Babies, Babies and More Babies…

Even though we hadn’t planned to have another child so soon, Lotus and I were excited. Even during the hardest times, life with Hibiscus was wonderful and we both knew we would find the same kind of joy with our next child.

Sure, being pregnant with an active toddler wasn’t always easy but, all in all, I felt I managed pretty well. Lotus and I set about preparing for our new baby with enthusiasm.

So it was a bit of a shock when, in my fifth month of pregnancy, our doctor threw us a curveball. We were expecting twins. It took us both a day or so to get over the shock but once it began to wear off, we began to be tentatively excited again. After all, we both wanted a big family and even though it would be tough, we were lucky enough to be surrounded by supportive friends and family.

Since we’d moved, Penny and Cal had moved to the neighborhood and were expecting their first baby any day now. Both Nectarine and Blue had married, started families and moved closer to us as well. We’d become friends with a couple of our neighbor families-the Deppity’s and the Frosts. Even Riptide had finally met and married a wonderful girl and they, too, were now expecting. With so many friends around us, we were sure we’d be okay.

By the time I went into labor, we were feeling confident that we could do this and anxious to meet our new children.

That night we welcomed our second son, Orchid and our first daughter, Fleur Blush, who was named after My Mother and Lotus’ Mother.

Much like his Daddy, Orchid was very social and outgoing. From a very early age he was smiling, babbling and just basically doing anything he could to interact with anyone who was around him. Orchid loved being outdoors, especially going for rides in the stroller.

Fleur was our shy little bug. She was happiest in our arms and by the time she was a few months old, had developed intense stranger anxiety, preferring only Lotus or myself.

For the first couple of months, we were exhausted and fell into bed at night, snoring before our heads hit the pillow. We were always so busy, I worried about poor little Hibiscus but he seemed to be handling things well. He’d developed an attachment to a little doll we’d gotten him when we moved to the house and he now spent hours singing and playing with the toy. He took it everywhere he went.

He only verbally expressed concern once, after hearing Lotus tell Fleur that he loved her.

Hibiscus toddled up to Lotus and raised his arms.

“Up, Da-ee?”

Lotus obligingly picked him up for some cuddling. “How’s my little guy?”

Hibiscus gave Lotus a serious look. “Dada wuf Flurry?”

“Yes, Dada loves Fleur.”

“Dada wuf Okid?”

“Yes. Dada loves Orchid.”

Hib wrinkled his brow, then, looking concerned. “Dada wuf Hibi?”

“Oh! Yes, Hibi. Daddy loves you. Mommy does too. We will always love you.”

After that, we made an extra effort to spend a little more one on one time with Hibiscus and that seemed to get him through whatever he’d been feeling.

Just like with Hibiscus, as the babies got older and slept a little better, things began getting a little easier. By the time they were six months old, it felt like they’d always been a part of our family.

Lotus and I absolutely loved having three children, despite the challenges. One night when the twins were about five months old and things had been going particularly well, I jokingly suggested that we could add another to the bunch and not notice a difference. Instead of laughing or scoffing, Lotus’ eyes lit up and he gave me a hopeful look. That look made me begin to seriously consider what I’d said. I’d only been joking but the more we talked about it, the more it made sense. Sure, life would be even more hectic for awhile but we knew it would likely take us a few months to conceive and the idea of adding one more bundle of joy to the mix won out.

The first kink in the plan happened when I got pregnant in less than two months. The twins were only seven months old when I found out. We were a little unnerved at first but we reminded ourselves we had a tremendous support network and knew we could handle this.

Then I began feeling sicker than I’d ever felt with Hibiscus or the twins. Suddenly, we found ourselves relying on the help of our friends and family nearly every day while I spent hours in bed and Lotus struggled to keep up with the kids and work. I was infinitely thankful when, as I passed into the second trimester, my nausea began to wane. I chalked the whole thing up to every pregnancy being different and got on with life.

In my fifth month, we got alarming news again. A second set of twins. When we heard those words, all Lotus and I could do was look at each other and laugh. If you don’t laugh, you cry, right? Besides, it’s not like there was any going back so we tried to be positive and looked forward to meeting two more of our children. Besides, we had other things to focus on for now.

Our babies were turning one.

I hadn’t been feeling well enough to organize something huge but we did have a few friends over. One by one, I brought them to blow out their candles.

True to form, Orchid was as smiley as a toddler as he had been as a baby. He got all of Lotus’ coloring-skin, hair and eyes but you could see me in some of his facial features.

Fleur got my skin and hair coloring but Lotus‘ eye color. She was as timid as ever and immediately looked around for Lotus or I and we quickly rushed to pick her up knowing she’d burst into tears if anyone else tried to hold her.

After their birthday, life was a flurry of teaching the twins to walk and talk and finishing up potty training Hibiscus.

As busy as it was, Lotus and I still didn’t worry much, though I was a little relieved when Fleur and Hibiscus were finally both walking and talking and Hibiscus was potty trained by my eighth month of pregnancy. I thought this would mean a little more relaxing for the next month…but I was wrong.

I was over visiting Riptide and Shari, who was due any day now, when it happened. I’d joked with her that she might go into labor while I was there. Neither of us expected that I’d go into labor instead.

This time, my confidence failed me and I panicked. It was too early and I was terrified. Things were chaotic for a few moments until I saw Riptide swing into motion. He gently helped me to his car and phoned Lotus while racing me to the hospital. He even held my hand the entire way there despite the fact that my grip had him wincing the whole time.

As it turned out, that wasn’t the last surprise this pregnancy would throw me.

There was no stopping my labor, as I had progressed rapidly and shortly after arriving at the hospital, I gave birth to Cally Lily, Lehua Blossom and Sophornitella.

That’s right, not two but three perfect, tiny baby girls.

Time for Change…

I knew my life would be different but I could never have fathomed the scale at which such a tiny little creature could change things. When things are great, you can’t imagine they could get any better, but that’s exactly what happened when Hibiscus was born.

I’m not saying there weren’t difficulties-sure we had a lot of sleepless nights and first time parent moments that sent us scrambling to the phone to ask someone-anyone for advice. But that all got better over time as we settled into life with our Hibi. He was such a happy little thing. From the moment he flashed his first smile, he hardly ever stopped smiling.

Everyone who met him loved him.

It gave me a tremendous amount of pride to be able to surround him with the love of so many people.

But as much as I loved that, it couldn’t even compare to how I felt seeing Lotus with Hib. He definitely was not one of those “hands off” Dads. We did our best to work as a team and he wasn’t afraid of any aspect of Hib’s care. He loved our son fiercely and took pride in being as involved as possible.

When he wasn’t doting on Hibiscus, his attention was on me.

I’ve always felt lucky to have him but never so much as I did during that time. Even my Dad would comment about what a great Dad and Husband Lotus was being. Lotus did everything he could to take care of me. Not only that, but having Hib seemed to intensify our relationship. He’d always been affectionate but this was a whole new level. He was always hugging and kissing and just generally telling me how much he loved me. Hibiscus brought these incredible things out in Lotus and it was a joy for me to watch it all unfold.

As those first few weeks turned into months, we began to settle into life as a family of three.

