As I have been, I am bouncing back between this story and Things We Want for Ourselves but I am so happy that people both seem to be thoroughly enjoying each. Thank you so much for the encouragement. I was worried about the character of Ally Sloan just because I am always so unsure of writing children characters and the impact they have on other characters and their personalities and lives but so far, Ally seems to be well-liked which pleases me immensely.
Also, the brilliant movie Coraline is mentioned in this chapter. My best friend and I went to go see this movie and there were children in our theater, crying hysterically as they watched it. I guess you can say that they were my inspiration for this.
..TWO MONTHS EARLIER..
Ally wailed, huge tears rolling down her flushed cheeks, as Mark carried her around the room, hushing soothing words to her and rubbing his hand up and down her back. She wouldn’t stop crying though and Mark didn’t know what else to do for her.
“Shhhh, Suzie Q,” he murmured, using the nickname that only he used for her. “It’s alright. Everything’s alright now. I promise. It’s just a movie. It isn’t real.”
That didn’t work though and Ally wept harder, her small arms wound tightly around his neck as he continued carrying her around the Archfield hotel room he was staying in for the time being.
“I don’t want button eyes!” She wailed and Mark hugged her tighter, listening as she became breathless from her crying excursion.
She was just like her mom and Mark knew that crying so hard was going to result in her getting the hiccups. Still holding her, and rubbing a hand on her back, he went into the bathroom to fill one of the glasses with water in preparation.
“And I don’t want the other mother!” She continued. “I want my mommy!”
“Ally, it was just a movie. There is no such thing as the other mother,” Mark said gently, his voice quiet and as soothing as possible.
“Those rats were so mean!” She hiccupped. “Why are rats so mean?” She pulled her head back to look at him, her cheeks stained with tears and flushed. Mark lifted a hand and wiped some away with the pad of his thumb. “That rat in Lady and the Tramp was mean, too!”
“They’re not mean. They just have gotten a bad rap over the years,” Mark said and then kissed her forehead before handing her a glass of water as she continued hiccupping. “Sip,” he ordered and sniffling, Ally took a sip of water. “Now hold your breath for ten seconds.” Ally sucked in a great gulp of air, her cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk’s and Mark couldn’t help but smile. Once she exhaled, he kissed her cheek, still holding her in his arms, and she wrapped her arms around his neck again, hugging, clinging to him tightly. “I’m sorry you got scared, Ally,” he said. “You know though that I would never let anything happen to you.”
“Mommy, too. I would never let anything happen to either of you,” Mark said.
“And there is no other mother?”
“Nope. Your mommy is your only mommy. And I’m your only daddy.”
“No button eyes?” Ally asked meekly.
“You have the exact same eyes as I do,” he told her and she pulled her head back again so their identical stormy grey-blue eyes could lock. “See? No buttons.”
“I want to go see mommy,” she sniffled.
“She’s at the hospital tonight, working, Suzie Q,” Mark reminded her.
“Please, daddy? I want to see her. Check for buttons,” Ally pleaded, her eyes wide, brimming with tears again, and her lower lip beginning to tremble.
Mark wanted to meet the man who could even think about denying the three-year-old anything when she was looking like that because Mark knew that she could ask for the world right now and he would do his best to appease her. She was his daughter and whenever she cried, it absolutely tore Mark apart inside. It actually physically hurt him to know that Ally was hurting.
“We have to be quick though,” he said. “She’s working and you know how busy me and mommy are when we’re working.” Ally nodded, bursting into a wide smile. He bent down, returning her to her feet on the floor. “Get your shoes.”
She ran over to the rollaway bed that the hotel brought up to the room whenever Ally was spending the night with him and grabbed her shoes, tugging them on herself and slapping the Velcro straps. She was wearing blue jeans and a children’s grey hooded Columbia University sweatshirt, her dark brown hair pulled into two braided pigtails, and it still amazed Mark sometimes just how much she looked like Lexie – except for her eyes. Her eyes were all his.
Mark pulled on his own shoes then grabbed his black jacket and Ally’s red raincoat, the little girl scampering over and Mark helping her put it on. He then grabbed his wallet, cell phone and room key, slipping each into his pocket before bending down and swinging Ally easily into one of his arms.
“It’s almost dinner time,” he said as they walked down the hallway towards the bank of elevators. “Do you want room service or-”
“Happy Meal!” Ally exclaimed with a happy grin.
