“Dad, his marshmallow is bigger than mine,” Bella complains, holding up her jumbo marshmallow for her father’s inspection. She’s our first-born, and she takes the job of oldest child seriously. She’s always watching over her siblings and bossing them around.
Today, we’re camping in the woods behind our family’s cabin. We camp at least once a month for a night or two. The hard packed ground isn’t easy on Trace’s hip, but he never complains. He loves his four kids and wants them to enjoy growing up in the natural wonderland that is this mountain.
So far this weekend, we’ve been hiking on the mountain trails, caught fireflies, went fishing in the lake, and made friends with a family of bunny rabbits living in a nearby burrow. Trace has spearheaded all the adventures and turned everything into fun learning moments for our little brood.
“It’s because he likes me better,” Eli, our eight-year-old son, pokes his tongue out at Bella. Bella and Eli have a constant rivalry. No matter how much we try to assure them they’re both loved, they’re always fighting.
Underneath their bickering, they do care for each other. I know this because Bella stayed up all night to help Eli finish his science project. And Eli stood up to some bigger boys that tried to bully my Bella. When it really counts, my kids have each other’s backs.
“Let me see the marshmallow,” Trace says, his voice patient as ever. He’s always kind and gentle with our kids. He loves them fiercely. He holds it up when Bella has passed it to him. “You’re right. This marshmallow is five percent smaller. But I picked it out special because it’s the fluffiest one in the bag and those are your favorite kind.”
She’s quiet for a moment, her little mind hard at work. Bella is always thinking about the world around her and asking questions. I suspect she’ll grow up to be a scientist or researcher.
Trace shrugs and reaches for the bag that’s between us. We’re sitting together on a large log in front of the fire. If you saw my family tonight, you’d think we look like one of those perfect family pictures and well, our life together is pretty amazing. “It’s fine. I’ll get you on exactly like your brother’s.”
She scowls and snatches it from his hand. “No, it’s mine.”
Trace suppresses a smile of his own. “See? What you got wasn’t equal, but it was exactly what you needed and wanted. That’s life. Sometimes, we see someone else and assume they have things better because they got more when we have exactly what we need to be happy.”
“What about mine?” Lewis shoves his marshmallow at his dad for inspection.
“That’s easy. I picked the sweetest one for you,” Trace answers, pressing a kiss to our first grader’s head.
He’s so affectionate with our kids. I know he had a lot of fears about becoming a dad. He was terrified during my first pregnancy that he’d be like his stepdad. But I kept reassuring him that he would be a wonderful parent.
When he held Bella for the first time at the hospital, I saw it in his face. He was so enraptured with her from the first moment she came into this world. He is our kids’ biggest defender and their loudest cheerleader.
Lewis giggles and passes his dad his roasting stick. He’s still too young to be allowed to roast his own. But we’ll let him do it in time.
Trace roasts it for him, blowing to cool the marshmallow before helping him to assemble his s’mores with an extra chocolate bar. Lewis got his mama’s sweet tooth. He bites into the gooey confection and gives his daddy a smile just as Ava pulls on her daddy’s shirt. “Turn! Turn!”
Our little three-year-old doesn’t always understand that’s happening but she desperately wants to do what her older siblings do.
“Alright, Princess Ava, what do you want?” He gives her a grin. She’s going through a princess phase, and everything has to be glittery and sparkly.
He helps her with a s’more too before Eli says, “Mom, tell us one of the fairy stories.”
My fairy creations are sold in Seize the Clay and other stores now. I have quite the following online where I’m known for my intricate fairies and the stories of their little village. A lot of those stories start right here from nights like tonight when I tell my kids of my magical land.
By the time I’m done with the latest tale, the younger ones are nearly asleep and the older two are yawning.
Trace sends them to bed, promising to be in the big family tent in a few minutes. They go without too much protesting. Probably because the tent isn’t far from us, maybe ten feet. Just enough distance to be safe from the fire.
I take the blanket from around my shoulders and wrap Trace in it too. We sit together in the quiet night with only the sounds of the crackling fire and the cicadas interrupting us. As the minutes pass, I can hear the quiet snores of our children and I smile up in gratitude toward the heavens. My life is a fairytale, and I’m so lucky I get to live this one.
“What’s your favorite memory of us?” I ask my husband as I put my head on his shoulder. We’ve been together a decade, and, in that time, we’ve had so many amazing adventures.
“I have a million favorite memories with you,” he answers.
I chuckle. Of course, he’d say that. “Do you remember our third anniversary when we were stranded in the forest?”
“I do remember that,” he says with a soft laugh.
It was just supposed to be a day hike, but storms approached late in the afternoon and kept us from getting back to the hotel we were staying in. We didn’t have any camping gear with us, but Trace managed to make an old tarp into a tent to keep the rain off of me. That’s what he was most worried about—keeping me dry and comfortable.
“First time we made love under that oak tree,” he says. That tree is still standing there, having survived several severe thunderstorms.
Once it was struck by lightning and it nearly broke my heart when I thought we were going to lose it. But Trace patiently nursed it back to health and the tree is now even stronger and healthier than before. That’s the kind of man my husband is. He has the ability to patiently nurture things—the tree on our property, our children, and our marriage.
“Mmm, you with your tree facts,” I say with a small smile, recalling when he tried to go into detail about the species of the tree. If I hadn’t stopped him, he probably would have named all four hundred types of trees and plants. “And when you built the treehouse with the kids. I was so worried one of them would break their necks when you were letting them help. Then you went and fell out of it.”
“And broke my damn wrist.” He shakes his head. “What about our family vacation to the Grand Canyon? You thought you had the flu, and it turned out you were pregnant again. Those are my favorites. The times you tell me we’re having a little one.”
I take his hand and put it on my stomach. “That’s good because we’ve made another baby, my warrior.”
He presses a soft kiss to my forehead. “I’ll never get tired of you giving me babies.”
I hum in the back of my throat, contentment flowing through me. Our family is big and loud and growing in new ways every day. But I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s ours, and building it together is the adventure of a lifetime.
Can this dirty mountain man convince the romance writer he wants to be the hero in her own personal love story?
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