We got lots of advice from the moment we told people we were expecting but what no one told us is that when you have a baby, it’s as though someone pushes the fast forward button on your life. From the moment Hibiscus was born, it felt like time was moving at unfathomable speeds. In what felt like no time at all, it was Hibi’s first birthday.

I was weepy all day. Even though it was exciting, I couldn’t believe my baby was growing up so quickly.

We planned a small party at the apartment with friends and family. When the time came, I made my way to the cake with Hibiscus and helped him blow out the candles on his very first birthday cake.

I didn’t think it was possible but Hibiscus was even cuter than before. He got his Daddy’s skin tone but my hair color. And his facial features seemed to be a mix of both of our.

Thus began our life with a toddler. It was an amazing adventure, to be sure.

He said his first word the day after his first birthday, as Lotus was putting him to bed.

“Night-night Hibi. Dada loves you.”

“Dada”

I don’t think I’d ever seen Lotus happier.

About a week later, Hibiscus took his first steps.

From that point on, he was a non-stop walking and talking machine. After that first word came another, then five more and before we knew it, he was chattering away like an old pro. The same happened with walking-after those first steps, it seemed like he was always toddling around the apartment and it was a full time job keeping him safe.

One thing we never anticipated about life with a toddler was the general amount of stuff you convince yourself your child absolutely has to have. And now that Hibiscus was more mobile, he could easily string that stuff all over the apartment. I was forever tripping over toys or stubbing my toe on equipment. Between the strollers, the toys, the lego table and the zillion other things he had, things were stashed everywhere. Still it was worth it as I saw him happily playing with his things and developing new skills.

Nonetheless, it was a problem that we needed to solve because Hibi was only going to grow. One night after nearly breaking my neck tripping over the stroller as I came out of the bathroom, I decided we had to figure something out.

We talked about it all that night after Hibi went to bed. Downsizing Hibi’s things wasn’t a good option but the idea of moving away from our first home in Bridgeport, our first home together, was absolutely heart breaking to me. I could tell it made Lotus sad, too.

But then we started to really talk about what the future would be like for Hib-how he would grow and how his needs would change. Even simple things, like playing outside were a big production for us because of all the planning and packing we had to do just to take him to the park.

We began to consider about how nice it would be to have the space a house would offer for all his things and to be able to just step out into a back yard. There would be no need for diaper bags full of supplies in order to play outside because anything we might need would be a few feet away.

Then there was the issue of more kids. Though we weren’t planning on more any time soon, we both knew, without a doubt, that we wanted more children. Neither of us could imagine squashing another child into the already cramped space. A few of our friends had already moved out of the heart of the city for that very reason. Even Riptide had moved himself and his girls to a little house in the same, suburban neighborhood where my family lived. It seemed we weren’t the first people to encounter this problem.

Thus a seed was planted and, as time went on, we couldn’t ignore the inconvenience of apartment living with a child. After two weeks of mulling it over, we made the decision. Knowing we’d have friends nearby made it a little easier but I still cried when we put the apartment on the market the next day.

Four months later, just after Hib’s second birthday, we moved into our new home in the same quiet little neighborhood where my family, Riptide and, now, the Seastriders all lived. And, not surprisingly, Cal and Penny were looking to buy in the same neighborhood now that they, too, were expecting. Having so many loved ones nearby made it sting a little less to leave that wonderful little apartment that we’d called home for four years.

As it turned out, the move couldn’t have come at a better time.

About a week after we moved, we decided to take a break from unpacking and spend a day exploring what our new neighborhood had to offer. We loaded Hibi into his stroller and headed off to the park, just down the road from our new home.

Hib was delighted with the play things available and we spent hours there just enjoying the day.

We were on our way back home when I felt it. That awful, yet strangely familiar first pang of nausea.

Two weeks later the doctor confirmed what we already knew. Baby number two was on the way.

A New Era…

She said yes.

My beautiful Kiki, the love of my life, said yes that night, nearly two years ago.

Three months after I proposed, we were married. I’ll never forget the way I felt that day, looking at this beautiful, kind-hearted woman knowing with a sense of relief that she was my reason for being. We made official what we both already knew-we’d never be parted.

It was a small ceremony down by the Esplanade. We wanted to keep things simple- just our families and a few friends came.

Life was good. Kiki was my bride and we were together in Bridgeport. The next year went by in a flash.

I got a steady job writing for one of the local papers and even started selling some of my paintings. Kiki took some classes and got a job at the local crisis center working with children and their families. Kiki’s family officially moved to Bridgeport about a month before we were married. Mr. Spencer was still a bit cool to me at first but over time he’s warmed up and we get along pretty well.

Nearly every moment Kiki and I weren’t working was spent with each other or with friends and family. Life was idyllic and I was happier than I ever imagined I could be.

Then one day several months ago life threw us a bit of a curveball. Kiki hadn’t been feeling well and though she insisted it was a bug that she had to wait out, I worried about her. She was running off to be sick as many as two or three times a day.

When she approached me one day looking somewhat green in the face, I assumed she’d finally caved and was going to the doctor.

“Lotus…I, there’s something I…I mean I think…” Her forhead was crinkled with worry.

“What is it Ki? Are you okay?”

“Lotus…I-I’m late.”

“Late for what? Did I forget something? Was I supposed to drive you somewhere?” I started to scramble around looking for my shoes but she grabbed my hand and stopped me.

“No. Lotus, I don’t need a ride and I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m late.”

It took a few moments of me staring at her dumbly before the other shoe finally dropped. “Oh. OH. Oh, My Berry!”

In that moment, as Kiki stood there looking up at me with worried eyes, I was certain this wasn’t a false alarm. Without a word I pulled her to me. I had to so she wouldn’t see my watery eyes and mistake them for upset.

I was going to be a Father.

________________________________________________________________

We’d talked before about having children but neither of us expected them so soon. Despite being a little shocked at first, Lotus was elated and incredibly excited from the moment I told him. He immediately went out and bought things our baby wouldn’t be able to use for months, if not years. He pampered me far more than necessary.

One of my favorite things to do was listen to him play his guitar. I’d relax in a lounge chair with a cold drink (non-nectar of course) while he played and sang songs he wrote.

Then one night, as I was watching TV while Lotus practiced guitar outside, I felt something. Something I’d never felt before. Something like a flutter of movement from within me.

I rushed outside, so shocked and excited I could barely get the words out.

It was amazing for me but for Lotus it brought my pregnancy to a whole new level of reality. For him feeling those precious little kicks meant a tangible way that he could really connect with the baby. From that point on, Lotus was constantly touching, talking and listening to my tummy.

As things progressed and I began to show, Lotus wasn’t the only one who wanted to interact with the baby. Our friends, family and sometimes random strangers asked to feel my tummy!

By the time I was in my last month, I no longer felt much like traipsing around the city in my swollen state. That meant we didn’t see our friends as much as we used to so a few days before my due date, a few of my friends came over to hang out.

Pinkberry and her new husband, Jericho, were trying for a baby so she was particularly fascinated to feel the baby kicking against her hand.

We were having a great evening-just talking and laughing, listening to the soft sounds of Lotus’ guitar playing. I’d felt false contractions before so when the light clenching sensation started, I tried ignoring it as best I could. However, when after a couple hours they intensified, I figured I’d better call it a night and get some rest. I was about to say so when my stomach clenched up and a bolt of pain shot through me.

