Four Years Later
“That was a red light!”
“Oh, was it?” my husband teased.
We’d gotten married.
The four of us—to each other.
I wore a dress, we had the ceremony, and we exchanged the rings—the whole nine. And I didn’t just wear their ring or they mine.
Houston, Loren, and Rich also wore rings from each other—a symbolism of their devotion to each other and to me.
The law didn’t recognize it—or God, according to my parents—but our souls had accepted the bond, and that was all that mattered.
Loren kept his cool and his smile as he continued to steer the rented GranTurismo. He now wore his hair with the sides shaved, creating a sexy blond faux hawk. Paired with the large tattoo he’d gotten to cover the entire right side of his neck, the pretty boy now had a dose of ruggedness that made my thighs quiver whenever I stared too long.
Shaking my head at him, I gripped the “oh shit” handle above me. He’d just taken another turn on two wheels, making me close my eyes and pray. I hadn’t done the latter in a while, but it was my fault.
Houston and Rich warned me.
They told me to never get in the car with this fucking maniac. There was a reason they never let him drive. I felt like my stomach was in my throat by the time the car finally stopped, and Loren killed the engine. I snatched the keys from the ignition before climbing out of the black sports coupe. I heard his chuckle, but he didn’t object.
The security that trailed us in a separate car caught up, and moments later, we were escorted through the busy grounds.
People who should have been too preoccupied to notice our presence stopped and stared. Some took pictures from afar, but more than a few were brave enough to approach for an autograph or selfie.
Of course, we stopped, and we stayed until the crowd became too big for two hair-trigger guards to handle safely.
Another five minutes, and we finally reached the building and the room we sought. The door flew open after only one knock from Loren, revealing the excited face of my baby sister.
“Of course we did,” I told her as she stepped aside to let us in.
She talked our ears off while I looked around the small room. I felt emotions, too many to name, welling inside. Loren’s thumb swept back and forth over the back of my hand since he was still holding it as he talked with Rosalie.
I couldn’t bring myself to.
My heart was in my throat as I took in the twin bed with purple bedding and too many pillows, the small desk at the end already loaded with textbooks, the pictures of Braxen who was a few weeks shy of five pinned on the wall, and her trusty bible waiting on the nightstand.
She’d done it.
Rosalie had forged her own path.
And she did it while keeping her faith.
Something my parents had been convinced was mutually exclusive.
Loren was right about me not being loud enough, but I wouldn’t credit myself.
This was all her.
She wouldn’t have heard me if she hadn’t wanted to listen. I’d only spoken out loud what she’d hidden in her heart.
Rosalie was starting her freshman year at Berkeley while Braxen stayed in Faithful with our parents. It was their only concession after Rosalie divorced Pete. To Amelia and David, their youngest daughter had committed a sin worse than murder and wanted nothing to do with her beyond their grandson.
I didn’t relish that.
I didn’t feel victorious or satisfied.
I wished more than anything that my baby sister could have it all—her dreams, her faith, her son, our parents, and true love.
But she had me, and she had Braxen whenever she needed family.
Houston, Loren, and Rich too.
“You’re missing two,” Rosalie pointed out. “Why didn’t Houston and Rich come?”
I absolutely knew the three of them had spoiled my sister rotten when she actually pouted at their absence. They doted on her. The word no was never an option, no matter how much I warned them.
“Next time,” I promised her. “You know they’re good for it.”
Rosalie gave us the tour of her dorm and the campus, and a few hours later, Loren had to pry us apart when it was time to go.
Loren was eager to get back, and so was I for the same reason Houston and Rich had elected to stay behind.
The flight home was short. Our day trip quickly came to an end when we finally reached our path, our woods surrounding it, and our castle hidden within.
Even though I had been reluctant to move in and determined to wait during the first year of our relationship, I couldn’t seem to find a reason to leave—only ever excuses to stay until the three of them had put their foot down and hijacked my address. I’ve been living with them ever since and never looked back despite Loren’s refusal to help with chores, Houston stealing my leftovers, and Rich hogging the TV.
The only real downside was that I didn’t get to see Griff and Maeko, who were now married, as much.
A shirtless Houston, wearing only basketball shorts, was waiting underneath the carriage porch when the car pulled up. I knew if he turned around, I’d see the tattoo on his strong back, but he never took his gaze away from me. Even though I was eager to be in his arms and feel his lips, I stopped to smell the flowers.
Rich, on his hands and knees, had planted a small meadow in the middle of our drive that had once been just a grassy island.
He’d given me lilacs.
Finally reaching Houston, he lifted me, wrapped my legs around his waist, and kissed me deeply as if it had been days instead of hours. Our lips were still attached when he carried me inside while Loren trailed us.
“Any change?” I asked him as we moved through the house.
“Temperature’s dropped two degrees.”
Loren rushed past us at hearing that news, and we followed him into one of the bedrooms a few seconds later. Rich, also shirtless and wearing jeans, was sleeping in the rocking chair with his head back and mouth open as he snored like a bear. Like Loren, he’d made some changes too. His hair was no longer shaggy but cut short, and his eyes were no longer sad but filled with the confidence of someone who’d found their place in the world.
The drummer was completely oblivious to our presence after being up all night.
It was all the permission Loren, who was standing over the crib, needed. He reached inside and lifted our son from his bed. He started bouncing his chunky butt excitedly in his father’s arms despite his fever that forced our trip to be quick.
“Missed you too, tough guy.”
Finally spotting me, our baby started squealing, which startled his father out of his sleep. Rich shot to his feet before realizing we were in the room and relaxing but only slightly. Houston set me down, and I went to him.
“Sorry to wake you.”
“It’s okay,” he told me in a groggy voice. After scrubbing his eyes, he grabbed me and kissed me briefly before turning to our son, who was babbling excitedly at the four of us. “Coda, what are you doing awake, man? We had an agreement.”
The beginning of the final passage.
Or, in our case, the start of our happily ever after. I didn’t think it was possible to feel any more complete until his arrival a year ago.
He definitely hadn’t been planned.
Too much time on the road hadn’t allowed me to remember birth control.
Moody as hell.
Without a DNA test, I couldn’t be sure who’d fathered him. I didn’t care, and neither did Houston, Loren, and Jericho. Coda would always have three fathers.
Our son reached out, and Jericho carefully took him in his tattooed hands. He’d gotten the piece at the same time Loren and Houston had gotten theirs.
Whatever had been responsible for me smelling and tasting my emotions never returned, and maybe it never would.
So Houston, Loren, and Jericho had tattooed themselves and filled every hall and room of our home with lilacs so that I never forget what love smells like.
The house lights lowered, and the roar was deafening.
Backstage at The Forum, I waited with them.
I met each of their gazes—green, opaque, and silver.
Once I nodded, they smiled and pushed forward. I watched them take their places on stage. I listened to Houston’s song through my eyes—red, blue, and purple shapes lighting up the arena—as they roused the crowd.
This was always meant to be.
It was what they’d told me four years ago, and I’d believed them.
I still do.
Free from Savant, they could do whatever they wanted.
We could do whatever we wanted.
Smiling, I put one foot in front of the other until the spotlight bathed me with the loves of my life standing behind me.
And then I, Bound’s new front man, lifted my mic.
You crept in like the dawn
You showed me a new day
But instead of bringing light
You followed me into darkness
Belligerent, bellicose, broken, bound
We painted our revolution backward
Eventually, we found love