Tina and I walk into the Planet. Well, she walks with Angie in her arms and I waddle. I’ve gained a total of sixteen pounds and while Doctor Wilson says that it’s more than most women at this stage, it’s not unexpected considering I’m carrying two. I’m starting to feel it in my back, especially at night. It wouldn’t be so bad if all of the new weight were distributed proportionally. But no, it’s all front and low in my abdomen. I have to walk with my shoulders angled back and as if I have a thirty pound sack of wet flour dangling between my legs. Is this why men walk slightly bow-legged? I snort. They wish. I doubt roughly two-and-a-half inches of tiny scrotum in any way compares to this. I can still see my feet but the fun parts are disappearing by the day. Well, the lower fun parts. The upper fun parts have gone up half a cup size and they are so sensitive just moving my arms can be painful.
I’m in my second trimester now, roughly twenty weeks, and I’m ready to at least know there’s really life growing inside of me. I haven’t felt a thing accept for the relentlessly increasing need to use the facilities and incessant heartburn. It might help if I could stop eating green olives and ice cream. I can’t describe the insatiable and ridiculous urge. It just is.
We make our way to the table in the back and sit to a chorus of welcomes. We return them and I look around to see who’s present this morning. Everyone’s here except for the noticeably absent Dana, and Tom.
I’ve made multiple attempts to talk with Tom but he’s always too busy to stop by and he ends our phone calls before I’ve even had a chance to say much more than, ‘How are you?’ Obviously, he’s avoiding us, and I’m beginning to think there’s more going on with him than hurt feelings. Tina has tried to get him to stop by for dinner, but he gives her the same reasons, or excuses. And now, he doesn’t even show up for breakfast anymore because he just winds up leaving the moment we try to get him alone or talk to him. Whatever this is, I hope he figures it out soon; it’s nerve wracking.
Who am I kidding? Everything is, anymore. I’m constantly swinging from one irrational high to another. I just can’t seem to get a handle on myself. That’s the most disconcerting experience in all of this. I’m used to emotional control; even when I’m letting it out, there is a sense of reason there. My filter is just broken at the moment.
Kit arrives with breakfast and I nearly take her arm off as I grab for the dish of olives and start eating. She chuckles at me and I glare at her. She doesn’t say a word as she arranges the spread before me. I look down at the fruit, yogurt, granola, and cottage cheese and realize something is missing. “Kit?”
“…could I also get a bowl of ice cream?” She eyes me incredulously but nods her head as she turns to go get a dish. “Oh, and, Kit?” She stops and turns to me with her hands on her hips. “Can I also get a piece of pear polenta tart?”
Kit turns again shaking her head as she mumbles, “She’s gonna eat me out of house and home…”
I turn back to get started on the rest of the items in front of me to find no one’s even paying attention to my appetite for once. Good. Let me eat in peace. Tina reaches for her coffee and I eye it longingly. I miss my lattes. She smiles at me and offers me her straw. “Just a little sip won’t hurt.”
I set my spoon down and lean forward to sip from the straw. I can’t help but close my eyes and moan. It’s cold, sweet, slightly bitter, and absolute heaven. She pulls the cup away and I flutter my eyes open to gaze at my wife, my wonderful wife, my beautiful wife whom I could devour with an even greater ferocity than the food sitting in front of me. And all she did was be present and be herself… justbe. She reads the emotions on my face and strokes my cheek as she leans in and kisses me sweetly. I moan again and she chuckles as she moves her lips to my ear and whispers, “Later.”
I release a sigh as she pulls away completely and I turn back to my food just as Kit approaches with my additional order. I cover the ice cream in olives and lean back with the bowl as Carmen’s voice cuts across the table. “Hey, Shane… so you were at Milk last Friday?”
We all turn our attention on Carmen who’s leaned back in her chair nonchalantly reading a copy of Mobile Beat magazine. Shane doesn’t look up from her LAWEEKLY as she says, “Yep…”
I take another bite of my cold and salty treat as Carmen takes a sip of her coffee and again addresses Shane. “Did you catch Lacey’s impromptu performance?”