I doubled over but before I could so much as say Lotus’ name, I felt an embarassing splash. My water had broken. At that point, it became clear to everyone around me what was happening and things got a little chaotic.

Poor Lotus. For all his preparation he still lost it a little bit.

I called out his name and that seemed to snap him out of it. We’d prepared for a homebirth so my friends let themselves out and Lotus led me upstairs before calling the midwife. Over the next several hours, he was wonderful, though I’m afraid I wasn’t always so nice to him.

Neither of us would ever remember much about the low points of that night, though, because just before the sun came up, our precious Hibiscus Teal came into the world and made our lives better than we’d ever dreamed possible.

Reconciliation and a Question…

“Thanks for coming, Mr. Spencer. I-”

“Let’s cut to the chase, Lotus. I’m only here because Ashley insisted and I’m not about to lose my wife as well as my daughter.”

Well, so much for starting with a clean slate. I tried to keep my voice soft and non-confrontational. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

He closed his eyes for a moment before speaking again. “I’d hoped to talk to her tonight.”

“She doesn’t know you’re here. It hurts her that you won’t even talk to her on the phone.”

Something like surprise flashed in his eyes before he looked away, towards the living room. I watched somewhat nervously as he took in the surroundings. I knew he was sizing up the place, and therefore, my ability to support her. Once again, I was glad I had dipped into the trust and gotten this place instead of the dump I’d have afforded otherwise.

“Would you like to look around, sir?”

He simply gave a nod and followed as I led him a few feet further.

“It’s small.”

I nodded.

“Where do you sleep?”

“There are bedrooms upstairs.”

“Bedrooms?”

I nodded again, not quite able to meet his eyes. “Two.” There was no point in telling him one went completely unused. He didn’t ask to see the upstairs but nodded towards the balcony.

“That’s quite a view.”

I led him outside. “Kiki loves it out here. Would you like a drink, sir?” It’s not like I could hide the bar so I might as well just offer up a drink. I was surprised when he accepted.

I worked in silence as he took in the view. When I’d finished I handed him the glass and watched as he took a long drink before talking again. “You’ve got a good place here, Lotus. What is it that you do, exactly?”

Oh berry. “My parents left me a trust that I gained access to on my last birthday. That’s how I was able to get this place for us, if that’s what you’re asking.”

He just looked at me for a moment before nodding so I went on. “I’m actually taking a few classes and bartending part time so I keep a steady income. I’ve been writing and sold a couple articles, too. Kiki signed up for some classes, too, you know.”

This time, his eyes dropped and he looked down at his feet for several seconds before looking back at me. “I can guess why you wanted me to come here instead of meeting me in town, Lotus. You wanted me to see that you can take care of her, right?”

“With all due respect sir, she’s not a child. She doesn’t need me to take care of her. I just wanted you to see our home and that she’s happy here. I wish you could see her. She’s not afraid to go outside, she has friends here.”

“Lotus, I don’t expect you to understand because you have no idea what it’s like to be a parent. I won’t stand here and say I didn’t make mistakes but I had my reasons. I knew all along Twinbrook wasn’t a great place for her. As bad as it was, how much worse do you think it would have been if she’d developed a…reputation on top of being different?”

“But we didn’t-”

“And you really think that would have mattered to them? You really think they would have stopped to ask? I did what I thought I had to do to protect her.”

In a way I could see his point but I still didn’t agree with him. “She was so unhappy.”

He looked away. “I realize that. But you have to understand, I’m still not keen on my daughter living with the boy who helped her run away.”

I shook my head, willing my frustration to stay at a manageable level. “So it’s really your reputation you were worried about.”

“This has nothing to do with my reputation, Lotus, but it has everything to do with my family’s safety.”

“What? I don’t understand. How-?”

“The weekend you and Kiki took your little trip, a co-worker shared something with me. Did you know, Lotus, that the summer before I moved my family to Twinbrook, a sim about your age was badly beaten by four of the town’s teenagers?”

I had no idea where he was going with this but the thought made me sick. “No.”

“I was ‘informed’ that they only did it because they found out that boy was gay. My co-worker went on to ‘inform’ me that they later discovered he was a not-so-obvious berry. I was advised to imagine how much worse it would have been if they had known that.”

I gaped at him, my mouth hanging open. “It was a threat?”

He just shrugged and kept talking. “And then when I realized Kiki wasn’t where she said she’d be, you can imagine my concern. Lotus, I wasn’t just protecting her. I have two other children to think about, as well.”

“That’s awful but we had no way of knowing that. Mr. Spencer she called me sobbing and begging! I couldn’t…I couldn’t just leave her there when she was so desperate. You couldn’t just keep her trapped there forever!”

“I had no intention to do so! I’ve been trying for transfers to get them out of that town ever since that weekend.”

“But you didn’t have to keep her isolated like that! You didn’t have to keep her from even talking to me.”

“She was too young for a relationship like this, Lotus. You both were. And she was certainly too young to be running off to Bridgeport with you.”

“She was old enough to make the decision or I never would have done it. And I’m not too young to know that…I love her.” He winced a little when I said the words but I repeated them. “I love her and there was no way I was going to let her stay there depressed and lonely and miserable. You didn’t leave her any choices-I was her only way out. I’m sorry it happened that way but what could I do? Turn my back on her? I love her too much- it wasn’t possible!”

He looked at me for a long time then, realization finally starting to dawn in his features. “There’s more to you asking me here than just clearing the air, isn’t there?”

I gave a couple of nods and looked down again.

“Does it even matter what I think, Lotus? It won’t change anything, will it?”

“No.” There was no point in lying.

“Then why even bring me here? Why do you care?”

I gaped at him in disbelief. “I care because she cares!” I looked up at him, not caring how desperate and frustrated I must look now. “She misses you and the rest of her family. She doesn’t deserve to be punished for any of this! She just wants to be happy and I’d do anything to give her that. And I know I can make her happy but I also know it would be so much better for her if this was dealt with.”

He raised both eyebrows as if he were impressed. “Good answer, Lotus.”

“I…what?”

“Lotus it’s at least obvious to me that you mean what you say and that you…you feel very strongly for her.”

“I love her.”

He looked away and I knew he was skeptical. “We’ll be in town for the week. I’ve got work business while I’m here but I want to talk to her. You’re right about one thing. Things are what they are and it’s time to put it behind us.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much, Mr. Spencer.”

___________________________________________________________

I had a wonderful evening with Ashley, Samantha and Abby. Abby already looked bigger, though she still didn’t have much hair. That night when I came home Lotus told me that he’d spoken to my Father. Ashley had already told me they were all in town together but I was surprised that Lotus had invited him over to talk.

Poor Lotus seemed so worried that I’d be angry he hadn’t told me but how could I be? This wonderful man took it upon himself to try to smooth things over with my Father for no other reason than he knew it would make me happy. I couldn’t feel anything but grateful to have him in my life and I did my best to show him that.

The next night, we had them over for dinner. I felt strangely calm as I waited for them to arrive. Lotus, on the other hand, had done a complete 180. He’d seemed nervous and fidgety all day. I’d tried to talk to him about it but he just pulled me into his arms and kissed me any time I brought it up. As it turns out, it was an effective distraction technique.

