Chapter 1: A'Tisket, A'Tasket
You'd think it would feel 'real' by this point, but still when I walk in to a waiting room full of pregnant women I feel like I'm the propeller hat or the crab on an episode of 'one of these things' from Sesame Street – I have to put a hand to my swollen belly to be sure I'm not an impostor. The receptionist smiles up at me from behind the desk, the same one I've seen at every appointment.
“Hello, Amelia. The technician is running a little behind, but so is Doctor Perkins so you won't miss out on seeing both. Have a seat.”
How on earth does she remember everyone's name? Did they take a picture without my knowledge? Does she just look at the schedule and take a stab? Initially I thought she remembered me because I was the one who was dragged by an excitable Chris Evans to my first appointment – he even answered all of the questions for me, I felt like telling him to go sit in the kiddie corner and chill out – but she addresses every single woman by name.
The last thing I feel like doing is sitting after being told to drink half a litre of water and keep my bladder full – this overachiever drank a whole litre and since I can't relieve the discomfort without emptying it completely I lower myself gently into the chair and hope to god the baby doesn't kick and start a tsunami. In spite of the painful over-inflated-balloon feeling in my lower abdomen it's still a fight to stay awake while I wait, even reading on my phone and reviewing some sample scans for an assessment my eyes are starting to droop.
“Amelia?” a familiar woman calls from the doorway to the imaging room.
I stand up with even more white-knuckling than I sat down with and waddle my way in while she's stopped by the receptionist who gives her a few quiet words before nodding and smiling.
“Hop up on the table, I just need to get a few things ready.”
I really want to grumble that they should be ready before making me get up there, but I don't because despite hormones and sleep deprivation turning me into a cranky bitch I was raised with impeccable manners. I groan in the process and she chuckles from the bench where she's flicking through my file.
“Yeah, just... you wanted a full bladder, right?”
“Are we talking painfully full?”
“I think if you apply pressure with the transducer I might explode.”
“Go use the restroom, darl. At 20 weeks we don't really need it to be full anyway. Go on, take your time.”
I have never in my life experienced relief like this; even when they first showed our little Butterflake was healthy and growing at 12 weeks, the heart fluttering away and little limbs moving on the screen. I think I might cry.
“Better?” she asks when I return.
“Much, thank you.” I laugh.
“Chris not with you today?” Just like that, my eyes well with tears. Fucking hormones have turned me into a leaky tap.
“No,” I say softly. “He wanted to be, but we just couldn't make it work. I'll make another appointment for an extra scan when he's back.”
“Not finding out the sex, then?”
“Not today, no.”
“All right, let's take some baby pictures.” She pulls up my shirt and stops. “Hold on, I just have to go grab some more gel.”
Again I have to hold back my frustration. I'm here, I'm ready, and I want this over with. I don't want any cutesy stuff, I want to know our baby is ok so I can enjoy the cutesy stuff at the next one, when Chris is here.
God I wish he was here.
I blink the tears away as she opens the door again, keeping my eyes squarely on the monitor beside me. A man clears his throat and for a moment I'm in one of those thrillers where a serial killer breaks in to the obstetrician's office because he has a fetish for big bellies or unborn children. He steps out from the shadows into the pool of light around the bed, and turns out to be my beautiful fiance with the long hair and a thick beard I adore, kissing me and holding my hand.
“What are you doing here?”
“I couldn't miss this. I just couldn't.”
“It doesn't matter, babe. I'm here. Let's see our baby.”
I'm glad we're getting the entire sonogram on disc because I've completely missed most of it even though the medical side fascinates me, I'm too busy watching Chris. His face is lit up like a kid at Christmas and every little thing is the most exciting ever; the tiny toes and fingers, the heart beating, the facial features, all elicit little squeaks and whimpers you'd never expect from a man who currently looks like he'd be at home in a snow covered log cabin with an axe.
“That's our baby's hand,” he says, taking mine and kissing my knuckles. “I just... it's amazing.”
“You want to know the sex?”
“Can we? Please?” he begs me.
“Yes,” I reply with a smile.
“It's a girl.”
Chris is now less lumberjack and more blubbering mess. “A girl? We're having a girl?”
She nods and points out the distinct lack of penis on the screen and Chris turns to me.
“We're having a girl, Doc.”
“I can't believe our Butterflake is a girl,” he says, looking at the picture in his hand while I sip my coffee.
It’s a nickname that came up when we first started talking about the little bun in my oven but he didn’t think the word ‘bun’ did it justice, and one day out of nowhere he came out with ‘Butterflake!’, promptly rushing me to the nearest bakery in horror when I said I’d never heard of one. If he hadn’t I’m sure my arse would be two sizes smaller – we sure didn't have those in Sydney, where I lived until I was offered a veterinary oncology residency here in New York. This summer Chris whisked me away to the Hamptons for a well-earned break and got down on one knee on the beach, only to have me step on his moment and blurt out that I was pregnant. When he walked in to my meditation class while filming in Sydney I had no idea who he was, or that we'd end up here a few years on.
A broad smile spreads across my face; it’s starting to sink in now. It isn’t that I’m not as excited as he is, or even that the human puppy opposite me wears his heart on his sleeve and his excitement all over his gorgeous face, it’s just that I’m reminded every time she kicks or moves around. When I eat something I love only to have heartburn so bad I vomit, or I have to order bigger scrubs, or I find myself rubbing circles on my belly and swaying side to side, my thoughts are on our baby and my heart swells. Chris has a lot more to occupy his thoughts and a lot less to remind him, he hasn’t even felt her kick yet because he’s been away for a month – the closest he got was being beside me in bed when I felt the first little bubbles and flutters inside my womb.
“How long do we have?” I almost don’t want to know but if I’ve learned anything it’s that I need time to prepare for his departure when it’s longer than a month, and according to his schedule in my calendar he’ll be away another eight weeks at best.
“I have to go back tonight, my flight leaves at six.”
“Oh.” I don’t want to cry again. Crying in a crowded cafe isn’t my style and I should just be grateful he got here. “But I have to go to work, I only had the morning off.”
“I’m sorry, babe. I’ll try to come home again before we wrap, for a weekend or something.”
We need to have a serious conversation about work and leave and living arrangements and we agreed to do it face to face, but I wasted the first trimester being in blissful denial that everything would somehow work out on its own and then Chris spent a few weeks back in Los Angeles before he left for Durban. Only last week it occurred to me that the baby could actually arrive before we’ve worked out the logistics of my residency and his filming commitments and it frightens the shit out of me. I’m so close to finishing, now – on her due date I’ll have ten months of residency remaining and they have agreed to award it even if I take some time off provided all of my assessments have been completed and I can demonstrate the same proficiency as my peers, but that means studying with a newborn, completing high-risk surgical procedures under huge amounts of pressure while heavily pregnant, and returning to full time caseload while my tiny daughter is cared for by a yet-to-be-determined someone.
“Hey,” Chris says gently, reaching across the table for my hand. “You ok?”
I can feel the colour is gone from my face and my heart is racing, my lungs won’t fill with air. This is exactly why we’ve both avoided talking about it, it’s an overwhelming prospect. The little girl cooking away in my belly is wholeheartedly wanted by us both, but that doesn’t mean the timing is ideal. And there’s the kick of guilt, because a part of me feels like I should just stop working and focus on starting our family properly even though I’ve worked myself ragged for three years and it will mean nothing if I don’t finish it.
“Yeah.” I smile.
“How long until you have to go to work?”
I look down at my watch. “An hour and a half.”
We exchange silent looks across the table and both stand up so fast Chris almost knocks his chair over.
In less than twenty minutes he has me naked in his arms, our hands and lips exploring every inch of each other to commit to memory once more. Chris rolls to his back and I straddle his hips, sinking down slowly and taking his length, guided by his strong hands. I lean over and kiss him while my hips roll back and forth in languid strokes. His hands are everywhere at once, caressing and kneading, pinching my nipples and toying with my swollen breasts, wordlessly echoing my own aching desire to just touch him and have our flesh pressed together as much and as long as possible.
When I make love to him I don't see Captain America or even Chris Evans the actor – he's my fiance, my 'Boston', my Chris. There are no careers, no life changing decisions, no long months of separation, I'm grounded and nothing exists but this moment. As a Buddhist I struggled for so long with the idea of attachment being a bad thing and trying to reconcile the heartbreak I felt when Chris left with the idea that I didn't need him to be whole and content. Now, while I miss him when he's away and look forward to being back in his arms, I accept that it's just the way our lives are. I could leave my career and go everywhere with him and there would be no harm in that but I choose not to, I choose it every day. It is what it is. That's what allows me to enjoy this moment and not waste it with tears – although apparently the hormones that rage around my veins very much want me to cry every damn day – I know it will end with another temporary goodbye.
That said, I'm human and as my Buddhist teacher Mark reminds me every time we discuss this topic I'm not Buddha himself. There will be attachment and hurt and tears, I'll miss him and second guess my decisions, throw the odd tantrum and want to give it all up.
I grind down on him and run light fingertips down his chest, admiring the flex of his muscles as he moves with me. His mouth falls open and his jaw sets firm as he starts to moan and force heavy breaths through his lips, his fingers finding my swollen bundle of nerves between us and rubbing gentle circles until my walls start to flutter and squeeze his cock.
“Oh... come with me, babe.”
His deep blue eyes watch mine as I rock faster over him and a climax washes over me, leaving me limp and smiling in its wake. Chris raises my hips and I fall forward, gripping his shoulders and biting his neck as he thrusts hard up to me and spills his warmth deep inside with a series of groans.
“Fuck...” he whispers. “I missed you so fucking much.”
As long as we can we lie in silence, tangled in each other and the sheets. He runs his fingers up and down my side and in circles on my belly, slowly lulling me into a light sleep with his head resting just above my bump.
“I can't wait to meet her,” he says quietly. “I wonder what she'll look like, who she'll grow up to be.”
“Mmm,” I say sleepily. “I hope she has her daddy's blue eyes and kind heart.”
“I think she'll be beautiful like her mother.” He's quiet for a few minutes. “I know you're worried about work after she's born. I'm going to sort out a year off.”
“You already have projects, though.”
“They're not as important as our daughter, there will be others. I want to do this, babe. Not because I want you to finish your residency but because I don't want to miss anything, I can't think of a better way to do that than be a stay at home dad.”
“Are you sure about this?”
“Yes,” he says with a nod. “I can't think of a better way to spend a year. We'll stay in New York while we finish and after that if you want we can talk about relocating or we can stay here.” He rises to lean on his elbow and kiss my bump. “Honestly, I've been as anxious about it as you have and since a few days ago when I started talking to Josh about it all those worries have gone. It's the right thing for all of us, I'm sure of – What?” he cuts off and looks at me in alarm when I grab his hand and press it to the side of my belly, low near my hip.
The baby was kicking so hard a second ago I was sure he'd be able to feel it, she hasn't stopped moving the whole time he's been speaking. Of course now his hand is there it stops.
“Keep talking,” I whisper, keeping the pressure on his hand.
A smile lights up his face and he turns his lips toward my abdomen. “It's the right decision for our family, right little – ” His wide blue eyes look up at me. “Was that...?” She kicks again when I push his hand harder into my side and this time there's no doubt. “Oh my god that's amazing!” Tears glisten in his eyes.
“She's been really active while you were talking. I think she likes daddy's voice.”
“Well then hi little Butterflake, I'm your daddy.”
Right on cue she kicks again. She could be punching, hell she could be poking her head or her bum out for all I can tell, all that matters is Chris can finally feel it.
“I love you, baby,” he says, stroking my cheek and tucking my hair behind my ear. He leans down and presses a gentle, lingering kiss right over my shallow navel. “Both of you.”
Before he leaves again he makes a copy of the sonogram pictures and video and stops in for a quick goodbye at the hospital, catching me right in the middle of a consult. The owner of the beagle I'm examining doesn't seem to mind the interruption too much, though, and it forces me to keep it together.
“I'll see you in a few weeks,” he says, kissing my lips quickly. “Love you,” he whispers in my ear.
“Love you too,” I say into his neck as he wraps me in a tight hug. “Let me know when you've arrived safe.”
“Always.” He bends and plants a kiss on my belly. “Take care of mommy, little one.”
Chapter 2: Banbury Cross
I love watching Amelia work, I wish I could do it more often. The Animal Medical Center in New York is a long way from her little practice on Sydney's Northern Beaches and that's never more evident than today when I walk in and find another receptionist I haven't met before – I'm certain every single time I've visited over the last three years the person sitting at the front desk has been different from the time before. It isn't that they go through a lot of staff, more that they have so many I get a new one each time.
This one might well be new – she's young enough that she could be fresh out of school and likely has aspirations of veterinary medicine or nursing – and her double-take as I approach the reception desk definitely isn't because I don't have an animal with me.
“Good afternoon, Mister Evans. Are you looking for Doctor Harris?”
“Only if she's not busy.”
She smiles and picks up the phone in front of her. “She's with a regular patient right now, I'm sure it will be fine.” Then, lifting the handset to her ear and mouth. “Sorry to interrupt, is it all right if I send Mister Evans through?” She nods and sets it down.
“Please call me Chris,” I say with a smile.
“She's in consult room five, Chris,” she says, blushing. If teenage me could see that I've made a woman blush without completely embarrassing or exposing myself he'd never believe it. “Do you know where that is?”
“I do. Thank you, Emily.”
I deliberately decided to say goodbye here because her mind will be occupied and hopefully she won't completely break down like last time I left. We both know it's mostly hormones, we're both used to being separated enough that the reaction isn't usually so catastrophic, but it was difficult to watch and even worse was the tirade I copped when I called to say I'd arrived in Durban. I'm still not sure what the anger was about. This time she'll either keep it together because she's at work, or she won't and I'll be in for a much angrier phone call when I arrive. I can only hope it's the former.
When she opens the door a beagle comes rushing at me in a futile attempt at escape, only to be distracted by the scent of our dogs on my legs. Once he has his nose attached to my calf he follows me easily back in and Amelia closes the door behind me. After a quick farewell I bend and kiss her swollen belly, whispering to our daughter inside.
“Take care of mommy, little one.”
Flying didn't bother me until I met Amelia. I never loved it and turbulence has always made me a little queasy but it was just a necessary part of my life that wasn't worth worrying about. Now there's a very specific part of air travel that I detest so much I get anxious as soon as I'm in my seat: that fucking awful feeling as the wings take the weight of the plane and the wheels leave the ground. It's not the physical sensation of being held down in my seat or the drop in my stomach, it's not even the worry that we won't actually get airborne and we'll crash; it's the finality of leaving the ground. There's no turning back after that, and although I logically know I can't get off and change my mind before that either, every single time now when I'm dipped into my seat and we rise off the tarmac I break down.
It's a hundred times harder now that she's carrying my baby. Leaving her behind was never easy but we both had our work commitments to keep us occupied, now that she's so uncharacteristically emotional it's almost impossible. I guess that's how I know I'm making the right decision taking some extended time at home, there's no way I could leave her and our daughter behind for months on end and it's impossible for her to come with me. We'd discussed a nanny and that idea is still on the table as a back up option, but I want to be at home with my girls at least while she finishes her residency and decides on her next move.
We're having a daughter. The tiny thing we've nicknamed 'Butterflake' in my beautiful fiancee's womb is a girl.
I have the sonogram picture set as the wallpaper on my phone and as we take off I'm looking at it in awe through the blur of tears, it's as though I'd seen her in two dimensions up until now but the new pictures are in three, everything feels so much more real. At the risk of jinxing my entire life, the time since we met has been the best so far – even including the year we were apart – and I wouldn't change a second of it. This pregnancy wasn't planned but I am so excited it's all I can think about and the idea that I can ease Amelia's worries by doing something as amazing as being a stay at home dad just tops it off.
Durban is hot and this beard is itching all day every day, the only thing keeping me going is the pictures in my trailer and talking to Amelia on the phone every couple of days. She says Butterflake is kicking up a storm now and I'm reminded how it felt to feel those little pushes against my hand. I was a little jealous up until then that she got to feel movement all the time and I didn't, but it doesn't matter now that I have. That first kick is a moment I'll never forget as long as I live.
The weeks we're filming prove a perfect distraction and it feels like only days have passed before we receive confirmation that we'll be finishing up a couple of weeks early. While I'm up reading one night I get a call from Sebastian.
“Hey, buddy,” I answer. “What's happening?”
“She's here, Chris. Tulia and I had a baby girl yesterday.”
My heart swells in my chest. “That's fantastic news, I'm so happy for you both. Are they both okay? Does she have a name?”
“They're doing great, Tulia was amazing. Her name is Mihaela Abrielle and she's perfect. Michelle will bring Lachlan in tomorrow to meet his baby sister.”
Sebastian and Tulia have had a rough couple of years with their marriage breaking down and then her career taking a hit when she pressed sexual assault charges against a fellow crew member. To her credit she saw it through and took every blow on the chin and was starting to get some big jobs again when they found out she was expecting. On top of that Sebastian had his first child with another woman, and yet they've survived all of that and come out stronger for it. Now I know our girls will be very close in age and I'm excited all over again.
