They let me go the very next day. So Chris and I got our baby ready to go home. We decided to name her Avery. It was my dad's name. Not my biological father. Avery Johnson was the man who named me and raised me. Plus, we thought Avery Mclean sounded like a rockstar name. Chris was changing her diaper when I was done getting dressed in the bathroom. I went to get my bag from the chair under the window.

"I already have something for her to wear home," I told him.

"Oh yeah?" he asked as he watched me dig through my bag.

"I got it when I got all that stuff and brought it to your house. I just—decided to keep it to myself for a while. A woman at the Disney Store bought it for me."

I pulled the bag out and handed it over to him. I watched him pull the onesie out and lay it down beside her. It had Mike and Sully from Monster's Inc. on it. But it said "Mommy's Little Monster" across the top. I couldn't bring myself to put it with the stuff I'd given Chris because it only mentioned me. At that point in time, I was struggling with the idea of being a "mommy." But Chris smiled like it was the most wonderful outfit I could have chosen.

"It's perfect," he said.

"And it's the right size too. The newborn size would have been too big." I watched him pull it over her small head and pull her twiggy little arms through. "Here, I brought her some pants too. And some socks and a little beanie that will match." I handed them over, and Chris put them on her little body.

"She's all ready to go." He picked her up gingerly. She looked tiny in his big arms, but it was clear he was already good at it. I was still afraid of holding her while standing because I didn't want to trip and drop her.

Chris got her car seat the week before and had it hidden in the closet in his apartment. It was pink with little light green frogs on it. I didn't even see it until he brought it up while I was showering and Avery was getting a bath from the nurses.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, I started looking forward to her birth. But, there was just one thing I hadn't been looking forward to. The vital decision I had to make now. I knew I never wanted to leave either of them. I just didn't want to tarnish them with my flightiness and moodiness.

I watched Chris get her into the car seat, and then I tucked a blanket around her while he went to get the nurse to walk us out. She wheeled me down to the car and ensured we installed the car seat correctly. Then we headed out. I sat in the backseat with Avery so I could rest my head on her seat and watch her sleep.

Chris took us back to his apartment just like I expected him to. I followed him in as if I lived there, and this was perfectly normal for us. I fed her while Chris got her room ready for her, then we swaddled her up tight and put her in her crib. Her room looked a lot different now that Chris had everything in it. The little green frogs seemed to be the central theme. But there were a few stuffed baseballs and little Giants bats on the dresser.

When she was sleeping soundly, I decided to take a nap. I was still exhausted, so he let me go with a kiss, and I climbed into his bed and crashed. I didn't wake up until I heard her crying later. I could hear Chris walk down the hall to get her, so I climbed out of bed to stop him from making a bottle. He was already in the kitchen when I found them.

"I can do it," I offered. He looked at me as I reached out for her. He had the formula already sitting on the counter.

"Are you sure?" he asked me. This was a subject we hadn't really talked about. At the hospital, the nurses were pretty adamant about breastfeeding, so I just went with that. I had a consultant come in and show me how and we both picked it up pretty quickly. I knew Chris bought a bunch of formula anyway just because he knew I was possibly bailing. But I figured if I was there, I might as well make myself useful, right?

He handed her over, and I took her back into the bedroom. I laid her down on the mattress and wrapped my arm around her to watch her little face. We were in there for a while, and Chris let us be. I know he came to check on us once because he kissed my head without a word and left us alone.

After a while, Avery fell asleep, and I stayed with her. I watched her sleep as I blinked back tears. I was trying to decide what would be the best for her. But I knew even if I couldn't be a good mom, I couldn't leave either. So I wiped my tears away and stood up. Then I scooped her back into my arms and took her to her room so she could sleep in her crib. I left the door cracked and went to find Chris in the living room. He was sitting on the couch, leaning over the coffee table. He had some papers spread out in front of him. The house was silent aside from the monitor beside his paperwork, where I could hear Avery shifting in her sleep.

"Chris, can I talk to you?" I asked him as I took a seat on the couch beside him.

"Yeah, of course," he replied. He looked at me, but I looked out the window passed him and took a deep breath.

