Chapter 1: Chapter One
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 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.”
“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.”
Chapter 2: It Takes a Village
They had to get special permission to have Jack baptized the second Sunday in June. That afternoon was usually designated for the baptisms in Spanish at their new parish in Bucktown (well, Matt’s parish, Sylvie still wasn’t Catholic, which…it was a conservative parish so that had taken some explaining for some reason, like the priests were suspicious she was going to secretly undermine her son’s faith, which if she wasn’t okay with him being raised in Matt’s faith, she wouldn’t be there at all so she didn’t get it) but Matt had explained his work schedule to the priests and they’d agreed to hold Jack’s baptism at the end as the only one in English for that afternoon. Matt had had to provide the baptismal and confirmation certificates of the godparents (Sylvie was left wondering if the priests thought there were rogue impostor Catholics running around pretending to be godparents or something). Her parents were coming, in part maybe because Dad was coming up to pick up Mom. She was going to be so busy this month – she was headed back to Indiana to help with last-minute preparations for Leo’s wedding in a couple weeks. Also, while Mom and Dad weren’t thrilled with the ‘Catholic thing’ (as Dad put it) they were at least happy to see Jack being promised to some sort of Christian denomination.
The baptism itself was pretty quick and simple. Kelly and Cindy had both clearly done this before, barely needed cues for their duties as godparents. Sylvie had noted the sort of nod of approval the priest gave when he asked (Matt, notably) the baby’s name: apparently John Andrew passed some sort of unspoken test. Jack had a nice cheering section, though: most of 51 was there, plus their families. Cindy and Herrmann had insisted on hosting a little party at Molly’s (which wasn’t open for a few hours yet) after the baptism. Of course, the baptism was beautiful in its own way, but for some reason, Sylvie was more struck by the support of their firehouse family. All these people were there to show their love and support for not just her and Matt, but for Jack.
“Hey, babe, come here.” Matt pulled her into a hug. She was getting better about the touching thing, though she was still sometimes ‘touched out’ and just didn’t want his (or anyone’s) hands or anything else on her. Right now, as she was crying and feeling oddly vulnerable, there was no place she’d rather be than in Matt’s arms.
“Where’s Jack?” She asked, though, because last she’d seen, he’d been in Matt’s arms.
“Cindy has commandeered her godson. I think she’s angling to be our preferred babysitter, by the way.” Matt chuckled lightly, and she loved feeling that little rumble in his chest. She made no move to leave his arms.
“I thought she had that interior decorating job going, now that Kenny’s school age.”
“It’s mostly consulting and she was very specific in letting me know that she could schedule to be off every third day if we need help when you come back on shift.”
“How do you feel about me going back to work? On the ambo, not at a desk.”
“It’s not exactly my call, is it?”
“You do get to be consulted.” Sylvie reminded him.
“I want you to do what will make you happy. If that’s going back to ambo in a few weeks, once you’re cleared by the doctor and you feel up to 24-hour shifts, then I want you to do that. If you want to stay at home until Jack’s six or twelve or eighteen, I’ll support that, too. If you want to work as a floater, only do part-time for a few years, I’ll support you. You do what you need to do for you, Sylvie.” He kissed her head softly.
“Really?” She pulled back just enough to meet his eyes.
“Have I been that much of a bear?” Matt winced a little.
“You thought I stubbed my toe three days ago and you carried me to the sofa to check it. A stubbed toe. Yes, you’ve been a little, kind of a lot, over-protective.” Sylvie brushed her fingers along his jaw, and smiled at him, “luckily, I find it exasperating but mostly adorable. And you’re letting other people hold the baby without interrogating them about washing their hands. You’re getting better.”
“I made everyone use hand sanitizer at the door.” Matt admitted, looking chagrined. “And they all swore they’d had their DTAP booster.”
“That’s reasonable caution, not overprotection.” Sylvie pointed out. “I want to go back to work, Matt. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But I do miss the work.”
“Then we’ll start planning for you to go back.” Matt leaned down to kiss her softly. “If you’re happy, Sylvie, Jack and I will be happy. But you’re going to have to gear up on the pumping thing, and in a few weeks do more bottles so he can get used to it, I think. I read it somewhere. About 5 weeks is a good time to start introducing bottle feeds. It’ll help you get more sleep too, I can take more of his middle-of-the-night demands that way.”
“I guess we should look into daycare, huh?”
“We’re not exactly going to find a literally 24-hour one, unless you think you can talk our way into the program at Med for their employees who work the night shift.”
“That’s a small program, intended for single parents mostly, I think.” Sylvie shook her head. Matt pulled her back close to his chest. Apparently he was feeling a little cuddle-deprived. Since she wasn’t minding right now, she was going to let him get his fill. Everyone seemed content to talk to each other and coo over the baby right now, and even in the midst of the party in Jack’s honor, she was happy to get a moment for some couple-time.
“What do you think about actually taking Cindy up on it?”
“She has four kids, five in the summer, already. Isn’t that asking a lot? I’m sure she’s happy to be past this phase in her life.”
“I’m not so sure.” Matt chuckled again. “I think part-time baby might be right what she’s wanting right now. She keeps talking about missing having a baby to cuddle. I guess Kenny is getting too old for lots of cuddles with his mom.”
“Yeah, but overnight, too? It’s a lot.”
“Just think about it. Talk it over with Cindy. I’ll talk to Herrmann, make sure he’s on board. Even though he’ll be on shift with us.” Matt paused for a moment. “Do you think I’ll offend them if I insist that I pay Cindy?”
“I…don’t know.” Sylvie had to admit. “I mean, we’d have to pay for childcare normally, so it makes sense.”
“Don’t ask what I paid Connie’s sister to watch Louie. And he wasn’t an infant in diapers. And he was in preschool, which was another bill, but one we don’t have to worry about for a few years.”
“Now I want to ask.”
“$280 per shift. Again, not including preschool fees.”
“Wow. That’s…like half my salary for the year, I think.” Sylvie did some quick math in her head. “More than half of Gabby’s since she wasn’t on PIC salary.”
“I took some overtime, did more construction, we made it work.” Matt shrugged. “But, I kind of was prepping for those sorts of bills again for Jack. I don’t want to offend Herrmann or Cindy, but I feel like if she’s moving around her work schedule to help us out, I have to pay her. Right?”
“Let me talk to Cindy about it. See if she’s really ready to go three-days-a-week with a young baby again. Okay?”
“Thanks, babe.” Matt kissed her softly again.
“Speaking of, I better go check on Jack. He’s probably close to being hungry again.”
She and Matt both took Jack into his one-month well-baby check. They’d found a great pediatrician through Dr. Nguyen’s group – the group had obstetricians, gynecologists, and pediatricians, even a couple doctors that apparently specialized in adolescents. Coming from a small town, Sylvie was a little surprised by the incorporated practice, but it was also really great as a parent because she liked her gynecologist and she liked her obstetrician, so she felt comfortable staying with the group. So, they’d set Jack up with Dr. Rashonda Washington, who had come highly recommended. She’d been great on the first well-baby check when Jack was just five days old. After answering the basic questions for the nurse, they were in an exam room, waiting for Dr. Washington.
“He seems good, doesn’t he?” Matt asked, clearly a little nervous.
“He’s perfect, Matt.” Sylvie reassured easily.
“He has to have a shot today, right?”
“Yes, Hep B, his second dose. He got his first the day after he was born. He’s fine, Matt.”
“Well, let’s have a look at Jack, make sure Mom’s instincts are right – they usually are.” Dr. Washington announced as she came into the room. “Good morning, Sylvie and Matt, how’s Jack doing?”
“He’s great.” Sylvie felt almost guilty for some reason. “He’s already sleeping five hours at night, is that normal?”
“A little unusual for breastfed babies, you are solely breastfeeding?”
“Yes.” Sylvie confirmed.
“How is he doing during the day?”
“Up every two hours to feed, pretty much like clockwork. It’s just the 3 am feeding he had the first few weeks that he’s skipping this last week. I woke up in a panic the first night, realizing he’d slept through to 5 am. If he hadn’t been crying, I’d have thought he…anyway.” She glanced at Matt, not wanting him to feel worse about the fact he’d been on shift when Sylvie had freaked out like that. It seemed silly in retrospect.
“Well, he’s eating more than 8 times a day by my math then.” Dr. Washington smiled. “And he’s already gained an impressive almost two pounds, so he’s up to seven pounds five ounces. I don’t think eating is a problem for Jack.”
“It’s just that Matt’s mom said he barely slept more than three or four hours until he was a year old, so I was nervous. I mean, he looks like Matt, so I thought…he’d be like Matt.”
“I don’t know how you can tell he looks like me.” Matt chuckled. “He looks like a baby. The best-looking baby ever, I admit, but I might be slightly biased there, too.”
“Trust me. He looks like you.” Sylvie replied. “And you were a tiny baby, too, so he clearly takes after you.”
“Do you know how ‘tiny’?” Dr. Washington asked, looking to Matt.
“Uh, I was born five pounds even, I think. I was early, Mom labored for 38 hours, obviously I don’t remember it, but she always said I almost didn’t ‘make it’. I remember my grandmother once said I came home from the hospital under five pounds, that’s all I know really.”
“Any chance you know how much you weighed when you were a year old? If that’s how long it took you to sleep through the night.”
“I don’t…I think I remember it in my baby book. Mom has always maintained that story, though. I was a nightmare baby.” Matt admitted. “Christie – my sister – kept our baby books, I looked through it a couple months ago. I was 30 inches tall at one year, I remember that. And I’m pretty sure it said I weighed 16 pounds. I did some reading, I’d tripled my birth weight, so I was healthy, right?”
“Well, I can’t really diagnose an infant based on a clearly rather healthy and fit grown man, but if I had a patient with those numbers, Matt…” Dr. Washington looked a little apologetic, “I’d be quite concerned. Sylvie, to reassure you, given what Matt’s just said, I think he may have been underfed or not reacting well to the formula being used, perhaps his mother’s diet was not giving him the nutrition he needed, but his weight to height ratio was concerning. Now, looking at Jack, he does not have that issue – I’d just enjoy him sleeping so well at night.”
“I was fine.” Matt seemed stuck on the past, sounding a little defensive. “I was just a skinny kid. I always was.”
“I’m pretty sure this appointment is about our son.” Sylvie pointed out gently.
“Do you remember how tall you were when you were twelve, Matt? Just before puberty for most boys.” Dr. Washington asked.
“I remember my first sports physical. I was twelve for that.” Matt nodded. Sylvie remembered that story, and she just bet he did remember it clearly. “I was five-feet tall, even. 75 pounds.”
“With those numbers, Matt, I’d be recommending special diets to help a boy gain weight.”
“So, do we need to watch Jack for this…whatever it was with me, then?” Matt asked. Sylvie should’ve suspected he’d be worried about something Jack might inherit rather than actually fixating on something in his own past.
“I don’t think so.” Dr. Washington smiled gently. “Like I said, I can’t judge a situation from thirty or more years ago, but Jack’s measurements today are great. He’s gained weight relative to his height, but gained well in both – exactly what we wanted to see in a low-birth-weight baby.”
“I’m-damn it.” Matt’s statement was cut off when his phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID. “Sylvie, I’m sorry, it’s Chief. I gotta take it.”
“It’s fine. Straight across the hall is an empty exam room, you can step in there.” Dr. Washington assured him. “All you’ll miss is Jack’s vaccination.”
“Yeah, I’m fine to miss shots.” Matt was already answering his phone as he stepped out of the room.
“He has no problem with eight-story ladders, fire, bullets, but a shot bothers him.” Sylvie couldn’t help chuckling. “Jack’s growing well, then?”
“Yes, definitely thriving. You and Matt are doing a fantastic job.”
“Was Matt…the numbers he said, was he…not healthy?”
“Honestly, Sylvie? If I’d been his pediatrician, by age twelve, I’d have probably called Family Services to get them support, if he was consistently that far underweight and his parents weren’t acting on dietary advice that I’d provide. Maybe his parents were just not feeding him a healthy diet, if he was very active and athletic.”
“His parents’ marriage was a mess. I mean really nasty. Do you think it was environmental then, not something genetic that we need to worry about with Jack?”
“You’re going to worry about Jack, that’s what parents do.” Dr. Washington reassured, but then sighed quietly. “I can’t diagnose him thirty years later, like I said. But based on what you’ve said, I would consider it likely that Matt was not getting the nutrition he needed at home. He can’t pass that on to his son, well, only if he followed his parents’ habits, which given how healthy he looks, you look, and Jack seems to be, is unlikely. So, let’s get this nasty vaccination out of the way, huh, Jack? Look at those blue eyes on you, and you’re a lucky boy, you’re going to keep them, aren’t you?”
About a week later, just as Jack was marking five weeks of age (the fastest and longest five weeks Sylvie thinks she’s ever known), she was surprised by a sudden knock on the front door. Who knocked without warning in the twenty-first century? Friends always texted first. Maybe it was the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’d been around last week. Sylvie always ended up dragged into a conversation because she couldn’t bear to be rude. Matt had answered the door, though, last week. He led with thanking them for reading the note on the door that said ‘please do not use the doorbell and wake the baby’ (advice Cindy had given them), politely listened while given their opening speech and then said the single most effective thing Sylvie had ever seen with missionaries: “I’m sorry, I’m Irish and Catholic, both of them genetically. I don’t want to waste your time. Can I get you a bottle of water though, it’s hot out today?” The two young men had looked baffled, thanked Matt, and then sort of wandered off their porch. Sylvie couldn’t help asking Matt what had just happened. He’d laughed, shrugged, and said, “Aintin Jo taught me that – no point being an ass to them, they think they’re helping people – but seems like nothing scares off a good missionary like a devout Catholic. Doesn’t matter what they want to preach to you about. Just tell them you’re Catholic. Always works.” She wondered if she could lie convincingly enough for the Catholic thing to work. The knock repeated. Matt came down the stairs, he’d been upstairs with Jack, looking into the living room and gestured to the door, clearly asking without asking why she hadn’t answered it.
“I don’t know who it is.” She replied to his unspoken question.
“That’s why there’s a peephole, Syl.” Matt laughed, but he opened the door right away. “Come on in, Jack’s still asleep.”
Emily and Stella came inside, followed by Kelly. Sylvie figured Matt must’ve been expecting them. The house wasn’t in the best state for company, Mom had been gone a week and there were a few stacks around, but Matt at least had kept the place up pretty well. Sylvie began to suspect he was a nighttime housework ninja, things kept mysteriously getting completed or cleaned overnight. But he was in bed with her nearly every night when she went to sleep, and there in the morning when she woke up to feed Jack. Sylvie was torn from her thoughts by Emily and Stella pretty much hauling her from the sofa.
“Come on. You’re coming with us. Girls’ day at the spa. You need to get out of the house.”
“I can’t. Jack is-“
“Jack will be here, with his doting daddy and Uncle Kelly.” Stella cut in.
“He’ll be hungry.” Sylvie pointed out. “Matt is wonderful, but he hasn’t started lactating yet.”
“She keeps saying I don’t have the chest for it.” Matt shook his head, running his hand down the front of his shirt trying to look disappointed she thought, then he was laughing. "Sylvie, you already pumped once today. We decided to start introducing him to bottles this week. I know what to do with it, I promise.”
“I’m not dressed.”
“Go get dressed. We’ll wait.”
“Ah, actually,” Matt looked at his watch, and sure enough, they could just hear Jack start crying over the baby monitor. He really didn’t cry very loudly, maybe just because he was still sort of little. “Mommy that is your cue. Feed him now, he’ll be good for another two hours. Then I’ve got a bottle, he’ll go another two hours on that. That gives you more than enough time for an afternoon at the spa, so you can get back for first dinner.”
“First dinner?” Kelly asked.
“His son eats like a hobbit.” Sylvie remarked, tapping Matt’s chest as she went by, continuing as she went up the stairs. “Breakfast. Second breakfast. Morning tea. Elevenses. Luncheon. Afternoon tea. Dinner. Second Dinner. Supper. Midnight snack.”
“He’s a growing boy! So am I!” Matt called up after her.
“Growing wider!” She could just hear Kelly tease, but then she was in the bedroom and picking up her son, focusing on making sure his upset little cries were soothed. They were easy at this age, apparently. He either wanted food, a dry diaper, a cuddle, or sleep. Usually in that order, actually. His stomach was still small, so eating didn’t take very long. Matt appeared right on time at the door to their bedroom.
“I’ll take the diaper duty, you get dressed to go with Emily and Stella.”
“Matt, what if he needs me?” She asked, even as she let Matt take their son from her arms.
“He’s just eaten.” Matt reminded her. “I don’t want to…threaten the primacy of Mommy in his life, because I know where I rank, but Sylvie, you have to leave him with me eventually. Right?”
“He’s so little.”
“Do you trust me?”
“Of course I do. You’re great with him. I just…I’m just paranoid, I think. Scared.”
“I know.” Matt kissed her forehead softly. “I think it’s not going to get better though the longer you let it linger. You’ll be gone a few hours. I will be here. Kelly will be here. And Cindy is helping Herrmann over at Molly’s this afternoon, so if I really get in a bind, the champion mom is two minutes away.”
“What if he won’t take the bottle?”
“Then I’m in for a loud afternoon with a fussy baby. He won’t starve to death, Sylvie.”
“This from the champion worrier in my life?”
“I know.” Matt admitted softly, looking at their son. “Trust me, babe, I know how hard it is to leave him, and not just…keep watch and guard or whatever, over him for every second. But we have to have time to be us, too, and if I can leave you and Jack here all by yourselves while I go to shift for twenty-four hours, you can ease into it with three or four hours for the spa. You can text me a lot. I won’t laugh or anything. I’ll even send you picture updates of his progress.”
“If it makes you feel better. Just text me, and I’ll send one right away. Or, Severide will, if my hands are busy feeding or changing or something.”
“Thank you. For being so patient with me.”
“It’s my job to keep you and him safe, happy, sheltered, fed, and generally just cared for in every way, for the rest of my mortal days.” Matt smiled at her softly. “That’s what I’m here for, Sylvie. Literally. You grew him this far. Let me take some of the load now that I can.”
She had a nice time at the spa. It was nice to get out of the house, without Jack, just have some time for adult conversation that wasn’t about the baby. God, it felt like forever since she’d talked to anyone other than Matt who didn’t just want to talk about the baby. Emily and Stella talked about the gossip from the firehouse, because Matt talked about calls, but never any of the good juicy stuff from 51. She texted Matt about every twenty minutes, except during her forty-minute massage. She got the asked for proof-of-life in return, and a couple of them she saved for posterity, including one she had to show Stella – Matt had taken a short video of Kelly, apparently watching a baseball game, with Jack on his chest, talking his godson through some aspect of the game. It was so sweet. Her son had a fantastic village. So did she, actually.
Chapter 3: Leo's Wedding
Matt had arranged his furlough so that they could have a long weekend in Indiana for Leo’s wedding. Fowlerton wasn’t but maybe an hour from Carmel, so they were staying most of the time in Fowlerton, with just the night after the wedding in the hotel in Carmel. They drove down Wednesday to help Mom put together some of the last minute things, the programs and the centerpieces mostly. Dad was also transporting the wedding arch Matt had built, so both Sylvie’s car and Dad’s truck was going to be full of stuff (heck, Sylvie’s car was pretty full of baby stuff – for a tiny human, Jack needed a lot of stuff). The real purpose of the time in Fowlerton, though, was for Mom and Dad to get to show off their grandson. Sylvie knew it. Wednesday night was the Ladies Auxiliary meeting night, and Mom just happened to volunteer to host for that night. Just by sheer coincidence, of course.
They arrived in the early afternoon, just after lunch. Traveling with Jack took longer. The four-hour drive took longer because it necessitated two stops for Jack to eat, including one really annoying one in Fairmount because they were so close to the farm but she just couldn’t stand the crying from the backseat for a minute longer than absolutely necessary. Also, Jack’s cries caused her breasts to start leaking, which was uncomfortable and kind of embarrassing, even just in the car with Matt. Matt hadn’t needed much convincing to pull over. Sylvie felt awkward feeding Jack with Matt watching for some reason. He always stared, clearly fascinated, but really, it wasn’t like he hadn’t seen her breasts many times. Lots of pleasant times.
Sylvie had texted from the last stop, letting Mom know that they were going to be a little late because Jack was not one to be put off a meal. They were still plenty early to get settled before the Ladies Auxiliary meeting that would start after dinner. Mom met her at the door, practically grabbed Jack out of Sylvie’s hands, well, the car seat at least, and waved them towards the kitchen, after a quick kiss to Sylvie’s cheek.
“Hello, Sylvie, dear. There’s some lunch left out, you two eat, we’ll take care of Jack.”
“Sylvie.” Matt’s voice came from behind her. She turned, laughing a little, the screen door had shut and his hands were full. “Do you mind? I know I’m not exactly the star of the show anymore, well, I never really was, but doors shut in my face are…never mind, not that new at all.”
“Matt.” She popped the door for him. “It wasn’t shut in your face, she’s just excited.”
“She just saw him two weeks ago, for almost the entirety of his first month of life.”
“I thought you wanted my parents to spoil him.”
“I do.” Matt smiled lightly. “I’m going to take this stuff upstairs, and go out for the next load. You get some lunch, and chat with your parents.”
“I’ll make a plate for you, too.”
After lunch, they took Jack for a ‘tour’ of the farm. Well, a walking tour just around the nearest part. Sylvie figured Dad knew that at six weeks, Jack wasn’t really able to see anything, but it was adorable and a perfect way to spend a sunny summer afternoon between two of Jack’s meals. He was still eating about ten times a day, but he was also growing like a weed. Her tiny baby wasn’t going to stay that way very long, but then, Matt wasn’t overly tall or brawny, but he was hardly tiny. Sylvie had been surprised when Matt had told her (apparently in passing) that his dad was six-two. It meant there was some hope for Jack to end up sort of tall, though. As long as he was healthy, she didn’t really care, but she still found herself wondering what he’d look like as he aged. Would he grow up looking like Matt, or more like her? A mix of the two? She hoped he grew up an awful lot like Matt, really. The world could use more men like Matt Casey, she figured. And she didn’t just mean handsome as sin, either.
Dad grilled pork chops for dinner. Matt stood around the grill with him, in some sort of manly solidarity that she saw all the time, like gathering around the grill was a modern expression of men doing manly hunting meat-providing things. Mom made some roasted green beans and creamy corn casserole to go with it. Sylvie bit back a laugh, more than once, as everyone ended up just watching Matt eat by the end of the meal. He ate like she’d never fed him which Sylvie might’ve taken offense to, if she didn’t know that Matt had been working a lot of hours in order to be gone and stay on-time for his projects, and he had a hollow leg sometimes, like he could just eat fantastic amounts of food and store it for when he ‘forgot’ to eat or just got ‘too busy’ for a meal. He wasn’t rude, he just put away an impressive amount of food. He didn’t even realize his wife and in-laws were biting back good-natured laughter.
“Matt, any room for pie?”
“Ah, pie?” Matt looked confused for a second. Then he grinned, and shrugged. “I’m going to gain about five pounds while I’m here, but I always have room for your pie.”
“What kind do you want?”
“Whatever’s already cut is fine.”
“He’s really not picky, Mom.” Sylvie assured her.
“Well, I made them for tonight-“
“Oh, don’t cut one for me, then.”
“It’s for both of us, son.” Dad cut in. “The men folk aren’t going to get any once the women get here for their meeting. I’ve got a project out in the north barn for us to work on, if you don’t mind. I’d say we could bring Jack, but my wife would have my head for trying to rescue my grandson from being passed around the Ladies Auxiliary tonight.”
“You’ll have your turn to show him off.” Mom pointed a knife at Dad from her place in the kitchen. “Tonight is my turn. Now, Matt, don’t worry about that, they’re all getting cut tonight anyway. Chuck, what kind do you want?”
“What were my options again? I forgot.”
“Raspberry-rhubarb, banana cream, and strawberry-lemonade.”
“Raspberry-rhubarb then.” Dad decided. Sylvie knew her cue, and got up to hand Dad’s piece across to him. She dropped a hand to Matt’s shoulder, while picking up his dinner plate from in front of him. She should’ve known better, Matt immediately stood up.
“I got it, babe, sit down.”
“Matt, I can clear-“
“You don’t need to-“
“Sit. Down. Matthew.” Mom ordered.
“Yes, ma’am.” Matt sat back down quickly. He shot a look at Dad, who was chuckling. “What?”
“You learn fast, son. Sometimes, though it feels a bit sexist, you just let the women in this family bring you the food.”
“I can help.”
“And I’ll bet you do, at home, but here?” Dad shrugged lightly. “Let them reign.”
“Matt, what kind of pie do you want?” Mom repeated.
“Strawberry-lemonade sounds good.”
“Whip cream?” Sylvie asked, as she set his plate in front of him a moment later.
“On the pie, or on you?” Matt pulled her down a little to whisper in her ear. She almost smacked him. They hadn’t had sex yet, not since a few weeks before Jack was born, thought her interest had certainly reawakened lately, but she was still nervous about it. Matt was not, and had been gently teasing her for a few weeks about it. They’d not done much more than kissing, really, and not even much of that – Sylvie was still getting over that whole ‘don’t touch me’ feeling until just the last week or so. Matt raised his voice, “I’m fine with no whip cream. And Sylvie, you better have pie, too.”
“I’m supposed to be losing weight.”
“No, you’re supposed to let the calories for breastfeeding work off the pregnancy weight while eating enough calories to support your own needs, not Jack’s.” Matt corrected. “Have some pie. It’s a celebratory weekend.”
As she suspected, Jack was the true star of the Ladies Auxiliary Wednesday meeting. Sylvie had fed him just before they expected people to start arriving, and she’d gone downstairs to help Mom do last-minute set-up while Matt took over diaper-changing duty. He’d either uncharacteristically struggled, or he was just taking some extra cuddle time, because half the ladies were already there by the time Matt came downstairs with Jack. If he’d been trying to get more approval from her mother’s church friends, he couldn’t have done better, but he wasn’t paying any attention to anything other than his son, who he was talking to in a soft voice about – if she heard correctly – the outcome of the White Sox game that afternoon. Sylvie swore that every woman in the room nearly swooned. Something about a handsome man with a baby. Matt had handed Jack over to Mom, kissed Sylvie quickly, and announced that all males over the age of 1 were going to be out in the barn. Most of the conversation (which was supposed to be a Bible study group) ended up being about Leo’s wedding, Jack, and grandchildren in general.
Very early Saturday morning, they packed up and headed for Carmel. Mom and Dad had gone down for the rehearsal, but come right back up to Fowlerton on Thursday. Leo and Allison had said that they were fine with her, Matt, and Jack staying at the farm until the day of the wedding. Sylvie was just trying to minimize, as much as she could, the disruption to Jack’s schedule and just how many people were going to be handling or even just be around her son. She might worry about being polite, but Matt would not – she had a feeling he would happily interrogate anyone who came near Jack about the status of their vaccinations and how long it had been since they washed their hands. She had had to buy a new dress for the wedding, because nothing she owned fit. Her pre-pregnancy clothes were all too small, and her pregnancy clothes were all too big now (she’d stayed in maternity wear for a good month after Jack’s birth). The great thing about breastfeeding was she didn’t have to lug much around to make sure Jack had plenty to eat, or worry about bottles smelling if left in a hot car after use, anything like that. She just had to find someplace private to feed him every two hours. On the dot. Because Jack Casey did not wait. He might start out with a cute little soft cry, but once he got going, he had lungs on him for sure. She had a quick moment of gratitude that Leo and Allison had scheduled their wedding for 1 pm. If she fed Jack right before the service, they’d have two hours before he got hungry again, enough time to finish up any pictures she was supposed to be in.
They went straight to the reception location Saturday morning. The ‘farmstead’ was beautiful (and probably was a farm, before suburban Indianapolis attacked Carmel), Sylvie had to admit. After some rushed introductions between Matt and Allison’s mother and sister, who were coordinating the decorating before they had to leave to get ready, Matt and Dad quickly unloaded the arch and carried the parts to where they were directed. Allison’s mother, Karen, seemed worried that Matt wouldn’t get it together quickly enough for it to be decorated. Sylvie looked at Mom, shrugged, and left Matt to deal with a hovering mother-in-law-in-law, or whatever you called your brother-in-law’s soon to be mother-in-law. Matt was a big boy, he could handle it. Sure enough, twenty minutes later, Karen was inside, where they were finishing up the flower arrangements and centerpieces, gushing about how Matt was already done and it looked beautiful. Unfortunately, they found plenty for Matt to do once they realized Matt really did know what he was doing. Sylvie was annoyed by eleven o’clock. They needed to leave, and Matt had been left with a list of things to do.
“Sylvie, just…go.” Matt sighed, looking at the list. “I’ll Uber to the hotel. You need to go get ready. Mom arranged early check-in, so you guys go. It’s ten minutes from the hotel to the church. If I leave here by noon, I can make it in plenty of time to shave, shower, and change into my suit – especially if I’m, well, if I’m not dodging your make-up and hair routine.”
“I can’t leave you here alone.” Sylvie pointed out, even as she was burping Jack from his elevenses meal, and Matt was packing up the few of Jack’s things that had come inside with them.
“You can, and you will. I just have to finish the lights, put up some of the room dividers, and the signs they want. It’s all marked out on this plan.” Matt pointed to the papers Karen had handed him before she and Mom left to their hairdresser appointments. “I’ll be fine. It’s easy stuff, just fiddly and a little time-consuming. Your dad will be happy to keep Jack while you shower, I’m sure.”
“Just so you know, I am chewing out my brother for this.” Sylvie let him know firmly. “You should not have gotten this dumped on you this morning. You’re not actually their staff.”
“No, I’m family.” Matt smiled softly. “Sometimes you take advantage of family, Sylvie. It’s just what happens. I don’t mind. Makes me feel like I’m…part of the furniture.”
“Well, I mind. You’re not furniture.”
“I like it when you sit on me, though.” Matt teased, and she couldn’t help laughing, only because he’d reached out to gently cover Jack’s ears before he said it. She gave in, though, and after multiple kisses goodbye, left him there to finish up.
They were just about the last people to arrive at the church. It wasn’t like they had to fight for a place to sit, they had a reserved spot up front. Mom had been wonderfully kind and put them on the outside, so if they had to get up with Jack, one of them could easily go. He’d just been fed, so he should sleep, but they weren’t sure how he’d do trying to sleep through all the voices and everything of a church service. Matt hadn’t yet taken him to Mass, citing germs and unvaccinated people at a vulnerable age (and since Sylvie wasn’t Catholic, it was easy for him to go and leave the baby with her). Sure enough, about halfway through, Jack was done with having prime naptime interrupted or delayed, and started fussing. Matt had him out of his car seat in an instant.
“Come here, Peanut.” Matt whispered, pulling Jack to his chest. He turned to Sylvie, “Stay, see your brother get married. I’ve got him.”
“We know he’s not hungry, I can handle anything else.” Matt whispered back. “Stay. I’ve got him.”
Matt was up, moving towards the back of the church and already humming what else but ‘Bear Down Chicago Bears’ (which, damn it, had ended up the lullaby Jack seemed to prefer). It didn’t seem like anyone else had taken much notice, mostly because Jack’s start of fussing was still quiet. Still, Sylvie felt a little bad that people might’ve been distracted by Matt leaving. Then again, anyone who didn’t understand what having an infant meant, well, they could go suck a lemon.
They took a few family pictures quickly after the ceremony. Jack was sleeping and she felt a little badly that they woke him for pictures, but he wasn’t very fussy even for that. Allison or the photographer, someone, had planned well and had any of the pictures that Sylvie needed to be in set up first. That gave her and Matt time to go back by the hotel and feed Jack a little early for his three o’clock afternoon tea, then put him down for a quiet sleep in a quiet place, before they had to go to the reception. Before Jack was born, they might’ve used the downtime for something fun, just the two of them. Now? They napped themselves, having stripped out of their wedding clothes so nothing got wrinkled, but aside from a few nice kisses, they just napped. The great thing about Jack was he was a breathing alarm clock. No worries about oversleeping. The reception started at 5. She’d told Allison and Leo they’d be late, Jack would want a meal (and she’d rather do it as often as possible in the privacy of their hotel room). Jack woke up at 4:45, apparently starving to death right there in his pack’n’play. She fed him quickly, while Matt sorted out everything they needed to take to the reception and got redressed. Then he took over burping and check-the-diaper duty while she quickly got redressed, and they headed for the reception.
She felt like she barely saw her son during the reception. Mom and Dad had him a lot of the time, but Allison was also proudly showing off her new nephew to anyone she could. Jack was tolerating it fantastically well for such a young baby, and she was grateful to have the chance to talk to a lot of people she hadn’t seen since her own wedding (and some of them, she hadn’t had a lot of time to talk to then). Matt continuously reassured her that he had Jack, she should go visit with people. Just after dinner, at 7 o’clock, Matt appeared at her shoulder, a fussy Jack in his arms, interrupting her conversation with some people she and Leo had known when they were kids.
“Our son insists that I am lacking some essential qualities. Sorry to interrupt.”
“No, of course, Sylvie go.” Jodie encouraged.
“I’ll take him.” Sylvie took Jack from Matt smoothly, they were getting very practiced at this after all, “oh, Matt, this is Jodie Mercer and Jennie Garretson, we went to school together, well they’re a couple years younger than me, were some of Leo’s friends. Jodie, Jennie, this is my husband, Matt Casey.”
“Well, we’ll take care of Matt, while you take care of the baby.” Jennie smiled brightly at her.
“I’ll be back in about twenty minutes.” She assured Matt, kissing his cheek.
She was back a little late. Jack was hungry, apparently, and ate quite a lot. She headed back out to the reception hall, grateful beyond measure that the facility actually had a lactation room. For a ‘historic farmstead’ she definitely approved of that upgrade. She made it back to their table, grateful not for the first time tonight to be seated at the same table as her parents and Allison’s parents. Matt wasn’t sitting there, though – he’d mostly stayed with her folks, not knowing pretty much anyone else except the little bits of Allison’s family he’d been introduced to this morning.
“Where’s Matt?” She asked Mom, even as Mom reached out to take Jack from her. Greedy grandma, apparently.
“Jodie and Jennie have him firmly in hand.” Dad pointed out discretely. Matt was in the middle of a small group of women. “Poor bastard hasn’t had a moment’s peace since you left with Jack.”
“Well, if you guys have got Jack, I am going to go dance with my husband. We’ll probably leave around 9, for Jack’s next meal – try to get him in a quieter mood before he goes down for the night.”
“Of course we’ve got him.” Dad assured her.
She had rescued Matt from his small group of admirers, and for some reason felt a thoroughly selfish and probably silly need to keep him next to her the rest of the reception. They danced together, and she thrilled at the proximity of him, of moving together with him, again. She had worried, at first, if the changes to her libido might last a long time, this weird fact of not wanting Matt to touch her, of not even finding him physically attractive. She loved him, that had never wavered, but it had been odd and actually scary to realize as he’d stepped out of the shower, when Jack was about ten days old, that she didn’t feel a thing when seeing him naked. There had been stirrings the last couple weeks, really. Tonight, dancing with Matt, she felt like her old self in that regard – the heat of him, the solid muscle of his chest, the smell of his cologne, it was all triggering familiar feelings.
She fed Jack again just before 9. She had thought they’d leave then, but she wanted to stay for the cake to be cut, which was apparently going to happen just after nine. Even well-fed, Jack was getting fussy, either from the noise or all the attention or both. Matt spent a lot of his time finding a quieter part of the facility, taking Jack with him. She knew he wanted her to spend all the time she could with her family, it was, after all, her only brother’s wedding. At least, it earned him lots of credit with other guests, including Allison’s mother, who kept gushing about how wonderful Matt was with the baby, as if fathers weren’t really expected to be involved with an infant (which Sylvie thought was a way of thinking that had gone out of style at least forty years ago or more). Still, after the cake was cut (Matt didn’t even get a piece), she felt they really did have to go, get Jack settled in for the night. After some somewhat elongated goodbyes (Sylvie noticed that Matt politely but firmly refused to let Allison hold Jack, Allison was clearly not sober but she didn’t get offended, just cooed over Jack for several minutes), they made it back to their hotel room at almost 10 pm. By the time everyone was in their pajamas and ready for bed (complete with a diaper change for Jack), it was a little after 10. Jack conked out pretty much right away, less than halfway through Matt reading him a story. They’d continued their routine of ‘story time with Daddy’ before the ‘big sleep’ (as Matt called it to Jack – it was usually the almost-midnight feed, as Jack slept through to five, sometimes five-thirty, now) to the point that Matt recorded his voice reading stories for the nights Matt was on shift and not available. They’d figured that out after two shift nights in a row of Jack refusing to sleep without Matt’s voice – other times of day he slept fine, but the ‘big sleep’ apparently required being sent off by Daddy’s voice. Sylvie thought it was one of the most singularly attractive things about Matt – something about Daddy-Matt was hot (and it had been a while since anything made her hot).
She slipped into the bed beside Matt a few moments after Jack fell asleep. The bassinet attachment on the pack’n’play was a great bit of advice from Donna, Jack slept great in it. She cuddled up to Matt, tapping his chin lightly so he turned to her. She kissed him, softly at first, but then more seriously. They pulled apart several moments later, as Matt grabbed her wrist, stopping her hand that had slid down his body to rub over the growing bulge in his boxers.
