((This is one of the only fics that I wrote for myself. I hope you enjoy it.))
Lovina looked up at her grandfather, who'd wrapped Felicia up in a big hug—half of her wanted him to pick her up and spin her the way he always played with Felicia, but the other half resisted it, knowing that he wouldn't.
"My darling little girl is starting kindergarten," he cried, rocking her in his enormous arms. "Oh, how time flies!"
"Grandpa, I'm going in," Lovina said loudly. He didn't look over at her—Felicia was promising to paint him lots of pictures. "I'm going in to kindergarten!" Lovina repeated, reaching for the door. When he ignored her again, she pushed hard on the door.
She didn't want him messing up her hair, anyway. Didn't want him pinching her cheeks or tickling her until she laughed. Felicia could deal with him; Lovina was going to go to school and work hard and prove that she could be just as good as Felicia!
Inside the classroom, a lot of kids were running and playing before the school day started. Lovina winced when she saw one kid eating some play-doh and another attempting to rip off a baby doll's arms. Lovina spotted a quiet spot in the corner, by the books, and retreated to it. She watched over the top of her book when Felicia ran into the room, beaming as she introduced herself to the teacher. She immediately drew a group of other kids into a game—playing was so easy for Felicia.
The morning went just the same. Lovina tried to answer the teacher and stumbled over her words when the class turned to stare at her. She got up to get a drink at snack time, and one of the kids at her table stole her crackers. The kid next to her sneezed on her play-doh. During free time, she tripped over a stray lego and tore the hem of her dress, skinning her knees.
Lovina stayed on the ground, looking at her scraped knee. It wasn't a big deal—her grandfather was dumb, anyway, and she didn't care about the nasty-tasting crackers or the snotty play-doh or even the ugly dress her stupid grandfather had bought her specifically for the first day of school—
"Hey," a little girl said, dropping down beside her. Lovina examined her; she was wearing overalls and had short, blonde hair. Her fingers were covered in dirt, and she was eyeing Lovina's knees with an expression that Lovina didn't understand. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine!" Lovina snapped, hiding her scrapes with her dress. The girl smiled, unfazed.
"You're kind of amazing," the girl said. "I saw your play-doh kitty. She really looked like she was sleeping!"
"Really?" Lovina sniffed. Not that she was crying! She'd just gotten some dirt in her eye when she'd fallen.
"Yeah," the little girl said. "I'm Amelia, like the pilot! What's your name?"
"Lovina," Lovina mumbled, not quite looking at Amelia.
"Can you teach me how to make play-doh kitties, too?"
"Not with dirt all over your hands, dummy."
Amelia laughed and got to her feet, brushing her hands off on her overalls before holding one out. Lovina stared at it for a long moment before taking it and letting Amelia pull her to her feet.
"I like you, Lovina," Amelia said. "Let's be best friends!"
From that point on, Amelia insisted on asking Ms. Hedervary to let them sit together, and she laid down her blanket next to Lovina's at nap time, and she shared her lunch with her when Lovina's grandfather only packed one for Felicia (but only when her papa made them; her dad couldn't cook at all), and she always made sure that Lovina got to play with her favorite toys.
When Lovina's birthday rolled around, Amelia met her outside school, clutching her superhero backpack and shifting nervously from foot to foot. As soon as Amelia caught sight of her, she started rummaging around in her backpack.
"Happy birthday!" Amelia shouted, holding out a gift bag with tissue paper sticking out of it.
Lovina's grandfather had wished Felicia a happy birthday that morning—but had forgotten that they were twins, and that it was Lovina's birthday, too. Lovina reached out and gently took the bag from Amelia, who dropped her grin to bite her lip.
"It's okay if you don't like it!" Amelia said hastily. "I know that I'm not as good as you are, but that's because you're incredible, and no one can..." Amelia trailed off as Lovina pulled the tissue paper out, wordlessly offering her hand to hold the paper for her. At the bottom of the bag was a little clay cat. Its ears were almost the same size, but its nose was bulbous, like a dog's, and it was the ugliest cat that Lovina had ever seen. It must have taken Amelia hours to shape it and piece it together.
"I love it," Lovina said. She was surprised by her own voice—her throat sounded rough. "I love this stupid cat."
"Hey, are you okay?"
Amelia frowned, reaching out to almost touch Lovina's face—she hesitated, and Lovina knew it was because Amelia was the only one who knew she liked warning before anyone touched her, not because she didn't want to touch Lovina. Amelia's face was oddly blurry, and Lovina's eyes stung, but she turned and kissed Amelia's palm.
"I love this stupid cat!" Lovina said fiercely, hugging it. She was careful not to hurt it at all. "It's the best dumb cat I've ever seen in my life! You can't have it back!"
Lovina's eyes cleared a little, and she noticed that Amelia was blushing to the tips of her ears.
"I'll make you a million bajillion cats!" Amelia said. "I'll make you a whole zoo!"
"But no cages!" Lovina said, petting the clay cat.
"No cages," Amelia agreed. They set out for their classroom, and Lovina let Amelia hold her free hand. "They'll have to be animals that actually get along, then!" As Amelia went into great detail about the research she'd done on cats and their wild habitats, Lovino squeezed her hand. Best friends, huh? She liked that. She liked it kind of a lot.
"Papa?" Amelia called, peering into the kitchen. He'd been the one she and Maddie had turned to when their bodies had started changing. Dad had been too flustered to talk about periods, though he had gone out to get pads and chocolate. Even though Papa had confided that the chocolate thing was kind of a myth, Amelia had always appreciated it.
Sure enough, Papa was in the kitchen, working on dinner.
"Yes, my sweet?" he sang, stirring something that smelled like vanilla.
"I have a question," Amelia said. She tried to lean nonchalantly against the door frame, but slipped, clattering into an empty pan. An amused smile curled at the corner of Papa's mouth.
"And I have an answer," he said. "What's on your mind?"
