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The Mess That You Wanted

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Winter. 2026.

 

Bayswater, London. Studio 6.

 

Karlie refuses to look at her phone. 

 

It was taunting her all the same, screen dark and motionless on her nightstand, like it had been for the past hour. Karlie pulls the covers up over her head for the third time, heart pounding, and wills herself to fall back asleep. 

 

7 AM. 

 

She said she would call in the morning, didn’t she? 

The problem is Karlie can’t remember . She doesn’t remember what happened last night, doesn’t remember which line she crossed, which wall she let down. Despite the pain she’d put herself through trying to salvage the memories, they were at best fleeting - blurred flashes of light and sharp noise from eight hours earlier. 

 

Her reflection, ghostly in the mirror. Eyeliner sharp, mascara running. Crimson lipstick on her neck. The faucet running, her fingers shaking. Scrubbing hard at the marks, eyes darting to the bathroom door. Shame, rising in her stomach. No one could know. The lipstick wasn’t coming off

 

Panicking.

 

Her mother’s voice in her head, taunting her in that lilting tone.

 

I never liked her, Karlie. 

That girl doesn’t know what she wants. 

 

A red dress. Red lips. Numb fingers untying the red sash on the dress. Karlie’s fingers? 

 

A ring, glinting in candlelight. Karlie recognized that ring. Oh god, she recognized that ring. Breathing hard, breathless, locking doors and slamming against the bathroom tile. Bruises. 

 

God, she’d been so drunk. The regret is rising, coloring cheeks, boiling blood.

 

A voice, I’ll call tomorrow morning. A familiar voice, saying, listen to me, Karlie, we’ll figure it out tomorrow. 

 

Karlie doesn’t know how to figure out what she can’t remember. She’s drifting somewhere in outer space in her drunken stupor, unable to even reconcile a name.

 

Her phone rings then, like a gunshot through the silence. Karlie does not flinch. She lunges for it, unlocking the screen in one fluid motion.

 

“...Karlie?”


“Taylor,” Karlie says thickly through building tears. Her head is aching from the alcohol, her temples thrumming.  “God, Taylor, what did we do?”

 

… 

 

Notting Hill, London. Studio 13.

 

Taylor wakes to a headache and a knock on her bedroom door, both are expected but unappreciated. She downs a glass of water from her bedside table before answering, gasping a little. 

 

“Yes?”



Katja’s voice from outside is hesitant, even apologetic.

 

“Harry’s here,” There is a pause. “He says he knows it’s early, but it’s very important.”


Fuck.

 

“I’ll be there in a second,” Taylor calls hoarsely. “Just let me get dressed.” 

 

Taylor’s already dressed, but she needs a moment alone. 

 

She waits for Katja to walk down the hall before unlocking her phone and dialing a number she shouldn’t know by heart, but still does. The guilt rising in her stomach is enough to make her nauseous, but she holds the phone to her ear, her pulse racing.

 

“...Karlie?”

 

… 

 

The winters are brutal here. 

 

Karlie anticipated as much seven years ago, when Taylor and her toured those tiny studios in thin sweaters, vastly unprepared for the foreign climate they’d chosen as home. 

 

Still, it was jarring, pulling back the curtain to reveal snow in early March, not a green thing in sight. 

 

The kids loved it, of course. Evie was still a bit too young to understand it, but her older brother had no problem introducing snowmen, snow angels, and sledding to the toddler, sometimes taking it a bit too far.

 

“No sir,” Karlie would call sharply, looking up from a mug of coffee. “Put that down. Now.”

 

Noah would lower the snowball slowly, sheepishly. Evie skipped along, completely dwarfed by her parka, blissfully unaware. 

 

It wasn’t that Karlie disliked winter, she loved Christmas and New Year's after all, no, it was the loneliness that came with the empty days. Days when the festivities were long gone and it was just her in this big house, waiting for the kids to come back home. 

 

She supposed that made the good days all the more precious. She had to hold onto the little things in these cold months, otherwise she wouldn’t smile until spring.

 

… 

 

“Harry?” Taylor calls, rounding the corner into the kitchen. She winces. Christ, she’s sore all over.


Taylor finds Harry in similar shape at the kitchen counter. They’d been at the same party, after all. Harry’s eyes are puffy and rimmed-red, his curls sticking up in haphazard fashion. He looked asleep on his feet.

 

“What time did you guys get home?”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Told Lou I wanted to leave at three. We probably didn’t get home until five, five-thirty, an’ I had to drag him out,” He raises a mug of coffee to his lips, and Taylor nearly faints from the smell. “Got into a row about in on the way home.”

“I think we’re getting too old for this."

Harry toasts mockingly with his own mug and passes Taylor an empty one. She murmurs her thanks, reaching for the coffee pot. 

 

“Preachin’ to the choir, you are.”

 

Taylor rocks back on her heels, swallows a mouthful of scorching coffee, and broaches the subject she’d been dreading.

 

“How many pictures?”

 

“Elena hasn’t called?”



“My phone is off.”



Harry sets his mug down, letting out a long sigh.

 

“I love you,” He says. “I love you both, but I fuckin’ told you what would happen.”

 

“I know,"

 

 “-Fuckin’ told you it was a bad idea an’ they’d run with whatever they could get.”

 

Taylor doesn’t want to think about the kind of photos circulating online, though she knows they’ll be incriminating regardless of the subject, or, rather, subjects.

 

They’d been so close together, nearly face to face in that tiny club, the bass thrumming like a heartbeat in the background. She was laughing, Taylor remembers with a jolt. She was laughing at something, throwing her head back, mouth agape, her whole body shaking from the force of it. Taylor can’t remember the last time she’d seen her laugh like that. Years ago, at least.

“We were just talking,” Taylor curls back on herself as though to protect her feelings from Harry, from the world. “It was a friendly conversation, for once.”

“Yeah, an’ then you two had the common sense to take it into the bathroom for half an hour.”

 

Both of them had been drunk, but it wasn’t an excuse.



“Harry,” Taylor says hotly, her cheeks flaming. “Keep your voice down.”



“S’  the other problem,” He hissed, turning towards the hall as if to prove his point. “Got a girlfriend, don’t you? What does she think of all this?”



Silence. There’s that shame again, churning in her stomach. Katja’s voice, tentative, at the door. 

 

Harry’s here.

 

God, did she know? She couldn’t. Not like this.

 

“I’m not saying what happened was a good thing,” She stammers, feeling more childish by the second. “But it’s complicated when you involve someone else you’ve known for so long.”

 

“Like your ex-wife,” Harry says bluntly.

 

“Yes,” Taylor sighed, defeated, and takes another sip of coffee. “Like my ex-wife.”

 

Karlie’s voice, shrill and panicky in her head.

 

Taylor, Taylor what did we do?

 

Taylor supposes the question has changed by now. It wasn’t what they did , it was what they were going to do. 

 

Harry sets his mug down again, and the noise breaks her focus.

 

“Look,” He says. “S’ your life. I’m in no place to tell you how to live it, an’ god knows Lou and I have made our share of poor choices…” He breaks off, cocking his head to one side to study Taylor, his eyebrows drawing close. “But I had to let you know before the headlines start circulating, an’ those pictures have to come down. At the very least.”

“At the very least.” Taylor echoes.

 

“Right,” Harry stands up. “I’m off to chug a whole liter of orange juice. Take some paracetamol for that headache. An’ call Elena, please.”

Taylor rubs at her temples, and manages a weak smile in Harry’s direction.

 

“I will. Promise.”

“Love ya,” Harry calls as he heads for the door.

 

“Love ya.”

The door shuts with a slam , and Taylor yelps in pain, quickly stifling the noise with the palm of her hand . She’s alone now, and the shame bursts forth in the form of tears. She cries silently, her shoulders hunched, blocking out the rest of the world. 

 

Katja comes back into the kitchen, then, frowning at Taylor’s tears.

 

Lyubov moya ,” She soothes in Russian, and pulls Taylor into a gentle hug. Taylor, despite her predicament, leans into it, craves it even. “You’re alright, my love. Drink some water. It will help.”

 

If only Taylor could tell her how much it wouldn’t help, not even in the slightest.

...

 

Four Years Earlier

 

“We couldn’t have tabled this discussion for later?”

 

“I don’t think we can table this any longer.”

 

Taylor purses her lips at the thought, fingers a little too tight on the steering wheel. She’d never learned to relax in a car. Each of them had their career choices to thank for that. Karlie caught Taylor looking over her shoulder every so often, watching for cameras that were never there. 

 

Almost never.  

 

“I’m not saying anything is definite, but if we’re going to try-“

 

Her wife stiffens suddenly, eyes flicking to the rearview mirror. 

 

“Don’t. Not with him here.”

 

Karlie turns, the seat-belt cutting into her shoulder, to look at Noah. The toddler’s head is lolled to one side, tongue out. One of his chubby hands is stuffed in his mouth, a thumb stuck in. Her heart swells.

 

“He’s asleep, babe.”

 

Taylor sighs deeply, her shoulders sagging. 

 

“Karlie. Drop it."

 

“Fine,” Karlie turns abruptly, letting out a bitter laugh. “We’ll wait the fifteen minutes it takes to get home. I couldn’t care less.” 

 

Silence. Taylor takes a particularly sharp corner and Karlie braces herself against the window, wincing at the cold glass. English winters were absolute hell on earth. 

 

“Yelling won’t solve anything,” 

 

Karlie looks at Taylor, but she’s not making eye contact, no doubt slowing her breathing and resisting her own urge to yell back. 

 

Hypocrite. 

 

“I’m not yelling.”

“Yes, you are.”



“Not at you,” Karlie returns flatly. “I’m frustrated. You’re not communicating and it’s frustrating.”

“I just said that-”



“The back and forth is exhausting, Taylor. I’d love for you to choose an opinion and stick to it.”

 

Karlie isn’t sure why she’s feeling quite so argumentative, and she knows Taylor is wondering the same as she composes herself yet again. 

 

“Fine,” Taylor throws a hand up in exasperation. “Here it is, I don’t want you getting pregnant again if you don’t want to. You know that. I’ve said that before.”

 

“I never said that I didn’t want to get pregnant again. When did I say that?”  

 

“For fuck’s sake- you’re the only one that can! ” Taylor finally bursts out, turning to look at Karlie with that awful look in her eyes, so full of pain and longing, eerily reminiscent of last winter. “You know that I can’t. I don’t need the reminder.”

 

Karlie stares at the road again, swallowing hard. 

