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Penelope’s First Birthday




Penelope and I waved to Uncle Cole and Jasper as they pulled out of the restaurant parking lot. We were staying with them in the city for the weekend, so we’d see them again in a few minutes, but Penelope loved to wave hello and goodbye. Her big blue eyes watered as Cole and Jasper turned the corner. 


“Don’t cry,” I cooed, kissing her forehead. “We’ll see them again soon.” 


Penelope loved all her uncles. Gav, Leland, and Franklin included. But she especially loved her Uncle Jasper—he was also her godfather. Noon joked that it was because if anything happened to me, he could be my stand-in. We had similar temperaments and looked more like brothers than Gav and I did. 


“Ready?” I asked, interrupting the spirited football debate Gav and Noon were having near the truck. Penelope’s head rested on my chest, and I covered her other ear before whispering. “I sense a meltdown coming on.” We’d been out all day celebrating her first birthday, and she’d been a trooper about it, allowing us to make a big deal over something she couldn’t yet grasp the concept of. She didn't get upset easily, but seeing Jasper leave might just be the thing that would send her over the edge. 

Gav hopped into the driver's seat, starting up the engine, while Noon held the back door open so I could strap Penelope into her car seat. We were all set and ready to go when Noon realized he’d left his credit card in the restaurant. 


I tried to keep Penelope distracted from my seat beside her, but she was tired and cranky. She wouldn’t fall asleep unless the car was in motion, though. 


“What’s taking him so long?” Gav asked, looking at the restaurant's entrance through the rearview mirror. 


“Maybe he went to the bathroom.” I craned my head to see out of the back window. “I’ll go check.” I left Gav to entertain Pen. 


I pushed through the doors, squeezing past the crowd of people waiting for the hostess to seat them. Scanning the busy dining area for my husband, I spotted him near the hanging restroom sign in the back. 


Noon stood with arms folded, his face set in a scowl as he peered down at…Patrick. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him since the divorce.


My stomach churned with anxiety as I watched them. The type of anxiety that came from being confronted with the most painful parts of your past. I’d moved beyond what he did to me, but that didn’t mean being faced with the reminders of it wouldn’t affect me in some way. 


Taking a deep breath and getting over the initial shock, I zigzagged around the occupied tables until I’d made it to where they were. And just in time, it seemed, because the look on Noon’s face was damn near murderous. 


“Again, I, ah, I’m sorry about Stacey,” Patrick said as I approached. I wondered if his apology was in condolences of her death, or if Noon had revealed that he knew about their affair. Likely the latter—or both. Noon wasn’t the type to mince words or swallow down bullshit. If he’d given Patrick a piece of his mind it was definitely in regards to everything. 


Noon scoffed. “Your apology means nothing to me. I don’t need it. Not where Stacey is concerned. It’s my husband I’ll never forgive you for hurting.” 


“Your…hus—” Patrick’s bemused reply cut off when I appeared, stepping into Noon’s side and wrapping an arm around his back. Noon’s features softened as he gazed down at me, his own arm going around my shoulders. 


“Your husband,” Patrick breathed, face paling as he took in my wedding band. 


“Hi, Patrick,” I said. “It’s good to see you.” It wasn’t a lie. He was Gavin’s father, and I was at a point in my life where I could appreciate that in a different way. I could appreciate the idea that my son had someone else out there in the world who loved and would never forget him. I also understood what not having Gavin must be like for him, because the loss of my son would forever feel like a part of me was missing. 


“Y-You cut your hair,” was all he managed to get out. “I mean hi. H-how are you?” he stammered, visibly shaken up and confused. He’d had no clue that the two men whose lives he’d ruined, once upon a time, had found happiness with one another. 


“I’m fine.” 


“You two are married,” he said, slowly, trying to wrap his head around it, maybe trying to work out the “how” and “when” of it.   


“We are,” Noon replied before I could. “Something good came from the mess you and my ex-wife made.” 


“I, um,” Patrick started, flustered by the vitriol in Noon’s tone. He stepped out of the way of a passing server, then glanced between the two of us again, clearing his throat after the silence and gawking grew awkward. “I’m sorry, it’s just… I had no idea that you two were… I had no idea that he—” 


“Had moved on?” Noon interjected. “Did you think he was off somewhere still licking his wounds? Still wanting you?” 

“Noon,” I whispered, resting a hand on his chest as I stared up at him. Noon could be unforgiving toward anyone who hurt his loved ones. He and Gav were alike in that way. Noon nodded, placing a kiss on my forehead. 


“How have you been?” I asked Patrick. 


