"She has your eyes," Meredith said. "And your hair."
"Well, duh," said Brandon. He ruffled his wife's shower of wavy golden hair. "Like this was gonna make it through my boring brown genes."
Laurelyn Adriana Chambers wasn't listening. She was curled up in her mother's arms, her lips fastened to that life-giving nipple. Her eyes were closed and her fists clenched as though in concentration. Clearly she had more important things to do than listen to her mother and father's parental natter. She was just shy of ten months old.
The Chamberses had moved into this spacious, if somewhat seedy, apartment after Meredith's graduation. The Cranes had just moved back down to Greenfield for their first year of graduate school, and their usual babysitter Sarah Prescott was finishing her degree there, and living two hours in the wrong direction anyhow; for the first time since Laurelyn had been born, Brandon and Meredith were without easy-access baby-sitting. They had decided to take on the duties themselves, as much as they could. Now in October, a month later, they finally felt like they were getting the hang of it.
Since finding out that Meredith was pregnant two Aprils ago, Brandon felt like they'd been running full-out ever since, with barely a moment to spare for things like eating, breathing, sleeping or conversation. Brandon at least hadn't had any classes to attend, but only because he'd dropped out; as their bank statements dipped closer and closer towards zero, he'd realized that there was simply no way for them to keep them both in school, no matter how many scholarships or loans they applied for or got. Now he was working as many jobs as anyone would hire him for. Meredith was taking on various tutoring and music-lesson jobs, anything she could do while juggling an infant. For the most part, it was working, but it was hard.
Today Brandon had a rare afternoon off, and he and Meredith had decided to stay in and relax for once. Despite it, Brandon felt ambivalent. A day off--even an afternoon--is nice. But at the same time, that's money that isn't going into our bank account.
He told himself not to think about it. Sometimes it felt like the last time he'd seen his baby daughter was when Meredith had been squeezing her out. And now look at her. He reached out with a finger and was rewarded when Laurelyn clenched her fist around it. This tiny, tiny creature. Time was flying past; if he didn't enjoy it while he could, it would soon be gone.
"Besides," he said, "she has your skin. And your privates."
"That last was your responsibility," Meredith said. "It's the sperm that determines gender. Don't you remember basic biology?"
"I've been too busy to remember things like that," said Brandon with a wry smile. "If it doesn't apply to staying afloat, it kinda gets shunted out."
"Which is why we're taking this time to get back to what matters," Meredith said in a brook-no-arguments voice. "We get too lost in the shuffle sometimes."
"Zach and Christa don't," Brandon grumbled. "I wish I knew how they did it."
"I've asked," Meredith said. "I don't think they can explain. It's too much a part of who they are. They're so centered, you know? They know exactly what's important to them and how to get it."
"I know what's important to me too," Brandon said, thinking of the dollar signs. "It's the getting-it that's hard."
"Well," said Meredith, her eyes flashing, "we've got time to 'get it' now." And Brandon was so tired and his brain so bludgeoned by work and it had been such a long time that it took several moments to realize she was referring to sex. Oh, sex, yeah! That thing we used to do! To be fair, it had been almost a year since they'd done it last, the busiest year of his life--so busy he'd barely even remembered to masturbate. Once or twice she had gone down on him, and he'd returned the favor when she felt the need, but they'd never actually had time to devote to it, to enjoying themselves as opposed to a hurried easing of pressure.
As a boy, he'd wondered how a man could stand to abstain for so long. Now, a man knew.
Meredith smiled when the light dawned in his eyes. "There, knew you'd get it eventually."
"Hunh," said Brandon. He shook his out head as though clearing cobwebs and gave a rueful laugh.
"Married you for a reason, hon," Meredith said, grinning.
"What, like, I got a baby in you?" said Brandon.
There was a smile when he said it, but it was a bitter one; it was the beginning of a self-criticism episode. But Meredith didn't let him. They had been together for five years; she knew him. "Yes, Brandon," she said, leaning over to him. "Because you are the father of my child. Which is exactly what I want you to be. I've known for a very long time that I would marry you. Having Laurelyn just sealed the deal."
"And complicated it," Brandon muttered.
"And complicated it," Meredith agreed. "But sometimes ... That's just life. Only rarely do things work out the way we expected them to."
"Unless you're lucky," said Brandon, thinking of Zach and Christa. Like something like this would ever befall them.
"Unless you're lucky," Meredith agreed. "But hon, since when have we ever been lucky."
