Chapter 5 – Every shadow, no matter how deep, is threatened by morning light.

I feel something warm, comforting, and strong stir around me and cling to me like gravity. I breathe in deep of the clean, spicy smell of her hair and feel the tickle of thick curls against my nose. My lips involuntarily quirk a smile and my eyes flutter open and blink against the noonday sun. The room is brighter, the sun having chased all of the previous shadows away. I look down at the mass of dark curls tight against my breast as she stirs again. Or maybe it’s Bette’s strength and very presence that chased them away. I know that I feel freer than I can ever remember, and I bend my head to close my eyes and kiss the dark, sweet smelling locks reverently.

She bends her head up over my chin and her sleep hazed eyes meet my own. We stroke each other’s face and smile a smile that only a peaceful soul can achieve. Her eyes are still utterly open and unguarded, and I strive to be sure all of my own barriers are down. There’s a soft knocking at the door but we don’t even care. Bette smiles at me and I feel trapped in the radiant warmth of it. I don’t want her to look away but I can tell the nurse at the door is getting impatient. Bette kisses my palm and starts to sit up, turning to face the nurse.

The nurse grins knowingly and says, “I’m sorry to disturb you, but your room has been ready for a while now. I know you’re both exhausted and I let you rest when I came in to move you earlier, but we need this room available as soon as possible.”

I stroke Bette’s back as she stands, and release a sigh as I throw my legs over the edge as well. “Oh… not yet hun.” I look at the nurse questioningly and she points to the catheter tube hanging crudely between my now dangling legs. “The doctor removed your IV, but there’s a little to go yet.” Wonderful, just wonderful. I throw the covers back and lay back down as she snaps gloves onto her hands ominously. I look to Bette who’s gazing at me with a compassionate smirk. She sits on the opposite side of the bed and holds my hand as the nurse rolls a tray up next to us.

She smiles reassuringly as the nurse checks the ID bracelet on my wrist. “Can you state your full name and date of birth please?”

“Christina Porter-Kennard, February 3rd, 1978.” She furrows her brows at the ID bracelet and I sigh. “Christina… Gillian… Porter-Kennard.” The nurse bends to empty the bag at the foot of the bed, and Bette smirks at me. I roll my eyes as the nurse stands and lifts my gown. She pulls a blue pad from the tray and I lift my hips to help her as she tucks it under me. “My mom was a Gillian Welch fan…”

Bette squeezes my hand and smiles. “I think it’s beautiful…” I snort at her and we both laugh a little bit until I feel a pinch and some pressure in an extremely sensitive spot.

I eye the nurse with a baleful glare and she smirks saying, “I thought it best to take advantage while you were distracted.” She disposes of the catheter and goes to wash her hands, and I’m thankful I wasn’t awake when it was inserted. The nurse dries her hands and moves the cart. “You can get up now, just take it slow and be careful.”

Bette stands and holds her hands out to me. My muscles are stiff and slow starting, but I take her hands and get to my feet where Bette immediately puts her arm around my waist to support me. I don’t really need it, but as I look into her face, her eyes shine with the need to protect. I reach up and stroke her cheek. She must have felt so helpless through all of this. For someone like her, someone engrained with the need and ability to solve, sitting idly by must have been absolute torture. I won’t begrudge her this now, whether I need the help or not. Maybe it will help her to feel better.

I look down and I can see my feet. I don’t remember the last time I could. I touch my stomach and frown. It’s like part of me is missing. Angelica… I need to see her, to know she’s real, to reconnect with her. Now that I’m able to move… I look up with hope bordering on desperation into Bette’s face to find she’s been watching me. She strokes my arm soothingly and lays a gentle kiss on my temple. “Are you okay to walk? I can get a wheelchair if that’s more comfortable.”

I turn to the nurse and smile. “No, I need to stretch. In fact, I feel strangely light.” I look down as I rub my stomach and we all chuckle.

I turn back to Bette with hope and she smiles at me. “Okay, well if you’ll follow me, I’ll get you settled in your room. You’ll want to take a shower before you meet your daughter.” She smiles at me and I can’t help but return it as we follow her out into the ICU.

The moving motion and loose fitting gown give me a sudden chill and Bette looks to me with worried eyes as I stop. I reach my hand behind me to feel my gown gaping open and hasten to pull it together in extreme mortification. Bette looks behind me and hesitates only a moment before she bolts the ten feet back into the room, returning with the blanket from the bed and draping it over my shoulders. She looks to the male nurse who stopped his pen mid-sentence on his clip board, his face gaping at my ass openly, and I swear I hear Bette snarl at him. He quickly diverts his eyes, turns one way, and then the other, before finally making a quick retreat. “You’d think he’s never seen a woman from behind before…”

I look up to her and smile. Her face is menacing and cold as she watches him leave and I shudder for a moment. She finally turns her eyes to mine and they soften immediately. She puts her arm back around my waist and the nurse guiding us resumes our trek saying, “Yes, we see plenty of parts around here and we become desensitized, but we’re all still human. She giggles as we settle into the elevator, heading down two floors. We exit and make our way down a wide hallway to room 3221. It’s large and has a bathroom with a small shower that’s calling my name.

The nurse turns and says, “Okay, so, the doctor said that you’ll be here overnight for observation. A nurse will come in and check your readings every couple of hours and we’ll hook up the monitor when you’re ready to sleep so we don’t have to wake you. If everything stays normal, he’s hoping to have you released by ten o’clock tomorrow.”

Bette eyes her curiously. “Is it normal to release a patient so quickly after…being resuscitated?”

She nurse smiles knowingly at her and says, “Yes. Actually, someone who’s received CPR is rarely kept in the hospital. Sometimes things stop working for a moment for any number of reasons that don’t necessarily require long term care.” She gestures to me. “In her case, it’s not a long term disease or problem that caused her heart to struggle. Once revived, she just goes about life as normal.

I look from her to Bette and back. “What about Angelica?”

Bette beams with pride at me. “I saw her just before I fell asleep last night. She’s over six pounds and she’s been moved to an isolette, so we can actually touch her now. Ming, one of the NICU nurses, said she’d be fine to go home in less than a week if she continues.”

Tears gather in my eyes and I hug Bette tightly, sheltering in her. “The doctor said he wants to see her reach seven before we take her home.” I pull back and gaze into my wife’s eyes. “Can we go see her now?”

She smiles at me indulgently. “Why don’t you have a shower first and we’ll get you something more suitable for travel?” I glare at her but she chuckles and I can’t help but let the familiar sound fill me to overflowing with comfort.

The nurse chuckles as she walks past us and says, “Well, I let you two get settled. And Bette…” Bette turns to her and she smiles as she points to the larger hospital bed. “Some hospitals don’t allow it, but it’s common here with maternity patients. It’s supposed to cost extra, but between you and me, I didn’t know you had it when I billed you.”

