“Well, you’re a few days past your due date but that’s not uncommon, especially for twins. I don’t see any signs of meconium aspiration, but I think we should go ahead and schedule you for a C-section next Monday. On a brighter note, these ultrasound photos will be incredibly detailed. It’s one of the perks of having shy babies, and I’ve never met two more reluctant to show themselves.” Doctor Wilson smiles at us as she stands and takes off her gloves. “If you have any issues at all, I want you to go to the emergency room immediately, but if you feel fine, you can just go about business as usual. They’ll be here by Monday one way or another.”
I meet Tina’s gaze and she raises that wonderfully incredulous eyebrow at me. Our babies will be here Monday. I’m ready to meet them, to hold them, to be able to walk and sit again. She reaches up and brushes the curls from my forehead and Doctor Wilson breaks our moment. “So, have you two picked out names?”
I smile at Tina and she returns it as we both look to the doctor. “We’re naming the girl Aurora, Rory for short, and the boy… we’re struggling.”
She nods her head knowingly. “Nothing’s jumping out at you. Maybe it’s a good thing they’re late bloomers. It’ll give you a chance to reach a conclusion before they get here.” Tina and I laugh softly and the doctor washes her hands. She grabs a paper towel and makes her way to the door. “You can go ahead and get dressed. The receptionist will have your pictures and she can set your appointment. If I don’t see you before then, I’ll see you Monday.”
She opens the door and Tina and I chorus, “Thank you.”
She turns and smiles one last time. “You’re welcome.” She winks and shuts the door and I look up to Tina. Her face is radiant and beautiful, and I can read the joy on it, the very joy I promised to put there all those years ago. For the first time, I realize that I’ve kept my promise. I can see it, and it feels incredible.
“Hey, Dana.” Tina and I step into the recovery room; I’m carrying a bouquet of flowers and Tina’s carrying Angie.
Dana’s been here three weeks since her scare, and she’s been getting better by the day. She’s due to release tomorrow. The staff has been running tests and determined that she’s in remission. They still aren’t conclusive as it’s too early to know for sure, but her results are looking very good. She’s still weak, but she’s gained a little weight, and her spirits have brightened tremendously. She smiles brightly and sits up a little bit as I place the flowers on one of the few available table sections left. “Hey, you guys! They’re beautiful; thank you.” Tina sets Angie on the foot of Dana’s bed and Dana grins at her. “Heya, midget.”
Angie crawls up to Dana carefully and settles in her lap, giving her a hug. Dana catches my eyes over Angie’s shoulder and I can see tears welling in the brown orbs. We’ve come to visit every day, and Angie never fails to reach Dana emotionally. Angie releases her and looks down to the bruise on Dana’s hand that used to have an IV, touching it softly with her finger as she says, “Owie.”
We all chuckle and Dana hugs Angie again a little desperately as she says, “Yeah, owie.”
Tina clears her throat and stands, holding her hands out to Angie as she approaches the bed. “Why don’t we go get an ice cream while Mama B talks to Aunt Dana? Does that sound good?” Angie nods her head and puts her hands up. Tina picks her up and goes to the door, stopping to give me a loaded glance from the threshold. I return it with a knowing smile and Angie waves to Dana as they step out of the room, shutting the door softly behind them.
I settle uncomfortably into the chair by the bed, barely fitting between the armrests and take a moment to catch my breath. Dana chuckles at me. “Fuck, Bette, you’re getting huge.”
I glare at her and she laughs, and despite her remark, I can’t help but be happy that she’s laughing. I sigh and say, “Yeah, I have an appointment for a C-section on Monday. Hopefully I’ll get through Malcolm’s show on Saturday just fine. It’s too important to miss.” I meet her eyes. “Do you think you’ll be able to come?”
She smirks sadly. “I’m sure I’ll feel well enough; I feel better than I have in what seems like forever, but I don’t know if I can, Bette.”
I furrow my brows at her. “Dane, no one is holding anything against you…”
She blows out a heavy breath and lowers her head. “It’s not that. Well, that’s part of it, but that’s not the only reason.”
I duck my head to see her face. “Is it Tasha?” She won’t meet my eyes but I can see a wet trail track down her cheek as she nods her head. I close my eyes for a moment. I knew this would happen, and I’m sure Alice would have easily chosen Dana had Dana come around sooner. But now, almost a year later, after what I saw in the waiting room three weeks ago, I just don’t know. “Have you talked to Alice?”
