So it turns out all it took was a quarantine to get me back into this, wrote the whole thing in one sitting!


Chapter 52

Ascension

Approximately 353,000 babies are born around the world every day, an average of 4.3 every second. But one year, 365 days, 52 weeks, 525,600 minutes ago, on that fateful April 19th, one specific baby came into the world. She was an amazing baby, born into chaos and strife, yet full of so many people who adored her and would sacrifice anything for her.

Lucy Marie Elsen knew only love in her young heart. She loved her mommy and her warm laugh and smile. She loved her daddy and his kisses and his funny voices. She loved sweet potatoes and blueberries, and her stuffed lamb, and trying to grab her feet through her pajamas. She loved gripping fingers above her head as she carefully moved one foot in front of another. She loved how happy everyone got when she talked, just a few simple words, but it made them smile, laugh, and clap, so Lucy decided to do it as much as she could.

She was a beautiful little thing, with her mother's golden hair that curled just slightly around her ears, big blue eyes that took in the world and remained amazed by it all, heart shaped lips, round rosy cheeks. On paper she was the perfect doppelganger for her mother, but her father was in there too. Every now and then someone tried to feed the little girl some form of peas, and her face would wrinkle in a displeased scowl, and it was like Seth Elsen in a little blonde wig was glaring from the high chair. She had Mira's looks, but everything else tended to lean more toward Seth's genetics.

Lucy was healthy and beautiful and, most importantly, happy. Her days were filled with smiles and laughter, surrounded by love. Even teething and the occasional fall on her butt when she attempted to walk was never enough to keep her down for long.

The circumstances surrounding her arriving in this world were not ideal for any of the parties involved, but she had wrapped herself around the hearts of many, and had become a fixture in their lives


"Don't you look beautiful?" Mira asked, sitting back on her heels and grinning up at Lucy on the bed.

Mira had splurged on the perfect dress for her daughter's first birthday. Seth had been kind enough to remind her that whatever the baby wore would only end up covered in cake and whatever else they served, but she had done it anyway. Her first child was a year old, how did that not cause for celebration?

Pink, frilly, with embroidered flowers along the bodice, with the matching pink headband with a bow on it, Mira had already taken eight pictures before Lucy tried pulling the band off her head.

"Alright, birthday girl," Mira said, laying her phone on the bed and scooping her daughter up onto her hip, laying a few kisses on her cheek. "I got the pictures, this is no longer needed." She slipped the headband off and tossed it aside, smoothing Lucy's downy hair down as best she could.

The two towheaded girls regarded each other silently, Lucy reaching for one of Mira's earrings, while Mira leaned her head back with her lips pursed in thought.

One year. It had really been one year since her entire life changed. One year filled with sleepless nights, bulimia, fights, breakups, makeups, love, hate, loss, and so much gain. One year since this amazing little baby made her entrance into the world, and changed everything upon arrival.

Mira remembered it as if it were yesterday; the indescribable feel when they laid Lucy in Mira's arms, how she squirmed and wailed, her tiny face a bright pink and wrinkled from the screams. She remembered how five teeny fingers wrapped around hers. But most of all, she remembered that breathtaking moment when the sobs ceased and Lucy looked up at her for the first time.

Now, those same blue eyes stared at her, They were no longer the eyes of a newborn, they were wiser, and they lit up every time they laid on her mommy.

Okay, so they lit up even more when daddy was around, but Mira was not annoyed by that at all. It's not like she gave the kid life or anything...

Mira's phone buzzed on the bed. She turned it over and looked down at the text from Seth.

Dave got the cake and the cupcakes, Mom's getting the rest of the food. We got the decorations set up if you want to come early for pictures.

Mira smiled slightly down at the phone. She looked at Lucy, nudging her nose to her cheek.

"Ready for your party?" she asked her. Lucy looked at her, blinking a couple times.

"Mama."

"Yeah, that's me."

"Ma...ma. No. No mama."

"Think you can stop saying that long enough for another picture with mama?"

"No!"

"You really are your father's daughter. Now smile and say cheese!"


