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When the Levee Breaks

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Sylvie didn’t think she had ever been this tired. Jack slept in two hour spurts in the day and three hour spurts overnight, never more than three hours. Matt was working his usual schedule, at Sylvie’s insistence. It was summer, there was construction work to be done, and of course every third day he was on a 24-hour shift at 51. One of them should at least have a slice of normality. She called Kelly to make sure Matt was sleeping on shift, and her willing spy said that as far as anyone knew, Matt got at least a few hours solid sleep each shift, but Kelly was sure Matt’s insomnia was back with a vengeance. She knew she wasn’t really helping Matt’s moods or sleep patterns – for some reason, if he was within two feet of her anymore she couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t stand him touching her, at all most of the time. God knew she still desperately loved the man, but she just didn’t want to be touched. Matt seemed to want to touch her and Jack all the time. Which was really adorable while simultaneously pissing her off, at least when it came to her body – with Jack it was just adorable. She’d taken the most fantastic photo just a couple days ago of Jack, naked, asleep on Matt’s bare chest, while Matt napped on the couch, too. It was her lock-screen photo on her phone now. Her boys.

Matt had thrown himself completely into fatherhood. He wanted to do everything. Obviously, feeding was a Jack-and-Mommy thing, but she planned to pump once Jack got a little older (she’d read about this ‘nipple confusion’ thing and wanted to wait a bit). Matt had quickly gotten the hang of diapers, too, including the neat trick of making sure that you didn’t get peed on. Apparently, Sylvie learned, something about removing a diaper magically made a little boy have to pee right that second, and that could get messy. Matt had also reassured her that Jack was perfectly normal in already having erections at two weeks old. Yes, her son already had ‘morning wood’ apparently. She supposed she really couldn’t blame Matt for having them, then – she couldn’t imagine thoughts of sex were all that involved if Jack already had them (she’d always wondered about that, but had figured Matt was probably dreaming about sex or something). Of course, Sylvie had more time with Jack, because she was at home all day every day. Still, she was very careful to make sure that for every single ‘first’ Matt was home. The novelty of it all would wear off soon enough, and they’d be fighting over who had to get the baby, not who got to get the baby, at 3 am.

Having Mom living downstairs was a massive help. She took care of all the housework, and kept assuring Sylvie that she didn’t mind at all (Sylvie was too tired to feel bad about it). She ran to the grocery store when they ran out of things. She cooked three meals a day, plus snacks (and baked treats for Matt to take to the firehouse) – Mom even packed Matt a lunch for his days on construction sites. Sylvie had never done that, and it sort of made her feel bad that she’d never once thought to do that for him: Matt was perfectly capable of meal prep and packing a lunch if he wanted one, she’d just never thought to do it for him. His face that first morning had been something like awe. Plus, even beyond all the help, it was great to have someone in the house who had been a mom to an infant. She’d not given birth, so the physical pain was different (and boy, what an adventure after-childbirth self-care was) but she’d been through the sudden almost-debilitating fears that you were messing up or were going to mess up and the desire to just watch the baby breathe, just in case (Matt was somehow calmer about that than she was – usually he was the worry-wart).

Her favorite spot in the house right now was the giant sectional sofa on the back deck. It was sunny and bright and outdoors, but private and she and Jack could hang out and (covered, especially his sensitive little newborn skin) enjoy the sunshine. She was outside still, having just fed Jack, when Matt came up the back steps. She had no real idea what time it was, but she though he must be home a little early. Mom had only just left to go get the pizza for dinner tonight. Mom didn't drive in the city (Matt had tried to take her out only once, then had come home and quietly but firmly told Sylvie that there was clearly good reason Dad didn’t let Mom drive in the city) so Mom walked everywhere. Bucktown was a pretty safe neighborhood, especially in broad daylight, and the pizza place was about two blocks away on Damen. Sylvie privately thought Mom was enjoying the slice of ‘city life’. Matt perched on the edge of the sofa next to her and leaned down to kiss her carefully. He was learning to be very judicious in when and how he touched her.

