Monday April 25th 2011 – Three Years Later
"Mummy, I wanna hold Lucy!" cries Matt, holding out his chubby arms to me.
"Not right now, Matty," I tell him gently, shifting his baby sister in my arms as she latches onto my breast. "Lucy's hungry and I need to feed her. You can hold her when she's done, okay?"
I bite my lip as the inevitable pout settles over his childish features and he begins to whine. I hate having to say no to him when he gives me that face.
"But Mummy, I want to!" he cries, his face scrunching up in annoyance. "Daddy lets me."
"Oh, Matty," I shake my head, smothering a chuckle as I try to explain the situation to him. "That's because Daddy doesn't have to give Lucy her milk, sweetie. You can hold her when she's finished, okay?" I tell him, reaching out to ruffle his dark locks affectionately.
He reluctantly agrees and instead moves to the other side of the room to play with his fire truck toy. I watch him with a smile on my face; he looks so much like Max and I almost can't get my head around the fact that together we made him… along with the gorgeous little girl I'm holding in my arms right now. Lucy Abigail Evans is almost ten weeks old (she was born the day after Valentine's Day) and the most beautiful baby girl either Max or I have ever laid eyes on. Max insists that she looks just like me, but I'm not so sure; I actually think she takes after Isabel more than me, but Max is convinced that that's not true because both Lucy and Matt have the same dark hair and eyes as us.
Matt occupies himself with his trucks and as Lucy suckles contentedly at my breast, I let my mind wander. A feeling of happiness and fulfilment settles over me, bringing a smile to my face as I think about my life…our life… here in England. It's been four years since we moved over here with Max's job and I can honestly say that I love it here. After Matt was born, we realised that our one-bed apartment in the middle of the city was not exactly big enough or suitable for raising a child, so when he was six months old we moved to a larger apartment further out of the city, which is much more suited for families. It means a longer commute for Max each day, but he insists he doesn't mind the extra travelling as having a decent place to live is more important than taking a few extra minutes to get into work every day.
Although we've been very happy here, that's not to say that our lives have run completely smoothly over the last three years – it was a hard struggle those first few months after we had Matt. I hadn't realised how difficult it was going to be trying to raise a baby without the help of my parents and with Max back at work. Not to mention the differing healthcare systems and practices in England compared to back home. Both my parents and the Evans' did come to visit in the first few weeks and were a big help, but there was so much to get used to and until that point I hadn't fully comprehended the extent of taking care of a newborn. However, Max was great with Matt, just like he is now with Lucy, and was a huge help to me when he wasn't at work. In fact, we really do make a good team together on the children front. Max just adores Matt and Lucy and dotes on them practically 24/7 and I just love watching him interact with them, playing cars with Matt or talking baby talk to Lucy.
Lucy finishes feeding and as I lift her up to my shoulder to burp her, I hear the sound of a key turning in the front door. I grin; Max is home from work. Matt obviously hears it too, because his head whips round and he stands up with a shout of "Daddy!" and watches the living room doorway expectantly. Sure enough, a few seconds later, my husband appears in the living room with a smile on his face.
"Daddy!" cries Matt again excitedly and begins to run toward Max, who bends down and holds his arms out to catch him.
"Hey there, sport," he chuckles, shooting me a grin as he lifts Matt into his arms for a hug. "You been a good boy for Mommy today?"
"Yep," states Matt proudly. "The best."
"Is that so?" replies Max, glancing at me. I smile and nod in return.
"He's been great today, haven't you, Matty?"
"Uh huh," he looks at me innocently. Actually, there was a tiny incident this morning involving a tantrum over yoghurt, but apart from that, he's been pretty good.
Max carries him over to the couch and takes a seat next to me, settling Matt in his lap and stroking the top of Lucy's head affectionately before kissing me softly.
"Good day?" I ask, shifting Lucy in my arms as she begins to whimper.
"Ugh," he makes a face, as Matt begins protesting and fidgeting in his lap. Max lowers him to the floor so he can play with his toys instead. "It was okay, just… full of meetings and things."
"Nice," I make a face.
"But," he continues, his smile returning. "There's something I need to talk with you about."
"Yeah?" I ask curiously, lightly bouncing Lucy in my arms as she begins to get restless.
"So, I'm taking you out for dinner tonight so we can talk without interruption."
"Dinner? Tonight?" I question with a frown. "What about Matt and Lucy? We can't go anywhere without them."
"That's where Mrs. Thomas from upstairs comes in," he grins. "She's agreed to babysit tonight so we can have some time to ourselves."
