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over and over; could it really, really be

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As she lies on her bed looking up at the ceiling, her eyes caught on the gossamer thread of a cobweb hanging from the corner of the room, an old adage comes to the forefront of Tessa’s mind. Something her mother must’ve said once, something she’d read in a magazine or overheard from strangers in a cafe, something typed in stylised sans serif over a blush pink backdrop: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

It comes to her in the middle of the night. One of those overused sayings that lives in the murky depths of her memory, lying in wait, ready for its substantiation.

How many times over had it been now? Too many. Insanity. Anyone could see the madness of it. Crazy not to be together. Crazy to think it could ever be a good idea. Insanity, either way. Insanity, every time. But she’d long since learned not to expect a different result.

No. This was their routine: flawed and complicated, but singularly theirs. It was learned like choreography, muscle-memorized movements all leading to the same crescendo. The blueprint was drawn, the patterns so firmly set, they were embedded into the very skin of their relationship. It was fuelled by the regeneration of feeling: love and hate, manifesting as at least six of the seven deadly sins in turn.

It always began so good, as though it was the first time anew, as though he could truly clutch the hands of the clock and pull it all the way back. Back to before the first undoing. It would burst open like the buds of spring: blooming with all the newness and beauty and colour that had been forgotten at the height of midwinter. That was the danger. Forgetting. Because spring, as it always does, would turn to summer, and the temperature of every fight and every fuck was amplified until it burned. And they’d get through even that, the seductive heat of it drawing them in like Icarus. But every burn would leave its mark, until the fire smouldered to nothing and left them cold once more. And it always ended cold, the ice beneath their feet the only connection that would remain.

Naive as it might be, each time it had ended, she’d always believed it was for the last time.

The cycle played out over and over. Over weeks, over months, over years. Sometimes they lived it out like pathetic fallacy, as though looking to the snow on the ground and the clouds in the sky for their script.

She wants to be naive again. She wants to skip into spring, right on schedule. To dance their way through the bloom. To rediscover the sunlight that had made it worth leaving the cover of darkness. Moments of glorious euphoria to revive the very roots of her, reminding her how good it can be, reminding her of all they can be. There’s so much possibility wrapped up in their beginnings, each and every one, and yet they never seem able to make good on their promise,  all that promise.

In the end, it’s decided for them. Mistakes, like messy lines drawn and overdrawn like the scratchy marks of an old pen with ink uneven, lead them to a new result.

There’s going to be a baby now. A winter baby, in more ways than one.

A new consequence of an old habit: the guilty fuck. The one that isn’t meant to happen. The one that comes out of lust, not love. There’s always love, of course, beneath the thick frost, but sometimes they don’t wait for it to thaw out. Sometimes it’s urgent and desperate and angry lust, and no way to bring a new life into the world.

And yet.

And yet there’s a baby.

It’s a more terrifying prospect than any potentially career-defining competition or career-ending operation: a new life to love, protect and shape. A new life that she can’t deny now, not with thoughts of baby-soft, chubby little fingers and toes already filling her mind. She finds herself painting a mental picture of her future: half Virtue, half Moir. It’s that daydreamed portrait that scares her more than anything, the one of the innocent face that asks for nothing, nothing but an open heart. It knocks on the door of the part of her that’s long been closed for self-preservation.

Something isn’t working, though. It hasn’t been working for a long time.

A change has to come.

Perhaps his baby belongs in her arms like his face belongs in her neck.

 

*

 

Tessa holds her secret close for a few days. It can belong to her, just her, for only a finite period, but the privacy of this conception feels like something that must be guarded for as long as possible. An incomplete program, with its ending missing and no show of confidence, it’s not ready for the judgment of an audience.

Each morning, she’s pulled out of bed hours before her body’s natural wake-up time to hurl the contents of her stomach into the toilet. The cold floor tiles sting against her knees (until she starts wearing full-length pyjama bottoms to bed, surrendering to a new inevitability) as she waits out the heady wave of nausea, praying that it’s over, thinking desperately, that must be all of it; she’d barely eaten a thing.

When she can find her feet again, she moves to stand before the mirror.

Where’s the glow? she keeps wondering, only seeing the dark hollows beneath her eyes. Looking at herself staring back, it feels like an avalanche of every feeling she’s ever had. All of it falling upon her at once, cold and violent and heavy. Thick layers burying her until she can’t see out and no one else can see in.

It feels like no one will ever find her under the weight of it.  

It feels like a farewell to some version of herself.

The tests, two unequivocal Clearblue sticks, sit in parallel lines beside the basin of the sink. They remain there as though waiting to remind her, as though she could forget. Two parallel lines like the tread of a flat edge. (They’d built their lives on avoiding flat edges.)

It’s the fifth morning of this same laboured routine when she calls Scott. In the end, it’s done without hesitation. It’s the first day without work commitments or social plans; there’s nothing to compose herself for so she allows the shattered pieces of herself to scatter across white tiles, uncollected. Edges raw and sharp, it feels undeniably time for him to know. She’s waited long enough for the glow to come, for the joy and comfort to set in. All that there is, still, is a complex web of conflicting feelings that seem to take it in turns to dominate her mood.

The only thing she’s certain of is “Pregnant”, but the word still belongs only to Clearblue, to her doctor; not her, not yet.

“Scott, I need you to come over,” is all she says when she picks up the phone. There’s no room for ambiguity. The urgency is quiet but present. He’ll hear it, she trusts. He’s been trained for that, at least, over the course of their near-lifelong partnership.

“Tess?” He wants more, he always does.

“Just–just come, please.”

“Okay.”

He’s there in a heartbeat. He arrives at her door, a laundry list of questions in his eyes as he looks at her like she’s a stranger he remembers from a past life. The extended stretch of minimal contact – either side of their ill-judged tryst – has left them standing on unsteady ground. His eyes are adding and subtracting every new detail (the shadows under her eyes, echoes of lines across her forehead) and every lost one (the colour in her cheeks, the brightness in her smile), and it seems he can’t finish the equation. It’s an answer too big, those little details not enough to get him there. He knows better than to jump to a conclusion like this.

Tessa steps aside to allow him into her home, letting him follow her from the hallway they’d christened at their peak to the site of their last undoing. Her home has long been a museum of their relationship.

“You want a drink? Water, coffee, something stronger?” she offers as they sit side by side on her couch, the tension dripping off her like sweat on an August day no matter how much she tries to keep cool.

“Tess,” he says, that way he always says it, like it’s a full sentence. If only he could speak aloud the feelings he laces through her name. If only he could commit words to it and she could commit her life to it – well, then, perhaps this conversation would feel a little more like it ought to feel. She thinks about the people who get to enjoy this moment, sinking into relief that their wish has come true. For Tessa, it’s like holding her breath as the water rushes in over her head. Eyes tight, she forces out the words without daring to look at him.

He says ‘fuck’ more times than she’s ever heard at once, in such quick succession that there’s barely a breath between words. It’s a long chain of fucks, not unlike the lifetime that had built up to this very moment, and she simply waits him out, patient for something different.

When it comes, he simply says, “Tess.”

One of these days, he’ll learn it’s not a full sentence.

For now, he speaks it, breathless and gentle, and reaches out to hold her cheek in his hand. The apple of it settles against his palm as she can’t help but move to him, a magnetic reflex that never seems to abate. She wonders if he can feel the weight of her against his touch, the heavy lethargy of her first trimester dragging her down and threatening to take him with her.

Quietly, in the absence of further reassurance, Tessa asks, “What do you think?” She determines to keep her voice even and just about manages it. Perhaps he catches the tremble, but it’s barely more than a momentary dip in signal.

“What do I think?” He scoffs a laugh as he repeats her words, not because it’s funny but precisely because it isn’t. It’s the most terrifying question they’ve ever had to face together. “T, I...”

She knows what he wants to say.

“I’m sorry. I’m here. There’s so much to figure out,” he settles on, eventually. He wraps his arms around her and, in a wave of great relief that crashes like water breaking, every feeling she’s ever known seems to fall away. All that’s left is new. Heartache is the same emotion transmuted a thousand different ways; its methods and manifestations have grown familiar, like an unwelcome resident in this cold, white house that was always meant to be carte blanche. This isn’t it; this feeling is something else entirely. But heartache’s what she knows most. It’s her closest confidant, her company through the lonely night, so, whatever this is that isn’t heartache, it remains undefined in her ignorance.

All Tessa knows is that she doesn’t have to hold herself up anymore; even if just for a moment, he takes the weight of her completely. As she sinks into his arms, Scott adds, “We really have to… figure it out.”

“I know.”

“This fucking cycle we’re in, we have to break it. One way or the other.”

Every time it had felt broken, it always mended itself only to break in other ways. Only to break her heart. His too, if the look in his eyes is as easy to read as she thinks.

There’s a part of her that wonders what it would be like to live without him; she wonders what her life would’ve been like if they’d never met. It’s a world she’s never known, unimaginable and unwanted, despite that sticky heartache she’s carried as long as she can remember. Every time she contemplates the idea, she rediscovers a certainty that is reserved only for this particular point: a lifetime without Scott holds no appeal.

Still, with her hot breath hitting the arch of his neck, she whispers, “Did we ruin each other?”

His head drops so that his face buries in the line of her shoulder, his lips muffled by the soft cotton of her sweatshirt. Just barely, she hears Scott reply, “Maybe.” He squeezes tighter, his fists balling the hem of the top, and it feels like protest, a reminder that even if the answer’s yes, he isn’t ready to let go.

“I can do this on my own.”

He sighs wearily, his chest puffing out against her own like he’s been waiting for her to say as much. “I believe it, T. But you’re not going to. Whatever happens, I’m going nowhere. I don’t want to go anywhere. I never did.”

She breathes out a long, deep breath against him, though he chooses not to make a comment.

As Scott draws away from their hug, he presses a firm kiss to her cheek. His arm remains loosely wrapped around her as they settle again – looking at each other in the absence of knowing what to say or do in the situation.

“Are you happy?” she asks in the ominous silence, caught up in the bitter notion that perhaps this is what Scott had wanted all along. Perhaps this is his idea of a happy ending.

“I’m… fucking terrified,” he confesses, the words just spilling out before his hands can come up to catch them. He can’t know what a relief it is for her to know that. As he covers his face, Tessa reaches out to stop him. When he looks up, the vulnerability that she can feel threatening to overwhelm her is reflected back. “You?”

She almost laughs. “Terrified.”

The pressure of it – of knowing that whatever they choose to do now has to stick – is an unhealthy way to start. But it’s a start, nevertheless.

Scott rallies then, perhaps sensing her growing anxieties and realizing that at least one of them needs to be composed and optimistic if they’re going to make it through. He takes her face in his hands, commanding her full attention, and, carefully, like he’s finally found an answer he’s happy with, he says, “Tess.” She briefly wonders if that’ll be it, the sticking place, but is relieved when he continues. “This wasn’t your plan, I know that. It wasn’t my plan. But we’re here. This is where we are. And we’re gonna be okay, kiddo.”

She bows her head, fighting to escape his gaze. Her resistance prompts him to shift his weight forward on the edge of the couch, closing the gap between them once more until his forehead is resting against hers. As soon as he’s there, close up against her, she allows him to prop her up.

