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December 1955  

“When is Millie coming home?” Kathy asks. Gwen had picked up her sister and mother from the airport a couple of hours ago, and Kathy has not stopped asking for Mildred. Margaret went to take a shower and unpack while Gwen and Kathy are playing with Charlie in the yard.

“You know Kath, I am going to start thinking that Mildred is your favorite sister,” Gwen teases. Kathy has adored Mildred since Gwen first brought her home, and Gwen thinks she was probably unseated as the favorite sister years ago now.

Kathy laughs and shrugs from her spot on the grass where she is giving Charlie a belly rub. “Charlie is my very favorite dog.”

“He’s a good boy,” Gwen agrees. “He’s going to need a walk soon. Do you want to come with me? Mildred won’t be home for a few hours, but this is her last shift before she’s on vacation for two weeks, so I promise you will have lots of time to see her.”

“Ok,” Kathy says, excitedly, “Can I walk him?”

“Absolutely. We can take him to the park and throw the ball to him if you want,” Gwen tells her sister.

Margaret opens the patio door and steps out to the yard. “Feel better?” Gwen asks her mom.

“Yes, thank you, that shower was wonderful.”

“Thanks for coming all the way here to visit us this year.”

Margaret walks over to Gwen and wraps her arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “It is my pleasure, sweetheart.”

“It’s so good to see you, Mom.”

 


 

“Mildred,” Betsy calls, “Can you come with me to Dr. Rubin’s office?”

Mildred follows Betsy down the hall towards the psychiatrist’s office. “What’s going on Betsy?”

“There are parents here trying to drop off their teenager because they found her kissing another girl.”

Mildred’s stomach drops. “Dr. Rubin won’t admit a patient for that, will she? I’ve heard her talking about Kinsey’s works and how homosexuality isn’t an illness. Surely she wouldn’t accept a child to this hospital to try to force her to be attracted to boys.”

Betsy stops, grabs Mildred by the arm. It makes Mildred tense to be touched right now. She takes a deep breath. Betsy means well, she’s a friend, would never hurt Mildred. Mildred breathes, reminds herself that she is safe, and tries to forgive her body for still feeling uncomfortable at times being touched by anyone besides Gwen.

“Mildred,” Betsy starts, “We haven’t even gotten that far. Dr. Rubin is just trying to calm the parents down.”

Mildred furrows her brow, isn’t certain what she is meant to do in this situation, but she follows Betsy into the psychiatrist’s office, stomach uneasy, body stiff.

“Nurse Ratched,” Dr. Rubin greets her. Mildred likes her new boss, an middle-aged woman with gray curls, straightforward in her manner but always with compassion for her patients. Mildred respects that about her. “Thank you for joining us.”

Betsy leaves and closes the door behind her. Mildred feels caught off guard to be standing in this room where no one knows that she’s a lesbian, but she knows that this is why Betsy asked her to deal with this patient.

“Nurse Ratched, this is Anne.”

Mildred walks towards the couch where there is a girl sitting with her arms wrapped around herself and trembling. The uncertainty leaves Mildred and all she feels is the desire to offer this child a hug, to make her feel safe. Mildred tries to catch the girl’s eyes to offer a reassuring smile, but she is looking down at her lap. On the other couch are her parents, mother in tears, father looking terribly angry.

“Hello Anne,” Mildred sits on the couch with her. “I’m Mildred, I’m a nurse here.”

Dr. Rubin looks at Mildred, “Would you be able to take Anne for a few minutes so that I can talk with her parents.”

Anne’s father stands up, he’s a tall man, at least six feet tall, and he uses his height to tower over Dr. Rubin who remains seated at her desk. “We do not need to talk anymore. You fix people with mental problems. So, fix our daughter.”

“Mr. Martin, please sit down. There is nothing to fix. Your daughter is fifteen, and that is a perfectly normal age to begin to explore her sexuality.”

Mr. Martin begins pacing the room. “Normal? Doctor, I am starting to think you are the crazy one. I found my daughter kissing another girl. That is not normal.”

Mildred looks at the child beside her, she looks so young and scared. Mildred thinks of Gwen, knows she already understood that she was a lesbian at Anne’s age. “Anne, do you want to come with me, maybe we can get a cup of tea and some cookies?”

“What is wrong with you people,” Mr. Martin yells, “My daughter does not need cookies. I brought her here for treatment for a mental illness. If you can’t fix her then I don’t care what happens to her. But she can never come back to my house.”

Anne’s mother sobs loudly then, causing Anne to look up. It is then that Mildred notices the bruising on the side of her face, knows her father must have hit her. Mildred is suddenly boiling with rage. How dare that man lay a hand on his daughter.

“Mommy,” Anne ventures, her voice sounds so timid. “Mommy please.”

The woman just shakes her head and keeps crying.

“Mom,” Anne tries one more time, Mildred’s eyes burn, but she can’t let herself cry here.

Anne’s mother shakes her head, “You heard your father.” She looks at her daughter. “When you change you can come home. I want you to come home, but not like this.”

“Mrs. Martin,” Dr. Rubin tries, “I would like to talk to you about this further. There is new evidence that being attracted to someone of the same sex is actually very common.”

“We do not care if this is common,” Mr. Martin says. “Come on,” he grabs his wife’s hand and pulls her towards the door. “It is wrong. And Anne, do not come back to our house unless you have changed.”

Mildred jumps as the door slams loudly. And then she’s in an office with her employer and with a now crying teenager who has just been thrown away by her family. Mildred’s chest aches and she wants to hug this girl and rock her in her arms and tell her that she is not sick or wrong and that she is safe. Mildred has never felt this before; she is not maternal, does not much care for children, certainly never wanted her own.  “Anne, sweetheart,” Mildred says, does not want to touch her unless she wants that, certainly not after her own father hurt her. “Dr. Rubin and I are going to make sure that you’re safe now.”

Anne looks up at Mildred. “I know what you do to people like me in mental hospitals.”

“There is nothing wrong with you,” Mildred says, Anne holds her gaze, eyes wide and hopeful. Mildred smiles at her. Mildred knows that saying this in front of her boss might exposure her, might lead to her losing her job. But this young woman is at a turning point in her life, and that is far more important. “Being attracted to other women isn’t wrong, and you do not need to be fixed.”

Anne’s eyes fill with tears again, and she’s crying harder, and Mildred thinks that maybe these tears are tears of relief. “Are you going to keep me here?”

Dr. Rubin is walking over to them, sitting on the couch next to Mildred. “No, this is not something that you need a psychiatric hospital for. Just like Nurse Ratched said, this isn’t something to be fixed. It is just how some people are.”

Mildred relaxes a bit, thinks that Deborah Rubin might prove to be a safe person to know about Mildred’s own sexuality.

“Where am I going to go?” Anne asks, looking afraid.

“We will figure that out,” Dr. Rubin says, “You can stay here and be safe until we do.”

“Dr. Rubin,” Mildred says, “Could I have a word outside just for a brief moment.”

“Of course. Anne, we will be right back.”

The girl nods, and Mildred looks back at her as they walk from the room. She looks afraid in the way that Mildred can remember being when she was about to go to a new foster home.

“I can take her for now,” Mildred says, as soon as she and Dr. Rubin are in the next room. “This is a frightening place for a child, and I know from personal experience that foster homes are often not safe places. That girl deserves to be somewhere she can feel safe right now. I would just need to call my roommate,” Mildred chokes on the word, feels so angry in this moment that she should have to hide the very best part of her life.

Dr. Rubin smiles kindly. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but is she truly just a roommate?”

Mildred breathes. “No, but I promise you that Anne would be safe with us.”

Dr. Rubin looks upset for a moment. “Of course, I didn’t think otherwise.” Dr. Rubin reaches out and gives Mildred’s forearm a squeeze. “I think it sounds like a very good idea if you would be able to take Anne. I will go and sit with Anne; you go and call your partner.”

Mildred’s chest aches with that word, and she wonders if the world is changing, if things will get better, if she and Gwen won’t need to hide forever.

 


 

Mildred’s heart feels like it will beat out of her chest while the phone rings. She hears Gwen’s voice on the other end, and everything feels a bit more right. “Gwen.”

“Darling, are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m sorry to scare you. I’m fine. Did your mom and Kathy get in safely?”

“They did. What’s happening Mildred. You sound upset.”

“This isn’t really the best time to ask this, since we have a full house already, and the holidays are coming. And I don’t know how you’ll feel.”

“What is it, sweetness?”

“There’s a teenager here. Her parents just dumped her here after they found her kissing another girl, and she has nowhere to go.”

“Oh,” Gwen says, “that’s awful.” Mildred remembers how afraid Gwen had been to tell her mother even as an adult, knows how grateful Gwen is that her mom has been completely accepting. “Of course, she can stay with us.”

“I don’t know how long she’ll need a place to stay,” Mildred says, aching at the idea that this girl she’s only just met could have to go to a foster home.

“No matter how long, it is ok with me. Of course, we will keep her safe, darling. If her family doesn’t accept her, we will give her a family.”

Mildred audibly gasps at that, her whole body feeling overwhelmed with love for Gwen. Of course, her always kind Gwen would find room in her heart and her home for a child she hasn’t even met. “I love you so much Gwendolyn.”

“I love you too darling. This young woman is so lucky that she met you. Are you coming home now, or will it be at the end of your shift? I want to make sure everything is ready for her, so she feels welcome and has a room to herself to sleep.”

“I’m not sure. I haven’t even talked to her yet about it. I wanted to talk to you first.”

“We’ll be here whenever you come home. We just got back from a walk, and Kathy and Charlie are snuggling on the couch. I’m going to enlist my mom’s help to get one of the guest rooms ready.”

“I’m sorry to make your mom and Kathy share a room.”

“They’ll be fine. Don’t worry darling. What’s this girl’s name?”

“Anne.”

“We will see you and Anne soon. I love you, Mildred.”

“I love you.”

Mildred hangs up the phone, and as much as her heart is filled with so much love for Gwen, Mildred is afraid. What could Mildred possibly have to offer a child? What does she know about loving a child, has never even experienced maternal love, no less showed it to another person. Mildred is terrified as she walks back to Dr. Rubin’s office. But this child needs a home, needs someone to tell her that she is exactly who she is meant to be, to show her that she doesn’t need to change to find happiness in this world. Maybe this will only be for a few nights, but Mildred doesn’t have much faith in Anne’s parents to change their minds and accept their daughter. So Mildred will figure this out. And she has Gwen, always Gwen, who Mildred already knows will make Anne feel safe and loved. Mildred takes a deep breath and walks back into the office.

 

Chapter Text

Mildred’s legs are shaking as she walks back into Dr. Rubin’s office. The prospect of telling this terrified child who has been taught that homosexuality is wrong that Mildred is a lesbian and that she is offering to take Anne home with her, scares Mildred more than it should. Mildred knows what people say about letting gay people around children, and what if Anne has come to believe that. But maybe Mildred is even more afraid that Anne will want to come stay with her, and then she will be forced to figure out how to care for a traumatized child. Mildred doesn’t know if she is capable of being enough for Anne, and it is confusing to Mildred how desperately she wants to be enough, wants to care for this girl.

Mildred sits down on the couch. “Hi Anne,” Mildred says, and the child reluctantly looks up at Mildred, eyes looking so terrified. “I’m so sorry for what happened to you. Is there anything that we can do to help you feel better or safer now?” Gwen has asked Mildred so many times what she can do to make Mildred feel safe and it never fails to make Mildred feel seen and safe and loved. She hopes it can make Anne at least a little less scared.

“Where am I going to go?” Anne asks.

“That’s what I want to talk to you about,” Mildred says, forces herself to take steady breaths and smile despite her nerves. “I want to see if you would like to stay with me. I know you don’t know me, but it’s somewhere safe that you can stay for as long as you need. And if you decide you want to go somewhere else instead then I can help you do that, but at least for now, you can stay with me if you would like.”

“Why?” Anne asks, looks incredulous, wipes her face of tear tracks and sits up straighter.

“For a few reasons I suppose. But one of the main ones is that I am a lesbian too, and I understand that the world can be a scary place when you are realizing that you’re attracted to women and all you hear is that it is wrong and bad and that you will be unhappy. And I want you to see how happy you can be. I have a beautiful life with a woman I love very much, and I just thought that maybe it would help you to stay somewhere that you don’t need to hide who you are.”

Anne just stares at Mildred for a long moment. “My parents told me that lesbians don’t have families. That all they want is to ruin other people’s marriages and lead them away from God. They told me that I could never be happy if I don’t change.”

Mildred’s heart aches for the young woman in front of her, so she does something that she normally wouldn’t in front of a person she hardly knows, and in front of a colleague, and Mildred begins to share a piece of herself she has been forced to keep hidden. “I would never change this about myself. Gwendolyn, my partner, she is the very best thing that ever happened to me. We’ve been together for eight years now, and she makes me happier than I ever thought possible. If I weren’t gay then I wouldn’t be spending my life with her, and that is something I don’t even want to think about.”

“Eight years? And you live together, just like a normal family, like married people?”

Mildred nods. “We have a beautiful life together. We have a dog, and Gwen’s family is visiting us for Christmas right now. We would be happy for you to stay with us.”

“I don’t want to intrude on you.”

“You wouldn’t be,” Mildred says. “I promise. I imagine this is terrifying.” Mildred’s heart hammers in her chest, why is she going to say this, why is she talking about something that has hurt her for so long. She just wants to help this girl so much. “I spent most of my childhood in the foster system, so I know how scary it is to go to a house with people you don’t know and hope that it is going to be safe. I know you have no reason to trust me, but I promise that you will be safe with Gwen and me.”

“Ok,” Anne says, “If it wouldn’t be an imposition.”

Mildred’s heart aches for this sweet girl. “Not at all.”

“Good,” Dr. Rubin says, “Then it is settled. Nurse Ratched, why don’t you leave early so that you can get Anne settled? We will be fine here for the rest of the day.”

“Thank you,” Mildred says.

“I’ll see you in two weeks after your vacation,” Dr. Rubin says, “but if you need anything before then, just call me.”

 


 

Anne reminds Mildred so much of herself going to a new foster home that it makes her want to cry. There’s nothing she can say to make Anne trust her, nothing that will make being thrown away by her family hurt less, and Mildred knows that from experience.

They spend half of the car ride home in silence. “Thank you,” Anne says, her voice wet when she speaks, and Mildred turns her head for a moment to see that Anne’s eyes are shining with tears. “I never met someone else like me before. Except for Edna, the girl that my mother caught me with. But her parents already sent her somewhere so that her church can try to cure her.”

“I’m so sorry for how your parents treated you today Anne,” Mildred says. “I hope that they see what a mistake they made, but I want you to know that you will be safe with me. Gwen and I will make sure that you’re safe.”

“I don’t have anything but the clothes that I’m wearing, and I don’t think that I can go back and get anything.”

“Oh, that’s ok,” Mildred promises, “We will get you anything you need. This week is the school holiday, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, then we have some time to go shopping for you.”

“I don’t know how to thank you for taking me in. I don’t want to be any trouble.”

“Oh, sweetheart, you are no trouble at all. I promise.”

“What about your partner? Is it really alright with her that you’re bringing a kid home from work?”

“It is. You will understand as soon as you meet Gwen. She has the biggest heart. You’re going to love her.”

Mildred thinks the family she is taking Anne home to is the kind of family that Mildred always dreamed of when she was a child. Mildred is filled with the need to give this girl everything that Mildred herself never had.

 


 

Mildred doesn’t think she has ever seen Gwen as nervous as she is when she opens the door and ushers Mildred and Anne inside. Mildred’s hand goes to Gwen’s waist and she smiles at Gwen. “Darling, this is Anne.”

Gwen reaches out and takes Anne’s hand. “It is so nice to meet you. Let me show you around.”

Mildred watches as Gwen wraps her arm around Anne’s shoulders and leads her to the living room and the kitchen, telling Anne to help herself to anything she wants, to make herself at home. Mildred watches for a moment, her vision blurring, eyes burning. Gwen may be afraid, but she is a natural, knows how to love better than anyone else Mildred has ever met.

Mildred is pulled from her thoughts by Kathy shrieking “Millie!” and running down the stairs, Margaret and Charlie following behind her. Mildred opens her arms so Kathy can envelop her in a hug. Charlie runs at her at full speed behind Kathy, jumping on her and nearly knocking her down.

Mildred kneels down to cuddle Charlie for a moment before standing up, continuing to scratch Charlie behind the ears, and smiling at Kathy and Margaret, telling them, “It is so good to see you.” Margaret hugs Mildred next, and Mildred loves Gwen’s mother, still marvels at how she treats Mildred like her daughter.

Mildred catches Gwen watching her from the living room, arm still wrapped around Anne’s shoulders. Gwen is beaming, tells Anne, “This is my sister Kathy and my mom Margaret.” Charlie runs over to greet the newcomer, welcoming Anne with a wagging tail and enthusiastic kisses. Gwen laughs, “How could I forget. This is Charlie.”

Anne goes to her knees, lets Charlie lick her face, wiggle his happy body while Anne pets him. She is snuggling the dog and kissing him, and Mildred understands, remembers being a terrified child and being comforted by a dog who had loved her. She is grateful that Charlie is here to be the welcoming committee that Anne needs.

Anne sits down on the floor, hugs Charlie to her and then her body is shaking, and she is crying. Gwen sits down on the rug in front of Anne, and Mildred goes to them, sits pressed against Gwen’s side, wraps her arm around Gwen’s back.

Anne looks up at them after a minute, Charlie now settled next to Anne with his head resting on her lap. “You have a home together.”

Gwen presses a kiss to Mildred’s forehead, before she turns to Anne and tells her, “We have the most wonderful life. I come home to the woman I love every day.” Gwen gazes at Mildred with so much love that Mildred’s whole chest feels warm, and she revels in the feeling of being in Gwen’s arms. “I am so happy,” Gwen continues, nuzzling a little against Mildred as she speaks, “I have been since I finally decided to stop hiding and to live my life as openly as I can.”

“But it’s illegal,” Anne says.

“It is,” Gwen agrees, “But maybe one day it won’t be. The Supreme Court only decided last year that segregation is unconstitutional. That took so much fighting, and there is still so much work to do to make this country a more equal place for a lot of people. But we are going to do that work and things will be better one day. I believe that.”

Mildred presses a kiss to Gwen’s cheek, tells Anne, “One day maybe it will be safe to walk down the street holding hands. But until then, we can hold hands here. We can be ourselves here, and so can you Anne. Gwen and I have built a life filled with people who know who we are and who accept us. The world isn’t fair, but there are still ways to live your life safely without hiding.”

“It’s really worth it?” Anne asks.

Gwen leans forward and takes Anne’s hand with her free hand. “It is worth everything. I was married to a friend who is gay for a few years so that we could hide who we were. And then I met Mildred, and it was so clear to me that being with the person I loved meant everything. I have not looked back for a second.”

“How do you even find someone when it’s illegal and everyone needs to hide or try to change themselves?”

Gwen smiles, “There are places people go where we can be open. I know this is terrifying, I was a little younger than you when I realized. I promise you, Anne, that you are safe here.”

“My parents are never going to let me come back home unless I pretend that I’m not really a lesbian.”

Gwen’s looks stricken and Mildred squeezes her waist, loves this woman so much, knows she has already become as devoted to giving Anne a home as Mildred feels. Gwen tells her, “Anne, you know you can’t change this about yourself, don’t you? I know plenty of people who have tried. It doesn’t work, and you are perfect exactly how you are, do you hear me?”

Anne laughs a little, “You just met me? How can you know something about me that I don’t know about myself?”

“What don’t you know?” Gwen asks. “That you’re perfect as you are?”

Anne nods and then she is crying. “My parents hate me. They threw me out of the house for kissing someone. It wasn’t even a French Kiss. I just liked her, and I wanted to know how it would feel. Even just that kiss was all I needed to know that I never want to kiss another boy.”

Mildred reaches over to take Anne’s other hand and tells her, “Don’t try to force yourself to do anything that doesn’t feel right to you. Being yourself won’t be easy, but I promise you it will be worth it. Gwen and I are going to take care of you. No matter what happens with your parents, we will be your family.”

Gwen’s palm shifts to cup Anne’s bruised cheek. “You are safe here. This is your home for as long as you want. All that you need to do now is just let yourself breathe. You are here and you can be yourself now.”

“I don’t know who that is.”

“That’s alright,” Gwen promises. “You can just be. You’re safe. No one will lay a hand on you here.”

Anne’s hand unclasps from Mildred’s and goes to her bruised face. “My Dad never hit me before.”

Mildred nearly growls, “No one will ever hurt you again. Like Gwen said, you are safe here, and for tonight, you can just be and let us take care of you.”

Margaret, always the caretaker, comes up beside them with an ice pack in hand. “Here sweetheart, put this on your cheek so it doesn’t swell.” Anne takes the ice pack and puts it to her cheek. “Come let’s get you off the floor,” Margaret helps Anne up. “I’m Margaret, I’m Gwen’s mom. I am a bit biased, but Gwenny and Mildred are the most wonderful people. You are in very good hands here. Come sit on the couch. Do you want something to eat or drink? Do you want a nice warm bath?”

Mildred wraps her arms around Gwen, fear slowly starting to dissipate as Mildred watches Margaret with Anne. They have a whole family to help them care for this child, and Mildred will forever be grateful.

 


 

Mildred closes the door to her bedroom behind her. “Is this really ok, Gwen?” They have left Anne to shower and change into a borrowed pair of Gwen’s pajamas.

Gwen wraps her arms around Mildred’s waist, presses her forehead to Mildred’s. “I love you so much. I love you even more for wanting to help Anne. She needs a family, and we can be that for her.” Gwen presses a kiss to Mildred’s mouth, lips soft and warm, mouth opening, gently caressing her tongue over Mildred’s. Mildred feels loved and safe and precious in Gwen’s embrace. Gwen smiles at her, “I love you so much Mildred Ratched.”

“I told Anne I was in the foster system. I wanted to make her feel safe and understood, and I thought maybe that would help. I said it in front of Dr. Rubin too. I also told her about us.” Mildred laughs. “That went well, but also was not my point. I used to feel ashamed to talk about my childhood at all, and I don’t anymore. That is because of you Gwen. You are the most wonderful gift in my life. You’ve just kept loving me every day.”

“Oh my love,” Gwen says, leading Mildred to the bed and pulling Mildred to sit in her lap. “I love you more every day we spend together. We have built the most beautiful life together Mildred. I am happy to share this beautiful life with Anne. We can give her safety and a home, and we can show her what love looks like.” Gwen caresses Mildred’s cheek and Mildred leans her face into that gentle touch.

“You are so good with her Gwen,” Mildred says, the anxiety bubbling up in her. “I don’t know anything about taking care of children.”

Gwen’s smile is so soft when she tells Mildred, “Everything I saw today would suggest that is not true. We’re in this together, and we will figure everything out, just like we always do.” Gwen’s smile is so genuine that Mildred can’t argue. She rests her head on Gwen’s shoulder, presses her face into the crook of Gwen’s neck, giving little kisses right where Gwen is ticklish and making her laugh. Gwen presses a kiss to the crown of Mildred’s head, holds her tight, and Mildred soaks in all the love.

 


 

Gwen finds Mildred standing outside of the door to what is now Anne’s room. From here Gwen can easily hear crying. “Darling,” Gwen says, coming up beside Mildred and wrapping an arm around her waist. Mildred smiles sadly and lets Gwen pull her against her side and wrap her up in a hug.

“I want to make this better for her, and there’s nothing I can do,” Mildred says, and oh this hurts.

“That isn’t true. You already did the biggest thing. She is sleeping somewhere safe tonight, and she is going to wake up in a house full of people who accept her.”

“I just want to hug her and take away how much she’s hurting right now.”

Gwen’s heart fills with so much love for Mildred seeing her like this, letting herself be nurturing and loving. These pieces of Mildred are normally reserved just for Gwen and watching Mildred give in to the love in her heart is always so beautiful. “Maybe we should knock and see if she wants company.”

“She doesn’t know us, Gwen. We’re just strangers to her.”

“Once upon a time we were strangers to each other.” Gwen presses her forehead to Mildred’s. “And now you’re my world. Come on,” Gwen reaches up and knocks on the bedroom door. “Anne, can we come in?”

Gwen opens the door and Anne is sitting on the bed sobbing. “Oh darling,” Gwen goes to Anne, sits beside her and opens her arms. Anne falls into her arms, curls up like a small child. It strikes Gwen how young Anne is, just a child, a child who now has no home. No, Gwen thinks, she has a home, right here. She hugs Anne to her with one arm and holds out her other hand to Mildred, who comes and wraps her arms around both Gwen and Anne. Gwen feels safe in those arms, always so safe. Gwen is crying too, her heart breaking for the young woman in her arms, but Mildred is holding them, and Gwen knows that together she and Mildred will find the strength to help this girl find her way in the world.

Chapter Text

Anne wakes with a heavy weight on her chest. She blinks open her eyes and sees big brown puppy eyes staring up at her. Charlie leans forward to lick her face as soon as he realizes that she’s awake. “Hi, sweet boy,” she greets the dog, hand reaching up to pet behind his ears. “Thank you for staying with me.” Charlie licks her some more, and Anne’s chest hurts. Her parents really left her. They abandoned her at a psychiatric hospital. The parents who told her they loved her more than anything in the world for the last fifteen years just left her. Her heart is racing, she sits up, cannot stay here and think. If she thinks, she is going to start to panic. Anne looks at the clock, 4:52 AM. It’s still dark out, but she doesn’t think she is gong to be able to turn the thoughts off enough to sleep any longer.

Anne walks to the bathroom, studies her face in the mirror for a moment. Gwen and Mildred told her yesterday that she was free to be herself in this house, but how can she possibly know who that is. Yesterday morning she woke up as part of a family. Yesterday she was a big sister, she was a daughter. Yesterday she was supposed to finish high school and get married and have children of her own. And yes, the idea of being married, of having sex with her husband, of giving him children, all had made her feel sick. But now who is she? She brushes her teeth, rinses her mouth.

Anne stares and stares at her reflection. She should go downstairs. She hears whispered voices, can’t quite make out who is speaking. Mildred and Gwen seem kind. Gwen’s family seems kind. But Anne has always been so shy, and it feels so hard to take the first step from this room and down the stairs. Even if these strangers have been welcoming, they are still people she hardly knows. Just two women who took pity on her when her family threw her away.

But then Charlie is circling her, licking her ankles, wagging his tail, and nudging at her hands. “Do you need to go outside, buddy?” she asks. Charlie runs to the door to Anne’s room. Is this room really hers? Gwen and Mildred both told her it was, that they could decorate it however she likes, that she isn’t just a guest.

Charlie waits for Anne to start walking towards him before he runs out of her room and starts his way bounding down the stairs. Anne follows him just enough of the way to watch him run to where Gwen and Mildred are cuddled together on the couch. Mildred is lying against Gwen’s chest, Gwen’s arm wrapped around her, fingers running up and down Mildred’s arm, Mildred’s own hand is resting on Gwen’s thigh. It’s so intimate that it takes Anne’s breath away. She has never seen a couple like this before. Her parents barely touch, just a peck on the cheek to greet each other in the morning.

Charlie bounds towards them and jumps on top of them, making both women laugh as the hundred-pound dog stands on them and licks their faces. “Do you need to go out?” Mildred asks, her voice still sounding husky from sleep. She stands, knocking Charlie back onto the ground in the process and he runs over to the door to the backyard.

“Thank you, love,” Gwen says, her hand lingering on Mildred’s arm, fingers running down the fabric of Mildred’s sleeve and then her fingers are touching Mildred’s and giving a little squeeze. They exchange smiles that look so full of love before Mildred follows Charlie to the door. Why does this make Anne’s heart ache so much? Just these little touches, the way these women seem to be so gentle and sweet. The way their every touch suggests that they love each other. Anne’s father told her what lesbians are like, that all they care about is sex, that they exist to tempt women away from their husbands, to corrupt God fearing wives.

Gwen notices Anne standing on the stairs then, and her smile is so warm. “Good morning.”

Anne stands paralyzed for a moment before she convinces her feet to keep walking down the stairs. “Good morning,” she says when she is standing in front of Gwen. She feels so awkward, so uncomfortable and afraid of doing the wrong thing. She sits down at the end of the couch, a couple feet from where Gwen is sitting. Anne pulls her legs up, wraps her arms around her knees. Why is she behaving like this? Why is she sitting here like she is a small child? She’s not a child. She was just thrown out of her house for being a sexual deviant. Surely that means it is time to stop behaving like a frightened child.

Gwen notices how uncomfortable Anne is, of course, because Anne is so awkward and uncomfortable and scared. She is so scared. She’s sitting here in the early morning darkness with a woman she has been told was evil her entire life and all she wants is for Gwen to hug her again like she did last night. Gwen had hugged her the way a mother would, she had made Anne feel safe, made her feel just for a few minutes like she still had a mother. Gwen is smiling at Anne so warmly, asks, “Did you get any sleep?”

“I did,” Anne says, “I just woke up, and I thought maybe I would come down and get a glass of milk.” And then Anne feels anxious again, she shouldn’t just be taking food from these people, shouldn’t tell Gwen she was planning to come down and take something without asking.

“Do you want me to get you some milk?” Gwen asks. “Are you hungry? You barely touched dinner last night,” Gwen says, and Anne feels ashamed. Had she wasted food and Gwen noticed. Did she get off to a bad start already? “Oh no,” Gwen says, “I didn’t mean anything bad. I just wanted you to eat now if you’re hungry.”

“I’m sorry,” Anne blurts out. She doesn’t know exactly for what, but her stomach is a knot of anxiety, and she wishes Gwen would give her a hug again so she wouldn’t feel so lost and alone. But she is fifteen and she should not be asking this woman who has already been far too kind to treat her like a daughter just because her own mother refuses to anymore.

“Anne,” Gwen says, her voice warm and kind, and Anne looks at her. “Is there something I can do to make you more comfortable?”

Anne swallows down the shame that Gwen knows how uncomfortable she is, how scared. Anne feels sick, thinks she might vomit. She used to when she was a child, used to get anxious about taking exams or singing in the choir, get so anxious she would make herself sick. “I just want a hug,” Anne says honestly, her cheeks heating immediately, feeling so silly for asking Gwen. But then Gwen’s arms are wrapped around Anne, and she feels immediately better. Gwen rubs Anne’s back, just the way her mom had when Anne was overwhelmed as a child. Gwen rubs Anne’s back for a few minutes and just holds Anne. Her anxiety starts to fade, she no longer feels on the verge of hyperventilating. After a few minutes Anne feels better, feels ready to sit back up and stop being so needy. She does not get to want a mother anymore. She threw that away.

“You can have a hug anytime you want,” Gwen says. “Just ask. I know how grateful I am for hugs when I’m going through a tough time. Sometimes it can help just to have a good hug.”

And with that Anne feels her chest pound with a mixture of anxiety and hope that maybe she can let herself become comfortable here, maybe what Gwen and Mildred have told her is true, that they just want to be kind to her. Anne nods at Gwen, doesn’t know what to say, can’t express how much she wants to pretend that Gwen is her mother and that her arms can be a comfort forever.

“Are you hungry?” Gwen asks.

“I think so,” Anne says and immediately regrets it. She must sound so foolish. How can she not know if she’s hungry? It’s just that her body gets jumbled when she’s anxious like this, she starts to feel nauseous, her stomach hurts, but she thinks she is hungry, had barely eaten anything yesterday.

“Why don’t we make pancakes,” Gwen says, seems unfazed by Anne’s nerves, her uncertainty. “Do you like cooking? Do you want to help?”

“Can I?” Anne asks. She loves cooking; it is one of her favorite things to do after school.

“Of course,” Gwen says. “I suppose I should apologize,” she continues as they walk to the kitchen. “Neither Mildred nor I is much of a cook. We’re trying to get better; I promise. But I will take any pointers that you have.”

Anne wonders if Gwen is just being nice. “I love cooking,” Anne offers timidly. “I’m not bad at it. I wouldn’t mind cooking for you while I’m here if you want.”

“Maybe you could just help us if it is something you enjoy. Mildred and I both like having a good teacher.”

“Ok,” Anne agrees, watches Gwen pull ingredients from the cabinets.

“Would you like something to drink while we cook?” Gwen asks. “We have milk, orange juice, water of course. Or we can make tea or cocoa.”

“Just water please,” Anne says, doesn’t want to be a bother. “I can get it for myself. If that’s ok with you.”

Gwen reaches out for Anne’s hand, slowly, like Anne is a scared deer that she might scare away. When Anne doesn’t pull away Gwen takes her hand in both of her own. “I really do want you to make yourself at home here. You can help yourself to anything. I can imagine you must be very scared to be somewhere new, especially after everything that happened to you yesterday, but I promise that you are safe here.”

“Thank you,” Anne whispers.

Gwen sets a glass of water in front of Anne. From the kitchen Anne can see Mildred in the backyard throwing a ball to Charlie. It feels so much like a proper home here.

“We have blueberries, bananas, chocolate chips, and peanut butter,” Gwen says. “Would you like any of those in your pancakes?”

Anne freezes, thinks of her sister, her sweet baby sister Mary. She loves chocolate chips, would always drop more and more into the pancake batter when she and Anne were cooking together. Anne’s eyes are welling with tears. “I’m sorry,” she tells Gwen. “I just miss my sister. We always cook together. She’s ten,” Anne says. “Mary.” Anne is crying, the reality hitting her. “I don’t think my parents are going to let me see her anymore. She’s amazing. She’s blind, but there isn’t anything she can’t do. But I still help her at school, and I make sure no one teases her. She can take care of herself, but I’m her big sister and it’s my job-“ Anne sobs and thinks that maybe Gwen can understand since she has a sister with Down Syndrome, she must understand what it feels like to want to protect her little sister.

Gwen sweeps Anne into her arms. “It sounds like you are a wonderful sister, and Mary is so lucky.”

“I don’t think my parents will let me near her. They told me that they thought I would hurt her. That people like us hurt children.”

Gwen seems to freeze at that. “You know that isn’t true, don’t you?” Gwen asks, pulling back so that she can look at Anne. Her face looks pained, like this idea hurts and makes her angry. Anne stares at Gwen. Does Anne know that? Gwen and Mildred are the first lesbians she has ever met. Gwen’s voice is firm when she tells Anne, “That is a horrible lie that people tell about us. And it is absolutely not true.” Gwen looks stricken, adds, “Mildred and I would never hurt you. We want to take care of you like a daughter. I promise you we would never hurt you.”

Gwen looks so upset, like something about this is so deeply personal. And Anne feels ashamed for ever wondering and doubting, for even momentarily believing that her father’s words could be true, that these women could have taken her in so they could take advantage of her. Anne feels sick, and then she is sick, vomits on the kitchen floor. Shame floods her, how could she have ever thought that about the woman who is now holding her hair back and rubbing her back, telling her that it’s alright, she’s alright, she’s safe.

Mildred must have heard the commotion because she’s beside Anne too, a gentle hand on Anne’s shoulder, her voice cutting through Anne’s shame and guilt, telling Gwen that she’ll clean everything up, that Gwen can go and sit with Anne. Gwen is wrapping her arm around Anne and leading her back to the couch. Anne keeps watching Mildred cleaning everything up without a single complaint, clean up after Anne when she’s been sick, just like a mother would, even though Anne is fifteen, and too old to even need someone to clean up after her. Gwen is hugging Anne against her side, telling her again and again that she and Mildred will never hurt her, that they would die before they ever hurt her like that.

 


 

Anne settles in a little after that, seems more comfortable each day. She wants Gwen to hug her, wants to help in the kitchen. And Gwen, Gwen is perfect. Mildred watches Gwen now, her arm wrapped around Anne’s shoulder. She is a natural, was meant to be a mother, is so warm. Every single thing that Mildred could have ever dreamed of when her own mother abandoned her, Gwen gives to Anne.

Margaret comes up beside Mildred where she stands at the back door, watching Gwen with her arm wrapped around Anne protectively, while they play with Charlie in the yard. “Good morning Margaret.” Mildred loves Gwen’s mother, a woman every bit as warm and loving as Gwen is.

“Good morning, sweetheart. Can I tell you something?” Margaret asks.

“Of course.”

“A little secret, mother to mother.”

“Oh, no, I’m not –“ Mildred insists. They don’t even know how long Anne will stay with them. And if anyone is maternal it is most definitely Gwen and not Mildred.

“It takes time to stop feeling afraid when you’re a new mother. The most terrified I have ever been in my life was when I brought Gwen home from the hospital. I had no idea what to do. I loved her from the moment I saw her; that was the easy part. But I had no idea how to be a mother. I just wanted to be perfect for her. I wanted to get it right so badly, that there were days when I was afraid to even touch her for fear of hurting her. But I just did it, I just did as best as I could, and over time it got easier. I eventually stopped worrying I would break her. All that is natural. Almost every mother you talk to feels that way.”

Mildred doesn’t know what to say. She is terrified. But this isn’t the same. She isn’t afraid she’ll hurt her baby because they’re small and breakable. She doesn’t know how to tell Margaret that she can’t be a mother because there must be something inside her destined to hurt this child, that everything she knows about mothering is that it is normal for a mother to leave you when they get sick of the work of caring for a child. And she loves Anne, she does already love her so much, but how can Mildred possibly be anything like Gwen is with her. Gwen is warm and loving. She took all the love Margaret gave her and now she is showing that to Anne, but what does Mildred know about these things.

“I know it isn’t the same,” Margaret says, “Your past isn’t the same as mine or Gwen’s, and taking care of a teenager who has been hurt as Anne has won’t be the same as taking care of a baby. But the most fundamental thing about being a mother is loving your child no matter what. We all make mistakes, I certainly did, but if you love your kids unconditionally, that is the main thing. I think I raised two amazing women even though I most certainly was not perfect. Anne will forgive you making mistakes or not knowing exactly what to do. You just keep showing her the love that I can tell is in your heart for her.”

Mildred turns to Margaret. “Thank you,” she says, can’t explain to Margaret that she is wrong, but still it feels good to know that this wonderful person, wonderful mother, believes that Mildred can do this.

 


 

“Don’t you dare speak that way about your daughter,” Mildred growls. Gwen walks into the entryway, spots Mildred outside, the door cracked open slightly, yelling at Anne’s father. Gwen is about to go outside with Mildred to confront this man when Anne walks up beside her. Outside Mildred continues, “I most certainly do not care about what an ignoramus like you thinks of me, but I will not listen to you say those things about Anne.” Mildred is angry, her voice ferocious, fiercely protective and threatening towards this man even despite how he towers over her.

Anne presses herself against Gwen’s side, and Gwen wraps her arm around her. “Do you want to go back into the kitchen?” Gwen asks. Outside she hears Mr. Martin calling Mildred a dyke and a whore. Gwen can barely contain her desire to go out there and punch that man for speaking to Mildred in that way. But Anne is shaking in Gwen’s arms, clinging to her waist now.

“You will get off of this lawn,” Mildred roars. “Unless you are here to apologize to Anne for how you treated here, you need to leave. I will not let you hurt her anymore than you already have.”

Anne buries her face in Gwen’s chest, and Gwen wonders for a moment if Mildred’s harshness is scaring Anne. “Mildred is just fiercely protective of the people she loves,” Gwen says. “Nothing to be afraid of, I promise. She can just be something of a mama bear when her family is threatened.” Gwen’s heart warms with the truth of her own words. Poor Mildred has been struggling to let herself just be free to love Anne. She has seemed so afraid and unsure. But never has Gwen doubted how fiercely Mildred loves Anne, even if at times she seems too paralyzed by fear to show that love.

Anne shakes her head. “I just can’t believe how much you both care about me.”

Gwen can’t quite believe it herself, just how much love she feels for this child after only a few days. But Gwen trusts her instincts when it comes to these things, she knew somehow that she was meant to spend her life with Mildred from the start, and she thinks they both sense that Anne is meant to be theirs. “We do Anne. We both love you very much.”

Anne leaves Gwen’s arms then and pulls the front door open, stands beside Mildred, head held high, and faces her father.

“Anne, has this woman seduced you?”

Mildred’s blood is boiling. She would never lay a hand on Anne, knows the kind of pain that abuse causes, would never, ever harm a child.

“How dare you,” Anne says, and Mildred doesn’t think that she has ever heard Anne sound angry. This week she has been hurt and sad about her family’s behavior, but she hasn’t ever sounded angry. “How dare you accuse Mildred of hurting me,” Anne continues, and Mildred’s chest aches when she realizes that Anne is angry on her behalf. “Mildred and Gwen took me in because you threw me out. They have been taking care of me like parents, like the kind of parents who don’t throw away their child like garbage.”

“Is that what you think your mother and I did? We needed to protect Mary. We can’t have you around her until we are certain that you are not going to hurt her or corrupt her.”

“Mary is my sister! I would never hurt her, Dad. You know that. You have to know that.”

Mildred looks over and sees tears pouring down Anne’s face. Without thought she goes to her and wraps her arm around her. Anne leans into Mildred. Gwen is on Anne’s other side now. Gwen’s presence makes Mildred feel steady.

“Is this really what you’ve chosen Anne?” her father asks, “this is the life that you want? Turning your back on your family?”

“I did not turn my back on anyone. You and Mom turned your backs on me!” Anne’s voice breaks and she presses her fist to her mouth. She seems so young, but so brave.

“Your mother will be so disappointed. We loved you so much, and we will miss you.”

“You don’t love me anymore?” Anne asks. Mildred squeezes her arm, holds her tight. Gwen’s hand is pressed to Anne’s back, and Mildred can feel the love and support Gwen offers, knows Gwen’s heart is breaking as Mildred’s is. “How can you stop loving me?”

“You are sick Anne. And you refuse to try to change that. So we cannot let you back into our house, especially not with Mary there. As long as you stay here with these dykes and engage in this lifestyle, you are dead to us. Do not come back unless you have changed.”

Anne sobs against Mildred, and Mildred tightens her grip, thinks Anne may collapse to the ground in tears any moment. But Anne pulls herself together and tells her father, “Will you tell Mary I love her. Please.”

He strides forward angrily, and Gwen moves in front of Mildred and Anne, tells Mr. Martin, “Don’t you come a step closer.” Mildred’s heart warms, loves how protective Gwen is of their family. Mr. Martin seems to think better of continuing this conversation and turns around and walks back to his car.

“Do not come back to my house,” he yells before slamming the car door.

Anne is collapsing against Mildred then.

“Come,” Gwen says, helps support Anne’s weight with Mildred as they walk her back inside the house. Mildred and Anne settle on the couch, and Anne is not letting go, her arms are wrapped around Mildred, her face pressed into her chest, and she sobs and sobs. Mildred wraps her arms around the girl, presses her cheek to Anne’s head, cocoons Anne in her embrace, tries to protect her from the world, even though Mildred knows that is impossible. She remembers being a girl who wanted to be held, who longed for a mother’s embrace after her own had left her. But that time had been fleeting, too many cruel touches, and soon any touch made Mildred cower, made her skin crawl, made her sick. Soon she was a child who never wanted to be touched at all.

Gwen is behind Mildred, pressed against Mildred’s back her arms wrapping around Mildred and Anne, hands rubbing Anne’s back beside Mildred’s own hands. Gwen shifts them so that Mildred is leaning against her. Gwen must know, of course she knows, Mildred has been so afraid, so paralyzed by fear that she barely knows what to do with Anne. But now Anne is leading her, is asking for this embrace, and Mildred is trying to follow her instincts and be what Anne needs. But she’s afraid she’ll hurt this precious child who has already been hurt so badly. But here is Gwen, holding them both, steadying Mildred’s shaking arms, her racing heart. Gwen presses a kiss to Mildred’s cheek, whispers I love you in her ear. Mildred starts silently crying, feels overwhelmed, loved and full of love, but also so much fear. Gwen kisses her cheek again, Gwen is doing this with her, Gwen won’t let her hurt Anne. Mildred chokes on a sob and Gwen kisses Mildred’s neck. “I love you both so much,” Gwen says. “We have you Anne. We’re here.” Mildred feels Anne nod against her at that.

Mildred kisses the crown of Anne’s head. She’s given affection to so few people in her life, fears she will do it wrong, fears she won’t be enough or will hurt Anne. But she’s here with this girl in her arms and she knows pulling away would hurt Anne more than anything. And Mildred doesn’t want to pull back, loves this child so much, would do anything for her. But Mildred doesn’t know what to do with the panic in her chest.

Anne is theirs now. Hers. Gwen’s. Anne is not going back to her parent’s house. Mildred feels her anger flare thinking of that man and the awful things he had the audacity to say to his own child. No, Anne is home now, here with Mildred and Gwen. And Mildred will need to figure out how to be some kind of mother to this child.

 


 

Anne has not left Mildred’s arms since her father left, has clung to her side all afternoon and evening. Gwen can see that Mildred is still afraid, still doubts herself. But Mildred is being brave, and she is doing what is frightening to her. Mildred keeps holding Anne, rubbing her back, telling her she is safe and that they love her. Anne trusts Mildred, keeps seeking out her arms, wants Mildred’s comfort. If only Gwen could convince Mildred to trust herself.

They’re all lying in Anne’s bed; she had asked them to stay with her until she fell asleep. Anne’s head is resting on Mildred’s shoulder, her body curled against her side, Mildred’s arms wrapped around her rubbing her back. Gwen is on Anne’s other side, fingers stroking her hair, humming lullabies to Anne.

“I think she’s asleep,” Mildred whispers. Gwen sits up, careful not to disturb Anne and watches Mildred try to maneuver so that she doesn’t wake the girl. Mildred takes such care inching Anne off her arm and onto the pillow. She lays the girl’s head down with so much tenderness, and Gwen just falls in love with Mildred more. She’s so warm and loving and gentle, and Gwen knows that all scares Mildred and she doubts herself. But Gwen doesn’t question for a moment how lucky Anne is to have Mildred. She’s such a caretaker, has pulled Gwen through so many difficult moments, comforted Gwen, held her, loves her unreservedly every day.

Anne stays asleep and Gwen and Mildred go to their own room. Mildred closes the door behind her, immediately blurts out, “I don’t think I can do this.” Gwen just stares, caught off guard. “I don’t know how to take care of a child. I’m not meant to be anything like a mother.”

Gwen is confused, thought that today might have made Mildred feel more confident. She had been so good with Anne, so open and nurturing, and Anne soaked it all in, wanted to be with Mildred constantly. Gwen goes to Mildred, takes her hands. Gwen rubs what she hopes are soothing circles on the backs of Mildred’s hands as she tells her, “Let’s sit down and talk. I could use a bath; do you want to soak with me in a bubble bath and you can explain to me why you’re feeling unsure.”

“Ok,” Mildred says with a nod. She walks to the bathroom, Gwen following behind her. Gwen strips off her clothes and puts them in the hamper, glad at the idea of soaking away the stress of the day. When Gwen turns back, she sees Mildred watching her, a little smile when she realizes she’s been caught. Gwen adds some bubbles to the water and slides into the waiting warmth. She watches Mildred undress, enjoys the sight, enjoys Mildred’s comfort with her nakedness as she comes to join Gwen in the tub. Mildred gets in and leans back against Gwen. Gwen strokes her palms up and down Mildred’s arms, shifts her just slightly so that they can look at each other while they speak but Gwen can keep Mildred held tightly.

“Talk to me, darling,” Gwen says.

“I’m scared I’m going to hurt Anne.”

It’s ridiculous. Of course, Mildred won’t hurt Anne, but Gwen understands she can’t just say that, needs to help Mildred navigate this fear. Gwen shakes her head, “Why?”

“I don’t have any idea how to be a mother. I only half remember my mother. The most vivid memory I have of her was when she left me at the orphanage. I remember her ignoring me screaming for her to come back.” Mildred has never said this before, and the image is horrifying. Gwen’s vision blurs, tears streaming down her face. Mildred reaches out a soapy hand and wipes the tears away, laughing a little at the bubbles she’s left on Gwen’s face. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Gwen moves one hand to the back of Mildred’s head, cups it gently as she presses her lips to Mildred’s, kisses her for a moment. “I’m so sorry my darling. You are the strongest person I know, and I am so amazed that you love so well and so fully even after everything that happened to you. That makes you very brave my sweetness.”

Mildred melts a little under the compliments, closes her eyes for a moment and leans in against Gwen, tells her, “Loving you is the easiest thing in the world; I can’t help but love you.”

“It seems like you feel that way about Anne too. You seem like you have a natural instinct to want to take care of her. You were so perfect with her today, and it seems like you already love her like a mother. Am I wrong?”

“I don’t know what it means to love someone like a mother,” Mildred says, sounds frustrated.

“Oh,” Gwen says starting to understand. She runs her hands up and down Mildred’s back. “I think it means everything that you’re feeling and doing right now. I know you’re afraid, but you do know how wonderful you were today, don’t you?”

“The more I love Anne, the more afraid I become. You won’t ever let me hurt her, will you? Promise me Gwen.”

“Oh Mildred,” Gwen’s heart is breaking. “I am here with you, and we are doing this together. You’re not alone sweetness. We have each other, and if you are ever unsure or overwhelmed, you can always tell me. Always. You don’t have to know what to do. I am absolutely certain I won’t always know what to do either. When we’re uncertain we will figure it out together.”

“What if I do something wrong?”

Gwen loves Mildred so much, wishes she wasn’t so afraid right now. But this fear, they can overcome this. Gwen can help Mildred through this. “We both will. My parents certainly weren’t perfect; no one is. But I don’t love them any less for not being perfect. I think as long as we love Anne and as long as we never leave her, then that is what matters. Kids are resilient and forgiving when you love them. The little things we can figure out together.”

Mildred shifts, leans her head on Gwen’s chest, curls against her, arms wrapped around her. “I love Anne, and I do want to take care of her as best as I can. I’m just afraid, and I don’t know how to stop being scared.”

“You were scared when I first showed my feelings for you weren’t you? And when you first told me you loved me? But you didn’t let that stop you. Sometimes I think the best things can be a little terrifying.”

“You won’t hate me if I need help?”

“I could never hate you. But needing help is completely normal, and even the littlest thing, if you want to check with me, you can. I’m no expert mind you, I’m guessing at everything. I think if we try to do this together, we’ll be alright.”

“I don’t want to disappoint you. You’re so good at taking care of Anne.”

“So are you. Despite all this fear, you were exactly what she needed today. There’s a reason she wouldn’t stop hugging you all day. You gave her love, and you were there for her. That’s all Anne needs. You love better than anyone I’ve ever met, and you are devoted to the people you love. Anne is just so lucky to have you.” Mildred shakes her head. “She is,” Gwen insists. “She and I are both so lucky. You are a gift Mildred, an incredibly gift that I am grateful for every day. I’m so excited to take this journey with you. Promise me that you won’t hide anything you’re feeling from me.”

“Ok,” Mildred agrees, presses a kiss to Gwen’s chest. “I love you.”

Gwen smiles, “I love you too, darling. Forever.”

“Can we stay here for a while?” Mildred asks. “Can you just keep holding me?”

Gwen gives Mildred a little squeeze, presses a kiss to her hair. She loves that Mildred asks for what she needs now, loves that Mildred seeks Gwen out when she is feeling unsure. “I would like nothing more. We can stay right here until we turn to prunes. Then I can hold you in bed.”

Gwen feels Mildred’s smile. “That sounds lovely.”

Gwen tilts Mildred’s chin up, kisses her softly. “I love you so much, and I love how much you want to protect Anne and how much you want to do right by her. I think we are off to a pretty good start with her, and we have each other my darling. Always and forever.”

“We do,” Mildred agrees, reaches forward and kisses Gwen again. “Thank you.”

“There’s nothing to thank me for.” This journey may be complicated and difficult at times, but Gwen feels so excited to do this with Mildred, to become mothers together. She vows she will help Mildred trust herself. Gwen rubs Mildred’s back, lets Mildred nuzzle against her neck, marvels at the strength it took Mildred to decide to bring Anne home, to commit to giving her a better life. Gwen feels so full of love, for the woman in her arms and for the girl who is becoming their daughter.

 

Chapter Text

Mildred had slept fitfully most of the night, woke up after dreams of her childhood, nightmares in which she hurt Anne. Gwen stayed awake with her after each dream, offering words of comfort or a silent embrace, whatever Mildred needed. Mildred thinks she finally fell asleep again just before sunrise, and now as she looks at the bedside table clock, she sees that it’s already 10 AM. Gwen is still asleep, arm slung around Mildred’s waist. Gwen likely slept even less than Mildred, probably stayed awake watching Mildred most of the night in case Gwen needed to wake her from a bad dream. After almost nine years together Mildred has learned that there is no talking Gwen out of staying awake to watch over Mildred when she has nightmares. So, Mildred accepts the act of love and tries not to feel terribly guilty when she sees the dark circles under Gwen’s eyes after Mildred has a bad night.

