“I feel bad,” Alice Kingsleigh-Brandon told her husband.
He rolled onto his side and squinted at her. “Why?”
“Because I’m pregnant again, and she’s not. She’s been married for almost three years, and they really want kids. But they haven’t been able to have any yet. They’ve been trying for three years, and nothing’s happened!”
“Nothing?” Chris repeated.
“Well, not nothing, but they haven’t been able to have a baby after trying for over three years. And meanwhile, all that I have to do is lie back and think of England and I’m pregnant.”
Chris narrowed his right eye as he looked at his wife. “Lie back and think of England? That’s what you call it?”
She shrugged. “Well, you know…”
“No, Alice, I don’t know. I hardly ever do.”
“I’m just saying that she’s one of my best friends and I know how much she wants a baby. But I feel bad getting pregnant less than six months after we got married when she hasn’t had a successful pregnancy in the past three years.”
“And you know her. If you said that to her, she’d tell you that you’ve been through a lot of shit in the past few years and there’s no reason to feel bad because this one thing was easy for you.”
“I don’t think that Annie would say shit.”
Chris rolled his eyes. “Be that as it may, you’re three months pregnant, and you’re not going to be able to hide it much longer. You really do need to tell Annie sooner rather than later.”
She glared at him. “I hate when you’re right.”
Over the years, Alice had developed a routine of having a late lunch at the Knit Wit once a week, usually Tuesdays. It allowed her to spend time with Annie and occasionally Elsa. That particular Tuesday, when Alice arrived, Annie was waiting for her. “I need to talk to you.”
“You need to talk to me?” Alice said.
Annie was visibly excited. “I have some news.”
“Good news, really good news.”
“I’m pregnant,” Annie said.
“What? When?” Annie had suffered three first trimester miscarriages in the three years that she’d been married, and Alice had learned of each of those pregnancies after its end. She couldn’t imagine that Annie would announce a pregnancy in the first trimester.
“I’m twenty weeks. We haven’t told anyone anything for obvious reasons, but I had my twenty-week appointment today, and it went really well. And I know that my husband is going to tell yours today, so I wanted to tell you myself.”
“When are you due?”
“The end of November.”
Alice grinned. “And everything looks good?”
“Yeah, she’s healthy.”
“She? You’re having a girl?”
“Oh man, I’d give you my baby clothes, but I gave all of them to Elsa when Clara was born.”
Annie made a thoughtful noise. “I can ask her about them. I’m sure that she’s not dressing Thomas in the newborn stuff.”
Alice laughed. “That kid is probably in twelve month stuff already.”
“At least,” Annie said. “He’s such a chunk.”
“He’s the cutest chunk.”
“He’s my favorite godson.”
Alice snorted. “Annie, he’s your only godson.”
“I have to tell you something too.”
“Yeah?” Annie leaned forward. “What’s up?”
Alice nodded. “Yeah, so, actually, I’m pregnant too.”
“Really?” Annie’s voice rose both in pitch and volume. “Oh my gosh, Alice, that’s great! I’m so excited for you. Is Chris over the moon? When are you due?”
“Well, I’m due in January,” Alice began. “And Chris is thrilled, which delights me. I know that he loves the girls, and he’s told me before that he’d be perfectly happy even if we didn’t have any more children. But he’s really excited about the new baby.”
“What do the girls think?”
Alice laughed. “Josie is very insistent that we have to have a boy.”
“That’s not new. She wanted Madeline to be a boy as I recall.”
“Yeah, she did. She really wants a little brother. Lottie wants to play with the baby, and I don’t think that Madeline really understands what’s happening.”
Annie chuckled. “I’m really happy for you. You and Chris deserve this.”
“I’m happy for YOU. You and Erik have been through a lot. This is really wonderful news.”
Despite owning a restaurant together, Erik and Chris didn’t get much time just the two of them. There were always other people-cooks, servers, hosts, and others around them. But that Thursday afternoon shortly before four o’clock, the Erik found Chris alone in their office. “Hey, man, I need to talk to you.”
Chris adjusted his black-rimmed glasses and looked up from their computer. “Hey, what’s up?”
“So, I need to tell you something.”
“Sit,” Chris ordered. “You’re making me nervous, shifting around like that.”
Erik obeyed immediately. “Being a dad agrees with you.”
He smiled. “So, what’s up?”
“I have news, big news.”
“Chris, you’re never going to believe this, but Annie’s pregnant.”
