Tessa is baking. It’s endearing, but he isn’t sure if he should be a little bit worried because she’s a mess. She has flour all over her shirt and white handprints on her thighs where she’s wiped her hands. There are several bowls in the sink and her phone, which is propped up against the backsplash, is also covered in batter and loose flour. It’s a very un-Tessa like image.
Morgan will admit that he hasn’t known Tessa for that long, they’ve been together for a few months shy of a year, and he’s still learning new things about her every damn day. But one of the things he thought he knew was that Tessa is NOT messy. Everything about her life is organized, everything (even feelings) have their place to be neatly stored away. But here she is, her hair piled messily on her head, various bowls -- that he didn’t even know he owned -- scattered all over the white dusted countertops, singing and wiggling her hips to the music playing from the Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen.
He stands quietly watching her for a few moments, before she notices he’s returned from his run. She’d run with him yesterday, but he thinks she pushed herself too far, going a bit longer than she should have and her shins ached this morning, so today he went by himself — they’ll find something else to do together later, like a hike or bike ride or maybe he’ll even take her up on her threat (promise) to make him try barre. He watches as she leans forward and squints at something on her phone screen before nodding to herself and adding a teaspoon of what he thinks is baking soda to her bowl.
“Hi,” he says when she still hasn’t noticed him.
“I’m making my mom’s banana bread,” is the only thing he gets in response before she turns the mixer on and anything she may have said gets drowned out.
He can smell it now. The scent of banana hangs in the air now that she’s mentioned it and it makes him crave the banana bread of his own childhood. He briefly wonders if he should offer to help, maybe speed up the process of getting the banana bread baked, but seeing her look so focused and at ease in his kitchen, he opts not to intrude.
Not only does she seem to be enjoying herself as she wiggles her hips from side to side while the batter combines, but she seems at home in his kitchen. It makes him feel a sudden rush of warmth and affection, this is something that he’s been waiting on for weeks, since she came with him to Vancouver to quarantine. For her to feel at home here, with him.
It isn’t that she’s seemed uncomfortable, he knows that like himself she is used to spending time away from her own home -- that she’s started feeling less and less at home in her empty house anyways. He knows that she is able to make herself feel comfortable in new spaces easily, using comforting candles and her favourite flowers and a cozy blanket that she brings with her. Little things that come with her to help her feel like she belongs in a certain space allow her to relax. This was one of the first things that he learned about her, when they talked about what it’s like being on the road all the time on one of their early dates. Discovering all the things that they have in common, like unpacking their things and organizing them in a certain way in their hotel rooms to make them feel more like home.
He learned this about her in practice when she first started staying with him in Toronto several months ago and when he stayed with her at her family cottage on lake Huron. But when they decided that they would really like to spend their time social distancing together and she agreed to come home with him he encouraged her to make herself feel at home -- they weren’t moving in together, not exactly, but at the same time that’s the closest thing to what’s happened. They live together, when they agreed they wanted to spend what time they had off, staying at home together, they knew it could stretch out for weeks and if she came with him to Vancouver she likely couldn’t leave, not with restrictions they knew would be put on travel. It was a commitment to each other and to the future of this relationship. She brought her things, she unpacked, she bought flowers and put them out, but she still tells him what she’s doing, the slightest hint of question in her voice like she thinks needs permission to just live her life in his home— which will hopefully one day be her home too.
She says things like, “Morgan, do you mind if I put on a pot of coffee?” she asks, because it’s three in the afternoon and he usually only makes a pot of coffee in the morning, and she can drink it almost any time in the day. Or, “I’m going to set up in the kitchen for the thing I have to film, is that okay with you?”
He doesn’t want her to feel like a guest. So, seeing her completely unimpeded in his kitchen, dancing and baking and making an ungodly mess puts the biggest smile on his face. He probably looks a little bit dopey, but he can’t help how happy this makes him feel. He feels a comforting warmth spread over him, like she is the sun and the clouds in the sky have shifted and she is shining down on him. He loves her. God, he really, really loves her.
“Hey,” she cocks her head to the side when she finally turns to look at him after scraping the batter into a loaf pan and popping it in the oven. Her cheeks flush under his unabashed gaze. “What?”
“You’re just really adorable,” he says.
“Even though I trashed your kitchen? I’m sorry about that.”
“Especially because you trashed my kitchen. I’m learning new things about you everyday Miss Virtue,” he smiles at her again as she shakes her head. “Today’s lesson is that you’re a messy baker and I kind of love it.”
