Chapter 4 – I’m ten days late.

I hear the annoying sound of the alarm and feel the shift in the bed as Tina rolls away from me to turn it off. She tries to leave but I hold onto her tightly, completely unready to let her go. I open my eyes as she rolls back and smile as I see her burnished, sleep mussed face. “Morning.”

She returns my smile with a radiant one of her own. “Morning.”

I lean in to kiss her. Morning breath kisses are not for the faint of heart. They are for the utterly in love and utmost committed. If you aren’t sure if you qualify as those things, I suggest you abstain. However, if you are, give it a try. You might find that even first thing in the morning, your wife is as sweet tasting as just after she’s brushed. My wife, my Tina, most definitely is. She could never be anything but.

Just as the kiss turns heated, there’s a knock at the door. I pull away and look over Tina’s shoulder to see Angie standing in the doorway, holding her Hammy and rubbing her sleepy eyes. “Come on, babycakes.”

She comes to Tina’s side and Tina rolls over to help her up. Angie crawls roughly over Tina who lets out an, ‘oof,’ at a particularly violent little knee to the stomach, and I chuckle as Angie crawls in between us to snuggle down.

Tina strokes Angie’s face as her eyes start to flutter closed and looks to me with a contented smile. “You two make it incredibly hard to leave bed in the mornings, you know that?”

I smile at her and stroke her face. “That’s the plan.”

She smirks at me before a thought occurs to her that makes her face melt into a joy so luminous that I could weep just looking at it. “It’s going to be impossible when you give birth. Three of you are going to be just too hard to resist.”

I can feel the warm happiness of that thought well up in my eyes to release as quiet tears; but I can’t help the smile that shines through the wet haze. She knows just how to reach me anymore, and it’s so effortless. The joy of the moment is fleeting as I realize that we’ve been trying with the fertility pills for a month and a half and I still haven’t conceived. Tina sees these emotions wash over my face and reaches out to stroke my cheek, lending me her strength to console and soothe me. “We’ll get there, babe.”

I kiss her palm and we entwine our fingers. We lay this way for long minutes, just touching and reveling in each other before Tina finally says, “We should probably get going if we’re going to go to the Planet.”

I smile at her. “Let’s skip it this morning. I’d rather lie here with you a little while longer.” She snuggles into Angie and takes my hand. We lay this way for several long minutes, just playing with each other’s fingers before she breaks the contented silence. “Will you be seeing Dana today?”

I release a sigh. “Yeah. She’s getting worse by the day, T. I think this is a pivotal time to make sure she doesn’t succeed in pushing us away. I just wish I could be with her more.” I let out a heavy breath. “But Angie doesn’t do well there for more than a couple hours.”

There’s a moment of silence as I watch Tina think this dilemma over. Several long moments pass before a solution occurs to her and she releases a beatific grin. “Why don’t you bring her here to stay with you during the day? She needs to get out of there, be around life and people brimming with it.” Her grin grows wider. “She can even start to have dinner with us as a family.”

I stare at my wife, marveling at her. Leave it to her to find the best way to help. “I’ll drag her here kicking and screaming if I have to. You know that will include Alice most of the time, right?”

She smirks in a knowing and self-congratulatory manner and I shake my head at her. She kisses Angie’s forehead and leans over her to kiss me as well. “I hate to break this up, but it’s getting late.” I sigh as she pulls away and gets up from the bed to start the day and I watch her retreat to the bathroom. I hate being away from her sometimes. I know space and independence are crucial, and I welcome it most times, but I wish reality wouldn’t encroach on moments like these.

I sigh again. I might as well get started too. I stand and pick Angie up as I hear the water in the bathroom turn on. She’s still asleep as I make my way down the stairs and place her in her playpen. She doesn’t move. She sleeps like a log, just like her Mama T. I grin as I stroke her chubby cheek and make my way to the kitchen to start some coffee and make breakfast for both of my girls. Who’d have known that being domestic can be an enormous joy? I know it’s not for everyone at all times in their lives, but there’s something about focusing on your family, nurturing and caring for them, that’s incredibly fulfilling. Live and learn, I guess.