Amelia is still working in shifts and up all hours of the night despite needing more sleep now that she's passed half way. Both her doctor and I have told her she should rest while she can but she's surviving on about four hours a night most of the time with study and extra research, the plus side to this is that no matter what time I finish I can text her and she's usually awake. Then again it also means she calls some mornings without thinking.
“Hey, babe,” I croak just before 5am. “What's up?”
I don't have to be there to know she's looking at her watch, now, realising the sun isn't even up for me yet. “Fuck. I woke you.”
“Yeah... but it's okay, I never mind talking to you. How's work?”
“Busy.” She's silent for a few seconds while I yawn and sit up, rubbing my eyes.
“Doc? Is everything all right?”
“We lost... I lost a patient tonight.”
“Oh, babe. I'm sorry.” It's easy to assume that losing an animal patient is easier on her than it would be for a human doctor but it hits her hard every single time. Being an oncology specialist means it's a regular occurrence but I don't think it will ever be easy on Amelia. Or any vet, for that matter. “What happened?”
“She had py- an infection and it was just too far gone, she crashed right after I opened her up and we couldn't bring her back. Hardly any symptoms, the family had her booked in for spaying next week. They're devastated.”
“Are you all right?”
I'm immediately reminded of Rubi, the dog she took in when we first got together in Sydney. Rubi was a beautiful Aussie shepherd, small and sick and carrying a litter of pups when we met her. Amelia and I delivered the puppies together in her laundry – that's overstating it, I floundered about and did mostly as I was told while failing at staying out of the way – but then Rubi went down hill and died a few days later. Even though intellectually Amelia knew she couldn't have helped it or done anything differently she was a mess for a while.
“I'll be fine,” she says shakily. I can hear her guzzling from a bottle of water and sighing.
“Babe, does your head hurt?”
“A little. Not migraine hurt, just headache.”
“Get some Tylenol and a drink and go sit down for a bit. Please.”
“Yes, boss.” I can hear the slightest smile in her voice. “I'm sorry I woke you, go back to sleep.”
“I love you. You can wake me any time you like.”
“Love you too, Boston.”
I have mixed feelings about our last day of shooting – it seems to come around at lightning speed and with the urgency of a snail at the same time. I'll miss working, there's no point in denying it. I don't think it diminishes how strongly I feel about the decision to stop for a while to admit that it won't always be the easier option. And there's the niggling seed of doubt, that little voice that mocks my thinking it will just be a break and I'll come back, reminding me daily that there might not be any work left for me. Today as I'm packing up my trailer there's a sense of finality about it because this time I'm not moving on to the next job and another temporary living arrangement, I'm moving on to a whole new phase of my life.
The wrap party starts out as a stylish affair and inevitably gets a bit messy by the end. I'm not even going to pretend I don't love a good party with friends but I considered leaving early because... I can't recall why, something to do with behaving like a responsible adult or reliable father and husband. Somewhere along the way I must have talked myself into staying because at 3am I'm still there and a little worse for wear and the festivities have descended into beer pong and graphic explanations of childbirth and baby shit. By the time I stumble in to my hotel room the sun is coming up and I’m having rather poetic visions about the next chapter of our lives. My early afternoon flight is going to be a bitch.
“Guess who came to visit me today?” There's a definite chirp in Amelia's voice when I call to tell her I'm at the airport.
“Who?” Ordinarily I'd quip back something to make her laugh but I don't have it in me, every time I open my mouth I fear vomit might come out.
“Mihaela and Tulia. She's beautiful, Sebastian is over the moon. The whole time they were here her big dark eyes were open and looking around at everything. Oh, Chris. She's perfect.” Amelia isn't normally one to gush over babies so hearing this much cluck in her voice would be unnerving if she weren't pregnant.
“Won't be long we'll have our own little bundle of perfection. I have some promo stuff booked in over the next month but after that I'm all yours.”
“You're going to drive me crazy, aren't you?” she says with a laugh.
“Probably. I'll see you soon, babe.”
When they call my flight for boarding I'm daydreaming about building baby cribs and test-driving prams, finding the perfect rocking chair for the nursery and surprising her with it when she comes home from work. That's what it's like waiting for a baby to arrive, right?
When I surprised Amelia at the obstetrician's office it was a rare occurrence, usually the only time I can manage to sneak up on her is at work or in public. The reason is tap-dancing away on the other side of our apartment door right now, all twenty doggy feet excitedly trotting on the spot and spinning in circles with all five tails wagging so furiously there's a real risk they might take off – if she doesn't know I'm home something is seriously wrong. It's late and she's already in bed, sitting up surrounded by books and wearing my Patriots shirt. She has the good grace to look surprised when I come through the bedroom door and jumps up to throw her arms around my neck and kiss me before I've even set my bags down.
“I missed you,” she says when our lips part.
Dodger, being the tallest, gets his nose up to my chest and wiggles his body between us. “Yeah, I missed you guys, too.”
I kneel down on the floor and put my backpack by the closet, opening my arms so they can all lick and sniff me to within an inch of my life. First to leave are Nina and Olly – Amelia's French Bulldog and Spaniel – and they curl up at her feet with their tails still thumping against the floor. Next are Asha and Hela, the two miniature Australian Shepherds we kept from the litter we delivered together. Dodger would continue covering me in slurpy kisses for hours if I let him.
“How was your flight?” she asks. “Did you sleep off the hangover?”
I don't bother asking how she knows, I just laugh. “Yeah, I did. Drank a ton of water and slept between toilet stops. You studying?”
“Just keeping myself awake, otherwise I'd have dozed off waiting for you and been lying in a puddle of drool.”
Once I've put the dogs to bed and dried off from a hot shower that's almost exactly how I find her, although she hasn't had time to drool she is diagonal on the bed with her head on my pillow and eyes closed, tiny little snores coming from her parted lips. I chuckle as I switch off the lights and carefully place the books on the floor, sliding in behind her and curling my front around her back.
I don't want to wake her but I don't feel like sleeping, either. My hand wanders down her side, the palm lightly grazing over her skin where my shirt has ridden up to her waist. When I think about her body it's not her round tits or squeezable ass that fills my mind, it's the curves I love. The shallow wave between her waist and hip; the subtle curl between her ass and thigh and the crease of sensitive skin I love to sink my teeth into. As I trail back up there's the changing swell of her breasts; that beautiful point beneath where they meet her torso; and the new roundness of her abdomen as our baby grows inside. She's starting to wake up now as my fingers and the fabric of my shirt brush her skin, leaving a path of goosebumps and making her sigh. I guide it up and off her head and she resumes her position so I can trace down her spine, the shallow valley at its base making another of my favourite curves, particularly when she angles her hips back toward me and deepens it as she presses the flesh of her delicious ass against my groin.
My hand cups her breast and she moans immediately, her nipple hardening to a pebble against my palm as she arches her back to press more into my kneading fingers. One of my favourite effects of pregnancy is how sensitive and easily aroused she is right now, not because she’s always up for sex but for the way she just melts into me at the slightest touch and those little kitten mewls I love fall from her lips. I shift down to kiss her neck, brushing her hair back to expose her shoulder.
“So beautiful,” I whisper against her skin.
She reaches a hand back and threads it into my damp hair while I drag my hand down her spine and over her ass, squeezing gently until she rolls her top hip forward to give me access to her heat. Already her folds are wet and she pushes back into my hand, begging for my fingers as I spread her juices around and lightly circle her clit.
“Please, baby,” she sighs. “It’s been so long... I need you.”
Fisting my cock she glides her hand back and forth from behind my balls all the way to the tip and back again, covering it in precum as I thrust against her loose grip until I’m throbbing in her palm.
My teeth graze her shoulder and neck while I part her legs, pulling the top one back and over my thighs and shifting forward so my cock rests at her entrance. Her moan vibrates through my lips as I guide my length into her tight walls and I feel her muscles clench and twitch around me when I start to move slowly back and forth. Her long neck arches back and turns to kiss me, our tongues glide together while I thrust and pull long strokes, my balls pressing against her lips while her fingers pinch at her own nipples.
“Fuck I love when you touch yourself, baby girl. So hot,” I whisper between moans. I hook my elbow behind her thigh and my fingers find her clit, fluttering over it and listening to her breath hitch when I get the pressure right. “Come undone for me.”
As her climax approaches she reaches down and places her hand on top of mine, guiding my fingers just where she wants them and moving them frantically over her swollen bud until she cries out and spasms, clenching her quivering thighs together and pulling my hand away. I continue with slow, deep thrusts and kiss her mouth as she comes down, only stopping when she does that blissful contented sigh and flops her hand back onto the sheet beside her.
Amelia whines softly when I pull out and roll her to her back, kneeling between her open legs and gazing down at her flushed skin and dark eyes for a few seconds before shoving back inside. Her spine curves as she arches to push against me and I slide both hands under her back, laying my body over her and holding her tight against me as I make love to her, gradually picking up speed until I can hear the wet slap of my balls against her ass as I pound her tight cunt. I hardly notice her hand moving down between us until her fingertips are brushing my dick and her moans are loud in my ear, her fingers coaxing a second orgasm as I start to lose control.
“Ah, fuck! Oh, god... Amelia...”
Her body turns rigid and she falls silent as every muscle inside grips my dick, her strangled scream filling my ears a second later as a gush of fluid is forced from her pussy. My thrusts turn ragged and desperate against her slippery cunt as I look down, both of us dripping and glistening with her juices. Her face is contorted in a mixture of ecstasy and hyper-stimulation, her eyes squeezed shut as the breath heaves from her chest.
“Open... open your eyes,” I grind out. As soon as they lock on to mine I shove deep inside her one last time and erupt, throbbing as I fill her with warm cum and my body shakes.
She reaches behind my neck and pulls me into a kiss that’s all panting breath and teeth, sloppy and forceful. I bury my face in her neck and she giggles a little at the tickle of my beard, raking her nails over my scalp and the back of my neck until I turn to putty and relax into her.
Only for fear of squashing Butterflake I roll off onto my pillow and pull her into my arms, rubbing soft circles on her shoulder while she drifts off. I watch her angelic face for a while once she’s asleep, brushing the damp hair from her temples as a tiny smile curls her lips. We decided rather than rush the wedding we’d put it off until after the baby was born and right now I’m torn somewhere between ‘What does it matter, I’m already hers and I don’t need a ring or a piece of paper to prove it’; and ‘If I could say I do right here, naked in bed, I’d do it.’ I lift her hand to my lips and her engagement ring picks up the tiny shard of light from the window, reminding me of the best decision I ever made – putting a ring on it.
Chapter 3: Cobbler, Cobbler
I’ve never looked at the statistics but I’m certain if you tracked planned pregnancies between here and Australia you’d find a marked difference in the season they were conceived. Australian women dread being pregnant in summer because it’s so hot and humid, and mum tells me everything swells so much worse in a warm climate; whereas I’m constantly told in New York ‘Oh, it’s such a pain being heavily pregnant in winter, trying to cover the damn belly with a coat’. They’re both right. When I imagined being pregnant there were always beautiful dresses that just flowed over me and ‘the oven’ (when did I turn into one of those people who nicknames body parts? Is it part of the baby-making upgrade?) and I looked like a beautiful goddess who belonged on a fertility advertisement. Or I’d be in jeans and sneakers with one of those ‘I grow humans, what’s your superpower?’ T-shirts, perfectly fitted and fresh-faced glowing. And they’d be regular jeans that sit on my hips just right, same as I was wearing pre-surprise-conception, because my hips and arse wouldn’t have grown. I’d just have a nice hard, round, ‘bump’.
I feel so incredibly betrayed.
It’s not a ‘bump’. A bump is something you can drive over and it slows you down, whereas the belly that now protrudes from my lower torso is more like a nuclear-proof bunker complete with supplies enough for an entire extended family to survive a year before they have to start eating each other. The lovely Doctor Perkins says I’m just really good at producing amniotic fluid, as though it’s something to be proud of. And my jeans? Out of the question. I think I outgrew them the very second I saw the second pink line on the pregnancy test. Maternity jeans are funny things, with elastic around the top instead of the waistband, that theoretically should grow with your blossoming ‘bunker’, but instead just likes to fold over on itself at inopportune times and expose my tiger stripes to the world while I hike them back up. I don’t particularly feel like a tiger right now except that I’d like to roar occasionally, but my stomach kind of does look like I was shredded by a tiger’s claws... maybe it’s the medical training in me but I just can’t see them as anything but scars as the layers beneath stretch and tear. They’re not really bothering me although I seem to get new ones every day. Stretchy pants and potato sack tunics are now my staple wardrobe when I’m not in my very stylish maternity scrubs – which are actually so comfortable that if I had enough pairs I’d probably wear them at home, too.
Tonight Chris and I are attending a screening of the film he’d just finished when we found out Butterflake was coming, the last of his promotional duties for this project and until after she’s born. It will be my first time seeing it and the only event I’ve been able to accompany him to since we announced the pregnancy, and I’ll admit my nerves are starting to get the better of me. Since I moved in we’ve been to a lot of premieres and parties together, the vast majority of them we were able to sneak in unnoticed but there have been a few where the red carpet was mandatory and he wanted me by his side.
I don't love the celebrity side of these things but it makes me so proud of Chris – not only for the attention he receives but the way he handles the occasion when inside I know he's freaking out. In the car he reaches across and takes my hand, rubbing his thumb over my knuckles.
“You doing okay, babe?”
“Yeah.” I force a smile. “Piece of cake, right?”
I know he's worried about me having a panic attack because I can't take Valium while I'm pregnant. I only had it prescribed after our first red carpet experience as a couple, which didn't go well.
It was February and most of my life was still packed in boxes. I had taken a lot of convincing to go to the Oscars with Chris – I had to fly straight back the morning after while he remained in LA – but he wanted to introduce me and assured me that the ceremony was worth enduring for the after parties. With the move over there being so rushed I hadn't really had time to prepare like I always thought I might if I ever got the chance to go – like all of the magazines say the actresses do with their crash diets so they look perfect on the day – and he hurriedly introduced me to Ilaria, his stylist, over coffee the week before.
“What sort of style do you like? Any particular designers?”
“Er... “ I shrugged and laughed. “I honestly just pick what looks nice.”
“She likes ruffles. You wear a lot of ruffles,” Chris chimed in.
“Do I?” I cocked my head to the side. “Yeah, I guess.”
“I can work with that, Gucci is all about ruffles.”
“I'm sorry he roped you into this, Ilaria. You're used to dressing all those beautiful celebrities, and – ”
She held up a hand to cut me off. “I get to work with some gorgeous women, of which you are now one. You think I didn't hear all about you when he came back? I know how important you are to Chris and it's my job to make sure you're comfortable and feel like a million bucks. You have a lovely figure, Amelia, healthy and toned, and I already have a gown in mind that I think was just made for you. Stop worrying.” She elbowed Chris. “Wait til you see your tux, mister. Freakin perfection.”
She was right, his tux was gorgeous, but I couldn't stop looking at myself and twirling in the mirror. She'd brought a few gowns but the one she'd thought of first was the one we went with – a pink Gucci v-neck with ruffled layers for the skirt in deepening shades of pink with a silver satin bow around my waist. In the car I'd toyed with the soft fabric and watched my impeccably manicured nails as though they were someone else's, the light tan on my skin felt fraudulent after the snow I'd left behind in Manhattan, and I was still questioning the inadequacy of my own eyelashes after having an extra set glued to my eyelids. Suddenly I felt like I actually did belong on the red carpet at the Oscars, only it wasn't a pleasant or comforting feeling so much as one that made me wonder if Chris might like me better this way than what the 'real' me I'd left back at the hotel in jeans and a sweater. I felt a million bucks, but I felt as fake as the eyelashes that were beginning to irritate my eyes.
As soon as the car slowed into the queue I could hear the roar of people, and the flashes were already lighting up the inside of the car. I reached out for Chris's hand and he squeezed it reassuringly.
“I don't know if I can do this,” I whispered.
“I’m right here with you, babe. Say the word and we’ll just go inside, or we can skip it altogether and go in the back?”
“N-no,” I stuttered. “I want to do it for you. I just need a minute.”
“It will be at least five before we get out of this queue.” He took off his seatbelt and slid over so our bodies were pressed together. “Look at me. I’m right here and I won’t leave your side.”
“Isn’t that what I promised you?” I said with a tiny smile.
“Isn’t it perfect we can lean on each other?”
By the time the door opened he’d talked me through a very short calming meditation and I felt calm and mostly in control even though the noise was unbearable. The tinnitus in my left ear started up immediately and I knew I’d have to concentrate to make out any words for the rest of the night but I was determined to take in the atmosphere and if nothing else show off my dress. After the first interview it got easier, I worked out that if I kept to Chris’s right I could turn my head when the interviewer was speaking and it would just look like I was gazing into his blue eyes rather than turning my good ear to the conversation. He consistently corrected anyone that said I was lucky and even got a bit of a Boston grumble going at one poor blogger who suggested I’d moved to New York to be with Chris rather than for my own career. I’d just been completely star struck by being introduced to – and immediately hugged by – Robert Downey Jr when a light rig fell behind us and the noise was enough to shatter my composure, I gripped Chris’s arms so hard he had fingertip bruises in his biceps for three days.
