All That Matters

 

by

 

S X Meagher

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Kylie was sitting at a card table on Sunday night, glaring at the hand she’d just been dealt. Her pager went off, and all four doctors reached for theirs. Kylie shot a look around the table, while taking the device from her waistband, “This one’s mine, although I don’t know who could be paging me. I don’t have anyone in the hospital this weekend.”

“Rub it in,” Monique grumbled. “I’m on call, and I haven’t had two uninterrupted hours in a row.”

“Yeah,” Eileen, a pediatrician, agreed. “You’ll get no sympathy here, Shakes. Your hours are more regular than a banker’s.”

“I’m not complaining,” Kylie said. She looked at the display. “Oh, it’s not the hospital. Just a friend. Be right back.” She went out onto the porch and dialed Blair’s cell. “Thanks for calling,” she joked when Blair answered. “I’m playing poker tonight, and I’m about to lose my shirt.”

There was a moment of silence, then in a rush of words so rapid that Kylie had to focus intently to decipher them, Blair said, “I think I’m losing the baby. You told me once that you could get me into the ER quickly. Can you?” The terrified woman gulped in a breath of air, and Kylie thought she detected the warning signs of hyperventilation.

“Hold on,” she said, trying to sound both soothing and in control She stuck her head into the house again. “Monique! C’mere. Hurry!”

Her friend got up and dashed outside, taking the phone when Kylie extended it towards her. “It’s Blair Spencer. She thinks she’s miscarrying.”

All business, the obstetrician said, “Blair? Monique. Tell me what’s happening.”

Slightly puzzled to be talking to her obstetrician, but not having the time to waste asking why she was, Blair said, “I’ve got a little cramping — about like I described the first time I saw you." She gulped in air. "I’ve been struggling with them all day, and I kept telling myself it was only stress. But I just took a bath, and I'm bleeding.”

“Describe the blood, Blair. What color is it?”

“I don't know!" she cried, on the verge of panic, her breathing growing even more rapid.

"Come on, Blair, take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Again," she said, listening carefully to make sure her patient was following her instructions. "Now think. Was it pink, bright red, rust colored …"

Kylie saw the concern on Monique's face and went into the house. She grabbed her bag and took Monique’s as well. “Sorry, guys," she said to their friends, "but we’ve got to run. See you next month.”

“You’re just trying to get out of losing this hand!” Jocelyn said.

“I wish that were true,” Kylie said as she ran back outside. Monique handed her the phone, hitting mute as she did.

“I can't tell what's going on. She was in the tub, and the water started to turn red. It's possible the water made the blood brighter than it would have been if she'd just seen it on her clothing. But if the blood's bright red, I'm worried. I’m also concerned because she can't be sure if there were any clots."

“Are we meeting her at the ER?”

'Damn, I hate to do that to her. I'm fairly sure it's nothing to worry about …"

Kylie gave her a penetrating look. “You can't be sure of that.”

“Well, no,” she began, and before the words were out of her mouth, Kylie was telling Blair, “We’re just wrapping it up for the evening. We’re gonna swing by and take a look at you.”

“Oh, Kylie, I can just go to the E.R. That'd be faster.”

“Are you worried?” Kylie asked.

“I’m fucking terrified,” she whispered. “I’ve never been so frightened.”

“Have you ever been to the ER?"

"No," she said, sounding like a little girl.

"It's no fun. Just relax for a few minutes, and we’ll be right there. Have David make you some herbal tea.”

“Uhm … Kylie … I’m not at home. I’m at the Spinnaker Hotel. Room 315.”

“Okay,” she said, not wanting to spend the time to ask what was going on. “We’re on Marine, so we’re just a few blocks away. Be right there.”

Monique gave her a narrowed glance, but Kylie said, “I’ll make it up to you. Promise.”

“Oh, without a doubt, Shakes. You definitely owe me. I haven’t made a house call since my sister was pregnant. And I only made that one to avoid my mother’s wrath!”

 

ĄG

 

Monique had driven Kylie to the card game, and when they pulled into the valet zone of the hotel, Kylie hopped out and instructed, “We’re physicians on an emergency call. Keep the car close.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the red-jacketed man agreed as Kylie pressed ten dollars into his hand.

They knocked on Blair’s door a few minutes later. “C’mon in,” she said, "it's open."

Kylie walked in and quickly looked around, her brows knit together. “Are you alone?”

“Uh-huh,” her friend said, adding nothing. She looked down and saw that both women carried bags; she cleared her throat and joked weakly, “Don’t you even think about using whatever you have in there, Kylie. I’m sure it's full of scalpels.”

Kylie gave her a half smile, trying her best to act like everything was normal. “Don’t worry; Monique'll keep an eye on me.”

“I promise I won't let Kylie open her bag," Monique said. "She just likes to bring it so she looks like a doctor." Her tone turning more professional, she said, "I’d like to take a peek at you, Blair. Would you mind lying on the bed while I give you a quick exam?”

“Sure.” She stood right where she was, looking slightly embarrassed.

“Want me to wait in the lobby?” Kylie asked.

Blair took in a breath and gave her friend a tremulous smile. “No, don’t be silly. I’d like it if you stayed.” She went into the bath and got a clean towel, spreading it out on the bed. She was wearing a large T-shirt and a terry cloth bathrobe. Taking off the robe, she lay down while Monique went into the bath to wash her hands. “Do you think you could hold my hand?” she asked Kylie quietly. “I’m about to jump out of my skin.”

“My pleasure.” Kylie sat on the edge of the bed and chafed the icy hand while they waited for Monique to get organized.

The exam was very brief, and as she removed the disposable speculum, the doctor commented, “Everything looks completely normal, Blair. Your cervix is closed up tight just like it should be. I think you’re absolutely fine,” she said, giving her a reassuring smile. “Check carefully the next time you urinate. You probably won’t bleed again, but if you do, check to see if the blood's bright red or has clots in it. If it does, go to the ER immediately. But I truly don’t think that'll happen. This isn’t uncommon at all. I had some bleeding with both of my kids. It scared me half to death, but it was nothing at all.”

"It has to be something," Blair said. "It's blood!"

"Honestly, Blair, having a little spotting or bleeding is very, very common, and it doesn't indicate that anything is wrong. I wish I could tell you exactly why it happened, but I'm afraid I can't. It just happens."

Blair sighed and said, "This isn't an exact science, is it?"

"Not by a long shot," Monique agreed. "But I'm certain you don’t have anything to worry about."

“Thanks so much for coming,” Blair said, her relief obvious. “Thanks to both of you.”

“Just to be safe, you might want to stay in bed tomorrow or lie outside in the shade and read a good book,” Monique suggested. "I'm sure the baby's fine, but you're looking awfully wrung out."

“I am,” Blair said. "A day off sounds like a very good idea."

“Ready to go?” Monique asked Kylie.

“Do you have your car here, Blair?”

“Sure. Why?”

“I'm gonna send Monique home. I’ll drive myself home in your car and come back to get you in the morning. I want to make sure you’re settled.”

“But, Kylie …”

Kylie took a twenty dollar bill from her wallet and handed it to Monique. “That should cover parking. Thanks for everything, buddy.”

She took the money and said to Blair, “Don’t argue with her. It’s a waste of time. See you soon.”

As soon as the door closed, Kylie turned to her friend. “What happened? Where’s David?”

“At home. I needed some time to myself.”

Once again, the doctor felt a little unsure. She shifted her weight and nervously rubbed her earlobe. “I don't know what’s going on here, Blair. Do you want me to leave? Is it okay that I sent Monique home?”

“Yeah. Of course.” Blair got to her feet and put her robe back on. “We had a fight, and I needed to be alone. Actually, I needed to be away from David. I’m really happy to see you.”

Kylie walked to her and bent over just enough to look directly into her friend's eyes. “Need a hug?”

“Desperately.” She tightened her arms around the taller woman’s waist and clung to her for a long while.

Her robe was open, and when she stepped back, Kylie looked at her and asked, “Can I say hi to the baby, too?”

A bright smile bloomed on Blair's lips. “We’d like that. We’ve really had a tough couple of days.”

Kylie dropped to her knees and placed one hand on her friend's abdomen, leaning in close to say, “Your mommy’s having a rough time right now, baby. It’s time for you to calm down and stop scaring her, okay? She needs her rest tonight, so I want you to stop with the cramps and the bleeding, too. Just be a good baby and go to sleep. Oh, and stay away from her bladder tonight.” She drew even closer and rested her cheek against Blair. “Okay, yeah, I’ll tell her.”

The tall woman stood and said, “The baby said he or she was sorry to worry you. He or she isn’t sure what sex he or she is yet, and he or she apologizes for the excess of pronouns.”

Falling into her arms, Blair let herself cry, the tears that had been flowing for two days nowhere near depleted. After a while, she calmed down enough to talk and said, “David and I are in real trouble, Kylie. He doesn’t want the baby.”

Gripping her by the shoulders, Kylie held her at arm’s length. “How can that … oh, Blair, he must have been … he couldn't have meant that!”

“No, no, he did,” she said quietly. "This happened yesterday afternoon, and he hasn’t retracted it, so he obviously meant it.”

“You’ve been here since yesterday? Why didn’t you call me?”

“I didn’t really want to talk. When I’m upset, I like to be alone.” She looked up at her friend and said, “No reflection on you, Kylie, I knew you’d be there if I needed you. Just like you were tonight.” She shivered and drew her robe tightly around herself. "I needed to be alone to think."

“You can always count on me to be there for you, " Kylie said. "However you need me."

“Thanks,” she said, patting her gently. “I’m exhausted. My keys are on the dresser there. Bring the car back whenever you want. I’m not going anywhere tomorrow.”

“I’m not leaving,” Kylie said. “I have surgery at 7:00, so I’ll need to leave here at 6:00, but I should be finished by noon at the latest. When I get back, we’ll decide what to do next. Do you have another T-shirt I can borrow to sleep in?”

The blonde sighed, sounding completely drained. “Kylie, don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”

“Don’t waste your time arguing, Blair. I’m not going to leave you alone after the day you’ve had. Get over it.” She wore her usual calm expression, but there was a determination in her eyes that convinced Blair that she meant business.

Going to the dresser, Blair pulled out another T-shirt. “This might be small on you, but it's the best I can offer."

“Don't worry about me. I can sleep in my shirt. You hop into bed now.” She went into the bathroom and came back out with Blair’s moisture lotion. “I'd like to rub your back, but only if it won't make you uncomfortable. It should help with the cramps,” she said, continuing to explain.

Blair put a hand out and touched her arm. "You never make me uncomfortable, and I'd love a little human contact. I've never been so lonely." She bent over and held herself, her shoulders shaking as she sobbed.

Kylie sat on the edge of the bed and held her, letting her cry herself out. They didn't talk, even though Kylie was desperate to learn what had happened with David. But it was clear that Blair was too worn out to keep her eyes open. Kylie urged her onto her stomach, then pulled her T-shirt up and began to thoroughly soothe the tight muscles.

“You have great hands,” Blair mumbled.

Kylie laughed, her voice low and soothing. “That's an entrance requirement for a surgeon.”

“Feels better. Cramps all gone. Sleep now?”

"Yep."

Kylie pulled the blanket up, tucking it around her friend.

“I’ll never be able to thank you for this, Kylie. I just don’t know how to …” Before her sentence was completed, Blair’s eyes fluttered closed, and she began to breathe heavily. Kylie smiled at her, then took off her pants and got into the other bed, falling asleep nearly as quickly as Blair had.

 

ĄG

 

Kylie returned to the hotel room just after 1:00, finding Blair still in bed, the curtains drawn. Blair stirred and moaned, then rolled onto her side and pulled a pillow over her head.

Not an afternoon person, Kylie thought. I wonder if she's missing any appointments? I hate to do it, but I know she wouldn’t want to flake on her clients. She walked over to the bed and gently touched her friend's arm. "It's after 1:00, Blair. Do you have any meetings today?"

