Posted on 2011-03-25
Will made his way to the pool house, where he assisted Richard with necessary tasks and then excused himself to head out to the stable to deal with chores. As he did, Beth began her day with a long bath and some uninterrupted deep thought. Afterwards, feeling more relaxed; she walked into the sitting room, which her husband, with his talented hands, was rapidly converting into a nursery. She looked out the window to see Callie, Bella prancing happily beside her, running into the stable for her daily time with Butterscotch.
Although a little ashamed of her raw emotions towards Samuel, Beth understood that she couldn't deny her feelings; and knew that Will was right: she had to confront her father. But understanding one's feelings and communicating them to another were two completely different things. Continuing to gaze out the window, she allowed her thoughts to play over and over. My life is more than I ever thought it would or could be; more than I ever could have dreamed. My husband loves me completely and he adores my daughters and accepts them as his own. My home is warm and beautiful and filled with so much love. She rubbed her belly and sighed deeply. I'm carrying a baby, a miracle I never thought we'd be blessed to have and that Will wants so badly, even though he's afraid to admit it, even to himself. Why, why do I feel so compelled to know Samuel? What's driving me to need him in my life now, after knowing next to nothing about him for almost forty years?
Beth had no idea how long she stood there, alone with her thoughts and questions, but she continued to stare absently out the window, gently rubbing her stomach as the baby beat time against her circular motions.
Will held Callie's hand as they left the stable, laughing at his daughter's sing-song voice animatedly re-telling details from the wedding of the day before. Not knowing why, he lifted his head and looked up toward the house to discover his wife standing at the window. It was one of those rare moments in life when, though the world whirls around you and a nine year old sings and tugs on your arm, time stands still. His breath caught in his throat as he watched the late morning sun bathe the woman he loved in its rays.
Practically on cue, Beth felt his penetrating stare and their eyes met for a brief moment, and each felt a current of electricity pass between them. As if reentering the atmosphere, they each shook their heads and came back to earth. Will landed to hear Callie urging him to race her to the kitchen door. Beth laughed as she watched the love of her life stumble briefly, and then take off towards the house, clearly allowing their daughter to beat him to the finish. Turning from the window, Beth realized that Juanita would soon arrive bearing goodies for the brunch. Knowing that meant that she would soon be forced to face Samuel and express her true feelings; she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and hurried to meet the laughing duo who offered her so much strength.
"No, no Elisa," Juanita tutted with frustration, "you sit; let me do." She literally swatted Beth's hands away when she reached for a bowl of fruit to place into the fridge. "I tell El Toro I take care of today. You do too much. Not good for bebe. Not good for you."
"But I feel fine, Juanita," Beth protested while she ignored the swatting and opened the refrigerator door. "I rested this morning. I even took a long bath just as you told me to do before you left last night." Another "tsk" escaped Mamacita's lips but she permitted Beth to assist her with duties that allowed her to be seated.. Beth filled her in on the honeymoon night and the two ladies couldn't help but laugh at the irony of it all. A companionable silence had fallen between them,, until all too soon, the sound of a car pulling up the driveway invaded the peaceful morning.
"Juanita, please stay and eat with us," Beth pleaded. "Call Jorge and tell him to come over, too."
"No, Elisa," Juanita answered shaking her head. "I will meet this father of yours, but not today. You will spend time with him, yes? He will be back here to visit again. This I know." She patted Beth on the shoulder before making her way towards the door.
"I hope you're right," Beth answered in a whisper. "I really/truly hope you're right."
Seth had already made it clear that he wanted to eat with Richard and Elise, and Georgiana had not shown herself all day. Will knocked on her door to announce that their guests had arrived. "Do I have to come down, Will?" she entreated through the closed door.
"No," he answered, thinking that the smaller group might be better. "But I'm worried about you; you haven't eaten all day.
"I ran down and grabbed something while Elizabeth was bathing," she replied while opening the door a little. "See, Will, I'm alright." She attempted a weak smile that didn't fool her brother. "But I do want to talk later. I promise. After they've left."
"Too weird?" he wondered out loud.
"Too much," she sighed. "I think it's enough for you and Elizabeth to talk with them; I'm just not up for another emotional scene."
"How do you know it's going to be emotional?" His surprised expression told her she was right.
"Because I heard Beth sighing loudly all morning long. I could hear her in here. And then, when I looked out my window, I saw you, more than once, staring off into space with your hand raking through your hair. Dead giveaway, Will."
"Hmmm," he reached through the opening and tipped her nose with his index finger, "You think you're so smart, sitting up here, listening and watching us."
"But I'm right, aren't I?" she challenged, eyebrow raised..
"Probably," he said over his shoulder as he turned and walked down the hall and slowly descended the steps. Now, it was his turn to sigh.
He could hear Samuel and Beth talking in the living room and assumed Callie and Jason to be with them. As he walked through the doorway, father and son stood up and extended hands in greeting. For the moment, everything seemed calm.
"Daddy," Callie ran over and planted a kiss on his cheek as he bent over to gladly accept it., "these are the men that worked in the pool house to help Uncle Richard." Her self-satisfied grin caused a smile to tug at the corner of his mouth as well.
"Really?" he indulged her. "You mean there weren't mermaid fairies dressed in pink and purple that changed it around in there?"
"That's silly, Daddy," she answered smugly. "You're silly, sometimes." She stood with her hands on her hips. "The man with the grey hair, his name is Samuel; and the man with the curly hair, his name is Jason. You remember them, right?"
