Written in 55 minutes. You should know that nothing about this part was in my outline, but then Cameron asked to go swimming and you all said wow that will be fun to read, so you only have yourselves to blame.
Elizabeth wasn’t sure why, but she nearly expected Jason to forget about the day he’d promised them that week, or to make excuses.
Or perhaps she had told herself to expect the worst so that she would be ready to console her son.
But on Thursday morning, when the rooster crowed and jarred Elizabeth from sleep, Jason didn’t stir from their bed. He drew her more snugly against his body, his breath warm on her neck. “Go back to sleep,” he murmured. “We don’t need to be up for a few more hours.”
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Cameron might have different ideas.”
His lips brushed her neck, and she sighed. “Well, the door is closed,” she murmured. She twisted in his embrace, the streaks of dawn lighting the room. Elizabeth threaded her fingers in his dark blonde hair, brushing it away from his face. “You’re really taking the entire day?”
“I told you I would.” He kissed her fingertips. “I always keep my promises.” He hesitated, his eyes searching hers. “Do you think I’d change my mind even when Cameron hasn’t talked about anything else all week?”
“No. Of course not.” She forced a smile, a bit embarrassed. “I thought maybe you’d just come home early.”
“I said I’d take the day. I want to,” he said. “And you’re coming with us. You should learn to swim, too.”
“Oh.” She widened her eyes. “I hardly think—”
“We live on the water. The lake isn’t so deep out here, not like the Grand,” he said. “This is little more than a watering hole.”
No, and Grand Lake wasn’t even nearly as large as Lake Ontario had been at home, but she’d still gone her entire life without stepping foot into the water. “Yes, but—”
“I can’t always be here. I want to be sure you’ll be safe. And that Cameron will be safe.” And with that, she was convinced. Once Cameron got his feet in the water, she knew it would be difficult to keep him out of it. She’d need to be able to fetch him if necessary.
“All right, but I draw the line at fishing.” She wrinkled her nose. “I won’t be touching those worms.”
“Deal.” He brushed his thumb across her lips, dipped his head to kiss her again. “Any suggestions for what to do until breakfast?”
“Just a few.”
Despite his excitement, Cameron slept like the dead and had to be roused from his bed nearly two hours later. Fortunately, as soon as he opened his eyes and saw Jason next to his mother, he leapt from the bed, his rag dog falling to the ground. “Fishing!” He pumped both fists in the air. “I get to touch worms!”
“Great, you can help your mother bait her hook.”
Elizabeth scowled. “We had a deal—”
“You said you wouldn’t touch worms,” Jason reminded her. “Cam, you’ll do it for her, won’t you?”
“Yes, Mama.” Cameron looked at her somberly. “I will touch the worms for you. It will be fun.”
She shuddered, stooping to pick up the rag dog. “Make your bed, Cam, and make sure that Archie doesn’t get lost.”
“Archie?” Jason inquired.
“My dog.” Cameron showed him. “Mama made it for me. We couldn’t have a doggy at home. Too many stairs. So I got Archie.” He hugged it to his chest, set it on the table next to his bed, then reached for his blanket, struggling to pull it over the bed. Elizabeth helped, straightening the edges he couldn’t manage.
Jason picked up Archie, examining it for a long moment before handing it to Cameron. “Did you want a dog?”
Elizabeth froze in the act of fluffing Cameron’s pillow, then looked at her new husband. He couldn’t mean—”
Cameron’s eyes were as wide as dinner plates. “I can have a dog? For me?”
“Why not?” Jason said as if he were offering a peppermint sweet. “I’ll ask around and see if anyone has a litter or is expecting one. We might not get one right away, but we can make—” He closed his mouth as Cameron launched himself at Jason, wrapping his arms around his legs. “That’s a yes, huh?”
“I will take the bestest care of my dog, promise. I’ll be good, and the puppy will be good and it will be the best dog ever, and I will be the best kid—”
“You’re already pretty great,” Jason said, ruffling his hair. He stooped down in front of Cameron. “And I’ll help you take care of him. But it might not be right away,” he repeated. “Is that okay?”
