Hazel leaves you two alone for a few minutes to get everything she’ll need from the car. The air is thick with tension, and you’re not quite sure what to do, so you sit down next to Kathleen, asking if she’s all right.
“Not exactly how I thought it would go,” she tells you and exhales a long, shaky breath. “When I think, this is really it? I’m scared shitless.” She chuckles humorlessly, her hand caressing her unborn child. “Ryan’s gonna hate to miss this.”
You feel unsteady, so you can’t imagine how much worse Kathleen must feel, but you remind yourself that this should be a joyous occasion, deciding from here on out it’s positive affirmations only. Like Hazel you encourage her, even draw a genuine smile from her.
When Kathleen reaches Ryan he’s gutted. The last flight out of Seattle took off an hour ago, and although you had little hope to begin with, your heart breaks for the two of them. You promise Ryan to take good care of her and to be in touch.
And then you sit on the couch, and it doesn’t feel like a new human will be born within the next several hours. Everything is just…beautifully calm. Kathleen’s changed into a tank top and yoga pants, and besides tracking her contractions there’s nothing to do. You watch some show named ‘Schitt’s Creek’ that Kathleen loves that you’ve never heard of, as she’s gently bobbing up and down on a yoga ball. Every now and then you both chuckle. You briefly wonder what you’d be doing now had you taken her to the hospital.
Hazel suggests Kathleen and you should have something for dinner, it’s going to be a long night after all. It’s surreal, because ten minutes later you and Kathleen are in the kitchen, cooking spaghetti and heating up her favorite mariana. While she’s in labor. You think, at the hospital they wouldn’t let her eat, if they even admitted her at all. It’s comfortable though and grounds you; allows you to relax in this unfamiliar situation.
“Would it be okay for me to call Elliot, just so he’ll know what’s going on?” You don’t want to dish him a lie. Omitting something Kathleen entrusted you with is one thing, but making something up to explain why you won’t come home tonight is quite another.
She looks at you, stirring the sauce and swaying her hips a little, nodding in understanding. You told her that your long knowledge of her home birthing plans caused friction between you and her father.
“Yes, sure. But could you ask him not to tell anyone else?”
And you call Elliot.
He’s shocked, excited and deeply concerned—asking how she’s doing, how it’s going—and you explain the strange normalcy of how you’re going about it as best as you can, telling him it’s really quite nice. He lets you go only after you promise him to make sure his girls are safe.
A couple of hours pass before the contractions get stronger. Kathleen breathes slowly and consciously through them, rocking her pelvis back and forth. You thought your nerves would spike now that things are starting to progress, but you’re much calmer than before. You watch Hazel listening for the baby’s heartbeat with a handheld doppler, and your granddaughter is doing absolutely fine. Kathleen’s smiling at you while Hazel examines her in between contractions as she whispers to you: “Thanks for being here, Liv.”
You grab her hand, squeeze it, and although extraordinary circumstances are your reason for being here, you’re beyond grateful for the experience.
You feel the smothering need to tell her that.
“I’m glad to be here.”
And your heart leaps when Hazel announces she’s 4.5 centimeters dilated.
You’re taken aback when they pump up a pool. The living room is small, but Hazel jokes that she has yet to manage not to make space for a birthing pool. Kathleen wasn’t sure if she wanted a water birth, but as the contractions grow stronger and the breaks in between get shorter, she agrees to try.
It takes a while until the pool is filled and in the meantime you do your best to be supportive, gently rubbing Kathleen’s lower back as she leans forward over the back of the couch. She hums, groans at the peak of the current contraction, and you can tell that things are progressing more quickly now.
When Kathleen gets in the pool she asks you to call Ryan and they facetime for a few minutes. Hazel stays but you retreat for a few moments, filling up a bottle with unsweetened iced tea. You take a moment, deciding to send Elliot a text. He’s worried and you know he’ll appreciate the update. It’s only been two weeks, and you’re not entirely sure he’s made peace with this yet.
You return to the living room finding Kathleen in the middle of a contraction, head backwards against the pool. Her eyes are closed as she makes a buzzing sound. You can see the grip of her hands tightening around the handles on either side of the pool and you make your way over, crouching down to her right.
Her lips vibrate on a last exhale before she opens her eyes, her head rolling to the side to look at you. You smile as she shifts in the water, her eyes drooping.
“You’re doing great.”
