Ta da! Part 3 is finally here! I apologize for the delay. Somewhere between traveling and holiday preparations, I caught a cold. Not fun at all, and definitely not convenient during the holiday season. On the upside, this chapter is longer than the others. There’s one more installment coming. My plan is to post it before Christmas. *Fingers crossed… In the meantime, enjoy! And stay healthy!
*PS- Just 3 weeks until Out in the Offense is here!!! Woohoo!!
Happy Reading and Happy Holidays, Lane xoLeaning Into the Holidays- Part 3
Our friends stared at us as though they couldn’t quite process what Zane was saying. Of course, once the initial surprise wore off, it was a race to the finish to see who could come up with the expected hilarious quip.
“Eric, are you pregnant?” Nick and Josh asked at the same time.
A collective groan broke the silence, followed quickly by enthusiastic congratulations and a million questions of the basic “how, what and when” variety.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” “Surrogate or adoption?” “When, how, where?”
“We’re telling you now and you’re officially the first to know.” Zane raised his hands to high-five everyone like the winning contestant on Wheel of Fortune. “We haven’t even told our parents yet.”
“So keep talking,” Nick prodded, “When is the baby due? When do you find out what you’re having? Or is the baby already born and—”
Wes put his hand over Nick’s mouth and pressed a sloppy kiss on his fiancé’s cheek. “Let them tell us, Nicky.”
I squeezed Zane’s hand then set my wineglass on the island, and took a deep breath before launching into our story. “We have a surrogate. Her name is Darcy. She’s twenty-nine, unmarried and has a kid of her own. She’s sweet and smart and she’s been incredible. We’ve been working through this process for over a year. We wanted to adopt first and we thought we were close once, but everything fell through at the last second and it was…hard.”
“Very hard,” Zane agreed, pulling me close when my voiced cracked.
“We haven’t given up hope on adoption,” I said. “Maybe something will happen eventually, but we didn’t want to wait any longer. We opted to try the surrogate route and well,…Darcy’s pregnant!”
The room erupted in a new round of congratulations. And more questions.
“Do you trust her? I mean, this a big deal. She’s not going to change her mind and take all of your money and run, is she?” Nick asked.
“I seriously doubt it. She’s a good person and we trust her, but this is a huge decision that’s going to impact our lives forever. We aren’t going into this lightly. Besides, you know Eric. The contract is iron-clad and has been triple checked,” Zane teased, mussing my hair playfully.
“True.” Josh and Nick said in unison, followed by a sophomoric round of “jinx” that made everyone laugh and groan at the same time.
“You two are idiots,” I huffed without heat. “Hey, I admit it. I’m cautious. We’ve talked this decision through over and over. As in every day, multiple times a day. Believe me, we’re ready and we’re so fucking excited about this. We wanted to tell you sooner, but we decided to wait until we heard the baby’s heartbeat, so it felt super official.”
“You heard the heartbeat?” Grant asked excitedly.
“Actually no. I thought our appointment was Friday, but it’s Monday. I had big plans involving a video of the ultrasound and the baby waving to his or her guncles, but…I screwed up.” I flashed a sheepish glance at Miles before adding, “That probably wouldn’t have happened if you known.”
“I should have guessed, shouldn’t I? It’s my job as your secretary to know everything about you.” Miles frowned. “I noticed things, but I couldn’t figure it out.”
“What kind of things?” Zane asked.
“Little things. Every once in a while, Eric seemed withdrawn or upset for no particular reason. If I didn’t know him so well, I’d have thought you were having marital problems. But you guys seemed closer than ever, so yeah…this makes a lot of sense.” He smiled warmly at Zane and me and then bit his bottom lip as if to hold back emotion. “Wow. I’m so happy for you both.”
When Miles’s eyes welled with tears, I moved to his side and hugged him impulsively. “Thanks, Mi.”
I had a soft spot for Miles. He was kind of like the younger brother I was supposed to mentor who always seemed to be a step or two ahead of me. He effortlessly paired his sassy, in-your-face persona with an innate kindness that drew people to him. Or maybe it was his sense of fun and his ability to find humor in odd times. In a lot of ways, he was Grant’s exact opposite. Miles was tall and very lean with a shock of auburn hair and a quirky sense of fashion while Grant was model handsome with dark hair, olive skin and hazel eyes. They might be an unexpected couple to some, but I knew them both well and I couldn’t help noticing that they brought out the best in each other. The same way Wes understood Nick’s idiosyncrasies and Finn and Josh balanced out one another.
Grant perched on the barstool nearby and gently tugged on Miles’s belt loop until he stepped back and leaned against Grant’s knee.
“So, do you know what you’re having? And what about the due date?” Grant prodded insistently.
“Damn Grantster. Are you guys next?” Josh asked with a half laugh.
“Maybe,” he replied with a shrug.
Miles flashed an amused sideways glance at his fiancé. “Honey, you gotta put a ring on it before we’re having any kids.”
“Oh, I will,” Grant singsonged.
