Wow! What a crazy, fun, wonderful ride this has been. As with the ending of every story, I’m a little bit sad that it’s over. I can remember, though, when I despaired of these two ever finding their way to each other. There’s a certain kind of satisfaction that comes from seeing that hard work come to fruition. Hopefully you all enjoy reading the ending as much as I enjoyed writing it. :-)
If you haven’t read the previous installments or want to refresh your memory, you can check them all out here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6. Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, and Part 11.
Maxie arrived home with dinner, but since it was only two in the afternoon, he decided an afternoon at the pool was in order. After all, food can always be reheated. Maxie and the twins got into their suits and headed to the back patio.
My eyes snagged on Maxie’s gaze. “I don’t have a suit with me.”
He took in my office wear. “Yeah, that probably wouldn’t do.” He disappeared up the stairs and returned a moment later, handing me a pile of clothes. “I’m not sure what’ll fit, but see if there’s something in there that you can make do with.”
I looked from him to the clothes – tees, sweats, and a couple pairs of shorts. I brought the clothes with me into the downstairs bathroom and sorted through them. I chose the smallest tee and a pair of drawstring shorts. At least I could snug them up nice and tight so they wouldn’t get away from me. A few minutes later, I stepped out onto the back patio where the kids were already splashing around in the shallow end, their giggles of delight ringing throughout the yard.
It was as if the ugliness at their school hadn’t even happened. Or, more likely, that they trusted their uncle to take care of them. They knew he would keep them safe.
Maxie sat on the edge of the pool, eyes on the kids. “Come sit by me. We need to talk.”
Great. We need to talk. When had that ever boded well? Still, I was a big girl, and I could take whatever he had to say. I’d probably earned it, too. So, I sank down onto the pebbled cement and dropped my legs into the water.
“The headmaster is a friend of mine.”
Say what? “That jer… Um…that guy?”
He chuckled. “When I enrolled the kids, I knew there might be problems. He was honest with me about the attitude of the school board and the family that contributes the most money – and therefore controls the school board. He was trying to change things, though, and he thought he could make more progress with the Short name involved. He thought maybe the kids and I could change people’s minds. If I had it to do over again…”
“You’d do the same thing.”
He sighed. “Maybe.” He gripped the back of his neck and winced. “I want a better world for Alistair and Amaria. And sometimes the only way to get a better world is to expect better of people. They’re too young, though. I shouldn’t have put them in that position. I didn’t realize how bad it was until we were already there. And their teachers have always been amazing. Some of the other families, though… I thought I was shielding them from all that, but I should have known something would eventually get through.”
Wait… “How do you know what was said?”
“I wasn’t that far behind you.”
“As soon as you left, I knew I needed to be there. Whatever it was, I needed to man up and be there for the kids. The marketing meeting could wait.”
“And on the drive there, the headmaster called to tell me himself what had occurred.”
I quirked an eyebrow. “He wouldn’t tell me what was said, but he told you?”
“He knew I was an off-the-record conversation. He couldn’t gamble on you being the same.”
“So…he’s not a giant bigoted jerk-face?”
“No, he’s not.” A smile tugged up the corner of his mouth.
“I should probably apologize then.”
“Did you call him names?”
“Dozens. Just not out loud. Setting a good example and all that. And some of those names…I should definitely apologize. So…what are you going to tell the kids?”
A sigh tugged itself free of his chest. “I’m going to tell Alistair that he was right to defend his sister but that hitting isn’t usually the right way to go about that.”
“Gotta leave some options open.”
“I’ll tell her the same thing. And maybe suggest that she go for kicking instead of biting if she really can’t control herself.”
“Are you sure that’s…?”
His eyes flashed to hers, laughter buried in their depths. “What would you tell them?”
“I suppose recommending a swirly isn’t a great idea, either.”
“Even the Bible tells us to protect those who are weaker than us. I’ll teach them to try diplomacy first.”
“Diplomacy is an important lesson.”
“In life, in business, and apparently in school.”
“What that boy said to her…” My nails dug into my palm.
“They know who they are, how they matter to God. You’ve helped to instill that in them. We’ll talk to them about it, but I’m not worried.”
“I just don’t understand how someone in this day and age could think those things, say those things.”
“He learned it from his parents. Kids don’t come up with that stuff on their own. I can’t do anything about that boy and his attitude, but I can do my best to instill my children with a sense of self, an identity, that’s grounded in Christ. I can make sure they know it’s not okay to judge others like that and that cruelty is never acceptable. I can’t change that kid, but I can make sure my kids are nothing like him.” He let out a deep breath.
“Not your first rodeo?”
The corner of his mouth quirked up. “Yeah. Being the white guy with two kids who clearly aren’t white… It’s led to some interesting conversations. It’s exposed me to attitudes that I hadn’t realized still existed in this country.”
“It’s been an education.”
