I FIDGET IN MY SEAT, wiping my sweaty hands up and down my legs. Rose is in the chair beside me, her eyes rimmed pink from crying all night, but a ghost of a smile back on her lips.
She’s wearing her best black A-line dress, her hair in a bun, courtesy of me. It took two hours before she was happy with the updo. It would have been quicker had she let me part her fringe in the middle straight away.
She’s glancing at the door every five seconds, waiting to meet her biological father and his wife.
After the seven brothers confronted him about his affair yesterday, Robert Hayes arranged to meet my dad and Becca.
He didn’t waste any time, visiting the trailer park last night. Today, they’re meeting again, with Rose and me present.
Conor dropped me home ten minutes too late last night. Dad and Becca had already told Rose the truth and when I entered the house, all three of them were crying.
It took four hours, two packs of tissues, and a lot of cuddles before Rose started coming out of the initial shock. We dropped our mattresses onto the floor, bunching them together, and I held her all night, stroking her hair as she slowly came to terms with what she had learned.
She cried this morning, panicking that Robert and Monica would call off the meeting, then panicking that they’d try to pay for her silence to avoid a scandal.
She cried again when she figured we’re not sisters and Dad’s not her biological father. Then again when she realized she has seven brothers she knows nothing about.
I cried with her, so right now, we’re both pink-eyed, sniffling, snotty messes.
We’re waiting for Mr. and Mrs. Hayes in a private function room at the Country Club. We rolled up half an hour early because Rose was pacing a hole in the trailer floor, and Dad decided it would be better if we got her here already.
The door opens ten minutes later. Mr. Hayes walks through, his wife on his arm.
I watch with teary eyes as my younger sister meets her biological father for the first time. I listen to their conversation and Becca’s I’m so sorrys, interrupted by teary apologies from Robert Hayes. Monica can’t hide her welling emotions. She full-on bawls her eyes out when she hugs Rose.
I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect her to be here at all. Not only has she shown up, but she’s doing her best to make Rose feel welcome and part of the family.
It truly shows the depth of her and Robert’s marriage. The strength of her character. She didn’t have to be here. Rose is a living symbol of Robert’s infidelity, yet she’s making an effort. Taking a stand at his side, even though it means sharing the same air as Rebecca.
Monica Hayes just became my idol.
It takes time for the apologies and promises to stop, and we all sit back down, Rose at the head of the table, both sets of parents on either side. I’m next to my dad, swamping my sleeve in my tears.
There’s a lot more empty seats, the room intended for larger celebrations: birthdays, christenings, bar mitzvahs etc.
“I hope you don’t mind…” Robert says, turning back to Rose after nodding at a waiter who slipped into the room a moment ago. “But I thought you’d like to meet the rest of your family.”
The waiter pulls the double door open, and the entire Hayes family pours into the room one by one.
“Hey there, sis,” Logan starts, beating everyone to the punch as he pulls Rose out of her seat. “If you tell me I need to introduce myself, I won’t like that.”
Rose chuckles, cheeks blushing under the weight of everyone’s gaze. “Logan,” she says, her nerves fading. “No need for introductions.”
“Attagirl.” He pats her head, then pulls her into a hug.
“Stop monopolizing her,” Theo huffs, shoving Logan away.
Rose’s smile amplifies until she’s beaming at me over Jack’s shoulder, happy tears sliding down her cheeks.
I can’t help it, my eyes go again, and I grab a napkin, wiping away tears as Conor approaches. I’m not the only one who noticed. My father’s eyes look past me, and he rises from his seat, his face bleak.
My heart thumps a little faster as I attach myself to Conor. “Daddy, meet my boyfriend.”
“Conor Hayes,” Conor offers, holding his hand out for my dad to shake.
A loaded, silent moment passes between them before my father’s face relaxes, and he takes Conor’s hand. “I gotta tell you, I’m glad I didn’t shoot you, boy.”
“Excuse me?” Nico’s head snaps to us. “Shoot him?”
“It’s a long story,” Cody supplies, squeezing Nico’s shoulder. “Funny one, too. I’ll tell you later, now go growl at the waiters. I’m fucking starving, bro.”
“Cody! Language,” Monica scolds, narrowing her eyes. “Behave yourself.”
The Hayes boys all burst out laughing, and just like that, the tension in the air winks out of existence.
Conor summons a waiter as soon as my glass of wine empties. After the main course, the table’s cleared of plates, and we’re waiting for desserts.
Rose has been relaying her life story for the past hour, goaded by question after question from every Hayes at the table. It’s amazing to see how easily she fits in with them all, bantering and joking around.
There’s nothing left of last night’s teary girl. She’s back to her confident, cheeky self, and I’m glad she’s so resilient. Put in her shoes, I’d have a harder time accepting the news.
