Hunter: Finale (musc)

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A part of me doesn't even want to post this. The Hunter Universe has been one of the most meaningful parts of my life for the past few years, and now the time feels right to conclude it. Thank you for your faithfulness to the series, and I hope these characters have been as important to you as they have been to me. Hunter, Neil and company have taught me more about my writing, my life and myself.

I don't know if I can ever really let them go.

Hunter Hardy’s forehead was pressed against his wife’s. They held hands and closed their eyes and just stood still, for a few quiet moments. Just the two of them.

He breathed in, and out. “This is the right thing to do.”

She nodded. “I love you.”

“Oh,” he breathed, “I love you too, baby.”

They kissed, and when Hunter walked around the corner, he was facing all five of his children. Burke, Tripp, Neil and Sean all wore suits of various sizes and colors, but Hunter’s little men made him so proud. Their hair was neatly combed and styled, and each of them had something unique that was so them - Burke’s tie was a brilliant emerald green, like his eyes; Tripp’s dress shirt was black when everyone else’s was white; Neil was in a khaki suit instead of black; and Sean was in the same style of suit and shirt as his father, except he wore big Nike trainers instead of dress shoes, just ‘cause. Lily wore a silk dress, her shiny hair pinned back in waves around her shoulders. She was so sensationally beautiful. Just like her mama.

“Hey, Mrs. Hardy,” Hunter said to Katie as he cocked his head toward the kids. “C’mere.”

He put one arm around her shoulders; she wrapped hers around his waist. “From the Christmas party to this,” Hunter said, indicating the children.

She smiled. “Five little Hardys, unleashed on the world.”

“It’s just not fair to everyone else.” Hunter crouched and opened up his arms and got a hug from each son. When Lily got to him, Hunter held the sides of her shoulders and kissed her forehead. “Your tie’s crooked, Daddy. Here.” She straightened it and smiled, revealing two rows of beautiful white teeth. Why bother with braces when Dad can fix your teeth for free?

Hunter stood behind the curtain and looked at the podium of the press room. “Go get ‘em, Dad,” Burke said, patting his father on the back.

With one final squeeze of his son’s arm, Hunter strode confidently onto the podium and flashed one of his patented million-dollar smiles. Always the spokesman, always the superhero, always the future Hall-of-Fame QB.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” he said in his smooth bass. Peripherally, he could see his family standing backstage. Katie had one arm around Burke, who was almost as tall as she was. Her free hand rested on little Sean’s shoulder. Behind her stood her parents and in-laws, each of whom were holding onto a triplet. Henry Hardy sat in a chair with his son on his lap. Neil and Lachlan were close by, representing the Blues.

“So, what brings you all here today?” Hunter joked winningly, and he could hear the press corps chuckle. It eased the tension. Hunter Hardy had just won another Super Bowl, and at 39, he was in the twilight years of his football career. Speculation was rampant. The man had had a nearly spotless career, and ending on a high note was a temptation that most found irresistible.

“This has been a very...complicated...couple of months,” Hunter continued. “First and foremost, I wanted to celebrate the win. That mattered the most to me, and it would have been unfair for me to command all the attention when that Super Bowl was won by all of us, by my teammates and my coaches. Football is not an individual sport, and I feel uncomfortable knowing that the guys on team are being asked about me, and whether or not I’m retiring. It’s inappropriate. They deserve nothing but accolades, and I hope you will all give them that.”

Hunter took a swig of water, bowed his head and looked back up.

“Football was my first love. There is no better sport in the world. It has made me countless friends and given me memories that my family and I will cherish forever. My oldest son was a toddler when I won my third ring, and I remember holding him over my head as the confetti came down around us. Well, Burke’s 13 now, and watching him play on those green fields brings back every single sensation, every single bit of knowledge that I soaked up in my formative years, starting with tossing the ball around in the backyard with my Dad.”

Katie looked back at her father-in-law, whose eyes were misty with pride. They all looked to Hunter. The corner of his lip began to tremble. Stay together, Katie pleaded with him mentally. Please keep it together.

“But this is a young man’s game,” Hunter said, his voice beginning to crack. “And I am not a young man anymore.”

Murmurs began in the crowd. Now, there was no question.

“I am a man that has responsibilities, I am a man that has a family. I have discussed this decision with my wife, with my children, and with my parents, friends and teammates. I have listened to the magnificent counsel of my agent and good friend, Aaron James. I have lost countless hours of sleep. And through it all, one thing has become clear: it’s time.”

The cameras came to life again.

“Yes. I am announcing my retirement. This is the right thing. For me, for my family, for my team. Years ago, when I had my first big injury, I was debating whether or not to hang it up. And my wife - who is the wisest, most incredible woman I know - looked me right in the eye and said “No.” It wasn’t the time. Now, this...this is the time.” Hunter finished off his water bottle. “I remember, many years ago, when Burke could still sit on my lap, he told me that he was happiest when I was home. I realize that I, too, am happiest when I am home. I am ready to play catch with my children in my backyard. I am ready to be able to take them to school and to not have to miss their games and concerts. And trust me, Katie’s ready too.”

More laughter.

“It has been nothing but a pleasure to play in this incredible city, with such supportive and passionate fans. I have loved every second of it, and it has been the greatest honor of my life. I love you, New York. Please save your HARDY jerseys, because I have a feeling you’ll need them again in a few years,” Hunter said as he looked offstage, smiling at Burke, who grinned back.

Hunter’s eyes sparkled with life. He exhaled. “These seasons have been the most perfect, wonderful years that a man could ask for. I could not be more proud, and I thank you all for taking this journey with me. I look forward to what the future holds.” A single tear rolled down his cheek, but he quickly composed himself, knowing it was time to go. Hunter stood, before leaning back into the microphone. “No questions. Have a great afternoon.”

He stood to his full, unbelievable height, as his tailored suit showcased his masculine musculature. With a powerful stride, he walked offstage, waving quickly to the crowd as he went.

As soon as he was out of sight, the charade ended, and Hunter crumbled. All it took was seeing his four older children standing around their youngest sibling, each with a comforting hand on him: Sean had big tears rolling down his trembling face, and as soon as Hunter saw them, he had them too. He picked his littlest boy up and hugged Sean tightly, who squeezed back with all his young might. Sean was hardly a small child, but Hunter was large enough that he could still hold him.

“I’m gonna miss it so much,” Sean said through sobs.

“Ohhh, me too, buddy. Me too. But we’ll still go to games and go in the locker room, and we’ll all still play football and hang out with all the players. I’ll just be with you guys, you won’t be watching me play.” Hunter leaned back and wiped Sean’s tears away with his hand. “Is that okay? Can I hang out with you on game days?”

Sean nodded and buried his face in the shoulder of Hunter’s suit, and Hunter stroked his hair.

Then, one by one, they all joined. Burke wrapped his arms around his father and brother, and his younger brothers did the same. Lily held onto her Mom, then Lachlan and Neil stood and leaned in, and then Henry and his son, until all the Hardys and Blues in attendance were supporting Hunter in one big group hug.


“You’re up to something, I just know it,” Hunter said with a smirk as their towncar sped through Manhattan.

“Moi?” Katie put her hand on her chest in mock-surprise. “Do you honestly think I could plan anything without you finding out?”

“Yes,” he responded, deadpan.

“Well, I’m sorry, but this is just dinner,” she said sincerely. “I wish I had something big planned, but there was no time.”

“It’ll be nice to just be the two of us.”

“Just the two of us,” she smiled back, holding his hand. “Remember when we made a baby in the back of one of these?”

He laughed, and she laughed. “I just love surprises, don’t you?”

“If every surprise was as good as Sean, I would say I lived for them.”

The gates of the Metropolitan Club opened and they emerged from the car.

“I still melt when you wear a tux, Mr. December.”

“Sorry that I don’t look as good in one as I did in high school.”

“You must be joking. You look even better now.” And he did, with his broad shoulders and godlike physique. He had grown into his face, and his eyes had wisdom and experience. He wasn’t her high school boyfriend anymore, he was her husband and the father of her children. He was her mate.

They walked into the outrageous opulence of the Club. Katie’s heels clicked across the white marble. Hunter looked at the walls around them, amazed to be walking in the footsteps of the Morgans and Vanderbilts that had originated the place.

“Baby, look, it’s Travis and Jen,” Hunter said, spotting the Coles. He walked up to the couple and greeted them warmly. Travis wore a three-piece suit that was stretched around his huge muscles. His beard was neatly trimmed and he looked like the picture of male vitality. His wife was equally stunning. “It’s the All-Star break, isn’t it? What a great surprise, to see” Hunter trailed off as he spotted Neil standing in an archway, wearing a tuxedo, with Mel and Lachlan standing next to him equally well-dressed. “What’s going on?” The question fell out of him as easily and as softly as a breath. He looked at Travis, who grinned from ear-to-ear and slapped his friend on the back.

“We love you, man.”

“What? Kate...”

He turned and looked at Katie, who stood a few feet away. “Surprise,” she mouthed.

The club was full of people that Hunter hadn’t even bothered to look at. Slowly, he realized that conversations were ending, and heads were turning toward him. Hunter stood with perfect posture, his big chest out, and rotated on his feet as he took in the room around him. His eyes were wide and questioning - childlike.

Every face, he recognized, and each brought with it a rush of emotions that quickly overwhelmed him.

