The stairs creaked softly beneath Gigi’s bare feet as she made her way down the stairs.
The sound seemed to echo all throughout the house with each step she took. Gigi winced, fearing she would wake Phoenix or his family. This was only the second week they’d spent at her in-laws’ house, and she was still adjusting to living in such a large and lavish home… And one where the sound carried so well too.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she paused to listen for movement from upstairs, but the house around her remained silent and still.
Or nearly silent, anyway.
Gigi jumped at the sound of footsteps from the kitchen.
Her mother-in-law came into view, sleepy but smiling. “Sorry… Didn’t hear you coming. Did I startle you?’ Harper asked softly.
Gigi returned her smile. “A little.” She confessed. “What are you doing up?” Gigi hadn’t expected to find anyone else awake at two o’clock in the morning.
Harper shrugged as Gigi crossed the threshold to join her. “Couldn’t sleep. It happens sometimes.” She explained. “When I was younger, I used to just lay awake for hours when I couldn’t sleep… Then Dev got me into this herbal tea crap.” She let out a small chuckle. Gigi could still smell a hint of chamomile in the air. “But you know what? It works!” She paused for a moment, her brow furrowing slightly in concern. “What about you though? Couldn’t sleep either?”
Gigi shook her head. “I couldn’t… Plus I’m starving.” She confessed. “I feel like I could eat a horse or something.”
This was the second night in the past week that one of her cravings had pulled her out of bed. And it had happened twice the week before that too. But those times, she’d managed to slip down to the kitchen unnoticed. She knew it was a typical side effect of her pregnancy, but Gigi couldn’t help but feel strangely embarrassed by it.
Maybe it was because she was living in her in-law’s house. It was their kitchen she’d been sneaking into. Their food she was eating. And as much as she knew they wouldn’t mind, she still felt so much shame at having to take advantage of their hospitality. But right now, she and Phoenix didn’t really have a choice. And his mother and stepfather had insisted they let them help.
Gigi had been surprised, at first. Phoenix’s parents were always so kind to her, and seemed to like her. But Gigi always got the sense that they would have liked her more if she hadn’t married their son. She and Phoenix had never spoken a word of their troubles to his parents. Yet somehow, it was like they knew. Or at least, that’s how it felt, anyway.
“Hey, I get it.” Harper assured her, her voice calling Gigi back to the present. “I was like a bottomless pit when I was pregnant with Lila. Thought I was gonna burst! Poor Dev was at the grocery store every week stocking up.”
Gigi couldn’t help but laugh softly. She could definitely relate to that feeling. “And what about with Phoenix?” She asked. “Did you have Erik running off to the store too?”
Harper’s face fell instantly, and Gigi knew she’d made a mistake. She’d known that Harper and Erik had split up when Phoenix was too young to remember. But could it have been even sooner than she thought? How could it possibly still be painful to think about?
“Uh, no.” Harper muttered awkwardly. “That was… different.”
“Sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.” She replied, still kicking herself mentally. “I guess I didn’t know exactly when you guys broke up…”
“It’s fine. That was a long, long time ago.” Her mother-in-law smiled gently. “And you know what’s weird? We never officially broke up, I guess. We just sorta dissolved.” Harper’s eyes looked so far away as she spoke. “Everything around us was crumbling for a long time… Then the waves finally came and washed us away.”
Gigi said nothing. Even with her sarcasm and sailor’s mouth, Harper had such a beautiful way of speaking sometimes… But then, she wasn’t a best-selling author for nothing, was she?
Gigi tried her best to ignore just how deeply she could relate to that image. Crumbling, dissolving… That had been her and Phoenix for a while now. Would the waters come and wash them away too? Or would this baby be enough to save them?
“Sorry… Now I’m rambling.” Harper’s slight chuckle broke the silence. She rose from her seat and headed for the freezer. “You said you were hungry, right? Chocolate or vanilla?”
“Chocolate.” Gigi replied eagerly, wondering how Harper could have known what she’d want. Maybe she noticed some of the missing ice cream the other night… “And you’re not rambling.” Gigi assured her. She couldn’t remember Phoenix’s mother ever opening up like that before. It was actually kind of nice. “I’m sure that was a really hard time for you.”
