Ugh, I'm utterly horrible for not finishing this until now. Unfortunately, I seemed to have erased the outline for the rest of the story, and I've tried to remember everything I'd planned, though I'm sure I'll leave something out.
Thanks for sticking with this story and the series! There's definitely more to come!
For lily moonlight who is always so kind and who takes the time to look over my work in its rawest form, offering invaluable suggestions and endless support, Jenna for letting me use Synn (the blue-haired girl and the inspiration for the camera setting) even though I didn't ask her permission beforehand, Julia who inspired this whole series and is a major part of my Lucy-muse, and csiAngel who nicely and persistently encouraged me to finish this.
"It's just…I don't know. I'm kind of old to be starting a family."
"Is that why you've been avoiding our talk?" Mac asked from the doorway.
"Mac!" Stella yelped, spinning toward the sound of her husband's voice. "How long have you been standing there?" she gasped, her heart pounding wildly. This certainly wasn't how she wanted him to learn of her reluctance toward having children.
"Long enough," he replied, sounding tired and the tiniest bit hurt. He pushed away from the doorframe and slowly made his way toward his wife, their eyes never breaking contact, his searching hers for answers she'd yet to voice.
"Don't be mad," Stella pleaded, emotion controlling her voice.
"I'm not mad," he told her in a near-whisper. "I'm concerned that you felt you had to keep that from me. I'm your husband, Stella, and there shouldn't be any secrets between us."
Lindsay stood to the side feeling like a voyeur as the very what-should-have-been private conversation between two of her closest friends continued to unfold right there in her kitchen. She knew she should leave, yet she was practically rooted to her spot, transfixed by the electricity in the room. Wasn't it just a short time before in the very same kitchen, that the pair seemed more than eager to at least practice their baby-making skills?
"You're right, Mac," Stella said softly, eyes flicking away from his and coming to rest on the cuticle of her thumb as she feverishly picked at it with the nail on her index finger. "And I'm sorry. I just--I don't know," she finished with a heavy sigh.
His hand covered hers, halting her movements and keeping her from picking the cuticle until it bled. "Honey, look at me." Slowly, he brought his other hand up, his fingertips caressing her cheek.
Tears pooled in the inside corners of her eyes, and she fought to keep them from falling as she gazed into her husband's eyes. Tender wasn't a word that most people would use in describing Mac Taylor, but she knew better. The evidence of his tenderness was right there, both in the way he lovingly looked at her--despite the tension--and in the affectionate manner that his fingertips repeatedly brushed against her cheek.
Now uncomfortable to be witnessing such intimacy, Lindsay tore her eyes away and took a step toward the door…
…only to hear the unmistakable sounds of her daughter quickly approaching.
Confirming Lindsay's suspicion, Lucy bounced into the kitchen, excitement evident on her face.
"Look at me and Uncle Adam! I got blue hair!" Lucy exclaimed, racing to Lindsay, camera held as high as Lucy's arm could reach. "'Cept it's not real blue hair, 'cause Daddy said you'd be mad."
Lindsay let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding and smiled down at her daughter, grateful for the interruption. "Daddy's right, Luce," Lindsay said, taking the camera so she could get a better look at the picture--and because Lucy's fidgeting made looking at the picture nearly impossible…and a little nauseating. "My baby's beautiful hair can't be dyed blue!"
"Not even when I get big like you and Aunt Stella? I can't get real blue hair then?" Lucy asked, eyes wide with hope.
"Let's worry about that later," Lindsay said with a sigh, nowhere near ready to talk about the possibility of her daughter dyeing her hair blue.
"Did Uncle Adam take that picture?" Stella asked, also glad for Lucy's presence because it postponed that talk with her husband yet again. The Messers' kitchen wasn't the place for a conversation of that magnitude anyway.
"Uh-huh," Lucy nodded voraciously, glancing in Stella and Mac's direction. "Mommy, I gotta show 'em the picture, too!" Lucy whined, reaching for her camera.
Lindsay--who had glanced over at the Taylors when Stella asked about the picture--watched as Stella quickly composed herself, taking a deep breath and plastering on the best smile she could muster. Lindsay also noticed that Stella had put some space between herself and Mac, though he still kept hold of her hand.
Mac, ultimately frustrated, though he could never be upset with his goddaughter, added a sigh of his own and gently squeezed Stella's hand, drawing her attention back to him for a brief moment. "We're not done talking," he told her quietly. "We finish this when we get home."
Stella studied him for a moment but said nothing.
"Promise me," he insisted. "Stell?"
"Fine," she sighed, pulling away from him and bending to get a better look at the picture of Lucy and Adam. "You know," she continued, her tone now much lighter, "that's a very cool picture." She looked up at Lindsay. "Reminds me of that girl Adam dated for a while."
"I know," Lindsay agreed. "Whatever happened to her?"
Lucy, uninterested in someone she didn't know, didn't wait for either Stella or Mac to answer her mother's question. Instead, she hurried past Stella, eager to show the picture to Mac.
"Do you like my blue hair, Uncle Mac?" she asked, nose scrunched as she peered up at him.
