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Two Months Before

In hindsight, John should have known something was up immediately. Alexander was being cagey, going out when he shouldn’t and coming home late. In hindsight, it was exactly like how he’d acted right before John walked in on his boyfriend having sex with Kitty Livingston when they were still sophomores in university.

But he’s tried to put that incident out of his mind. It had been years ago. There had been apologies, long discussions, and promises that it would never happen again. When Alex had started eyeing Eliza, John had bought a copy of The Ethical Slut and asked him about his thoughts on polyamory. You can sleep with her if you want, he’d said, gruff and awkward. You can even date her if you want. Just talk to me about it.

Alex had taken some convincing, oddly enough, that yes John was okay with it and yes he didn’t have to hide. And there had been dates, and then there had been group dates with the three of them, and then there was a baby and graduation and buying a house together.

And things had settled into something akin to normal. They didn’t necessarily tell people about the oddness of their arrangement, living in the suburbs as they were, but they weren’t hiding. The master bedroom had one king-sized bed.

He heard the door scrape open. “Finally!” Eliza called out from the kitchen. “The kids had to eat, but we saved dinner for you.”

“Papa’s home!” Philip crowed. He had been coloring under John’s watchful eye, but now squirmed down from his chair and ran down the hallway to the door. “Dad says there’s gonna be a special desert for today.”

“I think John said ‘dessert’, Philip, unless you brought the sandbox inside,” he heard Alex correct gently over little Angie’s shrieks of “Papa! Daddy!”

The man himself appeared a moment later, his arms full of their son. “I heard something about dessert? And dinner?”

“I’m afraid it’s a little sandy,” Eliza deadpanned as she joined them. Alex and John both laughed. “But we have something to celebrate.”

“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow. “Did you get that promotion you wanted? Also, where is the food?”

John plucked Philip from Alex’s arms and kissed him soundly. “Did I hear right? A good-for-nothing workaholic came in three hours late and still wants to be fed?”

“John,” Eliza admonished, before turning to their partner. She kissed him too, humming happily before she pulled away. “He’s right, Alex. You work too hard. I should have told John to burn your dinner.”

“My Betsy,” Alex raised a hand to his chest, clearly gearing up to be theatrical. “Surely you can forgive me. There was a new case, a woman trying to divorce her abusive husband. I should have told her to leave, I see that now. He’d left bruises all over her, and she was finally ready to leave him, but I can see my Eliza needed me more…”

“Oh shut up.” She kissed him again, then stepped back so he could kiss John. “Eat your pasta and tell me about this case.”

He did with a smile, explaining about a Mrs Maria Reynolds who came to inquire about divorce proceedings. “Her husband’s a real piece of work. She left him, had to stay in a shelter. Now she’s back on her feet, but he’s insisting on keeping all their assets. And there’s a daughter…. Hopefully I’ll be able to take the case, I’d love to stick it to him.” Abandoning fathers were something of a sore spot for Alexander, John knew. “Now, you said you had a surprise? A good thing?”

“I did,” Eliza told him, and John felt his smile widen as he waited for Alex to notice the way Eliza’s hands were folded over her stomach. Just seeing it caused some deep seated happiness to jolt in his stomach. “Something we’ve been wanting for a while.”

“Did the curtains you ordered come in?” he asked, looking from one partner’s grin to another. “What?”

John laughed. “Open your eyes, man. You’re going to be a father again.”

“Oh!” His mouth fell open, then transformed into a grin. “How long…”

“A month or so.” She took his hand in hers, allowing him to kiss the back of it, while reaching out to John with her free hand. “I confirmed it this morning.”

“Start taking your bets now,” John snarked, unable to resist the opportunity for fun. “I’m offering two to one odds.”

“John!” She tried to look shocked, she really did. But she’d lived with him and Alex for too long. “We are not taking bets on who the baby’s father is.”

“You did bet him three movie choices that it was going to be a girl last time, dear,” Alex pointed out.

“Gender is different than paternity,” Eliza huffed with extreme dignity.

“Sure, sure.”

John’s grin was a perfect match for Alex’s. As he stood from the table and wrapped his arms around Eliza, John joined him from the other side. Held their girlfriend close as Alex kissed her. God, they were going to be parents again.

Eliza sighed, settling into their sandwich embrace. “Alright. I will bet you five to one…”

“Yes?”

“That the baby’s mine.”

Both men groaned as she grinned triumphantly.

 

The Day Before

Eliza was still killing herself for not seeing it. For not knowing, somehow.


To: Alex
Are you coming home soon love? Dinner is ready

To: Eliza
Almost done work

To: Eliza
John’s there right?

To: Eliza
I’m just finishing up the report for Washington, I’ll be there soon

To: Alex
Ok love. I’ll save your plate

To: Eliza
Actually, something else came up. I’m just going to sleep here. See you both tomorrow

She sighed. There wasn’t much point in texting him anything else, not when he’d worked himself into a whirlwind like this. She’s tempted to write back your children are likely to forget your name at this rate, but that was unfair. He was working hard.

“Alex isn’t coming,” she informed John, who was sitting at the table with a book and a glass of wine. Philip and Angie had eaten almost an hour ago. They’d already scampered off to play, Angie running after her brother on unsteady toddler legs. The adorableness was only mitigated by the fact that Alexander wouldn’t be there to see it. Again.

John sighed. “When he finally makes his way home, I’m going to kill him.”

She laughed despite herself. “Maybe only maim, or seriously injure? I would like him still usable, or it kind of defeats the point.”

John hmph’ed. “And the children need a father, I suppose.”

She tugged on his hair. “Hey. Don’t say that. You are their father as much as Alex is. More so, judging by the freckles.”

“My name isn’t on the birth certificate,” he held out, stubborn as Alexander when he wanted to be.

And goddamn New York birth certificates and the fact that they only allow two parents to be listed. She sighed. “Do you want to be on the next one? We can talk about that.”

“Alex won’t want to give up his spot.” John’s laugh was a little too forced, it seemed to Eliza, a little too casual. “And I did say I was fine with it, I can’t blame him. Would you?” He already knew the answer to that, but it never hurt to remind him.

She fixed John with a look. “I am pushing a goddamn watermelon out of my vagina for the third time. Like hell am I not going to get credit for it. And-” she held up a finger as he started to talk, “-midnight ice cream runs, while appreciated, do not compare.”

That finally got him to laugh. John rose, leaving the book on the table in favour of wrapping his arms around her just above the noticeable swell of her stomach. “What shall we do about Alex, hm? Shall we go surprise him in his office once Philip and Angie are in bed?”

As tempting as that usually was, she had responsibilities. Someone had to keep order, had to give the benefit of the doubt, had to enforce kindness and leniency in their household. And it had to be her. Regardless of how she felt. “No. He’s working, we’d just be a distraction and make the process take even longer. I’m sure he’ll be home as soon as he can.” Inwardly, she pushed down the annoyance and tried to forget about it.

As they were finished dinner, though, there was a knock at the door. Eliza threw John a triumphant glance, as if to say, see? he rushed home for us. But when Eliza opened the door it was to reveal a delivery man carrying a huge bouquet of roses.

Well, that was alright. He was apologizing for being absent. She could work with that. “From a Mr Hamilton, I assume?”

“Yes ma’am.” The delivery man tipped his hat. “But I’m afraid these are addressed to a Mr Laurens?”

“John!” she shouted into the house. “Your boyfriend sent you flowers!”

“Are they jessamine?” he called back.

“Roses!”

“He’s such a loser. I’ll be there in a minute then.”

She turned back to the man in the doorway. “I’m sorry about that.”

“No problem, ma’am. If you’re Ms Schuyler, this is addressed to you.” He held out a slim package. “And cards for each.”

“Thank you, sir.” She sent him off with a smile, then opened the box. It was a lovely set of lingerie, dove grey and white.

“What’s our loser boyfriend gotten up to now?”

“Sending presents to apologize for staying out late. These are for you.” She handed John the roses, noting the way his face lit up and making a mental note to tell Alex to buy him more flowers.

“He’s still a loser.” John’s voice was fond.

“Yes, yes. He’s doing his best, things would go smoother if you didn’t keep criticizing him.”

“Eliza,” She didn't like the way he was looking at her. Like she was some strange creature saying incomprehensible things. “He’s been sleeping in his office at least once a week. That’s not normal.”

“I agree it’s not healthy, but we don’t control him.” You don’t control him. Alex would be fine. He would finish whatever big case he was working on - the Reynolds one or another, whatever had him working so late - and he’d be home. She told herself that again and again, trying to ignore the weight in her heart.

 

10:00am

Gawker Media Exclusive: Ambitious New York Lawyer Cheats on Girlfriend with a Man, then Cheats on the Man with a Client.
Filed to: WHOOPS, LAW, POLITICS

Alexander Hamilton is an ambitious man. Not only is he running a law practice just shy of his 30th birthday, he’s gettin’ it on with not one, not two, but three separate relationships.

And, most unfortunately for him, one of them happens to be a client. Maria Reynolds contacted Hamilton to seek a divorce from her husband. This led quickly to an affair, a Gawker insider has informed us, with the following photos as proof -

[Photo One: Reynolds and Hamilton share a passionate kiss outside his law office in Manhattan]
[Photo Two: Through a window of a private residence, Hamilton and Reynolds kiss and grope while removing clothing]

While it is unknown if Reynolds was still married to her husband when the photos were taken, it is illegal in New York for a lawyer to become romantically involved with a client. To make matters worse, is widely known that Hamilton has two children with his longtime partner Eliza Schuyler. Sources call him a “doting” father who “adores” his children. Presumably when he’s not out having affairs.

For Maria Reynolds is evidently not the only person Hamilton has been dallying with. Hamilton is also often seen out and about with John Laurens, a ‘friend’ from his college years at Columbia. Our insider provided the following images, claiming it was “very clear” that the two were romantically involved behind Ms Schuyler’s back.

[Photo Three, Hamilton and Laurens walk hand in hand in the park]
[Photo Four, Hamilton and Laurens kiss over coffees]

“He’s always been a cheating bastard,” the source claims, “but this is over the top. He can kiss his political dreams goodbye, he ain’t never gonna be president now.”

 

10:30am

Eliza’s phone buzzed midway through her morning class. That was unusual - the school had a moderately strict policy against phone use, so Alex and John both agreed to refrain from texting unless is was an emergency.

(Especially after she established that no, cupcakes were not an emergency. Neither were turtles.)

