I clasped his withered hand in mine as we rocked on our porch in a gentle rhythm. The grandkids ran around the yard, chasing each other or playing football. Their parents set up tables and chairs and brought out trays laden with food. We watched it all from our usual spot.
“We’ve had a good life, haven’t we, Jacob?” He mumbled a few incoherent words, but I knew what he said. He slowly brought my hand to his lips and placed a soft kiss there. A few wisps of grey hair escaped the bun at his neck and tickled the back of my hand. “We have our family, big as it is and still growing. We have our dream house and raised four beautiful children here. We’ve watched them become fine adults with children of their own. Through it all, we’ve had the most important thing. Love. And to think it all started with a cup of coffee. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“Did you put it in correctly?” I glanced in the backseat of the SUV Jacob insisted we buy for safety.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Noah. I did exactly what the instructions said. Now, calm down. Everything will be okay.” He rubbed my back in soothing circles as we looked down at Annalise, her dark hair a reflection of her father.
“I’m going to sit in the back with her. Just in case she cries or something.”
He chuckled. “Okay. Whatever makes you feel better.”
Jacob grabbed the flowers and balloons off the cart and nestled them in the floorboard up front while I climbed in the back, and checked the seat belt around the baby carrier one more time.
The nurse handed us the diaper bag. “Good luck, guys. I know you’re going to make wonderful parents.” She offered us a small wave, grabbed the cart and went back into the hospital.
Jacob pulled out his cellphone and snapped a picture of Annalise and me. “I’ll send this to Sarah when we get home, so she knows we finally left the hospital. She made our dream possible. I want to make sure she gets to see Annalise periodically.”
He got in the driver’s seat and looked back at me in the rearview mirror. “You ready?”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yes, I’m ready. Let’s take our baby home.”
“Now that Noah and Jacob have promised to love one another through their vows of commitment in front of family and friends, it is my honor to pronounce them married. You may kiss your husband.”
“Everything we’ve been through is worth this very moment. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you.” Jacob wrapped his arms around me and captured my lips in a bone melting kiss.
He eased back slowly, and I placed my hand over his heart where my name rested on his skin, complete with a heart where the ‘o’ went. “You are my everything.”
“I present to you Mister and Mister Bennett-Wilson.”
We turned to our cheering family and friends and walked down the aisle, Jacob with no cane and me with the man of my dreams. The man who saw me.
“Where are we going?” I asked as we climbed into the car. We usually spent the weekend working around the house or in the yard. Sometimes we’d invite friends over and grill out. Jacob loved the smoker I bought him for his birthday last year and enjoyed trying new recipes out with our friends.
He reached across the console and took my hand. “It’s a surprise. Is everything in the back?” He called this morning from work and told me to pack a bag with a swimsuit and not much else. He dodged every question I threw at him, the clothing request the only hint.
“I did.” I watched as the scenery changed from brick homes and toy filled yards to green forests and backwoods two-lane roads. “Since you said to bring our bathing suits, I’m assuming we’re going swimming. Or maybe there’s a hot tub.”
I huffed out a breath. “You know I don’t like surprises.”
HIs chuckle filled the car with its warm melody. “Yeah, but you’ll like this one. I promise.”
We drove for a couple of hours, only stopping once for gas and to grab food from a small grocery store.
“So not a resort or fancy hotel then?” I eyed the bags in the back. He had filled the grocery cart with all the fixings for breakfast, a steak dinner and some lunch meat for sandwiches.
“Nope.” He grinned as we turned off onto a dirt road nestled among the trees.
I stared in awe as a beautiful log cabin came into view. A porch wrapped around the rustic home, complete with two wooden rocking chairs facing a lake. Its slick-as-glass looking surface reflected the moon overhead. Fireflies danced in the woods, winking in-and-out in a rhythmic pattern. He parked and cut the engine.
“Wow! This is amazing.”
“It’s ours for the weekend. There’s nobody around for miles, just the two of us. We can skinny dip.” He waggled his eyebrows, causing me to laugh. We climbed out, and he grabbed his cane from the back seat.
We slowly made our way inside. I trailed behind him to make sure he didn’t fall. We put everything away in the kitchen and took our bags to the bedroom.
“This bed is beautiful. I wonder who made it. I’ve never seen such intricate designs before. The detail is so lifelike. You can see the whiskers on the animals.” I ran my hand over the polished dark wood.
He sat on the king-sized bed and rubbed his leg. “I don’t know, I can call the rental company and see if they know.”