"That's a good picture, but I like your hair as it is here," he told her, lightly tapping the top of her head.
"Uncle Mac!" Lucy giggled and squirmed away, her excitement drawing genuine smiles from the adults.
"Hey, uh," Adam poked his head into the kitchen, "it's later than I realized, so I gotta get going…unless you need me for something else."
"No, Adam, we're good," Lindsay said. "Did you tell Uncle Adam 'thank you,' Lucy?"
"You're the bestest for helping with all my cool stuff," she squealed, racing to him and wrapping her arms around his waist in a quick hug. "Mommy and Aunt Stella and Uncle Mac like our picture. But Mommy said I can't get blue hair."
Adam chuckled nervously. "Sorry, Linds, how was I supposed to know that's what she'd latch onto? I just wanted to show her the fun settings on the camera."
He'd drifted off, muttering to himself.
"Adam!" Lindsay finally broke through. "It's fine, really," she assured him, offering a smile.
"Huh," he replied with another nervous chuckle. "I thought you'd totally bust me for that. Okay then. Well, I'm gonna get going. Thanks for the invite, and I'm sorry I was late." He finished with yet another chuckle, only this time he added a grin.
Lindsay rolled her eyes. "Get outta here, Ross!" she grinned back.
Adam nodded at her. "See you later, Stella, Mac."
"Bye, Adam," they said in unison.
"Mommy, can I go play with my other new stuff?" Lucy asked, excitement over the new camera already fading.
"Sure, Sweetie. Ask Daddy to help, okay?"
"Uh-huh," Lucy agreed before speeding from the kitchen.
Lindsay sighed and leaned against the counter. "I wish I had half her energy."
"Yeah, you've got be exhausted," Stella said. "We should probably be going," she continued reluctantly. "You sure there's nothing else we can help with?"
Knowing her friend was searching for a way to further postpone the conversation, but unable to come up with anything else that needed to be done, Lindsay shook her head. "We sort of cleaned as we went, and you already took care of all the other stuff." She glanced at Stella, passing her an apologetic look.
"Okay, then," Stella said, her lips pressing into a thin line. She appreciated Lindsay's sincerity and felt bad for putting Lindsay in a position where she had to choose sides, the look she passed Lindsay conveying as much. Finally, Stella turned to Mac. "You ready?"
"Yeah." He motioned for Stella to lead the way.
"Actually," Lindsay interrupted, "I need to talk to Stella for just a minute. You go on and we'll be right there."
They waited until he was gone, then Lindsay walked to Stella and placed a hand on her shoulder, giving her a reassuring smile. "You'll be fine, Stell," Lindsay said in a hushed tone. "You love each other, and you'll come to an agreement. You always do. Because you're Mac and Stella."
The last part earned a laugh from Stella. "Thanks, Linds."
"Anytime," Lindsay replied, giving Stella's shoulder a squeeze.
"I'm sorry about this, putting such a damper on a day of celebration. And for putting you in the middle."
"Hey, no apologies, okay? You didn't make me do anything."
Stella nodded. "Do you mind not telling Danny about this for now? I think the less people who know, the better."
"Sure, Stell, and good luck. My ears are always open if you need to talk, okay?"
Stella nodded once again then stepped away from Lindsay and headed out of the kitchen.
Lindsay followed Stella out and found Danny and Lucy in the floor playing with some of her new toys, both jamming to a song on Lucy's purple iPod, each having one earbud.
Stella took note of her husband who stood nearby, silently observing the father-daughter playtime, a smile on his face.
"Lucy, Aunt Stella and Uncle Mac have to leave. Come say goodbye," Lindsay called.
Lucy pulled the earbud from her ear and let it drop, the attached cord making the tiny piece bounce against Danny's chest then hang limply, the other earbud still in his ear.
"I really love my purple iPod!" Lucy exclaimed, hugging Stella then Mac. "Can I bring it when I come over again?"
"You can't just invite yourself, Luce," Danny said as he stood and removed the earbud.
"She's welcome anytime," Stella told Danny. "Dinos and trees?" she directed at Lucy.
"Yeah," Lucy nodded.
"You got it, Lucy Goosey!" Stella grinned.
Everyone finished saying their goodbyes, and Mac held the door open for Stella, who passed by him with an apprehensive glance. For once, she really didn't want to go home.
Lindsay shut the door after them and turned around to find Danny staring at her.
"What's with them?" he asked.
Lindsay sighed and stepped into his embrace, wrapping her arms around him and sinking against him, utterly exhausted. "I wish I could tell you," she said into his chest, "I really do, but I can't. I promised Stella."
"Women things," Danny said, kissing the top of Lindsay's head. "That's all I need to know."
"Daddy," Lucy tugged on the hem of his shirt, causing Danny and Lindsay to pull apart, "you wanna listen to Sugarland with me some more?" she asked, earbud held up toward him.
Danny let out a small groan and Lindsay chuckled.
"Oh, just indulge your daughter," Lindsay grinned. "She'll make you like Sugarland yet!"
Thanks for reading!
This one is finally complete, but there's already a couple of ideas in the works for sequels. Thank you again to everyone who took time to read and especially those who were kind enough to send feedback.