So, this is the last chapter, more of an epilogue really. I hadn't originally planned for this chapter, but as I went along, I realized the ending might be unsatisfactory without tying up the loose ends. Just know, it was hard work choosing a name, and the gender actually. But in the end, I went with my gut and what worked with this story. For anyone who's been following this story, thanks for reading, and I hope you have enjoyed it. I worked on it for over nine months, so in a way, it's my baby. Thanks again, and happy reading.
December 24, 2012
The door to the nursery was open, not all the way but enough so that Billy could easily see inside. The walls that had once been pink and that for a few weeks last spring had been covered with six blue squares that Victoria had sworn were all different shades now glowed soft yellow in the lamplight that spilled into the hallway where he stood, silent and unseen. It had taken them weeks to choose the color, weeks of poring over paint chips and discussions that led to playful arguments, but ultimately, the name on the winning square, Santa Monica Sunset, had seemed like a sign they couldn't ignore.
But Billy hadn't stopped outside the door tonight to admire the paint job or the brand new furniture they had bought as a clean slate for their brand new little person. It was Victoria's voice instead, soft and low, that had caught his attention, alerting him to the fact that she was in there, beckoning him to the opening for a glimpse of the sight he never got tired of seeing. She was in the rocking chair her mother had given them weeks ago, the same one Nikki had rocked Victoria in as a baby and the only piece of furniture in the room that wasn't new, and cradled in her arms, attached at the full ivory curve of her exposed breast was the baby they had prayed for, the one they had fought for, the one they had been told they would never have.
Part of him felt like a voyeur, huddled outside the door watching them, watching as Victoria nursed their child, running her fingers softly across the light wisps of hair on the baby's delicate head, deep in the midst of some silly conversation known only to mother and child. But he wasn't a voyeur. He knew she had left the door open purposefully as part of their new nighttime routine, as a gift to him, allowing him to be a part of this act only she could perform. It was perhaps the most thoughtful and precious gift anyone had ever given him.
He hadn't moved a muscle or made a sound the entire time he stood outside the nursery, but somehow, just as she had every night for the last two weeks, Victoria sensed he was there and tore her eyes away from the tiny squirming creature in her arms and fixed them on Billy's, lovingly, knowingly. He smiled shyly at the scene before him, and when Victoria's serene face spread into a small, teary-eyed smile of her own, he knew that the same memory that was passing through his brain also had a hold on hers. That day just over two weeks ago was never far from either of them, never would be, he assumed, because it wasn't every day you met a miracle.
December 8, 2012
Eleven weeks had passed since they landed in Genoa City, a return that had gone better than either Billy or Victoria could have imagined, much less planned, beginning with the stop they made in D.C. to see Reed. The little boy had been thrilled to see his mother and stepfather, squeezing their necks tight, eagerly accepting the gifts they had brought him from Italy, completely unaware that the future of their family had ever been in question. And he had been excited to learn he was going to be a big brother again, but disappointed that they couldn't tell him if he'd be having a little brother or sister.
J.T. was the biggest surprise of the trip, however, from the uneasy way he stood and stared at Victoria's ever-expanding stomach to his suggestion that Reed actually skip a day of school so they could spend more time together, and then on their last night in the nation's capital, he and Mac had invited them both to dinner at their home. The meal was strained and awkward, but Victoria had agreed because it meant more time with her son, and then, when the dishes had been cleared and just when the foursome began to get comfortable with each other, J.T. dropped the bombshell that they were moving again.
"Where?" Victoria had squeaked out, and Billy had instinctively scooted his chair closer to her, draping his arm protectively around her shoulders. But it didn't stop the fear and heartache from rising in her as she waited for him to say 'New York' or 'New Orleans' or God forbid 'Africa' so Mac could fulfill her desire to save the world.
She forced her eyes up to meet her ex's, and for the first time in a really long time, they saw each other and remembered that, once upon a time, there had been love. His jaw was clenched tight, his hands restless but his eyes tender and sympathetic as he told her that their contracts with the nonprofit in D.C. would expire in November, that they already had jobs lined up at another in Chicago, and that they were currently looking at houses in a neighborhood just thirty minutes outside of Genoa City.
"And…uh…I had papers drawn up a few days ago to…uh….give you joint custody of Reed," he had continued, causing her to lose the battle against the tears that had formed at the word 'Chicago.'
"Why?" she had asked, honestly shocked and confused. "Why are you doing this now?"
He was nearly as affected by his confession as she was, and Mac had taken his hand reassuringly just as Billy often did for her. "It's been on my mind for a while now, but, uh, somebody recently reminded me what we went through to get Reed. What you went through. And now you're uh, you're uh…" He was stuttering, unable to get the words out, so he had simply nodded towards her belly to indicate his point and then forced himself to look her in the eyes. "I should have never taken him away, Victoria. I was angry and hurt, and I'm sorry."