"No," she mumbled, then added, "Go away."

"Okay," Kylie said, the rebuff stinging. "I'll be down by the pool, having lunch. See you."

Before she got to the door, the blonde flung the pillow from her face and asked, "Did I say that 'go away' part out loud?"

"Loud and clear," Kylie said, managing a half smile.

"I'm sorry. I'm just so fucking depressed that I don't want to see anyone."

"I can understand that," Kylie said, even though she really couldn't. "I'll just take a cab home. Call me when you feel like talking, okay?"

Blair sat up a little more and gazed at her friend. "Don't be mad. I just … I can't be nice today."

"I'm not mad," Kylie said. "I just don't know how to be."

"Be gone," Blair said, her voice much more gentle now. "Just let me feel sorry for myself. I deserve a day to wallow in despair."

"If that's what works for you, be my guest," Kylie said. "But this happened on Saturday, Blair. It’s easy to get into something you can’t get out of."

Blair got out of bed and walked over to her friend. "I know you mean well, but I won't die if I sleep for another twenty-four hours. I don't like to be supervised, Kylie. Especially when I feel this bad. I promise I'll call you by tomorrow, okay?"

The dark head nodded, even though it was obvious that the doctor wasn't happy about being sent home. "I'll wait for you to call me, but I won't stop worrying about you until you do."

"That's playing dirty, Doc," Blair said, unable to keep from smiling.

"I do what I have to do," Kylie said. She hugged her friend, then gave her a smile and left her alone.

 

ĄG

 

Blair called that evening. "I don't want to talk, but I don't want you worrying, either. How's this for a compromise?"

"Pretty good," Kylie said. "Have you had dinner?"

"No babying me," Blair said, her voice only slightly playful.

"I'm just making conversation," the doctor insisted.

"Uh-huh. That's the thing I don't wanna do. I'll call you tomorrow, Kylie. And I'm very glad that you care about me. Just let me handle this my own way."

"I don't think I have a choice," Kylie said, laughing wryly.

 

ĄG

 

At 8:00 p.m. Blair glared at the door, hoping that whoever was knocking could duck. "Who is it?" she barked, surprised to hear herself sounding so angry.

"It's David."

"Which one?" she asked. She got up and opened the door, staring right into his eyes. "The one I thought I married, or the one I did marry?"

He looked like a beaten dog, all of his usual self-confidence vanished. "I don't know, Blair. I'm just a guy who wants his wife to come home."

She walked away, but left the door open, and David took this as an unspoken invitation. He followed her into the room and sat down on the second bed when she crawled back into the one by the window. "State your business."

"Damn," he grumbled, "do you have to treat me like shit?"

"Yeah, I do. What do you want?"

He looked like he wanted to get up and leave, but he collected his thoughts and said, "I know you're a very practical person, and I know you've been thinking about your options."

"That's true," she said. "If I weren’t sure the neighbors heard us arguing on Saturday, you'd be coroner's exhibit # 387 right now. No one would have suspected me, and I'd have your life insurance policy to live on."

"Jesus, Blair, I know I screwed up, but thinking about killing me is kinda harsh!"

"Count your blessings. I think about dismembering you, too. In my fantasies, you beg for a quick death."

"Have you always been this vengeful? God damn it, I've known you for ten years, and you've never even yelled at me!"

"Then I'm overdue," she said. "Do you have a point?"

"Yes, of course I do." He looked at her for a moment, then said, "If you divorce me, you'll have to raise the baby on your own."

"Brilliant," she said. "You're very good at math."

"Stop kicking me in the ass long enough for me to make my point, okay?"

She looked at the sparks of fire in his eyes and actually felt more comfortable with him. She hated wimps, and when David acted so sorry for himself, she truly wanted to kill him. "Fine. Go on."

"You're a very attractive woman, and I know that you'll meet some guy who wants to be with you if you leave me. If that happens, he'll be the baby's stepfather."

"Uh-huh." She gave him a blank look.

"If you could let another guy be the baby's stepfather, why can't you let me try to be a real father? I'm not sure I can do it, but I know I'd be better than a stepfather. I might never think of the baby as mine, but neither would the guys you date."

"Is that the best you've got? 'Cause it ain't much."

He nodded. "Yeah, that's the best I've got."

Her legs slid over the side of the bed, and she rested her weight on her forearms. "Look, David, there's a big difference here. You are the baby's father. The fact that you can't believe that is what would make you a horrible father. You have some brainless notion that you'd feel more connected if your genes were in this baby's body. But you wouldn't. If you think of this child as something you own …" She shook her head. "That's just too fucked up to discuss."

"Okay, okay," he said. "Let's agree that I'd be the world's worst father. I haven't been a bad husband. I know that, Blair, and you know that, too. So come home with me and let me be your husband. The baby won't be hurt by having me in the same house, will he? Let me help you through this pregnancy. Please!"

"So far you've sucked more than I can tell you, David. Why should I believe you’d be better now?"

"I know I have," he said. "I know that. That's because I've had all of these feelings tearing me apart. Now that they're out, I can act more like myself. I don't have to hide how I'm really feeling and censor myself every moment."

She flopped back onto the bed and let out a weary sigh. "I don't know what that would buy me. What if your feelings for the baby don't change?"

"You could leave me then," he said.

"And you think that would be easier for me? I don't think I could go through this twice, David. It would kill me."

"But you need someone to help you, Blair. You can't live alone during this."

"Yeah, I think I can," she said. "Lots of women do."

"But how many of them have a husband who wants to be there to support them? I wanna be there for you, Blair. I really, really want to help."

She sat up and stared at him. "If you really want to help, you'll figure out what's stopping you from loving your child. You've got thirty weeks left, David. Go to therapy three times a week, and you can change if you try hard enough."

"Shit, Blair, I'm no good at that stuff. You know I don't have that introspective thing."

Giving him a blank look, she let her shoulders raise and drop. "That's my best offer. I'm not going to get back together with you until I'm confident you can be a good father. Doing it the other way would make me insane."

He got up and then sat next to her, letting his body lightly touch hers. "Our marriage isn't important to you? I'm not important to you?"

She reached out and took his hand, holding it tightly for a minute. Starting to cry again, she brought his hand to her lips and kissed it, then rubbed it gently across her face, wishing for some of the old magic to return. "You're very important to me. But the baby comes first. That's all there is to it, David. The baby comes first."

He put his arm around her, and she leaned against his chest. "I'm worried about you," he said. “It drives me crazy to think of your lying here alone, crying your eyes out. Isn't there anything I can do?"

"Change the way you think, David. It's the only way." She yawned, then rubbed her eyes.

He looked at his watch. "It's still early."

"Not to me. I'm tired. I've never been this tired." She slumped down, collapsing onto the bed. "I feel like all of the energy's been drained out of me."

David sat on the edge of the bed, watching as his wife's eyes fluttered closed. She tried to open them, but they didn't heed her command. In just a few moments, she was breathing slowly and steadily, and he saw the lines of tension leave her face.

He reached out and stroked her face, marveling at how beautiful she was. Her face was a little rounder than normal, but the extra weight had filled her features out, making her look a little like she had when he'd first met her. "So pretty," he whispered. "Such a pretty woman." She purred a little under his gentle touch, then rolled onto her side, her usual sleep position.

Should I stay? She's been so sad. I miss her so much — I think she might like to be cuddled. He stood up and took off his pants and shirt, then gingerly lay down next to her. She reached behind herself and took his hand, tucking it between her breasts, just like always. He buried his face in her hair, feeling tears stinging his eyes once again. It felt so good, so familiar, so right, that he wouldn't let himself sleep. He lay awake for hours with his hand resting on her belly, trying to feel something — anything — for the child that grew inside of her.

 

ĄG

 

Blair woke to the pressure in her bladder. She was thoroughly disoriented, not sure why she was lying on the wrong side of David. Stealthily taking his hand from her waist, she sighed and sat up. She stood and waited for her balance to settle, when it hit her like a body blow. She felt desperately sad, wishing there were some way to get her life back. Did I ask him to stay? I was so tired, I might have. She went into the bathroom and sat down, letting her head drop into her hands. How did we get here? How did it all go so wrong?

She went back into the bedroom and stood next to the bed for a moment, gazing at David. Still torn between the feelings she'd had for him for ten years and her desire to strangle him for screwing things up so badly, she let her instincts take over. Doing her very best to sink into denial, she climbed back into bed and sighed heavily when David immediately sought out her warm body. I wish this were enough, David. Dear God, I wish this were enough.

 

ĄG

 

On Wednesday, Blair called Kylie early in the day. "I have to go to work today, so I'll be in your neighborhood. Wanna have dinner?"

"Sure. Where do you want to go?"

"I was thinking your house. All I want is some pasta with a little Parmesan on it. Can you handle that, Doc?"

"Yeah, I think I can manage. Will it bother you if I put some vegetables on mine?"

"Not if you cook 'em before I get there," Blair said.

"I'll try to time things properly, but if I don't, you can always sit on my deck. We can eat out there, too. What time should I expect you?"

"I'm free after 7:00. Is that okay?"

"Perfect. See you then."

Kylie hung up and looked at her cell phone for a moment. You're a handful, Blair Spencer. A real handful.

 

ĄG

 

Dinner passed without complaint or much conversation. Kylie was afraid of pushing her friend, and Blair was still very closed-mouth. All they managed was polite "How was your day?" talk that sounded very lame given the circumstances.

Kylie insisted on cleaning the kitchen, and she gently suggested that Blair sit outside while she worked. The doctor finished neatening up, then went outside, surprised and pained to see her friend crying hard. "Oh, Blair, please tell me what's going on," Kylie said. She squatted down in front of her, looking into her red-rimmed eyes.

"I told you," she said, her voice shaking. "David doesn't want the baby. Now the question is … do I?" She collapsed against the table, giving her head a fairly good whack.

Kylie was at a complete loss. She'd learned that Blair didn't like to be smothered, or even prodded, when she was upset, but she couldn't stop herself from pulling the shaking woman into her arms. "Tell me," was all she said.

"Would you hate me if I didn't keep the baby?"

Blair looked so fragile that Kylie felt her head begin to shake. "Of course not! You're my friend, Blair. I'd never judge you." She waited a second, then said, "If you want to abort, you don't have much time left."

"Abort! " Kylie was sure the neighbors heard the shout, but she didn't care much at that moment. "How could you even say that?" Blair asked.

Shaken, Kylie said, "I thought that's what you meant."

"Then you don't know me very well, Kylie Mackenzie. You don't know me very well at all!" She stood up, looking like she was going to leave. Instead, she touched her belly and said, "It's not this baby's fault that his parents are a couple of idiots! He's not going to suffer because I had my head up my ass when I got pregnant!"

"Blair!" Kylie approached tentatively, afraid that her friend might swat her away. "Why are you saying things like that? You got pregnant very, very deliberately."

"Yeah," she said, her words venomous. "I got pregnant because I thought my husband knew what love meant! Did he become heartless, or was he always that way?" She sank into her chair, sobbing so hard that her body shook violently.

Kylie didn't have anything to say, partly because she didn't know what had happened between Blair and David. So she knelt and tentatively put her arms around her friend, rocking her gently. "Shh," she soothed, "Shh now."

It took a long time, but Blair finally calmed down enough to speak. "Can I tell you what happened?"

"If you don’t, I’m gonna explode." Kylie took her arm and helped her to get up. "It's getting chilly out here. Let's go inside. I'll make you some decaf tea."

They walked inside together, and a few minutes later, Blair told the whole tale, the events so burned into her memory that she didn't omit a thing.

 

ĄG

 

Kylie was curled up on one corner of the sofa, her head dropped back against the upholstery. She had an empty glass in her hand, the Scotch now stinging her stomach. She sat up, wiped at her eyes and said, "I don't know how you've managed to keep this inside since Saturday. Have you told anyone?"

"No."

