A/N: Thanks guys for the love on the first chapter. So here is the second one and I'm sorry for what's about to happen. Please don't hate me. Enjoy.
"Hey, hey!" Doug calls through the open window as he pulls up to the curb of the pick-up area of Sea-Tac airport. The small family waiting for him, turn at his voice and smile widely, even the teenager with headphones on manages a smile at seeing an old friend for the first time in a long time. Doug parks and rounds the car, exchanging hugs with Mark and Elizabeth and Rachel and gives the baby in the carrier attached to Elizabeth's chest a kiss and rubs a hand over her head. "Hi, Ella, it's really good to meet you," he smiles. "Come, on let's get this stuff put away and hit the road."
And in no time, their bags have been packed into the trunk and everyone has claimed seats, Mark in the passenger seat, the three girls, with baby Ella in her infant seat in middle, take up the back. The adults spend the time catching up, sharing stories of lost time and missed events. Including a trip to New York the previous December that left a pink scar across Mark's head. Mark knew that his friends would have flown across the country in a second if he wanted them too, and Doug and Carol knew that their friend was tough and didn't need them hovering over him like they probably would have if they had gone. But they were happy that everything worked out alright and he could be there to celebrate the girls' birthday.
Before long, Doug was pulling off the expressway and into their neighborhood.
"Well, isn't this lovely," Elizabeth remarks, which makes the boys up front laugh.
"Damn, Doug! You did good. They must be paying you nice," Mark says as they turn down the street and up into the driveway.
"Eh, I do okay," Doug shrugs with a nonchalant smile, turning off the car.
Carol, who had been eagerly waiting for them to arrive, slams open the door and runs to them, arms wide, squealing happily. She hugs Rachel and Elizabeth and finally turns to Mark. She starts to cry the second her eyes land on her best friend; happiness, sorrow, anger and regret all at once. Mark pulls Carol into his chest, hugging her tight as she cries. He whispers secret words into her hair and slowly rocks them side to side until her sobs slow to hiccups and then stop entirely. Carol finally looks up, eyes still wet, but manages to smile for her friend. "We're really glad you guys came."
Mark chuckles and kisses her forehead. "Wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
"I think someone would like to meet you," Elizabeth interjects, changing the subject to one of a happier matter. She turns Ella in her arms to face outward, and the seven-month-old smiles at them, drool falling out of her mouth.
"Hey there, sweetheart," Carol gasps. She takes Ella from her mom and holds her to the sky before setting her on her hip. "Oh my god, she's beautiful. Come on, let's go inside." She leads the way, still holding the baby, pulling open the screen door.
"Daddy!" The sisters who had been waiting inside shout when their parents appear, rushing into their legs.
"Whoa!" Doug shouts, swiftly and skillfully scooping up one twin while stepping over the other. "Easy there, kiddo," he says, kissing his daughter's cheeks, moving further into the house.
"God, look at them," Mark says. "They got so big."
"I know, they're already eating us out of house and home. I don't even want to think about when they're teenagers," Carol says, setting Ella on the floor, watching as she crawls over to a forgotten toy. Offended that a stranger is playing with her toys, Tess shouts and wriggles down from her dad's arms, runs over to Ella, and snatches the toy from her hands. Which, of course, causes the baby to burst into tears.
"Little Bear, no. You have to share with Ella, okay?" Carol tries.
"No, mine," Tess insists.
"It's okay, Carol," Rachel speaks for the first time since they had arrived. "Ella, come here," She says, letting Tess take the toy, picking up her sister and distracting her with one of her own toys. After a few moments, Ella calms down, and the fight is soon forgotten.
"Little Bear?" Elizabeth asks, opening her hands when Tess brings the toy over.
"Doug came up with it," Carol says.
"Ah, I see," Elizabeth nods. "Hello, Kate. You're such a big girl now. I remember when you were just a baby like Ella," she says to the toddler before her, playing with the princess Little People doll.
"I no Kate," Tess says, turning her brown eyes on Elizabeth.
"I'm sorry. Tess," Elizabeth corrects. "I don't know how you don't get them mixed up more," she says to Carol.
"It's easy once you get to know them," she says. "But we've mixed them up our fair share. Haven't we, Bean?" Carol asks Kate, who smiles up at her with a crinkled face from where she is happily playing with Rachel and Ella.
"Oh my god!" Elizabeth gasps, having just then noticed the view out the giant windows that made up one wall of the large great room.
