“When you wake up tomorrow, you’ll be a kindergartener,” I whisper to my daughter.
I feel Jackson’s hand on my lower back as I bend over Harriet’s bedside and kiss her forehead. “I get to go to school!” she chirps.
“Are you excited?” Jacksons asks. Harriet nods vigorously, which makes him laugh. “I thought so.”
After we say goodnight to her, I walk into the hallway and Jackson gently closes the door and shuts off her light. I lean against the wall, my eyes on the closed door, as I let out a long sigh.
“What’s on your mind?” he asks. “You’re quiet tonight.”
I shrug and walk towards the kitchen, where I turn on the kettle to make myself a cup of tea. “Want some?” I ask.
“Only if you’re making hot chocolate,” he says with a smile.
“I can,” I say, grinning back. I reach up into the cupboard to pull out the cocoa and feel his arms around my waist from behind, and he squeezes me tight in a comforting hug.
“You okay?” he asks.
“I’m sad,” I admit, my finger gliding over his forearms.
He sways back and forth, moving my body with his. “I know,” he says.
I turn my head to the side so I can get a better look at him. “That’s our baby,” I say quietly, letting my lower lip pout out a bit. “She’s growing up.”
He smiles softly. “Of course she is,” he says, stealing a kiss on my cheek. “That’s what kids do.”
“Well, I don’t want ours to,” I say. “It seems like just yesterday that she was tiny.”
He laughs a little. “Well, she’s still tiny. You are her mom, after all.”
I give him a warm look and nudge his chest with my shoulder. “You know what I mean.”
“She’s still our baby,” he says. “It’s just kindergarten, not high school.”
I let out a long gust of air. “Oh, god, don’t start. I can’t even think about that.”
He laughs and tucks his face into my neck, pressing his lips against the warm skin there. “It’ll be fun,” he says. “It’ll be exciting. She’s gonna wear that new outfit I bought her-”
I screw up my eyebrows in confusion. “The one you bought her?” I ask. “Oh, no. She’s wearing the one I bought her.”
“What’d you get her?”
“A green dress with little red and white flowers on it,” I say. “It has straps, kind of like overalls, with brown buttons on the chest. And a yellow short-sleeved shirt with fluffy sleeves to go under it. That, and new cowboy boots.”
He raises his eyebrows and pulls away from me, leaning one hand on the counter. “Cowboy boots?”
“What?” I say. “What’d you get for her?”
He chuckles. “I got her a new pink and black Nike jumpsuit and black Air Jordans.”
I smile to myself and smack my palm to my forehead. “Oh, Jackson.”
“Oh, April,” he mimics, wrapping his arms around my waist from the front this time. He kisses me, and the kettle starts out at a low scream as the water starts to boil.
I make my cup of tea and his cup of hot chocolate, and we sit out on the balcony as we sip them - our chairs close enough to where our elbows touch.
“Did you wanna write her a note on the napkin that I put in her lunch for tomorrow?” I ask, staring out at the cityscape.
He smiles. “She can’t read.”
I smack his thigh. “Someone can read it to her!” I shoot him a look. “Well, I wrote something. I just wanted to offer.”
“Sure, I’ll put something,” he says. “What’d you write?”
“Just that I love her and I hope she has a good first day,” I say, tracing the lip of my mug as I sigh. “It’s just gonna be weird, not having her in the hospital. Where we could easily get to her if there was an emergency.”
“I feel like her school is way safer than Grey Sloan,” Jackson says. “I’m surprised that daycare hasn’t blown up yet. I honestly feel safer with her away from that building.”
I nod as I giggle. “You’re not wrong.”
“But you know what I mean,” I say. “She’s not in daycare, she’s in school. She’s a big kid!”
“I know, I know,” he says, taking one last sip before setting his mug down. “She’s moving onto her next stage in life.”
When we go to bed that same night, I’m still not over it. I’m lying on my back, staring at the ceiling and letting a thousand thoughts of Harriet’s first day swim through my mind at top speed.
“Hey,” Jackson says, voice breaking through the darkness. “I know you’re up.”
“Of course I’m up,” I say. “I can’t sleep.”
I feel his arm snake around my belly, pulling me close by the waist as he presses his nose to my temple. “Stop worrying,” he murmurs.
“Easier said than done,” I say, leaning my head to one side so my neck is open. He takes the cue and dips low so his lips can find the crook on the slope of my shoulder, and I melt against the mattress.
“I can help,” he says.
He kisses the angle of my collarbones to the middle of them, where he sucks the skin above the divot between his teeth and reaches lower to palm my breast.