She smiles as she winks and turns to leave again but Bette grabs her forearm to stop her. “I apologize for what I said…”

The nurse smiles sadly as she says, “You don’t need to apologize. I’ve been doing this so long that I forgot how to empathize. It’s just difficult not to… lose touch… when you’re surrounded by so much suffering…” She lowers her eyes and when she lifts them back to Bette, they’re glassy with controlled tears. “So, I’m sorry…” She smiles more genuinely. “I’m just happy that things turned out well for you…” She looks to me. “…both of you.”

Bette smiles warmly at her and squeezes her forearm before releasing her. “Thank you…”

She nods her head and her smile reaches her eyes. “Let me know if you need anything else.”

Bette nods and turns to me, taking me in her arms and squeezing me so tightly only the tips of my slippered toes touch the linoleum. I link my arms around her neck and just hold on; giving her all the reassuring life I have in me to give. She needs to know that I’m breathing, but she’ll soon know that I’m doing so much more than that, I’m living, and it’s all because of her. She finally loosens her hold and takes my face in her hands just gazing at me. I feel like she’s absorbing me into her very lungs with each breath and I’m blown away. How was I ignoring all of this?

She finally releases the hold her eyes had on me with one beautifully thick, eyelash laced blink. I could look into the expansive reaches of them for eternity. She smiles as I stroke the curls away from them. “Do you need some help in the shower?”

I raise an incredulous eyebrow at her. “Why does everyone want me to shower so badly?” She laughs and I giggle with her. “I’m sorry. I just know I’d want one, and you’ll need one before we see the baby. In fact, I need one myself. She’s getting stronger, but her immune system is still weak.” Tears gather in my eyes and she strokes my arm soothingly before something occurs to her. “I forgot the stuff in the ICU room. Why don’t I go get it and we’ll both have a shower? You can borrow some of my clothes.” That sounds wonderful. I love lounging around in Bette’s oversized shirts, especially after we make love. I just feel closer to her somehow. She seems to read these very thoughts on my face and smiles. “I’ll be right back. Why don’t you get started?” She kisses me sweetly and I hold onto her hand. She hesitates and meets my gaze, and I can see her unwillingness to leave before a determined strength falls over her face. I hold on to her hand until the last minute as she takes slow, halting steps from the room.

I stare at the closing door and almost feel a sense of panic before she strides back in and takes me in her arms. We both have tears in our eyes. She’s just going up in the elevator to get her things for fuck’s sake. Why is this so hard? I bury my face in her chest and feel the ruffle of her breath beneath my ear. I take a deep breath of my own. Please tell me we didn’t trade one set of fears for another. We hold on long moments as we calm ourselves, and she leans back. My heart breaks at the sight of her. “I’m sorry. I feel very… protective. It may take me some time to feel more secure. I… I just…”

I stroke her face to stop her and she sighs. “It’s okay. I understand. I didn’t want you to go either.”

She smiles sadly and says, “We can do this.”

I laugh and she furrows her brows so I hasten to explain. “I’m sorry. It’s just… you’d think we were getting ready to bungee jump or something.” She chuckles with me and I wipe away her tears. She leans in and kisses me softly before looking towards the door with a deep breath. “Bette…” She looks back to me and I can see the turmoil in her eyes. “…I can go with you. I don’t want to be without you either.”

She smiles and kisses me again. “No, we need to get through this. We can’t be with each other every waking moment. I’ll go get our things and we’ll just get through it. If we don’t do it now, it will only be harder later.” I release a breath of my own and nod my head. She squares her shoulders and I kiss her hands before letting her go. This time the door shuts behind her and I swallow the panic. She’s right; we just need to get through this. I shake off my nervousness and the blanket on my shoulders, and head into the bathroom to set my mind on something else.

I take off the gown and start the water in the shower before heading over to use the toilet. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and stop. Wow…I’m surprised she can even look at me. It’s frightening. My hair is limp, lack luster, and stringy. My eyes have bags under them and my face is gaunt. I look down at the small paunch of skin on my stomach marked with a tiny red scar and wonder if Bette will still find me desirable. I release a deep breath and step into the shower. The hot water feels incredible on my stiff muscles and I lean my head against the wall under the spray.

I died… twice. I feel the weight of my own mortality settle over me and start to cry. Life is so fragile. It can end in an instant, even when you’ve barely begun to live. “T…?” I scrub at my face and hope the water will hide my tears. She already knows all of this. I don’t want to even look at this now. Right now, I just want to revel in the third chance I’ve been given with her. Most people don’t get a second, but I got a third, and I don’t intend to waste it. “Can I join you?”

I turn and see her gazing in at me with nothing but love in her eyes and it allays some of my fears, at least for the moment. I return her smile and she steps in behind me. I move past her and let her get under the warm water, grabbing the hypoallergenic shampoo from the small alcove. I smile when she takes it from my hands and pours some into her own hands. She sets the bottle down and reaches up around me, lathering it into my hair as her strong, muscled arms encircle me like a protective shield of strong flesh and bone. A deep calm settles over me as she massages and cleans my scalp and hair, and it’s over far too quickly. She pulls me back under the spray and runs her hands through the soapy tresses, rinsing them. I gaze up at her focused face and feel a rush of calming warmth settle over me as she pulls me away from the water, and starts the process over again with the conditioner, leaving it in this time.

There aren’t any words for how loved I feel in this moment. She gets to her knees in the shower and leans forward to press a small, reverent kiss to the same paunch and scar that I was worried about. I close my eyes at the reassuring love in her actions. She didn’t use words, but I know what her intent was. She put my fear to rest without a moment’s hesitation or spoken word.

She pulls a small razor and cream from the alcove, picking up one of my feet and placing it on her knee while I balance myself with her shoulders. She starts to stroke my leg, lathering it gently. There is an undercurrent of sensual eroticism as she starts to shave the week of unwanted growth away; but really, none of that matters. She’s not only kneeling in front of me, but she’s taking my most intimate needs upon herself and fulfilling them for no other reason than because it’s in her heart to do so. She’s focused on me, she’s caring for me, she’s loving me, she’s making love to me. Tears well in my eyes as I gaze down on her face, proud even in reverent supplication, because of that supplication, and she starts the other leg.

When she’s done, I hold her shoulder to keep her there as I take the shampoo and return the act of loving surrender and attention. She smiles at me and I can’t help but play in the ebony tresses, even after they’re rinsed. She’s my lover, my best friend, and the very best part of me; and I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have her. I put the conditioner in her hair and she stands to let it set as she lovingly tends to my underarms in tandem with the razor and cream. Once she’s done, she reaches for the hypoallergenic body wash and I watch her long delicate fingers as he smooth, sure hands lather it over my skin. Her touch is as gentle and careful as it was with the razor as she cleans me from head to toe, stopping to place reverent kisses in mundane places, the sentiment very clear; even the inconsequential parts of me mean something to her.

