Below is the complete epilogue for Boyfriend Material.
IT CONTAINS SPOILERS.
Do not proceed until you have finished Boyfriend Material.
You have been warned.
Boyfriend Material Epilogue...
Some years later…
“Eric, you aren’t taking our five-year-olds axe throwing at some bar,” Julia calls out as she helps Kurt, one of our triplets, out of the creek. He’s totally me at his age. Carefree, wily, and always ready to play tricks on his siblings, Kara and Kelli.
He and his two sisters, plus Z and Sugar’s two boys, Evander and Nash, age six and four respectively, have been climbing up a flat rock and jumping into the basin of a small waterfall. It’s not even a foot drop into the water but you’d think they were on the Olympic team for diving. They call it “cliff jumping.” My lips twitch.
Kurt has his typical mischievous (maniacal) grin on his face as he sticks his cold hands on Julia’s stomach. The water is freezing, a stream that trickles down the Blue Ridge Mountains in Ellijay, Georgia.
Julia smirks as she bends down and gives him a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’m so hot your cold hands don’t bother me, munchkin.” She boops him on the nose. “Axe throwing is dangerous, and don’t you ever do it.”
“Swing me, mama, swing me,” he sings and she does, holding him under his arms as she twirls him around. She puts him back down on the pebbled rocks of the shore and he squeals in delight as he wraps his arms around her legs for a hug. Warmth spears me as I gaze at them, an almost tangible bond emanating from me to them. “Strings of love” is what Julia calls that feeling. Yeah, she’s more eloquent than me.
We hadn’t planned on having three kids at once. Hell, we hadn’t planned on getting pregnant a year after we got married, but hello, surprise baby. We went to the first ultrasound and saw that it wasn’t just one baby but three. We walked out of the doctor’s office in a daze. I don’t think we said a single word the entire drive back to our house. It didn’t really sink in until we started getting the nursery ready. Three cribs, three changing tables, pacifiers, toys, bouncy chairs, and so many fucking diapers. We had a walk-in closet entirely dedicated to Pampers. And when they were born, I was right there holding her hand, praying to God to let Julia and my babies be okay.
It wasn’t easy being a second-year rookie in the NHL and a father of three. Yet, unexpected things in life can be the blessing you never knew you wanted. We wouldn’t change anything about how our life fell into place.
Kurt lets her go and races back to the rock where the others are waiting for him. He’s wearing flamingo swim trunks that come down past his knees and a long sleeve white swim shirt. His longish hair sticks out everywhere under a floppy Capitals hat.
Kara is poised to jump in, but he hip checks her out of the way and dashes off the rock in front of her. He lives for thrills. He may act like me, but he looks like Julia with his sweet brown eyes and dark hair. But Kara and Kelli? Those two have my signature hair. Kara is the “mom” of the twins—she was born first—while Kelli is the quiet genius behind their plots to overthrow the parentals.
Kara shakes her fist at Kurt when he pops up from the water. I can’t hear what she’s saying but I’m sure it’s all about rules and “know your place” and “I was born first so I’m the oldest” kind of thing. I’m still chuckling as Julia turns to me and puts her hands on her hips.
“Are you listening to me?” she asks.
“Hmm,” I say I take her in. She’s wearing a red bikini, huge sunglasses, and a big floppy hat. She looks like a movie star hiding out at an exclusive beach resort. Damn, I love her. She’s talented; she’s caring; she’s hot as fuck. I’m living the dream with her and my Triplets of Terror.
“Have I told you you’re beautiful today, my love?”
She rolls her eyes. “Not since this morning and don’t use “my love” on me. You’re trying to soften me up.”
“Never,” I say. “Is it working?”
She tosses an empty water bottle at me, and I laugh as I dodge it.
We’re at a cabin that Z and Sugar own. We flew into Nashville a week ago, hung out at their house for a few days, then caravanned the few hours to get to Ellijay, a quaint town nestled in the mountains. Bordered by a creek on three sides, their house is big enough for us to vacation with them plus toss in a few more people. We’ve been coming here for three years, and it’s perfect for a late summer getaway before the preseason starts.
