Things We Hide From the Light
A Few Years Later
“Peel!” Stef announced gleefully.
“Fuck you,” Knox snarled as he reached for another tile on our game table in the game room.
Yes, I, Lina Solavita Morgan, had a game room. I also had an entire section of the closet dedicated to expensive lingerie.
My handsome husband shot me a knowing grin as if he could read my mind and flicked a tile toward himself. Piper was sitting in his lap, enjoying the action around the table.
“How are you so good at this?” Lucian demanded. This was the man’s first foray into Bananagrams, and he was taking it more seriously than Sloane, who had given up. She had her feet in his lap while she skimmed an article about her program’s latest success story on her iPad.
The light from the tablet played over the slim, silvery scar on her jawline. A mark of valor. A mark that reminded us all of how brave our little librarian was.
Lucian, I noted, was playing one-handed so he could rub his wife’s feet under the table.
“He cheats,” Jeremiah said, winking at Stef.
“You’re just jealous, Mr. Three-Letter Words.”
“Anyone want a drink?” I asked as I began collecting the empties.
“Sit down, Angel,” Nash ordered. His hand snaked out and brought my wrist to his lips. “I’ll clean up.”
“I feel better when I’m moving,” I told him, then leaned down despite the zing of pain in my lower back so I could brush my lips over his.
“You okay?” he asked softly. His hand coasted down my back and over my butt. Unerringly, he found my tattoo and gave it an affectionate squeeze.
I was huge and uncomfortable. My back hurt. My feet were swollen. For the past several hours, I’d been experiencing the occasional sharp cramp that reminded me of what was to come.
“I’m good,” I promised.
“Peel, fuckers!” Knox barked triumphantly. The table groaned.
“Game night,” I muttered, flashing Nash a wink before I carted the empty beer bottles into the kitchen. Waylon the basset hound lifted his head, ascertained that I wasn’t holding any treats, and immediately went back to sleep on the tile.
Somehow, this was my life.
Of course, my life had also included building this beautiful house on Liza J’s land just across the creek from my brother- and sister-in-law. I had an exciting job, a quirky dog, a man I loved more and more every damn day. My parents and I were in a good place. They still called. A lot. But I no longer lied to them about my life and they had learned to deal with me spreading my wings. I suspected it was mostly due to the fact that they’d passed the worry torch on to Nash and now relied on him to keep me safe. But I still considered it a win.
To top it all off, our biggest adventure was about to begin.
I dumped the empty bottles in the recycling bin. Naomi came up behind me and slid an arm around my expanded waist. “The dishwasher is running and the leftovers are put away.”
“Thank you. I promise when I’m not eight hundred pounds and shaped like a beach ball, I’ll return the favor.”
“Are you feeling okay?”
I nodded, then grimaced. The weight of my pregnant belly seemed to be riding lower than usual. My back protested everything whether I sat, stood, or lay down. For the first time since my teenage years, I was uncomfortable in my own body.
But I didn’t want to complain to my friend. Not when she and Knox had been trying for babies of their own.
“I’m fine,” I assured her.
Naomi shot me a knowing look. “Liar,” she said affectionately.
“Really. I’m fine.” As I said it, another one of those sharp pains sliced through me.
Nash’s eyes came to me as if he felt it too. The man had watched me like a hawk since that damn pink line showed up all those months ago. I gave him a weak smile.
“Walk or sit?” Naomi asked.
Both sounded awful right now. “Walk,” I decided and started my laps around the kitchen island, my hands at my lower back.
Naomi picked up a dish towel and started wringing it, something like a smile playing on her lips.
“What?” I asked.
“I just need you to know that I’m going to love these babies so much. I’m so happy for you and Nash that sometimes it takes my breath away,” she said, her voice quivering. “I don’t want you to ever think that just because I’m sad for me and Knox that I’m not happy for you and Nash.”
I stopped walking and faced her. “Of course I know that. And I need you to know that I wish these were your babies or that you were an eight-hundred-pound beach ball with me.”
She gave a tearful little laugh. “I do too. It makes me feel a little selfish.”
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to bring more love into your home. That’s not selfish.” I released her as another painful pang hit me.
I blew out a slow breath.
“Knox and I have been talking,” Naomi said, sliding onto one of the barstools I’d agonized over choosing. Because apparently I wasn’t just a diva for fashion and makeup but also home furnishings. “And we made a decision.”
