That was the first emotion that flooded me as I stepped into my darkened bedroom to find Viv sprawled across the bed, with our daughter, Bellamy, tucked close. The nightlight was plugged in, casting a warm glow across both of their perfect, sleeping faces.
They’d fallen asleep nursing – a normal occurrence, with no way to tell who’d passed out first. Viv’s breast was exposed – minus the nipple rings that had fascinated me so much – and Bella had her little arm draped protectively over it, as if someone might take it from her in the night. Viv had her arm draped over Bella, as if someone might take her.
Viv was obsessive about keeping the floors clean, so I’d already left my shoes at the front door. Bella was just starting to crawl, and had a nasty habit of putting her mouth on the floor if she made it off her tummy time blanket. Carefully, I rolled my suitcase into the closet and took my jacket off before I approached the bed, still absorbing the scene in front of me.
It hadn’t even taken three years to make my life so much different.
So much better.
I sank onto my knees beside the bed and just stared. From this position, all I could see of Bella was the back of her head – already a mess of dark brown coils she’d inherited from her mother – and her little body clad in footed navy blue pajamas, printed with pink and silver stars. But I was looking right at Frenchy.
Her hair was pulled into a messy puff on top of her head, but several coils had broken free, falling across her pretty caramel skin. Her lips were slightly parted as she slept, and my gaze drifted down to where her chest was rising and falling. There was nothing erotic about her leaving herself exposed for the comfort of our child – I still remembered the early days, when she’d shed tears because nursing hurt so bad, remembered coating her nipples with lanolin to help them heal.
But still… arousal stirred.
Viv was beautiful – always had been, but even moreso now. Something about watching her grow, and nurture, and care for our child deepened that attraction for me. She was a mother, and she took it seriously. Maybe a little too seriously sometimes, but I could handle that if it meant we could show Bella something different than what my parents showed me.
I don’t know if Viv would ever understand what a gift that was to me.
What a gift she was, to me.
Not my wife quite yet, but soon.
I reached out, covering her hand with mine, and she startled under my touch. Pulled Bella closer. Then slowly, opened her eyes. Big, beautiful brown eyes that held happiness way more than sadness these days – opposite of when we first met. Gradually, her face spread into a lazy smile, but the contentment in her eyes told the real story, one the gesture of a smile never could. She was glad to see me. Even when we had friction, she was glad to see me.
Again – I don’t know if she knew how good she was for my soul.
“Hey,” she murmured, moving her hand to thread her fingers through mine. “You made it back.”
“Yeah. Got Troy to come grab me from the airport, talked to him about the shop.”
“Did you ask him… about managing?”
The hopeful look on her face made me grin. “I did. Offered the position, and he said yes. So that will free up my time some… which means I can free up yours. Help with Bella more. As a matter of fact—” – I pulled myself up from the floor, and then gently slipped my hands under my little girl, lifting her from the bed – “Let’s get you in the bassinet, ma petite souris.”
Behind me, Viv giggled quietly over my calling Bella the nickname she’d given her, in an awful fake French accent. It was something that Viv’s mother hated, borne from Bella’s rooting for milk at Viv’s chest. Her tiny nose would wrinkle, head bobbing, and Viv swore she looked like a curious little mouse, sniffing around.
Morgan insisted that her grandchild not be called a rodent.
So obviously, Viv only called her “ma petite souris”, never Bella, when her mother was around.
“Do you want me to do that?” she asked, from right behind me, as I cradled Bella in one hand while I pulled the stuffed toys from the bassinet. Her mouth asked a question, but her tone offered a request – let me do that. Because she was usually the one that did it, while I was at the shop, or locked away in my office.
“I’ve got it,” I told her, and gently laid our daughter down. She stirred a little, then settled back into sleep as I stepped away from the bassinet.
Viv had moved up to stand beside me, so I slipped an arm around her waist, pulling her close as I turned to face her. “I missed you,” I murmured against her mouth, then pressed my lips to hers and buried my free hand in her hair. That wasn’t enough, so I slipped my tongue inside, savoring my almost-wife.
She responded eagerly, pushing up on her toes to get closer. I lowered my hands to her ass, cupping and squeezing as I lifted her off her feet and encouraged her legs around my waist. She obliged, allowing me to carry her into the bathroom of the apartment we’d barely been in a year. We’d wanted to bring Bella home to something new – something ours, chosen together.
“I’m sorry I’m so late getting back,” I said, when I stopped kissing her long enough to speak. Her skin was flushed, lips a little swollen, and I’d made a mess of her hair, leaving it half up, half down. She looked… incredible. I wanted my fiancé – I hated calling her that, was ready to call her wife – really damned bad.