Finally, the time came and the buzzer rang out. I buzzed them up and minutes later I met them at the door. Seeing Dad was, well, pretty anticlimactic, to be honest. He just looked at me for a few seconds before smiling and then quietly asked if he could hug me. It was a huge relief.

When he let me go, he took my hands and looked at me. “Look at you, you look so grown up.”

“It hasn’t even been two weeks Dad.”

“I know but I missed your birthday. I’m so sorry for that Kiki.”

“Dad, I…” I wasn’t really sure what to say and I hadn’t planned to say it all the second he walked in anyhow.

He sighed heavily. “Let‘s get the kids settled in and then we can talk” He looked down at my hands then and back up. But instead of me he was looking at Lotus with his eyebrows raised, as though he was questioning Lotus.

I was about to ask what that was all about when I realized that Lotus was blushing . He quickly looked away, though, before I could catch his eye.

The evening went as well as could be expected. Ashley and Lotus took the kids out onto the balcony to play while Dad and I talked. It went okay-we still didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things but we both apologized and Dad told me some things that helped me understand why he’d reacted the way he did. Not to mention made me even more glad I wasn’t in Twinbrook anymore.

Then he told me the most shocking thing of all-he was looking for work out of Twinbrook, maybe even in Bridgeport. I guess between what he’d found out and me leaving, he realized it wasn’t a good place to raise my sisters. It sounded like Ashley had been pushing for it, too. I wasn’t surprised. She knew, first hand, how quickly that place could mess with your mind.

When things were finally settled a bit, we had dinner and spent the rest of our time together talking and playing with the kids. Throughout it all, Lotus was unusually quiet, almost as though he was completely distracted by his own thoughts. I didn’t think he was intimidated by my Dad-he still smiled, talked sweetly to me and held my hand (at which, Dad turned pink in the face and looked another direction.) I decided I’d ask him about it later and just tried to enjoy the time with my family.

It was tough to say goodbye to my sisters but now that Dad and I were on speaking terms, I knew it would be easier to see them more often. After we said our goodbyes, I went to join Lotus out on the balcony. He turned and smiled when he heard the door. I was going to ask him if everything was okay but I never really got around to it because his arms were gripping me tight and his lips were on mine before I had the chance to utter a word. It was, up to that point, the most intense kiss of my life.

Eventually, we had to come up for air but he kept me close planting soft, slow kisses across my cheek until he reached my ear. I could feel his hand slip under the back of my shirt, his skin feeling like bliss across my own.

“Lotus, I…”

“Shhhh.” He cut me off and planted a soft kiss behind my ear, sending shivers down my spine. He slowly, torturously kissed his way down my neck and back up to my ear again. When he spoke it was nothing more than a husky whisper. “I wanted to ask you something.”

He surprised me by pulling away.

“Lotus, what-?” Then my heart stopped.

Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as I watched him slowly sink down onto one knee and look up at me with the sweetest smile I’d ever seen in my life.

A Promise Kept…

We spent most of the first couple of days in the apartment. Kiki just needed some time to adjust and settle in and I was just so happy to have her there that I would have stayed holed up with her for a month if I could have.

Once the dust began to settle, we went out somewhere every day. The first thing we did was get her a cell phone. There was no way I was going to have her stuck in that apartment, not knowing how to get around and with no way to contact anyone. She wasn’t going to live like that anymore so I spent some time teaching her the finer points of the subway system and navigating the city.

Just like our trip before, she loved Bridgeport. Where she had been timid and shy in Twinbrook, here she was excited and curious. It was clear she belonged here. One of her favorite things to do was simply walking along the streets and exploring the shops we passed. She bought a few things with the money she’d brought and, after a lot of sweet talking and begging on my part, let me buy her some things, too. She enrolled in a couple of classes and wanted to get a job, too, but I convinced her to wait until she had a better idea of her class schedule.

When we weren’t traipsing around the city, we were visiting Rip or hanging out with friends. Now it was as though she’d always known Rip and his girls. She was different now-still my Kiki, only better. Sure, there was still a little shyness but nothing like it had been in Twinbrook. The more comfortable she got, the more people she wanted to meet.

She even started getting to know some of my other old high school buddies.

We always managed to find our way back to the apartment for some alone time, too.

There was a lot of…compromising going on and more than once I found myself in need of a cold shower.

It wasn’t easy but I knew it was worth it.

Before we knew it, the week passed and it was the day before her birthday. She said she wanted to go to the Grind again, so that night, we headed out.

She looked gorgeous out there dancing her heart out. I was happy that she finally felt comfortable enough to put herself out there like that but even though I knew I had nothing to worry about it, I still felt a jealous twinge every time I saw her with someone else. For the longest time it had just been her and I trapped in Twinbrook. Now she didn’t have to rely on me so much for everything and I thanked Berry that I was the lucky man to call her my girlfriend. In that way, I would always have a part of her that no one else could.

All the same, I was unbelievably happy every time she found her way back into my arms.

The next evening, I threw her a birthday party. She’d never really had a good party, full of friends, so I invited a few people that I thought she’d be comfortable with.

It was great to be back with the guys and we spent some time jamming together like we used to do. We even talked about putting together a band.

Then the time came for my girl to blow out her candles.

If anything, she was more beautiful than before.

It was tough but I finally was able to corner her in the kitchen for a more personal Happy Birthday wish.

After cake and presents, some of us hung out in the hot tub for a bit and we even jammed some more. If I was judging by the times I’d seen her smiling tonight, I’d say the party was a success.

Eventually, the party wound down and everyone slowly said goodbye. When I closed the door after the last person left, I went looking for Ki. I didn’t have to look hard-she was out on the balcony, where I often found her. I slipped outside, not wanting to disturb her and just stood there watching my girl. Berry, I was so in love with her.

________________________________________________________________

I could feel him before I heard him. I’d expected him to move closer so when he didn’t, I turned to look at him. Berry, that man…

We didn’t even have to say anything-we just made our way to each other.

When he kissed me, I knew immediately that things were different.

There weren’t going to be any compromises tonight.

____________________________________________________________________________________

It was a great day in the Bali household. Kiki’s party had gone off without a hitch and then…

Well, let’s just say it was the best night of my life.

Kiki and I had spent the day mostly in each others arms reliving the finer moments of the night before. But now she was wandering around the apartment randomly blushing and grinning while I painted. I smiled to myself as the paintbrush made it’s way over the canvas. I had another surprise up my sleeve for her-maybe two more, if I was lucky.

I tried to look surprised when she told me that Ashley had called and was in town and wanted to take Kiki out for a birthday spa treatment and dinner. I guess I wasn’t convincing enough because she planted the sweetest kiss on my lips and whispered ‘Thank you.’

Once she’d headed out I quickly showered and changed clothes. I checked the apartment one last time to be sure everything was clean and in order before glancing at the clock again. Right on time, the buzzer rang. Minutes later I met him at the door.

“Hello, Mr. Spencer.”

Complications and Compromise…

I wish I could say that once Kiki and I were together again, everything was sunshine and roses but real life just doesn’t work that way. As far as our relationship went, everything was fine but the first couple of days were really hard on her.

