Edits are back and In the End is looking good for April 20th! So, as I've just got this finished, here's the first chapter. :D Please excuse any minor issues, it's still got to have final proofreading!
Today’s the day.
I smiled as I flicked through the radio stations trying to find something among the static. The Brynderwyn hills were a dead spot and the radio had died a while ago, but as I came out the other side, I picked up something old. The sound of Ray Charles and “Georgia on my Mind” filled the car. But it wasn’t Georgia I was thinking about.
It was her big brother, Finn.
After nearly three years of road trips, and travelling back and forward between my home in Auckland and the farm in Kerikeri, Matt and I were finally about to tell my son the truth.
We’d all held back—Ella, Matt, and I—from telling Finn that I was his father. As far as he knew, I was a friend of Mum and Dad’s who came to see him every second weekend. That would still happen if that was what he wanted. I didn’t want to remove him from his settled life on the farm, but now he’d know the truth.
Ella hadn’t been keen about this weekend, but even she realised that Finn would start asking more questions soon enough. We’d kept to the same routine for so long, but I wanted a little more.
At least if Finn had the knowledge, he could decide when he was ready to spend more time with me.
My life had been at a stand-still since I’d started making the trips to see him. There wasn’t room in my head or heart for anyone but the boy with the smile like mine. Nothing could distract me from him.
My stomach rumbled. Part of me looked forward to a lunch prepared by Ella. My ex-wife was an amazing cook. Better than I’d ever been. Though how much lunch I’d eat I didn’t know. My stomach flipped with nerves.
How would Finn react? Would he be happy? Sad? Angry at me, or resent the man he’d thought of as a father until now? The last thing I wanted was to take anything away from Matt. Matt had been Finn’s rock, and I’d do whatever it took to keep it that way. For Finn.
When I finally pulled into the yard, it didn’t take long for the door to fly open. There was one thing I was always guaranteed at the farm—a huge welcome from Finn, Georgia, and Zach. I’d been travelling up here every second weekend for three years, they knew when I was due. It was heart-warming.
I came to a stop and stepped out of the vehicle.
“Sam,” Finn screeched as he ran toward the car. His brother and sister were close behind, and I squatted, the three of them throwing themselves at me, knocking me into the dust. These kids were the best.
“Hey you guys.” I laughed, pushing myself back up.
“I see this lot have said hello.” Matt stood over me and offered his hand to help me up.
“They’re brutal.” I laughed as I got to my feet. It was hard to spend time with my son alone; his siblings were never very far behind. But I couldn’t be angry. They were a package deal, no matter what.
Finn was seven now, Georgia six. Little Zach was three, and the three of them resembled their mother far more than Matt or I.
“Come on. Let’s all get cleaned up and see if Mum’s got a drink.” Matt took his daughter by the hand and scooped Zach into his arms.
That left me trailing behind with Finn, who talked up a storm. I only caught half of it as he chattered about what he was doing in school and how well Georgia was doing, and how annoying Zach was.
I tried to listen to it all, enjoying the ease with which Finn took my hand. It never took long once I arrived to feel like I was part of the family.
We’d come so far these past three years.
There was a time when I’d thought Ella wouldn’t want anything to do with me ever again, but now she stood in the doorway, a bemused expression on her face.
“The usual welcome then?” she teased me. We’d settled into a mostly comfortable friendship. There would always be a part of me that loved Ella, that wished I hadn’t screwed up what we had. My regrets were many, but she’d found a good man in Matt. He’d always be there for her, and never let her down like I did.
“Every time I think they’re tougher than my last visit.” I reached down and tickled Georgia’s waist. She wriggled and giggled. “When did you get to be so strong, missy?”
“She’s not as strong as me,” Finn said.
“I dunno. I think you’re pretty even.”
He rolled his eyes, pulling me to the doorstep.
“As usual, you’re just in time for lunch,” Matt said.
“That’s the plan.” I laughed.
Matt shook his head at me as he stopped to hold open the door for all of us before following us in. Ella had moved to the kitchen bench while she fussed over the food.
“How’s it going?”
“Good. Lunch is nearly ready.”