And so the late morning continued with Callie entertaining the adults, delighting them with her witticisms and playful answers to their questions. Beth and Will each acknowledged the ease with which Samuel and Jason interacted with their daughter, and the conversation stayed light as it jumped from topic to topic. Will kept a nervous eye on his wife, but apart from making a slight comment that the baby was quite active as she squirmed a few times in her seat, she appeared in control of herself and seemed to be enjoying the company. As they ate, everyone remarked on Juanita's exceptional cooking, and Will explained his long relationship with Mamacita and her family.
"It seems she provides much more than good food for this household," Samuel observed, while wiping his mouth with a napkin and pushing slightly away from the table, smiling at his bachelor son still shoveling in his food. He, too, had kept a watchful eye on Beth as he could sense some tension in her face at times.
"To say the least," Will acknowledged. "She cares for us and still keeps us on the straight and narrow. She'd fight to protect all of us." There, the gauntlet's been thrown; let's see who picks it up.
Jason looked up from his plate with a start. It wasn't so much what Will had just said, but the way he had said it that suddenly made the younger man uncomfortable. He glanced over at his father to see him staring at Beth, his leg beginning its nervous fidget. Not sure what to do, but certain that something needed to be said, he quickly stood up. "Callie," he turned to the enchanting nine year old, "why don't we go check on how your Uncle Richard is doing? I need to leave soon and want to see if there's anything else I can do for him before I go."
The little girl slid out of her chair in a fluid motion and beckoned for Bella to come out from under the table to join them. "We're going to see if we can help him, Momma," she stated excitedly. "We'll see you later." She walked toward her momma and kissed her on the cheek. "Sometimes, I just like to give her a kiss," she explained to no one in particular; but Jason nodded his head and said surprise kisses were really the best kind to receive. The occupants of the dining room could hear their animated conversation as they continued out of the room and out of the house.
Beth continued to stare at her plate, since Will's statement had cut to the chase. Tempted to lash out at her husband for forcing her to discuss the issue, her heart told her that he only meant to help her say what truly needed saying. She felt Will's hand cover her own, and she seized it as she lifted her head to view his face, full of concern and just a touch of guilt. Before she could speak, Samuel cleared his throat.
"I'm not sure," he began tentatively, "but I think you expected me to have some kind of reaction to what you said, Will." His gaze traveled between the two who were obviously holding a silent conversation.
"Maybe," Beth found her voice, "but he was mostly spurring me on, convincing me to talk to you."
"I see," Samuel replied, but in reality, he didn't see at all.
Will stood up and assisted his wife to do the same. "Why don't we head into the living room? It's more comfortable there." He motioned for Beth to walk ahead of him and placed a protective hand on the small of her back. Samuel followed them out, quite concerned about where this was headed. He was beginning to really dislike the living room of the Stephens' house.
Before they reached the entrance to her mother-in-law's sanctuary, Beth turned and placed her open hand on Will's cheek. "Fitzwilliam," she said with deliberate intent, hoping to convey her love for him, "I'd really like to speak to Samuel alone. I think it's best." She caressed his cheek as she spoke and searched his eyes. where she knew she would find a myriad of emotions.
Are you out of your mind, woman?! Will's mind screamed through those expressive eyes. Is this payback for making you talk to him? I will not allow you to be hurt or upset! And, yet, since you ask, I must leave you. Your dignity demands it. He leaned his face into her caress, signaling that he admitted defeat. "Certainly, love," he answered with a forced serenity. "I'll be in my office if you need anything." Letting out a small sigh of resignation to her subtle demand, he turned to kiss her hand, shot Samuel what he hoped was a not too stern look of warning and exited the room.
Beth motioned for Samuel to take a seat, and he reluctantly chose the armchair next to the couch. "I have to tell you, Beth," he began with a slight quiver to his voice as his leg began its nervous bouncing. "you have me a bit worried about this conversation." He looked at her serious expression and his stomach lurched. Desperately searching his brain for what he might have said or done to displease her in the last twenty-four hours, he drew in a deep breath and realized that he could only listen and go from there.
Beth returned his worried gaze, internally fighting with the half of her that pushed to end the conversation before it began. Is this really what I want? Do I really need to tell him what I'm feeling? Why in the world did I decide to send my husband away, so I could do this on my own? She squared her shoulders, reminded herself that she deserved to, needed to, was entitled to have her say, and began with some hesitation.
"Samuel, I can tell by your expression that you have no idea why I asked to speak with you alone, or why this seems so dramatic." She attempted a weak smile, and he returned the same. "The thing is--" she paused, again, searching for the words to say. "The thing is, as much as I appreciated our time together over my birthday, as much as I'm aware of the way your family is making an effort to accept me, and as much as I'm grateful to you and to Jason for coming up here this weekend to help Richard…" She took a breath to gird herself for what she was about to say. "Samuel, I-I deserve more. I-I-I need more." Looking over at him, his brow furrowed as his frown lengthened., the temptation to just drop the whole was so strong that she desired for nothing more than to bolt from the room.
To fight the overwhelming desire, she sat rigidly, her fingers tightly gripping the arm of the couch, praying that what she wanted to say would make sense to him and ultimately lead to a better, deeper understanding between them. "I know I said that I needed time to adjust to you and to the idea that I had family besides the girls and Will's,, and you have given me that, but now I find that I--that I – " She stopped to gather her thoughts again and to rein in the emotions threatening to spill out of her tear-brimmed eyes.