Mildred gets out of bed, needs to use the bathroom, should check on Anne, should make sure that Charlie has gone out already. Mildred pauses by the door to her room when she sees a note slid under the door, unfolds it and reads: Kathy and I are taking Anne and Charlie for a walk on the beach and a picnic brunch. Get some rest. Love, Margaret.

Mildred realizes that Margaret likely heard Mildred last night if she knows that she didn’t get much sleep. It’s happened before when Gwen’s family has visited, and Mildred has accepted that Margaret knows a lot about her past, knows the broad strokes of what she suffered if not the specifics, and knows that at times it still haunts her. Margaret has never treated Mildred any differently, and for that Mildred is always grateful.

When Mildred returns from the bathroom, she hears Gwen moaning. Mildred goes to the bed, worries Gwen is having a nightmare. But then Mildred sees that Gwen’s hand is tucked into her pajama bottoms and moving rhythmically. Mildred smiles, sits down beside Gwen, careful not to wake her just yet. Mildred had been so flustered the first time this happened; back then she had still been so uncomfortable about sexuality. Mildred and Gwen talked about how natural it is, how Gwen had noticed Mildred touching herself in her sleep or rubbing up against Gwen from time to time. Gwen had reassured Mildred that she would never touch her while she was sleeping, would always wait until she was fully awake and they could discuss if Mildred wanted to be touched. And then Gwen had added that she most certainly would not be opposed in the slightest if Mildred did want to touch her while she was asleep, that her dreams were always of Mildred.

Mildred pulls back the blankets and lies down next to Gwen, pulls the blankets around them, her hand reaching under Gwen’s shirt, teasing fingers over her side and belly. Gwen moans loudly in Mildred’s ear, eyes still closed. Mildred feels herself ache at the noise. She reaches her hands down, cups Gwen’s back side, squeezing and making Gwen begin to rock against Mildred.

Mildred lets Gwen keep touching herself for another moment, wonders if Gwen is going to make herself climax before Mildred ever touches her. Mildred decides that she would very much like to be touching Gwen when she does come. Mildred kisses Gwen’s neck, causing her eyes to flutter open. “Good morning my love,” Mildred whispers. “You were dreaming, and I was hoping you might like a hand.”

“Oh,” Gwen says, seems to realize that her hand is down her pants. She presses a sloppy, soft kiss to Mildred’s mouth. “I would love a hand, my darling. Thank you.”

Mildred reaches down, her hand sliding into Gwen’s pajamas. She can feel how wet Gwen is, knows it won’t take long at all her to come. Mildred keeps kissing Gwen, filled with so much love for this woman. Mildred cups Gwen with her palm, and Gwen moans into Mildred’s mouth. Mildred loves the noises Gwen makes, loves that she is the one making Gwen feel this way. Mildred feels that Gwen is soaking, her underwear wet, and Mildred easily slides two fingers into Gwen.

“More,” Gwen says, voice still sounding half asleep, her eyes closed again.

Mildred chuckles, “So impatient,” Mildred says, but she indulges Gwen and adds a third finger. She can feel how close Gwen is, presses a kiss to Gwen’s jaw, works her way down to kiss her neck as she presses her fingers up against Gwen’s g-spot, can feel how swollen she already is. Mildred presses hard, sucks at Gwen’s neck, and Gwen is moaning, hands on Mildred’s backside, pulling her closer. Mildred moves her thumb to Gwen’s clit. It only takes a moment of firm pressure inside Gwen and Mildred’s thumb working back and forth over her clit before Gwen is clenching around her, Gwen pressing her face to Mildred’s neck, biting at Mildred’s neck as she comes.

“Good morning,” Gwen says, her eyes opening, a blissed-out smile on her face. Mildred loves seeing Gwen like this, loves when she falls apart in her arms. Mildred brings her hand up to her mouth, sucking Gwen’s wetness from her fingers. Gwen groans at the sight, takes Mildred’s hand and presses a kiss to Mildred’s palm before moving Mildred’s hand to Gwen’s cheek, Gwen’s palm covering Mildred’s. “Thank you, my darling. That was a lovely way to wake up. Can I repay your kindness?”

“I think I just want to cuddle for now, if that’s alright with you.”

“Of course, it’s alright,” Gwen says, squeezes Mildred’s hand, “Anything you want is always alright.”

“I know,” Mildred reassures, presses a kiss to Gwen’s mouth. “I very much enjoyed watching you. You are so beautiful when you come. I quite like waking you up like this.”

Gwen kisses Mildred, soft and tender, and Mildred soaks in the love, the closeness, the touch of Gwen’s lips against her own. Mildred feels warm, her body tingling as Gwen’s fingers caress the back of her neck. Mildred keeps kissing Gwen for a few moments before telling her, “Come here, I want to hold you.” Mildred shifts, pulls her love into her arms, coaxes her to rest against Mildred’s chest. Mildred wraps her arms tightly around Gwen, one hand under her shirt, pressed against the warmth of Gwen’s skin. Gwen wraps an arm around Mildred’s waist, kisses her chest. “Your mom took Anne, Kathy, and Charlie to the beach. She left us a note that they will be having a picnic brunch, and that we should rest.”

“I hope that means Anne is doing better today. She’s such a sweet, brave girl.”

“She really is,” Mildred agrees, thinks momentarily that child is far too sweet and good for Mildred to be responsible for her. She tries to shake the thought from her head, tries to trust that she can love Anne well, just as she has been able to love Gwen well.

“And you, darling?” Gwen asks. “How are you feeling?”

Mildred sighs, runs her fingers through Gwen’s hair, her other hand caressing up and down Gwen’s back. “Afraid still. Anne deserves so much, and I want to live up to what she needs.”

“Sweetness,” Gwen coos, looking up at Mildred. “You already do. You’re so amazing Mildred. Watching you with Anne yesterday…” Gwen presses a kiss to Mildred’s chest. “You were perfect. You gave her everything that she needed.”

“I think you’re right that it will take time for me to feel more comfortable and for the fear to subside. I was terrified of you for the first couple of weeks. I thought everything I did was wrong and one day you would wake up and stop wanting me.” Mildred grins, looks at Gwen fondly, brushes stray hairs from her face, caresses her scalp. “But here you are, eight years later, still in my arms.”

Gwen reaches her hand up so that her palm cups Mildred’s cheek, strokes back and forth with her thumb. “I love every moment I spend with you.  I am not going anywhere. Anne was a surprise, but we can take care of her, we can give her a good home. We both already love her. And we’re doing this together, and I think once the nerves go away, we will be able to enjoy having a new member of our family. You brought Charlie home too and look how well that turned out.”

“Anne isn’t a dog.”

“No, but Anne feels like she is another piece of our family that you found and brought to me. I never dreamed I could have a family of my own, but look at this beautiful family that you and I have built together.” Gwen smiles at Mildred, a smile that warms Mildred thoroughly.

“I love Anne,” Mildred says, doesn’t want Gwen to not understand that. “I’m happy that she’s here with us. I just need time to trust that I won’t hurt her.”

“We’ll get there,” Gwen promises, like it’s nothing, like she’s not worried in the slightest that Mildred won’t be able to move past this. “We’ll work through this together, just like we do with everything else.” Gwen’s hand strokes Mildred’s face, her hair, her neck, and Gwen just keeps looking at Mildred with so much love in her eyes that it melts Mildred, makes her believe that she can do this, that she has Gwen by her side and that will be enough for Mildred to figure out how to raise a daughter.

“You know,” Mildred says, “You are going to have to learn to be quieter when we make love. We can’t have you moaning like you just were when we have a child in the house.”

“Me?” Gwen says indignantly. “What about you?”

“I can be quiet when I need to be. I think you’ll recall the bathroom of the women’s bar in Mexico.” Mildred smiles at the memory, they had been celebrating Gwen finally being done with cancer treatment, and Gwen had insisted that she could not wait until they got home to have Mildred. “You on the other hand, I am certain that everyone heard you shouting.”

Gwen’s smile lights up her whole face. “Whose fault was that?”

“I suppose I will need to start thinking of creative ways to keep you quiet.” Mildred runs her fingers over Gwen’s lips. “I think we have some nice silk scarves we can use if you can’t control yourself.”

Gwen gulps audibly, making Mildred smile, her whole body feeling warm. She tells Gwen, “I love you very much.”

Gwen is positively beaming when she returns the sentiment. “I love you too, my sweetness.”

Chapter Text

By the time Mildred and Gwen finally leave their bedroom, Mildred feels warm and soft, her body light, her mind full of love. Gwen has her arm wrapped around Mildred’s waist as they walk down the stairs; Gwen hasn’t stopped touching Mildred since they woke, gentle, soft touches that Mildred eagerly soaks up. Gwen’s fingers are caressing Mildred’s waist, and Mildred feels like she could melt into Gwen, feels so loved and taken care of. Mildred squeezes Gwen’s waist, turns and presses a kiss to Gwen’s cheek. Gwen stops and turns to softly kiss Mildred’s lips. Mildred wraps her arms around Gwen, holds her to her body in a soft embrace. Gwen’s hands cup Mildred’s face, fingers stroking her neck, her cheeks, making Mildred sigh into Gwen’s mouth.

“I love you,” Gwen says, extra reminders, extra caresses, a constant stream of love. Mildred always knows that Gwen loves her, but Mildred is so grateful that Gwen understands when Mildred feels more vulnerable, wants to be told more, held more.

“How did I ever get so lucky?” Mildred muses aloud. She had been such a mess last night, a terrified mess, confessing to Gwen that she didn’t think she could take care of the young woman that she had decided to bring home.

Gwen shakes her head, presses a little kiss to Mildred’s nose, “I am the lucky one. You love so well darling.” Mildred feels herself melt under the compliments, can’t recall a single person before Gwen telling her she was good or worthy of love. She muses briefly if her mother ever praised her, ever wanted her at all, or if she just tolerated Mildred for those barely remembered years before leaving her at the orphanage.  “What’s wrong?” Gwen asks, and Mildred wonders when her face became so transparent, remembers that she used to be able to mask her emotions. Never with Gwen though, Gwen always knows, always sees her.

“Just thinking about the past. Nothing that matters now. Not when I have you here with me.” Mildred kisses Gwen, lets the feeling of this love and warmth, the feeling of one of Gwen’s hands on the small of her back, the other caressing her cheek, drive away thoughts of a time when she wasn’t loved and wanted.

Mildred presses her face to Gwen’s neck and lets Gwen just hold her here in the stairwell in their quiet house. A house that before long will be full of family again, but for right now is the place where Mildred lets herself not feel guilty for wanting Gwen to give her this extra support, to shower her in love and compliments and kisses. Mildred is used to this now, has come to depend on Gwen’s tenderness. Mildred strokes Gwen’s back, kisses her neck, tries to convey through her touch the depth of her love.

When they finally make it to the kitchen Gwen plops down in a chair with a yawn.

“Let me make you coffee. I’m the reason you’re so tired today,” Mildred offers with a pang of guilt.

“None of that,” Gwen insists, as Mildred fiddles with the coffee pot, “I will always stay awake when you’re having nightmares. I won’t leave you on your own to deal with that.”

“I know,” Mildred says, has known this with certainty for years now, but still her eyes well with tears. “I can still thank you by making you breakfast. Why don’t you go lie down on the couch, and I’ll call you when it’s ready?”

Gwen stands and comes up behind Mildred, wraps both her arms around her waist, and leans her chin on Mildred’s shoulder. “I would much rather stay here while you make coffee. I’m willing to help or to cuddle. Whatever the chef prefers.”

“I’ll cook you breakfast. You just cuddle me.”

“Yes ma’am.” Gwen squeezes Mildred’s waist, and Mildred turns her head so that she can kiss Gwen.

Mildred moves around the kitchen, gathering ingredients for coffee and pancakes, Gwen never letting go of her waist, making Mildred shuffle about with Gwen attached to her.  Mildred laughs at Gwen’s dedication to cuddling her. “You can let go, so I can get the milk,” Mildred teases mid-chuckle.

“No, I don’t think I can,” Gwen says, leaning around to smile at Mildred.

Mildred turns in Gwen’s arms, wraps her arms around her neck, and kisses her. “I love you very much, you silly woman.”

“I see nothing silly about wanting to snuggle the woman I love.”

 


 

Anne carries groceries into the kitchen, pauses at the doorway when she sees Mildred and Gwen dancing. Mildred’s head is on Gwen’s shoulder, Gwen leading. Gwen starts singing along to the music and Anne hears Mildred laugh. Anne stopped believing she could ever have love once she realized she was gay, and she feels a fragile hope begin to grow that maybe her life doesn’t need to be spent miserable and alone. Gwen is laughing too, pressing a kiss to Mildred’s lips, and they keep smiling and giggling into each other’s mouths. Anne feels her chest ache at the idea that she can be a part of this family, that she can stay here in this house that feels filled with love.

“Good morning, love birds,” Margaret calls, coming to stand next to Anne, and breaking Mildred and Gwen out of their little bubble.

“Good morning,” Gwen replies. Beside her Mildred smiles warmly. They both walk over to Anne.

“I can take those, sweetheart,” Mildred says, taking the bags from Anne’s hands.

Gwen wraps her arm around Anne’s shoulder. “How are you?” Gwen asks, leading Anne to the kitchen table. Mildred is taking groceries from Margaret, the two women hugging each other briefly. Anne’s heart aches at that, at just how accepting Margaret is of her daughter and the woman she loves. Anne didn’t know people like this existed in the world, people who accept and love each other unconditionally.

“I’m ok,” Anne says. Margaret and Kathy had been so kind to her all morning, but it is always so hard for her to talk to new people, and Anne had spent most of the time quietly walking Charlie or throwing a ball for him to fetch. She regrets that now, has a million questions for Margaret about whether it really doesn’t bother her that her daughter loves another woman. Anne watches Mildred pouring Margaret a cup of coffee, the two women smiling warmly at each other like they are family.

“Mildred made pancakes,” Gwen says, “There are extra in case you’re hungry.”

“Your mom was very generous and already fed me breakfast.”

Margaret is smiling at Anne warmly, saying, “You need to eat, and you do not need to thank any of us for feeding you. We’re family. We may still be new to each other, but you are our family, so you never need to thank any of us for food or clothes or a bed to sleep in. These are givens.”

Gwen squeezes Anne’s arm, presses a kiss to her hair, and Anne thinks she could cry. She thinks of her father yelling at her yesterday to never come back unless she changes, thinks of her mother crying in Lucia hospital before turning away from Anne. She thinks of her sister, can’t help but think of Mary, wants to hug her, wants to play with her like they used to, wants to just be a child again. But she isn’t a child anymore. “I can get a job,” Anne blurts out. “You don’t need to support me. I can get a job so that I can contribute.”

“You will do no such thing,” Gwen insists. “You are too young to have a job. You need to finish school and think about college.”

“College?” Anne asks, her voice sounding so small to her own ears.

Gwen chuckles. “I’m sorry. Maybe it is too early to start thinking about that right now. You can focus on enjoying high school and being a teenager. We can worry about what you want to do next once you feel more settled here.”

Anne’s mind is racing. College? Her family always told her that was for boys. She told her mom once that she wanted to be a lawyer, and her mom laughed at her and told her that she could be the wife of a lawyer instead. “No,” Anne says. “I want to go to college, but my family always told me I should focus on getting married instead.”

“In that case,” Gwen says, “It sounds like you will be far too busy with your studies to have a job.”

“I can do both,” Anne insists. “I’ll need to save money.”

“Sweetheart,” Gwen says, holding Anne’s upper arms and looking into her eyes. “Mildred and I are very fortunate, and we have enough money saved that we can send you to college. You focus on getting good grades and having fun.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because we care about you, and because you can have any career you want. You are a smart young woman. I can’t wait to see what you decide to do with your life.”

Anne feels overwhelmed. Gwen is really telling her that she plans to stay in her life, pay for school, watch her grow up and choose a career. Something in Anne’s chest unclenches. She can go to school. She can have a career of her own. She doesn’t need to find a husband and have children and give up her life. She can choose what she wants to do with her own future. The thought makes Anne feel freer than she can ever remember feeling.

 


 

Mildred wakes, looks over at the clock – 3:45 AM. Not bad. She at least was able to sleep for five hours before waking. Gwen is still sleeping peacefully beside her, an arm slung protectively around Mildred. She loves the weight of Gwen pressed against her, her arm resting on Mildred. It makes her feel protected and loved.

Mildred hears noises downstairs, and as much as she wants to stay here wrapped in the safety of Gwen’s embrace, she worries that Anne might be awake and upset. Her heart races at the thought of being alone with Anne, of comforting her on her own, without Gwen, worries she will say something wrong, do something wrong. But Mildred is not going to wake Gwen, not when she barely slept last night because she stayed awake with Mildred. And Mildred needs to face her fear, cannot let her anxiety about failing Anne get in the way of taking care of her.

Mildred eases Gwen’s arm off her chest, lays it gently on the bed, thumb soothing over the back of Gwen’s hand, feeling the familiar tendons and veins. She knows every line and mark on Gwen’s skin, loves watching the little changes in Gwen’s body as the years pass, loves each freckle, wrinkle and scar, loves being the only person in the world to know Gwen this way.

Mildred reluctantly leaves the comfort of her bed, wraps a robe around herself, and walks down the stairs. She finds Anne in the living room, curled up on the couch with one of Gwen’s poetry anthologies in her hands.

“Hello,” Mildred greets, doesn’t want to startle Anne.

“Mildred,” Anne says, setting down the book. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t,” Mildred says, sitting down on the couch next to Anne and clasping her hands in her lap. “I heard noise down here, and I wanted to make sure you were alright.”

Anne pauses a moment before asking, “Can I ask you something honestly?”

“Of course.”

“Am I doing something to make you nervous? Because I don’t mean to.”

Mildred feels awful, she cannot make this poor girl hurt anymore. “Oh Anne,” she sighs, heart breaking, hating herself for causing Anne pain. “It’s not you. I’m scared I won’t be very good at this.”

“At what?”

“At taking care of you. I didn’t grow up with a family. Except my brother, and I let him down. I just don’t want to let you down. That’s all.” Mildred looks at Anne, at this sweet girl who needs Mildred to be better.

And somehow Anne’s reply makes Mildred’s aching chest unclench. Anne says, so simply, “You won’t. You have been so kind to me.”

“Come here,” Mildred says, extending her arm. Anne goes to her, curls against her side. “I’m sorry Anne.”

“Don’t apologize. You won’t let me down. I doubt most parents think nearly this much about whether they will hurt their children. You and Gwen certainly seem to like me more than my parents.”

“It never stops hurting to be given up like that. I know that from experience. But I don’t want you to think for an instant that it is your fault. You are perfect exactly how you are, and I am so sorry your family doesn’t see that.”

“I’m less scared knowing that I have you and Gwen. I have been so afraid for the last year. I’ve known I’m gay, and I think a part of me is happy that they found out because now it’s over, and I don’t feel like I’m carrying this huge secret anymore. I feel better just being able to sit here with you and not hide.”

“You don’t need to hide with Gwen or me. I might not be good at this, but I promise that you never need to hide.”

“Stop saying that,” Anne says. “You are good at this. I don’t feel alone when I’m with you.”

It hits Mildred how big that is, that she can make Anne feel like she isn’t alone. This girl was nearly completely alone in the world. “You’re never going to be alone. Gwen and I are never going to leave you alone. This is your home, and I want you to feel safe here.”

“I do,” Anne says. Mildred looks at Anne, and she seems so relaxed in Mildred’s arms. Mildred doesn’t think she’s done much to earn this kind of trust, but she breathes and tries to relax and trust herself as much as Anne trusts her.

“Do you want to talk about why you’re awake right now? You don’t have to. We can just sit here if you prefer.”

Anne shrugs, keeps her eyes down and face pressed against Mildred’s shoulder. “I can’t sleep. Too many thoughts,” she says with a shrug before asking, “When did you realize you were gay?”

Mildred smiles. “When I met Gwen. I had never felt anything like what I felt for her before, and at first I didn’t understand what I was feeling.”

“Were you scared?”

“Yes,” Mildred admits. “All I had ever been taught was that homosexuality was wrong. But what I felt for Gwen was the most pure, good thing I had ever felt in my entire life. Gwen makes me the best version of myself, and she makes me feel happy and safe and loved. And I think I make her feel the same way. I stopped being afraid once we were together because I couldn’t fathom for a moment that there was any way that what we have could be wrong.”

“I don’t feel wrong when I’m here,” Anne says, her voice breaking.

“There is nothing wrong with you,” Mildred says, her hand cupping Anne’s cheek so that she’s looking Mildred in the eyes when they speak. “You are brave and kind.”

“I’m scared.”

“You wouldn’t need to be brave if you weren’t afraid,” Mildred tells Anne, marvels at the young woman’s bravery for being here and being true to herself.

Anne smiles. “I suppose you would know. I think you were being very brave when you decided to take me home with you.”

“You are a very wise young woman,” Mildred says, feels a little odd that Anne is comforting Mildred right now. “Sometimes the things that scare us the most are the things that ultimately bring us the most joy.”

“I’m not that scary. I promise.”

“Oh Anne,” Mildred says, feels like she owes poor Anne some honestly, can’t let her keep thinking she did anything wrong. “It’s not you. I’m afraid I won’t be good enough. You did absolutely nothing wrong, and I would never knowingly hurt you. I will do everything in my power to do right be you.”

Anne wraps her arms around Mildred’s neck, hugs Mildred tightly. Mildred rubs Anne’s back softly, trying to show the girl that she is safe and loved here, and that whatever fears Mildred has, they will not interfere with taking care of Anne. “Thank you,” Anne whispers against Mildred’s neck, the puffs of air tickling her skin. This still feels odd, to have a child in her arms who wants physical comfort.

Mildred shakes her head. “No, thank you for trusting me. I know that cannot be easy right now.”

“It is though,” Anne says, holding on tight, “You and Gwen make it so easy to trust you. My parents told me so many awful things about lesbians, and you two are the opposite of everything I expected. I think they may have suspected that I was gay because they started talking about how wrong homosexuality was a few months ago. They made me talk to the pastor of our church about it. They made me feel like if I ever met a lesbian that they would seduce me or hurt me, and that if I ever gave into how I felt that I would become a terrible person.”

Mildred rubs Anne’s back. “We will never hurt you. There is nothing wrong with any of us.”

“Your family – you and Gwen and Margaret and Kathy. You are all so kind and nothing like what I expected. I was so scared when you told me you were a lesbian. But I had nowhere else to go, so I came home with you. I feel like this is the best thing that happened to me, meeting you and Gwen. You’re both so kind to me, and you obviously love each other so much. I spent the last year being so afraid with my family, and now I’m here, and I want to be part of your family. You have all been so nice to me and let me be myself with you. I haven’t been myself with anyone before.”

“You don’t need to hide anymore,” Mildred promises. “And Gwen and I already think of you as family.”

 


 

“Hello, love,” Gwen says, voice thick with sleep, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Mildred smiles at Gwen, overcome with a rush of love for this woman, hair messy, half asleep. “I woke up and you weren’t there.”

Gwen sits down next to Mildred, Anne remains sleeping, head rested in Mildred’s lap. “Hello,” Mildred coos, pressing a kiss to Gwen’s lips.

“Is everything alright?”

“I woke up and heard Anne down here, so I came to check on her.” Mildred keeps running her hand up and down Anne’s arm. Everything feels different now. “Anne asked me if I was afraid of her.”

Gwen wraps her arm around Mildred, holds her tightly. Gwen smiles a little, looks down at the sleeping girl currently using Mildred as a pillow. “I take it the conversation went well.”

Mildred nods, feels full of gratitude for Anne’s understanding and her forgiveness. “She’s such a mature, sweet young woman. I’m going to do better. I can’t scare her like this.”

“You are doing wonderfully,” Gwen tells Mildred, “Anne is sleeping in your lap, darling. I think you’ve made her feel very comfortable with you.”

Mildred worries her lip between her teeth, hopes so much that this is true.

Anne blinks an eye open, looks up at Mildred. “You did,” she says, making Mildred smile and Gwen laugh. “Hi Gwen.”

“Hi sweetheart,” Gwen says with a smile. She radiates so much warmth, and Mildred feels safer, feels held, remembers that Gwen is here to support this whole family. “I’m sorry for waking you.”

“It’s alright,” Anne slurs, closing her eyes again. Mildred runs her fingers through Anne’s hair as she falls back asleep.

Gwen presses a kiss to Mildred’s temple, whispers, “I love you very much,” against Mildred’s skin.

“I love you too,” Mildred answers, turning to kiss Gwen’s lips. “You can go back up to bed. It’s still early.”

“Mmmm.” Gwen nuzzles against Mildred’s neck. “What if I also use you as a pillow.”

Mildred kisses Gwen’s hair, wraps her arm around Gwen as she cuddles into Mildred’s side. “You will receive no complaints from me.”

Gwen hums her approval, and after not too long, Mildred finds herself a human pillow for her two sleeping girls.

 


 

When Gwen wakes she is alone on the couch, a pillow under her head and a blanket covering her. She sits up to find her mom and Kathy sitting in the arm chairs by the window.

“Good morning sleepy head,” Kathy says.

Gwen smiles at her sister. “Morning Kath. Morning Mom.”

“Good morning Gwenny,” Margaret says, “Your other half took Anne and Charlie for a walk.”

Gwen smiles, hopes last night eased Mildred’s fears with Anne.

“And you both decided you would rather watch me sleep?”

“I wanted to wake you, but Mom stopped me.”

Gwen smiles fondly; she spent her entire adolescence with her sister desperate to wake her on the weekends so that they could play, when all Gwen wanted was to sleep in. “Some things never change, do they Kath?”

Kathy smiles at Gwen, comes over to sit down next to Gwen. “But you’re a mom now!”

Gwen’s heart flutters. In a way she supposes that she is, but at the same time she doesn’t want to ever make Anne feel that she would try to replace her mother. Margaret is setting down her book and smiling at Gwen, telling her, “You are. I know this is all new, and complicated, but Gwen, you are such a beautiful mother to Anne. You and Mildred both.” Margaret is crying now looking at her daughter. “I am very grateful that I am here to see you become a mother.”

“You say that now,” Gwen jokes, “Just wait until I am calling you in the middle of the night desperately asking for advice.”

“Anytime,” Margaret says seriously. “Anything you need.”

“Thanks Mom. I suppose I should start calling you Grannie now.”

“Don’t you dare Gwendolyn.”

Kathy giggles at the mock fight. Gwen nudges her shoulder against her sister’s. “You are an auntie now, aren’t you?”

“I am going to be the best auntie!” Kathy exclaims. “I can teach Anne how to bake, and when you visit we can play in the snow. Do you think Anne has ever played in the snow?”

“I don’t know. You should ask her when she and Mildred get home,” Gwen answers. She is suddenly so overwhelmed with gratitude that she has her family, that her mom has been unwavering in her acceptance and love, has made it so simple for Kathy to keep loving Gwen. “I love you both so much,” Gwen says, her eyes filling, throat feeling tight.

“I love you,” Kathy says, pulls Gwen into a hug. Gwen meets her mom’s eyes over Kathy’s shoulder.

Margaret walks to Gwen, sits down beside her, palm rubbing her back. “I love you both very much, my girls,” Margaret says. Gwen looks at her mom, who smiles back at her with so much love. “My sweet Gwenny. I am so proud of you and your beautiful, perfect family.”

Gwen squeezes her mom’s hand. “I don’t take your love and acceptance for granted. Even if I don’t say it enough.”

Margaret shakes her head. “No, none of that. I want you to take it for granted that I love and accept you. You are perfect exactly as you are, and fuck anyone who says otherwise.”

“Mom!” Gwen and Kathy exclaim simultaneously.

“That’s a bad word,” Kathy adds.

“Yes, it is,” Margaret says, “And you should never say it, but sometimes strong language is called for. And this is one of those times.”

Gwen is already feeling warm and filled with such love when she hears perhaps her favorite sound in the world: Mildred’s laugh. Mildred is usually so serious, and Gwen just adores when Mildred lets herself be free with her joy. Gwen hears Mildred’s laughter mixed with the new sound of Anne’s laughter coming from just outside the front door.

Gwen walks to the door, opens it to find both Mildred and Anne doubled over in fits of giggles and Charlie carrying a stick at least six feet long that he is refusing to drop to go into the house.

Gwen loves them so much. Mildred finally letting herself be at ease with Anne, and Anne, this brave, sweet girl, looking happy despite everything. Gwen loves them both, wants to protect them both, keep them happy and safe, make them laugh as often as she possibly can.

And then Kathy is running past Gwen, grabbing the stick and starting a game of tug of war with Charlie. Gwen’s mom comes up beside her, wraps her arm around Gwen’s shoulders, and they stand together and watch their family.

 


 

The last minutes of Christmas Eve are rapidly ticking away as Gwen and Mildred frantically try to get through wrapping presents so they can go to sleep. They’re tucked away together in their bedroom, Christmas music playing, warm mulled cider in hand, as they wrap Anne’s presents. Mildred keeps stealing glances at Gwen as they work, falling more and more in love as she watches Gwen hum along to the music and work with great determination to make sure that Anne can hold on to as much of being a child on Christmas as possible.

Both Mildred and Gwen are pulled from the moment by what sounds like sobs coming from downstairs. They move quickly and enter the living room to find Anne, illuminated by only the Christmas tree lights, sitting on the couch and sobbing.

“Sweetheart,” Gwen says, sitting down and wrapping her arm around Anne. Mildred comes to sit on Anne’s other side, her palm pressed to Anne’s back. “What’s wrong?” Gwen asks. “Why didn’t you come get us?”

Anne heaves another sob, takes a gulp of air, then says, “I don’t want to ruin your Christmas by being sad.”

But Mildred somehow knows, understands, has spent so much time with her own fears. She asks, “Is there something else?” Anne just stays silent, shrugs, so Mildred continues, “Are you afraid we won’t want you here if you’re sad?” She understands that fear so well, remembers what it felt like to be afraid that Gwen would leave her if she showed her fears and darkness.

Anne nods but doesn’t look up at them.

“Well, that isn’t the case,” Mildred says, “I promise you that both Gwen and I want to be your family no matter what you are feeling.”

“What if I’m always sad?” Anne asks.

Gwen nudges Anne’s chin up to look at her. “We will always love you – happy or sad or angry. Anything you’re feeling, we will be here with you while you feel it.”

Mildred moves in close, wraps her arm around Anne’s back too. “I know from experience that Gwen is telling the truth. Do you remember how I told you that I grew up in foster homes and orphanages?” Anne nods. “A lot of things happened to me that still can make me sad. At first, I was very afraid that it would be too much for Gwen, and that she wouldn’t want me when I was that upset.” Gwen reaches over and wraps her arm around Mildred, presses a kiss to her forehead, Anne pressed tightly between them. They feel like a family like this, and Mildred feels brave here. “But I learned what love means and what family means.” Gwen is family, it hits Mildred like a physical pang of overwhelming emotion. Gwen is her family. Not just a lover, but the family that Mildred longed for her whole life. “I promise you that Gwen and I know how to love even when someone is hurting. We’ve held each other through some very difficult times, and we can do that for you too. We want to. We would love nothing more than to be your family. That isn’t about everyone only feeling good feelings. It’s about walking through the world with the certainty that no matter what happens there are people who will still be there and who will still love you. I wish that your parents had done that for you, but I think that sometimes we find family in the places we least expect it.”

Gwen’s lips press kisses to Mildred’s cheek, her neck, her shoulder, before Gwen speaks. “Mildred is right. We both know a lot about what it means to love someone through hard times. For the first two years we were together I was having treatment for breast cancer that made me very sick. Mildred never complained, and there wasn’t an instant when I thought that she would ever be anywhere other than right by my side the entire time. Even through the pain we found so much joy and love and beauty. I think the love of a family works that way too, not only romantic love. Mildred and I are going to be here with you no matter what you are feeling, and we never want you to feel like you have to hide that from us.”

“Never,” Mildred agrees, hugs Anne tightly. “You’re safe and loved here, and we only ever want you to be yourself.”

“I’m so sad and angry,” Anne says. “It isn’t fair to you.”

Gwen presses a kiss to Anne’s head, tears rolling down her cheeks, the three of them cocooned together in the dark living room. Gwen whispers, “Sweetheart, Mildred and I want to be your family. We’re not just here for the good moments. We want to be here for everything, for the rest of your life, if you’ll have us.”

“How can you want me? My parents don’t want me. My family threw me away. The family that raised me for the last 15 years doesn’t want me. Why do you want me?”

“I can’t explain this,” Mildred admits, cannot understand the love that has so easily bloomed in her heart, “but you feel like a part of our family. My heart feels so full, and you asked the other night if I was afraid of you, and I was and am still a little afraid of doing this wrong, but I want to be a parent to you. Gwen and I both want that so much.”

“I want that too, but it feels too good to be true.”

“Oh honey,” Gwen says, “This is real. We love you, no matter what you are feeling. If you need to spend weeks crying, then we will sit with you and hold you while you cry. You never need to pretend here.”

“But it’s Christmas tomorrow, and I shouldn’t ruin it. You have this perfect family and I just showed up and am making your nice family holiday all about me.”

Gwen smiles. “I almost died the first Christmas Mildred and I spent together. I was so sick, and poor Mildred had to help me bathe and use the toilet. I felt like such a burden, but I also felt so loved.” Gwen is looking at Mildred with wide, warm eyes, and Mildred feels her chest swell with love. “We have no expectations for Christmas other than that we are together. This – the three of us here together – this can be our Christmas and it will be beautiful to us because we are spending it with you. And we love you, sadness and hurt and all. It’s ok if all you feel able to do this year is cry. I promise it’s alright.”

“Are you alright now?” Anne asks, wide eyes looking up at Gwen.

“I’m healthy. You don’t have to worry sweetheart. Let us take care of you. I promise you will be safe here, and you will always be loved.”

“We love you so much,” Mildred echoes, wants Anne to understand that despite all her fears, that Mildred loves her and wants her here.

“I love you both,” Anne says. Mildred can’t hold back the tears hearing Anne’s words. Anne loves them, after such a short time, Anne is telling Mildred and Gwen that she loves them, that they can become a family, that they can piece themselves back together as a new whole. Gwen’s hand is on Mildred’s back, caressing her, touching her with so much love, as both women press kisses to Anne’s head and tell her they love her. Anne is theirs. Together. It’s a beautiful feeling. Mildred listens to the clock chime midnight, and silently, gratefully, she welcomes the first Christmas she and Gwen will spend with their daughter.

Chapter Text

Anne had told Gwen and Mildred they could go back to bed, but she had looked so sad, and there was no leaving her alone like this. So Gwen had made it a game, decided they could all camp out beneath the tree, just like she and Kathy always had as kids. Gwen is dragging more comforters and pillows down the stairs for herself and Mildred, when she is stopped in her tracks by the sight in front of her. Anne is tucked in, a pile of blankets under her, a quilt tucked around her, and Mildred is sitting next to her rubbing her back and murmuring to her. The two of them together fills Gwen’s breast with more love than she ever knew she could feel.

“Hello my darlings,” Gwen says. “More blankets have arrived for our slumber party.”

Mildred looks up at Gwen, almost looks embarrassed as Gwen smiles at her, overwhelmed with how beautiful Mildred is like this, letting herself be open with her affection for Anne. Mildred keeps rubbing Anne’s back as Gwen lays out layers of blankets for herself and Mildred to sleep on. “Do you want another blanket, Anne?” Gwen asks. Anne nods, and Gwen lays a blanket over Anne, Mildred taking the end closest to her and tucking it around Anne’s shoulders. Mildred soothes a palm over Anne’s forehead, strokes her hair. Gwen sits down on Anne’s other side, her palm squeezing Anne’s shoulder. “Do you want to try to close your eyes sweetheart?” Gwen asks Anne.

“Ok,” Anne says, “You both can lie down too.”

“Are you certain?” Mildred asks. “I can keep rubbing your back if it helps you fall asleep.”

“It’s ok,” Anne says, “Go lie down. Maybe you can just talk to me while I fall asleep?”

Gwen tells her, “Of course we can,” squeezes Anne’s shoulder again. She and Mildred both lean over to press a kiss to Anne’s forehead, making Anne smile widely, and quickly wipe a stray tear from her cheek.

Anne looks up at them, eyes wet, and smiles softly. “Thank you.”

Gwen shakes her head, never again wants to hear someone she loves thank her for caring for them.

Gwen and Mildred lay down together a few feet from Anne. Mildred presses her back to Gwen’s chest so they are both facing Anne, and Gwen wraps her arm around Mildred’s waist, holds her close as Mildred links her fingers with Gwen’s and snuggles into Gwen’s embrace.

“Gwen tells the best stories,” Mildred says, “I wouldn’t mind falling asleep to a Gwen story.” Mildred presses a kiss to Gwen’s arm. Gwen laughs a little at Mildred’s thinly veiled request for a story, and kisses Mildred’s hair, gives her hand a little squeeze. “It’s true,” Mildred insists, turning just enough in Gwen’s arms to kiss her lips.

“I’m sorry Anne,” Mildred says when she rolls back over to look at Anne. “We’ve gotten used to being very affectionate with each other at home. I hope it doesn’t make you uncomfortable.”

“No,” Anne says immediately, “I thought it would. I thought that loving another woman was so wrong for my whole life. I have felt so wrong for so long, and for the first time I can remember I don’t feel like there is anything wrong with me. I didn’t realize how awful I felt about myself until I was here. I think this is the first time in at least a year, maybe in my whole life, where I haven’t needed to hide. I love watching you together. It makes me feel safe. I hope that doesn’t sound strange.”

Gwen reaches out her hand, Anne taking it. “It doesn’t sound strange at all. I am so happy that you feel like you don’t need to hide with us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of us. I know that can take some time to accept, and I hope you feel like you can talk to us if you are ever struggling. Please don’t ever feel like that is something you need to carry that alone.”

Mildred’s hand comes to rest over Gwen and Anne’s joined hands, holds them tightly. “Gwen is right. Nothing needs to be yours alone anymore.”

“I’ve never felt as free as I do here. I feel like I can breathe for the first time. I just hate that feeling this way means I lost my family.”

“I know,” Gwen says squeezing Anne’s hand. “I’m so sorry, Anne. I’m so sorry we can’t make this better for you.”

“You both are making everything so much better. I miss my sister so much.”

It aches not to be able to fix this. Gwen asks, “Do you want to tell us about her?”

Anne covers her face with her hands. “I can’t. I don’t want to start crying again. If I talk about Mary, I’ll cry.”

“That’s ok,” Mildred says, “It’s always alright to cry in front of us, remember? But if you want a distraction instead then maybe we can read you a bedtime story.”

Anne sobs, her hands over her face still. “I think I’m too old for a bedtime story.”

“Nonsense,” Gwen says, “I can get us a book. I still love a bedtime story.”

“No,” Anne says suddenly, moving her hands from her face. “Can I just cuddle with you.” The poor girl looks so embarrassed. “I know I’m too old for this too, but when I was a kid and I was upset my parents would let me sleep between them in bed so I felt safe.” Gwen’s heart feels like it will break in two, Anne is so young and innocent, and far too kind to go through this. “Can I?” Anne asks, voice small and breaking.

“Come here,” Mildred is saying, moving to make space between herself and Gwen so that Anne can lay down between them. She lays on her back, tears coming immediately, and she sounds like she’s choking on them. Mildred and Gwen wrap their arms over Anne and around each other, one giant hug with Anne in the middle.

“We have you,” Gwen promises. She hopes she and Mildred are giving Anne back a little of that safety that she knew as a child.

 


 

Anne sobs so hard and so long that when she finally feels that she has run out of tears her head is pounding and she feels exhausted. Her mind feels quieter with the exhaustion, a little numb, too tired to keep thinking. She keeps her face tucked into Mildred’s chest where she has soaked through Mildred’s robe with her tears. But Mildred just lets Anne keep using her as a human handkerchief, strokes Anne’s hair softly all the while. Anne takes deep breaths as Gwen rubs her back in slow circles, each motion calming Anne, steadying her a little as her tears calm.

Gwen keeps up her motion as Anne stops crying and all she can hear is her own breaths pounding in her ears. She focuses on Gwen’s hand on her back, Mildred’s in her hair, feels safe and protected.

The tears fade and Anne sits up, head spinning, pounding. She grabs at her head with both her hands, leans forward on her knees.

“Do you want a glass of water?” Gwen asks.

“I can get it,” Anne says.

“Shh,” Gwen says, standing, her hand brushing Anne’s shoulder on the way to the kitchen. Mildred sits up next to Anne, a steady presence still, her hand on Anne’s back.

Gwen returns with a water and some graham crackers. She sets the biscuits down and presses the water into Anne’s hands, sitting beside her again. Anne sips the water, feels the cold soothe her burning throat. Gwen wraps her arm around Anne’s shoulders. Anne feels so needy and clingy, but she leans against Gwen, lays her head on Gwen’s shoulder and snuggles against her like she were Anne’s mother. Is this too much to ask of these women? They keep saying they want to be parents to Anne, but who would want a sobbing teenager who is behaving like a five-year-old? She can’t believe she’s asking to sleep beside them like a small child, clinging like she hasn’t even done with her own mother since she was young.

But Gwen lets Anne hide her face against Gwen’s shoulder, wraps both arms around Anne, as Mildred eases the glass from her hands so she won’t spill it, and cuddles close, her palm on Anne’s back again. They’ve figured out how much Anne likes to have her back rubbed. Her grandma always rubbed her back and sang her to sleep. Anne wonders if her grandma knows already, if her mother told her or if she had been too embarrassed. Anne misses her grandma, thinks briefly that maybe her grandma doesn’t care, maybe she’ll find Anne and tell her she still loves her.

Anne doesn’t dwell on the thought too long, doubts it would ever happen. Anne lets her exhaustion help her keep her mind clear. She tucks herself into Gwen’s chest, feels Gwen wrap her arm around Mildred, the both of them cocooning Anne again. She likes this feeling, being wrapped between them, feels very loved like this. Anne takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and tries to relax enough to sleep.

 


 

It hadn’t taken long for Anne to fall asleep once her tears had stopped. Gwen had maneuvered them down onto the blankets, and Mildred had tucked the blanket around them, heart so full of love. Gwen dozed off herself within a few moments, and Mildred found herself watching from her spot beside them.

Gwen is cradling Anne in her sleep, her arms wrapped around Anne protectively. Anne looks safe and relaxed as she sleeps. And Gwen, Gwen looks like a mother. The thought brings tears to Mildred’s eyes. Gwen is so beautiful like this, somehow even more wonderful than Mildred knew. Gwen opened her heart to Anne the moment she walked into the house.

Mildred feels so at peace here. She didn’t think she would feel this way ever, thought the idea of taking care of Anne would always terrify her. But this girl has left Mildred with no choice but to love her. Here in the light of the Christmas tree, watching the love of her life cradle Anne in her arms, Mildred knows this is right. She knows they will be alright. Mildred’s chest feels full of possibility for the future, full of joy at the thought of taking this journey with Gwen, growing together, loving a child together, helping Anne feel safe and loved and find her place in the world.

Mildred closes her eyes, presses in close to Anne and Gwen, and tries to get some sleep. The morning will bring family and food and presents. She needs to rest up before Gwen is shaking her from sleep, eager for her Christmas morning kiss and a start to the festivities. Mildred feels full of love, and she doesn’t feel afraid. She lets herself fall into a peaceful sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Gwen wakes to the sun in her eyes, streaming in through the cracks in the living room curtains, the Christmas tree lights still twinkling above her, and the comfortable weight of Anne’s head on her shoulder and Mildred’s arm slung around both their waists. Today is the ninth Christmas that Gwen has spent with Mildred, and it never stops amazing her how each one is better than the last.

Mildred’s hand is resting on Gwen’s belly, the ring Gwen gave Mildred on their first Christmas together shining in the early morning light. That year Gwen had been so terrified at the prospect of dying and leaving Mildred alone in the world again. Most days now, Gwen doesn’t worry about the cancer returning anymore, but when the fear does come, she consoles herself in the knowledge that she and Mildred have built a family together, and that Mildred will have people to love her even if Gwen dies.  

Gwen closes her eyes tight, tries to push away the morbid thoughts. She saw her oncologist last month who had pronounced Gwen to be perfectly healthy, no signs of the cancer returning. Gwen takes a deep breath against the pounding in her chest, lays her palm on top of Mildred’s hand, and takes comfort in the feeling of Mildred’s skin, the cool metal of the ring that Mildred wears as a promise of their life together.

Gwen has grown greedy now. She wants a long life with Mildred, wants to grow old together, wants to be there for Mildred for the rest of their lives, needs to be the one to comfort her when she has a nightmare, to cradle her when she’s exhausted after a long day of work, to kiss her when she wakes each morning, to keep their freezer stocked with the ice cream Mildred pretends she doesn’t want to be tempted by and then happily shares with Gwen. She wants to watch Mildred blossom as a mother.

Gwen thinks of her straight friends and colleagues, thinks of how they speak of looking at their spouses differently when they see them with their baby. Gwen understands now, looking at Mildred with her arm wrapped so protectively around Anne. Mildred is so gentle with Anne, so loving and warm and comforting. Gwen knows that Mildred doubts that she is capable of being these things, fears so much she will be like her own mother. Gwen loves Mildred more for pushing through these doubts and choosing to give herself over to her love for Anne even while it terrifies her. Gwen thinks she will never stop being in awe of Mildred’s bravery and her kindness and her love. To have grown up being hurt as badly as Mildred was, and to be here giving her love so freely to Anne and Gwen. Gwen feels choked with love for Mildred, her throat tight, eyes burning.

Gwen will never fully understand how Mildred showed up on her door that day and pledged herself to Gwen even after hearing that Gwen was sick. Gwen would have understood if Mildred ran, but instead Mildred didn’t give it a second thought, didn’t run from the likely pain of losing Gwen, but instead wound herself around Gwen’s heart and become her rock though treatment, her rock always. Gwen looks at Mildred’s face, so peaceful and calm as she sleeps, hair a messy halo around her face. Gwen marvels at the devotion and love that Mildred shows her every day, has no doubt that she and Mildred will spend each day they have on earth together.

And now they have a child to love. Gwen doesn’t think she could explain to anyone besides Mildred how she feels about Anne. They have known this girl a week and already Gwen feels like she would give her life for this child, loves her desperately, would do anything to soothe her pain. She knows that Mildred feels the same, and the idea of the three of them being a family fills Gwen’s chest with so much warmth. A family, a child, with the woman she loves. Gwen never even thought about if she wanted children, it wasn’t a possibility for her, and she always found it easier not to dwell on the idea. But Anne, Anne who is curled against Gwen, clinging to her in sleep, Anne is hers. Hers to protect and care for and love. Gwen didn’t know this kind of love was inside her until Mildred walked in the door with this precious child.

Gwen will never understand how anyone could disown their child. Even after such a short time with Anne, Gwen knows she will spend her whole life loving this girl. She’s made a promise to her to never abandon her, will see her through anything, knows without a doubt that Mildred will do the same. How can people throw away a child they raised for fifteen years? Gwen’s heart aches at the thought that Mildred’s mother did the same to her, abandoned her five-year-old, condemned her to a childhood of so much pain. Trevor’s family had disowned him when they found out he was gay, so had so many of Gwen’s friends’ families. She cannot understand it. Not when her own mother is as devoted and loving towards Gwen as she has always been. Not when her mother has embraced Mildred as her own, has told them she would be proud to tell everyone she knows that Gwen and Mildred are in love, tells Gwen so often how proud she is of her, even more proud for defying a society that is in so many ways unsafe for her.

“Gwen?” Mildred’s voice interrupts Gwen’s thoughts. Mildred shifts her hand, intertwines her fingers with Gwen’s. “Are you alright, darling?” Gwen furrows her brow, uncertain how Mildred could tell her dark thoughts. “Your eyes look sad.”

Gwen shakes her head. “A little. I was lost in my thoughts. I hate that the world has been so cruel to you and Anne, that someone as wonderful as you has suffered so much.”

Mildred smiles, her eyes so warm, tiny lines crinkle around the corners, making Gwen feel breathless at Mildred’s beauty. “No more sad thoughts about that,” Mildred says, her smile lighting up her face. If Gwen weren’t pinned down by Anne’s weight, she would reach over to kiss Mildred right now. “The joy you have brought me overshadows any pain in my past. My life is filled with so much love and happiness because of you. I don’t want you to be sad about the past, not when I’m here celebrating another beautiful Christmas with you.”

“No more sad thoughts,” Gwen says with a soft smile. “How can I be sad when you’re smiling at me like that?”

“Like what?” Mildred asks.

“Like a woman in love.”

“You better not have any doubt after all these years,” Mildred says.

“Not for an instant.” It’s true. Their courtship may have been rocky but once Mildred gave into her feelings for Gwen, she was so free with them, showering Gwen in so much love every day. “I am the luckiest woman alive.”

Mildred’s thumb caresses the skin of Gwen’s hand, sending little shivers through Gwen’s body. “That would be me,” Mildred replies, pressing a kiss to Gwen’s shoulder. “Merry Christmas, my love.”

Gwen squeezes Mildred’s hand, wishes she could kiss her right now, but trying to stay as still as possible so as not to wake Anne. “Merry Christmas, darling.”

 


 

Mildred and Gwen lie together under the tree, Anne continuing to sleep soundly between them, their fingers caressing each other, squeezing each other’s hands as they try not to move too much and wake Anne. Mildred drifts in and out of sleep, floating happily somewhere between dreams and waking. It’s nearly nine by the time Anne stirs between them, murmurs a sleepy “ ‘Morning,” with her eyes still closed.

“Good morning, Anne,” Mildred says.

Anne sits up with a stretch. “Merry Christmas.” She turns to look at them with a smile.

Gwen’s smile at that lights up the room. “Merry Christmas sweetheart.”

Mildred’s heart aches a little, wonders how much Anne will struggle today, knows they need to keep space for her to hurt and grieve today.  But Anne is smiling at them, and Mildred leans into the happy mood Anne seems to have woken up in. Mildred sits up beside Anne, back protesting a bit from the night of sleeping on the floor. “Merry Christmas.”

Gwen gets up with a loud groan, immediately leaning her head on Mildred’s shoulder, her weight pressed against Mildred.

“Morning, love,” Mildred presses a kiss to Gwen’s head as Gwen wraps her arm around Mildred’s waist and lets out another tired groan.

Anne wraps a blanket around her shoulders with a big yawn.

“How did you sleep?” Mildred asks Anne, her hand resting on Gwen’s waist, caressing the warm skin where her pajama shirt is riding up a little as Gwen cuddles against her.

“I slept well. Thank you for staying with me.”

Gwen is shaking her head. “You don’t ever need to thank us for that.”

Anne’s stomach rumbles loudly. “Sorry.”

“It sounds like it is time for breakfast,” Gwen says, though she makes no effort to move from Mildred’s arms. Mildred adores sleepy Gwen, loves how soft and snuggly she is in the morning.

Anne looks a little shy as she asks, “Do you think we could make French toast? It’s what I always had for Christmas breakfast.”

“Of course, we can,” Mildred says. “Anything you want.”

“I didn’t know if you already had a tradition for breakfast.”

“This can be ours together,” Mildred says. “Thank you for sharing it with us.”

“It’s ok with you,” Anne asks, “If I still want to do some of the things I used to do with my family?”

“Oh love,” Gwen says. “Of course, that’s alright.”

Mildred smiles at Anne. “Those traditions are still yours. If it feels good to continue them then we would love to do that with you.”

Anne nods but doesn’t say anything more.

And then Mildred hears movement upstairs, hears Kathy’s voice, “Come on Mom, they’re awake,” and then Charlie is sprinting towards them. The chaos begins. The most beautiful chaos.

Charlie jumps on Mildred and Gwen, licks their faces, before lunging over to lick Anne and knocking her to the ground. “Careful Charlie!” Mildred exclaims, but Anne is laughing and hugging Charlie, and Mildred adores her sweet boy even more for how much joy he brings Anne. Charlie licks Anne’s face as she lies on the floor.

Gwen takes the opportunity to press a kiss to Mildred’s mouth, soft but passionate, and Mildred loves this woman so much, pulls her closer so that she is sitting on Mildred’s lap and kissing her.

Kathy comes down the stairs next, yelling “Merry Christmas.” Behind her is Margaret, carrying a pile of wrapped presents that Mildred and Gwen had abandoned last night when they heard Anne crying.

“Santa stopped by and finished the wrapping,” Margaret says as she places the presents under the tree.

“Thank you,” Mildred and Gwen tell her simultaneously.

“It wasn’t me. It was Santa,” Margaret tells them. “Merry Christmas my dears.”

