Eli wanted to cry. His baby girl was now five, and in Kindergarten, and was running around with the other Kindergarten kids in the park.
How did the time fly by so fast? Oh, right. Prison. He missed so much of Dakota’s life. He’d only been out a little over a year and a half, almost two, and she had grown so much even in that short time.
Then there was little Bailee who was so smart and so creative. She was growing up too and making friends and wanting to do much more than be coop up in the apartment. It was why Eli and Sam enrolled her into an after-school art class. She loved it.
Derek was twelve now. Twelve. His whole entire life evolved around his social circle. Eli was no longer “cool” to hang out with. And “playing” was no longer something Derek was interested in.
His obsession with the police force was still there, but it was more tame. He decorated his room with more posters. Grant had given him some crime/mystery books to read not too long as well.
Eli never considered his son a reader. That was more Bailee’s thing. But Derek sure proved him wrong. Eli hardly saw Derek home without his nose stuck in one of the books he was reading—especially the True Crime books. Man, he loved those books. And if he wasn’t reading, he was watching True Crime TV.
Sam wrapped an arm around Eli and kissed his cheek. “You’re thinking too hard.”
She laughed. God, how Eli loved her laugh still. “What’s on your mind, Babe?”
“Just thinking how much the kids are growing, and how much I seriously missed. Can’t believe my baby-girl is five today.”
“Just wait, in a few more months, we’ll have a teenager on our hands.”
Eli shivered. “Please, don’t remind me. That’s a scary thought to process. It was just last week I was building him a police-car bed.”
Sam laughed. “He was…six? Seven? when we got that bed for him?”
Eli nodded. The bed had been given away a little over a year ago now. Derek wanted a bigger bed—and he needed one too. He was already growing fast.
Eli finished with the first batch of burgers and hot dogs, and called out to all the guests that the food was ready. He continued to man the grill.
Derek ran up to him, and Eli could see that little glint in his eyes that meant Derek wanted something.
“Could I go to the movies with Brandt and Kody? Please? It’s just down the street.”
“It’s Dakota’s birthday.”
“So? Come on, Dad. They’re like…kids. Please? The new Golden Gun is out! Can we please go, Dad? Please?”
“Isn’t that rated R?” Eli was sure that movie was not something his twelve year old should watch. He and Sam had to draw a line when he started to find crime-themed movies on the television. Eli almost flipped his lid not long ago when he noticed Derek was watching Roaring Vice—which was definitely a R-rated movie.
Derek shook his head. “No. It’s PG-13.”
“And you’re twelve.”
“Oh, come on, Dad! I’ve watched a ton of PG-13 movies! I’m not a kid.”
Eli hated how much Derek was growing up. Hated that Derek didn’t think of himself as a kid anymore, now that he started junior high.
“Please?” Derek folded his fingers together, and gave the most innocent puppy-eye expression that just gutted Eli.
“Okay, fine.” Eli took out a twenty, and handed it to Derek. “Have fun.”
“Thanks, Dad. You are the best.” Derek turned. “Let’s go! Dad said yes!”
Eli laughed as the three sped across the park to head to the theater that was just around the corner.
Grant came up to him and shook his head. “He’s growing up.”
“Tell me about it. He just told me he wasn’t a kid.” Eli shook his head. “When did that happen?”
Grant laughed. “I’ve been asking that about Sam since she was Derek’s age.”
Eli looked to his two daughters. “I can’t believe how much my kids have grown in just this year.”
“I can’t believe how much you’ve grown. How much I respect you now.” Grant snickered. “I still catch myself thinking how you went from being that punk-ass kid I arrested all those years ago, to the amazing man and father I see now.”
Eli stared at Grant. “Wait? You…respect me?” Eli had never been complimented like that by Grant. Not once. Sure, Grant thought Eli was a good father, and said so many times, but he never hinted that he respected Eli.
Grant gave a nod. “You’ve earned that respect just by treating Sam and the kids right, and being there for them—even when you were in prison, you were there for them.”
“Thanks, Grant. I try my best. I really do, you know.”
“I know you do son.”
As Grant walked away, Eli thought about his relationship with the old man. Then with Sam and how much light she brought to his life, and how much she changed him and his world. Would Eli still be the man he was without either of them? Without the kids? He doubted it. He doubted he’d survive parole the first time around as long as he did, and now, he knew the only thing that was keeping him from doing anything stupid was his family.
Family. They were the most important thing in his world, and nothing was ever going to stand between them and him again.