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you look happy to meet me

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There’s a single little sliver of moonlight escaping the curtain of their bedroom when she opens her eyes. The bedside clock says it’s just a little after one a.m., but her heart weighs a little heavier even as the arm around her stomach tightens just a little bit. (He must be dreaming, he only sighs like that against the nape of her neck when he’s deep in slumber, dreaming about something light). There is a little sketchbook in her drawer, the color of lavender and roses in the covers.

It says little dreamer on the front page as a small girl looks upon the stars.

At age five (well, soon to be six, Tessa thinks sadly) Suzy has taken interest in drawing and painting and has been asking for a puppy for her birthday, but since she and Scott do not think they’re ready yet for a puppy, Tessa got her a sketchbook instead.

It’s exactly a week until her birthday, and then the day after that is Tessa’s. When Suzy found out about this little fact the year before, she had pouted and said, “Why did you not give me the same birthday?” like she could have helped it.

“Well, you didn’t want to wait a day later to come meet your daddy and me,” she had explained. It seemed to have placated her at the time being, but whenever she was reminded of this fact, she would repeatedly blame Tessa, and sometimes Scott. She couldn’t figure out why, but it made it funnier because her husband would get offended at the accusation.

This year though, she would probably be more upset about the fact that in less than three days, mommy is going to hop on a plane for a business engagement that she could not absolutely skip and will not be back until three days after her birthday.

She had played with the idea of telling the guys in Japan that she absolutely cannot attend because her heart doesn’t want to leave their warm Montreal home with her baby and Scott, and spend her birthday without her family, she wants to watch the Sound of Music with them until she’s sick of it because Suzy is obsessed with the songs and cannot stop humming or singing them, but –

“What are you thinking?”

A rough voice cuts through her thoughts just as she realizes that she’s crying a little bit. She must have woken him. She turns in his arms and faces him, his bleary eyes still squinted as he comes to terms with his waking.

“Hey,” he says again, quiet tone laced with concern as he notices her tears. “Are you okay?”

She chuckles a little bit, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand. This is the man she married, she thinks. He knows her heart even in his sleep. “It’s just…” she starts and then buries her head into his chest.

She listens to his heart, knows that he has always supported her from the very beginning until now. She knows his hands will never hurt her, and knows that his eyes will never waver, and knows that he will always love her and Suzy until his dying day, but somehow, she cannot take the guilt away from her mind. They have talked about this repeatedly, ever since the moment she got the call. He understands, she knows this. But still.

“I’m sorry,” she tells his t-shirt. The breeze outside rustles the leaves of the nearby tree, and Scott’s arms tighten around her a little bit more, making her a little warmer. Suddenly, he knows what she’s thinking. And truly, she loves him with every fiber of her being.

“I thought we talked about this?” he says, not unkindly, as he rubs her back soothingly. His voice remains soft and quiet, the vibrations of it relaxing her as well as his hand. “There’s going to be more birthdays, T. And you’re going to be there for a lot more of them. For this one, though, she’s only going to be with her aunts and uncles, dozens of her cousins, and her grandparents. It’s not a lot –

She laughs and slaps at his chest as he chuckles with her, pulling her in closer.

“But I think she’ll survive. Besides,” he nuzzles her hair and smiles. “You got her a great present. She’ll love the heck out of it. Watch me find crayons between couch cushions for the next couple of years or until she fills that one up and asks for another one.”

“But I want to be there,” she says, clutching at his shirt. Her tears make a comeback as she thinks of all the things she will definitely miss. The party, the huge and loud family, the gifts, the cake, the mess the cake will make, and Suzy.

“We will Facetime,” he says, stroking her hair now. “We will do the Skype thing, whatever you want. You’ll be there. I’ll make sure Suzy doesn’t open your gift until you’re there to see it. I promise.”

She sighs and snakes her arms around his back. “I love you,” she tells him. She truly does.