Gwen chuckles, her arm still wrapped around Mildred’s neck, making no move to get off her lap. “Merry Christmas Mom.”

“When do we open presents?” Kathy asks.

“After breakfast,” Gwen tells her sister. “We were just about to make French toast, but I think Charlie is going to need a walk. Should we divide and conquer?”

Mildred turns her head to press a little kiss to Gwen’s neck. “Up you get,” she says, standing and dragging Gwen up with her.

“I can walk Charlie if you want to help Anne get started on breakfast,” Gwen says, giving Mildred’s waist a little squeeze.

“Did you hear that, Anne?” Mildred asks. “It’s you and me on breakfast duty. That means you are in charge. I will do my best to be a good sous-chef.”

Charlie is up and nudging at Mildred and Gwen’s legs. Gwen smiles and scratches his head. “Let’s go bud.”

Gwen walks to the door, still in her pajamas. “Is that what you’re wearing?” Mildred asks with a smile, watching Gwen throw a light jacket over her pajamas.

Gwen shrugs. “It’s Christmas. It’s a pajamas kind of day. Kathy, do you want to come walk Charlie with me?”

“I want to open presents,” Kathy says.

“It won’t happen until Charlie gets his walk. You might as well join me.”

“Go,” Margaret tells Kathy and Gwen. “I will stay here and help with breakfast.”

 


 

“What did you eat Christmas morning when you were a kid?” Anne asks. She keeps asking Gwen and Mildred questions about themselves, seems so curious about them, wants to know everything.

“I never really celebrated Christmas,” Mildred tells Anne. “My mother and I were very poor, so there was no money for anything. And well, my mother usually was drinking so I never wanted to disturb her and make her angry. In the foster homes, they never included us in Christmas.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Anne says, “I shouldn’t have asked. You told me you grew up in the foster system. I’m sorry. It was stupid and inconsiderate of me.”

Mildred wraps her arm around Anne’s shoulder, “There is nothing for you to be sorry about. You can ask me anything.” Poor Anne looks so anxious and embarrassed and upset. Mildred runs her palm up and down Anne’s arm. “I won’t get mad at you for asking questions.”

“I don’t want to make you feel sad on Christmas.”

“I’m not sad,” Mildred tells Anne honestly. “I’m here with my family. I am very happy, and spending Christmas with you makes me even happier. Ok?”

“Ok,” Anne agrees.

“Good,” Mildred says, “Would you mind getting the sugar and cinnamon out of the cabinet? We need to get things prepared before Charlie is back from his walk. Cooking is much less fun when there is a dog underfoot begging the entire time.”

“Charlie is so sweet,” Anne says as she goes to get the ingredients. “I always wanted a dog.”

“You didn’t grow up with dogs?” Mildred asks, surprised by how naturally good Anne is with Charlie.

“No. I asked all the time, but all I got was a stupid goldfish.”

Mildred chuckles. It is a comfort she supposes that Anne seems to have grown up happy, that until her family threw her out, that they treated her well. Though maybe that makes it all the more cruel, Mildred truly doesn’t know.

“That was Trevor on the phone,” Margaret says reentering the room.

“Thank you for answering,” Mildred says. “Is Trevor alright?”

“He sounds a little sad to be alone today. I invited him to come over early and join us for breakfast.”

“Oh good,” Mildred says, “I know how sad he is that Andrew went to visit his family alone, even if Trevor would never complain.” Trevor has been a dear friend to Mildred since they’ve known each other, and the thought of him alone on Christmas breaks her heart. He was planning to come for dinner, but she will be glad to add him to their giant family Christmas morning festivities too.

“It sounds like Andrew’s father isn’t doing well,” Margaret says, “And poor Trevor sounded so upset that he can’t be there with Andrew.”

“I can’t imagine,” Mildred says, so grateful that she and Gwen truly have been able to share their entire lives, couldn’t bare the thought of Gwen suffering without Mildred being there to care for her.

Margaret comes to Mildred’s side. “I don’t think there is anything in this world that would keep you from Gwen when she needs you.”

“No, there isn’t,” Mildred agrees. Gwen is hers and Mildred will spend her whole life by her side, for better or for worse, knows that even though they can never say wedding vows, they both have made this promise to each other. Margaret gives Mildred’s hand a squeeze.

“Were you upset?” Anne blurts out. “When Gwen told you she was gay, were you upset?”

 “Not for an instant,” Margaret says, and Mildred knows the truth of those words, remembers Margaret’s immediate acceptable, remembers the relief of knowing how much that meant to Gwen, knowing she wouldn’t be hurt. “Did Mildred and Gwen tell you how they told me?”

“No,” Anne says.

“Gwen brought Mildred home with her the first Christmas they were together. Gwen didn’t even say anything, and I could already tell from the moment I saw them together in the airport. There’s no looking at those two and not knowing they love each other, is there?” Margaret asks Anne.

Anne chuckles. “You didn’t care?”

“I had never seen Gwen so happy, and I was just so glad that she found someone who made her feel that way. Gwen was very sick then, and Mildred took care of her and loved her so fiercely.” Margaret’s hand squeezes Mildred’s again, and Mildred squeezes back, the memory of their first meeting and Gwen’s illness still holding so much fear, even as it was what bonded Mildred and Margaret so tightly together, their love of Gwen, their terror they could lose her, and their determination to shower her in love. “That’s all I could ever want for Gwen. And I gained another wonderful daughter. And now a granddaughter if you will allow me to be so presumptuous.”

“You never wished Gwen were different?” Anne asks.

“Never. There is nothing wrong with loving another woman. I think you all are very brave for being true to who you are even when the world makes that difficult. I never would wish to change a single thing about you or Gwen or Mildred. You are three amazing women, and I am grateful that Gwen trusted me to see her true self and let me be a part of this beautiful family right here.”

Mildred sees Anne tearing up, feels a little choked up herself, often feels overwhelmed by how much Margaret has always loved her and immediately thought of her as family. Mildred pulls Anne close, holds her to her side. Anne presses her face into Mildred’s chest, and Mildred marvels at how much Anne trusts her, seeks out comfort and affection so easily. Mildred wraps both her arms around Anne, presses a kiss to her hair, and holds her. Anne sniffles a little while Mildred rubs her back.

“I thought I would always be alone,” Anne says, “When my parents were driving me to the hospital, I thought that was the end of my life. I thought if I ever got out of the hospital, I would have to spend my life alone.”

Mildred knows what that feels like, spent her life alone from the age of thirteen, when Edmund killed their foster parents, until she found Gwen twenty years later. She hadn’t realized how terribly lonely she was until she was in Gwen’s arms, finally for the first time in her life, truly not alone.

“You are never going to be alone,” Mildred promises. “We won’t ever let you be alone, sweetheart.   You will always have this family. Gwen and I are going to be here to watch you grow up and choose a career and find someone to love. I mean this Anne. This isn’t just your home while you need a place to stay. We want to be your parents for your whole life. And you have a wonderful grandmother right here, and an auntie who adores you,” Anne is taking measured breaths against Mildred, sniffling back tears. “I know we can’t replace what you lost, but you will always have us.”

Anne stays in Mildred’s arms, wordlessly holding tight to her waist while Mildred hugs her and rubs her back. Margaret is leaning on the counter, watching Mildred with a soft smile, so much warmth, so much pride, like she’s Mildred’s own mother. They stay like that for a long while, Anne seeming to want nothing more than to stay here in Mildred’s arms and be held. Mildred is so grateful that Anne seems to feel safe here, knows so deeply what it like to feel safe in the midst of pain, how it transformed Mildred’s heart to feel love and safety during times of sadness.

The quiet moment is interrupted by the door opening, the sound of Charlie running towards them, and the sound of Gwen and Kathy’s laughter. A moment later, Gwen comes up beside Mildred, runs her hand across Mildred’s back and wraps her free arm around Anne, who still is pressed against Mildred’s chest. “Hello my darlings,” Gwen says, presses a kiss to Anne’s hair, leans her cheek to the top of Anne’s head and rests there. Her eyes meet Mildred’s, and Mildred smiles at Gwen, loves her so much, loves seeing her like this, so nurturing, so much a mother.

“Kathy,” Margaret calls, “Come help me make French toast.”

“Is Anne ok?” Kathy asks, and Mildred’s heart warms.

“She’s just a little sad,” Margaret says, “You remember how the Christmas after Dad died, we were all sad. Anne might be sad today, and we are all going to give her extra hugs and whatever she needs.”

 


 

Anne stays pressed to Mildred’s chest as Gwen, Mildred, and Anne shift to sit on the couch in the living room. Gwen’s arm is wrapped around Mildred’s back, cocooning Anne between them. Gwen thinks how comfortable Mildred looks, how she seems to have relaxed into taking care of Anne. How freely she presses kisses to Anne’s head, whispers soothingly to her. For Anne’s part, she seems content to sit here and be held. She hasn’t said anything since Gwen got home, and neither Gwen nor Mildred push. They just sit and hold Anne in this little bubble of warmth and love. How strange it is, Gwen thinks, to have this life she never dreamed of, never fully let herself accept that she may have wanted. She’s here with the person she loves and their child, her mom and sister in the kitchen, Christmas music playing softly on the radio.

Anne is so sad, and all Gwen wants is to hold her and comfort her. Gwen just wants to make Anne feel safe and like this house and these arms are her home, will always be her home. Gwen feels a warm tear trickle down her cheek, and Mildred notices, cups Gwen’s cheek in her hand, mouths, my love.

I love you, Gwen mouths back to Mildred. Mildred smiles at Gwen, a little sad, but so warm and full of love, and they’re together, all three of them. “We have you Anne,” Gwen murmurs, presses a kiss to Anne’s hair. “We have you sweetheart.”

“I know,” Anne murmurs. “Can we stay here a few more minutes?”

“We can stay here as long as you want,” Gwen promises. Mildred kisses Anne’s head and Gwen rubs her back, and Anne just melts against them. Gwen loves this sweet girl, wishes she could take her pain away. But she can’t, and so she and Mildred stay and hold Anne in the warmth of the home they share. Gwen loves Mildred, and she loves Anne, and she promises to spend her life trying to soothe all the pain they both feel, to make them both feel safe and loved always.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Remember darling,” Gwen whispers, stilling the fingers inside of Mildred. “We have to be quiet.”

“You’re one to talk Gwendolyn. Did you not hear yourself a few minutes ago? Anyway, the fan is on, the radio is playing, and you need to get on with it.”

Gwen swipes a thumb over Mildred clit just once making Mildred groan with frustration. “Now darling,” Gwen says, “promise you’ll be quiet, and I will give you what you need.” Gwen taps so lightly on Mildred’s clit that it’s only enough to make her more desperate.

“I think if you kiss me that should muffle any noise,” Mildred suggests.

Gwen laughs at that, her teasing done as she presses smiling lips to Mildred’s and begins moving her fingers inside Milder again. Mildred kisses Gwen, mouth loose, kisses sloppy as she tries to hold back her moans as Gwen picks up the pace. They’re supposed to be taking a quick shower before breakfast, have people waiting on them. All that fades away as Gwen's fingers press hard into Mildred, thumb rubbing at her clit. Mildred leans down and bites Gwen’s neck to muffle herself. Gwen moans at that, and Mildred smiles, looks forward to teasing her love about being noisy, despite how much Mildred actually adores how vocal Gwen is when they’re together.

Mildred bites down harder as Gwen picks up her pace, thumb moving frantically until Mildred is coming with a loud moan, sucking hard at Gwen’s neck, Gwen’s moan echoing in Mildred’s ears. Mildred moves her mouth back to Gwen’s, kisses her as Gwen keeps moving her fingers inside Mildred, aftershocks making Mildred’s legs feel weak, and she leans all her weight against Gwen.

“Thank you, my love,” Mildred murmurs, slings both her arms around Gwen’s neck and pulls her in close. Gwen’s arms wrap around Mildred, one hand pressed firmly to Mildred’s backside, making the pleasure still coursing through her even more delicious.  

“Neither of us was exactly quiet, now were we?” Gwen says, her lips pressed up against Mildred’s, who thinks it best to simply respond by kissing Gwen again.

“Practice makes perfect,” Mildred declares, pulling back just enough to look at Gwen and watch her dissolve into fits of giggles.

“Later,” Gwen promises. “We have a full house. It’s probably time to go downstairs.”

“Fine,” Mildred pouts, “Let’s get dressed.”

 


 

Gwen is sitting at the vanity styling her hair, Mildred comes up behind her, presses her lips to Gwen’s head, her hands resting on Gwen’s shoulders. Gwen’s eyes meet Mildred’s in the mirror, that same besotted look in blue eyes that Mildred has seen for years now. It never stops amazing Mildred that Gwen looks at her like this.

“You are so beautiful,” Mildred says, “Don’t let me interrupt. I’ll watch.”

Gwen smiles widely, pins her hair up, exposing her neck. Mildred leans over to press her lips to Gwen’s sensitive skin.

“Don’t leave any more marks,” Gwen says, “I can’t believe you bit my neck when we have a house full of people. I’m going to have to wear a scarf.”

Mildred presses the softest of kisses to the back of Gwen’s neck. “I’m so sorry my darling.”

“No, you’re not.” Gwen’s smile only grows.

Gwen finishes putting a few more pins in her hair and turns to face Mildred, takes Mildred’s hand in her own. For a few moments she just stares at Mildred who lets herself get lost in Gwen’s eyes. Eventually Gwen breaks the silence, tells Mildred, “You seem so relaxed with Anne. Are you feeling more comfortable, love?” Gwen’s thumb strokes the back of Mildred’s hand, making her feel so treasured.

“Yes, I am,” Mildred admits, “Just promise me that if I do something to hurt her that you’ll stop me.”

“I won’t need to, but I promise. You’ll do the same for me?”

“Gwen,” Mildred says. “That’s ridiculous.”

“I made an unnecessary promise, so you can do the same,” Gwen says with a smile, and Mildred knows that Gwen thinks this is all absurd, but Mildred is deadly serious, cannot shake the fear that she will hurt Anne. Still Mildred adores Gwen for her unwavering faith in Mildred, even if Mildred finds it completely undeserved.

Mildred rolls her eyes, “Fine, I promise.”

“Excellent,” Gwen says standing and wrapping her arms around Mildred’s waist. “We’re in this together, my love.” Mildred wraps her arms around Gwen, tugs Gwen closer until their hips are pressed together. “Can you believe we have a daughter?” Gwen asks. “I’m almost scared to think about Anne that way in case she decides she doesn't want to stay with us, but she feels like she’s ours.”

“She does,” Mildred agrees, stares at Gwen’s awe-struck face.

“We have a child that we get to love together.” Gwen’s voice breaks, eyes wet. “I never imagined my life could be anything like this.”

“But it is. We have the most beautiful family, and you are such a natural mother,” Mildred says, pressing her palm to Gwen’s cheek. “Anne is so lucky to have you. As am I.”

“Hush, you,” Gwen whispers, “I am the lucky one.” She presses her forehead to Mildred’s and for a moment they stand there together in the bedroom they share and simply breathe each other in. “A child together, Mildred. I don’t think you see how incredible you are with Anne. You’re amazing, darling.”

Gwen’s eyes fill with tears, and Mildred asks, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing at all,” Gwen says with a sniffle. “I spent so many years feeling like Anne did, feeling certain I could never have real love or a family. And then you came along and changed everything. You gave me this perfect life that I truly believed for so long I couldn’t ever have.”

Mildred holds Gwen tightly with one arm, fingers caressing the back of Gwen’s neck, presses her other palm to Gwen’s cheek. “Oh, my love,” Mildred says, thinks of young Gwen, too afraid to tell her family who she was, resigning herself to a life without someone to love her. “Those days are over. You have me to grow old with, and we have a child to love.”

“I love you,” Gwen whispers, her voice gravely, tears falling down her face, and Mildred still finds it hard to believe that she could make Gwen so overwhelmed with happiness and contentment that she’s weeping. But somehow Gwen loves Mildred every bit as much as Mildred loves her.

“I love you too,” Mildred whispers. “That sadness is over, Gwen. We have each other, and we are going to love Anne so much and give her such a good life.”

Gwen is smiling then, a wide smile that tells Mildred that Gwen adores Mildred like this, that Mildred’s fears don’t ever make Gwen afraid that Mildred can’t take care of Anne. They really do have a child now, and it doesn’t matter that she didn’t come from either of their bodies, she is theirs. It fills something deep inside Mildred, a wound she didn’t even realize she still had, to be able to love a child in the way no one ever loved her. Gwen’s lips are on Mildred’s, Gwen’s hand low on Mildred’s back, and Mildred lets herself get lost in the feeling of Gwen, lets the melancholy thoughts recede, and lets herself be overcome with the happiness of what she has right now.

 


 

“Trevor,” Gwen says, walking into the living room and spotting her friend. “Sorry to keep you waiting. We just wanted to get a shower in before the Christmas festivities got underway.”

“No wonder it took you so long!” Trevor says with a smile, standing from the couch and walking to Gwen, “You two are not allowed to shower together when you have guests waiting.”

Beside Gwen, poor Mildred blushes bright red. Gwen gives her shoulder a little squeeze and tells Trevor, “My mother and Anne are in the next room! Maybe you could keep your thoughts on the subject to yourself at the moment!”

Trevor laughs and pulls Gwen into a hug, tells her, “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” Gwen replies. “Did my mother banish you from the kitchen?”

Trevor laughs. “She did. You know how much she hates when I try to take over.”

“Yes, I do.” Gwen says, “My mom only lets people into the kitchen if she can boss them around.”

Trevor chuckles and then leans over to hug Mildred. “Merry Christmas, darling.”

Mildred gives Trevor a squeeze, tells him “Merry Christmas.” He truly has been a wonderful friend to her for years now, a bond that began as a shared love for Gwen and then grew into a genuine friendship between them. “I’m glad you came for breakfast.”

“Thank you for including me.”

Anne walks into the living room carrying two mugs of cocoa, hands one to Trevor. “Thank you, Anne.”

Anne looks nervous, and Gwen wraps her arm around her shoulders. “Have you and Trevor started talking about the law yet? Because I know he will be happy to talk your ear off about civil rights law, or what law school is like, or any questions you have.”

“Really?” Anne asks, her face lighting up.

“Absolutely,” Trevor tells her. “We can talk shop after breakfast. The world needs more brilliant women becoming lawyers.”

“You just met me,” Anne says shyly.

“Gwen and Mildred can’t stop bragging about you. They’re very proud mamas.”

“Yes we are,” Gwen agrees, gives Anne’s arm a squeeze, “Come darling, let’s go eat breakfast. Then you and Uncle Trevor can talk more about your career plans.”

Anne sips her cocoa, and Gwen feels the girl’s shoulders relax, watches Anne smile.

Margaret walks into the living room holding a tray of French toast, Kathy behind her with cinnamon rolls. “Come along children,” Margaret calls, “I have an obscene amount of sugar ready for everyone to eat.”

Anne is rushing towards the kitchen, and Gwen smiles, happy that Anne is feeling comfortable here. Gwen wraps her arm around Mildred’s waist, and they walk together to eat breakfast with their family.

Chapter Text

Everyone is talking and laughing, and Anne watches them, and she feels so alone. These people are a family, they’ve known each other for years, and Anne is so new. The Christmas music they like is different than what she grew up hearing, they make their cocoa differently, they know the punch lines to each other’s jokes. It all makes Anne miss being surrounded by people who have known her since the day she was born. She is only standing a few feet from everyone but she feels so lonely right now. The sadness comes like a wave making Anne feel like she could start crying again.

And then Mildred is wrapping her arm around Anne and pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “Hello sweetheart,” Mildred murmurs, her other arm coming around Anne and engulfing her in a hug. Anne feels the tightness in her chest loosen. Mildred doesn’t say anything else, but Anne doesn’t feel alone anymore. How can one hug make everything feel so different? Mildred is rubbing a hand up and down Anne’s arm. Anne isn’t alone, not when Mildred is holding her tightly and making sure Anne knows she is loved. She feels loved being hugged like this. Doesn’t need words to know that Mildred saw Anne, realized she was sad, and came over to give her love.

Gwen sees them and walks over, asks, “Are you alright, Anne?”

Anne nods. She is and she isn’t, and it’s hard to explain, but Gwen is wrapping her arm around Anne’s back, and Mildred gives her a little squeeze, and Anne thinks they understand. The loneliness fades and Anne feels silly for how overwhelmed she was by that momentary feeling.

“We were going to open presents in a few minutes,” Gwen says, “Is that ok?”

Anne thinks Gwen is really asking, would happily accommodate Anne if she wanted to do something else right now. Anne feels guilty, hates that Gwen and Mildred are going out of their way to take care of Anne today when they should be enjoying their Christmas. Mildred and Gwen are hugging Anne tightly between them, and Anne struggles to accept this warmth, to let these women focus on her and take care of her.

Kathy is coming over to them now, asks Anne with concern in her voice, “What’s wrong Anne?”

“I was feeling sad,” Anne tells Kathy, “But this hug helped a whole lot, and I am ready to open presents.”

Kathy grabs Anne’s hand and pulls her towards the living room where the tree is surrounded by gifts.

 


 

Gwen sits down next to Anne beside the tree, and then Mildred is snuggling herself between Gwen’s legs, her back pressed to Gwen’s chest, Gwen wrapping her arms around Mildred. Watching them like this never fails to make Anne feel safe and warm. This home is so filled with love. The love between these two women, but also the love that surrounds them. Gwen never has a second thought about showing Mildred this kind of affection when Margaret is around. And Margaret takes in these displays with a joyful smile, seems truly so happy to see her daughter in love. It makes Anne’s heart ache and wish her parents could accept her that way.

Gwen’s arms are around Mildred’s waist, Mildred’s own fingers caressing the skin of Gwen’s arms. Anne wonders if Mildred struggled to adjust to being in a home with this much love too, remembers what Mildred told her earlier about growing up without Christmas. Mildred is tilting her head back, pressing a kiss to Gwen’s jaw. Anne wonders how long it takes for this much love without reservation or condition to begin to feel normal.

“Anne, open one of your presents first,” Gwen says. She seems so excited at the prospect of Anne opening gifts, a wide smile and eager expression on her face.

“Which are mine?” Anne asks, feels a little shy.

“The pile in front of you,” Gwen tells her.

Anne expected a few gifts, knows Mildred and Gwen are far too kind to leave her out of the festivities. But Anne never expected to have a pile this big. “These are all for me?”

Mildred nods, tells her gently, like she understands what it is to be overwhelmed by this unreserved outpouring of love, “Go on, choose one to open first.”

“This is too much.”

“Nonsense,” Gwen says, her smile so big and warm, and Anne wants to bask in this feeling.

Mildred reaches out to squeeze Anne’s shoulder, her thumb rubbing soothing patterns there. “Why don’t you open the small box on top first.”

Anne picks up the box and unwraps it, tearing at the paper far more gently than she normally would. She still feels a little shy, wants to be on her best behavior. And she wants to savor this moment, hopes this is the beginning of a new tradition, opening presents around this tree.

Anne pulls out an ornament with her name on it, one that matches all the other family ornaments on the tree. “Thank you,” Anne says turning to Mildred and Gwen who are smiling at her. Anne knows how widely she returns their smiles as she stands and hangs her ornament on the tree.

 


 

They’ve been going around taking turns opening presents, and Anne’s pile is growing – games, clothes, books. She loves everything, loves even more how excited Gwen and Mildred look as she opens each box.

This present catches Anne off guard though. She clutches the fabric to her chest. Anne shouldn’t be this close to tears from holding a pair of pants. But Anne felt so uncomfortable for so long, had immediately wanted to wear pants when she needed to borrow clothes from Mildred and Gwen at first, felt so much more comfortable and herself in those clothes. This present, this pair of pants in her hands, it feels like hearing Mildred and Gwen tell Anne that she can be herself here, that they can see who Anne is, and it’s ok. No one has ever told her she could just be herself before.

“If you don’t like them, you don’t need to wear them,” Gwen says, “But you seem more comfortable in pants. We bought you a bunch of clothes because you needed them, and we also have a shopping trip planned for this week. So, if you hate everything we can return it and you can get different clothes. We just wanted to pick out a few things for you to open today.”

Anne’s eyes are burning. She does feel more comfortable in pants. But somehow having her own pants means this is her. She’s not just playing dress up. She felt like she was forced to pretend to be someone she wasn’t for years, to wear pink dresses and pigtails, and somehow, she knew from the time she was small that it wasn’t her. Anne is crying, feels so embarrassed. But she is just so overwhelmed by this thought of leaving behind the days of pretending and not feeling like herself.

Gwen’s voice breaks through the haze of tears, “You can be yourself here.” How does she know? How can she understand without Anne saying a word? “You have all the space and time you need to figure out who that is. You can wear anything that feels comfortable and if you change your mind the next day then you can change your style. Whatever makes you feel good.”

Anne breathes. It sounds so simple, like deciding to stop pretending isn’t the biggest thing Anne will have ever done. She didn’t choose to come out to her parents. But this will be a choice to be herself, to be comfortable with herself. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be crying.”

“It’s alright,” Mildred soothes, “It’s ok to cry here. We love you.”

Anne shifts closer to Mildred and Gwen, and they immediately are wrapping her up in their arms, know already what she wants. Anne feels so safe, so young, like she’s just a child being hugged by her parents.

“I’m sorry,” Anne says again, looking around the room.

Gwen kisses Anne’s hair, and Mildred and Gwen are both hugging her, their palms rubbing her arm and her back soothingly.

“There is nothing to be sorry for,” Trevor tells Anne, his expression so warm and sincere. “Accepting yourself can be difficult. It was for me too, even when I was much older than you. But we’re all here for you Anne. Figuring out who you are and who you want to be can be frightening, but it is plain to see that you found yourself two people who plan to be parents to you for the rest of your life.”

“Trevor is right about that,” Mildred agrees, her palm rubbing circles on Anne’s back as she speaks.

“You’re alright Anne,” Gwen says, kissing the top of Anne’s head again, pressing her cheek to Anne’s hair. “And you do have two more moms now, ok honey? We do not care what you wear or how you cut your hair or who you love, as long as you are happy. Do you want to open another present? Hopefully the next one won’t make you cry.”

“It’s good crying mostly,” Anne says. She looks at the pants she is still holding on her hands. “I love these. They look so comfortable. And you’re right, I do feel more myself in pants, I think.”

“We’ll take you shopping next week,” Mildred says, “You can try everything on and figure out your style. It’ll be fun. And there is no pressure, really sweetheart.” Mildred presses a kiss to Anne’s forehead then leans forward and picks up another present. “Open this one next.”

Anne takes the gift in trembling hands. This feels like so much. Gwen and Mildred are offering to be her moms. And they are so loving, and this feels so good. But it also feels like giving up her other family. Something about how happy Anne is right now feels like a betrayal. Before it was her parents’ choice to throw her out, but this feels like Anne’s choice. She is choosing Gwen and Mildred, choosing this family.

Anne unwraps the present, finds a polaroid camera. Mildred and Gwen are smiling at her, and Anne wants a whole album of today, wants to remember this day. Wants to remember Mildred and Gwen beaming at her while she opens her presents, wants to remember how it feels to be held in their arms and to smell the pine wafting through the living room, and to be here still trying to figure out who she is but finally somewhere that feels safe to do that. Anne turns and takes a picture of Mildred and Gwen pressed together, love for each other so clear, and with the smiles they give her, Anne thinks she can see how much they love her too.

“Can I take one of the three of you?” Margaret asks, taking the camera from Anne.

Anne sits between Mildred and Gwen, smiling for the camera, hating pictures only slightly less than normal. Margaret takes a picture, puts it aside, then takes another. “An extra one for me,” Margaret says. “This is going above my fireplace. I have just the frame for it.”

Anne looks at Margaret, at her proud smile, as though Anne really is her granddaughter. Anne picks up the photograph, stares at her own smile with awe. She breathes and relaxes, focuses her attention on watching Kathy take her turn at opening a present.

 


 

Anne had needed a moment with her thoughts after everyone finished opening presents so she had stepped into the backyard. Anne is lying on the grass staring up at the cloudy sky when Mildred and Gwen come outside, Mildred asking, “Can we join you?” and waiting for Anne to agree before they are sitting down near her.

“I’m sorry,” Anne tells them, “I just needed a minute. Today has been overwhelming. But in such a good way. I’ve never felt accepted or loved just for myself before. I thought I was when I was little, but I was wrong.”

Anne listens to Mildred’s voice, “You deserve to always have that. Being loved for yourself, exactly as you are, is the most wonderful thing I think anyone can feel. Feeling that changed my whole life. It changed me. Before Gwen I was so alone and afraid of loving anyone or being open with anyone. And Gwen made me feel safe to be myself and know I was loved. It changed me to have that.”

Anne sits up to find Mildred wrapped in Gwen’s arms, Gwen caressing Mildred’s arms so softly as Mildred speaks, pressing little kisses to Mildred’s neck. There is so much love between them, and Anne can see the acceptance that Gwen has, the support she gives Mildred.

“I think all love is meant to be that way,” Mildred continues with a warm smile at Anne. “You deserve that kind of love. From the person you fall in love with, and from your family. I never want you to have anything less than that. Gwen and I love you so much honey, and we just want you to feel safe here and know that we will always accept and love you.”

“I do feel loved in that way with you both. I know this is stupid, but it feels like I’m abandoning my family because I want to be here so much. I am so happy here, and I love you both. I feel better and safer than I have in years, but I still feel like I’m betraying them.”

“Oh Anne,” Gwen says, “Come here.” Mildred and Gwen shift, make room for Anne to sit between them. This is everything Anne craves, wants to be held, and cuddled, and loved like she was when she was little, wants to believe that this time, the love will really be unconditional.

“You are not doing anything wrong,” Gwen says as she and Mildred both wrap their arms around Anne. “You deserve for your parents to love you as you are. You don’t have to choose between us and them. Think of us as an extra set of parents. If your mom and dad come around one day and accept you for who you are then I think you get to decide if you can forgive them. But how they treated you is not love. Asking you to change who you are to be loved is not ok. You deserve to be loved for exactly who you are. I’m just so sorry that your parents didn’t give you that.”

Anne leans her head on Gwen’s shoulder, her throat starting to burn as she holds back a sob.

“It isn’t your fault,” Mildred says, presses a kiss to Anne’s head, holds her so tightly, makes Anne feel so safe. “Gwen is right. This isn’t a choice between us and your parents. We love you, and we will keep loving you, regardless of what your relationship with your parents is. Gwen and I will always be here.”

Gwen smiles at Anne who is nuzzling against her chest, seeking out her warmth. “We will just keep being your lesbian mamas if you don’t mind.”

Anne laughs, so caught off guard. She’s half laughing and half crying, but her heart feels light, and she feels like laughing and embracing the easy, unconditional love she is being offered. Anne chuckles a bit more, and thinks she can have this relationship, this family, without any drama, can just let this be the place where she feels safe. Maybe her family will change their mind and decide they still love her, but the way Gwen and Mildred are holding Anne right now, she can feel how much they love her.

“I don’t mind,” Anne says.

“Good,” Gwen tells her, “Because we already adore you, and we never, ever want to stop being part of your life.”

“Please don’t,” Anne says, her voice breaking.

Mildred kisses Anne’s head again, then rests her cheek on Anne’s head before murmuring, “Anne, sweetheart, we are not going anywhere. I promise. I know it hurts to be treated how you were, and I know from experience that it made me scared of any love. But I promise that we will love you no matter what. If that’s hard to believe right now, then I promise that Gwen and I will keep being here every day and telling you just how much we love you.

Anne can’t say anything, her throat too tight, but she nods against Gwen’s chest. Mildred and Gwen are rubbing Anne’s back, holding her in their arms, and she breathes it in, the feeling of this love.

“I feel better,” Anne says after a few moments, sitting up and looking at Mildred and Gwen. “Thank you. And thank you for all my presents.”

“You do not need to thank us for any of it, sweetheart,” Gwen tells her. “We love you, and we are so happy to have you in our lives.”

“Me too,” Anne says. “Can we just sit out here for a few more minutes?”

“As long as you want,” Mildred tells her. “Anything you want, you just ask.”

“Another hug?” Anne ventures, and before she can apologize for behaving like a child, Mildred and Gwen have their arms around Anne and everything feels right.

 

Chapter Text

Gwen and Mildred are on the couch together when Anne comes downstairs. Gwen is sitting at the corner, pressed against the sofa arm, reading the morning paper. Mildred’s head is resting in Gwen’s lap, her eyes closed, a blanket covering her body, Gwen’s hand running up and down Mildred’s arm. Anne thought Mildred might be sleeping, but then Anne sees Mildred smile and turn her head to press a kiss to Gwen’s leg. Gwen smiles at that, and Anne watches for a moment longer, finds herself once again feeling so warmed at the sight of how loving and gentle Mildred and Gwen are with each other.

“Hi,” Anne says, feels a little shy about walking in when Mildred and Gwen are cuddling like this.

“Good morning,” they both say in unison, each smiling so warmly at Anne. Neither Gwen nor Mildred makes an effort to move, happy to continue to be affectionate with each other despite no longer being alone. Anne reminds herself that Gwen and Mildred give each other love freely, without any shame at the idea of others seeing them. Anne feels her body relax at the thought. Anne didn’t realize how afraid she constantly was, how her body always felt on edge, alert, always hiding some part of herself, terrified that somehow someone would know who she was. Finally for the first time in years Anne thinks, she feels at peace just being herself without hiding.

“Do you want to sit with us?” Mildred asks, getting up to make room for Anne. She realizes she has just been standing, could have sat down in one of the armchairs.

Anne doesn’t respond, feels awkward because she does want to sit with Mildred and Gwen, but is that odd, to want so much to be close to them, to be doted on and treated like a child again? Anne is suddenly so anxious, her mind racing again, chest tight. Gwen’s voice brings Anne back to her surroundings. “Come sit.” Gwen is smiling at Anne, her expression so warm and welcoming. Anne breathes, tries to remind herself how much Gwen and Mildred seem to want to give her love, just as much as she is so desperate to soak it all up.

Mildred pats the couch next to her, cuddles against Gwen’s side to make room for Anne. Anne sits, and Mildred puts the throw blanket over her lap, gives Anne’s shoulder a little rub. “How did you sleep, sweetheart?”

“Well,” Anne replies, and she did. She had tossed and turned for a while, but once she fell asleep, she had slept through the night. This morning felt a little easier, the pressure and expectations of Christmas behind her.

Mildred studies Anne for a moment before asking, “Do you want a hug?”

“You don’t mind?” Anne asks. “I feel silly.”

“Come here,” Mildred says, extending her arm and letting Anne lean against her side. Mildred wraps both her arms around Anne, holds her tightly, and Anne feels safer again.

“There is nothing silly about wanting a hug,” Gwen says, and Anne looks over to see Gwen smiling at her. “We love you, and we want to give you whatever you need to feel loved and happy and safe.”

Mildred’s palm rubs circles on Anne’s back as Anne sits silently, unable to find the words. Anne thinks about her conversation less than a week ago with Mildred on this couch, about how afraid Mildred was to make a mistake with Anne, how obvious it was to Anne that Mildred had never planned to have children and was absolutely terrified. Now only a few days later Mildred’s hugs are no longer tentative, no longer filled with fear. Anne isn’t the only one who was thrown into this new family. Mildred and Gwen never expected to raise a teenager. But all they’ve done is show her love. The realization that they’re all doing this together, that they’re all together in this new sudden relationship, comforts Anne. If Mildred can be brave and trust herself to take care of a child she never expected, then Anne can be brave enough to talk to the women who have promised to be mothers to her.

“I feel lonely sometimes. When I’m lying in bed or when I think about my family, I feel alone. Even though I know I’m not alone, and that I have you. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about, but when you hug me, I don’t feel alone anymore.”

Anne feels the couch shift then, and Gwen is getting up and coming to sit next to Anne. She throws her arms around Anne, reaching around to extend the hug to Mildred, cocooning them both in her arms. “You are not alone,” Gwen says, “and if hugs help you know that, then hugs you shall have.” Gwen is squeezing Anne tightly, and Anne feels safe between Gwen and Mildred. She doesn’t feel alone when they’re both hugging her like this. Gwen’s hand comes up to stroke Anne’s hair and Mildred is still rubbing her back, and maybe Anne shouldn’t need this to remind her that she is loved here, but it helps so much.

“You will never be alone again,” Mildred promises. Anne closes her eyes and presses her face into Mildred’s shoulder. She focuses on the feeling of Mildred and Gwen’s arms both wrapped around her, Gwen’s fingers running through her hair, Mildred pressing a soft kiss to the top of Anne’s head.

After a few moments Gwen asks, “Is there anything special you want to do today Anne?”

“What did you have planned?” Anne asks. It doesn’t matter much to her what they do, and if there are already plans, she doesn’t want Mildred and Gwen to feel obligated to change them to please her.

“Nothing much,” Gwen says, sitting back a little, her fingers continuing to run through Anne’s hair. Anne shifts, looks up, stops hiding her face against Mildred’s neck though she makes no attempt to leave the comfort of this hug. “I think Trevor is going to come over again, but we can do whatever you want. Did you have something in mind that sounds fun?”

“Could we go to the beach?” Anne asks, then she feels nervous. “Only if you want to.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Gwen tells Anne easily. “We could play beach volleyball or soccer three on three.”

“I love volleyball!” Anne says.

“Volleyball it is,” Gwen says, “what other sports do you like?”

“I love swimming,” Anne says, “Everything feels more peaceful in the ocean. It calms down my brain when I’m worrying.”

“Then a beach trip is most definitely in order for today,” Gwen declares.

“That sounds lovely,” Mildred agrees. “We will get ready whenever you want, Anne. We can keep cuddling as long as you like.”

“Ok,” Anne says, smiling, and relaxing into Mildred and Gwen’s hug. She will give herself a few more minutes to soak in this feeling.

 


 

Anne turns out to be very good at volleyball, had failed to mention that she’s on the school team until halfway through the game when Trevor had accused Mildred and Gwen of cheating by having Anne on their team.

Anne dives for a ball, barely missing and landing in the sand. “Are you alright?” Mildred asks, rushing to her side.

“I’m ok!” Anne says, wiping herself off and hopping back up.

“Your knee is bleeding,” Mildred tells Anne, “Let me clean it for you.”

“After the game. Come on! We’re winning!”

“I’m sorry,” Mildred says, voice still warm but also firm and leaving no room for questioning. “We need to clean this now, so it doesn’t get infected.”

Anne gives in easily, and Gwen thinks Anne must see that Mildred will not be taking no for an answer. “Don’t worry,” Gwen says, “we’ll still be winning after you’re all bandaged up.”

Mildred leads Anne back to their beach blanket, Gwen following behind them and watching Mildred unload a first aid kit and a bottle of water from her bag. The first time Gwen watched Mildred remove a full first aid kit, snacks, and water from her bag, Gwen teased her. Mildred had gone quiet, explained that she started doing this when she was young, needed to be prepared in case she or Edmund were hurt and had to sleep somewhere besides their foster home that night for their safety.

Gwen had felt awful, had apologized profusely for not thinking of all that Mildred had needed to do to survive. Mildred waved it off, insisted she didn’t need an apology, and that had hurt more, because of course Mildred never expected anyone to apologize for hurting her. Gwen would be different, she promised herself. She had kissed Mildred then, repeated her apology, and swore to Mildred she would do better, that Mildred should expect an apology if Gwen hurt her. Mildred had insisted it didn’t matter, but her eyes had grown wet, and she had rested her head on Gwen’s shoulder and seemed so touched by this small promise that Gwen desperately wished Mildred had always taken for granted.

The first aid kit had grown when Gwen was sick, first with mints and lemons, both of which Gwen found helped with her nausea. Then when Gwen developed nerve pain from the chemotherapy, various remedies smelling of mint and eucalyptus had been stashed in Mildred’s purse, just in case Mildred needed to rub Gwen’s feet with a balm during her treatment or while they sat together on the beach. Gwen stopped feeling sad at the reminder of Mildred’s traumatic childhood when she saw Mildred pull yet another surprise out of her purse. Instead, Gwen felt nurtured, cared for, loved. Even if this habit was borne from neglect and pain, Gwen saw no traces of this past hurt in Mildred when she pulled out a minty concoction and tenderly rubbed Gwen’s hands to try to ease the electric shock like pain.

Aspirin and extra bandages appeared after Gwen’s surgery, little flowers too. Mildred would tuck the flowers behind Gwen’s ear, and it made Gwen feel beautiful at a time when she was so uncomfortable with her body. Gwen picked flowers for Mildred too, beautiful tropical flowers she tucked into red locks. Or she would hand Mildred guavas or mangoes picked from a tree. Mildred always squirreled the extras away into her bag. Eventually Gwen stopped letting Mildred’s habit of always keeping extra food be a reminder of the fact that as a child Mildred was forced to care for herself and her brother without anyone’s help. Somewhere along the line, Mildred’s preparedness transformed purely into an expression of her love for Gwen, her desire to constantly provide for Gwen’s needs. And Gwen started to fill Mildred’s bag with little gifts and reminders of her own love. A box of chocolates tucked into the side pouch of Mildred’s bag. An extra pair of socks on a rainy day. A love letter hidden between the band aids and antiseptic wipes in Mildred’s first aid kit.

Mildred pulls one such note out now, hidden away behind the suture kit. Gwen can’t recall exactly when she left it there, months ago now. But they’ve both been healthy, not in need of anything being sutured or bandaged. Gwen watches Mildred smile as she unfolds the little note, her thumb caressing Gwen’s words before Mildred tucks the note into her the pocket of her bag, where Gwen knows Mildred has all Gwen’s love notes stored. Gwen likes to think Mildred sneaks a glance at them on hard days, little reminders of Gwen’s love during a difficult work shift when Gwen isn’t beside her.

“This might hurt,” Mildred says, taking out a container of sterile water. Gwen smiles to herself, her always prepared love is so gentle and warm with Anne. “Do you want to squeeze Gwen’s hand while I wash out your cut? I need to make sure I get all the sand out.”

Gwen puts out her hand for Anne to take, which Anne does, despite adding, “I’ll be fine. The sooner you get me bandaged the sooner we can go back to winning the game.”

Gwen laughs at that, “I didn’t know you were so competitive. That is going to come in handy for law school when you have to show a bunch of arrogant men who’s really the smartest person in the room.”

“I’m used to that,” Anne says. “I’m the top of my class in English, history, and science. All the boys keep complaining I must be cheating. It isn’t my fault that I’m smarter than them.” Gwen adores finally seeing this side of Anne come out, these pieces of her personality that she hasn’t shared yet because everything has been so serious and heavy since Anne came to stay with them. “I’m number two at math,” Anne adds, “but that’s because Alan, one of the boys in my class, is a math genius. He’s pretty nice, so I don’t mind too much.”

“Ready Anne?” Mildred asks. “I’m going to irrigate the wound.”

“Ready,” Anne replies.

Anne winces as Mildred starts washing out Anne’s knee. “Squeeze my hand, sweetheart,” Gwen says.

“You’re doing great, Anne,” Mildred says a few minutes later, “I think I have all the sand out of your knee. I’m going to put some antibacterial ointment on and then get you bandaged up.”

Gwen watches Mildred, the care she puts into every touch. “All set,” Mildred says, securing the bandage with tape, “You were very brave.” Gwen’s heart warms at that, at Mildred who has seen so much, cared for people after amputations and burns and gunshots, tending to Anne’s scrapped knee as though it were the most important nursing task she’s ever been given.

“Thanks Mildred!” Anne says, “Can we go back to the game?”

“Are you sure you want to?” Mildred asks, putting her supplies away. “I think it might hurt to keep running. You really skinned your knee badly.”

“I can ice it when we get home,” Anne says. Home. Gwen thinks her chest might burst with joy. Anne just called their house home.

“I can see there is no stopping you,” Mildred says. “Go on.”

Anne runs back to the where the net is set up, is greeted with enthusiastic cheers from Gwen’s mom, sister, and Trevor. Gwen glances around, makes sure no one else is in sight, and leans in for a quick kiss. “I love you, Mildred Ratched.”

Mildred smiles widely, “I love you too. Forever.”

“And ever and ever!” Gwen adds, grinning at her love, sneaking another quick peck before taking Mildred by the hand and leading her back to where their family is waiting.

 

Chapter Text

Gwen is washing dishes in the kitchen when she spots Anne in the backyard sitting on the bench swing. She looks sad, Gwen thinks, thinks Anne has seemed upset and quiet all day.

 

Gwen dries her hands and steps out to the backyard. “Hi Anne.” Gwen sits down beside Anne. “I wondered where you went.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Anne says, and Gwen hates that Anne feels she needs to apologize, still seems to be trying so hard to be perfect. It brings Gwen back to the early days with Mildred, when she had also seemed so afraid that if she did anything wrong that Gwen would stop loving her. It hurt then and it hurts now. But Gwen is patient. Anne is still so new to them, and Gwen knows this will take time.

 

“You don’t need to apologize,” Gwen says, “I just wanted to see if you’re alright. I can go back inside if you need some alone time.”

 

“No,” Anne says quickly. “Please stay.”

 

Gwen smiles warmly at Anne, happy that Anne wants her here when she’s upset.

 

“I don’t want to go back to school,” Anne says a moment later, “I’ve gotten used to not feeling like I have to hide here, and I hate the thought of having to hide again. How can I be friends with someone and lie to them about myself? It shouldn’t feel different, because I realized I was gay a while ago and I have been hiding it from everyone. But I think it felt different before because I used to be ashamed.”

 

Gwen’s heart feels so full at that. She and Mildred have made Anne realize she doesn’t need to feel ashamed of her sexuality. Gwen is so happy they could do that for Anne.

 

“I felt ashamed of what I was feeling, and I didn’t want anyone to know.” Anne looks at Gwen with wide eyes. “I don’t feel that way anymore.” Gwen smiles at that. “And now I hate thinking about how my friends would probably stop being friends with me if they knew. I don’t want to be friends with someone who can’t accept me, but I won’t know, because I have to pretend.”

 

“Oh Anne, it’s so hard to tell you what to do. Because I am afraid that if someone found out that you were living with Mildred and me and why that they might try to take you away. I want to tell you that it’s ok to be yourself everywhere, and I wish so much the world could be like that for you.”

 

“No, I know. I won’t let anyone know. I’ll call you my aunts if anyone asks, but I just hate it so much. I haven’t had to say it yet and already I hate it.”

 

“I know,” Gwen says, “It breaks my heart every time I have to refer to Mildred as a friend. And I hate that I can’t tell people you’re our daughter.” Gwen holds her breath, hopes she hasn’t overstepped.

 

“Could you?” Anne asks, her voice tentative, “I mean with the people who know about you and Mildred. Can you introduce me as your daughter? I really want to be.”

 

“To us you already are,” Gwen reassures Anne. “And if it’s alright with you, we will be so happy to brag to everyone about our wonderful daughter.”

 

Anne looks at Gwen with wet eyes. “I would like that very much.”

 

“We can help you figure out who might be safe to tell. I don’t want you to feel that you have to be alone or that no one will understand. Because that isn’t true. I’m just afraid of what could happen if you ended up in the foster care system.”

 

“I know.”

 

“I don’t want you to be afraid,” Gwen says, her heart aching at the thought she is telling this young woman who she loves that she has to be scared of the world. “I wish desperately that it were safe for you to live openly. But there are spaces where you don’t not to hide. We belong to several political groups and social groups where we gather openly to discuss how to advocate for our rights. And just to gather with friends. It helps. We can start taking you with us.”

 

Anne looks a little sad, lays her head on Gwen’s shoulder. Gwen wraps her arm around Anne’s shoulder. “I have three very close friends at school,” Anne says, “and I don’t know what to say to them. Since I saw them last, I was kicked out of my house, and I found this amazing new family. I want to talk to them about it, because they’re my best friends.”

 

Before Gwen has a chance to respond Anne sits up and looks at Gwen with wide eyes and says, “I think one of them is the son of the psychiatrist where Mildred works. I didn’t realize, but they have the same last name. And David’s mom is a psychiatrist. There can’t be that many women who are psychiatrists, right?”

 

“Would you like Mildred to talk with her colleague? Because it sounded like she didn’t think there was anything wrong with homosexuality, and I imagine that means that she’s taught her son that as well. Maybe that means he could be someone you could tell and be open with.”

 

“I don’t know why I’m so scared. You’re right.” Anne lays her head back down on Gwen’s shoulder. “Do you think Mildred would talk to Dr. Rubin? It would be nice to have one friend at school who knows the truth.”

 

Gwen hopes the connection is true, hopes that Anne can have a friend who she can talk to honestly about everything she’s going through. “I’m certain Mildred would be happy to. We want you to have a whole community of people who love you, and we will try our hardest to help you build that.”

 

“Its so easy being here,” Anne says, “I think I got spoiled and forgot what the rest of the world is like. I just want to keep hiding a little longer.”

 

“We’ll make the most of the next three days before you have to go back to school. I know the world can feel unkind and frightening, but at the end of the day you have a home that is safe to come back to where you never have to hide anything. I hope that helps you as much as it helps me. We’re all fighting for the world to change, and for right now, you tell us what makes you feel safe, and we will give it to you.”

 

 


 

 

“You’re awfully quiet my love,” Gwen tells Mildred while they soak in the tub together, bubbles surrounding them, Mildred’s back pressed to Gwen’s chest. Gwen runs her fingers through Mildred’s hair, coaxing her to turn in Gwen’s arms so they can look at each other. “Are you alright?”

 

“Anne really asked us to introduce her as our daughter?”

 

“She did,” Gwen says, and she cannot keep the smile from her face at the memory. She has a family. A woman she loves. A daughter. A mother and sister and friends who surround them with love and support. All these things that Gwen never believed that she could have. She strokes Mildred’s cheek. Her love who has stood by her, who she is going to raise a child with.

 

“I don’t know what I was expecting when I suggested that Anne could stay with us,” Mildred says, “I just couldn't let something bad happen to her, and I knew you would love her, because your heart is so open, and you are so loving. I didn’t ever expect to feel like her mother.” Gwen waits, watches Mildred swallow and gather her thoughts, “I never wanted children, I thought about it of course, everyone asks a woman if they want children. Whenever I tried to picture what it would be like, I had horrible thoughts of how I would hurt my child.” Gwen listens, stops herself from protesting, understands why Mildred has these fears, even if Gwen knows Mildred would never hurt a child. “I love Anne. I’m so happy she’s part of our family. Two weeks ago, we never imagined we would have a child, and now we have a daughter.” Mildred’s voice breaks, and Gwen understands, can hardly believe this herself. “I want to keep her safe and love her and give her everything I possibly can to make her life better. I think I love her in the way a mother should.”

 

“Oh, my love,” Gwen says, feels overjoyed that Mildred sees herself as loving Anne well, “You are the most beautiful mother.”

 

“I’m happy Gwen. I didn’t think I wanted this or could possibly love Anne, but I do. I love her so much, and I love you so much Gwendolyn.”

 

“I love you,” Gwen replies. There aren’t words for this feeling really, for feeling her love for Mildred grow year after year, for what it feels like to love someone so deeply and build a home and a family together. “You have made me the happiest woman in the world.”

 

Mildred is shaking her head, saying, “You make me feel safe to mother Anne. I can’t even explain how impossible I thought that was. I look at her now, and I just want to take care of her and make every hurt she has better. You both trust me to do that for her.”

 

“Of course, I trust you. I understand why you’re afraid, but you are so full of love, and you are so incredible with Anne.”

 

“I feel like if you’re with me I can be her mom.”

 

Gwen weaves her fingers with Mildred’s. “I’m always with you. And you are her mom. It’s ok if that still scares you darling. It scares me too to be a parent, you know?” Gwen tugs at Mildred, pulls her close so they are sitting face to face in the tub, Mildred’s legs slung over Gwen’s, wrapping around her back. Gwen wraps her arms around Mildred’s waist, Mildred’s arms wrapping around Gwen too now. This intimacy and closeness, holding Mildred like this, always makes Gwen’s heart feel so full. Sometimes it leads to sex, and sometimes they just hold each other. Gwen loves it all, loves the feeling of Mildred’s skin pressed to hers.

 

“Anne is a good kid,” Mildred says. “She’s so kind and mature. We are lucky to have her.”

 

“We are,” Gwen agrees. “I know we can’t be completely honest with the world about being a family, but we still have this family, and the people in our lives know.” Gwen sighs, heart heavy seeing how upset Trevor was today when Andrew had called to say his father died, but still he didn’t want Trevor to come down to Virginia to be with him. “Poor Trevor.”

 

“I know,” Mildred agrees. “The idea of you hurting and not being able to be with you. I don’t ever want to think about that.”

 

“You don’t have to. My life is yours.”

 

Mildred smiles softly, lays her head on Gwen’s shoulder, presses a kiss to her neck.