I dig around in the fridge for the eggs and see a jar of green martini olives. It’s unusual this early, but they sound fantastic just now. I shrug my shoulders and grab them as well before shutting the door and making my way to the counter. I start up the burner and melt a pat of butter in the skillet as I pick olives out of the jar and pop them in my mouth. They’re cold and salty and taste incredible. I prepare the eggs and toast as the smell of fresh coffee beans fills the air. Oddly enough, it doesn’t smell that great this morning.

I continue to eat the olives only to find I’ve eaten the whole jar. I stare at it incredulously for a moment before Tina comes down the stairs. She’s a vision in a tight, white button up Oxford with oversized French cuffs, a short black, skin tight skirt, and high black boots with four inch heels. I feel a hot flush of thick heat gather low between my hips as I continue to watch the way she moves, the way the fabric covering her pulls taut against her figure in all the right places.

Angie stirs and Tina picks her up, placing her in her high-chair before meeting me in the kitchen. She takes Angie’s Little Einsteins plate and sets it on the tray in front of her, and I shake myself out of my stupor in just enough time to meet Tina at the table with our own plates. We sit close together, side-by-side, Angie next to me at the end, and talk quietly as we steal loaded touches, joyous chuckles, and eat a warm breakfast. I mainly pick at my eggs. They taste bland and while I’m hungry, very hungry, I can’t bring myself to eat them. I feel a little… bloated. I’m due in a week. I had a short period last month so maybe it’s PMS… or all those olives I ate earlier.

After about fifteen minutes, Tina stands and starts to pick up her plate. I stop her. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it. I know I put you behind this morning.”

She sets the plate back down and leans in to give me a deep yet entirely too-short kiss, and another hot flush of arousal shoots through me, leaving me with a lingering fuzzy feeling low in my stomach. It’s almost too hot all of sudden and I start tugging on the neck of my tank. What the fuck is up with me this morning?

Tina brushes the curls from my eyes and her expression becomes worried. “Are you okay?”

I smile at her. “I’m fine. It’s just warm in here.”

She eyes me curiously before kissing me again. “Okay, well, you didn’t put me behind. I love mornings like this with you.” She eyes me specutively. “You sure you’re okay?”

I smile reassuringly as I feel the flush drain away. “Yeah, I’m fine, I promise.” Her smile becomes more genuine as she kisses me one more time. She makes her way to Angie and kisses her messy face carefully. We both chuckle and I hold Tina’s hand until the last minute as she makes her way to the door to get her briefcase and purse. She opens the door and turns grinning at me. “I’ll be home around seven tonight.”

I return her smile and Angie waves saying, “Mama T, love you.”

We both chuckle and she waves at Angie. “I love you too, Pookie.

I say, “Have a good day, T.”

She reluctantly shuts the door behind her and I look around me. This house needs to be cleaned, thoroughly. Angie slaps her hands on her tray and I look at the mess of egg that is all over my daughter’s face. I can’t help but laugh at her. We need to work on hand to mouth coordination. But first, I need something to eat. I’m famished.


 

I close the book and kiss Angie’s forehead before making my way to the door. I turn and check on her one more time before making my way to the bathroom to finally have my afternoon shower. I walk into the room, pulling the tank from my shoulders and depositing it in the hamper, and remove the rest of my sleep clothes, placing them there as well.

I turn to use the toilet and see the industrial sized box of pregnancy tests resting by it on the counter. I sigh. Why the hell not? I take one out and open the packaging, disposing of the box and sitting down. I look down to be sure that I’m holding the tester correctly in the stream and marvel at the indignation of creating life. It’s all rather repugnant when you think about it. But when you get your first look at that baby, you realize there’s nothing you wouldn’t face to know that joy, to hold that joy in your arms, to breathe in its comforting scent of innocence and new life. It’s incredible.

I finish my business and set the tester against the corner of the sink as I turn on the shower water, adjust the temperature, and get in. I’ve learned to be quick in my showers just in case Angie wakes.

Within ten minutes, everything’s shaved, cleaned, and conditioned as necessary. I grab a fluffy, white towel and gently squeeze the excess water out of my hair, doing a quick dry over my skin before wrapping it tightly around my breasts and stepping out of the stall.