“How’re you feeling, Mommy?”
“I’m still sore, but better. A little better every day.” Sylvie smiled up at him. “What did you do today?”
“Do I smell?” Matt asked, looking chagrined.

“Yeah, you kinda do – like sweaty boy.”
“Probably because I sweated all day.” Matt chuckled. “I finished the deck at the Popowskis today. I think Jake was already getting the grill set up by the time I left.”
“Capp helping you out on that one?” Sylvie was pretty sure Matt had said that, earlier. Her brain was kind of mushy, though, from lack of sleep.
“Yeah, he needed some extra cash. He’s good, knows his way around. Easily worth his pay, I got done a day early over there, so Jake and Lesley were happy.”

“Also means I’m off tomorrow.” Matt smiled. “So, think about what you and Jack and Grandma want to do. Even if it’s just me taking Jack and you and your mom going shopping or something.”
“I don’t think I’m ready to leave him yet.” Sylvie admitted, a little reluctantly. “I know he’s safe and you’d be here, I just…I don’t think I’m ready.”
“That’s fine.” Matt reassured, still smiling.

“But speaking of Mom, she went to get a pizza, so please go take a shower. You really do smell sweaty and gross.”
“Alright. Can I take Jack up, put him in the bassinet? Give you some time to just be you and not have Jack attached to you?”
“Sure.” Sylvie agreed, knowing both she and Jack needed to get used to being in separate rooms. Gradually. Very gradually. But he’d be in his bassinet and he was out like a light. He was a good sleeper when his tummy was full. “I just fed him, he should be good for another 90 minutes or so.”

“Come here, Peanut. Let’s let Mommy have some ‘me time’.” Matt took Jack gently from her chest, and held him to his own. “Sorry about the smell kiddo, you’ll get used to Daddy being the stinky one. You want me to bring him back down after my shower, I’m guessing?”
“I don’t want to leave him upstairs alone.” Sylvie admitted. “Why don’t I just keep him here, since you’ll only be upstairs a little while?”
“Because you need some you time without the baby. He’s fine.”


She must’ve fallen asleep in the warm summer sunshine, because she startled awake when she heard Matt and Mom in the kitchen. The back door was open, Matt having affixed the screen door just before Jack was born. She loved that they had a home in the city that she could leave the back doors open (to the balcony upstairs, too) and Matt had flowers near enough each that the breeze smelled like home, sort of fresh and flower-scented. It also meant that she could overhear the conversation without actually being in the room.

“That was…awkward, admittedly.” Matt said, sounding downright shy or something like it anyway.

“I am so sorry, Matt.”
“No, it, I’m sure you didn’t mean to…walk in on that. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have yelled, you just surprised me. ”
“I heard the shower running, saw Jack in the bassinet, and I assumed Sylvie was….”
“Sylvie’s out back, I, crap, I better go get Jack. She’ll be pissed I left him upstairs by himself.”

There was a moment of silence, probably Matt went upstairs to get Jack. Sylvie got up, heading into the kitchen to find Mom kind of staring at closed pizza boxes that were on the island.

“Dinner is a lot easier to eat if you get plates and open the boxes, Mom.” Sylvie said softly.

“Oh, Sylvie, I’m sorry. I was distracted.”
“What happened?”
“What do you mean?”
“The screen door to the back deck is shockingly not sound proof.” Sylvie smiled a little. “I heard you and Matt talking. What happened upstairs?”
“I heard the shower running upstairs when I got back. I set the pizzas down in here, and went upstairs. I saw Jack in the bassinet, and I went into the bathroom to tell you I was back.”
“And you’re horrified by the eyeful of your son-in-law, who was the one actually showering – it’s not like there’s a shower curtain, just a glass door.” Sylvie almost laughed.

“Well I certainly wasn’t expecting to see that.” Mom replied, half-whispering for some reason.

“It’s not a big deal, Mom. It was an accident.”
“He was…” Mom shook her head. “Let’s just say I interrupted a private moment and I should’ve known better than to just walk into a married couple’s bathroom. I just didn’t realize Matt had come home.”

