Tina and I stroll into the Planet the next morning, beaming as we stride up to the table. Tina grabs a highchair and I settle Angie before taking the seat between her and Tina. I look around the table. “Alice not coming today?” Shane puts her LAWEEKLY down and meets my eyes with her worried ones. “Is Dana okay?”
Shane sighs. “Yeah, just very sick. She had another treatment this morning.” Everyone’s quiet around the table and I look to Tina. It seems so out of place to announce something as joyous as a pregnancy when the people we love are hurting so much.
Tina takes my hand and squeezes it soothingly as we both contemplate things for a moment. Kit arrives at the table and sets our usual pastry and coffee in front of us. She then turns to Angie. “Here you go, baby girl. Brown rice pudding and organic oatmeal raisin cookies.”
Kit beams at us with pride and I can’t help but smile. “Kit, I can’t…” I look to my normal food and then to Tina. I can’t eat this and everyone’s going to wonder why. She squeezes my hand again and at least now it’s resolved. “…I can’t eat this.” Kit eyes me curiously and I chuckle as I continue. “Pull up a chair for a minute.” She takes the seat that normally holds Alice and I look to Tina. She kisses my knuckles and smiles radiantly at me. I return it with one of my own as I address the table. “You guys, we’re pregnant… again.”
Everyone’s eyes go wide, except for a smirking Malcolm, and Kit leans back in her chair with a satisfied smile. There’s a chorus of congratulations as the shock wears off but they all seem to be directed at Tina. Helena addresses Tina directly. “That’s wonderful, Tina. I’m happy for you…” She looks to me with a warm smile. “…both of you.”
Tina raises and eyebrow at Helena and looks to everyone else at the table. They all share Helena’s false assumption. Didn’t I just say I couldn’t eat the pastry and coffee? Tina sets them straight. “Bette’s carrying the baby this time.” Everyone goes quiet again and looks to me even more stunned than before. I can feel Tina become indignant on my behalf and I smile in joy. Almost two years ago she was just as shocked by this notion, laughing it off with everyone else; but now, now she understands me. She sees me fully, and she won’t stand for it. If no one else sees my heart, I know that I can count on my wife, and there is more comfort and joy in that prospect than I can even begin to convey with words.
Tina’s almost angry as she says, “Is it so strange to think that Bette would want to contribute to our family? You’ve seen her, who she really is, for years now. You’ve seen her with Angie. Is it really that strange to you?”
Some lower their heads in contrition while others drop their jaws as they try to stutter apologies. Kit sits forward and looks me in the eye with a smirk. “No, it’s not unrealistic at all. I’m proud of you, baby sis.”
I smile warmly at her and Malcolm cuts in. “I never knew Bette any other way. I couldn’t fathom a better mother.” Tears well in my eyes as I reach over and squeeze his hand.
Shane smiles at me. “I think it’s great, Bette. Really…”
I smile at her and Helena interrupts. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to assume. Of course it’s not hard to believe.” She grins slyly at me. “We didn’t always get along, Bette, but in the past few years I’d like to think that you’re one of my closest friends. You’ve proven you’re a wonderful mother, so congratulations.”
I wink at her and she leans back in her chair, sipping her coffee to hide her smile. Dylan puts her arm around Helena’s back and meets her eyes pointedly as she says, “Just like you’d make a wonderful wife.” Helena chokes on her coffee and eyes Dylan reproachfully. Dylan isn’t the least bit apologetic as she gently pats Helena on the back. She smiles as she turns to me. “Married life isn’t all that bad… is it, Bette?”
I cover my mouth for a moment to hide my laughter before saying, “Not in my experience. You just have to make a choice, take a chance, and hold on.” Dylan smirks smugly at Helena as she leans back in her chair and Helena glares at us both.
