It was just my imagination

I’ve been kind of hoping what I saw a couple of days ago was just my imagination, but no. The unicorn was real and white with a silver-yellow mane that fell like a waterfall to its feet. It was also the side of a pony and one hasn’t been seen in these parts since the town was founded.

Maybe I should rewind a bit before I dive in to the town’s history.

First of all, I was taking my first walk with Ben since my fall. He finally relented when the doctor told us that too much bed rest for me was a bad idea. He wanted me to get at least ten minutes a day of walking, especially outside.

Anyway, since we were walking down the sidewalk of our street near Mr Wilson’s house, If you recall it turned in to the giant tree house last month, when it came out of the woods and stared at us. Ben stopped dead in his tracks and stared. The man’s face was reverent.

My face on the other hand, was filled with sadness. I’d read about them in the books Ben got permission to take out of the library. They’re very herd solitary around these parts of the mountains. To see one alone means that its entire herd was destroyed. This one seemed almost defeated. I was moving forward to comfort it when Ben stopped me.

“Don’t. You don’t know if it’s sick.”

“It’s not sick, it’s sad. It’s herd is gone,” I whispered back at him.

“You’ve been in the library again.”

“You worry me into guilt if I set a foot outside of the house, what else am I supposed to do?” I hissed at him. I was watching the unicorn come closer to the both of us.

Ben sighed. “You’re pregnant.”

“I’m not fragile, Ben. I’m hearty. So is the baby. The doctor said so,” I said. I didn’t bother looking back at Ben. My eyes were locked on the Unicorn.

“Even so, you shouldn’t be going towards the herdless and possible dangerous animal,” Ben hissed back as he held on to my arm.

I admit, he had a point.

“Maybe you’re right,” I said. “but as of right now, I’m not moving towards it. It’s coming to me.”

Ben looked over at the unicorn that was now just out of reach. I stared in to one of its bright violet-blue eyes and felt an odd rush of wind going through my head. I swooned a bit, but managed to stay on my feet.

“Earth-Mother,” said the distinctly female voice in my head.

My eyes widened and I huffed out a breath.

“Well, shit.”

Ben looked at me, then back at the unicorn.

“Hello there,” I said. I was having trouble finding the words when the tumbled from my mouth; “How can I help you?”

The unicorn bowed its head to me. I could have sworn the sadness lifted from her eyes for a brief second.

“Earth-mother who does not know the bond, asks the question out of instinct,” she said and tilted her head to the side. “I think I like you already.”

I couldn’t help but smile at her.

“I think I like you back,” I replied. “Do you need shelter? Food? A temporary herd?”

The unicorn dipped its head again and this time, came forward to touch her horn to my stomach. I felt warm all over suddenly, like I was in the middle of a spring day that was just warm enough to have shirtsleeves, but not enough to go with a tank top. I gasped at the connection that grew stronger and I could hear and see everything that she could. It was quite discerning. The feelings faded after she removed her horn, but I could still feel the echo of all of her thoughts and what happened to her herd.

It made me angry to see so many beautiful creatures butchered to the name of revenge. I also found that the Unicorn was just as pregnant as I was.

“Gifted Earth-mother, I would like to join your herd until I have my revenge on the one who killed mine.”

Ben groaned softly as I smiled at her.

“Home and herd you shall have and be welcome.”

“Home. I have not had home in a long time. It would be most welcome,” she said to me through the link. “I am Sabina.”

That surprised me. Unicorns don’t usually give their names at all, if ever. I noticed that she had not given me her herd name, just her first name. The second thing I noticed was the smell of fresh flowers with the sharpness of the cold. It was an odd mixture. I turned to Ben and laughed when I saw his face.

His eyes had widened and mouth hung open.

“Ben close your mouth. If you were a frog you wouldn’t have caught anything.”

The unicorn named Sabina dipped her head and nickered out a laugh. Ben closed his mouth and stared at the both of us.

“Between the two of you and my mother, I’m outnumbered, aren’t I?”

“You said I needed help. You just didn’t say what kind of help I needed,” I said as I placed my hand on Sabina’s shoulder.

She silently gave her consent through the connection.

Ben sighed. “Okay, let’s walk back. I’m sure the house will come up with something for our new friend.”

“Family. She’s family,” I said as I walked with Sabina on one side and Ben on the right.

“Family, then.”

I smiled up at him. “I wished for family. I got my wish and more.”

“Smart Earth-mother,” Sabina said.

I replied back through the connection, “I am Marlowe.”

“Marlowe, then. Good,” she said.

We walked back to the house together and she’s been a standard in the house. The dogs got used to her, they even treat her with much more respect than I expected. Even Gibbs, whose favorite game is chase, will not go running in the room if Sabina is in there with him. It’s strange.

I spent my time talking with her when Ben was at work. She told me about her herd and what happened.

They were slaughtered because they would not share their magic. It made me angry, which made Sabina nicker at me.

“Not so angry, Marlowe. Sad. The human that did it knows nothing of magic. She only knows what she takes and our magic will turn on her.”

I scratched her flank and sighed. “I hope it turns before she has the opportunity to hurt someone else with what she stole.”

“She will not. It will be more inclined to help you though, if you ask it to. Our herd magic is a special thing. It’s alive and very annoyed right now.”

I laughed. “It’s probably making things a little difficult for her, then.”

“I would say so,” Sabina said.

“Mom,” Logan said from the corner of the room where he was playing with Alphonse.

“Yes, baby?”

“I like her. I like her voice.”

Sabina nickered at him and Logan came over. He sat in my lap and stared at Sabina.

“I like you too, Child.”

Logan smiled and reached out to her. Sabina leaned over and he touched her face, stroking gently.

“Pretty,” he said.

I laughed. “Yes, she is.”

Alphonse got up and came over to where we were sitting. He wiggled his way in to my side, staring at Sabina.

“Shy one, don’t worry. I like you too,” she said to him.

Alphie smiled.

It was later when I sent them up to bed that Sabina told me the story of the first herd in Blueville.

They’d been drawn here by the power that the original council had used to build the town. Each building was being erected with a protection spell weaved in to the mortar as they stacked bricks and stone. Naturally curious, they came to the Council and introduced themselves to the first Earth-mother on the land, Emily Barrett. She formed the first soul bond with a Unicorn and through it, learned that the land they’d chosen to settle on and protect was considered sacred to all creatures of Other origin.

They’d chosen fortunate to settle here. Now only those who would be friendly to Other-kin and the Other themselves would thrive here. Those who aren’t, well, they don’t stay very long and are not very lucky.

