All That Matters

 

by

 

S X Meagher

 

 

Chapter 7

 

On Sunday Blair was scheduled to meet with clients for both brunch and an early dinner. When she finished dressing she went into the den to tell Kylie of her plans. She found the doctor outside, reading the New York Times. Both dogs were lying in the sun, Nora on her back, tanning her belly. "This is such a lovely picture of domestic bliss," Blair said. She kissed Kylie on the top of her head and played with her curls for a minute. "I'm gonna be gone all day. Can you man the fort?"

"I think I can handle it. Julie's coming over around noon, and we're gonna hang out for a while, then we're going to the Bowl to hear the symphony." Kylie turned so she could face her friend, and Blair noted a look of disappointment on her face. "I wish you were gonna be here. I'd like you to get to know her a little bit."

"This might surprise you, but some women don't like to have a third person on a date. You have to concentrate on her, Kylie, not on letting your roommate get to know her." Blair sat on the edge of her friend's chair and handed her a silver necklace. "Will you put this on me?"

"Sure." Kylie hooked the piece and settled the clasp at the center of Blair's neck. "Pretty necklace."

"Thanks." She stood up and modeled a little. "How do I look?"

"Is this new?" Kylie reached out and fingered the material. "Did you go shopping?"

"Yeah. I had to buy a couple of skirts. I can still wear my blazers, but my skirts were nasty looking."

"You look great," Kylie said. Her eyes closed slightly, and she looked her friend up and down. "This new look is gonna take some getting used to. Your short skirts were part of your style."

"Yeah, nothing better looking than a short, tight skirt that's partially unzipped," she said, laughing. "I had to beat guys off with a stick."

"Your legs look great." She gazed at her friend for a moment and said, "You know, the style for pregnant women is to show off their bodies. You don't have to cover up if you don't want to."

"I want to," Blair said, her tone leaving nothing in doubt. "I'm no Demi Moore. I don't wanna be nude on the cover of Vanity Fair."

"I wasn't suggesting nude," Kylie smiled. "I was simply saying that your body's nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone will know you're pregnant; why not be proud of how you look?"

"If I could get away with it, I'd wear a heavy wool poncho that covered me to my knees. Actually, the Victorian idea of keeping women out of the public eye when they're pregnant is starting to sound pretty appealing."

"You're obviously feeling uncomfortable in your body right now, buddy. But all I can do is tell you that you look fantastic. You don't have a thing to hide."

Blair reached down and ruffled Kylie's hair. "I wish everyone were like you." She started to hum, then sang, "I see trees of green, red roses. too, I see them bloom, for me and you, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world," as she left the house.

 

ĄG

 

Around four o'clock, Blair ran home to freshen up before her dinner. Nicky and Nora didn't run to greet her, so she assumed they were outside with Kylie and Julie. When the dogs were outdoors, they couldn't hear people come and go, a condition that distressed them no end.

She went to her room and tidied up, then reapplied her lipstick. She still had half an hour to kill, so she decided to go offer Kylie and Julie something to drink. When she got to the sliding door in the den, she stopped abruptly, amazed at how quickly Doctor Mackenzie could get to work when she had a mind to.

The pair had taken the cushions from the lounge chairs and put them by the edge of the lap pool. Julie was lying on her stomach, and Kylie was straddling her. It looked like the doctor was applying suntan lotion to her back, but after a moment, it became obvious that Kylie was giving her guest a massage. Julie's top was off, and Blair found herself staring at the women, unable to move. Kylie was laughing, her lips open and perfect teeth gleaming, making her all the more radiant. She bent over and started to kiss and nibble at Julie's neck, and that's when Blair decided that this wasn't the best time for a visit. Still, she didn't leave immediately, despite knowing that she was spying on the couple.

There was something so different about Kylie that she couldn't stop herself from observing her for a moment. The gentle, sweet concern that always seemed to be present in the doctor's touch seemed completely absent. The kisses she lavished on Julie had a sexual, sensual quality that Blair had never felt from her friend. Kylie appeared possessive and determined when she took Julie's hands and spread them out, rendering the woman absolutely helpless against the barrage of kisses that rained down on her.

For her part, Julie looked like resisting was the last thing on her mind. Still, Kylie looked like she was in complete control, and Blair found this new facet of her personality to be absorbing — and arousing. She felt a definite tingle between her legs, and by the time she tore herself away from the display, her clit was swollen and sensitive. Okay, I might have been puzzled before, but now I know there's no earthly reason that Kylie's single. I thought she might be shy or ungainly around women, but if she'd been any more gainly — I'd be on the floor right now!

She got into her car and started to leave the property. But once outside the gate, she killed the engine and sat for a few minutes, thinking. Well, this pregnancy has produced a wealth of surprises. A divorce, blue body parts, swollen ankles, and now I find that I'm totally aroused by a woman. What's next? Maybe I'll join the circus!

She laughed softly when a little voice reminded her of something. Yeah, like that's the first time in your life you've ever been aroused at the sight of two women making love.

Well, it is! she said, defending herself. This is the first time I've ever seen a woman I know making love, and that's a whole different thing. Watching a movie with your husband isn't the same as seeing your best friend get it on in the yard. And in the movies, there was always a guy involved, too. Yes, I got aroused when I watched those movies, but it was the dynamic of the group that made me hot. Today was different — very different, and I'm not even sure why — but I know it was!

 

ĄG

 

Blair got home from dinner at 6:00, kicked off her shoes and

sank into the couch. It was a warm night, and her clients had chosen an outside table at the restaurant. She felt sticky, bloated, grouchy and unreasonably jealous … of Julie.

She'd been on a rant for the entire time it had taken her to drive home, and even though the dogs were giving her the usual royal welcome, she couldn't stop herself. I don't want another woman to come in here and try to take Kylie from me! We have such a nice thing going, and I don't want her to be gone at night. And I certainly don't want Julie over here! If I have to watch them make out again, I might jump in and join 'em!

She knew she was being unreasonable and that Kylie was doing exactly what she'd encouraged her to do. But she was unable to quell her jealous feelings — even though she knew she was on the verge of scratching Julie’s eyes out. The phone rang, and she was barely paying attention when she agreed to Sadie’s coming by for a talk. She hung up and opened the sliding doors to let the dogs out. It wasn't until the heat of the early evening hit her like a furnace that she acknowledged what she'd done. Have I lost my mind?

 

ĄG

 

Sadie arrived in short order, and Blair knew that her mother-in-law must have been in the area when she called. She was probably in the driveway two minutes after she hung up, she thought to herself while waiting at the door. She had both dogs on their leashes because Sadie was no fan of pets in the house — much less pets who jumped on her. The dogs cried and whined to get to the new human, but Blair was firm with them, and they obeyed better than she expected.

"Well. This is certainly an impressive house!" Sadie stood on the walk and looked around for a moment, shaking her head when she turned and saw the lights of the Westside. "Some view!"

"Yes, it is nice, isn't it? Little did I know I'd be living in it when I sold it to my friend."

Sadie stepped onto the porch and enfolded Blair in a motherly hug. Even though they'd had their difficulties, there was always something reassuring in one of Sadie's hugs, and Blair was in no rush to terminate the embrace.

Eventually, they walked into the house together, and Blair led her mother-in-law to the den, with Sadie exclaiming over every room they passed through. "My lord, Blair, who is this friend of yours?"

"Her name's Kylie, and she's a surgeon," Blair said.

"A girl with this kind of house, and she wants a roommate?" Sadie asked.

Her chin jutted out a little with her reply. "Yeah, yeah, she does. But I don't think you're here to talk about Kylie, are you?"

"No, of course not. I'm here to see how you are, sweetheart. When David told me that you were getting divorced, it took me a few days to call you. I couldn't … I honestly couldn't comprehend what would cause him to act like he has." She took Blair's hand and looked into her eyes. "I'm ashamed of my own son, Blair, and that's never happened before. Never! Not once in forty years has my David made me ashamed. But now … now …" She took a tissue from the pocket of her suit and dabbed at her eyes. "I don't know what's come over him, but he doesn't seem like the man I know. He acts more like the little boy that he was."

"I'd have to agree that he's been a little childish throughout this, Sadie."

"A little? Ha! He's been a complete child, and now he's turning into an infant!"

Blair smiled at the older woman. "He's having a tough time adjusting. I think he'll snap out of it at some point."

Sadie leaned back and let out a massive sigh. "Oh, my God! You can't imagine how relieved I am to hear you say that. I knew you'd be an adult about this!"

Giving her a puzzled look, Blair said, "Uhm … thanks."

"David says there's nothing to do but divorce, but if you think he'll snap out of this —"

"Oh, no, Sadie." Blair put a hand up to stop her. "I think David will grow accustomed to the fact that he's infertile, and I hope that he's able to love this child or another. But I'm not going to wait around to see when and if that happens."

Sadie's eyes saucered. "But if you think he'll change, why would you divorce?"

Blair didn't really want to involve her mother-in-law in the details of her marriage, but she felt that she had to be honest. "I don't love him the way I did. I’ve lost respect for him, Sadie, and I can't be married to a man I don't respect."

"But you can get that back! He can earn your respect again!"

Blair thought about that statement, then nodded her head. "You might be right. But David hasn't given me any indication that he wants me to wait for him. He seems perfectly willing to move on. That's enough for me."

"Oh, Blair, he loves you so much! He does!"

"He may," she allowed, "but he hasn't shown that he loves me. That's the only thing that counts."

Sadie stood and began to pace in front of the sofa. The dogs were still on their leashes, and they looked at Blair beseechingly, desperate to follow this person in her destinationless path. But she shook her head and pulled them close to her, then gave each of them a calming scratch behind the ears. "I don't have to remind you that you were married in a religious service," Sadie said. She was now in her lecturing mode, and Blair knew this could be a long night.

"I realize that, Sadie. It was something I did because it was important to you and David."

The older woman looked at her, her dark eyes flashing. "You took vows, Blair. You took a vow to remain faithful to David. You promised that he would be the head of your household, the king of your union!"

"I remember the crowning, Sadie," she said, still amazed that she’d consented to the traditional service. "I remember having our hands bound together. The entire service, even though it was in Armenian, was very meaningful for me. But things have changed. We're not the same people we were then."

"I know that! That's why it's your duty to stand by David until he comes to his senses. I can understand that you might have trouble living with him, but why are you in such a hurry to divorce?"

Blair was feeling a tightness in her neck and her stomach, and she wondered if she might have a bout of all-day-sickness again. "Look, Sadie, this is between David and me. It's too personal to discuss with you. I know you care, and I know this is hard for you, but we've decided this is what we're going to do."

"You're both so unconcerned about this! David acts like this is a weight off his shoulders, and you act like you're totally disinterested in working this out. Don't your vows mean anything to either one of you?"

"I can't speak for David, but mine do … or did," Blair said, leveling a glare at her mother-in-law. "I honored all of my vows, Sadie. But David has made it clear that he's not interested in working to hold our marriage together. And if he's not willing, I'm certainly not going to try to do it on my own."

"Blair, your vows don't give you an out because things have changed," Sadie said. "You promised to love, honor and obey — till death parts you. Death!"

"I know what I promised," the younger woman said, "but things have changed. We entered into a mutual contract, and he doesn't want to comply with the terms. I hate to sound so business-like, but those are the facts, Sadie."

Sadie stared at the younger woman and asked, "Why are you so unemotional? Have you met someone?"

"Yeah," Blair said, sarcasm dripping from her words. "Los Angeles is full of eligible, single men who're hot for pregnant women. I couldn't wait to get rid of David so I could have my pick!"

"I won't stand for this! Where's your respect?"

Blair stood up, both of her sentries flanking her. "Look, Sadie, I don't want to fight, but I've made my mind up and so has David. You've got more control over him, so if you're going to work on anyone — he's your man."

Sadie picked up her purse and clutched it to her bosom. "I suppose you're going to try to keep me from seeing the baby once it's born!"

The younger woman was astonished. "Jesus! What kind of a woman do you think I am? You can see the baby as often as you want! David can see the baby as often as he wants! He can have joint custody if he wants to! God damn it, Sadie, I couldn't be any nicer about this! So count your blessings, but count them elsewhere!" The dogs saw how angry Blair was, and first Nicky, then Nora, began to growl. The hair on their backs stood up, and Sadie began to back out of the room.

"I've never been treated so shabbily!" she huffed.

"You wouldn't be treated shabbily if you didn't insult me," Blair said. "We can have a good relationship or a bad one, Sadie. It's in your best interests for us to have a good one." The dogs and she herded the older woman to the door, and Blair closed it behind her, ignoring the outraged squawk that followed.

 

ĄG

 

Kylie got home around midnight and checked on the dogs before she went to bed. They were in Blair's room, and when Kylie pushed the door open, they both stood and shook and stretched before jumping down. Their movement woke Blair, and she gave Kylie the usual half-scowl/half-"who are you?" look that the doctor had grown inexplicably fond of.

"Sorry," Kylie said. "Go back to sleep. I'm gonna let them out before I go to bed."

Instead of rolling over and beginning to snore, which was her habit, Blair continued to look at her roommate. "Did you have a good time?" Even though her question was pleasant, the look on her face was not.

"You okay? You look grouchy."

Blair moaned and fell back onto the bed. "No, I'm not okay. Sadie ambushed me."

"Ooo … didn't you screen your calls?"