“Eric? I’m serious. No axes.”
I grin. “Come on now. They have cages between each throwing lane and even a special section just for kids. The Terrors are always throwing stuff in our house. At us, at each other.” I waggle my eyebrows. “They’ll love it. Tell her Z.”
Z pauses as he pulls his oldest, Evander, out of the water. He gives me a look like he was hoping I didn’t need his help. The plan was to bring this up when Julia and I were alone, then get her to talk to Sugar, but this morning she kept asking what we should do tomorrow when it might rain, and I decided to go for it.
Z turns to us with an expression of serious contemplation. “We talked to the manager yesterday. He said they have a league for kids as young as seven. The axes are smaller. I think it will be cool.”
Sugar scoots up in her lounge chair and tilts her head forward to look at Z over her sunglasses. “Evander won’t be seven until October and Nash is only four. None of the kids are old enough. I don’t think you two were thinking at all.” She blows him a kiss.
He grins. “Well, what I meant was, seven is just the league age. The manager said if we sign a waiver, any age can throw.”
“See. All taken care of.” I smile at our wives like that should settle the matter.
“Ha,” Sugar says. “They’ll let you sign a waiver, which absolves them of liability. It doesn’t mean it’s safe. It means the owners aren’t morons.”
“Come on, babe, don’t go all lawyer on us. It’ll be fun,” Z says as he bends down to give her a little kiss.
She nudges him away with a laugh. “You’re as bad as Eric. Stop trying to sweet talk me.”
He brushes his hand over her shoulder in a caress. “Would I do that?”
She smiles slyly. “Maybe.”
“Later, I’ll tell you all the words I know and they won’t be sweet,” he says in a low voice as he plops down next to her and they hold hands in between their chairs.
Julia smiles. We’re used to their PDA and I guess they’re used to ours.
The kids swim over to the edge of the creek and haul themselves out, tossing off life jackets and goggles. They dash in our direction.
I hand Kara her Thor towel, Kelli her Wonder Woman, and Kurt his Star Wars one. Z hands out towels for Evander and Nash.
Kara and Evander pace around the shore and argue over where to sit. He wants to be back on the rock, but she wants to be in the shade near us. She wins and they follow her to a willow tree.
“Ready for our snack,” Kara says to us.
Julia shakes her head, her voice low so the kids don’t hear. “She’s always in charge.”
Sugar smirks. “Her and Evander butt heads over everything.”
Julia sighs as she watches them spread out their towels. “They’re so cute. Looking at them now, you’d never know how hard it was getting them to agree to a movie last night. Kara wanted SpongeBob, but Evander insisted on Toy Story. Evander won with a majority vote.”
“Buzz Lightyear!” Nash calls out, ears perking up at the mention of the movie.
I hand out water, sliced grapes, and cheese sticks. Bending down next to Kelli, I pat her head. “This girl could pass for a seven-year-old. Plus, she’s one of the best skaters on the hockey team.”
Kurt grunts. “I’m the best!”
Kara rolls her eyes. “We’re all good, dummy.”
I raise an eyebrow at her. “No name calling, Kara.”
“Sorry,” she says to her brother.
Kelli looks over at Julia who’s now digging through her bag for more sunscreen. “Mama, I wanna throw an axe.”
“Me too,” comes from the others at varying levels of excitement, except for Nash. He’s more interested in the ants trying to get on his towel.
Kurt nudges Evander. “Hey. I can putta apple on my head then you can throw the axe and knock it wayyyyyy off.”
Evander breaks into a wide grin. “Yeah!”
I start. “Wait, no, uh—"
“I wanna apple on my head!” Kara calls out then picks up a grape. “Or a grape!”
Z chimes in. “No apples or grapes, guys. The game is throwing the axe at a target and trying to get a bullseye. Doesn’t that sound fun?”
Kurt frowns. “We throw axes at bulls? Is that a cow?”
Evander gives him a superior look. “Of course.”
Kelli tears off a piece of her cheese stick and chews it. “Is the cow in the bar?” Obviously, she’d been listening to our conversation on the shore. My little genius.