"It's about Lovina," Amelia began. Papa set down the mixing bowl to cover his mouth, but she saw him suppressing a giggle and blushed, scuffing her feet against the tile. "Okay, so this might sound kinda weird, but I can't stop thinking about her. I mean, we're best friends—really really best friends—and we have been since kindergarten, but it's. It's just. Her lips are pretty!" Amelia threw her hands in the air. "Why are her lips so pretty?" Amelia covered her face, trying to pretend that Papa wasn't giggling. "I can't stop looking at them when she's talking, and I keep trying to listen, but then her voice is so pretty, and—and it wasn't like that before!"
"Amelia," Papa said. "You are far too much like Arthur for anyone's good."
"Wait." Amelia looked up, frowning. "Does that mean you know what's going on?"
"You have a crush, Amelia," Papa told her. "You've known Lovina for about seven years now; I had assumed you realized that you had a crush. It was practically love at first sight."
"A crush?" Amelia repeated. Well, of course she cared a lot about Lovina! Lovina was passionate about art and friends and family, and she was especially gentle with little kids and animals, and she didn't complain even when things were really hard on her, and she could do anything at all if she tried...and, and maybe Amelia did have a crush on her. "Oh. Oh." Amelia groaned, sinking back against the counter. "Oh no, Papa. What do I do?"
"Ask Lovina to the dance that's coming up," Papa recommended. "I think Lovina would appreciate some old-fashioned romance, no?"
Amelia threw herself into research. There were a lot of suggestions that conflicted, and a lot that she knew for sure wouldn't go over well with Lovina. Lovina hated surprises! She liked to know what to expect and when to expect it. Amelia didn't mind; she had trouble keeping surprises secret, so it worked out for the best.
"Hey, Lovina?" Amelia asked. They were out on the field after lunch. The other middle-schoolers were off in their various cliques; Amelia ran with almost all of them on occasion, whenever Lovina needed some alone time. Today, though, they were sitting in the shade, just talking and people watching.
"What do you think would be the best way to ask somebody out on a date?" Amelia asked. Lovina looked at her, and, for a split second, Amelia's heart pounded in her chest. She knows! She knows!
"How am I supposed to know?" Lovina muttered, scowling. "No one's ever asked me out."
Amelia bit her lip. Part of her wanted to keep the ruse going and get Lovina to tell her the best way to ask her out—wanted to know how to do things properly. But Lovina's pout was too much for her.
"I," Amelia opened her mouth, but the words wouldn't come out. She looked down at her hands instead. "I was hoping to maybe...ask..." Amelia groaned, burying her face in her hands. What if Lovina didn't want to go on a date? What if Lovina didn't want Amelia to have a crush on her? What if Lovina just wanted to hang out like always?
Now that she knew she had a crush, though, it felt dishonest to hide it.
"I was hoping that maybe you'd want to possibly go to the dance with me."
Even with her face hidden, Amelia could feel Lovina's eyes on her.
"I... It's not that I don't want to go with you," Lovina began. Amelia looked up to see Lovina blushing. "I mean, I'd love to go on a date with you. It's just that the music will be terrible, and all of the other idiots are going to be there, and..."
"We don't have to go to the dance!" Amelia said quickly. "We could go out on a date instead. I could plan it, or you could, or we both—"
"Amelia," Lovina said. When Amelia looked at her, she looked away, fidgeting "I—I'm not sure that I'm ready for a whole relationship. I want to go on a date with you, but we're just thirteen, and..."
"Oh!" Amelia held up her hands. "Oh, no, no, don't worry about it! Um. Uh, if you're not ready, then I definitely don't want to—don't worry about that! If you want to go on a date, we can just go on the one date and not worry. It can just be like hanging out!"
"Promise?" Lovina asked. Amelia held out her pinky.
"Pinky swear," Amelia said. "Cross my heart and hope to die."
When Amelia told Maddie about it later that night, Maddie seemed to think that she'd cry, but Amelia was too excited planning the perfect not-date. If Lovina wasn't ready for more than one date, Amelia sure as heck wasn't going to bug her about it—but she could at least make their not-date as much fun as humanly possible.
The weekend of the school dance, Amelia and Lovina met up at a fair that had just started. The food was greasy and amazing, in Amelia's opinion, but she'd made sure ahead of time that there'd be some nicer food for Lovina, too. They played the balloon pop game and the milk can games and every other kind of game that they had—Lovina's accuracy with darts was unparalleled, and Amelia had a fierce pitch from years of softball.
Amelia was happy to carry the resulting pile of stuffed animals, but was even happier when Lovina decided to barter them with the man working at the game where you had to shoot out a star-shaped target with a BB gun. They bet all of their winnings against his top prize—an enormous stuffed cat. If Amelia could perfectly shoot out the star, they'd get them all.
Hauling away the giant cat, Amelia had to admit that she'd never seen Lovina look quite so smug.
Lovina smoothed her hair for the eighth time, wishing her stupid curl would behave just this once. She looked at the calendar on the wall—five years to the day since Amelia had first asked her out. She'd just turned eighteen a few weeks before; Amelia was seventeen going on eighteen. Lovina cleared her throat and addressed her mirror again.
"So, prom is coming up," she said. The doppleganger in the mirror grimaced with her. Somehow she suspected that, even though it was about as subtle as a dump truck, it'd still be too subtle for Amelia.
"I really appreciate the way you gave me space," Lovina tried. It, too, fell flat, even though it was completely honest and heartfelt. True to her word, Amelia hadn't made any advances on Lovina since their date. Lovina sometimes caught her with a wistful look on her face, but Amelia had been so cautious about not pressuring Lovina that Lovina was having trouble figuring out how to convince Amelia that she'd changed her mind.
"Let's go to prom together?" Lovina asked. Her mirror image covered her face with her hands. "I'm never going to get a girlfriend," Lovina groaned. "She's probably over me by now. I made her wait five years!"
Amelia hadn't shown any interest in other possible significant others throughout high school. It was their senior year, and she knew for a fact that neither of them had had so much as a first kiss. Guilt nibbled at Lovina's heart, but she tried to shrug it off. She'd told Amelia that it was okay to date other people, but Amelia had known, somehow, that Lovina didn't really want her to—leave it to Amelia to be perceptive the one time that Lovina had hoped she wouldn't be.