It makes me question the Mayor’s ability to thrive here, though. How did he gain all that power and wealth if he’s not exactly a friend to the community? It makes me weary of him even more than I already am.

-Marlowe

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I’m so sick of snow!

I grew up in the mid-west. I love snow, but every year at the end of January I can honestly admit that I’m ready to see the whole world burn for just one taste of spring. Miles of course, thinks it’s hilarious. He finds little ways to needle me about the snow and how we’ve been hit with blizzard after blizzard. There’s been so much snow this year that I haven’t been able to get out of the house as much as I want to.

I actually haven’t been able to get out of the house much at all since I fell on the sidewalk while getting the mail and Ben freaked completely out. He’s actively terrified that I’m going to lose the baby because I fell. Going to the store requires someone with me at all times. While I found it amusing at first, I’m starting to lose my temper with it all, especially since the Doctor said okay to me doing things on my own again.

If I don’t get out of this house soon I’m going to scream and break something. It’s not going to be pretty.

I should probably tell you how I fell, before some of you start asking if I’m okay. First of all; I’m fine. Nothings broken, Baby and I are doing perfectly well. Secondly, there’s a puppy by the name of Gibbs that’s in the permanent dog house with me for playing “Let’s knock people over” while I’m walking out to get the mail.

He comes barreling at me, thinking I’m going to react like the boys and start laughing. I started shouting at him to stop, we still haven’t grasped that command, when the sound of Ben coming in to the driveway makes them go nuts. I can’t really blame Ben though, it’s not his fault he came home earlier than I expected.

Anyway, I started to believe that he lost all interest in his game, when my feet flew out from under me and I had a face full of doggy tongue. I was not pleased. Neither was Ben who stopped the car, ran over shouting at Gibbs, who thought it was a game and started dancing away from him. The boys corralled Gibbs while Ben ran over to me.

I was already starting to pick myself back up, I was sitting up and rubbing my back with one hand while brushing snow off with my other. Ben dropped down next to me and immediately started checking me over. I tried to tell him I was fine, but he wasn’t hearing it and scooped me up and put me in the car. He ordered both boys back in to the house with the dogs so Miles could watch them, and drove me to the hospital.

We got there and I was taken in to the ER while Ben babbled at a doctor about what happened. I was left to wait while Ben twitch anxiously in the chair next to my bed.

“You can stop that, you know. I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine. You were knocked over by a 65 pound puppy.”

“Pregnant women fall all the time. I’m healthy. My body is used to falls. This one might be nothing.”

“I’ll calm down when the doctor says otherwise.”

I sighed and gave up. My head was throbbing from where it hit the ground. I closed my eyes and managed to relax for an hour before the doctor came to see us. Ben shot up out of his seat like a Jack-in-the-Box and I started giggling. I couldn’t help it. The Doctor gave me a look and I swallowed some of my giggles while Ben explained why we were there. The Doctor looked at me sharply and went about asking me questions. I answered him the best I could.

No, my stomach does not hurt. No, my legs do not hurt. Yes, my head hurts. Yes, my lower back hurts. No, I do not need to pee.

“Well, I’m going to order an ultra sound to be on the safe side. I’m also going to have blood drawn.”

I nodded at him, but Ben spoke up.

“Then can I take her home?”

“We’ll see what the tests say. If they’re okay, you can,” he turned to me and pointed. “Bed rest, at least two days. No strenuous activity.”

“I’m a Mom, Doc. That job is strenuous.”

“Not right now, it’s not. You’ll find someone to help.”

I sighed. Ben looked pleased. I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Then will you tell the worry wort there that it stresses me out when he works late and doesn’t call?”

The Doctor saw where I was going with this and chuckled.

“Yes. I can do that,” he turned and pointed at Ben. “What she said with an added addendum of you work too much and she needs help.”

I giggled when Ben narrowed his eyes at me. I blew a kiss at him. The Doctor chuckled at the both of us.

“I’ll be back after the ultrasound. Drink water.” He ordered as he left.

I drank the water that was left for me by a nurse and waited for the technician. When she showed up, it took her twenty minutes to get her pictures of my baby and uterus. There’s still no sex on Baby, though. We couldn’t see it on the screen, he or she had their back turned toward us.

It took them another three hours to get test results back and even then, they released me with the promise that if I felt anything weird, to come back immediately. I promised the Doctor I would and Ben walked me out of the hospital. As we walked hand-in-hand to the car, I smiled up at him.

“See? All fine.”

“I’m not. I never want to see that happen again.”

“I’m fine Ben. I bounce.” I said as I walked to my side of the car.

Ben spun me around and pinned me to the car as he kissed me.

“I’m not fine. Not until you and baby are separate and okay,” he said as he held me close. “I was terrified I might lose you both.”

“I’m pregnant, Ben. I’m not terminal,” I said as I hugged him back. “but I can see where you’re coming from. You’ve got to relax a little about this. It’s a baby, not the end of my life.”

“I know, but I’m scared. For both of you. I don’t want to lose either one.”

“You’re not. I’m fine. Strong and healthy, that’s what the doctor said.”

Ben kissed my forehead. “You’re still following the doctors instructions.”

“Of course I am. I’m looking forward to two days in bed with my books. I have quite a stack to get through,” I said as I climbed in to the car after Ben opened up my car door.

He went around and got into the drives seat, but didn’t start the car right away. I put on my seat belt while he stared at me.

“You’re up to something,” he said.

“Yep, now get a move on. I want a nap.”

He waited for me to explain and when I didn’t, shrugged and started the car. We drove home in relative silence, listening to the radio. We were nearly to the driveway when Ben stopped the car.

“What are you up to?”

“Nothing that’ll endanger me, the baby, or anyone in the house. I promise.”

Ben looked at me from the driver’s seat and narrowed his eyes.

“Do not call my mother.”

“Too late.”

His head hit the steering wheel with a loud thunk. I think even the neighbors heard me laugh.

-Marlowe

Oh, The Satyrs

It’s common to see a satyr frolicking in a  field in Blueville in June. In January? It’s a little strange, even for this town.

I was sitting at the stoplight at Gold and Rose with the boys, we were on our way back to the house from lunch. I had to get out of the house. I really did. Anyway, we were sitting at the light when the boys start giggling in the back seat. Normally, I don’t mind. This time though, they were trying to hide it from me. That spells trouble.

I looked out the side window and saw a satyr wiggling his bottom at traffic. My jaw dropped and I stared for a minute before diving for my phone to call Ben. The guy behind me honked his horn while I was digging in my purse for the phone. As soon as I fumbled it out of my bag, I started driving down the street as I hit number one on my speed dial for Ben.