"Beth," he began, leaning forward in his chair to place his hand on top of hers.
"No, please, let me say this while I have the nerve," she insisted, but she didn't move her hand away and felt grateful that he had initiated that contact. "I know I'm emotional; I know all about the hormonal spikes of pregnancy, but what happened yesterday brought out a flood of feelings that kept me awake most of the night."
"Yesterday?" he asked in wonder, "Beth, what happened yesterday?" Unconsciously, his leg began shaking, and he experienced the all too familiar pain in his stomach.
"You didn't want to meet my family or friends. You took the easy way out and left." She answered quietly, her head dropping momentarily, before she urged herself to look him in the eye.
Samuel heard her clearly, but, mentally, he fought with her interpretation of why he and Jason opted not to stay for the dinner. He felt her gaze upon him, and he looked at her with sorrowful eyes. Finally, he replied. "I had no idea you would see it that way. I honestly thought we'd be intruding on a special moment. I didn't know how you'd want to introduce me, as an acquaintance, as a friend or as your father. Jason and I were rather grimy and, frankly, bushed after a long day of manual labor."
"I know; everything you say makes perfect sense, and Will explained why you left," she absently shook her bowed head as if to say her feelings didn't make much sense to her, either. "But to me, you see, I'm still the little girl who wants her daddy to be proud of her, a man who wants her to introduce him to anyone and everyone she knows, a man who cares about her and the people she loves and values. I spent my childhood dreaming of who my father might be and how he would find me. Now I'm trying to forgive you for all the years you remained a stranger to me. Really, I am. But try to see it from my perspective; to me, it seems like you try to avoid anything that's even remotely uncomfortable for you, especially when it concerns me, and that makes me feel like I'm unworthy of acknowledgement as your daughter." She let out a deep breath as tears fell down her cheeks.
Samuel sat frozen, trying to digest the things his daughter had just confessed. The guilt and remorse of the last forty years rushed back and hit him forcibly. So many thoughts ran through his mind, and he wished Jason would return to defend him. No, that's exactly what she means; she thinks I'm not willing to really put forth the effort since I didn't seem to care for all of those years This is why it's just us two in here. She didn't want to hide behind Will and give me cause to toss the accusation back at her. He searched her face, but only saw pain. "I don't really know where to begin." He heaved a sigh. "But you're right, I can't deny it. I took the easy way out, all the way around. Tammy didn't want me if I didn't leave Susan, so that freed me from responsibility. Susan, after telling me to keep quiet about you and your mother in her presence, never questioned me again about anything concerning the two of you. I took advantage of that and just never mentioned that I'd seen and talked to your mother." He paused as what he said sank into his consciousness.
"But, Samuel," Beth interrupted, "all of those years we taught together, why didn't you speak up then, or at least try to get to know me better under the guise of our shared profession? I doubt that I'd have ever suspected anything."
He searched his soul before he spoke; he wanted tell her the truth, but he himself struggled to understand his motives for all of those years. "I don't know; I guess I just felt fortunate to be around you and have the chance to watch over you from afar. I thought that was the most I could ever hope for." He shrugged his shoulders in defeat. "But that's not what I thought last night. I just thought it was a little too awkward. I swear to you, Beth, I truly hope to be a part of your life."
Beth studied his face and posture, both fallen and weary. "How do you see that happening?" she asked barely above a whisper, afraid that her desires would not match his expectations..
He did not need to think about how to answer; he let his heart speak. "I hope to get to know my daughter and her daughters, and to have the chance to bounce her new baby on my knee. I hope for more calls from you, no matter the time or the reason, so that I can attempt to make up for my sins and become a father to you now. I hope…I hope for forgiveness." He stopped and leaned forward in his seat while squeezing her hand that he still held tightly in his own. "I hope that I am not too old to become a better, stronger man."
It was Beth's turn, now, to be silent as she reflected on his hopes. Praying that what he said truly revealed his heart, she knew she had to try to let him into her life, to allow him be a father to her. She held his gaze, before a slight smile tugged at the sides of her mouth. "You know," she said, wistfully, "when we met in Cincinnati, Will and I told you a little about our relationship, but what I didn't tell you was that as much as we wanted each other, we both had a terrible time expressing it. At first, we were guarded, then, when we broke through the first barriers, he decided to try and give me the world, and I ran in fear and distrust. I wanted him so badly, but I didn't say it. He didn't know what to do. He gave up for a while and we were both so miserable. He didn't fight for me."
Samuels's eyes grew wide in disbelief; he sensed that the couple were made for each other from the beginning. "I'd have thought that he'd walk through fire for you."
"Oh, he would, now, and then some, but …" She sighed in memory. "We can all be insecure, and even a bit stubborn, at times." Looking down at their joined hands, she grinned as she continued. "I have no doubt that your sons love you very much, as do Jessica and her children, so I know that you are a good man. I-I need some assurance that I'm not a whim, or a penance you feel you to pay.." Her pointed look told him to speak up now, if he felt that way.
"No, no," he violently shook his head. "I should have spoken up years ago; you're right about that. I should have worked harder to make my Susan feel secure enough to let me have a relationship with you once you were an adult. But, Beth, I can't change that. I can't change my past, but I can try, with everything I have, to change the future, to make you believe that my desires and hopes are now really, truly my own."
