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if inconvenient, come all the same

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forty-one weeks / april 14, 1966

 

In the bright hospital waiting room, Lane paces back and forth in front of a lumpy sofa, his movements jerky and agitated. When he clears his throat to speak, his voice is rough from disuse.

“What time is it?”

“Ten after twelve,” Gail sighs, glancing up at the industrial-sized clock mounted on the far wall.  She’s sitting on an empty row of chairs directly across from him, putting powder on her bare face, as if she’s beginning to prepare for an evening on the town. “You’re gonna wear yourself out.”

Lane does not stop pacing, nor does he respond to her comment, just figures the correct time in his head and curses as he realizes. It’s been over five hours. Rationally, he knows delivery is an arduous process. All the books say a normal labor should take between twenty and forty hours, but all he can remember about it is the blood, and the way Becca had screamed. He still swears he could hear it all the way down the hall from maternity; he’s never forgotten how horrible that sound was. The birth nearly killed her. It nearly killed Nigel.

God, what if something goes wrong? He won’t be able to bear it.

He’s about to ask for the time again when he realizes he’s got his watch in his pocket, and scrambles to retrieve it. The hands say twelve sixteen. Must be slow. Would the hospital clock be correct in this case? What if it’s fast? Did he check the time when they left the house? Joan was sick this morning—she wouldn’t hear of him staying home—but after he’d come back from the office, she’d been standing near the front door. Her packed bag sat at the foot of the coat rack, and her face was taut with pain.

Time to go.

“Where the hell has that nurse got to?” he mumbles to himself. She promised to update them. She promised to speak to them as soon as possible, and she’s nowhere in sight, and he just wants to know what’s happening.

“Lane, for god’s sake,” Gail huffs, snapping her compact closed and replacing it in her purse. “You won’t do Joanie any favors if you make yourself sick, so sit down already.”

Noting her aggravated tone, he does take a seat—grudgingly—but wants to jump up almost as soon as he’s settled. He doesn’t. He shifts against the hard wooden chair and starts tapping one foot against the ground, trying to remember anything from that bloody textbook that doesn’t scare him to pieces.

God, he hopes she’s all right. Please, please be all right.

**

Joan’s braced against the hospital bed as the last wave of her contraction passes, with her eyes squeezed closed. One hand’s pressed against the metal railing and the other’s gripping the thin sheet covering her mattress. She’s covered in sweat. The pain is unbelievable. She feels like she’s going to be sick again, and every minute of this goddamn process is more awful than the last. Why the hell didn’t they put her into twilight sleep? What is wrong with them?

“Joanie,” comes a loud voice from the doorway, “how’re we doing? Heard you were moving right along.”

Dr. Emerson is smiling, and she hates it.

He puts on a pair of latex gloves and sits down to examine her, and as soon as she gets her legs in the stirrups, and he leans in, his voice turns surprised. “Jeez. This baby catching the next flight out, or what?”

“Shut up,” she growls, pressing a hand to the top of her stomach as she feels the sudden tightening of pelvic muscles. God. Not another one. “Oh—”

“Karen, let’s get her started on oxide. She’s ready to transfer,” the doctor says, just before the pain increases—suddenly so sharp and overwhelming that Joan feels like she’s going to pass out—

The next thing she knows, she’s taking deep breaths from a rubber mask someone’s helping her hold to her face, and feeling herself become distant from the pain—oh, thank god, it’s not so bad when it’s like this. And the voices get quieter, but they’re still there—everyone’s still there—wait, is she—in a different room?

“All right, Joanie, we’re gonna start pushing, okay? When you feel pain, you just breathe into that mask. It’s in your hand.”

“Okay,” says Joan, trying to tell Walter that she can do it. She’ll be brave. Her mouth feels funny. She can’t really find the right words.

**

Lane’s pacing again.

He’s been walking up and down this same stretch of blue tile for who knows how long now. Four squares up, four squares back. He can name almost every scuff on the floor—there’s that black mark from his own shoe, an hour ago. There’s the scratch nearly a foot long—god, what time is it?

“Mr. Harris?”

He’s so absorbed in keeping himself busy that he doesn’t even notice the nurse is talking to him. It takes Gail’s hand on his arm to finally get his attention.

“Is it—” he begins as he notices the young woman standing a couple of feet away in her clean uniform.  A piece of her dark hair is coming unpinned from under her cap. He has to take a sudden breath. “Is she—”

The nurse smiles from ear to ear. “You have a healthy baby girl.”