“It’s fine, Matt. I’ve been cleared for sex. Everything is fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“I think so.” She couldn’t say for sure. She was a little nervous, actually. But that was good enough for Matt. He kissed her again, hard and fast and all-consuming. He rolled them so he was on top, and it felt amazingly good, but also, she couldn’t help it, somehow, a little too much and suddenly scary, as she felt him straddle her thighs. She could feel him, already so hard, against her, and his fingers slipped inside her pajama shorts, along her folds, lightly across her clit and dipping down, and he pulled back suddenly.
“Sylvie, you’re not…uh, baby, you’re not…okay, clearly more work is needed here.” Matt smiled at her, as if she’d issued a challenge without saying anything at all, and he kissed her again, that was nice, but he also rucked up her shirt, the nursing camisole she wore to sleep now, and she flinched, imagining the flabby post-baby belly that he had to see (even in the dim light of their darkened hotel room), and then his hands were on her boobs, and his mouth was trailing up between them, and at the first touch of his mouth to her nipple, a bit of teeth and sucking combined, she just reacted.
“Shit, Sylvie!” Matt groaned, rolling off of her. It took her a second to realize she’d just brought her knee up, both her knees up, hard, and must’ve nailed him right in the gut. She felt bad, but also, well, something needed to be said.
“Those are not for you.”
“My boobs are…they’re Jack’s bottles, basically, and not for you to play around with. I don’t want you touching them, certainly not sucking on them like you’re Jack and it’s just weird. So they’re not a ‘sex’ zone.”
“You could’ve said that.” Matt’s voice was still tight. He stood up, and she realized he was cupping not his gut but something rather lower.
“Are you okay?”
“I’ll be fine.” Matt replied, but kept his back to her. “Getting racked hurts more when I’m hard. You didn’t get me that bad, just…perfect angle or something.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to do that.”
“Come back to bed, then.”
“Maybe we should, uh, wait for sex.” Matt offered, turning back to face her, his voice still tighter than usual, but his body looked less tense. “Your body might be physically ready, but I don’t think you’re…really ready.”
“I miss us.”
“I know. I do, too. But, we’ll get it back, no need to rush.” Matt sat down next to her, pulling her into his arms. “I’m not going anywhere, Sylvie. No matter what. Even if you never want me like that again. Though I’d really rather that wasn’t the case. It’ll wait. Until you’re really ready. And I mean ready for me to see and worship your beautiful body properly. You are so incredibly sexy and amazing, you don’t even know how I feel about you, what I feel when I look at you.”
“Is it filthy?” She asked, with a soft smile. She pulled back from the hug, tugging him down towards the mattress with her.
“Some of it.” Matt admitted, chuckling. “Some of it is very filthy. Some of it is probably even immoral."
"Really?” That almost sounded promising. For the future.
“Promise not to smack me, or knee me?”
“I promise. Tell me.”
“I’m already imagining you, pregnant again, big with my baby again, and I know it’s…awful, but it turns me on so much.”
“It’s not awful.” Sylvie hurried to assure him. “It’s not going to happen for a while, though.”
“I didn’t expect it to. It’s just this little fantasy I have, I guess.” Matt kissed her nose. “I haven’t said it enough, I can never say it enough. Thank you. For making me a daddy. I am never going anywhere, Sylvie. I am going to be right here with you, and our boy, for every single day I can possibly beg, buy, or steal from God – hopefully about ninety more years. Even that won’t be enough.”
Matt had to work July 2nd and 5th. It wasn’t an unusual schedule, of course, perfectly typical pattern of 24 on, 48 off, 24 on, so on. It meant that there was no point in going down to Fowlerton, though, since the fireworks there were scheduled for the 4th itself, and Matt had to work too early the next morning for Sylvie to feel comfortable asking him to make the drive, and she was still too tired herself. Something about breastfeeding or maybe just Jack’s schedule or recovering from giving birth, whatever it was, she was exhausted most of the time. Matt was getting no more sleep than she was, though he joked that he slept more on shift when his son wasn’t waking them for breakfast at 5 am. She knew better. She still had spies at 51 and Matt was as unsubtle as ever: the whole of second shift knew he wasn’t sleeping on shift. He wasn’t sleeping well at home, either. Even when Jack wasn’t waking her, Matt was waking her accidentally – nightmares, she suspected, but he wouldn’t admit it. All in all, she had decided that they were staying in Chicago for the holiday (Matt had been willing to make the drive, but they’d really just been to Indiana days ago for Leo’s wedding). In response, Mom and Dad were coming up to Chicago. Matt just shook his head and said that’s why he put in a guest suite – he’d had a feeling grandparents wouldn’t stay away.
Matt’s appointments with Dr. Sandlin were once a week, around his schedule at the firehouse. Sylvie couldn’t tell if it was helping at all. His sleeping patterns were getting worse, not better. His mood after an appointment was usually pretty low, and he barely slept the night after an appointment. He insisted he was fine, but she worried about him anyway. He came home from therapy on July 1 and looked anxious, nervous in a way that she didn’t think he should ever be in his own home. Still, she didn’t say anything to him, not even sure what to say. It was only after they were already in bed, and she was curled into Matt’s side, that Matt opened up about what was apparently bothering him.
“Sylvie, you know I love you. Right?”
“I’m as certain of it as I am that you love Jack.” She looked up at his face, surprised by the question. “Matt, what’s wrong? Why do you ask?”
“I just can’t stand the thought that maybe you wouldn’t know. Know how important you are to me. You and Jack.”
“Matt, no one could miss how important to you Jack is, or I am.”
“Dr. Sandlin thinks…it’d be…will you come to therapy with me? Not next week, maybe the one after that.”
“Of course I will, but I didn’t think this was couple’s counseling.”
“It’s not. What would we need counseling about? We’re good, aren’t we?”
“Yes. Of course. That’s why I was surprised.” Sylvie reassured him, brushing her hand over his chest lightly. He liked being petted, it always seemed to reassure him.
“We’re exploring some of my issues. We, uh, starting hitting on my issues with relationships. Well, I guess, right now, it’s more my perception of relationships. Something like that. I’m not sure I totally get it myself just yet.” Matt admitted softly. “But Dr. Sandlin thinks that we can better assess my goals and things like that, with you in the room. I’m okay with it. You don’t have to-“
“Matt, of course I’ll come. I’ll do anything to support you.”
“You might hear some things that’ll upset you. Not about you.” Matt reassured quickly. “You are perfect. You are the best thing in my life, well, right behind Jack, but I wouldn’t have Jack without you, so…let’s just put you and Jack tied, I guess.”
“So, old stuff?”
“Yeah. Some of it…Gabby was your friend. Which makes this more complicated. And other stuff, from farther back.”
“I’m happy to come, Matt. No matter what. And whatever I felt for Gabby, what I feel for you is so far beyond it, that you can’t measure it on the same scale anymore.”
“Okay. Good.” Matt held her tighter against him. “I know I’m a bit of a mess right now. Dr. Sandlin says there’s often a period when you start when things seems worse. Sort of like I’m cleaning out my mental closet and I’m kind of at the point where…it’s all out of the closet and spread all over the room so you can start assessing the crap to keep, better organized, and the crap to get rid of.”
“Matt, if there’s anything at all I can do to help, just let me know.”
“You do it every day. Just…love me. Even when I’m a closed-mouth, stubborn, bastard.”
“Well, that is an easy assignment. Loving you is so easy. Because, sure, you’re stubborn, and proud, and sometimes getting two words out of you is hard work, and you’re sort of like a cat, who goes off to lick a broken leg in some hidey hole rather than let someone help you. You’re also the best man I’ve ever known, and you are the best daddy, and the best husband, and you are very, very easy to love, Matt Casey.”
Mom and Dad arrived while Matt was on shift. Because parking was a bit of a bear on a holiday weekend, Matt had gotten permission to leave his truck at 51 after shift – Kelly would drop him by the house afterwards and pick him up for shift on the fifth. That way, her parents’ car fit in their garage. Sylvie had to go let them into the garage, but that just gave her and Jack an excuse to greet Grandma and Grandpa right away. True to form, Sylvie lost her son to his grandparents’ arms pretty much immediately. It hadn’t been very long since she’d seen her parents, but she couldn’t complain about their company. For one thing, she truly enjoyed it. For the other thing, it would feel extremely ungrateful, given her husband was just starting what she suspected was a long struggle to maybe finally deal with the mess left behind by parents who didn’t care enough to visit. Nancy still hadn’t met her grandson. Though, Sylvie had to admit, that was largely due to Matt banning her until she got a DTAP booster (or Jack got his vaccinations) and for some reason, Nancy was refusing to do that. She helped Mom and Dad settle quickly into the guest room downstairs, then they all went upstairs. They didn’t really have anything planned, just time spent together. It was nice, just sort of hanging out with her parents, talking and watching television even together. Plus, getting to see her parents – for some reason especially Dad – so enthralled with Jack was both gratifying and itself enthralling.
“I hate to say it, Sylvie.” Dad spoke after a few minutes of just holding Jack and staring at him.
“I think he looks like Matt.” Dad chuckled.
“Why would you hate to say that?” Sylvie asked, while she chuckled a bit herself.
“Because I imagine a boy that looked like that must’ve given his parents, or whoever was responsible for him, quite a bit of concern when he was a teenager.”
“Matt says he was horribly awkward looking until he was about a senior in high school.”
“He must have pictures around somewhere.” Mom looked confused. “Haven’t you seen a baby picture or anything?”
“A few, from when he was pretty young, that Christie has. Somehow, if there ever were family photo albums, no one seems to know what happened to them after Nancy went to prison for killing Greg. Christie doesn’t have them, and Matt doesn’t either. His foster parents – you remember the Gallaghers, from the wedding? – they have some from when he was living with them, but that was senior year. And he was not awkward looking at all.” Sylvie rolled her eyes, annoyed at how stupidly adorable he’d been. She would’ve had the hugest crush on him if they’d gone to high school together. “I guess all I can do is hope that he has Matt’s temperament as well as his looks.”
“Did he get to keep anything, after his parents, well, after?” Mom asked.
“He’s never said exactly. He lived with an aunt and uncle for a while, then some foster parents, and another set of aunt and uncle, all during his sophomore and junior years. Then there was a couple group homes in there somewhere.” Sylvie had to shrug. “Somewhere in all those moves, I get the impression his belongings got pared down to a single duffle bag of clothes, plus a book bag with some other odds and ends.”
“Matt didn’t say anything, but his Aintin Jo – I think I said that right – Mrs. Gallagher, she told me he showed up at their house with a single pair of shoes, two pairs of pants, five shirts – total, only one with long-sleeves, four pairs of socks and six pairs of underwear. Oh, and a baseball hat. That’s it.” Sylvie felt herself tear up a little bit, just as she had when she’d first been told.
“That was it?”
“All his worldly possessions.” Sylvie nodded. “She said the note from his previous group home said he’d outgrown everything else and there wasn’t any money to get him new clothes. I think that’s why he really never wants anything.”
“This must be a palace for him.” Dad agreed. “If that’s what he comes from.”
“I try to be understanding, but sometimes, when he wears socks until there’s more than one hole in them, and jeans until they disintegrate, and insists that he can get a few more years out of his truck, when there’s money to replace things, it annoys me sometimes.” Sylvie admitted.
“He’s frugal.” Mom summed up.
“No, he’s so tight he squeaks.” Sylvie paused, looking around their home. “Well, about some things. Things for me, for Jack, he’s fine, he just can’t spend anything on himself.”
“That’s fatherhood.” Dad sounded approving. “He’s a good man, Sylvie. He’ll put himself last – and feel the greatest reward when he gets something nice for you or for Jack here, not anything for himself.”
“He is pretty great.” Sylvie grinned. “I’m so glad you guys like him. I know he is too.”
“I told you when we first met him, if he’s good to you and he makes you happy, I’ll like him well enough.” Dad paused, looking back down at Jack. “Now, it’s you and Jack he has to be good to and make happy.”
“Well, he does.”
“That’s why I like him.”
They spent much of the day and the evening of the Fourth of July at Navy Pier, getting ready for or watching the fireworks. Sylvie had insisted that they bring protection for Jack’s ears. The baby did just fine, actually, and they had a wonderful time. Chief, Donna, and Terrence had joined them earlier, before taking the boat out to be on the lake for the fireworks. Matt had taken Terrence off for a walk or something (Sylvie hadn’t asked much), coming back quite a bit later with Terrence looking a little sad and uncomfortable, but telling his parents that they’d ended up running into some of his friends from school and playing for a while. Matt had shrugged at Chief’s unasked question, and looked a little hurt at Terrence’s pretty lackluster goodbye. Nonetheless, they’d still had a great evening. Jack had seemed to watch the bright colors in the sky, though maybe he was just enjoying his spot on Matt’s chest as they lay down on the blanket they’d managed to hold down all day on a pretty good spot in the park near the pier.
By the time they got back to Bucktown, it was late and everyone was pretty tired. Jack was ready for his ‘bedtime’ meal, and her parents both insisted they were going straight downstairs to bed. They would head back to Fowlerton tomorrow sometime after Matt went to shift.
Matt was late back from shift on the fifth. Not really late, just late enough that she was finishing up Jack’s nine o’clock meal when he got home. He leaned down to kiss her, and she couldn’t help wrinkling her nose and pulling back just a little. She knew it wasn’t just her when Jack – normally completely unable to be distracted from his eating – pulled off her nipple and made sounds of distaste (well, she was pretty sure he was complaining).
“Matt, you smell…that is actually disgusting.”
“You would not believe the call we had.”
“You smell like rotting corpses. Please tell me there weren’t actual corpses.”
“Not human.” Matt nicely stepped a few feet back. “Suspicious smell call. Police needed help for forcible entry. I already put in for new turnouts, I don’t think that smell is ever coming out. Cats. Lots of dead, nearly dead, and…not gonna lie, I may have nightmares.”
“Well, go shower. You’ve managed to put Jack off his feed, let alone me.”
“Sorry.” Matt held up his hands in surrender, backing towards the master bath. “I’m going to go scrub for maybe an hour. I already took two showers at work, hoping third time is the charm.”
Jack contentedly finished his meal, then went down for a nap. He was sleeping a lot, but apparently that was normal given how fast he was growing. She made sure he was completely settled in his bassinet, then decided that she wanted to talk to Matt. She missed him when he was on shift. Plus, her libido was really starting to kick back in. She stripped her clothes, and walked into the master bath. She stopped for a moment, looking in the mirror. All she could see is how her body had changed. She at least didn’t look pregnant anymore (no one on tv and movies ever showed the woman as still looking pregnant even after the baby – the actress just magically looked perfect again right after, nope, not at all real). She just didn’t quite look like her anymore either. She got nervous suddenly. Matt hadn’t seen her naked since she was still pregnant. Heck, she hadn’t seen him naked hardly since then, either. But he hadn’t changed, she could see that, through the glass door of the shower. Oh, well, best to just get it over with, however it went, this trying to be attractive and sexy for her husband again. She tried her best to be silent, but his eyes opened as she opened the door to the shower – probably letting in a bit of a draft relative to the steamy heat of the shower.
“Did you think someone else might be here to make sure you get scrubbed properly?”
“I just…didn’t think.” Matt shrugged.
“You already smell better.” Sylvie was glad of that. He might look incredibly sexy, but he did not smell sexy a few minutes ago. “But, I need a closer study.”
“Closer, huh?” He pulled her against him, and there was a bit of lingering funk, but also the shower gel and shampoo and a bit of ‘wet Matt’ (she didn’t know what else to call it). The feel of his firm toned naked body along hers was like the most amazing (sexy) homecoming. “Can I kiss you now?”
“You may.” Sylvie agreed, as regally as she could. Matt obliged, sweeping in to kiss her hard and fast and she opened to his tongue immediately. In what felt like a second, she was pinned against the tiles, her husband pressed against her as tightly as possible, his hands running up and down her back, clutching her ass, sliding along her hips, up her thighs. She grabbed his ass with both hands, content to just hang on for the ride for now. One of his hands slid up between her legs, and she blushed brightly as she came with just a few very knowledgeable strokes of her clit and the feel of his mouth on hers. She hadn’t realized she was that wound up, but apparently she was. Matt pulled back, looking a little surprised, but very pleased with himself as well.
“Don’t be smug. It’s been a while.”
“Trust me. I know exactly how long it’s been.” Matt was still grinning though.
“Don’t.” She grabbed his wrist, stopping his hand from any further exploring, or more accurately, from any fingers sliding up into her pussy. “It’s still kind of sore down there. Just…my libido is back but I don’t think I’m ready for anything up there. Not even just your fingers.”
“I can work with that.” Matt managed, somehow, to gracefully drop to his knees in the shower. He kissed her stomach softly, trailing kisses and tongue and little nips along her lower abdomen, gradually lower and lower, and then he made it to his ultimate goal. She leaned back against the wall as he shifted her right leg over his shoulder. She’d been dreaming, lately, of having his mouth on her again. Both good and bad dreams – good in that he was fantastic at oral sex, bad in that her brain conjured up images of him being grossed out by some change down there. He didn’t seem to be, though he was more tentative than she was used to. When she didn’t protest, he got more confident and she ended up clutching his head to her as he got her off again, just his tongue and teeth against her clit. When he stood up again, he did so gradually, sliding his mouth up her body. She realized they still had hot water, and as random as the thought was, she was grateful that he had put in apparently a really great water heater. His lips and tongue trailed up between her breasts, and she almost flinched. One hand cupped her left breast firmly, while his tongue swiped across to suck her right nipple into her mouth. She kind of slapped him, though she was really just trying to grab his face or hair or something.
“Stop! No!” She didn’t realize until a second later that she had pretty much yelled that. Matt looked stricken, literally and figuratively, she could see a red mark on the side of his face where she’d accidentally smacked him. He also backed away as far as the shower stall would let him.
“Sorry. I’m sorry.” Matt wouldn’t meet her eyes, and she physically barred the shower door because she was not letting him escape, though he clearly wanted to suddenly.
“Matt, it’s okay.”
“Clearly it’s not.”
“Look at me.” She waited. Okay, she was impatient. “Matt, look at me. Now. Eyes on me.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t meant to…did I hurt you or something?” She smiled, gently, as his eyes met hers and of course, more apologies fell from his lips. He apologized so readily, for everything. It was almost charming, except when she considered what might’ve caused his instinctive reaction to always be that he screwed up.
“I overreacted.” She admitted. “But, Matt, my boobs are…they feel like food factories right now. Not sexy. At all.”
“They look sexy.” Matt found a half-smile.
“They feel sore and chewed on and like I’m going to leak milk on you. Those are Jack-land right now, okay? Not Matt-land.”
“Yeah, you told me that at Leo’s wedding, didn’t you? I, uh, forgot. Was a little distracted.” Matt looked suitably abashed still. “Will they…be Matt-land in the future?”
“I’m not saying you’re never going to get to touch my boobs again, Matt.” Sylvie almost laughed at his hopeful look. “Just not for a while. Maybe once I kind of mentally adjust, it’ll be easier.”
“Anything else? If we’re going to try a sex life again, which is totally up to you, it’s always your call when or if we have sex, I need the new rules.” Matt said earnestly. “Nothing in your pussy, no contact with your tits, but clearly fingers and mouth down there are still okay, and kissing is definitely okay. Any other new rules?”
“Just one.” Sylvie grinned at him, a sudden inspiration hitting her. “You’re not allowed to touch your dick.”
“That is mine. I’m pretty sure you promised me that when we got married. Mine, and only mine. Forsaking all others, right?”
“You seriously want me to…not take care of this?” He gestured down to the erection (flagging a bit) that he still had going. She surged forward, pinning him to the wall of the shower instead, and getting a faceful of water straight from the showerhead for a second before she shifted their position just slightly. Her hand wrapped around his dick, easily sliding along his length with the extra slick of the water.
“It’s mine. I’ll take care of it.” She promised him.
“Really?” He was grinning now, and before she could answer, he kissed her. Her hand moved firmly along his cock as they kissed, and soon he was back to full hardness.
“Promise me. I’m the only one who gets to touch you like this.”
“You know you are.”
“Matt.” She nipped along his jaw, up to his ear. “I know you’ve been jerking off, Matt.”
“I didn’t think that counted.”
“You’re a ‘one’. So, remember that. From now on, this is mine. Just for me. No one else. Not without my permission. Because sometimes, I like to watch you get yourself off for me. But that’s my decision. Not yours.”
“Promise me.” She insisted, tightening her grip on his cock, but her hand kept moving up and down, up and down.
“Please, Sylvie.” He was close, she knew it. He’d been nearly there, she suspected, from eating her out. Plus, it had been a while since they’d had any sort of sex life. She took a few minutes, bringing him right to the edge, then stopping. “Shit, Syl. Please.”
“Not until you promise. No one but me.”
“I can’t.” Matt’s hips moved with the effort of trying to get friction, but her hand stayed absolutely still on his cock. She let go entirely. He looked shocked. “Sylvie, I can’t. I won’t promise you something I can’t keep.”
“You can’t promise me that I’m the only person who gets to touch you like this?” She asked, wrapping her hand around his cock again, and giving him a few more strokes. She felt the familiar signs of his imminent orgasm, and she pulled her hand away again.
“Syl. Please. Please.” Matt arched, erection bobbing, but she shook her head. She loved teasing him like this. She wasn’t actually going to leave him without, but she might make him wait a while. He knew it. He just wasn’t very patient.
“Promise me.” She prompted, a few more strokes, then letting go again just before he could topple over the edge.
“I can’t. I’ll never break a promise to you.”
“So don’t ask this.”
“But I want it.” She replied, kissing him again, her hands wandering over his chest and abs. Finally, she trailed down, hand on his cock enough to bring him once again right back to that very edge of orgasm, then stopping cold.
“Okay.” She relented, because she sensed he was going to truly hold his ground on this for some reason. “Promise me that you’ll try to keep your hands off my property. It’s mine, and I want it. I’m possessive.”
“I can promise I’ll try.” Matt agreed. His voice was soft but strident. “Now, please, baby, please. It’s been way too long since, fuck, yes, fuck, fuck, Syl, fuck, FUCK!”
A little bit of nice before the nasty. Next chapter starts some of the hardest bits for me to write. Hopefully the readers will find it worth the effort.
Chapter 5: Trash on the Roadside
Some painful themes discussed, but nothing that I foresee "triggering" anyone.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
On July 14, almost exactly two months since Jack’s birth, he had his two-month check-up. Dr. Washington was only able to get them in that morning, which unfortunately meant that Matt was supposed to be on-shift. He took leave for the morning, but after lunch was due at the firehouse. Matt had been more than willing to go along with her insistence that he be there, since Jack was getting his first full set of vaccinations. The check-up itself was pretty quick. Jack was growing rapidly, as he was supposed to be doing, and his sleeping and eating schedule was in the normal ranges. He had all the right developmental milestones ticked off. He did not like shots, though, it turned out. He cried after every shot, and Sylvie ached a little for his discomfort, but she also had to bite back laughter and tears both over Matt’s reaction. He flinched at the first one and couldn’t watch the rest. She was married to the man and had honestly not had a clue how much he hated needles. Combining his own dislike of needles/shots with his son’s distress, and Matt was not in a good mood at all. If glares could kill, Dr. Washington would be down a couple nurses. The moment it was over, Sylvie hadn’t a chance of comforting her son; Matt scooped him up and had him practically inside his shirt with him, clasped tightly to his chest with softly whispered words running gently over the baby’s head. Getting Jack out of his arms was going to be impossible, at least until he absolutely had to be set in the car seat.
Despite the fact that the appointment had not been delayed, all they had time for was a relatively quick lunch and then she was dropping Matt off at 51. He was still a little out of sorts, though at least the actual baby wasn’t – Jack slept through lunch easily, safe in his car seat, apparently over his ‘trauma’ in the doctor’s office. Matt was not. She almost texted a warning to the guys at the firehouse. Matt was going to be in a stinker of a mood this shift. It probably didn’t help, at least so she figured, that she was back on full-time next shift, and she was joining Matt for his therapy session tomorrow afternoon. Both were likely to contribute to Matt being a bit anxious and on-edge today. If she was really feeling nice and generous (to the guys at 51), she would help him calm down, but the only one-hundred-percent tried-and-true way to do that would be obscene and definitely illegal in a restaurant. Their not-yet-reinvigorated sex life was still on way too thin of ice to get by with teasing him, either, and promising him more when he got home tomorrow. She couldn’t actually promise she’d be in any sort of mood for sex tomorrow morning when he got home, plus, they’d be dodging the baby’s schedule. So instead she just kept conversation light, hoping to distract him with pleasantries.
There wasn’t, quite, a stampede when everyone realized that she had followed Matt into the common room of the house. Matt just waved and headed towards the locker room to change out, leaving Sylvie to be set upon by her coworkers. You’d think they’d never had the chance to see a baby before. Every single person here had already seen the baby at least once. Some of them, like Kelly, were regular visitors. Most of them stopped by on their way into Molly’s many evenings, keeping the visits nice and quick, but their house really was incredibly convenient for that sort of drop-in visits. It also allowed her or Matt to sometimes pop over and see everyone while the other stayed at home with Jack. So it wasn’t exactly anyone’s first time meeting Jack Casey, but they seemed to think it was a one-chance-only event.
“He’s awake and not demanding a meal, take advantage of this time.” Sylvie laughed, as nearly everyone tried to gather around Jack’s car seat.
“He’s so much bigger. I saw him two weeks ago.” Cruz shook his head.
“He has more than doubled his birth weight, he is growing so fast.” Sylvie admitted. “He eats like his father.”
“Yeah? When’s the last time Casey gained weight? 1999?” Mouch half-grumbled.
“Nah, he’s gained muscle mass since he came on with the department.” Kelly shook his head.
“Come on, Mouch, you’ve lost weight training for that mud run.” Cruz encouraged. “We all have.”
“Can I hold him?” Stella asked, and Sylvie nodded, helping unstrap Jack before Stella scooped him up. His eyes were still wide open, and he was clearly taking in the number of faces and voices around him. Sylvie took the chance to dart off for a bathroom break. Jack was perfectly safe. She had some paperwork to give to Chief as well, plus, she was just hoping to ‘hang out’ for a while at the house, sort of a practice for being here next shift. Plus, Foster was going back to medical school and starting soon, so there were only a couple shifts between her coming back and Emily leaving. She wanted to enjoy that time. By the time she came back from the bathroom, Jack was in Matt’s arms, head on his shoulder.
“Hey, Sylvie, just in time.”
“In time for what?”
“Jack is getting his first introduction to the truck.”
“Matt, he’s 8 weeks old.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t put him on the aerial.” Matt paused, canting his head towards Jack and in a stage whisper added, “Yet. Once you’re walking kiddo, we’ll start you on the ladders.”
“Absolutely not.” Sylvie decreed, following Matt out onto the apparatus floor. “He is not going near any ladder until he’s sixteen.” Matt shot her a look. She sighed. “At least six.”
“Your mommy worries too much.”
“I worry too much?” Sylvie laughed. Matt was overprotective to something like the Nth power.
“It’s a fire truck, Sylvie. My truck. He’ll be fine.”
“No ladders.” She reminded firmly. She didn't care that Matt knew that truck and every ladder on it like it was an extension of himself. She didn't care that for himself he had no problem moving up the aerial while it was extending and moving, trusting his feel for the ladder completely. He was not taking their son on a ladder until he was much, much, much older.
“Come on, son, you wanna see the fire truck, right? Next visit, Uncle Kelly will show you around the Squad.” Matt talking to Jack about the truck was adorable and made her heart melt. Not enough that she was going to give ground on letting him on any ladders for many years yet to come, but still gooey and melty. Everyone else had come out, too, and the Truck crew were fully participating in Jack’s little tour of Truck 81. They all knew Jack had no clue what they were saying, but still, it was probably the most in-depth ‘tour’ that any kid had ever had of a fire truck. Ten minutes later, it was ruined by the sharp familiar sound of the bells, calling Truck 81 to a car accident. Matt moved swiftly, handing Jack back to her, dropping a kiss on her lips, and running a hand over Jack’s head.
“I’ll see you guys tomorrow morning. Love you.”
“Be careful.” Sylvie reminded, and he smiled over his shoulder, waving in acknowledgement. She knew he would be as careful as he could be, but she still worried every shift while he was gone. She felt Kelly arrive to stand off her left shoulder.
“Come on, let’s go back inside. I can take Jack if you want some time.”
“Ah, actually, I think the fussy is only partly the loud noise of the bells. Someone is ready for his luncheon. Once he’s fed, though, I’m going to take you up on that – I’d love to catch up with Howe and Foster, before I start back next shift.
“Built in babysitters.” Kelly grinned, waving at the remaining guys from Engine and Squad.
“Yeah, until the bells go off anyway.” Herrmann backed him up.
“You can relax a little.” Matt bumped her shoulder lightly with his own, as they headed down the short hall to Dr. Sandlin’s office. Their time in the waiting room had been brief, but still, it had been enough, really waiting for this all day had been enough, to make her nervous. “You’re not on trial, Sylvie. I am, sort of, but you’re not.”
“Therapy is not about blame.”
“Sometimes it is.” Matt corrected her gently. “At least, for me, it kind of is. But not for you. You’re just here to help me out.”
“I know. I don’t know why I’m nervous.” She smiled at him as he held open the door.
“I’m always a bit nervous.” Matt shrugged. “Dr. Sandlin is scary.”
“I’m sure I’m terrifying.” Sylvie turned to smile, and was just a little taken aback. Matt had never described his therapist, and Sylvie certainly had never pushed him to talk about anything about his therapy. She’d known, of course, that Dr. Sandlin was a woman, and she’d gotten the impression she was not particularly young, but she somehow had not pictured a woman barely five-foot and probably sixty or so years old, with black hair, streaked with just a bit of gray. She almost giggled, at the idea of Matt being scared of this tiny little woman.
“Dr. Sandlin, this is my wife, Sylvie. Sylvie, this is Dr. Sandlin.”
“I’ve told Matt he can call me Peggy, and so can you. If you’d rather use my title, of course, whichever you’re comfortable with is fine. Have a seat.”
Sylvie took one of the chairs, set up a little like someone’s living room except there were several types of chairs in the grouping and absolutely no sign of a sofa. Matt went straight for a very comfortable looking leather chair, so Sylvie took the one on his right side. It was comfortable enough, though she didn’t think she sunk into it the same way Matt sunk into his.
“Sylvie, Matt has given me permission to mention some of the things we’ve talked about in his sessions with you while you’re here; sort of as they come up, this won’t be just repeating things we’ve already done. We’re here really to talk about Matt’s goals, but also, if you have concerns or questions, this is a great time for you to bring those up as well.”
“I can’t think of any right now, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“When we started, or I started, I guess, Dr. Sandlin asked me to set three to five priorities, in order, sort of things I wanted to address that I thought were problems in my life. Problems maybe isn’t the right word. Just issues. Things I want to learn to cope with better, I guess.”
“Coping mechanisms is really the goal of my practice.” Dr. Sandlin told her. “I can’t ‘cure’ anyone of anything, it’s not that sort of doctoring. But Matt has expressed some concerns with his skills at dealing with long-standing issues and his reaction to certain things. That’s really what we’re working on.”
“Okay.” Sylvie nodded, following so far.
“My first priority is parenting. I want to make sure I’m better at parenting than my parents were.” Matt smiled tightly at her. She’d known already that Jack was really his primary motivation for going to therapy at all. “My second priority is our relationship. I want to be a better husband than…well, than my father was, or I’ve been in the past. My third priority is, well, I guess my relationships with other people. That second goal is the one I think we’re focusing on the days you’re here. Other days, too, but just…yeah.” Matt shrugged.
“Okay. What do you need from me?”
“What do you want Matt to get from therapy, Sylvie?” Dr. Sandlin asked, her tone completely neutral.
“Confidence in himself.” Sylvie didn’t even have to think about it. “He’s so insecure about himself, about his worth, I guess. I want him to know he matters and that he isn’t his parents. He’s a good man, and a great father. A great husband, too.”
“Closure, I think. He has a lot of kind of dangling things. Issues from the past that come up and hang over him sometimes. And I’d like it if the nightmares went away.”
“How bad are the nightmares, Matt?” Dr. Sandlin asked.
“Not so bad.”
“Nightly. Sometimes more than once.” Sylvie corrected. “He’s not sleeping anywhere near enough.”
“How long have you had that level of sleep disturbance?”
“I’ve always had nightmares. They’re normal, aren’t they?”
“Some nightmares, yes. That many is not normal, Matt.” Dr. Sandlin gently insisted.
“I have bad patches. I have since I can remember. This one started when I started therapy. I thought, you said things get harder, then get better. This is just part of ‘harder’.”
“If your thoughts are disturbed enough to cause persistent nightmares, Matt, we may need to look at other therapeutic measures in concert with our discussions.”
“I’m not taking anything.”
“Leaving aside your expressed disdain for anxiety medications, there are certain bedtime routines and things that can help improve your sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation actually increases a tendency to nightmares as well, and having a new baby is certainly likely to cause some sleep deprivation.”
“Bedtime routines?” Sylvie asked, curious.
“Consistency and relaxation are very important. Try a long relaxing bath, for example, and quiet, soothing activities like reading a book or even doing a puzzle helps for some people. Meditation practices are helpful. And make sure the bedroom is kept for just sleeping and sex. Nothing stressful.”
“Well, we can do baths and quiet time.” Sylvie acknowledged. That was easy enough.
“Also, reducing or eliminating caffeine less than 12 hours before you intend to sleep is usually a good idea.”
“No caffeine after lunch basically?” Sylvie asked, wrinkling her nose. She looked at Matt, who looked like he’d just been told he’d have to part with Truck 81 or something equally horrific. Caffeine ran like a river in the firehouse.
“No one likes me when I’m not caffeinated.” Matt shook his head. “I don’t even like me when I’m not caffeinated.”
“Start trying to cut down in the evenings, at least. It should help you sleep better.” Dr. Sandlin repeated.
“Aren’t we supposed to be talking about all my old crap or something?”
“We can do that if you’d like, yes.” Dr. Sandlin allowed. “Sylvie, before we start with Matt, do you have any concerns about your relationship with Matt? Any issues you think we need to focus on?”
“No. I’m…he’s wonderful. Our marriage is, well, not perfect, no one’s is perfect, but it’s wonderful. Isn’t it?” She looked at Matt, concerned now that he had issues or he wasn’t happy or something.
“It’s not you.” Matt tried to smile, but failed. “I feel like I’m screwing up all the time. Going to really screw it up and…do something unforgivable.”
“But there’s nothing wrong. We don’t fight at all. Not serious, real, fights. We’re two people living together, we’re going to have stupid little arguments over…what to watch on TV or the fact that you keep kicking the thermostat down.”
“You keep the house at like 80 degrees.” Matt grumbled, rolling his eyes.
“And you set it at about the temperature of a refrigerator.” Sylvie shot back, the constant debate over the temperature of the house was their one ongoing sticking point. Thankfully it was a good-natured eye-rolling sort of argument.
“Then she wonders why I end up sleeping naked on top of the covers.” Matt shook his head.
“That isn’t really a reason for me to stop doing it. Getting you naked is actually more a reward for my behavior.” Sylvie teased him, though it was also absolutely true. She turned back to Dr. Sandlin, though. “That’s our idea of a fight. It’s…I know we’re still in the early part of a marriage, but I don’t have any real concerns or complaints. Except that I know he does.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not sure about complaints. I worry sometimes that he wouldn’t tell me if he did have any. But that actually links back to my points that I know he has concerns. And I don’t know what to do about any of them. Because he never talks about his feelings or his needs or…and they’re not really about us. They’re about earlier stuff.”
“Yes, that’s what Matt has told me as well.” Dr. Sandlin’s statement was maybe not meant as a reassurance, but it worked that way for Sylvie. She felt a wave of relief rush through her. If Matt was focusing on his past issues, that was good. She’d been worried that there were current issues that she didn’t know about, that maybe Matt was unhappy with their life. He seemed happy. He said he was happy. But he’d seemed happy and said he was happy with Gabby, too. Well, he hadn’t actually, she realized. In hindsight, he hadn’t always seemed happy and he’d never said he was happy. He hadn’t said he was unhappy. Matt had said almost nothing, to any of them, about his marriage or his life away from the firehouse. He’d looked at Gabby with such love, though, they’d all thought, Sylvie had certainly thought, he was very happy.
“I…I thought maybe talking some things out would be easier with Dr. Sandlin here to make sure I don’t fuck it up too badly. Words are…I always say it wrong.” Matt sighed. “So I can talk with you, and her, and hopefully not fuck up our marriage by saying the wrong thing to you, or she can help me recover when I do get it wrong.”
“You’re not as bad with words as you think you are.” Sylvie pointed out.
“Sylvie, do you think that’s one of the issues Matt needs help with then?”
“Actually, yes. He doesn’t always find the most poetic way to put things, but I like the sort of…Matt-isms, I guess. He’s genuine. And if he didn’t bungle something up, he’d be too perfect and I’d think I actually married a Disney prince.”
“I don’t like talking.” Matt admitted, his voice uncharacteristically quiet and sort of soft.
“Why not?” Dr. Sandlin asked, tone still utterly neutral. Sylvie liked that, wondered how much practice that took. Nothing in her tone would give Matt any direction he ‘should’ go to give her the answer she wanted.