She sniffs and wipes at her nose, shaking her head and saying, “No. I don’t really know what to say.” She snorts and her voice turns mocking. “Sorry I used my cancer to finally dump you without saying a word, and treated you like a worthless piece of shit; but now that I’m not going to die and have no breasts, I’ve changed my mind; so dump your new, healthy, whole girlfriend and come back to me.”
I shake my head at her. Her attitude obviously still needs improvement. “How about you tell her that you doubted your feelings but this experience helped you to realize what a mistake it was? How about you tell her how much you love her and how sorry you are for what you did?”
Her expression turns scathing as she says, “Even if I did, why the fuck would she choose me?”
I sigh and meet her eyes with all the conviction I have in me. “Because no matter what happens, you don’t just stop loving someone, even when they hurt you or push you away.” She scoffs at the notion and I realize that there’s really nothing that will convince her, but I at least have to try, just like she needs to. “Dana, if nothing else, you will have told her how you feel, apologized, and tried to make it right. At least you’ll be able to sleep at night.” She collapses back against the upraised bed with an irritated sigh. “All you can do is try, Dane. Take it from me; regret is worse than rejection.”
She rolls her head in my direction and I gaze into her tired eyes. I know she’s still weak, and bitter, but she has to know that Alice loves her. She’s proved nothing less. “I’m sorry for how I’ve been acting, Bette.”
I smile a smile that reaches my eyes. “I know, and I forgive you.”
She chortles. “If only Alice would be that easy.”
I can’t help but chuckle with her. “She’s easier than she seems. All bark and no bite. Remember when I had to come crawling back to her?”
She laughs some more but becomes sad when she settles down. “I was such a fool, Bette.”
I grin widely at her. “I was too. But she forgave me. And that’s an excellent opening statement for when you talk to Alice.” She chuckles again. “Dane, either way, you can’t stay away from the group forever. We’re all your family.”
She takes a deep breath and releases it. “I know. I guess I don’t have a lot of options but to get used to Tasha, do I?”
I roll my eyes. “Have you even heard a word I’ve said? You other option is to give Tasha a run for her money.”
She smiles at me. “Okay, okay, I’ll think about it.”
I nod my head in finality. “Good. Until then, get used to Tasha, because I won’t tolerate you staying away.”
She laughs and reaches her hand out to me. I take it in my own and squeeze it. She holds onto me as her eyes water. Her voice is rough as she says, “Thank you, Bette.”
I squeeze her hand in return. “Anytime, Dane.”
Angie and I stop in the front door and wave to Tina as she pulls away in the Lexus to go to work. I’m so thankful she works for Helena. She can come home anytime she needs to without having to worry about her job. Helena truly understands and supports the belief that family comes first.
I look down at Angie to see her yawn and rub her eyes. “You had a big day, huh babycakes?” She looks up to me with her wide-eyed innocence on full display and nods her head. I smile as I take her hand and lead her back to the bathroom. I help her take care of her business on the kiddy potty and wash her hands. I can’t lift her and I don’t trust her to make the stairs by herself yet, so I lead her into the spare bedroom to settle down for her nap.
I help her up onto the bed and take her shoes and jeans off before tucking her in under the covers. She looks adorable in the California King that swallows her small form whole, and I smile at her. I can’t wait until we have a house full of children just like her. I stroke my stomach knowing we will soon. Her sweet voice cuts through my thoughts. “Where’s Hammy?”
I stroke her cheek and smile at her. “He’s in the media room. I’ll be right back. Don’t move, okay?” She nods her head and I know she’s too sleepy to try to get up. I quickly walk to the media room and awkwardly bend to pull the bear out of her playpen, returning within moments to see her take him, hug him, and snuggle down with him. “You all set?”
She nods her head and yawns again, and I brace myself to lean in and kiss her. “Love you, Mama B.”
I give her another kiss. “I love you, babycakes.” Her long, dark lashes flutter to a close on her round cheeks and I watch enraptured as her breathing evens out in heavy sleep. I pull myself up as gently as I can and make my way to the kitchen to satisfy my craving. First though, I have some new and, as promised, incredible ultrasound photos to put on the fridge. I visit the appliance so often anymore, it’s nice to have that reminder always in view.
I go to the front door to retrieve my purse and pull the photos out of the side pocket, smiling as I look at them again. They’re so detailed that I can actually make out what our newest additions will really look like. I can’t believe I finally get to meet them next Monday.