 

“Can we please talk about this at home?” Taylor’s tone has gone shaky, and she tightens her hands on the wheel. Her knuckles are turning white. “Please.” 

 

It was all about compromises these days. 

 

…. 










 

Chapter Text

Winter, 2022

 

Things had been okay. 

 

Karlie had been holding onto that, recently, the notion of things being okay. Of feeling okay, rather than completely and utterly helpless. Rather than like they were drowning. 

 

It was a lot of back and forth, not necessarily months and months. Taylor wasn’t over her like a wine-stained dress or anything, but there was a palpable tension; tension that couldn't be easily solved, try as they might. 

 

She supposed that was thanks to Taylor’s job, and her job, and their desperate attempt at giving Noah a normal life. As normal as they could create, anyway. 

 

The four-year-old wasn’t quite old enough to grasp the concept of fame. Both girls had done their best to explain it in simple terms. The most Noah saw of their world was the photographers that followed them everywhere the second they touched down in the states. That wasn’t very often, anymore, as a result.

 

But stomping off her boots as she follows Taylor into the house, Karlie wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. She’d grown used to England, and it’s temperamental weather, and it’s kind people.

 

Besides, their house here was perfect. A far cry from the modern studio apartment they’d visited years earlier, but perfect nonetheless. Taylor and Karlie preferred the vintage look anyhow. The house was a gothic convert, tall and ominous with the original brick and mortar, but they’d made it their own. Noah took great pride in telling his classmates his mother’s owned a castle in the middle of London, though they tried to dissuade him from calling it that. 

 

It takes Noah all of two seconds to tug off his boots and gloves, throw them to the ground, and run for his bedroom. Lately, he’d been spending hours building Lego sets.

 

When Taylor doesn’t scold him for making a mess, just stands there pale and unblinking in the kitchen, lost in her thoughts, Karlie knows something is really wrong.

 

Then Noah is calling her insistently from his bedroom, asking for help building a spaceship. 

 

“Go,” Taylor says, still not looking her way. “It’s fine.”

 

Karlie knows it isn’t.

 

 

Later that night, as Karlie tucks Noah into bed while Taylor showers, her little boy looks up at her and asks a heartbreaking question.

 

“Mommy?”

“Yes, my love?” 

 

“Why doesn’t Mama smile anymore?”

 

Karlie freezes. It takes a couple tries to keep the waver out of her voice. There were only so many ways to phrase something this complicated to a four-year-old. 

 

“I don’t think Mama’s been feeling very well,” Karlie lies. “That can make some people feel sad.”

Noah pulls the covers over his face until it’s just his wide, blue eyes staring back at her in confusion. 

 

He has your eyes, you know. She would tell Taylor. That electric blue. 

 

“Even grown-ups?”

“Yeah, buddy,” Karlie’s voice barely sounds like her own. “I think so. Even grown-ups.”

 

“It won’t be forever,” Noah says, snuggling under the covers. “Tell her.”

“About the sadness?”

“Yes.” Noah nods. “Nothing is forever.”

In that moment, Karlie could burst into tears. The fact that their four-year-old, their sweet, gentle, baby boy knew so much more than either of them, it was strangely comforting.

 

“Give Mommy another hug,” She says hoarsely, glad now the bedside lamp was off so Noah couldn’t see her face. “I love you so much, little man.” 

 

“Love you too, Mommy,” He says, and then adds quickly. “And Mama.”

“And Mama,” Karlie nods, swallowing hard. “I’ll tell her for you.” 

 

But Karlie barely makes it into the hallway before the first sob bubbles out, and she stands there in the dark, struggling to sift through the pieces of the mess their grief had made. 

 

… 

“I shouldn’t have snapped at you. It was rude.”

 

“I shouldn’t have said anything at all,” Karlie murmurs, combing her fingers gently through Taylor’s hair. “It was cruel. We’re not ready. We can wait longer. We can wait years, for all I care.”

 

“You’re allowed to want another baby. I know I do.”

 

A deep silence washes over the two of them, until only the sound of their breathing punctuates it. 

 

“I meant what I said, you know. About carrying. You don’t have to try again.”

“I know.”

 

“Noah’s worried about you,” Karlie tells her. “He thinks you’re sad.”

Taylor turns over, rustling the covers, two blue eyes peeking at her through tangled fringe. Noah’s eyes.

 

“I am sad.”

“Taylor,” Karlie whispers, dread filling your stomach. “Do you blame yourself?”

Taylor sucks in a sharp breath, and then cold fingers are reaching for Karlie’s, lacing them together. 

 

One, two, three.

 

“I know that I shouldn’t.”

Karlie supposes that answers her question. She loops an arm around her wife, pulling her closer until she can feel Taylor’s heartbeat through the sheets. Taylor smells like Noah. Like his shampoo, almond and honey. 

 

Nothing is forever.

 

Karlie sees Taylor holding Noah in her arms on the floor of their apartment, four years ago. She sees her wife cradling their son, at a loss for words.

 

That had been the only time Karlie ever saw Taylor truly speechless. 

 

“Karlie, I’ve been trying-

 

Karlie cradles Taylor to her chest, though she still feels so far away. 

 

“Hey,” She soothes, pressing a kiss to her hairline. “I know you have. We all are.”

She can feel Taylor’s pulse, thrumming hard and fast beneath her shirt. 

 

We’re still here. We’re still here.

 

“I’m so sorry we lost her, my love. I’m so sorry.

 

They cry together quietly until sleep washes over them, offering relief, or something close enough. 

 

… 

 

Winter, 2025. 

 

One Year Before The Party 

 

“We’re gonna be late.”

“Right, well short of breaking the sound barrier, I’m doing my best to get you there on time.” 

 

Karlie is leaning so hard against her seatbelt, it’s leaving an indent in her skin. She’s straining her neck to see the front of the road, still packed bumper to bumper with cars. 

 

Harry fixes her with a stern look.

 

“Sorry,” Karlie grins sheepishly, and leans back. “Thanks for offering to drive us.”

 

“‘Course.”


To his credit, Harry was weaving in and out of lanes on the Westway like his life depended on it, but they were barely making progress. Trying to cross town by car at 5:15 was nothing short of impossible. Karlie promised Taylor she would drop the kids off at 5:30, and was now anticipating the argument they’d get into when she arrived at a quarter till.

 

Harry’s eyes cut to hers in the rearview mirror, sympathetic. 

 

“She can’t blame you for rush hour, love.”

“Oh, I think she’s creative enough to try.”

Although Noah and Evie are both asleep in the back of the car, Harry lowers his voice.

 

“Are things... still bad?” 

 

Bad. That was such a catchall word. “Bad” was a simple term for everything imaginable. It meant complicated, painful, and cruel. It meant slamming doors and quiet rage. It meant asking Harry to drive her to Taylor’s house because she physically could not accomplish it herself. 

 

“That’s a good way to describe,” She says quietly. “Yeah.” 

 

They lock eyes for a moment, holding between them a quiet understanding of their two worlds. This wasn’t what either of them had anticipated, Karlie knows this.

 

The rest of the ride is silent. 

 

 

Harry brings the car to the side of the street and cuts the engine. Karlie exhales heavily, looking to the kids in the rearview mirror. Still asleep. 

 

“Do you want me to come in? To keep the peace an’ all that?”

“I think you’ve done enough today,” Karlie says gently, reaching for the door handle. “Thank you.”

 

“Had to ask,” He shrugs. “Lou would kill me otherwise.” 


Karlie repeats her thanks. She wakes Noah and quickly unbuckles Evie from her carseat, hoisting the sleeping toddler onto her hip. Harry circles the car, driving past with a thumbs up. Good luck , he mouths. 

 

Karlie had been needing a lot of that lately. 

 

 

Brandon buzzes them in. He addresses Karlie in the entryway, stoic as ever.

 

“Ms. Kloss.”

“Brandon,” She warns, bouncing Evie on her hip. The toddler was starting to fuss. “Do not call me that.”

“I don’t think-”

“I don’t care what Taylor asked you to do. We’ve known each other far too long for you to be that formal. It makes me uncomfortable.” 

 

The security guard nods firmly, giving in. 

 

“Yes, Karlie.”

 

“Is Taylor upstairs?”

A nod.

 

“Is she recording? Can we go up?”

One shake. One nod.

 

Karlie rolls her eyes and heads for the stairs. Noah follows close behind her. 

 

… 

 

Of all the times she’d been in this apartment, in this very stairwell, it never got any easier. 

 

We both wake, in lonely beds, different cities. 

 

They reach the door, but it’s already open, and Taylor is waiting. Great. 

 

“Mama!” Noah cries, launching himself off the last step into Taylor’s arms. 

 

“Hey, little man.” Taylor laughs, and staggers back a little from his hug. He was getting too big for that, though neither of them were going to tell him off for it. “How are you, my love?”

 

They all move inside. Karlie shuts the door behind her, willing this conversation to accelerate so she could leave.

“We saw a helicopter fly over Regents Park yesterday!” Noah exclaims. “With the lights and everything! It was going so fast, the trees were moving.”

“Really?” Taylor frowns. “I thought they had rules for that, about them flying that low.”

“It was an emergency landing,” Karlie says, and Taylor looks up at her, almost startled. 

 

It was easy to feel invisible in this apartment. Karlie preferred it that way, most of the time. 

 

“They had to cross over into one of the neighborhoods,” She explains. “Some kind of medical emergency, I guess.”

 

Taylor nods, seemingly satisfied with the answer, and then she looks to Noah. 

 

“Hey, buddy. Could you let your mother and I chat for a moment?”

“But-”

“I left your puzzle in your room exactly as it was,” Taylor says firmly. “Go on.” 

 

Karlie watches their son run off, and then back to Taylor, confused. They had perfected this interaction. It lasted five minutes, tops, and then they were off to their respective lives. They didn’t linger. That had been an unspoken rule for the last year and a half, and they weren’t much for spontaneity. 

 

Naturally, Karlie anticipates the worst. 

 

“Is everything alright? Is your mom…?”

“No, she’s fine,” Taylor shakes her head. “It’s not about her. It’s personal, but not like that.”

“Personal?” The surprise in Karlie’s tone is so noticeable, it embarrasses her.

“I recently…” Taylor trails off, struggling for the right words. “Fuck. We’re both adults. I’m just going to say it.”

Karlie’s cheeks are heating up. She knows what Taylor is about to say, but god, she really doesn’t need to hear it. Not here, in this place that was so foreign to her, not now.


“...I’ve been seeing someone for a little while now.”

“Have you?”


Karlie doesn’t mean for the question to come out so callous, but Taylor stiffens anyway.