“It is okay,” she said quietly, lifting a hand to run her fingers over the stubble on my chin. “You cannot control if a flight is delayed. It is not your fault.”
I grabbed her wrist, bringing her fingers to my mouth, and kissed them one by one. “I saw you got the flowers I sent. How was it, being alone with Bella? You managed okay?”
“It was three days, Carter. And Bella is five months old. I think I have gotten used to taking of our daughter by now.”
“I’m just making sure you’re okay. I know you make sure Bella is.”
She smiled. “Yes. I am okay. And the flowers are beautiful. I love them.”
“Good. Now that that’s out of the way… I missed you. I want you.”
From her seated position on the counter, she leaned back, opening her legs. “You ask for what you want, no?”
I grinned, then moved to stand between her thighs. “Can I have you?”
“You certainly can,” she whispered to me, draping her arms around my neck as I leaned in to kiss her. My hands went the thin straps of her gown, pushing them down her shoulders. Suddenly, Viv jerked away from me, holding her hands to her chest to keep herself covered. “Wait, the light. Can you…”
She let the request trail off, assuming that I knew what she was asking. And I did, but I made no moves to do it, because I didn’t want to turn off the lights – I wanted to see her. I hadn’t seen her since she had the baby.
We’d had sex, sure. But every single time, she was insistent about the light. No more shared showers, no naked Saturday mornings. No more of the bold, rather-be-bare Viv I’d grown used to.
“Are we really still doing that shit?” I said, and immediately wished I could snatch the words back out of the air. I wasn’t trying to be harsh with her about her body, but… shit. It had been five months.
Viv’s eyes were wide, surprised as she stared up at me, and I couldn’t blame her, because I hadn’t really said anything about this before. I let it ride, because I loved her, and I wanted her to be comfortable, and I never wanted to be someone who made her feel the opposite of either.
“Ah! Ahhhhbababa. Bababa!”
The sound of Bella – apparently wide awake – and testing out the sound of her voice, drew both of our attention away from the moment. Saved me, for now.
Viv climbed down from her perch on the counter, but I held up a hand to stop her.
“I’ve got her.”
“Are you sure?” Her voice was strong, but there was no missing the gloss of tears in her eyes. “She is probably hungry, and—”
“She can get a bottle, while you soak in the tub or something. Relax. I’ve got her.”
Viv nodded, averting her gaze to keep from looking me in the eyes. “Okay.”
I closed the door behind me as I exited the bathroom, and then took a deep breath.
How the fuck do you go across the country for three days, miss your wife the whole time, then come back and say some stupid shit?
Bellamy had turned to the side of the bassinet – which was really just a smaller crib, that we kept in our bedroom – and was looking at me with bright eyes, still babbling. She grinned up at me as I approached, and lifted her into my arms.
“Daddy messed up, B,” I told her in a singsong voice as she reached for one of my locs. She was always fascinated by them, so I wasn’t surprised when she closed one in her little fist, and tugged as she babbled. “Is that my punishment for hurting mommy’s feelings?”
Bella stopped babbling, stopped tugging, and simply stared in my face, her expression intense as her eyebrows furrowed. Suddenly, her little pajamas felt hot, and damp to the touch, and an unpleasant odor filled my nose.
“Oh. That’s my punishment for hurting your mama?”
Half a package of baby wipes and a quick bath later, Bella was in fresh pajamas, sucking contentedly on a bottle of warmed breastmilk in my arms. Her eyes kept drifting closed, but then they would pop back open as she stared at me, looking just like her mother.
Same golden skin, same hair, same lips, same eyes. Often, Viv joked that Bella had gotten looks from her, and personality from me.
“She is a little charmer,” she’d whispered to me one day, after Bella’s frustrated cries – and subsequent happy coos – had convinced me to let her treat my hand as a personal chew toy for her irritated gums.
“She’s teething,” I said, defending myself, which was met with an amused grin.
“We have more than enough soothers and teething rings around here.”
“My hands are clean, and this makes her happy.”
“Mmm.” Viv leaned in, pressing her lips to my cheek. “As I said, she is a charmer, just like her father. Physically, she is me. In here,” she ran a gentle finger across Bella’s forehead. “She is you. She even has the same proclivity for that quiet withdrawal… leaving everyone wondering what she is thinking. Unsure of what their role is in her world.”
And that was the thing that bothered me.
That even now, after almost three years, after a ring, after a child… I somehow still left Viv wondering where she stood with me. I did go quiet, I did sometimes keep my thoughts a little too close to my chest. And as much as I hated it, hated the memory… I’d hurt her before. I’d left her uncertain, and then broken her heart, made her believe I didn’t want her, when nothing could have been further from the truth.
