A/N: This is the last chapter of this fic, so I hope it ends how everyone wants it to. Enjoy! Charlynn
She had decided not to breast feed. It wasn't because she didn't want to, and it wasn't because she wasn't aware of the facts. Despite breast feeding being better for both the mother and the child, Marissa had opted to bottle feed her daughter for one simple reason: it would be better for Ryan. If she breast fed, the man who she had named as her daughter's father would only get to experience the joy of feeding his child sporadically, and, because she knew there was a good chance Vivi would be his only kid, she didn't want to deprive him or their daughter of a single moment together. Not only did her sacrifice tell her how serious she was about wanting Ryan to be a part of her little girl's life, but it also told her that she felt more for the doctor than mere gratitude and friendship; it told her that she was falling for him. The question was: how did he feel about her?
Two days in the hospital had helped her come to many decisions, but the new mother was still unsure about how her…roommate…felt about her. However, she had just given birth, she and her daughter needed to adjust to life at home, and she had to get her life in order before she could worry about the complications feelings and romance could bring her. Eventually, in time, she and Ryan would work through their relationship and find an appropriate label for it, but, until that happened, she was content to take care of her little girl, to observe the man who had helped her so selflessly, and to make plans for her and her daughter's future.
As they pulled up to the cabin, Marissa let out a sigh of relief. Whether it was because of her age as the staff had said or because Ryan was overly paranoid when it came to her and Vivi's health, she had been forced to stay in the hospital an extra day to recuperate, and there was only so much personal introspection a girl could take before she started going slightly insane and took on the task of trying to name the truly unique color painted on the four, bare walls surrounding her that all hospital seemed to use. To say that she was relieved to be released and at home was a major understatement.
"Are you feeling okay?"
Ryan's gently spoken question snapped her out of her silent revelry.
"Of course," she answered easily. Carefully stepping out of the car, she watched as he lifted both a sleeping Vivien's car seat and the complimentary diaper bag out of the back before wondering out loud, "why do you ask?"
"You sighed, and, though I'm getting to know you more and more each day, I still don't know what your various sighs mean."
Marissa smiled, for some reason warmed by his statement. Joining him, she looped her left arm through his free one and allowed him to partially support her still weary body as they made their way from the car to the front porch. "It was a content sigh," she finally responded when they paused to unlock the door. "It's good to be home."
"It's nice to hear you refer to the cabin as your home. You know," the doctor confessed, "that's how I think of it now – as our home, yours, mine, and Vivien's." They stepped inside, and he led them back towards the room which had been designated as their daughter's. "I know you probably wanted to decorate Vivi's room yourself, but I didn't want you to have to worry about it when you came home, so I hired someone while we were still in the hospital to come in and do it for you." As they entered the room, the three of them seemingly a family now that the little girl who joined them together had been born, Marissa gasped in surprise, but Ryan, too concerned that she wouldn't like what he had done, kept talking, explaining his actions, and missed her audible response. "There's this local artist who is known for painting murals, and, between the two of us talking on the phone, this is what we came up with."
He gestured to the nursery as she let her eyes roam the small, comfortable space, taking in all the tiny details. In the far corner, a trunk took root from the green carpet, sprouting a wide, arching, mature tree that spread its branches across the two adjacent walls, flowering the ceiling with thousands of green leaves until it met the blue sky. Underneath the canapé of the tree, there stood the baby's basinet as if it was cocooned by nature and protected by the sturdy, dependable oak. On the two remaining walls, was a garden with blooming flowers, their shades ranging the wide spectrum of the rainbow, magical butterflies, and even a lazy, sleeping kitten resting its black and white face on its little paws as it relaxed under the bright rays of the sun and watched over the garden and all its inhabitants. There was even a changing table, a little dresser, and a rocking chair to complete the room, and Marissa wasn't sure if she had ever seen a more perfect nursery.
"I know how much you loved the little cottage with the garden that we looked at," Ryan explained, "you know, the one I talked you out of renting, so I described it to the artist, and she tried to recreate it for you."
"It's perfect," she stated breathlessly, too caught up in the surprise to focus on filling her lungs with much needed oxygen. "This is perhaps the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me."
"I'm glad you like it."
"Like it? Like it, Ryan?" She finally met his gaze, smiling brightly. "I love it and so will Vivi." Embracing him in a tight, emotional hug, she let her head rest on his shoulder as she tucked her face into his neck, discreetly inhaling his scent and savoring both it and their fleeting moment of closeness. "Thank you."