She smiles back at him, bright as anything and snuggles herself into his side, covering his t-shirt with flour. “I actually kind of love it too. It was really, I’m not sure the word, not relaxing exactly, fun maybe?” She sighs, unable to find the exact perfect word she is looking for, it makes him smile even harder. “I hope it turns out.”
“I’m sure it will.” He squeezes her into him and kisses the top of her head.
“And even if it didn’t you wouldn’t tell me, would you?”
“Nope. I’d still eat the whole thing even if it tastes like cardboard.”
“Good. Next weekend I’m going to try a recipe for copycat Starbucks lemon loaf I found.”
“Dammit.” Tessa has various bowls and ingredients laid out along the counter, ready to start baking, but she’s looking between her phone and her supplies and cursing.
He really shouldn’t be surprised that she’s trying to bake something for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow with his parents, as she started baking at least a few times a month since her successful banana bread back in early April. He does, however, find it funny that she enjoys baking so much, since she’s too impatient to really learn much in the way of cooking — not that she’s bad at it but if something has too many steps or requires a lot of attention she just doesn’t want to play. She once smoked them out of the kitchen because she forgot she was warming oil on the stove while she was chopping onions. Baking, though, she tells him she finds relaxing. There are set steps she has to follow, with precisely measured ingredients and you can usually tell right away if something hasn’t worked. And at the end, there is a sweet reward that comes alongside the feeling of accomplishment. Her favourite part of baking is sharing her accomplishments and making loved ones happy, which to her is like a reward on top of a reward.
But now she’s glaring at her supplies like they’ve affronted her. “What’s wrong?”
“I want to make a pie.” Tessa huffs and crosses her arms over her chest, in a gesture Morgan thinks she never would have dreamed of doing as a child.
“So make pie?”
“Pie is hard.”
“Okay, so don’t make pie?” He’s not entirely sure he’s getting the point but becomes quickly certain he’s missing it when she frowns at him.
“I’m using an old recipe that used to be my grandma’s, but she used lard and I didn’t want to use lard and the internet told me that I could use butter and likely get better results but you have to cut cold butter into the flour and I don’t have the right tools to do that. This says to use either a food processor or a pastry blender and we have neither.”
“Can you use a regular blender?”
“No.” The way she says it, with exasperation, as if he should be fully aware the blender is not an acceptable option lets him know that she is stressing herself over making this pie. Getting it right is important to her, so he’s going to do what he can to help.
“You really want to make a pie?”
She nods and bites at her lip, thinking, mulling over her words before she speaks. “It’s probably silly,” she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and looks down, away from him. “I remember having this pie at Thanksgivings growing up… I thought it might be nice to have.”
He pulls her into his arms and squeezes around her shoulders. “Tess, baby, I’m sorry. I know you didn’t get to spend a lot of holidays at home. We should have stayed in Ontario.”
He can feel her head shaking against his chest and the rumble of her laugh as she pushes it out. Then she’s up on her toes kissing him. “I can assure you, I want to be right here and we’ll have Christmas in London. It isn’t that,” she punctuates her words with a kiss. “I just wanted to share something from my family with yours. But I honestly, just, I don’t know how to make a goddamn pie. The instructions might as well be Russian. I only understand about 50%.”
“Oh.” Oh. He really, truly has the most amazing woman in the entire world to get to call his girlfriend. He loves her and that love just keeps growing. “We will figure it out okay.”
She nods, but the way her eyebrows knit together betrays her skepticism. She buries her head in his chest and he reaches into his pocket and does the first thing he can think of: he calls his mom.
The phone only rings twice before he hers her chipper hello. He knows she’s been very excited that he and Tessa are spending Thanksgiving with them. “Hey mom, you don’t happen to have a pie thingy, do you?”
Tessa peers up at him, he can feel her laugh against his chest. “Pastry blender.”
“A pastry blender,” he corrects himself.
He can hear his mom’s laugh on the other end of the line, even though he knows that she’s holding the phone away from her mouth to muffle the sound. “I think I might, let me check.” He hears his mom shuffling around her kitchen, mumbling to herself about where it might be as she opens and closes drawers. “Found it!”
“Can Tessa borrow it to make a pie for tomorrow? I can come pick it up.”
“I can bring it over, don’t worry. I’ll be by in around a half hour and can help her out. The first time I made pie crust it turned out terribly.”
He can feel Tessa’s smile against his shirt, where her head is still pressed up against his chest. “Thank you.” she mumbles into him.
