His wife was right where he'd expected to find her: at a table with Janice across from her, two cardboard coffee cups discarded between them. "Hey, Janice," said Sam. "Hey, hon. How many today? Two, right?" It was becoming something of an in-joke greeting between them, but he wasn't entirely joking.
"Two today," Amy agreed, sweeping hair out of her eyes and leaning up for a kiss, "and another tomorrow. But after that we're free for a week, if you can believe it."
Janice looked back and forth at them in perplexion. "You guys lost me."
"Baby showers," Sam said, pulling a chair over to sit next to his wife.
"Christenings," Amy said. Her hand clasped his above the table.
"Pregnancy announcements," Sam said.
"You know, just baby..." Amy's free hand groped for the right word. "Business?"
"Shenanigans," Sam said.
"That's right," Amy said, snapping her fingers, "I knew I married you for a reason." She gave him an exaggerated smooch.
Janice smirked. "You guys do that even at home? How do you ever have arguments if one's always completing the other's sentences?"
Amy shrugged and grinned. "We don't. Convenient, huh?"
"Right, I imagine so," said Janice, still with that smirk. "So, when's it gonna be your turn?"
"What do you mean?" said Sam and Amy at the same time.
"To make an announcement," Janice said, giving them a conspiratorial grin. "To welcome a new member into the family. To be knocked up."
"Oh, not for some time yet, I think," said Amy breezily. "We're still having fun."
"Such as a gazillion baby showers," Janice said, laughing. "Well, all right, Mr. and Mrs. Logan, it looks like you've got appointments of your own. Don't forget to invite me when it's your turn." And they laughed and waved good-bye, but when Janice was gone they glanced at each other, and Sam saw the same troubled expression on her face as he felt on his.
In the car, they discussed it again. "It's just that time of year, I guess. The sun's shining, summer's here, everyone's hormones are in overdrive."
"Or were already," Sam said. "What is it about November that makes people so frisky?"
"It's cold," Amy answered. "People are staying indoors more and trying to find ways to keep warm."
"I guess," Sam said. He couldn't remember if they'd done it more frequently nine months ago. "But just because everybody else is doing it doesn't mean we have to."
"Of course it doesn't," Amy agreed. "But don't you want to do it?"
Sam tried to keep a straight face at that, but the total earnestness of her voice on top of the innuendo was too much. Amy laughed too, a bright smile breaking out across that pixie face, and she swatted him on the shoulder. "Not like that, you dirty man."
"Really?" Sam countered, trying to keep laughter from ruining his best 'innocence' face. "I thought that's exactly how it happens."
Shyness had never been one of Amy's problems. They had met just out of college and he had been entranced by her energy and charm, the mischievous laughter written across every line of her face. They became lovers after a wait that, for both of them, was mostly out of a sense of decorum; since then they had fucked like bunnies, both before and after the honeymoon. They had been wed for a little over two years now, together for just under five, and Sam could not remember being happier.
The party this time was at a modest two-bedroom home in the suburbs. Sam and Amy were mostly strangers; Amy found some of her co-workers, including proud new father Jonathan Stanford, and duly introduced her beloved husband Samuel and was introduced in turn to the new mother Caitlyn, but a fair amount of the cast were a mystery to her. The host, when he was not distracted with hosting duties, made the rounds as best he could, introducing people left and right, explaining that many of the guests were friends of his wife, or people he had gone to college with some ten years before. (Some of those friends, of course, had children too.)
Finally the new mother emerged with the babe cradled in her arms, and a general round of cooing and doting commenced. The daughter (Faith) was barely a month old, tiny fists clenched against her body, her face a mask of grumpy concentration, but no one seemed to mind, least of all her parents, and there were torrents of baby talk and gentle fingers (a little provided by Sam himself). Eventually the infant awoke and began to squall, which her mother quieted by proferring a breast; Jon held a towel before them while she loosened her shirt, and then the enraptured viewing resumed.