Kiki told me everything on the drive back to Bridgeport-what her Father had been putting her through, the phone conversation with Electra, what Ashley had done for her-all of it. I was surprised at how calm she was as she recounted the last three months. She mostly just seemed weary and really relieved. She even managed to keep her composure as she used my cell to leave a message on Ashley’s phone.

Me-well, I was feeling a lot of things, not the least of which was anger at myself for ever leaving her in the first place. I should have either stayed or taken her with me, consequences be damned. She kept trying to reassure me that I’d done the right thing but it was hard to see it that way when I had to listen to everything she’d been dealing with. I wanted to stop the car and just pull her close to me and not let go. As it was, I settled for holding her hand tight for the entire drive.

I was more than a little excited to show her our apartment. She seemed a little dazed as I led her through the lobby and during the elevator ride. It wasn’t until we were in the hall outside the apartment door before she finally spoke.

“Lotus…this is where you live?” It made me giddy to hear the awe in her voice and I knew I’d done a good job finding this place for us.

I grinned and pulled her in my arms. “No. This is where we live.”

I guess she liked that.

“C’mon.” I unlocked the door before grabbing her hand and pulled her in.

“Welcome home, Ki.”

I watched nervously as she momentarily stood frozen to the spot, looking around.

It didn’t last long-It was impossible to miss the view outside and I don’t even think she noticed the kitchen or living area because she immediately made a beeline out to the balcony.

I approached her cautiously, wishing she’d just tell me what she thought of it. Was it too small? Too many floors up? Too far downtown? I began to wonder if I should have just found us a little house in the suburbs instead. Just when I was about to say that, she whirled around, her eyes wide.

“I…it’s not much but I…” I suddenly didn’t know what to say but it didn’t matter because she launched herself into my arms nearly knocking me off my feet.

“Lotus, it’s wonderful!” And just like that all my worries about the apartment dissipated.

“But what…I mean..how…this place must have cost a fortune! How can it be…?” I grinnned at the blush on her cheeks as she dodged around the word.

“Ours?”

Her smile was absolutely radiant. “Yeah.”

So I told her about the trust.

“Lotus, you spent your trust on this? You shouldn’t have done that! That was for you. It doesn’t matter to me where we live.”

“Ki…My parents set that money back for my future and…and you are my future.”

That was the first time she cried. I didn’t mean to upset her but I meant every word of what I‘d said. I started to apologize but she flashed me a watery smile and assured me that she was just overwhelmed and emotional and that what I said made her happy.

A few minutes later, I led her back into the apartment to finish showing her around. I loved watching her face as she took it all in. Every smile on her face meant I’d done something right. Eventually I led her upstairs and we stepped into our bedroom.

Just like she’d done downstairs, she made her way around the room, randomly commenting on things. She stopped when she saw the photo I kept of her by the bed.

It was so nice to see the way she smiled as she reached out and ran her fingers over the frame.

I moved closer and pulled her back to me and rested my chin on her shoulder.

She relaxed back into me for a moment before setting the frame back on the dresser and turning to face me.

“Lotus?”

“Yeah?”

“Kiss me.” As if I would ever say no to that.

After such a long time apart, neither of us wanted to stop any time soon. I guess I should have been expecting this but the truth is, I was completely unprepared. The second her lips touched mine I was lost. Before I knew it, things were really getting out of hand.

There was a quiet but nagging voice in the back of my head warning me that this wasn’t the right time. I ignored it at first but then, when she tried to push my shirt off, I knew I had to stop things.

“Ki…wait…Ki…we…wait. We can‘t do this!” I forced myself to pull away even though it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. She tried to reach for me but I dodged her grasp and stood up, trying to put a little distance between us and hopefully regain a little sanity before it was too late.

I can see now how she might have interpreted that wrong. Before I could utter a word, she burst into tears and tried to bolt from the room. I caught up to her before she got far.

It killed me to see her so sad and know that I’d caused it. I had to explain. “Ki…please don’t cry. It’s not what you think. “ I tried to put my hand on her arm but she yanked away, forcefully. My heart twisted in my chest-she’d never pulled away from me.

“Leave me alone! Oh my, Berry, I’m so stupid!”

“Ki. NO. Please don’t say that. You’re not stupid. I want it to happen as bad as you do. You have to believe me!”

She was crying so hard now she could hardly talk. “You l-lied! You…said…when…” She didn’t finish but I didn’t need her to. I knew exactly what she was trying to say.

“Oh Ki. I know I said when we could be together it would happen but we need to wait just a little longer. It wouldn’t be right…Don’t you see? I don’t want it to be like this.”

“I d-don’t under-sta-and.”

Oh Berry, this was bad. I’d never seen her so upset.

“Ki, baby, please. I love you more than anything and I want to be with you. I do. But…not like this. Not when you’re so upset. You’ve been through so much lately. “

“Oh Berry it is my fault. Just tell me, Lotus. You don’t want me! “ She pulled away from me again.

I was beginning to feel desperate and, honestly, a little hurt that she couldn’t see what this meant to me. I sighed and dropped my head. “Ki…I don’t want you to be with me just because you’re mad at your Dad. I…I just wanted it to be something more than that. I just wanted it to be about us.” I knew what I said would probably make things worse but it was the truth and I wasn’t going to lie to her.

Her hands flew to her mouth as my words sank in. “Oh. Oh my Berry. Lotus…I…I…” And then she was sobbing again. I tried again to put my arms around her and this time she let me.

“Shhh…Ki. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I began to feel like an idiot. I mean, did it really matter? Deep down I knew it did but my resolved crumbled a little more with every tear she cried.

“I’m s-sorry Lotus!”

That was it. I couldn‘t take another second. My girl was standing there crying because she wanted to be with me and I was saying no? Yeah, so not happening. “What the berry am I thinking?! ” I swooped her up in my arms before she had a chance to protest and carried her the few feet back to the bed.

She blinked rapidly, trying to clear the tears from her eyes as she worked to comprehend what was happening. “Lotus…wha…what are you doing?”

I gently put her on her feet. “What I should have done fifteen minutes ago.” Her eyes popped open wide and her jaw dropped. I think she was trying to say something but she never got it out because I kissed her.

And for a few moments, we were lost in that bliss again.

This time it was Kiki who pulled back. “Lotus, what….are you serious?”

“Kiki, I can‘t stand seeing you hurting and I‘ll be damned if I‘m going to be the one making you feel worse. If you say you’re ready, I believe you.” I crashed my lips down on hers again and was quite enjoying myself when I felt her soft hands pushing gently at my chest.

I pulled back but didn’t let go. When I looked at her, she was gazing back at me with an amused expression. “You really mean it, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Lotus, you were right. We can’t.”

“We…cant?” I was glad she was starting to see my point but let‘s be honest, I was also a smidge disappointed. “Wait…you just…” And by smidge, I mean a lot.

She smiled sheepishly. “I know. I’m sorry. You…you’re right, Lotus. I’m a mess.”

“Ki…” But she held up her hand to stop me.

“Don’t even say it. It’s true, I am a mess. Maybe…maybe if we wait until tomorrow…”

I was disappointed but not so much that I couldn‘t see what she was doing. “Ki, there’s no rush.” I lowered my lips to her ear. “I told you before, no matter when it happens, it will be worth the wait. Let’s just wait a few days. Take some time to get everything figured out and settled down, okay? When the time is right, we’ll know.”