“We don’t know how to do it,” is all she can think to say, a silent tear escaping in a perfect line down her cheek. “We don’t know how to make this work.”

“We’ll learn,” he reassures her, his voice so tight in his throat that she can feel the pain of it in hers. “We’ve made it this far. We’ve made it through 22 years, Tess. We’re still here. We’re still together. That means something.”

She nods against him.

“Let me stay.”

And she does. Partly because whatever version of herself she is now, it feels like a shell: hollow and already embellished with lines of cracks it might be too late to heal. On her own, the cracks can only deepen over time, but with him at her side, given all that they’ve achieved together, she wonders if perhaps she can paint them gold, turn them into some beautiful, broken thing – to be admired instead of condemned.

For, they have to keep breaking.

They must break and break until the loop comes undone.

 

*

 

The skating season comes and goes without them once again, a reminder that as lasting as their legacy may be, without them, the world still turns. She watches Worlds from her sofa, a box of chocolates at her side in lieu of the glass of red she’s craving.

Scott’s there, occasionally appearing on-screen, probably too busy with coaching commitments and reunions to notice her absence in quite the same way she does. Nevertheless, while she might imagine him soaking up the glory of their former life alone, she knows all too well that their success is indivisible in the minds of everyone else; if his experience is anything like hers, no matter how busy he is, he’s most likely been asked a thousand times where she is and how she is. How many times has he had to fumble his way through a lie to answer? He couldn’t possibly tell the truth, after all.

The commentators reference them with an almost comical frequency. In fact, over the course of the competition, they’re mentioned so often that anyone would be forgiven for thinking the whole event was simply a search for the next Virtue and Moir. It seems synonymous with ‘world champion’ now. As she sinks into the cushions of her couch with a raggedy old sweatshirt on and a blanket over her knees, Tessa has never felt further from world champion. The reminder is bittersweet.

As for finding the next Virtue and Moir, they’ll all get their wish in the end.

The thought settles bitterly in her mind, her stomach turning at the thought of a world ready to break her child into pieces. She begins to contemplate the life that awaits the baby growing inside her, one of unsolicited attention and expectation, all for having the misfortune of being theirs. It pricks at something new and cynical: an intensely protective instinct. The feeling runs through her bloodstream with such a powerful rush, like a chemical reaction bubbling up all of a sudden, that she begins to curl around her belly, her hands resting on the soon-to-be bump as her mind spells out promises. I’ll keep you safe, she thinks. And then, surprising herself ever so slightly, he’ll keep you safe.  

The way Scott wraps her up when he gets back feels like affirmation of that. He surrounds her like a shield, folding her into his arms like she’s bone china being swept up in a blanket of bubble wrap.

Scott returns to her like he’s come home.

She plays down her relief at seeing him again, but it’s immense; he’s still the only one who knows, their efforts to figure things out together leading to continued postponement of the news. Soon, they’ll tell their mothers and she’ll finally return Jordan’s call. Soon, this won’t belong to them alone anymore. Soon, they’ll have to find a way to package it, pretty and perfect, like a carefully cooked plan with every ingredient measured out and meant to be. It’s only within the privacy of their bubble – him, her and them, the unknown them that grows with each passing day – that they can be messy and mixed up, and real.

He sets his bags down without having stopped by his own place, leaving a suitcase of dirty laundry forgotten by her door. That’s how it starts, Scott’s presence settling into the house like a new fixture; he’s a light switching on, a bright spark ready to help her see a way out of the mess they’ve created over a lifetime. He follows her to the kitchen, retreading old steps with more care than they’d had when they’d stumbled around this place in the midst of urgent affection, and asks, “How are you feeling now?”

“Tired,” she replies, sighing it out. She almost adds, compartment syndrome is starting to look pretty good right now, but thinks better of it. He’s tired too, and he’s trying.

“Still sick?”

“Only all day, every day.”

She feels his hand tenderly rub her back as he moves around to her side, pulling her into him and letting her lean against him. “I’m sorry. I’m here now, whatever you need. I hated not being around and knowing you were feeling like shit.”

Some things do change then, she manages not to say.

 

*

 

The early spring sunshine streams through the curtains of her living room, throwing a warm glow over the room. From the shady corner she’s curled up in, she watches the way it illuminates the dreamlike outline of dust particles suspended in the air. She feels lighter in herself, the teasing hint of good weather outside offering the promise of brighter days to come – even if she’s not quite ready to go out and face the world just yet.

A week into the skating season’s annual hiatus, with Scott now a lingering presence around the house, she finds herself savouring this quiet afternoon alone. She’s glad to have him there, especially on the days that her persistent ‘morning’ sickness wipes her out, but it’s an abrupt transition from the solitude she’s grown accustomed to and Tessa’s beginning to learn that there’s a delicate balance to be found between too much and not enough.

The day had started off well, offering some brief respite from the nausea.

Noticing her improvement, Scott had tentatively suggested dropping by his parents’ place while she’d pretended not to be relieved at the thought of some time on her own. She’d nodded cheerily before he’d finished his sentence and encouraged the idea, never giving him the opportunity to extend the invitation to her.

It’s while he’s half an hour away, out of reach and untethered by her warning gaze, that her fragile origami secret unfurls. She’s spread out on the couch with a hardback that’s been propping up her to-be-read pile for months when, unbeknownst to her in the moment, Scott tells his mother their news.

Tessa only finds out when he comes home afterwards and attempts to confess it casually, as though it’s hardly anything. He comes into her house without a knock, pulling off his scarf and shrugging off his coat before he hangs both up beside her own in the hallway like he’s finally willing to play by her rules. And then he tells her, there on the threshold between the front door and the living room.

The arrogance of it, so unconcerned and cavalier, like their news is barely hers at all, prompts a flood of tears to rise up to the surface. The emotional imbalance unsteadies Tessa, making her feel as out of control as has become her new norm. Instantly, her face gets hot and her hands go clammy, and she can’t seem to muster the measured facade that has so often prevented a real, honest to God fight between them in the past.

“I needed her to know, T,” he explains, his loss of patience and faith plain to see. He seems to be taking the approach that if he says it with enough conviction, she’ll meekly accept it. The way his hand settles on his stomach, so clearly full up with his mother’s roast dinner as he draws in a deep breath, adds to her irritation as he continues, “And you’ve told Kate, so I thought–”

We told my mom. We told her together,” she snaps. It’s a cold, hard snap that feels both very unlike her and utterly impossible to withhold; it seems to catch him off-guard like the jumpscare snap of a twig being stepped on as it interrupts the still silence of a tension-building horror scene. With hormones flooding her body, it’s suddenly impossible to do anything but say what she means. The rest comes quick. “And you know it’s not the same. If you start telling your family, it’s just…” Her words run away from her and, before she can catch up, the match is lit.

Scott’s voice booms out of him, his fury ready to meet hers. “How long did you expect me to keep it a secret?”

“As long as I needed you to!” she shouts at full volume, her eyebrows so sharply drawn, they almost meet in the middle. Her words feel wild and unruly as she erupts. The fire between them had so frequently blazed into something sexual, or simmered in silence. This is something new: anger brewing to an argument, not transposed into some other form. The satisfaction of speaking her truth aloud feels fresh and exhilarating, the momentum of it compelling her to continue: “And you never talked to me! You never said, ‘I need to tell her!’ If you had, we could’ve figured it out. We could’ve talked about it. Stop acting like all I do is say no when the truth is you never even ask me!”

“I never ask because I know what you’ll say!”

“Maybe you don’t know me as well as you think, Scott.”

“Okay, then,” he starts, and the pause that follows unsettles her. He raises his eyebrows in a challenge and she knows he’s about to play dirty. Somehow – call it instinct, familiarity, cynicism – she knows to expect the low blow. “Will you marry me?”

Drawing back, Tessa spits out, “Scott! Seriously? Seriously not the time. No. No, I’m not gonna marry you. You’re an asshole.” She rolls her eyes at him, the motion of it clearing the threat of tears, before turning on her heels to head back towards the comfort of the living room.

“Turns out I know you about as well as I thought then.” He shrugs, clearly choosing to focus on his point being proven instead of her furious refusal as he stalks after her.

Something about the change of setting helps dull the mood, allowing Tessa to shift gears as she starts plumping the cushions just for something to do, an excuse not to look his way.  “I hate that I wasn’t there. I was scared but I was close to being ready, and now Alma’s gonna think–”

“She’s not gonna think anything. She knows… us,” he reminds her, his voice softer now, as though making the choice to keep in sync with her rather than drag the dispute out any further.

Quietly, her arms wrapping around one of the cushions before she sets it back down, Tessa asks, “Is she angry?” She turns to face him for the answer, unsure that the truth in a worst case scenario will be spoken aloud. She searches his eyes instead for that kind of honesty.

The transition of his mood and tone seems complete as he replies, tenderly, “No, she’s happy.”

“What did you tell her?”

“Only what I know. That we’re still figuring things out, that we’re terrified and excited and everything in between.”

Tessa draws in a deep breath, the inhalation carrying weeks’ worth of nervous tension. “What did she say?”

“She said she knows we’ll make good parents.” Scott then offers her a smile – something sweet and optimistic that feels like an olive branch. There’s a childlike innocence about it, about the way he repeats his mother’s words the way kids do, like it must be true because she is the authority on all matters. He wears that easy smile, so pleased with himself, as though he’s come back bearing good news: it is going to be okay, after all. And maybe that’s what she’s so upset about when it comes down to it: that her own mother had worn her characteristic restraint while his, comforting and hopeful, had been ready with reassurance that Tessa never got to hear firsthand.

The tears that had been sitting in her throat come flooding out, rushing down her cheeks like a dam breaking. Great wracking sobs burst out and he’s there, as quickly as the tears, pulling her tight to him and letting her body heave against his solid form.

His hand strokes soothingly up and down her back until, eventually, the wave passes and she’s able to catch her breath. Shared instinct finds them moving into an old hug. It’s a well-practiced ritual that offers comfort even now. His face finds her neck and her chin sits on the line of his shoulder as their breaths rise slowly together. She hears him whisper, “I’m sorry,” sad and defeated, before he places a featherlight kiss to her temple.

There have been many disagreements over the course of their history, so often manifesting in silent arguments that always ended with one of them walking away, always under the guise of giving the other breathing room. It was always tension without resolution. They’d simply wait for something more pressing to overshadow their conflict instead of addressing it.

This time, they come apart in anticipation of who’ll make the first move.

Instead of running away, however, their eyes meet as they draw out of the hug. Looking at him, all intensity and feeling, she finds connection instead of rejection, a mutual agreement to stay fucked up together because, really, they were never seeking out perfection anyway; what a reckless and pointless occupation that would be. A silent settlement passes between them, something like forgiveness, and she knows he’ll stay.

He’ll stay the night, make her breakfast, take her to tomorrow’s appointment and hold her hand. For now, that means forgiveness comes easily. And somewhere in the midst of those thoughts, the anger dissolves to nothing.

