Noah was delivered to Sarah's apartment dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt under a fleece pullover. His navy suit, button-down shirt, and tie were hanging together on a single hanger protected by a garment bag sized especially for children's clothing. The shark backpack had been cleared of all school supplies and instead contained items for his overnight stay—shiny black oxfords, dress socks, toothbrush, pajamas, and another casual jeans-and-t-shirt pairing for the next day. Noah also boasted another new accessory—a leather wallet—which contained his school identification card, an "if lost return to" insert, and thirteen dollars, all in singles.
Sarah inspected the wallet with interest, bending and twisting the still-stiff leather. "Wow, Noah, this is really nice. Your first wallet!"
"Daddy got it for me. 'Cause I have all this MONEY!"
She fingered the dollar bills and received a stern glare from Ed when, under her breath, she muttered, "He's all set for the strip club." Turning back to Noah, she asked, "How'd you get all this cash?"
"At home," Noah answered impatiently, "I make my bed and put da books away and put da clothes in the basket!"
"Chores already?" Sarah asked incredulously.
Ed shrugged. "Never too early to learn the value of a dollar." He opened his own wallet and shoved some bills into Sarah's hand, "But…dinner's on me. Thanks for taking him."
Refusing the cash wasn't an option, so Sarah took it without protest. "We shall have the time of our lives! Dinner and a Broadway show. Doesn't get much better than that!"
"Where ya gonna eat?"
"I don't know," Sarah replied, "Someplace touristy. Noey, tonight, we shall be visitors to our own city. You may choose whichever loud, revolting tourist trap chain restaurant in which to eat."
"Sounds like a good time," Ed quipped all the while knowing Noah liked the bright lights of Times Square.
Sarah giggled, "Oh, it will be. Okay Daddy, we must get ready. Stay or go, but we're relocating to the bathroom."
"I'm out." Ed hoisted Noah into the air and bear-hugged him. "Have a good time, bud. Make sure Sarah sends us pictures. Love you."
Noah hugged his Daddy tightly and growled a little. "Love you!"
Ed returned Noah to the floor and patted him on the head. "Be good."
"You be good too!" Noah exclaimed.
Sarah grinned devilishly. Ed raised a hand, palm out, and rolled his eyes. "Don't…say it," he jokingly warned.
She made a zipping motion across her lips and waved goodbye with a smirk Ed recognized as his.
Not far from Times Square but seemingly a world away, four Tuckers occupied a table at Uncle Nick's, a kid-friendly Greek restaurant both casual and loud enough for a couple with three kids. The ever-present owner always greeted them with a smile and rushed to swap two seats for high chairs. Tonight he expressed disappointment that Noah would not be joining them. The little boy delighted in the saganaki presentation and always cooperated with a spirited "opa!" when the flame was lit.
"He's seein' a show with his sister tonight," Ed reported. It took him three tries to get Maggie's kicking legs through the slots in the high chair. When she was finally seated he kissed the top of her head. She looked up at him and grinned, revealing four milky white front teeth. "Whatcha want to eat, pretty girl?"
Maggie babbled and reached for the silverware. Olivia rummaged around in their bag and gave a toy to each twin. They banged the hard plastic contraptions against the table, but the noise was hardly noticeable in the din of the packed restaurant.
"I couldn't believe how much they ate last time," Olivia marveled, "I guess we're doing a good job letting them try different foods. I thought they'd spit it all out."
"We are doing a fantastic job," Ed declared, smirking proudly, "No one's done it better."
"You're quite cocky, Captain," Olivia retorted, "I like it."
Ed looked from Maggie to Wyatt and then back to his wife. "Look at us," he said, "Who wouldn't be cocky?"
Wyatt hurled his lion-themed ring in Maggie's direction. In response, she let loose with a combination of shrieks and giggles, and proceeded to drum her own little beat, now with two rattles. Wyatt stretched forward as far as he could. At first, he whimpered when he failed to reach his toy, but Maggie's giggles were contagious and he joined in, slapping his palms on the table.
