Standing on the porch of the lower cabin, I hop from one foot to the other as I wait for Roman's slow ass to put his lunch dishes in the sink. He cocks a thick brow at me from over his shoulder as he runs water over his plate, and I bolt for his truck the moment he towels off his hands.

"Come on, come on, come on, come on!" I crow from inside the vehicle, drumming my palms impatiently on the side of the door as I lean out the driver's side window and wait for him to waltz down the lawn toward me. He stops just short of the truck- and clawing-distance -to stand grinning beside the vehicle as he swings his keys around on their Gears of War lanyard.

"Excited?" he says slowly, and I want to swipe that grin right off his face. Barely audible death threats issue from my mouth in a rasping whisper as he takes his sweet time getting into the truck.

"I'll kill you!" I exclaim in a laugh once he's chortling and revving the engine, and I fall on him in the seat to beat at his shoulder with my fists. He shakes me off with a grin before shifting gears and pulling out into the damp road.

"Hush up and let me drive," he chuckles, leaning over to give me a peck on the cheek as I settle into barely suppressed excitement.

Once we park in front of Mazie's quaint cottage, I scramble out of the truck to greet her on the porch. She looks tired from the match last night, her unkempt blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail carelessly, and dark circles shadow her eyes.

"There you are," she smiles before I throw my arms around her in a huge hug.

"Someone took forever in getting away this morning," I giggle as I release her, and Roman joins us on the porch.

"Yeah, yeah. Calm yourself," he teases with a smile and a jab to my side. "Is Ben here?" Mazie nods as she points her thumb over her shoulder toward the door to the cottage.

"He's in on the couch, his lip is massive," she chuckles. "You'll have some privacy to call your dad in my room, 'Leithy. Give him a happy birthday from me, too!" I thank her excitedly as she leads us inside. She and Roman join Ben in the living room as I make my way to the other side of the cottage, where her bedroom is. Shut inside and sitting at her computer desk, I pull my phone out of my pocket with a huge smile. Since it's Sunday, I know he's not in classes right now. I hit his speed-dial, and press the phone against my face, my pulse beating fast in my ear alongside the sound of the ringing. My heart sky-rockets at the sound of his deep voice as he answers.

"Hey, baby girl."

Without saying anything else, I begin to sing Happy Birthday to him, and I hear him chuckle throughout the whole thing.

"Thanks, Allie," he laughs after my song ends, "I just got off the phone with your mother, you've got good timing." I beam as I hold the phone close to my ear, soaking up the sound of his voice.

"That's nice, Daddy. I'm so sorry you have to spend your birthday alone," I say.

"Oh, I'm alright. It's just another day, sweetheart. At this point, I'd rather have folks forget how old I'm getting," he jokes. I laugh, knowing he's not big on celebrating his own birthday.

"Well, I still wish we could be with you!"

"Of course," his voice floats from the phone, "You and Mom will be her soon, once I'm in ACU." I smile, knowing that trip was coming up. He was almost done with one of his classes, and after he finishes it, he'll be put into the waiting group called ACU before entering another class. In ACU, he can take a work day or two off to spend it with us when we drive out to see him.

We talk for a long time. The sound of his laugh makes me think of how long it's been since I've heard it in person, and periodically in our conversation, I have to brush away tears. I ask about all of his classes. He tells me about the easy ones and the hard ones, and he says that the class that he's taking now is the last one before his official A-school. And after his official A-school, he'll go out on a submarine for the first time. When that happens, he'll be gone with no contact for months at a time.

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