Chapter 1: 5 Weeks
“This doesn’t make any sense. It’s stupid,” Rey argued, her left arm still wrapped around the toilet bowl she was effectively arguing with, since Ben hadn’t contradicted her once in the past hour. Indeed, his initial response to her latest salvo was a sort of low humming sound that conveyed uncomplicated agreement and then she felt one of his enormous hands flat against her lower back. The other was imperceptibly holding a neatly folded cool washcloth against the back of her neck where loose strands of hair from her bun were straggly with sweat.
“Any better?” he asked. He’d brought the same attention to details he employed making cassoulet and giving her multiple orgasms to the creation and maintenance of the toweling compress. The temperature was cool without chilling her and there wasn’t one rivulet of water running down her chest. It was a pity she couldn’t give him the answer he wanted.
“No, but it’s not worse. It’s nice, I just still feel disgusting and—” Once again, retching interrupted her, her own retching with the most pathetic little urp of vomit at the end. She wished she had food poisoning.
“M’sorry, sweetheart,” she heard Ben say, as if he were far away and not crouching behind her in their white-tiled bathroom. She’d wanted him to wallpaper it with old newspaper like Kaydel had suggested, to have something entertaining if she forgot her cell, but she was glad he’d refused and just kept it looking like a bathroom on an ice-planet, all pale grey paint and brushed nickel fixtures, acres of white porcelain.
“Not you fault. I mean, I guess it is, kind of, but it’s not all your fault. What the fuck though, it said it’s an orange seed now, that fucking website,” Rey muttered. She had rapidly discovered that repeated retching and vomiting predisposed her to muttering, with cursing. And grousing, groaning, not attractively, and the occasional, also less-that-appealing whimpering.
“Oranges have pips,” Ben countered. She managed to look over her shoulder at him and glare, which must have been what he intended, because he only gave her a smile in return, one of his for-Rey’s-eyes-only ones, made up of three parts adoration, one part sweetness, and a dash of proprietary pride she would ordinarily take offense at.
“I can’t do this for another thirty-five weeks for an orange pip,” Rey said.
“Morning sickness is only supposed to last until the second trimester. So, more like eight weeks,” Ben said, rationally enough. He wasn’t vomiting up his gizzards on a daily basis. She wasn’t going to bring up how Duchess Kate had had hyperemesis or how she was a Duchess and not a Princess. She focused on the white rim of the bowl, the white tile, she imagined white fields of snow and tried to breathe through the nausea.
“That might as well be infinity,” Rey said darkly.
“Do you want to try a cracker again? Leia keeps texting me about them,” Ben said. Rey imagined the pantry, which seemed like a squintillion miles away at the moment, the custom shelves with their wire-mesh baskets. There were at least six different types of bland, flat carbohydrate wafers in unsealed sleeves—water crackers, rice crackers, salted and unsalted saltines, brand-name and generic, though Rey had also argued that generic unsalted saltines were basically nothing. There was also unseeded Wasa bread, which Ben actually bought before all this insane, let’s create a new life with your eyes and my nose and definitely your hair, Ben, but we can put it in those little wispy pigtails project had begun, back when it just meant a lot of fucking and Ben whispering in her ear I’m putting my baby in you Baby as he rutted against her. Very effectively, as it turned out, since there had only been about six weeks of said fucking with the new version of dirty talk before two cheap dollar store tests and one fancy-pants digital one all agreed she was pregnant. P R E G N A N T. They’d called right away but the OB didn’t want to see her until she was ten weeks, though the nurse had sounded positively merry, telling her they didn’t schedule ultrasounds before ten weeks unless there was infertility treatment involved.
“I don’t want a cracker. I don’t want to chew anything, I don’t want to throw up partially chewed crackers, saltines, those rice things you got from the Korean market. I’m gross and this is endless and it makes no sense that I feel this bad from a fucking orange seed. Pardon me, a pip. Pip,” Rey rambled.
“I have flat Coke on the counter. Rose said to try it. And there’s Sprite and Canada Dry in the fridge,” Ben said. Dimly, Rey registered he’d just listed three brand-name sodas, which she knew he considered chemical syrup monstrosities based on previous rants. Also, that she had gone a good five minutes without another wave of nausea, a barky retch or bowl-clutching. The bathmats were very nice, but she could still feel the tile hard against her knees.
“Coke. In bed. And Voyager,” she said. He’d usually challenge and try to get her to watch the rebooted Galactica or Next Generation after the second season but she liked Janeway best. She began to heave herself up, every part of her heavier, as if a stronger gravity was also being created by her placenta; Ben interceded, his hands at her elbows and then his arm around her waist, gentle, strong, serious.
“Whatever you want,” he said, helping her shuffle out of the bathroom. Everything, his voice, his touch, the prospect of lukewarm Coke in a huge travel mug with a lid and a straw says he means it and that settles her in a way she couldn’t (despite ongoing therapy) have articulated she both wanted and needed. Pip, she silently murmured to herself internal-monologue style, I got you the best father. The best daddy.
“A plain bagel from Zabar’s for breakfast? Toasted, hold the Nova?” she said, going for broke. She felt him kiss the top of her sweaty head.
“Not even a schmear?”
“I mean, let’s not go crazy,” Rey answered.
Chapter 2: 8 Weeks
Ben had made an actual check-list to prepare, on an actual legal pad and he’d made checkboxes in a neat, right-justified column, because he was confident that for all her snooping ability, it wouldn’t occur to Rey that he’d go old school and not use Notes. It was more planning than he’d done for their wedding, but they’d been having regular sex then, regular in frequency rather than conventionality. He hadn’t had any particular ideas about how Rey being pregnant would affect their sex life other than a hazy, though incredibly erotic image of a very round Rey requiring acrobatic contortions or inventive use of ergonomic pillows and/or the Bowflex. It had become rapidly clear that he had underestimated the immediate and immense impact of her hormones and after doing a little research, he was quite honestly getting worried there would be two heartbeats showing up on the ultrasound, based on Rey’s all-day morning sickness and the fatigue that hit her like a Mack truck without brakes by 8:45 pm nearly every day. He’d also had to stop frying, grilling, or baking bacon (he’d tried all three) since she couldn’t stand the smell and it was impossible to get the fragrance out for a solid day.
He’d done all the housework while she was at her office, using the Mrs. Meyer’s rosemary scented collection because it lingered the least. He changed the sheets and made sure all the candles were plain beeswax, the ones he’d picked up at the farmer’s market the last time they’d gone, which was back when they were still fucking with abandon and not like it was the landing at Normandy. The fridge was stocked with all the items required to hold Rey’s morning sickness in abeyance—the flattened Coke, the spiced soymilk, individual cups of Mott’s applesauce, a quart of matzoh ball soup he’d made fresh and this week, dragonfruit. He wasn’t putting real odds on the dragonfruit being necessary by Tuesday but he’d finish it himself rather than waste the trip to Whole Foods. He’d given her an exceedingly careful foot massage, focusing on the pressure points that were supposed to reduce nausea and avoiding the ones that were supposedly connected to her uterus through some human version of ley lines which he thought was a crock but better not to press anyone’s luck. She’d had a mid-morning nap, a doze he called it so she didn’t get herself all worked up about needing to sleep again two hours after she woke up with the sun full in her face like an interrogation from God. She’d answered some texts from Finn and Leia, played a few rounds of Candy Crush (god, she could be loyal to the strangest things—games on her phone, his father, lemon Italian ices eaten with a mini wooden paddle instead of a spoon) and did just enough puttering around on her own she’d started glancing at him while he pretended to work on the Times Saturday puzzle. She’d raised an eyebrow and uncrossed her ankles; her lips parted but not in a yawn. Victory!
Or so it had seemed. He’d taken her hair down from its messy bun and she’d shaken it around her shoulders softly, breathing out his name Ben like she was making him a promise. He’d held her face in his two hands, feeling the delicacy of her cheekbones under his thumbs, letting her control the pace of the kisses, letting her taste him first. She shifted, angled her neck so he knew she wanted his mouth there, his tongue licking against the pulse of her carotid, gently biting her earlobe. His hands dropped from her face, one falling to the curve of her waist, the other to palm her breast.
