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i get mystified (by how this city screams your name)

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Kelley takes her first of many life-defining walks down Cornelia Street alone. Alex had insisted that she call her a car service to go all the way back to New Jersey after such a long day of travel, but the walk to the subway is calming for her. She only has a duffel bag with her, which isn’t hard to lug to the train station barely a block away, and the weather is beautiful. She can’t be sure her mood isn’t fully due to the amazing sex she just had with the woman she didn’t even know 4 hours ago, but she’s not going to question it.

She doesn’t know what’s to come, but she has “Alex Morgan - Plane, Cute Kid” saved in her phone now, and she’s sure she’s going to put that number to good use sooner rather than later.

The second walk is to the coffee shop at 7 a.m. the morning after Alex says “I love you.” Her hair is piled on top of her head, and it’s the first time Kelley’s seen Alex without makeup outside of the apartment. She looks so much younger than she usually does, and Kelley gets why people still give her strange looks about having a toddler.

“I want a bagel, Mommy!” Matty announces from his stroller for the third time this morning.

“I know, baby,” Alex says.

“What kind of cream cheese do you want, buddy?” Kelley asks.

“Strawberry!”

Alex makes a gagging face where Matty can’t see her, and Kelley laughs. “Sounds yummy, my man.”

“You didn’t have to come with us,” Alex says as she pushes the stroller.

“Of course I did.”

“You were tired.”

“Well you wore me out,” Kelley says with a smirk.

“Shhh,” Alex says, trying not to laugh.

“He doesn’t know what I mean,” Kelley murmurs, leaning in to kiss Alex.

“Yeah, but I do, and you’re making me blush.”

“I can never apologize for that, my love.”

“I like the sound of that,” Alex says. “And waking up with you this morning. I liked that too.”

“Yeah?”

“Hey,” Alex says seriously, turning to look Kelley straight in the eyes. “What I said last night. When I said I love you. What I meant is that I’m in this for real. Me and you and Matty. I mean I’m done keeping you at arm’s length for anything.”

“I know that.” Kelley smiles softly. When they started their… relationship, for lack of a better word, Alex had been scared. She lashed out at Kelley more than once when she felt she was getting too close to her kid, or rather, that Matty was too close to Kelley. Alex was his mom. Not Kelley. But not only that, Alex knew she would never leave him and break his heart. She couldn’t guarantee that for Kelley, no matter how much Kelley tried to make it clear that she wouldn’t do that.

“So maybe sleeping over could be a regular thing.”

“How regular?” Kelley asks, narrowing her eyes.

Alex smiles. “I mean, don’t sublet your apartment or anything, but often enough. I like having you around. Matty likes having you around.”

“And you like waking up with my head between your legs.”

“Kelley!” Alex hisses, smacking her in the arm as Kelley ducks out of her way, snickering. “I mean it’s either that or your amazing waffles, and we’re walking to breakfast right now, so it’s probably not the waffles.”

The third walk is just the two of them. Alex came home early from work so Matty is at home with the nanny cleaning the playroom. When Alex had texted her after practice saying “can we talk?” Kelley had immediately gone into a panic spiral. Things are good, she has to keep telling herself so she’ll believe it.

On her way to Cornelia Street, Kelley had run through every scenario in her head. Matty called her “mama” like three weeks ago by mistake. Did it freak Alex out more than she let on? Was she upset about Kelley still taking him to the new Spider-Man when Alex had to go away for a trip last minute?

But Alex had greeted her at the door with a kiss, so Kelley thinks it must not be all that bad.

Kelley feels her heart swell as Alex slips a hand into hers. “What’s on your mind?” she asks softly.

“I was just thinking it might be good if, um, if Matty went to Georgia with you next week. And me! Matty and me.”

“Oh, so you’re inviting yourself?”

Alex looks panicked. “No, of course—“

“I’m kidding,” Kelley clarifies, stopping mid-stride to kiss Alex. “Of course you’re both invited.”

“You can ask your family, I won’t—“

“Al, stop,” she says. “My mom has wanted you two to come visit since I met you, and she’s been jealous of Erin for coming to visit. I never wanted to pressure you after…”

Alex takes a deep breath. “I really fucked up when I freaked out about you getting too close, huh?”

“No, you didn’t,” Kelley says, squeezing her hand as they start to walk again. “Your inner mama bear came out. We are so past that.”

“Do you think about it?”

“About when you dumped me because you were worried about falling in love with me?” Kelley asks with a smirk. “Nah, makes sense.”

“Shut up.” Alex bumps Kelley’s hip with her own. “You know I don’t feel that way anymore.”

“I sure hope not.”

“I want you in Matty’s life.”

“I want to be in it.”

“I know,” Alex says. “You prove that every day. But that’s why I want him to meet your parents. That’s why I want to. He deserves a Kelley and he deserves grandparents.”

“They wouldn’t have to—“

“Yes,” Alex says. “It might not be conventional, but you’re in his life no matter how you slice it. It’s the closest thing he’s ever had to another parent figure outside of me. And if this ends, I would never want him to stop seeing you.”

