Thank you for joining my newsletter! Here’s the epilogue to Beauty and the Bruiser’s epilogue. After all, aren’t you wondering if June gets better at dancing? The answer might surprise you… *winks*
“Mrs. York, may I have this dance?” I whisper in her ear from behind her. She faces the dance floor where a swarm of elementary school kids runs amok to the latest Jonas Brothers song. It’s basically a mosh pit full of first-, second-, and third-grade bodies.
She tilts her head to cast me a teasing glance. “Haven’t we already established I’m an awful dancer?”
I capture her fingers with mine. “I’ll take my chances.”
“Very adventurous, Mr. York. You are a man who lives on the edge.” She allows me to lead her toward the dance floor. “I’m really supposed to be chaperoning the kids.”
After June became a fast favorite with the kids and staff at Tabby’s school last year, they quickly hired her to a full-time position this year. That only confirms what I already know—she’s a natural with kids. I suppose that’s why the principal hit her up to chaperon the annual Parent and Student Winter Ball. Either that or the principal figured out she struggles to say no, especially when kids are involved.
The dance is the school’s concession to their students who aren’t old enough for a proper student dance. The parents attend with the kids. It’s nothing formal—mostly donated treats and lemonade. But the kids seem to love it.
I wave my arm to encompass the chaos in the gym. “You’re a school parent, too, you know.”
“I know.” She looks around, even as she steps into my arms. “I’m sure one dance won’t hurt.”
The music is too fast for slow dancing, but neither of us cares. June drops her cheek to my chest, and we sway together.
“You’re actually not that bad at slow dancing, Freckles.” I tuck my chin on top of her head, rubbing it softly over her soft, red waves.
She sighs. “High praise.”
I squeeze her, loving how she feels in my arms, the same as I’ve loved it every time I’ve held her over the past year. “I’m sure it’s my excellent tutelage.”
She leans back, offering me a dubious look. “Or maybe it’s because I’m barely moving. I mean, most people can sway, Duke.”
I chuckle. “Maybe that’s it.” As I study her, though, my face sobers. “You look a little pale. Are you feeling all right?”
She waves a hand. “I’ve been feeling… off. It’s fine, though.”
I stop moving but keep holding her. “Are you sure? It’s only been eleven months since your kidney donation. Do you think—”
She shakes her head. “I do not. In fact, I know that’s not it. Stop worrying immediately.”
“Then what do you mean by ‘off?’” I retired at the end of last season, but Hargreeves asked me to stay with the organization. I’ve been doing some scouting work for the team, so I’ve been traveling. But after moving home, Lily, June’s foster mother, decided she didn’t want to handle her large Victorian home any longer. Instead, she moved in with us. It’s been a seamless fit. In fact, Lily and my former mother-in-law, Nancy, became quick best friends. That’s why I haven’t been worried much about June. There’s always someone around the house, and both Lily and Nancy adore June. I know they watch out for her.
“Everything is fine.” She smiles, but now that I look even closer, I see the dark smudges under her eyes.
“Is it the addition of the twins?” We had our first foster daughter in the spring, but she reunited with her birth mother. Though it was bittersweet, we were overjoyed for her. We keep in touch, and they seem to be well. Since then, though, we’ve welcomed Tyson, a precocious five-year-old, and a set of three-year-old twins, Addie and Sam. Fostering is amazing, but it isn’t without its challenges. The twins are still adjusting to their new arrangement.
She shakes her head. “No, not at all.” She narrows her eyes at me. “Can we talk about this later?”
“Should we go home so you can rest?” I pull her closer, even as I search for Tabby. I spot her group of friends where they’ve been all night—dancing and singing next to the speaker. As the third-graders, they’re the oldest here. That gives them the prime spot. Even as I think of how to attract her attention, I can’t help how happy I am to see her in the middle of the group of girls, laughing. Over the last year, she’s made steady progress with her writing disability, and with much guidance, she’s now thriving. “Let me just get Tabby.”
June places her hands on each side of my face. “We aren’t leaving early. Don’t you dare interrupt our girl while she’s having such a blast.”
I love how she says ‘our girl.’ “You look tired,” I tell her, scowling.
She firms her lips and rolls her eyes. “Duke, I’m fine.” She sighs. “I guess we’re doing this. Okay, so maybe I’m better at dancing for a different reason than you think.”
That’s quite the change in topic. “What are you talking about?”
“I mean…” She glances around as if trying to find the right words. “I mean, maybe your child is making me more graceful.”
She shrugs. “Or maybe it’s just the swaying.”
I scrunch my nose in confusion. “Tabby tried to teach you how to dance, and she—”
“Not Tabby,” she adds quickly. “Not Tabby.”
Not Tabby… My brain’s gears grind as I piece things together. “My child, not Tabby…” I squeeze her. “My God, you’re pregnant.”
She nods, and even though she appears tired, I can see the happiness glowing in her eyes. “Yes. I just took a test this morning. I’ll need to go to the doctor’s, but I’ve felt really nauseous, and I’m so tired all the time…”
I lift her off her feet, spinning her around. “You’re pregnant.”
Her laughter is music in my ears. “Yes. We’re going to have a baby.”
I kiss her. I don’t care that we’re in the middle of a school dance, at her place of work, or that there are a bunch of young kids around. It’s not a long kiss, and it’s certainly not as in-depth as I want—I’ll save that for home—but I hope it tells her everything I’m feeling. My joy to be growing our family. My worry. My complete contentment. And maybe, because she’s so in tune with me, she can sense my fear, too. I lost Tabby’s mother soon after her birth. I know I’m irrational, but fear isn’t logical.
“I love you,” I tell her as soon as I finish. “I love you so much. I’m so happy.”
“I love you, too, Duke.” She holds me close. “I think we should wait to tell the kids, though.” She catches her bottom lip in her teeth. “Until after the first trimester.”
I nod. “Okay.”
“I’m nervous, though.” The words are the exact words she said when we accepted our first foster. She said the same when we took the calls for Tyson and for the twins. I’m sure she’ll say them again when we accept another foster or, if we’re lucky, are pregnant again.
I’ve realized that it’s not adding a new being to our household that makes her anxious. June is a bottomless pit of love and affection. It’s not her love that concerns her, because it’s a given. But I think a small part of her is still that girl who showed up at Lily’s with nothing. She’ll always worry if she’s enough.
So, I say, “You, June Harlow, are going to be an amazing mother. Our child will be loved beyond compare, and you are the one who showed me that is the most important thing.” I lead her back to where she had been chaperoning.
“Together,” she tells me with a nod and squeezes my hand.
“Always, Freckles. Always.”