The thought comes to you on a particularly stressful Saturday morning. Ironically, it’s a Saturday with all the makings of a peaceful one. Booker’s off at a friend’s house with Levi and Nia’s working on some pet project with Tess. The snow sticking to the windows and the cold draft that seems to have claimed squatter’s rights in your home (you plugged every and any hole in the walls – you swear it) remind you it’s December. It’s easy to forget when you’re so damn busy all the time
The stressful part of the morning happened the moment you woke up. You felt that familiar zip through your spine, that wash of your field of view, swirls of color swimming before your eyes. You were sent somewhere outside of now and then you stayed there for ten seconds, and suddenly you were back in the present again. Processing it definitely wasn’t going to happen right then, so you pushed it down, down, down and now you’re here, trying to focus on the flecks of snow falling against the glass and melting on contact.
You’re wrapped up in the thickest, most burgundy sweater that you can find in your closet, although you regret not wearing a bra underneath it. Mom knit it for you a few Christmases ago, using a sandpaper equivalent wool that was prime for chaffing your skin, back when she was still -
You sit up. December is a happy time. A full-time single mother doesn’t have the energy to ruminate on silly things like sore nipples and mortality.
“Chels?” You call out. “You done yet?”
Chelsea calls out from the kitchen, the clattering of silverware and ceramic drowning her out. Eventually, she clambers out of the kitchen holding two cups of hot chocolate and a half-eaten bag of marshmallows hanging from her teeth.
“Careful – it’s hot.” She says when you reach out to grab for yours.
“I’m aware that hot chocolate is hot.” You scoff. “You know I’ve still got my mind, right?”
“And your sass, apparently.” Chelsea says. “No marshmallows for you!”
She passes the bag over anyways and the both of you plop a marshmallow into the center of your drinks. Chelsea flips through the channels looking for an animal documentary she’s been eyeing in the programs while you let your mind wander.
You think about Dad – Dad’s probably sitting at home, maybe making a casserole or something (not likely – he’s stopped cooking much after he lost his left hand). Maybe he’s vegging out on his couch and watching television. You’re sure there’s a game going on today, somewhere in the world. Are there games going on in December? Either way, there’s probably some game happening somewhere with some channel broadcasting it. And Dad’s probably watching. Alone.
“We should get married.”
You don’t react to your own statement because it’s kind of a joke and you’re kind of too busy looking into the quickly melting white on the surface of your hot chocolate thinking about Dad. Sweet, old Dad and his third December by himself in a big, empty house. It’s also kind of not a joke.
Chelsea coughs and puts down her mug.
“Oookay Rae, we’ll get married.” Chelsea grins, rolling her eyes. “Because marriage worked out great for both of us the first time around.”
“I mean it.” You say. “I think we should.”
“Rae…” Chelsea looks at you the way she does when she thinks you’re having a mental breakdown. Maybe you are.
“I had a vision.” You say, like that should be reason enough.
“You have visions all the time.”
“It wasn’t a good one, I think.” You take a slow slip of your hot chocolate.
(You can’t remember what you saw in your vision, only what you heard, and what you heard is more than enough to send ripples of dread down your back.)
“So a bad vision told you that we should get married.” Chelsea’s humoring you but you need her to understand.
“Do you think of my children as yours?” You ask.
Chelsea’s teasing grin softens to a light smile, that one she gets when she thinks about the kids.
“Of course, Rae. And I know you feel the same about Levi.”
“I do.” You nod. “I really do.”
“Did you see something bad happen to them?” Chelsea asks. “Are they in danger?”
“No, no, forget the vision. It’s just that – look, if something happens to one of us, I want my kids and your kids to have a mother.” You say. “I don’t want anything to ever take them away from each other.”
Chelsea falls silent, taking small sips of her hot chocolate and looking like she’s either seriously considering your probably insane request or considering the fastest route away from your whirlwind of crazy. She should know by now that you’re full of half-baked plans that are prepared with missing ingredients.
“And the tax breaks are a big plus.” She finally says.
