Again, I'm sorry for the wait. I've moved home so things have been pretty crazy recently and I've had no time or motivation to do anything at all with the story until now. I spent FOREVER writing and rewriting this and I changed the whole direction of the story so much over the last few weeks, just to make sure you guys like it and keep reading. So, after all that, I really hope this chapter pleases you. If not I'll cry. Maybe.
Also, thank you so, so much to everyone that is following this story, everyone that has reviewed it or added it to their favourite stories. I know it's corny but it really means a lot so thank you again. Keep them coming!
Shane listened numbly to the dialling tone and turned to face Lily whom by now looked extremely perplexed. The former quickly shook herself out of her sudden trance and shoved her cell into her pocket.
Grasping Lily by the shoulders, Shane grinned widely and said, "Sorry, I have to go. It's my friend. He's giving birth!"
With that, Shane pulled Lily into a quick bear hug and bolted out of the door. Lily stood still in the silence that followed, frowning at the empty space that Shane had inhabited merely a second ago.
"He's giving birth?" Lily whispered questioningly.
Outside, Shane was racing back to her house whilst inwardly cursing the Shane McCutcheon that had awoken 3 hours previously and, seeing the blazing sun streaming through her bedroom window, had made the decision to leave her car in the driveway and, instead, walk to The Planet. Sprinting as fast as her legs would take her, she narrowly dodged an elderly couple and came to a sudden stop at a busy intersection, panting heavily and clutching her chest as cars passed. I really should start thinking about quitting smoking, she thought idly to herself, stretching her legs as she felt her thighs start to burn in protest. As she waited impatiently for the traffic to stop, a familiar car pulled up in front of her and the door flew open. Shane ducked her head and peered inside. Carmen smiled back at her over the top of her dark Ray-Bans, her eyes mulling over the sweat glistening on Shane's forehead.
"I just heard Max is having his baby right now. You're going the wrong way you know? The hospital is this way," she laughed, indicating the road ahead of her.
"I know but all of his stuff is at the house; I figured he might need it."
"Jump in," Carmen ordered before turning the car around and driving back to Shane's house as quickly as the state of California law would allow.
Both women jumped out of the car as soon as they pulled into Shane's driveway and sprinted together to the door. Shane immediately began throwing clothes into a bag, her mind racing to think what else Max might need.
"His pillow," Carmen said plainly, as though reading Shane's thoughts. When Shane spun to look questioningly at her she added, "He'll want his pillow for comfort, you know? It'll be like a security blanket, that sort of thing. Plus those hospital beds sure as hell aren't comfortable."
"You seem pretty well-informed."
"I wanted my pillow when I was –" Carmen stopped short as though she had said too much. After a pause she mumbled quietly, "When I was in hospital."
Shane frowned and quickly scrutinised the woman standing before her, whom had now turned an alarming shade of red. Bizarrely, Carmen had quickly gone from smiling and laughing mere minutes ago just like the woman Shane remembered falling in love with, to discreetly wiping her eyes and avoiding her gaze. Shane half-expected Carmen to reveal a ghastly scar or a prosthetic leg to account for this sudden outburst that was clearly haunting her but, on the contrary, she looked just as beautiful and as healthy as always.
Shane's mind abruptly travelled back to the night she was sitting outside Carmen's house and watched as the latter burst into tears so strong she visibly shook. Shane was still clueless to why this had happened; it had been so unexpected and, as far as she knew, unprovoked. Something was definitely wrong and Carmen was evidently trying her best to not draw attention to it.
"Carmen?" Shane began cautiously, not proceeding until the Latina lifted her eyes to meet hers, "Are you-?"
What? Shane thought, Are you okay? No, that's stupid; she obviously isn't okay, she's just been crying you idiot. What if it's something she wants to keep private? Do I even have the right to be concerned? Will she think I'm intruding? Oh shit, she's going to get upset that I'm prying and she'll stop talking to me. We were doing so well…
Carmen interrupted Shane's train of thoughts with a dismissive wave of her hand, her sparkling smile swiftly replacing her previous look of agony as though nothing had happened. Shane had to admit Carmen pulled it off better than a professional actor.
"I'm fine," Carmen said bluntly and, nodding towards the kitchen window, added, "His pillow. And don't forget the baby clothes either. I'll go get his toothbrush, okay?"
When Shane did nothing but continue to look at her as though she was about to break apart at any second, Carmen raised an eyebrow and put one hand on her hip. Shane recognised that look straight away. Do as I say – now.
Shane flew to Max's studio without another word. Carmen grinned, somewhat pleased that the eyebrow thing still worked like a charm, and padded softly into the bathroom. She hesitated as she passed Shane's room, her hand automatically poised to open the door. Just a quick peek; I'm just curious. As soon as she thought it she changed her mind and walked swiftly away from the door.
