A late November wind sent a wave of fallen maple leaves tumbling across the yard of the farmhouse as Emma Spencer pressed her nose against the screen door and sighed. Still no telltale plume of dust from her mother’s white Nissan coming down the driveway. Disappointed, she closed the inside door and wandered into the kitchen, plopping down onto one of the wooden chairs at the table, bored.
Picking out a colored pencil from the slim box, Emma continued to color her “flags of the world” project for school. Her daddy had dropped her off in the morning with plenty of time to say good bye to Ava and Uncle Sam before her mommy took them to the airport. She had already watched High School Musical and played Wii bowling with Uncle Jonathan, beating him easily. She’d finally had no choice but to break out her homework to pass the time.
Emma’s mind wandered as she worked. Maybe now Natalia would be home more and want to do stuff together like before. Mommy had said Natalia would be sore for awhile but she knew there would still be lots she could do to help out with her new baby sister. It seemed like forever since she had seen Francesca in the hospital with Natalia, with her little scrunchy face and tiny fingers. She couldn’t wait for the little squirmy baby to come home.
“Hey munchkin, still no sign of them?” Jonathan leaned against the doorframe and watched the girl coloring away on the flag for Italy. ‘She must be bored if she’s doing her homework.’
“Nope.” Another big sigh, before she reached for a green pencil.
“Wanna check out the ducks again?” Jonathan stepped closer to the kitchen table as Emma began to fill in a space on the page.
“Maybe we could watch another movie. I’ve only seen the Hannah Montana movie twice and you know how I love her music, so if you wanted to we could put it on.” Jonathan smiled while cringing inside at the thought of actually having to sit through it yet again.
Movement from outside suddenly caught his eye and Jonathan froze, going on high alert. Jeffrey’s most recent message had said to stay vigilant. He relaxed, however, as he quickly recognized who it was.
“I don’t feel like it right now.” Emma sighed, not noticing the door being quietly opened behind her.
“Then how about giving your baby sister a big welcome home, Jellybean?” Olivia smiled from the door as she ushered in a slow-moving Natalia and her tiny bundle.
“Mom! Natalia!” Emma leapt up from her chair and threw herself at Olivia and then pounced on her other mother and the baby. “I’m so glad you’re all home!”
“Sshh, she’s sleeping, sweetie.” Natalia hushed her and quickly checked to see if the little girl in her arms had woken. Francesca shifted slightly but didn’t wake. She looked back into Emma’s beaming face and grinned. It was good to finally be home again.
“Can I hold her? Can I, please?” Emma practically shook with excitement, but spoke softly. Olivia glanced at Natalia to make sure she was holding up okay and then nodded at her daughter.
“On the couch though, Emma.” Olivia chuckled as the girl took off like a shot into the living room and then gasped as she suddenly found herself wrapped in a big bear hug.
“Congrats, Auntie O, you’re a mommy! Again.” Jonathan’s eyes twinkled with mirth as he squeezed the older woman and lifted her off the ground. Finally letting the laughing woman go, he wisely didn’t comment on the happy tears glittering in her eyes. Turning to the small, sleeping child in Natalia’s arms, he grabbed a tiny hand and gave it a little wiggle.
“What a lucky little lady you are, with all this love around you,” he whispered, trying not to wake the girl. Natalia smiled shyly up at him before slowly making her way into the living room with Francesca, to find Emma.
“Thanks again for looking after Emma for us at the last minute this afternoon. Poor Jane sounded like she was coughing up a lung. I hope it’s not H1N1 or something.” Olivia quickly tugged off her jacket and hung it up on a hook before heading towards the living room to help get Natalia settled.
“No problem. Lizzie had Sarah for most of the long weekend, so I was at loose ends today anyway.” Jonathan stuck his hands deeply into his pockets and followed Olivia into the adjacent room. They paused, watching as Natalia stiffly bent over and slid the baby onto Emma’s waiting lap.
“Now just put one arm around her here, like that so that you keep her close, and put your other hand under here to help support Sweet Pea’s head.” Natalia moved a pillow a little closer to help keep the baby wedged against Emma’s body. Olivia appeared beside her partner and helped her out of her jacket before Natalia gingerly sat down beside Emma. She let out a big sigh of relief and just let herself relax, glad to be home.
“Hi, Sweet Pea.” Emma was thrilled as the baby’s eyes blinked open and stared back at her. “You’re going to love it here. We’ve got ducks and lots of places to explore. And your room is so pretty.”
Francesca stared up, and kicked her feet a little in response. Emma giggled and looked up at her mommy. Natalia reached over and tugged back the pink blanket so the baby could move a bit more easily. A little hand started to push against Emma’s tummy, which made her look back down and giggle again.
