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Sweet Preteen

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Meredith looked around the backyard and smiled. She spotted Zola with her new friends over on the picnic table and smiled before going over and wrapped her arms around Zola’s shoulders. 

“Happy birthday, Zola!” She said, squeezing her shoulders and leaning in to kiss her cheek. 

Zola sighed and frowned as she pushed away from her Mom while her friends giggled around her. Meredith knew that she was the embarrassing Mom at that moment, but she couldn't help it. She smirked and let go of her, turning away so Zola didn’t see her smile fade.

As she got up, she looked around the rest of the backyard where all their friends and family were laughing and smiling. All the little kids, Bailey, Ellis, Scout, Harriet, Leo, and Allison all chased each other around. While the grown ups sat off to the side, talking amongst themselves. 

It was a mixture of a family party and a friend's party and Zola had finished opening presents and they were all enjoying the chocolate cake. Meredith thought it was working out pretty well until Zola came over and tapped on her shoulder. At ten years old Zola was only a head shorter than she was and Meredith could hardly believe how big her little girl was getting.

“Hey Mom, can my friends and I go to the park for a little while?” Zola asked, a begging smile on her cheeks.

“What's wrong with staying here?” Meredith asked, looking around to where Owen and Alex were pushing two of the kids on the swings as Ellis got a little too high and screeched. 

Zola grimaced as she followed Meredith’s sights. “There are too many babies around here.”

“Well I'm sure there'd be some babies at the park,” Meredith said, raising an eyebrow at her.

“Please Mom, it's my birthday, can't my friends and I just go hang out with each other?”

“Zola, everybody here is your family and they're here to celebrate your birthday with you. I know you want to spend time with your friends, but your family is looking forward to this day with you too. Can’t you just hold off for a few more hours and then go to the park?”

“No Mom we want to go now,” Zola insisted, clenching her fists.

“Fine,” Meredith said, she knew what it was like to be young and too not want to hang out with parents and younger cousins. “But your Aunt Amelia and Uncle Link have to go with you.”

“Fine,” Zola relented her anger escaping like steam as she unclenched her hands. “But can Scout stay here?”

“I don't know, ask your Aunt Amelia?” Meredith said, gesturing over to where Amelia and Link were sitting on the bench.

“Aunt Amelia,” Zola shouted across the back yard. “Can you and Uncle Link take us to the park, but can Scout stay here with Aunt Jo?”

“Yeah, so long as Jo doesn't mind,” Amelia said right away, looking over at Jo who sat on the edge of the sandbox playing with Scout and Allison.

“Um, I guess,” Jo looked a little taken aback as her lips parted, but Alex quickly nodded.

“Yeah, don't worry about it, we'll keep an eye on him,” Alex said, joining Jo in the sandbox and tickling Scout's side as the baby shrieked with laughter and crawled away from him.

“Great,” Zola smiled as she and her friends quickly got up.

“I want to go too,” Ellis said running over and grabbing Zola’s hand.

“No,” Zola said shaking off her hand and scowling at Ellis. “No babies allowed.”

“I’m not a baby!” Ellis insisted, stopping her foot.

“Zola, Ellis can go with you if she wants too,” Maggie said trying to defuse the situation and placed her hand on Zola’s arm

“No, it’s my birthday. I get to do what I want!” Zola said, brushing off Maggie’s hand. 

“Ellis,” Meredith said, coming over and kneeling down in front of her. “Let’s let Zola play alone with her friends and we’ll go to the park with Zola tomorrow.”

Ellis sighed, looking down at her shoes as she kicked the grass. “She never wants to play with me.”

“I’ll try and talk to her,” Amelia whispered to Meredith. 

Ellis watched as Zola left with her friends and Amelia and Link, who trailed behind them. They all hoped that Zola’s reluctance to play with Ellis was just a phase brought on by her new friends. Meredith let out a sigh and went back into the house.

She knew that one day the moody preteen years would be upon her, but she didn't realize that it would be the year that Zola turned double digits. This was the beginning of it and she couldn't imagine it getting any worse. Although she had seen touches of it happening recently. Usually, Zola was such a sweet kid and didn't mind hanging around with her younger siblings, friends, and cousins. 

However, when Zola’s friends were over they always shut themselves up in her room and yelled at Ellis or Bailey if they tried to join them. At first, Meredith let them have their privacy. Understanding how the girls just wanted to play by themselves for a while, but recently it had escalated the point of the girls purposely excluding Ellis and making her cry. It was hard to imagine her sweet Zola, who was so excited to have a baby sister and always kiss her goodnight before they went to bed, could say something that made Ellis cry.

“Hey,” Alex said, bringing her out of her head as he walked into the kitchen. 

