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A Lifetime of Love

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-Julie's POV-

“Good morning, Beautiful,” he says with that goofy smile I have loved for 24 years, “time to get up. MJ is attempting those pancakes again.”

“Hmm, no thanks. I’ll just pick something up on my way in.” I responded with an automatic scowl on my face. My son cannot cook, not if his life depended on it. I prop myself up on my elbow, looking at my sexy husband standing in his colors. “Have I told you how hot you look in royal blue???”

I see him get that look in his eyes, and I know I am in trouble. “Julie Saracen, what am I to do with you?” He said tackling me back in bed.

“Matthew, stop it. I am late, you know I hate morning breath, and our children are right in the kitchen!” I said pushing him off of me. It didn’t exactly work and next thing I knew, we were back to making out.

Just as I was about to get him out of his coaching polo, there was a bang on the door. “MOM! We’re going to be late!” Erica huffed through the door.

Matt fell on top of me in defeat, “tell me why our children find a way to ruin my fun, no matter the time of day?”

I let out a small laugh and pushed him off. It turned into a roar when he fell right off the bed and landed on his butt. He made the most adorable face and I almost felt bad for him. “I’m coming honey, don’t worry! Can you make some coffee while I get changed? Thank you darling!” I didn’t even wait for a response; she was trying to convince me to take her driving later that day and knew she had to help out. I started getting dressed when I thought back to Matt’s question. I looked at him, still sitting on the floor but now with his shirt back on. “Um that would be because they are 15 and 16 years old and that’s kind of their job.”

Matt rolled his eyes as I helped him up. I leaned over and whispered into his ear, “win this game tonight and I guarantee they won’t ruin tonight.” I kissed him on the lips and walked into the kitchen. As I greeted my children, I heard my husband sigh. I knew that sigh from anywhere, it was his unsatisfied yet excited sigh. We had both gotten used to it ever since our two knuckleheads learned how to walk and talk.

I walked over to Erica, and hugged her tightly before grabbing my coffee and a waffle. “Thanks Hun, how’d you sleep?” I said sipping.

“Good.” She replied, while looking at her phone.

“Mmhmm,” I said, looking over to MJ, who was also on his phone. “Uh hello MJ, good morning to you too. I slept great, thanks for asking!”

He glanced up, “oh yeah, morning mom.” He haphazardly walked over and gave me a side hug.

“DAD!” He yelled, looking at his phone, “Dad, did you see this?!”

“Huh?” Matt said, walking into the room, giving his little girl a kiss on the forehead. He was so good to Erica; he was really like my dad in that way and it made my heart skip a beat. I snapped back into the present situation just in time to watch MJ and Matt fist bump as their good morning greeting.

“We are number one in the state! The official rankings came out. The Dillon Panthers are number one, you are ranked the number one high school coach in the state, and I made the nation’s top quarterback list and was named Texas’ number one high school quarterback!”

Erica and I both cheered on our boys and started hugging at the news.

“Well, isn’t that something…” Matt replied with a smile, “lemme see that.” He scanned the page, “well, I’ll be dammed….” He kept reading, “boy, way to bury the lead… you aren’t just ranked, you are number 5 in the nation. That’s one hell of an accomplishment!”

I watched over my family celebrating, and my two boys embracing. Matt loved MJ with every fiber of his being, and MJ his dad. However, they were men. Men who played football. Not only were they father/son, they were coach/player. There were rarely hugs shared between the two, so I always loved and appreciated these moments.

“alright everyone, tonight we are celebrating!” I said definitively.

I was met with whines and protests from the kids, as well as a look of disappointment from my husband. “What??” I asked, “Is it too much to ask that we all have a nice family dinner after the game tonight? It’s the season opener and we just got all this good news.”

“Mom, it’s not that we don’t want to, it’s just that the guys wanted to all go out after the game… we always do!” MJ explained.

“Plus, I told Claire I’d go out with her after the game,” Erika said, “the squad is insisting we hang out for “team bonding”.

“Fine y’all, just fine. Y’all go out but tomorrow, you’re mine. Your grandparents are coming over and there is no getting out of it. So, enjoy tonight.”

“Thanks mom, you’re the best!” MJ said kissing my cheek, “E, you ready?? Let’s go!”

“Coming!” Erika hugged her dad and then pecked my cheek, “thanks.” She said as both kids left for school.

Matt looked at me sympathetically and came over to hug me. “What?” I asked, “I am totally fine.” I didn’t think that I had shown my disappointment.

He laughed, “right. I know you Julie Saracen, you are still Julie Taylor, and I happen to be a Julie Taylor expert!”

“I love you, you know that?” I said, our foreheads resting on each other, “I love you so damn much.”

“And I love you. More than anything,” He said with a final kiss on the forehead, “Now let’s get to work!”

-----------------

The day flew by. Before I knew it, the random chatters in the hallway all turned to one harmonious chant. One I was way too familiar with… “Panthers! Panthers! State! State!”
I sighed, game one and we were already talking about state. I mean, it made sense. The panthers have been a great team ever since the super team was formed 21 years ago. Without my dad, the Panthers struggled for a couple of years. They had the talent, but the coaching staff had lacked. However, since Matt took over 12 years ago, the team has only missed the playoffs twice. They have won 4 state championships and made it to the state championship game 4 other times.

“Now, if you were my English teacher, I would have paid attention to every damn word you said,” I was startled from my thoughts by a familiar voice, “Hey Babe”.

I looked up with a smile, “There’s my favorite art teacher. What do you say, paint me like one of your French girls???” I said with a sly smile, which immediately fell when I saw my daughter standing behind my husband.

“EW! Seriously, you guys are gross, and need help.” Erika stated and she shook her head, “Anyway, can I sleep over at Claire’s house tonight after the game?”

“I don’t know about that sweetheart,” Matt started but he was immediately interrupted, “PLEASE! I swear, I will help clean tomorrow and stay home Sunday too to hang out with grandma and grandpa!”

Matt glanced over towards me, and I nodded. “Okay fine,” he said, “Just remember, no drinking, no parties, and no boys spending the night with y’all. You got it?”

“Thank you, Dad! I promise, no drinking or anything stupid. You guys are the best, I love you, I love you, I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow!”

“We love you too, honey.” I said as she ran out of my classroom.

Matt came closer and sat on my desk, placing a tender kiss on my lips. “How was your day, babe?” he asked, “I missed you during lunch.”

“I know, I’m sorry babe. Your son came in during lunch and I forgot to let you know,” I said as I erased the board, “he wanted to know if he could spend the night at Drew’s, I said yes and we worked out what time he had to be home tomorrow.”

“Julie, you know you should have asked me,” he said getting up and walking towards me, “I was planning on going over film after he got home.”

“Oh Hun, I know… but there is a very good reason I told him he could go,” I said as I faced him, getting closer and closer to him.

“Oh yeah, and why is that?” He asked with an arched brow.

“Because, I promised you an uninterrupted night of fun, and I figured the only way to do that is to have no children in the house.” I teased, closing the space between us. The kiss started innocent, but he deepened it. Our bodies were pressed together, and my back was against the dry erase board. I suddenly couldn’t get enough of him as I felt his hard piece of flesh fighting his clothes against my completely covered body. My head fell back as his lips trailed down my neck. I was aching to taste more of him, but I was also completely aware of the fact that we were in my classroom, with the door open. “Matthew,” I whispered, “Matthew, you have to stop.”

He pulled away, with a grin on his face, “just wait until tonight, Mrs. Saracen. This is me before our game, you know how excited I get when we win.” With that, he turned to leave, “Gotta go,” he said, adjusting himself, “it’s almost game time.”

“Whoa mister, get back over here.” He turned and came back, “good luck babe, y’all are going to do amazing. I love you.”

“I love you too, babe. Forever and always.” I planted one last kiss and he walked out of my classroom. I sighed and sat at my desk. I loved being an English teacher, but damn, was there a lot of grading.

*Beep Beep* My phone went off. I picked it up and smiled.

Babe: Can’t wait till tonight ;)
Me: … This deal is only valid if you win… remember that
Babe: Oh, trust me, we’ll win :P
Me: I’m counting on it
Babe: Love you.
Me: I love you. Now focus.
Babe: <3

I only got through three tests when my phone went off again. ‘I swear to god Matt, you’re hornier than an 18-year-old’ I thought. I looked at it and immediately felt embarrassed.

Dad: Saw the paper, you have a household of talented men.
Me: That I do.
Dad: We still on for the weekend? Your mother is so excited.
Me: Of course! We love having you guys.
Dad: Okay, I’ll see you tonight then?
Me: Tonight, I thought tomorrow?
Dad: You think we’d miss the season opener? You’re crazy!
Me: Oh… of course.
Dad: Don’t worry, we got a hotel
Me: No, no, no, don’t be silly. You’re staying with us.
Dad: Alright! We’ll meet you at the house at 6 and all go to the game together.
Me: So much grading, I won’t make home in between. Meet me at the entrance at 6:30
Dad: Alright honey, we will see you soon. Love ya!
Me: Love you too, dad.

I set down and sighed. Oh man, I thought, finally get rid of the kids only to get cock blocked by my parents. I love my parents, I really do, but I love my husband and I need time with him. Oh well, I just have to be a little more creative, that’s all. My parents live 2 hours away from us. We moved back into my childhood home when matt and I were pregnant with the MJ but we recently moved about 5 minutes to a bigger house. He had started looking for coaching jobs in Chicago, when Crawley reached out and offered him assistant coach of the Panthers with a guarantee of head coach within 2 years. I tried several times to get my parents closer when they retired, but the insisted on giving us some space. I never understood it. Maybe, it’s because my dad still had some hard feelings with the panthers. Back in the day, there was a little bit of fallout when he declined the super team coaching job.
The reason was valid, my dad left to follow my mom so she could be the head admissions counselor at Braemore University and my dad, he was the head football coach of the Pemberton Pioneers. He had gone on to win 4 more state championships with them in 5 years. After his impressive run, he became the head coach at Braemore college. He was finally able to live out his dream job, a head college football coach. That position lasted 11 years, he and my mom finally retired 5 years ago and have been back in Texas for the last 5 years. So, that’s my parents. They absolutely love Matt, even though it was rocky in the beginning of our engagement. Matt and my dad definitely had different opinions about when we should be getting married, and my dad made his disappointment known. Luckily, we were able to compromise and have a longer engagement. In all honesty, our engagement would have lasted longer but we finally decided to tie the knot when I was 20, and Matt was 21. His grandma meant the world to him and that year, her mental state started deteriorating fast. Matt and I talked about it and both felt it imperative we got married while she still had some of her lucid mind left. Man, Alzheimer’s is a bitch, and it took its toll on Matt. He went back to my dad when he was 20 and explained how he had waited two years but really wanted his grandma to be a part of it. My dad, bless his heart, said yes and understood. He thanked us for waiting and within the next year, we were married. I thank god that Matt grew up with me and saw my dad as his dad, because it made the request that more special and doable. His grandma moved in with us in Chicago and Matt spent most of his time home with her while I finished up school in Chicago. Once I finished, the three of us took a vacation to Hawaii, his grandma’s final wish. We were gone for a week, and three weeks after that, we lost her. Matt was crushed, he had lost his parental figure, the one adult who stood by him for his entire life. She had been gone mentally for years, but during the vacation, she knew everything. It was like Matt got his old grandma back one final time before she passed.

I am pulled out of my thoughts as my phone started ringing.

“Hello?”
“Hey Sweets,” my mom’s voice echoes through the phone, “we will be in front of the school in 20 minutes!”
“That’s perfect. Oh, my goodness, I didn’t even realize the time! I’ll see ya then!”
“Hey, tell Matt that he better win tonight or I’m not buying his dinner tonight,” I heard my dad yell through the phone, laughing.
“Ha-ha, very funny. I’ll see ya soon!” I said while gathering my things. I totally lost track of time, it was 6:10, the players would be taking the field soon, meaning I had to get by the locker room to wish my man luck. One habit we picked up from my parents, was the quick peck before he took the field or got on the bus for an away game. It was our good luck tradition, and I would not dare miss it.

It was late September, so it was still pretty warm in Texas. I stood outside talking to a couple of teachers when the crowd started going crazy. I turned my focus and watched the players run out. I did a quick squeeze of MJ’s hand when he ran past leading his team. He flashed me the same smile he did before every game. Filled with total confidence and love, man, did I love it. Matt walked out surrounded by his four assistant coaches, Tim Riggins, Luke Cafferty, Vince Howard, and Jess Howard. Oh boy, did my husband look so damn good in his outfit…. I never get tired of seeing him this way. He approached and I acknowledged the other coaches. He brought me in for a tight hug and whispered, “tonight, you are mine. You’re so damn sexy.”

I smiled and whispered back, “you’re gonna do great. I love you, babe. My parents are excited to watch the season opener.” I said with a tight smile.

“Of course, they’re coming tonight, great…” he huffed, “fine. No dessert but I’ll see y’all for dinner.”

I smiled, “Of course. Good luck coach.” With that, he gave me a quick kiss and jogged to catch up with the team.

I looked at my phone, and saw 20 new messages, all from our group chat, “Coaches wives”. I started to walk to the front while I read and responded.

Tyra: Anyone wanna grab a drink before the game?
Becky: Game is in 40 minutes, who’s got the time
Tyra: There’s always time for a shot.
Becky: Not when you’re taking your 10- and 12-year-old to the game :/
Tyra: Boooo… Why couldn’t you stop after the other 3? They basically take care of themselves after 15
Becky: Ask Luke… his idea.
Tyra: Oh please, you’ve wanted your own football team since you were in love with my husband.
Becky: ha ha ha. Are you ever gonna let that go?
Tyra: Ahhh no. But it’s endearing. I love your guys’ relationship. So does he.
Becky: The Cafferty’s do love the Riggins’
Tyra: :-* JULESSSSS, come get a shot
Becky: You know she’s gotta plant the smooch on Matt. She never shows up to a game late.
Tyra: I forgot… she’s the perfect wife.
Becky: Hey, so are you….
Tyra: I haven’t seen Tim since this morning. I know for a fact you both have talked to your hubby’s at least three times by now
Becky: True, but I also know for a fact that Tim gets lucky after EVERY win so I think y’all are doing just fine.
Tyra: You know it ;)
Me: You guys are too much. Can’t a woman kiss her husband in peace?!
Becky: JULES! See, I was right. How is Matty? Is he nervous?
Tyra: I don’t need Julie to answer to know that it’s a yes.
Me: He’s actually quite confident, there was a lot on the line for this game… if you know what I mean ;)
Tyra: Yes… The Saracens are alive and well
Becky: Shit… I guess this means I should give Luke something tonight.
Me: Well, my parents decided to show up a day early so Matt isn’t too happy anymore
Tyra: BOOO!
Becky: Bummer. Okay, I’ll see you ladies later
Tyra: Byeeee. Go Panthers
Me: Go Panthers.