Shane releases a sigh but still doesn’t fully engage in the conversation, if that’s what this is. “Yep…”
Carmen giggles. “What was it she said when she shined that spotlight on you?” She puts her magazine on the table and leans forward in an overdramatic attempt at thinking before lighting up with memory. “Oh, right, ‘menace, user, and fucker.’” She giggles again as she raises her fist in the air chanting, “Stop the menace,” with a smug smile on her face.
Alice starts to chuckle as well and Tasha, who’s sitting next to her, smiles as she slaps Alice’s arm reproachfully. “Alice, come on. It wasn’t funny.”
Shane downs the last of her espresso and folds up her newspaper. She stands says, “I better get to work. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” She doesn’t even wait for an answer before striding away.
Tina sighs as she speaks to Carmen. “Carmen, what was that about? I thought you had moved on…”
Carmen shrugs and smiles at Tina. “I’ve moved on, but that doesn’t mean teasing her isn’t fun.”
Alice chuckles evilly. “You should have seen it, TK. This Lacey chick blames Shane for giving her herpes, and she slut-shamed her on stage, at Milk, in front of half the dyke community in WeHo.”
Tina glares at Alice. “Shane’s your friend, Al.” She turns to Carmen. “You too, Carmen.”
They both chuckle again and I jump in. “Come on, you guys. Shane’s paid for cheating on you for almost two years now, Carmen. Cut her a break…”
Tasha breaks in. “I’m with Bette.” Alice glares at her playfully. “Alice… you told me that Lacey got her herpes from Gabby Deveaux like six months ago and that Shane’s been celibate for what… like, two years?”
Alice smiles goofily. “Yeah, but come on, Tash. You were there. It was funny.” Tasha smiles reluctantly as Alice bumps her shoulder and I swallow my unfortunate last bite of olive ice cream. Have they started dating? I look to Tina and she smiles sadly as she strokes my thigh. Does Dana know? Would Dana care?
It’s moments like these I’m glad for Helena. She has no problem using her English accent to get away with speaking up. “Are you two finally dating?”
I furrow my brows at her. Finally? Alice smiles slyly at Tasha who chuckles at her before turning to Helena. “Yes, we have started dating.” Alice takes Tasha’s hand and kisses her knuckles and I return Tina’s sad smile. I have no idea what’s going on inside Dana. The fear, confusion, and loneliness must be intense and staggering. Alice hasn’t failed to be there for her despite her nastiness, but I can only imagine that knowing Alice is with someone else will give Dana more ammunition and maybe increase her bitterness. She truly believes that she’s going to die and there’s no way out of it. I’m not sure I could look around me at all the life happening and not be jealous, bitter, and angry as well.
Helena and Tina stand at almost the same time and I smile at my wife as she leans down to kiss me, despite all the conflicting flavors that must be occurring on my lips. She whispers in my ear, “Don’t forget about later.”
I grin at her and she chuckles as she wipes a bit of pear polenta tart from the corner of my mouth. She walks around to Angie and kisses her as well before waving at my tummy and saying, “Bye, babies.” Tears well in my eyes; Helena, Malcolm, and Ming chuckle; Alice snorts incredulously, and Carmen breathes out, ‘Aww…’
Helena and Tina start to walk away from the table before Helena turns back around and furrows her brows at Dylan. “Dylan…?”
Dylan scrubs the back of her neck nervously as she says, “I’m right behind you.” Helena considers her curiously before Tina takes her elbow and pulls her along. Dylan quickly walks over to Alice who watches Helena’s retreating back carefully as she fumbles around in her huge purse. She pulls out a small black bag and hands it to Dylan who pulls a small metal cylinder from its depths and smiles radiantly. She looks to the door as she quickly tucks it in her pocket. “Thanks, Al. I better go. I’ll see you guys later.”
Dylan leaves and we all return to our own preoccupations, sporadic small talk and chatter moving around the table. I finish the remainder of my meal and lean back feeling very full and very sleepy. I cover my mouth as I yawn groggily. “Bette?” I turn slowly to look at Malcolm and he chuckles. “What do you say I drive you home? We can talk for a moment about the show. Ming can follow me so we don’t have to leave a car here.”
I sigh and fight the urge to close my eyes. “Thank you.” I grab a moist towelette from my purse and start to clean up Angie as I talk to Alice. “Al, will you be bringing Dana by this afternoon?”
