“Obviously you’ve made up your mind!” Belle argued.
“And so have you,” Shawn countered. “I don’t understand why you’re being so difficult about this!”
“I don’t understand how you can be so naïve!”
“Maybe this isn’t the time to talk about this,” Shawn dismissed. “Maybe after you’ve had some time to think about this we can discuss this at home.”
“I don’t see why we can’t talk about it now. This is not going away Shawn.”
“I guess I don’t feel like arguing about this right now. Take some time to think about what I’m suggesting here.”
“Why? Shawn, you’re proposing that we get Max out of his contract with EJ Wells. BBE is not prepared to do that. We already have two new drivers. We’re not looking to add another driver to the team.”
“I realize that. I’m not suggesting we bring him back to the team. I’m suggesting that we, you and I as his family buy out his contract. You know we can. I’ve worked out the numbers.”
“I’m not willing to make that kind of sacrifice nor am I prepared to take that kind of risk. It’s not exactly a couple of bucks here. How do you even know if you have enough money?”
“Trust me I do. I talked to Ellie.”
“My new accountant,” he replied.
“Why do you have an accountant? You know we have access to the BBE accountants.”
“I know, but I figure if I’m going to conduct non-BBE business I should have a neutral party involved. Don’t want any conflict of interest here.”
Belle couldn’t help but give him an impressed look and she realized that continuing to argue this point would prove to be ultimately fruitless. “Fine,” she mumbled. “I don’t think we’re going to accomplish anything here and I have a meeting coming up in another 15 minutes, so let’s just finish this at home – after dinner and after the kids are in bed,” she added.
“Of course,” he agreed. “Just think about it,” he added with a sly smirk. He couldn’t help but react that way at seeing her standing in front of him, leaning against the front of her desk with her arms folded across her chest. That was her ‘I’m not budging’ stance and part of him looked forward to making her budge. “Alright baby, I’m going to go pick up Jacob from school and I will see you at home. I’m hoping you’ll be home at a reasonable time tonight.”
“Yeah, I have this meeting and then Dad and I have to go over a few numbers, but that’s it. What do you want to do for dinner?”
Belle turned up her nose. “Not another macaroni surprise.”
“OK, I won’t experiment anymore. I’ll do spaghetti or something like that. No surprises.” He took a step toward her and moved his hands along her arms soothingly. He looked at her seriously, wishing they weren’t having this constant disagreement. It was definitely beginning to take its toll. “Tell me you love me.”
“You know I do.”
“Tell me,” he quietly urged.
“I love you Shawn.”
“I love you, too.” He pressed a soft kiss against her forehead. “See you at home.”
A couple of hours later, Belle walked into her father’s office for their routine. It didn’t take long for John to notice that his daughter was distracted.
“What’s going on Izzy? Is something bothering you?”
“It’s nothing,” she dismissed. “Let’s talk about the Pomona deal.”
“That can wait. What’s going on with you? Is everything alright with the boys and Shawn?”
“The boys are fine. Jacob just loves his little brother and Evan lights up when he’s around Jacob. It’s the most adorable thing you’ll ever see,” she easily gushed.
“Are you and Shawn having problems?”
“I wouldn’t say they’re problems, more like an ongoing issue.”
“Would this issue have to do with Max?”
“There’s no fooling you now is there,” she mused.
“No, and I believe you’re stalling. Izzy what is it?” he asked with fatherly concern.
Belle sighed heavily before continuing. “Shawn and I cannot see eye to eye when it comes to this Max issue. He wants us to buy out Max’s contract with EJ Wells.”
“BBE isn’t prepared to do that.”
“Yes, I know and so does he. Shawn doesn’t want BBE to buy it out he wants us as in Mr. and Mrs. Shawn Brady to do it because we’re family and we’re in a position to do so.”
John seemed to chew on the information for a bit before responding. With his eyebrow arched and a pondering expression on his face he finally uttered one single word, “Interesting.”
Belle was confused by her father’s reaction. It wasn’t like him to be speechless. “Well?” she asked anxiously.
He took a cleansing deep breath and looked at her with a blank expression. “Don’t worry about it.”
“What do you mean ‘don’t worry about it’ Dad?”
“I mean, this isn’t worth you and Shawn arguing over. Regardless of what Max did, Shawn has forgiven him. Shawn was hurt the most and he’s been able to move forward, you need to do the same.”
“I don’t trust Max or Mimi. That’s the problem Dad. I think Shawn feels guilty on some level – his past with Mimi and his success overshadowing Max. He has this tremendous sense of loyalty that I can’t understand sometimes.”
“But if I had to guess, I bet you wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
Belle paused a moment to reflect. “I wouldn’t,” she confessed. “I love that he’s so committed to his family. I know that the kids and I will never have to worry about that. But he can be overly committed, you know, a little overprotective but he has such a big heart that I don’t really mind.”
“Let him do this,” John urged. “Shawn’s mind is made up and I understand where you’re coming from but don’t continue to fight this. Sweetheart, ever since you were a little girl you were always determined to do what you felt was right and God help your mother and me if we tried to talk to you once you dug your heels in.” He seemed to be easily amused by the memories.
