Andy and Devin dragged the second crib down from the attic and placed it into the nursery with Elyse’s crib. Danae’s due date was just two weeks away, and she was thankful that the room was already prepared and decorated. Andy walked to his wife and kissed her. “How does it look, my sweet?”
“Perfect, as always.” She looked around inside the room, and she was happy. “Thanks for helping Andy.” Danae held her arms open for her brother and hugged him. “So, when are you going to make an honest woman out of Maribeth, Dev?”
“Heh,” Devin’s answer came. “Why marry her? She gives me everything I need without the strings. When she stops, I’ll move on. No problem.”
Danae shook her head. Her brother had become the very thing she tried to avoid when she was single, the very type of man that Travis had warned her about, and the ultimate stereotype of a playboy sports star. “You sound like you know what you’re doing,” she said sarcastically.
“Stuff it, Nae. You do you, and I’ll do me.” Devin huffed and walked away.
Andy laughed. “He won’t be so casual when he catches something.” He walked up behind her, wrapped his arms around her and rubbed her belly. “It won’t be long, and our little one will be here. Give me a son, honey.” He kissed her neck and nibbled her ear.
Danae giggled. “It might not be a boy, babe. Will you still love the baby if it’s a girl?”
Andy turned her around and looked at her, incredulous. “Are you really asking me that? Of course, I’ll love the baby, my sweet. It will be half me and half you.”
“I know,” she smiled sweetly at him. A nagging ache shot through her back and interrupted the romance. “Ugh, I am so uncomfortable,” she groaned.
“I’m sorry, my sweet.” He rubbed the muscles in her neck, alternating massage with kisses. “Why don’t you lay down for a while, and I’ll get you whatever you need.”
“You don’t have to wait on me hand and foot, you know.” She waddled back to their bedroom and sat on the edge of their bed.
“I never have to do anything,” he smiled at her. “I do it because I love you.”
“I’d love a glass of water.”
“Water it is,” he grinned. He helped her to get comfortable and went to the kitchen.
“How is she doing?” Travis asked. He spotted Andy at the sink with a glass to fill for Danae.
“She is very uncomfortable. I think she’s not going to go the full two weeks she has left. I think she’ll go any day.” Andy turned the faucet off and took a sip from the glass he had filled too full. “I’m very excited!”
“What do you think it will be?” he asked.
“Well, I know I want a boy, but I think we’ll have another daughter.” Andy grinned from ear to ear. “That’s okay with me, too.”
“I don’t want to keep you from her. Enjoy your paternity leave, Andy. It’s good to have you home for a couple of weeks. I know Danae will love having the extra hands.”
“Thanks, Travis,” Andy replied. He walked back up the steps, her water glass in hand, and opened the bedroom door. The sound of light snoring greeted him. Andy set the water on the nightstand and walked to his side of the bed. He removed his shoes and cuddled up behind her, and together they napped.
A few nights later, Danae was cleaning up dinner dishes when she needed to sit down. “Are you okay, honey?” Charlotte asked.
“I feel woozy,” she replied. “I’ll ask Andy to finish this up for me when he gets home from the store. I am going to go lay down upstairs.” Danae had officially hit the thirty-nine-week mark on the pregnancy, and she was more than ready to have the baby. As she settled down, she texted Andy, so he would know to clean the rest of the kitchen for her.
Babe, I went upstairs to lay down, but the kitchen is a mess. Would you finish it for me, love? I hate to leave it for you, but I wasn’t feeling well. I appreciate you!!
She knew cleaning wasn’t his strong suit, but there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for her, especially when he knew she was so miserable. Danae opened a music app on her phone, and let the music lull her to sleep.
Andy tiptoed into the bedroom and watched her sleep. Her light snores were familiar, but he heard her whimper. That was not normal. He wanted to wake her but decided not to. Once the baby came, sleep would be at a premium. So, he walked to the monitor she had on the nightstand, flipped the switch to “transmit,” and kissed her cheek lightly before he left the room.
He walked to the kitchen and saw the mess Danae had left and grumbled. “Thanks, honey,” he muttered and began to fill the dishwasher with dirty plates and flatware. The baby monitor receivers sat on the kitchen counter not far from where he stood. Elyse’s nursery broadcasted on the first one, the other monitor, Andy tuned to Danae’s frequency.
The last glass went into the washer, and he started it. Just as he wiped the counters down, he heard more than just snores from Danae’s monitor, but still, she seemed okay. She isn’t moaning in pain, he thought. And though it was early, he decided to take a shower and relax by the pool with a glass of wine. Charlotte and Travis had already retired for the evening, and he had the house to himself.
He thought he heard the monitor sound while the warm water rinsed the shampoo from his hair, but the noise stopped before he could distinguish it. He finished up quickly, wrapped a towel around his waist, and walked to the pool with a glass of wine, the baby monitors under his arm. “Ohhhh,” came a quiet moan from Danae’s monitor. He sipped wine from the glass and heard another, louder groan come from upstairs. He sighed and got up, walked to the kitchen, and placed his glass on the counter.
Halfway up the stairs, Danae cried out in pain, and he ran for their bedroom. “Honey?” he said frantically. She was sitting up, groaning, and holding her belly.
“Andy, I think it’s time,” she said breathlessly as another contraction hit.
He helped her with shoes and kissed her. “This is it! But, I need to let your folks know I’m taking you, in case Elyse wakes up.” She nodded and started her breathing exercises.
Andy knocked softly on Travis and Charlotte’s bedroom door, and he replied, “Come in.”
He peeked his head in, stepping halfway inside. “Danae is in labor, and we’re on our way to the hospital. Elyse is still sleeping, and hopefully, she will be for a while, but I wanted to let you know in case she does wake up.”
Travis smiled. Charlotte slept beside him, peaceful. “Good luck! Let us know as soon as you get a chance. We love you both.”
