A/N: Thanks to everyone for following along! I appreciate it!
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and the sun began to sink lower in the sky sooner and sooner. Lindsay had found a rhythm at work, rarely socializing much more than staying a few minutes late at work. She'd never been much for that kind of thing anyway, spending time with Levi was much more important to her. And seeing as they only got a few hours together before bedtime each night, every moment was precious.
Levi loved daycare and had made several friends that she looked forward to playing with, even on the weekends. There was nothing but good reports from the caretakers and some of Levi's extra energy had started to wane, so by bedtime she was much calmer than normal. School was still touch-and-go, some days she didn't mind going, but other days she whined and complained, refusing to get out of bed, refusing to get dressed, then crying gigantic tears when Lindsay dropped her off. Those days were difficult and hard, and they made Lindsay question for the thousandth time if moving here and ripping her little girl away from everything she'd ever known was really the best idea. Days like that ended quietly, reading books in bed together before Levi fell asleep, cuddled up with her special stuffed animals and Lindsay lay awake, running every decision she'd ever made over and over in her head until she couldn't keep her eyes open anymore.
Today would be different though. Today they would spend hours upon hours together, breathing in the fresh air, doing some early Christmas shopping, spending a little extra money to eat at a restaurant, and ending the day with hot chocolate and another viewing of Anne of Green Gables. Levi had been looking forward to it for a long time and she'd woken up bright and early this morning, jumping up and down on the bed until Lindsay finally woke up, pulling Levi down and tickling her until they were both out of breath.
"Mama, it's not too cold to go to the park today right?"
"Not if you wear a jacket."
"Okay! Will you play with me there? Please?"
"If it's not too crowded."
"Can we leave now?"
"No, it's too early," Lindsay answered with a yawn, stretching and pulling the covers up again, almost over her head. Levi sighed and pulled the covers back again, pressing her nose to Lindsay's and smiling widely.
"Tell me a story."
"Tell me about when I was in your tummy! About how I kicked your insides and kept you awake."
"Well, a long time ago when you were still in my belly, you used to kick my insides and keep me awake."
"And what else?"
"Sometimes I would drink really cold water and you would start dancing. And sometimes if I put my hand on my belly and took lots of deep breaths, you would push both of your feet against my hand and we would stay that way for a long time."
"Tell me about when I was a baby."
"From the minute you were born, you have made me so happy. I didn't even know what happy was until I saw you for the first time. You were so tiny and pretty and you were all mine. You were so sweet and happy and you hardly ever cried."
"Except at bedtime at night."
"That's right. You cried and cried at night."
"And you would hold me and cry too because you were tired and you didn't want me to be unhappy. And then we would fall asleep when the sun came up."
"And you loved every moment of it because it was with me, right?"
"Yes. I love everything when I'm with you."
"Hey, me too! We should be best friends, mama!"
"How 'bout we're soul mates? Would that work?"
"Maybe. What about bosom friends like Anne and Diana?"
"Okay, that sounds good," Lindsay chuckled.
Levi smiled and snuggled down into the blankets, her thumb sliding into her mouth while she reached up and ran her fingers back and forth against Lindsay's collarbone.
"No thumb, honey," Lindsay reminded half-heartedly. Levi had a lot of different things she did to soothe herself, and she was a little too old to be sucking her thumb, but Lindsay wasn't too worried about it since her thumb usually just lay limp in her mouth and wouldn't mess up her teeth.
Levi ignored the admonishment, sighing to herself and snuggling down farther in the bed, her eyelids getting heavy.
"Guess it was a little early to wake up huh?"
"Yeah. We'll go to the park later right?"
"Right. Have a little sleep so you're ready."
"Rub my ear mama. So I can sleep."
Lindsay obeyed and held her a little closer, kissing her forehead and wondering how in the world she'd ever gotten so lucky.
"Look at me, I can do monkey bars all by myself!" Levi hollered, swinging from the bar while her hair blew in the chilly breeze.
"Good job sweetie."
Levi dropped from the bars and ran over to the bench where Lindsay sat with a cup of coffee.
"Mama, come play with me!"
"It's too crowded honey, there's not enough room for adults with all those kids."
"That daddy is playing," Levi rebutted softly, pointing across the playground and dropping her head. Lindsay could see the emotional wheels turning and she knew they needed a change of scenery soon or Levi was going to be upset all day long.
"Hey baby, want to go shopping now?"
"Yeah, okay." Lindsay took her hand and they walked slowly out of the park together, stopping a few times to comment on the color of the leaves on the trees and whether or not they would get to jump in a few piles or not. Levi seemed to perk up the further away from the park they got and by the time they reached the first store, she was skipping happily along and smiling.
"Hey mama your phone's ringing."
"I know honey. Thanks for the update," Lindsay chuckled, finally finding the phone. "Hello?"
"Hey it's Adam."
"Hi, what's up?"
"I know you're off today and you probably have a whole thing planned, but I'm taking my cousin to see a movie and I thought you guys might want to go with us."