“I don’t plan on the kids meeting her anytime soon,” She promises, eyes wide with a slight panic. “I just, I thought it was right to let you know before Harry or Louis said anything in passing. Or Brandon,” she laughs. It’s a bit forced. 

“Brandon?”

 

“He likes you a lot more than me. He’d confide, even if I told him not to.” 

 

“I,” Karlie clears her throat, working to find an appropriate tone. “I’m grateful you chose to tell me. Thank you for that. I’d, um, like to have another conversation if you get to the point that you’d want to introduce her to the kids.”

If. 

 

“Of course,” Taylor visibly relaxes. “Thank you for understanding.” 

 

“You’re welcome.”

Karlie doesn’t let it sit any longer than that. She’s reaching for her bag, her scarf, bundling herself for the weather outside, though somehow inside it felt even more hostile. Taylor walks her to the door, holding it open in a gesture of apology. Or something like it, anyway. 

 

“I’ll see you next week,” Taylor says. “Stay warm out there.”

“Yeah, you too.”

 

Karlie walks through, already dialing for a cab. She doesn’t look back. 

 

Chapter Text

Karlie hasn’t felt this reckless in a long time. 

 

Years and years ago, she would act this way. Taylor and her lived off of this kind of energy, when they wanted so much and had everything to lose. It sustained them like nothing else.

 

Taylor, walking into Karlie’s office that one time, wearing nothing but thigh-highs and a pair of stilettos. 

 

“I’m bored,” She announced, eyes flashing with lust.

 

“Oh?” Karlie laughed, reaching forward to pull Taylor onto her lap. “I think I can fix that.”

 

It wasn’t a choice back then. It was involuntary, something each of them craved as much as the other. Sex was like breathing for them. Karlie is ashamed to admit how much she still misses it. 

 

She missed what came after sex, too. The long conversations in the dark, hands held under the sheets until dawn peeked through the curtains, forcing them down the hall to wake Noah for school.

 

Things were so different now. Of course she helped herself out now and then, but with the kids around non-stop, there was only so much fifteen minutes of free time and a locked bedroom door could do.

 

Not tonight. Tonight she’s thinking about the number Martha slipped into her pocket three weeks back, a folded piece of paper that she’d shoved into her drawer, an afterthought. She wasn’t ready for that three weeks ago, but now, with something quite like rage bubbling in her stomach, she wants it very badly. 

 

Jealousy is a horrible, twisted, powerful thing. It’s jealousy that makes Karlie pick up the phone. 

 

… 

 

Karlie takes delight in the fact that she is not blonde. This woman cannot remind Karlie of what she cannot forget, and the relief in that revelation is euphoric. 

 

She’s got green eyes and long, dark hair. It falls in soft waves over her breasts. Her skin is soft, her body responsive to Karlie’s touch, and god , she’s missed this.

 

Still, in the back of her head, her voice of reason.

 

This woman is not Taylor.

 

It happens quickly, too quickly for Karlie to change her mind. The woman, whose name she never asked, has her mouth between Karlie’s legs, her arms slotted over her thighs. Karlie’s fingers are in her hair, pulling hard, searching for a release.

 

Oh, dear god. Yes. Please.

 

One, two, three more times.

 

It’s Taylor’s name that Karlie nearly screams. She reigns it in at the last second, falling back onto the sheets, shaking hard with the force of her orgasm. 

 

True, she had been craving it. True, it had felt good. But as Karlie sees her out later that night, stumbles through an awkward goodbye, thanks her for a good time, she feels something a lot like shame. 

 

Tossing, turning, struggle through the night with someone new...

 

…  

 

It isn’t until much later, nearing two in the morning, that Karlie has the courage to pick up her phone again and dial a more familiar number. 

 

Harry answers immediately. It’s dinner time in L.A., and Karlie can hear Louis and Rosie talking in the background. She pictures the three of them, all sat down to eat, and fills sick with envy. 

 

“...Karlie? Are you alright?”

 

She contemplates hanging up for just a second, but Harry’s voice is so full of worry that she can’t bring herself to leave him unanswered. 

 

“Karlie?”

 

“Harry,” She says quietly, cradling her head. “I’ve made a mistake.”

 

… 

 

Something about Karlie’s reaction felt odd to Taylor.

 

She looked startled for a moment, when Taylor told her. Her first comment, unapologetically derisive, was a relief. It was familiar. Snide, she could handle. Taylor had prepared herself for an emotionally-charged reaction. That’s why she’d sent the kids out of the kitchen, to minimize the damage. Noah’s bedroom had thick walls, so he wouldn’t have been able to hear them yelling from there. 

 

But Karlie, being the woman she was, threw a curveball and collected herself. She nodded politely and wished Taylor well, like a colleague would, or an acquaintance, but certainly not a well-known one. There was a level of professionalism, almost like Taylor was her client. She’d thanked her , hadn’t she? 

 

I’m grateful you chose to tell me.

 

So formally worded it almost felt detached. That was the word Taylor was looking for. Detached . As though Karlie couldn’t care less, couldn’t be bothered by the fact Taylor was now in a relationship. 

 

God, did she want her to be? Bothered? 

 

The truth is, Taylor didn’t really know what she wanted anymore. She stopped being sure of that a long time ago. Eighteen months ago, at least.

 

We made quite a mess, babe. It’s probably better off this way. 

 

...

 

Karlie’s eyes sting from her lack of sleep. 

 

She waited until dawn to pull on her running shoes and stumble out of the apartment, jogging quickly down the street into the frigid air. The cold has a bite to it, and she pulls her hood on to shield her lips and eyes, picking up speed until she’s hit the riverside. 

 

Quickly, now. 

 

She makes good progress, reaching Bayswater Road easily and cutting across to the Sussex Gardens. She hasn’t run like this for months, deterred by the cold weather, and her lungs are aching by the time she approaches the front gates of Hyde Park. There’s no one out at this hour, and standing there alone on the pavement, flanked by glowing street lamps in the fog of the early morning, Karlie could nearly cry. 

 

It takes her a moment to collect herself. Fighting off a rising sob, Karlie braces herself for a faster pace. It hurts. She’s out of shape, and though her chest feels like it’s on fire, she ignores the pain and pushes on. 

 

Last night’s conversation floods her thoughts. Harry, though sympathetic and also unaware of Taylor’s new relationship, couldn’t offer much help being across the ocean. Karlie had confessed to her one-night-stand quickly, a blush warming her cheeks.

 

“Can’t blame you for that,” He said, barking out a laugh. “Everyone’s done that, love. I’ve done it more than once after a bad breakup. So has Louis. You waited a year and a half, an’ it’s your own body. You don’t need to be embarrassed.”

“It was a huge mistake.”

 

Everyone makes mistakes,” He said gently. “And as much as I’d like to disagree, Taylor did the right thing in telling you first. That was kind.”

 

“It was kind,” Karlie agreed, pulling her knees to her chest. With each passing second, she was feeling more helpless, here on her bedroom floor. “But I’ve got no right to feel this way.”

“Relationships are complicated.”

“I’m the one that left, Harry,” Karlie reminds him. “I walked out on her.”

“Maybe,” He concedes. “But she’s the one that let you.”

 

Back in the apartment, wet and shivering, Karlie strips and steps into the shower. She turns the temperature to scalding, standing under the stream for ages. 

 

“You don’t love her,” Karlie says aloud, hoping to reconcile this situation. “You don’t.”

 

And I confess, babe, that in my dreams you’re touching my face, and asking me if I want to try again with you...

 

Karlie is overcome with the urge to scrub every inch of her body, to remove any trace of last night’s events. Later, she sees herself in the mirror, skin raw and stinging, a new woman, and grins. 

 

...And I almost do

 



Three Years Earlier

 

Taylor hasn’t felt this ill in her entire life. 

 

She’s on her knees in the bathroom, skin stinging from the cold tile, retching into the toilet. Each wave of nausea hits harder than the last and she whimpers in anticipation, panting from the force of it. It’s been this way for hours now. 

 

Karlie’s sitting behind her, a soothing hand on her waist, offering comfort in any way she can. 

 

“Jesus christ ,” Taylor gasps, leaning back on her heels to try catch her breath. “I didn’t think it would be this bad again. I sort of feel like I’m dying.”

 

Karlie doesn’t even try to hold back her laugh.

 

“Now you know how I felt,” She reaches to tuck Taylor’s hair behind her ear. “You just have to keep breathing, love.”

 

“Oh, thanks for that, Kar,” Taylor snaps. “Super helpful.”

Karlie’s fingers rub gentle circles up and down her back, and Taylor exhales slowly, feeling guilty.

 

“Shit, I’m sorry. Hormones.”

 

“You don’t have to apologize, sweetheart,” Karlie says quietly. “They call it ‘morning sickness’ for a reason, though. It should end soon. I promise.”

 

Taylor doesn’t want this to end. The last time it ended she bled through the sheets and sobbed in the car on the way home from A&E. She could deal with nausea at nuclear levels if it meant carrying this baby to full term.

 

Hope was such a horrible thing. It twisted you into a person you weren’t, and with each week, Taylor is becoming more attached to this pregnancy, more hopeful

 

Taylor’s optimism delights Karlie like nothing else, but Taylor sees through it, recognizes it as a coping mechanism. She had several, thanks to her career, but this one was easily the most devastating. She was known for building things up until they crashed down, surrounding herself and the ones she loved in the ruins of her daydream. 

 

The sad, simple truth of it all was oddly relieving. Taylor knows another miscarriage will absolutely destroy her, and that she will never hold a child of her own in her arms. That fucking terrifies her. 

 

“Seventeen weeks today,” Karlie’s pressing a kiss to her cheek, squeezing her shoulder in encouragement, but Taylor doesn’t hear the rest of what she’s saying. It’s all white noise, the backing vocals to her heart-wrenching ballad.

 

Well, maybe it’s me and my blind optimism to blame...

 

Seventeen weeks. Last time she only made it to fourteen.  

 

...

Chapter Text

September, 2023

 

The nightmares were a constant, silent enemy.

 

Taylor wakes gasping for air. She’s terrified, her tears coursing hot and fast down her cheeks, her chest heaving. A strangled sob cuts through the quiet of their bedroom, and Karlie reaches groggily for her in the dark, tugging Taylor through tangled sheets to her chest.

 

“Oh my god,” She chokes out, gasping for air. “ Karlie .”

 

Taylor presses her face into the crook of Karlie’s neck, and another sob bubbles out, this time muffled through her wife’s skin. Karlie’s heart is aching at the sound, but neither of them want to wake the kids. 

