>> July 13th, 2019 / 1 year and two weeks after Millers’ mansion
“Fuck me! Holy shit…Holy shit! Holy-fucking-shit!…This isn’t happening to me. Please tell me this isn’t happening to me,” she rushes herself outside and down the stairs like a scalded cat, people around turning their heads and staring at her at a loss because, by the looks of them, you’re not supposed to swear when leaving the place like this.
“Holyshit-holyshit-holyshit…” still rambles she under her breath when turning a corner and dashing towards the parking set. Debbie barely keeps her pace, mentally cursing herself for her wardrobe choice in the morning: who even told her it was a good idea to wear her usual stilettos and a pencil skirt when accompanying an emotionally unstable woman to the doctor’s appointment.
“Lou, stop it. Lou. Lou! You’re overreacting,” Debbie cries out to her back, stomping her feet hard, and almost bumps into the blonde when she suddenly stops and turns on her heels in a sharp motion.
“I am overreacting! I am over-reacting! Bullshit!” she snarls looking up at her, minting every word into Debbie’s face, then keeps going and Debbie can’t help but grinning behind her back because in her slip-ons and cropped wide-leg ivory pants, now a good four-five inches below her, Lou looks so miniature and cute, and a couple of months are far from enough to get used to this view no matter how hard Debbie tries.
“Twins! It’s fucking goddamned twins, Deborah!!!” she throws her hands up to her head, now passing back and forth near the driver’s door of their dark red Lamborghini Urus, waiting for Debbie to toss her the car keys. Her breathing is heavy and erratic and Debbie doesn’t need to take her pulse to know it’s way out of normal. She’s not under a panic attack yet somewhere dangerously close.
Debbie finally catches up, closing the gap between them; puts her both hands on Lou’s shoulders, looking at her down her nose. Kisses her forehead over the light, slightly dishevelled from wind bangs. Brings her fingers to lift Lou’s chin and the two bright-ocean-blue eyes stare at her, frantically darting between her dark brown. “Baby, don’t get crazy,” she smiles at her, trying to look and to sound as if she doesn’t think that all of this scene is a groundless over-emotional tantrum of Lou’s. “Let’s take a deep breath and calm down.”
Lou takes one, indeed and Debbie already scores it as a victory. But probably, her smirking eyes betray her true attitude, because Lou’s eyebrows under the messy blonde bangs curtain furrow, she bites on the inside of her cheek, pouts her lips and shakes her head stubbornly.
“Don’t you tell me to calm down!” she waves off Debbie’s hands, resuming her passing motions, not looking at Debbie anymore. “I’m nothing but calm,” of course, she’s not. “I’m a pure peace as for the person, within which it’s two aliens that are growing up! Not one, Deborah! Two!!!” She stops by the driver’s door, one hand on her hip and another one with her palm up in the air, her feet stomping petulantly. “Now, give me the keys!”
For the purpose, Debbie approaches without any rush, towering over her woman for credibility. “First of all, no. You’re a little on edge so in this state no - you’re not driving,” she places another kiss on the tip of Lou’s nose playfully, trying to wrap her arms around Lou’s waist but the younger woman dodges, growls at her in exasperation and walks around the car to the passenger seat.
“And second of all, hey!” she opens the door, drops down in the seat, waiting for Lou to do the same. “Go easy here!” her palm carefully lays above Lou’s rounded belly after she fastens her seatbelt, “Those are our unborn children you’re talking about!”
Lou growls again, raises her hand to cover her face. “I knew that was a terrible idea. I knew it. I knew something bad was gonna happen. I shouldn’t have listened to you.”
Her leg starts bouncing on the place spastically and Debbie’s palm trails down from Lou’s stomach to rest on her lap.
“Love, nothing bad is gonna happen, I promise,” she strokes lightly, up and down her thigh, until the jolting stills. “It’s… Just an insignificant deviation from the plan. A little… complication.”