"Oh, f**k it," Lovina snapped, pulling away from the mirror to open her laptop on the bed. She had Amelia as a friend on Skype, and a quick check assured her that she was online. Lovina hit the video call button. It rang once, but, before she could chicken out, Amelia's face blossomed on the screen.
"Hey, Lovina!" she chirped. She was still in her pajamas; her hair was mussy with sleep. Lovina's heart squeezed. "I was just about to call you. My folks said that you could come hang out tonight—Papa's cooking, so I think you'll be all right. But what's up? You usually text first."
"Take me to prom," Lovina demanded. In the short silence that followed, Lovina's heart knotted in her chest, making it impossible to breathe.
"As...friends?" Amelia asked. Lovina recognized the tone—the same one Amelia used when hoping against hope, afraid of disappointment.
"No, dummy," Lovina said. "As my date."
"Ohhh, my God," Amelia said. She covered her mouth, sinking against the wall against her bed. "Oh, oh my God." It took Lovina a second to realize that Amelia was blinking so rapidly to keep from crying. "Yes," Amelia said emphatically. "Yes, I'll be your date."
"And my girlfriend," Lovina said. In the corner of the screen, she saw her own face blushing, but her expression was set. "Be my girlfriend, too."
Amelia fell backwards onto her bed, grabbing her pillow. Without further warning, she pressed the pillow over her face and screamed into it, kicking her legs in the air. When she sat up again, she had the broadest grin Lovina had ever seen.
"Does this mean we can hold hands at school?" Amelia asked. "And can I hug you sometimes?"
"You already hug me sometimes," Lovina said, rolling her eyes.
"It's different," Amelia insisted. "Do you want me to take you out to dinner before prom? I have a bunch of money saved up from mowing the lawn all these years—" Amelia broke off and bit her lip. "Are you sure that you want to go to the prom? We can go on another date if you'd feel more comfortable."
"I'm taking the prettiest girl at school to prom, and that's final," Lovina said. "Now get over here and kiss me, you idiot."
"Oh, wow," Amelia said, bouncing onto her feet as she lunged for the door.
"Not in your pajamas!"
"Right!" Amelia leapt offscreen, and Lovina heard clattering as Amelia presumably tripped into her dresser. "I'm okay!" Amelia called, still offscreen. Her pajama top flew onto the bed in front of the camera, and Lovina blushed crimson. "Actually, I'm way, way better than okay," Amelia sang. She popped back in front of the camera; her hair stood up on one side, but she was thankfully dressed. "This is the best day of my life!"
"Goofball," Lovina said, but she couldn't help smiling. "How much longer are you gonna make me wait?"
"On my way!" Amelia said, darting off camera.
"Are you going to leave Skype on the whole time?" Lovina called after her.
"Right, right," Amelia said. She reached for her laptop, then frowned. "I can't hang up on you."
Lovina pinched the bridge of her nose.
"I'm hanging up," she said. "I'll keep an eye open at the window for you."
"Okay," Amelia agreed. "See you soon! Love you!"
Lovina opened her mouth and closed it several times before shutting her eyes and screwing up her courage.
"Fine! I love you, too! Now get over here!" Before Amelia could react, she ended the call, signed off, and shut her laptop. She breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth, trying to get the leftover jitters out of her system. At least Felicia was out of the apartment today, and Grandpa worked through the weekend so he could take a siesta every afternoon.
A gentle thud by the window caught her attention, and she looked up—nothing. She frowned, and another thud came from the same spot. She got up to investigate, and she saw Amelia below her window with a handful of pebbles. After confirming that none of her neighbors were around, Lovina pushed open the window.
"Gonna serenade me?" Lovina called.
"Couldn't find a boombox," Amelia called back, grinning. Her girlfriend—right. They were girlfriends. Lovina felt oddly giddy. "Want me to sing something a cappella?"
"Like what?" Lovina laughed. To her surprise, Amelia spread her arms wide and actually did start singing—an Italian song that her grandfather had loved to play for them when they were little. She'd never learned the title. Amelia's voice was so full of joy and love that Lovina's heart tangled up in her chest. Where had she learned to sing in Italian? Her accent made it sound like she'd spent many long nights practicing this song.
If Amelia wasn't afraid to show how much she cared in front of God and everybody, neither was Lovina.
As soon as Amelia finished the song, Lovina ran down the stairs and out the door to meet her.
"I hope that I didn't embarrass you," Amelia said, concern tugging on her brow. "I just—I was just so happy—"
"Shut up and kiss me already."
Amelia had convinced Lovina to apply to Yale to pursue sculpture; meanwhile, Amelia herself had successfully gotten into MIT. It was hard work for the both of them—harder still being apart so often—but they kept in touch via Skype and constant text messaging.
"Come on," Amelia said, hitting her steering wheel impatiently. Just twenty more minutes until she got to Lovina's apartment. Maybe she'd have made another pecan pie—the first one had been such a surprise that Amelia didn't know what to expect this time around. Mostly they kept in touch through constant texting and nightly Skype chats, but it wasn't the same as being physically in the same place at the same time. Looking ahead at grad school prospects, Amelia suspected that the three hour drive to Lovina's apartment was going to have to grow on her.
A love song came up on shuffle, and Amelia cranked up the sound. To be honest, her entire Lovina car ride playlist was full of love songs, and most of them were really cheerful and upbeat—this one, though, was quieter.
"You don't see what you possess," Amelia sang, "a beauty calm and clear. It floods the sky and blurs the darkness like a chandelier..."
Lovina really didn't know how beautiful she was. When she looked in the mirror, she might see one or two good features, but she didn't see her the way Amelia did. To Amelia, Lovina glowed. On the rare (but increasing!) occasions when Amelia got her to laugh, her smile was so frickin' perfect that Amelia felt dizzy. Her pout was unbearably cute. Nobody in the world could ever be as pretty as Lovina.
But she wasn't just pretty. Lovina could do anything when she set her mind to it. Amelia had been by her side when she'd worked on college applications. The way Lovina had looked, utterly determined to succeed, the way she'd stayed up late working on applications and homework and studying—it'd inspired Amelia. Even though Lovina didn't quite believe her, Amelia was confident that the only reason she'd gotten into MIT was by following Lovina's stellar example.
Ten more minutes. God, couldn't traffic just hurry up already?