“We love you too.” Andy went back to the bedroom for Danae, but she was already halfway down the steps, walking gingerly. “You were supposed to wait, my sweet!” he teased.
“I don’t think we have time for waiting, babe. I think this baby is in a hurry.”
“Are you okay to keep on walking down here carefully?” he asked, and she nodded. “I’ll meet you out front by the small gate.” Danae nodded again, still concentrating on breathing. Andy ran to the garage, got the car from the driveway, and pulled it out in front. By the time he got there, she had already locked the front door and was opening the gate. He helped her in and buckled her seatbelt. “How are you doing?”
“Okay, for now, but we really should go. That last contraction was powerful, and once my water breaks, it’s on.”
He drove to the hospital as quickly as he could legally go and called her obstetrician on the way. When they arrived, the doctor was waiting for her, and they got her right into delivery. A different doctor would deliver this baby—her first doctor, the same woman who delivered Elyse, Danae, and Darcey, had finally retired.
Andy was right there, holding her hand and coaching her while she moaned in pain. “Remember to breathe,” he encouraged her. A sharp contraction made her yelp out loud, and her water broke shortly afterward.
“It’s time to go,” the doctor said.
Twenty long, exhausting minutes later, Danae and Andy’s firstborn son came into the world, and they were so happy. Danae held her arms out to take the baby while he cried, and she fell in love with him instantly. “Hi sweetheart,” she cooed at him and cried tears of sheer joy. “I’m your mama.”
“He’s perfect!” Andy enthused and relished his newborn cries. It was the sound of a healthy baby.
“What is his name?” the nurse asked and smiled.
Danae looked at Andy. “Eamon. Eamon Travis Murphy.” He nodded his approval.
“That’s a name you don’t hear much. Eamon. I like it!” she exclaimed. She looked at the happy parents. “Congratulations!”
“Thank you.” The baby had calmed down, swaddled in her arms, and just made soft coos. “Andy, I love you so much. Our family is perfect.”
“Thank you for giving me a son.” His eyes filled with tears. “I love you, my darling, Danae.”
The next morning, Andy picked Danae and Eamon up at the hospital in a shiny white limousine, courtesy of the Shores Llamas. Inside, he had a dozen velvety red roses for her and a cuddly new teddy bear for his baby boy. Her jaw dropped open when she saw it. “Andy, you’ve outdone yourself,” she gushed. “You spoil me too much.”
“Nonsense!” he replied. “You gave me a son. There is never too much spoiling for you, my sweet.”
“Well, you know, babe, it takes two to make a son. You had a little something to do with it. It wasn’t all me.” The baby yawned and looked at her, and her heart melted. “Oh, Andy, he is so handsome. Just like his daddy.”
“Nope, he’s going to look like you. He’s a lot lighter than Elyse, and he has your gorgeous eyes.”
Charlotte, Travis, and Emmitt were all waiting at the Jones house for the happy parents to arrive home. Andy helped Danae up and retrieved their son from his car seat. “Here, I’ll take him,” she said, while he got the car seat from the limo to bring inside. Andy opened the front door and was surprised to see his father, waiting to see his first grandson.
Danae smiled and laid the baby in Emmitt’s waiting arms. “Anduin, you’ve done your old man proud this day,” he said, emotional. “This little boy is worthy of the Murphy name.”
“Thanks, Dad. That means so much me.” Andy walked to where Danae stood, beaming with happiness. He put his arms around her, and she snuggled into his embrace. “To both of us.”
The baby started to fuss, and Danae took him from Emmitt. “I’m going to go feed the baby and lay him down, but we will bring him over to visit very soon. Both of them.”
He embraced his daughter-in-law and kissed her forehead. “You have no idea how much I would love that, sweetheart.” His smile showed he was genuinely happy. “Goodnight, little boy.” She blew Emmitt a kiss and walked up the stairs to the nursery.
Elyse was sleeping in her crib when Danae sat down with Eamon to nurse him. Andy stood in the doorway, in awe of the baby and his wife, and he smiled at her. “I’ll wait for you in our room,” he whispered, not wanting to wake Elyse.
She nodded and turned her attention back to their newborn son, talking to him softly while she fed him. It didn’t take long to nurse and burp him, and Danae joined Andy in their room. “Is he all fed?”
“He is, and I am feeling better, too.” He patted the bed next to him, and she sat on the edge and slipped out of her shoes. She turned the monitor to “receive” and set the channel to the correct setting. Danae settled down in bed, and Andy curled up with her and held her close. “You feel so good near me, babe,” she cooed and snuggled into his arms.
“Thank you again, honey, for all you have given me. Not just Eamon, but Elyse, and all your love. You changed me for the better, and I love you with all my heart.” They held close to each other and fell asleep.
Andy unlocked the door of his father’s home, and he held the door for Danae and Elyse, who toddled behind her mother closely. “Dad! We’re here,” Andy called to Emmitt.
Emmitt walked from the kitchen, carrying a cup of tea. “Hello, son,” he greeted Andy. “Hi sweetheart,” he held his arms open for Danae and hugged her. “And there’s my little princess!” He stooped over and picked up Elyse, who giggled madly when her Papa kissed her cheek.
“Can I help you with anything, Dad?” Andy asked and walked toward the kitchen. “It smells amazing in here.”
“No, I have it under control.” Emmitt walked to Danae and cooed at the baby. “Danae, he is a handsome little man. Do you mind if I hold him for a moment?”
“Not at all,” Danae smiled and handed Eamon to his Papa.
“You and Andy make pretty babies,” he remarked. “You should have more. The world needs more beautiful people.” Danae blushed a deep red.
“Thanks, Dad,” Andy replied for her. “I think two is our master plan, but you never know.” The timer on the oven sounded, and he walked to the kitchen. “I’ll get it.”