“A little one?” Lou’s head jerks at Debbie, eyebrows furrowed and lips apart in a perfect ‘O’. “This complication is universal, Deborah,” she rolls her eyes, throws her head back and Debbie mirrors the gesture – this all ‘Deborah’ thing is way too tiresome and annoying. “This’s gonna be the real hell! They’ll bleed me dry even before they’re born… Or I’m gonna die in childbirth, in agony, with the bones cracking and muscles tearing apart… Did you hear the doctors? I’m the worst possible physical example of a bearing mother for twins…”
Debbie barely holds back some snarky comment but manages to replace it with something more supportive in time “…unless! we improve your diet and bring some special additional physical training, and you’ll be perfect. All of you,” her hand finds Lou’s, squeezes in reassuringly, brushing her thumb over Lou’s knuckles. “Needless to say, a C-section. Nothing we couldn’t cope.” Lou sighs heavily. Doesn’t take her hand away, but doesn’t replicate the gesture either. Turns her face back to Debbie and utters now more calmly, her voice deep and quiet.
“What’s about our existing child? Have you thought about her?”
Dashiell. Of course, it’s about Dashiell. Each first thought Lou has in her head is always about their daughter. Especially now.
“And what about her? It was she who asked us about a younger brother or sister, don’t you forget it. And she is happy with this all.” Debbie’s eyes jump between concentrating on the road in front of her and the woman next to her. Something in Lou’s face makes the spark of concern twinkle inside of her, substituting her usual self-confidence and cool.
“She asked us about one younger brother or sister. About one, Deborah, not about the whole set of two little monsters, racing competition in crying and pooping and burping both simultaneously, taking all the 24/7 of the future two years of her mothers’ lives. I can’t imagine how we’re gonna balance this…”
“We’ll move back to Australia for a while – Cordelia and Anna will be happy to help. And we’ll hire a bunch of nannies and teachers…” the way Lou takes her eyes from Debbie, the way she fidgets and slides down in her seat, turns her face away towards the street – it all adds the fuel, turns Debbie’s spark first into a small and then into the full scale fire of anxiety.
“That’s not an option. Frankly, I don’t know if we’re ready for this.” Debbie’s hand jerks away from Lou as if she’s burning her skin.
“What is an option then?” they stop at the traffic light and Debbie can let herself cling her eyes on Lou a couple of minutes longer. “Lou?” there’s a silence in response and irritation is growing in her tone, her voice noticeably demanding and impatient. “I asked you a question: what are you saying here?”
“I don’t know, okay?” Lou’s gaze unfastens from the view behind the window, comes to Debbie and holds for several seconds before to shift back to the street. “I. Don’t. Know.”
Debbie swallows hard. Swallows, trying to thwart the wave of panic that starts rising from the bottom of her guts. She doesn’t remember the last time she saw this much fear, uncertainty, and pain in Lou’s eyes – since that day on the beach, with all that shit with Dashiell’s escape, she personally has been making sure those feelings would never make their way back into Lou’s heart. Her knuckles whiten as she hardens her grip at the steering wheel. Suddenly, everything inside turns cold and for a short moment, she thinks she may throw up. They are not close enough to the 24 weeks barrier, they are only 18. Only 18 weeks… According to the law of New York State… According to the Reproductive Health Act, within the first 24 weeks, it’s legal… No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no… She wouldn’t. Please… She wouldn’t, would she?
She glances back at Lou’s slouched figure. Her eyes travel from her face, which is turned away and leaned against the cold glass with her forehead, down to where her racing heartbeat is almost elusive nevertheless, visible throbbing under the skin of her pulse point, where her chin flows into her porcelain white neck…
A horn honk from the car behind, way too sharp and loud all of a sudden, both startles and wrenches her out of her ruminations and she pushes the accelerator hard by inertia. Yes, she might have missed the first two seconds of the green light and it’s like this motherfucker from behind is probably surviving the end of the world, but that’s definitely not an excuse to make that much noise and to cut their car, outracing them right at the crossroads, into oncoming traffic. Never being a decent driver (how many times for her whole life she has had to renew her driver’s license in the ways far from legal ones), she holds up a finger and cries out “What an asshole, huh?” in indignation.