Sam watched the happy couple—well, trio now; the mother cradling the child to her breast, the father behind her, standing guard over them both, but all their energies focused on the baby. It was a touching scene, and he was reminded again of what the two of them had silently avoided in all their arguments: that he wanted this. He didn't need to ask Amy, didn't even need to look at her, to know that she felt the same, because she was standing next to him, in the arc of his arm, just the same way the Stanfords were standing as they looked down at their daughter, smiling down at the infant at her breast, knowing their love had become something tangible and real: a child.
The second party was much the same, but better in a lot of ways, because both Sam and Amy knew a lot more of the people there. It was one thing to introduce yourself to multiple people and start making friends, especially when a lot of them had five or ten years on you; it was another to be amongst peers you had known forever. This time it was Cal and Cassie Ernster showing off their son David; there were plenty of jokes about how they'd better name their next child with something that didn't start with a D if they knew what was good for them, Sam had known Calvin since his second year of college; Amy and Cassie had lived together as seniors. David, of course, was new to them, but then that was kind of the point.
It was a much less stuffy party, with some amounts of beer and a lot more noise. Under this cover of chaos, it was Cassie who broached the question: "So, what about you two?"
"What about us two?" Amy asked.
"When are you two going to break the big news?" Cassie asked.
Sam and Amy traded glances.
"We hadn't really..." Sam said.
"Things are super busy at work right now..." Amy said.
" ... Cutting back on my hours..."
" ... to find a better place than our tiny apartment..."
" ... all sorts of ongoing bills that..."
"We never have time to..."
"Yeah, and I'm a vegetarian," said Sam, which earned him a glower from his wife.
Cassie laughed. "I should've known better than to ask the clones. Well, just tell me about the big news, okay?"
It was much the same outside. They retired to the backyard where more of their friends were sitting on the patio, swapping stories and drinking beer. Well, all but one of them was; Lauren's pregnancy was quite visible, and Brad was playing the gallant husband and monitoring her alcohol intake. Lauren looked half pleased and half annoyed.
Crystal, who had no such problems ahead of her, was well on her way to being sloshed. "Lost the coin flip?" Sam asked Jason, and Jason gave a morose nod. Both he and his wife had undergone sterility procedures when they married--"tying the knot and tying the tubes," as they put it--having already made the decision that they would make awful parents, too likely to drink themselves to an early grave. Sam gave them points for not lying to themselves, but in the end, he thought they'd made the right choice—parents should be able to shoulder more responsibility than the bother of flipping a coin to determine which of them would be the designated driver that evening.
"Ah, the lovebugs," Crystal said, not entirely unslurred. "Got an announcement of your own to make?"
"Uhh..." said Amy. "What?"
"Well, you have to know we're all expecting it," Lauren said. She, Amy and Crystal had been an unsinkable trio in college, despite (or, perhaps, because of) how different they were—Crystal with her blonde hair and unabashed sex appeal, Amy as cute as a button, and night-haired Lauren shy and virginal. It was hard to read between the lines sometimes, but Sam had a hunch Lauren had done most of the work to keep them together. In any case she seemed satisfied with it now. "Ever since the two of you met, it's been hearts and rainbows."
"We figured you wouldn't wait one minute," Crystal contributed. She made a rather shaky gesture with her beer bottle. "Figured you'd come back from the honeymoon all glowy and, and knocked-up-y."
"And yet we pine away unsuccored, whilst other people's babies pile up around us," Brad said with his typical taste for the overdramatic. "We thought you'd be first, but now you're far behind. As the kids say it nowadays, What gives?"
Sam glanced at Amy, saw her eyes meet his. They were just as uncertain as his were, which he found strangely reassuring. "Well..." she said. "Unfortunately, the stars haven't lined up quite that well."
"What does that have to do with it?" Lauren asked.
"Well, we don't have our details in place," Sam said. "You guys've been to our apartment, it's tiny. And we don't have the money to—"
"No, I mean, what do all those answers have to do with it?" Lauren asked. "Having a baby isn't about details or timing or whatever. It's about love, and family, and, and wanting to leave something behind. It's about life."