“I know you believe what you’re doing is right,” he continued. “You’re trying to protect Shawn when maybe what he needs the most from you right now is your support. I can’t imagine this is that easy of a decision for him but there is a much bigger picture here. Max is dealing with a dangerous man. EJ Wells has a terrible reputation. I don’t think you realize the true seriousness of the situation. I don’t think Shawn is aware of the depths either, but he is very aware that for Mimi to ask him for help, it must be very serious. Maybe it is guilt driving Shawn, I don’t know but if you want my advice, you should respect his decision. This is important to him.”
“But Dad, I understand what you’re saying but we’re not even seeing eye to eye on this,” she argued.
“Izzy, you’re certainly not going to agree with everything Shawn wants to do. Your mother disagrees with a lot of things that I do, and vice versa but part of marriage is to understand each other’s wishes and supporting the other when we have to, but you know that already don’t you?”
Reluctantly Belle nodded her head. “I do. I just don’t want him to be disappointed if Max betrays his trust again.”
“And if that happens, you’ll be there for your husband.”
“Right,” she agreed, though she appeared distant. She looked at John with a renewed sense of clarity and purpose. “Dad, do we need to meet?”
John smiled in response. “Go on home.”
Belle quickly got home and walked into the kitchen to see Shawn cooking while Jacob sat at the kitchen table with Evan in his baby seat being fed his bottle by his brother. Belle smiled at seeing the interaction and kissed Jacob at the top of his head before kissing Evan.
“How are my boys doing?” she asked.
“Hi mommy,” Jacob said brightly.
“Hi sweetie,” Belle smiled as she moved her hand gently along his dark hair. “You taking good care of your brother?”
“Yep,” he replied.
“Did you have a good day at school?”
“I got a 100 on my spelling test!”
“Great job!” she congratulated. “I’m so proud of you!”
“Hey baby,” Shawn said as she walked to him. He smiled at seeing in a visibly different mood then she was when he saw her earlier. They greeted each other with a quick kiss. “Everything OK?” he questioned.
She touched his cheek gently while her eyes peered into his. “I’m sorry for earlier.”
Shawn suddenly smirked in response. “You talked to John didn’t you?
“That obvious?” she smiled.
“He always seems to be able to get through to you. So you agree with what I want to do.”
“Not exactly, but I support you and that’s the best I can do.”
“I’ll take that. Why don’t you head on upstairs, change out of those stuffy clothes,” he suggested. “Dinner will be ready in a little bit.”
Three months later, Shawn was able to successfully buy out Max’s contract. He also convinced one of the more reputable teams to bring him on board and as of two weeks ago found him a new sponsor, Express Motor Oil. The business deal had caused Shawn to be away from home more than usual. On his off days he often traveled or worked long business hours to negotiate deal after deal. He was grateful for his family’s support in the undertaking. It was certainly important to him. Once everything was finally settled, he opted to skip out on a celebration dinner with Max, Mimi and the others to spend much needed time with his family.
Shawn was comfortable at home, having recently finished dinner with his wife and sons and now enjoying a relaxing moment in the family room. Jacob was transfixed on the television when Belle joined Shawn on the couch as he held nine month old Evan whose small body was snuggled on his father’s chest. Belle ran her hand soothingly along the baby’s back. Their focus and concentration were both centered on their baby boy who seemed to be a perfect blend of the two of them. A fact that seemed more evident as more of his personality was coming out as he got older.
“Hi Mommy,” Shawn said for his son as he watched Evan’s piercing blue eyes staring at his mother. Evan’s tiny hands gripped Shawn’s shirt while he stayed focused on Belle.
“How’s my little guy doing?” she cooed. Her smile widened as Evan became excited by the interaction. “He is so happy,” she commented.
“That makes two of us. I know this whole ordeal was hard on you.”
“It was hard for me Shawn. Part of me still doesn’t trust them but at the same time I don’t want to be an unsupportive wife. I just worry that’s all.”
“I know and that’s what makes me, Jacob and this little guy so lucky. I know you only want the best.”
“I do but I realized doing this was important to you. Ultimately it wasn’t worth fighting over.”
“Well it’s all over. Thank you for your support,” he told her.
“It wasn’t easy sometimes. I’m not as strong as you Shawn. I can’t forgive as easily. I wish I could, for you… but it’s hard for me to let go. It really is.”
“Hey I’m used to your stubbornness by now.”
“Don’t think I’m the only stubborn one in this family mister.”
Shawn looked down at Evan. “I think it’s a little early to call him stubborn.”
“I am not talking about the children and you know it,” she laughed.
“I know I can be challenging, too but I want to tell you one thing. You’re wrong. You are strong so don’t think you aren’t as strong as me, in fact I think you’re stronger. I depend on you for so much, you know.”
“That makes two of us,” she said as she leaned in closer for a kiss.
They sat there together, enjoying the moment. Belle glanced at the clock and her eyes then diverted for a moment to see Jacob still staring absent-mindedly at the television. “Jacob, sweetie the show is over. You’ll need to get ready for bed.”
“Aww, but I’m not tired,” he whined.