You raise an eyebrow at Chelsea.
“So is that a yes?”
She laughs like you’re asking the wrong question before she places her cup down on the coffee table and faces you with an amused smirk.
“Rae, from the day I’ve met you, you’re always making crazy plans and I’ve always been the fool that goes along with them.”
“Oh, shut it, Chels.” You grin. “You are no fool.”
She gives you an incredulous look like you’ve completely forgotten your inane request.
“You are not a fool.” You repeat. “You just know a good idea when you hear one.”
She snorts and grabs another marshmallow from the bag.
Your days are numbered.
It makes sense. You’ve had visions of far, far into the future before, when you were a teenager, but since the kids, they’ve always been short term visions. You never put much thought into it, because the logic behind your premonitions has always been shaky. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? You haven’t seen far into the future because it ends for you, sometime soon. It ends.
That must be what it means.
(“It’s not looking good.” You hear the echoes of your vision every night now, it seems.)
“So how are we planning to tell the kids, Rae?”
You choke on your banana, just slightly. The question weighs on your mind the rest of breakfast, when the kids come dragging their feet on the ground and muttering about hating school.
Over the course of a few days, the half-baked plan has slowly grown into a full-sized loaf of an idea. You’ve already filed a few documents and talking with Chelsea about the benefits of marrying only served to strengthen your conviction that this is totally a good plan. A dumb plan, but a good one, which is right where you like your plans to be.
Telling the kids turns out to be a nonissue because the kids don’t really care. Booker and Levi are loud in their excitement about becoming ‘real’ brothers and Nia’s rolling her eyes but she’s jittery and peppy too. The implications of marriage, it turns out, isn’t so black and white to kids of divorced parents.
There’s no marriage ceremony because you and Chelsea don’t want to make it a whole thing. (Nia and Levi are super bummed about missing the glamour and extravagance. Booker’s just bummed about no huge wedding cake.) You both get a letter in the mail and circle the provided date on a calendar, and when the day comes, you both dress in your cleanest and calmest clothes. A short drive to city hall later, you walk out of the double barred doors with certification and signed papers and a substantial cut on your income tax.
“This is kind of illegal, Rae.” Chelsea whispers to you while you start up the car. “We just got away with a crime.”
“Did we?” You ask, smiling at your best friend and newly minted wife. “Marriage is between two people who love each other and spend all their time together and sometimes raise kids together and I’m pretty sure we hit all those marks.”
“Technically.” Chelsea grins. “But if that’s the benchmark for a marriage, we’ve been married for a very long time.”
You get a medical checkup a month after your terrifying vision and a week after you and Chelsea tie the knot. (The health insurance benefits post-marriage, for one, are amazing.)
The whole time, the words from your vision plays tennis in the forefront of your brain. When the nurse takes your blood after a few scans, you stare at the red in the transparent vial and will it to sing the words you’ve been dreading to hear. Terror sits on your passenger side seat when you drive home post-appointment and helps you go through a list of everything you will lose with a toothy smile.
(The doctor leaves a voicemail while you’re out for dinner with Chelsea and the kids and when you notice it, you wait until everyone goes to sleep before sitting down next to the answering machine and hovering a finger over the playback button. Your finger lingers over the button for a little over an hour. Strength, you remind yourself, is facing your own mortality head on.)
(“It’s not looking good” the words from your vision begin replaying in your head while your finger slams down on the button, “We’re going to need an emergency procedure–“)
“Hi, Doctor Forrest from Fischer Medical calling – your results came back and everything looks great. We do recommend seeing a nutritionist since we have noticed that your cholesterol levels are not where we’d want them to be, but there’s nothing to suggest any medical maladies. Please call back and we can schedule something with a nutritionist next week.”
You look down and your hands are shaking and your breath is coming out in uneven puffs. The relief that seeps out of your pores is peppered with anxious panic. Is this how people feel when they escape death? When they duck at the right time and miss the swing of the reaper?
Terror takes a seat next to you on the couch and wags a finger at your relief, mouthing ‘just you wait, just you wait.’