She swallows and nods, sinking a little further into the water. You see her flushed face relax, and something within you clicks into place. You weren’t sure about the home birth thing at all, but the more time you spend by Kathleen’s side, seeing her so in tune with her body—her baby—you can’t deny that something about it feels utterly right.
There is Hazel with the doppler again, and the woman is so calm and unobtrusive there are moments you forget she is here. When she speaks, she speaks quietly; her words a warm sing-song, and you think, it’s no wonder Kathleen feels so secure with her because you do, too.
Time passes like this. Nothing much happens except a few changes in position whenever the current one gets uncomfortable for Kathleen.
You hold her hands, encouraging her. You put a cold washcloth to her head and make sure she has something to drink when she gets thirsty. During a particularly strong contraction you mention to Hazel how useless you feel, and rubbing the back of your hand she assures you that you’re not useless at all--it’s your job to give Kathleen the support she needs, and you’re doing just that. It does make you feel a little better.
Hours crawl by.
It’s well past midnight when you see exhaustion creeping across Kathleen’s features, and in between contractions she closes her eyes, muttering.
“I’m so tired. I just want to nap, but I want her to be here.” The breaks in between contractions are short now, so Kathleen hardly gets to rest. You feel the weariness in your bones too, but at the same time you’re highly alert and filled with suspense. In some moments, it doesn’t let you breathe.
“I know. You’re doing amazing, sweetie.” You stroke her hair, her long bangs damp with sweat and water. Momentarily you’re reminded of Kathy, how you were present for Eli’s birth, and how both experiences couldn’t be more different.
Eli came into this world quick and sudden, under less than desirable circumstances. Your pulse quickens—races—as you remember Kathy on the gurney; hurt, vulnerable, and crashing as you were holding her newborn son. You ground yourself by focusing on Kathleen, her daughter, so strong and in control. So graceful as she traverses the passage to motherhood.
If Kathy was still alive, you know she would be in your place, proudly watching her granddaughter being born. You feel wistful, humble, that you get to be here instead, that Kathleen feels close enough to you to let you be around and hold her hand when Ryan can’t. When her mom can’t either. And with every piece of you, you know that Kathleen certainly wants her mom.
Sitting up straighter, she moves her torso in big circles, forehead propped against her palm as she takes deep breaths.
“Can I come out? I… I need to move.”
“Then let's get you out, momma.” Hazel agrees.
Hazel helps Kathleen out and you get an extra towel and a dry shirt.
She’s at 7.5 centimeters, but at eight she’s done moving--no longer able to. She throws herself knees first onto the couch, leaning across the back as she noisily processes wave after wave. You see Hazel spread an absorbent pad underneath Kathleen, and it’s not long until her water breaks.
“There you go. The pressure is going to get more intense now, Kathleen.” Hazel explains while discreetly cleaning up and changing the pad. You sit behind the couch, rubbing her shoulders, and when she drops her head the sounds start coming from deep within her.
“If you want to have her in the water, now’s the time to get back into the pool.”
And she wants that, because the water was relaxing. So, in between contractions, you both help her back in. She’s on her knees and before Hazel mentions with a gloved hand between Kathleen’s legs that she can already feel the head, you know this is it. She’s coming. Your granddaughter is going to be here soon.
Kathleen feels for her baby’s head, overwhelmed when she can feel her hair, euphoric when Hazel tells her that within one, two more contractions the head will be born.
“Okay, next contraction, momma. Just push gently, gently, gently…”
She cries out once, a piercing sound that’s followed by a breath of relief at the realization that her baby’s head has been born.
“Really? Really?” She asks, hoisting herself up enough to look between her legs, which allows you a glimpse as well, your heart flooding at the images.
“She’s almost here, Kathleen,” you tell her, your voice unusually high. “You hear that?”
“One more push with the next contraction,” Hazel confirms, smiling. “Grandma is very excited, I see.” And for a brief moment the three of you chuckle, until the next wave takes over, and, once more, your entire world is turned upside down.
“Dad was supposed to catch her, is grandma stepping in?” You have no answer yet, but Kathleen, lips a tight, thin line, just nods vehemently. You have no idea if she fully understands what she agrees to, although she’s now looking at you, but you’re on autopilot just like you were when you agreed to stay..
“Yes,” you breathe, and allow Hazel to guide you, and you feel your granddaughter’s head, a lot of hair, Hazel’s hand.
