A week later, it was Irene’s first birthday. Roger insisted on staying in town so he could be present to see his niece blow out her first candles and to use the week to catch up with his sister. I was glad that despite their rough reunion, they were still getting along fine.
So the day of the party, it was us, Roger, Madeline, the babysitting girl Vanessa, and strangely enough, both Carl and Maya. It seems like during the time of Celeste’s first pregnancy and the consecutive year, those two have reached a truce. Not like they were best buds or anything, but they were pretty amicable with one another. Celeste believed it was because Maya herself has met a guy who was over the moon for her and didn’t feel angry at Carl anymore. They were both better off now.
So, our firstborn was growing up. It turned out she did in fact have Celeste’s hair and my eyes, which we both figured was a combination that would make her a little heart breaker when she was older.
“So, the other day, she didn’t like how her bottle looked and she ended up grabbing it out of my hands and throwing it across the room! Can you imagine that?” Celeste enthused to her brother.
“Oh yes! When Mikey and Jonny were her age and they thought we weren’t feeding them what they demanded, they would make all sorts of accidents happen to their food” he laughed. “They can be the perfect little rascals at that age.”
After the guests left and Roger went back to Appaloosa Plains, Celeste and I just focused on her pregnancy and on Irene’s development. Luckily for us, Irene was a quick learner who had no problem learning words or anything else that she saw on the TV. And since she was older now, she required much less company than she previously did. If anything, she preferred her own company to anyone else’s and was often thoroughly focused on her toys.
This was all good, since with this new pregnancy, Celeste was experiencing more difficulties that with Irene’s. This time around she had serious back pains and often found it hard to sleep through the night because of them.
“You know, I think the baby is going to be out sometime this week. I can just feel it” she noted one night while we were putting our daughter to sleep.
“That would be a relief, wouldn’t it?” I asked “You could finally relax a bit.”
That night, once again, she woke up before dawn. “Is he kicking again?” I wondered.
“Yeah. Who am I carrying, a soccer player?” she complained.
I lit up the fireplace in the living room to make it more comfortable. Celeste leaned back into me and I took the chance to rub her shoulders, hopefully releasing some tension from her. Our son was sure not giving her an easy time of this.
“How do you think Irene took the news? Does she understand she’s going to be a sister soon?” wondered Celeste.
“She’s a bright girl. She already kept asking me why mommy was getting big” I remembered “I think she’s curious about meeting her brother.”
“Good” Celeste laughed “Because there are no refunds on this.”
Eventually, it dawned and we turned on the TV on low volume so as not to wake the sleeping tot. But apparently the volume wasn’t low enough for her, since Irene somehow got out of her bed and made her way into the living room. It was pretty adorable, as she still couldn’t walk very well and was trying to steady herself.
“Come here you!” I raised the little girl to sit up on the couch, where she joined us in watching the weather forecast.
“Daddy, spring?” she asked.
“Yes, soon it will be warm” I explained, impressed by her quick grasp of information.
“When bruther’s here?” she was still curious.
“Yep, your brother will be here then” I smiled at the kid. That seemed to satisfy her for the time being.
Eventually, Celeste fell into a nap near us and Irene and I quietly chatted, with her asking about the baby and what he will look like. She was pretty excited for a brother.
Eventually Celeste woke up and with one look at her stomach and at the door let me know that it was time. Luckily, Vanessa wasn’t far and she was able to watch over Irene while her brother was being delivered.
This evening, Gerald Meadows was born. Apparently he was a pretty athletic kid, which all the nurses at the hospital commented on. That did explain all the kicking.
It would be a straight up lie to say that our lives were easy with two small children to care for, but we managed. Celeste and I alternated turns with the childcare and made the best of the winter and the cold.
At one point Celeste decided that she didn’t care about the cold anymore “Screw it! I’m going fishing!”
And she did. I stayed home taking care of Irene and Gerald, making sure to focus on them and not how much I was worried about Celeste, who was out in the cold. But even though I was worried, I knew the fishing trip was good for her—she missed her work.
“Mommy’s going to catch fish?” Irene giggled.
“Yes sweetie, she’s going to catch lots of big fish” I cooed at the laughing toddler.
“Yay! Pet fishies!”
That wasn’t so bad of an idea! Irene was sure a pretty smart kid.
Celeste eventually returned home, exhausted but very satisfied. “No other fishermen out in this weather, so the fish are biting like crazy!” she explained. “Wait till you see the kind of catch I’ve got!”
I didn’t say anything to her yet. But the next morning, when she woke up, she saw a brand new aquarium, with space for at least six fish in it, in our hallway.
“Simon, when did you get this?!” She was ecstatic.
“Overnight delivery, baby. Thank Irene for the idea. She suggested we keep pet fish and I thought this way you could have some here when you can’t go fishing for long periods.”
“It’s a great idea! I can keep all the fish I like in here. Thank you, Si. And you, sweetheart” she hugged Irene.
“Mommy likes pet fish?” the little girl looked satisfied.