"No. She asked if she could come over, and I said all right. I invited her! How stupid am I?"

"You're not stupid," Kylie said. She sat on the edge of the bed. "Wanna talk about it?"

"Not really, but I guess I have to. I won't get back to sleep if I start thinking about it without venting a little."

"Vent away."

"There's not a lot to say, really. She's on my side in a lot of ways. She thinks David has behaved abysmally, which was nice to hear. But she believes that I should stay married to him to give him every opportunity to change."

Kylie nodded a little. "You are moving quickly …"

Blair glared at her. "I thought you understood!"

"I do, I do," Kylie said. She reached out and stroked Blair's leg through the sheet. "That's not a judgment. It's an observation. I only meant that I could see Sadie thinking that you could slow down and wait — especially if you still love David."

"Kylie, I've told you — I don't feel love for him the way I used to."

"I know that, and I understand that. But maybe Sadie doesn't."

Blair thumped the mattress with both fists, looking like she was about to have a tantrum. "No, she doesn't get it. She'll never understand that I don't love David any longer. She thinks the sun rises when he tells it to."

"So, thank her for her concern and tell her to butt out. You don't have to be nice to her anymore."

Blair sat up on an elbow and looked surprisingly guilty. "I did worse than that. I was really rude to her. And I feel sick about it. I never wanted to do that … but she made me so damned mad!"

Kylie gave her foot a pinch and said, "Don't feel too bad. I'm sure she deserved every word you said. She sounds like a real handful."

"She is. I guess I should be glad that she's my mother-in-law, not my mother." Blair lay down again and said, "Thanks for the dose of perspective. Now maybe I can get to sleep."

Kylie got up and leaned over her friend. She kissed her on the top of her head and started to walk away when Blair asked, "Are you wearing perfume?"

The doctor stopped, her hand on the doorknob. "No, why?"

"Mmm … my mistake. G'night."

When Kylie left, the blonde gave her pillow a good right hook, mumbling, "You are wearing perfume, you hussy. You're wearing Julie's!"

 

ĄG

 

On Wednesday evening, when Blair went into her room to change, she found two packages resting on her bed. Sticking her head out of the door, she called, “Hey, are these for me?”

“What’s that?” Kylie asked, walking down the hall.

“There are packages on my bed. Are they mine?”

“Hmm … packages that I purposely put onto your bed … are you sure you wanna persist in this line of questioning?”

"But the bags are from the Gap. They don't have anything that'll fit me. Is there a store called the Gulp? That'd be more my style."

"The Gap has clothes for you," Kylie said. "I bought you a few things for Chicago. When I talked to my mom this past weekend, she told me they’d had very chilly weather lately.”

“Really?” Blair asked delightedly. “You bought me some clothes?”

“Yep. You didn’t get much in the way of casual clothes when you went shopping. My family is ultra-casual, and I didn’t want you to feel overdressed.”

“Ooo … I love new clothes. And more than that, I love new clothes that someone buys for me. It makes it even more special.” She gave Kylie a robust hug, saying, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Kylie said, delighted that Blair was so excited. “Don’t you want to open your presents?”

“I’m so excited about your buying me clothes that I can’t decide which box to open first!”

“I’m gonna have to buy you presents more often,” Kylie decided. “I haven’t seen you this happy in weeks.”

Blair gave her another hug, this time holding on to her for a while. “Oh, I’m feeling kinda down these days. Don’t mind me.”

“Why are you down?” Kylie asked, placing a soft kiss on her hair.

“Wearing the news clothes I bought makes me feel so huge. I don’t feel sexy or attractive anymore. I don't even flirt anymore.” She released her friend and sat down on the bed. "This is all very puzzling for me. I was never the kind of woman who was obsessed with her looks, but being pregnant has made me feel like I'm not even in the game anymore. It's like I don't exist!"

"Oh, come on, you get a lot of attention because you're pregnant."

"Yeah, but it's pregnant attention. Men hold doors open for you, but they don't look at you like you're a regular woman. I've really noticed it with clients. My male clients used to flirt with me, and I'd always flirt back a little bit. Now? Nothing."

“Boy, I’m glad I’m a doctor,” Kylie said. “I’d never make it as a real estate agent. I’m the worst flirt in the world.”

Now Blair started laughing, making her friend look at her curiously. “You flirt constantly,” she insisted. At Kylie’s stunned expression, Blair corrected, “No, that’s not really the right term. You don’t flirt like I do. I try to connect with the guy, to show him I notice him. You don’t do it like that. You, Doctor Mackenzie, walk into a room like you own it — your confidence oozes out of you. It’s like you’re flirting with yourself! That’s it!” She giggled, saying, “You flirt with yourself! You give the clear message that you’re way cool and that you’re a lucky woman just to be with yourself!”

“Jesus, Blair! You make me sound like an insufferable egoist!”

“You’re not, though,” Blair assured her. “That’s your surgeon demeanor. You’re not like that at home or when we’re out in public.” She thought for a moment and added, “Although you were flirting with the woman in the radiology department when you cut to the front of the line. That was definitely flirting.”

Kylie thought about Blair’s words and nodded her head briefly. “I guess I do put on my most confident demeanor when I’m at work. I mean, I’m trying to convince people that I can open up their bodies and make things work again. That takes a certain amount of chutzpa!”

“You’ve got enough chutzpa for three women,” Blair said. “Luckily, you leave most of it at work.”

“It’s on my checklist,” Kylie said. “Take off stethoscope, wash hands, drain chutzpa from over-inflated ego.”

“I like it when you show a little of it at home,” Blair said, looking at her pensively. “It’s part of your charm.”

“Thanks,” Kylie said, giving her friend a hug. “I like to make you happy, and if I have to be charming to do it, I’ll gladly comply. Now try on your new clothes while I get your dinner ready. I want you to model for me.”

“Okay,” Blair agreed, “I can't wait.”

“I’ll leave you to it,” Kylie said. “Come on, puppies, Mama Blair needs some privacy.”

 

ĄG

 

Kylie was standing at the kitchen sink, rinsing vegetables for a salad when a pair of arms slid around her waist. Blair pressed her cheek between Kylie’s shoulder blades and nuzzled her face against her. “Oh, someone’s feeling cuddly, eh?”

"Uh-huh. I haven't tried on my things yet. I had a nap."

"Do you like to cuddle after a nap?"

Blair was quiet for a moment, then said, "I've been falling asleep so early that I haven't had time to … you know."

Kylie turned around and looked at her friend, giving her a puzzled half-smile. As soon as she saw Blair's slightly embarrassed expression, she said, "Ahh … you had a productive nap."

“Yeah," the blonde said. She walked over to a stool by the breakfast bar and flopped down onto it. "Is there anything better than having someone hold you after an orgasm? I miss that so much.”

“I hardly remember,” Kylie sighed.

“Really? Blair gave her friend a surprised look. "I assumed you and Julie …"

Kylie scowled at her. "Jesus, Blair, we've had one real date."

"You've had two," Blair said. "You went over to her house."

"To walk around her neighborhood after work one night. That's not a date."

Blair gave her a curious look. "Did I offend you?"

"No," Kylie said immediately, then she stopped and thought. "Yeah, I guess you did. I told you I didn't sleep with women if I wasn't in love. I meant that."

"Oh, Kylie, I'm sorry. That was presumptuous and rude of me. Not to mention nosy!"

"S'okay," Kylie said, her smile back in place. "I was tempted, to be honest. But I decided not to let my horniness do my thinking for me."

"That's why I like you," Blair said. "You're such an adult."

"Such a horny adult," Kylie said, smiling broadly.

"That makes two of us. Sex with a partner is purely a fantasy at this point in my life.”

Kylie walked over to her friend and ran her hand through Blair's tousled hair. “It’s good for the baby to keep everything in shape down there. And a good orgasm lowers your stress hormones, too.”

“Isn’t a ‘good orgasm’ redundant?” Blair asked. “Is there such a thing as a bad orgasm?”

“Not that I’ve ever had,” the doctor agreed. “They’re all good.”

Blair gave into the soft crying that had been taking place below her since she’d come in. She fussed over the dogs and picked them up and cuddled them in her lap. “It doesn’t bother you to talk about sex and masturbation and that kinda stuff, does it, Kylie? I’d hate to think that I was making you uncomfortable.”

“No, not at all,” she said. “Sex was a normal topic of discussion at the dinner table when I was growing up.”

“Are you serious?” Blair gasped.

“Totally. My dad’s a firm believer in making sex a normal part of life. He’s very antagonistic to the concept that it’s something to hide and snicker about. I mean, he and my mom didn’t leave their door open or anything, but they’d answer any question any of us had, and with the age range of the kids, someone was always on the verge of puberty.” She chuckled and said, “I still remember going into my brother James’ room to sleep with him when he was around twelve or thirteen. I woke up before he did one day and went running downstairs, telling my mom there was something horribly wrong with his penis, ‘cause it was sticking straight up in the air!”

Blair nearly collapsed with laughter, and Kylie had to scoop the dogs up to stop them from tumbling to the floor. “Oh, my God! What did your mother say?”

“Well, she and my dad were having breakfast, and my sister Christine was there, too. My dad asked Chris to explain it to me, and she said that when boys got to a certain age their penises started acting differently. She said it was no big deal, but that I probably shouldn’t sleep with James any more. I’m not sure how she put it, but I got the impression that he needed more room in his bed because his penis got bigger at night.”

“That’s so adorable!” Blair said. “Was James embarrassed?”

“I’m sure he was — at least a little bit. Nobody wants his five-year-old sister to see his hard-on. But it wasn’t a big deal. That’s what my parents did so well. They made us all realize that sex was part of life, and that we’d all have different needs at different times of our lives. We only had five bedrooms, but they made sure that each kid had a private room by puberty — even though that meant that at one point, four kids were sleeping in the same room. But it made puberty seem like a good thing — like it was something to look forward to.”

“Your parents sound great,” Blair said.

“Yeah, they are,” Kylie agreed. “But you’ll find out for yourself this weekend.”

 

ĄG

 

When dinner was finished, Kylie offered to do the dishes while Blair modeled her new clothes. The doctor was about half through when she heard a discreet throat clearing. A wide grin settled onto Kylie’s face as she turned. “Now, that’s the Blair Spencer I’ve come to know and love.”

“Do I look okay?” the smaller woman asked tentatively.

“You look a lot more than okay,” Kylie decided, taking off the rubber gloves that she wore whenever she handled glassware or knives. “You look like yourself. You’ve got your sexy smile back.”

“I feel so much better,” Blair agreed. “Funny what a pair of chinos and a T-shirt can do for you.” She looked down at herself, ran her hand over her abdomen and said, “The T-shirt’s a little snug. Does that really look okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Kylie nodded decisively. “It’s supposed to be close-fitting.” She walked all around the self-conscious woman, her head nodding the entire time. “Perfect, Blair. Really.”

“My business clothes cover me up pretty well,” Blair said. “I think I’ve gotten used to that. It feels kinda odd to display myself like this.”

“Well, given that I think your developing body is a real work of art, I might not be the most impartial judge, but I think you look wonderful.”

Smiling warmly, Blair said, “As long as you think I look good, that’s enough for me. If you’re finished, come to my room while I try on the rest of the things. No sense trying to be modest after that ultrasound.”

“Good point. I’ve seen less of women I’ve seriously dated,” Kylie said.

 

ĄG

 

Kylie lay on Blair’s bed, both dogs sprawled across her body while she watched the fashion show. “How did you know what colors I’d like?” Blair asked her. “You did great, by the way. I look best in yellows and greens and browns.”

“I’m not completely fashion challenged,” Kylie sniffed. “I don’t like to shop, but I know what looks good on women. I thought warm earth colors would match your skin tone and hair color.”

Blair held up a pink, sleeveless T-shirt, giving Kylie a doubtful look. “I don’t know about pink,” she said.

“Try it. You’ve got a lot of pink in your complexion.”

Blair did, and Kylie insisted they had another winner. “Go look,” the doctor urged. “It makes your hair look blonder, and it brings out the pink in your cheeks. I like it a lot.”

“You know, you’re right,” she said slowly, smiling at herself in the mirror. “I had no idea that I looked good in pink.” Blair whirled to face Kylie, her hands on her hips. “Why have you been hiding your fashion genius from me?”

The doctor threw her head back in a laugh at this unexpected and affectionate accusation. “A girl’s gotta have some secrets.”

“Aha, I should’ve known. Well, do you like the T-shirt? I don’t normally wear casual sleeveless shirts.”

“Oh, yeah,” Kylie said. “You’ve got nice arms. You should show them off.”

“Swimmer’s arms,” she said, making her triceps muscle more defined. “I was on the swim team in high school, you know.”

“No, I didn’t. I must have had a premonition, though, ‘cause I bought you a swim suit, too.”

Blair dug in the box and pulled out two pieces of stretchy, black material. “A two piece? Have you forgotten that I’m pregnant, Doctor?”

“Nope. The top is really quite substantial to give your breasts support as they continue to grow. But the bottom is a bikini. Rather than trying to cover your burgeoning belly, why not stay low? It makes sense to me, and since you’ll be here in the yard, I’ll be the only one to see you.”