"Not much bothers you, does it Wyatt?" Olivia brushed his dark brown hair from his forehead.
"You think he's too laid back?" Ed asked with genuine concern.
Olivia smiled at her overprotective husband. She knew exactly what he meant. "Worried people are going to walk all over him?"
"Maybe a little."
"I think he'll be fine. He'll be…the voice of reason," she planted a kiss on one of Wyatt's chubby cheeks. "Won't you baby boy?"
Wyatt's eyes widened at the bread basket the waiter delivered. His attention shifted to the food and he happily chewed at the piece Olivia handed him. They ordered their meals and sipped wine, peppering in small talk. It was perfectly mundane. Perhaps they were an exceptional family; however, both Olivia and Ed savored nights like this when they blended in with everyone else.
"I have a ridiculously busy week this week," Ed remarked at one point.
"I was reading through some of the files you brought home. It looks messy."
Ed grinned, "You were reading my files, Lieutenant?"
"I was…looked interesting. Even though I suppose, I should probably leave them alone."
Ed had been appointed as a special investigator to an independent team seeking to determine whether or not the NYPD was right in their decision to completely shut down three apartment buildings in the Bronx which were, they claimed, overrun with drug lords.
He shrugged, "Your squad isn't the target of the lawsuit. I'm more concerned that you found five hundred pages of legalese interesting."
Olivia threw her head back, laughing and conceding his point. She was about to continue their banter when a tall, military-looking man approached their table.
Ed observed curiously as Olivia squinted and tried to figure out how she and this person were connected. Never one terribly bothered with titles, she didn't correct him on her rank.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled hesitantly and instinctively put an arm across the back of Wyatt's high chair. The man wasn't smiling, but he didn't look unfriendly. There was a glint in his eye indicating he was perhaps enjoying watching her struggle to place him.
He finally let her off the hook. "Dominic Pruitt," he said, smiling and reaching out to shake her hand. "We, uh…we met a few years ago."
Met certainly was an understatement. A decade ago, Olivia had been seconds away from blowing his brains out in a hotel room.
"Oh, wow, ah," she shook his hand and immediately gestured to Ed, "This is my husband, Ed Tucker, former NYPD."
"Nice to meet you, sir."
"And this is my daughter and one of my sons. Maggie and Wyatt."
Pruitt smiled at the babies, but made to move to touch either of them. He took a step backward, slightly uncomfortable now. The Detective Benson he'd briefly known looked now lived a completely different existence.
"Don't want to interrupt you for too long," he said, "Just recognized you and thought I'd say hi. Glad all is well."
"How are you?"
"Doing well. I'm a recruiter now…the days of active duty are over. I'm in the city making the rounds at a few high schools. Though, not much interest these days."
"Unfortunately…I don't find that hard to believe."
The exchanged a few more pleasantries and Pruitt snaked his way back to his table and his companions. Ed could tell by Olivia's expression that their "meeting" had not been memorable for sunny reasons.
"At one time, yeah," Olivia tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, "Wow…I can't believe how much I had completely forgotten about…then."
"How long ago?"
"About ten years."
Ed did some quick calculations. He didn't have Olivia's jacket memorized, but he knew the contents both from what he'd read in the course of IAB investigations and from what Olivia had agonizingly revealed to him throughout the course of their early relationship. Additionally, he saw her eyes glaze over like they did when she mentally went to a darker place, and he immediately attempted to bring her back.
"Ten years, huh?" He asked playfully and pretended to think, "Ah, yeah, I loved you even then."
Her wide smile returned. She knew what he was doing and she let herself fall into his trap. "Stop."
"I couldn't figure out how to tell you."
Olivia reached across the table for Maggie's hand and cuddled Wyatt with her other arm. "Are you going to tell these lies to our children?"
"So you admit you're lying."
Ed winced and held his hands in the air, "Ya got me there, Lieutenant." He took her hands in his. "But you know what I am gonna tell 'em?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Ed saw what was probably their food being carried to the table by a harried-looking kitchen runner who was slowed only by the tables' close proximity to one another.