She nodded but I could tell by the way she bit her lip she was still fretting over something. “Okay but…”

“But what?”

“We can still…compromise. Right?” Her cheeks were the most beautiful shade of pink I’d ever seen.

“Absolutely.”

Is this our Destiny?

There were no doubts left, only relief as the minutes ticked past. I didn’t belong here and I wasn’t staying another day.

Gravity don’t mean too much to me
I’m who I’ve got to be
These pigs are after me, after you

Run away like it was yesterday
And we could run away
If we could run away,
Run away from here

I gotta bulletproof heart
You gotta hollow point smile
We had our run away scarves,
Got a photograph dream on the getaway mile.

Let’s blow a hole in this town
And do our talking with the laser beam.
Coming out of this place
In a bullet’s embrace
Then we’ll do it again.

How can they say, Jenny could you come back home?
‘Cause everybody knows you don’t
Ever wanna come back, let me be the one to save you.

Gravity don’t mean too much to me
I’m who I’ve got to be.
These pigs are after me, after you

Run away like it was yesterday
When we could run away,
When we could run away, run away from here.

I’m shooting out of this room
Because I sure don’t like the company
You stop your preaching right there
‘Cause I really don’t care
And I’ll do it again.

So get me outta my head.
‘Cause it’s getting quite cramped, you know.
Coming ready or not
When the motor gets hot
We can do it again.

The papers say, Johnny won’t you come back home?
‘Cause everybody knows you don’t wanna give yourself up
Tell the truth and God will save you

Gravity don’t mean too much to me
I’m who I’ve got to be
These pigs are after me, after you

Run away like it was yesterday
And we could run away,
And we could run away, run away from here.

And though I know how much you hate this
Are you gonna be the one to save us
From the black and hopeless feeling
Will you meet ’em when the end comes reeling?

Hold your heart into this darkness
Will it ever be the light to shine you out
Or fall and leave you stranded
I ain’t gonna be the one left standing
You ain’t gonna be the one left standing
We ain’t gonna be the ones left standing

Gravity don’t mean too much to me
Is this our destiny?
This world is after me, after you

Run away like it was yesterday
And we could run away, run away, run away,
Run away from here.
Yeah, away from here.
Away from here.

Run away, Like it was yesterday…

It’s been three months since I saw him last.

After Dad and I talked, I felt hopeful. I thought that if I could just give him some time to learn to trust me again, that he’d lighten up and I could at least call Lotus. But that hadn’t happened.

I threw myself into my studies and graduated with honors. I thought maybe after Graduation, he’d relent. No such luck. I told myself it had only been three weeks since we talked and that I needed to be patient.

So I kept playing by his rules. It wasn’t hard to occupy my time-I had Abby to keep me busy. It was easy to wile away nearly every waking moment with that precious little creature. I was there the first time she smiled and took joy in trying to elicit more smiles after that. I was happy to do anything with her be it changing a diaper, bathing her or quietly singing to her as I rocked her to sleep. Abby didn’t make me miss Lotus any less but at least she helped me pass the time.

When I wasn’t with Abby, I just tried to keep busy helping Ashley around the house, painting or practicing piano. It was a dreary monotony at best. As time went on, despite sweet Abby, I felt the depression and helplessness creeping in, blurring my mind. It was just like before-always in the house, no friends to talk to, no Lotus. The only difference was not having that damned hat. And this time it wasn’t my choice.

I tried, I really did. Periodically, I even tried to talk to Dad. Each time ended the same.

Ashley tried to talk to him, too, with the same results. Lately, it was becoming more and more common to happen upon them arguing in hushed tones. I knew it was about me and that made me feel terrible but I couldn’t help but hope Ashley could make him see reason. I didn’t know how much more I could take.

Dad and I had our last big blow up two weeks ago. Each time got worse and that one was no exception. I’ve done everything he’s asked of me and I pointed that out. Like always, he blew up, exclaiming that I should have thought of that before I ran off to Bridgeport with “that boy.” In that moment, I realized I was sick of playing by his rules and took off out the front door the moment he left the room. And then I ran. I ran and ran with one thought in mind-find a phone and call the number that I’d carried with me since Lotus left.

Nightfall was approaching as I made my way to the park. When I reached the center of the park, I could see there were a lot of people around but none of them would be willing to help me. I felt my desperation grow and then I spotted Miss Pebble. She’d been my math teacher and one of the few who hadn’t treated me like I was some poor little freak. I felt bad-she’d been kind to me and I was going to have to lie to get her to help but it had to be done. Making my way to her, I conjured up a simple story to tell.

She bought my lie and in two minutes I had her phone in my shaking hands as I dialed the number. My stomach was churning with nerves. I was so, so close to finally being able to hear his voice again. As the line rang, I closed my eyes, anxiously waiting for Rip to answer. I guess that’s why I was so surprised when I heard the angry, female voice bark “Hello?!” into the receiver.

“Uh, Is this…I mean, is Riptide…there?”

“Who wants to know?” Her voice oozed suspicion.

“Um, this is K-Kiki. Lotus’ girlfriend…”

“OH. Right. Well, Kiki. Rip moved out. In fact, he’s probably off somewhere with Lotus instead of with me, AS USUAL.”

Oh Berry. What was I supposed to say to that? “Um, I’m really sorry. Is there any way you could give me Lotus’ number?”

“You know, if I were you, I’d have to question why I don’t already have my boyfriend’s number.”

“It’s not like that. Please, it’s…important.”

“Yeah sure. Look, kid, I don’t have time for this. If Lotus wants to talk to you he’ll give you his number won’t he? Don’t call this number again!”

And with a click, I was cut off from my one and only link to Lotus.

Since then, it felt like I’d lost all the fight in me. Dad was furious I’d left the house and “grounded” me although I don’t know what else he thought he could take from me. I spent most of the time in my room, miserable. I didn’t know what else to do. I could go to Bridgeport but how would I find him? I could go to Riptide’s old place but I seriously doubted Electra would give me any information. I could call Mr. Bali but I knew he wouldn’t tell me anything unless Dad told him it was okay. I was stuck and, as far as I could see, there was no way out.

Until last night.

I’d been avoiding Dad so it was nearly one in the morning when I decided to go down to the kitchen for a snack. I guess it wasn’t late enough because as soon as I got to the door, I could hear them arguing again. I heard Lotus’ name and rushed around dining room door to see if I could hear better. At first I could only hear bits and pieces but as their argument progressed, they got louder.

“…can’t keep doing this to her, Sam. It’s not right!…”

“…not until he’s out of the picture! “

“…can’t just throw them away! They belong to her!…”

“…just make it harder. It’s for the best!”

“Sam, they’re just cards! He just wants her to know he didn’t forget her. He cares about her!”

“They’re kids! She needs to move on from that boy!”

“She’s not going to Sam! Why can’t you see that? She deserves to see them! You can’t just let her think he’s forgotten about her! It’s breaking her heart!”

“It’s best for her! She belongs HERE! With her family-not in Bridgeport with that boy!”

“It’s best? What?! Sam, listen to what you’re saying! She just wants to talk to him! ”

“It’s not up for discussion, Ashley! What did you do with them?”