She looked to Billy immediately, who shook his head, denying any involvement in J.T.'s sudden change of heart, not that it mattered who was responsible. She accepted J.T.'s apology cautiously, fully aware that it could never give her back all the time she had missed with her little boy or erase the pain at having him ripped away from her. But she was getting him back, and that fact was what she chose to focus on and what made saying goodbye to him this time a little easier.
And then when they finally reached the front door of their house the next day, exhausted from traveling, they were relieved to discover that their mothers had kept their promise. There was no huge welcome-home party waiting for them, just a clean house, a fully-stocked fridge, and dozens of notes and cards from friends and family congratulating them on their new addition. Even Nikki and Jill waited until the next day to show up, and they were soon followed by Kevin and Chloe, bringing Delia for her long overdue days at Daddy's and returning Keely, who rushed immediately to his owner and cocked his head pensively at her changed anatomy.
The weeks that followed were relatively uneventful. Billy, after begrudgingly forgiving her for her part in Victoria's disappearance, turned over the day-to-day operation of the magazine to Phyllis so all of his time and attention could be spent on Victoria and the baby, decorating the nursery, making lists of names, and attending birthing classes with the hopes she would be able to avoid a third C-section. They had appointments with Dr. Lange every week, and afterwards, they would head to the chapel in the hospital or the church where they were married last Christmas Eve and sit a while to give thanks for another successful week gone by and to pray for just a little bit longer, a little more time for their precious miracle to grow. Halloween came and went, and the annual party at Jimmy's carried on without its hosts. Then came the first snow of the season and a quiet Thanksgiving spent at home, just the two of them like their very first Thanksgiving as husband and wife.
But today, December 8, was different. It was the day they thought would never come, the day Victoria never in a million years believed she would even make it to. It was her due date, and though the last eleven weeks of her pregnancy had passed without complications or signs of preeclampsia, her anxiety level was off the charts today.
"Why did she make me come here?" Victoria barreled through the revolving door at the GCAC so fast it continued to spin long after she exited. Billy stood on the other side, out in the cold Wisconsin air, until she was far enough away for him to feel it was safe to enter.
"I'm sure your mother thought she was doing you a favor by asking you to lunch," he rationalized once he finally joined her in the warm entryway. He took her by the shoulders and massaged them gently while his eyes tried to wrangle her furious gaze. "She probably thought it would be good for you to get out of the house for a little while. To get your mind off this one."
"Don't touch me. I don't want to be touched."
She shrugged his hands off her shoulders in a huff, but he returned them just as quickly and with a cocky grin, leaned his mouth close to her ear. "That's not what you said last night. Or this morning."
She tried not to give him the satisfaction of a flustered smile, but not smiling was always a losing battle when it came to Billy. Exhaling loudly, she rolled her head back against her neck in exasperation and tried to force the tension from her body. "You're right. It's just…."
"Hey. I know, okay? I know. And if you want me to take you home, I will. But it's not gonna make the baby come any sooner, and it's not gonna make you stop worrying." He slid his hands off her shoulders and down her arms where he took her hands in his and brought them to rest in the customary spot under his chin. "You heard the doctor. If it doesn't happen this weekend, then first thing Monday, right?"
"But that's just it, Billy," she sighed. "We've waited so long for this. So long. And I just…I want the baby to come when it's ready. I don't want to rush it."
"But we have to do what's best for you, too. Remember? And the baby's full-term. Perfectly healthy, the doc said. I don't think he or she will mind a little push, not if it means keeping Mommy safe."
Slowly, Victoria nodded her agreement, acknowledging that he was right, and with a kiss to the back of each of her hands, they headed into the club in search of her mother. Victoria saw her right away, standing in the dining room, waiting to greet them with open arms and a hesitant smile. But Nikki wasn't alone. Jill was there, too, with Katherine and dozens of balloons in varying shades of green and yellow and a banner that read 'It's a …Baby!' And behind them was her sister and both of Billy's, as well as Phyllis, Summer, Lauren, Chloe and Delia, all of the women important to her, to them. Some of them shouted 'surprise,' while all of them stared at her, smiling in anticipation.
Only, Victoria didn't smile back at what was clearly a surprise baby shower. She couldn't, not on this day, not until the baby was born and safe. Fear caught in her chest, tightening into a knot that made it hard for her to breathe. She wanted to run, to get away from this well-intentioned crowd and this celebration she had never experienced before and had been afraid to even want. And she would have run, if it hadn't been for Billy. She felt his hand against the small of her back, rubbing the spot that, underneath her clothes, would always read 'Billy Forever,' and then his breath brushed warm against her ear.