I look over at her to see an intense sadness wash over her face. Tasha puts her arm around Alice and she seems to draw some strength from the contact as she responds. “Yeah, I planned to. But I need to get some work done today. Do you mind if I just drop her off and join you guys later for dinner?”
I smile sadly at her. “No, that’s fine. Just come by when you’re ready. You have a key…”
She returns my smile and nods her head. This is hell on her as well. She has every right to move on. I just hope that no matter how this plays out, everyone gets a happy ending.
I lean my head back and gaze out the window as we pull away from the Planet parking lot. I start to close my eyes when Malcolm’s excited voice startles me. “Right, so I’ve been through the Gallery’s schedule and the next available slot is March 22nd of next year.”
I turn to look at him with furrowed brows as I consider that date. “Okay, that date should work. That’s a week after the twins are born.”
He beams at me and continues. “So that gives us five months to send out invites and my big sister to massage her big-shot friends into coming.” I frown at him curiously and he blushes. “Sorry. That came out wrong. You know what I meant.”
I smile at him before turning back towards the window, the steady movement of the car lulling me into sleep. My eyes flutter closed and Malcolm’s voice startles me again. “I still can’t believe this is happening, Bette. I mean, I’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember. Most people don’t get a chance to follow their dreams… but this is my chance.”
I turn again to smile warmly, but tiredly. “No, some people don’t ever get this kind of chance. But your work speaks for itself, Malcolm.” He releases a nervous chuckle and I reach over to squeeze his forearm reassuringly. “I know you’re nervous, but we’re doing this. Just hold on. You can’t let the chance of a lifetime slip through your fingers.”
He seems to relax and I release him to cover my mouth and yawn. I’ve been awake maybe three hours and you’d think it’s been a week. I put my hand over my paunch and stroke the babies. It’s strange that my stomach feels so hard. Babies are soft, but they’re in there, and they’re making me fat and lazy. I wonder if they’ll get the art genes.
I wanted to be an artist and when that didn’t work out, I wanted to be an art mogul. And while that did work out, it didn’t really fulfill anything. I didn’t realize my dreams despite my success. I realize now as I caress my swollen stomach that this is what I always wanted; I just didn’t figure it out as soon as I should have. I smile. This is my chance of a lifetime, and I won’t let it slip through my fingers either.
I look over to Malcolm. “Okay, so I’ll put together the list of everyone I know that you don’t have access to yet. You go ahead and compile the contacts you have and email it to me. I’ll send off for the invitations and start making calls about a week after we mail them off.”
He smiles and looks to me quickly before reaching his hand over to take mine and squeeze it. He doesn’t release me and I consider asking for his help. “Malcolm, have you spoken to Tom?” He sighs and shakes his head. “Is he avoiding you too?”
He sighs again and nods his head. “Something’s going on with him. Ming and I have invited him out several times, but he always says he’s too busy. Why? Do you know what’s going on?”
I turn back to gaze out the window. “I’m not sure, but I think maybe Tina and I hurt him because we didn’t ask him to be our donor.”
I hear Malcolm blow out a breath. “Did he offer?”
I look back to him as we slow to a stop at a red light and he meets my gaze. “No, but we didn’t even tell anyone we were trying. Why would he have offered?”
Malcolm considers this for a moment. “Well, if it had worked out differently with Angie…” I turn to see her zonked out with her head resting against the side of her toddler seat and smile. “…if I hadn’t known you were trying, I wouldn’t have been upset that you didn’t ask, I’d have been upset that I hadn’t made it clear that I was an option. I mean, it’s not like asking for a loan or to borrow your car, it’s asking a lot. I think that if you want to be an option, you need to speak up so that you’re approachable when the time comes. Now, if I’d have offered and you’d have chosen to go elsewhere, well, that would have hurt.”
I sigh. “Honestly, the thought of Tom never even crossed my mind. In fact, I think I subconsciously ruled him out because I assumed he’d never do it. That was wrong of me. I keep trying to speak with him, but he just won’t allow it.”
Malcolm nods his head as a green arrow appears and we start moving again. There’s a long moment of silence and I succumb to the heavy call of my eyelids. “I’ll try to corner him somewhere and get him to spill.” I sigh and squeeze his hand, sleep stealing me away completely.
