"The Best Place for Us to Be Now"
Mallory came home from
her baby class fussy and
restless, quickly retreating
up the stairs to the futon.
Heron gave her a few minutes
to settle, then climbed the stairs.
"May I join you?" he asked.
"Go ahead," Mallory said,
scooting from the middle of
the futon to the far end.
"Thank you," Heron said
as he sat down. "You seem
pretty frazzled. Do you want
to talk about it, or not?"
Mallory leaned forward and put
her head in her hands. "I'm coming
to the end of the second trimester," she said.
"More people are starting to lean on me
to make a decision about the baby,
and I'm ... really not good at that."
"Okay," Heron said. "That's
a big decision. Let's break it down
to a manageable size. Pregnancy has
three options, and you've already decided
to continue yours, so that cuts out a third of
the work already. Now you need to choose
between adoption or keeping the baby."
"That's what I can't do," she said,
pawing through her workbook on
unplanned pregnancy. Loose pages
fluttered out. "I tried doing these about
making decisions, but I just ... don't
even have all the pieces for them."
"Would you rather help me with
one of mine, then?" Heron offered.
"What?" Mallory said blankly.
"I've got a big decision of my own
to make," he said. "I need to choose what
to do next. That means either deciding
what to do after college, or picking up
more classes to earn a double major --
Urbanburg U allows that, although
usually it's for people who come back
after a year or two away from school."
"You could just pick one," Mallory said.
"I mean, you've got your degree now,
you could do whatever you want."
"I'm missing some pieces too,"
Heron said gently. "I think if we work
on our decisions together, looking at
advantages and disadvantages,
that could help both of us."
"Okay, so ... getting a job seems
obvious, it pays," Mallory said.
"Some people take time off
after they graduate."
"I thought about taking
a travel year," Heron said
with a nod. "Right now, I'm
feeling less footloose than
I did a few months ago."
"Why would you stay and
take more college after you
already earned a degree,
though?" Mallory said.
"One, I'm just a few classes
from a second major; that would
boost my job potential," Heron said.
"Two, I've met several people who
are younger than me, and I think
some of them have the potential
to become lifelong friends. I would
like to nurture those relationships."
"Is this what you meant by putting
the pieces together?" Mallory asked.
"Yes," Heron said. "I know that
sometimes, I come on a little strong,
because I really care about people.
Not everyone else is necessarily
ready for that, or even interested.
So it would help me to know if you ...
want me around, or just tolerate me."
Mallory gave him a quick, sidelong glance
and ducked her head so that her hair
fell in curtains over her face.
"I'm not sure," she said. "I do like you.
Sometimes you get on my nerves, but
I think that's because I'm a mess and I've
never had really close friends before.
It's the same with Maisie, and we
started out as enemies instead."
"What do you think about the idea of
taking more time to explore how you feel
about me?" Heron said. "If I stay here, you
would have more chances to observe me and
your reactions to friendship. I think one of
the problems we have is that we fell into
a pretty personal relationship right away,
without time to build trust and intimacy."
"Yeah, that sounds right," Mallory said.
"Like you jumped inside my life, and I didn't
know what to do with you there, but this
isn't a situation I can handle alone so
I need people ... and needing them
is driving me kind of crazy."
"That's why most cultures have
a courtship process that lowers
personal boundaries in order," he said.
"It gives people time to find out if they're
a match before they have committed
too much energy. But there are ways
to condense it, and exploring those might
help us lower the friction between us."
Mallory nodded. "I guess ...
that's not a bad idea," she said.
"I thought courtship was for sex and
marriage, though? That doesn't
seem like your kind of thing."
"Traditionally, yes, courtship aims
for marriage," Heron said. "However,
there are platonic equivalents, like
applying to a priesthood, which go
through similar stages. Asexuals
looking for life partners benefit from
the same progression of intimacy,
it just doesn't end in sex for us."