“If you’re calling about a satyr, I don’t want to know about it.”

“There’s one on Gold and Rose shaking his ass at traffic.”

There was a huge sigh on the phone, then silence.

“I’ll make a note of it, but as long as he isn’t causing any accidents or looking up skirts there’s nothing that I can do.”

“Huh. I would have figured that by now the Sheriff would have like a team for that sort of thing.”

“They do as they please, Habibi. It’s complicated.”

I could hear his frustration over the phone.

“What about if I came in a couple of times a week to help?”

The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. Silence greeted me and I winced.

“Tuesday and Wednesday. Sherrie has class and Miles has those days off.”

“Deal as long as you don’t hover.”

“I will not make any promises.”

“Well, that’s better than nothing and it gets me out of the house.”

“Going stir crazy already?”

“And how. I’m on my way home. Do I need to pick anything up for you?”

“Dinner. Don’t cook tonight and damn it, take a nap when Miles gets home for lunch.”

“Aye, aye Captain.” I answered and hung up the phone before tossing it back into my bag.

There was a tapping on my shoulder as I pulled up to another stoplight. I looked back and it was Logan.

“Yes, Baby? What is it?”

“Hungry.”

“Again? But you just ate!”

“Carrots?” He asked.

I dug into my purse for the bag of carrots I always kept in there now. I passed both them and the Cheerios into the backseat and was pretty pleased when I heard silent munching from both kids in the back. I sighed. I figured one, if not both, were due for a growth spurt with the way they ate these days. I can only be grateful that they’ll eat anything that they see me and Ben eat first. Even if they don’t like it, they’ll still try it.

We learned that the hard way with wasabi. Never. Again.

I was nearing home when I saw the FBI car parked out front. It was kind of hard to miss, considering no one in town drove a sedan like that one. Another thing I couldn’t miss? The two FBI agents chasing down a satyr wearing a lampshade on its head. I heard the giggling coming from the backseat as the boys watched the agents try to wrangle the half-man, half-goat. I might have snickered myself when one of them lost his footing and ended up in a snow bank. That one might have caused the boys to laugh uncontrollably. I couldn’t scold them, I thought it was funny too.

I pulled around to the back and in to the garage. After helping the kids inside, the doorbell rang. I settled the kids down in the Great Hall before going to answer.

“Hello, Officers. Come on in, I just made hot cocoa.” I said as I opened the door.

Both Agents stood there, soaking wet and looking quite miserable. I pitied them at that point. They had no idea how to handle Blueville. They entered and I quickly went and dug up clothing for the both of them while they got warm in the kitchen. They tried to protest, but I insisted they at least get warm. They accepted eventually. I can be pretty persuasive.

They came back in to the kitchen after changing. I looked up from the pot of soup I decided to throw together instead of ordering take away.

“So the two of you must be here to tell me news or to get my statement,” I said as they sat down.

“You’ve got the right of it, Ma’am,” Tucker Groue said.

I nodded.

“We’ll need your statements for the files, but from what evidence says, your attacker won’t be getting off the hook,” Vaughn Beazley said.

I couldn’t help it. I laughed.

“Oh boys. Of course he will. He’s going to get off with less than anyone else would get because of who his papa is. You don’t have to sugar coat it or lie to me.”

The two men looked at each other and then back at me.

“You don’t know, do you?” Tucker asked.

“Know what?” I said as I pulled down some spices for the soup.

“His relatives have withdrawn all support from him and his father. No one is even going anywhere near him because of who you are,” Tucker said. Vaughn nodded his assent.

“Who I am? I’m just a nobody who stood up to a bully.”

“Who just happened to be heir to the Oberly fortune that was made by selling paper.”

I waved my hand at that statement. “Old news. My family’s not that influential. Hasn’t been since the sixties.”

“You’re a multi-millionaire that’s living in a small town in the mountains. The Press is going to love you,” Vaughn said.

I looked up at him. “I got enough of the press when my parents died. I’m not doing this for that. I’m doing it because I hate bullies. I don’t care who they are.”

“That’s why they’re going to love you,” Tucker said quietly. “and why you’re going to win. You did nearly everything right and it’s going to pay off. I know we’re not supposed to be partial to cases, but I’m starting to enjoy the way you’ve handed that spoiled brat his comeuppance.”

“Careful. Had my parents not died I could have ended up like him. I was lucky that I ended up the way I did.”

“What’s this word that we keep hearing that you’re special?” Vaughn asked, changing the subject.

I pointed at his keys, which were sitting on the table, and made them hover in front of his face. His jaw dropped open.

“That’s fucking amazing.”

I started laughing and Vaughn snatched his keys out of the air.

“It is, until I get pissed off and make an entire parking lot full of cars vibrate. You should have seen the Mayor panic when that happened.”

It was Tucker’s turn to stare. “An entire parking lot?”

“I think Ben said that even some of the light poles started to bend towards me. I was that angry.”

“I would think you’d have a perfectly good reason to be angry,” said Vaughn.

“Yes, but I shouldn’t have lost that much control. There were too many bystanders. What would have happened if my anger had tossed a car? That would have been very bad.”

The two men thought about what I said as I got out bowls and dished up soup for them and my two little ones. I went and took a tray out to the two boys who were playing some word game Ben had gotten for them so they could catch up with their vocabulary. I smiled down at the both of them before leaving. As I walked back in to the kitchen, I heard them talking about me.

“Well, she has a point. She could have hurt someone.”

“The agency would still want to have her on the force.”

“That would be a giant ‘No fucking thank you, Vaughn’,” I said. “I’m perfectly happy here.”

Vaughn had the good sense to duck his head and blush. I smiled over at him as I went and dished up some soup for myself. I made a not of the time and winced when I figured that Miles would be home soon and there wouldn’t be enough time for a nap today. Ben was going to be upset.

“So take us through the events of what happened,” Tucker asked as he put his recorder on the table.

I walked them through all of it, from the car accident to the attempted-murder and fire. When I finished I could hear Miles’s car going in to the garage. I pointed my spoon at Vaughn.

“Not a word out of you. I know the two of you have history, but refrain from saying anything. Not even a hello.”

Vaughn held up his hands and Tucker snickered. I pointed the spoon at him and he swallowed the laughter. Miles came in to the kitchen a minute later. He stopped dead when he saw Vaughn at the table, eating.

“Don’t. Just grab some food and join the boys in the Great Hall, okay? They’re here to talk about what happened.”

Miles nodded and went to stow his gear while I made up another tray. I took it out in to the hall when he didn’t come back in.