“You shouldn’t have fussed, Dad,” Danae said. “We could have had you over to our home. Mama and Daddy would have loved that.”
“Sweetheart, I love your mom and dad, but I wanted my grandbabies to myself tonight. I hope you understand.” Emmitt looked a little ashamed and felt more than a little selfish.
“Of course, I understand,” she smiled. “You’re entitled to see them whenever you’d like. Just call me. You know I’m home with them every day.”
“I love that you’re a stay at home mother, Danae. My Tessa…” his voice faded, emotion choked his words. “She stayed home with Andy. She never regretted any of it.”
“I would have it no other way,” she smiled, watching Elyse play on the floor with some blocks Emmitt bought for her.
Andy walked from the kitchen. “About another twenty minutes, and I think we’re good to go.”
“Dada!” Elyse cooed at Andy and toddled towards him. “Up!”
He picked her up and tossed her in the air, and it made her giggle madly. “If his mother could see him now, she’d have never believed it,” Emmitt remarked. “He never showed any tendency towards fatherhood when he was a teenager.” Elyse’s giggles made his heart happy. “I’m so glad you never married that other floozy, Andy. Isn’t Danae everything you’ve always wanted?”
Andy shot his father a look. “Let’s not talk about her, please, Dad. I’m deliriously happy now. And yes, my darling Danae is more than I ever thought I’d have.” He blew a raspberry on the baby girl’s rosy cheek, and she giggled harder. “I am so thankful for my little family.”
Danae chuckled at her husband. They never discussed his ex-girlfriend, but Emmitt mentioned her so casually. “Sorry, son. I’m just happy you found each other. I would have never guessed you’d end up marrying Travis’ daughter. That was perfect.”
Andy remembered vividly the night they met. “It was indeed, perfect. It happened just like you told me, Dad. And I knew Danae was mine. It took some convincing, though.” He grinned like a Cheshire cat, and Danae blushed. The timer on the oven sounded. “I’ll get that, Dad. Stay put.” He walked to the kitchen and checked on the lasagna, and it was perfectly bubbly, the cheese melted and browned. He walked back to the living room. “It’s ready,” Andy announced and picked up Elyse to put in a high chair.
After dinner, Andy cleaned up the kitchen while Emmitt played on the floor with Elyse, and Danae fed the baby. “Do you need help, honey?” she called to him.
“No, love, I’m okay.”
“So Danae,” Emmitt said, “You would tell me if that son of mine mistreats you.” He winked at her. Emmitt knew he would never.
She laughed. “I don’t think I have to worry about that, Dad.” Eamon fussed, and she put him over her shoulder to burp him. “I know with no doubts that man loves me.”
“Good, because I’m getting too old to kick his fanny,” he laughed. A sudden look of pain showed on his face. “Ooh, I need to get up.” Danae watched as Emmitt struggled to pull himself to a standing position.
“Andy!” Danae called. “Your dad needs help, sweetie.” Emmitt frowned at her.
“I’m okay,” he insisted, but Andy was already there to give him a helping hand.
“You shouldn’t be sitting on the floor, Dad. Remember what the doctor told you.”
“Yes, yes, I know. But I’m not going to miss out on playing with that little sweet pea.” Emmitt picked the young girl up and placed her in his lap, and snuggled her. Her giggles filled the house, and Danae melted. How she loved to hear that baby giggle.
Eamon fell asleep before he finished nursing, and Elyse was beginning to get cranky and tired. But she settled on the sofa next to her Papa and dozed off. Danae placed their son into Emmitt’s arms. “I’m going to go help Andy, and we’re going to need to get these babies home, and into bed soon, I’m sorry to say.” Danae hugged Emmitt and walked to the kitchen. “What needs to be done, love?” she asked Andy.
“I just need to wipe the counters, and we’re good.” He already had the rag in his hand when she took it from him.
“Go sit with your dad, babe. I’ll finish this. He doesn’t seem himself.” She kissed him, and he left to check on Emmitt.
“What’s wrong, Dad?” Andy asked, noticing the pained expression on his father’s face.
“I just sat on the floor for too long, son. I’ll be fine.”
“Do you need help getting upstairs?”
“No, I usually sleep in the downstairs guest room these days. There’s no need to climb stairs if I don’t have to.”
“Well, you know where I am if you need me, Dad. I’m two minutes away, literally. Don’t hesitate to call me at any time.” He sat next to Emmitt on the sofa and watched as he cuddled the baby. “You know, he looks like you.”
“Well, he resembles you, but Elyse looks more like our side of the family. She has the Valley written all over her, between you and Travis.” Eamon yawned, and let out one lone cry, and closed his eyes. Emmitt chuckled. “What was that? Hmm, little man?”
“He does that. It’s so cute.” Andy looked upon his son with love. Danae appeared from the kitchen and smiled at the three generations of Murphy men. She was amazed at how thoroughly she loved all of them.
“I think it’s time to head home, honey,” she announced. “Elyse is tired, and I need to finish feeding Eamon. I feel lopsided.” She took the baby from Emmitt and put him into the seat, and buckled him in. “It was so good to see you, Dad!” She hugged her father-in-law. “Remember, call me anytime, and I can come to visit with the kids.”
“I would love that, sweetheart,” Emmitt answered. “I’m home all the time. Just stop in whenever.”
Andy stood and hugged his father. “How about we come by tomorrow? I still have a week of paternity leave. Besides, it’s good to spend some time with you, Pop.”
“Sounds good, son. Be safe, going home. I love you two.” Emmitt hated to see them go.
“We love you too,” Danae replied, carrying Elyse in her arms. “Say night night, Elyse.”
The tired little girl rubbed her eyes. “Ni ni Papa,” she said as she waved sleepily and blew him a kiss.
Andy drove them the two-minute drive home and pulled into the driveway. Elyse was almost asleep, and Eamon was already sleeping. Andy looked at her, and his face changed. “Dad didn’t look good tonight, my sweet.”
