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A Reclaiming the Sand Winter Special

© A. Meredith Walters-2017

I wanted snow so badly I could taste it.
Every morning I woke up and I looked out the window hoping that the winter gods would smile down on me and give me what I wanted.
Every morning I was disappointed.
“Snow is cold. It makes everything slushy and you make wet footprints on the kitchen tile,” Flynn remarked when I complained about the lack of white stuff.
“Yeah but we haven’t had a decent snow all year,” I muttered, though he made a good point.
Flynn handed me a cup of coffee. Milk and two sugars. Just how I liked it. He never, ever forgot.
I took a sip of the hot beverage and looked around the warm, cozy kitchen. It was familiar. It was home.
Just like the man who lived with me in it.
“Do a snow dance, Flynn. Make it snow,” I teased, trying to smile. I was feeling strange this morning. A little off. I couldn’t place why.
“I can’t make it snow for you, Ellie. Dancing doesn’t affect the weather. That’s impossible,” Flynn intoned pragmatically.
I chuckled, wrapping my arms around him and kissing him on his downturned mouth. He didn’t pull away. He didn’t stiffen. He returned my affection with an ease that we had fought hard for.
Three years.
That’s how long we had been married. Some days were happy. Some days were frustrating. But they were our days. Together.
Seven years.
That’s how long since he had walked back into my life. Changing me completely.
Fourteen years.
That’s how long I had loved him. Even when I tried to deny it.
“I know you can’t make it snow.” I kissed him again. His lips were always insistent. Not urgent. Not desperate. Just insistent. As if the meeting of our lips were as necessary as breathing.
And for me it was.
For him too.
We were two sides of the same coin. We went together perfectly in our own imperfect way.
“I don’t want it to snow. I know you like it but I don’t. I have to shovel the steps and it takes a long time. Then my back starts to hurt. I don’t want to do it. But I have to. If I don’t do it just right, it will get icy and you could fall. I don’t want you to hurt yourself. That would be awful. And Murphy’s feet will get muddy. And he tracks it onto the floors even if I wipe his feet. I hate the mess. And we both have to go to work and I don’t like you driving on the roads when they get slick. It makes me worry. I don’t want it to snow when we have to go places.” Flynn’s brow puckered and he was working himself up to a state of anxiousness I had witnessed many times before.
I took his hands and squeezed. Not hard. Just enough to ground him. To ground me. To remind us both of what was important.
“It’s okay, Flynn. It’s not even calling for snow. Don’t worry about it,” I told him calmly. I squeezed again. “But if it snows this winter, we’ll shovel the porch together this time. Okay?” He was right. Snow was wonderful when you didn’t have to go out into it. And I had to be at work in an hour. I had a busy day plan. So as much as I wanted a sky full of white stuff, I didn’t have the option of staying home to enjoy it.
Flynn took a deep breath. I knew he was working through his calming techniques. He had gotten a lot better over the years with controlling his outburst. And I had gotten better at being patient with them. Leonard, Flynn’s therapist, was amazing. And even though he had bothered me at first, over the years, I had come to depend on the older man’s guidance. Navigating marriage was hard enough without all our issues and baggage on top of it. Flynn and I had jumped a lot of hurdles to be together.
But here we were. In our home. Living our life the way we were meant to.
I leaned against the counter, drinking my coffee. I took a sip. The liquid hit my stomach and I suddenly felt sick.
Whoa. What a minute.
I put the mug down and took a deep breath. Black spots danced in front of my eyes and for a brief moment I thought I was going to pass out.
I quickly walked to the sink and poured the contents down the drain. No coffee for me this morning.
I put a hand to my forehead. I didn’t feel warm but my skin was definitely clammy. And the nausea hadn’t gone away. My throat felt tight and my mouth went dry. I swallowed a few times, trying to keep the bile down.
I couldn’t afford to get sick. Not now. I was due to start a new support group this afternoon. Julie and I had been collaborating for months on a group focusing on the transition into care for foster children and their new families. We would be co-facilitating and we had five families signed up. The agency I worked for had made a lot of strides in the community to provide necessary services for at risk children and teens. This group was a desperately needed in a town with very few resources.
I got a glass from the cupboard and filled it with water, drinking the contents in one gulp. It made me feel a little better.
“What’s wrong?” Flynn asked, sounding worried. He came over and put his arm around me, pulling me close.
Each caress was significant for Flynn. Made with purpose. He wasn’t a man that was careless in his affection. I loved that about him.
“Was the coffee bad? I made it just the way you like it. I’m always so careful not to put too much milk or too much sugar in it. Because you make that face when you don’t like it. I hate it when you make that face. I want to make things you like. That’s important to me.” He was frowning again.
His frantic rambling was a sign he was feeling uneasy. It seemed we were both a bit on edge today. I didn’t know why. I felt all jangled up inside. Maybe Flynn was feeding off my mood.
“The coffee was fine, Flynn,” I assured him. “I just feel a little sick, that’s all.”
Flynn pushed my hair back from my face, his eyes troubled as he looked at me intently. “Then you need to go back to bed. If you’re sick, you rest. That’s what my mom always said.”
The dizziness abated and I was able to breathe without feeling like I was going to hurl all over the kitchen Exorcist style. “I feel better. No need to play nurse.” I kissed his firm mouth. “Stop worrying about me.”
“Of course I worry about you, Ellie. You’re my wife. I love you. I’ll always worry about you because I will always love you.” My heart swelled. I never tired of haring him say those three words.
Flynn said it as though this were common sense. For him it was. He loved me. He didn’t question it. It was simple for him. A part of who he was.
And I had stopped wondering whether I deserved his love. I didn’t allow myself to indulge in self-hatred or wallow in self-pity. I had worked hard to overcome the hardened, broken girl who had worked hard to destroy everything good in her life.
“You shouldn’t go to work if you’re ill,” Flynn continued to lecture.
“Why don’t you get me another cup of coffee? That’ll convince you I’m fine, won’t it?” I asked.
“Okay. I will.” He poured me some and brought it to me. I put it to my lips. The smell hit me and the nausea returned full force. But I made myself take a sip. Even if I wanted to retch. What the hell was wrong with me?
“See? I’m fine,” I said, even if it wasn’t exactly the truth.
“Okay. I believe you. We need to get to work. I’ll go take Murphy out and you should make sure you have everything you need. Your laptop and your car keys. And don’t forget your water bottle and a snack for later because you always get hungry.” Flynn rattled off everything the same way he did every morning.
“I will.”
Flynn called for Murphy, who came bounding out of the bedroom, running towards him. The mutt stopped momentarily to lick the back of my hand before following Flynn out the kitchen door. I noticed that the older dog took longer to go down the steps than he used to, but he still ran with the energy of a puppy when Flynn threw a tennis ball for him to chase.
I quickly drank another glass of water, willing the nausea to go away. I leaned against the counter, eyes closed, breathing deeply. Don’t get sick. Don’t get sick. Don’t get sick.
As if telling myself over and over again would make it fact.
And in a few minutes I began to feel better again.
When Flynn came back inside, we gathered up our things, made sure Murphy had a bowl of food and clean water, and headed out to our respective cars. Flynn asked me two more times if I had everything I needed for the day and I reassured him that I did.
“Are you sure you feel okay?” he asked, holding open the car door for me to get in.
I cupped his cold cheek. “I’m great.” And I was. Because I had Flynn. And our life together.
And that made the day just about perfect.
He leaned down and kissed me. Soft and tender and full of everything in his heart.
“I love you, Ellie.”
“I love you, Flynn.”

