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Worth the Fall(113)

By´╝ÜClaudia Connor

Abby peeked around him for another look. A row of rectangular tables, connected end to end, lined one entire wall of the banquet room. Covered in white cloth that touched the ground, every inch of surface filled with cookies.

Matt had explained to her it was a family tradition for every female relative to bring cookies for the reception, but never in her wildest imagination could she have pictured the massive quantity and variations.

It was like a social scene in and of itself. Ladies crept up and down along the tables, pointing and speculating. Choosing which cookies to eat first was like a mating ritual, and the men had to eat with care. And then there were the kids, scouring on tiptoes for anything without nuts.

And then there was her son. Under the table.

“Matt, he can’t be crawling under there. One of us needs to go drag him out.” She smoothed his shirt and gave him a loving pat. “Preferably you.”

Matt shook his head. “No way. It’s practically a rite of passage to sneak cookies under the cookie tables. Those were some of my first black ops. And, you should know,” he murmured behind her ear, “I was never caught.”

“Well, maybe you should teach your son some stealth.” They froze on the word “son,” their smiles spreading like mirror images.

“My son,” Matt said proudly, “has plenty of stealth. Did you actually see him or just his feet?”

“I saw—”

The bandleader interrupted, calling fathers and daughters to the floor for a special dance.

Matt took her hand in his and led her to the girls, who were lining the dance floor with their cousins. Annie and Gracie stood on the edges. How was he going to work this?

“Hello, ladies.”

His nieces grinned and giggled. “Hi, Uncle Matt.”

He stepped in front of Annie and held out his hand with a little bow. “May I have this dance?”

Annie hesitated, looking around at the other girls going off with their dads.

Gracie twirled, ending with a hop. “What about me?”

“I’m saving you for the ladybug dance. It’s next,” he said, tapping her on the nose.

Abby watched her husband with pride. Such a quick thinker, and he’d need it in the years ahead. Her little sister’s enthusiasm was just what Annie needed to spur her on, and she placed her hand in Matt’s.

They made their way into the center of the dance floor, now covered in daddies waltzing with grown daughters or holding baby girls.

“I need anover dwink,” Gracie said, holding her fancy glass in the air. That probably made four Shirley Temples so far, on top of cake and no telling how many cookies. Abby pitied the family member who’d be taking Gracie and Charlie for the night. But that was just another wonderful thing about Matt’s big family: always plenty of options.

Even now, one of the preteen cousins from out of town toted Charlie around on her hip. Two elderly aunts had spent the last hour passing Mary back and forth. From the look on Marge’s face as she approached them, that was about to end. There was so much love for Abby and her children she could hardly absorb it all.

She glanced back just as Matt lifted Annie from where she stood on his shoes to hold her in his arms. A bit of white fluff in Matt’s big arms, sash untied, strands of hair falling out of her braid. Matt swayed and spun with her little arms wound around his neck, her head on his shoulder. It wouldn’t be long before Matt would be doing it again, only next time it would be during a father-of-the-bride dance.

Anthony Senior stepped up beside Abby, and they watched as the dance came to an end.

“I’d say everything turned out pretty well,” he said.

She wasn’t sure if Matt’s dad was talking about the perfectly detailed wedding and reception or their life. Her answer applied to both. “Yes. It did.”

Matt approached, his hand looking big on Annie’s small back, and for a second Abby thought her daughter might have fallen asleep. It wouldn’t surprise her after the day they’d had.

Annie’s head popped up when they reached her. Oh well. Probably better she didn’t fall asleep at this point.

“Hey, princess,” Matt’s dad said. Everyone had picked up on Matt’s nicknames for the kids. “Want to dance with your grandpa?”

“I can’t,” Annie said with her ever-serious expression. “I’m going to get a cookie.” Then she looked right at Matt and added, “With my daddy.”

Matt took Abby’s hand, laced their fingers and squeezed. Warm and solid and right. When their eyes met she wasn’t sure if he winked or was blinking back tears. Didn’t matter. Either way, it was perfect.