There’s a long moment of quiet chuckles from around the table and Kit stands to give Helena a break via subject change. “Well, baby sis, I can’t wait to see you all swollen and fat. It’s been a longtime comin’ for me since I didn’t get the skinny genes from daddy like you did.” She walks around the table and hugs me tightly. She leans back and meets my eyes with a wary expression. “I am not looking forward to your mood swings though. Hmm mmm, that’s some scary shit right there…” She smiles mischievously at me and I wink at her as everyone chuckles. “Well, I’ll get you and that youngin’ something more appropriate for breakfast.”
She walks back to the counter and I slide the Danish and coffee towards Malcolm, who doesn’t hesitate to tear into it. I swear that’s where Angie gets her appetite. They both have hollow legs. I turn to the table and smile as I look around me. Carmen, Papi, and Tasha aren’t present today, so we’ll have to tell them later, but we’ll tell Alice and Dana when we’re done with our doctor’s appointment. My eyes land on Tom’s face and he seems to be contemplating something, possibly even hurt by what he considers. He notices me looking at him and clears his throat. “Ahem, how did you… um… who’s your donor?”
Tina smiles at him and answers for both of us. “We used an anonymous donor from the California Cryobank. You wouldn’t believe it, but we found one that was extremely close to me physically, and on the first try.”
He furrows his brows and I look at him concerned. “Tom, is everything okay?”
He nods his head and plasters on a fake, reassuring smile. “Yes, of course. I’m happy for you both.”
I consider him for long moments. Did this hurt him? He never offered… but he didn’t know we were trying; no one did. It never even occurred to me to ask him. He doesn’t seem like the type to do something like that. I close my eyes at this thought… neither do I. I know how much that assumption hurts. Fuck. We should have asked him. I open my eyes and look at him again. His head is down but he stands again plastering on a fake smile. “Well, I should probably get to the center. My workload has increased substantially and I have an appointment in an hour that I need to prepare for. I’ll see you all tomorrow.” He starts to stride away before stopping and looking to me and Tina with a sad smile. “I’m really happy for you both.”
I watch him walk away and I want to follow him, but this isn’t the place for that sort of discussion. I’ll call him later to arrange a time to talk about it after I talk it over with Tina. I look to her and I can tell she noticed his behavior, but I don’t think someone who hasn’t experienced the hurt of being completely overlooked will know without being told. She meets my eyes and I can see that she knows something’s wrong but doesn’t understand it. I squeeze the hand still holding mine and smile reassuringly at her.
I feel my stomach growl and roll my eyes. I already had grain toast and pickles this morning, lots of it. I turn to see Kit approaching with a large plate of fresh fruits and organic yogurt with granola. She’s been pregnant, so she understands. She sets the plate in front of me and I barely take the time to thank her as I tear into the food. I satiate a large portion of my appetite before I look up to see everyone looking away from me and chuckling under their breath.
Kit pats me on the shoulder and shakes her head as she returns to the morning rush and I put the next bite of fruit and yogurt down. Tina puts her hand on my back and strokes it soothingly. “Do you remember that morning you found me making a sandwich with anchovies, onions, and mayonnaise?” I smile at her and nod my head as I cringe. That was disgusting. She laughs at the look on my face. “Well, don’t feel bad. I sure as fuck didn’t.” Everyone laughs and I join them before continuing to clean my plate, safe in the knowledge that I’m fully supported.
“Porter-Kennard?” Tina and I stand and walk up to the nurse with anxious smiles on our faces. She smiles back at us and says, “Follow me.” She leads us down a sterile hallway to a scale and starts the diatribe she must go through a hundred times a day. “Step up on the scale please.” I step up and watch her adjust the dials. “126.” I eye her disbelievingly. I’ve gained four pounds? “Okay, you can step down now.” I step off the scale and she takes a thermometer, slips a cover on, and puts it in my ear. It beeps and she marks down the reading. “98.9.” She looks back up at my incredulous face and smiles. “That’s normal. Don’t worry. Come with me.”
We follow her back to a room and she escorts us inside. There’s a gown and sheet on the examination bed and she takes seat in front of the computer on the counter, typing rapidly. She points at the chair next to her and says, “Have a seat. I’ll need to get your blood pressure and ask you a few questions and then the doctor will be in to see you.” I sit and Tina stands next to me, gently playing with my hair.
