Time in Willow Creek: 2 years, 4 months, 5 days
Hillary sashayed through the park with their little one tucked at her side. She wore relaxed-fit jeans and an open, button-down, collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Jase hadn’t seen her so casual in…well, never. Her outfit said so many positive things about the way she saw herself and how she wanted to be perceived by others. Having her in view was like witnessing a miracle every day. She was in a healthy place, finally, and he was the one she wanted. Some days, it seemed too good to be true.
It was a picture-perfect day. Why hadn’t he thought to do this sooner? Sure, Abigail was too young and small for the playground previously, but a little sunshine never hurt anyone. He had been so busy protecting his heart and making sure he didn’t send mixed messages, he failed to remember their friendship still needed to be cultivated despite what his heart did or did not want. After all, they agreed a friendship would be required in order to co-parent successfully despite what happened with them romantically. Confining themselves to the house got them this far, but where were they really?
Abigail’s sweet little face lit up when she finally noticed him standing there. “Dada!”
Every time she said that he wanted to cry; it was such a beautiful sound. “Hi, Abbie!”
She practically leaped out of Hillary’s arms to get to him.
“Whoooa! You can fly now?” He covered her face with kisses. “That’s so cool!”
Once she recovered from a fit of giggles, she looked at Hillary and smiled. “Mama!”
She flew back into her arms as they laughed about it together. Ever since she first said mama–followed by dada much to Jase’s chagrin–she repeated it over and over as if to practice, or maybe to show them she knew who they were.
“You wanna play on the slide, sweet pea?”
Hillary was so in the habit of taking care of Abigail and didn’t realize she still monopolized the child’s time. She trusted him, no doubt, but a part of her refused to give her baby up. Of course, it wasn’t true and he would get his turn soon and waited patiently. If only she would think about it from his perspective. He only had a few hours a day with the child, and most of them he spent trying to get her to sleep. Why wouldn’t Hillary let him play with her first?
Abigail crawled up the plastic steps with finesse. Hillary wasn’t even holding her.
“That’s good, sweet pea! You got it! You need to put that baby gate up, Jase.”
Her command put a smile on his face. She used to boss him around a lot back in the day. Whether she was simply in mom-mode or feeling comfortable enough to let her hair down around him, it was a good sign. Things were getting back to normal.
Abigail arrived at the top of the slide, and Hillary helped her sit and prepare to slide. Meeting her at the other end, she encouraged her to slide down. “Come on, sweet pea! Come see mama. Come on, sweet pea!”
It took her a minute to figure out what to do, but finally, Abigail pushed herself off and slid down the slide.
Hillary gasped dramatically and hoisted the child into the air. “You did it! You did so good! Was that fun?”
To his surprise, she handed the baby to him. “That scared me to death! I think she’s still too small and wobbly for that.”
“I think so too. You want to try walking, Abbie? Let’s do some walking.”
She stood strong on her own and walked like a pro while holding their hands and other things. But, something about taking steps on her own spooked her. They didn’t want to rush her, of course, but they certainly wanted to encourage walking–especially him. He would die if he missed her first step.
There was a picnic table near the playground, so they sat there and let her toddle around.
She cruised along their knees and the bench and even ventured out as far as his arm would reach but had a firm grasp on his fingers; she wasn’t ready, and it was ok. After a brief moment of activity, she reached up to him, and he gladly scooped her into his arms. “You wanna fly, pretty girl?”
He raised her up and down, and her giggles filled the air. “Wait…did she just eat?”
“HA! It’s a bit late to ask that question, isn’t it?”
“Yeeeeah…we’ll fly some more later, ok Abbie? Hey! Speaking of flying…” He cast a cheeky glance at Hillary before turning his attention back to the baby. “You wanna be a superhero with daddy?”
Hillary snorted. “What?”
“You’re gonna be a superhero, Abbie!”
“Isn’t it a bit early for Halloween?”
He grinned at her. “Oh, this is better than Halloween!”
She stared at him blankly.