Chris’s eyebrows flew up. “Really? When’s she due?”
“November 24, we went to her twenty-week appointment this morning.”
“Wow, Erik, that’s great. Congratulations.”
Erik grinned. “Thanks. We’re really excited.”
“I can imagine. This has been a long time coming.”
“Yeah,” his smile grew. “After everything, we didn’t want to tell anyone until we knew that it wasn’t going…until we knew that things were going to be okay.”
Chris smiled. “And everything’s good?”
“Yeah, she’s strong and healthy.”
“Annie’s good, but so is our daughter.”
“Your daughter,” Chris said. “That’s great, Erik. I’m so happy for you. You’re finally going to have a baby girl.”
“I’m still really nervous about things. You know about everything.”
“Yeah.” Chris was one of the only people Erik had ever really told about what it was like to lose three pregnancies over the past three years.
“It’s scary, but I’m also excited. We’re going to have a little girl. I’m going to finally be a dad.”
Chris shook Erik’s hand. “Seriously, Erik, congratulations. I’m so excited for you.”
“Thanks. How are things going at your house?”
“Good, good,” Chris replied. “The girls are loving summer vacation.”
“Are they at daycare during the day?”
“When I’m here,” he said. “Now that I’m done with my spring semester course, they go to daycare half of the time and stay home with me half the time.”
Erik smiled. “You’re loving that.”
“Yeah, it’s really the best.”
“And Alice is doing well?
Chris grinned. “She is. She’s, well, she’s expecting.”
Erik jumped to his feet. “You’re kidding!”
“No,” Chris said. “We’re-well, she’s pregnant. We’re having a baby.”
“And everything’s good?”
Chris nodded. “Yeah, she’s fourteen weeks.”
“Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?”
“Not yet, but let me tell you. Josie is going to be broken-hearted if she doesn’t get a baby brother.”
“Really?” Erik chuckled.
“Yeah, she thinks that she needs a baby brother.”
Erik snorted. “Of course she does. And let me guess. You don’t care either way?”
“I have three daughters. I wouldn’t complain about having a son, but I also wouldn’t mind another daughter.”
Erik grinned. “Marriage and children really do suit you, Chris.”
“I finally get to throw a baby shower for you!” Elsa squealed throwing her arms in the air.
Annie laughed. “I love how that’s your first thought.”
“Woman, you’re one of my best friends. You spend all major holidays either with my family or your husband’s. I was your maid of honor. I’m your business partner! I threw your bridal shower. It only stands to reason that I should get to throw your baby shower.”
Alice chuckled. “Clearly, she’s excited about this.”
Elsa leaned back in her chair. “I’ve wanted this baby for so long.”
“I bet that you’re more excited about the Wentworth baby than you are about Gwen’s baby,” Emma teased.
Elsa glared across the patio at her friend. “I’m happy that my sister and Charlie are having a baby. I’m looking forward to being an aunt. But mostly, I’m glad that they finally bit the bullet and got married. Now I don’t have to listen to my mother whine about their never-ending engagement anymore.”
Nora snorted. “Now Mary Frances will just have to find something else to whine about.”
“She’s already got it,” Annie replied. “Maeve’s love life, she’s been fussing about that since Gwen and Charlie cut the cake.”
“Oh Mary Frances,” Emma sighed as she stood up. “I’m going to get something to drink. Does anyone else need anything? Nora, do you want another sparkling water?”
Nora rested a hand on her nearly full-term belly. “That would be great, Em. Thank you.”
Emma waved a hand casually. “I remember what it’s like to be that pregnant. And besides, we all know that I need to move around more than I do. Theo’s almost two, and I don’t think that I’ve lost a pound since he was born.”
“Em, you’re too hard on yourself,” Annie began.
The plump redhead shook her head. “Don’t make excuses for me, Annie. It’s my own fault. I don’t exercise, and we all know that I could eat better.”
“I’ll be your workout buddy after this one’s born,” Nora offered.
“I’ve heard that offer before,” Emma replied. “I think it was about this time last year. Then what was it? Three months after Liam was born, you were preggo again.”
Nora blushed as Emma went into the house. “We’re really not planning to do that again.”
“I don’t think that you were planning on doing it the first time,” Alice teased.
“As the mother of a two-year-old and a seven-month-old, I feel like she won’t have much energy to do that again for a bit,” Elsa teased. “I’m not even sure who William Darcy is anymore.”