When she finally got to Lovina's apartment, she skipped up to the door and knocked, then quickly ran a hand through her hair and checked to make sure that the present at the bottom of the bag hadn't mysteriously been abducted by aliens during the car ride. She'd just barely stuffed the tissue paper back in the bag when Lovina opened the door.
"About time," Lovina said, then grabbed Amelia's head and pulled her down for a kiss. Lovina's lips were soft but insistent—Amelia had to remind herself three times that she couldn't just drop the present and sweep Lovina into her arms. When Lovina pulled back, Amelia groaned, pouting. Lovina ignored her, looking at the bag instead. "What's that?"
"A present!" Amelia said.
She always brought a present when she came to visit Lovina; part of the fun of the lead up to a visit was trying to figure out what Lovina would like best. Amelia held out the gift, and Lovina took it, ducking back inside the apartment. Amelia went inside, shutting the door behind her and kicking off her sandals. It wasn't hot in Connecticut, even at the start of summer, but Amelia preferred going barefoot when she could.
"How did your finals go?" Amelia asked. Lovina shrugged, settling into the couch as she pulled out the crumpled tissue paper. Amelia snuggled against her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
"They were okay," Lovina said. She looked and sounded tired; Amelia would have bet her bottom dollar that she'd pulled at least one all-nighter. "What about yours?"
"I think I aced them," Amelia said brightly. She'd pulled a few all-nighters, herself. Lovina dug underneath the remaining tissue paper and carefully pulled out the gift at the bottom. Amelia couldn't help it: she bounced with excitement and nervousness.
Lovina didn't say anything as she turned the gift over in her hands. The sculpture wasn't even close to being on par with Lovina's menagerie. No one could bring clay to life the way that she could. But Amelia had worked very hard to make this cat. She'd taught herself to use ZBrush and wheedled and pleaded with some classmates until they finally let her use the 3D printer in the lab.
"It's plastic," Lovina said carefully. Amelia suspected that she was thinking something like, Who would mass produce something this ugly? That'd been Maddie's first reaction, anyway—Amelia had gotten a kick out of that. "Where did you buy this?"
"I made it!" Amelia said. "In the computer. And then I printed it. I know that it's not as cool as your sculptures, but this way I can print you out kitties in any size you want. A whole zoo full of cats, right?"
Lovina froze, her eyes darting over to the shelves on the far side of the room. Nestled between flawless marble statuettes and little clay figures, Amelia spotted the lop-sided kitten she'd made for Lovina for her sixth birthday.
"A whole zoo full," Lovina repeated. She stared at the ugly little lion in her hands, scritching behind its ears.
"I'm going to bring you a different cat every time I come to visit," Amelia promised. She was getting better at working with the computer program; she'd always been too rough with the clay to make something properly. She always tore off an ear or didn't hollow it properly, causing it to explode in the kiln. "That way it's not a surprise but is still kind of a surprise. Since you don't like surprises."
"Thank you," Lovina said. Her voice was oddly distant; she brought the little lion up to her nose. "No cages, right?"
"Nope!" Amelia laughed. "And now that summer vacation has started, I don't have to rush back until you get sick of me."
"I guess I'll have to get used to cooking for two again," Lovina said, and this time she smiled. "Next time, I want a tiger."
"I'll make you a whole tiger family," Amelia promised, envisioning tiger cubs and proud parents. "Maybe you can sculpt the zoo for them! They need a place to play."
"Sure," Lovina grinned, setting the lion down on the coffee table. "A jungle for the tigers, huh?"
"And a savanna for the lions!" Amelia said. She whipped out her sketch pad and a pencil, quickly shaping the outline of a tall rock that jutted out over an expansive grassland.
"Amelia, that's Pride Rock," Lovina laughed. Amelia's heart fluttered, making her feel almost dizzy. "You want me to sculpt the Lion King?"
"Only this time, Scar and Mufasa make up," Amelia said. She thought about it, and she felt pretty confident that she could make enough lions to fill up Pride Rock. "Yeah, Scar and Mufasa realize that they don't have to fight, so Simba doesn't have to leave."
"Then he won't meet Timon and Pumba," Lovina said. "The other lions would eat them up."
"I'll make it work!" she said. "But I'm making your kitties first, anyway."
"Do you want to get a cat together?" Lovina asked. "Like—you stay here all summer. We try this out."
Amelia swooned, dropping the sketch pad and the pencil. Three whole months with Lovina—they'd been dating since the end of high school, and now their third anniversary was fast approaching.
"Let's go to the pound tomorrow," Amelia answered.
They went to the pound and couldn't decide between a tempestuous little cat with a cowlick and a thirty pound fatso that loved to crush their laps and shed all over Lovino's pants. They ended up adopting both of them.
Throughout the summer, they figured out how well they worked together—Amelia loved cleaning and chopping up ingredients; Lovina was superb at seasoning and mixing and cooking them. Amelia didn't mind running the laundry, and Lovina didn't mind folding it. Amelia cleaned the litter boxes, and Lovina fed and watered the cats.
They stayed up late playing video games and still woke up with the sun to watch it rise. Amelia got into the habit of curling up beside Lovina when it was time for a siesta. They'd known each other since they were six, and their third year anniversary came and went, but living together was different.
A week before it was time to go back to school, they were draped over one another on the couch, stuffed full from dinner. Amelia rested her head in Lovina's lap, smiling as Lovina ran her fingers through her hair.
"I want to spend the rest of my life with you," Amelia said. Lovina froze. "I'm sure. Absolutely and totally sure that you're the one I want."
Armstrong pounced onto Amelia's stomach, making her grunt. Lovina's careful attention to his diet had helped him shed some of the extra weight, but he was always going to be a big cat. He purred, demanding to be petted, and Amelia sighed, scratching under his chin. He got a dopey grin on his face, as much as a cat ever could, and Lovina stopped petting Amelia's hair to rub the top of Giuseppe's head where he lay curled on the arm of the couch.
"We've still got grad school."
"I can wait," Amelia said. "I just wanted you to know."
They sat like that for a long time, until Armstrong had been asleep on Amelia's stomach for a good half hour. Amelia wasn't that good at long silences, but she knew enough to know when Lovina needed some quiet time.