“I don’t know,” Blair said, giving the suit another doubtful look, “but since you’re the only one who’ll want to poke her eyes out, I guess I won’t argue with you.” She sat next to her friend on the bed and said, “Besides, who’d argue with someone who bought her an entire casual wardrobe? This was far too generous, Kylie, but I truly appreciate every single piece. You’ve also given my self-confidence a nice boost.” She leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Now put on something for company. Nick’s coming over to get his dog-watching instructions.” Turning to the dogs, she said, “Uncle Nick's coming over, puppies! He gets to spoil you all weekend!”

 

ĄG

 

On Thursday afternoon, Kylie stood at the car rental counter at O'Hare, staring at the counter clerk. "That's not impressive enough. Don't you have anything hotter?"

The man gave her a bored look. "I told you what we have, ma'am. I can't make the cars sexy."

"Never mind," she decided. "Cancel my reservation."

"Happy to," the clerk said, showing his first smile.

As they walked away, Blair asked, "What's that about? Your own car was boring in 1985, and age hasn't improved its allure."

"I'm not trying to impress my brothers when I'm at home," Kylie said. "My sisters are rational, mature women — like me," she added. "But my brothers love to give me shit. If I rent a sexy car, that's one leg up, since all of them have some form of boring SUV or mini-van."

"But how does renting a car have much caché?" she asked. "Anybody with a charge card can rent a nice car."

Kylie shrugged. "Don't know why it works, but it works. Trust me."

Blair bit her tongue, having little familiarity with large family dynamics. They had to take a cab to the proper car rental place, but Kylie was entirely pleased to score a bright red, Mercedes CLK convertible. Once settled in the car, she chuckled and said, "I've never had any desire to have a convertible in L.A., where I could have the top down all year. But here, I always lust for one. Makes no sense."

"I'd tend to agree, Doc, but then, I've come to expect that from you."

"Just for that, I'm going to leave the top on, and you won't get to have the wind blow in your hair."

"The Kennedy Expressway and an open top do not a magic mix make," Blair decided. "I'll count my blessings."

"Actually, I need the quiet to question you on the family. We've been working on this for a week, and you're still not primed for hand-to-hand relatives."

"There are too many of them," Blair complained.

"Them's the breaks. This was your idea, bud. I don't care if you call them all 'pal.'"

"Okay," Blair admitted, "I started it, but don't ask me what I was thinking. First off is Christine. She's, uhm … fifty-three, and she's a mathematics professor at the University of Wisconsin."

"Very good," Kylie said, giving her a grin.

"Even before you told me about your family, I had a feeling that no one worked at a minimum wage job," Blair said.

"Nope. We're all yuppies, or at least, we were. We're clearly not all young anymore."

Blair took a breath and said, "Paul's next, and he's a doctor. He's fifty-one, and he'll take over your dad's practice when and if he ever decides to give it up."

"Excellent!

"By the way, how old is your dad?"

"He'll be seventy-five on October the thirtieth. We're having a huge party. If you have fun this time, I'd love to have you come back with me."

"I might do that. I could have an early Thanksgiving with my parents to boot." She concentrated for a minute and said, "Next is Alan. He's the one you called when you were buying the house. He's a real estate lawyer. I think he's … forty-seven or forty-eight, right?"

"Right either way," Kylie smiled. "He'll be forty-eight in two weeks. Good job!"

"He's the guy I'm gonna look for," Blair admitted. "We're about the only people who aren't doctors. I understand real estate law — a little."

"We don't have little tiny Mackenzie family AMA meetings," Kylie joked. "We're really pretty normal."

"That remains to be seen," Blair said. She wrinkled her nose at her friend and added, "You're not very normal, so your perspective might be skewed."

"Good point," Kylie agreed. "Now stop stalling. You've got some names left, you know."

"Oh, all right. James comes after Alan, and he's yet another doctor. He's forty-six." She thought for a moment, then asked, "Why isn't he a gynecologist?"

"I think internal medicine suits him pretty well. He has the mind of a detective. He loves to figure out what's wrong with people." Kylie gave her a sly smile. "But to be honest, I don't think he wanted to work with Dad. He's happy to be on his own."

"Gotcha. James is a bit of a rebel."

"Well, I wouldn't go that far," Kylie said. "He didn't want to always be the most junior Doctor Mackenzie in the practice. He wanted to be his own man. He isn't even affiliated with the same hospital as Dad."

"Huh. Probably smart if he wants to make his own reputation. Now, let's see … after James is Claire. She's a lawyer, too, like Alan, but she hasn't practiced for years. She's a homemaker, right?"

"Right," Kylie said, "but don't call her that, or she'll deck you."

"Duly noted," Blair nodded. "Next to you is Chuck. He's the baby boy. He's forty-three and an engineer."

"Absolutely correct," Kylie said. "Now, he's the rebel — at least our family's version of one. He bummed around after school, traveling in Europe for a couple of years. He didn't really settle down until … oh … four years ago. He's been married three years, and his wife's pregnant with their first. You'll like him, he has the best sense of humor of the group."

"So, everyone is married, except you?"

"Rub it in, why don't ya?" Kylie asked, feigning hurt. "Doctor Baby Sister comes home for her fortieth birthday, still unmarried, and no prospects."

"You've got prospects. You just have to exploit them."

"Maybe," Kylie decided. "But, yes, to answer your question, everyone is married and has kids, or at least one in the oven. They all live relatively close by, except for Chris, and she's only as far as Madison."

"Are you kidding about that Doctor Baby Sister thing, or do they really call you that?" Blair asked.

"Well, my mother used to tell the boys to keep an eye on their sister, or call their sister to dinner, and there had to be a way to identify us. Since Chris was out of the house by then, Claire was referred to as `your sister,' and I became 'your baby sister.' The name had fallen into disuse, but when I started medical school, good old Alan resurrected it."

"I think it's adorable," Blair said. She looked at Kylie's profile, seeing the calm, alert expression that usually graced her face. "You know what I can't tell?"

"Huh-uh. What?"

"I can't tell how close you are to your family. I mean, I've never heard you call any of your siblings."

"Mmm … it depends on what you mean by that," Kylie said. "I call my parents every week or two, but I only speak to my sibs when I need something." She gave Blair a guilty look and said, "That doesn't sound too awful, does it?"

"No, it doesn't sound awful, but that's not what I expected. I thought big families would stay close."

"Well, they're all married and busy with their lives, and I am, too. I'm always happy to see them, but I'd say we keep up on each other's lives through our mother."

"That's funny," Blair mused. "I always dreamed about having sisters who'd be my friends for life."

"It might be that way for some people, but not us. We get along fine, and we like to see each other a few times a year, but I confide in my friends in California, not my siblings. When you have a family as large as mine, you tend to fight each other to get attention from your parents. I didn't have it too bad, since I was the baby, but some of the boys were very jealous of each other growing up. Alan and James were always knocking the snot out of each other. And Chris and Clair barely spoke. They still don't seem to care for each other."

"Were you close to either of them when you were younger?"

"Mmm … not close in the usual way. Chris was thirteen when I was born, and by the time I was in first grade, she was in college. So it's almost like we weren't raised in the same family. Claire's five years older than I am, and that's a pretty big gap, too. She was nice to me, especially when I was real young — always let me sleep with her, and would comfort me when there was a thunderstorm — but by the time I was in third grade, she was getting ready for high school, and I was a pest." She looked a little sad and said, "Even though I had a huge family, it was lonely sometimes. Having a bunch of people in the house doesn't do you much good if none of them want you around."

Blair shook her head, murmuring, "I never thought of that. I guess I assumed it would be like "The Waltons."

"Nope. Not by a long shot. I love my family, and I really wouldn't trade them, but I like being an adult much better than I liked being a kid."

"I like being an adult, but I had a great childhood," Blair said. "I basically had three parents … my mom, my dad, and my grandmother. I was my parents only child and my grandmother's only grandchild. It was a little disappointing when I grew up and realized not everyone thought I was special."

Kylie smiled at her, "I loved being in college and having someone get my name right the first time. My mom used to be so confused, she'd go through three or four names before she got to mine. 'James! Claire! Chuck! Lancer! Kylie!' I can still hear her sputtering through the list."

"Who's Lancer?"

"The dog," Kylie said, giving her friend a "poor me" look that quickly dissolved into a warm smile. "Well, we've done our best to study the Mackenzie family in the time we had, and I guess we've scratched the surface."

"Scratched the surface?" Blair sputtered, "I feel like the Amazing Kreskin! I got all of them!"

"Uhm, technically, yes, but …" Kylie winced. "Don't forget, they all have spouses and kids."

Blair made a sound that Kylie could only have described as whinnying as she threw herself limply over the front seat divider

"Aw, don't worry, buddy. You've got me as backup," Kylie said, smiling and patting the back of her stricken companion.

ĄG

 

In Blair's view, the reception at the Mackenzie house was under-whelming at best. The front door of the impressively large brick and ivy-covered home was unlocked, and Kylie opened it without bothering to knock. She called out, "Mom, Dad, I'm home."

"We're in the kitchen, honey; come on back," a woman's voice rang out.

"We'll take our bags upstairs first. Be right back down."

"Okay," the woman agreed.

Kylie hefted the bags, refusing to allow Blair to carry anything more than her body pillow, which Kylie had insisted she pack. Her insistence had caused her to have to make a late-night visit to a discount store the night before to find a large, nylon duffle bag to stuff it into, but she seemed happy to do it, so Blair was loath to complain. "I'm not sure where Mom will put you. Hmm … I'll drop your bag in my room," the doctor decided.

Blair looked around the space, seemingly decorated as it had been when young Kylie left for college. "Valedictorian, Doctor Mackenzie?" she queried after noticing her high school diploma.

"Yeah. I worked hard in high school. Grades mean an awful lot when you know you want to go on to be a doctor."

Nodding, the smaller woman continued to look around. "I don't get a feel for you here. There's nothing really personal. Just books."

Looking contemplative, Kylie said, "I didn't have many interests. I wasn't in many clubs, and I didn't play sports. Heck, I probably couldn't get into med school if I were a kid now. They really emphasize a well-rounded candidate nowadays, and I was far from well-rounded. I didn't start coming into my own until I got to U. of C., and even then all I really did was learn that I was gay. I guess I'm a late bloomer," she admitted. "You'll find many doctors are that way. Medicine is more than a career for many of us. It's an obsession."

"You don't seem obsessed to me," Blair mused. "You're really pretty moderate about it."

"Yeah, that's true, but I had to work to get to be that way. When I had to pick my surgical specialty, I was on the verge of being a transplant surgeon. If I'd gone that way, my whole life would have belonged to my patients. It's what I really wanted to do, and I know I would have been good at it, but in retrospect, I'm thankful that I changed my mind."

"What appealed to you about that?"

Kylie gave her a wry smile and said, "You don't get much closer to playing God, Blair. If you do your job properly, the patient gets a second chance at a healthy life; improperly …" She shrugged. "The stakes are incredibly high, and the pressure is mind-blowing. An operation might take thirty-six hours, and if your attention flags for a second or two, you can wind up with a ruined organ and a dead patient." A grin creased her face, and she said, "It's a bigger high than you could ever imagine."

Blair gave her a hug and said, "I'll never understand what gives you that drive, but it's nice that there are people like you. Medicine wouldn't have advanced very far with a bunch of self-effacing people who didn't want to rock the boat."

"I guess you're right. But I'm glad I have a fairly normal job. I deserve it."

"You do," Blair agreed. "But was it hard to make your choice?"

"Oh, yeah, very hard, but I looked at the transplant guys who had a reputation at U.C.L.A. They were tops in their field, and they loved their jobs, but they had no time for anything else. I thought I'd have a baby at some point, and I wanted my child to know his mother." She gave Blair a wistful smile and said, "Given how my life has gone, maybe I should have gone into transplants."

"Hey! Will you stop that! Your life isn't over, Doctor Mackenzie, and you still have time to find a spouse and have a few kids. Just because you don't pop them out, it doesn't mean they don't need you around."

Kylie gave her a hug and said, "Sorry. I get a little maudlin around my birthday. Especially a big one. Makes me take stock a little bit."

"Your stock is sky high," Blair insisted, "and it's only going to go up."

 

ĄG

 

They went back downstairs and found the Mackenzies in the kitchen, enjoying what looked to be a homemade cherry pie. "Hi!" Kylie said brightly.

"Welcome home, honey," Mrs. Mackenzie said. She got up and gave Kylie a very quick, very brisk hug, then turned to Blair. "You must be Blair. Kylie speaks of nothing but you and the dogs these days, and let me assure you that you always come first."

"This is my mom, Dorothy," Kylie said, and Blair shook the older woman's hand. "And this is my dad, Kyle."

At that, Blair's eyebrow raised, and the senior Doctor Mackenzie extended his hand, which Blair shook. "After six children, I finally convinced my wife to allow me to have a junior," he said. "Kylie ruined that, but we're glad to have her, anyway." He reached out and clapped his daughter on the shoulder, but that was the full extent of the physical affection offered at the Mackenzie house.

"I made a cherry pie for you, honey," Dorothy said. She looked down at the partially eaten dessert and said, "I suppose we should have waited for you to get here, but we got hungry."

"No big deal," Kylie said. "I'd love a piece; how about you, Blair?"

