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these things take forever

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It’s hardly Rebecca’s giddiest daydream made reality to have Bex start hanging around the club in the final month of her pregnancy. It’s confounding, really; Rebecca’s never been through it herself, of course, but watching the poor girl waddle around like every step’s a marathon makes her positive she would be spending this period of a pregnancy in bed bingeing trashy television and the unhealthiest snacks she could get away with.

But she and Ted have graduated from Biscuits With The Boss to grabbing dinner after work a few times a week, and even though nothing remotely like anything has happened (no matter what Keeley and Sass keep insinuating), there’s something in his company that makes her feel reliably good. Generous, even.

So she says it’s just fine when Bex stops by her office one day and asks if she can hang around sometimes, get to know this world now that she owns part of it.

“Rupert’s been gone a lot lately,” she adds offhandedly as she’s finishing the peppermint tea Rebecca offered. Rebecca knows that even though Bex had waited until the last sip to say it, she’d wanted to from the first.

“Well, you’re welcome to come here any time,” Rebecca says. “Really.”

The thankful smile Bex gives her makes Rebecca feel terribly sad, but resolved, too. If Bex needs to be part of the Richmond Family of Unlikely Friendships and Second Chances, then by God, she’s going to be.

Then one day, right in the middle of the team running laps while Ted shouts motivational Lizzo lyrics at them, Bex goes into labor two weeks early. Ted is the one to get to her first in the stands, of course, and Rebecca hears his shouts through her window. She looks down to see Bex awkwardly cradled by approximately twelve men, each looking more terrified for her than the last.

“A bit of overkill there, boys, I should think,” Rebecca calls, enjoying their sheepish expressions for a moment before she grabs her purse and gets moving. There’s a Richmond baby on the way.

 

+

 

In the stale, glaring light of the hospital room, Rebecca sits with Bex and holds her hand for hours, while out in the hall Ted tries to get a hold of the bloody father-to-be. Under Rebecca’s instructions, he’s calling Rupert alternately from all three of their phones to see which he’ll be the most willing to pick up.

At just after midnight Rebecca peeks out the door to check in.

“Anything?”

“Not just yet,” he says, instead of, No, the fucking bastard hasn’t answered after seven hours of constant phone calls because he’s a FUCKING BASTARD.

Ted, Rebecca’s come to believe, is an actual miracle. The sight of him juggling three phones, winking with perfect non-lasciviousness at her because he hasn’t got a hand free to wave or do finger guns, fills her with a sudden, painful wave of affection. Once, she wouldn’t have been able to imagine having a life partner like Ted. And even though he isn’t, even though they’re only good friends--well, the fact remains that he’s right outside the door, ready to help however he can.

Her eyes are hot with tears. She blinks a few times, breathing in and out in a way that would make a meditation app proud (God, she hates meditation apps), and thinks about sitting down to dinner with Ted in some nearby restaurant when this is all over, where he’ll chat with all the wait staff like they’re long-lost friends. She smiles at the thought, and carries the smile back to Bex.

 

+

 

Her fingernails digging into Rebecca’s skin, Bex chants, “This was a mistake, this was a mistake, this was a mistake--”

“No, sweetheart,” Rebecca says firmly, feeling like she’s been possessed by someone else, or maybe like she’s just unearthed a Rebecca she’d tried to smother to death with a pillow a long time ago. “No, you’re perfect. This is perfect.”

“It doesn’t feel perfect!” Bex exclaims through a cry of pain, and it could mean childbirth or existence with Rupert.

Rebecca tries to remember what she’s absorbed of millennial baby culture from the internet. “Think of the push present?”

“You mean the baby?” Bex asks, her expression turning sweet behind the pain.

Rebecca feels a new well of liking for her. “You’re going to be a really good mum, you know that?”

“I do,” Bex says with a smile. “I think I do, anyway. That’s not what I’m …” Her voice fades for a moment. When she looks at Rebecca, her eyes seem so young. “He’ll get here, won’t he?”

“Oh, babe,” Rebecca says. (‘Babe’? If it were possible to spend too much time with Keeley, which it’s not, this would definitely be the sign.) “I think he will. He would hate to miss this. But you’re here, and you’re not alone, and you’ve got plenty of family rushing to get here as soon as they can. That’s what matters, hmm?”

“Yeah,” Bex says with quiet decisiveness, like it’s to herself, and then louder: “Yeah, that’s right. That’s good. We’re good.”

“We’re good,” Rebecca promises her.

 

+

 

The doctor checks in at one, and Rebecca slips out to find that Ted’s gotten paper cups of tea, a pretty wilted-looking salad, two bags of crisps, and a piece of cake from the canteen. It’s all laid out with unmistakable care on the empty chair in the row of three that Ted’s been hanging out by all night. He’s put a paper napkin down on the worn-out cushion to serve as a tablecloth.

“Unless I’m mistaken, you and I had a dinner date scheduled this evening,” he says, handing her a fork.

“You are not,” Rebecca says, smiling as she sits down. “Any luck with the phone calls?”

“Finally got in touch. He’s on his way.”

“Thank you,” says Rebecca truthfully.

