Actions

Work Header

Will We Even Try

Chapter Text

The lights are all wrong. That’s the first thing Ana thinks as she walks into the doctor’s office, sees the demure tint of the fluorescent bulbs overhead that barely seem to light the interior of the space. She likens it to walking in a cave, even hears the faint but tell-tale trickle of water somewhere nearby. 

There in the corner on an end table. A small fountain with faux river rocks that the water sluices over in and endless cycle, backlight by flickering colors that make the waterfall shimmer in a battery operated mockery of the real thing. 

On another table, shoots of bamboo reaching to the barely there artificial light, a few forlorn magazines lying nearby sporting headlines like “get in touch with natural methods for your prenatal needs” and “Knowing Your Doula and Your Doula Knowing You.” 

Ana is too busy taking it all in as she stumbles to the glass window which slides open with ease. 

“¿Como se llaman?”

“Ana Servìn,” Ana mumbles and clutches her purse tighter, a completely irrational move. One better server for a street mugging and not checking into a doctor’s office for the first time.

Which she would not have to do if her previous OBGYN had not decided to retire at the beginning of Ana’s second trimester. The best in Mexico City, the absolute top tier of skill and reputation, metaphorically sailing off into the sunset so that she could enjoy her waning years (if one could call sixty ‘waning.’ If forty is the news twenty, the sixty is the beginning of a third act, not a lurch into old age.)

It’s not until she’s sitting, gripping her protruding belly bump and the clipboard with papers, that she realizes she’s even sat down at all. Her blue eyes refocus as she notices a voice repeating a phrase in her proximity. 

“¿Estas bien?” 

It’s then she turns her head, sees the young girl whom she’s managed to plant herself beside in a stupor and not even have been aware of. Suddenly, it feels like she’s being scrutinized by too large brown eyes, a brow too furrowed in concern for a stranger. 

“I’m fine,” Ana snaps, albeit a little too roughly as she runs a hand along her throat, willing it to allow a swallow, anything to fight the rising panic inside of her over this whole mess. 

Picking up her phone, the woman casts eyes toward Ana again, not ready to let go of her amusement it seems. “I haven’t seen you around at any of my appointments. I know most everyone in this neighborhood, and you don’t look like someone who would find Dr. Diaz to your taste.”

Ana feels chagrin rise, ire directed toward the retiree who left her in the lurch and this niña who is barely out of childhood herself.

“And what is the look I’m supposed to have then?” Ana challenges, more than a little put out by this point. Kids these days…

Ana watches as the woman offers a non-committal shrug. Swipes upward on her phone. “Like you aren’t offended to be here, or downright terrified to have your baby anywhere other than a pristine nursery with the best of absolutely everything.” She stops, turns to look at Ana from the bottoms of her expensive Jimmy Choo pumps to the immaculately colored and styled blonde of her locks. (Forget the shoes were on sale, forget that her hair is only pristine because she just had her first cut and color since getting pregnant, what with her work load and all.) “No expense spared.”

“I wouldn’t have even had to come here if my primary obstetrics doctor hadn’t decided that she’d rather spend more time in Cosalá than a maternity ward in Cuidad de Mexico,” Ana whisper hisses. “Instead, I feel like I’m one step away from getting the full effects of an ashram retreat.” It’s almost enough to have Ana reverting back to her Catholic roots and doing the signs of the cross. Instead she offers an eye roll and incredulity. “Why she referred me here, of all places.” 

What about Ana had indicated that she is laid back at all? That she doesn’t plan meticulously from a list, have a very specific birthing plan that she intends whomever will be delivering her soon to be arriving daughter to exercise to a T. The address alone should have been an indicator of her disapproval from the get-go. 

However, she had trusted her doctor not to lead her astray when recommending a new one. She’d tried to give her the benefit of the doubt but…

“Listen here, lady,” the woman drops her phone into her lap, furrowing her eyebrows, and effectively halting Ana’s nightmare stroll down memory lane. The irritation is clear. “Some women prefer to have their babies in peace and harmony instead of bringing them into a world with harsh lights and words, where they’ll learn how chaotic all of this really is super fast. If this place isn’t up to your ideals, maybe you’d do well to find another doctor so you don’t have to walk through a gauntlet of germs and shitty standards.”

Ana’s mouth is actually gaping open. In the hanging sort of way that comes about because of incredulity. “How dare you assume…”

But her words are cut off as a nurse walks through the door that leads to the patient rooms. She’s holding a file and a smile of serenity gracing her features. The living embodiment of the environment around them.

“Mariana Herrera,” she calls sweetly, far more chipper than any nurse Ana has ever seen. 

Ana is prepared to go back into her tirade, but the woman beside her suddenly rises, staring down to where Ana remains in the chair. Her brown eyes narrow a bit, something acidic ready on her tongue. But just as suddenly as she stands, the look passes and she’s taking a few steps toward the waiting nurse.

Huffing, frustrated, and still so very out of place, Ana let’s a huff out from her open mouth. Jerks her head back up when the woman spins around and searches Ana with that imploring look she’s worn any time they’ve held each other’s eyes. 

Why does it feel like something is going on here? Ana has just enough time to think it before the woman, Mariana , shatters her thoughts. 

“Come to birthing class with me,” rushes out of her in a whoosh, like watching a balloon lose its air. There’s a hint of panic etching her features. As if she shouldn’t have let the words escape her mouth. 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Ana responds. Not with what should have been the answer. Isn’t that the role of the father? Where is the daddy to your baby? Why do you even want me there when I don’t know you at all?  All far more acceptable things to say.

“Play you rock, paper, scissors to see who wins?” A grin, flickering across Mariana’s lips. Mirth forming in her previously troubled eyes. 

She gets off on this…

The back and forth, the push and pull. Why does Ana also feel more alive than she’s felt in years? Why is she enjoying the fact that someone is standing up to her instead of falling to their knees in supplication?

“You’re such a child.” Ana mutters it in exasperation, but even that doesn’t run as deep as it should. That this Mariana wants to solve their conflict with a game. Ana doesn’t know who she is when she speaks her answer. “Fine, I’ll come.”

And then the smile that takes over Mariana’s face is like watching the sun dawn over the tops of the buildings to the city. Luminous and—dare Ana think it—beautiful. Backpedaling slowly toward the nurse, her eyes never leaving Ana, Mariana nods. Finally, finally , turns to disappear. 

Whatever this pull is has Ana standing on swollen ankles to call after Mariana before the door closes, before she becomes a space in Ana’s memory. She reaches out a hand—to what? Touch Mariana? Stop her from leaving when Ana oddly isn’t sure she wants her to go? She lets her hand fall once she realizes what she’s done, instead throwing her shoulders back to stand as straight as she can with a six month baby bump attached to her front.

“Me…me llamo Ana,” she starts, stops. Begins again. 

Her voice is seeming to rebel against her too, the command to it, the surety, absent from its inflection. Instead, Ana hears only uncertainty. Something ridiculous to even think about. Unsure to share her name? 

Mariana tilts her head, amused. Her long eyelashes bat, something rearing in Ana that reminds her just how close to forty she is. How far removed from youth her body is, yet here she and this child are having…children. 

“Interesting to meet you, Ana,” Mariana hums in what sounds like satisfaction.

After all, it must not be every day that one meets someone else and thoroughly reduces them to a shell of a person in a few quick sentences. When she turns around, Ana lurches again, croaks. This whole office visit is turning out to be utterly embarrassing. 

“How will I know how to find you?” That’s what comes out, again apropos to anything she should be saying, anything that would fall into the specifications of a normal conversation between two absolute strangers. 

With another infuriating grin, Mariana turns around and follows the waiting nurse into the door. It closes with a soft click, leaving Ana standing rather dumbly in the middle of the waiting room with several other sets of eyes upon her. 

Sinking back into the chair and using her purse to cover her protruding belly, Ana also descends into the previous exchange. So much so that she barely registers her name being called a little bit later. Hardly remembers a thing about the doctor’s quick check of her nor the walk out of the patient room until she’s being stopped at the nurse’s station. 

“Ana Servín?” A woman catches her attention, but it’s like wading through a dream. Thick honey inside of her ears. Sloughing through sludge in her mind. 

She turns, curious as to why she’s been stopped. Considers the hand holding a sticky note with a scribble of something in pink pen. Approaching warily, Ana lets her fingers run across the glue on the back. 

There’s an indescribable feeling that pegs Ana square in the chest, an inexplicable flutter that she feels when her heart beats against its cage. Mariana Herrera written with a number below it. A small heart beside her surname. The inky pink of the pen she’d used to write down the information. 

“She told me to give that to you,” the woman behind the desk tacks on, an addendum not at all needed but still forming a tether to the two of them sometime in the near future. Not a goodbye after all.

There’s absolutely no reason why Ana departs Dr. Diaz’s office with a smile on her face despite the earlier fears, those previously crippling concerns. The one hundred eighty degrees should be the greater oddity here, but Ana can find none of the past wiggling inside of her.

In her belly, a writhing and breathing life. In her fingers, waiting and eventually beginning newness too. Both ready to burst forth with the passage of time. While the former is more fininte, a date already set for it, Ana can’t help but wonder when the latter will solidify. When she will gain the courage to press the numbers under her fingertips, bringing Mariana crashing back into her life again. 

What is she to do then, in the expanse of this interim of time? How long can she wait to feel the thrill, the rush, of being near Mariana again?

//——————-//

Ana has two children. Two almost grown, perfectly healthy children that she birthed over a decade and a half ago that she read every book and went to every birthing class before they arrived. 

So why she’s placed the sticky note on the bedside table (the side of the bed that isn’t empty) and left it there for three days without throwing it away is beyond her. She doesn’t need Lamaze class. From previous experience, no amount of breathing can help when a contraction rips through your body and leaves you without that breath you were supposed to be taking. She also is a pro at pushing so really, what sort of information could she glean by going to this class? Having a child is essentially the same as it was fourteen years ago. 

How did I get myself into this? Ana thinks to herself. Only the question seems to apply to the entirety of her life. Pressingly her lips together firmly, she finally plucks the brightly colored square off her nightstand on day four and rushes to punch in the number before she can think better of it.

“Bueno,” a voice Ana has heard before fills her ears at the end of the line. Still, the voice of a stranger. 

“Sì, es Mariana?” Ana asks. 

She rolls her eyes at the absurdity of her own question. Of course it’s Mariana. Why would the woman give her a false number? (Even hearing her voice, Ana still feels the niggling of doubt that it isn’t really her. Truly ridiculous.) Other than the fact she was wholly awful in the waiting room at the clinic. 

“Sí…” 

Right, Ana is the one with Mariana’s number, not the other way around. She’s the one who knows who she is talking to (despite that earlier feeling) and Mariana is probably about three seconds from hanging up.

“If this is some joke…”

“It’s Ana!” She winces at the vehemence in her own voice. When the line stays quiet, Ana adds a clarifier. “From the clinic.”

Well, that shouldn’t have been painful to admit, but here she is. She can get past her behavior at the clinic, the embarrassment of coming off greater-than-thou, but only if she has another chance. 

“Hmm,” there is a soft purr of surprise in her ear. (It does not do things to Ana, no.) “I wasn’t so sure you’d call after our run in.” A pause. “You were pretty put out.”

“I don’t like people who quit,” Ana whips out with the tact of a viper. Not as if her OB hadn’t earned it after thirty-five years on the job. “Not that she didn’t deserve to retire. It just put me in an imposition.”

“And heaven forbid you be imposed upon.” The words shouldn’t sting, but they do. It draws up Ana’s anger again, 0 to 100 in mere seconds.

“That’s not…”

“But change is good,” Mariana yammers on as if she can’t feel Ana’s heat jumping out through the line to melt her phone. “It’s how we grow.”

“You sound like a self-help pamphlet,” Ana shakes her head. 

“Which is why you’re calling, sí? You’ve decided you would like to join me for the class?” 

There’s a hopeful tinge to Mariana’s words that Ana can’t help but push back against. Like this is a dynamic they’ve already established, one where they have to be at odds before they finally agree that they’re on the same side yet took a different path to get there.

“I’ve had two children,” Ana puffs out on a sigh. “It’s not as if I don’t know what I am in for.”

Despite her slightly swollen ankles, (which she refuses to give a rest. They may be puffed, but since when has that ever been an excuse to forgo looking presentable? She has them stuffed into a pair of heels from work, having yet to remove them. They ache. Pain is beauty.) she walks around her bedroom, pacing. Talking to Mariana puts her on edge.

(For so many reasons)

“Must be nice to already know everything,” Mariana does another of those hums that sounds more like a sing-song.

“Also not what I was getting at,” Ana throws back immediately.  

She can’t help the way her breathing has become more shallow, the way her nostrils flare. Is she destined to be forever misunderstood by this woman-child?

“Well, the offer still stands. I went to a class on Tuesday, so the next one is coming up. Same day, 6pm. There is an outpatient building around the corner from the clinic that they hold the classes in.” A pause. “Unless you feel like it would be a waste of your time.”