“When I say things…things get worse. If I just keep my mouth shut, it’s not so bad. Usually.”
“What sort of things get worse?”
“Whatever situation I’m in.”
“Sometimes. Usually things in my relationship, though. Relationships. I always upset people, even when I don’t mean to. Not just my wife-“
“You don’t upset me. I mean, not usually. Sometimes I have to wait for you to get your words out, you’re kind of hesitant, but it doesn’t upset me.”
“Yeah, I do. Like right now.” Matt pointed out. “You’re upset right now, because I opened my damned mouth.”
“That’s what therapy is for, Matt.” Dr. Sandlin noted. “We all need to express ourselves. It’s very important that you feel like you can tell Sylvie your thoughts without upsetting her.”
“I’m ‘upset’ now because I’m worried that you feel like you can’t tell me things. Anything. I love you, Matt. That’s not changing, even if I do get a little frustrated by an opinion you have or something.”
“You can’t know that.”
“Actually, I can. Because I know you. You’re too good a man to do or think or say anything actually unforgivable. I’m not saying you won’t piss me off massively at some point, of course you will, you do, but it’s not going to” she cut herself off, realizing of course the root of the problem here. “I’m not Gabby, Matt. I’m not Gabby. There’s my concern, Dr. Sandlin. I feel like I’m being constantly judged and measured by Gabby’s standards, not my own. Not our own.”
“It’s not a comparison. I don’t sit around and compare my two wives or anything.”
“No one is saying you are, Matt. But do you think you carry over issues from your first marriage into your marriage with Sylvie?”
“We’ve talked about it before. I know I do.” Matt sighed. “That’s why it was on my top list of priorities for our meetings, I mean, the meetings with Sylvie here, too. I still have the same problems that caused the end of my first marriage. I want to do better. I have to do better this time.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong!” Sylvie barely kept herself from shouting. “All you did was finally stand up for yourself, Matt. It’s all either of us did. How she reacted to that; that is all on Gabby. Not us. She ran away. We didn’t push her away.”
“I was cruel. I said things I shouldn’t have said. I didn’t really listen to her.”
“I think you did.” Sylvie disagreed vehemently. “I think you did listen to her, every time, and that’s the problem.”
“What do you mean, Sylvie?” Dr. Sandlin asked.
“Looking back, and I’ve heard a lot of what happened from both sides now – Gabby and Matt both have talked to me about these events, though at different times – she had this gift, sort of, for making herself the victim. Everything in her life was about her. Her needs. Her wants. Her dreams. Her goals. Her values. Her. Even when she was helping other people, it was how she wanted to do it, when she wanted to do it.”
“Doesn’t it make me a jerk, though, a bad husband, or fiancé, or boyfriend, or…there were times I wasn’t even sure what I was to her, but whatever I was to her, wasn’t it wrong that I didn’t always want her to have her needs, her wants, her dreams, her goals…all of it? I should’ve put her, well, everything, ahead of me, shouldn’t I? Isn’t that what love is? Forgetting yourself for her?”
“Not if she has to hurt you to get those things.” Sylvie didn’t wait for anything Dr. Sandlin might say. She’d been sort of waiting for this conversation for a long time, it felt like damn near forever.
“I should be happy because she’s happy.”
“That sounds great, but doesn’t always work. A life together isn’t a romantic film. Matt, you’re human. You have needs, and wants, and goals, and dreams, too. And marriage is about balancing both, not about you giving up all of yours for all of hers. Just as your wife shouldn’t give up on her needs, wants, goals, and dreams for yours. Balance.” Dr. Sandlin’s voice was still completely even, not a trace of any sort of judgment either of Matt or Gabby.
“Nothing was as important to me as her.” Matt admitted, voice soft and low again. “It’s even…it’s even more that way with you, now, Sylvie, you and Jack. I don’t…you never believe me, but I don’t have any need or want or goal or dream that outweighs keeping you both safe, happy, and with me.”
“There it is.” Sylvie looked at Dr. Sandlin. “There’s his real fear. Isn’t it Matt? You’re terrified I’m going to leave you.”
“Every woman does.” Matt halfway shrugged. “It’s what women do. They leave. When you don’t or can’t do what they need from you, want from you, they leave. And they should. When I’m not good enough, not…a person who adds anything to your life anymore.”
“There’s a lot to unpack in that, Matt.” Dr. Sandlin said. “Let’s talk about these things.”
“Talk about what?” Sylvie asked. “He already thinks I have one foot out the door. He doesn’t trust me. And I hate it.”
“It’s not you.” Matt insisted, voice stronger now. “It’s me. I’m going to fuck up. I’m going to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. I’m going to fuck up so badly, be such a fucking disappointment or worse, and you’ll have to leave. And you’ll be right to do so. You know how I feel about women staying in a bad relationship. I’m…there’s something wrong with me, Sylvie. I don’t know what it is. That’s why I’m here. I’m trying to figure out what it is so I can fix it. Fix me. Or at least give me the tools to fix what I break when I break it, before it shatters entirely.”
“Which comes back to you not trusting me to stay, when I swore to you, in front of God and everyone we know, that I would be with you, love you, honor you, and yes, sometimes get really fucking angry with you, until one of us dies from it.”
“No woman ever stays, Sylvie.” Matt pointed out, voice now plainly harsh.
“That’s not fair. You can’t judge 51% of the population by Gabby Dawson.”
“It’s not her. It’s every fucking woman I’ve ever known. They come in and out of my life, tell me I matter, tell me they love me, then they ditch me. How long it takes me to fuck it up varies, sure, I set some sort of Guinness record in fucking up with Gabby – I pissed her off so much she ditched me four times in as many years – but I’m here trying to be better because I nearly…I nearly…with Gabby, when she left it…wrecked me.”
“I know.” Sylvie was barely holding back tears. She knew this would be tough, but it also felt like lancing a festering wound. Utterly awful, painful, and kind of gross, but also a massive relief.
“You don’t know.” Matt shook his head. He glanced at Dr. Sandlin, but then brought his eyes back to Sylvie. “Severide wasn’t wrong. I had a death wish. I had worse, in fact.”
“What?” Panic shot through her whole body, and her heart started racing. He couldn’t mean what she thought he meant with that.
“Sylvie, do you know how many times I had to ask Gabby to marry me?”
“Three times.” She did know that, now. She hadn’t known about that middle time, before, but she did know about their first engagement, she’d been around for part of it after all.
“I was getting ready to ask Hallie the third time when she died.” Matt’s half-smile was tearful. “How many men do you think have to ask six times to get married the first time? Then, just staying married was…I failed at that. We were married about a year and a half. It’s not 72 hours, but it’s a pretty dismal record.”
“Gabby ran away. It’s what Gabby does, when things get hard. Emotionally hard.”
“I’ve had some pretty…low spots in my life. Times when I felt like I had no one in the world who gave a damn if they saw me the next day or never again. Walking into work, knowing everyone knew I’d fucked up, that I’d driven her away from not just me, but all her friends and her life and…everyone missed her so much. Gabby was, is, an amazing person, she just couldn’t…live with me. Even Severide said it was on me to fix it, to get her back. And I couldn’t. She has so much bigger and better things to do than put up with me when I held her back so much. So I meant what I told her, she was right to go.” Matt’s voice broke a little, but he quickly gathered himself. “So it was my fault she left you all. I knew it was my fault. I tried to think it wasn’t, but it was always there in the back of my head. I knew it was on me. I knew everyone would’ve rather I left and she stayed. I’m…not nothing, but nothing much, certainly not anything special.” Matt’s eyes were on his knees, but then he looked up and met her eyes cleanly, a bit of fire in them. “I hope you never have, and as long as I’m alive you never will, feel like that. Like there’s not a person on the planet who would miss you more than a week after your funeral.”
“Matt.” She put her hand on his nearest arm, needing to touch him, but not wanting him to stop talking, either.
“I’ve never felt more like trash thrown aside along the highway or something, just the junk tossed out, unwanted, completely useless and unneeded. But I was lucky, I guess. I found enough value in what I do, what we do, that I reminded myself every day that I’m damned good at what I do, that as long as I could help people, that I had a duty to do it, that even if I wanted, just wanted….” Matt trailed off, Sylvie glanced at Dr. Sandlin, who sort of waved her off saying anything. After a moment, Matt spoke again. “It didn’t matter how much pain I was in. I had a duty to help other people. I kept remembering what Sister Domitia told me when I was a little boy: that God made me what I am for a reason, a reason I’d know in God’s own time. And he made me a pretty damned good firefighter and a decent contractor. So I focused on work. I did a lot of charity construction work. And believe it or not, somewhere around the time of Naomi and the trailer fires, saving people from shitty construction, not even waiting to hear the bells, but being proactive and using my knowledge to get ahead of a tragedy, it was like…it got better. Then I was nearly shot in the face, and I knew then, I still wanted to be here. I just had to figure out what I was going to do with it. But if I fuck this up, too, Sylvie, I don’t think there’d be ‘getting better’ after that. I’m not threatening you with anything or trying to manipulate you. I’m here, learning to cope better, with everything, because the idea that I could fuck up and drive away you and Jack, I wouldn’t survive that. More importantly, you and Jack, especially Jack, deserve a lot better. Better than me being afraid. So no matter how painful this is, it’s better than that. I need you to help me.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Matt. Ever. I’m not going to wake up one day and…God, I can’t even pick a feeling right now.” Sylvie realized. “I’m scared and hurt and angry and…you honestly think I’m going to pack up one day, take our son, and just leave you? You think I’d do that?”
“When I’m thinking, no, I don’t.” Matt managed a half-smile. “When I’m feeling, not thinking, I can’t seem to help it. My mother left. My sister left. My aunt kicked me out. My other aunt kicked me out. My foster mothers all kicked me out. Girlfriends always left. Hallie left. Gabby left. I’m no good with women.”
“I’m not other women.”
“That much I’m very well aware of.”
“I won’t stand to be blamed for other women’s actions, though. So, that is definitely on the agenda for your therapy. If I can help set the agenda.”
“Absolutely. That’s why you’re here.” Matt assured her, earnestness clear in his face. “I need your help, I can’t make myself fit for our marriage without your help.”
“You’re already ‘fit’, Matt.” Sylvie reassured him. “I’m not lying when I say you’re the best man I’ve ever met.”
“Not yet. But I will be.” Matt held his shoulders more square. “I’m going to live up to the things you say about me, that you see in me. I’m going to deserve you.”
“So, what is the agenda for all this, then?” Sylvie asked, looking at Dr. Sandlin. “His trust issues, and…?”
“My fear of expressing disagreement. I guess maybe that goes along with trusting myself to not break things, though.” Matt answered instead. “My temper and anger management is always on my list of concerns. My bouts of situational depression, according to Dr. Sandlin, need to be worked through. Also, lingering trauma from the stuff when I was a kid, and then my dad’s death. Did I get it all?”
“That’s what I have in my notes, in the rough outline anyway.” Dr. Sandlin confirmed.
“My goal, overall, Matt,” Sylvie dropped to her knees in front of his chair, her hands clasping both sides of his face, forgetting the setting for just a minute, “is for you to see what I see in you, what Jack sees in you, what just about everyone but you sees in you. I just want you to know how amazing and beautiful and strong you are, and to put as much value in you, and your life, as the rest of us do. You are so loved, baby, and I want you to be able to see it, and feel it, and own it. That you deserve that love.”
“I want that, too.” Matt smiled wetly, and kissed her.
Not many comments on this fic thus far - maybe this chapter will be controversial enough to get people talking ;) It was a hard one to write, especially given I am not a therapist (nor have I personally attended therapy) but I wanted to do justice to the process involved.
Chapter 6: Trying to Get Back to Normal
Shorter and lighter than the last chapter: this is more of a transition I guess?
Sylvie was a little nervous about going to work tomorrow. It was going to be a little strange to go back. She was looking forward to it, but she also felt like it had been a lifetime since she last rode on 61. She also knew Matt would have preferred that she wait a little longer, but Jack was eight weeks old and she didn’t want to let her skills really start to rust or atrophy or whatever by being out longer. She missed the work, too. Of course, being home with Jack was rewarding in its own way, but not the same way. Cindy had agreed to keep Jack, and to Matt’s great relief had also agreed to accept payment (though at substantially lower cost than any other option Matt had investigated – Sylvie was not wading into the apparent argument between Matt and the Herrmanns about ‘family’ and ‘childcare’ and Matt’s compulsive guilt and inability to understand that family didn’t keep count of debts). Sylvie felt more confident going back knowing that super-mom Cindy was watching Jack.
She missed a lot of things about their pre-Jack lives. Not that she would ever change things or change him. Jack was perfect. She had thought she’d understood parental love before, because her parents were amazing and she’d always felt their love and support. She hadn’t had a clue. It was…scary and beautiful and like her heart was overflowing every time she looked at her son. She spent way too much time staring at pictures on her phone, even when Jack was just down for a nap, especially the ones with Matt and Jack together. Her boys. She sometimes felt like Matt had wound himself into her heart, but between him and Jack, her heart was no longer her own. Her two boys were walking around (well, Matt walked, he had to carry Jack right now) out in the world with her heart. Even in her own head, it didn’t entirely make sense, but life without her son was unfathomable, though she knew she’d had a very content life before him. Still, she missed sleeping more than five hours at a stretch. She missed wearing some of her favorite clothes. She missed sex. More than anything, at this point, she missed sex. They’d been having sort-of-sex for a little while, not much of that even, just hands and mouths against one another, often rushed due to pressures of schedules or just sheer exhaustion at the end of a day, but she missed having Matt inside her, joining together with him that way. A lot of the changes in their lives she couldn’t do anything about, but this she could change.
Matt had gotten rather tentative in bed, actually in general. She didn’t like it. He changed clothes in the bathroom or at least facing away from her (his ass was a nice view, though). He asked her permission before he touched her, even so much as a kiss was checked before he did it. Not that she was unappreciative of a man who understood bodily autonomy, but he was inherently physically affectionate and holding himself back had to be very hard for him. So, just like in the shower, she decided to show him, rather than tell him. When he slipped into bed tonight, she rolled to face him, cuddling into his side. She could feel his surprise, though this had been the exact position she had slept in most of their nights before Jack. Most nights, the line of pillows was there, keeping him from touching her in his sleep (she didn’t like that either, but the man was a furnace, and it was hot this time of year, and her hormones maybe were doing weird things still because he was too hot and she didn’t like being held against his heat – most nights).
“I’ve missed my spot.” Sylvie said softly, kissing his bare chest. It was summer, which meant he was sleeping in very little. He hadn’t been lying to Dr. Sandlin. He tended to end up atop the covers, and slept in just loose boxers or nothing at all. He always started in loose boxers but if he got too hot, he’d half-way wake up in the night and strip them off.
“Your spot has missed you.” Matt replied after a moment’s pause.
“I want to have sex.” Okay, Sylvie, that was about as subtle as throwing a brick at his face.
“You mean…that’s blunt.” Matt sounded confused.
“I prefer honest and forthright, but, yeah, that sounded less like a demand in my head.”
“I’m not a man to make my girl beg, but…are you sure?”
“I’m sure. I’m just nervous.”
“Nervous? Why? Is it still sore? I don’t…you want this for you, right? Not for me?”
“I want it for both of us, unless you’re going to act like you’re not just as ready for us to have a sex life again as I am.”
“You know I am.” Matt replied with a small chuckle. “I just don’t want you to…rush because of me. The male anatomy is not subtle. We’re…I don’t need, uh, penetrative sex, to-”
“No, it isn’t subtle, and yes, I think you do. I do.” Sylvie almost laughed, seeing that there was already some growth in his boxers. It really had been too long if even this little contact was getting a rise out of him. “I miss us, Matt. I’m a little nervous about, yes, possible pain, but I’m not…I look different now. I’ve been all stretched out. I’m still kind of…poochy.”
“I don’t even know what poochy means, but Sylvie, you are beautiful. And yes, if you’re wondering, still incredibly sexy.”
“You have to say that.”
“Again, I’ll just say that male anatomy is not subtle.” He gestured easily to the tenting starting in his boxers.
“You haven’t had proper sex in more than four months. Little Matt would rise to the occasion of a good stiff breeze.”
“Nah. He’s more discerning than that now. I’m not twenty anymore, babe.”
“The smell of you, though, and the feel of you pressed up against me, that definitely has my attention.”
“We share the same attention span.”
“That explains so much about men.” Sylvie teased, tilting her head up to meet his eyes. “I know it’s not the most romantic thing I’ve ever said, but I do mean it, Matt. I want to have sex. Tonight.”
She wasn’t even able to meet his eyes the next morning. She wasn’t sure she’d ever experienced as awkward of a morning after, and she was married to him. Then again, it wasn’t really a morning after. They’d tried having sex. Proper sex, his dick in her pussy, and if Sylvie had occasionally had less-than-spectacular sex, she had never had it go so wrong. Even tons of foreplay in, she had not been very wet. That could be fixed, and she’d read online to expect it, so the slightly awkward addition of lube hadn’t been the problem. She’d gotten off from Matt’s couple fingers in her pussy and his mouth on her clit, the kind of sex they’d been having really, and then it had been time for the main event. Even with all the lube in the world, it wasn’t happening. It hurt. It hurt too much for her to even let him get inside her. She didn’t think her yelps of pain and flinching had done much for Matt, anyway, but she felt bad because at least she’d gotten an orgasm out of it. By the time she’d told him to give up on actually fucking her, Matt had looked almost relieved, not disappointed, and neither of them seemed to feel the least bit sexy, but she still felt badly about it. They’d slept in the same bed last night, though Matt had been restless. Then again, that was pretty typical for him right now, but she couldn’t help feeling like it was her fault, that she’d…led him down a path of promises or something. She hated that they were going to shift with this weirdness between them, but she couldn’t figure out how to bring it up without making it worse. Besides, they had to hustle if they were going to get Jack dropped off at the Herrmanns’ and still make shift on time. Matt was probably right, this morning was going to be the hardest so he’d insisted they needed to leave extra early.
She and Cindy had talked extensively over the last couple weeks. Cindy still had most of the things she’d need, including the all-important pack-n-play and its bassinet for Jack to sleep in. All they really had to bring was Jack, diapers, changes of clothes, and enough breastmilk to feed Matt’s son for 24 hours. Which was not an insignificant amount. She also had to bring a pump to work, or she was going to be seriously uncomfortable relatively early in the shift (let alone by the end of it). But that didn’t need to be dropped off with Cindy. It was still summer vacation, so at least they weren’t dropping a baby off as Cindy was getting her kids ready for school. Still, even with all the preparation for this and all the trust she had for Cindy, it was hard.
“He’s a great sleeper, but you have to feed him between 11:30 and midnight if you want to sleep past 5:30. That’s his longest sleep. He’ll go right back down after his five or five-thirty feed, and sleep again through around seven to seven-thirty.”
“Sylvie, you’ve told Cindy this. You’ve written it down for her.” Matt reminded gently.
“I brought a few extra bottles, just in case he’s hungry. And don’t forget the white noise machine. Oh, the tablet has little stories we’ve both recorded, so he can hear our voices. He won’t really sleep without Matt’s voice. I’ve never tried a night without mine, so I put some on there, too. Just in case. And I packed one of Matt’s dirty t-shirts, if you ball it up, kind of tie it in a knotted ball, near his head, he sleeps a lot better with that.”
“You couldn’t bring a clean shirt?” Matt wrinkled his nose. “I didn’t know we were bringing Cindy dirty laundry.”
“It has to smell like you to work. Trust me, I’ve been navigating the baby won’t stop crying and Daddy is on shift for weeks. Use the t-shirt, Cindy.”
“Why would my smell work better than yours?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you just have a more distinctive odor.” Sylvie replied, rolling her eyes. Actually, she sort of understood, but she didn’t think she could explain it. Matt’s scent worked wonders for relaxing her, too, but she had his pillow for the nights he was gone. Jack didn’t. And Jack was spoiled, he was used to getting Daddy cuddles before his ‘big sleep’. It was a sweet habit that she loved, except when Matt was on shift and the baby would not settle.
“At least that explains why my shirts are always so wrinkled when I do laundry.”
“You two need to go. Christopher left five minutes ago.” Cindy pointed out with a gentle smile.
“I’m just…this is really hard.”
“I know. All moms have been there. It’s hard to leave them.”
“He’s so little. But I know…thank you, Cindy. I feel better leaving him with you.”
“Well, I’m happy to have him. I’ve missed having a baby in the house. And this one, I get to send home tomorrow morning.”
“Come here, Jack.” Matt lifted his son out of the car seat and up to his shoulder, before transferring him to Sylvie’s arms quickly. “Alright, son, say goodbye to your mommy.”
“I’ll be back soon, Jack. I promise. You know Auntie Cindy, she’ll take great care of you. Daddy is going to take great care of me, and I’ll take care of Daddy and we’ll all be back together tomorrow morning. After one big sleep.” Okay, so she had adopted Matt’s terminology, either out of habit or simply because she thought it was adorable. She kissed him, then handed him back to Matt and hugged Cindy swiftly. “Thank you again. I’m going to go the car before I change my mind and keep him with me until he’s forty.”
“Alright, Jack, be good for Aunt Cindy and the kids.” She heard Matt talking to Jack, but she continued towards the car, missing whatever the end of his farewell was because she honestly wasn’t certain if she didn’t go now that she’d get gone at all.
The celebration of her return was a little interrupted by a busy shift. They had lots of calls to keep her busy and that was good. She wasn’t worrying as much about how Jack was doing if she was concentrating on a patient. Cindy sent lots of updates, bless her heart. Jack was apparently doing just fine with lots of older ‘cousins’ to help out. Shift being busy meant that she had to sneak in time to pump on Jack’s normal feeding schedule, or as close as she could get. Matt had gotten a sort of mini-fridge for his office so she could store it away from the main fridge in the kitchen. Apparently, he was worried that some of the guys might be ‘weirded out’ by breastmilk in the fridge. She’d almost been offended, but then realized that yeah, some of them might find it a bit odd. Plus, while she was far from ashamed of it, it sort of weirded her out, too, like there was something personal about it. The house didn’t exactly have a pumping room or breastfeeding room, but Matt’s office with the blinds closed worked well enough, especially since that’s where the mini-fridge was located. They’d take the milk home tomorrow to freeze in case they needed it later. Busy also covered up the fact that she was having trouble sleeping without the reassuring ever-so-soft breathing and occasional snuffles from Jack. Even if he was right next to her, she’d not be able to hear him over the ambient noise of the bunkroom, she knew that, but it was strange.
Her own struggle to sleep allowed her to confirm that Matt wasn’t sleeping on shift, though. He was up all night. Granted, he really did have a lot of paperwork from the calls on the shift, but she could watch him from her bunk and it was almost like he was lingering, drawing it out, instead of being as efficient as possible so he could sleep. Though any attempt to sleep would’ve been ruined by a 2 am call out to a bad pile-up accident that they didn’t get cleared from until after 4. Truck was back even later, drawing the short-straw for debris clean-up on the site. By the time they got back at 5, she managed to coax Matt into his office to lie down at least. He didn’t really sleep, but he did doze, his head in her lap and her fingers brushing softly through his hair. It gave her a chance to admire his features, too, which she never really tired of doing. All in all, though, her first shift back had been good.
They celebrated at home that night. Matt declared that they needed to celebrate not just her return to work but that both of them had managed to not hound Cindy all day or make any ‘stops’ by the Herrmanns’ on a call (though it was well out of their district). She thought maybe it was a little silly to be proud of herself, themselves, for managing such a little thing, but going back to work was a big step. She was ready for it. She wanted it. It was just hard to leave him. So Jack had gotten extra snuggles all day, from both parents. She tried not to be jealous that when he was sleepy instead of hungry, he calmed more quickly on Matt’s chest than anywhere else. Matt would lay down on the sofa, or the bed, or wherever he could, and Jack’s ear went right over Matt’s heart, and Jack quieted right down. It stirred a bit of jealousy, yes, irrational as it might be. It also stirred the most intensely protective and possessive feeling she could ever recall having. Those were her boys. Hers. Father and son together owned her, heart and soul, and she didn’t contemplate too closely what she’d do to anyone who hurt either of them, anyone who threatened that idyllic little image of Matt, resting with his son on his chest, staring in constant wonder and complete love down at Jack, who had apparently been born with a perfect instinct for the safety of Matt’s arms. She couldn’t blame Jack. She liked to sleep curled into Matt’s chest and strong arms, too. It was the safest spot she’d ever found. So maybe she was a little jealous of both of them. But she could live with that sort of jealousy. Living with the fact that their sex life currently consisted of careful bouts with his fingers and mouth, and her hand on his dick, well…she wasn’t going to live with that very long. She just had to figure out how to avoid the problems they’d had the first time trying to get back on the horse.
Chapter 7: Let's Bust Some Ghosts
If you're a huge fan of Gabby Dawson (and still reading my series) this chapter may be hard for you. Just remember that much of this is about Gabby as a wife, not necessarily her as a person: she can be a good person and still not have behaved well in her marriage. Also, by putting it from Matt's POV, it's not an entirely unbiased view of things but very much colored by his interpretations.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
She liked Howe personally, she already knew that. She knew that the guys at the house liked her, too, that she’d settled into the place pretty well covering her own maternity leave. For the last couple weeks, Howe had been covering on the South Side, but now that Foster was starting over in her residency training Chief had arranged for Howe to be the permanent replacement. She had no idea what he’d finagled to get two PICs on one rig, but from a few things Matt had half-said, she suspected it was playing to the brass’ paranoia about a new mother taking lots of personal leave and finding cover for a PIC was harder than dropping any paramedic in if Howe was already there. Plus, 51 was a notoriously busy house – their location meant they got a lot more secondary calls than many other houses. And, Howe had agreed. That much Matt had fully and happily reported: Crystal Howe had apparently practically snapped his hand off when he had (on the Chief’s behalf) made the offer of bringing her on permanently full-time at 51, though Sylvie would have seniority. That was gratifying. She wanted to be here just as much as Sylvie wanted a partner she knew she liked and could count on. That said, it was still nerve-wracking to start with a new partner. It would take a little while to really hit their stride together, she knew. Part of her just hoped that Howe was going to last longer than a year or two.
“Do you want to drive or be in charge of the paperwork?” Howe asked, just after the morning briefing.
“Um, if you’re comfortable driving, I’ll take the tablet and the paperwork.” Sylvie decided after a moment’s thought. “I’m still getting back to shift schedule, and I’m a little tired, probably best to let you drive.”
“I’m pretty comfortable with anything.” Howe shrugged. “I’m hard to bother. Only two things bother me: incompetence and lying. Luckily, neither seems very common at 51. Chief Boden runs a tight ship in that regard.” She paused. “So does your husband, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“Why would I mind?” Sylvie asked, as they reached the rig to do the morning inventory. “Matt has pretty much those exact same pet peeves – he can deal with just about anything except those, well, and disrespect. He expects respect and he gives it. Not that he’s our boss or anything, so I guess you don’t need to worry about-“
“Brett, everyone in this house worries about Casey’s opinion.” Howe chuckled lightly. “I worked here long enough to figure that out, and to know why. I’ve seen men like him, in the Army. Confident enough to listen to advice from other firefighters, even of lower rank, good at delegating, doesn’t micromanage, praises publicly and reprimands privately, knows everyone’s job and his skills, and looks out for his guys first and foremost. The best officers I ever knew in the Army were just like him. Too bad he never served.”
“He’d tell you he’d never have made officer.” Sylvie managed a small smile. “He doesn’t have any formal education past high school.”
“Hell, the Army’s really run by the NCOs anyway.” Howe scoffed. “He’s good, though. I can tell the Chief’s got his eye on promoting Casey again in the future. Thinks he’d make a good chief.”
“Matt would. I’m not sure he thinks he would. Besides, he’d also tell you that he’s got enough new responsibilities right now.”
“How is Jack doing? I remember those first months, they can be long.”
“He sleeps from midnight to five or five-thirty every night already which is such great luck for us. He’s growing like a weed. And I’m learning how utterly terrifying the world is when you feel like your entire life is actually walking around separate from you. If something happened to him….”
“Welcome to parenthood.”
“Does it get better?”
“Nope.” Howe laughed. “Mine are still elementary school age, though, but I don’t think the teenage years are going to be any better!”
“How old are your kids? I never asked before. Oh, we need to grab some more large gauze dressings when we’re at Med next.” Sylvie pointed out, as they continued the inventory while chatting.
“Ethan is eight, Noah is six, and Isabella will be four next week.”
“Wow. And you were a combat medic?”
“I deployed before Ethan, between Ethan and Noah, and between Noah and Bella.” Crystal nodded. “I decided to separate when I got pregnant with Bella. I couldn’t leave another little one for so long.”
“God, I could barely stand to leave Jack at Cindy’s this morning. Or any morning. I can’t imagine leaving him for any longer than a shift.”
“My husband was deployed when Ethan was born. He’s never really forgiven himself, not that it’s his fault, but his eldest son was four months old when he held him for the first time. We’ve been lucky mostly since then. Until we both separated. Now we’re civilians so we get to be home with the kids very regularly. Drew has a regular 9-to-5 job, so even when I’m shift, they’ve got a parent home each night.” Crystal paused, counting some drugs in the go bag, then continued, “you ever think about going to a different shift than Captain Casey, so one of you is home?”
“I thought about it.” Sylvie admitted. “The department even encouraged it. But I can’t leave Matt.”
“Your grown husband who is very capable and competent?”
“Ha, you say that now. Wait until he’s thrown himself off a building or down an elevator shaft or some other stupidly heroic thing. It’s probably silly,” Sylvie had admitted that much to herself, “but I don’t like sending him to shift without me here to take care of him if something goes wrong. Usually Matt’s more the control freak between the two of us, but….”
“Captain’s accident prone then?”
“He’s a damned trouble magnet. If I didn’t love him so much I’d throttle him.”
“Give it a few more years of marriage. You’ll figure out how to throttle him but not kill him – only because a little something in your brain reminds you you’ll miss him once you’re done being so pissed at him you can’t see straight.”
“Yep. First time I called my mother and said I wanted to murder my husband, she said welcome to marriage – if you haven’t contemplated murder, you haven’t been married very long. I can’t argue with her.”
“Oh, God, I thought maybe there was something wrong with me. Sometimes he just frustrates me so much!” Sylvie gushed. “I love him, but he’s such a…ugh. He’s just a guy. And I know it’s a little thing, but for someone who is such a neat freak, he leaves his sweaty clothes draped all over the bathroom. Or worse, the balcony railing. If he’s gotten really sweaty, he showers with the clothes still on and then they’re dripping on the balcony railing and I want to just kill him.”
They got through a busy shift and by 8 am the next morning, Sylvie knew she and Howe were going to be great partners. For one thing, it was great to have another parent and wife to talk to about things, but even more importantly, Howe was more than competent and had a cast-iron stomach. Sylvie’s was still a little more sensitive than it used to be, so she was grateful that apparently Howe didn’t mind the puke. Gore didn’t bother Sylvie any more than it ever did, but she had nearly puked herself at just the smell of the vomit on that drunk girl. Crystal Howe was also the right type of kickass, competent, confident, and not taking any shit off anyone, without (quite) being a jerk about it. And while she didn’t exactly brag about having seen real combat and having serious military training, Sylvie felt just that tiny bit safer knowing Howe was not going to be intimidated by much of anything Chicago could throw at them. If only she didn’t insist on chewing gum all day, she’d be perfect. Oh, well, no one was actually perfect.
She wasn’t looking forward to the next appointment with Dr. Sandlin. She felt a little bad about it actually. She knew Matt hated going to therapy. She wondered if anyone was ever happy to see Dr. Sandlin. What a career, being the person people needed but hated to actually see. Matt said he had the sort of job where he only seemed to meet people on the worst days of their lives, but at least they were happy to see the fire department show up. While Matt confessed that he hated going to therapy, he didn’t dislike Sandlin herself. Sylvie wondered if that wasn’t his better nature winning out. Matt seemed more tortured since he’d started therapy than he was before. She kept waiting for that ‘getting better’ phase to kick in. His nightmares were awful. He was sleeping half the time in the guest room, trying not wake her (Jack slept through most anything). When he was sleeping at all. She was pretty sure he was managing to survive on maybe 2 hours of sleep per night – and a lot of coffee and energy drinks.
“Sylvie, nice to see you again.” Dr. Sandlin greeted warmly as they settled into seats in her office.
“Matt said we’re talking about relationships today. That’s why I’m here.”
“Not just romantic relationships, family relationships – which includes of course his wife, and his son, in fact.” Dr. Sandlin confirmed with a nod and a small smile. The smile didn’t reassure Sylvie that this was going to be pleasant.
“I’m not sure why I’m here. We set the goals last time I came. I didn’t think this was couple’s therapy.”
“It’s not. First, I think it’s good for Matt to practice expressing himself openly to people with whom he has a close relationship, and Matt indicated you were the person he most trusted to work through some techniques with. That’s actually a very good sign for your marriage, not something that would lead me to recommend couple’s therapy.” Dr. Sandlin noted. “Second, Matt needs to hear what you have to say in response. Third, Matt may need some support today.”
“Well, I’m always ready to give him any support I can.” Sylvie smiled as warmly as she could at Matt. He looked nervous, and a little nauseous actually.
“Matt, did you think about what we talked about last week?”
“Yeah, of course. I wasn’t the best student when I was a kid, but I did my homework.” Matt tried a smile, but mostly failed. “I thought a lot about the important relationships in my life, past and present. What I…learned from them. Good and bad things.”
“Do you have one you want to start with?”
“Aren’t we supposed to automatically start with my mother?” This time, Matt’s smile seemed more genuine, if definitely sarcastic.
“Not automatically, but it is the earliest relationship we have.” Dr. Sandlin’s response was practiced and calm. “We can certainly start there if you’d like.”
“My mom is…a difficult woman. Difficult for me to have a relationship with. I used to think it started because she was in prison so long.” Matt sighed, and mostly kept his eyes on his knees. “I couldn’t hug my mother for fifteen years. She was alive, I could talk to her, visit, but I was too old for the guards to consider me a ‘child’ and relax the rules on physical contact. She wasn’t even allowed to take my hand. I was sixteen – barely – when she was arrested. There was no one going to post bail. She was in jail or prison from the time she was arrested until she was paroled. It was hard. So I used to think prison changed her. But I’ve been thinking, and it started earlier.”
“What do you mean?” Dr. Sandlin prompted.
“About the time my parents’ marriage fell apart, Mom started treating me differently. She’d always been a bit, uh, moody, I guess. She’d be affectionate and everything, then five minutes later, for what seemed like no reason, she was distant. The switches have been instantaneous for years now. I mean, like a light switch. If I say or do the wrong thing, she just…changes. I don’t remember her being like that when I was little. When I was about twelve or thirteen, that’s when it started. I changed and our relationship changed. And I think, I expect that in relationships, all my relationships.”
“Expect what?” Sylvie asked, not quite sure she followed.
“I expect that if I slip up in any way or change in any way, all of sudden it’s like…I’m…I don’t know, just like I end up being disliked with no warning. If I pick the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, don’t catch my cue right, the relationship goes from affectionate to angry to nonexistent. And it’s made me distant.”
“What do you mean by distant?” Dr. Sandlin prompted after a short silence.
“Wary. Distrusting of my place with people. Everything is conditional. People like you, until you do something they disagree with, then they don’t like you. It’s easier not to rely on that relationship, on their feelings for you. Because it changes so quickly.”
“So you’ve become independent, emotionally.” Dr. Sandlin nodded.
“Yes. Independent. Mom was in prison and Dad was dead, so the first person I really thought ‘ditched’ me was my sister. I think she blames me, she always has, for our dad’s death. She was offered guardianship, she was twenty, she could’ve…but I guess she said no, and I went into foster care. She never spoke to me about it. She went back to college and I didn’t hear from her for almost four years.” Matt paused, his voice having cracked a little on that last sentence. Sylvie wondered if he’d ever brought it up with Christie, those years apart. She wondered for a second if Christie regretted it or genuinely thought she’d done the best she could by her brother. Matt continued after a moment. “I learned from that time in foster, though. The only consistent support I could count on was what I could do for myself. But that’s not really very good for me. Because I’m needy. My ex-wife said I was suffocating her. I…I need affection. But I hold myself back from it. Because it’s given, then taken away. So I know I can’t rely on it, can’t trust people to be there when I really need it. But I need…there’s like an empty bit in me, that I can’t ever fill, but I want to fill. So I keep trying, but not trusting that it’ll last, like an oasis in the desert. It’s…kind of messed up.”
“Do you see that pattern in all of your relationships?” Dr. Sandlin asked.
“Not quite all of them, but most. Sylvie hasn’t withdrawn affection, not emotional affection anyway. There was some lack of physical intimacy when Jack was first born, and I don’t mean sex. I mean like she flinched away from my touch. But it was temporary and not really about me, so that’s different. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong or anything.”
“It is not unusual for new mothers to be a little touch averse.” Dr. Sandlin confirmed with a nod.
“I read that. It helped. Knowing it wasn’t me. Then there’s Aintin Jo and her family, they’re great. I don’t see them that often, we’re all busy, but they’ve never pulled back from me, not even when I was a moody difficult teenager. Hallie…she didn’t, either. We parted over a major disagreement – whether to have kids – but other times we’d disagree and she never, we had fights, but she never treated me like I was disposable. That’s why we lasted so long. We loved each other. I always ended up back with her, because I knew she wanted me. Just me. She didn’t need anything but me, and she didn’t care if I agreed with her about anything at all – well, except that I needed her. But everyone else, friends, family, bosses, yeah, I always know that my acceptance is conditional.”
