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It's a standard spiel that the bulk of adoptive parents give when it's time to have 'that talk.' Like it was handed out on a glossy, half-page flyer of suggested wording along with the closing paperwork; the list of parenting resources; the congratulatory handshake and the coupons for Pampers, Enfamil. "We chose you. You're more special because we chose you," it goes. We picked you out from thousands--millions of babies. We saw your little hands, your nose, your feet, your angel soft hair and we knew it had to be you. Birth parents don't get a choice, but you will always know that you're ours because we thought long and hard and picked you out on purpose.

It worked when she was four years old, when being given a choice--be it which sweater to wear or which flavor of soup to open for lunch-- was a rare and empowering thing. It worked when she was six and eight and even nine and elementary school kids were knowingly or unknowingly unkind. But in those teenage years, when choices grow so many and so large so as to overwhelm--when trite lectures on good choices and bad choices make impatient eyes roll--then the adoptive choice spiel lost its charm.

In those Cinderella years, when the button nose has acne, the once angel soft hair never lays to satisfaction and the little hands and feet have grown, girls don't want to hear they were picked in some unreal once-upon-a-time time when they were someone else. They want to believe in a predestined kind of love that had to be. A bodice ripping romance kind that is fated in the stars, never to be revoked or rescinded, no matter what or when.

If she could be chosen, she could be unchosen. There were no ties of blood, only an obligation to support until the minute she turned eighteen. As the melodramatic sum of all the self-perceived sins of adolescence weighed down her teenage heart, she envied every fight her friends had with birth parents who threatened and gave ultimatums and screamed. Despite all their claims, bio parents had no real power over their kids. They could throw them out, disinherit them, even ship them to a convent overseas. But that double helix that bound them, once created, can never be untied.

Like it or not, no matter what they say or choose, they would always, always, always be Mom and Dad.

It isn't surprising, then, that when he found her, came to her out of nowhere like it was fated in the stars--a man who had no one (not above the ground) --and told her that it could only be her, it isn't surprising what was bound to happen next. For he was tied to a dead woman, and death is eternal; it could never be changed. And Molly was tied by blood to her.

Undoable, predestined love was hers at last.


On Saturday he took her to meet Trudy's folks. They cried almost as much as Adrian had. That is, if you added both of their tears together. And multiplied by both their ages. "Let's take your bags up stairs," Trudy's mother said at last. "Adrian, I know you usually sleep in Trudy's room, but I thought Molly might like it to have it tonight. We fixed up the TV room for you."

"You shouldn't have done that."

"It's no trouble," his mother-in-law said. "We're overjoyed to have you both here."

"No, I mean you shouldn't have," Adrian said, with his customary disregard of social grace. "We'll both be sleeping in Trudy's room."

Her parents exchanged a glance.

"We don't like to be apart," he said and grabbed Molly's hand. She swung their arms back and forth with a smile.

"There's only one bed," her father said.

"That's okay. I'll sleep in the chair. We probably won't do much sleeping anyway."

"We talk," Adrian explained in cheerful answer to his mother-in-law's sharp look. "We talk all the time. We talk about everything. Especially here. There's so much. So much to catch up on." He squeezed Molly's hand again.

His father-in-law cleared his throat. "Do we still have that roll-away?" he asked his wife.

"In the basement. It's not very comfortable, I'm afraid."

"That's okay; I'm used to not comfortable," Adrian said.

"I'll bring it up." His father-in-law left the room.

"I'll get the sheets." His mother-in-law rose.

"Don't worry," Adrian said. "I'll make it up. I'm pretty good at that."


Adrian gave Molly her mother's things one day. Her clothes, her jewelry, her wedding ring.

"She wasn't buried in it?" Molly asked. She liked to think that it was the never-take-it-off deal.

"She didn't need it where she is; I did," Adrian said.

Molly slipped it on the fourth finger of her right hand. It was a perfect fit. Like it was meant to be.

"Do you mind?" she asked.

The look on his face was indecipherable. He just shook his head.

About a month later she moved it to her left hand. Adrian chose not to say a word about it, although he noticed right away.

For a few weeks at least, he was the only one who did.