"Oh, it's... lovely," Carolyn said as she looked over the table of food. Despite her best efforts, Seth refused to have the party catered by the company she regularly used, insisting on foods that he was sure everyone would enjoy. Burgers, a nacho station, salad, finger sandwiches, veggies and dip, and a stack of pizzas all lined the table. Carolyn wanted to say this was much too much food, but she had seen how much her one teenage boy ate, and there were at least four of them coming, along with a flock of all the others.

Fortunately, Seth wasn't entirely cruel and excluding to his mother. The macaroon towers and the display of cupcakes were clearly there to appease her, and for that she was grateful. She adored planning parties. It was difficult for her, not having as much say in this as she would have liked, but she was working on keeping that as bay. For now, she decided to be grateful to be included, and that she could celebrate her granddaughter's first birthday.

Across the room, Seth glanced up from the extravagant dollhouse/castle he was putting together. His mom was circling the food table, hand to her chin, looking it over with the eye of a party aficionado. He snorted and turned his attention back to the instructions to the castle.

"Hey, Dave-o?" Seth called.

"Yeah?" his step-father responded as he walked out of the kitchen with a cooler filled with ice and soda.

"Which one is a Phillips-Head screwdriver again?" Seth asked, looking from the instructions to the screwdriver in his hand. "The two prong thing or the four prong thing?"

"Four," Dave answered, smoothing his sweater as he straightened up. "You want me to take care of that, son?"

Seth thought for a moment. "Yeah, go for it," he said as he got to his feet, passing the older man the screwdriver. As the older man knelt down to begin assembling, Seth moseyed over to his mom and picked up one of the finger sandwiches, stuffing it in his mouth in one bite.

"Don't do that, you'll get crumbs all over your shirt." Carolyn reached over and brushed Seth's navy button down until he pulled away. He didn't care for formal wear in the slightest, and was a little annoyed that both his mom and Mira insisted on him looking like this for pictures.

Seth looked down as his phone chimed and his face lit up. "She's here," he told them as he began for the front door.

Mira was climbing out of her car in the driveway, her purse and a second bag slung over her shoulder. Seth had to laugh when she reached back in and pulled out three or four brightly colored gift bags.

"Need some help?" Seth called upon stepping out. Mira looked up and grinned at him behind her sunglasses.

"Yeah, can you take these?" Mira held the bags out and looked over her shoulder at the baby in the backseat. "Hurry, Lucy's watching something on my tablet, I don't want her to see these."

Seth took the bags, surprised to find they were heavy. "Are these from your parents?" he guessed.

"Nope, from me."

"Uh huh, and exactly how much did you spend on all this?"

"Hundred, couple hundred, something like that."

Seth would have been so much more annoyed that she ignored their promise to keep the gifts simple, if not for the fact that he had at least five of his own presents for her back in the house.

Mira brought him from his thoughts when she touched his shoulder and leaned in to peck his lips, causing him to grin.

"Hey."

"Hey."

Seth leaned down again to press a firm kiss to her lip, hand coming up to hold the side of her face and neck. Mira pulled away after a few seconds, tongue darting out to wet her lips.

"I'll meet you inside," she told him with a light thump of her hand on his chest. He took the other bag from her and nodded. As he walked back up to the house, he looked over his shoulder and grinned again when Mira opened the car door and he could just hear the sound of his daughter giggling inside.

"Birthday girl is here," Seth announced to his parents, dropping the large presents on the table alongside the others.


Hours later, the toddler had been changed from her frilly pink dress to a dark blue one with the capped sleeves and clunky white shoes, of which Mira wore an identical one in a larger size. She sat in her high chair and banged on the tray with her palm, shrieking in delight at all the attention she was receiving. So many happy, smiling people were around her and she loved it.

They were all saying something, singing maybe, and she looked around curiously. They said her name- or rather, they sang it- and she couldn't help but grin. Mommy and daddy appeared on either side of her, each leaning in to press a kiss to her cheeks and smiling as Gramma pointed a rectangle at them and a flash came from it.

