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“Okay, Shirl,” Laverne plopped a large cardboard box onto the couch and dusted her fingers off. “That’s the last box.”

Shirley sat in the kitchen, a small pink-swaddled bundle pressed to her shoulder. “Thanks Laverne,” she sighed, looking into the baby’s face. “Boy,” she muttered. “Isn’t she amazing?”

Laverne stood on her tiptoes to peer over the kitchen counter at her best friend’s baby. “She’s spitting up there, Shirl.”

Shirley’s nose wrinkled and she let out a dramatic ‘eww’ and dabbed the child’s mouth with a washcloth. But soon the fond smile returned. “I’m going to put her down for a nap in a sec. Can you call down to Mister Chow’s for dinner?”

“Sure,” Laverne said. As she watched her best friend head upstairs with the baby, she let out a fond, sad sigh. It was just plain weird, readjusting to Shirley’s presence in the house – yet it was as comfortable as slipping on an old shoe.

With Shirley back, Laverne could admit to herself that her bravery over her friend’s disappearance had been mostly a self-comforting lie. Now that Shirl was back and generally in charge of the house she felt much better than she had when she was living on her own.

She’d never tell Shirley this, but she knew her best friend’s relationship with Walter Meeney was destined to fall apart from the start. The medic had been handsome but he and Shirley had next to nothing in common, and their courtship had seemed whirlwind even to a free spirit like Laverne. She thought Shirley had probably married him out of panic, fear she’d be an old maid and her dream of picket fences, collies and station wagons would never come true. But Walter had never understood Shirley on any basic level, and as soon as the baby had been born the fights over raising her began. Laverne had been on the receiving end of endless tearful phonecalls before she announced she was taking the baby and moving back to California. It suited Laverne fine. No one understood the mysterious ways of Shirley better than her best friend.

No one knew her the way Laverne knew Shirley.

The idea made Laverne stop still. What was she thinking here? And wasn’t she rotten for gloating over their breakup?

Shirley found her frowning with the phone in her hand. “Did the line die again?” she wondered.

“Huh? Nope,” Laverne said, coming to her senses. By the time she’d finished making her order she’d earned one of those patented worried Shirley Feeney looks.

“What?” Laverne wondered, squirming under her gaze.

“Laverne, you’ve been acting awfully funny since I got here,” she said. “Are you having a hard time getting used to Marie?”

“Nah, she’s real cute,” Laverne said. “And I have a fun time watching her play! Lookin’ at her crawl and roll around – I think she might be a genius, she’s holding her head up for way longer than a two month old should.”

“Yes she does. But, Laverne, you’re avoiding the subject.”

Laverne finally frowned. “I’ve just been wondering Shirl – are you still sad things didn’t work out with you and Walter?”

Shirley was only mildly taken aback by the question. “No, not really,” she admitted. “I loved Walter, and I’m so glad we have Marie, but I’m not sorry it didn’t work out. You were right, Laverne – we were two different people. If we didn’t split up now, we would’ve years later.” She sighed. “I don’t torture myself every night wondering why we split up, and neither should you.”

Laverne let out a sigh, then came forth with the question quickly. “Hey Shirl – did you miss me?”

“Every day,” Shirley said. She frowned and picked up a rattle Marie had left behind. “Did you miss me?”

“I really missed you. I really, really missed you.”

“Good.” Shirley raised an eyebrow at the intensity of Laverne’s tone, and then her friend took her hand. The two women blurted out each other’s names and tried to stand at the same time, nearly tilting the couch over in the process. “Lets’ sit,” Laverne said, as they did.

“Fine by me,” Shirley said. “Laverne, are you trying to say what I think you’re saying?”

“I don’t know. What do you think I’m saying?”

“I think you’re saying that you missed me more than a friend misses a friend.” Shirley spoke with gentleness. “Is that right, Laverne?”

“Yeah…maybe. How about you?”

Shirley smiled. Then she gently leaned over and pecked Laverne on the cheek. “I think we’ll have to take things slowly.” But then she tucked her head on Laverne’s shoulder and gave her an adoring look. “I just know that when I’m somewhere else- when I’m with anyone else - I wish I were with you.”

That was a good beginning, Laverne thought to herself. It wouldn’t be easy; they would have to learn how to be parents on top of navigating this new twist in their relationship, but they would learn together, step by step and side by side.