I planted that seed of doubt, and had no idea how to dig it up.
Finally, Bellamy drifted off into sleep, with a trickle of milk running down her chin. As soon as I pulled the bottle from her relaxed hands, her eyes shot open, and she let out a loud burp before she closed them again.
Quietly, I chuckled as I went into her room to lay her down in her crib. I made sure the nightlight was on, along with the monitor, and then quietly slipped out, heading back to my own bedroom.
I hesitated at the bathroom door, with the picture of Viv, barely twenty minutes ago, still playing in my mind. Stung by my words, unsure of what to say… I didn’t like seeing her like that. That look she’d had when she opened her eyes and saw me there beside the bed… that’s what I liked to see.
I raised my fist, taking a deep breath before I gently rapped my knuckles against the door. “Can I come in?” I called out, hoping I wasn’t disturbing her peace. It took a few seconds, but she finally answered, inviting me to step in.
It had been a long time since she pulled out her L’occitane bath foam, but the bathroom was filled with the familiar lavender scent. As I approached the tub, Viv looked up from the bubbles, her expression guarded.
“Is Bella sleeping?”
I nodded as I sank to my knees beside the large tub, resting my elbows on the rim. “Yeah. Shitted everywhere, had a bottle, passed out.”
“I am not surprised,” Viv said, smiling. “When we fell asleep, she was nursing more for comfort than anything. She was not serious about it, just sleepy.”
“Well apparently she still was. But I guess she would normally be sleeping at this time anyway.”
She nodded. “Yes, she would.”
For a few minutes, there was only silence between us. Viv had her whole body covered by bubbles, but I could see her hands moving under the water as she massaged the oils from the bath into her skin. I watched her for a moment, then reached in to close my hand around her wrist.
“Viv…” I waited until she looked up at me before continuing. “I’m sorry for what I said to you earlier.”
She shook her head. “It is fine.”
“It’s not.” I reached up, using my dry hand to cup her cheek. Relief relaxed my shoulders when she nuzzled her face into my hand. “I can’t, and shouldn’t try, to force you to be comfortable with something you aren’t… but it’s been five months, gorgeous. We at least need to address it.”
She met my gaze, and the sadness in her eyes caught me off guard. Her lips perked into a little smile. “I am surprised it took you this long to make me talk about it.”
“So… there is an “it”?”
“Perhaps only in my head. But I am just… not myself.”
My eyebrows knitted together. She hadn’t been any different than the same Viv I’d always known – or at least, I hadn’t noticed.
“Do you mean like… baby blues, or something?”
“No,” she shook her head. “I love being a mother, love taking care of her. I have rarely felt overwhelmed in that area. When I say that I am not myself, I mean… physically.”
She averted her gaze when she said that, clearly embarrassed by the admission, but I… I didn’t understand.
“Do you need to go see Dr. Morris?”
“No, Carter. I am saying that I… the picture, in the bedroom. Me, naked, chocolate, remember?”
How could I forget?
I still remembered the first time I’d ever seen it, before she and I were together. She’d damn near killed herself trying to hang it up in her apartment. We were neighbors, and I came to check on her after hearing the commotion. She’d answered the door with barely anything on, and then invited me inside, where I helped her hang the picture.
Covered in chocolate.
Fine as hell.
“I am not that woman anymore,” Viv said, her voice shaky with emotion. “And I know that it is shallow, and maybe even silly to you, but I do not feel… good. I have to eat a certain amount to provide for Bellamy, so that makes it hard to lose, and just the act of breastfeeding is keeping extra pounds on. Do not misunderstand – I love nursing her. Those moments are special to me, and I do not look forward to giving them up, but then again… I do. When I look in the mirror, I am not happy with what I see, and I cannot help feeling like there’s no way you could be either. Not when the woman you met is the one in the picture.”
I stared at her for a few moments before I shook my head. “Aiight, so that shit is coming down, tonight.”
She laughed, and I was happy to see her smiling even though tears were in her eyes.
“You laughing, but I’m dead serious. We leave that picture up in our room because yeah, it’s a memory for us. But Viv… I barely even look at it anymore. I’ve got the real thing now. I didn’t fall in love with that picture. I fell in love with you. I don’t give a shit about a little extra ass. I welcome extra ass. Who doesn’t like ass?”
“Stop it,” she giggled.