It’s mere inches, a matter of seconds that separated them from a terrible crash between the cars and in a moment, Debbie remembers she’s not alone in the car. Her head wavers back to Lou, her throat contracts and she’s ready to fall into the earth. Back straight, shoulders squared and eyes wide, Lou is as pale as a sheet. One of her legs is bent and pulled up pressed to her body, both of her hands wrapped protectively around her belly. She got scared. She got fucking scared and the first impulse she had was to protect their aliens…
You’re an idiot, Ocean. A fucking selfish idiot. How could you even assume this thought? Of course, she wouldn’t. She would have never hurt them, no way in hell… Your girl is just frightened to death. And confused, lost in her usual labyrinths of uncertainty and self-destruction. And tired, Debbie. Your girl is exhausted after the permanent threat of miscarriage during the first three months. Exhausted because it must be bloody difficult to be pregnant. It must be a thousand times more difficult to be pregnant in a sultry summer New York, to be pregnant with you as a partner by her side, to be pregnant, simultaneously being a mother of a restless six-year-old brat, to be pregnant with two… It’s too hard for her. It’s not one of your jobs. The responsibility is too high. The cost of failure is too high. It’s the fucking Mountain Everest on her slender shoulders. So stop pushing, you idiot. Shove all your insecurities, claims and demands up your ass and just. Be. With her. For her.
Her hand rushes back to Lou’s belly, covering one of Lou’s and interlacing their fingers. “Sorry,” she whispers and smiles, wrinkling her nose apologetically. Still no colour in her face, Lou sends her a weak smile in return.
The rest of their drive home is mostly silent. The tension still so sensible that both Nine Ball and Veronica vanish away without goodbyes as soon as they cross the threshold of their huge new house. Debbie mentally sets a reminder to wonder if these three have been trying to hack the Pentagon and if they succeed. Again.
While she rummages their fridge, vacillating between burning up their kitchen making an omelette and ordering some pizza for as hungry as a little dragon Dashiell, with Dashiell herself kicking the air, deposited comfortably on the kitchen island, she misses the moment when Lou quietly slips from them to their bedroom, closing the door behind herself.
She wakes up to the barely audible whispers and weightless but ticklish touches to her uncovered belly. She remembers sneaking out from the kitchen, nestling herself in a small ball on the edge of their ridiculously wide bed, staring out of the sunny panoramic window to the clouds running in the sky – an advantage of moving to the suburbs that you can finally watch the sky and not its reflection in the skyscrapers. She must have drifted away because she’s sprawled across the centre of the bed now turned over onto her back, the window is curtained with a single sunbeam flaring through a thin gap in the curtains and drawing a tiny sun stripe across the top of her stomach.
On both sides of her body, opposite each other, Dashiell and Debbie are propped up on their elbows. Although it’s significantly bigger than with Dash at the same term, her belly is not too big so far, so they’re facing each other over its hemisphere. It’s amazing how rapid the regeneration processes in children’s bodies are and after this whole year they’ve been living outside Australia, Dashiell’s hair is already slightly below her shoulders. When Debbie was having her haircut to the same length a couple of weeks ago – a hard reality for Lou to accept the absence of Debbie’s long fabulous hair but who even asked her - Dashiell insisted on having the bangs and since then all the girls have been making jokes that now she’s turned into the complete mixing of the two of them. You know, just like when they take the photos of two people and photoshop it into one – that is Dashiell now, they say, a perfect merge of Lou and Debbie’s features. From her current angle of view though, she can see the two photocopied dark-haired heads. Even their hair colour seems to be absolutely similar in this lighting.
She wonders which of these two have raised the hem of her shirt and decides it was probably Dashiell when the small fingertips caress her skin again. She smiles, almost raises her hand to card her fingers through the girl’s hair but stops and holds her breath when Dashiell murmurs.
“So, you’re telling there’re the two of them here?”
Thaaaaaat’s it. The time stands still for Lou, no other sounds exist except for the two so different and yet so precious voices. It’s not fair to hide from them she’s awake. It’s cowardly and meanly to eavesdrop their intimate moment and Lou Miller is anyone but a coward and a cheater. But her girl has stopped being honest with her. She is frank and candid and straight, it’s her nature, it’s in her blood the same way it’s in Lou’s blood. But behind Lou’s back Debbie treats Lou as if she’s some Pinner Qing Dynasty porcelain Vase and their little girl catches on fast. ‘Mommy is not allowed to worry’ and their six-and-a-half-year-old learns to bottle everything up, learns to suppress her real emotions, learns to lie about this all to protect her. She is such a brilliant learner, and her other mother is the best possible teacher – quite one hell of a duet they make here. So Lou releases her breath, evens her heart rhythm back to the normal and listens attentively in all ears, watching her brunettes from under the cover of her light bangs and dark eyelashes.
