She made an appointment to see Dr. Nguyen, and managed to get in just under a week before Christmas. Matt was with her this time, and they both got to hear a strong heartbeat as Dr. Nguyen confirmed that Sylvie was pregnant. Sylvie had adjusted to the idea of it, enjoying the idea of two kids so close together who could be great playmates, and Matt was still happy, of course Matt would be happy about growing their family no matter what she figured, but she had questions and concerns and worries, only some of which Dr. Nguyen could help with. The stuff about work and her career and what everyone would say about two kids so close together and money and just time and getting any sleep and that stuff, that they had to deal with on their own. But medical questions, this was the time to ask. Sylvie had written them down.
“Is this a higher risk pregnancy because they’re so close together?” Sylvie asked quickly. That was the biggest worry for her.
“There is a slightly increased risk for complications with pregnancies less than eighteen months apart, yes.” Dr. Nguyen’s voice was calm, though, and she was smiling gently. “You’re healthy, you had an uncomplicated birth previously, and you’re under 35, so you’re still relatively low-risk, though, Sylvie. I've had plenty of patients have pregnancies this close - some even closer - together and have no complications whatsoever. We'll keep a little closer eye on you, but I'm not very concerned in that regard.”
“What about, I read that the chance of miscarriage increases with close pregnancies.”
“You’re nearly 7 weeks pregnant now, and the baby has a very strong heartbeat. That is a very good sign. Of course, there’s always a risk of miscarriage, but I don’t foresee a greater-than-average risk for you.”
“Is there anything I need to do, to make sure? Or, you know, to be as sure as I can.”
“The usual things. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and eating regularly. Get lots of sleep. Don’t be afraid to lean on family and friends if you need a night or two away from Jack; in fact, a couple trips away when you leave Daddy with the older kids is something I often recommend, let Mommy-to-be relax a bit. Oh, and don’t expect this pregnancy to be the same as your first. Every baby and every pregnancy is at least a little bit different, sometimes very different.”
“Will being pregnant affect my milk, for Jack? Do we need to start weaning him?”
“I thought we already were weaning him.” Matt interrupted, sounding confused. “Doesn’t weaning start when he gets solid food, well, baby food anyway, it’s not very solid given he doesn’t have teeth.”
“If he’s taking solids, nutrition other than breastmilk or formula, you’ve started weaning.” Dr. Nguyen nodded. “If you have concerns about Jack, I’d take those up with Dr. Washington, but you hardly need to worry about cutting him off cold-turkey from my side of things. Casey Two won’t be needing your milk supply until summer, and in fact, you might find it easier to keep Jack nursing longer to just maintain your supply more steadily. We have lactation consultants if you’d like to contact them.”
“I would actually.” Sylvie admitted. “I’m a little stressed out. I thought a second pregnancy would have to be less stressful, but it’s just different stresses.”
"Every pregnancy is different, and that includes the stresses. Just make sure to engage in lots of self-care, and I'm happy to answer any questions or concerns you guys have. For right now, Casey Two looks good - right in all the normal parameters for gestational age. Now, due dates. You said you think you got pregnant on November 18th or 19th?"
"We forgot a condom the morning of the 18th and one broke on the 19th. So one of those two dates, yeah." Sylvie confirmed. She shot a look at Matt. "Someone got a very surprise birthday present."
"Best birthday gift I ever gave myself." Matt winked at her.
"Well, right now it's in my custody, so we should've waited for my birthday, at least." Sylvie smiled at him, and he leaned in to kiss her softly.
"You know I'm impatient."
"Okay, well, that being the case, and the dates of your last period being...here's our estimated day of delivery for your little bundle of joy."
Jack managed the four-hour drive to Fowlerton on the morning of December 23rd very easily. He slept most of it. He was sleeping more now, but Dr. Washington had assured her that it wasn’t unusual for a baby to go through cycles like that, he was probably getting ready to grow again, though Sylvie thought it might just be that he burned up too much energy crawling around their house at the speed of greased lightning. Shouldn’t a seven-month-old baby be slower? Anyway, Jack managed the drive well enough. Sylvie didn’t. She waited until they were out of the city at least, but they had to stop twice for her to puke. Morning sickness was hitting hard with this pregnancy apparently. Matt, who had to be exhausted after spending all night on three consecutive accident scenes and who still wasn’t at a hundred percent with that shoulder, was doing the driving because there was no way she was going to manage it. She slept when she wasn’t puking. Jack just slept. If Matt didn’t like a long drive in a silent car with sleeping companions, well, it was his fault because it was his stupid sperm that did this to her. Again.