The nurse pulls a blood pressure cuff from the counter and I offer up my left arm. She wraps it and asks, “When was your last period?”
“I had one three weeks ago, started that Friday.”
She clicks open a calendar and finds the date. “How long did it last?”
“It was short, three days.”
She types into the computer. “Is that common?”
“Um… occasionally I’ll have a short one.”
She continues to type. “Any other bleeding or spotting?”
I shake my head. “No.”
“Did you take an at home pregnancy test?”
I chuckle. “Yes. I didn’t believe the first two, so I took a third. They were all the same. It indicated I was one-to-two weeks pregnant.”
She smiles at me. “Well, those don’t count the full trip of the egg down the fallopian tube where the egg actually starts to divide. They just measure the levels of HCG, a hormone, in your urine. If the tester said one-to-two weeks, you’re most likely eight weeks along.”
I furrow my brows. “How is that possible? I had my period as usual.”
The nurse smiles at me. “That was most likely implantation bleeding if it was as short as you said. It’s common, and nothing to worry about. Lots of blood vessels are opening when the embryo attaches to the uterine wall. It’s just excess.” The nurse puts her stethoscope in and starts to measure my blood pressure as I look to Tina with a shocked face. She grins brightly.
She leans down to my ear and whispers, “I love you, so much.” She touches my stomach. “Both of you.”
It’s everything I can do not to cry in this moment. The nurse pulls the cuff off of me and I kiss Tina’s hand before saying. “I love you, too. We both do…”
The nurse has been watching us out of the corner of her eye as she starts to type again, and I see the faint hint of a grin at the corner of her mouth. That was one of the things that Tina and I liked about Doctor Wilson. Not only was she very highly recommended, but she was very highly recommended by the gay community. This clinic is open-minded and warm, no matter your station, marital status, or choice of spouse. She clicks the mouse a few times as she asks, “Any other symptoms, tingly sensation or tenderness in your breasts, hot flashes, unusual appetite, headaches, nausea…?”
I consider this for a moment. “Well, I don’t know what I’d actually attribute to pregnancy, but I was feeling bloated this morning, and a little warm…”
Tina scoffs at me and raises and incredulous eyebrow as she continues for me. “She ate an entire jar of martini olives at breakfast yesterday, and she turned up her nose at scrambled eggs. This morning she ate four slices of whole grain toast and a half a jar of pickles, and that was before we got to breakfast where she devoured a huge bowl of organic yogurt with granola and a plate of fresh fruit. And last night… well…”
I drop my jaw and look to Tina reproachfully as she scrubs the back of her neck with her hand. The nurse chuckles before saying. “I get the gist.” She chuckles again and looks me in the eye. “Those are classic signs of pregnancy. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Save that for when the doctor destroys any modesty you have left. Pregnancy tends to do that.”
Tina snorts knowingly and I frown. Does no modesty mean a loss of decorum? Seriously… “All right, ladies. I think that’s all we need. Go ahead and get changed.” She points to the items on the exam bed. “The doctor will be in shortly.” She stands and shuts the door quietly behind her.
I stand and walk over to the bed to begin undressing. I look to Tina. “T, did you have to tell her that I was a little… over-enthusiastic last night?”
She snorts. “Over-enthusiastic? You were a force to be reckoned with.” I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or insult. “It was incredible.” I can’t help but smile and she sighs as she takes the blouse from my hands. I start to undo my slacks as she hangs it on one of the coat hooks by the door. “I’m sorry. I actually didn’t mean to bring that up. I was just on a roll and it sort of just… came out.”
She smiles embarrassedly as I hand her my slacks and I can’t be mad at her. I’m not really; it’s just private, between us only. It’s one thing to talk sex with friends, but complete strangers who really don’t need to know, well, it’s different. I smile back at her as I hand her my underwear and she grins lasciviously at me. I gulp. She’s going to have to get a handle on that until I get control of my hormones. She seems to read this on my face and that only makes her grin wider as she pockets the underwear. “I think I’ll hold onto those today. Give me something to look forward to for later.”
