Kane parked the car on the curb in front of a brick bi-level with a huge, neatly cut lawn. The landscaper inside of him couldn't help but notice the freshly weeded flower beds and the evenly trimmed hedgerows that separated the Davidson's yard from the neighbor's.
"Are you ready for this, Liv?" he asked as he took her hand. She nodded although her face was pale and her hands trembling. "Let's go."
He held tightly to her hand and they walked up the cobblestone path and paused at the front door. He glanced at her one more time, allowing her a chance to flee if she wanted but she just nodded so he rang the bell.
A tall, smiling man opened the door, his eyes tight but his expression warm. "It's so nice to see you again, Liv," he said as he squeezed her hands. "You look fantastic!"
"Thanks, Trevor," she said with a slight tremor in her voice. "Um, this is Kane Markson."
Trevor shook Kane's hand and greeted him just as warmly before inviting them into the house. Kane's eyes swept the entryway and the living room – the deep blue carpeting and the antique white walls. Several art prints decorated the room along with a huge frame that contained a collage of pictures of the baby, documenting the changes she'd gone through since birth.
"Have a seat," Trevor said as he gestured toward a sofa. "Rose is with Alexia now, changing her I think. She'll bring her right down. Would you like anything to drink?"
"No thank you," Kane and Liv answered in unison.
Trevor cleared his throat and started to speak just as Rose swept into the room with a baby in her arms.
"Hello again, Liv," Rose said, her eyes puffy. "How are you?"
Kane didn't hear her response as his eyes feasted on the baby. She was dressed in a white, strawberry print sundress, her little feet bare. Her hair and eyes were an exact match of his and when she smiled, he caught a glance of a tiny tooth peeking out of her bottom gums.
Before he knew what was happening, Rose was passing the baby to Trevor and dropping to her knees beside Liv, holding her hands.
"Sweetie, I know this is hard for you," Rose cooed. "But we talked about this, remember? You can be a part of her life if you want. You don't have to just disappear."
Kane draped an arm around Liv's shoulders and kissed her temple. "Why don't you hold her, Liv?" he whispered.
Her terrified eyes shot to him and he pressed a quick kiss to her cheek.
"Just because you hold her doesn't mean you have to take her away," he said gently, his heart finally deciding. "And Mrs. Davidson is right – you don't have to just disappear."
Trevor cleared his throat again. "Would you like to hold her, Kane?"
Kane sighed, his eyes still on Liv, and then stood. "Yes, please."
Trevor eased the baby into his arms and he held her awkwardly as the infant eyed him curiously. He couldn't help but smile at her adorable face as she touched his cheek and then his nose.
"Hello, pretty baby," he said as his heart melted. She wiggled in his arms and he was afraid he'd drop her but his arms instinctively tightened around her. "You don't like to sit still, do you?"
"No she doesn't," Rose said with a shaky laugh. "She rolls all over when I put her on the floor and she's started getting on her hands and knees. We figure it just a matter of time before she starts crawling."
"Then you'll really have your hands full," Kane said as he glanced her way. She'd moved closer to her husband and he'd wrapped his arm around her. "Relax," he said. "I don't want to take the baby from you. I just wanted to see her. I… well…I didn't even know she existed," he said as he shot a quick look Liv's way.
Liv remained on the sofa, her eyes trained on the floor.
"Liv," Kane said softly. "Don't be afraid to look at her. She's beautiful."
Rose placed a soft hand on Kane's arm. "Don't rush her. Let her do it at her own pace." Rose smiled gently. "We'd like her to be a part of Alexia's life but we want her to do it at a level she's comfortable with. We'd like you to be a part of her life, also."
Kane nodded as he stared into his daughter's eyes. "Why? Why adopt a baby if you still want the birth parents to be in the picture?"
"We know the pain Liv is going through, and probably you, too," Trevor explained. "We wanted to have children desperately but we weren't able. When we met Liv, we could see that she loved her baby even though she was willing to give her to us. And we couldn't take that baby totally away from her. We can give Alexia much more than what Liv was able to at that time but that doesn't mean we love her more."
"When we decided we were going to adopt, we wanted to do open adoption," Rose said. "We've heard the horror stories of mothers or fathers changing their mind after the baby was born and we thought that we could avoid that by letting Alexia's parents remain in her life."
"So, my parents could meet her, too?" Kane asked.
Rose and Trevor shared a strained look. "If you'd like," Rose answered.
Kane nodded, kissed Alexia's cheek, and handed her to Rose. "Thank you."
He held out a hand to Liv and helped her to her feet. He snaked his arm around her waist and she kept her eyes off the baby. "Are you ready to go, Liv? Or do you want to hold her?"
Liv chanced a glance at the baby and a small smile slipped across her face. "I'm ready to go."
"Come back any time," Rose said as she held Alexia close to her body.
Kane's heart stopped as Liv released his hand and stepped towards adoptive mother and baby. Her hand shook as she reached toward the child and softly touched her hair. She smiled as she stepped backwards into Kane's body.
"Take good care of her," Liv whispered.
"We will. I promise," Rose said.
