Chapter 11 – Wednesday
"Hey. You want dinner in here?"
Vaughan looks up to find AJ in the doorway. He's commandeered one of the handful of offices on the main floor, spreading out over the wide desk. He opens his mouth as she looks at him expectantly then pauses. He looks down at the memo he's drafting, then back up at her. "No."
It stings that she looks surprised. Then she tilts her head to the side. "It's ready then." She chews her lip.
"What is it?"
"I haven't fed the boys yet either."
He doesn't quite know what she's hinting at and pushes himself up from the seat. His back cracks uncomfortably and he hears her hiss in sympathy. "Want Brad or Alex?"
He realizes he's said the right thing when she beams. "I don't care."
"Give me Brad," he says coming around the desk. He grasps her hand when he's close enough. "Kid doesn't like the carrots."
"He likes the carrots just fine," AJ argues.
"Nope. Chip off the old block that one. Mom says I'd throw the carrots around the room rather than eat 'em." He smiles and kisses the side of her head. "Now the peas. Peas are gold."
AJ laughs. "We're talking about baby food."
"You think those boys don't have discerning pallets? You're an awesome mom, Annie, but I'm telling you, Brad hates carrots."
She huffs out a breath of irritation, as if she truly hadn't known that. "He always eats them when I'm there."
"Do you see the look on his face when he does it? I mean, Alex inhales the stuff. Not Brad."
Finally, she offers him a self-deprecating kind of smile. "I hadn't noticed."
That surprises him. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I'm not making two different meals. I usually just feed them out of the same one. Neither of them ever eat a whole jar so I didn't think much of it."
"You're kidding," he says on a laugh. "I noticed something Super-Mommy missed." Her face falls a little and he sighs. "Too early to joke?"
"Just a bit," she murmurs with a sigh of her own. "I'm sorry."
They'd talked long into the early hours of the morning the previous night. They know they still have things to work out. They need a better way to handle things when he's working late, and a better way to handle communication when she's starting to find everything just too much. Still, there's a tension there, one that they're riding the edge of, both afraid that one wrong twist and they'll topple again.
When they step into the great room, just off the kitchen, they hear the telltale squabbling of two hungry boys. From the looks of things, Brad is trying to wrestle a panda into submission while Alex winds up with a stuffed dog, ready and aiming.
"Hey now," Vaughan says, his low timbre carrying through the great room. He lets AJ go to pluck the dog from Alex's grasp at the same moment AJ reached for the actual kid. He drops the dog back into the playpen and turns to find Brad watching him, his lower lip sticking out.
"No carrots," he promises in his son's ear when he's lifted the little body from the pen. "I made Mommy promise."
He's not entirely sure if Brad understands, but when he looks over, Brad's smiling. At him. It's not the first time, but Vaughan's heart swells as if it is. He bounces the kid as he heads to the kitchen. The oven's on, but AJ's got Alex seated on the island, on hand on his lap as she reaches for the fridge. She pouts when he pulls the door open, balancing Brad in one arm.
"They're getting too heavy," she says. "And Alex'll make a dive for the fridge if I'm holding him."
"Uh huh," he replies, a gentle rebuke in his tone. He almost takes it back when Brad lunges but Vaughan, in a move that feels completely natural despite the fact he's never done it before, grabs and swings until Brad's under his other arm and Vaughan's got him by the hips. He hears AJ gasp, but a second later Brad's laughter rings loud through the kitchen. Vaughan grins, wide and proud, offering AJ a wink as he pulls two jars from the fridge. She takes them when he's close enough and he rights Brad, sitting him on the counter beside his brother with a stern look. "No jumping," he tells the eight-month-old. "No jumping out of Daddy's arms."
Brad sobers with his father and again, Vaughan has no idea if the kid understands, but his little head bobs.
"Good catch." AJ's voice is breathless. There had been a split second where neither of them had been really sure if Vaughan was going to keep Brad from hurting himself.
"Thanks." He props his hip against the counter, keeping Brad from falling, as he pops open the two jars. He hands one to AJ and looks down at the one he keeps. "Looks like we hit the jackpot, buddy," he says turning his attention back to his son. "We scored peas today."
He can't remember the last time it had been like this. He can't remember the last time they'd managed to feed the boys side-by-side, each with their own strategy. Sure enough, Brad cleans out half the jar of peas easily enough and he looks over to find that Alex has done the same for half a jar of carrots. He smirks at AJ and she rolls her eyes as she hands him a cloth to clean up Brad's messy face.
"Yeah, yeah. So no more carrots for Brad."
This is the last one that's fully written. I know I've been kind of terrible at consistent updates. Life's been crazy hectic. I'll see what I can do over the weekend to add more to this (and Chris' Tale, because really, there's like one chapter left there).
Thanks for the reviews! They make me smile. I love that there are people who are just in love with these characters as I am. It makes the work that I put into these despite the fact that they're not the main characters so totally worth it.