When she touches my center, her eyes lock on my mine and I recognize the desire there, but it’s so much more than that. This isn’t the desire to bring carnal joy, but the desire to be vulnerable. She is caring for me so intensely that tears leak from both of our eyes quietly. I stroke the tears from her face as she finishes, and marvel at every inch of exposed flesh, bone, and soul before me. She is not just my tower of strength, she is a cherished gift, and I want her to know how fully I return those emotions with my own touch; my pale hand in stark contrast with her bronzed skin, so different yet utterly alike and complete. Her watery smile is radiant and my heart constricts in my chest. I feel her skin, but it’s her heart I know so intimately.

Once we’ve rinsed ourselves, I put my arms around her waist and rest my head on her breast, holding onto her in the spray, and holding onto this moment in my memory. Every time I attempt to doubt her without cause, I want to remember this, this moment when she washed all of my fears away and they swirled effortlessly down the drain with fluid ease.

We stay this way for long moment and start to prune. I finally release her with a sigh. I don’t want to, but it’s time to bring this full circle. Bette will always come first because that is how a family works. When the parents stay close, the children will be happier and healthier for it, almost as an unintentional byproduct of that closeness. She is my sun, and we will all thrive around her.

We step out of the shower and dry each other softly, still no words that need to be spoken. For once, the actions aren’t missing and they speak for themselves. She pulls some clothes from her overnight bag and I smile as she hands her favorite Yale sweater and her most comfortable drawstrings to me. We dress and I feel an anxious excitement settle over me at the next step of this incredible day. Bette pulls her own sweater down and smiles at me as she settles it over her waist. She reaches in the bag and pulls out a package of travel toothbrushes and paste. She opens it and we settle in side by side at the tiny sink, our touches not-so-unintentional as we stay close to one another. It’s amazing how something so small can feel so incredible. I feel human again as we dry our wet lips.

I look up at her and chuckle at the tiny bit of paste still lingering at the corner of her mouth, and reach up to wipe it away. I can’t help the forward momentum as I lean up on my toes to kiss her. It starts innocent, but quickly becomes passionate as I feel her velvet tongue caress mine unhurriedly. She groans and I sigh. Now my insecurities shift from lack of desire to a five week waiting period to act on that desire. She pulls back and walks to the door, opening it and holding out her hand to me. I accept it and she leads the way to our daughter.

We take the elevator to the sixth floor, staying close. As we approach the nurses’ station, an older woman looks up and grins. “Well, you’re early today.” She furrows her brows at me. “And you brought a guest?”

Bette smiles brilliantly and says, “Yes Tracy, I brought my wife.”

The older woman’s mouth drops open before she grins radiantly. “Well…” She removes her glasses, letting them rest against her chest by the rope around her neck, and glares at me reproachfully as she gestures to Bette. “…you had this one going out of her mind with worry.” Her glare turns into a warm smile. “I’m just so glad that you’ve recovered. They keeping you overnight before they cut you loose?” I smile at her and nod my head and she grins again. “Good, good. Well…” She smiles at Bette and then at me. “I guess it’s time to meet your little girl.”

Tears of joy at this prospect war with the nervousness I feel. Will she know me, remember me? Will we reconnect; can we? I feel like I’ve abandoned her. We follow Tracy to a small room where she opens a cupboard and pulls two strange looking kits from the shelves. She sets them on the counter along with a small package of tissues. “Bette, you can show her the ropes?”

Bette is already scrubbing her hands and nails in the sink and smiles at Tracy over her shoulder. “Thank you for the tissues, Tracy.”

The older woman grins and says, “Enjoy them while they’re young,” as she leaves and shuts the door behind her.

I step up to the large, industrial sized, stainless steel sink and stay close to Bette as I mimic her actions. Once we’re scrubbed, she opens both of the kits and helps me put everything on. Once she’s finished, she puts hers on with practiced ease, and the tears stinging my eyes with nervous anxiousness and sadness pull at my soul again. I grieve for what my wife has been through and wish I could remove any dark vestiges that may remain in her soul because of it.

She sees this on my face and strokes my cheek before pulling me towards the sink again. “It’s not required, but I always wash my hands again before we go in, especially since we might have touched our shoes while putting the boot covers on.” I look down at my designer hospital slippers and raise an incredulous eyebrow. She laughs and I smile at the joy of it as we both wash our hands again.

I take her hand and follow her into the NICU. She hones in on Angelica like a beacon and tears start to leak from my eyes as I finally see my daughter under the light of her small plastic box. Bette doesn’t hesitate to reach into one of the holes at the side and stroke her thick mane of hair. My God… she’s beautiful, just like her mama. I look up at Bette who’s completely absorbed in our daughter and marvel at them together.

Angelica starts to stir and I focus back in on her tiny form, reaching my hand in to stroke her delicate leg. Her skin is soft and smooth and so much like Bette’s that the tears fall harder. Something in me turns primal and I start to count her toes and fingers, checking to be sure there are ten of each. I stroke the sole of one foot almost no bigger than my finger, and she kicks. I laugh through my tears. I’ve missed some time with her, crucial time, but I know her, and she knows me. We remember each other…


 

It was another quiet day at home with Bette, and my feet had been swollen and achy all week. I was five months along and it seemed every part of me was blowing up like a balloon. Bette was sitting at the foot of the couch with my feet in her lap as we both read from our respective books. I picked up my cherry Slurpee and drank noisily, shuffling my achy feet again in the endless and fruitless pursuit to find a comfortable position for them. Bette set her copy of Pregnancy, Childbirth, Newborn: The Complete Guide down, and started to massage them. I almost dropped my Slurpee it was so euphoric as I laid my head back, letting my own book rest on my swollen stomach as she relieved the ache in my ankles with her wonderfully strong, slender, feminine fingers.

I heard her chuckle and raised my eyes to look at her just as I felt a dull thump inside of me. There was a fluttering sensation under the skin of my stomach and then it stopped. Bette eyed me specutively and there was a touch of worry in her voice as she asked, “T, what’s wrong?”

It happened again, harder this time. It was so rambunctious that my book jarred and slid a little to the side. I could feel my eyes go wide with wonder and I looked up to see Bette staring at me with the same expression. “Did…did she…?”

“Bette…I think the baby just…”This thud caused the book to fall completely off and land on the floor. “…kicked…” I set my Slurpee down and Bette crawled up between my knees, raising my top and resting her hands on my protruding belly. We waited long minutes but nothing happened.

