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Because he read that it was good for her pregnancy, Ben started making her come for walks every day, sometimes for more than two hours. He seemed pleased with himself, even though he didn’t seem to realize that she went to the attic every night to workout after he fell asleep, sometimes for hours. Sometimes after the school drop-off, she ran several dozen miles down the river, basically from one end of the city to the other. It was all getting a little harder, but still. He didn’t know that his pace was not “exercise” for her, but she was happy to see him getting out.
“What if we name them after me?” he suggested as they walked a tree-lined path. “Ben and Murray.”
“What if they’re girls?”
“Ben can be short for Benita.”
“What about something more inspiried? Like…Baskin and Robbin?”
“Tom and Jerry?”
“No. And you promised to stay away from processed ice cream this week, remember? Especially the fast-food kind. We’re trying the homemade stuff.”
“Avocados and bananas and cashews are not ice cream.”
“With homemade strawberry sauce.”
“What if I drizzle it over you and eat you instead? Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“Keep up, Ben. The exercise only counts if you get your heart rate up.”
“Hey, maybe we can try running! I always thought I might want to go for a run with you one day. I see all these couples doing it.”
“You’re wearing jeans. And a button down shirt. You’ll die.”
“Okay, well, maybe not right now. But how about tomorrow? Now that the snow has finally melted. This is going to be so great!”
“Are you ever not happy?”
His forehead wrinkled. “What do you mean? Of course. You’ve seen me in various moods. You’ve seen me in some of the worst moods of my life. I’m definitely not always happy.”
“But it’s like there’s this happiness gopher inside of you always waiting to pop out and run around. Sometimes it goes underground for a bit, but it’s always there, waiting.”
He looked at her as though she’d lost her mind. “Ummm…”
“And did you notice how you’re always smiling? And so confident, like all the time. You’ve just got all this energy, and it never seems to come from anywhere. It just…exists. You’re made out of energy, Ben. You’re like a neutron star.”
Tilting his head, he touched her cheek. “I can’t tell if you’re annoyed with me. It’s okay if you are. A lot of people tell me I’m too much. That’s why I like hanging out with kids. They can never get enough.”
“I just…where does it come from? So many awful things have happened to you. How can you just be…happy?”
Finally, he took her hand and sat her down on a bench. “I wasn’t always. And really, I’m not always. But it’s because I’ve been through so much. And been through so much trying to get over what I’ve been through. I was a happy kid, once. And I started doing what I loved as a kid. Building things. Baking things. Learning and thinking about things. And I started doing what I had always hoped I would do. Travel the world.”
“Get lipstick stamps on your passport.”
He grinned. “Breaking hearts across the globe. But you seem to bring that up a lot for someone who did the exact same thing.”
“I’m not a shameless flirt like you.”
“Oh really? What would you call it, then? You may not always be one for words, but you flirt plenty.”
“Yes, but I have discretion. I’m discrete. Targeted.”
He thought about that. “I think your right. You don’t flirt. You hunt. You pick out your mark, and then you devise a plan to get them where you want them. You’re like a black widow spider. An assassin. Like the real Black Widow.”
“Well, isn’t it so nice that these two sluts found each other.”
Kissing her tenderly, he patted her with a grin. “Isn’t it just.”
“How about Hussy and Trollop, if they’re girls?”
He considered it. “Could work for boys, two. Or if we’re getting one of each.”
“Sounds like a plan. So anyway, are we almost where you wanted to take us? Is it here?”
“No, Lanie. This was just a rest stop. I’m getting old, you know.” He stood up, stretched, and they continued on.
At last, they got to the mall. She started to feel a little uneasy. “What are we doing here?”
“We’re going shopping!”
She balked. “Shopping for what?”
“What’s wrong, Lanie? I want to spoil you. I’ve read up on all the things to get.” He peered at her in concern.
She stared at the Babies R Us entrance.
Come on. Let’s go pick out something nice together. I promise, it won’t be that bad.
I don’t know, Lanie. Isn’t it a little early for all of this? From what you told me this morning, it’s only the size of a kumquat or something. And anyway, I don’t have any money on me.
It’s oaky! I’ve brought some of my savings with me. Plus, they’re having a sale, so it won’t even be that expensive. I promise. And I promise I’ll carry the bags. You won’t have to do anything.