She looked around. The children were all engaged in free play. No one was currently screaming or causing property damage, so she took a chance and pulled out her phone.


To: Eliza
have you been on the internet today

To: John
I’m in class, babe. No.

To: John
Why?

To: Eliza
dont

To: Eliza
come right home when youre done w work

To: Eliza
please

That was odd. She typed a quick kk and tried to get back to her class. (In the time those text messages had taken, Jimmy needed to be pulled away from Sam and Sarah had started kicking the walls). So there was something on the internet, something he didn’t want her to see. Probably something to do with his father? But once the idea of it was there, it was hard to not wonder. Every sideways glance in the hall from another instructor seemed filled with meaning, every exchange with a parent felt as though there was something on the tip of their tongue they were unwilling to say. Were there more parents in to see the principal today? What was going on?

There was nothing to do, she told herself, until she got home. Then she and John and Alex would deal with the whatever it was. Like a family.

 

11:00am

Cheating Lawyer Refutes: “I did nothing illegal”
Filed to: LAW, POLITICS, WHOOPS, INTERVIEW

In an exclusive interview with Gawker Media Alexander Hamilton, the lawyer now famous for cheating on the mother of his children with both a man and clients of his law practice, speaks out.

“Everything I did was legal,” Hamilton maintains, claiming that his relationship with Maria Reynolds happened before she hired him as her divorce lawyer. “Well, not too much before, but the law doesn’t say anything about that. It is legal in New York for a lawyer to represent their lover, provided the relationship did not start while he was representing her. Maria and I first had sex the day she came to speak to me about her case, a full week before she hired me to be her lawyer.”

As proof Hamilton has offered to Gawker Media his text messages, which clearly show a relationship of a sexual nature and were dating before any business contracts were signed between the two.

[Photo One: A screenshot of several explicit text messages between Reynolds and Hamilton]
[Photo Two: A copy of their contract, showing a signing date several days after]

And of his relationship with John Laurens, the friend from college? He doesn’t deny it. “John and I are in a relationship. The same as Eliza and I. We all live together, and the children are ours.” To emphasis the point he repeats, “All three of us. They are our children.”

[Photo Three: A screenshot of several text messages between Schuyler and Hamilton, discussing their partner Laurens]

It is estimated that as many as 5% of Americans are in polyamorous relationships - relationship agreements where they pursue romantic or sexual connection with other people with the blessing of their partner. However, when pushed, Hamilton confesses that neither John Laurens or Eliza Schuyler know about Maria Reynolds.

It remains to be seen how far the bonds of non-monogamy will go.

 

12:00pm

She found the articles at lunch time, shortly after receiving a phone call from Gawker Media asking if she could be interviewed about her ‘cheating husband’.

“Which one?” she’d replied with a laugh.

The person on the other end had paused, and with great difficulty asked if she had seen the news. Asked her if she had ever heard of a Maria Reynolds.

She had now.

Eliza moved as if in a dream. She found a coworker and pleaded sudden emergency, voice sounding tinny and hollow even to her own ears as she begged the afternoon off to be with her family.

Her family.

Don’t think about it, just get home. She would not cry at work. Mechanically, determinedly, she put away her things. She put one foot in front of the other, not meeting anyone’s eyes as she left the pretty brick school building. She got in the car.


To: John
I’m coming home. Is he there?

To: Eliza
came home an hour ago

To: John
Don’t let him leave

She needed to see him. Needed to see with her own eyes the confirmation of what he’d done, and then maybe that would make her feel as though this was real. It didn’t feel like it. It felt like a dream, or some awful nightmare. Eliza drove home, mind as blank as the newfallen snow, trying to ignore the awful feeling that was building in her chest.

And there he was, on the front porch. Waiting for her, heartbreak written all over his face. “Eliza…”

Don’t cry in front of him. Don’t cry. She didn’t say anything; her heart felt like stone. Eliza got out of the car, and walked resolutely forward until she could look him in the eye. Silent. It didn’t matter, Alex could read his fate in her eyes.

Eliza…” his voice broke.

What words could matter?

He’d said his piece. Eliza had read everything he had to say. She was finished with his words. “Go,” she said instead.

“Go where? Eliza I can’t- I’m had too, they were going to make me lose my job, Eliza-”

“Get out of our house. Sleep in your car, your office, I don’t care. Go.”

He backed away from her, shrinking in the bright light of the afternoon. “It was an act of political sacrifice. You have to understand…..”

She didn’t reply. The silence only made him more desperate.

“Eliza, you can’t- this is my home. My family.”

She didn’t reply.

She was all out of words for him, and finally he left.

 

12:15pm

On wooden legs she stumbled into the house. John was there, sitting at the table, head in his hands. When he looked up, his eyes were bloodshot. “Alex?” he just managed to croak the word out.

“Gone.” It occurred to her, dimly, that she may have made a mistake. Alex is John’s partner too. And they had been sitting here for… an hour, John said. Waiting for her to come home. So they could deal with it as a family. “I kicked him out.”

What would she do if John decided he’d rather have Alex than her and the children? She wasn’t dating John. He could walk out the door after Alex, negotiate some joint custody of Philip and Angie (like hell she’d let them have the one growing inside her) and leave her all alone.

John stood. She held her breath.

“Okay,” he said simply.

Then he came over and placed his hands on her hips. It was intimate, for them, but she felt relief the moment he touched her skin. He wasn’t leaving her alone. She started to breathe again. “Okay,” he said again.

“The children…” she thought suddenly of Angie and Philip. How on earth would she explain all this to them?

“They’re in the living room, watching Dora,” John reassured her. “They heard us say… some less than nice things. But hopefully Swiper will keep them occupied enough not to process it.”

Not to process that one of their fathers wasn’t coming home. She laid her head on John’s shoulder, feeling his arms come up and wrap around her, and they stood like that for a long while.

 

8:00pm

They’d stayed like that for a long time, standing in the entrance room. John had held her while she took several deep, suddering breaths, then pulled her to the couch where they could sit together. Not once did she cry.

“What do we do now?” John asked, because he didn’t know. He really, really didn’t.

And Eliza had fixed her eyes on the wall with a look that could cut steel. “We keep going anyway. We don’t let- let him-” she’d stopped, and John hadn’t wanted her to go any further.

“Alright,” he’d said. If only it were that easy. He got her a coffee, milky and sweet, and checked on the children.

Then he had walked through the house, picking up all of the photos of Alexander and putting them in a box. Whatever happened, he was certain Eliza did not want to be reminded of Alex and the happy memories they’d made together. That led to the bedroom, staring at the t-shirts Alex had left in a pile beside the dresser and the pressed suits hanging neatly in their closet.

Alex cared so much about his clothes, about looking professional at work. Enough that a good suit was the first thing he bought after settling into university. John was well aware he kept a spare shirt and trousers at the office, but that wouldn’t last him more than a day. Then what would he do?

It seemed too cruel, somehow, to leave Alex in a wrinkly, unwashed suit. Before he could second guess the impulse John shoved all of the suits into a bag, tossed a couple of dress shirts and ties on top, and told Eliza he would be back in twenty minutes.

That had lead him to this: standing outside Alex’s office building, handing over the bag of work clothes and trying not to meet Alexander’s eyes.

“Thank you,” Alex said quietly. He looked nervous, John noted. Nervous and sad. “Is Eliza okay?”

“She’s fine.” John said shortly. He didn’t want to talk about it. Instead, he handed off the bag. “Didn't want you to go into work tomorrow in yesterday’s clothes.” Alex had worked so hard for that job, cared so much about what his boss and coworkers thought of him. John wasn’t going to make him lose that, no matter how careless Alex had been.

“Thank you,” Alex stared down at the bag. “How- how much do the kids know?”

“Nothing right now. They’re young, I didn’t know… what to say. I guess Eliza will deal with it tomorrow.”

Alex nodded unhappily. “Eliza hates me. She’s never going to forgive me, John.”

“She needs time. You hurt her.” You hurt us, he wanted to say, but at least he was used to it. He thought of Kitty Livingston, walking in on that, and swallowed hard.

“I know. I know I did. But John I had to, and now I don’t know how to fix it. I want to fix it.”

And he looked so sad, so miserable curled in on himself in front of his office in the twilight, that John gave in. Just for a moment. Wrapped his arms around the man he loved and held him. Squeezed even as he said, “I don’t think it’s that easy.”

“I know. But let me start. Please.” He pulled back, wet his lips. “We could go upstairs…”

He stopped, voiced trailing off as John recoiled.

“John?” Alex asked. John pulled away from him, took steps back and opened a wide space between their bodies.

“I can’t believe you!” the words tore out of him. He was shaking. Actually shaking. “What? Did you cheat on us because you needed the sex so badly? You couldn’t wait until you got home so you had to start sleeping with your clients?”

“Before she was-”

“That doesn’t make it better!” He took a breath. “I opened up this relationship for you. Because that was what you needed, and I didn’t want to get cheated on. Again. And you just…” He shook his head. “Why Alex? Why? All you had to do was ask. All you had to do was tell us. We would have worked it out.”

“I know.” Alex looked away. “I didn’t want you to know. I don’t know why.”

“Goodbye, Alex.” He turned and walked away. By the time he looked back, Alex had already disappeared inside the building.

 

10:00pm

“Well,” John said.

Eliza looked at him. He glanced at her, then back towards the bed that suddenly seemed to dominate the room. When they had all moved in together, it made sense to purchase a king-sized bed. Something large enough for all three of them to fit. Sometime big enough to contain all the love, all the passion they felt every time Alexander so much as looked their way.

It seemed enormous now. King-sized seemed more like black hole, ready to suck them down into its softness and never let them free. Neither of them seemed like they wanted to get in it.

Of course, Eliza was the first to move. “Alright,” she said shortly. She threw back her shoulders, marched over to the dresser - John was very glad he’d taken down the pictures on it - and changed into her nightgown. Then she got in the bed. “Are you coming?”

“I- alright.” Suddenly nervous, John stripped down to his boxers and climbed in beside her. The bed was still far too big for them, and there was a warm body conspicuously missing. His leg brushed hers, he pulled it away sharply only to wonder if he’d been too hasty. Which didn’t matter either way, as he couldn’t exactly put it back. He rolled over.

“I’m going to read and then go to sleep,” Eliza said.

“Okay.” There was a long pause. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

The book pages turned loudly in the silence. John tried to focus on sleep. He heard a soft hitch in Eliza’s breath, and wondered if she was crying again. Should he reach out to her?