I waddle towards the kitchen and replace the older ones with them. Angie’s is still up there as well. All our babies are present… except for one. I sigh and my heart feels heavy as I look at the first pictures of my children. He should be here. I swipe at the tears gathering in my eyes and carefully, breathlessly, make my way up the stairs to our bedroom closet. It takes a bit of finagling, but I get the box on the top shelf down and carry it to the bed, opening it to see his photo right there on the top.
I pick it up reverently and stroke the glossy image. I miss him and I didn’t even know him. It was so unfair. He was so small and he never even had a chance at life. That’s all he needed, just a chance… a chance… Chance? I cover my mouth and the tears that have been on the precipice of my eyes start to fall. That’s it; I just hope Tina likes it.
It takes a long moment, but I finally pull myself together. I head down the stairs and put him with his brother and sisters on the fridge. It seems so small, so insignificant, but it’s the best I can do to help keep his memory alive. Or is it? Maybe there is more I can do. I smile through my tears and kiss my fingers, touching them to his and each other picture in tandem. I make my way back to my purse to retrieve my cellphone and dial information. An operator answers and I reply, “Yes, I need you to connect me to Westwood Memorial Park.”
“Babe, I’m home!” Angie forgets all about the book we’re reading and I have to grab her to make sure she doesn’t fall off the sofa in her haste to go greet Tina.
As soon as her little feet hit the ground, she takes off and disappears through the door. I hear an excited, “Mama T,” followed by squeals of happy laughter before Tina appears in the doorway holding a very happy Angie.
I smile at them both and give up the struggle to move. “Sorry, I was getting up as fast as I could.”
She walks over to me and sits down next to me, settling Angie in her lap as she says, “That’s okay. I know how hard it is for you.” She smiles radiantly at me. “Monday.” I can’t help but return her smile and she leans in to kiss me sweetly. God how I miss being intimate with her. I know we can, but I’m just too miserable. She pulls back and settles and arm around me to play with my hair as she says, “I brought take-out from Mandarette. Want me to bring you a plate in here?”
I smile at her with gratitude but decline. “No, I need to use the restroom anyway. Let’s eat on the back patio; the chairs are more comfortable and it’s nice out tonight.”
She kisses me quickly and picks Angie up making her giggle. She reaches a hand out to me and I take it gratefully, feeling much less like a whale when I don’t have to rock myself out of a seat. “Come out to the back when you’re finished. I’ll get everything set up.”
I hold her hand and follow her as far as the bathroom, releasing it at the last minute to make my stop. I do my business quickly and wash my hands before waddling out onto the patio. The food containers, plates, and silverware are already set out, Angie waiting patiently in her high chair as Tina helps me into one of the seats. She prepares a plate for Angie while I grab the steamed mixed vegetables and start dishing them onto both of our plates.
We each take some of our own selections and I dig in with gusto. After a few minutes of quiet focus, I decide to let her know that I need her before the exhibit on Saturday. “T, Saturday, at six p.m., I have somewhere I want to take you before the exhibit. It’s sort of a surprise. I’ve already informed Angie’s babysitter and it’s taken care of. I just wanted you to know so you could be ready early.”
She eyes me curiously, raising an eyebrow, but the twinkle in her eyes gives me all the answer I need. I smile at her indulgence as she says, “That’s fine. You’ll have to tell me where we’re going since I’ll be driving.”
I smirk at her. “Nice try, but I’ll give you directions when the time comes.”
She sighs in an overdramatic attempt at disappointment and playfully says, “Fine, be that way.”
I lean forward to grab my water when a familiar male voice sounds from the gate behind me. “Hey… am I still welcome?”
We both turn to see Tom standing half-in, half-out of the gate, gazing at us with his head partially lowered. Tina’s the first to break out of her shock. “Um, yeah… yes, of course; come in.”
He smiles sadly and makes his way over to the table, looking at the dinner laid out. “I’m sorry; I didn’t know you were eating…”
I still haven’t found my voice so Tina carries the lead. “That’s no problem. Um, would you like some?”
He smirks and says, “No, thank you. I actually came to… talk…”
I snort and Tina eyes me disapprovingly. I release a heavy breath and force myself to smile at him as I gesture to one of the chairs. “Have a seat, Tom.”
He pulls out a chair and sits, waving at Angie with an exaggerated smile as he says, “Hi, Angie.” Her wide, innocent eyes gaze at him like he’s a stranger, and ultimately, he has been for the last several months.
