Warning: This chapter has a conversation on the topic of sexual relations and also some cussing. Nothing too graphic, but you’ve been warned. Also, certain views expressed by certain characters are not necessarily shared by the character’s creator.
Winter has fully set in. My garden was officially frozen over and it was simply too cold for Celeste to go out fishing.
Which proved to be a good thing, really. While Celeste and I were elated to have our little girl, caring for a newborn really took a lot of energy and time. Irene wasn’t a troublesome baby, but she definitely loved attention and cuddling. Which both of us were always ready and willing to provide. Of course, a bit more sleep would’ve been nice.
But even despite the lack of sleep, we always found time for each other. Having worked out some sort of a schedule for taking care of the baby, Celeste and I always managed to make some romantic time for each other. It was a good solution—otherwise we would’ve been pretty stressed out from just the pressure of parenting.
Still, after all the time being cooped up taking care of a small child, we definitely needed a break. Luckily Madeline provided us with that option—she gave us her babysitter’s number. She sounded pretty friendly over the phone and Celeste and I decided to give her a try.
“Are you sure Irene will be ok?” Celeste fussed before the girl’s arrival. It was obvious she was hesitant about hiring a babysitter despite her friend’s recommendations.
“I’m sure Madeline wouldn’t hire her for her own kids if she wasn’t competent. I know you’re worried. But we do need this break—it’s been ages since we’ve gone anywhere” I rationalized.
Soon the girl walked in “Hi, I’m Vanessa. You must be Celeste and Simon, right?”
“That’s right. The baby food is in the bottles, Irene’s favorite story is by her crib and extra diapers are in the bathroom. Call us if you need anything else” I informed the girl.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ve been babysitting since I was twelve, I know the drill. Your daughter will be in good hands with me!” Vanessa calmed us down. I think her confidence reassured Celeste, since she actually smiled. “You two have a good evening.”
So, for the first time in a while, we were on a date. Since it was pretty cold, we headed to the coffee shop that we used to frequent before our wedding. It always had delicious warm beverages which put people in a good mood.
After we finished our drinks, Celeste’s phone went off with a notification. Looking at it, she gave a small laugh.
“What’s so funny?” I was curious.
“Looks like our Irene is going to be a star when she’s older—her photo got so many likes. Oh, look Roger is on Facebook! So much for saying he’ll never use social media. I am so sending a friend request his way with a note saying ‘Look who’s on the Internets!’ He used to make fun of people who overuse the internet, you know. And now look how many pictures of my nephews are on here!” she explained, showing me her brother’s profile.
“Heh, are there any pictures of us on your profile?” I winked.
“Not yet. I’ve only just made a profile on here, to be honest. So far I’ve just been finding the people I know on here and friending them. And baby pictures” she admitted. “I just want everyone to see how adorable Irene is!”
“She is isn’t she? We did a good job with her.”
“Hey, I’m the one who actually was pregnant and then gave birth, you know!” she teased.
“I’m just kidding. Wanna take a picture together, for everyone?” I offered.
“Sure thing.” We usually weren’t into public displays of affection, but maybe the sugary drinks made us giddy–we were smooching for the camera in seconds.
“You have my permission to post that one on your page!” I gave her the go ahead.
“All done. How does the title ‘Me and my one and only’ sound?” she teased.
“Oh, come here, you” I pulled her into a hug.
After the coffee shop filled up with students, we knew we wanted to be somewhere more private. It was too early to head home, so we ended up at the little park where we used to fish in warm weather. It was now covered in snow and the pond was frozen over. It looked beautiful like a fairytale.
“This is nice, isn’t it?” I asked as we sat down on the swings. “Why didn’t we spend more time here?”
“I don’t know. I guess we’re always too busy to enjoy these things. I don’t believe I’ve been on the swings since I was 11. Wow, sounds like a long time ago, doesn’t it?” she giggled.
“I don’t think I’ve ever used them, to be honest. I was always the serious kid growing up” I admitted.
“Oh, no! Why not? It can be fun! Look” she tried to swing the set she was on but somehow didn’t succeed “Oh well. I think it’s frozen or something.”
“Is it?” I was already on my feet and pushing her forward. “Having fun yet?”
“OMG! Simon, this is awesome! The last time anyone pushed me on the swings was when I was actually little.” She was ecstatic.
“You’re never too old to have fun. And that’s coming from the ‘serious kid’ on the block.” I pushed her harder, only for her to start singing a kids song about riding the swings.
We would’ve kept up at it longer if not for Celeste suddenly urging me to stop.
“Is everything alright?” I asked, worried that the swings made her head spin.
“Yeah, I think so. Just got a bit lightheaded, that’s all” she brushed it away.
And then she groaned and grabbed at her stomach while muttering “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“I’m sorry I pushed you so much” I apologized.
“Don’t be, it was so fun.” Suddenly she stopped, looking like she was calculating something in her head. “Hey, Si? You are happy we have Irene, right?”
“That’s a rhetorical question. Of course, I adore her” I responded. “Why?”
“Because I think I may be pregnant again” she admitted.