“I’m glad it wasn’t just me that noticed that. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Andy sighed and wiped a tear from his eyes. “I guess it’s inevitable, Nae. We all get there eventually. I was hoping he’d get to enjoy these babies a little while longer.” He scooped Elyse into his arms, and carried her over his shoulder, while Danae took Eamon from his seat. They walked into the house together, quiet and subdued. Neither Charlotte nor Travis was up.
Danae brought Eamon into the nursery and gently woke him. “Come on, little man. Mama needs you to eat.” She sat in the rocker with him, while Andy got Elyse ready for bed. “I’ll give her a bath in the morning, sweetie,” she whispered. “Just change her and pajamas for tonight.” Andy nodded and got her settled into her crib without disturbing her too much.
“I’ll meet you in our room, my sweet,” he whispered back and smiled at her.
Danae finished nursing Eamon, changed him, and dressed him in warm pajamas for the evening. Gently, she settled him into his crib and kissed his forehead. “Dream sweet dreams, my littles.” She tucked Elyse in, kissed her forehead, and left the nursery.
When she got to their bedroom, Andy was already half asleep, watching television. Danae changed her clothes, slipped into bed next to him, and curled around him. She turned the TV off, set the remote on her nightstand, and turned out the light. “Good night, my handsome prince,” she whispered into his ear. “I love you.”
Danae laid in bed alone, waiting for a phone call. She looked at the clock. Ugh, she thought, 1:30 am. Not even the television was enough to keep her mind off her father-in-law. Andy had gone to spend the night with Emmitt, believing he wouldn’t make it through until morning. She wasn’t ready to say goodbye to him yet. There were so many things he had left to teach her. And as she pondered life without the elder Murphy, she wept.
Restless, she went downstairs for a glass of water and paced the floor. There were no dishes left to clean. There were no spills to mop, nothing to repair. She sat down in front of the television in the family room and sighed, her face in her hands. On the one hand, she was waiting for the phone call. On the other hand, she was praying it wouldn’t come.
Finally, she walked to the bookcase in the living room and picked a book her Nana had written. It was a romance novel that Bella had written about Rog, hoping for that breakthrough bestseller. Danae had seen it on the bookshelves for years and finally reached for it to read. If nothing else, it would take her mind from the sad news that awaited them. She walked up the steps and settled into bed with the book in her lap, ready to read.
The phone rang some time later, and it jolted her awake. “Hello?” she answered, although she already knew who it was and why he was calling.
“My sweet,” Andy said, choking back tears, “Dad’s gone.”
Even though she expected the news, it still took her breath away. “Oh, babe,” she wept. “I’m so sorry.”
“He was at peace in his sleep.” Andy took a deep breath. “At least he is with my Mom now.”
“I’ll go tell Daddy and Mama. Come home when you’re ready. I know you will need me.” She blew a kiss over the phone, and they hung up. Danae sighed and wiped the tears from her eyes. She knew the news would make Travis cry, and it killed her to see him sad. Nevertheless, she padded to their room next door to wake them, but he was already awake, his eyes filled with tears as she approached him.
“Yes, Daddy,” she nodded. “Andy said it was peaceful.” It tore her up to watch her father cry. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m sorry too, Punkin. He was your father-in-law. You’ve suffered a loss, too.” He motioned for her to come to him, and he hugged her tightly. “I’m glad we got to say goodbye. Not everyone does.” Travis wiped tears from his eyes. “I’ll tell your Mama when she wakes. She hasn’t been sleeping well lately, and I don’t want to wake her with such sad news.” He kissed Danae’s forehead and said goodnight.
She tiptoed back out of their bedroom and quietly into the nursery. Both babies were sleeping peacefully, blissfully unaware they had lost their Papa. I hope you remember him, she thought as she gently brushed the hair from Elyse’s face. “Good night, little ones,” she repeated softly, and walked back to their bedroom, weeping quietly.
Andy returned home an hour later, exhausted and emotionally drained. She heard him trudging up the steps. Quietly, Danae got up from the bed, opened the bedroom door, and observed him watching the children from the nursery door. She walked to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Babe, I’m so sorry.”
He turned around, and Danae saw him, heartbroken. “I need you,” he said quietly. “Just hold me.” He led her to the bedroom, and they cuddled together as they wept.
Travis sat in the old rocking chair just outside the nursery, waiting for Danae to finish nursing the baby. He was now the kids’ only grandfather, and she feared she wouldn’t have her parents that much longer, either. Since Emmitt’s passing, Travis seemed to be more aware of his mortality, and it was depressing.
“Here he is,” she said and handed her milk-drunk baby boy to Travis. “He’s ready to be rocked to sleep, Pop-Pop.” She kissed his forehead and patted his shoulder. “Are you doing okay, Daddy?”
“I don’t know, Punkin. I just want to be with these babies while I can.” He held Eamon to his face and kissed his cheek. “If I sniff him enough, maybe some of his youth will rub off.” He smiled at his daughter.
“Sniff away, Daddy.” She smiled back. “I’ll be downstairs doing some housework if you need me.”
Charlotte was reading to Elyse on the couch in the living room, and they were having a great time together. Danae picked up a dust mop and started cleaning the house. “Sweetheart, do you need any help?” Charlotte called to her.
“No, Mama. You’re helping by keeping Elyse occupied.” The stereo was on in the spa room, the door propped open, and Danae passed the cleaning time by dancing with the mop. Charlotte watched her and laughed.
“See your Mama over there, Elyse? She’s silly!” She tickled her granddaughter’s belly and got a hearty giggle from her. She cuddled the baby close to her and kissed her cheek. “Your Memaw loves you so much, sweet pea.”
Danae danced her way over to the living room and played a quick ‘peek a boo’ with Elyse as she swept the floor. “Who’s a silly girl?”