She stalks toward me and touches my breasts gently through the lacy material of my bra. “You remember when I was pregnant? How I wanted you all the time?” I release a heavy breath and nod my head. “Well, I’m looking forward to indulging your appetites.” She leans up on her toes and kisses me. It’s not hurried, but it’s open, deep, passionate, and entirely unfair to leave me feeling this way.
There’s a gentle rap on the door and I break away from her calling out, “Just a moment.” I glare at her playfully as I quickly put the robe on. “Okay…”
The door opens and Doctor Wilson walks in with a warm smile on her face. “Well, it’s good to see you both again. So you’re here for round two?” We all chuckle softly. “Well then, let’s get you started. Bette, go ahead and lie down and put your feet in the stirrups.” I pull myself up on the exam bed and Tina helps me situate my feet in the stirrups as the doctor washes her hands in the sink. She slips on some gloves and Tina covers me with a small white sheet before coming to my head and taking my hand.
The doctor pulls her small rolling chair up between the bed and the small LCD screen to my right as she switches it on. The screen is black as she pulls a wand from the holder on the side that looks like a very uncomfortable phallus. She smiles reassuringly at me. “Are you ready?”
I nod my head at her and Tina squeezes my hand. “Yes.” She covers the wand with a disposable plastic sleeve and squirts some lubricant onto the tip. “So we’ll just apply a little bit of lubricant here… and here we go.” She lifts the sheet and inserts it gently inside. It’s an odd feeling, very… filling. She looks to me seriously. “You comfortable?”
What kind of question is that? I eye her as if she’s off her meds and she chuckles as I say, “I’m fine.”
She turns to the screen and hits a few buttons on the controls beneath it as she says, “All right.” There’s an uncomfortable pressure as she adjusts the probe and an image starts to take shape on the screen. I recognize our tiny baby instantly. “So there’s your left ovary… and that looks like it would have been a follicle… and there…” She points to the heartbeat. “…you see that little heartbeat?”
Tina leans down over my face and whispers. “That’s our baby…,” in awe. We’ve done this all before, once with disastrous results and another with almost disastrous results, but no matter how many times you witness life growing and thriving, it never loses its impact. You’re terrified and joyful, humbled and exalted.
Tina reaches up and starts to play with an absent lock of my curls as we both gaze at the screen with tears in our eyes. I feel her lips press to my temple quickly before looking back to the screen and we both chuckle with incredulous wonderment as Doctor Wilson says, “That’s interesting.”
Both of us look to her horror-stricken as she leans in close to the screen to study the image, using the controls to zoom in on places as she adjusts the probe further. Tina’s tremulous voice works where mine doesn’t. “What… what’s wrong?”
Doctor Wilson barely tears her eyes from the screen to see our worried faces. “Oh, no, nothing’s wrong. Try to relax. Here, see that?” She turns back to the screen and we gaze at the other dark area appears to the left of the first, a small white mass at the tip of it. It’s almost identical to the other dark area we just studied. Doctor Wilson smiles as she looks to our shocked faces. “Well ladies, you’re going to have fraternal twins.”
I feel my eyes widen and I stare at her for a long moment before Tina’s disbelieving chuckle sounds through the room and turns into a laugh. I look to her to see her wonderfully raised eyebrow and adoring eyes gazing at me with so much love that I can’t help but laugh with her. She kisses me quickly and says, “Twins… my God, Bette… twins…” More tears fall from our eyes as she raises my knuckles to her lips and kisses them sweetly. She sniffs and I reach up to wipe the tears from her eyes and she laughs again.