“Oh Jules, look at you!” My mom squealed, getting out of the car and hugging me. “Wow, we didn’t intrude on date night, did we? You look so good!”

“Hey mom, no you didn’t. It’s all good!” I squeezed her back, “oh I missed you!”

“Don’t forget about your old man!” Dad stood there with his arms open and I met him for a hug, “Hey sweetheart. I’ve missed ya.”

“Me too, Daddy, me too! How was the drive?” I asked while we walked to the stands.

“Ahh, you know, it was good!” Mom answered, “Not too much traffic!”

“Oh good!”

“How’s Matt doing? Is he nervous?” Dad asked, sounding like an excited 5-year-old.

“He’s good. He’s actually pretty confident. I think it’s going to be one hell of a year!” I said with a smile, “he’s ready to break your record!”

“That’s a good job, he’s got a while to go!” Dad responded with an amused huff.

Mom piped up, “Actually, he only has 8 more wins to go to beat your high school record!”

Dad and I looked at her, stunned. “WHAT?!” she asked indignantly, “I know my football, I was the coach’s wife for years, ya know!”

“Of course, but I didn’t know you still paid attention,” I said candidly.

“Why wouldn’t I? It’s my favorite son in law’s and grandson’s team, I pay attention to it all!” She smugly said.

My dad grinned ear to ear, “that’s my girl!” He laid a sweet, soft kiss on my mom right as we sat in our seats. I saw Matt and MJ close together, talking. They then turned around and looked right at us, smiled and waved. They only did this when my parents came to town because they wanted to be polite and acknowledge my parent’s presence. Another reason why I loved my family, they were so polite. Before the game, we talked about what has been going on within the last three weeks, which was how long I had gone without seeing them. They asked about dinner after the game, and I informed them that the kids were not going to be there so it would just be the four of us. They seemed a little disappointed, but they understood. MJ was the star QB1 as a sophomore and Erica was a freshman cheerleader who had a “social status” to gain. I had no clue how she is my daughter but it is quite obvious that she is just like her grandma used to be.

Once kick off happened, the small talk was done and we were focused on the game. Just as predicted, the Panthers were off to a great start. By halftime, the score was 21-6 against Arnett Mead. MJ had a game of a lifetime and in the third quarter, he threw a 55-yard pass, which is virtually unheard of, especially in high school. At the end of the game, the final score was 42-9. My dad was ecstatic that the Panthers did so well. We walked to the locker room and waited for Matt to come out. MJ and Erica both stopped by to say hi to their grandparents before leaving for the night.
“Be safe and be home by 11 tomorrow!” I reminded them, “Don’t you dare be late.”
“Got it!” They both yelled, “Love ya!” and with that, they were gone.
When Matt and the other coaches walked out, my dad went up to them to talk with his son in law and former players. He gave them all handshakes, but Matt and Jess gave him a hug. After about ten minutes, dad and Matt finally came back. Matt gave my mom a hug and greeted her. He then scooped me up in a hug and planted a sweet kiss on cheek followed by a quick peck on the lips. He tried not to be overtly romantic in front of my parents out of courteously.

“The was a great game, Matt,” My mom started, “congrats!”
“Thanks Ma!”
“Seriously, great job babe. You guys looked great out there!” I said.
“State bound this year!” My dad added.
“We’ll see about that...” Matt said cautiously with a smile.
“Alright, let’s go to Saltgrass for dinner!” My dad exclaimed.
“Dad, that’s pretty pricey. Let’s go somewhere else!” I suggested.
“Nonsense. It’s a big night, lots to celebrate. Plus, I’m paying!”
“Oh, in that case, let’s go bigger,” Matt said with a wink, “No, but I will be the one paying.”
“Like hell you are.” My dad said.
My mom grabbed my arm, “let’s go Hun, they’ll be here all day! I’m going to take Jules. Eric, you ride with Matt. See ya at Saltgrass, y’all!”

“So, how are you and Matt doing?” My mom asked as I pulled out of the parking lot.
“Honestly, we’ve never been better. It’s been 19 years since we got married and it still feels new and exciting.”
My mom looked at me and smiled, “Aw Hun, every time I asked, you make me tear up. That is all I have ever wanted for you and I am so happy you found it with Matt.”
“Thanks mom. But how come you ask every time; do you expect a different answer?” I inquired.
“I have never expected a different answer. I guess I just love to hear you describe your love like the love I have for your dad.” She said looking sweetly out the window.
I chuckled, “you really are a hopeless romantic, so I guess it’s good we both have amazing men in our lives.”
We drove in a comfortable silence, until we arrived. Before we got out, I wanted to mention something. “Hey mom, do you remember when I broke up with Matt the first time?”
My mom looked at me with a funny look, “As a matter of fact, I do…. Why?”
I sighed, “do you remember what I said the reason was?”
She nodded her head slowly, like she started to see where it was going. “I do…” she bit her lip and a flash of hurt flashed across her face, “you said you didn’t want to end up like your father and myself.”
I reached over and grabbed her hand, “yes, yes I did. And ever since that day, I have regretted what I said. And now, I’m 21 years into living the life you guys lived, and I love it. I love every single part of it. We are you guys. We have virtually the same jobs, the same rituals, the same kindness and respect, and the same love. You guys taught me what a relationship was and how to make it work. I am thankful every day for ending up like you guys. So, I am sorry. I am sorry for ever saying that.” I wiped away a tear as she squeezed my hand.

My mom was crying, “Oh Jules, I never took it too much to heart. It stung for a moment, but I knew what you meant. I am so glad we could show you how a man is supposed to treat you and what love should be. That’s all we have ever wanted. I am so thankful you ended up with Matt and you guys have a beautiful life.” She wiped away her tears and sighed, “I love you both. So much. Thank you for what you said.” She gave me a soft smile.

“Now that that’s out of the way, let’s go eat!” I exclaimed. My mom opened the door and got out of the car in agreement.

“Son, I’m telling you… it will never happen!” My dad said shaking his head as we approached.

“And I’m telling you, dad. It will. I promise.” Matt replied with a huge grin, holding his hand out as I approached him. I grabbed ahold of his hand, while my parents walked hand in hand, too. I was grinning ear to ear; I never get tired of hearing Matthew call my parents ma/mom and dad. Some people think it’s weird, but if you think about his situation, it makes sense. My dad took him in and really provided him with the fatherly guidance he needed in his formable years. So, yes- hearing Matt say dad melts my heart every damn time.

We navigated through the restaurant and sat in a booth near the back. We slid in so I was facing my mom and next to Matt, with Matt next to my dad. Matt had his hand resting on my thigh while we were engaging in casual talk with my parents. We asked them how retired life was and what was new.

“Actually, we have some pretty exciting news!” My mom said, grinning.
“Oh yeah,” Matt asked, “And what would that be?”
“we won’t be staying with you guys this visit. Actually, we probably won’t be staying with you guys again.” She talked with a gracious smile, which I did not understand. Why was that good news?
“Okay..” Matt said slowly, trying to process.
“Why would you guys get a hotel room? That makes no sense!” I protested.
“Who said we were getting a hotel room?” My dad questioned, “I figured we would just stay at our place!”
Matt and I exchanged a confused glance.
“We bought a house, back here in Dillion!” My mom practically yelled.
“You what?!” I asked, with a smile creeping onto my face, “You’re kidding, no way!”
“That’s amazing, Ma! Seriously, that’s great!” Matt said, getting up to hug her. We all hugged and of course, Matt and dad shook hands.
“Where is it?” Matt inquired.
“It’s about 5 blocks away.” My dad said.
“We’re sorry we didn’t ask you before, we just wanted it to be a surprise!” My mom shyly said.
“Are you kidding me,” Matt asked, “this is great. Seriously, we’ve been wanting this for ages!
“So, between that, MJ’s rankings, and Matt’s rankings, I think it’s about time we celebrated!” My dad said as he called over the waiter, “We will take a bottle of whiskey for us, and a bottle of your finest white wine for the two ladies.”
“Dad, that’s too much. Let’s just go to Buddy’s bar and grab some drinks after dinner!” I suggested.
“Nonsense sweetheart, that’s exactly the right amount!” He replied with a wink. The rest of the dinner went off without a hitch. We laughed, and drank, and talked football. We talked about what living so close to each other meant and how to navigate that life.
“Okay,” my mom was the one to wrap it up, “how about we say goodnight for now, but y’all come over at noon tomorrow and we will show you the house. I’ll cook some lunch and we’ll let the boys work on the painting and big furniture, while us girls decorate!”
“Are you sure you guys don’t want to spend one last night,” Matt surprised me by asking, “is the bed even set up?”
“Don’t worry about it, son,” my dad said, “we got in a little early today so we put in the basics already. We’ll be fine!”
“Okay, if you all insist!” I replied, getting up to hug my parents.
“goodnight you guys. And dad, I’m paying next time… no exceptions!” Matt said as we walked out.
“Yeah, whatever you say, Matt! Goodnight you two!” He called back. He went to get in the car when my mom took the keys from him.
“I don’t think so Mister, you’re too old to be drinking that much Whiskey, then driving.”
“Fair point,” He replied before planting a long kiss on her lips.
“I’m glad that your parents are so damn happy,” Matt said smirking watching the duo, “I just know that that’s our future.” My back was against the car and his forearm was leaning on the car above my head. “Damn Julie, I am so in love with you, it’s ridiculous.”
I brushed my hand against his cheek, “Well damn Matthew, that’s a relief… I kinda am madly in love with you too.” At that moment, he tipped my chin up and planted a long, sweet kiss upon my lips.
“that’s good… that’s really good, because you know what you promised me tonight.” He said opening the car door for me, “you best believe that I am cashing in.”
The whole way home, his hand was tangled with mine. I rested my head against the headrest, thinking about all of the good times. I thought about all the moments when I looked at my husband and thought ‘damn, is he sexy’ or ‘damn, is he perfect’, because he was. Correction, he is. I couldn’t imagine life without Matthew. He was my first love and he was my last. He was mine and I was his. I liked it that way.
His voice broke through my thoughts, “what are you thinking about, sweetheart?”
“I’m just thinking about how much I love you.”
“Yeah, well, I guess great minds think alike. I’m thinking of how much I love me too.” He gave with a wink.
“Har har, you’re pretty funny for a guy who WAS about to get laid.” I said plainly, with a smirk creeping onto my face.
“Oh no babe, it’s too late to go back now. We are two minutes from home, and I am more than ready to have the whole damn house to ourselves.” I decided to use this moment to use my phone for the last time tonight. I took it out and texted “coaches’ wives only”:
Me: Looks like I am a pretty great wife after all. Have a fun night everybody ;)

I then took the chance to also text the family group chat:

Me: Good game MJ, good cheering Erica. Remember, stay safe and have fun tonight. Call us if you run into any trouble.
MJ: Goodnight guys, love ya! We’ll be good.
Erica: Of course. Love you mom, love you dad!
Matt <3: *Liked your message*

“Don’t tell them to call us!” His words startled me as I realized we were sitting in the driveway.
“HUH?” I blurted.
“You told them to call us if they got in trouble. It’s our night, we don’t want to get a call!” Matt protested.
“Shut up, Matthew,” I slapped his arm as he feigned injury, “you know I’d leave you in a heartbeat to help them.”
“I know,” he said grabbing my chin, “that’s” *kiss* “why” *kiss* “I love” *kiss* “you” *kiss* “so” *kiss* “damn” *kiss* “much.” *Kiss*
Our last kiss deepened with a sense of urgency, lust, and survival. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember what life without Matt’s kisses was like. He started to lift my shirt, “Matthew, you dirty bird.” I teased as I pulled back, “not in the driveway!”
He sighed in defeat, well I suggest you get you cute little ass out of the car and in the house before I can’t control myself anymore,” he looked me up and down, “because trust me babe, I am losing control quickly.”
I laughed as we both raced inside. As soon as the door shut behind us, I was pushed up against it. Our bodies were rocking as our tongues dove into one another’s mouth as if our lives depended it on us. His boner made his pants tight, as my panties became damp. Our breaths became quick and heavy, he picked me up and took me to the counter. Our mouths did not separate until he sat me down on the counter and finished what he started in the car. My t-shirt flew across the room as his hand ran up and down my bare stomach. He cupped my chin as he deepened our kiss, using his free hand to unclasp my bra. I rubbed his toned body under his shirt as he raised his arms for me to remove it, “this needs to be off. Now.” I gasped in between kisses.
He smirked against my lips, “yes ma’am.” I threw it across the room as his mouth moved down my body, tasting every inch of me. My back arched with his defined hands tracing it. His tongue swirled my areola, making me let out a deep breath. A quick gasp escaped my lips as his teeth bit my sensitive nipple at the same time his hand found its way under my jeans and panties. He picked me up with his free arm and laid me down on the couch. He then focused all of his attention removing my jeans and replacing his fingers with his tongue. “Oh shit, Matt..” I moaned, “I love it when you taste me.” His hands found their way back up to my perky breasts, as my fingers played with his hair. I was soaking wet and craving more. I knew I needed to focus on Matt before we could both enjoy it to the max. I pulled him on top of me, our mouths finding each other like magnets. “up” I said and we got up. Our tongues were wrestling as we clumsily walked to the wall. This time, it was Matt who was pinned. I gave him one last deep kiss before I worked my way down. Not an inch of his stomach was left unexplored. My fingers fumbled with his button, but when I got his pants undone, I took both the pants and boxers down in one move. My hand wrapped around his fat boner, and slowly started to pump. I pumped and twisted, as our tongues danced with each other. I let my hands trail behind my mouth as I went down once more. I then took in his whole length, using my hands to thrust him into my mouth. My head bobbed as his hands were holding onto my hair. “Oh fuck, Jules, fuck” he moaned, “Babe, you’re amazing.” Just then, I decided to cup his balls in my hands and started to massage, “Fuck babe, are you trying to make me come?” he pleaded. He tasted so damn good; I couldn’t help but want to keep going. But I knew he was close and my pussy was throbbing, aching, for more attention. I stood up and took his hands in mine and started leading him to the bedroom. He grabbed me from behind and scooped me up. He started laughing as he ran to our sanctuary. He threw me on the bed and got on top of me. “You ready,” he asked, licking his lips before planting one on me, “because I am more than ready.”
“Fuck yes baby, just fuck me already,” I pleaded. That was all he needed; I felt the sweet friction of him entering me. He was so familiar and so full; it was one of my favorite feelings. Our mouths were connecting as our bodies rocked back and forth in perfect harmony. We started slow but I needed more, “faster baby, harder. Harder Babe!” I shouted.
Our bodies sped up and crashed into each other like waves against the rocks. “fuck baby, I’m close,” he whispered breathlessly.
“Baby, so am I. Make me come,” I demanded, “I want to come for you.” With that, with one final thrust, we both yelped in pleasure. I swear it was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Our bodies moved a couple more times before he collapsed on top of me. The weight of my other half, laying on top of me. He rolled off and laid on his back as our breathing returned to normal. “Come here babe,” he whispered, pulling me close. I scooted closer, draped a leg over his, and nuzzled my head into his chest. “I love you,” I stated as I started to close my eyes, “I love you so damn much, Matthew.”
I felt his smile as he replied, “Good. Because I love you, Julie. So damn much.” With that, I drifted off to sleep.