Once they separated, he held up his finger to stop her from saying anything else. While she waited, he unhooked their little girl from her carrier and placed her so tenderly in her bassinet that it brought tears to Marissa's eyes. She then watched him bend over, kiss their daughter, and whisper his love to the infant before standing up and rejoining her. Together, they left the nursery and moved back into the living room.
"I know you said that you wanted to move into the spare room with Vivien once you were healed, but I've been doing some reading lately, and everything says that it's better for mother and child to have their own individual spaces, their own individual retreats to sleep and relax."
"I know that, too, Ryan, but what about you? You can't sleep on a coach indefinitely…or until we move out."
"I knew you were going to say that, so look," he pointed towards where the old couch used to sit. In its place, she found a new one. "It's a sofa bed, top of the line, and the costumer reviews say it's just as comfortable as a real bed. So, I'll stay out here, Vivien will have her nursery, and we'll make my room yours."
"Shouldn't I take the sofa bed while you go back to your room?"
"Absolutely not," the doctor protested. "You're a new Mom and a woman. You need the privacy a bedroom can offer you. I'm just a guy. Privacy for us is having indoor plumbing. I'll be fine out here."
Needing to test his resolve, Marissa pressed, "are you sure?"
"Alright then, I won't waste our energy on arguing. We have a newborn to take care of; she's going to take all the energy we can muster and probably more." Sitting down on the new couch, she motioned for Ryan to join her. "Obviously, you've been busy these past two days, but I have to tell you that you're not the only one who's been making important decisions."
Although he grinned at her comment, the effort didn't reach his eyes, and the new mother was unsure if the gesture was sincere. However, she had no idea why the knowledge that she had come to some conclusions about her life would upset or disappoint her friend.
"I figured out what I want to do with my life…well, besides taking care of Vivien."
"Damn," Ryan cursed, surprising her, "and just when I was about to present you with a job offer."
"You've seen my office, right?" She nodded her head yes in answer. "Well, I was thinking it was about time I hired a receptionist for my practice, someone who could organize all my paperwork, keep track of the billing for me, and make my life a whole hell of a lot easier, especially when it came to tax time."
"You don't have to pay me to help out around her," Marissa reassured him. "I'd be happy to help out, especially since I'm pretty much going to be in bed for the next week or so. Besides owing you big time, it'll be something to keep me distracted from my boredom."
"You don't owe me anything," he corrected her, taking her left hand in his and squeezing it. "You gave me a daughter. I think that more than makes up for a few meals and a temporary roof over your head."
"You've done more for me than help me out, and we both know it."
"We're never going to agree on this," Ryan realized, "so why don't you tell me about this big decision you made."
Eyeing him carefully, she knew he was right, that they would simply have to agree to disagree. Taking a deep breath, she prepared herself, and, before she was aware of what was happening, a large, excited smile was on her beautiful face. "This town has one of everything," she explained. "It has a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a grocery store, a gas station, a pizza parlor, an ice cream stand, a movie theater. You name it; this town has it, except for one thing: a boutique. I might not know much, but living in Southern California and being a part of my ex's world taught me a thing or two about fashion. I know clothes, I know what kind of clothes look good on certain bodies, and I know how to shop, so why not make some money off one of the few things I understand?"
"You don't have to convince me," he told her earnestly. "I know that anything you set your mind to will be a success, but, if you feel confident in the idea of a boutique, then that's what you should do, because faith in yourself and your abilities will get you further than any of my encouragement."
"Don't sell yourself too short," Marissa chastised him. "I don't think you know how much your opinion matters to me."
"Well then, on that note," Ryan stood up and pulled her along with him, "why don't you tell me more about these plans of yours while I make us some lunch? Any requests?"
"Surprise me. I'm so happy right now, cardboard sounds delicious." And she was that happy – all because of one man's presence in her life. He had given her a home, friendship, her daughter, hope for the future, and the ability to fall in love again. She only wished she could do the same for him.
\ / \
She watched. She observed, she memorized and cherished, and she watched. For four weeks, she and her daughter had been home at the cabin with Ryan, and, still, Marissa could not take her eyes away from the father-daughter pair. Every little thing they did together mesmerized her, and she attempted to file away every moment, every instance of bonding so she could look back and remember those first special weeks for the rest of her life, but the attention she lavished upon them was two fold. It served another purpose as well. While she watched Ryan interact with their little girl, she also searched for clues of his feelings for her, and, finally, after a month of scrutiny, she knew how he felt. Unfortunately, that left her with another whole month of waiting.
