Fortune cookie, anyone?
This is a continuation of the series 'Neal and Sara's Wonderful Adventure' which chronicles their path to parenthood. Includes 'Coloring outside the lines', 'Stolen art and stolen kisses', 'Sweet, salty or sour' and 'Alfredo sauce and bowling balls'
The mattress dipped again and this time, Neal was aware that Sara was shifting next to him.
'You ok?' he asked, groggily
'I don't know' she answered, sitting up
Now, he was really awake.
'Ow' murmured Sara. 'That's a strong one'
'A strong what?' Neal ventured but he was already afraid of the answer.
Sara was in week 37 of her pregnancy and had been having trouble sleeping lately which frustrated her and made her impatient. She often would get up in the night and walk around or sit on the couch for awhile, hoping not to disturb Neal's sleep. The problem was that when she sat on the couch, she couldn't get up again by herself and ended up having to wake Neal anyway so he could help her get back on her feet.
She had been feeling a little out of sorts since yesterday afternoon but she tended to keep these little discomforts to herself. Neal had a tendency of overreacting and although she knew it was just out or concern for her and the baby, it was just another thing for her to worry about. At dinner, she hadn't felt like eating anything and she suggested they go out for a walk. She'd been cooped up all day and needed to get some air so they had ventured down three flights of stairs to take a twenty minute walk around the block. It took just about as long to climb back up the stairs to Neal's apartment which was now, for all intents and purposes, their permanent home. Although she had kept her apartment, she had only spent about five nights there since she'd gotten pregnant; a few nights when Neal had been undercover and she needed to be away from any potential danger and one or two times when she had worked late and her place was closer to the office.
Now, what with the stairs and all, she wondered if she should move back home for a few days. She'd also been thinking that although they were in a committed relationship, she should maybe put some distance between them for awhile. She wasn't sleeping well, Neal had work and they could still see each other every day even if they didn't live together. As far as she could tell, they had fallen into the 'living together' arrangement anyway and she still had lingering doubts that this was what Neal really wanted.
After she had left the hospital, she had needed help with things - her arm was in a cast and her ribs were still really sore from the attack she had suffered. But then, she just never left.
Her pregnancy hadn't been planned and although she had no doubts as to Neal's commitment to the baby, she wondered if they had really given the decision to live together enough thought. With the baby coming in a few weeks, maybe it was time to get into a routine where they each had their own personal space; after all, they weren't married and lots of people lived separately and raised a child together.
She loved Neal, there was no doubt about that and she knew he would always be around for their daughter but what about them? They had never really talked about their future as a couple and although Neal seemed content with the living arrangements, was he really? And would he tell her if he wasn't? He had gone from being a debonair, carefree (although tethered by his anklet) man about town who enjoyed the good things to a doting father to be and she continued to worry that he was going to regret this someday. Maybe it was better to just lead separate lives while continuing on their joint road to parenthood.
'A strong what' repeated Neal when she didn't answer
'Nothing, I'm just uncomfortable that's all. Neal, I've been thinking maybe I should move back to my place. You're not getting the sleep you need and I'm always worried that I'm keeping you up nights' she said instead of owning up to the contractions she'd been having for the past hour or so.
'What are you talking about?' asked Neal still not fully awake but getting there fast.
'I don't know. I moved in here after I left the hospital and then I just never left. But I have a place of my own, you know. When we agreed to have this baby, we never really talked about living arrangements and I don't think we should take this for granted.'
'OK' Neal said patiently, wondering where this was all coming from. 'Do you think we could talk about this in the morning?' he asked as he looked at his phone and realized it was 3:30 in the morning. 'I've got to be up in another couple of hours' he added.
'That's just it, it's never the right time, but I've been thinking about this a lot' said Sara and now he could sense she was getting upset.
He turned on the bedside lamp and looked at her face. Tears were threatening in her eyes and her face looked oddly contorted.
'Sara, what's really going on here?' he asked now getting really concerned
'Nothing, just what I said, we never really made a conscious decision to live in the same place.'
She winced and he reached out to take her arm.
'Ok, I'm making the conscious decision' he said. 'Are we done, now?'
'Oww' she let out, holding on to her stomach.
'Alright, now you're scaring me. Are you having contractions?' asked Neal
'I'm not sure, it's been off and on since we came to bed' she admitted
'Why didn't you wake me?' he said a little more harshly that he had intended
She rolled her eyes. 'That's just it, Neal. You need your sleep.'
'Sara' he said gently 'if you're having contractions, you have to wake me up. How often are they coming?'
'I've had about six or seven I'd say but the last couple were pretty bad'
'Do you think we should go to the hospital?' asked Neal totally focussed now on taking matters in hand. 'Should I call an ambulance?'