The only good thing about her morning sickness so far was that it seemed to literally pass with the morning. By noon, she was starving, and when they pulled into the driveway at the farm, she was more than grateful to know that Mom had a late lunch waiting for them. Mom fed Jack, who was on baby food for his 1 pm meal these days, not milk, while Sylvie devoured the chili and grilled cheese sandwiches that Mom had made. Matt ate almost as ravenously as she did, and between the two of them they managed to explain the incredibly busy shift they’d both just gotten off. Mom fussed a bit over Matt’s shoulder, which was still a little weaker, but Matt had bigger plans for his afternoon apparently.
“Chuck, I’ve got Hank’s crib built, but I couldn’t bring it, sorry. There’s no way for me to get it down here – we can’t bring the baby in the truck, and we can’t bring the crib in the car. I can make a separate trip just after Christmas.”
“Or,” Sylvie offered, “you guys could come up and spend New Years’ in Chicago. We don’t have to work New Years’ Eve or on New Years’ Day. Then you can bring the crib back in your truck.”
“You don’t have to let us know right now.” Matt assured. “I’ll make the drive, I can do it in a day – it’s only eight hours, not bad at all.”
“Oh, I’m sure we can find a way to come see our grandson for a few days. We could’ve come up for Christmas, you know.” Mom replied.
“Matt traded our shifts. We were scheduled to work Christmas Eve. He traded for the shift we just got off, which meant back-to-back shifts. So Jack is worn out from two days with the Herrmanns, and we’re just worn out from work. But,” Sylvie couldn’t help grinning at her husband, “Matt insisted that he be here for the annual gingerbread house extravaganza. We even brought some of our own supplies. Cindy Herrmann is enabling him.” She had expected him to maintain his old policy about never taking off a holiday shift, because then someone else had to cover a holiday they weren't expecting to have, but apparently he'd decided that Christmas at her parents' was worth it.
“Cindy and Annabelle.” Matt corrected. “I needed some Rice Krispies treats to bring with me, and some brownies, and a few other things. I know you’re really busy with other baking, so I didn’t want to bother you, Mom.”
“You know, everyone is very curious about this, since I asked if you could build it actually in the church hall this year.” Mom was chuckling and shaking her head. “You don’t actually need to craft something that big, Matt.”
“It’s fun.” Matt shrugged. “Plus, whatever I don’t use in the building, I get to eat.”
“Uh-huh. And how many of the brownies Cindy gave you this morning did you eat on the drive down?” Sylvie asked, casting a gimlet eye to her husband. He shrugged, but he was grinning.
“Maybe a couple.”
“I swear, it’s a good thing the Chicago Fire Department doesn’t know you can be paid in brownies.”
“Only in Cindy Herrmann brownies.” Matt pointed out. “I don’t know what she puts in them, honestly, but I begin to think it’s something illegal. I had no idea, back, God, more than twelve years ago now, when I first went over there to fix something and she gave me a plate of brownies for my trouble, just what I’d started.”
“I take it her brownies are good.” Mom glanced at Sylvie, who could only nod. They really were good, but part of it was that Matt was a chocoholic. She also suspected that there was something of the ‘someone made these especially for me’ to Matt’s love of Cindy’s brownies but she’d never say it out loud.
“Almost as good as your chocolate Oreo pie.” Matt replied smoothly, with a charming smile and puppy dog look in his eyes that Sylvie thought would conquer the world if he actually had any real sense of how charming it was. Mom burst out laughing, clearly pleased. She had made that at Thanksgiving, and Matt had eaten three-quarters of the pie by himself. Sylvie had nearly laughed herself sick at Matt practically growling at anyone who got too close while he was eating it. He was like a toddler sometimes, in the most adorable ways. She wondered if Jack would give her a glimpse of what Matt had been like when he was actually a toddler, or if he'd be more like her.