The smirk on the end of the line is discernible to Ana’s ears from where she stands in her very fine house overlooking the best part of Mexico City. If she squints, she can probably make out the facade of the best hospital, the place where her baby was supposed to be born. (The best doctor is no longer there though, phantoms trailing the halls of where she used to be. So many cries she brought forth into the world, now forever silenced.)

Ana is good at a lot of things in her life. Well, many things actually. If she can’t nearly perfect them, then what is the point? Not that she has become some master of having babies, but a woman knows a bit about her body when another life emerges from it. The trauma one can undergo and still, somehow, lose the cognition of the pain and the anguish, to do it all over again. Now, for Ana, a third time.

“I’ll be there,” Ana murmurs, knowing somewhere deep that even though she’s done this before, something about this time will be different. 

Perhaps, a lot of things. After all, when Ceci and Rodrigo came into the world, they were still a family. A core unit. There was someone to hold her hand as she pushed and someone to attend the birthing classes. A part of a whole, not a bicycle missing a tire. 

The last time Ana did this thirteen years ago? Juan Carlos was still very much in the picture. This time, he’s made sure that he will likely not be there when his daughter enters the world. Nor be there for anything beforehand. 

Ana sighs as she hangs up the phone, pushing the red button and feeling the phantom ache of his once-present presence. How can everything get so messed up in only a span of seven months? He's absolutely ruined it all. 

Chapter Text

//————————//

Ana never thought she would have reason to visit this part of the city except to show up for her scheduled appointments—something she begrudgingly has to do until the baby arrives. (Guesses that her old hospital is a distant memory too. She’ll be having the baby here, nearby.) 

Life must have an impeccable sense of humor too since she’s currently walking through the door to the building behind the clinic where her appointments are, ready to do another birthing class after having been through one before. (Honestly, how much has changed with childbirth since the mid 2000’s? Very little, Ana is sure. Only, perhaps, less drugs which Ana is decidedly not a fan of. Only a Tylenol 3? Ana would rather forgo anything at all.) 

There’s a sign on the wall in Spanish with an arrow pointing in the direction of the class. Ana follows it dutifully, asking herself not for the first time, what she is doing here. (She knows the immediate answer but not the real one.)

“You’re curious,” Ana mouths quietly to herself, glancing every which way to make sure no one is watching her. “You’ve always been curious, ever since you were young.”

It’s partly why she’s one of the faces of the company, why she’s the one discussing production schedules and factory labor costs, why she’s the third one on the phone tree in a vast network of branches. That curiosity has catapulted her to be one of the top women entrepreneurs in the whole of Mexico. (There’s someone else poised to be the new face. This, however, she doesn’t know yet.) Well, it and her no excuses style of leading.

Her mother had often introduced her as such. “Oh, here’s my Ana. You’ll never meet a more tenacious and cunning woman” or “This is my daughter, Ana. I just knew she was going to make something of herself when she was little. Never could get her to stop wondering about the possibilities of life.”

Ana rolls her eyes at the memory. While her mother has her stories, Ana has her penchant for action. No one ever got anywhere by sitting and waiting for it to happen. 

But Ana’s stomach clenches inward, her hands going to her bump where she can feel the baby stirring underneath. 

“Tranquila, niña,” she whispers toward the protrusion. Maybe whispers it to herself. 

Despite her job, her position at the company, she finds her nerves do reach the surface sometimes. Ana has always found comfort in order, in routine. The uncommon and unplanned for sets her on edge. Despite knowing about this class several days ahead of time, Ana hasn’t had time to get used to this area and so her emotions are erratic. 

When she turns down the hall, she feels those emotions continue to bubble inside of her. That improbable rush flows in a flow throughout her as she sees Mariana sitting atop a yoga mat, another moved close to hers right beside. Her bag sits atop it, like she’s blocking off anyone else from sitting down in the space. 

She’s holding it for me , wipes out any other rational thought in Ana’s brain. The fact that someone is waiting on her, for her, and wants her to be near. How staggering that feels after months of being so incredibly alone.

Darkness creeps, threatening to overtake. Of the life that’s not so far behind but that feels Ana with a sense of dread when she thinks about it. How easy it would be to think of the predicament she’s in. Of what she is going to have to do alone in only a few months, mere weeks that are ticking by more quickly than they have any right to.

Much like the walk out of the obstetrics office last week, Ana doesn’t remember her trek through the door and across the room to where Mariana sits. The woman’s voice breaks her out of her reverie, shattering the place Ana was inside of her own mind.

“Does your expression ever change, or are you in a constant mood?” It’s said without malice or sarcasm, but Ana feels herself bristling a bit at Mariana’s question. Which Mariana must pick up on because she continues on, her voice sincere from what Ana can judge. “It’s just…” she looks at her pensively. “Something is wrong.”

Something unfurls in Ana, a disconnected sense of longing to just come out with it. To speak a truth she works so hard to bury even though way too many people already know. (Her mother, the children. You have to find ways to explain someone’s absence when their presence is usually in a room.)

My husband left me , Ana wants to say. In between his life with me and his life with his mistress, he made me like this—put a life into me—and then up and left when I told him the news. Said that we were supposed to be graduating children in a few years, not starting all over. Another beginning he didn’t want to be a part of, so he had left. 

Ana swallows the lump in her throat, throwing back her shoulders, and plastering her best smile. The one never fails to set a client at ease, the one that shows she’s got everything under control. (Control is a construct, one Ana has learned to perfect over the years. Or perfect the idea of control. She does not have even an ounce of it at present if her nose-diving life proves such.)

“I’m fine,” Ana steers clear of anything she’s been thinking about, any connection to the reason she is here alone instead of gingerly bringing herself to sit on the ground beside her now very absent husband. The less Mariana knows, the better. 

The young woman’s lips press into a thin line, but the instructor walks in before she can say anything else. More color commentary on what she thinks she knows of Ana, no doubt. 

“Well, I’m glad you came anyway,” Mariana leans over and whispers as the leader of the class starts to talk about natural pain management skills, (the breathing thing, always the breathing) and how they can be practiced outside of the classroom. 

Ana isn’t sure what to say so instead, she says nothing and zeroes in on the process of forming a breath of air around a contraction, something she’s already heard before. She tries to follow along, but finds herself bored very soon into the exercise. 

Her blue eyes can’t help that they slide sideways, looking out of her periphery to Mariana. She’s hanging on to every word the instructor is saying, her brown eyes holding that determination tinged with a bit of fear. Something, Ana is learning, that is always a part of this enigma beside her. A frayed edge that could come apart at any moment and everyone else would wonder why it happened. Ana has seen it from the start. 

Between the breathing and looks, Ana finds her mind wandering again, concocting a story for Mariana. Inside of her mind, she weaves a narrative of who she is, where she’s from, what her tale is. 

She imagines she’s not far into university. Mariana is educated, this much Ana knows, but something about her feels incomplete. She hasn’t earned her degree yet, what with the pregnancy and all. An accident, at least that is what Ana is imagining. Probably out of the blue, but still a product of love if the way she palms her stomach protectively is any indication. Therefore, the father must be around because Mariana is treating this class like she intends to glean every bit of knowledge she can from it. 

Never one to daydream this much, Ana blames it on the hormones, on the instability of her own relationship. The fact that she hasn’t felt either wanted nor loved even before the life pulsed within her belly. 

It would be too easy to fall into despair again, so Ana takes to imagining what Mariana’s boyfriend (maybe even husband) looks like. She paints him as being athletic, good looking since Mariana’s own features could attract any of the future fathers in this room. He’s probably a blue colored worker, hence the neighborhood she’s choosing to have the baby in. Or no—they both grew up here. Were childhood sweethearts who never learned to grow apart, so why not grow together. 

“Will you be my husband?” The question brings Ana out of her mental penmanship, flickering her eyes to an expectant Mariana. A smile wisps across her face and she laughs. She motions with her hands. “Or my wife?”

Ana feels her heart quicken but knows her face must look confused. What is happening right now?

“Well, what I mean is…” she blows out a puff of air which ruffles the chocolate strands of her bangs. “Pablo got me this way. Delivery system and all.” She motions. Ana tries not to follow. “But I’m not opposed to being with a woman, and having a wife just seems like…”

Ana never gets to hear what having a wife seems like because Mariana’s face goes far off and wistful. She looks so incredibly young sitting on her mat with her arms stretched back and stomach rounded in front of her. She turns and smiles.

“Really nice.” Mariana’s lips curl, but then her face goes cloudy. “But that pinche cabron Pablo, ugh! He didn’t want to take on the ‘responsibility’ of being a dad, so here I am.” She flops her hands unceremoniously on the mat below her to where it makes a thump. “So what about it? Will you be my breathing partner and ‘catch my niña’ when she comes out?”

This whole situation is beyond odd, but Ana finds herself perched on her knees between Mariana’s legs, wondering if it would be too far for her to reach out and touch Mariana’s shins as she huffs and puffs. It’s comical and confusing and Ana can’t help the grin that threatens at the corners of her lips. 

“You’re taking your breaths too close together. When the baby comes, you’re going to have to find a way to push for fairly long counts. If you let up too quickly, the baby can sort of…” Ana pauses, unsure of how to continue. “It can erase a bit of the progress.” 

It’s slightly too much, but she holds her hand up then pulls it back, hoping Mariana gets the drift. Getting a human life into the world is not an easy feat, despite the copious amount of drugs Ana had made sure they administered. Mariana, however, looks like the type that wants to go ‘all natural.’ (For the life of her, Ana can’t imagine why any woman would want to subject herself to that kind of torture, but to each their own.)

They fall into a rhythm after that, Ana choosing to forgo her ‘turn’ to let Mariana continue her practice. Every so often, she coaches her, explains to her what to expect and different variables that might occur during the birthing process.

Mariana sits up on her hands and looks at Ana, the kind that holds the weight of something else. Something more. “What?” Ana tilts her head at Mariana.

At first, she just shakes it, acts like she wants to say something, pauses. Ana sees her gaze fall over her shoulder, looking toward the front of the room. “I stopped listening to the instructor. For the last little bit, it’s like the two of us were the only people in this room.” Mariana lets out a contented sigh. “I don’t think I’ve been this calm since I got pregnant…which is saying a lot.”

True enough, the barely contained panic that Ana has seen on Mariana’s face a few times since they’ve met is nowhere to be found. She almost looks serene.

“I’m glad,” Ana nods, trying to rise from her knees on the mat as class comes to an end.

She wobbles a bit and Mariana offers her hands, both maneuvering this way and that until they’ve used one another for leverage to arrive upright. 

“What if you were my partner for good?” Mariana blurts when they have their feet under them. “For the next nine week. Or until the baby comes, either way.”

“You’re due in nine weeks?” Surely they’re both not due at the same time. 

“My due date is two months from the end of this one,” Mariana beams. “Oh, gosh. Here I am asking if you want to help me with classes since pinche Pablo isn’t going to be at any of this when you probably want to attend with your husband!” 

Ana’s tongue feels thick in her mouth but the truth is bubbling up in her throat. She wants to croak out the truth to this person who is essentially a stranger, tell her the thoughts she was having as she walked into the door. 

“He’s not…” Ana can’t hold Mariana’s eyes and looks off. A squeeze brings her back into the fold of Mariana, to realize another truth: they haven’t stopped holding hands since they helped one another up. 

“Oh, Ana,” Mariana sighs sadly.

Ana isn’t sure what Mariana has gleaned from the two words she’s spoken. Right now, Ana is sure she’s just the bare bones of an outline to her. She’s barely said a handful of sentences and yet, yet…this frustrating and young woman appears to understand more than Ana has divulged. 

“He won’t be here. He won’t be around for any of it,” Ana admits, standing tall, firm. Trying to be fine with the fact that her husband was and is sleeping with another woman. That he’s abandoned them, their life together, for some version of a past where he was as young as the woman before Ana, younger. 

“Fuck that guy then,” Mariana squeezes again, assuringly. “My ideas of a wife aren’t seeming so bad right about now, huh?”

Ana isn’t sure what she’s supposed to do, what she’s supposed to say to that. She isn’t sure if she’s supposed to let go of them soft hands her own rest gently inside of. She isn’t sure how she’s supposed to move on with life now that she’s felt the cradle of them in Mariana’s hands. Of how she’s to go another day without wishing to be held, as simply as this, once again. 

She isn’t certain how the hole of Juan Carlos is feeling so much smaller whenever Mariana is around.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

A routine of sorts develops. Ana drives across town to the classroom near the clinic every Tuesday, finding herself on her hands and knees between Mariana’s. Finds herself on her back with Mariana’s intense eyes staring down. She goes through the motions of the birthing class despite her opinions on needing it having not changed much at all.

By week 28, it’s time for the oral glucose tolerance test, a step that all expectant mothers must go through to test for the onset of gestational diabetes. Ana makes the appointment to visit the clinic again for her blood draw without much thought to it, despite the requirement being new to her. With Cecí and Ro, it wasn’t even mentioned. 

Her phone vibrates in her purse as she walks through the clinic doors and looks at the signs to see which direction the lab is. She chooses to ignore the notification until after the blood draw. Surely whomever it is can wait for about an hour. If not, well, Ana will approach that bridge if she needs to.