When she finally responded, there was venom in her voice “Don’t worry about it, Sam. They’re somewhere they’ll be safe until you decide to stop acting like a jackass!”

“I’ve got to get some air! Try to see some sense while I’m out.”

Dad stormed out then, thankfully not using the dining room door where I was frozen.

Lotus had written me. He sent cards. And Ashley still had them…somewhere. Mail from him would have a return address on them. I pushed the door open but the kitchen was empty. I rushed through the kitchen and the study door and, thankfully, there she was.

“Ashley…?”

She jumped a little at my voice. “How much did you hear, Kiki?”

I was surprised by the tears I suddenly had to choke back. “He wrote me.”

She kept her back to me but nodded.

“Ashley…please….”

With a big sigh she turned to face me. “In my top dresser drawer.”

I was up the stairs twenty seconds later.

They were right where she said they were. Somewhere, deep in my mind, I wondered why on earth she’d picked this as her safe spot? Geez. At any rate, they were still there. Two cards. I opened them as carefully as I could with my shaking hands. One was from a couple months ago, for graduation, and the other was for my birthday, which is next week.

Both of them had beautiful notes in them that made me cry but the graduation card had something even better. His phone number.

I jumped at the sound of the door opening. It was Ashley looking more weary than I’d ever seen her. “Your Dad came right back, Kiki. He’s waiting for me to come back down so we can talk. Get to your room, okay?” She gave me an odd look but I didn’t have time to figure out why.

I lowered my voice. “Ashley, please…”

Her eyes widened and she looked directly at me. “Go to your room, Kiki. Please.”

I took the hint. I’d have to wait until tomorrow. Not wanting to run into Dad, I flew up the steps to my room. As soon as the door was closed behind me, I turned towards my bed with every intention of wallowing in my sorrows on it. What I saw stopped me.

There, sitting neatly on my pillow was Ashley’s cell phone.

____________________________________________________________

The day after the fiasco with Lilly, I spent the day at home, wallowing in my misery.

I guess at some point I dozed off on the couch because I was startled awake sometime after three by my phone ringing.

“’lo?” I knew I sounded rough but there was nothing I could do about it.

“Lotus?” Her voice was low and I could tell she was crying but it was her. My heart soared, despite her tears, and I jumped up, suddenly filled with nervous energy.

“Kiki. Oh Berry, Kiki. Are you okay, love?”

There was a long pause in which I could hear her sniffling and gasping. My chest tightened. “Kiki, please…”

“I-I don’t want to be here anymore. I-I know we said…b-but, Lotus, I…”

I didn’t need to hear another word. “I can be there by dawn. Sit tight, baby. I’m coming to get you.”

Regrets…

It’s been three months since I left Twinbrook.

I haven’t heard a word from her since that night.

At first I was so busy setting up my life in Bridgeport, I didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on how much I missed her.

The first thing I did was enroll in classes. I’m taking a painting course, creative writing and music theory.

I also signed up for a mixology class so I can bartend for some extra money. Not that I need it now.

On my birthday, Dad dropped the bomb. When my parents died, they left me some money in a trust which, now that I was legally an adult, was all mine. He hadn’t wanted to tell me before, fearing I wouldn’t work as hard in school if I knew I had a sizeable chunk of Simoleons waiting for me. I have to admit that knowing that money was there took a tremendous amount of pressure off. I wasn’t rich by any means but I now had more than enough to get Kiki and I a decent apartment and, Berry willing, buy a ring and pay for a wedding. Because that’s what I wanted most of all now. To marry her and make a life here with her.

So I bartend occasionally on nights and weekends so I don’t have to spend the money from the trust. Now I just need Kiki here.

When I wasn’t in class or working, I spent every waking moment looking for an apartment for us. This was one thing I was willing to spend some of the trust money on. I wanted Kiki to have a good place to live-a place where we could start our lives together. I got a lucky break the third week I was in Bridgeport and found an amazing place downtown. This place would have been miles out of my price range before and I was even more thankful for that trust money.

I was thrilled with our new little home.

It has a small living area and kitchen, two bathrooms and two upstairs bedrooms. The very best part, though, is the huge outdoor balcony and the view… I knew Kiki would love it.

As the date of Kiki’s graduation approached, I wondered if she would leave Twinbrook right away. Two weeks after graduation had passed, I had to admit to myself that she wasn’t coming yet. Even though I told her I’d wait for her, it hurt being away from her and I’ll admit I was unbelievably disappointed.

Still, I’d promised her I’d be patient. I knew she had a new baby sister at home that she was getting to know. And she and her family were still working out so much. It was clear things were still rough by the fact that she still wasn’t allowed to have any contact with anyone. I had no way to get her my new number so I pestered Rip every day and every day he responded with sympathy laced in his voice that he hadn’t heard anything.

There was nothing I could do but wait. So I threw myself further into my studies and my writing.

It was becoming harder to focus now, though. I missed her so much and wished every day that I would just hear something-anything from her. When I was too jumbled to write, I hung out with old friends.

Rip was always good for a sympathetic ear and some good advice. I tried to be there for him, too, since he and Electra were splitting up.

Then one night I ran into an old high school friend while Rip and I were out. The three of us spent some time catching up before Rip had to leave. I decided to head out, too, and Lilly walked to the curb with me reminiscing about our old Chem shenanigans.

As we got to the curb, I turned to say Goodbye but she stopped me.

“Lotus, I’m really glad I ran into you tonight. I always hoped you’d come back to Bridgeport.”

“Are you kidding? There’s no way I could stay away for too long.”

“I’m glad you’re back. Lotus, I…Did you know I had a crush on you all through high school?”

Wow, that was awkward. I tried to think of any response to that.

“Um. Wow. Nope. I had no idea. I…eh…Imagine that.”

“I was just thinking that…now that you’re back, maybe we could go out sometime.”

I immediately tried to find a way to let her down easily. My heart belonged to Kiki. But in that moment, somewhere in the deepest part of my mind, fears I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge before began to grow. What if Kiki didn’t come? How long would I wait? How long could I wait? What if she changed her mind? I stood there, speechless, wrestling with my thoughts while Lilly waited for a response. I guess she took my silence as a good thing because the next thing I knew, she’d leaned in close as though she was about to kiss me…

I threw my hands up and backed away.

“Lilly, that’s very flattering but I have a girlfriend. I’m sorry. I’ve got to go.” And I left her standing there on the sidewalk while I raced home.

My mind was reeling and Lilly’s revelation was the least of my worries. I missed Kiki. I needed her. I’d left her even though I had no way to contact her. I had no idea how she was, how she felt or even if she was still coming. What if leaving her there hurt her too much? Suddenly, I bitterly regretted leaving Twinbrook. I told her once she could have waited to come to Bridgeport with me and I realized now that I could have waited for her. I should have waited. But I didn’t. I left her behind in that awful town. I tried to reassure myself that Kiki loved me and understood why I left but I still couldn’t snap out of it.

When I got home, I looked around wondering what I would do if she never saw this place. I’d left her behind, like a fool, and now I had to face the fact that I might have hurt her too badly. What if I never had the life with Kiki that I’d dreamed of?

It was too much. I wandered out to the balcony and sank down unable to shake the fear that had taken hold.

That’s where I’ve been for the last several hours. As the sun rose I made a decision.