Kane thanked the Davidsons again and led Liv out the door. He held her hand the entire trip home and neither seemed to have much to say. As they neared Kane's house, he finally spoke.
"I think you did the right thing, Liv," he said. "I don't think either of us is ready to take care of a child. I think we probably could if we had to, but I don't think that child would have the sort of life that she has now."
"I know," Liv said. "But sometimes I wonder what it would be like if she was still mine."
"We can still visit her," Kane said. "She'll know we're her birth parents."
"But the Davidsons will be Mommy and Daddy – not us," she said as she started to cry. "Did I take the easy way out?"
"I don't know," he said as he parked in his driveway and pulled her into his arms. "I don't really know. But it's the decision that you made and I'm going to stand beside you on it. We're going to have to live with it. We can't rip her from her family now. Think of the lives we'll destroy. I think we're just going to have to leave things the way they are and deal with the consequences." He sighed as he edged back to kiss her. "We'll visit her often and maybe the Davidsons will let us take her for a weekend or something."
"Yeah," Liv whispered as she pulled out of his arms. The tears had subsided but the pain lingered in her eyes. "Let's go talk to your parents."
"Okay," he said, but as he got out of the car, he, too, wondered if they'd made the right decision.
The next summer…
Liv climbed off the lifeguard stand and trudged through the sand, her eyes still scouting the crowd. She sighed when she reached the station. Certainly if he was back in town, he'd come straight to the beach.
She went to the locker room and changed her clothes as her thoughts raced through the past year. It hadn't been easy – especially when Kane went back to school, but they'd somehow managed. They'd kept in constant contact either through phone calls, instant messaging, or text messages. And true to his word, he spent every break with her or arranged for her to come to his campus for a weekend.
They'd suffered a few bumps in the road – especially when they discussed Alexia. They visited her at Christmas and Easter and Liv was finally able to hold her and kiss her tiny face - but it was a sore spot in their relationship. The pain was still there, but it was beginning to fade.
She pinned high hopes on this summer. She wanted to strengthen their relationship and maybe move to the next level – whatever that was. He'd been thinking about transferring to the community college – the same one Liv was now attending at night – and the thought made her heart race. He only had two years left and he'd have his degree and his father was more than ready to let him take over the Markson family business. His future seemed to be set. She just hoped she was part of it.
As soon as she stepped out of the station, a pair of arms wound around her waist.
"There you are," he whispered and she squirmed until she was facing him, tilting her head up to receive his kiss.
"I was beginning to wonder if you'd changed your mind," she said with a smile.
"Never," he said with a grin. He released her in order to take her by the hand and tug her toward the parking lot. "Now come with me. I want to show you this little house that's about a half a mile from the nursery."
"What about it?" she asked.
"It's for rent," he said as he opened the door of his Jeep and helped her inside. "And I thought we might lease it."
"Really?" she asked as her heart started to pound. "Both of us? Live together?"
"Yep," he said as he climbed in on his side. He started the engine, a knowing smile on his face. "Do you want to?"
"Yes," she said as she clutched his hand. "Of course."
"Well, my transfer went through and since I'll be living here year round, I thought we should do something a little more permanent," he said. "I love you, Liv, and I want you with me as much as possible."
She unfastened her seatbelt and threw her arms around his neck. "This is fantastic!" she exclaimed. "I love you!" She withdrew to furrow her brow. "What do your parents think?"
He shrugged as he drove out of the parking lot. "I spoke to my father about it awhile ago. They weren't too thrilled at first – thought we should get married first – but they're okay with it now. Dad is the one who heard about the little house for rent and arranged to have the owner meet us there tonight to show it to us."
"That's great," she said as a familiar car passed them on its way to the beach. Liv's heart stopped as Derek glanced quickly at them before turning his head. "Does he still call you?"
Kane's hand tightened around the steering wheel. "Not as much. I think he's finally getting the hint."
"Don't you think it's time to forgive him?" she asked.
He laced his fingers with hers. "Have you forgiven him?"
She shuddered and turned her head. "You two have been friends for years – since you were kids. I know you miss him."
"I don't know," he said. "I don't want to think about him right now. We have an appointment to look at the house."
She dropped the subject.
The place was small – one bedroom with an eat-in kitchen, living room, bathroom, and small utility room – but the price was right. And it had a decent-sized back yard complete with a fence.
They stood out on the patio, holding hands, and Kane grinned. "I know it's tiny but I thought if we had a place of our own, maybe the Davidsons would let us keep Alexia for a weekend or something."
She stood on her toes and kissed him. "That would be nice."
He grinned and squeezed her hand. "And maybe we could get a dog, too."
She laughed as she hugged him. "Let's go inside and tell the owner we'll take it."
As they walked in the back door, she glanced once more over her shoulder at the yard, picturing a swingset amongst a sea of toys. Maybe, if things continued the way they were, Alexia could have a little playmate.
Liv smiled and squeezed Kane's hand. But that was a thought for another day.
A/N: Thanks to you who have read and reviewed.
I was thinking a lot about doing an alternate ending to this story as I had two possible endings in mind when I started it. I don't know if I will or not. Would anyone like to see an alternate ending?