Nanny With Benefits
Fourteen Years Later
We were driving north on the highway, a blue March sky full of white clouds that should have put me in a wonderful mood.
But the kids wouldn’t stop arguing.
“I’m not touching you,” Brendan insisted.
“Yes you are!” Oliver shot back. “You just touched me on the arm!”
“That was an accident.”
I spun around in the front passenger seat and gave them a withering glare. “Brendan, stop touching your brother.”
“Ha ha!” Oliver teased.
“And you,” I hissed. “You egged him on by doing it to him for the first hour of the trip. If you both don’t start behaving you’re going to be grounded for the rest of the day.”
Oliver gasped. “That’s not fair!”
“If you keep arguing, I’ll show you what’s fair. You want to be grounded for two days?”
“You said I could kayak!” Oliver shot back.
My look intensified.
He gave a deep, teenager’s sigh. “FINE.”
Brendan started to stick his tongue out at his brother, but I aimed a warning finger at him too. Finally they crossed their arms and looked out their respective windows.
I turned back around and exhaled. Behind the wheel, Bryce smiled.
“What do you think is so funny?” I demanded, more playfully than I had been with the boys.
He shrugged. “I didn’t say anything.”
The boys were a handful. Even with our family split in half—Liam, Pax, and our other two sons were in another car—road trips were always a battle. No matter how many games and books we bought them, the kids got restless after an hour. They had the attention span of fruit flies.
They were just like their fathers, too.
Oliver was fifteen and acted like it. Moody all the time, and contrarian on everything. If I said the sky was blue he would insist it was green just to make a point.
But I loved him more than anything.
Brendan was his brother—biologically they were half-brothers since his parents were me and Bryce, but the distinction didn’t matter to us. Twelve years old and followed his brother around like a puppy. That included teasing and playing with Oliver even when he wanted to be left alone.
My other two sons, Andrew and Will, were still at calm, innocent ages. Nine and eight. They were Pax’s and Liam’s sons, respectively. Andrew was a wiz at math and loved counting things, while Will was big into athletics. He was the fastest kid on his swim team back in Philadelphia, which his father coached. Liam thought he could break some state records in another year or two.
“I was just thinking about how Andrew and Will are probably sitting in the car calmly right now,” Bryce said. “Reading books or listening to music.”
I gave him a playful glare. They’re your sons. It was a running joke among the adults that Bryce had been a pain to his parents growing up, and fate was returning the favor.
But they were only jokes. Whatever teenage annoyances existed, we were happier than we ever thought we could be.
The three wedding rings on my finger proved it.
We had left Philadelphia early, and we arrived at the lake house around ten in the morning. We hopped out of the car and I opened the trunk to begin unpacking. Oliver approached me sullenly. He may have been a pudgy baby, but he was taller than me now and as thin as a rail. He gave me a hug.
“Sorry, mom,” he said.
He had been calling me mom since he was three years old, but it still made me swell with happiness every time. Bryce smiled to himself as he pulled the cooler out of the trunk.
“It’s okay,” I told him. “Help us carry everything inside and then we can get ready.”
The lake and our lake house looked the same as they had when I first arrived fourteen years ago. The only difference was that the lake was more developed now, with lots of homes dotting the far shore. There was also a new house right next to ours, although that one we didn’t mind.
The front door to the neighbor’s house opened and my dad came jogging down the steps. “They’re here! Everyone’s here!” he called behind him as he crossed the driveway and hugged me.
Behind him came the rest of my family. My brothers and sisters were all adults now, and had six nieces and nephews among them. We were one big family now! And dad was the proudest grandpa in the world.
“I swear you get bigger every time I see you, Ollie!” he said while hugging the boy.
“Granddad, it’s Oliver,” he insisted.
My dad put on a serious expression. “Sorry, right. Oliver. I forgot you go by that now.” He reached out and touched the teenager’s face. “Is that dirt on your cheek? Veronica, do your boys ever bathe?”
“It’s a beard, granddad,” Oliver whined. “It’s not a big deal.”
“A beard?” Dad squinted at his face. “Need to get my eyeglasses to see…”
I tried not to laugh. Oliver groaned and turned away.
My dad ruffled Oliver’s hair. “I’ve got the kayaks down by the water all ready to go. You coming with us?”
Dad glanced at me, emphasizing the unasked question: did Oliver get grounded on the drive up again?
“We’re all going kayaking,” I answered for him. “As soon as we unload the cars.”
Liam, Pax, and the other two boys arrived a few minutes later. Bryce teased Pax about driving like a teenager who was taking his driver’s test. Andrew and Will practically tackled their grandpa, smothering him with hugs and squeals of joy.
“I’m getting too old,” he told them. “One of these days you’re going to break my knee!”
We loaded everything inside and changed into bathing suits. By then everyone was down at the water’s edge, picking kayaks and paddles. It was a family tradition at this point, going kayaking as a group on the first day of vacation. My sister had her newborn strapped to her chest just like I used to do with Oliver. There were twenty of us altogether in nineteen kayaks, so we were like an armada launching from the shore.
“Race ya!” Will announced to nobody in particular.
I quickly started paddling. “You’re on!”
The two of us paddled hard, racing out into the middle of the lake. I went easy on Will to make it competitive. He glanced over every few seconds to see if he was taking the lead.
Suddenly Liam came flying forward, his muscular arms maneuvering his paddle with ease. “Too slow,” he said while passing us effortlessly.