Debbie nods her head as a positive answer and Dashiell watches her, mirrors the motion, humming “Hmm, ‘kay.”
“ ’kay? That’s all you have to say?”
“Yeah… I mean, that was kinda predictable, wasn’t it?” she shrugs, drawing the circles on Lou’s belly.
“Predictable?” surprise is quite audible in Debbie’s voice – she either cannot or rather doesn’t want to cover it in this conversation. She wants to be honest, ’cause even Debbie knows this is the only way they can work out anything with their girl.
“Yeah. Well, we had the IVF and there’s always a higher chance of conceiving twins. And… uhm… we have Lizbeth with Cillian and Carol and we have Liam with Sasha and Tristan. It’s honestly more surprising that I was born without any company.”
She declares everything in such a serious lecturing tone as something absolutely axiomatic that Debbie has to press her forehead to Lou’s side for a moment - to hide her wide grin - and Lou knows the two of them are thinking about the same thing right now: how this is even possible that this idea, so obvious to their oh-so-young child, never happened to occur to their ‘mastermind’ heads. Apparently, the two of them, so brilliant when planning a heist together, both suck when it comes to the planning of their own family.
“Aaaaaand,” Dashiell holds a short pause before to go on with her questionary, “you’re telling that mom’s freaking out over this? Why would she?”
Lou has to make an effort not to flinch, not to give herself away. But Debbie’s voice is calm and quiet, her breath soothing and relaxing against Lou’s skin. She seems to know exactly what to do. “Because she thinks it will be a mess. She worries we’re gonna have a problem because of this. Thinks it will be too difficult, too much for the two of us. And, to be honest,” Debbie glances away from Dashiell, suddenly finding the face of her watch irresistibly interesting. “I think she’s still not 100% sure regarding me. You know,” she makes a chuckle but it comes reluctant and unnatural. “I’m not the top candidate for the parent of the year.”
The girl puffs out in a mock-frustration, pouting her lips. “Who told you this nonsense?” her left brow creases slightly in a perfect resemblance of Lou’s firm gesture. “First of all, she is 1000% sure. She wouldn’t have gone so far if she weren’t. Cordelia couldn’t force sixteen-year-old Louise to do anything against her will. So don’t flatter yourself Ocean – you cannot compel a forty-six-year-old Lou Miller if she’s not sure, either. And speaking of parents, I think I’m the only person who has any say here and I reserve the right to give this reward to you. So yes, ‘Oscar goes to Lou Miller and Deborah Ocean’. Both Lou Miller and Deborah Ocean! Cheering!” the brunettes chuckle quietly in unison and Debbie’s hand hoovers forward to give a light pinch to the little turned-up nose. Giggling, Dashiell waves it off hand and continues, “And second of all, yes, of course, it will be a mess, but it’s not only the two of you, but it’s the three of us. And we’ll temporarily move back to Wilson Prom…”
“…Wilson Prom. That was exactly what I suggested.”
A low growl almost escapes Lou’s throat: should you barely close your eyes to take a nap and these two are already plotting against you behind your back. What a terrible injustice…
“They’re due in November, right?” Dashiell’s eyes suddenly widen, glimmering with naughty mischief. “Pleeease, mama, let’s not tell grandmas we have twins until we arrive. I wanna see Cordelia’s face when she finds out she’ll have to cope two more Scorpions besides mom. Thaaaaaat will be legendary!”
Debbie cackles, probably imagining the picture her daughter is talking about, her head nodding and the corners of her mouth stretching into a smile.
“You see, we got it covered with the ‘mess’,” Dashiell’s fingers tiptoe to the two cursive tattoos – capital ‘D’ and small ‘d’ next to it – clearly visible on Lou’s lower stomach, repeating their patterns. “What else?”
Lou’s heart skips a beat. Her question is almost rhetorical. She asks it as if it’s explicitly clear for her there’s definitely something else. Something much more significant than just a ‘mess’. Something Lou would desperately like Debbie not to voice.
“She is afraid…,” Debbie’s glance falls down, then swiftly comes back to the girl, “She’s worried about you.”
