...you say it's your birthday
it's my birthday too, yeah
they say it's your birthday
we're gonna have a good time
i'm glad it's your birthday
happy birthday to you...
"Oh Leif…wakey, wakey Leif…you know you want to…I've got chocolate…" That did it, as Leif's eyes sprung open and his nose searched out the crepes in my hand. Being with him constantly these past few months, I've come to find that he is worse than any PMSing girl when it comes to him and chocolate.
"What…time…is…it? Do I…have to…wake up…yet?" His eyes cracked open to make sure I wasn't bluffing and centred them on the plate in my hand.
"Yes, you do, and if you round up, it's 6.30." His eyes opened wider before closing again and he turned over in bed.
"Why are…you waking…me up…early? I thought you…had left…already. Is Soledad…alright?"
"She's fine, and if you've forgotten we both have three day weekends. Besides, we have things to do this morning." He didn't turn back over but I knew he was listening.
"Catch a flight, for instance. Security in this country is no joke." This turned him over real fast and opened his eyes a little more. He was a little happier when I handed him his food.
"What was that?"
"Aye, you heard me; we have a flight to catch, but you don't have to do anything for it. I've already packed our bags." He was more awake now that he was fed, but I knew he'd be craving coffee soon.
"You can't tell me you've forgotten what special day it is on Sunday?" He looked up at me and his expression told me he had. "23 March? Ring any bells Leif?" His eyes looked glazed over, but that might have been the chocolate euphoria he was in at the moment. "It's your birthday! Are you already trying to gloss over it at the ripe old age of twenty-three?"
"I feel old…and decrepit. All I did yesterday was developing. I really need to hire an assistant."
"Well, your daughter doesn't mind as long as she doesn't have to pose again. I think if you make her take one more picture, she's going to pee on your camera."
"It is not my fault she is so cute and photogenic."
"Err, actually, it kind of is, or half of it anyway."
Leif had gone back to work two weeks ago, and has been swamped with work. His model friend, Pilar, had spread his name so well during the time he was gone, besides his previous clients, so that he now has more than enough to keep him occupied. But he secretly enjoys it, no matter how much he complains. The one thorn in his side now is that he can't get to spend as much time with Soledad. The mornings were theirs until I came home at one and then they were inseparable at night when he came home at eight. She is so smart since she always becomes fidgety and makes the most noise around the time when he usually comes through the door. She's a daddy's girl to the hilt, and Leif's been her door-mat since hour one.
As if she knew she was wanted Soledad started making noise in the next room, and I went to go get her. For a baby with an unusual gestation and birth, the girl is normal in every way, except that she eats like an elephant and grows like a weed. Already she's almost three months and can't fit any of the dainty and cute newborn outfits we have in bulk. It was torture for Leif to move her out of our room and into her own since he thought something was going to happen to her.
"Here's your daddy, don't have a cow. Your father's much too young for grandchildren." She was just starting to twist her neck and lift her head, and she beamed when I turned her to see her father waiting for her.
"Hija." He put his plate down on the bed and took her from me. He lifted her in the air a few times, which she loved, then brought her really close to his face before laying her back against his raised knees. She didn't like being away from him, so he brought her down onto his naked chest and she raised her head slightly to look at him. When he started making faces at her she gave him a toothless smile and slapped her hand down on his skin a couple of times which made me laugh. Since already she shared her father's love for chocolate, he took a minute piece of his crepe and put it on her tongue. He gave her a few more pieces until she laid her head to the side and looked at me with her huge hazel eyes.
"Yes beautiful? What can I do for you?" I was sitting in a corner chair in our room looking on at the father and daughter moment and trying not to fall back asleep. She kept looking at me until I heard a faint sound.
"I think she wants her bottle, morena. That was her stomach just now." She turned her head back up to Leif as if she understood what he said and was telling him he was right.
"Yes, my love, your wish is my command." Leif laughed slightly as I bent down to kiss her head. Her hair, which there was a lot of, wasn't exactly dark like mine and Margot's, but kind of a medium brown in the light. It was curly like her aunt's though which made styling it easy. I've never taken care of a girl baby so if she didn't have her natural assets she'd look like she was homeless and no one loved her.
