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A Bumpy Road

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The moment Ann held her baby boy in her arms she knew she'd love him forever. All the rough times: teenage years, dating, pimples, hormones, she knew she could handle it. As long as she had her family by her side, it would all be alright.

She glances over at Chris. He grins back at her in silence, revelling in this sweet moment. Yeah, they'd be okay.

// 

3 years later...

They had both been down this road before, but it wasn't any less special than the first time. Chris kissed his baby daughter on the forehead, a soft smile on his face due to the already obvious resemblance to Ann.

He never understood the overprotective dad stuff. But the moment he looks into his daughter's large, innocent green eyes, he knew he would do anything to keep her safe. 

He would protect her from the bullies on the playground, the annoying boys who would pull her hair. He would protect her during the teenage years when she would inevitably start dating, he would protect her during all the ins and outs of existence, the ups and downs of life, but knowing she would never need it. She would grow up to be like her mother, a strong independent woman who didn't take crap from anyone.

And her namesake would probably make sure of that too. 

//

2 years later... 

Chris looks in awe at his two energetic toddlers. Leslie was currently throwing blocks at Oliver and missing terribly, while Oliver was just giggling at her. Yeah, this is what he was missing all those years on the road. 

He thought that since he had 2.8 percent body fat and a dazzling smile, he was happy. Little did he know he was hiding his loneliness behind that smile. Little did he know that everything was going to work out better than he could have hoped, but he had to grope blindly through the darkness for a long time to get to the light. 

"Daddy?" Oliver said. 

"Yes?" 

"Will you play dolls with me and Leslie?" 

Yes, this is definitely what he's been missing. 

// 

4 years later... 

"Mommy? Daddy?" A voice called out. 

Ann and Chris woke up to see their sweet Oliver standing in their bedroom, looking upon them with sadness. 

"What's wrong, little buddy?" Chris asked. 

"I had a bad dream. Can I sleep with you guys?" 

Ann and Chris shared a look. They were trying to teach their kids to be independent, and it wasn't a good idea to get into the habit of letting their kids sleep in their bed, either. But as they looked at each other, their eyes softened, and they came to an unspoken understanding. 

"Yeah, come here." 

Oliver shuffled over to them sheepishly, climbing in between them on the bed. 

They sat in silence for a while, none of them falling asleep. 

"Do you want to talk about it?" Ann asked. 

"I guess." Oliver says, sniffling. "You disappeared, and Leslie and I were on our own, and then she disappeared too. No one died, you were just... there one day and then you weren't, and I couldn't find you." 

Chris winced. It was a hard subject to talk about. He can't promise they'll never leave them, as much as he wanted to. Outside forces always played a hand in the misfortune of families. But he could promise one thing. 

"We'll never leave you willingly," he said slowly. "Remember that, okay, buddy?" 

Oliver still seemed nervous, but Chris' words had definitely soothed him. He stuck out a finger. "Pinky promise?" 

Ann sighs happily from Oliver's other side and stares at Chris, a content look on her face. He looks at her in understanding and smiles back down at Oliver.
 
"Pinky promise." 

//

Another 8 years later... 

Ann and Chris were getting on in years and they knew it. Ann didn't spring up out of bed as fast as they used to, her knees ached trying to walk up the stairs, and Chris stressed about his health, their futures, and the well-being of their children. 

"God, Oliver, you're the worst!" Leslie called to him down the hall, hearing a door slam. It was way too early in the morning for this. Ann turned over, pulled her pillow over her head, and slowly fell asleep.

//

A few months later... 

"Leslie Perkins-Traeger, you're grounded for 3 weeks!" Chris said sternly to his 15-year-old daughter. She reminded him so much of Ann, and she was his child, so it was difficult to find a sense of discipline. It's why Ben played the bad cop all those years. 

"Ugh, Dad, that's not fair!" 

"Yes it is, you undermined me! Do you not respect me?" He said, softening a little in sadness.

"No, it's not that-" 

"I don't want to hear it! What were you thinking?" 