"Okay, so it can be platonic. I like
that, I am so not looking for sex now,"
Mallory said. Then she sighed. "I'm just
afraid of getting into the habit of relying
on you, or on anyone really. People
leave, and then it's even harder."
"Have I ever, in the admittedly short time
we've known each other, done anything
that makes you think I would let you down?"
Heron asked in a solemn tone. "I know that
you've had awful experiences in the past,
but try to set those aside and focus on
your current relationships and what
you've seen of people's behavior."
"I can't think of anything specific,"
Mallory said. "It's just this feeling
that I have about people."
"It was probably accurate before,"
he said. "I think it applies a lot less
to the people you know now, and that
can be a hard adjustment to make.
Think about your housemates too;
how reliable do they seem to you?
Do they do what they say they'll do,
or do they blow you off a lot?"
"They blow me off less than anyone
I've known before, and when it happens,
it's for a good reason like when the bus
blew a tire last week and Maisie couldn't
get home to make supper, so we just
thawed some of the things you left
in the freezer," Mallory said.
"Good," said Heron. "By the way,
that's fault tolerance in action -- having
the supplies for a Plan B when Plan A
falls apart without warning. That's
a sign of reliable friendships too."
"It's nice while it lasts," Mallory said.
"I think it's time for me to put something on
the table," Heron said. He took a deep breath.
"I have tried very, very hard to avoid any kind of
pressure. You need to make your own choices,
but you need good information do that. So I'll
say it flat out: if you want me in your life, I will
be there. If you let me help with this baby, now
or after the delivery, I will give you as much
help as you want or need. It's up to you."
"Wow," Mallory said, blinking at him.
"That's ... um, quite an announcement there."
"You know that I'm not into sex. That means I'm
not likely to sire children of my body," Heron said.
"I had thought about adoption or fostering, but
then you came along, and I got a new idea."
"Like what," Mallory whispered, peeking
at him through the curtains of her hair.
"Coparenting," said Heron. "Usually that's
done by divorced couples, or people who
plan ahead to make a baby with someone
they aren't married to, like when gays and
lesbians square up to reproduce together.
It can be anyone, though -- siblings have
done it occasionally, or work partners."
"How do they decide?" Mallory said.
"It sounds impossible to pick someone.
My baby classes mentioned coparenting
as an alternative to single parenting for
surprise babies, but I couldn't follow
enough of it to understand much."
"There are social sites similar to
dating sites that help people connect,"
Heron said. "You can also look at a checklist
of parenting skills to see if someone
would make a good coparent."
"You mean like ..." Mallory said
as she pawed through her materials.
"... there's this parenting plan worksheet,
and these about newborn care?"
"Mmmhmm," Heron said. "May I
have these to fill out? I've helped
with my younger siblings and taken
both babysitting and parenting classes."
"Uh, sure," Mallory said. She handed
him the worksheets and a pen.
Heron quickly ticked off his skills,
each line bringing up fond memories.
"Here," he said. "Look at these, think
about what you already know of me, and
ask if you believe I'd make a good father."
"I know you would," Mallory said in a soft voice.
"You've fed me and brought me presents and
introduced me to your family. You've taken
amazing care of me when I'm sick, even
if I'm snippy or confused or gross, and
even though I'm ... I was a supervillain."
"Now there's a useful point," Heron said.
"You've already made some big changes
to protect this baby. You've quit doing
some risky things, and added healthy ones.
Those are signs that you care about the baby,
which means you'd make a good mother
even if you need extra help learning how."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence,"
Mallory said, sounding not at all confident
but at least less frazzled than earlier.
Heron tapped the pen thoughtfully
against the parenting plan. "You will
need to consider child support," he said.
"A coparenting agreement streamlines a lot,
kind of like marriage does, but you also have
the option of filing Vested Interest paperwork
for anyone else who wants to chip in."
"I don't think we covered that in
baby class," Mallory said, frowning.