Despite her desire to disconnect from her phone, Ana is told it will be a few moments before the test can begin, as the technician must set up for it. Ana decides to pick out a plastic chair and pass the time doing what everyone else does: scrolling idly. 

The notification on Ana’s phone is a text from Mariana, a simple Good morning! How are you feeling? type of message. At the last class, Ana had felt a little run down between work and both Cecí and Ro’s various activities, not to mention the niña sapping whatever energy Ana had left. 

She had thrown it out passing to Mariana, an offhand comment that had popped out as they said their goodbyes. (Another Tuesday gone, another whole week wondering if Mariana would be at the next class.) Before she could even process what was happening, Ana had been pulled out of the doors and into the fresh air, tagging along behind Mariana who had laced their fingers together and led the way, not once letting go. 

“What on earth are you doing?” Ana had protested then, barely getting her shorter steps to match Mariana’s oddly graceful stride.

Opening the doors to the building, Mariana had pulled them into the fresh air and waning light, the sun pulling the world closer to dusk and bathing Mexico City in a soft orange hue. 

“Fresh air does wonders,” Mariana nodded, looking around the taller buildings, seeming to contemplate her statement being surrounded by a steel and concrete jungle. “Are you finding time for yourself? You need to be able to decompress and center further your emotions to keep them from going haywire.”

“I have two teenage children, one that is entering her junior year in secondary. There is no ‘decompress.’ Plus my job and the proceedings with the lawyer…” Ana stopped, aware of what she had divulged, of what she was starting to give away. Too soon. 

“If you’re stressed, your baby will pick up on that. It will cause your little one to be out of sorts, just like her mama,” Mariana’s face held concern. “The way mothers connect to their children is a wonderful experience, but we have to be mindful of the home we’re giving them before they get here.”

“You seriously believe all of this?” Ana found herself skeptical. Children arrived into the world in worse conditions all of the time. Being a little overworked and tired couldn’t have that big of an impact. 

“Peace and harmony,” Mariana said soothingly, a reflection of her words a few weeks ago at the clinic. “It’s what we should all have.”

Though she’d never admit to it, Ana had felt the fluttering of it in her chest then, at twilight on an oddly quiet street in Mexico City. Oddly, still holding onto both of Mariana’s hands, connected in another type of way. 

“¿Otra vez tu?” 

Ana whips her head away from her screen at the voice, her heart doing that weird pitter-patter at even the mere sound of it. Because standing before her, looking fresh and radiant in a cornflower, floral patterned, wavy dress, is Mariana. 

“Mariana,” Ana breathes out in surprise and, well, something else that only exists with this woman, with the effect she has on Ana.

“What are the chances that out of all the days for me to be having lab work done, you are also here?” Her face shows amusement but something resembling joy too. More than she should feel since she and Ana barely know one another. (Weeks. Only weeks.)

Ana motions to her arm. “I’m having to do my glucose test and blood draw,” she offers by way of explanation.

Mariana comes to rest beside her on the empty plastic chair. “Then I guess we can keep each other company for the hour in between while we wait, no?”

Ana is called back first, told that the only flavor they have is the lemon lime. She’s got five minutes to down the bottle which is easier said than done since it feels like she’s drinking straight sugar. Her stomach rolls a bit as she hands the plastic back to the nurse and tries to keep the contents of her stomach where they are. Also easier said than done. 

She’s told she may go sit in the waiting space outside of the lab room and really, couldn’t they get some more comfortable chairs for the people carrying an extra life? Ana is feeling a little green under the gills as she sits back down, Mariana scooting in close with concern in her eyes.

“Are you okay?” 

“Fine,” Ana waves her off. “It’s just a lot of that sugary flavor at once. Hope you like lemon lime.” She smiles ruefully. 

The door opens and the lab technician calls Mariana’s name. With a quick squeeze to Ana’s hand, Mariana is off and going through what Ana just experienced. While some part of it is still odd to Ana, to have someone near who knows exactly what she’s going through, she’s learning there’s comfort in it too. 

When she walks out about ten minutes later, Ana knows exactly how she’s feeling as she watches Mariana sit down with a frown. “Not the best, I agree.” But then she turns and looks at Ana full-on. “It just hit me that you’re my daughter’s other mother and I don’t even know that much about you.”

Ana gives Mariana a wry look after the joke—an obvious reference to the birthing class situation—then rolls her eyes. She leans forward a bit, feels the fluttering movement of the baby. Laying a hand atop her stomach in a calming gesture, Ana is determined to not give anything away. She’s not the only one that’s knelt between the other’s legs. Mariana has too.

“I could say the same for you. We’ve been meeting up at classes for the last few weeks and you’ve given me jaunting pieces of information that aren’t really elaborated on. Pinche Pablo? Wanting a wife?” Ana finds that her cheeks prickle with heat at the last one. 

“Says the woman who has given hardly anything away,” Mariana shoots back but then sighs out in yielding. “To elaborate for you, my hot, brilliant, experienced new friend, Pablo is the father of my baby, but we are not together. That’s because he broke my heart. So what better to do with a heart than find some way for it to mend? Of course, no one would be interested in me like this.” She points to her swollen belly, and Ana peers at it, at her dainty ankles that probably haven’t puffed up a day since she became pregnant. “But maybe after, maybe when I can get my body back, someone will be interested.”

How can you say this ? Ana wants to ask. How can you sit there and think you’re anything other than wonderful? But Ana knows a thing or two about men damaging a woman’s self-esteem and draining one's self-confidence. Being pregnant only exacerbates that, so it’s no surprise Mariana is feeling what she does. 

“As for the second part of your question, that sort of ties into my last statement. I find I enjoy people, the hearts and souls of them rather than gender. Men can be charming and handsome, but women are beautiful and complex and breathtaking, so I find myself attracted to them in all the ways.” Mariana ticks off the points on her fingers for emphasis. “Mentally, emotionally, physically, sexually. I’m an ‘all of the above’ kind of gal, I suppose.”

Ana tries not to get tangled in the last word, tries to fight her way out of the yarn Mariana has used to weave her story. Mariana seems to be waiting on commentary from Ana, so she says the first thing that comes to mind.

“That’s great. Wonderful, even,” she tells her, no part of it untrue. Ana doesn’t find it her responsibility to pin judgment on anyone’s personal preferences. 

“So it doesn’t bother you that…”

“No,” Ana cuts in. She lets her blue eyes find brown. “Not at all.”

“I’m glad. You’d be surprised how many people react badly when I tell them that. I thought my mom might have a breakdown. In fact, I’m almost positive she thinks the me ‘liking women thing’ is a phase. As if one can make out with girls and sleep with them sporadically throughout the years while it still being a phase.” Mariana huffs in frustration. She sobers then. “I’m oversharing.”

“My husband left me for another woman,” Ana blurts, mostly to not have to think about kissing women, sleeping with them, having any other option at all to combat her current ache. It’s jarring to hear aloud, especially against Mariana’s admissions. 

Guess I’ll say too much too. And then Ana is off to the races, devouring the minutes in the hour as she tells exactly how her life is falling apart. 

Juan Carlos was there, inside of their home, living the life they had always lived with their children. The next, he was gone. Being someone else, living a different way. When he had come back to explain, the nostalgia of the way things used to be reared its head and they had fallen together like autumn leaves, crumbling and tearing apart as they hit the ground. 

With the sun came loneliness, an empty bed but an occupied womb. Ana had hugged herself as she cried and then hugged the toilet later on as the realization hit that a terrible mistake had been made and that she and Juan Carlos had managed to muck everything up, make it exponentially worse. As if dragging their two teenagers hadn’t been bad enough, another life was growing in Ana that would emerge forth and not know their father like the other two did. 

“I suppose some things aren’t worth staying for,” Ana’s quiet voice seems so much louder in the room.

There is silence for a long time and Ana feels as if she might crack. No part of her had planned to ever tell Mariana about the way of things. No part of her had ever planned to see Mariana again.

“Some people don’t see the gifts in front of their eyes, Ana,” Mariana says. “How he couldn’t see what was right there…”

But the door opens and Ana is being called back for her blood draw. The hour has evaporated and the way she and Mariana hold one another’s gaze, Ana desperately trying to find the ending to that sentence, to find the meaning to Mariana’s words, has her wishing for even one more scrap of time.

“Mrs. Servìn,” the lab technician calls once more. 

Ana rises, not able to disconnect her eyes from Mariana. She blindly moves her feet into the room. Why does everything after Mariana feel like a haze? She wonders this as the needle enters her skin, as the crimson blood begins to fill the tube. 

“You’ll need to do the three hour test,” a voice tells Ana.

“What?” She turns sharply, her face severe. She knows what the three hour test means. There’s no way they could already know the results though, in addition to no way she could have failed. She’s been watching what she eats. 

“If you don’t pass this, you’ll need to do the three hour test,” the woman repeats. 

Thank the Lord because Ana missed the first part of the statement. Still, it had her mind retreating back to her eating habits and how much sugar intake she’s allowed herself when she leaves the lab, thumb pressing to the cotton ball under the neon green coflex bandage wrapped around her elbow. Mariana’s brown eyes meet her exit, and now she is backtracking to the truth she let fall from her lips. 

“¿Estas bien?” It’s the question she keeps allowing Mariana to ask, doing nothing to assuage whatever fears the woman sees in her. 

Ana hooks a thumb back at the door. “I was just…” she falters, not wanting to admit to embarrassment for telling the messiness of her failing marriage. “Thinking about if I’ve been as careful with my diet as I need to. The lab technician mentioned a three hour test.”

“From what I’ve heard, a lot of women have to take it but don’t end up having gestational diabetes. Still, if you’re concerned, maybe we could get together one night outside of birthing class to go over meal ideas?” Mariana suggests with a shrug of her shoulder. 

More time with Mariana. More time doing whatever it is that Ana is doing. Making a friend. The words echo but feel wrong. Ana pushes them aside and nods. 

“Having someone to coordinate with is a great idea,” Ana agrees, then lets an uncharacteristic but increasingly occurring truth slip. “When I first got pregnant, I wondered how I was going to do this again after so long. And then when Juan Carlos left, I asked myself the same question.”

Mariana is absolutely not a surrogate for this, cannot fill cracks that have turned into gaps that Juan Carlos has left. Yet Ana finds that in a world where she could have anyone to do this with, to talk and experience motherhood with, the choice in front of her is the one she’s finding she wants more and more, even after only a month. 

Ana sees the care in Mariana’s eyes, so she quickly shakes her head and moves on to lighter topics. “Meal planning would be nice. Would you like to come over this evening and we can browse some options?”

Mariana smiles. “Sure! I’ll just have to tell my mother that she and grandma will be only a duo tonight. I’m so excited! It feels like I haven’t gone anywhere or done anything since I got pregnant. Sure, I see my friend Elena now and again, and she’s great with the whole weirdness surrounding me and Pablo, but…” She trails off, looking pensive. “I think she wants more than I can give her.” 

It’s vague for a reason, but Ana can feel the pull in it, the weight of it that’s pressing on Mariana. There’s something deeper there, at least inside of one heart. 

Ana sighs, feeling her own constrict. It hurts when you’re more in love than the other person. From so many words, Elena is struggling. From her own emotions, Ana feels that acutely where Juan Carlos is concerned. 

“Anyway,” Mariana brightens again. She pulls her phone from her purse. “What’s your address so I know where I’m going.”

Ana watches her type it in after she tells her, but before she can hit enter to search, recognition dawns on her face and her eyes go wide. Wincing, Ana prepares for an onslaught. 

“No mames wey!” Mariana cries and god, she’s so young in her usage of colloquialisms. “That’s one of the fanciest, most upper class areas in the whole city. You are a Disney princess, aren’t you? I bet you have a whole castle and everything, living in that part of town.”

Despite the description of her life, Ana finds herself chuckling. Despite any reason at all, she finds herself threading her arm in Mariana’s careful not to disturb the crook of them where the blood draws occurred. She walks them toward the door of the lab.

“Just come over tonight to see.” 

Ana feels so far from the life Mariana has imagined, yet somehow as they walk out into the afternoon air, she feels on top of the world. She’s making a friend. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Punctual. That’s something that Ana can add to the growing list of things she knows about Mariana. She’s right on time, doorbell ringing at 4 and Alta making her way to see who’s on the other side before Ana stops her with a gentle hand.

“Alta, let me,” Ana says self-consciously, very aware now of what it looks like to be standing on the outside of her home waiting to be let in. By help, at that. 

Not that Ana is embarrassed by her life, no. Both she and Juan Carlos have worked very hard to live the way they do. Years of sacrifice, of days and nights spent away from their family so they could provide for them. 

Little did I know that some of that ‘time away’ meant Juan Carlos was right here in the city in the arms of another woman. 

The barefoot and pregnant saying comes to mind, him leaving Ana alone with their children while he was galavanting around the city trying to recapture some version of his youth. Or Ana assumes anyway. She’s never seen the woman he left her for, never even asked. It’s his life of shadows and Ana doesn’t want to let herself dip into that dark. So instead, she doesn’t question him because even the things she tells herself are too bleak to voice. 