Lane’s mouth falls open, and he feels tears sting his eyes. Suddenly, he’s rushing forward with a whoop. He grabs Gail around the waist in a bear hug, and lifts her into the air.

“What are you, nuts?” Gail yelps, but when he quickly puts her down and steps away, shocked at the impulse, there’s amusement on her face.

“And they’re all right?” he blurts next, pressing a trembling hand to his mouth and turning back to the nurse. “They’re both—”

“Your wife is resting comfortably,” says the nurse, directing a wink at Joan’s mother. “And the baby’s fine. You can see her in the nursery in a little while.”

“Oh, my god,” Lane breathes, as the nurse departs with another congratulations. He sinks into the nearest chair; suddenly feeling like his legs won’t hold him up. “Gail, it’s a girl. We’ve got a girl.”

His voice cracks over the words. Joan said it was a girl all along. She figured it out from the beginning. How did she know?

“Yeah, I heard,” Gail says, with a snort of laughter.

They sit in silence for a moment before she speaks again.

“Someone’s trying to get your attention.”

When he glances up, confused, she’s gesturing toward the doorway, where a uniformed young woman with blonde hair and a round face is motioning him forward.

“Psst!” this person whispers, and he quickly looks round to make sure she’s actually talking to him, and not someone behind him.

“Mr. Pryce,” she whispers next, waving at him again. How on earth does she know his name? Gail pushes at his shoulder to get him to move, so he jumps to his feet, practically darting across the room to see what she wants.

“I’m a friend of Joan’s,” the nurse says when he gets to her, still whispering. “You want to see her?”

Immediately, he nods his head yes. She smiles at his eagerness.

“Come on.”

They walk down two long corridors, and past the nurses’ desk, where a group of ladies are poring over stacks of charts—catching up on paperwork, he supposes. The girl in front of him doesn’t say anything until they’ve passed this station and are through the first set of double-doors.

“You won’t have long,” she tells him first, as they pass another nurse going in the opposite direction. She’s a tired-looking old woman with salt and pepper hair, pushing a large medicine cart. “We’re not supposed to let the fathers in until the doctor’s finished his antenatal exam.”

“But—” Lane prompts, and the woman snorts out a laugh.

But, Dr. Emerson is currently finishing up a caesarean for Dr. Thomas. You’ll probably have five or ten minutes before anyone else comes to check in.”

“Okay,” Lane replies.

“Now, she might be asleep,” the nurse warns, as they turn another corner, and she leads him through a second set of double doors: this one with a hospital personnel only sign posted below the small round window. “I gave her a little extra painkillers after it was all over; she was very relaxed. Oh—here we are.”

She’s gesturing to their immediate left, at an open doorway labeled 04. Peeking inside, he notices there’s an empty space in the forefront of the room where a bed ought to be. He supposes someone else has been taken back to maternity. But, through the curtain he can see the silhouette of a woman lying in the other bed.

His heart beats a little faster, and he turns to the nurse again, as if to make sure it’s really all right to go in.

“Think you can you find your way back?” she asks, noticing his hesitation.

He nods, and she takes a step backwards. “Well, go on.”

“Wait,” he blurts, trying to tell her how grateful he is. “I—thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” the nurse says with another smile, and just like that, she’s walking away. He quickly steps into Joan’s room to avoid being seen in the hallway, but once he’s inside, he feels butterflies in his stomach. He doesn’t know why he’s so nervous. The baby’s not here; it’s just his Joan. He knows that. He does. He just can’t believe this is really happening, after all this time.

Lane’s feet seem to be moving of their own accord, because suddenly he’s standing next to the long narrow bed, and there in front of him is Joan, out like a light with her mouth open and her face turned to the right. She looks as if she’s run a hundred miles: face shiny with sweat, and her hair loose from its usual updo. Thick locks of hair are plastered to her temples and neck, while the rest of her curls have gone frizzy in the back. Her thin gown is damp, and sticking to her skin in several places, and a thin sheet is tangled round her middle, with her bare legs and feet peeking out the other end. There are dark circles under her eyes. Her entire face is flushed. She’s even snoring—which he knows would embarrass her.

God, she’s never looked more beautiful.