"Vested Interest just lets people define
a relationship in specific terms," Heron said.
"It's often used for close friends, neighbors, or
relatives outside the immediate family. You
put in so much money toward current needs or
future education, how much child care you can
offer; then you get back decision-making input,
visitation, and other perks that you want."
"That might actually help. Every time
I think about raising a baby, I panic,"
Mallory admitted. "I can't imagine doing
it alone, that would be a disaster. I know
that some people are single parents, but
they're normal. I'm a wreck already."
"Would you feel more confident if you
had other people to help you?" Heron said.
"Because I'm here if you want me, and I think
your housemates are too, based on what they've
said and done. Even if you choose adoption,
it would be a real choice, not because you felt
that it was the only thing you could do."
"I think I might, but it still feels
like ... cheating," Mallory said.
"You know, most new parents
get help," Heron said. "Usually it
comes from the grandparents, but --"
"No!" Mallory said, shaking her head
so that her hair flew in a cloud. "No way.
My parents sucked enough at raising me,
I would never give them a chance
to mess up this baby too."
"Okay," Heron said. "Not your parents,
so what about mine or Maisie's instead?
Or do you know other people you could
turn to who'd help you and the baby?"
"Your family and Maisie's are both
a lot nicer than mine, but they're so ...
busy. Not like they don't have time for me,
but all these people moving around and
doing stuff, it's overwhelming," she said."
"Write that down," Heron said. "What
interactions make you comfortable or not?
It's something else that we can work on.
Make a list of who you do or don't want.
Do you have a worksheet going to track
your child care arrangements? It's better
to line up volunteers for at least a month
after delivery, before the baby arrives."
"I haven't even decided whether
I'm keeping it," Mallory protested.
"You still have some time left for that,"
Heron assured her. "One good way
to approach major decisions is simply
to plan out both of your options. Make
a plan for raising the baby and another for
adoption. Spend a week or two behaving
as if each of them is true, and see which
you like better or which makes you freak."
"That wouldn't be fair to ... other people,"
Mallory said. "It's not right to get their hopes up
and then bail. I've heard of girls doing that
and I think that it's just horrible."
"It's bad to break a promise," Heron agreed.
"It's not bad to let someone know that you're
giving due thought to a life-changing choice
and would appreciate their help with it. I know
I'd be grateful for the opportunity. I suspect
that most other people would feel the same --
especially anyone worthy of parenthood."
"Maybe," Mallory said. "It's worth
a thought, but I feel so up in the air
about this, it's confusing and I feel as if
my heart is scrabbling in my chest
like a cat on a hardwood floor."
"Then let's get some solid ground
under you so that you don't feel that way,"
Heron said. "Pick some people you think
have potential and try intimacy exercises
with them to find out how well you match."
"Like in health class?" Mallory said.
"We used to do these silly questions
in high school, but I never found anyone
I liked that way. So I just looked for
dates who were hot in the sack."
"To each their own," Heron said.
"There are some studies that show
how people can fall in love on purpose,
but it doesn't necessarily have to be sexual.
It depends on what kind of relationship you
want, and what you find attractive."
"Yeah, I like smarts and spunk if
I'm hanging out with people," she said.
"In bed, it's all about the performance."
"You're looking for more serious connections
now, though -- parenting is important and
ideally permanent," Heron said. "Ask questions
you care about, don't just go down a list, although
lists can give you inspiration. Take time to touch,
hold hands or cuddle; a person who feels good
to you will probably feel good to a baby. Try
eye gazing; that helps build intimacy too."
"How does that even work?" Mallory said.
"I read about it, but it just sounds like staring."
"I can show you the difference," Heron said.
"We sit together and make eye contact.
Five minutes is ideal, but most people
don't make it that long at first, because
it's so intimate, so don't try to force it.
Keep your gaze soft and just be with me."