She stayed over most Friday and Saturday nights. They stayed up late with movies and popcorn on the sofa. The first few went kind of slow with Adrian pausing to point out all the mistakes. Around 2:00 or 3:00 they'd straggle into bed, lids too heavy even to dust-buster up the popcorn crumbs, most of the time those were left until dawn. They were usually too sleepy to talk, but by now there wasn't much left unsaid, so they just lay content to hold hands until the first one fell asleep.

Adrian didn't like her drinking, so she didn't. Not that it was any great compromise or sacrifice. It had never been her thing and she wasn't crazy about the taste. But it would have been nice to have one or two to take the edge off the night she decided it was time

Adrian might not have needs, but she did.

As it was, she lost her nerve.

She crawled into her side (Trudy's side) and he kissed her cheek good-night. By the time she'd run through the options in her mind, he was curled up on his side and snoring like a played-out little boy.


In the morning, she spooned against him. She reached around him, and sure enough, there it was. Although she presumed it had nothing to do with her that would change soon enough.

Soon it would be only about her.

She reached beneath the flannel, and with a deliberately soft touch, began to stroke.

Adrian remembered the first time he and Trudy went all the way. It was the third day of their honeymoon and lying laughing and unclothed on rumpled sheets, Trudy said until he made a proper married woman out of her, she wasn't leaving the bed. Including to use the bathroom, and that was not an acceptable situation on the Adrian Monk risk-management scale. He clamped his eyes shut and held his breath and let her have her way with him, until the sensations inside of him were so insuperable he had to move.

He rolled over and mounted her as if on automatic, lead by the same unseen forces that made him touch poles and straighten things. But although, again, his body had a mind of its own, this was qualitatively different: he could not stop himself from straining to get closer to her.

Her words and cries fueled him onward, telling what to do: harder, faster, lift my hips. He followed each instruction without hearing it; all that he knew was a roaring primal need for more of her.

Gone were the racing thoughts, the intruding obsessions. Clean, dirty, dry, wet, sticky, nasty, smelly, sweaty, mess. None of it meant anything, the only concrete reality was his need to be enveloped inside of her, and when he came it was an epiphany where his whole life stretched out in front of him at the peak, and he saw with uncluttered clarity exactly how men were meant to live.

Trudy was laughing and kissing him, whooping against his neck. "Let's do that again!" she laughed and wrapped her lithe body tightly around him, pressing clammy skin to skin any place she could reach.

"Okay," he said, and it took a little while, but before either left the bed, they did.

Adrian woke having that dream again. He roused to an unbearable pressure in his groin, but this time it didn't dissipate and he realized it was not a dream.

"Trudy! Molly! What--"

"Shhh!" Not breaking rhythm, he rolled her naked body over top of him to land at his front. She saw that frantic uncontrolled look in his eyes that meant the man was in her power, helpless, subject to her every mercy or whim. She kissed his lips, unsure if he even saw her or noticed. "It's all right she said. Everything's all right."

And indeed, the blizzard of ruminations and compulsions was clearing. Again, he was in that place where there was nothing but the single focus of his body and its fervid need to come. He moaned and began to spasm. He shouldn't do this. He reached for that rigid discipline that had been as recently as the time he went to bed, he tried to pull away, but the friction against his member only made matters worse, and he cried out with the agony of the schism.

It was wrong. He couldn't. He shouldn't. But how could anything be wrong that made him feel this right again?

She pressed his length against her thigh and angled it to push it in, but it was too late. It had been too long for him, and you can't bottle up a man for a dozen years, bring him to the brink, then tell him to wait just one moment more. The last-ditch frantic effort to hold back only added to the pressure in his organs and he erupted against her, splattering her skin, the sheets. He came in pulses, three, four, five. He was hoping for ten, but by six there was absolutely nothing left within him physically or any other way. He made soft whimpers as Molly cuddled him, soothing with gentle circles against his shoulder and soft words against his ear.

He didn't hear what she was saying, didn't have to know what it meant, for the first time since Trudy, his mind was free and clear. Like Never-Never land, he'd all but forgotten there even was such a place. Forgotten? How could he forget? How could he forget that happy place where silence reigned with nothing but the cooling of his body and the holy affection of his love to bind his being to this plane? There was no need to wash, no need to think, no need to do anything except to hold her, to be, to breathe.