Chase Collins.
Steve Atkinson.
Jordan Denoux.
Rawley Cavenaugh.
John Herzog.
Stone Morrison.
Ward Klemmer.
Heath Bienkowski.
Drew Carver.
Carter Cage.
Houston Roberts.

But he recognized others, too - others that, in their minds, had no reason to be thankful to him. Mike DeSanto, for one - and Lance Ridge. Dr. Max Rogers. Devin and Darin Walker. Aaron James. Grant Brewer. Tyrell Patterson. The Vegas quartet of Luke, Bryant, Steve and Dustin. Jack and Mason Leigh. Bruce and Evan Hill. And there were more - a good two dozen more.

The room contained far more people than just the men that Hunter had directly changed. With each man stood wives, partners, lovers, and kids. Some of the fathers had little babies in their arms, while others had fully grown children beside them. The butterfly effect. The ripples that each change had caused. As far as Hunter could see, not one man had come alone. Every guest was clothed in gorgeous finery, from Italian suits to designer tuxes and gowns. Even the babies were formally dressed. Nearly every man had needed a custom outfit, due to their muscles and height.

Hunter felt like he was underwater, moving in slow motion. He barely registered that they were all applauding him. The applause bounced around the marble hall, magnified ten times over by the echo.

Katie looked at her husband. He put his hands over his mouth in pure, honest shock. Tears cascaded down his face. He completely lost control.

Katie had been planning the party for two years, Hunter learned later. She and Neil had dug into the farthest recesses of their minds to pluck out the names that Hunter had mentioned over the years. They combed through everything from yearbooks to old Christmas cards and saved newspaper clippings - anything to spark a memory.

All the guests had been eager to honor their benefactor - at least the ones who knew they had a benefactor. Katie had first realized she’d hit a snag when she called Mike DeSanto and had a most confusing conversation.

That was where her oldest son came in.

With Burke’s masterful, careful prodding, each man slowly remembered his change. The details were fuzzy, the past life still either nonexistent or only present in the way Hunter had made it. But now, they were grateful.

As Hunter began to process it all, he saw a man standing behind Katie, and his heart sank into his stomach. Turning, he saw his father, as tall and wide and handsome as he had ever been. Like his son, Sean Hardy knew how to fill a tuxedo. At sixty, his beauty was undiminished - actually, it was enhanced - by age. And on that gloriously handsome face was an expression of knowledge, forgiveness and absolute, unchanging love.

Sean walked up to Hunter, put his hands on his son’s face and smiled wider.

“Hi, blondie,” Sean said.

“Can you ever forgive me?” Hunter said in a choked voice.

“There is nothing to forgive,” Sean replied, his eyes sparkling. “You gave me a gift, and I thank you for it.”

Suddenly, Hunter was addressing his old bully. “We were so young, Sean, I-I just...I thought I needed a-”

Sean was wiping away Hunter’s tears, looking as paternal as ever. “Shhhh. I know.” They hugged. “I know many things. Now more than ever. And most of all, I know that you are my son,” Sean said with noticeable passion. “You are not my classmate, or my victim, you are my son, my firstborn, the greatest joy of my life...and that is just as it should be.”

Hunter held onto his father tightly, like he did when he was a child. There they stood, content to stay in that position forever.


For most men, this was their first public admittance of their biggest secret. It was like group therapy, and they were relieved to finally be able to tell someone without being looked at like they were insane.

Throughout the evening, each man had a chance to stand at the podium and say a few words of thanks. Many of them explained what happened to them, the aftereffects and the benefits. Some spouses spoke too, notably Allison Denoux, who brought the house down as she discussed watching her husband change in front of her.

“It’s the strangest thing I’ll ever witness, I’m quite sure of it. But in a way, even then, it felt right. I’d watched Jordan struggle with his confidence and with his - I’m sorry baby, your words, not mine - with his masculinity. And then, like a flower, he just bloomed. It was magical. I struggled for a long, long time over whether I loved him just for his looks - I mean, look at him, he makes young Marlon Brando look like, I don’t know, young Steve Buscemi - and then one day, Jordan told me that it was a gift to me, too. And I realized that he was right, I had been given a gift, and I would’ve been a stupid woman to not take it. So, when Jordan asked me to marry him, I didn’t hesitate. I knew his heart and I knew he would be the best husband, and an amazing father, because he’s so caring. I love you, sweetie, and I love you, Hunter, for making the outside match the inside. Is there a better gift than self-assurance?”

Out of all the men there, Jordan Denoux might’ve been the best-dressed of all. His fitted Gucci suit was perfectly coordinated, with a pocket square giving it just the right pop of color. The cut of the jacket and pants enhanced his beautiful body. Looking at him, there was no question that he was a confident man.

Everyone’s final words were the same. First, they told of what had happened since their last encounter with Hunter. “Jordan and I have two sons, Miles and Declan, and a daughter, Piper. Jury’s still out on this one,” she said, touching her belly. “We both got promoted, but after Miles was born, I decided I wanted to stay home. And that was MY choice, let me be clear. Jordan got another promotion and is GM of the Simon now, which is a AAA Four Diamond hotel, just to brag a little. We live comfortably and have a happy, healthy, beautiful family.”

Then, each speaker would turn to Hunter. “And like everyone has said before me, Hunter,” Allison said with a smile, “your secret is safe with me.”

Carter Cage stood up next. It had been years since Hunter had seen Carter in person, although he’d heard about the man’s exploits, the bodybuilding and the modeling. Carter wasn’t a college kid anymore, he was thirty-five and even had a very muscular partner with him. His hair had grown long and was slicked back, although it was usually loose around his face like a lion’s mane. A mature goatee framed his beautiful mouth. He was still as handsome as ever, made up of many different cultures that each had a place in one of his features. The many tattoos he had were covered by the tight white suit he wore. With his deeply bronzed skin, fluency in Spanish, and clearly multi-cultural face, he was one of the few men there that would be definitely classified as “exotic.”

“I was in Hunter Hardy’s graduating class in high school,” Carter said with a smirk, “and now I am four years younger than him.”

The crowd chuckled. Carter told of his change, leaving out the wildly fantastic parts of his dream, and he talked about his life afterward, his weight-lifting, his competitions, the way he de-matured before maturing once more.

“Turns out, I wasn’t the only one Hunter changed in our frat house,” Carter said.

Hunter’s brow furrowed. Yes I did. You were the only one... But he didn’t interrupt, and Carter went on. “I trained about three-quarters of my frat brothers, and some of them became real obsessed. A couple of them got HUGE, I’m talking magazine-cover size. But one guy, Austin, became a different person altogether. He was this kinda scrawny freshman kid who seemed to worship the ground I walked on. I took him to the gym with me one day and trained him for an hour, and he did great; lifted a lot more than he should’ve been able to.” Carter smiled fondly at the memory. “And on the drive back to the house, he was talking kind of funny. He was saying things like y’all when he talked about the guys, and doggone it instead of ‘damn,’ and then when he got out of the car he said the day was ‘hotter than Satan’s housecat.’” Carter chuckled and rubbed his whiskers. “And over the next couple days, Austin’s hair - I swear this is true - well, it turned blond. Real golden blond! And before I realized it, he was talking all the time in this real thick Southern, and I mean Suhhthun, drawl. Talking really deep, too, real bassly. Then he made me grits for breakfast one morning, from scratch, and soon he was cooking for all of us. He’d never cooked before, and whaddya know, he was great at it! Said his Mama taught him how.

“I knew what was happening to him, and I even tried to talk to him about it, but he just looked at me like I was nuts. He was begging me to train him, so I did, and that boy took to the gym like a house on fire. But he didn’t grow much, which I thought was strange.” The audience of men all had a feeling they knew what was coming. Slowly, people leaned in. “And then one night - I think you’ll all appreciate this - our cook made us grilled chicken breasts. Yeah. Ultimate muscle food. Austin’s disappeared while the plate was being set on the table. He ate it THAT fast. So, they got him another one, and he was like, screw the fork, I’ll just use my hands! And I’m watching him stuff these chicken breasts down his gullet, and I swear, he starts changing right there. He was wearing all the Abercrombie crap that we all wore, and it just starts stretching because he’s growing these big, and I mean big, muscles. His sleeves were tearing, there were buttons hitting the table, and he looks like a giant three-year-old eating with his fingers! A toddler with arms bigger than his own head.”

Everyone was laughing. Carter’s gestures and inflections were extremely winning. This guy’s so much cooler than he was in high school, that’s for sure, Hunter thought with a smile. But Carter’s story was odd. Hunter was pretty sure that Carter had somehow had trace amounts of power left over from changing himself, and that he had broadcast his fantasies onto Austin, who quickly succumbed. But did that happen often?

“So, he’s eating, eating, eating, and no one is really noticing, and I’m staring at this kid just in shock! Oh, AND he’s growing a beard! Food starts getting hung up in his whiskers because he suddenly has this big beard on his face. And then - seriously - he puts his hands on both sides of the plate and sticks his face right down onto the table, eating like a pig from a trough. By then, he had grown through his shorts, he’d grown through his shirt, he’d grown through everything. There was just fabric lying all over the floor, and he’s sitting in his underwear and whatever’s left of his clothing. And now he’s this big Southern muscle giant, happy as a pig and eating like one too.” Carter laughed for a few moments with everyone else, before extending his hand outward. “That’s a moment I love. So, Hunter, your secret is safe with me, and with all that has been said, I think it’s time for you to meet my partner, Austin Hammond. Yeah. The Austin.”