"Yes, but those details are still important," Amy said. "I mean, children are expensive. Imagine not being able to give your son the things he needs because you don't have the money. It's like that. The details aren't right for us right now."
"Guys, they'll never be right," Brad said. "That's the thing. You don't have children because you have nothing else to do with your life—at least unless you wanna be 40. You have them because..." He shrugged. "You decided to."
"Because you can't bear not to," Lauren said softly. She looked down at her belly, upon which both her small hand and her husband's paw rested. "Because you love your children."
"The, umm ... The children you don't have yet," Amy said.
"The children we don't have yet," Lauren agreed, not looking up. "You don't know who they are or what they'll be like ... but you want to find out. Because you love them. And that's all that matters."
"I mean, you guys think we're all, you know, financially stable?" Brad said. "Ha. Yeah right. I might get laid off next year. But we looked at the situation and we said ... This is more important. And whatever I have to do, or Lauren has to do, to make sure our son has the best that life has to offer ... We'll do it."
Amy looked at Sam, and he saw the same expression on his face that must have been on his own: Oh god, they're gonna convince us.
Sam turned to Crystal and Jason. "Help, guys?"
"Well..." said Crystal, glancing at her husband; and this time there was nothing unsteady about the gesture. "We've been thinking about ... maybe going back in too. Adopting, or maybe even getting the operations reversed."
"What?" said Brad. "You guys? Seriously?"
"We've talked about it," Jason said. "We're not sure what we want to do."
"I thought you thought you'd make lousy parents," Lauren protested.
"And we kinda wanted to live it up, yeah, to have our fun," Crystal said. "We were selfish, I'm not denying it. But the thing is ... That's why we wanna do it."
"It's like you said," Jason said, gesturing to Lauren. "We want to leave something behind."
"And know that we grew up," Crystal said.
"Guys, let's face it: we were kids when we got married. None of us is over thirty yet. Well, when Crys and I tied the knot, we were all, you know ... Let's have fun, let's mess around. We thought we'd be like that forever. Well..." Jason shrugged. "We were wrong."
"When I think about being a parent, I get scared," Crystal said. "After what my folks did to me ... The divorce, and then getting yanked around everywhere, living five or six places before college ... And the thing is, my mom didn't do these things on purpose. Of course not. But they happened, because being a parent is hard, there's so many ways to mess it up without looking. But that's why I wanna do it."
"We realized that by tying our tubes we were running away," Jason said. "We weren't ready then, absolutely not, but ... Well, we're older now, and maybe even wiser. Maybe we can stand and face it this time."
"So that I can look back at the end of my life and say, 'I didn't back down, ' " Crystal said. " 'It was hard, I wasn't perfect, but I didn't back down. I did something important. I raised a child."
There was a short silence, broken only by Crystal's mumbled imprecation: "Christ, I need another drink."
"I think I might too," Amy said.
They were uncharacteristically silent on the drive home. Sam watched the miles streak past under him, his thoughts like windblown leaves. Amy must have been similarly occupied. Normally she could not abide silence, would engage him in conversation or at least turn on the radio. Today, the only sound was the roll of air rushing past. It was both relieving and unnerving.
She came to life as they bustled about handling the various tasks left to handle on a Saturday night—laundry, checking e-mails, lunch dishes that had piled up. For a little while there was companionable silence, broken only to ask questions—and, occasionally, to complete each other's sentences ... But not often. Their friends liked to play that up because they thought it was cute, and they played it up in public ... but it only worked because, more often than not, they were just repeating a conversation they'd already had privately. Most of the time, they were just as telepathic as normal people.
Which was not to say that Sam wasn't fairly good at reading some of his wife's signals by now. For instance, he knew she was expecting him to get frisky on her tonight because she was wearing the pale blue baseball nightie.
