RUN POSY RUN BONUS EPILOGUE
FIVE YEARS LATER
Dario and I lean with our forearms on the fence surrounding the neighborhood playground, fighting while we watch Mira swing.
For the first few years together, I didn’t think that Dario and I ever fought. I’d get moody sometimes, and he’d get stubborn and overbearing, but there was never shouting, no slamming doors and sure as hell no punches thrown, and if I cried, he’d immediately give in.
It took me a while to figure out that Dario fights like he plays chess, cut-throat move by cut-throat move, with single-minded intent. He’ll go scorched earth, but he does it with such an even tone of voice and calm demeanor, you don’t realize you’re getting your ass handed to you until he’s done, and you’ve agreed to trade in your birthday Jaguar for a Volvo station wagon because of a little fender bender on the interstate.
Our current disagreement is more serious than a car, and I’m onto his tactics. For example, he’s a fan of diversion.
“I don’t like that kid,” Dario says, glaring at the boy hanging out by the swings, scowling and throwing rocks at the mulch. He’s talking about the Foster’s kid, Wyatt. He’s only a year older than Mira, but he has half a foot and thirty pounds on her. He’s the kind of kid who rolls up alone to the playground first thing in the morning, clearly wearing a different outfit than yesterday, but somehow, already sweaty and dirty.
“He’s not hurting anybody.”
“He’s just standing there by Mira like a creep.”
“He’s throwing rocks.”
“Exactly.” Dario glowers, and honestly, the expression is almost an exact mirror of little blonde-haired, freckled Wyatt Foster.
“You’re changing the subject.” We started our current argument last night, and I’m not letting it go. Between taking care of Mira and Dario’s work, we don’t get a lot of time alone to hash things out, and we need to settle this. My doctor’s appointment is tomorrow. “I’m getting another IUD.”
It’s cute how he says that like he has veto power.
I remain calm. “They can take it out if and when we decide we want it removed. I could get pregnant right away.”
“I don’t want to wait. I want you pregnant now.” Dario’s voice is grim.
“Wow. I am so unbelievably turned on right now.” I glance at him out of the side of my eye to see if he registers the sarcasm. He casts me a measuring look, and then his gaze returns to Mira and Wyatt, his mouth turning down.
“Later,” he says. “I don’t trust her here alone with that kid.”
“Ray’s right over there.” He’s sitting on a bench inside the fence with one earbud in, probably listening to the game. “Besides, it wasn’t a genuine offer.”
“I know. I could make it one, though.” He shoots me one of his arrogant, crocodilian smiles, and still, after all this time, butterflies erupt in my belly. When he figured it out, he got really good at playing me like a violin, and he’s not about resting on his laurels.
Like I said, he’s a fan of diversion.
“Maybe if you told me why you’re so hot to make a baby, I’d be more open to the idea,” I say. It’s not exactly the truth, but it puts him on the defensive, and that’s where I like him.
“If you’d tell me why you’re not, I’ll explain why you’re wrong,” he throws right back.
I snort. Once upon a time, that might’ve riled me up, but I know what he’s doing. He’s trying to knock me off center.
I maintain my focus and my cool, and for the first time since he started pressing me about another baby a few months ago, I decide to spell it out for him. “What if we got lucky with Mira?”
“We did.” He’s gone back to glowering at the Foster boy, but for a second, his gaze flits to Mira pumping her legs on the swing, and his whole face somehow softens. It’s a flash, gone before anyone else would notice it, but I am finely attuned to his tells.
“I mean we got lucky with you. You fell in love with Mira at first sight. What if that doesn’t happen with the next one?”
Sometimes, when you say your greatest fear out loud, it becomes smaller, but not this. It hangs in the air between us, and despite the warm June morning, a chill settles in my chest. This isn’t an unfounded worry.
Lots of people have favorite kids and kids that they find harder to love. I’ll tell you right now that Wyatt Foster is in the “harder to love” camp. He’s one of three, the middle child, but he’s the one his mom puts outside the second he finishes his breakfast. Normal people love those kids, anyway. They find a way.
But the years have only confirmed it—Dario isn’t normal people.
His jaw tightens. “I’d fake it.”
“A child deserves to actually be loved.”
“They’d never know if I didn’t.”
“I’d know.” I think. Even the idea that I might not know turns my stomach.
His face darkens. Good thing Wyatt Foster is oblivious to the fact that Dario is glaring at him. The kid would piss himself.