Of course they would live it out like this. No man who had spent ten minutes inside his brain could find such sweet relief and ever willingly choose to give it back.


Molly's parents knew their child. They both had a sixth sense of unease even before there was anything concrete for them not to know. Like most men, her father was in the right ballpark, but somehow managed to get the details of emotion all wrong. He tried to use what he saw to give a name to whatever it was he felt, but like a blind man matching plaid pants to a polka-dotted shirt because they both fit, he was oblivious when together something didn't quite work.

The announcement that she was moving in with Adrian did not go well. "It'll save money," Molly tried. "The bay area is too expensive for a single person. At least on a journalist's salary."

"You have girlfriends--"

"Right. Do you remember my roommate, Jenny? Her dope almost got me arrested! And Calipee and her manic-depressive fits. By the time we broke the lease, I needed tranquilizers more than she did. I'm not risking that again. Adrian's calm and steady. Like a… giant eccentric tortoise. He makes me feel safe."

"If you want to be safe and save money, come home. We'd love to have you here more."

"I'm twenty-seven, too old to live with Mom and Dad."

"And he's fifty." His father punctuated it with finality as if he expected that to be the trump that settled everything.

"I thought you liked Adrian," Molly said.

"We do." He mother got up from her chair to squish in by her side. She took her hand. "But there's something… inappropriate about an older man taking in a young girl he just met. We're… concerned."

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, please! He's my mother's husband. Family."

"He's not your father!" her dad roared to life, rocking the Lazy-Boy in which he sat.

The room fell silent. Molly got up and went to him where he sat shaking, eyes downcast, his hands balled tight in his lap.

"Daddy? Is that what you're worried about? I never once thought of him like that, I swear!" She knelt down in front of him and laid her head upon his lap. "Of course he's not my father. He didn't raise me, or change my diapers, or carry me all over Knott's Berry Farm, or read me stories, or walk me to school, or make sure I was warm and clothed and fed--"

He crushed her to him, physically hugging her up from the floor. She couldn't talk, she could barely breathe, but she let him hold her as long as he needed. It would be all right. He'd die before he hurt her. She struggled for a wispy intake of breath. Finally, he let her go.

"You'll always be my daddy. I know you know that, because you used to tell me so."

He smiled and rubbed aged fists against his eyes.

"I'm just letting you know that I know it too. You're my only daddy, the only one I'll ever have or need. And no one can take that away from you. From us." Molly rubbed his knee.

Her father pushed up out of the chair. "Beth, you handle this." He made double time towards the downstairs bath.

"There's nothing to handle," his wife called after him. "She's an adult. It's her decision, not ours."

"You like Adrian, don't you, Mom?" Molly asked with the air of a girl offering up her latest drawing for approval for refrigerator door.

"Of course I like him, honey. We're just can't help needing to look out for you." Beth gave Molly's shoulders a squeeze, but her face bore an oddly distant look.

"Good," said Molly. "Because we're all family now."


Two days before Sundance, Molly came by her parents' house alone. She wanted to borrow the ski pants her mother had only worn once and whatever she could for Adrian, she said.

"I thought you were going with Kyle," her mother said.

"Kyle has to work." It wasn't exactly a lie, and the details could wait a few weeks. She never kept any of her other boyfriends more than a month or two, so her parents should expect it by then.

"You broke up with him?" Her mother opened the walk-in closet door.

Molly shot a glance to her. It was scary sometimes how she did that. Like most young women, Molly forgot that all old women were young once too. "Yeah," Molly said. "I think it's over."

Her mother waited.

"It's over," Molly said, her tone firm and decisive this time.

"Was it the age difference?" her mother asked, already knowing what the answer would be. Like asking the kid with chocolate smears all over his hands, mouth and shirt if he'd been into the candy jar, the question wasn't posed because it wanted an answer, but because the form of the answer could tell the right person a lot.

"No," said Molly with a bit of a wistful lilt. "The age thing doesn't matter at all. He just wasn't the one for me."

Her mother nodded and made her body language sound like she was changing the subject. It was a valuable and well-honed parental skill. Colombo could have learned from her. She turned her attention to her husband's side of the closet and began to rummage. "Adrian doesn't have any snow clothes?"