“It’s okay, babe. You’re okay. You’re safe,” he whispered into my hair while encircling me in his arms.
I felt tears well in my eyes, I so desperately wanted to do this for him and now I felt like a frightened puppy crying for her mother.
“Look at me,” he said firmly, raising my face with a finger beneath my chin. “Kiss me.”
As I reached up to press our lips gently together he spoke against them. “We’re going straight inside now. I’ve got you.” And with a brief kiss he threaded his fingers into mine and strode purposefully past the rest of the crowd and inside the foyer, leading me to a small breakout room and locking the door behind us before sitting me on a velvet couch.
“Here.” He unscrewed the cap of a water bottle from the table and put it in my shaking hands, steadying them with his own. While I took a sip he smoothed his hands over my hair and kissed my forehead. “I’ll get a car to meet us at the back, we can hang out here until then.”
“No. I still want to go in, I just need a minute.”
“Babe – ”
I pressed a finger over his lips. “I did not get into this dress, have countless people make me Oscars-worthy, and get all the way inside to just leave. We’re going in.”
“Okay.” He smiled. “You know you were just perfect before, right? I couldn’t care less what you wear and I love your day-glo skin. In fact I prefer you without clothing and the only attention I pay to your fingernails is when they’re scratching me, so... I love you, Amelia. When you’re comfortable.”
“I love you, too. Are you trying to get me naked?”
He raised an eyebrow. “I wasn’t, but... I mean the door is already locked...”
The rest of that story is very very private and for another time. When we left that little room and I straightened his satin bow tie and navy tux jacket we sat through most of the ceremony with our fingers toying with each other’s palms and wrists. The effort was worth it but I took myself to a good therapist that week and got a prescription for Valium, which I’ve taken before each event since.
Until tonight, because I can’t. The doctor said it would be okay occasionally if I need it, but in an event like this where I can leave any time I’m uncomfortable it’s not worth the risk.
It’s just a short thing, a couple of interviews before we go in and Chris is doing a Q and A after. It will be fine.
“Can we just go around the block and come back?” Chris asks his driver.
We pull back out into the traffic as Chris lays a hand on my belly. “Have I told you how beautiful you look. That colour is beautiful on you.”
“Thanks. Ilaria sent me to a shop that does some beautiful maternity wear and the woman grabbed this straight off the rack for me, it was perfect.”
It’s a simple wrap dress in plum with a fluted skirt, the top making a deep V between my breasts and pulling firm right beneath so I almost have a waist again. The hem is just above my knees and somehow flows over my belly without the illusion of a potato sack so much as conforming stretch, the thick tights and knee high boots keeping my legs toasty warm. I long ago gave up trying to find a coat that actually covers me and have gone for a short leather jacket fastened at the collar and open the rest of the way. Chris even decided to coordinate and is wearing a shirt in almost the same shade beneath his fitted grey suit.
“I don’t feel it, but thanks. You look pretty good yourself, daddy.”
“Say that again, it never gets old.”
“You’re. Going. To. Be. A. Daddy.” I punctuate each word with a kiss on his lips, deepening the last until he moans against my tongue.
“Pulling up now, Chris,” the driver interrupts.
“Ready?” he asks, stroking my cheek.
I nod. Chris exits first and helps me out which I manage with a reasonable amount of poise. The crowd isn’t huge but they erupt all the same and I kind of love this part, watching his fans interact and shower him with adoration, making him blush and smile. When he comes away he’ll be buzzing with energy, bordering on overwhelmed with it, fidgeting and bouncing on the balls of his feet like a small child on a sugar rush.
Once he's made it to the end of the line we head over to the gathered press. Their questions are run-of-the-mill about the film and the cast, more about the final Avengers film, the one mandatory invasive question about the pregnancy.
“Do you have any names chosen yet?” one asks.
Chris looks at me and smiles. “Haven't agreed on one yet but we will. Probably after she's born.” His eyes widen immediately when he realises what he said. “Or he.”
Great save, Chris. That is the exact reason I made sure we told all of our close family and friends as soon as we found out. Great actor does not always mean great liar.
We're laughing to ourselves about it on the way into the theatre and right as I cross the threshold everything swims for a moment. I grip Chris's arm with both hands to steady myself and he looks down at me in alarm.
“Nothing, I just...” I stop and blink a few times. “I was a bit dizzy. I'm good.”
I don't give it another thought after that, I'm too busy enjoying the film. I might be biased but Chris's performance is sublime and perfectly portrayed, by the end I'm falling in love with his character and dabbing at my eyes while trying not to ruin my mascara. With fresh tears threatening to spill over I reach up and stroke his cheek, pulling him down to kiss him. Words can not express how proud I am and how happy I am for him that his hard work has translated into a beautiful performance.
“So proud of you, Boston,” I say against his lips. “You should be, too.”
Most people wouldn't see how uncomfortable he is on the stage accepting praise and answering questions about himself, I don't know if it actually gets easier over the years so much as he's learned to cover it. As soon as its done he has a beer in his hand as he mingles with some friends from the cast and I slip away to find a bottle of water and some tylenol for the dull thudding in my head. Yawning as I stare out the window from a quiet corner, I startle at the familiar voice behind me.
“Are you feeling okay or is that niece of mine giving you grief?”
I turn and Scott envelopes me in a hug. “I'm fine, just a headache. How are you?”
“I'm pretty proud to be an Evans right now,” he says with a beaming smile. “Can I get you anything?”
“Really, Scott, I'm fine.” The truth is I'm exhausted, my shifts have been long and twice this week my sleep has been interrupted for an emergency surgery. My swollen feet and legs are throbbing in my heeled boots while the ache in my head steadily worsens behind my eyes. Chris works so hard and these nights are so few that I can't bear to cut it short. “Look at him, he's actually enjoying himself.”
“Apparently we're heading to the club next door after this.”
“Yeah? Cool.” I can only hope by 'we' he means him and anyone but me. The thought makes everything lurch again.
Scott laughs and squeezes my shoulder. “Darlin', would you let me take you home?”
I lay a hand on my chest dramatically. “But Scott, I'm marrying your brother. What if he finds out?”
“Very funny. You look like you need some rest and Chris can keep celebrating without worrying about you. C’mon, give me an excuse to skip the club, I’m not really up for it tonight.”
“Yeah, you're right.”
I sneak up beside Chris and slip my hand into his. “Can I talk to you?”
“What's up?” he asks, leading me away from the crowd.
“Scott is going to take me home so you can enjoy the rest of your night. You've earned this, baby. I want you to have fun and not worry about me, okay?”
He opens his mouth to protest but I lay a finger over his lips.
“No argument, unless you want me to stay.”
“I don't know what I did to deserve such an angel, but I'm glad I did it. I love you.”
“I love you, too. I'm so proud of you and I wish I could keep going but I can't. Give my apologies to everyone?”
“Of course. I won't be too late.”
“And I know better than to wait up.”
Chris's Patriots shirt isn't so oversized on me anymore, and where I could get away with no underwear before I feel the need to wear panties with it now. Scott has insisted on staying at least until Chris comes home even though I did my best to assure him I could take care of myself – apparently Chris had a word in his ear about me being a bit unsteady on my feet earlier and ordered him not to leave me alone. Before I go to sleep I sip a glass of ginger ale to try to calm the knot in my stomach but I'm not awake long enough to know if it works.
The ringing in my ears makes it impossible to know where the rest of the cracking shots come from, just that they're close. Burning pain sears through my head, blinding me and making everything spin, making my stomach contract and lurch so violently I think I might turn inside out.
And then I'm kneeling on the floor of the ensuite, fresh pain bringing tears to my eyes with every heave of my insides. A firm hand rubs my back while another holds my hair, and when my stomach is empty and I sit back on the cold tiles a soothing cloth wipes my face. Somehow I know it isn't Chris, maybe it's the cologne, but it's the next best thing.
“Amelia? What do you need, darlin'?” Scott asks gently.
My tongue is like lead in my mouth and when I speak the words don't want to come out in the right order. “Kitchen in the... the cabinet in... above the um...”
“In the medicine cabinet above the microwave?” Scott deciphers.
I nod. “Emet... anti... Fuck!” I ball my hand into a fist as though it will help the name come to me.
He hands me a glass of water. “Here, sip this and I'll go get the whole box.” A minute later he's sitting on the floor beside me again and I open my eyes to find the right meds.
Just the slit of white light sends me right back to the toilet and the hammer strikes my temples again. Without even asking he reaches up and flicks off the light switch, leaving us in only the glow from the hall light. “Better?”
I squint one eye open and nod, reaching over to squeeze his hand. “Thanks. Zof- Zofran. One.”
He sifts around in the plastic tub of boxes and bottles until he finds the right one and I hear him tear the foil before dropping a tiny tablet into my hand. I place it under my tongue, fighting another lurch from my stomach as it dissolves and the urge to vomit eases. We sit there for a while, my head resting back on the wall and my bum freezing on the tiled floor, until I'm sure I'm not going to be sick again and he helps me up.
“Chris is on his way back,” he says as he tucks me into bed and sits on the edge, wiping my face and letting the cool cloth rest on my forehead. “Can I get anything else?”
I shake my head. I want to say 'you didn't need to call him' and 'no, I just have to sleep it off' but I fear it would take an hour to form the words, so I just give him a weak smile and grab his hand again as I close my eyes. I've told Lisa many times how proud she should be of her boys, they're both instinctively thoughtful and caring, their default reaction is always kind and selfless. If I can't have Chris or my own mum, Scott really is the next best thing in a crisis. He's still there a few minutes later when Chris comes in and I hear them mumbling beside me before a light kiss is left on my cheek as he leaves, and then Chris is sliding in beside me and gathering me up in his arms, the room now in complete darkness.
“Sorry,” I sob against his chest.
“Shhhhhhh,” Chris whispers. “Sleep.”
Chapter 4: Doctor Foster
“She went to work,” I tell Scott when he calls the next morning.
“Is that a good idea?”
“I didn’t think so but she said she felt fine.”
“And that happens to her often?”
“I wouldn’t say often. Every few months I guess. Stress brings it on sometimes. I should have known when she got dizzy and taken her straight home.”
“Chris, I have trouble believing even you could talk Amelia into anything she didn’t want.” He laughs.
“True. Well she said she was all right and I’ll check on her in a couple of hours to be sure. Thanks for taking care of her, I appreciate it.”
I have to go out and pick up a few things so I plan to visit her at work but, that goes out the window when I call to see if she wants a coffee.
“Hey, I was about to call you,” she says, her voice weak and slow. “I got work… sick at work they made me come to hospital. I’m sure it’s just m… migraine…”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
When I arrive her room is dark and there’s a woman performing a sonogram on her belly. Amelia motions for me to come over beside the bed.
“Is everything okay?” I whisper.
“She’s perfectly happy in there, kicking and rolling around.”
Amelia is pretty zonked out on pain killers so I mostly just sit by her bed while we wait for her doctor to come and see us.
“Hi, Chris,” she whispers when she enters the darkened room. “How long has she been unwell?”
I tell her about the screening party and last night and then very sheepishly explain that I’ve been away. “Usually I can tell, though. She gets the ringing in her ear and can’t hear properly. She doesn’t hide that from me when I ask how she is and we spoke on the phone every day.”
“It can happen with the shift in hormones, but her blood pressure is a little concerning. Not enough to worry too much about at this stage but enough that we need to monitor it and she might need to slow down. What sort of hours is she working?”
I shake my head. “Too many. Technically she has two days off each week but even then if there’s an interesting case she’ll go in and she’s studying all the time.”
She nods and her smile is that of an obstetrician who is used to dealing with stubborn women. “She’s getting in to the third trimester now, Chris. She won’t like it but she’ll have to slow down.”
“Yeah,” I sigh. “I’m staying at home with her now so I’ll keep a better eye on her.”
“I want to keep her here until she’s recovered and monitor bub for a bit, just make sure there are no contractions or heart rate anomalies. Could you have the nurses page me when she’s awake and I’ll come back and speak with her?”
“Of course. Thanks, doctor.”
I wake when she groans and turns to face me, tugging her hand from my grasp to brush the hair back from her face.
“Hey, Doc. How are you feelin?”
“Mmm, better. Good drugs. Can we go home?”
I guide her back down when she tries to sit up. “Not so fast, babe. There’s a monitor on the baby – just to be sure you’re not having contractions or anything.”
“It was just a migraine, Chris. I’ve had them like this before.”
“Yes, but there’s a little extra load on your body, now. Your blood pressure is elevated, you’re going to have to slow down a bit.”
I was expecting an argument, so when she starts to sob I’m momentarily taken aback. “I can’t. I have lab hours to keep up and I need more surgeries.”
Moving up to sit on the edge of the bed I hold her hand and wipe the tears from her cheeks. “Hey, look at me. It will work out. You just have to cut back a bit, that’s all. Not stop altogether. Why don’t we go talk to them together and see what we can do?”
“But there’s not enough time! Just…” she draws a deep, shuddering breath and looks up at me. “Just give me one more month, and then I’ll back right off. I’ll rest and put my feet up.”
I sigh. “Amelia, come on. I know this little one wasn’t in our plans, but she’s coming, and I know it sucks and you’ve sacrificed a lot and I’ve been away… I don’t want to lose you.”
“This is serious, babe. You both could get really sick.”
“I know my limits.”
“Evidently you don’t or we wouldn’t be here.”
Silence falls over us both and I’d bet when the doctor returns she can feel the tension in the air. She sits down beside the bed while a nurse removes the strap and monitor from Amelia’s belly, handing her a print-out I can’t read.
“We need you back here in a week for a check-up, I need that blood pressure to stabilise. In the mean time if you experience any of these symptoms, call or come in immediately.”
“I’m sure it was just the migraine pushing it up today.”
“Or, your blood pressure triggered the migraine. It should have come back down and it hasn’t, which suggests to me the blood pressure came first.”
“Could stress have caused it? Anxiety?” I ask.
“The migraine, sure. Not that much of a rise in her BP, though.” She turns back to Amelia. “I also need you to cut back on work and get enough rest. You can’t work like you used to with the extra load on your system or you’ll end up in preterm labour.”
“I’m getting plenty of rest, I promise. I can’t just stop working, I’m almost finished a residency.”
“I understand, Amelia. I really do. I’m not saying you have to stop, just cut your hours back to a reasonable level.”
“I have a case load and if that patient needs a lot of attention then I have to be there. I can’t just say ‘sorry, reschedule Rover’s tumor re-section for next week, I’ve done my hours’!”
The doctor smiles. “I was a resident when I fell pregnant with my first. He was a pill baby just like your little one, a complete surprise. I thought it was all over, that I’d never get accepted again to finish my residency and be a doctor. Obviously I did, it just took a little longer. Now I know it’s more challenging for veterinary medicine, and I know you’re nearly finished, but this isn’t something we can mess around with. Try talking to them, I’m sure they’d extend you for a year?”
“They will, but I’m on a scholarship and it’s complicated.”
“I see. Well, I can’t force you, but I can tell you that if your blood pressure keeps rising you’ll be back here having a premature baby.”
“What if I start on methyldopa and promise not to work more than forty hours?”
The doctor laughs. “Let’s wait and see how it is next week before we talk about drugs?”
I’d assumed we’d go straight home but she insists on going back to work to collect things and speak to the head of oncology.
“Doc, can we just slow down for a second? This could wait until tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow I need to be working, I have surgeries scheduled already. I can’t just shuffle patients around because I’m pregnant.” She smiles at Emily behind the front desk. “Do you know where doctor Stevenson is?”
“He was consulting on a case a while ago but should be in his office now, would you like me to page him?”
“No, thanks. I’ll find him.”
He ushers us both inside and closes the door, a concerned frown on his kind, wrinkled face. “How are you feeling, Amelia?”
“I’m ok,” she says. “I do need to cut back my hours if possible, though. I know that’s not fair on the hospital, but I have to put my health first.”
I listen to them nutting out the details, totally confused as to why she was so reluctant to approach them. In the end she comes out with a halved caseload for surgery and a cut back for her oncology patients with more research and consulting from home than face to face time at the hospital. She seems satisfied with it all, cutting down to three days per week, but I still don’t feel like she’s relieved even when we’re home.
A week later her follow-up at the hospital isn’t much better but since her blood pressure hasn’t increased they decide to monitor weekly and see how it goes.
“That’s good, right?” I ask her over dinner.
“Not really, I could have not worried about work, cutting my hours hasn’t made any difference,” she snaps.
“It’s only been a week, babe.” I reach over and squeeze her shoulder. “So I was thinking we could go shopping on the weekend, get a nursery happening in the spare bedroom?”
“Okay, if you want.”
“Could you be any less enthusiastic?” I laugh.
“We can’t all just stop working, Chris.” She huffs and rubs her temple.
“What… Doc, I was joking.”
She doesn’t say anything, just keeps pushing food around her plate.
“Would you please talk to me?”
“Yes, we’ll go shopping.”
“I meant talk to me about what’s going on. You’re really stressed, are you worried about something?”
“Of course I am! Less hours at the hospital means I’m missing out on practising procedures I have to be confident in performing before I pass.”
