Hearing the Bean’s heartbeat again was every bit as amazing as it was the first time. Sookie was stretched out on the exam table with one arm behind her head, watching the screen as Dr. Ludwig moved that wand around on Sookie’s belly. The heartbeat was strong and steady, well within the average range for a fetus of the Bean’s size. Bean’s estimated weight was nineteen ounces. Everything looked good.
“So, you two want to know the sex of the baby, yes?” Dr. Ludwig asked.
Sookie and I looked at each other with a smile and Sookie said, “We’ve had enough surprises lately, so yes, we want to know.”
Dr. Ludwig flicked her wrist a few times, trying to get a good angle on the Bean. “Well, it looks like the baby isn’t- oops! There we go!” She punched a button on her keyboard to freeze the image.
“What?” Sookie lifted her head up.
“You see here?” Dr. Ludwig pointed to the screen at what appeared to be the baby’s pelvic area.
“Yeah.” Sookie and I said simultaneously.
“Notice what’s not there?” Dr. Ludwig tilted her head back to look through the bi-focals of her lenses.
“It’s a girl?” Sookie asked.
“Looks like it.” Dr. Ludwig smiled over at us.
“A girl.” Sookie beamed at me, and I bent down to kiss her.
“You’re sure?” I asked Dr. Ludwig.
“There’s always a chance of a misread, but I’m fairly certain we’re looking at an innie.” The doctor said before unfreezing the monitor.
The ultrasound was being put on a DVD so we could copy it and send it to our parents. More pictures were printed and I sat back and listened while Sookie asked Dr. Ludwig a whole bunch of questions I never would have thought to ask. It was an educational appointment, to say the least. Before we left we stopped at the desk to schedule Sookie’s next visit, which wouldn’t be until the end of April.
Hearing we were having a girl brought all sorts of images of my sister into my head. I wondered if our daughter would look anything like Annika did as a baby. It was a weird connection to make but I felt less weird about it when Sookie mentioned it first on the ride home. We hadn’t talked names much since we didn’t know what we were having.
“I think her middle name should be Anne.” Sookie said out of nowhere.
“Yeah. It’s a pretty name and it would be a way of honoring your sister. I wish I could have met her.” I smiled over at him. “Not to mention, it’s both mine and Pam’s middle name.”
I hadn’t even thought of that. “Good points. Anne it is.”
“What about a first name? Do you have any names you like?”
“I used to like the name Sophia.” I admitted, getting a laugh out of Sookie. “I think it’s safe to say that’s on the veto list.”
“Uh, yeah, I think so.”
“Haley’s a pretty name.”
“Haley…Haley…” She let the name roll around on her tongue. “I like it. We’ll put it on the list of maybes.”
“What about you?” I looked over at her.
“I’m a fan of the classics. You know, Grace, Audrey, Elizabeth… names like those.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at that. “As in Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor?”
Sookie sputtered for a second before laughing as well. “I didn’t even think of that.”
“Uh huh.” I arched an eyebrow at her.
“I swear I didn’t! I happen to think those are classy, refined names.” Sookie said defensively and I knew to change the subject before her hormones took control of the conversation.
Arguing with Sookie was pointless. I wasn’t dealing with a rational woman lately. Those epic boobs of hers came with a price, and I sometimes think she was forced to trade some of her sanity for them. But I kept my mouth shut and just let her rant. It was the smartest way to emerge unscathed. I just had to remind myself that it wasn’t necessarily her talking when she said some of the things she did. It was interesting to watch her bounce from one peak to another. She could go from furious to overjoyed to bawling her eyes out in a span of five minutes. It was dizzying. The worst part was, I was never sure which Sookie I was going to get.
I parked her car in the garage and followed her into the house. I took Jeter out to the backyard to let him run around for a while. He was certainly loving the backyard at the new house. We’d made it to spring. If we were lucky, there wouldn’t be anymore snow, although flurries were known to fall in Chicago until April. We had plans to spruce up the backyard a little. Sookie wanted to plant flowers in window boxes that would hang around the deck railing. At first she had suggested rose bushes, but after doing some reading she realized we didn’t really have the right yard for it. Not to mention, those took a lot of work, and since she was going to be pretty pregnant by the time they would really need her attention, it wasn’t the right time to add them to our list of things to worry about.