“Ow,” she exclaimed. He was startled, honestly a little dazed by his rapidly escalating lust, all the want that he hadn’t been feeling when she was sick or miserable or weepy over ads for heartworm pills for dogs just swamping him—her skin, the tumbled silk of her hair, the musk of her body after her nap. He was hard as a rock, Gibraltar and Plymouth and the fucking Rock of Ages Leia had sung about when he was little and scared of lightning but not thunder. He was hard and she was in his arms and hearing her cry out just made him tighten his hands on her.
“Fuck!” she yelped. Sharply, surprised and not happily, a sound that cut through the static of his erection and the urge he had to shove his tongue in her mouth. He moved the hand on her breast a little and she hissed. They’d definitely gotten bigger over the past few weeks, actually straining a few of her tightest button-downs, and the sex-lizard part of his brain was swiftly cataloguing the change when he touched her.
“Fuck that’s good? It sounds like the other fuck,” he said, holding still.
“My breasts are, they’re more sensitive, tender,” she said. “It’s like the worst case of PMS ever.”
“I’m hurting you—shit, Rey, I didn’t mean—” He let go of her altogether, tried to put some modicum of space between them, even though his stupid cock hadn’t gotten the memo and was still raising a tentpole in his track-pants.
“I know you didn’t mean to hurt me. I’m just, I’m not quite sure how Rey 2.0 operates, otherwise I’d have given you better…directions,” she said, moving from consoling to self-deprecating and then sliding in home with a tone that was low and lovely and not-at-all wisecracking. And then she picked up his hands where they sat at his sides like humungous lobster claws and placed them on her hips, the way she might if they were slow-dancing at a bar, and wriggled back closer to him, angling herself so the tent-pole analogy was totally driven from his mind.
“You’ll have to tell me, what feels good, what doesn’t,” he murmured.
“I very much will,” she laughed. “I’ll have to be bossy.”
“You weren’t before?”
“You want to banter or fuck, Ben? Because we probably have about an hour tops before I either need to eat eighteen pieces of Ryvita and chase it with some soymilk or end up puking for three hours, so…”
“Fuck, I want to fuck,” he said, his hips emphasizing his assertion even before he finished the last word.
“You can’t hurt the baby,” Rey whispered against his lips as she shoved her hands under his waistband, caressing him extremely thoroughly as she kept talking. “In case you were wondering, not that it’s a baby yet technically, it’s supposed to be the size of a raspberry and anyway, I’ve got that covered. I didn’t want that to interrupt us, later.”
“You’ve got that covered?” he repeated. They were words she had said and he wanted to say something but he could hardly think straight, feeling her hands on him, feeling her want him.
“Yeah. You did the rest, with your little checklist,” she said, sighing. Later, after the later that wasn’t interrupted by him worrying his cock would be de trop when she made it eminently clear that if anything, he should give her more, harder, fuck Ben, more, after that later and the later of getting up stark naked to get her the soymilk and Ryvita and a cloth napkin because they weren’t goddamn animals, he finally thought to ask her,
“You found my checklist?”
“Yeah. But I’m over the dragonfruit. Ew.”
Chapter 3: 12 Weeks
“So, we can tell people now. Twelve weeks, that’s the magic number,” Ben said earnestly. The earnestness was adorable and probably a good reason why Rey shouldn’t have burst out laughing. That and the mouthful of omelet aux fines herbes aux American cheese he’d made for her with only one grumble about processed milk products not mixing with fennel and tarragon. She’d managed to subdue herself to a chuckle after she swallowed the bite of eggy miracle he’d wrought.
“There are people we haven’t told? Seriously?”
He looked back at her blankly, the distant cousin of a look she remembered from that first road trip, when there’d been an overlay of disdain and strangled lust. Now he just looked so confused she wanted to reach over the ruffle his gorgeous hair but her fingers had gotten greasy from the buttered toast. She licked one, on principle, saw it flop as a distraction, moved on. She didn’t mind ticking off people on buttery hands.
“Leia. Finn, Rose, Kaydel, Poe, Jessika,” she began.
“Jessika doesn’t count, she’s your therapist. Health care providers aren’t people,” he countered.
“Um, she is too people and that’s like the meat for like three sessions minimum, but you’re not going to distract me. Lando, Bazine—”
“You told Bazine already?”
“She wanted me do a thing. For a special election. In Texas and Cruz is supporting the other candidate and she knows how much I hate that fucking fucker—”
“Everyone hates Ted Cruz,” Ben said.
“Agreed, but she knows I have a level of loathing that’s around a thousand suns going supernova but still slightly under his college roommate’s, so I needed a reason I wouldn’t go. The real reason. She can smell out BS like a bloodhound. Speaking of, why don’t they bring back The Bloodhound Gang? That show was great!” Rey said. The lack of nausea for the past three days had made her nearly giddy.
“Take it up with PBS. I guess you’ve told them too,” Ben said.
“Nope, but good idea. We’re about to be big consumers of the Sesame Workshop’s oeuvre,” Rey said.
“Did you tell your work?” Ben asked.
“I mean, I wanted them to know that the daily vom sessions weren’t because I was hungover every morning. I sort of suggested the truth and let them put two and two together. I’m a married woman of child-bearing years and we have a 2 bedroom in the city, you know how Bebe follows the real estate listings and Zorri always orders me a rainbow roll which I obviously couldn’t eat,” Rey said, a little apologetically.
“So, is there anyone who doesn’t know?” Ben said.
“Your old thesis advisor? I assume you told Dr. Phasma. Poe told Hux who can’t decide whether to refer to me as falling pregnant or enceinte. Douche.” Rey rolled her eyes, which was de rigeur in reference to Hux and abso-fucking-lutely verboten regarding Ben’s psychiatrist, so she knew he’d get it.
“Did you tell my father?” Ben asked. This was what counted, she heard it in his voice, the way he drummed his fingers on the table-top. In the way he said my father and not Han.
“No, I didn’t tell him,” she said softly. There was no subtle way to scooch her chair over towards him, so she reached out to put her little, buttery hand over his larger one. “Leia didn’t either. I didn’t have to say anything, she told me she wouldn’t, that it was up to us and that he’d never figure it out on his own unless we ask him to deliver the baby, so we didn’t need to worry about it.”
“Why didn’t you tell him?”
“Because he’s your father, not mine. Because everyone I told was someone I’d want to talk to if things…didn’t work out this time. If we had to take it back,” she said.
“We’d never be taking it back. If you’d had a miscarriage. It still would have happened. It would’ve been real, regardless,” Ben said. The earnestness was back, with a luxurious dollop of reassurance and that expression in his beautiful dark eyes, that I see you Rey look that she fell in love with every day.
“Okay. Well. I didn’t tell Han,” he wasn’t her father, after all, “And Jannah doesn’t know, though Alice gave me the stink eye the other day and I think she’s onto me,” Rey said. Ben turned their hands and squeezed hers in his. True love was not minding the butter.
“Leave her to me. We’re simpatico,” Ben said. If Rey believed in reincarnation and destiny and anything more than 42 being the answer to everything, she’d buy that Ben and Alice had once been co-rulers of a lost empire but not Atlantis because that was some kooky shit they would both have sneered at.
“Now you can put the ultrasounds on the fridge,” Rey offered. Ben liked a minimalist refrigerator, had adamantly refused her magnetic poetry collection even after she’d demonstrated her impressive abilities in updating Catullus, that filthy fuck.
“I think they’re good where they are,” he said. He meant, stuck in the frame of their wedding picture on his bedside table, the one where they could have looked like models for Your Goth WeddingTM except that she’d been tearfully beaming at him and he had the softest, happiest smile on his face and was tickling her chin with the least wilted of the bodega daisies. There was a flimsy, glossy square of film tucked in the corner, monochromatic, the way Ben liked it, like an O’Keefe with Rey’s name and date of birth in tiny print on the border along with 11w4d.
