* * *
A young boy sat behind the couch, carefully arranging test tubes in his miniature science kit. Behind him, he could hear the sound of his parents move into the room and sit down on the couch. He ignored them for the present, filling a vial with liquid and carefully mixing it with a packet of solution before pouring it into the test tube. However, the sound of his mother's voice distracted him, and he stopped to listen.
"It's finished," his mother said, her voice rising slightly with emotion. "It's taken years, but it's finally finished."
"Um hmm," his father grunted, and the boy figured he wasn't paying attention.
"That's all you have to say?" his mother asked, anger evident in her voice.
"Um hmm," his father repeated, and the boy heard an angry huff of air leave his mother's mouth.
"Listen, it's taken me years to finish this project. Did you hear me, years? And all you have to say is 'um hmm'?"
"Um hmm," his father said again. The boy heard the sound of an impact, then a quiet "umph" from his father. "You hit me," he said in mock disbelief.
"That's right," his mother replied, and the boy turned around and peeked over the back of the couch to better observe the action. "You deserved it, you miserable jerk!"
"Oh that's it, you're in for it now," his father growled, and his mother shrieked as his father pounced on her.
The young boy felt sick to his stomach, watching his parents roll around on the couch. His father was furiously tickling her mother's sides while she giggled and shook. Disgusting. The young boy wondered if everyone's parents were so gross.
"Stop!" his mom squealed, as his dad nuzzled her neck.
"Never!" His father grinned. "You hit me, and now you'll take your punishment like a good girl."
"Punishment!" his mother protested. "But I expected a reward. I told you I just finished the project I've been working on, practically since my dissertation. You know how important that is to me!"
"I see," his dad said, his tone of voice indicating that he was thinking things over carefully. "So you think you deserve a reward. All right, let me know what you think of this." His father bent over to whisper in his mother's ear and she blushed, then sighed.
"Oh yes, that sounds like quite a suitable reward to me," she said, then captured his lips in a passionate kiss.
"Yuck!" the young boy groaned from behind the couch. His father lifted his head and both his parents stared at him and started to laugh.
"Come on, darlin'," his father said, standing up and then pulling his mother up to stand beside him. "It looks like we've offended our son's delicate sensibilities."
"He must get his fragile stomach from your side of the family." His mother poked his dad good-naturedly. His parents walked around the couch and the boy returned to his science kit. Both his mother and father sat down on the floor beside him and watched his movements.
"Well thank God he got my brains," his mother said with a cheeky wink in his father's direction.
"Yeah, but he got my good looks." His dad laughed when his mom punched him playfully on the arm. "What are you working on, son?" he asked then, leaning in closer to investigate the collection of tubes and vials.
"An important experiment," the boy replied.
"I can see that. Well, will your experiment be finished before dinner?"
"That depends," the boy responded.
"On what?" his father countered.
"On what we're having for dinner."
His parents laughed. "He really did get your brains, darlin'," his father said then ruffled the dark hair on the boy's head. "Well, since your mother finally finished her project, and since you're obviously on the way to discovering the cure to cancer or whatever it is you’re doing, perhaps we could go out tonight for a special dinner."
"Can I pick the place?" he asked in a coaxing tone.
"I don't know, son," his father said. "This is supposed to be your mother's reward, remember?"
The boy sighed and gave his mom what she called his "lost puppy dog look." "Aw, come on, Mom. Can I pick the restaurant? Pleeeeeaaasssseeee?"
His mother smiled at him. He loved his mother's smile. It was so beautiful and kind. His mother was the best mother a kid could have. His father was pretty great too.
"Well, I guess you can pick," his mother said finally with a laugh. "As long as it isn't that place with all the messy burgers." Her tone was one of mock horror.
"But Mom! You know that's my favorite restaurant!" They all laughed. Of course it was, and of course they'd go there tonight.
His father stood, then lifted the young boy up into his strong arms and held him against his chest. The boy wrapped his legs around his dad's waist and let him hold him. His father then pulled his mother up from her sitting position and wrapped an arm around her slender waist, pulling her close.
The young boy smiled. He felt so warm, so cared for, so loved. His family was the best family in the world.
Caleb awoke from the dream with a start. He sat there in silence, breathing heavily. Then he noticed a weight in his arms and looked over, finding Dani snuggled into his chest. His arms were wrapped tightly around her, and a smile was on her innocent face. He loved her so much then, he thought his heart would explode from the fierceness of the emotion.
Caleb turned his mind back to the dream. It had started like all the others, but instead of violence, instead of death, he'd found only love. Was it an omen, a premonition of his future with the beautiful woman by his side? The dark-eyed young boy had surely looked like a combination of his and Dani's features.
The thought of a child both terrified and exhilarated him. As he'd never expected to fall in love, never expected to have a relationship, he'd definitely never expected to have a child, or a family of his own. And yet, the feelings brought on by the dream were so strong, it warmed his heart.
Caleb allowed himself to consider the possibility of being with Dani forever. They'd get married and start a family. She would be a wonderful mother, and he would learn to be a good father. He wouldn't let them end up like his parents. No, they couldn't. Dani was nothing like his mother. She was love and light, and their children would be the luckiest kids on the planet.
He snuggled in deeper, pulling her closer and resting his head on the top of hers. Caleb inhaled deeply, breathing in her fresh, delicate scent. He couldn't get enough of this woman in his arms. His grip tightened and she squirmed, turning around to gently nuzzle at his neck. He felt desire stirring within him again and he couldn't believe his sudden reversal of fortune.
Sometimes you had to risk it all for the chance of something spectacular. Caleb was glad that Dani had shown him that.
The night was still dark around them and Caleb could hear the crash of the waves against the beach. He thought about the other nights they'd spent together, nights that had ended in him pushing Dani away, of him leaving and turning his back on her love. That kind of bullshit would never happen again. Now that he'd found his home, he'd never leave it. He would cherish the love that had found him, forever.
Closing his eyes, Caleb allowed himself to relax into a deep and dreamless sleep.
And in the morning, he was there beside her when she woke. And he would continue to be there for the rest of their lives together.