Michelle was going to come up for a visit the following week to help Sookie get started on decorating the nursery, which would be across from our bedroom. I was fairly certain the baby would probably be spending most nights in our room for the first few weeks. Sookie was adamant about breast feeding for the first couple of months. She’d done all sorts of research already weighing the pros and cons of breastfeeding versus bottle feeding. She asked my opinion but I figured that was really up to her to decide, since the debate was really about custody of her breasts. Ultimately, I wanted whatever she was comfortable with and whatever was better for the baby.
Sookie and I had talked about the wedding some, trying to figure out a date. We couldn’t decide if it was better to do it before the baby came or not. The immediate future wasn’t really an option since she was still working and I was getting acclimated to being at the bar. We were in the process of getting into a new routine. Not to mention, it was important to both of us that Pam and Johan be there. They were still getting used to living together as well, so it wasn’t the right time.
We were thinking maybe we’d wait until fall. By the Sookie wouldn’t be pregnant anymore and things would be a little more settled. As soon as we got home from the doctor, Sookie went next door to show Amelia the ultrasound DVD. Tray promptly showed up a few minutes later looking slightly terrified. He’d told me the week before that he and Amelia were trying to get pregnant. They’d been at it for three months, and so far, had been unsuccessful.
“She’s freaking out, man. I don’t know what to tell her.” Tray told me while we sat at the kitchen table with a couple of beers.
“It’s only been a couple of months. I overheard Sookie and Amelia talking about it on the phone the other night and Sookie said if it doesn’t happen in a year you might want to go see someone. Amelia just needs to chill.” I told Tray.
“That’s what I keep telling her, but she’s used to getting her way thanks to that douchebag dad of hers. She’s got a bit of a Type A personality when it comes to getting what she wants.”
“Then it must be killing her that it’s not something either one of you can control. Even the best fertility experts out there can’t make her pregnant if she’s not supposed to be.”
Tray gave me a horrified look and said, “Man, whatever you do, don’t say that in front of her.”
Tray went on to tell me that it was frustrating to him not to be able to make this happen for her. It was obvious he would do anything for Amelia, and to watch her twist herself up over something that was completely in the hands of a higher power was painful for both of them. All the talk of babies gave way to talk of sons, which led to talks of sports. Before long, we were parked in front of the big plasma TV I’d brought with me from my house, watching ESPN and talking about the rapidly approaching opening day for baseball.
Sookie came home a while later to get started on dinner. Tray headed back to his place to check on Amelia, since Sookie said she hadn’t looked so good when she left. The front door was barely shut when Sookie slumped down next to me on the couch, her hands holding her belly.
“What’s wrong, lover?” I pulled her closer to me.
“I feel so bad for Ame. I keep telling her she needs to lighten up and just let nature take its course, but I don’t think she knows how to do that.” Sookie sighed, letting her head find the familiar niche where it fit so well on my chest. “I feel guilty for being so excited when she’s so miserable. I don’t want her to think I’m flaunting something she doesn’t have.”
“Sookie, I doubt she feels that way about you. Did you ever think she was flaunting her relationship with Tray when you weren’t in the best place relationship wise?” I pointed out to her.
“But this is different. I had a choice. Amelia doesn’t get a choice in this. Either it happens, or it doesn’t. There isn’t really anything anyone can do for her.”
“So then you just be her friend and be prepared for a little resentment if things don’t go her way. She’ll get over it.” I advised her.
Sookie sighed heavily and draped one of her arms over my stomach. We stayed that way for a little while before I helped her up so we could get dinner finished. We ate together at the kitchen table before I headed off to the bar for the night. I had some paperwork that needed to be done. I usually did it during the day, but I liked to be at the bar on weekends. I could jump in behind the bar if need be, and most people assumed I was part of security, given my size and the way I was dressed.
By the time I got home at just about three in the morning, Sookie was sound asleep. She was curled on her side, surrounded by pillows to give her the support she needed. I tried to be as quiet as I could when I got to our bedroom. I stripped off my clothes since they smelled like smoke and booze. I went down the hall to the guest bathroom to take a shower so I wouldn’t wake her up. Jeter was sitting outside the bathroom door when I got through. I took him outside for a few minutes to let him do his business before finally getting up to bed at a little after four.
Sookie rolled over to face me with sleepy eyes. “Hey you.” She muttered quietly.
“I’m sorry I woke you up.” I stroked her cheek gently as her eyes drifted shut.
“You didn’t. The Bean started doing an Irish jig on my bladder.”
“Well, at least you’re not puking.”
Sookie snickered and said, “Thank goodness for small favors.”
“You should go back to sleep.”
“I will. How was your night?”