“How did this happen? Meredith said gesturing to the empty kitchen around her. “The minute she turns ten she turns into an annoying preteen who thinks she's too cool to hang out with her family.”

Alex just shrugged and walked over to sit on one of the stools. “Most kids don't like hanging out with their little siblings, especially when their friends are around. She's just trying to figure out how to be cool. Give her a couple of months and she’ll come around.”

“What if she doesn't, what if this is my life now? I mean she’s a preteen now. What am I going to do? I never had siblings like she did. I don't know how to deal with all this?” Meredith said as she shook her head and looked out the window to see Bailey and Ellis were still playing in the yard with Maggie and Winston. “And soon she’s going to start dating boys or girls!”

“Well she can't be any worse than you,” Alex said with a shake of his head with a smile. “But you and Derek figured it all out.”

Meredith smiled thinking about how it would be karma if Zola was as boy crazy as she was. Unfortunately for her, Meredith didn't get it together until she was a resident. She couldn't imagine watching Zola be boy crazy until she finished her residency. Then she thought about how Zola would soon be kissing boys or maybe girls. She didn't know for sure, but sometimes she caught Zola staring at Sofia when she visited and it made her wonder. That whole conversation of her daughter dating, she definitely wasn't ready for.

“Hey,” Jo said, appearing in the kitchen with Scout on her hip as he rubbed his eyes and Jo looked just as tired. “We're gonna head upstairs for a nap, I should be down in a few minutes, but can you go back out and push Ellis on the swing? She was asking for you.”

“Yeah, we'll head back out and I’ll come and check on you in a second, just in case you fall asleep too,” Alex said, raising an eyebrow at her.

“Very funny,” Jo said, coming over and leaning in to give Alex a kiss. “Thanks though.”

Jo disappeared into the hall to head upstairs and Alex watched her go as Meredith looked out the window. Ellis and Harriet were smiling and laughing as they chased each other around in circles. At five and four years old, respectively the two of them were best friends and nearly inseparable. She missed the days when things were simple and her children's emotions were displayed on their faces. 

Meredith just shook her head. She opened the cabinet on top of the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of tequila and two glasses. “Do you want anything to drink?”

“Not tonight, Mere,” Alex said, setting her with a look, knowing that she was using alcohol to avoid her daughter's preteen attitude.

“What about Jo? She’ll want something,” Meredith decided, pouring another glass.

“Jo can't drink, she's pregnant,” Alex said, his words completely flying over Meredith’s head as she took a shot of her drink and poured another one.

Meredith finished pouring her drink and then went to put the top on the bottle, but froze halfway. She looked up and met Alex's eyes. He smiled widely as she finally processed what he had said. 

“Jo’s pregnant?” 

“Yeah,” Alex said with a laugh as he nodded, he seemed giddy at the thought of them finally having a child. 

“Congratulations,” Meredith said, coming around to give him a hug.

“Thanks,” Alex said, pulling back as Meredith said down on the stool next to him.

“With your luck though, the baby’s going to be born in your guys’ car,” Meredith said with a smile.

“Shut up,” Alex said with a smile and a little laugh. “We're doctors, we know what labor looks like, and we practically live at the hospital, besides she wants an epidural as soon as she goes into labor.”

“Yeah, she's taken care of enough screaming mothers to know what she wants,” Meredith said with a smirk remembering how Jo was complaining of an earache after a Mom screamed in her ear during labor last week. “And with your big Karev head, she'll probably end up tearing.”

“Don't tell her that,” Alex whispered, looking around to see if Jo had appeared in the hallway again.

“She's an OB now, she’s seen your baby photos, and she still agreed to have your kid, she knows what she's getting into,” Meredith said with a smile as she shook her head.

“Yeah, but you don't have to remind her about my big head,” Alex said with a grimace before his expression softened and he smiled. “Zola’s a good kid, she's got a good head on her shoulders. She's ten, most ten-year-olds are just trying to figure out how things work. She’s smart and she'll figure it out.”

“Yeah, I know,” Meredith said with a smile. “You and Derek are good at this stuff. Derek especially, he always talked about how he mediated things between his sisters and how he’d do it for our kids. It’s times like these when I miss him the most.”

“Derek was pretty good at that stuff,” Alex said with a nod, giving her a smile in return. “But you know what, you're pretty good at this stuff too.”

Meredith nodded and put the lid on the bottle of tequila, before putting it away. She knew what she wanted to say to Zola when she got back. Maybe it wouldn’t stop the preteen drama from continuing, but she knew it would remind Zola of the kind girl Meredith knew she was.