 

“I’ve got you, sweet girl.”

“It was bad,” She’s shaking now, struggling to confront the reality of what’s just happened. “It was so real .”

Karlie’s tracing her fingers up and down Taylor’s spine, curling her legs around Taylor’s. 

 

“Angel,” She soothes when Taylor lets out another sob. “You’re going to cry yourself sick, Taylor, you’re okay.” 

 

Short, frantic, whimpers. Karlie slips a hand under Taylor’s shirt, letting her palm rest gently against the girl’s back and pulling her in even closer. Skin on skin contact was crucial. They’ve been through this before, several times in the past month. Taylor’s therapist is confident the episodes will stop.

 

Just like an anxiety attack, He’d said, it’ll pass eventually.

 

For a long while they lay motionless in the dark, the silence punctuated only by Taylor’s labored breathing. Karlie pulls back the covers and finds Taylor’s hand, squeezing three times. Taylor squeezes back, hard. 

 

“Daisy, you can tell me about it if you want. It’s alright.”

 

“She couldn’t breathe,” Taylor says quietly, finally. “You were gone and I couldn’t find a nurse, and I’m-” 

 

Even in the dark, Karlie knows Taylor is pressing a palm to her mouth, stifling another sob. 

 

“I’m just standing there frozen in front of her, she can’t breathe, and I can’t do anything. She’s lying on her back and gasping, and the heart monitor is flatlining.”

Dread builds in Karlie’s stomach. She knows this feeling all too well, it was a frequent nightmare of her own. 

 

“You were dreaming, sweetheart,” Karlie says finally, and pulls her fingers gently through Taylor’s hair, anything to calm her down. “It wasn’t real. She’s completely safe.”

 

Karlie lets go of Taylor then, causing the girl to whimper in confusion. She leans for their bedside table, and brings the monitor into Taylor’s view,  switching on the display so she can see the baby. 

 

Evie is perfectly fine. She’s sleeping, like she has through almost every night, unusual at four months.

 

 “Look at me,” Karlie orders, her voice hoarse, and Taylor lets out another shaky breath, blinking back tears as she looks up at Karlie. “We’ve been through this.”

 

“I know, but-”

“No. Listen to me. You cannot keep blaming yourself.”

 

“It’s my fault.” Taylor whimpers. “My fault she could’ve died-

But Taylor’s sob is cut off by the sound of their bedroom door opening.

 

“...Mama?”

 

There’s Noah in his pajamas, hair sticking up in every direction, thumb in his mouth.

 

Dear God. 

 

 

Taylor has the foresight to smile, to try and put their son at ease as he walks into their bedroom. Noah is only five, too young to understand the extent or source of her grief, but he knows something isn’t right. He’s heard his mother crying and come running, and that breaks Taylor’s heart. 

 

“Hi, baby,” She says hoarsely, clearing her throat of anymore tears. She forces another smile. “I’m alright, Noah. I just had a bad dream. Did I wake you up?”

Noah stares at her, brow furrowed deep in concentration.

 

“...Nightmare?” He pronounces the word carefully. “Like, monsters under the bed? Like in Hocus Pocus? That kind?”

 

“Sort of,” Taylor says. “Different kinds of monsters, but they’re not real, baby. None of them are.” 

 

“Oh.”

 

They really shouldn’t have let him watch that movie, but it’s too late for that. 

 

“C’mere, little man.”

Karlie pulls back the covers, helping the Noah into bed with them. He crawls into her lap, a thumb in his mouth. Normally, she would chide him for that, as they were trying to wean him off the habit. It doesn’t seem like the right time to scold him.

 

“Mama, why were you crying?”

 

Karlie looks at her son, their little boy, and wishes they could revise this story. Wishes there wasn’t any revising to be done. Noah’s eyes are wide with curiosity, and she finds herself pulling the covers over all three of them, shielding them from any other monsters, real or not.

 

Taylor can’t answer the question, this Karlie knows. She brushes Noah’s curls out of his eyes, and takes a deep breath.

 

“Do you remember what we found out when Evie was born? About her lungs?”

 

The little boy nods seriously. Of course he remembers, that was a day forever ingrained into all their memories. 

“Mama was crying because she had a bad dream about that. She had a nightmare that Evie couldn’t breathe, and she was scared.”

“Evie?” Noah reaches forward to touch Taylor’s cheek, and Taylor takes his little hand, squeezing it gently. “Evie’s fine, Mama. She’s sleeping.”

 

Taylor doesn’t bother fighting against the tears. They roll slowly down her cheeks as she stares at their son, taken aback by his innocence and love. 

 

“We know that, sweet boy,” Karlie murmurs. “Everyone has bad dreams about things that aren’t real. That’s how nightmares work.”

 

“Really?”

“Really,” She admits. “But it’s alright, because Evie is strong and healthy now. We’ve got nothing to worry about.”

 

Karlie looks to Taylor as she says the last part, hoping to assuage any lasting fear. Noah notices Taylor expression too, and crawls out of Karlie’s lap into hers, wrapping his arms around Taylor’s neck. 

 

“I want to sleep here with you.” He declares. “I’ll protect you.”

 

So Taylor lays down again, this time with Noah in her arms, while Karlie reaches for the light. For the first time in a long time, Taylor sinks into a dreamless sleep. 

 

…. 

 

December  

 

Karlie can’t pinpoint the exact moment she realized something was wrong. 

 

Maybe it was when Taylor stopped writing songs. Karlie would wake alone, only to find Taylor downstairs at the piano, staring blankly at its keys. 

 

“Nothing,” She murmured when Karlie asked what was wrong. “Nothing at all.”

 

Certainly months after Evie was born, but those days were so hazy. A complete lack of sleep and high doses of caffeine can do that to a person.

 

It was the moments in between, Karlie realizes. The transition moments that often go unnoticed, subtle warning signs you drive past in a hurry. Taylor wanted to be left alone. She slept for hours on end, refusing to eat breakfast because she just “wasn’t hungry , Karlie, can’t you leave me alone?” 

 

Looking back, the biggest sign was Taylor’s reluctance to hold Evie. Her excuses were believable until they quickly became escape routes, anything to avoid the inevitable. Karlie didn’t know what to do, standing there in the kitchen with their wailing baby in her arms, unable to comfort her.

 

Karlie couldn’t bring herself to yell. Fighting wouldn’t fix any of this, she knows, but all the while she felt so useless . Her wife was grieving the loss of one child, and the arrival of another had multiplied that grief tenfold. 

 

How twisted it would be, to try and heal Taylor’s pain by thrusting Evie into her arms, a baby she had wanted so badly for so long, only to be reminded of another little girl that had never made it into the world. 

 

And I know it’s long gone, and there was nothing else I could do, and I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to… 

 

 

Present Time 

 

Instead of her usual nightmares, it’s Karlie’s phone that wakes her at three in the morning, buzzing incessantly, vibrating until it’s nearly hanging off the edge of her nightstand. 

 

Groaning, Karlie stretches. Bringing it in front of her, she squints at the name on the screen, blinded by the brightness.

 

Taylor Swift. 

 

“Fuck,” She curses, and brings it to her ear. “Taylor, are you there? What’s the matter?”

“...Karlie?”

 

The hesitation in Taylor’s voice makes Karlie sit up, reaching for the bedside lamp and her glasses. Her heart is pounding now. She’s suddenly very awake. 

 

“I’m here. Tell me.”

“Noah had a bad nightmare,” Taylor rushes out. “He woke up in tears, and I tried to calm him down, and he feels okay, but he really wants to be with you. He wants to be with both of us.”

Both of us. 

 

“Christ, Taylor,” Karlie lets out a breath she’d been holding, feeling slightly light-headed now. “You scared me.”

“I’m sorry. I wouldn’t call like this if it wasn’t important. He’s really shaken up. I can’t convince him otherwise . He wants you.”

 

Like any other sweet, seven-year-old boy on the planet, Noah wants both his parents to comfort him when he’s afraid. Karlie will be damned if she can’t give that to him, despite their current predicament. 

 

“I can be there in ten minutes. Just let me get dressed.”

 

Karlie crawls out of bed, pulling on a thick pair of socks and searching for her boots beneath her dresser.

“I don’t think he’s going back to sleep anytime soon. Take your time. And... Karlie?”

Karlie holds the phone up to her ear with one shoulder, using her hands to pull on the thick winter boots. It was freezing enough out there during the daytime. She wasn’t looking forward to an impromptu three am trip.

 

 “Yes?”

“Thank you, for doing this, I mean. You could’ve said no.”

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Karlie says, momentarily thrown off by Taylor’s kindness. “I’ll be there in ten.”

“Okay.”

… 

 

Taylor’s waiting at the door when Karlie gets out of her car, fingers wound tight against the handle. She looks frightened, and having not bothered to tie her hair up, it rests in tangled golden curls around her face. 

 

Karlie nods her greeting, stamping her feet of any snow before walking inside. Record lows in December did not bode well for what they would face in January, or February, for that matter. All of this felt like a bad sign. 

 

“Thank you,” Taylor says again, when Karlie closes the door behind her.

 

Karlie meets her eyes, met with dark rings underneath them. Had she not been getting enough sleep? Had she been up, thinking the same things?

 

Karlie breaks eye contact quickly, and shakes her head.

 

“Don’t mention it.”

 

They find Noah sitting on the carpet in the living room, bundled in blankets. His cheeks are flushed from the heating and his hair is tangled beyond belief, but he’s got his Star Wars slippers on, so Karlie can’t help but smile. This was her little boy, alright. 

 

He looks up, wide-eyed, still shaken from his dream. Karlie recognized that look, it was the same one Taylor had when she woke from her own nightmares. Now she understands why Taylor called in the middle of the night, understands that she had seen herself in their son’s eyes, and that terrified her. 

 

“Noah. Look who’s here, love.”

 

Karlie hasn’t moved yet from where she stands, waiting for Taylor to nod, to show her this is okay. They had rules about such things, crossing boundaries in their own homes. The kids were confused enough as it was, they didn’t need Karlie or Taylor barging in when it wasn’t their respective week. Karlie supposed this was an exception.

 

“Hey, little man,” Karlie crouches next to Noah, brushing a thumb against his cheek. “Mama called me and said you had a bad dream. Do you want to tell me about it?”

Noah is shaking slightly, his little body still in shock.

 

“It was so real , Mommy. Mama was here, but you weren’t, and the monsters were coming,” Noah sniffles, his eyes flashing with fear again. “And I couldn’t run fast enough.”