I chuckled at their antics as I reached for my Chardonnay. “To answer your question, we won’t know if it’s a boy or a girl until mid-February. And…he or she will be here mid-July.”
“When are you telling your parents?” Finn asked.
“At Christmas. My mom is gonna flip. This is much better than that yoga mat she wanted.” Zack skirted the island and set a slice of pizza on a plate and slid it toward me. “Eat up, babe.”
I smiled my thanks before taking a sip of wine. “Mine will be over the moon too. I just have to mentally prepare myself for the questions about whether or not we’re raising our child in the Jewish faith.”
“Well, are you?” Nick asked as he popped the top off a beer and leaned against the counter.
“Yes,” I replied quickly. “But we’ll celebrate all the holidays that are important to Zane too. They’ll think it’s weird to have a menorah and a Christmas tree, but they’ll get over it. Evenutally. I hope.”
“They will,” Zane assured me around a bite of pizza. “And maybe they’ll even want to help us decorate it.”
I snorted in amusement. “Yeah, I don’t think so. But that’s okay. This is our tradition. Some day in the not too distant future I can see us gathered around a giant tree with all of our kids running around us, jacked up on too much sugar while Mariah Carey sings about what she really wants for Christmas. Anna Banana will be the head elf in charge. Being the oldest should come with perks, right?”
“Right.” Josh beamed proudly.
“And what are we going to be doing?” Grant asked.
“We’ll be watching them and reminiscing about days like today when we knew everything was about to change. Somehow I think it’s about to get better.” I stood abruptly and raised my glass. “Let’s drink to that. To friendship. To our beginning when everything was new and nothing seemed impossible. To the people we’ve met along the way who’ve made our lives richer. And to our future generation. I can’t wait to see where we go, boys. Cheers.”
Everyone lifted their glasses…or beer or water bottles, in a toast. I was about to suggest that we get started decorating the tree when Nick waved his free hand above his head to get everyone’s attention.
“Wait. I want to say something.” Nick raised his beer bottle and fixed with an earnest look. “To Eric and Zane. And to your incredibly lucky son or daughter. Congratulations. On behalf of all of us, baby Schuster Richards has…” He paused to scan the group gathered around the island before continuing. “…Six uncles who can’t wait to spoil him or her rotten.”
“Ten,” Wes corrected. “Don’t forget the boys in Napa. Geordie and Levi, and Ryan and Danny. By the way, Geordie is gonna go crazy when he hears your news. Prepare yourselves for an enthusiastic congratulations at the winery party next weekend.”
“And take your Range Rover. The oversized stuffed bunny he bought when we were expecting Anna didn’t fit in my car,” Finn advised with a laugh.
“Oh boy. I remember that. And thank you, Nick.”
“We appreciate it,” Zane slipped his arms around my waist and pointed at the tree in the bay window. “Now it’s time to decorate that bad boy. If I catch anyone hanging all the balls in clumps or on the bottom, I’m gonna kick some ass. I don’t want to spend my night fixing the tree after you yahoos leave later and Eric isn’t happy with the ball placement.”
“That sounds like a personal problem, Z,” Josh quipped.
“Ha ha…or ho ho. Let’s fuckin’ do this!”
“And on that note, cheers!” We clinked our drinks noisily against Nick’s and then shuffled around the island, piling pizza and salads onto our plate before moving into the living area to gather around the tree.
The sound of familiar voice, chatting above the strains of George Michael’s “This Christmas” warmed my heart. This was a good home. A safe place filled with love and laughter. I loved my husband and I love these people. I was grateful to have friends who truly felt like family. And I couldn’t wait for our son or daughter to meet them.
Today was a big day and I was nervous as hell. I wished I hadn’t poured that fourth cup of coffee. My heart raced and my palms were sweaty. The only thing keeping me from spirally out of control was knowing Zane felt the same way. My normally easygoing husband looked anxious and uncomfortable. Other than greeting Darcy in the chic lobby of at the doctor’s office, he hadn’t said a word.
I leaned against his side as though I couldn’t hear our peppy surrogate highlight the details of her ongoing battle with morning sickness. Truthfully, I wanted an excuse to touch Zane, but I was also desperate for every little scrap of information she gave us. I wanted to know that she was eating well and getting enough sleep. If she felt even a twinge of discomfort, I wanted to know how we could help. I thought about asking her to move into our Marina townhouse for the duration of her pregnancy, but Zane hadn’t liked the idea.
“First of all, we don’t really have the room and secondly, I don’t want to be on my best behavior for nine whole months,” he groused.
“She knows we’re married. I’m sure she knows we sleep in the same bed and do stuff.”
Zane threw back his head and laughed. “Do stuff. See? You can’t even say ‘fuck’ without blushing. And that’s at the idea of someone overhearing us. Besides, she has a kid and a routine of her own. Our job is to be supportive. Not to smother her. We’ve been very clear that if she needs anything…even if it’s just someone to talk to, we’re always available.”
