Back on Track


Gazing into the full length mirror, I turned from side to side, trying to decide if I could pull off this dress. Adjusting it a bit, I heard Fleur wailing from the living room and Hibi’s voice lightly scolding Orchid. “No hitting, Orchid. Be gentle with Fleur. That’s right…oh! Fleur! That’s not nice!” Not surprisingly, Orchid’s wail followed and I chuckled, wondering how Fleur had retaliated. Deciding to just check, I headed for the door but startled back as it flew open and Lotus stepped in before pushing it closed behind him. He wore jeans, a crumpled tee and a wide grin.

I looked up at him sheepishly and he cocked his eyebrow, before pulling me into his arms. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I was only going to check.”

He shook his head. “Nope. Date night. You know the drill. Sam and Ash have it under control. ”

“Then why am I nearly ready and you still haven’t even showered?”

He chuckled. “I just wanted to finish with Hua.”

I grinned. “Mm hmm. Hypocrite.” He returned my grin before leaning in for a kiss. He let me go and headed for the bathroom before stopping in his tracks and turning back to me, pulling my body close to his. I shivered as his lips ghosted over my cheek and to my ear. “And just so you don’t think I didn’t notice, you look so good, love. I can’t wait…” He kissed me, rather than finish the sentence but I could guess what he would have said.

Leaving me standing there, he bolted off to the bathroom calling over his shoulder, “Fifteen minutes. I’ll be ready!”

I couldn’t help but laugh as I returned to my spot at the mirror and started adjusting my hair and dress again. I was excited. We’d been having a date night almost every week for the last three months. Tonight was special, though-we were celebrating our wedding anniversary. Dad and Ashley were going to take the babies to their house after Jer and Pink picked up Hib and the twins in twenty minutes or so. Though it was always hard to be away from the kids, the thought of a night alone with Lo left goose bumps covering my skin.

Closing my eyes, I pondered how much things had changed already. Date nights, girl’s day out, even a newly redecorated bedroom-all had become a part of my reality. I let my thoughts drift back to that day three months ago, after our friends had come to the rescue in the middle of the night…

 

By the time Lotus and I made our way inside, Pink had managed to get Hibi, Fleur and Orchid into their high chairs for breakfast.

Lotus gave me another soft kiss before he went to get dressed. As I watched him walk away, I saw Rip and Pink turning to hide their smiles. Blushing, I turned my attention to the kids.

The rest of the day passed like usual-a blur of feedings, diapers, naps, reading books, playing and running interference between the toddlers but with friends there, it took so much of the pressure off.

True to her word, Pink talked to just about everyone we knew and were comfortable with and organized all sorts of help for us. Lotus and I were very, very grateful for it all and, over time, things have gotten so much better.

Lotus and I worked hard on getting Hibi, Orchid and Fleur back on some semblance of a normal bedtime which helped immensely.The babies have started sleeping a little better, too, making them easier to manage. They’re still up some in the night but Lotus and I usually handle it on our own now. Pink still insists on having someone over at least once a week and if things get too bad (like three weeks ago when all three girls caught a cold and didn’t sleep at all) we know to call for help now.

The weekend Hibiscus turned five, we had a wonderful little party at the house. Once again, our friends really came through for us, helping plan everything. It was bittersweet but completely wonderful in every way.


The weekend after Hib’s birthday, Lotus and I had our first date night. A few days after that, Pink showed up at my door with several of our girlfriends, Riptide, Jer and the kids. I was beyond confused when I opened the door and found them all standing there. It turned out she was dropping Riptide, Jer and the kids off and forcing me out of the house for a day at the spa with the girls. I had so much fun reconnecting with my friends that day and we vowed to try to get together at least once every couple of months. Lotus did the same with the guys a couple of times while the girls and I took care of the kids together.

All these things-the date nights, the spa days, the sleep-they made all the difference in the world-we finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel and were able to enjoy our children the way they were meant to be. We settled into life as a family of eight and now I couldn’t imagine life before our sweet girls came along.

The sound of the shower shutting off brought me back from my reverie. With a smile I went out to check on the kids while I waited for Lotus so we could start our date.

Hours later, Lo and I walked hand in hand down at the Esplanade, near where we’d been married. We hadn’t been here in a long while, the park near our house being much better suited for small children. We found a bench and sat, Lo putting his arm around me. Nearby someone played a guitar and I let myself settle back into his embrace as the music seemed to dance softly around us. It reminded me a little of the days when Lotus and I would spend hours on our bench at the beach in Twinbrook. I realized, looking back, that there wasn’t a thing I would change because all of it had led me here.