“But you’re not,” he added, patting his lap. She scrambled over and let him put his arms around her.
“Won’t be able to do this for long,” she said. “When I’m big as a house.”
“I’ll always be able to do this,” he said, nuzzling her neck. “You’ll never be too much for me. Either of you.”
“Mmm,” was all she could muster. Ben was made of sterner stuff.
“Plus, you know, we’re only looking at a tiny house scenario here.”
Chapter 4: 16 Weeks
“It says it’s as big as an avocado now,” Rey announced, her tablet propped up on her noticeably round belly. The weird part was how firm it was but she was leaning into that, because an extra shelf was nothing to be sneezed at. She could see the vast utility looming for bowls of pasta, mugs of cocoa since she was forbidden coffee, ribs, like a whole rack or three, slathered with a molasses based sauce, no matter was Calvin Trillin wrote about mustard barbecue. She wasn’t quite sure what china went best with ribs but she’d need a bath afterwards and help getting out and Ben was extremely good at that.
“Every single thing comes back to avocados now. It’s exhausting. I want actual fucking jam, not a smashed avocado on toast. I don’t want it in a smoothie, in a salad,” Ben said. He was lying beside her on their bed, staring at his own laptop. Even before she’d made the latest fruit-baby comparison, he’d been jabbing at the keys like he wanted to hold a sword in his hands and run someone through. There was a new hire in the NYU philosophy department, someone who was possibly (probably?) giving him a hard time in some way, but Columbia was so far uptown and they both hated the 1, so…
“Not in a house, not with a mouse. Got it, Dr. Seuss. I didn’t say you had to eat an avocado. Just—please spare me your rant about millennials and figure out what you are actually upset about. You are paying Dr. Phasma good money, just to be able to do this, a lot really, and I don’t entirely buy that she couldn’t take Blue Cross at least. Single payer, that’s all that makes sense and well, she’s got to have a house in the Hudson River Valley. In Saugerties, I bet,” Rey said, scrolling down on the site that talked about things like rapid growth and nasal congestion and gender reveals. She wondered, fleetingly, what it would be like to be pregnant with a wife, what it would be like to be pregnant at the same time as her wife. Her hormones were off the chain and she found herself breathless on a regular basis, catching sight of Ben toweling off after a shower, watching a woman walk down the street in four inch heels, wondering about what Zorri looked like in a sarong, with frangipani blossoms tucked behind her ear, the soft, salt wind off an aquamarine bay…wondering about Ben with the same frangipani blossoms in his hair, sprawled on the sand, desperately in need of sunscreen, everywhere. Everywhere. She was starting to pant a little, impressed with her own psyche (you go, girl! Fuck on!), when she felt something, just to the left of the laptop. A small, subtle, positive, life-altering thump.
“Jesus!” she whispered.
“What?” Ben was on instant red alert, she saw that on his face, his broad shoulders hunched up by his jaw. Even his hair somehow seemed tense.
“I think—I—that was the baby. I felt, holy shit, the baby moved. Kicked. Something,” Rey said. Ben already had his hands on her belly, underneath the Fat Albert tee-shirt she was wearing, his fingers spread wide to catch any errant sensation. Anchoring her, when she felt like she might float away.
“I can’t feel anything,” he said. Rey kept very still, held her breath. There was an endless moment, then another incontrovertible touch from within herself. A message, if they were willing to hear it.
“She kicked again,” Rey said.
“I didn’t feel it,” Ben said, crestfallen as a kid who’d been promised a puppy for his birthday or Christmas and woken up to socks.
“You will,” Rey said.
“Well, they’re a person, so I hate to say it and there’s no reason to default to he/him pronouns,” Rey explained, the whole time hoping to get another gentle thwack south of her belly button. No dice.
“But, d’you want a girl?” Ben asked.
“It doesn’t matter what I want. We get a baby. That baby has parts. In a few years, we find out whether the parts match the brain. I want your child, our child. I want our family, people who belong to me,” Rey said. She stroked the skin of her belly lightly, as if the small gestating person within could appreciate the gesture.
“We do,” Ben said, tracing some sort of design on her, trailing up towards her breasts and then back down. The Fat Albert shirt had a significant amount of stretchy yardage, as it turned out. He tugged the shirt up and dropped a kiss on her belly, low, where her uterus kept company with her guts, neighborly so far with no sign of a stretch mark. Rey laughed, seeing Ben’s head there, the memorable overlay with the many times he’d started there on his way to going down on her.
“You’re a soft boi, aren’t you?” she said. “It’s a big secret, huh?”
“Not anymore,” he said. “You’ve taken away all my disguises—heartless jackass, manic fuck-up, soulless phony.”
“No one ever thought soulless,” Rey argued. “They thought you were evil. It was always clear you meant it, whatever you were saying.”
“Was that better?”
“Well, it’s over now. But yeah, I guess, I personally and most people would agree, it’s better if you cared about what you said.”
“I didn’t though,” he replied. He’d been moody lately and she wondered about pheromones and hormones and fathers who put on pregnancy weight…
“That’s over. You’re not the same person anymore. You’re my best friend and my husband and Pip’s daddy and I won’t tell Hux about the soft boi stuff.”
“She might be a boy,” Ben warned, like Rey didn’t know statistics and was expect to swing a key on a thread over her tummy to divine the truth.
“Yeah, she might. Whoever the hell’s in there’s taking a nap now anyway,” Rey said.
“Tell me the next time you feel it. Wake me up if you have to,” Ben said. She nodded.
She did too, when it was around 1 am and she was coming back from the bathroom after a most necessary pee, and Pip decided it was a great time to play Knock knock who’s there. Ben still couldn’t feel anything but Rey, but Rey herself couldn’t quite regret that, since Ben channeled all his frustration, most effectively, into a series of orgasms that had her draped over him as limp as his homemade pasta. Tagliatelle.
“Anything now?” he whispered in her ear when he finally had a voice that wasn’t 95% possessive growl.
“I read babies like it when the moms come,” he said.
“So, you had an ulterior motive?”
“No. Nothing besides it’s hot fucking your pregnant wife, especially once you’re allowed to touch her breasts again,” he said. “Anything else is velvet.”
Chapter 5: 20 Weeks
The waiting room was nearly empty, except for a woman with earbuds conspicuously in, which made Rey wonder how she’d hear her name being called. It meant Ben could stretch his legs out, halfway across the carpet and she didn’t have to lower her voice to that respectful-of-others notch just above a whisper. It had the requisite waiting room seascape of pastel beach roses against the even more pastel dunes; Rey much preferred it to any black and white photos of babies in hats and pearls.
“I had a dream last night the ultrasound showed a basketball in there. And then we had no choice but to name it Wilson,” Rey said, resting one hand on what was arguably a bump shaped very much like a small basketball, one marketed to children. “My unconscious is very literal. There’s not even a point telling Jessika about it. What therapist wants to deal with a remedial dream?”
“The orange shirt isn’t exactly helping,” Ben said.
“You just hate colors,” Rey retorted. It wasn’t her favorite but it had the advantage of fitting, since it was an actual maternity top, and it was also free, donated by Rose, who had described it as apricot. If an apricot was on steroids maybe.
“I do not hate colors. I just don’t want to wear them, like a circus clown. Or a daytime TV talk show host.”
“Hang on—you are seriously comparing me to a circus clown? I’m ignoring the daytime TV thing because what the hell,” Rey said, perfectly ready to stand up and put her hands on her hips but unfortunately aware of how much that made her resemble the teapot on the verge of pouring out. Finn had shared this insight with her the last time they managed to all meet up for dim sum and it was only the presence of myriad delectable dumplings and her two quasi-goddaughters that kept her from whacking him somewhere within reach. She chose to glare at Ben who took it in his six foot plus stride. As usual.
“We’re both stressed out about this ultrasound,” he said.