"Sure," she said, thinking that dinner wouldn't be a bad idea, either, but not wanting to whine. She sat down at the generously-sized table, and within minutes, Kyle was peppering her with questions about her pregnancy. It was the first time in memory that one of her friend's parents had reminded her to make sure to do her Kegel exercises, so she didn't have incontinence after delivery, but she quickly got over thinking of him as Kylie's father and put him in the doctor category.

As Kylie ate two pieces of the wonderful pie, her father turned his attention to her. In mere seconds, Blair was lost, and though she had no way to access or to understand what father and daughter spoke of, she enjoyed witnessing the discussion. In all the months she'd known her, this was the first time she'd ever seen Kylie actually try to impress anyone, and she found it touchingly dear. The younger Doctor Mackenzie was talking about the recent surgeries she'd performed, and before long, she started to provide her father with details of the work she'd done on the man who'd accidentally mutilated his penis.

Either Kylie had been very self-effacing when she'd told the story to Blair, or she was exaggerating now, and knowing Kylie, Blair was certain it was the former. Kylie explained to her father that one of the vascular surgeons had lost focus and made a mistake that outraged the head of the trauma team. She described how she'd been called in specially, not just that she'd been hanging around when one of the doctors got tired, as she'd explained to Blair.

As she watched Kylie speak, she saw how animated she grew. Blair saw the sparkle in her eyes as she made clear that the head of the trauma team was an internationally known surgeon, and that he'd gone out of his way to find her to replace the vascular surgeon whose work had displeased him. Kyle had heard of the trauma surgeon, and he beamed with pride as his daughter spoke. "Well done," he said, giving her an enthusiastic pat on the shoulder. "I knew you'd make a great surgeon, Kylie. You were always the one." He nodded at his prescience, and Kylie tried unsuccessfully to hide her grin. "Were you written up in the paper?"

"Well, the local news mentioned the accident, mostly because it was so gruesome, but they did the usual `team of doctors' thing," she said. "But the U.C.L.A. Medical Center had a nice mention in their newsletter. They noted that I was a med school grad, of course. None of the other guys went to U.C.L.A., so it was kind of a `local girl makes good' story."

"Well, there's gonna be another one when I call the editor of the Lake Forest Times to tell him he missed the story. I'll make sure the local folks know how well you're doing."

"Okay," she shrugged, looking enormously pleased, "if you want to."

"Of course I want to," he said. "I'm proud of you, Kylie."

Blair thought her friend's cheeks might actually burst, she was grinning so broadly. Dorothy reached over and patted her daughter, as well. "I don't know half of what you two were talking about, but I caught some of it. I'm proud of you, too, sweetheart. Of course, I'm proud of you for being such a nice woman, as well."

"Nice women are a dime a dozen," Kyle decreed, and Blair did a double take when she realized he was being entirely serious. "Being a top-flight surgeon is an accomplishment. Your brothers are good doctors, Kylie, but you're the only one in the group with what it takes to hold a vital organ in your hands."

Gee, I wonder why she went into medicine? Blair thought wryly as she watched Kylie bask in her father's acclaim.

 

ĄG

 

After the few dessert dishes were washed, Dorothy said, "Chris should be here soon. She's driving down, and she said she'd leave by 3:00, at the latest."

"Cool," Kylie said. "I assume that Willow will the be only one to make the trip?"

"Yes. Aaron started school almost two weeks ago, and Chris says he's having a tough time adjusting to being away from home. She thought it best to wait for Dad's birthday to upset his routine. And Carly's in some band competition in a week or two. They're practicing all weekend. You know how it is, Kylie. Once you're in high school, you never have time for family functions."

"Yeah, I remember," she said. To Blair she said, "My nephew started his freshman year at Princeton. I told him not to go so far from home, but you never listen to your aunt."

"Oh, I forgot — Chris said she's going to stop by Paul's house and pick up Jared and Jessica. If she's unlucky, she'll have to bring Kevin, too."

Alarmed, Kylie's eyes grew wide. "They're coming tonight? Where will they sleep?"

"Well, Chris will have her old room, and Jessica and Willow will bunk together in Clair's room."

Kylie gave her mother a pointed look, but the older woman continued. "I suppose Jared and Kevin will have to take Chuck's room, won't they?" she asked rhetorically.

"Uh-huh. I assumed Blair would take Chuck's room, Mom. That's gonna be tough with two boys in it."

Dorothy furrowed her brow, then made a dismissive hand gesture. "Oh, don't worry about it. Jared and Kevin can sleep down here on the floor."

"No, no, that's not necessary. I can sleep with Kylie," Blair said. Turning to her friend, she added, "Unless you're opposed to that."

"No, I don't mind. I can't imagine you'll be comfortable sharing with me though. It's probably been a while since you've had a sleepover, hasn't it?"

"Yeah," she said, "it's been a little while, but I always enjoyed them. No reason to think I won't still like `em. Can we tell ghost stories?"

"You're a trooper, Blair," Kylie said. "Troopers do well around here."

 

ĄG

 

Blair was exhausted by 10:00, and even though the other guests hadn't arrived, she decided she needed to turn in. Kylie got her settled and started to head back downstairs, promising to be quiet when she returned. "Don't bother," Blair said. "If I'm sleeping well, I won't hear you, and if I'm not sleeping well, I'll hear you breathing when you're still outside the door."

Pausing, Kylie looked at her for a moment and asked, "Are you really sure about this? Maybe I should sleep on the sofa downstairs. I hate to think of waking you if you've just gotten to sleep."

"Please don't let that bother you, Kylie. I won't sleep at all if I'm lying here feeling guilty about throwing you out of your bed. It's really no big deal."

"I wish I'd known Mom decided to let the kids come over. We could have stayed at a hotel." She rolled her eyes and said, "Of course that would then subject us to the `Kylie needs special treatment now that she lives in California' lecture."

"Kylie, please don't let this bother you. I swear that it doesn't bother me in the least. Now go wait for your sister and the kids and have fun."

"All right," she said, nodding. "I guess I should have warned you, but I really do get kinda grumpy when I visit. I like being here, but it brings up old slights and bad feelings from thirty years ago."

"Well, I don't have any bad feelings, so I'll keep you happy."

"It's a deal," the doctor said. "Now sleep tight."

 

ĄG

 

It was after midnight when Kylie cracked the door to her room open, and she blinked in surprise when she saw Blair doing what looked like push-ups against the wall. "Uhm … are you going out running?"

"No," she grumbled sleepily. "I was sound asleep and having the nicest sex dream when I got this horrible cramp in my leg. Monique warned me that I might start to get 'em, and she showed me how to stretch to avoid them. I'm supposed to stretch before bed, but I forgot."

"Why didn't you come get me?" Kylie asked.

"I don't need to cause a scene every time I have a little ache or pain, Kylie. I'm sure I can get this worked out."

"How long has it been bothering you?"

"I don't know … about fifteen minutes, I guess."

"Too long," Kylie decreed. "Let me put my pajamas on, and I'll massage it for you." She got into a pair of red plaid flannel pajamas while Blair continued to stretch, then she retrieved a bottle of moisturizing lotion from her bag and got into bed. "Let's go, pal."

Blair climbed in and lay in the opposite direction, so her feet were at Kylie's head. She propped herself up on the huge body pillow and tried to relax her muscle, but she was unable to. "Wow, this really hurts," she said, grimacing.

"Just lie still and take a few deep breaths," Kylie said. "Breathe through the pain." She started working at the cramp, amazed at how tight it was.

"Did your sister get here?"

"Uh-huh. They stopped and picked up not two, not three, but five kids. All three of Paul's and two of Alan's. So we have three girls, each around eleven, and two boys -- seven and five. I can't guarantee that they won't keep us up. The girls have a tendency to giggle uncontrollably."

"It'll be good practice. Someone's going to be keeping me up most of the night in a few months, so I might as well get into shape."

"We'll take shifts with the baby," Kylie assured her. "It won't be so bad if you only have to get up every other time."

Blair chuckled softly and said, "How do you plan on breast feeding the baby?"

"With the milk you express earlier in the day," she said. "We'll get you a breast pump. That'll allow you to be away from the baby for hours at a time."

"I would have thought of that if my brain hadn't turned to mush," Blair insisted, "but you're smoking dope if you think I'm gonna let you get up at night with the baby. You don't have the kinda job where you can be half-asleep, buddy."

"We'll argue … I mean, discuss that later," Kylie said. "And don't worry about your brain. You'll be intelligent again one day. This is pregnancy-induced stupidity. It's a common symptom."

"I'm getting dumber by the minute," Blair sighed. "The cramp's gone now, but the massage feels fabulous. I'd better turn around, or you're going to have my feet in your face all night long."

"I don't mind. You have cute feet."

Blair got settled in the proper position and let out a massive sigh. The body pillow bisected the large bed, and she tossed an arm and a leg over it, a satisfied smile on her face. "This is sweet. I feel good now."

"This reminds me a little of being in bed with my older sisters when I was a kid. Brings back nice memories," Kylie said.

Blair's sleepy voice asked, "Why didn't you sleep with your parents when you were scared?"

"Not allowed," Kylie said. "Dad believed that kids had to learn how to sleep alone. I wouldn't even have asked."

"But … they had to know that you slept with your siblings …"

"Mom did, for sure, but she never commented on it. She'd have to go from room to room looking for me most mornings, `cause sometimes I'd kick my bedmate and get thrown out. I'd go from brother to sister, seeking a little comfort."

"Wow. I didn't do it often, but my parents always welcomed me when I was scared. I'm really glad you had siblings, Kylie. I'd hate to think of your being afraid and forced to be alone."

"You know," she said thoughtfully, "I'm sure I wouldn't have been so needy if my parents had let me snuggle with them once in a while. But my dad was really rigid about his child-rearing ideas when we were kids. He's loosened up a lot in the last twenty years or so, but he was quite autocratic when I was young. I don't think my mother agreed with a lot of what he did, but she never openly disagreed with him."

"Well, I think I'll let Baby Spencer cuddle with me whenever he needs to," Blair decided.

"If you can wrestle him away from me," Kylie said. "I'll probably sneak into your room and steal him in the middle of the night."

"Remember, Doctor, I can show a house when I'm half asleep, but your patients need to have you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed."

"I've operated on people after being up for thirty-six hours straight," Kylie insisted. "I won't even notice if I miss a few hours. I'm battle-tested."

"This argument will be continued, Doc. Right now, I'm going to sleep. Oh … I didn't listen to his heartbeat."

Kylie jumped out of bed and found the stethoscope that Blair had packed. Listening carefully, she softly tapped her friend's thigh, illustrating the cadence of the baby's heartbeat. "Strong and steady," she pronounced. Turning her head, she kissed the abdomen and said, "Night, Baby Spencer. Sleep soundly and don't wake your mommy up. We've got a big day planned for tomorrow."

"Yes, Baby," Blair agreed. "It's your godmother's birthday, and we get to go to the symphony to see your grandfather perform. I think you're gonna like it."

"I know I am," Kylie said, smiling sleepily. She got back into position, and by the time her body stopped shifting, she was asleep.

"I've gotta learn how to do that," Blair mused quietly.

 

ĄG

 

Kylie woke early, as usual, but Blair looked so peaceful and content that she forced herself to go back to sleep to avoid waking her. It was after 8:00 when she heard the door creak open slightly, then heard Kevin, her five-year-old nephew, whisper loudly, "They're still asleep." Lifting her hand, Kylie made her index finger and thumb into an imaginary gun and pulled the trigger. "She's up!" The boy came running into the room, a gleeful look on his freckled face. "I wanna see your girlfriend!" he cried, while he tried to climb onto the bed.

"Hey, tiger, slow down. Blair's not awake yet. You have to be gentle with her, or she'll be grouchy all day."

"Will not," a grouchy voice grumbled into her body pillow.

"See, she's grouchy already," Kylie said, shaking her head.

His bright blue eyes barely peeked over the top of the bed, and they grew wide when Blair opened her eyes and growled at him. He squealed, more from amusement than fear, then started to giggle when Kylie reached over and tumbled him onto the bed. He got comfortable by sitting on his aunt's stomach, then grew shy, leaning against Kylie and looking everywhere but at Blair.

"That's Blair, Kevin," Kylie informed him. "Do you know what she's got growing in her belly?"

"Uh-huh," he said soberly, peeking at Blair when he thought she wasn't looking. "She's got a baby in there. Gramma said."

"That's right," Kylie said. "Right around your birthday, the baby's gonna come out. Cool, huh?"

"Yeah," he agreed. "Gramma says Uncle Chuck's gonna have a baby then, too."

"Well, Gramma's full of information, isn't she?" Kylie said.

"Yeah. Gramma says Blair doesn't have a Daddy, and I'm not supposed to say so."

Kylie glanced at her friend, but Blair seemed not to be offended. "I have a Daddy, Kevin, but I don't have a husband. The baby's all mine," she said, trying to put a spin on the situation that a child would understand. "I don't have to share him with anyone."

"'Cept Aunt Kylie, right?'

Blair gave her friend a smile that was filled with affection. "Except your Aunt Kylie. I have to share the baby with her, but I won't mind a bit. She's my very best friend, you know."

"She's your girlfriend," he said. "Like Laura."

"Not exactly like Laura," Kylie said. But deciding that she had neither the time nor the ability to explain the difference between friends and girlfriends, she added, "Blair's really special to me, Kevin, and I'm very excited about the new baby."

"Me, too," he said. "Can I see him?"