“He’s taking a long time to just bring Jack down.” Sylvie sighed. “It’s fine, Mom. I mean, it’s going to be awkward but, fine.”
“Of course I’m embarrassed, he must be…mortified. And after those pictures.” Mom shook her head. She then fixed a sharp look on Sylvie. “And you lied to me, young lady. Those photos you said were photo-shopped were mostly him. Weren’t they?”
“Yes. But I think Matt feels better when you and Allison and everyone thought they weren’t.”

“It does explain your choice not circumcise Jack, though. I suppose it’s easiest if he looks like his father, when he reaches a certain age. And at least I can rest assured that you’re not going to have any trouble getting back into the mood for more grandchildren, not with…you’re right, Sylvie, he has a very cute butt.”
“Do we have to talk about it?” Matt asked as he came back into the kitchen. “Can’t we please just act like no one’s mother has ever seen me naked?”
“You’re not the first naked man I’ve seen, Matt Casey. Now, I’m sorry, that was very rude of me, and it won’t happen again.”
“Seriously, can we just erase the last ten minutes?” Matt tried again. “Although I guess you’d already seen that show thanks to…everything with the mess up at 91.”
“Not quite that same show.”
“Mom.” Sylvie rebuked lightly, seeing Matt flush brightly. She turned to her husband. “Matt, can you put Jack in his pack-n-play bassinet and we’ll eat dinner. He’s going to be hungry again in an hour or so, and I’d like to have my dinner before I’m giving him his second dinner.”


That night, she was sitting up in bed and feeding Jack as Matt got ready for bed. She’d read somewhere that if she woke the baby and gave him a meal just before she was ready to go to sleep, she could get in sort of the maximum amount of sleep before he demanded another meal. Mom had tried her best, but Matt was still awkward the rest of the evening. Matt came back into the bedroom, clad in just his usual summer sleep preference of plain boxer briefs, and he stopped at the door, smiling softly at her.

“What?” She asked, catching him staring.

“I love you.”
“I know that. Why’re you staring?”
“I just want to appreciate this view. My son, in the arms of the most beautiful woman on Earth, the woman I love, in my bed. This is it.”
“This is what?”
“The reason for everything.”
“I think that’s 42.”
“Seriously? Hitchhiker’s Guide? Have you ever read a book longer than a firefighter’s manual?” She asked, then if she hadn’t been holding Jack would’ve slapped herself. Matt’s face fell, for just a second, then he was moving into the room, but not looking at her. He sat carefully on his side of the bed. Jack finished a moment later, and she easily shifted him into the bassinet. She turned back around, reaching out to touch Matt’s shoulder. His back was still to her.

“I’m sorry, Matt. That was mean, and I meant to tease, but it was unkind and I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s fine. I should read more.” Matt shrugged. “I read when I was a kid. I just…it felt like I never had time, and I got out of the habit.”
“Hallie used to read a lot. We’d lay in bed and she’d tell me about what she was reading. Medical stuff that went so far over my head I didn’t even know the words she was saying, but she never acted like I wouldn’t understand – even when I didn’t. And I think I heard the plot to every P.D. James novel the woman ever wrote.”
“P.D. James?”
“Oh, a British mystery author. Hallie loved her stuff.”
“Yeah? Do you like mysteries?”
“It was, we had this weird little…she’d read to me. Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, of course James, whatever mystery she was reading. And we’d try to guess as we went. I was right more often than she was.” Matt turned, and was smiling again. “Used to drive her nuts. She said I was always Sherlock and she was Dr. Watson.”

“That sounds really sweet, not weird at all.” Sylvie told him. She could picture Matt in bed, being read to, trying to reason out clues and figure out whatever the mystery was. He had a great mind for putting pieces together.
“You read to babies. Not your fiancé.”