 

“Nothing’s gonna hurt you, love, it wasn’t real. It was all pretend.”

Noah’s bottom lip trembles, and on instinct, Karlie pulls him into her lap. He’s far too big for it now, but Noah doesn’t seem to mind. He wraps his arms around her neck like he did when he was four or five, and hides his face in her chest. Karlie presses a palm to Noah’s neck and startles at the dry heat radiating from his skin.

 

“Did you check him for a fever, Taylor?”

“Yes, and he’s running a bit warm. I think it has something to do with all his blankets, though. The heating’s up as high as it goes.”

 

Karlie peers at their son. “Do you feel alright, love?”

Noah shakes his head, burrowing further into Karlie’s chest. She starts to rock him gently. 

 

“I’ve got Motrin in the kitchen,” Taylor gets to her feet. “Stay here.”

So Karlie sits on the floor holding their son, rocking him like he’s no more than a baby, and is met with a crushing wave of nostalgia. 

 

Them, fighting in this very house, weeks before the divorce. The kids were staying with Harry and Louis for the weekend, Harry’s offer, so they could have some “space to diffuse the situation.”

 

And diffuse they certainly did not.

 

“I can’t ask you to prove it,” Karlie’s shaking her head. “That’s not fair. I know you still love me in one way, the same way I still love you in another, but it’s not sustainable. Nothing in this relationship is sustainable.”

 

“You want proof?” Taylor asks, incredulous. “Fine. I’ll give you proof.”

 

She turns, rummaging through one of her desk drawers, and produces an envelope. Tearing it open, she throws a couple loose pages at Karlie. 

 

Karlie takes them cautiously, looking down to read messy, scrawled lyrics dating back to 2017.

 

Squeeze my hand three times in the back of the taxi

I can tell that it’s gonna be a long road

I’ll be there for you at the toast of the town bay

Or if you strike out and you’re crawling home

 

“Track fifteen,” Taylor says icily. “I wrote that for you. I think you can call that proof.”

 

Karlie wants to apologize, but it’s far too late. Taylor has walked out of the living room, throwing the envelope to the ground. 

 

… 

 

Taylor returns with the medicine then, and the two of them coax Noah’s mouth open, squeezing a syringe full of the purple liquid inside. It sends him quickly to sleep, and Taylor carries him back into his room. Again, Karlie waits in the living room, alone. 

 

“He’s gonna be fine,” Taylor says quietly when she returns, pulling another sweater on. It really was freezing in this house. “I’ll keep an eye on him, but I think everything is fine now.”

“I’m glad. Has he been having a lot of nightmares recently with you?”

“Only a few. You?”

“A few,” Karlie admits. “He’s got a serious imagination, I’m sure that doesn’t help. I’ve been letting him watch too many of those Marvel movies.”

Taylor laughs.

 

“You can sit for a moment, if you want.” She nods to the fireplace, flickering gently in the dark. “Warm up for a bit before you go back out. Leave it to me to have you drive over on the coldest night of the year.”

Karlie laughs at that, unable to stop herself.

 

“I really don’t mind the driving,” Karlie says, shrugging off her jacket and starting to unwind her scarf. “I’m a bit of an insomniac these days, anyway. Something about the weather.”

“Really? I’m the same way. It’s so unusually cold-”

Taylor goes very pale as Karlie pulls off the rest of her scarf, staring wide-eyed at her for a moment. Then, like snapping out of a trance, embarrassment follows suit and her cheeks flush a crimson color. Karlie hasn’t seen her react this way in over a year. She’s stunned. 

 

“Taylor? What’s the matter?”

“I’m-” She stutters, backing away from Karlie. “I’m just going to double-check that the kids have enough blankets, um, sorry, excuse me.”

 

Excuse me?

She darts out of the room, leaving Karlie in the living room, bewildered. Turning towards the hall mirror, though, Karlie recoils from her reflection, shocked. Deep red marks line the base of her throat, several of them darkening, going purple. Remnants of two nights back. Love bites that Karlie had asked for, begged for, that Taylor wasn’t meant to see. 

 

Since you admitted it, I can picture it, her lips on your neck, I can’t unsee it...

 

Karlie doesn’t bother waiting for Taylor to return. She pulls her coat back on, takes her scarf and her bag, and all but runs for the door. The wind is cold and unforgiving, stinging her skin, but she welcomes the feeling, tracking prints in the snow all the way back to her car. 

 

There are tears in her eyes as she settles into the driver's seat, and not just from the wind. 

 

You were all I wanted… but not like this



Chapter Text

“You scared the hell out of me, you know,” Harry says. “Calling me like that at two in the morning. I thought the worst.”

“I know,” Karlie exhales heavily, thinking back to their frantic exchange a week earlier. “I panicked. I didn’t mean to scare you, though. Sorry.”

 

The two of them are walking side by side in Regents Park, tracking through the snow. No one is out this morning, not on Christmas Eve, and it’s both eerie and comforting being the only two on the hill.

 

“Taylor has the kids today?”

Karlie nods. 

 

“I’ll pick them up tomorrow morning. We had to explain to Noah three different times that Santa understands divorces, and that they’ll still get two sets of presents.”

“Oh, God.”

 

“Yeah,” She says glumly, and kicks at a drift, sending powdered snow flying. “So I can add Christmas to the list of things we royally fucked up.”

 

Harry stops then, overlooking the whole park from the hill. Karlie’s stomach twists as she realizes where they’re standing, Primrose Hill. 

 

“I proposed to her here, you know.”

“I remember,” He smiles, more at the memory than anything else. “Those girls took our picture down there,” He nods at the path that leads out of the park gates to Albany Street. “And you lost your shit.”

Karlie barks out a laugh. “I did, but for good reason.”

She remembers how terrified Taylor was later that night, shaking from the shock of it all, wanting to be held before bed.

A silence washes over them. Harry stamps his feet, struggling to keep warm while Karlie fights off waves of emotion. Grief, regret, and denial come at her in full force.

 

Wind in my hair, you were there, you remember it… 

 

“You never told me why.” Harry says suddenly. 

 

“Why?”

“Why the two of you seperated.”

Karlie looks up at him in disbelief, but then realizes it’s true. She never told him why, not exactly. Harry only saw the aftershock, the absolute implosion of her and Taylor’s relationship, and the lasting scars it left Karlie. 

 

“Taylor had a miscarriage,” Karlie says, still looking out over the hill, over what had been their favorite place in London. “We were going to have another baby, a girl, before Evie. There were other reasons, but we never recovered after we lost her.”

 

Silently, Harry takes Karlie’s hand. It’s a gesture of such friendship and understanding that it nearly moves her to tears. They stand there for a long time, an unspoken agreement between the two of them to never speak of this again. 

 

“I still love her.” She says hollowly, confessing what she’s been denying for months now. “I never stopped loving her.”

Harry squeezes her hand gently.

 

“I know.”

 

The two of them turn to head back home, and in the early morning of Christmas Eve, Karlie feels something she hasn’t felt in a long time. She feels hopeful, and immensely grateful for Harry’s quiet understanding and empathy. 

 

She’d forgotten people could be kind. 

 

… 

 

Taylor hasn’t stopped thinking about that night since it happened.

 

It

 

Just the memory brings color to her cheeks. It was an accident, Taylor knows this from Karlie’s reaction alone, but it didn’t leave her any less shocked. Those marks, like bruises on Karlie’s pale skin, left Taylor speechless. 

 

Karlie didn’t even like lovebites. She loved giving them, sure, but any time Taylor had tried, it was too obvious, Taylor, and I can’t cover all of them with makeup, don’t. 

 

Seeing those mottled marks on Karlie’s neck, it was like flipping a switch back on, dragging Taylor through layers of nostalgia so thick she could barely breathe.

 

How many times had she covered marks like that? With a sweater, scarf, or layers of foundation? How many times had Tree grabbed her by the wrist, flinging her into a dressing room bathroom, demanding she cover those disgusting things, Taylor. 

 

How many times had Taylor begged Karlie for them? After coming down from her high, whimpering from the overstimulation, seeking her lips. Sometimes Karlie sucked so hard Taylor’s skin bruised, leaving marks that wouldn’t heal for weeks. Those were Karlie’s favorite.

 

“You’re mine,” Her voice is so clear in Taylor’s memory, she can almost feel Karlie’s fingers sweeping over her skin, pressing at the blooming red and purple. “No one else gets to have you.”

 

Someone had left those marks on Karlie. A woman, Taylor hopes, for the sake of preserving her own ego and sanity, but someone else all the same. Taylor wonders shamelessly if there were more, more than what she could see in that split-second. It was like opening a door to another world, but Karlie’s boundaries were holding strong, much like her own, and there was no way back in.

 

Karlie left after that, after Taylor walked away. Taylor heard the door close, but she wasn’t one to go running after Karlie. Not anymore. 

 

More than anything, Taylor hated the way it made her feel. Because in that fleeting moment of understanding, a moment in which Karlie and Taylor had succeeded in parenting their child together , Karlie pulled off that fucking scarf and shattered everything. 

 

In that moment, Taylor knew exactly how Dianna felt, coming home that October morning to find her gone.

 

And that terrifies her like nothing else. 

 

I hate that because of you, I can’t love you babe.

…. 

 

Christmas Eve came and went in a blur of stocking stuffing, hot cocoa, and champagne. After wrapping all of Evie and Noah’s presents, Karlie was ready for a glass of wine and an early bedtime. Luckily, Harry called and Karlie graciously accepted an invitation to dinner. She was eager to ignore the depressing reality of her recent epiphany, and any distraction was welcome. 

 

Later though, sitting cross-legged in her living room by the fireplace, a glass of wine in hand, Karlie’s thoughts drift to a dangerous place.

 

She’s staring up at the mantel, admiring the two matching stockings she had bought for Noah and Evie, tassels hanging down, and wonders how different things would be if there were three stockings instead of two.

 

If Taylor hadn’t lost that baby, how different would things be now? Would she still be alone on Christmas Eve? If nothing had changed, if they’d still fallen apart, would she have another ring on her finger by now? Another person to dry her tears? 

 

It all felt so raw, even now. Nearly four years later. Losing a child left a wound that never healed, not fully.

 

 

April, 2022

 

 8 Weeks Without Her

 

“Why do we have to talk about it?”

 

Because Karlie couldn’t do this alone, not anymore, not after weeks and weeks of sobbing in the shower when Taylor wouldn’t get out of bed for days. She didn’t recognize her wife anymore, this woman in front of her was not Taylor.

