He was lying flat on the ground with a kid on each side, all holding rolled up papers to their eyes like telescopes as they gazed at the stars in the bright summer night sky.
The girl was chatty and the boy bubbly while he guided them to search left or right, up and down, sometimes rolling a bit over one child, then onto the next, making them burst into laughter.
She watched them from across the yard as if from within a cocoon, chilled tea in her hand and a drowsy smile forming on her lips.
She shook her head at the call and her cocoon burst and all the surrounding noise seeped in at once, almost startling her.
"Hmmm? Yeah? Oh, sorry," she touched her sister in law's arm and smiled apologetically.
Kristina laughed, "You look like you were in outer space," she joked thrusting her chin out in the direction of the trio gazing at the stars.
"Yeah," Sarah chuckled and sat up straight in the lawn chair glancing towards them again, as well.
"Mark, with the kids," Kristina clarified.
Sarah laughed, "Yes, I know. Well, he's a teach," she joked.
"A natural teach," Kristina replied, gently nudging Sarah with her shoulder. "Here, can you take this guy, I gotta go pee and find Adam," she said already handing baby Ben over to her.
Sarah accepted her six month old nephew with a huge smile which he bothered to reciprocate with a gurgle. She greeted him with sweet words and sat him on her lap, facing her as she shooed his mother away. "Go, go, come back tomorrow," she told her and turned her attention back to the fair haired baby.
Before long, Camille came over to try and steal her new grandson away, but Sarah resisted, reminding her mother that she spent at least two days a week babysitting Ben while Kristina helped Adam in his new business.
Camille rescinded and sat next to the two, making faces at her smiley grandson as she sipped on Sarah's drink.
A few moments later, Amber walked by chattering on her phone. "Hey, hey, come here for a sec," Sarah waved urging her daughter over.
Amber, still chatting away, plopped into Kristina's vacated chair and reached out to take her baby cousin's hand to give it little pecks in between her "Hmmms" and "aws" on the phone, which he seemed to enjoy.
"Gotta go," she then told her friend and finally shut the phone. "Here," she told her mother, reaching out for Ben, "Let me get some practice."
Sarah stared at her daughter in shock. "Don't even think about it," she responded in a menacing tone.
"Okay, okay, cool it, keep him. My sympathies, little guy, you're staying with your crazy aunt Sarah," she told the baby who stared at her attentively with his huge blue eyes.
"You do not need any practice, you're barely 19. You hear me?" Sarah continued overly serious.
"Sarah," Camille tried to sooth her daughter, "Amber's just teasing you," Camille laughed, hoping Sarah would catch on.
"Mom, chill, ok. I haven't even…," Amber slumped back in her chair, "… in months, ok? I was talking about you."
"You haven't, not with Joe? Why? Wait, what? What about me?" she looked at Amber quizzically.
Suddenly, both Sydney and Jabbar were standing right in front of Sarah. "Hi, Aunt Sarah," they chanted together in unison.
"Hey!" Sarah responded cheerfully looking at them momentarily before shifting her gaze to Mark, who stood behind them now. They caught each other's eyes and shared a knowing grin.
"We watched all these stars," Jabbar told them excitedly, "with the paper telescopes Mark made us. It was cool, right Sydney?"
"Yeah and he showed us the Milky Way," Sydney added, "And don't say it's a candy bar, grandma, because it isn't, right Mark?"
Mark nodded, his gaze still locked with Sarah's.
Amber rolled her eyes at the two love birds and leaned over to whisper in her mother's ear, "You and Mr. C. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…"
"Shush, stop it," Sarah pleaded with Amber, who ignored her and kept humming the tune in her mother's ear.
"Aunt Sarah, can I hold Ben Ben?" Sydney asked enthusiastically, holding out her arms.
"Aw, honey, you have to ask Aunt Kristina if it's ok," Sarah replied, "but here, sit next to me and you can play with him while I hold him," she added and moved to her left to make room for her niece.
"Mommy said that when she has another baby she'll let me hold it," Jabbar blurted out and turned away, leaving everyone a bit surprised and amused.
Then Amber got up to leave.
"Hey, where are you going?" Sarah asked her, hoping to catch a few more words with her daughter.
"Coffee. Anyone? Grandma, Mark?" Amber asked as she brushed past him, barely waiting for an answer.
"No, thanks, I'm…" Mark started to reply but stopped once he noticed Amber was already out of ear shot.
Sarah sighed, giving her mother a desperate look. "Ok, someone take this little guy please, so I can get up."
Camille was ready but Mark was quicker, reaching over and removing Ben from Sarah's hold. He smiled at the baby as he took him in his arms and supported him on his left arm, high at eye level, to assure Ben who had a secure hold on him.
Sarah raised herself heavily out of the too low chair. She stretched her arms out to the sides and then softly smoothed her left hand down Mark's back before leaving. "I'm going to get a sweater," she explained as they exchanged warm grins.
Sarah walked away towards her place and stopped a few feet down the path to look back.
Ben had begun whimpering, probably missing Kristina already and Mark was now swaying the baby a bit in his arms trying to sooth him. Ben clutched onto Mark's hair, which had conveniently grown much longer than Crosby's and then rubbed his nose against Mark's shoulder.
"Maybe he was tired," Sarah thought to herself, keeping her gaze on the scene.
Mark was smoothing out Ben's hair while trying to calm him and also tried distracting him with Sydney, who was now standing on the chair to be closer in height to the baby and was making faces at him.
When that didn't work, Sarah watched as Mark started pacing around with Ben. Mark was in his bare feet and she always worried that he would step on some nail or glass, but Mark insisted it was how he felt most comfortable walking around at home when it was hot.
