Cover Me in Sunshine
Had it been up to me, and me alone, I would have moved Cecilia in with me immediately. But I wanted to make sure Freya was on board with it. She had barely had time to get used to living with Conrad yet, and I didn’t want to spring yet another bonus parent on her without preparation.
I still wanted them to at least meet as soon as possible, though. Cecilia and I had been spending every available weekend together, but I wanted her to be able to visit when Freya was here as well. Cecilia was excited to meet my daughter, and I hoped that they would get along.
For their first meeting, I decided to take them both out to dinner. Neutral ground. It worked when introducing cats and dogs, so why not now? Cecilia was staying with me for the weekend as usual, but I asked her to go ahead and wait at the restaurant while I picked up Freya. Freya knew that we were going to meet my girlfriend, but I wanted a few minutes alone with her to make sure she was prepared.
I didn’t have to worry. From the moment they met, Cecilia and Freya got along like a house on fire.
I had of course proudly told Cecilia all about my daughter, and she immediately started asking Freya about her greatest interest, sports. Freya was ecstatic, and when Cecilia admitted that she had never played basketball, Freya solemnly promised to teach her how to play.
My plan had been to stay in the background to give them a chance to connect, but by the time our food arrived, they were so engrossed in a conversation about cats that I might as well not have been there at all.
Freya was telling Cecilia about how we had found Zoe when Freya was very little. I couldn’t help but smile. I recognised my own words in the way she told it. There was no way she could remember the day that clearly, but I had often told her the story over the years.
She even told Cecilia how her comment about Zoe having green eyes like us had become an inside joke, and how we’d sometimes declare animals on tv as part of the family if they had green eyes. So far, our fictional television family consisted of many cats, a few panthers, one chameleon and a surprising amount of lemurs.
She asked Cecilia about her tattoos, and Cecilia explained. The white cat on her shoulder was her first cat, Snowball, and the black one on her forearm was Mimi. She even talked about how she had come into my clinic by accident eight years ago to buy treats for them. Mimi was still a kitten back then, but she had lost Snowball to old age since.
“So does that mean that Mimi is eight years old now, just like me?”
“She is! And you know what? She also has green eyes, just like you!”
As we were saying goodbye to Cecilia after dinner, she got down on one knee.
“Freya, I need to ask you a very important question. I love your daddy very much and I would really like to come and live with you guys. Would that be fine with you?”
“Sure, then I can teach you how to play basketball! But why are you asking me? I mostly live with Mommy.”
“Because it’s your daddy and your house so I want to hear your opinion.”
“Oh, OK. Will Mimi come and live there too?”
“Of course! I want her to meet you, and she can play with Cooper and Zoe!”
She hugged Cecilia, who almost fell over backwards.
I looked at the two most important people in my world, and I wanted to cry with happiness.
As we walked back to Conrad and Katherine, I asked Freya if she liked Cecilia.
“She’s so cool! And she’s nice and funny and she has green eyes, and Mimi has green eyes, so they belong with us, like Zoe and grandpa! And Cooper, even if he doesn’t have green eyes, but we love him anyway because his eyes are brown like Mommy’s, right Daddy?”
“That’s right, little monkey”, I said, staring across the harbour while trying not to tear up. For a moment we were both quiet. Then Freya started squirming.
“Daddy? If you and Cecilia had a baby, would the baby have green eyes?”
“Oh… probably, although the baby could also get grandma Cora’s blue eyes or something from Cecilia’s family. You never know. But why are you asking about babies?”
“Because I asked Mommy if I could have a little brother or sister and she said that she is too old and I should ask you instead.”
“I… see. Well, Cecilia is just going to move in for now, and maybe we will have a baby some day. But I can’t promise anything, maybe Cecilia doesn’t even want babies.”
“I bet she does. Do you want me to ask her for you, Daddy?”
“Thanks, monkey, but I think I should ask her that myself. OK?”
“OK. So when can I get a tattoo? I want one on the arm like Cecilia. Conrad has so many, they’re like everywhere, but he says they hurt to get so I only want a small one.”
As I dropped Freya off, I quickly gave Katherine an update on how it went. She could hardly be against Cecilia moving in, seeing as she lived with Conrad now. She said she was happy for me.
I didn’t mention the thing with the babies.
Cecilia moved in. As a freelance writer, she could work from anywhere, and she loved being closer to nature than she had been in Newcrest. After all, she grew up on her father’s and grandfather’s farm in Henford-on-Bagley. But when her parents got divorced, her mother had moved back to Newcrest with Cecilia and her brother.
I felt happier than I had been for a decade. I couldn’t remember having ever laughed so often or so loudly. I almost felt like when we were teenagers, except this was better.
This time, I truly appreciated just how lucky I was. It was a privilege being with the love of my life, and this time I would do things right.