“How come normal people are just excited? Or arguing about whether or not to find out the sex, whether or not to shoot the cake to show the pink or blue filling inside or throw machetes at it,” Rey asked.
“I’m coming back to the normal people thing but people shoot cakes?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I feel like they might,” Rey answered. Oddly, he hadn’t contested the machetes. “What a waste of cake, though, right?”
“Depends on the cake,” Ben said. He reached over the took her hand in his, holding it loosely. She sidled closer, as close as her chair let her. “We’re normal people. We’re not naïve.”
“Normal people have more dildos than maternity blouses?” Rey asked.
“They do when they’re you. It’s okay to be worried, even if it’s probably all going to be okay. If it’s not, we’ll deal with it together,” Ben said.
“I wish I were pestering you to consider the name Aiden,” she said.
“There’s no universe where that would happen. You’d always know it was a waste of time,” Ben said.
“I’m going to pester you about some name. Sometime. Like after this, if it’s all good, especially if we see something cute like she’s sucking her thumb,” Rey warned.
“I have a spreadsheet,” he said, squeezing her hand a little. “And another one for baby-proofing supplies, a sensible layette, and furniture slash equipment. The strollers have a separate one.” Rey laughed and used their clasped hands to sort of punch his thigh in its expensive Japanese dark-wash denim.
“Yet, you were never a Boy Scout,” she said.
“Han was not a fan of organized stuff and Leia didn’t want to give me a knife,” Ben shrugged. “And she hates the Swiss. She doesn’t have a lot of respect for people who want to remain neutral.”
“You know, it’s moments like these when I see the family resemblance,” Rey remarked. She didn’t say Ben grinned like Han did when he was winning a game or looked up from under his dropped lashes just like his mother did.
“I think you’re pushing it a little,” he replied.
“I think you don’t notice because you’re used to having people you resemble in some way. Even if sometimes you hated them with a red-hot, burning passion,” Rey said, but kindly.
“I guess,” Ben said. Once upon a time, the idea that he’d answer her like that would have been inconceivable. Of course, once upon a time, he wrote her porn in Notes. That was something he needed to get back to, but she could hold that suggestion until later.
“It’s just, I think maybe I’m a little nervous about this because it’ll be the first time I see someone who might look like me, who’s related to me in a way nothing can ever change,” Rey said.
To his credit, Ben didn’t make her say anything more or try to convince her having him was the same thing. She leaned her head against him, not quite on his shoulder because she couldn’t reach, but in the vicinity, her cheek against the soft cashmere. He smelled like vetiver, from his cologne, which she only knew since he’d explained that’s what it was and since she’d allowed him to start wearing it again after the first trimester ban, but she was more familiar with the underlying scent that was pure Ben—a faint, fresh musk, something that made her think of the night sky in the woods, smoke curling up into that deep blue.
“I hope we get a good look at her face. I hope she has your nose. Mine on a baby makes Wilson the Basketball-Baby look like a child model,” Ben said. Rey laughed.
“You didn’t have your nose as a baby. I know, Leia showed me pictures. You have puberty to thank for that.”
“Rey, we’re ready for you now,” the nurse called out from the door. Her scrub top was covered in cartoon basketballs and Rey would have shuddered, but Ben’s hand was warm on her lower back, propelling her forward just a little.
“Wilson’s not an option, he was a racist,” Ben said, almost under his breath, loud enough she heard, smiled, and nodded.
She (still merely by default and not discovery) did have Rey’s nose. She was sucking her thumb and Rey let go of a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. Ben cried. And then they went out for falafel.
Chapter 6: 24 Weeks
“Remember when you said you wanted me to have everything I ever wanted?” Rey asked. She’d stopped short of a full-on wheedle though she was definitely mid-full-on waddle, a fact he knew better than to comment on as he wished to retain his ability to give Pip a sibling down the road and to enjoy the blow jobs Rey promised to resume once she no longer had “nasal congestion from hell.” Rey was sitting in the last free seat in the subway car, since New Yorkers did still largely respect the primacy of the pregnant woman, and he was looming over her, one hand lightly holding a pole because when he didn’t she accused him of showing off. She was sitting there with her hair in those three buns Kaydel insisted didn’t make her look like a pre-teen model, her hands clasped demurely over the much more sizable bun under her bohemian embroidered floaty top, just looking up at him and giving him the big eyes. Oh, Rey and her golden-brown eyes like a fine bourbon. He shouldn’t have encouraged her to take off her obnoxiously retro rainbow mirror lens aviator sunglasses after all.
“When was that exactly?” It was a risk but he was fairly certain it hadn’t been part of their wedding. And it sounded wordier than something he’d mutter in her ear while she demonstrated just how well-suited reverse cowgirl was to a second trimester belly.
“You don’t remember?” she said.
“No, which I think you’ve sussed out, Detective Columbo,” Ben said. He suddenly recalled watching episodes of Columbo in the aftermath of Leia and Han fights, when his father was mostly sullen and his mother was mostly acting like she was the last princess of a dying empire, all regal contempt, and Peter Falk was steadily getting the villain to spill the beans. By the end of the episode, his parents weren’t on good terms but they were speaking sort of normally. For them.
“That’s a shocking admission,” Rey said.
“It’s the truth. It’s not always pretty,” he smiled. She was though, which he couldn’t tell her too often.
“Well, you did. In a manner of speaking,” she said, which meant she was very likely exaggerating something he’d actually said, once grounds for a drawn-out sparring match, now only worth a shrug.
“What do you want? I draw the line at a pony,” he said.
“But there’s a L’il Sebastian lookalike on Craiglist in the East Village,” Rey teased.
“A doula,” she said.
“A doula? I thought you were going to ask for a kasha knish even though you know I can’t stand them,” he said.
“I had one yesterday. With Leia. I’m good,” Rey said.
“Jesus, this was Leia’s idea, wasn’t it?”
“No, though she didn’t argue. And she got me the knish without acting like I’d asked to eat a dumpling stuffed with hot turds,” Rey said.
“Kasha is disgusting” Ben said absently. A doula? He could feel himself starting to get revved up, insulted and defensive about why Rey felt like he wasn’t enough of a support, heard Dr. Phasma’s crisp voice pointing out the spiral, Benjamin, the spiral and dragging himself back from saying something stupid.
“So, you want a doula. Any doula or a specific one?”
“Leia said she knew someone, but hang on, before you go full-on death spiral, Rose had one with Jannah and she said it was the best decision she made as a second-time mom and that was not including starting Dream Dinners before she delivered,” Rey explained.
“What’s her name?”
“Anne. Anne Tillies, she’s got a lot of experience, she can handle anything that comes up, Rose said, but she’s totally down-to-earth, not the New Age-y, Enya-Billie Eilish mash-up I can feel you conjuring up,” Rey said. She smoothed her thin linen blouse over her stomach and he could make out the little shadow of her former innie-now-proudly-outie which lent itself to many a cooked turkey joke. He was secretly fascinated by it, the weirdest pregnancy kink he couldn’t even admit to Rey, how part of her that had once been the subject of many erotic fantasies was now a symbol of just how much she’d changed, how something invisible became present—and adorable in the very real sense of him adoring her. Rey was not trying to sweet-talk him about the doula, he could tell. She deserved for him to listen.
“We’d meet with her first. Before we decide, right?”
“Of course. I just, I didn’t want to spring that on you, like, hey, let’s get a bagel and looky here, here’s good old Anne, doula to the stars,” Rey said.
“To the stars? I don’t want the GOOP doula, Rey. This is out of my comfort zone, bringing in a third person to our relationship however non-sexually, but she can’t be a total kale flake, horoscopes and all that shit,” Ben said, uneasy again though she’d just said this Anne Tillies would be reasonable. She’d also waited to ask while they were on public transportation, which was definitely springing it on him but he had to pick his battles.