**
“You’re looking pale. You feeling okay?” Julie asked, putting a hand to my forehead. I shooed her away with an exasperated huff.
“I’m not five, Jules,” I reminded her, though I appreciated her fussing over me.
“Oh hush, I can worry.” Julie squeezed my shoulder, not bothered in the slightest by my attitude. She laid out crayons and blank drawing paper on one of the tables in the large room.
“Between you and Flynn I won’t ever need to worry about myself. I have you guys to do it for me,” I deadpanned, flipping through my notes for the group. I felt a fluttering in my stomach that had nothing to do with the persistent need to vomit that had lingered throughout much of the day.
“You have people that love you, Ellie. We just like to see you healthy and happy,” Julie lectured good-naturedly. She added more craft items to the pile of art supplies.
Julie and I were setting up for the Happy Transitions support group, which was set to start in fifteen minutes. We decided to hold it at the Child Response Center, where I had been working as the Child Services Coordinator for the past three years.
I was feeling a little nervous about the session. I had coordinated and facilitated a number of groups over the years, but this one was more personal than the others. When Julie had suggested we work together to provide services aimed at helping new foster families, I was immediately on board. As it stood, local foster parents had to go outside of town for most support and counseling programs.
Julie, who still worked as a child support worker at social services, was making the group mandatory for new foster families.
I wondered how different my life could have been had I had access to something like this when I was a child.
“You look ill. What’s wrong?” Julie probed.
I sat down heavily in a chair, the lightheadedness having come back with a vengeance. “I’ve been feeling weird all day. It comes and goes though. Maybe I should eat something.”
“Here.” Julie handed me a box of chocolate chip cookies. I took one, brought it to my mouth, and immediately put it down again. Julie frowned. “What is it?”
“They smell funny. How long have you had them?”
Julie sniffed the box of cookies and gave me a strange look. “I just picked them up for the group this morning. There’s nothing wrong with them.” Then her gaze become penetrating, a strange expression on her face. “Ellie, how long have you been feeling like this?”
“Sick?” I asked. Julie nodded. I shrugged. “It’s worse today, but I’ve felt icky most of the week. Maybe it’s the flu or something. Why?”
Julie shook her head, wearing an amused smile. “Ellie, I think—”
“Hey, the first family just got here,” Sebastian, one of the child advocates at the center, said, poking his head through the door.
“Thanks, Seb,” I replied, getting to my feet.
Julie put her arm around my shoulders, rubbing my arm. I leaned into her a bit. “This group is going to be amazing. I’m so glad to be doing something like this with you. You make me so proud,” she murmured.
I felt warm all over. Julie’s good opinion had always mattered to me. Even when I was punk teenager and claimed not to care about anything. She had stood by me when most everyone else had bailed. She had been my rock. My constant when I had absolutely nothing to hold onto.
Impulsively I put my arms around her, hugging her tight. Even though I had become more comfortable with physical affection over the years, I still caught Julie by surprise.
I held the woman who had been the closest thing I had to a mother tightly. “Thank you, Julie. For everything you’ve ever done for me. I don’t think I could ever say that enough,” I told her, my voice breaking slightly.
Julie pulled back and looked at me, that knowing look in her eyes again. “You’re awfully emotional today,” she observed.
I wiped at stray wetness on my cheeks. Where did that come from? I couldn’t actually be crying, could I? What in the world was wrong with me?
“I just wanted you to know I appreciate you is all. No need to make me feel strange about it.” I rolled my eyes.
Julie pulled me in for another hug. “You don’t ever need to thank me. It’s been my privilege to see the woman you’ve grown into. You and Flynn have built an amazing life together. And one day you’re going to be amazing parents.”
I snorted. “Parents? Uh, I don’t think we’re ready for that step.”
Julie raised an eyebrow. “Don’t be quick to dismiss the idea. Things have a funny way of happening whether we think we’re ready for them or not.”
Why were we even talking about this?
I chuckled a little uncomfortably and pulled away just as the first families came into the room.
I turned to greet them, forgetting about feeling sick, and started the group.
**
“This is wonderful. I’m so thankful we have this group. Being a new foster parent is a lot tougher than I thought it would be.”
I gave the woman with frizzy brown hair and kind eyes a warm smile. “I can only imagine, Darlene. Julie and I wanted to provide support services to help ease the transition for everyone. This is just as hard for you as it is for Bridget.” I glanced at the child in question. A small girl of about ten years old with a scowl as angry as her hair was red.
I knew the girl’s story. It was a sad one. All too similar to my own. I looked at her and saw myself. She was angry. She was hurting. She hated everything and everyone, including her well-intentioned foster family.
It was going to be a rough road for all of them; I only hoped Darlene and her husband Mark stuck it out.
Darlene looked at her foster daughter who hadn’t moved from her chair for the past hour. She had refused to answer questions when asked and had pushed away the paper when directed to draw a picture of herself. She wouldn’t participate in any way, choosing instead to clam up and glare at everyone else in the room.
“Will it get better?” Darlene asked softly, sounding concerned.
I put a hand on the woman’s arm. “I don’t know.” That was clearly not what Darlene wanted to hear. “What I mean, is that it will take time for Bridget. She won’t be able to let go of everything that happened to her, maybe ever. What she needs is love and whole lot of patience.”
Darlene sighed. “We’re trying. We really are. But she gets angry so easily.”
“She’s trying to push you away. She wants to hurt you before you have a chance to hurt her,” I explained. Darlene’s eyes widened.
“But why? We only want to help her,” she exclaimed.
“Because she’s been hurt. A lot. In ways she can’t even begin to process. She doesn’t trust you. She’s expecting you to hurt her the way her parents did. You have to prove to her otherwise.” Bridget kept her eyes trained on the ground, her small body a coil of tension.
“That makes sense. Thank you, Ellie. I guess I just needed to hear it’s not something we’re doing.” Darlene wiped her eyes.
“What you and your husband are doing for Bridget is so important. And one day she’ll appreciate it. I can promise you that,” I said with total sincerity.
“I hope so,” Darlene said. I watched her coax Bridget out of the chair and towards the door.
“See you next week, Bridget,” I called out as they left. Bridget never lifted her eyes, but that was okay. I had hope that her life would get better one day at a time.
“Wow, I’m exhausted,” I sighed, cramming crayons back into boxes.
“Maybe you should head home,” Julie suggested, throwing off cuts of paper into the recycling bin.
“I have two client meetings before I can leave today. Plus I have a mountain of paperwork—”
“Ellie, I really think you should take it easy,” Julie interrupted.
“Take it easy? I don’t think I understand what that means,” I laughed.
“How are you feeling now? Still queasy?” Julie asked, throwing me off guard.
“Uh, I feel a little better. Why?”
Julie chewed on her bottom lip, a sure sign she was stewing over something. I groaned loudly. “Just spit it out already, Jules. I don’t have all day.”
“When was your last period?”
I recoiled instantly. “Over stepping boundaries much? What kind of question is that?” I barked, embarrassed.
When was my last period? Why was she asking—?
“Wait a minute, you’re not actually suggesting…” my voice faded away into nothing.
Julie’s expression was sympathetic, which annoyed me. And here I had been feeling so warm and fuzzy about her earlier. “Just stop it. I’m not pregnant.”
“The symptoms sound about right, that’s all I’m saying. And it’s not the worst idea, you know,” she placated.
I hadn’t had my period this month. I was never one to keep track. I didn’t write it in my calendar or anything, but I knew it usually came around the first week. It was now the end of January and nothing.
Crap.
Shit.
Fuck.
I sat down in a daze. “Well damn it,” I choked out.
Julie sat down beside me, patting my arm. “Don’t look like that, Ellie.”
“Like what?” I asked, confused.
“Like you’re standing in front of a firing squad. You’d be a wonderful mother. Don’t underestimate yourself,” she scolded, still patting my arm.
“I can’t. No, I can’t be a mom. I’m just not ready,” I gasped, feeling short of breath. And the damn nausea returned. I wish I could throw up all over Julie’s shoes.
“Okay, so you may not be ready, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it,” she reasoned.
I looked up at the woman who had literally saved my life and felt a strange sort of heaviness in the center of my chest. “What if I mess up? What if I screw up a kid the way I was screwed up? I can’t deal with that, Julie. I can’t.” The words came out agonized. And terrified.
Julie smiled. “You are not your mother. You are an intelligent, compassionate, kind woman with a lot of love to give the people in your life. Will you be a perfect mother? No. Will you mess up? Yes. But that doesn’t mean you won’t still be great at it.”
“I might not even be pregnant. You could be giving me a pep talk for nothing,” I countered.
“That’s true. But if you are, I’ll be there. You have people who care about you so much. And you have Flynn. You aren’t alone anymore. Remember that.”
“I know.” I got to my feet a little unsteadily. “I think I need to go to the store. And then go home.”
Julie nodded. “Call me later? I’d like to know.”
I gave her a hug, the emotions coming on strong and hard. “I will.”