“Well, it’s just as well I made one of those for Christmas dinner, isn’t it?”
“You did?” Matt lit up, like he’d hoped for but not expected that exact result.
“Son, anything that makes you light up like a six-year-old on Christmas morning was definitely going to show up in this house on Christmas. For one thing, you’re damned hard to shop for, so Cathy has made you a lot of food instead.” Dad was smiling broadly as he said it, and Sylvie couldn’t help the extra warm glow inside from knowing how much her parents truly liked Matt. Maybe it was just the recent visit from Nancy that threw it in sharp relief, but she loved her parents so much.
“You can have it on Christmas and not before, Matt.” Mom told him firmly.
“I can live with that.” Matt accepted it easily enough. “I, uh, did you get the stuff I had shipped?”
“You shipped presents? I thought we had them in the trunk?”
“No, not presents. Supplies. For building. The gingerbread.”
“I don’t even want to know what you’re building, do I?”
“We got the supplies last week, and I’ve been baking gingerbread for a couple days, getting all those patterns cut out for you, too.”
“I need to get started on it today, if that’s okay.” Matt looked back up at Mom. “It’s at least a twelve-hour build, and that’s if I can talk my wife into helping me decorate.”
“Son, you must’ve been something to see at the pinewood derby. Did you do Cub Scouts?”
“Yep. Won the pinewood derby for my age group four years running,” Matt was smiling brightly at Dad, who was also grinning, “and overall the last two years – even over the Eagle Scouts. I also won the Rain-gutter Regatta a couple years. Dad kept the cars, I think, but I don’t know what happened to them.”
“You’re going to repeat these stories a dozen times for Jack, aren’t you?”
“Nope. He’s going to have his own stories. But I am going to teach him how to build the fastest cars.” Matt leaned towards Jack. “Lighter wheels and tungsten putty, Jack – and a center of gravity right at a half inch forward of the rear axle. That and whatever aerodynamic design strikes your fancy.”
“You really are competitive at everything. You know those races are supposed to just be fun.”
“Competition is fun.” Matt said, looking at her like she’d lost her mind for not knowing that.
“Just make sure you teach him to be a good loser, too.”
“Sometimes, but we’ll aim for being a good winner more often, Jack, right?”
“Matt, Sylvie, are you two ready for dessert?”
“Not the Oreo pie, Matt. They’re just frosted Christmas cookies.”
“Your Christmas cookies?”
“Well, I don’t know who else’s she’d have in this house, Matt.” Sylvie laughed at him.
“Is there a…limit?”
“How are you not three hundred pounds?” Sylvie rolled her eyes.
“Some of us didn’t eat for that entire second 24-hour shift, so…”
“Just don’t make yourself sick. And remember if you’re building later, you’ll end up eating some of the building material, you always do.”
“Good call.” He only took two cookies from the offered container.
“Matt, we can head up to the church hall in about twenty minutes. A couple of the ladies and I will be over decorating the church for Christmas services. I’ve got all the gingerbread ready to go, but I need to whip up a couple batches of the icing for you.”
“I’ll help, if Matt will take Jack upstairs for a diaper change.” Sylvie bargained, already knowing that Jack’s diaper was a particular stinky one (the introduction of solid food apparently meant poop started to smell a lot worse) and while her stomach in the afternoons and evening was not in open revolt like it was in the mornings, poopy diapers the last couple weeks made her vomit. Matt nodded, knowing that, and after shoving the last of his second cookie into his mouth, pulled Jack from the highchair.
“Let’s go, Peanut. We’ll get you nice and clean, and then it sounds like you’re in for an afternoon hanging out with Grandpa? Pretty cool, huh?”
After making sure (about five times) that Dad was fine with keeping Jack by himself, Sylvie had tagged along to the church hall. She hadn’t seen anything of Matt’s plans for this year’s gingerbread build (it definitely was not just a house). He started talking her and Mom through it, and Sylvie stopped him halfway, kissing him hard on the mouth. He looked startled, but happy, as he pulled back from her.
“What was that for?”
“Only you would take the time to figure out how to build this thing so it could be auctioned in multiple pieces.”
“To be honest, it started off as just figuring out how anybody could get the thing out of here and home.” Matt laughed, rubbing the back of his head lightly. “If I build it on six separate bases, each part is still a good build, worth taking, but able to be transported. They aren’t equal parts, though.”