'No, no ambulance. Can you call a cab?'
'Dammit, why don't we have a car. We should have a car. This is ridiculous' said Neal flustered.
'Because we live in New York City and we don't need a car, Neal' she said as she winced once more.
'Yeah, yeah, sorry, you ok?' he asked as he waited on the phone to be connected to the taxi company. 'Do you want some water?'
'OWWWW, OWWW this hurts' she moaned 'Help me get up'
He ran to her side of the bed and helped her up but she immediately fell back on the bed. 'No, no wait a minute that hurts too much.'
Neal was beginning to panic at the thought that he wouldn't be able to get her down the stairs and all of a sudden, despite his best intentions, he was turning into Rob Petrie, panicking dad to be.
'I'll get your bag' he said running into the back room.
'No, no' she stopped him. 'I have to pee, can you help me get up'
He walked her over to the bathroom and stood next to her while she peed. After morning sickness, snoring and pregnancy flatulence, there was very little between them in the way of modesty. He helped her up off the toilet and supported her into the main room where he helped her put on some track pants and an old sweater of his and helped her slip on those shoes she had learned to despise. He threw on the clothes he had worn to work the day before, and grabbed his jacket.
They headed out of the apartment, walking slowly as Sara continued to moan sporadically. Halfway down the stairs, they stopped and sat as Sara had a particularly strong contraction. The drive to the hospital was short and uneventful and luckily, the emergency room was quiet at four in the morning and Sara was ushered into an examination room without much waiting.
The ER doctor on duty came in and introduced himself.
'Mr. Ellis?' he said shaking hands with Neal
'I'm Caffrey, she's Ellis' he said. He was starting to get annoyed at this.
'Sorry... Ms. Ellis, you are not in labor. You're not dilated at all. What you've been experiencing are Braxton Hicks contractions. It's just your body's way of getting ready for the real thing.'
'Wow, if these aren't real, I'm not looking forward to the real deal' said Sara
'They can be pretty strong and they fool a lot of people especially during a first pregnancy, so don't be embarrassed. Just go home and get some rest. Your baby is doing just fine and will make his appearance when he's good and ready.'
'She' corrected Neal smiling at the doctor.
'She' repeated the doctor.
Neal and Sara left feeling somewhat reassured and Sara insisted she go to her place while Neal went to work. She had things to do there she said and she would call Neal later.
He reluctantly left, giving her a kiss goodbye and walked away feeling totally dejected.
Peter spotted Neal arriving in the bullpen looking less than put together. He ventured out of his office and signalled Neal to come on up. Neal trudged up the stairs and into Peter's office.
'Well, well what have we got here, you look like you slept in those clothes' said Peter
Neal gave him the 'thanks for stating the obvious but that was not very nice' look.
'I might as well have' he said 'Got about three hours sleep last night'
'Sara?' he asked.
'Yeah, she was having contractions and we ended up in the emergency room. We just got out of there now' said Neal, looking glum.
'Is she ok?' Peter asked, concerned
'Yeah, Braxton Hicks contractions' said Neal
'Braxton what?' Peter was looking totally mystified.
'Really Peter, if you're going to be our daughter's godfather, you really have to start getting into this pregnancy, childbirth thing ok? They're contractions that pregnant women get towards the end of their pregnancy but they're not actually labor - yet.'
'Oh' said Peter sheepishly. 'Why don't you take the morning off and spend it with Sara' he offered.
'She's at her place' said Neal looking upset and anxious.
'What's that about?' asked Peter
'I don't know' he muttered. 'She's got it in her head somehow that I'm feeling trapped and that we fell into living together without giving it enough thought.'
'Well, she's right, I didn't give it much thought but not for the reason she thinks, just because I didn't have to; I've known this is right since the day I brought her home from the hospital seven months ago. I just never said – 'Hey Sara, let's make this permanent''
'Why don't you just say it now?' said Peter, in a very no-nonsense tone.
'I tried to but she's not really in her right mind right now. Hormones raging. She thinks I'm feeling obligated to keep up this arrangement and she thinks we should settle into a permanent routine before the baby comes - with her living at her place and me staying at mine.'
He continued 'Peter, we're going to be a family and I want to be with her and the baby all the time not just sometimes. I don't want to do the Woody Allen, Mia Farrow thing, you know.'
'How much of a commitment do you want to make?' Peter asked looking for a reaction in Neal's face.
'You mean... the big one?' said Neal
'Yeah, are you getting close to that?'
'I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I keep walking by Perrywinkles and looking at the rings in the window' admitted Neal
'What, are you thinking of robbing the place?' Peter asked wryly
'Funny' said Neal 'I've actually spotted one Sara would really love'
'So, what's holding you back?'