 

*

 

Scott’s at her house a lot, fixing and carrying and buying (every craving, every book, every item on Tessa’s frequently-updated list of essentials). He busies himself with countless sweet little things that don’t go unnoticed or unappreciated, even on the grey days that find her gazing at him and wondering if this is just what he’d wanted all along.

There are scrawled post-it notes waiting for her whenever he’s gone before she wakes. There are decaf coffees that always seem to preempt her craving. There are back rubs and foot massages and, more than once, he carries her sleeping form up to bed, tucks her in and presses a soft kiss to her forehead. He becomes what she needs, reminding her of the unspoken connection that ebbs and flows between them. Without a word, he can transfigure himself to fit inside the moulds she unknowingly creates in her mind; there is no call and response, only response. It’s non-verbal cues or glances that seem to lead him to all the right places and all the right answers.  

This new beginning feels nothing like their usual spring, though; that revived burst of first love is gone, giddy infatuation replaced instead by something mundane and unromantic. There’s no thrill to their closeness. It’s drained of its daring, the volatility of their dynamic now dulled. The stability of it, steady and even for the most part, brings a comfort. There are ripples of disquiet, but the water settles without a tide, its stillness allowing for reflection.

They haven’t had sex since they made the baby. They haven’t really kissed, either.

It’s as though their relationship has an exclusion filter on, flipping what once had coloured it into darkness, while the blank space has now vividly come to life. Reality, its already-protruding reminder now coming between them, douses whatever fire threatens to spark between them.

He proposes several times, both casually and seriously.

Sometimes he suggests it the way a person might suggest getting an extension on the house, or vacationing in Europe: something to consider. She refuses him or lets it pass unanswered, but there’s enough cautious uncertainty to keep his hope alive; for now, it’s simply too much, too fast. 22 years of instability overwhelms a mere two-month respite. Not now, but not never.

There’s no need to run before they can walk; an engagement would be akin to an Olympic pentathlon before they can walk. Truth be told, she’s still trying to figure out if together they can do anything but skate. Only one step at a time is manageable, with little shifts in their relationship unfolding organically: Scott staying in the spare room, Scott holding her hand at doctor’s appointments, Scott using ‘we’ when he tells his mother that “we’ll be there”. It’s all little by little, until eventually, with cool jelly tingling low across her softened, swelling stomach and the fuzzy picture of their growing baby right there and suddenly making it all seem so real, she finds herself ready to take a leap.

12 weeks in, the picture seems so much more vivid than it ever has before. The lines of the sketch are so much more defined, and there their little he or she is.

Scott sits close at her side, his hand squeezing hers with the same tension that once meant we can do this and I’m so proud of you; it still means everything it ever did. She draws her eyes away from the screen to look at him, to study the vulnerability in his face and remind herself that he feels it too: like he’s been cut open, like every feeling he’s ever felt is about to come pouring out, like maybe there’ll be nothing left of him if anything bad ever happens to this precious little person they’ve made together by accident.

Sensing her stare, he turns to meet her gaze and there, in his wide brown eyes, is the most wholesome, boundless love she’s ever seen. The pink waterlines that mark them out are a bed of tears and, as she notices, he laughs shyly, the motion of his chuckle prompting them to spill free. Looking at one another, all the heat that had once baked their little bun is transformed into an unfamiliar, effervescent happiness.

Scott leans in, putting his forehead to her temple. With his head rested against hers, she wonders if she’s ever felt so connected to another person, even Scott.

They get home still tingling with the euphoria of having just seen their baby, so alive and so real, and find themselves walking straight up to the spare room. It’s four bare walls and a bed, but it’s been marked as the baby’s nursery and suddenly, somehow, it feels like a necessary reconnaissance mission. Now, looking around the plain little space, its floor-to-ceiling white just waiting to be disrupted, it’s a spine-tingling sensation to think that someday soon there’ll be a new little person with them.

Tessa starts seeing all the little details she wants to add, flourishes for the walls and furniture for the baby, and it gives her renewed purpose to think of all the planning ahead. It’s a spark of energy jolting her out of what’s felt like a 12-week lethargy, and Scott seems to sense it, side-eyeing her with a sly smile pulling at his lips. She turns fully to face him and, for the first time in as long as she can remember, she feels whole. Perhaps it’s momentary relief rather than lasting release, but it feels like coming up for air.

She lets herself fall into his hug so that he’s holding her upright, his arms hanging loosely over her shoulders. Every nuance of his body language is anchoring and still; he’ll hold her up as long as she needs.

Their codependency heightens that day.

They make toasted sandwiches in the kitchen, they watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine episodes from under the same blanket, they play card games learned from long travel days on cramped buses. And then, before they’ve even noticed the veil of darkness that’s fallen outside, it’s late and she’s drifting off to sleep on the sofa beside him. As the paperweight of her limp hand falls from her lap, the pages of her book draw back together in a flurry. Distantly, she feels him dive in swiftly to pick it up, the contact stirring her eyes open to watch him. Having caught her place just in time, Scott carefully lays her bookmark inside the novel and sets it down on the coffee table.

When he notices she’s awake again, softly – so soft, it stirs a dizzying flutter somewhere deep inside her, he whispers, “Tess, you need to sleep.”

She nods, blinking heavily, and then holds her hand out for him to pull her up.

“Up you get. Come on,” he sing-songs, sighing as he helps her to her feet.

Taking him by surprise, Tessa then transforms the grasp of his hand into something else, something tender and affectionate. Her fingers curl around his and she looks at him, silently communicating the intention behind it, and then leads him upstairs.

“Stay with me tonight?” she asks as they reach the door to her bedroom: the crossroads. The path to this particular junction had been long enough to truly consider it, to weigh up the possible repercussions and complications against an urgent yearning to indulge in their enduring closeness.

“Tess?” She sees him swallow, sees him holding himself back as his hand loosens in hers. He’s transparent now; she can read the way he tells himself not to make any sudden movements, even in the dim light of the hallway.

Her voice thick with fatigue but buoyed by confidence, she says, “I just want to sleep.”

“Okay.”

And she lets his hand go. It’s his choice to make. It’s a step she’s ready for, a step she leads, but it’s up to him to follow – or not.

Tessa opens her bedroom door and begins to change out of her clothes and into the slouchy pyjamas that comfortably stretch over her little bump. She senses him lingering on the threshold of the room, and then his footsteps move closer. He walks around to the other side of the bed – his side, because some things will never change – and starts peeling off layers of his own without a word.

They only turn to face each other when they get in the bed. She slides under the sheets and he slides in on the other side, and they fall asleep like they’ve been married for 50 years.

 

*

 

They continue to sleep side by side once it happens.

No lines are crossed and most nights the centre of the bed is marked out by a body support pillow that’s getting more action than Scott.

In the early hours of the morning, when any hope of sleep seems to have abandoned her, she starts to wonder if the best thing for the baby would be an attempt at something platonic. Platonic can still be poetic, she decides. It’s something safer, almost certainly, and all she wants is for the little life inside her to be safe. Those aspects of their relationship that remain undefined and unconventional now come with a deadline. Platonic feels possible.  

That is, until she sees him again in the morning, his bright, scrunchy smile coming out like early sunlight, and her heart races. It’s as if there’s an alarm going off in her chest to remind her that this is the only love that’s ever felt real. He’s the only one who sets her heart on fire and makes it worth the pain. It’s him or a life less extraordinary. That’s the choice, she realizes. Even with a baby coming, threatening to change the very structure of them and who they are to each other, she can’t bring herself to give up the possibility of him or the hope that they can shape their relationship into something that’s built to last.

Perhaps it never worked because they were too scared of it. A person isn’t built to love so intensely, with the kind of inextricable connection that earns the investment of an entire nation. To be trusted with that kind of love is a scary thing. The only thing scarier is the prospect of letting it all fall apart this time, with a life growing inside her.

“We fucked it up,” Tessa says abruptly, snapping her hardback book shut one night as she’s sat up in bed with Scott lying beside her, turned the other way. Her eyes have been scanning the same page over and over, the words not registering as busy thoughts in her mind leap out onto the page instead. She’s got her bedside light on – Scott would sleep through a pyrotechnic show anyway – but the words just blur, a thousand worries spelled out in front of her in the place of literary prose. There are tears glistening on her eyelashes but she barely notices; her eyes blink heavily, a lack of sleep mixing dangerously with the twilight existentialism running through her head. She knows he’s awake too only because of the rhythm of his breathing, usually a steady cadence that lulls her to sleep long after he’s drifted off. “I think it’s my fault.”

“It’s not your fault,” he replies, immovable resolve cutting through the thick, rough grogginess in his voice.

“I was too scared to–”

“Yeah, and why were you scared, Tess?” He rolls over, looking up at her as though a look is all it’ll take to make his point. The guilt he carries meets hers, an old enemy finding in a new battlefield. Whatever fight he puts up lives in the subtext because all he says aloud is, “It’s not your fault.”

“I’m terrified we’re going to fuck this kid up as much as we’ve fucked up each other.”

“We won’t.”

“How do you know?” she resists, her delicate words permeated by melancholy rather than enmity. She doesn’t want to be arguing with him; she desperately wants him to be right.

“We got a few things right, eh? You and me going after the same thing together, a shared goal – nothing beats that, T.”

“This is… different.”

Scott tucks his chin tight to his chest, as though perhaps the answer he needs is concealed beneath the duvet. Careful over every syllable, like the hypothesis is still new and untested, he says, simply, “I think maybe it was time for something different, T.”

Tessa draws in a sharp breath. Maybe it was.

He edges closer, curling around her slightly, and she feels his hand sweep over her bump. It slides beneath her cami top to lay flat against her skin, his palm splayed in the pursuit of some physical connection. She closes her eyes to the contact before covering his hand with hers.

“Sometimes I hate you, you know,” Tessa whispers quietly, a wryness to her voice that she’s careful to show.

“Why?” he asks with only calm curiosity, not looking up.

“Because this is what you wanted, isn’t it? You get to have things all your own way.”

“Tess, I wanted you to be happy more than I wanted the rest of it. And it kills me – I mean, it keeps me up at night sometimes – to think that you wish this wasn’t happening, and maybe you’re keeping this baby because you feel bound to me or like you owe me something, or maybe you think it would’ve been… over, forever, if you hadn’t.”

Safely cloaked by the darkness of night, her small voice asks, “Would it have been?”

“It’ll never be over, Tess.”

She considers the breadth of his statement, a little winded by the implications – and yet it’s somehow exactly what she feels too, what she’s felt all along, now that she thinks about it. After a pause, she replies, “I think I knew that, deep down.”

“Did you ever think about–”

“No,” Tessa cuts him off, not wanting him to say it, but, more than that, knowing that it’ll burn in his throat if he even tries to.

The silence that follows is buzzing, loud, with the rush of thoughts she can hear exploding in his mind. Eventually, he breaks it with a simple, measured question: “Why?”

Tessa’s answer – when she searches her heart and finds, there, exactly the right words – surprises even her. “Because I knew that… as much as it was gonna be a mess and it was gonna be harder than anything we’ve ever done before, we could do it. I could do it. And I wanted it, underneath a landslide of other messy, contradictory feelings. You ,” and she delivers the word with all the warmth in the world, “are the man I wanted to raise my children with.”