Mark whistles as he looks out the window and onto the water. "Damn." Is all the words he can come up with.
"I know," Carol nods, knowing exactly what her friend is thinking. "Come on, I'll give you a tour and then show you your room."
The twins' second birthday was bigger than their first. Doug and Carol had made friends from work and the girls had friends from their daycare class. In the days leading up to the party, Tess danced around the house babbling nonstop about her 'Blue Party' and 'friends' and 'treats'. Inspired by the cartoon the girls loved very much, Tess and Kate's second birthday would be themed after 'Blue's Clues'
The Saturday before Thanksgiving their house was full of people. Kids running all over, screaming and laughing and fighting over toys. Parents munching on the table full of snacks, talking amongst themselves and attempting to break up the fights over toys.
Introductions were made between old friends and new, and embarrassing stories were told that turned a few sets of cheeks red. But it was all in good fun, and laughter continued to fill the room. Rachel, obviously the oldest child in the room, found a role as official balloon tier. Her fingers almost went numb from the sheer amount she had tied, but a smile never left her face the entire time. She even taught the kids how to bounce the balloon off their heads and hands and how to keep it from touching the ground, which they all loved.
Tess and Kate loved all the attention they were getting and playing with their friends and eating way too many treats. Together they made quite the pair; big brown eyes that, despite the mischief they got up to, allowed them to skip punishment a lot of the time, especially when it came to their dad. They were both girlie girls, who love princesses and dresses. And though they were very similar in a lot of ways, they were also different. Tess was very dramatic; everything was a big deal. If she got even the slightest bump or scrape, it was the end of the world. She was little and cuddly. Kate was a protector. If someone offended or hurt her or anyone she cared about, she was going to make sure that person paid for it. She was sensitive and shy at the same time, always the last to warm up to a new situation.
By the time the cake came out, the house was covered in loose toys, but everyone was still having a great time. Tess and Kate, in there matching Blue's Clues t-shirts, grey leggings and pink and blue tutu's, were set into their booster seats, which had been decorated with streamers and balloons for the occasion. And after Carol lit the candles, all the twins friends and family sang them Happy Birthday. The cake, decorated with Blue and Steve and all their friends with 'Happy Birthday Tess and Kate' written in pink and blue icing, was quickly sliced and handed out.
After a bit more playtime, everyone was rounded up once again for the girls to open their presents. And, just like last year, they both were spoiled rotten. And not long after the toys were removed from their colorful wrapping, did the girls demand their mom and dad free them from their packaging so they could be played with. Blocks, baby dolls, dress-up clothes; all the new toys that every child in the room was extremely excited to play with.
Once the meltdowns over the new toys started, the adults knew it was time to go, so they collected their belongings, and their children and with final good-byes, took their leave.
And suddenly, the house was quiet. Tess and Kate were happily playing with toys, baby Ella was peacefully sleeping upstairs; the rain that had begun to fall could be heard pattering on the windows and roof.
"Well, that was eventful," Elizabeth sighed as she sank down onto the couch. Doug handed her a beer as he sat down next to her.
"Makes you want to keep is small for Ella's birthday's, doesn't it?" he asks.
"Oh, no. It was very fun! I imagine Ella's parties will be quite similar to this one."
"You say that now, but when it's your house and you're cleaning up the tenth spilled cup of juice off the floor, you'll rethink that."
Mark and Carol listened from the kitchen where they were cleaning up the remains of the food and chuckled quietly.
"I'll make sure we keep it small," he tells her.
"Sure you will," she says sarcastically with a roll of her eyes.
"Hey!" he laughs, in mock offense.
They dance around each other, putting away food and setting dishes in the sink
"I'm really glad you guys came," Carol repeats. "I've missed you, you know. Doug has too, though he won't say it out loud."
"I miss you guys too. It's not the same over there anymore," Mark explains, recalling the instant difference in the world when his best friends left. A shift in The Force, if you will. "But you're happy and he's happy and that's all I wanted," he nods, smiling.
"Thank you," Carol says, choking up, eyes filling with tears
"I mean, look at them," Mark says, pulling her close and pointing out her daughters who were happily dancing around in their new princess dresses to the music in their heads. "You did good mom," he says, planting a kiss on the top of her head.
They didn't know it at the time, but that would be the last time Mark and Carol would be together. A few months later, he would fall ill and eventually succumb to a recurrence of his cancer. Regrets were felt by both parties, of words not said and of not being in the right place at the right time. But they both knew the other loved them and that they were happy. That was all that mattered.