Alice laughed. “That’s true. I remember when I was where you are, and I feel like Oliver and I were always exhausted.”
Elsa nodded. “I bet.”
“There’s a reason that there is a two and a half year gap between Charlotte and Madeleine.”
“And then you had a five-year-old, a three-year-old, and an infant by yourself!” Nora said. “I’ve got Ed by my side, and I don’t know how you did that.”
“I had so much help. My parents, you guys, my siblings-you guys saved my ass so many times during that year.”
“And now you have Chris,” Emma said as she rejoined the conversation.
Alice nodded. “And Josie and Charlotte will be much more self-sufficient when this little one arrives than they were when Madeleine was born.”
“All I know is that I need both Clara and Tommy to be more independent before we have another one,” Elsa replied.
“I know that feeling,” Alice told her. “I needed Josie out of diapers before I could think about conceiving Madeleine.”
“I need Theo to sleep through the night,” Emma offered as she sat down.
“He still isn’t?” Nora queried.
Emma sighed. “He was for a while, but then when he got the flu last fall, he stopped sleeping through the night. He only sleeps through the night if he either sleeps in our bed or if one of us sleeps in his room. Otherwise, he inevitably starts screaming around two-thirty.”
“Oof,” Elsa breathed sympathetically. “Clara was a decent sleeper, and Tommy is still in our room.”
“Josie acted like she was allergic to sleep,” Alice said. “Or she thought that sleep was a monster who was going to hurt Oliver and me and she had to protect us from it.”
“How long did that last?” Emma queried.
“Nowhere near where you are right now, she was sleeping through the night by her first birthday and didn’t really any regressions after that.”
“I’m jealous,” Emma said. “Our bed is not big enough for two grown adults and an absurdly wiggly toddler.”
“Charlotte refused to sleep alone for a long time after Oliver died, but she was one three-year-old in a queen-sized bed with me.”
“How long did she sleep with you?” Annie asked.
Alice thought for a moment. “Maybe six or eight months? She was definitely back in her own room before Nora’s wedding. And none of the girls have really had sleep issues since Chris and I got married.”
“Yeah, but I think he’s in for a rude awakening come January when someone starts waking him up in the middle of the night.”
“Eh,” Elsa said. “I don’t know if I’d worry that much about that. He survived four years in the army and then spent like ten years in school after that between undergrad and grad school. I’m pretty sure that his sleep was bizarre from like age eighteen to thirty-two.”
“And then in the past twelve or so years, he’s had pretty good sleep patterns.”
“Who got up in the middle of the night and sorted the girls out when they all had that stomach bug back in March?” Elsa queried.
“Exactly,” her friend persisted. “The man got up at two in the morning and dealt with three sick little girls.”
“That’s true,” Alice agreed. “He gave the baths and put them in clean clothes. He changed the sheets on their beds. I don’t think that he went back to sleep again that night.”
“I think that he’ll adjust pretty well to a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night,” Elsa said.
“Probably better than my husband did,” Nora added.
“Or better than I did or still do,” Emma said. ”I don’t do well with sleep deprivation or disruption.”
“Yes, we all remember first hour AP Lit,” Elsa sighed.
“Not all of us,” Alice replied.
Nora sighed. “Okay, most of us remember that. Most of us were there for that.”
“Someone wore sunglasses pretty much every morning,” Elsa continued.
Alice snorted. “I believe that.”
“The light in that room was awful,” Emma moaned. “I liked Mrs. Ward, but the sunlight in that room was terrible. I just couldn’t face it full-on.”
Nora smiled. “Emma, you really are your own person. Never change.”
“Given that I’ve been like this for more than twenty years, I think that I’m kind of stuck this way.”
Elsa laughed. “I don’t know if you’re STUCK that way, but I don’t think that you have any desire to change.”
“I think that means that I’m stuck.”
“Yeah, but it’s voluntary,” Annie told her. “Nobody is making you be stuck this way.”
Emma shrugged. “I guess. But also, no one is complaining about me being this way. George even loves me like this.”
“George loves you as you are,” Annie said.
“Lord alone knows why,” Emma replied. “But I’m grateful.”
Amelia Rose Ferrars was born about a month later. Her father nicknamed her Millie approximately ten minutes after birth. Three weeks later, Nora started loading Liam and Millie into the double stroller and going for early morning walks with Emma and Theo Knightley before Emma went to work each morning.
