Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Princess and the Frog characters. Although, I'd really love to own them. At least Naveen. Or at least a Naveen plushie.
It would have been a nice nursery, she thought, back leaning against the closed door. The room was small in comparison to the rest of the house, but it had a very large bay window with a padded bench with a view of the docked ships at the harbor. Early morning sunlight poured into the room through the window, the rays bouncing off the hardwood flooring. This is what she could have woken up to, she thought.
Tiana locked the door behind her before making her way over to the rocking chair. She didn't want any distractions - it didn't matter from who - she was going to think in this 'would be sanctuary', she would close her eyes and think about what it would have been like to wake up to the coos and gurgling of the little one that would have been welcoming the morning with her smile. She slid into the chair shyly, closing her eyes and soaking in the sun.
I think you would have liked this room, she said aloud, softly. Your daddy and me up and designed it ourselves - all on our own.
She breathed in, absorbing the silence, not expecting an answer.
The room was painted a pastel green, the ceilings were bordered with little cream, stenciled tree frogs. The frog motif was evident throughout the whole room - from the green and white quilt with embroidered images of the little critters that lined the maple wood crib, made with love by 'would be gramma Dora' for her 'would be little princess', to the stuffed bashful plushies holding lily pads sitting on the custom shelves on the wall she'd help Naveen install.
They had already bought the books.
Plenty and plenty of books to put on the shelf, and bookends, too, to keep them from toppling over. Picture books, standard children's classics - fables to teach her life lessons, fairy tales to remind her that she was Momma and Daddy's 'would be princess' of their castle, heir to the throne, she'd follow her dreams and keep the legacy going.
As Tiana rocked back on the chair, she patted her belly with her hand, and cradled the emptiness growing inside her. No story time today, she said, half voiced. She breathed in, exhaled. Once upon a time she would have read her princess a story on this rocking chair. Once upon a time she would have sat on the bench of the bay window, and admired how the stars reflected on the harbor, observing the God-given life that was appreciated by the balls of burning gas millions of miles away. Louisiana summer nights could have been beautiful, once upon a time, if they hadn't been weighed down by the twinkling silver sorrows in her mind's night sky. Tiana was determined to force a sun to rise...if she willed it hard enough, it would come. She wasn't happy because she didn't work hard enough for happiness to come. Dig a little deeper, she thought, and there's happiness hiding under there, somewhere.
And still, her husband didn't even know.
About the baby's death, yes. That came from an eruption of darkness and pain, tears and blood. She couldn't hide that. Even if she had the emotional capacity to shield him from her suffering, the baby was his, too. The baby was as much a part of Naveen as she was of Tiana.
But Naveen didn't know about the hollowness she felt. The disappointment that weighed heavily on her shoulders. It crept through her fingers, elbows, knees. It bled through the tears he never knew she cried in the secrecy of the 'would be sanctuary', the nursery. Feelings of failure pierced through her being every time he touched her, kissed her, breathed by her. She was a failed mother to an unborn child. She was a failed wife to her husband.
Tiana never took failure well. She strived to be better. Next time...if there could be a next time. If she would allow a next time.
Love making couldn't the same anymore if every time she looked at him, she saw the face of her 'would be baby'. The crooked smiles of the embroidered tree frogs haunted her when her eyes were closed, ribbiting in the stillness of the night. Naveen kept her in his embrace when they slept, an arm around the small of her waist, his hand moving upwards when she inhaled, descending when she exhaled.