"Um… maybe. Just a sec. Levi, do you want to go Christmas shopping or to the movies?"
"Oh to the movies of course! Oh yes please!"
"Looks like we'll join you. What time?"
"About half an hour or so?"
"I think we can do that. See you in a bit."
She tucked her phone back into her pocket while Levi spun in a delighted circle on the sidewalk, clapping her hands together.
"We never go to the movies! I'm so happy! Can I have some candy?"
"No candy, but we can share a popcorn."
"Okay! Who was on the phone? Are they going too?"
"It was my friend Adam from work."
"Oh, the one that likes video games?"
"Okay, that will be fun. Can we still watch a movie later tonight?"
"Sure, why not?"
"I just love the weekends very much!"
"I'm glad you're happy," Lindsay laughed, taking her hand and hailing a cab so they could make it to the theater. "We should probably go over some movie theater rules though."
"Okay! Like what?"
"Well the most important thing that you must remember above all else is to have fun."
Levi giggled as a cab stopped in front of them and they climbed in. Lindsay gave the driver the address of the theater that Adam had texted to her, then made sure Levi was buckled in well.
"I like when you tell me it's important to have fun because that means it is going to be a very super fun thing! What other rules?"
"When you go to see a movie you have to respect the other people in the theater and not get out of your seat or talk loudly."
"Like in church. I can do that! Anything else?"
"Stay close to me in the crowds. And I think that's it."
"This will be a day to remember."
Lindsay chuckled and tucked Levi's hair back, watching her watch the city fly by the window. Rediscovering the world through her daughters' eyes had been exciting, and now to watch her discover a whole different kind of world was even better.
They arrived at the theater with just a few minutes to spare, buying their tickets out front and heading inside to the concession area. Lindsay spotted Adam down at one end, crouched down and talking to his cousin who was looking very happy and pointing out all the things on the menu board she wanted. Adam had mentioned that she was in a wheelchair, but it had slipped Lindsay's mind until this moment.
"Oh hey Linds."
"Hey. Levi, this is my friend Adam."
"Hi, Mr. Adam," Levi said politely, sticking her hand out for him to shake. "Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too. Those are some manners you've got there."
"Yes, it is very important to make a good impression."
He chuckled and lifted his eyebrows at Lindsay who just shrugged.
"Levi, this is my cousin Gabby."
"Hi Gabby. It's nice to meet you too. Wow, your chair is the exact same color as Cinderella's blue dress!"
Gabby giggled and nodded shyly.
"Yeah, cousin Adam had it painted for me. Isn't it pretty?"
"Very pretty. Like your very own chariot. Are you getting popcorn? My mama said I could have popcorn."
"No, I am getting a pretzel with cheese. That's my favorite."
"Ooh, I've never had that before! Hey mama could I have a pretzel with cheese too?"
"Sure, but I am getting popcorn and you can't have any."
They went up to the counter and ordered their food while the girls giggled together over the pink Gameboy that Gabby had with her.
"How old are you?" Levi asked suddenly.
"Oh, you're older than me! I'm only five but I will be six in a while."
"Which princess is your favorite?"
"Oh I like them all so much! I think that Snow White has the best songs and the prettiest voice. Also I know how she feels being around a bunch of boys all the time. And I like Belle because she has brown eyes like me. I also like Pocahontas because that's what my uncle Eli calls me all the time. Which one do you like best?"
"Ariel. Her legs didn't work so good either."
Levi nodded seriously.
"Maybe not but she still got to have a beautiful life!"
"Yep. Adam is it time for the movie yet?"
"Sure is. Keep your hands and arms inside the tram at all times!" he said, handing her the food, then leaning the chair back on two wheels and pushing her quickly towards the theater. She laughed loudly and Levi jogged along behind them giggling with her hand over her mouth.
"Mama, I was right, this will be a day to remember! I have a new friend!"
Lindsay chuckled and led Levi into the darkened theater where Adam was getting Gabby situated in a seat and folding up her wheelchair to stash out of the way.
"Levi, you sit on this side of me okay? And Adam will sit on the other side and your mom can sit on the other side of you."
"Okay! Come on mama! The commercials are on already!"
They all sat down together and the girls dug into their food, finishing it before the previews were over, then leaning forward in their seats in anticipation.
"Hey," Adam whispered loudly behind their heads, getting Lindsay's attention. "Think either one of them is going to have nightmares that the sky is falling?"
Lindsay chuckled and shook her head, remembering reading Chicken Little when she was a kid and finding it so improbable that she could barely finish it. Hopefully the movie would be better, but she was almost certain that Levi would find it just as silly.
"I'm not sure. Levi wasn't even scared of the R.O.U.S's in Princess Bride, she just called them the Ridiculouses."
"She's really nothing like you at all, is she?"
"Not a speck."
"Can we look at my pictures before bed?" Levi yawned, pulling her nightgown over her head and pulling her hair out of the collar. "I haven't looked at them in so long."
"You go ahead sweetie. I need to finish up-"
"No mama, we look together! We always do!"
