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The Gamble

By:Kristen Ashley

lorado mountains where my gamble paid off every second of every day and it did this in spades.

I looked back to the front of the church then looked to Brody as his head turned toward me and I caught his amused blue eyes to which I rolled mine to which his amusement became audible.

Then the music struck up and we all straightened and twisted in our seats to watch Becca walk down the aisle.

Then we stood and I held my son tight to me as Max’s arm around me, hand resting protective at my belly, held us both tight to his body and me and my family watched a beautiful, glowing, smiling, happy Mindy walk down the aisle.

* * * * *

Holden Maxwell walked out of his sleeping son’s bedroom carrying the spent bottle. He hit the great room where he saw his wife tucked in the big armchair, her damn cat curled in a ball in her lap.

After the wedding and after the after wedding drinks with Steve and Nellie, his mother and Kami, Brody, Cotton and Arlene, he’d driven his family home and Nina had changed out of her pretty dress into a pair of loose fitting but clingy drawstring pants and a tight camisole.

She wasn’t close to showing yet and, with Charlie, hadn’t started really showing until early in her fifth month. Even so, at the end she’d been very heavy with Charlie and Charlie had made it into this world weighing nine pounds and three ounces.

This had alarmed Max, this late development, Nina’s body’s swift change and heavy burden, a fact he didn’t share with anyone but Brody and his mother.

He didn’t know it but he had nothing to worry about. Nina didn’t slow down throughout her entire pregnancy, the labor had lasted three hours and the delivery went so smoothly the doctor said he’d never had one that easy in ten years of practice.

When he’d visited Bitsy at the detention center to tell her about his new son and how he’d come into the world, she’d told him that she reckoned life had given him enough heartache, he should have it easy for awhile.

Bitsy had no idea that life with Nina was far from easy.

But that didn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful.

She kept him on his toes, his Nina did. His wife ate life, devoured it daily with a hunger and passion that had not ceased to amaze him as their days together slid by.

It wasn’t lost on Max that life had handed him great bounty at a young age and then had taken it away only to give it back. He knew the bitter taste of loss and therefore he understood Bitsy not liking the taste of it.

And therefore, he never failed to savor the sweet taste of having Nina fill his life. He remembered the second that bitterness was swept clean from his tongue, when his now wife had informed him her sinuses hurt when she’d bravely and hilariously squared off against him in a snowstorm minutes after they met. He’d been so used to the sour taste, it came as a shock when it disappeared as he fought against laughter at the same time the sweetness invaded, so strong and foreign it made his jaws ache.

He took the bottle to the kitchen and then went to join his wife in their chair.

He’d started a fire because Nina liked fires in the evening no matter if it was summer or winter. But he knew it was a wasted effort. Just as with Charlie, in the early months of her pregnancy she slept a lot. He knew she was probably out the minute she rested her head against the high arm of the chair.

Gently, he moved her, her damn cat darting away as he did. He slid in next to her and then pulled her into him. She helped. In her sleep she curled deeply into his frame, her arm snaking around his gut, her head burrowing into his neck.

Through this, as usual with his Nina, she didn’t wake and she wouldn’t. He’d have to carry her to bed. She’d had an active day, starting it with heading to the mall first thing and ending with dancing like a madwoman at Mindy and Jeff’s reception then laughing until she choked with her family and friends at The Mark.

Max stared into the fire and held his wife close and as he was doing this, a sweet, hushed voice he hadn’t heard in thirteen years spoke in his brain.

I’m happy for you, honey, Anna said and Max closed his eyes.

Then he opened them and pulled Nina closer.

“I’m happy too,” he whispered.

I’m going now. If Nina asks where he’s gone, tell her I’m taking Charlie with me.

Max didn’t answer.

I love you, Max, and I love the way she loves you.

She would love that, Anna would. That was pure Anna.

“Find peace, Swanee,” Max replied.

Already did, ‘bout three years ago, baby.

Max’s jaw clenched to fight against his throat getting tight.

Then there was silence except for the crackling of the fire in the grate of the huge stone hearth he laid with his own hands in the house on the mountain his father gave to him, his son asleep in the other room, his wife carrying his unborn child asleep and tucked to his side.

And Holden Maxwell stayed right where he was, still, quiet, content and staring into the fire until it was time to get up and carry Nina to bed.