Beth's heart tugged in her chest, and she knew she had to meet him halfway. She had to work towards forgiveness. "Then we'll have to fight for this relationship together." She smiled and startled a bit as the baby suddenly became quite active. "Wow," she instinctively put her hand on her belly and rubbed, "I think he's in agreement."
Samuel looked at Beth with concern. Earlier, during brunch, he'd noticed the tiredness around her eyes and that she'd looked uncomfortable. Once they began talking, he'd been tempted to chalk that all up to her anticipatory nerves, but now he wasn't so sure. "Well, in light of our agreement to work on our relationship, I feel I must tell you that you look exhausted and that I'm a bit worried about you." She started to protest, but he wouldn't let her speak. "No, no, Beth, it's true. I don't mean to insult you, but this is your first pregnancy and, well, you're not…" He searched for the best way to indicate that her age was a factor without actually saying it.
Before he could continue, Beth's face contorted in pain, and she squeezed his hand tightly. Instinctively, she placed her other hand over the baby bump, even though the pain did not emanate from her womb. Actually, the stabbing sensation began at her lower back and traveled down her left leg. "Oh, my goodness." She attempted to laugh it off, but her eyes betrayed her concern. "I think the little one is pressing on a nerve or something in my back," she managed through ragged breaths.
"Well, what does the pain feel like? Where in your back is it?" Samuel questioned while reminding himself to remain calm. He was a veteran of two sons' births and two grandchildren. "Do you want me to call Will, or should I call your doctor?"
"Call Will or the doctor about what?" her husband asked as he hurriedly shot into the room, only to see his wife's pale face look up at him with a little fear. "What's the matter, Elizabeth? What's happening?"
"Darling, settle down," Beth pleaded through gritted teeth as another spasm sliced through her back and leg, "Samuel was just telling me that I was overdoing it; our little one agreed, quite forcefully I think." Will dropped to his knees in front of her, and she could see the alarm and shadow of his past written across his face. "Please, don't look at me like that," she insisted. "It's not a contraction or anything; it's just a pain in my back and down my right leg." Her hand left Samuel's and caressed her overwrought husband's face as she attempted to lighten the mood and draw his focus away from her discomfort. "What were you doing? Were you listening at the door?"
"I wasn't spying, Elizabeth; I just couldn't stay in the office any longer, waiting, not knowing how things were going out here." He placed his hand on her belly and felt the kicks and punches flutter all around. "He's angry or agitated or both," he said as he intently watched her face. "I hope you two were finished with your discussion; but whether you were or not, I'm taking my wife upstairs to rest." She began to protest, but he refused to listen. "Sorry, love, but you must slow down, starting right now." Very carefully, Will assisted Beth off of the couch, but burning sensation suddenly changed to tingling as if tiny pin pricks attacked her calf down to her toes. Before she could falter or stumble, Will scooped her into his arms and began making his way towards the doorway.
As Samuel watched Beth's suffering, he remembered times when his wife, as well as his daughter-in-law, had complained of similar muscle spasms and pains as their bodies adjusted to carrying their babies. He couldn't be sure, but he hoped that was all she was experiencing. Still, he knew how hectic and emotional the past week had been, and he couldn't help but worry. Additionally a twinge of guilt poked him that her anxiety over their relationship couldn't have helped matter at all "Beth," he stood up, walked towards the couple, and kissed her gently on her cheek, "let him take care of you. You go on and rest. Jason and I need to leave anyway. We'll call when we get to Cincinnati to check on you. And, Will," he added in the same gentle tone he had used on his once anxious son, "she's going to be just fine. I suspect it's just a touch of sciatica."
Beth nodded her head in agreement and started to nestle her head into the crook of Will's neck. Before they left the room, however, Beth called out to her father, "Samuel!" Will, to enable his wife to see her father, turned around. "Samuel, you were going to tell me to slow down, weren't you? You were getting ready to give me some fatherly advice, right?" Her face shone with tears.
Samuel nodded and swallowed hard, his eyes swimming with moisture as well. "Yes, Beth," he answered with a slight tremble to his voice. "I was getting ready to tell you to get off your feet and rest for a couple of days. I was going to tell you to listen to your father." The lump in his throat stopped him from articulating anything further.
"I will," she answered and, despite the pain she experienced, she graced him with a brilliant smile that would melt any father's heart, no matter the age of the parent or child.
Jason let Callie lead the way to the pool house, enchanted with her personality, just as he was with Amy's, his other niece. "Momma says that I have to knock before I go in. I have to make sure that Uncle Richard isn't resting or something," she explained as she knocked loudly on the door. "It's me, Callie!" she called, and they heard Richard tell her to come in, followed by a loud sigh. Jason hesitated for a moment, wondering if the injured groom and his wife desired any more company; but since Callie had forged ahead, he followed after her.
Taking Jason's hand, she entered the room, where Elise and Richard sat as closely as they could to each other: he in his wheelchair and she in a chair from the kitchen table. Seth was trying to make himself invisible off in the kitchen where he'd put up a pot of water for tea. "Sorry that I can't get up to greet you," Richard muttered dejectedly, "but I'm guessing you're the man I have to thank for this transformation." First, he motioned around the room with his hand, and then held it out, so the two shook tentatively. "I'm Richard Stephens, and this is my wife, Ellie, and," he turned his head in both directions, "Seth, where the devil did you go?" he growled.
