Also, if you liked Better Than You, and want more, check out Keep You and Dream of You over on the sidebar to read Jo and Jordan's stories.**
Three Years Later
“You can come by tonight if you want,” Delta said into the cell phone clenched between her ear and shoulder. She hoisted Evan up higher on her hip, felt her purse sliding, sliding, sliding…and just managed to fit her key into the front door. “We’ve got to get rid of this place,” she told Christy, her real estate agent, as she let herself in and heeled the door shut. Evan was wriggling like a too-big worm and she set him down on his sturdy toddler legs, her purse smacking down against the floor, lipstick and spare change spilling. With an inward sigh, she stooped to retrieve her things, watching Evan go tottering off toward the living room; he was two and mobile and very much a Walker – she’d long since stopped trying to gentle him.
“Will you be downsizing?” Christy asked from the other end of the line.
“No,” Delta said, smiling to herself as she picked up a tampon and crammed it down deep in the bottom of her purse. “I’m pregnant again. We need a bigger place.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!”
Delta answered all the typical polite questions about her condition, they agreed Christy would come by after dinner to scope out the house and take pictures for the online listing, then disconnected. She gathered her repacked purse, briefcase and diaper bag – she felt like a pack mule most days – then toed off her heels and went in search of her kid.
“Evan?” she called in a sing-song voice and heard him giggle. “You’re not hiding, are you?”
There were certain things – little things – that she hadn’t been able to glean from other mothers. No one had told her that every day would embolden his personality. He was not a collection of cries and sniffles and dirty diapers, but a tiny human with tiny human emotions and tiny human agendas. She had understood what it would mean to have a baby, but not a child – she hadn’t been prepared for how fiercely she would love him. She’d had an idea how much fun it would be to watch him come into his own. His new favorite game was hide-and-seek, and he liked to pop out and “surprise” her. She didn’t tell him he always hid in plain sight, that she could see him, that he wasn’t so clever as his laughing smile suggested. Not that he would have understood anyway. He was two and clueless and innocent, happy.
She walked through the kitchen and around the corner into the living room, spied him standing at the arm of the couch, peeking around from behind its back, and pretended not to notice. “Where’d you go?” she asked, scanning the room. “Evan? Well,” she heaved a big pretend sigh, “guess I’m all by myself.” Delta sat on the sofa, right up against the arm where he stood, and waited. Eventually, his little dark head lifted up into view.
She played shocked like she was on Broadway and he erupted in giggles, snorting and making her laugh too. “Oh, you scared me,” she lied as she reached over the arm and hefted him up to sit in her lap. He was big for his age, taking after his dad in all ways; save the dark hair, he looked just like Mike and nothing like her. She’d compared the baby pictures and it was spooky.
The grandfather clock in the front hall – originally hers and now theirs – chimed six and she set Evan on the floor, opened up the lid of their leather ottoman/toy chest that had replaced the coffee table. “I’ve gotta make us some dinner,” she lamented, intending to get up and do just that.
But she ended up on the floor instead, playing with Evan and his too-many plastic trucks. She’d always thought it would be fun to have a girl – tea parties and dress-up and dolls – but she’d had a boy, and she’d become an expert in all things Tonka. Just one of many unexpected changes the past three years had brought.
The day she’d found out she was pregnant two years ago was the day she’d realized she hated what she was doing with her life. She’d reached a point in her career at Nordstrom at which she could choose to move up the ladder – and also move to New York – or keep on as a store manager indefinitely. Neither had been options. With a handful of hormonal tears and Mike’s assurance of support, she’d quit and gone into business for herself. It had been terrifying and world-altering, or at least it had seemed so at the time. Now, though, she had a sizable book of business and was hearing buzz about being one of Atlanta’s “premiere” event planners. She’d started small: ladies’ luncheons and charity fundraisers. Then showers – baby and bridal – and then a wedding. Two months before, morning sick as all hell, she’d orchestrated her first black tie soirée, complete with silent auction, valet service and five course meal. A week ago, she’d been asked to put together a sweet sixteen worthy of MTV for some rap mogul’s daughter. Business was booming, and her – their – bank account reflected that.
Now she had another bun in the oven and it was time to move out of the townhouse and into a home that could be theirs as a family. They’d talked one night, in the wee hours when she’d been too nauseous to sleep, about yards and dogs and SUVs, and they’d locked eyes in an eerily perceptive moment and both said, “Marietta.” Close enough to commute, but away from the crush. Close to Mike’s parents. Close to Evan’s aunts and uncles and cousins. Close to the family she’d come to think of as her own – to love.
Keys jangled at the door and Delta said, “Daddy’s home,” with a smile.
Evan’s head came up, hand stilling on his favorite yellow truck. “Daddy home,” he repeated, because he’d become this parrot that mimicked their phrases as best he could, the words garbled in the way of all toddlers. Then, smiling his baby-tooth smile, green eyes crinkling up in the corners, he looked right in her eyes and said, “Mama.”
Delta’s breath caught and she didn’t understand why. He’d mastered the word a while back, and he said it dozens, if not hundreds of times a day as she carted him around with her on her various jobs, but today, for some reason, it plucked a chord that kept resonating, moving through a chest that had once been so hollow, but was now full. It was probably her hormones, or the effect of a sweet word hitting her after a long day, but when Mike stepped into the living room, she was dabbing at her eyes.
He saw immediately. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she protested, pressing her fingertips to the corners of her eyes.
He came and sat down on the couch behind her, framing her shoulders with his knees. He waved at Evan and said, “Hi, dude,” to which Evan replied with, “Daddy,” and a smile.
Delta batted her lashes and tried to scold herself into sobering, but the emotional trip-cords had been…well…tripped, and she shook her head over her stupidity as more tears formed and she sniffled.
She felt Mike stiffen behind her; he leaned forward and she felt his big hand on the top of her head. “Everything’s okay, isn’t it?” Nerves laced his voice. “You went to the doctor today, right? Is -,”
“Everything’s fine,” she rushed to assure him. “I’m fine, the baby’s fine…it’s all fine. I’m just crying for no reason.”
His exhale had a relieved quality about it, then he chuckled. “Why are you crying for no reason?”
“Because…” she debated lying, but couldn’t. “He called me Mama.”
And for a long time, she’d been sure that would never happen. Her high school indiscretion had left her hollow and aching, and afraid in a way she’d chosen to call determined that she’d missed her chance at being “Mama” for anyone. Her jaded view of…everything…hadn’t allowed her imagination to conjure something like this: her two precious boys. Three, actually. She’d never doubted she could succeed in a professional arena, but when it came to her personal life, her reality was something she still marveled at.
Mike’s hand moved gently down, until it cradled the side of her face. She lifted her own hand and laid it over his, leaning into his touch.
“It’s a boy,” she said.
They were quiet for a long moment, the summer shadows growing longer across the floors, Evan babbling to himself as he played. Mike asked, “Do you wish it was a girl?”
“No,” she said without hesitation.
“The best things that have happened to me were things I didn’t even know to wish for. So no, I don’t wish that.”
The only thing in the world she wished for was the chance to keep living this.