He called this place home, though she wasn't sure it was even home for her and he hadn't completely moved in, either.
Sarah watched with adoration as Mark finally managed to get Ben to rest his head on his shoulder where his cries finally subsided, just as both Adam and Kristina reappeared in the yard.
Sarah lingered unnoticed, to look on a moment longer as Mark, with his back to her now, was chatting with Kristina and Adam, who had already taken their son back from him. As Mark stood there in his olive green cargo shorts and heather grey tee, barefoot, his arms apparently crossed on his chest, he could be mistaken for her Drew, Sarah noted and sighed at the thought.
She sat there in the armchair, in the dark, cupping her tea, with her legs tucked under her and watched him sleep.
He was sprawled on the bed on his stomach clad only in his blue underpants. His bare back was completely exposed while his face was entirely hidden under his tousled hair.
She sipped on the warm tea wishing she could ease her racing mind back into slumber mode. But, she was too preoccupied with thoughts lately and alluded sleep did not help either.
She looked at his boyish body which seemed to be such a contrast to his mature and grounded ways. He insisted on forging a growing friendship with her kids, especially successful with Drew yet never giving up on Amber; He insisted on being involved with her extended family particularly showing respect for her parents and helping her avoid sudden confrontations with them; He helped her manage her finances better so that she could eventually cut down on the number of weekly shifts at the bar; He kept encouraging her to write and instilled confidence in her and all that she could and did undertake, even when she was hormonal, whiny and down.
Sarah smiled at that last thought. He just knew how to love her no matter her mood which in return had become much more stable in its positivity. She knew it was love and it was unique and growing and things were shifting for the better as their bond and commitment grew.
If only they had equal timing for everything, if only they could share a joint timeline that usually helped cement relationships even further. The age gap, the damn age gap was worrying her lately, much more so than ever before and it wasn't because of trouble they encountered. It was rather because they were great together and she saw them spending a lifetime together. She had to put all of the cards on the table, because he just didn't seem to be aware of their obstacles, or care. But she was too aware lately, especially since her 41st birthday some weeks earlier and also as she watched Mark become such an integral part of her family… and as she met his lovely parents, barely 15 years her senior, who had driven in from LA several times in the past year to see their only child… and as she … The thoughts kept free flowing, buzzing through her restless mind.
She glanced at the bright red digits of the electrical alarm clock on her night stand. 2:37 in the morning. They'd planned on waking at seven, despite it being a Sunday, so they could work for a couple of hours on their joint play before driving Drew up north an hour away to his baseball game. They were a team; A writing team, a working team and often a parenting team. Partners, friends, lovers, "Oh, God", she thought, resting the teacup on the counter and covering her face with her palms, she had to talk to him. If this were to last, as she hoped and wanted, if this was their present as well as their future, then she had to speak now before time would bring regrets and lost opportunities.
A few minutes later, she slipped back into bed beside him to lie on her back and as he stirred and nuzzled closer against her she felt the warmth and affection masking out the dread, just a little bit so.
When the alarm radio turned on it startled her out of a cavernous slumber. She closed her eyes tightly and took a deep breath before braving the early morning of what felt like a fateful day to her.
She tried to release the tension she felt all too well in her facial muscles and relaxed her eyelids, keeping them lightly shut.
Then the bed next to her sank and she finally opened her eyes to see Mark smiling at her, holding her fresh cup of coffee. Every morning they spent together, either here or at his place, she could count on him from the minute he awoke to the minute he awoke again the next day and so on and so forth.
Sarah forced a smile at him and asked that he place the coffee on her nightstand.
"I have to talk to you," she told him, grabbing his arm as he started to rise from the bed to head to the shower.
"Okay," He sank back down onto the mattress and looked at her with anticipation.
Sarah sat up in bed, fixing three pillows behind her to support her back against the wall. She wrung her hands together, staring down at them for a moment and then looked up at Mark. He was beautiful, with his dark blue lively eyes and his scrawny full beard which he'd grown out during this year that he'd been on sabbatical. His long thick hair, parted close to the middle was pushed behind his ears and brushed his bare shoulders. She looked at his full mouth, dying to kiss it but instead, just forced herself to maintain eye contact with him.
"I love you," she said in a voice hoarse with tension.
Mark arched his brows in surprise and shifted uncomfortably in his place, wary of what would come next. "I love you, too," he finally replied after Sarah searched his eyes for his reaction.
"I love you," she repeated and at hearing that, he sprang up off the bed in full defense.
"No, stop it, I don't want to hear the rest, just stop!" he pleaded at first, then added in anger.
Sarah reached out to him. "No, it's nothing bad, I promise," she told him softly, "Please come back here for a moment, please," she asked of him.
Mark reluctantly returned to the bed, shaking his head in disbelief. "What's going on, Sarah?" he asked sincerely. They exchanged "I love you's" on a regular basis, it wasn't novel, but the manner in which she'd said it and brought it up, gave Mark a feeling of foreboding.
Sarah closed her eyes for a moment and reminded herself to speak now, to say what was on her mind. "Do you ever think about being a father?" she finally asked.
Mark furrowed his brows not knowing what or how to respond. "Uhm…" he tried, but nothing real came out.
Sarah let out a tense chuckle and gestured at him. "Of course not, look at you. You're a guy, you're barely thirty, why should you think about that yet, you have all the time in the world," she said sounding half amused, half frustrated.
"What are you saying?"
Sarah swallowed hard yet held his gaze, "I'm not, I'm just asking: Do you want to be a dad?" she repeated tenderly.