2014

Meredith laughed as she watched as three-year-old Zola put another band-aid over Derek's nose. Dr. Grey-Shepherd had taken her job very seriously and had insisted that her Daddy absolutely needed several Disney princess themed band-aids. So far Derek had one on both of his arms, his knees, and now his nose. The three of them were playing in the living room as Meredith and Derek spent some two-on-one time with Zola now that Bailey had gone down for the night.

“You know Zo Zo Daddy is doing much better. I really don't think I need this many band-aids.”

“But Daddy you're hurt,” Zola insisted as she placed the band-aid over the little bump Derek had gotten on his nose after Bailey whacked him with a toy. 

Zola had immediately ran to get the box of band-aids and had insisted on kissing her Daddy's boo boo better. 

“Alright,” Derek relented as he smiled and tilted his head at her.

Zola put a band-aid on his nose and leaned down ever so gently to kiss the band-aid and Meredith couldn't help but awe at the sight. Zola was always so caring and eager to kiss anyone better. She wished she could capture the sweet little moments and keep it in a bottle forever. 

Meredith was content to watch Zola and Derek play. As always Derek was wrapped around her little finger and anything she wanted, she got even if it meant a princess band-aid on his nose. Derek was completely focused on Zola as she held up her real stethoscope to his heart and he showed her where to put it so she could hear his heartbeat. Christina had said that Derek would be enchanted by Zola putting applesauce in her ear and Meredith believed it as she saw them play before her. They both ran off to get something, probably more things from Zola's doctor kit and Meredith waited for their return. 

“Okay go show Mommy how much of a proper surgeon you are,” Derek said, his hands on Zola’s shoulders as he gave her a gentle nudge forward. 

Zola ran over to her with this huge smile on her face as she stood before Meredith dressed in a pair of dark blue scrubs and Derek's ferry boat scrub cap tide on her head.

“Why hello Dr. Grey-Shepherd, you look very professional, are you getting ready for surgery,” Meredith said if she smiled at her little girl, to be honest, she was just as enchanted by Zola as Derek was. 

“Thank you, Mommy,” Zola beamed at her compliment, swaying back and forth a little bit as she held her hands behind her back.

Derek came over and put his stethoscope around her neck and she pulled it off to go find her teddy bear’s heartbeat. Suddenly Meredith got a glimpse of the woman that she would become and it made her heart both happy and sad. She was so happy to see the wonderful woman that Zola would be, but sad that her little girl wasn't going to be little forever. 

“I got the scrubs from Alex of all people,” Derek chuckled as he sat down beside her and they both watched Zola play.

“Yeah, that sounds like something Alex would get for her,” Meredith said with a smile and a laugh.

“I think I'll pass that scrub cap on to her when she’s ready.”

“Really?” Meredith said, looking up at him as he had eyes only for Zola.

“Yeah, you know in Medicine we always talk about passing on our skills to the residents, but it'd be nice to pass this on to her. She's going to make an amazing surgeon someday, just like her Daddy,” Derek smiled his eyes glazing over as if he was imagining it before him

“And like her Mommy,” Meredith added.

“Like both of us,” Derek agreed, looking back at her with a smile.

Meredith ran her fingers over the little band-aid on his nose as Derek winced. He probably could have gotten away with just a little bit of antibiotic cream but Zola had insisted on a band-aid. She believed they made everything better, like magic. 

“You're going to have to help me get this thing off later tonight,” Derek said as he gently pulled at the side of the band-aid, but stopped as it hurt too much to pull off.

Meredith giggled and shook her head as she looked back at Zola. “I think Daddy can keep it on for another day, besides Zola would be so disappointed if you took it off tonight.”

“But I have to work tomorrow?” 

“I know,” Meredith said with a smile as Derek shook his head and tickled her sides and she laughed. 

Zola came over and joined in on the tickling. The two of them ganged up on Meredith who retaliated with nimble hands of her own as she captured Zola and they each tickled her sides. The sounds of their daughter's laughter filled the room and Meredith smiled because both she and Derek lived for that sound.

“Stop, stop,” Zola eventually said, holding up her hands as Derek and Meredith immediately pulled back their fingers.

Zola laid in their laps for a moment as they all caught their breath and it took them each a while to control their laughter. Zola eventually turned her attention to her bear. Ever the willing patient as she started to listen to his heartbeat and excitedly told her parents about it when she found it. Derek put his arm around Meredith’s shoulders as she leaned her head into his chest as they watched their daughter play, completely enchanted by her. 


2021

Later that night Meredith knocked on Zola's door. It was long after the party had ended and everyone had gone home, but Zola’s friends had stayed for a sleepover and we're currently camped out in her room with popcorn and movies. 

“What!” Zola asked, opening the door just enough to stick her head out.

“Zola, can I talk to you?” Meredith asked, raising an eyebrow at her as she used her calm, but firm Mom voice. “I'd like to give you an extra present.”