"Not even your mom? I know how close you are. I thought —"

Blair's response was immediate and sharp. "No. I don't want her to know. If I decide to give the baby up for adoption, I'll tell her, but on the off chance that David and I get back together, I don't what her to know about this whole fucking mess."

Kylie looked at her friend, then her eyes shifted, and she focused somewhere in the middle distance. She seemed uncomfortable, and Blair stuck her foot out and tapped her friend's thigh. "Sorry I'm being so bitchy. I just feel like my head's gonna burst open. I talked with a client today, and when he was complaining about some minor thing, I wanted to strangle him with my bare hands and say, 'I might have to give my baby up for adoption! How can you carry on about a pool not having a big enough filter system?'"

"Do you wanna talk about that?" Kylie asked.

"No. I told you I wanted to kill the last guy who wanted to discuss filter systems." She didn't smile, but Kylie saw that her friend was just on the verge of one. The doctor didn't say another word. She just left her question on the table. Blair stretched and moved around on the couch, trying to get comfortable. "Can I put my feet up? I had to wear heels today, and they felt like tourniquets."

"Toss 'em over here," Kylie said, patting the cushion that separated the women. “I give a good foot rub."

Blair did as she was told, and a moment later, she began to purr. "Oh, God, why aren't

you married? Do the women you date know you can do this?"

"Maybe not," Kylie said. "Maybe I should change my approach."

"Damn!" Blair shook her head and said, "I could fall asleep. Of course, it helps that I've been getting about an hour of sleep at a time. I wake up in a cold sweat, seeing a nurse take my baby from me, while I'm lying in a bed, covered with blood."

"Tell me about it," Kylie said. "Tell me why you're considering putting the baby up for adoption."

"All right." Blair looked at her friend and said, "I can't decide if I'm thinking of the baby's best interests, or I'm trying to punish myself and David. Of course, I guess all three things could be accomplished at the same time."

"Why do you need to be punished, Blair? What have you done wrong?"

"I created a life with a man who wasn't ready to have a child, Kylie. I knew … I knew we were making a mistake, but I talked myself into it. I gambled with a human life. And I lost."

"You did not!" Kylie said, her voice rising. "Things aren't working out like you'd planned, but you didn't act rashly. Shit happens!"

"I should have been certain that David could handle this, Kylie. I had doubts!"

"Okay, so you had doubts. That makes you want to give your baby away?"

Blair looked at her for so long that Kylie feared she was trying to figure out if her hands would fit around the doctor's neck for an efficient strangulation. But to Kylie's relief, she wasn't angry.

"No," she said with an extraordinary amount of determination in her voice. "I don't want to give my baby away. I love this child with every bit of my heart. I would only give him up if I thought he'd be better off with parents who both loved and wanted him."

"Oh, Blair," Kylie said, starting to cry. "That's such a loving act."

"He's my baby," Blair said, crying along with her friend. "I'd do anything in the world to make sure he had the best life possible — including giving him up."

"That's the best example of a mother's love I've ever heard," the doctor said. She squeezed Blair's feet and said, "You don't have to give the baby up to make sure he has a wonderful life. You can provide that. With or without David."

"I can?" Blair asked, looking hopeful.

"Yes. I'm sure of it."

"But it's better to have two parents," Blair said. Her eyes were filled with tears, and she looked like a small, frightened child.

"What if David wanted the baby, but died right before you gave birth?"

"That might happen," Blair said. "Don't give me any more ideas."

"No, really. Would you give up the baby then?"

"N … no, I guess I wouldn’t."

Kylie patted her friend's feet, stood up and walked to the other end of the couch. Squatting down, she said, "You don't know what's going to happen. You can't guarantee an adoptive couple would do better than you could alone, or than you and David could do together. It's a crap shoot, Blair. But millions of single people have babies and do very, very well by them. You have enough money to work fewer hours and spend time with the baby, and I'm sure David will want some role, even if he doesn't think he does now."

"I swing back and forth between the depths of despair and knowing that everything will be all right. Sometimes I dream of how it will be when David holds the baby for the first time. In my fantasies, he's in love with him as soon as he lays eyes on him."

"Yeah," Kylie said, seeing a glimmer of hope in her friend's eyes. "That could definitely happen. It probably will." She touched her friend's chin, moving her head up until their eyes met. "But if it doesn't work out, you won't be alone. I know I can't take David's role, but if you divorce him, I promise you that I'll help you in any way I can. You can depend on me. Hell, I'd gladly watch the baby every weekend so you could have some time to yourself. We can work this out."

"You'd do that … for me?" The pale green eyes were filled with tears once again.

"Of course I would. Just promise me one thing, Blair. Don't give up someone who means so much to you! He's your baby," she soothed, putting her hand on her friend's tummy. "Don't give him away unless you're sure you can't give him a good home."

"But what if someone could do a better job?" the blonde asked, still looking terrified.

"I've got news for you. Someone can always do a better job." She patted her friend's thigh. "Your baby doesn't need to be raised by a perfect parent. He just needs for you to always try to do your best -- as you see fit. Seriously considering giving him up for adoption shows that you're already doing that."

"It does?" she asked, her jaw quivering again.

"It does," Kylie said emphatically. She wrapped her arms around Blair, holding her tight. "You're gonna be a great Mom. I'm sure of it."

 

ĄG

 

A little while later, Blair gathered her things and prepared to return to the hotel. “I’d really like it if you’d stay here,” Kylie said. “I’d like to keep an eye on you.”

“You don’t have a guest room,” Blair reminded her.

“I have a sleeper sofa in my office. It’s a good one — really. I don’t mind sleeping there.”

“No way,” Blair decided. “Your job is too physically demanding to have you tossing and turning all night long. Besides, you’re moving this weekend. You must have a million things to do.”

“Oh, God, don’t remind me! I haven’t done a thing!”

“Kylie, what are you waiting for? The movers will be here on Saturday morning!”

“I know, I know. I just hate to pack. And even worse than that is unpacking. I hate to be a prima donna, but my hands are too critical to my livelihood to risk hurting them.”

“Let me take care of it for you,” Blair offered. “You won’t have to do a thing.”

“Oh, sure, I’m gonna to let my pregnant friend do the work I’m too much of a baby to do. That’s gonna happen!”

“I’m the last person who would pack or unpack a box. I’ve got a crew that works with me to move my wealthy clients. They’re going to be at Mr. Action Hero’s house tomorrow. I think I can have them squeeze you in on Friday, and then unpack you on Saturday.”

“Will it cost a lot?”

“Of course! But how much are your hands worth? Remember, I know how much you earn, Doc. You can afford it.” She waited a beat, then added, “Besides, you don’t have any other options, you big dope.”

“I guess you’re right,” Kylie admitted sheepishly. “But we still have to figure out what to do about you.”

“I’m not going to sleep on your couch, I’m not going to let you sleep on it and I’m not going to sleep with you. We’re not in grade school anymore, Kylie. We're too old for sleepovers.”

“Fine," Kylie said, "but I have two guest rooms in my new house. You'll move in with me on Saturday and stay until you decide what to do."

“You still won’t have a spare bed,” Blair reminded her.

“Sure I will. I'll buy one tomorrow. You can come with me to make sure you like it."

Blair sighed and gave her friend a wry smile. "If I had another choice, I wouldn’t impose. But I can't afford that hotel for much longer, and I won't consider going back to David until he decides he can't live without this baby."

 

ĄG

 

On Friday afternoon, Blair was sitting in her office, staring out the window. She had work to do — plenty of it — but she couldn't summon the energy to make or take a phone call. The receptionist had buzzed her three times, but she ignored the always-annoying sound, knowing that it would stop eventually. She was vaguely aware of her door opening, but she thought it was one of her assistants, just dropping something off. She jumped when she heard her mother-in-law's voice. "Blair?"

"Oh! Sadie!" She turned her chair around to face the older woman, surprised when Sadie leaned over and hugged her.

"How are you, sweetheart?"

"Not good," Blair said, her words slightly muffled by Sadie's boucle knit suit.

Sadie released her and sat on the edge of a chair. She looked at her daughter-in-law with deep concern, and said, "I just heard that you've moved out. What in the world has happened, honey?"

"What … what do you know?" Blair asked.

"I know what David told me," she replied. "He said that you'd had an argument about the baby and that you were staying in a hotel." She leaned over the desk and said, "Tell me what happened, Blair. This isn't like you."

Stunned at her mother-in-law's calm tone and apparent empathy, Blair said, "I don't want to betray David, Sadie. This is between us. If he wanted you to know everything that'd happened, he would have told you."

The older woman sighed, then sank back into her chair. Blair looked at her, noting how defeated Sadie appeared. Normally, she was a regular cyclone, her large, boxy body always in motion. It seemed that even her features had softened. She had a large, nearly triangular-shaped face, with a very prominent nose and a sharp chin, but today, she didn't look as fierce as usual. Her dark eyes still flashed, though, and Blair was still a little wary of her. "He told me enough," Sadie said quietly. "He said he didn't think he could love this child as his own." She looked down at her hands, the fingers nervously linking and unlinking. "How could he say that?" She looked like she was going to cry, amazing Blair.

"I don't know, Sadie. I was astounded, then angry, then desperate. For the last two days, I’ve considered giving the baby up for adoption …" Sadie gasped so loudly that Blair jumped. She shook her head, saying, "A friend helped me to see that that wasn't a good idea," she added quickly.

Sadie reached across the desk and took Blair's hand, squeezing it firmly. "I'm so sorry, honey. You must be losing your mind."

"I am," she said, then started to cry. Sadie got up and came over to Blair's side of the desk, then helped her up and enfolded her in a hug. Amazingly, the hug felt wonderful, and Blair wanted to stay in the woman's arms all day.

"He'll come to his senses," Sadie said. "He's just frightened. Most men are frightened when their wives are pregnant."

"He's not frightened, Sadie. He's thought this through. He doesn't feel connected to the baby, and he doesn't think he can ever be."

"Good Lord!" Sadie sat back down and slapped her open hand on the desk. "How can he be so stupid! God knows I didn't think this was a good idea, but once you've made the commitment, you can't just change your mind!"

"Apparently you can, when you're not the one carrying it," Blair said wryly.

"Give him some time, Blair. He'll realize how much he loves this baby. Don't give up on him."

"Sadie, I love David so much …" She crossed her arms and laid her head upon them. "I miss him so much. But I can't be in the house with him. It's bad for the baby to have me so upset. I can't spend every minute of the day crying!"

"Come to my house," Sadie said. "You can stay with me until things are back to normal."

"No, no, I need to be close to Santa Monica. I'd be driving all day if I stayed with you in Glendale. I'm gonna stay with a friend who just bought a house in the Palisades. But thanks for your offer. I really do appreciate it."

"Blair, I know I can get on your nerves, but I think of you as family. That's my grandchild who's growing in you. Please take care of yourself and the baby."

"I will," Blair said, misting up again. "Thanks for caring, Sadie."

"I care very much. And no matter what happens, that won't change."

Blair gazed at her mother-in-law for a few moments, trying to get up the nerve to ask her a very loaded question. Figuring she had little to lose, she finally said, "I think part of the reason David's so screwed up about this is because of you."

"Me? What did I do?"

"He remembers being a little boy and having you and his dad talk about someone adopting a baby. He says that you thought it was a bad idea, and that it was like taking a stray dog from the pound."

"I never …!" Sadie began, but then softened. "He says I said that?"

"Uh-huh."

"Dear God." Sadie tilted her head back and blew out an audible breath. "The smartest thing a parent can do is have a sound-proof room in the house. That's where you can go to have a conversation that your kid won't hear and torture himself over for the rest of his life." She looked at Blair and said, "I'm sure he's talking about my sister, Alice." She closed her eyes and looked like she was on the verge of tears. "I didn't know he knew about Michael."

"He knows," Blair said. "So does Michael."

"God damn it!" Sadie bellowed, her voice booming against the walls. "I was twenty-five years old and talking nonsense! And David's gonna let one stupid remark ruin his marriage and his relationship with his child? What kind of idiot is he?"