"Okay, go get them and we can sit on the couch and look for a few minutes."
Levi seemed happy with that answer and she ran into her bedroom, coming out a few minutes later with a small photo album. Jumping onto the couch, she opened it and grinned at the first picture.
"Mama, it's you and Audrey! This was the day you started college again."
"Yes it was."
"And you knew my Josh-dad back then and you were friends."
"We were boyfriend and girlfriend but we hadn't been for very long."
"I like this picture," she went on, turning the page. "Of you and Audrey and my Josh-dad and all your friends. You looked so happy and laugh-y. And I like that your hair is so blonde and pretty like a princess."
"I liked my hair like that too. Maybe I should do it that way again."
"No, I don't think so. Because it was before you were a mama."
"Oh, alright then."
"Hmm. This picture is sad. You and my Josh-dad are hugging each other and smiling. But then he didn't want us later. Why is that?"
Lindsay sighed and shook her head gently trying to think of a good answer. She'd always been able to avoid the question in the past, by turning the page or simply shrugging and saying she didn't know.
"Darlin', I think that Josh was afraid to be a dad. It's not an easy job, you know. I think he thought he would be bad at it and he thought it would be better for you and me if he just wasn't there, rather than being a bad dad."
"I would have forgived him," Levi sighed, looking at the picture closer. "What was he like mama?"
"I don't really want to talk about him today sweetie."
"But I want to know."
"I understand baby. It's just something I don't like talking about."
"Why? Does it make you sad? Do you miss him?"
"I don't miss him honey. But it does make me sad because the guy that I knew was a really, really good person and he would have been a good dad. I think that I met him too late though. I think he'd decided to not be that person anymore. I just can't help but think about what a good daddy he could have been. And it makes me sad that he never tried."
"Well, at least we have each other, mama!"
"Yeah, that's right. Gimme a kiss."
"It will be loud. Mm-wa!"
"Thank you. Now, time for bed."
"Are you gonna sleep now or come in later?"
"I'll come in later."
"Come tuck me."
Lindsay followed Levi into the bedroom, prompting her to say her prayers before tucking her in.
"I love you mama."
"I love you too baby. All comfy?"
"Okay. Have a rest and I'll be in later."
She slipped from the room and went back out to the couch, picking up the photo album and sighing. She did her best to never say a bad word about Josh around Levi, just in case someday things changed. She would hate carrying the guilt around, that she had sabotaged whatever relationship they could have had. She didn't really want much of Josh's influence on Levi, but it would be nice for her daughter to know where she came from.
She looked intently at the photo of the two of them, both smiling and happy and young, herself with a hopeful spark in her eye, feeling twitterpated over the new relationship. She'd been so innocent and trusting back then, unable to think that people that happy could ever break up. How could anything ever get so bad when you were so happy and alive? Much time had been spent in the after, mulling that over in her head, replaying all the moments again and again, looking for an indication in him of dissatisfaction. She'd never been able to find it.
"Hey there pretty lady. You waitin' for me?"
Lindsay smiled and tucked her blonde hair behind her ear before pushing off the building and walking across to his car.
"I'd better be waitin' for you or we have some problems."
Josh smiled and pulled her down to kiss her, making her stomach do flips until she had to grab onto the car to stay upright.
"Ready to go?" he asked, breaking the kiss.
"Well then get in the car."
"Oh yeah, that would be good huh?"
He chuckled at her and she walked around the car, sliding into the passengers seat and buckling her seatbelt before taking his hand.
"Maybe I'm dumb to ask this, but is there gonna be alcohol at this party?"
"You don't have to drink if you don't want to."
"I won't drink if you don't want me to either."
"I can't ask you to do that."
"Hey, no skin off my nose. I know you have… well, misgivings about it. If my girlfriend isn't going to drink, neither am I."
"You're sweet," she said, leaning across the car to kiss his cheek. "And you just earned some points."
"I did? How many am I up to know?"
"You're maxed out," she said matter-of-factly. He gave her a smile and turned the radio up as they drove through the neighborhood to the house where the party was being held. Parking down the road a little, he turned the car off and walked over to her side, opening the door and holding his hand out for her.
"So chivalrous," she giggled, taking his hand and stepping out of the car. He close the door behind her then pulled her close, sliding his arms around her waist and kissing her gently.
"Thanks for makin' me look a little better when I stand next to you."
She leaned up and kissed him, pulling him against her so they were pressed up tightly against the car. His hands clutched at her waist and she looped her arms around his neck, letting herself sink into the moment, enjoying her increased heart rate and the feeling of him so close.
"We'd better get in there," he said after a while, catching his breath and smiling. "They might send out a search party."
"Okay. Should we put a pause on this for now?"
His brow furrowed for just a moment as he tucked her hair behind her ear.
"Do you mean what I think you mean?"
"Maybe," she replied, her voice sounding much more timid than she'd planned. "Maybe not. We'll see."
"You are somethin' else, Lindsay Monroe."
"Don't forget it."