“Don’t bite my head off, but have you spoken to – ”
“If that question is gonna end with any variation on ‘Margot’ or 'your therapist’, save it.”
That pretty well answers it, then. I’m trying to help her but I don’t know how, she just has to accept that this is how it is. If I could carry the baby for her, birth it and the whole nine yards, I’d do it in a heartbeat. The timing sucks, it wasn’t planned, but we agreed we’d go through with it together.
“Babe, look at me. Please?”
She sets her phone down beside her plate and shuts off the screen before looking up at me, her gaze verging on a rabbit that’s just been rounded up by our pack of dogs.
“Are you regretting your decision about…” I don’t even want to say it. “About having the baby?”
For a few anxious heartbeats she’s silent, her hands fidgeting in her lap. She looks down at the table while I watch her for some sort of indication and start to panic at the thought that she might say yes, because it’s far too late to change it. And then she sobs. There’s no watering eyes or quivering lip first, no tell-tale sniffle like she usually tries to wipe away with her hand, just a heartbroken sob that makes my chest feel like it’s caving in.
“Hey.” I kneel beside her and she turns toward me, burying her face in her hands. “It’s okay, we’ll work it out.”
“I d-don’t… I want the ba-baby.”
“Tell me what’s upsetting you, then.”
She shakes her head and looks up at me with tears streaming down her cheeks. “I’m s-so… sc-scared.”
“About being a mom?”
She nods and takes a few hiccoughing breaths. “What if I’m… What if I’m not a good mum?”
“Darlin’, there’s no way that will happen. You’ll be amazing, I know it.”
“But… I already don’t want to stop working. I’m letting you take all this time off so I can leave a tiny baby and go back to work!”
“That doesn’t make you a bad parent. All you have to do is love her, and you already do.” I take her hand and pull her over to the couch, cuddling her as tight as I can against me while she sniffles and sobs. “Is this what’s been bothering you all week?”
We stay there for at least an hour while I reassure her that she’ll be a great mom, though I’m not sure she’s entirely convinced. It’s only while I’m rubbing her back and kissing her temple I realise the crying has stopped and her breathing is soft and slow; she’s fallen asleep on my shoulder. I smile and breathe in the scent of her shampoo and she murmurs and shifts against me, bringing a hand up to my other shoulder before falling back to sleep. I wish I could make her see what I see, how amazing she’s going to be as a mother and that she doesn’t need to feel guilty about wanting a career as well. Now I think of it I’m fairly sure her own mother worked when Amelia was a child, and I know that’s where her ambition and drive comes from. Her parents are already planning to come over in a couple of months but I think she needs to talk to her mom sooner than that.
Not so long ago I’d have just put an arm under her legs and one beneath her arms and stood up, but now… I have to admit to being unsure I can lift her. The extra thirty pounds on top of her usual 120 shouldn’t be a problem but her shape is so different and all the extra is in the middle, the last thing I want to do is overbalance and drop her on the floor. My pride would never recover.
“Doc?” I whisper into her ear. “Wrap your arms around my neck and hold on.”
She complies with a faint murmur and I stand up with a much louder groan than I intended – thirty pounds is quite a bit more than I anticipated. I stumble a little on the threshold of our bedroom and she starts to giggle. “Put me down before you hurt yourself, Boston.”
“I stopped a helicopter with these arms, baby.”
“With a little help from CGI.”
“Hush, or I will drop you.”
She’s still smiling when I set her down on her side of the bed and kiss her softly. “I love you. I’m sorry I lost it on you before.”
“Don’t be, I’m glad to know what’s been bothering you. It will work out, you are going to be a fantastic mom. Trust me.”
“We’ll see,” she says as she tosses off her clothes and pulls on my t-shirt. “God damn it!”
Amelia turns side on, my shirt bunched at the top of her bump. “It won’t fit.”
I make a mental note to go back and buy her the maternity pajamas she said she didn’t need even though she admired them for ten minutes. “You’ll have to sleep naked,” I say with a shrug.
Lying in bed behind her I find my arms being pulled tighter around her as she places my hands on her, bringing one to her swollen breast and the other over her hip to her mound. “I need you, Chris.” She whimpers as I brush her nipple. “Please touch me.”
This past week I’ve probably treated her far more gently than I needed to, I was worried about getting her too worked up and it took a few days for her head to clear. I brush her hair aside and nibble the side of her neck as my hand weaves between her legs and into her warm folds, moisture immediately coating my fingertips as I tease up and down. It’s only a few minutes before she’s clutching at the pillow and bucking her hips against my hand while I alternate rubbing her clit and pumping my fingers in and out of her heat. As I kiss her neck her moans vibrate through my lips and her thighs clamp down on my hand as she reaches her climax, shaking and shuddering and gasping for breath.
I lift her top leg and glide my throbbing dick straight into her cunt, burying it and enjoying the spasms of her muscles before I start moving. My thrusts start out slow and leisurely and I make love to her as long as I can hold out while her fingers make circles around her clit. I feel her pace quicken as I start to moan and push into her harder and her muscles are squeezing my cock as she builds toward another orgasm.
“Oh, fuck… come with me, baby… I’m right there.”
As soon as her pussy grips my cock I grunt and spill into her, holding her back tight against my front as we both come down with heavy breaths. I’m fairly sure she’s asleep before I pull out and pull the covers over us, her incoherent murmur in reply to my 'I love you’ all but confirming it.
As the weeks wear on and her belly grows we slowly turn the empty room into a nursery with soft mauves and pinks around light timber furniture. With Christmas only two weeks away now I constantly have to bring myself out of the future, I’m already thinking about our daughter’s first Christmas next year and how we’ll decorate the nursery for the next baby. I hope to be back in Boston by then, or at least in a house rather than an apartment, where they can play outside and we don’t have to worry about lack of space. I’ve purposely not discussed that with her yet, I’d rather not add to the stress of impending labour and trying to wrap up at work. She promised to be done by 34 weeks but then she took on a new case last week that will take her to at least 36 and I can see that stretching all the way to 40 if she lets it.
On a particularly blustery morning I come home from a run to find her sniffling in the kitchen.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Nothing,” she chirps.
I rub my frozen nose into her neck until she laughs and tries to push me away. “Now tell me what’s wrong.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” I lean into her back and rub her hips the way she likes when they’re aching and she lets her head fall back against me.
“How did you know I needed that?”
“Because you’re in pain 90 percent of the time, it was a safe bet. C'mon. Spill it.”
“Mum yelled at me. I asked her if I was wrong to go back to work in May and she yelled at me.”
“Okay, but something else must have happened in between.”
“I said I felt like I was going to be a terrible mother because I want a career. She said of course not, she did the same and managed to have both, and I said she was an amazing mum. And then I said 'so it’s fine for me to keep working until the baby comes, right?'”
“And she said 'absolutely not, you have rising blood pressure and you need to listen to the doctor?'”
“Were you listening?”
I shake my head. “Another lucky guess. Babe, you’re already on medication and all it’s done is slow it down. It’s still rising every time you see the doctor. Remember she threatened to admit you?”
“But this is an oncology case, no surgery.”
“That’s not the point. I need you to hand it over to someone else. Please.”
“You gonna yell at me, too?” She eyes me sideways.
“I’d rather not, but I will if I have to.” I pick up the bottle of acetaminophen in front of her. “What’s this for?”
“It’s a painkiller, Chris,” she says dryly. She starts to roll her eyes and then sees the serious expression on my face. “My head. Not that every goddam inch of me isn’t aching as well.”
“You have a headache. Aren’t you supposed to call the hospital?”
“I’m supposed to take those first, sit down and check my blood pressure, and then call the hospital.”
“Well I took them and then you came home.”
“Is it gone?”
“It’s not any worse.”
“Babe, come on.” I swipe the coffee cup from her hand and grab her shoulders, guiding her into a chair and fetching the blood pressure machine from the kitchen bench. “When are you gonna take this shit seriously?”
“I am.” She slides the cuff onto her arm and presses the button. “I can’t just stop. I don’t know how.”
I sit down beside her and squeeze her neck. “I love you, Amelia, and I understand. Your mother yelled at you because we’re all just trying to get through and make sure you’re staying safe and doing what the doctor says. How can I help?”
“I don’t know.” She sighs and rubs her forehead. “I don’t wanna slow down and then have anxiety get the better of me. I’ve always coped better by staying busy.”
“All right.” I look down at the reading on the machine and hand her the coffee and her phone. “You need to call the hospital.”
While she’s doing that I make my own call to her supervisor, Doctor Stevenson. I know she’ll be mad. There will be tears and the dogs will all go and hide in their favourite dark corners while she tears me a new one, but it’s the right thing to do.
Fuck. I really hope it’s the right thing to do.
I hate this. I keep going to tell Chris something that happened or something I saw, suggest a baby name or a nursery idea... and then I remember I'm not speaking to him, and I won't back down until he admits he went about it the wrong way even if his heart was in the right place. Work have put me on a strict schedule and threatened to remove me if I'm there when I'm not supposed to be, but I have plenty of study to do at home – I’ll do anything to keep me occupied. I don't want to be mad at him any more, but his total lack of remorse gets me angry all over again every time I think about it. When I was informed that my hours were being cut for my own safety I made them admit Chris had called them, and he was expecting me when I stormed into our apartment with steam billowing from my ears. Somehow even before I opened my mouth the dogs all knew a storm was brewing and were nowhere to be seen, when normally they'd greet me at the door.
“How dare you?” I said, seething through gritted teeth. “You completely undermined me and made me look like an idiot in front of my colleagues.”
“I understand you're upset but I had to do something to make you slow down.”
“You had no right – ”
“I had every right, Amelia,” he yelled, cutting me off and making me physically step back. “She's my baby, too. And you're risking both of your lives.”
Chris doesn't yell, and we've barely had a serious argument the entire time we've been together – usually it all ends in laughter a few minutes later. When he raised his voice I knew I'd seriously upset him and probably not given him a lot of choice in what action to take, but I refused to let him off the hook for this.
“It's my risk to take!”
“No. This isn't about your rights over your body, it's about you ignoring medical advice because you're afraid to fail. It's about you neglecting to tell your employer that you're unfit for your regular duties. It’s about me doing my job as your future husband and protecting you, and if you want to yell and scream at me that’s fine. I did my job.”
By that point it wasn’t his actions that were making me angry so much as his refusal to back down and apologise.
“You did the wrong thing, Chris. My work has nothing to do with you and you had no right.”
“It has everything to do with me, Amelia. Just like mine has everything to do with you, and we make decisions together. We plan our future together. That’s what marriage and family is about.”
It was only the next day I realised he could have played the ‘I’ve taken a year off’ card and he didn’t, but I was still too angry to give him credit.
Chris is now out finishing off the Christmas shopping and I just know he'll be wandering the shops all rugged up with a beaming smile on his face like a five year old, imagining how each family member will react when they open their gift. I feel so blessed to be marrying in to a family who does Christmas just like we do back home, and to be marrying a man who will never lose that childlike wonder at this time of year. I finish off the rest of my coffee – I’ve switched to decaf so it does nothing for my alertness but still warms me up on the inside – and lie back on the couch, resting the ipad on my bump and smiling when it moves with Butterflake’s rolling around. She immediately settles when I rub circles around it, I can only dream she might do the same so easily once she’s on the outside. I have to admit I'm just not feeling the Christmas spirit yet, I wonder if I'll ever get used to celebrating it in winter.
The next thing I know there’s a flurry of clawed feet down the hall and a soft chuckle from the doorway to the living room. I open my eyes and he’s standing there with the soft knitted sweater I adore making him all warm and inviting, the stubble on his jaw rapidly growing into a beard that I long to have bristle against my fingertips. His hands are full of bags from every store imaginable – even though this was the fourth or fifth round of shopping – and his soft laugh tells me I was snoring loud enough to rival a pug with a blocked nose. What Chris has with me (that he sometimes lacks with others) is patience in unending spades, and a day after the worst fight we’ve ever had he returned to his usual behaviour even though I kept him at arms’ length and responded coldly to every word and gesture. He won’t apologise if he truly believes he did what was right and even if we disagree on what ‘right’ is in this case I love him for the conviction.
“Hey, beautiful. How are my girls?” he asks, setting the parcels down at the end of the couch, and just like that I’m not mad any more.
“We’re good.” I stifle a yawn and smile.
He kisses my forehead and begins moving the shopping to the study where the rest of the unwrapped gifts currently reside.
“Chris?” I say softly, reaching toward him as he walks past.
“Hm? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Come here.”
I bunch up the soft knit of his sweater in my fingers and pull him down so our lips crash together, kissing him until my cheeks are wet. “I missed you,” I whisper as our foreheads rest together.
“I know, babe. Me too.” He swipes the tears from my face with is thumbs. “Are we okay?”
“Yep.” I nod and he kisses me gently again, rubbing his hand on my protruding belly. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. Is your hospital appointment this afternoon?”
“I’m just going to return a few phone calls, do you need anything?”
I shake my head and he slowly pulls his hand away from my cheek with a watery smile. A few seconds later the door to the study closes and I can hear his muffled voice, calming in its familiarity. For a few minutes I try reading again but my brain doesn’t seem to be finished napping and no matter how hard I try my eyes won’t stay open so eventually I give in.
When I wake up it’s quiet. Too quiet, I don’t hear Chris’s chatter and the sun has sunk considerably since I closed my eyes. My hips ache from lying still too long and when I stand it’s slow and involves a lot of groaning and then a rapid waddle to the bathroom to relieve my squashed bladder. I follow almost inaudible humming until it grows to a soft tune at its source where Chris is sitting on the floor in the nursery putting together a mobile of clouds and rainbows, with a crate of torn packaging and a tool box beside him. I push the door the rest of the way open and gasp at the sight before me – what was a freshly painted room full of boxes and parcels just a couple of days ago now looks like the only thing missing is the baby.
Last week he painted the walls a very light grey and then hung (with the help of a friend and a lot of cursing) grey and white cloud wallpaper on one wall, and that was the last time I saw it. Now a round crib on one side is made up with pale pink sheets and a soft teddy bear dressed in a pink jumpsuit waits patiently inside; the same white rounded style change table is just a few steps away, adorned with lotions and padded with a marshmallowy pink towel; in front of the window a rocking chair beckons me to sit, its soft leather and snuggly folded blanket promising tender moments of baby bonding. Strung along one wall are rose gold fairy lights, but the one Chris sits beneath is giving off its own warm glow from eight globes in its centre, surrounded by crystals that make it look like a dandelion ready to be blown into the breeze.
“Hey, babe,” he says without looking up.
“Chris... this is beautiful. How did you do this?”
“I got a little inspiration from Ilaria and made it up as I went. Is it okay? If you don’t like something we can change it.”
“I love it, it’s perfect.”
I lower myself to the heavenly soft rug and lean my head on his broad shoulder, and he wraps his arm around to squeeze me against him before returning his attention to the mobile. “I think this is more suited to your surgeon hands, Doc,” he says, handing the last thread to me.
“I don’t so much have surgeon hands as sausage fingers right now.” I laugh as I finish it off and hand it back to him to attach, holding my swollen hands out to show him.
“Babe, you need to take your ring off. If they swell up any more you won’t be able to.”
He has a point, I notice as I try to spin my engagement ring and it doesn’t move quite as easily as it used to. Tears fills my eyes again at the thought of removing it, I still feel like I look at it a hundred times a day and get a little flutter in my chest. Silly as it sounds it was like my anchor to Chris when he was away and I was struggling with the idea of being a mum, when I was doubled-over with morning sickness or crying my eyes out for no reason and he was thousands of miles away and too busy to talk, just looking at it would remind me to breathe and push through it. It’s been on my finger since he put it there all those months ago and I know I’ll feel like I’m missing a finger without it.
“Come here, meatball,” he says with a laugh as he pulls me into his lap.
In all honesty I am way too heavy to be sitting in his lap right now, I’m sure of it. If I’m cutting off the circulation to his vital organs he doesn’t let on, though.
“Are you crying about your ring? Because we can get another one in a bigger size, just a temporary one until the swelling goes down.”
“It wouldn’t be the same.”
“Babe,” he chuckles, “I could buy you the same ring in a bigger – ”
“It’s not about the ring, Chris!” I cut him off and wipe my face angrily. “I’m supposed to love all of this stuff and it just feels like I’m juggling shot-puts. When they’re up in the air is like magic but then one clocks me on the head and it’s a bloody mess.”
“You’re um... really struggling with those hormones today, huh?”
“And I’m horny as fuck. But I was so mad with you. Last night while you were sleeping I thought about...” I trail off and shudder. “That’s not the point. Yes, I am. I seem to be feeling every possible emotion at once and I don’t know what to do about any of them. I’m sick of crying all the time!”
He skims his hand down and gently squeezes my breast, my nipple hardening through my bra and shirt. Everything tingles in response and I let my head fall back onto his shoulder with a sigh.
“How about,” he kisses down the side of my neck, “we start with,” his hand moves around my belly in a circle and then inside the soft waistband of my pants, “the horny part. I can help with that. Open your legs for me, babe.”
