Roman Bonus Epilogue


Looking over my shoulder to make sure the coast is clear, I set my tackle box on the kitchen table and motion for the kids to sit around it.

“Okay,” I say in a low voice. “You remember what to do, right?”

Renee, our oldest at seven, nods. “We finish off making our jewelry—”

“And we put it in the box,” five-year-old Ruth adds.

“It’s pretty,” Ryan, coming in last at three, says, holding up a bracelet in his chubby hands. “For Mama.”

“That’s right,” I say, slipping out a fourth package that is my own.

The fact that we’ve made it this far without Matilda finding out exactly what’s going on is nothing short of a miracle. I’m sure she suspects we’ve been up to something the past few mornings while she has a cup of coffee out on the porch. But so far, none of the kids has spilled the beans about what exactly is up.

I wonder if I should be concerned they’re this good at keeping secrets.

“Why are we whispering?” Ruth asks.

“Because this is a surprise for Mom.” Renee rolls her eyes, looking way too much like her mom. “Duh.”

“Oh, yeah.” Ever carefree, Ruth shrugs it off and adds a few more beads to the necklace she’s been making. “Do Moms always get jewelry for their birthdays?”

“Not always.” I tie a bow around my box. “But we are this year.”

“I don’t want jewelry for my birthday,” Renee decides. “I want a microscope.”

I arch an eyebrow. “A microscope? What are you going to use that for?”

“To look at bugs up close.” She flashes a grin. “They’re so gross. I love it.”

And I love that she loves that.

“I want a bike,” Ruth decides.

“You’ll have to wear a helmet,” I say.

“And training wheels,” Renee adds. “I don’t have to use training wheels, because I’m not a baby.”

Ruth’s bottom lip juts out. “I’m not a baby.”

“No, you’re not a baby.” I shoot Renee a silent look of warning. “But we all need a little help sometimes. Especially when we’re learning. The training wheels will help you learn.”

That stops the waterworks before they can even start. Thank God for that. I consider it a good day if we can get through breakfast without one or all of the kids in tears.

And I want today to be a good day.

Now that two out of three of my kids have announced what they want for their birthdays—even though they’re months away—I’m curious.

“What do you want for your birthday, Ryan?”

He purses his lips to consider a moment, before saying, “Worms.”

That’s my kid.

Glancing out the window, I can see that Matilda is out of coffee.

“Okay, we’ve got to hurry this up.” I hold out a small box filled with tissue paper. “Let’s put those pieces in.”

Renee goes first, placing the pair of earrings at the top. Ruth adds her necklace next. These kids are my everything. Last, but not least, Ryan drops his bracelet in, giving me a big, toothy grin as he does. My heart clenches. These kids are my everything.

With no time to waste, I put the lid on the box and tie a ribbon around it.

“Quick,” I call out to Renee. “Go get the cards.”

Pleased to be given such an important task, she runs to the short table my dad built them and pulls a small stack of paper out of a secret drawer. She races back and sets them on the table, in the spot where Matilda usually sits. I move the boxes into position.

Then, with seconds to spare, I pull the kids together and we shout, “Happy birthday!” as their mom, the love of my life, walks through the door.

Her face lights up as she joins us, giving everyone a kiss from youngest to oldest.

“Happy birthday, baby,” I murmur, brushing my lips over hers. “I’ll start breakfast if you want to open your presents.”

“That might just be the sexiest sentence ever spoken.” She gives me another kiss before turning to her gifts.

She starts with the box from the kids. With great enthusiasm, she admires their work and tries on each piece of jewelry. When she gets to my gift, I hold my breath. She flips the lid open and gasps. Her gaze lifts to mine as she turns the velvet box around for everyone to see. There, nestled in satin is a necklace with five stones on it.

“One for each of our birthstones,” she says. “That’s our family.”

She motions me to come forward so she can thank me with another kiss.

“I love it,” she says. “It’s just about perfect.”

“Just about?” I tease, my voice gruff with emotion.

“Not to beg for more, but we’re going to need to add another stone in about eight months.”

My jaw drops. “You mean you’re . . .”

She nods, and I pull her to her feet so I can wrap my arms around her. Just when I thought my life couldn’t get any better, my wife delivers the best news ever. Another baby. Now, we just need to come up with one more R name that hasn’t been used.