“Why don’t you join us on the couch?” she suggested and smiled when he obliged. She was soon pulling him up on her lap and causing him to giggle as she playfully kissed his cheeks. “Go brush your teeth and change into your pajamas and you can come back down and hang out with us a little longer, OK?”
Jacob grinned at the idea. “OK.” He ran off to go upstairs.
Belle was amused by his eagerness and proceeded to bring her attention back to Evan who had drifted off to sleep.
“You’re spoiling him.”
“I don’t think so. If I am, I’m not spoiling him more than you.”
“Fair enough,” Shawn commented.
“He’s a good boy. He just misses you and when you’re here he doesn’t want to miss out.”
“You’re so good with him. I used to wonder how we’d adjust but you’ve made this all so seamless. You’re a pretty amazing lady Mrs. Brady.”
“And you’re pretty amazing yourself.” Her fingers move through his hair as she watched him pay close attention to Evan. “Our children would all be proud of you,” she said seriously, “all three of them.”
Shawn almost didn’t catch what she said but once it registered his eyes shifted immediately from the baby to her. “Three?” he questioned. “Belle… Belle are you trying to tell me you’re pregnant?”
“No fooling you,” she teased.
“Seriously?” he questioned.
“I bought a test today to confirm it but I’m pretty sure. I’m about three weeks late.”
He looked at her in amazement. “Come here,” he requested before capturing her lips with his own for a slow and sweet kiss. “I bet it’s a girl.”
“You were sure Evan was going to be a girl.”
“Well, I’m really sure this time,” he grinned.
Belle laughed lightly in response. “I hope so because no more babies after this one. I know how much you want a daughter.”
“I want a little princess to dote over,” he said, smiling at the thought. “That’d be great. I sort of envy the relationship you have with John. I’d like to have that.”
“Then she’d be a very lucky little girl.”
Shawn was easily amused as he watched his younger son trying to chase his older son around the family room. Evan was fourteen months old and seemed to run the house. Jacob eventually let his brother catch him and the two of them were soon rolling around on the floor.
When Belle came downstairs and saw the two boys she didn’t share Shawn’s amusement. “Jacob, don’t play so rough with your brother,” she chastised.
“They’re fine baby,” Shawn told her. “Jacob wouldn’t hurt Evan.”
Belle seemed to ignore him. “Evan, sweetie, come to mommy,” she requested as she went to get him. Much to Evan’s dislike, Belle picked him up and started to clean him up.
“Oh Belle, you’ve got to let him be a boy. He and Jacob are going to play.”
“They don’t have to be so rough.”
Shawn simply shrugged his shoulders as he looked at Jacob. “It’s alright buddy. Go get yourself ready to visit your grandparents.”
Jacob ran off upstairs. Shawn looked over at Belle worrying over Evan, straightening up his clothes and making him look neat, which he knew wouldn’t last all too long. If there was one thing Shawn knew about his son, he was quick to get into everything and never stayed clean for long. Regardless, Belle always fussed over him.
“Shawn, maybe I don’t need to go with you.”
“Belle, don’t back out of this. We’ve been through this so many times. I just talked to Marlena. Your parents are expecting the boys. I talked to Max and he’s expecting us to come over.”
“Tell them I’m not feeling well or something.”
“I am not going to lie! I can’t even believe you asked me to do that. You’ve got to let this go Belle. It’s not good. And what are we going to tell the boys in the future? Sorry, you can’t see your Uncle Max or your baby cousin because Mommy can’t get over it!”
“Shawn,” she gasped. “I thought you understood.”
“I’m tired of trying to understand. We’re going to the hospital to visit with Mimi and Max and that’s that.”
“Oh so you’re giving me ultimatums now?”
“I don’t want to tell you what to do but we’ve got to bring an end to this stubbornness. It’s getting ridiculous now!”
“So now I’m being ridiculous.”
“Honestly? Yes, you are. We’re going to the hospital. No questions asked.”
“You can’t tell me what to do Shawn. You can’t treat me like a child.”
“I’ll treat you like one when you’re acting like one and trust me, you’re acting like one now.”
“I’m not going.”
“Yes you are. It’s the right thing to do.”
“Shawn I can’t do this. I can’t face them. And they know I didn’t want you to help them out in the first place. They can’t possibly want to see me.”
Shawn paused a moment realizing where she was coming from in her hesitation. He went to her and scooped up Evan. “I’m sorry I yelled but I can’t help but be frustrated. Belle it’s time for you to try and make things right. The ball is in your court baby.”
Belle sighed, knowing her husband was right. “Alright, I’ll go. You’re right, OK. I can’t keep avoiding them.”
After making a few calls, Max walked back into Mimi’s hospital room. The grin on his face was a permanent one, it emerged the moment he laid eyes on his daughter and he was convinced he was the happiest man on earth. He took a seat on the edge of the bed and his gaze became transfixed on the baby. “Shawn and Belle are on their way to visit,” he told Mimi. “They want to be one of the first ones to see my little princess,” he said as he went to pick up his daughter. “Come here baby girl,” he cooed. He was fascinated by everything about her and had never felt so much love for one person.
“I’m a little surprised Belle is coming, too,” Mimi said.
