the second best fourth of july
“Do you think we should do pie or cake for the dessert? I mean cake is traditional for birthdays but it’s the Fourth…” Wes asked aloud as he made his way down the baking aisle.
“Pie. Always choose pie,” Laurel responded, immediately grabbing cans of both cherry and blueberry filling. “It tastes better and the pictures will be freaking adorable. Plus we already know she likes blueberries, don’t you Josie?” Laurel added, smiling at the little girl in the front of the cart.
“Pie it is then,” said Wes, now contemplating the different pre made crust options. “Do you think two is enough?”
“I’d say three. Asher’ll probably try to eat one all on his own, and if not I definitely wouldn’t mind having leftovers,” Laurel grabbed a can of apple filling in confirmation while Wes grabbed the appropriate amount of crust. “Do we need to grab anything else?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” Wes responded. “Asher and Michaela are bringing brats and burgers, Connor said him and Ollie would bring chips and dip and other snacks, and Annelise is on drinks. Obviously.”
Laurel laughed as she began to push the cart towards the front of the store, Wes falling into step beside her. “Annelise does love her drinks, huh Mija?” she said, running her hand through her daughter’s dark curls. Josie responded with a dimpled grin that featured her new two front teeth. Laurel still wasn’t quite used to that toothy little smile, the one that made her daughter look less and less like a baby. “Are you sure it’s been a year?” she asked, a drop of sadness in her voice. “Didn’t we just get home from the hospital, like, yesterday?”
“I know,” said Wes, as they reached the checkout line. “I blink and suddenly she’s practically a grown up. When did that happen?” He picked up one of Josie’s hands and gave it a little shake and kiss before he began placing the pie ingredients on the belt. Laurel pushed the cart to the end of the counter and pulled out her wallet to pay. Wes loaded the cart up then unbuckled Josie.
“Come here, Jojo,” said Wes, lifting Josie out of her seat and resting her on his hip. “You ready for your big day tomorrow?” Josie babbled back and pointed at Wes’ nose. Wes smiled and rubbed his nose against her little finger as they made their way towards the car. “You got Papa’s nose, huh?” he asked, laughing. “Can you say Papa? Papa?”
“No,” Josie responded, clearly proud of herself for responding. Behind them Laurel burst out laughing while Wes did his best to not look too put out. So far Josie had three words: no, bye, and mama. Wes was determined to make papa number four, but Josie just couldn’t seem to get it, which drove him crazy. Laurel, however, found it hysterical.
“Face it, babe. She just likes me more,” Laurel joked. She rubbed Wes’ back affectionately as they approached the car.
“Tell your mama that wasn’t very nice,” Wes said to Josie, looking back at Laurel with a playful smile.
“Tell your papa to grow a pair,” Laurel shot back. She loaded the trunk and made her way to the driver’s side. Wes just laughed as he buckled Josie into her car seat.
“I don’t know what I’m gonna do with you two,” he said shaking his head.
Laurel was surprised when she woke up the next morning on her own a little after 7:00. Feeling well rested for once, she got out of bed and quietly made her way down the hall. When she got to Josie’s door she peeked in to see Josie awake, chatting quietly to herself while cuddling her favorite plush puppy. Laurel sighed to herself; her little baby wasn’t so little anymore. She opened the door, causing Josie’s head to pop up over her crib.
“Buenos dias, Mija,” she whispered as she made her way across the room. Josie pulled herself up to a standing position, making it easy for Laurel to pick her up. “Do you know what day it is? It’s your first birthday. You’re one year old, Josie! Can you believe that?” Josie cooed quietly through her pacifier in response and snuggled into Laurel. The two of them sat down in their favorite spot, the rocking chair that had been a gift from the rest of the Keating 5. Josie, not quite awake, draped herself across Laurel’s chest. “I know, I can’t believe it either,” said Laurel, running her finger over Josie’s messy hair. “Josefina Rose Gibbins-Castillo. At first I thought it was too big of a name for such a small baby because, Mija, you were so tiny! I was scared I’d break you just by holding you. I know, crazy huh? But then they put you in my arms for the first time and somehow I knew what to do. I think my arms were made for holding you but they just didn’t know it yet,” Laurel stopped and groaned at herself. “God that was cheesy. But you won’t tell anyone, right?” she asked Josie.