After a few minutes, Lo broke the silence. “So I was thinking.”

“Mmm?”

“What if, after the girls’ birthday, we spend a couple weeks, maybe three at the beach in Sunset Valley?”

I glanced at him in surprise. “Really? That long?”

“Sure, why not? I can take some time off and it’s close enough I can drive back if I absolutely have to be at a meeting. I think it would be a great vacation.”

“But where would we stay?”

“Jer mentioned that since Pink is due in the summer, they won’t be making the trip as often as they normally would. He offered it to us.”

“Really? Lotus that’s awesome! Can you imagine the kids on the beach? The girls have never been!” The girls’ birthday was still more than seven months away but I couldn’t help already feeling a little excited.

He grinned at me. “I know. I can’t wait to see them put their feet in the water and sand for the first time.” When he said things like that, it reminded me exactly why I loved him so much. Tugging at his shirt, I got him to lean down so I could kiss him.

That kiss distracted me for a moment and it was Lotus who eventually pulled away. It took me a few moments to gather myself before I spoke again. “So what brought all this on?”

“Well, of course, I want to take the kids to the beach. I think it’d be a great vacation.” Lotus shifted and sat up a little straighter. I wondered if there was more to it and kept quiet, waiting for him to continue. “And, well, I’ve been doing some thinking. Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something.”

His tone didn’t suggest anything particularly serious or bad but I was curious about what he was going to say. “What is it?”

“Well…I know this isn’t your favorite subject but the kids are growing so fast.“ My heart dropped. I knew where this was going. Lotus was going to tell me again what I already knew. Our home wasn’t big enough for six children but I had no desire to move and it could be years before a house came on the market in our neighborhood. I looked away but felt his hand grip mine before he laced our fingers together.
“Ki, don’t be upset. I’m not going to ask you to move again.” I let out a sigh of relief that was just as quickly replaced with guilt. I didn’t want to move but I also knew he was right-our kids needed more space.

I squeezed his hand and looked back at him. “Then what? Expanding?”

“Sort of.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ki, what would you think about building a new home on our property?” That took me by surprise. “You mean like a whole new house?” Lo nodded. “But what about expanding?”

“I’ve been looking at that with Ganby’s help. With the space issues we’re having, it’s going to take a lot of work to expand. And even if we went that route, the eventual layout possibilities are just not something I’m crazy about. We already had to move the table out of the kitchen because of space so that’s got to be bigger. If we move the kitchen, then all the plumbing has to be re-done anyhow. Same for the bathrooms and all the wiring. Plus, there’s only so far we can go on each side. Unless we build into our backyard space or build upward, we’re fairly limited. I don’t really think a smaller yard would be wise and adding a second story to our house would be a nightmare, at best.”

“You’ve put a lot of thought into this.”

He nodded. “I have, Kiki. I want a home our children can be comfortable in and I know you don’t want to leave our property. I don’t either, Ki. As far as I’m concerned, we have the best view in town and there is no replacement for being so close to friends and family. This seems like a really good option. I know we’d have to tear down the house and that will hurt but this way we could stay and have the space and home we need.”

I nodded, not quite willing to think about tearing our beloved house down just yet. “Can we even afford to build?” In my mind, the answer to that was no. And though Lotus had gone on a few interviews lately for something more steady than the newspaper column and some freelance work, he hadn’t landed anything yet.

“With all the expanding we’d have to do to give us enough space we’d be forking out a lot of money. Building will cost more but we’ll get the house we need and it will be a better way to spend our money.”

I narrowed my eyes. He’d danced right around my question. “Lo. You didn’t answer me. Can we afford it?”

A slow smile spread across his face. “We can now.”

“What..? Lotus did you hear something?”

His smile widened before he slowly nodded. “I got it Ki. The one I really wanted. You’re looking at the new staff writer for All Around Bridgeport.”

With a squeal I threw myself into his arms. Lotus had wanted this job badly. Having more income was definitely going to be great but in that moment all I could think about was how happy and proud I was for him.

He squeezed me tight and dropped his lips onto my head before whispering, “So to answer you question, yes my Love, I think we can afford it.”