Deciding to be a good sport, Blair rolled onto her back, pulling her T-shirt up a bit. Her slightly protuberant belly was displayed for Kevin's inspection, and he regarded it curiously. "Looks like Grampa Jerry's," he offered.

Kylie broke into a laugh, informing Blair, "That's his maternal grandfather. He has a bit of a gut." Turning to Kevin, she said, "Blair's tummy is different from Grampa Jerry's. She has a baby inside hers, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't."

"I wanna see it," he insisted.

"Well, I could show it to you, but Blair's all skittish about scalpels," she teased, her joke going over Kevin's head. "If Blair doesn't mind, I can let you hear him."

"Can I?" Kevin asked, his strawberry-blonde hair falling into his eyes as he looked quickly from Kylie to Blair.

"Sure. I don't mind," Blair said.

Kylie showed him how to place the stethoscope against Blair's tummy, and he was very quiet for a moment, listening intently. "You tap on my back and show me how his heart's beating, okay?" Kevin was too engrossed to speak, but he nodded to his aunt. Kylie was dangling off the bed, but she finally maneuvered her long body around until she was in the same position as Kevin. As agreed, he started tapping on his aunt's back, matching the rhythm of the baby very well. "Good job, buddy!" Kylie exclaimed. "If you like to listen to babies, maybe you'll grow up to be an obstetrician."

"Maybe," he said soberly, clearly not having any idea of what she was talking about. "Oh! Gramma said breakfast is ready, and you have to come down right this minute!" He scampered off the bed and started running, then stopped and raced back to the bed, tossing his small arms around Kylie and giving her a sloppy kiss. "Happy birthday!" Then he was gone again, his small feet hitting the stairs in moments.

Kylie looked at Blair and asked, "You sure you want the baby to be born? They're so much easier to deal with when they're enclosed."

"Well, I thought he was adorable, but given that his breakfast message was so delayed, we'd better get moving. Shower first?"

"Yeah. We're casual about a lot of things, but pajamas at the breakfast table are strictly forbidden. That's probably why I'm in my pajamas until lunchtime most Saturdays."

"You're a rebel," Blair teased.

 

ĄG

 

"Did you sleep well?" Kylie asked as Blair blew her hair dry.

"You know, I don't know if it was the bed or if I was extremely tired or if I slept better because I was with someone, but I feel very well-rested. I have a whole new outlook."

"You look good," Kylie said. "And that outfit is adorable on you."

"Thanks again, Kylie. I feel my age in jeans and a turtleneck. And it feels so nice to have a stretchy panel covering my belly. Trying to jam myself into my old pants was getting ridiculous."

"You and Emily, Chuck's wife, can exchange fashion tips tomorrow. I think she's at nineteen weeks now."

"That'll be cool. I don't know any other pregnant women."

"Wait till we start our Lamaze class. You'll think the whole world is pregnant."

 

ĄG

 

When they reached the kitchen, everyone had eaten, but there was a spoonful of scrambled eggs, a piece of cold, dry toast and a box of corn flakes sitting on the table. The kids were nowhere to be seen, but Dorothy and two women sat at the table. The woman who looked a great deal like Kylie stood and offered a hug. "Hey, Doctor Baby Sister, happy birthday!"

"Thanks, Chris. It's nice to be home for my birthday for a change." Turning to Blair, she said, "This is Blair. Blair, this is my sister, Christine, and her partner, Laura."

Blair blinked in surprise, but managed to extend her hand to shake both hands. "Good to meet you both," she said.

"Likewise," Chris said, her grin nearly identical to Kylie's. "Come have a seat."

Blair sat next to her, and Kylie snuck around the back of the table. She poured a glass of juice for Blair, got a cup of coffee for herself and proceeded to make small talk with her sister for a few minutes. Soon, the doctor picked up the piece of toast and started to munch on it. Blair eyed the cereal box and wondered, Is this really all we're going to eat? No wonder everyone is so thin! They're starving!

Chris turned to Blair and said, "Mom tells me you're due in December. Are you still excited, or has terror crept in?"

"I'm still mostly excited," she said. "I'm feeling really good, I'm sleeping well, and the birth feels like it's a long way off."

"That won't last," Chris said, and both Laura and Dorothy nodded agreement. "I had one, but Laura's had two, and Mom's obviously had seven. We're living proof that you can get through it."

"Pregnancy's the easy part," Dorothy decided. "It's the next twenty years that are tough."

"I have a feeling that's true," Blair agreed. "So I guess I'd better enjoy the enjoyable parts while I can."

"Well, you look great," Chris said. "You hardly look pregnant at all."

"You know, I look less pregnant in these clothes. For some reason, properly fitted maternity clothes are much more flattering than trying to jam myself into my old stuff. Kylie bought this for me. I think she did a marvelous job."

"Good work, baby sister," Chris said. "Hey, Willow pointed out that sexy convertible in the drive had to be yours. Can I take a look?"

"Sure," Kylie said. "We've actually got to get going soon. We're going to spend the day with Blair's parents and go to the symphony tonight. I'm stoked!"

"Well, let me see your car before you take off then," she said.

"Blair, would you get my hanging bag from upstairs?" Kylie asked. "I packed everything I'd need for tonight in there."

"Sure. I'll get my things together and meet you at the car."

Kylie walked out with her sister, and it quickly became obvious that the older woman wasn't as interested in the car as she was in Blair. "So, what's up with your friend? Mom says she's in the process of a divorce."

"Yeah. It's been horrible for her, but I'm so impressed with how she's handling everything. She and her husband tried to have a baby for nearly two years, and not long after she got pregnant, he decided he didn't feel able to be a father. I think he's gonna regret it and try to get her back, but I don't think Blair's the type to get burned twice. It's a damned shame." Shaking her head she said, "Not only is he making a massive mistake in letting a wonderful woman like Blair go, how could you turn your back on your baby like that?"

"Don't look at me," Chris said. "I know a lot less about men than you do." She walked around the car, noting its sleek lines. "She's lucky to have a friend like you, Kylie."

"I'm the lucky one, Chris. She's become my closest friend, and I'm more excited about the baby than she is."

"Knowing you, you're not exaggerating," Chris said. "I hope she stays in your life for a long time, sis. She seems good for you."

"We're good for each other," Kylie said.

"So … how's your love life?" Chris asked, wincing a little when she heard how blunt her question sounded.

"Nothing much to report. I've had a couple of dates with a woman I used to work with."

"Really?" Chris sounded so shocked that it brought Kylie up short, and she looked hard at her sister.

"Yeah, L.A. is big enough for even me to find a date."

"Hey, that's not what I meant," Chris said. "I didn't know you were seeing anyone."

"Well, like I said, I've had a couple of dates. I'm not ready to pick a china pattern yet."

"But that's good, Kylie. That you're dating, I mean. It must feel good to get back in the game."

Kylie crossed her arms over her chest and gave her sister a scowl. "You make it sound like I've been sitting in a little bare room, feeling sorry for myself for the past two years. You know, just because things didn't work out with Stacey, doesn't mean that I'm lonely. I have a very fulfilling life."

"I'm sorry," Chris said. "This isn't turning out like I wanted it to. I wanted to make conversation, sis. Not start a fight."

Kylie nodded, slightly mollified. "It's okay. I get a little testy around my birthday. Don't worry about it."

Kylie suddenly brightened, and her smile beamed when Blair came out the front door. "Let me get those bags," she ordered, nearly sprinting to stop Blair before she tried to negotiate the stairs.

"She treats me like I'm made of porcelain," Blair said, rolling her eyes at Chris.

"Take it while you can get it, Blair," Chris said. "All too soon, you lose the special status being pregnant gives you."

Kylie smiled and said, "Nah, Blair's naturally special." She held the door open for her friend and made sure she was settled before closing it. "See you late tonight or tomorrow," Kylie said, giving her sister a pat on the back.

"Have a nice birthday, baby sister. We'll see you tomorrow," Chris said, heading back into the house.

 

ĄG

 

When Kylie got into the car, Blair was staring at her, wide-eyed. "You didn't tell me your sister was a lesbian!"

"I didn't?" the doctor asked, confused.

"No, you most certainly did not. I was caught completely flat-footed, and I almost blurted out something stupid."

"Nah. I've never heard you say one stupid thing. You're not gonna start now."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Blair said, "but I almost said, not one, but two embarrassing things this morning."

"What was the other?"

"I almost asked if anyone at your house ever ate a meal! I'm famished!"

Kylie looked chagrined and said, "That's my fault, Blair. My family eats a lot, but only at scheduled meal times. If you miss the time, you have to scrounge for yourself, and given that you're subject to the lecture about the house not being a twenty-four-hour diner, I always choose to wait for the next meal." She looked at her friend and asked, "You're probably starving from last night, too, aren't ya?" At Blair's nod, she continued, "I'm sorry I didn't take better care of you. When I realized that we'd missed breakfast, I assumed we'd stop to eat on the way to your parent's, but I forgot to mention that."

Reaching over to pat her thigh, Blair said, "It's no big deal. It was probably good for me to eat light last night. Heck, maybe that's why I slept so well. How'd you sleep, by the way?"

"Good. I don't move around much, so I hardly notice when I have someone in my bed. I feel good today. That extra couple of hours sleep really perked me up."

"Would you mind waiting until we get to my parent's to eat? My dad would love it if he could make us breakfast."

"No, not at all. I stocked up on that piece of dry toast," Kylie said, giving her friend a wink.

 

ĄG

 

Chris hadn't been back in the house for two seconds when her mother asked, "Well, is there something going on between those two, or not?"

"Gee, who'd have ever thought it would be a benefit to be a lesbian around here?" Chris asked, giving her mother a wry smirk. "Have you rendered your learned lesbian opinion yet, Laura?"

"I have, but I don't want to influence your vote."

"Okay," Chris said thoughtfully. "I don't think there's anything going on between them. But Kylie wants there to be. I'm sure of that." She looked at her mother for a moment and said, "But that doesn't mean Kylie knows it. She's notoriously clueless when it comes to herself. It took her three years to figure out Stacey wasn't right for her, when we all knew it the minute we met her."

"I hope she knows what she's doing," Dorothy said worriedly. "She couldn't bear to have her heart broken again."

"Happens to the best of us, Mom. She's not immune to heartbreak — even though she is the spoiled baby girl."

 

ĄG

 

Werner was happy indeed to be able to make a meal for his daughter. "Your appetite is very healthy," he said. "That's good."

"Actually, my family tried to starve her to death," Kylie said. "We didn't get dinner last night, and we missed breakfast this morning. I'm surprised Blair wasn't light-headed."

Werner gave Kylie a speculative look and asked, "Your people don't like to cook?"

"No, not really," she said. "My mother's a pretty competent cook, but after seven kids, she feels she's paid her dues. If you're not at the table when the meal is served, you're on your own."

He nodded, looking like he didn't really understand her point, but he was obviously too polite to voice his surprise. "In my family, my mother offered food to anyone who entered the house. Delivery men, the mailman, men who came to repair the washer." He chuckled and said, "She never understood why the mailman wouldn't come in for tea and a little cake."

Kylie laughed and said, "My mother figured out how to entertain without having to cook at all. She and my father used to have cocktail parties, starting at around 5:00 and lasting until 7:00 or so. Their poor guests would leave at eight o'clock, half-drunk with nothing but cheese and crackers in their stomachs."

"Every family has its own traditions," Werner said. "Luckily, we like to feed company constantly, so when you miss a meal in Lake Forest, you can come down here and let us fill you up."

"When do you have to leave, Dad?" Blair asked. "I don't want you to be late."

"Today, we're rehearsing from 11:00 until 1:00," he said. "You're welcome to come watch, but that would probably bore you. You could also go watch a run through for your mother's new play. I think she said they're going to start after lunch."

"Well, since I won't get a chance to see the play, I'd like to do that, but I'm sure I know what Kylie will choose. Do you mind splitting up?" she asked her friend.

"Uhm … I'd really love to watch the symphony rehearse, but I'll go with you if you don't want to be alone."

"No, I'm fine. I'll grab a cab."

Kylie gave her a concerned look and asked, "Do the cabs have seatbelts in them? I don't want you riding in one if you're not belted in. I'll go with you and drive if that's the case."

"See what I mean, Dad?" Blair asked. "Kylie fusses over me as much as you do."

"That's why I like her so much," Werner said, giving Kylie a smile that reminded her a little of Blair's. "It's nice to know I have an ally in California."

 

ĄG

 

After going outside with Blair to make sure the cab did, in fact, have seatbelts, Kylie and Werner left for rehearsal. As soon as they were in the car, he turned to her and said, "Okay, now tell me the truth. How is Blair — really?"

Giving his question some thoughtful consideration, Kylie said, "She's honestly very good, Werner, and believe me, I'd tell you if she weren't. Blair has an ability that I envy. She's able to compartmentalize things to carry on with her life. I mean, I can't imagine how devastating it must have been for her when she realized that things were not going to work out with David. But rather than focusing on her grief, she shut it away to concentrate on the more important issue — making sure the baby wasn't affected. Her spirits have been remarkably good, and she honestly seems content and happy. I still don't know how she manages, but I know for a fact that she's eating well and sleeping well and getting her exercise. Her blood pressure is low, and she's not eating junk food or doing any of the things I do when I'm stressed. As I said, I don't know how she manages, but she's in very good shape."

