“Once we get a house, we’re getting a dog. Not one of those snappy, fiddly little things. A proper dog.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” she saluted sarcastically.
“This last rule is negotiable,” he said, tilting his hand in a “so-so” gesture. “You walk around naked all the time and tell me you love me at least twice a day.”
“That’s a hell no on the first, and an amendment to three times a day on the second.”
“Spoilsport,” he pouted.
“I love you,” she said, and he grinned.
“That’s one,” he said, and she wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Who’s counting?” Then, leaning down until her mouth was right next to his ear, she whispered, “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you . . .”
FIVE YEARS LATER
Cleo stared at her reflection in the mirror with a critical eye, tilting her head this way and that as she swung around to look at her butt. Dante stepped into her line of sight, and she gave him a perturbed frown in the mirror.
“This kid is making me fat,” she pouted, and he grinned, coming up behind her to wrap his arms around her. He could barely fit them around her huge stomach.
“You look beautiful and you know it,” he told her, dropping a kiss onto her shoulder.
“Everybody’s here,” he murmured. “You ready for this?”
She covered his hands with hers and looked at the picture they presented in the mirror. Both were wearing white—Dante, a simple shirt-and-trouser combination that looked devastating on his lean form, and Cleo, a pretty maternity sundress with shoulder ties.
Every year on the anniversary of his birth and death, they celebrated the life of the son who had brought them together. During their first two years of marriage, they’d gone out on the Arabella to the same spot where they’d scattered his ashes and watched the sunset. They never saw the phosphorescence again, and that made the memory of it so much more special to Cleo.
On the third anniversary they changed things up a bit as their daughter, Tamara, had been only a couple of months old, so they commemorated the day differently, planting an oak tree in their garden instead. Afterward, they worked together for months to create a beautiful little remembrance garden around the tree. Dante had a stone bench placed in the garden, and they would often sit there together, or sometimes alone, and think about their lost baby. He also commissioned a discreet engraved memorial stone to be placed at the base of the tree, and like their pendants, it simply read
ZACH, REMEMBERED FOREVER.
After that, they started having the anniversary in the garden and included Blue and Luc, Cal and Tami. And this year, Enrique Damaso, who was between wives at the moment, had joined them too. A doting grandpapa, Enrique visited and Skyped regularly, but he had never been there for Zach’s memorial before.
The day had become one of celebration as they remembered their baby with joy rather than sorrow. And sometimes in the privacy of their bedroom, when it was just the two of them, they would wonder aloud what he would have been like.
Dante’s hand moved up to toy with her pendant.
“Cal is trying to convince Luc that he’s the better braai master, and the two will be having some kind of cook-off later. As if I’d let either of them anywhere near my grill,” he snorted, the corner of his eyes crinkling attractively. The man just got more gorgeous with age; the sprinkling of gray in his hair and the fine lines forming around his eyes and on his brow just added to his disgusting good looks. It was something she often complained about, protesting the fact that she was getting a bit saggy in the boob area and a little thick around the middle, while he just improved like fine wine. He usually shut her up by making love to her until she couldn’t speak, and telling her that he loved her, “saggy boobs, stretch marks, and all.”
“Jeez, why don’t Blue and Kyle put a leash on their men?” Cleo asked in exasperation, stepping out of his hold and moving toward the bedroom door at a fast waddle. Kyle was Cal’s longtime boyfriend, and they were talking about tying the knot. They’d been together for nearly four years. Cal, who was now the principal male dancer in his company, had never been happier, and Cleo was ecstatic for him.
“Blue’s too busy trying to stop Adam’s crying, and Kyle’s teaching Tami and my father a magic trick,” Dante replied. Adam was Blue and Luc’s two-week-old son, their first child. After Dante finally convinced them to take a loan from him four years before, Luc and Blue had, at long last, been able to fix the house and get married. Dante was still trying to convince Cleo’s proud brother to work for him at Damaso International, Inc., but Luc was being stubborn about accepting.
Dante sauntered out of the room after Cleo and caught up with her at the stairs. He took her elbow as she moved down the stairs, adding his support.
He was holding her hand as they walked into the chaotic living room. Cal and Luc were still arguing good-humoredly, Adam was screeching at the top of his lungs, Kyle had abandoned the magic tricks and was chasing an excited and squealing three-year-old around the room. Titan, their two-year-old Chihuahua, was chasing after both of them and yapping at the top of his lungs, while Enrique futilely tried to call the tiny dog to heel. Titan and Dante had been inseparable since the dog had been just two months old. It was ridiculous to see them together. And all of them, down to little Adam, were wearing white. Even Titan was wearing a little white T-shirt. The scene filled Cleo with great love while simultaneously making her want to run screeching in the opposite direction.