“He’ll leave soon,” I said.

“Seeing him here makes everything hurt,” Miles said.

I kissed his forehead. “I know. You can handle it, though. You’re tough.”

Miles smiled at me and took his tray into the room with the boys. I went back to the kitchen and sat down. Vaughn looked like he was going to talk again, so I held up a hand.

“Whatever you have to say about Miles can wait. I don’t need to know yet. Just know that every time he sees you, he hurts. Whatever happened? Hurt him badly.”

Vaughn stared down at his bowl and Tucker went back to asking more questions after starting the tape again. Vaughn didn’t say much until it was time to go. I waved off the offers of changing back into their other clothes, just told them to get the clothes back when they could.

“Miles spoke of you often when we were dating. Now that I’ve met you, I can see why he said you were his hero.”

I teared up and hugged Vaughn. “You’ve got that wrong. He was mine.”

“Some how, I don’t think so,” He said as he followed his partner out of the house.

I checked on the boys in the Great Hall after closing the door and locking it for the night. Ben would come in through the back like always.

“I took the rest of the day off. Go take a nap. We’ll talk later,” Miles said before I could say anything. “Ben’s already called about your nap.”

I stuck my tongue out at him and told him to watch the soup and do the dishes before going upstairs. As I changed clothes and pulled the covers down on the bed, I thought about how Miles and I were inseparable when we were kids.

I guess things haven’t changed much, since we’re living together. I guess they don’t really have to change to be different or stay the same.

-Marlowe

January Blues

So we said goodbye to Jude on the tenth. She’s off to her dig in Brazil again for another month and promised the boys that she’d bring back more surprises the next time she dropped by. I miss her already. I know Ben is missing her just as much.

We said goodbye to Murphy three days later, she’s off on some cruise in the Caribbean right now. Which is fortunate for her because not even an hour after we got home, a blizzard blew up and we were house bound for two days while everyone dug out. This of course, pleased the boys to no end because they love having everyone around them.

It did not please Mark, who’s leaving was delayed by two different storms. He finally left to go home to his family on the fifteenth. It took him longer than expected because he had to clean out his and Max’s offices, which was a trial for him. There were lots of nights when he came home crying because of the memories that were there. I was sorry to see him go; but if this is what he thinks he needs to heal, then I’ll support him.

Ben and I had our first OB/GYN appointment for the baby. The boys were plenty upset that they had to stay home with Uncle Miles. They’re both plenty excited about the new baby though. Especially since we made it clear that they are ours and we’re not getting rid of them once the baby arrives.

That took the both of us by surprise when it happened.

We were sitting in the Great Hall watching TV with them when Ben suddenly got up and hugged Alphonse hard. Logan came over and crawled in to my lap and tugged on my hair to get my attention. I smiled and kissed his nose. He snuggled in to my arms.

“Mom,” he whispered to me.

“My baby, what is it?” I asked as I snuggled him close.

He was still having trouble with his words so it took him a while to ask;

“Do you love me?”

I looked down at him and his face was so earnest about the question. I hugged him tight.

“I love you and your brother more than the stars,” I whispered in to his ear.

He giggled up at me and snuggled back in to my arms, content with my answer. I had to wait to ask Ben what that was all about after we’d put them to bed later that night. When I posited the question to him he was confused at first, then remembered.

“Oh. That. They’re worried that we’re going to send them off to the hospital again once the baby arrives,” he said as he climbed in to bed with me.

“Oh dear. No wonder it was important enough to Logan to actually use his words.”

“Yeah. They’re worried about being replaced.”

“What can we do about that?” I asked him as I snuggled down under the covers.

“I was thinking that next weekend they could help me paint the nursery.”

“That’s a good idea.”

“Really? I would think that you’d hate it. You’re fussy about the way things look sometimes.”

“Only because I like things neat,” I said with a yawn. “but if letting them paint the nursery means they feel involved and accepted, I’ll move mountains and enough paint for five or six coats.”

Ben laughed and cuddled me close. “You’re not to set foot in the nursery while we’re painting. The fumes are bad for you and the baby.”

“I know. I said I’d haul paint, not do any of the painting. I’ll stay downstairs with the dogs and Miles. He’s making noises about shopping again.”

“Shopping?”

“Maternity clothes. I’m not nearly there yet. Another three or four months.”

Ben ran his hands over my stomach before he spoke again. “We should move up the wedding.”

“No.”

“Habibi, I know this is important to you, but I think you should consider moving up the date.”

I sighed. “Ben, you’re worried about bringing the baby into the world without her parents being married?”

“A little.”

“The baby was made with love and will be born into love. Even if her parents weren’t married until later.”

“but,” he started and I turned around and kissed him.

“We have two sons already and we’re not married. Another child isn’t going to make things any different.”

Ben sighed. “You have your point, but I’m still asking you to think about it, please?”

It was my turn to sigh again. “Okay. I’ll think about it.”

Ben kissed me and nuzzled my hair.

“Sleep. Doctor tomorrow.”

“You’re still planning on going with me?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world on a plate.”

“Flatterer,” I said with a yawn.

I could hear him laugh as I dropped off into sleep.

I woke up the next morning with a kid on either side, the dogs at the foot of the bed and something digging in to my bladder. I cuddled the both of them close and fell back asleep. Ben woke all of us up at eleven  by hauling a laughing Alphonse over his shoulder and Logan trailing after them as they walked out of the room. The dogs abandoned me then too, because they knew they were going to get fallen leftovers.

I yawned and took my time as I showered and dressed. I was pulling on a loose pair of jeans as Ben came in from breakfast with a tray. I smiled over at him as he set it down on the chaise.

“You were supposed to sleep yourself out. You promised me,” he said with a frown.

I smiled up at him. “I’m fine. Well rested. I even tied my own hair back and everything.”

“Very funny.”

“I like to think I’m hilarious.”

Ben smiled at me and kissed my nose. “You sure do try.”

“Hey!” I said as I poked him in the stomach. “I’m pregnant, not made of glass!”

“I know, but I worry. It’s Blueville.”

“I’m sure the doctor will have something to say about it today anyway.”

“Speaking of which, if we’re going to make it on time, you need to let me go shower.”

“Oh, so I’m keeping you?” I grinned at him. “Glad to know I have that kind of superpower.”

I kissed him and stepped back into the closet to find a shirt to wear. I could hear him start the shower up. I shook my head at him and went to find the boys after I’d dressed and put on shoes. I found them in the Great Hall with Miles who took the day off to stay with the boys. I decided not to bother them so they wouldn’t get too clingy while Ben and I tried to get out of the door later. Instead I ended up in the kitchen making breakfast for myself.