“Come here” I picked her up, and looking straight into her eyes told her “There is nothing more important to me than our family. Why would I be unhappy about another child?”
“It’s just so soon. And we’re already so busy with Irene” she worried.
“Well, Irene is going to be a big sister soon. That’s good—she’ll never be alone, she’ll always have a friend nearly her age at home. Having a brother or a sister is good for a kid. As for us, we’ll handle this. That’s what family is about.”
Putting her down, I realized how cold she was. “I think we should head home, or we’ll both catch a cold out here.”
“No kidding. I bet Vanessa is wondering what’s taking us so long” she agreed.
On the way home, we held hands all the way.
As the time went on, Celeste’s second pregnancy progressed. We didn’t know the baby’s gender yet, but we at least had some naming ideas this time.
We have just eaten and Irene began fussing in her room.
“I’ll check on her” I developed a habit of making sure that, at least as long as Celeste was with child, I would do as much to relieve her, since her back pain was pretty bad this time around.
While I was in the bedroom I heard the doorbell ring and Celeste open the door. What followed next was a tirade of angry yelling.
Opening the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“Roger? What are you doing here?” I didn’t expect my brother to arrive just like that without warning.
“What am I doing here?! I could ask you the same thing! What are you doing living here shacked up with some man, with a child?! Didn’t dad teach you better than that?!” If my brother and I shared one thing, it was definitely our temper, and now it was directed at me. I didn’t like that at all.
“Excuse me?! What am I doing here? How dare you just show up and start yelling at me in my own home?” I yelled right back.
The nerve of him! Roger was always the strict older brother who believed premarital relations were taboo. That was why he came with me when I had to move here—he was “protecting my honor” so to speak. Of course, I made it clear to him as soon as I was 18 that I was going to live on my own. Of course, he protested vehemently, but after our many disagreements and due to the fact that Dad really did need help back on the ranch, he eventually went back.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve always loved my brother dearly despite his views on life, but logic dictated that to continue getting along we just couldn’t live under the same roof.
“Your home?! Since when?!” Roger wasn’t one to easily back down. “How fast were you to jump in bed with the first man who looked at you after I was gone? Huh?”
“Are you trying to call me a slut? Brother dear, don’t even go there. You know perfectly well that while I never agreed with your archaic views, I have standards for relationships. Also, I have been legally married for over a year now, which you would have known if you, oh I don’t know, actually deigned to show up to your only sister’s wedding!” I would’ve kept yelling at my brother if Simon didn’t show up with a completely baffled expression on his face.
“Hey you two, maybe try to keep it down a bit, Irene just barely fell asleep” he shot me a pleading look and turned to my brother “Look, I know from the pictures my wife has shown me that you’re her brother, but you really have to explain why you think it’s acceptable to come into our home and start yelling at her without even a greeting.”
“Well, why did you elope? Did you have a shotgun wedding or something? Is that why it was such a secret?” my brother was still fuming.
“For your information, Simon was a perfect gentleman and hasn’t even suggested touching me in a questionable way until we were wed and our beloved daughter was definitely not born out of wedlock!” I shot at Roger. “And the wedding was most certainly not secret—we sent both you and dad invitations. Officially printed and all. But you were busy with your pregnant wife and dad was busy at the ranch. At least that’s what he’s texted me. Texted, Roger! Not even called. I mean who even does that when their daughter tells them she’s getting married?!”
“What…” Roger’s face showed utter confusion and then a bitter understanding. “Oh goodness… I can’t believe she did…. It seems I owe you both a huge apology.”
Well, this was about to be good. My brother usually hated to admit he was wrong. But as it turns out, Irene did in fact wake up because of our yelling.
“Great, now your niece is awake. It seems you two have a chance to get to know each other a bit. Now don’t bite. We have dogs for that.”
After Celeste left, Roger looked at me awkwardly and tried to explain “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have acted the way I did when I got here, but my temper is definitely not one of my best qualities.”
“I guess that’s something you two share, isn’t it?” I couldn’t help myself “It’s a sibling thing.”
“She and I are really close. Well, used to be, I guess.” Roger looked nostalgic for a bit. “I guess I shouldn’t have disagreed with her when she hated our step-mother.”
“She doesn’t usually dislike people. I wonder what caused her to think badly of someone” I wondered.
“I don’t know how much she’s told you about our family after mom’s death” he asked.
“She told me your father took it bad but that he later remarried” I admitted, realizing that Celeste for all our closeness didn’t actually talk much about her father’s second wife.
“That’s the short version of it. Dad took Mom’s passing extremely bad. He wouldn’t even get out of bed for months. Celi and I took care of the ranch and making sure everything was functioning, with the help of the other ranch workers. Eventually he recovered. Then, four years later, he meets Aileen and you can just see that being with that woman makes him happy. And she seemed nice enough. I was only happy that Dad could move on” he explained.
“But Celeste didn’t like her?” I prodded.
“She hated her vehemently. That was part of the reason she agreed to move here, not just for health reasons. They just didn’t get along. Celi would always find ways to antagonize Aileen and Aileen didn’t really like her in return, but who can blame her—Celi used to pull crazy stunts on her all the time, like stuffing her shoes with fish. We all thought that she was just unhappy because she thought Dad was replacing Mom. But maybe she was on to something” he drifted off.
