Author's Note: This was previously published on AO3. The story was partially rewritten after original publication to change a subplot. The most significant rewrite is in chapter 8, the rest of the chapters have minor or no changes.
Jacob Stone pulled his truck into his garage, carefully pulling around the car parked in the driveway. Home finally! He pulled on the bowtie of his tuxedo and sighed. Black tie fundraisers were the absolute worst part of the job that he otherwise loved. But it was all part of the museum world, particularly art museums. Hobnob with the beautiful people in hopes that they would donate money or better yet part of their private collections to the museum.
He smirked at himself in the rearview mirror as the garage door closed behind him. What would May have thought if she could see him now? She'd have laughed at the notion that he actually owned a tux now, she'd had a tough enough time getting him to wear a suit at their wedding, let alone a tux. But she probably would have appreciated how he looked in it. Then he sighed, abruptly shutting that thought down. It had been a really long time without female companionship, he wasn't going to go there now, not tonight.
Tonight he needed to send his sister home. Knowing Evie, she was probably asleep on the couch in front of House Hunters.
She was watching House Hunters, but she was awake when he walked in, a bowl of popcorn half eaten on the table in front of her.
"Hey conquering hero, how did it go?"
He flopped on the couch next to her. "'Bout as well as it ever goes. Hated every damn minute, but I think we raised a lot of money for the new wing."
"Looking like that, I'm sure you got a lot of numbers."
"Eve . . . ." His tone was more tired than annoyed.
"Jake . . ." she reached over and ruffled his hair. "How long has it been? May wouldn't have wanted you . . . ."
Jake grumbled. He knew Eve meant well, but he was tired of others talking for his late wife. Still, May probably would have wanted him to find someone. "I have tried. I have. But they either don't want the kids or they want the kids and not me. That's what happened with Hope. And that was two years ago. I haven't even bothered since."
Eve hummed at him.
"Evie, do not set me up with anyone. Warnin' you."
"You set me up with Flynn and look how that turned out."
Jake chuckled in spite of himself. "And that was supposed to be a revenge setup, I didn't think you'd even like the guy. I mean, I know you love him, but Flynn's a little . . . ."
"Weird?" Eve smiled at the thought of her husband. "On him it works. But okay, fine, no setups. Anyway, I need to get going. The kids were fine as always. Did you need me to take them to the library on Monday?"
"Nope," Jake smiled."I have the day off. They have been so excited about this ever since the kickoff party. All I keep hearing about is summer reading and Miss Cassie. Oh and Uncle Flynn's stories."
Eve smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "Night, little brother. I'll see ya later."
"Thanks again, Evie. For everything."
After he saw Eve out, Jake climbed the stairs to check on his children. Twins, a boy and a girl, May had laughed when they found out. "One pregnancy and a complete family!"
Maggie's room was first, he turned up her ceiling fan, noticing that it was a bit warm in the room. She was sleeping, her stuffed French poodle in her arms. A very girly room, full of pink and purple, a large mural of the Paris skyline on the wall. Jake smiled as he leaned down and kissed his daughter's forehead. She was so much like the mother she barely remembered.
Matt, by contrast, was all about dinosaurs and baseball. Though Jake could certainly see flashes of both of his parents' artistic sides. The boy had just turned six yet his drawings were already getting the notice of his teachers. Jake grinned, it was a good thing he had a high IQ of his own, it was the only way he was going to handle when his smart children started really getting ahead in school.
May had wanted to home school them and Jake really wished he could. He wanted to encourage their intelligence in a way that he'd never had. But he'd already had to work hard enough to be able to spend time with them as it was.
"Oh May, I'm doin' my best."
He'd had plans for a shower, but now, lost in memories, he sank down onto his bed.
He'd gone to college on a football scholarship, telling all his friends that art history was just a blow off degree. He was going to the pros. But sweet Mabel Collins, May to everyone since she hated her old fashioned name, had saw straight through her classmate's bull. She knew he was gifted and she did everything she could to get him to admit to everyone else. He had eventually, after he'd fallen so deeply for her that there was no way he was ever going to get out. His friends never understood what he'd even seen in her. She was pretty, but she certainly wasn't the cheerleaders of his youth. But then, none of them knew who he really was or who he really wanted.
And what he'd wanted had been Mabel. An injury senior year had ended any hopes he'd had for the pros. Instead, May'd talked him into going to grad school with her. They'd married right after graduation and put off a family while they pursued their master's degrees. His in his passion art history, hers in library science.
They'd moved to Dallas where he worked his way up the ladder in the art museum. May had worked with Flynn at his previous position before he'd taken the director role in their local suburban library. Then after six years of marriage, they'd had the twins. Life was perfect, the two of them so full of plans for their children and their lives together.
But then . . . the twins were 23 months old when Mabel had been killed in a car accident. And Jake's world had come crashing down around him.
No one ever expects to be widowed at barely 30, with two children and no clue. If it wasn't for his mother and sisters, he didn't think he'd have made it.
He did his best. Loved his kids fiercely, tried to keep their mother's memory alive. He'd tried dating, but the kids and his grief hadn't really helped. He hadn't been over May. Probably wouldn't ever be, but these days her memory was a happy one and not a stabbing pain. Maybe he could move on. But he just hadn't met anyone. He wasn't looking for an exact clone of Mabel, but he had a type. And he wanted someone like she'd been. Sweet, funny, artistic, smart. And she had to love his kids.
"This is all your fault Eve. Don't get these ideas in my head. It only makes me feel lonelier. "