Everything got even better whenever Freya was there. I loved the feeling of being a proper little family. Freya and Cecilia would joke around like old friends, and it made me happy to see them get along so well.
Freya also stuck to her promise and taught Cecilia to play basketball. Or rather, she tried teaching her. Cecilia was definitely more of a dreamer than an athlete, but she just laughed at her own clumsiness and admired Freya’s skills.
I was so proud of my daughter. I still hadn’t discussed the baby issue with Cecilia, and I really wanted to. But it was still a bit soon for that, we had barely been dating for six months and only just started living together full time. Maybe if everything kept going this well…
That is not to say that everything was perfect bliss – we obviously disagreed sometimes. I still had a tendency to get defensive when I felt criticised, but Cecilia was patient with me, and we always calmly reached some sort of compromise.
I don’t even remember what the discussion was about. I just remember that for the first time in our relationship, I lost control and raised my voice, angrily yelling at her about something.
Katherine would have immediately matched my anger and things would have escalated into a full-blown screaming match. Cecilia did not.
All I saw in her eyes was fear.
The love of my life was afraid of me.
It felt like a punch to the stomach.
“Shit. Cecilia, I’m sorry…”
I wanted to crawl into a hole and die on the spot.
Cecilia put her arms around me. My entire body was tense and I couldn’t even look her in the eyes. I felt terrible.
“Eric? Eric, darling, look at me. I’m fine, everything’s fine. Please…”
She was not at all fine, I could hear her voice breaking.
Why was she comforting me? I was the one who did something wrong, I should be the one to comfort her. I held her tight, telling her how sorry I was for yelling, and she started sobbing.
When she’d calmed down, I finally got the full story.
I only knew that her most recent ex had been a bit of a jerk, and that she hadn’t dated for about two years after him. Not until my father had suggested she pay me a visit.
Jerk didn’t begin to cover it. The guy had been outright abusive, picking fights just to have an excuse to scream at her. But she was afraid of leaving him, because he was so possessive and jealous. It wasn’t until he finally hit her that she realised that she had to get away.
My heart broke for her. How could anyone treat my sweet, gentle Cecilia like that? She was the kindest person I knew. But then I realised that I had just been yelling at her myself. The pit in my stomach returned.
I knew then and there that I would never raise my voice at her again. Or anyone else, for that matter. The memory of the fear in her eyes, the fear of me, made my blood run cold.
I realised that I still had a lot to work on. I wanted nothing more than to feel worthy of her love.
Apart from that incident, our relationship was close to perfect.
I was still a little ashamed of my philandering past, but Cecilia insisted that she didn’t care whether I’d bedded a thousand women before her.
What we had was something else.
Still, I wanted to make it up to her, so I did my best to put all my experience to good use.
While my motives may have been questionable in the past, I had never been a selfish lover.
Deep down, I had known that I was using all those women to escape my own problems, so I had always made sure to make the experience as enjoyable for them as possible.
With Cecilia, I rediscovered the joy of pleasing someone just to see them happy.
She joked that I spoiled her. I just wanted to hear her scream my name.
There was no doubt in my mind that Cecilia was the one. By the end of autumn, I had already bought the ring and always carried it with me. A dainty, pale blue thing, the stones set like a butterfly. Cecilia loved butterflies.
The night before Winterfest, we were cuddled up on the couch. We had spent all day decorating and preparing for my parents coming the next day. Freya had finally fallen asleep, the excitement keeping her up much too late. I had been trying to figure out for weeks how I should propose. I was getting desperate.
Dinner at a restaurant? I didn’t have the nerve. This all seemed too good to be true. What if she said no? Or felt pressured to say yes against her will? I couldn’t do a grand public proposal.
But then what? Just get down on one knee in the middle of the backyard? Set up an elaborate scene involving rose petals in the bedroom? Find a private area in a park? Nothing felt right. I wanted something honest. Something sincere.
I was still immersed in my thoughts when Cecilia sat up, and sighed happily in my arms.
“I can’t wait to see Freya’s face when she opens her presents tomorrow.”
Without thinking, I took her hands in mine, facing her.
There was no going back now. I took a deep breath and got down on one knee.
“Cecilia, I meant to do something more elaborate. But I can’t wait any longer. Will you marry me?”
I heard her gasp as I fumbled in my pocket for the ring.
“Yes! Eric… yes! Of course!”
I carefully put the ring on her finger.
When she kissed me, we both had tears in our eyes.
“You know what my parents are going to ask when we tell them tomorrow, right?”
“Then I guess we better agree on the answer, darling. Do you want to try for a baby now or wait until we’re married?”
“I was actually referring to picking a wedding date, but I love the way you think.”
My parents were thrilled for us when they arrived the next day. They immediately pulled Cecilia into a big hug.
