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Old Friends and New Beginnings

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The car ride home is quiet, apart from the radio Simon has turned on to a local oldies station. I think we’re all pretty nervous. Simon’s leg is bouncing, and he’s fiddling with his ring in the passenger seat. I take my hand off the gear to rest it on his thigh and throw him a shy smile. He grimaces back.

I don’t think he slept much at all last night. 

We talked about it a little (we’ve gotten better at that). He thinks he’s going to mess up, like he won’t know how to be a father because he was never fathered himself. I tried to reassure him (he’s going to understand Natasha much better than I ever will, I’m sure), but I don’t think my words amounted to much.

We met up with her social worker at nine and have been driving home ever since. She’s also been mostly quiet. I think she’s nervous, too.

She has a family now.

It’s been a very long time since she’s been able to say that.

Whenever we first discussed it, Simon was set on adopting a teenager. I was happy to go along with him until I heard the name of one of the girls was Natasha.

I put my foot down.

Simon was a bit unsure at first, but I think seeing us together cemented the idea in his mind—that Natasha was going to be a part of our family. She’s only five, but I think she felt like part of the family, too, once I told her my mother’s name. It is a family name, after all. It was one of the first things I told her when we initially met—she smiled brighter than I had ever seen.

I’d wager that that smile was the one that made Simon cave.

That and the promise that we could adopt again soon (and actually adopt a teenager next time).

I turn into the lot and park the car. I turn around to offer Natasha a smile. “Ready?” She gives me a timid nod. I squeeze Simon’s thigh once before shutting off the car and stepping out to free her from her car seat. I offer her a hand once her feet are on flat ground, but she doesn’t take it. I just give her another smile and the space she wants (I’ve had plenty of experience being patient with physical affection and learning about touch aversion, so it doesn’t bother me).

Simon steps over and takes my hand instead. It’s a bit sweaty, so I give him another squeeze, and the three of us head up to the flat. I think Simon telling Natasha he also grew up in care has helped her be more comfortable with him—she’s got a white knuckle grip on the edge of his t-shirt.

I take the liberty of unlocking the door. “Welcome home.”

I watch as Natasha’s eyes go a bit wide, looking at our space. There’s nothing inherently special about it, really, but it’s ours . We’ve got a few pictures of us, and my side of the family, set up on shelves or hung on walls. My (now cold) cup of tea sits on the coffee table with the book I was reading and all the pens and highlighters I was using to mark it up. Simon made a fresh loaf of bread before we left that lays covered under a cloth on the kitchen counter, his mess still strewed about the kitchen. My heart squeezes at the thought of Natasha’s mess being added to ours. Becoming ours.

“Let’s take a tour, yeah?” Simon asks, his voice shaking a little. I really have no idea why he’s so nervous—he’s doing so well already.

Natasha speaks for the first time since we picked her up. “Yeah!” I think she may have realized that we’re still the same people she met before—that we aren’t going to change as soon as we’re out of the eyes of her social worker (though Simon will probably look a lot less put together than she’s seen him before).

Simon leads her around the flat (I think he’s relaxed some from seeing Natasha’s excitement), showing her how to get to her very own Netflix account, feeding her slices of his homemade brioche (my favorite, the sap), letting her jump on our bed (and telling her she’s welcome to come share with us any time she wants to), and taking pictures of the three of us to print and frame later today.

When it comes to showing her the nursery, it’s my turn to have my stomach twist in knots.

I hope she likes Paddington… 

“Are you ready, little puff?” I ask, hand on the doorknob. She nods eagerly, and I throw her a fond smile before pushing open the door. The walls are painted a soft yellow (Simon and I did that by ourselves. We got distracted and ended up dancing together, covered in paint), and the shelves hung on the walls have a few fake plants (we aren’t stupid enought to put anything breakable or dirt in a five-year-old’s room) and several of my own childhood books. There’s a rocking chair in the corner that I plan on using to read her to sleep. A soft blanket I crocheted, with the help of Daphne's lessons, patience, and willingness to sew in the ends, is draped over the back. On her bed, Paddington is tucked up to his chin under the baby blue duvet. “Do you like it? We can always change some things around so it’s more your style. Don’t be afraid to say so.”

She puts a hand up to her mouth and gives Simon and I the brightest watery grin I’ve ever seen. I think this is just as emotional for him as it is for Natasha (I still remember that same look on his face when we walked into our room at the top of the tower for the first time). “I… I love it. Is this really mine?”

“It is!” Simon says, kneeling down next to her. She throws her arms around his neck quickly before letting go and exploring all there is in her room. I wander over to the bed and sit down at the edge, pulling Paddington out and placing him on my lap. When Natasha turns away from her exploration of her closet, she stops and stares at me.

“Natasha, this is Paddington. He’s yours, but he’s very special to me. Can I tell you about him?” She nods, and takes a seat next to me on the bed. I angle myself in her direction. “I got my Paddington when I was your age, actually. My Aunt Fiona got him for me for Christmas, right after my mother passed away. I was really sad, and I felt very alone. Paddington helped me feel less lonely; he reminded me that I was loved, forever and always, even if I didn’t always feel like I was. Papa got you this Paddington. It’s the exact same as the one I have. If you ever feel lonely, or don’t feel loved, give Paddington a tight hug and remember what I said, okay?” I kiss Paddington on the top of his head. “All of my love is in him, just for you. Even if we fight, remember that, okay? The love doesn’t go away. Ever.”

I hold Paddington up, and she opens her arms for me to put him in her lap. She hugs him tightly around the middle before turning him around so he can hug her back. My breath catches in my throat.

I know how you feel.

I know exactly how you feel.

Simon pads over to us. I feel a large, warm hand cover my shoulder and the bed dip with his weight. My hair is brushed behind my ear, and his chapped lips press against my cheek. I lean into him and try to ignore the burning in my eyes.

I feel like I’m looking at myself.

Is this how Simon feels too?

“Do you like it, little puff?”

“I do. I do very much!” Natasha kisses his nose and smiles at me. “Thank you so much.”

I nod and choke a little, holding open my arms. She leans into me, Paddington still held tightly between her arms, and I wrap around her. I press my lips to the top of her head, like I’ve done to Paddington a thousand times before.

“I’m so happy I get to call you both my family,” Simon says, wrapping us in his arms. Natasha squeals a little and I grunt when he tries to lift us.

“Don’t injure yourself, love. Two people are a lot heavier than just one.”

“I don’t care!” he laughs and buries his head into my shoulder. “Love you both so much…” he mumbles and I know I have a stupidly soft smile on my face.

“Okay, okay,” I pat the arm Simon has slung under my armpit, “I don’t really want to cry today. How about we run to get those pictures you took printed and hung up? We can get stuff to make a nice dinner while we’re out. How does that sound?”

“Great!” Simon exclaims, jumping up and holding his hand out to me. I take it and stand, holding Natasha and Paddington steady against my hip.

“Natasha?”

“Sounds good!”

“Great.”

Aleister Crowley, I’m living a charmed life.