Mark smiled himself, nodding. “Happy meal it is.”
“Daddy?” Ally asked, playing with the zipper of his jacket as they waited for the elevator. “Why do you stay here?”
Mark stared at her for a moment before glancing back towards the elevators, watching as it slowly made its way down to their floor from one higher up. He hated that Ally even had to ask that question and he absolutely hated being in that hotel rather than at home with Lexie and Ally.
He sighed softly. “Because sometimes daddy and mommy say things that they don’t mean. And we fight and the best thing for us to do is just be apart for a little bit.”
“Will you come home?”
“Yeah,” he nodded though he had no idea when. “Soon. I promise. You like the hotel though, don’t you?” He asked.
She giggled. “You let me do whatever I want here.”
Mark smiled wryly. “Whatever you do, never tell your mommy that.”
If both Mark and Lexie had to be working at the hospital at the same time – which was almost always since she was his resident and he was her attending – Ally was usually brought along with her parents and stayed in the hospital’s day care facility. It was the perfect setup. Ally was able to play and socialize with the other children and more times than not, Mark or Lexie or both of them would be able to take her to the cafeteria for lunchtime. It had also put Lexie’s mind in extreme ease a year after Ally was born and she returned to continue with her residency, knowing that her baby was close by in the same hospital as both her and Mark.
As Mark carried her in his arms through the main sliding doors of the hospital, Ally smiled and waved at the nurses and doctors she recognized.
“Hi, Aunt Meredith,” Ally smiled as Mark approached the woman.
“Hi, Ally,” Meredith smiled in return, holding a couple of charts closely to her chest. “What are you doing here?”
“Making sure mommy doesn’t have buttons,” Ally said.
“Of course,” Meredith said, nodding solemnly before looking at Mark curiously.
“We rented Coraline and were watching… never mind. Do you know where Lex is?” He asked, shifting Ally over into his other arm.
“Behind you,” Meredith said. “Bye, Ally,” she said before turning and walking down the hallway away from them.
Mark turned and sure enough, Lexie stood there in her light blue scrubs, having just left the pit, a cloud of worry instantly on her face upon seeing him and Ally there.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” She asked, rushing towards them.
“Mommy!” Ally exclaimed, stretching her arms out and Mark passed her over before rubbing the back of his neck before he did something stupid and greeted her with a kiss like he used to always do.
She had been the one to suggest a trial separation. The last thing she probably wanted was him kissing her.
“See, Ally? I told you. Your mommy is still your mommy,” Mark said instead.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Lexie asked, looking at first her daughter and then her husband, her eyebrows furrowed together with confusion.
“I ordered a movie on the television for us to watch at the hotel. That Coraline movie,” Mark explained. “She liked Nightmare Before Christmas and the same people who made that one made this one but… she got scared.”
“The mother had button eyes!” Ally jumped in, looking at Lexie, making sure that Lexie’s brown doe eyes were still intact and hadn’t changed into buttons since the last time she had seen her. “And there was the other mother and the rats and the dogs…” her voice caught in her throat and she began crying again.
“Shhhh, it’s okay, baby,” Lexie murmured, hugging her tightly, squeezing her arms around her.
“She just wanted to see you,” Mark said, feeling helpless again like he usually did whenever Ally started crying. “I didn’t think the movie was going to be scary.”
Lexie nodded, still trying to shush and calm Ally back down. “Tell you what. My shift is nearly done here anyway so I will go and change and maybe we could go out for dinner somewhere. How does that sound, Ally?”
“I want a Happy Meal,” Ally said, pulling her head back to look at Lexie and then at Mark, her crying already forgotten. “Right, daddy? I can still get one?”
“Yeah, Ally, you can still get one,” Mark smiled, reaching out to wipe the tears off of her cheeks again. “I’ll even get mommy one too.”
“Is she asleep?” Lexie asked several hours later as Mark came down the stairs from having carried Ally up to her room and tucking her in.
“Out like a light,” Mark nodded, lingering in the doorway leading to the living room. Lexie was sitting on the couch, Charlie, their Dalmatian, curled up on the leather arm chair, fast asleep, and Mark didn’t know if he should sit down again or if he should go back to the hotel. “I have tomorrow night off too-”
“I know,” Lexie said, giving a soft, hesitant smile at him and he smirked, nodding. She had always been his own personal Blackberry. She wiped her hands on her jean-clad thighs, standing up and beginning to fidget with her hands in front of her, a sure sign of her nerves. “I’m sorry she fell asleep here.”