Kelley is quiet. She heard every word Alex said after “if this ends,” but her head is spinning.

“Right?”

“Yeah.”

“Baby…”

“I don’t want it to end,” Kelley says. It’s a confession, but she doesn’t feel any guilt.

“Me neither,” Alex says softly. She looks up at the buildings surrounding them. “I might have to move.”

“What?”

Alex laughs. “I love walking this street with you,” she says. “Going to the Duane Reade, picking up groceries, walking to the park with Matty on nice evenings. Nobody’s ever done that with me—with us before. All my best memories around here are with you. If you left—if things went south, I don’t think I could bear it.”

Kelley kisses Alex softly again. “Good thing I’m not planning on going anywhere.”

The fourth walk Kelley remembers is taking Matty to his first day of kindergarten.

Private vs. public school was a debate Kelley was never going to win considering Alex had Matty on the list for a prestigious “progressive” school since he was born. So, despite the fact that they walk past the nearby public school every single day, they are headed in the opposite direction this morning, Matty’s head held high as he saunters down the sidewalk in the tiny uniform even Kelley has to admit is too cute. He even let Alex comb his hair this morning and take his photo on the front steps, grinning hard enough that you could count all his baby teeth. Kelley knows it’s only a matter of time before he loses his first one, so she makes sure to treasure the baby teeth smile as long as she can.

Kelley holds Matty’s lunchbox against the slight swell of her stomach. They haven’t told him yet that he’s going to be a big brother, but it’s getting harder every day to keep it from the general public, let alone their own kid.

“What are you most excited for today?” she asks.

“Umm,” he thinks seriously. “I think my turkey sandwich.”

Kelley laughs louder than she should, mostly overcompensating for Alex, who has been silent since they left the house, lip trembling and tears on the edge of her eyelids. “Okay, but what about all the stuff we talked about? What about Miss Kemper, remember we met her the other day when we practiced going to school?” Matty hadn’t stopped talking about the meet the teacher event since he noticed the beanbag chairs in the reading corner of his classroom.

“Oh yeah!” he remembers. “I’m excited to meet the kids.”

Kelley smiles toward Alex. “Yeah? Are you going to make some new friends?”

“Uh-huh!” he confirms. “I can show them my trains.”

“Your trains are at home, remember?” Alex says. “But I think Miss Kemper said she might have a few books about trains. I think that would be fun to read with your new friends.”

Matty frowns. “Can’t I bring my friends home?”

“Maybe one day,” Kelley says. “But at first they’re going to be your school friends, okay?”

“Okay…” Matty doesn’t seem convinced, and Kelley is almost positive the being-away-from-home thing hasn’t quite sunk in. The first two days are mornings only, and Courtney, his nanny, will pick him up around noon, but when next Monday rolls around, he’ll be a full-time kindergartener. Alex’s day-to-day won’t change, but just the idea of this new level of independence for her baby boy is hitting hard.

“Ready?” Kelley asks, as much to Alex as to Matty, motioning up the sidewalk where parents are escorting kids down the block and into the building. “All those kids up there are going to school too!”

Matty’s eyes light up, and he spins around to hug Alex’s legs tight. “Oh Mommy!” he exclaims. “Look at all the other mommies going to school! We are going to have so much fun!”

When the tears start, there’s nothing Kelley can do to stop them. The walk home is silent, Kelley’s hand resting softly on Alex’s lower back, providing as much comfort as she can.

“Sorry I’m a mess,” Alex sniffles.

“No way,” Kelley says. “You did amazing. You raised him perfectly. He’s going to do so good.”

“You helped,” Alex says with a smile. “That’s why I’m letting you give me another one.”

“Oh is that why?” Kelley laughs. “Well you better bring a mop for when we bring this one to his first day of kindergarten.”

“His?” Alex asks, eyebrows raised

Kelley shrugs. “Just a feeling.”

She doesn’t have a feeling, not really. No maternal instincts to speak of yet. What she does have is memories of Alex and Matty holding hands on the plane the first day she met them, rolling around the living room having tickle fights, kissing goodbye for his first day of school. Matty’s hers too, she has the documentation to prove it, and the massive rock on her finger doesn’t hurt, but since meeting Alex, she only has one image of motherhood in her head, and the scenes in her mind play out down the very street they’re walking this morning.

The last walk is when all their things are packed.

Matty is walking next to the double stroller where Riley is sleeping and Cooper is playing with the toy he was allowed to keep for their drive to the new house in Connecticut.

The kids were definitely going stir crazy with all the movers in and out of the house while they were trapped inside and their toys packed, so Kelley suggested they go for a walk, much to Alex’s relief.

Kelley is pretty sure Alex never would have sold the place on Cornelia Street if it were only up to her. That was the home she brought all three of her babies home to, the home she first lived in with Kelley. There are a million reasons Alex wouldn’t have left Cornelia Street, but so many more to make them move.