Thankfully, John was spared from any action by a soft “Momma?” He sat up to the sight of Philip in the doorway, blinking his eyes and tugging at his curls. “Had a bad dream.”

“Poor dear.” It was remarkable, John thought, how easily Eliza could switch into ‘mom’ mode. He saw no hint of tears on her face, just maternal concern. “Do you want to sleep in here for a bit? Tell me about your dream?”

“The dino-saurs were comin’,” Philip mumbled, tottering over to the bed and holding his hands up. John lifted him into it.

“There you go, little man.”

“Thank you Dad. Where’s Pops?”

Mouth dry, John said, “Pops is at his office for a little while”.

“Oh. Okay.” And without a hint of awareness to his parents discomfort, Philip proceeded to burrow his way under the covers between them. “Night night.”

“Night night, Philip,” John caught Eliza’s eye across the bed. She was smiling.

“Night night, Philip. See you in the morning.”

“See you in the morning!”

With his son in his arms and his son’s mother on the other side of the bed, John finally found his way to sleep. It wasn’t Alex, but it would have to be enough. They were all he had now.

 

One Day After

She was fired that morning. Not because of the article, not officially. They were just ‘anticipating different needs’ and ‘didn’t require her services any longer’. There were vague comments about morality, of standards the elementary school had to set, of parents that had to be appeased.

She saw right through it. You’re fired because you’re sleeping with two men. Because you have children with two men, and one of those men is sleeping with his client on the side.

Thank god she and John both had enough wealth that they don’t have to worry about covering the mortgage while she figured things out. Through gritted teeth, she told them she understood their decision. Then returned to the office to pack up her things and head home.

“Leaving so soon?” Dolley looked up from her lesson plan with a frown.

“For a while,” Eliza improvised wildly, unwilling to admit she’d just been fired. “Taking an early mat leave.”

“Always best,” Dolley nodded. “The kids will miss you though.” A pause, then she said determinedly, “When’s the baby due?”

“Another five months at least.” Eliza shoved a stack of pencils into her bag, right beside a rather large book on Piaget she’d been reading on her lunch breaks.

Another long pause.

“Eliza,” Dolley said finally, “The articles… I know you wouldn’t do something like that. I want you to know I didn’t believe it for a second. We’re all here for you. And if the administrators-”

“It’s true,” she interrupted, voice sharp.

“What? How could-”

“I’m with both of them, Dolley. It-” She stopped. Pulled herself together. You are in public. You will not cry in front of your friend. You will not. “It will be alright. These things happen, unfortunately, things you can’t have planned for. It’s hurtful, but we’ll be alright.” She forced a smile, mentally preparing herself for a lecture. She’d seen the cross necklaces Dolley always wore.

“Eliza, if you need anything, I’m here for you, okay?”

Surprised, she raised her eyes to meet Dolley’s warm ones. “Thank you. I will.”

And she left for home before she started crying for an entirely different reason.

John was on the phone when she got in, kids nowhere in sight. He was frowning. “No. Yes, I’m aware.” He held up a finger for her to give him quiet, mouthing Henry to her. John was the only person she’d ever met who called his father by the man’s first name. “I know that. It wasn’t my decision.” He let out a frustrated sound, and she took his hand in sympathy. “Yes, I’m still gay. Yes, I’m sure. I don’t see what that has to do with any of this- look, I’ll call your office tomorrow alright? I have to go now.”

Eliza ran a hand through his hair, pulling out the ponytail as she went. “Henry isn’t happy with the article?”

John winced. “It’s not that. He’s overly happy I’m at least tangentially involved with a woman.”

“Did you tell him that we-?” Kicked Alexander out of the house. Ignored the phone calls, told him to get lost.

John shook his head. “Didn’t want to get into it. I did tell him he could meet Philip and Angie though, once the baby’s come.”

Yes, there was that to worry about as well. Especially since - “I’ve been fired,” she blurted, before he could start suggesting they name the baby 'Henry' in some attempt to reconcile with his father.

“Oh. Because of the-”

Her mouth twisted. “Yeah, because of the article.”

“That’s awful. Did they say it to your face?”

“No. You know how it is.” John had traveled the same polite upper crust circles she had. He knew. “We’re moving in a ‘different direction’ with the kindergarten program, ‘think of your baby’ like I didn’t work up until the week of delivery with Angie.”

“Awful,” he said again. Eliza took in his tightened jaw and clenched hands, wondering if she should have perhaps lied about it. If he punched someone else in the face it wasn’t going to reflect well on them.

“It’s within their rights I’m afraid, private school. Morality clause.” She kept her voice steady and calm. “We’ll figure it out. We have enough until I can find another job.”

The taunt muscles in his neck started to smooth out. “I’d get one too, if childcare for three wouldn’t be more than my paycheck.”

“We’ll manage,” Eliza told him firmly. “We’ll manage just fine.” She didn’t need Alex at all.

 

Two Days After

However much he’d like to try, John can’t avoid his father forever. He didn’t want to anyway. He loved his father. His father always took care of things when John needed him - but no, he was an adult now, he would not ask for his father’s help. He would not allow Henry back into his life when he’d fought so hard to live it on his own terms.

His point was made when John phoned him and the first thing Henry said was, “So tell me about this woman you’re involved with.”

This was why he hadn’t told his father about Alex and Eliza. Why he’d stopped telling his father about anything when he moved away to attend Columbia. It wasn’t that he didn’t love Henry,-

It was just that everything he said was turned into a struggle.

“Eliza is wonderful,” John said, truthfully, offering as brief a description as possible. “You can’t imagine a better mother.”

“Or spouse?” Henry suggested. Dammit. John could hear the smile in his voice. “I know you have your lifestyle, son, but when a man has children with a woman sometimes you have to man up and marry her.”

“It’s not that simple.” God, he didn’t want to explain polyamoury to his father. I like men was too much for his father. “Alex is my partner. Alex is also Eliza’s partner.” -And sometimes we all have sex. Hence, two children of uncertain parentage and a third on the way.

“This Alexander is involved with both of you?”

“Yes.”

“At the same time?”

God, he really didn’t want to be having this conversation. “Yes. I love-loved him very much. We were a family, the three of us.”

“And this family is why you are not currently employed?”

“I’m staying home with the children. They need full time care. It made sense.” Eliza had been getting a masters and establishing her career, and they all knew Alex wouldn’t stay home for anything. Besides, he liked spending time with them.

“Children that are not yours-”

“-They’re our kids, all of us-”

“Do not speak over me!” Henry snapped, and John fell silent. “Your name is not on their birth certificates, I had my assistant check. You are a glorified nanny with no parental claim. And now you say they took you to bed as well - to be expected by a man who splashes his private life all over the papers, I suppose.”

He wanted to speak up in Alex’s defense, to say, It was my idea to be like this, the three of us. I wanted him to be happy. When I’m with him I feel like I can breathe, and the world makes sense, and that’s worth all the sideways looks and judgements. To have this, a home, with them.

He said instead, “It’s not like that. It’s complicated.”

“You’re a Laurens,” Henry retorted. “Make it simple. Bring your girl and the kids down for a while, we’d all like to meet them.”

If he and Eliza go to South Carolina they’ll be engaged before Henry lets them leave. He had a way of making things simple that is both impressive and terrifying. “Eliza’s job is here,” John pleaded, praying to god Henry hadn’t somehow found out she’d been fired. “And with so much uncertainty, and Philip starting kindergarten…. Our lives are here.”

Henry muttered something that sounds an awful lot like ‘what lives’. John ignored it. He made a peace offering instead, “I’ll send you pictures of the kids?”

“Fine,” Henry acquiesced with a stiff sort of grace. “And son?”

“Yes sir?”

“One child abandoned, when you are eighteen, is forgivable provided that child’s needs are met. Two more, when you are an adult, becomes a pattern. One we cannot tolerate. Do you understand?”

John gritted his teeth, just barely getting the words out, “This is my family. I have no intention of leaving them. Sir.”

“That’s good to hear. I look forward to those pictures.” And the line clicked off, dead.

He can’t handle this right now

Feeling raw and exhausted, John stumbled over to the fridge and pulled out a beer. Just one. He needed it.

The phone rang again.

“This is John Laurens,” he said formally, just in case it was his father calling back.

It’s wasn’t.

“John?” He sounded… nervous. Scared even. Words tumbled out from the phone before John could even process the fact that Alex was on the other end of the phone. “I didn’t mean to bother you, please don’t hang up, I left some things at the house that I need, I just need to grab them and I’ll be gone I swear, but I didn’t want to barge in if you didn’t want me so I’m calling to... make sure you were ok with it. And that you were here. Otherwise that would be really awkward.”

“Alex.” He couldn’t quite process it.

“Yeah,” the voice on the other end breathed. “John, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you or Eliza but when they published that I had to refute it-”

“I get it,” he cut Alex off, because if he has to listen to this again he’ll scream. “You can come and get your stuff. Soon as possible.” Preferably before Eliza got home from her lunch.

“Okay,” the voice was small. He waited another moment, as if giving John an opportunity to say something. Then the line disconnected.

John stood. He walked slowly upstairs, grabbing several large trash bags as he went. Into them he emptied Alex’s clothes, the books on his bedside table, the knick knacks he kept on the shelf, Alex’s spare laptop charger.

John moved to the bathroom. Alex’s migraine medication. His toothbrush. Slowly but surely he emptied all evidence of Alex into the bags. Then he tied them, and left them on the front porch.

On top of the bags, carefully wrapped to protect them of the elements, he placed Alex’s pictures of his family before he moved to New York. John couldn’t bring himself to throw them in the bag where they’d risk getting crumpled. He didn’t want Alex to lose that. Maybe he should have, should have torn them up the way Alex tore of their lives, tossed them into the wind in a fit of anger. But he wasn’t angry. He was just tired.

He took a bottle of beer upstairs, along with a few more to keep him company, and tried to ignore the sounds from the porch and the ringing doorbell.

 

Three Days After

They needed time, both of them. That much they’d agreed on. So the kids were with Hercules for the day and John was… somewhere. Eliza didn’t know. Wherever John went on the weekend when the kids weren't around.

(She ignored the part of her brain saying that John’s usual behavior on a weekend without the kids was to spend most of it in the bed with Alexander.)

It didn’t matter. He would be home soon, surely.

She wandered through the house in a daze, cleaning idly as she tried not to think. The dishes went away, the shelves got dusted, and all the while she shoved all thoughts of Alexander out of her mind.