“Mama!” the girl answered, clapping her hands.
Danae laughed. “That wasn’t the answer I was going for, you silly girl!” She kissed the child’s cheek and continued cleaning.
When she finished with mopping, she went back to sit with Charlotte and Elyse for a moment. “Honey, does your daddy seem okay to you?”
“I know he’s sad, Mama. He’s lost his career, his best friend…” she stopped, lost in thought. “He’s a different person since he retired, as much as he hates to admit it.”
“You’re right. I just worry about your dad.” Charlotte wrung her hands. “How’s Andy since he lost his father?”
“He misses him. It hasn’t been easy for either of us.” Danae wiped tears from her eyes. “But he seems happy his dad isn’t in pain anymore. They both missed Tessa. I think Andy is happy they’re together again.” She sighed and picked up the mop to put away. “Is she being good for you, Mama? You can put her in the swing if she’s too much.”
“Nah, we’re having a good time, aren’t we sweet pea?” Charlotte tickled Elyse and got a room full of giggles from her. “Don’t overdo it, honey. You’re still only just eight weeks out from giving birth.”
“I’m okay, Mama.” Danae scanned the living room and was pleased with her cleaning job. “I’ll be upstairs cleaning the bathrooms and making beds. Call if you need me.”
In two hours, Danae had the entire house clean, and laundry started. She fed both of the children, put them down for a nap, and took the monitor outside with her. The air was warm despite it being early autumn—the pool looked good, so she changed into her bathing suit and jumped in. Danae swam laps until she was winded, about half an hour. She pulled herself out of the pool, relaxed on a lounge chair, and dried off in the warm sun.
Andy parked his car in the garage when he got home and spotted Danae napping. He walked to her and kissed her, which awakened her. “Honey, I think you got a little too much sun.” She looked down and saw red.
“Oh no,” she sighed. “Just what I didn’t need. Sunburn.” She went to look at her watch, but she had taken it off when she started cleaning. “What time is it?”
“Well, considering I get off work at four, and I’m home, it’s about 4:30. How long have you been out here?”
“Since eleven. I went for a swim after I finished cleaning.” She groaned. Her skin was on fire with sunburn, and she was miserable.
“I bet the baby is probably pretty hungry.” Andy helped her up
“Oh, I’m going to hurt tonight,” she lamented. “I can’t believe I fell asleep in the sun like that.” They walked together into the house. Elyse was up playing with Travis, and Eamon was in the swing, napping. She walked to the baby, stopped the swing, and picked him up to nurse him. She wasn’t entirely uncomfortable yet, but it wouldn’t take long if she didn’t nurse him soon.
“When is your eight-week checkup?” he asked.
“Tomorrow. I have to bring the kids for their check-ups, too. We’re going to make a day of it. It should be fun. Me and two children under two. Lucky me!” She laughed but was only half-joking. At least they were still too little to be afraid, and Elyse liked going for rides in the car.
“You know what happens at the eight-week checkup, don’t you?” He eyed her, a naughty grin on his face.
“Yes, I do. I’ve been counting.” She returned the same look. It had been way too long.
Charlotte walked back in from the garage, a small load of laundry washed, dried, and folded. “Did you have a good nap, honey?” she asked Danae. “It looks like you got a little crispy.”
“I did. I’m going to feel this tonight.” The clock was quickly approaching dinner hour with nothing prepared. “Why don’t we order a pizza tonight? We hardly ever eat out, and we never get delivery.”
“That sounds good,” Andy quickly agreed. He was just happy he didn’t have to cook and clean up for a change.
After dinner, and after the babies were asleep, Danae and Andy went skinny dipping in the pool. It felt good on her sunburn to be in cold water, and Andy was just enjoying being even a little fresh with her. “I wish this water were just a bit colder,” he finally said. “It’s going to be a long twenty-four hours. You know that?”
“Half the fun is anticipating, babe.” She swam up to him, wrapped her legs around him, and held him close. “Besides, we won’t have to do this again. We’re stopping at two, remember?”
Andy sighed. “Yep. Two.”
“Do you want more than two?”
“Well, I’d like to leave the option open,” he admitted. “We do make beautiful babies, but I knew we would.”
“Open options are always okay. We’ll just see how the wind blows. If we have another, I won’t complain, babe. Really.”
“I’m happy to hear you say that,” he grinned. “I might want one more. Maybe.”
“Baby fever. The struggle is real.” She laughed and swam away from him.
“Hey! Where are you going, little miss?” he teased. “Come back here!”
“One more day, Andy, and this is all yours.”
The autumn faded in what seemed like overnight. The cold weather was quickly upon them, and with it, the first unseasonably cold night and snow. Danae woke up happy as she walked to the nursery. Some things will never change, she said to herself—her parents woke her with giggles and sounds of passion. Even now, she didn’t mind it.
Elyse was awake and babbling when she peeked her head into the nursery. “Mama!” she said excitedly, and Danae tried to shush her.
“Brother is still sleeping! Shh!” she said quietly and plucked her daughter from the crib. “Do you want some breakfast?”
“Bek fist!” she repeated happily. Danae set her down in her high chair and got her a sippy cup of juice while she made pancakes for the family. “Jooz!” she chirped, sipping the apple juice.
While she was mixing the batter, Charlotte and Travis came downstairs. “Good morning, you two,” Danae greeted them, and winked at her mother.
“What’s for breakfast, Punkin?” she asked, ignoring Danae’s acknowledgment.
“Nana Destiny’s banana pancakes!” she chirped happily. “This little munchkin loves them!” Danae made two smaller pancakes, cut them up into baby bite-sized pieces, and drizzled some syrup on them. “Mama, would you help her while I grab the baby?”
“You bet I will,” came Charlotte’s enthusiastic response.
