Home

“I thought I’d find you here.” His voice was gentle and soft but close enough that I knew he was in the room with me. “We should be going, Love.” I didn’t look back at him yet, unable to tear my gaze away from the empty nursery where my babies used to sleep.

“Let’s check the rooms one more time.”

He slipped an arm loosely around my waist. “Kiki, sweetheart, the house is empty. We’ve checked every room at least five times each. You’ve gone through every cabinet and drawer with a fine tooth comb. “

I nodded, biting my lip, trying hold back tears. Lotus brought his other arm around and pulled my body back so that I was flush with his and rested his lips by my ear. “We have everything, Kiki. Checking again isn’t going to make this any easier on you.” Letting my hands drop to his, I gripped him tightly, only able to nod.

“Hey, come here.” I let him gently guide me to face him and buried my head into his neck as he held me tight. “Are you going to be okay? It’s not too late to change our minds. I don’t want to force you into this if you’ll regret it.”

Tears threatened to spill over as I shook my head before leaning back with a sniffle. “No. Lotus we are not changing our minds. I’m so ready for more space. It’s just hard letting go.”

He gave a soft sigh and leaned his forehead to mine, keeping our eyes locked. His hand came up and lightly pushed my hair back. “I know. How can I make it easier for you? I hate seeing you hurting like this.”

I quickly shook my head, realizing I was making things harder for him, too. “Just get me out of here. I just need to go, I think.”

After a quick peck on my lips, he reached down and swooped me up into his arms. I yelped and clung to him, totally taken by surprise. “Lo, what are you doing?! “

Lotus grinned up at me as he carried me from the room. “Carrying you over the threshold one more time.”

My eyes never left his beautiful, smiling face throughout the short walk through the front room and hallway and then out the front door.

He didn’t stop there, carrying me all the way to the car before setting me gently on my feet. “Gonna be okay, Ki?”

I nodded, smiling up at him. “Are you?”

He glanced over his shoulder at the house and then faced me again, smiling too.. “As long as I have you and the kids, that’s all I’ll ever need.”

Twenty minutes later I called Pink to check on the kids as we zoomed down the highway, headed to Sunset Valley. The plans had changed a little, in the last few months. Lotus had convinced me that it would be nice to get away alone for a few days. So we’d be at the beach house by ourselves for a few days and then Pink and Jer would join us with all the kids for a few more days and then we’d keep our kids at the beach for a third week after Pink, Jer and their kids returned to Bridgeport. While we were gone the first week, Hibi, Orch and Fleur would be staying with Pink and Jer while Hua, Calla and Soph would stay with my Dad and Ashley.

The new house definitely wouldn’t be done in just three weeks time so when we went back to the city, we’d be staying with Dad and Ashley until it was finished. I wasn’t nuts about living with Dad and Ashley again but I knew that was just me being silly after all these years and at the end of it all, we’d have a wonderful new home with plenty of space for our children to grow up in.

Once I’d checked in on all the kids, I settled back in the seat, smiling as Lo turned up the radio and took my hand. This was going to be a wonderful week.

Just as I knew it would be, the time alone with Lotus was nothing short of amazing. I could lie and say we spent our time exploring Sunset Valley but who would believe that?

I spent the majority of the week in Lo’s embrace and, though we both missed our kids, we thoroughly enjoyed every moment of our time together. Let’s just say that when Pink, Jer and all the kids finally joined us, the flush on my cheeks had nothing to do with time spent in the sun and everything to do with time spent in Lo’s arms.

Pink was eight months pregnant by that time and just wanted to relax. She and I spent a lot of time poolside. The kids had a blast together but that was nothing new. Pink and Jer’s kids were like more siblings for ours and I was already thankful for the close bond my kids had with them-something I’d never had growing up. Hibi and Salt had always been thick as thieves and Mazu and Orchid, though still really young, seemed to have developed an attachment to each other, too.

There were a few tears when Pink, Jer and their kids headed back to Bridgeport but Lo and I were able to reassure the kids it wouldn’t be long until we saw them again. We spent the last week on the beach together as a family.