“Okay, here she comes…one more gentle push…”
“You hear that, one more,” you say, sounding a lot calmer than you feel. Then, she comes out. You feel the little turn her body makes before Hazel aids you in catching her, and you’ve got her—your big hands wrapped around her tiny chest.
“Kathleen, sit back and meet your baby,” Hazel says and you’re so shaky as you raise her up and out of the water. She’s slippery and weighs almost nothing, and you can’t process it at all because of course you instantly pass her into Kathleen’s arms and the both of you gasp. You’re overwhelmed when you see her with her baby—with your granddaughter—in awe and disbelief, just looking at her.
“My baby…my baby,” Kathleen manages, and you take it all in as you move towards them to get a better look and whisper how great she’s been, but all you can think of is how beautiful your granddaughter is—so tiny and pale with vernix coating her entire body and face. She opens her eyes and they are round and dark. You fall deeply in love with her in that instant.
“She’s so beautiful,” you murmur as Kathleen shakes and cries and kisses her daughter’s head before asking you to take a picture.
You take a few, and somehow the next several minutes are a blur. Kathleen asks you to help cut the cord, and when your hand covers hers, together moving scissors through the fibrous tissue, gratitude and happiness surge through you. You didn’t think you could possibly grow any closer the moment she asked you to stay and can’t help but feel you share a special, sacred bond now.
In all the dreamy haze you facetime Ryan, letting him see his beautiful daughter and the mother of his child. He’s overwhelmed; crying with what you think is happiness and sadness alike, but he stresses that all that matters is they’re both fine.
You hang up when a few more contractions come. The placenta, as Hazel tells you, and you use the moment to call Elliot who picks up on the first ring almost shouting at you.
“She’s here,” you say, realizing you sound breathless. “She’s here, and she’s perfect, and Kathleen’s perfect, they are both just,” you draw a deep breath. “...perfect. And she’s so, so beautiful, Elliot.”
He expels a harsh breath that you know is relief. “Thank God! And they’re both okay?”
“Yes, they’re both… they’re healthy and strong and Kathleen did so, so well.”
“Well, how big is she? And her… her weight?”
“We don’t know yet, Kathleen’s still in the pool, it’s… it’s gonna be a little while, but I’ll let you know. Actually, I need a change of clothes,” you determine, looking at your now-soaked, rolled up sleeves. Somehow even your pants are damp.
“I… I can get you clothes,” Elliot jumps at the opportunity, and you don’t check with Kathleen before you agree, because if necessary you simply won’t let him in.
“I changed my mind. I wanna nurse her.”
“Okay,” Hazel nods, making her way over. You didn’t know that Kathleen didn’t intend to breastfeed, although maybe the bottles and sterilizer should have told you as much. You watch, fascinated, as Hazel gives Kathleen a hand, the baby now wrapped in a soft towel and wearing a tiny knitted cap to keep her warm. She latches on with no problems at all, and as you take it in you think you’ll never tire of what you see.
“There’s little data on the effects lithium has on infants,” Kathleen says quietly, looking at you, and you think you see guilt flashing in her eyes. “I thought it was better not to take any chances, but…” Her face cracks in apology, and you get closer, stroking your thumb across her bare shoulder.
“You don’t have to explain anything to me, Kathleen. If this feels right, then it’s right.” You believe this firmly, and Hazel supports the sentiment by stating that by nursing she is doing what is best for her child.
Even with the baby here, everything is as slow and calm as it started. Hazel weighs and measures the little one after the placenta is born, and you dress your granddaughter in tiny clothes that are still a little big on her.
You help Kathleen to the bedroom so she can get comfortable and when you place the little one back in her arms Hazel asks the question that’s been going through your mind for a while now.
“So, can I put down a name?”
Kathleen is torn. She looks first at Hazel, then at her baby. For a long while she’s quiet, just scrutinizing the little one.
“You can take a few days to decide if you’re not sure,” Hazel says easily. “It happens.”
“We had a name,” Kathleen says, eyes on her daughter, brows scrunching together as she shakes her head. “I think I need to talk to Ryan.”
And so the two of you give Kathleen some privacy, returning fifteen minutes later, Hazel deeming it time to check Kathleen for any tearing that might need medical attention.
She’s off the phone, sitting in bed, cradling your granddaughter and smiling at you as you step back into the room.
“Come sit,” she invites you, and you move over slowly. “Hazel, can we have another minute?”
And you get a minute.