I whimper and shift to sit on the floor between his spread legs and open my thighs, his fingertips finding my folds soaked and engorged. He dips inside and nips at my neck while I grip his knees, and then he circles my clit slow and deliberate, making my hips jerk.
“I really need to come,” I sigh, slightly appalled by my own needy tone.
Chris straightens and clears his throat, pulling his hand away. “We gotta move to the bedroom.”
“But I’m comfy here and it will take me half an hour to get up!”
He’s already on his feet, holding out his hands to help me upright. “I can’t, not here.”
He sighs and slumps his shoulders forward. “I can’t... you know.” He thrusts his hips forward and grunts. “Not in the baby’s room.”
“We’ve done it in here before, when you insisted on christening every room.”
“Amelia, I can’t have sex in front of the baby stuff. Okay? It just feels wrong.”
I’m laughing so much my sides hurt while he pulls me up and then slaps my ass when I turn around to walk out of the room.
“If you weren’t so pregnant right now I’d throw you over my shoulder, woman.”
I’m still laughing when he grabs me and pulls me hard against him, kissing me fervently while I claw at his clothes. While he’s stepping out of his pants I toss off my shirt and bra and push my pants down to the floor, crawling onto the bed and remaining on all fours, swaying my hips in invitation. Chris reaches out and spreads the growing moisture over my lips, slipping his thumb inside me and then up over my clit until I moan and drop down to my elbows, gripping the covers in my fists.
“Please fuck me,” I whimper. “I need you. I need to come.”
“I fucking love it when you’re begging for my cock.”
Chris kneels behind me and shoves in with a deep groan, jolting me forward on a loud cry. His first thrusts are long and slow but then he holds my hips and drives into me hard and fast, grunting and panting with every slap of his hips. He leans over me and takes his weight on one hand, pinching my nipple with the other while my hand finds its way between my legs and rubs my clit. I feel the coil tighten in my core and my muscles firing off tiny pulses around him until finally I reach my peak with a high-pitched moan. Chris doesn’t slow or stop like he normally would to let me recover, he keeps pounding into me and then grinds against me as he comes inside my contracting walls.
“Shit,” he says, chuckling softly as he kisses my back. “I didn’t mean to finish that quick.”
“I don't care,” I mumble into the pillow and hum contentedly.
A few moments later he lies beside me and I turn to face him, toying with the ring on my finger. I really don't want to have it cut off, my stubbornness might well rival the most hard-headed of goats but I'm not totally unreasonable, but when I try to slide it off my finger I find the skin in front of it bunching up and stopping it. Chris watches intently, his eyes growing wider with every attempt, and then produces a bottle of lube from the nightstand drawer.
“You're not just a pretty face, Boston.”
He squirts it onto my finger and it glides free so quickly I drop it onto the bed with a squeal, and as soon as I locate it in the sheets I carefully set it on my nightstand so I can clean it and find a safer place later.
“Feeling a bit better now?” He kisses my forehead and rubs circles around my belly, pausing every time he feels Butterflake move.
“Yeah.” I stroke his cheek with my fingertips and he turns his face to kiss my palm. “The nursery looks beautiful, Chris. I can imagine putting her down in the crib, rocking in the chair by the window with her.”
“Me too, it's starting to feel real. She needs a name, I was thinking maybe something a bit Australian?”
“I don't know if we have that many real Aussie names.” I frown thoughtfully. “There are a few boy ones that have significance – Brock, Ned, Banjo... Lawson.”
“Banjo could work for a girl.”
“Yeah, I guess it could. Let me think about it.”
The next few hours I'm wandering around with an iPad in front of me, tossing names at Chris and noting down the ones he likes and his suggestions that I like. I'd planned on getting more study in this evening but I'm suddenly too excited by baby names to worry about it. While he's in the kitchen I sit at the bench and start making a list.
“Kylie?” I ask.
“Like Minogue? Is she gonna be born in gold hotpants?”
“I hope not.”
“Kylie Evans...” he screws his nose up and shakes his head.
“Ok, moving on.”
“What about Sydney?”
I frown and look for some sign that he's joking. “You want to name our daughter Sydney?”
“Well it's very Australian, and your favourite place in the world.”
I'm not sold on it but the list is looking dismal and so far they're all my suggestions so I add it anyway.
“Hmmm...” I scroll down the page while he starts chopping vegetables for dinner. “You want some help?”
“No, I want you to keep going. This is fun.”
Strike that one off, then. “Buster.”
He opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again. “I like that. Buster Evans.”
“I really like that. How is it Australian?”
“Sadie the cleaning lady,” I reply without further explanation, as if he’s going to immediately know what I’m talking about. I feign exasperation when he looks even more confused. “I’ll play you the song later. What about Shiralee?”
“Did you just make that up?” He laughs.
“No, it’s the title of a telemovie. It means a swag of belongings.”
“Ok. Yeah, it’s not bad.”
“No.” He screws up his nose. “Went to school with one, she was a bitch.”
“Sleeping Beauty. Some guy might come along with a poisoned apple and then rape her.”
“You’re really dark sometimes, Boston.” I continue scrolling until a pretty name catches my eye. “Acacia.”
“Chris!” I pick up a dinner roll and throw it at his face, which of course he catches and tosses back at me. “We're having a baby girl,” I say quietly. “A daughter.”
“You only just letting that sink in?” He chuckles and raises an eyebrow at me.
“I think I am.”
It's as daunting as it is exciting, as terrifying as hell and yet everything I never realised I wanted. As I watch him groove around the kitchen I fast forward a little in my mind, see our little girl rocking in a swing watching her daddy with a gummy smile, sitting on the bench handing him ingredients and helping with the measuring as a toddler, writing in her homework book while Chris and I talk about our day. She's daddy's girl, with her luminous blue eyes, fair skin, and straight dark hair, and she shares his wonder and enthusiasm for all things space and Disney. I've been fighting the allure of it, trying not to get so wrapped up in the excitement of becoming a mother that I lose myself, while Chris has jumped in with both feet and is completely immersed and ready. I'm all about a woman's right to choose the kind of mother she wants to be, and I've always known how blessed I am to have a career where I'll have the choice to work or stay at home, but it never occurred to me that Chris has the same right and he's made the decision. And just as it wouldn't make him less of a father if I were to stay at home while he continued working and being away all the time, I'm no less of a mother for letting him have that first year to bond with his daughter by being her primary carer.
“Doc?” Chris says, leaning across and stroking my knuckles with a long finger. “Are you in there?”
“Yeah.” I smile. “You're going to be a wonderful daddy, you know.”
“I hope so. Someone asked me not long ago if I saw myself directing in ten years and I said no, that I wanted to be back in Massachusetts with a family. Now, I'm not going to open that particular can of worms again because I understand there has to be compromise, and either way you have to finish up at AMC and see what happens, but this was always something I hoped to have. I'm just getting it a little earlier.”
Always when I think I can't fall any deeper, he surprises me. “I love you, Chris. And I forgive you. We'll have to disagree on whether you did the right thing.” Honestly I think I might love him more for not telling me what I wanted to hear, for not backing down and apologising even though he wasn't sorry.
“I love you, too. I'm still not sorry but I'm glad you're not angry with me any more.”
That evening he's set up beside the massive Christmas tree with wrapping paper and so many gifts I don't know how we'll fit them in the car when we head to Boston in a couple of days, while I'm finishing up researching a new drug that's had some promising results for canine liver cancer. This Christmas was supposed to be spent in Australia – as soon as I knew Butterflake was due in February I canceled those plans – so I’ve been less enthusiastic than usual. I don’t want that, though. I feel just as comfortable surrounded by Chris’s family now as I do mine, even if it makes me miss them that much more, and I don’t want to be keeping a mental tally of time spent with ‘your’ family vs ‘mine’. Mum and Dad will be here at the end of January, in time for the birth, and I have to hold out until then to see them, but that doesn’t mean Christmas is a total bust. In fact if anyone puts on a Christmas close to the one we have back home – minus the beautiful hot weather and sand in every crevice from long days at the beach – it’s Lisa and the Evans family.
Chris looks up from the roll of paper he’s prying the plastic wrap from when I bring my notes and laptop to the living room and spread out on the floor beside him.
“What are you doing?” He looks at me quizzically, the lights are dimmed and the tree lights are making rainbow splotches on my notebook.
“Making it work,” I say simply. “I can't help with the wrapping but I can sit here and be immersed in Christmas spirit. Where's the music?”
“I didn't want to disturb you.”
“You can't wrap presents without carols, Chris.”
He leaps up like an excited child to get his phone and within seconds he's singing along to Bing Crosby. Now it feels like Christmas, and I have to admit the white kind we’re expecting in Boston is pretty special.
Help Chris and Amelia name their baby girl!
Here are the options:
Poppy (Amelia’s favourite)
Sadie (Chris’s favourite)
To vote just comment below, you can also vote on Tumblr or Wattpad. Multiple votes are welcome and encouraged!
It seems only yesterday we were blessed with a beautifully white Christmas, the ripping of paper and excited squeals of children, the inviting smell of roast dinner blending with the pine of the fresh tree. On New Year's Eve we saw midnight tick over with friends on the roof of our building before I retired ungracefully to bed and let the others continue into the wee hours.
Five very long weeks have passed since then.
Four weeks since I officially started my leave from work – consisting of frantic nesting, rearranging the kitchen cabinets only to put it back again, washing and rewashing tiny baby clothing.
Two weeks since I got so desperately horny that Chris thinks Christmas has come all over again and the vibrator I’ve never had to use while he was home has come out of retirement.
In spite of all that sex I'm now three days past my due date. I am excited, frustrated, horny, terrified, and almost as wide as I am tall.
“Chris?” I whisper into the dark.
“Hm? Is it baby time?”
“No. But I want it out. Now.”
“She'll come when she's ready, babe. If not, the doc will evict her at the end of the week. Go back to sleep.”
I turn over with a series of grunts and groans. “Can't.” My hand wanders down his chest, over his abs, cupping his flaccid cock gently.
He chuckles deep in his throat. “Woman, you are insatiable and shameless. And I love it.”
Moments later I'm rubbing my swollen folds back and forth over his hardened length, his fingers squeezing my breasts and pulling my hips. The knot tightens deep in my stomach and I move frantically until my thighs and back burn, my lungs screaming for air with the effort, my clit relentlessly stimulated until I begin to unravel. At the first clench of my pussy I release the breath I was holding and slow my strokes, letting the contractions and euphoria wash over me as Chris is soaked in my juices.
“Fuck, babe, that's so hot. You wanna switch?”
In response I shake my head and notch his cock into my entrance, sinking down on his length as he groans at my clenching pussy. His jaw turns slack as I ride him in long fluid movements, bracing myself on his outstretched hands with our fingers intertwined. I can already feel another orgasm building – not only am I inhumanly horny but I also come as quickly as a male giraffe in his two seconds of mating – but I'm distracted by random tightenings in my back that are becoming mildly painful. For a few minutes I raise up onto my knees and let Chris do the work, thrusting up to meet me in the same rhythm and brushing my g-spot with each pass.
“Yes, baby... Right there...”
“Come for me, Amelia. Mmm I can already feel it.”
Chris puts one hand between us and the second he touches my clit I come undone, gushing on him with a grunt and resting back down on him to catch my breath. His strong hands rub up and down my sides and over my belly and he pauses a moment to look up at me with wide eyes.
“Your whole belly just tensed up, does that always happen?”
“Sometimes,” I say breathlessly as I start to move again. “It doesn't hurt, though.”
He soon forgets about it, his eyes rolling back as he turns rigid and floods me with warm cum only minutes later.
When I lie back down beside him my back and belly are still tightening and releasing.
“Don't get excited, but I think what you felt might be really early contractions.”
Despite the preface of 'don't get excited' he sits bolt upright. “Should I get the bag?”
“Chris, they're not even painful. This could go on for days.”
He hums contentedly and rests a large warm hand on the side of my belly, kissing the back of my neck as he curls around me. “Wake me if anything changes.”
And then he's breathing softly on my shoulder while I stare at the wall and hope to god those niggles get stronger during the night.
I never thought I'd be so disappointed to wake up without any sort of pain or puddle of fluid. Getting up and showering requires effort akin to running a marathon so that I'm puffing and groaning like an octogenarian when I emerge, only to sit back down on the bed for a short rest. Chris glides in a few minutes later with a large wooden tray, setting it on the dresser and arranging a pile of pillows for me to lean against the headboard. I grin as he holds my arm and wraps the blood pressure cuff around it.
“Nice and still, please,” he says seriously before pressing the green button. “Inaccurate readings don't help anybody.”
“Yes, nurse Evans,” I say with a chuckle.
He frowns thoughtfully as it deflates before writing down the reading on a sticky note and taking the device away. The rest of the tray is carefully placed on my lap, arranged beautifully with a single flower, thick raisin toast, coffee, juice, and a tiny little cup of tablets.
“Babe, this is beautiful. Thank you.”
“Anything for my favourite patient.” He kisses my lips tenderly and then makes to leave.
“Where are you going?”
“Well, miss, I have other duties to perform today.”
“You're not my personal nurse?”
“Let me correct that and I'll be right back.”
I don't know what he's up to but I hear him talking on the phone for a few minutes before he returns with a paper bag.
“What's in the bag?”
“You'll have to wait and see. Now eat, hopefully you'll need the energy.”
When I'm done Chris replaces the pillows I was leaning against with his own naked body so that we're the perfect example of a birthing position we learned in a class just after Christmas. I discard the robe I pulled on to eat breakfast and sit between his thighs with my legs folded together, leaning my back against the warmth of his chest and letting my head rest on his shoulder. With my eyes closed I don't see where it comes from but the rich sweet smell of the blended oils on his fingers barely registers in my nostrils before his hands are rubbing and squeezing my shoulders and the sides of my neck, warm and smooth and taking away the tension I hadn't noticed with every expert stroke.
“Mmmm,” I hum and relax my arms onto his legs. “That feels amazing.”
Chris leans me forward and works his way down my back, each hand working its side like dough until every knot is released and every fibre lengthened and supple. His strong fingers work slowly around my hips with careful restraint before kneading hard into my aching lower back and weaving their way back up to my shoulders. He only pauses to pull me back against him and then I feel warm oil drizzled down my chest and artistically around each breast. I melt into his front in a quiet state of bliss as his hands glide in circles around both globes at once, pinching both nipples simultaneously until I whimper before increasing the circles to find the outside once more. My mouth falls open with a gasp as he drags the flat of each palm back and forth over the now straining peaks, whipping me into an aroused mess.
I crane my neck back to kiss him deeply and feel his rumbling groan into my mouth as he continues toying with my swollen breasts and squeezing my nipples.
And then I feel it, a tiny trickle down one side of my belly and then the other, making me pull back in alarm.
“What's wrong? Did I hurt you?”
“No, I thought... I felt something...”
“Yeah. Milk.” He shrugs and smiles. “Happened last night, too.”
“Oh.” A hot blush rises in my cheeks as Chris places one finger on my chin and guides my face toward him until our eyes meet.
“Don’t worry about it, it’s beautiful.”
I scrunch my nose and he laughs.
“Trust me. There is nothing more sexy than your pregnant body. All of it.”
Releasing my face he lifts the bottle of oil and this time I watch him trickle it in patterns all over my belly, setting it down on a saucer before he begins massaging it into my painfully tight skin with his huge hands.
“That smells heavenly, what’s in it?”
“A blend with Clary Sage that’s supposed to help bring on labour and a couple of others to relax your muscles and soothe your skin. The naturopath down the street made it up and I cleared it with your doctor first.”
I rest my head on his strong shoulder and sigh with content, knowing I’ll always have those broad shoulders to carry some of the burden whenever I need it. The strong arms that wrap around what’s left of my waist will always hold me close and carry our daughter safe and secure; the hands and fingers caressing my skin will always be right there to calm my fears, and one day they’ll hold our daughter’s tiny hand while she takes her first wobbly steps, scoop her up when she falls, and soothe her in the middle of the night. Chris’s pulse beats steadily beside my ear like the lullaby that puts all of my anxieties to rest, his hands stilling when I thread my fingers between his and wrap them across my abdomen.
“I love you, Christopher.”
“I love you, too.” His soft lips kiss the top of my head and he waits for me to place my hands back on his knees before allowing his to roam again.
The sensual scent and sound of the oil on my skin has left a dull ache pooling between my thighs, every touch is like the oil heating up and conducting the current straight from his fingertips to my core. I wriggle back against him and arch my back, reaching my arms up to clasp around the back of his neck. Chris widens my legs, carefully draping each one over the outside of his so that I can feel the cool air on my wet folds, and hums appreciatively as he kisses the side of my neck and steps his fingers down the dark line that now connects my navel to the patch of hair atop my mound. I angle my hips upward, desperate for his touch, but he drags his fingertips like claws back up my sides and over my ribs until I whine.