Danae walked up the stairs to the nursery, and saw Eamon awake and happy, entertaining himself watching the mobile that sat above the crib. “Good morning, happy baby!” she chirped at him. “Are we a good boy this morning?” She changed him and dressed him in a warm outfit and brought him downstairs to nurse him. She plopped herself in the living room on the sofa and began to feed him when Travis got up and joined her. Danae just smiled at him.
“What are you doing for Mama today? Dinner at home? Dinner out somewhere? A movie? More of what you started your day with?” She winked at him.
“I wish we could end like we started. There isn’t that much stamina left in this old stallion anymore,” Travis joked. Danae blushed a deep red. “Oh, come on, Nae,” he teased. She giggled at him and shook her head.
“That was just a little more visual than I needed, Daddy,” she laughed. Eamon fussed, and she sat him up to burp him.
“Sorry, sweetie,” he said. “But, you did ask.”
“Yes, I know I brought that on myself.” She laughed and finished nursing the baby, and handed Eamon to Travis to hold for a while.
Danae knew Travis had nothing planned for their anniversary. So she thought it would be a nice gesture to make them a special dinner. Both of them loved lobster thermidor, and Travis always said Danae made it perfect every time, so she decided on that. After the children were asleep for their mid-morning nap, she drove to the store carefully in the snow to pick up the ingredients she needed for dinner.
She was putting the groceries away when Travis came downstairs for a drink. “Daddy, I want you and Mama to get dressed for dinner tonight, and come down at four o’clock. I have something special planned for you.”
Travis was intrigued. “What is it?”
“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise!” She laughed. “Please, just spend some time upstairs so I can get this ready?” He nodded and smiled with great anticipation.
Danae cooked all day and took out Nana Destiny’s special china. She set the table with the dinnerware, silver, candles, and flowers she had gotten from the store. And ten minutes before four o’clock, she went up to lead them downstairs. “Surprise!” She announced. Neither of them knew what to say.
They walked to the table, and Travis seated Charlotte, and he took his place at the head of the table. “You didn’t have to do this for us!” she said to Danae.
“I know I didn’t have to, Mama. I wanted to.” She served them both a glass of wine and their dinner. Lost in the moment together, neither of them saw Danae sneak upstairs. She wanted nothing more than for them to enjoy their romantic date together. Danae had to admit, she did an excellent job at dinner, and her mama was very surprised.
She was sitting just outside the nursery, feeding Eamon when Andy tiptoed upstairs. “Did they see you?” she asked.
“Nope! And if they did, they said nothing.” Andy was pleased. “They look like they are enjoying themselves down there.” Danae smiled as she rocked the baby. Elyse was in the nursery playing with her doll when Andy picked her up and sat next to Danae, his sweet pea nestled into his arms.
Danae finished nursing Eamon and was burping him when she heard Charlotte starting to make her way upstairs. Andy had successfully rocked Elyse to sleep, so he laid her down in her crib to sleep. Then he went back to get Eamon, so Danae didn’t have to get up. Charlotte cleared the top stair and suddenly went pale. “Mama?” Danae called to her. But Charlotte fell to the floor in a crumpled heap. “Mama!” Danae screamed.
Travis ran up the steps and was there in time to see the Reaper materialize from thin air. Danae saw him about to fall back down the steps when she reached for him and grabbed him from the stairs. And they all watched with great sadness as the Reaper took Charlotte from the Jones family, leaving an alabaster and gold urn in her place. And Travis looked shocked, as though the event hadn’t taken place.
“Daddy? Are you okay?” She touched his shoulder, and he shook his head.
“What… what just happened?” Travis wondered out loud.
“She’s gone, Daddy. Mama is gone.” Andy wrapped her in a hug and let her sob. “I need to call Darcey, honey,” she said to Andy, and she walked into their bedroom and closed the door.
“Oh, Dad,” Andy tried to comfort Travis. “I’m so sorry.” But his wails of sorrow were mournful, as he sat in the rocker, inconsolable. Danae finally came from the bedroom, and her heart shattered.
“Oh, Daddy,” she cried. She hated to see her father cry, and watching him was tearing her to pieces.
“Danae!” A cry came from downstairs. Darcey had arrived and ran up the steps, and as she spotted the urn, she collapsed into sobs. “Oh, my… no! She’s gone. She’s gone.”
Travis hadn’t stopped crying for hours, just sitting in the rocking chair, really wanting no one to touch him or console him. “I’m worried about him, Darcey,” Danae finally said. “He isn’t going to sleep tonight.”
“I’ll give him something so he can sleep. Andy, can you carry him to the bedroom once I administer this?”
“You bet, Darce.” She rubbed some alcohol onto Travis’ skin and gave him a shot, similar to what Charlotte had gotten in Isla Paradiso. The medication was fast-acting and potent, and it knocked him out in mere minutes. Andy picked him up and carried his father-in-law to his bedroom. Danae got him into his pajamas and placed a monitor receiver next to his bed while he slept.
“I can’t believe Mama is gone,” Darcey wept. “I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye.”
“None of us did. I had just made dinner for them, and Mama was coming upstairs. I mean, they had just celebrated their anniversary. The Reaper is a cruel being, taking her from him on their anniversary.” Danae sobbed in Andy’s arms. “She wasn’t on top of the steps long enough to even speak, let alone say goodbye…”
At ten o’clock, Darcey’s phone rang. “Hello?”
“Hey kitten,” Clint’s voice came on the other end of the phone. “I know you’re not having a good night, but I need help with the boys. Noel is being stubborn and won’t go to bed without you.”
“I can’t drive. I’m in no condition.” Her head hurt, and her eyes swelled shut from crying.
Andy took the phone. “I’ll drive her home, Clint. We’ll see you in a little bit.”
“Thanks, bro,” Clint’s relieved response came. “See you soon.”
