been inexperienced then, and she was inexperienced still, despite of it all. Just bad timing, bad choices and bad everything. She never loved Ronan. He was handsome, charming, had treated her like a princess and she had been naïve and gullible. She had loved Elliott, but he could have been considered emotionally detached most of the time, probably something to do with his military covert ops thing. Again, Abby had been too naïve to flag it then, a little girl with a crush on an older man, flattered to have caught his attention. And now she had his babies, but no longer him.
Jay had been full of passion during their one night stand years ago. One hour stand was more like it, on an afternoon when she had gone to their house to talk to Elliott. Oh man, what a mess, and so unlike Abby’s usual behavior.
“Looks like another rainy day. What a summer. Hopefully summer weather improved by the time the little ones are old enough that these walls can no longer contain them. I cannot imagine carting three miserable whiny wet kiddos to a playground and back. Parenting bootcamp. That could be a cool new concept for a game show, like ‘Survivor’, but with babies and toddlers. At least that 10,000 bucks prize money would be very well deserved.”
Chuckling about his own joke, he turned his head to her and Abby’s heart jumped when their eyes met, while she felt electricity all over. He was so close.
Contrary to what everyone seemed to believe, they still were only friends, platonic, and those kisses on the cheek were as close as they had gotten. True, there was only one adult bedroom in this house, which is why Jay slept on the couch in the downstairs living room. Not once had they crossed that line again. Not for lack of trying, mind you. Jay had hinted aplenty at wanting to get closer with her, and when Abby just chose to ignore the hints, he had come straight out and told her that he had romantic feelings for her.
Part of Abby wanted to tell him she felt the same way, but she couldn’t. It felt like betrayal to her. Betraying Elliott, their babies, and her entire family who had done so much for her. And then the weirdness of him being her babies’ uncle. Well, half-uncle. Still, it was just too much.
Sometimes she wondered what things would have been like, had Elliott lived. Would he have stepped up to being a father? Or would he have run, maybe send monthly checks? Somehow, Abby just couldn’t really picture him with the babies, especially not when they were being fussy. Then again, Abby hadn’t wanted to become a mother, now she wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Once, when Abby had a very hard time with all this again, the triplets were only a few weeks old then, Abby was permanently exhausted and couldn’t stop crying about wanting Elliott back, so her grandma had a soft but firm talk with her, warning her about putting dead people on pedestals until they’re almost saints.
“Not fair to them or us. They weren’t any more perfect than any of us, everyone is flawed. And missing those gone before us too much makes us miss what is right under our noses, and therewith, reduces us to audience in our own lives. That only begets regrets in the end, usually, when it’s too late.” Rory had told her.
She now realized that she had been staring at Jay this entire time, and that he must have been talking to her, his eyebrows were raised with a question, then it changed to a slightly concerned expression.
“Sorry what? I was just making mental lists in my head of things I had to do today and completely zoned out. If you said something, I missed it.” Abby lied.
“It’s all right. I hear the beasts have risen for their morning feeding and diaper change.” he put down the cup and headed for the stairs as if it were the most natural thing in the world, Abby followed him, feeling guilty.
Was she using him? He didn’t have to do any of this. So she told him about her concerns while they walked up the stairs to the nursery together.
“Nah girl, they are my blood too, remember. I WANT to do this. Which, had you known me only a few years ago, you’d be in stitches now. Me, handling a baby. No way. Who knew I’d enjoy it, and am even kinda good at it. At least I think I am, the way Ezzy always smiles at me.” Ezzy was their nickname for Esmé, pronounced “Ezmay”. She was the oldest of the triplets, if only by about 3 minutes. Her siblings hadn’t developed their little personalities enough to have earned nicknames.
“Maybe she is your youngest female fan to date.” Abby giggled, looking at Esmé in her crib who was blowing raspberries, till little bubbles formed on her lips, her eyes firmly on Jay.
“Oh, you lil flirt you!” Jay chuckled as he took her from her crib, which upset Ewan, so Abby quickly grabbed him. Emmy was usually the quiet and easy going one and just waited till her demanding sister and brother had been dealt with. Abby watched Jay with Esmé in his arms, who was quietly giggling as she stared at him in awe. Ezzy was the difficult one, it always took Abby a lot of time and effort to calm her, while all Jay had to do was pick her up and talk to her. She really was crazy about Jay. Hard to fault her for that.