"Geeze, bro," Seth answered back sharply as he sauntered into the main room, "I was just in the kitchen. I'm Seth, his brother." They eyed each other briefly before both extended hands and briefly shook the other's.
Jason, again sensing the tension, turned towards Elise and introduced himself, bending at the waist to awkwardly shake her hand as well. "I hope what I did will help you, will make life a little easier for you," he answered, humbly. "I haven't really worked with adults since my college days, so I just tried to put myself in your husband's shoes –"
"--or fixator, as the case may be," Richard muttered, not joining in as the others responded with strained laughter.
Jason couldn't help but notice that Seth looked nothing like Richard, just as he bore no resemblance to his brother, Luke. Elise seemed down to earth and, by the way she looked at her new husband, Jason could tell that at least for the moment, the woman loved him. Only time would tell if she stayed with him through all the pain of rehabilitation. Shaking his head slightly to clear the negative thoughts from his mind, he continued, "Well, those are nasty contraptions, but they do the job they're intended to do. I studied up on them and asked some colleagues from physical therapy about how to lay out the house for ease of access, and stuff like that." He shrugged. "So … I can't take all the credit."
Callie, meanwhile, was checking out the changed rooms by walking around and inspecting every inch. "Wow," she exclaimed, "you guys are going to sleep right here in the middle of the room?" She walked up to Richard with the intent to give him a kiss, but, instead, she received a rebuke.
"Callie," he chided her with a determined tone. "You don't have to go all around the room and comment on every little thing. This is where I'm living right now, whether you like it or not. This is the best place for me to recover. I can't go up the stairs in the big house, and Ellie just moved here, too, you know." He glanced at his wife hoping to get her support, and he startled when she exhibited shock and concern.
"Richard, she didn't mean anything by it." Elise rebuked him quietly, her eyes darting to both Callie and Jason. "Callie, honey, why don't you sit here next to me." Eying her uncle with hurt and sadness, Callie walked with her head hung and plopped down next to Elise. "It's alright; he's just tired," she whispered into the young girl's ear. Patting her clenched hands, Elise turned her attention to Jason. "We really can't thank you enough for driving all this way and helping us. I'm sure you have better things to do on your weekend." She motioned for Jason to sit in the armchair across from her, and she couldn't help but notice that the younger man looked uncomfortable.
"So…you just met Beth and Will a couple of weeks ago, right?" Seth asked as his brother cleared his throat in warning. "What?" he shot a questioning look towards the growl. "It's true, isn't it?"
Jason shifted in the chair, "Yes, it is," he answered without looking at anyone in particular, choosing to focus on a spot on the floor. He began to wish he had taken his chances and stayed in the house with his father.
"You don't have to go any further," Richard offered through gritted teeth. He pointedly stared down his little brother and then jerking his head toward Callie.
"Oh, yeah, right," Seth finally caught on. "So…" he tried again, "do you follow the Reds?"
Laughing nervously at the obvious change of subject, Jason agreed to discuss the baseball team, and they spent the next half hour conversing on safer topics like sports, hometowns and the plans for the new house. Seth and Jason fell into a comfortable banter. After a while, Richard rolled his chair away to stare out at the pool, leaving Elise to soothe and to entertain Callie. They all startled a bit when Samuel knocked on the door and informed Jason that it was time to leave. The older man introduced himself to the preoccupied couple, but only stayed a few minutes.
"Callie," Samuel approached her and bent closer to speak to her. "I'm so glad I had the chance to meet you this weekend. I hope to meet Jeannie very soon, too."
She eyed him closely for several seconds, noting his smile and his nice words, before she replied, "I like you, Mr. Samuel; and I like Mr. Jason, too. We need a grandpa in this family; maybe you could be one. Uncle Richard decided to be my uncle one day when I asked him. Remember Uncle Richard?" Her big eyes and innocent request tugged at Samuel's already overwrought emotions, and he fought for composure.
Jason looked on the scene, at first with concern, and then, when he saw his father's expression of joy mixed with a little pain, he decided to step in. "You know," he said to Callie, "I have a niece in Cincinnati named Amy. I think you'd like her a lot. Maybe next time we come up, we'll bring Amy with us. Who knows, maybe we'll all call each other uncle or cousin or grandpa or something."
Callie glanced at Richard who had, again, wheeled away from the group, before she looked up at Jason. "You're funny, like my Uncle Richard used to be. I'd like to have more people to call uncle or something."
Ignorant of what had transpired before he had entered, Samuel wondered at the pained expressions of the adults surrounding him and the grunt that emanated from Richard. Jason wanted nothing more than to leave the tension filled room, so he said his quick good byes and suggested to Callie that she head back up the house or play outside for a bit. Seth seized the opportunity to leave, too, by volunteering to accompany her to the stable.
Beth awakened to the sensation of being watched. Slowly opening her eyes, she had her suspicions confirmed by the serious, but still very handsome, face looking intently down upon her. "Darling," she said while caressing his cheek, "I'm fine, now. The pain's gone, just like I knew it would be. The warm shower followed by the ice pack calmed everything down."
Will's furrowed brow didn't soften with her words, "Are you sure?" he asked, kissing her palm. "You looked so miserable earlier, and you almost crumpled in the living room."
"I know, I know, but I think this is all part of housing this little guy," she smiled tenderly, trying not to feel smothered by her husband's intense protectiveness. "This is why mothers spend years throwing all they went through for nine months in their children's faces. I'll have ammunition for ours; that's for sure."