"No," Molly laughed. "He's got kind of a thing about snow. He thinks it should all get picked up like trash; he's so cute. But he promised we could make snow angels--he likes them better than snow men because they're easier to get symmetrical. He doesn't know it, but he's going to have his first snowball fight, too. And I'm going to beat his butt." She positively glowed as she spoke.

Her mother came out with a parka and an arm full of sweaters and sat on the bed. Just sat there.

"What's the matter, Mom?" Playfully, Molly elbowed her in the side.

"You can't tell your father about Adrian. Ever." Unconsciously, Beth hugged the clothes a little tighter against her chest.

Molly considered lying, but that hadn't worked when she was in high school. She didn't figure her odds were any better now.

And it was the wrong thing to do to someone you love. To someone who loves you. How could she tell anyone it wasn't wrong if doing the wrong thing came of it?

"I know," she said at last.

A truncated sniffle escaped her mother's throat. She had hoped against hope that she might just be getting old, senile and paranoid--that she might be wrong. "Molly, honey, I'm sure he loves you, but he'll always love T...your mother more. You deserve someone who loves you for who you are."

"Don't you get it, Mom?" Molly exploded despite herself. "My whole life, he's the only person who loves me for who I am."

Her mother dropped the clothes, wrapped arms around her daughter and they both began to cry.

"Mom?" Molly ventured a tentative voice against her mother's neck. "Were you glad that my birth mother is dead? So she could never take me away. Even a little? You can tell me; I won't be mad." Molly swallowed hard but continued on, "When they first told me she was dead, I cried because I would never meet her--and I wanted to meet her. I had all these dreams about meeting her, about how it would go. How it would be. But now, now I'm glad. I'm glad that he's all mine. So if you were kind of glad too, I'd understand."

Beth Evans stroked her daughter's hair. It gave her every bit as much joy as it had the first time twenty-seven years ago, but now it was mixed with anguish too. Perhaps God's trade for the labor pains she'd never endured. There was no longer any way to keep her baby from harm and pain. And there were no human words to explain this depth of devotion to a woman who had never loved with a parent's heart.

She would willingly take her daughter to meet a thousand mothers she'd never known, watch her leave a thousand times-- willingly never see her, never touch her, never lay eyes on her again--for the promise that in this way would her daughter live in peace and joy.

She kissed her daughter's forehead. "Yes," she lied. "I'm glad that she can never take you away."

Then they were both crying again.


Leland caught on fairly soon. He might not be the brightest detective with the S.F.P.D, but he was arguably the brightest detective in the S.F.P.D. Much later when Monk asked him how he knew, Leland said it was seeing them hold hands.

Monk nodded, like he should have thought of that. Or maybe like he already had.

Not that that was so strange in itself. This was San Francisco where Adam Lambert could walk down the street holding hands with Mohammed Ali and no one would look twice except to see if they were going to free up a parking space.

"First I thought, 'how sweet, I haven't seen him do that since Trudy,'" Leland said. "Then I realized I was seeing you do exactly what you did with Trudy." A cold, eerie chill ran down Leland's spine with that epiphany, and he wasn't the type of man to believe it had anything to do with the supernatural or ghosts.

That wasn't the full and complete truth, though. In fact, Leland had first processed it at a more visceral level than that. There's a certain change in a man when he's finally getting some again. Leland ought to know. A man looks women in the eye with confidant ease instead of viewing them all as potential predators… or prey. A man holds himself beside other men with the cool assurance that he is in the club, no longer a wet-eared postulant hungering up at the "Members Only" door.

"Monk." Leland shut his office door behind them and held it until he felt it catch and latch. "Can I speak to you for a minute? About Molly."

Adrian looked at him and quirked his head. He opened his mouth, then closed it again. He let his eyes roam over the chaos on Leland's desk. He cocked his head the other way, then clearly paused in the middle of all this doing apparently nothing (a remarkable feat in itself) which was always Natalie's cue that she might as well find a seat.

He looked down at his toes, then up Leland's way again. "No," he pronounced at last.


"No," Adrian said. "You can't talk to me." Gone was that new air of confidence and suddenly he looked like that little boy pining outside in the rain. "You can't say it, Captain. If you say it, there's no way I can't fight you. And I can't fight. So you can't say it. So no, we can't talk. You can't say that thing you were going to say."