“Baby mama, how are you?”
Devon stops by your house before an extended trip to Europe to take Booker and Nia to the zoo. Your kids are running around grabbing their things so he drops by the kitchen, where you’re packing a few sandwiches for them. He leans against the counter and gives you that smile that used to melt your heart and make you feel like a giggly high schooler all over again.
It’s still a nice smile, but it stings more than it excites.
“I’m fine, Devon.” You say, smiling back at him.
“Booker tells me he has a new mom.” Devon says. “And one less auntie.”
You wince, because you realize you haven’t really told people that you’ve gone and married your best friend. It hasn’t really changed anything, as far as you’ve noticed, so it’s been easy to forget a marriage is contextually more meaningful than tax breaks and familial perks.
“It’s not –“ You pause.
“It’s not what?” Devon asks.
Romantic, you want to say. There’s no long kisses in the mornings and you don’t wrap your body next to hers at night and it’s nothing like when you were in love with Devon and Devon was in love with you. It’s a marriage, but it’s nothing like being in love, you want to say. Instead, you focus on cutting the sandwiches into perfect squares.
“I’m not upset, if you’re worried about that.” He reassures. “I adore Levi, and even on days when I felt unsure about where I fit into your future, I never really doubted she’d be there. It makes sense, really.”
You don’t respond because you’re not sure what there even is to argue.
“She’s good for the kids.” He says, and you really can’t disagree with that.
If he notices your silence, he doesn’t mention it. He helps you place the sandwich pieces into plastic bags and grabs the brown bags from underneath the counter and shakes them open for you.
“She’s good for you too.” He says, and you really can’t disagree with that either.
“I wouldn’t have married her otherwise.” You say.
It’s supposed to be snappy but it comes out soft.
The kids sit you and Chelsea down on the couch and ramble on in their best professional voices on why all three of them need separate rooms.
It’s a surprisingly convincing presentation.
(Except for the part where they threatened to start stockpiling their dirty clothes in the center of the room as protest if they didn’t get their way, the little nasties.)
“Married parents are supposed to share a room, anyways.” Booker says, like it’s obvious fact.
“Plus, if we argue we can cool off in our own space. And having our own space and privacy is really very recommended by many child psychologists.” Levi says, and Chelsea’s hanging on to every word.
That’s how you find yourself sharing your room with Chelsea, which isn’t the worst thing. Your room is big to begin with and Chelsea’s things are relatively quick to pack and put away in your walk-in closet. Chelsea’s bed is staying in her old room so she’s planning on ordering a new one, but until then, you’ve both decided to share the bed. It’s not weird or anything. Sleepovers were once a staple in your shared past.
Sleeping in the same bed as Chelsea then and sleeping in the same bed as Chelsea now is different, in the way that you can’t stop looking at her. The moonlight pierces through your bedroom window and lights the space between you and Chelsea, and the small part of her face that gets clipped by the light looks peaceful. Her hair looks a deep brown in the dim night.
Your best friend is just really such a beautiful woman. You’ve never loved and appreciated someone in your life like you do her and you know you’re the same to her. The day your mom -
She was there, feeding the kids and taking care of the house and dropping by your dad’s place when you couldn’t and holding you and holding you. Her arms were always sanctuary. You can’t help but want to return to where you feel the safest.
You’ve shared many a bed with Chelsea before but something about this feels incredibly intimate and it’s hard to tell if it has always been or if this is something new. To what degree is this a new experience and to what degree is this a new perspective?
Woah. Slow down.
You run a cautious hand against the side of her face and she hums and snuggles close to the heat radiating off you. Her skin is soft against your calloused hands and the wrinkles that line the edges of her face are the result of a woman who both laughs too much and works too hard.
God, you love this girl. You really do.
At what point is a marriage not enough?
(You used to know the answer to that question.)
You almost forget about the vision. Sometimes you hear it in your head, like a bad song that you once knew all the words to, the fragments of the figurative voice in your vision that spelled out the end of your life. Sometimes it hangs on the back of your neck and nips at your ears and begs you to listen but you push it down.