I went into the kitchen and opened the fridge where there and odd number of prepared bottles since I'm not a lover of constantly measuring and mixing. Both me and Leif had quickly gotten his microwave-with-menopause down to a science since the thing was almost as old as us and just a second longer or shorter than exact would ruin the bottle and you'd have to start back at step one. When it was done, and I had tested it, I went back into the room where Leif had Soledad leaning back against his knees tickling her rounded stomach making her smile and laugh. She started hiccupping when I came in and Leif had to sit up and pat her back lightly.
"Here, I think she is swallowing spit too fast since she's hungry." I gave Leif the bottle while sitting down on the bed, but Soledad looked at me across her father's shoulder and wouldn't let him pull her hands off his neck and shoulder.
"I think she wants you, morena. Try lifting her." When I put my hands up her eyes glowed and she let me gently take her away from Leif. I held her against my arm and he gave me the bottle, which she really wanted. All the while feeding her, she stared up into my face, which was actually a first. "She is getting attached to you. She loves you." He moved my hair out of the way and leaned his chin against my shoulder, looking down at Soledad starting to get sleepy now that she was fed and happy.
"The feeling is mutual." Being the baby she is, Soledad finished the bottle in no time, and after a burp the twins would be proud of, she went to her father's arms and fell asleep almost instantly, another reason to love this child, though she's going to be active enough when she wakes back up. This time he got out of bed and put her down while I filched the rest of Leif's crepe.
"I hope there is still food on my plate when I come back." He couldn't raise his voice, but I still heard him since there wasn't much space between the two rooms.
"You know me too well." He came back in the room when I had finished the last piece. He looked at me with his mouth twisted, but I had on a mega watt smile that I knew he couldn't resist. He still kept his smirk, but there was a new glint in his eyes that I didn't miss as he came towards the bed. My smile faltered as his remained until he was sitting right next to me stone still. I quirked an eyebrow and tilted my face up slightly, which is what he wanted, since he swooped down on my neck and made this big sucking noise on my skin. "Agh! What are you doing?"
"Getting the last bit." He opened his mouth where there sat a nanometre of brown on his tongue. He dramatically swallowed then dove back down with his lips and tongue making their way across a good portion of my neck and upper chest.
"Agh! You're going to make my neck all red and splotchy. Again."
"I have finally found a flaw; you complain too much, and at the wrong time. Besides, it is winter; no one is going to see under all of your sweaters and scarves."
"They'll all know the real reason why I'm piled under those scarves since it's getting warmer and I don't need one anymore." I would have said more but Leif's hand was trailing up my side lightly which makes my body have these odd spasms, leaving me incoherent, which is most likely the reason he does that all of the time. His mouth made its way up to my face to kiss my lips, which made me melt and twitch even more. Sometime later his face left mine and I saw his eyes with a fiery glint in them. "You're right, I do complain at the wrong times."
"You also talk too much, but never mind that now." He went back to kissing me, but his hands went from a slight pressure to a more firm one. I pulled away my face while I still had time.
"Not now, we have to get dressed." His nose exhaled a long warm breath, while his mouth was hovering a milimetre above my own and I almost fell for it.
"Where are we going?"
"Vienna, by way of Paris." He started pecking me, trying to torture me into staying there for a little longer.
"What is in Vienna and Paris?"
"That's a surprise." He stopped for half a second with his eyebrow raised. It still looked strange without the piercing through it. "Yes, this is included in our plans, but let's get a move on." He continued kissing me, but then slackened his pace enough for me to speak clearly and for him to listen with more than an eighth of his brain.
"Where is Soledad staying?" We both knew that Soledad wasn't going since we didn't trust her immune system around the germs spreading throughout the air in the winter and closed-in spaces.
"With Senora for the morning, and then Pilar is taking her until we come back."
"When does our first flight leave?"
"8.50." He raised his head a bit to look at the clock, which read now read 7.05, than returned back to his actions from three seconds ago.
"We have a little time."