**
The pharmacy was too full of people.
I felt like a teenager trying to buy condoms instead of a full grown woman purchasing a variety of pregnancy tests to confirm whether she had conceived a child with her husband.
It wasn’t shame I felt. Not even close.
It was…hope.
And a good dose of fear as well.
Because in spite of Julie’s cheerleading, I still had a lot of doubts about my abilities to parent. I knew from personal experience that you could become something more than your past. I had proven that. Flynn had helped me.
Yet the thought of being a mother resurrected so many feelings that I had hoped never to experience again. The worst being doubt and self-condemnation.
What sort of mother could I be when I had no positive role models?
The idea of doing irreparable damage to a child chilled me to the bone. My skin was coated in sweat by the time I made it to the counter. I wouldn’t make eye contact with the cashier as I handed her the cash to pay for the purchase.
I kept my head down, hoping to leave without running into anyone—
“I’ve been trying to call you all day, Ellie!” a voice exclaimed, grabbing my arm just as I was about to leave the store.
I came to a stop, dropping the bag, the boxes of pregnancy tests spilling onto the floor.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” Dania apologized, stooping down to help me pick up the items. She lifted one of them up and grinned like a maniac.
“Oh my god!” she squealed. “Are you serious?”
“Shh, Dania. Don’t announce it to the whole town please,” I hissed, grabbing the pregnancy test and shoving it back into the bag.
Dania looped her arm with mine and pulled me from the pharmacy. Outside the air felt thick and heavy and it really did look like snow. I couldn’t even be excited about the prospect. Not with my head reeling with other things.
“You think your pregnant?” she asked giddily, her face flushed with excitement.
“I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve been sick for a week. Julie thinks I could be. But it’s probably nothing. Just the flu—”
“Do certain smells make you want to hurl?” Dania asked all knowingly.
I nodded.
Dania poked me in the arm. “That was me every time! The worst was with Leo. Don’t you remember when I came to your house last year and you were making fried chicken and I threw up in your sink?”
“Oh yeah, one of my fonder memories,” I replied sarcastically.
“With Lyla it was the smell of coffee. Couldn’t handle it.”
“That was me this morning. Flynn made me coffee and I almost lost my breakfast right there,” I told her.
Dania and I walked down the sidewalk together, arm in arm, the way we used to when we were younger. Only I liked the women we were now better so much more than I ever liked the girls we had been.
We had come a long way. Both as individuals and as friends. There was a time when I had never planned to speak to Dania again. I had cut her out of my life. The toxicity we infected each other with was too much to bear.
But since moving back to Wellston after college, and more so since marrying Flynn, I had found a new appreciation for Dania and all the ways she too had changed.
Dania was a different person. She was a good mom to Lyla and Leo, who was only a year old. I genuinely liked her husband, Chris, who had made an effort to become friends with Flynn. They were a great family unit, proving again that a crappy upbringing didn’t have to dictate your future.
I was happy to call this woman my best friend once again. There had been a time when I hated her. Avoided her. Detested the decisions she made. And I had been justified in those feelings. She had been a pretty horrible person.
Now I was glad to have her in my life.
But I could always see the pain that always lingered behind her eyes. Behind her smiles. A pain that had everything to do with the baby she gave up for adoption many years ago and so many bad choices that she could could never take back.
“Have you said anything to Flynn?” she asked, practically bouncing up and down.
“No, I haven’t. I wanted to wait until I knew. I’m not sure how he’ll take it.”
I had tried to picture telling Flynn he would be a father and the image just wouldn’t come. His reaction was uncertain and that bothered me.
I had become so adept at reading Flynn. At knowing him better than he knew himself. But this was new territory for both of us. I worried it would send him into an emotional tailspin that I couldn’t get him out of.
“Do you want me to come with you? To be with you when you take the tests?” Dania asked.
I shook my head. “I think I’d rather do this alone.”
Dania glared at me and then cupped my face between her hands. “Stop it, Ellie McCallum. Stop it right now or I’ll slap you.”
“Stop what?” I frowned, trying to pull away. She frowned and dug her glove covered fingers into my cheeks.
“Stop questioning yourself. And doubting and all those other horrible things you do when you’re feeling unsure. You have nothing to worry about. If you are pregnant, you’ll be a good mom. Flynn will be a great dad. You’ll be kick ass parental units together.”
I rolled my eyes. “Who died and made you Dr. Know-It-All?” I quipped, trying to make light of the situation.
Dania gave me a little shake, squishing my cheeks. “I could stand here and psychoanalyze you all day. You’re not that hard to read. Particularly since I’ve known you for way too long. Now go home, take those tests, and call me as soon as you know something! Lyla wanted to come by after school and see Murphy, but I think we’ll wait until this weekend.”
“That’s probably a good idea.”
Dania looked up at the sky. “Yeah, it’s starting to snow anyway, so you’d better get going. That road of yours is awful in bad weather.”
I followed her gaze upwards and she was right. Big fat snowflakes began to fall. Slowly at first and then as the minutes went by it grew heavier.
“Thanks, Dania.” I leaned forward and kissed her cheek. Something I would never have done before.
But we were different people. In a different life.
“That’s what friends are for,” she reminded me.

