It was a cool Sunday afternoon in September as Ben sat in the study, tucking a card into an envelope and sealing it closed. The desk was lined with several family pictures, one of the two of them on their wedding day, dressed in full tuxes and bowties with flowers pinned into the lapels, holding hands and smiling at each other tenderly. Fifteen years had since passed. The room was lined with bookshelves. Two matching diplomas hung on the wall. Outside, the sun illuminated the fire-colored leaves of the oaks lining the backyard. Ben took a pen and scribbled an address on the back of the envelope. Looking around for a postage stamp, he pulled open several drawers and dug through them to find an old roll of stamps. Underneath them, he was surprised to find a palm-sized box. He set it on the desk and finished dressing the envelope, when suddenly a young boy ran into the room.
"Oliver!" Ben spun around in his chair and stood to pick up his son. "What's going on?"
"I don' know," said Oliver, clinging onto Ben's shoulder. "Are we gonna eat soon? I'm hungy."
"You're hungry?" Ben repeated in a playful voice. "But we still have to make dinner!"
"When are we gonna make dinner?" Oliver whined.
"I don't know," said Ben, "Where's your sister?"
"Watching TV," Oliver answered.
"And where's your Papa?" Ben asked.
"Hmm," Ben said. He set Oliver down. "How about you go find Wani, and I'll go find your Papa."
"I know where he is," Oliver laughed. "He's in my room."
"Can you go get him?"
Oliver nodded and ran out of the room.
When Ben stepped into the master bathroom, he saw his husband lying in the tub, his head resting against the edge as he dozed softly. His arm hung over the side, where a novel lay upside-down and half open on the tile floor. Ben knelt down beside him and gently shook his shoulder.
"Babe, wake up."
Sean lifted his head, inhaling sharply as his eyes blinked. He looked up at Ben. "Hey."
Ben leaned in, and they shared a quick kiss.
"Guess what I found, it's the deck of cards you got me for my birthday all those years ago," Ben said, holding up the small box.
"Oh hey," Sean said, taking them with a smile. He examined them, thoughtfully stroking his bearded chin. "I remember these."
While Sean handed them back to his husband, his tail subconsiously flicked above the surface of the water, sending a handful of droplets to the floor.
"Watch it," Ben said with a laugh, playfully holding up his hands to shield himself.
"Sorry! I wasn't paying attention!" Sean said, putting a hand on his shoulder. They glanced at each other for a brief moment before breaking into laughter.
"What time is it?" Sean said, wiping a tear from his eye. "When did Nicole and Jaime say they were coming over with the twins? Six?"
"I think it was 6:30. Or maybe you're right," Ben frowned. "They're coming over at some time."
Both turned their heads to see Oliver standing in the doorway, a plush crocodile dangling from one of his hands.
"Oliver," Ben said in a more serious tone, his hands on his hips. "You know this part of the house is dads-only."
Sean placed an hand on his husband's arm.
"I just wanted to see Papa's tail," said Oliver, his hands behind his back.
Ben looked to Sean.
"It's okay," said Sean. "Come here, Oliver."
Oliver dropped the plush toy and ran to the edge of the tub, standing on his toes as he peered over at Sean's tail. He nearly fell into the water before Ben grabbed him.
"Up we go," Ben said, heaving as he picked the child up under his arms. He held him steady as Oliver had the chance to touch the smooth black scales.
A lengthy "Woah!" escaped Oliver's mouth.
"Will I get one?" Oliver asked, looking up at Ben in wonder.
Ben saw his hopeful expression and glanced at Sean apologetically. "I'm afraid not, sweetie."
"Aw!" Oliver cried. "Why not?"
"I know, it's disappointing," Sean said. He brushed the hair off Oliver's forehead and gently kissed it. He held Oliver's chin with his hand when he said, "Now your sister, that's another story."
Oliver's eyes were wide as Ben set him down on the tile.
"Can you go get ready for dinner?" Ben asked him, kneeling with his hands on his knees.
Oliver immediately grabbed his crocodile and ran out the room. "Maya! Papa says you're going to turn into a tuna!" his voice echoed from the hall.
"I regret making that joke the first time we tried to explain it to him," Sean said, his hand rubbing his eyes. "We can never go back to that sushi place."
Ben just laughed. "What do you mean? It's so funny every time he says it!"
Sean gently punched him in the arm. "Just shut up and get the door," he said with a grin.
When Sean walked into the kitchen, he saw his husband, covered in flour, teaching his daughter how to make pasta from scratch. As soon as she saw him, she hurried towards him in excitement.
"Papa! Look what me and daddy made!" She held out her hands.
"Very nice," Sean said, laying a hand on her shoulder. Maya beamed up at him.
He stepped towards Ben and wrapped his arms around his waist from behind.
"Hey, Babe," Ben said, glancing over his shoulder with a smile. They kissed briefly.
"Gross," Maya said, her face showing disgust.
"Maya was just telling me how the boys at her school have cooties," Ben explained.
"Cooties?" Sean said, folding his arms. "You might think that now, but one day, that's going to change. Or maybe it won't."
"Nope," Maya said as she climbed onto a barstool opposite the counter.
"No?" Ben said, amused. "What makes you so sure about that?"
Maya rested her chin and elbows on the counter. "Boys are gross. One time, I saw Jeffrey pick his nose and eat it after."
"Ew," Sean said, making a face. Ben laughed and grabbed him by the arm.
"Are you okay, Sean? I think you've seen me do that once or twice."