By and large, it wasn't her habit to sleep naked, which had caused some inconveniences as they began to spend nights together. Her typical sleepwear consisted of a cotton tank top and a pair of shorts in a supple velvety material, both form-fitting but occasionally difficult to wrestle off. As a compromise, she brought out the old baseball nightie, which hit her mid-thigh and covered everything that needed covering, but could be easily rucked up or removed entirely if he wanted access to anything yummy. Nowadays she wore it most of the time; the only nights she had the shorts and things on were when she was on her period, or if she (for whatever reason) wasn't in the mood.
Even better, about half the time he could convince her to leave the nightie off while they slept. His friends had warned him not to expect that, had told him that she'd be less willing to compromise once they married, and he'd believed their logic; hell, he'd seen the behavior in himself more than once. But at the same time, now that sleeping together was the norm and not the exception, she seemed more cognizant of his wishes. He didn't mind either way. Any morning that he could wake up to the feeling of his wife's skin against his was a happy morning.
She was reading when he arrived, paging silently through a book; he joined her, flipping through a magazine with no real interest. Most of his attention was to the woman to his left—the slow, almost-silent in and out of her breath, the occasional flip of a turned page, the reading glasses perched on the end of her nose. She never wore them in public, trusting to her contacts, but he'd never understood why; they looked adorable on her.
It was only when her eyes flicked to him that she realized he had been staring. "What?"
"I was just thinking how lovely you are," he said.
Her cheeks went pink, but her whole response was a single raised eyebrow.
"And how glad I am that you agreed to marry me," he said.
"Really, my dear," she said archly, setting the book aside. She knew what was going to happen as much as he did. Which of them had decided it? And did that make their banter foreplay? "And how much is that?"
"Mmm ... This much," he said, and leaned in to kiss her.
For a while, they just kissed, with no pressure or urgency. She always turned her head up at a certain angle; it had taken him a while to realize that it was the perfect one to kiss him while he penetrated her. He could feel himself becoming hard at the thought of what lay ahead of them...
Sudden, unexpected, a gust of laughter broke free of his lips, and Amy pulled back to stare at him. "What's funny now of all times?"
"It just occurred to me that every one of our friends is probably saying right now, 'I wonder if Sam and Amy are doing it.'"
For a moment, there was only shock on her face. Then another blush rose alongside an incredulous smile. "Oh god, they probably are..."
"They're all like, 'Are they finally gonna get knocked up tonight? Will we get a call soon?'"
"Jeez, d'you think they're actually like trying to picture us doing it?" Amy said, a burble of laughter sneaking out of her. "Trying to figure out what we're gonna do?"
"Hey, we do it to them all the time," Sam said. "Remember Crys and Jason?"
"Legs wide, going, 'Huh, huh, huh!' " said Amy, producing a string of almost operatic grunts. "That's gotta be what they do!"
"Or Lauren being all squeaky, not really saying anything?" Sam scrunched up his face and gave a series of high-falsetto eep-eeps. "And just being like, 'What do you mean, did I climax?'"
"And dodging the question."
"And dodging the question."
"God ... If they do think about us, I guess we can't complain," Amy said, laughing a little. But after that they said nothing for a few moments, and Sam realized that what was on his mind was on hers as well.
At the age of sixteen Amy had come close to losing her leg to an unexpected blood clot. The doctors traced it to birth control pills, which she was taking to stabilize her periods at the time. Rings and patches were out as well, since all of them utilized the same hormonal imbalance; and at that point, she had simply decided to use condoms forever. To a 16-year-old (and a virgin, to boot), that had seemed reasonable ... but once she started having lovers in her life, there were other considerations.
And so she had become an expert at detecting her own ovulations and knowing her safe times. There were only about two weeks a month they could go bare, but they had gotten used to it by now; the condom offered other possibilities anyhow, blunting sensation the way it did. And, of course, Trojan loved them.
"When is it in your cycle?" he asked.
"It's..." Her eyes unfocused for a bit. "It's on the cusp. It could start on Monday. It could start now."