"We could have a long engagement," Lovina said at last. Amelia's heart swelled so much that she almost couldn't breathe.
"Yeah," Amelia squeaked. "A long engagement."
"I, uh," Lovina faltered, covering her face.
Giuseppe leapt off of the couch and ran off toward the kitchen; Armstrong roused himself and followed suit, stumbling sleepily after his friend.
Lovina squirmed underneath Amelia, and Amelia lifted her head. She felt Lovina's hand dig into the pocket beneath Amelia's neck, removing something. "I've been trying to find the right words, but I don't have the right words, d**n it." Amelia settled back against Lovina's leg, looking up to see Lovina holding out a black, velvet box.
Amelia tried to form a sentence—any sentence—but no sound came out.
"I couldn't let you pick the rings," Lovina explained. Amelia understood what she was saying; Lovina had a knack for finding the most gorgeous things. Probably because she was gorgeous. God, she was gorgeous. Lovina popped open the box and held it out to Amelia. Two rings glittered against the velvet. "Amelia, will you marry me?"
Amelia reached out to touch the rings, not quite able to believe that they were real. They were cold and solid and perfect under her fingers.
"If you asked me to go to Vegas and marry you right this second, I would say yes," Amelia said. "If you asked me to build a rocket to get a moon rock for a ring, I would say yes."
"I'm not asking you for the impossible," Lovina said.
"Nothing's impossible for you, Lovina," Amelia replied. She looked up at Lovina and reached out to brush a hand against her face, pausing an inch away and letting Lovina press her cheek against her palm. "My answer is yes. God, yes."
"Ohh, Lovi, you look beautiful!" Felicia sighed. "I wish I could be Monika's blushing bride!"
Lovina didn't want to think about Monika or Felicia; she turned around in front of the cluster of mirrors, examining her dress.
"I'm nobody's blushing bride, idiot," Lovina muttered. Amelia hadn't let her see her dress—what if they'd gotten clashing styles? Or, worse yet, the same exact dress? Amelia would fill it better than Lovina could. Lovina tried to smooth her updo, but that one, persistent curl refused to stay down. "God d**n it! Can't you lie flat just this once, you little f**ker," Lovina hissed. As if in response, a low, rumbling sound rolled across the sky. Lovina's eyes went wide in the mirror.
She snapped around to look at the window just in time to see the first drops of rain tear the sky open, releasing a thunderous downpour.
"Do you have your something blue, Lovi?" Felicia asked, unfazed. Lovina looked at her in disbelief, pointing towards the window. "Right, right," Felicia said, still grinning. "Your garter belt. I remember now! That's the something new, too, isn't it? Good thing Amelia has the old and borrowed things covered—I know I wouldn't want an old garter belt."
"It's raining," Lovina said. "It's raining on my wedding day."
"Ooh, it's really coming down," Felicia said, joining her at the window. "Good thing it's an indoor wedding, right? And it could be snowing!"
"It's mid-May," Lovina said. "It wouldn't snow in May!"
A knock at the door—but not Amelia's code.
"We're decent!" Felicia sang. Hesitantly, the door opened, admitting a blushing Maddie.
"Lovina," she said. "Amelia's ready."
Lovina's heart went tight in her chest, making it hard to breathe. Lovina pulled at the collar of her dress, needing a little more air.
"Oh, God," Lovina said, slumping back against the wall. "My hair is a mess. It's raining. I—" Lovina swallowed hard and steeled herself. "To h*** with it. I'm ready."
Lovina strode out of the room, head held high. They'd decided that Lovina would wait for Amelia at the altar. Since Lovina's grandfather had passed away during her last year of grad school, she had no one to walk her down the aisle. She wouldn't have wanted that b*****d at her wedding, anyway; he would've gotten drunk with Arthur and Francis and started telling embarrassing stories or talking about how much prettier Felicia was or something. Amelia was going to be escorted by both of her fathers—
That's when the music started playing. Lovina froze at the altar, trying to remember not to lock her knees and pass out. The door swung open, and all that Lovina could see was Amelia. Amelia, with her short hair styled for the first time Lovina could remember, but still not wearing—not needing—any makeup. Her dress was strapless, with a splash of light blue at the top, trailing down the train. Amelia's grin was at about three hundred watts, visible even through her veil.
Amelia stood across from her, a good half foot taller than Lovina. The officiate was speaking, but Lovina was looking at Amelia's face, Amelia's dress, Amelia's bouquet.
When Lovina next came to her senses, it was time for her to recite her vows.
"I," Lovina began. She'd rehearsed the lines more than eight hundred times since she'd proposed to Amelia. It was what she said to her mirror every morning, a constant refrain at the back of her mind. It was a complete blank. "I," Lovina tried again, panicking. Amelia picked up on her distress and improvised.
"Lovina," she said, using her theater voice—it echoed throughout the room. "We first met in Ms. Hedervary's class. I remember seeing you that first day and thinking that I'd never seen anyone so pretty in my whole life, that I'd never seen someone work so hard and sculpt such amazing things. In the years that followed, I also learned that you were amazing at anything you put your mind to, that you were caring, and that you were loyal beyond all measure. I learned that you didn't like surprises, but you did like handmade gifts. It didn't take me long to fall in love with you, even though it took me a while to realize it."
Lovina heard a loud sniff in the crowd; Francis was patting his eyes with a lacy hankie. Meanwhile Arthur was bawling silently in his seat, covering half his face with a handkerchief as his shoulders shook. Felicia wasn't crying—just beaming and leaning against Monika's shoulder.
"Lovina," Amelia said again, taking Lovina's hands. "I want to wake up beside you every morning. I want to play games and watch soap operas and read cheesy romance novels and kiss you good night. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Thank you so much for giving me that chance."
Lovina sniffed, holding back tears.