"That they shouldn't wait if they see someone they want."
Sure enough, their plates were delivered seconds later. The runner was gracious enough to wait until Ed released her hands before plopping the dishes down on the paper placemats.
Both Wyatt and Maggie reached for the steaming entrees.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Olivia said, "Hang on, sweetie."
Ed blew on a potato wedge and handed it to Maggie. "That's my girl," he cooed as she hungrily munched away.
Across the table Olivia spooned portions of her moussaka into Wyatt's waiting and eager mouth; he scrunched up his face at first but quickly adjusted to the foreign flavors and grabbed for the spoon, demanding another bite. It wasn't long before Maggie noticed she was missing out on Wyatt's treat. She screeched and flailed her arms in Olivia's direction.
"Here," Olivia cut a piece and transferred it to Ed's plate. In return, he slid pieces of his lamb and chicken onto hers. "Thank you," she said sweetly.
"Don't wantcha to starve," he replied with a wink. "Think we should order more food?"
"No," Olivia said, "I think we're good. Just perfect."
Planet Hollywood's garish interior unsettled Sarah at first, but she managed to avoid looking around and focused mostly on her five-year-old date who had chosen this particular restaurant because he like the looks of the globe marquee on top of the building. A strong gin-and-tonic helped, and two drinks later she was able to survey the area without feeling dizzy or nauseated. Noah, his hair combed perfectly to the side and clad in his suit and tie, sat across from her sipping his Shirley Temple and alternating between watching music videos on the large screens and observing the people milling about the bar.
"Do you like this place, Noey?"
"Do you think Mommy and Daddy would like it?"
Noah giggled, "No! Too loud."
"What about Maggie and Wyatt?"
"Babies loud," he replied, "So they like it here, Sare Bear. We bring 'em next time."
"We'll see," Sarah said doubtfully. "Hey, so, what's going on in your life?"
Noah plucked a nacho from the appetizer platter they ordered and chewed contemplatively. "Jus' school. And basketball."
His eyes widened, "It gettin' hard, Sare Bear! We add numbers with TWO places!"
"Oh wow. Well, you ask me if you need help. Is your teacher nice?"
"Are the kids nice?"
"Anyone get in trouble lately?"
Noah grinned, "Jess'ca had to go to timeout."
"Yep. She shout when Miss Tiffy say it's time to come inside."
"Yeah," Noah matched Sarah's sincerity. He took another nacho, ate it carefully, and wiped his hands with his napkin. Sarah grinned at him. She'd already dribbled grease from a slider down her sweater; it was black so the stain remained camouflaged, but Noah was still in pristine condition.
"Thank you for being my date tonight, Noey."
"You welcome. Las' time we bringed Brookey. When was saw the lions."
"Yeah," Sarah said, "Well, I got these from my work and they only gave me two, so I chose you! Next time we'll bring Brookey and maybe Sonny."
"And Hill'ry?" Noah asked innocently looking across the table at Sarah.
She twitched and fidgeted. Took a sip. "Well, Hill's in Argentina right now."
"That's where you went!"
"Yeah, but, since I got my new job, I didn't go this time."
"Cause you in Ma'hattan."
"Yeah." Sarah took a gulp of her drink, "Noey…you liked Hillary, right?"
"Yep! She nice!" Noah bellowed a fascinated whoa at something on the screen and continued eating. He politely requested another Shirley Temple when the waiter returned. Sarah ordered one last drink and asked for the check all the while trying to figure out a way for her preschooler companion to help figure out her relationship woes.
"Noey, do you remember Jeff?"
"Uh-huh. He your hubbind but not anymore."
"Right," Sarah said, a little amused at how much he picked up from adult conversations, "Well, who do you like better? Jeff or Hillary."
Understandably confused, Noah crinkled his nose. "Jeff nice and Hill'ry nice."
"Yeah," Sarah murmured, "I love both of them."
"Yeah," Noah replied knowingly.