 

“My love,” Gwen murmurs. She rubs her hands up and down Mildred’s back. Gwen presses her cheek to Mildred’s head, soaks up the love of this embrace. They stay like that for a long while, and oh how Gwen loves when Mildred cuddles her close.

 

“Could fall asleep like this,” Mildred murmurs, does sound half asleep.

 

Gwen chuckles, “Should we go to bed, darling? I don’t want you to drown.” Gwen holds Mildred tightly, arms pressing her against Gwen’s chest.

 

“You have me,” Mildred says, nuzzling into Gwen’s neck.

 

“Always, sweetness.”

 

“Have you too,” Mildred slurs, “Never let you go.”

 

“Come on. Let’s get you to bed.”

 

Gwen coaxes Mildred to stand, takes in the sight of her body, her smile, dark eyes, tired, but looking back at Gwen with so much love. Gwen smiles at Mildred, watches Mildred’s eyes travel the length of Gwen’s body too, Mildred’s cheeks blushing a little when Gwen notices. Gwen wraps her robe around herself, picks up Mildred’s robe, coaxes Mildred’s her hands through the sleeves, presses a soft kiss to Mildred’s neck while she ties the robe at Mildred's waist.

 

“Take me to bed,” Mildred says, eyes gleaming, no mistaking her meaning.

 

“I thought you were tired." Gwen's smile grows as Mildred grabs Gwen’s ass and pulls her close.

 

“Not anymore.” Mildred kisses Gwen, one hand grabbing at her backside, the other tangling into her hair. Gwen gets lost in the kiss for a long moment, the feeling of Mildred’s tongue against her own, her fingers kneading Gwen's ass, before Mildred pulls back abruptly. “Come on, my love!” And then Mildred is running towards their bed, shrieking a laugh as her wet feet skid on the bathroom floor.

 

“Careful!” Gwen chides.

 

Mildred leaps into their bed, her laughter ringing out through the room.  Gwen follows behind, so in love with this woman, so overjoyed to see Mildred carefree and happy. Gwen jumps right next to Mildred, her love giggling as Gwen pins Mildred against the bed and returns to kissing her.

 

 

Chapter Text

Mildred squeals a laugh as Gwen nibbles at her inner thigh. Gwen looks up at Mildred. “You just can’t stop giggling tonight.”

“I can’t help it,” Mildred says, smiling, and laughing a little when Gwen licks her skin. “I just love you.”

Gwen feels her own smile tug at her lips. “I’m trying to seduce you. It’s hard when you keep laughing.”

“I don’t think you have to work too hard to seduce me, darling. I’m already yours.”

Gwen nips at the flesh at the very top of Mildred’s leg. It makes her shudder much to Gwen’s delight.

“My personal Dracula,” Mildred muses, her fingers reaching down to stroke Gwen’s hair.

“Going to eat you up,” Gwen replies, looking up at Mildred with a grin. Mildred is laughing again, throwing her head back and really laughing. “You have a case of the giggles tonight, my love.”

“I don’t know how you think I’m going to stop laughing when you make jokes like that.” Mildred is smiling at Gwen with so much love in her eyes, and Gwen knows how much Mildred enjoys Gwen’s bad jokes, even though she will never admit it. Mildred’s fingers scratch at Gwen’s scalp sending zings of pleasure down to Gwen’s center. She reaches between her legs, lightly rubbing at her clit to relieve some of the ache. That stops Mildred’s laughter as she fixes Gwen with an expression halfway between exasperation and desperate wanting. “Now you’re touching yourself, and the closest your mouth has gotten to where I want you is biting my leg.”

“Is someone feeling a little needy?” Gwen asks. Before Mildred can reply, Gwen sucks hard at her clit. Gwen hears Mildred shriek before she stops herself, pressing her face into her pillow to muffle the sound. Gwen replaces her mouth with her finger, rubbing circles against Mildred’s clit. She looks up at Mildred, who is now looking down at Gwen, biting her lip to keep from moaning loudly. “Good girl,” Gwen coos. She leans down again, her tongue returning to Mildred’s clit. A few more licks and she slides a finger into Mildred easily, hears Mildred’s sharp intake of breath. Gwen smiles, thinks of Mildred trying so hard to keep from making a sound, feels herself getting wetter.

Gwen moves her hand between her legs again, rubbing at her clit. Gwen hears Mildred’s voice, firm and confident. “Don’t you dare make yourself come.” The sound of Mildred’s command makes Gwen more desperate, but she takes a breath, moves her hand up to Mildred’s breast.

“Yes, ma’am,” Gwen breathes against Mildred’s clit.

Mildred laughs, and Gwen looks up at her, raising an eyebrow at Mildred and her inability to stop laughing tonight. “I just love you,” Mildred says fondly. “Please make me come.”

Gwen keeps her hand between Mildred’s thighs, her thumb rubbing at her clit, two fingers rocking inside her. Gwen moves up to kiss Mildred’s mouth, feels Mildred smiling against her, her arms wrapping around Gwen’s back, kissing her softly for a few moments, lazy, sloppy kisses, as Gwen moves her fingers inside Mildred and thrusts against Mildred’s thigh, surprised Mildred is still allowing her to satisfy herself this way.

After a few minutes, Mildred reaches her hands lower, grabs Gwen’s ass and pulls Gwen’s body against hers, her firm grasp rocking Gwen back and forth against Mildred. Gwen uses her body’s weight to drive her fingers into Mildred with every thrust of their hips together.

They find a rhythm and before too long Gwen’s body is on edge, so, so close as she keeps thrusting against Mildred. “May I come, my love?” Gwen asks, half teasing her bossy darling, half loving the thrill of pleasure she gets at Mildred taking control.

“So good asking permission,” Mildred says, “You can come.”

Gwen groans, picks up her pace, thrusting against Mildred faster and faster, the pressure and need inside her mounting. She keeps going, Mildred yelping and gasping as Gwen’s fingers keep working at her. Gwen thrusts hard against Mildred, again, again, and then she is coming, rubbing against Mildred to drag out her pleasure, Mildred’s fingers digging into Gwen’s backside, certainly leaving marks. Gwen smiles thinking of the little marks Mildred loves to leave on her skin.

When the pleasure of rocking against Mildred becomes too intense, Gwen ducks back down between Mildred’s legs, her mouth surrounding Mildred’s clit and sucking hard. Mildred gasps, her fist going to her mouth, biting her own hand to keep quiet. Gwen keeps up the motion, sucking hard, fingers pressing into Mildred. She feels Mildred grow tighter and tighter, sucks hard, adding her tongue moving back and forth quickly. And then Mildred is fluttering around her, panting, tiny little gasps of air, sounds Gwen can never get enough of. When Mildred moves away from the stimulation, Gwen gives her one final lick, causing Mildred to inhale a sharp breath, before Gwen climbs up next to Mildred and kisses her.

Gwen is reveling in the soft kisses, the taste of Mildred, when Mildred’s fingers find their way between Gwen’s legs. Mildred knows that Gwen needs to come again, always aches terribly after her first orgasm, never satisfied until she comes a second time. It never takes long, Mildred knows Gwen’s body perfectly now, knows exactly what Gwen needs to come again, the firm pressure inside her coupled with her thumb drawing circles around Gwen’s clit. So good. She tries to keep kissing Mildred, losing focus and resting her forehead against Mildred’s, panting against her mouth as Mildred’s fingers bring her to another climax. It’s good but she still aches, needs more, rocks her hips against Mildred’s hand. Mildred understands, picks up her pace again, rubbing furiously against Gwen’s clit. Gwen barely comes down from her last peak before her walls are contracting again, another wave of pleasure washing over her, and finally Gwen’s body feels spent.

Gwen rolls onto her back. “Thank you, my love,” Gwen says, pulling Mildred into her arms. “Do you want a round two?”

Mildred gives Gwen a tired little smile, shakes her head. “I’m very satisfied.” She kisses Gwen again, nuzzling their noses together. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too,” Gwen tells Mildred, pulls Mildred so that she is lying half on top of Gwen. Mildred yawns and lays her head on Gwen’s chest. “Sleepy, love?”

“Mmm,” Mildred moans in reply, pressing a kiss to the bare skin of Gwen’s breast. “Sleepy. Happy.”

“Oh Mildred, you make me so happy.”

Gwen feels Mildred smile against her chest. Not a minute later and Mildred’s breaths are even and deep. Gwen strokes the back of Mildred’s head softly. “I love you,” Gwen whispers before closing her eyes and letting herself doze off to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

“Good morning darling,” Gwen’s voice pulls Mildred from sleep. Mildred moans, blinks her eyes open to see Gwen smiling at her. “I’m sorry for waking you.”

Mildred smiles back at Gwen, can never be upset about being pulled from sleep when she gets to wake to Gwen. “What time is it?”

“Nine-thirty. I was letting you sleep, but we have brunch guests coming soon.”

“I can’t believe I slept so late,” Mildred says, yawning.

Gwen’s fingers are caressing the skin at the nape of Mildred’s neck, making Mildred hum contentedly. Gwen smiles, asks, “What happened to the woman I met who insisted she could never sleep once the sun rose?”

“I fell in love with a woman who tires me out at night and cuddles me in the morning.” Mildred smiles up at Gwen. Mildred never used to stay in bed once she woke in the morning, plagued by unwanted thoughts and half remembered dreams, desperate to leave the bed and busy herself to calm her thoughts. Now she stays in bed, lets the feeling of Gwen’s embrace soothe her and chase away her anxieties, lets herself doze back off to sleep in the safety of Gwen’s arms. “You keep the nightmares away,” Mildred says, needs Gwen to know, to understand how much it means to her all the times Gwen has stayed awake with her all night, has held her trembling body after horrible dreams.

“My love,” Gwen sighs, her fingers tucking Mildred’s hair behind her ear before her palm comes to rest on Mildred’s cheek.

Mildred turns her face to press a kiss to Gwen’s palm, tells her, “Thank you for letting me sleep.”  Mildred reluctantly sits up, wishes they had time for a lazy morning in bed together. Gwen is staring at Mildred’s naked chest, and Mildred smiles at her, runs her fingers along Gwen’s jaw. “We don’t have time now.”

“I’m just appreciating how beautiful you are, darling.”

“Not as beautiful as you.”

Mildred stands from the bed, thinks about putting her robe on, but decides against it, enjoying the way Gwen is watching her too much.

Mildred is brushing her teeth when she sees Gwen behind her in the mirror, a soft smile and loving blue eyes meeting Mildred’s gaze in the mirror. Gwen wraps her arms around Mildred’s waist, her lips against Mildred’s cheek, a kiss to her ear, her neck, her collar bone, as Mildred brushes her teeth. Mildred uses her free hand to caress the soft skin of the arm Gwen has wrapped tightly around Mildred. The feeling of Gwen is still – always – intoxicating.

Mildred rinses her mouth, turns in Gwen’s arms. “Minty fresh. I can kiss you now.” Mildred presses her mouth to Gwen’s, hands going to Gwen’s waist. Gwen is bare in front of her, and Mildred loves that Gwen has stopped covering her breasts. Mildred thinks Gwen finally feels as beautiful as she is again. It’s been a long road for Gwen to get here, and still there are days when her confidence is shaken. But Mildred looks at the woman in her arms and wishes Gwen could see her body through Mildred’s eyes, knows she would never have another doubt if she could. “My beautiful love,” Mildred coos. “It’s a shame we need to get dressed at all today.”

Gwen smiles widely at that. “I’ll make it up to you tonight. We can ring in 1956 with a bang.”  

Mildred gives Gwen’s backside a squeeze, leans in to nip her bottom lip.

Gwen growls at Mildred, pulling Mildred’s body flush against hers and telling her, “Don’t tease, darling, or I will make you beg for hours before I let you come tonight.”

Mildred swallows hard, warmth flushing her body at Gwen’s words. Gwen smiles, eyes alight with mischief. And then Gwen giggles, seems very pleased at the affect that she’s had on Mildred. Gwen leans in to kiss Mildred, smacking her lightly on the backside.

When Gwen pulls out of the kiss, she weaves their fingers together and pulls Mildred along to their dressers so they can get ready for the day. Mildred stops Gwen before she can take her hand back to open her drawers, lifts Gwen’s hand to her lips, presses a kiss to her ring finger. “I gave you this ring eight years ago. 1956,” Mildred muses. “The start of another year with the woman I love.” Mildred rests her free hand on Gwen’s waist, thumb caressing Gwen’s skin.

“Loving you has been the greatest joy and privilege of my life,” Gwen says, face suddenly serious. Mildred knows that Gwen worries sometimes about Mildred’s old fears - that she is too much work, that when Mildred is hurting that it is a chore for Gwen to care for her. But Mildred understands now, Gwen has made sure of it in their years together, understands that Gwen is grateful for every moment they spend together, just as Mildred is. In sickness and in health. For better or for worse. They never had a ceremony, simply exchanged rings in the quiet of Gwen’s childhood bedroom when the threat of losing Gwen to cancer had been so present.

Their years since returning from Mexico have been filled with so much joy and love. The fear of losing Gwen eases with each passing year that she stays healthy. Mildred wonders if Gwen would like a ceremony, a promise of forever, though Mildred thinks it is something they both feel certain of already – forever together, as long as they both shall live – Mildred has never had so much confidence in the truth of any words. Perhaps a ceremony that includes Anne, the promise that they will all be family, that they will forever be her mothers. Mildred wishes they could sign adoption papers, make this feel permanent to Anne. Maybe a ceremony would help Anne feel certain.

“What’s going on in that beautiful head?” Gwen asks, tapping at Mildred’s temple.

Mildred smiles. “Just thinking.” Maybe Margaret and Trevor would help Mildred plan a surprise for Gwen and Anne. A ceremony. A marriage of sorts. A promise to Anne to be her mothers. Mildred will have to think and plan.

Gwen is eyeing her suspiciously. Mildred smiles at her, kisses Gwen softly. “Good thoughts,” Mildred says. “About you.” Gwen huffs, eyebrow raised in disbelief. “I love you very much, Gwendolyn.” Mildred kisses Gwen again, knows this always works as a distraction, especially when they’re still naked.

Today proves no exception, and before long, Gwen is holding Mildred in her arms, telling her, “I love you, my sweet darling. But you need to put on clothes, or we will never leave this room.”

Mildred chuckles, presses a kiss to Gwen’s shoulder as she passes on the way to her closet, thoughts of giving Gwen a perfect wedding still buzzing in her brain as she goes to pick out a dress.

 


 

Gwen and Mildred enter the kitchen to find Margaret and Anne preparing breakfast. Anne looks relaxed, grabbing ingredients from the cabinet like she lives here. She does of course, but Anne has still been tentative, has asked before taking anything from the kitchen. Gwen can hear their conversation as she enters the room above the sounds of whisking batter and eggs being cracked into a large bowl, can hear that her mom is telling Anne stories from when Gwen was a child.

Gwen wonders if her mother would consider moving to California. She has friends on the East Coast, Kathy has friends there, a job at the corner shop that she loves. But as Gwen watches her mom and Anne cooking together, she can’t help but long for her mother to be closer, to be able to be a grandmother to Anne. She’ll be Anne’s grandmother regardless of where she lives of course, but this, watching her mom with a girl Gwen has come to think of as her child, this is something that Gwen never knew she wanted until now. Gwen and her mom have grown closer these last years since Gwen came out to Margaret, and Gwen feels like though it might be later than expected, she is giving her mom the family she always dreamed of.

Gwen and Mildred walk to Anne, surrounding her on either side, each wrapping and arm around her. Gwen listens to Mildred’s voice, “Good morning, sweetheart. How did you sleep last night?”

Gwen kisses Anne’s hair, watches Mildred, see the love in her eyes, her obvious comfort with Anne.

“Ok,” Anne says, “Except I woke up at four and couldn’t go back to sleep because I was worried about Dave’s reaction.”

“I wish you had woken us,” Mildred says as Gwen presses Anne to her side. “Any time – day or night. If you need us Anne, we always want you to let us know.”

“I was ok,” Anne insists. “I didn’t want to wake you. And Margaret was up early, so when I heard her in the kitchen, I came down here.”

“Still,” Gwen says. “Mildred is right. If you’re upset, we want to be with you.”

Anne nods, rests her head on Gwen’s shoulder. Mildred smiles fondly at Anne, rubs her back, tells her, “I think everything is going to go well today. Dr. Rubin and I had a good conversation last night.”

“Have you talked to her again after she told him?”

“No, she did tell me she would call if she had any concerns. But I’m happy to call her again now if it would make you feel better.”   

“No, it’s ok,” Anne decides. “They’ll be here soon.” Anne is shifting from foot to foot nervously, ringing her hands together. “I’ll finish helping get breakfast ready, and by the time we’re done they should be here.”

Gwen squeezes Anne’s shoulders, kisses her hair. “It can be terrifying telling people. You are so brave. Truly Anne, I am amazed by what a brave young woman you are.”

 Mildred gives Anne’s hand a squeeze. “Why don’t I give Dr. Rubin a call? There is no need for you to worry for another hour.”

“Thank you,” Anne says.

“Of course.”

Mildred walks out of the room and Gwen pulls Anne against her side, keeps her arm around the girl, her hand stroking up and down her arm. “I have you Anne,” Gwen promises, feels Anne shaking slightly as she leans against Gwen. “It’s ok to be scared.” Gwen remembers how terrified she had been telling her mom. Gwen holds her breath right along with Anne, wanting so desperately for this to go well for Anne, for her to see one person in her life not reject her for being gay.

Gwen breathes a sign of relief when Mildred walks back into the room smiling. “I’m supposed to pass along a message from David. You are still his best friend, and you punched a nazi for him so he will be happy to punch anyone you need him to. I did not get any context on that.”

Gwen feels Anne sag against her in relief, her body trembling. “It’s ok, sweetheart,” Gwen soothes.

Anne heaves a sigh. “I’m sorry. I’m just relieved.”

“Of course,” Gwen says. “Now what is this about punching a nazi?”

“He deserved to be punched. This anti-Semitic asshole was giving David a hard time, so I hit him.”

Gwen laughs, “Oh, you truly are Mildred’s daughter.”

“You absolutely are,” Mildred agrees, beaming at Anne, “And I could not be prouder.”

Mildred wraps her arm around Anne’s shoulders, kissing the top of Anne’s head and giving her a squeeze. Anne beams, looks so relieved and so happy to be in Gwen and Mildred’s arms. And Mildred, her darling Mildred seems relaxed and at peace here with their child. Gwen has never loved them both more.

 


 

“Is it ok if David and I take Charlie for a walk?” Anne asks.

“Of course,” Gwen says, “Just make sure it’s ok with David’s mom.”

“Thanks Gwen,” Anne says, practically skipping off to get Charlie’s leash. Already she seems lighter.  

When Gwen walks back into the living room, she sees Mildred and Deborah Rubin talking. Mildred spots her and beckons her over, reaching out her arm. Gwen goes to Mildred, who wraps her arm around Gwen, pulling her close. Mildred is holding Gwen while talking to her boss. Holding Gwen like they are any other couple. They have friends who they can be open like this with, but Gwen is so used to the fear of being fired if someone finds out her sexual orientation at work. And to see Mildred so unreservedly affectionate in front of her boss makes Gwen’s chest feel so full.

“Mildred was just telling me that Anne is going to stay with you. I’m so happy,” Deborah says. “I didn’t put together that she and David knew each other until Mildred called yesterday. Anne’s parents never let her come over to our house. They didn’t want her to have friends who were boys, and Anne never said this explicitly, but I think they also wouldn’t have been thrilled about her having a Jewish friend or a friend whose mother had him out of wedlock. As a result, I never met Anne before that day at Lucia. But David adores her. She is one of his closest friends. She sounds like a good kid, and I am so happy that she found you two. I would have offered that she could stay with me if I knew the connection. But it seems like she found a perfect home here.”

“We want this to be Anne’s home forever,” Gwen says, giving Mildred’s waist a squeeze. “We can’t legally adopt her of course, but we love her like a daughter. We just want her to feel safe and comfortable with us.”

“Anne is lucky to have you both. She seems like a different person than the girl I met two weeks ago.”

“We’re the lucky ones,” Mildred says. “Anne is a wonderful young woman, and we are so happy to have her in our lives. Thank you for talking with David. Anne has been very afraid of losing her friends if they find out she’s gay and knowing she has at least one friend she can be herself with has made her so relieved.”

“I’m trying to raise a good young man. He knows the importance of standing up for people who are persecuted for being who they are. He will look out for her when they’re back at school. Not that Anne seems to need it. David told me that she scared off a lot of bullies for him when we first moved here.”

Gwen smiles at Mildred. “We’re very proud of Anne. She is such a good, kind person, despite her parents’ hateful attitudes. She’s been through too much already, and we’re trying our hardest to give her the support and love she needs.”

Deborah smiles at Gwen, tells her, “I was heartbroken when I met Anne. I just couldn’t believe parents would ever act that way. I know that their rejection is a lot of trauma for Anne to cope with, but certainly having such a loving home and family to help her process it will go a long way to helping her heal.”

Gwen shouldn’t care so much about hearing those words, hearing someone tell her that her home and her love are good enough for a child. She doesn’t need validation from this woman who is practically a stranger. But still the experience of having a straight woman, a doctor, looking at Gwen’s family – the woman she loves, their child, Gwen’s mom and sister, Trevor – this perfect, amazing family that Gwen knows is perfect without anyone else acknowledging it – and telling her that her family is seen for the loving place it is, that still feels good.

Gwen catches Mildred’s eyes then, so much warmth, so much love, and a tinge of pain that makes Gwen understands that Mildred is thinking of how Gwen helped her heal and live this beautiful life even though Mildred’s past carries so much trauma. Gwen adores Mildred, loves her strength, is forever grateful to her for opening herself to Gwen even when it was terrifying. Gwen gives Mildred’s back a little caress, feels Mildred practically melt against her.

“If you ever need anything, I am happy to help in whatever way I can,” Deborah offers. “Kids are hard. Anything you need don’t hesitate to let me know.”

“That is very kind of you,” Mildred says. “I’m going to be back at work on Wednesday, but I might be looking to cut back on my hours just until Anne is settled.”

“Of course,” Deborah says, “We can call it maternity leave. Don’t let Betsy give you a hard time. Take what you need.”

Gwen laughs at that. “I’m pretty sure Mildred will tell Betsy off if she gives her a hard time.”

“Betsy will be fine,” Mildred says, “She’s the one who found me when Anne was dropped off. I probably should thank her, though I doubt she was expecting we would become her mothers. Still, Betsy often helps in mysterious, unintended ways.”

Mothers. Mildred is calling herself and Gwen Anne’s mothers. Every time they say it out loud it begins to feel more real, more permanent.

“I can see you already have a support system right here,” Deborah says, “But if you do need anything, I’m happy to help anyway I can. I’m no expert. I have the one kid, and I’m just trying my best with him. But I raised David alone, and that has been very hard. So, I just want to offer whatever you need, I will help in any way I can.”

“That is very kind of you,” Mildred says.

“I admire you both for what you’re doing for Anne. This world is full of so much cruelty, and it’s wonderful to see good people taking care of a child.”

Gwen’s heart feels so full. “Such an awful thing brought Anne to us, but we love her and we’re so happy to be her family. Mildred and I just feel very lucky to have Anne in our lives.”

“You know,” Mildred says to Deborah, “I didn’t realize it was just you and David. I know you work late at times. If you ever need us to pick him up after school, we would be happy to. I’m sure Anne would love that.”

“Thank you. It’s nice to have friends amongst the parents at the school. Most of the mothers are not too fond of the single mother and her career.”

“Of course, they’re not,” Gwen says, rolling her eyes. “We on the other hand love getting to know interesting women with careers of their own.”

Deborah laughs. “I would love to host you for dinner some time. We could invite Betsy too if we’re feeling brave. I have lots of good wine at home.”

“That sounds lovely.” Gwen says, pleased that the small safe community surrounding her family seems to be growing.

 


 

“Do you feel better?” Gwen asks Anne once David and Deborah have left.

“I do.” Anne says. She sits down on the couch next to Charlie who rests his head on her lap. “As long as I have one friend who knows the truth, school doesn’t feel as scary.”

“If anything happens in school, you can call us right away,” Mildred says. “You just say you need to call your aunt. One of us will pick you up.”

Mildred sits down next to Anne, Gwen coming to sit beside her. Gwen’s warmth beside Mildred is a comfort, always such a comfort. Mildred rests her hand on Gwen’s thigh and Gwen weaves their fingers together.

“It was nice when Dr. Rubin called you both my parents. It’s nice that some people get to know.” Anne glances at Mildred and Gwen a little shyly. “I’m happy you’re my moms.”

“Oh sweetheart,” Gwen says, “So are we.”

“You’ll always be our daughter,” Mildred says, “Forever. When you’re grown, and when we’re old and gray, Gwen and I are still going to be your parents.”

Mildred always feels a tug at her heart when she thinks of herself and Gwen growing old together. Always the fear of losing Gwen lingers. A little voice in the back of her mind that never fully quiets. But only ever a worry of Gwen getting sick. Mildred cannot imagine Gwen leaving her, not for an instant. That fear has been gone from her mind for years. Gwen is hers.

Anne smiles at them. “I know.” Mildred watches Anne’s eyes grow wet, presses her palm to Anne’s back. “You keep telling everyone.”

“Of course, we do,” Gwen tells Anne. “You’re stuck with us now.” Gwen reaches over and squeezes Anne’s hand. “Promise.”

 


 

Margaret’s heart has ached since she was talking with Deborah Rubin. Deborah had mentioned that after meeting Anne at the hospital, she had gone home and told her son that no matter what he ever told her that she would love him. Deborah had been smart enough to say the words out loud to her son – that it doesn’t matter who he loves – that he is still her child. Why had Margaret never told Gwendolyn? Even when she had wondered, Margaret had stayed silent. Gwen grew up knowing she was a lesbian and keeping it a secret from her family because she was scared. Margaret doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to forgive herself.

“Hi Mom,” Gwen says, stepping onto the back porch where Margaret is standing and staring at the overcast sky. “Everything ok out here?”

“Come here,” Margaret calls, and Gwen stands beside her, looks worried.  The words fall from Margaret’s lips, her throat burning, “I’m sorry I never told you that I would love you no matter what. I should have said it. I’m so sorry, Gwenny.”

“No, Mom. You were perfect when I told you about Mildred. I shouldn’t have been afraid for so long.”

“I’m your mother. It’s my job to make you feel safe and loved. I should have told you that I would love you no matter who you fell in love with. I wondered when you didn’t marry for so long, but I didn’t say anything. We lost so much time, and I’ll never stop regretting that.”

Gwen wraps her arms around Margaret, but her sweet girl shouldn’t be comforting her. “I love you Mom,” Gwen says, words whispered into Margaret’s neck. Gwen pulls back to look at Margaret, “I want you to stop feeling guilty. I am grateful you accepted me for who I am and that you love Mildred as a daughter. And now Anne. We’re all so grateful that you treat her like your granddaughter.”

“That is exactly who she is.”

“That means the world to me,” Gwen says, “If you ever wanted to move closer to us, we would love to have Granny around more.”

“I am certain I told you that I will not go by Granny.”

Gwen chuckles. “It’s fun to tease you. Really Mom, I don’t want you to feel guilty about the past. From the moment I told you, you have been perfect.”

Margaret wraps her arm around Gwen’s shoulder. “Oh Gwenny. I am so proud to be your mother. My brave, loving little girl.”

“I’m going to miss you when you go home. It’s been wonderful having you here. I can’t imagine a better way to welcome Anne into this family. Joking aside, if you did decide to move closer, we would be thrilled.”

Margaret smiles at her daughter. “I would love to be closer to you, especially now that I have a granddaughter. I was thinking maybe I could come back in March for Anne’s birthday. I will have to give some thought to moving Kathy and me out here in the meantime.”

“Of course you should come for Anne’s birthday.”

“You and Mildred are doing a great job, honey. Anne is very lucky she found her way to you two.”

“I’m so happy, I feel like my heart could burst. Is this what it felt like when you had Kathy and me?”

Margaret beams at her daughter, never truly cared if Gwen gave her a grandchild, but to see her daughter so happy, to see her settled with a woman she loves and a child, this is everything Margaret could dream of. “Yes. It’s still how I feel.”

Gwen smiles and rests her head on Margaret’s shoulder. Always her little girl.

Chapter Text

Mildred is sitting on the couch in her nightgown and robe watching the Christmas tree lights twinkle. They’ll take the tree down soon now that it’s the new year, but for now Mildred will enjoy the way the warm light illuminates her home. Charlie had asked for a walk while Gwen and Mildred were tidying up after everyone else had gone to bed. Gwen kindly offered to take him out herself since Mildred was exhausted. Mildred is half asleep, trying not to doze off before Gwen returns, when she hears footsteps on the stairs.

Anne smiles at her a little shyly, walking into the living room and asking, “Can I sit with you?”

“Always,” Mildred answers, offers Anne a warm smile.

Anne sits next to Mildred, tucks her legs under her, and curls up against Mildred, head resting on her shoulder. Mildred wraps her arm around Anne, feels the girl relax against her.

A pang of fear stabs at Mildred that Anne trusts her like this. Only Gwen has ever trusted Mildred to see her hurt, to hold her when she’s in pain. Mildred cannot believe that Anne is showing her this kind of trust. She could hurt Anne so easily. Anne is just a child, and she is trusting Mildred to protect her. There are people in the world who could hurt her, would hurt her, the way Mildred had been hurt. Mildred feels nauseous, takes a deep breath, tries to put the thought of Anne being hurt from her mind. Mildred would never let that happen. Anne is here trusting Mildred, and she will die before she lets anyone touch this child.

“Were you angry when you were a kid that other people had parents who loved them, and your mom didn’t take care of you?” Anne asks.

Mildred looks down at Anne, her eyes are closed, and she is nuzzling into Mildred’s shoulder. “Honestly, I wasn’t,” Mildred says, her stomach aching. “I thought I must have done something to deserve the way my mother and foster parents treated me.”

Anne sits up and looks at Mildred with wide eyes. “But you know that’s not true, right?”

“I do now,” Mildred says, and it is true. It took time and years of finally experiencing love with Gwen, but now Mildred feels good and worthy of love. She smiles at her sweet Anne, asks her. “Are you feeling angry?”

Anne nods, says, “It’s just that Gwen and David have such good parents. Margaret loves Gwen so much, and she would never disown her. When my parents found out, I thought they reacted the way everyone would, like everyone would kick their child out. Margaret never stopped loving Gwen, and she treats you like you’re Gwen’s wife. And now I feel so angry at my parents for how they treated me, because I realized there are people who don’t treat their children that way.”

“You know there’s nothing wrong with being angry right? You can be mad at them and still love them and miss them.”

Anne lays her head back on Mildred’s shoulder. “I’m just angry right now. I miss my sister,” Anne says, her voice cracking. “But all I feel when I think about my parents is anger.”

Mildred kisses the top of Anne’s head, tells her, “I’m angry for you. No one should ever treat you how your parents treated you. You are perfect, and I’m so sad and angry that your family hurt you.”

“I’m angry that your family hurt you too,” Anne tells Mildred, looking up, eyes wide and earnest. “And I’m angry your foster families hurt you when it was their job to make sure you were safe.”

Mildred tries not to think too much about her past. It hurts to remember and her present holds so much joy. She still has nightmares and times when memories intrude, but Gwen makes it tolerable, makes her feel loved through it, reminds her that none of what happened to Mildred as a child was her fault.

“It’s not fair,” Anne says, “You’re so kind, and it is just not fair that people hurt you.”

Mildred’s eyes flood with tears. She rarely thinks of herself as kind. Gwen is the only person in the world that Mildred has ever been this freely affectionate with before Anne. Mildred kisses the top of Anne’s head. “My childhood was difficult, but I have the best life now. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.”

“It isn’t fair what you went through.” Anne looks sad, eyes tearing up. She is so young, and yet here she is thinking about Mildred and what she suffered.

“Oh Anne, I wish I could make the world kinder for you,” Mildred says, loves Anne and aches at the thought that she cannot fix this for her.

Anne sniffles against Mildred’s shoulder. “You made my world so much kinder. I could be in a psychiatric hospital or on the streets. You gave me a home instead.”

Mildred’s eyes burn. She can’t change the world, can’t make it safer or more accepting for Anne. But the idea that she changed Anne’s world, that she’s changed Gwen’s, that makes Mildred happier than she can possibly put into words.

“You never need to worry about not having a home. There is nothing you could do that would make Gwen and me stop loving you.” Mildred’s chest feels heavy at the thought of Anne alone on the streets, of Anne in a hospital believing there is something wrong with her. Anne sniffles against Mildred’s chest. “I understand if it takes time to believe that.” Anne’s arms wrap around Mildred’s waist, squeeze her tightly. “We will keep proving it to you every day.”

Mildred thinks of how long it took for her to trust that Gwen would never leave her. It wasn’t that she thought Gwen was lying. She simply expected that one day Gwen would see some ugly dark corner of Mildred and understand the truth that Mildred was not worthy of Gwen’s love. Mildred would never have blamed Gwen for leaving.

Mildred still remembers the day that Gwen told her she would never stop loving her, and Mildred believed her. She remembers laying together naked, covered in sweat, in their bed in Mexico, and finally understanding the truth in those words. Nothing was different that day than the day before. There hadn’t been anything new that Mildred had shared of herself, nothing that had changed really. But Mildred understood in her soul that there was nothing she could ever do that would make Gwen stop loving her. Gwen had told her again and again, had held her through dreams and flashbacks and whispered confessions. That morning when Mildred heard the words, she finally trusted in them completely.

Mildred rubs Anne’s back as Anne curls up more tightly into a ball, pressed against Mildred’s side. Mildred holds Anne, hopes she provides some comfort, at least a place to feel safe to process how terribly hurt she has been, how unfair and unkind the world is. Mildred understands better than most how having a safe place, a safe person, makes it easier to accept the cruelty of the world, to heal from the pain others have inflicted. She runs her hands over Anne’s back, hopes desperately her love is enough to give Anne back some of the trust and happiness that was stolen from her.

 


 

Gwen walks in to see a sight that she thinks will forever warm her heart. Mildred is holding Anne, cradling her to her chest like she’s a small child in need of her mother’s embrace. “Hello, my darlings,” Gwen says, walking over to the couch, her palm landing on Mildred’s back. Mildred smiles at her with so much love.

“Hi Gwen,” Anne says. “I can go up to bed now. You’re probably both tired.”

“Want us to come read you a story?” Gwen asks. “We can stay with you until you fall asleep.”

“No, that’s alright.”

“Are you sure?” Mildred asks, her fingers running through Anne’s hair as Anne sits up. Anne nods, but Gwen thinks she looks sad, anxious.

“Would you prefer if we all camped out down here again?” Gwen asks, cannot bare to see Anne look upset like this, especially if all she wants is to be close to Gwen and Mildred.

“You don’t have to.”

Gwen smiles at Anne, but feels sad, wishes Anne felt she could ask for anything she needs. “But we want to if it would make you feel better.”

“I just think so much when I get into bed, and it’s hard to sleep.”

“Is it easier if we’re with you?” Mildred asks, and Anne nods. “Then we will have a slumber party.”

“Go get your blankets and pillows,” Gwen says, “We will get ours and we’ll meet you back down here.”

 


 

“You are amazing,” Gwen says after she closes the bedroom door. She pulls Mildred into her arms, watches Mildred’s cheeks blush. “Anne and I are so lucky to have you.”

Mildred shakes her head. “I’m the lucky one.”

“Hush you. You are wonderful and special and so, so loving,” Gwen says, knows how much Mildred still struggles at times to see herself that way, especially when it comes to parenting Anne.

Mildred blushes a little, then her smile shifts, looks full of mischief. “We’ll have to take a rain check on the New Year’s hanky panky.”

Gwen’s hands slide lower, rest on the curve of Mildred’s backside. “The new year is only an hour old. We’ll find time. I’ll make sure of it.” Gwen grabs Mildred’s ass and is rewarded with Mildred’s laugh. Oh, how she loves that sound. Loves how joyful and free Mildred is with her.

Mildred leans forward and nips at Gwen’s bottom lip. “I want you more every day I spend with you.” She presses a soft kiss to Gwen’s lips. “Love you more every day too.”

Gwen pulls Mildred flush against her. “I don’t know how it’s possible, but I love you more each day too. I love you so much my heart could burst.”

Mildred chuckles at Gwen, eyes soft and warm. “That sounds bad. Let’s keep your heart nice and intact in your chest.”

Gwen laughs, “Oh, I love you.” How is it possible to fall more in love each day? Nearly a decade together and Gwen’s love for Mildred only intensifies, her want for her too, she still burns for her even after all this time. Gwen leans over and kisses Mildred’s neck. “My beautiful love,” she sucks lightly before looking up at Mildred with a smile.

“Come my darling,” Mildred says, twining their fingers together and pressing a kiss to Gwen’s knuckles. “We can’t get too carried away; our daughter is waiting for us.” Gwen’s heart pounds at those words, sees Mildred’s soft little smile, like she’s still trying the words out, getting used to the way it sounds to say out loud.

“Our daughter,” Gwen repeats. “Sounds good, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” Mildred agrees. Mildred’s grabs Gwen’s waist, pulling her close again, and kissing her.

Gwen moans into Mildred’s mouth, kisses her for a long moment before they reluctantly separate, take a moment to breath each other in. “Sweetness,” Gwen coos, “What happened to no more temptation? You are very naughty, Mildred Ratched.”

Mildred winks. “You can punish me later. Let’s get downstairs.”

“Yes ma’am,” Gwen agrees, pulling blankets off their bed and following Mildred out of the room.

Chapter Text

Everyone at school knew about Edna – knew that her parents caught her with another girl, knew that they sent her away – but no one seemed to know that Anne had been the girl who kissed Edna. Anne thinks she is supposed to be relieved, but she feels sick listening to people talking about her friend, the things they say are awful, and as the day goes on Anne can’t help the feeling of being constantly on edge, angry at their words and so scared that someone will find out about her. The worst is when they ask her opinion, when they expect her to join in on the gossip, to say something about how she regrets ever being friends with Edna, finds her disgusting, prays for her.

Anne is grateful for how many classes she has with David, for his skill at redirecting the conversation, for his willingness to defend Edna so that Anne doesn’t feel like she is raising suspicion by doing it herself. He’s a good friend, and she is grateful that he has spent every moment he can with her today. Anne is in the locker room changing after gym class, everyone else has left, and she just needs a moment alone. Today has been so much, made her feel like apart from David, everyone in the school is against her. Her friends have said the most hurtful things. They don’t know they’re talking about her of course. Would they say these things if they did? Does it matter? Just one more class to get through and then she can go home. Gwen is going to pick her up after school, is leaving work early just to get her, and Anne will be able to get into Gwen’s car and breathe.

Anne is lost in her thoughts, trying so hard to hold back tears, and she doesn’t realize that anyone else is in the locker room, until three juniors – boys who shouldn’t be in here – are standing in front of her. And then she recognizes one of them as a boy who Edna had gone on a date with, remembers Edna crying to Anne after, when she had realized she couldn’t pretend to be interested in him.

Anne doesn’t remember his name, but he’s standing in front of her, inches away. She backs away, smacks into the locker with a thud, and hears all three boys laugh. She hears the menace in their laughter, in the way the one is so close to her, towering over her. “It’s you, isn’t it? The dyke?” She’s heard that word so many times today, but the way he says it is threatening. Anne’s heart is racing, she can’t breathe. His friends are laughing. It rings so loudly in Anne’s ears. “I can prove to you how much better a man can be.” Anne can’t breathe, she should run, but there are three of them and they’re all so close, she doesn’t think she could get around them. Anne’s chest feels tight, her breath coming so fast. “Don’t be scared. We just want to show you a good time.” His hand is on her skirt, pulling at it, finger’s reaching for the buttons. She can’t move, can’t breathe. He has the top button undone, and Anne remembers David said he would wait for her outside, is probably changed and there already. She takes a chance and screams at the top of her lungs, shrieks so loudly she startles the three boys, all of them backing off immediately, starting to run before Mrs. Kelly, the gym teacher is running in, David right behind her.

Mrs. Kelly turns to David, tells him “This is the girl’s locker room, young man.”

“Please,” Anne says, sinking to the floor. “He’s my friend.”

“He can wait outside,” Mrs. Kelly says pointedly, and David retreats.

Anne is trembling, feels so cold, her hands and feet numb, her heart pounding in her chest.

“Up you get.” Mrs. Kelly tells her, but Anne doesn’t think her legs work, can barely process the words. She feels half in a daze as she eventually manages to stand, to button her skirt, fingers shaking terribly.

Anne follows Mrs. Kelly out of the locker room, David is standing there looking terrified. “Did they hurt you?” he asks, and Anne shakes her head. They didn’t hurt her. But she feels terrified anyway, and she wants Gwen and Mildred, wants them both here to hug her, to answer questions for her, because Anne barely remembers how to speak. She can hardly breathe, can hardly walk. She wants to be home and safe. She doesn’t want to be here, doesn’t feel safe, didn’t realize how quickly her idea of safety could shatter.

Anne’s chest hurts, her breaths coming too fast. She’s sitting in the school nurse’s office, doesn’t remember how she got here. The nurse is talking to her, but Anne can’t focus, can’t breathe, wants to leave, but she’s just stuck here, she curls her legs up, wraps her arms around her legs. She wants to go home. She thinks David is sitting next to her, thinks he argued with the school nurse long enough that she gave up and let him stay.

“I called your mother,” Anne hears the nurse says. “She will be here in a few minutes.” Anne’s brain is fuzzy; she wonders how they have Mildred and Gwen’s phone number. And then she realizes, but it isn’t much longer, and time feels so strange, before Anne’s mother is walking into the nurse’s office.

Anne’s mother looks so sad, disappointed maybe. Anne wants Mildred and Gwen. They would be offering her a hug. She wants a hug. She thinks a hug would make her feel safe. She looks up at her mother. Her mother who held her and comforted her for years, who is standing in front of her now, ringing her hands and crying. Anne doesn’t want her mother to touch her.

Anne tries to focus on what the nurse is saying to her mother – Anne is fine, wasn’t hurt, just seems to be in shock, should go home and take tomorrow off to recover. Good, she can leave, doesn’t think she could possibly focus on chemistry right now. Anne gets up, half hears David talking to her, and walks towards the front doors of the school. She needs to leave, doesn’t want to stay here any longer. Gwen will be here to pick her up soon and then Anne will be able to take a deep breath and just cry.

“Anne,” her mother calls, running up behind her. She’s carrying Anne’s backpack; Anne must have left it behind in her rush to get out of the building.

“Thanks,” Anne says, looking down while taking the bag from her mother.

“Where are you going?” Anne’s mother asks her. “Are you alright?”

“Am I alright?” Anne asks, looking at her mother, making real eye contact for the first time since her mom walked into the nurse’s office. “Am I alright?” Anne repeats, anger growing, her voice raising, tears flooding her eyes. “Three boys just threatened to rape me. You just showed up here like nothing happened and you’re still my mother.”

“Of course, I’m your mother.”

“You threw me out of the house for being a lesbian!”

“We want you to change and come home. We did it because we love you.”

Anne shakes her head, this isn’t love, this isn’t the love she wants. She wants the love she’s been shown these last weeks, wants to be loved as she is. “This is who I am,” Anne tells her mom. “I don’t want to change.”

“Don’t say that,” her mother pleads, starting to cry again.

Anne cannot deal with this right now. She finally is starting to feel comfortable with herself, with the idea that she is perfect as she is, that she can still have love and happiness even if her life has challenges. She just wants Mildred and Gwen here. She wants them to tell her what happened isn’t her fault, give her cocoa and wrap her in a warm blanket, and make her feel safe again.

“Anne, please. What you’re doing isn’t right. The school nurse said those boys tried to hurt you because they know what you are.”

What I am?” Anne shakes her head, “I can’t do this now.”

“If you repented, you could come home. You could have a husband and a family. You could come back to us if you change.”

It’s all too much. Anne is still shaking, still feels sick, still can feel that boys hand grabbing at her skirt. Would he really have done it if he wasn’t interrupted? Or was he just trying to scare her? She hates that he succeeded at that. She doesn’t want to be scared, is so angry at herself for being scared.

“I don’t want a husband,” Anne says. “I don’t want to change.”

“Don’t say that,” her mother says. Anne hears the tears in her mother’s voice, doesn’t want to look at her.

“I just want to go home,” Anne says, wonders what time it is, thinks the school day will be over soon, Gwen should be here soon.

“You know you can’t come home,” Anne’s mother says, her voice is so soft, like she thinks she is being kind. And Anne hates her, didn’t know she could hate her mother until right now.

“No, not with you. That’s not my home anymore!” She turns to her mother, asks “Why are you still here?”

“Where are you going to go?”

“I’m going to go home,” Anne says. “Do you even care where that is now?”

“Your father says you’re living with lesbians. Anne, you’re so young. They’re just taking advantage of you.”

“Mildred and Gwen would never hurt me. They’re like mothers to me.” Anne knows her comment will hurt her mother, but it’s the truth, and she thinks right now, she wants to hurt her mother. She deserves to hurt after how she treated Anne.

“You shouldn’t trust those kinds of people.”

“People like me?” Anne asks. “No, I don’t want to talk to you anymore. Please just leave.”

“Please Anne,” her mother begs. “Please don’t go back to that lifestyle.”

Anne is so grateful when she sees Gwen’s car pull up. She runs over to her, Gwen immediately getting out to greet her, taking in how upset Anne looks. “What’s wrong?” Anne hugs Gwen, can’t stop the tears. It is all so much. Anne is starting to sob, and she doesn’t want to cry in front of her mother, in sight of the school. “I’m here,” Gwen soothes. “You’re safe.”

Anne has wanted to hear those words since she left the locker room. Anne looks back at her mother, sees her staring. “Is this the woman you live with now?”

“Are you Anne’s mother?” Gwen asks.

“Yes, Martha,” her mother confirms.

“I’m Gwendolyn. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Please Gwen,” Anne says. She doesn’t want to talk to her mother anymore. “I want to go home.”

Gwen looks at Anne’s mother, gives her a smile that Anne thinks is more kind than her mom deserves. “I promise I will take care of Anne. She is safe and very much loved.”

“She can’t be safe living like this. Today should have proven that to you, Anne. I hope one day you’ll change, and we will welcome you with open arms when you do.”

Anne is done with this, will not listen any longer. She gets into Gwen’s car. Gwen following right behind, asks her as soon as the door closes, “What happened?”

“I’m ok,” Anne says, wiping away the tears. “Some assholes threatened me. They tried to take my skirt off, told me they would cure me of being a lesbian. I screamed and scared them off. Nothing happened.”

But Gwen is hugging Anne tightly, like she knows it isn’t nothing, like she understands how scared Anne is, how unsafe those boys made her feel. “I’m so so sorry, sweetheart.” Anne buries her face in Gwen’s neck, hears Gwen sniff against her, knows Gwen is crying. “I’m so sorry that happened to you. What can I do right now? What do you need?”

Anne sobs, she’s been waiting for this, suffering through her mother telling her she is wrong and implying she deserved what happened. “I want to go home.”

“Ok,” Gwen says, looks at Anne. Gwen’s eyes are red, filled with tears. “Let’s get you home. You’re safe now.”

Anne takes a deep breath as Gwen pulls out of the parking lot. The drive home is only fifteen minutes, but Anne needs to talk now, wants to explain all the ways big and small that today has been awful. She starts talking and cannot stop, needs to get it off her chest how scared she was.

“Of course, you were scared,” Gwen says. “That is terrifying.”

“He only got one button undone,” Anne says, trying to make sense out of how something that didn’t get far at all has shaken her so terribly.

“There is no only,” Gwen tells Anne. “No one has a right to touch you when you don’t want to be touched. Those men meant to scare you, they meant to threaten you and make you feel unsafe to be who you are. That is awful, and no one should ever lay a hand on you. You have every right to be afraid and hurt by what happened to you.”

“They called my mom and she just acted like it was my fault because I’m a lesbian. Like I was asking for them to rape me. All she did was try to make me feel ashamed of who I am. I don’t know why she even came when they called her.”

“I’m so sorry sweetheart,” Gwen says, looking over at Anne, who sees that Gwen’s eyes are again full of tears. “I’m so sorry.”

 


 

It’s safe here, curled against Gwen’s side on the couch. Charlie is lying on Anne’s other side, his head resting on her lap. Anne wants the world to all feel this safe, she wants to always feel warm like this. Gwen had wrapped a blanket around their shoulders, and Anne has finally stopped trembling. Her mind is calmer, she finds it easier to breathe. Gwen isn’t pushing her to talk, just sitting here with her arm around Anne. Just that contact with a person who Anne knows is safe helps so much.

“My mom didn’t try to hug me,” Anne tells Gwen, “I didn’t want her to touch me because I was so angry, but I wanted her to want to try comfort me. She didn’t even seem to care what happened to me. I just wanted a hug. I just wanted you to come and hug me.”

“I’m here now, and Mildred will be home soon. I am so sorry I didn’t keep you safe. I should have done better. I’m sorry. We can find you a new school.”

“It isn’t your fault.” Anne says, closes her eyes. “I’m so tired, Gwen.” Gwen squeezes Anne’s arm as she keeps talking. “I was so scared. I keep thinking about him grabbing at me, trying to take my skirt off.” Anne takes a deep breath. “They could have overpowered me. It makes me so angry.”

“Me too,” Gwen tells Anne, and Anne understands in her tone that they both share a knowledge of what it means to be a woman who refuses to conform to what is expected, to the role that men want them to play. “I’m sorry they behaved that way, and I am sorry your mother treated you how she did. What those boys did was not your fault. Men will try to use the threat of violence to keep you quiet when you challenge them. Their actions are never your fault.”

Anne soaks in those words, believes them. “My mother showing up made everything worse. I know she thought it was my fault.”

“It wasn’t,” Gwen says again. Anne nods and lays her head back on Gwen’s shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault,” Gwen promises. “And you are perfect exactly as you are.”

 


 

“Mildred,” Gwen half sobs as soon as she shuts the door to their bedroom after they have tucked Anne into bed. Gwen sits down on the bed, and Mildred goes to her. Gwen is sobbing immediately, sobs rocking Mildred as she wraps Gwen up in a hug and holds her tightly. “Anne. They almost… How could I let her be hurt like that? Why did I think it was safe for her to go back to school before we knew if anyone found out about her? I shouldn’t have let her go.”

“Sweetheart,” Mildred murmurs, presses her lips to the side of Gwen’s head, Gwen’s face pressed to Mildred’s neck.

“I feel like we failed her,” Gwen says, the words sound painful, gasped out between tears. “It’s our job to keep her safe. My job to protect you both. I didn’t protect Anne.”

“My love,” Mildred says, unsure how to comfort Gwen about this. Mildred has been the one so unsure, begging Gwen for reassurance when it comes to Anne. To see Gwen this way, so distraught, asking Mildred for comfort is disorienting. It’s terrifying to have Gwen looking to Mildred to lead when it comes to Anne. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I let Anne get hurt. How do we keep her safe?”

Mildred sighs, wishes desperately she could somehow guarantee that Anne would be safe. “I’ll talk to the school tomorrow and make sure something has been done about those boys. It is unacceptable for the school to allow this to happen. We can talk to Anne about if she wants to transfer to a private girls’ school. We can never make the world completely safe,” Mildred says, kisses Gwen’s hair. “But we can give her pepper spray to carry, and I can teach Anne how to shoot a gun.”

Gwen laughs through her tears. “Don’t murder anyone Mildred, please. I need you out of jail to raise Anne with me.”

“You have my word.” Gwen looks up at Mildred, eyebrow raised skeptically. Mildred smiles at her, would laugh at Gwen’s expression if it weren’t so obvious how much pain Gwen was in. “Truly, I promise,” Mildred says, “I won’t kill anyone. I need to stay here with you.”

“Yes, you do,” Gwen agrees. She snuggles against Mildred, ear pressed to her chest. Mildred holds Gwen tightly, arms holding each other, legs tangled together, sharing the pain of seeing their daughter hurt.

 


 

Mildred is still holding Gwen when they hear a knock at their bedroom door. Mildred kisses Gwen softly, and gets up to opens the door. Anne is standing in front of her looking anxious. “Can I come in?”

“Of course,” Mildred says, her hand on Anne’s shoulder guiding her into the room.

“I didn’t mean to intrude. You said if I couldn’t sleep that it was ok to come get you.”

Mildred’s heart warms, feels grateful that Anne is beginning to ask for what she needs, finally feels comfortable enough.

“Always,” Mildred tells Anne, “Do you want to sit?”

