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Four Firsts

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1. "I love you"

"So, remind me why we're trying to bake this impossible cake again?" Robert asks as he rolls up his sleeves and washes his hands in the sink.

Florence tuts as she digs through the box that holds all the Cathcart family recipes. "It's not impossible, it's just very hard and I never manage to make it right. Ha!" She triumphantly pulls the card from the box. "And, anyways, you know it's Harry's birthday tomorrow, and since Alex is out of town, it falls to me to make her her favorite cake."

His lips twitch in a smile. "And to me, apparently."

"Yes, well," she digs around in the fridge for the eggs she needs, "what kind of boyfriend would you be if you didn't help me in my time of need?"

He snorts at that. "Right. Well, what do you need me to do first?"

"If you could measure the sugar and flour that would be fantastic," she says, bringing the eggs to the counter where he's standing. She smacks a kiss to his cheek for good measure. "Now, I just need to find the vanilla extract."

One of her favorite things about Robert is how they can work so seamlessly together, finding an easy pattern even though they've really only been together for a few months. Things go smoothly as they add ingredients into the big bowl, chatting about how their weeks have been. Florence is actually optimistic she'll be able to bake the cake properly this year, and not have it turn out to be a huge lumpy mess.

"That's everything, then?" Robert asks as he adds the final dash of cinnamon. "What's next?"

"It says to fold an extra egg in, which I really don't know how to do, honestly. Luckily, Harry invested in this fancy mixer last Christmas, so we can just have it do all the work," she tells him, dragging the bowl over to the monster of a mixer.

He eyes her skeptically. "And you know how to work this thing, right?"

She scoffs. "Of course! It's very straight forward. You just set the dial to 'fold', and then press the power button." She follows her own instructions, and shrieks as she's rewarded with a face full of batter.

Her boyfriend bursts into laughter at the sight, bending over with the force of it. She's frowning at him, the batter dripping off her nose as an idea strikes her. Scooping some of the batter off her neck, she flings it at him.

He gasps as the cold batter hits him in the cheek. "Florence," he warns, wiping it off with his hand.

"What?" she asks innocently. When his face splits into a mischievous grin, she backs up. "Robert, no."

"Fair's fair, love," he says, before reaching into the bowl of batter and throwing some of it at her.

It turns into a full out war, with the two of them using everything in their reach, including the leftover eggs. Unfortunately, the droppings quickly form a puddle in the middle of the kitchen, which Florence promptly slips in. With a shriek, she latches on to the thing closest to her in an effort to stay upright, which happens to be Robert.

It doesn't work, however, and Robert promptly lands on her with a grunt. She groans, rubbing at her head. "Okay, so maybe this wasn't my best idea."

He laughs, burying his face in her neck. "I don't know, that was the most fun I've had in ages."

"I'm glad," she says, smiling. A warmth unfurls in her chest, and it seems like the best time to say the thing she's been thinking for the past few weeks. She tugs on his hair. "Hey."

He lifts his head up, grinning down at her. "What?"

"I love you," she tells him.

His grin grows impossibly wider, and he peppers her face with kisses. She giggles as the batter disappears under his ministrations, only to gasp when he captures her lips with his, biting on her lower lip. The kiss is sweet, and makes her toes curl. Finally, he pulls away to breathe, looking at her with soft eyes. "I love you, too."

"Oh, good," she teases. "I was worried I had made this awkward."

He kisses her again, with enough heat that she feels like she's melting into the floor. They're interrupted, however, when the kitchen door opens with a creak. "I'm home!" Harriet calls out, only to stop short at the sight of them on the kitchen floor.

"Harry!" Florence sits up, pushing at Robert so he's sitting on the floor next to her. "I can explain."

Her mother's lips twitch. "You know what? I don't think I want to know."

She leaves the room with a shake of her head, and Florence bursts into laughter, clutching on to Robert as she finds it difficult to stay upright.

"May I suggest we just buy a cake?" he asks, after the laughter has died down.

She smiles. "I knew I loved you for a reason."