Mark searched her eyes for a clue; perhaps a sign of what to reply and better yet, just to try and understand what was gong on. "Are you pregnant?" was what he finally concluded.
Sarah snorted in reply and then tilted her head to look at him with affection. "No, not pregnant," she clarified.
Mark ran his hands through his hair keeping his eyes on hers and she loved him even more for not responding with relief. "So, you just want to know if I've thought of it?"
"Yes and also if you've made a decision."
"I just really need to know."
"Okay, well, I guess, I mean I really like kids, I just…"
"I know," she cut him off, "I see you interact with them. They adore you. Jabbar and Sydney worship you and the older kids, too, just..." she let her voice trail.
They looked at each other expecting the other to carry on.
Sarah took Mark's hand in hers and gripped it tightly. "I love you and you've become my best friend and I don't want to hurt you but this age gap is working against us."
"It's not," he insisted. "There's nothing working against us," he stated with determination.
"There is," she insisted with a nod. "I see us together," she assured him, "I know we have a future but this kid issue that you haven't ever really given thought to and I don't blame you for that," she promptly added, letting her thought drift for a moment. "But, you'll have to think quickly and decide because we don't share the same timeline on that. And you can't just wake up in five or ten years and say you want kids because, well, you can, but it'll be too late for me. And it won't be fair to you or to me," she looked at him warmly. "I don't want to deprive you of being a dad if that's what you want, so please, you have to decide."
Mark took a deep breath and swallowed hard, pulling his hand out of hers. "So, you're saying I have to choose now between being with you or having kids?" he asked sounding somewhat exasperated.
"Yes," she replied all too quickly, "No, no! Wait, no! That's not what I mean," she immediately added when she saw him looking at her in disbelief and pain, slowly shaking his head and she reached out to take his hand again.
"Then what do you mean, Sarah? Please explain it to me again."
Sarah sighed and then spoke softly and slowly. "I want you to tell me now if you want to be a father, now. If you want to have a kid with me now, which even if you do, I'm not sure is really still possible because who knows, you know. Look what happened with Julia, but anyway, it's not something we can wait to discuss or decide. I hope you can see that," she told him feeling she was starting to tear up.
She had hoped that she could maintain her calm during this talk, but it wasn't working. "I'm sorry," she suddenly felt uncertain and more vulnerable than when she had first decided to speak up. She swiped at her tears, "I'm sorry, I'm so stupid, I shouldn't have brought this up, it's way too soon, the timing's all wrong. It's all about timing, I told you, this age difference, damn it, I'm just scared it'll…" her voiced trailed.
Mark by then had already moved to sit by her side, making her shift a bit to her left to make room for him. He hugged her tightly, kissing the top of her head.
"It's okay," he assured her, mumbling into her hair. "I'm glad you brought it up because it's obviously been on your mind for a while."
Sarah leaned into him and then laughed, "I can't decide if I'm suddenly an optimist, believing we have a future together so we have to plan for it or a pessimist, knowing we'll break up over this issue and then won't have a future," she joked. She sat up straight again, freeing herself from his embrace and turned to him. "You've really never thought about being a dad before?"
Mark shook his head slowly. "Not really, no. I haven't. It's your fault, you know? I forget we have any age gap because you look so young," he sincerely smiled at her.
Sarah punched him in the shoulder.
"Ow," he complained, "I wasn't teasing you," he insisted but Sarah just made a face at him showing him she wasn't buying into it.
She pointed to the stranded coffee mug on her nightstand and asked Mark to bring it to her.
She took a long gulp of the soothing drink despite its cooled down temperature and handed it back to Mark, who placed it back on the nightstand.
"You already have kids," Mark suddenly spoke, bringing them back to the heart of the issue. "I thought you were done."
Sarah chuckled, "Yeah, me, too."
"I, I know it sounds cliché but this father figure role, sometimes I feel a bit of a father figure to Amber and Drew," Mark spoke softly. "I know I'm not really, but it feels like it sometimes…"
"Like when you tell Amber to be home by 10."
"I don't do that," he replied all too earnest.
Sarah tugged at his arm, "No, you don't. You tell her you trust her to be home at a reasonable hour," she corrected softly.
"Well, even that I only did once when you were away with your sister, but yes, I try to act like I'm responsible for them, yeah. I feel responsible." He paused and tensely rubbed the back of his neck. "I think they're really great, I really like them," he shrugged kind of shy to admit.
Sarah immediately kissed him on the cheek and tried to stop herself from becoming emotional again. "It's not cliché," she assured him. "You are a father figure to them and they really, really like you."
"Maybe it's enough then," he thought out loud, rubbing his face, looking like he was finally grasping the burden of this decision.
"But will it be enough in ten years?" she made it harder on him.
"What do YOU want?" he threw the ball back into her court.
"I want what you do."
"C'mon on, talk to me. For you, what do you choose?"
"10 years ago, it would've been a no brainer."
Sarah shrugged, "You know, with a good man like you, the kids still little, my body much younger and me pretty much stuck at home or with a crappy job anyway. I would've urged you to say yes in a flash," she chuckled tensely.
"I don't know, I'm kind of scared. I'm moving on to new things, the kids are pretty much all grown up and I feel so much older, you know, physically…"
"You're in great shape," he interjected, grinning at her.
"Okay, sure," she said in jest and then paused a moment before carrying on. "I'm afraid to rattle this fine equilibrium I've finally found, but…" she let her voice trail, muffled as she rubbed her face with both palms.