Austin stood and waved as he was applauded. He had a big grin on his face but was also pink in the cheeks from a little bit of good-natured embarrassment. His blond hair was neatly combed back, like a businessman’s, and his beard was manicured as a nice accent to his good-ol-boy features, complete with a winning set of dimples. He was as charmingly adorable as a 6-4, 275-pound bodybuilder could be.

Austin spoke, revealing the deep Southern accent that time had not diminished, then Rawley took over the mic, talking about the fear of moving to a new town and the welcome that Hunter and Henry had provided. Steve Atkinson discussed going from schlub to head-turner, and the adjustment it had been. Then he talked of the pride he felt at being grandfather to Hunter’s nephew. “I don’t love anything in the world as much as I love that little guy. Come talk to me, ‘cause I’ve got pictures!”

Heath Bienkowski talked about going from lanky non-entity to professional athlete, and how surreal it was to take his family on a vacation with Henry’s family, and to watch their children play together on the beach. From high school to fatherhood, Heath and Henry had experienced it all together.

Drew Carver choked back tears as he remembered the day he had gotten to design his own body. “Every time I win some acting award - which isn’t often,” he laughed, “I want to thank Hunter Hardy, and I know I can’t. But tonight, I can. Thank you, Hunter, and Neil too. From the bottom of my heart.”

Mason Leigh delivered an eloquent and mature thank-you speech while holding two sleeping toddlers for the whole time, one in each arm. Twins, a boy and a girl. “If I set them down, they’ll wake up screaming.” Seeing the way he kissed their heads made Hunter smile.

Tyrell Patterson relayed only the bits and pieces of his change that he could remember. “When I realized what had happened to me, at first, I was angry...I was angry at you for a year, man, one solid year I was ragin’. And then one night,” he paused, his lips revealing his sparkling white teeth as he reflected. “One night I was walkin’ home from the gym and I saw a lady gettin’ mugged, and I just snapped. Maybe it was the pump, but I just ran in there and fought off these three guys, got some good punches in, and they ran off. And I bent down and picked her up and ran with her in my arms, three blocks to the hospital. And she was thanking me, over and over, and she said something that stuck with me - that she would’ve normally been scared of me, ‘cause I’m a big brotha, that’s for sure, but she trusted me.” Tyrell’s voice was soft but firm. “Hunter took a boy that could’ve been one of those muggers, and turned him into a man that protected someone from them. And for that, Hunter, your secret is real safe with me, man. Real safe.”

One by one, they all took their turn. They varied from Chase Collins, who had two lifetimes worth of media training, to Mike DeSanto, who was deeply unaccustomed to public speaking but gave it his best shot. Their stories all moved Hunter deeply; stories of boys and men sleepwalking through life and wondering what it was all for - until they got their answer, in epic fashion.

When everyone was done speaking and eating dinner, the schmoozing began. The Who’s Who of America were well-represented, and every man had something that they could discuss for hours. The conversations were endless. Hunter escaped for a few moments of solitude, going into the men’s room. He didn’t use the bathroom, he just sat on a bench and breathed in and out.

“Hi, Mr. Hardy.”

Hunter opened his eyes and saw a handsome young boy, about eleven years old, wearing a nicely pressed suit and Chuck Taylors. His blond hair was spiky and his face fresh and lively. He had only just started to grow up, and he reminded Hunter of his own youngest son.

“Hi,” Hunter said, wiping his eyes. “What’s your name, guy?”

“I’m Stefan Cole.”

“Oh wow.” Hunter smiled and looked the kid over. “You’re Travis and Jen’s boy.”


Hunter grinned. “I haven’t seen you in years, I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you. You look just like your dad.”

“Everyone says that.”

Hunter could imagine Stefan in ten years, bearded and buff like his father. He had the face for it. “That’s a great thing. Your father, he’s a good man.”

Stefan smiled, but showed concern. “Are you crying?”

Hunter chuckled and bowed his head. His elbows rested on his knees as he leaned forward. “You caught me, Stefan.” Why am I crying so much lately? I used to never cry. That’s Neil’s thing.

“Why’re you sad?”

“I’m not sad.” Hunter shook his head. “No, no, I’m not sad at all. I’m very, very happy.”

“That’s good.” Stefan paused. “If it makes you feel better, we were watching the Super Bowl and Dad was talking about how great you are. My Dad says that if it weren’t for you, I probably wouldn’t have been born.”

The poignance of the statement rang through Hunter’s head. He wiped his eyes again. “Y’know, Stefan, that might be true. It’s weird to think about, huh?”

“Yeah. I’m glad I’m here!”

“I’m glad you’re here too, buddy.”


The party wound up lasting much longer than a dinner would have. Hunter and Katie didn’t leave until 4 AM, which was the first point in the evening that the party had felt like it was winding down. The parents with young children had left, but there were still many more in attendance, still discussing their mentalities and physiques. Hunter had a phone full of brand new numbers that he wanted to call, to continue their conversations.

As they headed out the door, Neil caught up with them. “Wait, Hunt, I have something for you.”

“Neil, you didn’t have to-”

“No, no, it’s not from me.” Neil produced a canvas bag filled with DVD cases. “These are video messages from the people who couldn’t be here. I think they all got labeled. I hope they did. And the speeches from tonight got recorded, and that’s the blue case on top.”

“I didn’t even know about those,” Katie said to Neil. “You’re good.”

“I try.”

Hunter was just staring into the bag, unable to say anything. By this point in their marriage, Katie could practically feel Hunter’s emotions within her. She knew he wasn’t going to speak for a little while.

“We’re going to stay in the City tonight and go home tomorrow,” she said. “You and Mel are welcome to sleep in the other room.”

Neil placed his hand on Hunter’s shoulder, and smiled at his friend. “I’d like that.”

Hunter curved his lips into a trembling smile. It was a look that said everything.

Once they retired for the night, none of them could sleep. Soon, Mel, Neil, Hunter and Katie were sitting on the floor of their hotel room, like they were at a high school party. They drank beers and sparkling water from the minibar and discussed everything.


“Dad, I swear, I will call ahead and find out who I’m shooting with if you won’t tell me.”

“No you won’t, because I have your phone.”

“DAMN,” Lachlan scuffed the car’s interior with his foot. “You’re good, Dad,” he said with a point of his finger. “You’re good.”

Neil laughed. “You’ll like them, I just...have a feeling.”

“At least tell me if it’s a girl.”

“It’s a girl.”

“Is she a hot girl?”

“Oh yeah, she’s hot.”

Lachlan grinned. “Okay, that’s all I need for now. God, I’m starving for a carb. I feel like carjacking this thing and crashing into a Wendy’s.”

“Well, it looks like you have about fourteen abdominals, so the cutting was worth it.”

“I guess a magazine cover’s a magazine cover, huh?”

“You bet. Especially with a super-ultra-uber-hot girl.”

“Don’t talk her up TOO much.”

They pulled up to the shoot. Lachlan stepped out on the sidewalk, his gorgeous blue eyes partially hidden by his baseball cap and his muscles well-covered by designer jeans and a brown leather motorcycle jacket. He heard high-pitched screams of joy, and stuck out his hand to scribble a couple of autographs as he walked in. He never even broke his stride. His casual indifference was the pitch-perfect combination of cockiness and humility.

Neil watched in awe. Where the hell did he learn that?

They were on the street for barely a blink. The studio kept him away from the prying eyes and screaming fans, and Lachlan peeled off his jacket to reveal his carved arms in a plain white t-shirt. In one fluid motion, the jacket was off and he was splayed over a couch in the green room. An assistant brought him a bottle of water, and he thanked her as he twisted the cap open.

“Comfortable?” Neil asked sarcastically, looking at his handsome 19-year-old son, with his impossibly pretty face and rock-hard body crashed into the couch like it was in his personal living room.

“Quite,” Lachlan responded with a smirk.

Through the open door, Lachlan saw a blonde girl, all the way at the end of the hall. She had a towel wrapped around her body - and that was it. A stylist was brushing her long tresses. The girl bent down and removed her flip-flops, and as she looked up, she locked eyes with Lachlan, who was absolutely mesmerized.

Her mouth turned upwards in the most bewitching little grin, and just like that, she was out of sight.

Lachlan didn’t even realize that he had stood up. He was craning his neck to get a second glimpse. “Wow. Was that her?”

“I didn’t see,” Neil said casually, pretending not to notice his son’s sudden shift in attitude. “Was she at least mildly attractive?”

“Dad, she was gorgeous.”

Neil smiled far too obviously and gave himself away. Right when Lachlan was going to call him out on it, a stylist swept in, and the shoot was underway.

To the surprise of no one, Lachlan wore nothing but a pair of painfully low-slung jeans that bared almost six inches of skin below his bellybutton. If he hadn’t shaved his pubes, they’d definitely be visible, but his obliques were popping so well today that he was glad this was the outfit.

Today, Lachlan Blue was shooting the cover for Rolling Stone, and had learned only that morning that he was going to have a girl in his arms for it. He’d spent the last four days with a writer who interviewed him about everything, and Lachlan was so charming, so winning and so youthful that even the hardened journalist - who had been digging for a little dirt - had eventually given into his charms and written an extremely flattering cover story.

The headline was Lachlan Blue Can Get Any Girl He Wants*, with the notation in the right bottom corner of the cover saying “*So why not have them all?”

Lachlan did his test shots, waiting for the gorgeous blonde to show up. He cocked his hips, he smirked, he eyefucked the camera - all the usual shit that he was so good at.