Chelsea’s making spaghetti dinner and the kids are crowding around you on the couch while you try to teach them how to knit. Booker’s already getting bored and his eyes keep wandering to the television remote. Levi’s getting the hang of it right off the bat and Nia’s catching up, although her competitive nature has her slipping up trying to outdo Levi.
Jeffrey, a new client at work, calls you but you let it go to voicemail because it is not work hours and you are not obligated to pick up for an overeager client. Booker notices the text because a nosy boy can never be underestimated. He wiggles his brows and yelps out a “Oh, Jeffrey’s calling!”
“I happen to be in a very committed marriage, I’ll have ya’ll know.” You say, dismissing his teasing and bopping him lightly on the head.
“To your job!” Chelsea calls out from the kitchen with a giggle.
“To you!” You yell back.
Chelsea’s laughing even harder until suddenly she’s not. There’s a clattering of metal hitting ground and the sound of a hundred thirty pounds crumpling to the floor and you’re up on your feet the second you hear it.
“Mom!” Levi yells, and he’s up and running into the kitchen with you close behind.
Terror bites at your ankles with a sadistic glee and you repeat in your head that it’ll be okay, everything will be okay.
But everything’s not okay, because Chelsea’s unconscious on the ground and your stomach drops right there with her.
“It’s not looking good. We’re going to need an emergency procedure, but it’s a highly risky surgery. It’s imperative that we move forward, because without it, the chances of survival are close to none.”
There you are, hearing the words that have been echoing in the forefront of your mind since the vision on that Saturday morning you and Chelsea decided to get married. And it’s worse because he’s talking to you but he’s not – he’s not fucking talking about you – and you should’ve seen this coming. God, you should’ve seen this coming, you –
“Ma’am, nobody could have seen this coming.” He says.
You almost laugh but you’re too damn sad.
“If you’d like to talk to her, she’s awake now in the prep room.”
You nod and follow him and he opens the door and lets you in, mentioning to the nurse tending to Chelsea that you’re her wife. She steps aside and you quickly go to her side, holding her hand and clutching it close to you.
“I had a vision, of what the doctor said.” You whisper in confession. “I thought it was me – I thought it was going to be me –“
“It’s okay, Rae.” Chelsea says, as if she’s not the one who’s dying.
“No, Chels, this is not okay! I should’ve… I could’ve done something and…”
“It’s okay.” She says. “Just make sure the kids are alright.”
A few nurses push through the doors holding a rolling hospital bed between them. You try to swallow the lump forming in your throat but it keeps bobbing back up until you’re scared that you might choke. Once of the nurses clears his throat.
“Mrs. Baxter-Daniels? It’s important we get you into the emergency room as soon as possible.”
They dress her in hospital robes and sit her down on the narrow mattress of the rolling hospital bed. You’re allowed to stay with her during the intake, being her legal spouse and all, and your shaking hands have already sent out frantic texts to your dad and Cory. The nurses march in a little while later, grabbing the sides of her bed to roll her to the surgical room, but they let you hold her hand one last time before they take her away.
“Rae?” She says, softly. “I love you.”
You nod and nod and hold her hand tighter and nod some more because you’re crying the ugliest cry and your mouth can’t even form words because it’s busy gurgling spit like a newborn baby.
“If it goes wrong, just – Levi –"
She’s rolled away before you can respond, her fingers brushing against yours until there’s nothing but empty space where a bed and the woman you love once was. Your shoulders shake with fear and your eyes are leaking tears and leaving trails in your foundation.
“It’ll be okay. If all goes well, it’s a relatively short surgery.” A nurse sent to guide you back to the ER waiting room says, rubbing your back like you’ve already lost her. “She’ll be out in a couple of hours.”