Laying in bed that night after getting reassured that her feelings for her friend were not one sided, Marissa thought over her favorite moments that Ryan and Vivien had shared, hoping that it would distract her from her loneliness. There were cute, inexperienced moments of parenting, sweet moments that told of the doctor's love for the little girl he was helping her raise, and humorous moments she couldn't wait to tease him about, but none of them seemed to help alleviate the need she felt to be close to Ryan, something that couldn't happen for another four weeks when she would, with any luck, get a clean bill of health from the doctor. Ryan knew when her appointment was, and she was positive that he was simply waiting for that day to show her how he felt. Until then though, she would just have to be patient, and, with that thought in mind, she snuggled down under the thick layers of blankets, closed her eyes to block out the cold and stormy weather of early March, and let herself remember her most cherished Ryan-Vivien moments.
She could have kicked herself (if it would have been physically possible at the time which it wasn't) the day they returned from the hospital, because she did not have a camera to capture Ryan's very first attempts at changing a newborn's diaper. He had been so determined to figure it out, so focused on accomplishing the task at hand, that he never noticed her lurking outside the nursery doorway that afternoon when Vivi woke up from her nap. The befuddled doctor went through four diapers, managed to dump almost an entire container of baby wipes onto the floor, and somehow managed to get more powder on himself than he did on Vivien. By the time the diaper was on her little body, it was backwards, the wipe was still inside of it, and the baby had fallen back asleep while waiting for him to finish, but, instead of embarrassing Ryan or making him feel even worse, Marissa had simply thanked him for handling the changing for her and sent him on his way to clean up the kitchen while she slyly fixed his mistakes and righted the nursery once again. After that, she made sure that he was in the room with her the next time she dressed Vivien, talked her way through it as if she was explaining the process to the little girl, and, without damaging the doctor's ego, showed him the correct way to change a baby.
A week later, after a particularly fussy day, Marissa had been exhausted and Ryan had volunteered to rock Vivi to sleep while telling the infant her bedtime story. She had thanked him for his help and went off to bed early only to get up ten minutes later because she knew she'd never be able to sleep without giving her daughter a goodnight kiss and telling her that she loved her. As she approached the nursery though, she stumbled upon Ryan in the throes of his fairytale which was so amusing she simply could not walk away until she heard the entire thing. Before he got to the infamous '…and they lived happily after' line, there had been killer bears, bazookas, a car race, Tabasco sauce, aliens, and remote eating robots introduced into the tale, and, though she had to give him props for his creativity, she had gone out the next day to buy him some traditional storybooks. There was no reason to permanently scar their daughter if they didn't have to, even if it meant Ryan's imagination had to be curtailed. She shouldn't have been worried about his reaction though, because the doctor simply thanked her profusely for saving him from the task of creating another bedtime story and offered to help her pick out the next batch of books. He truly was wonderful…and amusing, two characteristics Marissa had not seen in a man in a long time.
Another thing she loved to do was watch Ryan when he was both taking care of Vivien and seeing to his patients. At his own insistence, they had purchased a carrier for the baby that he could wear and still maintain the use of his hands. Because she handled the nighttime feedings, he allowed her to sleep in, taking care of their little girl while she slept during the mornings. However, while she was resting, he had to take care of Vivi on his own, so the carrier came in quite handy. He would wear it all the time, greeting patients with the baby in his arms, introducing them all to his newborn daughter, and proudly sharing all her recent achievements, even if it was something as trivial as graduating from four ounce bottles to six. Never being a parent before, he thought that every little thing Vivien did was amazing, and Ryan made sure he shared those small, amazing moments with every person they saw. Many of his clients were parents themselves and some were even grandparents, but, luckily, they seemed to sense the new father's pride in his daughter and let him brag, and, as far as Marissa was concerned, his limitless level of love and pride in Vivien was a good thing, so she never once tried to dissuade him away from bragging. Besides, who was she kidding? She bragged just as much as he did.
However, there was easily one memory that stood out among all the rest as her favorite moment shared between the father and daughter pair, and it had just occurred that evening. After they had finished dinner, Vivi woke up wanting her bottle, so, with the television on so Marissa could watch one of her programs, Ryan had cuddled with their baby on the couch as he fed her, whispering words of reassurance, of nonsense, even those of medical jargon to her while she ate. Eventually, between the soft sounds of the doctor's voice and the consistent drone of the TV, both mother and daughter had fallen into a restless sleep. Marissa drifted in and out for several hours that night, but, as she opened her eyes for the last time, knowing it was late and she needed to go to bed, she found that Ryan and Vivien were still nestled together on the sofa, and he was talking to their sleeping daughter, trying to work out a code with her.