Olivia’s heart melted a little at the sight of Emma, Natalia and the newest member of their family snuggled together on the couch. A wave of pure joy washed over her, stealing her breath away.
Was this really her life? Sometimes it still felt like it was all too good to be true, like she didn’t deserve to be this happy. A part of her was waiting for the other shoe to drop and for everything to be taken away from her. Natalia looked up at that moment, as if sensing her doubts, and as their eyes locked, something deep inside Olivia seemed to slide into place. Her family was home.
“Hey, y’know from this angle she kinda looks like Frank…” Jonathan teased, chuckling harder as Olivia smacked his stomach with the back of her hand. It was almost too easy to yank her chain sometimes.
“No she doesn’t. She looks like Natalia.” Emma looked up and pointed at a little dimple on Francesca’s pudgy cheek. “See!”
“She’s beautiful, Bean, just like her mother.” Olivia smiled softly, still staring intensely at the woman sitting beside her daughter. Jonathan coughed discreetly from behind her, breaking the moment, and she turned back to her nephew. “Did you want to stay for supper? Once we get the baby and Natalia settled, there are plenty of Thanksgiving dinner leftovers.” Olivia mentally ran through what they had in the fridge, thinking about how much was still left over from the huge, interrupted feast.
“No, but thanks though. I’ve got a few errands to run before I head home.” Jonathan could clearly see this little family needed some alone time. He waved to Emma and Natalia and headed into the kitchen to grab his jacket from where he had hung it, Olivia following behind him.
“Wait. At least let me send some food home with you, kiddo.” Olivia pulled open the refrigerator and started pulling out the tightly packed disposable Tupperware containers. “Just hang on a second while I put something together for you.”
Jonathan checked his watch. It was getting late. He leaned over and poked his aunt to get her attention.
“Listen, Auntie O, I’m going to head out.” Jonathan went over and grabbed his jacket from the coat hooks by the back door before tugging it on. “If you two need anything, I’m only a phone call away.”
Olivia turned and started haphazardly tossing various containers into a large plastic bag.
“I’m working from home this week at least, maybe even the next if Natalia seems too wiped out, so I think we’ll be okay. But we may take you up on that offer if things get a bit overwhelming around here.” Olivia knew the next few weeks were going to be a big adjustment for the whole family, but knew in her bones that they would get through it together just fine.
Sliding a third of the leftover cheesecake into a large Ziploc baggie, Olivia added it to the bag of leftovers and shoved it into his arms, not taking no for an answer. They would be eating Thanksgiving leftovers for a good month if she didn’t do something.
“Er … thanks, Auntie O.” Jonathan flashed his most charming smile, and dropped a quick kiss on her cheek. A squeaky wail started up from the living room as he disappeared out the door. Olivia waved him off, making sure the door was closed, before quickly heading back to rescue Emma.
Tugging his jacket collar up against the cold wind, Jonathan headed past the stork sign stuck in the lawn and dashed to his car, slamming the door behind him. Slipping his cell phone out of his pocket, he dialed a number he knew by heart and waited for the person on the other end to pick up.
“Jeffrey, it’s me.” Jonathan glanced back at the porch of the farmhouse, the warm glow from inside spilling out into the dimming afternoon light, and thought about the little family snuggled together inside.
“We need to talk. There are rumblings of things stirring in Springfield. If they’re true and Edmund’s making a move, none of us are safe.”
It had been a long day. Olivia made sure the back door was locked and shuffled over to the kitchen counter to unplug the whistling electric kettle. Yawning, she pulled out two mugs from the cupboard overhead. She was definitely ready for an early night; she could only imagine how tired Natalia was. And while she was happy to have her girls home from the hospital, it still shocked her a little at how quickly Cedars released them.
Olivia tossed a teabag into each mug and poured the boiling water from the kettle over them, shaking her head at herself. She would never admit out loud that she had had a hard time falling asleep without her lover by her side. It was funny how quickly she had gotten used to sleeping in the same bed with Natalia. Hell, it had taken months to get used to Bill’s snoring and Phillip’s constant movement in bed. No, she didn’t envy Lizzie or Beth at all.
Tossing out the used teabags, Olivia slowly stirred a bit of honey into Natalia’s mug. Sometimes it amazed her at how easily their lives had meshed together, in so many ways. It was almost scary. If she believed in such things, she’d almost say someone up there had a plan.
“Don’t you even start ...” Olivia mumbled to the small picture of the Virgin Mary on the wall, giving it a stern look as she passed. Switching off the kitchen light, she made her way through the dark living room with her mugs of steaming tea.
