bonus fixed universe content: a New Day

I know the bed is empty before I open my eyes. I feel her absence like the sudden winter draft through a window not latched properly. She hasn’t been gone long. The warmth of her clings to the space beside me. Her smell lingers on the sheets.

I don’t have to wonder if she’s up making coffee or out for her run or in the shower. I know where she is and the knowledge of it tightens my chest. I embrace the ache because I am certain that her pain exceeds mine. I wish it were only mine. I’d gladly bear it all to spare her.

And it’s her birthday. January second.

I’d taken her away for New Year’s Eve, flying her to the Bahamas hoping that the sun and sand and Junkanoo street parades would distract her. I’d planned for us to stay through the week. But though she’d smiled and danced and joined with the locals as they celebrated on the beach, she’d woken up the next day and asked to go home.

“I want to be someplace familiar,” she’d said. “If it’s another no, I’d rather mope about it in my bed.”

I’d known my words wouldn’t make a difference, but I’d tried anyway. “Or we could stay here another day and take the test when we get back. The answer will wait. Let’s enjoy your birthday.”

She shook her head. “I should have gotten my period today. I’m already late.”

“You’ve been late before.” It was cruel to remind her of the other times she’d gotten her hopes up, but the words were out before I could stop them.

Her mouth tightened as she began gathering the clothing that I’d stripped off her when we’d returned to our villa just before dawn. “One day I’ll be late for a good reason. It could be this time. There’s no point in staying here and postponing anything.  I’ll just make you miserable with my obsessing.”

And, because that’s who she is—and because I love her as she is—I didn’t try to argue. I took her home and didn’t say another word about cutting our vacation short.

I should have expected it, anyway. She always takes a test the morning she’s due, sometimes, I think, even if she’s already spotting. Often, she takes tests the morning before she’s due too. She doesn’t think I know, but I see the tests in the wastebasket.

When I’d surprised her with the trip, I was fully aware of what time of the month it was. The days of her menstrual cycle have been marked on my calendar for nearly a year now. The days she ovulates highlighted in yellow to assure we make love at the appropriate time. The days her period is due highlighted in a bright red to assure I’m ready for her disappointment. I’ve come to expect and prepare for the day the same way she prepares with EPT sticks and tampons.

Still, I’d hoped she’d put the routine to rest for this one week.

A year and a half trying for a baby, and despite the doctor’s assurance that it is far too soon to give up, I’ve already begun to accept that we will never have a child naturally. I haven’t said it aloud, of course. Because Alayna still believes. Alayna still has faith, and I would never dream of being the one to take that away from her.

But, Jesus how I hate to see her in such despair. Month after month after month. I’ve started wishing for her own surrender, praying for her to suggest we adopt so we can stop trying and she can stop feeling like a failure. So I can stop feeling like I’ve failed her.

But Alayna Withers Pierce is a strong woman. I’m fairly certain she won’t ever give up this dream until she’s told that it’s medically impossible. Even then, she’ll still have hope.

I admire that about her.  Admire her tenacity. Her pure strength. While I’m lying here in this bed with a knot of anxiety in my gut, she’s in the bathroom standing before the jury alone, waiting for her sentence—mother-to-be or not.

I’m an asshole. I should be there with her. For her.

I force my eyes open and throw the covers off of me with false determination. I stall, pulling a pair of boxers from the dresser and putting them on before heading to the bathroom. I walk in cautiously and find her sitting on the edge of the tub, her robe wrapped around her, tears streaming down her face.

My heart breaks.

She’s cried over test results before, but each time I see it I’m devastated. I sink to my knees in front of her and reach a hand out to stroke her cheek. “Please don’t, precious. There will be next month. This just means we get to have more sex.”

I say that last line every time and it never fails to make her smile.

Until now.  She shakes her head and waves her hand. “No,” she says through a choked sob. “That’s not it. It’s…look.”

Her voice is so thick with emotion that it takes a second for me to figure out what she’s said. Then I see the hand she’s holding toward me isn’t empty. She’s holding a test. Her hand is shaking, but I can still see the display and the faint pink plus sign that fills the window.

I fall back on my heels, the wind knocked out of me. My eyes are wide and I think I’ve forgotten how to breathe. I swipe the stick from her hand to stare at it further, to make absolutely sure that I’m seeing what I’m seeing.

It doesn’t change. I blink, I shake it and still the test says clearly the same result. Positive. Pregnant.

“We’re having a baby?” My voice doesn’t sound like mine. It’s too high, too hopeful.

Alayna raises the back of her hand to her nose and nods.

“We’re having a baby.” Even repeating it I can’t fathom what I’m saying. “We’re having a baby!”

She makes a sound that’s half laugh, half wail.

I spring forward, suddenly needing to touch her. I cradle her face in my hands. “Then why are you crying?”

“Because I’m so happyyyy.” The last syllable catches on her voice and she’s still dragging it out as I pull her off of the tub and into my lap. My lips find hers and I kiss her hard.

When I pull away, she’s smiling. “Alayna. We’re having a baby.”

She smiles brighter and nods. This time her laugh actually sounds like a laugh and her tears seem to have stopped, though it’s hard to tell since her cheeks are still wet. She’s happy though. That I can tell.

I turn with her so I can lean against the wall and she straddles my lap. My cock stirs automatically, but I ignore it, pulling her robe open to study her stomach. I can’t tell yet—I know that—but I stare anyway. I span my hand across her midriff. My baby is right here, I think. I’m in her.

I’ve been inside her so many times, often thinking that that was the absolute closest I could be to her—my body literally buried within her as I declared how deeply, how unequivocally I loved her.

This, though, the way that I am inside her now, my DNA mingling with hers forming a tiny human that is as much me as it is her—this is the closest I can be to her. This is the true declaration of my love.

Alayna covers her hand with mine. “We’re having a baby,” she says, and the words sound so beautiful, so precious on her lips.

I don’t have the appropriate response. Nothing I can say will express the magnitude of emotion that I’m feeling. Needing to say something, I manage, “Happy birthday, Momma.”

She meets my wish with one like in kind. “Happy New Year, Daddy.”

A wave of euphoria washes over me at the title. Daddy. I say it again and again in my head, cradling the word like I know I’ll one day cradle our baby. It’s so foreign, so unfamiliar even in my mind. God, is this really happening? Is our life together—our family—finally beginning?

I’ve had so many fresh starts with Alayna. Each time the past was buried and the future laid out before me with shining promise. Each time, I thought my life could never be better. That there couldn’t possibly be more happiness to find. That there couldn’t be a single fraction of a centimeter that hadn’t already been claimed in my heart.

Time and again, I was surprised. She surprised me—always pushing at the boundaries of my world, making it bigger and brighter with each new day. Filling it with hours and hours of certainty. Multiplying our love in unfathomable measures, as if it were the mystical loaves and wine that fed the multitude.

And now…this.

This child—this person who is only days into existence and already a vital part of my being—this is the one beginning I’d convinced myself I’d never have. Again, Alayna’s proved me wrong. This day is much more than the best birthday gift that I can give her. It’s more than the start of a new year filled with realized hopes and dreams. It’s the point in time that erases every last trace of a miserable past, finally wiping out the faded lines of the man who once stood broken and shamed in my shoes.

My gaze locks securely on Alayna’s and in her eyes I see the man that I now am. More husband than CEO. More lover than manipulator. More father than son.

“Not happy new year,” I correct her. “Happy New Life.”