A few more minutes and one very nice shower later, I was blow drying my hair while Leif was putting Soledad together. Since she would wake up for good in an hour, he only changed her diaper and pajamas, and her bag for the weekend was already made. We only had to go down two floors to her flat, and thankfully she was already awake since we were running behind. As soon as Leif could let his little girl go, he took a bag from my shoulder, and we ran down the stairs to get a cab.
"You know, she's beginning to look like you. She has your eyebrows definitely and maybe your mouth." Safe in the cab, I leaned fully against Leif trying to catch a few more minutes of rest.
"Because you know my mouth so well." He got a smirk from me, even if it was true. "And of course she looks like me, not that I would want her to have my eyebrows. They are too masculine."
"I'm not saying she looks like a boy, but already I see your features coming out in her."
"Maybe you are right, but she has Aleja's eyes, even if they are a different colour, and her nose, thank God. I cannot imagine my nose on a girl."
"I like your nose."
Leif's becoming more and more comfortable about talking about Soledad's mother. In the beginning he avoided all thoughts of her, but slowly I made him see that he'd never escape her, since their daughter was beginning to show her features as well. Now that Soledad is a few months old, she's developing away from that generic baby look all infants have. I had found a few pictures of her pre-accident, and you couldn't help but see the resemblance, even though Soledad was a good mixture of both parents. She took the best from both of them.
That was another row between me and Leif, since I wanted to put pictures of Aleja in the baby's room, and he outright refused. Since he knew that if she was still alive, Soledad wouldn't be here, so he said she had given up the right a long time ago to be in his daughter's life. I wanted them up there since that was her mother and even if she was dead that wouldn't change facts. After yelling for a few more minutes, he still refused to have them on the wall, but that I could keep them somewhere for him to show Soledad if she ever wanted to know and asked for them.
"You know, I think Soledad is getting a tooth."
"Yea right, Leif, she's three months old. Are you having delusions from being awake this early on a Saturday?"
"No, I am serious; I saw something on the bottom. There was a space on the side where it was more white than pink.
"Who's ever heard of a three month old getting a tooth? But I dunno since it might be true; it would explain why she likes biting on the bottle so much."
After what seemed like only five minutes, which it could have been since there was no traffic and the driver took that as a sign to go almost 145 KPH, we arrived at the front of the airport. Since not too many other people were mad enough to fly this early, and we weren't going overseas, security was easier than expected and we had a whole twelve minutes to spare, which we spent finding and drinking coffee. Once on the plane, we still crashed and didn't move until we were woken up by the pilot's announcement. Landing was perfect and after passports were checked and baggage found, we were outside in the city of eternal love.
"Why did I not think of taking you here for Valentine's Day?"
"I liked what you did on Valentine's Day, and you weren't ready to leave your daughter than. Actually, this was just a last minute inspiration, and I'm combining the best of both your worlds, pre-Soledad. We can now check of traveling from the list." He still looked constipated, so I shoved my way under his arm while we looked for a cab. "Stop stressing and try to relax. This is supposed to be a fun weekend holiday, coincidentally falling on your birthday, and it's damn expensive, so you better enjoy it. Now let's go check into hotel."
"Do I get to express my gratitude more fully in our room?" He started doing that warm breathing/pecking/light touches combo-thing again, but this time I could let myself go.
"I suppose, but do it after lunch. I could eat my hand right now." He smiled and began kissing me harder once we were in the cab and I told the driver the address to the Splendid Hotel where we were staying. That ride was wonderful since the hotel wasn't near the airport and we hit the noontime traffic.
After checking in, neither of us felt like moving far, so we indulged ourselves and ordered room service to eat on the balcony with a view of the Arc de Triomphe, not that we paid much attention to it. I was starving since I didn't eat very much this morning, and Leif's a man, so enough said about his appetite.
"Very random thought, but I think this is our first date." He looked up at me from his food like I had shot him.
"No, we have gone out before."
"Not on anything that could be classified a 'one-on-one date'. We've always stayed inside together, and have gone out with other people. We've never been out alone together before, except for the plane ride over here."
"I am sure you are wrong." He thought for a few minutes while I smiled across from him, knowing he wouldn't think of anything.
"Don't have an aneurysm, Leif. It's ok."