“Yeah, well maybe she’s had a change of heart.”
“Maybe Shawn is trying to be the peacemaker.”
“That’s my guess, too. Anyway, we’ll see in a few minutes. So how are you feeling? Still tired?” he asked.
“Impossible not to be but I’ll be fine,” she replied and noticed that Max appeared a bit distracted. “What are you thinking about?”
Max hesitated a moment before answering. “The two of us have come a long way haven’t we? No matter what, you’ve never given up on me.”
“Of course not,” she said. “I love you. I’ll always believe in you.”
“And you mean so much to me and I feel like all my dreams have come true because of you. I know I’ve made some mistakes. I’ve messed up and I’ve given you some pretty good reasons to leave but you’ve stuck by me.”
“Max, you don’t have to say all this to me.”
“I want to,” he insisted. “This is like a new beginning for us. I’m going to try my hardest to never disappoint either one of you.” He leaned in closer and their lips met for a sweet kiss.
“Hope we’re not disturbing,” Shawn said with a smug expression more than evident on his face. “We can always come back.”
“You better get in here,” Max said happily. He watched as Shawn and Belle walked in together, it was clear Belle was trying her best not to appear uncomfortable by the situation. They’re attention soon focused on the baby in his arms.
“She’s beautiful,” Shawn commented. “Meems, you did good.”
“Thank you Shawn.”
“What’s her name?” Belle asked as she seemed to naturally become curious. Her fingers brushed against the light wisps of hair on her head.
“I’d like you to meet Alexis Marie Brady,” Max stated proudly.
“Would you like to hold her?” Mimi offered.
“Of course,” she said without hesitation. Soon Max handed her the baby. Once she was in her arms, Belle and Shawn both smiled and doted upon her.
“The two of you must be so excited,” Belle commented. “She is the sweetest little thing.”
“Yeah,” Max easily agreed. “My little princess,” he gushed.
“Your life won’t ever be the same again,” Shawn told him.
“How are you doing Mimi?” Shawn asked.
“Tired but good,” she answered.
“Hey Max, I need to talk to you about a few things. Would you ladies mind if we stepped out to talk a little business?”
“Take your time,” Mimi said.
“Great,” Shawn said. “We won’t be long.”
Belle glanced up to see Shawn and Max walk out and her attention was brought back to the baby. Mimi easily sensed that Belle was using the baby as a convenient and easy distraction and a way to avoid any conversation.
Once in the hallway, Max looked at Shawn curiously. “What do we need to talk about?”
“Nothing,” Shawn said in a hushed voice.
“Just listen,” Shawn whispered. “These two need to have it out. Hopefully they will. Let’s give them a little time.”
Mimi couldn’t stand the silence any longer. “Look Belle, I realize how difficult this might be for you. We’ve never exactly been friends and I know I’m a big part of that. I also know that Shawn is the consummate peacemaker and that you probably had no choice but to come with him so I’m willing to offer a truce. I’m hoping you’ll believe that Max and I don’t want to jeopardize this new found friendship and trust with Shawn and hopefully with you. If you don’t want to I’ll understand but I would hope that for the sake of our children we can find some common ground. I would love for Alexis to know her cousins.”
“I’d like that, too,” Belle agreed. “Mimi, I’d be lying if I said this was easy for me. I’m not like Shawn. If someone hurts me or hurts my family, I take it personally and I certainly don’t forgive so easily. But I am tired of fighting. It’s not doing any of us any good, especially our children. Max hurt Shawn and you have hurt Shawn. Maybe in some way you feel that you’re even -.”
“That’s not fair Belle,” Mimi interjected. “I’ve made my mistakes. And sure most of what I did was motivated by the past. Shawn has told you about those years. He admits he was wrong.”
“Yes, he has and yet that was never enough for you. You kept coming after him and then dragging Willow into all of this. That was the lowest. Do you have any idea what you did to him? You hurt him so deeply. I had to pick up those pieces. I’m more than aware of the damage you can cause and I don’t know if it compares to how badly he hurt you in the past. I have no idea, I don’t know that side of Shawn but what I do know is he has more love in his heart than anyone I know. And because he wants so badly to make things right between all of us, I am willing to make amends.”
“Really?” Mimi questioned. “Belle, do you really mean it?”
“Of course,” Belle replied. She looked at Alexis in her arms, seeing her innocence and thinking about her boys and the baby she was carrying. They were all family and after marrying Shawn, she grew to appreciate the importance of family, something Shawn always cherished. “You know, our daughters are going to be four months apart.”
“Shawn was very excited to tell us you were having a girl. He’s thrilled.”
“Yeah, it’s cute. He really wanted a daughter and I’m glad that worked out because I told him this was it. For some reason he doesn’t believe me. He has this notion that we should have about five or six children.”
“What is it with men and wanting lots of kids? Max wasn’t all too big on having kids before I got pregnant and it was like things changed for him. He was excited about Alexis and now he wants a big family. I’ll tell you, it’s sort of hard thinking about having a baby after just having one and you… having another one so soon. Was that planned?”
