I walked towards him as though in a daze, and, though every particle of my being yearned to be in his arms again, stopped about a metre in front of him and waited. For all I knew, he might have come to say goodbye, or to drop off a box of stuff I had left at his place. It was best to let him speak first and avoid humiliating myself.
“Di,” he said at last, “I’m sorry.”
Wait, what? He was apologising? “I’m sorry,” he said again. “For walking out like that, I-”
“Shh!” I cut him off, glaring. He wasn’t the one who needed to apologise. “You have nothing to be sorry for!” I said, ignoring his shocked expression. “Luc, I’m sorry. For everything. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I shouldn’t have made you leave. You’re sorry for walking out? I didn’t exactly give you much choice at the time!” Luc opened his mouth again, but I hurried on. “I didn’t mean it when I said I never wanted to see you again, I swear I didn’t! I…” I swallowed. I had never been the best with expressing feelings, but he had a right to know how I really felt. “I can’t imagine my life without you,” I finished earnestly. “I should never have avoided you, and lied to you. I should have told you from the start about… about the baby.” Gathering my courage, I looked up at him for his reaction to that last part. To my immense relief, he had a slight smile on his face.
“Well, I sure would have liked to know,” he said. There was nothing accusatory in his tone, but I felt wretchedly guilty regardless.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’m so, so sorry for everything.”
“Hey,” he said gently, reaching up to stroke the back of his hand over my flushed cheek. “It’s okay, Di. I forgive you.”
“You… you do?”
“Of course,” he said, looking surprised that I would ever doubt such a thing. “God knows I’ve made enough mistakes of my own. I couldn’t imagine life without you either, Di. In fact, I plan to stick around for the rest of my life, if you’ll let me.”
I gasped. He had basically just proposed. Losing all restraint, I burst into tears and threw myself into his arms. Luc caught me and stroked my back gently, making soothing sounds in my ear while I sobbed into his shoulder.
After a few minutes, I managed to calm down enough to ask him the other question that had been plaguing my mind ever since I had seen him at the door. “And… the baby?”
“What about it?” he asked. “I’ll stay with you and help, of course. I love you, Di, and I love the idea of having a family with you. I know this is a lot sooner than either of us planned, but…” he grinned almost shyly at me. “I’d like to give it a go, if you’re willing.”
“As if I wouldn’t be,” I said, rolling my eyes slightly but returning his smile. Beaming as though he’d just won the lottery, Luc lowered his hands to my waist and pulled me close. From the moment his lips touched mine, I was whole again.
Luc moved in with us a few weeks later, bringing Ash with him. With him around to comfort and reason with me, I was finally looking forward to having this baby. I already knew that Luc would be a top-notch father just from the way he looked after me during those last few months of pregnancy, from countless backrubs to midnight grocery runs to satisfy my ridiculous cravings. When the time finally came for our child to be born, it was Luc that drove me to the hospital, and held my hand throughout the whole long, difficult process. He never left my side for a second.
Since it was my first pregnancy, the doctors kept me in the hospital for several weeks before I was finally cleared to go home. Of course, Luc was there, packing suitcases and fitting car seats and generally never allowing me to lift a finger to help with anything. He drove all three of us home from the hospital – him, me, and our son. Gabriel. Our little angel.
As I’ve heard is often the case with newborns, neither Luc nor I had time or energy to think about much else for the first few months after Gabriel’s arrival. Having my parents and brother around was an absolute godsend, since there was always someone to step in when it all just got too much to handle. Flynn absolutely adored his nephew, and took any chance he could to play with or feed him, which was a real weight off my shoulders a lot of the time.
Luc was perfect, of course. Right from the outset he was by Gabriel’s side almost as much as I was, feeding and soothing, never shying away from even the nastiest of dirty diapers. He and Gabriel were so clearly infatuated with each other that I was almost jealous.
And Mum, predictably, was so thrilled with her first grandson that she hardly ever left him alone. Sometimes it was helpful, but a lot of the time I felt like she needed reminding whose child Gabriel actually was.
The bright side was that, after six months of diapers, blankets, bottles, cuddles and tears – lots and lots of tears, only some of which were Gabriel’s – things had settled down enough that I was able to start thinking about going back to work. Since my university degree was only half complete I couldn’t make much use of it yet, but I figured even a low-level position would help me to get a foothold in the political scene.
“How do I look?” I asked Luc anxiously on the morning of my first day on the job as a polling officer.
“Gorgeous, as always,” he responded sleepily from his position on the bed, though still with the teasing grin I loved.
“You’re just saying that.”
“It’s true that I would say you were gorgeous even if you were wearing a garbage bag,” he admitted, lying back against the headboard, “But that doesn’t mean I’m not telling the truth. You could be wearing nothing at all – actually,” he added with a wink, “That’s not a bad idea…”
I groaned in frustration and scrutinised my reflection anxiously. “I don’t have time for this. Everything has to be perfect today!”
Taking pity on me, Luc got up from the bed and walked over to wrap his arms around my waist.
“You’ll be fine,” he told me soothingly. “You look beautiful. Just be your intense, hard-working self and they’ll love you.”
“If you say so,” I said doubtfully, but I did feel a little better.