"I cannot think of anything, but I know you are wrong."
After eating, Leif made no pretences about what he, and I, wanted, which is why I deliberately left all of our day plans for tomorrow and Sunday. After Soledad came along, any time for us together was next to nil. I'm so glad I'm the person I am since I understand Leif's affection for his daughter and don't get jealous of her or their bond, especially since she wasn't mine. But in a way, she felt like mine since I've been (associated) with Leif since her second month in the womb, becoming aware of her in the third, and since she's been born he's never treated me like she wasn't mine. I would never want to take her for granted since she's a wonderful baby and I've become very much attached. I'm also very surprised that Leif has let me and Soledad bond since he's very protective and wouldn't want to hurt her in any way. It makes me feel and want to become that much closer to him than I already am.
The rest of the time went by slowly and quickly. During the light hours neither of us wanted to leave the room, so we just spent the day in bed, sometimes doing nothing, most times doing something. It was great not to have to listen for a cry or answer the phone or make our own meals or anything else we did in the real world. Around eight we got up to get dressed and ready since I had made reservations to eat at nine in the Eiffel Tower, which was only a fifteen minute drive with bad traffic from our hotel. The night was beautiful with all of the lights in the city and the music in the air. After sharing dessert, instead of going up the tower, we went down and hit the streets, aimlessly wandering around, arm over shoulder and arm around waist. We made our way to a small café for a midnight drink before heading back to the hotel.
In the morning, we were lazy again so we ordered breakfast in our room, making full use of the balcony and gorgeous view, and took our time getting ourselves together since our flight didn't leave until 12.35. It felt nice to have Leif's full mental and physical attention on me, and mine on him since that street ran both ways. But I think during that time we wordlessly agreed to not let other things get too much in the way of our relationship back home, now that we knew what the other side of the spectrum felt like.
On the flight to Vienna, since he was well rested (sort of), Leif wouldn't stop bugging me about our plans there, until I wanted to kill him. When we landed, first we went to our hotel to put down our bags, but then I got him back by making him use a map and figure out which bahn to use. My German was comical, but his Spanish accent was ten times as hilarious as my Anglo-Irish one that I dunno how random passers-by kept a straight face.
We arrived at the WestLicht Schauplatz für Fotografie to see the Herlinde Koelbl exhibit which was ending tomorrow. When we walked in, for the first time in a few hours Leif's eyes left mine for the walls, even though he still kept his arm around me. We wandered from room to room through the galleries, occasionally commenting on a portrait that we liked. For the most part Leif kept quiet, but I could see and feel him mentally file away notes for his own work. We didn't leave for a while, sometime around six, since Leif wanted to see every piece there. We got another cab back to the hotel and ate in their restaurant since we had to be up early in the morning again. Thankfully Leif had better things to do that night than pester me about tomorrow's plans.
Getting up at five anything in the morning is painful, even though I do it everyday for work, but it's doubly so when its on a Sunday, the day of rest. Leif especially was irritable about it, but once we found him a cup of coffee he was a little better. On the flight out we slept the whole time, but we pissed of a couple of people on the stopover from Frankfurt by taking turns butchering the native language, reading whatever was available, but it put us in better spirits. One of the people who hated us the most was the flight attendant so she conveniently skipped us with the snack cart, so anything and everything looked good once we landed back home in Madrid. Thankfully we had a little time to shove something down our throats before we move to our next destination.
"Where do we have to be so fast? I do not think I have eaten and then burned so many calories before this weekend."
"We're going to a match at noon." He stopped noshing for half a second with his eyebrow raised. It still looks strange without the piercing through it.
"Who else?" He turned his head a bit to look at the clock, which read 11.45, than broke his previous record of eating quickly.
"We need to get to the metro quickly then." Nothing whips a man into action like the thought of seeing and supporting his team. It was a home game for Real Madrid, and obviously Leif was over the moon about it. There is always something better about watching a match live instead of on the tube at home. Maybe it's because the ref and other team have a better chance of hearing your derogatory comments. I'm not particularly a lover of Spain myself (go Linfield), but I'm not going to miss out on it since I haven't seen a live match in forever, despite it only being around forty degrees outside.