“I will wait forever,” Cameron said nodding fervently. “As long as it takes. Mama, is it my birthday? Is there a sweet for me?”
“No, dear.” Elizabeth laughed. “We had your birthday in New York. Remember?”
“So I swim and fish and get a dog, and it’s not my birthday?” Cameron asked. His blue eyes narrowed. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, though she understood why he needed to ask again. There had been so few treats for him in his four short years — every scrap of joy and extra cent had gone to giving him a little bit of happiness when she could. In just one day, Jason had made all her son’s come true—and it was just an ordinary Thursday.
It was difficult to wrap her mind around how quickly their lives had turned, how lovely it was now—and she was an adult.
“Time to get dressed,” Jason said. “And breakfast. You need to eat before we go fishing.”
“Oh, don’t—” Elizabeth made face, pressing her hand to her abdomen. “I feel sick just thinking about the worms.”
Before Jason would take them out in the little wooden boat to start fishing, he wanted to teach them how to swim—or at least how to float.
“Swimming will take longer,” he’d told Elizabeth as they walked about halfway down the short pier that stretched out of the lake on his ranch. “Floating is the first step.” He sat on the edge and pulled off his boots. “First things first, we need to take off some of these clothes.”
Elizabeth’s face flushed and she crossed her arms over her shirtwaist. “I beg your pardon.”
“Floating,” Jason said, grinning up at her with such a wicked tilt to his mouth she nearly lost her breath. “Those skirts weigh quite a bit.”
“Yes, Mama—” Cameron chucked his shirt and fought with his laces. “You said to do whatever the papa says.”
Elizabeth bit her lip, then nodded. “All right.” She eyed the ranch house and the barn beyond it. Jason followed her gaze.
“I’ve given everyone the day off,” he assured her, and she looked back at him. “I knew you didn’t have anything dark enough to swim in.” He got to his feet, reaching for the buttons on her shirt-waist. “It’s just us today,” he said, unsnapping the pearl-shaped button. It felt quite indecent for his hands to be on her buttons in broad daylight, with her son just nearby, but Elizabeth couldn’t bring herself to stop him.
He tugged the edges of the shirtwaist apart, untucking them from her skirt, revealing the thin chemise beneath. Jason hesitated, letting his hands fall to his side, his own breathing changing slightly. He stepped back, clearing his throat. “You can—you know how to do the rest. I mean you could have—”
“I can do it,” Elizabeth interrupted, tearing her gaze away. She carefully folded the shirtwaist, set it on the docks, then toed off her shoes and unfastened the skirt, breathing in a sigh of relief as the heavy fabric dropped away, and the cool summer breeze hit her skin.
“I’m ready!” Cameron declared, spreading his arms out at the side, completely unaware of the interplay between his mother and stepfather. Dressed only in his little white drawers—just like Jason, Elizabeth realized with a start. They were all nearly naked. Outside.
“Okay—” Jason slid off the pier into the water, and she was relieved — it only reached halfway his shins—which would be mid-chest for Cameron. He reached for Cameron. “You ready?”
Cameron hesitated, looked at his mother. “Mama first,” he said, nerves lacing his tone. “Mama.”
Elizabet sat on the edge of the pier just as Jason had, the thin white fabric of her pantalets fluttering in the wind. Once she was in the water, the water would cling, she knew. It seemed so strange to be casual about it — even though she and Jason had shared a bed for weeks, and made quite good use of it.
The bright sunshine made everything a bit different.
Jason held out her hand and she slid off the pier—the water coming up just past her knees with the height difference—She gasped as the cold splashed against her skin. “Oh—”
“Is it fun, Mama?” Cameron wanted to know. He sat on the edge, his legs dangling off. “Is it okay?”
“It’s—” Elizabeth dipped her fingers in the lake. “It’s lovely, Cam. Just what we need on a hot summer day.”
Cameron bit her lips, peered at the water, all of his bravado gone. Before Elizabeth could do anything, Jason scooped him off the pier, holding the little boy against his bare chest. “I’ve go you,” he promised. “Nothing will happen.”
“I want to swim,” Cameron said, but he sounded less sure now.