"No," Sean said, looking appalled. He leaned towards Maya. "Listen, if you ever see your dad doing that, I need you to tell me. I'm going to lay down the law in this house!"
"Doing what? This?" Ben said, defiantly reaching his finger toward his nose.
"Ew!" Maya called out. Ben stopped and laughed.
Sean grinned and rolled his eyes. "Maya, someday you'll learn to overlook the flaws of people you love."
"I have flaws?" Ben asked facetiously.
"Of course not!" Sean assured him. He turned to Maya and shook his head ominously.
She laughed as her face grew blank. "Do I have flaws?"
Sean and Ben both looked to her seriously. Immediately, they rushed to her side.
"You're absolutely perfect," Sean said, giving her arm a squeeze.
Ben picked her up in his arms. "Don't you forget it," he said as he grunted under her weight. She giggled.
The pasta was almost done when the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it!" Maya called from the living room before opening the door. As soon as she saw Nicole and her daughter, she stepped aside and regally gestured into the house. "Enter."
"Hi Maya," Nicole said, waving cordially. "Wow," she said, as Sean approached her. "You have a concierge."
"Good to see you," Sean said, giving her a hug. He knelt down and smiled at her daughter. "Nina, have you gotten taller?"
"You said that last week," Nina protested, unable to hide a smile.
"Are you sure? I could have sworn you grew a little," he said, mussing up the hair on her head with one hand.
"Jaime should be here in a minute with Sabrina," Nicole explained. "She left her favorite sweater at home."
"Who? Jaime did?" Sean said.
Nicole laughed. "It's good she didn't hear you."
"What didn't Mommy hear?" Nina asked. Nicole squeezed her hand.
"It'll be a few minutes, but do you want to come in? Ben just opened a bottle of Riesling."
"Oh, that would be perfect!" Nicole said, taking off her jacket.
Maya held out her arms. "May I take your coat?"
"So polite," Nicole remarked as she handed her jacket to Maya.
"She's trying to get us to raise her allowance," Sean explained. "Let's wait to see your next report card, Squirt."
"Aww, that's not until next week," Maya complained before turning around and running upstairs.
"Good things come to those who wait!" Sean called afterward.
Nicole laughed. Sean smiled and shook his head.
As the evening passed by, Ben sat on the couch with a glass of wine and Sean's head in his lap, as Nicole and Jaime sat together on the other end of the sectional, the sound of kid footprints pattering around upstairs.
"Did you hear John Brandon got charged for embezzlement and fraud? 30 years," Jaime said, drinking from a beer bottle.
"Did he? I haven't talked to him in awhile," said Sean, as Ben ran a hand through his hair.
"It's probably for the best you haven't," Ben remarked.
Sean laughed, gently tugging on Ben's hand. "I'm so glad I haven't."
"That dinner with him seems so long ago," Nicole pondered. "Speaking of dinner, what are you doing for Thanks giving? I think we're just staying in town. My brother will be home from shooting his show by then, and you know my mom always wants to see the kids."
"As long as I only have to put up with her for a weekend," Jaime said, resting her elbow on Nicole's shoulder. Nicole gave a soft laugh.
"I don't think we have any plans yet," said Sean. He looked up at Ben. "Your parents still want us to come for Christmas."
"You talked to them?" Ben wondered.
"They called sometime last week, in the morning right after you left for work."
"Oh, okay," Ben said. He ran a hand through Sean's hair. "I'm excited. It's going to be Oliver's first time to Japan, and last time, Maya was so little..."
"The twins haven't been on a plane yet," Jaime remarked. "I think we'll give them a few years before that happens."
"That's understandable," said Sean. "Wait until they're out of carseats."
"What about...isn't your anniversary coming up?" Nicole chimed in.
Ben and Sean looked at each other and laughed.
"Right," Ben said with a grin.
"How long has it been? Eleven years?" Sean asked, glancing up at his husband.
"Yeah, I think it has." Ben rubbed his face. "We were together for awhile before then, too."
"Really?" Nicole asked. "When did you propose?"
"Sean proposed," Ben explained.
"It was right after that tsunami," said Sean. "We hadn't even been dating that long."
"I remember now," said Ben. "We took some time apart to sort our lives out, but we just ended up back together again."
Sean closed his eyes and smiled.
"What are you thinking?" Ben asked in a soft tone.
"Every morning I wake up and think I'm the luckiest man in the world."
"That's not true," Ben protested.
Sean slowly sat up. "Why not?"
"Because I'm the luckiest--" Ben was cut off as his husband leaned in and silenced him with a kiss.
Jaime and Nicole laughed. Jaime clasped Nicole's hand and gave it a squeeze, until they locked eyes and slowly kissed. When they pulled away, Sean and Ben were clapping.
"I'm so happy," said Nicole. Jaime leaned her elbow on the sofa next to her, sleepily yawning. "We have four beautiful children between the four of us. I couldn't have imagined anything like this would have happened to me."
A sweet silence was shared between them. Suddenly, Oliver came running in.
"Papa! Daddy! We're playing barbershop and Sabrina let me hold her hair," he said, proudly holding out the lock.
Ben's hand went to his face in dismay. "That's...nice, dear."
"That's our cue," Sean said, pulling himself up off the couch. "C'mon, Oliver, let's go see."
As Oliver excitedly ran out of the room, the four adults looked to each other, exchanging grins and moans.
Outside, another leaf fell from the trees as the changing of seasons continued to take place.