They turned to face each other on the futon,
legs brushing together, and their eyes met.
It wasn't often that Heron left himself
so exposed, but this was important, and
he was already developing a connection
with Mallory that made it bearable.
Mallory's eyes were hazel, and huge in
comparison to her pinched, triangular face.
They held a reflection of all the hardships
that she had endured, but also a spark of
mischief which reassured Heron that
her sense of humor had survived.
She ducked away after about a minute.
"That's good for a first try," Heron said.
"If you liked it, we can go again later."
"Kind of?" Mallory said. "I just felt so ...
naked, and like you were naked too."
"Then we did it right," Heron said.
"Staring is one-sided. Eye gazing
is mutual. It's about sharing. What
did you think about what you saw?"
Mallory tapped a finger against her lip.
"One summer we went on vacation,
and we drove over the Mississippi when
it hadn't rained for weeks, so the water
below was smooth and crystal clear.
It felt like that, looking into the river."
"I think I'll take that as a compliment,"
Heron said. "I saw a lot of layers in you,
including happiness and sadness. I like
your sense of humor; that's important to me."
"Nobody likes my sense of humor
except me," Mallory snorted.
"Well, I might object if you pranked people
in a way that got anyone hurt, but I've
enjoyed your jokes," Heron said.
She looked at him again,
holding his gaze a little longer
this time, then looked back down.
"I'm just so terrified of making
the wrong decision," Mallory admitted.
"This is someone's life, I can't fuck it up."
Heron reached out to touch her shoulder,
and when Mallory leaned against him, he
pulled her closer and said, "Alas, we can't
know in advance whether we're making
the right decisions. All we know is that
wherever we are, it's where the Universe
wants us, so that's the best place for us
to be now. As long as we don't try to force
things the way we want them to go, then
we won't end up where we shouldn't be."
"I wish I could believe that," Mallory said.
"I believe it," Heron said, giving Mallory
a gentle squeeze. "Maybe that will be enough."
"I hope so," she said, her breath warm
against the side of his neck. "Because
I think I'd like to try imagining my future
with a baby in it, and ... and you, too."
The bubble of joy that rose up in Heron was
star-hot, incandescent, but like most emotions
it popped before it reached his mouth and
spread through him like softly glowing fog.
"All right," he said calmly. "Let's do that."
* * *
"Unfortunately, we can never truly know if we're making the right decision. What we do know is that wherever we are, that's where the Light wants us to be. It's the best place for us to be now. And as long as we don't try to control the situation, then we won't end up in the place we shouldn't be."
-- Yehuda Berg
As of Wednesday, May 28 Mallory is 21 weeks pregnant. She has worksheets on making a decision, pregnancy options, and a whole unplanned pregnancy workbook. It is still not helping much.
Heron is trying to figure out whether to stay in college longer, or leave and choose what to do next.
Coparenting is raising a child outside of marriage. There are indeed matchmaking websites for this, although I imagine the ones in Terramagne-America are better than here. Think about the signs that your boyfriend would make a great dad. There are parenting plan worksheets and checklists.
For babies, there are newborn checklists and new parent checklists. Here is a guide for new parents and a postpartum plan to schedule helpers and other resources. You can also make a parent-child contract.
Eye contact is an important part of social interaction for most people, but technology and other things can interfere. Eye gazing is one of the most intimate things you can do with your clothes on. It's part of an experiment for falling in love on purpose. Here are the instructions. Prolonged eye contact plays a vital role in attraction, and offers an exercise for lovers.
Courtship is the process of figuring out whether you match well with someone, before you commit to a relationship, and then gradually lowing barriers to merge. There are connection exercises, nonsexual intimacies, and intimate conversations to have in developing a relationship. Yes, nonsexual relationships can be just as intimate as sexual ones, simply in different ways. What Mallory just did with Heron was a lot more intimate than the casual fucking she has done in the past, hence her shyness. A courtship often goes something like this.