“Nope, that’ll be our little secret.”
Laurel startled and looked up to see Wes leaning against the doorway, still in his boxers, smiling. Her initial embarrassment from being overheard quickly dissipated; it was hard to be mad at Wes at all, let alone when he was practically naked. “How long have you been up?” she asked, cocking her head with a smile.
“I felt you get up,” Wes responded as he made his way over to the chair. He knelt down beside the chair to be face to face with Josie. Upon seeing her dad Josie smiled through her pacifier and motioned out to him. “Happy birthday, baby!” said Wes, rubbing Josie’s back and planting a kiss on her forehead. He stood back up and did the same to Laurel. “My two favorite girls,” he said smiling softly. He and Laurel locked eyes, and Laurel couldn’t help but think back to this day exactly one year ago.
They had just placed Josie in Laurel’s arms after cleaning her up, and she spent a long time in a sort of trance, studying her daughter’s face as if she would never get to see it again. After a while she looked up to see Wes, his eyes moving between Laurel and the baby they’d just brought into the world. Brown met blue and in that moment Laurel swore she had never felt more love in her entire life. “My two favorite girls,” Wes had whispered, planting a kiss on Josie’s forehead and then kissing Laurel gently on the lips.
An impatient one year old forced Laurel to snap out of her daydream. Josie was now wide awake and apparently not in the mood for reminiscing. As she tried to wiggle her way out of Laurel’s lap, Wes scooped Josie up and buried his face her belly, giving her a giant raspberry. Josie shrieked with laughter. “Come on, baby, let’s go get some breakfast,” he said, giving Laurel’s hand a squeeze before carrying Josie out the door and to the kitchen. Laurel smiled and got up out of the rocker and headed to the bathroom to get ready for the day, changing into a dark red v-neck and jean shorts. After applying some light make up and touching up a few curls she headed into the kitchen.
Wes was half eating, but mostly making sure a little food actually made it from Josie’s high chair to her mouth. This had become routine, one taking Josie duty while the other got ready and made food for the grown ups. Then the three of them ate together, sometimes in silence after a sleepless night, but other times, like today, breakfast was when Josie was most talkative. So the three of them would chat, Josie babbling away while Laurel and Wes acted as though her random sounds were the most interesting, insightful things they’d ever heard.
After breakfast Laurel began prepping the birthday pies while Wes got Josie cleaned up and ready for the day. Wes and Laurel could not get over how ironic it was that their second-generation immigrant of a daughter was born on the Fourth of July, and they had decided to embrace it by dressing her in a simple navy blue dress and bright red sandals.
“Our little firecracker,” Laurel said, laughing as Josie toddled into the kitchen in her patriotic outfit.
“They’re going to kill us for being so late,” said Wes as they walked up to Annalise’s house several hours later. Wes lead the way, carrying the pie and diaper bag while Laurel followed with a barely awake Josie.
“Oh they’ll be fine,” Laurel responded. “Besides, we have the VIP with us, so they can’t get that mad now can they?” She nuzzled Josie’s head with her cheek. Josie let out a little grunt in response, still trying to wake up from her nap. Wes lead them around to the backyard, where the smell of barbecue greeted them. As Wes opened the gate he could see Asher at the grill while Connor, Michaela, and Oliver were seated around the patio, snacking on a veggie plate. At the sound of the gate everyone looked up. “Josie look who it is,” said Laurel, pointing at the group of people Josie loved most, outside her parents.
“Hi birthday girl!” said Michaela.
“Jojo!” exclaimed Asher from the grill.
“Happy birthday Josie,” said Connor with a flick of a smile.
“Hey guys, hi Josie!” waved Oliver.