"You okay? I didn't know, Vick. We can leave. I'll explain it to them." His touch was a lifeline, grounding her in what was real, chasing away the fear, loosening the knot in her chest so she could breathe again.
"No." She turned her face to nuzzle his, while the now deflated crowd looked on. "I'm okay. I'm good. It's just a party, right?"
He nodded against her neck, and she reached behind her, grabbing the hand still on her back, giving it a quick squeeze of gratitude before she surrendered to the swarm of women, who quickly enveloped her with hugs and kisses. Billy didn't leave the baby shower and head to the gym as he had planned, even though she reassured him again and again that she was fine. He took a seat at the bar, instead, sipping a beer as the women 'oohed' and' aahed' over each present Victoria opened with Delia at her side, the little girl's hand permanently attached to her stepmother's stomach. She was having fun, at peace, and he was glad, but thirty minutes into the party, he saw Victoria's hand move quickly to her belly and a strange look cross her face. She looked up from the cake and presents, searching for him, grateful when her eyes landed on his, and he knew, simply knew, that it was time.
He practically leapt off the bar stool, disrupting the party, sending the women scattering like a flock of hens as he made his way through them to get to his wife. The room was suddenly full of excitement and a flurry of conversation over who should stay and who should go, but all he could see, all he could focus on was Victoria and getting her to the hospital.
They made it there in record time, though as Dr. Lange warned when he arrived shortly after Victoria had been admitted, labor could take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. She insisted she didn't care, and she and Billy quickly fell into a groove when it came to the contractions that soon came faster and stronger. They were in their own little world that no one else, excluding Dr. Lange and the nurses, was allowed to enter. She was full of resolve and focus, traits Billy knew she possessed but had never been so privy to or in awe of. She handled the pain like a champ, while he, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck watching her suffer, unable to do anything other than massage her back or rub ice chips along her lips. It was well after midnight, officially a day past her due date, when Dr. Lange finally announced it was time to push, and that's when she finally showed cracks in her armor.
"I changed my mind," she panted after the strongest contraction yet. "I can't do this."
Billy was by her side where he had been for the last twelve hours or so, struck suddenly dumb by her abrupt confession. "Yes, you can, Vick. You can do this. Besides, uh, not that I'm an expert or anything, but I think maybe it's a little late to change your mind."
"Uh-uh. I was wrong. The coma was the way to go. It hurts too much, Billy. It hurts."
"You don't mean that." He could see fear in her eyes, and though she had said it was because of the pain, he sensed it was more than that, a different kind of fear that comes right before getting exactly what you always wanted. He pushed her hair back off her face and rested his forehead against hers, their eyes so close together all either of them could see was blue. "Hey, you remember when we got tattoos?"
She nodded her head against his, and they both smiled at the memory as he slipped his hand into hers and lowered his voice to a loving murmur. "And I told you to squeeze my hand if it hurts? You can do that now, too. Squeeze as hard as you want, baby. I can take it."
"I'm too tired. I can't."
"I know you're tired, but…this is it. This is it, Vick. You're gonna meet your baby, and you're here. You're here. Remember?"
She did. She did remember that day on the beach in Italy and the words she had said to him, and when Dr. Lange said 'push,' she was there again, floating in the warm Mediterranean waters with Billy, their bodies suspended halfway between water and sky. She squeezed his hand and focused only on him, blue eyes on blue eyes, reflecting each other, absorbing the other's intensity. Like ocean and sky. They were ocean and sky, together forever.
A strange calm came over her, and adrenaline stronger than the rush she experienced that night they got tattoos in celebration of her freedom from Victor kicked in. Each time Dr. Lange instructed her to push, she did, harder than the time before as Billy counted backwards from ten. And after the fifth push, time stopped. The room went still. As still as that church in Florence as they all waited in hushed silence for a miracle. It came softly at first and then louder, that strangled, muffled announcement of new life.
"It's a girl," Dr. Lange declared proudly, and before either of them had time to process the news, the squirming, wailing creature was on Victoria. Their daughter. Their daughter was on Victoria's chest, and they both had to wipe away tears to get a good look at their little girl.
"Hi," Victoria managed in a haze of amazement, tenderly touching the tiny baby like it was a cloud, unreal and would disappear at contact. "I'm your mom."
"And I'm your dad," Billy added, placing the very first kiss on the delicate head of the best thing that had ever happened in a hospital. "And you, you are ours forever."
It was just the three of them for what seemed like an eternity, taking pictures, getting to know each other, so lost in their own little three-person world they nearly missed Dr. Lange's impending departure. But Victoria saw him out of the corner of her eye, watching them, a warm smile on his face, and she wondered how she could have ever not seen his kindness.
