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My birthday is in August, and this year it fell on a particularly risp and golden day. The trees, gold and cinnamon, were alive with beauty, and the sun shone hazily through the windows.
But Evie was missing. I left her another message, the third since this morning. "Look, I'm—- I'm sorry for the way I reacted the other day. I hope you come today so we can talk. You're my best friend." I looked out the window at everyone gathered out back. Avery, Bear and Hart were laughing about something. Don and Wes stood at the grill, tending to the steaks. "I don't want to lose you." I hung up. I retrieved my avocado salad from the refrigerator and joined the others.
The dogs greeted me as I approached the table. Sid, a tan and black shepherd, sniffed around me and tried to see what I was carrying in my hands. "There's the birthday girl." Bear tipped his chair back and reached his hand out, balling it in a fist. I bumped my fist against his own and smiled. "So, where's the cake? When're you opening presents?" He grabbed Sid and rubbed his neck.
I shook my head. "Later." I shoved him forward and caused him to almost fall out of his chair. Hart laughed. I set the salad bowl on the table. I walked past Avery, smiled at him and ran my fingers through his hair. He caught my hand as I dropped it, laced our fingers together and held onto it until I was too far away and we had to let go.
"I hear congratulations are in order." Wes gave me a peck on the cheek. They burned with heat. I slipped an arm around his back and leaned into him.
"You feel any different?" Don asked.
I laughed. I still remember how I felt after my engagement to Jackson: surreal. It was all so very surreal. And I thought, Oh, shit, this is forever. Do I really want to do this?
This time, I felt happy, safe and calm.
"No." I glanced at Avery. "It just feels right."
They both smiled. "Jess and I, we were ripping into each other when I blurted it out. I knew anyone that wasn't afraid of calling me out on my shit, I had to marry. Everything felt right, after that. My other wives, however..."
"Yeah, like the one who stabbed you?" Wes joked.
"What is it with men and crazy women?" I shook my head at the pair of them.
"We're not sensible creatures." Wes planted a kiss on the top of my head and told me to go relax and have some fun. As I walked away, I heard, "...hear from Jamie recently?"
I headed back toward the boys. As I placed my hands on either side of Avery's shoulders, I glanced over toward the house and saw a familiar figure standing, pacing, in the kitchen. I excused myself and went inside.
"You came," I said, relieved. She looked nervous, as if I might yell at or rip her head off any moment. At one point over the past two days I might have been inclined, but not anymore. "I'm sorry."
Evie leaned against the counter, shook her head. "I'm sorry." She buried her face in her hands. "I hated not telling you." Her words were muffled. She dropped her hands and looked up at me. "It's over," she assured me or herself, or maybe both of us. "I knew it was wrong, but not really, not until you showed up that morning."
I bit my lip. "You never-"
"No. God, no. Never." She paused and grabbed a paper towel, wiped at her wet cheeks. "I never told Vaughn anything about you. I never would've."
I nodded. I sighed and went over to Evie and took her in a hug. She leaned her head on my shoulder, but not before kissing the spot. "I'm here." I kissed the side of her head, getting a mouthful of milk and honey scented hair. "Come on. Let's go join the others."
"Let me light the candles before you eat," Wes said, and slapped a plastic fork out of my hand.
I shrugged, a little disappointed the frosting I'd managed to scrape off had gone to waste. "Okay."
I watched as Wes and Avery worked together to light the candles. I tried to think of a wish. I looked around the table: Don, Evie, Hart, Bear, Wes and Avery. Everyone I loved was here with me. One exception. I looked at Avery, smiled.
"What'd you wish for?" Bear asked, curious.
"You can't ask that," I teased.
"More cake," Hart guessed, and he took two slices of cake and started devouring them like a pig.
I watched in disgust and amazement until Don pulled the three of us— Bear, Hart and I— aside. He led us out of earshot of the others. "Listen, we got a— Jesus, can you stop stuffing your face for one minute?" I looked at Hart, whose mouth was stuffed with cake and his cheeks twice their normal size. Don shook his head and continued, "The DA's office is working on a warrant for Vaughn."
This piqued my interest. "How? I mean, what's changed?"
"I have a CI," Don explained, and I grinned. "They said Vaughn has been making a lot of plans lately, particularly around the Camelot. Apparently, he's smuggling weapons for the Irish. The guns are being loaded and shipped next week."
"He's got an arsenal of weapons. I don't know why he doesn't just keep them for himself," I wondered. It's more like him to just screw over everyone else.
"We'll start surveillance on Monday, so be ready." He paused and looked at Hart. "Now you can go back to stuffing your face."