Surprisingly, Blair felt her hackles rise. It was one thing for her to call David an idiot and quite another for Sadie to do so. "He was a little boy, Sadie. It frightened him, and he obviously didn't think he could tell you about it."

"Damn me," she said, her face red with anger. "How can I fix this?"

"I don't think you can, Sadie. David's got this belief that he's not related, so he's not connected."

"I don't understand that," Sadie groaned. "Of course he wants his own baby, but he can't have that! This is the only alternative for him, and it's almost the same!"

Blair stared at her mother-in-law, too stunned to speak.

"It's like my friend, Annette. Her son is a homosexual. Now, Annette doesn't want him to be one; who would? But he's her son, and she still loves him. Just because he's not normal is no reason to stop loving him."

"Right," Blair said, wishing Sadie would leave so she could start weaving a noose. She was fairly sure she could hang it over the door and kick her desk chair away …

"I'll go talk to David, Blair. I'm sure between the two of us we can knock some sense into him."

"You start," Blair said. "Let me know how it turns out."

Sadie got up and hugged Blair again. "We'll fix this, Blair. You just wait and see."

"Oh, I'll be waiting," she said, forcing a smile. "I'll hold my breath."

 

ĄG

 

On Saturday afternoon, Blair and Kylie sat on the veranda of the new house, drinking lemonade while they listened to the movers bang furniture around inside. “I haven’t moved often,” Kylie said, smiling at her friend, “but this is clearly the best moving experience I’ve ever had.” They'd been at the house for about two hours, occasionally going inside to supervise the moving crew. “Are you sure you have enough sun block on?” Kylie asked. “Your skin is more sensitive to the sun now.”

“I’d like to know what part of me isn’t more sensitive,” Blair complained. “There isn’t one part of me that feels like it used to. My hair’s even different! How can that be?”

“Extra protein,” Kylie said. “It looks great, by the way. Really thick and shiny.”

“Yeah, it’s so ironic. My hair looks great, my breasts are bigger, I’m horny as hell, and I chose this moment to leave my husband. Poor planning on my part.”

“You haven’t left him, Blair, you’re just taking some time out.”

“It’s our anniversary, Kylie. Our sixth anniversary, and I’m spending it staying at a friend’s house. That sounds like a pretty significant time out, doesn't it?"

"Damn, Blair, I didn’t realize it was your anniversary. That really sucks.”

“Well, pregnant women are well-known for their tendency to cry for no reason at all,” she said. “At least I’ve got a reason.”

Kylie got up from her chair and went over to offer a hug. “I’m so sorry, Blair,” she said as she held her. “I just hope that David comes to his senses soon.”

“I do, too,” she said. “I lay in bed half the night, wondering what I’ll do if he isn’t able to get past this. I mean, I told him that I’d divorce him before I’ll live with a man who doesn’t love our baby. But do I have the guts to do that? Jesus, Kylie, I love him! Up until now, we had a really good marriage! How in the hell did this happen?” Kylie increased the strength of her embrace and let Blair cry herself out. It took a while, since her hormones were really raging, but she was finally able to collect herself.

"It's not exactly the same, but I think I felt a little like you do when Stacey and I broke up. It was devastating for me, and I wasn't pregnant. I really can empathize, Blair."

The blonde looked at her friend for a second, then said, "I didn't know it was that hard for you. When you've talked about her before, you made it seem like just another relationship that didn't work out quite right."

"Oh, no," Kylie said soberly. "She was … I was … it was a major blow. I thought we'd be together until the end."

"Damn, Kylie, I didn't know." She looked at her friend, seeing the sadness in her expressive eyes. "Tell me how you felt."

"I felt like I’d lost a piece of myself," Kylie said, her eyes misting over. "My hopes, my dreams, my heart … all broken."

"But why … I mean … you said you broke up because you didn't share the same interests. Was that all there was to it?"

"Yeah. That was really it. In every other area we were really good together."

"Tell me about her," Blair said, seeing that Kylie needed to talk. "Tell me all about her."

"We don't need to do this now," Kylie said. "You've got your own problems."

"Your problems are just as important as mine are, Kylie. Let me in."

The doctor paused a moment, then gave her friend a half-smile. "Stacey used to say that. She didn't think I was very good at talking about things that bothered me."

"You're not," Blair said, smiling at her. "Unless your life is as perfect as you've led me to believe, you really kinda suck at it. You're not a good complainer."

Kylie laughed. "Complaining wasn't allowed in my house. I never got into the habit."

"It's never too late to start a habit," Blair said. "Give it a try."

"Okay, but don't blame me if I start crying on your shoulder once an hour."

"I can handle ya. Give it up, Doc."

"Okay. " Kylie sat in her own chair, then rolled her shoulders a few times, her expression a look of deep concentration. "Stacey was almost perfect for me. I was incredibly attracted to her, I respected her and she made me a better person than I was before I met her."

"That's a lot on the plus side, Kylie."

"Oh, there's more," she said, tucking a leg up beneath herself. "She was very kind and thought about other people a lot. She had more energy and enthusiasm than I do. She was always upbeat and ready to go."

"But …?"

"But we didn't like to spend our time doing the same things."

"That's it?"

"Yep. That's it." Kylie stared out at the yard for a minute, obviously thinking. "I've been wondering if we didn't make a mistake."

"A mistake? How do you mean?"

"Well, I see how you and David were able to have a happy marriage while each enjoying your own interests. Maybe I wanted too much. Maybe it's not possible to have one person fulfill all of your needs."

"I've never found anyone who could," Blair said. "But I've never looked for someone to — so I'm not the ideal person to ask."

Kylie looked at her with a question in her eyes. "You haven't?"

"No, not really. One of the things I liked about David was that he needed alone time as much as I did. My other boyfriends were always so needy."

"Huh." I have never, in my entire life, heard a woman complain about her boyfriend being too needy. It's usually just the opposite.

“They were always pushing me into making a commitment, and I pull away if I feel too much pressure. I went with a guy before David who I really liked, but he was always talking about marriage. I was too young for that kinda talk. It really turned me off."

"Huh." I've gotta think of something to say, or she's gonna think I've been struck mute!

"Are you like that, too?"

"Uhm … no, not at all. Just the opposite, really. I mean, I broke up with a woman I loved because she didn't want to go to the symphony with me. I hated not being with her on the weekends, so I stopped going to the things I liked — then I started to resent her."

"Wow. I can't imagine that. I mean, I thought it would be nice to have David love the arts, but I would never deprive myself of something I loved just because he didn't like it. Don't you enjoy your own company?"

"Yeah, I guess I do, but when I love someone, I want to be with her. That's the whole point, isn't it?"

"I guess it is, if that's how you are. But it seems to me it would be easier to find someone to go to the symphony with than to find someone to love."

“Yeah. You might be right," Kylie said thoughtfully.

"Tell me how you felt when you broke up," Blair said. "How did it affect you?"

"Oh, damn, I was so depressed," Kylie said. "I had dreams of growing old with Stacey. We'd planned on having kids, and I used to dream of how much they'd look like her and act like her. She was such a beautiful person, Blair." She sniffed a little and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "She got me out of my shell — got me to start doing volunteer work. She made me care about the world in general, not just my little corner of it."

"She sounds fantastic, Kylie. What did she do for a living?"

"She was, and still is, the development director for a non-profit corporation that's trying to develop disease-resistant indigenous crops for third world countries. Part of their agenda is to help native people make enough money to resist the lure of cutting down more of the rainforest. It's a big job, but she's really making a difference."

"And she got you involved, too?"

"Yeah." Kylie smiled fondly. "We took a couple of trips to South America for research. I loaded myself up with some simple medical supplies and played doctor in some remote villages while Stacey talked to the people about proper crop rotation and biodiversity. Those were some of the most rewarding weeks of my life."

"Kylie, it sounds like you lost so much!"

"I did," she said. "That's why I have some idea of what you're going through."

"Jesus!" Blair said. "I don't think I lost half of what you did." Her mouth dropped open at the same time Kylie's did, and both women stared at each other. "I can't believe I said that," Blair said, "but it's true." She started to cry again, and Kylie went to her and tucked an arm around her waist. "I miss David, but I miss him because we got along so well. It was so easy to be with him." She looked at Kylie with her red-rimmed eyes and asked, "Do you know what I mean?"

"No," Kylie said. "It was never that easy to be with Stacey. We worked on our relationship all of the time — trying to find ways to get our needs met."

"I meet my own needs," Blair said. "How can you expect someone to do that for you?"

"How can you not?" Kylie asked, truly puzzled. "Why be in a relationship if you're not going to try to fill your partner's needs?"

Blair looked at the doctor for a long time, finally saying, "Do you think I love David?"

"Huh? Jesus, Blair, I don't have any idea. You certainly sound like you do, but I don't know what goes on when you're alone." She leaned over until she could look directly into her friend's eyes. "Why ask a question like that? Do you have doubts about your love?"

"I didn't until now," she said softly. "Your relationship sounds so much … deeper than ours. I don't know," she said glumly. "Compared to how you felt about Stacey, David and I sound like roommates. And you broke up!"

Kylie gazed at her friend for a moment, thinking, Thank God you said that, 'cause I sure didn't want to. "Your relationship is what it is, Blair. Don't try to judge it against other people's."

"I know, I know," Blair said. "But it sounds like you two were really part of each other. David's more of a … I don't know … maybe a companion."

"Whatever he is to you, you miss him, Blair. That's all that matters."

“I do miss him," she said. "I think I’ll go over and see how he's doing. You can manage without me for a while, can’t you?”

“Yeah,” Kylie said. “I think I can carry the load. You just take it easy and try not to get upset. Baby Spencer likes everything to be cool.”

“I’ll call before I come back. I can pick up something for dinner, okay?”

“Do you mind stopping at the market? I really wanna cook tonight. I’m anxious to break in my new kitchen.”

“It’s a deal.”

 

ĄG

 

When Blair returned, Kylie was sitting in the backyard, sipping an iced tea while she read a book. “Hi,” the blonde said, her voice weary.

“Hey, how ya doing?” Kylie asked, getting up. “Have a seat and let me get you some tea. It’s herbal,” she added.

“I should insist on getting it myself, but at this point, I’d chose to die of thirst rather than walk all the way into the kitchen.” Given that they were about twelve feet from the room, Kylie had a pretty good idea of how tired her friend was.

The doctor moved one of the chaise lounges into full shade and said, “Lie down right here and relax. I’ll be back in a sec.” Blair did as she was told, and was nearly asleep when Kylie returned, moments later.

Handing her the tea, Kylie observed, “Those are some pretty swollen eyes you’ve got there. Tough day?”

“Incredibly. David cried more than I did, and he’s not even pregnant. We’re both so sad, Kylie, but neither of us knows how to make this right. I just pray that he’s able to make some progress in therapy.” She yawned heavily and said, “Part of me knows that’s unlikely, though. He has zero respect for the whole process. He thinks therapists are snake oil salesmen.” She looked at her friend and asked, “Mind if I take a nap? This new furniture is lethally comfortable.”

“Let me lower the back for you.” She did and then pulled a chair over and sat next to her friend.

“I know things are going to be very hard for you. Just know that I’ll help in any way I can. I can’t substitute for the love you’re missing out on, but I care for you, Blair. I really do.”

Lower lip quivering, tears rolling down her cheeks, Blair just nodded, then managed to croak out, “I know. And that means so much to me. It's only been a week, but I’m so lonely, Kylie. I miss him so much.”

“I understand,” Kylie whispered, holding her friend in her arms. “I really do.”

“Oh, David said my mom called earlier. Remind me to call her back, will you? My mind's like a sieve nowadays.”

“I’ll remind you. Now you go to sleep, and when you wake up, we’ll have a little dinner.”

“I bought everything on the list you gave me,” she said through a yawn. “Don’t let me sleep out here all night, ‘kay?”