Why did he- No, there were dishes covered with Philip’s sticky little fingerprints. She had to deal with those first. The dishes all had to be clean.

How could he do that to us- No, she needed to focus on not knocking anything over while dusting the top shelves. If she thought about it she would cry and then she would knock over the china.

He was tempest, a hurricane, a force of nature destroying our home- The turtle tank was dirty again. Harriet Turtleman swam up to say hello as Eliza pulled out the filter. Mary Shelley stayed back, only her head poking out of the water. It should have been adorable. (It was adorable, she wasn’t going to let him ruin this)(She still didn’t smile)

There was only so much to clean, however, and soon she found herself collapsed on the couch with the television on. Flipping through channels aimlessly.

It wasn’t good. Sitting still let her think too much, and her brain became a chorus of stupid girl, should have known, should have known better than to think you’re special.

He’d called himself Macbeth once, when they were young and foolish. In the early hours of the morning, cursing over an essay, he’d torn it up and flung the pieces away like he’d been burned. He’d said then, I feel like Macbeth. I’m trying so hard and they’re all against me. What is life but a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Signifying nothing at all.

Fair is foul and foul is fair, she thought, and could barely hold back the sound that tried to rip out of her throat. She can’t do this right now.

Up, up, back to cleaning. She flipped over the couch cushions, saw a stain, and replaced them the way they were. Next came the hall closet: she lugged out a box she didn’t remember seeing before and set to organizing it, stopping dead as soon as she opened the flaps.

It was their photographs. The ones that had disappeared the day Alex left them, all the pictures they had taken together. She’d assumed, somehow, that he’d taken them with him.

She brushed her fingers over the glass, transfixed: A trip to the beach back in college, one final hurrah before entering the real world. Sitting on John and Alex’s shoulders as the sun goes down, entreating them both to stop shifting around so much. Finally she takes a handful of each of their hair and holds them still.

Eliza hurled the picture into the wall. The glass shattered, the frame splintered. She threw another one after it - the three of them posing together at graduation, the small but noticeable swell of a growing Philip under her gown - and another and another. Alex outside his law office. Snapshots of them baking in the kitchen. Her being twirled around in Alex’s arms.

There were tears dripping down her face. She couldn’t seem to feel them, but they dripped steadily down onto her blouse. Instead of thinking she struck a match.

John came home to find her slowly but surely incinerating every last one of their pictures. She had a tidy little piling going beside the fire, all the things she found that belonged to Alexander. There’s a law book in the fireplace, its pages shredded by inexpert nails.

“Eliza-” he said, and she realized that he’s shocked. Realized, dimly, that this was unlike her. She should put the fire away and return to being the kind, cleaning, devoted girlfriend and mother, stop alarming him.

She realized she didn’t care, and tossed in another photo.

John knelt before her, tried to take her hand. “Eliza…”

“Stop saying my name,” she spat out, pulling her hand away. “Stop saying it like that. He-” She stopped. Looked down at the photo in her hands. It’s a picture of the three of them and Philip, Christmas time at the Schuyler Mansion. God, they all looked so happy. “Alexander Hamilton,” she said instead, every word distinct, “cheated on us. For months. While I was pregnant with his child. All his late nights, all his avoidances, that was what he was doing. And if it weren’t for the newspaper, we wouldn’t even know.”

John’s hand tightened into a fist. He took the photo from her, and she thought for a brief second he was going to save it. Instead, he methodically tore it in two. Then he threw it in the fire.

She couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up, harsh and desperate and hysterical.

“I’m sorry,” she was laughed and crying at the same time, unable to hold either in. John looked alarmed. “It’s just- God, everything sucks. It’s awful.”

“It is,” he said, uncertain but grave. Eliza handed him a photo, and he placed atop the law book in the fire. Together they watched flames slowly devour a snapshot of Alexander in his office. The sobs and laughter kept ripping out of her, harsh and staccato, and every time she made a sound John handed her another photo to shred. Finally, they were out of photos and she had nothing else to laugh about.

“God. God. We hit rock bottom,” she said, and gestured again to the glass, the pieces of wooden frame, the thick plume of black smoke from the memories she’d burned. “Doesn’t that mean we’re supposed to start feeling better?”

John gave a hollow laugh. “Tell me when ‘better’ happens then. I’m still waiting.” He reached into the box, pulling out a dog-eared copy of The Ethical Slut. “You know he cheated on me before? With Kitty Livingston, second year.”

Before they’d met her. She remembered Kitty though, stylish and cultured and clearly going places. “He did?”

John nodded grimly. “I walked in on them.”

“Oh my god,” Eliza raised a hand to her mouth, not caring that the action smeared soot on her cheek. “John-”

John spoke over her, “I forgave him. I thought, with this,” he held up the book, so carefully annotated with pen and highlighter, “we’d be okay. He could see other people too. I didn’t care as long as he wasn’t… as long as we were still ok. Being poly was supposed to protect us from this.”

But Alexander hadn’t cared. She reached for John, folded herself into his arms.

It was nice to be held even if it wasn’t by Alex. John was still close to his height, and she could rest her head on his shoulder as she tried not to cry again.

“You have soot on your cheek,” he said, brushing at it with one calloused thumb. Then, with a careful determination, he took her face in his hands and kissed her.

They’d kissed before, of course. In the heat of the moment, with Alexander squirming between them, Eliza has leaned forward and kissed John. Kissed his neck, bitten into his shoulder, wet his fingers with her tongue. Philip and Angie’s freckles are proof that John and Eliza knew each other's bodies very well.

With Alexander there, John kissed like a man possessed. Like he wanted to devour every part of her and Alex both. But right now, in the shattered remnants of their lives, John kissed like glass. Smooth, controlled and a little nervous, as if he was unsure of how she’d react. She leaned into the feeling and closed her eyes.

“Let me do this,” he said when she pulled back for air. “Please.”

Was it grief? Longing? Some need for physical comfort after going without? John still identified as gay she knew, never touched her intimately unless Alex was there with them. But now he laid her out on the carpet, careful of the shattered glass, and kissed her slowly. With her eyes closed he could be anyone, and so could she. Just two people, just a feeling, nothing else.

His hands slowly started undoing the buttons on her shirt, but when she reached for him he shied away.

“John,” she said, as he tried to go back to pressing kisses to her skin. “John.”

“I can do this,” he insisted, then corrected himself. “Let me do this? Please?”

“Alright,” she whispered, and he leaned down to kiss her again.

It felt as though the universe stood still. There was no one else in the world but them, and nowhere else but this room, this small space carved out in the debris of their lives. Her shirt fell away, John pressing open-mouthed kisses over her skin and pulling back to remove his own shirt. She opened her eyes to watch, to run a hand up his chest and cup his cheek until-

“John? Are you okay?” Eliza touched the frown lines creasing his face, and he flinched away from her touch. His eyes were haunted, bloodshot. He looks like a prisoner on death row, not a man having sex. “Stop.” She pushed herself back, away from him, and curled her legs up to her chest. “John, listen to me.”

“I’m fine.” John shook his head as if to clear it. “I’m fine, come back.”

“No. We’re done with this.” Her shirt lay discarded on the floor, it was easy enough to shrug back into it and to hand John his. She was careful not to touch him while she did. “Talk to me. You didn’t want that-” Of course not. Whenever they had been together, Alexander had been there. And, despite the obvious paternity of their two children, John had never identified as anything but gay. “Why did you try?”

“It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.” He tried to turn away.

“Please talk to me,” she pleaded. “Please. This doesn’t work if we don’t talk to each other.”

“Alright. I-” John shook his head again. Wet his lips. Swallowed. Said finally, “I don’t want you to leave.”

“Oh, John,” Eliza crawled over, mindful of the broken glass, and reached out. “May I?” He nodded, and she took his hand in both of hers. “We’re family. Alex leaving doesn’t change that. This is my home, and yours too. And Angie and Philip, what would they do without their father? What would any of us do?”

To her relief, John laughed weakly. “Rock bottom, huh?”

“Hopefully.” She leaned in, and when he showed no further signs of flinching pressed a chaste kiss to his cheek. “We’ll figure it out. Together.”

 

One Week After

Regardless of how they felt, life went on. Lunches were made, children were sent to school, the house was looked after. And the next Friday, John took Eliza to her doctor’s appointment.

It’ll be fine, He squeezed Eliza’s hand as they waited for the doctor. Grief can’t cause a miscarriage. He knew that.

“Are you nervous, John?” Eliza asked him. “It’s fine. You don’t have to be here.”

“I want to. Especially if I’m the only one available.” Normally, three parents meant there was usually someone being left out of the appointments. As it couldn’t be Eliza, and Alex tended to have strong feelings about families, John was usually the one playing on his phone in the waiting room. Which was fine. He spent a lot of time with the kids anyway, more than most parents. But sometimes he wanted to be in the room with them when the magic happened.

Now he was getting his chance.

“Ms Schuyler?” The doctor came in, a woman in her forties. “I’m Doctor Ross. I’ll be looking after you today. You’re here for some basic tests and an ultrasound, your first for this baby? Very exciting. Would Mr Schuyler like to stay?”

John looked behind him automatically before realizing that, no, he was the ‘Mr Schuyler’ Dr Ross was referring to.

Before he could correct her, Eliza said, “John would like to stay. He’s Mr Laurens though, I’m afraid Mr Schuyler is my father.”

“How modern,” Dr Ross said, setting up her things. “Have you felt the baby move at all?”

“A little.” Eliza rested a hand on her stomach. “My stomach’s getting so big. I know logically, I’ve done this before, but I feel enormous.”

“Well, your weight is normal for this point in your pregnancy. Now, if you lay back on the table.”

And a few short minutes later, John was looking at an image of their baby. “It’s…” Well, it wasn’t much of anything. Was that the face? Or possibly the foot.

“It’s a boy,” the doctor announced.

“Oh.” he turned back to the image. A boy.

“We’re having a boy,” Eliza smiled, radiant. “A boy.”

“Have you thought of names?” Dr Ross asked, shifting the ultrasound wand to get a better look at the baby. Their baby boy.

John and Eliza looked at each other. “A little,” Eliza said. “James, maybe, for his grandfather and his uncle. That was one.” Alex had wanted a child named after his father. But that was before. “Or Catherine, if it was a girl.”

“We could name him Henry, after my father?” John supplied. “Less likely to confuse him with his family members.”