“Rose would never! I was being hyperbolic, so you’d think I was cute as the dickens and you’d agree,” she said. “I can text her later, see when she’s free this week. We can meet at a coffee-shop if you don’t want her to come to the apartment. It’s—it’s not only what Rose said, and you know I love Leia, sometimes more than you it seems like, but she’s not my mom. Not having one now, it’s…harder than I thought it would be and you’re so good to me and Pip, it’s not that you’re not enough, but I kind of want my mom and she left me and now the best I can do is hire someone, so…”
“Sweetheart, I—it’s okay. You don’t have to justify your feelings to me. If I take this personally, that’s my shit to sort out in therapy, and it’s not like you’re asking for something weird. Quite frankly, it’ll be good to have someone around who knows what’s going on and who is not Leia,” Ben said.
“You don’t want her there at all?”
“She can wait in the waiting room. She’ll be the fucking queen of the waiting room, trust me, but she got knocked out for me, classic C-section because I was breech and 10 pounds, so she’s not really a fount of knowledge. And sometimes she makes me…cranky and you won’t need that then,” Ben said. Leia trotted the story out on Mother’s Day most years, as if Ben had been responsible for either his direction or dimensions, but he’d figured out she liked his eye-roll better than any praise.
“I’ll get to be the cranky one, huh?”
“Yeah, you can curse at me and try to break my hand and throw the remote,” Ben replied, swaying slightly as the car came to a rough stop. It seriously took eighty years to get to Finn and Rose’s place in Carroll Gardens.
“With Anne there, maybe I won’t want to do any of that,” Rey said.
“Whatever you want, sweetheart. I’ll even bring you kasha,” Ben promised.
“Wow, I was just angling for the doula. You really do love me,” Rey grinned, patting her belly. “We won, Pip!”
“Yeah, I really do love you,” he said. “Both, but you first, Rey. You first.”
“We can’t put this off forever, Rey,” Ben said. She’d said that wearing black jeans and black v-neck sweater to a luxury baby supply store was going to look weird, but would he listen? No, which she secretly didn’t mind because most of the women and a decent number of the men in the store had eyed him appreciatively. One woman had even given Rey a discreet thumb’s up.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” Rey said, gesturing widely, knocking down a settle of three bottles that promised they were almost as good as a boob. They did outnumber her breasts though Ben looked completely disinterested in the bottles, unlike her own rack. “And remember, you owe me that walk on the High Line now, none of your native New Yorker shit about how it’s too touristy for you, or I’ll make you get me a hot pretzel too. Extra mustard.”
“It’s not the stuff that’s the problem,” Ben said, replacing the boob-bottles neatly. He could afford to be graceful as a goddam panther, his center of gravity wasn’t changing on a daily basis.
“Yeah, we could have done this online, couldn’t we?” she said. She wasn’t actually doing much— he was pushing the shopping cart and consulting his spreadsheet on his phone and she was trundling along, wishing for a milkshake or better yet, a flight of sakes and the big bamboo boat of sashimi, which might as well be on the dark side of the moon for all the good it did her.
“Some of it. Some of what we want would take a while to ship or the shipping is frankly exorbitant and I don’t want to get something crappy as a substitute,” Ben said.
“All she needs is a cardboard box. That’s what they give them in Finland. Or a dresser drawer. Han told me he slept in one until he was a year old,” Rey said.
“And look how well that turned out,” Ben retorted. “I’m not putting my baby in a cardboard box. Or my sweater drawer. Though we’re not getting the crib here, there’s a different store for that. But that’s not what I meant.”
“My baby?” Rey said, stalling for time. They were in public, so she couldn’t use her other standard ploys including tickling him just below his belly-button and sucking a hickey into the delicate skin on the side of his throat.
“Fine, our baby. The one who needs a name,” Ben said. He picked up some little tee-shirt leotardy looking thing and rubbed the fabric between his fingers, like he was a fucking master craftsman evaluating silk. He raised his eyebrows and made a low, dismissive sound as if it were burlap and not what looked like perfectly soft tee-shirt material.
“She’s going to poop and and pee and vomit on that. Does it really have to be Italian cashmere?”
“We’re paying for quality. The good organic cotton gets softer the more you wash it. This won’t, isn’t not worth the money. And the baby still needs a name, Rey.”
“She’s got one. Pip. Unisex. Nice literary allusion, Great Expectations. Game, set, match, we’re done,” Rey announced airily. Could it possibly be so easy? She didn't want to argue but she also really didn't want to lose. Or concede.
“Pip Solo is not a viable name,” Ben said. “We agreed we just wanted to use Solo as a surname because you don’t have any connection to your bio parents, but Pip Solo doesn’t pass the Supreme Court Justice test by a long shot—Chief Justice Pip Solo presiding sounds like there’s a chipmunk running the court,” Ben said.
“A chipmunk would be better than Roberts some days,” Rey said darkly.
“Fine. How about this—ground rules. We each have veto power. No names of living relatives though extra consideration for first initial of dead relative—it’s a Jewish thing. Nothing top ten, nothing that sounds remotely like Luke,” he said.
“Okay.” Rey picked up a small blue and white knitted sweater. There was a giddy little chick embroidered in fluffy yellow wool right below the neckline, where drool would be very likely to accumulate. It would probably fit for a month, six weeks tops, and she wanted it very much. Ben looked at her, took it out of her hand—and put it in the cart.
“Emmeline? Charlotte? Adelaide?”
“What are English suffragettes whose last names I can never remember, Alex?” Rey grinned. “Um, no.”
“Nope. Esther? Hadassah? Rebekah?” Rey offered.
“Are we traveling back to the Lower East Side in 1910? No,” Ben said. “Carys.”
“Wyatt. It could be a boy,” Rey pointed out. Ben shook his head.
“Stephen. No, I take it back. New rule, no S names, too Parseltongue-y. That’s a Harry Potter reference, you heathen,” Rey said. “Ivor.”
“Ivor Solo. You’re not even trying, Rey,” Ben complained. He’d been steadily filling the cart with the items he’d already decided they needed and Rey realized she’d steadily been filling her bladder with stuff she didn’t need.
“If I weren’t trying, I would have said Ethelred or Agnarr,” Rey countered.
“That’s actually not bad. You can put it on a list,” Rey said. “Gabriel.”
“Maybe,” Ben said. Maybe wasn’t no.
“Wizard of Oz or Golden Girl?” Ben asked.
“Parker. Dorothy Parker, I’m not suggesting Parker,” Rey said, shifting in her feet. A full on pee-pee dance was only minutes away, so she tried to remember where the fancy hand-carved signs for the restrooms were in relation to Ben, their nearly overflowing cart and her nearly overflowing bladder.
“Eh, I’m not in love with it,” Ben said.
“Mireille. It means miracle in French, which is what it’ll be if I don’t wet myself,” Rey said.
“The name is nice—the origin story of you almost peeing your pants is less so,” Ben said.
“You can be pregnant next time,” Rey said. If all the Kegels she had ever done in her life counted for anything besides a number of very satisfied partners and that face Ben made that was a little like an El Greco rapture when she squeezed him mid-thrust, she could make it to the bathroom without embarrassing herself. “I’ll be right back. Don’t pick out the bottle warmer without me!”
“This isn’t over, Rey!” Ben called out as seriously as he possibly could to someone scuttling away like a morbidly obese crab.
“Like hell it isn’t!” she tossed back. In the ylang-ylang scented stall, in the blessed peace of an emptied bladder, she thought Vivian. Vivian Mireille Solo, Chief Justice, US Supreme Court. It had a ring to it. She imagined herself screaming it across a Target and it sounded…realistic. Maybe.
For 75 years, Finland's expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It's like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates. It's a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it's designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they're from, an equal start in life.
The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long (2.33 km) elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail created on a former New York Central Railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan in New York City. The High Line's design is a collaboration between James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf. The abandoned spur has been redesigned as a "living system" drawing from multiple disciplines which include landscape architecture, urban design, and ecology. Since opening in 2009, the High Line has become an icon of contemporary landscape architecture.
Dorothy Parker (née Rothschild; August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967) was an American poet, writer, critic, and satirist based in New York; she was best known for her wit, wisecracks, and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.