“What did you decide?” I asked, trying to keep my words from sounding like I was being strangled as the cramp refused to abate.
“We’re not going to do any more fertility treatments.”
“Oh, Naomi,” I said.
She shook her head, and beyond the tears in her eyes, I saw something beautiful. Something happy and hopeful. “We’re going to adopt.”
I reached for her. Pregnancy had made me freer with physical contact. It probably had to do with me physically sharing my body with not one but two other humans.
“It’s a long road ahead, but it just feels right. Like a puzzle piece just snapped into place,” she said. “I’m so happy.”
I hugged her as tight as my belly allowed. “That’s beautiful, Witty. I’m so happy for you. You and Knox and Way are going to find the rest of your family,” I promised her.
“I feel it in my heart. Just like I know you’re not the sister I was born with, but you’re the sister I choose, Lina,” she whispered.
Hot tears blurred my eyes and I hugged her harder. “Crap. Way to make a pregnant lady cry.”
Naomi gave a tearful laugh against my shoulder.
“I’m honored to have you as a sister,” I whispered.
“Was that a kick?” Naomi asked, bringing her hand to my belly.
“Yeah, one of them wants to follow Waylay’s footsteps onto the soccer field.”
The next cramp caught me off guard, and I released Naomi to bend forward. “Gah,” I gasped.
“Nash!” Naomi called, her voice sharp.
There was a crash in the great room and my husband was at my side in a second.
“Okay, Angel?” he asked, running his hands down my arms.
“Fine,” I rasped as the rest of our friends and family tried to enter the kitchen at the same time and got stuck in the doorway.
“I think she’s in labor,” Naomi announced.
“She’s early,” Jeremiah noted.
“Twins usually are,” Sloane said, arriving at my side, her hand cool on my shoulder. Lucian followed her. Even after all this time, even while my insides were threatening to exit my body, I still found the way he always put himself in her orbit breathtaking.
“What do we do? Do you need some towels and shit?” Knox said, looking panicked.
“Stef, go get the bag sitting on the floor in our bedroom,” Nash said. “Naomi, call the parents. Jeremiah, take my keys off the hook and go start the Tahoe.”
I shook my head. “No Tahoe.”
“What?” Nash leaned in closer.
“My car. One last ride just the two of us,” I said through gritted teeth.
He leaned down and looked me in the eye. “Fuck, I love you, Angel. Even though you’re a stubborn pain in my ass.”
“I love you too. Now please get me out of here before I embarrass myself and start crying and screaming.”
“I’m not ready. I can’t do this. Two? Two babies? What were we thinking?” I said, gripping Nash’s arm with both hands.
The hospital bed and gown were enough to freak me out. Add the fact that two human beings were about to explode out of my vagina, and this was a whole other level of freak-out.
“I’m so sorry, baby. I’ll never do this to you again,” my husband promised fervently. “Get her another epidural or some pain meds or some goddamn horse tranquilizers now! Whatever it takes to fix this,” he barked.
I dropped my head back against the inclined mattress and squeezed my eyes shut. Nash’s cool hand came to my forehead. I felt his lips against my ear.
“I’m right here, Angel. I’m with you. You can absolutely do this. You have to do the heavy lifting, and I’m real fucking sorry about that. I’d do anything to take this pain from you. Anything. But I swear to you, you’ll never have to do anything alone after this. Okay?”
I nodded and opened my eyes. “Okay.”
“Get ready. We need a big push, Lina,” the nurse said.
“You can do this, baby. You brought me back to life. You can bring another two lives into being. Because you’re fucking magic.”
I gripped his hand in mine and held tight. His blue eyes burned bright.
“I need you, Nash.”
“It’s about damn time.”
I shook my head. “I’ve always needed you.”
“I’m right here. Let’s get this adventure started.”
“I can’t wait till after,” I said through gritted teeth.
The little scrunched face under the blue beanie didn’t look like me or Nash as far as I could tell. He looked like a grumpy old man with teeny tiny fingers. I moved my head against Nash’s shoulder. He’d climbed in bed with me and we sat holding our son and daughter, enjoying the first few minutes of being a family of four.
Nash was looking down at our baby girl with a look of pure awe on his face. I felt my heart open down the middle to accommodate this new quantity of love.