"She's like my mother," he said, smiling. "I don't know how it happened, since they aren't related by blood, but she's so much like her that sometimes it startles me."

"She told me that she had three parents," Kylie commented. "She was obviously very close to her."

"Oh, yes. My mother lived in Rogers Park in the same apartment that I grew up in. We had Sunday dinner with her every week until the day she died. I think Blair was a freshman in college when her grandmother passed unexpectedly. Well, I say unexpectedly, but she was eighty-five and had a bad heart. Blair took it very hard," he recalled. "They had a very special bond." He gave Kylie a look out of the corner of his eye and asked, "She doesn't talk about her much, does she?"

"No." Kylie shook her head. "She doesn't. She's only mentioned her once or twice."

Werner chuckled and said, "That's how my mother was. She didn't believe in talking about things that made her sad. She kept the things that hurt very private, always presenting a sunny demeanor."

"That is like Blair," Kylie said. "She's more emotional now, of course, but still … when she cries, I know it's a big deal."

"Does she cry often, Kylie?" he asked softly.

"No more than your average pregnant woman," she said. "She had a few tough months at the beginning, and it was very hard on her when she moved out of the house, but she's good now. Her hormones have settled down, too, so she's much more herself. It was hard on her when she was going through so much turmoil at home and having a gush of progesterone racing through her. She's a strong, determined woman," Kylie said, "and I'm confident she'll get through this difficult time."

"She is strong," he agreed, "but my personal opinion is that she was too strong and too determined when she was with David. She's so independent, Kylie, and she tried to have a marriage where she retained every bit of that independence." He shook his head. "It never seemed so much a marriage as a partnership. She didn't depend on David, and I don't think he depended on her, either. Yes, I think they loved each other, but they didn't risk much." He looked at her briefly and asked, "Do you know what I mean?"

"I think I do," she said thoughtfully. "I haven't looked at it that way, but I see what you mean. It's hard to love someone if you aren't willing to risk everything for them."

"It is," he agreed. "I think that Blair's in the process of learning what real love is. She'll never be able to accept anything less once she knows it."

"She knows it already, Werner. Not long ago, she told me that if she had to choose between her own life and the baby's that she wouldn't hesitate for a moment to save the baby. That's a mother's love."

"That's exactly it," he said. "I learned how to better love my wife by loving Blair. I hope that's true for her."

"I think it will be," Kylie said. "She has a lot of love to give, but she needs to let her barriers down to let someone love her as well."

"Very true, Kylie." He glanced at her. "You know my daughter well."

"I try to," she said quietly. "She means a lot to me."

"I'm very glad she has you in her life," he said. "I worry about her less since I met you. I know you'll make sure she takes care of herself."

"She does a good job of taking care of herself," Kylie assured him. "I provide some friendly reminders."

 

ĄG

 

Blair and Eleanor returned home at 3:00, and the moment Blair walked into the apartment, Kylie nearly leapt upon her. "Why didn't you come with us?" she asked. "I got to sit up on the stage and play percussion!" She turned quickly to Eleanor and said, "Forgive my manners, but I'm so excited, I'm faint!"

"Tell me all about it," Blair said, taking her friend's hand and leading her into the living room. "How did it happen, Kylie? Do you know how to play?"

"I do now," she beamed. "I can play the vibraphone and the timpani and even the triangle!" She giggled and added, "I can't play any of them better than a three-year-old, but I can say that I stood on stage and looked like I could play `em!"

"How did it happen?"

"Well, your dad took me on a long tour while the other members were getting set up, and we stopped at the percussion section last. The percussionist was a really nice guy, and we hit it off immediately. We started talking about repetitive strain injury, and I looked at his right hand, which has been giving him trouble."

"Always a doctor," Blair teased.

"Hey, the Hippocratic oath doesn't apply to business hours only," she sniffed. "Anyway, I told him I'd talk to somebody I know at U.C.L.A. and see if I can find out who the top hand doc is in the Chicago area."

Blair smiled and asked, "So, since his hand hurt, he decided to turn over the sticks to you?"

"Not hardly. He said I could pull up a chair and sit with him. Damn, Blair, you have no idea how wonderful it is to hear that music when it's being performed right in front of you. I was tapping my feet and squirming around on my stool so much that he could see what a fan I am, and when the rehearsal was over, he asked me if I wanted a lesson on his instruments!"

Blair laughed at the expression on her friend's face. "I can't imagine what force could have compelled you to refuse."

"Exactly!" she said. "He showed me the triangle, and once I mastered it, we moved on to the big boys, and I got to bang on the kettle drums for a while. Those babies are a lot harder to play than they look!"

"Oh, I wish I'd been there," Blair said. "You must've been in heaven."

"I paid one of the union guys a ridiculous amount of money to run out and buy a disposable camera," she said. "Then he took a bunch of pictures for me, so you can see me grinning like a madman."

"Where's Dad?" Blair asked. "I want to give him a hard time for never letting me play."

"Oh, he's taking a nap. Which is what you should be doing. We'll be out late tonight, you know."

"What a slave driver," she said. "It's rest, rest, rest."

"I'm so excited for you, Kylie," Eleanor said. "What a thrill to get to do that."

"You have no idea," the doctor enthused. "This is the best birthday I've ever had."

"It's only gonna get better," Blair said.

 

ĄG

 

"I'd give anything to be able to wear my new jeans tonight," Blair said when she woke from her enforced nap. "I like my dress-up clothes well enough, but they're so businesslike."

"You know, I had a feeling you might feel that way," Kylie said. "That's why I brought something cute for you."

"You did not!"

"I did, too. Take a look in my hanging bag." Blair scampered off the bed and quickly unzipped the big bag. She removed Kylie's black pantsuit, then an ivory satin blouse that didn't look familiar. She held it up, but Kylie shook her head. "No, that's mine. Keep looking."

Reaching inside once again, Blair pulled out a stretchy, black velour, jumpsuit — sleeveless with a scoop neckline. "This is awfully … sexy for a fat woman," Blair said. She was holding it out at a distance, like it might combust …

"You're so far from fat, it's not even funny. All you have is a little thickening in your waist and a roundish tummy. From the front, you don't look pregnant at all. I have to look at you from the side to see the baby."

"I feel fat," she said. "It's been hard for me to lose my waist. I hate to be so vain, but all my adult life I've been very careful to avoid putting on weight, and this is really hitting me in the ego. This twelve pounds feels like fifty."

"I can understand that," Kylie assured her, "but I want you to know that I'd never lie to you about anything — even how you look. You don't look fat in the least, pal, and I'm sure you're going to look decidedly non-maternal in that outfit. But if you don't like it, I'll take it back. No pressure."

"It'll show everything," she said, eying the garment.

"Yeah, it will," Kylie agreed, "but there's a little more in the bag." The other piece was a filmy white shirt, generously cut. The shirt was nearly transparent and bore an attractive, Indian-inspired print. "I really like the blouse," Kylie said. "You should keep it even if you don't like the jumpsuit."

"It's positively gorgeous!" Blair exclaimed. "Help me put it on, okay?"

"All of it?"

"Yep. Might as well hear the screaming and be here rather than on the street."

Blair started to pull the snug jumpsuit on, and Kylie helped her smooth it in place. She added the blouse, and the doctor stood back to inspect. "Wow," Kylie said softly. "I'm speechless."

Grinning shyly, Blair moved to stand in front of the mirror, her smile growing as she looked at her reflection from every angle. "I hate to sound vain, but wow is the right word," she said. "I haven't looked this good since well before I was pregnant."

"Again, I'll disagree," Kylie insisted. "I think you routinely look great, but I'll grant that you look particularly fabulous tonight."

Blair wrapped her in a tight hug. "Thank you, Kylie. Thank you for making me feel like a woman — not a pregnant woman — just a woman."

"A beautiful woman," Kylie insisted, "who gets more beautiful every day."

 

ĄG

 

Eleanor had to leave for the theatre at 6:00, and Werner had to leave by 6:30, so they were unable to join Kylie and Blair at dinner. They agreed that they'd all meet for dessert after the symphony. Riding down Lake Shore Drive in a cab, Kylie leaned back against her seat and stared at the lake. "I remember driving down here when I was a kid, thinking that one day, I'd live by the lake. The water was always such a draw for me."

"Is that why you picked California?" Blair asked.

"Yeah, pretty much. I loved the lake, but there was something so appealing about a body of water that stretched all the way to other continents," she said. "I don't go in the water much in L.A., but having it nearby really calms me down."

"Is that why you walk me up and down the Palisades so often?" Blair asked.

"Yep. I figure that if it calms me down, it'll calm you down, too."

"It does. Walking along the ocean is one of my favorite parts of the day. I'm definitely hooked."

"Will a stroll down Michigan Avenue do instead? We should have time for a little walk after dinner."

"Sure. For a change, I can walk down a fashionable street and feel like I fit in. My new outfit is tres chic."

 

ĄG

 

They dined at one of Kylie's favorite restaurants — the venerable Chicago institution her parents had taken her to when she'd graduated from college. "This place hasn't changed a bit," she said, deeply satisfied. "I haven't been here since I was twenty-two, but it's as fabulous as I remember."

"Special dinners must have set your family back a fortune," Blair said.

"Not really. My parents established a tradition that you got to go out to a restaurant with them alone for important milestones. It seems silly, but it was always a big treat not to have all of the siblings around. It really made you feel kinda special."

"You're making me feel happier and happier about having been an only child."

"No, I don't mean to do that," Kylie insisted. "There were plenty of times I wished I were an only child, but there were some things about having siblings that were really great. When I was young, there was always someone to play with — even on a rainy day. And it was nice to have someone who'd just learned a concept in school help you with your homework. Yeah, I had to be the guinea pig sometimes," she chuckled, "but generally we had a lot of fun together."

"I guess there's something to be said for it, whatever size your family is," Blair said.

"Oh, and I'm glad that I had an older sister who was gay," Kylie said. "Chris had a hellish time, but things were really easy for me."

"You know, you've never told me what it was like for you. Wanna talk about it?"

"Sure. As I said, it was a piece of cake for me, but not for my poor sister. Chris came out to our parents when she was a senior in college, and they did everything but send her to a de-programmer."

"Really? What was their issue with it?"

"I'm not sure. I mean, I was only nine, so I didn't understand half of what was going on, but the older kids gave me their version of events. Chris and I have never talked about it at length, but to be honest, I think she resents me a little because I had it so easy."

"She seemed very fond of you —" Blair began, but Kylie nodded emphatically.

"Oh, she is. I'm closest to Chris out of all of my siblings, actually. But she really did have to blaze the trail, and I got to walk it. My parents were really pretty awful to her, Blair. They forbad her to come home until she got it out of her system, and they refused to support her financially. Luckily, she went to U. of I., and the tuition wasn't too high, so she didn't have to drop out."

"That's awful," Blair said sympathetically.

"Yeah, it really was. There was a strain on the family that lasted quite a while. Thankfully, I didn't know what the real issue was. If I had, it probably would have screwed me up when I was coming out to myself. All I knew was that Chris did something that made my parents really mad, and she couldn't come home until she stopped whatever it was."

"What did she do?"

"She had to work for a couple of years, until she saved enough money to be able to go to grad school. We didn't see her for almost two years," she said. "But not long after she started school again, my mother decided that she wasn't able to stand the distance any longer. It was a big deal — probably the only time I ever heard my parents argue. Mom got in the car and drove down to Champaign, and she and Chris worked it out. Chris came home for Thanksgiving that year, and over time, my parents got more and more comfortable with it."

"So, did they support her while she was in grad school?"

"Nope. They offered to, but she didn't trust them not to pull the rug out from under her again." Kylie shook her head and said, "She'd always wanted to be a doctor, but she changed her mind and got her Ph.D. in math instead. I always felt that she did that to spite my dad. He really wanted her to follow in his footsteps."

"Damn, that must have been a horrible time for your family."

"It was. But in a way, her suffering allowed the rest of us to have an easier time. My parents really loosened up a bit after that happened, and I think my mom started standing up for herself a little. Like I said, I was pretty young, but the change was noticeable even to me."

"So, when you decided you were gay, your parents were pretty blasé about it?"

"I need to sit Chris down and ask her about this, but I've always had a sneaking suspicion that she told my parents even before I knew. They were entirely too matter-of-fact about the whole thing. They acted like I told them I was going to move to a different apartment or something equally innocuous. They could have been the models for a Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays advertisement."

"Lucky for you, but I could see that Chris might well be a little resentful. Especially since you got to go to medical school and all."

"Yeah, it makes sense, but she's had the last laugh in the relationship department. She and Laura have been together almost twenty years, and I think they're very happy."

"You'll get there," Blair said. "If I get you hooked up this year, you'll only be seven years behind her."

"I love your optimism," Kylie said. "It's one of your most wonderful qualities."

"I'm not optimistic," Blair said. "I'm confident. There's a small but critical difference there. You're a sure thing, Kylie, and the woman who snares you is gonna be one lucky babe."

 

ĄG

 

They had some extra time, and since they needed to take a cab at some point, they decided to take a boat up the Chicago River. The night was warm and calm, and the trip from Michigan Avenue to Wacker was very short — ten minutes or so — and Blair wanted to do it because Kylie loved the water so much. They sat alone in the open stern since the other passengers all chose to stay inside. "How can those people resist sitting out here with the wind in their hair?" Kylie wondered.