She can actually cook. She doesn’t spend as much time at work. She’s more nurturing, more open to talk about her feelings. She’s great with children in a way I’m not. She touches him the way he likes and fucks him the ways I never could, couldn’t bring myself to even in a wild moment of adventure. She moves her body like I cannot and is everything I’ve never been.

It’s either pull herself from the abyss of her failed marriage, chin up from the awareness of her over the top lifestyle, or Mariana is destined to stand on her very aesthetically pleasing stoop forever. 

“Please,” Ana tacks on, her eyes pleading in a way that says the things she cannot. 

Blessedly, Alta seems to understand. She always does and Ana supposes after almost twenty years together, it would be odd if they couldn’t read one another by now. She sends Ana a curt nod, squeezes her bicep once, and carries her duster with her out of the foyer to the home. 

Ana pauses a beat, sucks in a breath to gather heart, and makes her way to the front door, pulling it open to finally let Mariana enter. 

The woman spins around quickly, that childlike awe still on her face as she gazes on the interior of Ana’s home now. Her mouth is agape and she breezes in with the grace of a breeze, going past Ana to turn around multiple times as her eyes flit to everything. It reminds Ana of Belle from Beauty and the Beast when she first enters the library of the castle, and who is the princess now? 

“My apartment isn’t even half the size of this!” Mariana exclaims and even though she should feel further chagrined by the appraisal, Ana finds her lips quirking at Mariana’s wonder. 

“Enough,” Ana waves, the smile never dropping from her mouth. She reaches out without thinking, takes Mariana gently by her arm, and doesn’t even notice she’s let her touch glide down to the woman’s hand. The palms clasped together, Ana pulls her into the den and motions to the navy sectional couch, a coffee table with her laptop opened and a couple of loose papers lying neatly on the table with pens.

“What’s this?” Mariana laughs, bending down to look at the paper. She picks it up and then looks at Ana. “Did you seriously make a spreadsheet for our diet?” She lets out a chuckle. “Of course you did.”

“What?” Ana says, a little on the defensive. “I like to be organized.” A soft touch to her face stills her immediately as Mariana holds her there, sincerity swimming in her brown eyes.

“Hey, I know, alright? It was just a joke.” Her hand is warm on Ana’s cheek, like being touched by sunlight.

“If I don’t have a list, I…” Ana bites off her words, still lost, floating on some effervescence from whatever the hand to her face has done to her physicality. 

Lists, rules, outlines. Those things are safe. They give parameters. Ana needs them or she might go beyond herself. Her whole life, she’s followed along, the lessons of her mother engrained in her psyche. 

“Then let’s make a list,” Mariana soothes and Ana closes her eyes, feels her waft away and hears her plop on the couch. “I’ve got some really great recipes that use a ton of local produce.”

Ana rounds the table, taking the printed out calendar, and joining Mariana on the cushions. “This website might give us some ideas too,” she points to the screen. 

Their pens start scribbling, jotting down ingredients and planning out the next few weeks. They try to stay away from artificial sugars and sweeteners, filling their list with healthy alternatives. The days become packed with combinations of eggs, fresh fruit, beans, baked chicken, and some flavors of their favorite Mexican cuisine. 

It’s during this that Mariana migrates closer, leans in to peer at Ana’s writing even though it’s the same as hers. Ana stiffens, backs away a little as Mariana enters her space. “Ms. Perfecta,” she teases. “Even your handwriting is neat and pretty.”

And this feels like a groove they’ve fallen into, the slight tinge of antagonistic filled with the bubbling desire to let the other in, to share the jokes and jests, the failures and triumphs. It shouldn’t feel this good after only knowing Mariana five weeks. It shouldn’t feel like a lifetime of familiarity. 

Once their calendars are scheduled with meals from now until the end of their pregnancy, Ana offers to show Mariana around her home, the tour she left off at the beginning so that the true purpose of Mariana’s visit could be fulfilled. She finds that when the planning ends, she’s not quite ready to say goodbye, so she pushes aside her earlier fears of the young woman finding her pretentious.

She leads her through the kitchen she rarely uses, the other sitting room that no one has been in since last Christmas when they’d gathered around a tree with very little joy. (Juan Carlos had been absent then too, a sabbatical from their lives until he decided to come back and Ana fell into his arms in order to feel some semblance of normalcy. 

There are Rodrigo and Ceci’s bedrooms, a guest room and bath that Ana isn’t sure anyone has ever stayed in since it’s as pristine as the day she finished the decor in it. She lets Mariana peer into the bedroom she and Juan Carlos shared, the one she occupies solely now. It’s separate bath space, walk-in closet, and dressing area have Mariana babbling like a school girl about how much Ceci must love coming into the space for impromptu fashion shows. 

“She’s a teenager,” Ana says by way of explanation. Of why her daughter spends more time on her phone than trying on Ana’s clothes or jewelry. “I’m the last person she wants to be around.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Mariana frowns. Her face softens. “Although I can’t say I much want to be around my mother either and I’m twice Ceci’s age.” 

Right. Mariana is barely closer to Ana’s age than Ceci’s, a difference of eleven years between them and fourteen between this woman and Ana’s daughter. Mariana is twenty-eight about to have her first child. Ana is going to be reaching mid-life when her youngest daughter turns one. It shouldn’t bother her, but she feels her age suddenly. Hopes that Mariana doesn’t notice. 

They’re standing to the door of the nursery now and Ana pauses. She doesn’t go in here much, a place that should be filled with so much joy. But the room is a stark reminder that she’s pregnant, alone, and about to do this all over again. 

“Is something wrong, Ana?” is the quiet query from beside her and will there ever be one damn second where letting someone else in doesn’t feel like letting them see absolutely everything. 

“I haven’t been in here in a few weeks.” The admission should feel guilty but it doesn’t. It makes Ana feel scooped out. “I can’t bring myself to spend much time in there thinking about…”

Before she can finish, a hand settles itself firmly to halt her speech. When she turns to look at Mariana, it’s the words she didn’t say written across her features. Like she knows everything that was going to be said without it having to be uttered at all. 

Mariana is the one to turn the handle, the one to take Ana’s hand in her own and lead her into her own daughter's room. The soft light of the rainbow lamp on the small table by the window illuminates the space, casting gentle shadows across her face. 

The sheer peach curtains accent the room, the shelf behind them full of trinkets and knick knacks. Rabbits, owls, other woodland creatures. Baskets already filled with lotions, wipes, creams. 

In front of the shelf is the baby bed waiting for its little life. The bedding is a mixture of snow white and the same peach of the curtains, another soft blush colored blanket laying over the side. 

The whole room looks so put together and will be so full of life in twelve weeks, yet Ana can’t muster it in her to find that excitement. The thrill has deflated from it a bit, this area a stark reminder of all that she faces. 

Not that she can’t take care of the children financially. Her job can more than support them, so it isn’t that. It’s the fact that she’s already poured so much into the company and missed a lot of Rodrigo and Ceci’s life, she’s worried her next daughter will look like a stranger’s child when she gets those precious moments with her between the time she is going to have to put in to be the sole breadwinner. 

“It’s perfect,” Mariana hums as she runs a hand along the blanket, turns to slowly examine each and every thing sitting on the shelves behind it. 

After, she makes her way across the room and flutters her hand through the curtains to make them dance, a barely there touch that makes the movement look like a ripple on water before they’re back to normal, never looking as if they’ve been touched. 

She sits in the lower backed chair to the left of the table, moving it a little on its wooden rocking mechanism. A friend develops on her features. “Except maybe this chair. Not the best for nursing.”

“I’m not planning on nursing,” Ana snaps, then calms herself. Things aren’t like before. Mariana isn’t a stranger any longer. “I know it’s supposed to be better and healthier, but I’ve already got formula on hand. With my busy schedule, having to work long hours, I don’t exactly have a place to pump.”

If Mariana wants to argue, she never rises to it. She just nods. “That makes sense.” She says it carefully, slow. “Of course breastfeeding would be great and there are some wonderful resources for improving lactation…” She stops, probably at the pointed look on Ana’s face causing her to do such. Her hands go up in placation. “But it’s hard and not for everyone. Fed is best. You know your body and your baby knows you. Go with what works.”

“You sound like a walking baby manual,” Ana huffs with no vitriol. 

“I was working on developing an app before I had to put a pause on schooling.” Mariana tries to rock again, shakes her head, then moves to the chair on the right, her body looking much more relaxed in the new spot. “Granted, I had to change the concept once I got pregnant. I decided that there had to be a bunch of other mothers like me. Or not like me but still wondering how best to make it through their pregnancies, births, raising their children.

“I started doing a lot of reading, researching. I want to provide the best resource for mothers, new and old, that I possibly can. My app is something that I want to be able to stand behind fully.”

“So you still plan on moving forward with it?” Ana has to wonder when Mariana will have time to get her hours for graduation with a newborn in tow. 

“Eventually, sure,” Mariana tells her. “I’m just on hold at the moment, not off the road forever.”

“Admirable,” Ana smirks, leaning against the bed railing to get some minor support on her aching back. She crosses her feet at the ankles. The slightly swollen ones. 

“So is all of this,” Mariana motions to the nursery. “Your little girl is going to have a wonderful place to come home to.” She stops, furrows her brows. “All this talk about babies and I haven’t even asked you in these weeks of knowing you. Do you have a name picked out?”

“Well…” Ana stalls. 

“Oh, come on. You aren’t one of those that is going to keep it a secret until the last second, are you?”

“No,” Ana scoffs. Puffs out a breath of air. Thinking of this, of the name she’s loved forever, takes the edge off of her emotions. “Her name will be Regina.”

The second she says it, Mariana's nose twitches like she wants to express dislike. Ana’s bristles a little, defensive. “What, like you have a better name picked out?”

Sunshine crosses Mariana’s face. She almost chipmunk grins. “Valentina.” 

“Eek,” Ana’s reaction is less than mature, sure, but she can’t help it. Especially with the clear dislike she saw toward her baby’s name on Mariana’s features. “Poor girl.”

A thousand things could happen now. Mariana could exclaim loudly that it’s a quite fine name, that Ana is just being a bitch, that Valentina is a classy name and is befitting the daughter of a mother the opposite of trash—all the wrong ideas that Ana carried in with her as she had entered that clinic for the first time those now distant weeks ago. 

Instead, Mariana throws her head back and laughs. “Some might think you’re a witch. Worse than a witch. Downright horrible.”

“Some might call you obnoxious,” Ana mutters slightly under her breath, not sure what’s going on or what either of them should be feeling. 

“But,” Mariana forges ahead as if Ana hasn’t even spoken at all. “I find you endearing.”

“Endearing?” Ana rolls her eyes. “Great, I’ll add that to my repertoire of adjectives I use to describe myself.”

“Good,” Mariana says sweetly, the matter settled in her mind Ana supposes, and rises from the chair. 

The movement of her rising, thrown equilibrium, or her foot catching on the little rocking foot stool has her eyes going wide and her lurching forward as she trips and begins to fall to the floor. 

Ana isn’t sure where her reflexes come from, why in God’s name she thinks she can be the heroine in this slow motion nightmare of Mariana being very pregnant and landing wrong when Ana is very pregnant herself. Miraculously, somehow, she does though. She extends her arms out, stoops and swoops, to scoop Mariana in her arms.

They backpedal with the momentum of Mariana’s fall so that Ana’s hitting the baby bed with her back, arms wrapped under Mariana’s arms and curling to her shoulders as their six month bellies press into one another. She’s vaguely aware of Mariana’s hands on her shoulders, the proximity of her face with eyes still bewildered.

And she should be letting go. 100%, absolutely shouldn’t be holding on, easing up the grip on her fingers but still pressing them in so that Mariana knows she’s safe. Ana should not be seeing the richness of her irises, the way the light and darkness hits them to make them warm but unreadable. She should very much not be looking at her lips, them parted with short little pants of air escaping.

“I’ve got you,” Ana whispers, quite possibly the most obvious thing in the world since Mariana is no longer in danger of hitting the ground. 

Mariana shifts, stands straighter, her back going normal, but her hands slide from Ana’s shoulders to the bed railing on either side of Ana, pinning her there. For no reason. No other purpose exists for them to be this close still, so thoroughly ensconced in one another’s space. 

“At least someone does,” Mariana finally replies and god , she’s practically inches from Ana. 

All it would take would be a little push onto Ana’s toes and she’d be right there, doing something that would rewire the entire circuitry of her brain. Has it already begun to change anyway? What’s this flapping of her heart like a bird’s wing, like it could lift from her chest, and take flight if Mariana just closed the gap too?

You’re feeling this, thinking this, because Juan Carlos betrayed you. Because you haven’t felt seen or wanted or admired by another person in six months. Because even before you got pregnant, you forgot how it feels to be with someone who looks at you like you’re a good part of their world. 

Well then. 

“Ana, I…” Mariana begins but then a ringtone trills, not one Ana is familiar with, and Mariana is cursing while removing her hands from the baby bed railing and reaching into the pocket of her dress. “My mother.” She rolls her eyes. 