Her birthday is in one week. I’ll wait until then. I know I told her I’d wait for her but I can’t wait anymore. I’ll wait until her birthday and then I’m going after her. I’ll move back to Twinbrook if I have to but one thing is clear now. I need Kiki like I need air and I’m not going to lose her without a fight.

Hello and Goodbye…

Dad never came home the day I saw Lotus. I didn’t actually see Dad until the next evening. I felt bad having to tell him what I’d done but I knew I had to be honest.

After he assured me Ashley and Abby were okay, I jumped in with both feet.

“Dad I need to talk to you. Please hear me out, okay?”

He raised his eyes at me suspiciously but just nodded. I think he was just too exhausted to do anything else.

“I called Lotus yesterday. I-I met him.”

He opened his mouth to talk but I cut him off. “You said you’d hear me out! I only talked to him for twenty minutes. I-I just needed to say goodbye.” I figured it was best not to mention that’s not exactly why I’d called Lotus. It’s what happened and that’s all that mattered.

“Goodbye?”

I nodded. “Just for now. Not forever, Dad. But it’s not fair for him to sit around Twinbrook waiting for me when I can’t even leave the house.”

“Okay…”

“He told me he’s moving to Bridgeport. He wants to get a job and take some classes. He can’t do any of that here.”

“Why are you telling me this, Kiki?”

“Because, I-I understand now how wrong I was to lie to you. Both of you. I want you to trust me and I want to be honest with you. Dad, I love Lotus.”

He ran his hands through his hair. “Lord, Kiki, I think I’m too tired for this conversation.”

“I just wanted you to know. I’m not staying away from him forever. But right now I just want to focus on school and my family.”

“Thank you, Ki. I appreciate you telling me. For right now, the consequences still stand but maybe we can talk about…loosening up a bit. But I can’t have you running off to Bridgeport to see him.”

“I won’t Dad. I swear. And, well, that’s all I guess.” I shifted to get up but stopped when Dad cleared his throat. He clearly had something else to say.

“Ki, do I…uh, that is, do we need to, uh, discuss, ah, birds and bees things?”

“Berry, Dad, please NO! Ashley already did that a long time ago.”

He let out a huge breath. “Oh thank God. But you’re not…”

I jumped up then. “Ah! Dad! No! I’m not doing that!”

His cheeks were blazing pink. “Great. Then let’s never speak of this again.”

_________________________________________________________

Things had settled down a lot since my confession. I still missed Lotus terribly but I felt a lot less frantic about being with him. Once I had my head straight, I realized he just wanted me to trust in him and his promises. I could do that for him. And having Abby helped fill the void a little. I’d found out I loved kids with Riptide’s girls but that was nothing compared to having my baby sister. Yeah, I had Samantha but I was so much younger when she was born that it was an entirely different experience.

Abby was early but, thank Berry, she was okay. Other than being tiny, she was perfectly healthy. And it took about five seconds for her to have every single one of use wrapped around her bitsy little finger.

I swear, every second her little eyes were open, someone was holding her. Sometimes we held her while she slept, too. She was such a joyful little thing, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to let her be. She was constantly smiling and laughing. Well, her version of a laugh, anyhow.

As the days passed, Dad began to relax. He still didn’t want me talking to Lotus, which hurt a lot, but I did what he asked in hopes that he’d eventually lighten up on Lotus.

Ten days after I’d seen him last, I woke up and realized with dread that it was Lotus’ birthday. I had no idea how soon he’d be leaving but I knew he wouldn’t wait long. It was a Saturday and I spent most of the day in my room.

I shed more than a few tears that day and sometime after night fell, I must have drifted off to sleep. The next thing I knew, Ashley was shaking me gently and whispering to me.”

“Kiki. Kiki I’m sorry to wake you.”

I blinked a few times, trying to get my bearings. As I looked up at her face, I realized she looked very…concerned. I jumped up, immediately worried. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes. Everything’s okay. Kiki, I-I…when your Father and I got together, my parents forbid me to see him. They could never be remotely flexible and disowned me when I married him.” I vaguely wondered if I was dreaming. Why on earth was she waking me up to tell me this?

“The reason I’m telling you this is because…you have a visitor in the backyard.”

“Huh?”

“I don’t want to lose you, Kiki and neither does your Father. He’s just going about things differently than me.” She winked at me then and gave me a very pointed look. “You have a vistor and you deserve to give him a proper Goodbye until you can see him again.”

My heart leapt into my throat. “Thank you!” I threw my arms around her without thinking.

She swallowed thickly. “Just don’t be too long, okay?”

“Okay!” And then I was racing downstairs.

____________________________________________________________

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I vaguely registered that he already looked different but all I could really focus on was that he was there. I couldn’t get to him fast enough.

I felt his breath in my hair as he held me tight. It amazed me at how right it still felt to be in his arms. This was where I belonged.

After a couple of minutes, I was the one to pull back. I wasn’t sure how much time I had but there were things to say before he left.

“How…I mean…You’re here…”

He nodded sheepishly. “I ran into Ashley downtown yesterday. She told me to come here tonight before I left. She said she couldn’t make any promises but she would try to let me see you.”

I was floored at what she’d done for me but I couldn’t dwell on it yet. There was still too much to say. “When are you leaving?”

“Tonight. After I leave here.” I nodded. I’d been prepared to hear this but it still hurt.

“And then what?”

He shrugged. “I’m gonna stay with Rip until I can get a place. Sign up for some classes. Get a job.”

I nodded again. More things I already knew.

“You were right, Lotus. I want to be with you more than anything but…I want to do it the right way.”

He smiled then and reached out to touch my face.

“I’m so relieved to hear you say that. I was afraid you were going to beg me to take you with me.”

“I considered it.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to say no. I want to give you the world, Kiki. I will. I’ll be waiting for you.”

Suddenly, there were tears in my eyes and all I could do was whisper. “Promise?”

He leaned in and kissed me gently on the forehead before pulling me to him again.

“I promise. I’ve never meant anything more in my life.”

“How will I get in touch with you?”

“As soon as I can afford it, I’ll try to get a new cell and get the number to Dad.” He dug in his pocket and pulled out a small, folded piece of paper which he then placed in my palm. “This is Rip’s number. He will always know how to get in touch with me. Even after I get us a place.”

“Us.” When he said that, any last doubts I had fell away. He was planning for our future together. Without really thinking about what I was doing, I threw myself into his arms. He swooped me up without a second thought.

I nestled my face into his neck as he held me close.”Lotus, you’re more amazing than I could ever tell you. I don’t deserve you.”

He leaned in and kissed the top of my head. “Silly Kiki. I’m nothing without you.”

I clung to him for another minute or so, weeping quietly, before I realized his arms were going to break if I didn’t get down.

He set me gently to my feet. “Kiki…I…”

“I know, Lotus. You need to get going. You have a long drive.” I smiled sadly.

He nodded and I swear I saw tears in his eyes but I could never be sure because then his lips crashed down on mine and I was lost.

When he pulled away again, he rubbed my cheek one last time. “I’ll be waiting,Ki. When things are right, I’ll be there waiting.”

All I could do was nod. After one last kiss and some whispered “I Love You’s” he went.

I held it together until he drove away.