“That just provides more variety in who will bid on them.” Mom reassured him. “It’s going to be wonderful, Matt."
"It should, if I can get it all to come together. This big base in the middle will be the Santa’s workshop bit, and I’ll work outwards from there. Should have a whole little North Pole village by tomorrow afternoon.”
“You are amazing, you know that?” Sylvie settled for hugging him this time.
“I like building stuff.” Matt shrugged, but hugged her back at the same time. “And the money goes to a good cause. And Mom said that people who didn’t used to come are stopping by the event, or planning to anyway.”
“Gossip has started to spread that we have a master gingerbread builder.”
“I’m not any kind of master.” Matt laughed. “Just a bored winter-time contractor with a bad shoulder who had too much time to plan.”
“I’ll leave you two in here to start building, and I’ll be over decorating. We need to leave by six o’clock for dinner. Both your dad and Jack will be getting pretty hungry by the time we get home.”
“What’s for dinner anyway? Did you leave something in the Crockpot and I just didn’t see it?” Sylvie asked. Dad could grill, but he didn’t cook, and Mom clearly wouldn’t be prepping much, unless they ate a late dinner.
“Oh, I left a casserole in the refrigerator and directions on cooking it for your father. Even he can manage turning on an oven to the right temperature.”
She was tired by six o’clock, and more than ready to call it a night. They had a good bit of structure up, and the fact that Matt said he had several more hours of work tomorrow reinforced for her just how big he was going on this thing this year. Santa’s Workshop, all three damned stories of it, was basically built, but it needed more decorating. They still had to do the outer bits, which were only just starting to take shape. She would say Matt needed a hobby, but he had it, and apparently, Christmas-time gingerbread structures was his hobby. Also, next time he had a dislocated shoulder or some other injury that left him bored but not exactly bedridden, she really needed to introduce him to the wonders of a good Netflix binge. Maybe jigsaw puzzles. Something. At least Matt was exhausted too, so they called it an early night and just cuddled up in bed with Jack in his pack-n-play right next to them.
Jack was a champion through the church service on Christmas Eve, quietly keeping an eye on everything that was going on, though occasionally needing to be quickly amused by his Daddy, who had less interest in following along with the service than pretty much anyone else in the church. Then again, he was probably the only practicing Catholic in the church. She was hoping that the disruption to his normal meal schedule would pass by without too much fussing. Jack – his father made over in some ways – dealt better with sleep disruptions than he did with meal disruptions. No sleep? Fine. Grumpy but fine. No food? Possessed by the Devil and convinced he was starving TO DEATH at that very second. Okay, Matt was slightly less dramatic than that, but no one liked Matt when he was hangry. So they went over the church hall, armed with food in the diaper bag and a plan for finding someplace to feed Jack out of the way, if it was needed. She could always nurse him, but this wasn’t a usual nursing mealtime.