She started to prod my stomach gently, trying to rouse the baby, and I laughed at her. She looked up and smiled with chagrin. “Sorry, I just wanted to…” This thump was the most intense yet, and we both locked gazes on one another with incredulous awe. The baby stopped moving and we again waited for long minutes. I reached down and pushed on her myself but she didn’t respond. “Come on baby girl…you’re mama wants to play.”

Bette chuckled and the baby thumped me again. I stare at Bette and something clicked. “Bette… say something… laugh… just anything.”

She furrowed her brows at me and stuttered, “I… um, I love you…” The baby thumped again and Bette’s smile became so gorgeously radiant that I had an uncommonly intense urge to tackle her on the sofa and rip her clothes off… and, I wanted more Slurpee. Those mood swings were becoming terrible. I grabbed the Slurpee and tramped down on my desire for Bette as she started cooing at the baby, some nonsense about monkeys going on strike. The baby became rambunctious and I felt tears fall from my eyes just watching the two of them together. Would it ever get any better than this, my life with this amazing woman, my family? No, I couldn’t fathom it.

 


 

I stroke her tiny foot again and her face scrunches up. Bette turns to me with tears in her own eyes and we both chuckle through our tears at Angie’s incredulous expression. My voice is thick with emotion but I manage to say, “Hi baby girl… sorry it took me so long to get here…” Bette wraps her free arm around my shoulders and pulls me against her as we gaze down at our beautiful daughter and touch her reverently. And she is… utterly, and wondrously beautiful.

Her tongue undulates behind her lips, making little bubbles, as the thick line of soft lashes across her tiny lids flutter open. The breath is stolen from lungs. “Bette… she has our eyes…” I look up at her with one raised and wonder filled eyebrow and she smiles radiantly through her own tears. Angie starts to kick again and I stroke her full, soft cheek. “She’s perfect… so much like you…” I feel a soft kiss to my hairline and a proud jaw rest there as we both gaze in love and wonder at our daughter… our beautiful, perfect little girl. “I love you, baby girl… so much…”

I know it’s not possible to create a child with Bette biologically, but I swear I can’t tell the difference. She’s a miracle, one created out of insecurity. It was wrong to do it the way we did, the way I did, without working through all of our issues first; but there was never any lack of love, however misguided. If I could do it all again, I’d have been upfront and honest with Bette beforehand. But otherwise, I’d have done it no differently. She is everything I always wanted with the woman standing next to me, and a gift I will cherish for my entire life, just like the woman standing next to me.

I can’t help but laugh through my happy tears. We’ve come full circle, expanded our circle, and this precious baby is the physical culmination of a love I can’t even describe, the connection that Bette and I share. We’re magnets, inexplicably drawn to one another, and this baby, our baby, is our legacy to this world. We stand here and gaze at her for long contented moments, our first time together as a family.

“You know, we started taking her from her isolette this morning and monitoring how she does. She made it a full two hours.” We look over to see a young Asian woman with a long silky black ponytail that shines almost blue in the lights. Her smile is bright and I can’t help but grin back at her before again gazing on my daughter. “She’s been doing very well breathing on her own. We’ve reduced the oxygen feed. Her vitals are strong and she hasn’t had any issues with infection thus far. I was just about to take her out for a couple hours. Would you like to hold her?” We both snap our face up to her in disbelieving hope and she grins wider as she steps forward and opens the tiny cube, unclipping the monitors and wrapping Angie in the soft, hypoallergenic blanket that’s draped over her shoulder. She fits a small pink hat over Angie’s thick, dark hair and says, “There we go xiao meimei. You ready to meet you other mama?”

She carefully lifts her tiny form up and cradles her. She smiles brightly as she steps forward to put her in my arms. I want her so badly, to hold her, to comfort her, to let her know I’m here; but as I look up into the anxious face of my wife, the very woman who’s been with her this whole time, the very woman who inspired our daughter to move, the very woman who inspires me, I realize this is a gift that isn’t mine to take but to give as well. I step aside and gaze up into her gorgeous face with tears in my eyes. “Bette… you go first.” Her expression morphs into that wonderfully familiar doe-eyed expression of childlike wonder and I don’t doubt myself for a moment. I stroke her cheek to reassure her. “Go on, I want a turn as well.”

She laughs incredulously through her tears and leans in to kiss me sweetly, lingeringly. “Thank you…” She turns her gaze to the nurse who smiles and places Angie ever so carefully in her arms. Her gaze on our daughter is so warm and loving, that I feel my heart constrict with need for them both. Whatever I did to have this doesn’t even matter. I love them both with my whole heart and soul. I can’t imagine life without them, either of them.

Angie reaches up clumsily and touches Bette’s face and Bette looks to the nurse with questioning eyes. She smiles reassuringly. “Your hair is damp so I can tell that you’ve both showered, but honestly, I think her immune system is fine, at least in a sterile environment, and as long as you’re both clean. Don’t let her put her hands in your mouth or nose, but you can kiss her on her skin.” She smiles again when Bette doesn’t waste a moment before leaning in and kissing wrinkled forehead, stopping to breathe deeply of what I’m sure is the most wonderful scent in the world.

Bette looks to the nurse and says, “Thank you, Ming…”

She looks on Angie for a few long moments before looking to me with that wide, innocent, watery expression. She steps up to me and carefully places Angie in my arms, staying close to hold us both as I finally feel the light but reassuring weight of her settle against me. My tears fall harder and Bette reaches up with a tissue to clean them from my cheeks for me before again settling us in her arms. I feel the towering strength of her wrap around us in reassuring preservation and at this moment, I feel as if nothing will ever harm us, nothing will ever touch us.

I gaze down at her wonderfully awake face just in time to see her eyes start to flutter closed. I laugh again and lean down to kiss her forehead and quietly say, “I love you… so much, Angie.”

I feel Bette lean down and kiss right next to me. “We love you babycakes…”

I smile and steal a lingering kiss on Bette’s cheek before she turns to meet my gaze with a watery grin of her own. “And I love you… thank you, Bette. Thank you so much…”

She chuckles through her tears and kisses me sweetly before we both turn to our daughter and gaze at her sweetly slumbering face. We spend a long time just standing there gazing at her, listening to her, watching her chest rise and fall reassuringly. Ming steps up with a quiet, “Sorry…” and listens to her with a stethoscope. We both hold our breath and after a long moment and a few moves she grins brightly and steps away. “No wheezing at all. She’s doing very well.”

We smile at each other and I heft the light weight of her in my arms, rocking her gently. “How much does she weigh?”

