"Come here, Hailey-bug." Jack held his hands out, and their daughter ran into his arms. "I've got to go. I need you to be a good girl for Mommy, okay?"
"I'm always good."
"Yes, you are. I'll be back soon." He touched his finger to her nose. "Boop."
Hailey giggled, but then her lower lip protruded and her chin quivered. "No, Daddy."
"I have to go," Jack said. "Remember, we talked about it. You'll have Denali to keep you company while I'm away. Teach him lots of tricks. I can't wait to see how smart he is. You'll be such an excellent teacher."
"Stay, Daddy." Tears welled in her blue eyes. She looked so much like Jack. "I need you."
"I have to travel for work. We can count down the days together."
Amanda pulled in a stuttered breath, trying to contain her own tears as she watched Hailey and Jack. She picked up Jesse, holding him so tight she could feel his heartbeat against her own.
Jack took Amanda's hand as he held Hailey. "I have to come back," he said to Hailey. "I promised your mom an anniversary trip to Denali. Right, Mom?"
"That's right." Amanda nodded. They'd been saving for the trip since the day they married.
Hailey clung to Jack's neck. "I don't want you to go."
Amanda saw the sorrow in Jack's eyes. He hated to see his baby girl sad, and this was heartbreaking.
"She'll be fine," Amanda said, trying to reassure him. "We'll all be fine and waiting for you."
Hailey lifted her tiny hand in the air and extended her pinkie. "Promise."
"Pinkie promise," Jack said, then set Hailey on the ground.
Hailey looked up at him, sniffling tears. "Who's gonna teach Denali not to poop in my room again?"
"You will," he said. "You're smart, and Mommy will help."
Of course I will. The puppy had been Jack's idea. A surprise to all of them. Mostly her, because she'd have flat out vetoed getting a dog. She had enough to worry about with Jack not being around for six months. Now she had a puppy to train on top of it all. She wished Jack had at least talked to her about it first, but then he loved surprising her.
As if Denali could read her mind, the chunky pup lumbered over to the edge of the tailgate and flopped down with an exaggerated sigh.
"You're irresistible." She already had her arms full with Jesse, but she pulled the puppy up too.
"Woof." Jesse pointed his finger toward the dog, which Denali immediately nipped.
"Ow!" Jesse jerked his hand back but then laughed and put his finger in the dog's mouth again. "Woof you, Nali."
"Careful," Amanda said, flashing a tired look in Jack's direction.
"He'll figure it out," Jack said. "He's all boy. A few scrapes and cuts are nothing for boys like us." He ruffled Jesse's hair, then took the puppy from Amanda and placed him in the truck bed and closed the tailgate.
"Yeah, he's definitely your boy." She stood and shifted Jesse to her hip so she could slip her free arm around Jack. "Thank you for the surprise. The kids love the addition, and I will too. It won't be the same as having you here, but Denali is a good second best."
"Don't let Denali steal my pillow," Jack warned.
She shrugged playfully. "We'll see. Just hurry home."
Across the way, a few of the wives stood talking. She could hear them already planning girls' day out and weekly get-togethers. Amanda had been part of some of those conversations before, believing it made the time go by faster and easier for those left behind.