“It’s Geek Con!” He knew her eyes would roll and waited for it. “I got her the cutest outfit!”
“Jase, I swear, if you have my baby looking crazy in public…”
“I will look crazy. She will be adorable.” He kissed Abigail’s cheek. “So stinkin adorable.”
Hillary groaned. “What do y’all do at this convention besides wear silly costumes?”
“Why don’t you come and find out? It’ll be fun.”
“For video game geeks like you…and cute little babies!” She reached over and tried to tickle the girl, but Abigail grabbed her fingers.
“See? She’s on my side.”
Things had been so tense between them for so long, he almost forgot certain things about her like the disrespect for his job and hobby. The rejection still stung, but he wouldn’t give up on her. At least she hadn’t completely shut down the idea of him taking Abigail to the convention. That was a major step in the right direction. Heh, Abbie’s presence was all he needed to get Hillary to come. After all, she can’t stand to be away from her for long.
“When is this thing?”
“In three months.”
“Three months? That outfit won’t fit her then.”
“It’ll fit. I ordered a 1T.”
She looked impressed. Of course she would be. Being a part-time dad, he didn’t have the responsibility of dressing her and all that. But, he was still her father and took it upon himself to know those things. Besides, he needed to know those things for the big plans he hadn’t shared with Hillary yet.
“Can we get out of this sun?”
He nodded toward a pile of rugs under a tree nearby before he hoisted the baby on his shoulders and ran over to them. Abigail was such a happy baby. Making her laugh was so easy, and her giggles were so infectious. Only an insane person could be sad around her. Laying on his back, he hoisted her in the air over and over again. Hillary caught up with them and sat with her legs straddling his. Her proximity was so telling.
“Whew! This is a workout! You trying to make daddy get in shape, Abbie?”
Hillary sometimes called her “chunky monkey,” but he didn’t realize how chunky she was until then. That and how out of shape he was. Well, he was never in shape, but playing with her highlighted his inadequacies.
“Ok,” he said in a breathy voice and sat her next to him while he sat up, “that’s enough of that. Daddy needs a minute.”
Abigail and Hillary laughed at him.
He got his hands and knees. “Hey, Abbie, if mommy won’t go to Geek Con with us, I think she should get off our rug, right?”
He stomped around like a monster, roaring at Hillary, and Abigail copied him. It was the cutest thing ever!
Hillary snorted. “Get off your rug, huh?” She picked up Abigail and placed her in her lap. “I dare you to bully me now.” She wiggled her eyebrows.
He knew exactly how to toy with her, but it was neither the place nor time. “Come on, Hill. You can’t just kidnap the monster baby like that!”
“I just did.”
“At least give her a chance to pretend like she’s mauling you.”
She giggled. “You wouldn’t hurt mommy, would you?”
His two lady loves were such a beautiful sight. He couldn’t bear to continue sitting on the sidelines watching them do their thing and wanting to be part of it. His prison sentence expired. He loved Hillary too much to continue being so close yet unavailable. Going through turbulent times with her taught him one important message: love was risky and not for the faint of heart. He had been keeping her at arm’s length because he wasn’t willing to take the risk. All that time, he thought she was the one who needed to grow, and she did. But, he had some growing up to do also. He needed to man up and stop being so afraid of being hurt again. Rip off the band-aid; that’s what he needed to do. Jump into the pool without worrying about how deep it was, if the water was cold, or if he could swim. Take a leap of faith, as Harriett would say. It was time to come out of hiding and face the unknown like a man. But, was it truly unknown? He knew her, and she knew him. Challenges would pop-up, no doubt, but he knew what a relationship with her would be like. He had probably been afraid for no reason, but as of that moment, they were officially together in his heart. Sometime soon, they would need to revisit that moment in the kitchen two nights ago and talk about their future. Or, maybe not. Judging from Hillary’s behavior that afternoon, she already knew.
I mixed and matched so many poses to get all kinds of cuteness for this chapter, and I can’t not show them to you. Here are my other favorite pictures I wasn’t able to use. Enjoy!