Then why do I need to be there? I don’t know, babe. I was supposed to go play ball with the guys.
Isn’t that not until tonight?
I’ve got to get ready.
Sean…it really doesn’t seem like you’re that excited.
Ugh, Lanie, do not start with me again. I’m sick of it. You know what? Just get out. Go do your shopping, and call me when you’re done.
Will you actually come back for me, or will it be like the ultrasound appointment?
Whatever. Just get out. I told you not to start this.
Strong arms were around her. A warm body against hers. “Talk to me, baby. What’s happening? I didn’t know this would make you upset.” His gentle voice and gentle touch finally broke her flashback. She blinked and the beat-up old car with the tense couple disappeared. She straightened her spine.
“I’m fine. I just…I’ve been feeling a bit dizzy lately. Let’s go.”
“Lanie, we don’t have to if – ”
He broke off as she strode inside. He jogged to keep up, then tucked her hand into his elbow. Lanie steeled herself, but they walked straight past the baby section and toward the back. Then, they went out the door into the main part of the mall, and into the maternity store.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Ben asked, caressing her arms.
She stared. “What is this?’
“Your surprise!” Nearly bursting, he hustled her past the other shoppers and toward a side area with padded rocking chairs. They parted for the huge man and his hostage. “Okay, you sit here, and put your feet up, and tell me what helped you the last time. And we can get all the new stuff you want! I’m sure there’s tons of new products since you’ve had Dre. The world of maternity technology is always changing! Then, we’ll take you back to the clothing section so you can try some of the clothes.”
She continued to gape at him as he sat her down, then lifted her feet onto one of the gliding footstools.
“No, I mean, why are we here? Don’t we need stuff for the babies? I don’t need anything.”
He stared, perplexed. “We have months until the babies come. This is only the end of the second trimester. I know you’re like, a superwoman or whatever, but you can still be that and more with a comfy pillow and a belly band.”
“I’m not getting a belly band. Or those weird maternity clothes, either.”
He laughed. “Alright, we’ll come back for the bands later, after you eat your words and beg me. But let’s at least start with some fluffy slippers. And don’t worry, I’ll carry everything. I don’t want you to lift a finger.”
She groaned. “Ben – ”
“Not a finger. This is something I can do. I’ve got experience. A couple of my foster moms were pregnant, and I stayed with them until just before they were due. I know all the things.”
“I’m the one who’s had a baby before, Ben. I’m pretty sure I know all the things.”
“Okay! So together we know absolutely everything there is to know. But maybe we can still double check with the store lady if we need to?” His smile, as always, was infectious, and his will was unbreakable. Like a steam train, he barged on, full speed ahead with his goal.
So, it began. While she sat on her “throne,” as he called it, he brought her item after item to examine. And of course, in typical Ben fashion, he talked the whole time.
“Look! Belly butter. It’s citrus and lavender scented. Weird combination, but do you like it? Okay! Me too. I’ll rub it on you tonight. Maybe use a little myself, if you don’t mind. Actually, I’ll get my own. Oh, and here’s some all-purpose salve. Whatever that is. Sounds like it could be useful for all kinds of things. I can’t wait to use it!” A provocative little wink. “And lip/cheek butter? Not sure what that’s for, but it could come in handy. Do you need a new toothbrush? These ones are made of straw! I’m definitely getting one for me. And hand spray. What’s that? Oh, kind of like hand sanitizer, but less harsh. I think I could use some of this! Hmmm…vanilla lavender deodorant? You can never have too much deodorant. Ah, here’s some eye serum. Maybe that will help with the crow’s feet. What! I meant mine, not yours. But come to think of it, I think I see some little lines there. You’re about to join the flirty, thirty and fun club, girl. Trust me, you want to start using this early. Oh wow! Whipped face butter! It smells delicious. And oh my God, look! Vanilla mint coffee scrub. I haven’t done a coffee exfoliation in so long. And they have this coco cream bag…oh! It’s for the bath. It even says it’s vegan! Look! Right on the bottle. Oh no, should we be checking if everything is vegan? Okay, here, you read the ingredients while I go get more things. Let’s see…nipple cream, perineal spray…Lanie, don’t look at me like that, you’ll want that puppy nice and supple for delivery day. I’ll use it too, if it will make you feel better. And, we can’t forget the polishing oil. Hmm, what’s tallow? Ew, never mind. Excuse me! Do you have shopping baskets? Okay, well, can we just have some bags so I can carry all this stuff? I promise I won’t leave without paying. Thanks so much! Right, now I just need to pick a body pillow. As much as I would love to be one for you, you’ll get to the point where you won’t want me to touch you. Ah, I really like that one, too. I think I’ll keep this one, though, you can have the stripey one.”