“I love you too,” he replies, already falling back asleep.

And then the next few nights before she left becomes weird.

It starts the night right after that when she wakes up to find Scott already in the kitchen. This is not uncommon, God knows he’s the only morning person in this house. But he turns around to greet her with a tired smile and bags under his eyes like he hasn’t slept the night before when clearly, he did. She was there with him.

“Hey, T,” he says, sliding a plate full of pancakes towards her. She’s only mildly surprised to see a small bundle of blankets exit her room all groggy and grumpy. Suzy, all wild hair and severe pout, climbs up her stool to glare at her father until there’s a similar stack of pancakes in front of her.

Your daughter, Scott mouths before settling in front of her with his own plate, teasing eyes trained on her. He truly looks handsome in the mornings, like he stole all the sunshine and packed it into his being so that he can blind them with it when they wake up. She loves looking at him when he’s like this, their breakfast chef, cheery and smiling. Without fail, he’s made them breakfast ever since she got pregnant with Suzy. Even when he’s sick, he’s always the first one to the kitchen.

She hugs him from behind as he’s rinsing the plates, presses a kiss to his shoulder exposed by his tank top. His skin is warm there and he smells like all the happiness in this world. She feels too sappy thinking this, so she doesn’t tell him, but she does trace a line from his chest to his navel with clear intentions. He grunts, turning his head to confirm that their daughter is in fact occupied with another movie on the couch, and then he turns around to face her, soapy hands coming up to her face to smear her with dishwashing suds – the jerk!

Oh that’s how it is.

Tessa gasps, reaches behind him and scoops up some soapy water to dump on his head. He opens his mouth in a perfect ‘o’ for offended and she shrieks as she escapes his wet embrace.

Scott catches up to her in their bedroom, clutches her by the waist and throwing her onto the mattress like she weighs nothing – and then pins her with his weight.

“You really thought!” he says, struggling as she squirms under his body. Suddenly, his eyes are there, soft and warm and loving. She can still see the tiredness in them, but he’s smiling and she loves him so much. She brings her fingers up to trace at the droplets of water trailing down the side of his face and he tilts his head to lean into her touch. He bites his lip and fixes her with a small grin.

She kisses him because there’s nothing else to do but kiss him. He tastes like pancakes and coffee, and maybe a little bit like soap. The smile disappears from his face as his eyes close slowly, his hand going to the wrist of the hand she still has pressed to his cheek. He keeps it there as his tongue traces the seam of her lips with a quiet groan.

Let me in, he tells her with the hips pressing her into the bed. She does, she lets him in, and is awarded with a moan that goes straight to her core.

She makes to get him out of his tank top and sweatpants but then he pulls away from the kiss to bury a huge yawn to the side of her face, surprising them both.

“I’m sorry,” he says, eyes wide with horror.

She smiles at him, fingers carding through his hair to let him know that she’s not mad. “You should take a nap, you look tired.”

He pouts, but ultimately settles down beside her and pulls her into the mold of his body.

“Is it Tokyo?” she asks. She knows that he’s at the cusp of stressing out about the new routines of his teams. The competition in Tokyo is in a couple of months and he’s prone to thinking about them every time his mind is unoccupied. She didn’t know he would lose sleep because of it.

“Huh? Oh, yeah,” he says, already sounding sleepy. He pulls her closer, nuzzling at her hair.

“Okay, go take that nap and I’m going to go check on Suzy,” she says. He doesn’t let go. “Scott, come on.”

“No, stay,” he pleads. “Please.”

In the end, she lets him hold her until he’s fully under, and then she slips out of his embrace to watch Sound of Music with their daughter. Suzy shoots her a weird look, a mix between suspicion and knowing that only a five-year old can manage. Tessa kisses her nose and smiles at her.

“Did you and daddy practice again?” she asks, snuggling up into her mother’s hug. “You know, skating.” Her legs are splayed across Tessa’s thighs, but her eyes are glued to the TV.