 

“Because that’s the only way we can move through this, love. I can’t let you wallow in self-pity and loneliness for the rest of you life. I won’t allow it.”

“We talked through it already,” Taylor’s voice is so thin, so frail. She’s not making eye contact, another coping mechanism. “Several times.”


“And yet, you still won’t get out of bed,” Karlie says sharply. “You still fall to pieces and shut the door on me. It’s not fair. I’m a part of this too, Taylor. You’re not the only one that lost her.”

 

Not the only one at all. Karlie thinks of Andrea, of the tiny baby slippers she’d handsewn for Taylor, sent in a little box wrapped in light blue paper, Taylor’s favorite color.

 

Karlie had promptly chucked them in the trash, that night they came home, Taylor so ashen she nearly fainted before they reached the bedroom.

 

“Why?” Karlie asks her. “If I’m here, if I’m offering my comfort, why do you shut me out?”

 

“Because I am drowning ,” Taylor looks up to face Karlie at last, tears streaming down her cheeks, her eyes sunken from countless nights spent wide-awake. “I lost her, Karlie, and my body doesn’t understand that. I am grieving so hard I can’t distinguish reality from fantasy. I wake up and I can’t breathe I’m crying so hard,” Taylor’s chest heaves from the force of her tears. “I don’t know which part is the nightmare and which isn’t.”

 

“You can’t blame yourself for losing the baby.”

“Say her fucking name,” Taylor seethes. “Say it. You chose the name,” She stabs a finger through the air at Karlie, the movement almost manic. “You say it.”

 

Karlie has to swallow twice before she can manage, fighting off her own tears.  

 

“Daisy.” 

 

 

Christmas Day, 2025 

 

The five minute window that Karlie had so perfected, the 300 seconds it took to pick up the kids at Taylor’s and head out the door, were the only chance Karlie had to apologize. 

 

For the enormous, humiliating mistake she had made by taking off that damned scarf, and letting Taylor know just how insensitive she still was, after all this time. 

 

Figures. 

 

Because of course Taylor had gone above and beyond to warn her of the new girlfriend, of course she’d kept in mind the impact a new relationship would have on the kids. She had acted accordingly, like any respectable adult would.

 

What did Karlie do? She went and fucked a woman she didn’t know , and then accidentally showed off a necklace of hickies to her ex-wife. Like a lunatic. 

 

Even so, 300 seconds felt like a lifetime. In 300 seconds, you could rebuild a relationship or burn it to the ground. If anyone knows the power of 300 seconds it’s Miss Taylor Swift, who penned All Too Well in just 5:28, a song Karlie can no longer listen to if it comes on country radio.

 

But you keep my old scarf from that very first week, ‘cause it reminds you of innocence and smells like me… 

 

Goddamn scarves. They ruin everything. 

 

So Karlie stands here on the doorstep, shivering, and wonders why on earth she wasn’t given the gift of words. 

 

There is a good chance she will fuck up this apology, and Karlie knows there is no rebuilding a house that’s already on fire, but she smiles all the same when the door opens.

 

“Merry Christmas!”

 

Taylor is wearing a fuschia sweater and a necklace made out of ornaments, and it seems to Karlie that nothing at all has changed, the woman in front of her is still the woman Karlie fell in love with. Except now she’s sparkling. 

 

“Hi,” Karlie laughs, stepping forward out of the cold. “Merry Christmas. You’re having a terrible time as usual, I can see.”

 

“Terrible,” Taylor agreed, eyes sparkling with laughter. “The kids were just packing their things. Sorry, it’s a bit of a warzone in here.”

That it was. Karlie surveys the fallout of Christmas morning, wrapping paper strewn every which way, ribbon flung over the couch, a pair of scissors and batteries on the carpet. She wonders how early the kids dragged Taylor out of bed. 

 

“I’d expect much of the same back at my place. They’re little goblins, both of them.”

 

Taylor nods in agreement. Out of the corner of her eye, Karlie can see Taylor peeking up at her curiously through her fringe.

 

“So… about last time.”

Clearly, Taylor had not lost the habit of a straightforward approach.

 

“Last time.”

 

“If I don’t acknowledge it, I’ll feel too awkward,” Taylor says by way of apology. “I didn’t mean to react the way I did. It was immature.”

“I’m still so embarrassed,” Karlie feels like a teenager, hanging her head, humiliated. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, though, that was completely unintentional. I’m sorry.”

 

“You don’t have to apologize,” Taylor says softly, and Karlie knows she’s being honest when she sees her eyes, alarmingly kind. “We’re both adults. I understand.”

 

“Do you?”

Fuck. It comes out sharper than Karlie intends in an effort to protect herself, but Taylor, ever the poised professional, ignores it. 

 

“I should go find the kids,” Karlie turns towards the hallway, eager to end this conversation and leave. “They’ll want to open their presents.”

 

“Wait!” Taylor blurts out, fumbling for her back pocket. “I wanted to give you something.” 

 

Karlie turns, deciding to humor her. From her pocket Taylor produces a tiny, lavender-colored box. It’s tied up with silver strings, so clearly her style that Karlie almost rolls her eyes. Taylor loved Christmas more than any human on the planet. 

 

“You really shouldn’t have.”

“It’s not anything like, nice. It’s just sentimental.”

 

Sentimental? 

 

“Well, that’s sweet, but I didn’t get you anything.”

“Well, ex-spouses aren’t supposed to get each other gifts,” Taylor laughs. “But I decided to break the rules. It’s alright. Open it.” 

 

As she pulls at the strings, the box falls open, but nothing could have prepared Karlie for what’s inside. 

 

Hanging from a delicate chain is a golden pendant of a daisy. As she goes to pull it from the tissue paper, Karlie realizes the back of it is engraved.

 

For Daisy, our stardust girl.

  2/15/22

 

“I have one too,” Taylor pulls at the front of her sweater, revealing an identical pendant hanging from her neck. “I just thought it was appropriate, for the both of us, for what we went through. It’ll be four years soon.”

 

Karlie doesn’t have enough words to properly thank Taylor, so she nods, reaching forward to pull her ex-wife into a tight hug. They stand there like that for a long time, swaying in the kitchen in the soft glow of morning light.

 

“Thank you,” Karlie says hoarsely, when she finally regains her senses. “It’s so perfect. I’ll always wear it.” 

 

“Merry Christmas,” Taylor presses a gentle kiss to Karlie’s cheek as she pulls away, somehow appropriate in this context. “Tell your family I’m wishing them happy holidays.”

“You as well,” Karlie stumbles backward, swiping discreetly at her eyes. “And tell…” She falters. “I’m sorry, I don’t know her name.”

Taylor pales. 

 

“Katja. Like “gotcha”, but with a K. She’s Russian,” Taylor says quickly. “I will, thank you.”

 

The kids come around the corner then, Noah leading his little sister by the hand. Karlie goes to them, scooping her children up in a bear hug, peppering their skin with kisses until they squeal. 

 

It’s not until they’ve said their goodbyes and are settled in the car that Noah looks to Karlie, frowning.

 

“Mummy, you’ve got lipstick on your cheek.”

 

A glance towards the rearview mirror confirms this. She hadn’t noticed before, but the crimson stain on Karlie’s cheek is there, plain as day.

 

“Thanks baby,” Karlie grins. “I’ve got to be more careful when I put it on.”

Karlie doesn’t stop smiling the whole way home.

 

Taylor, now alone in her apartment, is floored by the scent of Karlie’s perfume. She can still feel Karlie’s arms around her, can still smell the scent of Jasmine. 

 

After all this time, Karlie still wore the same perfume. 

 

And tell, I’m sorry, I don’t know her name.

 

Taylor is so completely, utterly fucked. 













Chapter Text

Taylor doesn’t mean to end up at the piano tonight.

 

Yet here she sits, feeling out of place on the bench, staring at the keys as though she’d never seen them before. How strange, to feel foreign in an environment that had always been anything but. 

 

Insomnia. It brought her to the strangest places at the strangest times. 

 

She doesn’t have any new material, no scribbled lyrics on a sticky-note or folded napkin in her purse, no disjointed melodies in her head, seeking a cadence and rhythm. The spontaneous creativity was no longer present, it hadn’t been for a while, but it’s two in the morning and Taylor will never stop wanting to sing songs she’s already written. If not to take herself back to a certain point in time, to give her hope for more moments like them.

 

She hasn’t sung like this, alone in the house, for the longest time. 

 

And I know it’s long gone, and there was nothing else I could do

And I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to…

 

‘Cause there we are again, in the middle of the night, 

 

We dance around the kitchen in the refrigerator light,

 

Down the stairs, I was there, I remember it all too well

 

Taylor never sang this song for anyone but Dianna, but tonight it’s for Karlie. It’s for Karlie, and the woman that left those marks on her, and the version of herself that Taylor can never get back. 

 

For once, Taylor is grateful she has the house to herself. 

 

She cries openly and without shame. 

 

… 

 

A Week Later 

 

Karlie wakes to Noah’s fingers, pressing insistently at her cheek. 

 

“Mama,” He says matter-of-factly. “It is snowing outside.” 

 

Karlie turns, still tangled in the sheets, to look out the window. So it was. 

 

She climbs out of bed, not fully awake, and tells her son to grab his snow boots while she wakes his sister. 

Chaos ensues the second the door opens, and Noah and Evie sprint into the yard. Well, Noah sprints. Evie toddles. 

 

It’s a heartwarming sight. To watch their two children so content in their own world, throwing fistfulls of snow at eachother, undeterred by the cold or anything else, for that matter. Karlie hangs back for a second, taking in the moment. 

 

Months ago, a moment like this wouldn’t have made her so happy. Months ago, Karlie didn’t remember what it meant to be happy. 

 

Karlie thinks back to Christmas morning, sees the utter relief in Taylor’s eyes when she hugs her, and wonders how much longer their lives will be like that, in touch but never truly together. 

 

“Mama!” Evie shrieks. “Look!”

Karlie does, sees her daughter holding a snowball above her head like the Statue of Liberty, and smiles so wide it hurts. 

 

None of it made any sense. Karlie can’t pinpoint the exact moment that guards were dropped, walls let down, but she can stand to be in a room with Taylor now, and she couldn’t months ago. 

 

How infuriating that she realized their love was still worth it at this moment, in the midst of Taylor’s moving on, following Karlie’s moment of rebellion, right at the realization that their grief was still shared, still something that brought them together, after all these years. 