Eliza made a face at the suggestion. Changing the subject, the doctor offered, “Do you have other children?”

“Two. Angelica, after my sister, and Philip, after my father,” Eliza said.

“Then you’ll be old hat at this journey. I can see you like to traditional names as well. They were both healthy births?” But she was frowning slightly. It occurred to John that they may have named one too many grandparents in that conversation.

“Both births were fine, yeah,” Eliza nodded. “So I don’t have anything to worry about?”

“Currently? Not that I can see. Make sure you get lots of rest and fluids. Based on your previous visits’ test results it looks like you are also fine to continue having sex while pregnant if you so desire.” John’s ears started to turn red. “You and your husband may find that some positions are more or less comfortable than before, so feel free to experiment with what’s right for you. In addition, many women report feeling more sensitive or tender, so do be careful with her, Mr Laurens.”

“Ah- thanks. We’ll, ah, keep that in mind.” His face was red.

“Mr Laurens, if you made this baby you can talk about the making of the baby.”

“Dr Ross,” Eliza saved him, “the previous pregnancies were actually my first husband, so you’ll have to forgive John. This is all a little new for him.” The lie -flavored with truth, this was all new for him - slipped so easily off her tongue.

Dr Ross huffed. “Regardless. Try not to be so shy. It won’t help you at all when the birth is happening.”

“Yes, ma’am,” John found his voice. The birth, right. He was going to be there for the birth. He wouldn’t be in the waiting room, reading a book and getting updates texted periodically from Alex (a sad necessity with hospital rules allowing only the father - singular - into the room). Instead he’d be in the room, watching a birth in all its bloody glory.

He’d seen birthing videos in nursing school. He’s pretty sure they gave him nightmares.

Eliza’s got this, he told himself, turning back to the doctor in time to make a note of what foods were good for pregnancies. She’s done it before, even if I haven’t.

It would have to be enough.

 

Ten Days After

KNOW YOUR MEME: SLUTTY LAWYER

About
Slutty Lawyer is an image macro series featuring a photo of a man and a woman kissing outside a law office labeled Hamilton and Burr. Funny captions portray the man as various promiscuous stereotypes

Origin
Slutty Lawyer began with the Gawker article Ambitious New York Lawyer Cheats on Girlfriend with a Man, then Cheats on the Man with a Client [link]. Not to be outdone by random writers on the internet, within hours said lawyer Alexander Hamilton accepted and conducted an interview with the news source [link]. In this interview he claimed to be in a long-term relationship with both a man and a woman in addition to cheating on both of them with a client, the woman featured in the meme. This was accomplished by providing the site with access to explicit text messages confirming his claims.

Examples
[image caption: private parts? More like public parts!]
[image caption: I’m going to treat you like a law brief, slam you on the table and do you all night long]
[image caption: Likes to be on top…… of my law cases]
[image caption: you got the dough, I’ll be the hoe]
[image caption: Slutty Lawyer…. Will screw you in more ways than one]
[image caption: Has two long term hoes…. Goes out and gets a third]

 

Twelve Days After

"Eliza!"

"Angelica!"

If nothing else, her sister's voice was home. She squinted at the fuzzy screen, trying to sort out Angelica's features as her sister squealed, "You've gotten so big! When are you due?"

"A few months." Eliza rested a hand on her stomach. "I feel huge. Camel girl or something, check out the extra hump.

"Then get some better birth control, camel girl."

I don't think that will be a problem anymore. She sighed. "I missed you. I- I missed you a lot Ange."

"I can imagine. I do read the papers, love."

"Oh." She tried to tell herself that saved some trouble, at least. Tried not to think about Angelica and her husband reading all about their scandalous affair while sipping tea on the balcony. "What did you think?"

"Divorce him," Angelica wasted no time. "He's a swine."

"We're not married, Ange. There are laws against that thing." There were even laws against presenting as a married couple, which is why she'd insisted he not get her a ring. There were more than enough people willing to use that information to hurt Alex.

"Metaphorically. I know you're not really married.... Break up with him then. Kick him to the curb." On her screen, Angelica's features sharpen. "You did kick him out, didn't you?"

"Yes! Right away."

"Good. And the children?"

She hesitated. "Staying with us for the time being. I guess we're going to have to work something out. Alternating weekends or something."

"I don't know if I'd trust him with the kids that long, didn't he set his dorm on fire once?" Eliza opened her mouth to say, yes, that had been him but it had been several years ago and Alex knew was a grease fire was now - when Angelica added, "Wait. Us?"

"Us," she repeated. "They're staying with John and I."

"Your boyfriend's boyfriend is still living in your house?" Angelica's voice rose alarmingly. Eliza didn't know quite what to make of it, frowning at the screen.

"Well, yes. It's his house too. He's been invaluable with the children, and... he's my boyfriend too, you know."

"You're dating your boyfriend's gay boyfriend?"

"No. God, it's complicated." How did she explain it all? Angelica had gone to London for grad school, found a nice normal husband, and stayed there. "We're all dating, the same as college. We're a family, even if the dating configurations are a little different. I've told you this."

"And I said, 'if it makes you happy'. But it's still pretty weird, sis."

"I know that. I do. I just... don't know what I'm supposed to do now."

"Chuck him," Angelica said firmly. "If John makes you happy, let him stay. Don't either of you talk to that piece of garbage again. You don't need him."

No, she didn't need him. She was perfectly capable of having a career, raising her children, doing everything she wanted without Alexander in her life. She could travel, see the world. Bring John with her if she wanted, or not. She could call up Andre and see what he was doing these days, if he ever settled down with a nice girl.

She could do all of that. So why did the thought make her want to burn things and sob all over again? "Ange," she said somewhat desperately, "he buys me flowers."

"There are lots of men who'll buy you flowers. I will buy you flowers. Don't let him back into your life for twenty four long stems, okay?"

"I know that, I know what’s right, I just..."

“I know. It hurts. I love you, Eliza”

“Love you too Angelica.”

 

Two Weeks After

Sometimes, she gave in and cried. Sometimes she hated him, hated the world and everything in it for giving him to her and taking him away.

Sometimes, she tried to be objective: surely she’s gained more than she’s lost. She had a man who cared about her, even if he would never be able to love her. She had three darling children, all healthy. She had a home for them all to stay in a city she loved.

And sometimes, that was enough.

 

Two Weeks After

Sometimes he raged. He punched the walls, or the bag at the gym, or Charles Lee’s stupid face when the man dares open his ignorant mouth.

Sometimes he’s terrified. They built a life together, the three of them, brick by brick by brick. And Alexander had taken a sledgehammer to it. What was left?

He and Eliza inhabit the ruins, but he feared the day that won’t be enough for her. He went about his day just waiting for her to say she’s taking their children away to live somewhere the very walls don’t remind them of what they’ve lost.

 

Two Weeks After

Together, they had no answers. They could only be answers.

They haven’t spoken to Alexander, their phones lay silent. The ladies in the park were very chatty, full of suggestions and comments about their unusual and unfortunate situation. The comment section of Gawker was equally unhelpful, and significantly more crass.

At night they hold each other in the darkness and try to fall asleep.

“My sister,” Eliza whispered, then stopped. It was two in the morning. Still, John lay awake. “She called him an Icarus. Flying too close to the sun.”

John didn’t say anything. He turned over, pulled her close and buried his face in her hair.

 

Three Weeks After

When she saw Maria Reynolds at the grocery store, it was a shock. Eliza ducked behind a row of cereal, face burning, trying to figure out how to get out of the store without being seen. And then… do the grocery shopping somewhere else for the rest of their lives. Or better yet, send John.

She started planning an escape route. Abandon the groceries and make it out the out as quickly as possible. Only when she rounded the corner, eyes firmly on the distant door, she crashed right into Maria.

“Oh goodness I’m sorry!” Maria yelled as her groceries when flying.

“No no, it’s me, I’m sorry-” Eliza started grabbing cans at random and shoving them at the girl. Praying should wouldn’t be recognized.

No such luck. “Oh.” Maria said, suddenly still. “I’m sorry. I’ll…. I’ll leave.”She was looking at the ground too, trying to gather her things quickly, before abandoning them and lurching to her feet. Eliza couldn’t help but notice that unlike her own basket of fresh food, most of the items Maria was buying were canned. Dried pasta, canned chicken (reduced for quick sale), canned beans, canned peaches. Cheap, easy things to make a meal out of.

“You forgot your groceries,” Eliza murmured, holding up a solitary can of peaches.”Please, I-” she didn’t know what to say. “Let me buy you coffee?”

Maria laughed, humorless and bitter. “You want to have coffee with the slut who was screwing your husband?”

“Not my husband, my partner,” she corrected automatically. “And… yes. Help me understand.” Maria still looked uncertain, so she added, “You owe me that much.”

It seemed to work. “Alright,” Maria sighed. They paid for the groceries- Eliza with a debit card, Maria with a few bills pulled carefully from her pocket. The girl put up no more protest as Eliza took them to the cafe next door.

She bought two coffees, nothing fancy, and sat in silence for a moment. Both women regarding one another.

“Did you know?” she asked finally. “That he had a family?”

A pause. “Yes,” Maria said, and Eliza felt the bottom drop out of her stomach. This was a bad idea. A bad, bad idea.

“Then why did you…”

“It didn’t start that way.”

“Alright.”

And suddenly she was looking straight at Eliza, eyes pleading. “He was so nice, so kind, so brilliant. And he said he had two partners already, that he was poly, and explained what it meant. I assumed you knew. But then… he never let me come over. Or see you. Or anything like that. So I knew… I knew I was his dirty secret.”

“And you didn’t tell us,” Eliza said woodenly. Maria shook her head. “We have a family. Children. Another on the way.”

“I know.” She was back to looking at her hands. “There were pictures in his wallet. Philip and Angie, right?”

“Yes.” Philip and Angie. He’d shown her pictures of their children. “Are you still with him?” she asked, and it came out harsher than intended. So she amended, “I don’t care, you can have him. I never want to see him again.” A lie.

“No, I’m not,” Maria said. Then, “He won’t return my calls. He does love you, you know, the both of you. More than anything. I know that.”

“Well,” Eliza sighed as she gathered up her bags, “clearly not enough.”

 

One Month After

Alex said, “If this isn’t going to get any better… If this is how it’s going to be, I need to see my kids.”

The professionalism in his voice just about killed John. He could just picture Alex, sitting ramrod straight in his chair, eyes focusing hard on the wall as he kept his voice steady. “Okay,” John said into the phone.