According to the doctor, he needed all the help Vivi could offer him if he wanted to figure out how the little girl's Mommy felt for him, and since she would someday be a woman herself, he figured she might have some insight into the female mind that he didn't. So, his plan was that he would ask her questions, and, if the answer was yes, she was to rub to her face, and, if it was no, she was to kick her feet. On and on the questions came, but Vivi was quite uncooperative until Ryan asked his final question. With bated breath, Marissa listened as the man she was falling in love with asked their infant daughter if her Mommy could ever care for him a more than just a friend, and, like the intelligent, insightful baby she was, Vivien had rubbed her face, making Ryan chuckle and thank her, despite the fact that he knew his method of investigation had a lot to be desired.
If only he knew…, Marissa thought to herself just as she was falling asleep. If only he knew how right their little girl had been.
\ / \
"You can't go to sleep yet, Princess. Mommy will be home soon, and you know she's going to want to kiss you goodnight, too."
Ryan had no idea that she was already home. She was hidden in the shadows cast by the saffron glow of an April twilight, silently watching as the two most important people in her life shared a tender moment. She and Ryan each had their nightly rituals with Vivien, and she loved nothing more than to watch him as he performed his with their daughter. However, despite loving seeing the two of them together, she had hope that soon their two rituals would be melded into one as they took another step closer to becoming the family she dreamed they could be.
The doctor's voice captured her attention again, and she allowed her wandering mind to drift back to the man she loved and the child they shared together. "Mommy had a really important day today. She went and had a check up to make sure that she's completely healed from giving birth to you." Marissa had gotten a clear bill of health. "She was going to visit with the real estate agent and start looking for a commercial property for her new boutique she wants to open soon, too." They had checked out several small shops, but she still wanted Ryan's opinion on it. Despite knowing how particular he could be about purchasing property, she had a feeling he might be more cooperative when looking for a place to house her store than he had been when she was looking for an apartment to move into. "And she had a mysterious errand to run. How much do you want to bet it had something to do with you, Sweetie?"
At that, Marissa had to smile indulgently. Ryan simply had no clue, but he was a man, so she really hadn't expected him to. Apparently, Vivi found her father to me amusing as well, because, in her own baby way, she applauded his clueless assumptions. With a few soft gurgles, which, in the process of making, she managed to make drool run down her cherubic face, and many swift, excited kicks of her tiny feet, she let the world know that she was happy and content, the picture of what Marissa thought to be the perfect baby.
"You know, little one, I think your Mommy is pretty amazing." Despite Marissa naming Ryan as the father on the birth certificate and despite the fact that he was helping her raise her daughter, he still did not consider himself Vivien's Dad, and, although he never said a thing, the new Mom was almost certain it was because he felt it wasn't something he could take, that it was a gift that he had to be given, either by Vivien herself or by Marissa. "When I see the two of you together, when I watch her feed and bathe you, when I watch her play with you and talk to you and rock you to sleep, I realize that I'm finally happy, that I finally have a real home and a family. Your Mommy gave that to me, just as she will give you the world if you let her. I never knew that a person could love so selflessly until I met your Mommy, and, after watching her with you, I realized that not only is it possible but that I have the ability to love like that, too. It's a pretty scary thing, Princess, scary but incredible, and, someday when you're my age and I'm too senile to realize what's happening, you'll fall in love, too."
Suddenly, it felt as if Marissa couldn't breathe, as if there was a vice around her heart stilling it in an effort to freeze the moment. Quietly, she stepped away from the nursery, not wanting to alert either Ryan or their daughter to the fact that she was already home and had been listening into their conversation. Two months ago, she had hoped that Ryan returned her feelings, she had wished for him to someday fall in love with her. A month ago, after hearing him ask Vivien questions late one stormy March night, she had believed he was on his way to caring about her on a deeper level. And then, five minutes before, she had come home with plans to show him how much she felt for him, dreaming that maybe her emotions could inspire his and they could start working on a relationship together, only to learn that he already felt the same way.
However, never in her wildest dreams did she let herself imagine that Ryan's feelings were as deep and as profound as hers were. Things like that, things that beautiful, that flawless, didn't happen to her…at least they hadn't until her life starting spinning out of control and she found herself in the vary capable hands of one Doctor Ryan Atwood. It was astounding to her to realize that one car accident had caused so many good things to happen in her life.
With a heart that was still skipping beats every several seconds, breathing that was so erratic she wasn't sure how she would make it through the next few minutes, and a fire already enflamed low in her belly for what she was anticipating to happen next, Marissa made her way back down the hallway, causing enough noise and commotion to alert Ryan to her presence but being quiet enough so that she wouldn't disturb the almost sleeping baby.
"Hey," the doctor greeted her, looking up from the bassinet. As soon as their gazes met, a rakish, warm smile curved his lips upwards and made the desire inside her course even more quickly through her bloodstream. "I didn't hear the car pull in. How did everything go today?"