“You got it.” Kylie reached down and unlaced her friend’s running shoes, then tugged on the toe of her sock. “See you later.”

“Kylie?” she said softly. “Thanks for being my friend.”

“Thanks for being mine.”

 

ĄG

 

Two hours later, Blair woke slowly, and Kylie did her best not to laugh at the creases on her face and the drool that darkened her salmon-colored knit shirt. “Did you slip knock-out drops into that tea?” the blonde grumbled.

“Nope. You’re just taking the usual coma-like nap of pregnancy. Get used to it, buddy.”

“I hear that a lot from you doctor types,” the blonde said. “Every time I complain about something to Monique, she tells me to get used to it.”

“Actually, I don’t say that at work. I always say, ‘Hell, yes, I can fix that!’ Obstetricians pull that helpless act. Surgeons are women of action.”

“I’d hate to think of how you’d surgically render me less tired,” she said, “but you probably have some ideas.”

“I’ll think about it while you call your parents. Can I bring you the cordless phone?”

“No, I’ll use my cell. My parents have caller ID.”

“You still haven't told them, huh?”

“Nope, and if I can manage it, they’ll never know. My father would be on the first plane out here. He’s very protective normally, and now that I’m pregnant … it isn’t pretty.”

“Well, I hope you never have to tell them.”

“I normally tell them everything, Kylie, but I don’t want them to think badly of David.”

“I understand,” she said. “I’ll go inside and start dinner. You stay out here and chat for as long as you like.”

“I will as soon as I pee. I can’t miss an opportunity.”

 

ĄG

 

“You’re gonna make some woman a damned fine wife, Doctor Mackenzie,” Blair decided an hour later as she asked for a second helping of the delicious risotto that Kylie had prepared.

“Got you to eat your green vegetables, didn’t I?” the doctor teased. “And you said you didn’t like spinach.”

“I like it plenty when it’s hidden in this delicious rice. Are you sure you’re not Italian?”

“Nope. All Scottish. We're known for our cuisine.”

“Uh-huh," Blair said, nodding. "I haven’t enjoyed a meal this much in well over a month.”

“Glad to oblige. This is a very critical period for the baby, you know, and we want to give him plenty of nutrients to form his central nervous system.”

Blair patted her stomach. “You build a good one, baby. We’re counting on you.” She pushed her plate away, adding, “I hope I gave him enough nutrients, ‘cause I can’t put another bite into my mouth.”

“You did very well,” Kylie said, obviously pleased. “I’m gonna fatten up those cheeks before you leave here.”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll be plenty fat before this is all over. As soon as my all-day sickness passes, I’ll be chowing down big time.”

“You can come over and help me walk my dog,” Kylie offered.

“That reminds me,” Blair said, “I have a house-warming present for you. Let me go to my room and get it.”

“I should say, ‘Oh, Blair, that’s not necessary’ but I love presents. Go get it right now!”

“Such a child,” Blair clucked. “I can’t believe people let you come at them with a scalpel.”

“Time’s awastin’,” Kylie reminded her, tapping the face of her watch with her finger. “Presents now, jokes later.”

Muttering to herself, Blair walked down the hall and organized all of the little things she’d bought. She affixed the bow to the biggest of the presents and put the others in various pre-wrapped boxes. The bundle was ostentatiously large, and as she waddled back down the hall, Kylie exclaimed, “Good God! What do you have there?” In moments, she removed the gifts from her friend’s hands and carried them into the living room.

“Just a few things you’re going to need,” Blair said.

Kylie looked down at the fluffy, sheepskin-covered dog bed, wrapped in a wide ribbon with a big bow attached. Next her eyes traveled to two large boxes. “Uhm … Blair, are there air holes in one of those boxes?”

“Of course not!” she chided, bumping her with her hip.

“Well, I know you’ve been really forgetful, and I thought that maybe ¾”

“Kylie, I did not buy you a dog! That’s like buying you a girlfriend!”

“And the problem with that is …? I have no objection to your bringing in a great big box with a cute little lesbian in it,” she insisted. “I don’t even mind if she bites.”

“Will you open your presents? I know I promised to find you a girlfriend, and believe me, I’m working on it. But I’m not going to have one delivered to the house.”

“I’m a busy woman,” the doctor maintained. “I’m really not very picky — I trust you, Blair.”

“Open your presents,” she repeated, eyes narrowed.

“Oh, all right.” Kylie sat down on the dog bed and scooted around a little. “Nice. I’m sure the dog will sleep with me, but this'll look good to people who don’t know what a softie I am.” She opened the first box to reveal six paperback books, all on the proper way to choose and welcome a puppy into a home. “Cool! I love to read up on stuff before I make a decision!”

“I know that,” Blair said. “I’ve been paying attention, Doctor Mackenzie.”

“Indeed you have,” Kylie said, smiling broadly. She dug into the box again and started to pull out dog toys, revealing chew rings, bones made out of compressed cornstarch and some of ground carrots.

“Those seemed ucky to me, but the guy at the pet store says that puppies love ‘em,” Blair said.

“Maybe I could get you to eat the carrot ones when your stomach’s queasy,” Kylie ventured.

“That doesn’t even deserve a response,” Blair said. “There’s more; keep digging.”

Further investigation produced the world’s tiniest nylon collar, a six-foot leather leash, a pair of adorably decorated ceramic bowls for food and water and a bag of puppy dog food. “Goodness, Blair, there’s everything here but the dog!”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Blair said. She pulled out a card that had been hidden in one of the books and handed it to her friend. “I believe this takes care of everything.” Inside the card, which pictured at least twenty-five different puppies, Blair had written,

 

Dear Kylie,

 

As soon as you make up your mind,

I’ll buy you the dog you desire. It’s not the

girlfriend I promised, but it’s a start.            

Thanks for everything, but especially for

being my friend when I really needed one.

           

Blair

 

“Aw, Blair, now you’ve made me cry,” Kylie protested, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “That’s no fair.”

Blair helped her friend to her feet and gave her a robust hug. “I always buy a client a housewarming present, but I’ll admit this is my first housewarming dog. Happy new home, Kylie.”

"My friends all have nice houses, and their real estate agents gave them bottles of wine or a gift basket with cheese and crackers."

"Well, you're a special client," Blair said. "Very special."

“Thank you, Blair, thank you so much. This means more to me than I can tell you.”

“You just sit down in the kitchen and start reading those books while I do the dishes. I have a feeling you’re the type who likes to yell things out while you read.”

“Doesn’t everyone?” Kylie asked, confused. “I wouldn’t read at all without an audience.”

 

ĄG

 

It might have been the new house or the new bed, but whatever the cause, Blair had a very difficult time getting to sleep and staying asleep. She had to meet a client at 8:00 and knew that part of her problem was that she was obsessing about not sleeping, which only guaranteed that she was unable to. There was a bath adjacent to her room, so she was confident at least that she wasn’t keeping Kylie up with her frequent trips to the bathroom. After her third trip, at 2:00 a.m., she decided to get up and have some warm milk. Padding through the living room, she noted that Kylie's light was on. Assuming that her friend had left the light on when she fell asleep, Blair knocked softly.

To her surprise, the knock was met with a, “C’mon in,” so she opened the door and poked her head in. Kylie was lying atop the covers, resting on her stomach, head braced on her hands. All six of the books that Blair had given her were spread across the surface of her king-sized bed, and a legal pad lay amidst the jumble as well. A pen was tucked between her teeth, and when she looked up at Blair, she furrowed her brow and mumbled, “Well, it’s down to an Italian greyhound, Tibetan terrier, soft-coated wheaten terrier, bichon frise or a bulldog.”

Eyes wide, Blair asked, “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

“No,” she said absently. “I don’t work tomorrow, so I can sleep in.” With her scowl growing, she said, “I’ve got to get this figured out. I want to get the dog tomorrow, you know.”

Blair marched over to her and extended her hand. “The pen.” Giving her a curious look, Kylie took it from her mouth, wiped it dry on the sheet and handed it over. Blair stuck it behind her ear, then picked up most of the books and put them on the dresser. The legal pad and the remaining books were whisked away as well, and when the surface of the bed was clean, she ordered, “Get up.” Still compliant, Kylie got up, watching as Blair folded the covers back. “Lie down.” Once again, she did as she was told immediately, smiling tentatively when the covers were brought up and tucked up under her arms — after she had been ordered to lift them, of course. “You are not buying a dog tomorrow. You may dream of dogs while you sleep, but that’s the best I can offer. When I get back from my meeting, we’ll talk about this, but you have to do more research than just read a few books, Kylie. I won’t have you making a rash judgment about this. Understand?”

The dark head nodded, guiltily. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Now go to sleep. Two insomniacs in one house is one too many.” She leaned over and kissed the top of her head, and by the time she hit the door, she could hear the soft breathing that characterized her friend’s sleep. Ohh, that’s cruel, Kylie Mackenzie. That’s beyond cruel.

 

ĄG

 

Blair’s meeting lasted the entire morning, and by the time she got home, she was ready for bed. Kylie was sitting at the kitchen table, dog books spread in front of her, also looking like she could use a long nap. She looked up when Blair entered, cocked her head and asked, “Breakfast? Lunch? Brunch?”

Walking by her, Blair ruffled her disordered hair and said, “I had a bagel and some fruit an hour ago. I’m fine.” Walking over to the sink, she picked up her bottle of vitamins and shook a pair of them into her hand. “I think I’ll even be able to keep these babies down today.” She took them with water, making a face as they went down. “Now comes the countdown. If they'll stay down for fifteen minutes, the odds are good that I'll keep 'em.” Coming back over to the table, she took a seat and gave Kylie a mildly sheepish look. “Sorry to be grumbling already. I’m awfully bitchy when I don’t sleep.”

“You’re not so bad. I’m a little grouchy myself, to be honest. I was planning on lying around and napping all day. Wanna join me?”

“Sure. Sounds like my kinda Sunday.” She picked up a book and said, “Sorry about last night. I’m not usually so autocratic. It just pissed me off that you could sleep and were choosing not to!” She chuckled at herself. “I’m so envious of people who can sleep through the night that it amazes me.”

“Hey, don’t apologize. I didn’t mind a bit.” She looked mildly embarrassed and said, “I’ve lived alone for too long, Blair. It felt great to have someone care about me.” With a pensive look she continued, “It reminded me a little of my mom when I was young. She’d always come into my room and confiscate my portable stereo or a book that I was trying to finish. When I get into something, I have a hard time putting it down. I kinda need some supervision.”

Seeing the sad look in her eyes, Blair reached out and covered one of her friend’s hands. “Are you lonely, Kylie? You seem so self-sufficient. I guess I just assumed you liked living alone.”

“I hate it,” she admitted quietly. “I grew up with eleven people in the house — seven kids, my parents and my father’s parents. We always had a couple of dogs, and my oldest sister had two cats. I really like having people around. It doesn’t feel like home when I’m alone.” She shook her head. “I’m sure you noticed that my condo looked like I was just passing through. I lived there for eighteen years, and I didn’t even bother to decorate it. I always thought that I’d fall in love and buy a real home that my partner and I would decorate.” She closed the book right in front of her and turned away from Blair to gaze outside. After a moment, she said, “I had to admit defeat to get myself to buy this house. I can’t wait my whole life for something I’m not going to get.”

“Do you mind talking about this, Kylie? I don’t want to dig into your personal life if you’d rather keep it private.”

“No, I don’t mind,” she said, turning back and smiling gently. “I don’t have secrets from you.”

Blair looked down at the table, collecting her thoughts. “Why do you think it hasn’t happened? I can’t imagine a more appealing woman.”

“Thanks,” she said, a nervous laugh accompanying the word. “I don’t mean to be immodest, but I think I’m a pretty good catch, too.” She thought for a few seconds. “I think it’s mostly a matter of timing. Most people want to partner up when they’re young or at least younger than forty. It sounds trite, but most of the great women around my age are taken.”