Not Rose. She absolutely loves this. Well, not all of it, she’s closemouthed and on guard talking to Robert or Monica, but as soon as one of her brothers draws her attention, her entire demeanor flips.
“I always wanted a brother,” Rose admits when Cody asks what she thinks about having older brothers. “And now I get seven. How cool is that?!”
“Pretty cool if you ask me,” Logan affirms.
“Yeah, no,” Cassidy chuckles, looking over at Rose. “Don’t get so excited. They’ll drive you insane soon enough.”
“You got a boyfriend?” Thalia asks, sipping her Coke.
All seven brothers zero in on Rose, anticipating the answer, the room suddenly silent, save for the kids.
“Well… kind of.”
“Kind of?” Theo asks, cocking an eyebrow. “What the hell does kind of mean?”
“We’ve been on and off for a while,” she explains, looking to me for help.
“Don’t look at me. You know I don’t like Liam.”
“Liam?” Colt asks, eyes narrowed. “Liam who? Don’t tell me you’re dating Liam Montgomery.”
“Justin’s brother?” Mia gasps.
Rose nods, prompting Cody’s fork to rattle on his plate as he drops it. “No way you’re dating Liam. He’s an idiot, Rose.”
“Told you,” Cassidy sing-songs, wiping chocolate off Noah’s face. He’s a cute kid, a spitting image of his daddy—dark hair, dark eyes, the cutest little dimples when he grins. “From now on, every guy around you will have the seven of them breathing down his neck.”
“You’re barely eighteen, Rose,” Nico says, slinging his arm over the back of Mia’s chair. “You’ve got time for boys. Focus on school.”
“Hypocrite,” Mia mutters. “I’m nineteen. Maybe I should just focus on school instead of—”
“You’re mine,” he cuts in, brooking no argument as he signals a waiter when she sets her empty glass of wine back on the table. “You run, I chase.”
A hum of laughter echoes over us. I tune out the conversation for a moment when Noah crawls over to Conor’s chair. He hauls him up, bouncing the boy gently in his lap. It doesn’t last long. Within ten seconds, Noah’s bored, and once Conor puts him back down, he crawls to Cody.
“I’ll deal with Liam,” Colt muses, grabbing a beer from a passing waiter. “If you can honestly tell me you like the guy, I’ll have him working like clockwork by tomorrow.”
“He might not be too pretty for a few days, though,” Cody chips in, barely tearing his eyes from Noah as he feeds him tiny pieces of chocolate muffin. “Colt explains shit best with his fists.”
“Don’t scare the girl,” Thalia huffs. “Think whatever you want, but neither of you gets to decide who she dates.”
“Like hell,” Conor breathes so quietly I doubt anyone but me hears.
“You know…” Rose muses, flopping back in her seat, a cunning smile stretching her lips. “I wouldn’t mind if you had a good heart-to-heart with him. He’s such a whore.”
“Rose!” Logan snaps, theatrically holding his hand to his chest. “Language, sweetheart.”
Another wave of laughter travels around the table.
“Welcome to the family, sis,” Theo says, raising his glass. “We’re all fucking crazy here.”
“We sure are,” Cassidy admits, bending down to grip Noah underarms now he’s finished circling the room, going from hands to hands. “Some more than others, right, baby?” She grins at Logan, who stops her lifting Noah off the floor.
“What did I say about lifting?” he snaps, hauling the kid into her lap.
“You work, Logan. It’s not like I don’t lift him all damn day.”
“All the more reason to let me do it when I’m around.” He kisses her head and stamps a kiss on Noah’s head, too. “He’s not getting any lighter.”
“You should’ve waited until Noah started walking before you got Cass pregnant again,” Shawn retorts. “That way, she wouldn’t carry him around as much.”
“Seeing how he can’t tone it down, we’re waiting until Eli…” She pats her small bump, “…starts walking before we have another.”
I bite my cheek to stop laughing when the look of a child who had his toys taken away crosses Logan’s face.
“No, no, no, that’s like… what? Two years,” he whines. “I’ll tone it down, okay? We’ll have another once Eli’s here.”
“She’s not a gumball machine, bro,” Conor chuckles beside me. “Let her rest.”
“But… I want a daughter. C’mon, princess, you promised. Just one more, okay?”
“One more kid?” Nico narrows his eyes at him like he doesn’t believe that.
“Yeah. One more, and we’ll take a short break.”
Jesus… how many kids does he want? It seems the Hayes men are baby-making machines because Theo’s next to announce they’ll be trying for Irish twins.
I love this family. Their relationship, interactions, and banter. I love that they call it as they see it while supporting each other through the best and the worst. And I love that if I throw caution to the wind, I’ll be part of it by the end of the year.