“Love you.” He kisses the top of her head.
“I love you too,” she stands on her toes to give him a kiss before pulling away. “I should put the butter back in the fridge before your mom gets here.”
His mom arrives in less than a half hour, pastry blender (which he learns isn’t an actual blender but looks more like some kind a slicer) in hand and walks straight into the kitchen.
“I hear we’re making pie,” she announces as she sits down at the island next to Tessa.
“I wanted to try.” Tessa shrugs her shoulders.
His mom nods and gives Tessa’s shoulder a quick squeeze. “Get all the ingredients out and I’ll put the kettle on for some coffee and we’ll figure out your pie recipe together.”
The moment he walks through the door he’s greeted first with the smell of vanilla that hangs warm and sweet in the air, such a welcome contrast from the bitter March wind outside. Second, the dog runs around the corner from the kitchen and welcomes him home.
“Hey buddy,” he says, bending down and scratching the excited retriever behind the ear as the dog licks him and wags his tail, quick swishes back and forth. “Where’s your mama?”
“I’m in the kitchen!” Tessa’s voice rings out from around the corner. “Do not come in.”
“Tess?” He isn’t sure if he should be amused, concerned, or annoyed by her request. Right now he’s settling on somewhat annoyed, if only because she hates when he ditches his gear by the door but he has to pass the kitchen to make it anywhere else in the apartment. He tucks what he can in the front hall closet, all with the dog at his feet.
“I’ll be ready in a minute, okay?” Tessa’s voice floats from the kitchen and he can hear the slightest hint of excitement in her tone, the upward lilt to the okay, and the rise in pitch from her normal tone. It is enough to make him feel giddy with anticipation. It was his 27th birthday yesterday, he didn’t get to see Tess because the team had an away game. He celebrated with the boys but lamented to Tessa that it would have been nice to have gotten to spend the day with her. She assured him she’d figure something out and they’d celebrate today.
True to her word it isn’t longer than a minute before she’s calling him into the kitchen voice loud and high, rife with excited nervousness. He won’t lie that he’s excited to see what she’s made for him. Roe, Tessa’s dog, leads the way. He was originally named Rosie by the young daughter of the family who’d previously owned him, but had been unable to keep him due to the loss of their home. The rescue assured them that Tessa could rename him without it being too big of a concern but Tessa wanted to honour his first family and kept Rosie as the name, shortened to Roe when they call for him.
Tessa greets him with a wide smile from behind the kitchen island, her usual vase of flowers pushed aside to make space for a (slightly lopsided) layered birthday cake. It’s on a rotating cake plate, with a kind of ombre frosting -- starting with a deep blue at the bottom and fading into white by the top of the cake. There are chunks of white chocolate with blue swirls artfully decorating the top, with a 2 and a 7 candle in the middle -- already lit. It isn’t perfectly decorated, he can see bits of cake crumb through the layers of icing and the cake layers look like they weren’t cut entirely evenly where it bulges slightly in the middle. But it is still one of the best looking cakes he’s ever had for his birthday. Next to the cake he also notices a bottle of his favourite red wine with two glasses, but also two glasses of milk to go with the cake, because Tessa knows he likes milk with his cake and he assumes the wine is for later.
He smiles so widely that he laughs, he can’t help it because the happiness he feels building inside his chest needs to escape somehow.
“It’s not perfect,” Tessa starts, biting at her lip. “Fancy cakes are hard. I had to start this yesterday and I just finished icing it right before you came in.”
“It is perfect.”
“Are you sure?” she’s still biting at her lip, looking up at him with wide eyes, searching his face for any hint that he doesn’t love the gesture for everything it is. “I’ve never made anyone a cake before. I do have a card and gift for you too.”
“Tess,” he walks around the counter and pulls her in for a kiss. “This is more than perfect. I love it.” He loves her. He’s constantly amazed by this woman and the ways in which she’s always working to demonstrate her love and appreciation of him. It fills him with a warmth that he can’t begin to express. That she chooses him day in and day out, that it’s him who can make her laugh, or blush, or smile. That she loves him enough to fight to make things work even when it’s difficult, even when he’s away half the week, or being immature, or “impossible”.
Roe nuzzles himself in between them, as much as the dog gets excited to see Morgan and loves to go for jogs in the park with him, he is Tessa’s dog through and through. He constantly wants to be next to Tessa and if her attention is focused on Morgan Roe needs to be right in the middle, just to make sure she doesn’t forget about him. Roe whines for attention, and of course it works.