“And what impact do you think this has on your relationships? What do you want to change by talking things out?” Dr. Sandlin asked.
“My trust. I want to trust Sylvie completely. She deserves it. It’s just my baggage holding me back this smallest amount. And it makes me sort of…not quite judge her based on my past experiences, but sort of anticipate things she isn’t doing or wouldn’t do, but…”
“But Gabby would.” Sylvie finished for him. It was what she most wanted for their relationship. She wanted several things to come out of therapy, but if they were talking about their relationship, “I want him to stop measuring me by Gabby’s standards or just anticipating that I’m going to react like she did. Like every question is a test. He acts like he can actually get the answer to ‘what do you want for dinner’ wrong. He also acts like I’m going to take off any time we have a fight. I want to spend the rest of my life with him, but not with the ghost of Gabby Dawson.”
“Matt, tell me about your relationship with Gabby. I already know the outline, but talk to me and Sylvie about what – as Sylvie has alluded – haunts your current relationship.”
“The worst part, the lingering bits, I guess, is that I felt…unwanted. She never seemed to want my input in anything. If I gave an opinion, it was always wrong and usually made her mad, like I had no business having any thoughts about anything, especially not about what she was doing, unless I was agreeing with her completely. I always sort of figured she knew she was a lot smarter than me so she didn’t want my ideas, you know?” Matt shrugged a little. “I just wasn’t used to that, because Hallie flattered me, acted like I could keep up with her, intellectually. Then, physically, yes, that too, though that only happened late in the marriage. Well, as late as you can call it when the whole marriage is about a year and a half. And that had always been sort of my cornerstone.”
“What do you mean?” Sylvie asked.
“Even when I was engaged to Hallie, I knew Gabby wanted me. Hell, part of me was attracted to her, though I never did nor ever would have cheated on Hallie, not for anything or anyone. Even when we would split up – Gabby and me – over stuff, we both knew the other was still physically attracted, that we wanted each other. No matter what else she thought of me, felt for me, even if she’d basically called me an idiot who ought to butt out of her decisions, I always thought at least she wanted me.” Matt shrugged again. “But when she decided she wanted to try to get pregnant, at first, I mean, we had a lot of sex and I thought it was…nice. That’s not the right word.”
“You felt validated?” Sylvie suggested gently.
“I felt loved.” Matt admitted, shaking his head. “Gabby was so hot and cold, wanting to be in my hip pocket for a week then barely speaking to me for a month, when something or someone more interesting caught her attention. But if I wasn’t at her beck and call at any random second, she accused me of pulling away, or lying, or not knowing how a marriage works, stuff like that. But she always liked sex with me. A lot of the time, Gabby slept as far from me as she could in our bed, she always said I ran too hot, but after sex, she would be tangled up with me, and I’ve always…physical affection is, I don’t know, the way I know people love me? Andy just said I was a hugger. I say hello and goodbye to the people I love with a hug, given my druthers anyway. So, the extra sex in trying for a baby was like…I was full. I can’t really describe it. Like when you’re really hungry but then after you eat, you feel…full.”
“Did the feeling last?” Dr. Sandlin asked.
“Right up until I realized she wanted it over with as quickly as possible. She wanted to be pregnant right away. One month into trying she wanted to go to a fertility specialist. One month. I asked her, outright, wasn’t it nice spending extra time together – because that’s what it was to me, extra time, really fun time, spent together and focused on each other – and she didn’t answer.”
“Which you took to mean ‘no’.” Sylvie concluded, knowing Matt very well. She also knew Gabby well, and Gabby would’ve dodged that question if she didn’t have the answer she would’ve known Matt wanted. Gabby didn’t like to lie, and she didn’t like to hurt Matt, so she’d dodge.
“I realized she didn’t really want me. She just wanted a baby. I was the most convenient sperm donor because she was married to me, but the sex wasn’t about me, or us, it was about her having a baby. I’d never…I’ve had a lot of rejection in life, but never in that way. Never been told I wasn’t…I mean, I’ve been turned down in bars or whatever, had women say ‘no’ when I asked them out, that’s different. That’s a stranger. Gabby was my wife. I loved her, and I wanted her. But I wasn’t wanted back, I was just needed for my sperm. And it felt like the only cornerstone I had, the last thing I could trust, it was gone.”
“Do you think that haunts your relationship with Sylvie?”
“Well, Sylvie seems to like the sex.”
“I do.” Sylvie assured him immediately. “Though, well, sometimes we get a little carried away and I’m sore the next day. But it’s worth it. I love our sex life. Uh…I loved it before Jack. We’re still sort of finding our feet in that regard. Right now. But I miss it. I want it back.” Sylvie explained for Dr. Sandlin and Matt both.
“What ‘haunts’ us is this lurking fear, in my head, that…what if it changes? I’m not getting any younger, and I was never exactly a calendar model to begin with.”
“There is something wrong with your mirror.” Sylvie couldn’t help saying it. “You are stupidly attractive. You have always been attractive. You will always be attractive. You are going to die ridiculously handsome at 90 years old. I’m the one who is going to have to worry about aging.”
“I worry a lot that Sylvie’s going to leave. That…I don’t have anything much to offer, that once the new wears off the sex, she’ll figure that out. I’m not anything special. I’m not smart or well-educated. I’m not charming. I’m not rich. I’m not talented in any interesting way. I’m not especially good-looking.” Matt admitted, his voice quiet and strained, apparently not paying much attention to her statement. “It’s not fair, she’s given me no reason to think she would change her mind. And I don’t want to keep being unfair to her. I want to work past this. And I reserve part of me, like a last small bit of me, because I’ve had to rebuild from that part so many times. I put a lot of myself into the people I love. I know I don’t love easily, because I don’t trust easily, but once I do, I try to give it my all. There’s this little bit, though, like a core of me, that I can’t quite open up. Gabby, she left so many times, nearly left others, and each time, she tore out a little bit of me that I gave her, and I had to heal back across that, rebuild myself around the gaps, using that little core of me that she hadn’t been able to touch, because I kept it to myself. So I didn’t ever give her all of me. And I think that’s why the marriage failed.”
“What?” Sylvie asked, pretty sure he’d just said that his marriage to Gabby failed because of him. Which made no sense. Gabby left. Gabby barely communicated. It was on Gabby. Matt hadn’t been perfect, she knew, because he was not a perfect man, but he would’ve made it work, if Gabby had just stayed.
“I didn’t give it everything I had. I held back. When she left, I barely reached out, because…I knew. I had huge reservations from even before the day we married.” Matt admitted, his voice stronger now, though. “Looking back, I think I knew she didn’t really want to be married. She maybe thought she did, at that moment, but I knew…she always had a foot out the door, bigger dreams than anything she could have with me. And I didn’t reach out, bring her inside, something like that, I suck at metaphors. But with Gabby, I knew. I was an anchor for her, and anchors are good in a storm, but not when you want to reach for something. Gabby was usually reaching. So I didn’t argue when she didn’t want to take my name. She told me she didn’t want to because she’d have to change it back when we got divorced. When. I remembered, later, that she said ‘when’.”
“She said you guys agreed, because…both your parents got divorced.” Sylvie remembered Gabby saying that, in part because she remembered being surprised that Matt Casey who seemed so traditional in some ways hadn’t wanted his wife to take his name. It hadn’t occurred to Sylvie not to take his name when they married.
Matt chuckled darkly. “Gabby’s idea of ‘we agreed’ was she said it would be so and I didn’t argue. I rarely argued. If I argued, all I ever got out of it was guilt trips and abandonment. Emotionally, usually.”
“What about that haunts your relationship currently?” Dr. Sandlin brought them back to the point for today’s session.
“I’m afraid, a lot. That when I screw up – because I will, I always do – that Sylvie will leave. Or almost as bad, she’ll stay, for Jack, but she’ll…I’m not sure I know the right word. Disdain, maybe. Contempt.”
“You think Gabby felt that way about you?” Dr. Sandlin asked.
“Yeah. I think she has a lot of contempt for me.” Matt nodded. “And most of the time, I deserve it. I’m not…I wasn’t good enough for her, to her. I messed up, a lot, as a husband. She needed me to be…I guess a launching pad, for her dreams. Instead, she says I was an anchor, holding her down, smothering her, drowning her.”
“But I don’t see you that way.” Sylvie pointed out.
“Matt, how does Sylvie see you? How do you think Sylvie sees you?”
“She says as a foundation. Something strong she can build up from.” Matt smiled, very genuinely. “I like that. That’s what I want to be. I want to be the foundation for our family. A good, sturdy, foundation – not much to look at, and no one pays it much attention, but the foundation for her and Jack to build their dreams on.”
“But you’re afraid she’s wrong?”
“I’m not as strong as she thinks. And eventually, if the foundation is bad, you have to replace it. You can change the whole foundation out from under a house, you know.”
“I don’t want a new foundation. I want you. You big…jerk.” Sylvie bit out. “And trust me, Matt Casey, that there is no man out there I’ve ever known or even heard of that would be a better foundation than you. We just need to get rid of some ghosts. I’ll bring the salt. And if I have to call the Winchester brothers, well, at least they’re almost as pretty to look at as you are.”
“Oh my god, have you not seen Supernatural? It’s been on for like fifteen years, Matt. We are bingeing. At least the first five seasons. Those were the really good ones.” Sylvie shook her head. “And it was a metaphor anyway. Dr. Sandlin and therapy, those will help us get rid of these ghosts. Because you are what I want and what Jack needs, and you’re more than enough. So, let’s figure out a plan to bust some ghosts.”
I don't want any disgruntled Supernatural fans complaining: I like the show a lot, too, but let's face it, the first five seasons (the Kripke seasons) are really the best ones, hands down.
Chapter 8: Come Back Home
I cannot do unrelenting angst and drama right now, God knows Americans especially have more than enough at the moment (oh, the joys of being the epicenter of the pandemic now - mostly because some Americans are utter morons who won't just put on a damned mask). So this something of a palate cleanser, I guess, at least a diversion.
Nota bene: this is not meant to illustrate any sort of universal experience after childbirth. It may reflect some people's experiences and may run counter to others' experiences. I did try to keep it as "real" as I could in that it reflects a sort of mix of my friends' experiences combined with the narrative/voices of I suppose "my" Matt Casey and Sylvie Brett Casey.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It wasn’t romantic, per se, but she was pretty sure spontaneous and romantic had gone out the window for the moment in their marriage. Matt wasn’t going to start anything, he barely even initiated a kiss some days. She had a love-hate relationship with his ideas of her bodily autonomy: it was sweet and wonderful that he didn’t want her to feel obliged or pressured to do anything sexual with him, but at the same time, it was getting annoying to have to be the one to call all the shots and take all the initiative. Even good morning and good night kisses she usually had to initiate, let alone the all-but-sex that they occasionally had. Still, she gave him some leeway because she was pretty sure it was more a matter of Matt being leery of hurting her than anything else. Last time they’d tried to have actual penis-in-vagina sex, it had not gone well. She’d spent some time since then on her new mom message boards because sometimes the relative anonymity of the internet was a wonderful thing. She wasn’t sure if she could ask friends like Donna or Cindy about restarting your sex life after a baby. Not that they would be anything but supportive, but it was just too weird. Mom had never given birth so the whole question was a moot point for her. The message boards had been helpful and not. Some people just jumped to the worst every time, like one woman who apparently presumed that Matt was demanding sex from her and told her that her husband had a hand, he could use it until Sylvie was ready. She was ready. She wanted to have sex with her husband. She just had a not-so-slight problem, she had explained: her husband was well equipped. A few more messages that were mostly about men who were lengthy rather than thick, and Sylvie had finally been as blunt as she could force herself to be, even with a screen-name for some privacy, and typed “length isn’t really the problem (a bit over 7 inches) but he’s wider around than he is long – and there’s usually a bit of a twinge when he first goes in, but when we tried now after baby, it HURT. Even with lube. Suggestions?” A few responses expressed jealousy, a few expressed pained sympathy, a couple disbelief (why would she lie? Not for the first time, she wished Matt was smaller – it would be easier if he was), but a couple were helpful. Besides lube, and lots of foreplay, the most helpful recommendations were to make sure she was on top (they’d tried missionary last time, mostly because that was actually her preferred position), but also to try a ‘normal sized’ dildo first, to help her body adjust. She didn’t actually own a dildo (she’d worried about upsetting Matt, actually, and thrown it out before she’d moved in with him) but the internet was also wonderful for alleviating that situation. Then, she scheduled the sex.
“I want to have sex.” Sylvie announced over lunch. Matt’s newest construction project was renovating a master suite just down the street, and he walked home each day for lunch with her and Jack. Maybe she should’ve waited for him to swallow though, as he choked a little on his roast beef sandwich.
“Now?” Matt managed, glancing at Jack, who was happily ensconced in his musical swing thingy. He then looked at his watch appraisingly. She laughed a little, though it was nice to know he was actually considering if he had time, so clearly he was as anxious as she was.
“Not now. Tonight. I’m actually thinking between his last two feeds would be a good time. He’ll sleep for at least an hour. And that still leaves us both with the full five hours of his ‘big sleep’ to get actual sleep. So we’re not zombies tomorrow.”
“Are you sure? I mean, are you…you know, ready? It, I don’t, I won’t hurt you again, will I?”
“Probably at first.” Honest and forthright had always been their method. She didn’t intend to abandon it now.
“Hurting you is pretty much a mood killer.”
“Well, I’m sick of waiting. And you almost always hurt me. Just a little.”
“That was not a little.” Matt pointed out firmly. “I won’t do it again. It…don’t ask me to…”
“Don’t you miss sex, Matt?”
“You know I do.” Matt assured her immediately. “I can’t, I felt like, like I was forcing…it made me want to puke. So along with a plan for scheduling, do you have a plan for how to avoid you reacting like I’m all-but forcing myself on you?”
“It felt like it from my end. You flinched, jerked away from me, and yelled ‘ow’ and it was very obvious that I was not a welcome visitor. I know, it wasn’t, but it’s as close as I ever plan to be.”
“It’s going to be awkward, but yes, I do have a plan actually. We’re going to use lots of lube-“
“We did that-“
“and I’m going to be on top this time, and we’re going to start with you using a dildo on me.”
“Uhm, you want me to, well, fuck you, but not with my own dick?”
“Not at first. Look, some women online – it’s an anonymous message board, don’t look at me like that – recommended it, said that I need to start with a normal penis and work up-“
“I didn’t realize I was a sideshow freak.” Matt just about bit out.
“Matt, you knew before we first had sex that you’re substantially bigger around than most men. It’s why you ordered special condoms. It’s why you’ve always done lots of foreplay and stretching me-“
“I also happen to enjoy all of that ‘foreplay’.” Matt cut her off. “I like making you feel good.”
“Good, that will make this less awkward.”
“I don’t know if you can make it more awkward than knowing you’d prefer another penis than mine.”
“Look, if I was certain it wouldn’t hurt just like last time, I’d ride you until you popped right here and right now, I’m that fucking horny,” Sylvie told him bluntly. “I would always rather have you than anything else, Matt Casey, but a warm up to stretch me out, farther back than even your very talented fingers can manage, is going to make sure that this works. So, as a warm up, you’re going to fuck me with a dildo, and then I am going to straddle you, feel your dick stretch me out again in that way that only you can, and I’m not going to stop riding you until you beg for mercy. Is that understood?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Matt was smiling now, and pulled her towards him. She shifted from her chair onto his lap. God, he was already half hard under her ass, she could feel it. “I love it when you’re take-charge.”
“If you’re really lucky, I’ll squeeze myself into that little red number you like so much.”
“Hmmm.” Matt kissed her neck, and she just about tempted to change her mind about that ‘not now’, feeling him beneath her and with his lips hitting those spots he knew so well. “I like that little red bra but I like you in nothing at all even better.”
“Tonight, Matt.” She stayed firm. They needed to follow the plan, get back into the swing of things. She’d been assured by several women on the board that the first time (maybe the first few times) were the hardest, sort of like being a virgin again, figuring out your parts in their new configuration.
Jack very helpfully went right to sleep after his second-to-last feeding for the day. With his tummy full and him worn out from ‘playing’ with Daddy before mealtime, she knew he’d be dead to the world for at least an hour. Which was good. She contemplated moving him into the nursery (which he hadn’t yet slept in) because the idea of sex with Jack in the same room seemed a little weird. Plus, the guides to the baby’s first year that she’d been reading said to transition him into the crib in stages. She was still trying to decide whether to put him in his bassinet or take him down the short hall to his nursery when Matt came into the bedroom. He looked a little nervous, which matched how she felt.
“I’ll take him down to his room.” Matt volunteered, though by his tone it was half a question half a statement. She nodded, though, and handed their son over. While Matt put him down to sleep, Sylvie turned and made sure the baby monitor was on. They had a video monitor, and she could watch Matt gently settle Jack into his crib. The baby never so much as snuffled. He really was a good sleeper, as long as they avoided sudden noises like phones ringing or doorbells going off. She took a second to glance down at herself. She’d hoped to be able to do something kind of nice for Matt, wear something kind of enticing at least, but she hadn’t had time to change at all. Then again, Matt had always maintained that all he really needed to be turned on was her so…time to test that theory.
“You, uh, still feel the same as you did at lunch?” Matt asked softly from the doorway.
“Would you be mad at me if I said no?” She asked, just curious. A flash of something crossed his face, but he shook his head.
“I’m not going to get mad because you don’t want to have sex. If you don’t, you don’t. That’s fine.”
“What about what you want?”
“Well, I’m a guy.” Matt shrugged.
“What does that mean?”
“It means, I don’t know…it’s not really my decision.”
“Oh, so you’re a guy, so you have a penis, so your consent doesn’t matter? Or you’re saying you always want sex?” She looked at him sharply.
“No, that’s not…I just meant that if you’re not interested, it’s a no, regardless of what I want. I don’t want you to feel like you have to do anything you don’t want to do just to keep me happy or something.”
“Matt, do you not want to have sex tonight?” She asked pointedly.
“Not if you’re not ready.”
“Nope, no deflecting it onto me. You. Just you. Do you want to have sex?” She asked again.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” That was not the answer she was expecting. Yes or no, either one she could deal with readily, but uncertainty was unexpected.
“Parts of me are already taking an interest, just seeing you on our bed.” Matt admitted, gesturing at his groin. She glanced down, but he was still wearing jeans, she couldn’t see anything tell-tale.
“And other parts of you?” She prompted.
“I’m a little scared. Last time it…what I said at lunch, I wasn’t lying or exaggerating. God, Sylvie, I had nightmares about it.”
“About us having sex?”
“About me…hurting you. Knowing it was hurting and doing it anyway. I’m far from a perfect man, sometimes I’m even an asshole, but the idea of hurting a woman, any woman, let anyone you, the mother of my child – who for that alone owns my soul – I, yeah, I’ve had nightmares. That I could be that kind of man. Violent.”
“I think the fact that it made you want to puke and gave you nightmares is indicative that you’re really not that kind of man.” Sylvie pointed out gently. “And Matt, if I’m encouraging you to do it, I don’t think it’s at all the same thing as your nightmares. But obviously, if it’s giving you nightmares, I don’t want to push you-“
“On the other hand, if we don’t…God, Sylvie, I miss us. I love Jack more than I thought it was possible to love, but I miss sex. I miss us being together. I miss sleeping tangled up with you afterwards. I miss being touched and being able to touch. So, I mean, I want us to try. Just, we have to be patient and careful and if it hurts too much, we’re stopping. We’ll try again next week or something. I’m not going to keep, uh, pushing tonight. Not like last time.”
“Fair enough.” She agreed immediately, not least because she wanted to encourage him to advocate for himself and his needs. If he needed them to stop, they would. “And we’ll talk later about you not telling me about your nightmares.”
“You knew I had nightmares. We talked about it. With Dr. Sandlin. Hell, Severide knows, I think most of 51 knows. I’m not always subtle.”
“No, you’re not.” He rarely woke up shouting or anything, he just got up and found something to do, and either worked himself into an exhaustion that let him sleep without dreams or was up the rest of the night keeping busy. His recurrent nightmares were, in fact, a point of discussion at 51 – she’d had lots of questions, people discreetly checking up on him, wanting to make sure he was okay or see if they could help or just make sure she knew how many nights he was up for pretty much the full 24-hour shift. “I thought those were about, well, about your dad.”
“Most of them are. Well, Dad, what happened to Andy, Hallie – I have a surprising number of nightmares about fire, actually. Other things, too. But some about…if I hurt you, you have to tell me Sylvie. Promise me.”
“I promise. But, if it’s just a little hurt, like the first few times, when I was still getting used to the size of you, that doesn’t count.”
“Ah, yeah, that’s fair.” Matt blushed and looked at the floor.
“Matt. Come here.” She grabbed his nearest wrist and pulled him towards the bed. He was still standing, and she was pretty much eye level with his lower abs. She looked up at him, finding his beautiful blue eyes. “We have to have sex again eventually. I had a baby. Some things may have shifted a bit down there. We’ll work it out. Okay? We’ll find our new normal. But I want you. I want you inside me and over me and all around me. I want you.”
“Sometimes, I just wish…”
“I wish I was normal.”
“What, you mean….”
“All these guys wanting bigger dicks, and I kind of wish mine was smaller.”
“I don’t.” She smiled up at him. “Well, not really, I just wish I had a bigger mouth or something because I wish I could give you the same kind of oral sex you give me. But once you’re inside me, Matt, sure there’s that twinge at first, but once you’re there, oh, baby, you feel so big and amazing and hot and…just the stretch, it feels like you’re becoming part of me, not just inside me but like it’s so tight our bodies are fusing and it feels so fucking good.”
“Fuck. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. That mouth on you.” Matt shook his head, but his pupils were widening and she could see that whether or not they were going to have sex was no longer a question. “No one would believe the fantastic filth that comes out of sweet Sylvie Brett’s mouth and I fucking love it.”
“Mmm. Well, that can be our little secret, and the fact that ‘Little Matt’ is anything but little can be our little secret, too.” Sylvie grabbed his shirt front, tugging him down to kiss him. Tongues quickly dueled for control of the kiss and she got lost in it, it had been so long since they’d really just kissed like this, the sort that intentionally led to much more than kissing, and she realized they’d shifted somehow so they were both on the bed and he was over her and she had both hands on his ass, trying to pull him as tightly against her as she could, her legs spread wide to either side of his hips.
“We are both wearing too many clothes.” Matt smiled down at her, both of them trying to catch their breath a little. “Just, uh, checking that, I mean…do you want to keep your bra on? So I’m, uh, not tempted to wander from Matt-land into Jack-land?”
“You can’t see my naked boobs without touching them?”
“No, I don’t think I can.” Matt admitted with a beautiful cheeky grin. “I’m a strong man, Sylvie, but not that strong. You let me see them, I’m probably going to end up with my mouth on them.”
“Let’s do that. Leave it on.” She wouldn’t have to worry about dripping on him that way either. For some reason, that idea had bothered her, the very thought of her milk dripping (or spraying) on Matt while they had sex bothered her. She wondered if bothered him. Definitely a conversation for another night.
“You’ve got lube?” He asked, and she hummed assent even as he was practically mauling her neck with his lips and tongue and teeth and his hands were making short work of her clothes (except, of course, her bra). Once she was as naked as she was going to get, she tugged at his clothing, and he obediently helped her strip him completely naked as well. He must’ve seen it, because the next thing she knew she felt the lube being applied and his fingers on her pussy, apparently spreading rather liberally, then easing up inside. This part had gone well enough last time, and she wasn’t surprised that he slid down her body, the familiar sensations of his mouth on her and his fingers inside her quickly sending her spiraling into much-missed pleasures. She laughed lightly as she came down from her first orgasm.
“What’s funny?” Matt asked, but he was smiling at her as he slid about halfway up her body, his fingers slowing down but not leaving her.
“I had this thought, that you could be like a champion, well, whatever you call someone who eats women out. If it was an Olympic sport, you’d win a medal for sure. And I thought how badly you’d blush if I gave you a medal.”
“Hm, well, if it was done privately, I don’t think I’d blush at all.” Matt grinned widely. “But I don’t need or want public praise – the only person who needs to know about certain skills I might have is you.”
“You really are insanely good at that.”
“I love doing it.” Matt kissed her stomach, then starting licking a bath back south, back towards her pussy. “You said something about starting with, uh, ‘normal’ sized…”
“A dildo. Is that one of your words you can’t say?”
“It wasn’t previously on my list, but it is now.” Matt laughed lightly. “It’s not a word I’ve ever had to try to say before now.”
“Not really something straight guys deal with much, huh?”
“Not really, no.”
“It’s in the drawer, I’ll get it.” She managed to reach, though Matt was little help as he refused to let go of his grip on her hips, was in fact moving back lower between her thighs, spreading her wider again. Still, she managed to wriggle enough to reach, and if she gently smacked him in the head with it, well, he deserved it for the laughter that was shaking his shoulders and therefore most of her lower body even if he was muffling the sound in her thigh. He looked up at her, narrowly missing getting a dildo to the eye as she tried to bop him on the head again.
“Hey!” He grabbed her wrist, and then took the dildo from her. If she had to describe his expression as he looked at it, she would pick ‘gimlet eyed stare’. “So, this is ‘normal’ huh?”
“Exact average measurements, according to the googling I did.”
“Huh.” He wrapped his fingers around it, shaking his head a little. She almost laughed, but managed to bite it back, when he shifted up and rolled over (onto her left leg), and then held it up next to his own hard cock for a side-by-side comparison.
“Matt? Are you seriously comparing?”
“Well, it’s not like I’ve ever seen anyone else’s hard, have I?” His head was still at roughly her shoulder height, so he had to tilt his head back to meet her eyes. “That’s ‘normal’?”
“Yep. In my limited experience and the ‘science’ of the internet, that is pretty much the average.” Sylvie confirmed, a smile on her face. God, it was nice to get back to just having fun in their bed – even if they hadn’t gotten to the sex yet. It felt normal. It felt like home. Okay, a slightly demented home, as her husband compared his dick to a rubber one, but, hey. “Didn’t you know that?”
“I kinda knew mine grew more than most, only because I know most guys can get a blowjob. But no, I’ve never really had the chance for a side-by-side, surprisingly enough.” He scoffed.
“Yeah, but surely you watch porn, I mean, at some point in your life?”
“Not as much as you might think, and I’m pretty sure that using porn to assess normal sex or what normal people look like is like using a Nicholas Sparks movie to judge a relationship. Unrealistic at best.” She had to laugh a little at that. Matt had spent an entire evening complaining about The Notebook and completely ruining that movie for her: she had to agree with his argument that infidelity is never romantic and Allie cheating on her fiancé with Noah was not ‘romantic’ at all, and threatening to drop from a Ferris wheel had to be the most sociopathic way to manipulate a girl into agreeing to date you and if their daughter (who didn’t exist yet) ever ran into a guy who was that nuts, he hoped she’d have the sense to take a haligan to his ass or at least tell him to go ahead and drop from the Ferris wheel.
“Well, do you see now why I want to ease into yours?” She brought her mind back to Matt’s studied comparison of the dildo and his own erection. She much preferred the look of the real thing.
“Do you wish…I mean, would you like it better if…if mine was-“
“Matt Casey, would you stop? I love you and I love your penis. I would not like it better if it was a different size. I would not like it better if it was circumcised. I love it because it’s you. Okay?”
“That’s nice and all, but-“
“Seriously.” She blew out a heavy breath. “Matt, I have had previous boyfriends. They were mostly average. So take my word for it. I like yours the best of anyone’s. Can’t you tell by how many times you make me come on it?”
“That’s just technique.” Matt pointed out.
“Uhm, technique and hitting literally every nerve ending at once because you stuff me full. And I love being stuffed. So if you could get on with that bit for tonight, before our son wakes up, I’d appreciate it.”
“Oh, shit, yeah.” Matt grinned and carefully rolled back over her. He kissed her firmly. “Not that I forgot the sex, I forgot the timeline. Our little alarm clock down the hall isn’t going to sleep forever. So, you want this, then me?”
“Mmhmm. So keep your hands off your dick, Matt – I need you hard and ready for me once I’m all stretched and warmed up.”
“Time to get started then.” He licked down her body, dipping down into the split of her bra before skipping over the fabric of the bra itself, then his tongue was back on her belly. He took his time there, and she settled in to enjoy the sensations. He nipped and kissed and licked slowly down her abdomen to her pussy, and sucked her clit like a fiend. She forced her eyes open to watch as he paused to lube (good boy) the dildo generously, then gently replaced his two fingers with the rubber penis. She flinched slightly as the head moved deeper than his fingers had gone, but shook her head at his inquiring look. She was fine, it was just a little twinge. Once it was all the way in her, he paused.
“Yeah, it’s…feels a little strange.”
“Have you used one of these before?”
“Before we got together, yes. Since? No.” She smiled broadly at him. “If I need something inside me, I can always count on you. And I really do prefer you to anything else.” He responded by dipping his head to suck on, nip at, and lick her clit, as he started to move the dildo in and out of her gently, small movements at first but then longer strokes. She let herself go to just follow the sensations and she welcomed her second orgasm several minutes later. A few moments after that, she opened her eyes as she felt Matt shifting on the bed. He kissed her, and she pulled him down against her, reveling in the feeling of his body over hers again and this familiar, wonderful, loving connection. He pulled back after several minutes of kissing.
“Sylvie, I should’ve asked earlier but, uh, what’s our birth control situation?”
“Oh, I’m nursing, I’m not on, not on anything.” She realized.
“Breastfeeding is not exactly reliable.” Matt pointed out. “Luckily, your husband is an optimist.”
“What do you mean?” She asked, as he chuckled and stretched to reach into his own bedside drawer. He pulled back a few moments of shifting things blindly later, a bright foil package in his hand. “You hate condoms. You feel better, for both of us, without-”
“Yeah, well, I’m not exactly looking to knock up my wife with a three-month-old baby down the hall, either.” Matt replied as he put it on. “So, if you want me – and I definitely want you – condom it is.”
“Lots of lube, Matt.”
“Trust me, I remember.”
“And go slow.”
“Definitely.” He shifted and it was only as he slid it out that she realized he’d left the dildo in her after she came. She wondered if he’d worried that she’d close up or something if he took it out. She wondered if she might’ve. Even with it, though, as he carefully pushed his cock inside, she couldn’t help gasping at the sharp stretch. “Sylvie?” He stopped moving entirely.
“It’s fine. Normal twinge. You’re a lot bigger than that dildo.”
“I know. You sure?” Matt paused. “Wait, you said you wanted to be on top.” And he rolled over, carrying her over so that he was now on his back with her above him.
“I do like riding you.” Sylvie laughed lightly. It was good to feel light in bed again. She lined them back up, and carefully started to lower down onto him. “It feels good just a stretch.”
“Not tearing? No pain?”
“I promise, Matt, it’s just a bit of an ache. You’re so big, baby, and the stretch feels so good.” It was starting to feel good, actually. Reigniting a lot of very nice sense memories of some very hot sex. She arched a little, hoping to encourage him to go a little deeper. He knew her well, and started small thrusts, a tiny bit deeper each time, moving within her carefully, but oh so fantastically as she worked above him as well. She was climbing towards another orgasm, she swore she somehow came more quickly now, maybe it was just the long time since they’d had sex, because he’d always felt good but this was…something, it was just something.
“God, Sylvie, you feel so fucking good. I’m not gonna last, I’m sorry.”
“You don’t need to.” She admitted, continuing to push lower onto him, pulling him into her body. “Just keep doing that.”
He obliged, and her body found the familiar rhythm with his, their thrusting getting more confident, faster, going from small strokes to longer ones, that shared rhythm that was more instinctual than thought out she figured, and oh, it was so damned good, not the best orgasm of her life good, but still damned good. He was pushing deeper now, going faster and harder, as she pressed down to meet him, like they used to, before, and “OW! FUCK!”
“Sylvie?” Matt froze, halfway out, having taken a split second to realize she’d yelped in pain.
“Too deep on that one.” She managed to explain as she shifted above him. “You’re a bit longer than the dildo, I, uh, I think you hit my cervix or something. Either way, that hurt. The rest feels mind-blowingly good, please don’t stop just, uh, not too deep.”
“I’m so sure that if you don’t make me come on your dick right now, Matt Casey, I might just utilize this grip for something you won’t like.” She smiled up at him, her hand having shifted from slip behind her and down, to gently cup his balls. She trailed her middle finger gently along the perineum, that sensitive patch right behind his balls, and felt him arch into her body (though, notably, not deep enough to hit that sharp spot).
“Yes, ma’am.” Matt smiled, and kissed her, but his hips started moving again, so did hers, and if she ended up crying in his arms afterwards, well, that was only happiness at having finally come back home, together.
My inner Matt Casey forced me to post this reminder in regards to the Notebook: if he threatens to harm himself to get you to go out with him, just think about what he'll do when you try to break up with him. Emotional and psychological manipulation rarely stops at the start of a relationship. I've seen too many women (and some men) get themselves dangerously deep with these sorts of people & relationships. It is NOT romantic, it's creepy controlling behavior. Let him drop. Also, cheating is never romantic - have some compassion and put yourself in Lon's shoes. Break up with one person before you sleep with another person. I doubt you'd think it was "romantic" if it happened to you.
Chapter 9: Hurricane Gabby
I feel the need to preface this chapter (and the next) with the provision that any great Gabriela Dawson fans will possibly not enjoy it. She may have been an interesting character, and usually one with good intentions, she was not a very good wife. If you've read my other stories, you probably already know this series' take on her relationship with Matt. Also, please bear in mind that her actions/reactions in this chapter come from a place of hurt, which never has any of us acting our best selves, does it? I've tried to convey that herein.
They were settling into the new normal pretty well, actually. Sylvie felt better now that they’d gotten the first post-baby sex (well, penetrative sex) out of the way. It hadn’t exactly been the wildly passionate spontaneous sort of sex they’d once had, but that would come back. She just had to readjust, her body had to readjust. Maybe if Matt was a smaller man, it’d be easier, but he wasn’t. He’d always stretched her, but her muscles protested that stretching more now, and apparently breastfeeding interfered with her natural lubrication process, and yeah, it was less spontaneous. It had still been good sex, though. And she couldn’t bring herself to truly wish Matt was any other way than he was, even if she didn’t think his dick size was in any way essential to him or to her love for him. She just couldn’t truly wish to change any part of him.
Jack seemed to have adjusted well to spending every third day with the Herrmann clan, too, and the major upshot of it being that Jack could sleep through just about anything now (except the doorbell). Everyone was used to she and Matt both being back on shift. It was still a little hard, leaving for shift, leaving Jack. But life was good. Which meant she should have been prepared for the major wrench thrown in the works. It was just that no one expected Hurricane Gabby to blow back into Chicago and stop by the Firehouse.
Matt, well, obviously all of Truck, was out on a call when Gabby walked into the common room, but everyone else was there. Sylvie and Crystal mostly stayed out of the huddle around her, as the guys all gathered around to hug her and catch up with her. Howe had never known Gabby and Sylvie was still a little annoyed about the fact that Gabby had never even said ‘goodbye’ but most of her discomfort was for Matt. She didn’t even know how she felt about Gabby anymore. Knowing what she knew now, what Matt was starting to share with her, both in therapy and a little bit outside of therapy, she wasn’t sure how she was supposed to feel about Gabby. Gabby had been a pretty good friend, right up until the end anyway, and of course, she’d had things going on in her personal life, which maybe explained her bad mood there at the end, but still, Sylvie had never treated Gabby like that no matter how badly her life was messed up. She could forgive Gabby hurting her, though, she could. And back when it happened, she thought she’d forgiven Gabby for hurting Matt. They had all known she’d hurt him, but (and Sylvie still felt horribly about this) she knew that even Matt’s closest friends, the people at 51, didn’t have a clue how deep those wounds had cut. She couldn’t seem to forgive those injuries to Matt now. Not knowing how Gabby had made Matt feel. The only thing keeping Sylvie from hating Gabby was the fact that she was really pretty sure Gabby didn’t have a clue the damage she did to Matt. She knew Gabby hadn’t meant to hurt him, would never have meant to make him feel so worthless and unwanted, but she had. And Sylvie really deeply disliked anyone or anything that hurt Matt.
“So, she used to work here?” Crystal asked, voice low.
“Yeah. She was a paramedic, then a firefighter, than a paramedic again.”
“All here, in this house?”
“Yep. She was my partner on 61 before Foster.” Sylvie only paused a moment before continuing, because honesty was necessary, “she’s also Matt’s first wife.”
“Wow. He has a thing for paramedics, doesn’t he?”
“His first fiancée was a doctor. He likes people who help, I think.” Sylvie smiled, and shrugged.
“So, you’re married to your old partner’s ex-husband, and his best friend is dating your best friend, who also works for your husband. Are you sure this isn’t Melrose Place?”
“Depends on the day.” Sylvie had to admit that. “She left him, the divorced was finalized a year before Matt and I went on a date, and I can honestly say I never even looked at him like that until at least a few months after the divorce. Probably like six months. And he didn’t look at me that way, either.”
“I wasn’t accusing you of anything.”