Just under two hours later, and both my ear drums being blown to bits, the game had ended and we made our way to the outside of the stadium. I dunno what it is that makes this game a religion to this country, but maybe if I was at home and my team was playing, I wouldn't need to ask. Leif was on cloud nine since Real Madrid had kept their home match winning streak, and he almost floated down the walk. Since I still had him kidnapped, we stayed outside and went down a million and one different streets since both of us knew the city a lot better now. I had to almost block him physically from going to the studio, after a 72 hour deprivation, since I knew we'd never leave. Instead, we went to the park and watched the first signs of spring arriving, which was wonderful since it was almost April. We stopped by an outdoor café for tea, giving our legs a much needed break. Amazingly though, neither of us complained, just being happy that we had had so much time together uninterrupted.
"You know, before this I had begun to miss picking up and going somewhere random, though I should be angry with you since you deliberately left my camera back at the flat."
"You bet; I wouldn't have come back half as happy if you had been snapping photos right and left."
"I suppose I might get slightly carried away." I snorted like a truck driver at this gross understatement, which made him laugh. He'd be set for life just selling pictures of his drool worthy smile.
"Whatever you say Leif; now let's end this day on a perfect note and find that baby of yours. I'm sure she's driving Pilar crazy by now."
"Leif, if you value your life, you will get the hell away from my head." He was at it again with the damn feather, which seems to be his favourite method of waking me up, but this time I wasn't in the mood. "I didn't get to sleep much last night."
"I know; both you and Soledad would not let me sleep at all."
"God, why the hell does it have to be so hot in the beginning of July?"
"I am not God; I cannot tell you. But what I can tell you is…feliz cumpleaños." My eyes shot open and I found his face a few centimetres from my own. I didn't even notice, or care much about, the warm breath coming from his nose.
"Oh my God, is that today?" I tried to sit up, but I felt tired and weak, and just fell back on the mattress.
"Unless you lied to me last year in New York, 5 July is the day I know as your birthday."
"I completely forgot; no one even mentioned it on the phone last night." En mass, my brothers had called me yesterday and we didn't hang up until well into the night after I talked to each of them.
"They must really be under some stress if they forgot about it. How are things over there?" I sat up in bed and pulled my hair off my damp back. Even with the air conditioner, it was hot as hell in the room. Despite the stickiness, Leif still pulled me into him and held me.
"Not so swell with Grandda. He's rapidly declining and the doctors are slowly giving up on treating him. I wish he had a disease that would take him quickly and not let him linger on as he has. I've always known Grandda as healthy as a bull but now Cian says he doesn't even retain memory of names or faces, even his family. The only things he seems to care about now are his plants." As if there wasn't enough precipitation around, my eyes started tearing. "I just hate not being able to see him and my family and not being able to help them."
"I know; you have always been the rock of peace in your family, and I am sure they miss you more than ever." I moved closer into him and he managed to kiss my forehead.
"I know they miss me, and I just wish we didn't have to go through this again. First mum died, than Aunt Deirdre, and now Grandda. What is it with the O'Malley's and death? Who's next?"
"Do not say things like that, Siren, because then they will happen. You can pull through this again; you are all stronger than that."
"I just…hate having to be strong. Sometimes I just want to be down and let someone else be the 'peace rock' for once." By this time the tears had fallen, so I turned my face into Leif's chest and just tried to let it all out. He held my head with one hand and my back with another while leaning back against the wall while I cried into the film of sweat on his body. "Damn, I hate when I get my period. I become a girl."
"You are a girl, which is another fact you push aside when crises come up. It is alright to call a time out when you need to deal with your own feelings."
"I always deal with my feelings."
"Not quite. You selectively deal with your feelings, like acknowledging the good, but shoving the bad in a far corner, like last night. It took all night for you to open up to me." I didn't want to look at him since I knew he was right. He has this odd talent of figuring all of me out when I try to hide the imperfect bits from him. He knew I had heard him and didn't expect and answer, but put his lips against my forehead and began kissing my face. I wrapped my arms around his body, but he started lifting his body up when I did. "I promise you that we will see them soon. Now, I am going to get you some water so that you can cool down and feel better."