And then, she rounded the corner, and he saw her and completely lost it. The flash went off and captured Lachlan Blue looking like a scared little kitten, eyes wide, mouth slightly open, his body language indicating nothing but longing.

“Hi,” she said in a soft, high-pitched voice - exactly the way he’d imagined her to sound. She wore cutoff Daisy Dukes that were flimsier, and some how less modest, than a pair of panties, and a nude bra that made her tits look in-fucking-credible. Lachlan was slobbering all over himself. His mind wandered all over and he couldn’t think straight. This girl had total command over him. He even forgot that he was the focus of the shoot, suddenly feeling like the extra in someone else’s feature.

“Are you Lachlan?”

He nodded, swallowing spit.

Then, she said four words that confused him: “Do you remember me?”

Remember? What? “I, uh, maybe?” No.

Her pink, glossy lips parted sensuously. “I’m Hailey Hardy.”

Lachlan just stared.

“Remember when we got married in your backyard when we were six?”

Lachlan remembered. Their marriage had been officiated by Chuckles the Beanie Baby, and the processional was a Britney Spears song, played from a boombox. Hailey had pretty much strong-armed him into the ceremony. Physical force wouldn’t be necessary now. She’s Miss USA. Actually, she kinda LOOKS like Britney Spears.

“We’ve grown up a lot since them, huh, handsome?”

“Mm-guh,” he replied affirmatively, barely able to talk from all the drool in his mouth.

They started receiving direction for the shoot. Lachlan knew they’d picked Miss USA as his co-star because she would be seen as unattainable; a sort of prize that men like Lachlan always won, beating out the rest of the average male population. He had his hands around her waist, she rested her head on his chest and looked with one eye at the camera.

From Neil’s seat, he could tell they were still talking. He almost laughed at how freaked out Lachlan was. This girl was not like other girls, and Neil had known that for quite some time, being best friends with her oldest brother. Having grown up with six older brothers and an adoring father, she had a great love for men but did not find them the least bit intimidating. She could crack jokes, flirt like crazy, drive them wild - it was so easy.

She knew she already had Lachlan, and he knew that she knew, and it pissed him off. Yet, he was fascinated by her, this beautiful grown-up babe version of the little girl he used to know. Her body was shaped like a petite hourglass, she had great boobs, she was leggy and lean but athletic, not malnourished. She looked like her family - the eye shape, the mouth - but had luckily inherited a feminine facial shape and worked the Hardy features on it to great effect.

He whispered into her ear as the flashes went off. “Will you go somewhere with me after we’re done here?”

“Where’s somewhere?”

“Anywhere. Whatever you want.”

What a romantic. “Mmmm, but I thought Lachlan Blue could have any girl he wanted.”

“I want you.” He blurted it out like a grade-schooler. His supreme coolness dissolved, and suddenly Lachlan Blue was like every other lovestruck nineteen-year-old.

“Well,” she shrugged with a grin, knowing that she’d just broken through his phony exterior, “then how about you buy me dinner?”

Lachlan had never felt such joy at an acceptance. His mouth opened into a big, ear-splitting grin, and Hailey laughed at it. “You are adorable, Lucky Blue.” She leaned in closer, and whispered the second half of her sentence. “Especially when you let yourself be YOU.”


From the Rolling Stone day onward, the lives of Lachlan Blue and Hailey Hardy were intertwined. They experienced the young person’s journey together, discovering who they were, finding new tastes and interests, all while falling for each other.

It was not a quick romance. Sometimes, it moved so slowly that Neil questioned whether future Lachlan had planted some kind of red herring in his father’s mind, or if maybe Lachlan dated two Miss USAs and Hailey was the one that didn’t work out.

The first year was just casual dating. The Hardys and Blues both advised their children to tread carefully with each other; twenty-year-old hearts are prone to hysterics. Lachlan and Hailey would have dinner, maybe soak up some nightlife before people started taking pictures and they’d have to leave. It was all surface, no substance.

Then, Lachlan spent four months filming in New Zealand, and everything changed. No girl could compare. He missed Hailey, and as soon as he realized it, he sank into a deep depression because he wanted to see her. It became hard to focus on work. He couldn’t look at other women, and he never went out after the day’s shooting was over. He would go back to his room, try to sleep but fail, then type out a long e-mail to Hailey. It became routine. He only sent about half of the e-mails; the others were too intense and he erased them immediately.

It all changed after that, and when Lachlan returned home, it didn’t take long for his family and friends to realize that he had matured greatly. The young playboy was more of a man than he’d ever been.

Soon, Hailey and Lachlan were stripping away distractions from their outings, and just getting to know each other. Instead of noisy clubs, they cooked dinner together at Hailey’s apartment, watched movies and fell asleep on the couch, arms around each other. They had dinner at their parents’ houses and flew all over the country so that Lachlan could bond with each of the Hardy brothers and their families.

It was a long, arduous route that ended with Lachlan standing in the basement of the Hardy beach compound. The beach house was a massive structure in California that all the Hardys - Sean and his adult sons - had gone in on together. It was built in the 1920s as a small resort, making it big enough for all the Hardy kids to bring their spouses and children. Some of their best memories were made there, with all the brothers, all the wives and all the cousins sharing quarters and running around like it was the world’s biggest slumber party.

“God, you’d think I’d never tied a tie before.”

Neil looked at his son, who was struggling with knotting the bow tie of his tuxedo. “Here, let me.”

Lachlan almost protested. Then, he sighed and turned around to let his father tie his bow tie for him. “Thanks. My hands are shaking too much.”

Neil pulled the knot taut and then grabbed Lachlan’s two trembling hands, holding them still. “Relax,” he breathed. “Been a long time since I’ve seen you get nervous.”

“I’m terrified.” Lachlan pushed air out and breathed in. “I’m getting married, Dad.”

“Don’t I know it,” Neil chuckled. “It’s been blowing my mind for the past year.”

There was a long pause, as they stared at each other, thinking. Neil, amazed at Lachlan’s adult face, handsome and resplendent in its exquisite structure. He thought of holding this man in his arms, teaching him to walk, cleaning his cuts and scrapes, drying his tears, taking him to school, kissing his forehead, teaching him about girls, watching him grow up. And now, that little boy was a man - a man who was getting married. But still, Neil saw in Lachlan all the traits he knew so well. It was the same smile, the same beguiling sparkle in the eyes. Just on an adult face instead of a child’s.

Lachlan was thinking of the same things as he looked at his Dad, but in a different capacity. He respected his father so much now that he, Lachlan, was a man himself. Making a success of yourself was hard, and Neil had done so well and set such a good example. Lachlan wanted to be the man his father was. He strived hard for it.

And they both knew what was happening - Lachlan was leaving the nest. It would just never be the same after this.

“Why am I so nervous?”

“Do you love Hailey?”

“Yes,” Lachlan answered quickly, and softly. “More than anything.”

“Do you want to grow old with her and provide for her and protect her?”


“Do you want to have children with her?”

Lachlan grinned his irresistible grin. “Yes. Yes, yes, yes.”

The father slapped his son on the back. “Then whatareya nervous for?! I know, I know, I was scared too, but it goes away. Trust me. As soon as you see her walk in, smiling at you, with her arm linked through her Dad’s…it goes away.” Neil saw Lachlan’s face brighten. The expression contained nothing but anticipation and hope.

They hugged. “You’re gonna remember this day forever. I’m so proud of you. I love you.”

Lachlan rested his chin on the shoulder of Neil’s tux. “I love you so much, Dad. Thank you for everything.” They pulled apart and Lachlan blew his nose into a handkerchief, wiping away stray tears. “God, it’s not like I’m dying!” He laughed. “So many emotions, jeeeez.”

“Well, no, but you know it’ll all be different. You’re starting a family of your own. That’s what every man wants for his son.”

Lachlan smiled. “I guess that is what I’m doing, isn’t it. My own family.” He shook his head. “Wow.”

A knock on the door admitted Leighton, Landon and Mel. Neil held his wife’s hand as they watched their sons joke, hug, and tidy up each other’s tailored tuxes.

Each boy was a different kind of attractive. Lachlan was the beautiful son, with his impeccable jawbone, sparkling blue eyes, thick dark hair and a mouth that looked like it had just been created by a painter’s brush. At 6-2 and 190 pounds, he was structured like the leading man he was, broad-shouldered and athletic.

Leighton was the All-American boy, the cute one. Five years younger than his older brother, twenty-year-old Leighton Blue was the absolute clone of his father at that age. His Dad’s friends, like Hunter and Katie, would call him “Neil” all the time by mistake. Except for minute differences in facial appearance – mostly due to age - he could pass for his father’s twin. His jaw and chin flared out from a muscular neck, right below a pair of pouty lips with a deep Cupid’s bow. His eyes were the same slightly unnatural chlorine-blue shade as Neil’s. They sparkled when Leighton would unleash his big, gleaming smile on the world, and they quivered heartbreakingly when he was sad. Like his father, Leighton Blue would swim in the Olympics and win many gold medals for his country. But also like Neil, he would have to wait until he was 21, having missed out by one-hundredth of a second at Olympic trials when he was 17. The ice-blue eyes had flooded with tears in the locker room, as Leighton found out it would be four more long years until he found glory. In those years, he built up his body, until he possessed the same bodily dimensions as his dad: six-foot-four, 205 pounds, with size 14 feet and oversized hands that acted like flippers.

