“Pick it up, pick it all up,
and start again.”
Lennon wakes up confused.
Okay, confused might be an understatement.
Because she wakes up in a bed that’s definitely not the one she fell asleep in, next to a man who she’s definitely never met before.
She feels disoriented—confused in a way that she’s never been before as she looks over at his sleeping figure. His breaths are steady–in and out in and out—but hers are anything but.
The bedroom is larger than any that she’s ever been in before. The bed is big—even bigger than the one that her parents sleep in. She’s enveloped in a fluffy white duvet, and it’s so comfortable she thinks about never getting up. (Honestly, she wouldn’t have even considered getting up if it weren’t for the stranger sleeping beside her.) There’s a large armoire in the corner of the room, and a wall covered in wooden bookcases—stacks and stacks of books piled onto the shelves.
There’s a door that she can see leads into an en suite and a flatscreen TV hanging on the wall opposite the bed. Different clothes are scattered around the room carelessly—she can see a pair of sneakers in the corner and some black sweatpants thrown over a chair. It’s messy, but it’s cozy.
She immediately wants to explore every inch of the room. Possibly of the whole house.
But she knows that before she does any of that she needs to figure out how she got there—in this beautiful, cozy room, next to this stranger.
He’s not unattractive, and she feels silly for even bothering with the thought. He’s got dark hair that’s pulled back into a tight bun; his mouth is pink and open and quiet snores are escaping every once in a while; there’s a shadow that his long eyelashes are casting on his cheek. (He’s got really nice cheekbones.)
She stops looking.
She thinks that she may want to run away—escape before he even has a chance to lay an eye on her. But there’s another part of her that wants to wake him up—to demand for him to tell her what’s happened. Why she’s there.
Before she can properly decide, though, he’s already starting to stir. His arm slips over her belly and he pulls her closer to his chest, nuzzling his nose into her hair a bit.
She can’t breathe.
“Morning, baby,” he mumbles, kissing her head lazily. Her heart is thump thump thumping inside her chest—loud and erratic. She wonders briefly if he can hear it, before she stops caring.
She doesn’t know him, but apparently he knows her. (Or, at least he thinks he does.)
There’s a swell of panic rising in her throat and her reflexes finally start to kick in. She tries to fight her way out of his arms, but stops immediately when she hears him softly whisper, “what’re you doing?”
His eyes are open now and they’re staring at her; they’re the bluest eyes that she’s ever seen, she thinks.
“Lennon, babe.” He looks concerned—a deep frown playing on his lips. He knows her name he knows her name he knows her name. That’s the only thing that’s running through her head. He knows her name and she’s never seen him before a day in her life. “What’s wrong?”
“Who are you?” she asks before she even realizes that she can speak again. His eyebrows furrow together.
“You—Lennon, seriously,” he takes a deep, shaky breath, “you’re just messing around with me, right? I know you probably think it’s funny but it,” he shakes his head, “this isn’t funny.”
And he looks so worried—so afraid of what she’s going to say. She doesn’t know how to respond. “This isn’t a joke,” she says, desperately. “I don’t know who you are.”
He exhales sharply, his eyes never leaving hers. He opens his mouth, starts to say something, but is cut off by the sound of crying coming from somewhere else in the house. He looks at the door before turning back to Lennon sharply, a sadness in his eyes that she wasn’t expecting. “You really don’t know?”
She shakes her head, tries to plead him with her eyes to just tell her.
“I’m Carson,” he says, his eyes holding a sense of urgency in them. Like, maybe if she just knows his name, she’ll know him. She doesn’t. “I’m your husband,” he finally chokes out, holding up his left hand. There’s a silver band on it and she’s not sure how she missed it before. When she looks down at her own hand she almost expects it to be bare, but sure enough there’s a matching silver diamond on her finger. She inhales sharply and he shakes his head. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
She thinks for a moment. “I was studying for an exam. I didn’t get to sleep until late.” She pauses. “God, I have to get to class.”
“Lennon,” he says, grabbing her elbow to stop her from getting out of bed. “You don’t have class. You graduated four years ago.”
“No I didn’t,” she’s desperate, needs something familiar. “I’m a sophomore.”
“You’re not,” he repeats. “You’re twenty-five, Lennon.”
“I’m not.” She’s getting frustrated, because why won’t he just listen to her for five seconds? “I’m nineteen. I’m a sophomore and I’m definitely not married.”
He lets out a long sigh.
The cries are starting to get a lot louder and Carson looks back at the door.
“I—uh, I’ll be back,” he says, moving to get out of the bed.
“Where are you going?” she asks. As frustrated as she is at him, she doesn’t want him to leave. She’s so scared and she doesn’t know what she needs to expect. She wants answers—wants him to tell her how in the world she went to bed last night a single nineteen year old and woke up today with a husband.
Her head hurts.
“I’ve got to go get the baby,” he says as he pulls on a tee shirt.
“Baby?” Her breath catches on the word. There’s no way, she tries to tell herself, that there is a baby involved in this.