“Do I need a lawyer?” Alex asked. There was no humor in his voice.

John considered. “I’ll talk to Eliza.” That much he could do. “Call you back tomorrow.” He almost said I love you before remembering he’s not supposed to do that anymore. Instead he hung up.

“Eliza?” He found her in the living room, playing dinosaurs with Philip and eating peanut butter out of the jar. Now that they were both unemployed they’d started trading off on watching the kids, or sometimes they would each take one for some one-on-one time. A poor substitute for having all their parents, John supposed, but they were doing their best.

John sighed, “That was Alex. He wants to talk about custody of the kids.”

“He’s not having this one,” Eliza said immediately, hand falling to her stomach. More than four months into her pregnancy, the swell was noticeable. He couldn’t look at her without thinking of their last doctor’s visit, of the image of the baby that would be their son.

But it would be Alex’s child too. “Eliza, that’s not fair.”

“I don’t care. I don’t care if it’s irrational, or pregnancy hormones, I don’t want him near my baby.” At their raised voices Philip looked up, frowning.

“Mamma. The dinosaur is going to eat you, Mamma.” He jabbed her in the leg with the toy, impatient. “No more yelling.”

“Sorry, sweetie. Why doesn’t John play with us as well?”

Philip considered. “You can be the triceratops,” he said finally, presenting John with the plastic figure. And they played for a little while, until Philip took the triceratops from him to begin its battle against the t-rex.

“It’s not irrational,” John said quietly to Eliza, “it’s honest. But he’s a lawyer, and if he’s the father he does have a claim.” She nodded reluctantly. “But we don’t have to worry about that right now. Right now, what do you want to do?”

“He should see them,” she sighed, turning a stegosaurus over in her hands. “If he’s still living in his office, he can take them to the park or something. Out for ice cream. Whatever he wants.”

John was fairly certain Alex hadn’t started moving his things into a proper home - that would have made the separation real. But he didn’t say that, just picked up the phone to call Alex back. Yes, he could take the kids out twice a week for a few hours. They could determine more at a later date. He said nothing about the baby, and Alexander didn’t ask.

 

Two Months After

Midnight conversations had become a thing, now. When the children were abed and the moon was high they spoke. Somehow, together in the bed that seemed too large, they could talk about things they never could during the day.

It was at midnight John said, “Part of me hates him.”

Hated him for what he’d done to them. Not just the betrayal, but for the Alexander-shaped hole in their family. For giving them security and love and passion and then taking it all away.

Eliza sighed. “Me too.”

And they stayed like that for a long moment, her head resting on his chest and his arms around her. But he couldn’t leave it there.

“I miss him too.” I hate him and I want him to come home. I want things to be like they were.

“No. I don’t care. He can go to hell for what he did.” Eliza shifted, lifting her head to meet his shocked gaze. “What?”

“You’re supposed to say I miss him too….”

“No,” She shook her head. “I get to be awful about this if I want. Cheating bastard.”

“...Alright then.” That answered his next question. Instead he took her hand in his. Alex would have kissed it, John just rubbed his thumb over the soft skin. “You don’t miss him at all?”

Eliza let out a groan. “I didn’t say that. But screw the cheating bastard who thinks we’ll forgive him just because… Because we miss him.”

“Alright,” John said again.

Hating him and missing him didn’t make sleep any easier, but eventually they did.

 

Three Months After

Slowly but surely they filled in the missing pieces of their lives. It was inevitable - the children still needed to be cared for, the grass still needed to be cut, someone had to put all of the books away and make breakfast in the mornings.

It wasn’t everything (there were no flowers on the table anymore, no cute little notes that wished them a great day, no lingerie laid out for when she got home from work), but it would have to be enough for now.

Eliza found a new job, a non-profit that didn’t care what the papers said about her choice of relationships. She’d been willing to take a pay cut just to get out of the house and back in the workforce, and at least she still got to work with children in some capacity. They were even fine with the fact that she’d be going on maternity leave in two months. Really, she’s gotten lucky.

John took her to all of her appointments without fail, holding her hand in the waiting room. “Mr and Ms Schuyler?” the nurse had called, and John stood up without blinking twice at the name. They’ve both gotten used to the idea that people who didn’t recognize them would assume that they’re married.

She poked him in the side one night to get his attention. “Do you want to date other people?”

“What?” Sleepy, rumpled, John just blinked at her. “Why?”

“Because you’re not sexually attracted to women? Myself included?” John was still looking at her funny. “What?”

“My sexuality has nothing to do with this? Eliza, neither of us are getting laid in this relationship.”

Her cheeks flushed pink. “Well, when you put it like that…”

“Do you want to date other people?”

“No?” God, where would she even find the time? Between work, the kids, and John….

John shrugged. “Neither do I. Maybe someday? Maybe? Right now I’m okay with the way things are. And Alex….”

She sighed. “I know.” Alex was Alex. Her only real boyfriend, her first everything, and damn him for ruining men for her forever. She couldn’t even look at other men without thinking of him. “He has a way of making other guys look kind of bland after.”

“...I’ll try not to be insulted by that, Ms Schuyler.”

“Hey!” Eliza poked him again. “That wasn’t an insult.”

John smiled faintly. “I know. But the children will be up at seven.”

“Yes, go to bed.” But one more thought occurred to her. “You know I could never do this without you. Never.”

“I’m sure you’d find a way,” he said, still with that soft little smile.

“Not without you,” And if had been her and Alex, without John? She can’t imagine it. John has been their rock, their support, the one who ensured everything could function. Without him she wouldn’t have gotten her master’s, wouldn’t have her career, would instead have been regulated to the role of Alex’s housewife. “John, I’m serious. I couldn’t have done it with just Alex, even.We couldn’t have done this without you.”

“Goodnight Eliza,” John said, and she thought she heard something else in his voice. Something that sounded like thank you.

 

Four Months After

John was at the park, watching Philip climb the jungle gym and Angie toddle after him on her thick legs. God, she was getting big. Turning three soon, finally old enough to have a proper cake and not cry at the very sight of balloons.

Suddenly though, Philip’s path through the playground veered off sharply, arms waving in delight as he ran towards the parking lot.

“Philip!” John shouted after him, getting to his feet. With one glance at Angie - occupied building something out of sand - he took off after his son. “What did I say about staying on the sand? Philip!”

“Pops!” Philip shouted again, and threw his arms around Alexander, who was looking as bewildered as John felt.

“Hey kid,” he said, hoisting Philip up to settle on his hip and settling his other hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Where are Mom and Dad?”

“Hi,” John said, out of breath from racing across the park. “I was watching him, didn’t see that he’d- Hi.”

“Hi yourself.” Alex looked good, John couldn’t help but think. He’d always dressed impeccably, for as long as John had known him, and today was no exception. Who wore a blazer to the park? John’s eyes lingered on his face, noting everything from the shadows that always seemed to be stamped under his eyes to the new lines pressed into his skin.

“Did you need something?” John heard himself ask, and winced at how it sounded.

Alex’s hand dropped from Philip’s shoulder like he’d been burned. “Down you go kid. Go back to your dad, or the playground. Go play with your sister.”

“Bye pops!” Philip chorused easily, scampering off.

They spoke at the same time.

“I’ll go, I’m sorry, I didn’t think-”

“Stay, please-” Alex looked at him. John swallowed. “We could talk?”

Alex glanced back down the road to where his office lay. “I have a few minutes at least, before I have to be back. Burr’s been- well, Burr’s been keeping me on a short leash lately.”

What did you say to someone after four months of separation? John let out the breath he’d been holding, trying to find a way to start.

Alex took him by surprise, “How are Philip and Angie?”

“Good. We’re planning a birthday party for Angie. Just the Schuylers and Herc and Laf, but,...”

“...how many guests does a three year old need?” Alex finished, smiling. God, John had missed that smile. It was soft and unconscious, pulling at the corners of Alex’s mouth, the kind of smile that made you want to kiss that full bottom lip and turn it into a grin.

“How’s Eliza? And the baby?” Alex asked after a moment. John realised he’d been staring, and hurriedly looked back towards the kids (Angie was now throwing sand at her brother, but at least they were both laughing).

“Good,” John said slowly. He wasn’t sure how much Eliza wanted him to be sharing. Though it’s his son too. Might even be his son biologically, even if Philip and Angie weren’t. “It’s a boy.”

“A boy,” Alex breathed. “Are you going to name him- sorry. I guess not.” Before, they’d been talking about naming their next son James after Alex’s father.

“We don’t know what we’re going to name him,” John said. “But he’s healthy, far as we can tell.”

“Good. I- Good.” Silence fell. John watched Philip go down the slide.

“How’s your law practice?” he said stiffly.

“Rubbish. We’ve lost several clients. Over the Gawker articles. The ones I published as well, but I had to refute them somehow you understand that? John you must. I didn’t want to get disbarred, I thought I was going to lose everything. That if they’d already published the affair, if I was going to lose you anyway….”

“Might as well keep something?” But he could see it. Alex did strange things when he felt his back was against a wall.

“I don’t know what I was thinking. Whatever it was, it was wrong.” Alex looked at the ground, then up at John. “Nothing would be worse than this. John, I-”

“I know.” He was sorry, he shouldn’t have done it, he’d never do it again. The same thing he always said. And if John let him get the words out he’d fall back under Alexander’s spell like he always did.

“No, you don’t,” Alex insisted. “If I could have burned that law practice to the ground to keep you and Eliza, I would have.”

“Alex-”

“No, listen.” His eyes shone, bright and determined, and John felt his breath catch at the sincerity blazing there. “I’ve always known I don’t deserve you, or Eliza, and I proved it. If I could have done something different, anything different, I would have. But I know-” His breath caught. “I’m not asking for forgiveness. I just want you to know- If this is how it’s going to be, I want you to know that I regret it. I shouldn’t have done it. And I’m sorry.”

There was a pause.

“Screw it,” John said aloud. Alex had just enough time to raise an eyebrow in confusion before John cut him off with a kiss.

It was electric, kissing Alexander Hamilton always was, and more potent for the fact that it had been months. John kissed Alex like he was dying. He felt like he might be dying. Until-

“Dad? Pops?”

“Oh-” Alex pulled away, John letting a small whine escape until he was able to refocus on his son. “Philip! What do you need?”

“Wanna go home.”

“Ok. We- we can do that. Absolutely. Get your sister.” Philip ran off, shouting Angie! as he did.