“Of course I was on to something. That woman is a fake if I ever saw one” complained Celeste coming back into the room, holding the peacefully gurgling Irene. “You weren’t really in the house around her as much as I was—you didn’t get to see how differently she treated everyone. She could be nice to your face and then spew the worst garbage about you behind your back. I heard her on the phone with her friends. I don’t even know if they realize how fake she is. I think she only married Dad because she thought he was richer, being a ranch owner and all. I guess she’s pretty disappointed now.”
“Is that why you didn’t like her? Why didn’t you tell us?” Roger asked quietly.
“Would you have believed me? You thought I was in my rebellious teen phase and just trying to irk her because she was marrying Dad” she accused without actually being mean. “So, you want to explain what happened to that wedding invitation?”
Roger, with his hand on his chest shook his head “I never got it. I really was busy with Tammy’s pregnancy—I mean it was a tough one, twins and all. But I would have tried to go if I knew, I swear. And Dad… well, I didn’t want to worry you, but he’s been pretty sick lately. I guess Aileen is responsible for mail now? But didn’t you call him in person?”
“I kept hitting voicemail. And then he texted me that everyone was really tied up at the ranch. Yeah, I was hurt, but I didn’t think he was lying. Fall can be pretty busy on a ranch.” Celeste also realized that the situation was starting to sound less than plausible.
“Dad doesn’t know you’re married either, Celi. That’s why I flipped out like this. Imagine my reaction: I log in into Facebook when I finally have the time for it and see your profile where you’re sucking face with some guy I don’t know and already have a baby.”
“And you thought your sister was living indecently” she shot at him with a warning in her eyes.
“Sorry” he apologized. “But you know I can go crazy like this sometimes. I know I shouldn’t have behaved like I did.”
“Well, it seems like the mystery of the missed wedding has been almost solved.” They both turned to look at me. “Well, you two want to call back home and maybe find out why both your wedding invitations got lost?”
“I still can’t believe she forgot about two official wedding invitations” sulked Roger as he ate half an hour later. “I mean, they weren’t even addressed to her!”
“Umm, maybe that’s why she did it?” I suggested. The phone call to Appaloosa Plains revealed that Aileen saw the letters but later forgot about them and didn’t mention them. “You know, she saw that Celeste wasn’t inviting her and decided that then no one would go?”
“Why would I invite her to my wedding? It’s bad enough this person wormed her way into my family” rationalized Celeste.
“Well, in any case, I already called dad told him of the situation. He’s excited to meet Simon. If possible, he would like to talk to you. He’s feeling well enough for it today.”
“I’d be honored to talk to him” I honestly told him.
While Simon was on the phone with my dad, Roger smiled and admitted “You’ve picked well. He’s a keeper. And he knows how to calm down our family—always useful.”
“He is isn’t he?” I smiled. “How are my nephews doing? How’s Tammy?”
“They’re both healthy and thriving, the mother and the sons. Do you think it would be ok for me to hold my niece?”
In the kids’ room, Roger literally glowed “She’s so adorable! I can already see she’s got your and Mom’s hair. Although, it could get darker as she ages and be like mine and Dad’s. Are you two planning on more?”
“Why do you think I’m getting so big?” I grinned. “This little bub should be due in a few months.”
“Goodness gracious! I’ve been here all this time and haven’t even realized my own sister is pregnant!” He put his hands on my belly and called “Hey little one. Your Uncle Roger is here. You’re invited to Appaloosa when you’re born. I promise to teach you to ride a horse and build a silo.”
“Hey, hey, he or she’s not even out yet. It’ll be a few years till the little ones can do all that.”
“How’s your health? Is it really so good here? I’ve missed you, you know” he admitted.
“Well, you know what the doctors said. I’m at risk of the same cancer that took Mom and it’s healthier for me to stay here. Besides, I love this town now. It’s been my home for a while now.”
My brother pulled me into a big hug “Well, I’m still in town for a few weeks. I’ll come around, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course, please do” Simon invited coming in the room. “Your father sounds wonderful. He’s invited us all to Appaloosa Plains in the summer.”
“Will you visit?” asked Roger, getting excited. “Please do! Tammy would be happy to see you and you’ll see the kids.”
“Well, our little one should be born then. If we can, we’ll totally visit.”
“It’s a deal” he smiled.
After he left, I pulled Simon into a tight embrace “Hey, sorry that we caused such a ruckus earlier. I guess the Lewis clan has a few hot-heads in it, myself included.”
“Oh, I didn’t mind. Your brother definitely should have chosen a more polite approach, but I can tell he’s just worried for his sister.”
“Yeah, Rog is a bit old-fashioned that way. But you definitely impressed him. He admitted that you’re a keeper.”
“Well, I’ll be! Good, then he knows that I have only one thing in mind. To make sure your life with me is as happy as it possibly can be.”
With that we finally went to sleep and I felt at peace—my life really was pretty good. And soon there will be another little person who would be a part of it.