He nods once, sharply, and then leaves. She’s more confused than she was before, but she forces herself to get out of the warm bed and follow him.
She’s stopped by movement that she sees in a mirror; it’s just her, but it’s not really her. She’s filled out some—her hips are wider and her legs stockier. Her hair is shorter than it was when she went to bed the night before, and a lot more brunette. There’s a tattoo on her ankle that she knows she’s never seen before.
It gets to be too much after a minute, so she turns away and goes to find Carson.
He’s easy enough to find—she only has to follow the cries—the cries that she now knows are coming from a baby. Her baby, presumably.
She stands in the doorway and watches him rock the infant back and forth a few times, whispering softly in the child’s ear. It sounds like he’s humming. It’s endearing, for some reason, to see the two of them together like that—two people who she should know but yet somehow doesn’t.
He looks up and sees her standing there and it’s like she can see his heart break when their eyes meet. “This is Madeline,” he says softly, trying to smile. It’s obvious how forced it is. “She’s eight months. Been trouble from the very beginning.” He laughs wetly. “She used to drive you up a wall because she kicked so much.”
Lennon can feel that she’s about to start crying, so she tries to focus on what he’s saying and ignore the lump that’s building in her throat.
“She’s beautiful,” is the only thing that Lennon can think to say. The baby’s got tiny auburn ringlets and wide blue eyes that are staring up at Carson through long lashes. She’s wearing a yellow onesie that’s covered in cartoon kittens, and has a binkie tucked into her mouth. (She looks just like Carson, is what she wants to say.) Carson just hums in response, turning back to the infant in his arms and kissing her head softly.
Lennon’s heart is clenching in her chest.
It’s right then that she hears footsteps running toward the room. She just barely manages to avoid getting barreled over by a little boy with the exact same curls as Madeline. Her heart stutters and she sucks in a deep breath because she hadn’t been expecting another one.
Carson lets out a choked laugh. “Tate,” he nods to the little boy, “he’s about to turn four in a couple weeks.” She looks at the child who’s peering back at her with confused blue eyes. She does her best to smile at him—hopes that he can’t pick up that it was anything besides sincere.
“Daddy,” Tate says, looking back up at Carson, “you don’t have to tell her. Mommy already knows when m’ birthday is.”
Her heart breaks a little bit then, because how is she supposed to tell this little boy—her son—that she doesn’t know. She didn’t know his name or that he even existed, let alone when his birthday is.
“I know, Tater Tot,” Carson says, leaning down to kiss him on the head. “I’m just so excited about your dinosaur party that I keep telling everyone about it. Even mommy.”
“Okay,” Tate responds as he turns back to Lennon. He runs over to her and throws his arms up. She doesn’t hesitate to pick him up. “Can we have pannies for breakfast, mommy?”
She looks over at Carson and he mouths pancakes before she’s even able to get the question out. “Yeah, I think we can do that,” she starts to say, but before she can finish Carson is stepping in saying, “hey, Tate, I don’t think mommy can make pannies today. She’s not feeling too good. I’ll make ‘em instead, yeah?”
Tate frowns. “But mommy makes the best pannies.”
“I know, bud. I’ll do my best to make them just like her, okay?”
He nods and then asks, “does mommy have to go to the doctor?” so quietly that Lennon almost misses it. He buries his head in her neck and she rubs his back as soothingly as she can manage.
Carson coughs out a sob and she tries not to feel guilty. It’s not her fault she doesn’t remember anything. She wouldn’t have purposely forgotten all of this—not in a million years. (It’s all she’s wanted for as long as she can remember.)
“Yeah, she’s gonna go to the doctor.” He clears his throat after a moment. “Let’s go get breakfast, yeah. Then Uncle Luke is gonna come and pick you and Maddy up.”
This seems to perk Tate up a little bit, but he doesn’t say anything.
Carson is already walking past her, out the door, and down the stairs before anyone can say anything else. She follows him helplessly, her son clutched tightly to her chest.
It is the winner of third place for the Bowman Literacy Prize.
It’s in a small neighborhood on the outside of town. There aren’t too many other houses on their street—only two or three—and somehow she knows immediately that she picked it out. It’s a house from her dreams. It’s not overwhelmingly large, but it’s big enough to hold a family.
It’s modest—made of red brick, with a porch wrapping around the side. She likes it a lot.
She likes how the family room is covered in photos of their families and their friends and Tate and Madeline. (There’s a wedding picture, too, that’s she’s carefully avoiding staring at for too long.)
She likes how the kitchen is warm and inviting and how there’s a little stepping stool pushed up next to the counter so that Tate can help cook.
She likes that there are toys strewn about carelessly and baby clothes sitting in piles on the couch—pinks and yellows and greens galore.
She likes that it’s homey and lived-in and kid-friendly. She likes that it’s exactly how she would’ve pictured it.
She wants to remember house hunting—picking it out as a newlywed. She wants to remember bringing Tate home from the hospital and then Madeline a few years later. She wants these memories so bad that she can feel it weighing on her chest.