"You've known all along, haven't you?" I asked him.

"Known what?"

"What I would choose to do."

"Not at first. I thought it was possible I'd be doing this on my own."

"What changed your mind?" He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. I knew he had to be exhausted too, but he didn't take a nap when I did.

"After everything happened with Trent. When I was driving you to the hospital. You just kept repeating 'Not my baby,' over and over again. You were begging. And I realized that you loved her, even if you hadn't figured it out yet. And I knew once you loved her, you'd never be able to leave her." He gave a short smile. "It was kind of obvious after that."

"Why didn't you say anything?" He took a deep breath and sighed again.

"Because I knew it had to be something you figured out for yourself. It was almost like before with Trent. You knew the two of us belonged together, but you needed to figure things out yourself before accepting it. I knew the best way to do that would be to play your game and let you have the space you asked for."

"I'm so stupid." I rubbed my eyes. "I'm so sorry for putting you through all that. I don't know why I was so afraid. I knew deep down I'd never be able to leave either of you."

"You mistook it for not wanting to leave me. You needed to be sure it was for her." I nodded.

"Yeah."

"So you're staying," he asked.

"I'm not going anywhere," I told him.

"Good. Then can I ask you a question?"

"Of course."

"You are staying for her, right? I mean, I obviously want to hear that you'd never leave me either. But I need to know it's for her."

"It's for both of you. I love you, and I want to be with you. And I was thinking about what I said before—about my DNA, you know?" He nodded. "I don't think there's anything wrong with her. I came out just fine. And she's perfect. She'll be a good person if we raise her that way. Just like any other kid. Besides, I feel like I need to be with her. To protect her. Not that you can't. Just that two of us is better than one." He nodded again.

"I thought so too."

"I'm sorry for doubting that."

"Don't be—just don't ever tell her that you doubted it. I don't want her to ever think she was unwanted."

"I wouldn't. I couldn't. And she isn't. She never was. I was just scared."

"I know. Like I said—I knew you weren't going to leave. But—I let you go because I needed you to see it for yourself. Just like that day at the café. Subconsciously I always knew you wanted to be with me—But the reason I'm telling you this is that I'm not going to let that happen again." He turned to look at me.

"What do you mean?"

"When you wanted to figure out what to do with your life—it was refreshing. You took control of your future and what you wanted. We got back together, and you seemed—happier than before. You'd been so doubtful about yourself before. I think you already knew I loved you, but you just couldn't bring yourself to believe it. Or you didn't think you deserved it. When we got together, officially, that part of you was gone, and you were more open. But I knew it didn't magically disappear.

"When you told me you weren't sure if you wanted to be a mom, it was like that all came back. You needed to figure it out again. You needed to learn that there was nothing wrong with you and that you'd be an amazing mom. But if you stay here, Marley, it's not just about you or me anymore. It's us. As a family. If you need to work on something, you have to do it with Avery and me. The same goes for me and for her. We do this together." I smiled.

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

"Right—So no more taking off. I don't care how dire the situation is. We're a family now, and we need to do what's best for Avery and all of us as one unit. I won't let you go again. Not that you have to be with me, of course. Just that we have to figure things out together."

"I know what you meant. And I agree with you."

"Good. I'm glad." He wrapped his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close to him. He planted a kiss on my forehead, and I closed my eyes. "So. When do you want to start planning for baby number two?" He asked me this in his playful joking tone. I laughed and squeezed him.

"Like three years, maybe?" I replied.

"Wait, really?"

"Yeah, why not? My brother and I are three years apart, and I think it's a good age difference."

"I was just joking, but okay." I nodded.

"Three sounds good to me."

"In three years, we'll talk about it. But can you promise me something? You don't have to say yes."

"Sure, what is it?"

"Will you marry me first?" I laughed again.

"When you finally propose, the answer will undoubtedly be yes."

"Good. Because we make super cute babies."

"We do, don't we?"

"Want to go get your stuff tomorrow?"

"Yes." He held me again for a long moment.

"I love you, Marley. I'm glad you're here."

"Me too. And I love you too." He kissed my head again.


The next story is called Around Our Heads and it's already up!