“Yes, dear, very much” Celeste smiled at her daughter.
Of course, as Celeste had her fishing, I had my studies. I gave in and bought a telescope and also continued to research the soil and the plants that I had collected before frost had set in. I wasn’t bored.
Soon, it was time for Gerald’s first birthday. It was turning out that our son looked almost like a split image of me, but with his mother’s eyes.
We worried that the kids won’t get along and won’t share the toys and space, but we couldn’t be more wrong. The usually solitary Irene could now almost always be found playing alongside her brother. They got along so well, that we even allowed ourselves to leave them both with Vanessa one day and spend some quiet time out fishing.
When we came back, Vanessa couldn’t stop going on about how adorable they were. It was clear that girl was going to have many kids of her own one day, considering how much she loved them.
As our own birthdays passed, yes Celeste and I weren’t getting any younger unfortunately, so did winter. We were both eager to see warmer days and enjoy the outdoors a bit more.
For me, that meant I was back in my garden, collecting the literal fruits of my hard work and that Celeste was able to stay out near the water for longer periods of time. But that was alright—our kids were getting bigger.
In fact Irene’s birthday was coming up and soon she’ll be in school. We called the usual gang over for her party. Irene blew out her cake candles and took her first steps as a school-aged child.
We should’ve realized that with her looking so much like her mother, there were bound to be personality similarities as well. Of course, she didn’t like big crowds, but we expected that since she knew all these people since she was born it won’t be a problem.
“Mommy, can I entertain the guests?” Irene innocently asked of her mother.
“Of course, dear, why not?” Celeste allowed, not realizing what kind of entertainment Irene was talking about.
So, our seven-year old began to tell the guests a story. A very realistic ghost story. Honestly, it even terrified me, and I considered myself a logical person. The rest of our friends looked equally horrified.
“…And so they found them, both the mother and the son, dead, turned to stone. And no one knew how or why it happened” Irene finished her grisly tale with a calm expression on her face and the demeanor of a professional orator.
“How was the story, Dad?” she asked excitedly.
“It was…not bad” I pulled out of me. “But where did you learn it, hon? I’m sure neither your mother nor I read it for you before sleep.” The idea of doing that made me shudder.
“Oh, it was on TV. There was a story series about international folk tales and I thought they all sounded so cool! I memorized all of them!” she bounded away to sleep.
Well, maybe Celeste and I should’ve monitored what our kids were watching better…
Of course, Irene was ever the caring older sister with Gerald. She would feed him, entertain him, make jokes with him, and all that without us asking her too. Even though they were close in age, she was trying to be a second mother to him.
She was even the one who got Gerald to calm down when one of the dogs ended up soaking him to the bone after coming in from the rain.
The only problem with our eldest was her approach to school: she straight up hated it. We couldn’t really understand why. Although I had a hunch—Irene was a quick learner and many of the things her classes were studying, she already knew. And since she was as hot-tempered as her mother, she would cause trouble in class and whenever she had to complete even the simplest homework, she grew quickly bored and annoyed.
“Mom, Dad, can I please not go to school?” she asked with the worst fake cough I’ve heard in a long time. “I’m sick.”
“Oh, honey, that’s too bad” Celeste thought quickly “I guess we won’t be able to go fishing together then, if you’re sick?”
Irene’s eyes got big for a moment and she announced “Well, I’m not that sick, really. Just a bit tired. But I can go to school. And fishing” she finished, before running off to the school bus.
“Nice one, I wouldn’t have thought of that” I complimented my wife. “You sure know how to get through to her.”
“Oh, I was just like her” explained Celeste. “Takes on to know one.”
Of course, when Irene got back from school, she insisted on going fishing, despite the strong rain that went on outside. After all, she wasn’t one to pass up such a bribe.
“Dad, I caught so many big fish!” she enthused at dinner. “Well, not as many as Mom, but still a lot.”
“That’s great. Do you like fishing?” I wondered if I was going to have a new fisherman in my family from now on.
“I do. It’s fun. And Mom shows me how to do it properly.”
Our days went on in this manner, until one day I came in the kitchen to find Celeste sitting with a concerned expression.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, joining her.
“My Dad is not feeling well. Roger called and he’s urging us to visit” she explained.
I understood. There might not be much time left for her father. We should’ve gone sooner, but traveling to another city with two small tots would have been problematic. Of course, now that Irene was older and Gerald didn’t require as much care, we could make the trip. “What are we waiting for? Summer vacation is coming up, let’s go.”
“Seriously? Let’s do this” she agreed. “Besides, it’s high time that my Appaloosa family gets to meet my Hidden Springs family, don’t you think? And I’ve heard that Roger and Tammy had another baby. I want to see my nephews and niece.”
“I am very excited to see my in-laws” I admitted. From talking on the phone, I already sort of knew the people. But meeting them would be another thing entirely. I only hoped I’d make a good impression.
Gerald is named after the famous English naturalist Gerald Durrell, who was a founder of a world-famous zoo on the island of Jersey and wrote of his travels and about animals in his books.