Dorothy Zbornak (née Petrillo) is a character from the TV series The Golden Girls, portrayed by Beatrice Arthur for seven years and 180 episodes. Dorothy was the strong, smart, sarcastic, sometimes intimidating, and arguably most grounded of the four women in the house.
Ashkenazi Jews traditionally name children after relatives who’ve passed on as a way to keep the memory alive and to inspire the namesake to live up to their predecessor’s better qualities. When naming a child after a loved one, deceased or living, it is fairly common for parents to honor the relative and his or her name, but to alter or “modernize” the name when given to the child. For example, it is fairly common for parents to only use the first letter of the relative’s name, while others may choose a name that is not identical, but rather similar in sound, spelling or some other manner.
Chapter 8: 34 Weeks
“Hi, I’m home,” Rey called out, dumping her keys and bag on and near the weirdly elegant table Ben had decided should sit beside the apartment’s front door, to hold mail and a brass bowl, as if they were living in a Henry James novel. She went to the kitchen for a glass of lemonade which she chugged down, then ate the tub of cut-up honeydew melon Ben must’ve picked up for her on his way home. Pip was a fan of the fructose and within about ten minutes, there was a volley of kicks. She could distinctly make out a little round heel pressing just below her rib cage and then soon after, a petite pointy elbow right around where she’d expect to feel appendicitis. At night, she and Ben would pull her tee-shirt up to reveal her belly and watch the show Pip put on—Ben focused on the ripples and protrusions that manifested on her bump, Rey looking at the expression on Ben’s face, which ranged from affectionate awe to shocked grimaces, as if she’d proposed a sun-butter and fois gras sandwich on Wonder Bread.
He would have gotten home early today. He only had one class at 10 and then the rest of the time was his for research or writing, a monograph he been making steady progress on or the cozy mystery Rose had dared him to start over a dinner of loaded nachos. Its status, including word count, plot bunnies and red herring inventory, was the second biggest secret in the household; the first being what kind of baby they’d be welcoming shortly. Rey was mostly not offended that Rose was his beta reader because love was not a pie and she was not a big fan of the cozy genre full-stop. She’d expected to find him sitting on the couch, typing on his laptop or possibly in the kitchen making something elaborate for dinner (which would mean the cozy mystery had hit a snarl in plotting or a bunny ate a herring) but there was no sign of him in the living room. There was, however, plenty of noise coming from the second bedroom (formerly the office) which was now designated as Pip’s nursery. She heard banging, what sounded like a power drill, and the occasional thud. And then--
“Hang on, you weren’t using the instruction manual? What the fuck?” in Ben’s distinctive, pissed-off tone but with something else rare, an utter lack of accompanying contempt. The mystery tempted her from the kitchen and she walked over to investigate.
“Um, hi?” she said from the doorway. Rey had always thought of Ben as tall, like a half man-half giant oak chimera which he often (but not always) corrected to an Ent, but the older man standing next to Ben made her husband look like, well, not short but…ordinary sized. A medium at Target. She extended her hand. “I’m Rey, Ben’s rounder half.”
“I’m Chuy.” Chuy had shaggy, greying hair, a matching beard and was wearing the largest, oldest pair of denim overalls that Rey imagined could ever have existed on planet Earth. He smelled of sawdust and diesel and cinnamon. His right hand holding hers was calloused and warm and she felt the same immediate sense of connection as she had when she’d first met Finn.
“Chuy’s an old friend of the family,” Ben said.
“Really? I mean, not to be rude but—”
“So, you never mentioned me, Benji? C’mon, man, that’s cold,” Chuy grinned. Rey thought it was a grin, it was hard to tell exactly in the facial hair extravaganza on Chuy’s face. He had dark eyes behind a pair of glasses, kind eyes. They might even be said to be twinkling.
“Benji?” Rey beamed. This was comedy gold. Gold.
“I’m not responsible for that nickname, Rey,” Ben said.
“He was a cute little guy,” Chuy remarked. “Curious, always poking around the Falcon when Han and me were working on it. Fought his mother every time she tried to put him down for a nap, so we just made him a little spot to sleep in an old crate.”
“Like a puppy?” Rey said, smiling at the idea and Ben, currently glowering.
“Yeah. Followed us around like one too. You loved my piggyback rides, remember?” Chuy said. Ben started to shake his head, then Rey saw his face change.
“I thought I was the tallest person in the world, sitting on your shoulders,” Ben said.
“Your dad wasn’t too happy when I gave you a goose-egg that way, but your mom said, no blood, no harm done,” Chuy replied. “But this trip down memory lane’s not going get your crib built, specs or no.”
Rey looked around and saw they’d gotten something partially constructed that looked Danish and expensive but at least half of it was still scattered on the floor. She’d thought Ben would assemble the crib himself, with her handing him various tools from the glider in the corner. Or they’d call Finn for an emergency consult. She wondered how Chuy had come to be in the apartment, working on probably the most symbolic piece of furniture in the whole damn place, but after only this briefest of encounters, she saw it was a good thing.
“I’d rather use the specs, no offense,” Ben said. His hammer dangled loosely in his hand. It didn’t seem like they were in a rush.
“None taken. Your dad said you would, said you were already a better father than he’d ever been and the kid’s not even here yet,” Chuy said. Rey felt her liking for Chuy take on a whole new depth of admiration at the way the man got Ben to listen to him talk about Han, about their relationship, the family he remembered and the one he’d never really known.
“That doesn’t—that doesn’t sound like Han,” Ben said unevenly.
“No? Does to me, but then, I’ve known him longer. Your whole life and more. Hard to remember when I didn’t know him.”
“How’d you meet? You and Han?” Rey interrupted. Ben looked as gobsmacked as he ever did by the indirect praise from Han and she did want to make sure both that his psyche was intact and that he and Chuy built a crib that wouldn’t collapse under Pip’s weight.
“Bar-fight. I think, anyway. Been so long, you forget, y’know—we made it out of that place in one piece, more or less, and it turned out, we got along real well—he always needed some sense knocked into him and I was pretty good at knocking it in. I’m probably the reason you were born, Ben—your dad couldn’t tell his ass from his elbow when it came to your mother and she had just about had it with him before I told him to buy a bunch of daisies and just tell the truth for once, no wise-ass bullshit,” Chuy said.
“Then nine months later, here comes Ben?” Rey asked.
“Nah, took them a good five years to get around to that, but they needed the time together. Lot of fireworks, those early years,” Chuy said, chuckling.
“Yeah, then they took to open warfare by the time I was six,” Ben said.
“Passionate, both of them. Stubborn too. Still, they had a good run and they got a good kid out of it. And now a grandchild. Grandpa Han—you gonna call him Gramps? He seems like a Gramps,” Chuy mused.
“I don’t know, we haven’t talked about it,” Ben said. Rey did not offer that she and Leia had actually talked about it, several times in fact, but never in Ben’s presence.
“Okay, well. You know where to find him. I’m crashing at his place—it’s not a dump for a change, we could get some take-out, good old family dinner with Uncle Chuy.”
“I don’t know,” Ben said. “Rey?” She couldn’t tell if he wanted an out, a lifeline, or her honest opinion.
“I’m always up for a meal. And it would be fun to have a fight over a name that’s not for the baby,” she said, risking it all. Ben shrugged.
“Okay. If we finish the crib first, we could pick up empanadas on the way over. We’ve still got the Falcon, Chuy, you could drive her,” Ben said. This time, there was no mistaking the smile on the older man’s face.
“You don’t have to ask me twice! Benji, d’you remember that time we took her through a Dairy Queen drive-through?” Chuy exclaimed.
“We tried to, you mean,” Ben said. “It was like a vehicular coup d’état, taking out the Queen. Ruined soft-serve for me for years. Decades.”