"Elizabeth, are you sure you're not minimizing the pain?" If possible, his frown drew deeper.
"I'm not, and seriously, you can't go all crazy when any little thing happens," she admonished as she attempted to sit up. A slight pain in her lower back reminded her that she needed to take care, so she did allow Will to assist her in sitting up. "I've read things in the books, darling." She nodded her head towards the many pregnancy manuals laying on the night stand. "All kinds of aches and pains will occur as he starts to get bigger and my body tries to accommodate him."
"That's really not making me feel any better, you know." He kissed her forehead before moving down to lay his head closer to her abdomen. "Listen, little mister," he spoke in mock anger, "you be nice to your momma, you hear me? Or I'll have to get quite cross with you, young man." He rubbed his hands over her stomach and continued to speak nonsense, glancing up now and then to gauge her comfort and to let her see that he was attempting to relax.
They remained that way for several minutes, until a knock on the door broke the spell. "Will, Elizabeth, may I come in?" Georgiana asked, tentatively. When given permission, she paused for a moment, summoning her strength and convictions, and entered their room.
Walking into the master bedroom, she wasn't really sure of what to expect. She could count the number of times on her two hands when she had come into this room, even before Will and Beth married. She respected her brother's need to have one place of his own, and from the time Will had moved into the room that their parents had shared, both she and Seth only entered when invited. Since the wedding, the bedroom became even more off limits, and Georgiana couldn't help but smirk slightly as she entered, knowing full well the activities of newly married couples. Still, the sight of both of them in bed, even though fully clothed, embarrassed the almost nineteen year old just a bit.
Sensing Georgiana's uneasiness, Beth tapped Will on the shoulder and nodded her head towards the pillows, as he still had his hands on her baby bump and his face close to it. Chuckling to himself at what he must look like to his little sister, he kissed the spot and scrambled back to the headboard. "Well, Georgie girl," he addressed her while cocking his head to examine her closely, "how are you?"
"I'm fine, Will, really," she answered honestly, surprised that she wasn't as upset as she thought she should be.
"Hmm," he wasn't sure whether he bought that answer or not; but, for now, it would do. "Do you mind if we talk here? I'd like Elizabeth to rest as much as possible." When Georgiana looked at them both with concern, he explained. "We think the baby's pressing on her spine, and it's causing her some pain, so…"
"If this is a bad time," Georgiana rushed ahead, "what I have to say can wait."
"No!" Beth cut in determinedly, staring pointedly at her husband. "I'm alright. The books say it's really common. Please, though, before we go any further, where's Callie and Seth?"
"Seth ran into town to spend some time with Rachel, and he dropped Callie off at Jordan's. I hope that's okay." She looked at Beth to determine if she had made the right judgment call. "Jordan called while you were resting, and Callie really wanted to go over."
"It's fine, G," Beth sighed with a slight frown. "I just don't want her to feel lost in the shuffle of everything."
"Oh, I don't think she does. When I searched for her to talk to Jordan, she and Seth were out with Scotch. They had already made plans for her to go into town with him. Seth said something about Richard being too grumpy." Smiling, Georgiana added, "So Jordan's invitation made it even better. Seth'll swing by and pick her up after supper. We know she has school tomorrow."
Studying his sister carefully during this conversation, Will determined that she truly didn't appear terribly broken hearted. Yet, he noticed that something had her wound up as she swayed a little while chatting with his wife. Ready to get down to business now that Callie was off having a good time elsewhere, he decided he'd waited long enough to hear what was on her mind.
"Georgie, why don't you come sit down, either here on the bed or on the couch, and tell us what's on your mind." He motioned her to come and waited.
Glancing at the options, she spied the window seat and walked over towards the sunlit glass and the inviting cushion which matched the comforter. "You know, Will," she sat down as she spoke, looking out at the yard, "I remember when I was little, sitting here and playing with my dolls. You were sick; I don't know with what, and Seth and I stayed in here with you all day. I recall that you'd fall asleep for awhile, and we'd play quietly by ourselves. When you'd wake up, we'd watch cartoons, or you'd let us play like we were doctors taking care of you." She turned to face her brother as a tear traced the contours of her face. "Do you have any recollection of that time, Will? I must have been very young, maybe four or five."
The siblings locked eyes, lost in a memory of long ago. "Yes, I remember that. I had mono – it was awful, but I didn't want you guys to be scared, so we camped out in here for, I don't know, I guess a couple of days." He finally broke their gaze and turned towards Beth. "Juanita and some of Mom's friends wanted to take the kids for awhile, so I could rest and get over it, but I wouldn't allow it. Our folks had only been gone a little over a year, and everything was still so raw." Shaking off the sadness of those long ago times, he looked again to his sister. "What in the world made you think of that?" He laughed, shaking his head in disbelief. to try to lighten the mood.
"I don't know, Will, it's just --" she paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. "It's just, well, you were always here for me – you're still always here for me. We're a team, like you told us over and over again. And, well, I want us to be a team for a long time."
Again, Will studied her, attempting to figure out exactly what she wasn't saying. "You're starting to worry me a bit, now, girlie, so come out with it. Of course, we're always going to be a team. Get to the point."
Taking a deep breath, she rushed ahead, "Will, I want to change my major. I don't want to concentrate on just me and my music anymore. It's made me too self-centered and quiet." Without looking up to see their reaction, she pressed on. "This isn't a rash decision, either. I know I've practiced a lot here at home, and I enjoy my private lessons, but I think I've missed out on too much."