“You read to anyone who likes to hear you read. Did you like hearing her read?”
“I did.” Matt admitted, settling into the bed. “She’d read me to sleep, after a bad shift. We’d cuddle up in bed, usually after sex, because she said I had to exercise before I could exorcise the demons, and she’d read me to sleep, not mysteries then, other stuff. I half-heard a lot of her awful poetry.”
“I hate poetry. It’s too symbolic and metaphorical or whatever. Just tell me a story. I don’t mind clues, but I don’t want to have to sit and think about what every word means. Mean what you say. I don’t know. Hallie never seemed to think it was too weird, I guess.”
“As another woman who loves you very very much, let me promise you that Hallie did not find it weird or silly or anything else you might think, to read to you. She loved being able to help you after those rough shifts, and she loved sharing something special with you that she loved.”
“I still miss her.” Matt admitted softly. “I wouldn’t wish away you and Jack, not for anything, but I miss knowing she’s out in the world, being Hallie, a great doctor and a great person, and a daughter and sister and…my friend. She wasn’t just my lover, she was my friend.”
“Matt, don’t feel like you have to excuse or apologize for missing her. You spent eight years with her. Of course you miss her.”
“It makes me feel bad.”
“Maybe it’s just that Gabby isn’t dead. I don’t miss her like I do Hallie.” Matt sighed softly. “I feel like I was a bad husband to Gabby. She deserved someone better than me. But so did Hallie, and so do you.”
“And that’s why I’m starting, my first appointment with Dr. Sandlin – the one Dr. Charles recommended for me – is tomorrow actually.”
“I’m glad that you’re doing that. For you.” She looked at how they’d settled into bed. So much had changed. All of a sudden, she didn’t like this new normal. She didn’t like the idea of sleeping with a wall of pillows between them so that Matt wouldn’t accidentally touch her through the night. She was tired, and sure, she was tired of feeling like her body was sort of Jack’s more than her own now, but she just couldn’t take the separation from Matt right now. She started tossing pillows off the bed.
“Sylvie?” Matt turned over, facing her now, surprise on his face.

“Come here.” She beckoned, as she tossed the last of the pillows.

“You hate when I touch you.”
“I don’t hate it. I’m just a little…I’m adjusting. And I don’t just want to share a bed tonight, Matt. I want to sleep with you. Just sleep.” She made clear quickly.
“Sylvie, seriously?” Matt rolled his eyes, even as he shifted closer to her and she slipped into his arms. It felt…almost too close, but also like coming home.

“I know you’re a little frustrated. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have been doing that in the shower when Mom interrupted you.”

“Can we not talk about that?”
“I’m just saying-“
“Sylvie, do you really think I’m the kind of husband who is going to demand or even expect sex two weeks after you’ve given birth? We haven’t even been cleared for sex by your doctor yet, not for another month.” He paused. She could tell there was something he was debating telling her. She kissed his chest softly.

“Just tell me, Matt.”
“It’s not so much telling as apologizing.”
“I know you’re going to wake up with ‘Little Matt’ at attention and probably poking me. I promise not to take offense at your body’s natural functions.”
“I was doing ‘that’ in the shower in hopes of avoiding…”
“This must be juicy, you’re trailing off a lot.” She popped her head up a little, grinning at him. “Tell me, Matt. Come on, share. What’s got you blushing like that in our bed? We’ve done all sorts of naughty things, what could have you embarrassed?”

“It’s been awhile. Since we had sex.”
“I know.” They hadn’t really had sex the last few weeks of her pregnancy, she was too uncomfortable, and absolutely nothing since. By her count, it had been a little over five weeks.

“I started having, uh, wet dreams again. It’s a thing that happens sometimes if I don’t have sex or, uh, clean the pipes out, often enough.” Matt was seriously blushing now. “So I’m sorry if…yeah, if it grosses you out. I can’t promise to control my dreams or what happens in my sleep.”
“I thought wet dreams were for adolescent boys?”
“Apparently teenage boys and me. It’s been pretty consistent, my whole life. I mean, since about thirteen.”
“Well, like I said, I promise not to be offended by your body’s autonomic functions, okay? I love you, Matt.” She settled back down, kissing his chest fondly again. “And I’ve missed this smell. I know I doused my pillows and everything in your cologne and stuff, but this smell, of you, it is the most amazing smell. It smells like…safety.”

“I smell like safety.” Matt kissed the top of her head, and his arms tightened around her. “I like that.”