It’s hour seven and you’re pacing the hospital looking every bit the frazzled wife you are. Cory’s already gone and picked up the kids from Tess’s apartment as soon as you called, promised he’d take care of them, and you’re crying because your visions have never felt as much of a curse as they do right now. The tears don’t want to stop, apparently, because then you’re thinking about Levi and his shocked gasp and you curse that he’s so smart and perceptive because he knows what a surgery can mean and he’s been crying for the past few hours, Cory says over the phone.
And then you’re thinking about your Dad after that car accident and how he lost his left hand and how he cried that he’d give up his right one too if he could have his right-hand woman back and –
You’re thinking about his happy smiles when you and Cory or the grandkids visit him and how he always cooks Mom’s favorite dishes and how he always wears something Mom knit. How he leaves the TV on to Mom’s favorite show or how he leaves Mom’s toiletries on the sink counter. How much did it hurt him, losing Mom, that subjecting himself to a reminder of that hurt every day is worth not forgetting?
You don’t want to know - you don’t want to.
Because you understand him a little bit better, now that losing Chelsea is so, so possible.
Oh, and you’re hyperventilating now, which is great fun.
The nurses look like they don’t know what to do, which would be incredibly hilarious if it wasn’t so goddamn heartbreaking that they don’t know how to deal with an upset person in the waiting room of the emergency room. Isn’t that a given? Shouldn’t that be part of training? Or maybe it’s because you’re you and you tend to feel emotions bigger and deeper than most people are willing to, and right now, you’re feeling something close to a full-body heart attack.
Clammy hands on a wobbly jell-o person in a puddle of tears and anxiety laden sweat – that’s what you’ve become. You could’ve sworn you had more going for you than this. You got married, for God’s sake. To your best friend. Have you ever met someone and decided this was someone you were going to live the rest of your life with? Someone you needed to live the rest of your life with? Your thoughts are plunging deep into something scary and terrifying but before you can adjust to the dark, a shiver spreads through you and you straighten your posture.
You tense up, that crawl up your spine and the warm flush of your skin reminding you of your reality – a reality where you see what will-be, unable to stop it. You fight it for a minute, while the world around you becomes a blur of colors that are trying to become a vision, and you’re surprised you even can. You’ve never tried to, before. But you give in, give in to the higher power who decided that yes, this girl will be haunted with the view of a world without Chelsea.
In the blurry background of your mind, you greet the future in a split second.
It’s terrifying. You’re alone on a couch and you’re watching Chelsea’s favorite show. You’re old – you feel old – you look down and your hands are wrinkles and your bones creak. There’s Chelsea’s favorite kind of sandwich on a tray in front of you, just one plate. It reminds you of Dad and how does this Future Raven not burst out into tears every time? Has this version of you gotten used to it? Used to being surrounded in all things Chelsea while being so terrifyingly alone?
You look up and you see her, older but still just as beautiful, smiling that same smile. Her red hair graying at the roots and her hands wrapped around her own sandwich. She leans forward towards you and her lips –
Visions give you anxiety.
They’re okay, sometimes, or they show you things that really have no impact to your life. But they give you anxiety, because they happen, and you don’t know how to stop it or change it. After a vision passes, your heart always beats faster, your body feels flush, and your legs feel weak. It’s the nature of a vision; it takes hold of your mind and flies high before releasing it mid-air. Free-falling into a panic.
This is different.
When the vision fades, you feel a blanket of peace swaddle you, a calmness that washes over you like a gentle wash of sea foam. You lean back in your seat, completely quiet and no longer shaking and crying in your own real-time melodrama. You even smile.
The nurses and fellow waiting room passengers look at you strangely. They either think you’re a literal psychopath or that you’ve reached some intense point of grief where you’re just broken. You don’t care what they think, though, because you finally saw far into the future and she was there.
“Are you okay?” One of the nurses asks. “What happened?”
“She’s going to be okay.” You say, and your voice cracks at the last word. “She’ll be okay.”
“Ma’am…” The nurse says. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
You laugh a little bit, which is totally freaking everyone out.
“I’m okay. She’s okay.” You say and you cry into your arms full of all the relief in the world.