**
By the time I got home the snow was coming fast and thick. The weather report hadn’t called for it at all. Everyone was taken by surprise.
I noticed that Flynn wasn’t home yet, which wasn’t unusual. He typically stayed on campus until early evening grading papers. I didn’t expect him for hours.
Which was good. I had to deal with the issue at hand before I dealt with my husband.
I walked into the house and was instantly greeted by Murphy who had been sitting in the front window waiting for either myself or Flynn to get home. His large, hairy body collided with mine and I stumbled backwards, dropping the bag onto the floor.
I crouched down so I was level with the furry beast, scratching behind his ears. “It’s good to see you too buddy.” He leaned into my hand, trying to get as close to me as possible.
I sat in a heap on the cold, kitchen floor with the dog, that in some ways, brought Flynn and I together. In this house I was surrounded by memories. Some of them wonderful.
Some of them so, so tragic.
It was here that a sad and lonely girl found comfort with a sad and lonely boy. Over banana bread and television shows, we had formed an unlikely bond that never went away.
Not even when I tried to burn it to the ground. Literally.
Sometimes I swore I could still smell the acrid tang of smoke, particularly when it was hot, and a flush of shame would overtake me. Flynn would tell me I was imagining things. And perhaps I was. Maybe it was my lingering guilt that would never let me forget the horrible things I did to the man I loved so many years before. Even if he had forgiven me I didn’t think I’d ever be able to really forgive myself.
But I couldn’t dwell on those things. Not anymore. Not when there were more important things to consider.
I opened the kitchen door and let Murphy out into the yard. I watched him bound through the freshly fallen snow and thought about the muddy footprints he’d be tracking in, knowing how annoyed Flynn would be.
Carrying the bag, I went back to the bathroom and closed the door. Pulling out the three tests, I opened each one and laid them on the counter.
Peeing on a stick is an uncomfortable process. And messy. And more than a little gross. You’d think they’d find a better way of doing this by now.
Then I left them to do what they needed to do and went to let Murphy in.
Only to find Flynn drying off his paws methodically by the door.
“I didn’t expect you to be home until later,” I said in surprise. I thought of the tests laid out in a row on the counter in the bathroom and started to panic. I had wanted some time to come to terms with whatever those tests said before having to face my husband.
Damn it!
Flynn looked up, hair falling into his face, making him look so young. He was so handsome. I loved every detail of him. I never tired of tracing the lines of his face in my mind.
“Why are you home? Is it because of the snow? I told you it’s messy and dangerous,” he intoned blandly, in his unemotional inflection.
“Why are you home already?” I countered, avoiding his question. Not ready to answer it.
Flynn frowned, not fooled in the least by my change of subject. “Are you feeling better? You still look pale. You should rest if you’re feeling bad.”
He gave Murphy one final wipe down before letting him free to run back into the living room.
“I’m feeling a little off, I guess,” I admitted.
I had to tell him.
How do I tell him?
What would he say?
Would he freak out?
What would I do if he freaked out?
“You’re thinking about things that are upsetting you. I can tell. Your mouth presses into a line and you frown a lot. I can read you, so just tell me what’s wrong,” Flynn insisted, his voice rising slightly.
I crossed the room to him and wrapped my arms around his waist. He was still wearing his coat and melting snow was dripping onto the floor. “I love you so much, Flynn,” I told him, burying my face into the damp fabric of his jacket.
“I love you too, Ellie. You know that. I’m wet. I need to take my coat off. The water is making a mess. I have to clean it up. And you need to tell me what’s going on.”
“Take off your coat and I’ll get a towel. Then I’ll tell you,” I promised him.
When we were finished Flynn put the towel over the radiator and then turned to me. “Ellie, I don’t like it when you don’t talk to me. It makes me think things are bad. Are things bad?” He was nervous. I was upsetting him. I didn’t want to upset him. But he wasn’t wringing his hands the way he would have years before.
“Can you come with me?” I asked, holding out my hand for him to take. He nodded and we walked, hand in hand down the hallway towards the bathroom.
“Why are we going to the bathroom? If you need to go, you should do that alone. I don’t have to go in there with you.” He was confused.
I turned on the light and pulled Flynn into the tiny space. I picked up one of the tests and saw the result. My heart squeezed tight in my chest.
“Do you know what this is?” I asked him.
Flynn took the white stick of plastic from my hand and looked at it. “It’s a test. One that tells you if you’re pregnant or not. I’ve seen the ads on TV, Ellie.” He gave me a patronizing look.
“What does it say?” I asked breathlessly, my voice trembling.
Flynn squinted at the result window. “It says pregnant.” He looked up at me, his eyes bright. “You’re pregnant.”
I swallowed thickly, unable to speak.
“You’re pregnant,” he repeated.
I nodded again.
“We’re having a baby.”
My eyes began to burn. I didn’t try to stop the tears that started to fall. “Is that okay?” I whispered.
Flynn stared down at the test in his hand. Then he put it down and picked up another test that I had taken. “This one has a plus sign. That means you’re pregnant too.”
“Flynn…”
He picked up the third test and stared at. “This one has a smiley face. That one looks strange though. Why do they all have to say different things? It’s confusing.”
I took the test from his hand and put it on the counter, gripping his fingers tightly between mine. “Flynn, we’re going to have a baby.” I could barely believe the words.
I had been so terrified by the idea, now I was more terrified of Flynn hating the idea.
Because, I realized, I wanted to be a mother. Desperately. And I needed Flynn to want it just as much.
“We’re having a baby.” He seemed only capable of parroting me. That worried me. I watched him intently, waiting for him to lose it. To freak out. To fall apart.
Then he smiled.
A big, beautiful smile.
“I’m going to be a dad,” he said with the first real emotion I had heard from him since he came home.
My eyes were blurred with tears. “You’re going to be a dad.”
“And you’re going to be a mom. To my baby. Our baby.” His smile grew even wider.
“And that makes you happy?” I dared to ask.
Flynn lifted my hands to his mouth and held them there. He didn’t kiss them. Just pressed them against his mouth and closed his eyes.
I didn’t dare speak. I wanted to give him time to figure out what to say.
Finally he opened his eyes and the look in them told me everything I needed to hear.
But he gave me the words anyway. As best as he was able to.
“Ellie, I love you. And I will love the baby we have made together. I’m scared to be a dad. But I’m excited to. Because we’re a family.”
I let out a sob and kissed him. There was passion in our kiss.
And love.
So much love.
After a while, he pulled back and smiled. “We should put on our boots and go walk in the snow.”
I sniffled, wiped my face dry. “But you hate the snow. It’s slushy and makes a mess.”
He put his hand on my flat belly, leaving it there for a heartbeat.
“I love the snow. Because you love it. And the baby will probably love it too. So I need to learn to deal with the mess.”
I laughed and hugged him tightly.
Ever so grateful for the wonderful life I had fought so hard for.
For the wonderful future that seemed certain.
For a girl from nothing to now have everything, seemed like a fairytale.
But it was our fairytale.
And it had one hell of a happy ending.

One Day Soon- Alternate Ending

When I start a book, I always write the ending first. I have to know where the story is going from the very beginning.

One Day Soon was no exception.

But this time, things didn’t quite go as planned. The difference between One Day Soon and every other book I’ve ever written is that the ending totally changed by the time I got to the last chapter. That never happens for me. So I was a little surprised when the ending I first wrote wasn’t the ending I published.

When I began Yoss and Imi’s story, I had a very clear idea of where these characters would end up. However, when it was time to say goodbye to them, I looked at the Epilogue I had written, and while I felt it was a true and realistic representation of what COULD have happened to them, in my heart I had to go another way.

But I wanted to share the original ending with you.

Because I wanted you to know that, in my mind, there are two endings. There are two directions Yoss and Imi’s journey could have taken them.

***DISCLAIMER****

If you’re happy with the ending of One Day Soon, then perhaps you shouldn’t read this one.

Because as Yoss said, “a happy story doesn’t always have a happy ending.”

*****THE ORIGINAL ONE DAY SOON EPILOGUE*****

I watched the sky bleed and my heart was almost full.

Sometimes life was just how we planned.

Sometimes it wasn’t.

Happily ever afters came in all shapes and sizes and often times grief paved the way for true joy.

Yoss and I were never meant to last forever.

And we didn’t.

I held him until I had to let go.

I kissed him until his lips were cold.

I touched him until I could no longer feel his skin beneath my fingers.

He always said that we didn’t have to have a great life. Just a happy one.

My happy life now was in the little moments. Appreciating the red sky and the morning fog. Old movies, burnt popcorn, and Hershey’s Kisses.

My adopted daughter’s soft laugh as she reached for the necklace I always wore around my neck.

The red man with limbs askew and a story I once lived.

And in the hours between day and night I remembered his smile and the sound of his voice and I felt a love that would go on and on forever…

Bad Rep extra!!!

I was asked by a reader to post the Christmas Extra I wrote for Book Addict Mumma last year. This is an extra little short for Jordan and Maysie fans! I hope you enjoy it!

***
A Bad Rep Christmas Extra
-Jordan-

What do you get the girl who has given you the world? Clothes seemed trite, flowers hopelessly pathetic, and lingerie sort of skeevy. I was spending a lot of time trying to find that perfect gift that screamed YOU ROCK MY FUCKING UNIVERSE!

I had one special piece already planned but it needed that final something to make it epic. And that final something was what was driving me absolutely insane!

Maysie stretched out beside me, her back pressed against my front, her ass grinding into my cock, which was always hard and waiting for her. I lived in a constant state of fuck ready since meeting Maysie Ardin. She just had to blink those gorgeous eyes of hers and it was all systems go.

“Mmm. Good morning,” she purred, looking at me over her shoulder in that sleepy sexy way that got my heart pumping. I never got used to waking up with her in my arms. It still seemed like a fucking dream that we were here, together. After all the messed up shit we went through, I wasn’t sure I deserved this slice of heaven I’d found.

My arm was wrapped around her waist and I squeezed her tighter. I swept her hair back and kissed the nape of her neck, letting my lips linger against the skin that smelled like sweat and sex and all Maysie.

My tongue darted out to taste her and she moaned deep in her throat in that way that let me know she was just as ready for me as I was for her. We were always in synch. We read each other’s bodies instinctually. We responded only for each other. And my heart belonged totally and completely to the girl who rolled over to wrap herself around me.