“She might. She knows we’re married now, but…she tends to…well, she goes Gabby Dawson on things. And people.”
“The guys all seem to like her.”
“Yep. Everyone likes her. Everyone loves her. She’s not a bad person, she’s pretty great really. Matt wouldn’t have loved her so much if she wasn’t amazing and kickass. She just wasn’t very well-suited for Matt. Or maybe marriage at all, actually.” Sylvie paused for just a moment. “She is very independent, and Matt is not, and that is a bad recipe for a marriage.”
“Maybe you should text him and let him know before he walks in that she’s here?”
“Good idea.” Sylvie took out her phone, and did just that. It might have been a nearly useless gesture though, as she realized Truck had just pulled back in. At least he might have a few seconds warning, though. Matt was, as usual, at the back of his crew as they came inside. Everyone was teasing Gallo about something, the laughter cut off in favor of greeting Gabby. Ritter and Gallo ended up off to one side, the people who didn’t even know Gabby, and Matt was sort of frozen at the entrance to the common room. Sylvie wasn’t sure who was the most surprised when he headed down the hall instead of coming inside to greet his ex-wife. Gabby looked hurt, and Sylvie hoped she kept a brief thrill of pointless victory off her face: Matt wasn’t Gabby’s lap-dog anymore. Not that she’d really feared he was, because he was married to her now, but seeing him blow her off was nastily fun and kind of rewarding in a petty part of her heart. Gabby was amazing and kickass, and Sylvie feared in a petty tiny dark corner of her mind that she’d never quite measure up to that.
Gabby stayed for hours. No one really seemed to mind, except Sylvie herself really. Well, and possibly Matt, who was hiding in his quarters with the paperwork. That wasn’t all that conspicuous because Matt always had paperwork to do, so probably no one else would’ve said he was ‘hiding’. Still, it went calmly and nicely enough, Sylvie even managed pleasant light conversation, until dinner. Cindy sent the most adorable picture of Jack, apparently out at one of the boys’ baseball games, and Sylvie couldn’t help the expression on her face. Her son was the cutest baby ever and no, she was not at all biased.
“I know that look, that’s a Jack update look. How’s my godson?” Kelly asked, dropping into the seat next to her, and grabbing her phone. “That kid is way too cute, and too cool, to be Casey’s.”
“Must be your influence then.” Sylvie grinned at him, knowing he was joking. She was also kind of proud and kind of in love with how much the guys at 51 all seemed to adore Jack. They all asked for pictures and updates and everything. Granted, he was a pretty perfect baby boy, but it was amazing how loved he was, and ‘Uncle Kelly’ was his biggest fan, well, after her and Matt. And her parents. And possibly ‘Aunt Cindy’, though that could be a tie.
“Casey’s?” Gabby asked, looking stricken. Sylvie hadn’t bothered to send anything to Gabby announcing Jack’s birth. She hadn’t heard from her about the wedding, after all, and she didn’t want to hurt Gabby or anything. Not really. She hadn’t expected Gabby to just show up at 51, though, either. “You and Casey have a…a son?”
“He’s three months old.” Kelly slid Sylvie’s phone down towards Gabby, who picked it up. Sylvie was just kind of hoping that Gabby didn’t do something drastic like break her phone. Would it have been better to let her know before, would it have been less hurtful?
“Wow. Guess you won the lottery, Sylvie.”
“Yep, he’s pretty cute, we’ll keep him.” She tried to play it off lightly, though she didn’t like Gabby’s tone.
“He finally found someone who’d pop out a baby on his command. Good for him.”
“That’s not what happened.” Sylvie defended. “Jack was a bit of a surprise.” He had been, they’d expected it to take longer to get pregnant, not to get a honeymoon baby.
“Yeah, right, Casey plans everything.” Gabby shot back sharply, nearly shoving Sylvie’s phone back to her. “He’s a control freak and he’s not afraid to manipulate people to get what he wants, the control he wants.”
“Are we talking about Matt Casey?” Kelly asked, his voice sounding a combination of confused and angry.
“Kel.” Matt’s voice cut off whatever Kelly was going to continue with. Kelly snapped his mouth shut. Sylvie hadn’t seen him enter the common room, but it was dinner, someone must have called him to chow.
“See, control. All about control.” Gabby pointed out. “Though he didn’t used to have you cowed, Kelly.”
“Gabby, this is my workplace. If you want an argument, can it wait until I’m off shift?” Matt just sounded tired, the kind of tired that went with ‘sick and’.
“So, finally got someone to give you baby Casey, huh? I wasn’t good enough, but she is?”
“I’m not doing this here.” Matt sounded calm, but Sylvie could see serious anger roiling in his eyes, and in the way he held himself. She silently encouraged him to hold his temper. He would feel awful if he got into a fight with her here, in front of everyone. “You might not have ever had much respect for me, but try to respect that this is a workplace for a lot of your friends, and let’s treat it that way.”
“I didn’t have respect for you? You were constantly trying to tell me what to do, right from the start, when I decided to become a firefighter, all the way to the day I sent you divorce papers – talk about not having any respect!”
“Save me a plate, Gallo.” Matt said tightly, getting a soft, slightly bewildered, but immediate ‘yes, Captain’ from Gallo, who’d had kitchen duty, then Matt headed back towards his quarters.
“Yeah, be a coward. You always were.” Gabby half-shouted to his back, and it was one of those moments when a whole room goes silent, as people hold their breath collectively, either in anticipation or plain shock. Matt paused, and Sylvie knew everyone could see the slight slump of his shoulders and then he drew himself up and off he went – a cat, going off to lick his wounds someplace private, someplace safe. If a man had said that to Matt, they’d be cleaning blood off the common room floor, everyone knew it, but it was Gabby, and Matt was pretty much helpless against her. He wouldn’t fight back, not against a woman, certainly not a woman he still loved, held back by too much trauma and haunting terror of being like his father. Sylvie was livid suddenly.
“Shut up, Gabby. You left him. You dumped all of us, actually, really suddenly and without saying goodbye and that was really crappy. But mostly, you left him. You didn’t give a damn about his feelings then, and you clearly still don’t. I’m sorry if us having a family hurts you, I am, because I know why you left, but that wasn’t on Matt, was it? You’re the one who made the ultimatum, not him. You’re the one who took off to Puerto Rico. You’re the one who decided to make it a permanent move – without even talking to him, let alone asking for his input – and you’re the one who sent divorce papers. So don’t accuse Matt of being controlling, because it seems like you had plenty of room to make plenty of choices. You don’t have a clue what you left behind for him to live with and yes, we’re happy, and yes, we have a beautiful son, and if you want to come in here and start a fight because the man you tossed out without a second thought like he was trash isn’t still waiting for you to throw some scraps of attention or affection his way, well…fuck off back to Puerto Rico.” Sylvie was almost shouting now, but she stood up, heading after Matt. He was going to be upset. She was upset. They could be upset together and then pull each other back together.
“It wasn’t just hard for him.” Gabby nearly spat.
“Somehow, I doubt you nearly killed yourself, because you’re way too in love with yourself for that.” Sylvie shot back, and only halfway down the hall realized what she’d just told everyone in the common room. Matt had confided that, privately, in therapy, and she’d just basically outed him. Fuck.
Kelly grabbed her later, after Dawson had left. She’d found Matt, back in his quarters, his door locked. He’d let her in, and found a tight smile for her. She gave him a back rub, knowing that he needed some physical affection, but then she’d just hung out in his quarters, letting him work, whenever she (or he) wasn’t on a call. It was late now, and she’d headed out to the common room after having finished reading absolutely everything in his quarters. Pretty much everyone else had sacked out, hoping for a bit of sleep on shift, but she was restless and Kelly was the last person in the common room with her. Matt was – as always it seemed – still dealing with paperwork in his quarters. She wished she believed he was going to at least try to get some sleep, but she didn’t.
“I convinced all the guys you meant the diving under elevators crap he pulled – that he didn’t care, not that he was actually…. Him not caring is scary enough for the guys, but we all kind of saw that.” Kelly trailed off. “But that’s not what you meant, is it?”
“No, that’s not what I meant.” Sylvie sighed. “It’s something he told me in therapy-”
“Wait, you’re in couple’s therapy? I thought you two were great, happy, everything.” Kelly sounded genuinely worried, even scared.
“We are.” She reassured him immediately. “It’s not couple’s therapy. It’s his therapy that has bearing on our relationship, so sometimes I go with him. At his invitation, not my insistence.”
“I missed something fucking huge. Again.”
“God, the two of you, always blaming yourselves.” Sylvie nearly threw up her hands in frustration. She nearly slapped him. She resisted both urges.
“I knew he was a mess. We all knew. But it’s Casey. He’s always alright. He’s the toughest son of a bitch I’ve ever known. And he’d just as soon bleed to death before admitting he was hurt. You can’t…how the hell do you help him?”
“He’s working on not being such a silent stoic shit.” Sylvie admitted.
“He was suicidal. Really suicidal. And I missed it. How the fuck did I miss that?”
“He’s Matt. Like you said. Never let ‘em see you hurt. That’s his motto. And he’s an officer here. And he worked hard to hide it. He didn’t…it was Gabby. He knew you all loved her.”
“She’s a good friend. Or she was. We barely speak now. But she’s not Casey.”
“He expects people to take sides.” Sylvie explained gently. “And he never expects anyone to pick his side. So if he doesn’t make us choose, we don’t leave him.”
“He’s seriously fucked up.”
“Actually, I think that part’s almost normal in a divorce.” Sylvie had to admit that much. “Maybe work with the guys, though – subtly – to find things to let Matt know…he said he felt like no one would miss him after the funeral. We’d be sad for a few days, have to adjust to a new officer, but no one would really miss him.”
“I’ve been his friend this long and he thinks I wouldn’t miss him longer than the funeral?”
“It’s not really about you.” Sylvie tried to reassure. “He was depressed, Kelly. He has trauma. I’ve done some reading. Early trauma, repeated trauma, and substantial trauma, they’ve all warped his thinking. He knows you love him. Most days he even has a pretty good idea how much you respect him, personally and professionally. He just doesn’t think anyone really loves him very long once he stops being exactly what they want or need.”
“He’s talking to you about this stuff?”
“His therapist, mostly. He’s fine, now, Kelly. He’s happier than he’s ever been, he says so anyway, and I believe him. He’s trying to get better. Today, was probably a setback.” She had to admit that. “But we just have to subtly reassure him that he’s loved just as much as he loves. Well, as much as you guys can do that without fear of any essential manly parts of you falling off if you confess that you love each other.”
“It’s about time for some sort of guy’s trip, fishing or something. Herrmann suggested hunting, but Case hates guns, won’t fire one.” Kelly shook his head. “Otis asked why when I pointed that out. Cruz’s reaction was funny. Otis is so smart he’s an idiot sometimes. But we’ll take him out on the lake.”
“Good. He needs some time with his friends.”
Matt had tentatively asked for permission to meet Gabby for lunch after shift the next day. Sylvie didn’t really like that he asked for permission (literally asked if he had her permission – he was a grown man, he didn’t need her permission), but she also appreciated that he was willing to not go if she wasn’t comfortable with it. Which she wasn’t, but she didn’t tell him that. She knew it was irrational. She knew how Matt felt about his marriage to Gabby. She didn’t think he was going to cheat or even consider it. She just didn’t really like the idea of him out with Gabby, just the two of them. She knew it wasn’t jealousy. She just couldn’t quite name the emotions she did feel.
She couldn’t name them until Matt came home around 2 o’clock. Then she realized that she had been worried and anxious and scared – not of him being tempted back to Gabby, that he (or Gabby) would hurt her, but of Gabby’s power to hurt him. Matt was incredibly sensitive to people’s opinion of him, though he tried hard to hide that fact. The fact that he loved Gabby, admired her still despite the end of their marriage, just made him all the more vulnerable. Sylvie tried to ask him what was wrong, but he just shook his head and said he was fine. He wasn’t fine. He spent a ton of time that afternoon cuddling with Jack, talking softly to him, Sylvie suspected pouring out his heart to their pre-verbal son. She’d caught Matt doing it a few times, he talked so plainly to Jack, his voice always soft and warm, but telling Jack things she knew he’d never tell anyone else. Maybe it was just that Jack was so young, it’s not like he was judging or going to repeat anything. He was just happy to hang out with his daddy and hear that familiar voice.
Figuring Matt was looking for some distance that night, she headed over to Molly’s around 8 o’clock. She loved living so close, most of the time. A few times (very few) someone got loud late at night. The more often problem was someone calling Matt for a favor at 1 am. Last week, Otis had called because a hinge on a stall door needed fixing in the ladies bathroom. Matt had been asleep (for once, sleeping soundly by all signs) and of course he got up and grabbed his toolbox, went over, and fixed it right away. A few times, one of the people from 51 called looking for a bed to crash in for a night after a few too many at Molly’s. Kelly had a key, so he’d just let himself and/or Stella in if he was staying, but Kelly never gave it out – anyone else had to call (or have Kelly call) and let them know that they had a guest in the downstairs guest suite. Those were the minor annoyances, really, but it was great to walk across the street and be hanging out with your friends.
She didn’t stay late. Neither she nor Matt ever did anymore. They either had to pick up Jack from whoever was watching him (Cindy or Donna, one memorable occasion Trudy), or the other was at home with Jack and she was usually anxious to get back to her boys. She did adore them both so. Plus, since she was breastfeeding, she always stopped at one drink. She was leaving around 9:15 when she literally ran into Gabby. Despite the presence of half of their friends, she couldn’t help her reaction.
“What did you say to Matt?”
“He didn’t tell you?”
“Have fun with that. He never talks.” Gabby rolled her eyes.
“You never listened.” Sylvie shot back defensively.
“We talked about what happened, at the end of our marriage. We got some closure.” Gabby paused. “We argued a little, but considering we were talking about a divorce, that was probably expected. Healthy even.”
“Did you apologize to him at any point?”
“Apologize? For what? Matt always understood why I left.”
“Why did you leave?” Sylvie pushed. She knew Matt’s version, but she wanted Gabby’s side of the story. “Practically in the dead of night, without a goodbye to pretty much anyone? You had one fight with me and one fight with Matt and you just left.”
“I left to get some space. It was supposed to be a couple weeks. I needed to clear my head. Matt had decided we weren’t going to have a family, he didn’t care what I wanted, he didn’t even talk to me about it.” Gabby snorted. “Of course, he turned right around and has one with you.”
“So you left him, after one fight?”
“It was obvious he wasn’t in love with me anymore. He was bitter. Angry about things in the past. He never lets go of anything, by the way. He says he forgives you, but he never forgets and he always brings it back up.”
“He was scared, Gabby.” Sylvie nearly bit out. “And you treated him so badly for so long that he-“
“I treated him badly? How? I love him. I supported him through everything – promotions, campaigns, hell, even Hallie’s death.”
“You don’t really want me to start counting the ways.”
“He was the asshole. He was the one who kept pulling away. He was the one who never supported any of my ambitions. Ambition makes him uncomfortable – mine or Peter Mills’ or anyone, really. He always had to try to talk me out of it, whatever I wanted, and he was right about one thing: having a baby is the one thing I couldn’t do without him. Well, not at the time.”
“You’ve really never considered his feelings at all, have you?” Sylvie shook her head in a combination of shock and awe.
“He accused me of that same thing. I care deeply how he feels, I always did, I always wanted him to be happy, but I couldn’t be dependent on it, following his wishes instead of my own, making him happy instead of myself.”
“No, see, Gabby, that’s what caring deeply about how he feels means.” Sylvie pointed out, not really caring if she was being harsh or a little loud or that they were in the middle of friends who were listening while trying to look like they weren’t. “It means sometimes you listen to him, let him be important, put his needs and his feelings ahead of your own. Not all the time, of course, but you ran roughshod over him for years. We all saw it. We all encouraged it, told him he was lucky to have you. The Great Gabby Dawson, kickass firefighter paramedic, going to save the world – and if she has to step on her husband to do it, so be it. That’s what he’s there for, right? Just a footstool to get you where you want to go.”
“I never thought that.”
“What I feel the worst about is that we all enabled it. We all loved you so much, Gabby, and you’re such a…a big personality, and you’re always doing something, saying something, and God knows you usually have the best intentions in the world.” Sylvie admitted, because it was true and because it was the root of the problem, really. “And Matt’s quiet. He wants to get lost. Go unnoticed. And he did. None of us saw him. We saw what you wanted for him and from him, but we didn’t see Matt. What…sucks the most, for you, is that you never really did either. You spent years with him, and you never really saw him. And I feel sorry for you. Because you missed really seeing and knowing the best person you’ll probably ever meet. And all you had to do, to keep him, to know him, all you had to do was love him enough to let him know he was safe.”
“Don’t say he was safe with you.” Sylvie’s anger was rushing back, and less the pity she’d felt a moment ago. “I can forgive you a lot, Gabby, because I think you’re a good person who means well, and you didn’t intend to hurt him, but you showed him time and again that he didn’t matter, that everyone else and every new project mattered more than him, and his feelings weren’t important, weren’t even valid, that his feelings were wrong. You want an example? The billboards, during the campaign, about his mother. He tried to tell you how that made him feel, that it wasn’t worth that, and you told him to ‘man up’ more or less. Am I wrong?”
“It was just politics.”
“Just politics.” Sylvie scoffed. “Just politics. The single worst and most traumatic thing that ever happened to him, the thing no one in the house even hints about because we all think we have some clue how much it hurts him still-“
“More like it’s the thing most likely to make him take a swing at someone.” Gabby interrupted.
“You’re still doing it. Downplaying his feelings.”
“It was twenty-four years ago.” Gabby replied, as if that should’ve meant he was over it now or something, like it wasn’t the defining incident of his entire life.
“He was sixteen years old.” Sylvie’s temper was quickly getting the better of her. “His mother took his key to his father’s house, and shot his father in the face. Murdered him. She went to prison. In her trial, he had to testify, was asked if he’d been complicit in it, given her the key, if he’d wanted his father dead. It was all over the newspapers. You think high school was hard? Try hearing about that at school and going ‘home’ to some temporary foster placement with no one who knows you, no one to actually care for you, so you just bury it inside and close the lid on the coffin and hope no one ever digs it up – the anger and the pain and the shame of it. Most importantly, he’s lived with the guilt of leaving his keys out every day since it happened, thinking it was his fault, that he basically killed his dad – whom he loved despite everything because he was his dad. And his opponent put it on billboards. One moment of the smallest bit of carelessness in a teenage boy, that’s all it was, and his entire life shattered apart. In that tiny bit of time, he went from a kid with two homes he shuttled between to a kid with no home at all, basically on his own in the world. And you, who were supposed to love him, told him to ‘man up’ about it, that someone plastering a trauma like that on billboards, that it was just politics. You basically told him that his feelings weren’t important, or even valid, that he couldn’t let it bother him to have that coffin opened and made public again.”
“He needed to rally. To fight back. Not give in.”
“Why? Matt Casey is terminally introverted, Gabby. But you didn’t see that. God, none of us paid attention to it, but you should’ve. In some ways, it’s almost sweet. You saw what you wanted for him, what his honesty and integrity could do for the city, for people in the ward, and you wanted that to happen. You were right, men like Matt would be great for Chicago, in public life in general, because he’s good and believes in doing the right thing for the right reason. But the problem is, Matt didn’t want it. You never stopped to think about Matt.”
“I love him.”
“Not nearly as much as you love your projects. It always came back to what you wanted, either for him or from him. And you know what’s really sad? The one thing he finally stood up to you about, the one thing he insisted on, was protecting you. That nothing was more important to him than your safety.” Sylvie pointed out, perhaps harshly but completely honestly.
“It’s my risk, my body, my decision.”
“And if the worst happened? Would it be you living with the consequences, or him? No, Gabby. You got told ‘no’ once and you tossed him away like trash.” Sylvie leaned in, not wanting her voice to travel. “That’s how Matt felt, how you made him feel, like garbage tossed at the side of the road while you went on with your life, just trash that you didn’t need anymore. So you don’t get to be the aggrieved party, ever, Gabby. You threw him away. If someone else picks up what you put at the curb, that’s not your business any more, is it?”
She went home to Matt and Jack, cuddled up on the sofa watching the White Sox game. No matter how often she saw it, she never stopped being affected by it. Jack laying on Matt’s chest while Matt talked him through anything was her favorite sight. It was adorable and somehow sexy and combined her two favorite people on the planet. Matt glanced up and caught her staring. He smiled at her softly.
“Hey, Jack, Mommy’s home early.”
“Not that early.” She was only about fifteen minutes before he’d be hungry on his current schedule. She moved into the living room. “Mind if I join you boys?”
“Hm, Jack, what do you think?” Matt kissed Jack’s head softly. “Before you decide, a little life advice, son: everything is improved with the addition of a beautiful girl so you always say yes if one asks to join in. Always.” Matt glanced down at Jack for a moment, then back up at Sylvie. “Jack agrees with me, Mommy is a perfect addition to the sofa.”
“Jack agrees does he? Don’t sit up.” Sylvie carefully managed to insert herself between the back of the sofa and Matt, while dodging Jack. Okay, she was a little squished and half on top of Matt, almost on top of Jack, but it was a deep sofa and she felt like she needed a cuddle from both her boys. And she suspected Matt could use one as well. He always could.
“I love you, Matt. You know that, right?”
“Of course I know that.” Matt sounded confused. “Is something wrong?”
“No, I just…I know we’re still finding our feet as parents not just a couple. And I feel like sometimes pregnancy and even more now, it’s all about me and about Jack and I worry you might feel forgotten.”
“Sylvie.” He used a finger to tilt her chin up so her eyes met his. “No one has ever loved me as well as you do. No one has ever been as good to me as you are. Forgotten? No. Am I a background player in some ways? Yeah. But I like being in the background. I like letting you and Jack star.”
“You should get to star once in a while.”
“Eh, give me one day a year on Father’s Day.” Matt shrugged, smiling a little. “Maybe my birthday, too, as long as we keep it small.”
“You’re important, Matt. You’re important to lots of people, but especially to me and to Jack. We love you. Jack can’t say it yet, but I can and I guess I just want to make sure I say it enough for both of us. We love you.”
“I love you, too. Both of you. More than…life itself isn’t even a big enough weight to measure. I didn’t even know love like this existed. You and Jack, you’re my home.” Matt kissed her softly.
“And you’re ours. The house is beautiful, but right here,” Sylvie snuggled in a little closer, “you and me and Jack, this is home.”
He didn’t say anything more, but his arm around her tightened a little, and she felt him kiss the top of her head. She happily burrowed into him, content to just be with him – at least until Jack demanded his before-bed meal.
Confession: much of Sylvie's rant about the mess with the billboards is completely my own point of view. That scene, of all Gabby's incredibly self-involved scenes in that story arc, pissed me off the most. The single most traumatic thing in someone's life plastered on billboards, and she showed not a single ounce of concern or compassion for him. The facial expressions on the other guys from the firehouse showed more concern for Casey's feelings. Imagine, if you will, Gabby's reaction if someone had plastered her parents' divorce on multiple billboards, or her ectopic pregnancy. Does anyone think she would've just blown it off? No. But because it was about Matt's trauma, she didn't GAF and neither did the show. Remember, back in Season 1, when the show acknowledged Matt had trauma? I miss that. So those of you waiting for happiness in this story, sorry, I'm not there just yet, I had to exorcise a few demons.
Chapter 11: All the Bacon
Sorry I missed a day yesterday: some things came up and I didn't get a chance to post.
Matt had managed leave for them both for the holiday weekend. She didn’t ask how. She didn’t ask what he’d promised or leveraged or how much overtime for himself he’d arranged in order to get them enough time to have four full days in Fowlerton – not including travel days. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, she just knew him well enough to know not to ask. His answer would upset her and ruin the good mood of it anyway. She had some time to keep working on him in regards to the whole over-working himself thingy. She idly wondered if Jack would inherit his father’s utter inability to not be working, or if that was purely learned behavior for Matt. She knew that he’d had multiple jobs all his adult life, that ‘adult life’ had pretty much started for him at sixteen, and she knew that he’d been hungry and homeless and barely clothed at times, but he’d always worked, even if it had sometimes been off-the-book construction labor or some other manual labor task. Trying to teach him how to rest was a challenge. So, these long weekends in Fowlerton, they were a chance to get him to slow down as well and she cherished that as much as she did the time with her parents.
The drive out to Fowlerton was made longer by the need to stop about halfway and feed Jack. He slept six hours at night (and how blessed was she, anyway, to have a not-quite-four-month-old who slept six hours each night?) but during the day he demanded – loudly – a meal pretty precisely every two hours. Even if she had been inclined to let him ‘cry it out’ about anything, food would not be that thing, and Matt, well, before Jack had even been born when they’d been reading books and pamphlets and websites and everything they could get their hands on about child-rearing, Matt Casey had made his opinion known on the idea of leaving his child to cry about anything ever. Jack’s merest whimper had Matt’s attention and intervention. She was going to need to work with him on that too, but for now, she figured no harm no foul – Jack was a champion sleeper anyway. So they pulled over at a familiar rest stop and she fed Jack, enjoying the sunshine while she sat on a relatively secluded bench. She wasn’t exactly ashamed of breastfeeding, but she felt a little odd about doing it with random strangers walking by. Matt had once asked her why, it wasn’t like she was doing anything private, personal, or sexual – if he could eat on a bench openly and no one stared, why couldn’t Jack? It was typically logical and typically Matt, but then, he’d also blushed a little when she responded that she hoped Matt didn’t see her breasts as the same thing as a Big Mac. Not that Matt was allowed to touch her breasts currently, but the point stood. Matt had, of course, supported her hybrid desire to not hide but also not be overly public – and he wasn’t a huge guy, but his fit form glaring at anyone who looked at her askance somehow made her feel warm (and was effective, she thought, at stalling any commentary that might’ve otherwise occurred). She had noticed that she got more sidelong looks from women than from men, which baffled her, but then, women were actually more judgmental about other women than men were in her experience.
Mom practically ran out of the house when they pulled in to the farm drive, going straight for the backseat as soon as the car was actually in park. She had Jack out of his car seat in seconds and in her arms. Thankfully, he seemed perfectly okay with the transition. Besides, Sylvie couldn’t help being slightly bitter in her thoughts, at least one of Jack’s grandmothers was excited. Nancy still hadn’t even met Jack. Matt and his mother were at complete loggerheads over her refusal to get a DTAP booster. Still. If Nancy thought she was going to outlast her stubborn son, she didn’t know her son very well at all. Besides, Sylvie didn’t understand the whole fuss to begin with. Everyone had to get a booster. Her parents hadn’t even asked a single question about it, just agreed and arranged it. If Nancy wanted to wait until Jack had had his complete course of vaccinations before she saw more than the pictures Sylvie sent, so be it. And if that meant Sylvie sent far less pictures to her mother-in-law than she did to her own parents out of pique or spite or whatever it was, well, that was on Nancy, too.
“He’s getting so big.” Mom gushed.
“I send you pictures almost daily.” Sylvie reminded.
“It’s not the same thing.” Mom insisted. “Your father is at the store, we were out of cheese of all things, for the burgers. There’s bacon already made, Matt, if you’re hungry and want to munch.”
“Bacon? At almost 1 o’clock?” There was no way that was left over from breakfast, especially since Mom was actually trying to reduce how much bacon Dad ate.
“For the burgers. Matt likes bacon on his burgers.” Mom defended readily.
“Matt would eat bacon on everything if you let him.” Sylvie rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to indulge him.”
“He’s too skinny. He needs to eat more.”
“He’s too skinny because he never slows down, not because he doesn’t eat.” Sylvie replied with a light laugh. She glanced at Matt, who was unpacking the trunk efficiently. “He also seems to think I’m going to start hemorrhaging or something horrific if I lift anything, even though Jack is nearly four months old.”
“I may not have been raised by a gentleman, but I don’t let women carry bags when I can do it.” Matt replied as he passed by, dropping a kiss to her cheek, and then one for Mom as well. “Good to see you, Grandma. Just to let you know, he’s about due for a change and our rule is whoever’s holding him gets to change him.”
“I’m hardly afraid of a dirty diaper.”
“He’s hit the age where he pees as soon as you open the diaper.” Sylvie remarked idly. “So, you know, be careful.”
“Ah, I remember that from Leo.” Mom nodded sagely. “Come on inside, Matt will get the rest of this stuff, I’m sure. You and Jack come in out of the heat.”
“She’s right, I’ve got this. He’s going to want a meal with that change most likely.” Matt was already back outside, popping a piece of bacon in his mouth. She’d wonder how he moved that fast, but when it came to bacon, Matt was swift as a ninja, maybe from years of dodging around Mouch – when it came to bacon and brownies actually. He could ferret them out from a hundred yards, too. It made her smile, though, to see him already smiling.
After lunch, they took Jack out on a larger ‘tour’ of the farm than he had gotten in June, not that Dad was afraid to show him those same things again. He was way too young to pay any attention, of course, but she figured it was much like Matt always insisted on taking him on the truck at the firehouse every time Cindy brought him by, more about the adult’s feelings than the baby’s at this point. Someday, she realized, Jack would be big enough to understand what his daddy did for a living, and maybe he’d even want to do it himself, but that was enough years away to seem like forever. She wasn’t sure she could stand sending her son into the sort of situations she sent (or well, his job sent) her husband. Hopefully Jack would pick something very safe and very boring to do for a living. Dad took great delight in showing his grandson around the family place, which had been in the family pretty much since Indiana had been settled by non-natives. Sylvie had been glad – especially since she left Fowlerton – that Leo was going to move back and take over in a few years, when Dad was ready to retire. Leo was as adopted as her, but he was still a Brett and this was the Brett place, and Dad was gleefully showing it off to another generation of the Brett family (even though his last name was Casey).
“You know, having a grandchild, after we thought we’d not even have children, it’s the greatest blessing of our lives.” Mom said softly to Sylvie, as Matt and Dad showed Jack the goat pens. Jack did seem to have some interest in the animals, at least. “We’re very grateful Matt makes the time for you all to get out here so often, practically every holiday.”
“He loves it here. Not enough to move here, give up his work, but…I think he finds it restful.” Sylvie tried to explain to her mother what Matt had never put into words himself. “And you spoil him now that you’ve decided all that scandal from before wasn’t so bad. You were worried he wasn’t good enough or something.”
“Well, I’m still not entirely over seeing him naked like that.” Mom admitted. “Though the most recent time was my own fault, walking into the master bath like that without thinking. I admit, it did make part of his appeal to you very clear.”
“Mom.” Sylvie cringed a little.
“I’m just saying, he is a very handsome and well-built man.” Mom paused, a soft smile crossing her features. “He’s also desperately in love with you, and that’s what your father and I most needed to know. He’s dependable, someone we can trust with you, and now our grandchild. He’s not the type to…to change his mind later. It seems so many people, men and women, are quick to walk away these days. And he’s divorced, which made me wonder. Or he’s whatever it is the Catholics do.”
“His marriage was annulled, which means it never existed, in the Church. Legally it did. So under the law he’s divorced from Gabby.”
“The ex-husband of your old partner…Sylvie, you managed to find a small-town soap-opera complication in one of the biggest cities on the continent. Have you talked to Gabby at all about it?”
“She knows we’re married.” Sylvie answered with a sigh. “She knows about Jack now, though neither of us told her. She came by the firehouse a couple weeks ago. She, well, she didn’t take it well. She wanted kids. She left him over trying to get pregnant.”
“Matt didn’t want kids? He’s…he’s clearly over the moon about Jack, has been since you got pregnant.”
“Matt has wanted kids and a family since he was a kid himself.” Sylvie reassured. “He’s a natural family man in so many ways, I think he’s a more natural parent than I am, and I’m not even being insecure about myself there, he’s just so…good with Jack. Gabby had an ectopic pregnancy. Before they were married. God, their relationship was such a soap opera. They were engaged. Then she wanted to be a firefighter and apparently the only opening for a candidate in the entire city of Chicago was in our firehouse on Matt’s truck.”
“His wife can’t work for him, though – you two can only work in the same house so long as he doesn’t make it to Chief, right? Because then you’re under his command in some way.”
“Basically, yeah. Right now, Matt files some of our paperwork, leave and things, but he’s not my supervisor in any way so it works. Though Chief had to negotiate it a bit, it’s not common to keep spouses in a house on the same shift.” Sylvie confirmed. “They basically had to break up for her to work under him. But they still…then the break up was real for a while. Then they got back together unofficially. She got pregnant, but it was ectopic, so not viable. That caused complications, that, well, from what I got from Matt, left about a ten percent chance she’d fatally hemorrhage if she got pregnant – he’d lose her and the baby both, most likely in that case. In between, they’d fostered and tried to adopt and lost that boy, Gabby came back to working on the ambulance, they got married, and fostered a teenage girl, and Gabby wanted a baby. Matt said they could adopt. He says he also considered talking about surrogacy but he worried she’d…well, I think he thought she’d see it as some sort of cheating on her, though that’s not at all how surrogacy is done, and it would’ve been her egg, I think.”
“Let me guess. She didn’t think adoption counted as really her child.”
“Matt said it was more fear of losing the baby to the ‘real’ parents, like Louie – the boy they’d had before. She wanted her own baby. There’s a lot messy there, things he’s half-said, about how he wasn’t all that sure she cared if it was his, as long as it was hers. But she was hurt, to find out that while their final fight was about him not wanting her to get pregnant, he and I had Jack, and so soon after getting married.”
“You can’t worry about her hurt feelings, Sylvie. Neither of you set out to hurt her, and if you’ll pardon a mother’s point of view, she hurt you first.” Mom paused, looking at Matt carefully. “I think she hurt him first, actually. I see it sometimes, a look in his eyes, like he has to earn every bit of affection, like if he steps a toe over some line he can’t see, we’ll turn our backs and spurn him. So yes, I spoil him when he’s here. That young man needs more love and mothering than even you can give him, sweetheart – more than I think any one person could give him. Still, fatherhood sits well on him.”
“I’m pretty lucky. My boys are pretty great.”
“Jack looks a lot like you. Though, you and Matt have such similar coloring, it might just be that I knew you as a baby, and not him. What’s his mother say?”
“Nothing. I send pictures. No response. She hasn’t come to see him. Won’t get vaccination boosters and Matt will not budge on that. Not for his mother. Not for the Pope himself, I think.”
“She’s an odd woman. But then,” Mom shrugged a little, “who is to say what fifteen years in prison after an abusive marriage would do to anyone? She must’ve been different, before. It’s hard to picture what little I know of his parents turning out the Matt I know.”
“Sometimes, I think he’s, this sounds really corny, but I think he’s kind of a miracle. He shouldn’t be who he is. Oh, the strong and stubborn bits, that makes sense, and his mistrust of relationships, that too, but he’s good and kind and compassionate and not at all self-pitying. He never asks ‘why me’ – not that I’ve ever heard anyway. He cares about people, a lot more than he thinks anyone cares about him, and that’s really pretty rare.”
“He’s a good match for you. Which is why I make him all the bacon he wants to eat.”
Chapter 12: Not What I Would've Picked Out
Saturday of Labor Day weekend was always the county bazaar. Sylvie had no idea when the tradition got started. It wasn’t as big as the Corn Festival in early October, but it was still one of those big traditions she remembered from childhood. Every month had something (she wondered if that was a conscious small-town thing, once a month some sort of communal event) – except January but she was pretty sure that everyone was just strung out from the overly busy December so were uninterested each January. September’s ‘thing’ was the bazaar. It was part flea market, part craft market, part Christmas market, part food fair, part fundraiser, and even a tiny bit of local art festival. As always, her parents were involved with the church stall, which was just talking up the mission trips they helped fund in order to get donations. Mom also donated substantial amounts of baked goods to her local Red Hat Society, that stall was a few up from the church. Matt wrinkled his nose at the idea of mission trips until he’d read some of the literature and realized that it was more about building things in poor areas than much real proselytizing. He liked helping people, he just didn't like the idea of preaching at them, apparently.
“I thought about doing this.” Matt gestured at some of the pictures of a trip a few years back when the project had been helping build homes in some Central American country, Sylvie couldn’t remember which right at the moment. El Salvador, she was pretty sure. Her parents hadn't gone on that trip, nor had Leo, but she was sure some people she knew had gone. She knew pretty much the entire church community after all.
“I signed up for a similar trip, though it was in Appalachia, in high school: I did the fundraising, most of it anyway, but couldn’t actually go.”
“My foster parents wouldn’t sign the permission form.” Matt shrugged, but looked a little thoughtful. “They were jerks, actually. I’m allowed to say that, Dr. Sandlin says it’s healthy and not actually a sign that I’m an inconsiderate ungrateful little shit.”
“Is that what they said?” Sylvie winced a little.
“Ah, no, actually, that was my uncle Gary. Married to my dad’s sister.” Matt informed her, probably well aware that since he almost never mentioned any family beyond his sister and niece, she’d have no idea who anyone was. “I lived with Gary and Diane just after that particular set of foster parents, the summer after sophomore year. Mr. and Mrs. Comer, I never knew their first names. I lived with them from, I guess early March to early June.”
“How many foster homes did you have?” Sylvie asked softly.
“God, I’m not sure I counted. Just the homes or the institutions too?”