The Morning After…

**Note: This chapter is a collaboration with Avanis, Rae, Nicarra and Proxima. They each helped me to get through the chapter and tweak it until it was just right.**
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When I woke up the first thing I remember feeling is a sense of relief at waking in Lotus’ arms. Then it all came flooding back-Hua crying out, waking me after less than an hour of sleep and the faint sounds of Lotus desperately trying to appease Orchid in the front room. In that moment everything came crashing down on me and I fell apart. I’d never known such a sense of hopelessness and despair.

Easing out of the bed so as not to wake Lotus, I slipped into the bathroom. The night’s sleep had certainly done me some good-I felt better and the nagging sense of hopelessness was diminished incredibly. But there was still a knot of unease settled in my chest and I realized we‘d only gotten through one night-what would happen tonight when our friends were gone?

Before I had too long to dwell on that thought, though, I heard the distinct clink of coffee mugs from the next room. After splashing some water on my face and throwing my hair back, I made my way to the kitchen. Riptide was singing softly to himself as he made coffee. With a deep yawn, he reached up and ran a hand through his hair before turning and spotting me. A wide smile lit up his face and before I had a chance to say a word he’d come around the counter and pulled me into his arms.

“How you doing, Ki?”

Tears stung my eyes as I gave him a squeeze and said a silent prayer of thanks for having such amazing friends. “Okay.”

He held me at arms length and raised an eyebrow. “You know we’re here for you guys. You two should have asked for more help weeks ago.”

I swallowed thickly, too choked up to answer and he gave me another tight hug before releasing me. “How’s Lo?”

“Still sleeping.”

He nodded and went back around the counter. “Want some coffee?

I shook my head. “Maybe in a little while. I-I want to see the kids.”

“Ok. But you get one of us if they start raising hell.” He turned and shot me a stern look. I couldn’t help but smile at that and nodded my assent.

Riptide gave a nod in the direction of the living room and nursery, where I knew the children would be. Moving out of the kitchen, I crept quietly through the front room where Ganby lay sprawled on the couch snoring.

Peeking into the nursery first, I found myself fighting back tears again. I stood watching my three oldest babies sleeping peacefully for a few moments, trying hard not to think about how their lives had changed. After a minute or two, I backed out of the room not wanting to wake them.

The last room was the room that was meant to be Hibi’s after his birthday next week. Lotus and I had planned to redecorate it for him and put in a set of bunk beds before the girls were born but hadn’t had a chance to do much else. Crossing the space, I reached my hand out for the doorknob but flinched back slightly when it opened to reveal Pink’s face, blinking rapidly.

Her eyes widened for a split second before she launched herself in my direction, tugging me into a death grip. Ever grateful for what she’d done, I hugged her back, never more thankful for my best friend as I was right then. After a long squeeze she held me at arms length. “Are you okay, Kiki? I’ve been so worried!”

I gave a little nod, not really feeling okay but knowing I would, eventually. Pink narrowed her eyes and looked at me carefully for a moment before nodding towards the door. “Okay. The girls were all up in the last hour. Calla and Soph ate and went right back to sleep. Lark’s just getting Hua back down now. Have some coffee with me and we can talk?”

I nodded again. “Just let me peek in on them, okay?” She gave my hand a squeeze and smiled her assent before heading off while I nudged the door open. Lark was standing with Hua, swaying gently from side to side.

She turned and smiled at me as I approached. After gently settling Hua into my arms Lark gave me a light hug and left the room. Hua was nearly asleep but I didn’t want to put her down so I just held my baby, feeling guilty at the way I’d let her cry the night before.

I stayed there like that with her until Lark came back in several minutes later. After settling Hua in the crib and peeking at Calla and Soph, I headed back towards the kitchen. Rip had a mug of coffee ready for me and said Pink had gone outside with hers. I joined her on the little bench out back and we sat there sipping our drinks in silence for a minute or so.

Pink spoke first. “Do you want to talk about it?”

I shrugged and glanced at her. “Do I have a choice?”

She’s the only person I know that can make a grin look serious. “You know you do, Ki but I wish you’d talk to me.”

After letting out a sigh, I answered her. “I don’t know…I just…I’d only been asleep for maybe 40 minutes. Neither Lotus or I has been sleeping more than 3 or 4 hours a night and never at one stretch. We’ve been so scattered and now the twins’ schedules are all messed up and they’re having trouble at night again. Even Hib’s been waking up. When Hua started crying so quickly after I put her down, I just started bawling. Then I could hear everything going on in the living room and I knew Lotus couldn’t help me. I just…I guess I just broke down.”