I rushed over and pulled his brace and shoes off. “Is it worse today? Maybe you need to take something.”
“No, it’s just a little stiff from sitting so long. I’ll be fine in the morning. Let’s get some sleep, then we can enjoy the day tomorrow. The agency said there was a small boat here we could use if we wanted to go out on the water.”
We went through our nighttime routines and snuggled under the covers. He pulled me close and placed a sweet kiss on my lips.
“Goodnight, Noah. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
The next morning, the smell of bacon permeated the air, and my stomach reminded me we ate an early dinner last night and nothing else. Jacob stood bare chested at the stove, frying bacon. I wrapped my arms around him from behind and rubbed my cheek along his back. Every one of his tattoos had a story and over time, he’d explained each one. He had a few bare spots he claimed he was saving for later.
We spent the day lounging on the bank of the lake. I helped him wade into the water without his cane. He still grew tired quickly, so we took it easy and stayed in the shallow end until he was ready to take a nap back at the cabin.
“Let’s take the boat out and watch the sunset.” I looked up from my book. Jacob stood in the doorway to the bedroom. The strained lines on his face from earlier, gone.
“Okay.” He grabbed a bottle of wine, and I snagged the afghan from the couch.
We trolled the boat out to the middle of the lake just as the sun’s last few rays spread across the water.
“Very,” he whispered.
I glanced at him. I’d been too busy watching the sunset to notice he’d gotten down in the bottom of the boat on one knee.
“Jacob! What are you doing? You’re going to hurt your leg.”
“Noah, from the minute I laid eyes on you in that coffee shop, I knew you were going to be someone special to me. Every day, you hid behind your hoodies and your bangs, trying to go unnoticed. But I noticed you. I saw a man who needed someone to take care of him and love him. To put him above all others. I wanted that person to be me. For two months, I tried to get your attention. You wouldn’t even look at me.” He laughed. “I thought maybe, I wasn’t your type, tattooed and big.”
A tear slipped from my eye, and I nodded. “You’re definitely my type.”
He grinned. “Then finally, you agreed to go out with me. That was the best first date of my life. Remember how Miss Patty ran us out of the pub and told us we’d overstayed our welcome?” We both chuckled. We’d sat and talked for hours about nothing. And about everything, not realizing the pub had emptied.
“I knew right then, no matter how crazy it sounded, I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.” He pulled out a small box and opened it. A silver band with an intricate Celtic design woven throughout sat nestled in the center. “Will you marry me?”
I jolted awake. The book in my lap hit the floor with a thud. Soft light filtered into the living room, the sun having already set. I switched on the lamp and glanced at the clock. I’d been asleep longer than I thought. Jacob would be home soon. His shift ended thirty minutes ago.
He got the job at the plant around the same time we moved into our apartment, three months ago. “Perfect timing,” he said. When we first started dating, he told me he didn’t want to work in a coffee shop for the rest of his life. He wanted to put his four-year degree in mechanical engineering to good use, but finding the right job had been difficult. He’d applied to several places, but nothing had panned out until this one came along.
The shrill tone of my phone startled me as it danced across the coffee table. I didn’t recognize the number and was hesitant to answer. It stopped and started right back again.
“Hello?” I rubbed my scratchy eyes.
“Is this Noah Bennett?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“This is Doctor Weston at Tri-County Hospital. We have you listed as an emergency contact for Jacob Wilson.”
My heart thundered in my chest, the whoosh of each beat loud in my ears. Why was the hospital calling me?
“Mister Bennett, are you there?”
“Ye-yes. I’m here. What’s happened? Where’s Jacob?” Panic welled up inside me.
“There was an accident at the plant. I don’t know the exact details, but a machine exploded. Mr. Wilson was helping people evacuate the area when he was hit with debris.”
“Is..is he dead?” A sob lodged in my throat, and I sank to the floor.
“No, though he has sustained serious injuries. He has a concussion, and we are watching closely for brain swelling, as well as multiple contusions and lacerations. His left leg was shattered on impact, and will require emergency surgery, which includes the placement of a titanium rod. I wanted your permission before we proceeded.”
Oh god! I jumped up and grabbed my keys from the bowl in the foyer. The door slammed behind me as I rushed to the car. “Yes, you have my permission. I’m on my way there now.”
“Come to the third floor and check in at the desk. Someone will meet you there and give an update. I'm not going to sugarcoat it, Mister Bennett, it’s going to be a long and tough road, but we’re confident he’ll make a full recovery.”
