"You're wrong," Saida said, shaking her head. "That's not how it works."
Ryan sighed, but had to smile, too. Not that long ago, those words would have been a part of a very serious argument. As it was, they were discussing who got to pick what colors in which room for the house they were renting not too far from where Sophie and Johnny lived.
It had been a couple of months since they agreed to move in together; both of them finished their respective leases and started hunting for a new place to live together. At first they looked at apartments, but Saida admitted she was tired of moving. She wanted to be somewhere they could stay for at least a few years. So, they started looking for houses and finally found a quaint two bedroom home that was up to par and within their budget. Everything was moved in but changing the decoration from dull rental to bright home had been high on Saida's priority list.
"You get to choose everything at the studio," Saida continued. "I think I should get majority say in what goes in the house."
Ryan chuckled. "So you want a say in how I decorate at the studio, too?"
Saida shook her head. "You're missing my point."
Ryan hugged her to him and kissed her forehead. "No, I get your point. All right. You can have complete say over the kitchen, the bathroom, and the guest bedroom, if you will at least compromise with me on the living room and our bedroom."
"Fine," she huffed. She chose a few more paint samples and then turned to Ryan. "You ready to go then?"
He nodded. "Sure. How about if I take you out to dinner?"
"Can't we just eat in?" Saida asked.
Ryan frowned. "You're usually all for going to dinner."
"I know," Saida said. "But we've gone out every night for the last week. Can we please just go home and do nothing?"
Ryan didn't say anything else, just nodded and laced his fingers with hers. They got in the car and he offered to stop at a drive-thru to get them some food.
"We don't have much at the house," he commented.
"I know," Saida replied quietly. "I'm going grocery shopping with Soph tomorrow after work."
Ryan pulled into a fast-food joint, made their orders, and then got in line for the window. Saida handed him a few bills, but he refused it.
"You can pay for groceries tomorrow," Ryan smirked. She returned only a small smile before going back to staring out the window. "All right, Saida. What gives?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, although it barely sounded like a question.
"You know what I mean," he returned, pulling up a space. "You've been out of it all day. Are you feeling sick or something? Did I do something wrong?"
Saida shook her head. "I just have some things on my mind, that's all."
"Care to share?"
She looked at him with tears in her eyes. "I'm two weeks late. I didn't want to say anything until tomorrow night; I'm getting a test when I go shopping with Sophie. I didn't think I'd be this worried about it."
Ryan sighed and ran his hand over his face as he pulled up to the window and paid for their food. He didn't know what to say; they were making progress, yes, but they weren't ready for a baby by any means. He was even glad he had decided to wait to propose. He needed to give it time in the new house to make sure they could be happy over a long period of time before they put anything into cement. It had occurred to him just before they moved in that as strongly as he felt, their time together had been significantly short and wrought with drama.
He didn't say anything else until they got to the house. Saida helped him carry the food in and set it on the kitchen table while she went to change. He started a movie for them, and she joined him a few minutes later, eyes red from crying.
"I'm sorry for not telling you sooner," she told him. "I knew you wouldn't be happy about it, so I wanted to know for sure before I said anything, so that way you wouldn't have to worry."
Ryan set down his food and took her hand. "You don't have to apologize. I know you did what you thought was best. I don't want you to think that the thought of having a baby with you doesn't make me happy, Saida. I just don't know if we're there yet. We still get comments about Rave here and there, and I just want us to have more stability before we go any further than just living together."
Saida nodded and wiped new tears. "I know."
Ryan hugged her and kissed her hair. "Let's not worry yet, okay? Two weeks is a long time to be late, but it could be a fluke too, right?"
"Well, let's just see what the test says and we'll go from there."
She leaned up to kiss him and he gratefully accepted. Every time things got a little crazy, Saida's kiss grounded him. It reminded him that this wasn't a dream – something to take lightly as though his actions would have no consequences – this is was real. That she was real and he was there with her and had promised to take care of her.
Saida watched her sister-in-law's belly as they went through the grocery store, avoiding the aisle with the pregnancy tests. She needed to know, but she didn't want to know. She really didn't know how she felt one way or the other.
"All right, I think we've got everything else," Sophie announced. "Your list done?"
"Yeah. Except for …"
Sophie rolled her eyes. "Just get it over with, Saida. If you're pregnant, you and Ryan can go from there. If you're not, you can get on birth control until you're ready to be pregnant. But you can't just keep on waiting and seeing what's going to happen or in nine months you'll be cutting somebody's hair and – poof! – there'll be a baby."
Saida couldn't help but laugh. "All right, fair enough. Which one did you use?"