Which is a good thing because their five-year old daughter asking about what her parents do in the privacy of their bedroom is always a topic that catches her off-guard. Scott has always been the better one at this, and he’s left her to fend for herself, the bastard.

“Uh, yes – I mean no, your daddy is taking a nap,” she tells her. “He is very tired.”

Suzy nods, almost absentmindedly. A minute goes by very peacefully, almost the calm before the storm, and then she looks up at Tessa and stares straight into her eyes to say, “I want a baby sister.”

She didn’t mean to say “okay”, and it wasn’t a promise, but sometimes Suzy can be… terrifying.

She is smart (scarily so) and independent and talented and Scott can never shut up about her, even after five years, which is endearing. She has also started singing a few weeks ago, which came as a surprise because both of her parents cannot. “It’s a miracle,” Scott had whispered to her when they caught her singing along to Moana in the living room. The words were incoherent, but there she was, holding her water bottle as a microphone and dancing on the carpet all by herself.

Scott might have cried.

Tear up, he would correct her. But she was there and she knows.

*

When she and Scott first decided to come back and try for another Olympics, some light years ago, they were – in the barest sense – broken. She felt like she was walking on eggshells around him, and he felt that he was one word away from losing her forever. When they talked about trust and love and passion, it was not without the tears and the anger and the longing. Numerous nights on her couch were spent talking and crying, learning to love each other again but with more assurance, and with a more stable foundation. They had to, back then. It was never a question about if they do or do not, it was always about the how. And some years later, here they are –

Building a family with Scott wasn’t an I blinked and it’s there moment, although sometimes it feels like it. Suzy was just a tiny baby in her arms, eyes not really open yet, but so, so curious – she’d grasped at their fingers like she was desperate to see them. Tessa had cried, Scott had shaken, he had wrapped the both of them in a careful embrace and promised promises that he has never broken, right there on her hospital bed, tears blotting on her forehead from his eyes.

It felt like a dream.

And then Suzy was a baby, loud and screaming in the dead of night. She was warned about this. “You were a quiet baby,” her mother had said.

“Scott wasn’t,” Alma had piped in. “Better prepare for the worst.”

She had, as Alma advised. But every single time the baby even so much as fussed at some ungodly hour, Scott was there, pushing her back into bed with a tired smile. “I got this,” he would say. “Go back to sleep.”

Every night, without fail. It was one night like that that she couldn’t close her eyes and drift back to sleep because she kept thinking about it – she waited for him, chewing her lip as she thought and thought and thought –

“Hey, why aren’t you sleeping?”

He’s silhouetted by the hallway lights, but she could see his furrowed brows, the concern in his expression.

She had tilted her head, had welcomed him in her arms until they were both settled, and then said, “Why are you doing this?”

She wasn’t even sure he would get what she was saying as soon as she said it, but the best thing about Scott is that he just knows. And this was one of his moments.

“Tessa, you carried and gave birth to the only other person I will love as much as you,” he had whispered into her embrace. “This isn’t even enough. If I could go back in time, I will take all the pain that you went through.”

Scott sat back on his elbows and gazed into her, hazel eyes intense in the moonlight. “You and Suzy, you’re both it. The beginning and the end for me. I love you both with all my life.”

And maybe it was the late hour, or the fact that he had been doing this for that very reason, or just that there was never any doubt that he will be the best husband and father anyone could ever ask for and that she and Suzy were very lucky, that she buried her face into his neck and cried tears of happiness until she fell asleep.

Which is what she finds on the couch the next morning –

Scott sprawled on the sofa, knocked out, as Suzy fiddles with a small ukulele beside him as if serenading her dad to wakefulness. It isn’t very effective, Tessa would guess.

“Good morning, baby, what’s daddy doing there?”

Suzy looks up and puts the ukulele down on the ground before running to hug her mom’s legs. “Is daddy dead?” she asks just as Scott lets out a rather loud and embarrassing snore.

