Don’t Stop Believing Bonus Epilogue

Don’t Stop Believing: Bonus Epilogue

Exactly Five Years Later

Franklin carefully adjusted the length of his daughter’s backpack strap. Lina was starting pre-k in seven months, and she was already harassing him daily to make sure everything was ready to her specifications.

Angelina Banks was three-and-a-half, with the same black hair and dark eyes as her father. Her eighteen-month-old sister Mari (Mariah Eve) had brown hair and dark hazel eyes. Franklin thought that his daughters were the most beautiful girls in the world, and he wondered if their next sibling would have Gwen’s green eyes.

He was pretty sure that next baby was already loading. His wife had been falling asleep earlier than usual, which had been her first symptom during both of her prior pregnancies. There were some other subtle physiological indicators that he was trying to ignore until she told him the news, but he wasn’t feeling very patient.

Years of marriage hadn’t taken all of the mystery out of Gwendolyn Adair Banks. She persisted in keeping some thoughts to herself, and so Franklin hadn’t stopped asking questions.

Baby Mari flailed and pumped her limbs from inside the carrier Franklin was wearing, so he undid the closures and carefully lifted her out. Before he put her down, he couldn’t help extending her little sturdy body as high into the air as he could, causing her to shriek with laughter. She looked down at him and said, “No, Dada!” After a quick kiss on her velvety soft cheek, he separated her dimpled little fists from his hair and set her on the ground. Mari toddled over to where Bix was lying on the ground and began pulling her ears. The dog’s tail thumped on the floor, but she looked at Franklin to make sure he was keeping an eye on his unruly offspring. 

“Gentle,” Franklin reminded Mari and offered a board book to redirect her away from mauling poor Bix. Mari took the bait, but Bix was her obsession, and she wouldn’t be distracted for long.

“You need to be gentle, Mari,” Lina commanded. “Bixy has feelings.”

Franklin nodded in agreement.  

“I’m home!” a voice called from the back door. 

Franklin’s heart immediately eased, and he was reminded that he still didn’t love being away from his wife. It had been years since he’d moved beyond the worst anxiety symptoms, but that didn’t mean he had to like being separated from her. Gwen needed to go off on her own sometimes, but whenever she came back home, things were always a little brighter, and a little better.


“Mama!” Lina yelled, jumping down from the table in the kitchen where she had been coloring.

“Hello, darling,” Gwen said, swooping down to scoop up her daughter. “Were you a good girl for Daddy today?”

“The best,” Lina said modestly. 

Gwen laughed and kissed her, then put her down so she could take off her coat and hang it on one of the hooks by the kitchen door. She removed her knitted hat, unwrapped the scarf from around her neck, and then looked up. Instead of greeting her like he usually did, her husband appeared to be rooted to the floor, grinning at her like a fool.

“Your hair!” he said.

“Oh,” Gwen put a hand up to feel the new ends of her hair at her collarbones, remembering she had gone to Sylvie’s salon on her lunch break and gotten it cut. “Do you like it?” she asked.

Bix was dancing around her, and Mari had latched onto Gwen’s legs chanting, “Ma, ma, ma, ma, ma! Hug?” Gwen picked her up and kissed her all over, then rubbed her nose onto the toddler’s round little belly, causing her to explode with giggles. 

“I missed my girls today.” 

She’d recently returned to work after over a year’s maternity leave. She still worked at the interior design firm where she had interned while finishing her degree, and she went into the studio on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. She loved her babies, but she also loved having the chance to be creative, and Franklin had been happy to stay home with the girls. He still worked on projects on the weekends whenever inspiration struck, but since the wheel mechanism he had developed for aircraft landing gear had been picked up by the U.S. Air Force and Navy three years ago, even Max, TEF’s jealous CFO, had no fault to find with Franklin’s new laid back schedule. 

“I love it,” a gruff voice said in Gwen’s ear. “You are gorgeous.” She squeaked in surprise as Franklin’s arms wrapped around her, sealing baby Mari between them. The peck on the lips she had expected turned into something a lot more involved until tugging on Franklin’s shirt interrupted. He bent down and picked up Lina, and then his attention returned to his wife. 