“You never cared for anyone before Stacey?"

"Not enough to partner with permanently. Remember, I didn’t get out of medical school until I was twenty-six, then I spent seven years doing my surgical residency. I barely had time to shower, much less date. The smart guys were the ones who married right out of college or med school. Then they had someone to take care of them during the horrors of the residency program. I used to envy those guys, having a woman waiting at home for them after a seventy-two hour shift on call.”

“Did you have a girlfriend in college?”

“Not a steady one,” she said. “I had to work my butt off in college — this was during the time when medical schools were turning away piles and piles of qualified applicants. If you didn’t have a 4.0, you didn’t even bother to apply. And getting out of the U of C with a 4.0 took a lot of work. But even if I’d had time, I didn’t want to get tied down at that point, since I knew I wanted to go to California for med school. And once I got to California, I … I really enjoyed being young and free and …”

“Good looking and charming and sexy as all get out and a great catch …” Blair impishly supplied.

“Well,” Kylie admitted, “I did have a couple of years there where I was having a fair amount of success with women. It was a pretty heady time, Blair. I mean, one of the things that makes you a good surgeon is a certain bravado, and I had that in spades.”

“You still do,” Blair said.

“Oh, not like I did then,” Kylie insisted. “I was insufferable. But that all stopped abruptly when I entered my residency program. I don’t think I had two dates in seven years. When I hit the sheets, all I wanted to do was sleep — alone.”

“What about after that?”

“I started to date again as soon as I began my practice, and I met some nice women, but no one really clicked. I met Stacey when I was 35, and since then — nothing. My friends try to fix me up, but it’s not like they all have a bounty of available lesbians hanging around. I play cards and go to family events with my doctor friends, I socialize a little with the guys in my practice, and I monopolize a lot of Nick’s time going to cultural events. If he ever finds a steady woman, I’m going to have to start hiring an escort.”

“Aren't any of your doctor friends lesbians?"

"Nope. All straight. All married."

"Do you have any lesbian friends?"

Kylie shook her head. “Not by choice, but, no, I don’t. Stacey got all of our mutual friends after the divorce."

"Really? That amazes me!"

"Nah. It made sense. She's much more social than I am. She used to call our friends and ask them to dinner. She was always our social director. I've just never taken the time to seek out lesbian friends since Stacey left."

"Isn't that kinda … funny?" Blair asked.

"It's not that I don't want gay friends," Kylie said. "I just don't do the things I’d have to do to hook up with women. I don't belong to any social groups or clubs. I don't like to exercise or go on nature hikes or any of that stuff. I do volunteer work, but only as a surgeon. There are women at the hospital I could date, but I don't want to do that. I like to keep my private life separate from my professional life."

"Well, real estate is full of gay men, and some of them have to have lesbian friends. God, my list of things to do just keeps getting longer and longer. I have to find you some lesbian friends, then I have to get you a girlfriend.” She shook her head. “Let me see that list of dogs you like. I have a feeling I’m gonna have to do that, too,” she teased playfully.

 

ĄG

 

By the time dinner was finished, the pair had narrowed the list down to two. “I think it’s between the wheaten and the bichon,” Kylie decided. “My books say they’re the best with kids and strangers.”

“They both have to be groomed professionally,” Blair warned.

“That’s okay. I don’t mind paying to have the dog groomed. Neither one sheds, which is worth a lot to me. I don’t want to hire a housecleaner, and I don’t want to be vacuuming every day.”

“No housecleaner? Are you mad?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head, “I don’t really like having strangers in my house. I’ve always cleaned my own place.”

“You’ve never had a home this size,” Blair reminded her. “When you change your mind, I’ll ask Isabella if she wants to take you on. She’s wonderful.”

“All right,” Kylie said, then continued with her dog analysis. “Which one do you like best?”

“I’m not sure I’ve seen either one up close,” Blair said. “Let’s do what that one book suggested and find a dog show somewhere around here. Then we can see a bunch of them.”

Giving her a bit of a pout, Kylie said, “I’m not gonna get a dog next weekend. either, am I?”

“Not likely,” Blair said. “But I guarantee you won’t regret your decision when you do get one. Isn’t that worth waiting for?”

“Surgeons don’t like delayed gratification, Blair. We’re a special breed.”

“Yes, Kylie, I understand how special you are,” Blair teased. She kissed the top of her head as she stood and said, “Now get your special butt over here and help me with the dishes.”

 

ĄG

 

When Kylie came home from work on Monday, Blair's door was closed. Must be taking a nap, the doctor thought. By dinner time, when her friend still hadn't appeared, Kylie went to the door and knocked, hearing a mumbled, "Yeah?"

She opened the door and saw her friend lying in bed with a pillow over her face. "You'll never get to sleep if you nap all night. I have dinner just about ready."

"I'm not napping. I'm still in bed."

"Blair!"

The pillow was lowered, and Blair focused as best she could. "I don't wanna be an asshole, but I can't stay here if you try to mother me. I told Mandy that I was pregnant and that I've been having dreadful morning sickness. She's gonna cover for me this week. So I plan on lying in bed and indulging myself in any way I see fit. Please let me make my own choices, Kylie."

"I'm sorry," the doctor said, feeling like she was about to cry.

Blair saw the look on her face and immediately regretted her words. "C'mere," she said, patting the bed. Kylie walked over and sat down, trying to make her face follow her instruction to smile. "I'm sorry for snapping at you. But I feel like I've lost control of my life. I'm pregnant, and from the looks of things, well on my way to being a single mother — something I never would have chosen for myself. The baby's sapping all of my energy and my concentration, and he's ruined my stomach. I just want to have a week where I'm not responsible for anything or anyone." She took Kylie's hand in hers and squeezed it. "Can you understand that?"

"Yeah, yeah, I can," the doctor said.

"I like being here, Kylie, and if we were both just starting out, I'd love to share a house with you. But as much as I like you, I had to leave my husband to be here. I'm sad. Sadder than I've ever been. If I weren't pregnant, I'd go to my doctor and demand some Prozac. But I can't do that. I have to just fight through this, and I have to do it on my own."

"No, you don't," Kylie said. "You could find someone to talk through this with, Blair. You don't have to do this on your own."

"Look, Kylie, normally, I'd agree with you. But I don't have some deep-seated psychological stuff going on. I'm going through a crisis, and I don't have control over most of the elements. Seeing a therapist isn't going to do much for me at this point."

"I still think that you could benefit ¾"

Blair squeezed Kylie's hand and said, "I know you care. But you can show you care by letting me do this my own way."

Kylie nodded, fighting the urge to argue her point. "I do care." She leaned over and kissed Blair's forehead, then got up. "My offer of dinner holds, but I won’t bug you about it."

"Thank you," Blair said. "I could use one thing, if it's not too much trouble."

"Anything."

"Would you be uncomfortable lying with me for a little while? I'm so lonely."

Kylie hopped to her feet and kicked off her shoes, then took off her skirt and blouse. She was wearing a very pretty, black full slip, and when she climbed into bed, Blair sighed, feeling the silky fabric against her legs. "You feel nice. Soft," she said, cuddling up to her friend. "Very nice."

Kylie patted her hand and slid her fingers through Blair's. "Sleep now. Try to forget your troubles. Just sleep,"

"Thanks … for everything," Blair said through a massive yawn. "You're the best."

 

ĄG

 

On Wednesday afternoon, Blair drug herself from bed at 2:00, took a long shower, then dressed in the coolest thing she owned — a pale blue, Oxford-cloth shift. Normally she wore a T-shirt under it, but it was so hot and sticky that she didn't bother. She drove to her home, her heartbeat picking up when she saw David's BMW in the driveway. She didn't quite know how to behave, so she rang the bell. After a minute, she realized he must be in the back, so she walked down the driveway by the side of the house. She heard the spa motor whirring and smiled, thinking of how happy David always was when he could relax in the hot tub after a stressful day. As she expected, he was sitting in the tub, an unhealthily large glass of Scotch in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other.

Blair stopped so quickly that her neck hurt a little. He must have seen some motion out of the corner of his eye because he turned to face her. He tried to look relaxed, but she could just see his mind working, trying to think of a way to remove himself from her glare.

She walked over to him and sat down on the chair that he had his towel lying on. For a moment, she busied herself by neatly folding the towel and placing it on her lap. The few moments this took allowed her to compose herself and speak in a calm voice. She twitched her head towards his hands, asking, "How long did you stay smoke-free?"

He looked so guilty that she almost felt sorry for him. "Couple hours after you left."

She exhaled loudly. "After the pain you went through to stop? All of those weeks of anguish?"

"I was upset," he said. He took a drink, then another drag on his cigarette. "I don't know any other way to calm down, Blair."

"That isn't a way to calm down, David. Drinking as much as you do is just a way to avoid feeling — anything!"

"Hey!" His dark eyes were filled with anger, shocking her completely. "You can't leave me and still tell me what to do! If you're gonna boss me around, you have to live here to do it."

"Boss you around?" She stared at him, dumbfounded.

"Yeah. You heard me. You boss me around. You always have." He took another drink, gulping down nearly a third of his scotch, then gave her an insolent glare. "You lost your right to do that when you left."

She put her elbows on her knees, then dropped her head into her hands, unable to stop herself from crying. He didn't say a word or move a muscle. He just continued to stare at her. She cried quietly, angry with herself for showing him how upset he'd made her. When she felt like she could drive, she got up and started to walk away.

"Hey! Don't you dare leave!"

"Why not?" She swung around and looked at him like she'd be happy to shoot him right between the eyes. "So I can sit here and have you insult me? So you can blow smoke in my face?"

"My whole world is coming apart," he said, his teeth clenched together. "I've lost my wife, I'm never going to have a child and now you've got my mother turning against me! Why don't you just cut my balls off, too?"

"Don't tempt me," she spat. Wiping her eyes, she took in a breath, squared her shoulders and strode back down the driveway, ignoring his shouts. She was able to guide her car a few blocks away, then she turned it off and rolled the windows halfway down. Turning on the classical station, she lowered her seat and cried until she fell asleep.

 

ĄG

 

When Blair walked into the house, Kylie was in the kitchen, making a dinner that normally would have had Blair salivating. She was so upset, though, that she couldn't bear the thought of eating or conversing. "Hi!" Kylie called out in her normal cheery manner. "Did you go to work today?"

"No." Blair walked into the kitchen and walked up behind Kylie. She put her hand on the doctor's shoulder and said, "I went to see David and it was horrible. I don't want to talk about it, or anything else, for that matter, so I'm going to bed."

"It's only six o'clock," Kylie said. "Are you sure?" This last sentence was directed at Blair's back and only received a nod of the head in reply.

 

ĄG

 

On Friday morning, Blair came out of her room just as Kylie was leaving for the hospital. "Hey, how ya doin’?" the doctor asked.

Blair looked horrible. She hadn't washed her hair since Wednesday, and it stuck out at odd angles all over her head. Her eyes were blood-shot and puffy from crying and bore smudges of a purplish-blue hue on her lower lids. She was wearing lovely salmon-colored, silk pajamas, but they were form-fitting, and the bottom button wouldn't fasten, allowing her tummy to show. "I'm great," she said, her sarcasm dulled somewhat by a wry smile.

"Other than staying out of the way, can I do anything to help?" Kylie asked.

Blair walked over to the refrigerator and stuck a glass into the dispenser on the door, watching it fill with water. "Why've you been home every night this week? You usually go out."

Kylie gave her a puzzled look and replied, "I didn't feel like going out. I like my new house and don't want to leave it."

Leaning against the counter, Blair crossed her ankles and gave the doctor a long look. "Bullshit."

"Pardon?"

"That's bullshit. You always go out. Sometimes once, sometimes twice, more likely three times a week. You're hanging around here because of me."

Exasperated, Kylie said, "Well, Jesus, do you blame me? For all I know, you're committing suicide in there. I've never known anyone who was so withdrawn when she was upset!"