"Make it a tall glass. I'm dying in here." He laid me back down on the bed and I reached over for a tissue while he left the room. I hate crying, especially in front of Leif, but I couldn't handle it alone anymore.
Leif walked back into the room with my water in one hand and Soledad in the other. She just turned six months old, but you'd never believe it by looking at her, since she looked like she was at least a year old. Thankfully, not only was her body growing but also her mind.
"This one here was waiting for one of us to come free her from her wooden prison."
"I'm surprised she hasn't learned how to free herself yet." He handed me my glass, which I half finished in one gulp, then sat next to me with the baby who wanted me to play with her, so Leif handed her off to me and laid across the bottom of the bed. "Aye, what's that on your shoulder?" Lying on his left shoulder there was a white square, like a bandage.
"Yea, right. What is it?" It wasn't that big, maybe four by four inches.
"Eh…I did not want you to see it yet since it is still red." He tugged at a corner of the tape and pulled the square off before tilting his body so I could see it fully. Instead of the large wound I was expecting, there was a heart, identical to the one on his right, with two S's in it connected in the same way the M's were on his left.
"When did that happen?"
"Yesterday morning; I got it for you and Soledad." I reached my hand over to touch it lightly since it was still red. I didn't know what to say, so I just sat there like an idiot with the baby on my lap. "I love you; I love you and Soledad, and you both came into my life exactly when I needed you. I never want either of you to leave your places in it." He came closer to both of us at the top of the bed, ignoring the sweltering heat. "You are with me forever now. Te amo, mi morena."
"I love you, too." I knew what to do then when he came closer to my face, carefully moving and holding Soledad to the side. We didn't get very far since she was used to her daddy's attention on her and didn't like it very much when it wasn't, so she fought against my hands so that she could crawl over to him and make him look at her, in which she succeeded.
"Si, hija, are you jealous of your mother?" That word made me freeze, and Leif felt it since I was still close to him. He looked into my face with a smile, but a dead serious expression in his eyes. "Si, morena, you heard me."
"I'm not-" I would have finished, but he put a free hand on my lips.
"Do not finish that thought, because no matter what you say, that is what you are. You have been with Soledad from the beginning. She loves you as much as if she had come from your body, and you share the same feeling, which is all that matters to me." The sincerity in his voice and eyes really rooted me to my seat… "Eventually, I would love for you to adopt Soledad."…but not as much as that last sentence. I knew he was serious, it would have been stupid to ask that question, but it shook me to my core.
"Are you sure?"
"I have seen the two of you together; you are mother and daughter by the laws of nature, why not by the laws of Spain, even though we would have to wait three years until you were twenty-five."
"I would love to have Soledad, since I do feel like she is mine, but I didn't think you would think about it so soon."
"You have taught me how to be more decisive." He laid himself down at my side and looked up at me and his daughter, since somehow she had climbed up into my arms and was playing with my hair. I looked down at her, and she looked up at me just as she was about to put a clump in her mouth, and gave me and Leif the brightest smile, with three teeth, we'd ever seen from her, and then she sneezed. We both laughed while I rescued my ends from being more split, and then lightly raised her in the air, grateful to have her there.
"Thank you." I didn't even know I said it until Leif kissed my shoulder and said something in Spanish. "Now how am I going to top this present next year?"
A/N: Oh my God, I've pulled an all-nighter just to get this chapter finished, and it's only eleven full pages. It's just 7.05 now and I'm ready to collapse, but I had to post this since it's the last chapter. I didn't even know it was going to be the end until I started writing it, but here it is. When I've had seven hours of sleep under my belt, I'll be more excited. I've already started thinking up my next story, an off-shoot from this one about Cian and Eithne. I dunno yet if new readers will have to read a few chapters in this story, most likely they will, but I'll try to summarise the main points. I can't think straight right now, so this authours note is going to have to be short. Thank you readers and reviewers who have been with me from the beginning and kept me going right through the end. Without you, I would have stopped at chapter 2. The new story should be up sometime soon after Superbowl this Sunday. Another thank you, I'm off to bed.