The smile on my face is almost painful as I turn back to gaze at our babies… babies… plural. How the hell are we going to explain this to Angie? That is a lot for me to wrap my mind around. An echoing beat that sounds like hummingbird wings reverberates throughout the room as Doctor Wilson records two separate heartbeats and takes note of them. She starts taking individual pictures as well as separate, labeling them accordingly. I feel Tina’s head lay against my temple as she says, “Thank you, Bette. I love you so much. Thank you…”
I close my eyes at the joy of this moment. I don’t think I’ll know another like it and I want to hold onto it. The hope that floods my insides is all-encompassing as I imprint it onto my soul. My faith in life has been mostly restored for a long while now, but this, this reaffirms that nothing can touch us. We have each other, we have our family. I feel utterly invincible. I have lived more in one year than most do in a lifetime and it gets better and better by the day. I turn my face to gaze at my wife and she kisses me sweetly before I return her devotion with the completely inadequate but only available words the English language has to offer. “I love you, T… so much.”
“Dana…” I shake her gently. I hate to wake her. I know she needs rest right now, but she also needs to eat. She barely picked at her lunch and she’s getting thinner by the day. I know she’s nauseated, but she has to find the will to eat. “Dana, wake up. It’s time to eat.” I gently shake her again and she jumps up to a sitting position gasping as if she’s just been resuscitated.
Alice sets her plate on the nightstand and rushes to her side. Dana’s covered in cold, clammy sweat as she starts to cry pitifully. Alice wipes some of the moisture from her face as she says, “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay…”
There are tears in both of our eyes as Dana’s anguished face contorts to say, “It’s not okay.”
Alice strokes her again and there’s a long moment of not knowing what to do before she stands and grabs the plate. “Come on. We made you dinner.”
Dana looks to Alice with an expression nothing short of disdain and says, “Why can’t you just leave me the fuck alone?” Alice’s jaw clenches together to swallow her sharp retort as she sets the food back down and prepares for another raucous fight. “You’re not my fucking nurse. You’re not my mother… you’re not anything to me–”
Alice crosses her arms over her chest and rolls her eyes. “No, Dana, and I’m not your fucking punching bag either. So just smile, okay? Jesus loves you… keep it up and he may be the only one.”
Dana gets even more pissed and the venom that flies from her mouth is astounding. “You think you’re so fucking funny, don’t you, Crash… when really you’re just desperate for someone to give a fuck about you, for someone to like you. Well, I’m not like you. I don’t need to be coddled and babied or seek approval like a dog. I don’t need anyone, especially not you.”
I’ve never had the urge to slap anyone as much as I do at this moment, but I know this isn’t Dana talking. It’s her pain, her fear, and her desperation. Alice cuts into my thoughts as she says, “Are you done? ‘Cause if you keep running your mouth I’ll have to feed you backwards. And that doesn’t sound like a good time for anyone involved.”
Dana lowers her head and speaks in a low voice. “Fuck you, Alice.”
Alice looks at Dana with a serious expression and waits for her to meet her gaze. “If you feel well enough later, we can give it a try. Orgasms always cheer me up.”
I snort out a laugh at that one and my respect for Alice shoots through the roof. She’s handling Dana’s open hostility and unwarranted attacks with humor, and I know that what’s being said has to truly cut deep. She just doesn’t show it. If… when… Dana survives this, she’s going to have some serious groveling to do. I look to Alice and her face only sends me further over my inappropriate edge.
I start to laugh and Alice joins me. I try to calm down as I look back to Dana who’s getting angrier. “And you. I’m fucking dying and you’re laughing, but you never did give a fuck about anyone but yourself, did you, Bette? You set yourself up on this pedestal where you can look down on people like you’re better than everyone else. Well, you’re nothing to me either.”
I stop laughing for a moment and gape at her angry face. She intends to hurt and she knows where to strike, but I decide to take a page from Alice’s and Angie’s books. My daughter has this way of disarming me when I’m scolding her. It’s infuriating, but it works every time, and I suspect that Alice taught it to her. I gaze at Dana seriously for a long awkward moment before letting a serious mask fall over my face despite what I’m about to do. “Dana, those are serious accusations and they deserve an equally serious reply.” I quickly reach my finger forward to poke her on the nose, accompanying the action with a simply said, “Boop…”
Alice starts laughing so hard that she has to grab her sides and bend at the waist as Dana’s jaw drops open. She stares at me disbelievingly for a long moment before Alice nearly collapses onto the floor in her laughter. It was just too ridiculous and too unexpected for Dana’s anger to withstand and she starts to giggle, which turns into a chuckle, which turns into an all-out laugh complete with toothy grin. It’s a good sound, one that’s been missing for a long time.