 

Karlie isn't naive enough to assume Taylor feels the same way. Love is a complicated thing. People heal gradually, and it different ways. The fact that Taylor may still love Karlie did not change the fact Taylor was currently in a relationship. Still, there was a moment of understanding between the both of them that night when Karlie pulled off her scarf. 

 

This isn’t right. This needs to be fixed. 

 

Things were going to change. For better, for worse, she doesn’t know, but Karlie knows change is inevitable and that she is powerless against it. She finds comfort in that. 

 

She runs to their children, sending snow flying behind her. 

 

All I know is we said hello, so dust off your highest hopes, all I know is pouring rain, and everything has changed 

 

 

Five Months Earlier

 

Taylor didn’t mean for any of it to happen. 

 

She didn’t mean to arrive late at the studio, didn’t mean to spill her coffee down her dress, didn’t mean to collide headfirst with a redheaded woman in the restroom as she was frantically trying to wipe it up.

 

She certainly didn’t mean to notice how blue her eyes were, how genuine her smile, how unfamiliar her accent. 

 

“Pardon me,” Taylor stammered. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.”

The woman smiled at her.

 

“No worries. Everyone’s busy today. It’s-”

“Demo day,” Taylor nodded emphatically, throwing the last of the napkins in the trash. “I know.” 

 

She knew, because on her phone there are no less than fifty voice notes from the past eighteen months. The concept of making another album both repelled and intrigued Taylor, but she had to try. She always had to try.

 

“Well, best of luck,” The woman stuck out a perfectly manicured hand, a glossy red to match her hair. “I don’t think we’ve met before. I’m Katja, I work in producing with Max.”

“Oh!” Taylor shook her hand. “Max Martin? I’ve worked with him several times, he’s a genius. I’m Taylor, by the way,” She laughed. “Forgot to mention that.”

“Taylor,” Katja repeated, still smiling. “It’s nice to meet you.”

And Taylor wasn’t sure, she still isn’t to this day, but as she turned to leave she swore Katja was studying her left hand, searching for a wedding ring. 

 

It wasn’t there. The only thing left of that relationship were songs yet to be written. 

 

… 

 

Present Time, Taylor’s Week 

 

Taylor will be damned if she can’t finish this song by mid-evening. She promised Jack another demo by 8 pm, but nothing is going to get done if Evie keeps shrieking every five seconds. 

 

“Mama!” 

 

Or if Noah keeps shouting like that. 

 

Taylor doesn’t know what he wants, but she suspects the new video game her father had given the little boy for Christmas had something to do with it. He was constantly showing her a new trick or spin or cosmic blaster technique . That was more Karlie’s terrain, all things robotic and mathematical, but Taylor did what she could to sound interested. More often than not she retreated to the living room with her guitar, eager to immerse herself in something, to speak a language she understood. 

 

“Mama!” Noah calls again, this time more insistent. “Come here!”

 

Taylor had to have a talk with him about polite tone when addressing adults. It was getting out of hand. 

 

Then the doorbell rings. Really? 

 

“Come look at this tower I just built!”

 

It rings again.

 

“Everything’s on fire, tell grandpa this is so cool!”

And the doorbell rang again , even more insistent. Whoever was out there was going to kick the door down if she didn’t buzz them in soon. A sliver a fear crept through Taylor’s thoughts - who was at the door? And why were they so desperate to get inside?

 

Mama !” 

 

“Oh for christ’s sake…” Taylor mutters, striding to the front door and buzzing up whoever was down below. Fuck it. “I’ll - alright, Noah! Give Mama a second. Show your sister first. I’ll be right there.”

There’s a knock then and Taylor pulls open the door. She’s greeted by Louis, who grins, and holds up a bottle of white wine. 

 

Sancerre. Her favorite.

 

Oh, no . She’d completely forgotten he was coming by to give Noah a belated Christmas gift. As if their children weren’t spoiled enough. Taylor and Karlie had to separate and multiply the presents tenfold.

 

“...Louis!”

“You forgot, didn’t you?”

“No,” Taylor lied. “Of course not. I… come in, please. Sorry,” She stood away from the doorframe to let the man pass by. “You’re looking well, how is Harry-”

“Taylor, love, s’ alright,” Louis was already backtracking. “I can leave if it’s a bad time. Should’ve called before to double-check, s’ on me.”

“Please don’t,” Taylor cried, and then lowered her voice to a less hysterical level. She’d never felt so frazzled in her life. “Oh, god, Louis, please don’t. He’s been dying to see you, I just need to find… Noah!” She shouts down the hall. “Uncle Lou is here, come say hello!” 

 

There’s a shriek of excitement from the living room. Dear God.

 

Noah skids around the corner, his eyes doubling in size.

 

“Uncle Lou!” He exclaims, and if his mother wasn’t in between the two of them, would’ve launched himself into his uncle’s arms. “You’re here!”

“Hiya bug,” Louis grins, though it’s a bit weary, Taylor notices. 

 

 

After the commotion has died down, Louis and Taylor find themselves a quiet corner in the kitchen, settling into opposite chairs at the coffee table. It was Taylor’s favorite place in the house, actually, right next to a spacious French-style window. 

 

Louis is not one to start conversation, so Taylor takes it upon herself to make small talk, uncorking the bottle. 

 

“Thank you for bringing wine. I’ve been losing my mind a little.”

“‘Course,” Louis chuckles. “Happy to help.”

 

“Tell Harry hello for me when you get home. I haven’t seen him in ages. Why didn’t he come with you?”

There is a lapse of silence. 


“Harry and I are having a bit of a… disagreement.” Louis says carefully.

“Oh,” Taylor falters as she brings the wine glass to her lips. “Been there.”

Louis barks out another laugh. “S’ not that serious.”

“I’d hope not. Do you want a second opinion?”

His shoulders deflate.

 

Please .”

So Taylor leans in, all ears. Louis inhales sharply, deciding to put it bluntly. 

 

“Harry wants another baby.”

Taylor studies him for a moment, feeling oddly amused. The perfect man was going to admit to something that would make him just like everyone else. It was comforting. 

 

“And you don’t.”

The nerve is hit. Louis stiffens. 

 

“S’ not that I don’t want another one.”

 

“But you’re perfectly fine without one.”

A nod. Reluctant. 

 

“Lou,” Taylor says, gently. “That doesn’t make you a bad husband. Harry knows that.”

 

“Sure doesn’t fuckin’ seem like that.”

Taylor presses a finger to her lips.

 

“Sorry,” He sighs, and then lets out a quiet groan. “You two had another baby, didn’t you? What happened?”

For the first time all evening, Taylor grins. 

 

“We got a divorce.”

“Taylor!”

“You still love each other, though. There’s hope,” She says sarcastically. “Karlie and I… Louis, we weren’t made for this,” She gestures wildly to the home around them. “This wasn’t what she wanted. Not with me.” 

 

“Well, not with anyone else either.” Louis mutters.

“It’s none of my business,” Taylor lies smoothly. “And I’m in no position to be jealous, either. The both of us should be happy.”

 

“You’re happy ? Truly?”

 

Taylor turns. Louis is staring at a picture of Katja and her hanging on the wall, studying it for a moment, cocking his head to one side. 

 

He’s unconvinced, just like she is. 

 

“Getting there.” Taylor concedes. 

 

“You know there is a difference, right?”


“It’s not like I’m in any position to beg her for another chance,” Taylor scoffs, feeling brave enough to admit it. “That’s a bit embarrassing, isn’t it? Falling to your knees in front of the person who left you?” 

 

Louis chokes on his wine.

 

To your knees?

 

“Fuck off,” She says hotly, though she’s already blushing. “Seriously.”

 

But Louis’s eyes are shining with laughter. He’s clearly pleased with his crude remark, still the same man he was seven years earlier, with Taylor and Karlie living in his small flat downtown.

 

Taylor misses those days.

 

“All I know is Harry thinks she’s bloody miserable every time they go for lunch.”

 

“None of my business.” Taylor says firmly.

 

Louis takes the hint and moves on. 

 

“Guess I’ll have to tell Harry my bloody feelings, won’t I? Be vulnerable an’ all that shit?”

“An’ all that shit?” Taylor mocks his accent teasingly. “Yeah, you will. Sorry.”

“I still love him,” Louis says quietly. He’s suddenly very focused on his glass of wine. Taylor looks away, letting him collect himself. When he does look up again, his eyes are tinged red.

 

Taylor’s heart sinks. She’s never seen him cry. Louis didn’t cry.

“Rosie was always enough for me, an’ I always thought he felt the same,” He leans forward to confess it, quietly. “I never wanted another baby.” 

 

“You have to tell him that, Lou,” Taylor sets down her glass. “Please don’t make the same mistake we did. Don’t keep secrets until they consume you.”

 

Louis looks to the picture of Katja and her again, studying it for a moment longer. He nods, resigned. 

 

“No one warned me about all of this.”

“What?”

“How complicated loving someone is.”

“No,” Taylor murmurs, studying the picture with him. “But it’s worth it.”

It was a nice photo, her and Katja in Wales for the weekend, wind blowing through their hair. Taylor looks happy in the picture, holding tightly onto Katja. 

 

Taylor isn’t sure what she feels now. 

 

For you I would cross the line, they say she’s gone too far this time

Chapter Text

February 

 

Karlie is not having a good day.

 

The cold weather, coupled with her caffeine withdrawal (she’d given coffee up as a New Year’s Resolution), and the impending snowstorm were all making her anxious. She was struggling to keep her wits about her and put on a brave face for the kids. 

 

Then, photographers. 

 

Five men in black, nondescript clothing toting thousands of pounds worth of equipment. Harmless enough until they started shooting photos through the glass storefront of Waitrose. The one on Porchester Road, where Karlie and the kids happened to shop every Monday of their week. 

 

A coincidence, maybe, but it’s eight in the morning, Karlie’s dealt with a lifetime of coincidences, and she’s not quite fond of them anymore. 

 

“Take your sister and move to the back of the store,” She whispers discreetly to Noah, pulling him back from the display cases, out of the shot. “Away from the windows. I’ll be right there.”

Easily 25 pounds for one photo. If they take 1000... good God.

Her son frowns at her, disgruntled. “But-” 

 

“Love, I need you to listen to me. Go.” 

 

The direct nature of Karlie’s tone has Noah nodding, heading down the aisle with Evie in hand, no questions asked.

 

If Karlie was alone she could handle this. Not today, not with the kids, especially when they’re so eager to make cookies. Noah had a list with every ingredient and he’d searched online all by himself to find the perfect recipe. Karlie wasn’t dragging them out of the store and she certainly wasn’t leaving without buying what they needed. 