Quietly tiptoeing up the stairs, she easily stepped over the squeaky step, the third one from the top of the staircase, and padded down the hallway towards their bedroom. Ducking her head into Emma’s room, she paused to make sure her little girl was okay. Her heart clenched at the sight of her girl snuggled up in the blankets, peaceful. She was growing up so fast; it made Olivia’s heart ache. It seemed like just yesterday she had been rocking her to sleep too.
Olivia turned to go, glancing over at Cornelius, Emma’s battered old fudge teddy sitting in his new place of honor on the bookshelf, watching over the girl at night. Emma said that it was in case he got sad again, she would be in easy hugging distance. Olivia nodded at the bear, knowing Emma was in good hands. Juggling the two mugs of chamomile tea, she slowly pulled the door almost closed, leaving a few inches for the hall light to fall through into the dark room. Emma still hated it if it was pitch black in her room.
Making her way back to her own room, Olivia nudged the door with her elbow, slowly opening to reveal Natalia and the baby sitting together in the new rocking chair. The bedside lamp bathed them in a warm glow as they gently rocked back and forth.
She silently watched Natalia with her sleeping child. Long, dark hair tucked behind a delicate ear, revealing the long column of her neck, a sweet smile on her full lips and warm, brown eyes staring at the tiny life in her arms. Olivia had never quite seen that look of perfect adoration on the younger woman’s face before. A creaking floor board gave away her position and Natalia glanced up as if waking from a trance, smiling sleepily back at her, her beauty never failing to take Olivia’s breath away.
“Hey, it’s only me,” Olivia whispered, finally stepping deeper into the room. Placing the mugs on the nightstand, she turned to Natalia, reaching out to gently trail her fingers across the baby’s slightly flushed cheeks.
Olivia felt her heart swell and shook her head in wonder. How could she have ever thought this little darling would never really be hers too, theirs together? Francesca squeaked and sighed in her sleep, and turned towards the gentle touch.
“Everything is locked up and Emma’s sound asleep.” Olivia bent to scoop the sleeping infant into her arms and moved away so Natalia could stand.
“You have her lunch ready for school tomorrow?” Natalia gripped the armrests and slowly pushed herself up. God, she was so stiff; she didn’t remember being this sore and exhausted after Rafe was born. Then again, she wasn’t that same young woman either. Luckily Francesca had been an uncomplicated birth.
Olivia gently placed their daughter down into the crib they had temporarily moved into their room. They would move her into her own room soon, but Natalia couldn’t bear the thought of not being near Francesca, at least at first. And if Olivia was honest, neither could she.
“Sleep, mija.” Natalia breathed, ever so gently stroking the dark downy hair before reluctantly pulling away from the crib and picking up her mug of tea to take a sip. Sighing, she put it back down and slowly moved to the end of the bed.
“Need any help?” Olivia asked softly, worried about Natalia’s slow shuffling pace as she continued on past the bed.
“No I’m okay. Other than having a bladder the size of a peanut…” Natalia grumbled as she made her way to the bathroom. Olivia snickered and slid into bed, turning the blankets down for Natalia. She felt drowsy by the time she heard shuffling feet returning and then the mattress dipped as her lover came to bed.
Natalia slowly sank into the soft sheets, letting her body stop and relax. It was so good to be in her own bed, with Olivia by her side. She closed her eyes and couldn’t stop the low groan that slipped from her lips.
“So was it a half-ton or a Mack?”
“What?” Natalia popped an eye open to look over at her lover.
“The size of truck that you feel like you were hit by?” Olivia rolled to her side, her lip twitched into a half-smirk.
Natalia groaned again, this time at the joke, but smiled.
“Definitely a Mack.”
“My poor, sweet girl.” Olivia softly pushed dark strands of hair from Natalia’s forehead, before slowly stroking back through the long locks. “How’s the bleeding; still pretty heavy?”
Natalia sighed and nodded, shifting slightly, trying to relieve the ache in her lower back and legs. “Kind of what I expected. It still burns when I go to the bathroom, but it’s better than it was in the hospital.”
Olivia dropped a tender kiss to Natalia’s forehead.
“We’ll get that sitz bath set up for you tomorrow, okay? That should help,” Olivia whispered softly, nuzzling into the thick, dark hair just breathing in the scent of her lover.
Natalia nodded sleepily, her eyes drooping. Olivia began to make soothing circles as she massaged her scalp. Soon she heard deeper breathing from the younger woman, sleep finally claiming her weary body. She trailed the back of her fingers across her lover’s slightly flushed cheeks, smiling when she sighed in her sleep and turned towards the gentle touch.