Watching him swim was astounding. When he watched Leighton, Neil thought often of his own high school days, and of his transformation. At that time, Hunter and Neil couldn’t have imagined that while they were designing the new Neil, they were designing Leighton too. Girls were absolutely mad for Neil’s middle son. He was massive but adorable, like a big muscular teddy bear. Starting at the age of fifteen onward, Leighton had a constant string of conquests that could stretch across the country. Neil wasn’t comfortable with the staggeringly high number of condom wrappers he would see in Leighton’s bedroom, and when Leighton went to college to swim, Neil shuddered to think how he filled his evenings. The young man had an athlete’s libido, and he certainly liked to use it.

Leighton was the tallest of the Blue boys, while Landon, scraping in right over six-feet, was the shortest. Landon Blue was the handsome son, a different kind of attractiveness from his brothers. His jaw was the most square, his eyes the deepest set, although he still bore a very strong resemblance to Leighton. Despite being a dancer, Landon actually had the largest muscles of the three boys; he had inherited his mother’s gymnast musculature. With his facial features relaxed, or during moments of serious dancing, he looked like Mel. But when he laughed, smiled or was happy - which he was 95% of the time - he was all Neil. Landon was sociable, wildly popular in school, and an eternal optimist, but also a very intense young man who loved and hated with equal passion. He had an aggressively macho demeanor that Neil knew was meant to counterbalance his love of movement, but he was also exceedingly kind and tender. The kind of man that drives a huge Range Rover, but stops it in the middle of the street to make sure that a squirrel gets across safely, and the kind of man that feels equally at home in a dance studio or an underground gym. Very much a “youngest” in every sense of the word, Landon still felt his parents and brothers trying to protect him all the time, never wanting him to get as close to danger as he had on the day of his birth. They adored him and his miraculous life. With his infectious love of life, talent, radiant smile and effortless bad-boy charm, Landon Blue brought his parents indescribable joy.

Though they could fight to the point of blows, the Blue brothers loved each other with an almost uncommon fervor. They looked so dapper and grown-up as they stood with each other, hugging Lachlan and talking excitedly. It was incredible how attractive they all were. Their parents beamed with pride.

Neil looked down at Mel and pulled her in close. She leaned against his chest.

“Can you believe this is happening?”

“I still can’t believe they’re not six years old anymore.”

“I know,” he nodded, motioning toward the three handsome men. “But look at what we made.”

Neil and Hunter didn’t get to sit next to each other, because Hunter was in the ceremony as a groomsman. All six Hardy sons stood next to Lachlan as he married their sister. Leighton was best man, according to the arrangement the brothers had set up: Lachlan would have Leighton, Leighton would have Landon and Landon would have Lachlan. The only groomsman who was not a blood relative was Houston Roberts, although the Blues considered him their brother in everything but their name. The handsome personal trainer and high school strength coach proudly stood among some of the most handsome men in the world, and more than held his own.


Hunter and Neil knocked on the door of Lachlan and Hailey’s penthouse. For Neil, it was serious deja vu, and even moreso when Lachlan opened the door. He’d put on a t-shirt, but otherwise, this was the man that Neil had met years before. The exact one, in fact - Lachlan had just called his father to say that he’d talked with 29-year-old Neil. “Please come over. PLEASE.”

As Neil walked in, Lachlan stared at him with great intensity. “Y’know, you’ve aged really, really well Dad. You look maybe five years older. Maybe.”

“Well, thank you very much,” Neil responded, laughing, as he and Hunter plopped down on a plush couch. “That was a great day. You probably don’t remember, but when I went back, I saw you first thing. You were seven, and I was so excited that you were small again, I just had to hold you for a long time. It was so much easier to live for the present after that.”

“Do you still wish that I was small?”

“Every parent does, sometime,” Hunter said, butting in. “All my kids are teenagers now, and I miss those younger days, all the time. You’ll find out how wonderful it is to wake up and see them in their cribs, cooing, and you make them breakfast and just spend the whole day together. It’s perfect. But on the other hand, there’s nothing better than really talking to your kids...conversating, y’know, and they have their own likes and dislikes and opinions. Seeing them become their own people; it’s fascinating. Every stage of life is unique and special.”

“I figure, if you’re nostalgic for the past, it must have been good,” Neil said. “And that isn’t a bad thing at all.”

Lachlan smiled and got beers for his dad and uncle. “It’ll be nice when you can crack a beer with Burke, huh, Hunter?”

“Have a shot and a shave? You bet,” Hunter smiled. “Man, he’s almost there, isn’t he? Jeez.”

“How’s he doing at Oklahoma?”

“He’s loving it. I knew he would,” Hunter said, smiling. “He’s learning so much about the sport, about training, it’s really incredible for him. Winning games like crazy, partying like crazy. He’s Big Man on Campus down there and really loves college. But I miss him. His going away hit Katie pretty hard. Hell, it hit ME pretty hard. We go down there all the time, but it’s all I can do to not pop over there daily and just say hi. He’ll pop home sometime when he’s had a bad day, but he tries to be his own man.”

“You have something to say,” Neil said to his son with a point. “I can tell.”

“You know me pretty well.” Lachlan stretched and then stood, walking behind his chair and standing. “Dad, do you remember your visit - the time-travel one that just happened - when I joked about Hailey being pregnant?”

“Yes...” Neil inspected Lachlan’s face closely.

Lachlan couldn’t suppress his grin. “It wasn’t a joke.”

The next thirty seconds were a blur of celebratory hugs and tears and laughter. “She just called me from London, she puked on set so she took a pregnancy test...we guess it’s a honeymoon baby.”

“You told me she was having twins.”

“Yeah, don’t think that was true, I just threw it on there to make it seem more...preposterous. I was telling you, and then I realized that I shouldn’t be telling you, so I tried to cover.”

“A baby,” Neil said, shaking his head. “A baby. You’re gonna be a dad.”

“Grandpa,” Hunter whispered, and Neil just shook his head more, unable to believe it.

“So, Hunter,” Lachlan said, “your niece or nephew is my Dad’s grandkid.”

Hunter and Neil both got grins as big as the one on Lachlan’s face. “That means we’re related,” Hunter said, now also in disbelief. “We’re relatives!”


In the ensuing months, everything in Lachlan’s life changed, but nothing changed as much as Lachlan himself.

As his wife grew bigger, Lachlan Blue hit the gym like a madman, training with Houston early in the morning before Hailey woke up. His muscles exploded with growth as a response. He hit 210, then when he plateaued he called Burke for help. A slight internal modification assisted his training greatly, eventually beefing him up to 230, and pretty soon Lachlan Blue was an absolute wall of muscle. His becoming a father was deeply connected to his masculinity, and Lachlan wanted to be the man of the house, to be the protector. He had a wife that needed security, he had a baby that he had to take care of, and muscle helped with that. The looks he got on the street said it all - he was powerful, manly, a father, a husband, and he was proud of that. Soon, he and Houston had very similar physiques, and their competitive spirits goaded them on to become even bigger. He would train and train and train, and then crawl back into bed and wrap himself around his wife and unborn baby for another hour or two of rest.

But as his body grew stronger and bigger, his mentality was softening.

Hailey woke up in the middle of the night to see Lachlan sleeping in the fetal position. With his chiseled face, swoosh of black hair and now-enormous body, he fit in perfectly with the Hardy men. He could even pass for one. His arms - the size of a car’s bumper - were wrapped around a pillow, clutching it tightly to his broad chest.

“Amy,” he whispered hazily in his sleep.

Hailey’s brow furrowed. AMY? Oh fuck no. She leaned in closer, moving slowly due to her pregnant belly.

He said it again, but it sounded like “Ayly” this time, and she smiled, relieved to hear what she thought was her name.

She whispered into his ear very softly. “What did you say, babe?”

He didn’t wake up, but he repeated it clearly. “My baby,” he said, comically embracing his pillow with his huge muscles. Not Amy, not Hailey...he’d been saying ‘baby.’

He sounded like a child. It almost brought tears to her eyes. “Our baby,” she said with a smile, and Lachlan agreed through his sleep, unconsciously. “I love our baby,” he replied with a big dazed smile.

Boy, he’s a keeper. She put a hand to her belly and felt a kick. “I love our baby too,” she whispered.

Her husband’s muscles were perfect for nuzzling up and falling asleep against. Every morning she’d wake up with Lachlan’s powerful arms wrapped around her. She could feel the power of his body warming hers up. And pregnant sex was insane, just the tops.

As time pushed on, Lachlan was inspired by Hailey’s nesting instincts and began to construct a nursery for his child. At first, it was a hobby, but soon it became a passion project that no one else could touch. He wanted it to be his first gift to his son or daughter. He sanded and re-finished all the furniture, re-installed windows, painted the walls and stenciled designs on them. It took weeks, but when it was finished, it was Lachlan’s second favorite production.


“So, how are you?” Neil and Lachlan sipped waters as they waited for their food. The baby was only days away.

“I’m...” Lachlan trailed off in thought. “I’m everything.”

And Neil knew exactly how that felt. Stressed, over-the-moon, anxious, terrified, ecstatic, confused, positive, ready, unprepared. All of it.

“It’s gonna be one of the best times of your life.”

“I know. I’m so ready for it to start. I’m tired of waiting.”

“Look, son, uh,” Neil looked down at the table. “I’ve thought for a while about talking to you about this...”


“I want to warn you...sort of.”