"But, Georgie, you had 4H, and the horses…" Those examples sounded weak even as he spoke them.
Shaking her head determinedly, she continued. "Will, we both know I did the horse thing to please you. And I hated 4H. Anyway, BG's a good school, but let's face it, I didn't get into Julliard or even into the conservatory I applied to in Cincinnati."
"But we've been through that, you said you were okay with that." He began to worry that she had hidden her disappointment, so he wouldn't worry about her.
"I was; really, I was." Standing, she began to pace, then she turned to look at Beth, "Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
Not entirely sure her suspicions were correct; Beth took a chance and accepted her sister in law's invitation to join the conversation. "Is the competition getting to you, G? Or have you discovered there's life outside of the practice room?"
Georgiana stopped pacing and smiled at Beth's perceptiveness. "It's a little of both, with something else mixed in. I'm good, but I'm not great. And I do miss going out with friends because I have to practice so much." She walked over to the bed and sat next to her brother, noticing his frown and the hand traveling to his hairline. Grabbing it before he could rake it over his scalp, she squeezed it and placed it at his side. "Will, I'm not saying I plan to go downtown and party all night long. I don't think I could ever be that kind of girl."
Will let out the breath he must have been holding for the past several minutes, and both women chuckled at his reaction. "Then what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that since before the end of last semester, I knew that majoring in music wasn't what I really wanted to do. I talked to my professors, and I even went to the student counseling center to talk about – well, lots of things." Will and Beth each arched an eyebrow in question. "Talking is helping me start to work through all kinds of issues, and I plan to let you both in on that, but not right now." She held her head high, realizing she needed to explain things as fully as she could.
"The bottom line is, I want to change my major – actually I've already changed it. And I have you to thank, Brother." Again, Will's face registered surprise. "Seeing you draw and paint again, and watching the way you work with Jeannie and even Callie…Will, I want to be a music therapist. I want to work with you, and I want to help kids like Jeannie." Afraid that her brother would think she was silly or too emotional, she had closed her eyes as she explained herself.
Will turned to look at his wife, and the two exchanged amazed expressions. In the meantime, Georgiana jumped off the bed and began pacing again, too nervous to notice their reaction. Beth nudged him to say something while a huge grin spread across his face. She recognized that expression as a mixture of pride and deep emotion.
Knowing that at the moment, her husband lacked the words he needed to respond, Beth spoke first. "Georgiana, it's apparent you've given this much consideration, and I think that it'd be perfect for you, working with troubled children. You're thoughtful and patient; you enjoy children; and you've certainly shown yourself at ease with my daughter. I think maybe you've found your niche. But I'm wondering what you mean by 'working with Will'. Have I missed something? Not that I don't think the two of you would be terrific working together."
Fueled by Beth's supportive response, Georgiana forged ahead with the plan she had formed over the past several months. "Well, I think that Will should start working with kids here in Bryan. Marie has said many times that she knows lots of kids that he could help."
At this point, Beth and Will both swung their legs around and sat at the edge of the bed. "So you think I should just open up a practice in the stable or something?" His teasing manner didn't fool his wife; she could tell that the wheels in his mind were already turning toward a new plan.
Georgiana wasn't fooled either. "Ha, ha. I don't care where you open up a practice; I just want to be there with you. And while I'm at it," she turned to Beth, "I hope that you'll be able to work with us, tutoring kids, helping them to reach their potential, academically. I know you're going to be busy with the baby and the girls, but you have a gift, too."
Will stood by while a swirl of emotions mixed with the realization that his little sister was no longer little, and it hit him full on, leaving him speechless. The idea of working alongside her and his wife, to help children, it all seemed perfectly natural; he couldn't believe he hadn't thought of it himself. With Seth set to graduate in two years and itching to get his hands on the farm, and with Richard becoming so adept at the other businesses, his love of horses and his renewed passion for art and its therapeutic value could take precedence, second only to his family.
"Fitzwilliam," Beth touched his arm gently, bringing him out of his revelry, "your sister is anxiously awaiting some sort of comment from her big brother."
Shaking his head, he opened wide his arms and engulfed the apprehensive young woman, actually lifting her off the ground and giving her the response she had hoped for. "Georgie girl, you don't know how proud I am of you right now. I'm pleased beyond words, and I love your plan for us to work together as a family." He set her down, eyeing her with serious intent. "You're changing before my eyes, and, yet, I don't see it sometimes, do I? It'll be difficult for me not to boss you around, but I'll try my best to respect you and your skills. I think between you and my very unafraid to tell me when I'm wrong wife over there, you'll keep me on the straight and narrow." They all shared a laugh at his expense. "So, I think we may have the makings of a deal. When you graduate, we'll start a practice together – all three of us, if that's what you want, too, love."
"Sure," Beth continued to laugh while rolling her eyes, "I'll just add that responsibility to chasing a toddler and dealing with two teenage girls. No problem."
"Spoken like a true Stephens," Will flung an arm around each woman and hugged them to his chest. "Overachievers stick together to conquer the world. Hey, I think I just thought up our practice's motto."
Posted on 2011-06-13
After the emotional conversations of the day, Beth, Will and Georgiana worked as a team to pull together a light supper, consisting of leftovers. The couple again questioned Georgiana as to her decision to change her major. She assured them that she truly wanted to help others with her life and her music. A stolen glance between husband and wife communicated that they needed to let it drop, at least for now.
