bonus chapter #3

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Isabelle and Axel arrived after lunch on Sunday, looking refreshed, rejuvenated... and relieved to find everyone in one piece.

Sloane and Zane rushed past as I opened the door, each latching on to one of Isabelle's legs koala-style. Through some feat of impressive mama bear strength, she managed to continue into the foyer even with the additional thirty pounds per leg.

"Hey! How is everyone?" She asked, patting their heads.

"Mommy! Ethan let me have Frosted Flakes both days!" Sloane exclaimed, releasing her grip and bouncing up and down with excitement. Iz shot us a questioning look, which Ethan answered with a sheepish smile and half-shrug.

"I didn't want to wake the neighbors," he said. "Did you know the Disney Channel goes off the air until 6 am? Neither did I, until today. They nearly had a riot at 5:30."

Axel smirked and tousled Sloane's hair. "I can't imagine where they get that difficult disposition from." He cast a playful accusatory glance at Isabelle.

"Oh yeah, definitely not from the man leading the league in penalty minutes this season." She laughed. "But seriously, were they okay for you guys?"

I debated how to answer, but decided that 'okay' was a subjective term that could be construed in a number of ways. All of the humans were okay. The apartment would recover. Eventually.

But in all seriousness, they'd done really well being apart from their parents for two nights. A few toddler meltdowns aside, we'd had a blast together. I even overheard Ethan reading a Dora the Explorer book to Zane, down to calling it 'Dowa'- not Dora- at Zane's insistence. It made me tear up. I mean, me crying was a pretty low bar, but it would've melted anyone's heart.

"They were great, really," I assured her. "They're welcome here any time. How was your fancy spa?"

"Ah-may-zing. You have to go," she said, holding up a hand. "I know, I know, you're not the spa type. But I'm telling you Ethan, even Axel was converted."

Axel nodded. "Yeah, it was pretty decent. And the food was freaking awesome." He turned to Ethan. "Want to help me gather up their stuff?"

As they turned and headed for the spare bedroom, Iz added under her breath, "Plus, the male masseuse wasn't exactly hard on the eyes. As it turned out, I had a lot of knots that needed to be worked out."

I laughed and rolled my eyes. "Never change, Iz."

After one minor emergency in which we couldn't locate Zane's monkey- it eventually turned up in the freezer- the kids were packed up and the Berrington Family headed on their way. It was more of a break than a real goodbye, anyway. Per our tradition, we would be seeing them over New Years' at a rental cabin in the mountains. Smith, his partner, and their daughter were meeting us there too, along with Geoff and his girlfriend.

The husbands swore it would be, quote, 'epic'. Isabelle and I knew that in adult terms, that probably amounted to their being in bed by midnight after three beers- possibly even light beers for some of them- but we let them think they were still living their college glory days.

Ethan had a 5pm home game and left shortly after everyone else did. After a quick peck goodbye, he shut the door behind him with a soft click and I surveyed the state of things: utter disarray. Similar to having thrown a raucous house party... minus the party.

Having things out of place made me feel twitchy— right now, I was developing an uncontrollable tic in my left eye from the degree of mess. I threw my hair up into a ponytail and went into full-scale recovery mode. Two hours later, thanks to a considerable amount of scrubbing, tidying, and head-scratching (how did my sparkly stilettos end up in the kitchen cupboard with all the cereal?), our place was almost back to normal. And paint, I reasoned, could cover up the black Sharpie on the baseboards in the hallway.

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