Maddie: Getting farther away from getting married by the second.
Chase: Spill it. What did you delete?
Maddie: Promise you won’t freak out?
I looked up at her, arching an eyebrow as if to say, Do we even know each other? She looked back down and typed.
Maddie: I’m pregnant.
Chase: Is it mine?
Maddie: Are you for real?!
She looked up, rose on her tiptoes, and flicked the back of my neck. I laughed, scooping her into my arms in front of our shocked pastor. And guests. And her harem of boys she’d “married” when she was younger.
“Then why the hell would I get freaked out?” I murmured into her lips, propriety be damned. She wrapped her arms around me. The crowd cackled.
“Your horns are showing, Mr. Black.”
“That,” I whispered into her mouth, catching her lower lip between my teeth and tugging, speaking low enough our audience couldn’t hear, “is because for you, I’m always horny.”
January 1, 2002
Can you do your mom a very weird favor? When the time comes, marry a man you can laugh with. You have no idea how important it is until you hit those sad days and the only thing to make them better is someone to put a smile on your face.
On your wedding day, make him sweat a little. Make sure he misses a heartbeat or two. See if he takes it in stride. If he does—he’s a keeper (but you should already know that. Ha).
Eight months later
“I hate you so much.” I grabbed the lapels of my husband’s blazer, shaking him from my disadvantaged position on the hospital bed. I was past sweating and deep into dripping territory. It looked like I’d just walked out of the shower without patting myself dry with a towel. Not to mention I was about to purge a human out of my body. Yes, I was aware that women all over the world did that on a daily basis, many of them without access to Western medical assistance. But in my defense, none of these women were married to Chase Black.
“Is that a no?” Chase frowned, straightening his posture and taking a step back before I stabbed his eye out with the nearest available object.
“No, I don’t want to speed up the process by having sex with you. It doesn’t work that way. I’m already four centimeters dilated!”
“I have at least eight more inches I can fit into yo—”
“Do not complete that sentence.” I jerked a finger in his direction. He raised his palms in surrender, taking another step back.
Layla rushed into my room, looking a little worse for wear. “Okay, just wanted you to know Daisy is with her dog sitter . . .” She paused, side-eyeing both Chase and me. “Sorry, I still can’t believe I have to say this with a straight face. And I watered all your plants, which means they are all alive.”
Daisy was doing amazing. She never peed in anyone’s shoes since Chase and I had gotten back together. Apparently, all I’d needed to do in order to rid her of the nasty habit was let the right man through my door. I opened my mouth to say something, but Layla waved me off. “Yes, including the azalea in the pantry. God, to think this giant pantry could be put to good use. How’s little Ronan doing?”
“Still inside my body.” I pointed at my huge belly.
“Lucky bastard,” Chase muttered. Layla elbowed him. I laughed. The past eight months had been a dream. Who knew that the devilishly handsome man with the mouth I wanted to punch and kiss in the same breath could be such a great husband? We’d fallen into a comfortable routine full of family and friends and laughter. We spent a lot of time with Zooey, Sven, and Francisco, as well as with Clemmy, who was obsessed with her flower girl dress and, following in my footsteps, had recently forced a classmate to marry her during a playdate. Ronan seemed like a perfect addition to an already big and loving family.
Another contraction slammed through me. It felt like someone had taken a match and lit my entire lower back. I winced, gripping the linen to the point of white knuckles. One of my nurses—Tiffany, a redheaded woman in her fifties—walked into the room, and Layla figured it was getting crowded, saluting on her way out. The nurse peeked under the blanket covering my legs.
“Yup. He is ready for his grand entrance into the world, all right. Keep breathing.” She patted my knee. I’d never quite understood this expression. Did one ever stop breathing voluntarily? Specifically while giving birth?
Tiffany left the room, called the doctor, then poked her head back in. “What’s it gonna be? Is Daddy staying in to watch the birth?”
Chase and I exchanged glances. We’d planned every single thing about the birth in detail—the overnight bag we’d packed together when I was only seven months pregnant, the labor classes we’d taken, the breastfeeding plan—but we’d never talked about whether he was going to stay and watch or not.
“Up to you.” He cleared his throat. We held each other’s eyes. For a second, I thought we’d take out our phones and do the old banter dance-off. Then my husband surprised me by taking my hand. “Please.”
And I knew.
“Yes.” I grinned. “He stays.”
Forty-five minutes later, Ronan was out in the world, screaming up a storm. He had Chase’s bright-blue-silver eyes, my brown-honey hair, and two clenched fists with curiously long fingernails. He was like a baby dragon. I laughed and cried when Tiffany put him on my bare chest. Because I knew he was a gift from Mom and Ronan.
In fact, that was the one thing I’d written to baby Ronan in the very first letter I sat down to compose to him when I found out I was pregnant. One of many I intended to write. I told him he was a great, precious gift who wasn’t supposed to happen. That his daddy and I had been careful—I was on the pill and took it daily. The week the manufacturer of my birth control pills came out with a grand apology for their faulty pills, I’d realized I was a week and a half late. The idea of being pregnant hadn’t even registered to me before that, so I never kept up with the dates.
I took a pregnancy test. It was positive.
Chase and I were engaged to be married. But we still hadn’t spoken about the other C-word—children. I remembered the moment I’d found out. I sat on the closed toilet seat in Croquis’s restroom, ironically in the very stall where Chase and I had had sex months before, staring at the two blue lines, then looking up to the ceiling and smiling at the sky.