The whirlwind paused, and Ben regarded the pile of bags surrounding a speechless, perplexed Lanie.
After that brief intermission, he plucked Lanie delicately from the rocking chair throne. “Alright, love of my life, let’s get you a new, badass pregnancy wardrobe.”
Once again, he shepherded her away. Settling her on the bench in the changing room, he shut the door. She heard him chattering away as he bounced off.
“Don’t worry, Lanie! You won’t have to shop for anything. I’ll bring you everything I think will look good on you, and you can just pick what you want. Of course I know your size, don’t even start with me.” Apparently, he was in his element. No wonder he had been so excited on the walk over.
The clothing part wasn’t as bad. There were tons of hoodies, pullovers, tank tops, and teeshirts, some with quirky puns and quotes. There were nice black stretchy pants. She refused the ones with bands, but the ones she chose would expand with her belly and provide at least a little support. And be normal pants when this was all over. She really liked the styles, and considered making this her regular store if she ever needed to buy new clothes again. She refused the compression socks until he brought her some soft grey ones, and she decided to humor him. She even let him get her a few sets of really, really nice pyjamas, and a silky nightdress.
No to the fuzzy slippers. Yes, to the bathrobe
In the end, she did have to help carry the bags. She basically had to threaten Ben before he let her, and point out that she would at least need to help get them to the cab. Then he could spend the rest of his life bringing them in the house.
The cashier was a young college girl, and she gazed dreamily at them. “You’re so lucky to have a husband like him. I wish my boyfriend was like that. You guys must be, like, so in love.”
Lanie looked sideways at Ben, who was gazing at her fondly. She rolled her eyes and heaved the first bag onto the counter.
Fifteen bags later, the total came to: “Thirty-six hundred forty-seven dollars and twenty-one cents.” The cash register girl sighed dreamily.
Ben ignored Lanie’s dangerously outraged expression and pulled out his wallet. “That’s it? What a steal! Put it on my card.”
So, in the end, they dragged fifteen bags through the mall, at least half of them full of things for Ben. These weren’t grocery bags. They were full-sized shopping bags designed to fit person-sized body pillows.
“Do you know how much hospital supplies we could buy for thirty-six hundred dollars? School supplies? Seed? Building supplies?” Griping, she struggle to keep a grip on all of the plastic handles. They weren’t too heavy, but very awkward.
“Thirty-six hundred forty-seven dollars and twenty-one cents.”
“How many schools we could have built?”
Breathless, he stopped, and she stopped, and he looked at her. Then stooped to peck her on the cheek. “Use your money for that, then. But this is my gift to you. Think of it as a thank you gift, for all your work. From all of us. All around the world.”
The absurdity of this whole thing made her smile just a bit. They continued staggering through the mall.
When the cab arrived, they were able to fit eight of the bags in trunk, including the two with the body pillows. Ben sat in the front, and held two of them in his lap. Three more fit beside Lanie, and she held one in her lap, with one under her legs.
At home, he would brook no argument about bringing in everything by himself so that she could rest, and even told her that she had vowed to “honour and obey” him, which wasn’t true, but she went inside anyway and sat on the bed while he took nearly ten minutes to wrestle all the bags into the house by himself, then another five to get them up the stairs. When he was finished, he collapsed facedown on the bed beside her.
“Hope you paid the driver for waiting for you to do that,” she quipped, stretching her arms over her head.
He opened one eye. “I’m a man of honour. Did that count as heart-pumping exercise?”
“Yes it did. Good job. Do I get to help unpack this stuff?”
“Absolutely. I have no idea where we’re going to put all of it. Maybe you should have thought about that before we bought it.”
She tried to push him off the bed, but he had practiced resisting her. Giving up, she rose to start sorting. Pausing, she looked back at him. “Ben. There’s a missing bag. Did you buy anything else?”