I sagged in relief. Tough I could deal with as long as he was still here with me. We had plans. Marriage, babies, growing old together. I didn’t want to think about a future without him in it.
People streamed in and out of the hospital. All the seats in the emergency department waiting room were taken. Family and friends huddled together, murmuring and crying, waiting for word of their loved ones. I by-passed them all and hurried to the elevator, dodging the people exiting. I used the breathing techniques Jacob taught me to calm my anxiety before I passed out. “In through the nose, out through the mouth. Picture the gentle waves of the ocean as they quietly sweep across the sand. That’s it, Noah. Come back to me.” His voice echoed in my head, and I wiped a lone tear that escaped.
When I reached the third floor, I went straight to the desk. “My name is Noah Bennett. My boyfriend, Jacob Wilson, was brought in and is having emergency surgery. Doctor Weston said someone would be waiting for me.”
The volunteer turned her kind eyes to her computer. After a few clicks, she picked up the phone. “Have a seat, and I’ll let them know you’re here.”
I paced the waiting area, making a circle around the chairs. If I didn’t do something with my nervous energy, I’d fall apart.
“Mister Bennett?” An older man in scrubs called my name.
“Let’s have a seat over here.” I followed him to a secluded spot in the corner. “Mister Wilson is in surgery now. My colleague has taken over. Things are looking as good as they can at this point. We inserted the rod, and now they’re looking for any muscular or nerve damage, but it looked good to me, though that’s not my expertise. Barring any other complications, he should be in recovery within the next couple of hours. Once he’s in a room, you’ll be able to see him. He’ll be in ICU until there’s no longer any risk of brain swelling at which time they’ll move him to the orthopedic floor. Do you have any questions so far?”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “No. Thank you.”
“He’ll require inpatient physical therapy for several weeks. We’ll then discharge him, and he’ll have home care therapy for a few weeks and eventually get to where he can come into the office for his appointments.
“As I said on the phone, we expect him to make a full recovery. He may always need help walking with either a walker or a cane, but I have the utmost confidence, he will walk again.” He patted me on the knee and handed me a business card.
“Here is my phone number. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call me.”
“Thank you, doctor.” I stared at the card long after he had gone. Jacob would walk again. I knew he would.
The bell jingled overhead when I scooted inside the cafe. The blustery wind outside threatened to jerk the door from my hand before I could close it. I lowered the hood on my sweatshirt and breathed in the delicious aroma. Nutty with a chocolate undertone. The line snaking to the door didn’t deter me from getting my daily cup. Well, that and my fix of a hot barista.
Ever since I discovered this place two months ago, I made it a habit to come in here every day. I always bought the same thing, a caramel macchiato with a dollop of whipped cream, and every day the muscular, tattooed barista had it ready with a wink and a smile.
We’d never made conversation before. I usually grabbed my coffee and left before I made a fool of myself and did something stupid like faint in front of him. A whispered ‘thank you’, garnered a ‘my pleasure’, with his hand lingering a little longer each time he handed me the cup.
Today, when I reached the counter, a heart replaced the ‘o’ in my name on the cup. “You gonna show me those beautiful baby blues, Noah?” His gruff voice washed over me, and I shivered. Heat rose from my neck and spread across my face.
People bullied me my entire life. Nerd, geek, queer. I’d heard it all, felt every punch. I’d learned early on, to avoid unwanted attention I needed to blend in, become nondescript. I often hid behind shaggy bangs or hoodies, anything to be invisible. But today something prompted me to glance up.
I felt like a fly caught in a spider’s web, waiting to be devoured. His dark eyes fixated on me, and he leaned across the counter, muscles straining against his dark t-shirt. A sexy smirk spread across his face. I swallowed, my throat suddenly dry.
“What’s the holdup?” An irritated voice grumbled behind me and pulled me out of my stupor.
The barista ignored the irate customer. “So, Noah, would you like to go out sometime?”
“Wh-what?” I couldn’t have heard him correctly.
“Would you like to go out?” He smiled and my breath caught in my throat. “I get off at five. That is, if you don’t have any plans already.”
He had his dark hair pulled back in a man bun, and I itched to let it loose and run my fingers through it. I shoved my free hand into my pocket to keep from reaching out. “No..no plans.”
“Great! Would you like to meet me here, or we could meet somewhere else if you’d prefer.”
“I can come by here. I live around the corner.”
“Okay, sounds good. I’ll meet you here.” He turned to the espresso machine.
“Wait!” I smacked myself mentally and lowered my voice. “I don’t even know your name.”
His eyes twinkled with amusement. “Jacob.”