For record-keeping's sake... Kendra is about 24 in this chapter, and she and Bracken have been married for 3 years.
This chapter is shorter, but it's meant to be an epilogue.
Jack's mannerisms were inspired by my own toddlers. ;)
Chapter 21: Always
"Warren Burgess!" Vanessa growled. "Why is Jack covered in mud!?"
"I like worms," Jack stated gleefully, holding one out to his mother. "Want one?" he asked.
Vanessa grimaced. "Er… No, honey. Mommy doesn't want to get dirty right now," she explained.
"Sorry," Warren said, shrugging his shoulders. "The kid likes mud. What can I say? It's not like we're going anywhere. Let him have some fun."
The narcoblix looked at her son with regret on her face. "I just bought that outfit for him…" she said.
"It's okay, Mom. We'll wash it," Jack insisted, prompting Kendra to laugh. She could only imagine how many times he'd heard his parents say that to him.
"You're just so cute!" Kendra grinned. "Hands down, my favorite two-and-a-half-year-old on the planet."
Jack scrunched up his face in a funny smile which he directed at Kendra, then laughed.
"If he's so cute, do you want be the one to give him a bath?" Warren asked.
"Sure," Kendra replied quickly.
"Wait… seriously?" he asked again, apparently not expecting that particular response.
"Of course! Actually, why don't you and Vanessa go out for the night? I can babysit. You hardly ever go on dates anymore."
Warren and Vanessa looked at each other before Vanessa asked, "You're really sure you don't mind?"
"Does the huge smile on my face make you think I'm lying or something? Go on. I've got this little munchkin covered. I wanted to spend some time with him anyway." Kendra plopped herself on the ground near Jack, but she steered clear of the mud puddle the toddler was happily jumping and splashing in and instead opted for a dry patch of earth.
"You play with me?!" Jack practically squealed with delight.
"Wow, Kendra. Really? You want to watch him?" Warren and Vanessa both still looked dumbfounded.
"You guys are acting like he's a monster or something. Should I be worried?" Kendra teased as she picked up a few small rocks and tossed them into the mud puddle Jack was enthralled with.
"No, he's fine, I just thought you might want to have the evening with – "
Kendra waved her hand nonchalantly and glanced at her husband, who was standing on the deck talking to her Grandma Larsen. They looked like they were wrapping up their conversation. "We don't have kids yet, so every night has the potential to be date night. It's not a problem, really. Go have some fun!"
Her husband and grandmother ceased talking and Bracken approached his wife while smiling at the energetic toddler. "We're taking Jack for the evening, huh?" he asked cheerfully as he watched the boy abandon his puddle and start to chase a fairy that had curiously approached the child. "There's a new dessert café in the city. Across from the crab shack on the waterfront – you should try it out! It looks good; I've been meaning to take Kendra for a couple of weeks now."
Vanessa eyed Bracken with slight distrust and the relaxed atmosphere between the adults suddenly tensed slightly. Kendra stood back up and Warren placed a hand on her upper arm with the clear sentiment behind the action being an instruction to listen and not interfere.
"I swear on my life that your son will come to no harm," Bracken said calmly and quietly, clearly directing his comment to Vanessa. "Do you believe me?"
Kendra and Warren stayed quiet and waited for Vanessa's response with baited breath. Ever since Seth's quest from the Singing Sisters, the unicorn and the narcoblix appeared to have formed a truce. They no longer argued, overlooked each other's shortcomings, and had voluntarily held light conversations with each other several times in recent history.
"I believe you," Vanessa replied and nodded her head after only a moment's hesitation.
Kendra and Warren exchanged shocked expressions and to add to their surprise, Vanessa actually continued her train of thought with a verbal "Thank you," directed at Bracken, who also nodded his head graciously in response.
Warren looked at the ground and frowned, then said, "That's funny; I could've sworn that Hell just froze over, but the ground isn't even a little bit frosty."
"Hell? Daddy, what's Hell?" Jack's sweet voice piped up.
"Warren!" Vanessa snapped, looking greatly displeased.
"Um…" Warren began, obviously caught off-guard by his son's interruption. "Sheesh, it figures you'd catch that word out of everything I said…"
Jack stared up at Warren with a highly confused look on his face.
"Hey, little buddy," Bracken chimed in, kneeling in front of the toddler in order to offer a distraction, "I think your Aunt Kendra wants to play hide-and-seek. Right, Aunt Kendra?" he asked, peering up at his wife with a playful gleam in his eyes. She loved it when he looked at her like that.
"Absolutely!" Kendra cheerfully responded. "I'll count, alright? You guys go hide."
"Hide-and-seek! Yeah!" Jack shouted exuberantly. He jumped up and down a few times for extra emphasis, prompting all of the adults to laugh.