How did I get so lucky?

“I don’t want to leave,” Maysie whispered, kissing the base of my throat, her hands moving up the bare skin of my back. We were naked. Every second we were alone since going on tour with the band had been sans clothing. Maysie had made it a requirement when she had agreed to go on the road with us.

“If I have to share a van with the four of you, then you had better make it worth my while,” she had teased before we had left Bakersville, Virginia, where we both lived until she had graduated from Rinard College in December. I had been hesitant about her abandoning ship (aka her best friend Riley) before the end of the school year but my girl was insistent that her life was with me.

What guy could say no to that? Particularly when it’s said by the most amazing girl I had ever met?

My hands ventured south, cupping her ass. I pulled her up and Maysie straddled me. She was wet and warm and rubbing against my cock. I knew exactly where this would end up. Consider me one happy fella.

I rolled us so that Maysie was pinned beneath me and I was between her thighs. I propped myself up on my elbows and looked down at my girlfriend. Her brown hair was fanned out on the pillow, her eyes hooded and hot. Her body gave me an instant hard on but it was her heart that made me want to throw my life at her feet. It was her mind that made me want to give her anything and everything she wanted. It was the entire package that had me planning our future.

This woman was my life. She was my world. She was my everything.

I kissed her chin, nipping the skin with my teeth. Maysie arched her back and without another thought I slowly slid inside her. Each and every time it was like coming home. We fit together as though we had been made for each other.

“I wish we never had to leave this bed,” I rasped between thrusts. Maysie moved with me, rolling her hips in that way that drove me wild.

Her nails scrapped down my back and I took a fistful of hair, pulling her head back, exposing her long, slender throat. My tongue and lips devoured. I would never get tired of the taste of her.

“I love you, Jordan,” Maysie moaned as I pushed deeper inside her tight body. Her words were my undoing. They always were. I came loudly and violently just as she shuddered her own release around me.

Afterward we lay tangled in each other. I lazily threaded my fingers through her hair, her head pressed over my heart where it beat erratically under her cheek.

Only ever for her.

“I wish I didn’t have to go to my parents’ for Christmas,” Maysie murmured, tracing her fingertip along the ridge of my abdomen, making me squirm. I captured her hand and playfully bit down. She giggled, making me smile. But the reminder that in a few days she would be leaving for South Carolina for a week made me less than happy.

Her parents were not my biggest fans. And their relationship with Maysie was strained to say the least, but she had been putting off a visit for over a year. They had unscrupulously pulled out the big guns this time. Parental guilt. And not even Maysie Ardin was immune to it.

We had been on the road for almost two months. At the beginning of the year the guys and I, otherwise known as Generation Rejects, had gotten the break of a lifetime. Mitch, our bassist had a cousin who worked as a club promoter. The cousin had a friend, who had a friend who worked PR for a small, indie record label. This guy, Dougie, liked our sound and set up some gigs. Those gigs led to more gigs. Then more gigs. And they started getting bigger. And bigger.

We had started out in small, hole in the wall bars and clubs, lucky to have ten people coming out to watch us play. Now we were opening up for mid level bands at festivals and bigger venues. Some of the larger college radio stations around the country had started playing our single, Perfect Regret, which was written as an acoustic number by our lead guitarist, Garrett Bellows. We roughed it up a bit, added some killer riffs and drum runs, and now it was metaled up but with enough of a ballad side to make the chicks happy.

It was a surprise hit. People were loving it. And it was getting us noticed. Dougie said he saw big things in our future. It was exciting. And a little overwhelming. But with Maysie here, it was easy to stay grounded. She wouldn’t let me or any of the guys develop big egos. She’d kick us in the nuts followed by a punch to the gut if we even tried. She was a good stabilizer when things got crazy.

That’s why I loved her so damn much. She didn’t put up with anything. She had learned the hard way that life was too short to swallow any bullshit. The fact that I had been the source of a lot of our earlier bullshit had created serious tension in the early days of our relationship. But we had gotten over it. Moved on. And here we were, basking in the afterglow of another round of mind-blowing sex, and I knew without a doubt, this is where I wanted to be for the rest of my life.

I kissed Maysie’s temple and squeezed her tighter. “I know, baby. But you need to see your parents. It’s only a week and then you’ll fly up to spend New Year’s with me at my parents. We can make it that long,” I teased. It turned into a groan as she pressed her breasts into my chest. I could feel her hard nipples and my dick started to perk up again.

“Well, we just need to make up for it now,” Maysie grinned, her hand dipping below the blankets to curl her hand around me. I closed my eyes and nodded emphatically.

“That sounds like a good plan to me,” I said, my voice cracking as she blew my mind all over again.

***

“What are you getting Riley for Christmas?” I asked Garrett several hours later. Maysie and I had finally pried ourselves apart but it had taken awhile. It always did. She had gone to get us something to eat while I met up with the guys for sound check for tonight’s show. We were playing a local radio station’s Christmas show featuring fifteen bands from all around the country. Tickets had sold out weeks ago and it was set to be a hell of a good time.

Garrett was tuning his guitar, a pick between his teeth. My buddy and roommate had been dating Maysie’s best friend, Riley, for almost a year. They were an odd couple and I could admit that at first, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t last. I’m happy to say I was completely and totally wrong.

“I got us tickets to some play she wanted to see. It’s been sold out for months, but I snagged a pair awhile back. I’m going up to her mom’s for Christmas, she doesn’t know I’m coming,” Garrett said. He could have been telling me about the latest football stats for all the emotion he put into his statement. But I knew he loved that girl. As much as I loved Maysie.

I tapped my drumsticks on my knee. Well that hadn’t been any help.

“Having trouble coming up with a gift for the little misses?” Cole asked, sitting down on the stage beside me.

“What about Vivian? You getting her anything?” I countered, knowing the answer I’d get.

Cole cupped his junk. “This is her Christmas gift, right here,” he waggled his tongue, looking like a fucking idiot. Garrett punched him in the nuts, causing our lead singer to crunch up in a ball.

“Dude, what the fuck?” Cole groaned, looking a little green.

“Stop being such a douchebag, you give douchebags a bad name,” Garrett told him, already turning back to finish tuning his guitar.

Cole adjusted himself and winced. “Many women will be very unhappy if you mess with the jewels,” he grinned in that self-satisfied way of his that just asked for a fist in the mouth.

I loved my band members. I really did. But I could admit I liked some better than others. Yes, I played favorites.

Cole and I had never been friends. He and Garrett were tight in high school. I met Garrett and Mitch after moving to Bakersville for college. While Garrett, Mitch and I were close, my relationship with Cole was one out of mutual acquaintance. Not because we actually chose to be friends. He was a decent guy when he wasn’t playing big dick. But I had a feeling a lot of the arrogant prick act covered up some serious low self-esteem.

“So you’re not getting anything for the girl you’ve been fucking regularly for over a year? She doesn’t deserve a box of chocolate or something?” Mitch piped up from across the room.

Cole frowned. “We’re not like that. She gets it,” he said, though he sounded unsure. And he should be. I was pretty confident he and Vivian were on very different pages.

I had felt bad for Vivian at first. Though my patience for the Cole/Vivian free for all was waning. There was only so much screaming, fighting and public fucking you could stomach on a regular basis. They exhausted me and I wasn’t the one dating either of them. It made me appreciate what I had with Maysie even more.

But Vivian really was a great girl. She was one of the few chicks in Chi Delta, Maysie’s former sorority, who had stood by my girl when shit hit the fan with my ex, Olivia. Sure Viv played the drama queen pretty fucking well. But I knew, just like everyone else (but Cole apparently), that she was crazy about our moronic lead singer. I had a feeling that Cole would figure it out when it would be too late to do anything about it. Because I didn’t think any girl could put up with Cole’s man whorish ways indefinitely.

“Still kinda fucked up, man,” Garrett stated matter a factly. Cole’s face darkened as he thought about it. You could see the wheels turning, he was giving it thought. But then the shitty side of his personality seemed to take over and he grinned again.