He glanced my way before returning his gaze to the water. “A crash course, more like it.”
The kids splashed each other, their giggles bringing a smile to my face. “I’m sorry about the weirdness of the last few days.”
Maxie lifted a shoulder. “It’s my fault. I just… I couldn’t stand the thought of Dave taking you out.”
“To get to you.” It still stung, but not as much. Even if we were never going to be more than boss and employee, Maxie was a great guy. I didn’t like how he’d handled things, but he’d thought he was protecting me. How could I fault him for that?
He ran a hand through his perfectly coiffed hair, tugging hard at the ends. It wasn’t so perfectly coiffed by the time he was done “I can’t stand the thought of anyone taking you out, anyone that’s not me.”
Say what? “Um…”
“I’ve been keeping it under control. Mostly. I didn’t want you to feel pressured or…I mean, I’m your boss. This is a sexual harassment case just waiting to happen.”
“Are you trying to harass me? Sexually?” I slapped a hand over my mouth. Again with the out-of-control words. When will my brain ever get fast enough to beat my mouth to the finish line?
A chuckle broke free as Maxie glanced over at me. “Ah…no? I do want to date you, though. I want to touch your arm or your back or your shoulder and not have you stiffen up like a board. I want to spoil you and spend time with you and maybe eventually have the place that you go home to at the end of the evening be…here.”
“Oh.” Yep. Brilliant word winner right here, ladies and gentleman.
“But I’m your boss. On two fronts. And I couldn’t exactly fire you so I could ask you out on a date. I was still trying to figure out what I could do, or should do, when Dave filed that paperwork. I kind of saw red. Or green? Which one’s for jealousy? I thought you two were already dating. And maybe even that you were hiding it from me. Not that it was any of my business even though I wanted it to very much be my business. It made no sense for him to file paperwork if he hadn’t even asked you out yet. At least, I didn’t think so. I might’ve handled it differently if I’d realized you had no idea who Dave was.”
I kicked a foot in the water, sending a spray toward the twins. Amaria was too darling in those pink goggles that covered half her face.
“Now I’ve laid it all out there for you, but I still have no idea what you think.” His words were a warm rumble for my ears only.
I glanced over at Maxie. He stared at me, his eyes burning embers.
“How do you feel…about me? Would you be open to any of that?”
He’d kind of covered everything from dating to marriage in his declaration. That was a lot of ground to cover. I didn’t quite know what to say. “Yes.” Huh. So, it wasn’t always a disaster when my mouth ran away from me. Who knew?
“Yes. I’m open to some of that.”
“A girl’s gotta keep a guy guessing, you know.”
“No. No, I do not know that. Can’t a girl just be straightforward and to the point?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think so. Where’s the fun in that?”
“Where, indeed?” The corner of his mouth quirked up in that super sexy half-smile that seemed to be reserved for only me.
I glanced back at the pool to check on the kids, but lo and behold, they were six inches away from us. Alistair’s eyes were wide and bright. Amaria tugged her goggles up onto her head before giving us her best sassy face. “Does this mean you guys are finally done with all the nonsense?”
“Nonsense?” Maxie glanced at me, an eyebrow lifted.
“Yeah.” This was Alistair. “You’ve made this whole relationship thing way more work than it should have been.”
Even in the water, Amaria managed to jut out a hip and rest her hand on it. “If you guys would’ve just admitted how you felt, we wouldn’t have had to work so hard to get you to spend time together.”
“You wouldn’t have had to…?” This time, my eyebrows went up. Both of them. Because I never mastered that one-eyebrow thing like Maxie.
Alistair rolled his eyes. “It’s not like you’re getting any younger.”
“What if we want a baby brother or sister?” Amaria’s eyes danced with glee.
“Or both. Maybe you’ll have twins.” Alistair nodded sagely.
I scuttled back from the pool as fast I could in an awkward crab-walking position. “I think I heard the doorbell…”
As I approached the house’s glass doors, I caught sight of the pool’s reflection. The twins high-fived each other before each grabbing onto one of Maxie’s legs and tugging him into the pool. Not that they could have pulled him in against his will. He’d either gone in willingly…or he was in as much shock as I was.
Not too long ago, I’d started each day with the crushing weight of desperation sitting smack-dab in the middle of my chest. If it hadn’t been for my joblessness, though, I never would have been available to accept Maxie’s job offer. And if it hadn’t been for that…
I’d always known it was true, that God uses all things for the good of those who love Him. For the first time, though, I could look at my life and see undeniable proof. I’d had to go through some hard stuff, but God had used that to bring me here to this place, and this place was…pretty stinking awesome.
A squeal from the pool drew my eyes back to the reflection in the door.
Maxie was under water, and the kids were trying to surf on his back.
I turned my back on the reflection and went running toward the deep end of the pool. “Cannonball!!!”