“Of course it’s in the bar,” Evander says. “They have to eat.”
Kelli cocks her head. “They eat grass. Why do people let it inside?”
Kara snorts. “They don’t. A cow is outside and we chase it with our axes till we get it. We pluck out its eyeballs.”
Kelli blinks. “I like cows! I don’t wanna throw axes anymore!”
“No one is chasing a bull or a cow outside. It’s not an animal. It’s a thing. A bullseye is the center of a round target that you throw at,” I say.
Nash forgets the ants on his towel and pouts, a serious look in his eyes. “Bad people hurt cows.”
Kara turns to him. “It’s a bull.”
“It’s not,” Kelli replies. “Daddy just said it’s not alive.”
“It’s dead?” Evander makes a yuck sound.
“Are there baby goats at the bar?” Kurt asks. “We petted baby goats this one time and one ate food from Kelli’s hands and she cried cause she was scared.” He chuckles and Evander joins him.
“They licked me too much,” Kelli says and punches her brother on the arm.
“No hitting,” I say sternly.
“Sorry,” she mutters.
“If the bull is dead, aren’t its eyes closed?” Evander asks with a serious expression.
A long breath comes from me. I look over at Z and shake my head. “We’ve completely lost the narrative, man.”
Julia clears her throat, a smile of amusement curling her lips. She and Sugar stand together, their arms crossed. “The mamas have decided. We get a fifty-one percent vote in all things associated with safety. No axe throwing, no bull petting, no knocking apples—or grapes— off of heads, and no bars for our children.”
I put up my hands, conceding defeat. “Alright, alright.”
“What about a place full of pinball machines?” Z asks. “I saw one online next to the axe throwing place. It’s a huge arcade with some cool machines from the eighties.”
“Is it a bar?” asks Sugar.
He lets out a resigned sigh. “Never mind.”
“How about an amusement park?” I suggest quietly to the mamas so the kids don’t hear and go ballistic. “I know it might rain, but I’d love to see those terrors driving some bumper cars. Me and Z will take them and you and Sugar can shop,” I add, sweetening the pot.
Julia gives me a knowing glance. “You’re the one who wants to drive a bumper car, aren’t you?”
“Definitely. I’m gonna ram Z in one. Oh, and they have a racetrack and batting cages.”
Sugar thinks. “Nash will want to ride the carousel, like, a hundred times, it’s his favorite. Last year he rode it so much, he barfed all over the unicorn he was on.”
Z joins our quiet convo. “I’ll ride it with him. I’ll clean him up if he pukes.”
Sugar laughs. “Who’s gonna clean you up?”
“I’m a hockey player. I’m used to spinning.”
Sugar nods. “Okay, but you both need to take lots of pics. Julia, does that sound good to you?”
She thinks. “We can grab some lunch and catch up without the kids. Sounds good to me.”
Later, Julia folds up her lawn chair and addresses the kids. “All right, munchkins, creek time is over. Everybody clean up. Let’s go up to the cabin and chill for a while. Maybe play a game.”
“Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share. Clean up…” The kids sing together as they grab toys, towels, and paraphernalia.
As we head up the hill to the cabin, my mom’s voice comes from the back deck. “Who wants freezer pops?”
The kids start running toward the porch, calling “Me, Gigi, me!”
Even Z’s kids call her that.
My mom laughs. “Come on up to the kitchen then!”
“Mom, it’ll ruin their dinner,” I grumble. Julia has taught me well.
“What are you talking about? It’s literally frozen sugar water. They’ll be fine,” Nala responds as she joins my mom at the railing. She leans on her cane. The kids call her Nana.
My mom nods in agreement. “Right. And we get to spoil them. It’s our calling as grandmothers.”
Can’t argue with those two.
The two grands have turned out to be friends, even though they have little in common. Julia’s mom lives near us in Virginia at an assisted living home. We tried to get her to move in with us, but she said she didn’t want to intrude on the newlyweds. After the triplets were born, she stayed for six months to help us out, then left because she said she didn’t want to intrude on our family dynamic. I get it. She still wants to be somewhat independent.