"Oh, they look like businessmen. They probably do this every day. They're jaded."

"Well, I'm not," she said. "I haven't been on one of these since I was in high school. Thanks for thinking of it."

"I think about you a lot," Blair said, suddenly serious. She reached into her purse and pulled out a card and a small, gaily wrapped package. "Especially lately. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I could buy you for your birthday, but I had a really hard time. I know you buy yourself whatever you want, so it didn't seem like it would be special to buy you a thing. Besides," she said, smiling warmly as she placed her hand on her abdomen, "I wanted to show you what you've come to mean to us."

Kylie's mouth grew dry suddenly, and she had to struggle to ask, "What have I come to mean to you?"

"More than I can express," Blair said. "No matter what happens to us in the future, I want you to know how much your friendship has meant to both me and the baby. We'll never forget you, Kylie, and we want you to know that. I want to guarantee that we think of you every day."

She handed her the package, and Kylie quickly tore off the paper and stuffed it in her pocket. Opening the box, she found a dark velvet box. She smiled at Blair and opened it, pulling out a beautiful, plump silver heart on a thin chain. "This is gorgeous, Blair," she said.

"Turn it over."

Kylie did, and as she read the inscription, her brow furrowed in puzzlement. In a delicate script, the text read, "To Kylie, Love always, Mackenzie." She read the inscription again and was about to tell Blair that the engraver had made a mistake when her friend handed her the card and said, "Read this, too."

Her expression was completely bemused, but she did as she was told. Inside the card Blair had written, "Dear Kylie, I want my baby to grow up to emulate the most generous, thoughtful, caring and compassionate person I know. I couldn't think of a better way to insure that would happen than to name him after her. I love you, Kylie, and I want you to always know that Mackenzie and I care for you deeply. Happy birthday — Love, Blair."

The expression on Kylie's face was so impossibly precious that Blair longed for a camera. But the look in those eyes was so heartwarming that she knew she'd never forget it. "You … you're … you're naming him after me?" she asked, her voice thin and weak.

"Yes. I'd be happy if he had just a few of your wonderful traits, Kylie. I hope that naming him after you inspires him to model himself after you."

"Bu … but …"

"Does this make you happy?" Blair asked, placing her arm on Kylie's shaking shoulder.

"Yes! But …"

"But nothing. This means a lot to me, and I don't want to hear any of the reasons you're going to come up with for why I shouldn't do it. I've thought about this for a while now, and I wasn't going to tell you until he was born, but I thought it might mean something to you on your birthday. It seemed like a good time to show you how much of an impact you've had on my life, and how very glad I am that you were born."

Wrapping her arms around her friend, Kylie sobbed against her shoulder. "This means so much to me. I can't begin to tell you."

"You've had a pretty nice day, huh, Doc?" she cooed into her ear. "Playing percussion with the symphony and having a baby named after you. Not bad at all."

"Thank you, Blair," Kylie said, placing a soft kiss on her cheek. "It's gonna be hard calling a tiny baby Mackenzie, but I guess he'll grow into it."

"I know he will," Blair said. "And if, by some chance, my prediction is wrong, Mackenzie is a very nice name for a little girl, too — thank God!"

 

ĄG

 

The orchestra was half-way through the second movement of Brahms' Symphony Number Four when Kylie felt Blair jerk in her seat. Suddenly, the doctor's hand was gripped and placed firmly against her friend's abdomen. "I felt him kick!" Blair whispered excitedly.

As Kylie turned to face her, she saw the excitement in her friend's eyes and desperately wished that she'd felt it, too, but she knew it was too early for that. "He likes the symphony," Kylie whispered. Her hand slid up and down Blair's belly, rubbing her gently for a few moments. Soon Blair placed her hand atop Kylie's and rested her head on her shoulder, feeling completely at peace.

 

ĄG

 

The Schneidhorsts were elated that the baby had finally made his presence known, and Kylie could see the disappointment in their faces when she informed them that it would probably be a few more weeks until anyone but Blair could feel the kicking. "I think I've talked Blair into coming home again for my father's seventy-fifth birthday party at the end of October," Kylie informed them. "I'm certain you'll be able to feel him then."

"Will you be able to travel then, Blair?" her mother asked.

"Yeah, I should be. That'll be my last trip until the baby comes, though. I'm sure my doctor will restrict me after that."

"Well, I've already told the theatre that I'm taking my vacation in December. It doesn't look like your father will be able to come, but wild horses couldn't stop me from being there for the birth." She paused a moment and said, "I … I assume that's all right with you, Kylie. Lord, how presumptuous of me!"

"I took for granted that you'd come, Eleanor. Blair will need you to be with her."

"Yeah, Mom, Kylie asked me just the other day how long I thought you'd be able to come for. We've been talking about it like it's a given."

"Great," she said. "You tell me when you want me there, and I'll make my reservations."

"You know, I obviously want you there for the birth, but I'd really like you there beforehand. I won't be working, and I won't be able to drive, so I'll be bored to death sitting around the house alone."

Kylie said, "I thought I'd take time off after the birth, so that Blair can get some sleep at night while I handle the night-time feedings. If you can be there beforehand to keep her entertained, we should have all the bases covered."

"I have a feeling I'm going to fall in love with that baby so fast that I'll never want to leave," Eleanor said.

Blair smiled warmly and said, "That works too, Mom. Then I won't have to hire a nanny."

"Don't tempt me, honey. I can't imagine anything I'd rather do than help you raise your child."

"Hey, I'm not kidding in the least. I'd love to have you both retire to California."

"Let's see how things go," Werner said. "One little earthquake and your mother will be on the next plane out of town — no matter where it's going!"

 

ĄG

 

"Kylie?"

"Hmm?" the doctor asked sleepily.

"Did you have a nice birthday?"

Forcing her eyes open, Kylie focused on her friend for a moment as she tried to clear the cobwebs out. There was enough moonlight coming in her window to be able to make out Blair's features, and Kylie smiled gently when she saw how brightly her friend's eyes were shining. "Ya know what?" the doctor asked.

Blair could tell by her friend's expression that she was going to like her answer. A grin settled onto her face as she said, "Huh-uh. What?"

"If you took all of my birthdays and added them all together and multiplied them by ten, you know what you'd have?"

"No, what?" Blair asked, her smile growing.

"You'd have a really, really old doctor!"

By the time Kylie started to laugh, Blair had walloped her with her pillow, making the doctor laugh all the harder. "Pillow fight!" she cried a little too loudly.

Suddenly, the door to their room popped open, and three young girls ran in, each bearing a pillow of her own. "No!" Kylie cried, covering up as all three started pounding on her.

Blair was helpless with laughter, holding onto her stomach so she could catch her breath. The assault continued until Kylie wriggled around enough that she could get to her feet atop the bed, her height now putting her well above the range of a young girl. She swung her own pillow fiercely, and soon the girls were forced to retreat. "We got here last night, and we still didn't get to see your girlfriend," one of the trio sulked.

"Well, you can see her now," Kylie offered. "Blair, meet the great triumvirate. This is Willow, Jessica and Carrie. Willow belongs to Chris and Laura, Jessica is Paul's and Alan is responsible … I mean, lucky enough … to be Carrie's dad. Girls, this is my good friend, Blair."

"Hi, girls," Blair said, smiling broadly. "Good job on knocking some sense into your aunt. She needs it."

"Yeah, she does," Willow agreed. "So, can we hang out with you guys for a while?"

"A very little while," Kylie said. She lowered herself to the bed and sat cross-legged, providing as much room as she could. "Come on up for a few minutes. But I really do mean a few minutes. Blair's got to get her rest. She's having a baby, you know."

"How'd ya do it, Aunt Kylie?" Willow, the obvious ring-leader, asked. "Sperm bank?"

Blair's eyes were nearly as wide as Kylie's at this question. "What do you know about sperm banks?" the doctor asked. "You're eleven!"

"My moms have their friends over, and they all talk about getting pregnant," she said. "Everybody knows about sperm banks." The other two girls nodded uncertainly, making it fairly clear that they didn't have any idea what their cousin was talking about.

"Well, let me clear up a few of your misconceptions," Kylie said. "I didn't do anything at all. Blair's my friend, not my girlfriend. She got pregnant all on her own, and I don't think she cares to tell you little goofballs exactly how it happened." She wrapped an arm around the closest two girls' necks and gave them a rough tumble. "You guys should learn about sex in the alleys, like I did."

"What's an alley?" Carrie asked shyly.

"That's my girl," Kylie said, kissing the child on the head. "I knew there was still a bloom of innocence on these little flowers."

"In school, they tell us we should be absta — absti — abstinet until we have a husband so we don't get pregnant. Were you abstinet, Blair?" Jessica asked.

"No," she said, trying to avoid laughing. "No, I wasn't, Jessica. But I have a husband, and he's the father of my baby — so I didn't have to be abstinet. I mean abstinent," she said.

Willow gave her a very dubious look and asked, "Well, if you have a husband, why are you in bed with Aunt Kylie? She's a lesbian, you know."

"Big mouth," Kylie whispered loudly. "Can't keep a secret to save your life."

All three sets of eyes went to Blair, and she slapped playfully at Kylie. "I know she's a lesbian, girls. And I'm not with my husband because he and I are getting divorced."

"Oh, so now that you're getting divorced, you can be Aunt Kylie's girlfriend," Willow decided.

"Not every one of my friends is my girlfriend," Kylie told the girl. "I'm a lesbian, but Blair isn't."

"Oh," the child said. "That's too bad. Aunt Kylie really needs a girlfriend. It's been ages since she's had one."

"Thanks, pal," Kylie said, smiling thinly. "Good thing Blair's not my girlfriend. She'd think I was a big loser."

"You're not a loser," Carrie said, smiling up at her aunt. "You're lonely."

Something about the tone of the child's voice got to Kylie, and she felt like she was going to cry. Blair saw the look on her face and tried to bring a smile back to it. "She's not lonely, girls. And after I have this baby, she's not going to have a minute alone. Kylie's so important to me that I'm naming the baby after her," she announced.

"You're gonna call it Kylie?" Jessica asked. "What if it's a boy?"

"Nope, I'm gonna call it Mackenzie," Blair said.

"That's my name!" each girl cried nearly simultaneously.

"It's mine, too," Kylie said, playfully leaning against each girl in turn. "Don't any of you tell people the baby's named after you, `cause it's not!"

"Do you live together?" Willow asked, still trying to make this situation fit into her world view.

"We do," Blair said. "Kylie owns the house, and I'm her roommate."

"What's a roommate?" Carrie asked.

"Well," Blair said, trying to think. "When two people live together, but they're not in love with each other, they're called roommates."

"But if you're not a lesbian, why do you want to live with one?" Willow asked. "Shouldn't you live with a man?"

Blair gave her a thin smile and tried to think of a tactful way to answer her. "I'm not even divorced from my husband yet, Willow. I'm not ready to look for another one."

"But you will, right? You won't be Aunt Kylie's roommate forever, will you?"

"I … I guess not," Blair said. She looked at Kylie who wasn't giving anything away with her expression. "I guess that your aunt will find a girlfriend, and they'll live together."

"Cool! I want Aunt Kylie to have a girlfriend. I want her to have babies, too," Jessica said

"She's gonna help me raise my baby," Blair informed them.

All three girls looked at Blair, but only Willow had the nerve to say, "That's not the same. That's kinda like helping. It's not really hers."

"No," Blair said, feeling surprisingly sad. "It's not the same. But it's as close as we can get."

That answer satisfied the trio, and they moved on to a more pressing topic. "Can we come visit, Aunt Kylie?" Jessica asked. "We can fly without our parents next year, ya know."

"Wow, that's … that's something to think about, isn't it?" Kylie asked brightly.

"Yeah, we can all go and see movie stars!" Carrie said.

"And the dogs!" Jessica added. "Can we see pictures, Aunt Kylie?"

"I've got a bunch in my suitcase," Kylie said, "but I'll save them for tomorrow. I've got one in my wallet, though." She got out of bed and grabbed her wallet, taking out the picture that she carried.

"They're so cute!" all three squealed. But Willow wasn't through with her interrogation yet. She looked at the picture, observing Blair grinning widely, one dog held up to either side of her face. "Are they your dogs, too?" she asked.

"No …" she began, but changed course when she saw the hurt look on Kylie's face. "Well, kinda. I bought them for Kylie when she bought her house, but now they think I'm their mama, too."

"Is the baby gonna call Aunt Kylie mama?" Willow asked.

"Uhm … we haven't discussed that," Blair replied, "but maybe the baby will call her Aunt Kylie. How would that be?"

"But she's not really the baby's aunt," Willow said. "You'd be making that up."

"Well, we've got time to work that out," Blair said, giving Kylie another quick look. "Right now, I've got to get to sleep. We can continue this discussion in the morning, girls."

"All right," they grumbled, heading for the door slowly. "Wake us up if you have another pillow fight, okay?" Carrie asked.

"You'll be the first to know," Kylie promised. "Night, girls."

"Night, Aunt Kylie. Night, Blair."

They closed the door, and Blair collapsed against the mattress. "My Lord, that group keeps you on your toes!"

"They sure do. They're old enough to hear their parents talking about me, but not old enough to get the nuances of my life. Well, Willow does," she corrected, "but her moms treat her like she's twenty, and they always have. That kid is way too mature for eleven."