His head turns upward to look at her and she hears the drag against the pillow, her own gaze lifting to meet his. She knows there’s vulnerability there, staring back at him; she’s conscious of her own filters and facades falling away. Tenderly, he places a hand to her cheek. It moves to brush away a lock of hair, and then he’s shifting forward to kiss her. His thumb sweeps along her bottom lip as he leans in, starting with a light press to her lips – barely anything – before Tessa yields to something deeper.

“I love you,” she tells him as he draws back to look at her set against the dimness of the scene, his eyes dancing over the details of her face without settling on any particular feature. “More than I hate you, I love you.”

 

*

 

The mirror becomes her adversary. There’s an ornate, full-length one looming ominously beside her wardrobe, torturing her at every glance, capturing the little changes she can’t control in cruel detail.

She vividly remembers, as a teenager, being warned of all the ways her body would change as it grew, of those dangerous pubescent evolutions that might halt her path. There was a very particular shape she would need to fit, and change – the unknown of it – threatened to overthrow her determined will to be elite. Not just elite, but unparalleled. So, when her height had stalled just below Scott’s and the sharp lines of her figure rounded out only a little, she’d felt relief. It was relief to hold onto the delusion of control a little longer, relief that the universe would bend to her will after all. It might not have been the waifish, featherlight figure that external voices were calling for, but her body was hers. Every muscle was earned, every scar a mark of dedication to the cause.

Now, she feels recast. So little of herself, the physical form she’s lived inside for 30-some years, seems to remain; it feels as though she’s been melted down and shaped into something entirely new, entirely detached from the person she once was. Each day closer to her due date feels, in a thousand guilt-inducing ways, another step further from herself, her new reality etching itself into her skin with every stretch mark.

Her body swells, bloats, stretches, transforms. In ways beyond her imagination. In ways that leave her wishing she’d only had a little more time with it as it had been, as it would never be again, she begins to accept. Because no matter how much she wishes the changes would stop coming, her body isn’t hers anymore; it belongs to her baby, whose changes and growth spurts she will one day come to measure and mark and celebrate.

She mutters little comments and asides to Scott that give away her torment in fragments. If he’s pieced the magnitude of it together, it goes unspoken.

He comes ready with words of his own, countering her casual self-deprecation with unabashed admiration. But she’s all too aware of the dulled warmth in his eyes where all that heat used to be, back when even brief glances had been enough to burn. There are gentle pecks in lieu of stirring, passionate kisses that could make her forget herself. There are friendly touches, restricted to her back or her hands, never venturing beyond the boundary of platonic. Whatever sense of daring had once permeated their every interaction – that charged intimacy that had always made her feel so confused but alive and herself, it fades into the backdrop of other concerns. It seems, increasingly, that her power over him is diffused before she can so much as send out a spark of electricity.

Scott no longer toys with the line between them; he no longer dances across it with the reckless, gleeful abandon of chalk-drawn hopscotch on the playground. There is his side and hers, in sleep and in waking.

It is at the end of a quiet day alone, as she feels the elastic of her pyjama pants straining over the bump, that she finally speaks to it.

“I’m so tired of not feeling like me,” Tessa sighs out. It’s almost a sob but it’s dry of tears.

Scott, who’d been shucking off his jeans to change for bed, turns at the sudden outburst and strides the length of the room to wrap her up in his arms. Her bowed head falls against his shoulder like the final puzzle piece falling into place. The picture that it forms must be exactly what he’d been trying not to see.

“T…” he says, the soft sound of a single letter overpowering any resistance she might have considered to his comforting embrace. Instead, it’s Scott who draws away first, pulling back to hold her face in his hands and ask, his eyebrows arching and forging worry lines across his forehead, “What can I do?”

The fact is that he can’t help her reclaim herself and he can’t help carry the load; it’s beyond the remit of their love for each other and she can’t blame him for that. But one look from Scott, a look not so different from this one, is at least capable of making her feel sexy, lithe, strong – like she’s his oasis in the desert. Like she’s fucking alive. Like the version of herself that had reeled him in a thousand times is still there, potent as ever.

Tessa leans forward, her hands drawing his face closer so that she doesn’t have to shift onto her tiptoes. She kisses him square on the mouth, a firm resolve to it, and whispers, somewhere in the middle of it all, “Just make me feel… like myself again.”

His forehead rests against hers as he catches his breath. She can almost hear the thoughts whirring through his head as he decides what to do next. But in the end, when the decision is made and his eyes find hers, she feels their connection relit. It’s like a burner igniting, the crackle almost audible. And it’s then that she sees that the spark had never been gone; he’d simply bottled the blaze, hiding it from her to avoid creating another complication. When he looks at her now, there’s a fire that burns right through her – for him, for how fucking alive she is, for how hot she feels with his eyes on her.

There’s a sudden feeling of boundless freedom because what’s the worst that can happen? She’s already pregnant.

For just this moment, for the first time, she is herself and pregnant at once.

His hands move down the line of her body in a way she hasn’t felt since this chapter began. It’s hunger, the permission for release now granted.

They kiss their way to the bed, haphazardly dispensing of clothes en route. The giddy carelessness of their undressing – tops gone, only sleep shorts and boxers left – makes her feel like a teenager again; the thrill of it seems to relieve every symptom of the little secret that lingers between them – a physical buffer, even now. “You okay?” he seems to ask breathlessly over and over, so concerned it makes her want to shove him onto the bed just to prove a point.

“M’fine,” she manages to moan in response as the backs of his legs hit the mattress, forcing him to sit on the edge.

He falls to a seat and Tessa takes it as her cue to wordlessly climb into his lap. She ends up not as close as she’d like, with her bump protruding awkwardly between them, but she doesn’t have time to think before he’s leaning forward, brushing his lips to the side of her neck. There, just there, at the spot below her ear, where the skin is so sensitive that it sends the feeling of his touch to every nerve-ending, he kisses away any hope of clear thought with torturous tenderness.

The sensation leaves her shaking, tremors of delicious stimulation echoing through her body as he reacquaints himself with every learned inch of her. His hands run teasingly up the sides of her legs, playing with the hem of her shorts. On certain strokes, they move beneath the fabric, near-palming her ass but never quite going the distance. It’s a rhythmic, aching torture until, eventually, he moves one hand to her centre. Their lips meet as he begins teasing her through layers of cotton that now feel like a hindrance. She feels ready to blow up every boundary between them, to obliterate it all until there’s nothing left but the two of them: rags and debris on the wind.

She can’t help the way her thighs tighten like a vice clamping around him; it’s reflexive. The heat building from deep within takes hold, refusing to let him ease up. She holds him there, between her legs, right where she wants him – right where she needs him.

(Just then, it becomes very clear how their little accident happened.)

Tessa’s hands move roughly through his disheveled mop of hair as he touches her, desperately pulling him into a kiss that grows only more ragged and desperate. His mouth captures the hitching of her breath as he brushes over her clit through her underwear and the moan she lets out when his fingers finally give enough pressure to offer her relief. Eventually, she locks her hands into the hair low at the back of his neck, pulling away from his kiss to release a whimper at his ministrations.

“Need you,” she hears herself plead. “Can’t… like this…”

“Spooning?” he suggests, voice low and rough and not helping her recover even a little, and it seems nothing short of miraculous that he can think clearly enough to come up with any kind of solution.

Tessa moans her agreement and lifts off him, sliding down her sleep shorts before moving onto the mattress to lie on her side. When she feels him settle close behind, she quickly reaches back to bring him flush up against her. He’s quick to respond to her touch, moving to line himself up, his lips quick to kiss along the line of her shoulder.

“Not my boobs,” Tessa whispers breathlessly as his hand moves up over her stomach. “Too sore.” She’s tilting her head back to allow him better access to her neck as he buries his face there, sucking and biting with every intention of leaving a mark, and his hand takes a new path, venturing lower to tease along the waistline of her underwear.

A gasp escapes her as she feels his touch move beneath the thin cotton, before she drags out a long, grateful, “Yessss.”

Tessa is certain he can feel her wetness instantly, the mere thought of it amplifying her arousal. He’d probably felt it through her pyjamas as he’d worked his fingers against her, but now the brief moment of cognizance, of knowing he can feel just how much she wants him, overwhelms her – so much so, she’s not entirely lucid as she rolls her hips against him, shifting back and rubbing her ass against the weakest part of him, his hardness felt unambiguously through boxers and panties.

She shifts to pull her underwear away, dragging the fabric against her bed sheet until her legs come free. There’s something oddly liberating about it, some new freedom to letting herself have exactly what she wants now – naked and keyed up and, despite all efforts to the contrary, still hopelessly in love with Scott Moir.  

He moans into the hollow of her neck as she rubs her ass against him with unwavering purpose, and then his hand moves from between her legs and she feels his boxers shift away until it’s just him. It’s just Scott, lining himself up as she leans forward to make it easier, and then he’s thrusting – gently, cautiously, slowly – into her.

He fills her and, as he moves his hand back to rub her swollen clit, she can’t suppress a sob of wild relief. It escapes like a hiccup: no control.

Tessa keens and arches against him as he moves to repeat the motion, her hand reaching back to knead his ass encouragingly as he finds a comfortable rhythm. She seeks out every bit of skin-to-skin contact she can have, wanting to be joined with him in every way possible. It’s only here, on the axis of their love, that she feels free to let herself go. The second thrust proves to be every bit as glorious as the first: deeper and harder, in perfect time with the stirring movements of his hands and the sloppy placements of his kisses.

Every part of her is hypersensitive to his touch, every feeling heightened by their period of abstinence.

It’s not long before she feels the wave of pleasure building to climax, the prelude to it blocking out every sight and sound. Her only sense is of him moving inside her, his pace building as her walls clench around him.

They’ve fucked over and over, a confused sequence of accidents and intention. It’s all felt like practice for this, for this moment when she needs to feel every bit a woman and be loved, in the physical sense, by a partner who knows exactly how to make her feel just that.

Eventually, she comes undone at his touch. Scott finds just the right pressure against her clit, fingers working her with the kind of single-minded determination that won him an Olympic gold medal at 30 years old. It’s a fucking competition to him, she can’t help but think. It’s equal parts gratitude and incredulity. But he fucking wins. He wins again.

Their rhythm continues until he follows her into release, her body still humming in ecstasy as he joins her there. She feels it when it comes for him, a second, lesser wave hitting her in perfect time as she feels Scott all but collapse against her.

“Still hate me?” he asks as they fall apart, a smirk on his lips.

Feeling gloriously sated, she laughs a deep, whole-body laugh, the release of it as unrestrained as her orgasm, before she centres her attention on him again, holding his face against hers. “Absolutely,” she replies and kisses him roughly then, lips and tongues taking all that’s left of each other.

 

*

 

There are certain undeniable contradictions that Tessa carries with her. They grow inside her like the baby in her womb, becoming ever more undeniable with the passage of time. In the words of Walt Whitman: she is large, she contains multitudes.