“Ada Kathleen,” she says,tells you, looking at you, and you smile , because you think it’s absolutely beautiful.
She interrupts you before you get the chance to tell her you love the name.
“Ada Kathleen is the name we chose, after her grandmothers. Ada is short for Adelaide. And Kathleen’s… obviously for mom.” She smiles, and you purse your lips when her eyes get wet at the mention of Kathy. And I should’ve thought of it sooner, because…,” she swallows and looks at you, shrugging with a small, sad smile. “She has three grandmas, doesn’t she? So, Ryan and I needed to discuss, and we think you should be included, too. She bites her bottom lip, and you’re not catching on until she spells it out for you.
“Liv, meet Olivia Ada Kathleen Stabler.”
If you weren’t already, you’d need to sit down. You’re stunned into complete silence, looking at her like you’ve just seen a ghost because it doesn’t make sense for them to include you; to name their child after you.
You will fill in as her grandmother, of course, and you feel like it. You've been preparing for this for the past nine months after all, but this, you feel, is too much—certainly not something you deserve.
For the past three years you’ve intertwined Noah and yourself in Elliot’s family, but you’ve always felt a little like a third wheel, slightly alienated. Now, for the first time, you legitimately feel like part of something. Part of a family that isn’t just you and Noah, and while there’s this odd feeling of completeness and fulfillment stretching through your veins, you’re also terrified of misinterpreting what it all means.
When you find your voice, it’s thin. Shaky. “Kathleen, you… you don’t have to do that,” you protest, but the words are weak.
“I know. I want to. We want to. Also, Ryan loves the name Liv, so it’s really perfect when you think about it.” She reaches for your hand, grabs it and squeezes. “You’re her grandmother, and with Ryan’s parents in Tennessee you’re going to be the most prominent grandparent in her life, and I know you’re going to be a wonderful grandmother. So, it’s not only what we decided, it’s also well deserved.”
You’re a speechless mess, only capable of shaking your head in denial as Kathleen and her baby blur in your vision.
“Is that okay, Liv?”
‘Is that okay?’ It washes over you.
You nod, and when she asks you if you could take Olivia for a moment, you realize that holding your granddaughter is the only thing keeping you together.
Shy of 5:30, the doorbell rings. You know it’s Elliot, and after buzzing him in, you open the door; your granddaughter content in your arms in a yellow-and-white striped onesie and matching yellow pants. Kathleen, with Hazel's assistance, takes a shower, so you’ve been enjoying a little one-on-one time with Olivia.
A bright smile graces your face as Elliot steps in, his eyes widening with surprise over being greeted by you holding the baby. He drops the bag of spare clothes and leans in, mesmerized. He looks at her, and once again your heart feels so full, you think it can’t be healthy.
“Look, it’s your grandpa,” you coo softly, shifting your arms towards Elliot.
“Hey baby,” he says humbly, scrutinizing the tiny human being you’re carrying. “Hey, beautiful.” His eyes don’t find you even when he talks to you. “My God, she is tiny.”
“She really is,” you agree, reciting the numbers to him. “Nineteen inches and 6 pounds 2 ounces. Come here, hold her.” And you place her in Elliot’s arms, watching him bounce a little as he takes her, beaming proudly.
“Is in the bathroom, taking a shower.”
For a moment he looks around, scrutinizes the pool that’s so out of place for a living room, but soon he only has eyes for the tiny bundle in his arms.
“And it was all good, yeah?” He sounds skeptical, despite cradling the proof against his chest.
“It was… beyond words, El. So calm and beautiful, and… it felt right for some reason, and Kathleen did such a fantastic job.”
“You have no idea how worried I was. Thought this was going to end badly for sure,” he admits, and you have no doubt that he’s playing it down. “What’s her name?”
And at the question your throat locks again, because you’ve hardly begun to process anything that happened tonight, but least of all the name she’s been given, and you legitimately fail at saying it.
“I… I can’t. I’m…” You blow out a shaky breath, putting both hands to your waist. “I can’t actually say it…” You fail at forming the O, your heart racing to the point you think you might pass out. There was way too little time for you to wrap your head around it, and if you’re being honest you’re also terrified of allowing it to sink in, half convinced Kathleen or Ryan are going to change their minds.