Returning to the kitchen, she stopped to look around her at the house she had once lived in and smiled. Eerily, not much seemed to have changed. The only noticeable difference was the obvious absence of all things Jenny. Her books and papers were no longer scattered over the table; her perfumes and bath salts were nowhere to be seen; even the atmosphere within the house seemed strangely void of the woman. Other than that, everything else appeared to be exactly the same. The kitchen was laid out precisely the same way it had been years ago, as though time had stood still. It was in this room – this exact spot – that Carmen had confronted Shane about the love they felt for each other. Do you feel this? Most people don't have this. This is rare. The memory came back to her so sharp and so clear that it could easily have been just yesterday, and yet in reality so much time had passed; so much had happened within that time that it overcame Carmen like a tidal wave. In so many ways she and Shane were both completely different people to whom they used to be; yet Carmen instinctively knew that she could tell Shane the same thing she did years ago in this very kitchen, and she would still mean every word of it.
And now, peculiarly, she found herself watching the love of her life running around mere feet away from her, preparing for the birth of their friend's baby.
"It's crazy," she muttered as Shane reappeared in the kitchen equipped with a large, bursting rucksack, "So much is different and yet so much is the same."
Shane nodded slowly in agreement. She tentatively reached out and squeezed Carmen's warm hand.
"Are you okay?" she asked, feeling stupid for repeating herself and being unable to think of a better question.
It worked, however, as Carmen lifted her eyes to Shane's and smiled slowly before nodding. The two women allowed their greedy eyes to connect for a few more seconds before they dropped their gaze and ran together back to the car, laughing loudly and gushing over potential baby names.
… … … … …
"I really don't understand why the fuck you're bringing all this fucking nonsense back up again. Nothing happened. Can't you just fucking leave it?"
Kit took a step back. She knew her sister was angry as soon as the fucks began spitting out of her mouth like venom.
"I just want to know what exactly happened, baby sis. 'Cos that video sure as hell didn't look like nothing happened."
"That fucking video," Bette scoffed, shaking her head, "How many more times do I have to fucking tell you? There was stuff all over the floor and she was picking it up, that's why her fucking head was down..." Bette paused to calm herself. She knew her sister was just looking out for her and Tina but it infuriated her to think that, even in death, Jenny fucking Schecter was causing drama.
"Okay," Kit resigned, "But that's not how it looks on the video."
"I know how it looks on the fucking video, Kit!" Bette almost shouted before calming herself once more and continuing in a quieter voice, "Do you really think I'd fuck someone else, that I'd put Tina through all that again, that I'd put myself through that again? You know how much I love Tina and it still disgusts me that I once made such a fucking terrible mistake. She means everything to me, Kit."
Kit nodded solemnly as Bette continued, "We're moving in a couple of weeks to get away from all this fucking mess that – that cunt – created with that twisted little mind of hers. She died in our pool, Kit. Don't you understand why we want to get away from that, get Angelica away?"
Kit fidgeted for a while, feeling like a horrible person for not believing her sister straight away. How could she have sided with Jenny Schecter, of all people, over her own flesh and blood?
"I'm sorry," Kit said gravely, "Of course, you're right. I'm so sorry I brought it up."
Bette sighed and wrapped her arms around her sister.
"You'll get rid of the damn video, right?" she mumbled into Kit's shoulder.
"And you won't tell Tina?"
"Tell Tina what?" another voice interrupted.
Bette pulled herself away from Kit immediately and froze at the sight of Tina stood in the doorway, fresh hot coffees in her hands, looking both puzzled and suspicious. Bette smiled convincingly, strode confidently over to Tina and took a cup from her, kissing her on the forehead as she did so.
"Nothing sweetie," she smiled again before leaving the room.
Tina continued to stand by the door. Placing her free hand on her hip she glared at Kit for answers.
"Kit, I know what's going on here."
Kit widened her eyes, giving her the rather amusing appearance of a rabbit caught in headlights.
"Y-You do?" she stammered, trying not to give anything away and inwardly cursing Bette for leaving her here in this situation.
"I do." Tina stepped slowly towards Kit until they were face-to-face, and then she cracked into a wide smile, "Bette's planning a surprise party for my birthday isn't she?"
Kit barked out a laugh from shock and relief. She patted Tina on her arm and replied cheerfully, "Got it in one, T. Don't tell her I told you though."
As Tina made a motion representing a zip being pulled across her mouth, Kit made a mental note to make sure Bette started planning a surprise birthday party for Tina.