“Not like mental institutions.” Matt half-smiled at her. “The group homes, basically orphanages by another name. Let’s see, there was the emergency placement the first week after, then when they thought I needed ‘help’ there was a therapeutic group home, then in January I stayed with a friend of my mom’s for several weeks, then she got transferred out of state in March, so a week at another group home to find a place to put me, then the Comers, then Gary and Diane, then it was a group home for ‘troubled’ boys because I was fighting too much, that was…late summer, start of junior year, then the D’Orazios for...almost three months, then another group home for a couple weeks I think, then a rehabilitative program for ‘troubled boys’ again, that was over Christmas junior year, through February, a short emergency place in March, then Lee and Sue – my mom’s sister and her husband – that was the rest of junior year, then a residential camp for ‘troubled boys’ that summer, are you noticing a pattern? And then I was with Aintin Jo for senior year. So how many is that? Fourteen I think.”
“Fourteen in three years.” She almost whistled. It was tragically impressive.
“I was a hard kid to like.” Matt looked away, his voice soft. “My social worker said I was hard to place. No one much wanted to keep me around.”
“You are a very easy man to love.” Sylvie disagreed with him firmly but quietly.
“I’m a little different at thirty-nine than I was at sixteen or seventeen.” Matt reminded her gently, but he was smiling softly, too. She didn’t think her Matt could ever have been hard to love. She also didn’t think he would really hear anything she said disagreeing with what he’d been told back then, at least, not yet. It didn't matter what the truth had been; that amount of turnover had done as much as any words she figured to set in his mind that he wasn't the type of person people kept around.
“What made the Comers jerks anyway? Besides not letting you go on that trip?”
“They were running a jail not a foster home.” Matt shook his head. “No television or 'popular media' like newspapers or magazines. No unapproved books or music. Had daily 'family time' that was just the parents lecturing on sin and stuff from the Bible. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere other than school and their church on Wednesday night and Sunday morning. When I protested that I was Catholic and would rather go to Mass, Mrs. Comer told me that since my parents were ‘papists’ it completely explained my mother’s actions, oh, and my father was in hell because he worshiped idols.”
“She said that?”
“Yep. Said it was their duty to take me to a ‘proper’ church so I could be ‘Christianized’. Mr. Comer said they couldn't let me go on a Catholic-based mission trip, so he wouldn't sign the form. Mrs. Comer said a lot of things about the evils of Papists. Mrs. Comer didn’t really like it when I pointed out to her that the Catholic Church was effectively the only Christian church for well over a millennia, so all Christians were basically Catholics at the root.” Matt shrugged.
“Yeah, not always a popular point of view I can bet.”
“Got me out of that house, though.”
“She kicked you out for that?”
“Nah, I got moved – my social worker found out that I was on ‘punishment’ and pulled me. Punishment at Mrs. Comer’s house meant you were shunned - no one would look at you or talk to you, and no food until she was satisfied you were sorry, because they didn't believe in striking a child.” Matt shook his head again and scoffed. “I was right and refused to say I wasn’t. I might be a little bit stubborn.”
“A little bit?”
“Mrs. Comer had clearly never met an Irishman with a cause he believed in, and hadn't read any history about well trying to convert the Irish has ever worked. Ten days later, one of the younger kids told her social worker on her regular visit, and I left that afternoon. Mrs. Fitzmaurice, my social worker at the time, took me out to a little diner first thing: I hadn’t eaten at a restaurant in months. It was the best burger, I remember that.” Matt was smiling at the memory, but Sylvie was horrified. He hadn’t said it outright, but he’d implied pretty heavily that he wasn’t given anything to eat for ten days. She hoped he’d at least gotten lunch at school but…what if not? How had that felt for a teenage boy? If any boy was going to hold out a hunger strike on stubborn principle, it would be her Matt, but to starve a child in your care…. And Matt, who at 39 still had the sort of metabolism that meant he lost weight if he ate less than like 2,500 calories a day.
“Did they stay as foster parents?”
“I think so, don't know.” Matt shrugged. “It was just me who was the problem. The other kids were fine, almost never on punishment and never for more than half a day before they, uh, caved, I guess. I was angry and stubborn. I know, so unlike me.” He smiled at her.
“And your uncle told you that you were an ‘ungrateful little shit’ for not liking these people?”
“Uncle Gary was – probably still is – under the distinct impression that I’m basically worthless. I don’t know why.” Matt looked thoughtful. “It wasn’t Mom killing Dad. I was surprised they took me at all, he always hated me. Called me…a lot of things, ever since I can remember. His favorite was just ‘faggot’. I'm still not entirely sure the man knew my first name.”
“Why? You’re not, not that if you were gay he should have called you that, but you’re not.”
“He was so sure of it, almost made me…for a while I worried. That he was right. I didn’t think he was, I knew how much I liked, uh, the female figure.”
“Nice way to put that.” Sylvie almost chuckled.
“But I thought, if he was so sure, what if I was? What if? And then my dad started believing it, because I was still a virgin even by the time he died-“
“He died when you were barely sixteen.”
“It’s almost, well, funny isn’t the right word, but I think what he said to Mom to set her off, make her go kill him, I think it was about me being a faggot – it’s what he’d said to me that night after all – and he died because of it, and he was wrong all along.” Matt shook his head, looking genuinely bemused. “I’m so straight I don’t even notice gay guys hitting on me, at least, that’s what Eric and Ritter said to me when we went out.”
“What are you two talking about so seriously over here?” Mom arrived, Jack in her arms (as usual). “You look far too dour for the bazaar. This is supposed to be fun.”
“Ah, just a…trip down memory lane for me.” Matt managed a warm enough smile. Jack was clearly fussy and tired, and Matt reached out to his son. “You ready for some quiet time, Jack?”
Jack, in not an unusual fashion for his age, when he was newly holding himself upright, managed to almost fling himself at Matt who of course caught him easily and Jack was soon enough seemingly content with his ear over Matt’s heart as Matt headed out to the car. She’d no doubt find them both curled up (Matt rather squished) in the back seat taking a nap if she went outside in a little bit. Jack would nap in his car seat, but would sleep better on Matt’s chest anyway and while it wasn’t a habit she wanted to let develop into routine, she found it pretty adorable. She also suspected Matt might need some quiet time himself after thinking about all of that crap from his past.
Matt reappeared about 90 minutes later, both of her boys looking rather adorably like they'd just woken up, though Jack was clearly protesting his imminent starvation. Sylvie took one of her several breaks from the bazaar to feed Jack. Once he was contentedly ensconced back with her parents, she grabbed her husband's arm and set off to feed herself and Matt. Although a lot of people wanted to stop by and ‘meet’ her parents’ new grandson, Sylvie had given strict orders that he was not to be passed around to strangers (or near strangers) – he mostly hung out in his car seat, earning lots of adult attention without being passed back and forth like a football. Matt had very blatantly set a bottle of hand sanitizer next to the car seat, and whatever he’d said to her parents had them enforcing his dictate about the use of it. At least she and Matt had time to wander about just the two of them. It felt like they rarely got to do anything just the two of them anymore. Matt found a pork tenderloin sandwich that had him pulling faces that made Sylvie think filthy thoughts, and she grabbed a loose meat sandwich, then they picked up snack foods here and there, including corn fritters which it turned out Matt loved. The Red Hat Society ladies made a production of him, which made Matt blush, but he didn't seem to mind the cookies, brownies, and other treats that went along with their attentions.
The bazaar shut down at 9 pm, and Matt automatically helped with breaking down the stalls and such things. He moved efficiently and the easy strength of him was clearly appreciated by lots of people, including Sylvie herself. Somehow, he made it sort of sexy, but maybe it was just her knowledge of the exact delicious ways those muscles could be put to use. Some admirers were women Sylvie knew, and if she didn’t like that they were checking out her husband, she also didn’t exactly feel threatened. Matt was oblivious to it, mostly chatting to Dad and his friends about anything that struck them: she loved that Matt was actually capable of talking about farming now, at least a little, and she thrilled to overhear Dad bragging on Matt a few times. It wasn’t the same kind of bragging he did about Jack, but still, it was nice.
Once back at the farm, Mom gushed about how much of a ‘hit’ Jack had been, but Sylvie’s favorite moment of the day came when she realized Matt had fallen asleep on the living room sofa, Jack on his chest, both of them apparently sleepy after a long busy day and a full tummy: Mom had insisted on making Matt a ‘small snack’ when they got home and he’d been polite enough to devour it while Sylvie had fed his son. The two of them sleeping like that always made her melt, but that night, somehow, it felt even more special. Maybe it was just a bit of confirmation, seeing Mom melt over it, too. Maybe it was seeing it in her childhood home, in the living room that already held so many of her best and warmest memories. Maybe it was the realization that her son was going to be so deeply loved every moment of his life that he’d never be riddled with the insecurities his father was: even if there were going to be times Sylvie messed up as a mom, Matt would be there for Jack, and she’d cover Matt’s mistakes the same way – together, Jack was going to grow up happy and healthy and strong. And sweet, like his dad.
“I want to keep them both like this forever.” She confessed softly to Mom. “Safe and healthy and happy, all of us together.”
“I’ve never seen a baby so likely to want Daddy at bedtime, even over Mommy.”
“I’m the lunch counter.” Sylvie smiled, as they left the living room and went back into the kitchen. “Matt is the comfort station. I think Jack got that from me: my favorite sleeping place is Matt’s arms, where I can hear his heart beat under my ear, too. He’s more comfortable than you might think, given he’s all muscle.”
“Everything’s okay?” Mom asked after a moment's silence where she was clearly in thought.
“Why do you ask?”
“Matt seems…stressed. Quieter. I know he must be tired, but…I worry. For you and Jack, and Matt, too.”
“Matt’s therapy is difficult.” Sylvie admitted. She didn't regret it, at all, but it was hard on him and consequently, on them. “I’m glad he’s going, but he’s working through some painful things and it’s wearing him out, emotionally and psychologically. It’s part of why I really pushed to come here for the long weekend. He needs a break from everything. He thinks he’s Superman.”
“Every good man wants to be Superman for his wife and kids.” Mom hugged her gently. “And you can’t blame them. It’s evolutionary, I suppose. Women nest. Men defend the nest. If he’s Superman, that means whoever he’s protecting is always safe. Why do you think so many little boys like all those superheroes? Leo was forever ‘protecting’ me from some bad guy in his games. I’ll bet Matt was the same way with his mother.”
“I don’t think Matt’s bad guy was always in his imagination.”
“His father.” Mom nodded. "Is the therapy helping with that, then?"
“Sometimes, his nightmares are memories, I think. He doesn’t normally talk in his sleep, but if he’s starting to wake up, jerk himself out of a dream, he will. Sometimes they're stuff about his parents,” Sylvie found a half-smile, “and some of them are like mine – new fears of something happening to Jack.”
“Oh, get used to those.” Mom hugged her again. “I still have nightmares about something happening to you or Leo. Or your father.” She paused. “Not Jack, not yet, thank God. But Matt, too now.”
“You have nightmares about Matt?”
“Every time I hear about a firefighter somewhere being killed, I worry more for a few days. What he does for a living, it’s admirable but terrifying. He’s a brave man, Sylvie, and brave men sometimes don’t come home. Sometimes, I have nightmares about that, about you and Jack being left...well, it's been a good day and I don't want to dwell. And that’s why I cannot understand his mother.”
“No one understands Nancy.” Sylvie sighed. "Not even her children."
“How can she be content to let any bad feeling between them linger, knowing what he does? Isn’t she scared that he might…be gone, someday, and they’ve left some sort of bad feelings between them?”
“I haven’t spoken to her, but Matt says she’s offended by his insistence she gets a shot. Everyone has to get the booster, not just her, but she thinks he’s…well, he thinks she thinks he’s singling her out because she was in prison.”
“Did he tell her-“
“Oh, he’s told her. More than once.” Sylvie had heard his half of the conversations after all. “I think she thinks he’s lying to her. Or maybe she’s just crazy; I can’t even tell with her. I barely know her.”
“Selfishly, I’m happy to be the only grandparents in contention for the holidays. I love that we get you guys for every long weekend and the holidays.” Mom admitted with a small smile. “But for Matt’s sake, I hope it’s mended soon.”
"Me, too. Matt loves coming out here, but sometimes, I think...when his mom got out, he thought there'd be family holidays and things again, maybe he'd get to have some normal family things again, but it hasn't worked out that way."
"It's her loss. I hope he knows that."
"Well, I don't know about for himself, but he definitely knows that her not meeting Jack yet is her loss. Not so much Jack's, as Matt says, because Jack already has enough grandparent love for all four grandparents just from you and Dad."
"We do adore him. Your father nearly took out that billboard. You think I'm joking."
"No, I don't actually. That's why I'm laughing." Sylvie explained.
"Oh, and remind me in the morning to tell Matt that your father has all the wood and things ready for Hank's grandson's crib. I'm surprised Matt agreed to build it, or rather, that he has time."
"Well, it's nearly winter. He'll probably work on that, it's inside at least. And you know he'd do anything for you guys. Dad asked."
"He's a good man, your Matt. Not what I would've picked out for you, I admit, but I would've been wrong."
Chapter 13: First Anniversary
This...starts as fluff and devolves into filth. Then again, we need more fluff in 2020 and I've never been one to shy away from the filth either ;)
Quick thanks to those of you still leaving comments: I do appreciate them, so much. Readership on this fic is down from previous ones, and it's nice to know some people are still avidly reading along with my fantasy universe. Reader Mack lee asked to see the first anniversary, and hopefully this obliges you!
Matt had insisted that they spend the entire day of their first wedding anniversary as a celebration. Sylvie wasn’t sure she understood why he wanted that so much, but she wasn’t going to argue with him taking a day entirely off any kind of work. He worked too much. He’d agreed to cover shifts for other officers to get cover for his own for the trip to Fowlerton (the CFD permitted it, semi-officially, as long as the swaps were done in the same pay period) and then he had increasing amounts of construction work. Sometimes she regretted that Instagram because it had created more work for him: people found him because of it, but then his new customers posted pictures of their new bathroom or whatever and of course they politely mentioned his company’s name (Matt said he asked them not to name him, specifically, but the company) and that brought in more new customers, and so on. It was exactly what she’d hoped for, but she hadn’t counted on just how full Matt Casey could schedule himself. So having him to herself, well, her and Jack, for a whole day was an almost unheard of luxury.
They started the morning with a long lie-in. She brought Jack into the bed with her after he was changed, and she fed him while she ran her fingers gently through Matt’s hair, encouraging him to go back to sleep. He wasn’t sleeping enough, and for once he’d had a peaceful night, so she wanted him to relax back into rest. He did, surprisingly enough, and she hung out with both her dozing boys. It might not seem like a great start to a morning, but it was. She managed to slip out of the bed, putting Jack in his bassinet (which he was quickly going to outgrow, she noticed), without waking either of her boys, and enjoyed a leisurely hot shower. Matt was awake and upright as she finished, and after a few minutes of kissing that might have led to more if he was entirely awake, she pushed him towards the shower and took Jack downstairs to make breakfast.
Once they had a leisurely breakfast and got everyone ready to go, they headed for Lincoln Park. Matt wanted to go to the zoo and the nature museum. Sylvie knew that the Notebaert Nature Museum was more for her than for him or Jack, but she was truly looking forward to the butterfly room, and she also knew that Matt loved zoos and aquariums, so of course he wanted to start early the tradition of taking their son. Jack was going to sleep a few times during the day, but it still promised to be a great family day out. They slowly made their way through the museum, and Sylvie must’ve taken dozens of pictures and videos in the butterfly room. It was amazing and Jack woke up for it, which made it even better, because the butterflies’ brilliant colors fascinated him – and she and Matt had only had to catch his hands a few times to keep him from accidentally injuring one (at his age, he had no idea how to gently do anything, his limbs still were semiautonomous it seemed). Jack needed to be fed before they did anything else, so she found a mostly quiet place to nurse. He then conveniently conked out for the stroll over to Lincoln Park Zoo, and they were able to eat their own lunch there in relative peace before he woke up sharing the misery of a very soiled diaper. Once that, and her own pressing bladder-related needs were seen to, Matt led her on a tour of his favorite parts of the zoo.
They started in the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, while Jack was awake and mostly able to see from his stroller. The ‘underwater’ view of the seals was also a firm favorite, with Jack clearly fascinated as the seals swam by repeatedly. Sylvie didn’t pay much attention to what Matt was telling Jack, preferring to soak in the feel of the day, the general tone of Matt’s voice as he talked to their son about what he was seeing. Then, while Jack slept in his stroller, she and Matt walked the Nature Boardwalk. God, it had been so long since they just talked. Not about Jack or work or schedules or some problem one of them had, but just talked about everything and nothing at all. For that alone, it was a wonderful day. The sun was shining, they weren't in any hurry, they were together, and it felt like a day without any worries.
Once Jack was awake, she again found someplace quiet to feed him and then they headed back inside the zoo proper. A family bathroom visit later (this time it was Jack and Matt who both needed the facilities), they were headed to what else than the arctic: the polar bear was interesting enough, but Sylvia took a long video of Jack’s reaction to the penguins. Matt was secretly (well, semi-secretly) a bit of a penguin fanatic, and Jack had seemed fascinated from the start. Matt ended up seated next to the stroller, up against the exhibit’s glass, explaining to an undoubtedly completely uncomprehending Jack all about this particular type of penguin and why it was better suited to an outdoor exhibit at the zoo compared to the penguins they’d see when they went to the aquarium in the future, its diet, its natural habitat, and quite a bit of other penguin trivia. Sylvie wanted a record for posterity of the small gaggle of children that discretely gathered around, listening to him. When he was passionate and interested, Matt was a very good speaker, and it was adorable to watch him accidentally hold a little class on penguins. Jack watched the penguins, though, pretty avidly, and fussed each time she tried to encourage her boys on to somewhere else. Maybe Matt's inexplicable love for swimming flightless birds was genetic. Or maybe he just liked watching the penguins, who were quite active this visit. By mid-afternoon, though, they really did have to leave the zoo so they could run Jack up to Christie’s. She had agreed to keep him, overnight even, so the adults could celebrate their anniversary ‘properly’ as Christie put it. Sylvie wasn't sure how she felt about Matt's older sister clearly championing their renewed sex life, but she was willing to accept it, nonetheless.
Technically, the first anniversary theme was supposed to be paper. She thought that was kind of a silly theme, which she’d pointed out to Matt only for him to shrug and say newlyweds used to be young and poor, so paper made sense. She wasn’t entirely sure his reasoning was historically accurate. She also wasn't sure he was going to get her anything paper. They exchanged gifts before leaving for dinner. She had opted for kind of being on theme and got him tickets for a Blackhawks game, against Nashville, which she didn't know much about hockey still, but she did know Matt and Kelly used even more cuss words than usual when watching the Blackhawks play the Nashville team (Raptors? Something like that, she didn't know sports teams very well) so she figured it was some sort of rivalry. She ended up wearing Matt's gift, a beautiful emerald pendant on a silver chain. They barely made it to dinner, because when he explained the emerald as Jack's birthstone, so he considered that the more proper theme for their first year, she nearly had him right there and then. Instead, they kept to their plans (after she did her best to kiss his face off, anyway). They went to a wonderful Italian restaurant and gorged themselves on pasta and bread with olive oil and herbs. She had almost kicked Matt under the table when he ordered tortellini paesano. He had this thing he did, getting the sauce of the tortellini, it was subtle but now she couldn’t help seeing it, the things his tongue could do, and it made her think of his tongue which inevitably led directly to her thinking about sex, again.
After dinner, Matt took her for a drink at Cindy’s on the rooftop of the Chicago Athletic Association. She’d never actually been there, though Matt said he had, but once she stepped out onto the rooftop patio, she was in love. The view was spectacular, out over Millennium Park towards the lake, with the city lights and the reflections off the dark expanse of Lake Michigan. Matt appeared at her elbow a few minutes later, handing her a pink cocktail. She took a drink, enjoying the sweet flavor of it.
“What’s in this?”
“A few things, some rose wine, but mostly, tequila is the active ingredient.”
“Tequila?” It wasn’t that she disliked tequila, in the right mood she loved a good margarita, but it wasn’t either of their go-to alcohols.
“Mmmm.” He pulled her into his body, kissing her softly. “I like you when you’ve been drinking tequila."
"You just like drunk-Sylvie because she’s lewd.”
“True. But tequila, as that country song says, makes your clothes fall off.”
“You hate country music. I have to force you to listen to it.” Sylvie laughed lightly. He really did complain any time she controlled the radio.
“Even country music has a couple songs that speak the truth about life, and tequila makes your clothes fall off.” Matt grinned cheekily.
“Are you drinking tequila then?” She wouldn’t mind getting him out of his clothes, either, come to think about it.
“No.” He laughed. “It’s Scotch.”
“Can I try it?”
“You won’t like it.”
“How do you know?”
“Because you pull a face every time you drink Scotch.”
“Well, you don’t put anything with it.” Sylvie pointed out. “It’s never in a cocktail or anything, you just drink pure alcohol, well, not pure alcohol, that would kill you. Straight liquor.”
“I like Scotch.” Matt shrugged. "Though some purists would say I don't drink it right, anyway, I like it on the rocks."
“Well, teach me to like it.”
“Because I want to share things with you.”
“You can’t force yourself to like Scotch because I do.” Matt was smiling at her though, and that meant he liked the idea. Or at least he liked that she wanted to take an interest in something he enjoyed.
“Let me try it.”
“Fine.” He handed over his drink, and she took a careful sip. She couldn’t help it, she did in fact pull a face at the taste. Matt laughed lightly. “I told you you wouldn’t like it. It’s a Laphroaig.”
“La frog? Is that a French Scotch? Is that even a thing, French Scotch?”
“Laphroaig.” Matt repeated, chuckling still. “It’s an Islay whisky, Islay is an island in Scotland, Laphroaig is known for the amount of peat…never mind all that. You know, I think if you want a gateway into whisky, we should start you with bourbon. It’s sweeter and it’s a related whisky. You may not ever like the peat-heavy stuff that I do.”
“It’s sort of soil, mostly, it’s burned to dry the grain – barley usually - and gives the whisky that smoky flavor.”
“How can you like the taste of smoke?”
“Well, I am a smoke-eater.” Matt grinned at her, pulling her back into his side. “If you really want to try a bourbon, I’ll order you one for the next round.”
“Did you start with bourbon?”
“You mean when I got into whisky or when I started drinking alcohol at all?”
“Doesn’t everyone start with beer, or maybe wine?” Sylvie asked. That seemed to be what everyone she had known started with anyway.
“No. I started with a 7-and-7.”
“A kind of cocktail, I don’t think they’ve been popular in like forty years. I have no idea what the proportion is supposed to be, but my uncle drank them about half Seagram’s 7 whiskey and half 7-up.”
“Was that when you were living with them?”
“No, different uncle. My dad had two brothers. His older brother, my uncle Frank, died when I was, oh, seven, I think. Uncle Frank gave me my first drink of 7-and-7 when I was four years old.”
“You’re shitting me.” She couldn’t help it, she didn’t usually curse, especially now that she was practicing for when Jack actually repeated words he word, but she turned a little to look up at his face. Matt just took another drink, but he was smiling, like the memory was fond. "He gave you whiskey at four?"
“Casey men are drinkers.” Matt shook his head. “Irish, you know. I thought Uncle Frank had a soda, which my mom didn’t really let me have. I asked him if I could have a drink. He gave me the glass. I took a nice big gulp. And I reacted about like you do to whisky now.”
“That’s good to know.”
“What? Did you think I was a drunk before I started kindergarten?” Matt laughed. “No, when I got older, it was mostly beer, it’s cheaper usually. Got into my twenties and started trying whisky; Irish of course to start, then moved over to Scottish whisky. I’m not much of one for sweet drinks, bourbon wasn’t my favorite.”
“But you think I’ll like it?”
“You like sweeter drinks.” Matt shrugged. “Even if you develop a taste for Scotch, you might prefer a Speyside to Islay, or a Highland, maybe even a Lowland Scotch. And don’t worry, I’ll explain as we go what those terms mean.”
“Do you mind? Teaching me?”
“To drink whisky? Only if you stop drinking tequila. Unless we find out that whisky has the same effect on you.”
“You just want in my pants.”
“Absolutely I do.” Matt turned her, and pulled her into a deep searching kiss. “Though tonight, it’s more that I want up the skirt of that dress.”
“Later. When we’re at home.”
She was pretty drunk by the time they were in the Uber headed back home. It had been a while since she had more than one drink in a night. She cuddled into Matt’s side, and despite the awkward angle pulled him into a deep kiss. She loved kissing him. She wasn’t sure how, but the smoky taste of the Scotch tasted much better in his mouth than it did in the glass. She chased the flavor and consequently swallowed the little groans from Matt. She knew he loved feeling pursued, she figured everyone did, but Matt really loved it when she took charge. She didn’t stop kissing him until they were home and had to get out of the car. She kept her hands and her mouth to herself (hard as that was) until they were inside. Then she pushed him up against the wall of the foyer and dropped to her knees in front of him.
“Don’t tell me that me being in this position doesn’t turn you on.” She smiled up at him. She knew as well as he did at this point that she could get him started with her mouth but he was too wide for her to finish him like that. She also knew the sight of her on her knees in front of him made his pupils blow wide and his respiratory and heart rate increase.
“God, I wish…” Matt trailed off, his right hand running through her hair on top her head.
“I want to taste you tonight.” She told him honestly before opening his pants and pulling trousers and underwear both down to about mid-thigh. He was already getting hard, and she didn’t have the luxury of teasing him to full hardness and then getting to taste him. So she went straight for what she most wanted, the feel and taste of him in her mouth, and the way he reacted to the feel of it. She sucked gently, having learned that he was more sensitive than she would’ve thought, before he got hard. Once he was hard, oddly enough his cock was almost less sensitive somehow, or maybe his nerves just warmed up, but if she went too hard too fast he jumped away a bit like he’d been shocked instead of that delicious groan and arch into her attentions. God, she loved doing this for him. She’d never disliked giving blowjobs, but something about doing it for Matt, who seemed to consider it a near-sacred gift, well, it was intoxicating in its own right. Eventually, though, no matter how much she enjoyed doing it, her jaw just would not accommodate him. She stood back up, her hands running so lightly up his body because she knew that the lighter touch made him crazier than a heavy touch.
“You said something earlier about wanting up the skirt of my dress.”
“That’s the general idea.” Sylvie almost laughed. Matt was never the most verbose man, but when he devolved to single syllable words and cursing, that was a good sign (well, in this situation anyway). She gasped as he spun her around, pulling her ass into his crotch, she could feel the press of his erection along the bottom of her ass. His left hand was on her hips, holding her against him, while his right groped along her chest. She ground back against him, earning an inchoate groan. Keeping a firm hold on her hips, he suddenly pushed down on her shoulder, bending her to basically a 90 degree angle. She might’ve fallen forward except he held her up and her arms instinctively caught on the stairs to the second floor.
“Stay there.” She did. She didn’t want to mess with that tone of voice, though a part of her kind of did, just to see what his reaction would be. She was glad she was holding herself up, because Matt dropped to his own knees behind her and her underwear was at her ankles before she could so much as blink, and he was returning the favor heartily. It always felt different from this angle, just as fantastic just different, and she spread her legs a bit more to better accommodate him between her thighs. She had a brief flash of a time when she thought she didn’t like this, damn if Matt Casey hadn’t converted her.
“Matt, please.” She complained, as he abandoned her when she was nearly there.
“Stay there.” He repeated firmly, a hand coming down on the center of her back. She felt him flip her skirt up, and
“Fuck!” She couldn’t help it, that hurt. Not badly, but enough to surprise her.
“Sorry.” He eased out, having thrust too deep at first, then adjusted and went a little slower and shallower, getting into a rhythm. Once she was sure she was adjusted, she thrust back to meet him, wordlessly urging him faster and deeper again. He felt so big, he always felt big, but she didn’t think she’d ever felt more full as his hips slammed into hers, the thrusts fast enough and hard enough that she could feel his balls swinging against her as well. God, it was so fucking good, but not quite good enough to force her over the cliff into oblivion, just skate at the edge endlessly, as he kept fucking her. After several minutes, and his own increasingly erratic thrusts, she felt his fingers on her clit and it took seconds for her to happily fly into orgasm, knowing he was following right behind her.
“We should go upstairs.” Matt spoke after a couple moments. He pulled out, helping steady her as she stood back upright.
“There’s cake, it’s traditional-“
“There’s something I want to eat, but it’s not cake.”
“Matt, you just-“
“Some things I never get my fill of.” He damn near leered at her.
“Cake, then more sex?” She offered as a compromise. She really did want to have that saved bit of wedding cake to mark their one-year anniversary. Matt kissed her, his tongue tangling around hers, before he let her breathe freely again several minutes later.
“More sex. Then cake. Then more sex.””
“You’re very ambitious for a man who is nearly forty.” Sylvie pointed out with a laugh. "And we need to get some sleep tonight."
“You know, we could combine two and three.”
“More sex and cake?”
“I can think of worse things than tasting you and chocolate cake at the same time.”
“You’re not putting cake there.” She was not risking a nasty yeast infection for his little sudden inspiration.
“Not in there, no. But icing around…that I would love to try.”
“You are filthy.” Sylvie told him, but she was smiling because she wouldn’t mind doing cake body shots off him either. “But I like you filthy. And I want to eat off your abs. You have very nicely firm abs. I've wanted to do that for years now. We need whip cream, too.”
“Because I’ve had a secret fantasy about licking whip cream off the head of your dick since…well, pretty much since the first time I saw your dick.”
“I must be the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet.” Matt shook his head, then kissed her again, before leading her towards the kitchen, instead of upstairs, which she took as agreement to her plan for cake and whip cream.
Chapter 14: A Halloween Party
Matt didn’t exactly share in the typical love for Halloween. Sylvie was pretty sure that he’d never really loved it (he wasn’t much of the dress up in costume type) and then with all the ‘fun’ calls on Halloween every time the shift schedule set them up to work that particular night it had spoiled the holiday entirely for him. He didn’t hate Halloween or anything, he just didn’t care to participate in any way. Nonetheless, he had agreed to attend the theme night at Molly’s again this year, very reluctantly letting Violet and her friend, Sadie, babysit for a few hours. It was the first time they were going to leave Jack with anyone other than Mom or Cindy, really – well, their anniversary with Christie that one time, and a couple short times Kelly had come over and kicked them both out of the house long enough to grab a drink together at Molly’s. Kelly was surprisingly good with a baby, and Jack seemed to like his Uncle Kelly, but those had only been for like half an hour or an hour. This was several hours left in the care of someone who had never been a parent. Sylvie was a little nervous about it, Matt was more nervous, but they needed to get used to it and why not try it on for size when they were just across the street? Jack was nearly six months old. It would be fine. Both girls were certified in things like infant CPR (Matt had checked) and Jack knew Violet. Sylvie hadn’t entirely been certain why Violet volunteered, until Matt admitted that Violet and Sadie were inviting a few more friends over later for some sort of scary movie marathon and a sleepover in the basement. None of the girls’ parents apparently permitted R-rated horror films or the ‘requisite’ junk food. Matt, the ‘fun’ uncle, had told Violet he didn’t care what they watched once the adults were back from Molly’s if the volume of the movie (or the girls’ screaming) didn’t wake Jack later. He was seemingly of the opinion that sixteen was old enough for any sort of horror movie. It was a Saturday night (technically October 30) and Sylvie was a little surprised that the parents of teenage girls weren’t at all suspicious of letting their daughters go spend the night at a stranger’s home (Matt had met Sadie’s parents, apparently, at some school function he’d gone to see Violet in, but not the other girls’ parents). Sylvie had also suggested to Matt the possibility that the girls would use the basement entrances to let in other guests – meaning teenage boys – after they thought the adults had gone to sleep, but Matt was confident that his niece would not abuse his trust that way. Then again, at least in the case of Violet directly, Daniel (who was still dating Violet) remained blatantly terrified of Matt which meant there wasn’t a likely problem there. Sylvie paused in her thoughts, realizing Daniel might be right to be terrified, if he was actually caught in Matt's house with Matt's niece, well...Matt's temper was actually scary. Rare, but scary.
While Matt didn’t love the holiday, he had apparently taken his part of the ‘bargain’ with his niece very seriously. He had acquired all of what he considered the classic horror films and queued them up for the girls: The Shining, Paranormal Activity, Candyman, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Ring, Poltergeist, The Exorcist, Psycho, Hellraiser, The Omen and The Silence of the Lambs. It wasn’t possible to watch them all in one night (Sylvie had no desire to watch any of them any night) but Matt had given them all sorts of choices. He also stocked enough junk food to make them all sick for days. The kitchen downstairs was full of Halloween Oreos, the themed Cheetos, Halloween-themed sugar cookie dough the girls could bake, multiple kinds of M&Ms, enough kinds of mini candy bars that Sylvie hadn’t even tried to keep track of them, Twizzlers, candy corn, cupcakes, ice cream, donuts, caramel corn, candy apples, and several kinds of soda. He had also left the number for a reliable local pizza joint. Sylvie wondered what happened to the overprotective man who was Jack’s daddy that as an uncle he was encouraging his niece to eat junk and scare herself witless. Or maybe when Jack was sixteen Matt would be encouraging Jack in the same way. Violet and Sadie had seemed impressed and happy with the haul (and Matt’s assurance that any leftovers would make it to the firehouse, so there was no pressure to actually try to eat all of what he’d stocked down there). Sylvie also thought Violet had taken very seriously Matt’s statement that they had everything they would need for the party downstairs and the girls should stay in the basement: he didn’t want them rummaging around the upstairs for anything else. Still, they'd left Jack with the girls and gone across the street.
Sylvie didn’t bother with a costume this year. Matt would have to be bribed with something unimaginable to get him into a costume (she'd tried sex, but that didn't work). So they were two of the relatively few people in Molly's without any obvious ‘Halloween’ theming to their looks when they got to Molly’s a little after 8:30. Jack had been fed and put down to sleep, but he’d be awake again by 11, hungry again. Then he’d sleep through to 7 am or so, unless woken earlier because they had shift (which they didn’t tomorrow). So, she figured she had a good two hours or so to enjoy this and – with the wonders of Jack’s new schedule, increasing intake of solid food, and pre-planned pumping – she could actually drink more than a tiny bit of alcohol. Molly’s themed cocktail menu (clearly not Herrmann’s idea, probably Stella’s or Otis’) included the previously highly popular Zombie Bite concoction, but she went for the ‘Jack o’Lantern’ which used a lot of vodka and orange liqueur. Matt, who was boring, stuck with Scotch on the rocks. She still hadn't learned to like his dirt-smoked stuff.
She was out of the habit of drinking, and she was only halfway through her second drink when she could definitely feel that she was drunk. Not really drunk, just lightly drunk. Luckily, she was also wrapped up in Matt’s arms, leaning back against his chest as he sat on one of the in-demand barstools. They had gotten here before the crowd really started to arrive, but she’d given up her own barstool to Donna a little while ago, perfectly content to spend most of the night right here. She had missed the easy physical affection between them, even as she’d been the one telling Matt not to touch her. It was strange, wanting something and not wanting it at the same time, craving his touch but then feeling like she constantly had someone touching her, like her body wasn’t her own. Being comfortable with just wanting his touch again was nice.
“You getting tired, babe?” Matt asked softly in her ear.
“No, just reveling.”
“It feels like forever since we’ve been out with everyone and I ended up like this, with you wrapped around me. I like feeling surrounded by you. It’s warm. Cozy.”
“Wow. Cozy.” Matt chuckled. “If I’m ‘cozy’ I definitely need to spend more time at the gym.”
“That’s not what I meant. You’re definitely not soft anywhere.” She wriggled back against him, testing a theory. “Nope, not entirely soft anywhere. Still kind of soft there, though.”
“Not if you keep doing that.” Matt whispered firmly, then nipped lightly at her ear.
“Buy me another drink, and I’ll give you a proper lap dance.” She tipped her head back, trying to meet his eyes. A pause of conversation at the table and then loud laughter made her realize she hadn’t said that nearly as quietly as she had intended.
“I see being parents hasn’t changed you two that much!” Kelly slapped Matt’s shoulder firmly enough Sylvie felt it reverberate through him.
“I’m getting another round.” Joe announced, “Casey, I’m gonna guess you want Herrmann to put another of those on your tab for Brett?”
“Joe!” Sylvie blushed a little.
“Another for both of us, Cruz, thanks.” Matt confirmed with a warm chuckle. “Though I don’t think she’ll actually come through on that promise.”
“Hey, I always come through on my promises!”
“By the time you have another drink and we get home – and make sure the babysitters are settled in downstairs – we’ll be feeding Jack and putting him to bed, not doing any sort of dancing.”
“I’m sure Violet will feed Jack, if we ask.”
“She would, but I’m not asking my niece to feed our son so we can do that.”
“You think she doesn’t know where Jack came from?”
“I think she doesn’t need any confirmation of anything. Or us doing it in the house with her there.” Matt replied, pulling her back against his chest in a firm hug from behind.
“Your niece is babysitting?” Donna asked politely.
“Her and one of her friends. A few other girls are coming by later for a scary movie marathon and all the junk food Matt could find.”
“One night of junk won’t hurt them. Besides, they’re sixteen and seventeen. If this is their idea of a rebellious Halloween, I’m more than willing to help fund it and arrange it.”
“What did you do for Halloween when you were seventeen?” Sylvie asked. “We had haunted houses in barns and corn mazes and, well, actually, a lot of kegs were usually involved.”