2. "Move in with me"

"Come on, Robert, I'm dying for some ice cream." Florence tugs on his arm as they walk down the street of the small town closest to Rookford, just 20 kilometers away.

"We just ate!" Robert complains, though he allows Florence to lead him to the shop anyway.

She laughs, smacking a kiss to his cheek before pulling open the door of the ice cream parlor. "That's why I told you to leave some room!"

He huffs, but she sees the small smile on his face. There's a small line of people in the shop, families wanting to have some fun, now that the temperature has risen after months of cold, so she can study his features without issue. He glances down at her, the small smile widening. "What, do I have something on my face?"

"No," she ducks her head, suddenly feeling shy, "I'm just going to miss you."

He snakes his arm around her waist, pulling her closer to him. She rests her head on his shoulder, breathing in his scent. He presses a kiss to the top of her head. "I know. Me, too."

They stand in quiet, until it's finally their turn to place their order. They squabble quickly over who gets to pay, which ends with Florence triumphantly handing over the coins. Robert smiles fondly at her, but continues to be quiet as they exit the shop. She once more tucks herself against his side, taking a lick out of her ice cream. "What is it you always tell me? 'I can hear you thinking'?"

He shakes his head. "I was just wondering, if, well, what would happen if you didn't have to leave."

"Robert," she looks up at him, "you know I can't stay here. Rookford doesn't allow that sort of thing."

He's quiet for a moment, looking at his ice cream instead of her, before finally saying, "What if I didn't work for Rookford anymore?"

She gapes at him for a moment, before leading him to a bench, and sitting down. "What are you saying?"

"I," he sighs, "it's b-been hard at Rookford, lately."

She finds his free hand and intertwines their fingers. "I didn't know. What's wrong?"

"I would rather b-be living with you," he admits, finally looking over at her. "And, it's hard for me to even go into the kitchen. I keep seeing you, lying there."

"This is a big conversation." She leans back against the bench. "Has it been hard all year? Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't want to worry you." He presses a kiss to her hand. "It was harder after Christmas, when I spent a full week with you, in your bed."

She bites her lip. "We would probably have to live close to London, because I can't be far from Harry and Alex."

"We could live in London," he squeezes her hand, "if you wanted."

"You hate the city." She rests her head on his shoulder. "No, it'd have to be a smaller town."

"So you want to, then?" he asks, the words coming fast.

She laughs, presses a kiss to the underside of his jaw. "Of course I want to. I've been going mad during the week, not being able to see you properly. Susan's threatened to quit four times this past month alone."

He grins and noses her cheek. "I'll put in my notice tomorrow."

"Perhaps you better wait until you find a job," she teases him. "I'm not making enough money to support the both of us."

Before he can respond, her ice cream falls with a plop into his lap. "Florence," he groans, "I told you the ice cream was a bad idea."

"Sorry!" She tries to keep a straight face, but bursts into laughter at the sight of his indignant expression.

She'd feel bad, if he hadn't joined in, too.

3. "Marry me"

Florence is lying on the grassy knoll behind the small cottage she and Robert have rented for the past few months, on the outskirts of Cambridge. She's in the middle of writing her second book, and Robert's gotten a job as a secondary school teacher at a private school in the area. She's smoking a cigarette slowly, enjoying her break with a light breeze blowing through the yard. She knows Robert is supposed to be home soon, so she's not surprised when she hears the back door open with a quiet creak.

He joins her on the grass, laying down so their heads are close together. Taking the cigarette from her, he asks, "Enjoying the sun?"

"Something like that." She looks over at him. "How was your day?"

"Jim Wright is finally pulling his grade up," his exhale has tendrils of smoke reaching towards the sky, looking like clouds, "and Blackstone was happy with my proposal for the history club."

"Good. I know you worked hard on it." She takes the cigarette from him and attempts to blow a smoke ring.

He snorts and snatches the cigarette. "How was your day?"

"Fine. I got another chapter done." She sighs, rolling onto her side to look at him. "It's been a little hard, trying to find a balance between sharing what happened at Rookford and sounding credible."

