Still on his knees, Sam bounces up and down on the bed. “Dad… Dr. Hunt said I can go home in two days, and I was saying we could watch football there together.”

August holds out the cake to me, which I take and put on the large bedside table. After giving me an appreciative smile and a very quick once over of my entire body that makes me flush, he then hurries over to Sam and gives him a big hug. “That’s awesome, buddy. But that present is in no way going to compete with mine.”

The prospect August has gotten Sam something that could outweigh the excitement of being told he’ll be going home soon is too much for him to contain. He starts bouncing again. “What is it? What is it?”

August gives his son a sly smile before shifting to yell toward the door. “You can come on in, Darius.”

To my surprise, a huge man enters the room. He’s so wide it almost seems like his shoulders aren’t going to fit through the doorframe. Grinning at Sam, he says in a deep, rumbling voice, “What’s up, little man?”

I have no clue who this guy is, but apparently Sam does because his eyes go round and bug so far out of his head that I’m afraid he’s going to have a stroke. Finally appearing to find his voice, he screams, “Holy shit, it’s Darius Fables.”

Startled, I whip my gaze to August, my dad, and then to Dr. Hunt, who all appear appropriately impressed. No one seems to care Sam just cursed, so I choose not to say anything.

I have no clue who Darius Fables is, but given his size and the fact Sam knows who he is, along with the fact he just cursed and nobody called him on the carpet on it, I’d guess he’s a professional football player for Sam’s favorite team.

August must realize I’m lost, so he takes a moment to introduce me. “Leighton… this is Darius Fables. He’s the center for the Broncos, and Sam’s favorite player.”

Darius reaches a meaty paw out to me, completely engulfing mine in a warm shake. “Nice to meet you.”

He releases me and moves to Sam’s bedside, pulling a jersey out of the bag he’s carrying. I step back to give them room, marveling that August pulled this off. I mean… how in the hell did he get a professional football player to come to visit a kid in the hospital during the season? Sidling closer to him, I murmur, “You have some major connections.”

Chuckling, he shakes his head. “I don’t, but Declan does. He made this happen. Sent his plane for Darius, who traveled here just for this and has to fly right back to Denver.”

Head snapping over to him, I narrow my eyes. Immediately, I suspect this has something to do with the guilt August has been feeling. I also wonder if this is Declan’s way of thanking me for a wonderful evening.

August must read the questions in my eyes because he shakes his head, leaning in closer to me to murmur, “Declan’s just a nice guy. He offered, and I accepted. It’s for Sam and Sam alone. It has nothing to do with us.”

I survey the joy on Sam’s face. I never would have been able to give him something so wonderful. I’m almost a little jealous of how that will strengthen August’s bond with Sam. But, in the end, all I am is incredibly grateful August has the connections he does to provide an experience for our son he will never forget.

“Well, we clearly already have a party going on,” I announce as I start rummaging through the bags for the Star Wars paper plates and utensils I bought. “To hell with the decorations. Let’s get to the cake part.”

And so we have Sam’s tenth birthday party in his hospital room. Dr. Hunt stays to eat cake, Darius Fables helps Sam open all the rest of his presents, and I revel in the fact my kid is getting healthy, strong, and having a wonderful day.

There’s a lot of shared laughter. We pass slices of cake out to the nurses. Darius Fables turns out to be overly generous with his time, and he spends an hour talking football with Sam.

But eventually, things wind down. Dr. Hunt has to leave because he has so many other patients who need his attention. Darius declines August’s offer to take him to the airport, insisting he stay here to spend the time with Sam. Then, Darius leaves with a promise to Sam to have him come to a Bronco’s game next year when he’s recovered. The sparkles in Sam’s eyes don’t die down until long after Darius leaves.

As we’re cleaning up, August steps up to me and asks, “Your dad okay?”

I look over my shoulder, finding him huddled in close to Sam as they go through the books I’d bought him. Upon first glance, all appears okay, but then I realize… Dad has been incredibly quiet and withdrawn as we celebrated. I didn’t put too much stock in it, having too much fun enjoying Sam’s happiness.

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