His smile falters and he lowers his hand to his lap, looking down at them for a long moment. Tina tries again, ever the forgiving soul. “Can I get you something to drink?”
He shakes his head and finally meets her eyes. I can actually see him gather his courage in the form of a deep breath that he releases before finally saying what he came to say. “I came to first, apologize for my behavior recently, and second, explain something that may shock you both.” Tina and I look to each other worriedly for just a moment but settle back in our seats to give him our full attention. He continues. “I’m sorry for avoiding you. I was dealing with some things that I didn’t know how to deal with or talk to you about. When I purposefully missed your baby shower and sent the gift… well, the guilt of that has been eating me alive. I wasn’t trying to be hurtful, and I apologize.”
Tina sighs and asks, “Tom, what’s been going on? I felt like we were growing closer, like we had become more than just friends. It felt good having a brother I could depend on. Then you just disappear without a word or a reason. What happened?”
He gazes at her with watery eyes. “I feel the same way, Chris. I guess…” He clears his throat. “…I uh, when you told us that you were pregnant, that you used an anonymous donor, I was… hurt, angry even. I know it’s irrational, but part of me felt like you didn’t feel you could come to me, or that you just didn’t want me to help you.”
Tina’s face falls in shock. Just like I predicted, she didn’t understand this reaction. Before she can say that she didn’t even consider him, I step in. “Tom, you never told us that you wanted to be an option. Malcolm offered; we didn’t ask him. If you wanted to do that, why didn’t you say something?”
He sighs. “That’s exactly what Malcolm told me this afternoon when he cornered me. He’s part of the reason I’m here. He’s a good friend, probably the best I’ve ever had considering how I grew up.” He swallows hard. “Do you mind if I grab a bottle of water. This next part is going to be difficult.” Tina starts to stand but he stops her. “No, eat your dinner before it gets cold. I remember where they are.”
Tina and I gaze at each other curiously as he walks the few steps to the fridge and retrieves a bottle. What could he possibly say that’s so bad? He takes several long gulps, nearly draining the bottle before returning to his seat. He releases a heavy sigh and continues. “Thank you. Anyway, I know it was irrational of me, but I felt that way. The way I acted was inexcusable, and I’m deeply sorry.”
Tina reaches across the table to take his hand and squeeze it. He smiles sadly at her and looks to me with his boyish hazel eyes. I can’t help but return his smile with a bittersweet one of my own. “Tom, I understand, truly, but I’m not sure if I can trust you. I mean, you disappeared from Tina’s life for seventeen years. When you came back, it was great to have another brother, but you seem to just disappear when you have an issue. It’s hurtful, Tom, very hurtful. I’m willing to forgive you, but this is my family. I won’t have them hurt when I can prevent it. It’s… it’s going to take time.”
He nods his head and sighs before soldiering on. “I know, and I’m sorry. I won’t do that again. I’m not used to having a family that actually cares about me, Bette. I know I chose it and I don’t expect your sympathies, but this is all still new for me and I’m learning how this works as I go. I promise; I won’t do that again.”
I nod my head and smile sadly. What more can I do? Only time will tell. One more time though, and I’m done. I won’t have people popping in and out of Angie’s life haphazardly. “I’ve also been struggling with the fact that I’m getting older, and nowhere near settled in a relationship. I see the two of you, and it’s a constant reminder of all the things I don’t think I’ll ever have. It can be hard being around two people who are so in love, when you’ve never felt that in your life. Again, I know it doesn’t excuse my behavior, but I just want you to understand.” He grins. “I actually found some closure in that regard for myself.” His smile falters and his eyes turn a little ominous. “I donated to the California Cryobank.”
Tina and I both gaze at him in shock. It takes a moment for it to wear off, but Tina is first to say something. “Tom, that’s a wonderful thing to do to help people who are struggling.” She takes his hand and squeezes it again, holding onto it. “I’m proud of you.”
I mirror her feelings, at least about doing something nice. “That’s a really incredible gift to give, Tom.”
He chortles nervously and downs the rest of his water before replying, “You say that now, but you may not feel that way when I tell you the last of what I have to say.”
The atmosphere becomes thick with ominous pressure and we wait in silence for long moments. I can’t take it anymore and say, “Well, what is it?”
He looks down at the table and closes his eyes for a moment. He appears to be scared witless as he says, “I did it about six months before you announced your pregnancy. I think… I’m fairly certain, that you used my donation.”