“Babe, be careful.” Danae wiped tears from her eyes. “I need to nurse the baby before we settle in for the night, and I’m going to spend the night with Daddy. He shouldn’t be alone with that medication.
“I will. Come on, Darce,” Andy said, gently guiding her down the stairs. “I’ll be home soon, my sweet.’
Danae took Eamon from the crib and settled down with him in the rocker outside the nursery, listening for sounds of distress coming from Travis’ bedroom. Hearing none, she stayed outside, close to the nursery.
She had nursed Eamon, changed him, burped him, and got him to sleep before Andy walked through the door of the house. His tired footsteps trudged up the stairs and collapsed on the loveseat by their bedroom door. “That is a long walk at 11 pm.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” she said. “But, thank you for taking her home.”
“My pleasure, baby,” he said. “I’ll bunk in here with the kids tonight, so I don’t have to feel so alone.” He didn’t like not having her nearby, but he also understood that she couldn’t leave her father alone. They went to their bedroom, and he grabbed a pillow and the blanket from the bed. She wrapped him in a hug. “Sweet dreams, my sweet,” he said as he kissed her. “You know where I am if you need me.”
“Thank you for understanding, babe. I love you, Andy.”
Danae walked to Travis’ bedroom, and for the first time in her life, Charlotte was not beside him. And she curled up next to him and cried herself to sleep.
It was the morning of the two-week mark after Charlotte had died, and Travis was still in bed. It isn’t like him, she thought. But she had seen the decline over the past 14 days, and she was expecting to see the Reaper soon. Darcey had written off his refusal to eat as the “beginning of the end,” and told her to assume that he wouldn’t be around much longer.
As much as she hated to do it, she knew she had to call Devin. He never bothered to come after their mother had passed, and she hoped, even if the chance was slim, that he would come to see Travis before he died. She dialed his number, and a tired, hungover Devin answered the phone.
“Devin, it’s Nae.”
“What do you want?” His voice was tired.
“I think you should come to see Dad today. He isn’t well.”
“That’s too bad,” Devin said, his voice was cold. “Tell him I said happy trails.”
“Devin, I don’t know what is wrong with you, but this man gave you life. You’ll break his heart if he dies without seeing you.”
“That’s not my problem.” Devin huffed into the phone, and Danae heard a female voice in the background that did not sound like his steady girlfriend, Maribeth. “Just hang up and be done with it,” the voice told him.
“I feel sorry for you, Devin. What a colossal screw up you turned out to be.” Danae was disgusted.
“Suck an egg, Danae. Don’t call me again.” Devin hung up the phone on her.
Danae growled in frustration, and Andy peeked out of the bathroom. “Everything okay, my sweet?”
“No, my brother is a jerk, and I can’t deal with him anymore.” She slumped on the bed and sighed heavily. “Darcey doesn’t think Daddy has much time, so I called Devin to see if he would come. He told me he doesn’t care. He isn’t my brother anymore.”
“Yeah, well, he’s walking a tightrope with Lionel right now. One more screw up and he’s looking for another team.” Andy shook his head, but it was not news to Danae. What he didn’t want to tell Danae was that she and Darcey had become his topic of discussion in the locker rooms. Devin spoke about them as if they were tramps. Andy found out about it because Smitty had told him, and he was ready to strangle Devin himself.
“I just don’t understand. This isn’t how Mama and Daddy raised us. And yet, Darcey and I turned out okay, and he’s contemptible. He’s messing around on Maribeth. He is going to break her heart.”
“If she were smart, she’d walk away from him. But I know he buys her stuff to keep the steady flow of sex coming his way, so one is as bad as the other. As long as she puts out, so will he.”
Danae redialed Darcey’s number. “Darce, I called Devin. He’s not interested in seeing Daddy. I swear if he didn’t look like Dad—”
“Yeah, I know. I can’t even get through to Devin anymore. I’m disgusted with him myself.”
“I thought I’d let you know. I’ll call you.”
“Thanks, Nae. I’ll try to get the boys to see him today, but my schedule is tight.” She hated it, but with Charlotte’s death, Darcey had taken too much time. She couldn’t spare one more day off.
“Okay. Hopefully, we’ll see you soon.”
Danae walked to Travis’ room, where he laid on the bed, resting. She approached him and put her hand on his shoulder. “Daddy? Are you okay?”
“I’m tired, Punkin. I’m tired of being without your mama. Tired of being the last one left. I’m ready to go.”
“I’m not ready, Daddy.” Danae began to cry. “I know you are lonely—”
“No, sweetie, lonely doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s as if half of my soul died with her. I am empty. I feel hollow. Honey, that’s no way for a man to live.”
She sighed. “Let me know when you need me. Andy is home today, it’s Saturday, so I’m here for you.”
“Stay with me, precious. I need you now.”
“Let me tell Andy, Daddy. Do you want to see the kids one last time?”
“I’m good. But I would like to see Andy once more. There are a few things I need to tell him.”
“I’ll get him now, Daddy.” She left the room quietly and walked back next door.
“Andy, Daddy wants to see you.” Danae wept. “He doesn’t feel he has much time.”
Andy opened the door to Travis’ bedroom and padded inside. “Come in, son,” Travis beckoned.
“What can I do for you, Dad?” Andy sat on the bed and took Travis’ hand in his.
“I just have some advice, so you don’t make the same mistakes I made. First, if Danae ever says she wants to give Elyse her purity ring, let her. It’s an important tradition on her mama’s side of the family. Don’t do what I did and throw a tantrum in a restaurant, go out and get drunk and nearly cheat on a perfectly good woman. That haunts me still, even though I promised Charlotte it wouldn’t. But there isn’t a day that passes I’m not sorry for the hell I put her through.”
“I promise, Travis.”
“If you’re going to be late, call her. She is like her mother, and she is a sensitive soul. I think you know that already, Andy. She worries quickly and without reason. Don’t give her a reason.”