Anne sits down next to Gwen, notices her red eyes that Gwen is rubbing at to try to dry her tears. “Are you crying about me?” Anne asks. Gwen wraps her arm around Anne, and Mildred sits down on Anne’s other side. “You don’t have to cry. I’m ok.”

Gwen smiles at Anne. “I want you to be more than ok. I want you to feel safe and to never have been threatened how you were today. I wish I had done more to make you safe.”

“I don’t think the world will ever be safe for us,” Anne says. “I was thinking about that while I was trying to fall asleep. I am not going to change schools. I’m not letting those assholes chase me away. I have every right to be there, and if I let them threaten me and scare me away then I let them win. I’m not going to let them win.”

Mildred smiles. “That’s our girl.”

“You are so brave,” Gwen says. “I just wish we could make everything better for you. It’s our job to protect you.”

Anne shrugs. “This makes things better. The world feels unsafe and unaccepting, and I think I will have to adjust to that. But it helps to come home to a place that feels safe like this.”

Gwen sniffles and Anne tells Gwen, “Don’t cry, Gwen. I will be fine. You helped so much today.”

Gwen gives Anne a little squeeze. “It is not your job to comfort me, do you hear me? Mildred and I take care of you.”

“Doesn’t mean you can magically make the world fair or make men stop being awful.”

Mildred laughs, “Anne is a wise woman. I love you both so much,” Mildred says, overcome by how deeply she feels for them both.

“Now that we settled that,” Gwen says pulling herself together. “How can we make you feel better sweetheart?”

Mildred knows Gwen still is hurting, feeling guilty. Mildred reaches her arm around Anne and Gwen, wants to hold them both close to her and protect them, soothe them.

“I just want to stay with you,” Anne says, her voice breaking. “Every time I close my eyes I see them, grabbing at me.”

A dread that has been with Mildred all day begins to swell. “Anne,” Mildred says, tries to steady her voice, knows that Anne will likely understand that what Mildred is about to say is very personal. “I want you to know that you can tell us if something else happened. If the boys that attacked you did more than you were able to tell us before. I know how hard it can be to say those things, and that it can be scary to talk about or make you feel ashamed, even though it isn’t your fault and there is nothing to feel ashamed of.”

Through a sheen of tears, Mildred can see Gwen looking at her with love and awe, looking at her like she is the most amazing, brave person. It makes Mildred feel like she is brave.

“No,” Anne says, “Nothing else happened.” The tears fall from Mildred’s eyes, and she wipes them away. “I promise, nothing else happened. I would tell you. I promise.”

“Good,” Mildred says, the pain in her chest subsiding, “I just needed to make sure.”

“I’m sorry,” Anne ventures, “If something like that happened you.”

Mildred swallows around the lump in her throat. She does her best to smile at Anne. Gwen reaches over and weaves her fingers with Mildred’s, gives Mildred’s hand a squeeze. “Thank you,” Mildred manages. “Is there anything we can do that would help you get some sleep tonight? We can read you a story or sit with you until you fall asleep.”

“Could we just stay awake a little longer?” Anne asks.

“Of course,” Gwen says, “We can stay awake with you as long as you need. You don’t have to go to school tomorrow, and we are both calling out of work. Anything you need, Anne.”

“I know,” Anne promises, and Mildred thinks that those words are the truth. It gives her hope they will be able to help Anne through this.

 

Chapter Text

“Mildred,” Gwen says, walking up behind Mildred as she finishes wiping off her makeup in the bathroom mirror. Mildred is wearing a cream colored nightgown, her hair down, flowing loosely around her face. Mildred smiles at Gwen in the mirror, and Gwen loves the tiny lines that form around the corners of Mildred’s eyes, the imprint of years of happiness on her face.

Mildred turns to Gwen, looks exhausted. It is nearly two in the morning, and Gwen imagines her own face looks equally tired. Anne is finally asleep in her bed, Charlie cuddled up with her. Gwen and Mildred should get some rest too, may need to get up again soon if Anne has trouble sleeping.

Gwen wraps her arms around Mildred, asks, “Are you alright, love?”

Mildred sighs, her palm cupping Gwen’s cheek, thumb caressing her bottom lip. Gwen presses a kiss to Mildred’s thumb, watches a soft little smile light up Mildred’s face. Mildred lays her forehead against Gwen’s and closes her eyes, her free hand coming to rest on the small of Gwen’s back, holding her close, breathing her in.

After a moment, Mildred pulls back to look at Gwen, their arms still wrapped loosely around each other’s waists, and Gwen feels safe and loved, feels like they can face any challenge they need to as long as they are together.

“How can we possibly be alright when Anne is hurting like this?” Mildred asks.

Mildred is right of course, Gwen is still aching at Anne’s pain, her heart so heavy thinking of what her poor girl has been through, how guilty Gwen still feels for letting Anne be hurt today. But now that Anne is asleep in her bed, Gwen needs to focus on caring for Mildred.

Gwen rubs her palm up and down Mildred’s back, wonders if Mildred will want to talk about this now or just want to be held. “You shared with Anne that you were sexually abused. I know you didn’t explicitly tell her, but you said enough for her to understand. I don’t think you’ve told anyone besides me, have you?”

Mildred shakes her head, holds Gwen’s gaze, tells her, “I needed to make sure she didn’t feel that if something more happened that there was any shame in it or that she needed to keep that to herself. I know how it feels to keep that inside.”

Mildred pulls Gwen closer until their hips are pressed together. “I never planned to tell anyone besides you,” Mildred says, looks so vulnerable, and Gwen just wants to hold Mildred close, kiss her, somehow love her enough to take away her pain. “I just was so afraid that Anne might have been hurt and not feel able to tell us, and I couldn’t stand the thought of her carrying that alone. If those boys had raped her, the idea of her not telling us and letting it fester…” Mildred shakes her head. “I needed her to know it would never be hers to bear alone. Not when you showed me that sharing the pain…” Mildred pauses, her eyes growing wet, and she smiles at Gwen, squeezes her close, tells her. “Not when you help me carry it every day. You carry my pain for me when things are hard.” A few tears roll down Mildred’s cheek, and Gwen wipes the wetness with her thumb, keeps her hand pressed to Mildred’s cheek. “You helped me heal Gwen.”

Gwen’s heart feels so full, her chest aching with emotion at Mildred’s words. Mildred has healed so much, has changed so much in the time they’ve been together. Gwen remembers how afraid Mildred was early on; how the memories had trickled out in small bits, each word laced with so much pain, with so much fear that Gwen would stop loving her, would stop wanting her. It hurts to think about Mildred ever being scared with Gwen, not knowing she was safe and loved forever. Gwen rubs her hands up and down Mildred’s back, fingers caressing the bare skin at the nape of Mildred’s neck. Gwen wants Mildred to feel precious and adored, needs her to understand how much Gwen loves her and admirers her strength.

Mildred smiles, her expression one of pure love, and Gwen thinks Mildred understands without words all that Gwen feels for her. “I never planned to tell anyone besides you, but I was so overwhelmed with the need to make sure Anne wasn’t alone if she had been hurt that way. Do you think it was a mistake?”

“No,” Gwen tells Mildred, fingers massaging Mildred’s scalp. “I think it was brave and selfless, and I think if you ever wonder again if you are a good mother, that you should remember that you just disregarded how much sharing this is terribly painful so that you could take care of Anne and make her feel safe. I am in awe of you. You are the most incredible mother.” Mildred shakes her head, blushes. “You are. My darling,” Gwen says, can hardly breathe looking at Mildred now, overwhelmed with love and pride seeing Mildred open herself up to loving Anne like this, overwhelmed with gratitude that Mildred has been brave enough to let herself open up and grow with Gwen, even though the path has been scary for Mildred at times. “You love Anne so well, give her so much love and care, protection, safety, support. You are amazing. I love you so very much.”

Mildred is still blushing, looks up at Gwen shyly. Gwen kisses Mildred so softly, Mildred melting against Gwen, body loose, leaning all her weight against Gwen. “You are amazing,” Gwen says, hugging Mildred to her. “The greatest gift of my life has been loving you. I know the strength it took you to trust me. I know how brave you are.”

Mildred shakes her head. “Stop flattering me.”

“Never. Not for a moment of our lives will I stop telling you what a gift you are.”

Mildred sniffles a few times, and then tears are falling. “You are the gift, Gwendolyn. You’re the reason I’m happy, so happy. And you are the reason that I am brave enough to try to be Anne’s mom. Your love.”

“You have my love, always.”

Mildred smiles, a wide beautiful smile, not a single hint of pain in it, despite the heavy conversation they are having. “And you have mine,” Mildred says. She takes Gwen’s hand in her own, weaves their fingers together. Mildred’s lips press against the back of Gwen’s hand, the sensation warming Gwen. “I love you, Gwendolyn.” Mildred is smiling at Gwen, still looking so content, so loving and warm.

Gwen thought Mildred might have struggled more with what she told Anne, with how it feels for someone else to know something so deeply personal. But Gwen sees no struggle or conflict in Mildred, and it makes Gwen understand that Mildred has let go of the shame she used to carry. If Gwen has had any part in helping Mildred stop feeling ashamed, has helped her to feel content with herself, begin to recognize how wonderful she is, then Gwen has accomplished the most important thing in her life.

Gwen gives Mildred’s hand a squeeze, “Let’s go to bed, my love.” Mildred nods, and Gwen leads them to their bed, fingers still twined together. Mildred stays close to Gwen, hips bumping together, shoulders touching. Mildred loves to be held when she feels vulnerable or emotional, always wants to be in Gwen’s arms. Gwen worried at first that Mildred would turn away and hide herself from Gwen when she was hurting. But her efforts to do that had been incredibly short lived. The first time Mildred had quietly retreated into her throughs, all it took was a gentle touch, soft words, and Mildred wanted to be held. She didn’t always want to talk, but Gwen had promised that was alright, that Gwen was happy to wordless hold Mildred when she was hurting, that she didn’t need Mildred to explain, Gwen simply needed Mildred to tell Gwen what she needed, and it would be hers.

Gwen pulls back the covers, climbing into bed, hand still holding Mildred’s. Mildred follows, lays her head on Gwen’s chest, wraps her arm and leg around Gwen, her other hand resting over Gwen’s heart. Gwen encircles Mildred in a tight embrace. It’s a comfort, Mildred curling up in Gwen’s arms, pressing a kiss to Gwen chest, the reassuring weight of Mildred’s body. Mildred looks up at Gwen, a sweet, tired smile, brown eyes full of the now very familiar expression of so much love. Gwen presses a soft kiss to Mildred’s lips, loves her so much. “Get some rest, my darling,” Gwen says. “Promise you’ll wake me if you need me?”

“I will,” Mildred says, and Gwen trusts that, loves that Mildred feels comfortable asking for support, asking for Gwen’s embrace after a nightmare, her kisses when she can’t fall asleep. “Promise the same?” Mildred asks, and Gwen remembers how Mildred had held her through sobs earlier tonight. Her darling Mildred who loves Gwen so much, who takes such wonderful care of Gwen and makes her feel loved and safe.

“I promise. Thank you for taking care of me. Thank you for loving me.”

Mildred smiles, tells Gwen. “Don’t thank me for that, silly woman.” Mildred leans up and kisses Gwen, whispers “I love you” against her mouth.

Gwen smiles. “I love you too.”

Mildred settles into the crook of Gwen’s neck, her breath warm, eyelashes tickling Gwen’s skin. Gwen rubs Mildred’s back, full of love for this amazing woman she gets to spend her life with. Gwen feels Mildred’s breathing even out, her body relax, and Gwen knows she’s asleep. Gwen thinks what a gift it to love Mildred, what a gift that Mildred trusts her like this.

“I love you,” Gwen whispers softly to Mildred as she sleeps. Gwen closes her eyes and thinks of her darling, a smile still on Gwen’s lips as she drifts off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Gwen wakes to the sound of rain lashing against the windows. Her neck aches, and she is still exhausted. She looks over at her clock – nearly eight in the morning. Gwen recalls Mildred kissing her goodbye an hour and a half ago now, wearing her mustard suit, perfectly coifed hair, and looking stunning. She had been off to talk with Anne’s principal, wanted to be there first thing in the morning to address the issue.

Gwen had still been half asleep when she mumbled I love you to Mildred and told her how beautiful she was. Mildred had returned the compliment and her love as she smiled softly at Gwen and closed the door behind her. Gwen had fallen back asleep to the most lovely thoughts of Mildred.

Gwen would let herself doze off again if she weren’t worried about Anne and if Trevor weren’t planning to stop by for breakfast. Gwen sits up, stretches, her neck stiff from falling back asleep in an odd position. She misses having Mildred waking beside her to give her a massage or provide the best kind of distraction. Gwen smiles, thinks how wonderfully spoiled she is to wake up to Mildred every day. Gwen stands and pulls back the curtains. It’s miserable outside, dark and pouring down rain, a perfect day to stay in her pajamas. She hopes Mildred brought an umbrella, can’t remember if it was raining like this when she left the house. Gwen wraps her robe around herself, puts on her slippers, the air crisp this morning. She loves staying in bed with Mildred on days like today. Gwen thinks how lovely it will be when Mildred gets home and they can cozy up on the couch together, make Anne hot cocoa and popcorn just like Gwen loved on a cold day as a kid. Maybe they can all bake something together. They have Anne and Trevor’s skills to take advantage of.

Gwen walks into the bathroom, a smile pulling at her lips when she sees a note from Mildred written in lipstick on the mirror. I love you is written in Mildred’s script, followed by a heart and an impression of her lips where she has kissed the mirror. Gwen laughs with joy. Her sweetheart. Gwen thinks there is nothing she loves more than when Mildred is happy and playful.

Gwen first left Mildred a similar note in lipstick not long after they had gotten together. Mildred had cleaned it off, so conditioned by beatings to believe if things weren’t spotless, something bad would happen to her. Mildred had fretted about wasting the makeup, even though they had so much money from Lenore Osgood and even though it had just been cheap lipstick. Gwen had felt awful. Gwen grew up comfortably, never wanting for anything, always with new clothes, good schools, anything she wanted was hers. It took time for Gwen to fully grasp how it had shaped Mildred to grow up with nothing, to never know if she would have something to eat the next day, to walk around barefoot because there was no money for shoes and her old ones were so small that they made her toes bleed.

Mildred had been so upset, on the verge of tears, when she apologized later that day for not being grateful for the sweet gesture, so upset and out of sorts, so anxious she had hurt Gwen’s feelings. Gwen had just held Mildred that night, kissed her and hugged her and reassured her that Gwen wasn’t angry, that it was a tiny silly thing, and if it made Mildred upset, Gwen wouldn’t do it again. Mildred had cried then and told Gwen she didn’t deserve this kind of love when she was so difficult, and Gwen’s heart had broken. 

Time had changed Mildred, time spent in the safety of Gwen’s love. Gwen had cried when Mildred left her first note in lipstick, a heart around the words I love you beautiful written on their bathroom mirror in Mexico. It made Gwen smile even though her reflection had been looking back at her with sallow skin and a bald head. She had smiled, gone to Mildred, kissed her senseless, and made love to her until Mildred had been boneless and calm and so joyful in Gwen’s arms.

Gwen smiles at the memory, thinks now about wiping the mirror off so it will be clean for Mildred when she gets home, but then Gwen decides she wants to keep the message longer, wants to cherish the joyful sweetness of her darling being comfortable, feeling safe to be silly and free. Gwen brushes her teeth, thinks of Mildred’s smile as she left their bedroom this morning, her sweet note, one that to anyone else would seem like such a small gesture, but reminds Gwen of how far they have come together, how happy she knows Mildred is.

Gwen leaves her room, peeks into Anne’s room, finds her still sleeping soundly, Charlie cuddled up with his head on her belly. He spots Gwen and begins to wag his tail, and Gwen smiles at her pup, thinks what a wonderful gift he has been to Anne, giving her so much affection when she so desperately needs it.

Gwen walks downstairs, knows that Trevor will be here soon. While they were married long enough for Trevor to be used to Gwen’s hatred of mornings and her lack of culinary skills, she thinks the least she can do is make sure there is hot coffee waiting for him when he arrives. Gwen goes about fixing the coffee, setting out mugs and cream and sugar. Trevor usually helps himself, cooks for Gwen and Mildred most of the time when he comes over, but poor Trevor is having such a hard time.

 



A half hour later and Gwen is eating a delicious omelet with roasted potatoes and drinking mulled cider. Gwen had poured some whiskey into Trevor’s cider as he began talking about how Andrew was planning to move down to Virginia for a while to stay with his mother, who needs help after his father died.

“I want what you and Mildred have so much. And before you say it, this is not just a rough patch.” Trevor takes a gulp of his drink, looks at Gwen with sad eyes. “It isn’t the same Gwen. I love Andrew so much, but it isn’t like what you have.”

Gwen smiles and pats Trevor’s hand. She understands, has been in love with women before Mildred, but it never felt like the love she shares with Mildred, their magnetic connection from the start, the love that grows and deepens every day. Gwen has never been with anyone nearly this long before, and she used to wonder if people could truly stay in love for their whole lives. Now she marvels every day at how it is even possible to love Mildred more as the years pass.

“I feel like a terrible person for thinking this, but it feels like Andrew chose his racist, homophobic family over me.”

Gwen gives Trevor’s hand a squeeze. “I think he’s trying not to choose. And maybe that is itself a choice. I don’t know if it is a choice I could accept in your position.”

Mildred may not have family, but it didn’t take long after she met Gwen for Mildred to be open with every friend she has, and Gwen never feels like Mildred would keep Gwen a secret under any circumstances besides their safety. Gwen remembers how Anna, the closest person Mildred had to a parental figure as a child, had come by to see Mildred after they returned from Mexico when the news of Edmund’s execution was on the front page of the newspaper. Mildred had introduced Gwen honestly, and when Anna had been horrified, insisted this was her fault because Mildred had been sexually abused and surely that was why she was with a woman, Mildred had calmly explained that she loved Gwen more than anything, that this was simply who Mildred was, and that she was finally so happy. Anna had cried and talked about how wrong it was, how guilty she felt for making Mildred this way. Mildred had promptly escorted Anna out the door, telling her not to come back if she couldn’t show respect and acceptance to Mildred and Gwen. If someone is important to Mildred or Gwen, then that person knows the truth, and there is no negotiation on what happens if they cannot accept who Mildred and Gwen are. Gwen doesn’t think she could bear feeling like someone’s dirty secret in the way Andrew has made Trevor feel, never introducing Trevor to his friends, keeping the rest of his life completely separate.

“Andrew’s family supports segregation.” Trevor shakes his head. “I feel like a terrible person. Andrew just lost his father, and he is taking care of his mother, and here I am thinking about myself.”

“You are a wonderful person, and you deserve a partner who is proud to be with you.”

“I love him, but I feel like maybe after eight years we are growing apart instead of together. It’s not his fault, but he’s happy in corporate law, and once I left and started working on civil rights issues, that old life where all I cared about was being successful feels hollow. Andrew is supportive, but I know he gets tired of when I talk about my work a lot. I don’t know anymore how anyone can live in this country and not fight in some small way at least to make it better.” Trevor sips his cider. “Maybe this time apart will be good for me. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about if Andrew and I have grown too far apart to stay together.”

Gwen’s heart aches for Trevor. He and Andrew may not have the same type of love that Gwen shares with Mildred, but still Trevor has been happy with Andrew. “I’m here day or night if you need me while you think this through.”

“I know. You and Mildred are going to get sick of me.”

“Never.” Gwen’s tell Trevor genuinely, feels more than ever now that Anne is here that she wants her family close. “We’re here for you, whatever you decide.”

Trevor takes Gwen’s hand in both of his. “Thank you, my darling.”

 


 

Gwen and Trevor are tidying up the kitchen when Anne comes into the room, eyes still heavy with sleep, a tired “Good morning” of greeting as she walks to stand right beside Gwen, a silent request for a hug.

Gwen wraps her arms around Anne in a side hug, and Anne lays her head on Gwen’s shoulder. “How did you sleep?” Gwen asks.

“Well. I can’t believe I slept so late. I’m sorry for keeping you awake last night.”

Gwen kisses Anne’s hair. “Don’t apologize. I want to be awake with you if you’re upset. Mildred and I would be very upset if you needed us and didn’t wake us, ok?”

“Ok,” Anne says.

Gwen rubs her palm up and down Anne’s arm. “Are you hungry, sweetheart?”

“I don’t know,” Anne says, and by now Gwen knows that Anne has often feels sick and has trouble eating when she’s anxious.

“Do you want to start with cider? Trevor made mulled cider. We made omelets. I’m sorry we didn’t wait for you, but I thought you might sleep until noon, and we were too hungry to wait that long.”

“Only 10:30,” Anne says. “Is Mildred still at my school?”

“Yes,” Gwen says. “I feel sorry for everyone in her path today. She is a force to be reckoned with, especially when she’s fighting for the people she loves.”

Trevor comes over with a mug of cider which he presses into Anne’s hands. “Thank you,” Anne tells Trevor before taking a sip of her drink, melting into Gwen’s hug.

“Do you want an omelet?” Trevor asks.

Anne doesn’t reply for a moment, and Gwen asks, “Do you want something lighter like toast to start? You don’t need to eat right now if you aren’t hungry.”

“No, I’ll try to eat,” Anne says. “I think I’m hungry.”

“Ok,” Gwen says with a soft kiss to Anne’s hair. Oh, how she loves Anne, didn’t know she could feel love in this way. Gwen feels so much like Anne’s mother as Anne closes her eyes and rests her head against Gwen. “I’m glad you’re going to try to eat”, Gwen says, “It’s ok if you don’t finish everything.” Gwen thinks of Mildred, everything she confided in Gwen about how in the beginning she had obsessed over everything she did, felt so scared if she did something wrong that Gwen wouldn’t love her anymore. Mildred doesn’t fear that anymore, knows Gwen loves her unconditionally. But there’s no harm in extra reassurances for Anne right now, even if they’re unnecessary. Just in case Anne needs to hear them. “It’s ok if you change your mind too. I’ll never get mad if you don’t feel up to eating. There’s always food when you’re ready.”

Anne nods, and Gwen asks, “what do you want in your omelet?”

“Can I just have scrambled eggs and cheese?”

“Of course, you can.” Gwen says, feels so happy that Anne feels comfortable asking for what she wants. “You can have anything you want.”

“Ice cream for breakfast?” Anne asks, looking up at Gwen with a smile.

“Well, I wouldn’t recommend that everyday,” Gwen says, “but if you want ice cream today, I think that would be just fine.”

“Oh, I was only joking.”

“I’ve done it on more than one occasion.” Gwen thinks of those days in Mexico when the mouth sores from chemo were so bad that she could barely eat. Mildred had been begging her to try broth, mashed bananas, oats, but Gwen didn’t want any of it. And then Mildred brought Gwen ice cream, and it soothed her mouth a little and even if her mouth hurt while she ate, it tasted so good that Gwen had eaten some. Mildred kept the freezer stocked with all of Gwen’s favorite flavors after that. Gwen smiles thinking of all the mornings she spent at the kitchen table with Mildred, watching the sun rise, spoons in their hands, eating ice cream from the container together. It’s a good memory from a difficult time, one that Gwen cherishes deeply. Mildred was so reluctant to eat something that sweet early in the morning, reluctant to eat out of the the container. But Gwen talked her into it and Mildred loves to make Gwen happy, can never say no to anything Gwen wants. Mildred had smiled so happily that first day as they ate their ice cream together, eyes misty seeing Gwen finally eating. After that Mildred would happily set down the ice cream tub and spoons on the table. Gwen’s smile grows at the memories of her darling growing comfortable with the tiny little joys of ice cream for breakfast and days spent in bed together with not a single thought of anything besides each other and pleasure.

Anne’s voice brings Gwen back to the present. “I think I’ll stick with eggs today. But ice cream for breakfast does sound great,” Anne says, “maybe for my birthday.”

Gwen smiles to herself, thinks of waking Anne up on her birthday to an ice cream cake. Anne’s first birthday without her family is only two months away, and Gwen and Mildred will have to start planning soon. Gwen wants so much to bring Anne some happiness on what Gwen knows will be a difficult day.

“Eggs and cheese coming right up,” Trevor says, cracking three eggs into a pan.

“You don’t have to cook for me,” Anne tells him.

“Nonsense,” Trevor says. “I love cooking. And I want to make you breakfast.”

 


 

Gwen hears keys in the front door, Charlie jumping up from his spot under the table where he is waiting patiently for table scraps. Charlie runs full speed to the door when he hears Mildred walk in.

“Hello,” Gwen hears Mildred coo in a high-pitched voice. “Hello Charlie. Oh, I missed you too.” Gwen hears Mildred laugh, knows Charlie is jumping all over her. Mildred is cooing at Charlie, undoubtedly snuggling him, rubbing his belly. Gwen will never stop loving the sound of Mildred being free and happy. Gwen will never take that for granted, will never forget the work it took them together to get to this place where Mildred feels safe enough to let her guard down.

Mildred is smiling when she walks into the kitchen, books in her arms, and Charlie at her heels.

“Good morning,” she greets everyone.

“How did it go?” Gwen asks.

“All three boys are suspended for two weeks. The principal is going to have an assembly to discuss the school’s policy on harassment and the punishment for anyone who threatens fellow students.” Mildred walks to Anne, kisses the top of her head, places the stack of books on the table in front of Anne and tells her, “And I brought you all your schoolwork and homework for today.”

Anne jumps up and wraps her arms around Mildred. “Thank you.”

Gwen catches Mildred’s eye, her surprised expression at Anne’s hug and gratitude. Mildred’s eyes look misty, and Gwen smiles at her, loves her so much.

Anne hugs Mildred for a long while, squeezes her tightly, and Mildred wraps her arms around Anne, rubbing her back softly.

“Thank you for doing that,” Anne says when they break apart and Anne sits back down.

“It’s nothing,” Mildred says, smiling at Anne. Gwen tugs gently at Mildred’s hips, pulling Mildred onto Gwen’s lap. Gwen wraps her arms around Mildred’s waist, presses a kiss to her shoulder.

“It’s not nothing,” Anne insists. “You fought for me.”

“We’ll always fight for you,” Mildred says immediately. Gwen loves how protective Mildred is of Anne. Gwen kisses Mildred’s shoulder again, and Mildred turns in her arms enough to smile widely at Gwen.

“This is what I want,” Trevor says.

“Tell me about it,” Anne agrees. “I had convinced myself no one really had a soulmate until I met Mildred and Gwen.”

“It’s infuriating really,” Trevor tells Anne, “It sets the bar too high.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Gwen tells Anne, Mildred leaning back contentedly against Gwen’s chest. “One day you will find someone who makes you so happy that you could never imagine spending your life without her.”

“Gwen’s parents were the same way,” Trevor says, teasingly adds, “the most adorable straight couple I ever met.”

Mildred weaves her fingers with Gwen’s, gives a little squeeze, and Gwen knows that Mildred is thinking of how much Gwen misses her dad, how sad Gwen is that he isn’t alive to see her happy, to meet Mildred and Anne.

“You have time Anne,” Gwen says, “you’re young, and college will be so much fun. You’ll get to meet people, go on dates, explore, enjoy yourself. And sometimes when you least expect it, the love of your life appears.”

Mildred turns to press a kiss to Gwen’s lips.

“And then,” Trevor is saying, “you leave your husband to be with the woman you love.”

Gwen laughs into Mildred’s mouth, gives her another kiss before turning back to Trevor and smacking him on the arm. “Do not listen to Uncle Trevor. He is feeling a little down on love today. Listen to me – you are going to have such a happy life, Anne.”

Anne shrugs, smiles, still looking down into her mug of cider. “I’m happy now,” she says, looks up shyly, “I’m happy here with our family.”

Gwen and Mildred reach out, each taking one of Anne’s hands.

Gwen tells Anne, “We are so happy to have you here and so happy that we get to be your moms.”  Anne lights up every time Gwen and Mildred call her their daughter, and Gwen still can hardly believe how happy it makes Anne, how much she wants them to be her mothers.

Mildred tells Anne, “You won’t ever stop having this family, no matter what else happens. We are not going anywhere.”

Anne gives their hands a squeeze, looking up at them with a smile. “I know,” Anne says, picking her mug back up and taking a sip of her cider. “Mildred, do you want warm apple cider? It’s delicious.”

“I think I will go change into something more comfortable first,” Mildred says, getting up from Gwen’s lap.

Gwen’s hand lands on Mildred’s hip, and Gwen asks, “Do you want something for breakfast, darling?”

“I’ll get something when I come back down,” Mildred says, her hand over Gwen’s on her hip. “Thank you.”

“Nonsense,” Trevor says, “I made us all eggs. I have extra ingredients all cut up and waiting for you. Can I make you an omelet while you change?”

“That would be lovely. Thank you, Trevor.”

Gwen pouts at Mildred. “I see. You just prefer Trevor’s cooking.”

Mildred laughs, tells Gwen, “Yes I do. I don’t know why you ever left him.” Gwen pretends to be offended, and Mildred leans over and kisses Gwen until she can’t keep the smile off her face.

“There’s no stopping them,” Gwen hears Trevor stage-whisper to Anne. “They’re always like this.”

“It’s sweet,” Anne says.

“Go change,” Gwen says, a little squeeze of Mildred’s hip. Mildred smiles at Gwen so lovingly as she walks out of the kitchen.

“Still a lovesick fool,” Trevor says to Gwen as she watches Mildred leave.

“Yes,” Gwen says with a smile. “But if it helps, Mildred seems ready to marry you for your cooking.”

 


 

When Mildred walks back into the kitchen Anne is eagerly reading her history textbook while Trevor cooks.  

“You got to work right away, sweetheart,” Mildred says.

“I don’t want to fall behind.”

“Are you comfortable going back tomorrow? Because you don’t need to if you aren’t ready.”

“I want to. I’ll be ok, and I feel so much better now that you talked to the school. Thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me,” Mildred tells Anne. “Gwen and I will protect you in any way that we can.”

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t thank you for that,” Anne says, and Mildred understands, thinks she has had so many similar conversations with Gwen where Gwen insists her acts of love deserve no thanks and should be taken for granted. Mildred wishes Anne could feel that way, wishes she still took for granted that parents love their children. But Anne can’t and neither can Mildred.

“You’re welcome.” Mildred cups Anne’s cheek in her palm. Anne smiles at Mildred and she feels her chest ache with love for this girl. “You have a family that will fight for you now.”

The phone rings and Mildred moves the short distance to answer. “Hello?”

“Good morning Mildred, dear. It’s Margaret, how are you?”

“I’m well. How are you and Kathy?”

“We’re fine. I was just worried about Anne after talking to Gwen yesterday. How’s she doing.”

Gwen walks over to Mildred, takes the phone from her hand, “Hi Mom, we’re all ok.  Mildred was amazing at the school today. She got some kids suspended, and it sounds like it will be safer for Anne. But Mildred hasn’t eaten yet, so we call you after breakfast?”

Mildred smiles at her love, shakes her head fondly, taking the phone back and telling Margaret. “I’m sorry. Gwen is just overprotective. I don’t want to hurry you off the phone.”

“Not at all. Go eat breakfast. You can call me later. And Mildred? You are a wonderful mother. Anne is so lucky to have you.”

Mildred’s throat feels tight and she can’t get the words out. She feels Gwen’s arms wrap around her waist from behind, leans back into Gwen. “Thank you,” Mildred croaks, her voice breaking.

“Oh darling girl,” Margaret says at the sounds of Mildred’s voice, “you are amazing. Don’t forget that.” The tears come then, and Mildred wonders if this is what having a mother feels like.

Gwen presses her cheek to Mildred’s, says loud enough for Margaret to hear on the other end of the phone, “Don’t worry Mom, I won’t let her forget. Can we call you back?”

Margaret replies, “Of course, my dears. Give Anne a kiss for me. And tell her Nana loves her.”

Mildred and Gwen both agree and Mildred hangs up the phone. She walks to Anne, presses a kiss to the top of Anne’s head, Gwen doing the same, and telling Anne, “From your grandma.”

Gwen kisses Anne’s hair again, tells her, “This one is from me.”

“And me,” Mildred adds with another kiss.

Anne beans up at them. “I love you.”

“We love you too,” Mildred tells Anne.

Gwen echoes, “Love you Anne. My mom sends her love.”

Anne wipes at her eyes, “I’m sorry. That shouldn’t make me cry. You all just make me feel very loved.”

“That is because you are,” Gwen tells her, “we love you so much.”

Anne is nodding and covering her face. “I know you do,” she says, her shoulders starting to shake.

Mildred crouches down beside Anne, wraps her arms around Anne loosely at first, let’s Anne decide if she wants a hug. The girl throws her arms around Mildred, and Mildred holds her tightly, knows what it’s like to desperately want the physical evidence of how loved she is. “I know,” Mildred whispers into Anne’s hair, understands being so overwhelmed by love, doesn’t want Anne to feel alone. “I know it’s a lot. But it’s real; we love you so much, and we always will.”

Mildred feels Anne nodding against her neck. Gwen squeezes Mildred’s shoulder, and Mildred is so grateful for her darling Gwen and her constant support, her understanding of exactly what Mildred needs. After a few minutes Anne sits back and wipes her cheeks. “Thanks, Mildred.”

Mildred presses a kiss to Anne’s forehead before standing. Gwen wraps her arm around Mildred’s waist, whispers in her ear, “You’re amazing. You didn’t forget, right?”

Mildred looks at Anne, who is smiling at Mildred with an expression that Mildred knows is love, and that takes her breath away, how can this child love her so much. Gwen kisses Mildred’s cheek, whispers into her ear, “amazing.”

She feels in this moment like maybe she is a good mother. It’s so much, too much for her to fully grasp, this feeling that she is doing well, that her love, how she expresses that love, that Mildred herself is what Anne needs. But Gwen is kissing behind Mildred’s ear, whispering again what a wonderful mother Mildred is. And Anne is smiling happily. Mildred dares to trust that she is getting something right.

 

Chapter Text

Mildred is half asleep in Gwen’s arms. They’re lying together on the couch, Mildred tucked between Gwen’s legs, her head cradled against Gwen’s breast, hand resting under Gwen’s pajama shirt against her abdomen, making Gwen feel so warm and content. Just as Gwen thinks that perhaps Mildred has dozed off, her fingers graze the skin around Gwen’s bellybutton, tickling slightly.

Gwen looks down at Mildred, takes her in, eyes still closed, a content smile on her face. She looks so peaceful here in Gwen’s arms. “Do you want to go up to bed, my love?”

Mildred shakes her head, fingers still caressing Gwen’s skin. “Comfortable here,” Mildred murmurs, nuzzling against Gwen’s chest.

Gwen rubs Mildred’s back, presses a kiss to her hair. Gwen reaches over and grabs the throw blanket from the back of the couch, lays it over Mildred. Her darling must be exhausted, was awake so early to go to Anne’s school while Gwen slept in.

Mildred moans contentedly, presses a little kiss to Gwen’s chest.

“Rest darling,” Gwen says, hopes maybe Mildred will get a little sleep on the couch. They will all need to wake up early tomorrow to get to school and work.

The evening news is playing on the radio, and Gwen closes her eyes and listens. They’re discussing the Montgomery bus boycott. The world is changing, Gwen thinks. So slowly, but still changing. She’s so used to the way people see her, but having Anne makes Gwen want to fight harder for a world where her daughter can live freely without having to hide who she is.

“I love you,” Gwen tells Mildred, though of course Mildred knows. But Gwen is so overwhelmed by how much she loves Mildred right now that she simply has to say it.

Mildred tilts her head up, opens her eyes, a sleepy smile on her lips. “I love you so much Gwen.”

Gwen smiles at Mildred, leans down to press a kiss to her mouth, fingers running through Mildred’s hair. “I’m sorry to disturb you,” Gwen says with another soft kiss. “I just love you so much.”

Mildred beams at her. “I’ll never get tired of hearing you say those words to me. I still don’t know how I got so lucky.”

“Oh hush,” Gwen tells Mildred. It’s an old argument. “I am the lucky one.”

Mildred lays her head back against Gwen’s chest, a smile on her face as she closes her eyes. “My darling,” she hums.

“Sleep,” Gwen says, pulling the blanket back up the cover Mildred’s shoulders. “I’ll stop bothering you.”

“You could never bother me.” Mildred grins, eyes still closed, her arms reaching around Gwens waist and squeezing her. “I love you so much, silly Gwen.”

“I love you,” Gwen replies, shifting to lay flatter on the couch. “Sleep, love.”

“It’s only eight o’clock.”

“But you’re exhausted. Get some sleep here if you won’t go up to bed yet.”

“I told Anne we would tuck her into bed after her shower.”

Gwen’s heart aches at that, full of so much love for Mildred, how incredible she is with Anne, how dedicated she is to giving Anne to kind of care and love that Mildred never knew growing up.

 


 

When Anne comes back downstairs after her shower, Mildred is snoring quietly in Gwen’s arms. Gwen turns and smiles at Anne with so much warmth. Every time Anne worries that she’s intruding, Gwen or Mildred just look at her with so much love that Anne remembers that she’s home.

Anne sits down on the floor next to the couch, back pressed against the arm of the couch that Gwen’s head is resting on. “Hi sweetie,” Gwen greets her. “How was your shower?”

“Good,” she whispers, doesn’t want to wake Mildred. “You two can go to bed. I’ll go read in my room.” It still feels odd to call the room hers, to say aloud that this home is hers. She wants it to be, but somehow it still feels presumptuous to say that she belongs here. She still needs those smiles, those hugs, those reassurances that Gwen and Mildred truly love enough to want her here forever.

Anne shifts a bit so that she is resting against Gwen’s arm, looks up at Gwen, wants to see the reassurance that Anne knows she’ll find in Gwen’s eyes.

“What’s the matter?” Gwen asks, shifting so she can look at Anne.

“Nothing,” Anne says, and it feels true when she looks at Gwen. Nothing is wrong. This is home. This is her family. Anne closes her eyes and leans her head against Gwen’s shoulder.

“Are you sure, sweetheart?”

Gwen’s voice is full of love and care, and Anne breathes, feels safe and loved. “I’m sure.”

Gwen leans her cheek on the top of Anne’s head. Anne’s eyes burn with tears, she feels silly for her doubt a moment ago. She’s cuddled against Gwen’s shoulder, Mildred asleep in Gwen’s arms. It’s so different from the home Anne grew up in, and this warmth is so wonderful, so new but so comforting. There is just so much love in this house, and all Anne wants is to always be a part of it.

Anne wonders if Gwen is ever afraid, seems so sure, so steady. “Did you ever want to have kids?” Anne asks.

“I never thought too much about it. I knew I would never be with a man, so I didn’t think children would ever be a possibility for me.” Gwen’s eyes fill with tears, and her voice cracks as she tells Anne. “You wanting Mildred and me to be your moms has been the most unexpected, incredible surprise of my life. You made us both so happy.”

Anne watches as tears roll down Gwen’s cheeks. “Were you scared?”

“At first. I didn’t want to let you down.”

“Oh,” Anne says. “That was silly. You and Mildred were really both afraid you wouldn’t be good moms?”

“Yes,” Gwen says with a little laugh. “It’s intimidating at first. What do I know about being a mother?”

“It seems like you know a lot,” Anne says. “I can’t believe I found you and Mildred. I keep waking up afraid this isn’t real or that it isn’t forever.” Anne feels anxious saying the words aloud, hopes she hasn’t offended Gwen.

“Do you want to know my biggest irrational fear? That you’ll change your mind. That I love you so much already and it will break my heart if you don’t want to stay here with us.”

“Really?” Anne asks, struggling to believe this. “I’m scared you will change your mind, and you’re scared I’ll change mine?”

“It seems awfully silly of the both of us when you put it like that doesn’t it?” Gwen asks with a smile. Her face grows serious as she tells Anne, “I understand why you’re afraid. I can’t comprehend how much it hurt for your parents to treat you how they have, but I promise you that there is nothing you could possibly do to make Mildred and me stop loving you.”

Anne nods, thinks if she tries to respond she will start crying. Gwen’s expression is so sincere, so pained at the thought of what Anne has been through. Anne lays her head back on Gwen’s shoulder, nods again. Gwen kisses her hair. Anne lets the silence stretch a long moment until she finally feels able to speak without tears. “I always want to be your daughter.”

“You always will be,” Gwen soothes Anne. “No fears from any of us can change that. It’s alright to be scared, sweetheart. If you feel able, you can always tell Mildred and me. We will do our very best to reassure you.”

Anne knows. When she stops and thinks, she knows how much Gwen and Mildred love her, knows they would do anything for her. The worry abates, and Anne feels better, feels silly for ever worrying that this won’t remain her home.

“I had a good day today,” Anne tells Gwen, knows how upset Gwen was about what happened to Anne at school yesterday. But Anne feels so much better now, feels ready to face school again tomorrow.  

“I’m so glad. Just one more day of the week to get through and then it’s the weekend.”

“I’ll be ok,” Anne says.

Gwen is smiling at Anne with a look of love that takes Anne’s breath away as she tells her, “My brave daughter.”

Chapter Text

“You’re quiet, sweetheart,” Mildred says. Anne is sitting on the couch, has barely said a word since Mildred picked her up a half hour ago after volleyball practice. Mildred wrings her hands, doesn’t know what’s wrong or what to do. She wishes Gwen were here. Gwen would know how to help Anne.

Anne’s eyes are swimming when she looks up at Mildred, but she doesn’t say anything.

“What’s wrong?” Mildred asks.

Anne shakes her head, pulls her knees up to her chest and rests her head against her legs.

Mildred feels paralyzed. Anne obviously doesn’t want to talk to her. Does she want to be alone? Is Mildred making it worse?

Gwen is stuck at her office until late, and Mildred wishes desperately that Gwen was here. She would know exactly how to comfort Anne, always knows exactly how to make Mildred feel better.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Mildred asks, and she feels so stupid. A parent would know what to do. Anne doesn’t say anything, her face buried in her knees, her breathing uneven.

“Do you want me to give you space?”

“No!” Anne says, looks up at Mildred panicked.

“It’s alright. I’m here. I was just asking in case you wanted to be alone.”

“I don’t,” Anne says.

Mildred sits, leaves a little room between herself and Anne, doesn’t know how much closeness Anne wants when she is curled in on herself. But Anne immediately comes close and leans her head on Mildred’s shoulder. Mildred wraps her arms around Anne, asks, “Is this ok?”

Anne nods, and Mildred feels tears leak onto her uniform. “I’m not going anywhere,” Mildred reassures Anne. “I’m here with you, sweetheart.”

Mildred wishes Anne would talk to her, wishes she knew what happened today that’s making Anne so upset. But she doesn’t want to push. She holds Anne tightly, and Anne is crying softly. Mildred rubs Anne’s back and wishes desperately she could take away her pain.

They sit together like that for so long that Anne’s voice startles Mildred. “Do you have siblings?” Anne asks.

“I had a brother,” Mildred says, caught off guard, does not want to think about Edmund right now. Her feelings about him are so complicated, so difficult to contain. She needs to focus on Anne right now. “Why? Did you see your sister?”

“She hates me. Or she’s afraid of me? I tried to hug her and she screamed and told me that I was going to try to hurt her. She’s my sister. I can’t even think… and my parents convinced her that being a lesbian means I would…”

Anne can’t say it. It’s too horrific for her to think about. And Mildred feels sick because she had done that. She touched her brother. She did things with him that are so horrific that Anne cannot make herself say the words. Of course she can’t, even the idea is too terrible.

The reality, Mildred knows, is so much worse. She can feel Edmund’s hands on her, between her legs. No, she cannot think about this here. She needs to focus on Anne, blinks, tries to clear her mind. But she cannot stop the memories. Her touching Edmund. The way he tasted. Mildred nearly sobs, bites her lip. She tastes blood.

Anne is still crying against Mildred. “I would never hurt her,” Anne sobs. “She’s my sister.

Anne sounds disgusted at the idea, and for an instant Mildred feels disgusting. No, Mildred tells herself. No, none of what happened to her, none of what she was forced to do was her fault. It wasn’t her choice and there is nothing wrong with her. Mildred forces herself to breathe - she knows that those months in that house were abuse, and she is not marked by them.

“Oh Anne, I am so sorry, sweetheart.”

Mildred doesn’t know what else to say. She knows the hurt so deeply of losing a sibling. Though Mildred herself now feels flooded with guilt, the voice that always lives in the back of her head reminding her that she is the one who abandoned her brother.

No, it wasn’t Mildred’s fault. How many times has Gwen told her that, how many times after Edmund was apprehended and refused to talk to Mildred before his execution? Gwen had held Mildred while she cried and hated herself. She was a scared child, younger than Anne, so terrified after months of abuse and after she watched her brother murder their foster family.

It isn’t Mildred’s fault. It isn’t. She tries to tell herself over and over, bites her lip so hard, the skin already split. It brings her back to that house, to rocking herself in the night alone, biting her lip to keep from sobbing. She feels like that child, her mind spiraling away from her, feels herself being pulled away from the present.

“Anne,” Mildred says, needs to stay present with Anne, needs to help her through this. Mildred is a mother now, and she has to be able to put her own pain away and focus on Anne. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart.” Anne nods against her, tears soaking through Mildred’s uniform onto her skin.

Her mind lurches to the past, her skin wet with Edmund’s fluids. Mildred feels sick. She’s nauseous, feels like that child on the stage, out of control.

But she is in control. She is an adult. She is a mother. Mildred focuses on rubbing Anne’s back, on trying to comfort Anne while she cries. Mildred wishes she knew how to help, what to do for Anne.

Anne just stays in Mildred’s arms, breath shuddering, tears still coming, as she clings tightly to Mildred. It helps ground Mildred, her child in her arms. Her daughter needs her. So Mildred forces herself to focus, to stay present, her body still aching, skin crawling with the memories. But she focuses on Anne and holds her as she cries, and wishes desperately there was something more she could do for Anne. Maybe there is but Mildred’s brain is so overwhelmed, taking all her effort just to stay present and focus on Anne. So that’s what she does – she keeps rubbing Anne’s back and kissing her hair and holding her in her arms.

 


 

Gwen walks in the door, absolutely exhausted. It’s nearly 9 PM and she had been stuck in her office late making up for the work she didn’t do yesterday when she and Mildred had stayed home with Anne.

The sound that greets Gwen shakes her from the haze of fatigue. She hears Anne crying as soon as she walks towards the living room.

Gwen finds them on the couch, Anne wrapped in a tight hug, her face hidden in Mildred’s neck. Mildred looks horribly upset, something clearly wrong, her eyes glassy and far away, an expression that Gwen has come to understand means that Mildred’s mind is lost in memory.

Gwen comes to them, kneels beside them both. “What’s wrong, my darlings?”

Mildred’s eyes focus on Gwen and she seems to be back in the present. She smiles at Gwen, wobbly, haunted, and Gwen puts her hand out slowly so Mildred can see, before she puts her hand on Mildred’s upper arm. Gwen presses her other palm to Anne’s back.

“What happened?” Gwen asks, needs Mildred to focus and talk to her.

Anne doesn’t say anything, just cries harder as Gwen rubs her back.

“Is it alright if I tell Gwen?” Mildred asks, and Gwen loves Mildred, can see that though she is very haunted by something, that her first thought is making sure Anne is comfortable.

Gwen sees Anne nod against Mildred’s shoulder, and Gwen keeps rubbing Anne’s back, dreading hearing why her sweet girl is upset.

“Anne saw her sister today,” Mildred says.

Gwen’s heart breaks. “Oh Anne. I’m so sorry. I know how much you were hoping you could maintain a relationship with Mary.”

“My parents made her afraid of me. Afraid that I would rape her. I hate them so much. This is the worst thing they’ve done. Worse than throwing me out. I hate them so much. I can’t stop thinking about how Mary screamed and ran away from me.”

It all makes sense to Gwen now – why Anne is so upset and why Mildred looks so trapped in memory. Poor Mildred must be so reminded of what happened to her and Edmund.

“I’m so sorry Anne,” Gwen says again and then she is rising, coming to sit behind Mildred, wrap her arms around both of them.

Mildred turns to look at Gwen, who presses her lips so softly to Mildred’s. She seems more present, and Gwen hopes her touch is grounding Mildred.

Gwen kisses Mildred’s cheek, leans her chin on her shoulder. “You’re here with me,” Gwen whispers, “and you’re amazing.”

Mildred’s hand covers Gwen’s on Anne’s back, gives a little squeeze.

Anne sniffles, and Gwen asks. “Is there anything else we can do right now?”

“No. I’m just so sad. I don’t want to talk.”

“That’s alright,” Gwen reassured Anne. “We can just sit with you and hug you as long as you want. I’m sorry I’m home so late,” Gwen says, upset she left Mildred here on her own struggling with the memories, taking care of Anne on her own.

Anne shakes her head. “Neither of you should apologize. You let me be your family. You’re the only family I have now.”

Gwen’s heart is breaking with the truth of Anne’s words. She squeezes Anne tighter. “We’re so grateful to be your family. We love you so much. We always will.”

“I love you too.”

Mildred seems to pull herself back to the present, takes a few deep breaths, tells Anne. “We’re always going to be your moms.”

“Always,” Gwen agrees. She wishes she could do something more to comfort both of them. Wishes she could take away their pain, wishes she could talk freely with Mildred, offer her a place to sob and process the memories. But that will need to wait until they are alone, even though she can see Mildred struggling. Gwen squeezes Mildred’s hand, promises, “we’re all here. It’s safe.”

 


 

Mildred feels dirty, wishes she didn’t, but her skin is crawling.

“Is this still ok?” Gwen asks, squeezing Mildred’s hand. They’re sitting in a bubble bath together, facing each other in the warm water.

Mildred nods. She can’t explain but she wants Gwen to keep touching her, wants to be naked with Gwen.

Gwen’s hands run up and down Mildred’s arm, back to her hand, gently massaging her palm and her fingers. “You’re with me, my love. You’re safe now.”

Mildred’s breath quickens, she knows she’s safe, but somehow her body feels so on guard, wound so tightly, ready to run.

Mildred wants to be closer to Gwen, wants to lose herself in the feeling of Gwen pressed against her. She slides onto Gwen’s lap, wraps her legs around Gwen’s hips, arms around her neck. Gwen refers to this fondly as Mildred doing her koala impression, but it feels so wonderful to be this close to Gwen.

“I have you,” Gwen says, her hands gentle and warm on Mildred’s back. Mildred closes her eyes and nuzzles into Gwen’s neck. She doesn’t have words right now, isn’t ready to talk about how awful she feels, wishes the feeling would go away, wishes her body didn’t still feel like it belonged to a little girl that she is still learning to love.

“Does this still feel good to you sweetness?”

Mildred isn’t sure why Gwen is asking until she realizes that her body is shaking slightly, that tears are falling from her eyes.

“You always feel good, Gwen.”

“Tell me if there’s something else you need.”

“I should have done better today,” Mildred sighs. “I couldn’t do anything to help Anne. A mother would know how to help.”

“You are her mother. And you did help. Some things hurt in ways that we can’t take away for her, but you hugged her and showed her love. I know from experience how much that helps. Your arms holding me when I need you is the reason I’m alive.”

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s the truth. I would have given up half way through chemo if I didn’t have you. You were the only thing that made the pain bearable. It didn’t go away, but you gave me a reason to go on through the pain. You always do.”

Mildred shakes her head, can’t help but think that poor Gwen spends far more time taking care of Mildred than she should need to. “I’m sorry. You had a long day and now I’m making you take care of me.”

“Don’t you dare,” Gwen says, sitting back enough to look at Mildred. Gwen’s palm cups Mildred’s cheek, her other arm still wrapped around Mildred’s waist. “You aren’t making me do anything. I love you. I cherish being allowed to take care of you. This is a gift, and I do not take it for granted.”

Mildred nods, accepts the gift that Gwen gives her, the gift of being loved when Mildred has forgotten how to love herself. “I love you.” The words seem small, not nearly enough to encompass the depth of what Mildred feels for Gwen.

Mildred lays her head back on Gwen’s shoulder, breathes Gwen in, focuses on the feeling of their breaths coming together. Mildred feels her body relax, the remnants of memory and guilt beginning to leave her body with every breath.

 


 

“Promise you won’t stay awake all night watching me?” Mildred asks as she sits down on their bed with Gwen. “I really do feel so much better.”

Gwen smiles at Mildred, cups her cheek, tells her, “Only if you promise you’ll wake me if you need me.”

Mildred’s eyes are stormy with emotion. “I’m sorry that I’m still like this,” Mildred says, and Gwen’s heart breaks.

“You are perfect,” Gwen says, lays back against the pillow and extends her arm, beckoning Mildred to join her.

Mildred lays against Gwen’s chest, looks up at Gwen with wide eyes. “You are brave,” Gwen says, her arms encircling Mildred. “You are so strong, my love. And you are so good.”