“Dad!” Will complained. “Not fair!”
I stuck out my paddle and caught it on Liam’s. His paddle slipped from his fingers and splashed into the water, sending up a plume of water. It floated on the surface, but Liam’s momentum carried him away from it.
“What was that for!” Liam demanded.
“Just putting you in your place!” I said while passing him.
I shared a giggle and a grin with Will as we continued racing.
After kayaking we returned to the lake house to make lunch. Another tradition of ours was to make a giant batch of chicken salad sandwiches for everyone to share.
Andrew adjusted his eyeglasses while staring over the kitchen counter. “Why do we always have these?”
“A long time ago, Papa Bryce got sick from a chicken salad sandwich. It gave us a big scare.”
“That’s dumb,” Andrew blurted out.
“It started ironically,” Pax chimed in. “We made our own the year after that and teased him about it. But they were delicious, so…” He shrugged as if that explained it.
Andrew rolled his eyes at his father.
Dad came over to our house after lunch. “Come on, come on! It’s time for the hike!”
“Do we have to,” Oliver said while fiddling with his phone.
“Of course you do. I want to go on a hike with all my favorite grandkids. If you stay home it means you’re one of my least favorite…”
That succeeded in convincing Oliver. Everyone changed clothes and followed dad out of the house and down to the lake trails.
My three husbands and I didn’t get a lot of time alone thanks to our four children. We had to take advantage of the situation whenever we could. Pax stood in the living room, gazing out the window with binoculars.
“Okay, they’re gone. We’ve got at least an hour.”
The four of us rushed into the master bedroom, stripping our clothes as we went. I fell on the bed and my men took over, taking turns kissing me and covering me with their bodies. Having group sex wasn’t quite as fun when there was a clock ticking in your head, but it was just as scintillating and satisfying as it was when we first did it.
“That never gets old,” Bryce said while we cuddled after.
“Unlike your wrinkled ass,” Pax replied.
“Wrinkled?” Bryce twisted on the bed to get a look at his behind. “I don’t see any. It’s smooth.”
“Not from this angle.”
I laughed as they teased each other. So far they had aged wonderfully for men who were in their early forties. Bryce’s hair was as thick as ever but had some grey in it. Liam was as physically fit as he was when we first met, lean and muscular. Pax had a little bit of pudge around his midsection, but it only made him more lovable.
The past fourteen years had flown by. I wondered how quick the next fourteen would go. By then I would be fifty. Oliver would be almost thirty.
That was too much to think about, so I focused on the nude men I was cuddling with instead.
Later that night we walked over to dad’s lake house for dinner. Twenty people made it crowded, but we didn’t mind. That’s how we liked it. One big happy family. Oliver brought his sketchbook and sat out on the back deck. He didn’t like painting as much as his father, but he was truly gifted when it came to pencil and graphite sketches. He immediately began sketching a landscape of the view of the lake, starting with a few horizontal lines to mark the shore.
“You want a drink?” my brother asked me as we went inside. “Suzie made a batch of her famous margaritas.”
“Yes please,” Pax said, making a bee-line for the kitchen.
I held up the glass I had brought over. “I’m good with just water.”
That drew a few looks. Nobody turned down Suzie’s margaritas. Slowly the conversations around us died down.
“What’s going on?” Brendan asked suspiciously. “Everyone got quiet.”
Pax was the only one who didn’t seem to notice. He was busy pouring himself a margarita in the kitchen.
“Veronica?” Bryce asked. “Is it true?”
Damnit, I thought. I didn’t want to announce it this way. I had forgotten about Suzie’s margaritas. I should have had a better excuse ready.
“I was going to make it a surprise next week on our anniversary, but…” I let my hand drift down to my belly.
Excitement filled the room. Liam cheered loudly and ran over to embrace me. Bryce was right behind him, followed by my dad. “Oh, Harmonica. This is wonderful!”
“Huh?” Pax asked while sipping his margarita. “What’d I miss?”
“Whose is it?” my brother asked.
Everyone waited for my answer. At first my family thought it was weird that I had three boyfriends, and even weirded when I married all three of them. But they got used to it quickly, especially once we began coming to the lake every spring break and summer. Now it was totally normal to them. Nobody thought twice.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But I know one thing: it had better be a girl this time!”
Pax’s eyes widened and glanced down at my belly. “A girl… oh. OH!”
Everyone laughed as he dropped his margarita in his rush to run over and hug me.
After dinner we returned to our lake house. The kids were exhausted and went to bed while Bryce, Liam, Pax, and I all sat out on the back deck with drinks. I sipped my diet coke and sighed.
“There’s a problem,” I said out loud.
The heads of my three husbands turned toward me. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I’m happy,” I said. “Too happy.”
“And this is a problem… why?” Liam asked.
“I just think we should tone it down some,” I joked. “Balance out our karma with some bad news.”
Pax sat up in his chair. “Want me to start embezzling money from your retirement accounts? They’re doing so well, you probably wouldn’t even notice.”
“That’s a good start.”
“Perfect. I’ll get right on that tomorrow.”
“Too much happiness is bad for artistic creativity,” Bryce said. “All the best art is created during periods of depression, or strife.”
“We could start bickering,” Liam replied. “Veronica, those chicken salad sandwiches had too much mayonnaise. Our marriage is done.”
I gasped. “Don’t bring the sandwiches into this!”
We laughed and teased and smiled while watching the sun set on the other side of the lake.