Rey gave a little wave and slipped out of the room. They’d get the crib put together sooner without her there and she wanted Ben to have this time with his uncle, the one he still loved. Chuy had done more good for their family in the past ten minutes than almost anyone else in years. Plus, her feet were killing her and that was in clogs. If she didn’t get them up for a solid hour, she wouldn’t be able to put anything back on her feet and there weren’t enough empanadas in the world to make her cope with the barefoot in Han’s kitchen jokes which would be sure to follow.
Chapter 9: 40 Weeks
“This sounded sexier than it’s turning out to be,” Rey remarked.
“Hang on—don’t talk to me until I finish. It’s distracting,” Ben said, one hand holding her calf, the other dragging a pink safety razor down until he got to the tricky, knobby area of her swollen ankles.
“Finish the whole thing? Or the one stroke?” Rey asked, disobeying both. Ben still hadn’t nicked her even once, which was better than she could say for herself. Though for herself, she usually got waxed but she just couldn’t face it now with the baby the size of a small pumpkin according to the website. She wasn’t sure why they didn’t say the baby was the size of a reasonable newborn baby because she was fucking full-term and Ben’s child seemed impervious to any suggestion of eviction. She felt comfortable calling the baby Ben’s child because she was the one suffering, her pelvis in particular, and Ben was known to be somewhat resistant to change. See: the uniform contents of their linen closet, his stock portfolio, his grudge against Han, and, possibly most impressively, his position on gherkins, their flavor profile, spelling and nutritive role in toto.
“You’re lucky I didn’t cut you,” Ben said. He seemed to be enjoying himself so she shrugged, a gesture she could still make with ease. From her shoulders up and knees down, she felt like original Rey and everything in between was basically megafauna. Every time Rose saw her, she winced and Leia nodded the way veterans did when they found themselves in any group, not even uttering a word. Everyone said it wouldn’t last forever, but she was beginning to wonder.
“Nope. You’re always careful. I’m sorry this feels more like the makings of slapstick than softcore porn, though. I could try oohing more,” Rey said.
“You like my hands on you?” Ben asked in the exact lower register that ordinarily was very effective but her enormous belly was between them and she was well aware he was going to have to employ physics and possibly levers to get her out of her current position and into her nightgown and bed.
“I do,” she said. “But I can’t deny I really like not having raccoon legs.” He laughed, finessed rinsing the razor, and got back to work.
“I don’t mind. Helping or the back to nature look. For the record,” he offered.
“You know, I believe you. I wouldn’t mind trying this again when it feels like a choice. And when if one thing leads to another, we don’t need an elaborate diagram to figure out how to fuck without throwing out someone’s back,” Rey said.
“It really wasn’t that bad, Rey. It was barely worse than a hard workout,” Ben said. Of course, he’d been the one to strain his back the last time, having engineered an arrangement of pillows that kept Rey as comfortable as she could be. He’d also made sure she came even though the whole point had been his orgasm, since she’d been getting impatient and hoped the whole prostaglandins-in-semen would work its magic on her recalcitrant cervix. It had not been any more successful than eating pineapple or a very hot curry. Anne remained supportive but zen about everything, reassuring Rey that the baby would come when she was ready unless they were closing in on 42 weeks, in which case they’d consider induction. Her OB, Dr. Mara Giada, completely agreed with Anne and said as much at Rey’s increasingly frequent appointments.
“I think you’re not going to budge on that and I don’t feel like arguing,” Rey said.
“Okay. What do you feel like? Besides getting silky-smooth—I have that almond oil you like for when we’re done,” Ben said.
“Yeah. Wildest dream time here,” Ben said. He was humoring her; they were probably going to go to back to bed and she’d watch endless episodes of Antiques Roadshow and he’d work on Chapter 8 of his mystery which apparently was set primarily in a yarn shop. There was a subplot about the ethical sourcing of alpaca yarn based on a tab he’d left open on his laptop—she hadn’t been snooping per se, but had thought that any snoop of Ben would yield something more…risqué. Or abstract, like about the ongoing economic impact of the post-plague ascendancy of guilds in Europe, with a particular focus on Bologna. Which would have made her want a baloney sandwich, still on the list of foods she wasn’t allowed. Ben argued that stricture should never be lifted but had offered to get her mortadella from Faicco’s on Bleecker once she delivered. Once she clarified he did not mean it as a push present, she’d accepted.
“How wild is wildest?” Ben paused, knowing her well enough to take the question seriously. She liked his thinking face. His eyes got bright and he did this thing with his lower lip…
“According to you, you are approximately 87 months pregnant, so-- accessible by car. Within 2 hours of the hospital. Non-toxic. Legal. Go.”
“Rye Playland,” Rey said.
“You heard me. An amusement park. And before you say anything, I know I can’t go on the roller coasters,” Rey said. “Or most of the other rides.”
“And you still want to go?” Ben asked.
“Yep. It’s still fun to be around people excited to go on rides and there’s a carousel and a Ferris wheel, we could walk on the boardwalk and I could eat cotton candy and you could win me a stuffed animal at the arcade, throwing balls at cans or something. I’d pick out a huge-ass plush hamster and you’d end up having to carry it for me,” Rey said.
“You’ve really thought this through,” Ben said.
“Big was on a week ago. Playland’s where they filmed Zoltar.”
“And that tugged at your heartstrings?”
“It was sweet,” Rey said.
“It’s definitely one of the less egregious 80s movies,” Ben said.
“So, we can go?” Rey asked.
“Our hospital bags are packed already, all the important numbers are loaded into my cell and you’re either going to yearn for that cotton candy all day or pick some horrific inverse, like insisting we buy an entire half-sour pickle barrel on Delancey, so we might as well,” Ben answered. He didn’t sound at all dismayed. He’d managed to finish shaving both her legs and had smoothed on the almond oil; Rey couldn’t see her legs but they felt amazing. She wiggled her invisible toes in delight.
“Famous last words,” Rey announced, then reached her hands out towards Ben’s. “Up, please!”
There was a hell of a view of the Sound from the boardwalk. The sky settled down to the water, the light was the kind artists raved about, somehow silvery, but what Rey liked best about the day was Ben’s profile looked at the ocean, his left arm wrapped around the plush hamster. His right hand was holding hers. Later, she’d think of it as the calm before the storm. Later, he wouldn’t bring up the argument over the Ferris wheel and agree.
“This is bad,” Rey panted, hanging onto Ben’s shoulders for dear life. Her hands were tight as lobster claws probably, she couldn’t imagine, and he was sort of crouching so she could reach his stupidly broad shoulders that were like a stupid wall while she swayed a little on her stupid feet. Sock feet, the kind with rubbery grippers on the bottom, a dull grey-blue like a battle-ship. She couldn’t decide if it would be nice to have a pattern to look at or profoundly irritating.
“It’s okay, I’m here, breathe, Rey, breathe through it,” Ben said in a low voice. She dimly heard Anne’s agreement, more the timbre than the content, approving of Rey and Ben’s reassurance.
“I meant the storm. Ohhhhh, unhhh. I meant, it’s not a good omen, a hurricane. Named Damian,” Rey moaned. The contraction went on and on she knew somewhere it would stop but that somewhere was like a telephone booth in New York City; mythical.
“A good omen for what?” Ben asked. He was swaying in time with her, very slightly, so she wouldn’t lose her rhythm. As if. She didn’t prefer her inner monologue quoting Clueless but she didn’t hate it.
“The baby. What the fuck, Ben. It’s not a good omen, being born during a superstorm. My water broke too, that’s weird,” she said.
“Your water breaking isn’t weird. It’s within normal limits, Anne said so. And it was probably the change in barometric pressure. L&D is packed Anne said, we were lucky to get in when we did, we have an actual room,” Ben murmured. He sounded so reasonable she wanted to throw something at him and also hug him.
“I don’t know,” Rey said.
“It’s okay. You’re okay, Pip’s okay. Leia’s downstairs, holding the fort. It’s all good,” Ben said. Rey straightened up a little, rolling her head around on her neck like a robot searching the perimeter. The contraction had waned; she had a brief respite. “This isn’t ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ I told you watching that yesterday wasn’t a good idea,” Ben added, having gauged the end of the contraction and the relative risk of criticizing her in any way.