“I don’t feel good right now,” Mildred admits. Gwen feels nauseous, hates that her love still feels this way. But she’s sharing it with Gwen, she’s trusting Gwen to see her when everything hurts like this. And for that Gwen is so terribly grateful.

“That’s ok. You have a right to feel everything you’re feeling,” Gwen reassures. “But listen to me when I tell you that you are so good and so loving. You are the most wonderful partner and the most wonderful mother. Even in the moments when you doubt that, you still are.”

Mildred closes her eyes, tears falling down her cheeks. For a moment she remains silent. Gwen continues talking. “You make my life so happy. You do that Mildred. You make every day of my life so wonderful. And Anne. You gave her a home. You made her feel safe with you, even when she’s hurting, even when there’s nothing we can do to fix that, you make her feel safe and loved.”

“I was so lost with her today. She was so quiet and I didn’t know what to do for her.”

“You did it anyway. You sat with her and loved her.”

“I always love her,” Mildred says, her voice breaking. “But it was so hard. I felt so bad, like I was failing her. And then she asked if I had siblings. And I couldn’t stop thinking about Edmund, and how I failed him, and it all got so confused in my head. And when Anne started talking about how her sister was saying she was afraid that Anne would be sexual with her, I just got lost in the past and I couldn’t stop the memories.”

“You are so strong.” Gwen wishes Mildred never had to be strong like this. “Even though you were hurting and reminded of your past, you still put it aside and took such good care of Anne.”

“Do you really think I was alright? I didn’t hurt her?”

“Oh, darling, no.” Gwen looks at Mildred, sees the worry on her face. “Anne adores you so much Mildred. She wanted to be close to you even if she didn’t want to talk. We’ve both felt that way before. I love that when I don’t feel able to talk that you’re there and it is so easy just to be present without a word.”

“I know that feeling,” Mildred agrees, “thank you my love.”

 


 

Mildred wakes to Gwen lying beside her, half asleep, a soft smile on her face as she gazes at Mildred.

“Morning,” Mildred murmurs. Gwen’s smile makes her feel warm, and Mildred rolls over into Gwen’s arms.

They lay together for a moment before Gwen asks, “How do you feel my love?”

“A little embarrassed.”

“Why?”

“I was a mess yesterday.”

“No you weren’t,” Gwen says, fingers brushing stray hairs behind Mildred’s ear and smiling at her, that expression of so much love still takes Mildred’s breath away after all these years. “You were incredibly strong. You were reminded of the worst time of your life, and it’s understandable that it’s still difficult to cope with.”

“Thank you for helping me through it,” Mildred says, tries not to feel guilty or wrong, tries to accept that her past may still affect her but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with her.

“We’ve been together nearly a decade. We fall apart in front of each other. No thanks or apologies are ever needed. I never want you to hold anything back with me.”

“I want to be better for you and Anne.”

“You’re perfect. Honestly, I know you were hurting yesterday, but you were everything Anne needed. And as for me, you are perfect and I am just so grateful that when you’re upset that you can share that with me. I wish I could take the pain from you.”

“You do.” Mildred looks at Gwen with her hair messy from sleep, face bare of makeup. “You take the pain from me. And you give me so much joy. You somehow know how to make me feel good and safe even when I’m hurting.”

“Are you feeling better today?”

“I am,” Mildred says. “I wish this weren’t true, but thinking about Edmund always makes my skin crawl and makes me feel so uneasy.”

“Of course, and there is nothing wrong with you for feeling that way.”

“But everything you did helps. The way you touch me when I hurt-“ Mildred’s throat feels tight and for a moment she can’t speak. “You make me feel safe.” Mildred cups Gwen’s cheek. “I love you so much.”

Gwen’s arms engulf Mildred, hands soft and gentle on her back. “No one’s touch ever felt good before yours,” Mildred says. It probably sounds sad to Gwen, but it’s not. It’s such a happy though, having a woman who loves Mildred so much, whose touch is always soft and filled with love, whose hands would never hurt Mildred.

“Would you try to do something for me Mildred?” Gwen asks, voice pulling Mildred from her thoughts.

“Please try to remember that you can feel afraid and unsure with Anne, but that being afraid does not mean that what you’re doing isn’t right. Because everything I have seen shows me that you are giving Anne everything that she wants and needs from us. She loves you so much Mildred. It’s obvious that she feels safe and loved with you.”

Mildred closes her eyes and thinks of Anne. If Mildred looks at it logically she thinks that Gwen is right, that Anne does feel safe with Mildred. Mildred still wonders in some moments if Anne deserves more, should have someone who can love her better than Mildred does.

But then Mildred’s eyes meet Gwen’s, and Mildred is overwhelmed by the love she sees. Mildred knows with absolute certainty that Gwen wants no one else, that even when Mildred feels like she is falling apart, that all Gwen wants is Mildred. She is loved here in this bed, loved desperately, perfectly, for exactly who she is. Mildred thinks maybe she can be good enough for Anne too, fears and trauma and all, maybe Mildred simply is good enough for her family how she is. Mildred closes her eyes and listens to Gwen’s heart, and lets herself feel worthy.

Chapter Text

Anne walks downstairs, feels exhausted after spending half the night crying in her bed. Charlie is still by her side, had cuddled with her all night, licked her tears away. “You’re a good boy,” she tells the dog, thinks bitterly that this dog is kinder to her than the family who raised her. There’s a chill in the air this morning, rain lashing against the windows, and Anne is wrapped in a soft fluffy robe that Mildred and Gwen bought her for Christmas. It still feels hard to fully accept how much they love her, two people she didn’t know a month ago who now call themselves her mothers, who feel more like her mothers than the woman who gave birth to her.

Anne hears Gwen and Mildred in the kitchen, the scent of coffee and something sweet wafting through the house. She walks through the living room into the kitchen, sees Mildred and Gwen standing together, leaning against the kitchen counter beside the coffee machine. Mildred is pressed against Gwen’s side, arms wrapped around Gwen’s waist, face buried in Gwen’s chest. Gwen’s arms encircle Mildred, and Gwen looks so protective, so in love.

Anne wonders if Mildred is alright, thinks it looks like Gwen is comforting her. There’s so much care between them, Anne thinks. So much love. This kind of warmth still is a surprise to Anne, the open affection in this home something she isn’t used to experiencing, has never known a couple so loving before. Anne watches them a moment longer, Mildred boneless in Gwen’s arms, a small smile on her face as Gwen rubs her hands up and down Mildred’s back. Mildred presses a soft kiss to Gwen’s chest, runs her thumb back and forth against Gwen’s pajama clad waist. Gwen beams at Mildred, catches her eyes, and they smile at each other, so very much in love.

Anne feels choked with tears at the sight of them. Anne remembers being so afraid when she got here, and now she cannot fathom how anyone could see Mildred and Gwen together and see anything besides love and goodness. How could anyone think this kind of love is wrong? Anne wipes her eyes, thinks of the kindness and love that Gwen and Mildred have shown her. She loves them so much, feels so at home with them, wants nothing more than to stay in this family that feels so safe.

“Good morning,” Anne says, her words raspy with tears. She wipes at her eyes and smiles at Mildred and Gwen.

Mildred meets her eyes with a smile that feels warm and sad and accepting, like Mildred immediately understands everything that Anne is thinking and feeling, understands her pain without a word.

Gwen stretches her arm out, beckoning Anne closer, asks, “Good morning hug?”

Anne’s chest is aching with so much emotion. She feels so loved as she walks into waiting arms for a three-way hug, both Gwen and Mildred wrapping their arms around Anne and holding her tight. Anne is hurting and they’re here, offering to carry the pain for her, to carry her through it.

“Good morning our sweet girl,” Gwen says, and Anne wants to cry again. Theirs. She is theirs.

Mildred presses a kiss to the top of Anne’s hair, whispers a warm “Good morning.”

They don’t ask how Anne is feeling, seem to understand the depth of her sadness without a word. Anne doesn’t have to tell Mildred and Gwen how terribly devastated she is to lose Mary; how stupid Anne feels for being so hopeful that Mary would want to see her. Anne truly thought that even if her parents tried to keep her and Mary apart, that Mary would still love her. Hearing her sister, her best friend since Mary was born, tell Anne that she was disgusting and sick, had hurt more than Anne thinks anything else ever has.

Anne stays in Gwen and Mildred’s arm, lets them hold her, lets them accept her, hurt and all.

 

 


 

 

After breakfast, Anne, Mildred, and Gwen had all retired to the living room, Anne sitting on the floor with Charlie and rubbing his belly. Mildred had fallen asleep on the couch almost as soon as she laid down, and Anne knows she must have barely slept last night. Gwen is beside Mildred on the couch, fingers running through Mildred’s hair.

“I’m sorry,” Anne says to Gwen. “I know that I’m not a lot of fun right now. I imagine you’re getting tired of listening to me cry all the time.”

Gwen’s eyes look almost hurt when she turns to Anne. “For me,” Gwen says, “meeting you feels like finding a missing piece of my family. I hate how you’ve been hurt, but I am grateful that Mildred and I can be here with you through it. I wish there was more we could do, but I am so grateful that we all found our way to each other. Mildred and I love you so much, and we love being your parents.”

At least someone does, Anne thinks. She swallows back the bitterness and focuses on the kindness, the love, she feels in the middle of so much pain.

“I still feel like I walked into another world,” Anne says. “I haven’t told you much about what my life was like before I met you. Is it ok to talk about?”

“Of course,” Gwen says, shifting from the couch to sit on the floor next to Anne and Charlie. “Why would you think it isn’t?”

Anne shrugs, feels silly, embarrassed, can’t even articulate everything she’s feeling. And then her vision is blurring with tears. She wipes furiously at her eyes, feels even more embarrassed. Gwen comes close and wraps her arm around Anne.

Anne needs to stop crying. “I’m sorry, Gwen.”

“Why?”

“I just keep crying.”

“That’s alright,” Gwen says, her hand running up and down Anne’s arm, and Anne lays her head on Gwen’s shoulder. “You cry all you need to.”

Mildred is sitting up then, sees them, is immediately worried. She kneels in front of Anne.

“I’m fine,” Anne says, “I am fine. I just can’t stop crying. I’m sorry for waking you.”

Mildred shakes her head, sits beside Anne, wraps her arm around her shoulder. Anne is sandwiched between Mildred and Gwen, and Anne sobs because it feels so comforting and safe to be here with them like this.

“Do you still want to talk to us about what your life was like before you met us?” Gwen asks. “We would love to know anything you feel ready to share.”

“Really?” Anne doesn’t know why she’s so surprised. Gwen and Mildred have been endless open, but she wonders if it would hurt them to talk about her past in a family that she misses and hates at the same time, a family she knows would treat Mildred and Gwen with nothing but disdain.

“Of course,” Gwen tells her. “We want to know you, and where you come from has helped you become the wonderful young woman you are. You don’t have to tell us anything you don’t want to of course.”

Anne closes her eyes. Mildred is rubbing her back, Gwen’s hand squeezing Anne’s arm. They’re so warm and accepting, and she wishes for a moment she had always been theirs. It’s a silly thought, but she wishes they remembered what she was like as a baby, knew her first words, when she lost her first tooth. Anne sobs, and she wishes she could stop crying. Everything hurts, but at the same time she feels so safe and loved as Mildred and Gwen hug her tighter as she cries.

“It’s so hard,” Anne says, “I don’t know how to hold on to any happy memories. I remember feeling loved by my parents and my sister and my whole extended family. And I don’t know how to make that fit with how they treat me now, because I don’t understand how you could do this to someone you love.  And I think about Mary, and it’s ruined. All the happy memories of Christmases and birthdays, or just being silly and baking together. It’s all ruined, because I think back and what felt like love couldn’t possibly have been. But I don’t know what to do with the memories.”

Mildred and Gwen don’t say anything, because what is there to say really? But they hold her tight and rub her back and kiss her head like she’s their baby. And it aches so much.

“I know that feeling,” Mildred says after the silence has stretched on, her voice tentative, like she isn’t sure if she should say this. “I feel similarly about a lot of memories of my brother.”

The words sound painful, and Gwen reaches over to kiss Mildred’s temple. Anne understands that these are awful memories for Mildred, and Anne would never ask questions.

“I don’t have any wisdom,” Mildred says, “I just wanted you to know that I can understand that feeling.”

Gwen is looking at Mildred with so much love, rubbing her arm. Anne feels choked with the understanding that this hurts Mildred to think about but that she is sharing this piece of herself to help Anne. Anne throws her arms around Mildred’s neck, hears Mildred’s surprised yelp. “Thank you,” Anne says, and she hopes Mildred understands how grateful she is even if she doesn’t have more words to explain.

 

 


 

 

Anne has been dozing on and off on the floor for the last hour she thinks, her head on a pillow in Gwen’s lap, Mildred and Gwen leaning against the couch. Anne hears Gwen’s voice through the haze of sleep. “All those nights when I was so tired and in so much pain that I didn’t know if I could go on. You kept me going. You’re the reason I have this beautiful life.”

Anne is half asleep still as Gwen runs her fingers through Anne’s hair as she speaks to Mildred.

“My love,” Mildred coos at Gwen.

Anne opens her eyes, sees Mildred leaning against Gwen’s shoulder, her cheeks flushing when she sees Anne is awake.

“You two are the sweetest couple,” Anne says with a smile, too tired to move. “Would you tell me a story about your life together? How you met?”

“Oh,” Mildred says, her cheeks seeming to turn even redder. “That story is quite embarrassing. I made things very hard for Gwen.”

“You did not,” Gwen says with a kiss to Mildred’s forehead. “I am forever grateful for your bravery in opening yourself up to what was between us.” Gwen looks down at Anne, tells her, “I saw Mildred at the hospital when I was there with the governor. And I had never seen a more beautiful, intriguing woman in my life. So, I asked her out, and she said yes, but apparently did not know it was a date.” Gwen smiles at the memory, presses her head to Mildred’s.

Mildred looks at Anne, picks up the story, “I had never felt as alive or happy as I did that day.” Anne thinks that sounds terribly sad, her heart aching at the thought of what Mildred’s life was like before she met Gwen. Mildred continues her story, and Gwen pulls Mildred tighter against her. “After dinner Gwen drove us to a lesbian bar, and I’m afraid I didn’t handle it very well. It took me a few weeks to come to terms with my feelings for Gwen and what that meant about me. But there was no way to deny loving Gwen.”

“How did you get together?” Anne asks.

“We went out a few times after that, and things were rocky,” Gwen says with a laugh. “And then my doctor told me I had cancer and that I almost certainly wouldn’t be alive in six months. The next day Mildred showed up at my door and told me she loved me, and even when I told her about the cancer, she stayed. I couldn’t believe it, but then days turned to weeks, and then Mildred moved us to Mexico, and she was by my side through treatment. I don’t think many people would do that for a woman they hardly know.”

“I knew you, and I loved you,” Mildred tells Gwen, “Every day I fall more and more in love with you.” Mildred leans in and kisses Gwen before they both sit back, beaming at each other. Anne sits up and looks at them, thinks of the devotion they have to each other, the devotion she thinks they feel towards her now too. As if reading her mind Mildred says, “Some things just feel right. Even when I was afraid, I knew I loved Gwen, just like I knew you were our daughter.”

Anne smiles, thinks that this story is the story of her family, the story of how her parents met, who they were before she knew them when they were just starting out. “How long did you live in Mexico?”

“Four years,” Gwen says. “I was having treatment for the first two. But then after I was done my doctor wanted me to stay close so she could monitor me while I regained my strength and make sure I was really cured. Those years were very special. I felt well again, and we could spend time together enjoying ourselves.”

“Do you have pictures?”

“The albums are on the bookshelf,” Gwen says, nodding towards the other side of the room, “Right next to the Shakespeare.”

Anne walks over, sees the albums tucked besides the works of literature. “May I?” she asks, waits for Gwen and Mildred to nod at her, before pulling the album labeled Mexico off shelf.

Anne sits back on the floor, opens the album, sees a picture of Mildred and Gwen staring back at her. Gwen looks sick, painfully thin, cheeks hollow, but she looks so happy as she stares at Mildred. “That was our first anniversary,” Gwen tells Anne.

Beside her Mildred’s eyes are filled with tears. “You were so sick that day.”

“I was still the happiest woman alive.” Gwen wipes a tear from Mildred’s cheek. “I’m still alive thanks to you, and I plan to stay that way.”

Mildred chuckles at that, maneuvers them so that Gwen is tucked against Mildred’s chest, Mildred’s arms holding Gwen tight. “You’d better,” Mildred says with a kiss to Gwen’s cheek.

“Look at this one,” Gwen says, pointing at a picture of the two of them. It looks like another anniversary photo, both of them wearing bathing suits, and Gwen is so thin and her head is wrapped in a scarf, but they are smiling with their arms wrapped around each other. “I think I threw up right after we took the photo.”

“You definitely did,” Mildred says, runs her hands up and down Gwen’s arms. “I’m very grateful to have you Gwendolyn.” Mildred reaches out her hand to take one of Anne’s, “and we are so grateful to have you.”

Anne gives Mildred’s hand a squeeze, flips to the next page of the album. There are a number of pictures of Mildred alone on the beach, smiling shyly, obviously taken by Gwen. Anne flips the page again and the next photo is of Mildred and Gwen, both dressed up, Gwen’s hair very short.

Mildred and Gwen both smile looking at the picture. “That was Gwen’s last day of treatment,” Mildred tells Anne.

“We spent the whole night dancing,” Gwen adds. “It was a wonderful day.”

“You’re completely cured?” Anne asks anxiously.

“Yes sweetheart,” Gwen says. “It’s always a little scary when I have to see my oncologist and have my tests done. But it’s been over six years since I finished treatment and there is no evidence of any cancer coming back.”

Anne finds it doesn’t do much to soothe her anxiety, wonders how Gwen and Mildred have learned to live with this constant threat hanging over them.

Anne flips to the next page, sees a picture that must be a few months later than the last, because Gwen’s hair has grown to her chin and she looks healthy again, her face fuller. She and Mildred are sitting with a group of women.

“Where is this?” Anne asks.

“A very fun lesbian bar in the town where we lived” Gwen says. Gwen points to an older couple, “That’s Marianna and Rosa. They were very kind to us. They brought us home cooked meals and helped with chores when I was sick and Mildred was busy caring for me.”

Anne sees Mildred’s arms tighten around Gwen. “We owe them a phone call,” Mildred says. “It’s been too long.”

“They will be so happy to know we have a daughter,” Gwen says, and Anne’s throat burns with emotion. Mildred and Gwen are both smiling so widely at Anne as Gwen continues, “We should all take a vacation to Mexico this summer. We haven’t been back, and it would be so nice to show you around Anne.”

“You want me to come on your vacation?”

Gwen smiles at her, expression a little sad, but so warm. “Of course. You’re our family.”

Mildred lays her hand on Anne’s cheek. “I know that can be hard to accept at first. It took me years to really accept that Gwen’s mom thinks of me as her daughter.”

“Possibly her favorite daughter,” Gwen adds, and she and Mildred chuckle.

Anne lets Mildred wipe that tears that have fallen down Anne’s cheeks, soaks up the love and care. She looks down at the photograph again, thinks there is a whole community of people like her in the world, a place where she belongs.

“I didn’t think I would ever get to feel like someone’s child again after my parents found me kissing Edna,” Anne says, looks up at Gwen and Mildred and she feels like their child. “I was stupid. I didn’t think anyone else was home, but my mom must have gotten home early, and she opened my bedroom door when Edna and I were kissing. It was so stupid of me. I had never kissed anyone before. We were only kissing,” Anne says, looking at Gwen and Mildred like she needs to explain to them, like they would be mad at her, but she knows they wouldn’t, knows they wouldn’t have thrown her out even if a lot more than kissing were happening.

“It’s ok,” Gwen tells Anne, obviously senses how uncomfortable Anne still feels. “There is nothing wrong with sex, when you and your partner both want to have sex it’s never wrong or dirty. And wanting to kiss someone you like when you’re fifteen is completely normal.”

“My mother screamed when she saw us then fell to the floor sobbing. She just sat there wailing for so long. I was so stunned. Edna ran out of the house, and I was there with my mother. I didn’t know what to do. I apologized to her, which now I feel so stupid for, because she’s the one who should be apologizing to me. But I kept telling her how sorry I was, and I begged her not to tell my father.”

Anne wipes at the tears that are falling down her cheeks. She does not want to cry about this anymore. “My mother locked me in my room so I couldn’t run away. I was so afraid. I was so ashamed.” She remembers that shame, remembers how the happiness from kissing a girl she liked had turned from a light joyful feeling, to heavy, sticky shame that Anne didn’t know how to claw her way out of. “My father came home from work and I heard his footsteps coming up the stairs, and he just walked into my room and hit me. No one had ever hit me before, and I was so stunned. I don’t even remember what he said to me; I just remember realizing that I didn’t have a home there anymore. I stayed awake all night, not knowing what was going to happen, and then the next day they drove me to the hospital. The whole ride there I just thought, that was the end of my life as I knew it. I was an adult, and I promised myself that I would do whatever I needed to do to get out of the hospital and go out on my own and find a way to survive.”

Anne breathes, remembers the terror, her attempt to stop her tears, to be resolute, to stop herself from caring that her parents were throwing her out of the home she had known since she was born. “I still can’t believe that you want me to be your kid, and that I still get to be a teenager and have parents and do stupid kid things like volleyball practice or asking for stories when I’m sad.”

“Anne?” Gwen says, and Anne looks up to see that Gwen’s eyes are red and watery. “There is nothing childish about asking for stories or hugs or any kind of comfort that you need. That is yours forever. You’re our daughter, and even when you’re all grown up, you still have a home here and parents who will take care of you.”

“Do you want a hug now?” Mildred asks, and Anne laughs. They know her so well already, know how much Anne loves to be held when she’s sad. Anne nods and Mildred and Gwen move apart to make room for her between them.

Anne settles between them, whispers, “Thanks.”

“You don’t ever need to thank us,” Mildred says. She takes a deep breath, chews on her lip and looks nervous before asking Anne, “Do you still feel ashamed? I know that can take time to shake, and I don’t ever want you to feel ashamed for being yourself.” Anne’s heart aches, as it always does at these hints of what Mildred’s life was like before she knew Gwen. It hurts to think of the woman who is so open with her affection with her partner feeling ashamed of those feelings. When Anne thinks about it, she can still feel the tendrils of shame, the fleeting thoughts that she doesn’t deserve to be treated with this care, that she is wrong, disgusting, should not want this kind of babying from Mildred and Gwen.

“I do know there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Anne says, feels that truth deeper in her bones every day she spends with Mildred and Gwen, sees the beauty in how they love each other.

“Mildred’s right,” Gwen says. “It can take time to shake the feeling when you’ve spent so long with the whole world telling you you’re wrong. But you’re perfect, and there is nothing wrong or shameful about being a lesbian. It’s ok if it takes time to believe that in your heart. We’ll be here with you, and you can tell us anything that you’re feeling. We’ll help you work through anything you need.”

Mildred presses a kiss to Anne’s temple. “It will get better, I promise,” Mildred says. “We’re here, and we love you so much. Maybe we’re not the most conventional family, but there is nothing wrong with any of us. All I could ever want for you is to find someone who loves you the way Gwen and I love each other.”

“For right now I just want to be myself and try to be comfortable with that first. And Trevor is right, you two set the bar very high.”

Gwen and Mildred give Anne a little squeeze, hold her tight between them. She feels more like herself than she ever has before, even if she doesn’t know exactly who that is. Anne thinks that here, in this house and in these arms, she feels safe to find out.

 

Chapter Text

Mildred’s bedroom is pleasantly warm, the heat on in the house to slight chill outside. The sound of rain tapping rhythmically at the windows is calming, makes Mildred grateful to have a home that is warm and dry, and above all so full of love. The dim lamp light illuminates Gwen’s bedside table, a stack of books, a few pieces of jewelry, a folded up love note Mildred left a few days ago now. Mildred smiles, loves how Gwen cherishes these little notes, collects them as Mildred does, each eager to hold on to every trinket of their love.

Mildred sits down on Gwen’s side of the bed, breathes in the scent of the woman she loves. The memories of Edmund that came flooding back yesterday have not faded completely, but still Mildred felt at peace with herself today, and the day had been so full of love, a day with sorrow but also with the kind of deep connection that Mildred cherishes. Mildred and Gwen had held Anne most of the day as she grieved losing her sister. Poor darling Anne had been so terribly upset, but she wanted comfort, wanted Mildred and Gwen to hug her and love her. And even with the reminders of Mildred’s past fresh in her mind, she had felt so present with Anne and Gwen, felt like she was caring for Anne in the way the Anne needed her to, was being the kind of mother that Anne needed.

“Penny for your thoughts, my love?” Gwen asks, sitting in front of Mildred on their bed. Gwen has changed into her pajamas, face washed clean of makeup, her eyes so warm and full of love, just like every time she looks at Mildred. That expression always makes Mildred feel safe. Even in the middle of pain, Gwen has a way of making Mildred feel completely safe and loved. Mildred weaves her fingers with Gwen’s, wants to tell her what she’s thinking, wants Gwen to know what a gift she has given to Mildred. Mildred looks down at their joined hands, her thumb caressing Gwen’s skin. This woman has held Mildred through the worst memories, through nightmares, through days when Mildred felt so uncomfortable in her own skin. And these same wonderful hands have touched Mildred in the most intimate ways, have brought her pleasure, have showed her that her body was safe and good.

“I was thinking about what you said to me this morning - that it’s alright to still be affected by the memories of my childhood, and to try to remember that despite being affected by what happened to me that I’m still good and deserving of love, that some of my thoughts that I have when I’m reminded of the past don’t reflect who I really am. You’ve said it to me a million times,” Mildred says, looks at Gwen’s warm, loving eyes, and feels so safe to tell her these intimate truths, “and I think I finally believe it. It’s getting easier to accept that the memories can still make me feel uncomfortable, but that it passes, and that there’s nothing wrong with me for being haunted by what happened to me. And I don’t get lost in the same way I used to. I don’t feel awful about myself like I used to. When I was getting lost yesterday in those feelings and the thoughts about how I wasn’t good enough for you and Anne, you pulled me back from them. You told me I was still a good person, and I believed it, I believed I was still a good partner to you, and a good mother to Anne.” Mildred feels her cheeks redden at her last sentiment, still can hardly believe she’s really Anne’s mother. “I still feel a little raw now, but I could be present with you and Anne and let myself feel safe and good. I know it’s not perfect, but it’s a lot for me. It’s so much better than I have ever felt before. And you should know that it’s because of you.”

Gwen is smiling at Mildred, her eyes shining with tears. Gwen brings Mildred’s hand to her lips, kisses her knuckles. There are tears falling down Gwen’s cheeks as she keeps kissing Mildred’s hand. Mildred presses her free hand to Gwen’s cheek. “I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’m alright, darling. A lot better than alright actually. I’ve been thinking all day about how I felt dirty yesterday, and I don’t feel that today. I moved past it so quickly. You accepted what I felt, and you helped me accept it and let go of those thoughts about myself. You’ve been accepting all of me for years now, and I know I’ve been slow getting here, but it is so much easier to accept myself now. It feels good Gwen. Even if sometimes the memories make me feel these things about myself that I know aren’t rational. Even now when those memories are still lingering with me, I still know that I am good enough for you and Anne. I feel like I was who Anne needed today, even when the memories came back, I felt like I could be a good mother. I still love myself when I think about the past. You taught me how to do that.”

Gwen throws her arms around Mildred, hugs her so tightly. Mildred smiles, presses a kiss to Gwen’s shoulder, rubs her back. Gwen is crying and holding Mildred, kissing her hair, her ear, her neck. Sweet kisses mixed with the wetness of Gwen’s tears. Gwen is rocking them, and Mildred is overcome with how much Gwen loves her, how much Gwen wants Mildred to love herself and feel free and happy.

“I felt wrong and crazy for so long,” Mildred says, remembers when she started working at Lucia, thinking just how much she had in common with the patients, how she belonged there, not walking around in the world. Mildred had felt so marked by her childhood, so certain that love and family were not things she could have. “I felt like I was meant to be cast aside and unloved. But you just love me every day, my darling, on my good days and bad. You make me feel like I am good and right exactly how I am.”

Gwen’s arms clutch Mildred so tightly as Gwen whispers against her neck. “You are perfect exactly how you are. You are the bravest woman I have ever met, and it is truly my privilege and honor that you share yourself with me like you do. You’re always safe and accepted and loved with me, sweetness. And if that has helped you at all then I am so very grateful. I’m so happy you feel that the past is easier for you to cope with now, and I don’t know how to explain how happy it makes me that you know how wonderful you are.” Gwen presses a series of kisses to Mildred’s neck, rubs her back, tells her, “I love you on the days when you hurt just as much as on the days when you’re happy. I just love you, Mildred. Always.”

“I know,” Mildred says, hugs Gwen tightly to her, presses their cheeks together. “I know, and I am so grateful that you’ve stayed with me and let me take the time I needed to figure out how to love myself like this.”

Gwen sobs and Mildred thinks of how much Gwen has carried her through moments of hating herself, through moments of being repulsed by the things she did, and Gwen has just loved her unconditionally, without asking anything of Mildred, without insisting that she change how she felt. Gwen just loved Mildred for the both of them until Mildred could figure this out, could accept herself and love herself even in the bad moments. She’s not completely there, felt so unsteady yesterday, but she leaned on Gwen and accepted her love, and woke up today feeling alright.

Gwen moves back just enough to look at Mildred, tells her, “You’re amazing. I love you so much. I know how hard you’ve worked to get to this point, and I know how strong you are.” Gwen shakes her head, sobs.

“Why are you crying, my love?” Mildred asks.

“I hate that you have to carry this pain,” Gwen says with a sniffle. “I wish I could take it from you.”

“You’ve carried it with me for nearly nine years. You know every dark memory and thought that I was too ashamed to tell anyone else. You know me and love me, and I honestly don’t think I believed that was possible until you so stubbornly showed me it was.”

“I love every piece of you,” Gwen says, leans her forehead against Mildred’s.

“I know, and I love you. Sharing my life with you gave me the safety to come to terms with my past. I just need you to know that, Gwen.” Mildred kisses Gwen, and it’s soft and familiar, and safe. Nothing in Mildred’s whole life felt safe before Gwen. Mildred pulls back to look at Gwen, tells her, “You turned my whole life upside down. You have made me so happy.”

“Oh, my darling,” Gwen says, shifts a bit to lay back against the pillows, “come here.” Mildred follows Gwen’s warmth, cuddles into her waiting arms, lays against her chest and listens to her heart beating. Mildred looks up at Gwen, and Gwen runs her fingers along Mildred’s jaw. Gwen’s eyes are full of so much warmth and love, and Mildred is so very grateful to spend her life looking into those eyes.

“I love you so much, Mildred,” Gwen says. “I’m the luckiest person that you fell in love with me. And our daughter is so lucky you found her. You never need to do any of this alone. I’m always here right by your side. We’re going to take such good care of Anne. I love you, and I love that you can see what a good mother you are. Because you’re the best. The most warm and loving and protective mother that any child could want. The most incredible person. The most amazing, gentlest, loving partner.”

Panic stabs at Mildred’s chest. She’s a mother, a thought that always terrified her. But Anne is their child, and Gwen is right, Anne does feel safe in Mildred’s arms. And Mildred is beginning to trust that she can take care of Anne, that she won’t hurt her.

Gwen is still crying and Mildred wipes wetness from Gwen’s cheek. “I didn’t mean to make you cry, my love.”

“Good tears. I am so happy that you know how wonderful you are, how strong, and kind, and full of love.” Gwen caresses Mildred’s cheek, the stroke of her gentle fingers feels so good, and Mildred feels like she is melting into the touch, humming contentedly at Gwen. “I am so grateful that you know you aren’t marked by how you were abused as a child, and so grateful that you let me support you through the memories when you’re reminded of them.” Gwen tips Mildred’s chin up so she’s looking Gwen in the eyes. “I know how much strength it takes to tell me about the memories.”

“No,” Mildred says. “It doesn’t. At first it was terrifying, but you never judged me, even when I told you the things that made me feel so disgusting, you still loved me and touched me. You’ve done that for me for years. Now if I’m reminded of the past or if I’m feeling bad about myself or unsafe, all I want is you. It is so easy to share my pain with you, and you make everything better.”

Mildred smiles at Gwen, runs her thumb along Gwen’s lips. Her heart fluttering as Gwen kisses her finger. “No tears my darling,” Mildred says as Gwen keeps sniffling. “I’m happy. I just want you to know that you helped me accept myself for the first time in my life. I want you to know how your love changed me, how you’re given me peace I didn’t think I could ever know.”

Gwen’s arms wrap around Mildred, squeeze her tight. “You expect me not to cry when you say that to me?”

Mildred smiles at Gwen, feels so warm and full of love. “I love you,” Mildred tells Gwen, presses a kiss to her chest, presses her face into Gwen and breathes her in.

Gwen kisses Mildred’s hair, the sensation sending tingles down Mildred’s body. She moans contentedly, so happy, so calm and at peace right here. “I love you,” Gwen murmurs, her chest rumbling under Mildred. “Are you tired, sweetness? Do you want me to turn out the lights?”

“Would you read to me for a little while first?” Mildred asks, knows Gwen wants her to ask for what she wants and needs, knows the last thing Gwen ever wants is for Mildred to hide if she needs support. “I want to fall asleep to the sound of your voice.” It helps her fall asleep and keeps the nightmares away. Gwen knows what this request means, and Mildred knows how Gwen loves being able to give Mildred extra support to sleep without nightmares.

Gwen’s fingers run through Mildred’s hair, caress her scalp so deliciously. “Do you want to hear the next chapter of Frankenstein or something else?” Gwen loves gothic horror and has been introducing Mildred to her favorites recently. Mildred had felt self conscious at first about Gwen with her degree in literature and shelves filled with books that Gwen could discuss endlessly. Mildred had read everything she could get her hands on as a child, had loved the escape, but often there were few books to read in the homes she had been in, and she had read the same book over and over until the binding was falling apart. But Gwen tells Mildred how brilliant she is, loves sharing her favorite books. And Mildred loves when Gwen reads to her, loves the way Gwen tells stories, loves being held and listening to the sound of Gwen’s voice.

“Next chapter, please.”

“Your wish is my command, my darling.” Gwen keeps one arm wrapped around Mildred and reaches over for the book. Gwen sets the book down beside her, wraps both her arms around Mildred again, tells her, “Thank you for sharing how you’re feeling with me. Good or bad, I always want to know. I don’t take for granted that you’ve chosen to share your life with me. I don’t have the words to tell you what you mean to me.”

“You tell me and you show me every day. And I know. Just like you do.”

Gwen wipes at her eyes, seems so touched to hear that Mildred truly does understand the depths of her love. Gwen sniffles back tears, tells Mildred, “I do absolutely know you love me, and I am so happy you know too. I can’t believe you’re mine to love, and that we have a daughter together,” Gwen says, her eyes gleaming again. “I’m so grateful we can take this journey together, my darling.”

“So am I,” Mildred says. “Anne is amazing. I still can’t believe she wants us to be her moms. We’re so lucky.”

“We are.” Gwen smiles at Mildred, leans in to kiss her. Mildred sighs into Gwen’s mouth, filled with gratitude for Gwen, for the life they share, for the peace Mildred has found in Gwen’s arms.

 

Chapter Text

It’s still dark when Mildred wakes, Gwen’s arm is thrown over Mildred’s belly, and Gwen is snoring softly. Mildred smiles, never thought she could possibly be someone who was filled with this kind of fondness by hearing the person she loves snoring. But Gwen looks adorable, her face pressed against Mildred’s side, hair fanned out around her. Mildred still is amazed every day that she gets to spend her life with Gwen, leans over and presses her lips to Gwen’s forehead. Gwen moans a little and nuzzles her face into Mildred. Mildred doesn’t think she will be able to fall back asleep, but she has no problem laying here and cuddling Gwen.

Only a few minutes later, though, Mildred hears footsteps in the hall, hears Charlie running, presumably following behind Anne. The dog has permanently taken up residence in Anne’s room it would seem, and Mildred is so grateful that her darling pup is such a good companion to Anne. Mildred listens to the sound of Anne’s footsteps as she goes down the stairs.

The clock reads 5:06 in the morning, and though it is still early, Mildred is well rested after going to bed early last night. She slept so soundly, doesn’t think she woke up at all, can’t recall any nightmares. She lays her hand on top of Gwen’s, thinks how much these arms have done to chase away Mildred’s demons.  Mildred gingerly moves out of Gwen’s embrace, Gwen mumbling something incomprehensible. Mildred smiles, leans over and kisses Gwen’s forehead again, tells her, “Go back to sleep, my love.” Mildred rubs her fingers down Gwen’s arm, watches Gwen moan and press her face into her pillow. “I love you,” Mildred whispers to her sleeping love.

Mildred goes to the bathroom, feels a little sleepy, half in a dream still as she brushes her teeth, washes her face. She’s lived here for years, shared this bedroom with Gwen for years. It never stops being a wonder to Mildred that she has this life, that Gwen is really hers to love, that Mildred of all people is who Gwen has chosen to spend her life with. Mildred pats her face dry and leaves the bathroom, she looks at Gwen, peacefully snoring again. Mildred slips on her fuzzy slippers and leaves Gwen to rest while Mildred goes to check on their daughter. The though fills Mildred with so much joy. She and Gwen have a daughter. Mildred can’t stop smiling as she walks down the stairs.

Anne is on the couch, Charlie pressed against her getting belly rubs. Anne has a photo album open on her lap.

“Good morning,” Mildred says, fondly watching them.

“Good morning. I didn’t mean to snoop,” Anne says, closing the album.

“You’re welcome to look,” Mildred says, coming to sit down on the couch next to Anne. Charlie gets up and climbs over Anne so that he can lick Mildred’s face, and she kisses him and scratches behind his ears. “Good morning, Charlie.”

“I already let him outside and gave him breakfast,” Anne tells Mildred.

“Thank you,” Mildred replies as Charlie leaps off the couch and runs over to his dog bed, suddenly intent on chewing on his favorite bone.

Anne looks guilty as she gestures to the album on her lap and tells Mildred, “I should have asked first.”

“You don’t need to ask. The books are on the shelf in the living room of your home.” This will be a process; Mildred know it will take time for Anne to feel completely comfortable thinking of this as her home.

“You and Gwen live your lives so openly,” Anne says, her fingers gliding over the cover of the album.

“It’s funny how little people see if they don’t want to,” Mildred muses. “I think most of our neighbors think we’re two spinsters who gave up on finding husbands and decided to live together. If any neighbors have figured out that Gwen and I are partners, they’ve never said anything to us about it. All our friends know and of course Gwen’s family knows.” Mildred smiles at Anne, cups her cheek, tells her, “I know it’s not perfect, sweetheart. But we have such a good life, and we never hide with the people who are important to us.”

Anne shakes her head. “It’s amazing. I never knew this kind of life was possible.”

“I didn’t either until I met Gwen. I thought there was something wrong with being gay, and it never occurred to me that there are people who accept themselves how they are and feel at peace. And Gwen blew into my life and turned everything upside down.”

“You really didn’t know that you were attracted to women before Gwen.”

“I didn’t,” Mildred says honestly. “I had learned from an early age that sex was wrong and dirty. I think I didn’t figure it out sooner because the idea that intimacy could feel safe and good was hard for me to understand because of some things that happened when I was young. When I met Gwen, it took a little while to understand what I was feeling, but she was so patient and good to me. And I couldn’t ignore how much I loved her.” Mildred hopes that isn’t confusing, doesn’t want to get into the details of why sex felt so wrong and unsafe to her before Gwen, why she assumed that being repulsed by sex was simply because she had been ruined by what she had been forced to do with Edmund.

“I’m happy you found Gwen,” Anne says, “You two are perfect for each other. It’s hard to imagine you and Gwen without each other.”

“It’s hard to imagine my life without Gwen,” Mildred says, rarely thinks about the past anymore, about how lonely she felt for so long. “I think I would be a very different person, a much worse one. And neither Gwen nor I can imagine our life without you. It’s been such a short time since we found you, but you are our daughter. And that is absolutely amazing. You turned my life upside down just like Gwen did, in the best possible way.”

Mildred is still surprised to feel how true those words are, how the fear has eased and given way to joy at having Anne in her life. Anne lays her head on Mildred’s shoulder, whispers, “I’m sorry things were hard for you when you were young.” This child is so kind, so generous, Mildred thinks. Even though Anne isn’t Gwen’s blood, somehow Anne reminds Mildred so much of Gwen.

“It’s alright,” Mildred says, a bit uncomfortable with Anne being the one to comfort her. “My life is so wonderful now.” Mildred leans down and kisses the top of Anne’s hair. “You are a wonderful gift. Gwen and I are so grateful to have you in our lives.”

Mildred wraps her arm around Anne’s shoulder, tells her, “You are going to have such a happy life. I know everything is bad right now, but –“

“No!” Anne says, “It isn’t. Having you and Gwen be my moms is amazing. And meeting Margaret, and Kathy, and Trevor, and knowing that I will always have this family. That’s more than I could have dreamed of. There are bad things, but there’s also so many wonderful changes in my life. Everything is still a little scary, but I know I have parents who are going to stay with me no matter what happens in my life.”

Mildred doesn’t understand how the is real, how a child wants Mildred of all people to be her mother, how Anne trusts Mildred when Mildred is only learning to trust herself. “That you do,” Mildred promises. “And you always will.”

 


 

Gwen walks into the kitchen to find Mildred and Anne laughing while they cook. Gwen’s heart feels so full seeing Mildred comfortable and happy, finally letting herself trust herself with Anne like this. The kitchen smells delicious, smells like onions and garlic, and Gwen is immediately hungry. Charlie seems to share that sentiment, as he lays at Mildred and Anne’s feet staring up at them hopefully.

Gwen could have never imagined having a life like this when she was Anne’s age, a partner she’s built a home with, their child, their dog. Never in Gwen’s wildest dreams did she dare hope this could be her life. Gwen is grateful she and Mildred can give Anne this model of what life can be for her, can hopefully spare her the pain of believing that love isn’t meant for her, that her love isn’t deserving of the same joy as everyone else’s.

“Good morning,” Gwen says, sees Mildred jump a bit, feels bad for startling her.

Gwen goes to Mildred, rests her hand on the small of her back with a little caress of wordless apology. Mildred smiles and leans against Gwen, wraps her arm around Gwen’s waist and tells her, “Breakfast will be ready in twenty minutes.”

“You’ve become very domestic, my love,” Gwen says. “Or were you in charge of everything, Anne?”

Anne smiles as she stirs home fries on the stove. “Mildred is an excellent sous chef.”

“Thank you both for making breakfast,” Gwen says, reaching over and squeezing Anne’s shoulder without moving from Mildred’s embrace. “I’m sorry I slept so late.”

Mildred pulls Gwen tight, their arms wrapped around each other, Gwen softly rubbing Mildred’s back. Mildred tells Gwen, “I’m glad you got a good night sleep. Do you feel rested?”

“I do. When did you wake up?”

“Around five.”

“You could have woken me,” Gwen says, worries Mildred couldn’t sleep because she was upset.

“I know. I would have if I needed to, I promise,” Mildred tells Gwen with a reassuring smile, fingers caressing the skin of Gwen’s lower back under her pajama shirt. “Anne and I had fun looking at more photo albums and making breakfast.”

Gwen believes Mildred, knows that Mildred will usually wake Gwen if she needs her now. Gwen feels so content thinking of how far Mildred has come, how safe she feels, able to ask for what she needs. Gwen weaves her fingers into Mildred’s hair pulls her in for a kiss. Mildred melts into Gwen, body relaxed, lips soft and gentle.

Mildred smiles, looks over at Anne who is watching them, says, “Poor Anne. We’re constantly making you watch us kiss. I hear kids don’t like when their parents do that.”

Gwen’s heart thrums at Mildred’s words, at how easily she calls herself and Gwen Anne’s parents, how easily she jokes with Anne.

Anne laughs. “I don’t mind. You two are sweet.” Anne shrugs. “And I guess it’s comforting to see that you love each other and that it’s possible for love to be like what you have. It makes me happy to be here and to know I get to be a part of your family.”

“It makes us happy too,” Gwen tells Anne, reaches out to touch Anne’s forearm. “You make our family better. You make our lives better. We are just so happy to have you.”

“I know,” Anne says, her voice cracking.

Gwen goes to Anne, wraps her arms around Anne and tells her, “I’m so glad you know how much we love you.” Gwen rubs Anne’s back, and Anne is hugging her so tightly. “I know this is still new and probably scary, but we’re your family forever and I don’t ever want you to worry about that.”

“I do know that,” Anne says, pulling back to smile at Gwen and Mildred. “A lot of things are scary, but having you as my moms is wonderful. When I watch you together, I know that you both mean it when you tell me you won’t stop loving me or wanting me to be your daughter. I can see how important love and family are to you.”

Gwen feels her eyes burn with tears, thinks of how much of her life she spent focusing on her career and her friendships, and thinking that love and family could never be for her. But then Mildred came into Gwen’s life and everything changed. Beside Gwen, Mildred tells Anne, “It’s everything.” Gwen nods her agreement, finds it too hard to speak around the lump in her throat. Anne is beaming at them, and Gwen agrees, this right here is everything that matters.

 


 

There was something about seeing the photos of Mildred and Gwen together that has been so comforting. Anne can see that they’ve been through difficult times together, that they’ve loved each other through it. Even in the pictures where Gwen looks so sick, she and Mildred both seem incredibly happy. The way they look at each other, the way they comfort each other, their affection and care. It all makes Anne trust that Gwen and Mildred make the promise of love forever, that they will stand by Anne, that they really mean it when they promise her forever with them.

“The rain finally stopped,” Gwen says as they sit together at the kitchen table after breakfast, sipping at their beverages, “what should we do today?”

Anne thinks how odd it feels not to go to church every Sunday, is so used to being made to put on her best clothes, and plaster a smile on her face, and pretend she believed.

“We haven’t gone for a bike ride in a while,” Mildred says. “Anne, do you know how to ride?”

“Of course,” Anne says, “who doesn’t know how to ride a bike?”

Mildred smiles a little, looks at Gwen fondly. “I didn’t until Gwen taught me when we were in Mexico.”

“You were a good student,” Gwen says with a smile, stretches her arm out to rest behind Mildred, her hand cupping Mildred’s shoulder.

Mildred pulls on Gwen’s hand, bring her fingers to her lips to kiss them. “I was a terrible student, but you were very patient with me.”

Anne feels bad, forgets all the little ways that Mildred’s childhood must have been so different from what Anne experienced. But Mildred and Gwen are smiling at each other, Mildred reaching over to squeeze Gwen’s knee, and Anne knows that she has reminded them of times of joy spent together.

“Do you ever go to church?” Anne asks.

Mildred shakes her head, tells Anne, “Not since I was a teenager in a Catholic orphanage. I find I don’t much agree with the Church’s perspective on most matters.”

Gwen rubs Mildred’s shoulder as she tells Anne, “I went occasionally with my grandparents on my mom’s side when I was little, but my dad was a proud humanist, and he spent a lot of time teaching me about philosophy and adamantly did not want me to have a religious education.”

Anne nods, tells them, “It still feels odd not to have to go every Sunday.”

“You can go to church if you want to,” Gwen says, “we wouldn’t mind taking you if you want us to go with you.”

Anne shakes her head, “I stopped believing when I learned about what happened in the war. There is no way a loving god could let that happen. I hated going after that. I hid existentialist novels in my room.” Anne laughs at the memory; hiding Camus in her underwear drawer feels absurd now.

Gwen smiles, “My Dad would have loved you. He would have bragged to all his friends about having the smartest granddaughter.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet him,” Anne says, suspects he must have been a good person like the rest of Gwen’s family.

“Me too,” Gwen tells her. “He would have loved you both so much.”

Mildred takes Gwen’s free hand, twines their fingers together. These little acts of comfort and care, Anne thinks they comfort her too, make her feel warm and safe, knowing she has parents who love each other. “A bike ride would be fun,” Anne says. “Do you have an extra bike I could borrow?”

“We do,” Gwen tells her, “We can buy you your own soon.”

“You don’t have to,” Anne says.

“We want to!” Mildred tells Anne. “This is your home, and you cannot borrow the guest bicycle forever.”

Anne goes to respond, but Gwen cuts her off, tells her, “Don’t bother arguing. Mildred never loses an argument, isn’t that right love?”

Mildred gives Gwen a playful swat on the leg. “That is absolutely correct.”

“Ok then,” Anne says, decides to try not feel guilty for how Mildred and Gwen want to dote on her.

“We need to take Charlie for a walk before we go,” Gwen says.

Anne looks at Charlie, snoring loudly under the table. “No one’s in a rush to go anywhere today,” Anne says, picking up her hot cocoa again. “I like lazy Sundays too. We can bike later. I woke up early. I wouldn’t mind a nap first.”

“Anything you want,” Gwen says. “I’m doing the dishes since you both cooked.”

“Not yet,” Mildred whines, tugging at Gwen’s hand to keep her from moving. “Sit here with us a bit longer.”

Gwen smiles, moves her chair flush against Mildred’s and lays her head on Mildred’s shoulder. A lazy Sunday morning with her family is just what Anne thinks she needs.  

 

Chapter Text

“It’s been a month,” Anne says to Gwen as they sit together on the couch reading the newspaper on an overcast Saturday morning. Mildred had been called into the hospital to cover for a few hours after a nurse called out sick, and Gwen and Anne had decided on a lazy morning in while they wait for Mildred to get home.

It takes Gwen a moment to realize what Anne means, but of course Anne remembers the day her parents abandoned her. It’s still such a short time ago that Anne is counting the days and weeks since her parents hurt her. Gwen makes a mental note of the date so she can remember that Anne may struggle on this anniversary, wishes she had made note of the date earlier so she would have asked Anne how she was feeling today without waiting for Anne to bring it up. Anne doesn’t say anything else, and Gwen gives her shoulder a little rub, tells her, “Anything you’re feeling today is alright, and anything you want to do today we will do. You just tell me what you need.”

“No,” Anne says turning to Gwen with a smile, “It’s a happy day. I’ve been your daughter for a month. I want to celebrate.”

Gwen’s heart is so full, loves this child so much, feels so lucky to have such a wonderful daughter who is so happy to have Gwen be her mother that she wants to celebrate.

Gwen wraps her arms around Anne, shakes her head, doesn’t know how to even put into words her love for Anne, her gratitude at being allowed to be a part of Anne’s life. “It makes me so happy to be your mother,” Gwen says, pulling back to look at Anne. Tears stream down Gwen’s cheeks as she keeps her hands on Anne’s arms, holding her close. “You are the very best daughter that anyone could ask for.” Gwen watches Anne’s chin wobble, and Gwen wraps her arms around Anne again, holds her tight to her shoulder. “You are perfect, sweetheart.”

Anne keeps hugging Gwen for a long moment before she sits back, looks at Gwen, and tells her, “I knew everything would be alright when you hugged me for the first time. I was so scared that day, and you gave me a hug, and I remember knowing that I wasn’t alone anymore.”

“You will never have to be alone.”

“I know,” Anne says, wiping the tears that are falling from her eyes now.  “The first day here was such a blur, but I remember how kind you were immediately and how safe you made me feel. I feel very loved and accepted here, and I’m so grateful that you and Mildred decided to let me stay.”

“I think from the moment we both met you there was never a chance we would be able to let you go.”

"Anne rests her head on Gwen's shoulder, and they sit together quietly for a moment. Gwen is filled with gratitude for Anne and Mildred and the family that they are all building together.

“Oh, I forgot,” Anne says, running to her backpack and pulling out a paper. “I got a 100% on my history test!” Anne hands the paper to Gwen, smiling as she sits back down.

“I’m so proud of you,” Gwen tells Anne. And then Gwen thinks of Mildred and her fears at first that if she didn’t do everything just right that Gwen would stop loving her. “I’ll be proud of you no matter what score you get on a test. Even if you failed all your classes I would still be proud of you and love you just as much.”

Anne seems touched by Gwen’s words, nods and smiles, looks serious for a moment before telling Gwen, “I’m going to try very hard not to fail.”

“Good, because I think if you do, getting into the college of your choice will be a lot harder. But you just remember that my love isn’t tied to any conditions. If you’re struggling with school or anything you can come to Mildred or me. We won’t be upset. We will just try to help. No matter what. I don’t want you to be afraid to come to us if you’re in trouble. We won’t stop loving you, and you won’t stop being our daughter if you aren’t perfect. Nothing can change that. You’re stuck with us now.”