“Bueno.” Mariana’s voice is light and airy, but her nose scrunches up in frustration and she rolls her eyes. “Sí, Mama. I’m with my friend. The one I told you about?”

There’s some indistinct chatter through the other end, and Mariana backs away from the phone with a wince, clicking the button to turn the volume down. She punches mute and then looks at Ana. “I always have to turn it way down when she calls.”

She puts the phone back to her ear, listens, waving her hand in a ‘get on with it’ gesture. “No, Mama. I will take a cab and no, I won’t share with anyone else. Yes, I’ll be home soon. I’ll text when I leave here. Mmm, bye.”

The phone goes dark as their call disconnects and Mariana seems to remember herself, looking at Ana apologetically. “Not that she tells me what to do, but I probably need to be heading home.”

“I could send Ramón to take you,” Ana feels sheepish as she suggests it. 

“And who is this Ramón fellow?” Mariana’s eyebrow quirks mischievously. 

“Mariana,” Ana sighs, exasperated. 

“Ana, do you have a personal driver too?” Mariana teases. 

“Fine, yes. Let’s just get it all out of the way. I live in a very large house which I used the money from my very nice job to buy. I have a housekeeper and a gardener. Also, Ramón drives me where I need to go, when I need to go.” Ana lets out a breath, runs fingers through her blonde locks, tussling it into a visual reflection of the disarray she feels. “Anything else you want to know?”

A tilt of her head, another one of her maddening smiles that Ana still feels the phantom sensation of wanting to wipe away either by her own volition or causing Mariana to do so. 

“Yes, but we’ve got time.” She’s so assured when she says it, it has Ana gripping the railing herself. “But not tonight.”

She steps closer again, Ana’s breath quickening and her knuckles going white. Then she’s looking down at Ana, eyes dark but almost twinkling too and damn her , she knows exactly what she’s doing. Amping curiosity, following a clue that Ana didn’t mean to drop.

“Show me out?”

When Ana invited Mariana to meal plan, she never expected it to go like this. Never expected to be teased, to be so content she lost track of time completely, to be chagrined and flattered and back around again to feeling like the two of them are in an old groove, passing moments feeling much longer between them.

Ana never expected any of this. For Mariana to quickly become someone she wants in her every day. To make a friend, to catch her when she falls. To have that morph so fast as to not be able to make heads nor tells of it. To blanche at a kiss to her cheek, closing the door after a goodbye, and practically sinking against it with a smile on her lips and a hand on her skin. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Ana isn’t sure why she does it, but she finds it coming out over breakfast one morning as her son and daughter make their way through toast and eggs. The need to tell someone else, anyone, hits her so hard that Ana finds she can’t contain it anymore.

“I have a friend,” she blurts. 

Ro and Ceci look up from their plates, confusion evident on their faces. Her daughter is the first one to speak. “Well, yeah. There’s Alma Toca and…”

“No, not that group,” Ana dismisses her card playing bunch. “I know you already know them.”

“Who then?” Ceci is looking even more thrown through a loop. “Where do you even go to see people other than your job?” Her eyes go wide. “I’m not trying to be rude, for once! You just don’t exactly have much of a social life.”

Ana internally cringes. Since dad left. It’s so present even though it hasn’t been said, and Ana finds her teeth grinding. “At the clinic, believe it or not. She’s a young mother and struck up a conversation with me. When we met again at birthing classes, she gave me her number.”

“Mom pulling someone’s number?” Ceci shakes her head. “I’m shocked.”

“Pulling a number? What?” Ana makes a face. Sometimes the generational gap between her and her children feels more like a chasm. “Is that the same thing as sliding into someone’s DM’s?”

Ceci snort-laughs and then makes a face that seems to say ‘how did I wind up with a mom who has no clue.’ Very easily, Ana would tell her if they ever talked for more than a few minutes now. (Teenagers) It's not as if she and Cecí have been on the best terms since Juan Carlos left. Ana often wonders if she’d rather have gone with her dad. 

“It has been a while since you were available,” Ceci says matter of factly.

“I’m not available now .” It comes out a little harsher than Ana intends, both of her children stilling. Ana breathes in and out, settles herself. “She is a friend. I didn’t ‘pull her number’ or anything else.” Ana decides to not think about the nursery thing or things will become convoluted in her mind again. “But I’d like to have her over for dinner to introduce her to the two of you, show her my wonderful children she doesn’t know since she’s well aware of the other one on the way.” She motions down to her stomach, reminding them they will have a baby sister in ten weeks. 

“Do you have a picture of her?” Ro suddenly chimes in, having been completely silent so far. 

Both Ana and Ceci’s head swivel to him, then Ceci’s eyes narrow and she starts to lightly slap at him. He ducks away and Ana finds herself trying to call her daughter down. 

“What?” he asks. “I just thought we could know who was coming to dinner.”

“You just want to ogle her and see if she’s hot,” Ceci shoots back. 

When he bites into his piece of toast, Rodrigo’s braces emphasize the crunch. “She could be.” He shrugs. 

“Forget it,” Ana’s eyes go wide in disbelief. These are her teenage children that while immature, she never expected them to act like they are. “I just thought it might be nice to have some company for once, to eat a meal together without jumping up to be somewhere else.”

“No, mom, invite your friend. I promise we will be on our best behavior,” Ceci tries to encourage, yet all Ana can find herself feeling is wariness. “We will! Right, Ro?” She turns to look at him and when he doesn’t agree immediately, she makes toward him again.”

“Yes, we will!” His exclamation comes to avoid getting clobbered as he leans away to avoid any blows that might be coming. When he sees that Ceci has already switched focus, his shoulders relax.

“Oh, god, Mom. What will we have? You know you can’t cook. Maybe you should let Alta handle this one?” 

The concern on her face should warm Ana, but she holds up a finger to stop her daughter. “I can cook,” Ana grumbles. “I just don’t like to.” Both of her kids burst into simultaneous laughter, but it goes silent again when she cuts them a severe look. “I’ll think of something.”

Ceci’s phone buzzes and she glances at her mother again before rising from the table. “If you can manage the meal, I’m sure Ro and I can manage our attitudes.” With that, she departs for her day, Rodrigo following dutifully behind since Ramón is both of their rides to school. Before the front door closes, she hears an “invite her!” ring loudly from the foyer.

Naturally, Ana decides to take her daughter’s advice to invite Mariana over for dinner when they’re both looking at a diagram of cesarean on one panel and a natural birth on the other. Something about the visual reminds her that there’s another purpose to the class this evening.

“Do you want to come over for dinner one night this week?” Ana leans over and whispers as if she’s sharing some grand secret between them. 

Mariana startles at the interruption, apparently more engaged in the class than Ana is. First timer and all. She smiles as a couple at the next table looks at them seated together, nods, and then answers when they look back toward the front of the room. 

“I’ve barely heard from you since class two weeks ago since you skipped last week.”

“Work has been very hectic,” Ana says defensively but also apologetically. I’ve wanted to text and check in, but when I get home, I’m hitting the ground running with the kids and practically fall into bed when I do get a minute to myself.”

Mariana’s face softens. “I know. It can’t be easy doing everything you do. It’s just that…” she huffs. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I kind of miss you.”

Ana’s knee-jerk reactions have never been the best. In fact, she often messes up with her initial emotions toward events where she feels ill-prepared. That being said, Ana is fairly certain she hasn’t felt kindness in the way Mariana is offering it in so long, she doesn’t know how to handle it. For that reason, she huffs out a laugh of incredulity. A few sets of eyes turn to her and she waves them off as being okay, everyone’s attention once again going back to the birthing diagrams. 

“I was worried about you too, since you didn’t feel good the other day,” Mariana whispers harshly then turns her brown eyes toward Ana, showing the crease between her eyes. “What did you want me to say—that I hoped I wouldn’t have to see your face anymore?”

“No.” That is the last thing Ana can imagine happening now that they’ve been getting to know each other. The real reason she drifted from the topic at the front of the room comes back to her. “Come to dinner Thursday night.”

“Did you decide this before or after you scoffed at me for giving a damn?” Mariana asks pointedly. 

“Before.” Ana can’t help the groan that comes out. They’re eight weeks away from having babies, maybe sooner. Why does Mariana have to be so difficult sometimes? Ana doesn’t have a lot of patience, but she feels the need to reiterate. “I decided before.”

Mariana uses her pointer finger to motion to the board and mimes zipping her mouth. Ana stares at her in amazement, at being dismissed. At not being given an answer. 

They stare at the graphics for another twenty minutes before the class is over. Ana thinks she’s seen enough of a C-section to set her for life and as far as a natural one goes, there are only so many birth canal photos that Ana can look at without imagining the carnage of her own. Feeling is one thing. Seeing? That’s a whole other experience. 

“You can make up for hurting my feelings by letting me in on the best meal ever,” Mariana begrudges Ana with an answer as she slides her purse strap over her shoulder. 

“After all that, you’re saying yes?” For the last quarter of an hour, Ana has been left to wonder if Mariana will even speak to her again. 

“And ruin everything? I would never do that to you,” Mariana ribs, leaning in to nudge at Ana’s arm. “I was worried I’d have to challenge you to rock, paper, scissors. But let’s see this meal you have planned that I’ve now said yes to.”

“You’re confusing sometimes,” Ana says, exasperated. It’s even more maddening when Mariana just grins and walks away without another word. 

//————————//

“I’m glad you let Alta fix dinner tonight. No offense, Mom, but you’re a horrible cook,” Rodrigo announces as he sets the table. He stops, runs a hand along his sweater, and, satisfied, continues on with his task.

“Since when do you care about who comes to dinner?” Ceci tries to accuse, the ribbing evident in her voice. 

“Rodrigo, Cecilia—that’s enough,” Ana warns.

“Since it is Mariana getting invited,” Rodrigo shrugs as he plops down a fork.

“What does that even mean?” Ceci asks critically.

“It means she has an Instagram like every other person on the planet,” he volleys back. To prove his point, he holds up his phone to reveal Mariana’s Instagram pulled up on the screen. Ana can just make out a few of the photos and she gasps, grabbing his phone out of his hands. “Hey, that’s mine!”

“Era, mi amor,” she waves off and starts to comb through the photos. 

Most document her pregnancy the last few months, some pictures with family. One with a woman who she resembles quite a lot whom Ana assumes is Mariana’s mother. There are a couple of pictures with a good looking young man that Ana pieces together is Pablo. There’s a comfort between him and Mariana that hints to more. 

The romantic photos, however, belong to a woman. Ana scrolls through several of Mariana embracing an attractive brunette. In one, they’re tucked up against each other in a bar booth with a caption that reads Going home with the band ❤️ In another, Mariana has her face very close to the other woman, their lips almost touching. Ana feels heat begin to creep. If it was a thing people celebrated, I’d say happy six months. But since it’s us, I’ll just say I’m happy it’s us doing this, dude. 

“Did you know this about her?” Ceci asks. Ana can hear that the pictures haven’t flustered her at all, that this is second nature for someone of her generation. So accepting, so open-minded.

“Yes,” Ana says a little haughtily. Then thinks about her very bold children though. “Maybe don’t bring it up at dinner, alright?”

And then as if no time at all has passed, the doorbell rings and Mariana comes through the front door. Ana watches as she hugs Alta, the two of them exchanging pleasantries. Ana shakes her head, smiling, at how quickly they seem to have gotten on with one another. 

Ana interrupts, taking Mariana’s arm. “Sorry to steal her, but I want her to meet the children.” 

“Why am I nervous? Should I be nervous?” Mariana whispers as they walk away. 

“Ro is already quite taken with you if his stalking your Instagram proves anything. Ceci is a little harder sell, but I think you’ll manage to charm her just as you’ve done Altagracia,” Ana tries to prepare Mariana for what awaits in the kitchen. 

Mariana’s nerves, Ana’s, are completely unfounded. Ro is immediately in love and after some quick questioning, Ana sees her daughter’s approval of Mariana shining through. The conversation between them two of them never ceases, and Mariana does her absolute best to intersperse the girl talk with attention to Ro too, who looks in awe of her each time she addresses him. 

There’s learning and laughter and Ana completely forgets for a little while that she’s about to have a child without her husband, that he is in another woman's bed and living a life without his family because his world began to feel too small. Well, Ana can live a big life too, an idea that seems so certain, so possible, watching Mariana animatedly talk to Ana’s children. 

Dinner comes to a close and Ana is yet again reluctant to let the evening end. She can’t help the way she likes how she feels whenever Mariana is around. It’s frustrating sometimes and confusing others and fun and bright and easy like nothing has been in seven months.

They walk slowly around the yard, Ana showing her the various flowering bushes and shrubs, talking about her favorites. Mariana reaches out to touch the shock of pink flor de desierto as they walk out of the grand double doors, bends to smell gardenias the color of snow underneath the windows of the home, smiles at the shock of yellow and purple on the petals of the lirio persa.

Something curious occurs as Ana watches her, a flutter deep inside. It’s not the baby, not the quickening that Ana has become used to since her 18th week. This is different, deeper, like from within the very pit of Ana’s stomach, but not a heaviness like dread, no.

Like the flapping of butterfly wings. 