"Mom, turn your flash off," Mommy said as Lucy clumsily brought her hands to her eyes and rubbed them to soothe them from the sudden light.

When Lucy brought her hands down, she released another happy shriek upon realizing there was a big piece of cake in front of her. With all the gusto and grace of a toddler surrounded by attention, she stuffed both hands into the cake and brought them to her mouth. Chocolate smeared across her face and all over the front of her dress, but somehow that only made it more enjoyable for her.


The gifts were a smash hit with Lucy. She sat in Seth's lap while Mira helped her unwrap each one, followed by a picture taken by Audrey.

From Adam and Audrey she received a half dozen new dresses and outfits for the upcoming summer. They had chosen the next size up, assuring Mira that Lucy would grow into them.

Matt had purchased her a baby sized rocking horse. It was shaped like an elephant, plush and soft, perfect for Lucy to sit and rock in for hours. Marli had quickly jumped in that she had picked out their card, so she deserved half the credit. Matt had only rolled his eyes and agreed.

Ava had gotten her a stack of toddler puzzles and games meant to help with the development of her cognitive skills. Then, because she was Ava White, she also gave her a beautiful book of fairy tales, with thick pages and gorgeous illustrations. It was expensive, so, as Ava put it, "don't let her drool on it."

Brian and Ryan had gone halfsies on a big teddy bear, claiming they were not about to go baby dress shopping. Dave proudly announced he had opened a savings bond for Lucy, whether it be for a car when she turned sixteen, or college a few years later, it was completely up to her.

Sara and Paige's gift had nearly brought Mira to tears. A personalized baby block. It was a pink block with Lucy's full name on one side, her birthday and the time of day she was born on another, her birth height and weight on another side, and the phrase Happy Birthday Lucy! Love Aunt Paige and Aunt Sara! Written along a carved baby footprint. Mira stood and embraced her best friends, choking back tears.

(Years later, Sara would admit that the block was her idea. Paige wanted to get the baby a bright red dirt bike, so Sara had to be quick to change her mind.)

The last gift came from Carolyn. It was a large, soft rectangle wrapped in green paper. Mira helped Lucy unwrap it and tossed the paper aside to reveal a blanket. Mira held the edges of it and stood to unfurl it.

It wasn't just a blanket, Mira realized, it was a personalized quilt. White, with an intricate pattern running across the front, soft blue around the trip, and the best part; Lucy's first and middle name monogrammed in blue in the center, with an elegantly woven blue flower just under it.

"Wow, mom," Seth said after a moment of stunned silence, his eyes flickering over the incredible details of the quilt. "How much did you spend on that?"

Mira looked over her shoulder at Carolyn, who was looking a little embarrassed as everyone turned to look at her. She absently brushed her dark hair behind her ear, clearing her throat and regarding her son.

"It's her first birthday," Carolyn clarified. "I wanted her to have something she could hold onto for years."

Mira fingered the material of the quilt as she looked it over. It was soft, yet sturdy, and Mira suddenly had visions of her daughter wrapped in it as she slept, safe and warm. Yes, this was the kind of gift that brought a smile to Mira's face, as silly as it sounded.

Hell, she didn't even really like Carolyn, but still... something about this felt special.

Mira folded it in half carefully and passed it to Seth, who showed it to Lucy with a playful babble about how nice it was. She turned to face Carolyn again and offered her a faint smile.

"It's beautiful, Carolyn, thank you," Mira said with a grateful nod. Carolyn's face softened and she returned the smile with one of her own.


"So tell us, Mira Pascal, how does it feel to be the mother of a one-year-old?"

Mira looked up from the seventy or so photos she had taken so far to find herself flanked by Paige and Sara, each with a drink in their hand, a small plate of pizza in Paige's hand.

Mira smiled at Paige, who had asked the question, and took the spare soda when Sara held it out. "Old," she answered simply.

The three girls leaned on the back of the couch behind them, nursing their drinks and watching the birthday girl walk across the floor toward a kneeling Adam, her fingers tightly around Marli's to keep from falling.