*ring ring ring*
“Matthew, I swear, you have three seconds to turn that off,” I mumbled when my sleep was interrupted by his phone.
“Julie, that’s yours. Turn that shit off!” Matthew grumbled.
“Oh damn,” I said glancing at the clock that read 4:29 AM, “who the hell is calling this late?” I picked up my phone and looked, “Matthew, omg, its Erica!” Matt shot up and we were both wide awake as I answered it.
“Erica?! What’s wrong?!” I spoke with panic in my voice.
“Speaker!” Matt demanded, so I did.
“Mom?!” A slurred voice replied through the phone, “is that you?”
Matt and I exchanged a worried glance as my stomach sank. She sounded horrible.
“Yes sweetie, it’s me,” I replied, “What’s going on, Erica?” There was shouting and music playing in the background.
“nuh – nuh, nuffin!” She mentioned to get across. Suddenly, the phone sounded like it was exchanging hands and a distant, “give me the phone!” was heard in the distance.
“Hey mom,” a familiar voice said, “I’m so sorry Erica called you!”
“MJ, what the hell is going on,” Matt hissed.
“uh,” MJ’s voice caught, “oh… hi dad.”
“Matthew James, what the hell is going on? Is Erica okay?” I said as Matt started to get dressed.
“Yeah mom, she’s fine! I’m taking good care of her”
“She’s drunk, Matthew!”
“I know, I know. But I’m not, and I’m looking out for her.”
“Where the hell are you?” Matt demanded to know.
“No, dad. We’re good! I promise.
“You haven’t been drinking you said,” I inquired, rage building.
“No mom, I swear. I’m totally sober.” MJ insisted.
“Okay good. Then I expect you to be home in 30 minutes.”
“MOM! That’s no fair, you said we could spend the night with out friends tonight.” MJ complained.
“We also said no damn drinking,” Matt blurted out, “you have 30 minutes or we will come find you. And trust me, you do not want that.”
“Okay, fine.” MJ whispered.
“And your sister better be with you,” I reminded him, “that should go without saying but tonight, it seems common sense isn’t so common.”
“Yes Ma’am,” MJ replied, “we will be right home.”
“Good,” I hesitated, “And Matthew, we love you. Get home safe.”
“I know, I know, I love you too,” as the phone was being hung up, we heard our drunken daughter shout, “And me! I love you too!”

 

“Matthew, calm down,” I pleaded watching my husband pace back and forth, “We were their age once too, remember.”
“Exactly, and we weren’t even that bad,” he huffed, “Jules, she’s damn near black out drunk, for Christ’s sake!”
“I Know, I know, and I’m pissed too,” I said, getting up to rub his shoulders, “But there are two important things to acknowledge here.”
“and what would those be?” He asked, uninterested.
“1. Your son did not drink and was looking after his sister. And 2. They made it home in 23 minutes.” I said, looking out the window.
“I’m going to kill her.” Matt said through gritted teeth.
“I suggest you shut up and we just get her to bed. You are not saying anything other than ‘I love you’ to her tonight.” I warned.
“But- “he started as the door opened.
“Shut it,” I hissed, “hey guys!” MJ was trying to carry a very drunk Erica inside. Her arm was draped around his neck as she stumbled forward.
“Hey mom, dad.” MJ said, nodding but barely looking at us.
Matt walked over and helped MJ get Erica to bed while I got her some water. We put her in bed and MJ said goodnight.
“Uh huh, not so fast mister,” I warned, “couch, now.”
MJ slumped on the couch as I pulled Matt back, “remember, he didn’t drink and he got our daughter home safely.”
“You think I don’t know that, Julie,” Matt hissed, “but he should know better in the first place!”
“don’t you dare take this out on me,” I snarled and turned to walk away.
He grabbed my waist, “Hey, I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair. I wasn’t trying to take it out on you. I love you.” He kissed my forehead, “now let’s go deal with this bozo and get to bed.”

“Mom, dad, I’m sorry!” MJ started, “But I didn’t drink, when I got there, Erica was drunk but I was with her the whole night!”
“Where were you,” Matt questioned.
“Does it matter?” MJ looked with pleading eyes.
“Actually, it does,” I replied, “Look, we are proud that you didn’t drink. And we appreciate you looking after your sister.”
“However, you should know better than to go to a party like that. You are only 16, and the star of the football team. What would happen if you were caught and kicked off the team?” Matt pressed, “Did you even think of that?”
“Dad, I’m sorry!” MJ begged, “I messed up and I’m sorry.”
“Go to bed, MJ,” I said quietly, “your father and I will talk about your punishment. Remember, we are with grandma and grandpa all day tomorrow, so I want you up at 9 am to clean this house.”
“yes ma’am,” MJ said, “goodnight.”
“Son,” Matt said finally, “We love you and you did the right thing. Goodnight.”
“Love you guys too.” MJ said before slinking back to his room.

Matt just looked at me, disappointment and exhaustion on his face. “Really babe,” I questioned, “football?”
Matt looked at me confused, “What, its true! It could mess up his future!”
“You’re ridiculous,” I rolled my eyes as the phone rang, “who the hell is that now?”
“Shh shh, you go to bed. I’ll get it,” Matt insisted, “go, I’ll be right in. I love you.” With that, he gave me a quick kiss and went to the phone while I went to crawl back into bed. I glanced at the clock, 5:20, and I thought to myself ‘who the fuck calls at 5:20 am?’.

While Matt was still on the phone, I checked my other messages

The coaches’ wives
Tyra: OOOUUUU Jules, Get it!!
Becky: Now I really gotta give Luke something
Tyra: Welp, Tim and I already are on round 4. Saddle up ladies, may it be a long night for all of us :P
Becky: Mission accomplished! Have a good night.
Tyra: Atta girl, Becks! Jules must be having fun, still silence on her end. Okay, byeeeee, round 5 is starting!

I would laugh at this ridiculous thread if I wasn’t so god damn tired and pissed at my children. I can’t believe they did this. Truth be told, I’m not THAT mad at MJ. Yes, he went to a party, but he was safe and protective over Erica, which is all a parent could ask from their teenage son. Matt came back in rubbing his head. He climbed into bed and wrapped me in his tight arms.
“Hey babe,” I smiled, “who was that?”
“Oh, that,” Matt hesitated, “that was your father. Our brilliant daughter decided to call them as well and then not answer her phone again after hanging up on them.”
I rolled over to face him, “you gotta be kidding me, right?!”
“Oh babe, I wish I was!” He sighed, “he wasn’t too happy on the phone.”
“well good, I’m not either,” I admitted, “I’m glad he didn’t just tell you not to punish her like he’s done in the past. Gosh, he’s got a soft spot for that girl.”
“As he should,” Matt shrugged, “but this time, I’m glad he’s on our side too!”
“Okay, I love you, but shut up. Let’s go back to sleep,” I winked and smiled, “I love you, Matt.”
He smiled back, “I love you too, Jules.” He gave me a goodnight kiss and pulled me close. We drifted off to sleep in my favorite position, with me as the little spoon.

I started to shift in my sleep, hearing an awful noise. The sound of retching. I rubbed my head and looked at the clock, 8:30 AM. I rolled over to hug Matt, but the bed was empty. I looked up confused, until I saw the note… ‘Oh yeah,’ I thought, ‘Practice.’

Jules,

Went to the field house, didn’t want to wake you! I stole your dad, so we will meet you at their house after practice! Oh yeah, hopefully, you enjoy the dulcet sounds of your daughters “epic night out”. Don’t go too hard on her… yet.

I love you,
Matt <3

P.S.
I’m still on the high from last night. I’ve missed our fun ;)

 

I smirked to myself, yesterday was a pretty good night… until our daughter had to ruin it. I started to get up, annoyance and anger rising. I can’t believe Erica was so stupid and careless yesterday, thank god for her brother. As I started to get ready, I heard MJ and Erica attempting to have a conversation.

“You’re an idiot,” MJ hissed.
“You went to the damn party too!” Erica retorted.
“Yeah, but I was sober and I got your ass home, so a thank you would be nice!”
“You want a prize for not leaving you drunk sister alone?! Wow, congrats MJ, you’re a Rockstar.”
“You are ridiculous,” MJ sighed as Erica continued getting sick, “now if you don’t mind, stop puking and help me clean this house. Mom’s going to be up any second and I want to get started before she comes out.”
I heard him walk to the kitchen as Erica replied with another trip to the toilet.

I took out my phone, and texted the girls.

Me: Everyone alive and well?
Tyra: … Julie… you know the rule. Not before 10 am on Saturdays!
Becky: Luke and I had a GREAT night.
Me: That’s great, Becky! So did Matt and I… until our drunken daughter called at 4 in the morning….
Tyra: NO WAY!
Becky: What did y’all do??
Me: She’s about to be grounded for life… I’ll talk to you guys later. Gotta go make sure she hasn’t puked her last gut out.
Becky: Good luck.
Tyra: HA! Have fun with that one

I looked at my messages and realized my mom had texted.

Mom: Morning Hun, looks like payback is funny, even this many years later :P
Me: Morning Mom. Ha. Ha. But I NEVER came home drunk.
Mom: Excuse me? How about when Tim Riggins got you home and put you to bed?
Me: Fine… at least I didn’t drunk call my parents and grandparents!
Mom: No, no you didn’t. BUT you did get a boy kicked out of the house for doing nothing but helping you out.
Me: Did you need something or did you just want to rub it in?
Mom: Nope, all good. Just wanted to rub it in… definitely. Remember, don’t go too hard on her!
Me: Oh, she’s got another world coming.
Mom: I said “don’t go hard”.
Me: Lets agree to disagree :) see ya in a couple hours.
Mom: <3 can’t wait.

I took one more deep breath and got up to finally leave my room. It was 9, and I avoided seeing my children long enough. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Matt so I had no idea what to say to them, although I had a pretty good idea. I opened the door and immediately heard the bathroom door close, followed by another retch. I went over and knocked, “sweetheart, are you okay?” I said gently through the door.
“Morning mom, never better!” Erica replied with fake enthusiasm, “I’ll be out soon.” I shook my head and made my way to the kitchen. MJ was sweeping the floor and looked up when he saw me.
“Good morning, mom,” He said smiling weakly, “I made you some coffee.”
“Thank you, honey. Morning. How’d you sleep?” I asked while approaching him to get a hug.
He returned the hug and replied, “Eh, okay.” I just replied with a nod.
“Kitchen looks really good, MJ. Thank you for cleaning up.” I finally said.
“It’s not a problem,” He replied quickly, hoping to cut the conversation off.
“Wait, why are you home?” I asked, suddenly remembering he had practice.
“Dad gave us the day off today. He told us yesterday after the game, but he and grandpa went to watch film.”
“Why didn’t you go? Don’t you normally do that with them?”
“Yeah, well, I had to clean and dad wasn’t too thrilled this morning.”
“Oh…. Yeah, you saw him?”
“No, but he banged on our doors at 7:30 demanding we wake up.” He said hesitantly.
I laughed, “that sounds like your dad.”
“Look mom, I am really sorry. I shouldn’t have gone to the party but I thought it would be fine if I didn’t drink!” MJ explained.
“You’re right, you shouldn’t have gone. But it turns out, it was a good thing you did. And I do want to acknowledge that you were safe, responsible, and a really good brother last night.” I said.
MJ look stunned, “Wow, thank you. I didn’t expect that.”
I laughed a little, “Yeah, me neither. However, I haven’t talked to your father yet so this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. We need to talk more about what’s going to happen. Is that fair?”
“yes, yes ma’am!” MJ said, giving me another hug, “thank you.”

I helped MJ finish cleaning the house. We then sat down, drinking coffee and talking. It had been so long since we had a normal conversation, just the two of us. Part of me knew he was just humoring me because he thought he was still in trouble, but I didn’t care, it was nice.

“So, MJ, are there any girls you have your eye on?” I couldn’t resist.
“Mom,” MJ sighed. He was very private about this stuff.
“What?! Can’t a mom be curious? It’s not like I asked if you were having sex or anything!” I defended.
“MOM!” MJ yelled, turning bright red.
“I’m kidding! You’re way too young anyway. Understood?”
“Yes ma’am, can we talk about something else now?” MJ pleaded.
I was about to ask about grades when Erica finally came out of the bathroom.
“Good morning sweetheart,” I greeted her.
“Morning mom,” she replied lazily.
“Well, it’s now 11 AM. You’ve been in the bathroom almost 3 hours now. I suggest you shower and eat; we are leaving in 45 minutes.” I explained.
“Where are we going?” She groaned.
“Your grandparents, silly!” I teased.
Her eyes went wide.
“Yes, your grandparents. The same ones you called at 4 in the morning!”
“Mom..” She started.
“Nope, we will talk about it tonight,” I cut her off, “until then, we are getting ready and going to your grandparents’ house. Are you done getting sick?”
“Wait, we are going to visit them? That’s like 2 hours,” MJ deduced.
“Nope, not anymore. They got a place up here!” I said excitedly.
“Awesome!” MJ pumped his fist in the air, “grandpa can help me practice all the time!”
I smiled and then looked at Erica, “well?”
“To be honest, my stomach still hurts. Can I stay home?” Erica asked. MJ’s eyes went wide and he shook his head no when he thought I couldn’t see him.
“As your brother is trying to warn you, as a matter of fact, you cannot stay home. You knew we were with your grandparents today and you decided to get black out drunk. You do not get out of it because you were an idiot the night before.” I said coolly, “I suggest you go get ready now.” Erica opened her mouth to speak but thought better of it and closed it. She then went to her room to get ready.
MJ sat in silence, trying to process what had just happened.
“So, MJ, can we talk about that 60-yard pass you threw yesterday?!” I asked excitedly, “That was truly amazing!”
“55-Yard!” MJ smiled, “But yeah, it was pretty cool, wasn’t it? I think that’s a Texas record!”
I pulled out the paper, “it is indeed. It’s the longest completed pass recorded in Texas high school history!”
“No way?!” MJ gasped, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it!”
I hugged him, “I am so proud of you and all of your hard work!”
“Thanks mom,” his smile was still being worn, “I can’t believe it. I wonder what dad and grandpa are going to say!”