Ana’s step falters at the thought, her feet causing her to wobble. She regains stasis when she feels Mariana’s fingers thread through hers, holding tightly. Ana watches Mariana, looks down at their joined hands. Mariana does too but then acts as if the touch is nothing and begins walking. Pulling Ana along. Never letting go. 

“This probably isn’t the smartest thing to be doing at 32 weeks in,” Ana smiles as they amble along hand in hand. “My ankles will be the size of microwaved marshmallows tomorrow.”

Mariana laughs, (rubs a thumb lightly against Ana’s?) shakes her head. “Exercise is good normally since the body is beginning to prepare for labor. But I wouldn’t want any part of you aching, so might we move this to your very comfortable looking outdoor chairs?”

Ana is grateful for the reprieve as she props up her feet on the table, but wistful whenever Mariana lets go of her hand for her to do so. The feeling doesn’t last long though because Mariana comes to sit beside Ana, every part of her side brushing so that they connect again but in a different way. 

Mariana glides her palm across Ana’s thigh, reaching for her again. The crickets play their moonlight sonatas, and maybe further inside the deepening of night’s sounds, a withering locust call. Ana thinks of the nursery, of their hands like this. 

“Why do I feel like I want to know everything about you?” Mariana asks, a question that must stay rhetorical as she examines Ana’s knuckles, her skin. Because Ana has no idea how to respond.

She swallows the cotton in her throat, doing her own looking now too. “When you first spoke to me in the clinic, I wasn’t sure what to make of you. You seemed so free, so unworried about anything.”

“You weren’t so easy to figure out either. I was very nervous to speak to you, this stranger who seemed so different from me,” Mariana nudges Ana lightly. “But here we are. Even though I never thought I could be friends with someone like you. That you would even want to be around someone like me.” Her face changes, grows serious. Her brown eyes pierce Ana through. “I feel like I’ve known you forever.”

The sentiment is quite possibly the most lovely thing anyone has ever said to Ana and she’s listened to wedding vows. Juan Carlos had done well to express himself two decades ago, could even be romantic when he wanted to be.

But the thing about Ana’s heart, what makes people grow inside of it, is their choosing of her. (So few have done so over the years.) At first, Juan Carlos had been present, involved. But Ana had been the pursuer then, waltzing over to his table in the student center with Alma chittering with the rest of their group nearby (Yes, it’s bizarre to go from high school to university with the same group. More bizarre to keep that same group into adulthood.) He warmed up and they had a good life together. 

Or so Ana thought.

Busy schedules became longer hours, overnights, weekends, weekdays. She became so involved with her own career, the children, that she failed to see when Juan Carlos stopped choosing her, when he began to choose someone else. 

Mariana feels intentional, every part of her. Every text, every smile, every breath that they’re together. It feels like being chosen first. And it scares Ana completely. Because there is no baseline for this, no frame of reference. She isn’t Alma, the other girls. No part of her reminds Ana of how Juan Carlos treated her. 

Simply put, Mariana makes her feel seen . As if the world could be full of people and she’s only seeing Ana. Like the concept of forever could apply with how she catches Mariana looking at her sometimes. 

“You’re becoming someone I care about very much,” Ana admits, frank, unfiltered. Not scared but floating from its speaking. 

Mariana smiles radiantly, leans over and places her head on Ana’s shoulder so that Ana can smell the sweetness of Mariana’s hair, feel her warmth pressing into Ana’s left side everywhere. 

She isn’t sure how long they sit quietly, still holding on to one another’s hand. Isn’t sure what finally moves them through time to actually saying goodbye. Everything halts, or so it feels. If not with each other, there’s nowhere else either of them need to be.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

It’s week 34 and Ana is very aware that, realistically speaking, she could pop at any moment. Which means Mariana could also go into labor within moments too. Still, she dutifully gets ready for birthing class even though she’s fairly certain there’s little left to glean from it at this point. 

Bi-weekly checkups are about to turn into an every week occurrence and between the children's activities and Ana’s co-work position, there is little time at all for birthing classes or anything else. However, skipping has never been an option for Ana. It’s one of their only chances to catch up, even though they speak throughout the day, every day. 

(How a text turns into a FaceTime at 10 pm, how Ana often says goodbye to a day by saying goodnight to Mariana first. The incessant echoes of who are you?, who are you? have become smaller. She ignores them altogether now.) Ana does not think of what this means and instead, drowns in joy.)

“I’ll see you there, right?” Ana asks, holding the phone between her ear and shoulder, doing a once-over of her hair, her makeup. For birthing class. To look presentable. No other reason.

“When have I not been there, Ana?” She can hear Mariana’s cheeky grin through the receiver. 

“I just wanted to know,” Ana rolls her eyes. “You could go into labor for all I know and be on your way to the hospital instead.”

Ana hears an intake of breath, almost like a gasp, and stops what she’s doing. “Mariana?” Nothing. “Mariana?” Nothing still. She punches the video call button which, thankfully, Mariana accepts. When her face fills the screen, it’s worried. “Ay, what’s with the face? It was only a joke. We are six weeks away.”

“This is my first baby! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared!” she exclaims, the furrow between her brow not one of consternation but downright fear. And rightfully so. Having a child is no easy feat. 

“Hey, listen.” Ana sits down on her bed, holding the phone out so as not to move. To show Mariana that right now, nothing is more important than Ana trying to assuage her fears. “I won’t lie to you. Having a baby, the actual labor part, isn’t easy. Likely some of the worst pain you’ll feel in your life.” Unless you get drugs. Of which Ana fully intends to do. “But the first time you hold your child in your arms…”

The nostalgia of Ceci’s birth, of Ro’s, comes back full-force. Those precious moments are ones Ana lives with every day but will never experience again—not in the same way. Ceci will never roll across the floor while Ana has to chase her down, now traipsing off to other places where Ana cannot follow. Ro will never hold onto her finger with his whole fist like he did when he was a baby, maybe doing something somewhat close when he gets married someday and Ana can share a dance with her second born. 

“It’s like nothing you’ll ever experience in your life ever again,” Ana breathes out, closing her eyes to try and capture even a fraction of it in her memory. “Each child is so different.”

“I’m scared to be alone too.” Ana’s eyes flicker open to this, to see Mariana’s large brown eyes holding water. “I don’t want to be alone.”

Ana shifts on her bed, scoots. As if it were possible to get closer to her phone, closer to Mariana. To be able to reach through the phone and touch her. “I’ll do what I can to help you prepare for when the baby comes.”

“Why can’t you be there?” Mariana bemoans. She laughs, one that bursts forth when trying to make sense of things. “I ask myself that more and more now. ‘Why can’t Ana be here?’ or ‘Wouldn’t this be better with Ana?’ You’re…nowhere and everywhere.”

Ana feels pulled apart, taken to pieces from the inside. She bends as best she can with her own body and the curled form of the baby. She rests a hand on her belly, grips the phone with the other ever tighter. 

“I’d do it,” Ana says, her thick tongue managing to speak the words despite itself. “If possible, I would. I promise.”

Mariana quirks her lips, but sadness tinges them. “I know, Ana. I see it in your face.” 

At class, they do not mention the phone call. They do not bring up the things they’ve said. Under a table though, their hands laced, reminds them that they’re still making it and as of now, they’re together. Each squeeze a breath, each moment one closer to a world full of shrill sound. 

//————————//

Like a wave breaking over rocks, the world is torn apart and remade again at week 36. Ana supposes she shouldn’t be surprised with what happens, how it happens. The signs were there though. Foreshadowing, a prelude. 

Ana is working on a presentation for a potential investor, highlighting the capacity of the company’s warehouses and the production schedule to fit demands of any supply request, when the doorbell rings. She pauses over the keys, looks down at the time on her phone, then rises slowly from her desk chair to make her way to the door.

It’s after 9 pm, which isn’t late by any standards, but Alta usually ends her shift once the dinner mess has been cleaned away, so she isn’t available to greet whomever is on the other side. This leaves Ana to slowly traverse the distance between the couch and foyer. 

Ana casts a look upstairs. The children are out, Ceci taking Rodrigo with her to play video games with her and her boyfriend, Dario. They’ve only been gone a few hours, but the silence in the house suddenly seems permeating. When she opens the door, she cannot contain the leaping swoop she feels in her belly, her heart. There on the stoop stands Mariana, the mist coming from the darkened sky, clinging to the strands of her hair. 

Ana immediately jumps to pull her inside, grabbing her by the shoulders and leading her into the dryness of the foyer. “What were you thinking?” Ana asks in exasperation, adopting a similar tone that she uses with Ceci, Ro. She steadies the ‘mom voice’ and tries again. “You’re practically soaked through.”

Mariana’s gaze is flitting, hard to catch. When she doesn’t say anything, Ana shakes her head and rushes to the downstairs bathroom for a fluffy towel. She deposits it over Mariana’s shoulders and tells her to wait. 

Upstairs, Ana picks out an oversized night shirt (not that Mariana needs it really. She’s just taller.) that she sometimes wears a pair of pajama shorts. It’s summer but with the rain, Ana grabs a cotton robe so that Mariana can get warm. When she reaches the staircase, she looks down to see Mariana is absent.

“Mariana?” Ana’s echo rings out in the house. The too empty house. But Mariana is here—somewhere. That’s when Ana hears the rustling of footsteps, the tale-tell signs of movement. The nursery door creaks a little on the hinges indicating interaction (something Ana will have to fix in the next four weeks, quickly. The baby could arrive any moment really.)

She pads her way to the baby’s room, her bare feet almost soundless on the marble floors. With the arm the clothes are draped over, Ana pushes the door open to see Mariana standing over the baby’s crib. Her posture is hunched, looking defeated. She doesn’t even move when the door creaks again, and Ana frowns at the noise. 

Mariana’s vision is fixed on the bedding and blankets, reaching out but not touching the gray, pink, and fluffy white with her still damp hands. It’s as if she’s in a trance, in a place where Ana doesn’t know what to say to reach her. She gently touches her shoulder, holds up the dry clothes to bid Mariana change. 

“I’ll just…be right outside,” Ana says when Mariana takes them from her hands and begins to slide the dress from her shoulder. A grip to her forearm stops her and she’s staring into Mariana’s watery brown eyes. 

“Please, don’t leave.” Her lip trembles, quakes. Ana wants to ask what has happened but realizes that she must give truth the space to unfurl. She answers with a nod and moves to stand behind Mariana, casting her line of sight anywhere but the woman disrobing in her future child’s room. 

But life rarely works how it’s supposed to. Ana is supposed to look away, to be the chivalrous knight to this woman in clear distress over…something. Apparently though, Ana lacks the capacity to turn her attention anywhere other than the smooth expanse of skin, the subtle curving of spine beneath that skin, bare and tan and simply breathtaking. 

Something stirs, deep. Not the child—it’s beyond that. Back to the place where only one other person has managed to find. The area where want, desire, and longing live. A place Ana hasn’t visited in almost nine months. So forgotten sometimes it seems, but no. This has been happening a while now.

The realization unnerves Ana and she does turn fully away now, holding her hips in her hands as she holds her breath, hearing the sound of clothes falling. In a moment of weakness, Ana drifts, imagines. It’s enough to lose herself in until a hand lands on her bicep and she turns to see Mariana in the clothing she’s given her.

Instantly, she steps into Mariana, thumb brushing at stray tears. She gets as close as possible, as close as their bodies will allow as she can hold back her questioning no longer. “What’s going on?” 

And it seems that Mariana crumbles then, tears leaking from her eyes. She waves a hand to the moisture, laughs without humor, shakes her head. “It’s my hormones, I guess. Making the things I fear feel overwhelming.” She shrugs, a tear tracking down her face. “My mom thinks I’ve lost it, that I should just talk to Pablo and ask him to take care of us. But I can’t do that, not ever. I don’t want to depend on anyone.”

“You’re one of the strongest people I know. You’ve handled the last almost nine months better than even I have. I have no doubt that you’ll be a fantastic mother when your baby gets here.” She reaches into the recesses of her mind. “When Valentina gets here.”

Ana has a second to blink and then Mariana’s pressed into her, arm around Ana’s waist. Her hands go up involuntarily. (not to push Mariana away. Not in a million years) Maybe to do her own connecting, to grab onto something solid and have it to hold. 

Either way, she’s still taken by surprise, feels her eyebrows shoot to the sky as Mariana’s lips touch hers for the first time. She stiffens for a brief moment and then it all washes away, the fear and doubt. Ana brings her hand to Mariana’s cheek, moves aside some strands of Mariana’s damp hair and feels the remnants of tears on her cheeks. 

Maybe it’s her hormones too, maybe it’s the crack in Ana’s heart from the loneliness that longs to be filled, to be full once again. Ana kisses Mariana deeply, drinking her in, fingers sliding to her elbow to keep her in this wonderful place they’re creating together, to hold on as long as she can.

Juan Carlos isn’t even a wisp of a memory. It’s almost as if he never existed at all.

All good things come to an end though, they say. Mariana pulls away, leaving them both gasping for air. Panting against one another in the aftermath. The apprehension is clear in the dark orbs of Mariana’s eyes and she looks down, shaking her head. “I wanted to do that last time we were here.” When she looks at Ana again, it’s pained.

