"Is this really any place to raise kids in?" Marie said, looking out of the large living room windows in her daughter's new house, her face scrunched up in worry. "There aren't even any trees, and there's a cliff right there."
"We're not going to let them play anywhere near that cliff," Francine said, rubbing at the small of her back distractedly. She'd be glad to get the weight off when the baby finally decided to come out. "Don't you think it's beautiful out here?" The desert glowed with heat at this time of the day, but it would be cooler soon, and the fall and rise of the rocky landscape still took her breath away every time she saw it.
"Beautiful, sure, I guess," Marie said, and clucked her tongue, just in case Francine had believed for a moment that she meant it. "I just don't see anywhere interesting for kids to play in. Remember how you used to be down at the stream every other day? If you weren't at the barn instead, or down the road in the thicket. All these kids are going to have is a lot of rocks."
"We're not giving up the house, Mom," Francine said.
"What's wrong with the Memphis area? You could be closer to your family."
"And here I thought you were going for the subtle approach," Katchoo drawled, coming in carrying a large easel with a half-finished painting on it. Her T-shirt was riding up her swollen belly.
"Are you sure you should be carrying things, dear?" Marie asked.
"It's not that heavy," Katchoo said. She placed the easel in front of the window and disappeared back into the storage room.
"I'm sure glad you girls have us around," Marie said decisively. "Maybe your father and I could stick around for a bit after the births. I wonder if it's possible to plant a garden in the desert? Maybe a couple of trees at least. Your father could make a tree-house for the grandbabies."
"Mom," Francine half-moaned, and then forced a smile on her face. "I mean, uh. Don't you think you'd rather be alone with Dad? What with the whole third honeymoon plan?"
"No, I think we should stay," Marie said firmly. "We're settling in so nicely. And, you know, I think it is a beautiful view, after all. Very romantic. Perfect for a honeymoon!"
"She's got you there," Katchoo said, dragging in the heavy oak side table she used for her paints. Marie smiled smugly, winked at Katchoo and pottered into the kitchen.
"You could've backed me up," Francine hissed to her when Marie was out of earshot.
Katchoo grinned. "I like your mom. These days. Besides, if we're both going to be stuck here with newborns and traumatized hoohoos, we could use the help."
"Now I know she's been here for too long. Hoohoos?"
"Besides, honey, we don't know shit about raising babies. I didn't exactly have a healthy frame of reference." She brushed a strand of dark hair back behind Francine's ear. "I read all those guide books and I still don't have any clue how to be a parent. Since we're doing that whole well-adjusted thing now, thought we could give normal a spin. Marie's the most normal person I know."
"Thanks," Francine said with a wry grin. "I guess. You know she's a former pin-up star who remade herself into conventionality's poster child just because she thought it was what you had to be when you're married?"
"Well, she's not a former assassin, which is the best my side of the family can do." Katchoo shrugged. "Besides, nobody does a thing as well as someone who's had to fake it for years."
"Katchoo, I am putting my foot down. Once the babies are out, so are they. My mother is not taking over this family."
Katchoo grinned. "I love it when you get forceful. Okay."
"Okay?" Francine breathed a sigh of relief. "Stand by me next time, you jerk."
"Gotcha." Katchoo kissed her lightly. Francine went into the kitchen while Katchoo turned to her brushes.
Marie was taking down the barely used coffee tin from a top shelf. "I'm making a pot," she said when she saw Francine at the kitchen doorway. "If you have any, you should have it with a lot of milk. You don't want your unborn child soaked in caffeine."
Francine walked up behind her mother, slung her arms around her from behind and kissed the top of her head.
"Well, now!" Marie said, but she smiled, pleased.
"I love you, Mom," Francine said.
"I love you too." Marie set down the coffee tin and sighed. "Oh, all right."
"We'll only stick around for a month or so, and we'll let you get on with it once I know you're not going to drop them on their heads too often. I know you two will want some space. I did too after a while when you kids were born."
Francine smiled into her mother's tight curls. "Thank you, Mom."
"Just remember I'm always a phone call away when you want to talk to an adult." Marie patted her arm. "Now let me go, I feel silly standing here with the tin open. Go on."
Francine wandered back into the living room and decided it was worth it to sit down for a while, even if getting up again was going to be a pain. She selected the armchair facing the window and watched Katchoo draw her brush across the canvas, colouring the desert red and yellow.
It still amazed her every time a perfect moment rolled around. She'd spent her life longing to live the American dream. If this wasn't it, she decided, it damn well should be.