MJ was still going on about last night’s game and I was listening intently. Erica finally came out, looking presentable, so we all hopped in the car and went to my parents’ house.

When we pulled up, I saw Matt’s car parked outside and heard him and my dad shouting about some game from back in the day. I smiled as MJ ran to the back, to join in on the fun. Erica took a little longer to get out of the car and put on her sunglasses.

I looked at her with a pointed look, “Erica, look. You will apologize to your grandparents for scaring them and being irresponsible… but other than that, we are not bringing it up or talking about it further.” Erica flashed a confused expression, “Is that clear?” I asked.

“Yes ma’am.” She said as she started to walk to the back.

-Matt's POV-

 

“Dad, it was definitely me. I won that game, not Riggins. That was my best game and you’re going to tell me Tim was the one who won it?” I said in disbelief.
“Matt, relax. I’m pulling your leg. You did alright…” Eric said, laughing. I took a sip of my beer and shook my head as I heard my son coming around the side of the house.
‘Oh great,’ I thought. I was still mad; he was an idiot. And don’t even get me started on my daughter. I don’t understand their stupidity.
“Hi guys,” MJ said, as he started to slow down and cautiously survey the backyard, “I love the house already!”
Ma went to give him a hug, “I am so glad you like it! You can pick out your own bedroom!”
“Awesome!” MJ replied. MJ and his grandmother then exchanged whispers, accompanied by some head nods and sympathetic glances.

“Hey,” Mr. Taylor brought me back from my thoughts, “remember when I threw you in the shower when you got piss drunk all those years ago? I didn’t kill you so give the kid a break. He didn’t even drink!”
“But he went, dad. You know what that could do to his future.” I protested.
“Are you raising a football star or a kid? I think it’s both, but you still need to let him be the latter…” He said as he went to greet his grandson. I hated to admit it, but he was right. MJ really didn’t do anything wrong and he protected his sister. I think I was overreacting with him… but just a little bit. Okay, so a lot. He was right, he didn’t do anything. I just get so nervous that it can all disappear in the blink of an eye. I mean, look at Street, look at Smash, those were freak accidents, I just couldn’t stand the idea of MJ’s future being taken away because of his own stupidity. But then again, was it really stupid? He went to a party, stayed responsible, and saved his sister from potential dangers. Shit, I thought, I gotta go talk to my son.

When I walked into the house, my eyes swept the kitchen. I saw my daughter, sitting at the table, head bowed, concentrating on her coffee as if not to throw up. My mother-in-law sitting right beside her, rubbing her back, trying to soothe her. I smiled, Ma was the sweetest person ever, in fact, her kindness reminded me of my grandma, the two of them were my absolute favorite women, aside from my wife of course. Next, I see my wife, smiling at me from across the room. Damn, is she hot? I thought. Her smile was soft and I could see something in her eyes. Almost a beg for me to not ruin the day, she could always tell when something was bugging me. Damn, I really gotta let this go, but first, I wandered over to my favorite smoke show.

“MMM” I verbalized as I leaned into kiss my wife, “Good morning babe.” I felt her smile against my lips, “Good morning my cute, brooding, husband.” I pulled away, laughing. “I know I know,” I shook my head, “I’m letting it go. I’m about to chat with MJ, I am letting him off the hook, is that okay with you?”
Jules looked surprised but content, “I was thinking the same thing, I am just surprised you thought it too.”
I chuckled, “thank your dad, he’s got a way of convincing anyone of anything.” Jules just laughed, “he brought up the shower, didn’t he?” I shook my head, “yeah, yeah he did.” We both smirked, “Erica, on the other hand, her sentence may be lightened, but it will still be great!” I said, as I went to pull MJ aside. I felt a sting on my behind, my wife really slapped my ass in her parents’ new home, oh was she going to get it. Not here, not now, but she will. I smile to myself thinking of how hot my wife is. My gaze then landed on MJ, who still looked nervous as hell to see me. I narrowed my eyes, and summoned him with my finger while keeping my face deadpanned. I swear, I think my teenage son just shit his pants, and that made me laugh. If I am about to admit I am wrong, I think I am allowed a little fun letting him think that I was still mad.

I walked out of the house, and sat in a lounge chair after grabbing another beer. I felt MJ lurking behind me, but he didn’t say anything. Once I sat, I looked up at my son, little beads of sweat forming on his forehead. The funny thing is, I have never, ever, done anything besides yell at my kids. No violence or even flinches, physical punishment is abuse in my mind, plain and simple. The is not my method. However, by both of my kid’s reaction to me and Jules when we are mad, you would think we had.

“MJ, relax, you can sit,” I say, with a little laugh.
“What’s up, dad?” MJ questioned, while sitting beside me, “I thought we were going to talk about my punishment at home?”
“I figured why wait that long…. It is pretty obvious what I have to do, right?” I questioned, seeing his expression get more and more confused by the moment.
“Uhhh” was the only response I got. I could tell MJ was trying to say the right thing. He couldn’t brush it off completely, because it would make me seem like I’m overreacting and he could care less. However, if he stated a too harsh of a punishment, what if I hadn’t thought about it and then he basically just punished himself 10 times harder than I would’ve.
“Right?!” I probed.
“Dad, I get you’re mad, but-“ MJ started.
I put my hand up, “MJ, MJ, you’re right. I was mad, last night and this morning. I was furious. And a little disappointed.” I saw MJ’s head dip a little, I hated using the “D” word, it was harsh and I swear it affects kids worse than ‘I’m mad at you’. “But truth is, after further thought and discussions, I am actually quite proud.”
MJ’s head snapped up,” huh?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Look, I am sorry I reacted the way I did. I just want you to think, and to not mess up your future. But I can see now, you were thinking. So, thank you, for being responsible and getting your sister out of there.”
MJ smiled a bit, “Wow dad, thank you. And of course, I wouldn’t forgive myself if something happened to Erica, I will always look out for her. I hope you know that.”
“I do, I really do.”
“And dad, I don’t blame you for reacting the way you did, I totally understand.” MJ finished.
“I appreciate that, but I need to calm down. I think about your future a lot and I treat you as a star and future pro baller, but I forget to let you be a kid.” I took a sip of my beer, trying to fight back the one tear fighting to run down my cheek. I never want to put too much pressure on this kid, and I never want to push him into a career he doesn’t want.
MJ got up and actually hugged me, “thank you, dad.” As he turned to walk, I called out,
“Hey son, one more thing”.
He turned to face me, “yeah, what’s up?”
“Is it your dream to be serious, to go play college, and to go pro?” I asked.
He looked confused and cocked his head.
“Is that what YOU want? Or is that what you think I want?” I specified.
“Dad, it’s all I wanted since I was 4. I want that.” He stated confidently.
“You know, you could tell me if it wasn’t what you wanted. I just want you to be happy.” I studied his face.
He paused, smirked, and replied, “It’s my dream. It’s a dream we share, but it’s my dream.”
I smiled and got up to pat him on the back, “well okay then.”
“Dad…” MJ said with a smirk.
“Yeah?” I replied, plainly, I knew what he was getting at but to be honest, I was trying to get over my anger, so I forgot to bring it up.
“DAD!” He said loud with annoyance.
“What?! Am I supposed to say it’s a damn good thing you want to take football serious considering you just broke a national high school record?!”
“So, you did see! HA!” MJ yelled.
“Of course, I did. Sorry it took long to bring up, I was preoccupied. But MJ, I am so so proud of you! You have done amazing things and this latest accomplishment is just the start to another amazing season for you!”
“Thanks dad, I love you.” MJ said, patting my back.
I returned the gesture, “I love you too, son. Now let’s go join the rest of the family to celebrate.” With that, we returned to the rest of the family. They must’ve sensed our conversation, because Ma had taken the cake out that dad and I bought this morning after film. Just like that, the whole family had basically forgotten about the night before, and the rest of the day went off without a hitch. Even Erica seemed to feel better, interacting more with her grandparents and teasing her brother about his face printed on the newspaper. I pulled Jules closer and she rested her head on my chest, as everyone just stood around and talked. I smiled to myself as I squeeze Jules a little tired, God damn, I thought, I love my family.

 

The week went by slowly. We started having two a days since I heard about the little party that happened after the game. I heard from a little birdy that more than half of the team got plastered. One might think my informant is my son, but he is pretty tight lipped. He is very conscious of the title of “coach's kid”. It can be a very polarizing position, but most of the team has accepted the fact there is absolutely no favoritism and that MJ does not share gossip with me. The fun thing is, they don’t know who the informant is, and I intend to keep it that way. This way, my mole learns the information and isn’t left out of the loop, and it trickles back to me. It is golden.

Anyway, after practice in the evening, we would come home to Jules’ cooking, which is AMAZING. Erica was super talkative and interactive with the family, probably hoping to get off of her grounding early, but that was not happening. We chose to go easy on the grounding, one week. No going out, that’s all. She could have her phone until 930 but then she would have to give it to us until the morning. As far as punishments go, me and Julie, both agreed it wasn’t too harsh, but was also annoying, considering this punishment would end at 4:53 am on Saturday morning, long enough for her not to be able to go out after the game. We got some pushback on this, but in the end, Erica knew we were budging and that in all seriousness, it was a fair punishment.

“Babe, do we really have to go out,” I groaned, buttoning up my blue dress shirt.
“Don’t groan, yes, yes we do have to go out. We need to go out with the coaching staff because even though y'all coach together, we still have been friends for years. So, the wives all decided it was a good time to remember that!”
I walked over to Julie struggling to put on her necklace. I grabbed both ends of the chain from her and fastened it. I put my arms around her waist, and pulled her close. My hot breath hitting her ear and I whispered, “are you sure we have to go? We already have a visitor.” She laughed, swung around, and biffed my shoulder, “Matthew, behave!” She walked towards the door, but I swear she looked back to check out our visitor. Not going to lie, that made me smile. I looked at my deflated reflection, and contemplated changing pants, maybe something a little less tight. NO, I decided, I splashed my face with some cold water and after a minute, my pants were already fitting looser.

“MJ, Erica, let’s go!” I yelled as I grabbed my keys. I glanced at my wife, who finished her make up in the bathroom. “Have I told you how hot you look?”
“You clean up nicely as well,” she replied, quickly pecking my lips. “CHILDREN! Don’t make us late,” her voice boomed.
“MOM! Do we really need to go to grandma’s? We are 16 and 15, we do not need a babysitter.” MJ complained.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the most trust in you guys right now, so until Saturday, we aren’t leaving y’all unattended.” I replied.
“Plus, your grandparents love y’all and are so psyched for you to finally spend the night!” Julie added.
“Yeah, I can’t wait for y’all to sleep over there either,” I Interjected.
“BEHAVE!” my wife sternly whispered, I couldn’t help but laugh. With that, we all poured into the car. After a quick five-minute drive and a two-minute conversation, I was yelling out the window, “Thanks again, have a great night!” back to my mother-in-law.

“What’re you thinking about, babe?” I Inquired when I glanced at my wife.
“Nothing, just thinking what it would be like with more kids,” she said.
I grabbed her hand, “are we?” I asked with nerves.
“No, oh god no,” she answered quickly. A wave of emotion hit me, was it relief or disappointment, I couldn’t really tell. “I mean, I had thought about it before, but I don’t want an age gap as big as me and Gracie. We all know how well that worked out.”
I started rubbing her hand, “you know, it’s unfortunate, the situation with Gracie. But that doesn’t mean that would be our reality. You know that, right?”
She nodded slightly, with a tear escaping her eye.
“I wouldn’t be mad.” I said after a minute of silence, surprising myself even, “I could see another knucklehead running around.”
“Another one to wake you up at 4 am?” Jules chuckled.
“Good and bad, babe. I’m here for the good and bad.”
“Do you want more?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Before, no, just us 4 was perfect. But Becky and Luke, there’s so many and they’re so happy. I have been thinking, maybe it’s our turn again.”
I smiled, and there was a nervous excitement in my stomach. I think I have my answer. “Well, I’ll be damned, we’re going to have another kid!”
“We’re going to have another kid,” she repeated with a huge smile. We parked and spent a couple minutes in the car like a couple of teenagers. Nothing too scandalous, but it definitely got steamy. When we caught our breath, we went inside to join the others. Life, life was good. I’ll be damned, we are going to have another kid.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Present Time

“Dad, come on” MJ said, “we are going to be late.”
“Shhh,” I groaned.
“Dad, the head coach and star QB cannot be late to try outs…” MJ tried to reason.
“Riggins got it today,” I said, sitting up in bed, “I can’t today. I just can’t”.
MJ looked at me, trying to analyze my face. I smile softly, he doesn’t quite buy it but he decides not to push it. “Okay, if you say so.” He says after about a minute. “I’m going to go, is that okay?”
I smile, “yes go, I’m fine. Are you okay?” I said, concentrating on him, “really?”
His face flashes a sad smile, but quickly recovers. “I will be. Really.”
“I love you son.”
“I love you too, dad.” And he closes the door behind him.
“No?!” Erica questions.
“No, He’s not coming.” I hear MJ sigh.
*KNOCK, KNOCK*
“Yeah?” I lazily reply, and Erica enters.
“I just wanted to say goodbye, I love you, dad.” She smiles a sad smile.
I get up and hug her, “I love you too, E. Call me if you need anything, okay?” I wipe a tear from her eye. “Do you want to stay home?” I inquire.
“No, I have to go, dad. But I will, I’ll call if I need anything, I promise!” I kiss her forehead and watch her leave the room, leaving the door open. Normally, I’d ask it be closed, but when it doesn’t matter, the front door opens and closes. I’m alone, painfully alone. I try and make it to the bed, but instead I collapse into a puddle in the middle of the floor. And in the silence, I weep.

My phone beeps, I instantly look at it, it could be one of the kids. Nope, just the coach group chat. I barely skim through, I should reply, but what is the point.

Riggs: Matty, hang in there brother. We got practice, well cover for as long as it takes. But come back soon, we need you.
Vince: Just let us know you’re okay, we’re going to show up otherwise.
Luke: Becks and I send love, you know you’re family. Take your time, we have your back when you come back.
Jess: We love you Matt, please let us know you are okay.

I sigh…. I should reply, I start to type but am interrupted by a violent breakdown. Before I can even recognize it, I’m screaming with tears streaming down my face. The screams just keep coming, I’m rocking back and forth. How did I get here, how is this happening? In between one of the many sobs, I feel warmth beside me and a familiar hand is on my shoulder. I hear a couple of suppressed cries as I instinctively turn into my father-in-law, we both continue to break down. I’m not an emotional being, but there’s something about dad that makes me feel okay for showing vulnerability. Five minutes into us sitting together, I can no longer tell who is consoling who.