"But… you. You! You're too wonderful to me and you have good genes," she laughed nervously, giving out to the fact that she'd contemplated this issue comprehensively. "You're smart and kind and you have amazing eyes and a beautiful smile," she pointed at his face which was breaking out into that very beautiful smile she'd just mentioned, "Yeah, like that smile. Good teeth, too," she joked, "And great hair."
"Which I have to finally cut," he interjected.
"Back to school haircut, teach," she said teasingly.
She fingered the tips of his hair and then ran her hand down his spine, making him arch his back away from the pillows they were leaning back into.
Mark grabbed her caressing hand and brought it to his lips.
"See? Who still kisses a lady's hand - you're a real gentleman and also very sexy," she mischievously eyed him. "You're very talented with words and in bed. All in all, supreme genes."
"So what does all this mean other than flattery?"
"Flattery will get you anything, my dear."
"Ok, so what would you want all this flattery to get you?"
Sarah pressed her lips tightly as she thought for a moment. "A decision. Decide and I'll ride along with you, what ever it is."
"You'd be willing to start parenting all over again?" he searched her eyes for a sincere answer.
"If you decide you want it, too, then yes."
"But see, you just got to a place where you can finally think about yourself. You have time to write, you're starting to make a living off writing. I'm afraid that this could make you regress to how you felt and lived for twenty years," he said nervously stretching his legs out in front of him.
"No," she shook her head, "that will never happen again, because I've changed and you're not Seth," she knew she could bring up her ex's name with Mark. "You won't let that happen to me and I won't let it happen, either."
"But I can still see how you could resent me for this, for holding you back again and then you'll resent the notion of us," he tried to express his concerns but hated the way it came out. "I'm sorry, I think that sounded more selfish than I planned it to sound."
"No, not at all, I get you," she took his hand in assurance. "I just feel that this issue, if we don't resolve it soon, is the thing that could bring regrets down the road and blame and resentment. The not deciding will take us to that, so again, I think now's the time to decide one way or another," she emphasized again where her state of mind was taking her. "Sure, if we do decide to have kids, we'll need to make compromises to make it work but the time that goes by if we just let things flow by, Mark, that we can't have back. That's all I'm really saying. Timing and it's pretty much now."
They kept silent for a moment, just sitting shoulder to shoulder on the bed holding hands absorbing and processing. Finally Mark sheepishly grinned at her.
"It sounds to me that you want me to decide yes."
Sarah chuckled. "Truthfully, there don't seem to be too many cons. You have great genes, which I already noted, unless you want me to repeat them to you…"
"Yes, please do repeat them so we can add "huge ego" to the gene list," Mark replied in jest, keeping with the lighter turn their conversation was taking for the moment.
Sarah laughed whole heartedly and then gave him an adoring look. "I also know you'd be an amazing dad and that's something that I certainly don't want to deprive you of, you know, experiencing that. Also," she shrugged nonchalantly, grinning, "The kid would be pretty damn lucky having you as a dad."
"The kid would be pretty damn lucky, beautiful and smell wonderful having you as a mom," he upped her a couple and when she rolled her eyes in mockery, he started nuzzling her neck.
Sarah laughed, wriggling with delight at his tickling scruff against her skin, yet soon pushed Mark gently away and then grabbed his face between her hands and kissed him tenderly on the lips. "Please, I know it's all so new to you, so just take some time to process this and then decide," she asked of him.
Mark immediately countered, catching Sarah completely off guard. "If we have children, I'm going to want to marry you," he told her.
"What?" she said barely audible. She looked at him tentatively, squinting, while a tiny, nervous grin slowly spread over her lips. "Oookay," she drew out the word, tilting her head, still peering at him and awaiting his reveal that he'd surely just been joking.
It had taken Mark two minutes to decide, Sarah told Amber a week later as they sat side by side on the house steps.
"I'm surprised the offer didn't come from him," Amber grinned. "Every time I see him with the cousins he looks as if his ovaries are about to explode," she leaned into her mother, and both of them began to laugh hysterically.
"So, now you're throwing caution to the wind?" Amber asked when their laughter subsided.
"Out the windows, door and over the balcony. I've never been so unconcerned with being incautious in my life," Sarah smiled at her daughter. "So, how do you feel about this?" she asked softly after a long pause.
"As long as you're willing to accept the consequences of having unprotected sex," Amber quipped shrugging her supposed indifference.
"Ha, ha! C'mon, seriously."
"Ok, seriously? It'll be kind of embarrassing that my forty something mom is knocked up by my thirty year old ex teacher."
"Wow! Thank you so much for putting that so delicately," Sarah squinted at Amber in mock disapproval.
Amber laughed. "Sorry. But I'll roll with it. Hey, I knew what was coming. I told you I needed to practice baby holding because of you guys."
"Yes, you're a true clairvoyant."
"Have you told Drew yet?"
"No, should I? I think this might freak him out a bit, you know, having his mother share baby making stuff with him."
"Ew, Mom, don't share the baby making stuff, just the decision."
"You know that's what I meant."
"You have to tell him. He'll be fine. He really likes Mark, like, a lot."
"I know. That makes me really happy," Sarah said with a soft smile.
"Do you want me to tell him your grand scheme?" Amber offered.
"Thanks, honey, but I'll talk to him. Keep this to yourself!" she warned Amber with a menacing finger to her face and then hugged her tightly. "I love you," she whispered into her daughter's shortly cropped hair and kissed her lightly on the top of her head.
"So, what's with you and Joe," Sarah asked softly a moment later.
Amber sighed. "I guess to him we're only good friends."
"Is he gay?"
"Haha," Amber replied dryly, pulling out of her mother's embrace.