Like they said in class, Leland counted to five before he spoke. Then ten. He made it to sixteen before it blurted out. "Monk, she's practically your--"

"But she's not. She's twenty seven, a perfectly competent adult, and she's not." Adrian seldom sounded this intense. "So just let it go. If we're going to be friends, you're going to have to let this one go."

"I can't, Monk. I have a job to do, and this is going to be a problem. A big one. Half the guys on this force put in a lot of hours--a lot of unpaid overtime hours--working Trudy's case. They did it for you. Because of what she was to you. Because what you were together was one of most beautiful things any of us had seen. If those guys think that you're going to bastardize that memory by f--"

"Don't," Adrian warned, the strength of conviction blazing in his eyes. His fists balled by themselves and the two men measured each other across the desk.

Leland caved first, because any idiot could see that was the only way to end it without bruises and blood. Likely all Adrian's, but even so. Leland blew out his breath and deflated into his chair.

"Just because a thing's not wrong, that doesn't make it right," Leland said at last.

Adrian barked a bitter laugh. "You don't think I know that? Captain, I'm the prototype of never wrong, yet never going to be right."

"Monk, I can't keep you on here if this gets out. Your lieutenant pal in Santa Clara. You worked for him before. Will he take you back?"

"I doubt it. He died three years ago."

Leland tugged at his top drawer and pulled his anger management yo-yo. The epoxy repair made after an encounter with Karen's new boyfriend's Jeep was still holding fast, but the string was still in an unmanageable tangle from the last time he'd lost patience with the damned thing. He slammed the drawer, closed his eyes and reached deep inside for his happy place.

"Maybe if you married her--"

"I'm already married."

"Or moved to some place where everyone doesn't know about your past. L.A! Older men with younger women are the blue plate special there. And you'd be near--" Trudy's parent's. Even as he cursed himself, he saw the gentle patience in Monk's eyes, as usual waiting for the slower minds around him around him to catch up.

Leland started over. "You could move anywhere. Work anywhere. I'll give you a glowing recommendation. Any force would do cartwheels to have you."

"I can't leave. I can't leave her," Monk said.

Leland was on the verge of an explosion about that's what he was talking about: he could be with Molly anywhere that wasn't right here, when the light bulb went off in his head. Trudy. He can't leave Trudy.

It's always only been Trudy, and always ever will.

Monk quirked his neck in that way he did at the end of his 'here's what happened' speeches. His sign that he had completed his onus in bringing mortal man up to speed and they were back on their own again.

Leland took a breath. He wished he'd listened to Monk from word one.

"If you hurt that girl, so help me I will hunt you down and amputate and destroy a body part they can't transplant. I'll do it for the sake of the man I knew who would give his life to keep Trudy's child from harm."

"If I hurt her, you won't have to. But you already knew that." Adrian sounded like a condemned man faced with the futility of trying to express a ruined lifetime in the face of "Any last words?"

"Yeah." As usually, there wasn't much to do but sit back and agree with Monk.

"Why does love have to be so hard?" Adrian asked.

Leland shook his head. In Monk he'd finally found the one non-sociopathic man more alienated from his own emotions than Leland was himself. It had worked well for them for twenty years, and as usual Monk was right. There was no reason they should change that now.

"What are you going to do, Captain?" It was neither fear, nor an implication, but more the quiet resignation that was Monk.

"Do?" Leland pushed a palm up and over his brow. He considered going for the tangle of yo-yo, but that had been a stupid idea from the start. "If anyone gives you any grief, you come to me. Close the door when you leave."

Adrian had that prickly sense that the rules of social conduct require he say something more, but he just shuffled a little, then turned around and went out the door.


"You have to let Natalie go," Molly said.


"You have to. I don't want to share you with her." She kissed Adrian on the lips.

"You're not. You won't. I don't share. I think things--and people--and things should be kept whole and separate. I think most people do, but they've been conditioned since kindergarten not to say so out loud."

She laughed and stroked his hair. "And there's... the other." He loved her, pleasured her almost every night with tender patience, but he couldn't speak the words. It was a small price to pay.