Chris’s mood shifts immediately, like a spark has ignited him into more urgent action. Although neither of us shift position his hands are all over me, starting with kneading my breasts as hard as I can tolerate while the other hand rakes down my throat. This time I watch him squeeze a drop of milk from my hard nipple and suck it from his finger before offering one to me, and I’m surprised at the sweet taste. When I try to reach behind to his growing cock he stops me and puts my hands back on his knees, his fingers finally teasing slowly up and down over my folds. Every action is deliberate and considered; his long fingers entering me and stretching my walls, swirling around my g-spot until my hips buck; two tips spreading a generous amount of oil around my bud and rubbing with long strokes or tight circles. I’m already moaning and pleading, my juices coating his fingers and the sheet beneath me as every touch makes my breath catch. When he buries three fingers in my cunt I cry out and grip his thigh, the heel of his hand unrelenting in its delicious pressure on my clit as he starts to pull them back and forth over my g-spot. The steady pace seems to take hours to tip me over the edge but when he does I feel the muscle contractions in my entire body; my hands shake in their white-knuckled grip on his thighs and my toes curl into the sheet; my back turns painfully rigid as I arch back against him; and the breathy screech that tears from my throat doesn’t even sound like me.
Slumped back against Chris I feel the euphoria begin to ebb away, the time between pleasant spasms of my cunt growing longer with each round. With as much finesse as I can manage and limbs like jelly I turn over and keep my eyes on his while taking his cock in my mouth. The precum is salty on my tongue and my lips gently push his foreskin back with each downward stroke, his balls heavy and hot in my hand as I draw moan after moan from his open mouth.
“Fuck, babe...” He tangles his fingers in my hair and guides me up and down while I start to stroke my swollen folds again with a flat hand. I pause when his breath hitches in his throat and move up his legs, straddling his hips as he sucks my nipple into his mouth.
I’ve just positioned myself when he draws back hard and I feel a pull in my chest, yelping and pulling away from him.
“What happened?” he asks.
“I don’t know. I felt that up in my chest, like you were pulling something.”
“Are you okay?” He massages my breast gently with his fingertips.
“Yeah, it didn’t hurt.”
I lower myself onto his thick cock, and again before I start to move he takes my nipple in his mouth and sucks. The sensation is like being pinched on the inside, but this time when I look down at him he’s licking his lips, and I remember reading something about let-downs and milk ducts. I comb my fingers into his hair and he eagerly comes back for more, sucking harder this time until I’m overwhelmed by the sensation and start rolling my hips on his length. As I fuck him he alternates sides, kissing me with sweet milky lips and tongue in between, until it no longer feels taboo or awkward to have him suckling the droplets from me – rather I’m careening toward another intense orgasm, and from his muffled moans Chris isn’t far behind.
Right as I reach my peak he groans through gritted teeth and bites my nipple, tipping me into a violent orgasm that covers his thighs in my juices and rips a guttural cry from my throat. His warm seed is still flowing in to me when the first painful contraction tightens my belly and makes me dig my nails hard into his shoulders as I breathe through it. We’re standing together in the shower when the second takes me by surprise and I lean against the wall while he rubs my back with one hand and feels the hardness of my belly with the other. It takes another five before I concede they are real and I’m in labour, and another two hours and three calls to the hospital to convince Chris that I don’t have to go in yet. He times them meticulously with an app on his phone, waiting for the magic number of ‘6 minutes apart’ – we agreed that was the point he could use whatever means necessary to get me in the car.
The sun has dipped behind the taller buildings and everything is calm and quiet – exactly how I wanted it to be. Even before I knew I was pregnant, even before I knew I wanted children, I had images in my mind of my own birth experiences. I guess I’ve been influenced by delivering animals, watching them isolate themselves and focus internally when birth is imminent. There are no crisp white sheets or needles to take away the pain, just a quiet, dark corner and natural instinct. I’ll never forget the first time I found the birth centre around the corner, with its birthing pools and king sized beds, the sterile instruments and emergency equipment hidden away, and the midwives using hushed voices and unhurried steps – it was like I’d found my own corner. Unfortunately my blood pressure has since breached the set threshold for birthing there and I’ll be delivering our little girl in the hospital, which is why I’m so adamant about staying at home until the last possible second. I want this to be an intimate and memorable experience for Chris and I, when we go from being a couple to being parents, from partners to a family of three. Once I get there I’ll have to be monitored closely for distress to either of us but in this early stage I’m determined to trust my body.
Chris returns from putting the bag in the car downstairs, panting as he opens the door expectantly. The excitement and anticipation on his face is actually greater than I’ve seen before – at Disneyland and Christmas combined, which I didn’t think was possible – and I pull out my phone to snap a picture of him before his expression changes to confused.
“What was that for?”
“Well, you’ve taken about a hundred of me already. I wanted to remember that look on your face.”
“No contractions while I was gone?” he asks, opening the timing app on his phone.
“No,” I grind out as I feel everything begin to tighten up inside. “Now.”
“Okay. I got you.”
He kneels in front of me and I press down on his shoulders – his poor, very strong shoulders are going to be black and blue tomorrow – and sway my hips side to side.
“30 seconds,” he announces at what should be the middle and most intense point. The tension and resultant searing pain is making me nauseous, now. My uterus feels as though I’ve been put into a torsion brace and it’s being tightened in all directions at once, ripping me apart. “Breathe, babe. Almost there. Shhhhh.”
For once he isn’t trying to quiet me, but reminding me to breathe in and then ‘shhhh’ the air out as hard as I can, giving me something controllable to focus on.
“We gotta go, sweetheart.”
I wipe the moisture from my eyes and sip from a glass of juice as the pain subsides, shaking my head. “No. I’m doing okay.”
“I know you are,” he says with a smile while holding up the screen of his phone, which shows 5 minutes 55 seconds as the last interval. “But it’s baby time.”
Sadie and Adelaide are leading the naming votes so far - get your vote in now if you haven't already!
Poppy (Amelia’s favourite)
Sadie (Chris’s favourite)
Chapter 7: Golden Slumbers
It’s true what they say, doctors really do make the worst patients. Now I know this applies to veterinary doctors as well.
I understand why Amelia wanted to remain at home as long as possible and I almost regret pushing her into it, if there weren’t genuine concerns for her health I would take her home for a while longer. As soon as we arrived she was put onto a bed for monitoring and within a few minutes they had her doctor in the room to advise – her blood pressure was dangerously high and the baby’s heart rate was occasionally decelerating with her contractions. Doctor Perkins consulted with Tara the midwife for a few minutes in hushed voices before Amelia piped up out of introspective silence with a firm ‘no’.
“I don’t want a c-section.”
“Who said anything about that?” I turned around to glare at the doctor.
“She said anesthesiologist and OR, I can fill in the rest.”
The doctor walked over and looked again at the printout from the machine attached to Amelia’s belly before pressing the start button on the blood pressure monitor.
“Amelia, we need to discuss our options. I know you’re feeling pretty average, you’re coping really well, but we need to be prepared for all contingencies. If your baby’s heart rate continues to decelerate, or your blood pressure keeps rising, we will have to perform a caesarean section for your own safety.”
“My blood pressure would be lower if I could get... off... the bed,” she ground out, gripping my hand through another contraction.
“I’m sure it would, but we have to keep a close eye on you. I know you said you didn’t want anything but gas, but I would recommend an epidural at this stage to try and lower your BP.”
I shuddered at the mention of gas – I was expecting some fun times with the stuff but she only had one breath of it and was violently sick. Like ‘The Exorcist’ violently, I really shouldn’t have let her have those pickles before we left home. She reached for my hand and tears spilled from her eyes.
“This isn’t how it was supposed to go,” she said with a sob, shaking her head. “I want to wait longer.”
“All right.” The doctor consulted again with the midwife and they both returned to the bed. “Here’s what we’ll do. I’m going to put the bed as low as it goes, which is only about a foot off the floor, and you can use any position you like as long as you stay on the bed and the monitor is still on. We’ll reassess in an hour, unless that number goes higher than 170 systolic or 110 diastolic, at which point you agree to let us do whatever we need to do. The same deal if baby’s heart rate drops below 100 or takes longer than 20 seconds to bounce back after a contraction. Deal?”
I’m glad it’s not my decision because at least half of that went over my head.
“Deal,” Amelia said with a tight smile.
“We’re going to give you two some time, Tara will be back in a few minutes.”
She’s fought so hard, endured pain to a degree I can’t begin to fathom. I’ve heard groans and whimpers torn from her raspy throat as she rocked on hands and knees, her fingers clawing at my shoulders and sweat beading on her face. I did everything I could between contractions – supported her so she could rest somewhat comfortably, wiped her face and neck with a wet cloth, held a drink while she sipped through a straw, and rubbed her hips and pelvis however she directed me – but I’ve never felt so helpless in my life, and it’s only intensified now that the pain has subsided.
“I’m so scared,” she says in a tiny voice.
In truth, I can’t think of an emotion I’m not feeling right now. When she first told me she was pregnant the image in my mind did not involve a sterile operating theatre, or being dressed in scrubs, or watching her laid out on a table about to be sliced open. Still, we’re about to meet our daughter, and I couldn’t care less whether she exits the usual way or through the sunroof, as long as all of the frightening numbers and risks have eased and she emerges healthy.
“It will be over soon, babe. We’re going to meet our baby girl.” I wipe the tears from her face and kiss her dry lips, stroking her temple with the back of my knuckles. “I’m so proud of you, making it this far and keeping her safe all this time.”
“All right, Amelia. Ready?” Doctor Perkins says from the other side of the drape.
“Yep.” Fresh tears pour from her eyes and she tightens her grip on my hand.
The midwife keeps her occupied with conversation while her belly is opened up and I cringe at the way she’s jostled on the table. “So once she’s born we’ll put her up on your chest for a bit, then hand her over to dad while we close you up.” Tara looks over at me. “She’ll be in recovery for about an hour, we’ll take you and the baby straight to her room to wait.”
“Are you doing okay, Amelia?” the doctor asks from the other side.
“Yeah,” she says softly.
“One last incision and she’s out.”
Everything falls silent for a few breaths while we wait, and then we hear a cry that immediately turns me to a blubbering mess. Initially I was disappointed I wouldn’t be cutting the cord, but I wasn’t keen on seeing Amelia’s uterus outside of her body, either. Right now, none of that could be further from my mind. Our baby girl is here, and she’s got a good set of lungs.
Tara brings her around the drape and tucks her straight under the blanket against Amelia’s skin – another term she stubbornly negotiated despite having only a minute between intense contractions and barely being able to talk – where she immediately stops crying. Finally I see the relief on her face, the letting go of the calm, natural labour she’d planned, because none of that matters.
“You did it, my beautiful girl. She’s perfect.”
“Oh, god. Chris, she’s just...” She bites her lip as fresh tears stream from the corners of her eyes and I kiss her, reaching my hand out to touch the baby’s head for the first time as I sob uncontrollably into her shoulder.
“I love you, so much.” I finally get a hold of myself and lift my head to watch her tiny head and body wriggling around for a few seconds as though she’s trying to climb off. “What’s she doing?” I ask with a soft chuckle.
“She’s rooting,” Amelia says with a proud smile.
Baby continues until she finds Amelia’s nipple and sucks it into her mouth with a contented whimper. I’m in total awe, complete with mouth hanging open, I had absolutely no idea babies did that. Amelia just watches and strokes the top of her hair tenderly, and I fall in love all over again with them both.
“Chris, you’re going to have to take her,” Tara says quietly. “Doctor Perkins needs to close Amelia up.”
“Tara, you’ve been amazing, and I mean no disrespect. I am not under any circumstances going to take that baby away right now. She’s feeding, and she’ll stay there until she’s done. Either she closes with the baby there, or it can wait.”
Tara steps away to talk to the doctor and they both give me a nod from across the table, when I look back down Amelia is beaming up at me. “Wow. Protective daddy.”
I shrug. “Sometimes I open my mouth and Steve Rogers comes out.”
Eventually, when the internal sutures are finished, she’s sleeping soundly on Amelia’s chest and I bundle her up to head back to the room and wait.
“She can’t go without a name,” Amelia says. “Poppy or Adelaide?”
“Sadie. I know we narrowed it down to the other two, but don’t you think she just looks like a Sadie?”
“I do.” She smiles. “Sadie Mae Evans.”
“Get some rest, mommy. We’ll see you soon.”
We’re taken to our own room before Sadie is weighed and measured and checked over, and then I’m left alone with her in my arms. Mild panic starts to wash over me – what if she gets hungry before Amelia comes? How do I know if she needs a clean diaper? What if I fall asleep and drop her?
Get a grip, Evans. Jesus.
It’s only when I see the darkened windows of the opposite hospital buildings that I realise I have no idea what time it is, I actually thought it was the middle of the day. I’m not confident on which day, either. My watch tells me it’s just gone midnight and I’m a little relieved that no one will be visiting for at least another eight hours – I want it to be just us for a bit longer. I look down as Sadie stirs in my arms with a series of whines and whimpers, her little face contorting in all sorts of weird expressions. Standing and swaying I sing quietly to her as she stills and goes back to sleep, her tiny hand reaching up out of the blanket and her fingers curling around mine in a tight grip.
“Hi, Sadie Mae, I’m your daddy,” I whisper against her soft hair. “I can’t believe you’re finally here.”
Just like that, our lives will never be the same.
*~*~*~*~*~*~* One Month Later *~*~*~*~*~*~*
Sadie’s first month is a blissful blur of sleepless nights that I wouldn’t change for the world. Amelia still has to take it a little bit easy but is already studying again while I’ve got a good routine going with the cooking and cleaning. All things considered Sadie really is an easy baby, she doesn’t cry a whole lot and she’s taken to feeding easily without giving Amelia’s boobs too much grief. She even loves daddy time and will just as happily go to sleep for me as she will for mommy, whether it’s in my arms or the pram. So far, aside from the total exhaustion and sometimes so much coffee we’re both unable to sit still, I think we’re doing okay with this parenting thing.
It’s early morning when I roll over and find Amelia sitting up with Sadie suckling away at her breast, grabbing tight to her shirt as she likes to do while she’s eating. The light coming in the window behind them gives them both a golden sort of glow, I move closer and lie my head on Amelia’s pillow, snuggling into her leg.
“She’s in my spot,” I mumble.
She laughs softly and ruffles my hair with her free hand. “Are you worried about today?”
I sigh and scratch at my beard. Before we left the hospital Sadie had a hearing test and was referred for further testing at one month. They reasurred us at the time that most babies who fail the initial test just have residual fluid in their ears from birth and I've consoled myself with that and her somewhat traumatic birth until now, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little apprehensive. At the same time, though, Amelia didn't have any of the viruses that can cause deafness, she didn't take any drugs or do anything she wasn't supposed to during pregnancy, and I don't see anything in Sadie to suggest that she's deaf.
“Not really,” I fib. “I just want it over with so we know there's nothing wrong. Are you?”
“No, I don't see any reason to.” She smiles down at Sadie, gulping happily. “I'm so happy, Chris. Nothing has turned out the way I pictured it, and yet I'm just... so fucking happy.” She laughs.
“Don't swear in front of the little sponge! She'll come out with 'fuck' as her first word because she hears it so much!” I reach up and stroke her face with the back of my hand. “I am, too, babe. I'm really excited about being a full time dad.”
We arrive at the hospital with a slightly larger pink bundle than we left with a month ago and somehow we've timed it well enough to pass both Tara and doctor Perkins in the hall, who stop to gush over Sadie and remark on how well she's growing. Of course this makes us a couple of minutes late for the hearing test, by the time we rush in and get settled I'm relieved it's a quick and easy thing to do. This time they have Amelia hold her and I feel an odd sense of pride that Sadie sleeps through the whole thing just like they wanted – as though it's a deliberate act or a skill I've personally taught her. It's the same woman who did it last time – with Harley Quinn-style hair in pigtails and a bubbly demeanor, and she leads us back to the waiting room to wait for the results.
Sadie is getting restless in my arms and Amelia’s eyes are scanning the room, assessing whether she should feed her here or go somewhere more private. I used to be very vocally in favour of breastfeeding in public but now Amelia has made me aware that for some women it’s not about people looking or judging – it’s about having to take a boob out of your shirt and attach a screaming baby to it, and it can be awkward and embarrassing when you’re dripping milk on yourself, or worse spraying a small stream of it. And she does, because she’s been expressing milk for her return to work she’s making a tonne of the stuff, just a couple of days ago I was sitting next to her when she pulled her bra down for Sadie to feed and shot milk onto the coffee table a couple of feet away.
If I suggested providing a rain coat for the man sitting opposite would that lighten the mood, or would she slap me?
“Well this has to be little Sadie.” I look up to see a woman with dark cropped hair and glasses peering into the wriggling blanket on my lap. “I’m Jane Hannan, an audiologist with the hospital. Would you mind coming with me so we can do some additional tests?”
“Um, sure.” Amelia stands and smooths down her shirt. “Is something wrong?”
Jane waits until we start walking toward the elevators. “Both of Sadie’s tests so far have been inconclusive, so we’re going to use some more sensitive equipment to get a better idea of what we’re dealing with. It could just be residual fluid, that should have cleared up by now but sometimes it does hang around and cause issues, either way we’ll hopefully have an answer straight away.”
Amelia squeezes my hand and I give her my best reassuring smile, but I’m as confused and frightened as she is.