Sophie directed them to the correct aisle and showed Saida which one she had used for both Britton and the new baby. "Use both of them. Take one tonight, and one in the morning. If either one is positive, you should call your doctor."
"All right," Saida replied, taking a deep breath.
Ryan came out when she got home to help her carry the groceries in from Sophie's car. Sophie then bid both of them goodbye, promising to tell Johnny they both said hello and made Saida promise to call with the results.
Once inside, they put away all of the groceries and then sat with the pregnancy test box on the counter. Saida just stared at it until Ryan shoved it in her direction.
"Come on, just take it. Then we'll know."
She accepted the box from him. "I have to take one tonight and one tomorrow morning. They say morning is really the best time to take it, but –"
"Saida," Ryan interrupted. "Just take it."
Taking a deep breath, she nodded and walked towards the bathroom. Ryan took a seat on the couch to wait for her. It was the longest minutes of his life.
Finally, Saida came out. "Negative."
He breathed a sigh of relief. "All right. So as long as the one in the morning is negative, then we're good, right?"
Saida nodded. "I'm going to call the doctor in the morning and try and get on some birth control."
"That's probably best." He lifted her chin. "I really do want to have kids with you someday, you know. I just want to do it 'right', I guess. So much about us coming together was under the radar or behind people's backs, and I don't want that to define us. We deserve to be together after how hard we fought, and I just don't want people to look at us and think there's anything wrong with why we're together."
"You don't want people to think we're together just because of a baby," Saida surmised.
She smiled. "I can live with that."
Ryan kissed her fiercely, and she kissed him, pushing him back on the couch. Her fingers immediately went for the buttons of his shirt, and he laughed into her mouth.
"Shouldn't you be on birth control before we do this again?" Ryan said.
"Maybe I'll just tease you till you can't stand it," Saida replied mischievously.
Ryan was already gone when she got out of bed this morning. She smiled, thinking of the things that had happened the night before that kept her up until the wee hours – then she remembered that stupid little stick she had to pee on, and her smile faded.
Why was she so disappointed that she wasn't pregnant? Ryan was absolutely right, they needed to have their lives more stable before they even thought about taking another step. When people around town would stop remembering her as the girl that used to dance at Rave, then maybe that would be a better time.
She did her business and set the test on the counter, then went back into the bedroom to find an outfit and some clean towels. She started the shower and waited a couple more minutes, only to find herself looking at another negative test. Saida knew she should be relieved, but she was still slightly disappointed.
"I think that's normal," Johnny told her once she got to work. "You and Ryan, you're trying to figure things out. Some people think that if you can make a baby together, you can stay together forever. I hate to go here, Saida, but you're living proof that's not the case."
She nodded. "You're damn straight about that."
"Come on, Saida, I didn't mean it like that and you know it. I just mean … don't rush yourself. Enjoy being with Ryan and build a relationship with him while you build your life before you two try and build a life together."
"We've already moved in together, John."
"And that's fine. I think you guys were practically living together anyway. I'm just saying, be happy that way for a while."
Saida took a deep breath. "I haven't told anyone this yet, but I think I want to find my mom. My real mom, I mean."
Johnny's brow raised in surprise. "Are you sure about that?"
"No, I'm not. Like I told Ryan, it didn't work out so well last time I went looking for answers. But really, this pregnancy scare gave way to really needing to know. Before I have a baby, I need to know what went through her mind when she let me go. I need to know … more."
"I'll help you any way I can," Johnny promised. "But you've really got to be prepared for what you might find – or might not find."
Saida nodded. "I know."
Johnny hugged her then told her to get to work. His sister had already gone through a lot, and she was going to be challenged a lot more in the coming months. He couldn't blame her for wanting to find her biological mother, but he couldn't help thinking it was going to be more than she could handle.
After her doctor's appointment a couple of days later, Saida was feeling particularly optimistic. After getting an overall history of Saida's life from the last few months, she had been assured that her delay in cycle had probably been due to stress. The doctor offered her an option for birth control that was essentially effective immediately. She couldn't wait to tell Ryan.
Things between the two of them had been better since the pregnancy scare. There was a lot less pressure to make things perfect, and more of a focus to just make them work. After all the ups and downs since Saida had come back to Kansas, a little stability would be good for both of them.
"Hey," she greeted when Ryan answered his phone. "I'm just leaving the doctor's office."
"Did it go okay?" he asked.
"Yes, it did. We're all squared away."
"Do you still want to meet up at the diner?"