“I’m serious though,” I said, squeezing her hand. “I know you have to feel this for yourself, but for what it’s worth, I’m not tripping over supplementary ass, or a little pudge. I love you. I love touching you, love your skin, love the body that brought our daughter into this world. Okay?”
She smiled. “Okay.”
I leaned in, and she did the same, allowing me to plant a kiss on her lips. “I’m gonna get in the shower. Can’t get in the bed until I do.”
“Or you can join me.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “You’re inviting me into your bath?”
“Yes. Why not?”
I wasn’t about to argue with her about that. I undressed and climbed into the tub behind her, then pulled her against me. She relaxed in my arms, resting back against my chest. Her head tipped back on my shoulder, looking at me.
“I am glad you made it back to me,” she murmured, then closed her eyes as I leaned in the kiss her again.
“I was pissed about the delay. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than here.”
Quiet filled the room for a long moment, punctuated only by the sounds of the water moving as I ran my hands over her skin. Over her feet, her calves, her knees, up to her thighs. Over her stomach… up to her breasts. A whimper left her throat as I closed my hands over them, sliding my thumbs over her nipples. I pressed my lips to the back of her shoulder.
“I love you,” she said, then covered my hands with hers, gently tugging to pull them away. At first I was confused, but then she sat up, then stood up, completely exposing her body to me, except for the bubbles still randomly stuck to her skin.
To my eyes, she looked good as hell.
Our gazes met, hers uncertain, and I sat up, lifting my hands to run them over her body. No, it wasn’t exactly the same as what it had been before, but a few stretchmarks and a cute little pudge from carrying and feeding our daughter didn’t make her any less attractive to me, or any less beautiful.
“Come here,” I said.
She didn’t say anything. She simply turned around, and then sank down again, straddling my lap. She pulled a bath sponge from somewhere in the water and started sliding it over my skin, washing me.
“Isn’t this backwards?” I asked, chuckling.
She shook her head. “Nope. This is what I want to do.”
I ran my hands up her thighs, and back to her ass, squeezing. “Is that… all you want do?”
She laughed. “Apparently, it is all you want to do.”
“I told you I missed you,” I shrugged, then wrapped my arms around her waist, pulling her against my chest. “Happy Mother’s Day baby.”
Her eyes went wide, and she smiled. “Thank you.”
“What, did you think I forgot? You thought I forgot, and all you were getting was those pre-scheduled flowers didn’t you?”
She laughed, snuggling closer to me in the water. “I… did not know. You haven’t said anything all day. You sure you didn’t just now remember?”
“Nah, girl. I wanted to say it in person for your first Mother’s Day. I have a gift for you too.”
She pulled back, so she could look at my face. “Really? Where is it?”
I chuckled. “You don’t believe me do you?”
“I will believe it when I see it,” she teased.
I nodded. “Aiight. Well, in the inside pocket of my suitcase, there are plane tickets. For us.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Plane tickets? To where?”
Water went everywhere as Viv’s hand shot to her mouth, covering the loud gasp she’d let out. I smiled at her as tears welled almost immediately in her eyes. “Carter,” she said, muffled by the hand still cupped over her mouth. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, baby. I’m serious. We’re going. In a few weeks.”
Viv choked back a sob, then flung her arms around me, hugging me tight as she buried her face in my neck. Since she’d had Bella, she’d been wanting to go back home to be in her parent’s house, to have Bella there where she’d grown up. I hadn’t been able to take the time away, between getting my software development off the ground, and making sure things were good with the shop. I urged her to go alone – even though I didn’t want to be away from her and Bella, I knew it was something she wanted badly. But she refused to do it alone.
“I’ve just gotta get Troy acclimated as manager at Fresh Cuts. But all the arrangements are made. Your mother is ready for us.”
I nodded. “Yeah. It’s been killing her not to say anything. All you have to do is make the arrangements with your employees. I planted the seeds with them, but obviously you have to do all the final steps.”
“Yes. I will. I… thank you,” she said, reaching up to cup my cheeks. The look on her face was so joyous that it made the happiness already in my chest swell. “I love you.”
I reached up, wiping the stream of tears from her face. “I love you too babe.”
She settled against my chest again, and I looped my arms around her waist. I was relieved, honestly, that we’d gotten past that moment of tension to get back to this.
“I can’t wait to make you my wife,” I murmured into the side of her head, then planted a kiss there.
She moved her hands between us, wrapping her hands around me as she drew back to look me in the face. “And I cannot wait to be your wife. Let’s practice for the honeymoon.”
Thanksgiving with Sean and Fallon –
Christmas with Roman and Simone – http://beingmrsjones.com/2015/12/the-night-before-christmas-eve-a-serendipitous-short/