The weight of his words pins me to my chair and I can’t even look to see how Tina is handling this, though I do see her pull her hand away and slink back against her chair. We stay this way for long minutes, Angie breaking us out of our shock. “Mama T, I’m thirsty.” Tina turns to see that Angie’s sippy cup is empty.
She takes the cup and stands. “I’ll, um… be right back.”
I watch her leave and finally turn to Tom. He’s gazing at the hands folded in his lap and I consider him for a moment. If he had offered, if we had considered him an option, would he have been an acceptable choice? He’s a good man, so much like Tina; he just hasn’t been away from the comforts of his daddy as long as she has. He’s still learning, but it’s there, the full potential, and he’s making progress. If this has happened prior to his disappearance, I’d have been ecstatic, but now… I don’t trust him, and I don’t know his motives in telling us this. A wary smile graces my face as I finally reply. “Tom, if you are the donor, then I think that could be really great.”
He looks up with tears in his eyes and Tina returns saying, “I would have chosen you if I had known you were an option, Tom.”
His tears fall and I can see the tense set of his shoulders relax. I don’t mean to rain on his parade, but I don’t understand where he got this idea, or why it matters. “Tom, I don’t mean to be the dark cloud, but how can you be sure you’re the donor?”
He scrubs at his face and sniffs as he looks up to us with a boyish grin. “I’ll be honest, I’m not sure, and the Cryobank wouldn’t tell me. It’s just been niggling at the back of my mind since you said you found one person that was very close to Chris. My donor number is 13676. Is… is that it?”
That’s the number we memorized over months of trips to the bank to withdraw. Tina goes to reply and I stop her, looking at Tom head on. “Tom, I’m not trying to be cruel, but if you are the donor, you understand that Tina is the other parent, don’t you?”
He takes my hand in both of his and gazes right into my eyes. “I wanted to give something to the all of families that struggle, the same kinds of people I try to help every day. I wanted to be responsible for something good happening in this world. I would just be honored and overjoyed if that good had been given to the two of you specifically. I’m not trying to lay any claims to your children in any way. If I had wanted that, I wouldn’t have donated. I just want to do something to show how much I appreciate you both, something personal. I wanted to do this for you, and to know that I did, one way or another, would mean a great deal to me. I promise you, all I want is to be one hell of an uncle.”
I can’t help the concern-laced happiness that wells up in me. This could have been wonderful news, and it almost feels ruined because of his tantrum. I look to Tina to consider whether we should tell him that he’s the donor. I just want clear boundaries. I can see that she wants to but in an action of pure support, she reaches forward and takes my hand, telling me that she’s with me either way.
I turn to Tom and say, “Tom, you understand that you’re an uncle. And as such, you can’t walk in and out of people’s lives as you see fit. These babies will come to depend on you and you have to be consistent. Why does it matter if you’re the donor?”
He leans back in his chair and thinks for a moment. “Do you know what’s funny?” I eye him like he’s off his meds and shake my head. “I was so upset that you hadn’t asked me and that I hadn’t offered, when this whole time, you may have picked me even when you didn’t know I was an option. I think that would be an enormous compliment – that you found my profile just like Chris’s and chose me from thousands of options. I just want to know. If you don’t want to tell me, I’ll respect that, but I don’t wish to cause problems, Bette. You say you don’t trust that I’m consistent. Okay, I accept that. But I’ve never been a thief.”
I sigh and decide to offer him one leap of trust. He wouldn’t have a legal leg to stand on since it was a Cryobank, but even still, he had better not fail me. “That’s the donation we used, Tom.”
He seems to be in shock for a moment before he stands from his seat and walks around the table to take Tina in his arms, hugging her and choking out a sob. She holds him tightly and they sway for a long moment before he pulls back and kisses her on the cheek. He turns to me and squats down, gazing right into my eyes as he says, “I promise you I’ll never do that again, Bette. Time will prove that to you. I’m sorry.”
He leans up to hug me as well, but I put my hand out to stop him, choosing instead to pat him on the shoulder. “Time, Tom. I need time.”
He looks like he’s going to cry for a moment before nodding his head. I’ll never understand men in general, but gay men take the cake. At least everything’s been worked out and if everyone’s happy, I’m happy. I don’t trust him yet, and it will take time, but I think his heart is in the right place, however misguided. And the babies are biologically related to Tina. I know in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, but it’s a nice added bonus for sure.