… … … … …
Shane crashed through the door of the waiting room at such an alarming speed that Alice jumped right out of her seat and spilled water all over herself.
"Fuck, Shane!" she shouted.
"Sorry, sorry," Shane panted, "What have I missed? How is he?"
"He's fine and the baby is here with no problems," Tasha answered whilst dabbing Alice's dress with a tissue, "A nurse came round a few minutes before you got here and said we could see them both soon."
Shane smiled, "Excellent."
"Did Carmen not come with you?" Alice asked, still scowling at the drips of water falling from her hair.
"Wha-" Shane swivelled around, expecting to see Carmen behind her but instead she was staring down a completely deserted corridor. "She was behind me just now," Shane muttered more to herself than anybody as she left the room and jogged quickly back to the main reception.
Carmen was stood by the entrance to the Maternity Ward, looking oddly dazed and lost.
"Carmen," Shane called out as she approached, "It's this way." She pointed in the direction she had just come from but Carmen still stood there, looking straight through Shane as though she wasn't there.
Shane was immediately worried and firmly dragged Carmen to a chair. Frantically pulling a bottle of water from a bag, she pushed it up to Carmen's lips and sighed with relief when the latter grasped the bottle and began to gulp the cool, refreshing liquid.
When she had finished, Carmen focused her eyes onto Shane's and said sternly, "I'm fine. Stop looking at me like that, like I'm dying or something. Really, I'm fine. Just a little bit..." Carmen searched for the right word, "Overwhelmed, I guess. Though, I wouldn't mind if you helped me to my feet at least."
Shane immediately obeyed without questioning anything, even though her mind was racing to understand what had just happened. Something was clearly affecting Carmen but what was it? Unless Carmen confided in Shane she would never find out. Perhaps, Shane thought, I should ask someone else to help me understand, like Alice. She's good with that stuff.
"Shane," Carmen said so quietly Shane wondered if she had imagined hearing her name, "Don't even think about talking about this to anyone, okay? Not even Alice."
Shane nodded. Damn, that woman could read her mind.
As they approached the waiting room, the sound of a baby crying and the coos of six women filled their ears.
"Come on you two," Max called from inside the room as he rested himself in an armchair, "Baby Joseph wants to meet you."
Carmen stopped dead in her tracks and grasped Shane's arm tightly. As Shane turned to her, she was taken aback by the look of sheer sadness and fear in Carmen's eyes.
"I can't," she whispered softly in a pained voice, "You go in. Go see the baby, please. I need to get some air."
Shane tried to protest but backed down at the sight of Carmen's pleading eyes.
"At least let me get someone, a nurse, to sit with you. Just in case."
Carmen nodded reluctantly as Shane beckoned for a nurse to help before entering the room ahead.
"Where is she going?" Max asked.
"She just needs some air. Hospitals are pretty stuffy you know? Now, where is he?"
Helena turned towards Shane with baby Joseph in her arms, swaying him in a seemingly futile attempt to calm his cries. Shane held out her arms eagerly as Helena passed him over. To say he looked like Max was an understatement. He had tufts of light brown hair here and there and the most intensely blue eyes Shane had ever seen, other than on Max himself.
"Oh, would you believe it? He screams for ages with the rest of us and as soon as Shane picks him up he's as quiet as a bloody mouse," Helena sulked.
This surprised Shane too as she hushed at him, placed a kiss on his tiny cheek and carefully handed him back to his father.
Just then, Shane's cell began to ring. Apologising, she stepped out of the room and pulled her cell from the pocket of her tight jeans. A string of unfamiliar numbers filled the screen. Puzzled, she pressed the answer button and lifted the cell to her ear.
From the other end of the line she could hear someone panting heavily, the sound of an engine and traffic passing in the background.
"Shane?" A gruff male voice grunted.
Shane froze on the spot. She felt her hands shake with anger and unconsciously ran her fingers through her dishevelled hair twice.
"You there?" The voice asked.
"Wha-" Shane began hoarsely, feeling her throat constrict and her bottom lip start to quiver.
"Fuck off." Shane answered curtly and swiftly ended the call.
For a few minutes she remained stood outside the room in which her friends gathered, once again cooing at the sleeping baby Joseph that rested tightly against Max's chest. As she returned, Alice immediately recognised the change in Shane's face as the latter looked positively furious and was trying to hold back tears that threatened to break through her barrier.
"Shane?" Alice called quietly, concern flooding her features, "What's wrong? Who was that on the phone?"
Shane cleared her throat and shook her head dismissively at her friend.
"Nothing," she muttered, "It was no one."
With that, she knelt next to Max and the tiny newborn, stroking his short tufts of hair and kissing his head, whilst Alice looked on with worry.