"I'm Sorry," Sarah said, trying to pull Amber back closer. "I'm sorry. It's just not like you to be this passive," she observed.
Amber just shrugged. She'd met Joe months earlier when she began working in his music shop downtown and they became close friends. Her mother was right, though. She was passive about taking their friendship to the next level and Joe himself, just seemed oblivious to any other possibilities.
"You're in love with him," Sarah finally stated with a loving smile and searched Amber's eyes for a confirmation.
Amber managed to look at her mom for a moment before averting her gaze. Her mom was right and Amber was scared to death.
Unlike Mark, Drew didn't really need a back to school haircut, but he did need some new clothes for school. He'd finally reluctantly agreed to join his mom on an impromptu shopping excursion only three days before his senior year began.
He'd had a growing spurt over the summer, overtaking his uncle Adam in height and standing as tall as Crosby now, threatening to soon surpass both his grandfather and dad.
So, they bought him a couple of jeans with longer inseams, some new shirts and pair of brown desert boots he'd wanted, similar to a pair Mark wore. After that, they went to grab some lunch at a familiar diner.
Sarah was itching to tell her son of her plans with Mark, not wanting him to be blindsided if she conceived, but wasn't exactly sure how to approach the subject with her adolescent and timid son.
She watched him closely as he hungrily took large bites out of his chicken fillet burger and accompanied them with his fries sans any ketchup.
She held her own burger in mid air, waiting for the right moment to say something and when it didn't come, she finally bit into her bun and placed it back onto her plate. She chewed slowly and stole a fry off her son's plate which made him finally look at her and smile.
Sarah swallowed her mouthful quickly and kept Drew's gaze. "I want to tell you something," she finally managed to blurt out, not wanting to lose the moment.
Drew grimaced at her. "You're not going to tell me again how great I am and that you're so proud of me and how every girl is going to fall at my feet this year…"
"Oh, no, god forbid, not all that sickening mommy blah, blah, blah again," she laughed and Drew grinned back in return.
"But…" she continued with caution and prolonged the word, "I want to warn you that I may become a new mommy sometime in the near future," she took a deep breath and watched Drew intently, awaiting his reaction.
"What does that mean?" Drew seemed truly confused.
Sarah sighed. She'd hoped she wouldn't have to elaborate too much. "Mark and I are trying to have a kid together," she spelled it out for him. "I wanted you to know so that if and when it happens that you won't feel left out." Sarah watched as Drew slowly pushed his plate away from him avoiding her tender gaze.
She reached out to place her hand on his and felt it stiffen as she touched it. "Drew, honey, c'mon, I thought you'd be ok about this. You really like Mark, he really likes you and Amber…"
"You just got your life on track, Mom. You're not stuck at home with us like you were, working at crappy jobs, struggling to keep us afloat. You've moved on to a place you deserve, I can't believe he's dragging you back down. I thought he loved you!" Drew spewed out, barely managing to keep his pained voice down. He looked at his mother with apparent anger and disappointment.
Sarah was shocked by her son's reaction. Her sweet, loving boy suddenly sounded so harsh. "Drew, c'mon," she pleaded with him, "It's not Mark, it's both of us that made the decision together," she tried to appease him, but Drew wouldn't look at her. "Please don't be so hard on Mark. You know he does love me and he's not dragging me down or back to where I was. You know he's different. It's so different now, you know it! I've changed, too. Drew, look at me, please."
Drew slowly brought his head up and looked at his mother with sad and angered eyes.
"Hey," Sarah held on to his hand tightly and pushed his fallen bangs out of his eyes making him look away again. "Hey, this is going to be a good thing for our family and we're going to need you as big brother," she said softly with a smile.
"So, you're still going to pursue writing and finally leave the bar?" Drew challenged.
"Yes, definitely keeping up with the writing, not sure about the bar, though," she answered candidly.
Drew rolled his eyes and looked away again shaking his head.
"I have only day shifts now and the pay's good with tips and all. I'll leave it eventually, I promise," Sarah told him and when he still wouldn't look at her, she let go of his hand and covered up her face with both her hands. "I think you're just embarrassed by me," she mumbled through her palms, which was enough to get a reaction out of him.
"Mom, I'm not, I just want you to finally live your life and do what you like and be happy," he insisted. "I'm not embarrassed with you," he added almost whispering.
Sarah uncovered her face and grinned at Drew. "Say that out loud, c'mon, I dare you to."
Drew laughed, realizing she'd caught him off guard. "Ok, I am embarrassed by you, but probably no more than other kids are of their mothers, ok?"
"No more than other kids? Ok, I dare you to say THAT out loud again, that should be enough," she challenged him with a feisty grin.
"Stop it, this is serious, Mom," he told her trying to contain his grin from spreading out all over his face again.
Sarah straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. "I know, Hon, I know. It's going to be fine, though, I promise you. I am happy and Mark loves this family and we love him, too, right? The family might grow a bit or change a little, but it'll be good, I know it will. Please, just stick with me on this, stick with us, ok?"
Drew shrugged his unenthusiastic acceptance in his own Drew – like way which made Sarah tear up. She smiled through her tears and pushed Drew's plate back to him. "I love you, now finish up your food, you're still a growing mama's boy," she told him which made them both snort with laughter.
Sarah heard the door open and smiled to herself in content. "Mark?" she called out in anticipation, tightening the cotton tie dyed sheet around her bare breasts.
"No, Mom, it's me…"
Sarah recoiled hearing her son instead and quickly pulled the sheet up to her chin. "Hey Sweety, I'm in the bedroom," she shouted out and heard his footsteps as he headed towards the tiny room they'd cordoned off in the small structure with the help of Joel.