I look to Ming and she smiles knowingly as she gestures to a work area along the back of the room. We follow her and come up to a scale. She hits a few buttons and I place Angie reluctantly on the hard surface with infinite care. She stirs a bit and starts to fuss and my heart constricts with the need to take her again. Bette steps up and rubs her tiny tummy soothingly as she coos at her. She calms and the nurse smiles. “You have to let go of her so I can weigh her.” Bette smiles without a hint of remorse and pulls her hand back unwillingly.

We wait impatiently for a ding or timer or something to let us know we can retrieve her, and it comes in the form of the nurse’s voice. “Six pounds, seven ounces.” She giggles girlishly. “It’s no wonder. She eats like a horse.” She smiles at me. “You plan to breastfeed?” I nod my head without hesitation and she smiles again. “You may regret it with this one, but it’s absolutely for the best. Some of those immunities that she missed in those last six weeks of development will come through that way.” Angie starts to fuss again and Bette steps up and takes her gently in her arms, rocking her. She calms immediately and I feel a warmth flutter through me with a slight pang of irrational jealousy. Angie may love Bette as much as I do.

I step closer to them and play with her tiny fingers before I look to Ming. “Can I start breastfeeding right away then?”

She smiles and steps forward, using different equipment to check Angie’s vitals and says, “We’ll have to confer with the doctor, but I think he will agree it’s time. There is one problem though…” She turns and makes some notes on a clipboard. “She needs two to three ounces every three hours, possibly more with her appetite. Will you be staying at the hospital long? Usually cases such as yours are released almost immediately.”

I sigh. “No, I’ll be leaving by ten a.m. tomorrow if all of my readings look good tonight.”

She grins knowingly. “Well, either way, start expressing your milk and delivering it for the times you can’t be here to feed her yourself. I assume you’ll be here every day anyway.” I smile back at her gratefully and nod my head. “Okay then, I’ll let you have a few more minutes with her and then we should put her back. She’s doing very well, but we want to be careful not to push her limits too far at first.”

We both smile sadly at Ming and focus on our daughter. The sheer thought of leaving hurts more than I can say or even understand, and we both have tears in our eyes. “How have you been doing this Bette… leaving her here?”

She smiles sadly. “I was very torn. You both needed me.” She leans down and kisses Angie’s head again, breathing her in. “Now that you’re here though… I don’t know if I have the strength to do it.” She hands the baby to me and holds us both again as I kiss her and breathe her in for myself. “I think… we just need to remind ourselves that she’s here, she’s alive and well, and she’s getting stronger by the day… and it’s not goodbye, not really. Soon, she’ll be with us, where she belongs.” She looks to me with tears in her eyes. “Honestly, I was more worried that you weren’t going to make it.”

I look deeply into her eyes and I can see the anguished torment this week has been for her. I wish she hadn’t have had to go through that, and that I didn’t as well. But I remember all of it with terrifyingly vivid clarity, and know deep down that it was entirely necessary; in fact, I think it was needed. How can someone wake up if they don’t first fall asleep?

I reach out to stroke her cheek, hoping to stroke away some of the pain there. “I’m here and I’m not going anywhere…” I smile at her and look down to Angie, “…especially not now. Too many of the things I love are here.” I look back up to Bette and meet her gaze, conveying with a single look just how much she means to me. Ming approaches us to take Angie, and we both kiss her one more time before handing her over grudgingly.

She smiles reassuringly at us. “She’s close to coming home. I’ll talk to the doctor before you leave tomorrow. Honestly, I think xiao meimei is ready.” We follow her back to the box where she places our sleeping baby and says, “There you go little one. Your mamas will see you tomorrow.”

I gaze at my daughter longingly. “What does that mean…xiao meimei?”

She smiles at my crude pronunciation. “I’m Chinese, and our culture isn’t notoriously affectionate. But, xiao meimei is commonly used for children. It means little sister. “

I look up to Ming and smile. I like her. If I can’t be with my baby round the clock like I want to be, I’m glad it’s Ming looking after her. She’s kind and seems wise for her years. She removes the blanket and hooks everything back up. We hear the wonderful sound of her fluttering heart beating like the wings of a humming bird, and I feel like I’m glued to the floor. I don’t want to leave her… ever.

Bette leans down over the box and says, “Sweet dreams, babycakes,” in such a loving way that it’s all I can do to contain myself. She stands back up and I touch my baby one last time before making the decision to retreat quickly. I’m going to lose it, and I don’t want to lose it in a room filled with already anxious parents and struggling babies.

My words are choked as I say, “I love you, Angie…” and turn to make a hasty retreat. I get outside of the room and take a deep breath. Bette is right on my heels and doesn’t hesitate to take me in her arms.

She holds me long moments as we cry quietly before Tracy pokes her head in. Her eyes are sympathetic as she says, “The nurse in recovery needs to take your vitals now.” Bette nods her head and I pull back to look up at her, absorbing her strength. She smiles reassuringly at me and I thank whatever power listening for her, my wife, my tower. She starts to remove the protective equipment from me and I start to help. We dispose of it quickly and she takes my hand, kissing my knuckles as she pulls me from the room. Tracy smiles at us. “Don’t you two worry about a thing. Go and get some rest and she’ll be even closer to ready tomorrow.” She smiles at us and I try to return one of my own, but it’s not full force.

I have no conception of how we got back to the room, but we are, and I want to collapse as I slump onto the side of the bed utterly exhausted. Bette squats down in front of me and puts her hands on my knees. Her eyes are warm and worried as she asks, “Are you okay, T?”

I smile at her and stroke her face. “Yes, I’m just tired… my emotions are all over the place.” She grins sadly, knowingly, and I’m aware of just how well she knows. “You must be exhausted as well.” She closes her eyes and blows out a heavy breath as I lean down to kiss her eyelids, one after another, softly. When I take her face and lean back she reopens the gorgeous almond orbs and I lean in to kiss her full, velvet mouth.

The kiss is chaste and lingeringly sweet, and lasts a long moment before the nurse for this floor walks in and clears her throat. Her disposition isn’t nearly as kind as the others we’ve encountered; in fact she seems disapproving of us. I pity people like that; too engrossed in their prejudices to delight in love no matter the form it takes. It’s just sad, sad for her. She has no idea how much we love each other, and just how right it is, and I doubt she ever will.

I look back to Bette and she’s not nearly on the same wavelength. She’s standing and has her arms crossed over her chest as she glowers at the nurse. I chuckle at the comical look on the nurse’s nervous face. Yes, Bette’s imposing and she is strong, but few will see what I see or know what I know. Beneath all of the bluster and bravado beats the heart of lover and, dare I say, a hopeless romantic. Bette looks to me reprovingly and I smile adoringly at her. I can’t help it. I love everything about her.

