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I know many people are surprised by the way their lives turn out, about the happiness they're finally able to experience, about the love they're allowed to share.

I'm not one of those people.

When I met my wife all those years ago, I just knew. I knew my life would be spectacular, as long as she's in it. The past proved just that, too.

And the years showed that the love I feel for Hazel only got stronger and stronger the more our family grew. She gave me six children. Most of which are idiots in their own way, granted, but still. They're our children. Our blood. Our family.

I promised to care for them for the rest of my life, promised to protect them from all the misfortunes life may have in store for them, from all the storms they could ever face. I wanted to be their rock, wanted to be the one they could rely on, wanted to give them just what they needed to experience that same happiness I did, find the same love I found.

When Damon died... it changed things. And I knew I had to step up, had to protect my family from any further pain. I tried my best, I really did. I held my wife when she cried herself to sleep for weeks, embraced my daughter when she hid in the bathroom so no one saw how she sobbed... I gave them my all, and yet I couldn't protect Mia from the heartbreak she experienced.

I'm still furious, utterly livid, at the things that transpired. That she didn't tell us about Lincoln when they met two years ago still stings more than I expected. It felt like she didn't trust us, like she thought we'd judge her for whatever decisions she made. I understand now that that's not the case, and still, I can't help but feel hurt.

We've always had a structure in this family that solidified on its own: The boys were drawn to their mother, all five of them, while I got my princess. She always relied on me, always came to me whenever she needed help or just someone to talk to. And I was damn proud of that, too.

Mia is a remarkable woman. She is strong as a mountain, stronger than her brothers, even. But she also has that compassion, the one her mother carries around with pride. She wants to help people, wants to make this world a better place... 

But she also wants to protect herself from it by being as strong as she can be.

And I absolutely understand that.

"I think he's scared of me." My mother's voice sends me out of my thoughts, and I see how she looks at Lincoln and Mia with a grin on her face. They're out in the garden, setting up the barbecue for Mia's twenty-fourth birthday. It's hard not to notice how happy they are, how good they are for each other.

"He probably is," I retort with a laugh, knowing just how strong my mother can come off. My parents just finished their six-month-long trip to Canada, which I still think is absolutely ridiculous. These people are over seventy years old and still ride their motorcycles into different continents to camp in the woods.

I mean, who does that?

"Well, he's still here, so that counts for something," Pa says, taking a seat on the bench next to the terrace door.

"Oh, I don't think he'll go anywhere. Just look at them," my lovely wife chimes in, wrapping her arm around my waist as she nods back to the barbecue. Mia taps Lincoln's nose, leaving a black charcoal spot on his skin, and they both stand still for a short moment. Only seconds later, she squeals and runs away from him, her laughter echoing around the garden as he chases her to the back of the house, where they disappear from our view.

God, I don't even remember the last time my daughter squealed...

"Yeah, he'll stay," Ma says again, shaking her head with a laugh.

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