Operation Bailey Birthday by Piper Rayne



1





Easton Bailey

(Fifteen and a half years old)

Austin and Holly’s Son





I’m not sure what’s worse. The fact that my dad saved his old-ass Jeep for me to drive when I turn sixteen or the fact that he makes me drive our entire family to school every morning as part of my “learning to drive” experience.

“You have to stop before you turn right,” he dictates from the passenger seat.

“You don’t want Sheriff Miller Jr. to pull you over,” Mom chimes in from the back. At least she doesn’t watch my every move, waiting to correct me like Dad. “Harper, you gotta eat something.”

“Kind of crazy when you think of Sheriff Miller…” Dad glances at the back seat, and he and my mom exchange creepy smiles that say they’re remembering a time before my sister and I were around.

“If it wasn’t for the retired Sheriff Miller’s daughter we might not all be here,” my mom says and runs her hand down my dad’s arm.

Harper huffs. At least she’ll get out of the Jeep first since she’s still in middle school. “Please stop.”

“It’s a great story. Are you sure you don’t want to hear it again?” my mom jokes. I watch in the rearview mirror as she picks up the granola bar Harper put down on her backpack and hands it back to my sister with the look of “eat the damn thing.”

Having a thirteen-year-old sister has taught me that girls her age are temperamental—you never know what mood she’ll be in every morning.

“If Sheriff Miller Jr. wasn’t born and his mom didn’t take maternity leave from the school, your mom—”

“Wouldn’t have come to Alaska and been your boss,” I say. “We know.”

“Principal.” My dad winks at my mom behind us.

I pull into the middle school to drop off Harper. She’s already unbuckling her seat belt and grabbing her bag.

“Yeah, yeah, and you two fell in love.” I pull the Jeep beside the curb.

“And you should both be thankful, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.” My mom sounds annoyed that we’re not going gaga over their love story, but seriously, they’ve told it a million times.

“Here you go, brat,” I say, putting the Jeep into park.

My mom says my name as if it’s a scolding, but we all know she’d like to call Harper that on the daily.

“Yeah, I’m so sorry I can’t drive the entire way with you, East. I mean, being Mom and Dad’s chauffeur and having Mom as your principal and Dad as your science teacher. I’m super jelly.” She gets out, and slams the door shut.

I ignore her and roll my eyes, putting the Jeep into drive. She’ll feel my pain next year when she starts high school.

“Damn her.”

I look through the rearview mirror as my dad turns to face Mom. She’s holding up the granola bar. Dad snatches it from her hand and opens his door. I satisfyingly put the Jeep into park again and roll down the passenger window, so I don’t miss a minute of what’s gonna happen. This will be good.

“Harp!” my dad yells. He jogs down the pathway a few feet, holding up the granola bar.

A honk blares from behind us and I look in the rearview mirror to see Uncle Denver in his truck. My cousins Ryder and Rohan file out, heads tucked into their coats as if they didn’t just emerge from the truck.

I shift my attention back to my dad, who’s waving at my sister to leave her friend group and come over to where he’s standing, but a pounding on my window startles me and I look away.

“Son, you’re holding up the line.” Uncle Denver tries to sound like a police officer.

Sometimes I wish Uncle Denver were my dad. He’s so fun and he’s always doing crazy shit. But right now, he looks tired with bags under his eyes.

My mom rolls down her window. “How are the twins?”

Aunt Cleo just had another set of twins—girls this time—and Mom and every one of my aunts can’t get enough of them. Maybe because they’re the youngest of the Bailey brood by five years.

“They’re good. Sleep, eat, shit, repeat.”

“I bet they fall asleep in your arms and their little hands wrap around your fingers. The quiet nighttime feedings when it’s just you and them…” My mom’s eyes roll back in her head as if she’d do anything to relive that experience.