Welcome! I’m Emma, and I’m thrilled to share a bit more from Alyse and Liam’s life with you. If you didn’t read Private Politics, she’s a Manhattan princess-turned-DC fundraiser. He’s a political blogger who helped her deal with a job-related crisis, during which they fell in love. Well, he was actually already in love with her before all of that, but it took a scandal, and some romance-y, book-y things, and now they’re married.
I am going to put a trigger warning on it because it contains discussion of fertility issues and pregnancy news.
Alyse Phillips-Nussbaum contemplated the flour crusted under her fingernails. Obviously whoever had invented braided challah had never considered the possibility of a gel manicure.
Or maybe if she learned to get through the braiding without the aid of three cups of flour… Ha. That was never happening.
Liam gave the lumpy dough on the cookie sheet a discerning look. “It’s your best one yet.”
This wasn’t even slightly an exaggeration, which was the problem.
“It looks like the Venus of Willendorf.” Alyse poked one protruding bit that was twice as big as the rest of it. “Why does it do that?”
Her husband caged her against the counter and kissed her neck. “I dunno. My mom never makes challah. She just buys it from the store.”
This was true. When they’d started dating, Liam had insisted that his family was only nominally Jewish. She hadn’t believed him until she’d joined them in Brookline for Rosh Hashanah. It had been the Irish Catholic-Reformed Jewish hybrid you might expect from the family of someone named Liam Nussbaum.
She shot him a skeptical look over her shoulder.
“Millie and Parker will love it,” he insisted. “And who cares what it looks like? It’s going to taste fantastic.”
Alyse snorted. The bread was going to be tough because she’d used too much flour, but Millie and Parker weren’t going to notice it was appearance challenged—not with an eighteen month old who refused to eat anything besides ketchup and peeled, cubed apples, and especially not because Millie was six months pregnant again.
The thought made Alyse’s teeth clench. She loved her friend and former roommate. Millie was a fundamentally good person, and Alyse was happy for her. But did the woman really have to get pregnant so quickly, so easily, and so, well, thoughtlessly? Millie’s second pregnancy had caught them completely by surprise. Couldn’t she leave some babies for someone else to have?
Alyse turned from Liam, who was giving her his most boyishly appealing smile, the one that said he would care about her even if she would never be a baker. He was all soft brown eyes and dimples and unconditional love. And if he saw her wiping at her eyes, if he heard her voice cracking, he’d hold her until she felt better—except she didn’t think she could feel better right now.
She bounced on her heels a few times and blinked. She could do this. She would not cry.
“What’s wrong?” Liam set his hands on her hips, but she didn’t let him turn her towards him until she was certain she’d put the waterworks off.
“Aren’t we out of candles?” Her voice came out admirably calm. Tight, but calm.
“Yup, candles. We’ll need them for the blessing.” She gave him the sunniest smile she could manage, and then backed across the kitchen. “Can you pop the bread into the oven? The recipe is over… well, somewhere on the counter.” She gestured, and then grabbed her coat and bag from the rack by the door. “I’m going to run to the drug store. They probably don’t have Shabbat ones, but beggars and choosers and all that.”
Liam wasn’t smiling anymore. His eye crinkles had smoothed out and his mouth had gone into a hard line. “Babe, do you want to cancel?”
He always knew. She couldn’t fool him, and she didn’t want to. He knew her better sometimes than she knew herself. But loving him so much right now made it hurt worse.
“No, I want to see our best friends and sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ to their drooling toddler fifty times. But I… I want a minute to myself first. I need to take a walk.”
He started to move towards her, and then he stopped himself. He wanted to say something, but he wrestled it back down. When he did speak, all he said was, “I love you,” the words as solid as a vow.
Alyse could only smile in response. If she tried to talk, she would cry, and if she started, she might not stop, at least not in time for Sabbath. So she shut the door outside their apartment, swallowed her sob, and then tripped down the stairs and out into the street.
It was sort of funny. Alyse had spent twelve years trying to avoid conception. It was only now—when she had realized she desperately wanted a baby—that she had realized how bizarre human reproduction is. What the hell were mucous consistencies and basal temperatures and egg ripening? How many stupid things had to go right in order for a girl to get knocked up? It was amazing humans as a species had managed to endure this long.
Millie was pregnant the moment she went off the pill. Alyse’s older sister Emmanuelle got pregnant every time she touched her husband’s underwear—so it was a good thing they had a maid and she didn’t do it often. All Alyse was asking for was that the stars aligned once.
She turned the corner. The drug store was on the next block. By the time she got there and went back home, she’d be fine. She’d be normal. She’d be ready to talk double strollers with Millie.
Alyse had not been ready after her last doctor’s appointment two months ago. When she mentioned they’d been trying for more than nine months without any progress, the doctor had patted her hand.
“There’s nothing to worry about. We don’t even start testing for infertility until you’ve been trying for one to two years.”
But it feels like it’s been years, she’d wanted to scream.
Alyse was a rational person. Okay, so she was a rationalish person. She handled numbers, and she raised money. It was what she did. She used emotion at work all day—but only to get to the numbers. She always knew what she was doing. She always kept one foot on the floor.
But trying to conceive had the same the logic as magic. It was like they’d left modernity behind when she’d failed to refill her birth control prescription.
She was still herself, however. So when the doctor had patted her hand, Alyse hadn’t accepted the brush off. She’d politely but firmly insisted that no, they would do a work up now. And when the answer had come back that everything was fine, physically and hormonally, she’d been bereft.
So she’d responded in precisely the way that seemed right: She’d given up.