"The more she's here, around us, in our home, the more likely she'll see--" Molly let the words trail off. There're other things he'd been conditioned not to say out loud.

Adrian stayed silent. It wasn't that he was afraid of being without Natalie--well, any more than he was afraid of any other change--but Natalie had strong feelings. She'd told him that once, and he never forgot anything he was told. He wasn't comfortable with feelings--even when they were not his own--and he was sure she would have strong feelings about this and they would not be the good kind.

"You have to let her go," Molly repeated.

"I'll talk to her," Adrian said.

Adrian Monk didn't think of himself as a lucky man, but like a Chinatown Rollex that left green stains on your skin, by way of the sheer number of events and random chance, even he had to get lucky every now and then.

Apparently this day was his 'then.'

He decided to surprise Natalie with a visit. The whole point of planning was to make sure that things go right, and if something isn't right to start with, that just ruins one's pride in the aesthetics of an otherwise technically perfect plan.

He could drive a car now, after a fashion. He had to alternate left and right turns and end the trip with an equal number of both, so anything other than, say, a straight shot down a drag racing strip took quite a while. It was barely after noon when he got to her house. He then drove farther down the street, stopping when the last odometer digit rolled over to .0 and leveled out flat. He left the car double parked right there.

In the trunk, he had a bucket of cleaning supplies. He'd decided to wash, buff and wax her mail box to soften the blow. He'd barely started on the disinfectant (if people only knew where their mail had been, they would think twice before letting it into their homes) when Natalie opened the door, her face already red, puffy and wet with tears.

"What's wrong?" he asked, his current project having pushed everything but the compulsive need to clean miles away from his mind. "Is it the scratch?" he pointed to a long gash in the mailbox brass. "I was going to buff that out, see." He pulled a small rotary buffer out of the bucket to demonstrate good faith.

"Let's do that later, Mr. Monk," Natalie said. Taking him by the elbow she nudged the cleaning supplies down to the doorstep cement and led him in. "Come inside. I have something to tell you. I've been trying all morning to figure out how. I was going to invite you over for dinner--"

"We could skip that part."

"--and tell you then, but there's no good way. Just come inside and let me tell you now."

He came in (after wiping his feet ten times) and stood awkwardly in the doorway looking like old times. He was back in the same shirt and jacket he'd worn for all those years pre-Molly, but Natalie was too upset for that to register yet.

There were flattened cardboard boxes leaning up against the wall, and two of her bookshelves were empty. All the potted plants were gone.

"Have a seat," she said, gesturing at his usual spot dead in the middle of the sofa.

"Why?" he shrugged. "You said there was no good way--"

"Okay, okay!" Natalie rested her bottom on the arm of the sofa, prepared herself, and looked up at him.

"This morning Steven was notified that he's being transferred to Hawaii."

There was several seconds for nothing until Adrian made an impassive "so what?" toss of his hands.

"Mr. Monk, he's my husband. I'll be going with him."

"Well, Hawaii's almost like America--"

"Mr. Monk!" Her exasperation overflowed. "If I'm there, in Hawaii, I won't be here--with you. I won't be able to… assist you anymore."

"That's okay," he said. "I have Molly now."

"Mr. Monk, I know this is all new to both of you and you've been spending a lot of time together, but she's young. She has a job, and friends, and boys… boys who are friends. She's not going to be able to everything for you that I do.

"Here," she got up and went to the table. "I started on a list of names of people who might work out. See, this woman managed a teaching hospital psychiatric ward for eight years, but says now that it's up and running, she's looking for a challenge. This man tends the buffaloes and other large ungulates at the zoo--"

"Natalie!" Adrian took the paper from her hand, started to crumple it, then changed his mind, folded it into perfect quarters and laid it atop her trash. "I told you, I don't need an assistant. We're fine. I'm fine."

She studied him. As was usually the case, she was fairly sure he knew something she did not. "You don't have to be brave just to make me feel better about this."

"Oh, I'd never do that," he said, and she had to laugh despite it all, for that one was patently true.

He grasped her shoulders and pulled her into eye contact. In six years together, she couldn't ever remember him doing that before.

"I really am fine," he said.

"Mr. Monk, you've never been fine even when you had an assistant."