“I’ll give her a good Christmas pounding, that’s gift enough,” he leered. What a freaking jackass.

I turned to Mitch who was shaking his head. “What about you? You getting anything for Gracie?” Mitch bowed his head and I knew it was a touchy subject. Gracie and Mitch had been dancing the “just friends” line for a long time. Mitch was crazy in love with that girl. And Gracie…well…she was just a little bit crazy. She was going through a lot of shit and good ol’ trusty Mitch, was loyal to the core.

“I got her a necklace that I saw in a shop when we were in Chicago last month,” Mitch muttered. Garrett and I shared a look. He saw what was going on. We all did. It was pretty fucking sad.

“That’s cool,” I said, not saying anything more about Gracie.

Garrett finished with his guitar and put it on the stand by his amp. “Stop stressing about it. Whatever you get her, Maysie will dig. She’s cool like that,” he said, as though it were the easiest thing in the world to find a gift for the love of your life.

***

After the show, Maysie and Vivian (who had flown in yet again to see Cole, who was primed and ready to be crowned dickhead of the year) went to a bar with the rest of the guys. I told her I’d catch up with them later. She gave me a funny look but I had kissed her soundly and sent her on her way.

I got in a cab and took off for downtown Toledo. Ohio wasn’t exactly the epicenter for culture, but after my not so helpful talk with the guys, I had looked through the yellow pages and found a shop that just may have what I was looking for. Something unique and perfect. Just like Maysie.

The owner of the shop stayed open later than usual and helped me find something that I hoped like hell Maysie would love. The owner assured me it would be ready in a couple of days.

Maysie was leaving for South Carolina on Friday, so I needed the present before then. I paid the guy extra to rush it.

I met everyone at the bar where drinks were flowing and the drama was just getting started.

I walked up behind Maysie, who was sat at the bar, and slipped an arm around her waist. She leaned back into me and tilted her head up so I could kiss her lips.

“Where’d you disappear to?” she asked. I ran my tongue along her lip, getting incredibly turned on by the taste of vodka and lip-gloss on her mouth.

“Don’t worry about it,” I answered evasively. Maysie frowned but let it go. Vivian was watching Cole across the bar flirting with a couple of girls. Garrett sat on Viv’s other side, nursing his beer. He rarely drank anymore. And it had been almost a year since I had seen him smoke anything. I knew that had everything to do with Riley Walker. I’m glad she got him to quit. He was a lot cooler when he wasn’t stoned out of his mind.

“Just go find someone else, Viv. Cole will never be Mr. Monogamy. You need to get that fairy tale out of your head right now,” Garrett told her, not pulling any punches. I suppose that’s why he and Riley were good together. Both seemed to lack a filter.

Vivian’s mouth pinched into a line, her eyes flashing. She downed the rest of her drink. “Fuck this,” she grumbled, slamming the glass onto the bar. She pushed her chair back, sending it crashing to floor, and stomped off toward Cole, who had his tongue down some brunette’s throat.

“Shit just got real,” Garrett muttered, shaking his head.

“I should go stop her,” Maysie said, getting to her feet but I pulled her to my side.

“Just leave ‘em to it. They both get off on this. We’ll stop ‘em if it starts getting ugly. Otherwise, let her go,” I told her. I didn’t want to spend my night watching Maysie play shoulder to cry on for Vivian. It’s not that I was being callous, but Vivian was a big girl, she knew what she was getting into with Cole. It’s like watching someone run into a brick wall over and over again. The first time you feel bad for them, but when they keep doing it, you chalk it up to a case of the stupids.

“Let’s get out of here,” I whispered into my girlfriend’s ear. She was focused on Vivian and Cole who were making quite a scene. Vivian had shoved the girl Cole had been kissing on her ass and had slapped Cole…hard. He had grabbed Vivian’s wrist and was yelling in her face.

“Get ready for it,” Garrett said blandly. Then he and I started the count down together.

“Five. Four. Three. Two. One.”

And then Cole and Vivian were sucking face. And what had been a bad episode of Jerry Springer had turned into the amateur porn hour.

Maysie sighed and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, let’s get out of here.”

***

I had gotten the call from the shop owner later in the day on Thursday, telling me the gift was ready. I had snuck out after sound check to pick it up. Maysie had gone out Christmas shopping for her parents. She had tried to drag me along with her but I had made the excuse that the band had songs to go over before the show tonight.

After getting her gift I went and picked up the final part of her present, which I had been carrying around for almost six months now, and then checked into the five star hotel across town. We had been staying at the Motel 6 with the other guys since coming to Toledo, Ohio and while it was great just being together, tonight needed to be special.

I had packed a bag of Maysie’s things and taken it over to the hotel. I was a nervous wreck. It was crazy how this girl could bring me to my knees so easily without even trying.

After the sold out show, I evaded interviews with the local paper and the throngs of people that were waiting for us after we were finished. I left the schmoozing to Cole.

“Come on,” I said, taking Maysie by the hand. She and Vivian had been tucked into a dark corner at the back of the bar to watch the show. I always made sure to find her before we started playing, because each and every song was for her.

“Where are we going?” Maysie asked in surprise. I was sweaty and probably smelled less than stellar, but I couldn’t wait another moment to get my girl alone. It was time to get our Christmas celebration started.

“Just get your stuff, baby. No questions,” I teased, giving her a smile that I knew she could never resist.

Her face softened and she said goodbye to Vivian, who was already looking for Cole. She grabbed her bag and let me tug her across the bar to the rear exit. I pulled out my cell phone and called a cab. People tried to stop me, but I politely blew them off. This night was not about me. Or Generation Rejects. It was about Maysie. And starting our future.

My stomach was twisted in knots. I wasn’t entirely sure why I was freaking out so badly. Did I really think Maysie would hate my present? She loved me. So she would like whatever I gave her, right? So long as it wasn’t power tools or a vacuum cleaner, I thought I was good.

But it was the implication of my gift that had me feeling the need to vomit.

Maysie laughed as I pulled her outside. “Why are we in such a rush?” she giggled.

I put my arms around her much smaller frame and bent my head so I could press my face into the side of her neck. I breathed in the scent of her, feeling it deep in my bones. If I could burrow my way inside of her I would.

“I need you alone. Now,” I let out in a hushed tone, kissing her roughly just as the cab pulled up. We got inside and I gave the driver the address for the hotel and then sat back in the seat, holding Maysie’s hand between mine.

Her nose crinkled adorably in confusion. “That’s not our hotel. What’s going on?” I kissed her again, letting my lips linger against hers.

“Shh,” I whispered into her mouth.

We pulled up in front of the fancy hotel ten minutes later. I paid the driver and got out. Maysie followed me into the reception with her mouth agape.

“This is amazing! Are we staying here?” she asked a little breathlessly. I nodded, my grin threatening to split my face in half. Her grin was just as wide as we got onto the elevator and I hit the button for the tenth floor.

“Merry Christmas, Mays,” I said quietly before opening the door to our room. She walked inside and gasped. I had decked it out with lights and candles. I had broken the bank on flowers. They were everywhere. Soft Christmas music played from the iPod dock on the desk.

“Jordan,” she said softly. She turned to me and her eyes were wet. I reached out and wiped a tear away with my thumb.

“This is incredible,” she said, turning in a circle to see my handy work. She walked over to the desk where I had placed the wrapped present. She picked it up. It was heavy. She gave it a shake and I knew she could hear a slight rattling inside.

I crossed the room and took the present from her hands. “Later,” I said, my voice getting rough. Maysie dropped her purse to the floor and took off her coat. I threw it across the room.

What started as slow and leisurely quickly became hurried and frantic. We were naked in no time. We barely made it to the bed before I was inside her. Maysie moaned and writhed beneath me, meeting me with each thrust.

I ran my hand down between her breasts and she arched into my touch. She was so uninhibited, so raw and open. I loved this woman with every fiber of my being.