“Let me put it this way, we weren’t exactly trying not to get pregnant. Evan and this baby will be eighteen months apart. It’ll be interesting with two babies in the house. Evan is sort of used to having his way and Jacob is just excited that Evan is big enough to play and run around with him,” she told her and smiled as Alexis started to fuss a little. “Oh it’s OK Alexis,” she said softly and decided it was time to hand her back to Mimi, “here’s your mommy.”
“Hey there baby girl,” Mimi softly cooed. She got Alexis settled in her arms. “Tell me Belle, when will I stop feeling so exhausted?”
“Never,” Belle answered with a laugh.
“You’ll be tired a lot but that’s where Max will have to help pitch in. Mimi, you and I aren’t exactly stay at home moms, we have our own careers and our husbands are away most of the year on the road. It’s not easy. That’s part of why we had to get a nanny. It was a juggling act. It still is but it’s worth it.”
“I can certainly agree with that,” Mimi agreed as she focused on Alexis. “She is worth every sacrifice and worth making peace over. Belle I am truly sorry for everything I’ve ever done to hurt you and Shawn. I was wrong and I really hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me and Max.”
Belle took Mimi’s free hand and squeezed it gently. “Let’s consider this a new beginning.”
Later that night Shawn bounced into his bedroom with energy matching both Jacob and Evan. Belle was easily amused as he looked at her with a devilish grin and mischievous gleam in his eyes. He closed the bedroom door and in practically one swift motion he jumped onto the bed causing Belle to burst into a fit of giggles. He pulled her close to him and peered into her eyes.
“What’s with all the… exuberance?” Belle questioned.
“I am so incredibly proud of you.”
“I realized it needed to be done.”
“Took awhile,” he snickered. His comment was promptly met with a smack on the arm. “Ow!”
“You deserved that.”
“Maybe, but you certainly deserve this,” he murmured as he covered her mouth with his own for a sweet and gentle kiss.
Belle soon settled in his arms, trying her best to stifle her laughter as he playfully tickled and kissed her. “Why do I get the feeling you’re not exactly ready to sleep?”
His hand snaked its way under her nightshirt and upward along the smoothness of her skin. “Because I’m not,” he eventually answered. His fingertips glided along the swells of her breast as his thumb swirled along her nipple, the action instantly causing the flesh to react and harden. “It would be a shame to let all this energy go to waste, don’t you think?” His lips skimmed against her neck. When he heard her moan softly he knew her answer. They continued to get more comfortable. Shawn was working his magic and Belle was more than willing to be the beneficiary of his amazing skills… until her radar kicked in.
“Wait a second.”
“What is it? I thought you were in the mood.”
“That’s not the problem. Listen,” she urged him.
Soon they both heard little footsteps running down the hall.
Shawn’s face soured. “I swear we’ve got to strap that boy down. I mean, how is he climbing out of that crib so easily?” He jumped out of bed. “Don’t you move,” he told her seriously. “Stay right there. I’m coming right back.”
In a matter of moments, Belle could hear Shawn fussing to himself and she knew when he found Evan as a fit of tiny giggles could be heard coming from down the hall. She relaxed and waited patiently. Rubbing her belly soothingly she smiled at thinking of the baby girl who would be arriving in only four months. “You’ll have fun little one. That’s for sure.”
Evan held onto Shawn while he carried the now eighteen month old boy down the hallway of unfamiliar territory. Jacob bounced down the hallway excited about the visit they were in the hospital to make. Soon the three Brady boys arrived in room 3130. Jacob hurried inside and was immediately at Belle’s bedside. He eagerly looked at his new baby sister whose blue eyes brightly stared back at his.
“Hi sweetie,” Belle said to her oldest. She was certainly tired but seeing her boys and now holding her new baby girl gave her a sense of peace that seemed to dissipate her exhaustion slightly. “Meet your new sister, Claire.”
Jacob grinned happily and touched Claire’s tiny hand. He laughed when she latched onto it while staring at him. “Hi Claire,” he said in a gentle voice. “I’m your big brother Jacob and that’s Evan, your other big brother,” he explained. “Come on Evan. Say hi to Claire.”
Evan clung to Shawn unwilling to acknowledge the baby in Belle’s arms. He buried his face in between Shawn’s neck and shoulder.
“It’s alright big guy,” Shawn encouraged as he walked to the other side of Belle’s bed. He sat on the edge and tried to shift Evan so he would look at his new sister. “Meet your baby sister.” Evan wasn’t budging.
Belle gave Shawn a saddened look. “It’s going to take some time for him to adjust, I guess. I was hoping he’d accept Claire a little easier and quicker.”
“Maybe when we get home and he’s not in an unfamiliar place. I don’t know,” Shawn shrugged.
Belle shifted her position slightly so that Claire was by her side, cradled in one arm. It warmed her heart to see Jacob keeping a protective watch on his baby sister. “Evan,” she called out soothingly. “Come here. Give mommy a hug,” she requested and new he would eventually oblige her. Soon he was leaning over and with uncharacteristic shyness he circled his small arms around her neck. She held onto him and glanced at Shawn who was quick to respond by picking up Claire. Belle easily doted over her son. “What’s wrong? Don’t you want to meet the baby?”