Andy nodded. “Easy so far.”
“Love her with all you have, and she will never leave you. Again, she is like her mother. She loves deeply, and only one person for life. She is beautiful, and some men just don’t care what they say about a beautiful woman, or do with her. Keep her close, protect her and those babies with your life. Don’t ever let anyone take her from you or those babies. Ever. The day Charlotte was arrested, I should have never let them take her. It should have been me. Please, Andy, please learn from my mistakes. Don’t make them again.”
“Believe me, Dad, I will never hurt her. She is my life.”
“I told my father-in-law those same words when I married her. But every ounce of pain she ever had, I inflicted it on her. Be careful, son. Danae is a jewel of great value. Don’t take her for granted, as I did with her mother. I almost lost the best thing I ever had because I was stupid.” Travis wiped tears from his eyes. “Look, I know you’ll probably never make the same mistakes I did. It’s just helpful advice from someone who has been there. I love you, Andy. Take care of my baby.”
“I will. You have my word. I love you, Dad.”
“You can tell her I’m ready for her. I’m sorry to take her from you today. But I need her. Or, I should say she needs me.” Andy nodded and left the room, unable to speak.
“What did he say?” she asked him.
“Every mistake he ever made, he wore it on his sleeve for me to see. And he begged me to not make those same mistakes with you. He is worried about that. But he is ready for you.”
She took a deep breath, her eyes filled with tears. “I’m not ready.”
“I’m right here, my sweet. When he’s gone, I’ll still be here.” He kissed her tenderly.
Danae walked back to Travis’ bed. “I’m back, Daddy. What did you tell Andy?”
“Everything I needed him to know. Come,” he patted the spot next to him on the bed. “Lay down here with me, Nae. Let’s talk.”
She approached the bed and sat on the edge. She hated lying on her mother’s side, but she placed her head on Charlotte’s pillow. Already she felt the tears stinging her eyes. “What do you want to talk about, Daddy?”
“Let’s reminisce. What was your favorite childhood moment?”
“Wow, that’s a deep question to start with,” she laughed. “The Rock Tooth concert ranks pretty high. But I think I have one—that patch in the yard, where there’s never any grass. Darcey and I decided to make mud pies one summer. She turned the hose on and made it so muddy. We were covered, head to toe in dark, sticky mud. Mama was so mad at us.” She laughed at the memory. “That was a lot of fun.”
“I remember that,” Travis laughed. “That was the reason we installed the showers by the pool.”
“Really?” Danae was amazed. She couldn’t remember those showers not being there.
“Yep…” Travis coughed and groaned. “Oh, that hurts.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy.”
“It’s okay, Punkin. It won’t be much longer.”
Danae swallowed a sob. “What else do you want to talk about?”
“Well, let’s still reminisce. What was your least favorite childhood moment?”
She had to think about this one. “Well, getting in trouble at the freshman spring dance was pretty bad. But feeling like I was disappointing you over my curiosity about sex. That was probably my biggest regret. Looking back, it seemed like that was all I ever wanted to discuss. I mean, I know why.”
“Why is that, Nae?”
“It’s pretty obvious, Daddy. You and Mama were always having sex in the next room, and you were not even close to discreet about it. It always sounded like so much fun.”
Travis’ face turned beet red. “All these years, and you never thought to mention that to me once, Danae?” He looked as though he wanted to crawl under his bed, totally humiliated.
“It’s okay, Daddy. After a while, I was okay with it. You and Mama made it natural, normal. It’s a big part of the reason why I was always so curious about it, though, but I felt like I disappointed you in so many ways because of it.”
“Well, obviously, you turned out okay, and you were innocent on your wedding night. You were tougher than Darcey, that’s true. But at the same time, when she started seeing Clint, your mama had no idea what she thought because she never asked questions as you did. You were an open book to her, just like she was with you. But Darcey, she seemed embarrassed by the whole thing. She never asked many questions of either of us.”
“Darcey was embarrassed for the same reason I wasn’t. She never got used to it. When Andy and I got married, I told him that hearing you two next door was ambient noise, and that you would have competition.” She blushed, not believing she was discussing her sex life with her father. “I mean, there was nothing wrong with that, Daddy. I admire you and Mama. The day she died, you guys woke me up that morning. Had I known that would be the last time I’d ever hear it…” her voice faded away. “I guess I might have stayed and listened a while longer.” She was a little ashamed to admit that.
The revelation mortified Travis. “Nae, I had no idea. I’m incredibly sorry. No little girl should have to grow up like that.”
“Daddy, relax. It’s okay. Andy doesn’t complain a bit.” She blushed again.
“Okay, time to change the subject.” Travis coughed, his body ached. “Tell me your favorite memory with just you and me.”
“I don’t know, Daddy. That’s a tough one.”
“There has to be one.” A shiver shook his body, as though he was getting the flu.
“Well, even though Darcey was part of it, I loved our dates together. I always felt like your little princess, and you were my king.”
“I was hoping you’d choose those dates, Punkin. They were my favorite memories, too…”
“I almost didn’t want to date anyone else!” she laughed. Danae expected to hear his usual chuckle, but nothing came. “Daddy?” She touched his shoulder and sat up. “Daddy?” And again, she got no answer.
Suddenly, the pungent odor of death penetrated the room, and it made her nauseous instantly. She curled around his lifeless body, crying, warning Death itself to stay away. But the Reaper only laughed as it materialized right next to his bedside.
“Please!” she begged it. “Please spare my daddy’s life.” But the apparition shook its head, and took him from her, even as she held on for dear life. In his place, close to where he was, sat an urn that looked nearly identical to her mother’s. With one last laugh, the embodiment of Death disappeared the same way it appeared.
“Go,” Danae whispered to an empty room. “Go be with Mama. Spread your angel wings and fly, Daddy.”
Up Next: Chapter Ten, Generation Five
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