"Thank you," she said to him, and though he waved her off, she repeated the sentiment. "Thank you for this."
"You did all the work," the older gentleman said. "Just be sure to send me a picture for my wall, okay?"
"Your wall?" Billy questioned.
"My wall of miracles," he smiled as he headed for the door. "I'll check on you two later, alright?"
"174," Victoria called out, stopping him with a tender smile. "Not 172. There are exactly 174 tiles on the ceiling of your exam room."
Deep laughter echoed inside the delivery room and spilled into the hallway as the doctor who had tricked her into taking her first look at the baby now dozing safely in her father's arms pulled the heavy, wooden door open. "I'll keep that in mind," he said, turning back one last time to acknowledge their secret while Billy looked on in confusion.
He had to leave them, Victoria and their daughter, in order to do his fatherly duties and spread the good news to everyone waiting to hear. During the confusion at the baby shower, they had instructed them all, even their mothers, to go home, to not come to the hospital, but as Billy wandered into the waiting room, exhausted but overjoyed, he saw that none of them had listened. They were all there, everyone who had been at the baby shower, minus Summer and Delia, but including Nick, and Kevin and Michael, Jack and even Murphy. And they were all sound asleep, sprawled across every available couch and chair, a chorus of snores rising throughout the room.
Billy tiptoed among the unconscious to reach his mom and Nikki, who were strangely enough resting side by side, a testament to the power a new baby has over people. He barely nudged them, but they both sprang awake instantly, and Billy placed a finger over his lips to silence them as he led them past their sleeping friends and family and out into the hallway.
"You have a granddaughter," he beamed, and the two women clasped their hands over their mouths and pulled Billy into a smothering hug. When they released him, he gave them all the pertinent information: born at 3:17 a.m., 6 lbs. 3oz, 21 inches long, mother and baby both doing well. He also gave them Victoria's room number and told them to go ahead, she was waiting for them, and when the two women were out of sight, Billy took off in the opposite direction.
Except for the candles glowing at the altar, the chapel was dark, and as far as he could tell, empty. He let the door close behind him and took measured steps down the aisle, his eyes fixed on the gold cross before him as he moved. This chapel was nowhere near as ornate or ancient as the church he had visited twice while in Florence, but tonight it was just as sacred. Tonight, the entire world felt sacred, and when there were no more steps to take, when Billy had reached the front of the chapel, he clasped the palms of his hands together and fell to his knees, his face turned towards heaven.
"Thank you," he cried, letting the tears flow as relentlessly as a child's, but as intensely as those of a man who finally understood true gratitude. Thank you for his new daughter, he meant to say but couldn't. Thank you for keeping Victoria safe. And most of all, for ignoring his prayers all those months ago.
He stayed there on his knees and cried until every tear had been expelled, and then out of the corner of his eye, he saw something move and was suddenly aware that he wasn't alone. The shadowy figure moved again, rising slowly from the far end of the pew to his right, and when it loomed closer, the glowing candlelight illuminated the wrinkled face of the one person Billy now realized had been glaringly missing from the group in the waiting room.
Though Billy remained on his knees, it was clear to both men that tonight, in this instance, Victor was the one in the subservient position. Unashamed, he wiped away tears with the back of his hand and forced himself up until the two men were eye to eye, each silently questioning the other's motive for being here, in this chapel, tonight. Since returning from Italy, he and Victoria had only run into her father a handful of times, and each time, true to his word, the older man had only said a quick, polite 'hello,' wished them well, and continued on his way. But he was here tonight, this night, and Billy couldn't help but wonder if he was making his move back into Victoria's life.
"I take it the baby has arrived." Victor spoke first, his voice forcibly formal, his demeanor unlike the bullying man Billy was used to.
Billy nodded and smiled proudly. "A girl. A beautiful little girl."
"And my daughter? How is she?"
"Over the moon," Billy said, and in the dark, Victor exhaled in relief and smiled, and Billy knew he had only come as a father worried about his daughter, that he had stayed in the chapel, hidden and out of the way, much like Billy had skulked through the halls to see Delia last fall. It was a new position Billy found himself in, feeling sympathy for the man who had caused him so much pain, who had unapologetically hurt the woman he loved over and over again, but he also knew all too well what it was like to lose his family and to only have himself to blame for it.
Tonight, Billy had received a gift from the universe, and maybe that had elevated the generosity of his spirit. Or maybe it was something else, but he reached into his back pocket, pulled out his cell phone and after finding what he was looking for, handed it to Victor. Tears formed in the old man's eyes this time as he looked at the very first picture Billy had taken of his beautiful wife and new daughter, Victoria's head bent towards the baby's, a clear, maternal smile on her face. Victor held the phone like it was the most precious metal known to man until he had forged the image into his brain and then handed it wordlessly back to his son-in-law. He took two steps forward, heading towards the door, but stopped when he was side by side with Billy. In a move that shocked him and that the older man would undoubtedly deny in the future, Victor placed a hand on Billy's shoulder and gave it a strong squeeze of thanks.