The blonde put her glass down, and Kylie was a little afraid as the smaller woman walked over and stood right in front of her. "Can I have a hug?" Blair put her arms around her friend and held on tight.

"Sure you can," Kylie said. "Anytime." They held each other for a long time, and Kylie could feel Blair's body start to shake as she started to cry.

"I'm so lonely," she sobbed. "But I don't want to talk. I just want to make it all go away."

"I know you do," Kylie said. "I know that."

Blair looked up at her friend, her green eyes filled to overflowing with tears. "Can you make it go away, Kylie? Make things like they used to be?"

"I wish I could," Kylie said, tears forming in her own eyes. "I'd do anything in the world to help you through this, Blair, but I don't think I can change the past."

"That's why I want to sleep through the future," Blair said. She released the taller woman, patted her on the side, and shuffled back to bed, closing the door behind herself.

 

ĄG

 

That night Blair was lying in bed, watching a three-hanky DVD and crying, as usual. To the gentle knock on her door, she said, "Come on in, but it ain't pretty in here."

Nick stuck his head in, making Blair leap to pull the covers over herself. "Jesus! Where'd you come from?"

"Sorry," he said, blushing a little. "I should have announced myself before I came in."

"No, no, that's all right," she said, obviously flustered. "I thought it was Kylie. I'm not dressed for company." She ran a hand through her hair, then gave him a suspicious look. "Did Doctor Worrywart send you?"

"No, not really," he said. "I've been asking about you, and Kylie keeps saying that you're depressed. Are you doing anything to feel better?"

"Sleeping all day?" she said hopefully .

"No, that's one of the symptoms of depression, Blair, not a remedy."

"Nick, I can't take any drugs —"

"I know that," he said. "But there are other ways to fight your way out of this."

She put her hand on his arm, giving it a squeeze. "It's not that I doubt your abilities, Nick, but I don't want a therapist."

"Blair, I couldn't be your therapist if I wanted to be, so that's not an issue. I'm your friend, and I care about you."

Nodding, she said, "I'm your friend, too, Nick. But I don't want a referral, either."

"How about a non-therapeutic conversation?" he asked. "No harm in that, is there?"

She gave him a slight scowl. "You're very persuasive, Doctor Scott." She put her hands behind her head and lay back against her pillows. "Whaddya wanna know?"

"Well, as a friend, I'd like to know how you've been spending your days. Kylie tells me you didn't work much last week and not at all this week."

"Stoolie," she grumbled. With a sigh, she said, "I've been lying in bed, watching sad movies so I can cry about someone else's miserable life."

"Have you been crying about yours, too?" he asked.

"Yeah. Of course I have. It's been a rough year, Nick," she said, giving him a wry smile.

"So … sleeping and crying, huh? Is that all? Have you been talking to friends or family or making any plans …"

"No. Just sleeping and crying." She shook her head, looking annoyed. "But I only sleep during the day. I'm up almost all night, worrying and wishing I could turn back the clock." She hit the bed with her fist. "I know I should do … something … but I can't make myself."

"Hey, I'm not criticizing you, Blair. Far from it. I just wanted to know what's going on."

"Short story," she said. "Daily agenda: cry, sleep, worry, repeat as needed."

He smiled and rubbed her knee. "I can't imagine how hard this has been for you. I mean that, Blair. I can't begin to understand how devastating this must be."

Seeing the empathy in his eyes, she started to cry again. "Damn it, Nick, I thought I was done for the day."

"How about a suggestion?"

"Sure." She took the tissue he offered and wiped her eyes.

"I know how insidious depression can be. And yours is mixed with grief. But you're not going to get better by lying here every day."

"I can't make myself do anything else, Nick. I've tried."

"How about this?" He looked at her for a moment, obviously thinking of a plan. "Your schedule is going to be screwed up unless you make yourself get up and stay up during the day. I can understand if you're not able to work, but you've got to get up and get out of here. You can go for walks, visit with friends, talk on the phone, listen to music, go to movies. Whatever gets you out of this bed."

"Okay," she said, nodding. "You're right. I've got to stop feeling sorry for myself."

"No, no, no," he said quickly. "You need some time to feel your grief and your anger. But you need to schedule that time."

"Schedule it?"

"Yeah. Set aside an hour, or even two hours, a day where you let yourself feel whatever comes up. Your sorrow and your anger and your depression are real, Blair, but you don't have to let them take over your life. Keep them contained, but don't deny them."

"How do I do that?"

"Do you have a laptop?"

"Sure."

"If I were you, I'd sit down at a designated time, not near bedtime, and write my feelings down. You don't have to keep the notes, you never have to read them again. Just write. Don't edit what you put down, don't worry about spelling or grammar. Let your feelings out."

"I'll try," she said. "That's not my style, but I'll try."

"That should help get you up and moving around. But you might need a little extra help at night."

"Yeah. Like a fifth of vodka."

"That would work, but it might have some side effects," he said, smiling at her. "How about trying this? Sit down at your computer again and write down the things you worry about at night. Don't leave anything out."

"How's that different from the other thing you want me to do?"

"The other thing is much more inclusive. I want you to feel your feelings as you do it. All of them. But at night, I only want you to name your fears. Write down the things that haunt your dreams. The things that make you afraid to lie down and close your eyes."

She gave him a look. "Who told you?"

"No one," he said with a laugh. "When people are depressed, they're usually afraid, too. That's one of the biggest reasons people have insomnia."

"I don't see how this can help," Blair said.

"I know it seems counterintuitive to put names to your fears, Blair, but I've seen it work — often."

"Okay. Sounds … odd, but I'll try anything at this point."

"One last thing," he said. "I want you to try some visualization."

"Oh, God, this sounds like therapist talk."

"It is, but it works."

"Hit me," she said, looking pained.

"I know you're stuck in the present, but I want you to visualize the future. I want you to think of your baby — your happy, healthy, chubby little baby. You're holding him or her in your arms and feeling his soft skin against your body. Imagine how completely happy you are now that your child is with you. You can think about nursing him, if you're going to do that, or giving him a bottle. Think of the peace and serenity you'll feel once he or she is here. Focus on that, Blair. Imagine every precious sensation. Keep those images in your head until you fall asleep at night. I guarantee that you'll be able to sleep if you can keep those pictures in your head."

She was crying again and found herself wrapped in his arms. "I've been afraid to think of him," she sobbed. "I'm afraid I'll lose him somehow, or he'll be stillborn. It feels like nothing good can come of all this pain."

"That's not true," he soothed. "That's just not true. Your baby is fine, Blair, and he or she is gonna be very, very happy to meet you."

"I love him so much," she whimpered. "So very much."

"I know you do. He knows that, too. Things will get better, Blair. I know they will." He pulled away, then brushed her hair from her eyes. "Now take a shower and come out and have dinner with us. Kylie's cooking, and then we're gonna watch a happy movie."

"I don't remember how to smile," she said, smiling involuntarily.

"Just as I thought," he said, cupping her cheek. "You've got friends, Blair. Let us be involved in your life."

"I will," she said, sniffling again.

"No more crying tonight," he said, lifting her chin and looking into her eyes. "It's not on your schedule."

 

ĄG

 

Later that night, Blair helped Kylie clean up the kitchen, both women bustling around the large space, neither speaking. They were nearly finished when Blair took a dish towel from Kylie's hands and started to dry. "I was pretty angry with you for dragging Nick over here tonight, but talking to him did help me."

"I know I should have stayed out of it," Kylie agreed, “but I knew you weren't eating regular meals and —"

Blair put her hand on her friend's arm. "It's all right, Kylie. I would have done the same thing if you were depressed. Sometimes you have to do what feels right."

"I'm glad you're not mad at me. I hate to be in trouble," the doctor said, looking charmingly juvenile.

"You're not in trouble," Blair said. She patted her arm and added, "I can't imagine staying mad at you, anyway." She crossed the kitchen to put the towel away and said, "Nick gave me some suggestions that I'm gonna try to use. But one thing I thought of during dinner might help, too."

"What's that?"

"I'm gonna try to make myself believe that David's on a really long business trip. It's so hard for me to walk around and act like nothing's wrong when he's only a few minutes away. I'm gonna tell myself that I can't reach him and put him out of my mind."

"Can you do that?" Kylie asked. "I don't think I could."

"Well, I can't fool myself, but I'm not going to ask him when he's traveling. I'm just gonna assume he's gone. And I'm gonna tell him that we can only talk or see each other once a week. And I want that to be on the weekend, so I can lie in bed and cry if it doesn't go well. I refuse to have this ruin my work."

"I think that's a good idea," Kylie said. "Limiting contact is probably a good idea, too."

"Yeah. The last time we saw each other was horrible. I can't afford to have scenes like that very often. I have to think of what's best for the baby, and having this much stress isn't good."

They walked into the den, and Kylie turned on the TV. Watching the evening news with half of her attention, the doctor said, "Earlier this week you told me that you'd had a very bad time when you went over to your house. Wanna talk about it?"

"There's not much to talk about. He acted like an asshole, then apologized the next day. I forgave him, of course, but it really … I don't know … I guess it made me wonder again just who he is. He was so angry with me, Kylie, and he accused me of things that I never did to him. He was so fucking self-involved, and that's not how he used to be."

"Really? I didn't think you could hide something like that for ten years."

"I know! That's my point! That's part of the reason I think he might get over this. He's not acting like himself, Kylie. I've known this guy for ten years, and I think I know him well. I'd hate like hell to split up and then have him go back to being the guy I love."

Kylie stared at the television for a long time, obviously thinking. She finally turned to Blair and said, "Ten years is an awfully long time. I wouldn't give up easily, either."

"Thanks," Blair said, patting her leg. "It's nice to hear that you don't think I'm being an idiot for hanging on."

"I don't," Kylie said. "I promise that I don't. I think you'd be an idiot to give up on a guy you love — especially when he's acting irrationally. Hell, maybe he should have a thorough check-up."

"Not every problem has a disease behind it," Blair said, giving Kylie a teasing look.

"No, but if he does, I can just open him up and take it out." She smiled at Blair and added, "Nick works with people for years! I could never do that. I like problems I can fix with a scalpel."

"I think Nick's a better doctor for our problems," Blair said, "but I wish you could fix this one quickly. I'd even let you operate in the kitchen."

"The lighting is really good," Kylie said wistfully, trying to imagine her home surgical theater.

 

ĄG

 

When Blair came home from work the following Wednesday night, she plopped her briefcase down by the front door, went over to sit next to Kylie on the sofa, and announced, “You’ve got a date for Saturday.”

“I do?” she asked, wide-eyed. “With whom?”

“Remember my telling you about Sheila, who works for me?”

“Uh-huh. Your secretary, right?"

"No. That's Jeanne. Sheila and Mandy are both agents."

"Oh. Right." Kylie waited a beat, then said, "I thought she was married.”

“She is, silly. But she has a lesbian cousin who’s gonna be in L.A. for a job interview on Friday. She wants to see the sights to help her decide if L.A. is right for her. Sheila was moaning about the fact that she has to work both days of the weekend, and she wasn’t wild about giving her cousin her car — since the poor woman doesn’t know a thing about L.A. So I volunteered you to be her tour guide.”

“A tour guide, huh? Can you tell me anything about her, other than the facts that she sleeps with women and doesn’t know how to read a map?”

Looking slightly crestfallen, Blair asked, “Aren’t you excited? I am.”

“Of course I am,” Kylie insisted, even though she hated the thought of going on a blind date. “I’d like to know a little something about her so I can … uhm … make sure I take her to places she’d like.”

“Oh.” Now Blair’s smile widened, and she said, “I’ll ask a bunch of questions tomorrow. What do you want to know?”

How early can I drop her off if she's a dud, Kylie wanted to say, but she advised her friend to ask the usual questions about the woman’s likes and dislikes.

 

ĄG

 

“Big weekend coming up, huh?” Blair said with enthusiasm when she got home on Friday night. “A date with Amanda tomorrow and a dog show on Sunday. We’re making progress here, buddy.”