Ryan cursed under his breath. "I forgot about that, babe. I'm so sorry – I've got one more appointment coming in before I can get out of here. It'll be at least an hour and a half."
Saida was disappointed, but she tried not to show it. "All right. I'll just see you at home later on then. I'll make some dinner."
"I'm really sorry," he repeated.
Saida smiled. "Really, it's all right. We've got plenty of nights to go to the diner. Have a good shoot, and I love you."
"I love you too. See you soon."
She directed her car towards their house, trying to decide what to make for dinner. She walked into the house and set her things down, walked into the kitchen and leaned against the counter. While she thought about what was in the cupboards, a picture on the refrigerator caught her eye.
It had been taken at Britton's birthday party, when Ryan had still been with Kayla but before they crossed any lines. Until Sophie had given her the photo when they moved in to the new house, Saida had forgotten they'd even taken it. Looking at the two of them there though, hugging each other and smiling contentedly for the camera, she could plainly see that they already had feelings for each other then.
Another idea hit her, and she sprung into motion. She put some chicken and vegetables in the crock pot and turned it on, then went to the bedroom and pulled on a tank top and jean skirt over the bandeau and tight black skirt she'd worn the night Ryan did her original photo shoot. She made sure her hair and makeup were perfect, then grabbed her keys and purse and made way for the studio.
Ryan's clients were impressed with the frames he had taken, and they set an appointment to review the edited work and purchase prints for about a week later. He walked them to the door and went back to shut everything down in the studio and get home to Saida. He had just turned off his computer and was heading to pack up his camera equipment when the bell over the door sounded. He winced; Saida would be even more disappointed if he was any later than necessary. He yelled that he would be right out.
"Can I help you?" he asked. But no one was standing there. He heard a throat clear from behind him in the studio. He walked back there, and his puzzled look turned into a large smile.
Her tank top and skirt had been discarded to the side, and she now stood on the drop cloth covering the floor dressed just as she had been the first time they were together. He approached her slowly.
"I'm sorry, miss, but I don't take walk-ins," he told her as his hands went to her hips.
Saida bit her lip and smiled. "I'm actually not looking for an appointment. I'm just looking for the photographer."
She nodded and placed her hands on his shoulders. "The first time we did this, Ryan, it was amazing, but it wasn't the right way. We've come a long way since then, I think, and I want it all to be right. So, I got home and was looking at that picture on the refrigerator and I thought … maybe we should try it again."
Ryan kissed her, lifting her so that her legs went around his middle. She kissed him back, feeling that relief of something so right coming at her. Ryan knelt down first, then laid her back on the drop cloth and kissed her gently on the lips, her neck, and then her collarbone.
"I'll never belong to anyone but you, Saida," Ryan whispered.
She smiled against his kiss, pulling him as close as she could get.
They took their time getting back up from the studio floor. If the first time had been amazing, this one was … without words. Saida propped herself up on one elbow and traced circles on his chest with her finger.
"Be careful," Ryan told her. "That may be enough to make me want to go again."
Saida laughed. "All right. Should we go home then?"
Ryan smiled. "I have to admit, I love it that when you say home, it's not your place or mine. It really is our home."
"I know." She smiled back at him and got up to dress herself. Ryan did the same, and she waited for him to lock up the studio before walking out to the car. "I can just get my car after work tomorrow. I'd rather ride home with you."
Ryan held her hand the entire way to the house. They stopped in the driveway and Saida turned to him before he could get out of the car.
"I really don't want to ruin this good mood that we've got going, but I need to tell you something."
"All right," Ryan drawled out slowly.
Saida took a deep breath. "I think I've decided I want to find my mother. I know that I said before it was trouble I didn't want to get into, but the possibility of being pregnant made me realize that I need to know these things from her, Ryan. But, if you really don't want me to do it, if you think it's a horrible idea, then I won't do it."
"Saida," Ryan said softly, reaching out to caress her cheek. "If this is what you feel like you need to do, then I'm on your side. I worry what finding answers you don't want to find will do to you, but I promise you that no matter how big the mess, I'm going to be there to help you pick up the pieces – if it comes to that."
"Really," he confirmed.
Saida threw her arms around him. "Thank you, Ryan."
A/N: One more chapter after this, and it will definitely be done – and there will be a sequel. I can't promise when, but I'll try not to leave any loose ends that are too major. Between work and school, there never seems to be enough time for writing, but I'm trying to finish this and Every Day That Passes before posting anything new. Thanks to those who have stuck it out reading my stuff!
Also, several stories have been removed, if you haven't noticed. They are available on Kindle and Nook. Feel free to PM me if you'd like more info!
Thanks again for reading!