I kissed her on the cheek and took a deep breath. She had this familiar, comforting smell about her. Maybe it might help me get through the afternoon.
“Dad said you might have a drink for us.” Finn looked up at Ella who smiled that contented smile. I’d watched as she’d waited to get pregnant with him, the strain on her, on us, too much to cope with. Now she was in her element with her children. It was one of the reasons I couldn’t make demands of her. After everything we’d been through, how could I interfere with that?
“Is that right, Dad?” She raised her eyebrows at Matt. “If you wash up for lunch and sit at the table, I’ll bring you all a drink.” Ella bent and ran her fingers through Finn’s hair, kissing him on the forehead.
“Take your brother and sister with you.”
“Okay.” His face lit up at his mother’s attentions. As much as I loved him, I loved watching them together more.
“Do I get lunch too?” I asked as he left the room, his siblings trailing behind him.
Ella laughed. “You know I always make extra for you.”
“Aren’t I lucky?” I grinned.
“Are you ready for today?” she asked.
She shrugged. “I was never ready for any of this. But I think it’s important for Finn to know where he came from.”
I met her gaze. Ella was such an expressive person and this time was no different. In her eyes was the concern she had about today.
“I think I’ll join the kids washing up. Give you two a moment.” Matt patted me on the shoulder. Ella shifted her gaze to him and in her face I saw the reassurance he gave her.
When he’d gone, I took a step forward. “I think Finn knowing where he came from is important too. And that he knows that he was conceived by two people who loved each other very much at the time.”
She nodded. “It seems like so long ago, Sam.”
“Nearly eight years. It’s crazy to think we’ve got a seven-year-old boy.”
Ella gave me a wide smile, the dimples in her cheeks on show. I used to love making her smile like that. “It’s insane. It feels like he was born five minutes ago. For what it’s worth, despite the bad times, I’m glad we had what we had when we did. We got him out of it.”
“Ready,” Finn screeched as he stampeded through the kitchen, Georgia and Zach right behind him.
Matt followed, shaking his head. “Seriously those three were so busy arguing over who got to go first, they never would have finished if I hadn’t gone in there.”
“You did a good job, Dad.” Ella laughed, reaching for his arm and kissing him tenderly.
“Do you need a hand serving up lunch?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No. You two get to the table and keep the peace. I’ll get the kids a drink and bring out the food.”
“Sounds good to me.” Matt grinned, kissing her again. Seeing them so affectionate had bothered me at first—I couldn’t deny that. There was something weird about your former best friend and ex-wife being so lovey-dovey. Over the years, I’d grown to appreciate that it was just who they were. For them to be this far into their relationship and still be so loving was great for both of them.
Watching them gave me a pang of jealousy. Maybe it was time for me to look for someone special.
“Ready for lunch? I roasted a chicken last night and made a salad with the leftovers. There are freshly cooked bread rolls, too.” Ella turned her attentions to me as Matt pulled away and walked to the dining room.
I followed Matt to the table, taking my usual spot next to Finn.
“What have you been up to?” I asked.
“School. It’s so boring.” He rolled his eyes.
“You know I’m a teacher, right? I teach kids your age.”
His eyes widened. I was sure I’d told him before, but maybe this time he was paying attention. “Can you come and be my teacher? It’d be cool.”
I laughed. “I’d love to, but I teach in Auckland. It wouldn’t be fair for me to leave my kids, would it?”
He shifted his gaze to Matt. “Can I come with you to see the sheep later?”
Matt nodded. “Sure thing. Sam and I have to talk to you about something after lunch and then I think Mum’s heading into town to get some things if you want to go with her. I’m going late in the afternoon.”
Finn grinned. “Okay. Don’t go without me.”
“Never.” Matt winked at him, and my stomach flipped at the ease between them. Finn and I had become good friends, but the father–son relationship between him and Matt had left them very close.
Part of me knew I could never mean as much to Finn as Matt did, and it hurt.
The knowledge that that was my own fault hurt even more.
* * *
After lunch, Matt and I washed the dishes while Finn, Georgia, and Zach sat with Ella in the living room. The children all sounded so happy with each other. Even when they argued it never lasted for long.