My mother isn’t the shell she was after my brother’s death. She’s vibrant and content, and I guess having grandkids has softened her grief. She visits a lot, but only for a few days at a time. Whenever she does visit, she picks up Nala and they shop, visit the monuments, or just hang out. I truly have no idea what they talk about, but it seems to involve a lot of laughter.
“Your father called,” Mom adds. “He isn’t going to make it. He says we should enjoy our vacation without him. He sends his love to everyone.”
Julia crooks her arm in mine and kisses my bicep. She doesn’t want the fact that my dad isn’t here to bother me, but, of course, I’m not surprised. It doesn’t hurt like it used to. Life goes on. He is who he is and he’s the kind of person that can’t change. On the surface he seems to be over the fact that I chose my own path, but he rarely visits even though business brings him to DC occasionally. His fund is still going strong, and he has a junior executive that’s designated as his successor. When we do see each other, we’re cordial, and he treats the kids great. It’s the best it can be. And I’ve accepted that.
After playing Sorry and Candyland for an hour or so, Z asks if the kids are ready for hotdogs over the firepit. They say they are and we head to the kitchen to grab what we need to start dinner.
Julia wraps her arms around my neck and smiles up at me. “While the big strong men make a fire to burn meat, I’m gonna sneak in some work, okay?”
“Sounds good.” I smack her ass as she walks away.
When we were first married, she did some photography work for a few websites around the DC area and maintained an Etsy shop of her butterfly drawings, but once the kids came, she focused on taking care of them. An author saw one of her drawings on social media and asked her to turn it into a book cover. The book ended up being a bestseller. Now, she gets requests for illustrations several times a year. She’s able to work as much as she wants and do it all from her studio in our house.
Z and I are stacking wood for the fire when my phone rings.
I answer. “Coach? What’s up?”
“Eric, glad you picked up. No one wants to talk on the phone anymore,” is the gruff voice that greets me.
“You usually only call when you have bad news. I thought I’d rather hear it from you straight rather than a voice message. Give it to me, what’s going on?”
“No, no. Nothing bad. It’s good actually, well, for you. Jankovic is retiring. He just left my office. The injury last year still hasn’t healed, and he’s decided twelve years is enough. He’s hanging up his skates, and he recommended you take his place as captain.”
I blink, stunned for a minute with all the information he just dumped on me. “Are you sure? Jank wants to retire and he recommended me?”
He chuckles. “Yes, Eric. You.”
Jankovic was my mentor when I joined the Capitals. I didn’t set the NHL on fire like Z did in his first few years. In fact, my first few were spent on the penalty kill line, and I was constantly worried about getting cut. Haru Jankovic was our captain. He took me and some other young guys under his wing, showing us the amount of work we needed to be putting in to get into true NHL shape. It paid off in my fourth year when I started getting extended minutes on the ice with him. For the last two years, I’ve been on the first line and made the all-star team. Being captain on an NHL team is a big responsibility and knowing that my mentor recommended I take his place means the world to me.
“Wow, of course. I’d be honored. Do I need to come back to DC for this?”
“No, it can keep. We’ll announce all of this next week before pre-season starts. You enjoy the rest of your vacation. You have a lot of work to do when you get back.”
I hang up the phone and Z has a huge smile on his face.
“Congratulations, man! Hawthorne Lions always rise to the top.” He gives me a slap on the back. “Best winger I ever had.”
I text Julia immediately and let her know. I’d run up and tell her in person, but I need a minute to process—plus there’s a fire to maintain.
Later, as the sun is setting, the temperature drops to a nice seventy degrees with a cool breeze. We sit out in lawn chairs, monitoring the kids as they cook the hot dogs for themselves and the adults. They begged us so we relented. Now, we sit and eat the half-burned, half-cold hotdogs like they were from a five-star restaurant.
The kids are now burning marshmallows for dessert.
Evander gets a little too close to the fire and Sugar calls out, “Don’t play in the fire or ya’ll will pee the bed.”
All five kids snap their heads to look at her and then each other. They aren’t sure who exactly she was scolding, but they all take a step back—except for Nash.
“I pee bed. Don’t care.”