Lachlan began to get nervous. His eyes narrowed. “Warn...”

“It sounds ridiculous, but you might get jealous of the baby. I got really jealous of you.” Lachlan saw his father’s eyes roll. “It seems so stupid to admit.”

“Well, you were so young, Dad.”

Neil nodded. “I was. I was really, really young. And I was experiencing all these emotions, all these adult emotions. I didn’t know how to process any of them. I went kind of numb. I wanted to protect you, I loved you so much and I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to keep you safe. I only slept an hour or two each night, not cause you kept me awake, but because I was so terrified. I was experiencing a kind of love that I wasn’t able to understand, because I wasn’t mature enough, and I didn’t feel like a man yet because I...wasn’t. It scared me. I didn’t feel worthy of you and how perfect you were, and it started making me angry.”

Lachlan’s eyes were sympathetic. “Dad, I didn’t know...I mean I thought about it, yeah...”

“I remember sitting in bed one night with your Mom and were probably, like, four or five months old, and she was feeding you. You looked so content, just suckin’ away.” They both laughed. “And she looked so happy, she was smiling down at you. And I felt like she didn’t smile at me like that anymore. It was starting to feel like, ‘thanks for the sperm, but now the baby’s here so I don’t need you.’ Of course it wasn’t like that, but I I didn’t matter. I set my chin on her shoulder and kissed her neck, and she turned around and she kissed me, and I got so excited. I was like, awww, yeah, finally. So I really went for it, and we played a little tonsil hockey and right as I started to get things going, she goes ‘Not NOW, I’m feeding Lachlan.’ And that was that.”

“It’s so weird to think of you guys having sex. Or life with just the two of you, without us.”

Neil laughed. “Well, you guys had to come from somewhere, and we were both professional athletes. That’s all I’ll say.”

“Thank you,” Lachlan smiled wryly.

“Temptation was everywhere. It’s sad, but I wasn’t short on propositions even after everyone knew I was married. I literally would leave my wedding ring on the side of the pool and put it on as soon as I got out, just so people would know, but I still had no shortage of offers. I guess you understand that.”

“Do I ever. It pisses Hailey off. Well, okay, it pisses me off too. It’s flattering but disrespectful.”

“Exactly. And when you’re 22 and you’re already married and your wife won’t have sex with you because she’s either playing with the baby or feeding it or sleeping, it becomes...”


“Very. I got tired of taking care of myself.” Neil’s eyes got wide. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”

Lachlan smiled. “No, no, it’s fine. We all do it. I do it too.”

Yeeeah you do, I did the laundry sometimes when you were a teenager...I mean, shit, Luckster. Anyway. Yeah. I was having so much trouble being faithful. I never thought I would be that man who just followed his dick around, but it was so hard.”

They both burst out laughing immediately. “Hard as in, y’know, life...not hard like my...ugh. Let’s move on,” Neil said, blushing.

Lachlan was still laughing as his father continued. “This one swimmer, Laura Robards, she was way into me and let me know all the time. And I kept telling her, no, no, stop, I’m married, I have a wife and a son. She cooled it a little but told me her door was open, and that door just got so much more inviting the more frustrated I got.”

Lachlan didn’t like where this was going, at all. He shifted uncomfortably.

“I was at nationals, in a prelim heat. I took it easy, got second just to qualify. I remember getting out of the pool and I got out, and the first thing I saw was Laura waiting on deck, all boobs and blond hair and all of that. And I took a single step toward her, and then I stopped and a voice in my head said, clear as a bell, ‘Look to your right, stupid.’ I’m almost sure it was my Dad talking to me. So I looked over, and your Mom was in the stands, and she was holding you up so that you could stand on her knees. You guys weren’t supposed to be there, it was a surprise. And I saw her beautiful smile and she waved at me, and then you did the same thing without her telling you to. You opened up your mouth wide, this big toothless gorgeous grin - you were probably screaming, but I couldn’t hear it - and you flung your little hand in the air and just waved and waved and waved.”

Without even thinking, Lachlan looked down at his hands.

“And I...well, I just melted. I thought, you IDIOT, you almost fucked all that up. I got so angry at myself, and I realized, why was I ever angry at my baby boy? I’M the problem, not him. So I ran into the stands, which we’re not supposed to do, and I just held you so tightly. I didn’t get care if I never got laid again, I just had to hold you right then and kiss that tiny little forehead. I took a lot of heat for that because people thought I was gloating over a stupid prelim, but I didn’t give a shit.”

Lachlan was getting misty. “Is that the newspaper picture that’s framed in your den?”

“That’s the one. That’s why it’s there. It’s a reminder. So what I’m saying is, if you have those feelings, it’s normal. Don’t panic, but do fight them. Nothing is better than what you’re getting. Fight them hard, so hard.”

“I will. I promise.”

“I was just thinking about it, and I got a little worried. Since you haven’t had much time to be a married couple, I just wanted--”

“I know, Dad,” Lachlan gave an assuring nod. “Really, I know. Thank you.”

“Y’know, you look absolutely fantastic.” Neil reached across the table to squeeze Lachlan’s arm, a massive unit that bulged out of his sleeve in all directions. “You’re huge.”

“I’ve been trying really hard. It’s, uh, it’s kind of me...trying to set an example, I guess. I go whenever Hailey’s in one of her moods.” He laughed. “Then on my way home, I go get Doritos, Dr. Pepper and a whole head of cauliflower.”

“Ahh, gotta love the cravings. It’s funny, with you, your Mom was insane for Dr. Pepper too. It was like she drank a 2-liter a day.”

“Really? Funny. It’s still my favorite cheat.”

Their food came and they dug into it greedily.

“So...” Lachlan smiled, going back to their previous topic. “Is that why you waited five more years to have Leighton?”

“Well...mostly, yeah,” Neil admitted sheepishly. “Daddy needed his jollies, but most of all he needed to finish growing up. I wanted to be sure I was ready. The way you two turned out, and Landon...I think we did the right thing.”

“I think so too, Dad.”


Planning out an entire birth, down to the date of inducement, is practically a way of guaranteeing that something unplanned will happen soon. And sure enough, one week before Hailey’s scheduled date to be induced, she went into labor during her morning yoga. And just like that, all the plans were blown out the window.

Lachlan was on set doing re-shoots for a movie when an assistant brought him over a cell phone. “Your mother-in-law’s on the phone, she’s called five times, says it’s urgent.”

“Thanks,” Lachlan took the phone and suddenly could feel his heart racing. “Wendy?”

“Get ready to be a Daddy,” Wendy Hardy said, and her smile was apparent even over the phone. “Hailey’s in labor, so you’d better get here, because she’s not slowing down.”

“Car! I need a car!” Lachlan was out in such a hurry that he was still wearing his costume, a white dress shirt with pinstripe trousers and suspenders. He only unhooked the suspenders as he raced down the hospital hallway.

“Baby?! Hailey, sweetheart?!”

He saw Hunter - who he had to remind himself was his brother-in-law now, not his uncle - step out into the hallway and gesture, and Lachlan entered a dead sprint until he reached the doorway.

“In some downtime right now. How ya doing?”

“I...I...” Lachlan was huffing and puffing, but soon he found himself grinning from ear-to-ear. “I’m so excited.”

At 6-6, Hunter still looked down on his best friend’s 6-2 son, even though Lachlan was now a grown man himself. Hunter found himself placing his hand on Lachlan’s powerful shoulder and giving it an affectionate squeeze, and suddenly he just wanted to cry. He had known this man since his very first breath, and watching him become a father was a very emotional event.

Lachlan caught his breath as he talked. “How’d you get here so fast?”

Hunter just looked at Lachlan and smirked, and the younger man chuckled. “Oh, right. Poof.”

“Baby, that you?” He heard Hailey call from the room, and he quickly ran in and grabbed her hand and kissed it.

“Hi, sweetie.”

“It’s today.” She felt her hand rubbing against his daily stubble as he pressed his cheek up to her fingers. “It’s today!”

“It’s today,” he nodded, with a smile as bright as the sun. “Are you hurting?”

“A little,” she sighed before matching his smile. “It’s so worth it.”

“God, I love you.” He looked up at his parents, who were sitting with Sean and Wendy. “Hi everyone. Where’re Leighton and Lando? I texted them, has someone called Houston?”

“They’re all burning rubber over here, don’t worry,” Neil responded.

“I called all of them,” Mel continued. “Leighton might still be in a Speedo when he gets here. None of them are wasting a moment.”

“Nice shirt, man,” Neil chuckled, and Lachlan looked down to see his white dress shirt, half un-buttoned, tight against his huge physique.

“Yeah, I, time, y’know.”

“I think it’s sexy,” Hailey said with a loving squeeze of Lachlan’s hand. “Oh God, ow,” she muttered, feeling more pain. “Can we just get this baby out of me?”


With a beep and a indicator light, the video camera turned on, pointed toward a big plush chair. Leighton made sure the video was recording, and took a seat in front, talking to the lens.

