The clear May sun is warm on my skin where I lie on our tartan picnic blanket, gazing up at the clear blue sky with my head resting on Christian's shoulder. I cannot believe this man is actually my husband, it still feels so new. First we wanted to wait until after the baby arrived. Then we wanted the house to get ready, so we could have a small affair with our closest family and friends on the terrace overlooking the sea. We finally did it last August, on a beautiful sunny day. Kate of course would not take any less than being Maid of Honor, and she and Amber both looked gorgeous in their powder blue silk dresses (on Christian's insistence Amber's was far more modestly cut). The blue in their dresses matched the ties that Christian and Elliot wore, and the little clip-on bow-tie we got for our baby son. Now fourteen months old, our little Carrick is bringing us all so much joy – he is especially become the apple of Amber's eye. How on earth either of them will cope when she goes away to college in the fall I simply don't know. I gaze up at Christian and stroke his face gently. He turns his head down at me and gives me a boyish grin. He is so different to the brooding man I met just over two years ago. I shudder slightly when I think back to how he first found out I was pregnant with Carrick, at Kate and Elliot's wedding.
I recognize Amber's voice as I rest my forehead against the toilet seat. Fuck. I am not prepared for this, not in the slightest. It's been so much effort to hide this from Christian all night, whispering to the waiting staff to bring me non-alcoholic wine and tipping them to do it discreetly. I feel like a con-woman. On wobbly legs I stand up, wishing my heels hadn't been quite so high. I wipe my mouth an extra time with some toilet paper before flushing and forcing myself to get out of the cubicle. It's late in the evening, the dancing has started and the cake was cut ages ago. I really thought I'd made it, but Amber is obviously too clever not to notice my constant sneaking off to the toilet. Her worried face tugs at my heartstrings.
"Are you ok, Ana?" She asks me, her tone of voice matching her expression.
"Yeah, sweetie, I'm fine." I hug her. "Thank you."
"Can I help?" She asks, her beautiful gray eyes wary.
"No, I think I'll just…" Suddenly it overwhelms me again, and I have to throw myself back into the cubicle and empty my stomach once more. I thought this was just supposed to happen in the morning? I let out a little sob of relief, as Amber crouches down to hold my hair away from my face when I hurl. She puts her hand on my back, stroking it gently. Suddenly there is a quick rap on the door to the ladies', and we both freeze at the sound of his voice:
"Amber?" Christian's voice is authoritative as always. "I'm coming in."
And in he comes. The shock in his eyes makes my heart drop down to my stomach.
"Dad!" Amber hisses. "This is the ladies', get out!"
He throws her a death glare.
"Careful, young lady." He growls at her, and then turns his eyes back to me. "I noticed Amber slipping away far too long ago, I thought she might not be feeling well. But apparently it's just becoming a habit for both my girls to throw up at Kate and Elliot's parties."
He gazes at me disapprovingly as he crouches down next to Amber, who stands up immediately, placing his cool hand against my pounding forehead.
"Have you been drinking too much, Ana?"
"Hardly" I snort before I can stop myself, and Amber lets out a little gasp and looks over at her dad in alarm. His face, in turn, falls flat when he realizes. He stands up, and closes the toilet lid before helping me sit up on the seat. Then Christian walks over to the door, opens it and double checks nobody is outside before turning to his daughter.
"Amber, please go stand outside the door so Ana and I can speak privately." He says. "If anyone wants to use these lavatories, tell them there is a leak and they will have to use the other ones."
"No way." Amber crosses her arms over her chest, looking very much like her father. "I'm not going anywhere unless Ana wants me to."
"This is not up for discussion, Amber!"
Amber throws me a glance, and I try to give her what I think is an encouraging smile. Amber glares at Christian before exiting the bathroom, arms still crossed. She lets the door slam behind her, and Christian turns to me.
"How long have you known?"
"Only since yesterday." I stand back up, and it's all I have not to hang my head.
"And you didn't think to tell me?"
"Well…" I mumble. "I didn't want you to be preoccupied on the day of the wedding."
There is something resembling panic in Christian's eyes.
"For fuck's sake, Ana." He groans. "I would love for us to have children, but now?!"
"I know, Christian!" I raise my voice back at him. "I didn't mean for it to happen, if you can believe it. I've been on the pill for heaven's sake, I don't understand what could have gone wrong."