I ended up with peanut butter toast and a pear. Not the best breakfast, but I wasn’t that hungry this morning. I waited for Ben to come downstairs. I was finishing up and washing the dishes when he came in with my coat, his coat, and my purse.

“Come on, before they realize we’re leaving.” Ben said as he helped me into my coat and dragged me out the back door.

I started laughing when we got outside.

“Man, I thought I was bad when it came to their sad faces.”

“I can’t stand it. How can other parents handle the sad face?”

“I think it’s the guilt that gets them before the sad face does,” I said as Ben opened the passenger door to the Jeep and helped me climb inside.

I didn’t catch what he said next, but I waited till he got in on the driver’s side before asking him.

“I said their teenage years are going to kill me.”

I laughed. “Nah, you’ll be a pro by that time.”

“I highly doubt it.”

“I don’t,” I said as I made myself comfortable for the trip out to the medical complex next to the hospital.

Ben didn’t respond to me, rather smiled over at me and took my hand in his. I smiled back and squeezed his hand. We rode together in companionable silence until Ben parked in the lot outside the doctor’s office. I had my seat belt off and the door open as Ben came around to open it for me. He frowned at me as I got out carefully to avoid the ice that coated the lot.

“You should have waited.”

“I’m pregnant, not made of glass.”

“So you keep saying.”

I couldn’t think of a response so I stuck my tongue out at him.

“Real mature.”

“Thanks. I try.”

He started laughing and I grinned over at him. We walked in to the office together, holding hands. The nurse behind the counter smiled up at us. She checked us in and we only had to wait ten minutes before being taken in to the back to get ready for the doctor. First there was blood drawn and a urine test for pregnancy, various other procedures and checks that had to be done before the doctor even got into the room.

I took it fine. Ben was a mess by the time I came back into the room. He was pacing and I couldn’t help but laugh.

“It’s not funny.”

“Habib, it’s a little funny. You’re a mess and all they did was do prep for tests.”

Ben frowned at me. “I’m not used to all this.”

“It’s my first pregnancy, but not my first round with that many tests. They do all those checks every year when I come for my check up.”

“They do?”

“and more than that. There’s a few they can’t do because I’m pregnant.”

“I’m so glad I’m male.”

I started laughing. I was in tears when the doctor came in the room.

“Well, it’s nice to hear you laugh, Marlowe,” He said.

“Hey, Doc Oc. How are you?”

“I’m good, thanks for asking. I hear a rumor that says you’re starting a family,” the doctor said as he moved to start his checks of my health.

“All true. We’ve got two at home now and one on the way.”

“You’re sure?”

“As I’ve ever been.”

“Well the tests will confirm then. How’s your man feel about this whole thing?”

“He’s thrilled, though you wouldn’t know it from the way he glowers at me when I even attempt the stairs on my own.”

The doctor started laughing and Ben frowned at me from his chair where he’d sat since the doctor came in to the room.

“You must be her Ben,” the doctor said as he turned to Ben and held out his hand.

“I am, Doctor?” Ben asked as he shook hands with him.

“Forgive me. I’m Doctor Gregory October. My Patients call me Doc Oc.”

Ben started laughing. “Appropriate. I just hope you’re not going to grow metal arms and try to turn one of my kids in to Spider-Man.”

Doctor October laughed and winked at him. “I haven’t quite perfected that form of genetic manipulation. I just look after the natural one.”

I smiled over at Ben. “See? He’s an okay guy.”

“I see that now.”

The visit lasted another twenty minutes, with the Doctor going over everything that we’d need to know for the next visit in a month.

“I probably won’t do an ultrasound for another two months, just to be sure.”

I nodded. “If that’s what’s best. I want to make sure the baby is healthy.”

“I’m sure he or she will be just fine.” Doctor October said as he pulled off his gloves and stood up to go. “I’ll see you next month. Take it easy until then. I know you have two at home, but this is your first natural pregnancy and you’re both considered Other in this town.”

“I promise, Doc. No back flips or hauling heavy engines.”

“Good. See you next month,” he said as he walked out the door.

I looked over at Ben, who looked much more relaxed since we got here.

“Better?” I asked.

“Better,” He replied.

I got dressed and we headed back to the house. There was a quick detour to the store to pick up a pint of Chunky Monkey, but all in all it was a quick trip home. As we walked in to the back door, we were ambushed by the boys who wanted attention. I scooped up Logan and nuzzled his next until he giggled.

“Everything is fine, bubby.”

“Okay, Mommy,” he said and wiggled down. He ran off to the Great Hall shouting Miles’s name.

Alphonse tugged at my sleeve from where he was in Ben’s arms. He held out his arms to me and I cuddled him close too, kissing his nose. He smiled up at me.

“I love you, Alphie. I promise everything is fine with me and your new sibling.”

He nodded and held out his arms to Ben, who took him back and walked in to the Hall with Miles and Logan. I was feeling a little tired so I went upstairs and changed into my PJs for a nap. Ben came in a few minutes later as I was turning down the bed sheets.

“I’m glad you’re going to rest. Do you want one of the dogs?” he asked as he started helping me make the bed more comfortable.

“No and it’s not likely that they’ll come up here. I know the boys have food. I heard Miles say something about hotdogs.”

“That’s right. They’re having a late lunch in the kitchen.”

I crawled in to bed and settled in. Ben laid down next to me after I made myself comfortable.

“I’m okay, Ben. Just a little tired from the trip, that’s all.”

“I still worry. You’re my best side.”

I smiled up at him and kissed him.

“and you’re mine.”

I settled in to sleep and heard Ben singing something soft in Arabic. I was out before he got to the chorus.

 

-Marlowe

New Year’s Eve, Part 2

Ben woke me later that evening by dumping a giggling Alphonse in bed. Logan responded by kicking his brother. Then I had a fight and Ben desperately trying to stop it before I woke up. I managed to wake up and sit up in time to get an elbow to the boob. When I gasped and laid back down, clutching my chest, I had three pairs of male eyes staring at me.

“Dead. Meat,” I growled playfully and attacked Alphonse, tickling him until he couldn’t breathe and Logan jumped on my back.

Ben scooped off Logan and put him on the floor. Alphonse followed.

“Go find Grandma Murphy. She’s downstairs with the dogs,” he told them.

They were off and running, laughing their way through the halls. I smiled up at Ben, who crawled into bed with me and snuggled close.

“How was your nap?”

“Pretty good. Logan came and napped with me,” I replied to him as I curled close. “He told me he loved me.”