“Hi, Hardy,” he said with a loving finger wave to the camera. “I’m your Uncle Leighton. I wanted to do something special for you and I thought maybe this would be a good idea, recording all the people who were here the day you were born...I want to give it to you on a big birthday, maybe when you’re 18 or 21. So, however old you are when you watch this...happy birthday, buddy.” Leighton wiped a tear away. “You’re an hour old and I’m already crazy about you. We’re all already crazy about you. I haven’t even gotten to hold you yet, but I know - we all know - that you’re destined for greatness. See, buddy, by the time you’re watching this, you’ll know how lucky you are. Your Daddy is my brother and he’s loved you since before we even knew you were on your way. You’re the first person on earth to be one-half Blue and one-half Hardy, and that’s a crazy combination! I can’t wait to see what you do with it. You’ll be some blond-haired green-eyed football-playing swimmer, maybe, or a blue-eyed actor jock-of-all-trades with shoulders like mine and your grandpa’s.” Leighton laughed and smiled his huge, beaming smile. “I should wrap up, but I can’t wait to be your uncle, dude. You’re one in a million, and I love you. Happy birthday.”

The video would show Leighton standing up and pausing the video, causing a brief period of black. When it re-started, Burke was in the lens. A handsome six-foot-four jock (who was probably going to get even bigger), Burke Hardy bore a very strong resemblance to his father. He had more of his mother’s coloring, which gave his hair its beautiful light brown color, but his large, bulging muscles and tightly chiseled features were Hardy trademarks. Even his eyes, a sensational shamrock green, were like Hunter’s.

“Hardy! What’s up, man, I’m your cousin Burke. I gotta tell you, you’ve got the best name I think I’ve ever heard.” Burke gave a wry grin. “Hardy Houston Blue, that’s a pretty awesome name. Rolls off the tongue nicely, huh? And it’s really appropriate for you. You’re half a Hardy and half a Blue, you lucky dog. I hope when you watch this that you’ve loved being in our family, because you came into this world surrounded by people that love you like no one else.” The young man paused as he wondered what to say. “Uh, watching this might be weird for you - I’m probably a lot older-looking to you now. I’ll tell you what I’m doing right now, like a time capsule. For the record, your Uncle Leighton is my best friend in the whole wide world. We were born a week apart. We’re like brothers, and I hope you have a friend that is just like Leighton was to me. I play football, like my Dad. I’d bet money he’s in the Hall of Fame by the time you’re watching this. He was great, dude. Your Uncle Hunter, man, he was one of the best of all time. If I’m as half as good of a quarterback as Dad was, then I’m a very lucky man. I’m doing alright so far, I’m the starting quarterback for Oklahoma. Boomer Sooners! I had a tiny little jersey made for your Dad and Mom to dress you in. You’ll look just great in it. It’s a replica of mine, and of course my last name is your first, so it’s perfect for you. Uh, I got nominated for the Heisman last year but I didn’t win, but that’s okay because I have some more time.” He smiled. “Leighton, get over here,” and Leighton entered the frame and rubbed his knuckles on Burke’s short hair. “See, we’re pals,” Leighton said, and Burke laughed in agreement. “Leighton sucks at football, but that’s okay because I can barely swim and Leighton’s gonna win a bunch of medals next year.”

Leighton pretended offense. “I am GREAT at football, I just let you win.”

“Right. See, Hardy, what Leighton is saying is a big fat lie, and those are bad, you should never lie.” Both friends laughed. “Okay, I’m getting the ‘wrap-it-up’ motion, so I’ll just say, Hardy, I love you a lot and I can’t wait to play with you and toss the pigskin around with you and my Dad - that’s your Uncle Hunter - and my brothers. Tripp and Neil play every sport in existence between them, and my youngest brother Sean’s gonna be a bodybuilder, we can just tell. His body’s already nuts. In a few years, his muscles will have muscles. Lily probably won’t care about our games, but maybe she’ll watch. I’d bet money she’ll be a model like Mom, so they’ll talk about, I dunno, makeup and stuff. Anyway, yeah, I love you, see you in the future, bud!”

Another pause revealed Houston Roberts, his massive shoulders practically stretching out of the frame. The light of the room highlighted his sharp, manly features and well-trimmed beard. He wore a red Under Armor compression shirt, with a silver stripe that ran directly underneath his huge pectorals, like a shelf that was holding them up. He had become exactly the man that Lachlan had envisioned.

“Hey, Hardy. My name’s Houston Roberts, and I hope you call me Uncle Houston.” Houston pressed two fingers to his forehead in a salute. “Your middle name is after me, and that might be the biggest honor of my life up to this point. Sorry about the skintightness,” he said, tugging on his shirt, “I’m a personal trainer and I was with a client when I found out you were on your way, so I didn’t have time to change. Y’know, Hardy, I don’t have any brothers of my own except for your Dad and uncles, and I definitely consider them to be my family, so I’m proud to consider you my nephew, dude.” Houston smiled. “You are so lucky, Hardy. Your Daddy and your grand-dad, they’re the two greatest men I know. I’m convinced that they saved my life. I was dying inside and they were so kind to me. They taught me how to be ME. I was a chubby, pasty little kid, and now, well,” he looked down at each arm, stuffed to bursting with darkly tanned muscle, “now I’m not. That’s because of your family, on both sides, Hunter and Harrison and Lachlan and your grandparents, all of ‘em. And Lachlan, he’s gonna be such a great dad. I’m a little jealous of you, buddy, my Dad wasn’t around much and when he was, I didn’t want him to be. But your Mom and Dad are just so madly in love with you, and they’ll be your best friends while also being great parents. It may not seem like they always want the best for you, but trust me, they do. And I’ll be around to take you out to lunch on your birthday, and I can’t wait to buy you presents. Maybe I’ll teach you how to wrestle like your Uncle Harrison taught me, although with your genetics I doubt you’ll need any help.” Houston took a breath and smiled the most earnest, loving smile at the camera. “I never really thought about having kids of my own. It scared me since most of my childhood kinda, uh, sucked. But once I saw you, and the way your Daddy looked when he first saw you - like he was looking at God in the face - that was all I needed. I’ve never seen Lachlan look the way he did today. So thanks, Hardy. I love you and I can’t wait to watch you grow, and I hope you have lots of playtime with my own kids.”

Landon took his seat next, wearing a very tight baby-blue t-shirt that played off his eyes and powerful arms. “Hardy Bluuuuue, you’re an hour old and already bringing the ladies to tears, you stud,” the young man laughed. “Of course they’re your grandmas and your Mom, but still, you’ve already got people fighting over who gets to touch you next. You’re just born with it. Anyway, hi, I’m Landon, I’m your coolest and most favorite Uncle. Leighton and those eighteen Hardy guys or however many there are, they’re okay, but they know with me around they’ll always be second best in the coolness and looks departments.” Landon leaned in closer to the camera. “Guys, if you’re watching this, please don’t beat me up. Especially you, big brother Leighton, I already have enough bruises from you to last me for years.” He leaned back into the chair’s plush pillows. “But whatever, who cares - Hardy’s here, and you’re perfect, and we’re already pretty head-over-heels for you. Leighton told me to tell you about what I’m doing now, so uh, yeah...I’m eighteen years old, and I’m a professional dancer. Weird, right? I don’t know where it came from either. Everyone’s an athlete or something and then there’s Commando Lando, the dancer. Don’t worry, I don’t do ballet, but I do hip-hop and jazz and stuff like that. I’m about to go on my first international music tour, though, and I’m getting a wicked nice paycheck, so I’m excited about that. I’m kind of big for a dancer because I got the Blue muscles,” he said, jokingly popping a flex, “so I wind up doing a lot of tumbling, gymnastics kind of stuff, like what Grandma used to do. Don’t call her Grandma, though, she’s way too young and really not that type - call her Mel, because she’s your friend. She’s awesome and she’s gonna spoil you, so be ready.” Landon got a little more serious. “But really, when it comes down to it…you just made me grow up a lot today, little guy. I’ve never really dealt with babies in our family because I’m the youngest, so you’ve just made me understand a lot of stuff. Lachlan’s a Dad now, and…wow.” Landon paused for a moment and let it sink in. “My big brother is a dad now, and he’s gonna be so great at it - I bet big brothers make the best dads, because they’re already used to caring for people. Even when I was scared or felt like I didn’t have any friends, I knew I would see Lachlan soon and he would protect me and take care of me. I trusted him. I’ve always trusted him. Yeah, he’ll be the greatest dad. I love you more than I can say and I know you’ve got the most amazing future ahead. But for now, seeing you learn to walk and talk and pee and all that, that’ll be enough to impress me.” Landon smiled Neil’s smile. “I love you, little champ. Oh God, I’m tearing up, okayyyyyy, time to leave. I love you Hardy!”

A brief pause later, Sean Hardy sat in the chair, with Wendy on his lap.

“Oh, Hardy,” Wendy said, and Sean continued, “What a great name you’ve got, little man. You have a great big heritage, and it’s all right there in your first name.”

“It’s a rather unusual heritage,” Wendy said with a smile, and Sean nodded with a grin. “Pretty unusual, yeah, and you’ll probably know what we’re talking about by the time you watch this. And if you don’t know, then ask and we’ll tell you.”

“You’ll be old enough.”

“Definitely old enough.”

“We can’t wait to see what all you have in store,” Wendy said. “Your Mommy is our only daughter, and I think your uncles thought it was weird to see their baby sister pregnant with you. Hunt and Henry, Hank and Hugh and Harry, and especially Hudson because he and Hailey are so close. They just dote on her, always have, so to see her as a grown woman, bearing children – that was kind of hard on them, maybe. It makes you very, very special, being the first baby of our own baby.”

“Your Mom and Dad called us all the time with questions during the pregnancy,” Sean said in his low voice, looking impossibly classy in his open-necked white dress shirt and tweed blazer, tailored to his unbelievable form. “They wanted to be sure they were doing everything as well as they possibly could, because there’s nothing on this earth they love more than you. Your Dad got huge and buff for you, little guy, and he did it partially at my gyms with my trainers and your uncles.”