It was a wonderful week-idyllic in many ways. I was a little sad to pack up and leave we were all ready to get back and be near our friends again.

The next couple of months were rough but not awful. Dad and Ashley had a big enough house that we could have a little space for ourselves but it just wasn’t the same as being in our own home. I was thankful to be around my sisters and even Dad and Ashley again but at times it was just difficult sharing space. Twelve people in a 5 bedroom house wasn’t really ideal but we made it work. Many times it was just Ashley, the kids and I, anyhow, since Dad and Lotus often went to help work on the new house.

That was one of the biggest advantages to being friends with the contractor-Lotus, Dad, Riptide and Jer were all able to help, meaning things got done a little faster even though the kids and I missed Lo so much when we didn’t get to see him. The other big advantage is that Ganby was able to call in a few favors to make construction go faster and cheaper. In the end it took five full months to get our new home built and another week for Lark, Pink and I to get it decorated. We decided not to move the kids in until everything was unpacked and it took us, with the help of our friends, yet another week to get the boxes unpacked and all our furniture, new and old, into place.

When it came time bring the kids, I couldn’t have been happier. We tried our best for a family picture out front before setting the kids loose inside.

The house was simply stunning, everything having been done exactly to the specs Ganby had so painstakingly guided us through months ago. Lark had decorated every room beautifully and I delighted in watching the kids explore and settle into their new space.

All our little ones enjoyed the nursery space and the family room. In fact, that’s where they spend most of their time.

Hibi’s been partial to the game room over the garage and, ironically, to Lo’s office. Maybe it’s the Simbox 500 and flat screen that Lo just had to have. At any rate, I can usually count on finding Hibi in there with a gaggle of friends.

Sometimes, when Hibi’s needing a little one on one time without the other kids around, I’ll join him in the office. There are few things better than seeing his little face light up when he realizes I’m there to play a few rounds.

Lo and I both agree, our favorite room is our new bedroom. We have the best view in the entire house.

Sometimes at night, after Lo has done his best to show me exactly how much he loves me, we lay spent in each other’s arms, just gazing at the view of Bridgeport. I wonder, sometimes, how life could be any better.

We had a small housewarming party the weekend after we got settled in. The Seastriders, Rip’s family and Lark and Ganby were all there-the guys firing up the grill, us breaking in the new kitchen and the kids running back and forth through the house and outside.

That evening, I volunteered to help Jer and Pink’s little Triakis with a nap. It was just after sunset when I headed back outside, having settled Aki in Lehua’s crib. As I stepped outside, I stopped for a moment, taking in the scene.

Lo, Riptide, Pink, Jer and Chelsea sat around the fire pit, Lo listening intently to whatever Riptide was saying. Jer held Hua on his lap while Rip bounced Mazu gently on his knees. Behind them, Ganby and Lark stood holding Orchid and Fleur and Kobi was walking around the yard with Soph in her arms. Hibi, Reef, Salty, Kai, Calla and Ocean all played happily in the sandbox together.

Drinking in the scene I was hit with the most incredible sense of gratefulness I’d ever known in my life. I’d come so far from that shy girl who was too afraid to take off her hat. Now I had a beautiful home and a yard full of family and friends who meant the world to me. My kids were so loved and they would never know a life without friendship and support. I teared up a little, taking it all in and then my eyes locked with his.

The best friend I’d ever known. The man who changed everything. Where would I have been without him? Would I have ever known any of this kind of happiness? Just the thought of life without him hurt my heart. He broke our gaze long enough to say something to Riptide before standing and walking towards me. When he reached me he wrapped his arms around me, staring straight into my eyes. I knew he could see the sheen of unshed tears and I made no attempt to hide them. They were happy tears.

“What are you thinking about over here, Love?”

Smiling, I motioned towards the scene in the back yard. “I’m just feeling really thankful right now. Look at what we have. Sometimes it just hits me how lucky I am.”

He returned my smile and glanced back at the scene on our lawn, holding me tight against him. “It’s nothing less than you deserve, Ki. You’re an amazing friend…Mother…Wife..Lover.” He kissed me softly after each word and grinned slightly, leaning his head down to hold my gaze as I blushed at the last.