It’s not amnesia, the scan the doctor had done had shown them that much.
It’s not that she’s forgotten anything, because (apparently) she didn’t have anything to forget.
The doctor was completely stumped, which only caused Carson to panic more.
The appointment with the specialist is scheduled for a few days later. She’s not sure that it will even help, because if there wasn’t anything wrong with her brain, what’s going to show up? She isn’t convinced that anything would, but she let Carson schedule the appointment anyway.
She was frustrated, but Carson seemed to be taking it worse. The entire car ride home had been increasingly quiet. His jaw was clenched together and his fingers had turned white from gripping the steering wheel too tight. She wanted to do something to ease his mind, but she couldn’t think of a single way to do that.
She figures that her actual self—the one that Carson knows—would know exactly how to help him relax. It sucks that she’s the one he’s got now. (Guilt’s been eating her alive for hours now.)
They’ve been sitting on the porch since they got back, watching Tate run around the yard with Luke (who—apparently—is not only Carson’s best friend, but also the godfather of her children. She remembers him, is the strange part. They had a chemistry class together. She thought he was kind of stuck up. Go figure.)
Madeline is sitting in her bouncer a few feet away from them, sucking on her tiny fist happily.
The whole day had passed by in a jumble of new people and trying not to panic too much and needing to find some type of normality. And then there was the fact that there were babies who needed her attention because she was still their mom even if she doesn’t remember it.
Even if she’s still nineteen.
(She hasn’t really come to grips with being twenty-five yet. She doesn’t feel twenty-five.)
“I’m sorry,” she chokes out, watching as Luke picks Tate up and swings him over his shoulder. Tate’s laughter is bubbling through the yard and taking up a permanent residency in her heart. How is it even possible for her to feel so protective over this little human that she’d only met this morning?
Carson laughs, but it sounds broken and a little bit bitter. “It’s not your fault,” he says, even though she thinks it might be. She’s not sure—all she knows is that the doctor had only confused her more. If it would’ve been amnesia then, sure, whatever—she would’ve probably gotten her memories back.
But it wasn’t amnesia; she wasn’t going to get any memories—ever.
Maybe she’s just dreaming—going a little bit crazy.
She pinches her arm just to make sure. Nothing happens.
“Is there,” she pauses, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, “do you think I can call my mom?”
She chances a glance over at him, and he’s looking at her with sad blue eyes and a beer bottle frozen halfway to his mouth. “Uh, yeah, of course.” He shakes his head. “I can’t believe I didn’t offer earlier. Sorry. Her number’s in there.” He hands her his phone.
She nods, whispers thank you, and then goes into the quiet house. It’s easier to breathe when Carson’s not around.
It’s been easy to fall in love with the kids already—even if it doesn’t really feel like they’re her kids. She’s always loved babysitting and taking care of kids, so it hasn’t been a chore to step in and help with them.
It’s harder with Carson, though, because she doesn’t know a single thing about him. She can’t give him a cookie or play trains with him to make him happy like she can with Tate; she can’t sing to him and make funny noises to make him smile like she can with Maddy. It’s become painfully obvious to her that love at first sight doesn’t exist, even to someone you’re supposed to have been married to for years.
Her moms number is easy enough to find; it’s the first one in his favorites list. It surprises her a little bit, but she ignores it. It’s a refreshingly short period of time before her mother’s voice is on the other end of the line. “Carson? Is everything okay? Are the kids okay? I thought you and Lennon were going out today, what—“
“Mom,” she chokes on the word. It’s so nice to hear her mothers voice. She hadn’t realized how much better that alone would make her feel. “Mom, it’s me.”
“Lennon, what’s going on? Why are you calling from Carson’s phone?”
“Mom, I don’t even know Carson. I don’t know what’s going on. I fell asleep in my dorm room in the middle of the night and woke up here and I don’t know how. We went to the doctor earlier and they said—“ she’s sobbing now, for the first time since she woke up. It feels like a little bit of the weight that’d been resting on her shoulders was lifted. “They said—“
“Lennon,” her mom interrupts. “Slow down. What’re you talking about?”
“How old am I?” she asks, because she can’t think of anything else to say.
“Twenty-five,” her mom replies automatically. That’s what she was afraid of.
“I’m nineteen,” she says, running a hand over her face. “I’m nineteen,” she repeats, a bit more frantically. She needs her mother to understand; she needs her to tell her how this happened.
“Give the phone to Carson,” her mom demands and oh. She hadn’t been expecting that.
“Lennon, go give the phone to Carson,” she says again, more authoritative this time. “I need to talk to someone who’s calmer than you are right now. We’ll figure it out, okay?” She’s never not listened to her mom before, so she mumbles something incoherent before heading back towards the porch.
Carson’s still sat there, watching where Tate and Luke are now playing a game of football. (If that’s what you want to call it—they’re really just throwing a football back and forth and running around a bit.) She goes to hand him the phone without saying anything, and turns her head before he can see her tears.
