As is true with all baby's first birthdays, Tess and Kate Ross' came all too quickly. It seemed as if they had just been born and tightly swaddled in blankets, and in a blink of an eye the two girls were squirmy, crawling, talkative little things who would rather play than go to sleep at night.
Kate, a troublemaker through infancy, still held those tendencies. She was sly and mischievous and quick to cause trouble if left alone for too long. But her lopsided smile and big, round eyes usually meant she got no more than a stern scolding for her actions. She was loud and wanted her opinions heard now, and if she wasn't heard, she would get louder and louder until she was.
Tess was equally loud, but more in an excited way. The world was so big and she wanted to share it with everyone. Everything was important to her, from a leaf on the ground to the next-door neighbor's new puppy barking over the fence. She got so excited that she just had to scream. Tess was little and sweet; always the first to come check on you if you got hurt. She was the reason the twins were put into separate rooms. The girl never slept! And it was affecting her sister, so her parents separated them earlier than they had planned, and it seemed to be working; Kate was sleeping through the night, and Tess wasn't bothering her with her insomnia.
Doug and Carol decided to keep the event small, just their family. Carol's mother had flown in for the occasion, and to spend Thanksgiving with them. She spoiled the girls rotten with new toys and clothes. She sang them Russian nursery rhymes and played countless games of pat-a-cake. Tess and Kate loved playing with their grandma and crawling all over her and cuddling during quiet time.
Helen had not only brought along her own gifts for the girls,music boxes for each of them with their names etched on the top that played different songs ('A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes' for Kate and 'When you Wish Wish Upon a Star' for Tess), but also gifts from Mark and Elizabeth. The two couples had stayed in contact after Carol had officially moved out west, including a phone call the day after Thanksgiving from Elizabeth to wish the twins a happy birthday as well as to announce her pregnancy, which was met with such joy and excitement from her friends. The gifts were two fairy tale books with different covers and containing different stories.
Thanksgiving came and went; parades were watched, good food was eaten, and at the end of the evening, all the adults collapsed on the couch in a food coma while the young sisters slept peacefully in their cribs.
Two days later, the twins officially turned a year old.
It had been one year since that snowy Thanksgiving. Since Luka had carried her from the EL station to the ER when she passed out; since Kerry had cut a deal with her, and Chuni and Haleh had held her hand as she delivered her first daughter. A year since Mark had abandoned his Thanksgiving dinner with his family to rush to her side and hold her hand, since a nurse she had just met a few hours prior instantly knew something was wrong and rushed her into surgery; since Mark had listened to her wishes, yelled at Dr. Coburn, and saved her life. It had been a year. And there Carol stood, in the doorway between the kitchen and living room, holding the pastel iced cake with 'Happy Birthday Tess and Kate' written on it, watching her daughters laugh and scream and crawl around as they played with their birthday gifts, admiring for a moment how her life had become this, how it had gone from such heartache and depression to happiness and beauty.
"Okay, you guys ready for some cake?" Carol asks, setting the treat on the dining table.
"Yeah!" Doug cheers, scooping both of his daughters into his arms and bringing them to the table, their grandmother close behind. Once Tess and Kate were buckled into their high chairs, candles were lit, the happy birthday song was sung, and two pieces of cake are set in front of the toddlers. Kate is not so sure of the food in front of her, studies it for a bit before testing it with a finger full of icing. Tess is more willing to stick her hands into her cake, getting most of it everywhere but into her mouth, but at least she was having fun. Pictures were snapped to preserve the memories. A wonderful day was had by all.
Once the girls were in bed, Carol made herself scarce for a bit, giving her mom and Doug some time to really sit down and talk about the elephant in the room. The two found seats on the back porch where they could see the water and the rain falling softly. After a long silence where they each sipped from their drink of choice, words began to flow. Helen was still angry and hurt at Doug for everything he had done to her daughter, including not coming back when Carol told him she was pregnant. Doug knew she was right, about everything. He had messed up; he was cowardly and thought the best solution was to leave. And he knew he should have come back, but something stopped him; something intangible that neither he nor Carol could describe. But deep down they both wanted the same thing for Carol: for her to be happy. And Helen could plainly see she was truly happy in Seattle with her girls and Doug. So she put the past behind her and promised to forgive and forget.
"Everything okay?" Carol asks, materializing in the doorway.
"Yeah, we're okay," Helen says with a nod
"Good," Carol smiles, stealing a swig of Doug's beer and letting him pull her onto his lap and wrap his arms around her.