Drew stopped at the door, his head nearly grazing the top of its frame. "I knocked," he informed her. "Can I take the car to baseball practice?"
"Oh, shoot," Sarah kicked at the sheet, trying to get up while still holding it close to her chest to keep her covered. "I'm sorry, I totally forgot. Give me two minutes and I can drive you."
"It's fine, Mom. Just let me borrow the car, unless you need it. We're finishing early tonight," Drew talked as his expression started changing. "Are you ok?" he suddenly asked with concern.
"Yes, I'm fine, just a little forgetful, why?"
"You're in bed at 4pm and you totally forgot about my practice which I have every other day and you kinda look…"
"What, how do I look?" Sarah pressed him with a mocking face, falling back into the pillows.
"Never mind," Drew replied, walking away, "I'm leaving now with the car, unless you need me to get you something?" he said picking up the car keys off the kitchenette counter. He stood still for a moment, waiting for his mother's reply and then left as soon as she told him again that she was fine.
Once she heard the door close behind Drew, Sarah let out a sigh of relief and laughed out loud to herself as she entirely covered her head with the sheet.
Since Mark had moved in permanently three months earlier, the whole family, including Amber and Drew treaded more cautiously into the couple's territory, which had undergone a minor renovation with Joel at helm.
So much so that one day Sarah answered the phone only to hear her mother on the other end, calling from the main house, asking if she could come over to show Sarah a new beaded necklace she'd bought from a local artist.
After that incident, Sarah had set them all straight, informing them that a simple knock or even shout out from the yard would suffice.
She and Mark especially wanted her kids to feel at home though they were still boarding in the main house with their grandparents. But Amber and Drew had a sensitivity about them that in effect seemed to leave Sarah and Mark more privacy than they'd even anticipated.
So Mark had given up his rented apartment and moved in after the renovations were done in mid September. Other than books and cd's, he really only had few personal possessions and most everything had fit into their new joint home. A decision to stay put on her parents' property had been helped by all involved, including Sarah's siblings and kids. Mark's wonderful ease with her parents, also helped seal the deal which involved the renovations, Mark moving in and in addition, though rent payment was completely rejected by her parents, she and Mark had started paying their utility bills, after Joel had separated the water and electricity of their small abode from the main house.
Sarah inhaled the musky yet sweet aroma of the sheet still covering her head, wishing the usual bearer of said scent would just arrive already.
Just when she was contemplating getting up and dressing to go over and have some afternoon coffee with her mother, the door opened and quietly closed. Sarah removed the sheet from her face. She knew Mark would almost immediately come into their bedroom to strip out of his work clothes and she waited impatiently with a luring grin on her face looking towards the room's door.
When he walked in seconds later, he startled, seeing her in bed, grinning at him with wide and excited eyes.
"Hey," he pointed behind him, "I didn't think you were home. Your car's gone," he explained his alarm. "What are you doing in bed, are you feeling ok?" he asked with concern, closing the short distance between the bedroom door and the bed in two strides and then sitting on the edge of the bed reaching out to feel her forehead.
"Are you hungry?" she responded with glimmering eyes.
Mark smiled as he eyed her with suspicion, "Uhm, maybe, I guess I might be a little hungry?" he said wondering what she was up to.
"Great!" Sarah shot up in bed, letting the sheet fall to her lap, exposing her bare breasts. She immediately started working on relieving Mark of his jacket, tie and shirt, rendering him speechless at first.
After a moment, he joined in on her efforts, unbuttoning his striped oxford shirt and peeling it off to land on the floor. He leaned in and tenderly kissed Sarah on the lips and neck before standing up momentarily to roll down his jeans and kick them to the side of the room.
Sarah slipped back down on the bed and Mark raised the sheet still covering her to reveal her beautiful naked body. He smiled at the sight and climbed the bed to kneel over her, clad only in his underpants. "So, this is what you meant by hungry?" he asked, lovingly kissing her on the lips again and then moving down her chest to her breasts.
Sarah licked her lips in delight as she quickly rolled down his underpants in response. She smiled mischievously at her accomplishment and revelation. "I see you're hungrier than you first thought," she told him and they laughed as she rolled them over and landed atop of him. "Listen chef, we're going to be cookin something fantastic here now," she hinted and bent down to kiss him several times, before he rolled her over to position himself on top of her again.
Mark gazed at her with adoration for a moment. He knew what she'd meant by "cookin". Despite the words she teased with, she'd taken the baby making very seriously, citing that time was fading fast though all her tests, her FSH levels, her ovarian reserves as the doctor called it, all were surprisingly still within the norms and conducive with conceiving. Mark smiled warmly, "Lovely ingredients," he finally replied, gently stroking her shoulders down to her arms and then abdomen.
"Yours as well," she conceded as she teased him with feather like touches to his utmost sensitive parts. "Lets get this bun in the oven," she then whispered with her eyes closed and her breath heavy with desire and anticipation as he teased her back at her most sensitive parts before getting down to the actual business of conception.
"Aw, Julia, he's gorgeous," Sarah said cradling her new nephew born just two days earlier on January 10. She gently stroked his plump, red cheek with her index finger and watched as he momentarily opened his eyes to little slits. "Hey you, Sam, you're so cute, you know that?" Sarah cooed and kissed him on his forehead.
Julia, who was sitting on the sofa in her living room, with her mother to her left, beamed with pride and reached out to get her son back.
Sarah handed the baby back to her sister and sat opposite her and her mother.
"So, you guys decided to name him after Samantha. That was very nice of you."
Julia held Sam close to her chest, "It's the least we could do after she carried our kid here for nine months," she replied and the three ladies chuckled.