This had become their new routine. Every morning the same, then Jay would leave for work, he still worked as a janitor/Jack-of-all-Trades at Cameron Enterprises. Abby wasn’t working at the moment. She was mooching off money given to her by family, at least if you asked her. They all saw it as helping a family member in need. Not ideal, but she just couldn’t let someone else take care of her precious babies. Not yet. The original plan had been that she would drop the triplets off at the Lake House before work at Cameron Enterprises, where she still had her interior design office. Unfortunately though, her mom went back to work as a chef, to help with their money issues. Her parents were paying off debt from back taxes owed due to a recently discovered accounting error, too proud to take money from the wealthy Del Sol Valley Camerons. Abby’s dad Jamie still worked as the mayor. There was no way Abby would dump triplet babies on her 80+ year old grandparents.
They would do it for her in a heartbeat, but it would exhaust them too much. No way!
Abby held back tears. She cried a lot, but only whenever she was alone and when the babies were asleep. She didn’t want to hurt anyone else by seeming ungrateful. Despite of it all, and despite of heeding her grandmother’s warning, Abby couldn’t help missing Elliott terribly, still, especially since she could see him in their babies. She felt guilty letting Jay see it, as he tried so hard to help her, so she hid it from him. Jay was just a great guy underneath that breathtaking exterior now, after living with her grandparents he had become a solid human being, he was so easy going, much sweeter than his older half-brother had been and a lot more personable. A sweet and gentle goof most of the time.
Abby’s grandpa Declan had once said that Jay had lived out all the rough and wild sides a man can have and realized it makes one very empty and lonely in the end, despised and disliked by everyone, even oneself. Having been given a chance when he was bout to give up on everything had been a ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment for Jay and he now cherished everything most others took for granted.
A few days later Jay came down the stairs, freshly showered and changed after work.
“All monsters bathed, fed and diapered, sleeping and I almost have ringing in my ear from that silence. Man, those babies can be louder than a landing passenger plane.” Jay chuckled.
“You what? I thought you said you just wanted to shower? Why didn’t you call me, I would have helped.”
“What for? I was already up there, about to come back down, when my girl Ezzy demanded my attention. Then the domino effect and I figured while I am at it … why bother you, I can handle.”
“Thank you. I mean it. I’ll make us dinner, sorry it’s not done yet, I somehow lost track of …”
“Hey … I am not a 1950s husband expecting dinner to be on the table when I get home from work. Okay? We’ll make dinner together. Chill, woman.”
“Why are you so nice to me, Jay? I don’t get it?”
“I am nice to YOU? You are letting me live with you for free. Helping out is the least I can do. Anyway, if you’re into that dominant male thing, which is not the impression I had of you … but okay, I can try to become my father for ya … GO MAKE ME SANDWICH, WOMAN! You belong in the kitchen, chop, chop!” he grinned, obviously teasing.
“Funny, and no. I am serious. Why are you helping with someone else’s babies? You do so much for me and I just …”
“I think you know why. Hope dies last. And the babies are not ‘someone else’s, they are the only family I have left in the entire world. Strange feeling. Not in a good sense.”
“Why me, Jay? I have nothing to offer. The big fancy Cameron Estate still belongs to my parents, and will for hopefully many decades, I only will inherit it to one third one day along with Liam and Leonie who would never sell it, so I don’t own anything of more than sentimental value, really. Currently we are both squeezed in a shoebox with three screaming babies most of the time until one fine day the workers will FINALLY finish, but dad said probably not in time for Thanksgiving, probably not even by Christmas, I have become a total Karen Soccermom, and I look it. I got so fat and I have no chance of losing the weight. Urgh.”