I make my way into the bedroom to finish drying and dress for the day. I make my way back to the sink to put on my makeup and pick up the stick. I look at the readout and sigh before going to drop it in the trash with the other failed readings from this week only to stop abruptly. I pull it back up and recheck the read. It’s positive. My eyes go wide and I stand stalk still as I gape at it in disbelief. That can’t be right.

I quickly set it down on the counter and pull another test from the box. I sit and repeat the process from earlier, being extremely careful with how the tester is placed. I want the most accurate read possible. I finish and walk into the bedroom to sit on the bed and stare it as if I’m willing it to be faster. I hold it, making sure that it doesn’t touch anything. Maybe the shower or how I had placed it before had altered the reading.

It’s the longest ten minutes of my life as I gaze at the read out waiting impatiently for something to appear. I refuse to let myself become hopeful. Another few long minutes pass before the readout pops up and reads, ‘Pregnant, 1-2.’ I stare it for several long moments, trying to be sure that I’m not having some sort of euphoria induced hallucination.

I go to the bathroom and grab the other positive tester and I still can’t believe it. I grab another box and do it all again. Almost fifteen minutes later I’m staring at three of the same reading. I pick up the large box and check for an expiration date. It doesn’t expire for almost three years. Could this whole batch be faulty? I look to the waste basket by the toilet, four other negative testers from the same batch lying in the bottom.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath and again look to my three tests. Tears well in my eyes. I’m pregnant. I’m pregnant. Holy shit, I’m pregnant! I need to make an appointment for an ultrasound… I need to double the monthly college savings amounts… I’ll need prenatal vitamins… I need to tell Tina… Fuck, I need to tell Tina! I immediately rush to the cell phone sitting on the bed and pick it up. I go to press speed dial one and stop. What the fuck am I doing? This isn’t something you discuss by phone. I need to… calm the fuck down.

I sit down on the bed and take a deep breath. Okay, Porter. Pull it together. Tina told you with that movie poster that is framed and hanging in Angie’s room. She made it fun and memorable, just as it should be. Film is Tina’s passion and that made it all the more memorable. Art is my passion, but it could take weeks, even months, to requisition a painting.

I look down at the phone in my hands and hit speed dial two. It rings twice before Malcolm’s warm voice sounds through the receiver. “Alright, sis?”

I furrow my brows. “Yes… why do you ask?”

I hear the sigh from the other end. “Oh, no reason, just adjusting to American verbiage. Anyway, how are you?”

I smile. “Malcolm, I’m fantastic but I need your help and I need it now, possibly for the rest of the day. Can you get away?”

“Aye, I think so. One sec…” I hear him speaking to James in a muffled voice before he returns to the phone. “Okay, I’m all yours. Where do you need me?”

I smirk. “Meet me at home as soon as you can. Stop and grab anything you might need in order to spend the afternoon and most of the evening painting. I’ll explain when you get here.”

He drawls, “Okay,” as if it’s four syllables. “See you soon then.”

“Bye.”

As soon as the call disconnects, I immediately dial Alice. Her voice is exasperated as she says, “Yeah…”

I can only imagine what sort of mood Dana’s been in today. “Al, Tina had an idea this morning and I need a favor…”


“Bette?!”

I stand to go to the door of the media room and peek my head out. “In here, Malcolm!” I turn back to Alice, Dana, and Angie. All three are haphazardly set up on the sofa in various degrees of collapsed comfort with a bag full of Disney/Pixar movies, junk foods, and a big screen in front of them. “You three all set?”

Angie starts to clap her hands excitedly and Alice tickles her. “I think that’s a yes.” I smile brightly as Malcolm comes up behind me. “Okay, I’ll be in Malcolm’s studio if you need–”

Alice cuts me off with a condescending voice. “We’ll be fine… Mama B.” I glare at her and she lifts Angie in front of her to shield herself with my child. “Huh, Angie? Tell Mama B you’d rather hang with your Aunties anyway.”