I close Monkeys Go on Strike and kiss Angie’s head before standing awkwardly. No matter the position, it’s almost like being a turtle flipped onto its back. Tina pulls up Angie’s blankets to fully cover her and leans in to kiss her as well. She strokes her hair and we both make our way to the door, turning on her nightlight and switching off the lamp. We step out into the hallway and leave the door ajar before making our way to our bedroom.
I have killer heartburn tonight and I make my way to the bathroom to use the facilities again. I wash my hands and dispose of my clothes in the hamper, stopping to look at my baby bump in the mirror. It’s more and more noticeable by the day and I can’t wait for them to start moving. There’s the beginning of a dark line that’s running from my belly button to my pubic area but it’s faint. I’ve noticed my skin has darkened, especially my areolas, but it glows with health and that fosters my faith in the success of this pregnancy.
I caress the sides of my tummy and pick up the container of stretch mark butter near the sink. Tina’s small hands come in around me to hold our babies and I sigh contentedly as she strokes them with infinite love. She holds us this way for a several long moments before finally turning me around. Her love for them, for me, is evident in everything she does but I always see it more clearly in her eyes.
She smiles at me as she takes the canister from my hands and leads me to our bed. She sits me down carefully and gets on her knees in front of me. Her gaze is open and honest as she says, “Let me take care of you tonight.” Who in their right mind would argue with that? I brace my arms behind me without hesitation or complaint and she chuckles as she takes out some of the cream. I can’t help but close my eyes at the wonderful touch of my wife as she smoothes the hydrating lotion over my stomach, sides and thighs, massaging them gently as she goes. It feels incredible, not only because it relaxes an overstressed body, but because it recharges my very soul with her love and warmth.
I sigh when she finishes and open my eyes to see her standing and gazing at me with adoration. She starts to remove her clothes, tossing them towards the hamper. Some make it inside and some fall to the floor with a muted thud, but neither of us care. Her voice is soft and compelling as she says, “I just want to feel you tonight. Hold you against me and touch you. I want to remember this, you, all of it.”
I have to close my eyes as my very soul basks in the light of her words. I have always known that I loved Tina, only Tina, and that I would never love another. She is my first, last, and forever. That knowledge is indescribable in and of itself, but to know that this person, this one special person, returns those feelings without hesitation or expectation, nothing will ever compare to it… to her.
I rest my head on the side of her ribs and place my hands around her hips as she leans over me to pull back the covers behind me. When she’s done she strokes my hair before taking my hands and urging me to lie between the sheets. I lay on my side and she covers my legs as she asks, “Are you too cold, too hot, or do you need anything?”
I smile at her with all the love I feel for her and it must be a tremendous amount because her eyes gloss over for a moment. “Just you, T.” I hold my hand out to her and she accepts it as she climbs up over me, leaving a few inches of space between us as she settles onto the mattress in front of me. She doesn’t hesitate to reach out and stroke a hot trail across my skin, following its path with her eyes.
She reaches the dark line on my tummy and smiles, scooting down the bed so her face is close to our babies. She kisses the dark mark reverently as she starts to speak. “I can’t believe you’re already twenty-four weeks old. I learned a lot about you both today while I was on lunch.” She rests her cheek gently on my stomach and continues with a sigh. “You have eyelids and eyebrows now, and even taste buds, and your skin is thicker. And, you’re producing some great stuff called surfactant that will help you scream at us when you get your first breath of free air.”
I chuckle at her and it bounces her head. I can hear the smile in her voice as she says, “Soon we’ll feel you move. I can’t wait to feel you move. I can’t wait to hear you, to see you, to meet you.” She lifts her head and strokes one side holding her hand over the hardest part on the left. “If you’re a boy, then you’re in for a real treat. You’ll grow up in a house full of beautiful women like your mama and–” I clear my throat. “…sorry, your mamas, plural, and your sister.” I smile a satisfied smile at her and she chuckles softly before she looks back to them. “And all these beautiful women will teach you what it means to be a real man in this crazy, intolerant world; a good man; a capable man, and most importantly, a loving man.”
She pulls her hand away and leaves a warm kiss where it was before stroking to the other side and again locating the hardest spot. “And you, if you are a girl, then you’re a very lucky girl, because you have a whole slew of capable, strong, and independent women who can show you that you can do anything you dream of.”