“I love you, Maysie. I love you forever,” I growled as I pounded into her. She gasped and quivered as she came and I quickly fell off the cliff with her. We lay together afterward, my dick still buried inside her warm body as we talked about everything and nothing at all. That was the amazing beauty of our relationship. We could be simple together. Even after sharing the intensity we had just experienced.

A little while later, after a long shower that involved soap and hands and more crazy sex, I handed her the gift I had gotten her. Maysie’s face lit up like the lights that I had hung from the walls. I was so goddamned nervous.

She took her time tearing open the wrapping paper. Finally, my present lay in her lap. “Oh Jordan, it’s gorgeous,” she said on a sigh. She ran a finger along the wooden music box, caressing the music notes carved onto the lid.

“Open it,” I told her.

Slowly she lifted the lid and it started playing a melody. She frowned, trying to place it. I knew the moment it hit her because her smile became blinding. She looked up at me with tears sliding down her face.

“It’s our song,” she murmured. I nodded, feeling suddenly and uncharacteristically shy. The song was the one I had written for Maysie after we had broken up. The one I played for her the night we got back together.

We could have our tomorrow
We could have our dreams,
My future is wrapped up in you,
Even as my heart bleeds.

I sang the words to her while the tinkling song played.

“Stop running, girl.” Maysie sang just as quietly. Her eyes sparkled as she looked down at the box in her hands.

“I stopped running a long time ago, you know,” she joked, sniffling and wiping away her tears.

I pulled her into my lap and kissed the skin where her neck met her shoulder. “This was our beginning,” I told her and then handed her the smaller present that had been tucked inside the music box.

“And this is our future,” I said, my voice cracking.

Maysie’s breathing became heavy as she looked at the package in my hands. She gingerly took it from me. She was less slow to open this one. The wrapping fell away to reveal a small blue box.

“Jordan,” she whispered.

I took the box from her hands and opened it, revealing the diamond ring inside.

“You are my forever, Maysie Ardin. You are my always. You are every song I write. You are the music in my veins. You are every beat of my heart. Will you marry me?” I asked, my hands shaking, my heart pounding.

Maysie was sobbing and I started to freak out. She wasn’t answering me. Why wasn’t she saying anything?

“Mays?” I asked, choking on her name in my throat. What if she said no? What if she wasn’t ready for this step? God, I’m such a fucking idiot to ask her while we were buck ass naked. Was that sleazy and not romantic like it had seemed in my head?

But then she stopped crying and took the ring out of the box, handing it to me. “Put it on me?” she asked, her eyes bright with tears.

With trembling fingers I took the ring and slid it on her hand. “Is that a yes?” I dared to ask her.

She wrapped her arms around my neck and rubbed my nose with hers. “That’s a hell yes!” she giggled.

Find You in the Dark Christmas Extra!

Last year I wrote this Find You in the Dark Christmas extra for Cris over at the Book Avenue Review. I wanted to share it with you guys again, in case you missed it last year.

Have one last look at Maggie and Clay and what happened beyond the happily ever after…

***

“I forgot to get whipped cream! You can’t have pie without whipped cream!” Maggie ran around our kitchen, reminding me a bit of a headless chicken.

I sat at the table, waving a spoon of peas in front of our daughter’s mouth, hoping she’d swallow them this time and not spit them all over my shirt.

No such luck.

One face full of green gook later and I declared dinnertime officially over.

“Every thing will be perfect,” I assured Maggie, kissing the back of her neck as she stood at the counter chopping up lettuce for the salad.

She stopped her frantic preparations and leaned back into me for a moment.

“This is our first Christmas with everyone here. I just want everything to be nice,” she said softly. I wrapped my arms around her middle and she put her hands over mine.

“We have everything we need for the best Christmas ever. You need to relax and enjoy it,” I urged her.

She nodded, dropping the knife onto the cutting board and going to get our daughter out of her high chair.

The little girl was the spitting image of Maggie. And watching the two of them rub noses, Maggie laughing as our daughter nuzzled into my wife’s neck, I couldn’t help but remember that night, two years ago when I had been scared to death to start this chapter of my life. Terrified to be a dad. Worried like hell I’d fuck it all up and be the sort of parent that my own had been. Worthless.

And in an instant, my whole universe had changed…

***

“Clay…wake up!” I groaned and tried to roll away from whatever was jabbing me in the side. I pulled the covers up over my head, trying to stay resolutely asleep.

No such luck.

Next came the full body shaking.

“Wake the fuck up!”

I felt a full on titty twister on my nipple and yelped, sitting up in bed. I rubbed my bleary eyes, trying to figure out what was going on.

Maggie was stood beside me, her hands cradling her swollen belly and she looked ready to kill me.

“What is it? Is the house on fire?” I asked groggily, turning on my bedside light so I could see what the emergency was.

Maggie scowled at me and then she doubled over, moaning so loudly I was sure the neighbors would hear. I jumped out of bed and put my arms around her.

Shit. I knew what this was.

We had been preparing for this moment for the last seven months.

I had stopped taking my sleep meds three weeks ago so that I would be able to do what I needed to do when the time came.

But it didn’t stop the freak out that threatened to take me down.

“We have to go to the hospital. Now!” she yelled, squeezing my hand so tightly that she cut off the circulation to my fingers.

I stood there, rigid, unable to move. A thousand panicky worries flooded my head at her plea. Up until now, the idea of having a child had been some sort of abstract concept. It had been the natural progression in our life together.

We had been married for two years. We had bought our first house last summer. And now we were expecting our first child.

And I was also still fighting my way through the dark fog of my daily struggles with my mental illness.

Bi-polar disorder didn’t care that you wanted your life to be normal. It didn’t give a shit if you had a million and one expectations for what you wanted to do and be. It was the merciless bitch that would never quite relinquish its hold on your world.

On your mind.

It was the taunting tease in the back of your head that whispered you’ll always be mine.

I had been riddled with the terror that I would pass this on to my child. That he or her would suffer the way I had. How would I be able to live with the knowledge that I had given this to someone who depended on me?

I had spent most of my therapy sessions over the last six months discussing this very point. I had read the research and knew that bi-polar disorder could be hereditary and that my child had a 10-25% chance of developing the illness themselves.

But Maggie wanted a baby.

I wanted a baby.

I wanted the chance to be the parent mine had never been. To prove I was more than the people who had given me life.

We both wanted that perfect person that embodied the love we felt so deeply for one another.

Wasn’t it the worst kind of selfish to want something so badly, no matter the consequences?

How could I knowingly give the worst part of myself to a helpless child?

Maggie and I hadn’t been trying for a child when she had gotten pregnant. But we hadn’t been trying to prevent it either. How naïve I had been at the time to think I was emotionally ready for this step.

In the years since we said I do, Maggie and I had struggled hard to build the life we wanted together. It was anything but smooth sailing. I was still riddled with doubt and self-loathing. Maggie still worried that I would backslide into the person I had been before.

Counseling had become as commonplace for our relationship as dinners and movies. It was how our relationship functioned. It was how we, together, flourished.

It was the only way we could be the healthy, functional couple we wanted to be.

So when Maggie announced that she was expecting, I had, at first, been over the moon. We had thrown ourselves into buying every random piece of marketed baby crap that was out there.

Maggie was glowing. She had never been more beautiful in my eyes. Her parents were ecstatic. Daniel and Rachel were down right giddy, already planning future play dates for our children. Ruby had burst into tears and promised to fly up and help after the baby was born.

But then the dark part of my brain started to take over and I began to question what I was doing. What sort of parent did I hope to be? I could barely take care of myself! What did I know about taking care of someone else?

I was setting myself up for the worst kind of failure. The kind you didn’t bounce back from.

Of course Maggie didn’t follow my doom and gloom logic.

“You’ll be a fantastic father, Clay. I would never be taking this journey with you if I weren’t completely certain of you. Of us.” She would say emphatically when she recognized the characteristic pessimism on my face.

And her confidence would pull me out of whatever black place I had gone to.

She always did.

And I had learned ways to hold onto the light when she’d hand it to me.

It’s what made us work. It’s what would get us through anything.