An absurd thought occurred to him, and before he could stop himself he blurted it out: "The day I met you."
She looked at him wordlessly for a second; then her face broadened in a bright, happy smile, one of the first of them he could remember seeing recently. "Told you I married you for a reason."
Once Laurelyn was safely asleep, they curled up on the couch together. Brandon knew what was on his mind, what was on hers, but pure sensation had never been the goal of their sex life. He wanted to feel close to her.
"It's hard to believe sometimes," Meredith said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be a mother before I could legally drink."
"Or married before it," Brandon said.
"And now Zach and Christa are married too," Meredith said. "Do you think they would've done that if we hadn't?"
"Maybe," Brandon said. "Maybe not. I think they probably felt what we would've, which is: why wait? We're gonna eventually; why not now?"
"But maybe not," Meredith said. "And who's gonna be next, do you think?"
"I dunno," said Brandon. "Who else do we know? Jane's single, Derek's single, Sajel's single, Arie's ... Married..."
"And knocked up," Meredith said. "Just like us." They hadn't been able to go: the wedding had been only six weeks ago, Laurelyn wasn't yet old enough to travel, and they didn't want to leave her. Arie had actually phoned them from the reception to introduce her husband Ralph. That was vintage Arie--impetuous and thoughtful all at once. "When's she due, two months?"
"About. Her kid must have been conceived about the same time of year Laurie was."
"So, that's out," Meredith said. "Who else do we know?
"Jon Stanford and Caitlyn Delaney?" Brandon said.
"Yeah, but, they're not engaged or anything," Meredith said.
"They've been together sixteen months," Brandon said. "Same as we have. They said our wedding counts as their first date, remember? Besides, you know they're gonna."
"But not necessarily for a while," Meredith said. "Caitlyn still has her Master's to get. They probably won't marry until she and Zach and Christa graduate. What is it we do to people, anyway?"
"What do you mean?"
"We are just surrounded by weddings. Brandon, I'm twenty. You're twenty-two. At our age, most people are still building their alcohol tolerances and blundering home blind every night, not getting married and knocked up. Most people don't even think about getting married until they've graduated from college, much less actually do it. Most people don't even find the person they want to be with until they're, what, like, 25? 30? Much less already taking the plunge like this."
"So, what," Brandon said, "we represent a tear in the fabric of statistical continuity?"
"At best," Meredith said. "At worst, we're more like some sort of nuptial magnet."
Brandon thought about that for a second. "That would make for a pretty lame super-power." He raised his fist in a half-hearted gesture of triumph and gave voice to a hollow cheer. "I'm Marriage-Propagation Man! I make people get hitched more often!"
Meredith gave him a look. "I think that may be the lamest thing you've ever done."
"Sorry," said Brandon, letting his hand drop. "I'm tired. It's been a long ... Umm. Everything."
"That it has." She sighed. "That it has. I can't even remembe rthe last time we were able to just sit like this. I think we even had sex more recently than this."
"The last time we had sex was ... Well ... Early October," Brandon said. He had woken up in the middle of the night and spooned with her; it seemed burned into his memory now.
"Last October?" said Meredith. "Wow. That was more than a year ago, Remember when we used to do it, like, more than once a day?"
"We were in high school," Brandon said. "We were young. We had a lot more time than we do now."
"How we're ever going to give little Laurie a younger brother or sister at this rate, I don't know," Meredith said.
"Whoa," he said, "hold on there. One's more than enough at the moment. One's more than we can afford at the moment."
"I know, I know, I didn't mean now," Meredith said.
"Besides, we'll have plenty of time later. We started early. Most people, if they have to wait for too long, they're like forty when they have their second kid. Laurelyn will be in college when we're forty."
"Oh, my God. Laurelyn in college. Don't go there. Too far ahead, Brandon, I don't think my mind can handle that."
He gave her a wry smile. "You'll have eighteen years to get used to it."
"Ogh. Brandon, how did we get so old. I'm twenty. I'm twenty!, and yet I feel positively middle-aged! I swear I've got gray hairs coming in!"
He kissed the crown of her head. "Even if you did, I would still love you."
She tilted her head to look at him. "Even when my hair's gone all white? And my face is wrinkled like a crumpled shirt? And my boobs sag, like, down to my knees?"
"They're kind of sagging now," he said. She'd gone up quite a few sizes; pregnancy and lactation did that. For the first time, she felt confident in her endowments. "But I still like them."
She gave him a mischievous smile. "How do you know? You haven't seen them in quite a while."