"I just wanted to go to the party." 

"An unsupervized one full of drunk, irresponsible juniors and seniors. After your mom and I said no." 

"You never let me do anything! I hate you!" 

Ann gasped from her position by the door, and her body filled up with anger.

"You apologize to your father right now, young lady!" 

"Why should I?" 

"Because that was uncalled for!" 

"Was it?" She stared her mom down, but she should've known not to argue with her, who was so much like her in so many ways. 

"Yes, it was! You're very lucky, don't you know that? You have two parents who love you, and are willing to support you through your knuckleheaded lapses in judgement!" 

"Knuckleheaded? Really, mom?" She raised an eyebrow. 

Ann shot back her trademark "don't-test-me" glare, and Leslie backed down and turned to her father. "I'm... sorry, dad. I was just mad, I don't know what I was thinking." 

Chris smiles sadly. "It's okay, Leslie. I'll go make dinner." 

"Dad, if you make that kale souffle again, I'm running away." 

"Take me with you!" Ann called. 

Chris laughed and gasped in mock offense as he started for the kitchen. 

//

A week later... 

"Your mother and I have LITERALLY never been more proud of you, son." 

Oliver smiled at him through his glassy eyes, while loading his last suitcase into the car. "Dad, I'm not going to be that far away." 

"What important is it's a big step that you're going to college, you'll truly be on your own now." Ann said, her own tears starting to fall. 

Oliver wraps his mom into a hug, having long grown out of his "I-hate-my-parents" phase. 

Chris joins in the group hug, a little awkwardly at first, but that's just his way. 

Ann pulls back suddenly, an idea having popped into her head. "You better tell Sonia you like her soon." 

Oliver stills. "How did you know about that?" 

"Dude, you talk to her the whole time whenever we have dinner with Leslie and Ben." 

"Guilty." He grins. 

She feigns a stern look through her tears. "Do it." She leaves out the part that Sonia 100% likes him back. Leslie hasn't said anything about it, surprisingly, but it's mother's intuition. 

"Okay, mom." Oliver playfully rolls his eyes. He gets into his car, turns his head to look at them one last time before driving off into the unknown. 

// 

10 years later... 

"Push, push, push!" The doctor says. 

"I'm trying!" Leslie screams, squeezing her husband's hand while he kisses her forehead quickly. She looks to her mother, who whispers words of reassurance into her ear, motivating her to get this over with. 

She pushes one last time, panting and crying all at once at the sound of a baby crying. 

"It's a girl!" She hears, and bursts into happy tears. 

//

One month later... 

Chris walks into the room, sobbing in happiness at his son standing in front of the mirror in his tuxedo. 

"I have LITERALLY never been more happy for you than I am right now." He said, his voice cracking. 

"This is really happening, isn't it?" 

"Yeah, it is." He sniffed. 

They look at each other in a comfortable silence. Oliver pipes up. 

"Hey, dad?" 

"Yes?" 

"What was it like for you marrying mom?" 

"Ah, I love talking about this. As you know, you were already born, because we decided not to get married yet. I proposed when you were about a year old, way before she was pregnant with Leslie. I remember she was walking down the aisle, long white dress, and it was so familiar, yet so different. Like we turned onto a whole new road." 

"Wow." Oliver breathed.

"Yeah."

"I wonder what Sonia and her mom are doing." He says.

"Probably the same thing your mom did with Leslie when she got married. Crying her eyes out and talking about how proud she was that her only daughter was getting married." 

"Not much different from us, is it?" He chuckled. 

"I guess not. Can I tell you something?" Chris asked suddenly. 

"Of course, dad." 

"Being a parent to you and Leslie has LITERALLY been the greatest experience of my life. Parenthood is like driving into unknown terrain. It's a bumpy road, but a happy one." Chris starts sobbing again, causing Oliver to join in. 

"You ready, Oliver?" Ann's voice called. 

"Uh, yeah." He said shakily.

It's a bumpy road, but a happy one.