The rest of them giggle but stop when I give them the “you better not make fun of him” look.
Sugar’s phone beeps and she looks, smiles, then hands it to Julia.
“Now that deserves a celebration,” she responds handing it back.
“What was that?” I ask.
She glances at the kids and says under her breath, “Our old classmate was denied P-A-R-O-L-E.”
Sugar knows a few lawyers in Minnesota and asked them to keep tabs on Parker. He ended up with multiple charges of sexual assault, and some were truly horrific. Julia dreaded testifying, but he ended up taking a plea deal for leniency. He received a fifteen-year sentence and is now up for parole. Over the last few months other women started coming forward with accusations dating back to his high school days. The cases were beyond the statute of limitation, but the parole board agreed to hear their victim impact stories. Getting denied is great news and hopefully he’ll stay in that cold Minnesota prison for his entire term.
After a few campfire songs and unscary ghost stories I stand up. “I’m gonna grab another drink. Anyone need a refill?”
“I’m good,” Julia says.
I notice her glass is still full. “Did you not like the wine?”
“It didn’t go with my hotdog, but it’s fine. Just don’t want a headache later.”
I kiss the top of her head. “Wanna water?”
Sugar holds up her empty glass with a smile. “I thought it paired well with tonight’s pork. I would love a refill.”
I bring Sugar a refill, Julia her water, and beers for me and Z.
A few minutes later, Kara and Evander lean against each other in a lounge chair, their eyes slowly closing.
Z stands up and stretches. “I think it’s time for our little crew to turn in.”
A chorus of “Noooooo” comes from them.
“Yep, you heard him,” I say as I rise with him. He and I are on bedtime duty tonight. “Everyone below the age of seven needs to have teeth brushed, pajamas on, and under the covers in fifteen minutes.”
The girls share a room with twin beds and the boys have a bigger room with two queens. Kurt and Evander sleep together while Nash gets his own. (Bed wetter).
After turning off the lights around the cabin, I head to mine and Julia’s bedroom. It’s spacious with a view of the waterfall. The lights are out and the room is empty, so I quietly open the bathroom door.
“Hey, you in here?” I ask.
“Don’t come in,” she calls from the toilet, but it’s too late. It’s not like I haven’t seen her pee before.
“Sorry, babe. Let me—“
I pause when I see them. Three little plastic sticks sitting on the edge of the counter. She follows my eyes then holds up a fourth that was between her legs. She sets it next to the others, a tremble in her hand.
“Uh… Is that what I think it is?” I mean, I know what they are, but the world feels like it’s spinning a little and I need confirmation.
She grimaces. “Yes.”
“How long have you known?”
She points at her collection of pregnancy tests, then pushes at a strand of hair in her face.
“Obviously, I don’t yet, but I’ve been queasy, and I can smell everything. I mean, I can normally smell, but not like this.”
I kneel down next to her. “Is it like when you were pregnant with the terrors and could smell dirt?”
She nods. “Exactly like that, but I just had my period, so I don’t know what’s going on.”
“Should I run out and get more tests, or do you think these four will be enough?”
“Ha-ha, funny guy, this is serious. We haven’t even talked about having a baby, plus all of the kids will be in school this fall, and I just thought it might give us time to, you know, catch our breath. I don’t think my boobs can handle another triple attack of breastfeeding.”
“What are you talking about? The odds of having triplets again can’t be that high. And hey, they’re still the best boobs I’ve seen in years.”
She narrows her gaze. “They better damn well be.”
“I kid, I kid.”
Her phone starts to chime that the timer is up. She gives me a lingering look, then, takes a deep breath.
“The first one is ready. Are you, Eric? I mean, can we do this again?”
“Abso-fucking-lutely. Let’s look at the same time, yeah?”
She takes a deep breath and nods.
I take her hand and lace it with mine.
“I peed on that hand,” she says and I laugh.
“I’ve seen so much pee since we had kids, yours isn’t going to bother me. Ready?” We lean over to the counter. “Whatta we got here?”
She laughs, tears pooling in her eyes and I smile as only one word comes to mind.
* * *
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