Alex was watching John uncertainly. “I’ll go. You need to take the kids back and I’ll-”

“You’ll be at your office?” John interrupted him.

“Yes?”

“And Burr won’t be there?”

“I don’t believe so?”

“Then I’ll meet you there in an hour.”

 

Four Months + Two Hours After

Eliza did not look impressed. “You forgave him.”

“Yes?” John rubbed the back of his neck.

“And you immediately had sex with him?”

“I, well, yes, but-” he stopped. She waited. “-I don’t actually have a ‘but’ I just wanted to. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize for that, god. I said you could sleep with whoever you wanted.” She sighed, tugged his hand down and held it. “How was it?”

“Eliza!”

“What? It’s been a long time for me too, okay?”

“You know how we talked about sexuality and comfort levels?”

“Yes? Oh.”

“Mine includes not describing the sex I just had.” He lifted her hand, palm up, and kissed it. “You’re really not pissed?”

“It’s Alex,” Eliza shrugged. “And it’s you. It was bound to happen eventually.” She sighed. “This is all a mess isn’t it? Damn him. We’ll figure it out.”

“It does make things harder.” John flopped down on the couch. He didn’t want to think about the logistics right now. His whole body was pleasantly buzzing with delight and he wanted to put off consequences for just another hour. Or longer, preferably. Like the rest of his life. “Eliza?”

“What? Change your mind about telling me all the gory details?” She sat down beside him with a wolfish grin.

“No, but,” he tried to think of a way to say it nicely, “you could go and get your own gory details?”

Her grin melted away. “I think I’d rather be a nun then tell that man I forgive him.”

He held up a hand. “Forget I asked. It would just-”

“Be easier, I know. Trust me, I know.” She shook her head. “I just can’t right now.”

“Okay.” It would be alright, he could believe that. She didn’t seem to be mad at him at least. Just annoyed, presumably at his lack of restraint.

Eliza touched the back of his hand. “I’m not saying no. I’m just saying not now. I need to think, I need to figure things out, I-” She let out a ragged breath, and John folded her into his arms.

“Hey, it’s going to be okay.”

“I don’t know what the right answer is. Do I wish he was still here? I do. We do okay, but it still wasn’t like what we had when he was here. But it doesn’t seem right - there’s got to be a reason all those advice books say ‘don’t forgive him’.”

“I don’t think there is a right answer,” John said honestly. “We just have to figure it out. Do what feels right.”

“Right now, nothing feels right.”

“Maybe it’s the hormones?”

“You shush, John Laurens. Or I’ll make you go out and get me green tea ice cream again.”

 

Six Months Later

He got the call at 6pm, while he was out buying groceries.

“John Laurens?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“Your wife has gone into early labor, sir. Things seem to be progressing quite quickly, so I would encourage you to come to the hospital as soon as possible.”

John was already out the door, his cart abandoned. “I’ll be there in fifteen. Can you put her on the phone?”

“Yeah, just give me-” there was a rustle, a distant conversation, then Eliza’s hoarse voice saying, “John?”

“I’m here, I’ll be at the hospital in fifteen minutes, are you okay?” Where were his keys? He scrambled for them, trying to move as fast as possible.

She laughed, staccato, before cutting off with a groan. “Yeah. He’ll be a little while yet, you’re not going to miss anything. Don’t break the speed limit I just-” A sharp intake of breath, followed by another groan. “Want you here. God, this part hurts.”

“Fifteen,” John promised.

It took him ten. The room was set up when he arrived, Eliza in the bed breathing slowly and wincing as the contractions crunched their way through her body.

This was the part he knew nothing about. What had Alex done? Been concerned, probably, Alex was a worrier- “How are you feeling?” he asked.

She gave him a look. “Like someone is dragging a razor blade down the inside of my stomach.”

“Oh.” That didn’t sound good at all. “Is there anything I can… do?”

Before Eliza could answer another contraction seized her. She let out a curse. “That one was stronger. They’re picking up. Can you read to me? Alex used to read Pride and Prejudice to give me something to focus on.”

John looked through his bag. “I have Dan Brown? Or a fitness magazine.”

“...Nevermind.”

What he supposed to take her hand? Or maybe rub her feet? John wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do at this stage, normally he was getting snapchats of Eliza while sitting in the waiting room right about now.

“Doctor?” he asked instead.

“She’s doing okay for an early labour,” the doctor said. “She’s past the eight month mark, so the baby may not have to spend time in the NICU, we’re only a week or so premature. But we’ll be monitoring-”

Eliza groaned, then cursed. John took her hand.

“Buckle in,” the doctor said grimly. “It’s going to be a ride for the next few hours.”

 

Six Months + Three Hours Later

Eliza screamed. God, she’d done this twice before and still managed to forget how much it hurt.

“The baby’s heart rate is low,” the doctor beside her said. “If it doesn’t pick up, we may have to go for an emergency C-section.”

She reached out blindly, grabbing onto the first hand she could feel-

It was John’s. “We’ve got this,” he told her, squeezing her hand despite how white his face looked. “You’ve got this.”

“Hold,” the nurse ordered. “Hold.”

“Baby’s heartbeat not improving.”

“Alex,” Elisa whimpered. God, it hurt so much.

“Mother’s heart rate is dropping as well. We have to get him out. Prep OR Seven, ninety seconds, get her there-”

“John!” she called, but it wasn’t just John she wanted. Alex Alex Alex. But she’d sent him away, and she wasn’t allowed to have both of them here anyway. “Can you call him?”

“Eliza-” John’s face was stricken, but he was already dialing. “She’s going into labour. There’s a problem with the baby, they’re prepping for surgery. She wants to talk to you.”

And then he held the phone up to her ear. The only thing she could think to say is, “You should be here with us.”

Eliza,” her voice sounded like a prayer on his tongue.

“I won’t say sorry.”

“I don’t deserve sorry.”

“I can’t-” She screamed again, cursing, as another contraction ripped through her. “He’s coming!”

The nurse yelled, “Ninety seconds! Phone call is over, we need to move her to surgery.”

“I love you,” Alex breathed, “whatever happens. Be strong.”

“Father can wait outside, let’s move!” John took the phone back, ending the call, and then she was wheeled into a bright room and there was a needle in her arm and everything went black.

 

Six Months + Five Hours Later

When she woke up, John’s face was the first thing she saw. He was pale and frowning, but when her eyes focused on him he smiled. “Hello.”

“Hello,” she said.

“We have a son.” His smile grew. “A perfectly healthy son.”

A son. The nurse handed her the baby and left to give them some privacy. Our son. No matter how many children she had, in a moment like this she would always look down and think they were the most perfect thing she’d ever seen.

He was small and perfect, with smooth tanned skin and a shock of dark straight hair. Large dark eyes and fingers that immediately grasped her pinky. He was, very clearly, Alex’s son. “He’s-”

“I know. Is that okay?”

Why would you even need to ask that? “He’s perfect,” Eliza said firmly. “In fact-”

Two futures stretched before her. One with her and John - together in their odd little way, raising their children, dating other people. Thriving, but always remembering what they’d had.

One had her and John and Alex - opening her heart again, working past what had happened and trying to create something new.

She knew which future was harder. She also knew which one she wanted.

“In fact, how would you feel if we named him after his father?”

“Alex Junior?” John considered it. “I like it. It feels right.”

“He should have been here,” Eliza said, voice quiet. That was the truth of it. He should have been there for the birth of his son, should have been here to share this moment with them.

John’s mouth twisted. “Do you want me to call him for you? Tell him to meet us at the house when you get released?”

“Yes, please,” she said, as the nurse came back in with a clipboard.

“I just need a few things for the birth certificate. Baby’s name?”

“Alexander Hamilton.” Eliza didn’t hesitate. John was looking at his phone, typing out a message to Alex.

“Baby’s mother’s name?”

“Elizabeth Schuyler.”

“Baby’s father’s name?”

Again, no hesitation. “John Laurens.”

His head snapped up to look at her, a question in his eyes. Me?

“John Laurens, got it.” The nurse gave them both a smile. “I’ll leave you two for a little while, someone will be in to talk to you about care and releasing you. And? Congratulations. That’s a beautiful baby.”

“Thank you,” Eliza said. “He is definitely the product of his environment. Of everyone in it.” She saw John nod. Maybe he’d finally heard her. I couldn’t do this without you. You are just as much a part of this family as we are. I wouldn’t want it without you.

“He’s beautiful.” John said, looking down at their son. His hand rested on her shoulder, comforting and heavy.

“He is.” But there was one thing they still needed to do. “Call Alex.”

 

Six Months + Three Days After

Alex held his hands at his sides, palms up, waiting. Open and trusting.

She said, “There has to be changes.”

He nodded once, quick.

“We all go to counselling. We talk about things. I need to know why, and I need to know it will never happen again.”

He grimaced at the word counselling, but when she finished speaking he nodded again. His burning eyes never left her face, and he did not hesitate to agree.

Eliza opened her arms. “Come here.”

The first brush of his arms encircling her felt like coming home. Like she had been the one away, and it had been a long and tiring trip, and this was the joy she came back to. She let out a tiny sob, wrapping her arms tighter around his neck.

Alex wiped her tears away, smiling like the very sun itself.

 

Six and a Half Months After

It was hard. It was so hard. There were so many things they needed to talk about, so many things they had never talked about.

Angelica came through for her again, and recommended them a councilor. Said that Sally was very good at dealing with ‘unusual relationships’ and wouldn’t judge their circumstances.

They sat in her office, the three of them, and tried to make sense of their lives. They talked, and sometimes they listened.

At the beginning she couldn’t help but come back to the same questions: Why, how could you, what made you want to?

“You had everything you wanted,” she said one day, and Alexander’s eyes filled with shame.

“I know. It wasn’t that.”

“Then why?”

There were limits, even here, things they refused to talk about. Alex refused any talk about Afghanistan, just said repeatedly that it wasn’t relevant to their current issues and cut off Sally’s prodding. But he did open up about his parents, sharing more than Eliza had ever heard before.

“They had a good relationship, yeah.” Alex nodded, curled up in one of the large chairs with his knees against his chest. “I mean Dad was… loud, but he let Mom be loud too. He didn’t try and shut her up.”

“And that’s important to you?” Sally asked. “It seems to be something that stuck with you.”

“I was only ten when he left, so yeah, I guess that stuck with me. Some of my foster parents, the husband would yell, you know? And the wife would just get quiet. Just let him run all over her. Dad was never like that, he let us be ourselves.”