“This didn’t stop you from having Mira,” Dario says.
“I’m wiser now. Motherhood makes you wiser.”
“You wanted a baby to love you so bad, you decided it was worth the risk before, and now you have Mira, so all of a sudden, you’re ‘wise.’ Bullshit,” he says.
I wince. It’s a direct hit.
Luckily, Emma Henderson is arriving with her noisy brood, so I have a minute to collect myself while we exchange niceties. Dario opens the gate for her as she schleps in her two youngest and her enormous diaper bag. The three older ones bolt onto the equipment, shouting and shoving. Usually when the Hendersons arrive, it’s time to pack up and go home, but Dario and I need to finish this.
When the Hendersons are out of earshot, I catch Dario’s eyes and say, “There’s truth in that, but it hurts my feelings, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Saying shit that hurts my feelings just to prove a point isn’t great evidence that you’d be great at faking love for a kid you saw as an inanimate object.”
“I wouldn’t be arguing with a child.”
I smother a snort. He’s right, but not in the way he thinks. He’s never once argued with Mira. What she wants, she gets. Between Dario and Ray, she’s the most spoiled child I’ve seen. I’d be worried if she weren’t exactly like me. Apparently, when you give the girl who just wants to be loved all the love in the world, she’s just happy and giving.
Right now, even though the swings are her favorite by far, she’s unbegrudgingly letting the Henderson girl take her turn. Mira wanders off to practice doing a forward roll on a low bar. The three older Henderson boys are tearing around the jungle gym, playing some kind of tag that involves trying to push each other off the highest point.
Wyatt Foster abandons the swing sets, following Mira to the other side of the playground. While Mira makes herself dizzy, he stands a few feet away and hits a pole with a stick he picked up somewhere.
“What’s the little stalker doing now?” Dario narrows his eyes.
“Hitting a pole with a stick. He’s fine.”
Dario exhales slowly. “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings by telling the truth.”
This time I snort. “You’re sorry that you shot yourself in the foot.”
“You didn’t need a baby to love you, you know. I love you,” he says.
What kind of new tactic is this? I cast him a glance. He’s now alternating his glare between Wyatt and the three Henderson boys.
“I love you, too.” I’m still not entirely sure that it matters to him, but I do. He doesn’t know how to respond, though—usually he uses it as a cue to initiate sex—so I do him a favor and get our argument back on track. “Why do you want another baby so bad, anyway?”
I see him decide whether or not to lay his cards on the table. Like I said, after playing games with him these many years, I know his tells.
“You sniffed Sara’s baby. You smelled her head.”
“Well, when you put it like that, it sounds weird as shit.”
He shrugs. “You want one.”
I try to remember when he would’ve seen me do it. Usually, when Lucca and Tomas bring Sara over, the men lock themselves in Dario’s office, and Sara and I hang out in the kitchen or by the pool. We sure as shit don’t hang out as couples. It must’ve been months ago, at least.
“You think I want a baby because I sniffed one? Babies smell good. Everyone knows that.”
He huffs. “Whenever there’s a baby, you look at it. On TV. Out shopping.”
“Babies are cute.”
“You got into the box of Mira’s baby clothes, and you were touching the onesies.”
“I was going through it to see what could go to Goodwill.”
He can read me, too. I told myself that’s what I was doing going through her baby things, but yeah—sometimes I just want to touch them. I exhale. “Just because I want another baby doesn’t mean we should have one.”
“I wasn’t lying earlier. I’m scared.”
“That I won’t love another baby?”
“Can you guarantee that you will?”
His jaw tightens. We fall silent. On the playground, Mira gets bored with forward rolls and climbs the steps to the clatter bridge leading to the high slide. She has to negotiate wild Hendersons as they tear past. She’s not an aggressive kid, so when they come close, she presses against the railings to let them by.
Wyatt’s stick is limp at his side as he tracks her progress toward the slide. On the bench, Ray does the same. Beside me, I can hear Dario’s teeth grit.
“If one of those punks knocks her over—” he says.
“They’re kids,” I interrupt. For my peace of mind, I seriously do not want him to finish that sentence. “They’re just playing.”
He sighs, his frustration audible. “You know that even if I couldn’t feel anything for the baby, I would never hurt him. And I’d never let anything hurt him, either. You know that.”
He presses a fist to his chest. I’m not sure he’s aware that he has. “When you’re unhappy, I’m unhappy, Posy. We’ve established this.”