There is wanting this child with absolute clarity, the lines of definition getting sharper with every scan, but there is also the murky, confused yearning to start over that persists. She thinks if only she could retrace the lines clearly, with none of the smudges and blemishes that shade their picture. And yet, there's Scott. Scott, who smiles with the bright confidence of a man who'd frame and hang that same picture in pride of place, no matter how dark it got. It could be a charcoal shadow and, still, he'd only see only colour.

She learns, in time, to see through his lens.

It starts with pretending. It starts with learning how to be happy enough to satisfy the interest of others.

She learns to cover the blemishes. She reserves the fear and confusion and pain of it for moments of isolation, saving it all up for when she's alone or alone with him, when she's allowed to fall apart. She's not allowed to fall apart in front of other people; she's learned that from a past life, one where composure and dignity and image had been everything. That was the medal, wasn't it? The rewards were a measure of who could put themselves through the most pain while still wearing a smile. Even in retirement, that particular smile comes in handy. For Tessa, pretending to be fine had become a finely-honed skill, learned the hard way.

There is no public acknowledgement of their news. Three months, four months, five months, six months pass her by, and still she decides to protect their secret from tabloid speculation and social media commentary. That’s something Scott doesn’t fight at all; his fear of their unborn child becoming a commodity is as great as hers. The problem is that it proves isolating the more physically evident the news becomes. Her public identity disappears – reduced to old photos that lack the obligatory throwback hashtag (in the hope of innocent deception) and occasional tweets that avoid the topic. She’s artful about it, finding creative ways to maintain a presence, but the change of pace is an adjustment. She quickly finds herself planning more than doing.

In private moments – family parties, weddings, gatherings – she carefully dodges the camera or respectfully asks not to pose for the group photo. It’s a step just to come with him, to attend together. Because they are, to all intents and purposes, together. They’ve got nothing to lose when the receipt of their relationship is there, so conspicuously, undeniably there, stretching out the fabric of her clothes.

The discretion of their loved ones is all they have to rely on.

On a late-August afternoon in Ilderton, the hot sun beating down on Tessa’s alabaster skin, it is the prying eyes of other people that burn her most. It isn’t their first attempt at this, at a privately public togetherness. She can feel their attention fixed at her middle, still not used to it – or her. Her presence here remains a novelty. It’s a nervous attempt at a new approach, one where both parties feel equally wary, equally anxious. She knows she has to try though, to attempt a united front for the sake of appearing intentioned and composed in everything that is to follow. She accepts the importance of participating in these parts of his world so that they don’t abruptly flip from nothing to an omnipresent nuclear family. There must be a transition.

As summer begins to move steadily towards autumn, she begins to move further into his sphere. She marks out a place for herself in this part of his life, fighting every instinct she has to hide away.

Instead, she stands by his side and tries to duplicate the feeling she’d always had with him on the ice: a rightness with the world, a sense of belonging. Something like a partnership.

It’s as they stand together on his parents’ lawn, Tessa biting her lip so as not to voice her concerns to Scott, that one of his cousins approaches her with a warm smile and the suggestion of a family photo. As she explains her refusal, succinct and careful with her words, his steady palm splays over her collarbone, his thumb rested in the crook of her neck. It turns her to dust against his touch, the cut of her dress leaving her skin exposed to it.

It’s a reminder that he’s behind her. He’s there, backing everything she says as she offers her excuses and apologies. Some things are still too much, too soon.

When they’re alone again, added reassurance follows in the form of a sweet, little peck of a kiss to her neck. She quickly turns to face him, knowing with absolute certainty that he’ll be ready to sweep her up in a comforting embrace. She can’t exactly put her finger on why she needs it, but she does. And he knows as much too, his arms welcoming her into a hug. It’s a hug they’ve developed since the stick had shown up positive all those months ago, one where she gives the weight of herself over to him completely and lets him hold her up.

Despite her silence on the matter and his natural penchant for partying, Scott senses enough of her self-consciousness to stay close.

Alma lingers nearby too, with the same devoted protectiveness as a maternal dolphin circling her young. One or both of them remain with Tessa throughout the party, fussing with unnecessary devotion. Often, their body language implies the intimacy of a confession – something she puts down to a concerted effort to prevent others from making awkward conversation and asking uncomfortable questions.

Only when Scott drifts into the main throng of people, leaving her alone with his mother, does the confession truly come to pass. They’re sitting on fold-out lawn chairs with half-cups of orange juice in their hands that Scott’s brothers had dotingly delivered, when Alma turns to her with a serious look in her eye before saying, with a tired, heavy tone, “I want to apologize to you, Tessa.”

“To me?”

“For how I reacted when Scotty told me.”

Tessa manages to suppress any register of surprise from her expression, staying quiet and letting Alma continue. Even if she had betrayed the shock of it, Scott’s mother doesn’t look up once, instead staring intently into the plastic cup in her hand. It’s as though she’s hidden the words inside it, the script of an apology that Tessa didn’t even know she was owed.

“At first, I was just so worried about how you’d adapt. You weren’t even really together, and it wasn’t what I pictured for… for my son. Or for you. I didn’t… I didn’t handle it great. But it’s important to me that you know: it wasn’t fair, how I was. When have you two ever found a challenge you couldn’t meet, right?” As she says it, Alma gives a strange, dry laugh; the sound is too melancholy to carry any hint of humour. And then she looks up, finally, blinking back tears as she finishes, “I was wrong and I’m so sorry.”

“It’s… okay,” is all Tessa can think to reply, her hand moving to Alma’s forearm to offer soothing strokes. “It’s okay. I understand.”

The truth is, she understands all too well.

She doesn’t catch her breath again until she sneaks away to the sanctuary of Scott’s childhood bedroom, adorned with less Maple Leafs memorabilia than she remembers but still the same mismatched furniture. There, she’s alone with it. She can sit on the edge of his bed and take it in: the fact that he’d lied about his mother, the fact that no one had believed in them at the start. No one. Not his mother, not her mother, not her. But then there’d been him, smiling, beaming at her with all that confidence as he’d reassured her they’d make good parents. Those had been his mother’s words, she’d accepted without question.

It’s strange. The first time she’d fallen in love with Scott Moir, he’d been a baby-faced nine-year-old boy with a broad, cheeky smile and boundless energy. He’d taken her hand with more care than she had anticipated at seven years old and then just held on.

Later, he’d let go and she’d let go too. They’d fallen in and out of love with a frequency that any reasonable person might consider careless.

It is in this small box room, where that same boy had long ago handwritten a note to her next to his photograph, that she falls in love with him for the last time. This time it happens, it feels utterly different. The falling of it goes as soon as it comes; she’d fallen, and she’d landed. Instead of being stuck inside a verb – falling and falling and falling, always with the fear of a crash landing – she finds that she’s already landed on her feet.

When she hears a gentle little knock before Scott’s head pokes around the door with a smile, it seems to mark the end of something. The end of an argument she hadn’t realized they were still in.

“Hey,” he greets her. “You okay in here?”

“Just needed a little break,” she explains before gesturing him over. “Baby’s kicking.”

“Oh yeah?” He practically skips the three steps over to his bed, settling hip-to-hip with Tessa and giving his hand over to her to place over her bump.

“Feel that?”

“Yeah,” he replies, sounding just as mystified as he had the very first time he’d felt a faint flutter. These days it’s a definitive kick. “I never get used to this.”

She laughs faintly as her eyes scan over his face. The permanence of this love, its steadiness after a lifetime’s unrest, feels affirmed by the uncomplicated joy that’s written in his expression. When he catches her watching him, Scott’s lips curl to a smile and then he kisses her – something quick and daring. She’s quick to respond, transforming it into more as her hand curls around his ear, toying with the thick hair that’s growing long there.

“I love you,” he says, just as she thinks it herself.

“Thank you,” is what comes out in response. Quiet as a whisper, the words dancing out on a delicate pointe, she asks, “Will you lie down with me for a little while?”

“As long as you need,” he replies, his hand sweeping over her back before they shift fully onto the mattress to lie face-to-face on his old single bed.

In the end, the final phase of love between them – acceptance – is marked by a little white lie.

 

*

 

Tessa’s sat up against a wall of pillows at the head of her bed with Scott lying on his side next to her. He’s facing her, his eyes closed as she absentmindedly runs a hand through his hair. She’s got a baby book lying half-open in front of her, but her mind is making leaps and bounds from the pages, running off into its own directions: boy or girl, will they be healthy, who will they look like? The outline of their future is a colouring book just waiting to be filled in.

Lately, the reality of it has started to hit her. A series of little assaults of sudden hyper-awareness thrown her way, like a game of emotional dodgeball. There are earmarked cots and prams and car seats that she’s not yet ready to buy, and then there are the unisex rompers gifted from over-eager family members, folded neatly into a box she’s not ready to open again.

But books she can do.

Reading and reading and reading, methodically working her way through the research to inform herself of every possible approach in search of the right one for them: that’s something she can do. With her glasses sitting on the bridge of her nose, only just starting to ache now, she’s leafing through one of the parenting guides she’s read before, settling only on the pages she’s attached notes to. Notes that say, ‘need to buy this’ or ‘ask mom’ or, simply, ‘Scott’.

She’s too tired to take in new information. She’s figured out that the scary details are all the more terrifying at this late hour, the decisions all the more daunting. Instead, interrupting the comfortable silence and knowing it’ll stir him from the half-sleep he’s drifted into, she asks, “Any thoughts on a name?”

Scott shifts closer before his eyes open, reaching out to lay his hand on her bump. It’s as if he’s worried about talking about the baby like it’s not in the room, like he wants to anchor himself to the reality of it, because whenever they talk names, it feels hypothetical still. It feels the way it felt when they were kids and playing a game of MASH and making up whole futures, barely considering the real consequences.

His words weighed down by drowsiness, Scott replies, “What about… Buzz… or Buster?”

“Buzz Moir,” she repeats, her tone spelling out her refusal without any need to articulate further.

“I want it to be like… kapow.” He gesticulates by fanning his hands out in a flash.

She raises an eyebrow. “Oh, Kapow Moir?”

Scott laughs the way he always does when they’re silly like this, throwing his whole body forward so that she barely has time to catch the way his eyes crease and his nose scrunches. “Kapow Moir sounds great. I think we can probably stop the search now, eh?”

The corners of her mouth give away a smile, but just barely, before she says dryly, “Let’s see if we can come up with a few others, just so we have options. The baby might not look like a Kapow.”

“What about Ariel for a girl?” Before she can object, he defends himself. “You love The Little Mermaid!”

“And you love Shrek, Scott, but we’re not naming our kid after him!” she says with a laugh. “Is that where Buzz came from? You’re stuck on kids’ movies?”

“No, I was thinking… we might have a cute little water baby,” he explains, his voice dreamy in a way that makes her stomach flutter. “What about something like River or Lake or–”

“–Marina?”

“Okay, I take that back. She’s not a water baby.”

Tessa cackles, a big, loud laugh exploding out of her in a burst of wicked delight. It’s one of those laughs that blows away the dust. A laugh big enough to knock over every hurdle in their path.

He continues reeling off a list of questionable suggestions, offered with increasingly blatant intent to make her laugh again. She manages to listen to a series of words that connote every variation of red – Rose, Scarlett, Ruby, Rowan, Maple – before interrupting him to say, “Shall we just call this baby Red Windmill Moir and be done with it?”