He looked embarrassed. “Well…maybe a few things. While you were in the dressing room, and I was getting you clothes. A few other things may have caught my eye.”
She put her hands on her hips. “Can I see them?”
“Okay, just don’t get mad. I haven’t been on a shopping spree in forever.”
She pulled items out of the bag. He must have been running all around the store in between her outfit changes. There was a mindfulness book, a black mug with “#MomLife” in gold lettering on it. A set with a washcloth, bath brush and loofa. And a set of large cloth zipper bags, one declaring “Mom Things” and the other “Baby Things.” A five-hundred piece puzzle of a beach with the word “SHITSHOW” spelled out in seashells and rocks. And socks. So many socks. These also came as a set, a large pair for an adult, and a smaller pair for a child. Socks with burgers on them, and daisies, and cartoon characters.
“The puzzle and the socks are for me and Dre,” he explained.
He had also gotten some colourful hair clips. She remembered complaining to him about her flyaways. And last of all, a beautiful necklace. There were two concentric hearts, one inside the other, encased in glass.
“I know you don’t wear jewellery, but…I don’t know, it just spoke to me, or something. I just thought you could hang it in the bathroom or something. I know you’re not a girly girl, but…if you don’t wear it, I probably will.” His smile was a little self-conscious.
What’s you’re problem, anyway, Lanie? You’re such a girl. Why do you need a piece of jewellery for me to prove that I love you?
She barely brushed her fingertips over the smooth glass, and it swung back and forth, catching the afternoon sunlight coming from the south window.
It’s not about the jewellery, Sean. It’s about what it means. God, I don’t know, just forget it. I just thought it would be nice.
Hey! Don’t walk away from me!
Deliberately, she walked toward the bed, and tapped him. Sitting out with a groan, he held out his hand, and the chain pooled in his palm. Turning her back to him, she kneeled on the floor in front of the bed. His touch on her upper shoulder sent a shiver down her spine, especially when he trailed a finger around the base of her neck before securing the chain.
Still on her knees, she turned around and placed her hands on his thighs, staring up at him. “Thank you, Ben. Thank you for being you. Thank you for taking me shopping today, and for spoiling me so much. Thanks for everything you do.”
His eyes glimmered and he framed her face. “It’s truly my pleasure. Next stop will be the baby store! Which I can totally do if you’re not up to it.”
“I am not letting you run unsupervised through the baby store. And don’t try to sneak out and get anything without me.”
She sucked in a breath at a familiar sensation. “Ben.”
“What? I’m not a child, I can control myself at the baby store. I’ll set a budget, five-thousand, tops. Well, maybe six if there’s any of those specials where you have to buy more to get the deal, but that just means we’ll technically be saving money, so in reality it will only be four-thousand – ”
“Come here!” She grabbed his hands and he nearly fell on top of her. She put them on her now-visible bump. “Ugh, you better not have missed it.” She used his fingers to prod her belly. “Wake up, you little monsters. Say hit to your father.”
At last, at long last, they shifted inside of her, then one gave a nice little kick. She watched Ben’s face as it kicked again, and she knew when he felt it. He stared at her stomach like he was watching a miracle.
“Oh…” It was all he could say. He gently pressed her belly, playing with them, until they wouldn’t move anymore.
She tried poking them. Nothing. “They went back under the surface?”
“What do you mean?”
“I kind of picture them like little Loch Ness monsters, poking their heads out of the lagoon every now and then, before slipping back under the surface without a trace.”
He laughed incredulously, then kissed her tummy, as he had done many times a day for the last two months. Then he turned his attention back to her, taking her hands.
“The spoiling is not over yet. As long as we both shall live.”
“Hopefully, a long time. But how about we start now? There’s still a while before you have to get Dre. I could really use a bath. And maybe another full-body massage with that goop you bought today.”
He pulled her to her feet, then put her in the bed. “How about we skip the bath, skip the goop, and we just get naked right now?”
“Nope. You’ve got to earn your keep.” Gliding toward the bathroom, she looked at him over her shoulder. He sighed in mock disappointment.
“Oh, fine. If you that’s what you want.”
“But if you insist…You could always join me in the bath.” She wasn’t sure how, but in one blink he was out of his clothes. “Don’t forget the goop!”
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