 

She wasn’t letting them win. 

 

Cursing, she turns to look out the window, glaring at the photographers. She turns to her children, just down the aisle arguing over chocolate chip options. She looks at her phone, winces, and dials the only number she knows by heart.

 

“Karlie?”

“Taylor,” Karlie says. “...I’ve got a situation.” 

 

....

 

Taylor’s word is good. She arrives in less than ten minutes, wearing a grey jumper and matching beanie, golden curls spilling out from underneath. Her cheeks are flushed from the cold but her expression is unreadable as she walks briskly past the photographers into the store, Brandon at her side. 

 

It isn’t until Taylor is standing in front of her that Karlie sees the fury in her eyes, watches how thinly she smiles at the patron working the till. 

 

Karlie hasn’t seen her in nearly three weeks. She’s been in LA for two, one with the kids for a Christmas holiday trip, and the other one was her “off-week”, if they could even call it that. Taylor Swift didn’t take weeks off.

 

“I’m going to file a fucking restraining order on this company.”

 

“As if we haven’t already tried,” Karlie sighs. “We’re in a public place. Technically, they’re allowed to take photos. It’s legal.”

 

Taylor ignores the latter remark. “When did they get here?”

 

“As soon as we did, maybe five till nine? Someone tipped them off.”



“You don’t know that. They could have followed you.” 

 

“Don’t,” Karlie lowers her voice. “Noah could hear you. Don’t scare him.”

 

Taylor sets her jaw, clearly holding back harsher words. 

 

Brandon is standing respectfully to the side, though Karlie knows he hears every word. She watches as he scans the store, keeping an eye on the photographers at all times, his phone never leaving his hand. 

 

People are staring now, clutching shopping bags and baskets to their sides as they pass, whispering. The gossip doesn’t faze either of them, not anymore, but the looks are still difficult. Karlie wishes she could make them all understand: everything they do is to protect their children. 

 

Still, seeing the (former) Kloss-Swifts in public together was like winning the lottery for nosy Londoners. Karlie prays no one is insensitive enough to take a picture, or god forbid, a video. 

 

“Where did you park your car?” Taylor asks, bringing Karlie’s attention back.

“Three blocks down. There weren’t any other spots.”

“That’s too far to walk with five.”

“I know.”

 

Three blocks. Six-hundred steps. Potentially thousands of photos taken. 

 

Of course there had been photos of their children published, but always shot from far away, and never a paparazzi situation like this. Invasive, but not explicitly crossing physical boundaries. 

 

Until now.

 

There was absolutely no way Karlie could walk that far with Evie and Noah, plus grocery bags. Even attempting it meant getting past Brandon first, and she knew better than to try. 

 

That would certainly give shoppers something to gossip about. 

 

“Fuck.”

 

Everything is set into motion. Karlie heads down the aisle to find the kids, leading them back to the registers, still away from the windows. Taylor walks over, Brandon flanking her, still scanning the store. He seemed convinced that the photographers weren’t just inside, but Karlie can’t think about that right now. 

 

She can’t ignore the way Noah’s eyes widen as he sees Taylor. It wasn’t all that often both of his mothers were in the same place. He knows something is wrong, and Karlie hates this, how often their jobs jeopardize the kid’s happiness. 

 

 

Ten minutes later, it’s been decided. Brandon will pull the car around while Karlie walks out with Noah first. Taylor will follow shortly after carrying Evie. 

 

There’s a firm tugging on her jumper. Karlie looks down. 

 

“Mommy?” Noah’s right next to her, and his voice has shot up an octave. “What’s going on?”

She has to crouch to his height, hoping to assuage his fears on the same level. 

 

“There are some men with cameras outside,” She says quietly, pointing to the storefront. At least ten photographers have gathered by now, eagerly awaiting their prize. “Mama and I are trying to get out of the store without them taking your pictures.”

“My pictures?” Noah clearly doesn’t understand. “But, I’m not famous, Mommy. They don’t want my pictures.”

 

Sometimes, Karlie curses the decisions made that have catapulted her into stardom. She knows Noah wouldn’t be standing in front of her without them, but the world she’s forced him and Evie to live in can be so cruel , and today he’ll witness that cruelty firsthand. 

 

“Yeah, baby,” She’s struggling to keep her tone even, because it would be too embarrassing to cry in a grocery store. “They do want your pictures, and I can’t walk with you and Evie all the way to our car, so we’re taking Mama’s.”

“But why-”

“I can’t explain why right now because I need you to listen to me. What’s about to happen might feel a little scary, so you need to know what to do.”

At the mention of “scary”, Noah stands a little taller, and Karlie is flooded with a sense of pride. Her little boy was unstoppable. She whips her hat off, pulling it down until the wool nearly covers Noah’s eyes. It obscures his features slightly. Karlie wishes he was wearing a sweatshirt with a hood, but it’ll have to do.

 

“Wear this, and don’t let go of my hand. That’s the most important part, my love,” She hooks her finger under Noah’s chin, lifting his eyes to look at her. “You cannot let go of my hand. The lights will be very bright. You won’t be able to see.”

“How far-”

“Just to Mama’s car. Ten, maybe fifteen steps," She says, and then adds fiercely. "You can do this, Noah."

 

Brandon takes off his sunglasses to hand to Noah, who accepts them shyly. Even Noah knew that Brandon was not to be argued with. 

 

 

If at all, Karlie is thankful the ordeal is over quickly.

 

Evie doesn’t cry, thank god, but Taylor’s holding her so tightly to her chest she can’t see the cameras anyway. Noah dutifully holds onto Karlie’s hand, walking quickly with his head down through the crowd, as if he’d done it thousands of times before. 

 

Ten, fifteen steps to reach the car.

 

Lights flash and we’ll run for the fences.

 

“Beautiful kids, girls!”



Loose lips sink ships all the damn time, not this time

 

And then the door closes and Brandon is telling them sharply to buckle up, flooring the car out of the shopping center. 

 

“...Mommy? I don’t want to do that again.”

 

Karlie looks at her son, sees the fear flashing in his green eyes, and pulls him into her lap without thinking.

 

“Never again, love.”

 

Not like that, at least.

 

“We didn’t get cookies!” Evie shrieks, on the verge of a tantrum. “We didn’t get cookies!”

 

And then, while rocking her to no avail, Taylor throws a curveball.

 

“We’ve got ingredients at my house, baby girl, we can go make cookies there.”

Noah’s mood completely changes, his eyes lighting up in excitement. Karlie never experienced emotional whiplash before she had kids, but now it’s a regular occurrence. 

 

“Can we, Mommy? We don’t have chocolate chips at home. We could go make cookies with Mama... if that's okay.”


Karlie freezes, suddenly unable to make eye-contact with Taylor. This was crossing boundaries. It was her week, her time with the kids, and that scheduling was rigid, no exceptions. 

 

So why does she want to say yes so badly?

 

“I’m fine with it if Mama is.”

“I’m fine with it,” Taylor says breezily, and because Evie has stopped shrieking for a moment, leans forward to the front seat. “Brandon, we’ll go back to Notting Hill.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” Brandon takes a sharp right. “Heading there now.”

 

Taylor doesn’t correct Brandon. Karlie realizes, mournfully, that so many things have changed in her absence.

 

… 

 

Taylor’s House

 

“Here, can you take her please? I have to pee so bad,” Taylor’s bouncing Evie, who’s not stopped crying, from recent events or simply three-year-old exhaustion, Karlie doesn’t know. “Just for a second. I’ll be right back.”

 

In the handoff, Evie’s sippy cup turns over and spills freezing orange juice down Karlie’s front. Holding back a curse, she thrusts their daughter back into Taylor’s hands and steps away, dripping juice onto the hardwood.

 

“Evie, c’mon ,” Karlie groans. “I just tightened that lid. Did you mess with it? I warned you that would happen.”

 

“Evelyn,” Taylor tries to scold, though she’s clearly stifling a laugh. “You got Mommy all wet.”

 

“All wet!” Evie cries gleefully, suddenly cheerful again as she bounces in Taylor’s grip. “All wet, all wet!”

Karlie takes a deep breath, holding her sweater away from her body to assess the damage. The orange juice had absolutely ruined the fabric, staining the pale blue a sickening color. For God’s sake. It was one of her favorite sweaters too. 

 

“Alright, well, this is a fashion development I didn’t anticipate.”

 

“Go into my closet,” Taylor nods down the hall, shifting Evie onto her hip. “I’ll clean her up. The bedroom is second on the right. Take whatever you want.”

 

“But you have to pee-”

“I’ll survive until you come back. It’s a parenting skill.”

Karlie sheds the sweater, leaving just her camisole on underneath. How was it only ten in the morning? She was exhausted.

 

“Thanks.” 

 

… 

 

Karlie realizes she’s never been in Taylor’s bedroom.

 

There is a grand piano in one corner, a bookshelf hugging the other, the walls plastered in large framed photos. One Karlie likes in particular, Noah mid-laugh while holding his sister, just days old. Sunlight streaming through the curtains casts a soft glow over the whole room, illuminating pictures Taylor must have taken, but Karlie had never seen.

 

Taylor's mother and her massive Great Dane, Kitty.

Harry, Louis, and Rosie cuddled together, grinning.

All three cats on a quilt.

Martha and Abigail toasting wine glasses to the camera.

Taylor, and a redheaded woman, embracing. Taylor's got such a wide smile on her face it's almost foreign to Karlie.

 

Katja, Karlie realizes. That was Katja. 

 

How strange, to feel unfamiliar in a room that could have been hers. Her stomach twists.

 

Stop it. Focus.

 

She finds the closet easily, pulling open the double doors to reveal a color-coordinated system and at least fifty pairs of shoes. Figures. Everything is tasteful, like Taylor, so Karlie easily finds a burgundy sweater from one shelf, holding it up to gauge the size. Good enough. 

 

Karlie slips it on, turning to leave when something glittering catches her eye, and her stomach twists again.

 

There, hanging from Taylor’s mirror on a chain, is the ring. Topaz set among glittering diamonds, a ring Karlie had painstakingly chosen with Harry all those years ago. 

 

And there’s a dazzling haze, a mysterious way, about you dear… 

 

Taylor still had it. Karlie always thought she’d tossed it aside, an afterthought of their marriage, but here it was. Perfectly preserved and hung where Taylor could see it every morning as she got dressed, in her most vulnerable state.

 

Karlie is met with an overwhelming feeling, both relieving and melancholic. 

 

Have I known you twenty seconds, or twenty years?