Ben went still, then spoke: “Really?”

“Really, really.”

“Well I’ll be.”

“I cried.”

Ben tipped my chin up and kissed me. I smiled and tugged him down, deepening the kiss.

“Kids,” Ben said as he pulled away.

“Spoil sport.”

Ben flicked his finger across my nose. “You’re pregnant.”

“I’m not dead and you’ve still got a great ass,” I said with a wicked grin.

Ben grinned back at me and kissed me hard before rolling out of bed.

“Not falling for it.”

I stuck my tongue out at him and he laughed.

“Come on, Lowe. The ball is going to drop in a couple of hours and the kids will probably drive both their Grandma’s nuts.”

I yawned and rolled out of bed. I stood and stretched as Ben watched. He had a dopey kind of half-smile on his face.

“What is it?” I asked him.

“You’re beautiful.”

“Is it me or the pregnancy?”

“Both.”

“Good answer.” I said as I got dressed again.

Ben waited for me to finish and took my hand as we walked down stairs.

“Do you want to tell them tonight?” Ben asked.

“Well, everyone we care about is downstairs right now. It’d be a good time for it, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

I rubbed my free hand over his arm and smiled up at him. We made out way down the stairs and in the Great Hall where we were surrounded by family. I was greeted and hugged by everyone until Grandma Murphy and Jude dragged me into the kitchen.

“Okay, what is it?” Grandma Murphy demanded.

“What is what?” I said as I moved to the fridge to grab a bottle of water.

“What is the thing that’s making you sleep in the middle of the day?” Jude asked.

Not for the first time did I wish that I had Ben’s thought speech.

“I was tired?”

“Not buying it, Missy.” Grandma Murphy said.

I sighed as I capped the bottle and set it down slowly.

“I’m pregnant.”

“Well, I didn’t expect that,” Jude said.

“I did. You haven’t been around enough yet. They’ve been at it like rabbits for months.”

I groaned and sat down on a stool. Jude and Grandma Murphy looked me over.

“You’re not going to puke are you?” Jude asked.

“If I am, I’m going to aim for Murphy’s shoes.”

Grandma Murphy started laughing.

“Good to see you’ve still got your sass.”

“I’m not dying, I’m just pregnant. People do this every day,” I griped.

“Most women go bananas with their first child,” Murphy griped back.

“It’s not my first. I’ve got two in the other room.”

“Ha. No. This is your first pregnancy.”

“Semantics,” I quipped at her.

“Seriously though, are you okay?”

I nodded. “I got in to the doctor two days ago. He confirmed that I’m pregnant and we’re healthy.”

“Well at least you were smart about all of this. When did you know?”

“Christmas.”

Jude glared at me. “You two have kept this from me for a week?”

I smiled up at Jude. “Ben and I decided together that we’d wait until we knew for sure. An over the counter pregnancy test is not reliable information.”

“Now who’s using semantics?” Murphy asked.

I flushed and ducked my head. Ben stepped in to the room then and saw me, then his mother, then Grandma Murphy.

“Ahh.. I think I’ll take my fiancée off your hands,” He said.

“Oh no you don’t. Why didn’t you tell me that you two were pregnant?” Jude demanded.

“We decided to wait. That was our decision,” Ben said, firmly backing me up.

I smiled up at him as Jude looked from him to me and back again.

“Good to know the two of you can’t be cowed,” Just said with an approving nod.

“Ha! He should! I helped give the boy more spine since he’s been here.” Murphy said with a nod of her own. “Now, lets you and me go gossip about this and how we’re going to override the nursery colors.”

“I do believe I like you, Murphy,” Jude said as they walked out, arm in arm.

I shook my head at them both.

“Well, that was unexpected,” Ben said, blowing out a breath. “How are you feeling?”

“A little sick to my stomach, but it’s not morning sickness. It’s ‘I’ve just been jumped by my in-laws’ sickness.”

Ben laughed and crossed over to me, kissing my forehead.

“Come on, let’s go tell everyone else so that we can get to the celebrating part.”

“Yeah, I like that plan. I like the part where we get to go to bed.”

“Careful, you’re becoming an old lady.”

“Watch your language. There will never be anything old about me,” I chided.

Ben laughed and we walked out together and in to the Great Hall to deliver the news and start a new year with a new beginning.

It felt right.

-Marlowe

New Year’s Eve

The week after Christmas passed by pretty quickly. The boys spent most of their time playing with their new toys and learning boundaries. Especially with the Legos. Those little pieces of jagged hell when stepped on. I curse at Miles for giving them to the boys. So I was shouting at them to get down to the Great hall and clean them up when Mark dragged me into the kitchen for our talk.

“You’re pregnant.”

I was shocked. Ben and I hadn’t told anyone yet. I slumped my shoulders.

“Yeah. I am.”

Mark looked at me like the news hit him in the gut. His jaw dropped open, his brows went up and he looked a little green.

“What are you doing to do?”

“Go yell at the kids to clean up the Legos?”

I was being deliberately obtuse. It was a little mean and I knew it, but so was his question. His face drew tight and he frowned.

“Marlowe, You can’t-”

I held up a hand and cut him off. “I’m not going to live my life constantly afraid of this town, Mark. This is life. You have to take it as it comes and figure out how to handle it because it’s not going anywhere.”

“but with everything that’s happening, don’t you think it might be wise to stay safe?”

“Safe is something people tell themselves at night in the hope that the things that come along with stepping outside your door don’t happen. In other words, Mark: life finds a way.”

He paced the kitchen. I could sense something was really wrong.

“What’s going on, Mark?” I asked, sitting down at the table.

He paced more before stopping and looking at me. “I’m leaving Blueville.”

It was my turn to look shocked when my mouth tumbled open. I blurted out a “How? Why? Logan?” before I could stop myself.

“I don’t feel safe here anymore, Marlowe. I can barely leave the house without having a panic attack that someone’s going to force my change the way it’s been happening to Ben,” he sighed as he dropped to a stool and leaned on to the kitchen table. “I keep seeing Max everywhere and Logan is just a reminder of how much I lost thanks to what’s going on. I’m angry, Marlowe. I’m so angry at what’s going on.”

“That’s not a reason to leave!” I exclaimed. “What about Logan? This is the only family he’s known! You’re just going to take him away?”

“I’m not taking him with me.”

I felt sick when I heard that and ran for the bathroom when my lunch gurgled in my stomach. When I’d finished retching, I came back to the kitchen and Mark had already pulled a glass and poured water for me.

“You’re just going to leave him here? He loves you, Mark. You’ll hurt him immensely.”