“Yes, Roe-Roe I didn’t forget about you,” Tessa sing songs, rubbing the dog's head. “I got you cake too.” She pulls a little box over that he hadn't noticed earlier. It has a small paw print logo on it. She opens it to reveal a little cupcake. “It’s made with sweet potato I think.”
He smiles again, biting down his laugh, shaking his head. God, he loves her so much. This woman who buys the dog a cupcake so he doesn’t feel left out, who spent two days making him a birthday cake just because — even though she should be studying.
She’s someone who likely picked a super thoughtful gift and card, who can be the sweetest, most generous person but can also command a room with a single look and is incredibly driven and ambitious. She’s a woman who is hot as hell and rocks photoshoots with an intensity he would liken to taking the ice for a playoff game, but who makes sure to say hi to every crew member and make everyone around her feel welcome. She is a three time Olympic gold medalist, who has countless other titles, who managed a strong successful partnership for over twenty years despite ups and downs. She is the most organized person he knows, who keeps lists for everything and never leaves anything out of place but who cooks and bakes like a goddamn hurricane. Who for some reason picked him.
She picked him. She keeps picking him. He hopes that she will say yes to choosing forever with him— or at least as close to forever as they can have, they both know nothing is guaranteed. They’ve talked about it, he knows her well enough that he’d never spring the question on her, and he knows that she feels the same, but he still has moments of doubt that maybe she won’t be ready or that she’ll decide she’s just choosing him for now, not for life. He thinks sometimes the doubt comes from inside his head, where he gets stuck on the fact that she’s this amazing, accomplished, Olympian turned businesswoman and nearly 32-year-old and he’s a freshly 27 hockey player with no higher education and sometimes questionable friends. Though she reminds him he’s had a steady job since he was 20, one that he works hard at and shows his dedication to each day, and maintains his values regardless of what hockey culture dictates. And she’s constantly reminding him how much she loves him, how safe she feels with him, relaxed and comfortable and free to figure out who she is now that she’s left the world she spent her whole life wrapped up in.
He’s had a ring for a few weeks now, hidden away in his sock drawer, because he is not overly creative, and has been trying to plan the perfect moment. But he’s realizing this is it. Right now is his moment. He has everything he wants right in this room.
He had planned on taking her to Vancouver, to a hiking spot they used to like to go to when they were quarantined there that overlooked the city. He’d have some kind of speech planned and get on one knee and then they’d go for dinner. He was thinking it would be around her birthday. And that would be a great, traditional kind of proposal, one that suits them both, but he knows deep in his gut that this is the moment. Right next to the cake she made him, with the dog desperately trying to get at his own cupcake.
“I have something for you.” He kisses her once quickly before pulling away.
“Morgan, it’s your birthday. You aren’t supposed to get me something.”
He’s already striding toward the bedroom, at a near jog in his excitement. “Well then you’ll just have to give me something on your birthday,” he calls over his shoulder.
He can hear her snort out and laugh and knows that she is shaking her head at him, even though he can’t see her.
He’s still trying to pull the ring box from the sock he’d hid it in by the time he gets back into the kitchen. Both Tessa and Rosie look at him with their heads cocked to the side in question. But as soon as he’s gotten the small, hinged, blue velvet box out from the sock Tessa eyes widen and she looks at him knowingly.
“Morgan…” she starts, but is unable to get anything more out.
“Tessa,” he starts, tossing the sock on the floor, eliciting a head shake from Tessa, he gets down on one knee. He looks up and can see tears already glistening in her eyes. She reaches for his hands to try to pull him back up to her. He shakes his head. “I don’t think it counts if I’m not down here. Bad luck.”
It makes her laugh, clasping her hands over her mouth to try to hold it in, and god he loves that laugh. “Okay”
“Tess, I love you,” he pauses for a moment, pushing words around in his head, wanting to find the right ones. “I want to keep nurturing that and growing more in love with you as long as I can. Marry me?”
She’s nodding as she steps forwards, this time not offering a hand to help him up but instead sitting on his bent leg, perching herself on his thigh and wrapping her arms around his neck. She kisses him, four pecks on the lips in quick succession. “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.”
He’s got a little box containing a single (very large) cupcake from a bakery Tessa loves in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other as he opens the door. He had the cupcake special ordered earlier in the week and they even included a 3 and a 2 sparklers (the numbered candles were too bulky for the cupcake and disturbed the delicate chocolate filigree flowers and butterfly). He hopes that he didn’t damage the delicate decorations in transport.