Brandon saw where this was going. "This is true," he said. "Perhaps we should change that?"
"Well, um, I don't know how to tell you this," said Meredith, her voice laughing, "but ... There's been someone else looking at my breasts recently."
Brandon pantomimed indignance. "Chuh! I might've known. Who is it?"
"It's a girl," Meredith said.
"My wife's been lesbianized?" Brandon exclaimed.
"That's not a verb," Meredith protested.
He ignored her. "Oh, now what am I going to do."
"Go back to your right hand?" said Meredith, grinning.
"Excuse me! What sort of barbarian do you think I am?" Brandon said. "I use my left hand for that!"
Meredith gave a dramatic sigh. "Well, lesbianized or not, I suppose I can't leave my lawfully-wedded husband all high and dry like this. I'd better do something about it."
She reached for the fastener of his jeans and extracted his penis, already semi-hard. "Hmm," she said, "someone's glad to see me."
"Maybe someone hasn't seen you in months," he said.
She grimaced. "That should be less true than it is." Then she bent her head to him; a moment later, he tasted her lips and tongue on the tip of his cock.
Blowjobs were still not her thing, and he knew it; sometimes she would go down on him if she wanted him to have extra stamina during their lovemaking, because he had never been the best at staving off orgasm. But sometimes she wouldn't. Meanwhile, she wasn't that big a fan of oral sex; she said it didn't do much for her, and Brandon--who enjoyed doing it and tried his damnedest to please her with it--could only shake her head and agree that she must be right. He had always worried about how unequal their sex play often was: he might have one or two orgasms a session, whereas she might go weeks without one; it didn't seem fair. But she never complained, never said a thing, and gradually he stopped worrying. He guessed that, whatever was going on between them, it worked.
But today she is going to come, he resolved. Whatever I have to do to make it happen, she is going to come. I love her too much for anything else.
In the meanwhile, he was rapidly coming to his peak as she applied herself to his manhood. It had been far too long. Her tongue slid up and down the bottom of the shaft as she sucked; she could take the whole thing in her mouth, because he wasn't even fully erect yet. It was a new sensation to feel her lips on his softness instead of his hardness, to feel himself enlarging in her mouth but still floppy. If she continued at this rate--
And then he was there. He gave a soft grunt; he felt her warm mouth around him, still sucking, as his pleasure overtook him and burst out of him in gouts and spurts to land upon her waiting tongue.
Wow, he thought. That was kind of lame, even for me.
She gave him a brilliant smile when she arrived back at head level. "I think I've been complimented. I've never gotten you off so quickly you couldn't even get hard."
"Yeah, well, it's been a long time," he said, feeling ashamed of himself. "Besides--" He kissed her. "You're a miracle worker." The kiss was slightly salty from his own residue. "Nobody else could do it."
"Not even Christa?" she teased. The fact that he had a bit of a thing for her best friend was well-known to her.
"Not even she," he said, hoisting a smile onto his face. He wasn't really in the mood to be teased about that right now. Implying I'd have more stamina if I wasn't with her just isn't helping right now. "After all, she's not a miracle worker."
His feelings must have shown, because he saw confusion on her face for just a moment before he moved in to kiss her. If the conversation was going to get messy, why not just not have one? He kissed her, pulling her close to him, caressing her face, running his hands through her hair. He didn't want to think right now. He just wanted to enjoy his time with his wife.
As they kissed, he slid his hands up the back of his shirt, feeling the warm, smooth skin there, and managed to unhook her bra. When he did, she gave a little muffled noise. "Mmf. Umm, Brandon."
When she pulled her head back, he could see the hesitation on her face.
"Umm ... You do know that ... My breasts are ... In use, right?"
He'd seen them being used not half an hour ago. "Yeah. Why?"
"And that's ... Are you okay with that?"
He shrugged. "Why shouldn't I be?"
Her mouth moved silently, as though trying on different words for size. "Well ... No reason, just ... Making sure..." And she let him take off her shirt.
The truth was, he was curious. Brandon was not a squeamish person by nature; he knew that sex (or, for that matter, life) could get messy. In the meanwhile, he wanted to explore. These were Meredith's breasts; they were full of Meredith's milk. Their daughter had nourished herself at these breasts, with that milk, every day of her life. How could it be harmful?
Or maybe it was just insecurities. She had never been particularly confident in her breasts, no matter how often he told her he loved them. "Besides, bigger is better, right," he said, and was rewarded with a bashful smile.