“Baby,” he repeated in a cute voice. He got himself settled in his mother’s arms, seeming to find solace and finally looked in Claire’s direction. He stared long and hard at the infant Shawn held and to whom Jacob paid close attention. Evan held onto his mother, unsure of how to comprehend the situation or make sense of his surroundings. “Mommy,” he said while looking at Belle curiously. He then turned his head and pointed at Claire and simply stated, “Baby.”
“That’s right,” Belle smiled. “Claire is your baby sister. Will you be a big boy for mommy and give the baby a kiss?” She watched him nod his head reluctantly. He would do almost anything Belle asked him to do.
Shawn brought Claire closer to Evan. “You have to be gentle with her,” he told his son. “Gentle,” he repeated in a soft voice and watched as Evan placed a wet kiss on Claire’s cheek. She cooed in response which caused Evan to laugh.
“Good boy,” Belle cheered.
“You’re like a miracle worker,” Shawn commented.
“I don’t know about all that. This is only the beginning. He’s going to have a hard time adjusting but we’ll get through it.”
“That we will,” Shawn agreed. He looked on at his baby girl proudly. “I was thinking that maybe I won’t fly out tonight.”
“Are you planning to go tomorrow?”
Shawn shook his head. “No. I wouldn’t go at all. I don’t feel right leaving you and the kids, especially now.”
“We’ll be alright. You’ll be back in no time.”
“Shawn,” she interrupted. “Go and make us proud. We’ll be OK. My parents are going to help out and I always have Grandpa Shawn and Caroline to lean on, so for the next couple of days we’ll be alright. I know it’s important to you.”
“You’re more important to me.”
“I don’t doubt that Shawn. I’m not even questioning that,” she told him while Evan began to squirm. “You want to get down?” she asked him and watched him nod his head while trying to climb out of the bed. “Go play with Jacob,” she told him.
“You two can go over there,” Shawn said as he pointed to a clear area in the room. He watched as Evan easily followed his big brother and started to play with the toys they brought with them.
“I’m glad I’m here now.”
“I am, too. The thought did cross my mind I would go into labor while you were on the speedway.”
“I would have left right away. I wouldn’t have missed this for anything,” he told her sincerely while looking down at his new baby girl in his arms. “She is so amazing and so beautiful, like her mom. I look at her and the boys and you and I wonder some times how much longer I can do this. You know, miss out certain milestones. I never get to see Jacob play in his soccer games. I swear every time I come home I missed out on something new in Evan’s life and I don’t want to miss out on anything else.”
“Sweetie–,” Belle urged.
“I know what you’re going to say,” he interrupted. “You’re thinking I’m only feeling this way because of all that is happening right now and that may be so but I want to be a part of everything. I don’t want to miss a single moment of seeing Claire grow up.”
Twelve and a half years later…
Belle watched as her younger son emerged from the cockpit of the family’s private jet. Lately, the fourteen year old was fascinated by flying and Belle had a suspicion that his curiosity was not a passing phase. He was teaching himself about planes and always had a new set of questions any time they flew. She, Evan and Claire were on their way to Miami for the last race of the season, and the last race of Shawn’s illustrious career.
She kept her eyes on Evan as he made his way to her and took a seat at her side.
“Get all your questions answered?”
“I think so. Pete told me I could visit them at the airfield to learn more when we get back. He said I had to ask you and Dad first though. Can I Mom?” he asked eagerly.
“What exactly are you going to be doing?”
“Just hanging out and see them fix the planes and stuff.”
“I’ll talk to Pete for more information but I don’t see why not. We’ll talk to your dad about it and maybe he’d want to tag along with you.”
“Cool. Do you think dad will say yes?”
“As long as you won’t be flying a plane on your own, I doubt he’ll have any problems, but you have to talk to him.”
“Can’t you do it for me?”
“No. This is what you want to do so you have to ask for permission.”
“Alright, I figured you were going to say that. Mom, will we get to see Jacob this weekend?”
“You sure will. He’ll be flying in tomorrow morning.”
“Hey Jake, you going to the Theta party?” one of Jacob’s housemates asked.
Twenty-two year old Jacob hastily stuffed some clothes in a bag. “Nah,” he told him. “I’m catching a flight to Miami tonight. I figured I’d surprise my folks.” Now a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, he was an A student, a soccer player and also quite popular. He loved his family and missed Evan and Claire in particular. It was sometimes hard for him to be so far from home.
“You need a ride to the airport?”
“Thanks but Monica is giving me a ride.”
“What’s the deal with you two?”
“Whatever man,” he dismissed. “Have a great weekend.”
Jacob continued to pack his bag, when he heard a light knock on his door. “Yeah,” he mumbled in response.
“What’s wrong with you?”
He turned and couldn’t help but smile when Monica walked into his room. They may have been friends but the petite brunette had certainly captured his heart in more ways than one. “Nothing,” he dismissed. “I’m just trying to make sure I don’t forget anything. So, what’s up? How was that econ test?”
“That bad, huh?” he asked.
“Worse. Anyway, we should get moving if you want to make your flight.”
“I could always drive,” he grinned. “I’d get there in no time flat.”
“Not in my car you won’t.”