Elsa got to throw the baby shower that she’d long planned for Annie at the end of September. Alice offered to host the shower because the house that she and Chris had bought together when they got married was bigger than Elsa and Will’s house. Elsa was thrilled to have any excuse to not deep clean her house. “I’m not saying that my house is a mess or anything. But I have a toddler and a baby, and both my husband and I work full-time.”
“Technically, you work more than full-time, Elsa,” Alice had replied. “And my house is easier to clean than yours because I can put at least some of my kids to work on it.”
“Jealous,” was all that Elsa had to say to that.
The Kingsleigh-Brandon family lived in a house near Elsa’s parents’ home with a view of the lake. The great room, as Alice called the room that was both living room and dining room, had windows in three walls and was regularly flooded with sunlight. As they set up that sunny Saturday afternoon in late September, Elsa commented, “This really is the best house for parties.”
Alice smiled. “It is a great house for parties. I’m not sure if it’s as good as George’s house, but it’ll do since that one isn’t an option.”
“He’s still renting it out?”
“I don’t think he’ll ever want to sell it. Heck, I’d bet money that he’d happily go back to living in it, but such is life with Henry Woodhouse.”
Elsa sighed. “I really feel bad for them. Henry insists on having them live with them, but he clearly doesn’t actually enjoy having Theo in the house.”
“Which stinks because aside from his sleep issues, he’s a pretty great kid.”
“And I feel bad for Em and George because I think that three years of living with Henry is really starting to wear on them.”
Elsa nodded. “I can’t imagine living with my parents AND my husband and children. One or the other is enough.”
“Oh, I agree. Having Oliver’s parents stay with us or staying with them for short periods of time is stressful enough. I can’t imagine living with them. And I love my parents, but I prefer them down the street rather than downstairs.”
“I know that feeling well.”
Alice smiled. “Yes, but I’m the one who actually lives down the street from your parents. You’re around the corner and down two blocks.”
“Hey, hon,” Chris said as he came into the room. “I’m heading over to Erik’s. Do you want me to take any of the girls with me?”
“Who’s going to be there?”
“Erik, George, Will, Ed, maybe Charlie, and maybe Evelyn’s boyfriend,” he replied.
“And Tommy, Liam, and Theo,” Elsa added.
Chris snapped his fingers. “Yes, and Will, Ed, and George are bringing their sons.”
“But Millie and Clara will be here?” Alice queried.
“Well, seeing as our daughters currently have Clara upstairs in Josie’s room and I don’t think that Millie goes anywhere without Nora yet,” Chris offered.
“Then leave the girls here,” his wife told him. “If I know you guys, the plan is for you to all work on putting together baby furniture, and inevitably, you will either end up wrangling babies or helping Will put things together”
“While he sighs loudly,” Will’s wife added.
Chris chuckled. “No, it’s not your husband I worry about sighing endlessly through this.”
“George?” Elsa queried.
She rolled her eyes. “He’s unique.”
“You won’t find him in Erik’s woodworking workshop any time soon.”
“True,” Elsa replied. “But you’re never going to find Erik playing the bagpipes, and George is pretty good at that.”
“Maybe he should use those to convince his father-in-law that the Knightleys need to move out of chez Woodhouse,” Alice mused.
“That’s not the worst idea you’ve had this week,” Elsa quipped.
“And what is the worst idea that I’ve had this week?” Alice teased.
Elsa shrugged as she began sorting punch ingredients. “I’ll leave that to your husband to answer.”
Chris looked at his watch and then grasped the doorknob. “And I think that I need to be going now.”
Annie found the entire shower completely delightful. “You really didn’t have to do this,” she kept telling Alice and Elsa.
“Of course we did,” Elsa protested. “You threw my bridal shower and my baby shower. Now it’s my turn to celebrate you.”
The guest of honor blushed. “You’re so kind.”
Elsa waved her off. “You’re one of my best friends, and you’re having your first baby. I’m so excited about this that I can barely handle it.”
“You already have two kids of your own.”
“Yeah, but this is different. This is your baby. You and Erik are finally getting what you’ve wanted for so long.”
Annie blushed again. “I almost can’t believe it’s really happening. I’ve wanted this for so long. It’s hard to believe it’s real.”
“I can see that,” her friend replied. “But that’s the amazing thing. This is really happening. You’re really going to be a mama.”
Closer to downtown Highbury, the guys were at the newly purchased Wentworth house assembling baby furniture. Erik had built the crib himself, but his parents had bought the rest of the nursery furniture. “I just want to know what we actually need to have set up before she’s born,” he said. “I want to prioritize.”
