“I think we need to talk.”
Splayed out on Stephen’s bed, his head resting on the wall above the headboard and his arms crossed over his chest, Ben stretches and opens his eyes.
She must look as uncertain as she feels because as soon as he sees her face, Ben starts to carefully move Stephen from where he’s practically clinging to his side.
And for a moment she doesn’t feel so uncertain. Ben’s a great father, a great partner- he always has been. He works from home so he can pick up the kids from preschool when it’s supposed to be her turn to do it, but she just can’t pull herself away. He’ll have dinner ready, the kids’ lunches packed and dessert hidden away for them later on days when her meetings run long, on days when he must be overwhelmed with work too. He’ll read eight stories to their insomniac son and rub his back for 45 minutes to make sure he really is asleep this time.
It works because she would, has done the same for him. She feels a little overwhelmed, these thoughts swirling together in the time it takes them to slip quietly into their bedroom. Her eyes water a little and she has to take a deep breath. But then again, it might just be the hormones. Oh god.
Ben sits on the edge of the bed and starts to lie down, but Leslie pulls him back by the hand before his head can reach the pillow.
“Listen, babe, I know you wanted to tonight, but I don’t know if I have it in me. ‘Goodnight Moon’ seven times in a row is surprisingly relaxing and…”
“No, no. Not that. I don’t want that.”
Ben raises his eyebrows.
“Not now. I just…” Leslie takes both of his hands and a deep breath “You remember Donna?”
“Donna Meagle, our friend and your former coworker of many years whose wedding we just went to a few weeks ago. Yes.”
“Right, right. I mean you remember her wedding?”
“I just said- Leslie what’s going on?”
“I think I’m pregnant.”
Ben’s hands go slack for a second, almost letting hers go before he holds onto them even tighter. Leslie wants to squeeze her eyes shut- she might have actually, just for a moment. She’s so much more nervous than the first time she did this.
“What do you, what- uh, huh. That is…”
“How, um. When…”
“Donna’s wedding, the hotel…”
There’s a heavy silence that starts to weigh on Leslie chest, but she can’t find a way to fill it. Instead, she sits next to Ben on the bed, chest aching and her eyes stinging. Ben squeezes her hand and doesn’t let go and she feels like she can’t get a breath in.
“Wait” Ben speaks after what feels like forever “Did you take a test?”
Leslie nods. “I’m late and I didn’t’ think much of it, but I just wanted to be sure. I found an old one from three years ago in the bathroom, and somewhere between Cat in the Hat and Goodnight Moon…”
“This is insane.”
“We have three kids.”
“We’re going to have four kids. We’ll be a family of six. Six.”
Tears slip down her cheeks without her realizing.
“Why does it suck?”
Leslie wipes her eyes, finally turns them to look at Ben. He’s soft and concerned, not at all frazzled like she thought he would be.
“Are you serious? Because... because you’re running for Congress. Because I have a dream job, but a demanding job and I already miss the kids more than I want to sometimes.”
She sniffles and Ben cups her neck, rubs his thumb behind her ear.
“I finally feel like we’re settling a little. And that used to scare me, but it feels really nice right now. Don’t you feel... how do you feel?”
Ben tenses his lips, lets his hand fall to the small of her back as he thinks. He’s still not freaking out much, which might be making Leslie freak out more.
“I feel… like it’s kind of terrifying. But-”
“Yes!” Exactly, finally this is the Ben she was expecting.
“But that’s how I felt basically the whole time you were pregnant last time, and look how that turned out.”
Leslie smiles at that despite herself. God, why does he have to be so cute and right all the time?
“I also feel like, I love the kids so much. And you so much. All of you. And we’re such a good team.”
Okay, he’s using her words on purpose now. He’s smart and it’s totally working and she has to try hard not to let her eyes water too much again.
“And if we’re going to… recruit another member to our team, I think it’ll just make it better, stronger. Don’t you?”
Leslie nods. Doesn’t stop nodding even as she buries her face in her husband’s neck, wetting the collar of his plaid shirt.
“I’m still scared” she whispers, not pulling away yet. Not ready to really face this new reality without the feel of his arms around her.