“I’ve been okay,” he said, watching Noon like he thought he might pounce on him. “I started up my own practice. It’s staff appreciation day.” He smiled weakly, nodding toward the small group seated around the hibachi table nearby. 


“But you loved working in the hospital,” I said. Patrick had been a trauma surgeon. He’d loved the rush of it. 


He pointed to his right eye where the iris appeared cloudy. “Never regained full use of it. Working in the operating room was no longer an option.” 


My heart squeezed in sympathy for him. “I’m sorry to hear that.” 


“Don’t be,” he said. “I deserved everything that happened to me.” 


Noon gave a derisive snort, and I patted him on the chest. That statement was likely the one and only thing he’d agree with Patrick on. Gav punching Patrick had cemented his bond with Noon before they’d even met.   


“Can I speak with you alone for a moment?” Patrick asked me. 


“No,” Noon and I said at the same time. His hand moved from my shoulder to link with mine. We were a package deal. “There isn’t anything you can say to me that he can’t hear,” I said. 


“Of course.” He shook his head as though clearing it, taking several breaths before beginning. “I just wanted to apologize for everything. For the way I treated you throughout our marriage. For icing you out after Gavin’s death. It was wrong of me.” Patrick had apologized before—while trying to manipulate me into calling off the divorce. This time was different. This time he seemed to mean it. “I was selfish, and searching for happiness outside of myself. I realize now that happiness starts from within. My poor behavior was never your fault. You didn’t deserve anything I put you through.” 


“I know.” With Noon’s help, I’d come to that conclusion long ago. And like Noon, I didn’t need Patrick’s apology. The strain on his face said he needed to offer it, though. Sometimes the apology was more for the absolution of the giver rather than the receiver. “I’m happy that you know that now too. For your sake.” 


His shoulders slumped in what looked like relief, as though he’d taken the first step in freeing himself from whatever shackles kept him locked in the past. 


“Daddy.” A familiar whine drew our attention. We looked over to see Gav making his way toward us as Penelope reached in my direction. He didn’t take his eyes off Patrick as he handed her over to me. With her head on my shoulder, Noon stroked her hair as I rubbed her back, settling her.  


“What’s he doing here?” Gav asked, crossing his arms and staring Patrick down. 


Patrick didn’t seem to notice or hear his former best friend as he couldn’t take his eyes off of my daughter. 


“You’re…you’re a father again?” he asked, as if the wind had been knocked out of him. He looked like a man who now understood the full magnitude of what his actions had cost him. He gazed between the three of us, maybe as if he wished it could’ve been him.


“Still,” I said. “I’m still a father.” I may have had another child, but I never stopped being Gavin’s dad. 


“Right,” he breathed, as though in a trance, his gaze fixed on Penelope. “Of course.” 

“And he buckles her into her car seat just fine, he knows how to light birthday candles, and we love his burnt toast,” Noon said to him, recounting what I’d told him about Patrick’s frustrations with me while raising Gavin.  


Patrick tore his gaze from Penelope to address Noon, swallowing down his emotions. “Yes, he was perfect,” he rasped. “I shouldn’t have led him to believe otherwise.” His smile was full of pain, his voice wistful as he said to me, “She looks just like you.” 


Gavin had been biologically his. It had been Patrick’s one condition to agree to us starting a family so soon after he’d graduated medical school. He’d wanted Gavin to be just like him, he’d said. What went unsaid was that he didn’t want him to be anything like me. 


“We should go,” Gav said to Noon and me. “It’s getting late.” 


“Gav?” Patrick said, as though he’d just realized he was standing there. He took a step toward him and then retreated, his hand instinctively going toward his eye before falling to his side. “H-how have you been?” 


“I’m great. How’s that eye been treating you?” Gav sneered, but beneath his anger lay true hurt over losing his friendship with Patrick. Patrick seemed saddened by the loss as well, if the longing look he aimed at my brother was anything to go by. 

“I should get back to my table,” Patrick said, staring at Gav a moment longer. “Congratulations,” he said to me. Looking at Pen, he raised his hand but paused, then placed it over his heart. “I hope to be as lucky one day.” 


I didn’t tell him that he’d been close to having that chance before Stacey died, that he’d lost another child. It would've been cruel to do so. Noon didn’t utter a word about it either. 


“What happened between the two of you?” Noon blurted out, surprising me. 


Patrick peered over his slumped shoulder at us, the raw ache in his stare made me hug Penelope tighter, made me grateful for all the good my life contained. He didn’t waste time on asking who Noon referred to. “It all fell apart when she got to know the real me. The man I’m trying hard not to be anymore.” And with that, he was gone. Noon steered us out of the restaurant and to the truck. 