“We knew he’d be a great father,” Wendy said. “When he flew to our house so he could ask us for our blessing in proposing to Hailey, one of the first things Sean asked Lachlan was if he wanted children, and he said ‘Yes, absolutely.’ His eyes just lit up. It’s funny, he grew up around our family and we just never had an inkling that he was born to marry our daughter. But they’re so perfect for each other, I can’t believe it took us this long to figure it out! And my God, he cooks for her.”

Sean cocked his head. “Did I ever cook for you?”

“A few times. I remember when Harry was a baby and he, Hank, Hugh and I all had the flu, and you stayed home from work and made us homemade chicken noodle soup.”

“Oh, I do remember that,” he grinned. “Boy, that was sure nice of me.”

“You’re just an angel, darling, who could possibly deserve you?”

They both laughed, and Sean continued. “A man who works hard to be strong just so he can be an example for his son, that man will be a great father. And my baby girl, your Mama, she’s been planning for you since she was a little girl herself. When she was five or so, she had a girl dolly in her arms when I picked her up. And I said, ‘Hay Hay, what’s your little girl’s name?’ And she said, VERY annoyed, ‘Daddy, that’s a little boy. I named him Hardy because I have my husband’s name now but I still want my name to be around too.’ I swear, she said exactly that. I’m not surprised she followed through with it. Once your Mama gets set on something, she’s gonna get her way. I bet you’ve figured that out by now.”

“We love you, Hardy. Welcome to the family.”

“Welcome. It’s great to have some Blue blood infusion! You have one awesome family, and you’re already one handsome fella, just like your Daddy and uncles and, of course, grandfathers.”

The camera was paused and the timestamp went ahead a few hours. In the chair sat Lachlan, and in his strong arms he cradled his new baby boy. His eyes were shining and clear, despite being red-rimmed from all the emotion and exhaustion of the day. The new father radiated joy and pride. His large, powerful muscles were amazingly impressive, a pulsing testament to his paternal devotion.

“So...” He said to the camera, holding the baby up into view. “This is you, son. Look at how small you were on this day. And you’re so...perfect. Every little toe, every little finger, perfectly formed. You’re a long sucker, you’re almost 23 inches! You’ll be tall like all of us, maybe even taller than me, like Leighton or Hunter-sized.” Lachlan stopped talking for a second and rocked his arms, hypnotized by the tiny, wizened face. “Look at you,” he whispered in amazement. For a moment, all was silent as Lachlan rubbed his son’s malleable skin and grasped the tiny hands. “See this?” He fingered the small blue knit cap pulled over Hardy’s little head. “My Dad just gave this to me - I wore it the day that I was born, and now it fits you. See? It says “Blue” on it. Now there won’t be any mix-ups, and no one will take you home by mistake.” He chuckled. “That would destroy me. Uh, I remember a long time ago, my Dad told me he would die for me, and that I wouldn’t be able to understand what he meant. He was right, I couldn’t. I couldn’t imagine being willing to stop living for someone else. But I get it. You are my life, Hardy. Part of me is living in you, and the other half is your Mom. Speaking of your Mom, she’s asleep right now, but I bet she’ll record something at some point. She’s obviously really tired.” He leaned down and kissed the wrinkly forehead. “It’s all for you now, little guy. I’m gonna work so hard for you. You’re the best and most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I love you so much, I just feel like I’m gonna explode! We all feel like that. You’re already looking around a little, crying a little. I think you look like your Mommy, and she thinks you look like me. Maybe you look like both of us. But you know…it doesn’t matter to me, because you’ll be gorgeous either way. The best part, to me, is that you’re totally healthy. You came out screaming, dude, you’ve got some good lungs on you. And I’m so...” Lachlan paused and continued kissing the baby in his arms. “I’m so proud,” he choked, “that I’m your Daddy. I’ll do my best to be there for you always, son, I promise, I promise, I promise. I love saying that – ‘son.’ I have a son! I love you, Hardy. I love you, and I hope I’m right next to you, watching this with you and laughing at how young I am. Just watching you look around with your wet, brand new eyes - it makes me want to cry. I’ve never been a cryer, but you make me feel tender, yeah. Tender. I can’t wait to hear how you sound when you say your first word, and I can’t wait to see the way you walk, and run, and play sports...all of it will be amazing, just as amazing as this day, when you gave my life purpose.” Kiss. “My baby boy. My baby boy, I love all of you.”

And then, finally, the screen showed Hunter and Neil, sitting side-by-side. Hardy slept cradled in his grandfather’s loving arms.

“Well,” Neil said with an audible exhale. “Here we are.”

“Here we are,” Hunter replied with a smile.

“Did you think the first meeting at Target would lead to this?”

“We didn’t meet at Target,” Hunter corrected, “We met at school. You were helping with the blood drive.”

“Oh yeahhhh.” Neil looked down at the bundle in his arms. “Hear that, Hardy Blue? Neil and your Uncle Hunter have known each other for darn near thirty years.”

“And we’re best friends,” Hunter said, rubbing a finger over the new baby’s skin.

“Best friends,” Neil agreed. “Except for our wives of course.”

“Oh, of course.” Hunter looked up past the camera to its unseen operator. “Leighton, what are you saying? I can’t hear...oh...okay, yeah. Uh, Hardy, your name just gives me chills. You’re the first biological bridge between our families. Hardy Blue. It’s so perfect, when Lachlan told me it, I just got goosebumps.” Hunter slapped a hand on Neil’s back. “I’ve known this guy for the majority of my life, and Neil is the most incredible man I know. And I mean that. When I met him, he had no idea what potential he had.”

“A diamond in the rough,” Neil smirked.

“That’s exactly it. And I watched him grow into the strongest, wisest man. Just an all-around incredible guy. Neil’s an old soul, and you’re gonna benefit from that, Hardy. It was so beautiful watching him play with your Daddy and your uncles when they were little. And it was funny, because he’d gone from this kinda nervy, antsy kid into a proud father and an Olympic champion. Your dad is like Neil in so many ways, and he’s ready for you even though he may not know it yet. You’re going to be so well taken care of, and so provided for, and so protected. And my baby sister, she was born to be a mom. She’s gonna be so great it. I can’t believe she’s grown up, let alone married and let ALONE a mother!” Hunter looked down at the baby. “But look at you,” he said softly. “You’re perfect.”

“Guess it’s my turn,” Neil grinned. “I’m only 46 years old, buddy, and I wasn’t really expecting a grandbaby before I hit 50. Some of my friends are still having children of their own, but, well, I started a little earlier. But I’m glad I’m not some old man, because if you’re a mobile kid, I’ll be right there with you, playing and running. I wouldn’t be surprised to see you be some kind of athlete, but if you’re not, that’s okay. You can be whatever you want to be, Hardy. Your first name has a whole lot of history, and a lot of great men have worn it. Y’know, back when your dad was just getting started in the biz, as they call it, I was meeting with agents to represent him. And one of them complimented me, he said, ‘Naming him Lachlan was so smart, everyone knows who he is just by his first name.’ And then he said, I swear, ‘Great branding.’ Like I had named my son because I wanted him to be some kind of product that you package and sell. Needless to say, I didn’t hire the guy. But your name, it sort of is a brand, in a way. A great brand. Each of your uncles is incredible in a different way, and your grandpa Sean is simply one of the most incredible men in my life. He’s always been like a father to me, so it’s funny that the two of us are your grandfathers. We’re not terribly alike, but we love you equally.” Neil looked at Hunter. Both men’s eyes were beginning to water. “And your Uncle Hunter, he means the world to me. I don’t want to imagine my life without my best bud.”

“Your life wouldn’t have been NEARLY the same,” Hunter said with a forced laugh. “Mine wouldn’t have been either.”

“Hardy, it’s hard to describe how close Mel and I are to Katie and Hunter. We can tell each other anything. We are all the greatest of friends, and have been for decades now. We have cried and laughed together, we have experienced life, and loss, and marriage, and...and birth, and death. I hope you have friends like that, Hardy. I pray that your life is rich with them. Seeing Lachlan holding you, and realizing that my little boy is a father now...” Neil trailed off, smiling down at the baby. “Wow.”

“We’ve been through a lot together.”

“A whole lot.”

“I think we could write a book,” Hunter said with a sly grin.

“I think we could write a couple of ‘em,” Neil responded into the camera. “And we probably will, too.”

“Oh, I bet we will. But Hardy, you’ll know more about us than any book would tell. Because it doesn’t end here. It starts here.”

“Definitely. There are so many stories to many secrets,” Neil chuckled.

“An anthology of secrets,” Hunter said.

“You’ll have the world’s most unique bedtime stories.”

Hunter put a fraternal arm around Neil and leaned in closer to his friend and the newborn. “You have the greatest family in the world, little guy.”

Neil smiled and placed an affectionate hand on Hardy’s tiny head. With the exact same smile, Hunter’s hand rubbed on the other side of his nephew’s head.

And there they sat, Hunter and Neil, as close as brothers, smiling down at the embodiment of their years together. Just like all the descendants of the Hardy and Blue dynasties, Hardy Blue was not a normal boy.

I’ll be loving you always,
with a love that’s true, always…
days may not be fair, always,
that’s when I’ll be there, always,
not for just an hour
not for just a day
not for just a year, but