Anne nods, makes a noise halfway between a laugh and a sob, her chin trembling. Gwen rubs Anne’s arm. “It’s ok,” Gwen tells her, “Happier thoughts, now. I just don’t want you to be afraid.”

“I’m not. I trust you,” Anne says. “I’m going to try my hardest to make you proud of me. I know that if it weren’t for you and Mildred that I would probably be on the streets trying to figure out what I would be willing to do to survive. I’m not going to waste the opportunity you’ve given me.”

“I don’t want you even to think about that. You’re here and you’re safe. And you can just be a kid for a while longer, sweetheart. I don’t ever want to think about you in that kind of position.”

“Ok,” Anne agrees, settles in contentedly besides Gwen and picks up her half of the newspaper. Gwen’s heart breaks that Anne has ever had to think about such things, that her childhood was marred by terrible pain. But Gwen will do everything in her power to make up for how her child has been hurt, will try desperately to bring Anne happiness, to help her relax into her new life here with Gwen and Mildred.

 


 

Mildred is absolutely exhausted by the time they are done with dinner. She had been woken up by Betsy’s frantic phone call at five in the morning begging Mildred to come in just for half a shift because they were terribly short staffed. Mildred had agreed, and for her kindness had been repaid by being assigned the most challenging patients. One had tried to hit her. One had grabbed at her skirt. And one had thrown his breakfast plate at her, just barely missing. Mildred had been ready for a nap, but as soon as she walked in the door, she was being whisked away to the beach, to a seaside carnival, and to a picnic lunch that Anne had prepared for her and Gwen. It had been a wonderful afternoon, and Mildred had all but forgotten about her exhaustion until she sat down to eat dinner and nearly collapsed into her plate. Gwen had shooed Mildred and Anne both upstairs, told them to get ready for bed while Gwen cleaned up and did the dishes.

Mildred comes out of her room, changed into pajamas and a robe, plans to go check on Gwen, when she finds Anne standing in the hallway outside Mildred’s door.

“I just want to say thank you,” Anne blurts out. “I told Gwen this morning, but I didn’t have a chance to tell you how grateful I am that you took me in.”

Mildred smiles, cups Anne’s cheek in her palm, and tells her, “In that case, let me tell you how very grateful I am that you are here. You make our family complete.”

“I can’t believe you just saw me and decided I should come home with you.”

“I couldn’t let you be hurt," Mildred says, and that's the truth, before she knew Anne, Mildred saw a girl she had to help, but then she got to know Anne, and that has been the greatest joy. "And then you were here," Mildred says, her voice wavering with emotion as she looks at this child who is hers now, "and even though I was a little bit terrified, it didn’t take long to love you so much that I couldn’t imagine my life without you.”

“Thank you for taking me in," Anne says again with a big smile, "and thank you for loving me even though you were afraid.”

“Don’t thank me for that. I should thank you for trusting me to be your mom even when I’m terrified and have no idea what I’m doing.”

Anne shrugs, “I think you know everything you need to. I couldn't ask for anything more in a parent. I think I got the two best moms in the whole world.” Anne throws her arms around Mildred, and Mildred doesn’t have any words, can only hold Anne in her arms and marvel that this is real. Her daughter is in her arms, a child who has decided that she wants Mildred to be her mother, a child who has known Mildred's love for this past month and is asking only that Mildred keep loving her. There is no way she could ever stop.

 


 

“It is just so amazing to me that Anne wants me to be her mother so badly. She’s such a good kid, and she thinks I’m worthy of being her mom.”

“You are worth everything Mildred. You are so good to Anne, and you show her so much love.”

“I was such a wreck when she first moved in. I still am a little bit.”

Gwen sits down on the bed beside Mildred, wraps her arm around Mildred’s shoulders. “You are not a wreck. You were trying to figure out how to be a new parent to a teenager. That would scare anyone. It terrifies me. But I know sometimes it’s scarier for you because you never had loving parents, and I know you’re afraid of hurting Anne because you love her so much.” Mildred nods against Gwen’s shoulder, and Gwen is so grateful that Mildred shares herself, her fears, her love, so fully with Gwen, even when that feels incredibly vulnerable.

Gwen kisses Mildred’s forehead as Mildred nuzzles into Gwen’s neck. Gwen continues, “Kids don’t usually remember the part where their parents are afraid, but it seems like it means all the more to Anne to know that you decided you wanted to be her mom even when you were scared.”

“I just wanted to be honest with her. I didn’t want her to ever think I didn’t love her just because I didn’t know what to do.”

“You’ve been so brave, Mildred. I’m terrified sometimes too, but we have each other, my darling. I feel so incredibly lucky to have you. I couldn’t do this alone.”

Mildred shakes her head, “That isn’t true. You’re a natural. I brought Anne home because I knew you would love her and take care of her. Anyone would be lucky to have you for a mother.”

Gwen smiles, tells Mildred, “And any child would be lucky to have you. But I think we got the very best kid.”

Mildred agrees, “Anne’s such a good kid. And she’s so kind and understanding. I don’t know how she can be this kind even after what her family did to her.”

“Have you looked in the mirror recently, darling? You’re the best person I know, despite the pain you’ve been through.”

“That’s because I have you.”

“No,” Gwen says, doesn’t ever want Mildred to forget how remarkable she is, that her strength and her love are truly incredible. “You are amazing. You know, I think Anne really appreciates how open you’ve been with her, that you didn’t hide when you were afraid of doing something wrong. She loves you so much, and it’s clear how much she admires you and feels safe with you. So much is changing for her, and I think she really connects with how you are able to open yourself up to change and growth even when it scares you.”

Mildred looks down, cheeks growing red. Gwen gently nudges Mildred chin up, so their eyes meet again. “You’re so wonderful, my darling. You’ve given Anne the kind of love and support she needs. We’re both so lucky to have you, Mildred.”

Mildred shakes her head, her eyes growing wide and wet. Gwen smiles at Mildred, wipes a few tears as they fall down her cheeks, whispers, “I’m going to keep telling you every day how incredible you are, and how very much I love you. You are the greatest gift.” Gwen knows she was the first person in Mildred’s life to tell her how special she was, to see that Mildred is kind and brave and loving. “I didn’t know I could feel this way until I met you. I didn’t have any idea what love or joy truly was before you.”

“Stop it,” Mildred says, wiping away her tears.

“Never. I am never going to stop telling you how perfect you are, and how very deeply I love you.”

Mildred buries her face in Gwen’s chest, pushes her back against the pillows, so that Mildred is lying cuddled in Gwen’s arms. “I love you so much, Gwendolyn,” Mildred says, her voice raspy, breaking with each word. “I’m so lucky.”

“We both are,” Gwen agrees, her arms holding Mildred tight. “Close your eyes, my love. You must be exhausted.” Mildred hums her agreement, and Gwen tells her, “We’ll sleep in late tomorrow, and I promise you don’t even need to get out of your pajamas if you don’t want to.”

“Sounds lovely,” Mildred replies, sniffling against Gwen, and Gwen can feel Mildred’s mouth turn up into a smile against her chest as Mildred says, “I could cuddle with you all day.”

 

Chapter Text

Gwen is fairly certain that she’s seen the same woman walk past her house nearly a dozen times in the last hour since Gwen has been outside gardening. “Excuse me,” Gwen calls, walking towards the woman. “Can I help you with anything?”

“Oh, um, well,” the woman looks down at her purse, pulls out an envelope, and stands silently

“Is everything alright?” Gwen asks, begins to worry that maybe this woman is in some sort of trouble.

“Oh, yes, my name is Evelyn. I’m Anne’s grandmother.”

“Oh,” Gwen says, immediately worrying what this woman’s intentions are, whether she will try to take Anne from Gwen and Mildred. They feel so fortunate that Anne’s parents didn’t choose to involve social services, that they at least let their daughter stay in a home that is safe.

Evelyn must see that Gwen is panicking because she tells Gwen, “I mean you no harm. I just wrote Anne a letter and I was hoping you could give it to her.” Evelyn presses the envelope into Gwen’s hands. It isn’t sealed, and when Gwen takes note of that Evelyn tells her, “You are welcome to read it. I truly mean you no harm. I just want to let my granddaughter know that I still love her, and that if she were to want to continue to have a relationship with me, that I would be delighted.”

Gwen feels the knot in her chest loosen slightly. “Anne is at volleyball practice right now,” Gwen says.

“Yes, I saw her leave with the other woman.”

“Mildred,” Gwen says, anxious again at the way Evelyn is referring to Mildred. “I’m Gwendolyn. I didn’t introduce myself, I’m apologize.”

“Quite alright.”

Gwen is caught between wanting to believe that this woman means no harm to her family and worrying that she is judging them all, that she will only conditionally accept Anne, or worse that she will try to separate Anne from them. “Do you want to come inside? I can make us some tea and we can talk. I imagine that you have questions.”

Evelyn follows Gwen into the house, and as soon as they get through the threshold, Evelyn stops Gwen tells her, “May we sit and talk frankly?”

Gwen nods, her throat dry as she sits on the couch and motions Evelyn to the chair beside it. Evelyn wastes no time, tells Gwen, “The truth is that I saw my doctor recently and it sounds like I don’t have long. News like that really makes you reconsider your priorities.”

Gwen’s heart sinks thinking that Anne will likely lose the only blood relative she has who wants to maintain a relationship with her. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“If it’s my time then I can make peace with it. I’ve lived a good life surrounded by family. But it breaks my heart to go to my daughter’s house and not see Anne. It feels like a piece is missing, and I suppose when time is short family feels like the most important thing.”

“I understand,” Gwen says, thinks of how much being sick clarified everything for her and Mildred, how Gwen found the courage to come out to her family when she thought she might die. “I know that Anne will be so grateful to know that you support her.”

“I can’t say I understand,” Evelyn says, “And I do wish that she would change her mind, but family is more important than any of that. She is still my granddaughter.”

It all makes Gwen so uneasy. The idea that Anne’s grandmother is going to offer her love but still condemn her makes Gwen feel sick. All she wants is for Anne to be surrounded by people who understand that she is perfect, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her. “Would it help to ask me questions? I would be happy to answer any questions you have.” Maybe letting Evelyn get her questions out will mean fewer for Anne, maybe even will help this woman accept her grandchild.

“I don’t want to be improper. We don’t know each other.”

“I wouldn’t mind at all. I think Anne is still fragile right now, still learning to love herself despite what society tells her. That can be very hard, and I want everyone around her to be able to support her fully.”

For a moment Evelyn is silent, and Gwen wonders if she’s offended her or made her angry. But then Evelyn tells Gwen, “I can see what good care you’re taking of Anne. A mother should be protective of their child like that. I am ashamed of how my daughter behaved. There is never a reason to throw your child out of the house. And I do thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring for Anne.”

“Mildred and I both love Anne like she’s our daughter. I don’t want you to ever worry about that. We just want to protect her and give her a good home.”

“Is it difficult? Have you never wished you were different?”

“When I was a young woman, I was afraid and I wished I could change, but then I grew comfortable with who I am, and I came to understand there is nothing wrong with me. And then I met Mildred, and I could never imagine my life without her. She’s the person I am meant to spend my life with. It’s difficult at times to not be able to live our lives openly, but I would never want to be different.”

“You seem like you care for her very much,” Evelyn says, and maybe it’s meant to be kind, but it rankles, makes Gwen feel like this woman is demeaning what she shares with Mildred.

“I love Mildred. She is my soulmate. So no, I don’t wish I were different. I wish the world were. Especially seeing how Anne is hurt. I wish the world were more just and accepting for her.”

“That sounds nice to spend your life with someone you love,” Evelyn says. “I didn’t have any love in my marriage, so I can’t say I understand. But when I was a girl, I imagined falling in love.”

Gwen feels awful, cannot imagine a life without love in it, had imagined it once when she was saying her wedding vows, had thought she made peace with it. But now that she knows what love feels like, the idea that people spend their lives without it is devastating. “I know how very lucky I am to have what I do with Mildred.” She wonders if the woman in front of her was hurt by her husband, knows how many women are.

“Is Anne happy? Is she alright?” Evelyn blurts out. “I know that how my daughter and son-in-law treated her was awful, and I don’t want them to ruin her life.”

“She’s hurt,” Gwen says, “but Mildred and I are trying our best to give her a good life and make her as happy as possible. I think she’s happy, even if sometimes what she lost overwhelms her with sadness. And Anne is very brave and strong, and she will be alright.”

“Thank you for taking her in,” Evelyn says.

Gwen shakes her head, “No thanks are ever needed for that. Anne is an amazing young woman, and Mildred and I are very grateful to be a part of her life.”

“I won’t take any more of your time,” Evelyn says. “Thank you for agreeing to talk to me. I would be very grateful if you would give my letter to Anne.”

Evelyn stands and leaves, and Gwen is left stunned, staring at the letter in her hands.

 


 

“Hi Gwen,” Anne says dropping her volleyball bag by the door, kicking off her shoes, and running towards the stairs. “Mildred says I have to shower right away.”

“Yes, you do,” Mildred is calling as she walks in behind Anne. “I do not want you dripping sweat all over the house.”

Anne laughs and continues up the stairs.

Mildred walks to Gwen, wraps her arms around Gwen’s waist. “Hello, my love,” Mildred says, “The garden looks beautiful.” Mildred’s forehead scrunches up at she studies Gwen, asks, “What’s wrong?”

“Anne’s grandmother stopped by when you were out.”

“What did she want?” Mildred asks, her back going stiff.

Gwen holds Mildred, caresses her hips with what she hopes are soothing motions. “She said she wanted to have contact with Anne. She left a letter for her. But from talking with Evelyn, Anne’s grandmother, it sounds like she learned recently that she is dying and doesn’t want her life to end without Anne knowing that she still loves her.”

“Why do you look so worried, Gwen?”

“Anne’s grandmother just had that attitude that some people have – like they are doing you a favor by loving you even though there’s something wrong with you. I just don’t want her to hurt Anne. I don’t ever want Anne to believe there’s something wrong with her or that she’s less than anyone else.”

“We’ll make sure she knows she’s perfect. She’s come so far since she’s been here,” Mildred says. “You have that effect on people.”

“I just don’t want it to fall on Anne to change this woman’s mind. Anne’s been through so much, and all I want is to protect her from the world.”

“Oh love,” Mildred coos, “Come sit with me.” Gwen relaxes a little as Mildred twines their fingers together and leads them to the couch. Gwen pulls Mildred into her lap, wants to hold her love.

“Anne is going to be alright,” Mildred says, her arms wrapped around Gwen’s neck.

Gwen smiles, leans in to kiss Mildred softly, nuzzle their noses together. “You’re the optimist in our relationship today, darling.”

“I have faith in you,” Mildred says, “I always do. And I know you have created this home where Anne can understand her own worth.”

We created this home for her,” Gwen corrects. “Just holding you makes me feel better.”

“Was Anne’s grandmother upset she was living here?”

“I don’t think so. I was afraid at first that she would try to take Anne away, but she actually thanked me for taking care of Anne.”

“That’s a relief. I couldn’t bare losing her,” Mildred says, and she looks devastated at the thought.

“I know,” Gwen agrees. That loss would be unimaginable. Such a short time, only a few months that she’s been theirs, and already Gwen doesn’t think she could survive losing Anne.

“Maybe this will be good?” Mildred says cautiously, “Maybe Anne will get to have one person in her family who doesn’t disown her for who she is.”

“You really have become the optimist,” Gwen says, her hands running up and down Mildred’s back. “I couldn’t do this without you,” she says, knows that Mildred still believes that Gwen somehow is better at being a parent than Mildred is. It’s absolutely absurd, and Gwen will just have to keep reminding Mildred of how amazing she is. “You give me strength. You make me better.”

“Gwen,” Mildred sighs, shakes her head. “We’ll be ok. All of us. We’ll get through this together, like we always do.”

They will, Gwen knows, as long as she has Mildred by her side, they can deal with anything. But oh, how her heart aches for Anne.

 


 

Anne has been clingy since Gwen and Mildred told her about her grandmother. She hasn’t wanted to go out with friends after school, has wanted to constantly be by their sides. “Anne,” Mildred says one evening as Anne sits between Mildred and Gwen, nervously chewing on her lip. “Do you want to talk to us about it sweetheart? We’re happy to help you talk through if you want to see your grandma.” Gwen’s heart warms at how Mildred cares for Anne, how she encourages her to talk things through, how Mildred herself has stopped bottling up her emotions, learned the power of sharing what she’s feeling.  

Anne’s breathing gets quicker and she’s rocking a little bit, and both Mildred and Gwen see immediately what’s happening, both resting a hand on her back and rubbing easy circles. “Take a deep breath,” Gwen instructs, modeling a few breaths for Anne to mimic. “You’re alright sweetheart. Just breathe.”

Anne takes a few more breaths before she blurts out, “You’ll still be my moms, won’t you? I don’t want you to be angry at me.”

“Oh Anne,” Gwen says, feels devastated hearing Anne’s words. Gwen wraps Anne up in her arms.

Mildred keeps stroking Anne’s back, tells her, “We are your moms, and that has nothing to do with any other family that you have or what your relationship is with them. That is completely your choice. We just want to support any choice that you make. I don’t ever want you to worry that we could love you any less. It’s impossible.”

“Mildred is right,” Gwen says, holding Anne and smiling at Mildred. “We love you and we will help you think through what you want to do. Anything you decide is alright.”

Anne sits back, rests between Mildred and Gwen again. “It’s really, ok?”

“To see your grandma?” Gwen clarifies, and Anne nods, “Of course, it is.”

“Anne, sweetheart?” Mildred says softly as Anne wipes at the tears that fall from her eyes. “We love you, and we want you to do anything that makes you happy.”

“I think I would like to see her, but only if you’re both with me. Is that alright? You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I don’t want her to say anything to hurt you.”

Oh, those words break Gwen’s heart. The last thing she wants Anne worrying about right now is Gwen’s feelings. “Anne,” Gwen says, putting her hand gently on Anne’s knee. “We’re here for anything you need. And if you see your grandmother and she says something hurtful then you can just end the conversation. You can give us a signal and we’ll ask her to leave.”

“I think Kathy is right,” Anne says. Anne had fallen into quite a long conversation on the phone yesterday with Gwen’s family about this, and Gwen is grateful for Kathy’s optimism and love. It has helped Anne to hear Kathy tell her that people can change their mind about you, that they can become kind and supportive even if at first they seemed leery. Gwen hates that her sister has spent her life having to win people over as a result of her disability, but Kathy is so very kind and forgiving, and that sentiment seems to have helped Anne. “People are cruel when they don’t understand, but maybe my grandma will come around if she sees that I’m still the same person. I think I want to give her a chance. And if she’s unkind then I’ll still be alright. I have a family who loves me unconditionally.”

“Yes, you do,” Mildred agrees. “We’ll be here to remind you that you are absolutely perfect as you are, and if anyone tells you otherwise that is their loss because they will be missing out on knowing you.”

“Remember that this is about you and what you need,” Gwen says. “I want you to do whatever you need to find peace. It isn’t your job to show people that you’re still a good person despite what they think about lesbians. Just like it should never have been Kathy’s job to convince closed minded people not to be afraid of her.”

“I think I can try with my grandma, even though she wrote me a whole letter about praying for my soul,” Anne says with a little scoff, “Maybe she will change her opinion. And if she doesn’t then at least I will have a chance to say goodbye if I’m not going to see her again.”

Gwen wraps her arm around Anne, tells her, “I hate that you have to be this strong.”

Mildred’s arms come around both of them, and she rubs Anne’s back and presses a kiss to Gwen’s neck and holds her tight. This is hard and complicated, but here is Mildred, holding them all together, and Gwen is so grateful that they are in this together, so grateful for Mildred's love and strength.

 

 

Chapter Text

The last few days have been busy, a wonderful distraction as Margaret and Kathy arrived to spend a few weeks in California and celebrate Anne’s birthday. She can hardly believe the number of presents they arrived with or their enthusiasm at getting to celebrate her sixteenth birthday with her. Anne’s grandmother is supposed to be here soon, and she can’t stop the nerves, has been pacing in the living room for the last fifteen minutes, confusing poor Charlie, who has picked up on her nervous energy and is following her around the house.

The smell of Margaret and Kathy cooking is wafting through the house, and Anne thinks that she is going to be sick. She’s so full of nerves that she can’t imagine eating, thinks she might vomit before her grandmother gets here, if she even does, maybe she’ll change her mind. Anne wishes she felt stronger, wishes she could trust herself to be able to withstand if her grandmother is cruel to her, but she knows how terribly it will hurt to spend time with someone who can’t accept her.

Mildred and Gwen walk down the stairs, changed into their nice clothes for company. Anne is immediately grateful that Gwen is wearing pants and a button-down shirt, had wondered if she would change into a work skirt, try to make herself less intimidating for Anne’s grandma. But Anne is so grateful for the reminder that Gwen and Mildred are comfortable with themselves and with their relationship, and that they see no reason to hide when it isn’t needed for their safety.

“Hi sweetheart,” Gwen says, coming over to Anne and stopping her frantic motion. “You look like maybe you need a last-minute talk before your grandma arrives?”

“Can you keep me from panicking and throwing up on her shoes as soon as she walks in the door?”

“Oh honey,” Mildred says, reaching out and resting her hand on Anne’s upper arm.

“We can try our best,” Gwen says, “Come sit.” Gwen sits on the couch, pats the space next to her, and Anne follows, Mildred sitting on her other side, her arm wrapped around Anne’s shoulders. “Can you tell us what you’re most afraid will happen?”

Anne’s heart is racing, breathing coming fast, and she forces herself to take slow breaths to try to calm herself before speaking. “I think I’m most afraid that she won’t accept who I am, and that she’s going to think what everyone else does – that I’m sick and need to be fixed. I don’t want to listen to her talk about how God wants me to change.”

Gwen reaches out and takes Anne’s hand, gives her a little squeeze. It’s comforting being with two people who are so strong but still so warm. “Remember, you do not need to listen to anything you do not want to. You can set whatever boundaries you need.” Anne nods. She and Gwen have talked about this before, and Anne loves how insistent Gwen has been that Anne set boundaries that make her feel safe. “This all happens on your terms. You can decide what you’ll accept when it comes to what your grandma talks to you about. If she makes you feel uncomfortable or like she doesn’t accept you for who you are, then you can tell her that and let her know that you cannot have a relationship if she keeps hurting you. And if it’s too hard to tell her, you can tell Mildred or me and we will talk to her.”

Anne shakes her head, wants to be as brave as Gwen and Mildred. “I want to stand up for myself. I want to demand respect like you and Mildred do. I guess I never thought about it before you said something the other day - that setting boundaries like that was ok. I was always the kid, and my family made the decisions about how to treat me.”

“You’re a young woman,” Gwen says, “and in this world people are going to try to tell you that you don’t deserve respect, that you aren’t allowed to tell people how to treat you. And you must fight back and remember your own worth when other people refuse to acknowledge it. Sometimes it’s hardest to do that with the people you love; but you, Anne, are one of the kindest, strongest people I’ve ever known.”

“That’s not true.”

“It is. Do you know how many people try to run from who they are or try to be someone they aren’t?” Gwen asks, “You’re fifteen and you stood in front of your parents and told them who you were even though that meant they would keep hurting you.”

Anne nods, tries to feel as brave as Gwen is telling her she is. Mildred pulls Anne tight to her side, tells Anne, “Like Gwen said, if you are uncomfortable, you tell us. We will ask your grandma to leave so it doesn’t have to come from you if things go badly. Or we can help you set the boundaries that you need. Demanding what you deserve is hard, so just tell us if you need help.”

“I feel better,” Anne says. “Thank you both. Not just for the words of wisdom. For everything. I don’t even know how to thank you.”

“You never need to,” Gwen says. “We love you. There are a lot of complicated things you will need to deal with, but this is not one of them. It’s alright if you’re still afraid, but we’re your moms and you can tell us anything or ask for anything.”

Anne thinks she knows, hears Gwen’s words and believes her. Mildred is stroking Anne’s hair, always knows when Anne is overwhelmed by the way Gwen and Mildred love her. Anne feels safe and loved, and she breathes and reminds herself that even if everything with her grandma goes horribly wrong, that Anne has a family here.

 


 

It’s strange sitting here with her grandma. Everyone else is in the kitchen, finishing up preparations for dinner, giving Anne a moment to talk with her grandmother alone. It was alright at first, a bit awkward. But then her grandmother had started talking about how she prays for Anne’s soul every day. And Anne feels like she can’t breathe, feels so betrayed. Her grandma kept telling Anne that she loves her, but now she’s talking about God and Anne finding her way back to the right path. Anne tries to gather strength. She cannot sit here and let her grandmother talk like this. She wants to demand the respect for herself that Gwen and Mildred do for themselves.

“I love you,” Anne tells her grandma, “but I don’t want you to stay if you can’t treat me with respect.”

Her grandmother looks genuinely hurt when she says, “You are my granddaughter and I love you.”

Anne realizes that maybe that just isn’t enough. “I don’t want you to pray for me to be different.”

“I want you to be happy.”

“I am happy. I don’t need to change to be happy.” Anne has never said those words out loud before and it feels incredible to say those words and know they are true.

“But don’t you want to fall in love and have a husband and children?”

Anne tries to forgive her grandma, knows she wants Anne’s happiness and cannot imagine a different path to happiness. “I want the kind of love that Gwen and Mildred have.”

 “They can’t have children though. Surely that would make you sad, not to have children.”

Maybe Anne wishes she could have kids, but it wouldn’t be worth living a lie. But more than that Anne is terribly upset that her grandma doesn’t see the family she has now. “But Mildred and Gwen do have a child. They have me.” It’s not the point her grandma was making, and maybe it hurts her grandma to hear this. But this is Anne’s family, and she is not going to let anyone tell her it isn’t good enough, that there is anything wrong with Mildred and Gwen being her mothers.

“Your mother misses you terribly,” Anne’s grandma says. Anne wants to scream. She doesn’t want to hear about the family that abandoned her, does not want to hear that they hurt because they kicked her out. Anne feels about to cry, wants to yell at her grandma that she needs her to acknowledge the family that Anne has, needs her to see that Anne found parents who love her exactly as she is. Anne wants to yell that she deserves that love. She doesn’t deserve shame and she doesn’t want to hear how her mother is sad that she abandoned Anne just for being herself. Anne doesn’t know how to say any of that without sounding so angry, without hurting her grandma.

Anne stands, needs a moment, needs to get away. She walks into the kitchen, finds Mildred and Gwen there tidying up and talking.

“Can I have a hug?” Anne asks.

Mildred and Gwen are both immediately rushing to her, wrapping her up in a wordless three way hug. Anne feels more angry with her grandma as she stands here with her moms hugging her and rubbing and back and kissing her hair. These are her parents and Anne thinks that if her grandma can’t understand that then she doesn’t want to see her again.

In the other room Anne can hear her grandma’s voice as well as Margaret, can barely make out what they’re saying. Anne doesn’t want to let go, just wants to stay here and be held and not listen to anyone tell her that this isn’t her family.

Anne’s breathing is coming rapidly and she can feel herself panicking. “Come sit in the yard with us,” Gwen is saying as she ushers Anne out the back door. “Take a deep breath. We’re both here with you, Anne. It’s just the three of us here.”

Anne lets Gwen and Mildred sit her down on the bench swing, each sitting on either side of her and wrapping their arms around her. Anne doesn’t know why she feels so anxious, why her grandmother’s casual comment about Mildred and Gwen not having kids makes her so overwhelmed.

“I’m sorry,” Anne says. She’s starting to cry and she hates how easily she cries.

But Mildred tells her so kindly, “Please don’t apologize for what you’re feeling. It’s ok to cry. We would never be upset with you for crying.”

“I know.” Anne tries to force herself to take deep breaths, Gwen kissing her hair and breathing with her.

This is her family, Anne knows that, knows these are her moms and that they plan on staying with her for her whole life. She knows. Anne takes a few more deep breaths.

“I’m alright,” Anne says, blows out a long breath. “My grandma made a comment about how you two couldn’t have children together, and I was so upset and I told her that I was your child, and she just disregarded it and started talking about my mother who abandoned me being sad because she missed me. I couldn’t stay and keep talking to her anymore.”

Gwen looks Anne in the eye, tell her, “It makes me, and I bet Mildred too, so happy that you are confident that we are your moms. Because we are and will always be.”

Mildred leans in and kisses Anne’s cheek. “So happy and grateful. It means everything that you trust us to be your mothers.”

“Of course I do,” Anne says, “you’ve been so good to me. And you treat me like a daughter even though you don’t have to. But I know you want to, and I guess that started mattering so much more to me than the family I’m related to by blood.”

“You have us,” Gwen says, her face and voice leaving no room for uncertainty. “We are your parents forever. Nothing can change that. No matter what relationship you have with any of your biological family, we’re still your moms. And we all know that. We don’t need other people to make that true.”

“I think though, that maybe that is the line for me. That what I need to demand for myself is that anyone I’m close with understands that this is my family. I don’t care what strangers think, but if my grandma says she loves me then she needs to understand that you’re my parents. That’s ok, isn’t it?”

“Anything you need is alright to ask for,” Gwen says. “Can we help you talk through what you want to say to your grandma?”

The idea makes Anne feel anxious again. “When you’re ready,” Mildred promises, seeing so quickly how the idea makes Anne anxious, “We can all just keep sitting here together as long as you want.”

“It’s safe here,” Anne says, “and sometimes I just want to forget about the rest of the world.” She hates having to be strong sometimes, hates explaining to her grandmother that she doesn’t need to change, that she finally feels content with herself for the first time in her life.

Anne hears the sliding door open, turns to see Margaret walking outside. “It’s just me, my darlings.” She closes the door behind her and walks over to kneel in front of Anne. “Hello, sweetheart. You are very brave. You are all very brave,” Margaret looks at Gwen and Mildred. “I had a talk with your grandma, Anne. And I think she understands a bit more why the things she said to you were hurtful. She would very much like to apologize if you would be open to that.”

“Really?” Anne asks.

“Yes, we had a little talk about what things have been like for you and the home you’ve built here. I hope you don’t mind, but she wanted to understand what your life is like now and why you think of Gwen and Mildred as your moms.”

Anne reaches forward and wraps her arms around Margaret. It feels strange that she’s only known this family a little over three months and yet they are the people who she trusts to take care of her while the family she once knew can barely understand who Anne is. Anne takes a deep breath, stands up. “I love you all so much. I really don’t know where I would be without you.”

Mildred takes Anne’s hand. “We don’t ever have to think about that. Don’t let anything make you question whether this is your home.”

Anne feels very grateful for this family. “Can you come talk with my grandma with me?”

“Of course,” Mildred and Gwen are saying at once. Mildred standing and wrapping her arm around Anne and leading her back inside.

Gwen and Margaret trail right behind, and Anne listens to Gwen thanking her mom, Margaret’s words of support, her whispering to Gwen what a good mother she is, and Anne’s heart feels full, feels confident that Gwen and Mildred will be the kind of moms that Margaret is, will still be here to support Anne as she grows.

 


 

Anne’s grandmother is sitting on the couch with Kathy when they enter the room, and Kathy seems to be telling Anne’s grandma about how everyone is born exactly how they are meant to be. Anne loves Kathy, is grateful for her efforts at persuasion, walks over to her and hugs her. “Thanks Aunt Kathy.”

Anne sits down on the floor next to Charlie, rubs his belly, and waits for Gwen and Mildred to sit beside her before looking up at her grandma.

“I’m very sorry for what I said earlier,” Anne’s grandma says, “Margaret gave me a talk, grandmother to grandmother.” Anne’s heart thuds hearing that, feels so hopeful hearing her grandmother acknowledge her family. “I can see clearly that you have a home here and that you are very loved. I love you and I am wondering if you could forgive me for what I said earlier. I would just like the chance to spend time with you, if you would allow that.”

It’s not perfect, Anne thinks. She suspects that Margaret told Anne’s grandmother in no uncertain terms that she needed to stop talking about her thoughts on God and homosexuality if she wanted to stay in this house. But Anne thinks that she is willing to give her grandma a second chance. Maybe Anne’s grandma doesn’t understand, but everyone else in this room does, and Anne feels enough support to accept a complicated relationship into her life. Because like Gwen promised, Anne’s relationship with her moms and Margaret and Kathy, all that feels easy.

 

 

Chapter Text

When Anne comes back downstairs in her pajamas the only other person who has finished changing is Margaret. She’s sitting on the couch in her night clothes, reading her novel while music plays on the radio. Anne is grateful for the opportunity to thank Margaret for how she helped with Anne’s grandma today. It’s so strange, Anne thinks, seeing Margaret curled on the couch, that Anne feels instinctively drawn to her, like she is the grandmother that Anne has always known. They only spent a few weeks together, but Margaret calls almost every day and asks to talk to Anne, wants to hear every stupid detail about school and sports.

“You look comfortable,” Margaret says, looking up from her book and seeing Anne in her flannel pajamas. “Do you want to come sit with me?” Anne nods, walks over to sit beside Margaret, who immediately wraps her arm around Anne’s shoulders, and asks, “How are you, sweetheart?” Anne shrugs, and Margaret rubs her hand up and down Anne’s arm. It feels so much more warm and grandmotherly than what Anne’s own grandma had offered her today. “I imagine today was hard for you.”

“It was,” Anne agrees. “I expected it to be, but it still hurt.”

“I know,” Margaret says. “Do you regret seeing your grandma?”

“No,” Anne says. “Especially knowing she doesn’t have much time left. But I wanted her to accept who I am. It was stupid to expect that to happen.”

“Don’t you dare call yourself stupid,” Margaret chides. “You had hope, and that’s never a bad thing. Your grandma may still come around. She loves you, and I think that is a powerful reason to change.”

Anne doesn’t know if her grandma will ever believe that Anne is perfect how she is, imagines that her grandma will be praying for Anne’s soul for the rest of her life, believing her to be damned. “I’m ok if she doesn’t.” Anne sighs. It hurts in a different way she thinks than the outright rejection from her parents. “I’m alright. I’m happy I did this for her. I know she wanted to see me.”

“You are such a good person, Anne. Do you know that?” Margaret asks, and Anne shrugs, feels so unsteady still, trying to figure out who she really is away from all the awful things she’s been told about herself. “I think you gave your grandma a wonderful gift today. She loves you and was worried for you. And now she knows that you are safe and loved. I know she doesn’t see Mildred and Gwen’s relationship for what it is, but before she left she told me she knew that they love you and would never hurt you.”

“I’m relieved,” Anne says, the knot in her chest slowly easing, “I’ve been scared she would try to take me away.”

Margaret squeezes Anne’s arm. “We all have been too.”

“Gwen and Mildred didn’t say anything.”

“They’re your moms. They were trying to protect you from how worried they were.”

Anne sniffles, feels very much like this is her real family here in this house. “I know you told my other grandma that she wasn’t allowed to keep talking to me the way she had been – talking about God and how I need to change.”

Margaret looks at Anne a little tearfully. “I am your grandma, you know. You can never have too many of those. And it is my job to protect my family. My biggest regret in life is how long it took for Gwen to tell me who she was and that I didn’t show her she could trust me with her truth. I hate that she spent so much of her life feeling like she had to hide from me. I never want you to need to hide. I know the world is more difficult for you, but I want you to know that you have a family who accepts you for the incredible young woman you are.”

“I still feel afraid sometimes,” Anne admits, the words out of her mouth before she can think more, “I feel like this new family is a dream. I still can’t understand how Mildred and Gwen just decided they wanted me to be their daughter.”

“You know how much they both love you, don’t you? Because you are all they talk about when I call. They’re so happy to have you and so proud of you. I promise you that all Gwen and Mildred want is to do right by you and give you a good family.”

“It’s scary sometimes,” Anne admits. “I know this family is new, but it’s so easy to just let myself feel comfortable with Gwen and Mildred. I trust them and I love them so much. And then I get scared that it’s too soon to feel like they’re really my parents.”

“I want you to know that there is nothing you could ever do to make Mildred and Gwen stop loving you. Nothing. I know it will take time to trust that, and they know that too, and they understand and won’t be upset about it.”

Suddenly Anne’s mind is filled with questions, grateful for someone who knows Gwen and Mildred so well, “How did they know they wanted to be my moms so quickly?”

“I don’t know how to explain, but I felt the same way when I had Gwen and Kathy. I just fell in love so quickly. And I watched the same thing happen to Gwen and Mildred. They met you and they loved you more than anything, and all they wanted was to give you a home and take care of you. I understand why that doesn’t feel permanent after how your parents treated you. It’s alright to take time to get used to the way things are now.  You have time, Anne. We’re not going anywhere.”

“I’m just some girl that Mildred met at the hospital,” Anne says, still can’t really understand how Margaret can compare her feelings for her newborn to how Mildred and Gwen felt about Anne. “I was just a stranger.”

“You’re not anymore. Now you’re ours. We’re all strangers in the beginning. I don’t know if I believe in fate, but I know that you are meant to be my granddaughter. I know that Mildred was meant for Gwen, and that I watched my daughter come to life like I had never seen before when she met Mildred. And I watched them both blossom and love in ways they never had before when you came into their lives. You’ve been a gift to all of us, and I am so grateful that you want to be our family.”

“More than anything,” Anne says, sniffling.

Margaret rubs Anne’s arm and tells her, “Done. You already are our family.”

Anne laughs and lays her head on Margaret’s shoulder. “Thank you,” she tells Margaret again.

“Thank you for making me a grandmother.”

 

Chapter Text

There’s a chill in the air this morning, and Gwen wants to cuddle the woman she loves. Gwen walks towards where Mildred is standing in the kitchen, tells her, “I’m freezing.”

“I’ll make something to warm you up,” Mildred says, opening up the cabinet in front of her. “Do you want coffee or tea?”

“I can think of something else to warm me up that I would like much more,” Gwen says, walking up behind Mildred and wrapping her arms around Mildred’s waist. Mildred is wearing a paisley dress with a scoop neck, the skin of her upper back bare, revealing each freckle that Gwen has memorized.

Mildred throws her head back in laughter, tells Gwen, “You’re lucky I love you with lines like that.” Gwen smiles, kisses her way up Mildred’s neck. Mildred keeps laughing, turns and smiles at Gwen, looks so in love. Gwen adores more than almost anything when Mildred gets like this, giddy, caught up in happiness, carefree.

Mildred kisses Gwen on the lips before turning her attention back to making them coffee. Gwen keeps pressing kisses to the back of Mildred’s neck as Mildred fills the coffee machine.

“You love distracting me,” Mildred says as Gwen nibbles at Mildred’s earlobe. “We are in our kitchen, and our daughter is going to be coming downstairs any moment now.” Gwen’s heart flutters at the easy way that Mildred refers to Anne as their daughter, loves that Mildred has grown so comfortable with being Anne’s mom.

Mildred turns, leans against the counter and pulls Gwen into her arms, whispers into Gwen’s ear, “You are insatiable. You just had me three times before we got out of bed.” Mildred smiles, blushes a bit, tells Gwen, “I thought I left you satisfied too. Am I not taking care of you well enough?”

“You are perfect, my darling,” Gwen says, nips lightly at Mildred’s bottom lip, pleased at the moan this draws from Mildred. Gwen tells Mildred, “I simply can never get enough of you, as you very well know.”

Mildred pulls Gwen tight to her, cradles Gwen in her arms, Gwen resting her head on Mildred’s shoulder. Mildred kisses Gwen’s hair and whispers, “I can never get enough of you either. Nine years together and your terrible lines still work on me.”

“You love them.”

“I love you,” Mildred counters.

“You’d better,” Gwen says with a kiss to Mildred’s neck, and Mildred is laughing again. Mildred murmurs, “I love you,” against Mildred’s neck, keeps pressing soft kisses to her darling’s skin.

 


 

“Are you sure you don’t want to have a party?” Gwen asks Anne over breakfast.

“My birthday is only six days away,” Anne says. “And I told you, I just want to do something quiet as a family.”

“Ok,” Gwen says, “I just don’t want you to miss out on a sweet sixteen party with your friends.”

Mildred and Gwen have the whole day planned for Anne because she has told them repeatedly that she doesn’t care what they do, that she just wants to spend the day with them. But they both worry, both hate how Anne has seem more upset in the last couple weeks since seeing her grandmother, how it’s made her withdraw from friends and want to spend all her time when she’s not in school with Gwen and Mildred.

“Do you want to invite David for dinner?” Gwen asks.

“That would be nice,” Anne agrees. “I just don’t want to pretend with anyone on my birthday.”

Mildred rests her hand on Gwen’s thigh, wants to offer comfort, knows how upset Gwen feels at not being able to fix everything for Anne, at the knowledge that when Anne eventually tells her friends, that she is likely to lose many of them.

“I’ll be happy to have a birthday with my family, I promise,” Anne says with a smile, and Mildred still marvels at the ease with which Anne calls them her family now.

“Any special requests for what you want to do?” Mildred asks, though they have already asked so many times.

Anne shakes her head. “I know you two already have everything planned.”

“There’s still time to change plans,” Gwen says. “If you think of anything you want, it’s yours.”

“No, surprise me,” Anne says. “Do you think your mom is going to move out here?”

Margaret and Kathy are busy looking at more houses this morning. Gwen had been so happy when her mom decided to start looking for a house near them. Mildred is so very grateful for Margaret and Kathy’s love, for how completely they have accepted her as part of the family.  

“I think so,” Gwen says, “I don’t understand why anyone would ever want to continue to experience winter in New England if they don’t have to.”

“I like the snow,” Mildred says, adores when they go to Connecticut for Christmas and get to see the snow. Mildred thinks what she likes most is acting like a child at Gwen’s insistence, building snowmen, having snowball fights, Gwen throwing her into a pile of snow and kissing her silly.

“Then we will have to plan snowy vacations,” Gwen says, turning to Mildred with a soft smile. That smile still melts Mildred, even nine years later, stuns Mildred that all that love is for her. “Maybe you’ll finally let me teach you to ski.”

“We’ll see,” Mildred says, unsure that she wants to risk breaking a bone. Then again, she thoroughly enjoys when Gwen teaches her new things, finds that Gwen is always so eager to kiss away Mildred’s frustration at trying something new. “Do you ski Anne?”

“Not well. I’ve gone a few times.”

“It’s so much fun,” Gwen says. “My family took a lot of vacations to ski in Vermont when I was a child. I am looking forward to teaching you both.” She turns to Mildred, adds, “Don’t argue, sweetness,” and promptly kisses Mildred before she has a chance to say anything.

Mildred laughs against Gwen’s lips. “You’re always so persuasive,” Mildred says to Gwen, who cups Mildred’s cheek in her palm, kisses her softly.

“Yes, I am,” Gwen agrees when their mouths part. Mildred gives Gwen’s leg a little squeeze and Gwen keeps her arm wrapped around Mildred’s shoulder, and they smile at each other like the lovesick fools they remain.

The doorbell rings and Mildred jumps, not expecting the noise on a Sunday morning. The only people who should be coming into their house would be Gwen’s family and they have the keys. Even Trevor uses his keys most of the time when he comes to visit. Gwen’s fingers rub soothing calming circles on Mildred’s shoulder and her breathing calms and her heart rate slowly begins to return to normal.

“I can get the door,” Anne says, jumping up from the table to answer the door.

Mildred stands, takes Gwen’s hand and Gwen rubs circles on the back of Mildred’s hand in the way Gwen knows soothes Mildred. Mildred is so grateful for Gwen’s constant quiet support, for the way she knows Mildred so well that Mildred never has to explain what she needs, no longer feels ashamed of the way her body still overreacts to unexpected noises or touches at times.

When Gwen and Mildred reach the entry way to their house, they see Anne standing with the door open, her mother outside. “Why are you here?” Anne says, and Mildred watches Anne, back still, upset, and Mildred wants so badly to hug her, protect her.

“Your grandmother is in the hospital. She keeps asking for you,” Anne’s mother says, her voice curt, and Mildred cannot understand how she can treat her beautiful, perfect child this way.

“What happened?” Anne asks. “She told me she was sick, but I didn’t think she was that sick.”

“She fell,” Anne’s mother says, and Mildred can see she’s crying. Mildred knows she should feel bad for this woman whose mother is ill, but all Mildred can feel is so angry that Anne’s mother could ever hurt Anne the way she has. “The doctors think the cancer is in her brain and her spine as well as her lungs now. She’s asked for you every day.”

“How long has she been in the hospital?”

“A week. It doesn’t look good for her coming home. I think it would bring her peace to see you.”

Mildred watches Anne frozen in front of her mother, before she eventually replies, “I want to see her.”

“I’ll take you now,” her mother says.

But Anne shakes her head. “No. I don’t want to see you or Dad. I want Mildred and Gwen to take me.”

“I do not think it’s appropriate for those women to be at the hospital with you.”

Gwen speaks with far more calm and restraint than Mildred could possibly muster, “We can drive Anne to the hospital and wait in the waiting room while she sees your mom.”

“She’s sick Anne,” her mother says, ignoring Gwen, “and I don’t want you to upset her. I only want you there if you aren’t going to hurt your grandmother.”

Anne is stunned silent again for a moment before she tells her mother. “I only want to tell her that I love her.”

“Alright,” her mother says, “she’s in room 302.”

“You’ll leave and make Dad leave while I’m there?” Anne confirms, and Mildred feels so proud of Anne for standing up for herself, and so horribly angry at her parents.

Anne’s mother nods and then turns and leaves. Anne watches her go, and Mildred and Gwen go to her, wrap their arms around her.

“I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” Gwen says. “Let me leave a note for my mom, and then we will drive you to the hospital.” Gwen presses a kiss to Anne’s head and rushes off to write a note.

Anne looks at Mildred, eyes wide, welling with tears, and Mildred hugs Anne, has learned that Anne wants to be hugged when she’s upset, that being held makes her feel safe. Mildred doesn’t think anything she could say will make it better, hates terribly how Anne’s parents keep entering her life just long enough to hurt her. So Mildred just holds Anne tightly, rubs her back, and hopes that feeling loved like this helps Anne.

Gwen comes back a moment later with her keys, and Gwen and Mildred guide Anne to the car.

 


 

Gwen’s arm is wrapped around Anne’s shoulders as they stand in the waiting room. Gwen reassures Anne, “We will be right here. Take as much time as you want.”

“Thank you for coming with me,” Anne says. “I didn’t mean to ruin your whole Sunday.”

“You are our first priority,” Gwen says, her heart aching that amidst so much pain, that sweet Anne is thinking about Gwen and Mildred. “This is all that matters. There is nowhere else we would be.”

Mildred rubs Anne’s arm, tells her, “We love you, sweetheart. We’ll be right here waiting for you.”

Anne nods, her voice breaking as she says, “I’m scared to see her. I’ve never seen someone very sick before. And I’m afraid of what she wants to say to me.”

“You are so brave,” Gwen tells Anne, holding her close. “And if you need to leave at any time, you can. What you need matters,” Gwen says, “and if your need to leave that room, that’s alright.”

Anne nods, but stays rooted to the spot, leaning against Gwen’s side.

“We’ll be here. You come get us if you need us,” Mildred reassures, rubs Anne’s arm gently. “You have been so brave asking for what you need, and Gwen is right, you just keep doing that.”

“I love you both,” Anne says, “Don’t go far.”

“We won’t,” Gwen promises. “We love you.”

Mildred runs her hand through Anne’s hair, tells her, “We love you.”

Anne takes a deep breath and then walks forward towards her grandmother’s room. Gwen’s heart aches, wishes she and Mildred could go with Anne, could hug her, could make things better for her.

Gwen sinks into a chair, Mildred sitting beside her. Gwen wrings her hands, wants desperately to reach out for Mildred, to hold her, to let them comfort each other, but they are in public, and Gwen loathes that she can’t do something as simple as wrap her arms around the woman she loves, hates it terribly. But Mildred reaches for Gwen and takes one of her hands in both of Mildred’s and it’s a small gesture, one that they can easily pass of as an act of comfort between friends or sisters, but it’s a comfort nonetheless.

“Anne will be alright,” Mildred says, “She is strong, and she has us. And we will help her through this.”

“I’m so tired of her being forced to be strong. I hate seeing her hurting so badly. She is fifteen years old, and she has already been through so much.” Gwen shakes her head, thinks of how terribly much Mildred suffered by the time she was Anne’s age. “I just wish I could protect you and Anne from all the pain in the world.”

“Your love is such a comfort, Gwen. I promise that your love makes everything better,” Mildred says, her fingers caressing Gwen’s hand, and Gwen’s heart feels so full of love for Mildred. “But I understand. I hate Anne’s parents for hurting her, and I wish desperately that she could have a moment’s peace to try to settle in and feel comfortable in the life she has now.”

“I’m so afraid Evelyn is going to say something hurtful to Anne,” Gwen says, thinks of how hurt Anne was by her grandmother’s talk of praying for her soul and praying for her to change. “If Anne has to lose her grandma, I just want this their time together not to hurt Anne even more.”

“I know,” Mildred says, squeezing Gwen’s hand. Tears are falling down Mildred’s face, and Gwen wants so much to wipe them away, to hold Mildred, to be themselves.

“I love you so much,” Gwen says softly. “I know we will help Anne through this; I am just so tired of seeing her hurt.”

“I know,” Mildred agrees. “I am too.”

 


 

Anne is filled with relief when she walks into her grandma’s room and finds that she looks the same, save for the oxygen in her nose and some bruising on her cheek and arm. Anne’s parents are sitting together in the corner of the room, and Anne is simultaneously devastated and relieved that Mary isn’t there, part of her wishing so much that she had another chance to see her sister and tell her she was the same person Mary had known since she was born. But that is just a fantasy, and Anne has stopped believing, and so she supposes it is better this way. She turns to her mother, avoids her father’s gaze. “You promised you would leave while I’m here,” Anne says.

“Do not speak to your mother that way,” Anne’s father says, beginning to stand. Anne stands firm, will not let him intimidate her.

Before Anne can say anything, her grandmother opens her eyes and turns to Anne’s mom. “Would you please give me a few moments alone with my granddaughter.”

To Anne’s surprise her parents leave wordlessly, and her grandma is smiling at her kindly and nodding at the chair beside her bed. “Would you come sit with me?”

Anne sits and her grandmother reaches over, takes Anne’s hand in her own, and suddenly she seems so frail, her grasp weak. “I want to apologize,” her grandma says. “I’ve been praying since I saw you.”

Anne’s heart drops as she waits, she looks down, away from her grandmother’s gaze, and wonders what her grandmother will say to hurt her. She wishes Gwen and Mildred were sitting with her. “No one knows God’s will,” her grandmother says. “And if I truly believe that God does not make mistakes, then why should I think he made one with you? Afterall, since I have known you, you have been the kindest child. The way you took care of your sister with such care from the time she was a baby. You are a good person, Anne, and it is not my place to question how God made you.”

Anne dares to look up, and Evelyn smiles at her, squeezes Anne’s hand, tells her, “I am proud to have you as a granddaughter, and I hope you can forgive me for how long it took me to tell you that.”

Anne sobs, didn’t expect this, didn’t expect it would mean so much to hear it. She lays her head on the bed, and her grandma strokes her hair with her free hand. “I love you,” her grandma says. “I don’t want to leave this earth without you knowing that.”

“Thank you,” Anne says with a sob, “I love you too grandma.”

“Come sit beside me?” Anne’s grandma asks, patting the empty space on the bed.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Anne says.

“Nonsense. Come sit.” Anne sits down next to her grandmother, and being this close to her, Anne can feel how thin and frail her grandma is. “I know how much your mom and dad hurt you. I know I did too.”

“It’s alright, I forgive you grandma.” Anne didn’t realize how powerful that could feel, that she can be the one to grant forgiveness, to give her grandma peace.

“Thank you,” her grandmother says. “I tried to talk to your parents about letting you move home. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t change their minds.”

Anne bites her lip, wants to speak, wonders if she will offend her grandma by saying this. But Anne remembers Gwen and Mildred encouraging herself to stand up for herself. “I know this might be hard to hear, Grandma, but I don’t ever want to go back. I have a good home now, and I am going to stay there.”

“Mildred and Gwen seem like they love you very much,” Evelyn says, and Anne knows it must hurt her grandma to hear that Anne doesn’t want to have a relationship with her biological parents any longer. “And you’re happy there?”

“I am,” Anne says. “I’m very happy, and Mildred and Gwen take such good care of me. You don’t have to worry about me.”

Anne lays her head down on the bed again, her grandmother’s frail hand stroking her hair. Her mind swirls with love and grief, and she swallows the swell of emotion down and doesn’t cry, holds herself together, knows she can fall apart the moment she’s back in Gwen and Mildred’s arms. But for now Anne tries to be strong and help her grandmother find peace.

 

Chapter Text

All Anne wants is the safety of Mildred and Gwen’s arms.

After the nurse told her visiting hours were over, Anne had hugged her grandma, promised to come back and see her again, and then ran from her room back to the waiting room.