Other times Eliza talked about her own family. “We all grew up like sisters, it was wonderful, but… sometimes I wanted something for myself? It was great to always have friends, to always know someone has your back. But sometimes I felt like one third of Angelica-Peggy-Eliza and not me. Eliza.”

“And was that what drew you to Alexander?”

“Yeah,” she nodded, and Alex reached out to take her hand. “I felt so special. They had a relationship, and they were going to go through all that trouble just to be able to include me? He loved me so much he was willing to open up his relationship for me and risk everything.”

“I was.” Alex was crying, she saw. His eyes welling up with tears as he regarded her. She tried not to let that temper her words.

“That’s why it hurt so much when you were seeing that woman. I was special, and then I was any other woman you wanted to sleep with.” That was what had hurt most of all. Not just how little he seemed to care for her and John to splash their private life in the papers, not just the loss of her job and her privacy; it was what the affair said about her. She wasn’t special, wasn’t unique. Eliza had been demoted from ‘the special exception’ to ‘someone else Alexander Hamilton was sleeping with’.

Now she was trying to be content with ‘the person Alex and John spend their lives with’ instead.

Sally charged them to write each other letters describing specific things they loved about one another. “John and Eliza too,” she said, “it doesn’t have to be romantic love.”

It was slow going at first, as she wrote down things like the most beautiful eyes and so incredibly smart. But as she wrote the list got longer, until she was cramming sentences into the bottom of the page like
The way you looked at me across the lecture theater when we were in university, I could feel my heartbeat. I still feel that way when you look at me.
The little sounds you make when you sleep.
How you can sleep anywhere - in a chair, on the floor, even standing up on the subway.
The way you forget your keys every other day but have never once forgotten our birthdays or anniversaries.

She hesitated, then added, When you buy me flowers to the bottom.

When she gave it to him Alex presented her with a twelve page list that started with Your smile when you think no one’s watching and ended with The way you always let me keep trying. I promise to never take it for granted again.

(He handed John an equally long list, and Eliza and John had exchanged shy pages filled with things like The way you’re always able to calm Angie down when she cries and The way it feels when I lay my head on your chest and your arms are around me.)

 

Seven Months After

Healing doesn’t just come in therapy sessions, or tearful confessions. It came in the small things too. The day Alexander held his newborn son, face full of wonder, and Eliza said, “We named him after you. You should have been there.”

And John, ever one to ruin the moment, hip-checked him and added, “Yeah, the ‘miracle of birth’ just about killed my sweet southern sensibilities.”

Eliza gave him a look. Alex stopped smiling, glancing over to Eliza to see how she was going to react.

“John Laurens,” she said mildly, taking their son back from Alex. “I think it’s your turn to do the dishes tonight.” And they said no more about it that night.

But next week in therapy, Alex said, “I feel like I’m tiptoeing around Eliza. Like if I step out of line she’ll kick me out again.”

Eliza said, “I won’t kick you out.”

“Sometimes our feelings aren’t logical,” Sally reminded them. “It’s common for partners who have made mistakes to feel as though they’re on trial when rebuilding a relationship. There needs to be trust regained on all sides.”

Eliza said, “I won’t throw you out for being yourself. God, Alex, I want you. Not this beaten down Alex who’s scared to make a joke. Just don’t cheat on us again.”

“I just,” He looked down at his shoes. “You were so angry. I don’t want to feel like that again.”

“Then don’t cheat, Alexander-” she stopped when Sally held up a hand.

“Let me see if I’m understanding you correctly.” She looked from one to the other, and then over at John who was listening intently. “Alex, you feel as though you’re walking on eggshells. Eliza, this is frustrating to you, because you wish he wouldn’t.”

Yes

“And, it seems, this frustration has only led to more eggshell walking.”

Exactly!"

“Well then,” Her mouth crooked into a smile. “You’re going to need to talk about it I’m afraid. Inside and outside of the home. And on the subject of affairs,” Sally added, “people often have them because they’re missing something at home. There is a need that’s going unfilled, so they fulfill it elsewhere.”

“Eliza and John give me everything I could want,” Alex said immediately. “They’re wonderful.”

Sally smiled. “That may be, but there are still things you could be getting elsewhere. ”

“This isn’t even the first time,” John said. “Think, there’s got to be something. Something about Maria that you needed-”

“Maria…” He shook his head. “God help me, Maria was convenient. I knew it was stupid, I knew it was all going to go to hell, I just couldn’t stop myself-”

“Beating yourself up about it doesn’t do any good,” Sally reminded them. “Eliza and John have already forgiven you, Alex, now we’re just trying to get you guys on a solid foundation. I have some exercises that I think might help-”

 

Seven Months After

They took Alexander back into their bed on a cool fall evening. There was no preamble, just Eliza blinking up at him and saying, “Come to bed with us tonight.” They undressed in the twilight, fingers dancing across each other’s skin and trading kisses like they were teenagers again.

Alexander looked magnificent. Strung-out, begging, hands grabbing onto anything he could reach as John and Eliza slowly took him apart. Babbling their names until John quiets him with a kiss.

“Shhh baby, you’re going to wake the kids.”

John-”

“Yes, babe?”

His dark eyes were wild, lost. “Don’t stop.”

Eliza looked up, flushed with heat, and crawled her way up to Alex’s face. “Never,” she said, and kissed him like a promise.

 

Seven and a Half Months Later

It was on a Saturday night John said, “Can we do something like date night? I love the kids, but miss doing couple things.”

“Sure,” Eliza said, midway through vacuuming the mess Philip had left all over the carpet. “Let’s take turns. I can watch the kids tomorrow if you want to take Alex out?”

“And you can have him next weekend.” This was familiar ground at least, the two of them planning dates with Alex. She smiled at him, and it was enough encouragement for John to say, “And the weekend after, you and I? Not a date” - he didn’t want to date her, even after everything - “but like we were when Alex wasn’t here? That was nice.”

“That was,” she said simply. And the next day, he took Alex out to dinner. The Friday after, he took the kids to a movie while Eliza and Alex shared a few hours over a bowl of homemade fondue.

The weekend after that, Eliza informed Alex that he was going to be watching the kids while she and John settled in with Netflix.

“Oh?”

“Date night, mate,” John said, “sort of.”

Eliza giggled. “Platonic date night?”

“Whatever it is,” he dropped AJ safely into Alex’s arms, “you’re not invited.”

“Fine. But I demand kisses later to make up for it.”

John and Eliza both agreed, taking turns kissing him on the nose until he was smiling too.

Then they settled in with popcorn, just the two of them, and put The Force Awakens on. Partway through Eliza rests her head on John’s shoulder. “This is nice,” she said absently.

“Well, Han Solo just died so I don’t know about nice-”

“Shut up. This. Spending time together. And Han Solo’s overrated anyway.”

John put a hand to his chest. “Why, I thought I knew you, Eliza. I don’t know if I can handle such a betrayal of everything I believe in-”

She threw a popcorn at him. He caught it in his mouth.

 

Eight Months After

John came home from the park with Philip only to notice to the smell of smoke in the house for the second time. What now? “Eliza!” He called, racing into the house in a panic for what he would find. More pictures on fire? Alex on fire?

Instead he found Alex sitting on the kitchen floor, surrounded by scorched pans and a large hockey puck that might have once been spagetti, looking like the very picture of mournfulness.

“I was just trying to make dinner,” he said, making it sound like a curse. “A romantic dinner. For three. I think I ruined the pan.”

“Alex, what is this supposed to be?”

“Dinner.”

“No, I mean specifically, I’m not actually sure what you were trying to cook-” He dodged the hockey puck Alex threw at him.

“Spaghetti is easy! The internet said it was an easy meal! I was just trying to do something nice. You know. Not to make up for anything but- to show you both that things can still be good?”

“Oh babe.” John put the pan back on the counter, tossed the hockey-puck-spaghetti in the trash, and offered Alex a hand up. “I think things can be just as good with take-out.” And definitely more edible.

By the time Eliza came home with Angie and AJ, they had all the candles in the house lit in a darkened kitchen, two pizzas and a bottle of wine on the table.

“I made it special,” Alex said with a wink. John snorted and poured them some Merlot.

 

Nine Months After

They walked along the river together, Alex and John. Sprawled out in the grass like they did when they were teenagers.

“I think…” Alex said, head resting on John’s leg. “I think I couldn’t handle it.”

“Handle what?”

“How happy we were.” Alex wasn’t looking at him, instead staring determinedly at the trees in the distance. “A nice family with people who loved me? No one leaving or dying or getting screwed up? I never had that. And my head couldn’t handle how to live like I was happy. So I had to go out and ruin it so it’d feel normal again. God, that’s messed up.”

“We’re all messed up.” John reached for him, running his hand through his partner’s hair. He thought about it, how much something like that would explain. Thought about what it would be like to live such a precarious existence for so long that finally being happy felt wrong. “We’re working on it.”

“We are. You and I and Eliza. And Sally.” He huffed out a laugh. “And maybe, if I’m lucky, Angelica will stop daydreaming about shanking me one day.”

“I love you, you know,” John said.

Alex grinned. “I know. I love you too. Do you know what else I love?”

“Eliza?”

“I was going to say chocolate chip cookies, but yeah, Eliza’s pretty great.”

“You’re shameless. Let’s go home.”

 

After

Forgiveness was this:

The three of them stretched out on a bed, all their sharp corners fitting in together. After so long apart they sleep with Alex in the middle, and John privately wondered if they’ll ever want to sleep another way. They missed him so much.

It’s a dog eared copy of The Ethical Slut burned to a crisp in the fireplace, now replaced by a copy of Communication Miracles for Couples: Easy and Effective Ways to Create More Love and Less Conflict.

It’s Eliza texting Alex no, it’s not okay, you need to come home tonight and spend time with your family. Alex brought a box of paperwork home with him and spread it all over the dining room, but at least he was home.

It’s heated kisses on lips and friendly kisses on cheeks, careful kisses pressed into hair and loud smacking ones on noses. It’s all three of them re-learning all the different ways to love.

It’s Philip once again coming home with stick figure drawings of all three of his parents, only with hearts instead of heads.

It’s John sending Slutty Lawyer memes to Alex while he’s at work (“John, that’s not even funny” “Yes it is” “I was in a meeting”) and refusing to apologize for it.

It’s the three of them, slowing turning their house back into a home.