“No problem. I tell ya, I feel like a switchboard operator trying to call from three phones and send out text updates to the team about how she’s doing. They’re on tenterhooks in the group chat. Hey, what’s a tenterhook?”

“I’m guessing something unpleasant to be on. Probably pointy.”

“Yeesh,” Ted says, then takes a sip of his tea. “Make that a double yeesh.”

“The canteen didn’t have coffee?”

“Oh, they did. But I figure you get a kick out of it watching me choke this swill down, and I thought maybe you could use a pick-me-up.”

“I could, and I do,” she admits. “Hospital tea’s not going to change your mind, though.”

“Actually,” he says, “I think this might be the best yet.”

“I worry for you.”

“Hey, has anyone ever thought to put sugar in this stuff?”

“No, I think you’re the first,” she says wryly, smiling at him while he stares down into his cup.

“Jot that down as something to try the next time we’re in your office.” His hands hover over the salad, then veer toward the slice of cake. “Speaking of sugar. Dessert first?”

“Why the hell not?”

They cheers their thin cups together (“To Bex and the baby!”), and it’s certainly the exhaustion talking, but Rebecca agrees that the tea isn’t so bad at all. Her favorite cup in recent memory, in fact. While Ted tells her about striking up a potential lifelong friendship with the canteen workers, he feeds her the first bite of cake from his fork, leaning over the empty chair between them like it’s the most natural action in the world, like of course Rebecca deserves the first bite of cake. She tries not to feel too much like she’s on her honeymoon.

 

+

 

Rupert shows up, finally, at after two in the morning, just when Rebecca’s stepped out of Bex’s room again to check on Ted. As they both watch him amble down the hall toward them, it’s with a sort of helplessness, like they’re the nameless doomed victims in a horror movie. Ted shifts a little closer, making his arm press against hers.

Rebecca can tell that Rupert’s been drinking, though not enough to turn really nasty, and that he’s slightly bothered to have been pulled away from his evening. He walks, somehow, in a way that says, ‘I’m making a sacrifice by being here, but I’m a standup bloke who’s glad to do it. Don’t mention it. Do feel guilty about it, though.’

God, she doesn’t miss trying to read every nuance of his body language.

“Oh, good, you’re here,” she says lamely when he reaches them. Ted doesn’t offer the Congrats, Rupes! she’d expected. She moves a little closer into the casual press of his arm.

“Of course I’m here. It’s my baby on the way.” Rupert peers at her, that scrutinizing stare that still twists her stomach. “Why the hell are you?”

“Bex was with us on the pitch when Baby decided to Riverdance their way into the world,” Ted says. “Not a biologically accurate description, granted, but Michelle said she felt sure Michael Flatley was in there somewhere being the hype-man when Henry was born. You ever see Lord of the Dance? Amazing.”

“It’s quite good,” says Rebecca, mostly because she doesn’t want Rupert thinking for a single second that she’s on his side judging Ted’s gift for friendly rambling.

“Amazing indeed,” Rupert says impatiently. “Why on earth was Bex on the pitch?”

Rebecca narrows her eyes at him. “Are you joking? Because she’s been there constantly. Last week, we had to stage an intervention for Isaac because he’s fallen madly in love with her.”

“Ha! Good for her. She hasn’t let herself go the way some pregnant women do. Why shouldn’t she have hunks falling at her slightly swollen feet? Hell, he can massage them for her. Not exactly my specialty.”

Ted widens his eyes in a ‘What is wrong with this person?’ way. Rupert doesn’t catch it. Rebecca does.

“Strange about the club, though,” Rupert continues. “She hasn’t mentioned it.”

All at once, Rebecca is overcome by the memory of the uncomfortable yearning to have something that was hers, that she didn’t report to him, that she could do without his perception of it warping it until it wasn’t worth her time and energy. That was how she’d lost Flo and Nora and her career and countless other things that would have made life so much richer.

And here he is, getting the one thing she’d given up the dream of ever having because she’d chosen him instead, and all he can do is be so predictably, depressingly himself.

Fuck that, Rebecca decides.

“Listen,” she says, stepping forward, “you cocksucking demon -- apologies to cocksuckers and demons everywhere -- I know you’re not capable of basic human decency. I know that the only thought you’ve had about that girl’s pregnancy in the past nine months after ‘Ooh, an heir to carry on my legacy of bullshit’ is that you haven’t had somewhere to stick it lately, boo hoo, somebody fetch me the world’s tiniest violin. But wake up, Rupert. You’re a dad now. And don’t get me wrong -- the idea of you being someone’s father genuinely makes me want to set myself on fire. But you’re in it now, you absolute asshole, and the only choice you’ve got is to be there for her and to do right by her and that colossally cursed-by-the-universe child. I hope she dumps you and doesn’t give up her life to the gaping vortex of shit that is marriage to you, but I can’t make her own choices for her, so all I can do is tell you right here, right now that you need to step up. I know how much it pains you to stop slutting around and conduct yourself like an ensouled being for a single fucking second of your life, but do consider it today, at least. If nothing else, you shower those two in money from afar and give her the chance to meet Young Rupert, who’ll be a far better stepdad than you could ever be a father. But today, right now, you go in there, and you be a fucking man.” She exhales, heartbeat pounding in her ears, and purses her lips in a smile. ”Some advice on this special day from the one who knows you best.”