(The people around you look as if they’ve seen a miracle when a nurse comes into the waiting room a few minutes later to give you an update that the procedure had gone well and that Chelsea should be ready for guests in a few more hours. An elderly woman next to you stares and asks if you’ve seen God and if he told you everything was going to be okay but you just shake your head.)
(You’ve seen an angel, though, and all she had to say was your name.)
The first thing you say when you’re allowed to enter her hospital room is a soft “Chelsea, marry me.”
She’s in a blue-speckled hospital gown, an IV tube running up her hand and into a bag of fluid hanging from a metal roller near her bed. Her face is pale and her hair is wild but she breaks out into a wide smile at your marriage proposal.
“Really, Rae? This again?”
Her voice is hoarse but there. She’s alive, she’s there. You reach out and push a lock of stray hair behind her ear.
“Yeah, but I mean it.”
“Rae, you realize we did marry, right?”
“We went to a government building and signed a piece of paper.” You say. “I think we should marry-marry.
You take a seat on a chair next to her bed and grab her hand – the one without the scary looking IV needle sticking out of it.
“Like, a wedding? Is this a Lifetime movie?” Chelsea grins. “A hospital bed is not the most romantic way to ask a girl to marry you a second time.”
“Think about it – I can design our dresses, obviously. And imagine our kids in little groomsmen and bridesmaid clothes! My dad’s old catering business can prepare the food - vegetarian, obviously. We can get a strawberry cake with a little plastic whale on top, too, just for you. And you know Cory’s got all those connections so he could find us a great venue… Are you listening?”
Chelsea’s looking at you with soft eyes and wow you could’ve lost it, lost that look in an emergency room under bright lights and scalpels.
“You already sold me with the ‘our kids’ line.” Chelsea says with a laugh. “Yes, Raven, I will have a real wedding with you.”
“She said yes!” You cheer, throwing a fist in the air. “Again!”
Chelsea rolls her eyes and laughs and you laugh too at how comfortable this all is. This is Chelsea Daniels, your best friend and confidant, the one girl who’s been by your side through the gentle waves and the rough storms. The one that’ll be there when you’re old and retired and eating sandwiches in front of the TV on a weekday, if your visions are accurate.
(Your visions are always accurate.)
“But I mean it, Chels. I want you to be my real wife.”
“Aren’t we?” Chelsea asks. “The government thinks so, now.”
You lean over the hospital bed, your hair creating a veil around Chelsea’s face. She looks up at you, her confusion melting into a gentle understanding the closer you get. It’s a short, chaste kiss. There are no sparks like the movies. It’s loaded with love but it’s not the long, winding kiss of a first love and it’s not the passionate, wild kiss of a new love. Your heart isn’t racing and her face isn’t flush. There’s no wondering when that next touch will be, no fleeting moment where pulling away feels like ripping off a ventilator.
There’s a connection that feels like it had started years before the kiss even began. It fills your body with a soothing buzz and breathing is easier, somehow. It doesn’t feel like the love you’ve known but it doesn’t feel like it isn’t love at all. It is foreign in its familiarity.
It’s a very constructive kiss.
“Oh.” She says, after you sit back down on your chair. “Wow.”
“Yeah.” You reply.
Because, yeah, wow.
“I’m going to be honest with you, Rae. I never saw this coming.” She finally says.
“You never saw this coming?” You smile. “Neither did I, and I’m a psychic. Where’s my excuse?”
“I mean, maybe that’s not completely accurate.” Chelsea says after another pause. “All my life, when I thought about my future, I always saw you in it.”
You laugh because it’s true. Even without the visions, it’s true.
“I did see my future and you were in it.” You say.
Chelsea’s smile grows impossibly wider.
“Guess that’s that, then.” She says.
“Do you really want to do this?” You ask, because when you try to think outside of all the shock, it does sound kind of crazy, doesn’t it? “Like – be really, actually married? Be together?”
She beckons you closer and you go.
“Rae, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being friends with you for so long it’s that fighting your visions is a fool’s errand.”
Her hands (IV hand and all) snake around your neck and pull you closer.
“And I am no fool.”