They never went to sleep facing each other anymore. He understood seeing the back of her loose and messy bun on lazy Sunday mornings, from late night shifts and movements, but Tiana never even smiled at him anymore. She didn't smile at all. Their nights were no longer colorful and explosive, no longer exclusively jazzy, the music resounding and echoing from night to night. They were filtered film noirs, silent movies. They could barely find words to form conversation. Small talk invited the most pained and awkward silences. And it didn't matter how much he complimented her on her beauty, on her cooking, on her strength through this tough time, on the way her dark, springy, curls fell across her face while she towel dried after a shower. Her full lips would keep in that awful straight line and she'd respond with a curt 'thank you.' Emotionless. She got of bed before him, went to the restaurant, rang up orders, filled orders, served customers, took the trolley home, and went upstairs. She wasn't scrambled. She didn't miss a beat. She was an invincible machine carrying on. The condolences bounced right off her. Inquiries on how she was holding up didn't faze her, she kept everything going. Cogs turned, juices flowed, spatulas flipped and knives sliced and diced but she wasn't going to crack like an egg done over easy.
Not in front of anybody, at least. Especially not in front of her husband.
He could only dismiss her impassivity as something temporary. It would go away after they got through this time. But he wasn't sure how long she would need.
Tiana heard footsteps padding down the hallway, then to the bathroom, and she knew her husband was finally awake. He would head down to the kitchen, she'd hear some shuffling and fumbling and he'd call her down for assistance. Sunday mornings, they used to cook together, she'd teach him some new trick or recipe, or show him how to be handy with some special utensil, but...it'd been a while. She waited for his heavily accented voice to call her from downstairs. He didn't. Instead, after a little while, she heard him come up the stairs again, and he rapped at the nursery door. Her eyes glazed over to the room's exit.
"Darling," Naveen started softly. She heard him try to pick at the doorknob, and actually felt his disappointment radiate through the walls when he realized it was locked. "It would please me, greatly, if I could have the honor of eating breakfast with my beautiful, beloved wife this morning."
Inhale slowly, exhale slowly. Tiana didn't want to join him downstairs. She waited about a minute before responding. "You go down without me; I'll be down in a few."
"But I'd much rather escort my beautiful, lovely wife, if she would let me," he answered quickly. That's what she got for marrying a romantic.
Tiana didn't answer him. She just got up out of the chair and unlocked the door. She hesitated before opening it. Naveen stood leaning in the doorjamb, legs crossed, and offered his hand to escort her. "I thought I would like to try something a little different, today," he started, taking her hand when Tiana didn't reach for it.
I would like us to try something a little different, he had said once before, she remembered. A year and two months ago seemed like an eternity ago, a completely different chapter in her life closed off, finished.
She remembered that hot and sweaty July night of fine wine and dancing, a year and two months ago. She let him carry her upstairs into their room as Duke Ellington blew out Creole Love Call over the old phonograph. They still acted like newlyweds, adventurous in their kissing, violent in shedding off their clothes, and musical while making love.
"I would like us to try something a little different," he had whispered in her ear, slowly. He rubbed her back, kissed up her neck, held her face in his hands and watched as the moonlight reflected off of the soft, curved edges of her body.
Tiana was brought back to the present day when Naveen brought her to the dining room table. "I minced," he said proudly, pointing to the two dishes opposite of each other. There was an assortment of minced fruits tossed and mixed like a salad. "Just for you." He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her cheek, but as she contracted, attempting to escape his embrace, he let go of her. He pulled out a chair, and she took the seat. He sat opposite of her.
"I just had trouble with the bananas," he started. "They simply refused to hold a cubed shape." He laughed nervously as she reached for a spoon. "Of course this salad of sorts could never match your culinary expertise, but I think you shall find the taste-"
"You can't actually cube bananas, toss 'em in a salad and expect them to hold their shape." She didn't look at him while she spoke. She parted the fruits with her spoon, but never put anything in her mouth. "They're too soft. Mush. You'll end up with baby food."
Tiana didn't realize the intensity of her words until after she said them. She felt herself shake, her shoulders quiver; she dropped her spoon and her hands rushed to cover her tearing eyes. She tried to breathe, exhale, breathe, exhale, but the tears kept coming. She felt Naveen's arms hold her, but didn't feel the strength to push him away, allowing her to fix and present herself as the strong woman he married. She melted in his warmth.