Angie’s wide eyes meet my own and I can see the mischief in them. Yes, she’d rather hangwith her Aunties, hang being the operative word. I’ll be lucky if they’re not swinging from the track lighting when I get back. They let her run wild and get her loaded on sweets or whatever else she wants. Angie crosses her arms in front of her. “You go play by yourself.” My eyes widen at her and Alice starts laughing. Even Dana can’t resist, but being Angie’s mom, I have to. I eye her seriously and she lowers her head in a shyly fake attempt at contrition as she says, “Sorry…”

God help me. And we’re about to have another one. I can’t help the beaming smile that lights my face. “Okay, have fun you guys.” I eye Alice seriously as she calms down and she rolls her eyes, but the message is received. I turn to Malcolm and grin as I pull him out to his studio.

We get inside and I look around me. I haven’t been in here in ages. He usually visits us, not the other way around. My eyes light on the paintings that cover every bit of available wall space and I can’t even believe what I’m seeing. His work is awe-inspiring. There’s one painting of a woman in repose. The use of chiaroscuro and contrapposto capture everything about her but it’s the expression on her face that’s truly remarkable. She’s young but her eyes are old; I can almost see into her soul. She’s beautiful… and familiar.

I find myself involuntarily walking towards the painting before turning back to Malcolm with tears in my eyes. He smiles shyly and puts his hands in his suit pockets. “Malcolm…” I turn back to the painting. “…these are beautiful… especially this one.”

He takes his blazer and tie off, throwing them over the back of one of his chairs and starts to unbutton his shirt as he comes up next to me. “Of course she’s beautiful. That’s Ming.” I eye him disbelievingly before looking back to the painting. I can see it; I’ve just never seen her this way, and well, that’s the beauty of impressionism – you get an impression, not a clear definition.

He starts to chuckle at the look on my face and I push him on the shoulder. He takes his over-shirt off with a relieved sigh. “It’s too bloody hot to be a business professional.”

I laugh at him before I look at him seriously. His art has to be seen. “Malcolm, I’m not just impressed; I’m fucking… flabbergasted!” He chuckles again and lowers his eyes shyly. “You certainly seem to have found your direction. We have to show this, Malcolm…”

He snaps his head up and his eyes go round. It’s my turn to chuckle at him. “Bette, I… I don’t know if I’m ready for that…”

I laugh a short incredulous laugh at him and spread my arms to the room around me. “Malcolm, you’re ready. I mean, look at this one.” I walk over to another impressionistic piece that is two women and a child. “This is incredible, Malcolm.”

He grins at me. “That’s you, Tina, and Angie.” The tears return to my eyes and I have the overwhelming urge to hug him. Tears well in his own eyes. “You gave me direction, Bette; you, and Tina, and Angie, and all our friends, you’re my inspiration. So, thank you.”

I don’t hesitate to give into this urge to hug him. I feel his strong arms wrap around me and sigh. He’s a wonderful man, a wonderful brother, and a wonderful uncle. “Thank you for finding us.” He clears his throat as he pulls away. “Malcolm, please tell me we can do a showing of this as soon as possible. I’ll even help you set it up from home. This…” I raise my arms out to my sides and let them fall. “…it’s inspired, Malcolm.” He waves his arm dismissively. “Malcolm…” I stare at him and wait until he meets my eyes. “…truly.”

He releases a heavy sigh and I can see the nervousness in his eyes, but he was also blessed with Porter determination. He nods his head decisively and I put my arm around his shoulders as I again look at all the incredible beauty surrounding me. After a long moment he breaks the silence. “So what did you want to see me about?”

I furrow my brows for a moment and realize I do have something important to do. I smile a smile that reaches my eyes. “If you had direction, could you have an incredible painting like one of these ready this evening? I know it’s short notice…” He eyes me curiously and I chuckle softly. “I can’t tell you why unless you agree. It wouldn’t be right.”

He smiles and looks around him. “Most of these only took about eight hours on and off since they’re smaller and I had a clear idea of what I wanted or felt. I guess if I worked right through and focused, I could do it.”