Sarah grinned. Her cheeks blazed from the abnormally warm restaurant, her cashmere sweater, and the gin. Wavy blonde strands fell from her messy bun, and even though she'd been eating and drinking, pink gloss still clung to her lips. "Noey, what if I married Hillary?"
"Like Mommy marry Daddy?"
"Yep. What would you think about that?"
Noah slurped the rest of his second Shirley Temple and tried to stab the cherry at the bottom trapped under two ice cubes. "Then we gotta buy s'more rings, Sare Bear," he mumbled and slid the glass over to her, "You get that cherry for me please?"
"Sure sweet boy," Sarah said, trying to hide her welling tears.
"Sare Bear! That's what Mommy call me! You call me Noey Boey!"
She stabbed the cherry with a fork and fed it to him. "Oopsie. Silly me. Sorry, Noey Boey. Now. Let's pay for this meal and then we shall make our way to the theater."
"Kay." Noah tugged his wallet from his back pocket and produced the handful of dollar bills and the twenties Ed had given Sarah. "I have da money."
"Ah, yes you do," Sarah put her credit card on the table. "You leave the tip. Put one twenty down and you keep the rest."
"What's the tip?"
"It's a little extra money we give the waiter because he did a good job."
"Oh…what 'bout all this?" Noah held up a fist full of cash.
"Put it back in your wallet. Save your money so you can buy something you really, really want someday."
Noah carefully placed the bills back in the slot. "Sare Bear?"
"Why we not goin' to look at the 'partments anymore?"
"Ah, well, I kinda got sidetracked, but we'll look again soon. For now, I'm living cheap and I shall use the extra money to buy you and your babies presents. Sound good?"
"Yep!" Noah exclaimed, jumping down from his chair, "Sounds GREAT!"
The Tucker's master bedroom pleasantly filled with soft light from the floor lamp in the corner. The shade hung over the armchair which was usually filled with discarded clothing. Ed swiped everything to the floor so he could sit there and give both babies their bottles while Olivia finished putting new sheets on their beds—a chore she'd meant to complete before they left for dinner. She had been distracted by the photos Sarah sent at lightning speed of Noah in various stages of being primped for their date. The final one almost caused her to drop the phone.
"Ed," she gasped. "Look at this!"
Even he was speechless.
In his freshly pressed suit and slick hair, Noah looked years older. Sarah had obviously coached him into his pose—thumbs hitched in his pockets, one knee bent. He was leaning against a pillar and Sarah was next to him, her elbow resting on the countertop. They both wore aloof expressions.
"They look like they're in a magazine," Ed remarked.
"They really do."
Olivia snapped the final corner in place, and she realized she was still smiling. She hadn't stopped smiling the whole evening, except for the few minutes with Dominic Pruitt which she had handled well. Nevertheless, she still owed Ed further explanation. She fussed about the twins' room a little longer straightening picture frames and the stacks of diapers and onesies on the shelf below the changing table. Their bureau and closet were bursting with clothes and both old and new toys and other gizmos intended to exercise either their brains or muscles or both. At some point they needed to siphon out items to donate.
The room, though, was so peaceful. Olivia was always reluctant to leave this sanctuary. The twins themselves embodied hope and love and their family's unity, but their room intensified the symbolism—most of it had been constructed and improved by Ed and Noah, and all three Tucker children's footprints were printed on the oversized light switch panel. Olivia tapped it on her way out.
"I love this sight," she said quietly, standing in the doorway of their bedroom smiling at her husband and her infant children who were snuggled at their father's side contentedly sucking on their bottles in their matching white footie pajamas plastered with teddy bears.
Ed's eyes drifted to the twins. "Me too…Liv…you…you put so much on the line for us to have these two…"
Olivia sat on the ottoman and put a hand on Ed's thigh. "We wanted it and we did it together."
"And they're perfect."
"Yeah they are."
"We are perfect."
Ed grabbed Olivia just then. "This whole thing is perfect."
"No matter what."
This is the end of Evolution.