She could tell that she surprised him when she moved to his side, close enough for their bodies to brush together from shoulder to thigh. Tilting her head in his direction, she responded in a whisper. "Things went well, but we'll talk about it later, okay?" After he nodded in agreement, she turned back to the infant before them, a little girl who was quickly falling asleep, her delicate eyelids fluttering shut over her dark blue irises. "Baby girl, Mommy missed you today. Were you a good girl?"
"Isn't she always?"
Marissa chuckled softly before consenting, "yes, I guess she is." Leaning down, she held her hair back while brushing a tender kiss across her daughter's brow. As she stood back up, she let her hand caress the sleeping baby's chubby cheek, her voice a mere whisper again as she said, "sleep tight, Angel. Mommy and Daddy love you."
She could feel Ryan tense beside her, his body becoming rigid with surprise. Circling around so that they were face to face, chest to chest, body to body, she let her heart lead her and reached out to gently cup the doctor's face, tipping it up so that their gazes met again. Ryan never blinked once as she talked.
"You are more than just her father, you know; you're the Daddy my daughter deserves and the only one our little girl will ever know. She loves you, just as much as you love her, and, even though she can't tell us that herself, I know it. I can see it in her eyes when you walk into a room, I can see it in the way her tiny, little form melts into yours when you cradle her in your arms, and I can see it when its your calming voice that soothes her to sleep at night when she doesn't feel well. You're her Daddy, Ryan."
The handsome man before her was speechless for several moments. Finally, he swallowed roughly several times before it was her turn to be surprised when he pulled her into an intimate, tender embrace, whispering "thank you" in her ear before holding her to him even closer. After several minutes of a hug that lasted much longer than appropriate for mere friends, Marissa separated their bodies but maintained contact with him by reaching down to hold his hand, tugging him after her as she left the nursery. Together, without a word, they walked down the hallway and stopped outside of her bedroom door.
He leaned towards her once more in a gesture to say goodnight, but she wouldn't let him complete his action. Instead, she squeezed his hand tighter, pushed her bedroom door open, and, with her imploring eyes alone, asked him to enter with her. He did, and, still without speaking, they made their way towards the bed which had once been his, was now hers, and would soon be theirs. As she stopped to face him, his azure eyes boring deeply into her own sapphire ones, his uncertainty, his hope, his questions being communicated to her silently, everything she had planned to say to him left her mind with one simple exhale of the pent up, nervous energy she had been holding inside of her.
"I love you," she blurted out, immediately blushing but not caring anymore. She needed to tell him how she felt, embarrassment be damned. "I know it might seem too fast, because we've only known each other for four months, but I don't care. I know how I feel, and I've already wasted too much of my life keeping my emotions inside. I want you to know how I feel; I want everyone to know. I'm in love with you, for the rest of my life, soul mate, you steal the very breath out of my body, knees quaking, head spinning, stomach churning, I feel so wonderful I think I could fly in love with you, and I don't expect you to…"
The rest of her words were cut off and swallowed when Ryan's mouth came crashing down on top of hers. His hands lifted to cup her face as if he needed to pull her as close to him as he possibly could, and her arms moved to encircle around his shoulders, her fingers dancing through the long, sandy blonde locks on the nape of her neck. Kissing him was everything she had dreamed it would be and so much more, and, before Marissa realized what was happening, they were both naked and vulnerable in each others arms, making love.
He worshipped her body, savoring both its beauty and its imperfections. To him, her flaws were things to be revered, for they were a part of her, and he wanted everything she had to give him. He matched her passion, heightened it, challenged her to reach levels of desire and pleasure she had before not known were possible. He teased her in bed and made her laugh, showing her that true intimacy was something deeper than just a physical connection. And, when their bodies finally reached the culmination of their ecstasy, spiraling out of control into a world of sheer bliss and sensory enjoyment, he tore his lips from her own, locked their gazes together, and made her existence complete.
"I love you, too," Ryan whispered just as they fell off a cliff of absolute rapture together, one Marissa was unsure she'd ever be able to climb back out of, let alone want to. She was absolutely, 100, crazily, out of control in love with the man collapsed on top of her body and still buried deep inside of her, and she would want it no other way. With him and their daughter and their love for each other, she was finally home, and the pain she had lived through before to reach that point seemed trivial. Every tear, every moment of loneliness, every self doubt and insecurity from her past had gotten her to that very moment, and, for that, she was thankful. Providence, in the long run, had worked out for her, because, by leaving one existence behind, she had found the life she was meant to live. Never had spinning out of control felt so wonderful.