“Not that different in the city.” Kelly confirmed. “Except without barns and corn. We just had bad costume parties, haunted houses, loud music, and lots of kegs.”
“The Halloween I was seventeen I was living with Aintin Jo.” Matt chuckled again. “I took the kids trick or treating, checked through their hauls, and when Aintin Jo and Himself got home, I went to work.”
“Yeah, I was working at a haunted house, doing maintenance and construction stuff. Every Halloween we had to discretely fix stuff quickly when kids hit or ran into things. Or if the smoke machine didn’t want to work, stuff like that.”
“You never went to a party?”
“Not when I was seventeen. Heard about them, though.” Matt smiled. “Saw the after effects.”
“I can’t believe you worked in a haunted house.” Donna was shaking her head.
“Yeah, for…seasonal work, of course, but yeah, I helped build the settings, the tricks and the jump scares, that sort of stuff for…fifteen years or so. Got too busy with other things the last few years.”
“Wallace, did you know this?”
“No clue.” Chief held up his hands.
“Matt, you are helping me out next year. Our school does a haunted house for the kids each year as a fundraiser.” Donna announced, not really asking. “It’s for high schoolers, mostly, you don’t have to worry about toning anything down.”
“I can donate my time, might be some odd hours involved though.” Matt looked a little apologetic. “I’m usually pretty busy this time of year with all the renovations people want done before the holidays start, but if you know some of what you want, I can get started this winter actually. Do you have a storage space?”
“I’ll ask at the school if we can have some space somewhere on campus.”
“Can I ask a question, Matt?” Lily had been looking at him thoughtfully for the last few minutes. She was tucked up right next to Chloe, mostly because it was crowded and even the big guys of 51 were not entirely holding the space for the house to gather. Also, Sylvie knew that Chloe and Joe would ‘look after’ Lily while Otis worked: she wondered for a moment why Lily wasn’t at Molly’s North, but remembered that they were temporarily closed for renovations (and Matt was doing the work, cleaning up a mess left by another contractor, at least that’s how Matt put it). Lily wanted it done before the holiday season, like pretty much every other client Matt had.
“You can always ask.” Matt replied with a grin.
“He just doesn’t always answer.” Kelly filled in the rest.
“Do you know what a day off is?”
“No, he doesn’t.” Sylvie cut him off. “If he’s not working on a project or on shift, he’s planning a bid, doing an estimate, paperwork for the department, or he’s doing some work around the house.”
“That counts as a day off.” Matt pointed out. “Ask any guy, days off include working on your own house.”
“Don’t you ever just play video games all day or something?” Lily asked, looking bemused.
“The last video game I think Case played was, what, GoldenEye on Andy’s old Nintendo 64?”
“Ah, that or Madden NFL – also on the N64.” Matt nodded.
“Board games?” Lily tried.
“Oh, we did that at Christmas, with your parents, right, Sylvie?” Matt seemed kind of proud of that. Ten months ago, he'd played a game.
“Wait – you played MarioKart at Christmas with Leo and Allison and Dad. You sucked at it. Well, everyone sucks at Rainbow Road the first like three dozen times.” Sylvie had to admit that.
“I did, so sometimes, yes, Lily, I play video games and board games. Why do you ask?”
“Because every time I see you or anyone talks about you, it seems like all you do is work and all you’ve ever done is work. Even when you were a teenager apparently.”
“I played a lot of sports as a kid. My parents thought video games made kids lazy, I wasn’t allowed to have them. Strict limits on TV, too, unless I was watching football or hockey with my dad. But I started working on job sites with Dad when I was like 12, so, I guess working is kind of my normal.”
“It’s a little strange, babe.” Sylvie told him, answering his unspoken question. “But we’re used to you being you. But Lily, you asked the wrong question. To Matt, a ‘day off’ is a fishing trip. Or rock-climbing. Even when we were on our honeymoon, we had to be doing something all the time. Surfing lessons were fun. He’s a lot better than a guy from Chicago has any right being.”
“Did you take video? Please tell me you have video of the captain surfing.” Cruz nearly begged, barely suppressed laughter clear in his voice.
“Not surfing, because I was learning too. But I do have video of him learning to windsurf.”
“Did he fall a lot?”
“Not a lot.” Sylvie shook her head, but she tilted her head back to glance at Matt, a shit-eating grin on her face, she knew. She looked back at Cruz. “Not a lot, but the times he did, he did so epically.”
“You should be nicer to me. Or I won’t be nice to you later.” Matt leaned in to whisper in her ear. She chuckled, sliding her phone (pulled up to the right video) across the table towards Cruz. Cruz took it like it was a winning lottery ticket, and she wasn't sure she'd ever seen so many people trying to watch one video at once.
“I have faith I can convince you later.” She glanced up at Matt, then back over at Joe. "Joe Cruz don't send that video out. And don't post it anywhere."
"Oh." Joe stopped what he was doing on her phone. "Seriously?"
"I'd really rather there not be any videos or photos of me anywhere for a while." Matt admitted, sounding a little reluctant.
"You got it, Captain." Cruz nodded. "But you did a pretty good belly flop there on that one."
"Come on, let the rest of us see it." Capp encouraged, reaching towards Sylvie's phone.
"You owe me for showing anyone that. I could show them some of the photos I took of you on our honeymoon."
"You wouldn't." She was absolutely confident about that.
“Mmhmm.” She shifted a bit, sitting as she was basically in his lap, letting her butt slide and grind a bit across his crotch. He stiffened (both his spine and other parts of him) and wrapped one arm firmly around her middle. "You don't want me to stop wearing that little microkini just for you, do you?"
“That’s not fair.” Matt tried to sound like he was complaining.
“I’m not trying to be ‘fair’ I’m trying to get laid.”
Jack’s crying from down the hall woke her up suddenly. She was up and moving before she realized she was naked and slightly hung over. She and Matt had ended the night doing precisely what they would’ve done a year before after a Halloween (observed) spent drinking at Molly’s, well quite a bit quieter in deference to the house no longer being empty, so the naked part shouldn’t have been surprising but her brain took a moment to kick in at all. She glanced at the clock as she threw her pajamas on. Jack hadn’t woken them at 3 am since he was practically a brand-new baby. Matt wasn’t in the room at all. She headed out into the hall, not at all surprised to see Matt was up already, with a crying Jack in his arms.
“Is he sick?” Sylvie asked, as she reached out for her son.
“Are you sure?”
“No fever, no other symptoms I can find. He just got woken up by our house-guests.”
“The girls? Did they wake you, too?”
“How did they wake you and not me?”
“I hold my liquor better.” Matt replied. Normally he’d be teasing her with that, but Sylvie could see he was angry. Then again, one of his only rules for the girls had been to not wake Jack up. He was almost fully dressed – jeans and a t-shirt at least, though still barefoot and his hair had that adorable ruffled quality to it that made him look several years younger than he was. Or would, if it wasn’t offset by the ‘pissed off’ clear in his eyes and the way he held himself. The energy coming off him probably was not helping settle Jack. “You got him? I’m going to go downstairs.”
“Matt, it’s late. Just come back to bed.”
“I’ll just take care of one thing, and be back up. You get Jack back to sleep.”
“If they’re screaming at the movies, make them turn them off.” Sylvie gave up on trying to get him to ignore whatever had happened downstairs that he heard that clearly Jack had heard as well.
“I’ll take care of it.”
She fell asleep before Matt came back upstairs. Jack had actually gone back down pretty easily, he was exhausted (growing as fast as he was had to take a lot of energy after all). She didn’t even know if Matt came back upstairs. By the time she woke up in the morning, hearing Jack’s more familiar ‘I think I’m starving to death’ cries for breakfast, Matt was up again (or still) and apparently downstairs somewhere. She dressed quickly and took Jack downstairs. She had pumped enough to feed Jack until anything she drank last night would be out of her milk supply (she’d have to pump and dump, but it would work) since they were rapidly substituting solid food into his diet on Dr. Washington’s recommendation.
“Matt, do you-“ Sylvie cut off as she stepped into the kitchen. Violet and Sadie were already up, surprisingly, and sitting at the kitchen bar. They weren’t eating, though both had cereal and juice in front of them. It was only 8 am, the faraway look wasn’t that surprising if they were up this early after such a late night. “Girls, I didn’t think you’d be up this early.”
“Uncle Matt already sent everyone else home.” Violet said.
“Not at 3 am when he got up, I hope.”
“No. He called their parents about an hour ago, they just left really.”
“We’re sorry we woke you guys up.” Sadie offered softly.
“Jack went right back down. So did I.” Sylvie admitted. “I think you may mostly owe your uncle the apology, Violet – I don’t think he came back to sleep much.”
“He stayed up, downstairs." Violet confirmed. "He’s gonna kill me.”
“Not on my good floor he isn’t. He knows how expensive the finishes in this kitchen were.”
“Well, downstairs then.” Some times, Sylvie had to laugh at how much like Matt his niece could be.
“I'm not killing anyone. Murder would be too swift.” Matt stated as he came up from the basement. Sylvie was confused for a second, until she realized what he was carrying. “Apparently, our house became the flop house last night.”
“We had fourteen people in our basement when I got down there, instead of six. Six of them boys. And by my count, 24 cans of beer, a bottle of vodka, a bottle of rum, and these.” He held out the two bottles that had clearly come from his liquor cabinet. It didn’t have a lock on it, Jack was way too young for it to be needed, but Matt didn’t just leave things out on the counter. Plus, Sylvie was pretty sure that teenagers who drank mid-range vodka and rum had not, at the same time, a great taste for Oban and Laphroaig whisky.
“They brought most of the alcohol with them.” Sadie explained defensively. “We didn’t ask them to bring it. We didn’t plan to have any.”
“You didn’t plan to drink, but you two – or someone – came upstairs, into my living room, and retrieved two bottles of scotch.” Matt pointed out.
“Apparently it’s supposed to be better than the rest of it.”
“Sadie, that wasn’t his point.” Violet pointed out kind of sharply. “We, well, we stole from my uncle.”
“It’s not stealing. Is it?”
“Well, he can’t exactly drink it now, can he? And he paid for it. So that’s stealing.” Violet explained impatiently.
“But we ate lots of food and drink in the house last night.”
“Stuff he bought for us. He didn't buy the alcohol for us."
“Matt, why don’t you go take Jack upstairs for his morning bottle?” Sylvie handed Jack to her husband, who wasn’t looking any calmer as the girls talked.
“I’ll talk to the girls for now. Don’t worry, I’ll leave plenty for you to chew on later.”
“Fine.” She waited until Matt was upstairs to turn back to the girls. Violet looked miserable, Sadie only a shade or two better.
“What made the noise to wake Jack and your uncle Matt, Violet?”
“Brody and Josh went outside, out the front, and I don’t know, peed I think. We didn’t even know they kind of slipped out. But when they came back in, they slammed the door and we’d been watching scary movies, and a couple girls screamed. Is Uncle Matt really…will he accept an apology?”
“In a few days, probably.” Sylvie replied. “But he’s not just angry, he’s disappointed and hurt. You girls violated his trust, our trust, and I think he feels like you used Jack to do it.”
“No, we didn’t mean to do any of it. We didn’t lie or plan anything, I promise.” Violet assured. “But Maddie and Brooklyn invited over a couple boys they like, without telling me, who brought some other friends, and they’d all been at a party, so they had alcohol. They brought the beer and stuff.”
“And who came up to get your uncle’s scotch?”
“I did.” Violet admitted. “The other stuff tasted really bad, and Uncle Matt likes that, so I thought it’d be better. Everyone said I had to try alcohol, and when I brought it downstairs, they acted like it was cool and really good. But scotch is really gross, too.”
“Don’t tell your uncle that. Especially that Oban, it’s very expensive and he thinks it’s wonderful.”
“Do you like it?” Sadie asked, nose wrinkled.
“I’m not much of a scotch on the rocks, or neat, drinker myself. God, definitely don’t tell your uncle if you mixed his scotch with soda.” Sylvie groaned. She’d be listening to him complain about that as well as everything else. “But you’re definitely in a lot of trouble. And don’t expect to be trusted with Jack for a while. Is there a mess downstairs still?”
“Not much. I think Uncle Matt got most of the trash. He told everyone’s parents about the boys and the alcohol – and that he kicked all the uninvited kids out right away. I asked him not to tell everyone’s parents, but he insisted.” Violet grumped slightly.
“You know your uncle. He won’t lie. And especially with illegal behavior like underage drinking in his house. He’s going to tell your parents as well, both of yours.”
“My parents won’t be that upset about the alcohol. I only tried a little, and wasn’t driving.” Sadie said. “But having boys over, and worse for my mother will be having people over without you and Mr. Casey’s permission.”
“My mom will be mad about the alcohol. And the extra people over. And everything else. Will Uncle Matt be mad at her? She’ll be more angry with me if I cause a fight between her and Uncle Matt.”
“He won’t blame your mom, Violet.” Sylvie reassured easily in that much at least. “But your uncle’s trust is hard-earned, and it’s going to be even harder now that you’ve broken it. You know he’s, he’s had a lot of people disappoint him.”
“I didn’t mean to.”
“And that will help.” Sylvie found a small smile for Violet. “Trust me, it makes a big difference to Matt that you didn’t plan for this to happen.”
“Once everyone was here, I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t invite the extra people but my friends did, and I didn’t want them to be mad at me if I said they couldn’t stay. And I didn’t think, I mean, no one drove over here thankfully, they were all drinking-“
“Your uncle would’ve called the police if he thought they were driving after drinking.”
“He’d call the cops on us?” Sadie looked shocked for some reason.
“In a second.” Sylvie knew that for certain. “He’s seen a lot of bad accidents from DUIs. Some of the drivers were good people who made one bad decision that killed someone. If you think the charge for a DUI is something you don’t want on your record, think about living with that. He’d protect you from that, even if it meant getting you in trouble – better the lesser certain trouble than the possibility of death, serious injury, or doing that to someone else.”
“Mrs. Darden was drunk when she got in a wreck that killed someone.” Violet’s voice was soft. “I remember Mom telling me that was why Uncle Matt had to take care of Griffin and Ben: he was their dad’s best friend, and he’d promised to look after them. Mrs. Darden went to prison.”
“She did. And your uncle wouldn’t want you, or any of your friends, to end up there.”
“We didn’t know how to tell them to leave, nicely.” Sadie shrugged and sounded legitimately annoyed as she continued, “I’m kind of mad that we didn’t get to finish watching the movies we picked out. If I’d wanted to go to a party with boys and alcohol, we could’ve done that. It was supposed to be just us and the movies and junk food.”
“The fact that I actually believe that is why either of you will be welcome in my house again – but not with the other girls. Just the two of you next time.” Matt reappeared, Jack in his arms along with an empty bottle.
“That was quick.” Sylvie said, taking the bottle to put it aside for washing.
“He was hungry.” Matt rubbed Jack’s back as he talked. “For now, you two can finish cleaning up downstairs – and change the sheets in the guest room down there. It’s not my job to clean up after your friends.”
“Sheets? Ew, gross.” Violet must’ve realized. “I didn’t know, Uncle Matt-“
“Oh, I already talked to Brooklyn’s mother this morning about what I broke up at 3 am. I don’t think you’re going to be seeing much of her for a very long time except during school hours. But it’s still not my job to clean up, is it? Sheets go in the laundry, there’s fresh ones in the linen closet in the bathroom down there. The kitchen needs to be scrubbed, all the counters are sticky. Sadie, your parents said they’d be here after church, so you have a couple hours to help out. Violet, your mom said to let her know when you’re done cleaning, she’ll come get you then.”
After the girls were gone, and the downstairs had apparently passed Matt's inspection, Sylvie met him on the sofa. He shook his head, and took another drink of the lemonade he'd poured himself earlier, then smiled at her and asked,
"When Jack turns about fourteen, how you do feel about boarding school?"
Chapter 15: Hold That Thought
I like to think of this chapter as simply the "feel good" chapter. I don't think there's an ounce of angst or anything in it. It was just a couple cute ideas that came to me, I guess. Hope you enjoy!
Finding a babysitter for an evening was harder than you’d think, especially since Matt was not yet inclined to extend any amount of trust to his niece’s judgment. Sylvie had carefully advocated for Violet, she hadn’t been responsible for Jack when she’d made the poor decisions after all, but Matt knew that Violet disliked being banned from her cousin, even though it had only been two weeks. Still, she needed to find someone they both trusted for next week – she wanted to go out for Matt’s birthday. He was turning 40, after all, one of the ‘big ones’ when it came to birthdays. She was avoiding saying the exact age he’d be, not sure if it made him uncomfortable but it did her, oddly. Only a little. But she felt very much middle-aged, having a husband in his forties, it just seemed like another milestone: parenthood, forties, mortgage, they were getting older for sure. She’d really like to find someone who could keep Jack overnight. Now that their sex life was restarted, it had rather boomed, or at least, it had so much as timing permitted. Afternoon naptime sex had become their own little tradition. His actual birthday was on shift, so they couldn’t have much of a celebration, but they could do something the next night. If she found a babysitter. Christie was busy, Violet was out, Cindy was busy, Donna was at some teacher’s conference…she wondered if Matt would have a coronary if she suggested taking Jack to Mouch and Trudy?
Matt purposefully absented himself from Jack’s 6-month doctor’s appointment. He might argue that he was saving leave time, but Sylvie knew it was simply that he had no desire to be present when Jack got his next round of vaccinations. Men were such wimps about some things. She had promised to bring him by the firehouse afterwards, though, having taking the shift off herself in order to take Jack to his appointment and to make some plans for Matt’s birthday. She texted before she headed to 51, making sure that they weren’t out on a call. Matt’s reply was that they had just gotten back from a wreck so she headed over. While people felt free to stop by the house (with a text for warning) it had been a couple months since Jack had been by 51 with Cindy.
She got just inside the door to 51 when Chief practically snatched Jack from her arms. He was a sucker for kids, but Sylvie detected there was something special about Jack for Chief, she just didn’t know what it was. With his blond hair coming in strong and the big blue eyes, he looked just like you would expect a child of her and Matt to look really. Jack was used to being adored every time he entered a new place and went easily to one of his fans.
“How’s he feeling?”
“He’s fine, no effects from the shots yet, anyway.” Sylvie assured the Chief. “Where’s Matt?”
“Last I saw, headed for the locker room.”
“Chief Boden, Chief Tiburg is on line one.” Chief’s new assistant announced. They hadn’t found anyone regular to take up Connie’s spot and Sylvie could not at the moment for the life of her remember this woman’s name.
“I’ll take my godson, Chief.” Kelly appeared behind the Chief and Sylvie almost rolled her eyes at the obvious glee in the man’s eyes as he took Jack. She loved Kelly Severide, she did, but if he continued to spoil Jack as he was doing currently, her son was going to decamp their house for Kelly’s loft before he was in school. “Hey, Jack Attack, how’s it going, kiddo? Your dad said you had to have shots today. You look like you’re feeling good, though.”
“He’s fine.” Sylvie assured Kelly. “Speaking of his father, do you know where he is?”
“Just got out of a shower. No idea how, but he ended up covered in gasoline, I think. His turnouts are being washed, his and Gallo’s.”
“I know this is probably a silly question, but can you watch Jack while I get some stuff from the car? My hands were full with the baby and the diaper bag.”
“No problem, give me the bag, and Jack and me will be in the common room.”
“I’m sure he’ll be sorely neglected.” Sylvie did roll her eyes that time, as she headed back to the car. Jack Casey was the apple of Firehouse 51’s collective eye. She wanted to think it was love for her son for his own sake, which it was, in a way, but she had a sneaking suspicion that there was a heaping helping of it being the Casey part that had the adoration so strong. Matt Casey the father was a revelation to everyone who knew the man: normally distant and a bit taciturn, seeing Matt with Jack was like watching a cloudy day clear into beautiful sunshine. Not that Matt was a storm cloud naturally, he was just sort of stern most of the time. No-nonsense. Jack reinvented Matt. Or maybe, she thought with a start, loving Jack simply uncovered a part of Matt that he’d hidden away long ago, the open, loving, affectionate little boy who’d built layers of protective shells around himself as life just kept handing him lemons.
By the time she got back inside with a few of Jack’s things, including a play mat so the baby could be on the floor without her (or more likely Matt) having a conniption at the relative cleanliness of said floor, Kelly was settled on the sofa in the common room, introducing Jack to Tuesday and Tuesday to Jack. Ritter looked a little nervous, but Jack giggled as his face was licked, which seemed to put everyone at ease.
“Hey, babe, how was he?” Matt asked, kissing her quickly, as he also entered the common room.
“He was fine, took his medicine like a champ.”
“He didn’t cry or fuss?”
“Not for very long, really.” She assured him. “Don’t worry, I played him the song, it worked fine.”
“Don’t think you’re entirely forgiven for his ‘get him in a better mood’ song being Bear Down Chicago Bears, Matt Casey. Couldn’t you teach him a normal song?”
“A normal song?”
“Some lullaby or something.”
“He’s already a Bears fan, what can I say? Blackhawks, too.”
“Sure.” She rolled her eyes again. “Ah, but speaking of milestones, Jack has a new skill he wants to show his daddy.”
“Come on, I’ll show you. Help me put this down.”
“When did we get this?” Matt asked, as he obediently unfolded the padded play mat after Sylvie and Herrmann (who jumped quickly to help) moved the table that usually ended up more footstool than coffee table.
“This morning. Your son needs it.”
“I wasn’t criticizing.” Matt replied evenly. “I just didn’t recognize it.”
“Severide, put Jack down on his belly.” Sylvie directed, standing on the opposite side of the more than six-foot-long mat from her husband, but closest to the sofa. Kelly looked at her a little oddly, but did as he was told. “Matt, get Jack’s attention.”
“Why?” She shot him a look, and he held up his hands. He crouched down at the end of the mat. “Hey, Peanut, you want to go visit the Truck?” Jack’s raised head searched out his father, and then he was up on all fours, body rocking but not really going anywhere. Sylvie grinned, seeing the guys’ faces at this minor developmental milestone. Matt grinned broadly, glancing up at Sylvie for just a moment, then turning his attention back to his son. “Jack, are you figuring out those arms and legs, son? You’re gonna be, well damn.” Matt stopped, seeing Jack propel his body forward in a sort of crawl sort of Army crawl. He stopped, when Matt stopped talking.
“You have to keep talking, Matt.”
“Is he going to? Hey, Jack, you gonna come all the way to Daddy? You’ve got this moving thing down, how did you do that so fast? Come here, Jack.” Matt had his son against his chest the minute Jack reached the end of the mat where he was waiting. The guys were applauding like Jack had won some race, and Sylvie couldn’t stop the broad smile on her face even if she wanted to. She’d only found out this morning herself, before the appointment, that Jack could scoot like that across the floor. He’d been going for the tablet, which she’d left playing some of the short stories Matt had recorded. A quick couple experiments confirmed that Jack would reach towards Matt’s voice, or her own, but seemed to get a little confused (though she’d been told his eyesight was normal) when the voice stopped.
“I think it’s time to start babyproofing the house, Daddy.” Sylvie prompted, and Matt just nodded, grinning like a loon as he held his son. “We were a little impatient to show off, but, I also ordered delivery for lunch, so if you guys don’t mind, Jack and I are going to hang out for a bit.”
Matt was not an inherently social man, she knew that. He didn’t dislike people, certainly, but he was content to have a relatively small group of friends and never wanted to be the center of attention. He always seemed to know someone, though, gathering a very large circle of acquaintances from a large number of walks of life. And what he learned about people went into his apparently endless rolodex of facts to be used when necessary: who went to college with whom, who used to date whom, who might be brought together by this piece of trivia or that, and so on. He would’ve been the most dangerous person in the county back in Fowlerton, holding all the dirt on everyone and most of them being completely unaware of all he noticed because he was quiet about it. So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise her that he knew their neighbors rather well by now, integrating their little family into the block neatly. After all, they’d owned the house for well over a year and he’d been there most days working on the renovation for months before they moved in, so he’d had that whole time to get to know people. Thus, they had neighbors they knew, some of whom just stopped by on walks, especially if she was out in the little front yard, and those she waved at across their back porches (the fences being nearly a full story below). It was nice, tending to flowers again, and she had them both out front and in the back. Somehow, neighbors and flowers made it truly home, no matter how different it was from the farm in Fowlerton.
Her favorite thing to do, truly, was to be outside waiting for Matt get home each afternoon. It was mid-November, and she had a very few days left that it was seasonable enough to be out there with Jack, then she figured it would be April at the earliest before she could really be out there again to enjoy their small bit of personal outdoor space. It was unusually warm and sunny for a November afternoon, and she’d chatted with their next-door-neighbor a bit earlier, though as the sun was setting it was about to get quite a bit chillier. She heard Matt’s steps first, coming up the stairs, so she put down the book she’d been reading. Jack was in his pack-n-play next to her on the back deck, and had clearly heard Matt’s approach, too, making happy but rather loud noises.
“Hey, Peanut, how’re you today?” Matt scooped Jack easily from his place and up into his arms. Jack made some sort of no doubt detailed response of his sentiments, unfortunately all his parents heard was a series of short syllables in no real order or meaning. Sylvie grinned as Matt nodded, and replied, “Really? Good to hear you had a good day, Jack.” Jack continued his noises animatedly. “Mommy gave you apples today? Really? I know, those are your favorite right now. Did you save any apples for Daddy? You know those are Daddy’s favorite fall treat, too.”
“Which is why Mommy made cinnamon baked apples for Daddy – you can leave the plain ones for Jack.”
“Your mom’s baked apples?” Matt smiled with a very greedy tint to his obvious delight.
“Yes, my mom’s recipe.”
“You’re going to make me very happily fat.”
“You’ve lost weight, Matt.” Sylvie pointed out, trying to keep any sharpness out of her voice. She wasn’t angry, she was just starting to worry. They couldn’t seem to get any weight on him, well, she couldn’t, she didn’t really think Matt was trying, he mostly refused desserts or any other treats she tried to feed him. She had conspired with Cindy and Mom to keep him in disgustingly rich brownies and chocolate desserts through the holidays, hoping to put a bit of cushion back on him. A heaping batch of Mom’s baked apples couldn’t hurt either.
“I’m fine, Sylvie.” Matt pulled her against him, Jack comfortably squashed between them. “Jack, tell Mommy that Daddy is just fine, he doesn’t need the nice bits of fat on you and her.”
“You’re saying I’m fat?”
“No, I’m saying you’re much more attractive with a bit of fat in key places.” Matt grinned at her, his hand wandering down to cup her ass. She kissed him.
“I’m glad you like my huge ass. It’s your fault. I had a cute little butt before you knocked me up.”
“You did.” Matt kissed her. “But I happen to think increasing it has been an improvement. Just that little bit plumper. It’s incredibly sexy.”
“You say that with our son right here.”
“It’s true regardless of where Jack is. But I’ll put him down so I can say hello properly to his mother."
“Matt.” She shook her head, as Matt did in fact put Jack back in his pack-n-play. She half expected Jack to fuss, but he apparently went readily enough back to whatever he’d been doing to entertain himself with the toys there. Matt turned to her, pulled her fully against him, and kissed her like he might find the answer to all life inside her mouth. Eventually, though, she had to breathe properly and pulled away from him.
“You taste like apples.” Matt’s expression could only – at best – be described as lascivious, if not downright hungry. He kissed her again, practically diving into her mouth, and somehow she was on her back on that lovely sectional the house had bought for them, looking up at the darkening late autumn sky as her husband did almost unspeakable things to her neck and as he unzipped her fleece sweatshirt. Her body took notice, goosebumps and nipples rising to his attentions, and rather lower down parts of her awakening as well.
“Matt.” She eventually managed that much coherence. “We’re on the deck.”
“I don’t care.” He spoke mostly into her chest, moving back up towards her neck, and then he was kissing her again and she forgot any objection to that idea for several minutes longer. He was between her legs now, and their bodies moved against each other in a glorious rhythm, despite the layers of clothing between. Layers which, judging by Matt’s hands, he was trying to decrease.
“Matt. I’m pretty sure Diane and Peter next door would care, or their kids, if they came outside.”
“Kylie could hardly be shocked.” Matt did at least stop trying to worm his hands into her clothes.
“And her boyfriend is over every night her parents aren’t. Do the math.”
“You noticed that?”
“I notice everything around my wife and child, including which cars are parked where, when, and who they belong to.”
“You’re paranoid, you know that?”
“I’m cautious.” Matt replied. “I’m also ready to fuck you into this sofa, damn the neighbors anyway. Let ‘em watch.”
“Too little to be scarred by it.”
“And the fact it’s getting dark and cold?”
“Less likely to mean the neighbors actually watch.” Matt sort of chuckled though, into the crook of her neck and shoulder. He pulled back, meeting her eyes. “If we take this inside, do we have to do the responsible adult thing and have dinner, all that, then wait until bedtime to continue?”
“Probably. Since we are responsible adults.”
“Well, maybe not so much the responsible, but you are definitely a fully grown man.” She teased, as her hand slipped between their bodies to knead lightly against the bulge of his erection inside his jeans. Jack chose that moment to express his displeasure about something, rather loudly, and Matt sighed, moving carefully from between her legs to stand.
“You ready for dinner, Peanut? Let’s get you and Mommy inside, huh?”
“Matt, I’ll get him, you get the pack-n-play?” Sylvie stood, reaching down to pick up Jack.
“Yeah, I got it.”
“And hold that thought for later, Daddy. I’m sure we’ll both still be hungry after dinner. I can think of a few things I really want to put in my mouth anyway.” She kissed his lips softly, a promise for later.
Chapter 16: Milestone Birthday
This one is a little longer, and it took me ages to write. I hope I got it right and I hope the "pay off" at the end is worth this longish journey.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Matt’s birthday fell on a day they were on shift. That put a crimp in their celebrations on the day itself, though she did at least help him welcome it in a thoroughly enjoyable way. She changed and fed Jack, then put him right back down in his crib. Cindy would hardly care if he arrived in his pajamas after all. This allowed her to quickly strip her own pajamas and slip into the shower behind Matt. He jumped a little when she ran her hand down his back, but then turned and smiled, pulling her against him.
“Happy birthday, Matt.”
“It’s certainly starting well.”
“I’m going to wash your hair.”
“Why?” He asked, even as he obeyed her.
“Hasn’t anyone ever washed your hair for you?”
“Not that I can remember, probably when I was a baby.” He replied, tilting his head back, perhaps just to let her get a better angle for washing the hair of someone a good few inches taller than herself. She massaged the scalp as she worked the shampoo through his hair. “Why does that feel so good?”
“I wouldn’t have thought so, but yes.”
“Doesn’t your barber wash your hair?”
“No. Does yours?”
“Uhm, yes, I thought it was standard. Even for guys.”
“Dry cuts are faster and cheaper. I can wash my own hair. Though having you do it is definitely worth exploring more often.”
“Rinse.” She ordered, having more than thoroughly lathered his hair. He turned back to face her, keeping his head tilted back as he rinsed the suds from his hair. His eyes were closed, and she took a moment to look him over head to toe. He was gorgeous, and not that he needed improvement, but being wet with the water sluicing over his body only enhanced the firm toned sleek lines of him.
“Taking stock of the old man you’re married to?” Matt asked, smiling at her as she met his open eyes.
“Old man is not what I think when I look at you. And you don’t seem too decrepit.” She moved closer to him, her right hand wrapping around his growing erection. It jumped a little in her hand, rapidly hardening further, and she gave it a few long sure strokes.
“I’m 40. Do I look much older?”
“No.” She kissed him soundly. “You’re still you. And you’re going to die 90 years old, still handsome as sin itself, I know it.”
She had been sworn to secrecy about it being Matt’s birthday, via various underhanded methods involving fingers, tongues, and orgasms, and basically him refusing to put his dick inside her in the shower that morning until she swore, which she really thought was unfair because you couldn’t be held to any sort of promise or contract induced by force or intoxication and Matt Casey was more intoxicating than alcohol for sure. Still, she had promised. For some reason, Matt truly did not want anyone at the house to know it was his birthday. If he hadn’t been a captain, she might’ve thought he was just hoping to avoid any pranks, but only Severide really would prank Matt at this point: Matt was usually (like the Chief) held above any such antics. She hadn’t told anyone and she knew Matt hadn’t told anyone. She knew Kelly knew it was Matt’s birthday, but she thought Kelly had better sense than to say anything (he hadn’t apparently in all their years together at 51), so the shift should have gone without any special notice.
Of course, Matt was stupidly awful at avoiding catastrophes during shifts on important days, like the day before their wedding. They were on a very typical vehicular crash call, Matt directing the scene, and so ostensibly relatively out of danger, not anywhere near the wrecks in fact, when she heard shouts and screaming from the inevitable looky-lous, and then the completely unmistakable sound of a human body impact.
“Brett! Howe!” That was Otis yelling, and sent a bolt of adrenaline through her system. She abandoned the last of her check of the second car’s passengers (all had been wearing seat belts and looked uninjured beyond contusions and some adrenaline shakes) and darted around her lovely view of the side of Engine 51. She was almost all the way to the downed firefighter when she realized it was Matt. It looked like Herrmann and Mouch were holding him down.
“What happened?” She asked, dropping to her knees with her bag.
“I’m fine.” Matt replied.
“That’s not what I asked and I don’t believe you.” She said sharply.
“You think I picked now to start lying to you?”
“No, I think your definition of ‘I’m fine’ is not medically sound. And that wasn’t what I asked and you know it, so you’re dodging. Which is not lying but still pisses me off.”
“He got hit by a car.” Mouch filled her in.
“Jackoff kept going, hit and run.” Herrmann continued sounding like he wanted to run the car down himself if he had to.
“It’s not that bad.” Matt tried to argue. He was shifting about, like he might be thinking about standing.
“You got hit by a car, Matt. What hurts? And stay down, damn it. Howe already called for a second ambo.” She quickly wrapped a C-collar around his neck, not wanting him to move and jostle his spine.
“I don’t need to be transported. It’s probably just bruises.”
“Bruises where? Did you hit your head?”
“No, I didn’t hit my head.” Matt dodged out from under her inspection, as much as the enforced stiffness of the collar would permit anyway. “Landed on my hip and my hand, mostly.”
“If you don’t cooperate with my assessment, I will report your ass – just try me. We’ve had this discussion before.” She glanced at the hand in question, he was sort of cradling his right elbow as they sat him up, very carefully. His right glove was torn up, but there wasn’t any blood she could see, so the glove did its job. Well, it wasn’t technically designed for road rash, but it did have to provide a certain level of protection from abrasions.
“It’s not much of a discussion. It’s just threats.” He half-muttered.
“Promises, not threats.” Sylvie met his eyes firmly. “Where does it hurt?”
“My hip and my shoulder, I mostly got up and over it, Syl. Promise.”
“Your head is bleeding.” She pointed out. There was a pretty good gash over his right eye.
“It doesn’t hurt.”
“Given your medical history, I think any head injury at all should be checked out. So you’re definitely going to Med.”
“Babe, can you-“
“Don’t ‘babe’ me about this, Matthew.” She cut him off sharply.
“Allow me to rephrase.” He shot her a look that reminded her that he didn’t really take any shit from anybody, not even commanding officers, and he did not appreciate the blatant disrespect in her tone. “PIC Brett, my head does not hurt, but my shoulder is starting to hurt quite a bit and I think you should maybe look at it and provide a 'sound medical opinion'.”
“If you weren’t already hurting, I would make you hurt for that patronizing tone. Captain Casey.” Sylvie wasn’t prone to taking much shit from anyone either, especially not her husband. She glanced at Herrmann. “Help me get his turnout off.”
“Sure.” Herrmann did his best, but Matt was clearly in a lot of pain by the time they managed to get it off. Once it was off and the bulk of it stopped obscuring the view, it was clear why he was in that much pain.
“You’ve dislocated it.” It was visible even through his polo shirt, the joint was out of place. You didn’t need to be any sort of medic or EMT to see that. Mouch looked a little queasy.
“Yeah. It hurts.” Matt looked at her, and she could see in the paleness of his skin and the look in his eyes that he was in substantial amounts of pain. He hadn’t looked like that just a few minutes ago. Shock must’ve worn off and his body was complaining (loudly) now. She caught the looks on Mouch’s and Herrmann’s faces, too. It wasn’t just her who was surprised. Matt Casey did not admit to pain. For him to do so, it had to be bad. She worried that his shoulder was broken along with dislocated, or something else, possibly something worse.
“I’ll get you something for the pain in a minute. Are you sure you don’t have any sort of head injury? I’m going to put you on a backboard, just in case. Mouch, grab Otis and Gallo, bring a board. You guys and Herrmann will have to help me lift him.”
The E.R. at Med was typically busy. Ambo 92 had brought Matt in, because they were there and it was technically protocol that she not be involved in his treatment once it was no longer necessary. Still, Chief Hatcher had taken 61 out of service temporarily, allowing her to stop by and see how Matt was doing at least. Truck was out of service as well, waiting for a relief officer to arrive, but everyone besides her and Howe were back at the house. She was directed immediately to Matt’s little curtained cubicle, though once close enough she could just about follow the smell of turnout gear. They’d had a run of actual fires lately, and despite washing the gear as directed to remove some of the carcinogens, his turnouts still smelled of smoke.