Except right now all I could feel was total and complete emotional chaos as I helped my very pregnant wife to the car, stopping periodically so she could yowl in pain and grip my hand hard to cut off circulation.

Shit, who knew Maggie May Reed was capable of channeling the Incredible Hulk? She was fucking scary.

“If you don’t get me to the hospital in the next ten minutes I’m going pop a fucking squat and this baby is going to fall on the floor mat!” she growled, clenching her fists as another contraction hit her body.

“We’re almost there,” I assured her, trying like hell to hide how close I was to screaming with her. Seeing her in pain was horrible. Not knowing what would come after all this was over was freaking torture.

“Stop driving like an old lady and put your foot down! Drive like you’ve got some balls!” Maggie roared, gripping my arm and piercing my skin with her talon like nails.

“It’ll be fine, I promise, baby.” I tried to be consoling. Okay, so maybe I was teetering on the edge of placating and perhaps that wasn’t the best course of action when dealing with your wife whose body was currently trying to expel a baby.

I winced and tried not to swerve the car off the road. “This is all your fault, you shithead,” Maggie yowled just before letting out a guttural groan. “It hurts, Clay. Why didn’t they tell me how much it would hurt?” she panted.

I swung the car into the hospital parking lot, found the first available spot and practically flew out of the vehicle. I grabbed Maggie’s bag from the trunk and then ran around to the side of the car, tripping over a soda can.

I caught myself before falling on my ass and opened the door for Maggie. I tried to calm myself down, knowing that my freaking out would only make the entire situation worse. Maggie needed me to be strong.

I was so used to Maggie being my rock. She was the one I had leaned on for so long that it was discombobulating trying to assimilate to a new role.

Because Maggie needed me.

I wrapped my arm around her back and supported her weight as I practically carried her to the door of the ER. We checked in at reception and while the nurse went to get a wheelchair, I leaned down and cupped Maggie’s face in my hands.

“I love you so much,” I said softly, kissing her lips.

Her beautiful face was pinched in pain and I knew just standing there was taking everything out of her. But for the time being she didn’t appear to be wishing me bodily harm. Her face only radiated the same love that I knew shown from mine.

“I love you too, Clay. So very much,” she whispered back just before she doubled over as another contraction hit. And then she wasn’t loving me so much as cursing my very existence. And if this were any other time but during the delivery of our first child, I would have been gutted by the hateful string of curses spewing from her normally pretty mouth.

“You fucking asshole! If you ever think about doing this to me again, I’ll cut your nut sack off and shove it up your ass!” she screamed as a nurse wheeled her to labor and delivery.

I wanted to hide my face in embarrassment. Maggie May Reed had morphed into some sort of petrifying she-demon. The nurse, a plump redhead whose nametag read Nurse Randall, bit her lip to keep from laughing. Smart move, because Maggie wasn’t in the frame of mind to understand the humor.

I tried to take her hand to reassure her but she swatted me away. “Back the fuck off, Clay. Just back. The. Fuck. Off!” she grit out as her nostrils flared.

Two minutes later, after the contraction had subsided she held her hand out, tears streaming down her face. “Don’t leave me, Clay! I need you!” she pleaded and I sighed, already exhausted by the rollercoaster. Shit if this is what Maggie had to put up with from me throughout the course of our relationship, I owed her a bigger apology than I had ever imagined.

Nurse Randall took us into a private delivery room and gently took one of Maggie’s arms. I quickly went to my wife’s side and took her other one. We ever so carefully led her to the bed.

Maggie laid her head on my shoulder, the epitome of the docile mother-to-be.

I waited on pins-and-needles, wondering when the pain crazed, gutter mouthed, scary person would take her place.

I didn’t have to wait long.

One minute and forty-eight seconds later (yes, people, I timed it), she was screaming in between her guttural, rage fueled tirade. Maggie could have given Linda Blair a run for her money. Paging The fucking Exorcist!

I let Maggie grip my hand in hers and tried not to wince like a pussy when she squeezed it tight enough to crack bone.

All worry, all possibility of negative self-doubt, disappeared over the course of the next eight hours. My entire focus was on not being murdered by the love of my life.

When I wasn’t terrified of her, I couldn’t help but be absolutely awe-struck by the immense wave of love that seemed to grow stronger and stronger with each passing moment.

After all we had been through together, I honestly hadn’t thought I could adore this woman any more than I already did.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Because watching her struggle to bring our child into the world, I thought I would burst with an almost crippling love.

This was the kind of love that could destroy everything. It could decimate villages and level mountains.

But it could also end world fucking hunger.

It was an awesome and powerful thing. Something that you couldn’t explain unless you’ve experienced it.

And when the time came for Maggie to push, I breathed with her. I counted as she bore down for the doctor. I almost hyperventilated and had the nurses asking if I needed to lie down. Yeah, that wasn’t embarrassing at all.

But in the end, in that perfect, indescribable moment, when our daughter came into the world, every struggle, every messed up bump in my road, diminished into nothing.

None of it mattered.

Because I had this.

Maggie sobbed as she pushed our baby from her body and my heart clenched at the sound of that first, thready cry.

The nurses surged forward and scooped our baby up and went to clean her off and to check her over.

I looked down at Maggie. She stared up at me with her red-rimmed brown eyes and tears falling down her cheeks. I brushed the hair from her face and leaned down to kiss her dry lips.

“You are the most amazingly, beautiful woman in the world,” I whispered against her mouth. “I love you so damn much.”

Maggie’s lips trembled as I kissed her over and over again.

“Are you ready to meet the most beautiful little girl ever?” Nurse Randall asked, her face beaming.

Maggie and I both nodded as the nurse laid the tiny bundle on Maggie’s chest. I kneeled down and knew with an absolute certainty that my heart would never belong only to Maggie again.

Just as I had given it to my wife all those years ago, I now gave it to this perfect little baby who we had made…together.

Maggie couldn’t stop crying. And then I was crying. And we were both crying as we touched and kissed and cooed over our miracle.

“You want to go to your daddy?” Maggie asked our girl.

Daddy.

I was a dad.

And that title meant more to me than anything else in the entire universe.

And I would do everything I could to deserve everything that name encompassed. I would be the dad this beautiful baby needed me to be.

I was scared to death to hold her. She was so tiny. So fragile. Her eyes were closed, her lips pursed in a bow. She was gorgeous. My heart overflowed. I sniffled through my tears. I was freaking mess.

I could barely breathe over the ache in my chest. I wanted to tuck this brand new little person inside of me and never let her go. My protectiveness had already kicked in with a vengeance.

And the most shocking thing of all was that I didn’t look down at her and wonder about the million and one ways I could screw this whole dad thing up. I didn’t begin to analyze what it would mean for her to be my daughter. What she may face as she got older given my history.

None of that even entered my mind.

Because all I could think was that this was my chance to do it all right.

And god damn it, I would!

“What are you going to name her?” Nurse Randall asked.

Maggie and I looked at each other, our eyes meeting in absolute understanding. Then in unison we stared down at our daughter.

“Hope,” I said, smiling through my tears.

***

“Don’t touch that, Hope!” Maggie called out, watching our now two-year old daughter pulling ornaments off our massive tree. Laura Young, Maggie’s mother, swooped in and grabbed her granddaughter before the tiny whirling dervish could carve a path of destruction through the Christmas decorations.

I sat on the couch beside Daniel, as he held his three-month-old son, Oscar, who was sleeping peacefully through the mayhem.

My aunt Ruby sat on the floor with Rachel and Daniel’s daughter, Poppy, who never wasted a moment to show off her newly acquired reading skills. Maggie was trying to listen to the conversation going on between her father and Rachel but spent most of her time watching Hope.

This was my life.

How did I end up so lucky?

I was surrounded by my friends and family and absolutely everything I could ever have dreamed of.

My heart was full.

My mind was clear.

My life was mine.

Maggie met my eyes from across the room.

I love you, she mouthed to me, her eyes twinkling in that way that was always only ever for me.

I love you, I mouthed back, knowing this kind of happiness was the forever kind.

Merry Christmas!!!

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