 

10 months ago.

“I swear, he is clueless!” I laugh into the phone, “he hasn’t noticed!”
“Woah woah woah, wait,” Becks looks confused on the screen, “and you’ve been wearing it ALL DAY?!”
“It’s 5 pm on a Saturday, and you haven’t changed…” Tyra clarifies.
“I KNOW!” I laugh, standing back for them to read my shirt, ‘Family of 4’ is written on it, with the 4 crossed off with red and a 5 replaces it. “I don’t get it either.”
Tyra clears her throat, “I am just gonna say it Jules, Matt is an idiot. An adorable, lovable, idiot.” We all burst out laughing, and Becky just nods.
“It’s true, I can’t even deny it… but boy do I love that idiot.” I sigh and smile to myself. “Okay, well I’m off to try something a little more “in your face”.
“Jules, I know I said it before, but congrats! I can’t wait to see another Saracen running around!” Beck says, Tyra chimes in, “Yes congrats! I am beyond ecstatic for you two lovebirds!”
I lie my hand on my hidden stomach, “thanks guys, I am so happy. And I just know Matt will be too! Bye ladies!”
I hang up the facetime, still smirking. I lay back on the bed, wondering how to be any more obvious than I have been at this point. ‘Is bun in the oven too obvious? Is a ‘daddy’ t-shirt too basic, plus, all these teens have ruined the sentiment of ‘daddy’.’ My thoughts are interrupted by my best friend sprawling out next to me. “What’re you thinking about, babe?” Matt says, with a look of admiration.
“Oh nothing,” I say smirking.
Matt raises an eyebrow while propping himself up on his elbow, “Oh I know that look, I am missing something here.”
I get up and face him, “What look?!” I say, my smile getting bigger and bigger.
He stares into my eyes, trying to analyze my thoughts. When that doesn’t work, his eyes take in his surroundings. He looks around the room and then looks me up and down. I intently watch his face as his eyes zero in on the shirt.
“NO FUCKING WAY!” Matt practically leaps out of his skin. I let out an excited yell, “Matthew, you scared the shit out of me!” I laugh.
He gets up, picks up, and spins me around, “are you kidding me right now? Tell me you’re not kidding, Jules.” He said with urgency.
“No babe, it’s real! We’re pregnant!” I say, tears in my eyes. I see a teary-eyed smile on Matt, as he pulls me in for a tight hug. “I am so excited. I have never been happier.”
“Really?” I said crying now, “you’re really happy?”
“Julie Taylor, anything with you, is the best thing ever. Raising children with you, is the highlight of my life. Really, I am truly and utterly happy.” The thing about Matt, is I know he is serious. Since high school, I have only seen him cry once, and tear up 3 other times. He cried at his grandmother’s funeral and he teared up when I told him about both pregnancies, and he teared up when my mom had a cancer scare. All of those moments, had warranted a cry or a tear, so I knew he was sincere. We laid in bed, the rest of the day, his hand on my belly. We laughed, talked about the future, and joked how we really were exactly like my parents. “Babe, there is no other couple I’d want to copy besides your parents. I am overjoyed to be following their journey, while making it our own.”

The next couple of months, Matt and the kids treated me like royalty. To our surprise, MJ and Erica were over the moon about the newest addition. They couldn’t wait to babysit and spoil their sibling, which honestly, Matt and I let out a breath we didn’t know we were holding, when they took the news so well.
Every time I entered the room, Matt would great me with a kiss, and put his hand on my belly. The bigger it got, the more often his hand would gravitate there. At night, he’d hold me tight, with a hand on the baby at all times, like our very own protector. He doesn’t know it, but this simple gesture makes me feel like the luckiest girl on the planet. I love it, and it’s the thing I’ll miss most about being pregnant.

My parents might have actually been more excited than Matt and myself. They immediately started buying baby clothes, and toys, and decorations. They bought a crib and stroller, insisting that all of the stuff we had from MJ and Erica, was “way too old and ugly”. Everyone could not wait until our newest bundle of joy had arrived.

My pregnancy was fairly easy, I had some indigestion here and there, but nothing too serious. I got the okay to continue working until essentially the due date, and I didn’t mind it. Matt didn’t like it as much, saying how he really wished I would take it easy and just rest at home. “You know me babe, I love my job and I love to stay busy. Plus, the doctor said it’s perfectly safe!” I argued.
“I know, I know,” Matt sighed, “but it’s not illegal for a man to worry about his wife and baby, is it?” he would say with a smirk. Gosh, him and his damn dad humor. I swear, he got me pregnant just to be able to have a new person to tell jokes to.

About 2 weeks before my due date, I took a half day, I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, so I decided I would bring lunch for me and Matt, and then work the second half of the day. Matt made sure to cancel his lunch office hours, because with the due date fast approaching, we weren’t quite sure how many quiet meals we were going to have left.

I left the doctor’s appointment, final sonogram in hand. I never got tired of seeing our baby boy, and I know Matt hates every time he misses an appointment, but he has to be supervised today. Plus, it was a quick appointment, I made sure to grab a photo from the doctor, so Matt could see his son in a picture for the last time before meeting him in person. My smile beamed as I started the car, I loved thinking back to when Matt would hold MJ for the first couple of times. I, I was scared, but Matt, he just knew what to do. He looks so confident, and so in love, I just knew he was going to be the best dad in the world. The ride from the doctors from the school is a quick and easy one, 10 minutes, 7 of which are on the highway. I got in the right lane about to reach the exit, when I saw a car speed up the on ramp to merge onto the highway. A wave of panic rushed over me as I realized this man was about to hit me, I tried to speed up, but it was too late. The white Mercedes, sped up behind me and went to change lanes. He didn’t expect the car in the next lane to still be in the way, so he misjudged the gap, and clipped the back left of my car. As the car flipped, I instantly, felt a sharp pain in my stomach. My mind went to the baby, then the kids, then Matt. My dear Matt was the last person I thought of.

 

“Matt! Slow down, I’ll drive you!” Tim yelled out after me. I couldn’t see, the world was blurry, I was practically bulldozing kids down in the hallway. I heard Luke and Tim apologizing to students on my behalf, while trying to catch up with me.
“Let’s go then!” I yelled, tears streaming down, “where did you park?!” I barked.
“Out back!” Tim shouted, taking the lead.
“Don’t worry man,” Luke said, “Becks is going to get the kids in a little bit.”
“fuck, the kids” I mumbled, “I gotta get em!”
“No, you need to get to Julie, Matt. Trust me, Becky will get the kids.” Luke assured me. He was right, I needed to get to my wife. I needed to see that her and my son were okay. We hoped in the car and Tim ignored all speed limits. Our life flashed before my eyes, the day I first saw Julie, first date, time, engaged, graduation, pregnancies, family, everything.
“What if..” My voice broke, “What if…”
“Don’t Matty, don’t do that” Riggins said sternly, “The doctor’s said it’s okay.”
“They said it was bad, really bad,” I whispered.
“But they had hope,” Luke reminded me, “they have hope, you have to have hope.” I shook my head as we pulled up to the hospital. I practically jumped out of the car while it was still moving, “Shit,” I called back, “Riggs, I need you to call her parents. Get them out here.”
“Of course, Matty. We’ll be in the waiting room if you need anything. We love you, bro.” Tim looked sad and sincere.
“Thanks Riggs, I know that.” With that, I took off through the halls. I got to the desk, and just started shouting, “Saracen. I’m Matt. Here for Julie, my wife. Pregnant, car accident.” The nurse seemed intentional with her tone, “let me get the doctor for you.”
“Is she okay?! Where is she?!” I yelled. All I got in return was, “let me get the doctor for you.”

I walked down the long, cold and sterile hallway, tears threatening to escape my eyes. “As I said,” the doctor repeated, opening the door, “take as long as you’d like.”
I nodded, I stepped in the room and the door closed behind me. My breath catches as I see my beautiful wife, laying lifeless with a near full-term stomach. I take a step forward, and start to fall. I get up and rush by her side. I take her perfect hand, the one that was always so warm and inviting is now as cold as ice. “Julie,” I beg as the tears start to come, “come on baby, don’t do this to me.” But it’s too late, she’s gone, and so is our son. One hand on her stomach and the other intertwined with hers, I bury my head in her neck and just sob. How did this happen?
I compose myself just enough to look at her and fix the hair covering her eyes. “I love you Julie, always and forever”. I kiss her on the forehead, then the stomach, and straighten up before I have to walk out there and tell my children… their mother and brother didn’t make it.

—————————————————-

As I walk back out the hallway, I pause at the window to look out at the scene ahead of me. They’re all here, MJ and Erica are sitting, eyes wet. The coaching staff and wives are all sitting, holding each other. Ma and dad are in the corner, Dad’s arms are holding ma, his lips resting on her head. Ma’s crying, and Dad’s rocking her. Dad’s red eyes meet mine through the glass, that’s all it took. He squeezes ma tighter and the tears fall. I take a deep breath and step through the doors.

I emerge on the other side, wishing more than anything I was delivering other news, anything besides this. MJ and Erica run up to me, and fling their arms around me.
“Dad!” Erica sobs, “please tell me she’s alright.”
I look into their tear-stained eyes, fuck, I thought. I’m about to crush them. I cup both of their faces.
“Dad…” MJ says breathlessly, tears starting to roll, “dad… tell us they’re okay.”
By this point, all of the adults have come closer, ma and dad are sobbing. Our friends are destroyed but still listening, shit, it’s not real to them until I say it.
“MJ, Erica,” I start with a croak, “I am so sorry,” a sob escapes me, “they didn’t make it.”
The whole room broke down. Erica sobbing and yelling, ma is screaming for Jules in between sobs, dad is silently crying, holding ma. I squeeze Erica while I scan the room for MJ. Tyra instantly knows what I’m doing, and comes to us. “I’m so sorry, Matty.” She says, kissing my cheek, “I got Erica, go get MJ.” I nod, I can’t say anything, I just nod. I look around the room, but I don’t see MJ anywhere. I need to know where he is, I just lost a wife and son, I’m not about to lose another. I start to panic, struggle to catch my breath. I see Luke starting to make a move towards me, “Matt, breathe. You have to breathe.”
“MJ,” I gasp, “where’s MJ.”
Luke and Vince scan the room, Vince speaks, “right there!” He says, pointing outside. I glance to make sure he’s right and sprint to my son. When I’m outside, I slow my pace, and walk towards him. His eyes meet mine, wet and tear stained. I’ve never seen my son cry, tear up? Sure. But never cry. It broke me to see him so broken.
“Dad!” He sobbed, “dad!”
“I know son, I know.” I said pulling him in. He starts to fall, so I guided us down. He was sobbing uncontrollably, curled up on my lap, a position he had abandoned at age 6.
“I don’t get it,” he said after a couple minutes, “I just don’t understand. “
“You’re right. It doesn’t make sense and it’s not fair,” I offered, “but you see everyone in that room?”
MJ picked up his head, “yeah?”
“That’s how we get through it, we use everybody and we don’t go through it alone, you got it?”
“I just don’t know how it’s possible… what am I going to do without mom?” His sobs had slowed.
“It’s something we’ll have to just figure out. I’m not quite sure the answer myself”
We got up, and he hugged me as tight as he could, “I love you, dad”
“I love you too, so much.” I replied. And softly I asked the painful question, “are you ready to go say goodbye?” MJ just nodded as We walked back into the hospital. When we got back in the room, the sobs had quieted. Everyone was crying on their own, Erica curled up with Ma. I told MJ to go with Tim and the guys, while I checked on Erica and talked to his grandfather. As soon as I went to Erica, she stood up and hugged me. I returned her hug, as tight as I could. I felt the silent sobs soak my t-shirt. “I love you, E. I am so sorry.”
She replied without looking, “I love you too, dad. I just don’t know what to do.”
I kissed her head and rested my chin there, “me neither, baby. Me neither.” I looked at Ma and she gave me a soft smile filled with sadness. “I am so sorry,” I mouthed as tears rolled down my cheek. She got up and joined the hug. I wrapped one arm around her and welcome her in.
“I’m so sorry Matt, I am so sorry.” I heard her whisper.
“I’m sorry Ma” I replied. We squeezed and I excused myself, “imma go talk to your grandpa sweetie, I’ll be right back and then we can go back, alright?” I said, hands on Erica’s cheeks.
“Okay, just hurry back,” she whispered, I kissed her forehead and went to my father-in-law. I had never seen him so distraught, but when he saw me coming, he composed himself. Normally this would be a handshake moment, but we both went for the hug.
“I am so sorry, dad. I can’t believe it, but I should’ve stayed and made sure you were okay,” I said through tears. I couldn’t help but feel bad I wasn’t here when they arrived, and I didn’t talk to them personally to give them the news, then I ran off after dropping the bombshell.
“Matthew, look at me,” his voice caught, “you have done nothing wrong. You have children, they are the priority. You made an impossible situation the least traumatic for your kids. As for me, I’m absolutely wrecked, but I have your mother-in-law, and everyone in this room, as do you.” He wiped a tear. “How are you?”
I took a second to respond, a slight sob escaped, “I um,” I sniffled in, “I don’t know. I can’t process. I’m functioning in auto pilot… uhhh… yeah.” I started feeling jumpy and scattered again.
“Son, you need to calm down,” dad said, squeezing my shoulder, “take a breath.”
“There’s just Uh so much to do and Jules, she always did it.”
There was a silence, before he spoke, “you just do. You’ll get through this; we’ll get through this. I promise”
I straighten up, “phew, okay. I’m going to take the kids back, do you want to go before, after, or with us?”
He inhales, “I didn’t really think about it yet. Um, we can go in first. Give you guys more time. Is it bad, Matt? Is it really bad?” He looked down as he said this.
I try to give him a small smile, but it was hard. “It’s not good… it could be worse, but it’s not good.” I replied honestly.
“Oh god,” he muttered… “I don’t know how we’re going to get through this next part.”
“Together,” I said. “You and ma will take your time, then me and the kids, and then we will figure it out.”
He nodded, “you’re right…” he gave my shoulder a final squeeze and went to get his wife. I gave Ma a quick hug before they went back, and she held me a little tighter. I lingered and tried my best to keep my composure. I did, and she squeezed my hand one last time before disappearing behind the doors.
I let out a breath and went to sit by my kids, who were a little calmer, just leaning into one another for support. I sat in between them and welcomed their heads on either shoulder before wrapping my arms around each of them. I sighed, and just for a moment, I forgot the horror before us. After about ten minutes, I gathered up the courage to ask what I had to.
“Listen guys, I need to ask you a question. And whatever you decide is fine, you just have to be honest.” I started. Both of them looked up at me with their sad, tired, eyes. “Mom, she um, was in a crash, as you know. And she got hurt, and you can tell by looking at her. She is still back there and your grandparents went to say their goodbyes.” MJ started to choke up and Erica started crying. MJ reached over and grabbed her hand as I continued, “they’re allowing us to go back one last time for us to say goodbye. Do you guys want to come back, or do you want to stay up here?”
There was a silence in the air, but Erica broke it, “dad, I don’t know if I’m strong enough” she admitted.
MJ nodded, “is it bad if I say I don’t want to?”
I squeezed them both tighter, “not at all. That is completely okay.”
Erica followed, “okay, well in that case, I don’t think I can bear it. I don’t want my final memory to be mom not looking like mom.” She started crying harder, “I’m so sorry, dad.”
“Shhh shhh, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay,” I said.
“Are you going to go back?” MJ inquired
“Yes. I am going to go back one last time,” I said solemnly.
“Will you be okay? I mean, going alone?” Erica followed up.
“As long as I know you’re out here, safe and with people you love, I’ll be okay.” I smiled, meaning it. I wanted them to be comfortable.
We sat there for what seemed to be an eternity when my in laws re-emerged. Faces puffy and red, stained streaks letting the world know that they had just said goodbye to their baby girl. Ma basically ran up to me, “oh Matthew, I am so so sorry. I can’t believe it. She’s really gone!” Ma sobbed, as I wrapped her in a hug.
“I’m so sorry you had to see that,” I replied, “I am so sorry your baby girl is gone.” I cried.
We stood there hugging when dad came over to get me, “they want to do what they need to, so I suggest you go back if that’s your plan.” He said pained.
“Can you sit with the kids?” I asked.
He looked shocked, “they don’t want to go back?”
I shook my head, “they don’t want that to be the last memory they have of their mother.” I chocked back more tears.
“Of course, we’ll stay with them, Matt. You take your time” ma interjected.
“Thank you,” I managed as I walked toward the door.
My father-in-law grabbed my arm, “you sure you’ll be okay in there alone?”
I looked at him, tears stinging my eyes, “no, but it looks like I no longer have a choice.” I yelled back to the kids I’d be back, and I entered through the doors of horror.