“I’m not unhappy. I love our little family.”
He tightens the fist. “You don’t get it. When you’re happy, then I’m happy.”
I didn’t think this man could surprise me anymore, but the concept blows my mind. Dario is often pleased. Satisfied. Content. But happy?
“Another baby will make you happy,” he says.
I try to be gentle, but it has to be said. “If we have another baby, and you can’t love him, I’ll be heartbroken.”
He falls silent again, stiffly dropping his arm to his side, shutting himself away like he does sometimes.
On the jungle gym, Mira has almost made her way to top of the slide. She just needs to cross the platform, but the Henderson boys have swarmed, shoving and tackling each other. They’re not being careful.
I glance over to where Emma’s sitting on the far bench, scrolling on her phone as she jiggles her fussy youngest on her knee. I straighten.
The Henderson boys are all in upper elementary. They’re so much bigger than Mira. I inch toward the gate. Are they trying to scare Mira on purpose? She’s clearly cowering, and they’re getting louder, straight out brawling with each other.
I’m about to call out, tell them to back off, but before I can, one Henderson shoves his brother right into Mira, knocking her over and crushing her tiny body against the railing. Her skinny arm somehow gets lodged between the metal bars at an odd angle. She screams.
Dario hurdles the fence. Ray leaps off his bench and sprints. I rush through the gate.
But Wyatt Foster is faster than us all. He climbs the ladder like a six-year-old Spiderman, arm over arm, no legs, and drags Mira away from the railing, tucking her into the alcove at the top of the slide. Then, quick as a blur, he turns and begins to wail on the Henderson boys, fists and feet flailing. He headbutts one, and the kid lets out an unearthly howl that finally draws Emma’s attention away from her phone.
By the time Dario and Ray get to the top platform, it’s all they can do to wrestle Wyatt off the red-faced, outgunned Hendersons. I stand at the bottom of the slide and coax Mira down. Her eyes are watering, but she’s not crying. She cradles her arm against her chest. I scoop her onto my hip.
“Oh, baby.” I hold her tight and head for the gate. “Let’s get some ice for that. Can you move it?”
She sniffs, but she doesn’t answer. She twists her head to stare behind us. “Is Wyatt in trouble?”
I glance behind. Emma has finally wrangled her kids, and Ray’s giving her a piece of his mind. Dario’s walking a bright red, wild-eyed, heaving Wyatt toward us, guiding him with a carefully light hand to his upper back.
“No, he’s not in trouble.” I scan her arm. There’s a red mark, but no burgeoning bruise. She’s not making enough of a fuss about it for it to be broken.
“Wyatt was just looking out for me. Like Grandpa Ray.”
“Yeah?” Her words triggers memories, dozens of mornings and late afternoons at the playground. Wyatt always showing up at some point. Sweaty. Like he’d come running. Wyatt digging holes in the mulch. Dragging a stick along the fence. Climbing the swing set to sit on top of the crossbar. “He does that a lot, eh?”
“Yeah. He’s my friend.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen them speak. When we hit the sidewalk, Dario and Wyatt come even with us.
“Can Wyatt come home and have ice cream?” Mira asks her father. She knows which side her bread is buttered on.
“I’ll text his mother,” I say.
That’s how we found ourselves sitting around the breakfast nook table at ten in the morning, silently eating cookies and cream. Wyatt’s color is fading back to normal. Dario isn’t giving him the evil eye anymore. Mira’s not favoring her arm anymore. It works just fine to scoop ice cream in her mouth.
When we finish, I collect our bowls and drop them in the sink.
“Come on,” Dario says to Wyatt. “I’ll take you home.”
“In the Porsche?” Wyatt asks.
Dario grunts and grabs his keys from the hooks by the door.
Wyatt doesn’t smile, but his eyes light up. “Can we put the top down?”
“It’s three blocks.”
Wyatt doesn’t acknowledge that as an argument. “Can we?”
“Fine,” Dario says. Neither he nor the boy say goodbye as they traipse out the back to the garage.
I sit back down to collect my breath. Mira climbs into my lap and leans against my front, sticking her thumb in her mouth. She’s almost given the habit up, but she’ll still plop it in when she’s had a particularly trying experience. We snuggle quietly for a minute.
“Wyatt’s a good friend,” Mira says.
“Yeah, but you still shouldn’t hit.” It’s what I’m supposed to say, so I say it.