She was surprised to see people who weren’t Methodists coming to the hall. A few always stopped by, looking to see someone or just participate in the Christmas carols and the celebrations, but she recognized quite a few people from the county. Maybe Mom had been telling the truth about people actually coming out to see the gingerbread house auction. If so, Matt had certainly built something worth seeing. The three-story workshop was itself damned impressive, with a roof of nonpareils and candy cane quoins, and windows made with melted down and thinly rolled white gummy bears, and each story being decorated with a different ‘siding’ of gumdrops, Skittles, and little bricks made from carefully cut Airheads. Then there were the other structures, like ‘elves houses’ with round windows of an Oreo with one cookie carefully removed (Matt had eaten the ‘spare’ cookies – he hadn’t bothered to share with her, his pregnant wife, the jerk), roofed with Nilla wafers, and decorated with ‘Christmas lights’ made by putting Mike and Ikes (green) on the bottom of an Almond M&M. The actual North Pole was shaped Rice Krispies treats, striped with red licorice whips. Santa's sleigh was built (somehow) out of brownies and thick gingerbread rails, stuffed with fondant bags of tiny chocolate presents. Santa's house had the most gingerbread showing through, the sides relatively minimally decorated, though the roof (fitting with his apparent love for bright colors) was covered in rainbow sour candy belts. There was a ‘post office’ (Matt said for receiving all the letters to Santa) with a roof covered in Fruit Roll-Up layers as shingles and sided with sugar wafers. Her favorite, though, was the ‘Stables’ for the reindeer, which had been sided entirely in taffy in several bright colors, and the roof covered in a rainbow of the flavored ‘orange slices’ (only the orange ones were orange-flavored). Rice Krispies trees had been piped with green frosting and dusted in confectioner's sugar to look like evergreens, mingled throughout the whole build. Each ‘piece’ of the whole ensemble had ‘paved’ streets of plain M&Ms, so it was easy to see where the support bases divided – where red met yellow, there was clearly a break, for example. It was an incredible array of colors and candies and Matt had ended up wearing approximately a pound of icing in the building of it, but she was very proud of what he’d built anyway. Proud enough she’d snapped pictures and sent a couple to everyone back in Chicago. Cindy had been elated to see the use her contributions had been put to, but her favorite response had been Otis’s – apparently, he had some idea about a promotion for Molly’s based around gingerbread now, but he also wondered (she wasn’t sure he was joking) if Casey was available to do wedding cakes. What made it her favorite, truly, was Matt’s texted response (to the group) that if Otis gave him enough time, he’d build the man a gingerbread St. Basil’s if it meant he’d finally get off his ass and actually marry Lily. She had a feeling Otis was never going to hear the end of it from 51 if he didn't take Matt upon that (and it was about time for him and Lily to get down to business, anyway).
“Your husband is going to become famous in a small town he’s never lived in.” Mom remarked with a warm chuckle, as people wandered through the various gingerbread structures up for the auction. A lot of them were very nice, but Matt’s was obviously at the center because it was at least five times the next largest entry (Sylvie thought Matt was having a sort of 'go bigger' effect on everyone's attempts - even the children's section had more participants and more ambitious decorations than in previous years).
“How much is the silent auction at, anyway?”
“For which section? If you mean the Workshop, you don’t want to know.” Mom said, but she was smiling happily. “I don’t know what will happen the first year he’s on shift, can't get it off, and you guys can’t make it down.”
“He’ll come down and build it on the 23rd.” Sylvie replied, knowing her husband. “The money goes to good causes, and I think he really enjoys the challenge he sets himself. Plus, he knows it makes you happy.”
“He should’ve been an engineer, or an architect. Look at it.”
“He’s happy enough, Mom.”
“I know, and what he does is very noble, but still, it seems like a bit of a waste. He’s so smart, but he doesn’t believe it, just because he ‘just builds things’ – as if projects like that, or what he did for your house, those don’t take intelligence.”
“If he’d been an engineer, I’d never have met him. And that means, Dad wouldn’t have a grandson to show off like he’s doing right now.”
Mom sighed, but it was a happy sigh. “We love you and Leo very dearly, Sylvie, but with a grandchild, it’s…easier. Very little of the stress and all of the bragging rights. Plus, Jack is pretty much perfect.”
They didn’t have to leave until the 26th which meant they got to spend all of Christmas Day with her parents. Sylvie reminded Matt to at least send a picture of Jack to his mother, which he did, though carefully, she noticed, taking a picture still in his Christmas pajamas, not yet in the onesie Sylvie put him in after his breakfast and morning diaper change. Leo and Allison were spending Christmas with her parents this year, and Sylvie took another selfish moment to be grateful that she didn’t have to split time with the ‘other side’ – Matt had no interest in going to his mother’s for any holiday. She wanted Matt to improve his relationship with Nancy, but she wasn’t hopeful at the moment. Still, that wasn’t really thoughts for Christmas morning, her first Christmas morning with her baby boy.
“Alright, I can smell breakfast, are you ready to go downstairs?” Matt asked with a smile, leaning in to kiss her, having just finished dressing himself. Mom really wouldn’t care if Matt came downstairs in his pajamas, but Matt had pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt nonetheless. Sylvie was content to stay in her pajamas, but with both the boys getting dressed, she had done the same. They traipsed downstairs, Jack in her arms, and headed for the smell of food.