My heroic husband held it together for the both of us. He’d kept it together until the twins were bundled up, pronounced healthy, and I was safe. Then with a look of love just for me on his handsome face, Nash Morgan had passed out cold.
“It happens all the time,” the nurse had said when she went for the smelling salts and butterfly bandages.
I managed to take a shaky selfie with Nash prone on the floor next to my bed. Most of our best moments as a family involved blood and bruises.
“There are about twenty people in the waiting room with more balloons than a carnival,” the nurse announced.
“I guess we should let them in before they get kicked out,” I said. I felt like my body had been cut in half and stitched back together, and I’d give my left arm for some concealer and mascara. But there was a kind of special joy that I’d found within sharing imperfect moments. An awe-inspiring strength I felt when I let the ones I loved most see me at my rawest.
We were blessed with this beautiful life.
These tiny, perfect babies would be loved and cared for by our whole extended family, even when their human imperfections started to show.
Nash shook his head. “I want a few more minutes just us,” he said.
“Okay,” I said, knowing he was saying it for my benefit. Always the protector.
I reached over and ran a finger down our daughter’s pink cheek.
“I was thinking maybe we could call her Jayla after your mom,” I said.
Nash looked up at me with tears in those beautiful blue eyes. He nodded silently for a while as his throat worked. “I think I’d really like that,” he rasped finally.
“Yeah.” He looked down at our son and then back up at me. “What about Memphis?”
“Memphis Morgan,” I said softly. Our son squirmed in my arms and I grinned. “I think he likes it.”
“You’re beautiful, you know?”
I glanced up and found Nash staring at me with a fierce look of love. I was a hot mess and my husband was a dirty liar.
“Please,” I scoffed.
“I’m glad you stuck around for the after,” he said.
“Even after this?” I asked, gesturing with my chin at the two newborns we were now responsible for.
“There is no one else in this world that I’d do this with,” he said, his voice thick with emotion.
I sighed and leaned into his shoulder. “Me neither.”
We took our time, our moment together.
My mom was the first to poke her head through the door. I wondered how many people she’d had to trample for that honor. I watched as she embraced Nash in a long, hard hug, rocking him side to side.
“I’m so proud of you,” she said, releasing him from the hug only to cup his face in her hands.
Nash beamed at her and pulled her in for another hug.
It turned out that all that love my parents had focused on me wasn’t quite as smothering when it was divided up between the two of us. Now the four of us.
My dad stood in the doorway, shyly clutching a bouquet of wildflowers. Even from across the room, I could spot the lily of the valley. Jayla’s favorite. We’d planted a whole bed of it alongside the house, and every time it bloomed, I whispered a “thank you” to the woman who’d brought love into my life.
“He looks just like you,” Mom breathed, her eyes filling with tears as I handed over her grandson.
“Look at this little angel,” Dad said, trading Nash the flowers and a cigar for his granddaughter.
There was a knock at the door, and everyone else began to file inside. Knox and Waylay entered with the teary-eyed Naomi between them. “Oh my goodness! They’re so perfect,” Naomi crooned, waving her hands in front of her eyes. “You have four casseroles in your freezer, the nursery is vacuumed and dusted, and Piper is hanging out with Duke who is watching all of the dogs until we get back and then he’ll be in to visit. Now give me one of those babies, please.”
Lucian had a protective arm around Sloane and carried a Prada gift bag in his free hand. “Diaper bag,” Sloane mouthed at me.
Stef and Jeremiah brought up the rear with the biggest teddy bear I’d ever seen and Liza J.
“You did good, kid,” Nash’s grandmother said as she eyed her great-granddaughter.
“Her name’s Jayla,” Nash said.
Liza J nodded, then kept right on nodding. “It’s a good name,” she said finally, then blew her nose noisily into a bandana.
My husband found his way back and climbed into bed next to me. I tucked my head under his chin and sighed happily while he toyed with the rings on my finger. My engagement ring was a spectacular, fiery diamond, and the band belonged to his mother.
“I don’t know how I got to be so damn lucky,” he murmured against the top of my head.
I tilted my face up to look at him. “Maybe because you’ve got an angel or two looking out for you.”
His face went soft, his blue eyes tender. “I think you might be right.”
He kissed me sweetly on the lips and then the forehead.
“You know,” I mused, “it’s a good thing you have such a nice, round ass. I think you’re gonna need to add another date.”