"You're gonna make my mascara run, dummy," Lovina muttered. A sob welled up in her chest. "I remember the first time I ever saw you," Lovina admitted. Her voice was shakier than Amelia's, but she tried to keep it even. "I'd had a lousy day. Kids had sneezed on my clay and stolen my crackers and I'd botched it up when answering Ms. Hedervary. Just when I thought it couldn't get worse, I tripped and skinned my knee." Lovina laughed, shaking her head. "And there you were to pick me up." Lovina took in a deep, shuddering breath and looked up at Amelia. Her voice was clear and strong as she continued. "Every time I hit rock bottom, you helped me back up. I didn't think my sculptures were any good, but you motivated me. I don't know how different my life would've been without you. I don't want to know. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, Amelia."
Amelia's eyes were full of tears. Without further warning, she lunged forward and dragged Lovina into a bear hug, kissing her soundly on the lips.
"You haven't exchanged rings yet," the officiate said, frowning. Lovina grinned against Amelia's lips and kissed her back. The rings could wait—Amelia was the one that mattered.
After they'd exchanged rings and Lovina had left half a dozen lipstick smudges on Amelia's face, after they'd thrown their bouquets and watched Maddie and Julchen catch them, after the blurry reception where Lovina danced with Amelia until it felt like her feet were about to fall off, after they'd received gifts and well-wishes from the dozens of friends and family, Amelia and Lovina stood in the doorway, looking up at the downpour blocking their way to their car.
"Can't believe that it rained on our wedding day," Lovina said, shaking her shoes at the lightning-filled sky. Her feet were too sore for heels.
"Oh, didn't you know?" Amelia said. "Rain on a wedding day is really lucky."
"...Really?" Lovina asked, eyeing her. Amelia beamed.
"Really," she said. "Dad told me so, and he'd know the superstitions better than anyone."
"Huh," Lovina said, giving the sky a skeptical look. Amelia took her by the arm.
"Would my lawfully wedded wife like to accompany me to our chariot?" Amelia asked, squeezing Lovina's hand.
"I'd like my wife to carry me all the way to the threshold and over it," Lovina groaned. "My feet f**king hurt."
"As my wife wishes!" Amelia sang, stooping down. The hem of her dress dragged in the rainwater. "I will serve as my lady wife's chariot!"
"Oh my God, Amelia," Lovina laughed. "You can't be serious."
But Amelia steadfastly remained kneeling until Lovina snorted and hiked her own dress up high enough to let her wrap her legs around Amelia's back, draping her arms over her shoulders.
"You don't weigh anything," Amelia laughed, getting to her feet. "Glad I wore sensible shoes, though."
"Don't keep your wife waiting," Lovina grinned. Amelia positively glowed.
"Never!" she said, plunging out into the storm. The early summer rain was warm but heavy, and lightning burst above them.
"Onward!" Lovina crowed, pointing forward. As they ran out, laughing, into the storm, Lovina felt sure that this was the best decision she'd ever made in her entire life.
After a year or two of marriage, the topic of babies had come up; Amelia had offered to carry them, but Lovina had insisted that Amelia would just run into something, or eat unhealthy food, or drive their kids crazy. It had taken another year for Amelia to realize that this meant Lovina wanted to carry the babies, not that she didn't want them all together.
Technology had been advancing, and Amelia still had some contacts from MIT, so Amelia made a few calls and arranged to have some of her eggs turned into artificial sperm. The world's first biological children produced by two women. Lovina had been a little skeptical of the science, but she'd wanted to try it.
Twenty months later, Lovina had given birth to Allegra and Noemi—fraternal twins, much like Felicia and Lovina (or, for that matter, like Maddie and Amelia). Allegra took after Amelia, while Noemi was more like Lovina.
Amelia could barely keep track of how long it had been since then. The girls were constantly in need of diapers and toys and milk—Amelia had actually learned the technique for producing her own breast milk after Lovina had begun to run a little ragged and still refused to give the babies bottles. They were sweet babies and woke up laughing more often than they woke up crying, but Amelia had a new appreciation for the struggles her own fathers must have had with her and Maddie.
Dragging herself up the stairs after taking out the trash, Amelia washed off her hands and splashed some water on her face. As she toweled off, she heard a quiet sound coming from the girls' room. She snuck over to the door. Lovina was dandling a baby on each hip, back to the door.
"Fa la ninna, fa la nanna," she sang. Her voice was soft but clear, finding the notes with ease.
Lovina never sang for Amelia; she'd always get too embarrassed and forget the words. Amelia rested against the door frame and watched Lovina sway back and forth, rocking the girls. Part of her wanted to join Lovina and help her carry the girls, who were getting heavier, but she couldn't bring herself to interrupt.
"Nella braccia della mamma..." Lovina yawned, turning. She froze when she saw Amelia. "Jesus, Amelia, you almost made me drop the girls."
"I've got 'em," Amelia said, swooping in to scoop up the sleepy babies. "Want me to take a turn singing a lullaby?"
Lovina nodded, and Amelia smiled.
"A gentle breeze from Hushabye Mountain softly blow o'er Lullaby Bay," Amelia sang in a low voice. The soft, affectionate look on Lovina's face made Amelia grin. It'd been forever since Dad had sung this to her, but the tune had stuck with her. She hummed the words that she'd forgotten, rocking the girls in each arm. So hard to believe that she had ever been this small, herself—harder still to believe it'd been nearly thirty years since her fathers had held her like this. The girls got heavier as they fell asleep.
Lovina held a finger to her lips and lifted Allegra from Amelia's arms, gently tucking her in the crib. Amelia tucked Noemi in beside her, and they slipped from the room to collapse in their own bed. Lovina curled against Amelia's chest, and Amelia wrapped her arms around her.
"G'night, love," Amelia murmured, pressing a kiss into her hair. Lovina grunted. Amelia rubbed her back, kneading out the lingering tension, and Lovina sighed, relaxing into her touch. Grinning, Amelia hummed a sleepy little tune—nothing she knew, really. Just whatever came into her mind.
"Love you," Lovina slurred. Amelia's humming fell away, and she chuckled.
"Love you, too," she replied, kissing her again. They settled against one another, curling up for the night. "Sleep tight."
"Dun' let bed bugs..." Lovina yawn. "No biting."
"Yes, ma'am," Amelia said, closing her eyes. As she drifted off, Amelia could've sworn she heard the faintest strains of a lullaby.
"My, what heavy laundry!" Amelia sang, hefting the squirming pillow case into the air. "I'd better get this to the laundry room, stat!"