“Whoo boy,” Ted mutters, barely audible, to his trainers.

Rupert steps into her space.

“Has anyone ever told you,” he says conversationally, his rage only belied by the familiar old glint in his eyes, “just what an unbearable bitch you are?”

Ted stiffens next to her. Rebecca nudges him lightly. It’s okay.

“I hope I am,” she says. “There are worse things to be. Yours, for example.”

Rupert steps away, backing down, and looks to Ted. “Condolences, mate. I wouldn’t wish her on anyone.”

“If I were you, I’d take her advice vis-a-vis shutting the fuck up and moseying on in there,” Ted answers amiably, nodding at the door of Bex’s room. “It’s a real magical thing, the birth of your kid. Wouldn’t want you to miss it on our account.”

“You heard him,” Rebecca snarls.

“What an adorable pair you two make,” Rupert says with faux pleasantness. “Your service to my lovely bride is much appreciated. Now, if you’ll be so kind as to leave me to the happiest event of my life. Well,” he considers, never able to resist the last word, “second-happiest, maybe. It’s hard to beat the day you left.”

“Ha! No arguments here, you noxious old cunt--”

“Ma’am,” says an approaching hospital worker with the particular brand of awkwardness that lets Rebecca know he recognizes her, “there are people trying to give birth, and you’re actually making more noise than any of them--”

“Fine,” Rebecca says, lifting her hands in surrender, “fine. I’m done. I’ve said what I had to say.” She points at Rupert. “Now, you go in there and hold her fucking hand and be a fucking prince or I’m going to find out and I’m going to fucking murder you. Ciao, darling.”

With that, she allows Ted to guide her down the corridor to the lifts, his hand pressing lightly against her back. Stepping into the lift, she feels the overwhelming impulse to giggle, and only the thought of Bex in there suffering with no one but Rupert by her side quells it. She’ll come back, she decides, after popping home for a shower and something to eat. She wants Bex to feel like the world is bigger than Rupert when her baby comes into it.

She turns, ready to tell Ted her plan, but stops at the sight of him. Ted is staring at her with a look she thinks she would usually be able to decipher. Right now, though, she’s too high on triumph, like she’s just ripped someone’s head off in a gladiatorial arena.

“What?” she asks, pressing the ground floor button.

He still has his hand on her back, she realizes when he pulls her forward--and then he presses his mouth to hers, a strong, sure kiss that isn’t anything like the tentative, Jane Austen-y first kisses she’s half-imagined with silly longing during all their dinner dates. His other hand finds her back too, pulling her in closer, deliciously close, and she gasps against his mouth.

“Sorry,” he says abruptly, breaking away.

“Don’t be sorry,” she orders, steering his face back to hers with both hands.

“I should have checked in with ya first--”

“You should shut up and kiss me again. But thank you, too; that’s really courteous.”

“You know what they say about courtesy.”

“What do they say?” she can’t help asking, her lips brushing his with the curve of the words.

“I don’t know,” he says hoarsely, “Usually, I’d think of something cute and clever, but I’ll be honest, my brain’s offline--”

“Good,” she says happily, “mine too.”

“Let’s shut up, then.”

“Let’s,” she laughs, and they keep kissing.

She only distantly notices the lift doors opening in front of them. It isn’t until another hospital employee, this one steering a giant cart of medical supplies, ventures, “Um, you can’t really be--” that they snap out of their haze.

‘Right,” Rebecca says, standing tall and running businesslike hands through her hair and over her clothes.

Ted gives the employee a folksy salute and a “Thanks for all you do” before they step out into the foyer.

“So,” Rebecca says as they walk together, pretending to be a poised person who didn’t just make out in a lift, “I’m thinking I’ll go home, shower and eat, and then come back.” Looking down at the linoleum, she admits, “I’d like to be here for her.”

“I like that,” he answers, gentle with her uncertainties like he always is. “Sounds like a plan, boss. I’ll be right there with you if you want me to be.”

She smiles at him. “Always.”

Ted smiles back, and the focused warmth of his gaze alone leaves her more pleasantly tingly than her whole Liverpool one-night-stand had. And that’s saying something.

“It’s a spacious shower,” she adds, nonchalant, picking up her pace so he has to jog after her. “Plenty of room for two.”

Catching up, Ted lifts his eyebrows at her in delight. Leaning in like he’s sharing a secret, he asks, “Are you hitting on me or just singin’ the praises of your flat’s interior design? Because I’m a fan of either, but I’ll be honest, I’m partial to the first one.”

“First one,” Rebecca whispers back.

“Well, yippee.”

“Don’t say ‘Yippee’ in the shower.”

“No promises.”

“My God, Ted Lasso,” she says in pretend-horror. “What am I going to do with you?”

He grins at her as they keep on walking in time. “Now, that right there’s a compelling question.”

She beams back at him. After a few more steps, he reaches for her hand. She takes it gladly, knitting her fingers through his, and they walk out into the still-dark morning.