Lucas sat on the edge of the bed, smiling to himself as the dim morning light came in through the windows.
Another year down… He thought. Where had the time gone?
It was such a cliché, but there were moments when it truly felt like only yesterday that Krystina was the gurgling little newborn he’d once held in his arms. Sometimes he found himself wishing he could go back and re-live those early days of fatherhood once again. But, of course, there was no going back –only forward.
Lucas took great care not to wake Mel as he rose from the bed and began getting dressed. She’d had another late night at the office, and an extra few minutes of sleep was certainly deserved.
Melanie had begun working from home very soon after Krystina was born, and started going back to the office not long after that. His wife had been working tirelessly ever since, earning the respect and admiration of both her superiors and colleagues over the years. Though she had not quite managed to achieve her dream of starting her own software company, Mel loved her job helping to run one as a senior manager. And with the Vice President’s retirement looming, she had her sights on another potential promotion in the not-too-distant future…
Lucas always admired his wife’s hard work, and felt so fortunate to be able to share his life with someone who valued her career as much as he did.
As for himself, Lucas’ steady job at the catering company had continued on for a few more years after Krystina’s birth. But everything changed shortly after his daughter’s 3rd birthday, when his parents were finally ready to drop a bombshell. They’d been saving away for years, and finally felt ready to present him with a very special gift — a check with more zeros than he’d ever seen in his life.
“This is for all your hard work.” They’d told him happily. “You’ve been dreaming of opening your own restaurant for so long… Now here’s your chance.”
Lucas had lived a very comfortable childhood, but his parents had never outright spoiled him, or showered their wealth upon him. And now this… It was just too much. He tried and tried to refuse their generosity, but they would have none of it.
And so, with his parent’s much-appreciated help, Lucas’ lifelong dream finally became a reality.
As Lucas closed the dresser drawer, he was brought back to the present by the sound of Melanie stirring behind him.
“Morning.” She smiled as she smoothed the covers on her side of the bed.
“Go back to sleep, honey.” Lucas replied gently.
Mel just shook her head. “I’m fine.” She said. “And there’s no way I’m missing breakfast with the birthday girl.” Her smile widened as she spoke.
“Fair enough.” Her husband laughed. “You’re off today anyway, aren’t you? Plenty of time for a catnap later.”
Melanie shook her head yet again. “I’m going shopping with your mom, remember?”
“Oh yeah…” Guess dad’s still driving her a little crazy.
They’d all suffered a horrible shock a little over a year ago when Damien was rushed to the hospital for shortness of breath and a sudden pain in his chest. As they’d feared, it was a heart attack – and a pretty nasty one at that.
That was how they diagnosed his heart disease. At the time, Damien had tried to joke about the irony of a doctor failing to recognize his own symptoms – but no one else found it very funny.
After his recovery, he ended up retiring a few years earlier than he’d originally planned. Damien decided it was time to relax, try to take care of his heart, and, in case he didn’t get so lucky the next time, enjoy as much time with his granddaughter as possible.
All well and good, of course. Except for poor Becca who, much as she loved her husband, was not exactly used to having him home every minute of every day. Lucas and Mel did their best to keep his parents occupied, and give them a little time away from each other every now and then.
Mel retrieved her glasses from the bedside table and crossed the bedroom to join her husband.
“Did Laura ever get back to you about tonight?” She asked. “I assumed they were coming but…”
Lucas nodded. “They’ll be there.” He said with a smile. “Sam too!”
“He’s back?” Mel asked happily.
“Should have landed last night.” Lucas smiled. “I bet he’ll have a lot to tell this time… and you know how much Krysti loves Sam’s stories.” He added with a laugh.
The past several years had been very kind to Sam. After several gigs opening for comedy tours around the country, he started developing a decent following of fans – particularly online. It brought him a lot of happiness, and a lot of money – which was wonderful for supporting his and Laura’s three growing children.
A few months ago, he’d been overjoyed to announce he’d be headlining his own small string of shows at comedy clubs up and down the coast. Sam had been gone for five long weeks, and Lucas couldn’t wait to hear all about his adventures.
“And, uh… What about Noah… and Cam?” Mel asked uneasily.
Lucas bit his lip. “I dunno.” He replied, looking down at the carpet uncomfortably.
Lucas and Mel had still been reeling from Damien’s heart attack when they received another unexpected shock.
After nearly fourteen years of marriage and two children together, Noah and Camryn had separated.
The stress of working a job he despised, the monotony of his long marriage, and the difficulty of raising two children had weighed heavily on Noah. He’d been struggling for a long time, until he finally cracked and started sleeping around behind his wife’s back.