I suck in a breath while I approach the room where my wife lay lifeless. I linger outside the room, afraid to enter. Just as I’m about to, I’m startled by a doctor.
“Mr. Saracen?” He inquired
“That’s me,” I say, “were you one of the ones who worked on my wife?”
“Unfortunately, I was not on the scene and when she arrived, there was nothing to be done. I am terribly sorry, sir” he expressed.
“I thought when they called, they said she was still alive in route to the hospital?” I said confused.
“She was. Unfortunately, she coded in the ambulance and there was nothing left to do. We believe she was almost fully gone upon impact, sometimes it just takes longer for the heart.”
I tensed up, “and the baby?”
He shifted, “again, I am so sorry but with the lack of oxygen, and the blunt trauma, there was nothing we could do. From what we can tell, your son died upon impact. I am so sorry.”
Again, I felt blurry eyed. I became dizzy and grabbed on to the wall. This information, I knew it. But hearing it, was like getting the news for the first time, all over again. I could barely breathe. I sat in the hall, trying to compose myself, and finally, mustered up the courage to enter the room.

I approach the sterile table with Julie, still carrying our baby boy. Her beautiful features become blurry and the tears come again. I pull up a chair, grab her hand, and run the hair back, the way I did whenever she would have morning sickness, or just not feel well. I sat there, filling the silence with my sobs.
“This isn’t real, this can’t be real…” I paused, half convinced my wife would sit up and tell me it’s not real, and that we are fine. That everything’s fine. But obviously, that never happened.
“The kids,” I started, paused, then continued, “the kids wanted to come, but they couldn’t take it. I mean, I don’t blame them, I can’t take it. I can’t continue without my best friend, how am I supposed to do this?” I bowed my head, “just tell me how I am supposed to do this, because I don’t want to. I never wanted to know a world without you, and from here on out, that’s all I’ll know. Who’s going to tell me I’m being too harsh? Who’s going to lift my mood with a simple smile? Who’s going to celebrate our kids’ milestones with me? That was supposed to be you.” I sobbed. I stayed sobbing, for so long.
“Babe, I miss you so much already. You are my best friend, my rock, my world. I love you, forever and always.”
I turned my focus to her swollen belly, “son, my son. How excited I was to meet you; you were one of the best blessings of my life. I wish, I wish I could’ve seen all of your accomplishments and everything you’d achieve. I’ll always be longing to hold you, to see your mom in you when you smile or laugh. I know, you’d take all your best traits from her. So do me a favor, and don’t leave your mom’s side. Look out for your siblings and know that our family will never be complete without you. I love you, Julian, I love you so much.” Again, I sit sobbing, but I get up and repeat the steps of the first time I saw Jules like this. Kiss the belly, rub hear head, and place one final kiss on her forehead. “I love you, baby.” I said, taking one final glance at my beloved wife. “Always and forever,” I whispered, closing the door behind me.

————————————————

When I walk back into the waiting room, the once brightly lit space is dim from the night. MJ and Erica are sleeping sprawled out on the cushions, while my in laws are sitting, holding each other in the corner. I come in and make my way over to them.
“I’m so sorry,” I start, “I didn’t even realize how long I was in there.”
Dad put up his hand, “Matthew, stop it. Did you get what you needed to?”
I twitched my hand, revealing the bag of Julies belongings, what she had when she was brought in. “I could’ve spent the whole night in that room, and it wouldn’t have been nearly enough time.” I replied.
“Look son, we were talking, and we have two thoughts. 1. Either you all come spend the night tonight or 2. We take the kids so you can have some time.” Dad explained.
I look over to my children, finally able to get some rest, “that’s super sweet of you guys but I can’t be away from them. Not tonight.” I elaborated, “you two lost someone tonight too, we couldn’t possibly impose. You need space to grieve.”
They exchanged glances with each other, and Ma was the one to speak, “if you don’t want to, that’s totally fine. But-“ she started but suddenly stopped when a lump in her throat formed, dad finished, “but, we’d gladly accept the company.” He admitted. I gave them a soft smile, “it’s settled then. No one is alone tonight.”

I went over to MJ and Erica, to wake them. But I suddenly stopped. Ma walked over, “can’t wake em, can you?”
“No… I feel like I’m ruining the only peace they’ve had in hours. I’ll just be bringing them into a painful reality.” I admitted.
“Matt, as much as I hate to say never mind believe, this is exactly what you said, reality.” She said teary eyed.
“I know, I just don’t know what to do Ma, how do I help them through this?” I looked at her as she had all the answers in the world.
“Sweetie, no one does. But me and Eric, we are going to help you through this. You’ve been our son since we met you, and that will never stop. We get through this together.” She said, pulling me into a hug.
I gladly accept the embrace and sigh, “I guess it’s time.”

“E…. MJ…. It’s time to go. Wake up” I said in a soft voice. I watched them stir and as soon as they opened their eyes, the sadness returned. It killed me inside, I feel like I keep getting stabbed with daggers, over and over and over.
“Are you okay, dad?” MJ asked with a concerned look, Erica was looking at me in the same way. I must have really look how I felt, completely and utterly destroyed. I force a sad smile, “I will be.” I replied, bringing them in for a hug. I held them for a lot longer than normal, but for once, it seemed like they didn’t mind the long embrace. I pulled away, “how are you guys?” I asked sincerely. I could see them look at one another, as if scared to speak, “really… I need to know. We are going to get through this, but you need to let me in.”
MJ started, “Not good, not good at all.”
“Terrible, the worst I have ever been” Erica interjected.
“Sadly, we are going to feel that for a while..” I replied honestly, “but that’s okay, because that just means your mom,” I started to choke up, “that your mom was really special.”
Tears escaped us all, but we quickly regained control. “How do you guys feel about sleeping at grandma and grandpa’s tonight?” I asked. I was met with frowns, something I was not expecting.
“We are not leaving you, dad,” MJ said firmly.
“We need each other.” Erica insisted.
“I know, I know, I am not going anywhere. I am going too, I think we all need to be together right now,” I replied, “even if you need to be alone, that’s okay. But I want us to be alone together, and that includes your grandparents.” I saw the first glimpse of happiness slip from my kids for the first time since this awful day has start.
“I like that,” Erica stated, “I really like that.”

 

We drove to the house in eerily silence. I couldn’t help but feel like I should’ve said something. However, what do you say to your kids when they had just lost their mother and baby brother? I could barely speak, and I really didn’t want to cry again. I wanted them to get their rest, and hopefully, be able to sleep. I didn’t want to work the kids back up; they had finally stopped crying for now. We went through drive thru, to get the kids something to eat. I didn’t bother eating, I wasn’t hungry. In fact, I thought I would never be hungry again. The kids ate in silence, and when we pulled up to Julie’s parents’ house, the kids went to change and get ready for bed. Good thing Ma bought them extra clothes; I don’t think any of us could stomach the thought of going back to the house right now. The kids didn’t take long, said goodnight to their grandparents, and asked I say goodnight in their room.
“Hey dad?” MJ said as I was saying goodnight.
“Yeah son?”
He sighed, “do you think we’ll ever feel okay again?” My heart broke, I know I won’t be okay, I don’t think I’ll ever be okay, but what do you say.
“Of course, buddy. It won’t be today, or tomorrow, maybe not even in a year, but one day, I promise, it’ll be okay.”
“But dad,” Erica started, “should we be, okay? Why would we be okay without mom?”
“Well sweetie, because that’s what she would want. She wouldn’t want us to be sad for the rest of our lives, she believed in living life to the fullest, and she would never want that to stop for us. We have each other and we have every single memory with your mom to carry with us.”
“Hey dad?” It was MJ again.
“Yes?”
“Can you stay with us until we fall asleep? I don’t want to be alone.” Normally one, E and MJ would never share a room and 2. It would be even less likely for them to want me in there. I smiled, “of course I will.” It actually took a lot less time than I had thought. By midnight, both of the kids were sound asleep. I snuck out of the room, and made my way to the kitchen. To my surprise, both of my in-laws were still awake, sitting at the table, holding hands.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt, I just came for a drink,” I stated.
Dad looked at me and pointed, a whiskey neat was already poured out for me, matching the glass his was in. “Don’t. We were waiting for you,” he spoke tiredly, “we wanted to check in.”
I grabbed the glass and plopped in the open seat. I sipped on my drink, feeling the warmth hit my chest. I sighed and tried to gather my thoughts. I looked at them, they looked exhausted.
“How are you guys?” I asked, fuck, I thought, stupid question.
“We have been better,” Ma spoke, “but thank you for giving us that last moment with her.” Ma looked away as she started to cry,
“of course,” I said, “Of course. I am so sorry you guys had to lose your daughter.”
“And we are so sorry you had to lose your wife, and your son,” dad said, “how are you holding up?”
I gulped down a big sip of my drink, and got up to refill both of our glasses, “I’m not. I’m not holding up, I had to pretend for the kids but I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to live life as if it’s all fine and normal. Because frankly, it’s not.”
“You’re absolutely right. But those kids upstairs, that’s how you do it. You be the best father you can, you keep her memory and spirit alive, and you just power through.” Ma grabbed my hand, “and you use us. We are here.”
“How are you keeping it together?” I asked, “how do I keep it together?”
“You know how she said you do it for your kids?” Dad asked. I nodded, “well we are doing it for our son.” That was all I needed; I broke down again. And to their credit, they just sat there, soothing my, holding my hand, and of course, crying as well. We stayed up until 3 am talking about Jules, the baby, and all of our memories. Ma and dad cried even harder when I told them I had named our boy ‘Julian’. They said it was the perfect tribute to both of them. They finally went upstairs at 3 but I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t bare waking up to remember this day all over again. I stayed on the porch, crying until about 7 am, when I heard the kids get up. And then, I stood up, and got ready for the first full day without my best friend.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Present Day

“I am sorry,” I finally say, standing up, “I am fine, you didn’t have to come.”
Dad stood up and wiped his teary eyes, “of course I did, Matt. You know that.”
“How’d you know I was home?” I inquired, “who told you I need a check in?”
“No one,” he insisted, “I just had a hunch.”
“you’ve always sucked at lying,” I laughed, “now who was it?”
Dad sighed, amused, and put his hands up in defeat, but then his face got sad again, “who hasn’t, son? The coaches, E, MJ, even opposing teams.”
“It’s not that bad, I am just a little sad, that’s all.” I sigh, a lie and I know it, I just hope he doesn’t know it.
“That’s not all, you haven’t been eating or showing up to work/practice. You haven’t reached out to the coaches, or even replied. Ma and I haven’t heard from you minus the quick phone calls you actually do answer. We’re worried Matt, we’re all really worried.”
I sighed, feeling like an ass. The last people I want to blow off are my in-laws, the closest I’ve ever had to parents. “I’m sorry. That’s not cool, I haven’t realized or meant to blow you and ma off.” I pause but am interrupted by dad.
“That’s not what this is son, we aren’t upset you haven’t come by or called, we are worried. We know you’re going through a lot, but we also know how important it is to not become so isolated.” Dad explained, “I know where you’ve been sleeping, and it’s not healthy, son.” He says kindly, looking around.
“I just don’t know what to do dad, I can’t function. I made it through the funeral, arrangements, paperwork, and helping the kids, but I can’t move on. I can’t live life, it’s not fair.” I confess, studying the blue and green walls, staring at the monkey Jules was so excited to give to Julian.
“You start by sleeping in your own room, your bed. Not a blow-up mattress in your late son’s nursery.” He stated. It sounded cold, but it wasn’t meant to be, I know it.
“I can’t bear to stay in that room,” I finally admit in the silence, “it’s not my room, it’s our room. How am I supposed to pretend like it’s mine?”
“You don’t son, but have you thought you may actually feel closer to her if you try it?” He probed.
“I don’t think I will ever feel better.” I said flatly.
He sighed, “it feels like that now, but that too will pass. I promise.”
We stood in silence, “I’m sorry,” I finally said in a cry.
Dad looked confused, “for what?”
I took a breath, “for not saving her. For letting her go alone, for not being there for here in the end. For allowing this to happen. I was supposed to protect her and I failed. I couldn’t protect her and the baby when it mattered the most, I am just so sorry!” There it was, the sob pent up inside of me, came roaring out.
Dad actually look mad for a second, and he grabbed my shoulders, “STOP IT!” He said harshly, “just stop it! You can be sad, you can be hurt, you can be sorry for what happened, but don’t you ever think or feel like this was your fault.” His voice went soft, “Matt, it was a routine ultrasound, in the middle of a school day, of course you didn’t go. Why would you go? You did nothing wrong, what happened was that driver’s fault, and he will pay for the rest of his life, you get that?
I was taken aback from the ferocity in his voice, he was right, of course he was. So why couldn’t I believe it?
“Do you understand that, son?” He repeated.
I shook my head, “Yeah, I guess I do.”
“Good,” he replied, squeezing my shoulders, “you better not be lying to me.”
“I’m not,” I assured him, “I think I just have been so down, and so out of it, because it should’ve been me. If one of us had to go, it should’ve been me.” It’s the first time I admitted it out loud, and I was crying. I truly believe and wish it was me.
“Oh son,” dad was choked up, “it shouldn’t have been either of you. You think this would be any better, any easier, on the kids, us, your friends if it were you? I can assure you, it would hurt just as much.”
“I just, Julie was such a good soul. Such a good person, you may be right, but I would do anything to trade places for her to be here.” I said candidly.
“I know you would, son, I know you would.” He replied.
“Thank you for coming,” I said, filling the comfortable silence, “I didn’t know I needed you to kick me in the ass, but I did. And I promise, I will be better with my communication.”
He chuckled, “you really mean that?”
“Of course,” I said, “I don’t know what I’d do without you and Ma.”
“that’s a relief,” dad sighed, “because I was instructed not to come home without you… So, get what you need, you’re coming with me today.”
I chuckled and rolled my eyes, “of course you were.” Classic Ma.