"Tiana..." His chin rested in the groove of her shoulder.
Lips shaking, she whispered, "I'm sorry...I thought I was stronger than this." He kissed her gently. She pulled away. Sniffling, she straightened up and leaned against the chair, tears still rolling. "I...I just keep seeing her face...It isn't fair...it isn't right."
He got on knees, eye level with his wife and held her hand.
"We wished on that star," Tiana said, knowing well that it was not a plausible excuse. "Evangeline...the same star that brought us together couldn't even...Naveen." Her husband nodded. "She was full term, wasn't she? Nine months, I counted! And for her to be born dead? For us to have planned out everything- to furbish that darned nursery...and for what?" She was at a loss for words now, shaking, rocking. "For what?"
They both recalled the birth, nineteen hours in labor, pushing and breathing, and screaming, and pushing and breathing and screaming - hard work with no reward. She was rushed into the hospital, big bellied and sweaty, and left with nothing. No little baby wrapped in swaddling blankets, no little pride and joy to keep in her arms, close to her heart.
"Naveen..." She actually gripped his hand and looked at him, really looked at him. "She was gonna be our little princess."
He was never used to seeing his wife this miserable. He knew she was aching, but could never even imagine her hurting to this extent. She was breaking down in front of him and he couldn't find words to comfort her.
"It's been five months already and I still can't go into that room without feeling helpless. Like I should have been able to do something. Maybe there was something we could have done differently..."
"There is nothing we could have changed; you know that." He wiped a tear from her face. "Things do happen sometimes, things that are out of our control." He gave her a half smile. "We can try again... For another little princess, or a little prince, even."
"It will never be her." Her words resonated, hanging in the silence between them.
Naveen stood upright. I know, he thought. He did know. He felt hurt and cheated too. He was equally as excited for the baby to come. A little princess, a little heir to the throne. Three years ago, if anyone would have told him that he was going to get married, tied down to one woman, start a family with said woman, with every ounce of his being he would laughed in their faces. But, through living it, he realized how much the baby's death truly affected him. It was more than just feeling the pain of any empathetic human being. His pain came from his own personal transformation. It came from being so close to having his own little daughter and having his fatherhood snatched away from him at the same time.
Naveen picked up his plate, and reached for his wife's plate to empty them the kitchen. He was surprised when he felt her hand on his shoulder.
Hesitating, Tiana said, "I'd still like to eat the breakfast my dearly beloved husband prepared for me, if he wouldn't mind."
Was that a smile on her face? Maybe not a full fledged smile, but a little smirk was peeking through her clouded face, for the first time in months. She wiped her cheek with her hand. He put the dishes back on the table, and sat across from her.
"I have been waiting for your smile for many months," he said, grinning. "I am still waiting for the sun to rise in your eyes."
"Me too," she whispered, under her breath. Tiana's eyes rose to meet Naveen's. "I love you, so much."
"And I love you, too, my darling." Tiana reached across the table to hold her husband's hand.
"I know I haven't said it enough," she said. "Especially as of recently. But I need you to know: I love you, Naveen."
"I know," he said, although he admitted to himself that he had his insecure doubts. He smiled at her, as she held a spoonful of his fruits to her mouth.
"Have I ever told you that you're a pretty good mincer?"
"I do believe those words came out of your mouth, once or twice."
"You might actually give me a run for my money."
"No," she said, almost smiling. There was a hint of that smirk again.
Naveen was sure he was beginning to see a glimmer of sunlight shining in Tiana's eyes. For sure, the makings of a sunrise were starting to take shape.
Author's Note: Whoah...first fanfiction for Princess and the Frog (wonderful, wonderful film.); first fanfiction for anything in a while! Wow. It was a really sad one (sorry about that), and it's probably going to end up being a one shot, but I do have some half-baked ideas of where I'd like to take this...
Read, review and critique, please!