“Hey …. shhhh! You are beautiful! You read me? Here it’s again, a little louder, for the cheap seats: BEAUTIFUL. So you gained some weight, it’s not even that noticeable. You act like you are topping out at 800 pounds and can’t even fit through doors anymore. You’re still the same Abby as ever, maybe even improved, after all you had to deal with, and you handled some traumatic shit like a boss, girl. You made and gave birth to three real humans, Abby. At 21. That alone totally blows my mind. You are a mom of three at 22 now and you are doing it like you were trained for it. And you are letting me stay with you, probably mostly cos you were afraid your father would have smothered me to death with a pillow in my sleep, had I stayed at the Lake House. And because I can actually help with those babies, so you are putting up with my mangled and scarred burnt ass. You don’t even see how amazing you are. I do. But if you hate the way you look, that is something I can help with. When you are in prison, the gym equipment becomes therapy. Why do you think I look like this? I was way too lazy to work out until that was all I could do, the one thing to interrupt the monotony.”
“Would you really help me work out? Full disclaimer: I am literally the least athletic of the Camerons. Liam is the gym rat, Leonie loves working outside, gardening and the farm stuff. Mom and dad go for walks and on hikes on the weekends and you know how sports-crazed my uncle Jordan and his family are. My hobbies usually include a bag of chips, a plate of cookies and a movie on TV, where I then have a couch growing out of my butt until one of the babies needs me. I got that from my mom. I mean, she made her love for food her career as a chef. I got the chunkiness from her. I wish I were naturally skinny like my brother and sister, but I never was. I only have to look at a cake and gained 5 pounds. But I do appreciate the offer …”
“Not an offer, after hearing you talk like that about this amazing girl I know, it’s clear, this situation needs to be fixed and if working your body into shape will make you love yourself as much as everyone who knows you can’t help but do, challenge accepted. Hey, once you start liking what you see in the mirror again, you owe me a date. Like a REAL date.”
“Jay … I see what you are doing, and you are very sweet, but why a date with me? I am sure you can find a girl that doesn’t have kids at 22. You could find one that is fun, that can be spontaneous, crazy. That’s over for me now.”
“Sure I could. But did it ever cross your mind that I may not want to? Look Abby, all that you’re describing is the typical cliché every guy thinks they want. And maybe we do, it’s hella fun for a while. I had it, and I know now that is NOT want I want anymore. As fun as it was, all it got me was deeper into a big black hole I am still trying to crawl out of. I know this sounds stupid coming from a guy with my past, but what I really want now is what we have here. What your grandparents showed me. A family. I never really had that, I didn’t know I was missing it, until I saw what it’s like. Now I want nothing more than that.”
“Wow. Damn. Oof. Okay fine. If you manage to get my butt in shape, we’ll go on a date.”
“A date where I get to kiss you goodnight. And don’t even argue. One kiss. That’s my payment.”
“Oh man … sure. Yes, we’ll go on a date and you can kiss me. One kiss.”
Jay smirked, then stepped forward, quickly grabbed her with a tight grip and kissed her. Longing, hard, intense.
Abby was dizzy, her heart beating out of her chest, but she felt obligated to protest, which was met by another unimpressed grin.
They pact started just the next day. Jay proved to be relentless and worked her hard. Every morning he would make her do an exercise routine while he was tending to the babies, and after he got home from work they would drop the kids off at the Lake House with her parents and grandparents, then go to the gym, even on the weekends.
Windenburg Old Downtown ZEnergy Fitness Center
At first it was hard and Abby could hardly move at all in the mornings for soreness.
But then change became noticeable, and when even her fitness-obsessed aunt Jenna and uncle Jordan commented on how great she already looked after only a few weeks, Abby had licked blood. Now she WANTED to work out. If those two noticed, it had to be big! MORE!
Working out together became their thing, as had taking care of the babies.
After a few months of almost daily work-outs, Jay caught Abby ogling herself in the big mirror, turning and twisting, admiring what was now her, trim and toned and – dare she say that? sexy- until she caught Jay’s grinning face in the mirror.
She had not realized he had walked up to her, thought she was all alone on the upper level. Blushing, she stopped, he leaned in, and whispered.
“Busted. Someone owes me a date and a REAL kiss now …”
Abby’s heart began to beat hard against her ribcage, so hard that she thought others could literally see it, as she watched him disappear towards the showers.
Author's Note: Yes, Abby really did gain a lot of weight during her pregnancy and yes, she and Jay really did work it all off slowly but surely by going to the gym, no CAS magic here.