Bette doesn’t move an inch as the nurse checks my breathing, blood pressure, and pulse with quick but thorough movements. Bette watches the nurse like a hawk as she scribbles notes and asks innocuous questions. Her words are clipped and concise as she finishes and beats feet from the room. I chuckle again and grab at Bette’s arm to loosen it and get her attention. It’s time to change the subject and clear the tension radiating from my beloved.

I smile up at her and she softens immediately which only serves to delight me further. She’s such a softy and I love her for it. “So, we have a bunch of friends who are going to need to know some things.”

She smiles at me and furrows her brows before taking a seat next to me on the bed. “Did you hear anything while you were sleeping?”

I release a sigh. That’s a long conversation and I don’t want to be readmitted to the psych ward. “Yes. I don’t know if I know everything, but I heard a lot. I heard you talking to me…” I nudge her shoulder with my own. “…bribing me with vanilla soy lattes.”

She chuckles with me and puts her arms around my shoulders, pulling me tightly to her and burying her face in my neck. “Is that how you knew about me wanting to carry a child for us?”

I grab her free hand and kiss it sweetly. I put it in my lap and stroke it as I say, “Yes. What was that? It sounded like you were reading something.”

I feel her smile against my neck as she pulls up, resting her chin on my shoulder. “When we were in Italy, I wrote a letter to Juliet telling her how I felt. I hadn’t planned to tell you, but I received a response. That’s what you heard.”

I kiss her knuckles again and frown. “I’m sorry I didn’t even see it Bette. I hope you know that it’s not because I wouldn’t want a child that you carried. I just wasn’t seeing who you really are compared to who you were. It never occurred to me that your desires in that way had changed. I failed you, and I’m sorry.”

She leans back and turns me on the bed so that we’re facing each other. “No more, T. We’ve forgiven each other. Now it’s time to start living better, loving better. I don’t hold it against you. I didn’t even then. It just hurt. I know that you weren’t trying to hurt me, and that’s all that matters.”

I smile at her and stroke her cheek. “No. If you get hurt, even unintentionally, it matters. I need you to tell me. Please?” She smiles a sad smile and nods her head and I stroke away the curls that have fallen into her eyes. “Is there anything else, Bette? I’m good with moving on, but if there’s even a tiny thing lingering somewhere, we need to address it, and we might as well do it now.”

She furrows her dark brows and considers what I’ve said. “I don’t think so. Did you have anything else?”

I shake my head at her and then realize what happened earlier in the shower. I look at her and realize that she just read this on my face, so I decide to come clean with it. If I don’t, I’ll have failed her on the first day; and I can’t even fathom giving in that quickly, if ever. “Earlier, when you left to get our stuff, I saw myself… naked… and I was a little nervous that you wouldn’t find me… desirable… anymore.” Her face falls and I hasten to reassure her. I brush the haphazard curls from her almond eyes and gaze into them with a smile. “But, when you came in and we, I don’t even know what to call what happened during that shower.” I smile brighter and she beams at me with an exultant but serious expression. “We made love, just in a different way. You loved me, and I felt it to my very bones. I know you still want me, but I was worried.” I chuckle. “And somehow, you put that worry to rest without a thought or a word. It’s like you just… knew.”

I raise an incredulous eyebrow at her and her radiant face sings of joy. “I do love you, T, and you’ll always be desirable to me. More than you’ll ever know…”

I stroke her cheek with my thumb. “I think I do know now. I’m just sorry it took me so long.” She turns and kisses my palm and I feel my heart constrict at the devotion so clearly etched on her proud features. I smile at her. “So, our friends…”

She sighs again and I think I know why she asked what I heard. “I heard what happened with Alice and Shane… and even Tom…” Her expression turns worried but mine only grows happier. “Thank you for treating him the way I would have wanted. You know me so well that you just did what I would have asked even when I wasn’t able to. Thank you, Bette.”

She releases a relieved breath and smiles as I continue. “Also, you were right about Alice. I should have come to you instead of running to her or listening to her. That was my fault though, not hers. And again, I’m sorry…” She puts her finger over my lips and glares at me in warning. I smile and kiss the long, feminine digit. She tries to keep her alpha demeanor but she can’t, and I love her for it, marvel even.

I remove the hand and hold onto it. “I think you should talk to her though… actually, we should together. I think part of the reason we’ve been handling things wrong is because we haven’t been acting as a united front. Most of that is my fault and I’m sor–” I snap my mouth shut and she chuckles. I join her but push her shoulder exasperated. We settle down quickly and I continue. “I’m serious though.”

She smiles. “I agree. We’ll talk with her.” I grin and play with her fingers. “We should tell Shane that you heard.”

I nod. “We’ll handle them individually.” I furrow my brows. “Other than that, I didn’t really hear anyone else. How’s Malcolm?” She smiles and no other words are necessary. He’s a wonderful brother. I’m glad we have him. I smile mischievously as a thought occurs to me. “Is my cell phone still here?”

She eyes me curiously and drawls, “Yes…” as if it has two syllables.

My grin turns wider. “Well, I say we take care of it in one fell swoop. I’ll send out a mass text and that way no one finds out before the other and then we can get some rest.”

She smiles back and stands, walking over to her bag and retrieving the phone. She sits back down and turns it on before handing it back to me. After the loading screen, it explodes with messages but I ignore them. I’ll handle everything later. “That’s why I turned it off.” She chuckles. “I almost threw it from your ICU window. It was going nuts with people trying to reach you. I didn’t have the heart to explain anything to those outside of our group, and I wasn’t exactly calm.”

I smile at her and stroke her face. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll take care of it later.” I turn back to the phone and add the three separate groups that encompass our friends to the sender list before typing, ‘Hey guys. I’m awake and I’m fine. They’re keeping me in the hospital overnight for observation, but I should be released tomorrow morning. Angie is doing well. I got to meet her today. We wanted to let you all know what’s going on. If you want to come by you can, but make it later. I think I’m going to curl up with Bette. We both need to rest. We love you all and we’ll see you soon.’

I set the phone down on the rolling table and turn back to Bette. “How did you get a hold of Tom?” My phone buzzes and we both roll our eyes. I pick it up and it’s Alice. ‘Is this some kind of cruel joke? Because if it is, I’ve killed bitches for less.’ I snort out a laugh and hand it to Bette who just rolls her eyes again and texts back, ‘It’s not a joke Al. Tina’s awake and fine. We’ll be in the hospital overnight. You can come by later. We’re resting now.’ She lets go of a sigh and the phone buzzes again. She sends out another mass text. ‘I know you guys are anxious to see Tina but she needs to rest. She’s fine, Angie’s fine, and we’re resting. Feel free to stop by later.