“Oh…,” the girl tenses, “Why?,” her hand stills and her impossibly ocean-blue eyes, framed with the hedge of fuzzy long eyelashes, raise at Debbie under the frowned brows, “Is she afraid… they will be… like me? Different?” Lou’s heart throws itself against her ribcage painfully and skips another beat.
That is why. That is exactly why you don’t tell some things to a child, Deborah. That is why there’re things you keep your mouth shut about. You do not tell a six-year-old that her pregnant mother she is overprotective with is on the edge because of her. Those demons are Lou’s and Lou’s only but not Dashiell’s fault at all.
She wants to intrude. Wants to cut into the conversation, to nip it the bud before they have another Armageddon she really has no strength to deal with now. She already takes a breath and her lips part, ready to produce a word. But Debbie’s left knee bends, leaning to Lou’s leg, her left-hand moves forward, sliding over Lou’s lower stomach and covering Dashiell’s tiny hand with her palm. The lightest brush of Debbie’s lips against the skin of her belly - a kiss so fleeting Dashiell is not even able to notice - and in an instant, it dawns on Lou that Debbie knows she’s not asleep. She knew this probably even before Lou’s eyelids fluttered and eyes almost flew opened several minutes ago. Knew it from the second Lou’s breathing changed its tempo, confidence increasing with every fluctuation of Lou’s heartbeat. Sometimes Lou still forgets that she is physically unable to lie to Deborah Ocean – for exactly the same reason Debbie cannot lie to her – not only because they are conmen and it’s their craft and art to read anyone as good as the first class shrinks but because for most of their lives they have known each other better than their own reflections. Each curve of every smile, each angle of every glance, each contraction of every face muscle; every sight volume, every voice tone, every possible heart rhythm…
Lou makes the last effort to steady herself. Dash is right - she is 1000% sure in Debbie. Finally, she can trust Debbie not only her own life. She can trust Debbie the life of their daughter as well. For this short time they’ve been a family, the two invented their own language of communication, their own rules of support and understanding. Just like back to the days when Dashiell was throwing hurricanes inside of Lou in the middle of the night and Debbie was able to pacify them with the only touch of her hand. For a moment, Lou wonders if the story will repeat itself this time, with these new tummy-dwellers of hers.
Debbie thumbs the knuckles of a small fist, rubs her palm up and down over Dashiell’s arm, tilting her head, looking closely at a girl. “No, Bumblebee. No. You’re not different. You’re special. One of a kind. And it’s because you’re so special, your mom and I love you three thousand times more!”
Lou’s heart tightens – Debbie practically steals the words away from her tongue. ‘Our shiny-shiny girl’ echoes in her head while Debbie keeps talking.
“Your mom is concerned that when they’re born… because there’re the two of them… you may have some... sharing issues.” She chooses her words carefully, making sure they’re comprehensible for the child. Making sure Dashiell understands everything she keeps behind them, between the lines.
Dashiell throws her head back and rolls her eyes in a motion that would be hers ‘don’t-start-that-again’ face. “She still reproaches me for that time, doesn’t she? I thought, we agreed that’s water under the bridge.” She glances back at Debbie, scrunching up her face. “And that’s not fair. We were in the same boat with you! Why isn’t she concerned that ‘you may have some sharing issues’?”
Air quotes, performed with only one hand, for the other is still busy supporting her body on the bed, emphasize her last words. Debbie narrows her eyes and makes a face but looks away before to fend off.
“Not something I’m proud of. But it was not the same. I just came from the inside. I had to know where we were…”
“…and you stole her from me for the two months…”
“We were busy!”
“With the Met?”
“With the Met.”
“You thought Met was more important than me.”
“I thought Met was my way to atone it to you for my absence.”
“I thought you thought Met was more important than me.”
“Yeah… My bad…”
Their fencing is rather a banter than a quarrel, not coming from an angry place anymore. Just retorting each other’s replicas in one breath, without a second delay. Yet the last line brings them to a screeching halt for the solid ten seconds. To both mothers’ great relief, Dashiell is the first one who comes back to reality.
“Anyway. Are you going to love me less? I mean. When they’re born.”
“No. That’s not gonna happen,” Debbie prompts without hesitation. “You know that.”
“Are you gonna love them more than me?”
“Absolutely not. We’ll love you all equally. And you’ll always be our firstborn, our Bumblebee. Nothing changes.”