Christian runs his hand through his hair. He looks drop dead gorgeous in his dark blue suit, even the light pink tie the same color as my dress he wears with utter finesse. In the midst of everything, I just want to jump him. I guess that's the pregnancy hormones.
"Ana" Christian sounds like he's having trouble containing his voice. "I was barely part of Amber's life until about two seconds ago. I can't tell you happy I am that she is so pleased that we're all living together now, but a fucking baby? How is it going to make her feel, knowing that I gave her away all those years ago but this one will have me by its side every second from birth? I'm sorry Ana, but I have to think about the child I already have."
I have a brief second of feeling like I want to cry, then the door slams open and Amber storms in.
"Don't you dare!" She shouts at Christian, who looks completely perplexed. "Don't put this on me dad, I am not going to be your excuse for not being happy. It's not fair! I know why you did what you did, you were a wreck and my mother was worse and you did what you thought would be best for me. I fucking get it!"
Tears have started running down her face as she continues:
"And why are you being such a total dick to Ana? It takes two to make a baby, doesn't it? Don't behave like this isn't something you want, because the only thing holding you up would be me and I don't want either of you to hate me because… because…" She swallows thickly, and is unable to continue for trying too hard not to cry. Christian and I both glance at each other, and within a second we are both embracing Amber, doing our best to comfort her.
"Amber, sweetheart." Christian says and kisses her head. "I would say you know better than to eavesdrop, but I'm glad you heard and told us how you feel. Thank you for saying all that, you are right. I played a part in this too, and I was in fact being a… well." He looks at me over Amber's head. "I'm sorry Ana. Will you forgive me?"
"Of course." I roll my eyes at him, and he smirks.
"But Amber." Christian continues. "There is nothing that could ever make us hate you. And it would be so understandable for you to feel strange about this baby."
"And we want you to tell us how you feel." I fill in. "Please don't ever be afraid of upsetting us, your feelings are so important."
Amber looks up at us both.
"I'm happy if you guys are." She says. "As long as you don't forget me completely, let me choose the middle name and don't paint the baby's room blue if it's a boy or pink if it's a girl. I'll be ok."
There is a moment of silence, and then we all burst out laughing.
"Oh, Amber." I hug her. "I love you."
"I love you too, Ana" Her smile is small and shy, but it's amazing.
"And I love you both." Christian says, reaching around Amber's back to lock hands with mine. "So much."
I can hear my son shrieking with laughter in the distance, and moments later the beautiful noise is joined by an equally beautiful sound – my daughter laughing at my son laughing.
"Hey Carrick, let's go find mommy and daddy!" Amber's voice is full of play. "They're hiding in the grass somewhere, come on, let's be lions!"
Ana is shaking with quiet laughter against my shoulder, and I look down at her. We both know the game, so we close our eyes and pretend to be asleep.
"Look, Carrick, over there!" I hear Amber whisper. "We have to be really quiet."
Carrick giggles, not quietly at all, and Amber lets out a little laugh.
"Ok, one… two… go get them!"
Little Carrick bursts out from the high grass, jumping on me and Ana and trying to make fearsome lion sounds. He only sounds adorable.
"Oh, no!" I say in mock desperation. "Ana, we've been caught by a lion!"
"Oh, no!" She mimics my expression with a laugh.
Carrick is done with the game and now just wants cuddles, throwing himself at Ana who laughs as she kisses his blond curls. Amber was blonde when she was little, her hair used to be exactly like her brothers. I had always assumed it came from Leila's side, but it appears it's from me after all. Amber gets out of the grass, grinning as she joins me and Ana on the blanket. She picks out a strawberry from the fruit bowl we're brought with us, and takes a bite from it. My daughter is so beautiful, and looks so healthy. She cut her hair even shorter a few months ago, accentuating her delicate neck and accentuated collarbone. She looks so grown-up, I can hardly believe it. She got so ahead with her studies during the time she was home-schooled, so when she started at her new school after that very trying year, they offered for her to go straight into Junior year. Now she's going to college in the fall, she's going to Sarah Lawrence to study psychology, music and art history with a view to eventually working with music or art therapy. I couldn't be more proud.
"How was he?" I ask her, referring to her taking Carrick to the beach to build sand castles.
"Fine" Amber just shrugs with a smile. "We built three castles and he demolished them all in style."