“Yeah, but Wyatt doesn’t know that. I’ll tell him. Then he won’t hit anyone ever again.”
“You think so?” I’m just talking to talk, my brain still stuck on babies and happiness.
“Yeah. I know Wyatt. If he says something, he does it.” Mira speaks with total confidence.
“How are you sure?” I ask her.
“He said he’d get me a pinecone from the tree in front of the Swanson’s house. He did that. He said he’d share his chia seed pouch. He did that.”
“Oh, baby, don’t share chia pouches.”
She goes on like I didn’t interrupt. “He said if Danny or Dalton Henderson laid a finger on me, he’d punch them in the face. And he did.”
He sure did.
“When did he say all this?” I swear, I’ve never seen them talking.
“Well, he didn’t say the first two. I just told him to do it. But he said he’d punch Danny and Dalton when I told him I was scared. Don’t worry, Mommy. I’ll tell him not to do it again.”
I cuddle her closer and kiss the top of her head until she squirms. Somehow, maybe because I’m married to Dario Volpe, I suspect Wyatt Foster isn’t going to listen when my daughter tells him not to hit.
Eventually, Mira gets bored and races off to bug Grandpa Ray. Dario texts me that he’s running into the city to meet with Lucca and Tomas. He’ll be home after dinner. I kind of wander the house all day, rearranging things that are fine where they are, my brain gnawing at the problem of a second baby. Or rather, the problem of my husband.
I keep coming back to Mira saying, “If he says something, he does it.”
And Dario saying, “When you’re happy, then I’m happy.”
I know he doesn’t mean it like guys do when they say, “Happy wife, happy life.”
He means what he says. He’s happy when I am. Whatever made him how he is—nature, nurture, God, whatever—I’m the Dario Volpe cheat code. I’m not the chain holding him back from becoming a complete monster. I’m his window to the good in the world.
He wants to be happy, and he has no idea how, so his solution is to make me happy.
After I feed Mira, nag her into the bath, read her a book, and tuck her into bed, I go sit by the chess set in our bedroom. After he checks on Mira, that’s where Dario will come.
I play against myself to pass the time, and I ask myself, “Do I trust that Dario will do what he says?”
Do I believe that Dario would never hurt me or anyone I love?
Every moment of our lives together convinces me of that.
Do I believe that Dario will love another baby like he dotes on Mira?
The clock ticks, and the sun sets. Finally, a quarter to eleven, Dario walks in. He’s still wearing the gray T-shirt and black joggers from this morning, but he’s barefooted. He looks tired.
He doesn’t come straight to the table. He stands in the middle of the room, defiant and tense, gauging me.
I start returning the pawns to the second ranks. “Who’s first this time?”
“You,” he says.
We play last winner goes first. I knew it was me, but I like to make him say it.
“Are we going to play or not?” I raise an eyebrow and push his chair out with my foot.
He stalks over and sits, guarded but incapable of resisting the lure of getting his butt kicked by a girl.
I love this man.
I love how while he was gone sulking all day, he texted Ray at least ten times to check on me. I know, because Mira was hanging out with Ray for most of the day, and every time he texted, Mira would come racing to let me know.
“You took Wyatt on a joyride, didn’t you?” I ask.
Dario grunts as he puts his rooks in the corners. Of course, he did. I love him for that, too.
“If you’ve made up your fucking mind, I guess you’re getting another IUD,” he says, bitter, as he plunks his knights next to his rooks.
I love that I knew he was going to say that.
“Take a tramadol before you go. Remember it hurt last time.” He thumps the bishops onto the board.
Oh, I remember. He almost punched the doctor for saying, “Come on now, it’s not so bad, you gave birth, didn’t you?” That’s when I stopped letting Dario come to my appointments.
“I was thinking I’d call and cancel,” I say, straightening my rooks and knights and bishops so they’re perfectly in line with my queen.
His finger hovers over his king. He blinks. “Seriously?”
For a split second, a blinding smile lights up his face, but then his eyes narrow and his brow furrows.
“Don’t even try to understand why I changed my mind,” I say. I tap my temple. “This brain is unfathomable to mortal man.”
I cross my legs, crack my knuckles, and consider the board.
Dario looks at me, his lips turned up at the corners. “You love me,” he says.
“Maybe, but I’m about to kick your ass.” I smile back. “But with love.”
“Less talk, more action,” he says, and I make the first move, bold and reckless, and he matches me, like always, this husband of mine.