“It was worth a try. Hey, I really appreciate you doing this. I’m sure the last thing you want to do is take me to the airport on a Friday night.”
“I’d almost rather go with you to Miami.”
“That could always be arranged.”
“Next time,” she smiled. “Anyway, tough guy whatever you don’t have packed you’ll have to get down there. Let’s go.”
“Why are you being so bossy?”
“Because you need someone in your life to whip you into shape,” she said somewhat flirtatiously.
“Is that right?” he questioned with that same mischievous smirk he inherited from his father. It was dangerous when used on the opposite sex.
“We’ll discuss that later. Let’s get going.”
“Is there something to talk about?” Jacob asked while grabbing his bag. He walked out behind Monica.
“Maybe when you get back, that is if you ever leave.”
Shawn sat in an area set up near his famous black Ford, number 59 in the Nextel Cup. Propped up on a director’s style chair, dressed in his usual racing gear he looked at the interviewer, eagerly waiting for the interview to begin and end. No matter how many times he had done this he never really enjoyed this part of the job.
“We’re here live with Shawn Brady, NASCAR racing superstar at the Homestead Miami Speedway. Shawn, thanks for your time, we certainly do appreciate it.”
“Thanks Ken. It’s good to see you buddy.”
“Likewise Shawn,” he continued. “Now you have had one of the best careers in NASCAR. With 61 career wins, 3 Cup Series Championships and a number of repeat performances at some of the major speedways such as Daytona you have left quite a mark on the sport. You know you have disappointed a lot of fans by announcing this is your last season and this being your last race. What made you decide this was the time to retire from racing?”
“I sort of just knew to be honest. I made my professional racing debut seventeen years ago. It’s been a fantastic run. I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought I could have. Now it’s time to focus on the business and be home with my wife and kids.”
“Your wife of course is Belle Brady, CEO of Basic Black Enterprises the parent company of Brady Racing, Incorporated and you’ve got three great kids, right?”
“Yeah, they’re the best. My oldest, Jacob is a senior at U-Penn, Evan is fourteen now and Claire is twelve. I love being with my family and I’m so proud of them. I’ve missed a lot of milestones in their lives, things I won’t be able to get back but they have turned out to be great kids. I can easily remember when Claire was born I was ready to quit racing.”
“What prevented you from doing that?”
“Part of it was I was being impulsive and Belle made sure I kept things in perspective. I decided not to quit mainly because it didn’t feel right to – I knew I had more to do in the sport and I knew my family would always support me.”
“You are very much the family man. I’ve always been impressed with that. You have your family with you during the summers and you fly in to each race on a helicopter.”
“I spend every moment possible with them. I’m not one for a lot of fanfare. I like to keep it simple and in the end I think I can safely say they appreciate that.”
“I have a feeling you’re right. So Shawn, any predictions for this race?” he questioned.
Shawn hesitated a moment. “I like Davis, he’s good and I tell you who you really need to look out for to break out, if not at this race then next season, keep your eye on Chuck Robinson. That’s a kid who’s ready to be a star.”
Ken laughed lightly in response. “Shawn you are a total gentleman on the track. I really wanted to know how you thought you’d finish. But I completely agree with you about Davis and Chuck. Maybe we could get you on the network as a commentator.”
“Who knows,” he stated in response with a chuckle.
“So what is your prediction for yourself?”
“You know Ken, at this stage I just want to finish. I have nothing else to prove. My plan is to have fun out there tomorrow.”
“Daddy, are you old enough to retire? Don’t you have to be like Grandpa’s age to do that?”
Shawn smiled at his daughter’s question. “Not really. It depends on what your job is and how long you can keep doing it. And I’m not retiring from working which is what your Grandpa did a few years back, I’m only retiring from racing. I can’t keep up the pace anymore and I’ve got other things I want to do.”
“Like what?” Claire asked.
“Well, first of all I want to spend more time your mom, your brother…” He put his arm around her as she snuggled next to him on the couch in the hotel suite. “…and I definitely want to spend more time with my baby girl.”
“I’m not exactly a baby, daddy,” she protested. “I’m going to be thirteen in four months.”
“Who told you I’m ready for you to turn thirteen?”
“It just happens. You don’t have to be ready. But I’m ready.”
“I bet you are princess.”
“And then before you know it I’ll be sixteen and driving and dating and…”
“Wait a second,” he interjected. “Dating? Who are you planning on dating?”
“I don’t know. I was talking about the future. You know, when I’m in high school.”
Shawn certainly didn’t want to think about that day. Claire would forever be his baby girl. “Let’s take it one step at a time, OK? Your dad isn’t quite ready to deal with that just yet.”
Belle went to answer her cell phone and smiled as she recognized her son’s number. “Hi sweetie,” she answered.
“Hey Mom, are you at the hotel?”
“Yes. Your brother, sister and I arrived a couple of hours ago and your Dad arrived not too long ago. We were planning to head down to the restaurant in a few minutes.”
“OK good,” he said excitedly. “Mom, are you alone? I mean, are you in the same room as everyone else right now?”
“No, I’m in the bedroom. Why?”
“I’m in the hotel lobby, but I wanted to surprise you guys.”