"Does she have a name yet?"
Billy shook his head no, and Victor quickly removed his hand from his shoulder, using it to reach inside the pocket of his sport coat, where he retrieved a book. It wasn't a new book, Billy could tell by the wear to the binding and the pages that someone had dog-eared, but when Victor offered it to him, he took it and carefully read the cover.
"Maybe you two can find something in there you like." And with that, with no other words, no other questions about the baby or Victoria, no attempt to worm or guilt his way back into her life, the moustache continued his journey to the chapel door alone, leaving Billy to finish his prayers.
December 24, 2012
With a single syllable, Victoria broke the silence and transported them both back to the present. Billy followed suit and accepted her smile as an invitation to cross the threshold and enter the sacred space shared by mother and daughter.
"What do you think?" she laughed, and Billy's laughter soon harmonized with hers. Even out of the womb, their little girl was a night owl, always fighting sleep as long as possible, staying awake lest she miss something important.
He inched his way closer to them until he saw with his own eyes that she was, in fact, still awake, her big, bright eyes staring at her mother's face, her little hand curled up in a fist beside her own as she moved her mouth in a sucking motion. They'd had her for over two weeks now, but her existence still seemed so surreal.
"Where are the kids?" Victoria asked as Billy placed a kiss on top of her head first, and then the baby's before kneeling on the floor beside them.
"They're in bed. Icing free and waiting for you to come tuck them in." Not only was it their first Christmas with the new baby, but it was also their first Christmas with both Reed and Delia, their first Christmas as a family of five, six counting Keely. They had spent the day decorating the house and making cookies for Santa, getting more icing on themselves than on the cooled snowmen and reindeer it was intended for. And when Victoria had to head upstairs to feed the baby, Billy had taken over the task of cleaning the older two up and putting them to bed with a story.
"Good. Cause you're just in time to take over here."
The baby had had her fill, and Victoria repositioned her shirt, covering herself as Billy helped her to her feet. In a dance they had nearly perfected since coming home from the hospital fourteen days ago, he took her spot in the rocking chair, while Victoria carefully deposited the weightless bundle into his arms. Nursing was her time with the baby, but story time, that was all Daddy time, had been since that afternoon in Italy when his voice first settled their active child. It was still the only thing that got her to sleep most nights.
"Hey," Billy said, grabbing hold of his wife as she started to walk away. "After you tuck the kids in, go downstairs. I have something for you."
He was all cocky grin, the one that always told her he was up to something, and she responded with a raised eyebrow and a playfully defiant look. She hadn't forgotten it was their anniversary, the first anniversary of their third wedding, and he had just shown his hand that he hadn't either. "Oh, yeah? Well, we'll just see about that."
Reed and Delia were already asleep by the time she reached each of their rooms, the excitement and busyness of the day having worn them out, but she tucked them in anyway, removing the toys they had tried to smuggle into bed with them and placing a soft kiss on each of their heads. Three kids was a lot of work, exhausting, tiring work, but there was nothing in the world she would trade for having them all there under one roof. As her bare feet padded back down the hallway, Victoria yawned and stretched, stopping momentarily to peek her head into the nursery where Billy, with his handsome, animated face, was in the throes of some story that, if she had to guess, involved a handsome ne'er-do-well and an ice princess. And their daughter, she was certain, was probably staring at him with big, sleepy eyes, falling in love with him all over again, just as she did every night.
Remembering his request, she left the two of them alone and continued downstairs, where the only lights glowed from the aluminum Christmas tree they just couldn't trade in for a real one. She paused at the bottom of the stairs and looked around the living room, a sense of dejavu coming over her as she remembered that day last May when she had returned home from her first appointment with Dr. Lange and that impromptu stop at the door with the four gold numbers descending the face. It seemed like a lifetime ago, a desperation she had trouble conjuring now, but as her eyes danced around the room, landing on the plate of cookies set out for Santa and then the fireplace where five red stockings hung from the mantle, she knew that there were still things in this world worth feeling desperate over, desires only a human heart scarred with loss could fathom.
It was the stocking in the middle, the tiny one much smaller than the other four that caught her eye and lured her across the room. She touched it, ran her fingers across the soft material, traced the three letters newly embroidered across the front and then smiled as she remembered how hard it had been for them to come up with such a petite name.