She’s just so scared even though she’s trying not to be.
He takes the phone with a bit of hesitation and starts to talk to her mom. He goes inside before she has time to try and figure out what they’re saying.
It’s unfair, she thinks, because she’s the one who woke up to a completely new life, somewhere six years in the future.
Madeline screeches from next to her and she looks down. Big blue eyes are staring up at her and she just wants to go home. She can’t do it—she can’t stay here and pretend that everything is okay when her biggest problem yesterday was that she hadn’t studied enough for her chemistry exam.
She sighs and slides down next to the bouncer.
Madeline smiles a gummy smile up at her and puts her slobbery fist out. Lennon grabs her little hand on instinct and feels more guilt eat at her.
She’s not the same mother that this little girl had yesterday. (This train of thought is dangerous, she’s decided, because it only leaves her wondering where their actual mother is. She’s been trying to avoid it.)
“I don’t know what to do,” she whispers to the baby. Madeline coos in response.
She only wishes that was more helpful.
The first night is the worst.
Carson gets the kids ready for bed—dressing them in their pajamas and kissing their curls—while Lennon watches helplessly from the sidelines. She wants to help, is the thing, but Carson won’t let her.
He’s stressed; it’s obvious to anyone with eyes. But she can’t really blame him. If this situation had been reversed, she’d probably have already fallen apart.
He’s been surprisingly calm since he got off the phone with her mom. He had come back to the porch and sat beside her, smiling weakly and telling her that her mom would be coming down in a couple of days.
It was a relief—knowing that her mother was familiar, was something that she was sure would help her get through this. Especially if she couldn’t get back to her real self. She hopes that she can get back to her real self.
Once the kids are tucked snugly into their beds, Lennon and Carson stand in front of the door to the master bedroom awkwardly.
“Uh, I guess I’ll just get some stuff and get out of your hair, then,” he says and goes into the bedroom. She follows him.
“You’re not going to stay in here?” she asks.
He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “You don’t know me, Lennon. I’m not going to share a bed with you.”
“That’s not what I meant,” she whispers. She’s tired. Too tired for this, certainly. She hopes that when she wakes up tomorrow it’s in her dorm room, with her alarm clock blaring and a class to get to. “It’s just that this is your room. I thought you’d want it since you’re used to it.”
“Well, I don’t,” he snaps, hitting his hand down hard on the bedside table. He cringes when he sees the look of shock on Lennon’s face. “Sorry, I just—sorry.”
She nods, mostly because she can’t bring herself to say anything. If she did open her mouth, she imagines that tears would probably follow closely, and she’s really tired of crying.
He shows her where to find everything she’ll need—the pajamas in the second drawer, the purple toothbrush that’s apparently hers, where the towels are so she can take a shower if she wants—and then he leaves her alone.
She doesn’t fall asleep until it’s late, too busy praying and hoping that things will be back to normal in the morning.
She wakes up in the morning slowly.
The sun is shining through the window in bright streams of light, and she can hear someone singing along to the radio and another—smaller—someone giggling over it. Her eyes close sharply—involuntarily—and she tries to inhale a deep breath, because she’s still there. She’s still trapped inside some older version of herself with a husband and kids and she just doesn’t want it. Not yet, anyway. Not like this.
It takes her awhile to make herself go downstairs, and when she does Carson just stops what he’s doing and stares up at her with hopeful eyes. She shakes her head and he looks back down quickly at Maddy, who’s sitting on the floor with a teething ring in her mouth, smiling brightly around it.
Tate is sitting on the floor with his toys spread out around him and he looks up at her—curiosity shining in his big blue eyes. She wonders if he can tell that something is seriously wrong, but the thought is gone as soon as it comes, because he’s walking over to her and asking her to pick him up. He immediately snuggles into her as soon as he’s off the ground.
She does her very best to ignore the sniffle that comes from Carson as she sits on the ottoman with Tate.
“Mommy, did you know that gramma’s coming over?” Tate asks, looking so excited he could burst. She wants to make sure that he never has to know what’s wrong with her—that he never even suspects something is wrong.
“She is?” she asks, even though she did know. Her excitement probably matched Tate’s.
“She’s driving down tomorrow,” Carson says quietly, not looking up from Madeline. “She should be here by lunch time. She’s gonna watch the kids while we go to the specialist. She probably wants us to talk, too.”
Lennon shakes her head, because she doesn’t want to talk about this. She wants to fix it and go home. Besides, if there is anyone that she does wants to talk to, it’s her mother. “What’s there to talk about?” she asks, just as quietly, like she says it any louder it would somehow ruin the calm atmosphere that had been created.
“Believe me,” he says, looking up at her softly. “We’ve got a lot to talk about.”
She’s not sure why that made her nervous, but it did, and she had to bury her face into the cushion to stop herself from crying. She just wanted out of this. She hadn’t signed up for it, or asked for it, or anything. It just happened.
Tate wiggles out of her lap and goes back to his toys on the floor. He laughs, delightedly. “I can’t wait ’til gramma gets here.”