“Hey, babe.” Matt grinned at her when she came in. His shoulder had clearly been reduced without surgery, which was good news. From his smile, she thought he probably had some painkillers onboard, too. “Howe, I see you got dragged along with my wife.”
“We’re out of service for a little bit so hopefully she can concentrate later. You look better.”
“Once it was back in place, the pain let up almost completely.”
“Any other injuries?”
“I had to have some scans to check for any other fractures, breaks, those things. Including, yes, before you ask, checking for any little head injury. I’m fine, Sylvie. I’ll have the tests to prove it soon.”
“You know, that’s your right arm.”
“I do know that.” Matt nodded.
“You’re going to wear a sling for two weeks.”
“I know. I have to get someone to finish up at the Lewis project, but luckily I’d taken all the holiday period off construction. And I still have medical leave, I should only have to miss four or five shifts.”
“We were supposed to go for steak tomorrow night.” Sylvie prompted. They’d put off his birthday dinner due to being on shift, and the night after had worked better for their selected babysitter – who happened to be ‘Uncle’ Kelly – than the night before. Matt’s face fell.
“Damn it. I’m not going to someplace that nice just to ask someone else to cut my steak.”
“We’ll go once you’re out of the sling.” Sylvie leaned in to kiss him softly. She wouldn’t have minded cutting it for him, but it would bother him. She hoped they’d still go somewhere, both for the sake of marking his birthday but also for the fact that Kelly had sounded excited to have his nephew for the evening.
“Well, it’s not the birthday you wanted, Matt, but it’s pretty good news given you got hit by a car.” Will announced, holding up a folder of what Sylvie assumed were Matt’s scans. “No other significant injuries, you’ll have lots of bruising I think, but you got damned lucky you saw that car and tried to jump over the hood.”
“I almost made it.” Matt shook his head. “If I wasn’t wearing my gear, I might’ve, but it weighs me down.”
“He’s okay, other than the shoulder?” Sylvie asked, just to confirm it with an actual medical professional, not Matt’s interpretation of ‘I’m fine.’
“Rest for a couple days, especially minimal movement of that shoulder joint. He has to wear that sling for the next two days: and I mean, constantly wear it. Do not move that joint, Matt. It and the surrounding muscles, ligaments, tendons, tissue, it all needs to recover from the trauma. Two weeks off work, that means all of your jobs not just the fire department, and no going to the gym or doing any lifting or straining for those two weeks.”
“No lifting of anything?” Matt asked. “What about Jack?”
“How heavy is Jack?”
“Eighteen pounds.” Sylvie replied immediately.
“For the first couple days, it’s probably best to let Sylvie hand him to you so you don’t strain anything, and only hold him at all with your left arm. After that, lift him with your left arm, you should be okay. Nothing heavier than a gallon of milk with the right for those first weeks. You’ll need some rehab exercises to continue range of motion, Sylvie can help you with those I’m sure. Otherwise, as I said, you got very lucky.”
They did get to go dinner the next night, they just went to an Italian restaurant instead of a steakhouse. It wasn’t that much of a loss, it turned out, because Matt was able to order a crab-stuffed-shell dish that he clearly enjoyed and easily ate left-handed, and her linguini carbonara had been fantastic. She might also have eaten an embarrassing amount of the focaccia. After dinner, for dessert, they stopped by Sweet Mandy B’s, a bakery that she’d found recommended online. She had a snickerdoodle cupcake herself, not being the chocolate fiend that Matt was, but his cookie dough covered brownie was almost fantastic enough to warrant his facial expressions. She’d snagged a bit from him, and it might be a calorie-bomb, but it was delicious for sure. For a relatively stoic man, sex and good food made him very expressive. The only real consequence of those two things causing similar reactions for him was that she ended up really damned wet watching him have a meal he truly enjoyed. She shot a look at the girl behind the counter, who seemed to also understand and enjoy what she was seeing. Nothing for it, really, but she did feel sort of proprietary about Matt’s visceral (and visible) enjoyment.
Kelly had volunteered to take Jack for the whole night, which she thought was very sweet, but also, she wondered a bit about everyone’s apparently sudden conclusion that she and Matt were not having sex if Jack was in the house. People must think they were far stronger or more chaste or something than they actually were, because she wasn’t afraid to have sex with Jack in the room – so long as he was asleep anyway – let alone if he was in his own crib in the other room. Still, it was kind, and not entirely unselfish, Kelly really did love spending time with Jack. She trusted Kelly and Stella to keep Jack, and to call if something really did go wrong. So they came home from dinner and dessert to an empty house, but Matt still in a sling and her worried about hurting him, even though she really did want to just pin him to the bed and ride him ‘til he popped.
“Is it too early to go to bed?” Matt asked, glancing at the clock, that showed it was only 8 pm.
“If you’re tired-“
“Bed, not sleep.”
“Usually you’re the one being what do you call it, honest and forthright, but I guess it’s my turn tonight. I’d really like to have sex tonight and I’m pretty sure between the two of us we can manage it.”
“I’ll leave the sling on if you want. I’ll even let you do all the work.” He winked at her, and wrapped his left arm around her waist. “You know, you never have played nurse for me.”
“What do you think I’m doing every time I check you out on the ambulance?”
“Being a paramedic. And while I respect both you and your work very much, that paramedic uniform does not do nearly the same things for your tits and your ass as this dress does.”
“You like it?” It was a new dress, a deep purple sheath dress that was cut so low in the front that she couldn’t wear a bra with it, instead some supportive/protective cup-like things in the dress. She’d found it on sale when she was pregnant and it hadn’t fit her until now. She might not be down to her pre-baby weight, but she was getting closer. Matt let his eyes move slowly and very blatantly down from her face.
“I think I can just about see your belly button, Sylvie. Then you leaned over the table to get a bite of my brownie and,” he didn’t finish his statement, letting the bulge in his pants, which she could now feel pressed against her, speak for itself.
“You’re hurt.” She tried again for responsible medical professional. It was a half-assed try at best, and he clearly knew it.
“I took my pain meds and everything. I didn’t complain at all. I was a good boy.”
“Doing what you’re supposed to do without acting like a toddler about taking medicine does not earn you any rewards.” She raised her eyebrows at him.
“We’ll stop if it hurts. Please.”
“I like it when you beg.” He kissed her then, pressing their bodies so close together it was like he was trying to meld them into one. He moved from her mouth, down her neck, across her clavicles, down into the deep cut of her dress. She caved, which really she was going to do anyway but if he thought he earned it by doing this sort of thing, who was she to dissuade such fervent attentions? “Upstairs. I’m on top.”
It wasn’t as fast she might’ve wanted, because Matt needed some help undressing and she didn’t want to jostle his shoulder. He was bruised badly along his hip as well as obviously at the shoulder, and she knew he was sore and stiff from being hit. It was easiest to just strip him all the way down, then put his sling back on (to his short protest), before she worried about her own clothes, well beyond the shoes she’d already kicked off. She unzipped the dress, shimmying out of it, leaving her in just her underwear, which due to the nature of the dress was her only thong (she didn’t, by and large, care for thongs). She did, it turned out, care for that look on her husband’s face. He was sitting on their bed, watching her.
“That’s all you had on under that dress?”
“It’s kind of tight, I didn’t want any lines to show.”
“That’s-“ he went to touch himself, which normally she would approve of, but
“You can do that, just do it left-handed.” His sling would hamper him anyway, but still, he shouldn’t be trying to use his right arm.
“Left…” Matt looked down, and switched hands. He looked nonplussed. “Feels wrong.”
“Well, then, you can just leave it for me.” She smiled at him, making the few steps it took to be standing right in front of him.
“If you touch me, this is gonna be over quick.”
“Did turning forty mean you magically can’t get it up twice in one night anymore? You managed it less than two weeks ago.”
“I am older now.”
“Uh-huh. Two weeks older. Do we need to get you a cane, and reading glasses, too?”
“Come here.” He grabbed her, one arm all he needed to pull her onto his lap, and he had his mouth all over her, moving down her sternum, his tongue laving her tits just a little roughly, but she didn’t mind. He swiped across her nipple, then abruptly pulled back. “Sorry, I forgot, won’t happen again.”
“In fact, try it again.”
“I think we can reopen that part of things as Matt-land.” Maybe it was just that Jack was starting to take more solids and nursing less often, or she was more comfortable with the idea of her new boobs, or just finally getting over whatever her hang-up was, but his hands and even his mouth on her didn’t bother her tonight. It had, in fact, felt really fantastic.
“Fuck, yes. Happy Birthday to me.”
“Really, out of everything, that’s your favorite-“
“Sylvie, I haven’t been allowed to touch your tits with intent in more than six months.” He replied, then his mouth was busy doing other things. She enjoyed the sensations, which really weren’t the same as with Jack, who was looking for nourishment, whereas Matt was more holistic in his approach, going for every part of her and his hands caressed her, well, his left hand did, and she could feel him hard between their stomachs. She realized he was more lapping at her, now, and she looked down, realizing as she did that she had let down milk. It was about mealtime for Jack, if he’d been home.
“Matt, I’m sorry, that’s-“
“Don’t apologize.” Matt cut her off. “It’s fascinating. And really fucking sexy.”
“Really? Leaking milk is sexy?”
“Maybe it makes me a total pervert, but fuck, yes. It’s so fucking hot. Can I…taste it?”
“I guess so.” She wasn’t prepared, even after months of nursing Jack, for the stronger pull of an adult mouth, or the hint of teeth that came with it. It didn’t actually feel that much like Jack at all, which she hoped explained why it felt sexy when Jack nursing did not. It felt a lot more like it had when Matt had done this before. Maybe that, or the fact that she could feel and smell Matt all around her; no, there was no way to mistake this sensation for the other. She clutched his head to her, because it felt good, both a release of the pressure but also just for itself, the nipple stimulation that she hadn’t had, not in this way, for so long. Matt switched to her other breast, spending several minutes there, before pulling away and kissing her, and she could taste her own milk in his mouth, which was strange and a little off-putting actually. She pulled back.
“I’m not a fan of the taste.”
“I am.” Matt growled, his teeth, lips, and tongue making a fiery path along her jaw and back down her neck. “But I need to be inside you, Sylvie. I need you. Now.”
“Lay back. I want to ride you.”
“Condom.” He reminded, gesturing to the bedside table. “You have to…I don’t think I can manage it left-handed.”
“Lay back.” She told him, and he went obediently, while she reached for the condom. She managed it quickly enough, and if she rode him hard and fast after that, well, she had promised to ride him until he popped. She was a woman of her word. In fact, she exceeded her word. She knew he’d come, and so had she, but another orgasm was lurking right behind, she could feel it, and she knew he could stay hard a little longer if she just kept going she could reach it, and she rode harder, grinding down into his pelvis, seeking as much friction as she could find, chasing that bliss, and then it was there, suddenly, crashing over her. She collapsed against his chest, remembering to fall to her right at the very last second, so she didn’t jostle his shoulder too much.
“You okay?” Matt asked over a few minutes of her not moving, well, nothing of her moving except the muscles in her core and in her pussy, which she could still feel spasming a bit around him.
“Your dick is fantastic. I want to keep it inside me forever.”
“Thanks, but I think we have a bit of a problem.”
“I can’t tell for sure until you move but I think the condom broke.”
“Well, I’m not complaining at all, but that sometimes happens when a woman rides me like I’m a mechanical bull in a country bar.”
“Really? You know this from your vast experience with lots of women riding you like that?”
“There’s been a few over the years.” Matt kissed the top of her head. “Only you, for the last, well, a lot of years. But I do know the feeling of a broken condom.”
She moved, and looked down, sure enough, that was definitely broken. Matt peeled the remnants off, and began very oddly laying the pieces across his own abdomen.
“What are you doing?”
“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. I have to make sure I have all the pieces. Trust me, you don’t want a bit stuck inside. Happened once, when I was dating Susannah, she got a pretty bad infection.”
“Susannah? Wait, isn’t that the girlfriend Kelly hated?”
“That’s the one. And, success, it’s all here. Clean break.”
“Good.” She paused, wondering if she should, but decided what the hell, might as well ask him, it’s not like he’d lie to her, so the worst that could happen was him refusing to answer. “What, uh, what happened with her anyway?”
“She got an infection, had to go into the doctor. Actually, that was what led to the end of that relationship.”
“The doctor examined her, got the pieces out, ran some tests, including an STI panel. Standard procedure. Turns out she had gonorrhea. Got it from one of the guys she was cheating on me with apparently.”
“Oh my…Matt, that’s awful.”
“Hep C, too. Had to get a year’s worth of regular testing after that.”
“I can see why you broke up with her.”
“She dumped me.”
“Well, I was going to, but she got it in her head I gave it to her, and she dumped me. The gonorrhea, I mean, the Hep C was almost certainly from the drugs she was using. I knew about those. Sort of. I thought it was more recreational than it was. Don’t worry, I’m totally clean. It’s been almost twenty years, no way I’d develop anything after this long. I did get a full panel, before we had sex. Just in case. Not that I was, you know, out with a lot of women or anything.”
“No, that’s not what I was…” She sat up, looking down at him. She scooped up the broken condom, dumping it into the trash can she kept by the bed now. Matt hated how it looked for some reason, but he could just put up with it as long as they were using condoms. Once she went back on birth control in a couple months, she’d move it. She turned her attention back to Matt. “I was just stuck on wondering how you even met her and what you were thinking actually dating her. I mean…what were you thinking?”
“I was thinking south of my belt. As Andy and Kelly regularly pointed out. She could do things…anyway, she was, the sex was, it was wild and she made me feel…” Matt paused, looking away. Then he brought his eyes back to hers. “She told me she loved me. Every time I’d get upset about something she did, she’d…she promised she loved me. I hadn’t heard anyone say that to me in…I couldn’t even remember how long, it had been years before my parents…before. Then it had been five years since that. Dr. Sandlin and I worked through that, a little while back, because I used to wonder why I put up with all her crap, too. I knew she was bad for me, Sylvie, I knew it. I knew she was cheating on me. I hadn’t had to face it before that positive STI test, but I knew. I knew about the drugs she was into. But every time I’d…she said she loved me. And I’d started to think no one ever would." Matt paused again, his eyes on the sheets for a few moments. Then he met her eyes again. "Sometimes, when I’m…when I’m needy and desperate, I do stupid things. Not many that stupid, but sleeping with Chief Pridgen’s ex-wife, barely ex, after I knew who she was and that he was my new boss, that’s pretty high up there.”
“That was after you and Gabby broke up.”
“I let Gabby go because she clearly wanted to be my candidate more than to be my wife and she couldn’t be both. I couldn’t separate myself as her lieutenant and myself as her fiancé. And she knew she could get by with anything at work – which is dangerous as hell for a candidate – because I wouldn’t discipline her like I did every other candidate because, well, for a couple reasons. One, if she got mad at me, forget not having any sex, she wouldn’t even touch me, might go a week with barely speaking to me or when she did, she was...unfriendly, let alone affectionate. I knew that. Two, a candidate is usually new to a house, so the officer has the crew’s loyalty and backing.”
“Your guys would do anything for you.”
“Not if the other option is Gabby Dawson.” Matt pulled her down to lie next to him. She was glad her spot was on his left side, so she could cuddle without jostling his arm. He kissed her softly, brushing the fingers of his left hand through her messy hair. “You’re the only person in 51 I’d trust to take my side today if it came down to choosing her or me, and back then, you’d have picked her. It was nice to be picked, to be wanted, with Beth - the ex-Mrs. Pridgen. It was stupid, though. Just like it was with Susannah.”
“Yeah, it was.”
“Luckily, I have you now. Team Matt, right?”
“No matter what. But I think we should call it Team Casey. You and me – and Jack – against all comers, no matter what life throws at us. We’re always on your side, Matt. Always.”
"I'm starting to really know that. Deep down." Matt kissed her softly. "There's not a lot in this life I don't doubt, Sylvie, but you, I trust. I can tell you about Susannah and I know you'll still love me. I can tell you anything, be anything, do anything, with you - so thank you. For putting up with me and my crap, and being the kind of woman I can trust this much."
This time, Sylvie kissed him, hard and deep. She tried to pour all of her emotions into it. She couldn't find the words, but it felt like that nasty boil had finally, truly, burst. She'd never doubted he loved her, but hearing that he knew she loved him no matter what, that was best feeling in the world, right up there with holding her son.
This is where I originally planned for this story to end. A couple ideas just would not leave me alone though, so there's still a bit more to come. If you've ever written fiction, sometimes, you just have to write something out - like the characters just bitch at you in your head until you get it out there.
To say that Sylvie was surprised to see Nancy and Randy on their front porch two weeks before Christmas was an understatement. Asked two minutes before, she wouldn’t have even been entirely sure that Nancy knew their current address. Sylvie had not spoken to her mother-in-law since the wedding, and Matt only rarely spoke to her. He never mentioned Nancy’s husband, but given his feelings about his stepfather, Sylvie didn’t expect anything else on that front.
“Nancy, Randy, hi.”
“Can we come in?” Randy asked.
“Matt’s at work.”
“You and Matthew work the same shift. He’s not at work.”
“Matt’s at work on a construction project.” Sylvie wasn’t lying. Matt might have not taken any big projects to have some extra time off during the holiday season (and because his shoulder needed the rest, it still wasn’t back to normal), but he was still taking calls from established clients. Besides, it had been Mrs. Danvers who called. She was ninety years old, still living on her own, and she’d been Matt’s client since he was still working for someone else as a day laborer: she’d called with a door that was sticking, and Matt went over to fix it. He’d come home full of whatever treats the surprisingly sprightly old lady had made for him. Sylvie had met her a few months back when Matt took her and Jack by. It had felt a little like meeting Matt’s grandmother in a way – though seeing him blush when Geraldine Danvers went on about how he’d finally settled down with a good girl and started making adorable babies had been well worth the calorie bombs that were the cupcakes and dessert breads she’d made for their visit. For some reason, Sylvie did not want to tell Nancy any of that, or even where exactly Matt was.
“I’d like to talk to you anyway.” Nancy said.
“It’s nearly five, Matt should be home soon.” Sylvie admitted. “Come inside, it’s cold out.”
“The house is nice. I didn’t think firefighters made enough money to afford this sort of place, this is a nice neighborhood now.” Nancy remarked as they stepped inside.
“It was a fixer upper.” Sylvie replied. “Matt just about took it down to the studs.”
“This floor looks original.” Randy gestured downwards. As if Sylvie couldn’t tell where the floor was.
“It’s reclaimed, from another house of the same period.”
“Matthew did this work?” Nancy asked.
“Yes, he did.”
“I had no idea.” Nancy looked around, impressed if Sylvie was any judge of her expressions. She should be. Matt had done beautiful work, he always did good work, but in his own home he’d really created something beautiful, a balance between keeping (or replacing) period-appropriate material and modernizing the house for twenty-first century life. She took them through to the kitchen, mostly because she needed to keep an eye on dinner. It had nothing to do with wanting to show off her favorite room in the house (well, no, their bedroom had a certain appeal, and the furniture in Jack’s room, but this was her favorite to really show off because the kitchen looked like it belonged in some truly fancy house).
“Matthew did this?” Nancy asked again.
“I helped with the design, but he did all the labor himself, well, he had a little help with putting in the cabinets, but he did almost all the labor himself.”
“I’ve never seen his work before.” Nancy admitted. “I knew he did some light construction on the side, day work, but this is beautiful."
"He’s a licensed and bonded contractor, not a day laborer.” Sylvie pointed out sharply. There was a big difference between the two in terms of skills and expertise, or at least, there should be and Matt was good at what he did. She knew Nancy had lived with Matt for a time when she got out, in a place Matt had renovated, but maybe Nancy hadn’t known Matt had done the work there.
“Is my grandson here?”
“He’s upstairs, sleeping.” Sylvie answered.
“I’d like to meet him.”
“You can do that, just as soon as-“
“That’s ridiculous.” Randy cut in. “Just because she was in prison-“
“Everyone has to have the booster, I had one, Matt had one, everyone who has held my son or been within a few feet of him even, has had a recent DTAP booster. Matt has explained this to you, Nancy, many times, I know he has.”
“This is just a reason for Matthew to be hurtful and exclude me.”
“We’re being reasonably cautious-“
“We’re not leaving until we meet our grandson.” Randy stepped toward her, and Sylvie was just about to chew him a new asshole for thinking he could intimidate her in her own damned house, when the backdoor shut very firmly just as she registered a draft of cold air.
“You get an inch closer to my wife and you’ll regret it.” Matt’s voice was damn near a growl, Sylvie barely recognized it. It scared her more than Randy’s approach had initially, in fact, not because she thought Matt might hurt her but she realized just how close Randy was to her and suddenly she didn’t want to be there. Something about Randy had always set her on edge, the way he talked down to people, even Matt, even Nancy sometimes, but she’d always just thought him a jerk. Matt’s reaction said he’d registered a different threat.
“Mom, shut up. I told you the rules for meeting Jack. Randy, get away from my wife.”
“Matthew, don’t talk to him like that.”
“Why are you here?”
“I came to meet my grandson. You won’t bring him to me.”
“I’m busy. And you know the rules for that.”
“You go to see her parents all the time, I’ve seen the pictures on her Instagram.”
“Her parents have had their shots.” Matt pointed out sharply.
“So have I.” Nancy shot back, pulling a paper out of her purse and slapping it down on the island’s counter top. “You got what you wanted, Matthew, treating me like I carry diseases, but there you go. I want to meet my grandson.”
“Sylvie?” Matt looked at her, and she took up the paper. It really was a record of Nancy’s vaccination, dated almost two weeks ago.
“She’s good, Matt. It’s two weeks old.”
“Randy?” Matt asked, challenge in his voice. “You got yours?”
“I’ve got four other grandchildren, never needed any shot just to meet them.”
“Then your kids are morons.” Matt shot back immediately. “And not other grandchildren, he’s not yours.”
“Matthew, he’s my husband.”
“He’s nothing to me. I barely know him. What I do know, I don’t like.”
“Matt.” Sylvie shook her head at him. That wasn’t going to help, but Matt’s temper was up and he got mean sometimes when he was angry. Not with her, not really (everyone got sharp when angry), but with other people, he could be pretty mean. “Why don’t you go up and get Jack? As long as Randy doesn’t hold him, and he doesn’t have a cough or any way likely to spread anything over any good distance, it’ll be fine.”
“Why Jack?” Nancy asked, apparently randomly.
“It’s John Andrew, officially. John after my mom’s dad and Andrew after Matt’s friend-” Sylvie informed them.
“Then you should call him John. If I’d wanted Matthew called Matt, I’d have named him that, just like we named Christie – we didn’t name her Christine and call her something else entirely. Your parents they wanted you called Sylvie, so they named you Sylvie, not Sylvia. You have a beautiful name, Matthew, you should use it.”
“He should be up in a few minutes any way. Go get him.” Sylvie urged Matt upstairs. He nodded, but shot a look at Randy.
“Have a seat. Over there.”
“I’d say you’re a son of a bitch, but I don’t want to insult your mother.” Randy replied. “No wonder Nancy says you remind her of Greg, asshole with a nice face, though – must be why she can’t stand to look at you.”
“Randy.” Nancy gasped.
“That’s really how you feel, Mom?” Matt looked like he’d been smacked in the face.
“Sweetheart, that’s not-“
“Tell him the truth, Nancy. You’ve told everyone else enough times. He’s Greg made over.”
“No, no he’s not.” Nancy protested. “He doesn’t have that same…cruelty in him. Sweetheart, I never said that. It just sometimes, when you’re angry, sweetheart, sometimes you remind me of him. You say things, when you’re angry, things that…he was like that, too.”
“I’ll bring Jack down.” Matt capitulated. “You can meet him.”
Matt arrived with Jack in his arms a few minutes later. Sylvie had been silent the whole time. She wanted to do something, possibly violent, to both of her ‘guests,’ but she wasn’t sure what to say. Randy had, at least, taken a seat at the table, while Nancy stayed at the island. As much as Sylvie right now almost hated her mother-in-law, she couldn’t help being moved at the sight of Nancy just about in tears. She wondered how it would feel, someday, seeing Jack with his own child in his arms. It was hard to imagine a day when Jack was taller than her, though she knew it would come.
“Can I hold him?”
“Hey, Jack, this is…” Matt paused, looking at Nancy, “what do you want to be called, Mom? Grandma? Grannie? Nana?”
“Nana, I like that. It’s close to my name.”
“Jack, this is your Nana. You want to say ‘hi’?”
Jack’s response was a strung-together series of mostly vowel sounds, but he didn’t cuddle into Matt’s shoulder so he wasn’t unwilling at least. If he had retreated closer to Matt’s body, Sylvie was certain Matt wouldn’t have handed him over, but as it was, there was a very ginger exchange as Nancy took Jack.
“You don’t look a thing like your daddy did.” Nancy spoke softly to Jack. “He was skinny and sort of yellow-skinned, always had his fingers in his mouth, he was so fussy, and sort of ugly, like a little alien baby. You’re a nice chubby cute little boy, John.”
“My mom thinks he looks like me.” Sylvie volunteered.
“Is he sleeping well for you? Matthew didn’t sleep more than four hours a night until he was about a year old. And be ready for lots of time with diapers.”
“You didn’t potty-train during the day until you were two and a half, Matthew.”
“That’s not even late, especially for a boy.” Sylvie couldn't help sort of defending Matt.
“He wet the bed at night until he was almost eight.”
“What? She should know these things, in case he takes after you more than he looks like you. Has he started playing with his little thing, yet? Matthew figured that out very early-“
“Well, you did.”
“No one ever needs to know that!”
“Why? She’s your wife, I’m sure she’s plenty familiar with your little thing. Otherwise we’d not have John here, would we?”
“His name is Jack.” Matt insisted.
“No, his name is John. You said so yourself, John Andrew Casey. It is Casey isn’t it, not one of those hyphenated things, or keeping the mother’s name?”
“It’s Casey. So is mine now, actually.” Sylvie assured her.
“Good, that whole idea is ridiculous, you should have the same name as your children, you know. Though you’d never know Matthew had anything to do with making this one, he sure is adorable.”
“Aaaaaa.” Jack reached towards Matt, repeating that simple vowel sound. Sylvie had a sharp sudden jerk that maybe he was trying to say something like Dad, but had only managed the vowels. Maybe it was just parental wishful thinking. Either way, Matt plucked his son from Nancy’s arms.
“I hear you, Peanut. It’s okay, we’ll have dinner in a few minutes.”
“Oh, Matthew, don’t start that sort of thing.”
“What? Feeding my son?”
“No, the nickname thing. He’ll be forty and people will still call him ‘Peanut’. You always hated when your father or uncles called you nicknames.”
“Yeah, well, from what I hear, Uncle Gary’s favorite ‘nickname’ was faggot, so I can’t blame him for hating it.” Sylvie tried to keep her tone a little less hateful than she suddenly felt. It wasn’t even all directed at Nancy, it was just that Nancy’s way of speaking to Matt set her every nerve on edge. “Peanut is cute.”
“Still, you should call him his name.”
“He’s our son. We’ll decide what to call him.” Matt replied firmly. “I let you decide what he’ll call you, and when he’s old enough, I’ll let him decide what people will call him, but for now, we decide, and it’s Jack.”
“I suppose we should go. We’re meeting Randy’s daughter for dinner, but I had to…well, I had to see him in person, Matthew. I never got to know my granddaughter when she was little, I’d like to know John.”
“Try letting us know when you’ll come by next time, we can arrange a bit more time in everyone’s schedule.” Sylvie kept it polite, but hoped that the slight dig about just dropping by had been made clear enough. She wasn’t at all sorry to see Nancy and Randy go a couple moments later.
“I worry sometimes.” Matt spoke seemingly randomly, after they were in bed that night. Sylvie was in her spot, curled into his side.
“I feel like I worry every day now that I’m a mom, but what do you worry about sometimes?”
“That she’s right.”
“Who’s right about what?”
“Mom. That I’m just like him.”
“Matt, you’re nothing like your dad.”
“You never knew him.” Matt pointed out gently. “He wasn’t all bad, Sylvie. There were years, even, when it was good. And even in the rough years, it wasn’t bad every day. He took me to hockey games and taught me to skate. He taught me to build things, to fix stuff around the house. We used to play those complicated strategy board games on winter weekends when it was really cold outside: you know, Risk, Axis and Allies, stuff like that. He was strict, but lots of dads are strict. Mom knew him. She thinks…”
“Nancy might have known your dad, but I don’t think she knows you.”
“She’s my mom.”
“And I’m married to you. I think I know you a lot better than she does. Even if she does have the embarrassing stories from when you were a baby. Like that you figured out your ‘little thing’ early in life.” Sylvie teased lightly, not wanting to let him get too far down the rabbit hole tonight.
“It’s not that little anymore.” He paused. “It’s weird that she says Jack doesn’t look anything like me. I think he’s got some of me in him.”
“He does. I can see it.” She considered for a quiet moment whether to go on, but maybe it would be good for him to hear it. “The things she talked about Matt, those are signs of a baby who was underfed. So Jack might not look like you did because he’s healthier. That’s all.”
“Christie still blames me. I think Mom does, too. It’s my fault.”
“No, Matt, it isn’t. You didn’t cause her to do what she did. She made her own decision about how to deal with your dad’s abuse. She could’ve done other things.”
“Randy believed what he said. Mom’s said that to him. That she can’t stand to look at me. She always says I look so handsome and it’s always weird. I’m not particularly handsome, I mean, I’m not ugly, I know that, but…I think I do look a lot like my dad. What I remember of him. He was heavier set than I am, by the age when I remember him anyway, and he had hazel eyes, but Christie and I got his blond hair. I’m shorter than him, by about four inches. But I do look like him. Do you think that bothers my mom?”
“If it does, that’s on her. You can’t help your ravishing good looks, Matt.”
“I’m glad you think I’m good-looking, even if I respectfully disagree.” Matt kissed the top of her head. “She’s going to call him John his entire life, you know that, right?”
“Moms can be stubborn.”
“She calls me Matthew. I’ve been Matt my whole life, as long as I can remember, to everyone but my mother. And apparently her husband now.” Matt tightened his grip on her a little. “Did Randy bother you today? He was trying to intimidate you.”
“I know. Matt, I’m a paramedic in Chicago, I’ve seen scarier guys than your stepfather.”
“It doesn’t excuse him being a bastard to you, especially in our house. I don’t want him around. I don’t care what they say, if I’m not home, I don’t want him here.”
“He’s not dangerous, Matt.”
“You don’t know that. More importantly, I don’t know that. My mom’s taste in men is pretty awful. Just promise me. It’ll make me feel better.”
“Fine. But it’s winter. I’m going to feel bad about making them wait outside, so you owe me, mister.”
“Owe you?” Matt asked, tilting her chin up to meet his eyes. “Should I start paying on that debt now then?”
She had hoped she was just being silly, but she was late. She was late, and they’d been sexually active. And condoms weren’t absolutely effective. And there was his birthday, and the fact that they hadn’t used a condom in the shower, she’d remember only after she realized she was late. And they’d broken the condom that one time, too. So it was possible. It made her want to puke, but it was possible. So she bought the damn test and this morning, before shift, she’d peed on it and prayed for the answer she wanted, but then realized she wasn’t even entirely sure what answer she wanted. Was she?
She wasn’t sure how she was feeling, now that she had the answer. She wasn’t entirely sure about a lot of things at the moment. The only thing she was sure of was that she had to tell Matt. No matter what she felt about it, this was happening and they would have to deal with it. She just hadn’t expected it. She certainly hadn’t wanted it. But here it was. She spent so much time staring at the damning evidence that Matt popped his head into the bathroom.
“Babe, you gotta get dressed. We have to leave for Herrmann’s in like five minutes or we’ll be late for shift.”
“Yeah, of course, sorry.”
“Sylvie, is that…” Matt stepped into the room, seeing what was in her hand. “Are you…are we…again?”
“Apparently, yes. I’m pregnant. Again.” Sylvie managed to tell him. She watched his face, a moment for shock was expected, and then that grin, God, that boyish crazy grin, and he pulled her into his chest into a crushing hug.
“I love you.” Matt whispered into her hair as he hugged her so tightly.
“I know.” She did know that. She knew it just like she knew he was going to be happy about this, even though they’d not been trying, had been trying to prevent it, in fact. But he wasn’t the one who was pregnant. He wasn’t the one who was going to have to take a bunch more time off work, barely a year after the last long leave of absence. He wasn’t the one who hadn’t even gotten all the old baby weight off yet, and now she was going to be gaining it all back, and he wasn’t the one whose body wouldn’t be her own again for…frankly a lot longer than being pregnant by itself and that was long enough.
“Sylvie.” Matt pulled back, gently bringing her chin up to meet his eyes. “This is good news, isn’t it?”
“Well…not entirely.” Sylvie wanted to be honest with him. She had promised him that much and more importantly she knew he needed it. He was working so hard to overcome his certainty that everyone lied to him (at least by omission) she couldn’t start being less than honest with him now, no matter how much it might hurt him in the short term. “We weren’t trying or planning, we were using condoms to try to prevent this, in fact, and I’m going to have to take another leave from work, and babies are expensive-“
“Don’t worry about the money. I can pick up some extra shifts, and some more construction work.”
“You already work too hard.” Sylvie argued. He did. He worked what seemed like every hour God sent, especially April through October, preparing financially for the ‘lean’ winter months without much construction work. “And I’m not sure I can handle Jack as a toddler and a little one, too. He’s already crawling and he’s as fearless as you are, and I already have nightmares of hearing ‘Mommy watch this’ from the other room and if I have another baby in my arms, who is going to catch our cannonball of a son?”
“He’s not a cannonball.” Matt chuckled lightly. “He’s just…speedy for a kid who is only crawling. Agile. I’ll finish up all the last of the child-proofing tomorrow, I promise. But Sylvie, another Jack…another baby that’s part of me and part of you and…God, we could have a dozen of them and I’d be happy.”
“Uhm, no, we couldn’t.” Sylvie was firm on that. She was tired just thinking about two. “I love Jack so much, but he’s…a lot. This one may be our last. Hopefully it’s our little princess you wanted so badly.”
“Nah. This one’s a boy.” Matt put a hand over her obviously-still-flat stomach. “Jack’s little brother.”
“Uh-huh. Given that you spent all of my pregnancy with Jack insisting he was a girl, I’m not going to believe you about this one.” Sylvie smiled, knowing his enthusiasm was contagious. She had no doubt she was going to love their child, of course she would, it was just a lot to feel and think about and deal with right now.
“I know I’m not the one pregnant, and having to interrupt my career, and…deal with all the pain and inconvenience of pregnancy. But aren’t you happy, Sylvie? To have another little one? To grow our family?” Matt met her eyes carefully.
“Not yet. I will be. I just need some time. To adjust my plans, I guess.”
“Give me a few days, Matt. This is a surprise.” She tried to reassure him.
“Days I can give.” Matt’s smile was small and a little taut. “I just want to ask one thing.”
“What one thing is that?”
“We wait to tell anyone at all until you’ve hit ‘happy’. Honestly happy, because you have a glass face, Sylvie.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to rush out and tell anyone just yet, in case…just in case.”
“Okay.” Matt paused. “I just want us to be, I want it to be a happy announcement. Good news.”
“Matt, your parents weren’t happy, were they?” Sylvie realized suddenly.
“Yes and no. They traded. Mom was happy at first, so I was told, but Dad wasn’t. Another mouth to feed and all that.” Matt shrugged, but it wasn’t nonchalant. “Then when I was born, and was – well, am – a son, Dad was happy. Mom wasn’t. I just…it was always…I felt guilty, for the long labor she used to talk about, and being unplanned, Dad not even wanting another, and for not being the little sister for Christie that she and Mom both wanted. I know they’re my parents, they loved me, I just…it was weird to know I wasn’t wanted. So, I don’t want anyone to tell any stories to this little one that we weren’t ecstatic.”
“I would never tell a child they were unwanted. And it isn’t unwanted. Poorly timed. Unplanned. Yes to both. But Matt,” She cupped his jaw, and kissed him softly, “I could never not want your baby. We did want another child, eventually. Because while I wouldn’t have a dozen, one or two more little Matt-Casey-juniors running around, well, both me and the world could use that.”
“He doesn’t look that much like me.” Matt wrinkled his nose kind of adorably.
“No. Jack’s a pretty good mix of us, I think. But I hope he grows up like you. Happier. But strong and stubborn, proud and noble, and kind and good – like you.”
“You flatter me.” Matt was smiling genuinely again, though. “I may not think that describes me all that well, but I’d be damned proud if my son – sorry, sons – turn out that way.”
“What about it doesn’t describe you?”
“Well, okay, stubborn, that one fits. Both of us actually so I think we’re pretty much guaranteed to have two stubborn mules for kids.” Matt grinned. “Two. I am definitely the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet.”
Okay, a few reviewers on the last chapter called it...and if you think it's too convenient, it happened pretty much just this way to a friend of mine (he and his wife actually have 2 boys 54 weeks apart in age because of a condom failure). So, yes, it's narratively convenient but can and does happen in real life.
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.”
It's hard to believe this ended up the second-longest of my stories - it was originally planned to be the shortest of the series! Thank you to all those who took the time to leave kudos or comments/reviews. I appreciate also all the readers who've been with me on this journey since back in March. Hopefully Part 5 in the series lived up to any expectations you had for it. I wanted to leave off on a celebratory note, and I hope this chapter hits the right note for you, too.