“You did it, darling,” he whispers, feeling his throat tighten as he speaks. He moves to run a hand through her hair in the usual way, but startles and begins to laugh when his fingertips come away wet. Of course her hair’s soaked. She’s just delivered a child, for Christ’s sake. He’s such an idiot. He can’t even think straight.

His fingertips trace across her cheek.

“Whoa,” says a voice, and Lane jerks his head up to see Dr. Emerson standing just inside the curtain separating the two sides of the room, a clipboard in his hand, and a stunned look on his face. “You’re not supposed to be in here.”

“I—” Lane sputters, flushing red as he tries to come up with some kind of explanation, but the doctor just pulls the curtain closed behind him, and waves a hand toward the window, as if he’s already resigned himself to Lane’s presence.

“Stand over there. I need to examine her.”

He complies immediately, and turns to glance out the darkened window as Dr. Emerson begins the more intimate portion of his assessment.

“She’s really all right?” Lane can’t help asking. There’s a tree in the courtyard whose branches are waving in the wind, so large and wild they’re threatening to scratch the glass of the window. “There’s no—complications?”

“So far, everything looks good. Came through like a champ.” The doctor chuckles in a good-natured way. “She mentioned you’d be worried.”

Lane lets out a rueful laugh. He wasn’t the expectant one, for god’s sake. “She—needn’t have thought about that.”

“Yeah,” the doctor says in an absentminded way, as if he wasn’t quite listening to Lane’s response. A couple of minutes pass, in which Lane tries to keep still, and not to ask too many questions. Let the man do his job.

“I guess Karen brought you in here?”

“Erm.” Lane realizes he forgot to ask the young nurse’s name, still watching the tree branches as they sway in the wind. “I—don’t know, actually.”

“Well, those two go way back. Karen was surgical. Worked with Greg.” There’s a short silence as the doctor peels off his latex gloves, deposits them in what sounds like the nearest bin, then washes his hands. When the water shuts off, there’s a short silence as he writes something in Joan’s chart.

“You can turn around now.”

Lane moves back toward the bed to see the man now taking Joan’s pulse, holding her limp wrist between his fingers. She’s so tired she doesn’t even twitch.

Dr. Emerson gently places Joan’s arm back onto the bed, then writes another note on his clipboard.

“Out of curiosity: you’re B positive, right? Your blood type?”

“Oh,” says Lane, frowning as he tries to recall. That ought to be right. “Well, yes, I—how did you—?”

“Call it a hunch,” answers the doctor, in a voice that’s a bit too innocent. “Baby’s AB positive, so it means she’s a universal recipient, if she ever needs a transfusion.”

Lane’s not sure why they’re having this conversation until the doctor continues.

“Joanie’s A positive.” He pauses. “Greg was type O.”

In a kind of tone that suggests he suspects what Lane already knows to be true: that the late Dr. Harris had nothing to do with Joan’s condition.

“Ah,” Lane begins, deciding it’s better if he comes clean, circumstances considered. “Well, do you—need to jab me, or something? If it’s for the baby—”

“No, no, nothing like that,” the doctor interrupts, closing the chart, and hanging it over the foot of Joan’s bed. “She’s all right. Like I said, just a hunch.”

He pauses, and then extends a hand for Lane to shake. “Congratulations.”

Lane takes it, feeling a bit overwhelmed again. “You’ve—I can’t thank you enough for looking after her. Both of them.”

“Nonsense. Joanie’s a friend,” Dr. Emerson replies, as he releases Lane’s hand. “Go up and see that daughter of yours. Nurse is coming by to transfer Mom back, any minute.”

Lane feels his heart speed up at the word. Daughter. His daughter.

“Can you—tell me where?” he asks, wincing as his voice cracks.

The doctor laughs out loud, but has to lower his voice when they see Joan stir a little in her bed. “Here, I’ll point you in the right direction.”

**

“She’s perfect.”

Lane swipes at his eyes with the sleeve of his jacket for the millionth time, watching through the nursery window as the little one snuffles around in her plastic bassinet. She’s so small: barely over six pounds, like a large doll. The knitted cap they’ve given her to wear looks like a Christmas ornament instead of a piece of clothing. Her scrunched-up face is all pink, but even still, he can tell she’s got his nose. He’s sorry, darling. And Gail said she even had a bit of hair—how on earth could she have hair at this age? Who could she have gotten that from?

“She’s got Daddy wrapped around her little finger,” says Gail from his right, folding her arms across her chest with a smirk.