Mom always cooked a lot on holidays, but this year she’d really gone big apparently. Eggnog French Toast, baked apples, cinnamon rolls, sausage-egg-and-cheese breakfast casserole, sausages, ham, buttermilk pancakes, and of course, a heaping plate of bacon conveniently sat right next to Matt's place. Sylvie almost laughed, she could actually see Matt’s mouth start to water. It wasn’t his first Christmas Day in Fowlerton, but Mom had outdone herself this year for sure.
“I want you to find one of those fancy scented candles with this smell.” Matt said to her, before moving around to kiss Mom’s cheek. “Merry Christmas, Grandma. That’s from Jack.” He kissed her again. “That one’s from me. Breakfast looks amazing.”
“Merry Christmas, kids. Sit down, Chuck’ll be back downstairs in a minute and we can eat.”
“Are you planning to need a lot of leftovers?” Sylvie asked, looking at the haul. She wasn’t sure how much she could even eat, given how her morning sickness had gone lately. Matt might eat her share though.
“Oh, I always cook too much on Christmas, you know that. Besides, I’m going to send the leftovers with you.”
“You really don’t need to feed me like I’m a condemned man.” Matt laughed. “Sylvie cooks very well, and so do I.”
“You wouldn’t know it to look at you. You’re too thin, Matt.”
“I told you, that’s because he won’t slow down – if you worked the hours he does in a week, and then went to the gym, too, you’d lose weight.” Sylvie pointed out.
"I haven't lost weight. I'll bring you the paperwork for my annual physical next month just to prove it." Matt rolled his eyes.
“Well, Merry Christmas, kids, are you waiting on me? Let’s dig in.” Dad announced as he arrived. He bent to Jack, clearly intending to tickle his grandson, then stopped. He looked at Jack carefully, then looked at Sylvie, then back at Jack. Then he looked at Matt, and then back at Jack.
“Chuck, sit down.”
“Cathy did you read this?”
“No, I just assumed it was some cute Christmas saying.”
“Well, unless I’ve gone blind in the last two minutes, it says ‘Santa is promoting me to big brother’.”
“Surprise. Merry Christmas.” Sylvie laughed, seeing her parents’ startled reactions.
“You’re…there’s gonna be another baby?” Dad asked.
“Due in mid-August.” Sylvie confirmed. “We only just found out a week or so ago.”
“Oh, that’s so close together, Sylvie.” Mom sounded torn between excitement and worry, which actually reflected Sylvie’s own feelings about this pregnancy. She was happy and excited, yes, but she felt barely recovered from the last one, and now she was going to be doing it all again. Still, happiness was of course winning out over the worries.
“I’m gonna be a grandpa again.” Dad laughed, loud and long, sheer delight evident in his tone.
“I’m so happy for you two.” Mom pulled her into a hug. “You’re such wonderful parents, and another baby as beautiful and perfect as Jack is going to be…just perfect.”
“Thank you, Mom.”
“Well, son, I can’t decide whether to congratulate you, thank you, or punch you for knocking up my daughter again.” Dad was still chuckling, pulling Matt to his feet. “So I guess, thank you for my grandchildren, congratulations, and I’m going to try to forget – again – just what it is that I’m congratulating you for doing!”
“I don’t know why you’re congratulating him.” Sylvie teased. “He has the easy part! All he had to do was break a condom.”
“As I recall, that was not, uh, exactly my fault.” Matt pointed out, blushing. “You were the one who-“
“Shut up.” Sylvie clapped a hand over his mouth. “And it is your fault because you make me ovulate like a slot machine, clearly.”
“I take it this one was not planned?” Mom asked, a smile on her face nonetheless.
“Not at all.” Sylvie shook her head. “We uh, had a little malfunction and…poof. Casey #2 on the way.”
“Ah, no,” Matt kissed her cheek and put his hand on her still-flat stomach. “Casey #4. You and me are 1 and 2, Jack is 3, and his little brother is 4.”
“Brother? Do you-“
“No, Dad, we don’t know yet. Matt is just trying to predict again. And he was wrong with Jack, so I’m not trusting his ‘instinct’.” Sylvie paused. “Though I guess he has a 50% chance of being right.”
“Well, this is the best Christmas gift I think I’ve ever had.” Dad shook his head. “I’m gonna be a grandpa again. Hot damn.”