“Yeah, okay,” Zola said, her voice softer as she slipped out of the room, closing the door behind

Meredith motioned for her to follow and together they walked down to her room. She closed the door behind them and Zola stood next to the door. Meredith opened the top drawer of her dresser and she pushed aside her socks to pull out a little box. Meredith knew that it was time she gave this one to Zola. She had two others that she would give to Bailey and Ellis when they were ready, but this one was always Zola's.

Meredith turned around and sat on the bed patting the spot next to her as Zola sat down. She put her arm around Zola and placed the box in her hands. Zola looked a little confused as she opened the box, but gasped when she saw Derek's ferry boat scrub cap. 

“Mom?” That was all Zola managed to say as she looked up at Meredith, her lips slightly parted and she looked back down at the scrub cap. 

“Your Dad loved you and from the moment he held you, he knew you were his daughter. He loved that ferry boat scrub cap and he told me that he wanted you to have it when you were ready,” Meredith said as she squeezed Zola’s shoulders and kissed her forehead. Zola turned in her arms and hugged her. “Your Dad would be so proud of the smart, beautiful, capable, and powerful young woman that you have become but with that power comes responsibility.”

“Are you trying to tell me I'm Spider-Man?” Zola asked with a smile.

“I'm trying to tell you to be nice to your siblings, but it's kind of like Spider-Man. He was a superhero and he was good to his neighborhood when he didn't have to be. We each make the choice to do good or bad things. We choose to do good things because we are responsible and kind, like hanging out with your sister. I know it was your birthday and you should be allowed to spend it however you want, but not if you are mean to Ellis. She’s your sister Zola, you shouldn’t shut her out, because she cares for you and loves you. Trust me, I spent far too long pushing away my sister, when all she wanted was to love me. I missed out on that extra love when I didn’t have to.” 

“Are you talking about Aunt Lexie?” Zola asked, she didn’t remember Lexie, but Meredith told her about Lexie as much as she could.

“I am,” Meredith said, smiled softly as she remembered Lexie. “Your Aunt Lexie wanted to love me and to know me as a sister, but it took me a year to let her. When I did though, I had a sister who was crazy like me and kinder than I was. It was so good and I grew to love her and I know you love Ellis.”

“I do love Ellis. I’m sorry, Mom, for everything. I talked with Aunt Amelia when we were at the park and I know I kind of acted like a brat earlier. I didn't mean to disappoint you or to hurt Ellis. I just wanted to hang out with my friends,” Zola said, giving a little shrug.

“Your birthday is about celebrating the day that you were born and your family, your sister wanted to celebrate that with you and you were kind of a brat,” Meredith said, raising her eyebrows at Zola. She pretended to be the strict parent for a moment before she dived in with her fingers, tickling Zola’s sides as they giggled together. 

They tickled each other for a moment until Zola cried uncle and Meredith pulled back. Zola looked at the scrap cap picking it up in her hands. Maggie had braided her hair into box braids that went down to her waist. She quickly brushed them behind her shoulder and wrapped them into a big bun at the base of her neck, before she put the scrub cap on. Then, she looked over at herself in the mirror and smiled. 

“I know I don't look like Dad or even Aunt Maggie, but wearing his hat it kind of feels like I do,” Zola said, turning back to look at her with a nervous expression. “Aunt Jo said that every time she looked down at the watch Ms. Schmidt gave her, she feels like a piece of Ms. Schmidt lives inside of her and I feel like I have a piece of Dad in me too especially with his scrub cap. Is that weird?” 

“No,” Meredith said, shaking her head. “You're wearing his scrub cap, you have dreams of being a neurosurgeon just like your dad. You love him and part of that love for him is inside you. A part of him that is represented by that hat.”

Zola’s smile returned as she looked back at herself in the mirror. She straightened her shoulders and sat up straighter. She didn't look any different than she did the day before, and to Meredith, Zola was still that little girl she fell in love with. But at that moment she looked so stunningly grown up. Zola turned around and hugged her and Meredith closed her eyes as she held her daughter. 

“Thank you,” Zola whispered against her shoulder, hugging her Mom tightly. 

Eventually, they settled down and Zola gave her one last squeeze before she got up. She paused in the doorway and looked back at Meredith. “Good night Mom, I love you and I love that you are my Mom.”

“I'm glad that you're my daughter, Good night Zo Zo.”

Zola closed the door behind her, but Meredith heard someone knock. She looked out in the hall only to see Zola step into Ellis’s room. Meredith smiled and relaxed, as she closed the door letting the sisters talk alone. She looked over at the pictures of her sisters, one of Lexie and one of Maggie and Amelia on her dresser. She was happy that her daughter had a sister like she did because at the end of the day they would always have their sisters.