It takes Lane half a minute to realize this is meant as a bit of an insult, but at that point, he’s captivated by the way the little one’s yawning. Oh, you dear little thing. Your mummy’s going to be so excited to meet you. We’re going to take you home and have all kinds of adventures. Yes, we are, darling. Just you wait.

“You know you’re talking out loud again.”

Lane pretends not to have heard her, his voice still gruff. “Never mind your grandmother. She’s excited, too.”

“We talked about that word,” Gail replies, her voice turning sterner, and he has to stifle a smile. Joan thought it was the silliest thing imaginable. She’s afraid it’s going to make her sound old. Like having a daughter in her thirties doesn’t make her of a certain age.

One of the baby’s arms suddenly comes loose from her blanket swaddle, a single fist emerging up by her face, and Lane makes a kind of sighing noise as he notices. Her hands are even tinier than he’d thought.

“Oh, dear, it’s difficult to be so small, isn’t it?”

To his right, Gail lets out a breath. She’s either pleased, or she’s tired of listening to him talk to the glass. For once in his life, he does not care a single whit.

“Did you at least pick out a name?” she asks, gesturing toward the index card slipped into the front of the baby’s bassinet. It reads Baby Girl Harris in spidery handwriting.

“Have to ask Joan,” he answers. They’d narrowed it down to two choices, and he knows the name he’d favored in the end, but he isn’t sure if Joan settled on one before delivering. She’s got the final say in that matter—and rightfully so, he thinks.

In her little bed, the baby begins to fuss, and he quickly looks round the room to see if any of the attendant nurses have noticed.

**

“Hi,” Joan whispers to the bundle in her arms, balancing the baby’s head in the crook of her left elbow, and watching as her eyelids flutter open in an unfocused way. Judging by the light outside the window, it’s seven or eight o’clock in the morning. The nurses brought the baby in a few minutes ago, and Joan’s already so in love that she can’t stop looking at her daughter’s face.

From the brief glimpses, it seems as if her eyes are a brighter blue, like Lane’s, but what’s really fascinating is how long those little eyelashes are. She’s even got a few tiny freckles on her nose, and the softest tuft of fine hair under her cap.

There’s a rustling by the curtain. Joan glances up expecting to see another nurse, and sees Lane instead. She starts tearing up again at the overjoyed look on his face: it’s like a kid on Christmas morning.

“Thought they—took her for tests,” he manages to say. “We went to eat something.”

Joan quickly swipes at her eyes with her free hand, transferring the baby to her right arm so he can get a better look at her. “Come here.”

Lane sits down on the edge of the bed, his movements slow, as if he’s afraid to jostle them.

“She’s so little.” He meets Joan’s eyes, putting a careful hand on top of the baby’s chest. It’s enormous by comparison; his palm almost stretches the length of her body. “I forgot how small they are.”

Joan can see his hand trembling as he talks, and leans in to kiss him, briefly. She casts a puzzled look at him as she pulls away.

“Did you drink coffee?”

He lets out a kind of laugh, scrubbing a hand across the rasp of stubble at his jaw. “Your mother got me a cup. I don’t know why I had any. I’m all—jittery.”

“I can tell,” Joan says dryly, and something about the playful look they exchange sets her off.  Suddenly, Joan’s trying to swallow her giggle in an attempt not to wake the baby, and Lane’s snort-laughing, with one hand on her shoulder and the other pressed against the baby’s left side. God, it’s beyond painful to laugh like this, but she can’t stop.

“Ow,” she whines over and over, as the baby starts to fuss at the continued disturbance. “No, don’t make me laugh, it really hurts—”

“Oh—I’m sorry—oh, no, pet, we didn’t mean to wake you,” Lane whispers, trying to calm himself as the baby now begins to cry in earnest. The noise is pitiful, like the mewl of a kitten.

Joan’s so exhausted; she feels just as helpless as he looks. What the hell do they do now? She doesn’t even have a bottle or a diaper within arm’s reach, and the baby’s still crying, and she’s never been more shell-shocked in her entire life.

Jesus. They’re parents. And they don’t know anything.

Thinking about this just sets her off again.

**

four days later

Joan’s standing at the dresser in her robe and a fresh set of pajamas, fishing a new baby outfit out of her open suitcase, when a knock at the door makes her turn.

“My goodness,” she says upon spotting Peggy Olson in the doorway. She’s so surprised to have a visitor besides Lane and her mother that she can feel tears prickle in the corner of her eyes.