“Oh, Kiki. Honey, anyone would be overwhelmed under those circumstances. It’s amazing that you’ve kept it together this long!” She put her mug on the ground and reached over to grab my hand.

All I could do was shake my head. “I feel like such a failure. To them. To Lotus. To all you guys. I can’t even manage my children let alone be there for any of you.”

“Are you kidding? You’re a fantastic mother! Everyone needs help sometimes, Kiki. Did you know that I was a MESS right after Mazu was born? We didn’t want to bother you and Lo, because you were busy with the twins and Hibi but Ganby and Lark were over constantly. Without them… I don’t know how Jer and I would have done it and we just had two.”

“That’s exactly what I mean, Pink. I want to be there for you guys, for Rip and my sisters but how when I can’t even manage the most basic things? Lotus and I aren’t getting any sleep and, until he forced me into the shower last night, I hadn’t had one in four days. There’s no time. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I can’t even…” I stopped, not wanting to cry again.

Pink simply squeezed my hand and looked at me sympathetically while I worked to regain control.

After a few deep breaths, I went on. “I can‘t even plan a simple birthday party for Hibi. My sweet boy is going to be five next week and I can barely find the time to read him a book, let alone put together a party. We wanted it to be special! This is a big birthday! We were going to re-do the front bedroom for him but never got past buying the bunk beds! Hell, we wanted to redecorate the whole house but that seems years away now. Pink you know how much I hate that awful wallpaper mistake in our bedroom and now who knows when we’ll be able to do anything!”

Feeling agitated, I stood up and looked out at the view before turning back to Pink, who had gotten up, too. “And now…now Lotus has mentioned us needing more room. And I know he‘s right, Pink, but I can‘t stand the thought of moving again. Leaving our home and friends and…” I swallowed thickly. “We could expand, but if we can‘t even get a party planned for Hib, I really can‘t see that happening.”

She shook her head. “Kiki, you’re putting too much pressure on yourself! I wish I’d known you were feeling like this. I could kick myself for not seeing it sooner! We’re all going to help you guys out for as long as you need it. We’ve each picked a few nights a week, you guys won’t have to do this alone. Jer and I can easily help pull together Hib‘s party and I know Lark will be thrilled to help finish his room and spruce up the house. You know she lives for that kind of stuff!”

I shook my head. “I can’t ask you guys to do all that. I…”

But she cut me off before I got the next word out. “You don’t have to ask-It‘s already decided so don‘t argue. You guys can’t keep going like this, Kiki. You cannot keep doing this on your own. Hell, I don’t know anyone who could last taking care of six children under five with no relief.”

I gaped at her in disbelief. It was what I’d do for them in the same situation but it still amazed me to hear what they were willing to do for us.

“I’m ALWAYS here for you, Ki. You know I’m just a phone call away, day or night. I know it’s tough with so many babies but try to remember, it won’t be this hard forever. Once you’re sleeping again, things will start looking brighter and we‘ll get everything sorted out, I promise. Let’s just take it one step at a time, okay.“

I nodded as she went on. “I think we’ve got to get you out of this house some, too. Jer and I have been having a date night every week. It helps so much, Kiki, to be around him and just him. I think you and Lotus need that, too. And I think we should have a girls day out or something. Honey, you need a break.”

There was no arguing with that, though I couldn’t imagine how she’d be able to pull something like that together but the look on her face made it clear she was determined to.

The click of the door and a shuffling behind us drew my attention away from Pink.

Turning around, I saw Lotus standing there looking worried and relieved all at once. My eyes locked with his and I felt a surge of emotion. Lotus had done everything he could to help me last night. He’d endured it all, pushing his own stress and exhaustion aside to take care of me when he needed it just as badly as I did. I barely registered Pink excusing herself as I flew into his arms, nearly knocking him over.

His arms closed tightly around me and he nuzzled into my hair. I felt his lips against my ear as he whispered “My Ki.” For a few moments, the world melted away and it was just the two of us.

He pulled back and looked at me, his gaze full of concern.

“Lotus, I’m so so-”

He covered my lips with his finger. “Don’t say it, Ki.”

“But you-”

He cut me off again and pulled me closer. “…will be okay as long as you are okay. Don’t you understand that, Ki? You’re my everything.”

“Oh Lo…”

This time it was his kiss that cut me off.

That was when I knew, without a doubt, that everything was going to be okay.