As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about – everything was fine, just like Luc said. The day went by without incident and I returned in the evening, exhausted but feeling more fulfilled than I had in months – my sense of ambition once again alive and kicking – to spend a few precious minutes with my little son before his bedtime.
That day was the first of many I spent in the same routine over the next eighteen months. Go to work, work hard, come home just in time to kiss Gabriel goodnight. I was back where I wanted to be in spite of everything – in fact, I was in an even better place than I had pictured in the past, as Gabriel was a blessing like nothing I could ever have imagined.
It seemed to me like only a few weeks had passed before we were celebrating Gabriel’s second birthday. Luckily for me, it was a weekend, so I was perfectly at leisure to set up a little party in the kitchen and help Gabriel blow out the candles on his homemade cake – courtesy of my dad, the five-star chef. As he grew up, I heard a small sniff from behind me – it was Mum. She reached out and took Gabriel gently from my arms, staring into his little face with misty eyes.
“What’s wrong, Mum?” I asked her, concerned.
She turned towards me, smiling sadly. “He looks just like your grandmother when she was younger,” she said. “Her hair… and her eyes.”
I had never known grandma with anything other than white hair, but, recalling old photos I had seen of her over the years, I could definitely see what Mum meant. He certainly hadn’t got that colouring from me or Luc.
Now that Gabriel was older, I was neglecting my work a little in favour of spending as much of my weekends as I could with him. He was a bright child – Luc liked to say that Gabriel had inherited my brains. He was certainly a remarkably quick learner, and an eager one as well. Brains or no, he had doubtless inherited my passion for learning.
Luc, too, was spending every spare moment playing with Gabriel. I knew that Luc loved me, but there was a special smile on his face every time he looked at our son that I had never seen there before. Whenever I watched the two of them together, work seemed suddenly much less important, as if nothing could ever make me happier than what I had right in front of me.
And when Luc and I weren’t with Gabriel, Flynn was. The poor little boy rarely got a moment to himself. Flynn adored his nephew as much as ever, and had many hours to spare now that he had finished school and his eighteenth birthday was approaching. I suspected that he wanted to spend as much time with Gabriel as he could before moving out to live on his own.
I also noticed that he was hanging around with Mum and Dad a lot more lately. It was true that they were getting on in years, and Flynn probably wouldn’t be staying at home much longer to see them. I think Fort Starch had grown him up quite a bit, and he was starting to feel that it was time for him to make his own way in the world.
Flynn had his birthday one quiet morning, while Dad and I were both at work. I almost didn’t recognise him when I came home – it was as though he had turned into a man overnight.
As I had suspected, Flynn was not planning on staying at home much longer. As soon as he found a suitable place to live in town, he would be moving out. Mum cried, but I, having caught on to his plan months ago, just gave him a tight hug before he left.
“Be careful out there, little bro.”
“I always am,” he said, and I grinned.
Life after Flynn’s departure went on as usual. Luc took on primary childcare duties, while I went back to pursuing my dream job in politics. Now that the election was over, I was working on collecting, analysing and recording data on public issues for the local council. I left for work early every morning before most of the family was awake. Luc, although a late sleeper by nature, always made sure to see me off with a kiss before I went.
One evening when I arrived home from work, Luc was waiting for me in the front hall. The moment he saw me walk through the door, he pulled me into his arms for a tight hug, which I gratefully returned.
“Thanks,” I murmured in his ear. “I needed that.”
“Hard day?” he asked as he drew away.
I shrugged. “It wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy the work. But yeah, it was difficult. Difficult and exhausting.” Luc squeezed my waist sympathetically. “Where’s Gabe?” I asked him.
“Playing with the chess set,” Luc chuckled. “I swear he’s going to turn out a little genius just like you. Straight A’s and all.”
I rolled my eyes giving him a light poke in the chest for making fun of me. Then I crossed the living room to where Gabriel, sure enough, was sitting at the chess table, poking at the pieces with a look of great concentration on his face. I scooped him up into my arms and he giggled happily.
“Have you been playing chess all by yourself?” I asked him. “Was Daddy playing with you?”
Gabriel turned around and pointed at the discarded chess pieces, plainly not listening to a word I was saying. He leaned away from me, trying to get back to playing with them, but I shook my head and pulled him back into my arms.
“Sorry, baby, but it’s bedtime now! You can play with the chess pieces again tomorrow,” I promised him. I expected him to cry, but Gabriel seemed fairly happy to be carried up to his crib and tucked in. Perhaps he had realised how tired he really was.
“Goodnight, sweetie,” I said as I bent down to kiss his little head. “See you tomorrow… I love you.”
Then it was Luc’s turn to kiss Gabriel goodnight, while I retreated downstairs to finalise some reports I would be needing tomorrow. Ash leapt onto the chair with me and curled up in my lap, purring softly. I smiled. It seemed like everything was finally working out for the better. I had Luc, and I had Gabriel, and I had a promising job that I enjoyed – this was where I was meant to be, I was sure of it.
Of course, that was before the afternoon a few weeks later, when I was forced to pull over on my way home from work to vomit my guts out all over the footpath.
I’ve been feeling like everything was a bit emotionally heavy lately, so I hope you guys enjoyed this little family-life interlude as much as I did. We will return to your regular scheduled programming of dramatic events in the next chapter. Happy events this time, though. Poor Di and Luc deserve a break.