Bracken picked Jack up after a moment and ran across the yard with the giggling boy to scope out a good hiding spot. "What time do you want us back by?" Warren asked Kendra as his child and friend rounded a corner and tried to disappear from view.
"I don't care. Once Jack is in bed, Bracken and I will probably just watch a movie or find a board game to play until you get home."
"Excellent. We'll be home before two then—"
"He means ten-thirty," Vanessa interrupted. "At least one of us has to be able to get up in the morning with that little early riser," she said, gesturing to the toddler who was unsuccessfully avoiding detection from his parents and Aunt Kendra.
"You're not counting!" Jack shouted once he realized Kendra was staring right at him.
"Yeah, Aunt Kendra! Come on!" Bracken also shouted teasingly.
Kendra rolled her eyes lightheartedly and maintained her smile. "Alright! I'll start counting!" she turned her back to them and told Vanessa and Warren, "Go on. Have a good time. We'll call you if we need you; don't worry about him."
With one last affectionate glance at their son, Vanessa and Warren seized the moment and fled the scene.
"What time is it?" Kendra asked, straining her eyes to look at the clock that was located on the wall furthest away from her.
"Almost ten," Bracken replied, pulling a container of ice cream out of the freezer. "They said ten-thirty, right?"
Kendra nodded her head. "They needed a break. I could see it in their faces."
"Hopefully they've enjoyed their night off," Bracken replied, approaching her with the dessert and a couple of spoons. "I know I have."
"That's not ours," Kendra said, quirking an eyebrow at her husband and pointing to the carton he held.
Bracken shrugged. "We gave them a free night out. I think they can spare some ice cream. Besides, there's not a whole lot left in here anyway."
"Taking something without asking first, though? That doesn't sound like you," Kendra said as she accepted one of the spoons he offered to her.
"I've apparently decided to turn over a new leaf." He sat down on the couch next to her and put the carton between them. Kendra peered inside and noticed he was right; there were maybe two scoops left in it. She figured Vanessa and Warren wouldn't care and decided to take a bite.
They sat in comfortable silence for a minute or two when Kendra put her spoon down and placed her hand on his knee.
"What's up?" he asked her curiously.
"Bracken, I've been thinking…" Kendra trailed off, biting her lip nervously.
"You're not breaking up with me, are you?" he teased when she failed to continue speaking. She laughed.
"No, no," she responded. "I've just… I…"
He moved the carton of ice cream to the coffee table in front of them and then gave her his full attention. "You can tell me anything," he reassured her.
"I know," she said. Then, after taking a deep breath, she announced, "I want a baby."
Bracken smiled. "What, you thought I was going to object?"
"Not a chance."
Kendra's facial expression relaxed as she said, "I thought you'd say something like, 'we have eternity together and children will come at some point in the next million or two years. Why would you want to rush that?'"
"I don't sound like that, do I?" he asked with his eyebrows raised.
"You've been known to let your age show at times."
"Well… I will have to work on that, then."
Kendra sat back and analyzed him. He appeared to be perfectly contented with their conversation and, quite frankly, it baffled her.
"You're looking at me funny," he remarked after a moment. Kendra blinked her eyes and stopped staring at him. "What are you thinking about now?"
"I was so sure that you'd want to wait longer before having a baby," she answered.
Bracken scooped her up in a warm embrace and said, "I've met and married the woman who matches my heart. Why would I want to deny her something that would only increase the amount of love between us?"
They sat like that for a while, with the side of Kendra's face resting on Bracken's shoulder, when she started laughing softly.
Bracken pulled away from her and looked at her questioningly, and Kendra's grin only widened. "You were so cute with Jack today," she said. "That kid is a keeper. He's so funny – and you two were acting like partners in crime."
"Well, I do enjoy children," he responded. Then a soft smile graced his features as he said, "But my favorite part of tonight was watching you tuck him into bed. He adores you. Seeing how you interacted with him… Kendra, you will be an excellent mother."
"You'll be an even better father," she replied.
She laughed as Bracken rolled his eyes at her. "I don't think I've ever seen you do that before!" she cried.
"Apparently you're rubbing off on me," Bracken answered, shrugging his shoulders. "I think I will love you forever."
"Well I hope so," she said. "You kind of did promise me that a few years ago, and in a very huge way."
"That I did, and I'd do it again without hesitation."
"I love you," she told him, grasping one of his hands in hers and lacing their fingers together.
"And I love you," he responded, kissing her forehead. "Forever and always."
The end! Thank you to everyone who has read, followed, favorited and reviewed this story. I'm astounded at how well this one has done!
I am in the process of writing a sequel. I had wanted to go more Seth-centric, but the idea that came to my mind will still be mainly centered around Kendra – however, Seth will play a much larger role. Stay tuned! It will probably be a while before I start posting that story, so just be aware that there will be a gap.