The pillow case shrieked with half-suppressed giggles, and Lovina had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing with Bridget. A rumpled blanket lay rolled up in the corner of the bed, hiding Allegra and Noemi, who were better than Bridget at hiding their giggles.
"You forgot some," Lovina said loudly, pointing at the lump. "What have I said about laundry?"
"Into the basket, then into the washer!" Amelia said cheerfully, plunking little Bridget into the nearest laundry basket—full of clothes and very soft, to Lovina's relief. Amelia slung the blanket full of eight-year-olds over her shoulder. "Can you grab that basket, sweetie? I think it's full already!"
Lovina scooped up the basket, and Bridget tried her best to cover her face and pretend to be laundry. At four years old, she'd already picked up on the basics of the game; Lovina had to fight down her grin as her pudgy baby fingers tried to hide her hair—not to mention the stubborn cowlick she'd inherited from both of her mothers.
"Right behind you, dear," Lovina called out, settling the basket against her hip. The laundry room wasn't far; Noemi and Allegra shrieked with delight as Amelia attempted to dump them into the machine. They'd played enough times that they knew how to keep from falling in.
"What hard-headed laundry!" Amelia said with dismay. "We're going to have to wring out this blanket ourselves, Mama!"
"What about the pillow case?" Lovina asked, hauling it (and Bridget) out of the basket.
"Oh, I bet that'll fit!" Amelia grinned. The empty part of the blanket sagged harmlessly between the twins, drooping into the machine, but not enough to actually let anything drop in. Not that Bridget would be able to tell in the pillow case. As they went forward, Bridget laughed louder and louder—when Lovina pretended to drop her into the machine, she popped her head out of the pillowcase and grabbed Lovina.
"No, Mama!" she giggled. "I'm not a pillow!"
Lovina and Amelia feigned shock as Noemi and Allegra burst out of the blanket, grabbing their sister and dragging her back under the covers.
"Just us blankets here, Mom!" Allegra insisted. "You know Mama can't stand dirty laundry!"
"You'd better help me get this blanket back to the bedroom so that we can wring it out," Amelia said. They carried the three sisters between them, swinging them so that they shrieked and tumbled safely in the thick, heavy comforter. Back in the girls' bedroom, they tossed the blanket onto the bed. Amelia pretended to sit on one of the girls, who laughed even harder. It was infectious; her sisters caught it, as did Amelia. Only Lovina was able to keep a straight face—and then only barely, pretending to sit on another lump.
"What a lumpy blanket!" Lovina exclaimed. "Did we keep the receipt? I think we're gonna have to return this!"
Amelia flopped backwards, careful not to put too much weight on the girls, and made as though to roll over them.
"I think you're right," Amelia chuckled. "I don't want a blanket this lumpy!"
Lovina yawned and checked the clock—post-bath-time play had gone on about as long as she thought reasonable; it was bedtime for Bridget, certainly.
"I don't know," Lovina said, leaning back against a lump. "I'm pretty sleepy. Maybe we should just crash for the night."
Right on cue, Amelia faked an impressive, comical snore. Noemi peeked out from beneath the blanket, and Lovina quickly closed her eyes.
"But we need a bedtime story!" Noemi pleaded. Lovina cracked one eye open as the lump beneath her wriggled away.
"Yeah!" Allegra said. "I want to hear about the Talking Eggs again!"
"Paddington!" Bridget begged, sliding out of the covers. Lovina and Amelia sat up, exchanging a brief grin.
"I want to keep reading Nancy Drew," Noemi pouted.
"Let's stick to Goodnight Moon," Lovina said.
"Good idea, Mama," Amelia said. "You three are way too hyper tonight! Did you get struck by lightning? Are you going to turn into superheroes?"
"I'm already a superhero," Allegra beamed, leaping to her feet. "I can shoot enormous laser beams from my eyes!"
"We use indoor laser beams in this household, young lady," Amelia said, giving her a look that she'd probably meant to be stern. Lovina thought, for a moment, how much she wished she'd had memories like this growing up—how happy she was to have this family now, to have Amelia around at the end of the day.
When the girls were somewhat settled, Lovina pulled out the book and traded it back and forth with Amelia, using personalized voices for every object in the room. One by one, the girls drifted off, curled in a pile by the pillows.
Silently, Lovina shut the book and kissed each of the girls good night. Amelia shut off the light and wrapped an arm around Lovina's shoulders as they shut the door. They left for their own room, and Amelia rubbed the knots out of Lovina's back until she was too relaxed to move.
"You're such a good mother," Amelia sighed, draping an arm over Lovina's waist. "And an amazing wife."
"Take me out on a date this Friday," Lovina mumbled into her pillow. "Not to the Olive Garden."
"Sure thing," Amelia whispered, kissing Lovina's forehead. "I'll call the baby sitter tomorrow."
"Good," Lovina said. She tucked her head against the crook of Amelia's neck and closed her eyes.
"I love you," Amelia said. Her voice tickled Lovina's hair.
"Love you, but shut up," Lovina chuckled. "It's time to sleep. Not everyone has your energy. Thank God."
Amelia just hummed a lullaby and stroked Lovina's hair until Lovina finally drifted off.
The door shut behind them, echoing in the still house. Amelia hung the keys on the nearby hook and reached automatically to take Lovina's purse and hat—but Lovina was staring out the front window.
"Do you think she'll be okay?" Lovina asked.
"Allegra and Noemi did fine at college, darlin'. Bridget will do just fine, too."
But the house felt too big and too empty after twenty-two years of having babies grow into tykes who grew into teenagers who grew up and left the nest. Amelia didn't feel that much older—it was hard to believe she and Lovina were in their fifties already.
"Noemi and Allegra are as old now as we were when we got engaged," Lovina frowned.
"And then maybe we'll get to dote on grandkids, right?" Amelia said, tucking an arm around Lovina's waist to look out at their front yard. "Look at it this way: right now we can have all the dates you want."
"Won't even have to call a babysitter," Lovina muttered, even though it'd been years since they'd last needed to call one. Her eyes were far away, remembering a time many years before. Amelia knew that Lovina was prone to getting into funks—she had a habit of worrying more than she needed to. Amelia kissed her temple to bring her back to Earth.