"Really?" I smile. "That's so kind of her. What time is she coming over?"
"About seven-thirty," he replies. "The table's booked for half-eight."
I smile at his use of the very British phrase. It took me a while after we moved here to realise that half-eight meant eight-thirty (as in halfway between eight and nine).
"Okay, great," I tell him with a grin, leaning up to kiss him again. "But first, we have to get these two to bed. You mind getting Matt ready while I put Lucy down?"
"Of course I don't mind," he says, as if I've just asked a stupid question. He loves spending time with Matt when he gets home from work. "Just let me get out of this suit and I'll run his bath."
In my arms, Lucy's fussing begins to turn into unhappy cries and I adjust her position against me once more. I don't think she'll last much longer staying here on the couch, so I move to get up.
"You okay?" asks Max in concern, holding out a finger for Lucy to grab hold of.
"I'm fine, but this little one's gonna start screaming any second, so I'd better get her down."
"Oh, okay," he murmurs, his gaze fixed on Lucy's shock of dark hair and her delicate features. He's mesmerised by her and it brings a smile to my face.
We share a moment together, both gazing down at our precious second-born, until Matt notices that we're not paying attention to him and latches onto Max's leg, jumping up and down anxiously.
"Daddy, daddy, look at my trucks!" he shouts excitedly.
Max quickly snaps out of his daze and turns his attention to our son.
"Wow, your trucks?" he asks, a hint of wonder in his voice. "Can I see them?"
"Uh huh," nods Matt, tugging on Max's arm impatiently; Max shoots me a grin as he allows himself to be dragged across the room to Matt's toy corner.
I watch them interact for a couple of seconds, before Lucy alerts me to the fact that she's really not happy, and so I stand up and carry her towards her room. I lay her down on the changing table and as I go about changing her diaper and getting her ready for bed, I listen to the sounds of Max and our son having fun together in the other room.
It takes a while but by seven o'clock, I've finally managed to get Lucy down to sleep. On my way to our bedroom, I stop in the bathroom doorway to observe Max, now dressed in sweatpants and a T-shirt, trying to persuade Matt not to splash him with bath water. I shake my head and chuckle to myself as I leave them to it and go to find something to wear for dinner. As I pick out an outfit, I find myself wondering what Max wants to talk to me about. From his tone of voice earlier, it didn't sound like anything bad, but at the same time, it must be important if he wants to discuss it over dinner.
Mrs. Thomas arrives at seven-thirty sharp and by seven-forty, after giving her our cell phone numbers and also instructions for Matt and Lucy in case they wake up, we're on our way out to dinner. Max takes me to our favourite restaurant, this lovely Mexican place in Camden, which is actually surprisingly busy for a Monday night, but luckily we are seated in a quiet corner, away from the large, noisy party of twelve who are occupying the front of the restaurant.
After the waiter has shown us to our table and taken our drinks order (a pint of lager for Max and a white wine spritzer for me – which I have to assure Max is fine for me to drink even though I am breastfeeding at the moment), I look across the table at Max.
"Not that I'm not happy to be taken out for dinner, but what's all this in aid of?" I ask.
He shrugs, "Well, firstly, I thought it would be nice to have some time alone since we've been so busy lately with Matt and Luce…"
"And secondly?" I prompt, with a smile
He returns the smile, albeit with a slightly sheepish expression, "Secondly… um, something came up at work today that I want to ask you about and I thought, why not talk over a nice dinner at our favourite restaurant?"
I look at him in puzzlement, "Max, what's going on? Why do I feel like you're trying to butter me up?"
"Maybe because I am," he grins.
"Really?" I question suspiciously.
"Yeah," he replies, his gaze leaving mine as we notice the waiter returning with our drinks. "But, let's order first, okay?"
"Sure," I reply, now intrigued by his secrecy.
We quickly rattle off our orders to the waiter, not even opening the menus, since we already know exactly what we want to eat, and then relax in our seats as we wait for the food. I take a quick glance around the room and when I turn back to Max to comment on the shear number of customers this evening, I find him staring at me, his gaze intense.
"Have I told you yet how beautiful you look tonight?" he murmurs and I feel myself blush under his intense scrutiny; never mind that we've been married for nearly five years now, he still has the ability to make me feel self-conscious like that.
"Hmm," I pretend to think. "Not that I recall."
"Well then, Lizzie, you look absolutely breathtaking," he smiles, reaching over to take my hand in his.
I shift, slightly uncomfortable with my appearance.