“Ice chips,” she demanded. She was allowed not to say please. A sentient watermelon was trying to traverse her vagina. Anne put a lavender plastic cup to Rey’s lips and gently tipped it in, giving her the exact right amount of softly crunchy ice at the exact right speed. She was a genius.
“You’re doing so well,” Ben said.
“I’m not have a contraction now, you don’t have to say that,” Rey said.
“It’s still true,” he remarked. “And for the record, if you decide you want an epidural, Anne and I will get the anesthesiologist in here ASAP.”
“Yeah, I know,” Rey said. Closing in on eleven hours of labor hadn’t magically made her Dorothy Parker. It would be really nice to be done but she sensed there were miles to go, even though those dimensions had nothing to do with her actual birth canal, which was the worst two word phrase she’d ever heard.
“I can’t do this,” Rey cried. “I can’t I can’t I can’t.”
“It’s transition, Rey,” Ben said. “Remember? Anne said everyone feels like this. This is the worst of it.”
“This is the worst,” Rey repeated. “I hate you, I hate your fucking dick, fuck you, I can’t I can’t do this.”
“It’s all right, Rey,” Anne interjected calmly. “Just try to breathe. Unless you want Ben to call for the epidural.”
“Call. I want it. Now. I can’t I can’t…” Rey groaned. Then she grunted. Her wrists didn’t hurt; she registered that and she thought, how nice to be a wrist…
“Anne!” Ben exclaimed.
“It’s okay, Rey,” Anne said, stepping in to where Ben had been. Her shoulders were narrower and easier to hold and her hands were more skillful at Rey’s hips, her thumbs pressing in with the force of Thor’s fucking Mjolnir. “Ben, page the nurse, ask them to call anesthesia.”
“Time to push, Rey,” Dr. Giada said. Rey squinched up her eyes to keep from saying No shit Sherlock and glanced at Ben, who smiled encouragingly and also nodded slightly, which meant he knew what she was thinking and that she had chosen not to say it. She no longer hated him, though he and his dick owed her big time.
“’kay,” Rey said. Then she pushed, remembering Anne had said it was like taking a shit. A shit that would end up being the most adorable shit in the whole world.
“I’ll let you know when the contraction’s over,” Dr. Giada said. “Keep pushing, nice work, Rey.”
“You’re doing an excellent job,” Ben said, blessedly right by her ear. Their sex life had always been pretty hot, but she didn’t want him down at her nether end, watching everything that had once been ripe and sweet as a tropical flower look like a fucking train wreck. With poop.
“Fine,” she said. She could have said thanks or I’m not quitting my day job, but why bother?
“A few more like that and this’ll all be over,” Dr. Giada said.
“Except for the placenta, right?” Rey muttered.
“Right, but that’s not hard to deliver. It doesn’t have a skull,” her OB replied, reminding her whey they’d picked her, besides her rave reviews and low episiotomy rate.
“Thanks. Good talk,” Rey said, then took a deep breath, feeling the contraction start to build. Anne took a quick jaunt down to where the action was, then came back and took Rey’s thigh in her hand to help pull it back.
“Crowning with the next push, Rey,” she said. Rey didn’t answer, pushed through all the counting and whatever reassuring, sweet nothings Ben was saying. She basically had become pushing, infinite pushing until the OB spoke.
“Perfect, hang on just a minute, gotta reduce the cord,” Dr. Giada said, doing something presumably nimble with her gloved fingers. “Go ahead, you can push again…and, and here’s your baby!” The OB did some maneuvering and Anne unsnapped Rey’s hospital gown and then there was the baby, pink and slippery and starting to squall, right against her heart.
“Oh my, here you are!” Rey cried out softly, her hand against the little breathing back. “Ben, look!”
“So usually, someone’s asked by now—it’s a boy,” Dr. Giada commented. “A big one. Definitely over nine pounds but you only have a first degree tear, Rey. No stitches.”
“Oh, that’s good,” Rey said, having a hard time focusing on anything other than the baby. Anne had made sure a blanket was draped over him so he wouldn’t get cold. Ben was quiet but when Rey glanced up at him, she saw he was smiling and his cheeks were wet with tears. He reached over and covered her hand with his, then stroked the drying dark curls on their son’s head. Their son, holy shit.
“This is the least stupid thing I have ever done,” Rey announced.
“It’s a boy. Nine pounds eleven ounces, both of them are great,” Ben said as soon as Leia was in earshot. “Rey’s still getting settled with the baby, but she sent me down to talk to you.” Leia still looked totally put together, for all that she’d been in a hospital waiting room for upwards of twelve hours, having arrived just as the storm was really revving up; she’d arrived in full make-up, a sensible but stylish outfit, and with as many bags from Zabar’s as could fit in a standard hospital revolving door. The staff in the waiting room as well as any passing nurses all smiled at her, having been amply plied with rugelach, bagels and babka.
“I thought you’d text,” Leia said, but not with any frustration.
“Yeah, Rey said that would be rude. I…agreed,” he admitted.
“It would have been all right,” she said.
“Well, I’m here. Here he is,” he said, showing her the picture on the phone. Blessing of blessings, the baby still had Rey’s nose.
“Oh, Ben, he’s beautiful! Have you chosen a name?” Leia asked. “Sometimes it takes a while to decide.”
“No, we know. Adam. Adam Ginsburg Solo,” he said, bracing himself for something critical. It was one of the reasons he’d agreed to come down to see her, to spare Rey anything even remotely negative, though truth be told, she seemed to get along far better with Leia than he did and on her post-delivery endorphin high, would have laughed off anything that irritated Ben. “The A’s for your mother, Amidala.”
“She’d like that,” Leia said. Neither one of them mentioned his grandfather Anakin, who’d essentially abandoned the family when Leia and Luke were young, leaving behind the loft, a lot of furniture, trauma and probably some potent genes for mood disorder. “I didn’t know either of you were such big fans of Beat poetry.”
“Fuck, no, we’re not. It’s not an Allen Ginsburg reference, though now that you bring it up, I guess we’ll have to be prepared for that,” Ben said. “No, I told Rey, the name needed to sound good as a Supreme Court Justice and she ended up saying, why don’t we just pick one of the Supremes, then, and cut to the chase? Supreme Court Justices, that is. As if she’d pick anyone other than Bader Ginsburg.”
“Rey does love RBG,” Leia laughed. “Adam Solo, it’s a good name. Solid. Your father will be a fan.”
“That wasn’t a criterion, pleasing Han,” Ben said. Things were thawing between Han and him, thanks to Chuy and Rey and Adam’s former imminence, but they were starting at like Pluto levels of frigidity.
“No, I know. But he’ll still like it. And you do, so win-win,” Leia said. “I don’t mean to keep you—Rey must need you with her. You’ll let me know when you’re up for visitors. I’m fine down here. I got them to switch the channel to MSNBC and the free coffee isn’t even all that bad, once you brace yourself for it being rather burnt-tasting, so, like Starbuck’s.”
“You can come up with me now,” Ben said, surprising both of them.
“Yeah. Rey will like to see you and Anne’s taking off,” he said.
“And you? You want me up there?” She held his gaze steadily and he wondered why Han had ever tried to lie to her even once.
“Yeah, Mom, I do. And Adam needs to meet his…what did you decide? Bubbe?” Ben said, not leaving space for either of them to comment on him calling her Mom instead of Leia.
“Nana. Unless he picks something else when he starts talking. They do that and if ever a child’s likely to have strong opinions, it’s yours and Rey’s,” Leia said.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Ben smiled. He picked up the Zabar’s bag closest to him, marveling at how heavy it still was. She must have cleaned them out on her way over. “Let’s go. Time to meet Adam.”
That's it. Baby delivered, MSNBC is on, and there is Zabar's for everyone from Leia's magical, bottomless bags.
(There is the slightest chance I'll do a small 6 Weeks Postpartum epilogue, but it's slight at best...)