Peggy walks into the room, casting an anxious glance around, as if she’s just as surprised to be here. “I’m not interrupting, am I?”

“No,” Joan says, quickly swallowing the lump in her throat. “It’s just—unexpected.”

“Kenny promised Lane he and Cynthia would stop by,” Peggy says, by way of explanation, “but he’s been out with a cosmetics lead all week.” She wrinkles her nose, as if she’s embarrassed. “I probably should have called.”

“It’s fine,” Joan says, waving a dismissive hand. “You can sit.”

After another hesitation, Peggy does, putting her pocketbook behind her and sinking into the soup-green chair in the corner.

“Don’t mind me,” Joan says in a voice that isn’t as bright as she’d like, trying to dab at the corner of her eyes without being caught. Is she ever going to stop crying? “I’ve been like this since I got pregnant.”

“I understand,” Peggy replies dryly, but the comment actually makes Joan feel better, for once.

“The day after I delivered, one of the nurses offered to let me take a real shower. I was so grateful I cried for twenty minutes.”

“My sister went through four boxes of tissues in the hospital,” Peggy offers. “The second time.”

Joan still can’t take a step in either direction without feeling like she’s been ripped in half, and winces at the thought of second time. “If I never do this again, it’ll be too soon.”

“Well. Strict Catholics,” says Peggy, with a tight shrug.

She seems uncomfortable. Her gaze keeps darting around the room, and eventually lands on the flowers placed on the rolling table in front of the window. It’s an enormous bouquet of red and pink roses in a green glass vase.

Lane keeps showing up with little presents for her every day. On the first day, he brought jewelry and flowers, but ever since then it’s been cute little trinkets he keeps getting from the nearest five and dime. At the rate he’s going, he’ll bankrupt them before she can go home.

“The flowers are beautiful,” Peggy says, her smile turning more genuine. “Lane has good taste.”

Joan smiles too. He’d splurged, and the accompanying card was very sentimental. It had made her cry.

“He’s over the moon.”

She knew he was going to be proud, but honestly, some part of her was still afraid that he’d feel left out or anxious once the baby actually arrived. One look at his face—or at the way he dotes on both of them—and she’s not as worried, anymore. He holds the baby and talks to her and made a point to learn how to feed and change her, in case Joan can’t. It’s amazing.

“Once he starts losing sleep, that may change,” is all she says, dryly.

Joan’s waiting for Peggy to ask questions about the baby – what she looks like, how she acts, if she’s healthy – but for whatever reason, Peggy doesn’t touch on that subject at all.

“Oh, so something’s going on with Harry and Scarlett,” she says instead, with a little shrug. “I caught them arguing in the kitchen the other morning.”

Joan raises an eyebrow, more than happy to discuss office gossip. Lane is a dear man, and she loves him, but he can’t keep an ear to the ground to save his life.

They talk for several minutes until they’re interrupted by the arrival of the morning nurse for this ward, Carol Anne, a stout brunette woman who gently pushes the baby’s rolling bassinet into the room.

“Hello, mom. We’re back.”

Joan slants a sly look at Peggy, as if to say can you believe she means me, and then turns back to the nurse.

“How is she?”

“Just fine,” says Carol Anne. “She ate three ounces at eleven.”

“Good,” says Joan, moving across the room to pick up the baby from her bassinet. Her voice gets a little higher as she talks to her daughter.

“Hi, baby. Are you having a good morning?”

The nurse grins, and steps out after a few seconds of lingering in the doorway. Peggy just looks stunned, as if she hadn’t expected Joan to indulge in something as silly as baby talk. Joan doesn’t pay much attention; she just turns toward her friend, unable to resist the urge to show off the baby.

“You can hold her, if you’d like.”

Peggy’s mouth opens and closes, but before she can spit out a reply, Joan’s already walking forward.

“Wait,” says Peggy, as Joan leans down, supporting the baby’s head with one forearm as she prepares to pass her off. “I—my hands are—”

The younger woman’s got the baby clasped in her arms before she can finish the sentence. It seems like she was just afraid of being unsteady, but she’s better at it than Joan would have imagined.

“You’re not going to drop her,” Joan says in an attempt to be encouraging, noticing the way Peggy’s shoulders have tensed, as if she’s scared to move. She’s staring down at the baby with a strange expression, though, as if trying to memorize every feature of her little face.