“So am I, but that’s never stopped us before.”
It’s weird and makes her instantly feel terrible that her first thought is at least they didn’t tell the kids yet.
The kids. Her three kids that she has and the only ones she will have now, according to Dr. Saperstein.
She doesn’t say anything the rest of the appointment, nods occasionally when appropriate, but keeps staying silent even as Ben guides her out of the office. She feels an oppressive sadness, tightening her throat and threatening to consume her. Ben’s hands never leaving her, the small of her back, her shoulder, wrapped around her own, is helping.
He’s telling her something, mundane everyday things, but it helps just to hear his voice through the fog of her mind.
“Do you want to go back to work?”
“Should we wait to pick up the kids?”
“Do you want me to get you JJs? I can make you waffle at home instead.”
Until she finds herself on their couch, tears slipping down her cheeks finally as she squeezes one of the kids’ stuffed animals left forgotten on the couch.
Ben sits next to her, face stricken and she wants to comfort him but she can’t get the words out.
“Baby, tell me what you need,” his thumb wipes at her cheek. “What… what can I do?”
“Just hold me for a little while, please?”
“I can do that.”
Their shoes kicked to the floor, arms and legs entwined and for the first time in as long as she can remember they sleep tangled together in a quiet house.
They don’t try again.
They weren’t really trying in the first place, but they talk about it and say what they always say. Their lives are busy. They have three amazing kids- that are definitely a handful sometimes, but still fulfill them in ways indescribable.
Something about the finality of it ekes out her sadness in a way she’s not used to.
Ben’s sad too. She can tell as much, his eyes never hide anything- but he also out right tells her when he can’t seem to put Westley down after he’s fallen asleep in his arms, after he lets Stephen climb into bed with him in the morning for the third day in a row, when he plays with the ends of Sonia’s hair during the entire family movie night.
He notices her too, makes the kids become ‘hug monsters’ and attack Mommy until she’s laughing and kissing and kissing and kissing cheeks and noses so much that her face hurts.
“So I know we did a big name … thing last time, but I’m too excited I just have to tell you now. Are you ready?”
Leslie clutches Ann’s hands, squeaking with excitement both at her announcement and because Ann Meredith Perkins is here on her couch in Pawnee, Indiana and she can finally feel the little baby kicks against her palm, the ones Ann’s been telling her about for weeks.
It should make her sad, this… in her face display of what she can’t have, what she almost had, but won’t. Instead, all she feels is happy.
Ann’s having another baby and it’s a girl this time, and girls are just the best. So are boys, and she loves Oliver and her own sweet sons, of course- but the baby girl clothes and the little pony tails are hard to beat.
Well maybe Leslie’s 95% happy, 5% heartbroken but she can work with that.
“Ann, just tell me already. I’m dying! Ever since you told me you knew, but you just had to tell me in person for some reason even though you live a million miles away and you knew I’d have to wait, when I’m so bad at-”
“What? Ann, I’ll stop talking, tell me!”
“No that’s- Leslie. Leslie Christine. That’s her name.”
“Leslie, like Leslie? Like me, Leslie. Like… Oh my god, Ann!”
Ann reaches for her first and they squeeze the life out of each other, for probably the twentieth time today, but this hug is different.
This is the best-friend-naming-her-kid-after-you hug. Leslie’s never given one before, but it’s already in her top five hugs of all time.
Something small eats away at her, makes her stomach drop to think maybe Ann is doing this for the wrong reasons. Naming her baby after her because of what happened, and later it’ll eat away enough for her to ask her friend.
Ann will look at her confused and simply answer, “Because you’re best friend. More like my sister… and if my baby turns out to be half as great as you are…”
She won’t finish that sentence because she’ll tear up again. And they’ll hug each other, again. Both of which they’re doing right now.
She rubs Ann’s belly and says hi to her namesake and gets nostalgic thinking about this time three years ago. She’ll try not to think of what might have been and fail sometimes, but mostly think of what’s to come. Holding baby Leslie in a few months, taking her own babies to the beach with Ben in a few weeks, and she’ll be okay.
After all, she’s already part of a pretty great team.