“What? You’re here? I thought you were going to fly in tomorrow.”
“I was and then I thought I wouldn’t get a chance to spend much time with Dad tomorrow and with all the hype around this being the last race and all I thought it would be good to spend time with the family tonight.”
“That’s a wonderful idea!” she gushed. “Come up to the suite, OK. I don’t want you waiting around in the lobby. Room 2310,” she told him.
Minutes later there was a knock at the door and Belle watched as Evan jumped up to open it. “I got it Mom,” he told her as he made his way. He opened the door and couldn’t believe who he was seeing. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Is that anyway to greet you big brother?” Jacob asked before putting his arm around his younger brother’s neck. “You had a growth spurt,” he commented. “You’re almost as tall as me.”
“Only a matter of time,” Evan told him smugly while playfully punching him.
The two playfully fought as they greeted each other in their usual way.
“Jacob!” Claire cheered.
“There’s my Claire bear,” he grinned and grunted when her body collided with his for a hug. He couldn’t help but laugh at the attention.
Shawn was more than surprised and Belle was glad to see their oldest. She had definitely enjoyed seeing him grow up from the precocious four-year-old to the young man he was now. He was very much like Shawn but had easily made his own way for himself and for that she was proud.
“I thought you were coming in tomorrow morning?” Shawn asked as he went to greet his oldest. He gave him a fatherly hug and looked at him with proud eyes.
“Thought I’d surprise you and get in a little family time before the madness tomorrow.”
“Great idea,” Shawn acknowledged. “I’m so happy to see you. You look good son.”
“He looks better than good,” Belle commented as she went to hug Jacob. She had to practically get on her tiptoes to hug him. He towered over her now and Evan was starting to catch up with him. “I am so glad you’re here. Are you tired? Hungry?” she asked with natural motherly concern.
“I could eat. I thought you guys were going to the restaurant.”
“We are,” Shawn said. “Let’s get moving.”
That night Shawn eased under the covers of the hotel bed after making sure everyone was settled. He had a long day ahead of him but he was a bit wired, unable to truly settle down for the night just yet. He brought himself closer to his wife, lying next to her face to face and put an arm around her. “Are you still awake?”
“Mm-hmm,” Belle answered as her eyes fluttered open. “Have a good talk with Jacob?”
“I did. It’s been a while since we’ve just talked like that. It was good. He was telling me about this girl Monica.”
“Monica? Isn’t that the girl we met the last time we visited him? I thought they were just friends.”
“Baby, you of all people should know the danger of being friends with a Brady man. Eventually no woman can resist our charm.”
Belle rolled her eyes in response. “Whatever,” she mumbled. “So are they dating now?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he teased.
“I think I should know if my son is serious about a girl.”
“Well they’re not dating, but he thinks that will change when he gets back. According to him they flirt like crazy and she told him they had some things to talk about when he got back. When he asked her what she told him that they need to acknowledge what’s happening between them and that she’s glad he’s her friend. I’m sure there was more but that’s what Jacob told me and I’ve got to believe he has a pretty good reason to think they’ll be more than friends.”
“She seems like a sweet girl. I suppose I approve.”
Shawn chuckled. “When he wants your approval, he’ll come to you. Give it time. You know he values your opinion.”
“I know. So are you ready for tomorrow? Are you sure you’re ready to end it all?”
“You know I am. I’m sure I’ll go through my fair share of withdrawal. The thrill of being on the track,” he said with a bit of wonderment and continued, “the speed… adrenalin pumping… the fun of being a part of the chase. But I’ve had my turn. It’s time to get some of these new drivers ready and let them have their turn at having some fun.”
“The kids are excited.”
“How about you?” he asked. “Are you ready to have your husband home more often?”
“I think so.”
“That’s it? You think so?” he questioned as if offended by her simple reply.
“Yep,” she stated.
“Well, um, what do I need to do to get you excited?” he asked in a low voice. He pulled her closer to him and his lips skimmed against her neck.
“That’s a good place to start.”
“Oh yeah?” he asked smugly. “And how about this?” he questioned as his hands glided smoothly along her skin.
“Don’t you need your rest?”
“No,” he whispered as he continued to kiss her neck gently. “I only need you.”
“I’m so proud of you. I don’t know if I tell you that enough, but I am. All that you’ve accomplished, it’s remarkable. I always knew you would be a great race car driver.”
“I rather be a great husband and father,” he told her sincerely.
“And you are.”
“My greatest accomplishments are our children. My greatest achievement was when I married you. Talk about a thrill,” he grinned proudly. “I love you.”
Belle murmured against his lips that brushed against hers languidly. “I love you, too. Now I believe you were trying to convince me why I should be excited to have you home more often.”
“Oh yeah,” he smirked. “I almost forgot. I think I have some work to do.” He captured her mouth with his own for a passionate kiss.
To Shawn, the excitement of the race paled in comparison to the feeling he had now. There was no greater joy than spending time with the ones he loved. There was no better delight than being with the woman of his dreams who had forever changed his life. Belle had taught him how to believe in himself. He learned of the most important chase, the one to follow his dreams and make them come true. She was his everything and he was everything to her.
There was no greater thrill.