December 9, 2012
For so long, nursing had been just another thing she had missed out on with Reed, something she had come to terms with not experiencing, until now. After only one attempt that, according to the nurse who had chased Nikki and Jill out of the room, went as well as most first attempts, Victoria knew it would be their special time together. The baby had stared at her the entire time, with big, bright eyes that seemed wise far beyond her nearly immeasurable life. They were her eyes, the shape anyway, but the twinkle was all Billy, all Abbott. The baby's lips were hers, too, the ears his. It was amazing; every time she looked at her, Victoria saw something new, some new exciting detail about this stranger she had been through so much with.
It was just the two of them still. Billy hadn't returned, and she could only guess that he had gotten caught up in proud daddy duty, calling every person in his phone's contact list, waking them up to share the news. There was another option, though, an option that after the last few months seemed more plausible to her, and if that was the case, she was okay with him being gone a little longer. The nurse had tried to take the baby after her feeding, saying Victoria needed her rest, but she was nowhere near ready to let her go. Sleep could wait 'til later, because right now, she was running on pure joy.
"Hey, you," she whispered and brought the baby up close to her face, breathing in the scent of new life. "We did it, you and me." Right or wrong, so much of the last nine months had been between just the two of them, conversations whispered in the dark, train rides through the Italian countryside, an entire summer spent on the run. "And you know what? It was all worth it, even those months away from your daddy. But we are never, ever, ever, gonna let him out of our sight again, are we? Nope. We're not."
His ears must have been burning, luring him back to them, because when the door to her hospital room creaked open, it was Billy's head that poked inside, making sure it was okay to enter. She could tell that he was exhausted, too, but just like for her, the tiredness was no match for exhilaration, and as he approached them and took a seat in the chair by her bed, she saw that his eyes were red, confirmation that her instinct about where he had been was right.
"You say 'thank you' for me, too?"
"Yeah," he smiled shyly and then held up the object she hadn't noticed he carried in his hands. "Got something for you."
It was a book, and it only took a quick glimpse for Victoria to recognize it as the same baby-naming book her father had given her when she was pregnant with Reed. She took it from him, reluctantly handing their daughter over to him so she could flip through the pages that still marked some of the names she and J.T. had considered for their son, before they even knew for certain he was their son. That book had been perhaps the most useful and caring gift her father had ever given her, and seeing it again only served to remind her of the father she missed and wished could be a part of this, a part of her life.
"You saw my dad?"
"Yeah. In the chapel, but he's gone now. Just wanted to make sure you and the baby are okay. And to give you that, I guess."
He was watching her, waiting to see how she would react to the news, probably wondering if he should have told her at all. She continued to flip through the book, and a thousand images rushed to the surface of her mind, some good, some sad, all of them in the past. Then she closed it and hugged it to her chest, against another loving, thoughtful gift given to her by the man sitting beside her, making silly faces at the little pink creature in his arms.
"Well, we do have to name her, right?"
"Yeah," he nodded, "but I have the list of names we narrowed it down to on my phone, so we probably don't even really need the book. If you'd rather not…"
"You know…," she began, scrunching her face up, her voice going one octave higher than normal, two signs that usually suggested Billy wasn't going to like what she had to say next. "…about those, I'm not really sure any of them are right for her."
"Okay, so what are you thinking, huh? What do you want to call this little bird?"
"I don't know. But it has to be just right. Special. It has to be her. And us. And it can't be too cutesy. Or too old. And…her initials can't spell anything weird. We can't have that."
"Mommy's crazy. Yeah. She's crazy," he laughed to his daughter, and while Victoria opened the baby-naming book back up and flipped to the section of girl names, Billy studied the baby's face, both of them trying to come up with the perfect name that fit all the criteria. "Okay, so how about Florence. Florence is important to us, and there's Florence and the Machine. That's kind of cool."
"No. Definitely not Florence. It makes me think of the mom on The Brady Bunch."
"Okay," he sighed. "So maybe Monica? Like Santa Monica, where we made her. We can call her Mon for short. Like Jamaica, Mon."
"Yeah, cause she won't hate us for that. Is that really the best you can come up with?"
"Hey, hey, hey. You're the one with the book." He playfully hit her leg with his free hand, and they both laughed at just how difficult it was to come up with a perfect name. "Well, I happen to think we should name her the prettiest name I know. Victoria."
"Uh-uh. I told you weeks ago we're not doing that. No family names, no variations of our names. Nicholas and I suffered with that our entire lives. We are not doing that to her."
"C'mon," he coaxed. "We can call her Tori?"
"Nope," Victoria said defiantly, determined to win this battle.
"But she gets my last name. I want our daughter to have part of your name, too. Besides," he smiled and nudged her with his elbow, "I happen to think the world could use another Victoria Abbott."
"Another Victoria Abbott? Really?"