He tugs her to his chest, stubbing out the cigarette. "I'm sure you'll do fine. After all, people seemed to like your first book." He smirks down at her. "God knows why."

She pinches his side. "You're incorrigible."

"And yet, you love me anyway." He rolls her over so he's pressing her down in the grass.

"It is a heavy burden," she teases. She tilts her head up to capture his lips in a kiss. "Hi."

He smiles down at her. "Hi. Ready to go inside?"

"Not yet." She bites her lip, considering. "You know, I've been thinking."

"Oh, God help us."

She pinches his side again. "Rude."

He nuzzles her neck. "So, tell me."

"Maybe I don't want to anymore," she says petulantly.

He moves his head so he's pressing his forehead to hers. "Come on."

"Marry me," she blurts out, feeling her heart jump into her throat. His eyes widen, but he doesn't say anything, so she babbles to fill the silence. "I just, we already live together, and I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, so I just -"

"Yes," he interrupts her, peppering her face with as many kisses as he can. "I love you, and yes."

"Good." Relief floods her chest as she presses her lips to his. The kiss is soft, warming her from her head to her toes.

After a few minutes, he pulls away with a laugh. "I can't believe you."

"What?" she asks. "What do you think I've done now?"

"Our anniversary is next week." He smiles and shakes his head. "I was going to propose to you then."

She laughs. "Well, I got impatient." She pauses, and quirks an eyebrow. "Does this mean you have a ring?"

"Yes," he sits up, "want to see it?"

She bites her lip and nods her head, catching his hand in hers as they get up and walk into the house. He holds a hand out, pausing her, as he dashes into the bedroom. She rocks on her feet, impatient. She's rewarded when he comes back out, holding a small velvet box. He snaps it open, and she gasps. "Oh." She feels herself tear up. "That's Harry's ring, isn't it?"

The ring sparkles with the five small diamonds set into the gold band. There's a large sapphire attached above it, and she recognizes it from when Harry's jewelry box. Robert smiles. "Yes. I asked her last time we visited, when you were going through the boxes in your old study." He pauses, grasping her hand lightly. "Do you want to wear it?"

"Yes! Put it on." She holds her breath as he slides the ring on to her finger. It's a perfect fit, and she can feel tears welling up in her eyes. "Oh, Robert." She throws her arms around his neck, clinging tightly. "I love you, Robert."

"And I love you." He clutches her just as tightly, and they sway together in the dying afternoon light.

4. "I'm pregnant"

Florence groans as she grips the toilet. Harry rubs her back soothingly. "Florence, maybe you should go see a doctor."

"I'm sure it's just a bug, Harry," she says, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "Robert was sick last week and I must have caught it."

Harry hands her a warm washcloth. "I know, but it has been a few days. Why don't you go to please your old mum?"

Florence presses the cloth to her forehead. "If it'll make you happy."

She's able to get in to the see the doctor a few days later, still feeling queasy. She explains her symptoms to her doctor, who decides to draw some blood to check for elevated levels of white blood cells. "I'll have the results in a few days," he tells her, marking up her chart.

Robert's waiting for her when she gets home, immediately pulling her in for a hug. "Did it go okay?"

"As well as can be expected, I suppose." She buries her face in the crook of his neck. "How was your day?"

"No different from yesterday." He pulls back a little. "Do you want me to draw you a bath?"

She feels relief flood her veins. "Yes, please," she responds, before letting a smile slowly stretch her face. "Want to join me?"

He presses a warm kiss to her lips. "Always."

Two days later Florence is just collecting her things from the podium from which she has just given a guest lecture about the science behind several of her inventions. She picks up the phone and wedges it between her ear and shoulder as she stuffs the rest of her notes into her bag. "This is Florence Cathcart."

"Hello Mrs. Cathcart, this is Dr. Murphy," her doctor greets her. "I was wondering if you could come in tomorrow? Your results have come in and I would like to discuss them with you."

She frowns as she shifts to hold the phone. "Well, that doesn't sound good."