Ana and I laugh, and Carrick looks around at us all. At first he is slightly confused, but then he decides whatever we're laughing at he is too so he giggles, showing off his little white teeth.
"Come here, you little monkey." Amber opens his arms for Carrick, who jumps into her embraces willingly. He adores his big sister more than anything in the world.
"Ammo" He says affectionately, leaning back against her.
"What time are you going to see Leila?" Ana asks Amber, and squeezes my hand when she feels me stiffen. I still haven't quite got used to the fact that since Leila was dismissed from the hospital and moved back to Connecticut, she has been making visits to Seattle every few months to meet Amber. And Amber, for whatever reason, decided she owed it to Leila to at least give it a try. I was with them the first few times, and then Amber felt comfortable enough to meet with Leila on her own. But that doesn't mean I have to be comfortable with it, and my demand is that these outings are kept under three hours each time. Amber has been incredibly good at keeping to this rule, and not once has she been late home. I appreciate that.
"I should get going actually." Amber says after looking at her watch.
"I'll walk you to the car." I say, and take Carrick out of her hands to hand him back to Ana. He's playing with a wooden toy helicopter and barely notices being shuffled around.
We sneak away quietly, Amber waving goodbye to Ana. Lately, Carrick has started throwing fits whenever he sees Amber leave. We think perhaps he somehow understands the part of all the college talk that entails Amber going away for long periods of time. I don't particularly like that part either, but at least she chose New York where both myself and Ana already go regularly.
"What are you doing with Leila today?" I ask my daughter as we walk across the grounds.
"Going to an exhibition." She replies. "Should be good. I'm keeping my phone on so Taylor can track it." She adds the last part with a smirk.
"Excellent." Is all I say, ignoring the fact that she is mocking me. "Is Phil still joining us for dinner later?"
"Yeah, if that's cool?"
"Of course." I tell her. "He's welcome anytime."
The guy has definitely grown on me, and he has been a good friend to Amber. Apparently that is all he is, a good friend. At least that's what she says; and I'm not pushing it. Though I wouldn't mind having him as my daughter's first serious boyfriend.
We reach Amber's wine red MINI, the car I got for her sixteenth birthday, and she turns to me.
"You know, dad?"
"What do I know?"
She rolls her eyes at that. I swear, she'll never learn.
"You know, Phil… We might have become a little bit more than friends, if you know what I mean."
"I see." I put on my stern, serious face to tease her. "How long has this been going on?"
"Only for a few months." She says quickly. "I didn't want to mention it, in case it didn't work out but…"
"It's working out." I complete the sentence for her.
"Yeah." She smiles slightly. "He's got a job in New York. He'll be moving a few months before me."
"As long as you don't let him move into the apartment I got you for at least another five years, I can't pretend to be anything other than happy for you."
"Really?" Amber raises an eyebrow at me.
"Really" I confirm.
She hugs me lightly. She's still not particularly big on hugs – except from her little brother - but she holds the embrace long enough for me to kiss her forehead.
"Cool." She says. "I'd better go, see you later dad."
"See you, sweetheart."
She gives me a wave before getting into her car, and then she drives off. I can tell she's being slow and careful for the benefit of my gaze, but I know she'll shoot off like lightning as soon as she's out of sight from me. I've been in the car with my kid, I recognize the same tendencies in her that I have myself. As long as she stays within the speed limits, I've had to accept the fact that there's nothing I can do. Amber will be all right.
I open the windows of my awesome car (still can't believe dad got it so right) and let the wind rush through my hair as I drive into town. It's weird to think that it's only been two years since grandpa died and I moved in with dad. So much has happened since. And while things were occasionally hard as I was going through them, I feel like literally everything has turned out for the better. It's all led up to this point. And right now, life is pretty damn good.
Right, so that really was the end of this story! Thank you SOOO much to everyone who has been reading and supporting, even through the long hiatus, and immense thank you to everyone whose encouraging reviews have kept me going all the way to the finish line. I am so happy to have properly completed the story, though it did take a while to get here! I hope you enjoyed the end, and that it doesn't feel all too rushed. Please leave a comment when you check out, and if anyone wants to do any kind of sequel or write one shots for this AU - honestly just go ahead and do so! Drop me line so I know to check it out though please ;-) Lots of love xxxx
Lots of love xxxx