He laughed and confirmed his proposal with a 'yeah,' but she didn't hear him. The wheels in her brain were turning and she flipped the pages of the baby-naming book to the section of names beginning with letter 'A.'
"What is it?" he asked and leaned over to see what she was looking at, to see the name printed just above her index finger. "Ava?"
"Yeah. You said Another Victoria Abbott. Her initials would be A-V-A." She looked up at him and could see that, just like her, he was mulling the idea over.
"Well, what does it mean?" he finally asked her, his eyes transitioning from hers to the baby whose nearly identical eyes were finally becoming heavy with sleep.
"Hmmm. In German, it means…'desired,'" she read, following the line her finger traced along the page. "Well, she's definitely desired. And in Hebrew, it means 'life,' which also fits, and in Latin…" Her voice trailed off as a grin graced her face and a soft laugh escaped her lips.
"In Latin what?" Billy demanded in a whisper, but without risking disturbing the baby, he couldn't read the answer for himself.
"In Latin," she teased, pulling the book farther away from him, "Ava means 'like a bird.'"
"Really? Like a bird? Like our bird? Like a night owl?"
"Like a phoenix," she added, and based on the grin on his face, she knew he was becoming attached to the name, but there was something, despite the fact that it met all their criteria and seemed like a sign, that was holding her back. "Billy, you don't think it's too much like 'Eve,' do you?"
It was the first time since the birth that she felt anything other than joy, the first time he had seen anything other than happiness in her eyes. She wasn't sad, just concerned about placing any burden of the past on their child. "No," he said softly and reached for her hand with as little movement as possible. "I don't, but maybe we can look at it as a nice tribute to Eve, a way to honor her and what you went through." Victoria smiled slightly at his suggestion, and Billy rose carefully from his chair, taking the empty corner of the hospital bed as his new seat. "Besides," he grinned, "I'm gonna take all the credit for her name anyway."
"Hey, I was the one who thought of it."
"But I was the one who said Another Victoria Abbott. You didn't even want her to have your name. Now, she has part of both of our names forever."
"So you're sure? You want to call her Ava? Ava Abbott?"
"Nope," he said and placed the hint of a kiss on Victoria's nose. "I want to call her Ava Victoria Abbott. That way her initials are A-V-A, and her birthday is 12-9-12. It's all about the numbers, baby."
Victoria rolled her eyes at him, but ultimately agreed. Their daughter's name would be Ava, the desired one, the breath of life, the one who is like a bird, the one who had miraculously fluttered inside her mother's womb for nine months and who would soar through life unfettered by the past but wise enough to acknowledge it. And as they watched the night owl succumb to morning slumber, they knew that one day, they would tell her all the meanings behind her name.
December 24, 2012
"You know, at some point, she's gonna want a bigger stocking."
Victoria hadn't heard Billy come down the stairs, and so she jumped a little and let go of the tiny stocking when she felt his breath and then his wet lips against her neck. He wrapped his arms around her waist that was almost exactly as it had been prior to pregnancy, and she melted into his hold as they began to sway back and forth.
"But we'll still keep this one, won't we? For her baby book or something?"
"Absolutely," he said and graced her neck that was now free of the St Gerard medal with another kiss. She had taken it off, or rather Billy had, the day they came home from the hospital, placing it for safe keeping in her jewelry box where one day, she would take it out and pass it on to Delia or Ava or Reed's wife when the time came.
"Yep, Daddy still has the magic touch. Either that or I bored her to sleep."
"No, I don't believe that. Not if you were telling her about us." She turned in his arms and snaked hers up around his neck, her fingers tenderly playing with his hair. "So where's my surprise?"
"Your surprise? Hmmm. Who said anything about a surprise?"
"You did," she pouted and let go of him, placing her hands on her hips instead. "William, give me my surprise or I might have to hurt you."
"Okay, okay, okay." He put his hands up in mock surrender and walked to the Christmas tree, pulling a small, flat, rectangular box from where he had hidden it deep within the branches of the tree. He dangled it in front of her, using the promise of it to draw her to the sofa, where they both flopped down.
"Happy Anniversary," he grinned and handed it to her, but was surprised when instead of opening it right away, she reached under the sofa and pulled out a larger, but even flatter rectangle.
"Open mine first."
She was beaming as he slid the ribbon from the mystery gift and then roughly ripped off the wrapping paper, revealing a calendar, a 2013 calendar. They had agreed to do traditional gifts for their Christmas anniversary, and the calendar was definitely paper, the traditional gift for a first anniversary. But still, his brow wrinkled in confusion as he held the gift up to her for an explanation.
"Open it," she commanded, and he did. The pages were filled with pictures of them, in Italy, in Jamaica, in Santa Monica, and even one at Finn McGee's to represent March. And on the page featuring the first month of the new year, there was a big red circle around January 20."