"Hey, what's wrong?" he questions in concern.
"Nothing," I shrug. "I guess I just don't feel that beautiful right now. I'm still carrying extra baby weight around and I haven't worn a dress like this in months."
He runs his gaze over the strappy black dress I'm wearing and nods appreciatively.
"You look great, Lizzie. You're perfect as you are," he tells me sincerely. "And I love you so much."
"Thank you," I murmur softly. "I love you too… and by the way, you look great as well."
He really does. He decided to go smart-casual this evening, so he's wearing smart jeans and a striped shirt with the top buttons undone. He looks hot. We share a smile and make small talk until our food arrives. Eventually, Max brings up the subject of what happened at work today.
"Lizzie?" he starts, somewhat hesitantly.
"Yeah," I ask, taking a bite of fajita.
"Are you happy here? In England, I mean?"
"Yeah," I say, as if it should be obvious. "Of course I am, you know that. Max, what's this about?"
"The meetings at work today… well, basically, they're doing some reshuffling within the company and opening some new branches and the boss has given me a couple of options regarding my job."
"Options?" I wonder.
"Yeah," he says, playing with his fork. "And I want to get your thoughts on them."
"Okay, so what are the options?"
"Okay, option number one: I stay at the London offices and keep my current position in the department; option number two: I take a slightly higher position at one of the new UK branches in the south west, which would mean moving out of London; or option number three: we can go back home. They've offered me a different position at the offices back in Santa Fe."
"Wow," my eyes widen, slightly overwhelmed by the choices.
"Yeah," he says. "Hence my question before. Would you like to move back home again or are you happy here?"
I take a few moments to consider the choices before saying anything.
"Well," I start. "It has been hard being so far away from our families and everyone, especially since Maria's pregnant now and Isabel and Alex are getting married, but at the same time… I really do love it here, Max."
"I know what you mean," he nods. "I miss everyone back home too, but I feel settled here now."
"Yeah," I agree. "And if we went back, we'd be taking Matt away from everything he knows."
"That's true," agrees Max. "So, am I right in thinking that option number three is out?" I nod in response. "So then, we need to decide between the other two."
"Well, I'd be lying if I said that I thought London was the best place to raise a family," I admit.
"Yeah, me too," says Max. "It's so crowded and noisy here, not to mention expensive."
"We could get a house instead of just an apartment if we left the city," I point out. "And the schools can be much safer in other places."
"Yeah," he nods. "So, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"I think so," I tell him. "We're going for option number two?"
"We're going for option number two," he confirms.
We sit in silence for a moment, letting the idea sink in.
"Wow," I breathe eventually. "We're really gonna do this?"
Max nods. "Yeah," he murmurs, his tone slightly awed.
"So, when will all this happen, I mean, how long do we have to get organised?"
"Not for a few more months," he reassures me. "It's only in the planning stages right now."
"Okay, that's good… Wow," I say again after a pause.
"Yeah," Max chuckles. "It's exciting though, isn't it?"
"Yep. Very," I agree enthusiastically.
We share a happy look and a smile before returning to our rapidly cooling dinner, talking more about Max's meetings today and the job changes as we eat. Once dinner is over and we've left the restaurant, Max slips his arm around me and I rest my head on his shoulder as we walk towards the tube station and head home to relieve Mrs. Thomas of babysitting duty.
"Okay, Lucy is finally asleep again," I sigh, as I shut the bedroom door behind me and turn to face Max, who is sitting on the bed waiting for me. We came home to find her screaming her lungs out in Mrs. Thomas' arms and it's taken more than half an hour to get her to calm down and back to sleep again. I make my way across the room to our bed.
"That's good," agrees Max, his lips curling up in a soft smile as his gaze lingers on my body as I walk towards him. When I reach the bed, he slides his hands around my waist and pulls me to him so that I'm standing between his legs. "Now we can get down to business."
"Max!" I admonish, my eyes widening at his blatant come-on, but at the same time, I slip my arms around his neck. "Is that all you ever think about?"
"I can't help it," he shrugs mischievously. "It's your fault for looking so gorgeous and ravishing all the time."
I avert my eyes for a moment at the compliment. Whilst I know that Max loves me unconditionally, I've been feeling self-conscious about my body ever since Lucy was born. I'm still about twenty pounds heavier than before I got pregnant again and even though Max insists that I'm still beautiful to him, I'm a little leery about being naked in front of him. Although we have been intimate a few times in the last couple of weeks, I've been making him turn out the light first – something I feel silly for doing but I can't seem to help it.