“It’s my fault,” Mark shrugged. “That movie scared the shit out of her.”
“Would you like her tomorrow night?” Lexie asked.
He nodded, looking away from her for a moment. “Yeah. That’d be great.”
He couldn’t believe that they were talking about this – talking about where Ally was going to sleep the next night like she was the product of a divorced couple, having to be shuffled back and forth between the both of them. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be for him and Lexie. They were never supposed to be one of those couples. They were Mark and Lexie Sloan and they had already been through enough already to not stay together.
Mark stared at her, her hair down, longer and darker than it was when they first met, and she had lost some weight since then as well, making her look almost too thin in his opinion. She was wearing blue jeans and a comfy, worn grey sweater, the one that she had slept in last winter when their heat hadn’t been working and someone hadn’t been able to come out to the house until the next day to look at it.
“Is everything alright?” He asked. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his car keys though leaving was the last thing he wanted to be doing. “Do you need me to do anything?”
Lexie opened her mouth to say something but she then decided against it and shook her head. “No,” she quietly responded. “Everything’s alright.”
Mark nodded his head reluctantly, trying to force himself to turn around and leave, but he couldn’t bring himself to. This was his home, their home. He wasn’t the kind of guy anymore who could go to cold, impersonal hotel rooms now and he hadn’t been that guy for a long time.
He needed to sleep in the king-sized sleigh bed that he shared with Lexie with the white sheets and dark green goose down comforter. He needed to feel Charlie stretched out across the foot of the bed, making Mark’s feet too hot. He needed to feel Lexie’s body tangled and curled with his. He needed to wake up with cartoons blaring on the television downstairs and with Ally jumping up on the bed.
“Lex,” Mark breathed, glancing away, rubbing his ear before taking a deep sigh and taking a step towards her. “We have to fix this.”
Lexie crossed her arms over her stomach, hugging herself, barely able to keep her eyes locked with his. “I told you what I need right now, Mark,” she said softly.
“This? Being apart like this? What the fuck good is this doing for you, me or Ally?”
She stared at him, her eyes darkening with anger. Gone was the meek Lexie careful not to step on his toes from just a second earlier. “You say the most hateful things to me and you wonder why I can’t be around you right now?”
“I have already apologized for all of that, Lexie,” Mark said, his own patience slipping. “I had a bad day, I came home and I took it out on you. I know I shouldn’t have done that. I knew I was being a huge asshole and I am so sorry-”
“You’re always sorry, Mark,” Lexie leapt in. “You came home, purposely looking for a fight and the things you said to me-”
“I didn’t mean any of it and you know it, Lexie,” he said, stalking up to her, grabbing her arms. “I’m coming home. I need to be here and whether you want to admit it or not, you need me here too.”
“No,” she shook her vehemently. “If you love me then you will give me what I need and despite what you think, what I do need is for you to just stay at the hotel until I am ready for you to come home again.”
“This is how you really want it then? Me there, you here, Ally being passed back and forth between us like some god-damn basketball?” Mark snapped, his fingers tightening around her arms.
He hadn’t meant to get angry. He hated getting angry with her but she was denying him his home and his family. All because he was an idiot and had said some things that he had regretted the instant the words left his mouth. Lexie was right. He had come home and deliberately tried to hurt her with what he said. He had just pushed her too far this time.
“Keep your voice down,” Lexie scolded. “I don’t want Ally to hear us fighting.”
She put her hands on his chest, trying to push herself away from him, but the instant she touched him, his body felt like it was on fire. It always was like that for him whenever Lexie put her hands on him. Even if it was a simple accidental brushing of her arm against his or her fingers touching his in the middle of surgery, the instant any part of her body came in contact with his, he wanted her. Right then and there.
And tonight was no different.
Lexie gasped as Mark suddenly cupped both of her cheeks in his hands and tugged her lips to his, kissing her as hungrily and as hard as he possibly could, letting her know just how much he wanted her, needed her. How much he missed her. Just how much he loved her.
And when Lexie didn’t push him away, when she instead wrapped her arms around him, returning his forceful kisses with her own vigor and enthusiasm to match, Mark began guiding her backwards towards the couch.