"May I have this dance?" Amelia asked, getting down on one knee to proffer her hand. Lovina blinked once, then smiled.
"You're such a goofball," Lovina said, her voice soft and affectionate. "I don't hear any music playing."
At this, Amelia grinned. She still remembered the song she'd sung to Lovina all those long years ago—back when Lovina had asked her to go to the prom. When she hummed the first few notes, Lovina's eyes went wide. Amelia remembered the lyrics, even if she'd forgotten the title; she'd practiced the song nightly in high school, because it made her think of Lovina. She sang it again, this time more quietly—but just as fervently as she had at seventeen, tossing pebbles at Lovina's window.
"A silly, romantic goofball," Lovina amended, taking Amelia's hand.
Amelia continued to sing as they danced around the room, sweeping Lovina back and catching her close to the floor. They'd learned this dance for their wedding twenty-five years earlier, but their instructor had drilled it into them until the muscle memory was beyond forgetting.
"Sorry that I couldn't find that boombox for you," Amelia said as they finished. Lovina laughed, and Amelia's heart fluttered in her chest, dizzy and giddy as ever.
"We're gonna have to figure out what afterlife we're going to," Amelia said, snuggling up against Lovina on their porch swing. Fireflies winked in the dimming light of the evening; it was late summer, and just warm enough to keep them from laying blankets over their legs. She yawned, jostling Lovina's head just a little. "I don't want to wait a whole lifetime if you get reincarnated and I go on to heaven or something."
Lovina felt uncomfortable with the topic, but had to agree; better to iron it out while they still could.
"We're gonna go to heaven," she said. "There's gonna be a perfect restaurant that sells the best godd**n pizza we've ever eaten, and all the pasta I can eat. Also gelato. There needs to be a gelato shop next door."
"They'll sell cheeseburgers across the street," Amelia agreed. "And we can go to a nice park and play with all of our old pets."
"Yeah," Lovina said. "Do you want an amusement park, too, while we're at it?"
"Might as well," Amelia said. "Heck, let's throw in a nice water park. We'll get to pick the seasons and our ages, to boot."
"I like that idea," Lovina murmured, closing her eyes. "Not for a while, though; we're not that old."
"Of course not," Amelia said. "We've got a good twenty years left in us, I'd say. I just wanted to get it sorted out. Y'know, just in case."
They sat in silence for a long moment, watching the sun dip out of sight. Crickets sang in the yard; Lovina was glad they'd gotten a big house out in the country when it'd been time to raise kids. Their grandkids loved the place.
"I want to go first," Lovina said. "And no rushing after me."
"Nuh uh. No talking me out of this," Lovina insisted, holding up a hand. "One of us has got to go first, and I'm selfish, so it's going to be me. Neither of us are rushing, but, when the time comes, if I go first, I want you to think, 'Lovina must be happy—she went first just like she said she would, the stubborn old goat.' Got it?"
"I wouldn't call you a goat," Amelia pouted. "Even though you are awfully stubborn."
"F**k yeah, I'm stubborn," Lovina said. She'd read a short story many, many years before that'd had an old couple with this same argument; it'd stuck with her through all that time. "Remember that time I insisted on going to the fair with you and the kids?"
"Even though you were sick as a dog?" Amelia groaned. "We could've gone the next weekend!"
"And didn't we have fun?" Lovina persisted. "You got to eat a funnel cake bigger than your head, remember?"
"That was an astoundingly good funnel cake," Amelia admitted, stroking Lovina's hair. "So you actually had fun?"
"D**n right, I did," Lovina said. "Remember how happy Bridget was to finally be tall enough to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl?"
"You were green when we got off," Amelia chuckled. "I was so worried about you—"
"—that you made me ride around piggy back for the rest of the trip," Lovina finished. "You think I could forget something like that?"
Amelia laughed more genuinely this time.
"Okay, okay," Amelia said. "Be stubborn. But you're going to stick around for a long time, yet. Meet our great-grandkids."
"With eight grandkids and triplets on the way, we're going to have our hands full," Lovina said, rolling her eyes.
"With Maddie's kids and grandkids and great-grandkids..." Amelia trailed off, shaking her head. "I can't imagine what family reunions are going to look like."
"We'll have to teach the whippersnappers how to dance," Lovina said, putting on her best crotchety-old-woman voice. Amelia grinned.
"You're the best dance partner a lady could hope for," Amelia said. "Prettiest woman I ever laid eyes on."
"You goose," Lovina said, elbowing her.
"You know it's nothing but the truth, honey," Amelia said, turning to kiss Lovina's gray hairs. "And more lovely by the day."
"Like fine wine?" Lovina smirked.
"I think I love your laugh lines best of all," Amelia giggled, ruffling Lovina's hair. Lovina responded by tickling her, and she threw her hands up in mock defeat. "Mercy, mercy!" Amelia laughed, and Lovina relented. Amelia settled her arm back around Lovina's shoulders. "Your pout is awfully adorable, too, I gotta say."
Lovina opened her mouth to make a retort, then thought better of it.
"Styles keep a'changin'," Lovina sang, pressing her lips to Amelia's ear. "The world's rearrangin'." Recognition lit up Amelia's face. "But Amy, you're timeless to me."
"I thought you hated that movie," Amelia laughed. Lovina glared at her and skipped a few lines.
"You're like stinky old cheese, babe," Lovina grimaced, waving her hand in front of her nose. "Just getting' riper with age."
"Some folks can't stand it," Amelia replied, skipping ahead even further. "Say time is a bandit. But I take the opposite view."
"'Cause when I need a lift, time brings a gift—"
"Another day with you," they crooned together. Lovina found herself laughing too hard to keep singing, and Amelia cracked up beside her, pressing a dozen, smiling kisses against her cheek until they nearly tipped sideways on the swing.
"Best decision I ever made in my life," Lovina laughed. "Asking you to that prom. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me."
"I love you more than sunsets and ice cream and roller coasters," Amelia said, hauling Lovina onto her lap. "Best decision I ever made in my life, waiting for you. Growing old with you has been the best adventure I could have hoped for."