She hands the phone to me and I put it on the nightstand. “Tom sent you a letter. I went home to shower and pack and accidently fell asleep. When I woke up, I found it. I wasn’t sure if I should, but I opened it. It’s at home. You can see it tomorrow. Anyway, I called him and he came.” I stare at her in shock. “I’m sorry I opened it. I wasn’t sure what to do…”

I kiss her to shut her up and because, well, I love her. I pull back and stroke her face. “I couldn’t care less if you opened my mail. I’m so glad you did. I had hoped when we sent the invitations… well, I’m glad he was here.”

“He still is…” We both turn to the door to see Tom poking his head inside. He has tears in his eyes and I feel Bette stroke my back soothingly as dead silence falls over the room. “Can I… can I come in?”

Tears gather in my own eyes and I can’t even find the words so Bette helps me out. “Sure Tom. Come on in. I was just about to go… um, get some coffee…” She stands and I grab her arm, pleading with my eyes, ‘Stay with me?’ I want her to stay, but not for the same reasons as earlier. I need her here for this. There’s nothing I would say to him that she won’t hear anyway, and I need her strength now more than ever. She eyes me curiously and says, “Are you sure?” I nod my head and Tom shuts the door before hesitantly approaching me.

I stand and just look at him for a moment. He always looked like my father but age has only further perpetuated the resemblance. He stuffs his hands in his pockets and rocks on his heels as he starts to release silent tears. The more I study him, the more I notice that something is decidedly different from my father. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something. I meet his eyes and they’re gentle and warm, and that is a huge improvement already. I can’t help but smile a watery smile at him. He smiles back at me and in a quick movement that seems almost involuntary, he puts his arms around me and hugs me so tightly I can barely breathe.

I wrap my arms around his back and he starts to shudder with breathless sobs, saying, “I’m so sorry Chris… I’m so sorry…”

I close my eyes. I forgave him without him knowing it or even deserving it. That’s what forgiveness is. You don’t have to hear the words and they don’t have to ever care. It’s a gift you can’t earn. But to hear them, to hear him care for the first time in so long… well, it’s cleansing, and I can’t help but bury my face in his shoulder and sob with him. “I forgive you…”

Bette stands like she’s going to leave again and we both turn to her. She looks to one face and then the other and sits right back down. We start to calm down and he finally releases me to hold me at arm’s length. His smile is genuine and I still can’t peg what’s so different about him outside of his warm disposition. He genuinely seems to care, but that’s just not it.

He smiles boyishly as he releases me. I collapse down next to Bette ungracefully and he does the same in the chair a few feet away. I’m so tired. I just want to curl up with my wife and sleep, but he’s here, and I have so many questions. Bette’s warm hand settles low on my back and I will the warmth to radiate through my soul as if I’m holding it in front of a space heater. “Tom… what are you doing here? You know what it could mean…” His face seems crestfallen and I hasten to explain. “I mean, I’m glad you’re here. I just don’t understand. You’ll be exiled and disowned just for speaking to me.”

He sighs. “I, um… I sent you a letter. I wanted to thank you.”

I furrow my brows at him and Bette takes my hand, lending me her infinite strength. “Thank me?”

He smiles sadly and leans forward resting his elbows on his knees. “I got the invitation to your wedding.” He smiles more genuinely and gestures to Bette. “Nicely done, by the way.” We all chuckle and he continues. “Anyway, I wasn’t yet ready…” He scoffs at this. “No, I was just still too cowardly. I’m sorry I didn’t come. I’ll regret that forever…”

I smile sadly at him. “I didn’t expect you too, Tom.”

He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Yes, well, I should have been there, and you should have had those expectations of me. We’re family. I’m just sorry Chris.” He meets my eyes again and I nod my head sadly. What more can I say? I already forgive him. “Anyway, I got your invitation, and it took six more months, but I finally stood up to father and told him that I’m gay.” He stops and looks at me poignantly and all the air leaves the room.

I sit up a little straighter and meet his gaze as I stutter, “Y-you’re…what?!”

He sits up as well and sighs. “I’ve been gay since I can remember. I just tried to hide it and bury it with the occasional one night stand with a random man out of town.” My eyes are wide and disbelieving but that explains so, so much. Tom never dated women except for one. They were together five years before she came out as a lesbian and left him. They never married or had children, even though father tried to pressure him into it. A slew of blue blood grandbabies and perfect children with perfect marriages are good for any gubernatorial candidate, even if the perfection is only in front of the camera. I was always the dark stain on his favorite satin power tie.

He’s been watching my face through all of these emotions and smiles when I finally refocus on him. “I’m sorry… it’s just such a… shock. After all… I mean… you…”

He doesn’t look away as he completes my sentence. “Exiled you…” I nod my head and he lowers his eyes contritely before he continues. “I know. I didn’t want to, but I was weak and foolish and scared of losing father…” He snorts. “…though I have no idea why.” He smiles brightly and it reaches his warm hazel eyes so much like my own. “But that’s why I wanted to thank you. Your invitation… it gave me courage. I moved to San Francisco and I’m dating a man named Greg. I’ve been exiled, and to be honest, it feels amazing. I’m free…” His smile turns even brighter. “…and it’s entirely your fault.” We all chuckle and I realize just how much I’ve missed him, needed him.

“You know, you scared the hell out of me.” I furrow my brows at him. “I went to your room upstairs and it was empty and Bette wasn’t answering her phone. I finally found the nurse mid rotations and she told me what room you’d been moved to.”

Bette sighs. “I’m sorry Tom. This morning was just so… overwhelming. I didn’t even think…”

He smiles. “It’s okay. I understand. I was just in a panic there for a little bit.”

Bette seems to realize something and turns me to me. “Did you text Malcolm in that group text?” I smile and nod my head and she breathes a relieved sigh.

I squeeze her feminine hand and she smiles at me. Tom slaps his thighs and stands. “Well, you both are beautiful for women, but you look exhausted. I’ll let you get some rest. Is it still okay for me to stay at the house?”

I smile at Bette, thanking her again with my eyes for knowing me so well and trusting him. She speaks for us. “Of course Tom. Tina will be released tomorrow. You’re welcome to stay until you feel you need to go home.”

He smiles at both of us and I stand to hug him. It feels so good and familiar and I revel in it. Bette stands and they hug as well. I smile as I watch them pull apart and chatter as she walks him to the door and I follow. My family… I finally have my family. Just Bette and Angelica are enough, but more is…well, more. We reach the door and he stops and turns to me, hugging me again. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Chris.” He buries his head just beneath my ear and I hear his whisper, “Thank you.” He pulls away with tears in his eyes and I can’t help but smile through my own at him. “I love you both… and of course that niece I haven’t met yet as well.” His smile is boyishly handsome on his rugged face. “I better meet her soon.” He backs out of the room and says, “See you both tomorrow,” before he shuts the door.