Chapter 8: Humpty Dumpty
At the best of times feeding Sadie is still a bit of a production, getting her in the right position and holding her comfortably while making sure her mouth and everything else is right still feels more foreign that just letting her have at it and do what comes naturally. Unfortunately letting her just suckle without any intervention – as I found out very early on – leads to agony and serious concerns that my nipples might fall off. Now, attempting it in front of Jane while she talks us through the testing they're about to do, I've never felt more of an amateur. The more stressed I become the more Sadie cries and thrashes, until finally Chris lays a flat hand on my back and leans in close to my ear.
“Just breathe, babe. Take your time.”
I take a few seconds to sort myself out and then finally, without spraying anyone with milk as I feared, she latches and gulps hungrily.
“Once she's fed and settled we'll put her over here on the table, where she's braced in and can't fall off, while we do the tests. It looks worse than it is, she'll likely stay asleep for the whole thing.”
“Should we be worried?” I ask nervously.
“Let's wait until we have the results. I'll be able to tell you straight away if it's a hearing problem or a blockage.”
Her answer does nothing to settle my fears. My heart is beating so fast it's all I can think about and my chest feels as though someone is sitting on it. When Chris tries to calm me down I can't even fake a smile for him, and Sadie's unsettled mood is likely something she's picked up from me. By the time she's still enough to lay her on the table I feel sorry for Jane having us sit in her lab all this time, but she gives us nothing but warm smiles and reassurance.
“I need you guys to sit in those chairs as quiet as possible, please,” she says. “This will just take a few minutes.”
A different set of headphones are used this time, and watching her lie so still I wonder if she's supposed to wake up at the sound or do something in response. I'm sure the flyer said not to worry if baby doesn't flinch during the test but now I think that was just meant to reassure those parents like us whose babies don't pass. She certainly lets us know when a probe is placed shallowly inside her ear, enough that Jane jumps and then laughs, but she settles easily with a hand on her chest.
“The second test was for fluid in her ears, and there isn't anything abnormal there. We'll book you in with a paediatrician today and they might order more tests but at this stage we know that Sadie has a moderate hearing impairment at least, she may be further toward the severe end of the scale. I realise this can be a lot to take in, I can arrange a cousellor to come and speak to you right away if you like?”
“Um... no, that's fine. What does this mean, though? She can hear but not very well?”
“The most likely outcome is that with intervention – hearing aids, cochlear implant, speech therapy – she will be able to speak and lip read.”
I can't process what she's saying. I can't breathe, can't think, I'm surprised I'm able to even hold onto her with my numb arms.
“But she won't hear? She'll have to use sign language or something?” Chris asks. His voice is tiny, not the jovial strong punch I'm used to.
“She won't hear like you do, no. At this degree of impairment she may be able to hear a loud sound at the right frequency in a perfect environment, but something like a conversation in a crowded room would just be a roar of noise, if anything. Often congenital deafness progresses quite quickly into severe or profound loss, but with early intervention in the first few months, when language development is so huge, we'd expect her to keep up with her peers. Only she'll be predominantly using signs as well as speech.”
Chris nods and sniffs, a lonely tear trickling down his cheek.
“Take some time to process this, it's a lot to take in when she's so young,” Jane says. “Please don't delay getting help, though. It's so important to do it early.”
“Who... how do we...” I look up at them, searching both of their faces as the walls close in around me. “When will we know what to do?”
“You'll be seen by the specialist as a priority so you should know in the next couple of days.”
Chris is a mess as soon as we're out of the hospital, it's all I can do to make sure he's wearing his sunglasses and hope we don't look as bad as we feel. Guaranteed the first pics of us with Sadie will be the ones on the way home, not the fresh looking parents who were prepared for cameras on the way in. When we get home she's awake and starving again – which is good because my boobs are fit to explode – and I somehow end up on the couch with her suckling away on one side while Chris sobs into the other.
“It will be ok, you'll see,” I tell him weakly. “With all of the intervention and technology available... we'll just have to adapt.”
He sniffles and hiccoughs against me. “You're right, I know. I just... There's gonna be things that are harder for her than for other kids. And then other teenagers, other adults. For her whole life. I want to be able to make her life as easy as possible.”
“I know you do, babe. But this is how it is. We'll do whatever we can to make it easier on her and I'm sure she's inherited her daddy's fighting spirit to get her the rest of the way.”
“I'm not the one with the fighting spirit,” he chokes, kissing my cheek. “I love you so much, Amelia. You're handling this so much better than I am.”
“I'm not, I promise. I'm still in shock.”
We're all still huddled on the couch long after Sadie has fallen asleep on my chest, as though it's our refuge while a hurricane tears everything else apart. Before I move it's getting dark outside and my stomach aches heavily, reminding me with every step that I massively overestimated my abilities today. After the audiologist called them we were straight up to meet with a paediatric ENT specialist who wanted an MRI done straight away while Sadie was sleeping, and they took some blood for testing. Exhausted doesn't even begin to cover how I feel, and just when I think a soak in a hot bath is just what I need I remember that I'm not allowed to have one until my stitches are out and the wound is healed. A shower is just not the same – mostly because I still have to stand up when I just want to collapse and be rid of the heaviness – but the rush of the water is like a buffer, and the dam bursts.
Our beautiful Sadie Mae is deaf.
The tears flow until I don't think they'll stop and I can't muffle the sobs any more. I feel guilty for even being upset when there are so many families who have to go home without their babies, who are affected by terminal illness or much more traumatic disabilities. Deafness is a disability, and it will change her life, but there's so much support available that that in itself is overwhelming. But I am devastated, and the thought of her never hearing my voice or hearing Chris sing to her makes a lump grow in my throat until I can't breathe for crying.
The next thing I know Chris is in the shower with me, fully clothed and holding me tight against him so I can wail into his chest. When the water starts to run cold he shuts it off and wraps me in a fluffy towel like a tired child, making a fresh wave of tears stream from my eyes, dressing me in one of his t-shirts and the very unflattering but comfortable granny panties I'm forced to wear thanks to my new scar. Then he pulls back the covers and insists on bringing dinner to me in bed.
“I need you to promise me something,” he says as I bite into the best toasted sandwich I've ever tasted.
“That you won't hide your tears from me. This is gonna be hard, Doc. Fucking brutal, at times. We gotta have each other's back and I can't do that if I don't see what you're feeling.”
“I'm sorry, it wasn't deliberate. I just wanted to be there for you, first.”
“You're allowed to fall apart, babe. Whenever you need to.”
“I'm pretty sure I just did,” I say with a weak smile.
“Yes, but you didn’t have to hide in the shower to do it. Okay?”
I nod and groan as I shift on the bed, trying to get closer to him and comfortable. And then, when I finally do, I have to get up and use the bathroom. When you get swollen in late pregnancy everyone reassures you that it will pass on its own after the baby is born, but they never tell you that it will ‘pass’ once the baby is born. Continuously.
Chris sighs as I reach the bedroom door. “Would you please take the pain meds, now? Look at you, you can’t even stand up properly.”
He might have a point, I’m hunched over like an old hag, all that’s missing is the false teeth and a cane – I even have the panties. I surrender and he hands me the bottle and a glass of water.
Thanks to total exhaustion, sleep comes easily. Restful sleep eludes me, though, and I keep waking in a cold sweat from nightmares. The same ones that have plagued me since the siege have now begun to include Sadie and become a thousand times worse as a result, and twice I wake to Chris holding me tight against him and soothing me back to sleep. When I next rise to cloudy consciousness his side of the bed is empty and I can hear Sadie crying across the hall, so I drag myself heavily out of bed and make my way to her with my breasts already aching and ready. She’s lying on Chris’s chest in the rocking chair as he rocks back and forth, falling silent and murmuring contentedly every time he sings to her, and when I appear in the doorway his eyes glisten with tears in the nightlight.
“She has her ear on my chest,” he says with an incredulous smile. “I don’t know if she feels it or hears it but every time I sing she stops.”
“That’s incredible, babe.”
Unfortunately for Chris I’m guessing her little nose has just registered the smell of what she really wants – milk. She turns her head toward me and starts screaming like she wasn’t fed just a few hours ago. He lets me sit down and then hands her to me but remains in the room, sitting on the ottoman and resting his head on my other shoulder.
“I’m not going back to work,” I say quietly, keeping my gaze on Sadie’s peaceful face. “If you want to go back to Boston we can do it now.”
I feel him shift but for a long time he doesn’t say anything, and then, “No. It’s only until the end of the year, and we might find better access to specialists here.”
“Chris, if I commit to this it’s more long hours. I can’t promise to make it to every appointment, you’ll be doing all of the extra stuff she needs on your own.”
“I know.” He shrugs and smiles up at me. “I didn’t sign up for this on the condition that she had no special needs. I signed up to be a dad to Sadie and a husband to you, and all that that encompasses. All of it. When you’re done we can talk about moving. You can’t just give up when you’re so close to finishing.”
I sigh and give in, even if I wanted to argue I’m too tired.
“Is it me, or is this place starting to feel kind of homey?” Chris asks as we sit outside the obstetrician’s office at the hospital.
“It’s not just you.” I watch him holding Sadie out in front with his huge hands, one under her bottom and the other her neck and shoulders, bouncing her gently and pulling faces while he sings and chatters at her.
She’s sporting new accessories for our six-week checkup, in the form of tiny hearing aids which are coloured mauve and so sweet I will admit to squealing a little when I first saw them. It’s supposed to be too early to know and I might be imagining it but I think she’s more responsive when they’re on, and it gives Chris a reason to talk to her and behave like a fruit cake everywhere we go. ‘It’s good for her language development, babe!’
While I’m rifling through the baby bag looking for some paperwork Chris nudges me with his foot.
“Look!” he says out the corner of a funny face.
I sit up and look down at Sadie, catching her face breaking in to a huge gummy smile. The more we smile back at her the bigger it grows, and then I’m swiping away tears.
“Hey, baby girl,” Chris says. “Do you have more big smiles for daddy?”
She closes her mouth and frowns and I burst out laughing. “Sorry, daddy. No more smiles for you.”
“Come in, guys,” Doctor Perkins says from the door to her office. “Oh, how precious! She’s beautiful. All going well?”
We go through the process of testing and fitting the hearing aids with her while she nods and smiles down at Sadie. We know now that it’s genetic, which means we both carry the gene and have a high chance of more children with hearing loss. I won’t lie, when we were told that I broke down. There’s no surgery to fix it, nothing that can be done other than amplifying the hearing she has, and she will rely on hearing aids and sign language the rest of her life. Also Chris wants a big family and I’m not sure I could handle the four or five children he wants if they’re all deaf, selfish as that sounds.
Chris takes Sadie out for a walk while the doctor checks me over. “The scar will be tender for a while, emergency ones always take a little longer to heal. How do you feel?”
“Fine. It gets a bit sore if I walk around too much but otherwise I’m good. This will go away eventually, right?” I point to the pouch on the front of my belly. “I’m not gonna be a kangaroo forever?”
“Give it time,” she says with a laugh. “It will shrink. Any other questions?”
“Can I.. can we... you know.”
“Yes, you can have sex again. I'll give you a prescription for the pill, one you can take while you're breastfeeding.”
“If we decide to have more children, will I automatically have c-sections?”
“Not necessarily, we'd have to assess it at the time. Ideally you should wait twelve months between pregnancies either way.”
“I don't even know if we'll have more, but we'll definitely wait a year in between.” Just the thought of only a year between makes my head spin.
By that evening she's smiling so often that I have to chastise Chris for keeping her up too late, he just wants to keep on making her smile. Not that I can blame him, that smile could brighten the darkest of days and warm my heart no matter what else is happening. After dinner and a shower I slink into bed beside him in a sheer nightgown, cut so low between my massive boobs that his eyes almost pop out of his head.
“I got the all clear today,” I say as I press my body against his.
“Oh, really?” he replies with a raised eyebrow, rolling to his side and taking me in his arms.
“Make love to me, Chris. I need you.”
And he does, slowly and without any sense of urgency. He makes a face when I insist on remaining covered in my chemise, but doesn't say anything. Instead he holds me close and fills me, grinds against me until my inner muscles spasm and cling to him and I lose control, my body writhing with his in blissful entanglement. With our mouths locked together he reaches his peak and I feel the flood of warmth inside, the throb as he empties and stills, keeping me crushed against his chest until I'm sinking into sleep.
Sadie seems too small for me to be leaving her to go to work. On my first morning back at the hospital Chris walks me to work with her in the pram so we can introduce her around, and the entire time everyone's gushing over her (and her teeny tiny hearing aids) I'm dreading the moment I will have to say goodbye for the day and leave her in Chris's care. I know she'll be perfectly fine, she's taken to bottles easily and I have enough milk in the freezer for a week, and I wouldn't say she's any more attached to me than Chris, but she's just gone nine weeks old. Thankfully I won't be back to full duties for another month, I'll be doing a lot of study and prep work from home and no long surgeries or lifting patients. It's funny how your priorities shift so quickly, it doesn't seem so long ago I didn't know how I'd cope being away from work for this long and now I wish I could stay at home a bit longer.
After an hour of my office being filled with people wanting to meet Sadie and welcome me back it's finally fallen quiet and Chris plants a soft kiss on my head.
“We're going to head home, okay?”
“Okay,” I say softly, swallowing the tears that form a lump in my throat.
Chris rubs my back and squeezes me against him. “Do you want to feed her first? She's about due anyway, it will save me giving her a bottle when we get home.”
I know he's just doing it to give me one last feed before he leaves, but I'm not going to pass it up. He hands her down to me and I stroke her hair while she's suckling, rub my finger over the tiny bumps on her cheek, breathe in that sublime baby scent. “Anyone would think I'm never going to see her again,” I say through the tears that spill down my cheeks. “It's only a few hours, right?”
“I'll take good care of her and you'll be too busy to cry. If all else fails we can come back for lunch time.”
As I hand her back I kiss her forehead and she snuggles into Chris's chest with a milk-drunk smile.
“We love you, doctor mommy. Have an awesome day, okay?”
“I'll try. Don't forget to put the gel on...” I trail off and smile. He knows. We've been through everything and he knows how to take care of her just as well as I do. “I love you.”
“I love you too, babe.”
As soon as he leaves I'm needed in a meeting where I get my case load and a run-down on the patients I had to hand over before I started maternity leave, then I'm assisting in a straight forward tumor resection to get my head back in the game. Although Sadie and Chris are never far from my thoughts, especially when I'm on my way between consults or when I sit down for lunch and some reading, I'm occupied enough that I don't spend the whole day missing them too much. Through the day he sends me plenty of photos and updates, from sleeping to playing on her mat, tummy time, when she rolls over, even one of her nappies which is much more detail than I really needed. For the first time since I started my residency I actually walk out the door at five o'clock so I'm home in time to bath Sadie and put her to bed, snuggle into her soft warm pajamas as she falls asleep.
“Sweet dreams, Sadie Mae,” I whisper as I kiss her cheek.
“How was your day?” I ask Chris when I emerge from Sadie's room and find him cooking dinner.
He turns away from the stove with a huge grin. “So awesome. I know there will be hard days, like taking her to the appointment tomorrow, and there will be days when she's unsettled, but today was just so much fun. Hanging out, daddy and Sadie time. I feel like this is how it was meant to be.”
“Let's hope you're in this good a mood every night, hm?”
“Ha ha. We'll see.”
I can only hope.
Chapter 9: Itsy Bitsy Spider
“What are you guys doing today?” Amelia asks, scooping Sadie from her bouncer. Both of their faces light up with huge smiles, whether Sadie is smiling because it’s mommy or because she’s about to be fed is irrelevant.
Hell, if I could lie in her lap and suck on those gigantic tits for half an hour I’d smile, too.
“Chris? I doubt Sadie is going to answer me?”
I clear my throat and follow them into the living room where she’s signing and saying “Hungry?” to an increasingly frustrated baby who is, very clearly, hungry. We’ve both thrown ourselves into learning sign language and starting to teach her some signs, I have to admit it’s been a while since I’ve used this much brain power on anything other than acting. I think Amelia’s brain is more suited to study than mine, she’s picking it up way faster than I am even when she’s working and studying at home. For three months now she’s kept her promise to balance work and home and she seems to be relaxing into her working-mom routine, though I know she beats herself up about missing Sadie’s appointments and she was devastated to miss her starting to roll around to get across the room. Our dogs are now Sadie's favourite toy and they’ve been amazingly patient with her fur pulling and tail grabbing.
“I was momentarily distracted by how beautiful you are.”
“You were looking at my boobs, Boston.”
“I was looking at your boobs, yeah. How could I not?” I sit down beside her. “Today we’re going to the park, Elise is meeting us there.”
“The speech therapist?”
There’s a storm brewing, her crystal clear eyes have suddenly clouded over. She looks like she’s trying to swallow it but it’s a losing battle.
I clear my throat and continue. “I thought some sessions outside might be a nice change.”
“This was your idea?” Aaaaand I just stood in front of the supercell with a lightning rod like a fucking mad man.
“Well, it was both of our ideas. Rather than sit in an office – ”
“An office full of toys,” she interrupts.