Tessa had had a talk this morning with a group of young girls about being a woman in business and entrepreneurship -- which she had been very excited about and was happy to do on her birthday. He knows she also had lunch afterwards with Jordan and Kate at a little bistro they all like and as Jordan had taken the day off and Kate was spending the day in Toronto, he assumes that they went shopping after lunch. Kate will be spending the night at Jordan’s and all of them will go get brunch tomorrow. But he’d grabbed the cupcake and champagne on his way home from practice, and Tessa should be home by now, though he sees no signs of her when he walks in the door.
Not even the dog comes to greet him.
He carefully tucks his shoes into the front hall closet and goes in search of them in the kitchen. Sure enough that’s where he finds her, with her back to him busy with something at the counter. Roe is in his bed happily chewing on a bone. Tessa has changed into her cozy at home clothes which nowadays consist solely of leggings and one of his sweaters. She’s busy transferring their dinner (that he’d pre ordered for delivery when he’d left the rink) from their take-out containers onto plates, wiggling her hips to whatever music she’s got playing on a low volume from her phone. But he notices the oven is on next to her.
“Tess babe,” he puts the cupcake and champagne down on the counter. “You aren’t supposed to bake your own birthday cake.”
She looks over her shoulder at him and smiles her wide-eyed, teeth baring smile that lights up her entire being. Then she looks to the oven and he swears he can see the slightest blush overtake her cheeks and she looks from the oven to her socked feet. “I didn’t make a cake. But uh, can you open it and take it out? I think it’s done.”
She’s closer to the oven, but she has the spoon she’s been using to serve the take-out still in her hand and turns back to what she was doing. He decides not to argue the point. He puts down the cupcake and champagne and heads to take whatever she’s got baking out of the oven. Though not without placing a kiss to her shoulder where his sweater is slouching off exposing her bare skin.
He grabs an oven mitt and opens the door to the oven to find a solitary store bought dinner roll in the middle of a baking dish. For a moment he thinks his fiancee may have lost it.
“Tess,” he says as he places the dish on the stove top. “Why is there a dinner roll in the oven?”
“It isn’t a roll.” she turns completely toward him now, so that her entire body is square with his. Her cheeks have turned rosy and she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear before casting her eyes slightly downward. “It’s a bun.”
“Okay?” He isn’t sure that helps answer his question in any meaningful way at all. Their dinner is Thai, so a bun isn’t even appropriate to go with it. “Why is there a bun in the oven?”
She bites at her lip and shakes her head before letting out a long sigh and looking directly at him. She looks like she isn’t sure if she wants to laugh or cry or both. “Because,” she takes a long breath in. “I have a bun in the oven.”
It takes him a lot longer than he’s proud of, his gaze darting across her face attempting to read it, for him to finally clue in. He watches her features shift nervously under his gaze and she swallows. It isn’t until her own eyes drift downward to look at her stomach that something in his brain clicks.
“Wait. Like the bun is a baby? A bun baby.”
She snorts. “I mean I hope it’s a human baby.”
“A baby though? For real?” His heart might beat out of his chest.
“A baby, yeah. We’re going to have a baby.” She reaches for his hands and holds them in hers. Squeezing tightly around his fingers, grounding herself in the feel of him here with her. “I know we didn’t plan it—”
He doesn’t let her finish before he’s pulled her into him, holding her and kissing her face. Her nose, her cheeks and finally her lips. “I’m gonna be a dad?”
She nods. “Yeah. You’re gonna be a dad. You’re happy?”
“So happy.” He can feel happiness tingling through every inch of his body, down to his fingers and his toes. No they hadn’t planned for this. Not yet. But they’ve talked about it as a possibility in the not so distant future. She’s told him about how she wasn’t always sure it was something she’d want, not without the right partner. But the more and more she knows him, sees him interacting with kids, relies on his dependability and kindness the more she knows he’s the right partner, if it’s what he wants. And it is. God it is. He’s gonna be a dad.
“You’re going to be an amazing dad, Morgan.” She rests her head on his chest, sinking into his embrace. “This baby is going to be so lucky.”
“The baby will be lucky to have you as a mom. Tess, you’re amazing. You amaze me every day. Happy birthday Mama.”
She laughs into his chest. He feels the tickle of her breath warm through his t-shirt. “If we continue this tradition of getting the other person a present for our birthdays, we shouldn’t try to one up this year.”