We drove to my in-laws’ house together, I think dad thought I wouldn’t make it otherwise. I was promised I could go home with my children after a long family night, something I actually needed, so I obliged. The short ride to their house was pleasant. For the first time in a while, I actually enjoyed myself. Every now and then, a dagger would twist and remind me of what I had lost, just a short month earlier.

When we pulled in the drive way, Ma was actually standing on the porch, as if she was anticipating my arrival.
“Matt!” she yelled, running over to hug me, “my god, it’s so good to see you? Have you been eating?! There’s no way you’ve been eating.”
I laughed, “Hi ma, I’ll be fine,” I smiled, “For the first time in a while, I think I’ll be fine. I’ve missed you, how are you?”
She sighed, “you know, I’m okay. Some days are harder than others, but you know, dad and I are always keeping busy, so we’re doing alright.”
I smiled, “Good, you have no idea how that makes me feel. Listen ma-“ but I was cut off.
“Matthew Saracen, I swear to the sweet lord, if you’re about to apologize,” I laughed but she continued, “you’re here now and you’re okay. You deal with it any way you need to, just know, we are always here.”
“I know, I love you, Ma,” I said with a smile as I went in for the long embrace, “thank you for everything. You have no idea how much it means to me.”

For the first time in a long time, I was able to fully enjoy myself. It was a Friday, so the weekend was coming, which meant I didn’t have to face the school, not yet at least. I spent the day with my in-laws, laughing and reminiscing, no tears this time. We heard the sound of MJ and Erica letting themselves in, I had told them to come here instead of home after school.
“Hey dad,” MJ smiled, “it’s really good to see you up and about!”
“Thanks son,” I smiled, “it’s really good to be up and about, thank your grandfather.” I chuckled. “Where’s your sister?” I questioned.
MJ pointed upstairs, “I think she wants to be alone.”
“School didn’t go so well?” I inquired.
“Not for her,” MJ paused, as if debating whether to continue.
‘MJ,” I probed, “it’s okay, you can tell me.”
“She had a break down in school today. Apparently, she was passing mom’s classroom at the end of the day, and lost it.”
I brought my hand to my mouth, “oh no, I should’ve been there. Or I should’ve made sure she was really ready to go back.” I sighed, I can’t believe I wasn’t there for her, “why did no one call me?”
“It happened right before I drove us home,” MJ answered, “I’m sure coach Riggins called the house or something, he’s the one who took Erica into a classroom while someone came to get me.”
“Okay, I need to go check on her.” I paused, “are you okay? Honestly?”
MJ sighed, “it was a lot harder than I expected, but I really needed to go and try to resume life. The guys were all amazing.”
I smile, “I’m glad it helped,” as I gave him a quick hug, “now, we’ll talk more football when I’m done with Erica. Go hang out with your grandparents.” MJ nodded and went into the kitchen. I pinched my nose and held back a tear, yet another thing I feel I failed at. I didn’t make sure my daughter was okay, I should’ve been there. I sucked in a big breath before heading up the stairs. I pause outside of Erica’s room, hand hovering by the door. I go to knock, but I hear crying. There’s the dagger again. I manage to knock, “Sweetie,” I say, no answer, “it’s dad. Can I come in?” I hear some movement and the door becomes unlatched, but doesn’t open. “Okay, I’m coming in.” I announce. When I enter, Erica is back on the bed, curled up and crying.
“Oh baby,” I whisper, I kneel down by the bed and rub her back, “I am so sorry. I should’ve been there. I’m so sorry you are going through this; I would do anything to take the pain away.” Erica just nodded, “do you want to talk about it?”
She looked up at me with teary eyes, “No, not really,” she sniffled, “if it’s okay, can I just be alone for the day?”
“Of course, E,” I said softly, “whatever you need. I love you, sweetie,”
“Thank dad, I love you too.” Erica responded, turning away from me. I planted a kiss on the side of her head, covered her with a blanket, and went to slip out of the room. “I’ll come back later to check on you.” I whispered into the quiet before shutting the door behind me. I sighed, and sat by the door, wanting to be as close as possible. I put my head against the door and closed my eyes. It didn’t take long for my phone to ring, so I got up, stepped away, and answered it.

“Hey Riggs,” I said into the phone.
“Hey Matt, how are you?” He replied, I could hear the concern in my voice.
“I’ve been better. I just left Erica in her room. I hear I have you to thank?”
Tim sighed, “Of course, I’m glad you were filled in. I actually wanted to talk to you about that,” He paused, “if you have time of course.”
I thought about it, I didn’t really want to leave Erica but I wanted to know what happened, “can you come by Coach’s house?” I questioned. Even all these years later, dad was referred to as “coach” by anyone he knew back then, especially players.
“Yeah, that would be great, I’ll be there in 10?”
“Perfect, thanks Tim.” I hung up and went downstairs. I was met by concerned looks from everyone in the house.
“Well, I didn’t get much out of her, she just wants to be alone. So, if everyone could, just let her sleep and rest for now.” I explained.
“of course,” Ma replied, “I’ll bring her some tea in about an hour.”
“Hun,” dad started, “he just said to leave her alone.” A flash of hurt spread across ma’s face.
“Actually, I think that would be great, thank you Ma.” My mother-in-law smiled and jokingly stuck out her tongue to my father-in-law, who just rolled his eyes playfully. “Tim is going to stop by, if that’s okay,” I continued, “he wants to talk to me about what happened. Apparently, he was there and saw the whole thing.”
“Of course!” Dad said, “tell him to stay for dinner and have Tyra come by too! We miss that girl.”
“That’s a wonderful idea!” Ma beamed.
MJ looked annoyed, “What about Erica? Doesn’t anyone care she’s hurting?!” With that, he stormed upstairs. We all looked around, a little shocked. I was about to go after him, when the doorbell rang.
I sighed, “one problem at a time, I guess,” I said to my in-laws.
“Don’t worry about MJ, I’ll check on him. You talk to Tim.”
“Thanks dad, I appreciate it!” I yelled, walking to the door.

“Hey man,” Tim said before walking in, “I hope you don’t mind but Tyra came along.”
I shook his hand and gave Tyra a hug, “Hey guys!”
“Matty,” Tyra exclaimed, “it’s so good to see you. How are you?” her eyes filled with concern.
“It’s minute by minute,” I gave a small smile, “Please, come in!”
Ma practically came running in, “is that Tyra I hear?!”
“Hi Mrs. T,” Tyra said with a smile, “It is so good to see you! I came to hang out with you while the boys talk, is that alright?”
“Oh Hun. You know better than to ask stupid questions! Come in, let me make you some Tea! Oh, and hi Timmy, there’s beer in the fridge!” Tim gave Ma a hug, “thanks, Mrs. T. I appreciate it!”

The girls went in the kitchen, and my and Tim followed. We grabbed our beers and went to the back patio. We sat in the overly comfortable chairs mom and dad spent a fortune on. I take a sip of my beer and gaze out into the clearing. I feel Riggs looking at me.
I sigh, “man, what the hell happened today?”
Tim looked down and up at me, “it was the end of the day, and I saw Erica was walking slowly down the hall, ignoring her friends.” He paused to take a sip, “I don’t know Man, something about it, I just had a feeling.”
I was nodding, hanging on to every word.
He cleared his throat and continued, “I hovered near by, and as Erica walked by Julie’s office, she looked panicked. I started walking over and she just broke down man, in the hall. Full on sobbing. I sent one of her friends to get MJ and I took her into a nearby room to calm down. It was bad Matty, it was really bad.”
Biting my fist, the tears fought to come, “fuck man. I should’ve been there. I should’ve known it was too much, especially without me there to come to.”
Tim looked at me, “Matty, it wasn’t your fault. She thought she was ready, and you believed it too. You weren’t ready, and that’s okay.”
I looked away, “man, what do I do? How do I make this easier?”
Tim leaned closer, slapping my knee, “I wish I knew buddy; I wish I knew.”
We sat in silence for a bit, as I was about to ask about unofficial practice, he spoke up.
“Matty, how’re you doing? I haven’t heard from you or seen you since that day. Well, one text asking me to cover but that’s all. We’re worried brother.”
I sniffled, “I know. I’m sorry. But honesty, until today, I couldn’t leave the house, much less the nursery without breaking down. She was my whole world, my life. I just am lost. Going through the motions. The thought of school-“ I took a deep breath, “the thought of school is impossible. The thought of a game without her there, forget it. The thought of not having my son to come home to, unfathomable.”
Tim just nodded, searching for words. He looked at me, “Matt, we have never been overly emotional with one another, it’s never been in our nature. But through the years, you’ve become my best friend, my true brother. I hate seeing you like this. I hope you know, I am always here for you. Whether you need a laugh, a cry, or a distraction, I got your back.”
“Thanks Riggs,” I said, “I really appreciate that.”
Tim got emotional, tearing up, “I can’t even imagine the pain you’re going through. Jules,” He stopped and composed himself, “she was a special girl. I loved her like a sister, and man, has it been hard. I just keep thinking of how amazing she was and how lucky Tyra and I are to have had Jules as a best friend.”
I laughed, “she was amazing. And no offense, who would’ve ever thought y’all would become so close.”
Tim smirked, “sure as hell not me. But I am so beyond grateful I was wrong.”
“I hope you know she loved you, you and Tyra.” I said, “I’ve been so caught up in my feelings, I never even asked, how are you two holding up?”
Tim sighed, and looked into the kitchen, studying his wife. “I’m doing okay, staying busy. Tyra, she’s been a mess. Jules was more like a sister to her than Mandy, and she is just so lost without her.”
I nodded, “our girls were inseparable, weren’t they?” I smiled at the memories of them together, “well, I am really glad Tyra came over tonight.” I looked at Ma and Tyra, laughing with wet eyes, “I think they both needed this.” Tim nodded before a calm serenity took over as we just sat in silence.

Tim sat up, “Hey, I have an idea.”
“Mmhmm,” I reply, still in my own head.
“How about tomorrow night, we get the other two coaches, and get drunk on the field? We can talk about football and everything, but mainly, just get you out again, man.”
“Just like after my dad died,” I smile at that memory. Such a painful time, but such an important moment that I have always been grateful for.”
“What do you say?” Tim pressed.
“I don’t know. The kids are in rough shape right now, I’m not sure I should be leaving them.” I reply.
“That’s why tomorrow. You take tonight and tomorrow day, figure it out. If you need help, you know where to find me. But come on Matty, you need this. Leave the kids with coach and take a night.”
“Okay, maybe. We’ll see how tonight goes.” I reply slowly.
Tim smirked, “good.” Just then, dad walked out, “Hey son?”
“Yeah, what’s up? How is he?” I asked, standing up.
“He’s okay, I calmed him down a bit but he could really use you right now, he’s in the basement.”
I put my hand on his shoulder, “thank you, dad. I got it.” With that, I went inside, while my father-in-law filled the empty chair near Tim.

“Hey son,” I say, reaching the end of the stairs, “is it okay if I sit?” MJ was playing Maddon, he looked up but kept playing. I thought I saw a tear, but he rubbed his eye, and it was gone.
“That’s fine, we can just sit here, I’ll be right here,” I said before whispering, “I’ll always be right here.”
“But you won’t!” He paused the game and turned to me with tears in his eyes, “but you won’t. Mom said that, and she’s not here. You weren’t there when Erica needed you. You weren’t there today in non-practice practice when I got sacked because I just stopped, tearing up looking at where mom always sat. You weren’t even there for mom when she died!” At that moment, I have felt the lowest I’ve ever felt. My own child resented me, and who could blame him? He’s right, I haven’t been there for anyone. I felt my face show all the hurt and sorrow in the world, I tried to stop it but I couldn’t. I know it must’ve been bad because MJ immediately followed it up.
“Dad…. Dad I didn’t mean it. I didn’t! I’m so sorry!” MJ sobbed. I put my arm around him and he leaned into me.
“Don’t be sorry, you’re absolutely right. I replay that day, over and over in my head. I should’ve been with her; I should’ve never let her go alone. I have been so consumed by grief; I didn’t take the time to really notice that this was all too soon, especially without me there. I should’ve never sent you back to school alone, not until I was 100% sure you guys were ready and okay.”
“Dad, you’ve got nothing to blame yourself for. I didn’t mean any of it. You were our rock and never got to break, while Erica and I completely unraveled.” MJ said sincerely, “I never should have said what I said about not being there for mom, that was low and I don’t even believe it. I thank god every day you weren’t with her, because I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you both.” I just squeezed him tighter, “I mean it, I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’m sorry for blowing up earlier. I just don’t know how to keep living and move on without mom and Julian. I feel guilty. I don’t want to forget them.” MJ confessed.
I took a deep breath, “Oh MJ, the last thing your mom would want is for you to feel guilty. It would break her heart to see you and Erica so broken. Take your time, grieve, but it’s okay to live. It’s okay to laugh and have fun when you are grieving, it doesn’t mean your forgetting them or the tragedy, it just means for a small second, you are choosing to live. And the small second will become longer and longer, and that’s okay. That’s great. I can promise you this one thing, with all the certainty in the world, we will never forget your mom. We will not stop telling het story, and we will always hold a spot in our hearts for Julian. You didn’t die, MJ. You didn’t die, so that means you still have to live.” I gave him a smile. His sobs had dissipated and he seemed to be calm again. After a period of silence, we talked about his quick break down on the field. He assured me he was okay, the feelings just startled him as they all flooded back in. We made a plan to go to the field with dad in the morning, to try and make it okay. We talked about his future in football, he had a stellar season last year, topped ranked in the nation and the team had won state. I talked to him about who showed up to practice, it seems to me like we got some work and searching to do for some of our star players. I assured him that, come Monday, he would have his coach back. MJ was over the moon. After a while, we went upstairs, the Riggins were gone. I checked my phone, six messages.
TIM: Alright Matty, we left! Great seeing you be yourself again, even if it was just a couple of hours.
I’ll respond later, next message was in “coach chat”

Tim: 10 pm at the field, bring the beer.
Jess: 10 pm? What the hell, Riggs?
Tim: Matty needs us.
Luke: That’s what I like to hear. In that case, I’ll bring a 24 pack.
Vince: Consider the Howard’s in. Looking forward to it.