“Hi,” Gwen said helplessly, trapped by the hot gaze of his black eyes. Parenthood had silvered Franklin’s temples considerably, but he was still the most beautiful man she had ever seen. He was only thirty-six, but he was well on his way to being a silver fox like his grandma had been.

His lips quirked up. “Hi.”

“No more kissing Mama,” Lina said. 

“I wasn’t going to!” Franklin lied.

“Do I have time for a shower?” Gwen asked. When Franklin nodded, she stepped out of his embrace and transferred Mari to his arm that wasn’t holding Lina.

“Let me know if you need any help!” he called, prompting a laugh as Gwen went up the stairs.

She covered her newly styled hair with a shower cap and washed and dried off quickly, then put on fresh socks and underwear. Franklin had continued to foot the bill for needlessly luxurious underthings, but he had assured her that he was happy to do so.

Despite the huge blanket of snow that had been dumped over Detroit the week before, Franklin and Gwen were going to stay a few days at their cabin in Vassar. Their bedroom was slightly chilly, so she scrambled into her snowy retreat-appropriate outfit of cashmere sweater and leggings.

As she started to walk back downstairs, Bix tore across the entryway. There wasn’t much that could move the corgi from her prime spot under Mari’s chair around dinner time, but after a few seconds, the doorbell rang, solving the mystery.

Gwen called to Franklin, “I’ll get it!” She shook her head in amusement at Bix’s silent frenzy at the front door. Once Lina had been born, Franklin trained the dog not to bark unless it was an emergency, but Bix loved George so much that it really tried her patience not to roll out the metaphorical red carpet at his arrival. 

“Gwen!” George grinned when she swung the door open.

“Get in here!” she said, shivering as she pulled him in by the arm.

They hugged each other tightly while Bix jumped at his legs. George had been in Florida for two weeks, visiting his daughters, and so they hadn’t seen him since Christmas. Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Banks had grown very close to Mariah’s husband over the years, and to Gwen especially, he was like a second father.

“I like your haircut.”

“Thank you!” Not every man would have noticed, but even though George had retired—again—he still had the instincts of an investigator. It was difficult to get anything past him. 

They walked into the kitchen, where the children cheered for Grandpa George and he and Franklin exchanged a warm handshake-backslap-hug.

“You all can get going if you want to. It gets dark fast this time of year.”

“I wish Baba was here,” Lina said sadly, referring to her great-grandmother.

“She’ll be here soon!” George smiled.

After passing Lina a plate of noodles, Franklin began to cut some of the spaghetti for Mari into bite-sized pieces. “Does Grandma still hate book signings?” he asked George.

George laughed. “Yes. But I’m going to attend the next one, whether she wants me to or not.”

Two years before, Mariah had published her first cozy mystery novel under a pen name, telling no one. Dolores, who had unintentionally stumbled her way to Booktok fame, discovered the secret and persuaded her best friend to let her feature her books. Mariah enjoyed herself immensely while writing six more books about her sassy sleuth main character, and she had become a big favorite with readers. Tonight she was reluctantly signing books at the library where she used to pass so much time volunteering. 

“Knock, knock!” Mariah’s voice appeared in the kitchen as if she had been summoned by magic. 

Franklin exchanged a knowing look with Gwen. He had never gotten his key back after his grandmother kept Bix during Trent and Kelly’s wedding. At least she had only let herself into the house on the occasions for which they were expecting her—except for that one time that none of them ever mentioned. She had learned her lesson.

Mariah grinned as the girls chorused, “Baba!” She kissed them, then George, Franklin, Gwen, and finally George again, for good measure.

“You’re glowing!” Gwen declared, admiring her Grandmother-in-law’s sunkissed face.

“Your hair!” Mariah returned. “I love it.” Any sense of enmity between them had well and truly vanished five years before, and they loved each other dearly. “I got a little tan in Florida.”

During a previous visit with George’s daughters, Mariah had allowed Skylar, George’s youngest, to dye her white hair a bright bubblegum pink, and she’d been dyeing it different pastel shades ever since. “Like a really old lady,” Mariah quipped, but the fun colors suited her, and Lina and Mari loved it whenever she showed up with a different look.