“I don’t think so honey,” she says, crouching next to him. He is in his pajamas from last night, and the dark circles under his eyes are still there. It didn’t use to bother her but now, it’s just weird. “Scott, get up.”

He startles awake and then relaxes when his eyes adjust to recognize her. “Oh, hi Tess,” he says, all charmingly boyish and adorably rumpled. His voice is rough, his smile is small, and his breath stinks but he’s still handsome, darn it.

She sends Suzy to the kitchen, promising a Star Wars movie marathon if she swears to finish her breakfast. The little girl practically runs to the kitchen, skipping, leaving them alone.

She couldn’t help it, her mind goes places when Scott keeps secrets from her. Only that her mind doesn’t know where to go, so it’s stuck in some kind of limbo.

“Care to explain?”

She fixes him with a stern non-glare and sees him swallow hard. She watches him sit up and clear his throat, run his hands through his disheveled hair, all of it to stall for time, and she’s not having it.

He coughs. “I was practicing the ukulele.”

Right.

Tessa folds her arms in front of her chest. “Scott, if you don’t want to sleep next to me, you can just tell me.”

He stands up and grasps at her elbows, eyes sincere and deep. “No, Tess, I swear. I was just… practicing the uke. A new hobby of mine.”

She narrows her eyes.

He sighs, shoulders drooping. “I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about Tokyo so I… watched some game replays until I crashed. I should’ve told you, I’m sorry.” She allows him to envelop her into a warm embrace. “I didn’t want to wake you up with my tossing and turning,” he murmurs into her hair.

Tessa’s hands find his sides. “Hey, you tell me all about it. Whatever it is that’s bothering you, you don’t have to hide it, especially not from me.”

If she could laugh, she would. This – she loves him like this. When he’s tired and warm, and he’s softly stroking her hair. But mostly, it’s when he reminds her of nine-year old Scott who would never tell his mom that he had fallen badly on the ice while horsing around with his brothers so that she wouldn’t worry, not until she found the bruises on his side. It is funny because back then, she thought she would hold his hand forever if it meant she would see him laugh and hear him call her silly nicknames all the time.

She clutches at his shirt to bring his attention to focus on her next words. When he’s looking at her all soft gaze under tired eyes, she says, “I love you. You are never a bother to me. Not even when you’re being deliberate about it.”

He laughs, biting his lower lip as if he could help it with that. Their foreheads meet as his breath washes over her, their hearts in sync to some rhythm that’s only for them. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s proven. You’re the best woman on Earth. I’m sorry to everyone else who isn’t married to you.”

Tessa blushes. How could she not? This is the man who has been with her through the good, the bad, and the ugly, and still thinks she’s the best woman on Earth. How can she deserve such a sweet man?

*

Three hours before her flight, she finds Suzy wrapped around her like a little koala bear, being extra sweet and loving, making it harder to leave. Scott is lugging her suitcase to the entrance because Suzy on her own is now heavier than when she was a baby, and Tessa’s strong, but she could really use some help if her daughter is being a little bit clingy. Literally.

It’s at the gate that she sets her daughter down and tells her that she’ll be back before she knows it, and that she’s sorry if she couldn’t be there on her birthday. To which, Suzy just hugged her and said, “It’s okay, mommy. I love you very much.”

And if that isn’t the sweetest thing in the world, the understanding of the only person she wants it from.

She leaves with a heart a little bit lighter than before. With a tender kiss from her husband and another warm hug from her daughter.

*

When she wakes up from a nap after a long day of speaking engagements and meetings, on the night of her birthday, it’s to a bunch of Skype chats from Scott. They had talked that morning, mostly it was with a sleepy little girl tired from all the hard partying she had to do all day and his proud daddy holding out the gift she left for her to open last.

It was worth it, she thinks now, when she saw Suzy light up at the sight of the sketchbook. Even more when she almost kicked Scott just so she could get away and get her crayons to christen her favorite gift.