Will snorted. “Get it all done now. First off, you’ve got a huge team assembled. Second, once you have an actual baby in the house who needs feeding and changing and watching, you’re not going to have time to do anything like this.”
Erik sighed. “Okay, but what has to get done? Do we need the changing table AND the dresser right away?”
“Yes,” George sighed.
“And the bassinette? We’ve already got the crib.”
Another sigh came from Will. “You’ll actually want the bassinette before the crib. You can have her in the room for night feedings without having her in your bed.”
“Night feedings? I figured that Annie could do those in the nursery?”
“Have you talked to Annie about that?” Ed queried.
He shook his head. “I just figured that we wouldn’t want to disrupt our lives too much.”
Chris snorted. “You’re having a baby, Erik. There’s no way that your life won’t be disrupted.”
“How would you know? Your baby is due after mine.”
“But I have three stepdaughters. Kids change your life. That’s just how it works.”
“I get that. I don’t know what I thought. I don’t know if I really know what to expect.”
“Expect the unexpected,” Ed told him. “Expect to be surprised eighteen times each day in good ways and bad ways.”
“Is that how you explain Millie?” Will teased.
“Hey, she might have been a surprise, but she was the best surprise.”
Erik looked at Ed. “What is the most useful piece of parenting advice that you have then?”
“Be flexible. Roll with the punches. Be patient.”
“Do not expect your baby to be on any kind of a sleep schedule the first few weeks,” George added.
Will snorted. “He speaks from experience.”
“Let’s not talk about my son and sleeping,” George snapped. “And Erik? Pray that your daughter doesn’t have my son’s sleep issues.”
Erik nodded wordlessly. He had heard more than enough about Theo Knightley’s sleeping habits, and he didn’t want to deal with them in his own children.
Harper Sophia Wentworth made her way into the world in the early hours of November 6, about two and a half weeks early. Despite her mildly early arrival, she was twenty-one inches long and nearly eight pounds. She had bright blue eyes but no hair as of yet. “She’s utterly perfect,” Annie murmured as she toyed with her daughter’s tiny fingers.
“Absolutely a miracle,” Erik agreed as he stroked a red velvety cheek.
“I can’t believe that she’s real.”
“You know,” her husband said softly. “I never thought that this would really happen.”
“I always hoped we’d get a miracle.”
Erik smiled. “You’re better than I am. I always wanted a miracle, but I’m not sure that I really believed that we’d ever get one until now.”
His wife looked up at him and smiled. “All that I’ve ever really wanted was a family of my own, a real family, and I knew that God would let me have that someway, somehow.”
“Well, my darling Annie, please let me tell you that I’m so glad that one of us never lost faith.”
“She’s an absolute dream,” Annie told Elsa on Thanksgiving.
“She’s a good eater and a good sleeper. I really couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Elsa smiled. “I’m so glad. The first few weeks can be so rough.”
“I’ve heard. I was so nervous, but so far everything seems to be going well.”
“Good, that’s really great.”
Emma joined the conversation. “What’s going on?”
“We’re talking about sleeping babies,” Elsa told her.
Emma stroked Harper’s cheek. “How does this little one sleep?”
“Very well, she sleeps for about four hours at a time.”
“I know that we’re lucky,” Annie said.
“Hey, Theo is sleeping in his own room now,” Emma told her. “And he’s finally sleeping through the night.”
“That’s awesome,” Annie replied. “You must be thrilled.”
“So thrilled,” Emma answered. “We’re all sleeping better now.”
Elsa smiled. “Congratulations!”
“We’re living the dream, guys. Or maybe we’re finally hitting REM cycle and having dreams at night.”
Elsa snorted. “Bad joke, Emma.”
“I don’t care. I’m just so happy to have my kid out of my bed and be able to sleep through the night.”
A bit more than two months after Harper was born, Jonathan Lucas Brandon was born at a healthy twenty-two inches long and nine pounds fifteen ounces with dark brown hair and eyes. A month later, Jonathan and Harper were baptized together. Annie and Erik were Jonathan’s godparents while Chris and Alice were Harper’s.
At the baptism party, Alice was holding Harper when her husband came up next to her. “So, question for you.”
“Yes?” she asked without taking her eyes off baby Harper.
Chris adjusted their son in his arms. “Do you still feel bad?”
She smiled and shook her head. “Not a bit, Chris, not even one little bit.”
The End...for now