Ana leans in, pressing their foreheads against each other as she stares into Mariana’s eyes. “Then keep doing it,” Ana practically breathes into Mariana’s mouth, pressing against her once more. 

To say they lose themselves is an understatement. Ana feels electric in Mariana’s arms, feels wholly alive for the first time in years. It’s not supposed to feel this good, is it? Before Ana knows it, the thought is dislodged when her back hits the shelving near the crib, her body somehow propelled into it as her spine collides with wood. A few trinkets rattle as she hits, and Mariana instantly detaches her lips. 

Ana’s own feel raw, swollen from the intensity of the way they had been moving against one another. Like a galloping thought hitting Mariana too, she brings a hand to her mouth, ghosting over it with her fingertips. 

“This is crazy. We’re crazy, aren’t we?” Mariana’s brow furrows, but she’s stepping closer again, putting both of her hands on either side of Ana’s head. Pinning Ana against her, bellies touching and breath mingling once more. When she runs a hand from the dip of Ana’s neck to the hollow of her throat, stopping just before she gets to the place Ana finds she wants her to be, Mariana kisses her neck where her fingers have trailed. Speaks whispers into her skin. “Tell me to stop.”

No part of Ana wants that, no part of her can bring it from up within herself to say it. The idea of speaking it is painful to think about at this point, so tethered to her desire as to not want to cede its control.

“But this is a dream, isn’t it?” Ana hears her own carefully constructed image of them together shattering. Mariana shakes her head against Ana. “I’ll fall asleep, wake up tomorrow, and still be alone and about to have this baby, won’t I?”

Immediately, Ana’s hand is flying to Mariana’s cheek, begging her to look up and into her eyes. “Don’t do this. Don’t do what you’re about to do.”

“Is there any other choice? You’re still married, Ana, and I showed up at your doorstep, what—expecting to live happily ever after? I’m a fool,” she sighs, rubbing her hands over her face. Like she’s trying to yank herself out of that dream she thinks she’s living in. 

“The papers have been signed. You know how long these things take. I’m still married on paper, but that will eventually not be true,” Ana tries to grasp at straws, at the thing between them that’s breaking apart before she told it it could. 

A pained laugh escapes out of Mariana’s mouth and she nuzzles Ana’s cheek. “I don’t know why I came here tonight,” she murmurs. “I guess I panicked because I started feeling some pain…” Ana jolts back, hands immediately going to Mariana’s baby bump. It’s the first time she’s touched her here. There’s no rhyme or reason for the way her hands possessively clutch at her, the way her mind burns with some form of the word mine. “Prelabor contractions, that’s all. She’s still in there good.” 

Mariana’s smile doesn’t reach her eyes, barely tugs at her lips. It’s then she seems to notice the way Ana hasn’t moved her hands from her belly, the way she’s cradling her tenderly in her hands. “It’s not possible, is it?” The way her tone cuts just like a knife without meaning to. “A world where you’re the other mother to my daughter.”

If ever there was a time where Ana should speak, it’s now. It’s now and this is the tipping point of them, Ana knows. She needs to tell Mariana the truth, that the life beneath the skin she’s holding in her palms is one that she thinks of as another part of herself even though, biologically, she didn’t help create her. But hasn’t she been there the past few months, doing the things that someone does out of care, out of love?

It’s clawing up in her throat now, and she’s going to be the first to say it, the first to throw caution to the wind and utter the sentence that will change her life forever…except she never gets a chance. The words die there, unspoken. 

Mariana’s touch lands on Ana now too, tracing the curve of a life another person made. “I didn’t think so,” she sighs heavily. “Because that would make your daughter mine too.”

The way Ana’s brain screams, like it’s behind glass and muffled. The way she can’t voice agreement. The way she watches Mariana walk out of the nursery, away from her and then gone. The way she never gets to say I’m falling in love with you. 

A ripple, a kick, a toss and turn. The movement reminds her that despite causing the breakage of her own heart, she is still very much alive. 

//————————//

Week 37 passes in a blur of dark hours where Ana is awake and light hours where she finds she cannot move from bed. A self-imposed bed rest that her ankles would thank her for if her heart could just stop weeping. 

Her phone sits forlorn on the nightstand beside the bed, and Ana wonders how many times someone can do something before it becomes insanity, like Sherlock Holmes once said. The only thing that gets her moving, the only souls who could manage it (other than the obvious one) are her children. 

Cecilia and Rodrigo come to sit on both sides of Ana, the clanking of metal pulling her from under. She looks down to see her car keys. Licking her lips to try and remove some of the dryness, she picks them up, confused. “What’s this?”

“Go to her,” Ceci bids and it’s the most sincere Ana has ever seen her daughter look. She turns to Ro behind her and he lays a hand on her arm, his lips pulling back to show a little of his newly, non-brace covered teeth. He squeezes in confirmation too. Go, his beautiful eyes say. 

Ana sits up gingerly, Ceci and Ro taking hold of an arm to help. She bites the inside of her cheek, unsure of how to ask the next thing. “How did you know?” 

Because they all do. Somehow in the spaces between, her children have managed to pick up and put some sort of sense to the thing Ana has turned about in her mind and chest a thousand times. How is it possible to be transparent and still not know exactly what you’re looking at yourself?

“Your face,” Ceci says by way of explanation. Ana cuts her a look and her daughter tilts her head, pursing her lips. “You’re different with her than you were with dad. She makes you happy, yes?”

The way Ana’s heart swells at the thought of Mariana, how she’s missed her so in the last week. Her stomach tumbles. She’s messed this up, bungled what could be a happy ending if she can just have the courage to…

“Neither of you care?” Ana’s tongue feels thick to ask this. For me to love a woman. Something she’s not entertained before. (Maybe dormant like a volcano and Mariana knew how to make it erupt.) Something that seems as natural as breathing now. 

“We want what you want,” Ro says and Ana wants to cut him look that relays she understands perfectly well what her son sees in Mariana. What they both see her wanting too. 

“What if she doesn’t want to see me?” Ana buries her face in her hands. “I just stood there, not saying anything and…”

“Then make up for it now,” Ceci says resolutely. She pulls Ana’s hand away from her face, depositing the keys she brought in. “Get Ramón and then go and get your girl.” She pauses, makes a face. “Or woman. Whatever.” She waves a hand. 

The metal in Ana’s hands, the various knicknacks she’s attached to her key ring, rustle with the shifting of her hand. She squeezes them finally, knowing exactly what she’s going to do. 

Both of her kids have to get her to her feet. After all, it’s now 37 and a half weeks into the pregnancy. The home stretch is here and…

That’s also the case for Mariana. Mariana who is terrified to birth her baby alone and who wanted Ana to be a part of it. Ana, who didn’t say a word at all and let Mariana walk out of the door, breaking two hearts in the process. 

“Go!” Ceci shoos and Ana turns to look at both of her children, so grown up even though they aren’t out of high school yet. To be such compassionate and understanding people at their ages—it makes Ana’s heart swell. 

Ana gingerly makes her way down the stairs, finding Ramón reading a magazine. He drops it to his chest the second he sees Ana semi waddling toward him. “Hola, Señora. ¿Què haces?” 

“I need you to drive me somewhere. Fast.” Ana nods toward the door, her expression brooking no argument. 

“¿Es tiempo?” He glances down toward Ana’s belly, and she can hear the waver in his voice. Ana has to roll her eyes despite the very real concern.

“No,” Ana says quickly, pointing to the app on her phone. “I need you to take me here.”

“Waze says that’s an hour fifty from here with the traffic,” he shakes his head.

“I don’t care if it takes fifty hours, let’s just go, okay?” Ana barrels through the door, hoping Ramón gets the hint and starts to follow. 

Once the gates open, he looks both ways and then begins to pick up speed. “Mind telling me what we are going to my side of town for?” He tries to sound aloof, but Ana can hear the curiosity unraveling with his words.

“To fix what I’ve messed up,” is the only thing Ana divulges as Mexico City passes by out of the window.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

God love him, Ramón tries. He does. But he’s a man and urgency isn’t exactly in his vocabulary, especially since Ana has confirmed the baby isn’t on the way. Despite the predicted time though, he manages to shave twenty minutes off of their journey, dodging some traffic and getting Ana to Mariana’s doorstep.

The car just engages into park as Ana opens the door, ungracefully sliding out seeing as she has adhered herself to the door for a quick exit. Her fingers are rapping on the door perhaps a bit too frantically, but the jerky cadence of her own heart controls Ana’s movements. 

Exasperation starts to form the longer Ana stands. She’s just about to try and peek through a barely split curtain when she hears a noise and swivels her attention back to the door, which is opening and a head popping out. 

Ana’s breath freezes when she sees who it is: the beautiful brunette from Mariana’s social media. Her girlfriend. The name ‘Elena’ beats in her brain like a drum. She’s sure the dumbfounded look on her face is what is causing the resting bitch face on the other woman. 

Thousands of scenarios run through Ana’s mind, none too kind to her own version of the narrative she’s created in her head for the past few months. That this is the real reality of things, Mariana coming home to this woman whom she’s shared a relationship with in the past, maybe even one she never stopped sharing despite the way she’s behaved with Ana. 

Mariana isn’t like that though. Because she isn’t. She’s one of the kindest, most sincere people Ana has ever met. There’s no way she would say the things she’s said, do the things she’s done, if it hasn’t all meant something. There’s no way she would have gotten my heart involved. 

“¿Quién eres tú?” 

The woman (Elena) eyes Ana with apprehension, with suspicion. Rightfully so. At least Ana has some frame of reference for this woman, while she has no idea who Ana is at all. She looks down at Ana’s very pregnant stomach and raises a perfectly shaped eyebrow. 

“I’m looking for Mariana,” Ana feels her resolve slipping, her panic rising. If only she can just speak to her, tell her…something coherent in the jumble of emotions that are whirling in her chest.

“Question still stands,” Elena’s lips curl into a smile and she leans against the doorframe, examining Ana more in depth. 

Not liking the scrutiny or the obvious attempt to be puckish, Ana becomes even more exasperated. “I’m Ana. I met Mariana at the doctor and we’ve attended birthing classes together the last few months.”

Divulging that they’ve done a bit more than that is never going to happen, so Ana plays it safe. But Elena looks in no hurry to divulge anything either. She tilts her head, amused. 

“Are we going to keep standing here sizing one another up until I actually do have this baby, or are you going to let me know if I can speak to Mariana,” Ana finally throws out. 

Elena’s eyebrow lowers, her nose scrunching. “Alright, respect. Plus I already knew who you were,” she says and Ana wants to scream. “You’re all Mariana talks about.”

There should be a way for Ana to tamp down her feelings, to stop the smile that curls her lips. To halt the way she warms from the inside. But she has to get ahold of herself, remember the real reason why she came. She softens her voice, speaks from her heart. “I really need to see her.”

“Wish I could help you on that one,” Elena sighs, motions back toward the house. To the quiet. “But she’s not here. I told her I’d stay behind, make sure everything was ready when she came home from the hospital.”

Now Ana can feel the panic rising for a different reason. “The hospital?” Her voice is strained, transparent. 

“Yeah,” Elena nods. “I’m staying here until her and the baby come home.”

“She’s in labor!?” Why didn’t Mariana call, text, something to let Ana know? Because you didn’t tell her you wanted to be a part of her life when the baby arrives. But that’s why she’s here, isn’t it? Ana bites her lip, thinking. “I know where she is.” It hits her all at once. The clinic, the obstetrician. Ana knows exactly where she’s having the baby because they’ve been on the same path since Mariana spoke to her at her first checkup in a new place. “I’ve got to go! Thanks, Elena!”

Ana spins and rushes off as fast as she can. “I knew you knew who I was too!” is yelled at Ana’s retreating form and if Ana weren’t so concerned about making it to the hospital in time for Mariana’s birth, she’d take the time to stop and laugh. As it is, she walks at a fast clip to the car, motioning to Ramón to get a move on from standing in wait.

“I need you to get me to the hospital—quickly.” She plops down in the seat and slams the door. Decides to cut off his frantic inquiry. “Not for me, but you can drive like it is.”

Ana hopes the screech of the tires doesn’t alert the neighborhood to their chaotic departure. Also, as it turns out, Ramón does know how to pick up some speed. 

//————————//

He offers to accompany her in, but Ana tells Ramón no. She doesn’t want to add another person to complicate matters any worse. In fact, she knows getting in to see Mariana at all is going to be a feat the second she interacts with the nurse at the desk, sitting rather bored looking in her pink uniform. 

“¿Donde está Mariana Herrera? Is she in a room yet?” Ana asks, hoping against hope that the answer she is anticipating won’t be the one she gets. 

“Are you a family member?” 

And yes, it’s a perfectly valid question but it makes Ana grit her teeth a bit. She’s about to say that no, she’s just a close friend when the nurse looks down at Ana’s stomach. “I’m going to guess that’s a ‘no’.” 