Almost a minute passes before Peggy finally speaks, her voice very small.

“I didn’t go to a fat farm.”

Joan blinks, not understanding. It takes at least ten more seconds of awkward silence for her brain to start making the connection. She cuts through the cobwebs, thinks back to 1960 and a quiet, heavy secretary in enormous shirtwaists, who took a month of sick leave following her big promotion, and came back skinny as a rail.

Oh, my god.

Peggy’s free hand curls around the side of the baby’s upper body, tracing over the faded pink and green stripes at the edge of the blanket swaddle. From this angle, she doesn’t look like she’s crying, but there’s a certain sparkle to her eyes that Joan knows can’t be attributed to the bright light of the window.

“I didn’t know what was happening,” Peggy continues, talking more to the baby than to Joan. “Until it was time. I don’t know why—I just—thought I was tired.”

“But,” Joan begins, in a horrified whisper. “I sent you to Walter.”

She made sure all her girls knew what to do, so that didn’t happen. And even if precautions failed—how do you not know? How do you explain your symptoms?

Peggy’s cheeks flush slightly as she answers, as if she’s embarrassed. “I thought the pills worked more quickly than they actually did.” She huffs out a sigh, finally meeting Joan’s eyes. “Isn’t that stupid?”

You could have asked me if you didn’t know, Joan wants to insist. If you were in trouble, I would have helped.

“No, it’s not,” she says instead, examining the cautious way Peggy holds the baby, as if she’s never done this with a newborn. She wonders if Don knew about this, or if (god forbid) he was the father.

There’s another long silence. Joan thinks about the stress of the past nine months, gaining all the extra weight and being sick and sore and frustrated, and imagines doing it alone, as she’d once planned. Imagines young ponytailed Peggy going home to some horrible walk-up in Bay Ridge, making excuses to everyone about the extra weight—and probably being terrified and alone during delivery.

Jesus. Nineteen sixty was six years ago. That child would be in school by now.

“She really is beautiful, Joan,” Peggy says now, glancing down at the baby again. With that, the subject seems to be closed.

Joan swallows the lump in her throat, and tries to smile, putting a hand to her friend’s shoulder.

“Thank you.”

**

“Hi, sweetie,” Cynthia Cosgrove coos to the bundle in her arms, a natural mother if Joan’s ever seen one. “It’s so nice to see you!”

Sitting next to his wife, and watching her gently rock the baby from side to side, Ken is grinning from ear to ear. He’s eager for a family; Joan can tell.

Joan’s perched on the edge of her hospital bed, dressed in slacks and a sweater with a scarf tied around her hair, and a little makeup on, too. Lane is standing in front of the rolling table by the window, turned slightly away from the group, and wearing his regular work clothes. He says he’s tidying up the area from lunch. Joan’s sure there’s going to be another present hidden in her suitcase before visiting hours are up.

“What’s her name?” Ken asks.

“Madeline,” Joan says. “Like the actress, not the cookie.”

“That’s beautiful,” Cynthia says to the baby, then looks up, and casts a curious look at Lane, who’s walking back toward the middle of the room.

“Is it a family name? It sounds very English.”

Lane comes to stand just beside the foot of the hospital bed, glancing briefly at Joan. “No. Middle name is the family one, actually.”

“Sara,” Joan supplies. Her fingers move to the gold chain around her neck, where two heirloom wedding rings dangle above the hollow of her breasts. Lane didn’t know the baby was also going to have his mother’s name until he saw the birth certificate. He got choked up when he saw it in print.

“Lane did pick the spelling of her first name, though,” she says, and they all exchange a smile. “He was very involved.”

“I’m sure he was,” Ken quips, which makes Joan laugh. She’s not sure what Lane’s told Ken, if anything, but the other man’s certainly not stupid.

“So how long have you two been serious?” Cynthia asks, passing the baby to her husband and then stretching her arms out, as if they’re cramping. “If I’m being nosy, you can tell me to buzz off. It’s just that Kenny never said.”

“Erm,” begins Lane.

“Well,” Joan says, with a careful glance at him. “I suppose you could say…”

“September,” Lane interrupts, frowning when he notices she looks confused.

Joan lets out a huff of breath, smiling despite herself. “Really?”