I take his hand and walk him over to the sitting area in the middle of the room. I gesture to one of the high-backed, white, modern chairs and take the one across from it. “You might want to have a seat…”


 

Tina and I walk Alice and Dana to the front door and watch them get into her Mini Cooper before shutting it and locking the bolt. I turn to Tina who has Angie up on her hip, her little face laid tiredly against Tina’s shoulder. One thing I can always count on Alice for is to exhaust our seemingly inexhaustible child. Angie’s eyes start to flutter closed and Tina smiles at me as we make our way up the stairs to get her ready for bed.

We walk into Angie’s room and I turn on the lamp as Tina takes her to lay her on her bed and start undressing her. I feel the phone in my pocket vibrate. I pull it out and it’s a text from Malcolm. “The paint’s still wet and needs to set but I’ve just placed it as requested and locked the back door on my way out.”

I smile as I text him back. “Thank you, Malcolm. I owe you one. We’ll talk more tomorrow about your first major show.” I put the phone down on Angie’s dresser and pull out a set of pajamas.

Tina smirks as she starts to put the top on a completely zonked Angie. The little shirt reads, ‘I love my moms!’ Alice… need I say more? Tina puts the bottoms on her and picks her up. “I’ll take her to potty so she doesn’t have an accident.”

I nod my head and watch her leave as I pull her covers back and make sure Hammy’s ready for cuddling. I hear the water run for a few moments before Tina comes back with a half awake Angie rubbing her eyes. Tina places her on the bed and she doesn’t hesitate to crawl under the covers and proceed to again pass out. Tina and I chuckle softly as we both lean down and kiss her in tandem. I take Tina’s hand and turn on Angie’s nightlight, flip off the lamp, and leave her door ajar.

I smile at Tina as I pull her towards the stairs. She eyes me curiously but follows without complaint. We reach the bottom floor and I start to pull her down the hallway. I stop us in front of the old spare room and open the door. The new spare room is what used to be the master, and this one is now mostly an empty office. Just a desk, some books, and some paintings still in storage wrappers ready to be rotated with what’s currently hanging in the house.

Tina walks into the room and I follow, flipping on the light. She turns in the mostly empty space that will probably wind up being Angie’s room when the new baby gets here. I spent a few hours of the time that Malcolm was painting rearranging the space and setting it up with a bassinet, some large stuffed animals, some balloons, and streamers; I wanted to make it seem like the gift itself.

Tina sees the painting hanging above the bassinet and walks towards it as she takes in its meaning. “Where did you get this one?”

I grin at her. “Malcolm just finished it. It’s still wet. You like it?” There are two impressionist women that look very much like us, sitting wrapped together. A child is sitting between them and one of the women is holding an infant.

Tina breathes out, “I love it.” She looks down to the bassinet beneath, surrounded by toys and balloons, and turns to me with an incredulously raised eyebrow.

I take her hand and pull her forward until she can see into the bassinet. She reaches inside and pulls out the positive tester with a little bow on it, and I watch the tears well in her eyes before she looks up to me. She covers her mouth with her other hand as the tears start to fall and after a moment she links her arms around my neck tightly, burying her head in my shoulder.

We hold onto each other for long moments, letting the happy tears fall before she pulls back and gazes lovingly into my eyes as she strokes my face. “You’re pregnant?”

I chuckle softly. “I set an appointment for tomorrow with Doctor Wilson to confirm, but I took three of those tests and they all came back positive. I’m pregnant.”

She leans up and kisses me sweetly for a long moment before pulling back abruptly. “Well that explains why you ate an entire jar of green olives this morning and turned your nose up at your eggs.”

She laughs and I eye her, mortified. “You noticed that?” She nods her head, her eyes bright with utter joy and I laugh with her. “I was clueless. I thought I was just losing my mind or something. Did you know?”

She clears her throat. “No, but I kept thinking about it at work and eventually considered the notion. I kept brushing it off since it’s been so difficult. This is an incredible surprise.”

I lean in and kiss her again. “So you’re happy?”

She snorts indelicately. “Of course I am. Aren’t you?”

I smile warmly and look deeply into her eyes, pulling all of my happiness to the forefront, opening myself fully to my wife, the only one I’d trust to see me so completely. My voice is rough with emotion as I reply, “Very…”


Continued in Chapter 5 – If it’s not one thing, it’s your friends.

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