MJ went to join his grandparents, so I went to check on Erica. I knocked, no answer. I knocked again, just a little louder, “yeah?” a tired voice responded.
“Can I come in, sweetie?” I questioned.
“Yeah, yeah you can.” I walked into the room and Erica sat up in bed, “hey dad.”
“Hey sweets, how are you doing?” I asked, pushing her hair out of her face.
“Better, I am sorry for earlier.” Erica whispered.
“E, remember what I said about emotions? Don’t ever apologize for how you are processing things. I just want to know, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay. A little embarrassed but I don’t know dad, all of my sadness just flooded back in when I passed mom’s classroom. I didn’t expect it to hit me like that.”
“Oh E, I am so sorry. I should’ve been there, from now on, I will be. I am sorry it hit you but everyone at that school knows what you’ve been through. I promise you, no one thought anything other than, “Poor Erica, I wish I knew how to help her.” It’s not embarrassing honey, it’s just life.”
“you’re always so positive,” erica laughed through a sniffle, “and if you’re not ready, don’t come back. I promise we’ll be fine.”
I smiled, “I appreciate that, E, I really do. But I think it’s time I start into a routine again. I need to get out of the house.”
Erica looked at me intensely, “are you going to sleep in your room again?” The question surprised me.
“Why do you ask?” I inquired.
She sighed, “dad, it’s not healthy. You need to get out of Julian’s room. You don’t sleep, you just cry. We can hear you; we get worried. You need to take care of yourself.”
I bowed my head, “I didn’t realize you could hear me.”
“mmhmm” Erica said, “but it’s okay. We just want you to be okay again.”
“I’m getting there. Today is the first day in a very long time where I could say that. I think we’re getting there.”
“Good,” Erica hugged me, “so your own room?”
I shuddered at the thought, “how about no more nursery? I am not ready to go into my room yet, but I will sleep on the couch, does that work?” I hated that, I just said ‘my room’. It’ll never really be my room, it will forever be ‘our room’.
E smiled, “I’ll take it. I love you, dad.”
“I love you to, E. Are you coming down or going to sleep?” I inquired.
“I’m going to sleep if that’s okay, I’m exhausted.”
“of course,” I got up and kissed her forehead, “goodnight E, I love you.”
“I love you too, dad. Thank you.” Erica then rolled over and shut her eyes.
In the hall, I run into MJ, who says goodnight. I make my way downstairs and see Ma sitting at the table. When she saw me, she stood and hugged me, “you were super dad today, Matt. Those kids needed you and you showed up, I am very proud of you.”
“Thanks ma,” I said, “but that’s what I should’ve been doing from the start.”
“You have been, you just don’t give yourself enough credit,” she said plainly. I smile and shake my head.
“Where’s dad?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, he had to go to bed, told me to tell you goodnight. I am actually heading that way right now.” Ma explained.
“I didn’t expect to sleep over, sorry for imposing.”
“That’s nonsense and you know it, Matt!” she said lightly slapping my arm.
“Hey, you think I could slip out for a while, I need to go do something at the house.”
Ma looked concerned, “so late and alone?”
“Yeah. It’s something I need to do.”
“I can get dressed and come with you,” Ma offered.
I hugged her again, “that is so sweet, but this is something I need to do alone.”
“Are you going to be okay?” Ma questioned, not sure whether or not to listen to me.
“I will be, eventually. I think this will help.” I said honestly.
“Well go then,” she replied, “and Matthew?”
“Yeah?” I answered.
“You have our number, if you find yourself needing someone.” With that, ma kissed my cheek and headed to bed.
“Thanks, goodnight Ma.” I replied, grabbing MJ’s keys and heading out the door.

The drive was short, too short. I pull into the driveway and stare into the empty house. I think back to when I would sit here after a game or practice, peering into the window to watch my beautiful wife move around the kitchen. I loved watching her, whatever she did, she made it look effortless and looked so good doing it. I sighed as there was no movement in the windows, no light. This was the first time since Jules had died that I’ve been at this house alone during the night. I would be home alone if the kids went out during the day, and that was hard. But the idea of being there at night with no one… that was unbearable. I thought about turning around, going back to ma and dads, and slipping into bed. I thought of how easy it would be to turn back now. But no, I promised my kids things would be different, that I’d be okay and there for them, and the only way to do that, was to face our house alone. To face the room I thought I would always share with Jules. To accept that Julian would never get a chance to sleep in his room. It was my chance to come to terms with what had happened. After what felt like an eternity, I glanced at the clock, it was 12:32 am. I knew this would take some time, so after a deep breath, I turned off the car and walked toward the front door.

I slid the key in the lock, hoping that it would be rejected. However, that did not happen. The key turned the lock effortlessly, so I gulped and opened the door.

“Hello?” a familiar voice called out, “who’s home?” I saw my wife’s head peer around the corner, “Honey! What are you doing here? I thought you were gone for another day?”
I smiled, holding the flowers I had bought on the way home, “the conference ended early, hey babe.” I walk to my wife and plant a long kiss on her lips. “I missed you,” I said, shifting my focus to her swollen belly, “And I missed you, too!” I kneel and plant a kiss on her stomach. “How are you guys doing?” I questioned. Jules started crying, “we’re good,” she said taking the flowers to a vase, “we’re really good now that your home!” Jules’ hormones were all out of whack, and she had been very weepy lately.
“Thank you for the flowers, they’re beautiful, but you did not have to do that!” She spoke.
“Babe, don’t cry. And of course, I didn’t have to, but I wanted to. Jules, you make me want to do so many things.” I said, smirking. I walked over and gave her a long hug, “when do the kids get home from school?” I whispered in her ear.
“They don’t,” I smiled, “They both are spending the weekend with my parents, they are going to the cabin for the weekend. Ma is going to pick them up from school.”
I couldn’t help but smile. I picked up my wife, who even at 7 months pregnant, was as light as ever. She wrapped her legs around me and squealed playfully. I took her to our room and gently laid her on the bed. Our mouths, like magnets, drawn to each other. Being away from Jules for any amount of time was always hard, especially when she’s pregnant. This past 7-day trip felt like an eternity, so I was so happy to learn that we wouldn’t have to stay the 3 extra days as originally planned.
“Oh,” I whispered, “I’ve miss you babe. I’ve really fucking missed you.” I deepen our kiss, “so much.”
Julie moaned, “That’s a good thing, Mr. Saracen, because I’ve missed you so damn much as well. Not to mention, I’ve been horny as hell too.” Julie smirked.
“That’s it,” I say with a grin, “you’re mine.” As we make out, my hands take in her body, exploring every inch. “You’re so damn sexy, babe.”
Julies arches her back in response to my touch, “I always forget you have a little bit of a pregnancy kink.”
“You know it,” I wink, “you are just so damn beautiful.”
“I think you just like it because I get more sensitive,” Julie says, “oh fuck babe.” Julie says in a moan as my fingers find her wet opening. I tease entry before focusing on her clit. I rub in a circle before flicking it. I move my fingers faster and faster. She bites my lip and I know she’s enjoying it. I return to the opening and enter with three fingers. A gasp escapes her mouth, as her back arches more. I take my time, pleasuring her. My tight boxers get wetter and wetter, I can get off just by her reaction.
“Babe,” she moans, “I need you. I need you now.” That’s all I need to hear; I flip her onto her knees. I take down my boxers, my flesh is straight as an arrow. I place my hands on Julie’s hips and pull her close to me. Julie cries out in pleasure as my full length enters her. Our bodies fit perfectly and they sync up. I rock back and forth, never leaving her completely. Julie’s breathing gets heavier and heavier. I start to pick up speed, grunting as I thrust myself as far into my love as I can.
“Babe,” she gasps, “faster, faster.”
“God, I love when you beg,” I reply, going even faster. I am almost out of breath, “fuck babe, I’m so close.”
“Good,” she says in pleasure, “come in me baby, come for me.” I pull her into me one final time and hold her there as we both yell out in pleasure. I half collapse on her back and she falls to her forearms. I lay there for a second before flipping us. I am on the bottom, and she is half on me, half on her side. We lay there still for a while, our bodies still pressed together, my arms holding her close, hand draped on her stomach. She flips over to face me and I lean over to give her a sweet kiss.
“I love you so much.” I whisper.
“I love you so much.” She returns with a smile. “Welcome home, babe.”
We spent the whole weekend together, never even left the house. We cooked and laughed, we got intimate, and we just hung out. We never had the house to ourselves for long, and pretty soon, it would never happen. We couldn’t wait for Julian to arrive, but we also cherished the alone time of the weekend. Saturday night, over dinner, we decided to talk about the future.
“Can you believe it? You won state, babe!” Julie brought up.
“I cannot. This season, this season was amazing. Can you believe MJ?! He’s the real deal.” I replied.
“I know he’s good, babe, but just how good is he?” Jules questioned.
I smiled, “really fucking good. At the conference, do you know how many people came up to me to talk about MJ?”
“Really?!” Jules gasped, “that’s amazing!”
“He can go pro if he really wants, and it’s not just me saying that. Ask anyone.” I said, “of course, only if he wants to.”
Jules grabbed my hand, “of course, it’s his choice… but how amazing would that be?!”
“Amazing, then the boy could start paying for us!” I laughed.
“And E, I’m so proud of her. Just a sophomore and editor of the school paper, involved in yearbook, and stage hand!” Jules beamed.
“We have some pretty good ones, don’t we?” I questioned, putting my hand on her belly, “and we’re going to have another stud. I can’t wait to see all he accomplishes.”
Julie put her hand on mine, “he’s going to be special; I just know it.”
We laughed and talked, and spent all night and morning, in bed, talking and watching movies.
“This,” I said while cleaning up lunch, “this. This was my favorite weekend ever.
Jules smiled and walked over, “this is how I hope we always stay. I can’t wait until we’re 90 spending our weekends like this. This is the weekend I’ll think of if things ever get tough. This is how I picture every weekend of our lives.”
I smiled and pulled her in for a long kiss, “I love you, forever and always.”
“I love you, too. Forever and ever and ever and always.” She said as the front door swung over.
“At last, our weekend comes to an end,” I mumbled, planting one last kiss on my wife as our quiet weekend vanished with the return of our children.

I enter the dark house, no one there to greet me. I walk in, almost tripping over MJ’s football bag. I sigh and turn on the lights, the same old house now illuminated. I look around, it’s a mess. Julie always kept us in line, I wasn’t the cleanest all of the time. I sigh and turn down the long, dark hallway. I walk past our room and stand in the doorway, leading to the nursery. I suck in some air and turn on the light. I smile seeing ‘Julian’ painted in Julie’s handwriting. We used non-toxic paint of course, keep Jules and the baby safe. I sniffle and walk in; I start to deflate the mattress I have been sleeping on since that dreaded day. I clean up the sleeping area, put it away, and return to the room. I grab the monkey and sit in the rocking chair, hugging the stuffed animal and letting a few tears escape. I sat there for a good amount of time, talking to Julian, sharing my sorrows and how life would be with him here. I tell him I will always love and think of him, but I need to pack up the nursery. I need to heal; I need to help the kids heal. I hope he understands. We need this space to not be a constant reminder and dagger of the life we will never know. I get up, put the monkey back, and say goodbye. My eyes are stinging with tears, I am so glad no one is here. It kills me that the kids had heard me sobbing night after night. I wouldn’t have if I could control it. But I had to do better... I just had to. I walk next door, to the room I once shared with Jules. I took a deep breath and entered, for the third time since coming home from the hospital. I went in once to get all my clothes and toiletries out, and once to pick out an outfit for Julie to be buried in. Instantly, I am regretting my decision. The air gets thicker, and I have trouble breathing. I walk into the closet and grab Julie’s favorite sweater; I love it because it still smells like her. I sigh, holding back tears as I go back to the bed. I sit down, hugging the sweater. I try to keep myself composed but I break down. Loud, violent sobs escape me, but I don’t try to hide it. My body convulses with every sob as I lie down. I talk to my beloved between sobs, I beg to wake up from this nightmare, I offer for me to go if Julie could come back. I tell her how much I love her, how I miss her, and how I am clueless and lost without her. I start to calm down, still hugging her sweater as tight as possible. I explain how I am going to do better, for the kids, for me, and for her and Julian. I swear, I am going to make you proud, I tell her. I tell her I love her, and I’ll never forget her or go a second without thinking about her. A calm comes over me, almost as Jules is responding to me, telling me it’s okay. Telling me that she’s always with me and that I can do this. Slowly, my face dries and I drift off to sleep, still holding my love’s sweater.

I startle awake, not realizing where I am. I look around and for the first time, I am comforted by my surroundings. I glance at the clock, 4:35 am. ‘Shit’ I think, ‘I gotta get back’. I get up, leaving the sweater on the bed. I look around and smile, saying goodbye as I leave the room. I turn off all the lights, before slipping out the door. I breathe in the cool, refreshing air and start to walk to the car, when suddenly I stop. There’s another car in the driveway, but it’s too late to make it out. I walk up to it, and peak in. I see dad sleeping in the driver’s seat. I knock on the door, he jumps awake. I walk around and enter through the passenger door. He looks at me with tired, kind eyes.

“Dad?” I questioned, “What’re you doing here?”
He yawned before responding, “Tami told me you came back to the house when she got into bed,” he yawned again, “we both wanted to make sure you were okay. I had to come in case you needed someone.”
I smile, “but it’s so late. I appreciate that, I appreciate that so much. But I am okay. How long have you been here?”
“Mmm since about 1:30.”
“1:30?! Why didn’t you come in?” I asked, secretly glad he didn’t.
“I knew you needed to do this alone, but I also knew you needed support. I didn’t come to impose; I came to make sure you were okay. I lost a daughter; I’ll be damned if I lose a son too.”
“You won’t,” I said, squeezing his shoulder, “I promise, you won’t.”
He patted my hand, “Are you okay? Will you be okay.”
I paused, and then responded as honestly as I could, “for the first time in a while, I can honestly say everything will be alright. It may not be easy, and it may take a while, but we’re going to be just fine. We are going to make it through this.”
Dad smiled, “I think so, too. I love you, son.”
I smiled back, “I love you too, dad.”