"Uhm … did any of the things they said bother you?"

"Bother me? No. Why?"

"I don't know," Blair said. "When they started asking if we'd always be roommates, it made me kinda sad to think that we wouldn't …"

Kylie sighed and lay down, remaining quiet for a few moments. "I've decided that I'm not very good at predicting the future," she said. "A year ago, I met you at the Getty, and if someone had told me that you and I would be living together a year later, I would have told him he was nuts. All I know is that I'm happy with the way things are. Remember, we have a deal. If either of us isn't happy, we reassess."

Blair nodded and tried to smile. But inside she was thinking, What if only one of us wants to move on? How does the other one not get hurt?

Kylie shifted around until she was comfortable, then said, "Hey, before, when I said you could take all my birthdays and multiply them by ten?"

"Yes," Blair drawled.

"What I was going to say was that all of those birthdays couldn't come close to topping this one. The symphony rehearsal, going out to dinner, learning you were going to name the baby after me …" her voice trailed off and grew quiet. "But as wonderful as that all was, you know what the best thing … the very best thing of the whole day was?"

"No, tell me," Blair whispered.

"Seeing your face when you felt the baby kick for the first time," Kylie said quietly. "I'll always remember that."

Blair blinked away tears as she moved her pillow to her left side and snuggled up against it. Reaching behind her, she took Kylie's hand and tucked it around her waist, placing it against her belly. "He likes it when you touch him," she murmured. "He told me to tell you so."

"A perfect end to a perfect day," Kylie mumbled sleepily, patting the baby goodnight before she turned over onto her other side, her breathing evening out immediately.

"Happy birthday, Kylie," Blair whispered to her friend's back, "from Mackenzie and me."

 

ĄG

 

Birthday parties at the Mackenzie house were very casual affairs. To Blair, the party seemed more like an open house than a traditional party with people dropping in throughout the day. Actually, it seemed like Kylie's siblings used the party as an excuse to get a day of free babysitting. Her brother Alan dropped his kids off at 10:00, and he and his wife didn't return until evening, and Claire wasn't far behind Alan in the drop-off line. But no one seemed to mind, and the unstructured atmosphere was actually rather refreshing.

The Schneidhorsts showed up at noon, and they tried their best to learn everyone's name, but it was a struggle. Young Kevin had taken a shine to Blair, and it was clear that he'd been away from his parents a little too long. He climbed onto her lap not long after Blair's parents arrived, and refused to relinquish it, cuddling against her with his small hand on her abdomen. "I heard the baby," he informed Eleanor.

"Oh, did you?" she asked.

"Kylie let him listen to the heartbeat with the stethoscope," Blair said. "It was cool, wasn't it, Kevin?"

"Uh-huh. Like this." He patted Blair's knee rapidly with the flat of his hand, watching Eleanor carefully to make sure she understood.

"Maybe we can do that again later," Eleanor said. "I'd love to hear the baby, too."

"Okay. I'll show you how," he offered.

Kylie approached and asked if anyone was ready for some lunch. "Yeah, I'd like something," Blair said. "Wanna get up and get some lunch, Kevin?"

"No, let me," Kylie said. "I just wanted to make sure you were hungry."

"Ha!" Blair snorted.

"Oh, yeah, look who I'm asking," the doctor said, giving Blair's shoulder a squeeze.

Werner got up and offered to help Kylie, and Kevin decided he'd assist, too. The threesome went over to the buffet table that had been set up in the hallway, and soon Kevin shouted, "Hey, Aunt Blair, you want turkey or ham?"

"Turkey's good, Kevin," she called back.

Eleanor leaned over and teased, "I think someone has a crush on you, Aunt Blair."

"Seems that way," Blair said. "He latched onto me at breakfast and hasn't been far since. Mostly, I think he misses his mom. He's been here since Thursday."

"I think he's picking up on the maternal vibes. You positively radiate `mom,'" Eleanor said. She looked at her daughter then with a sudden disappointment showing, and she took her hands in her own. "I wish we had had more time alone, Blair. I have so many things I wanted to talk to you about, and now the weekend's gone."

Kevin returned, walking carefully as he held the paper plate in both hands. "Here's your sandwich, Aunt Blair." She accepted the plate with one hand and pulled him back onto her lap with the other. He nestled there contentedly while she ate, occasionally swiping a potato chip.

Chris came by at one point, stopping to tease, "Get used to it, Blair. You'll forget what it's like to eat without someone on your lap."

"I'm looking forward to it," Blair said. "Besides, it's a good way to lose weight. Kevin here is eating at least half of my food."

As the party continued, more and more people arrived, and Blair finally gave up trying to associate kids with parents. She was able to identify each of the Mackenzie siblings, figuring that gave her a good basis on which to build in the future. She decided that her accomplishments were rather impressive when Kylie leaned over at one point and said, "Ask that little blonde girl what her name is, will you? I get Taylor and Darien mixed up, and I don't want them to know it."

"So that's why you wanted me to come," Blair said.

"Nope. I wanted you to come because I love to be with you, and I'd be worried about you the whole time if you were back in L.A."

Blair pinched her pink cheek and asked, "Are you always this disarmingly honest?"

"Uhm … apparently not," she said thoughtfully. "Stacey used to say that she could never really tell how I was feeling."

"She must not have been trying very hard, `cause you're an open book, Doctor Mackenzie."

"Don't say that too loudly around here," Kylie joked. "Four people will think you're talking to them."

 

ĄG

 

The Schneidhorsts had to leave at 5:00, and Blair walked them to their car. She kissed and hugged her father and watched him open the car door for his wife before continuing around to the driver's side. Eleanor took her daughter's hands in her own, a sudden look of disappointment on her face. "I wish we'd had more time alone, Blair. I have so many things I wanted to talk to you about, but this weekend got away from me."

"Me, too, Mom," Blair said, hugging her mother. "We'll probably see each other in October. We can catch up," she said smiling. She kissed her mother and closed her door for her, waving as her parents drove off.

 

ĄG

 

Dorothy came up behind Kylie and asked, "Hey, birthday girl, how about sneaking outside with me for a while? I haven't had one minute alone with you."

"Sure, Mom," she said and started to follow her through the house. They managed to get to the backyard without picking up any wayward children, which was quite an accomplishment. Settling into a chair, Kylie asked, "What's up?"

"Nothing," Dorothy said. "I wanted a chance to relax with you for a few minutes. It's so rare that we have time alone when you're at home — I really think we have to consciously carve some time out. After you leave, I always regret that we didn't get to sit and chat."

"Quiet talks are at a premium, aren't they?" Kylie asked.

"They always have been," Dorothy said. "You know I love you all, Kylie, but if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have more than four children. I often think how little of our time each of you got."

"Well, I guess you have a point, but if you'd stopped at four, you and I wouldn't be having this discussion, would we?"

Laughing softly, Dorothy shook her head, "No, I suppose we wouldn't, and I wouldn't have missed being your mother for the world. I'm very proud of you, Kylie, and I fervently hope that you know that."

"I do," she said. "I know how proud you and Dad are of what I've accomplished. It feels really good to know that, Mom."

"Of course I'm proud of what you do, honey, but that's not what I meant. I'm proud of who you are. When I see how you are around Blair, it makes my heart swell with pride. You're such a generous woman — that's so rewarding to see."

"Thanks, Mom," she said, touched by her mother's words. "That means a lot."

"Are you happy, Kylie? I know it's been hard for you to find the right woman to love. Are you … getting what you need from Blair?"

"We're not lovers, Mom," she said quietly. "I didn't want to announce that, but we're just friends."

"I know that, sweetheart. What I mean is, will you be happy with this relationship, given that it's platonic? It's obvious that you're entirely devoted to Blair, but what's your future?"

Kylie looked at her mother for a few seconds, feeling her hackles start to rise. "You've never asked me where my friendship with Nick is going. Why is this so different?"

Dorothy reached for her daughter's hand and looked at it for a moment. She rarely touched Kylie in this way, and the doctor felt a little uncomfortable. Dorothy touched the visible veins on the back of the hand, then turned it over and brushed her fingers down the palm. "You have such beautiful hands. So soft and gentle." She looked into Kylie's eyes and said, "Like your heart."

Kylie was mystified by her mother's behavior, and she didn't respond to her observations. She cocked her head and met her gaze.

"What do you see happening with Blair, honey?"

"Uhm … I see us remaining close friends, Mom. She's gonna stay at my house for the indefinite future, and I'm gonna help her with the baby in any way I can."

"And that's what she wants?"

"Well, yeah! I'm not forcing myself on her."

Dorothy squeezed her hand and soothed, "I'm sorry, honey. I'm not trying to upset you. I don't know much about your life right now. I'm interested, Kylie."

Giving her mother a long look, Kylie said, "Tell me what you're really worried about, Mom. You're not saying something."

"I'm worried about you, Kylie. I'm worried that you'll invest a few years in helping to raise this child and then have your heart broken if Blair falls in love again. I know sex isn't the most important thing in your life, but it's a very strong drive, honey, and two young women like you and Blair both have that drive. I worry that it isn't wise to get so entwined with her when she can't give you the kind of love that you need."

"But she does," Kylie said. "I've never felt closer to a woman than I do to Blair. What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing, honey. Nothing at all. But you need to be honest with yourself."

"I am, Mom. At least, I think I am. Blair's straight, and she's probably going to meet someone at some point."

Dorothy gave her a penetrating look and asked the question that had been on her mind for weeks. "If you could have anything you wanted, would Blair be more than your friend?"

Frustrated, Kylie raised her voice unthinkingly. "Yes, of course! I wish she were a lesbian, and that we could —" She stopped abruptly and shook her head to clear it. "Damn, I've never had that conscious thought."

"That's what I'm worried about," Dorothy said, placing her hand on Kylie's arm. "It seems as though you're blithely moving along like you're committed to one another — but you're not, Kylie. I'm sure Blair will always be your friend, but I can tell that's not what you want. If she started dating a man, you know as well as I that she'd have much less time for you. And you should know that very few men would want their wife's lesbian friend to be an integral part of their family. I'm so worried that you're setting this up in a way that will only cause you heartache."

Leaning her head back, Kylie gazed up at the darkening afternoon sky. "What can I do, Mom? I care for her so much, and I'm so excited about the baby that I could burst." She blinked slowly and said, "She's naming the baby after me. I can feel that she cares for me as much as I do her. Do I give up something that means so much because we can't have sex?"

"I can't answer that, Kylie. I only want you to promise that you'll go into this with your eyes open. As much as you care for her, there will always be the threat hanging over you that one of you could fall in love and have to pull back."

"It makes me sick to think about it," the doctor grumbled. She shook her head and added, "I think she's more realistic about this than I am." Pulling out the heart that Blair gave her, she said, "Blair gave me this when she told me she was going to name the baby Mackenzie."

Dorothy took the heart in her fingers and turned it over, reading the inscription. "That's very touching, Kylie."

"Yeah. It blew me away," she said. "But when she gave it to me, she said something like, no matter what happens between us, she wanted me to know how much it's meant to her to have me help her through her divorce and pregnancy." Looking up and staring blankly, she said, "In retrospect, it feels like she was saying, I know this might end at any time — but it means a lot while it lasts."

"It does sound like that," Dorothy said, wincing at the pained look on her daughter's face. The older woman took Kylie's hand again and chafed it gently. "What do you want, sweetheart?"

"Damn, Mom," she said, looking terribly confused. "I don't think I can have what I want."

"You want Blair, don't you, honey?"

"Yeah, yeah, I do," Kylie said. She couldn't stop a few tears from rolling down her cheeks. "But I've been able to keep this in perspective. I've had a couple of dates with a woman I used to work with, and she's perfect for me — on paper. She's cultured and literate and funny, and she's fantastic looking."

"She sounds promising, honey."

"I know, Mom. I know. She's the woman I've been looking for. I'm very attracted to her, and I think we could be great together. She's independent, but in a good way — you know what I mean?"

Dorothy shook her head. "No, I don't, Kylie. Tell me more."

"Well, she isn't clingy or anything, but she wants to spend her time with the woman she loves. She has her own interests and her own friends, but she'll make time for me if I want to see her. She told me that she's looking for a best friend and a lover, and that's what I want, too. That was the problem that Stacey and I had. Stacey wanted a lover — the best friend part was optional. But Julie's not like that. I swear that if I were to write down all of the attributes I wanted in a partner, Julie would come the closest of anyone I know."

"But …" Dorothy said, leading.

"But when I'm with her, I keep thinking of Blair. There's a part of me that would give up sex to keep Blair in my life, and I know that's not smart — for either of us."

Patting her gently, Dorothy said, "No, I don't think it is, honey. I know I don't think exactly like Blair does, but I would've loved to have had a woman friend help me raise my child — if that was my only option. But I wanted a husband, Kylie — I wanted a man, not only to help raise children, but to fulfill me in ways that my women friends could never do."

"But I make her happy, Mom. I know I do," she said earnestly.

"That might be enough for her, Kylie. I want you to see how she feels about this before you jump in with both feet. If you know she's planning on dating, you might be able to hold back enough to protect yourself."

Her head shook slowly. "It's too late, Mom. I'm already in over my head." She gave her mother a wry look and said, "Let's skip the sensitive chat next time, okay? I can only handle one of these a year."

 

Continued in Chapter 8

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