“Let’s do it little by little. You tell me when to stop.” Jason slowly lowered Cameron into the water feet first, and Cam giggled when his toes were submerged.
Jason kept lowering him until Cameron’s feet were firmly on the lake floor, and he was submerged to the mid-chest. “Mama! I’m in the water!”
“Yes, you are. Do you like it?”
Cameron splashed the water and it hit Elizabeth. He laughed, then did it again. “Is this swimming? Am I swimming?”
“Not yet. First, we float. We’ll teach your mother later,” he said. “We need to be in deeper water for that, but this is perfect for you.” He knelt in the water, and, bracing one arm around Cameron’s shoulder and the other underneath his arms, he gently dipped Cameron back until he was lying on his back. “The most important part of floating is using your muscles. You have to push with your legs to keep them straight. Do you feel it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s find out.” Jason took his arm away, but kept hold Cameron’s shoulders. Elizabeth’s breath caught as Cameron sputtered and slipped under for just a moment, then Jason brought him back up into the floating position, his arms supporting him. “How did that feel?”
“Weird, but I think—” Cameron screwed his face up. “I think I get it. Do it again.”
“Oh—” Elizabeth bit her lip, crossed her arms. She had to trust Jason knew what he was doing.
Jason released Cameron’s legs again and this time—they stayed up. “Let go of me all the way,” Cam said.
Jason hesitated, then obeyed—and Cameron stayed up right, his small body floating for almost ten seconds before he lost control and dipped under, Jason scooped him up immediately, and Cameron was giggling, wiping the water from his face. “I did it! Papa, did you see! I did it!”
Papa. Not the papa, but Papa—Her throat tightened as Cameron wrapped his arms around Jason’s neck, clinging, a smile stretched from ear to ear.
“I saw,” Jason said, hugging him back. “You’re doing great!”
Cameron decided he didn’t want to go fishing until he could float longer, so Jason patiently kept getting him into position, then scooping when his little muscles couldn’t hold him. Over and over again.
Elizabeth perched back on the pier, content to watch them play in the water together. No one would ever guess that they shared no blood — Cameron looked more like Jason than he did her. He’d inherited the sunny blond hair from Elizabeth’s mother, but it might darken to Jason’s blond as Cameron grew older.
She sighed a bit wistfully—when Cameron had been born, she’d hoped he’d take her his father. A physical resemblance would be the only piece of Alex she’d ever be able to share with her son. But he’d always looked like her.
Cameron finally tired of the floating near noon, and climbed out of the lake with Jason’s help. “Did you see, Mama? I float.”
“You float very well.”
“You turn.” Cameron looked at Jason. “Papa, tell her.”
Jason hoisted himself out, rivulets of water streaming down his chest, and—she looked away, her cheeks flushed. “We have to go out to the end of the pier for water deep enough,” he said, slicking back his hair. He held out a hand. “Come on.”
When they reached the end, Jason got back in the water, and looked at Cameron. “It’s too deep for you,” he said firmly. “Promise to sit right here.”
“Promise.” Cameron nodded. “Mama, I wanna see you float—”
“Here goes nothing,” Elizabeth said, slipping into the water, gasping as her entire body became submerged, nearly to her shoulder. “Oh, that is—” Water was everywhere, and it was so cold— “That is quite different.”
Jason grinned. “All right. Let’s see if you can float.” He braced an arm around her shoulders. “Kick up with your legs. Bring them to the surface.”
“All right—” Dubiously, Elizabeth followed his instructions—and then was pleasantly surprised as her legs broke out of the water, and she did feel…oddly weightless. “Oh…this is amazing.”
“Mama! You did it so fast!”
Jason stepped back, gently releasing her shoulders until Elizabeth was floating on her own. No wonder he’d suggested starting with floating. It could become her favorite way to spend the day. She closed her eyes, the warm sun beating down on her from above, the cold water seeming to hold her from below.
“A natural,” Jason said. She opened her eyes—then sputtered as she lost track of what she was doing, and her legs slipped back under water. He laughed and dragged her back up, holding her against his chest, the flimsy fabric of her chemise doing very little to act as a barrier. “You all right?”
“Yes,” she said breathlessly. “I think I will like learning to swim.”