I turn to Bette and we both release a huge breath as we make our way to the bed again. Just as we start to lie down together, the door bursts open and in walks an Alice on a determined mission with an exasperated Dana in tow. I groan and Bette gets to her feet quickly. Alice stops and stares at me with disbelieving tears. “TK…?”

I smile patiently at her and stand to go hug her. She starts to cry and I close my eyes. “I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think you’d…” I hear the smile in her voice. “…but you did. Thank the goddess you’re okay…” I know everyone is just worried, but we just need rest. Bette comes around to my side and I eye her over Alice’s shuddering shoulder. She softens a little but I can tell she’s still far too overwhelmed and exasperated with Alice to deal with this right now. Why couldn’t Alice just come later as requested?

Alice calms down and pulls back, and Dana gives me a tight but much calmer embrace whispering, “I’m sorry. I tried to stop her.” I smile as she pulls back and her eyes are glassy with unshed tears that she’s too proud to shed. She sniffs them back as she pathetically says, “I’m glad you’re okay.” I grin at her and stroke her shoulder.

We both turn to see Alice and Bette having a modern day Mexican standoff, complete with the haunting music. I raise my head to the ceiling and sigh as Dana rolls her eyes and takes a seat, slouching down and resting her head on her fist as if preparing to watch the show. They’re like two peacocks circling each other and I walk over to Bette, stroking her back to calm her down, and step in to stop this before anything worse happens.

“Al, I know you were worried but I’m fine. See?” I hold my arms out at my side and she wipes at her nose. “We’re fine. I should be released tomorrow. We just wanted to rest. We’re both drained.” I rub at Bette’s back again and her posture seems to lose some of its rigidness.

Alice sighs. “I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t…”

“Respect a reasonable request?” Alice looks to Bette with open-mouthed astonishment and I sigh. Bette’s not wrong, but she doesn’t need to get this worked up right now. And this is my fault. I inadvertently pitted them against each other.

I open my mouth to speak but Alice beats me to it. “Fuck, Bette! I know we argued and I get why you were pissed, but did you really think a text was going to cut it? She’s been in a coma for seven days! We’ve all been worried sick!”

Bette’s posture goes rigid again and the soothing strokes aren’t doing any good. I try again to say something but this time, Bette beats me. “For someone so aware, you didn’t stop to consider that maybe that’s why we’re exhausted and need some rest. Just a few hours Alice, a few fucking hours is all you had to wait. We informed you she was fine, that the baby was fine, but it’s just… it’s never enough with you. You have to be in the middle of everything.” She scoffs but Bette continues before she can cut in. “Normally, I don’t mind, but you can’t be in the middle of our relationship, not like you have been. That may have worked before when everything fell apart, but it sure as fuck doesn’t work now…”

Alice snorts. “You came to me for help twice. If it weren’t for my help, you two might not even be together.”

Oh fuck. I start to talk but they ignore me. “Al…”

Bette towers over Alice. “I’ll admit I needed your help and you’ve given it. I’m grateful, truly. But the difference is I’m not asking for it now Alice. I appreciate your concern, but your unsolicited interference as of late is just not welcome.”

Alice scoffs. “Tina came to me, not the other way around. I was available.”

That’s it. “ENOUGH!” I feel my heart flutter in my chest and have to catch my breath. Bette approaches me worried and I smile reassuringly at her when I feel it return to normal. I turn to Alice. “Al, I was wrong to come to you. I shouldn’t have. I opened that door.” I look to Bette and while I know I can’t say I’m sorry anymore, not for the past, she understands what I’m saying with my eyes.

Her face morphs into that doe-eyed innocent expression and I wonder at it curiously. Her gaze is utterly adoring, and I have no idea why, but I’ll take all I can get of it. I turn back to Alice. “It can’t happen anymore, Al. Mostly, I refuse do it anymore.” She looks at me like I’ve grown a second head. “Listen, I know you were just trying to help me and while I appreciated it at the time, it was still wrong, Al. If I couldn’t have been going to Bette, I shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place.” She snaps her mouth shut and lowers her head pouting. “Al, it’s not your fault I came to you but it’s a boundary that I failed to set that I have to now…” I gesture to Bette and myself, “…a boundary only we can cross together. I wouldn’t cross boundaries with you and Dana…”

She rolls her eyes. “Dana and I are open. We don’t have those kinds of boundaries.”

Dana is looking the other direction as she mumbles, “I wish we did…”

Alice gazes at her disbelievingly and I reach out to rub her shoulder. “But we do. We need them. Can you please just understand that? When we ask you to wait or drop something, can you please just do that?” I search her eyes beseechingly and I can tell she’s softening but she doesn’t respond. “I still love you, Al. You’re an amazing friend. Things just have to be a little different, that’s all.”

Bette comes up and puts her hand on my back. “You’re my best friend, Al. That’s why I don’t understand why you’d help circumvent me when you knew how much Tina means to me, a family means to me.”

Tears gather in her eyes as she looks to Bette. “I wasn’t trying to circumvent you. You’re both my friends and one of you came to me for help. What was I supposed to do, turn Tina away?”

I gaze right into her eyes. “Yes.” Her eyes get huge and I explain. “Al, if I’m doing something wrong, you should tell me no. I may not like it at the time, but that’s what friends do. I’m just sorry I put you in the middle. That was wrong of me, and I won’t do it again. Can you forgive me… and forgive each other? Please…?”

Bette looks to Alice and both of them soften noticeably as Dana and I let out a sigh of relief. Alice hugs Bette and Bette returns it. I look to Dana who’s smiling toothily at me. I hear Alice murmur, “I’m sorry,” and Bette do the same as they hug. I smile back at Dana. I love these women, I love being surrounded by them, and feeling part of something so secret and special. It fills me to overflowing.

Dana stands as Bette and Alice pull apart and grabs Alice’s hand. She tugs her towards the door walking backwards as she says, “We’ll let you guys get some rest and see you tomorrow.” She looks to me and says, “We’re glad you’re okay.”

Alice opens her mouth to speak but Dana covers it as she ushers her out the door saying, “You can talk to them tomorrow, Al. Come on. I’ll keep you distracted until then.”

I raise an incredulous eyebrow at Bette and we both chuckle as we head back to the bed to lie down. I take her in my arms and she tucks her head under my chin as I stroke her dark curls and close my eyes. She releases a deeply contented sigh and says, “Thank you for backing me up with Alice, T.”

I smile as I continue to stroke the soft, thick springs. “I’ll back you up anytime, babe. I shouldn’t have put you in that position and for that I’m…” We both chuckle softly and I release another sigh as the deep rumble of her joy reverberates in my chest and lulls me into a deep sleep.


Continued in Chapter 6 – Alright I trust you. Take me. Show me.

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