Just like Carson said, her mom gets there right before lunch time the next day.
She hears her before she even sees her; Tate is hollering one second and then the next her mom is saying, “wow, Tater, look how big you’ve gotten.”
And Tate’s saying, “I’ve got a dinosaur party soon. M’gonna be four!” She can picture his smile as he says it and she’s not sure if she should be worried about that or not.
Her mom walks all the way into the living room then, and the first thing that Lennon notices is that she looks older. Of course she does, her brain reminds her, it’s been six years. She starts to cry before she even notices that she wants to.
“Oh, Lennon,” her mom says, wrapping her up in a hug. Lennon lets it happen; it feels so nice to be in her mothers warm embrace again. It’s familiar and she’s scared and she doesn’t want to let her mom go. “It’s going to be okay.”
Lennon tries to tell her that, no, it won’t, because she’s stolen the body of her future self somehow and now she has kids to take care of and a husband to look after and she can’t do it. But none of that comes out; instead, she just lets out ugly sobs and buries herself against her mother again.
“Lennon,” Carson says a few moments later, “we’ve got to go if we want to make it to your appointment on time.”
She nods and pulls herself away from her mom. “Yeah, of course.”
“Don’t worry about the kids,” her mom says, looking over at Carson. Lennon follows her gaze and sees Madeline fast asleep on her favorite pink blanket and Tate in tears in Carson’s arms. Guilt floods over her again, and she has to blink back every emotion that’s trying to make its way out. “We’re gonna have a good time, right Tater?”
“Is mommy okay?” he asks, wiping hard at his eye with his little fist.
“Mommy’s gonna be fine, buddy,” Carson says, giving Lennon a look that says to say something! She doesn’t know what to do, so she just walks over to where they’re standing and kisses Tate’s cheek. It doesn’t do much, but he smiles a small, wet smile and she figures that’s better than nothing.
“I’m alright, Tate,” she says, smiling the biggest smile she can manage through her own tears. He nods, sniffling just once more, and lets himself be handed over to her mom.
“Thanks so much, Annie,” Carson says, kissing her mom on the cheek. “We appreciate it.”
“It’s nothing,” her mom replies, kissing Tate’s head. “You two go and get some answers, okay?”
“We’re gonna try,” Carson says as he opens the door. She follows him through it and does her best to believe that it’s possible.
We’re gonna try.
The specialist isn’t any help.
He tells her the same thing that the doctor had two days before: there wasn’t anything to forget; somehow her brain is nineteen years old again.
Carson cries when they get home.
He goes into the guest room that he’s been sleeping in and sobs loud, uncontrollable sobs. She’s not sure whether or not he was trying to be quiet, but she can hear him when she’s in the kitchen and her heart shatters, bringing on her own set of tears.
She’s glad the kids are gone—her mom had decided to take them to the museum for the day—so that they don’t have to hear their dad so upset. She doesn’t know how they would tell Tate what’s going on, really, and she doesn’t really want to. Carson had mentioned it briefly in the car, saying “we might have to tell him before he gets too worried. He’s a sensitive kid, ya know?” Lennon didn’t have the heart to tell him that no, she doesn’t know.
If she is stuck like this—permanently without her memories of the past six years—they’re going to have to make the best of it somehow. Or, at least they’re going to have to try.
(She just wants to know how she got there. It doesn’t seem like all that much to ask. Apparently, it’s too much.)
It takes her a little while to get up her courage. When she does, she heads up the stairs slowly, balancing two plates and two cans of Coke in her arms. She kicks her foot on his door—he’s still crying, she can hear him—and waits for it to open.
It does, eventually, and he’s standing in front of her very suddenly with blotchy red eyes and tear stained cheeks.
“I brought you a sandwich,” she says, hoping that this will be some sort of peace offering. A peace offering for what, she’s not sure, because this isn’t her fault. “I thought you might be hungry.”
He just looks at her for a couple of seconds, bewilderment shining through his blue blue blue eyes.
He shakes his head.
“You’re not? Oh—right, sorry, I’ll just go back—“
“Lennon,” he interrupts, grabbing her elbow. She almost loses one of the plates. “It’s not that, just…here, come in.” He holds the door open for her, grabs the plates out of her hands to set on the dresser, and lets her wander inside. She hadn’t been in this room yet—it had been strictly Carson’s since that first night. It was smaller than the master bedroom, but equally as nice. Less lived in, maybe.
She sets the Coke’s down next to the plates and waits for him to say something.
He doesn’t, though, he just leaves her standing there. She’s not sure where he’s going or if he’s coming back or why in the world he left her in the space that he’d been so adamant about being his.
She wants to do something to prove to him how sorry she is—how much she wishes that none of this had ever happened. But she can’t think of a single thing. There’s nothing that could make this better. He wants his wife back—the one who remembers everything—and she can’t blame him for that.