Scott smiles up at her, his hair fluffing at the motion of it against his pillow. “So, is that a no to Carmen too, then?”

“That’s a horrifying thought.”

“And that’s coming from the person who threw Marina into the conversation,” he reminds her, dropping his head to nuzzle into her shoulder.

Tessa sets her book down on the nightstand and brings her hand around to sweep along the side of his face. She likes him there, likes the way he folds around her when they lie like this, likes the warmth in his eyes when she seeks them out. She’s looking down at him, eyebrows raised, as she replies, “Okay, you make a fair point. But, listen, I’m vetoing anything related to work.”

“But you love work,” he murmurs, and it teeters so close to a whine, she has to laugh.

“I do love work. I’m still not naming our child Carmen, Scott.”

“Nivea? That sounds like a name.”

“No.”

“What about something ice-related?”

“No.”

“What about Winter? Or North?”

“As in North West?”

“I guess.” He screws up his face as she laughs at his confusion, his obliviousness plain to see.

“We’re not Kim and Kanye.”

Scott doesn’t seem to know quite what to make of that assertion, instead quickly directing his attention to other ideas. “Elsa? She’s an ice princess, right?”

“And you’re back to Disney movies,” Tessa sighs.

“Or Jack?”

“I like Jack,” she concedes, a thoughtful frown forming at her lips. “It’s short and sweet. Something classic.”

“Like Jack Frost.”  

Tessa huffs out another dramatic sigh. “Really, Scott? I thought we had something there.”

“Okay, kiddo,” he says, his voice getting softer and quieter as his face moves further into her neck. She can feel his breath warming her skin there, bringing goosebumps to the surface. “Not Jack Frost. But maybe Jack. If it’s a boy.” As an afterthought, Scott adds, “Sounds like an old newspaper guy.” He puts on an old-timey, 50s movie star voice to do his best impersonation: “‘Jack Moir, London Daily News. I’m gonna blow this story wiiiide open.’”

Tessa’s still stuck on if it’s a boy. Because that’s when it hits her. There’s really going to be a little person that’s all them and all theirs.

Instead of worrying about horror stories of childbirth or persistent nightmares of her baby coming to harm or unfounded fears of accidentally raising a bad kid, she falls asleep thinking about Baby Kapow. She drifts off with Scott’s hand still rested over the bump at her midriff, the little one inside her dancing its heart out the way she’s grown used to every time she settles into stillness. It’s as though just when she’s resting, the baby comes most vividly to life, never giving Tessa a moment to forget them or, as she thinks gratefully, a moment to ponder the worst.

It feels, for just a moment as she hovers in that limbo between consciousness and dreaming, like maybe she can still have everything she wants after all. Not all at the same time, perhaps. Not all on her perfectly prepared timeline. But nothing is any less possible really.

Her child is a blank canvas. Still yet to be named, he or she has a whole identity waiting to be carved out. You can be anything you dream of, Tessa thinks consciously, hoping it’ll permeate their little soul by osmosis, and she knows she’ll be whispering those same words to her child when they’re embedded in the cradle of her arms, when they’re rushing off for their first day of school, when they’re surrounded by college prospectuses. She knows she’ll tell them it every chance she gets.

They can be anything they dream of. And so can I.  

 

*

 

There was once a time, a time not so long ago (well-documented and scrutinized with such an avid intensity that the moments themselves were eroded), when Scott could make her feel like she was flying. She was a bird soaring, higher and higher on a gust of her own momentum. She’d felt weightless, gliding through the air with such grace, it looked effortless, elegant, ethereal.

When she closes her eyes, she can transport herself back to that feeling.

She remembers the air whipping around her, catching her hair and the skirt of her costume on the wind. The way the sound echoes around the rink, the whoosh of blades carving out perfect lines under his feet as she circles above. The lightness of moving through the air as her core supplements the strength Scott uses to support her, his hands moving and moving and moving – constantly redistributing her weight from the moment her skates leave the ground to her smooth descent.

It returns to her so fresh and vivid, the memory almost comes to life again. It’s almost capable of swallowing her up and letting her fly again, fly and fly and fly away with Scott as her wings.

When she opens her eyes to see the same four walls of her house and not the sharp, fresh air of a busy ice rink, her heart sinks to remember the difficulty of simply walking on solid ground. Every step feels weighed down by lead.

The last trimester sucks the energy and the optimism out of her all over again. Any pep she’d recovered is now drained completely. In many ways, it feels worse than the first one had. The congestion and fatigue and that pressure low on her pelvis, like she might just break in two every time she takes a step, all feels like punishment. There are migraines, too – so bad she can’t open her eyes for hours. Instead, she lies down in her bedroom with the lights off and waits it out.

Scott’s punishment is simply to notice her mouth tighten and eyebrows narrow, watching her endure it with the same grit that had got her through the compartment syndrome. His doesn’t feel like enough; it doesn’t feel like parity. The burden of pain – physical and sharp and unrelenting – always seems to fall on her.

While she tries to suppress it all and maintain composure, Scott’s approach is to amplify the positives. His dominant emotion is an overflowing well of nervous, giddy excitement. He gets to live with the kaleidoscopic freedom of not having to carry it with him in every step.

In rare moments of peace, when her emails are answered, her work is done and the aching is relieved, she settles her hand over her bump and allows the excitement of what’s to come bubble up. Tessa can see the brightness in his eyes when he catches her, sharing a warm smile from across the room to acknowledge it. That becomes an incentive. That becomes motivation to hold onto something good, even when she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to stand up again, even when she has to in spite of that feeling because, suddenly, her bladder is screaming for release.

She wonders sometimes if it’s the tide of his joy that carries her. She tries not to wonder.

Those are the days she decides that she hates him the most. She needs to hate him. She needs to direct every unique ache into something: a potent resentment that keeps her in control.

He makes it hard. The way he brings her carefully prepared meals or water or the disgusting food combinations she craves, makes the calls she can't, fills in for her at obligatory events that linger in her diary long after the commitment’s been made – his life suspends itself to accommodate hers. And she finds that what she hates most of all is how impossible it is to hate a man who promises her his whole life and then follows through.

It’s as he’s unloading the groceries, barely having placed it down on the counter before she’s polished off a pickle and a half-bar of dark chocolate in quick succession, Tessa watches him move around her kitchen. She’s leaning her weight on the counter, forearms stretching out in the space between herself and the brown bags full of groceries, as he pretends not to notice her impatient curiosity. She can tell he’s intentionally keeping his back to her, giving her more time to steal whatever food she’s craving straight out of the bag. It’s a strange, familiar routine.

“Hey, can I ask you something?” she says, interrupting their happy quiet.

Scott’s head snaps around the way it does when she lets out a little moan of pain.

“I talked to your mom. A while ago. At that anniversary party,” she starts, the admission seeping slowly out of her, delayed in an attempt to see if its significance registers in his mind before she has to spell it out. He gives nothing away. “And, umm, she apologized to me for how she reacted... to the pregnancy.”

She sees it then. She sees the glint in his eye fade, his jaw grinding.

“But you smiled at me so confidently when you said she was happy for us, that she thought we could do it,” Tessa continues, her words spoken carefully and without accusation. “You really made me believe it. And even when I was upset with you for not letting me–”

He falters, grasping fruitlessly for the right explanation. “I’m sorry, I–”

“I understand why you lied, Scott. I do.”

“But?” he asks.

She takes in a deep breath. The kind that comes with a count, lips pursing to suck in the air and then puff it out again. Quietly, with a dreamy softness that betrays the vulnerability she feels, she says, “But you smiled like… she’d made you feel so much better, and I don’t know how I didn’t see through it.”

He doesn’t reply. He just looks back at her, his eyes studying hers, the fractures of his own heart plain to see there. “Tess,” is all he says in the end.  

And there’s that word again. The one he always gets stuck on.

I need more, she pleads with him, never saying it aloud. I need more than the way you say my name.

Scott steps closer, his sneakers squeaking against fresh white floor tiles she’s cleaned twice in the last week just for something to do. Before long, he’s looming large over her hunched frame, his hand stroking circles across her back. When he stills there, she wonders if that’s it. Maybe that’s the conversation. There’s more unpacking to do, cold food to refrigerate, dinner to prepare.

Instead of walking away and busying himself with newly-summoned chores, though, he stays. He edges nearer still, moving a hand to her cheek with such care, it ghosts over her skin before settling. “T, when it seemed like she’d made me feel better, that wasn’t a lie. I just… I knew the moment she started asking all those questions. I knew. I didn’t need anyone to tell me we could do it because the moment I had to defend it all, I just… knew. I knew we had it.”

“You really–”

“Tess, it was the comeback turned up to 11. It was everyone saying it was the wrong call versus me and you. Me and you who said fuck it and did it anyway, me and you who won every one of them over in the end. Me and you,” he repeats one more time, sounding it out like a battle cry. He kisses her, then. His hand moves to curl around her ear, fingertips lost in her hair, and he pulls her lips to his with urgent resolve.

“Me and you,” she returns, finding the words easily as her forehead meets his.

Scott draws back to look at her and she feels his eyes brush over her face as if to check she’s truly convinced. That’s when his mouth quirks up at one side and he says, “I know this is a bad time to mention it but… your breath is actually shocking right now. How many pickles did you eat?”

“No. It was only one!”

“That is one powerful pickle, T.”

“Scott!” she whines, swatting his chest as he breaks away from their embrace.

“No, no,” he resists, smiling a most infectious smile. “Listen.” There’s a shift in his tone as he draws her back in. “Why don’t we just… trust ourselves? The way we do on the ice. I know that you’ll do everything you can for a program, right? And you know I’ll do everything I can. And if we fall, we get back up. If one of us makes a mistake, the other one helps them find their place again. I know we haven’t got a lot of practice raising a kid, but we’ve got plenty of practice at trusting each other, eh?”

Just then, as his words cut straight to her heart, she muses on this secret language they share. If in doubt, they have the safety of a lifelong partnership to fall back on. For so long – for forever, really – she’d thought of the magnitude of it only in terms of what they were risking; only now does it occur to her that it could be their foundation.

It’s been their foundation for greatness, excellence, gold.

Why should it not also be the foundation of a lasting love, something defined and conventional? It’s familiarity transposed into family.

The thought allows her to accept the differences between them, the knowledge that he won’t always make the choices that she would but it’s just his way. As valid as hers. A different route to the same end: an attempt at becoming the best parent he knows how to be. If she can work with that, it gives her hope that she might someday learn to let go of her own mistakes too.

Later, when she sneaks away to the nursery just to sit in it for a while and daydream about all that’s to come, Tessa sings along with the quiet, lilting lullaby of Joni Mitchell. It’s playing from the tinny speakers of the phone she’s propped up on the changing table, the sound bouncing off the hardwood surface. She thinks only of Scott, of the belief he’d found only in his own heart on that day many months ago and of his ability to sweep her up in it.

You said, Love is touching souls.’ Surely you touched mine, because part of you pours out of me. Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine, you taste so bitter and so sweet.”

 

*

 

The day of her due date brings with it a flurry of early snow.