When the guilt became too much and he finally confessed to Camryn, she was, of course, completely devastated. She made him pack up and move out the very same day.
With no where else to go, he’d arrived on the Ainsworth’s doorstep that morning, with a large suitcase of belongings and tears in his eyes. Lucas and Mel were shocked and appalled at the news, but simply couldn’t turn him away. They decided to let him stay with them for a while as he looked for a new place to live.
In the nearly 30 years he’d known him, Lucas had never seen Noah shed a single tear. But during those two months, he saw enough to last a lifetime.
That was a little less than a year ago. And while Noah and Cam had still not gotten divorced during that time, they also had not officially gotten back together either. While the couple were taking baby steps to try and save their relationship, things were still up in the air. But they always put on a brave face for their children.
Lucas felt crushed to see it all unfold. How could this have happened? How could Noah be so heartless? And would his remorse be enough to win her back? He wondered. Though he still held on to hope that his friends would be able to work it out, he knew that even if they did, things would never be the same again – for any of them.
“I’m sure one of them will drop off the kids, at least.” Mel said, trying to smile as she crossed to the dresser and began changing out of her pajamas. “Zane and Haylee won’t wanna miss the party, I’m sure.”
Lucas nodded, hoping she was right. One of the things he’d loved seeing most over the years was just how close his and his friends’ children had become. It had been a bit sad, at first, when Lucas and Mel realized that Krystina would have to be an only child. But they decided she didn’t need another sibling – she had five already, really.
“Alright.” Lucas smiled as Mel finished getting ready. “If you wanna go wake the birthday girl, I’ll go make breakfast.”
“Sounds like a plan!”
As Lucas stood over the hot stove, he still found his mind continuing to wander, looking back on everything that had happened over the past nine years. He’d seen so many ups and downs in his life and the lives of those around him – but through it all, there was one thing that managed to make the good times sweeter, and the bad times a little less hard.
She was kind and intelligent, just like her mother.
But she had a creative soul too, just like him.
She always found some new way to amaze him and Mel, every day.
Lucas could scarcely believe how quickly she had grown into the beautiful little girl they had today. But he was so happy that she did.
“Yay! Birthday pancakes!” A cry of delight came from behind him, awakening Lucas from his thoughts.
“Hey!” Lucas smiled brightly, looking over his shoulder. “Happy birthday, babygirl!”
“Thanks!” Krystina smiled sweetly. “Those smell so yummy… Did you remember the chocolate chips?”
“I did.” He replied. “But I was waiting for a very special helper to come put them in for me…”
“Sounds like an important job!” Mel chimed in, smiling. “I wonder who’d be up for a task like that…”
Krystina rolled her eyes slightly, but giggled as she hopped off the stool.
“Hmm… Smiley faces?” She asked, readying the bag of chocolate chips.
Lucas laughed. “Definitely.”
“Don’t forget, we’re picking you up after school so we can get ready for the party!” Mel said excitedly as she hugged her daughter. “So make sure you don’t get on the bus.”
“I know.” Krystina smiled as she pulled away from her mother’s embrace.
“And don’t forget to give the note about it to your teacher.”
The little girl looked slightly exasperated, but kept her smile. “I will, mommy.”
“I’ll be there around eleven to drop off the cupcakes.” Lucas leaned down and kissed his daughter on the cheek.
Krystina groaned softly. “Dad…”
“What?” Lucas smirked. “Too old for kisses already?”
“No… I guess not…” Krystina admitted. “Maybe next year though.” She teased.
“Happy Birthday, honey.” Mel called as Krystina headed to the door. “Have a great day!”
Her daughter looked over her shoulder with a small smile. “You too, mom.”
“Can you believe that used to be our baby?” Lucas marveled as Krystina headed out into the soft morning sun.
“She’s still our baby.” Mel assured him. “She’s just growing up way too fast.”
“Tell me about it.” Lucas laughed.
It was difficult to wrap his head around just how quickly the time had flown. Today was his daughter’s ninth birthday, and Mel had already begun planning a celebration for his own 40th birthday next month.
“When did I get so old?” He muttered to himself.
His wife raised an eyebrow at him. “Old? Sweetie, if you’re old, then I must be ancient.” Mel laughed.
Lucas shook his head. “Not you, babe. You’ll never be old to me.” He smiled softly at her.
“Wow.” Mel giggled. “Smooth.”
The pair were still laughing to themselves as the schoolbus finally arrived. They watched from the doorway as it pulled out of sight, then got straight to work preparing for the busy day ahead.