She’s nursing a small cup of tea when her little family appears on the screen before her. She has to laugh because Scott is grinning so wide while their little girl looks like she’d rather strangle her father than be cheery like him. She’s glaring at Scott so hard, maybe for waking her up at an early hour, all bedhead and drying drool still on her person.

“Good morning, lovely girl,” she says to Suzy who pouts and takes a sip from her mug of milk. “Hi,” she tells Scott.

“Hi,” he smiles. “You look like you’re having fun.”

She raises her cup. “I have this, and I have you. It’s all I ever wanted.”

Something like mischief makes its way to the surface of his expression, alarming Tessa a little bit. It reminds her of nine-year old Scott’s pranks. They never hurt anybody, but they did catch her off-guard most of the time.

“What is it?” she asks, wary.

“Munchkin, do you wanna tell her?” Scott asks Suzy, who lights up so bright that it almost gives Tessa whiplash. She bounces up and down on her seat excitedly, and Scott has to steady the stool so she doesn’t fall off of it.

“We made you a birthday present!” her little girl squeals.

Tessa feels her lips pull into a full grin, her heart ready to burst. “You didn’t have to, baby.”

“Daddy helped a little,” she said, still bouncing. Scott shoots Suzy an indignant look that melts into a fondly exasperated roll of his eyes. “Mommy, you’ll love it.”

“Do I get to see it soon?” Tessa asks.

Scott bites his lip and shrugs. “Why don’t you check your e-mail right now, Tess?”

It’s a video file, and when she opens it to load, she sees her little girl on the foreground in her party dress with Scott in the background holding a ukulele. She presses play.

Edelweiss, edelweiss
every morning you greet me
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me

It must be something with the song that makes her tear up – or it could be that it’s Suzy’s sweet little voice, melodic and adorable, and it’s Scott’s novice fingers playing the small instrument with care. It could be that he was telling the truth, and that the weird nights were because he was practicing the ukulele like he said. He was also probably thinking of Tokyo, but he was doing this, too. He did it for them, she realizes. Suzy loves the Sound of Music, and he knows that Tessa loves listening to Suzy sing.

Blossom of snow
may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever

Edelweiss, edelweiss,
bless my homeland forever

Next thing she knows, she’s crying and missing her little family so much that it’s a physical pain in her chest. When she looks at the Skype screen again, Suzy is in Scott’s lap, being hugged so tightly that she can almost feel her in her arms.

“Thank you,” she sniffles. “I love you both so so so much, and I miss you.”

Scott’s eyes shine too. “We love you too, don’t we, munchkin?”

Suzy raises her arms as if to hug her from the other side of the screen. “Yes! I love you, mommy.”

They chat more and honestly, tomorrow’s engagements be damned, she wants to never sleep if it means talking to them a little longer. Tomorrow’s flight couldn’t come sooner.

*

When she wakes, it’s to little knees digging into her stomach and a quiet chuckle almost too quiet to be picked up if she weren’t just waking up. She opens her eyes and sees Scott smirking at her from where he’s leaning against their headboard. Suzy is purring small snores between them, limbs all over the place.

“She’s so you,” Scott whispers.

“Shut up, that’s you,” she replies, and when she couldn’t take his teasing look anymore, she sits up and kisses him. Softly, tenderly. It doesn’t last more than a few seconds, but when she pulls away, she sees the daze in his eyes. She really did miss him.

He shakes his head in disbelief at something, and then says, “God, I’m so in love with you.”

Her breath catches in her throat just like that. He says these things like it’s normal, and it’s been years of this but she doesn’t think she will ever tire of it. Of him. Of whatever he’s trying to pull. She will always be in love with him, if the twenty plus years of them being together where she spent half of it in love with him were any indication.

Suzy pulls at her shirt in her sleep and she lies back down as Scott does the same.

This is her life now, she thinks.