"I was fine when I had Trudy. I was fine before you knew me, and now I'm fine again." He bobbed his head in that way that was supposed to be an emphasizing nod and he let her go.

"Mr. Monk," she said; her voice firm again. "Even on your worst day, you are still the finest man I ever met. That I didn't marry, I mean."

"I know what you meant," he said.

He smiled at her. "You want me to get that mail box now?"

"Forget the mailbox," she said and wiped her nose with her hand. "I could use some help packing, though. I can't even figure out where to start, and I never seem to be able to make a box fit right."

"Mind?" he said; his voice thick with emotion, his eyes gleaming with what in another man she might have called unbridled lust. "I've had dreams--fantasies-- that you might ask me something like this. But I never thought--" He choked up too hard to continue.

He closed his eyes, looked heavenward and moved his lips in a glow of beatific thanks. He peeled off his jacket and draped it neatly over the sofa back. He flexed his pecs, stretched his arms, and cracked his knuckles. "Stand back," he said. "You're in the hands of a master now."


"You don't have to do that," Adrian said.

"Do what?" she inquired of him with closed-lipped interest. With a defined swallow she set the ceramic cup down on the bathroom counter.

"Pretend to take those pills, then spit them out when you think I'm not looking. Or throw them out one day at a time so it looks like they're being used."

"I'm not--"

Adrian cut her off just in time to keep a first-ever lie from coming between them. He picked up the pack and pointed. "That's only pill number thirteen, but your female estrus cycle leaking thing started Tuesday. That's not supposed to happen, but I saw all the female estrus cycle leaking thing wrappers." He nodded towards the shiny chrome lidded trash bin with the foot pedal and the built-in air freshener dispenser.

"Have you been spying on me through the garbage?"

"Spying? No. Just organizing it to take out. And you switched brands two months ago. Your old kind was plain tablets, but these ones are coated so they won't dissolve in your mouth." He pushed tomorrow's pill through the foil to demonstrate, then tossed it in the sink. "You should probably spit that one out." He gave a distracted head jerk towards her mouth. "The coating won't hold forever, and it'll disrupt your female estrus cycle leaking and non-leaking pattern."

She pushed her tongue around inside her mouth, but just stared at him.

"And you've been getting pimples."

Her fingers flew to her chin while Adrian continued unfazed. "You said you first started on pills because they kept cramps and pimples away. There was a Midol box in the trash too--I put it in with the paper for recycling that is greater than 10 square inches but less than 100 square inches--and you have pimples. I love your pimples. Trudy had a freckle right where you have that one." He touched a fingertip to the near left of her nose, and she began to cry.

"I'm sorry. Are you mad?" she asked.

"I don't know. I don't think so," he said. "Should I be?"

I know I should have told you--discussed it with you, but have you ever wanted something so badly you thought you'd die if you didn't get it? That it didn't matter what anyone--anyone else thought or said. That you had to have it anyway?" Tears flowed freely and she pressed herself against the flannel of his pajama top.

"You're asking me?" Adrian regarded her puzzled by the insertion of emotion now where things had been crystal clear moments before. He back-traced her tears with his fingers sweeping them back up her cheeks to her lower lids, as if he could tidy them back in place.

It didn't occur to him to wipe his hands.

"We could have it all," she whispered up to him. "Everything she wanted. Everything she never got to have. Or had and never knew it. We'd be a real family, tied together forever."

"We already are," he said. It didn't sound like a platitude.

"If it's a girl, we'll name her Trudy."

He squirmed. "Boys can be Trudy too."

"Yes, yes they can. Oh Adrian, this can't be just me. You've got to tell me: how do you feel about this?"

"How should it make me feel?"

"Alive," she said. She put a hand on the elastic of his pajama waist and tugged.

"Not here," he said, jumping back. "Not in a bathroom. Not ever, ever, ever in a bathroom! Not even to repopulate the earth and save the species would it be okay in a bathroom!"

"I know," she said beaming through her sniffles. "I just wanted to make sure you were… paying attention."

He took her hands in his and moving very close, he gazed in to her eyes. "Attention? There's not ten minutes of any day that go by that I don't think about your mother and you. How much more attention do you need?"

"All of it," she said and pulled him back towards the bed. "I love you."

"You better," he said as she undid his top button. "Otherwise we're both lost."