"I can't believe she's walking already," Sara commented. "It feels like yesterday we all held her for the first time. She was so tiny."

"She didn't feel that way coming out," Mira took a sip of her drink. "Wow, I'm a mom."

Paige and Sara exchanged confused glances over Mira's head.

"Kinda have been for a while, Mira," Sara reminded her.

"A year ago today, actually."

"No, I didn't mean like that." Mira waved her hand. "I mean, she's not going to be a baby much longer, my mom says she'll be speaking in sentences soon and I'll really be able to have a conversation with her. I'm going to go from a baby mom to a mom mom, you know?"

Another look was exchanged between Paige and Sara.

"You think you'll miss being a baby mom?" Sara asked curiously.

Mira shrugged. "I cried for three hours the first time she actually walked, I have no idea what I will do as she keeps growing. Like my mom says 'one day, you're carrying your baby down the stairs, the next they're doing it on their own and you didn't even realize that much time has passed'."

Paige smiled thoughtfully and nodded, taking another sip of her soda."Ever thought about having another one?" she asked after a bit.

"Yeah. I'm pregnant now, actually."

"What?" They exclaimed together.

"Yeah, didn't I tell you?" Mira looked from one friend to another. "Quadruplets. We're naming them after the Ninja Turtles."

Paige and Sara looked shocked for only a moment more before Sara burst out laughing and Paige smacked Mira on the arm with her empty paper plate.

"Don't even joke about that!" Paige said, clutching her chest as if she were having a heart attack. "You have no idea how stressed I would be if you had quadruplets!"

"Oh, Paige, always thinking of others," Sara said with a grin at her girlfriend, who smacked her lips in an air kiss in her direction.

"But to answer your question, no, we have no intention of another one." Mira shuddered. "Two babies before I even finish high school... no thank you."

"What about after that?" Sara asked. "Like... five years from now?"

Mira was quiet for a moment. She looked at her daughter, who was now standing beside Ryan with a hand raised, trying to grab for his messy curls while he laughed and leaned away from her hand.

"Maybe."

When Mira didn't further elaborate, Paige looked at Sara and shrugged. This was clearly as good an answer as they were going to get.

"Hey, do you remember when we found out you were pregnant?" Paige asked with a chuckle and a shake of her head. Sara and Mira smiled fondly beside her.

"You made me drink so much Sunny D." Mira shuddered. "I still can't drink it, by the way."

"I was so scared for you," Sara told her. "I could barely keep up with my history homework most days and you were having a baby."

The three had to laugh at that. It was less than two years ago, but it might as well have been a decade ago.

"Everything feels so different, doesn't it?" Paige mused with a cock of her head.

"Well yeah, a year ago I never expected my best friends to be sleeping together."

"Yeah, I didn't either." Sara smiled at Paige over Mira's head. Paige smiled back, a faint blush rising on her cheeks. She walked around Mira to stand beside her girlfriend, wrapping her arms around Sara's middle and laying her head on her shoulder.

"Hey, Powerpuff Girls, what're we talking about?" Ava leaned her side on the back of the couch beside Mira, her black brows raised in question.

"How much life has changed in the last year," Mira told her.

"Ooh fun, I wanna play." Ava tapped a small finger to her chin. "Wow, a lot has changed for me, now that I think of it. If it wasn't for you, I probably never would have looked for my mom."

"Oh yeah, how's that going by the way?" Sara asked, idly rocking her and Paige.

"Good. We're doing the weekly lunch thing and avoiding a list of topics that neither of us are ready to talk about yet." Ava grinned. "It is awesome."

"I guess you got a brother this last year, too," Paige noted. She pointed her finger at Ryan, who was now tapping his hands on the floor in rhythm to the silly song he was singing about Lucy celebrating her birthday.

"Yeah, definitely never saw that one coming either." Ava gave a shrug. "Weird, right? It's like, you live your life, then one day you stop and realize... hey, who I was a year ago... I'm not anymore."