“Are you ready?” Matt asked, nudging my elbow.
“I asked first.”
Swallowing hard, I looked up at the ceiling. “I want this so much, Matt—I can’t even begin to tell you. More than anything I want that little boy to know the truth, to know me as his father.” I shifted my gaze back to him. “It’s so hard because I have all these feelings, and you’re the person I should be able to confide in. But you’re the one person I can’t because the last thing I want is to hurt you.”
He grasped my shoulder. “I know it’s tough. And Ella and I both know you could have been much more demanding on her, could have taken us to court for shared custody. And you probably would have got it. But I know you have Finn’s best interests at heart. Still, I can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt to have to share him when I’ve had him to myself for so long.”
Matt had been there during Ella’s pregnancy, there for Ella giving birth. He’d bonded with Finn before I’d even realised Finn was my son.
“Is Ella sitting in on this?”
He shook his head. “We talked about it. She didn’t think she’d handle it too well. Hell, I don’t know how well I’m going to handle it, but at least his dads will both be there to tell him.”
I nodded. Ella always was a softy. As big as this was for us, it’d be a massive shift for her.
“We can have a drink to recover while Ella takes the kids to the supermarket.”
This—this was the other reason I came here regularly. Matt had been like a brother to me for so many years that when Ella and I broke up, it felt as if I’d lost a part of myself. Now we joked and bantered like we always had. But there was still some awkwardness about it. It wasn’t like he could confide in me. Not about his relationship with Ella, anyway.
“You know what?” he asked.
“I don’t think I could ask for anyone better to co-parent with. You’ve changed, Sam, and I think it’s for the better.”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
“I mean it. Back when Finn was born, you were still so angry. Mostly at yourself, I think. Now, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather do this with. Ella feels the same way. We’ve regained so much of our friendship.” He licked his lips. “Of the trust that existed before.”
His words hit me in the chest. “That means a lot.”
Matt let out a loud breath. “Let’s go do this.” He raised his voice. “Finn, can you come here?”
Finn appeared in the doorway, Georgia and Zach on either side of him.
“Us too, Daddy?” Georgia asked.
“I just need Finn right now. But if you want, you can all come and see the sheep later on.”
She pouted, but turned back to the living room, pulling Zach behind her.
“They really are one gang, aren’t they?”
“When they’re at home, they’re almost inseparable. Come on, mate.” Matt smiled at Finn, who followed us up the hallway.
Matt led us to Finn’s bedroom, closing the door behind us. He sat on the bed, and Finn followed suit, sitting beside him. In the corner of the room stood a computer on a desk with a chair. Clearly, programmer Matt had Finn starting early. I grabbed the chair and sat opposite the others.
Matt licked his lips. I could see how uneasy this made him. Part of me wanted to leave it, do this another day, but we’d all decided today would be it.
“There’s something we need to talk to you about.” He smiled proudly at Finn, and patted him on the back.
Finn nodded, glancing between the pair of us. Suspicion grew in his eyes; we’d never pulled him aside for a chat like this before.
“So, umm, Sam has been visiting every second weekend for a while now, and I wanted to tell you why.”
My boy--our boy—slipped his hand between Matt’s arm and body.
“See, it’s like this, Finn. I’m married to your mother, and I’ve raised you since you were born, and I’m your dad,” Matt said. “But Sam’s your dad, too.”
Finn’s eyebrows shot up as he stared at Matt. “What do you mean?”
“You’ve got two dads. Sam and your mum, they made you, just like I made Georgia and Zach with her. Then I took over when Mum needed help.” He was floundering—I could see it in his face.
Finn’s lower lip wobbled, and tears welled in his eyes. “Do I have to go and live with Sam now?”
I swallowed down my resentment of my son turning to Matt to soothe him. Of course he did. Matt was the only father he’d ever known.
“No. Of course not. This is your home,” I stepped in.
Matt wiped Finn’s tears away, planting a kiss on his forehead. “We just wanted you to know so that later on, if you wanted to spend more time with Sam, you could.”
Watching them brought a lump to my throat. It was easy to feel a little left out, they were so close. I licked my lips. “When you’re ready, you can come spend the weekend with me in Auckland.”