“You know I love spending time with you lovebirds, but the girls are in good hands, and you better get on the road!”

“That’s what I was telling them!” George exclaimed. “But you’re early! Did you bail on your adoring readers?”

Mariah grinned. “I got through the line as fast as I could, and then told them my heart was giving me trouble.”

“Grandma!” Franklin scolded, unamused, glancing at the children who were hanging onto her every word, as usual. “We’re trying to teach the next generation that lying is wrong.”

“Sometimes,” Mariah told her beautiful great-granddaughters, while George tried not to laugh, “a lie can turn out to be the very best thing.”


“I can’t believe we let her watch the kids,” Franklin said to Gwen later, once they were on their way to Vassar.

Gwen smiled and said, “We probably couldn’t stop her even if we wanted to, but I, for one, am grateful.”

The old Suburban he was driving was still in excellent shape, thanks to constant tuning. The giant tires and four-wheel drive would come in handy on this trip, but at home, they chauffeured the kids around in an SUV that guzzled gas a little less enthusiastically. 

Soon, Franklin mused, they might be a minivan family.

Gwen’s phone chimed.

“Who’s that?” he asked as she read the text.

Gwen smiled. “Kelly! She and Trent say happy anniversary.”

“And?” Franklin prompted. Kelly was Gwen’s obstetrician, and Franklin figured their friend was texting pregnancy-related things too.

“That’s it.” 

“Right,” Franklin scoffed. 

Gwen raised an eyebrow and held out her phone so he could see the screen.

“Huh,” he said, after quickly confirming that Kelly really had texted only that much.

“You’re being so weird.” Gwen squinted in suspicion. “You better not have gotten me a crazy present.”

“I don’t think I did.”

Franklin’s wife did not like receiving pricey gifts. She didn’t seem to have a problem with letting his PA pick out her general clothes and accessories even though Franklin ultimately paid for them. For some reason, Gwen felt weird when something expensive came directly from him. It was a little unfair, and even though in his mind it was not his, but their money, he tried to be sensitive to her feelings on the subject. Whenever he wanted to get her something nice, he would have Regina pretend she’d picked it out. For gifts on special occasions, he tried to go the thoughtful/inexpensive route.

“You didn’t get the Jonas Brothers to serenade me at the cabin, did you?”

Franklin barked out a laugh. “No. I wish I had thought of that. Filing that away for next year.”

Gwen smiled. “I love you, Franklin, but don’t you dare. You should never meet your heroes.”

“Fine,” he acquiesced. “What did you get me?”

“I’ll give it to you after dinner,” she said coyly.

Pregnancy test, Franklin thought. Or onesie.

Gwen put on their favorite obscure American history podcast for the rest of the drive, a shared interest they had discovered a few years before. It reached full dark by the time they could see the glow of the cabin’s lights spilling out the windows onto the blue-shadowed snow. Even though the road had been plowed and sanded, it was still a little slippery, and Franklin warned Gwen to be careful as he helped her out of the car. “Should I just carry you?”

She snorted. “Romantic.”

So he did.


Gwen rested her head on Franklin’s shoulder and put her chilled nose on his neck, inhaling his delicious cologne, while he fumbled with the door and the key with one hand.

Their cabin was modestly sized, but the surroundings were beautiful. The sky was clear, and she could see a million stars against the midnight blue heavens. Dark pine trees, covered in snow, flanked the cabin all around, except the side facing the lake; the view from the cabin’s back deck—of icy water and snowy banks—was uninterrupted.

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,” Gwen quoted dreamily in Franklin’s ear, causing him to shiver and give one last desperate wrench of the key so they could stumble inside.

The interior of the cabin was lit up and warm. Franklin gave Gwen one slow, lazy kiss before he put her down and went back to the Suburban to get their bags. 

A mouth-watering smell emanated from the kitchen, and Gwen drifted over to the stove. She ladled some of the dark, savory stew into the bowls she found at the table in front of the fireplace. Then she smiled and lit the long, tapered candles in their old-fashioned silver candlesticks. Franklin had hired someone to trudge all the way out to the boonies and set up everything so beautifully, but—as she always did when she felt guilty or spoiled—Gwen told herself it was good for the economy. 