“What a lovely surprise, Cecilia! We totally never saw it coming!”, my mother said, winking at me.
I cheerfully flipped her off. She just laughed.
“Dad – tell me the truth. Was this what you hoped for when you told Cecilia that she should visit me back in the spring?”
He sent me a conspiratorial smile.
“I just wanted you to be happy, son.”
I hugged him tight, his lean frame feeling almost fragile against my chest. When had he become smaller than me?
“I love you, dad.”
The next summer, we travelled to Henford-on-Bagley to get married near the place Cecilia grew up. We rented a tiny cottage and spent a few days before the wedding visiting places from her childhood. She showed me an old gazebo and the local ruins she used to play in, her favourite tree. I felt honoured that she would share all this with me.
The Bramblewood felt like a place in a dream, and it only seemed fitting that this was where Cecilia had come from.
She even took me skinny-dipping by the waterfalls of the Bagley river.
Cecilia was my very own fairytale princess and I was almost surprised that various small animals weren’t constantly accosting her to sing a duet or trying to sew her a dress.
I was about to make a joke about it, but when I turned around, I saw her trying to befriend a couple of small birds. It took effort not to burst out laughing and scare them away.
Then came the wedding itself.
Cecilia looked radiant and I almost forgot to breathe as her father walked her towards me.
I had never met Stephen, as he had stayed behind on the Bell family farm after the divorce from Cecilia’s mother. I had been nervous about it, but it was clear that much of Cecilia’s gentle nature came from him.
Her mother, Ariana, and her brother, Leopold, I knew from the first time we dated. Although her brother was no longer that annoying little kid who would come knocking at the door to Cecilia’s room while she and I were making out, only to run away giggling.
And just like that, we were married. I couldn’t believe that this graceful creature wanted to spend her life with me, that she was truly mine now.
Considering that the wedding was all the way across the sea, I was touched that Athena and Jamie had come, especially since Athena was heavily pregnant. At least someone else appreciated that the champagne was alcohol-free.
Colten made a toast to the joys of being married, and I caught Katherine and Conrad exchanging a significant look.
I knew it couldn’t be easy for her to attend, but I appreciated her and Conrad coming – and that they were taking Freya home with them.
I really didn’t want Freya to stay with me for my wedding night.
As I entered the tiny bedroom in our rented cottage, I stopped dead in my tracks. Cecilia had already removed her dress and the flowers in her hair and was waiting for me.
“Hello, husband”, she purred.
Mesmerised, I reached up to unbutton my shirt, only to find it already opened.
“Fuck, Cecilia. I’m glad I didn’t know you were wearing that under your dress all day, I wouldn’t have been able to focus.”
She laughed and sat on the bed, looking at me eagerly.
“I wanted to surprise you!”
“Yeah, well, colour me surprised”, I mumbled hoarsely, as I struggled to open my belt and kick off my shoes at the same time.
I joined my wife on the bed and kissed her, hungrily. My hand found her stomach, still almost flat.
“I don’t think anyone noticed yet.”
We had decided that we wanted children as soon as possible, but it had still been a surprise when Cecilia found out that she was pregnant just before the wedding. I was delighted. And terrified. I saw doctor Holland regularly all through the pregnancy, and Cecilia did her best to remind me that the situation was very different this time.
And it was. Even as she slowly reached a size where she was borrowing my old shirts because none of her own clothes fit, I felt no signs of my depression returning.
I wasn’t truly worried about us having a baby, only about getting hit by depression again. The thought of Cecilia carrying my child didn’t fill me with anxiety, but with joy. Still, it was a relief to be able to share my thoughts and worries with her on our, now rather slow, walks.
Freya was very excited about getting a brother or sister. I knew Katherine had mixed feelings about it. She said she was happy for us, but I could tell she was a little jealous. She would never give Freya siblings.
Towards the end of her pregnancy, I think I was even more impatient for our child to be born than Cecilia was. Not that she wasn’t very ready to get it over with as well. She had been uncomfortable all day, and was now lying on top of me so I could stroke her back, twisted awkwardly to the side to make room for her belly.
Her breathing was slow and steady, like she was almost falling asleep. Then I felt something.
“Cecilia, darling”, I mumbled. “I love you no matter what, but either you just peed on me, or we really need to go. Now.”
She quickly changed and we left. When we arrived at the hospital, I felt my pulse quickening. I loved Freya more than my own life, but my last visit to the maternity ward ten years ago had been traumatising.
But Cecilia was in pain, and as I was swaying back and forth to soothe her, I was able to put the past aside. This was here and now.
I was looking on in awe as she gave birth. I wanted to take away the pain, help her, but somehow her body knew how to do all the right things.
Before long, she was holding our daughter in her arms.
I had two daughters now.
I couldn’t be happier.