'I don't know – last night's conversation for one thing... maybe she's the one who's not sure about a permanent arrangement.'
'You two better get on the same page and fast, my goddaughter is coming in a few weeks and I don't want her dealing with any emotional turmoil' said Peter
'Yeah, you're right, we need to discuss this. I need to know if Sara sees us as a permanent fixture. Maybe it's my damn past coming back to bite me; maybe she doesn't want to be saddled permanently with an ex-con...' he mused.
'That's not the impression I get, Neal. If anyone knows about your past transgressions and learned to see past them, it's –
'You' interrupted Neal, smiling
'...and Sara' added Peter 'She knows you through and through and she still hasn't run for the hills. She's actually harboring a mini ex-con and seems to be very happy about it' added Peter
Peter had a way of bringing Neal around and helping him see things more clearly; he called things as he saw them. If Peter thought there was a future for him and Sara, who was he not to believe.
'You know if your offer is still open, I wouldn't mind taking the day off' he said
'Be my guest' answered Peter
'Do you remember our first meal together?' Neal asked looking up at Sara as he opened the container of beef and broccoli.
'Sure, up on the rooftop at the FBI. The menu was pretty much the same... hey, wait a minute, this looks exactly like what we had that night. Is that a coincidence?' she looked up at Neal, frowning.
'No. I was hoping you'd remember. You know, I think I started falling in love with you that night. You had let your guard down and it was the first time I saw that part of you that you keep so well hidden' Neal smiled fondly
'Now look at us, about to become parents. We've come a long way. I guess I saw you in a different light that night too. All of sudden, you were human and not some caricature of a con man although, as I recall, you did want something from me that night!'
'I did' Neal looked down, slightly embarrassed. 'But regardless, I was falling under your spell even then'
They were still picking at the Kung pao chicken and the lo mein noodles when Neal decided it was time to get to the point.
'I'm glad you came over for dinner. Does this mean you're staying?' ventured Neal, slightly apprehensive
'Oh, Neal. I'm just trying to be realistic. I'd rather settle into a routine now, than realize in two months that living full time with the baby is too much for you and then having to interrupt her routine'
'What have I ever said since the day we found out you were pregnant, that would lead you to think that I don't want to live full time with you and the baby?' said Neal
'Well, when I was in the hospital and we made the decision to co-parent, you said that we still had a ways to go but that you were 100% committed to being a dad.'
'Yeah, we did have a ways to go, and we still do like any other couple, but I love you and I want to be with you all the time and thinking of having the baby here with us – or wherever it is you want to be - makes me very happy. I want to share every moment of every day with you and her. Do you want that too?' Neal asked
She paused, thoughtful.
'I'm afraid to want that' admitted Sara 'If we move in together permanently and then it gets to be too much...' her voice trailed off 'I guess I want to protect myself against the inevitable. You had a life before this and it's just a question of time before you want to go back to it. Don't get me wrong, I know you'll always be there for our daughter but I don't know if either one of us is ready to make a commitment to each other'
'Sara, I thought you understood me better than that. That was not a life, that was a charade. This, you, me and the baby, this is the life I want; the life I never thought I could have. Mozzie kept telling me that 'happily ever after was not for guys like us' and then you came along and proved him wrong. You have to believe me, this is what I want more than anything and I want you to let me show you how much'
Sara looked up silently listening to his every word. There was an awkward silence, then Neal said:
'Hey, open up your fortune cookie'
'I wonder if it will tell me that excitement and intrigue follow me wherever I go' she laughed
'Only one way to find out' he answered
She cracked open the cookie and pulled out the tiny piece of paper wondering what pearl of wisdom she was going to find written. Suddenly, her eyes filled with tears as she read the four words that were written and she looked up quizzically at Neal who was suddenly holding a small box in his hands.
'Well...' he said
'Are you kidding?' she asked and as she spoke the words, she realized how silly that sounded
Neal beamed, opened the box and took the ring in his hand, obviously nervous and apprehensive.
'You're killing me here, Sara' he said
'Yes, yes, yes' she said as they both stood up. He scooped her into his arms and held her tight and she began to cry. He slipped the ring onto her finger and she looked down at her hand.
'Oh, my God, it's the perfect ring. How did you know?' she said, blubbering
'I like to think I know you pretty well' said Neal suddenly feeling a flood of relief. 'Does that prove to you how committed I am to this, to us?' asked Neal
She just smiled, tears continuing to flow.
'I love you, Caffrey' she said as she reached up to kiss him
She looked down at the table, at the tiny piece of paper and said
'How did you do this?'
'I have my ways' he said, shrugging
He would always be the guy who'd have his ways, she thought and she wouldn't want him any other way.