It comes and it goes, but the snow remains. From then on, each morning they wake to a fresh blanket of white on the front drive and each morning Scott gets up bright and early to shovel it.

The first time, she watches him from the window, confident in the belief that the baby isn’t close to coming and unable to convince him of the fact. She’s right, and she’s right on every day that follows, until it’s 10 days later and there’s still no sign of a little Moir. Her experience with Moir timekeeping never was too good.

Undeterred by the wait, Scott’s determination endures and every day, often before she’s stirred (because her increasing discomfort keeps her awake until the very early hours), he goes outside clad in his Team Canada puffer jacket, some thick jogging pants and big red gloves, with his trusty shovel in hand. It becomes his routine, as unremarkable as brushing his teeth or making her a morning smoothie.

In the end, his devotion to the cause goes unrewarded.

Tessa’s water breaks somewhere on the path to a twilight toilet trip.

At first it doesn’t feel quite as she’d imagined, but as she pads back to bed and shifts onto the mattress, the sheer amount of fluid escalates from a leak to a gush. Those cramps she’d been wilfully ignoring without comment are suddenly put into context.

When she looks at the clock, the lights blur until she fumbles for her glasses to make out 03:26. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she turns to nudge Scott awake and notices just how tired he looks. His limbs lie heavy, as if he’d just passed out on the spot, and his face is turned into the pillow with his mouth drooping open. There’s no hint of movement, no sign of life at all bar the faint growls of his snoring.  

Before she disturbs him, Tessa takes a minute to take him in as he is: cozy and beautiful, despite obvious exhaustion. It’s tiredness entirely earned through concern, concern born of love: for her and for their child. In this quiet moment, on the eve of seismic change, she feels a swell of affection that develops a mental snapshot. She takes a picture in her mind, then presses her eyes closed with the hard immediacy of a camera shutter closing as she feels a contraction. The pain of this one feels so much more acute now that there’s certainty to its diagnosis, now that it absolutely isn’t just another false alarm.

This is it.

This is the turning point, the moment that will split her life into before and after. Her relationship with Scott will come to exist in two halves that are cleanly sliced down the middle by the upheaval of this milestone.

Tessa sweeps her forefinger along his forehead, moving mussed, fluffy hair from his face as she says, sweet and calm as she can manage with a rush of anxiety pumping around her body, “Scott. Can you wake up?”

He jolts to attention, startling like Jack-in-the-box to sit up as he hurriedly blurts out, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I think so. I, umm… I think we’re having a baby.”

He blinks a few times, looking blankly back at her.

“We’re having a baby now, Scott,” she adds, for clarification.

Swiftly, he’s up and moving without direction. As Tessa checks over the bag she’s packed and unpacked multiple times over, filled with little souvenirs of (mostly unsolicited) advice from loved ones who are already in this club she’s about to join, Scott heads downstairs.

Bleary-eyed and still not fully conscious, he runs outside in a t-shirt, pyjama bottoms and a pair of old slippers (no socks) to panic-shovel the snow that had built up overnight. With the sun not having risen yet, the dark grey half-light of early morning forces him to momentarily reverse course and run back into the house to switch on the outside light. The sudden illumination proves that it’s far from an avalanche out there, but nonetheless, he begins working to clear the path between the car and the gate, cautiously checking for signs of ice on the walkway too.

Tessa comes down to find him still hard at work, having reassembled her hospital bag, briefly stepped into the shower, changed into fresh clothes and put a modest amount of makeup on. Stepping into the doorway, she can feel the cold breath of the early morning mist settling over skin; she can feel her face throb as the stark temperature turns it a bright shade of pink. She hovers there, on the threshold of the house, propping herself against the frame as another contraction – the most intense yet – hits her in a wave. She grits her teeth through it and then returns her attention to Scott’s efforts.

He’s not shovelling for any particular reason now. The path’s entirely clear.

She watches him keep moving, lost inside the frenzied repetition of the action. Eventually, she calls out, softly, “I think… I think we’re good. In terms of the snow.”

With words fragmented by the physical labour of digging and moving each mound of it, he replies, “I had… I had it all… under… control. I thought… it would just be… a clear… path… to the hospital. Roads’ll be okay… mostly… busy streets… but… this is... not… what I planned…”

He’s practically talking to himself.

“Scott,” she calls out, but then she’s cut off by another contraction. Tessa just about manages to talk through it, grimacing as she replies, “I don’t think the baby read your plan.”

Noticing her anguish brings him out of his daze in an instant. It’s as though she’s clicked her fingers and he’s back in the room, rushing to her side to help her back into the house.

“It’s fine, I’m fine,” she insists as she recovers, as though returned to herself the moment the contraction passes. “But they’re quite close together. I think we just need to go to the hospital. My mom’s gonna meet us there.”

“Yeah,” he says, nodding repeatedly. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Okay.”

They end up stood there looking at each other, together on the edge of this terrifying precipice.

“You good?” she asks him, sighing out a deep breath.

Scott laughs a little, rolling his head. He swipes his hand across his face and when it clears, she’s greeted with a bright smile. “I should be asking you that.”

“I’ve got amniotic fluid gushing out of me, these contractions are really something, and there was just a crazy guy shovelling snow on my drive,” Tessa replies. A sense of calm settles over her before she adds, “But I’m ready to have this baby.”

When she does, when at last she’s delivering after what feels like days but is only a modest 11 hours (lived on ice chips and no sleep), she hears the sharpest, loudest cry. It’s a sound like nothing she’s ever heard before, the piercing crackle of it echoing harshly in her eardrums but, thanks to a glorious cocktail of hormones and medication, it translates as birdsong, as melody, as the finest, richest sound on earth. It’s Bach, it’s Mozart, it’s Mahler. The baby sings out, with lungs erupting like a volcano that’s been building pressure for nine months.

It’s a girl. There’s a feeling of inevitability when she hears those words, as if, of course, of course it is. And just like that, she’s a mother and she has a daughter. She has a family.

Her life changes in an instant.

It narrows to just a single small, perfect thing. It broadens to all the world’s ills that could someday threaten that same small, perfect thing. This is her centre now; it all revolves around this.

When they place all eight pounds, five ounces of her in Tessa’s arms, there’s a rightness to the world like nothing she’s ever known before. The rush of emotions – with the unrelenting thrum of a washing machine set to a full cycle – makes every podium pale in comparison. She kisses her lips to her daughter’s rosy forehead and whispers, “Hello.” Through a sob of laughter, Tessa says, “I’m Mommy.”

She feels Scott’s hand on the back of her head before he leans over them both and kisses her cheek. The wetness of her skin blends with his tears. “Hi,” he coos at the grizzly newborn as it shifts ever so slightly against her chest. “Hi, little one. It’s your daddy.”

Tessa laughs then at nothing in particular, the baby on her chest moving with it. It’s a wave of relief and terror simultaneously – that they made it, they crossed the finish line together, but that they now stand on the start line of a whole new challenge.

This challenge is beautiful, though. This one has swollen pink cheeks just begging to be kissed and a charmingly pinched expression and that glorious newborn smell.

“I’m glad you finally came, baby girl. I was just starting to think about putting the rent up.”

Laughing through unrelenting tears, Scott leans down to whisper, “You’re incredible, T.”

He says it then and he says it again and again and again. He says it for lack of any other words.

When the doctor checking her over begins to matter-of-factly list off every tear to the nurse, Scott’s eyes fix on their child, eyes going wide as his face pales to a snow white complexion.

Tessa feels broken and mended all at once. She can’t fully feel the pain of it yet, but the dread of recovery sits in the back of her mind the way it had the last time she’d ended up an inpatient. Today, she feels brave and lauded as such, but she can’t help but fear the nights that are filled with pain and not sleep, when there’ll be no one around to reassure her or applaud her attempts to get through it.

And that’s when she remembers: there will. He’s staying. He’s staying this time.

For some reason, it’s the way he grinds his jaw and stares hauntingly at their daughter that truly convinces her of it. Tessa knows every instinct in his body is telling him to run, or at least put his fingers in his ears, but instead he forces out casual conversation. “Who do you think she looks like?” Scott wonders aloud, though the truth is their daughter is much too new to resemble either one of them.

He stays.

He stays and she kisses him for it, then kisses the baby amidst that same feverish burst of love.

Later, she suggests he get some air and call his mom, and when Kate goes off to grab a bite to eat, Tessa finds herself alone with her daughter for the first time.

“Listen, I’m gonna say a few things now that it’s just you and me, okay?” she whispers conspiratorially, gazing down at the sleeping bundle across her chest. “You have to forgive me if some of this doesn’t make any sense. I haven’t had a lot of sleep.”

The nurse who’d been rearranging medical equipment on the far side of the room smiles over at her briefly; it’s a warm, reassuring glance that Tessa interprets as reassurance or endorsement. It feels like a gold star, the kind of positive reinforcement that she’s always thrived on, so she continues.

“Now, I know we’ve not known each other very long, but you can trust me. I kept you safe for nine months and, clearly, you were pretty comfy in there, so rest assured I’ve got your back. And you can believe me when I say, you’ve got a really good dad, kiddo. At least I did one thing right. I know he’s not been in the game long, but he’s gonna love you so much, you won’t know what to do with it all. Your daddy’s got a heart the size of Canada. And when you grow up, all the kids in your class are going to be jealous that you got such a good dad. He’s one you can count on now, I promise. And mommy and daddy are really–we’re… really gonna figure our stuff out for you.

“We got so many things wrong, but not you.” She runs the pad of her thumb down the baby-soft, chubby cheek of her newborn girl. “I think you might’ve saved us. But we’re working hard now so that you never have to do that again.

“For a long time, I thought that… because we had to work so hard sometimes, on us, on being together, it couldn’t be right. You, little one – you’ve made me realize that we’re all just aiming for the kind of love that makes the work worthwhile, eh?” She brings her sleeping child up to her face to kiss her forehead. “And I love your daddy. That giant heart I mentioned, who couldn’t love that?

“So, we’re going to muddle along. Me, you and Daddy. How does that sound?”

The baby makes a sleepy little murmur before her tiny little claw stretches out of her swaddle. Tessa lets her daughter’s hand grasp onto her index finger before quietly whispering, “Good.” She punctuates it with a smattering of kisses.

 

*

 

They settle into a rhythm. It’s a new pattern, new choreography. These steps are slower, lacking any of the polish they used to have. It’s got the structure of routine – the key points are there: feeding, changing, burping, sleeping – but the approach, the duration, the execution varies more than either one of them intends.

In the beginning, they hide away in the safe, cozy cocoon of home.

They get to know each other all over again. They relearn the outlines of one another, with edges buffed of cutting jags that had once stung so fiercely. The differences between them that used to be so stark are softer now; like an old photograph, lines that had once been sharp are now a smudge, weathered and faded over time until the scene blends together in sepia. They become different shades of the same colour, their goals aligned with the kind of permanence that had never seemed possible. The skating of it all had been so consciously ephemeral. This is anything but. This is a lifetime’s commitment, both of them making it with a keen willingness.

She doesn’t realize how much he loves her until there’s someone else he loves just as much. Maybe he hadn’t known either. Maybe you can’t know until it’s time, she wonders to herself, watching him stare down at his daughter with abundant awe and curiosity.