Except he wasn’t particularly ‘available’ at the moment. He was internally freaking out. When we embarked on this journey, we agreed that if one of us was overwhelmed by the specter of parenthood, the other should step up. It was my turn.
“…woke up feeling fine. I had a light breakfast, took Jack to preschool and barely made it home before I puked,” Darcy reported matter-of-factly.
“Do you think it was something you ate?” I asked.
Darcy pushed her long blonde hair behind her ear and grinned. She was a naturally pretty young woman with big blue eyes and high cheekbones who rarely wore makeup. She claimed it was a big day if she bothered with mascara. She taught yoga at a studio in Pacific Heights and worked part time selling olive oil at a kiosk in the Ferry Building. It was a family-owned business she’d helped expand with her older sister after they’d graduated from college. In some ways, she reminded me a lot of Zane’s mom. She had a sunny demeanor and seemed to read people well. Like now.
“I’m fine now. In fact, I’m hungry. I could go for three quarter pounders from McDonald’s, two orders of fries, a chocolate milk shake. What d’ya say, Zane? Are you in?” she asked.
The twinkle in her eyes gave her away, but Zane wasn’t quick on the uptake this morning. He jolted and shot a panicky glance at her. “I thought you didn’t eat fast food.”
“Oh, I don’t. Usually.” She snapped her fingers and grinned. “Ice cream sounds better. A pint of Ben and Jerry’s Double Fudge Brownie. Make it two pints. And a jar of pickles. I love pickles.”
Zane opened his mouth and closed it twice before turning to me. “Is that normal?”
I shrugged. “Maybe. But I also think she’s playing with you, honey.”
Zane frowned at Darcy and huffed. “Play with Eric. He’s smarter than me, and he’s cool and collected. I’m a mess.”
“Relax, Zane. Everything is fine.” She smiled at him kindly and set her hand over his. “I promise. You don’t have to—”
“Yay! That’s us. Come on, Dads.”
I watched Darcy head to the reception desk to check in before nudging Zane’s elbow. “This is it. Are you ready?”
“No. Fuck, Er. I’m not ready at all. What if something’s wrong? What if there’s no heartbeat? What if we have to start from zero all over again and—”
“Zane, baby, look at me.” I waited for him to obey. “Whatever happens, we’re in this together. You aren’t doing this alone. We’re family.”
He nodded mutely then looked into my eyes. “I don’t know if I told you this today, but…I love you so much.”
My heart was close to bursting. I bit the inside of my cheek and whispered, “I love you too. Come on. She’s waiting for us.”
We were escorted to a small room with a wide window overlooking a parking structure and a slew of equipment including a monitor stationed next the paper-covered bed or lounge or whatever it was called. I swiped my damp hands on my suit pants and studied the chart of female reproductive system above the petite sink in the corner. Nothing put a gay man back into neutral faster, I mused, starting when a nurse knocked on the door.
She greeted us warmly and asked Darcy a few general questions about how she was feeling as she took her vitals. “Pretty good. Morning sickness isn’t fun, but it doesn’t last long.”
“Lucky you. Well, your blood pressure and heart rate are normal. I’ll back in a sec with Dr. Wu. I’m sure you’re all ready to meet your baby,” she said.
“Perfect. Thank you,” I replied.
I set my hand on Zane’s hip and smiled at Darcy. “It’s kind of nice that you’ve been through this before. You’re so calm and we’re…not.”
“If you’re nervous, it means you care. And it makes me think this kid is going to be very well taken care of. But like I told you, I really am fine. Today, is when things get fun. You’ll get your first chance to meet your new person.” Darcy’s grin was contagious.
“Thanks.” Zane met her gaze as he laced his fingers in mine. “For everything.”
“It’s just the beginning, Zane. We’ve got a ways to go still,” she reminded him with a chuckle.
Another knock interrupted us. This time a tall woman with short dark hair and a lab coat joined the nurse. She introduced herself as Dr. Wu, made idle chitchat that basically covered all the same general health questions the nurse had asked, and then instructed Darcy to lift her shirt and expose her stomach. She turned to the ultrasound equipment and liberally gelled Darcy’s lower belly before moving a wand-like instrument over the slick skin. She didn’t speak for a long moment. She kept her eyes locked on the monitor with an intensity that worried me.
“Do you see anything?” I asked anxiously.
Dr. Wu smiled. “I do indeed. Look here.”
“Where? That little pea shape?”
“Yes. That little pea is your baby. He or she is actually closer to a strawberry in size right now.”
“And that’s good, right?” Zane asked.
“It’s very good. And right here, we have the heart. Can you hear?” She turned up the volume and gave Zane and me an expectant nod. “That’s a nice, strong sound.”
I furrowed my brow as a whoosh of static broke the silence followed by a distinctive beat. I opened my mouth and stared at Zane with a wild-eyed look as the sound echoed in the room.
Zane brushed at the tears welling in his eyes and grinned at me. “That’s our kid, Er. Our baby.”
To be continued…