Mark shook his head. “He’s not really my son. He’s yours. The egg was given to you. He adores you  and I’m honestly a little jealous.”

“I’m mom, Mark. That’s kind of how it’s supposed to happen.”

“I just can’t do it anymore,” he sighed and rubbed hands over his face. Mark looked so very tired. “I can’t be here. I’m not moving on, I’m just getting worse. I thought I would put my things in storage and go home for a while.”

I started to speak, then stopped. It was obvious that he’d spent a lot of time thinking about this and that it wasn’t just an overnight decision. I put forth a considerable amount of effort to sit on my feelings and look at it from his point of view.

I sighed. “Okay.”

Mark’s head snapped up. “Okay? Just like that?”

“Just like that. You’re family, Mark. All I want for you is to be happy. If that means leaving here, then that’s the way it has to be.”

Mark stared at me, mouth opening and closing. When he finally caught up with what I was saying, he laughed.

“You’re a better mother to me than my own.”

I reached out and clamped my hands over his. “That’s the best thing you could have said to me.”

“I mean it, Lowe.”

“I know you do, Mark. I love you. You are family. Never forget that we’re here for you when you need us.”

Mark nodded. “I thought I’d leave in a week.”

“So soon?”

“Better leave before I change my mind.”

“What would cause you to change your mind?”

“Fear. Especially the fear that I wouldn’t be welcomed back.”

“You’ve always a place here. Ben would agree with me. You’d better tell him on your own though. Miles too,” I said as I finished my water and stood up.

“Marlowe?”

“Yeah Mark?”

“Thanks for understanding.”

“I don’t, not really. I do know this is something that you’ve thought about considerably, otherwise you would have done it a long time ago.”

Mark nodded. “Thanks anyway.”

“You’re welcome,” I said. I kissed his temple and patted his shoulder before walking out in to the hallway.

I checked on the boys in the Great Hall, they were cleaning up the Legos. I smiled and ran a hand over my stomach. I stayed there, watching my boys until Ben came home. He slid his arms around my waist after putting his coat and boots away.

“How’s George?”

“Doing well. She’s hibernating. Another one of her eggs hatched, but the father of that egg has already taken possession of the hatchling.”

“That’s good. How many are left?”

“Three. Two purples and a gold.”

“Who’s the gold?”

“I have no idea. It’s not in the records. I’ll spend more time there later this week.”

I patted his hands, which were rubbing circles on my belly. I leaned back against him and yawned.

“Have you laid down today?”

“Miles had a thing at the Library and Mark went to the office. So, no. I have not.”

“You need a nap,” He said as he kissed my hair.

I smiled. “Okay. I’ll go lie down, but you have to talk to Mark before making dinner.”

“I’m ordering in from The Great Wall. Why do I have to talk to Mark?”

“Talk to him and find out. It’s not my place to say,” I said. “But Ben?”

“Hmmm?” he said as he herded me upstairs.

“Don’t be angry with him when he talks to you. He’s pretty delicate right now.”

Ben looked at me, studying my face.

“This is important, isn’t it?”

I nodded.

“Okay. No judging. I’ll try to keep an open mind.”

“Good. Now, put me to bed,” I smiled up at him and wrapped my arms around his neck.

He grinned and scooped me up, taking me upstairs. He set me down on the chaise near the window and as I changed in to my pjs, he pulled the bed covers down.

“I’m glad you’re not fighting me on this.”

“I pick my battles, plus I’m pretty tired anyway,” I said as I climbed in to bed.

“Still, I’m glad you let me fuss.”

“You’re supposed to,” I said with a yawn.

Ben laughed and I was nearly asleep when he left the room. I was out a few minutes later and only woke up when I felt Logan climb into bed with me. I tucked him in and snuggled him close.

“Momma,” he whispered.

“Mm? Yes?” I said sleepily.

“I love you.”

My heartstrings tugged hard and I sniffled as my eyes filled.

“I love you too, Logan.”

I heard a yawn from him as he settled in and a few minutes later we were both asleep.

Christmas Day

I’ll start my Christmas day at 3am with a kid bouncing in my bed yelling “Mom, Mom,Mom” over and over again. I thought I was dreaming until Ben started to laugh. I lifted my head out from under my pillow and glared at Logan, who was grinning at me from ear to ear.

“Of course your first word would be for her,” Ben said as he grabbed Logan and started to tickle him.

I started to cry. I couldn’t help it. My boy gave me the best Christmas present ever. When Ben stopped tickling Logan, he sat up and looked at me. Logan crawled over and climbed in to my lap when I sat up. He touched my face.

“Mom.”

I sniffled and hugged him until he started wiggling.

“Moooomm.”

It’s amazing how quickly they use a tonal inflection to make you laugh. I smiled and let him go. He pointed at the door and made his sign for star. Ben laughed and tucked him into bed with us, snuggling him close.

“It’s three am, Logan. It’s not time for the tree yet.”

Logan sighed and wiggled out of bed again.

“Mooooom,” he said as he looked at me.

I looked at Ben. “It’s Christmas.”

“Not at three am in the morning.”

“Yes, at three am in the morning. Get up,” I said as I slid out of bed and pulled on my robe.

Logan squealed and scrambled off the bed, running for the door and into the hallway. I walked over and peeked out just in time to see Logan run in to the room that all the children had shared for the night. I grinned and looked over at Ben, who was still running his hand through his hair and sitting in bed.

“Why did we have kids?”

“You wanted them and I thought they were cute.”

Ben slid out of bed and pulled me in to a hug. “You love them too.”

“I never denied that I love them. I just said they were cute,” I said as I leaned in to his arms.

We stayed like that until a quartet of kids interrupted us.

“Mom, Mom, Mom!” Logan said.

I laughed.

“Logan, Logan, Logan,” I said as I scooped him up. “Lets go see what’s under the tree.”

Cheers and kids running for the stairs echoed through the hall way. Ben sighed and I grinned at him.

“Come on, Dad. Let’s go see what Santa brought.”

Ben smiled at me and pulled on his robe. He linked his fingers with mine and we walked down stairs. All four kids were lined up in front of the tree, staring. When I saw what they were looking at, I started to laugh.

We’d chosen the large tree in the center of the north wall in the Great Hall for the gift tree. Gifts were piled everywhere and extended out from the tree three feet in each direction.

“I think I went overboard,” I muttered.

“Ya think?” Ben said, looking down at me.

I grinned up at him and clapped my hands, announcing that it was time for stockings.

Miles and Mark came shuffling in to the room while the kids were opening theirs up.

“Three am?” Miles asked.

“Three am,” Ben replied.