We all laugh until we cry and our sides hurt, and Dana falls back onto the bed wearily as she calms down enough to say, “I fucking hate you both.” I look to Alice who’s still stifling giggles, but she’s collected herself enough to roll her eyes and grab the plate for round four of this third level of hell.
Tina walks into the room with Angie and we all turn as she asks, “What are you all laughing about?”
I stand with a smile and take Angie from her arms. I look into Angie’s wide, innocent eyes and ask, “Angie, when I’m upset with you and try to talk to you, how do you make me laugh?” She doesn’t hesitate to poke my nose and make the noise. I look at Alice who’s giggling again and ask, “Was this your handiwork?”
She scoffs at me but I can see the mischief in her eyes. I glare at her and a short stand-off ensues. I win, of course, and she finally owns it. “I told you I’d get you back for that bridesmaid fitting fiasco. You brought it on yourself.”
I shake my head and smirk. She gets nervous and I look to Tina with a question in my eyes. She stares at me for a moment and I pat my stomach. She grins evilly and we turn to both of them, though Dana’s pretty much ignoring us, and I say, “Well, earth mother, I hope you have more tricks up your sleeve, because you’re going to need them. I found out that I’m having twins today.”
Alice’s jaw goes slack and she grabs at her breast for a moment. “Fu…” She looks at Angie and I harden my gaze. It doesn’t always work, but I try to keep our group’s penchant for cursing to a minimum around Angie. “…nny, Bette, very funny. You don’t play fair in these games, do you? Fine, two can play that way. When you least expect it-”
Tina interrupts her. “She’s not joking, Al. I got Bette pregnant and she’s having twins.”
There’s a long moment of silence as she gawps and stutters before finally screeching out, “What?!”
I nod my head and she continues to gape at me before collapsing on the bed next to Dana in a daze. “Wow… I’m speechless… I mean, it’s wonderful!” She smiles warmly as the information fully settles and pushes on Dana’s leg. Her voice is genuinely happy as she says, “It’s great, huh Dane?”
Dana rolls her eyes and breathes, “Yeah, it’s great,” in a bored and defeated voice. I guess a little laughter didn’t go very far. I bring Angie to the bed and set her down. She immediately crawls to Dana and says, “I gonna’ be a big sister.” I smile at my daughter and smirk. Take that, Dana.
Dana closes her eyes as tears leak from the sides and she finds it within herself to respond to Angie. How could you not? She’s sweet, and innocent, and it’s impossible not to feel better when you’re with her. “Yeah, Angie, that’s pretty awesome, kiddo.” Dana’s voice is weary but warm and she even smiles a little as she says it.
Alice sees her opening and tugs on Angie’s arm. “Hey, you want to feed your Auntie Dana dinner?”
Dana glares at Alice as Angie starts to jump up and down, excitedly clapping her hands as she says, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”
Alice smirks at Dana as she grabs the plate off the nightstand and says, “You might want to sit up. If you play nice, I’ll hose you off after she’s done with you.” Dana does as told but from the look in her eyes, the game is on.
She looks to Angie and says, “How about you just help me, okay runt?”
Angie nods her head as Dana pulls herself up into a sitting position. Angie crawls right up into her lap and Alice hands Dana the plate. Dana eyes it with disgust and Angie asks, “You like planes or dino noises?”
Dana shakes her head and smiles genuinely, and I can’t help but think maybe Angie is the key to this whole thing. Dana sighs and says, “Whatever you think is more fun.” Dana lets out a deep breath and picks up the forkful of rice, placing it in her mouth, and Angie lets out an almighty roar. We all start to chuckle, even Dana, and I put my arm around Tina’s shoulders, hoping beyond hope that Dana will try to fight. If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that giving up means it’s truly over.