"You guys are so lucky this surrogacy worked out," Camille said as she lovingly peered at her new grandson over Julia's shoulder.
"I know, I know," Julia sighed, "Joel literally pinched me when we got home with Sam last night, to make sure this was real," she laughed.
"Are you sure he wasn't just hot for you," Sarah wriggled her eyebrows at her sister who just dismissed the joke by rolling her eyes.
Suddenly Julia let out a sob which startled both Sarah and Camille. Sarah immediately moved to sit by her sister as their mother hugged Julia.
"I'm sorry," Julia apologized, smiling ruefully, "I just keep thinking how I can't nurse him and how that might affect him, then I feel bad for thinking that because I should just be grateful he's even here, that this was even possible…" she continued to sob quietly.
Camille hugged her daughter even tighter. "You're just overwhelmed now, sweety, it's ok to feel these mixed feelings. You'll be alright," Camille said and kissed Julia on the temple.
"Yeah, it's just your hormones," Sarah added and they both looked at her in surprise because she herself had tears streaming down her cheeks.
Sarah only noticed their stares and her tears a moment later and dismissed it all with a wave of her hand.
"Looks like YOUR hormones are all over the place," Julia noted, frowning at her sister as she wiped her own tears away on the back of her hand.
"What? No, I'll be fine, I just need some water," Sarah left for the kitchen leaving the two ladies looking puzzled. "I'm just so happy for you and Joel," Sarah told them as she filled a glass with plain tap water. "…and for Sydney. It's great that she can finally be a big sister. How's she adjusting?" Sarah asked as she headed back to the living room only to find both her mother and sister still looking at her with wide eyes.
''Sweety, I think you're pregnant," her mother blurted out.
"Yeah, more like menopausal," Sarah quipped in return.
"I think you may be," her mother insisted as Julia looked intently at her sister, as well.
"No, no, I can't be," Sarah replied as she sat down opposite them again, limply holding the glass of water in both hands.
"When was your last period?" Julia inquired getting straight down to business like a true lawyer.
Sarah placed the glass of water on the coffee table between them, avoiding eye contact as she contemplated her sister's question for a moment. "I just had it, like two weeks ago, maybe three or I think it was, definitely…" her voice trailed off. Suddenly she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She let out a releasing laugh and then covered her face with her palms, shaking her head in a mixed combination of sheer delight and disbelief.
When she finally uncovered her face and dared to peep at her sister and mother, she found them staring at her with huge smiles on their faces.
She pointed a menacing finger at the two, "Not a word, not until I'm due," she warned them and they all broke into laughter which they quickly cut off once Sam seemed to shrink in discomfort in Julia's arms in reaction to the sudden racket.
Later that afternoon, Sarah and Mark went shopping together at their local supermarket. Mark, per usual, came equipped with a detailed list on his iPhone and while they systematically roamed the aisles, tried to curb Sarah's impulse buying per her request, doing so as pleasantly as he could.
He calmly encouraged her to ignore the stuff in the aisles that she'd been significantly cutting down on for a few months, like coffee, sugars and carbonated beverages.
"Are you cooking us dinner tonight?" Sarah asked as she lead the way, pushing the cart through the chilly produce section.
"It's just the two of us tonight," she reminded him scanning the sale signs.
"I know. What would you like? Steak ok? And pasta?"
"Yummy, yes! We hadn't had steak in…"
"One week," Mark interjected and Sarah laughed.
"I know, not too long ago. Should I make a salad to balance it out?" Sarah asked, holding up a fresh head of lettuce which she placed in the cart after receiving Mark's approval. "This is going to be the best dinner ever," she mumbled under her breath.
"Excuse me?" Mark asked with a grin, amused by her mumblings.
Sarah looked at him in surprise, not realizing she'd said anything aloud. "I can't wait for dinner, I'm starving already."
"Oh, ok, then maybe we should buy something ready made," Mark quickly suggested, pointing in the direction of the in store deli. "Do you want to?"
Sarah smiled at him and affectionately rubbed his arm. He was the most considerate person she'd ever met. "Nah, I can wait. I'll just eat an apple or something," she assured him and in return, they picked up their shopping pace a little.
When they reached the pharmacy section, Sarah got some supplies for her and Amber's contact lenses and then stopped in front of the fertility section.
"I think we still have a couple of those ovulation kits at home," Mark whispered into her ear, trying to maintain discretion as another couple and two elderly ladies stood nearby.
To Mark's surprise, Sarah picked up a pregnancy test instead and placed it in their cart. She leaned into him, "I think you finally knocked me up," she whispered into his ear and then moved away with a timid grin, watching his initial shocked expression.
Sarah laughed. "Not poetic enough for you, teach? How about…" she leaned in closer to him again and spoke in a hush voice, "…I think I'm with child, your child."
Before she could move away, Mark held on to her by the waist and kissed her tenderly. "Wow!" was all he finally managed to say before kissing her again.
When they broke apart, Mark took a deep breath and let a huge grin spread over his face. "Are, are you sure?" he awkwardly pointed to her midsection.
Sarah lovingly stroked her dear friend, lover and companion's cheek. "No, not yet, hence the test."
"Ah, ok, so shouldn't we get more than one box?" Mark asked eyeing all the different brands.
Sarah laughed, "Ok, how many should we get?"
Mark shrugged, "I don't know, three. Maybe three?"
"Sure. You choose," Sarah gestured with her right hand towards the shelves.