“We sure are,” Kylie said, smiling warmly, touched by Blair’s obvious concern. "You know, I've been amazed at how good your mood was this week. You seem almost like your old self."

"Well, I'm not," Blair said, "but Nick's suggestions have really helped. I'm still sad and lonely, and I miss the David I used to know, but I'm able to contain my feelings. I spend some time being sad every day, and that lets me spend the rest of the time feeling like my old self."

"I'm glad it's helping," Kylie said. "Baby Spencer's probably happy, too."

"That's where my focus has to be," Blair agreed. "I have to look to the future."

 

ĄG

 

When Blair woke on Sunday, she splashed some water on her face, brushed her hair and grabbed her robe, practically running to find her friend. She slid across the kitchen floor on her stocking feet, her eyes bright with excitement. “How’d it go? It must have been pretty good for you to be gone so long.”

Kylie took a long sip of her coffee, just to prolong the torture. “You, my friend, can pick my dates any old time you want. It went very well, and if she moves here, I’m going to pursue her with abandon.”

Blair started to jump around the kitchen like a kid on a pogo stick. “Yeah!” she cried. “That’s so great!” She reached down and hugged her friend roughly. “Tell me everything! Don’t you dare leave one detail out.”

Kylie blinked up at her impishly. “Sure about that? For all you know, we had wild sex all night long, and she just left.”

“Oh!” Blair said down heavily on a kitchen chair. “Well, uhm … I don’t … I mean …”

Laughing heartily, Kylie caught her friend's nose between her thumb and index finger and gave it a tug. “I kissed her goodnight, Blair. Granted, it was a helluva kiss, but that’s it. My date was entirely G-rated.”

“I knew that,” Blair said. “You don’t seem like the type to sleep with someone on the first date.”

“Well, I have, but it’s not my norm. Actually, it’s rare for me to kiss someone on the first date, but Amanda’s … well, I wanted to let her know I was most definitely interested.”

“So tell me about her!”

Kylie looked at her watch and said, “I’ll tell you about her on the way to Santa Barbara. It’s nine o’clock, and the dog show only lasts until 2:00. We’ve got to get moving.”

“Damn!” She got up and said, “Get in the shower with me so we can talk while we get ready.” Kylie blinked at her, her mouth not moving when she tried to speak. “Got ya back for that ‘she just left’ comment,” Blair teased, capturing Kylie’s nose victoriously.

 

ĄG

 

Kylie agreed to drive, since Blair declared that she had a tendency to pull over and take a quick nap when she was behind the wheel for very long. At Blair’s insistence, they took her car, since she had little confidence that Kylie’s car could make it to Santa Barbara and back. They hadn’t driven two blocks before Blair was badgering her friend. “I’ve been the very soul of patience. Now tell me everything!”

“Okay,” Kylie said. “I picked her up at noon, and we went over to the Third Street Promenade, since it was such a nice day.”

“Back up,” Blair demanded. “What'd she look like? What was she wearing?”

“Uhm … she looked kinda normal. Nothing all that distinctive.”

“Oh, please! I want some details!”

“This isn’t what I’m best at,” Kylie said.

“That’s becoming painfully obvious. Don’t look at me,” Blair commanded. “What color is my hair?”

“Kinda red, kinda blonde. More blonde when you’re inside, more red when you’re in the sun.”

“Excellent. It's called strawberry blonde, in case you're interested. Eyes?”

“Green mostly but a little hazel in bright light.”

“See?” she said triumphantly. “I knew you paid attention. Now describe Amanda.”

“Okay,” Kylie sighed, obviously thinking hard. “If I had to compare her to someone, I’d say Jodie Foster. She’s thin and kinda slight. Looks like a good wind would knock her over.”

“Jodie’s cute,” Blair beamed.

“Now she doesn't look exactly like Jodie. She’s the only person I could think of who was even close.”

"But Amanda's cute, right?"

"She not … uncute," Kylie said, wincing a little. “She isn’t my usual type, but I'm not gonna let that bother me. Amanda seems like she has all of the qualities I want in a woman. That's what matters."

Blair looked at her friend for a moment, then said, "How bad was she?"

"She wasn't bad! She was just … plain. Like her hair. It's not really blonde and not really brown, it’s kinda medium color.”

“There’s no such thing as medium color, Kylie. Try again.”

“This is hard!” she complained to no avail. “Okay, I guess it’s mousy brown, but that’s such a nasty term for hair.”

“How does she have it cut?”

“I don’t know,” Kylie said, looking puzzled. “It looked like Jodie’s. Straight, about to here,” she said, indicating her shoulder. “I think she parted it on the side. Nothing special, Blair. Just hair.”

“Eye color?”

“Good lord! I don’t need to be able to identify her in a police lineup, do I?”

“Eye color,” Blair insisted.

“Brown. But real pale. Kinda the color of her hair, I think. And before you ask, she didn’t have any scars or missing teeth that I noticed.”

“How was she built?”

“Fine,” Kylie said. “Nothing jumped out at you, but she was just fine.”

“Nice breasts?” Blair asked, matter-of-factly.

“Blair! I didn’t feel her up!”

“Oh, come on,” she chided. “You’ve already told me you like breasts. Don’t try to act like you didn’t check ‘em out.”

Kylie mumbled something that Blair couldn’t catch, then she shrugged her shoulders and said, “There wasn’t much to check. She was very modestly endowed. Actually, she was completely flat. But that’s not a deal breaker for me,” she insisted. “I’m not overly swayed by a woman’s body. I’ve dated lots of pretty women who made me want to hang myself rather than spend another minute on the date.”

Beaming, Blair patted her thigh. “I like you, Doctor Mackenzie. I knew that’s how you’d be.”

Winking at her, Kylie said, “Don’t get me wrong. If I could find a cultured, literate, kind, funny, gorgeous woman with a C cup, I wouldn’t complain a bit. But the gorgeous part and the bra size are clearly at the bottom of my list.”

“Understood. You’re looking at the inside first, outside second.”

“Well, I am a surgeon,” she playfully reminded her. “I love the inside of a woman.”

Blair pinched her on the waist, saying, “I assume that Amanda was cultured, literate, kind and funny, even though she was plain and had small breasts?”

“Well, I’m not sure about the kind part,” Kylie said, “but she had the cultured, literate and funny parts nailed. She was here to interview for an assistant professor’s job in the English department at U.C.L.A. She teaches poetry and creative writing.”

“Wow, that is literate.”

“Yeah. She’s thirty-three, which is well within my preferred age range, she doesn’t have a lot of emotional baggage and she’s not averse to having children.”

“You asked her that?” Blair gasped.

“No, Blair, I didn’t say, ‘You look like good breeding stock, Amanda. How are your fallopian tubes?’”

“Well, how do you know that she’s willing to have kids?”

“We were talking about our past relationships, and she said she’d recently dated a woman who had a child, and she found that being with a toddler appealed to her. She said she thinks she'd like a child of her own. She’s waiting until she’s settled into a job that seems permanent before she considers the matter more fully.”

“She sounds perfect for you, Kylie. Heck, you could even give her breast implants!”

“Hmm … I’d never thought of that. I could turn my woman into a Victoria’s Secret model …”

Chuckling, Blair said, “I’m happy now. I think I’ve gotten everything out of you that I’m gonna get, so I’m taking a nap. Wake me when we get there.” She pulled her handy pillow from the backseat, lowered her chair and twitched around until she was in a good position.

When Blair was minutes from sleep, Kylie said softly, “She can’t dance a lick, but she kissed like she knew how to use her tongue.”

“Behave!” the blonde giggled. “If I don’t get a nap, I’ll be barking at those dogs.”

 

ĄG

 

Kylie was as excited as a child on Christmas morning. “Do you think anybody will be selling puppies?” she asked as they parked the car at the fairgrounds.

“No, I don’t, and if anyone is, we’re not buying one today. We’re here to let you see a large sample of all of the dogs you think you like so you can be sure that you like them in person.”

“When I was a kid and we wanted a new dog, we went down to the pound and picked the one that looked like it needed a home the worst,” Kylie said. “Why can’t I do that?”

“You can, but you’ve been talking about getting a pure-bred dog. And if you want to go that way, I want to make sure you get the one you really want.”

“You’re gonna be a good mom, Blair; you’ve got the drill down cold.” She reached down and captured her friend’s hand, partially to help her across the uneven terrain, and partially to insure she didn’t receive another pinch.

 

ĄG

 

By two o’clock, the quest for the perfect dog had not only not been resolved, the number of dogs Kylie was interested in had mushroomed to over a dozen. “I thought this was supposed to make things easier,” she said. “Now I want dogs I’ve never even heard of!”

“We’re gathering information today,” Blair reminded her. “Looking at dogs was only part of my plan.” They walked along the line of tents where vendors were selling every type of dog product. They found a very talkative and opinionated man at the big grooming care booth. The doctor informed him that her biggest concern was finding a dog that loved children, and he gave them his personal opinion on each of the breeds on Kylie’s expanding list.

“How old are the kids you’re talking about?” he asked.

“Well, I want a dog that likes all kids, but the one I’m most concerned about isn’t going to be born for five and a half months,” Kylie said to him.

Stealing a discreet look around, he winked at Blair and said, “I’d go with the Norfolk terrier."

"A terrier? Really?"

"Yeah. It's a great little dog, and it hasn't been overbred like some of the dogs on your list. They're very good natured, very loving, and very active. We had small terriers when my kids were little, and it was great. The dog entertained the baby and the baby entertained the dog. Kept them both busy," he said, laughing.

"Do they have any here?" Blair asked.

"Sure. As a matter of fact, I have a friend who has his RV set up not far from here. Go down this aisle, turn left, and stop at an RV that has a spare tire cover that says 'Gideon's Norfolk's.'"

“Thanks a lot,” Blair said, “you’ve been a lot of help.”

The pair wandered around until they found the RV, and Kylie started to squeal when she saw a portable, wire-mesh enclosure holding a female with a litter of puppies, all four of the pups nursing peacefully. Blair hoped fervently that the puppies were not old enough to wean, since she knew they’d be taking one home if they were. Kylie’s expression was positively enraptured, and she dropped to the ground like a rock, murmuring sweetly to the little dogs.

The owner came out of his RV, and luckily, was not put off by a stranger drooling over his puppies. Blair spoke to him while Kylie was held in thrall, barely cognizant of her surroundings. She finally responded to a persistent tugging on her shirt. “Time to go, Kylie,” Blair said. “The puppies have to go home now.”

“But they just finished eating,” she said, eyes riveted.

“Kylie, you can’t have any of them. They’re all spoken for. It’s time to let go now.”

She looked up at her friend with the saddest eyes Blair had ever seen. “I can’t have one?”

“No, but the nice man gave me some good suggestions on how to get you one of your own.”

She got up slowly, brushing her slacks off when she stood. “I can pay twice whatever he’s getting for them,” she said quietly.

Blair took her by the sleeve and tugged her away from the space. “Kylie! People have entered into contracts to buy those dogs. You can’t try to steal them out from under them.”

“Why not?” she blinked.

“Because it’s not right, and you wouldn’t like it if someone did it to you!”

“You are such a mom,” she said, laughing. Draping an arm around Blair, she admitted, “I was just pulling your leg. I wouldn’t really try to outbid someone.”

“I wouldn’t put it past you,” Blair said, snuggling into her friend's hug. “You looked like you were deeply in love with those pups.”

“I am,” she sighed. “I’ve gotta have one. As soon as I go home and research every site that talks about them, that is. I can’t bear to make a mistake about such a big decision.”

“If this is the right breed, you give me a little while, and I’ll use the ideas that breeder suggested. We’ll get you a great dog.”

“At this rate, I’ll have a girlfriend before I get a puppy.” She caught herself saying that and asked, “Am I gonna bitch about that?”

 

Continued in Chapter 5

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