“Then, I’m fine,” Dashiell nods comprehensibly and suddenly her face lightens up with the most adorable and charming satisfied wide smile – the one they’re always rewarded with when she gets exactly what she wants. “See, got this covered either. No more reasons for freaking out, right? Now all you moms need to do is to learn how to love both guys instead of one.”
“We need to learn? What about you?” Debbie chokes on a chuckle, despite herself, her voice bewildered and surprised. “And guys? Why guys?”
Dashiell buckles her head, now her whole cheek resting against the hillock of Lou’s stomach and her shining eyes focused on Debbie. She sighs with a giggle as if she has to explain something so evident and obvious that it surges a burst of hilarity up in her. “Yes, I bet those are boys. And I have nothing to learn. I asked you about them – I already love them. We’re cut from the same cloth. We’re a whole.”
A single tear makes her escape from behind her closed eyelids and Lou feels it sliding down her temple, leaving a wet trail on her skin. She’s unable to determine what she feels at the moment, for it’s dozens of various feelings that are tearing her apart from the inside, making her heart bounce haphazardly in her chest. However, above them all is a shame – for herself, having any doubts in their little girl; but above that shame – the all-consuming love – so strong and profound that it hurts – to her little girl, so much wiser and braver than she and Debbie all together. Gosh, she loves her so much. She only hopes she’ll be able to chanel as much love into the two ‘guys’ they’re expecting.
“How did we happen to get so lucky to be your parents?” Debbie utters affectionately, fingers combing through Dashiell’s dark auburn hair, her voice tender and fond in an absolutely uncharacteristic way. The girl grabs her hand, jocosely catches the tips of Debbie’s fingers in between her upper and lower teeth.
“You didn’t happen. I chose you, because you’re cool. And special. One of a kind,” she giggles, reciting Debbie’s words. Unbends her elbow, sinks onto the duvet besides Lou, grasping blindly behind her back for Lou’s right hand. Finds it, brings it closer to place on the top of her head, hiding under it like a baby-bird under the wing. Nuzzles her face to Lou’s side, her small nose touching the belly, all next words, mumbled by her, sounding muffled and soft against Lou’s skin. “And now these two chose you either. For the same reason. Well, and obviously because of me. Isn’t it fantastic?”
Lou hears as Debbie titters and hums shortly, feels her moving next to her, mirroring Dashiell and sinking onto the mattress. She feels as Debbie’s forehead and nose press to her side, arm leaning around her and fingertips brushing Dashiell’s shoulder. Feels Debbie pressing her lips to her belly as she brings her hand to rest on the nape of Debbie’s neck, fingering the short hair on the back of her head. For the first time since she’s found out she was pregnant, she feels neither anxiety nor permanent fear nor nagging pain inside her heart. For the first time in several months, she finally feels calm, confident and peaceful. The two most important people of her life are wrapped around her, drifting away, the other two are nestled literally under her heart, lurked, preparing to make their first ‘kicks’ within the following week or even days or even hours. Their future, so cloud and blurry just several hours ago, now seems to be totally coherent and inevitably… happy. Blissful. Blessed. There’s no other place in the world for her except for here, her body entwined with Dashiell and Debbie’s. Integrated into each other’s orbits, they revolve around each other like the celestial bodies of one universe, their love indoctrinated into each other on the atomic level. There’s just two new planets now, and they will learn how to love them, will figure out how to turn any possible chaos back into the harmony. Because they’re cut from the same cloth. They’re a whole.
She starts drifting off with this realization, her thoughts getting messy and elusive.
“Will you marry her now?” Dashiell’s sleepy voice and the slight twitch of Debbie’s head draw her out of her doze.
“I’m not sure that’s what she wants,” comes from Debbie with a hesitated sigh, equally sleepy.
“Did you ask her?” A short pause.
“Then ask.” Another pause, this one longer. So fucking long Lou thinks it may be a one-way ticket to her heart attack.
“Okay?” a sneer from a six-year-old to the almighty Deborah Ocean for chickening out. “That’s all you have to say?”
“I will ask.”
Lou feels as the corners of Dashiell’s lips curve against her skin into the most adorable and charming self-satisfied smile – the one they’re always rewarded with when she gets exactly what she wants.