We arrived at Cole and Jasper’s penthouse in no time. Penelope was so tired that she didn’t stir as we changed her out of her pink tulle dress into a onesie before laying her in her crib. Her godfather had turned one of the guest bedrooms into a nursery for when we visited. 


Noon and I were pretty exhausted ourselves, having adjusted our sleep schedule to hers. We called it a night, leaving Cole and Jasper to entertain themselves while we got ready for bed.

After a quick shower, we placed the baby monitor on the nightstand before rolling into each other's arms. 


“He seemed remorseful,” I said, gliding my fingers up and down his back. 


“He did.” Noon sounded disappointed by that. 


I chuckled. “You wanted to hit him, didn’t you?” 


“Can’t say the thought didn’t cross my mind,” he said wryly. “I could only imagine how I would feel if I remembered everything he’d done.” Noon still hadn’t gotten his memories from that time back.


“What made you ask him about what happened between them?”


He sighed, hugging me tighter to him. “She did a bad thing, but I don’t think she was a bad person. Not like him. I’d hate knowing he treated her—or anyone—the way he treated you.”


“And you didn’t tell him about the baby.” 


“No. He might be an asshole, but even he didn’t deserve that, no matter how much I despise him for hurting you.” 


That was the goodness in him speaking, and I thought I might cry from how deep my feelings for him went. Sometimes my love for him felt too heavy to bear. I pressed a lingering kiss to his lips. “I love your heart, Care Bear.” 


He smiled against my mouth. “And my heart loves you.” Noon rolled me to my back. Despite my fatigue, I didn’t resist when he reached over the bed’s edge, retrieving lube from the duffel bag on the floor. 


Shedding our boxer briefs, I couldn't help but moan into his kiss as he prepared me. Our bodies seamlessly intertwined as he entered me with our hands clasped beside my head on the pillow. Never breaking eye contact, he slowly made love to me, our breaths mingling in the intimate space. We both understood what we needed in that moment.


With only the sound of our breaths, Noon reached his climax first. As he kissed down my torso, my fingers scraped through his hair. When he took me in his mouth, just two thrusts were enough for my release. He devoted time to worshiping me, rimming me clean before settling behind me, his warmth enveloping me in a comforting embrace. 


“You belong to me,” I whispered, never too tired to remind him of that, even if he couldn’t remember the significance of me saying it. 


Noon kissed the back of my head. “You belong to me too.” 


It wasn’t what I hoped he’d say, but I loved it all the same. 


We were nearly asleep when Penelope’s voice chirped through the baby monitor. “Papa,” she breathed, repeating it before blowing raspberries. 


“She sounds wide awake,” Noon said, horrified and bewildered at the same time. If we were exhausted before having sex, we were downright comatose now. 


“And she’s calling for you,” I said, grinning with my eyes closed. Noon groaned but slipped into his boxer briefs and a t-shirt before making a quick stop in the bathroom. I slipped something on as well.  


“Papa’s here, sweetheart,” Noon crooned as he entered her nursery a few minutes later. I brought the monitor closer. My heart melted every time they interacted with each other. Noon was nurturing, protective, and fun. Everything a child could want. Of the two of us, he was also the disciplinarian. I let her run all over me.  


Penelope giggled, a flood of gibberish leaving her mouth. I imagined her standing in the crib, holding onto the bars as she bounced up and down chanting his name. “Papa, Papa, Papa…”


She squealed in delight, likely because he’d swooped in to pick her up, taking her on a “helicopter ride” before bringing her into his chest. 


“Are you going to go back to sleep for me and Daddy?” 


I didn’t know if she understood his question, or if her resounding “no” had just been the next word in line on the short vocabulary list she cycled through. “Didn’t think so,” Noon said. 


I turned on the bedside lamp and pushed up until I leaned against the headboard, waiting for them to come in. 


“Daddy!” she called, wiggling in his arms as they aimed for the bed. We spent the next hour playing, blowing raspberry kisses, and saying I love you—“wuv you” in Penelope’s case. 


At one point, Noon’s gaze connected with mine, and I saw the same joy there that I felt spread through my body. “I wuv you,” he said, one corner of his mouth lifting. 


“I wuv you too,” I repeated, before our little angel threw herself at me. 


We played and we loved and we laughed, forgetting about how tired we were. Who needed sleep anyway? I’d rather have love instead. 


 The End

Infidelity Series

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