“I wouldn’t have any of this if it weren’t for you, Lo. You changed my life.”

He let out a soft laugh and leaned his forehead against mine. “It’s funny. You always say that and you just have no idea. Kiki…My Ki. You changed my life. I wouldn’t want any of this without you. I love you, Kiki. So much.”

A tear slipped out as I leaned up to meet his lips with mine. “I love you too, my Lotus. Forever.”

“Forever.”

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*Author’s Note: Big, BIG thanks to Raelsinclaire who made the new house for Loki, as a surprise to me. ❤

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.

Coping…

**Author’s note: This chapter was written in collaboration with Avanis with editing input from both Avanis and Raelsinclaire.**

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**Pinkberry**


 

I was just getting ready to get in bed when my cell phone rang. Grabbing for the phone on my bed stand before it could wake Jer I hit the button to answer. “‘Ello?”

“Pinkberry?”

“Lo? Is that you?”

“There’s something wrong with Kiki…She’s crying and she won’t talk to me! The babies are crying, Orchid’s teething and won’t let me out of his sight and…Oh no! ((Fleur, no honey!)) Oh Berry, Pink, she’s in there crying and I can’t do anything!”

His voice cracked with the last few words, and I was already grabbing clothes. “I’m on my way Lotus, just hang in there for a few more minutes ok?”

Hanging up the phone I threw on my sweats and sweatshirt, and shook Jer awake. “Buh?” He blinked sleepily at me. “What’s the matter Pink?” I dropped a quick kiss on his lips. “Emergency at the Bali’s, something’s wrong with Kiki and it’s got Lotus in a panic. I could hear the babies all crying in the background. I’m headed over there to give ’em a hand. Keep an ear out for the kids.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “K love. Call me if you need anything.”

Knowing Jer would be up in a flash if either of our little ones woke, I jogged down the street to the Bali house. I’d been worried about Kiki, when the triplets came. It was a handful for me to balance two, let alone six? No wonder she was overwhelmed. Knowing I’d need some backup myself, I pulled my phone from my pocket and called my twin brother Loganberry. “Hello?”

“Ganby, its Pink. I need your help, can you come over?”

“No problem. Lark’s over at my place, if you need her too?”

“Definitely. I’ll be at the Bali’s house, there’s an emergency with Kiki and Lotus needs us.”

“We’ll be there in about 15 minutes sis.”

Taking a chance that he’d still be up, I dialed Rip’s number. It barely had a chance to ring before he answered. “Riptide.”

“Rip, its Pinkberry. Emergency at Lotus’s. Can you come?” I could hear what sounded like clothing being pulled on.

“You there already?”

“Few minutes. Jogging over from our place.”

“I’ll meet you there.”

I picked up speed, reaching the house at the same time Rip did. We walked up and I knocked on the door. “Lotus, it’s Pink!.” He came to the door with one of the triplets wailing in his arms. His eyes were brimming with tears, and stress was etched all over his face.

I stepped in and gently took the infant from his arms, Rip right behind me.

“Rip, how’d you…”

“Pink called me, bro. You know we’re all here for you. Go take care of Ki, we’ve got things covered.” He went straight to the nursery to start calming down the babies. Snuggling the infant I held with one arm I put my hand on Lotus’s shoulder. “Loganberry and Lark are on the way, and should be here soon. Everything’s going to be ok. Just give a shout if you need one of us ok?” Nodding, a few tears spilled from his eyes. “Thank you Pinkberry.”

******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

**Lotus**

Those first few weeks at home were very difficult. Even with one baby the honeymoon period is tempered by sleepless nights and round-the-clock care giving. With three babies and three toddlers, it was absolute chaos. What little sleep we got was in small increments and never at the same time. We were exhausted, incredibly stressed out and our nerves stretched to the breaking point. Our family and friends helped us out so much but the truth was, it felt like we were barely keeping our heads above water.

Even though we were living under the same roof, I’d never felt less connected with Kiki. There simply wasn’t time for even the simplest things, like sitting together for a meal. I tried to find little ways to connect with her her-sometimes just a quick hand squeeze or peck on the cheek-but even those things were few and far between.

