“Like this, Daddy?”
I looked over five-year-old Elijah’s head to see him dip a puffy white marshmallow into a dish of melted butter on the counter. “That’s it. You gotta really drench it.”
“And then like this?” He carefully placed the dripping marshmallow into the blue ceramic bowl full of cinnamon and sugar and rolled it around.
“Yep. You want to cover it completely. That’s the way.” I kissed the top of his head, his blond curls tickling my nose. He was his mama’s boy through and through, from the golden hair to the sage green eyes.
Next to him, his dark-haired sister Maggie, older by two years, looked up at me with huge brown eyes. “Did I do a good job, Daddy?”
“Let’s see.” I studied her work—her job was to seal up the cinnamon-and-sugar-dipped marshmallow inside the triangular crescent roll dough. “Uh oh, I see a little hole there. Better pinch it up tight or else the magic will spill out.”
Tucking her lower lip beneath her top teeth, she concentrated on pressing the edges of the dough together. “Is that better?”
I looked again. “Perfect, Mags. Just like my grandmother taught me—she’d be proud.”
She beamed with pride and set the wrapped-up marshmallow inside one cavity of a muffin tin. “Will Mommy be proud?”
“Yes, but we better hurry if we want to get these made before she wakes up.” It was Mother’s Day, and the kids and I were treating Claire to breakfast in bed.
With renewed focus and determination, the kids managed to dip, roll, and seal up eight magic marshmallow puffs. I couldn’t help but think of the first time I’d made them with Claire, how we’d struggled—and failed—to keep our hands to ourselves, the feelings she awakened in me. It all made sense now, the way I hadn’t wanted to leave her that night. I was already falling for her.
I glanced over at the table we’d made love on that very first night together—it had been refinished a few times, the chairs reupholstered—but ten years later, it was still strong and beautiful, just like we were. We’d talked about getting a new table when we moved into a bigger house, but neither of us had been able to let the old one go. Claire wasn’t the kind of woman who always wanted shiny and new, and I loved that about her. I loved everything about her.
While the puffs were baking, Maggie and I did the dishes while Elijah kept watch at the oven door, anxiously awaiting to see if the “magic” would seep through any cracks in the dough his sister had dared to leave unsealed.
When we pulled them out, one or two had bubbled over, and Maggie’s eyes filled with tears. “I ruined them,” she said, looking up at me fearfully. “Mommy won’t like them.”
I smiled at her. She might have resembled me on the outside, but inside she was a little Claire, complete with talent for art and a perfectionist personality. “When I used to make them, they’d almost all explode. You did great.”
She sniffed. “Okay. But let’s give the best ones to Mommy. You can eat the drippy ones.”
Grabbing her in the crook of one arm, I gave her a knuckle-rub on the head. “Fine, but only because you helped me clean up.”
We put together a tray, complete with fancy china plate, linen napkin, and crystal dish of sliced strawberries. While I poured Claire a glass of champagne, adding a splash of orange juice, the kids ran to get the plastic tiara they’d chosen at the drugstore as a present. I’d gotten her a gold necklace with charms that had E and M etched on them.
I carried the tray, Maggie carried the tiara—hidden behind her back—and Elijah carried the small jewelry box, which was wrapped in birthday paper, since that’s the only kind we could find.
Upstairs, I was about to tell the kids to knock softly on the door in case Claire was still sleeping, but the two of them barged into the bedroom like race horses out of the gate.
“Happy Mother’s Day!” they shouted, hopping up on the bed.
Claire laughed as she rolled over. “Thank you.”
“Sorry, babe,” I said as I entered the room. “I was about to tell them to knock.”
“It’s okay.” She sat up and rubbed her face, then blinked at the tray. “What’s all this?”
“It’s the royal breakfast!” Maggie got to her knees and placed the tiara on top of Claire’s head. “You’re the queen.”
“Oh my goodness.” Claire straightened the tiara and smoothed her hair, which fell in soft waves beyond her shoulders. I still couldn’t believe how good it felt to bury my face in it as I held her at night.
“We made it,” announced Elijah with pride.
“It looks delicious.” Claire sat up taller as I set the tray down on the bed.
I picked up the mimosa and handed it to her so it didn’t spill as the kids bounced around. “Happy Mother’s Day, my love,” I told her, kissing her cheek.
“Thank you.” She smiled warmly at me and set the drink on her nightstand without taking a sip. “Are those magic marshmallow puffs?”
“Yes! Some of the magic spilled out,” confessed Maggie, “but we gave those to Daddy. You have the best ones.”
Claire laughed. “I’ll share.”
Elijah handed her the box. “This is for you too.”
“It is?” Claire took the package and giggled at the paper. “But it’s not my birthday!”
“We forgot to get new paper, and Daddy said the birthday was better than the Christmas,” explained Maggie.
“That’s okay. I love feeling like it’s my birthday.” Claire unwrapped the package, then lifted the top of the box with a gasp. “Oh,” she said softly, “it’s adorable!”
“It’s our initials!” Elijah pointed at the charms. “See? E is for Elijah and M is for Maggie.”
“I love it.” Claire’s eyes misted over. “And I love you. Thanks, you guys.”
“Put it on,” said Maggie eagerly.
Sweeping her hair aside, Claire fastened the necklace around her neck. “What do you think?”
“Beautiful,” I said.
“It is,” she said, touching the charms. “But it’s missing something.”
Goose bumps swept down my arms. “Missing something?”
“Mmhm.” Meeting my eyes, Claire nodded. A smile played on her lips. “I have a surprise for you guys too.”
“You do?” Elijah asked.
“Oh my god.” My heart was pounding like a cannon. “Really?”
“Yes.” Claire’s mouth stretched into a grin. “Really. Are you happy?”
“Of course I am.” My voice cracked and I leaned down and pressed my lips to her cheek again, then cradled her face in my hands, my forehead resting on hers. “Of course I am. I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
“But what’s the surprise?” Maggie wanted to know.
I straightened up and cleared my throat, but I couldn’t speak. I may have had to wipe my eyes.
“A baby brother or sister,” said Claire, touching her stomach.
“Today?” Maggie squealed.
Claire and I both laughed. “No, not today,” she said. “Probably around Christmas, maybe a little after.”
“Christmas!” Both kids were outraged they’d have to wait so long.
“But I want a baby sister now,” complained Maggie.
“I want a brother,” said Elijah. “Which kind is it?”
“I don’t know,” Claire said. “We’ll have to wait and see.” She glanced up at me and took my hand. “Can we add another charm?”
“Of course we can add another charm—we can add as many as you want.”
She laughed. “I do love being a mom.”
The kids scrambled up to be closer to her, and she scooted over, making room for me too. I moved the tray safely to the other nightstand and got into bed beside her, our two children snuggled up close.
My throat was tight again.
Family. Something I never thought I’d have, not like this. And I owed it all to the woman beside me, but I knew I’d never have the words to tell her, to thank her for showing me I could be a good husband and father. For believing in me. Loving me. I’d just have to keep showing her, day after day, night after night, for as long as I possibly could.
It was better than a dream.