“That bad?” You know he’s not being serious, but you can’t even laugh at it, and luckily you’re saved by Hazel who greets Elliot—kind but brief—then announces Kathleen’s done. You grab the bag, holding a set of fresh clothes and together you make your way to the bedroom. You watch as Elliot slowly steps up to the bed, and by his voice you know he’s holding back tears as he approaches Kathleen. “I’m so proud of you, baby. She’s absolutely beautiful.” And as he moves in to hug her on the bed, you step outside and into the bathroom, feeling far too emotional.
Elliot leaves around six. You stay because Hazel’s gone now, too, and Kathleen’s wary of being all alone within the first hours with her newborn. She’s mobile, but tired and achy, so of course you offered. The least you can do is help with a diaper change, or fix a small breakfast for Kathleen before making sure she gets some sleep. Ryan's on the red-eye, so you expect him before noon.
When you lie down on the couch and close your eyes, you draw a deep breath. Kathleen’s asleep and so is the baby on her mother’s chest.
You listen for any noise but everything is still, and once again you let her name roll around in your mind.
Olivia Ada Kathleen.
Elliot was as proud as he was stunned. He fully expected Kathleen;, he told you weeks ago he suspected she would bear Kathy's name.
Your body screams with exhaustion and fatigue, but when you close your eyes, you know you won’t sleep. You’re too tired, too cheerful, too excited over everything that transpired last night, and all you can see, all you can smell is her.
You smile contentedly, allowing your mind to play back every memory you have of this extraordinary, magical night.
You’re Ami or Ama, because she can’t say granny or grandma yet, and a part of you hopes she’ll always refer to you this way because you love it.
“There’s my big girl. Happy Birthday,” you squeal with a lot more excitement than you bring up for anyone else.
Little Olivia almost lets herself fall towards you straight out of Kathleen’s arms. You’re both prepared; Kathleen supporting her as you’re catching her, lifting her into your arms and giving her a big hug. You swing from side to side like a human pendulum as you press her to your chest, inhaling her sweet scent that’s baby shampoo, fabric softener and a touch of Kathleen’s everyday perfume.
“Hey,” you greet Kathleen, managing to pull her into a quick hug as Olivia’s clinging to your neck.
“Hey. Where’s Dad and Noah?”
“Looking for a parking space.”
You smile brightly as your granddaughter gives you one of her bright toothy grins as you carry her inside, pressing a kiss to her cheek that makes the little one squeak with delight.
“Okay, let grandma take off her jacket.” You put her down, and she instantly grabs your pant leg for support, still a little wobbly on her feet.
“Oh yes, please.”
And with Olivia in tow, you make yourself at home. You’ve come to know this apartment pretty much inside out—have spent a lot of time here.
Today it’s just a small get together. Maureen offered to have a birthday party at her house, but Kathleen doesn’t see the point in making it this big thing Olivia won’t even remember. Olivia isn’t shy, but she prefers the quiet over a lot of noise and commotion, and if you’re being honest, you’re glad about the smaller celebration yourself.
Elliot and Noah arrive fifteen minutes later bringing the presents, and Olivia is instantly attached to the crochet doll you had customized for her. It’s her first doll, and Kathleen and Ryan provided a wooden stroller to go with it.
You wait for Ryan to come home to sing Happy Birthday. He works a lot. Misses a lot. You didn’t want him to miss out on this.
You help with dinner, and when it’s Olivia’s bedtime you join Kathleen--you always do when you’re here for it. You sit by the foot of the bed as she occupies the chair in the corner, breastfeeding Olivia, and you drown in the sight of how she tenderly cradles her daughter's head as she nurses herself to sleep.
A big part of this first year hasn’t been easy. Not for you, but especially Kathleen.
They spent three weeks in a bubble; a dream-like state where everything seemed perfect. Kathleen was hardly affected by the babyblues that often came with the sudden hormone drop. Three weeks, and then everything changed.
She hid it for two more before she called you sobbing, unable to stop, and you didn’t know what to do, so you just… stayed.
Fast forward another two months and bad turned to worse. Sometimes she didn’t want to see you but had to tolerate you, because at times she didn’t know what to do with Olivia.
“I don’t feel anything,” she said once. But your heart broke when she admitted in tears that she thought having her was a mistake.
Hazel became a regular in those six months. You learned to cherish her as an important part of Kathleen’s support system consisting of her therapist, family and her closest friend.
You swear it felt like Kathleen hated you sometimes, because you kept pushing her, made her hold Olivia in some of the worst moments, kept begging her to breastfeed because it seemed like the only intimate connection still shared between mother and child.