She leans up and rests her left arm gently on the other side of my thighs, bracing herself as she runs her other hand over both of our growing babies and continues. “No matter who you both turn out to be, the most important thing you’ll know, the most important thing we’ll teach you, is to be yourself, because no matter what, we will love and support you.” Tears well in my eyes as she leans forward kissing them both sweetly. “I’m your other mama, and I love you…”
She closes her eyes and again rests her head gently on my medium sized stomach, and I feel a strange fluttering sensation inside of me. For a moment I attribute it to heartburn or, I’ll only admit this to myself, gas. And then, of course, the first tendrils of an overfull bladder start to slightly pang, but it all goes away quickly. I don’t think anything of it until Tina lifts her face and gazes at my stomach with an incredulously raised eyebrow. She puts her hands over them again as if she’s waiting for something. She meets my gaze and I lean up to support my head on my fist as I say, “Did you feel something?”
She laughs softly, “Didn’t you?”
I reach down and stroke them as I say, “Yeah, but I thought it was indigestion.”
We both chuckle and she starts to prod at the hardened areas. It’s gentle but it feels a little strange until one of them nudges back and we both stop still to feel them move. It almost feels like an involuntary muscle spasm that doesn’t hurt at all, but it’s inside.
The movement stops and Tina starts to laugh before meeting my eyes and saying. “I was so worried I’d miss the first time they move, that I’d be at work or something. I wanted so badly to be here for this.” Her watery smile is radiant as she kisses my belly excitedly and stays close to whisper, “Thank you, babies.” The tears that well in my eyes don’t hesitate to fall this time and I can feel the wet warmth of Tina’s as she continues to nuzzle and love them so fully. “Thank you, babies.” She sniffs and lifts her head. “Thank you, Bette.” She crawls up to my face and kisses me sweetly, our tears mingling as our mouths do. After a long moment she pulls back and whispers it again, “Thank you…”
I stroke her face as an adoring smile lights up her glassy eyes and I can see the gleam of child-like excitement before she quickly returns to my belly to play. She plays with them like they’re already here and I marvel as I watch her rouse them further, causing them to flutter and nudge at her from the inside. We both chuckle but mine is cut off when there’s a particularly violent protest from within. It makes Tina chuckle harder but I feel my bladder bring up further protest as well. I roll my eyes. I just went not twenty minutes ago.
She rests her hands easily over the raucous movement and I swear the twins are having World War III without any further encouragement from Tina. Tina watches and feels her hands over the warzone before smiling speechlessly at me. She returns her attention to our babies and joyously escalates them for long moments before my bladder just can’t take anymore. “T, I have to go.” Her head snaps up and she lifts up off of me. I roll over but Tina was much quicker to her feet, and I accept her hand to help me up before waddling to the bathroom. She stands in the doorway smirking at me as I run for the toilet, plop down, and sigh in relief. I glare at her but my voice is playfully accusing as I say, “This was your fault.”
Her smile grows wider. “The pregnancy or getting the twins so riled up that you have to take the potty break that never ends?”
“Both.” I try to keep the smile from quirking my lips but it’s no use, and she’s definitely not wrong. I grab some toilet paper in preparation but it just keeps coming. The babies have calmed some but they’re still hashing it out as I patiently wait for my bladder to empty.
It finally slows to a stop and Tina walks up to me as I stand in flush. She puts her arms around me, holding the rambunctious twins against her own stomach as she looks into my eyes with an adoring grin. “In that case, I’m not sorry for either.” I glare at her again and she laughs as she pats my belly. “Besides, you’ll really be pissed at me when the time comes.”
That’s a scary thought. I’m not a fan of pain, emotional or otherwise, but babies… need I say more? She leans up and kisses me sweetly before leaning down to my tummy, stroking it soothingly, and cooing, “Shh, calm down, you two.” It takes a few moments but they eventually start to relax and she kisses them before again reaching up to kiss me. “Come on; wash your hands and let’s put the three of you to bed.” We make a quick stop at the sink and she takes my hand to lead me to the soft mattress, supporting my stomach with the pregnancy pillow before pulling up behind me and wrapping me in her arms. My sigh is one of utter satisfaction before I quickly fall into the realm of dreams, a place nowhere near rivaled by reality.