To her surprise, Harper let out a laugh as she returned with a bowl of ice cream. “God, you don’t know the half of it… Things were a total fucking mess back then. And that’s putting it mildly…” She shook her head for a moment. “But what matters is that we both finally got our shit together. We had to. For Phoenix.”
Gigi was thoughtful as she brought a spoonful of ice cream to her lips. “It must’ve been scary though…” The words passed her lips before she even realized what she was saying. “Being all alone with Phoenix, I mean. After you and Erik broke up.”
“But I wasn’t alone.” The other woman shook her head. “I had my parents. And my friends. And I still had Erik too. He’s an amazing father.”
“I know. That’s not what I meant… I just wondered if you ever… Maybe wished that you didn’t, uh…” Oh God, what am I saying?
Harper seemed to know exactly what she meant. “Never. Erik and I brought each other down in ways you can’t even imagine… It was a nightmare.” She shook her head once more. “And even though we got our shit together in the end, it was something we both did on our own. And that wasn’t ever gonna be enough to fix things between us. We wouldn’t have been happy. There was no way we could go back.”
“Not even for Phoenix?” Once again, she’d spoken without thinking. Gigi felt her cheeks grow warm at her own words, despite the cold ice cream that filled her mouth. Projecting. She told herself. That’s what Phoenix’s text books would call this, right? “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked… Forget I said anything.”
To her relief, Harper did not look upset or offended at her words. In fact, if Gigi didn’t know any better, she’d almost say she looked concerned. “No, not even for him.” She replied, ignoring the apology. “It would have done him so much more harm than good if we stayed together. Trust me.”
Gigi said nothing for a moment as she tried to swallow back the guilt and shame that mixed with the ice cream in her stomach. “I get it… I think.” She replied softly. “And sorry again… I don’t know what’s gotten into me tonight..”
Harper let out a soft sigh before replying. “Gigi… is everything alright?”
“What do you mean?” Her reply was more defensive than she’d intended.
“I mean is there… something else you wanna talk about, maybe?”
“No!” Gigi practically snapped at her this time. “Why would you say that?!”
Harper seemed unfazed by the outburst. “Well, you and Phoenix haven’t really said much since you came back… And I know that this is rough on you guys. I was just…” Her mother-in-law seemed to hesitate. “I was wondering if there was something else, maybe. Something you weren’t telling us?”
This time, Gigi said nothing, staring down at her half-empty bowl. She couldn’t even find the strength to come up with a good reply. She was just so tired. And not just physically either.
“Phoenix told me you two have an appointment tomorrow… A counseling appointment..” Harper continued softly. “He said it’s just about ‘baby stuff’, but…”
“It is.” Gigi insisted, finally finding her voice.
“Okay… Then let me offer a little advice on some ‘baby stuff’ that I learned firsthand…” She took a slow breath before continuing. “Which is that your little girl is only gonna be happy if her parents are too.” This time, Harper did not smile as she spoke. “And right now… I don’t think they are.”
Gigi didn’t even bother trying to deny it. At this point, how could she? “We’re working on it.” She replied seriously. “I promise.”
“I hope so…” Harper rose to her feet as she spoke. “Just don’t forget what I said, okay? Any of it.”
“Good… Enjoy the rest of your ice cream.” Harper turned to look over her shoulder as she reached the threshold. “Goodnight, Gigi.”
Gigi gave her mother-in-law a small nod as she watched her leave the room and head back upstairs.
She sat there in the silence for a few moments before finally bringing her bowl of half-melted ice cream to the sink. She’d completely lost her appetite. Harper’s words still echoed in her mind. Were she and Phoenix doomed to end up like his parents? Would the seas really rise up and wash them away?
It was true that neither of them had been happy for a long time. So much bitterness and resentment had bubbled its way to the surface… It wouldn’t be easy to overcome.
They’d have to start from the beginning. They’ve have to rebuild their trust. They’d have to learn to love each other again.
But as difficult as that would be, it wasn’t impossible, was it? No, Gigi told herself. They’d be able to do it. They’d find a way to be happy again.
Especially once she’s here… She’ll make everything better. Gigi placed her hand against her stomach for a moment before slipping back into bed. She has to… Or this will all be for nothing.