"Aww, Ava." Mira pressed a hand to her chest. "I couldn't have said it better myself."

"Obviously. I'm the brains of this friendship, Glinda."

"As long as I can freely get you to admit that you're my friend, I'm fine with it."

"I mean, you are." Ava looked uncomfortable, kicking the hell of her boot against the hardwood floor in thought. "The three of you... I love you, okay? And I'm really glad that, you know, we're friends."

"We are too, Aves."

"We love you."

"You are the best."

"Alright, no need to get mushy about it." Ava held her hand up to stop them, but a small smile was on her face. "We're here to celebrate the first year of mini-Mira, not gush over me. Who wants a macaroon?"

The three girls looked at each other and nodded, pushing off the couch.

"See, that's the thing about you, Ava." Mira placed a hand on Ava's back as they headed for the food table. With Ava in tall heels, they were almost the same height.

"What is?"

"You're little, but you're literally the biggest person I've ever met."


Over the next few hours, the party went on. Pictures were taken, food and drink were devoured, until finally Lucy slumped over on the couch, and they all knew the party was over.

"So not a bad time, if I do say so myself." Seth stuffed the leftover cake in the fridge and shut the door. "Right, baby?" He paused at no answer, looking over at Mira.

Mira sat on the arm of the couch, Lucy cradled in her arms like a newborn, just staring down at her with a light smile on her face. The baby just slept peacefully against her mother's breast.

"Mira?" Seth asked softly.

"She looks so peaceful when she sleeps," Mira whispered, a single knuckle tracing up and down a round cheek, smoothing her soft hair back.

Seth lowered himself onto the couch, resting his head against Mira's side as he reached a hand out as well, taking one of his daughter's hands in his. He remembered so well the first time he had held her, how different everything already felt when that tiny hand wrapped around his finger. Now the hand was a little bit bigger, but he never grew tired of how it felt to hold it. Lucy put so much trust and love in him everytime she took his hand, or held onto his finger.

He loved her with every bit of himself. He may have been young, but he knew this was a special kind of love, one reserved only for a father. Lucy Marie Elsen had come into his life whether he was ready or not, and shined her light so bright, that the darkness inside of him had no choice but to vanish.

Mira held his shoulder and carefully slid to sit on the couch beside him, resting their heads together as they each took a moment to gaze at their sleeping child. They took such solace in listening to her breathing in her sleep, her fingers twitching around Seth's and her mouth moving.

The first year had been trying, to say the least, full of so much struggle and love at the same time. Seth had made mistakes this last year, they both had, but that didn't mean that they stopped trying or they gave up. Life only had one direction: forward. Come hell or high water, they could only go forward.

Mira tore her gaze away from her sleeping daughter to look at Seth's face just before her. She stared into the beautiful blue-green eyes of the only other person in the world who could look at Lucy with the same kind of love that she did. He was doubt, fear, insecurity, beauty, strength, and bravery, all wrapped in one single person. He was perfect in so many imperfect ways.

She knew their future together wasn't about to be an easy one, and he knew it too, they both had their demons that they would work through, some together and some apart, but it was worth it.

For each other and for Lucy, it was worth it. Because they trusted each other, they respected each other, and most of all, they loved each other. So maybe that love could be what kept them going.

All they knew was even if this crashed and burned tomorrow, they would still be so happy that they found each other, and they were able to survive everything life had thrown at them these last twelve months.

Mira raised a hand and brushed his brown bangs from his eyes, plonking her forehead against his as they both giggled. She tipped her chin up and their lips met in a soft peck.

"I love you," he whispered, eyes closed.

"And I love you," Mira replied.

After some time, Seth reluctantly got to his feet and held a hand out with a small smile. Mira took it wordlessly and stood beside him. Side-by-side, fingers intertwined, they began up the stairs to go to bed. It had been an eventful day, it had been an eventful year, and they knew it was time to get some rest.

Yes, whatever the future held, Seth Elsen and Mira Pascal were ready for it. They made it through the first year, and their journey was only just beginning.


STAY TUNED FOR THE EPILOGUE!

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