“Busy, but good. I can’t wait until the manager is settled enough to run things without me being there.” I leaned forward to kiss Sookie’s forehead.
“Me, too. I hate going to sleep without you.” She tried to move closer, and when that wasn’t working so well, I closed the gap myself.
“I’m here now.” I reached behind her and kneaded her back gently, getting me a grateful moan from her.
“You should do that more often.” A faint smile played on her lips.
“Anytime you want.” I kissed her again, but she was already gone.
A few minutes later, so was I.
“Eunice?” Sookie arched an eyebrow at me.
“Agatha?” I countered.
“Oooh! I got it!” She said with excitement on her face. “Babette!”
I cringed and then laughed. “That’s bad.”
“Thank you.” She grinned.
“I think I have one worse.” I asked after skimming the name book. “Limber.”
Sookie burst out laughing and said, “Limber is not a name, it’s a qualification for being a stripper.”
I laughed right along with her, knowing there was no way in hell I would ever give my baby girl a stripper name. Food names were out, as were the names of any birth stone or luxury car. I looked down at the name book and read the definition of the name I’d suggested.
“It’s is a Tiv name meaning joyful.”
Sookie took the book from me, located the name and pointed. “See here? It’s also Bad Mom for Daughter who dances on pole.”
We were lost to another round of giggles when the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it.” I leaned over and kissed her.
I felt her eyes watching me as I left the living room where we’d been parked on the couch for the last hour or so, flipping through the baby name book. We figured if we could find a name we liked, we could start calling our daughter that. Although, truthfully, I kind of liked calling her Bean. I got to the front door and grinned when I saw who was on the other side.
“You aren’t supposed to be here until tomorrow.” I said once the door was opened.
“I wanted to surprise you.” Michelle smiled right back at me, and accepted the hug I offered her. “I’m so happy to see you!”
“I’m happy to see you, too! Sookie! We’ve got company!” I called out.
I released Michelle just in time for Sookie to appear at the end of the hall. Her hands were stretched over her expanding belly, and Michelle’s eyes filled with tears. Without a word, the two women rushed at each other. I stayed back while they cried over Sookie being pregnant and engaged. It was all happy tears and mother/daughter bonding stuff reminded me of the way Mom had been with Annika all those years ago. Whenever Annika reached one of those milestone moments, Mom always reverted to whatever age she was when she’d gone through it herself. It was interesting to watch.
It was different from the way Dad had treated Johan and I, where our achievements were met with stiff nods, firm handshakes and the occasional tight hug. We got words of encouragement from our father, along with some of his homespun wisdom. There was never, I repeat never, any squealing or crying like a couple of teenage girls at a Twilight movie. I remembered, very vaguely, the way Dad was with Annika. He’d worked a lot more back then, but I remembered the way he’d doted on her like she was the most perfect thing in the world. He looked at her like he would do anything to protect her. I knew he would do the same from Johan and me, but it was different when it came to his daughter.
I had no doubt I would be the same way when it came to our daughter. I didn’t think I’d be one of those dads who tried to convince my baby girl that convent living was the way to go, but I would definitely be keeping an eye on those little punks who came around. And God bless any kid who mistook Johan for me. He would have absolutely no trouble scaring the piss out of some poor kid. Finally, being an identical twin was going to pay off.
We got Michelle settled in the guest room upstairs. She took a short nap while Sookie and I attempted to put together that bookshelf my parents had given Sookie for Christmas. I was going to have to ask Tray to help me bring it upstairs since it wasn’t going to fit in the front room. Sookie, however, decided it would look great in the nursery. I could only hope we would be able to get it around the corner at the landing, or we were going to have to take it apart in some places.
When Michelle woke up she wrote out a grocery list for me so she could make Sookie a good southern dinner, proclaiming that Sookie needed to get some more meat on her bones. Sookie pouted at her mother and glared at the victorious smirk on my face. I left the house before her hormones could verbally castrate me. I got everything on Michelle’s list, along with the few items Sookie called me to add. By the time I got back to the house Michelle had potatoes peeled and dough for a pie crust rolled out.
Sookie was heating oil in an old cast iron skillet that I was sure weighed about as much as she did. I found myself glaring at her, hoping she hadn’t lifted the pan herself. Sookie gave me the most innocent look on the planet and said, “Mom got it out.” She pushed herself up on her toes to kiss me hello.