“Do you always just assume things or do you…” but Ana never gets to finish her snarky statement because all of a sudden, she hears a wet plop and then feels a faint trickle on her legs. “No. No, no, no…”

“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to leave since you’re not a family member,” the nurse also gets her sentence cut off by Ana unleashing a cry due to the crippling sensation she feels ripping through her belly. She doubles over, holding herself, and squeezing her eyes shut against the pain. 

Everything from the classes, everything from her previous births leaves Ana like there’s an open window with a breeze. There’s only the cramping, the clenching. “No, not now, niña,” Ana pleads, but the request will go unheeded, she knows. 

Because that cramping, clenching thing that’s happening? One round after another is occurring in quicker succession and Ana can do nothing but death grip the desk, her knuckles turning white as she tries to remember how to breathe. 

“Did your water just break?” The nurse stands up on her tiptoes, apparently not bothered enough by the scene in front of her to actually check on Ana yet. 

“Nothing gets by you, truly,” Ana sneers but then takes her bottom lip between her teeth to keep from being an even bigger hag. 

Ana tries to give the woman the benefit of the doubt, like maybe she spilled coffee on her outfit this morning and she changed into a nurse’s uniform, instead only a desk attendant. But no, now the woman rounds the corner of the station, a wheelchair miraculously accompanying her, and she pushes Ana into it with the tact of a veterinarian. 

Just as Ana is rolled through the double doors to head toward the maternity ward, another contraction doubles her over and she lets out another wail, one of which is drowned out by the whoosh of the metal monstrosities closing. 

//————————//

In one hospital room, a woman’s brown hair is plastered to her head as she takes shallow breaths, trying to bid her lungs to work properly against the pain. She’s been battling it for a while, over three hours—since that first sign of labor really hit her and the water began to pour.

The blue bedding is scratchy underneath her, her pillow too meager to provide any real comfort. Every second is a feat of trying to hold it in, of trying not to scream. Why did she think she could do this without drugs? Why did she think she could do this without anything at all?

The sound that comes out of her is something between a sob and a scream. The word push is spoken over and over again, like by now she hasn’t figured out exactly how this is supposed to go. She reaches for the handles of the bed, grips them with all her might. 

The doctor speaks encouragingly but all the woman can hear is the ringing in her own ears, the noises of everything other than her baby. The mantra of push continues on and on again until, finally, it becomes a success. 

A wail, followed by more stuttered cries fill the room as the nurses and doctor work to clean the little girl off while she moves her tiny fists around, cutting the cord then wrapping her in the woman’s hospital gown, skin against skin. 

And she weeps. The woman leaks tears at the life against her chest and thanks whatever deity that helped get her baby into the world. Feels a sense of satisfaction at her own gumption, her own resolve. Through those tears, she smiles. 

“What’s her name?” a voice asks.

Something odd lodges in the woman’s chest and her mouth moves separate from her mind. “Regina,” the woman says, desperately wanting to feel close to the person who isn’t here. 

(Who almost feels like she’s here, somehow, anyway.)

In another room down the hall, a second woman has been struggling for a little over an hour, has pushed because they say she is fully dilated and ready to go. But strength leaves her and she already feels bone weary, has felt that way throughout much of the pregnancy. (Before) 

The fight drains from her and she lays back on the lumpy hospital pillow, staring at the tiles of the ceiling, wondering how this is how life is, how the world had looked so vast and open only a little bit again.

No plan will be fulfilled, no list checked off. There’s no one waiting to cut the cord like last time, no one waiting somewhere else either, like she somehow dreamed of in the drive over. A whole existence of waiting, of wanting to. 

“We’re going to give you something in your IV to help put you to sleep. The baby will be in distress if we continue this way so a cesarean is the best option.” 

She wants to protest, say no, this is not the way things are supposed to go at all either. But when she turns, there’s a needle being pushed into her IV and the edges of her vision begin to blur. 

When she wakes up from this drug induced sleep, she will maybe have the chance to do some version of what she set out to do. Her eyes close, the name Mariana floating hazily in her brain. When she wakes up, a name is thick on her tongue. The name Valentina feels right within her soul.

(Even if she never gets her, the name will somehow keep her close. Forever, always.)

//————————//

Ana is groggy still when the sunlight filters through the windows and hits her closed lids. Her sluggish state helps to temporarily make her forget about ever falling asleep at all, at why she is waking up in the first place. 

But just as the medicine starts to wear off, recollection comes back in pieces too. By the time she’s fully awake, her heart is full of so many things, namely getting to her daughter first, then going to search for Mariana. 

Valentina, her brand new baby. Oh, God, she really did mutter that, didn’t she? Before swimming in the land of anesthesia, Ana had let the name escape her mouth and…oh, no. Mariana is in this very hospital, could have named her daughter the exact same thing!

While she knows she’s supposed to be taking it easy, Ana can’t sit still…an act that is easier said than done. Every muscle in her abdomen feels like it’s ripping open when she tries to move too fast, reminding her that having a c-section wasn’t just a bad dream. 

She puffs her cheeks out, wills the fire in her lungs to subside as she gingerly moves, swinging her feet off of the bed and letting them hit the floor in slow succession. When she’s gained her equilibrium, she moves a foot and tries to fix her posture so she isn’t walking like an eighty year old. 

Ana leaves her room, a nurse almost colliding with her. “You should be taking it easy.”

“Mira, necesito mi niña.” Ana points to the direction of the nursery. “I will go slowly, but I am going to see my daughter.” And detour on the way back, checking every room until she just happens to stumble upon Mariana’s.

First things first, however, as Ana shuffles to the end of a hallway that has a sign with an arrow pointing to the way of the nursery. She manages to make the trek rather well, her condition considered, and stops for a small breather against the doorframe to the area where the babies are kept. 

Trying to center her breathing, she’s just managed to get it under control when she hears a voice that blasts all of her discipline to shreds—a voice she’s been wanting to hear for what feels like days without end, but instead of speaking, that voice is singing. Still, unmistakably, Ana knows who it belongs to.

Easing into the room, Ana’s breath leaves her for good because sitting there, off to the side with a little girl swaddled and in her arms is Mariana. Her melody carries over the expanse of the room and that’s when Ana notices it: there’s not one single child crying in the room.

Like moving through a dream, Ana makes her way to where Mariana is rocking back and forth in a chair, the sweet notes coming out of her lips. Oh, how Ana longs to kiss them once more, to feel Mariana close—something that feels so right. 

The only thing Ana is capable of is standing and watching, of being rooted firmly to the floor. But then Mariana’s voice tapers off and she looks up from the baby she’s holding gently to Ana, smiling radiantly. 

“I was hoping I would find you here at some point,” Mariana tells her. 

That’s when Ana notices the little plastic cube Mariana is sitting beside that they put all of the babies in. The one currently holding another tiny child, a card taped to the outside that says “Feliz Cumpleaños, Valentina!” And Ana’s heart swoops.

“So imagine my surprise that while I was waiting, I happened to find a little girl with the name I told you I wanted for my daughter,” Mariana’s looking down again at the fidgeting bundle. 

Ana’s tongue feels like lead as she tries to think of some way to explain the colossal mistake she’s made. How, in a drug induced trip, she’d accidentally (sort of?) muttered the name Mariana had told her she loved, the one that Ana had poked fun at when she’d mentioned it. Now, she’s given it to her own daughter for life.

“Mariana, I’m so sorry,” Ana tries subterfuge, but her words sound choked, thready. “I haven’t signed the birth certificate yet, so maybe I can change…”

Mariana rises from the chair, shifting then now sleeping baby in her arms and picking up Valentina out of her makeshift crib. Ana watches in awe and tension as the woman who was so afraid of having a child confidently maneuvers closer to Ana, encouraging her to hold her.

Ana takes Valentina into her arms, feeling a whole range of emotions. Tears prickle her eyes for various reasons and she idly wonders if her hormones are crashing. But then Mariana takes another step in, running a finger over Valentina’s head. She glances up at Ana, brown eyes fixed on blue. 

“Ana, I would like you to also meet my daughter,” Mariana whispers, and no, surely not… “this is Regina.”

The way Ana practically gives herself whiplash is astounding. Now she finds herself sobbing and laughing at the same time, something she will most surely blame on hormones later. 

But now, everything is the two girls between them. Valentina and Regina, daughters named by another mother. Like some sort of destiny or fate, the two of them have done exactly the same thing. Something that doesn’t happen to anyone, not in a million years. 

“She’s beautiful,” Ana smiles and leans over to kiss the top of the baby’s head. 

“Yes, she is,” is the quiet response and when Ana locks eyes with Mariana again, something in her swells beyond containment. 

There, in the nursery surrounded by at least fifteen other little lives, Ana secures Valentina in her arm and uses the other one to take Mariana’s cheek, lightly pulling her to meet with a soft pressing of their lips. 

It’s like coming home, like finding land after drifting. Mariana tastes just like Ana remembers, like a sprig of mint and sunshine, the latter an improbable thing. Even more that their mouths seem to slot together, two pieces of a whole. 

Ana can’t remember the last time happiness felt this encompassing, that her heart felt this full. As she brings hers and Mariana’s foreheads together, their daughters between them, she hopes it’s a feeling she gets to keep having. 

 

Epilogue

Sometimes the story that’s been written doesn’t play out in exactly the way it’s supposed to in the end. 

In some narratives, a woman can lose almost everything while something new is growing, can meet an unexpected turn to completely lose her way and find it all over again. Can look at her biological daughter in the arms of her other two beautiful children, enamored with their six month old baby sister.

The tale can consist of two more lives entwined inextricably, can have them smiling on and encompassed in the love that fills the room. With a sliding of a hand across a lap, the women’s palms can connect and squeeze tightly, a sign of devotion. Of not really knowing how the rest of the sentences of their lives will be written, but having dedicated every foreseeable future to one another. 

You shouldn’t find the love of your life in the most unexpected of places, but somehow, that’s how it seems to work out a lot of the time. A waiting room at a doctor’s office on the wrong side of the city shouldn’t have life-altering effects. Strangers who inspire chagrin initially normally don’t morph to be one of the best things that’s ever happened in such a short amount of time.

These are sentences usually regulated to fiction, to scenarios so unlikely that they can only be written about, not lived.

But as it turns out, sometimes, you can find your heart in another body, a piece of your soul in someone else. The fear stripped away, something even better left. 

Ana knows that she wasn’t supposed to fall in love with Mariana. In fact, she finds the whole thing even more beautiful because she didn’t like Mariana at first. So opposite, so free, so headstrong. Two things Ana was held back in, one she had been just as good at her entire life. 

By now, Regina is Ana’s other daughter, Mariana Valentina’s other mother. It’s confusing to try to explain it to others—anyone outside of it and not at its center like she and Mariana are. For them though, it works and very few matter in the grand scheme of it.

(Cecelia, Rodrigo. After six months, something tenuous with Pablo and Mariana but nothing that causes Ana any worry where the two of them are concerned. Both she and Mariana have been matter of fact with their baby’s fathers: this is the way of things and this is the life we live. If you want to be a part of it, this is who we are.)

Maybe they’ll always get looks as they walk hand in hand through public. Maybe people will whisper as long as the world is the way it is. Perhaps not everyone will come around to the idea that Ana has found solace, found peace, in someone like Mariana. 

But then again, Ana has found that living life on someone else’s terms isn’t something she wants to do ever again. She doesn’t want to shun a chance at happiness because it’s a little outside of the box—even though her own heart fits wonderfully into the palm of Mariana’s hand it seems.

Ana squints against the sun, rolls over onto right side, and is immediately met with Valentina’s hand brushes against her nose, trying to grab it. She laughs and nuzzles against her daughter, reaches across her small body to the one lying right beside her, Regina wiggling against the blanket beneath them. She runs her fingers down Regina’s arm, smiling at her and speaking endearments to them both. 

“I knew it,” Mariana says softly as she watches Ana play with the girls, her own body taking up the space on the left side of the blanket they’re all laying on out in Ana’s backyard. “That I’d learn a lot from you about what it means to be a mother.” An arm comes to drape across the girls, touching Ana’s bicep. “Even about being true to what I think and feel.”

Ana hums, closes her eyes against the light. Everything feels warm, everything inside of her content. “And what is it you think and feel?”

“That I will always be there for our babies and for you, no matter what, okay?” Ana’s eyes flicker back open to Mariana’s words, blue connecting to brown. Her voice comes again, a whisper. “Thank you for being my partner.”

Ana rises a little on her elbow, leans gently across their daughters to place a gliding kiss on Mariana’s lips. (something she gets to do forever on end now) “We all need someone to grow with, someone to make us strong. You are that for me.”

Mariana looks up at Ana, hovering over her closely. Ana’s eyes dart to her lips again because even though they’ve just touched, she finds herself wanting again. But Mariana’s fingertips running through her blonde hair averts her focus, has her rubbing her nose against the other woman’s. 

“We’re stronger together,” Mariana says matter of factly, then her lips quirk into a grin. “Together, we are invincible.” 

As Ana is smothered in playful kisses, she idly thinks of how Mariana waited for no argument to her declaration. After all, there could never be one anyway. A perfect ending to a story that was never supposed to be written in the first place but as Ana sinks into Mariana’s mouth, she finds she’s absolutely okay with it all.