By the time the babies were a month old, I knew it was all taking a serious toll on Kiki. She was more and more distant every day. I tried a couple times to talk to her about it but the kids were always around so that got me nowhere.

It all came to a boiling point late one night when the girls were just over 6 weeks old. I was in the front room juggling Calla, Soph and Orchid while Kiki and Blossom slept in the bedroom. I heard Blossom start to cry but didn’t think much of it until a couple of minutes passed and she was still wailing, louder than ever. I laid Soph down onto the blanket on the floor, next to a sleeping Calla and hauled Orchid into my arms before taking off for the bedroom to check on them.

I expected to find that Kiki had simply gone to the bathroom or taken a quick shower so when I saw her sitting on the edge of the bed, sobbing so hard she was gasping for breath, my heart seized in my chest. “Oh Berry! Ki, love, what’s happening? Are you okay?” She just kept sobbing and I could feel the panic bubbling up inside me as she shook her head from side to side.

Blossom was crying harder now and Orchid’s lower lip began to tremble. I heard another wail from the direction of the living room and knew Soph needed to be fed soon. In that moment, I nearly broke down but looking at Ki, I realized I had to keep it together. Drawing on my last shred of composure, I did the only thing I could-fumbling for my cell phone with trembling hands, I called for help.

When Riptide showed up with Pinkberry I was floored and humbled that my friends would pull together like this for us. There was so much I wanted to say to them but it would have to wait-Kiki needed me.

Racing back to the bedroom, I dropped to my knees in front of her. “Shhh. Kiki, what is it? Love, please. You’re scaring me.”

Her body was quaking so badly by then that she couldn’t seem to get any words out and I felt my own eyes sting with tears again as she tucked her head into my shoulder. With a little lift, I was able to pull her from the bed, down onto my lap where she clung to me tightly. I told her our friends were there to take care of the kids and said everything I could think of to calm her down. When words failed me, I simply held her and told her I loved her over and over.

I don’t know how long we sat there like that. Finally, after what seemed like hours but must have only been minutes, her sobs began to calm to quiet tears and, every once in awhile, the sharp jolt of a hiccup. I noted the silence and realized that Pink must have worked her miracles and gotten the kids all settled. I didn’t say anything yet, though, too afraid of saying the wrong thing, so we just sat there clinging to each other.

When Kiki’s grasp on me began to loosen a bit, I brought my hand up to her face and slowly wiped her cheeks. “What’s happening, Ki?”

She shook her head sadly from side to side as the tears starting coming again. “I don’t know. I just…” For a moment I was afraid she wasn’t going to say anything else but then it was like the flood gates suddenly burst open. “I don’t know if I can do this anymore, Lotus! We have six babies! SIX! The girls cry all the time and I can’t help them. I haven’t slept more than two hours straight or eaten sitting down since they were born. “ Her eyes shot up to mine again as she continued on. “And this is the most I’ve touched you in months. We can’t even have a conversation let alone spend five minutes alone together. And why would you even want to spend any time with me? My hair is matted and dirty. I haven’t even had a shower in FOUR DAYS!” She dropped her head into my chest as her cries took over again.

I’d been feeling all the same things so I wasn’t entirely surprised but it worried me. Kiki was clearly at a breaking point but the needs of our children weren’t going to change anytime soon so I was at a loss as to what to do. I could feel myself sinking into despair as I realized how little I could do to help my wife. That’s when I knew that things had to change-I couldn’t let this happen to her. I needed her to be okay because if she wasn’t, then I would never make it. Pulling my arms from around her, I gripped her face, tilting it up to mine. “You’re still beautiful to me. I love you, Kiki, and I’m in this with you. Nothing‘s going to change how I feel about you.”

She gave a little nod but I could tell my words weren’t really sinking in. She looked so hopeless and I wondered if we might need a little outside help to fix this. Making up my mind, I gently moved her back up to the edge of the bed just long enough to stand. On my feet, I scooped her up into my arms and carried her into the bathroom, setting her lightly on her feet in the middle of the room. She didn’t protest but she also didn’t seem particularly connected to what was happening.