"Hey," says Max, lifting my chin up with his finger so that I my eyes meet his. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I say. "I just…"
"Oh, Lizzie," his expression quickly becomes one of understanding, "you know how much I love you, and a few extra pounds doesn't matter to me one bit. You're still every bit as sexy as you were five years ago and honestly, I don't think there'll ever be a time that I don't find you sexy."
I smile, his soft, heartfelt words causing my worry to dissipate, "Thank you."
"No, thank you," he returns. "You've given me everything I could have ever hoped for… love, happiness, marriage and two absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous children. There is no way I could love you any less, just because you happen to be a little bit heavier right now. You've just had a baby, it's only natural that your body changes slightly because of that."
I stare down into his eyes, unable to form coherent words. There is so much love in his gaze that I feel almost overwhelmed, and all I can do to show him exactly what I'm feeling is lower my lips to his in a passionate kiss, pouring all of my emotions and feelings into it. Max moans as I slip my tongue into his mouth and his arms tighten around me, his fingers grasping at the silky material of my dress. He breaks the kiss for a moment to look up at me and I find myself lost in his loving gaze as his hands move up to the straps on my dress and he slips them down my arms. My eyes close again and I let my head fall back at the feel of Max's warm fingers lightly caressing my skin as he lowers the zipper on my dress and lets it slide down to my hips.
I stand before him on shaky legs as he walks his fingers across my stomach, which unfortunately is much flabbier than I'd like right now, and up towards my bra-covered breasts. I brace my hands on Max's shoulders as he unclasps my bra and then grins appreciatively as he cups my breasts in his hands; I guess that's one good thing about having a baby – my usually meagre chest has temporarily increased by about two cup sizes… much to Max's delight. Within moments, our eyes meet again and we draw together again. Caught up in our embrace, I step out of my dress and we fall back against the mattress, our kisses becoming more frantic.
Max divests me of the remainder of my clothes (tights and panties) and spends several long minutes worshipping every inch of my body, leaving me gasping with need. I try to pull at his shirt, to rid him of that barrier between us, but he waves my hands away, instead moving down my stomach, pressing gentle, delicate kisses to my skin until he reaches my inner thighs. I clutch at his hair as he expertly proceeds to bring me to the ultimate pleasure and, for some reason that is unknown to me, it seems more intense and more meaningful than ever.
When I've recovered from his ministrations, I return the favour, tugging at Max's clothes until he's naked before me, before I bestow on him the same intimate attention that he's been giving me. I shower his body with love and affection until he's gasping for breath and begging for release. He murmurs my name in a breathy moan, his fingers clutching at my hips as I straddle him. I lean down to kiss him deeply, before I lowering myself onto him. I sigh into his mouth as he fills me up and I shudder at the feel of him inside me; nothing in the world could compare to the experience of making love with Max Evans. We love each other ardently and passionately, savouring every moment of it, making each second count. After all, with two young children, we don't often get the chance to take our time in the lovemaking department, so we make the most of the time we do have together.
Afterwards, I collapse against Max's chest, breathing heavily, and he buries his hands in my hair, stroking tenderly. A blanket of calm settles around us as we exchange gentle kisses and whispers of love. We talk softly about our future here in England and our love for each other. Unfortunately, I then make the mistake of mentioning that both Matt and Lucy are sleeping well tonight and as if on cue, the sound of childlike whimpers and cries filter into our room. It's Matt.
I groan, burying my head in Max's chest, before leaving the warmth of his arms to go and attend to our son. I catch him watching me as I pull one of his T-shirts over my head and grab my robe. We share a tender smile, before I slip out of the room to find out what's wrong with Matt. It turns out that he's had a nightmare about a tiger being under his bed, so I give him a cuddle and assure him that there's no tiger under his bed, or anywhere else in his room, before sitting with him, stroking his hair until he falls back to sleep. I check in on Lucy, who luckily is sleeping peacefully, before returning to our bedroom.
Careful not to disturb either of the kids again, I pry open the door, slip inside our room and then gently close the door behind me. Looking over at Max, I find him fast asleep on his back, obviously exhausted from our earlier activities. The sight of him brings a smile to my lips as I slip out of my robe and climb into bed.
I cuddle up next to Max, his arm sliding around my waist, holding me close, as I relax against him.
"I love you," I whisper, placing a soft kiss on his cheek, before I give into exhaustion. I fall asleep thinking about how lucky we are to have each other and our children, and also how excited I am about our future together as a family.