Dinner was delicious. Kentucky Fried Chicken eat your heart out. Michelle was an amazing cook. I’d forgotten how good. Although, having dinner with them reminded me that I owed Sookie for her little prank at Thanksgiving. With all the crazy things that had happened since then, I’d completely forgotten about it. I would have to enlist Amelia’s help in this, since she knew Sookie well enough to be able to really get her good. It seemed a bit odd to go to Sookie’s best friend for help with a prank, but I knew all too well Amelia got her kicks tormenting Sookie from time to time. If she didn’t, Sookie and I wouldn’t have met the way we did.
The next day was one of the first really nice days we’d had in Chicago since the previous fall. Forecasters were calling for temperatures to get up to a whopping 62 degrees, which was damn near a heatwave for the end of March. Sookie and Michelle were going to go shopping for maternity clothes and to get started on nursery decorations, while my big plan was to get the yard straightened up so we could start planting the flowers Sookie wanted.
I was in the midst of pulling some weeds up in the back when my cell phone rang on the deck. I pushed myself up off the ground and got to my phone just before the call went to voice mail. I was surprised to see Terry Bellefleur’s name on the display.
“Hey, Terry, how are ya?” I asked.
“Uh, not so great.” The man sounded nervous.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s Quentin. He uh… he got himself arrested last night.” Terry told me.
I sat down on one of the deck chairs and squeezed the bridge of my nose. “What was the charge?”
“Same thing you were up for. Apparently he got in a fight with his girlfriend and he hit her.”
“Damn.” I muttered. I didn’t know what else to say. I knew Quentin had a bit of a temper, but I didn’t think he would hit a woman. “I’m sorry to hear that, Terry.”
“Listen, I was hoping you’d be willing to come talk to him when he gets released. He’s been suspended from school for ten days to make sure to give the kids enough time to cool down before they have to be back in the same space. The girl’s parents are pushing for expulsion. Quentin’s got a big mouth, but he’s never had so much as a detention on his record before this. We both know there’s more to him than the ego and the bullshit he spouts off.”
“I’m not really sure he’d listen to me, Terry. He didn’t listen to me when I coached.”
“He’s scared, Eric. The truth is, he was asking for you. He knows you’ve been in his shoes. You wanted to be a role model to these boys. Well, here’s your chance.” Terry challenged.
I sighed and said, “Alright. Give Quentin my cell number. I’ll see what I can do.”
Forty-five minutes later I was pushing the lawn mower around the yard when Sookie and Michelle came back. Sookie looked completely wiped out. She didn’t even show me what she bought before going upstairs to take a nap. I cut off the machine and sat down on the deck with Michelle, who’d brought out a glass of water for me.
“Thanks.” I smiled at her as I sat.
“She always that tired?” Michelle jerked her head toward the house.
“It comes and goes. Some days she has a hard time staying awake and others she can’t sleep at all. This pregnancy thing hasn’t been too easy on her.”
“It was like that for me when I was pregnant with Jason. Shoulda known that boy was trouble.”
“Don’t say that.” I laughed, slightly horrified at the idea of my daughter turning out like Jason. He was a good guy, but that didn’t mean I wanted my little Bean to be like him.
“You know, I have to say, I’m impressed you two are handling everything so well. Most couples would struggle with all of the things you two have been through together in such a short period of time. I think a lot of the reason why Sookie is dealing with all of this so well is because of you. If this sort of stuff had happened with Quinn, she would have moved home by now.” Michelle smiled warmly at me.
“Well, anything worth having is worth fighting for, right? Honestly, Michelle, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for your daughter.” I said seriously.
“I think you proved that with what happened with Bill.” Michelle pressed her lips together in a very motherly fashion that let me know she was biting her tongue.
“If you have something to say, it’s okay if you say it.” I told her. I was actually interested in hearing her thoughts on the whole thing.
Michelle exhaled slowly and said, “While I understand you were trying to protect her, the best way for you to have done that would have been to just walk away. Things worked out for the best, but it would have been really easy for things to go the other way. What if you had ended up in jail and Bill came after her? I know you weren’t thinking about that at the time, but with a baby coming, you have to be more considerate of those sorts of things when you act. You can’t let your temper call the shots anymore, Eric.”
“I know.” I nodded my agreement. “Hopefully, I’ll never be in a position like that again. But, if for some reason I am, I promise to make better choices.”
“Good. Because Sookie might be okay without you, but that baby girl is another story. She has to come first.”
“I hope you do.” Michelle drained the last of her water. “So, Eric, when, exactly, are you going to marry my daughter?”
I laughed quietly and said, “As soon as she’ll let me.”