“I wish she’d thought to grab me for this. I wanted to see his face when he saw the tree,” Mark said.

“She started up a camera in the tree last night. You can see his face later,” Ben said. “She started them on stockings because she knew you’d want to be here for gifts.”

Mark looked up at Ben and sighed. “I have trouble sharing. I just wanted to be here.”

“That’s why she started the camera. She knew you’d want to see his face. She just wasn’t sure when the kids were going to wake up.”

“They’re all going to crash before noon,” Miles said in to his hand as he yawned.

“That’d be a mercy,” Ben grumbled.

“Did anyone wake Jude?”

“The kids took care of that,” Jude said as she came in to the hall, tying her belt.

Ben kissed his mom on the cheek. “Happy Christmas, Mom.”

“Happy Christmas, my boy,” She said to him, hugging him hard.

I smiled over at all of them where they were standing in the doorway. I motioned for them to come in and laughed when Logan said his word again.

“Oh, that’s gotta be the best Christmas present,” Jude said.

“You better believe it.”

I passed out stocking to the adults who ooh’d and ahh’d over DVDs, pocket games and other small trinkets. It was finally time for presents and I was pretty sure that I wasn’t totally responsible for everything under the tree. As we opened gifts, my suspicions were confirmed. There were quite a few toys of questionable origins under the tree. Most notably, the Nerf guns. I actually put my face in my hands at those. There were clothes and the traditional socks as well. We lost a little bit of time when the Sheriff showed up, hoping to sneak in before we all woke up.

“What?” I said when he looked at me.

“It’s four am.”

“Kids. They woke us up at three.”

The Sheriff groaned. We all laughed. The kids went back to opening up gifts. The boys flipped out over the matchbox cars and the R/c monster trucks. I was a little worried that we’d given them too much, but they were handling it well. Alphonse crawled in to my lap halfway through and stayed there, opening up gifts as fast as the Twins as soon as he got a handle on the fact that they were for him and he got to keep them. He was the one I was most worried about. He’s a naturally shy child anyway, but the noise and all the gifts were overwhelming him. He handled it though, and I’m so very proud of my boy.

Logan on the other hand, was his usual self. Getting into everything as fast as possible and grinning up at me when he was told to slow down. The adults were having just as good a time. Jude brought us all back something from South America. I got a fabulous new skirt and Ben got a new hat for when he’s out in the sun. Miles was given an amazing poncho which he wouldn’t shut up about. Mark was given a new hand-made mug for his coffee. Somehow he’d broken his favorite mug before Jude left and she remembered him. He got a little teary at that point. He doesn’t really talk with his folks.

There was a couple of minutes where we had to stop and drag the dogs out from under all the torn wrapping paper and box. Gibbs and Winston seemed to think it was great fun to run through it and crash in to everyone. We lured them to the hallway and put up a gate so they could still watch, but not crash into anyone anymore. Gibbs was immediately offended and offered his opinion by wailing loudly. Winston joined in until we let them back in to the room. I had to send Miles for a couple of trash bags for the wrapping paper so they wouldn’t eat anything they weren’t supposed to. We went back to unwrapping gifts after cleaning up a little.

For Ben I gave him a new stethoscope. His old one was starting to look a little worn. He also got a new journal from me. His old one was nearly full of his notes on his patients and their unusual attributes. Jude was given a key to the house, as was the Sheriff. We also gave Jude a new set of dig tools. She got misty and hugged us both hard. The Sheriff got a weekend stay at The Watch on us, along with a promise of watching the Twins. I could have sworn the man would have broken down crying at the thought of a vacation all by himself.

For Miles we had a hard time deciding, so Ben and I went with a shopping spree at his favorite store. He fainted. While the rest of us were laughing and trying to bring him back around, Mark opened up his gift and promptly burst in to tears. We’d given him a copy of every single photograph that we’d taken of Max and all of us in an album. Logan went and sat on his lap and nudge his arm so that he was cuddled in to his arms.

“Da.” he said.

It caused all of us to start sniffling. The Twins complained loudly that we were boring and they wanted to play with the new game system that their father had bought them. We had to talk them into finishing unwrapping all the gifts. It was six am before we finished. The kids were half asleep on the floor while playing with their toys and the adults were in the kitchen making breakfast.

“I do believe this was a successful Christmas,” I said before guzzling half my mug of coffee.

“It’ll only be successful if they fall asleep before ten am,” Miles grumbled.

I grinned over at him. “Need a nap already?”

“You weren’t the one doing the Santa shuffle at midnight while trying to keep four kids from seeing your face.”

“No, I wasn’t. How’d that go?”

“Pretty successful, I’d say. We waited until midnight and then did the whole sleighbells routine in front of the door until they woke up,” Mark said.

“We fake argued about taking a wrong turn and ending up at the wrong house.”

“You just had to all in Albuquerque,” Mark said to him.

“Of course I did,” Miles replied.

“and then?” I prompted.

“It was just like you said they would do. They came sneaking out with their flashlights as soon as we started down the stairs with the sacks of gifts,” Mark said. “Thanks for that, by the way. We had to make three trips.”

“You’re welcome. Did they get a kick out of it?”

“They had a fine time trying to hide from us as we piled the gifts under the tree. All four of them crammed behind that ugly cream couch in the Great Hall.”

Everyone in the room laughed as they pictured the scene Mark was laying out.

“Anyway, the little nippers stayed in the hall until we went back upstairs and did the sleighbell routine. Then they came running and the house provided an excellent sound of reindeer running on the roof for us.”

“Yeah, thanks for that.” Miles said.

“You’re welcome,” I said with a grin. “I’m glad everything went as planned. I wanted their first Christmas to be special.”

“It was,” Ben said as he kissed my hand.

“Now, who’s turn is it to make breakfast?” I asked as I looked around the room.

“Mine,” Jude said as she got up.

We all made a protest, but Jude shushed us all and kicked us out of the kitchen. I smiled up at Ben as I tugged him to the stairs.

“I have one last gift to give,” I said to him.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Come with me.”

I led him upstairs and in to our room, where I got out a pink box I’d stopped for on the way home from one of my shopping trips. Ben took one look at it, then at me, let out a loud whoop and picked me up, spinning us around. I laughed and kissed him.

“I do believe that is the best gift you could give me.”

“Us. Give us. I didn’t take it until last night before bed. You were already asleep.”

“Us, then,” He kissed me hard and settled us in to a chair. “When are we going to tell the others?”

“Later. This is for us now.”

“Best Christmas Ever,” He said as he laid his forehead on mine.

I had to agree.

-Marlowe