Mark stood facing the rows of boxes and just stared at them blankly before turning back to Sarah. He rubbed his scruff and then took her hand. "I just want you to know that I love you and that I'm really, really happy right now, but no matter what the outcome, I just love you," he told her in a calm voice, very quietly so as not to make any more of a spectacle of themselves.
Sarah's eyes brimmed over with tears and she quickly wiped them away, laughing. She hugged Mark tightly, kissed him on the cheek in a soft, lingering kiss and then whispered her love back at him. "I'm warning you, though, you can't tell me those feelings too often now, because I'm already extremely hormonal and seem to burst into tears at any given moment, over anything," she added and told him of her reaction at Julia's earlier that day, as they slowly made their way towards the cashiers.
"But if I don't tell you often enough, you'll also get all upset and hormonal," Mark eventually countered when they were already driving back home. "So, I think I'm going to say I love you just as much as I feel like it," he told her with confidence and nearly made her tear up again.
They exchanged a quick glance before Mark turned his head back to watch the road as he drove them home.
Sarah kept her eyes on his perfect profile for a moment longer. "You are the smartest man I've ever met, ever," she then softly told him in reply.
Mark heard some movement in the bedroom and drowsily opened his heavy eyelids to look around, finding Sarah rummaging through a dresser drawer.
He immediately shot up and flung his feet over the bed. "Is it time?" he asked a bit panicked.
Sarah startled and turned to him. "What? No, no, babe, it's early, go back to sleep," she urged him with a warm smile.
Mark rubbed his eyes and looked at his watch. "It's six. Why are you awake this early?"
Sarah shut the drawer and turned back to Mark clutching some fresh lingerie close to her chest. "Couldn't sleep, too nervous," she told him.
Mark fell back onto the mattress and patted the vacant spot next to him, signaling for Sarah to rejoin him in bed.
Sarah left the lingerie on top of the dresser and came over and sank down on the bed next to Mark. He turned on his left side and started running his right hand up and down Sarah's back, at first over her black, laced trimmed cotton camisole and then underneath it, over her bare skin.
Sarah arched her back in pleasure, responding to Mark's attentive fingers. When he reached her neck and started massaging it gently, she ducked her head, her chin nearly touching her upper chest and then threw her head back to rest and almost lock Mark's hand at her nape.
After a few moments of silent caressing, Sarah turned around and climbed over Mark to reach her side of the bed. She flopped down to lay flat on her back and rested her hands on her burgeoning belly, still only a small mound, really.
Mark turned to lie on his right side and placed his left hand on her abdomen, over hers. He gave her a long, lingering kiss to her temple before they both turned their heads a bit to face each other.
"You were too nervous to sleep?" he inquired.
"Hmmm," she replied in a sleepy voice.
"Are you, uhm, scared about marrying me?" he asked, worriedly searching her eyes.
Sarah shook her head. She tenderly moved the hair off his forehead and left her hand to rest on his cheek. "It's the good kind of nerves, babe, the excitement," she assured him.
Mark let a pleased smile break out over his face. He slid down on the bed and gently moved her hands off her belly and placed them on the bed to her sides. Then he slowly rolled up her camisole to expose her abdomen and kissed it several times. Sarah shut her eyes grinning and then dug her fingers into Mark's thick hair as he continued to pamper her belly with kisses and caresses. "Hey kid, your mother and I are getting married today and we'll have photos of proof that you were present to show you when you come out saying you remember nothing from the event," Mark said in a matter of fact voice against Sarah's tight and compact belly bulge.
Sara laughed out loud. "Come here, silly young man," she requested still chuckling, lightly pulling on his hair.
Mark slid back up in the bed closer to Sarah till their noses nearly touched. "Let's just try and get another hour or two of sleep, before the chaos begins," he suggested and Sarah murmured her approval with a tired smile as she let her eyes close.
They had managed barely 40 winks when the madness outside began. Their eyes sprang open as the noise of vehicles, shouting and heavy footsteps on the gravel came from the yard.
Sarah hit her forehead with her open palm and groaned loudly. "Oh, God! I knew we shouldn't have agreed to get married at home," she lamented and rolled onto her back.
Mark completely covered them both with the blanket, futilely trying to mask out the noise of all the workers that had swarmed onto the property to set up their wedding reception outside.
Ten minutes later they heard loud knocks on their door. "Mom? Are you awake? You need to get up," Amber shouted before stepping into the house after hearing her mother's faint reply.
Amber stood outside the couple's bedroom and negotiated with her mother, trying to persuade her to get the day started.
"I can't get up yet," Sarah explained, "Your brother's still sleeping."
"What? What are you talking about?" Amber stood with her hands on her hips, shaking her head in disbelief.
"Your brother, your in vitro brother still needs a couple of hours of sleep."
Amber rolled her eyes. "He still has months of in vitro nap time. C'mon, Mom, you asked me to wake you this early because we still have the dress to finish and some music to pick out and also this little thing called vows to…" Amber stopped mid sentence when she saw her mother finally drag herself out of the bedroom. "Wow, we're going to have lots of work to do on you," she smirked, seeing her mother's disheveled appearance, especially her messy hair and tired expression.
"Shut up," Sarah warned her and headed to the kitchenette to get something to eat and drink first. "And, by the way, I finished writing the vows last night, so there."
"Yeah?" Sarah answered and only looked towards Amber a moment later when she realized her daughter had remained silent.
"Congratulations," Amber told her mother with a loving smile.
Sarah smiled back, her eyes glistening with tears. "Get over here," she demanded opening her arms wide.
And so later that day, on the last Saturday of April, 2013, Sarah Braverman and Mark Cyr were married in the front yard of her parents' house, with 100 of their close family and friends on hand to celebrate with them.