When he does come back in, he’s got a bottle of wine and two glasses. “Thought we both might need some of this,” he says, walking over to the foot of the bed and sitting on the carpet. She grabs the plates again and follows his lead. She doesn’t bother to tell him that she’s never had a glass of wine before. (It’s not important, she figures, and she’s afraid that she’ll somehow screw up the balance that he’s trying to offer up.) “You’re just like her, ya know,” he says after taking a bite of his sandwich. “It’s weird, because I know that you are her, but you’re not really her. It’s weird.” He pauses to pour the wine into the glasses. “You do a lot of the same things that she used to do.”
They both sit in silence for a few moments, sipping their wine and eating the grilled cheese.
“I should be apologizing,” he sighs, “I’ve not made this very easy on you. I just don’t know how to wrap my head around it at all.”
“It’s okay,” she replies slowly. “I don’t either. I’d go back home and let you all go back to your normal lives if I could.”
He just smiles at her sadly. “I think—for right now at least—we should just try to make things as normal as possible for the kids.”
She nodded. She could do that, probably.
“Okay,” she says.
Carson gets affectionate when he drinks, apparently.
Because one minute their sitting on the couch, playing home videos that he’s made spanning from when they met up to last week, and the next he’s wrapping his arms around her shoulder and nuzzling into her hair. “I miss you,” he whispers. She’s not sure if she was supposed to hear it, so she ignores it in favor of watching future-her holding a little bundle of baby that was Tate four years ago. It makes her heart warm, seeing their smiles and hearing video-Carson talk about how they’ve got a real, actual family now.
Carson kisses her shoulder lightly.
She turns her head to look at him, opens her mouth to ask him when she knew she was in love with him the first time, but the door opens and Tate is running in, jumping into her lap before she has a chance.
“Look what gramma got me at the mu-zem,” he says, holding up a plastic dinosaur. She laughs and kisses his head.
“That’s so cool,” she smiles. Her mom’s got Maddy bundled up in a blanket, a little pink hat on her head. Tate’s moved over to Carson’s lap to show of the new toy, so she reaches out for Maddy without thinking. Her mom hands her over easily, a knowing smile on her face.
“Did you guys have a good day, then?” Carson asks, looking up at Annie.
“We had loads of fun, huh Tater?”
Tate giggles and that’s really all the answer that anyone needs.
She snuggles the baby to her chest and turns her focus back to the TV. If she’s going to live this life, she at least needs to know about it.
It happens quickly—falling for Carson.
She doesn’t know how long it took her the first time, but she imagines it couldn’t have been long. He’s so kind to her, even though she’s basically ruined everything, and he’s so good with the kids and it all just sits heavily on her chest. The worst part of it all is that Carson’s giving her these knowing looks every time she blushes or stumbles over a stray toy or stutters over her words.
It’s not like she does this very often—the whole crush thing has been about as foreign as it gets for Lennon. She’s never had a boyfriend, never once had someone besides her parents tell her that they love her. But she’s married to Carson, so she feels like she shouldn’t be so awkward around him all the time—she is, though, and she hates it just a little bit.
She’s been there for two weeks, and has basically given up ever getting back to her own life again. It’s scary, a little bit, and she’s not sure how to feel about what happened to her future-self, but she ignores it. Or, at least she tries to.
They’ve been in party mode for the last few days, trying to get everything sorted for Tate’s party. Every morning at breakfast Tate asks how many days it is, and when Carson tells him that it’s tomorrow Tate starts to bounce on the balls of his feet and clap his hands in joy. Lennon really, really loves this little boy.
“Is Uncle Lukey com’n?” Tate asks, bouncing over to the table where there are scrambled eggs waiting on a plate for him. Madeline is sitting in her high chair, shoving the eggs into her mouth with little hand-eye coordination. Lennon’s pretty sure she’s got some in her hair.
“Of course,” Carson says, kissing Tate on the head.
Tate throws his fists up in the air and waves them around. He’s so excited and Lennon’s so happy she can hardly stand it.
She walks over to the counter to put on some water for tea and before she even realizes what’s happening, Carson’s right up next to her, closer than he’s been since the night he’d shown her the home movies.
“Hey,” he says quietly, nudging her shoulder with his.
“Morning,” she replies, trying to breathe. The close proximity is making her heart start to beat harder in her chest. It feels like that first morning again, when his arm was wrapped around her middle and she just wanted to feel normal again. Except this time she doesn’t want him to move—she wants him closer closer closer.
“Thank you,” he says, finally. She looks up at him sharply.
“You’ve been so good with them both,” he nods towards the table, where Tate is babbling something about his party at Madeline, who just squeals in response every so often. Lennon can’t help her smile. “I really appreciate it, I guess. I was afraid you’d just leave with your mom, or something.”
“I’m not going to leave,” she says, looking down to where the water was finished boiling. She grabs a mug and pours some of the water in it. “It’s like—they’re innocent, y’know. They need a mom, even if it’s just me.”
He sighs and shakes his head. “It’s not just you, Lennon. You’re—you’re their mom whether you’re nineteen or twenty-five. We still love you just the same.”