She passes her parents in the hall, turns her gaze away, but they don’t even try to speak to her. It feels like a punch in the gut for them to simply ignore her, to treat her like a stranger passing by rather than the child they created and raised for fifteen years. The child they abandoned. No, she doesn’t want to think about them any longer.

Anne walks into the waiting room to find Mildred and Gwen sitting together, pressed close, talking quietly. They look up when Anne walks in, and in their faces she can see so much love and worry. Anne can’t hold her tears back any longer, stands in front of Mildred and Gwen and cries. They both rush to her, wrapping their arms around her, holding her tightly, and letting her cry.

Anne stays there in arms that feel like safety and love and cries. Gwen and Mildred hold her, rub her back, murmur softly to her. This embrace feels like home now, and Anne clings, and they all stay standing in that room, Gwen and Mildred holding Anne until her tears subside.

 


 

Anne has barely said a word since leaving her grandmother’s hospital room. Once Anne stopped crying, she let Gwen wrap her arm around Anne and lead her from the hospital and to their car. Mildred feels at a loss, wants so badly to help Anne, to make this better, but she doesn’t know how to comfort Anne, doesn’t know how to make this loss hurt Anne any less.

“Do you want Mildred to sit in the back with you?” Gwen asks when they get to their car, Gwen’s arm still wrapped around Anne, whose head is resting on Gwen’s shoulder. “I can drive,” Gwen offers, “and Mildred can give you hugs on the way home.

Mildred almost interrupts, almost offers to drive, thinks Gwen would be better at comforting Anne, wonders if Anne would prefer to have Gwen. But Anne is nodding, whispering a tearful, “please,” and sliding into the backseat of the car.

Mildred sits down in the back seat, and Anne leans against Mildred’s side immediately. Mildred wraps her arm around Anne, and Anne closes her eyes, taking a deep breath, and seeming to relax. Mildred still wonders how this comforts Anne so much, how Mildred could possibly make a child feel safe. Gwen catches Mildred’s eye in the rearview mirror, must notice the anxiety, turns around to squeeze Mildred’s knee and smile with so much love, whispering softly, “My darlings.”

It only takes a few moments of the drive before the tears come again, and Anne is crying silently against Mildred’s shoulder. “Sweetheart,” Mildred breathes against Anne’s hair, wraps both arms around Anne, rubs her back. Anne keeps crying quietly, and Mildred wants so much to give Anne anything that will help but doesn’t know what to do beside keep holding Anne.

Mildred doesn’t ask, doesn’t know if this reaction is because Anne’s grandmother said something terrible to her or simply the reality of losing someone she loves. Mildred lets Anne keep crying on her shoulder until the sobs turn to little sniffles, and Anne is sitting back a bit, whispering “I’m sorry,” and trying to wipe the wetness from Mildred’s blouse.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. Do you need a handkerchief?” Mildred asks, pulling a clean handkerchief from her purse and handing it to Anne.

Anne wipes her eyes, blows her nose, and smiles shyly. Mildred presses her palm to Anne’s cheek, and she wishes she knew what to say right now, but Anne is talking then, telling her, “My grandmother asked me to forgive her. She told me I was exactly who I was meant to be, and she didn’t think there was anything wrong with me.”

“Oh Anne,” Gwen says from the front, turning her head quickly to smile at them before focusing back on the road, “I’m so happy she told you that. Did it feel good to you to hear that?”

Anne cuddles back against Mildred’s side. “It did,” Anne says, and Mildred wraps her arms around Anne again, rubs her back, as Anne continues, “It went as well as it could possibly have, but I’m sad.”

Mildred kisses Anne’s hair, “Of course, sweetheart,” she murmurs against soft locks. Mildred rests her cheeks on Anne’s head and cradles her as they lapse back into silence for the remainder of the drive.

 


 

Anne has remained constantly cuddled against Mildred and Gwen since they arrived home. They’ve spent the last hour sitting on the couch with Anne between them, Mildred only getting up a few moments ago to help Margaret and Kathy put away some groceries they had picked up on their way home.

“What time are visiting hours this evening?” Gwen asks, her arm still wrapped around a quiet Anne on the couch.

“Oh,” Anne says, looking at Gwen with a furrowed brow, “I don’t have to go back to the hospital today. Your family is here, and we had plans for tonight.”

“Nonsense,” Gwen says. “I want you to spend all the time with your grandmother that you can. If you want, we’ll take you back to see her again this evening.”

Anne just lays her head on Gwen’s shoulder, sniffles softly as tears fall into Gwen’s shirt. “I have you sweetheart,” Gwen coos, “I’m so sorry your grandma is this sick.” Gwen knows it’s more than that, that Anne is overwhelmed by so many awful things that have happened to her these last months. Gwen hugs Anne close, tells her, “Mildred and I are not going anywhere, you know that right?” Anne nods against Gwen’s chest. “Good. All I want is for you to tell us what you need.” Anne lets out a sob at that, and Gwen worries she might be pressuring Anne, tells her, “If you know that is. If not, that’s alright. You just tell us if something we do doesn’t feel right or doesn’t help.” Anne nods against Gwen.

Mildred returns a few moments later, takes her place next to Anne, one hand rubbing Anne’s back, the resting on Gwen’s thigh, and Gwen is grateful to have Mildred here with her, to have her touch and comfort as they help Anne through her pain.

Anne breaks the silence a moment later. “Seeing my parents today reminded me of every awful thing they did. I can’t stop thinking of how they tried to lock me in a psychiatric hospital. I don’t want to go back to the hospital today. I can’t. Can you take me again tomorrow instead?”

“We will take you to see your grandma whenever you want,” Mildred promises. “And we are going to keep you safe. If you want us to ask your parents to leave the room before you go in so you don’t need to talk to them, we can do that.”

Anne just nods and stay pressed between them, and Gwen twines her free hand with Mildred’s while they hold their child in their arms.  

 


 

Anne is upstairs showering and getting ready for bed. Gwen feels exhausted, weary, so sad for Anne. Gwen and Mildred are standing together in the kitchen, just holding each other quietly, taking comfort in each other.

“Hello, my darlings,” Margaret says, walking into the kitchen. “How are you holding up?”

Mildred just shrugs and shakes her head, and Gwen thinks that sums it up. Gwen kisses Mildred’s cheek, sighs.

“I know,” Margaret says, “There’s no worse feeling in the world than seeing your child in pain.”

Gwen smiles at her mom, feels so grateful for the family she has, for how close she and her mom have grown since Gwen came out to her mom and let her fully be a part of Gwen’s life.

“You are both doing beautifully,” Margaret says. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Thanks Mom,” Gwen says, squeezes Mildred’s arm, and smiles at Margaret.

“Would you like some tea?” Margaret asks, “Or cocoa perhaps. This feels like the time for some chocolate.”

“Yes please,” Gwen says. “Definitely time for cocoa and all the whipped cream and marshmallows we have in the house.”

“I can make it,” Mildred offers.

“Don’t you dare,” Margaret says. “I want to do something for you darlings. And this is the best I can think of, so let me make you cocoa.”

Gwen hears the door open a few moments later, Mildred startling in her arms, until they hear Trevor’s voice, “It’s just me.”

“In the kitchen,” Gwen yells, rubs Mildred’s arm, feels her relax again.

“Hello ladies,” Trevor greets, setting down a tray on the table and going to Margaret first and giving her a kiss on the cheek, before coming over to Gwen and Mildred and doing the same.

“Trevor!” Kathy says, running into the room.

“Hello, Kathy,” Trevor says, pulling Gwen’s sister into a hug, “How are you?”

“I’m good. Mom and I are going to move here. Did Gwenny tell you?”

“Yes, she did, and I cannot wait to spend more time with my favorite sister. I brought cinnamon rolls for Anne, but there is enough for everyone.”

“Anne’s showering now,” Mildred tells Trevor, “but she should be done soon.”

“I don’t want to intrude,” Trevor says, “and I am actually on my way to a date, so I can’t stay.”

“What? With whom?” Gwen says, excited that maybe her friend is slowly starting to move forward after things ended with Andrew.

“Someone I met at a bar this weekend.”

“You have a wonderful time,” Gwen says. “Don’t forget to ring me tomorrow and tell me all about it.”

“Yes dear. Tell Anne that her Uncle Trevor loves her and brought her cinnamon rolls, and that her moms are only allowed to share is she gives her permission.”

With that Trevor is rushing out the door to his date, and Gwen smiles to herself, hopes that her dear friend will find some happiness again.

 


 

Gwen is sitting in bed when Mildred emerges from the bathroom. Gwen smiles at Mildred, who climbs onto their bed, and nudges Gwen so that Mildred can lays between Gwen’s legs, her head pressed to Gwen’s chest.

“Gwen?”

“Yes, my love?”

The words rush from Mildred, a flurry of anxiety, “Do you think I was alright with Anne today, because she was so quiet and I just want to do everything for her, and I couldn’t tell what she needed. I feel silly, but you told me I could ask if I wasn’t sure?”

“Of course. We can talk about anything. Always. I hope you know that.”

“I do,” Mildred says with a sigh before pressing a soft kiss to Gwen’s chest. “I feel so nervous when Anne is quiet.” Mildred chews on her lip a moment before looking up and meeting Gwen’s eyes and telling her, “I think I worry because when I was young, I would get very quiet when things were bad. I escaped into my mind a lot and tried to turn off the world around me, especially if someone was hurting me. I worry that Anne’s doing something like that because I’m hurting her.”

Gwen’s heart aches, always hurts so terribly when Mildred speaks of her childhood. It hurts to imagine Mildred as a girl and just the thought of what that time was like for Mildred has Gwen close to tears. “Oh, my love,” Gwen says, cradles Mildred, softly rubbing her back. Mildred has grown more comfortable with Gwen hurting for her, expressing her sorrow for what Mildred has been through, no longer rejects it as pity.

“You are so good to Anne, and she is so comfortable with you. I truly think that when she’s upset, she just wants us to be with her. I think talking is hard when she’s very upset, but all I see is her seeking you out and wanting you to hug her.”

“Ok,” Mildred says. “Good.”

“I think Anne is able to tell us when she needs something or if something doesn’t feel right. Even when she’s quiet, she’s been asking for things she needs.”

“Ok,” Mildred says. “I just wanted to check.” Mildred snuggles against Gwen’s chest, nuzzles her nose against her, whispers, “I love you.”

“I love you,” Gwen says, nudges Mildred’s chin up for a kiss. “I’m so happy we’re doing this together, my love. You are so wonderful with Anne. You are everything anyone could want in a mother.”

“That’s not true,” Mildred says, her cheeks blushing. “But I am trying as hard as I can.”

“I know you are,” Gwen says, “and even if you don’t see it, you are amazing. You make Anne feel safe and loved. I fall in love with you more and more each day watching you be Anne’s mother. You truly are incredible Mildred Ratched. You are kind and loving and smart and beautiful –“

“Don’t start Gwendolyn. You know how much I hate it.”

“When I state the truth?”

Gwen feels Mildred’s lips turn up into a smile against Gwen’s chest. “When you won’t stop complimenting me.”

“You, my love, can be very hard on yourself, and it is my job to remind you of how amazing you are when it seems like you might be forgetting.”

Mildred’s arms squeeze tight around Gwen’s waist, and Gwen hugs Mildred close. Mildred’s voice comes in a whisper, “I love you. I’m the luckiest woman alive to have you.”

“That would be me,” Gwen answers, “my stunning, spectacular, incredible love. I’ll stop in a moment, but please just hear me tell you that I am so grateful to love you and to be loved by you. Anne is so lucky to have you. There is nothing better in the world than being your family, Mildred. We have a whole house full of people who will agree with me on that.”

Mildred is silent for a moment, and Gwen caresses her neck, her back, kisses Mildred’s head as Mildred keeps her face pressed against Gwen’s chest. Gwen still aches thinking about this woman she cherishes being hurt in the ways she has, spending so much time alone without someone to hold her or love her. “I love you,” Gwen murmurs into Mildred’s hair, needs to tell her again and again, needs to remind Mildred how adored and cherished she is and will be for the rest of her life.

Mildred shifts a little so that she can look at Gwen, smiles, and tells her, “Thank you. For everything.” She cups Gwen’s cheek in her hand and caresses it softly, making Gwen feel warm and loved and so in love she doesn’t know how her heart can contain it. Mildred smiles at Gwen, whispers, “Thank you for being mine.”

“The greatest joy of my life,” Gwen says, “is being yours forever.”

Mildred’s eyes fill with tears, and nods as tears begin rolling down her cheeks. “I love you,” she whispers, voice cracking. Mildred cups Gwen’s face in both her hands, tells her, “I am so grateful for what we have. So grateful for you.”

Gwen is filled with gratitude and love, and even on a hard day like today, she still marvels at what her life has become. “Some days I still can’t believe we have a daughter. We get to watch her grow and find her way in the world. We get to be her parents together.”

“I couldn’t do this without you,” Mildred says.

“You never have to do anything alone. I understand why this is so scary for you, my love. But even though you never had someone to show you love as a child, you know how to love so well, and you know how to be a mother. I am happy to be here to remind you of how incredible you are. You always have me, but don’t you dare forget how wonderful you are.”

Mildred’s looks up with a beautiful wide smile, and she tells Gwen, “I thought I said no more of your ridiculous compliments.”

“And I am certain I have been telling you for years that I will never stop.” Gwen grins at Mildred, who laughs, looks content, her anxieties about motherhood receding as she and Gwen keep staring at each other, chuckling at their old argument. Gwen squeezes Mildred tightly, hums, “My love.”

“Mine,” Mildred says, leaning in to nip at Gwen’s bottom lip before pulling Gwen into a kiss.

“Yours,” Gwen agrees as Mildred cuddles against Gwen’s neck. “Always yours.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“You look exhausted Mildred.” Deborah Rubin says as she sits down at the picnic table across from Mildred.

Mildred blinks her eyes open, remembers that she’s on her lunch break at work and cannot fall asleep right now. She smiles at her friend, tells her, “Anne is still having a hard time. Gwen and I were awake with her most of last night.”

“Poor Anne,” Deborah says. Mildred sighs, realizes it’s been over two months now since Anne’s grandmother died and everything began to feel like it was going backwards for Anne. She had seen a lot of her family in the aftermath, and it had been so difficult for her to face that rejection and pain again. Since then, there have been so many tears and nightmares, fears of being taken from Mildred and Gwen, dreams about people hurting them, threatening them, nightmares of social services taking Anne away that left waking in a panic attack.

“How are you and Gwen holding up?” Deborah asks. “Your coffee intake appears to have reached new heights.”

“The sleep deprivation I can handle. It just hurts to see Anne in so much pain,” Mildred says. “Anne has wanted to be with Gwen and me almost constantly. She still seems terrified of losing us. And we’re happy to be with her as much as she wants, but I worry that she’s pulled away from her friends.”

“David is always happy to come over to your house, as long as he isn’t a burden for you.”

“Not at all,” Mildred says. “He is always very polite and well mannered. And I’m so grateful for what a good friend he is to Anne. He is welcome anytime.”

“If you and Gwen ever want me to watch Anne, she is welcome to stay with David and me overnight. If you two need some time for yourselves.”

“Thank you,” Mildred says, her heart feeling so heavy. “I think Anne needs a little more time before she’s comfortable being away from us. We don’t want to push her if she isn’t ready.”

“Of course,” Deborah says. “She is so lucky that she found you and Gwen.”

“We’re the lucky ones,” Mildred replies, truly feels more grateful than she can ever explain that Anne is her child. “Anne is such a good kid. She’s so kind and loving. I just want to convince her that she can trust that she will always be our daughter. I think she trusts that we love her, but she seems so scared now of someone taking her from us.” Mildred sighs heavily, feels so overwhelmed. “I don’t know. Maybe she is still afraid we will leave her. I wish I knew how to make it better.”

“You are,” Deborah says. “I still remember the day I met Anne, and she is a far cry from the child who I saw that day. Every time I’ve seen her, she seems more at ease in your home and with you and Gwen. It might be easier to see from the outside, but I think she is adjusting well, and you are offering her the support she needs.”

“I tried to broach the idea of a therapist with her, but she is so afraid that if anyone finds out that she’s living with Gwen and me and why, that they will call social services and take her away. I think after the panic attack I nearly triggered with that suggestion, it’s off the table for a while.”

Deborah sighs, reaches into her bag and pulls out a tin, “I brought you cookies. I wish I could help more, but at the very least I can provide food.”

“Thank you,” Mildred says, truly so grateful for her new friend. “Anne has been doing a lot of stress baking recently. Gwen changed her schedule for the last few weeks so that she is out of her office in time to pick Anne up from school. Every day I come home to piles of fresh baked goods they’ve made, but we will still be happy to have more cookies to add to our collection.”

“Nothing wrong with some comfort eating,” Deborah says. “Would you all like to come over for dinner on Saturday? I can cook, and then Anne can have some time with a friend while still being close to you and Gwen.”

“That sounds lovely,” Mildred says, feels so grateful she has a network of people surrounding her, something she never would have imagined she could have in her life before she met Gwen. Mildred never thought she could feel comfortable being open with people, had spent her whole life putting on a facade. She hid herself away from the world, built so many walls for so long. With Gwen by her side, Mildred has learned to feel safe being herself, found that she enjoys having friends, slowly feels more comfortable trusting people not to hurt her.

 


 

“You did all your homework during your free period?” Gwen asks as she unclasps Charlie’s leash, letting him run to the kitchen for a drink of water. Gwen had arrived home early enough to walk Charlie over to Anne’s school to pick her up today. Of course, Anne could walk home on her own, but she’s been so anxious recently that Gwen has been driving straight from work to pick Anne up on most afternoons.

“Yes, it was all easy,” Anne says. “I have a history test on Friday that I need to prepare for though.”

“I can help you study, if you’d like.”

“That would be great. You can quiz me on key dates. The timeline of the Russian revolution always mixes me up. Can we bake cookies first?”

“Absolutely. What kind are we making today?” Gwen asks. They’ve been rotating through types of cookies and cakes. Anne has been on a baking kick recently, and Gwen and Anne have been trying out new recipes nearly every day. Gwen is not much of a natural homemaker, but she is enjoying when Mildred walks in the door being able to hand her a plate of cookies and a glass of milk and pamper her a bit.

“Can we make peanut butter and jelly cookies?” Anne asks, setting her backpack down by the door and kicking off her shoes.

“You know how much I love peanut butter and jelly.”

“Almost as much as I do,” Anne says.

“How about we make some of them peanut butter and chocolate chips for Mildred?” Gwen suggests, “She loves a good peanut butter and jelly, but you know how she feels about chocolate.”

“Perfect,” Anne says. “I’m going to change out of my uniform. I’ll be right back.”

“Take your backpack upstairs, please,” Gwen asks, and watches as Anne smiles apologetically and picks up her bag before running up to her room. Gwen moves Anne’s shoes to the coat closet by the front door, a closet now filled with shoes and jackets for three. There’s no denying a teenager lives in this house now, from the music playing on the radio, to the schoolbooks left everywhere, to the shoes kicked off haphazardly at the door.

Gwen can hardly believe that it’s already June, that in a couple short weeks it will be the six-month anniversary of Anne coming to live with Gwen and Mildred. In so many ways this time has reminded Gwen of the early days with Mildred, of the endless fear of being left, of being afraid of not being enough. Anne is so much like Mildred too, seeks out affection and care, wants closeness, and Gwen finds that so easy to give, knows how to love her partner and her daughter without reservation. She can’t fix any of the hurt both Mildred and Anne have suffered, but Gwen knows how over years Mildred has come to trust completely in Gwen’s love. Gwen knows that Anne will find the same peace in knowing that Mildred and Gwen are her mothers, that they love her without condition or reservation. In the meantime, while Anne learns to trust that love deep in her soul, Gwen can keep baking endless cookies, and hugging Anne, and reminding her that she has two mothers who love her and will do anything for her. And each time Anne asks for something she wants or leaves her homework covering the living room floor without panicking that causing a mess will make Gwen or Mildred love her any less, Gwen takes joy in knowing that slowly Anne is learning to feel safe and secure in Gwen and Mildred’s love.

Of course, some days hurt beyond words, and Gwen has sobbed in Mildred’s arms on so many nights after they have finally gotten Anne settled in her bed. It never stops hurting to see Anne in pain, and Gwen is so grateful that she has Mildred by her side for this journey. For all of Mildred’s fears about being a parent, she is truly so wonderful with Anne, and such a comfort to Gwen when the pain at seeing their child so sad overwhelms her. Gwen thinks she truly is the luckiest woman alive.

“What are you thinking about?” Anne asks, hopping down the stairs and smiling at Gwen.

Gwen looks Anne over, she looks happy and relaxed, and Gwen is grateful for each good day, hopeful that slowly Anne’s fears will start to ease. Gwen wraps her arm around Anne’s shoulder. “I’m just thinking how grateful I am that I get to be your mom.”

Anne smiles at that, tells Gwen, “Me too.”

Gwen hugs Anne tight to her side, asks, “Cookies?”

“Yes please!”

 


 

Gwen and Anne are on the couch together when Mildred arrives home, two large plates of cookies on the coffee table in front of them. “Hello, my girls,” Mildred says, smiling at the sight in front of her, her whole body relaxing and warming as she steps into the comfort of her home. Gwen smiles at the term of affection, and Mildred marvels at the way Gwen’s smile lights up her whole face, marvels that Mildred can cause such a beautiful expression of happiness.

Charlie leaves his perch beside the couch where he was waiting for crumbs to fall and runs over to the door to greet Mildred. He runs full speed at her, tail wagging, and jumps at her, paws hitting her in the belly. Mildred can never find it in her to try to train Charlie not to jump on her in greeting when she arrives home, secretly loves that his excitement overwhelms his usually well-behaved nature.

Mildred gives Charlie some cuddles and pets, takes off her shoes and goes to the spot on the couch waiting for her between Gwen and Anne. “Hello, darling,” Gwen says, pulling Mildred to her. Mildred leans against Gwen’s side, overcome by exhaustion now that she’s finally home. “How was your day?”

“Tiring,” Mildred confesses. She weaves her fingers with Gwen’s and presses a soft kiss hello to Gwen’s lips, before turning to Anne. “How was school today?” Mildred asks, hopes desperately that it was good, that no one teased Anne, that maybe things can begin to get better.

“It was good,” Anne tells Mildred. “I got a hundred on my math test.”

“Good job,” Mildred says. “Did you even study for that test?”

Anne shrugs. “Not much. It was easy.”

“Our daughter is a genius,” Gwen says, jostles Mildred a little as she reaches for a cookie.

“I am not,” Anne argues, gestures at the textbook in front of her. “I cannot memorize any of the stupid details of Russian history.”

Gwen holds a cookie in front of Mildred’s mouth, and Mildred takes a bite, lets the still gooey chips melt in her mouth. “That is delicious,” she says as leans back on Gwen’s chest.

“Do you want me to get you a glass of milk?” Anne asks.

“You do not need to wait on me,” Mildred says. “You already baked delicious cookies that I get to eat.”

Gwen presses a kiss to Mildred’s neck, her fingers caressing Mildred’s. She nudges the cookie to Mildred’s mouth again, and Mildred happily takes another bite.

Mildred leans forward, picks up Gwen’s glass. “I can share Gwen’s milk,” she says taking a long sip, realizes she hasn’t had anything to drink today besides coffee. “Russian history is on Friday?” Mildred asks, and Anne nods. “You’ll know it by then.”

“Gwen has been quizzing me for the last hour, and I still can’t remember it.”

“You’ll get it,” Gwen says.

“Can I finish your milk?” Mildred asks, her body reminding her how thirsty she actually is now that she’s finally had a chance to sit down.

“Of course, love,” Gwen says. “I can get you more. There’s a gallon in the refrigerator. Did you remember to drink any water today?”

Mildred shakes her head as she finishes off the milk.

“Let me get you some more milk and water,” Anne says, standing from the couch.

“I can get up,” Mildred says. “You don’t have to get me anything.”

Anne rolls her eyes and takes the empty glass from Mildred. “I think I can handle a walk to the kitchen. Do either of you want anything else?”

Mildred shakes her head, says “Thank you.”

“No thank you,” Gwen says, pulls Mildred tight and presses more cookie to her lips. The stress of the day melts away and Mildred feels so loved.

 


 

Mildred lays her head on Gwen’s chest, pulls the blankets over them, and sighs contentedly as Gwen wraps her arms around Mildred.

“Sweetness,” Gwen coos as Mildred nuzzles against Gwen’s chest. Mildred wraps her arm around Gwen’s waist and presses a kiss to Gwen’s sternum.

“How was Anne after school today?” Mildred asks.

“She seemed happy. We just made cookies and studied for her history test before you got home. I think she had a good day.”

Mildred shifts so that she can look at Gwen, asks, “And you? How are you doing, my love?”

Gwen smiles softly at Mildred, runs her fingers through Mildred’s hair, strokes her temple. It feels divine to be touched like this, to be so deeply loved and cherished. “I’m alright,” Gwen says, “It hurts to see Anne struggling.”

“I know,” Mildred says.

Gwen’s eyes fill with tears, but she’s smiling at Mildred, cupping her cheek, and telling her, “I couldn’t do this without you. You give me the strength to be strong for our daughter. You know that, don’t you Mildred?”

Mildred shakes her head, leans up to press a kiss to Gwen’s jaw. Gwen shifts them so they are lying on their sides face to face, legs intertwined, arms holding each other, tells Mildred, “Lying here with you is the safest, most loving place in the world. I can do anything if I have your arms to come home to.”

Mildred’s throat feels tight, choked with emotions. “I know that feeling,” she whispers, her fingers softly tracing Gwen’s lips. For a moment they look at each other in silence, smiling, kissing softly.

Mildred struggles to stifle a yawn and Gwen says, “I want you to sleep in tomorrow. I’m going to try not to wake you in the morning, alright?” Tomorrow is Mildred’s day off from work, one Mildred is very much looking forward to after working three ten hour shifts in a row.

“Please wake me,” Mildred says. “I want my morning Gwen kisses. I’ll go back to sleep after you and Anne leave.”

“If you’re sure,” Gwen says.

“Certain,” Mildred promises. “I love spending the morning together, even if you’re rushing out the door.”

Gwen smiles, leans forward and presses a kiss to Mildred’s lips. “Are you tired enough to sleep, my love?” Gwen asks.

“Yes. I’ve been exhausted since the moment I woke up.”

“Go to sleep, darling. I’ll wake you with kisses in the morning.”

“I love you,” Mildred says, rolling onto her back and pulling Gwen to lie on Mildred’s chest.

Gwen smiles at Mildred, tucks her arm safely around Mildred’s waist. “I love you so much Mildred.”

Mildred kisses Gwen’s forehead, squeezes her tight, and closes her eyes and lets herself drift off to sleep with the comforting weight of the woman she loves pressed to her chest.

Chapter Text

The living room is an absolute mess - clothes strewn everywhere, suitcases open, travel guides laid open. Poor Charlie has fallen asleep in one of Mildred’s suitcases. She rubs his belly as they pack, knows he’s anxious about what is going on. She feels a little guilty leaving him to go on vacation, though she knows Charlie will have the very best time with Gwen’s mom and sister. Still seeing Charlie so nervous that his family is leaving tugs at something deep within Mildred, an old fear of her own that she has put to rest, but one she understands deeply. So, she rubs her pup’s belly, and promises to buy him extra toys when she returns from vacation.

“Utah was my favorite place that Trevor and I went on our honeymoon,” Gwen tells Anne, as Anne flips through a travel guide. “The landscape is spectacular. I am so happy I have the chance to see it again with both of you.”

“I’m sorry I kept you from going back to Mexico,” Anne says. The idea of taking Anne out of the country seemed too risky, and maybe Mildred and Gwen were being overly cautious, but they decided that trip needed to wait until Anne turned eighteen and no one would question why she was travelling with two women to whom she has no legal relationship.

“Nonsense,” Mildred says, “Gwen has been talking about going to Zion and Arches for years. This trip will be just as much fun as going to Mexico.”

“You could have gone without me,” Anne says, and Mildred knows she is feeling guilty.

“Why would we want to do that?” Mildred asks. “We’ll have far more fun all together.”

“If you’re sure. I really wouldn’t mind staying with your mom, Gwen. Assuming she wouldn’t mind.”

“First of all,” Gwen says, setting down the guidebook she’s been reading and looking at Anne. “My mom wants to spend all the time with her favorite granddaughter that she possibly can get. But grandma time is just going to have to wait, because we are taking a family vacation, and we cannot do that without you.”

Mildred scoots over to sit next to Anne, rubs her back softly. “We love spending time with you, you know? This trip is going to be so much fun.” It still amazes Mildred sometimes not just how much she loves Anne, but how much she genuinely likes her. Anne fits so perfectly into their family, enjoys so many of the same things Mildred and Gwen do, has a similar dry sense of humor, an enjoyment of hiking and reading and going to the beach and to the movies. It was so easy for Anne to seamlessly fit into their lives, to being them so much joy and laughter, so much love.

 


 

Halfway through Nevada, Mildred’s stomach was growing loudly, and Gwen insisted they should stop at a diner for a proper brunch.

“I’m going to go to the ladies’ room,” Mildred says, setting her menu down on the table, “Can you order me scrambled eggs and toast if the waiter comes?”

Gwen nods, rests her own menu on the table, looks at Anne across the table still studying the menu, asks, “Do you know what you’re going to order?”

“I’m still deciding between an omelet and chocolate chip pancakes.”

“You can get both,” Gwen says.

“Oh no, I can’t eat that much.”

“Let’s get pancakes for the table then. You know Mildred will help eat anything with chocolate in it.”

The radio is on, a news broadcaster discussing McCarthy’s persecution of gay government workers. It makes Gwen’s blood boil, but she bites her tongue, refrains from ranting loudly when she is at a diner in rural Nevada. It takes Gwen a moment to realize that across the table from her Anne is hyperventilating. Gwen walks around to the other side of the table, sits beside Anne and presses a palm to Anne’s back. “Take a deep breath sweetheart. You’re safe.” Anne looks at Gwen, her eyes wide and scared. “You’re safe Anne.” Gwen rubs circles on Anne’s back and takes deep breaths, Anne’s breathing slowing and mirroring Gwen’s.

“Can we go outside?” Anne asks.

Gwen stands, wraps her arm around Anne’s shoulders and guides her out of the diner. It’s early in the day, but already the summer heat feels oppressive. Anne collapses onto the bench outside the diner, Gwen sitting beside her. Anne’s hands are shaking, and Gwen places one hand over Anne’s, the other on her back. “You’re safe, sweetheart. Mildred and I will never let anything bad happen to you. I promise.”

“It isn’t fair.”

“I know,” Gwen agrees. “The world is full of so much injustice, and I’ve never wished I could change that more than I have since you came into my life.”

“It’s not fair to you either.”

Gwen rubs Anne’s back. “No, it isn’t fair to any of us. I used to feel very angry that I couldn’t have the life I wanted, that I had resigned myself to marrying Trevor and assumed I had no hope of having real love in my life. But after I found Mildred, I stopped feel like I was missing out on anything. I still get angry sometimes that we can’t be open when we’re in public, but then I look at her and I focus on what I do have, and I am so grateful. But I wish the world was different so you could feel safe and free. And I wish we could adopt you legally so you could feel safe with us.”

Anne leans over, rests her head on Gwen’s shoulder. “I feel safe with you and Mildred. I just wish anywhere else felt safe.”

Gwen sighs, feels so helpless. “Oh sweetheart. I promise you that you’re safe right here.”

Mildred comes outside, “Here you are. Are you ok?” she asks, coming to sit on Anne’s other side.

Anne sniffles, shakes her head against Gwen.

“The radio was playing a news story about McCarty trying to root out homosexuals in the state department,” Gwen tells Mildred. “It made Anne feel anxious, so we stepped outside for a moment.”

“Of course,” Mildred says, “How are you feeling now, sweetheart? Do you want to leave? We can get takeout and eat on the road. Whatever makes you feel comfortable.”

“I want to go back in to eat,” Anne says, not lifting her head from Gwen’s shoulder. “I just need a couple moments. Is that all right?”

“Of course, it’s all right,” Mildred says.

“Thank you for asking for what you need,” Gwen adds, grateful Anne feels comfortable telling them.

Mildred smiles at Gwen, and Gwen is overwhelmed by the knowledge that they are in this together, that they’re a team, and Gwen trusts that together they can help Anne to feel comfortable in the world. Gwen wishes she could hug Mildred close, but she settles for listening to Mildred’s words and loving her so much, as she speaks tells Anne, “I remember feeling so afraid at first that everyone would somehow know who I was. Even before Gwen and I were together, when I was first realizing my feelings for her and what that meant, I thought everyone would look at me and know. Eventually I realized that almost no one gives a second thought to Gwen and me living together or going on vacation and sharing a hotel room. No one questions us when we say we’re friends or sisters. Once I became more comfortable with who I am, I stopped worrying that someone might suspect who Gwen and I really are to each other. Most of the time nothing bad will happen if someone just suspects, and I am certainly not ashamed of my love. But I know very well that it can be hard to shake feeling so worried and like there is something wrong with you.”

“I’m sorry,” Anne says.

“Whatever for?” Mildred asks, cupping Anne’s cheek.

“I shouldn’t be ashamed. I know there’s nothing wrong with being a lesbian.”

“Oh sweetheart,” Gwen says, “We know this is complicated, that learning to love yourself when society tells you that there is something wrong with you is so hard. It takes so much courage. I wish we could make the world better for you.”

Mildred wipes the tears as they fall down Anne’s cheeks. “You’re doing so well,” Mildred says. “I know that sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but you’re doing wonderfully. We are so proud of you.”

“So proud,” Gwen agrees.

“I feel like I should be braver. You’re both so brave.”

“I wasn’t always,” Mildred says, “I was so scared when I realized my feelings for Gwen. It was so hard to make sense of being taught that being attracted to women was wrong but knowing in this deep way that what I was feeling for Gwen was the most wonderful, good thing I’d ever experienced in my life. It took me time to process that and unlearn what I had been taught for so long. It’s a journey for everyone I think.”

Gwen smiles at Mildred, will always be so grateful that Mildred was so brave and embraced what was between them despite her fears. Gwen tells Anne, “It took me decades of knowing I was a lesbian before I told my family. You’re only sixteen, and you’re being so brave. I promise you that you are one of the very bravest people I know.”

Anne laughs, “I doubt that is true. But I feel better. Thank you. We can go back and have breakfast now.”

Mildred and Gwen both are wrapping Anne up in a hug, holding her tight for a long moment before returning to breakfast.

 


 

Looking out at the red rocks from beside Delicate Arch, Gwen thinks this place is even more stunning than she remembers. She, Mildred, and Anne found a shady spot to sit and take in the landscape together. There are other people around, so Gwen can’t wrap her arm around Mildred, can’t kiss her how she would like to right now. But still, Gwen thinks, the beauty, the vastness of the landscape and blue sky, it’s all made so much more incredible because she is seeing it now with her family.

“It’s stunning here,” Mildred says, her arms wrapped around her knees as she stares out at the landscape.  Gwen wishes she could move behind Mildred, let her lean back against Gwen’s chest, wrap Mildred up in Gwen’s embrace.

Instead, Gwen smiles at the woman she loves, tells her, “I’m so happy we can all see it together. It’s so more magical this time around, seeing it with both of you.”

Mildred’s smile looks so content, and Gwen is grateful to have learned that being in nature brings Mildred so much peace, that after a little nudging from Gwen that there is nothing wrong with hiking or swimming in the ocean, with getting dirty and sweaty, that Mildred was able to rediscover her love for the outdoors that she hadn’t been able to embrace since she was a foster child on a farm who loved to play outside. That little girl was still inside Mildred waiting to come out, waiting to feel safe enough to marvel at the world again, to take joy in running in the sunshine, to climb up hills just to find out what was on the other side. Oh, how Gwen has adored getting to see Mildred let herself embrace joy and wonder again.

For a while they sit together in silence and take in the quiet around them, the sun’s warmth growing and reminding Gwen that they should start on their return hike soon before it’s too hot. Gwen hears Anne sniffling, turns to see her daughter wiping at her eyes. Gwen looks at Anne with concern, but Anne smiles and says, “Thank you for taking me here.”

“Of course,” Gwen replies, “I am so happy I am able to share this place with both of you.”

“Thanks for taking me on vacation,” Anne whispers, “You didn’t have to.”

“It wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without you,” Gwen says.

“When I go to college, can I still come home over the summer and take vacations with you?” Anne’s voice cracks.

Mildred scoots closer to Anne, wraps her arm around her and tells her, “We are going to miss you so much when you move out. It will make us so happy if you want to come home every single weekend and holiday and school vacation.”

Gwen leans in and rubs Anne’s back. “We are going to be such wrecks,” she says with a laugh. “We are going to be the parents sobbing when we drop you off at your dorm.”

“I don’t want to think about it,” Mildred says, and Gwen can see her eyes are wet now too. “We have two more years before we have to think about you moving out.”

Anne smiles a little at that, asks, “What if I wanted to live with you when I’m in school?”

“We would be thrilled,” Gwen says, “but what’s most important is that you do what makes you happy. Just never forget that you have a home with us forever. We adore having you with us. Life is more fun with you, and you have just made our lives better.”

Anne is quiet for a few moments. It is Mildred who eventually breaks the silence, telling Anne, “I hope you don’t think that anything about how we feel would change when you go to college. Being privileged to be your moms is such a joy. When you’re grown, and that is not something that I am rushing, all I could want is for you to live down the block and drop by for dinner and take vacations with us. You can live with us as long as you want, and we will always be happy you’re there.”

Gwen gives Anne’s shoulder a squeeze, tells her, “You do not need to make any decisions now, but if you want to live at home when you go to college you can. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be close to family. And if you want to live in the dorms then you will always have a home to come back to. Simple as that. Nothing at all to worry about.”

Anne smiles, her worries seeming to ease with the reassurance. Every time Gwen thinks Anne is feeling secure, she says something like this, and Gwen realizes with an aching heart, that the fear is still there, will take time. Gwen leans in close so no one else can hear, whispers, “I love you so much, my girls.”

 


 

Gwen wakes to the sound of Mildred’s screams. It takes a moment to realize that Mildred is beside her, has woken up from a dream, is sitting up, eyes wide and frantic.

“Mildred, you’re safe,” Gwen says, her heart still pounding in her hears. “You’re here with me.”

Mildred is panting, eyes frantically searching the room. “You’re safe,” Gwen repeats, knows waking up in new places can be disorienting for Mildred, tells her, “We’re in our hotel. You’re with me, darling. You’re all right.”

Mildred grasps at Gwen’s arms, her breaths coming in heaves. Gwen presses her palm to Mildred’s cheek. “You’re safe,” Gwen says, tries to keep her presence as calming as possible. “I’m here.” It hurts to see Mildred afraid like this, half lost in the memory of a nightmare. “I’m here.”

Mildred looks at Gwen, eyes finally beginning to clear a little. “You’re here, darling.” Gwen rubs her fingers over the soft skin of Mildred’s cheek. “You’re with me, my love. You’re safe.”

Mildred is still breathing heavily, her eyes locked with Gwen’s. “You’re all right,” Gwen soothes, wrapping one arm around Mildred, feeling Mildred’s body relax just slightly.

Gwen presses a kiss to Mildred’s cheek, nuzzles close. Mildred lets out a shaky breath, murmurs, “I’m sorry, I think I’m going to be sick.”

Gwen watches Mildred pull back the covers and stand on shaky legs. Gwen knows this means that Mildred has dreamed about the way she was abused as a child, has learned that it’s the only kind of nightmare that makes Mildred feel physically sick. Gwen’s heart aches, wishes desperately that she could take this pain from Mildred. Gwen stands and follows Mildred as she leaves their bedroom and walks into the shared living area of their hotel suite. Anne is standing there in her pajamas looking worried, and Gwen had forgotten that in such a small space Mildred’s screams were almost certain to wake Anne.

Mildred looks horrified to see Anne, and Gwen knows that she is the only person who Mildred shows this kind of vulnerability to, that Mildred would never want their daughter to see her upset in this way.

Mildred closes the bathroom door behind her, and Gwen can hear her retching, needs to go to Mildred, but first she must explain to Anne, help soothe the fear that is so apparent on Anne’s face.

“Mildred is all right, sweetheart,” Gwen says, going to Anne and rubbing her shoulder. “She just had a bad dream.”

“She was screaming so much,” Anne says.

“I know,” Gwen says, never gets used to how bad Mildred’s nightmares can be. “She’ll be all right. I’m going to check on her. Will you be ok?”

“Of course. I was just worried about Mildred.”

Gwen wraps Anne up in a brief hug before going to the bathroom door. She doesn’t knock, knows it will startle Mildred right now. “Darling, can I come in?”

“It’s open,” Mildred says, and Gwen walks in, finds Mildred sitting with her back against the bathtub, breaths still coming too quickly.

“Anne saw me like this,” Mildred says when Gwen closes the door.

Gwen sits down beside Mildred. “Do you want me to hold you?” Gwen asks, knows usually Mildred wants to be cuddled, likes when Gwen wraps her arms around Mildred, that it makes her feel safe and accepted amid horrible memories. But Gwen always asks, doesn’t want to touch Mildred without her consent when she’s reminded of being abused.

Mildred nods, and Gwen reaches out and wraps her arm around Mildred’s shoulders.

“I don’t know how I can face Anne,” Mildred says, laying her head against Gwen’s chest.

Gwen wraps her other arm around Mildred, so she’s encircled in Gwen’s embrace, presses a soft kiss to Mildred’s forehead, and tells her, “Darling, Anne admires you so much. She loves you and looks up to you. That would never change because she saw you after you had a nightmare.”

“I’m so embarrassed.”

“Can you tell me why?” Gwen asks. Mildred is boneless in Gwen’s embrace, cuddling close, and Gwen is grateful that Mildred feels safe with Gwen, wants to be held.

“The dream was about Edmund, and it always makes me feel like everyone will be able to see my past when they look at me. I know it’s not true, but it feels like it is. You’re the only person I’ve ever let myself be close to when I’m thinking about the past.”

“My love, you are so strong, and I am so grateful that you trust me in this way.” Gwen looks down at Mildred nuzzling against her.

“I always trust you,” Mildred whispers with a kiss to Gwen’s chest.

“I love you so much.” Gwen rubs Mildred’s back, kisses her hair. “You just tell me what you need. We can keep sitting here. I can talk to Anne. She will understand if you don’t want her to even mention anything about you having a bad dream.”

Mildred sighs and sits up so she can look at Gwen. “No, I don’t want to teach her that there’s anything wrong with having a nightmare. I’m afraid she’ll think I want her to hide her bad dreams from us if I seem ashamed.” Mildred smiles at Gwen, tells her, “I’m all right, and I need to remember that no one can see the awful things in my head.”

Gwen caresses Mildred’s arm, tells her, “I know your past is private and something you don’t share with many people, but it is in no way shameful. You are so incredibly strong, and I am so proud to be your partner. So proud and grateful that the most amazing woman in the world decided to spend her life with me.”

You are the most amazing partner, Gwen. I don’t know how many nights you’ve sat up with me.”

“All I want is to be with you, my brave, beautiful, strong, loving, sweet, good, perfect darling.”

Mildred laughs, a quiet little laugh, but her smile is genuine. “Enough of your flattery.”

“Honesty,” Gwen corrects.

Mildred smiles widely and shakes her head.  “Thank you.” She presses a kiss to Gwen’s lips and stands, extends her hand to pull Gwen up.

“We can stay here longer if you want,” Gwen says. “You can take as much time as you need.”

Mildred takes a deep breath. “I want to talk to Anne, make sure she is all right.”

“Ok,” Gwen agrees, “then you can tell me what you need.”

“You know me so well,” Mildred says with a smile, and of course Gwen knows Mildred can’t fully shake off what was such an upsetting dream that quickly.

“Nine years, my love,” Gwen says, “I think we know each other in the most wonderful way.”

 


 

Mildred steps out of the bathroom with her heart still pounding. Anne is sitting on the couch, looking so nervous. Mildred tries her best for a reassuring smile.

“I’m sorry for scaring you,” Mildred says as she sits down beside Anne.

“As long as you’re all right,” Anne says, but she doesn’t look like she believes it. Looks so worried, and Mildred hates that she made Anne worry, hates that Anne heard Mildred screaming, sounding so terrified, sees her now when Mildred cannot completely shake the memory of her dream, shake feeling so terribly helpless.

“I am,” Mildred tells Anne, reaches out to rub Anne’s shoulder. “Just a bad dream.”

“Can I give you a hug?” Anne asks, and Mildred finds she feels comfortable with the idea, and wraps her arms around Anne.

“Thank you, sweetheart. I really am so sorry for waking you.”

“Don’t apologize. I’m going to go back to bed now and fall right asleep. I just wanted to make sure you were ok first.” Anne smiles at Mildred, standing from the couch. “I love you both,” she says as she walks back to her room.

 Mildred lets out a breath when Anne closes her door, lets her shoulder hunch forward, can stop trying her best to look like she isn’t feeling terribly haunted by memories right now.

“Do you want to go back to bed?” Gwen asks.

Mildred nods and wordlessly follows Gwen back to the bedroom.

“She’s going to look at me differently,” Mildred says, her breath coming quickly, worry mounting. How can Anne want Mildred to be her mother when Mildred is still like this?

“Darling,” Gwen says sitting down on the bed and extending her arm. Mildred goes to her, leans against Gwen’s chest. She loves this feeling, loves being held like this.

“Anne is learning what bravery is from you,” Gwen says. “She’s learning to share what she feels with us and let us help her when she’s hurting. You model that kind of strength for her, and you show her every day what it means to survive so much pain and work to heal. You love so fiercely and without fear, even after being hurt terribly for so long. You are so strong, my love, and Anne and I are so, so lucky to have you to love us.”

“You and your compliments,” Mildred says, smiling a little, feeling so loved.

“I just tell the truth,” Gwen replies with a kiss to Mildred’s hair, “Nothing is going to change about how much Anne loves you and looks up to you. Certainly not seeing you have a nightmare. Now you tell me, what do you need?”

“Just this,” Mildred says, the memories from the dream have faded slightly, but her body still feels uneasy, the memories of Edmunds hands on her skin. But Gwen holds her, caresses her arm, kisses her head, and it feels good. In the beginning Mildred hated being touched when she was so close to a memory, felt dirty, felt certain that Gwen could see that filth. Gwen wraps Mildred up in a hug, and Mildred feels protected and safe as she cuddles against Gwen. She wants Gwen’s touch, wants these arms to hold her when her mind conjures up images of the hurt child Mildred once was.

“Talk to me,” Mildred says, “about anything.” Gwen will understand that Mildred needs a distraction, needs Gwen to ground her in the present moment, to keep memories from consuming her. Mildred looks up at Gwen, and they share a soft smile, and Mildred is so grateful for this easy comfort, for having a person who loves her and knows her so intimately.

“Tomorrow we are going to go for the most beautiful hike,” Gwen says. “The water in the river is cool, so you hardly notice the heat. And there are red rock cliffs on both sides. And I am going to kiss you silly every chance I get.”

“It wouldn’t be a hike together if you didn’t. I’ve come to expect my mid-hike kisses. It’s good motivation for me.”

“How about a kiss now?” Gwen asks, and Mildred smiles at the soft loving expression of Gwen’s face.

Mildred leans up and presses a gentle kiss to Gwen’s lips. “I can’t believe I ever ran from you when I was feeling this way,” Mildred says. “You make everything better. You make me feel so safe.”

Gwen gives Mildred a squeeze. “I’m so glad, my love. I’m so grateful you feel comfortable being open with me in this way.”

“My past felt like a shameful secret that I carried for so long. I never imagined someone could know what happened to me and still love me and want me.”

“I love you more than anything. I love you more than I knew I was able to love. I love you more every day we spend together, even though I don’t know how such a thing is possible.”

“My poet,” Mildred murmurs, presses her palm over Gwen’s heart.

“Like I said, sweetness, there is nothing shameful about your past. I love that brave little girl you were, and the brave woman you’ve grown to be. The strong, loving, incredible partner and mother. You’re everything Mildred.”

Mildred gives Gwen’s arm a playful smack, tells her, “Enough compliments.”

“Never enough,” Gwen says, and Mildred leans up and kisses the woman she loves, feels better, feels safe.

 


 

The next morning, Gwen returns from the bathroom to find Mildred staring at herself in the mirror. It makes Gwen worry; she knows sometimes when Mildred is reminded of the abuse she suffered that she grows less comfortable with her body. Gwen walks to Mildred slowly so as not startle her. Mildred smiles warmly, presses her palm to Gwen’s cheek. Mildred is just looking at Gwen, eyes so warm and full of love that Gwen doesn’t know how her heart can contain all the love she feels. Gwen tells Mildred, “We don’t have to do anything today if you aren’t feeling up to it.”

“Oh no, I’m fine,” Mildred says. “I was just thinking about how much I’ve changed with you; how much you’ve helped me accept myself. I feel good this morning, and that is very much because of how you’ve loved me all these years.”

Mildred’s arms encircle Gwen, pull her close, so their hips are pressed together. Gwen wraps her arms around Mildred, tells her, “If I’ve done anything to help you accept that you are absolutely magnificent then I am so grateful.”

Mildred wordlessly leans in, kisses Gwen, her tongue caressing Gwen’s, arms pulling Gwen close. For a moment Gwen lets herself get lost in the feeling of Mildred, her warm mouth and her gentle hands, and the truth of this person who spent so long hiding her heart from the world but who is so open with Gwen, a part of Gwen’s very soul.

When Mildred pulls back, she is smiling happily. “Is Anne awake yet?” Mildred asks as she pulls Gwen against her side and wraps her arm around Gwen’s waist.

“I heard her moving around in her room. I think she’s still getting ready,” Gwen says, watching Mildred chew nervously on her lip. “Nothing is going to change.”

When they step out of their room, Anne is in the living room of their suite, all three of their backpacks beside her. “Good morning,” Anne says, “I woke up early, so I packed everything for our hike. I packed three liters of water each, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and apples.”

“You didn’t need to do all that,” Mildred says.

“I thought you might want to sleep in since you were awake last night. And I was up early anyway.”

“I’m sorry for waking you last night,” Mildred says, looks so nervous again.

Gwen is so grateful for Anne, for her maturity, her love, when she smiles at Mildred and tells her, “There is definitely no reason to apologize. You know, I won’t mind if we put off hiking for tomorrow if you want to go back to bed.”

“Absolutely not,” Mildred says. “We have a hike to take.”

 


 

“This is stunning,” Mildred says, taking in the way the sun streams into the canyon and illuminates the red rock walls.

“Not as stunning as you are,” Gwen replies, wrapping her arms around Mildred’s waist.

There’s no one here on this secluded hike, and Mildred is so grateful. She smiles at Gwen, loves this big hearted, silly woman, that Mildred gets to spend her life with. Mildred leans in and kisses Gwen, tangles one hand into Gwen’s hair, the other arm wrapping around Gwen’s back and pulling her close.

Gwen is smiling against Mildred’s mouth, and this Mildred thinks is perfect happiness. The woman she loves so joyful in her arms.

When they pull back, Gwen is smiling at Mildred, brushes Mildred’s hair behind her ear, and pulls Mildred against her side. Gwen turns to Anne, tells her, “We’re sorry, Anne. Kissing on secluded hikes is something of a tradition.”

“I told you. I like seeing you together. It reminds me that I am part of a happy family, even if we aren’t the most traditional. And it makes me hopeful that one day I will find someone to share my life with.”

“She will be the luckiest woman,” Gwen says. “As long as Mildred doesn’t absolutely terrify her when you bring her home to meet us.”

“I will do no such thing,” Mildred says, feigning outrage, “Assuming she’s good enough for you, I will be perfectly welcoming.”

Anne laughs. “Am I going to have to introduce you as my intimidating, protective mom, Mildred?”

“Gwen is going to be just as bad,” Mildred insists, knows her love is fiercely protective of her family, just as Mildred is.

Anne smiles at them. “I like having scary moms.”

Nothing has changed, Mildred realizes then. Anne isn’t looking at her differently after seeing Mildred so upset last night. She’s still joking, seems completely at ease, still thinks of Mildred as being capable of being her mom. Mildred feels something loosen in her chest, feels her fear ease as Anne smiles and sprints ahead to continue exploring. Mildred takes Gwen’s hand and they run after Anne.

“This is amazing,” Anne says when they catch up to her. “I think this is the most beautiful place I have ever been. It’s so peaceful here. It makes me feel like I can just be myself and not worry about anything else. Does that sound silly?”

“Not at all,” Mildred says. She squeezes Gwen’s hand and smiles at their daughter, and thinks she feels perfectly at peace herself.