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“Um…”

It was the way that Natalie said it that first alarmed Maura. That tone of voice. It was the same one that Natalie had used when she accidentally melted the laptop cords, or the one time she put bleach in the washing machine with all their jeans—she was not allowed to touch the washer unsupervised anymore—and it always spelled some kind of domestic disaster. Maura looked down to Camilla, who had just finished her bottle and burping, and was now blinking sleepy baby-eyes back at her. Well, at least she knew that this particular “um” didn’t have something to do with the baby.

Truthfully, though, Camilla was the only thing that Maura didn’t worry about around Natalie. The woman was like a bear, when it came to their daughter—as protective and careful as Nat had any possibility of being.

The woman in question crept into the room rather nervously, shedding layers as she did. Her shoes had been left by the front door, but Maura could see traces of melting snow on her trouser legs, and her face was red still with cold. Her close-cropped, straw-brown hair was still icy.

“Did you forget your hat again?” Maura admonished, standing to go over to her wife and help brush snow off. “It’s December, you idiot, so either tie the thing to your wrist or I’m going to have to take drastic measures.”

Natalie flashed her a goofy grin before moving to take Camilla. Natalie always smiled when Maura scolded her about something. It was annoying to the extreme.

“Okay,” Natalie said cheerfully, and Maura shook her head, knowing that this would not be the last time she had to bring it up. “Um, so…”

Maura quirked an eyebrow, going into the kitchen. Tonight was her night to cook, and she could do some pretty amazing things with instant rice and precooked chicken, if she did say so herself. “Spit it out.”

“You know how we…well, weren’t planning on doing anything much for Christmas? Just being a family and stuff, maybe having Amy and Rich over?”

“Uh-huh,” Maura replied, in a particular tone that informed Natalie that her wife knewshe was up to something.

“Well…um…my parents called today. At work.” Natalie absently bounced a now-giggling Camilla. “They want us to go out to Oregon for Christmas.”

“Hnnnh…”

Well, that threw Maura for a loop. She tried to think about how Natalie’s parents had acted at the wedding, three years ago. That was the last time she’d seen them. They’d been very…cheery…but in a patently fake sort of way. Maura’s had been worse, of course, her dad being pretty openly hostile and getting raging drunk halfway through the reception. Really, the most love had come from the friends they’d invited—Amy and Brianna from college, old high school buddies and people they’d picked up along the way in their lives. Maura’s cousins had been really supportive, and so had a few odd relatives of Nat’s. It had just been obvious that Natalie’s parents weren’t much into it, was all. So why now, inviting them out for the first Christmas that the three would be having as a family?

“What do you think?” Natalie asked, still sounding nervous, coming to stand behind Maura as she stared absently at the stovetop. Maura liked the way that felt, having her wife at her back and the baby held next to her, happily gurgling at being able to snuggle both her parents at once.

“Well, what did you tell them?” Maura countered, stalling for time.

“I didn’t. I said that I’d talk it over with you. It’s just…they sounded really anxious to see Camilla. They haven’t seen her yet. They wanted to have a big family thing at my aunt’s house, and they wanted to make sure we’d come…And it would only be a few days—we could come back here for New Year’s.”

Maura shrugged. It wasn’t as if she was particularly upset about visiting Natalie’s family. Her brother had been pleasant enough, and some of the cousins were almost as fun as hers.

“Sure, why not?”

“Yes!” Natalie crowed, spinning around with Camilla held aloft. “Did you hear that, aka-chan?We’re gonna meet your grandparents for Christmas!”

Maura smiled fondly at the two goofs giggling madly in her kitchen. “I didn’t realize that you were so excited.”

“Why not? I get to show off the prettiest little girl in the world—and my wife,” Natalie added with a wink. She escaped with the baby in tow before Maura could snap a tea towel at her ass. “I’m going to go change out of these wet things and see if baby-chan will go down for a nap while we eat!” she called down the hallway.

Maura just smiled and started setting out plates. She heard the buzz of the landline in the other room—Natalie, telling her parents the good news. As she listened, though, another sound echoed through the kitchen; the tinny theme of her cell phone going off. Rifling through her purse on the breakfast bar, she came up with the phone. The block letters across the screen read Dad Cell

Maura got a foreboding feeling in her stomach. She hadn’t talked to her dad in six months; she was hoping the radio silence could have gone on a little longer.

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