Her husband was considerably richer these days, but she knew he would never let his net worth cross the billionaire threshold. Once he had funded TEF’s treasury for the next fifteen years of projected expenses, he made Gwen help him choose various charities and grants to offload chunks of money to every quarter. It was a sweet feeling to support local women’s shelters, pregnancy centers, veterans organizations, school programs, and food banks, and to buy and forgive millions of dollars of medical debt from Detroit-area hospitals.

One thing they did not do was contribute to any political campaigns.

They were still occasionally featured on that blog, IndyCar Gossip Girl, especially if they attended a racing event, which Franklin enjoyed doing. ICGG had grudgingly accepted the fact that the “Patron Saint of Detroit” was married, and one of Gwen’s favorite pictures ever had come from the blog after some weirdo with a zoom lens snapped a shot of Franklin and Lina in matching baseball caps. Gwen printed it, framed it, and kept it on her desk at work. Nowadays, the ICGG blog referred to her husband as Franklin Banks, Detroit Zaddy—which, of course, their friends found hilarious. Trent didn’t ever call Franklin by his name anymore, D.Z. having completely supplanted it in his vernacular.  

Trent and Kelly had moved to Detroit five years earlier as planned, and they double-dated on the regular. They also triple-dated with Regina and Matt, and their children all play-dated. Regina and Kelly had become Gwen’s best friends, aside from Franklin, and Mariah and George had become an integral part of the family Gwen thanked God for every time she counted her blessings.

She reflected that her relationship with Franklin had proved to be just about everything she’d imagined all those years ago: he’d easily made the transition from inconveniently hot best friend to husband, and they had also managed to turn being happy homebodies into a science. Of course, nothing was perfect, and life had delivered some surprises as well. Being a parent wasn’t 100% fun times and hilarity, but Gwen loved being a mother and wouldn’t trade her life for anything. It was still crazy to think of the glow-up her miserable circumstances had undergone in such a short amount of time. If only her parents had been able to meet Franklin and the girls—that was the one major point of pain in her life, but she was making it through with someone by her side who fully empathized. Therapy also helped.

She put some quiet music on the cabin’s speaker system, and when Franklin came in, they ate the stew. After dinner, they exchanged gifts on the couch in front of the fire.

“So,” Franklin said, after thanking Gwen again for his new high-tech watch, which was decidedly not a pregnancy announcement. “When are you going to tell me?”

Gwen yawned. “Tell you what?”

“That you’re pregnant.”

Gwen sat up. “I am not pregnant!”

“You are,” Franklin said in confusion.

“I am n—” Gwen considered for a moment. “I am?”

“I think you are. I thought you knew.”

As Gwen processed the possibility, they stared at each other. She finally grinned in exhilaration and settled back down against her husband. “This is why you’ve been acting weird.”

Franklin mumbled something in agreement. 

Gwen lifted her head again to look at him. His eyes were closed, and his thick, straight black lashes cast spiky shadows on those famously perfect cheekbones. His stubble was turning gray even faster than his head hair, and it glittered in the firelight. Gwen pressed a kiss to his rough, poky chin, and his eyes flew open.

“I love you, Franklin Banks. Happy anniversary.”

Franklin’s instant smile was so full of happiness that it still had the power to blur Gwen’s vision with involuntary tears.

Franklin, seeing the tears and knowing that bittersweet thoughts were always closer to the surface when she was pregnant, growled in his Bix-impression voice, “I love you, too, Gwenny-poo.”

She threw back her head and laughed, and a look of pure satisfaction filled his face. Smoothing down her shorter hair and framing her face with his hands, he leaned in and said huskily, “Happy anniversary, Mrs. Banks.”

And then he kissed her.

Thank you for reading Don’t Stop Believing! We hope you enjoyed the bonus epilogue! If you liked the book, would you consider reviewing it? Your reviews are so helpful to us, especially on Amazon! But reviews on any platform are very much appreciated.