He does this a lot. He stares. She wonders if it’s tiredness, if he’s just asleep with his eyes open.

At first, he’d stared for lack of knowing what to do. He’d referred to himself as little more than a glorified waiter, hovering around her, waiting for her to need something. It had been his mother who’d shown him the way. She’d come into the house at just the right (or wrong) moment and found Tessa with her eyes sparkling, her face flushed and a baby that wouldn’t stop crying. She’d been a breath of fresh air, her bottomless well of patience serving them faithfully as she sang every song she could think of to get Isabel to settle while Tessa took the time to shower, while Scott watched her studiously to learn her secret. That had been when the staring had become something else: fascination, wonder, love.

He understands better now.

He includes himself, intuitively sensing exactly when Tessa needs him to sweep in.

He tells her one day that diapers are going to be his thing. He may not have the necessary resources for feeding, but diapers he can do. Diapers and singing and reminding Tessa that she’s doing a perfect job, even when Isabel is screaming so loud, she thinks the windows might shatter and the house might fall down. Even when there’s not an item in sight that isn’t covered in some kind of bodily fluid. Even when they’re so tired, she can’t hold her eyes open anymore at three in the afternoon.

He’s effortless at reassurance. He’s passable when it comes to the singing. He nobly makes the best of the diaper changing.

“Come here, mon petit fromage,” she hears him say, picking the baby up once he’s secured her diaper. She’s still yet to be folded carefully into a clean romper, but he can’t resist lifting her up as her big, curious eyes fix on him with a stare.

“Did you just call her your little cheese?” Tessa asks from the doorway, propped up against the frame as she watches the two of them.

“Yes. My little baby Bel,” he replies defensively, settling Isabel back on the changing table and reaching over for the particular outfit he’d picked out. Her limbs fight him a little as he tucks her into the arms and legs of the romper before he’s carefully closing each of the poppers.

Tessa doesn’t laugh, just stares at him blankly. “I wish you’d made that joke before we’d registered the name.”

“Why?”

“So I could’ve picked something else.”

“You don’t like Babybel?” His voice goes up an octave.

“Not enough to name my daughter that, no,” she replies, dryly. “You’re not naming our child after a cheese.”

“But she’s my little cheese,” he insists, pouting. He brings her up to his face to kiss Isabel’s cheek, showering her with affection before nuzzling his nose against her.

Despite her skepticism, Tessa can’t resist closing the gap between them and wrapping her arms around him from behind, one hand drifting up to stroke along her daughter’s cheek. She settles her chin on Scott’s shoulder and says, “You haven’t slept in two weeks and it really shows.”

The sleep deprivation makes him strange. Stranger than normal. A little delirious, at times.

For Tessa, it brings tears.

When the night that follows proves to be a bad one – their worst so far, she ends up sobbing silently on the edge of her bed with an unhappy baby crying out in her arms. It’s a relief when Scott scoops Isabel up and takes a few strides away just to give Tessa a break from the volume of the cries.

“She doesn’t need changing. She fed not long ago and now she won’t–” she hiccups through her own tears “–latch on–” and hiccups again “–and I don’t know what to do. I checked her for a fever. She’s… I tried singing. Maybe it’s my singing. I tried some ABBA but I’m too tired to remember the words to anything. I don’t know what to do. Why won’t she stop crying?”

“Just breathe, okay? Just breathe,” he says calmly. It seems miraculous that he can be so calm with the baby crying as she is, and he looks as tired as she feels, with hair sticking up in every direction and eyes that hang half-closed.

“I’m not–I can’t… do this again.”

“Tessa, it’s just a bad night,” is all he says.

“I’m not good enough. I should know what she needs,” she insists, the sobs overwhelming her in whole-body convulsions that make her feel every stitch and every ache. The pain of it reinforces the feeling.

When she looks over at him through the fog of tears, she sees the tightness in his face as he sways Isabel back and forth. He’s there, trying to comfort both of them at once, surrounded by tears. “Listen,” he starts, his tone a conscious effort to create calm. “She’s a little colicky. That’s all, kiddo. And there’s nothing you could be doing that you aren’t. We just have to help her settle and give her lots of hugs, try not to blow out an eardrum…”

Sniffing back her tears, she moans, “How are you calm right now? Why are you okay?”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure I’m a little bit still asleep.” He shrugs, looking completely dazed. It’s earns a faint laugh as Tessa wipes the wetness from her face. When she manages a smile, he brightens up in reflection. “And I called my mom the last time she was like this and I talked to your mom earlier today when she was crying.”

“They said it’s colic?”

He nods with all the gravity of a sacred promise.

“What if there’s something wrong?”

“We’ll call the doctor in the morning.”

“Okay,” she says, folding in on herself to cry a little more.

“It’s not you, T.”

Tessa looks up at him. She watches how comfortable he looks now with the baby, rocking her casually as they talk – like it’s second nature to him. It’s so easy to forget that it wasn’t always; it’s easy to forget the blinkered look in his eyes that appears sometimes when their roles reverse. But in the moment, it feels like it’s just her.

Maybe he can see it. As Isabel’s cries soften a little, his voice does too. “You think I need more than this?”

“You wanted a whole… hockey team, didn’t you?”

“I wanted you, Tess.” He scoffs, like a laugh. Suddenly, his eyes are completely open and the sleepiness that had been weighing him down has evaporated. He moves over to their bed, settling at her side with the baby still nestled in his hold. “I don’t think you ever knew how much. I was never very good at showing you.”

She doesn’t have it in her to argue the point. Instead she just holds his gaze, only dropping her eyes to her daughter when it becomes too much to look at him.

He continues: “Sure, I imagined that I’d have kids. An abstract picture of some kids. But now I have this – you and Is – and it’s real; it’s not a made-up idea. I know it’s enough.”

“Okay,” she accepts, leaning over to kiss Isabel as she quiets just a little, just enough. Wails become whimpers. The promise of calm earns a sigh of relief and Tessa lets herself slump against Scott, tilting her head to rest against his shoulder.

“So, will you marry me now?” he teases, nudging her in the ribs lightly.

Tessa doesn’t look up from the baby; she just shakes her head. “Still no.”

“Okay,” he accepts.

When Isabel’s cries build up again, evidently not sensing the mood change, Tessa can’t help but let out another sob of frustration. Scott frees up a hand to rub her back as he tells her, “Don’t cry, T. I’m just kidding.” Turning his attention back to Isabel, he adds, “Daddy’s just kidding.”

It only takes another hour before all three of them are asleep in various states around the room: Isabel in the cot, Scott in the chair beside it, Tessa strewn across the bed.

The next morning, she posts a photograph of her daughter’s hand stretching out. It’s an old one, already outdated by the little one’s growth. They’d taken it in the hospital while Isabel had slept. Tessa remembers her mother telling them both to sleep too while they had the chance, but they’d been too busy marvelling at every detail of her. They’d been new enough to swaddling that their daughter’s hands were still breaking free almost every time.

She tags Scott in the picture.

She posts it with a red heart emoji.

She turns off her phone.

 

*

 

They’re sat facing each other in the two mercifully well-cushioned, white leather rocking chairs she’d invested in for the nursery. She’d only just finished feeding their little one when Scott had sensed her tiredness and swept in, carefully taking the milk-drunk, drowsy baby from her arms to rock her the rest of the way to sleep. Tessa’s barely awake herself, letting the motion of her chair sync with Scott’s to find a steady, sleep-inducing rhythm that makes her lids grow heavier despite the resistance she puts up, despite her desire to watch him a little longer and the way he is now: solid and dependable and anchored here.

She decides she’s going to marry him right then, with their baby cradled so protectively in his muscular arms, Isabel’s precious, steel-gripped hand clutching his index finger tightly. The juxtaposition of his strength and her fragility touches Tessa’s heart in ways she can’t begin to quantify or articulate. Despite the volume of the cries that had erupted out of her daughter’s tiny form only a short while earlier, she now makes only contented little moans. Suddenly their chaotic world has found calm. There’s a permanence wrapped up in the moment, a feeling that stretches the length of past and future to rewrite every ending into something happy, into the one where he stays and so does she.

Scott must know better than to ask her again and she decides he shouldn’t have to.

Instead, she goads him into the argument a few nights later as they lie defeated on the bed, the baby having finally drifted off to sleep. She pushes him with little comments until they’re both sat upright again and he’s raising his voice just a little to say, “I don’t think it’s so crazy to want my kid to have that stability. And what’s so bad about standing up in front of the people I love and wanting to make those vows? If you weren’t so afraid of commitment–”

“Scott.”

“–and projecting all of your anxieties onto what we have. Which is good, by the way. It’s what other people, normal people, like to put a ring on.”

“Scott.”

“But I gave up trying to change your mind.”

“Scott.”

“And I haven’t talked about it seriously in months, haven’t pressured you about it. I didn’t mean to, anyway. So why are you suddenly–”

Scott ,” she repeats again, sharp. It finally gets his attention. “I think you’re right.”

“What?” he stops, suddenly a deer in headlights.

“I think we should get married.”

“Tess. You don’t have to,” he says, almost breathless. “That’s not–”

“But you just said–”

“Yeah, because… that’s been our thing, eh? I want to get married and you don’t and we fight about it, and that’s the end of it. It’s not… You don’t need to…”

“I want to. Are you telling me now that you don’t want to get married?”

“Tess. You’ve given me everything I ever needed, I promise.” He takes her hand, threading his fingers through hers. “I don’t need more than this. You’ve made so many sacrifices, and you’ve given me my daughter. I don’t want you to ever have to sacrifice anything else for me.”

“It’s not a sacrifice, Scott. I’m just… ready. And I know it’s important to you, and it’s important to your family. I don’t want there to be any little part of you that thinks I wouldn’t choose you every time. I don’t want there to be any part of me that wonders if you’re gonna leave.” She feels sure of herself in a way that’s wholly new. “So, let’s be married.”

Looking back at her with eyes wide and glittering, she finds him utterly speechless.

“What, are you now gonna tell me you were just saying all that stuff?”

He chokes out a giddy, warm laugh of disbelief, tears spilling freely, before shaking his head in disbelief. Then, after blinking his eyes clear just to look at her again, he rushes to lean forward, capturing her smile with his lips.

As they come apart, she laughs the way he always talks about. She laughs and she cries along with him, and then she says, “I think it’s time for something different.”

 

*

 

They’ve spent a lifetime learning only how to spin in circles, carving out clean lines in the ice that come back around to deepen with each rotation. It seems inevitable, as she reflects on it, that a thread would come loose of their perfect loop.

It is their daughter, so unexpected and innocent, who catches hold of the loose end, pulling it free. Little by little, they come undone – with her pulling them in, pulling them closer.

Unknowingly, she unpicks every weak seam and stitches the two of them back together.

This time, it’s clean, it’s strong; it marks out new patterns that zig and zag, but never truly waver from their shared path. They move in parallel. They move together. Eventually, they end up somewhere that had seemed impossible.

Tessa never learned her lesson.

She’d never learned that she was someone for whom anything was possible.

Even this. Even love.

You can be anything you dream of.

(You can be happy.)