If logic no longer applied, she didn’t have to use it here. That was it. It was done. It was over. Her lot in life was to be an aunt. She and Liam had even started a list of eccentricities to develop and when she didn’t feel like crying, she could laugh about how, no, she’d never look good in Rosalind Russell’s Auntie Mame duds—except sweater coats were so ripe for a come back.
The automatic sliding doors of the drug store opened, and she went in. As predicted there were no Shabbat candles, but after smiling for a moment over the idea of getting pine scented one, she settled on basic white. She grabbed two sizes because one could never be too sure, and she went to check out.
Except she walked by the feminine products. Did she need tampons? Wait, when the hell had she had her last period? She’d been tracking there for a while, obsessively, until Liam had made her delete the app from her phone because it wasn’t healthy.
It had been on a Friday. That made it one, two, three, four … five weeks ago.
She inhaled. Five. Five weeks.
She was feeling off. Not sick really. She didn’t have any actual symptoms. It was more diffuse than that. She was tired. She felt shaky, achy, and a bit queasy. As if she were floating backwards out of her body, with only a connection at her fingertips to keep her anchored.
Five weeks. It had been five weeks.
She went to the end of the aisle, to the pregnancy tests. She’d taken a lot of them in the past year. The first time when she’d thought, “Well, maybe,” she and Liam had stood here hand and hand and had argued about whether to get the inexpensive kind or the one with the words.
“You’re going to be cheap about this?” she’d demanded.
“It’s a stick you pee on.”
She’d gotten the cheap ones that first time, the kind that only had a single test in the package and which you had to decode. The next time, one month later, she’d bought the more expensive ones, but they hadn’t given her the answer she wanted. Not that time or the time after or the time after.
It had been months since she’d even felt like testing. The door had closed. She knew the door had closed.
“This is stupid,” she whispered to herself. She wasn’t pregnant. She couldn’t get pregnant.
Inside her chest, under her ribs, the word rattled. Two syllables. Two dangerous syllables.
She grabbed the cheapest test they had.
After she’d paid—she no longer felt even the barest tingle of embarrassment when buying a pregnancy test—she shoved the test and the receipt in the pocket of her coat. She didn’t want Liam to know. Once she’d taken it, she was going to have to hide it, so he wouldn’t try to cheer her up.
She hated how much this hurt them both. She even hated the little ember of hope she was carrying. She walked home quickly, trying to keep her mind empty.
When she got back to the apartment, Liam was on the couch, absorbed by something on his laptop. He glanced to assess her mood, and she tried to appear as ordinary as possible.
“Challah’s baking!” he called cheerfully. “And you’ll never believe what happened yesterday in the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry hearing.”
You’ll never believe what’s in my pocket. But all she said was, “Babe, no one in history has uttered those words before.”
He gave her the briefest smile, just a flash of warmth and energy, and then his attention snapped back to what he was doing. “Okay, so the chairman is running for re-election, right? And his challenger—”
It was as if the pregnancy test in her pocket had turned into a supernova, practically vibrating against her body. She had to know.
“Hold that thought!” she instructed, interrupting Liam mid-sentence. “I’ll be right back.”
She’d developed a system for taking pregnancy tests, which mostly consisted of setting them face down next to the sink so she wouldn’t be tempted to look until it had processed, while she finished washing her hands and paced until the ninety seconds were up.
But Liam was out there. And she hadn’t told him what she was doing. And he probably thought she was being rude. And she was sort of being rude. She was definitely being irrational and—
She flipped it over before she’d toweled her hands off.
Two blue lines. Two fucking bright blue lines.
Two lines meant yes.
Alyse started to shake. She lifted the pregnancy test off the vanity, and suddenly she couldn’t tell if there were two lines or only one. She had to set it down to confirm. Yup, still two.
Everything rushed in then. The sharp joy when she’d see a baby out in public and it would smile. The longing every time she bought another shower gift for someone else. The way Liam would read to Millie and Parker’s daughter, and pause to smell her hair, followed by a wistful smile. All the things she had tried not to feel for months swept in.
She looked at herself in the mirror, and she was crying. How was she going to tell Liam? She should check Pinterest for ideas. Maybe she should buy a onesies, or…
She grabbed a handful of tissues and nestled the test inside them. With the wad behind her back, she opened the door and walked through the bedroom. She took deliberate steps, one and then another, like a bridesmaid down the aisle.
He was working again, probably on writing up that committee hearing in a piece that no one would read except the people who’d been in the room. Her lips twitched. She loved him beyond rationality.
He made an affirmative noise, but remained focused on his work.
This was it, the very last moment before he would know. He would never get to concentrate like that ever again—at least not if Millie and Parker were anything to go by. Alyse let him enjoy it for a few more seconds.
He was sitting on the couch where he’d first kissed her, and she knew it was right. Just like this. Just here. Just now. No gimmick.
She walked to him and set the tissues on the coffee table.
She could see the instant when he glanced over and realized what it was. His hands froze, and very, very slowly, he looked up at her. “Is this real?”
He pushed his computer aside and almost hauled her into his lap. His mouth was on her forehead, her temple, her cheek. Then he kissed her properly, until they were breathless and laughing.
With one hand in her hair, and other lightly against her stomach, he whispered, “If that damn stick had never turned blue, I would have loved every moment of my life with you just the same.”
“It’s a good thing you still can.”
And she sat in his lap and cried hot, happy tears while he rocked her.
Thank you so much for reading about Alyse and Liam! The next stop is the lovely Audra North. Be sure to comment on each story to be eligible for the massive giveaway at the end.
Additionally, I’ll pick one commenter to receive a digital copy of any book from my backlist. I’ll draw the winner at noon EST on Wednesday, February 17, 2016.