She’s tearing up at that point. “But how can you still love me? I don’t even remember anything.”
He hugs her then, and she can feel herself settling into his embrace. Tea forgotten. “You’re memories aren’t what make you you, Len.” Her breath catches in her throat at the nickname. “You’re still the same person I met all those years ago. I fell in love with nineteen year old you so I’d probably be a pretty crappy husband if I stopped loving you just because that’s who you are again.”
She can’t think of anything to say back to that, so she just continues to cry quietly into his chest. She’s not sure when that became something that she needed to hear—maybe it had been there all along and she’d just been ignoring it.
He pulls away after a moment, when Tate shouts “Daddy! Maddy spilled her juice,” and laughs a bit weakly, wiping his own eyes.
“It’ll all be okay eventually, Len.” He rubs his hands up and down her arms a few times before walking over to the kids at the table.
She finishes making her tea, trying to get her emotions back under control before she goes over and joins them.
Tate continues to jabber on about his party and Maddy squeals happily from her seat. Carson is listening to Tate as if it’s the only thing in the entire universe that really matters.
Maybe it is.
There are more people at the party than Lennon expected.
She feels like she should be nervous about it, but she’s not. She manages to smile through the entire thing, even when people come up and ask her questions about things that she absolutely doesn’t know the answer to. Carson tries to stay with her for most of the afternoon, filling in when she gets asked about Maddy’s last doctors appointment or when Tate’s going to start pre-school.
If there’s one thing she learns from the whole day, it’s that they have a lot of friends that they don’t see very often.
Carson’s mom—Cindy, she learns—is there, chatting with Lennon’s mom like they’re old friends. They probably are, she realizes.
Carson told Cindy what happened, and she’s as understanding about the whole thing as her own mother is. She fills in for Carson the few times that he does have to wander off and Lennon couldn’t be more grateful.
The thing is: it’s getting easier. She’s finding herself comfortable in this life, with these children, with this man that she’s gone and married. It feels like a peace has fallen over her, because she’s not so scared anymore. If she has to stay here—in the future, married with children—she’s glad that this is the future she’s got. She’s glad that it’s Carson and Tate and Madeline. She’s glad that she’s got her own mom and that she’s got Cindy.
She’s really lucky, she thinks.
People stick around for a few hours, and by the time they’ve all left Tate is passed out on the couch, surrounded by his new toys and his mouth dyed with green icing. They both laugh a bit, and Lennon makes her way over to the couch to pick him up.
Carson follows her up the stairs, cradling Maddy to his chest. They split off at the bedrooms. Lennon changes Tate into pajamas and washes his face off before she tucks him to bed with one last, “happy birthday, little man,” whispered into his hair.
When she gets down to the kitchen, Carson’s already there. They’re both exhausted and giggly. She’s not sure why they’re giggly; it could be from the disastrous state the house is in—wrapping paper crumbled up into a ball in the corner, leftover cake sitting on the table surrounded by empty plates, and toys thrown carelessly about the living room from when the little ones had been playing. There’s a large plastic dinosaur in the corner, a big balloon tied to its leg that says HAPPY BIRTHDAY.
She starts to clean up the room, and it takes a couple of minutes before Carson grabs her elbow to stop what she’s doing.
“What?” she asks when he doesn’t say anything.
“C’mere,” he smiles, wrapping his arms around her tightly. She relaxes immediately. “You did really awesome today. Tate had a blast.”
“It was fun,” she says, and it’s not untrue. It was overwhelming, and she was exhausted, but she loved watching how excited Tate was about it all.
“I know it was a lot of new people,” he sighs, “and a lot of questions that you didn’t have answers to. You faked it really good, though. Nobody had a clue anything was up.”
She smiles into his chest. The compliment felt good.
“Thanks,” she breathes out, bending her head up so that she can look at him.
He’s gotten all serious, his mouth pulled in to a tight line. “Len,” he says, but doesn’t continue.
She wants to kiss him—so bad. It’s all she’s wanted to do for days now, but she’s ignored it. Now that he’s standing so close, though, and looking down at her like that, she wants it so bad. She can’t stop staring at his mouth, doesn’t look away until he whispers her name again. She meets his eyes, can tell he’s hesitant, but then he nods so she leans up to kiss him.
Her heart is beating double time in her chest and her head has stopped processing anything other than his mouth; it’s going through a constant cycle of Carson Carson Carson.
He pulls away after a while, when he needs to come up for air, and pulls her back against his chest. They stay like that for a while, swaying in the dimly lit kitchen, surrounded by birthday decorations.
It’s the first time that she’s let herself really want it, but now that she does, it’s the only thing she wants.
She wants to love them all so recklessly, so much more than she’s ever let herself love anyone before.
Carson and their babies and this life.
She never wants to leave.
“But don’t bring tomorrow,
‘cause I already know I’ll lose you.”
It’s strange how it happens, going home.