"What's this for?" he asked, pointing at it.
"That is six weeks." And when his brow wrinkled even further in confusion, she leaned closer to him, teasing his ear with her mouth. "You know, six weeks. Since Ava was born. We have to wait six weeks 'til Dr. Lange gives me the all clear for…baking cookies. Grandma Nikki has already agreed to baby-sit, so we'll have some time alone. Just the two of us."
"Oh." His eyes grew big as the light bulb in his head went on, and he planted a kiss on her lips. "Thank you, baby. You always know exactly what to get me."
"I just thought that maybe we could use this calendar if we ever forget to make time for us, sort of like our love calendar. Not that we need it, or anything."
"Oh, we definitely don't need it, but I love it. Thank you. Now open yours."
Victoria was much more careful opening her gift, placing the bow on the coffee table for safe keeping, undoing the ends so that the paper didn't rip, all of her efforts resulting in a piece of paper, neatly nestled in tissue paper. She shot him a questioning look, but all she got in return was a gesture that she should unfold it.
"It's a lease," she blurted, holding the piece of paper up for him to see. "You trying to get rid of me already?"
"No way," he laughed and took the paper from her hands. "I had to lease the space above the magazine for storage, but we only need about half of it. It's big, and there's good light. I thought maybe you would want it, in case you wanted to paint or get away for a while."
She brought her hands up to her chest and blinked against the stinging in her eyes. "You got me a studio?"
"Yeah, if you want it. I mean, you want it, don't you?" She didn't answer him with words, but instead took his head in her hands and planted a kiss, tender but strong, on his lips. "And you know," he said, clearing his throat afterwards, "since it's right upstairs from the magazine, I could come up and pose for you sometime."
"Yeah? Well, we might have to close the blinds for that."
She gave him another kiss and then took the lease from his hands and deposited it on the coffee table next to his present from her, picking up a stack of pictures as she settled against his chest. They were pictures Billy had taken at church the day before. Reed and Delia had both been in the Christmas pageant, and Ava had debuted the little ivory dress covered in birds that her daddy had secretly bought her in Italy, on a gut feeling, before her gender was even known.
"I think this is the one I want to send Dr. Lange," she said, holding up a close-up of their daughter's face, her bright, blue eyes on display, her little pink lips pursed together. "For his wall of miracles."
"That's a good one," Billy murmured into her hair. "We should send a copy to Dr. Rossi, too."
She nodded her head against the hardness of his chin and stretched her arms to toss the pictures back on the table before drawing her legs up beneath her. He was warm and strong. Safe. It was exactly where she wanted to be, in his arms, their kids upstairs asleep on Christmas Eve, not a thing moving except the changing glow that radiated from the Christmas tree.
"It was right here, you know," she whispered, recalling the night they had first snuggled in the glow of this tree, the taste of peppermint on her lips. "Two years ago, you promised we would have a baby."
"I made a lot of promises, Vick. Most of'em I had no business making. But that one…I'm just glad I didn't let you down again."
"You've never let me down." She turned her face up to his with a look that acknowledged there had been hurt and pain, but that she had accepted it and endured it as a part of life, a part of who he was, a side effect of loving so strongly and purely. "You saved me too, you know. You saved me from becoming my father, from forgetting what really matters. Like love and family. Laughter."
"And sex," he quipped. "Really, really good sex."
They both laughed, but they also both understood the seriousness of her statement. She had pulled him from a physical gutter nearly three years, but they had both learned that gutters come in all shapes and sizes, that sometimes they are literal, and sometimes you don't even know you're down until someone pulls you so high all you see is clouds.
They would get up from the sofa soon. There were things to do, a visit from Santa to prepare for, and tomorrow would be even busier, beginning with an early wake-up call from Reed and Delia. Then there would be brunch at their home with some of the family, and visits from the rest later in the day, including a short one from her father that had been cautiously prearranged by Nikki. Adam had asked to stop by too, and they had agreed. He had a gift for the baby, and Victoria, remembering that he too had lost something that night at the hospital, wanted a chance to thank him for helping Billy find her.
And in the future, there would be fights, over silly things mostly and a few serious ones that would make them almost forget what they stood to lose. But they would make up. Undoubtedly, they would make up, in passionate reconciliations, in a healing that would bond them stronger than the original hold. There would be struggles and a lot of joy, family dinners and family fights. There would be trips to Italy and Jamaica and quiet evenings spent at home, like tonight. But no matter what happened, what the future had in store for them, Billy and Victoria would face it together, as two who knew the cost of going it alone, as two who knew the miracle of being one. And most of all, there would be love, grateful, perfect, crazy, unbreakable love.