“Yes, but Sadie isn’t old enough for most of them. We thought outside would be nice. There’s sky and trees to talk about, new sensory stuff for her to explore. Babe, Elise is a therapist. She’s not looking to hook up with her client’s father.”
“Good.” She nods smugly, like she’s just shut down a non-existent challenge for my affection.
I’m not going to be the one to correct her, I’m just glad it’s over. “Do you have much on today?”
“Two big surgeries and a new consult in between. A great dane with suspected osteosarcoma.” She rubs her hands together and I lean back with a laugh.
“You’re way too excited about that, Doc.”
“I’m excited because there are new treatments we can try. The tumor is on his foreleg, and if we can pinpoint the radiation we don’t have to amputate or even do a bone graft. There’s also a vaccine I’d like to give him down the track that is believed to reduce the likelihood of it metastasising in his lungs.”
I just blink at her, she lost me somewhere around foreleg. “Ah... in English?”
“He has bone cancer in the bottom of his front leg, we can use directed radiation to kill the cancer cells where we used to have to amputate, and then give a vaccine that might stop the cancer from spreading.”
“And you’re going to do all of that?”
“I’ll coordinate it, he’s my patient.”
“I’m so proud of you. You were always a brilliant vet but to be curing cancer – ”
“Treating cancer,” she laughs. “I’m not curing it just yet. I can’t wait to go back and show Brad and the others what we can do now, take all of this back to Australia and make it more available.”
My blood runs cold so suddenly I shiver. She’s mentioned visiting Australia before but not practising there, this is sounding quite permanent. “Yeah.”
Amelia hugs Sadie tight to her chest while kissing me goodbye, signing ‘goodbye’ and ‘I love you’ to both of us before I say “Mommy’s going to work,” and take her. She sits contentedly on my hip while Amelia slings her bag onto her shoulder and sighs. “Have a great day, you two. I’ll see you this afternoon.”
Elise has been amazing from our first appointment, she’s young enough to be enthusiastic but experienced enough to really know her stuff. And she’s honest, there’s no pussyfooting around the fact Sadie is deaf or sugar coating her prognosis. She’s told it straight from day one, what her realistic prognosis would be, how we can help, the statistics for children who are deaf falling behind academically. We’re a little early but she’s already set up on the grass with a huge picnic blanket, 2 takeaway coffee cups, and a basket of goodies.
Will Amelia think Elise was overstepping by texting me to ask if I’d like a coffee when she got herself one? Probably. Do I think that? Not at all, she’s going to be a part of our lives and Amelia needs to get used to that. She trusts me the rest of the time, I have no idea why this is different.
“Look who it is, Sadie! Say ‘hi, Elise’.” I only sign ‘look’, ‘hi’, and ‘Elise’ but I must be getting better – I don’t sound like a tape player with flat batteries today. Signing and speaking at the same time even when it’s only a couple of words takes all the power my brain has.
Sadie smiles wide as I unbuckle her from the pram and set her down on the blanket. She seems to change every day now, grabbing things and rolling all over the place, pushing up onto her hands and knees and getting stronger all the time. I feel like six months has flown by and her hearing impairment isn't so frightening as it was in the beginning. Sure it's a challenge, I wonder all the time how she'll find her place in a hearing world, but if she's anything like her mother she'll just make it happen. Amelia worries that she's missing out on too much and although she's conscious of finding the right balance her work has begun to creep in on her time at home just a tiny bit. It's only a few more months, though, and we'll be talking about our next move.
“Everything okay, Chris?” Elise asks.
I startle and stare at her blankly. “Sorry, I was a million miles away.” Almost literally, I was thinking about what Amelia said, about going back to Australia.
“How has your week been? Any babbles yet?”
“It's been good, yeah. We visited my family on the weekend and there were definite deliberate sounds from Sadie. She's been flapping her hands around a lot, too, I wondered if she might be copying us?”
“It's entirely likely, that's great. And you're ready to start with food?”
“We're waiting for the weekend. Amelia wants to be there.”
“Of course, it's a big deal having the first taste of food.”
We spend about 20 minutes singing nursery rhymes and playing games, clapping and signing to Sadie. I think just in that time Elise shows me thirty signs I didn't know before, and if we're going to keep doing 'Humpty Dumpty' I'll have to practice my finger spelling, but I can see Sadie waving her hands a little and thinking about how to copy what we're doing. If not for teaching her to sign and seeing so many specialists I'd wouldn't know half as much about brain development as I do and it's so fascinating to me to watch her little brain changing and learning all the time. We're watching some birds and signing when she looks me right in the eye and laughs for the first time, startling herself with the sound. Both Elise and I freeze in stunned silence for a minute before she does it again, her mouth open in a wide grin and her bright blue eyes dancing with happiness. As soon as we join in she giggles some more and I pull out my phone to record the precious moment for Amelia.
“That's huge, Chris,” Elise says when she's leaving. “It's a really big step. She can hear it and she's deliberately making the sound. That's really great.”
“Does that mean she can hear more than we thought?”
Her smile softens. “No, but it does mean the aids are working like they should. I'll see you at the end of the week, gorgeous.”
“Talkin' to your daughter, Chris!” she says over her shoulder.
Early that evening Sadie rubs her eyes with balled fists, resting her sleepy head on my shoulder. Amelia should have been home an hour ago and I don't think I can keep the baby awake any longer if I wanted to. I had to give her a bottle before her bath when she was crying for it but she only drank half, I honestly think she wants mommy to top her off. When I finally hear her keys in the door I plan on doing a quick handover, but Amelia turns to close the door and frowns when she sees Sadie on my shoulder.
“She's asleep,” she whispers. “Dammit, am I that late?”
“Yeah, babe. I'm sorry. I kept her awake as long as I could, but she must have crashed in the last couple of minutes. If you take her she might wake up, she must be still hungry.”
I gently lay her in Amelia's arms, where she stirs a little and falls back to sleep before we make it to the bedroom. “Sweet dreams, beautiful girl. Mummy loves you.”
Within the first five seconds of the video I know I should have been better prepared. I'd hoped she'd just be happy that her daughter is laughing, I didn't think about the other emotions that might come with it. Amelia's joyful smile is quickly buried into my chest and I hold her tight against me, rubbing her back. We stay like that in the middle of the kitchen for a few minutes before she asks me to play it again.
“I should've been there,” she whispers, wiping beneath her eyes.
“It's fine, babe.”
“It isn't. In one day I've missed her first laugh and putting her to bed. This is the first time she hasn't breastfed before bed since she was born!”
“How about I get you a glass of wine and you can relax until dinner is ready?”
She pulls away and shakes her head, unfastening her hair and running her fingers through it wearily only to scrape it back into a rough bun. “I have work to do.”
So begins our new 'normal', the pattern that has slowly but surely replaced the evenings we used to share.
Amelia reads while we're eating.
She highlights and makes notes while I'm feeding and playing with the dogs.
“Do you have much more to do?” I ask, my hair still dripping from a hot shower as I stand before her in nothing but a towel.
“Yeah. You go to bed, I'll be in when I'm done.”
The longer I lie there alone the more my brain wakes up. This is how it's been for weeks, the time she comes home is slowly moving back until tonight when she missed Sadie completely. Then she works until some ungodly hour, slips into bed exhausted and sleeps until the alarm goes off and she has to get ready for work again. I'm not angry or resentful, I know she hates it as much as I do, but it's crept up so slowly I'm not sure she really knows it's happening. Some time between then and when I feel her warmth beside me I must have fallen asleep, but it's only a few seconds before parts of me are awake again.
I turn and press my front against her back, savouring the smooth skin of her bare legs as she allows mine to slip between them. My lips press a few kisses to her neck above the collar of her shirt and she pushes back against me, reaching back to drape my arm over her waist. As I let it skim over her hips and beneath the hem she stiffens, and when I feel her ribs under my fingertips she murmurs softly.
“I'm really tired, babe. Can we just go to sleep?”
“Of course. I love you.”
“I love you, too. Thank you for understanding.”
How can I not? I can't very well be frustrated if she doesn't want sex, but I'm starting to wonder when we might get back in sync. We used to be so good at this, not just sex but 'being' together whether that was in bed or reading or whatever we were doing. I think we communicated better when I was away filming and she was working between 60 and 70 hours a week, when sometimes in the middle of phone sex she'd blurt out something about an electricity bill. It worked reasonably well for us most of the time, maybe now we're spending too much time in the same bed. Maybe since Sadie was born she doesn't find me attractive any more – the thought makes me chuckle in my head – even though I think she's more beautiful than ever.
“Is everything okay? You're just tired?”
“Because I couldn't possibly not want sex, right?” she snaps. “Today my daughter laughed for Elise,” she says with a kind of disgust as though allegedly that's her name, “while I was at work. Her last breastfeed for the day, the one I've been holding on to as the only time we spend that's just us... she obviously doesn't need me for that anymore, either.”
Now I wish I'd waited until morning to open this can of worms. “She laughed for me, Amelia. Her daddy. The man who cares for her while you're at work, who signs and talks to her until my throat is raw. That doesn't make me better than you, but could we please acknowledge that we were at a therapy appointment, not a social outing? I'm sorry that you missed it but you're cheapening it for me by saying it happened for Elise. And while we're at it, you should try giving her an ounce of the respect that she has for both of us. She's gone above and beyond for Sadie already and we're going to be seeing her regularly, and she has never been anything but professional.” I roll onto my back and prop up on my elbows, now wide awake. “You have no reason to feel threatened.”
“Please remember this conversation when you miss out on something because you're away or working.” She laughs without humour and rolls toward her front as though she wants to move away but has nowhere to go.
“Would you just tell me what's going on with you?”
“I'm tired. I'm working long hours to get this finished so I can spend some time with my daughter. My brain is so full of information about congenital deafness, and statistics for further children, and osteosarcoma, and dosages per kilogram for chemotherapy in chihuahuas, that I never know which random fact might come up when I'm searching for something specific.” Her voice turns tiny and quiet and she rubs at her temple. “I'm fucking struggling, Chris. I don't know if I can do it all but I'm trapped, I just have to find a way.”
I reach out and cup her shoulder with my hand. “If you want out we'll find a way out, don't you ever think you have no options.” I sit up against the bed head and pat my thigh, the spot where she often falls asleep when she's not well. “Come here, baby girl.”
Almost immediately my leg is wet with her tears. “I love work, I don't want to just give it up or finish my residency and stop practising, but I can't seem to get the balance right. What if I never do and she hates me because I was never around?”
I barely hold back a chuckle. “She's only six months old, I doubt you're doing her any long term psychological trauma just yet. Before you know it we'll be talking about what to do next year and you'll be able to work part time if you want. I'm sorry you missed her today, that must be rough.”
“I'm sure Elise is great, I just... you know there were photos going around and rumours that she was your naughty nanny, right? A fucking client came in late this afternoon and showed me for a laugh because she knows not to believe that bullshit.”
“You know not to believe it, too.”
“Yeah, but... it hurts. They called it a coffee date and said you couldn't take any more of me prioritising my career ambitions over starting a family. That we weren't married because we were only staying together until Sadie was born.”
“Hey.” I wait until she looks up at me. “We know the truth, remember? Only us. Maybe it's time we made it known that she can't hear.”
“That would make it worse! What kind of mother leaves her deaf baby at home with...” she trails off and looks away.
“With her father?” I finish. “Gee, I don't know. One who knows she's in good hands and knows that her own wellbeing is just as important?”
“Sorry. You know that's not what I meant.”
For a long time she's silent while I comb through her hair with my fingers and let it fall onto her shoulder, her fingers light and still on my knee.
“Babe?” I whisper.
“Are we okay?”
It takes a few anxious seconds for her to open her eyes and sit up between my legs, tugging her shirt down before she takes my face in her hands and presses a kiss to my lips. “I love you more than ever, Christopher Evans. We're better than okay. I know I've been an absent mother and distracted doctor, but worst of all you've barely had any of my attention and you deserve so much better.”
“I get it, I just want to be sure. If you need something from me you have to tell me.” She nods, and I cover my torso with my hands and give her a coy smile. “I thought maybe you weren't attracted to my post-baby body. I can get back into the Cap workout if that would help?”
Amelia slaps my abs with a firm backhand. “Nah, I like you soft and cuddly.”
“I...” I look down at myself and then back at her cheeky grin. “Really?”
“Fuck, no. There's not a soft part on you. You could be the marshmallow man and I'd still find you sexy as hell, though.”
“We need to continue this conversation at a more reasonable hour, I think.”
With a few long kisses and stifled giggles she finally falls asleep in my arms, her face resting on my chest right over my heart where she belongs.
When my alarm sounds at 5:30 for my run she rolls over and groans. “Where are you going?”
“Running.” I kiss the top of her head quickly. “I'll be back in an hour.”
To my surprise she has a tight grip on the front of my shirt and hauls me back down on top of her, refusing to release me and instead splaying her legs for me to lie between them. “Skip it. I'll give you a workout here.”
“But I'll get all soft.” I pout, and she leans up to bite my bottom lip. “Are you harbouring a marshmallow man fantasy I don't know about?”
Amelia just winks and tugs my shirt over my head, running fingers, lips, and tongue over my skin. I know better than to compare – circumstances change and we have to adapt and evolve – but this is a glimpse of the old Amelia, the one who floated naked in a Queensland swimming hole, and rode my cock on a plane somewhere between Melbourne and Sydney. The Amelia who wasn't weighed down by guilt over her parenting. Her shirt and panties are quickly discarded and without further ado her delicate hand guides my cock to her entrance and cups my balls, massaging gently as I push inside.
“Mmmm... Chris,” she whimpers as I thrust home.
I push up to gaze down at her, her rosy cheeks and dark eyes all for me. She arches her back and pushes her breast into my waiting hand, biting her lip as I knead it and dig my fingers into her soft flesh.
“When you're inside me... ahhh... everything else just falls away.” Her nails threaten to break the skin of my shoulders, and she moans so sweetly as her hips meet my thrusts eagerly.
I was foolish to doubt her libido, to think that anything short of mental exhaustion and overwhelm would keep her from letting herself be temporarily lost in us. Where I crave the physical display of love she needs complete immersion, to be released from all of the other identities for a while and be nothing but mine. My fiancee, and soon my wife.
As her orgasm builds her body responds of its own volition, angling her pelvis just so and rocking against me, pulling me down so her nipples graze my chest with every movement and her mouth is free to explore my neck. I smile at the shuddering breath she heaves in, deafening in the relative silence as her moans and affirmations cease, and wait for that wondrous wave to take over her muscles and bring them crashing down around me, pulling me in deep and coaxing my warm seed into her womb.
Our senses recover with her top half draped over my chest, her fingers absent-mindedly toying with the thicker hair down the centre. Even more than the act itself I've missed this, the afterglow where she turns soft and weightless and our dmpassioned conversations are only ever about dumb shit like the hidden complexities of Disney films, or whether She-ra could really have beaten He-man to a pulp, or how NFL makes perfect sense and Australian Rugby's rules only apply when it suits the referee.
Then there's today's topic: “Mum sent over some Vegemite for Sadie.”
I don't know what on earth would possess someone to produce a paste that looks like grease and tastes like the pan drippings from a roast that's been forgotten in the oven for months, let alone to add a literal ton of salt to it and call it a national delicacy; but if coca cola was originally a cleaning product, Vegemite must have been an alternative to soap on a child's tongue for offensive language. Both should probably have been left to their original uses.
“Please can I be here when she screws her face up?”
“She won't, Chris. She's an Aussie kid.”
“Actually...” I trail off and let it go, because nationality is way too serious a topic to take on right now. Especially when I'm hesitant to bring up returning to Australia.
“Where do you think I got my rosy cheeks?”
“I have no idea what you're talking about, but I imagine it's something to do with the great fucking hole in the ozone layer right over your country and you were over-exposed to UV rays. That or you're an alcoholic. Either one might fit, you lot drink like fish.”
“It is a scientifically proven fact that Vegemite is the reason for Australian children's rosy cheeks. It says so on the jar.”
I laugh and pull her in to me, bringing her lips to mine while we're both still smiling too much to do anything more than press them together. When she returns her head to my shoulder I see Sadie moving around on the video monitor behind her and watch for a few seconds, waiting for her to cry to be picked up.
Instead we spend ten minutes listening to her babble and wriggle her hands in front of her face, only stopping to rock for a while on her hands and knees like she might just take off and crawl at any moment. When she does insist on our presence it's with more of a yell than a cry and while Amelia makes her way to the nursery I'm sobered by the realisation that she is actually trying to communicate with us, using both her hands and voice. No doubt there's a fancy name for that but it escapes me right now, I'm too taken with watching our daugher's fascination with her her own voice. As Amelia approaches her difference again becomes apparent – Sadie can't hear us approaching. First thing in the morning her hearing aids are still on the shelf and she's watching the subtle movement of the mobile above the crib so there's no indication that her mommy is entering the room until she comes into view and startles her enough that her bottom lip begins the quiver.
But then, as though Sadie knows that mommy really needs a win today, she giggles. Hands down the best game of peek-a-boo I've ever had to privilege to witness ensues, and I think those five minutes will carry Amelia through another year of hard days if need be.