“You woke her up last night,” I say with a smile.
“Me?” he asks, sounding incredulous and pushing the hem of my shirt up to expose my stomach. “That was all you.” He clears his throat and mimics Harriet’s voice. “Daddy, why is Mommy screaming?”
I smack his shoulder. “You made me.”
“I shouldn’t be punished for being amazing in bed.”
I roll my eyes, but I don’t protest when he pushes my shirt up to gather at my shoulders so he has full access to my chest. “She needs her rest tonight,” I say, gasping slightly when he closes his teeth on my nipple. “Oh…” My eyes flutter shut as I ghost my fingers over the back of his neck. “We can’t wake her up.”
“Then don’t scream,” he murmurs, lips moving against the swell of my breast as he laughs. “We won’t.”
I hold onto Jackson’s hips as they buck against me and throw my head back when I feel him coming - it’s usually what pushes me over the edge, too. While my orgasm ripples slowly through me, he covers my mouth with his own and kisses me with such passion that I almost forget who I am for a minute.
When it’s over and he’s lying heavy on top of me, I run my fingernails soothingly down his back.
“I didn’t scream,” I whisper.
“Because I went easy on you,” he murmurs sleepily, grinning as he rolls off.
I turn towards him as he faces me and place a flat hand on his warm chest. “Shush,” I say, and he pulls me close to his body.
My eyelids are heavy with his arms around me, and I feel lips on my hairline before he says, “You tired now?”
I can’t even answer before I fall straight to sleep.
In the morning, we’re woken up by a little body pouncing on the end of our bed.
“It’s the first day of school, it’s the first day of school! Wake up, wake up!”
I blink my eyes open and see Harriet on her knees, bouncing up and down in her pajamas with a wild case of bedhead. I’m still halfway asleep, but I’m coherent enough to pull the sheet up to cover my very naked chest.
“Mama, are you nudey?” Harriet asks.
I glance at Jackson, who’s rubbing his eyes as he wakes up. “Um…” I say, stammering awkwardly as I look around desperately for a piece of clothing to put on.
Somehow, Jackson finds his boxers on the floor in record time and shimmies them on under the covers so he can get up. “Morning, Hats!” he says enthusiastically. “I see a brand-new kindergartener. It’s very nice to meet you.”
He sticks out his hand for her to shake, and she does while giggling that infectious giggle.
“Nice to meet you, daddy!” she says, and flies into his arms. From his hip, she waves her arm at me. “Come on, mommy!”
I sit up with the sheet still pulled to my chest. “Give Mommy a second,” I say. “I’ll be right there to help with breakfast.”
Jackson and Harriet leave the room and I find some pajama shorts and one of Jackson’s college tee shirts to throw on. When I get into the kitchen, he’s already making pancakes.
“Think he’s gonna burn them?” I ask Harriet, coming up behind her and kissing her cheek.
“Don’t burn them, daddy!” she says, palms flat on the countertop.
“Geez, way to gang up on me,” he says, flipping one over to expose a perfectly golden side. “See? Look. Have a little faith, women.”
I laugh and sidle up to the oven, wrapping an arm around Jackson’s waist to squeeze him. “They look great,” I say.
“So do you,” he mutters, eyeing me. “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing you in my shirts.”
I lean comfortably against him and clean up as he makes a mess, and we all eat breakfast together at the counter.
“What are you most excited for today, Hats?” I ask, taking a sip of orange juice.
She screws up her lips and taps her chin. “Recess!” she finally answers.
“You’re silly,” I say, and reach forward to dab her syrupy mouth with a wet paper towel.
“And I’m gonna tell them what I want to be when I grow up!” she says excitedly, bouncing up and down on her knees, her blue plastic fork clutched in her fist.
“And what’s that?” Jackson asks.
She looks at him like he should already know. “A doctor and a sturgeon and a mommy,” she says, matter-of-factly.
“Sturgeon?” Jackson teases her, eyes lit up. “What’s a sturgeon do?”
“ Daddy ,” she says, leaning forward. “A sturgeon is you. And Mommy. You fix people and stitch up skin and cut bodies.”
“Oh,” he says, drawing out the word. “Right, right. A sturgeon.”
I hop in the shower while Jackson helps Harriet pack her bag, and get ready quickly once I’m out. My hair is dried and I have on a pair of dark jeans and a burgundy top by the time I go into Harriet’s room to help her get dressed, but I find Jackson in there already.
He’s dressed - I have no idea when he had enough time to do that, but he is - and he’s helping her arms into the suspenders of the dress I told him about.
“Jackson, you-” I say, but cut myself off.