Kelley’s been angling to get out of the city since retiring right before getting pregnant with Riley. It was nice being a train ride away from practice, Matty loved his school, Alex was close to work, but raising one kid in the city was fun. Raising two was harder. Raising three felt impossible even before Kelley gave birth.

The first time they went house-hunting outside of the city was kind of a lark, Alex going along with her pregnant wife’s whim, but before long, they had fallen in love with a whole neighborhood of homes by a custom builder, and on their first meeting with him, they knew it was the right fit.

Suddenly, Kelley had a new project. She brought Cooper to most of the meetings with the builder and the contractors as they scoped out their new home. They needed 5 bedrooms, a master, one for each kid, and a guest room, and an office for Alex, who certainly wouldn’t be commuting into the city daily. They wanted a backyard and a wraparound porch and plenty of space for play dates and grown-up entertaining as well.

Matty wasn’t excited about the premise of leaving his school and all his friends, but they took the boys to the house as it was built and let them “help out.” Matty painted a few streaks on a few walls while Cooper toddled around and supervised. And when it was time for the grand opening of the neighborhood pool, Matty was suddenly on board with the move.

Their home was supposed to be ready before Riley was due, but it was held up, and their baby girl made her entrance into the world a solid two months before the move. As difficult as it has been preparing for a move with an infant, Kelley knows Alex feels like everything came full circle on Cornelia Street with the completion of their family.

Kelley feels an arm slip around her waist, and she smiles at her wife. “Hi.”

“Whatcha thinking about?” Alex murmurs.

“All our memories here,” Kelley says. “And all the ones we’re going to make in our new home.”

“This place has been good to us.”

Kelley nods.

“God she’s cute,” Alex says, glancing down at Riley. “Am I that cute when I’m sleeping? Feel free to lie to me.”

“No lying, Mommy!” Matty says, turning around to give her a stern look. Little ears are everywhere.

“Sorry, Mommy, those are the rules,” Kelley teases.

“I’m really going to miss these walks,” Alex sighs.

“Me too, but think about how ama—“

“Don’t do that,” Alex says, placing a gentle hand over Kelley’s on the stroller. “You’re fixing. It’s okay to just be a little melancholy.”

Kelley presses her lips together, nodding. “I’m going to miss them too.”

“Do you think this street will miss us too?”

“Well the owner of that bakery will definitely miss your extremely generous tips.”

Alex laughs. “I’ll come back and visit when I’m here for work.”

Kelley pouts. “You’re going to come here without me?”

“Well it won’t be the same,” Alex laughs. “But I’ll do whatever it takes for one of those bear claws.”

“And bring one home for your favorite wife.”

“Sure, if it survives the ride back.” Alex smirks and kisses Kelley on the cheek. “It’s going to be weird to be a suburb family after so long in the city. We’re going to have to get a white noise machine that plays cars honking and sirens and people fighting on the sidewalk so the boys can sleep.”

“Mama?” Matty asks, turning around again.

“What’s up?” Kelley asks.

“When we move are you still going to walk me to school?”

“Well, school will be a little farther away, but Mommy and I will drive you to school in the car.”

He narrows his eyes. “You’re going to drive?” He looks toward Alex. “Do you even know how to drive?”

“Rude,” Alex laughs, but it’s a fair question. She doesn’t think she’s ever driven him in her life, and she hasn’t even driven herself in years. Even when they go to Georgia to visit Kelley’s family, Kelley drives if they take a car anywhere.

“Don’t worry, bud, I’ll teach you both, you can practice on the golf cart.”

Alex rolls her eyes. “I’m a great driver.”

“Can we still go on family walks though?” Matty asks. “Or we can leave the babies at home too.”

“I’m not a baby!” retorts Cooper from his seat. Kelley can’t see him but she can picture his grumpy face and crossed arms perfectly.

“Of course,” Alex says. “Tell your brother you’re sorry for calling him a baby.”

“Sorry,” Matty huffs, before adding “but he is” under his breath, but blessedly not loud enough for Cooper to hear. The last thing they need before a long car ride is a sibling spat.

As they near the house, where movers are loading the last of their things into a huge truck as Alex’s assistant, Katherine, supervises, Kelley stops, finding herself overcome with emotion for the first time. Alex has been crying off and on for weeks, but Kelley is struck by it as she watches Matty run toward the place he’s called home for his entire life. Will the new owners treat it as nicely? Will they make life-changing memories in it? Will Matty hate them forever for uprooting him at the tender age of 7?

One thing Kelley doesn’t have to worry about is what’s to come. She has no doubt in her mind that they’re going to start making memories in their new home right away, that their family will flourish in ways they never could in the city, that they can finally get a real dog (although Alex’s yippy shih tzu has grown on her over time) that can run around with the kids in their fenced-in backyard.

Kelley lets herself feel melancholy for a moment. Ten seconds, that’s how long she’ll give herself. But when she gets to 7 in her head, Riley is stirring, Cooper is whining to get out of the stroller, and Matty is calling for one of his moms to watch him do a skateboard trick on the sidewalk. Kelley lets the feeling go. No matter what they leave behind on Cornelia Street, she’ll always have this to take with her.