All she can think of is Thanksgiving, and the holiday weekend they’d spent in the Pierre: how giddy and hormonal and ridiculous they’d both been. They were all over each other, and ate Chinese food out of cartons on Thanksgiving Day, and tried to spy parade balloons from the hotel window, which failed miserably.

“Wait—don’t move.”

She’s sitting astride Lane in bed, naked except for her open pajama top, but pressing one hand to her back with a wince. She’d wanted to have a little fun before lunch. It’s not going very well today.

His voice shakes. “Have I—hurt you?”

Joan lets out an embarrassed sigh. “No, the way the baby’s sitting—it’s pinching a nerve or something.” She waves a hand at her stomach in frustration. “Damn it.”

Disentangling herself from him is awkward. She's able to sit up on her knees, but when she tries to stop straddling his hips, and moves one leg as if starting to get out of a saddle, she can't find her center of gravity. She ends up pitching backward onto the mattress with a squeal.

Lane's already reaching for her. He looks horrified. “Are you all right?”

She covers her face so he can't see her embarrassed expression. “God. I'm a beached whale.”

After a second, his laugh sounds low and rich in her ear. He kisses her neck.

“But—you’re a very adorable one.”

Joan uncovers her eyes. “Lane. You're supposed to tell me I'm not a whale.”

He stares back at her as if she's speaking gibberish.

“You're lovely.”

When she doesn't say anything in response, he sits up with a careful motion and leans over her, dropping another kiss onto her rounded stomach. His hands gently palm the jagged patterns of stretch marks on her hips.

"I've put on twenty pounds,” she says with a displeased scrunch of her nose, glancing away and trying not to think about the fact that she's only going gain more weight before this is all over.

His hand cups her cheek, causing her to meet his eyes again.

“You’ll always be lovely to me.”

He rubs his thumb against her cheek a little as he says it, and then moves down her body to touch her stomach again, humming out a contented noise as he tries to locate the baby.

Her throat’s so tight she thinks she might cry if she tries to speak.

“I could see October, too,” she offers. “It was very eventful.”

“Well, I always thought—earlier,” Lane says gruffly.

“What was in September?” Cynthia asks, pulling an interested face.

“Oh.” Lane’s blushing now. “Well, I—drove Joan to a doctor’s appointment, that’s all.”

Which is probably the most diplomatic way of describing that situation. We almost didn’t have any of this. She gives him a small smile.

“It was a specialist doctor,” Joan adds, because otherwise it sounds as if they just ran an errand four blocks over. “His practice had moved upstate, so it was probably a six hour trip.”

She can’t get over the fact that Lane said September. Jesus. They were still fighting every other day, at that point.

“Was it the drive back?” she asks, because that’s the only part of the evening that wasn’t horrible. Putting her head on his shoulder on the way home and trying to sleep in the quiet car.

A secretive smile creeps to Lane’s face.

“Sometimes you just feel it,” Cynthia interjects, with a sly look at Ken. “I knew Kenny was the one from our first date.”

“Hey,” he protests, and then lowers his voice so he doesn’t disturb the sleeping baby in his arms. “I asked you out, remember?”

His wife starts to laugh, and as if to disagree, the baby starts to fuss.

Joan leaves her seat and reaches out to Ken to take her, automatically. “Here. I’ll give you a break.”

“Lane, I didn’t know you had your license,” Ken comments, once Joan’s returned to her seat. “You drive much?”

There’s an awkward pause. Lane’s blushing again, and Joan doesn’t understand why he’s so embarrassed until he speaks.

“Well…”

“You’re kidding,” Joan says, her mouth falling open. “You drove me all the way up there without a license?”

“Well,” he sputters, lifting his hands in the air in a shrug, “you see, it was—I had applied for one, weeks before, but the paperwork had yet to go through state channels—and then you needed to—”

“I can’t believe you,” she huffs, pretending to be annoyed. Meanwhile, the Cosgroves are laughing like idiots. “You got mad when I under-declared our income on our tax returns!”

“No, that’s—very different!” Lane protests, with a laugh, but she swats at his arm with her free hand, rolling her eyes. “Needs must! I stand by it.”

“Madeline, your father is very lucky that I like him,” she tells the baby in an airy voice, “and that he drives like an eighty-year old woman.”

“Oh, now,” Lane says with a scoff. “Honestly!”

“Go sit over there,” she teases, failing to keep a straight face as she indicates the chair next to her bed. He makes a grumbling noise, but obliges, briefly touching her knee on his way past.