Josie went from being sleepy and cranky to wide awake as she saw everyone in the backyard. Laurel brought Josie over to the table while Wes went back to unload the presents from the car. “Sorry we’re late,” Laurel said, handing Josie to Michaela and taking a seat around the table. “Someone was not happy to be woken up from her nap.”
“A girl after my own heart,” said Asher.
“Yeah but Jojo’s way cuter than you, aren’t you Josie?” said Michaela, kissing Josie’s cheek.
“I’ll try not to take that personally,” he replied. “Also food should be ready in a couple minutes, my dudes.”
“Where’s Annelise?” asked Laurel.
“Right here, now where’s the birthday girl?”
Laurel turned around to see Annelise coming down the back stairs with her arms out towards Josie. Josie looked up and pointed at Annelise. “Is that Auntie Annie?” Laurel asked Josie, who squealed in response. Annelise came over and scooped the baby out of Michaela’s arms and gave her a big kiss on the cheek.
“Happy birthday, baby,” she said as she bounced Josie on her hip. “I’ve missed you!” Josie giggled in response.
“She’s missed her Auntie too,” said Wes as he came back from the car with a pile of presents. He set his load on the table and sat down next to Laurel, who immediately rested her hand on his knee. “Should we do presents before or after food?” he asked her.
“Probably after? Or else she’ll never eat,” Laurel said, smiling as she watched everyone fuss over Josie. The moment she told Wes she was pregnant Laurel knew their baby would be so loved, but she never would’ve guessed that the others would feel the same way. After being bound together by so much negativity, it seemed that Josie and her innocence had brought the Keating 5 together in a way that none of them ever expected, but desperately needed. Watching Josie give out high fives, her latest trick, Laurel couldn’t help but feel proud; not only proud of Josie, obviously, but proud of herself and Wes for bringing this little human full of love into the world.
They decided to do presents before pie so they could save the inevitable bath for the end of the night. So after eating their weight in burgers and brats, it was time for Josie’s birthday festivities to begin. Josie sat on Wes’ lap as he and Laurel made their way through the pile of gifts. Laurel and Wes both loved the new pack and play they, or Josie, got from Annelise; Josie’s favorite part was simply ripping the wrapping paper. Michaela and Oliver both took on photographer duty, making sure nothing went undocumented.
The sun was low in the sky but still warm as Laurel stripped Josie down to her diaper in preparation for her birthday dessert. The two of them sat down, Josie in Laurel’s lap, on a patch of grass in the backyard while Wes cut a slice of blueberry pie and placed a candle on top. Michaela, Connor, and Oliver sat in front of Laurel and Josie while Annelise and Asher stood and looked on.
“Okay, baby girl, you ready?” Wes asked as he lit the candle. Josie didn’t know what was going on but babbled enthusiastically. Wes lead the group in singing Happy Birthday as he carried the pie over to where his girls were sitting. He set the pie in front of Josie and sat down beside them. Josie looked up at Laurel, expectantly.
“Go ahead, Mija,” Laurel coaxed, pointing at the pie. Josie just sat there and waited. Giggling, Laurel took Josie’s index finger and scooped up a bit of filling, then guided it towards her mouth. As the gooey blueberry hit her tongue Josie’s eyes lit up. Everyone laughed as she immediately plunged both her hands back in the pie and went to town, clearly in heaven. As expected, a majority of the pie never made it inside her mouth; instead most of it ended up all over Josie’s little body. Hearing laughter, Josie looked up and reached out, getting pie all over Wes’ nose. Wes pretended to be mad, furrowing his eyebrows and sticking his tongue out at Josie. Josie, however, laughed and laughed at how silly her papa looked. He looked up to see Laurel smiling, tears forming in her bright blue eyes.
“You ok?” Wes asked, cocking his head and looking every bit the puppy they teased him for.
“Perfect,” she responded. She took Wes’ hand and squeezed it as she planted a kiss on Josie’s sticky cheek.
It was the second best Fourth of July of Laurel’s life.