“Would Georgia and Zach come too?”
I shook my head. “They can come and visit, but for the weekend it’d be just you and me. We could go to the zoo, hang out, spend time together. But you have to be ready for that. I’m not going to rush you.”
Finn sucked in his bottom lip, shifting his gaze between Matt and I.
“Do you have any questions? I know it’s a bit scary, but I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere,” Matt said.
“I have one question.”
Finn’s lips curled into a lopsided smile. There were times when I saw myself in him, and now was one of those moments. “If I have two dads, am I better than Georgia and Zach? They only have one.”
I laughed, shaking my head. “Bro, that’s an awful question. They’re still your brother and sister, and I’ve spent so much time here, I love them both.”
“Are you gonna be their other dad too?”
This kid. “No. Just yours.” I leaned over and ruffled his hair, but he still clung to Matt. When he said nothing, I smiled again. “Any more questions?”
“Can I go now? I don’t want to miss out on shopping with Mum. She always gets us a treat.”
I met Matt’s eyes, the amusement in them obvious.
“Sure thing,” he said.
My heart ached as Finn threw his arms around Matt’s neck and kissed him on the cheek before disappearing out the door.
“Well?” Matt asked.
I shrugged. “I think that went about as well as could be expected. He didn’t seem too upset once he realised he didn’t have to live with me.”
Matt gripped my shoulder. “He handled it better than I did. Want to go and get a coffee?”
“Do you have anything stronger?”
He chuckled. “That could be arranged. Come on.”
We walked back down the hallway to find Ella standing in the kitchen. “Finn’s gone out to the car. How did it go?”
“Great.” Matt beamed.
She let out a loud breath. “Good. I won’t be long, just need a few things.”
Matt wrapped his arms around her and pecked her on the lips. “See you soon.”
She nodded, giving me a small smile as she went out the back door.
Matt watched out the window as she left.
“Let’s get that drink,” he said, smiling as he turned toward me.
He crossed the kitchen and opened a top cupboard, pulling out a bottle of amber liquid. Taking two glasses, he scooped some ice from the ice-maker in the door of the fridge and poured the liquid over them.
Matt laughed. “Sure is. I don’t indulge often, but this might just help settle the nerves.”
I grinned as Matt handed me a drink. “That’s the best idea I think you’ve ever had.”
We sat at the dining room table, Matt with a glass of his own. “Was it really that easy?”
“Are you worried?”
Matt shrugged. “I don’t know. It just seemed a little too easy. Not that I’m unhappy about that. Whenever we told him, it’d be difficult.”
“Apparently more difficult for us than him.” I chuckled. “You know, I’m happy I have you back. I know I’m probably still not your favourite person, but that we can sit here having a drink together means a lot.”
He looked down at his drink. “Yeah, to me too.”
“We can only get better at this. Surely.” I held my glass up to toast.
He grinned as he clinked his glass with mine. “I think we’re doing okay. It’s not like we can work through all this overnight.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes, Matt.”
“I know.” He took a sip of his drink, licking his lips.
“Are we alright?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“You and me?”
He shrugged. “We seem to be doing okay. We’re drinking together, right?”
I put down my glass. “Yes, we are. Nothing like the old days, though.”
Matt shook his head. “That’s probably a good thing. How any nights did we get ourselves into trouble drinking too much?”
He studied me closely. “Got a girlfriend?”
“Why? You interested?”
Matt laughed. “Call it curiosity. It’s not like we see each other every day like we used to.”
“No girlfriend. It just all seemed so hard. I’m a changed man, Matt. Finn saw to that.”
He had a grin on him bigger than I’d seen in a long time. Even after the past couple of years, he’d always been slightly reserved with me. Now, that had disappeared. “I’m glad to hear it. Not that you have no girlfriend, but that you’ve changed.”
“He’s worth it. I knew I had to be a better person.”
Until today, knowing I was Finn’s father and not telling him had hung over me. Now I had a real chance of taking the next step to get to know my boy and spend more time with him.
I couldn’t wait.
Ariadne Wayne is the pen name of an overworked, often exhausted mother of two who frequently turns to the internet for relaxation. It doesn't always work...