She’s expecting to wake up to the sound of Carson singing in the kitchen, or of little giggles and squeals. She’s not expecting, however, to wake up to the alarm blaring some obnoxious radio DJ from somewhere next to her ear. She hits her hand down a few times, until she finally hits the snooze button.
She knows that there are three things that are blatantly out of place before she even opens her eyes:
1. There’s someone moving around the room, and she knows that Carson went to sleep in the guest room last night and wouldn’t go in the master while she’s still in there. He’s too much of a gentlemen.
2. The bedding that she’s wrapped up in isn’t soft enough. She’s gotten used to the luxury of the silken sheets and fluffy duvet. She feels inexplicably colder when she realizes that it’s not the same.
3. There are a couple of girls screaming at each other from somewhere beyond the room.
It’s not hard for her to figure it out; she’s back. She’s laying in her bed in her dorm, and her roommate is pounding her way through the room, and those girls are fighting because they’re nineteen and petty. She already feels like crying—thinks about skipping out on everything today because why now?
“Lennon, you’ve gotta get up. We have a chemistry exam in exactly fifteen minutes!” Her eyes shoot open. The only thought going through her head is that it must have been a dream. Because she’s back and Sarah is looking at her like she’s gone crazy and she has a chemistry exam in fifteen minutes.
She doesn’t remember ever having a dream that vivid before, but yet here she is.
It takes some effort, but she forces herself to get out of bed and go brush her teeth. When she gets back she pulls some clothes on quickly and follows Sarah out of the dorm and towards the science building.
She has trouble focusing on the exam; all she can think about are dark little ringlets, big blue eyes, and soft little hands. She thinks of trucks and trains and dinosaurs and little yellow onesies with kittens on them and blueberry pancakes. She thinks of Carson and him singing and him laughing and him smiling. She fights back tears and wonders why she’s so worked up after a dream.
Wonders why it all hurts so much more to know that it was just a dream.
She’s rubbing her eyes, trying to hold back her tears as she leaves the room. It takes her a minute to realize that she’s just run into something—someone—and that they’re now holding her steady.
“Are you okay?” a familiar voice asks. Her head shoots up and she has to blink a few times to make sure that she’s not still dreaming.
“Oops,” she says, staring up into those same blue eyes that she’d spent the night dreaming about. She thinks about the night that Carson had told her about when they met—about how the first word that she’d ever said to him was oops; about how he said she looked so confused and exhausted that day.
Her breathing starts to get erratic.
“I’m Carson,” he says, stepping back and holding out his hand. I know I know I know.
“Lennon,” she takes his hand and tries not to look like she knows it too well—every guitar-caused callous and every ridge; every muscle and the way it rubs a babies back so soothingly.
Fake it until you make it, she supposes.
“I was here to pick up my friend Luke,” he says, and she bites back her smile, “but I think he can wait. Do you wanna get lunch or something?”
“I’d like that,” she says. He smiles brightly and leads her out of the building.
The beginning of the rest of their lives.
Carson wakes up early and anxious.
He goes to check on Maddy immediately, and when everything’s okay there, he goes to check on Tate. He’s sleeping peacefully, hugging a stuffed dino to his chest.
He shakes his head and goes down to the kitchen. He sets the kettle up and tries to ignore the feeling in his chest. Everything’s okay, he keeps telling himself.
It’s not long before Lennon is making her way down to the kitchen; he’s surprised to see her, because she’s hardly ever out of bed before nine, but the smile she gives him makes his heart clench.
There’s a glint in her dark green eyes and she smiles at him brightly.
“Morning,” he says, working past the lump that’s formed in his throat.
She just walks over and wraps her arms around him. He thinks that maybe he shouldn’t have kissed her last night. It was probably weird. “Hi, baby,” she says. His eyebrows furrow together.
“Lennon,” he says, pulling out of her arms, “just because last night, like, happened doesn’t mean that everything’s okay, y’know.”
She laughs—shakes her head. “It’s me, Carson, your Lennon. The one with all the memories.”
He looks at her like she’s got three heads. “Uh,” he says.
She rolls her eyes. “Tate’s allergic to pineapple and Maddy can only sleep if she’s got her kitty blankie. You’re afraid of heights, but we had our honeymoon in the mountains anyway. You were shaking for like, half the trip but you pretended like you were fine for my sake.”
He’s tries to think back to the last couple weeks, but he can’t remember ever telling her about their honeymoon.
“My mom was a basket case when I moved out, and when we found out I was pregnant with Tate you cried for two hours. You didn’t talk to me for almost two weeks when I decided to find out the sex of the baby, even though you never told me you wanted it to be a surprise.”
She stepped closer to him and he wrapped his arms around her; he was crying now, fat tears that probably looked ridiculous, but Lennon was back and he was so, so happy.
“I’m sorry that I left,” she says, kissing his jaw. “I didn’t have a choice, really, but I’m not gonna go away again.”
“Thank God,” he breathes into her neck, before pulling away and kissing her.
When he pulls away she’s smiling brightly. “Okay, upstairs we go. I missed my babies.”
He laughs and lets her tug him up the stairs.