"Everything is fine, I promise you. Does two o'clock work for you?"

"Yes," she tells him. "I'll see you then."

In his office, Florence swings her legs a little as she sits on the examination table. She's surprised when a nurse and the doctor wheel in an ultrasound machine. "Don't be alarmed," her doctor assures her. "I just want to verify the results of your blood test."

"Is there something wrong with my intestines?" she demands, even as the nurse lifts her shirt up and rubs gel on her stomach.

"No, no," he presses lightly on her shoulders, "now, please lay down."

He presses the ultrasound wand against her stomach, moving it around and looking at the screen until his face breaks out into a smile. "What is it?" Florence asks, attempting to sit up to look at the screen.

The doctor turns the screen towards her, and points to a small blob on the screen. "Mrs. Cathcart, you're pregnant."

She feels as if all the air has been sucked out of her lungs. "What?"

"Two months along, I think, but you'll have to make an appointment with an obstetrician to verify that." He scribbles something on a piece of paper and hands it to her. "Here's the number to the one in our practice. I recommend making an appointment as soon as possible." He smiles at her. "Congratulations."

Florence drives home in a daze. She's thankful Robert won't be home for a few hours, because she honestly doesn't know what to say. They've never talked about children in the few years they've been together, and she's never really given it much thought, as strange as that might sound. She considers calling Harry, but part of her thinks it would be unfair for her to tell her mother before she tells her husband.

She reaches for the pack of cigarettes she keeps in her purse before snatching her hand away. If she's pregnant smoking is a bad idea, and she mentally makes a tally in the con column of keeping the child. She startles when she realizes she's creating a list of pros and cons, and resolves to make herself wait on trying to figure it out before Robert comes home.

She doesn't know what to do when she gets home, realizing that most of her time is spent drinking or smoking, so she draws herself a bath. She's still soaking when she hears Robert walk through the front door.

"Florence? Where are you?" he calls from the entryway.

"In the bathroom," she calls back.

He knocks on the door before entering, a habit she finds endearing. "Are you alright?" he asks, concerned. He sits on the floor beside the tub. "What did the doctor say?"

She takes a deep breath before deciding to rip it off like a band-aid. "I'm pregnant."

He freezes, and she feels her heart freeze, too. She still has no idea what to do, and had hoped Robert would push her towards one side or the other. But as it is, he looks like he might never move again. She counts to thirty in her head slowly, before placing a hand on his upper arm, soaking the shirt underneath. He jolts a little, and stares at her, his face blank. "Are you sure?"

"Two months," she confirms, resting her chin on the edge of their tub. "Tell me what you're thinking."

He exhales shakily. "I don't really know, to be honest." He leans his face close to hers. "I love you, and I would love a child, but -"

"But?" she prompts him, pressing her forehead to his.

"But it would be a lot. I'm worried they would inherit my epilepsy, or my stutter -"

"Or your kind heart and brave nature?" she cuts him off. "Your stutter is better than it's been since I met you, so I don't think it's genetic." She pauses to bite her bottom lip, chewing on it for a moment. "If you're worried about the epilepsy, we could speak with the doctor, but I don't think those are real reasons to not have a child."

"And what would be?" He pulls back to look at her.

"I know you're excellent with children but I might not be." She sinks back into the bath and stares at the ceiling. "I'm not, I'm not like you, Robert. I don't know if I'm suited to being a mum."

"Florence," he says warmly, picking up her hand from where it's resting on the edge of the tub, "I don't think those are real reasons to not have a child either. You were brilliant with the children at Rookford."

"I was mostly with Tom." Her eyes prick at the realization, and how much she misses her brother.

He presses a kiss to her knuckles. "I think you'd be a wonderful mother. You are my best friend, and I would love to have this child with you, but only if you want to do it."

She blinks back the tears and looks over at him surprised. "So, you've made up your mind then?"

He smiles at her. "If you want to. I'm always on your side."

She beams at him before tugging him into the tub with her, clothes and all. They make a mess, but the end result is worth it, as with most things.