You remember when the depression got so overwhelming thatKathleen yelled at you to just take Olivia because she couldn’t deal with her—didn’t want to deal with her. Helpless and hopeless, you took your granddaughter to work, carrying her in the wrap Hazel suggested Kathleen should purchase for bonding purposes. At first you hated the thing, deemed it way too complicated, but with some assistance you learned and started to love the lengthy piece of fabric. It allowed you to keep Olivia close and work at the same time, and when you didn’t use it Ryan did.
It got better. Slowly, but it did get better, and you could feel and see how guilty Kathleen felt. How ashamed she was of herself for failing at motherhood. There were a couple of breakdowns, and recovery is still a process but she’s no longer rejecting her child—hasn’t for five months now. If anything, she keeps her closer than ever.
When Olivia’s asleep she unlatches and her lips perk up against Kathleen’s chest as she inhales deeply.
“How’s it going?”
“It’s been a good week,” she says, a small smile forming on her lips. You have a rule that says complete honesty, and you know there’s more when she falters a little. “Wednesday was rough,” she adds as an afterthought and you nod. “I was stressed because Maureen kept asking if we really didn’t want to celebrate at her place, and I had the cake to make-”
“You know we could’ve gotten one from the bakery,” you tell her carefully.
“Yeah. Yeah, I know, but I… it’s her first birthday, and I really wanted to do this, you know? Do what… What good moms do.” Her voice cracks a little and now you understand.
“Kathleen, you’re a great mom,” you tell her, making your way over. You mean it. You think she’s done a terrific job at dealing with postpartum depression. Even through the worst of it she kept up counseling, had Hazel come over, and reached out to you when she was unable to tend to Olivia. None of it was easy, but you’re in awe of her strength and persistence. You remember one of the many bad days when she couldn’t even get out of bed. When, in tears, she told you she just wants to get better.
“I’m not so sure about that.”
There it is again: the stifling guilt, the ongoing self-doubt that she carries around like deadweight on her shoulders.
“Kathleen, sweetie,” you wince.
“I know. I know,” she says, looking up at you, lips pursed. “I just wish it could’ve been different.”
“You did what you could. It was a bumpy road, but you’re okay now.” There are hard days, but she gets through them now. The depression isn’t ongoing. No longer a dark cloak hanging heavy on her all the time, and it’s reassuring that most days are pretty good now. “You know, I am so, so proud of you. And so is your father. You got through this, Kathleen. And you love her, you always loved her, it’s what made you want to get through this.”
She wipes a tear and, stepping as close as the chair allows, you pull her head against your stomach; allow her to mourn the moments she missed. The things that weren’t meant to be.
The past year you were sometimes the only person Kathleen let in. It was you, she called. You, she cried in front of. You, she confided in. You’re grateful that she let you see her in her weakest hours and opted to let you be around instead of shutting everybody out. She held onto you and trusted you to still be there at the end of it. You’ve always been close, but you’re so much closer now.
You held her then, and you hold her now, and by God, if needed you’ll still do it ten years because while you don’t share the same blood or DNA, Kathleen and Olivia are part of you in all the ways that matter.
Your bond to Olivia is beyond what you could have imagined. You’ve been more involved than you ever thought you would be. You were there for late night feedings and diaper changes. Camped out with your infant granddaughter on your chest on Kathleen’s sofa, sometimes at your own apartment. For a while you checked in daily, making sure you got to take her on a short walk to the park nearby, allowing you to unwind after work. And of course there were a few times you took her to work. A lot of it was born out of necessity, but you wouldn’t change anything about it. You don’t compare to mom, of course, but you’re a damn close second, and you cherish it with your whole heart.
You look down at Kathleen, holding your sleeping grandchild, squeezing her a little closer to you.
“Still got a lifetime,” you tell her what you told her countless times, and she sniffles, nods against your stomach.
“Still got a lifetime,” she whispers back, then: “Penny for your thoughts.” You’ve started it between the two of you on nights you stayed over, when Ryan was working late and Kathleen either didn’t want to be alone, or you refused to leave her.
“I love you,” you say, simple but warm. “Both of you.”
A few beats of silence. A sharp breath in. A controlled breath out.
“We love you, too.”
And in that moment, despite the struggles and the hardships--the difficulties of the first year--all you want is to focus on the beauty of the now.