I left her side long enough to turn on the shower before pulling her back into my arms. “We’re going to fix this, Ki, I promise.” With that I began gently undressing her before stripping off my own clothes. With my arms still around her, I guided us gently into the shower.

I took my time gently wetting her hair and massaging shampoo into it. She never said anything but I could feel her body start to relax just a little and she closed her eyes, leaning into my touch. When I finished her hair, she watched silently as I washed my own before lathering up the poof and starting on her body. Our eyes locked and I held her gaze the entire time. It was neither erotic nor sexual but it was one of the most intimate moments of my life. After I’d lathered and rinsed us both, I pulled her into my arms where she rested her head on my chest and we simply held each other under the hot stream of water, completely unwilling to let go.

As badly as I wanted to, I knew we couldn’t stay like this forever so I reluctantly began to pull away but stopped when she looked up at me. My heart clenched again at the sadness still marring her pretty eyes.

“Lotus…”

“It’s going to be okay, Ki.”

Her voice was barely above a whisper, though she wasn’t crying. “I’m twenty-five and I have six children.”

Leaning forward, I rested my forehead against hers. “I know. “

“I feel guilty for even thinking that.”

“I know.”

“I’m scared. I feel like I’ve failed them all.”

Now I gripped her face in my hands. “No. You haven’t failed them at all. I wish you could see yourself with them. They know only love from you, Kiki. Don’t you see the way their faces light up when they see you? I see it, Ki. I see how much you mean to them. You’re the most important person in their world. No one on Earth could be a better Mother to them than you have been.”

She looked so grateful to hear those words that I vowed to myself that I’d tell her every chance I got from then on out what a wonderful Mother she was. “I love you so much, Lo.”

I planted a kiss on her forehead before pulling her tight to my chest. “And I love you.”

We stayed in the shower until the water turned cold. I helped Kiki get dried and we both dressed before going back to our bedroom. We stopped in our tracks when we discovered that the cribs were gone. I knew immediately that Pink and Rip had done this so we could sleep but I wondered how Kiki would feel about it.

She stood staring at the blank space along the walls before turning and launching herself into my arms. I could feel her tears on my neck and I quickly tried to run damage control. “It’s just for the night, Love. You need to sleep. Pink and Rip are here and probably ‘Ganby and Lark by now. They came to help and we need that right now, Kiki. You know how much the kids all love them. Just let them take care of the kids tonight so I can take care of you, can you do that?” With a wave of relief, I felt her give a slight nod against my shoulder.

Once I got her settled down into bed, I told her I’d be right back. After a quick conversation with Rip and Pink I returned to Kiki, pulling her close to me in bed for the first time in weeks. I held her tight, needing to be as close as possible, stroking her hair and whispering my love for her until she drifted off in my arms. Content for now that I was at least able to give her this, I let myself drift off, too.

Heir Vote time!

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You all know the drill. 🙂 Happy Voting! I’ll leave this up through Tuesday.


Current Traits: Genius, Excitable, Lucky
Being first born of this brood has given Hibiscus lots of time to spend with his best (invisible) friend, Jelly Bean. When he’s not hanging out with JB, he spends hours discovering potions at his chemistry table.

 

 


Current Traits:Loves the Outdoors, Artistic
Will add: Shy, hopeless romantic
Painfully shy for as long as she can remember, Fleur is generally happiest when she’s with her family and the handful of friends she grew up with.

 

 


Current Traits: Excitable, Athletic
Almost an exact opposite of his twin, Orchid is friendly and outgoing. He approaches everything he does with excitement and passion.

 

 


Current Traits:Absent Minded, Friendly
Born with her Grandpa Sam’s deep brown hair, Calla feels plain, drab and downright boring in her colorful family.

 

 


Current Traits:Clumsy, Genius
Will add: Bookworm
A classic bookworm, Blossom loves reading and writing. She’d love school too, if some of her other subjects weren’t such a struggle.

 

 


Current Traits:Easily Impressed, Friendly
Will add: Artistic, Virtuoso
Soph takes after her Dad in nearly every way-she loves creating works of art-be it paintings or beautiful songs.

 

 

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.”