He gives me a warm look. “We’re compromising,” he says, and gestures towards our daughter’s feet. On them are her brand new pair of Air Jordans. “Now, the outfit is a combo of the both of us,” he says.
“I love it,” I say, smiling.
“Perfect timing, mama,” Jackson says. “This one needs her hair done. Bad.”
I raise my eyebrows at the fuzzy mess atop her head, and sit down on the bed and pat my lap so she’ll come over. “What do you want today, Hats?” I ask.
“Braids?” I ask.
She gasps happily. “And beads,” she says.
“No time for braids and beads,” Jackson says. “Sorry to be the downer. But we gotta leave here in a few.”
Harriet’s shoulders slump and I rack my brain. “How about curly pigtails with fun hair ties?” I ask.
She agrees and my hands work their magic on her hair that I’ve gotten so good at. By the time I’m done, the top of her head is smooth and shiny and her pigtails are bouncy and voluminous. She looks perfect, though I may be a bit biased.
“Okay, potty time, then let’s get outta here!” Jackson says enthusiastically.
When Harriet is in the bathroom, I slip my shoes on and let out a long, heavy sigh.
“No crying at drop-off,” Jackson says playfully, coming up behind me to get on his shoes, too.
I look over at him, eyes already glassy. “I won’t,” I say, blinking up at the ceiling. “I’ll be fine.”
“We’ve met her teachers, we know the school, and babe, she’s your kid. That means she’s gonna make friends.”
I smile softly at him and wind my arm around his waist, pulling him close for a side-hug. I tip my face up to look at him and say, “I love you.” And he kisses me.
“I love you, too,” he says, and plants another kiss on my forehead.
Harriet comes out of the bathroom and reaches for her backpack, which she proudly puts on after Jackson hands it to her.
“Let’s go to school!” I say, clapping my hands together.
When we get to the drop-off, there’s a swarm of other parents already there, pulled up to the curb.
“We’re walking her in, right?” I ask, nervously looking out the window.
Jackson throws the car in park. “Of course we are,” he says, unbuckling. “It’s her first day. Ready, Hats?”
We walk into the school with Harriet between us; I have one of her hands and Jackson has the other. “We’re looking for room 108,” I say, glancing at the doors as we pass them.
When we come across it, my stomach twists with nerves. Harriet doesn’t seem nervous, though, so I don’t want any of my nerves to rub onto her. I hide it well.
“This is your room, honey,” Jackson says, and his voice sounds a little different.
She looks up at both of us. “Will you come in with me?” she asks.
Of course, we oblige. Her teacher shows us where her seat is, and we help hang her backpack on the hook. Suddenly, Harriet is tentative as she realizes that we’re going to leave her and not be in the same building for the whole day, but she doesn’t cry and fuss like some of the other kids. She knows how to put on a brave face, just like her parents.
I kneel down and give her a big hug and a kiss, holding on for an extra long time. “I love you,” I whisper. “Don’t forget to tell your class about being a sturgeon.”
“Can I tell them you’re a sturgeon?” she peeps.
I hold her chin in one hand. “Of course you can,” I say.
Jackson kneels down to hug Harriet next, burying his face in her neck as he squeezes her.
“Daddy!” she squelches. “Can’t - breathe!”
They both laugh as he lets her go and gives her a lasting kiss on the forehead. “Have a great day, boo,” he says. “Make us proud.”
She nods seriously, then sits down at her table. “Bye mommy, bye daddy,” she says, as her teacher takes her place at the front of the room.
We take that as our cue to leave, and start to head out. We don’t say anything as we pass through the hallway, but Jackson stops walking and turns his back towards me once we make it out the front door.
“Honey, you okay?” I ask, touching his shoulder.
I hear him take in a deep inhale, and when he turns around, his eyes are glassy. He gives me a sad smile, and I extend my arms for him to fall into, and he does.
“Aw,” I say, rubbing his back. I feel his shoulders trembling as he cries softly, and I keep a tight hold on him. “It’s okay. She’ll have a good day. It’s okay.”
He sniffles again. “I know,” he says. “It’s just… that’s our baby. That’s our little girl.”
“I know,” I say, smiling to myself. “I know.”
He lets out a long sigh, but doesn’t make a move to break away from me. I let him linger for a few more moments, then pull apart and hold his face in my hands so I can look at him. I swipe my thumbs over his cheekbones and he offers me a bashful smile, directing his eyes up so no more tears will fall.
“Hey,” I say, and he looks back down at me. I move my grip from his face and hold one of his hands with both of mine. “She’s still our baby. She’ll always be our baby.”