Her car already packed, Georgiana made her goodbyes. She then carried a tray out to the pool house and spent some time with Richard and Elise before heading back to campus. Richard had seemed a bit grumpy, exactly as Seth had described, but still, she kissed him warmly and told the newlyweds she hoped they'd be able to make the best of the situation. She left Pemberville with a sense of new purpose and gratitude for her brother and sister-in-law's support and for what she believed was the beginning of her adult life.
Her injured feelings, resulting from Justin's lack of faith in her and in their relationship, lingered and nagged at her for the hour-long drive to Bowling Green. In her heart of hearts, however, she acknowledged that though she cared for him, what she felt for him wasn't love – at least not the kind of love she thought a woman should feel for a man.. Resolving to call him the next day and apologize for her over-reaction to his news, she fervently hoped they could remain friends and that their split would not negatively affect Rachel and Seth.
As Will helped Richard that night, they talked briefly about Georgiana's plans and the affairs of the young couples around them. "You know, Justin and Georgiana never seemed as serious as the other two. Seth is utterly devoted to Rachel," Richard mused between the groans of his efforts to move out of the wheelchair. "It worries me that they're both so young, but I don't see that relationship ever ending." Holding onto Will with his good hand, he pivoted around and onto the bed, settling with a deep sigh.
Will nodded his head in agreement, "It seems that our fathers were right about the Stephens men loving once and forever." The cousins smiled at the thought. "I only hope that Seth won't jump into marriage, that he isn't afraid to be by himself and to experience life on his own."
"That's where we'll come in," Richard answered through heavy lids as the pain medication took hold. "We'll just keep listening and trying to guide him. I don't want him to rush into anything, and, believe me, I won't let him. I'd wring his neck first."
Will's eyes opened wide at his words, knowing that even though Richard was a military man, he rarely if ever alluded to violence when dealing with family, and he certainly wasn't in a joking mood; but before he could comment, Richard turned his head, dismissing his cousin. Shrugging it off to exhaustion, pain and the effects of the medication, Will made a mental note to talk to the injured groom about his choice of words a later time.
Elise came inside after walking around the yard, an excuse to give the men some privacy. She smiled as she thought over her first full day of wedded bliss and chuckled with the realization that she and Richard had been alone for only an hour since they had awakened. She understood that Richard's weariness came from putting up a front, aided by the pain he suffered constantly. They would have to address those issues soon. She also knew that she would need to begin acting as a gatekeeper, limiting his visitors, so that he could rest. After all, exhaustion could be one reason he was so short with everyone.
"Will," she began as she walked further into the room, "can you show me what you did last night to help Richard through the cramping? I think if I can work with his leg in the right away, like you did, they will ease off sooner."
"That's a good idea, but it will take some practice on the big oaf" Will answered, sporting a devilish grin. Turning to Richard, he barked, "You can't be asleep, yet." and then nudged Richard's shoulder good naturedly. "Let me show your lovely bride how she can help you." Not allowing Richard's grumbling to deter him, Will immediately began demonstrating. As soon as he finished, he reminded Richard that as he had the previous night, he'd leave his cell on his nightstand, turned on. Knowing Elise had requested the next day off from work; Will planned to help Richard first thing in the morning and then drive to Ft. Wayne to meet his appointments.
Utilizing a very strong kneading motion as Will had illustrated, she began massaging her husband's legs, Elise relished the quiet and the comfort of the two of them in their tiny quarters. She also delighted in the touching, skin on skin that the massaging allowed. "Are you relaxing, darling? I know that we stuffed you with bananas, potatoes and oranges for the potassium; do you feel better than you did last night?" she asked with concern.
Richard lay with his arm thrown across his face, greatly enjoying her ministrations. "I feel better, if you must know, because it's only us here. I realize that everyone means well, and I certainly do need the help, but, good Lord, Ellie, I couldn't even kiss you for most of the day!" He moaned in pain and frustration. "You'd better stop now," he finished, abruptly.
She stopped immediately and unsuccessfully attempted to mask her disappointment. "I'm not doing it as well as Will did?"
"On the contrary," he growled, "you're doing it way better, and believe me, I wasn't struggling to control myself while Fitzwilliam rubbed my leg."
"Oooooh," was her only response as she realized the predicament her husband faced. Bending over to kiss him softly on his furrowed brow, she could only imagine how difficult he found the whole situation. "I know it feels insurmountable now, but your body will heal, and we will be together, and our lovemaking will be…" she paused as she felt her face warm with a blush, " It will be all that much more incredible. We'll both be ready by then, Richard; I promise."
She kissed him again, and this time, he removed his arm from covering his eyes and lifted his face in order to capture her lips in an ever deepening kiss. Finding the strength to break away, she explained that she needed to get ready for bed and promised to hurry back. Instead, knowing she had chosen the best course of action, she took her time washing her face, combing her hair, and donning the ridiculous flannel gown. By the time she slid beneath the covers, Richard had drifted off and only faintly acknowledged her laying her head on his chest.
The following morning, Will awakened to the soft ring of his cell phone. Checking to see that his cousin did, indeed, need his help; he grabbed his robe and headed to the pool house. Tapping lightly on the door before entering, he found Elise, not Richard waiting for him, as his cousin snored lightly and appeared deeply asleep. Nodding his head toward the door, Will returned outside and waited for her to join him.
"Is something wrong?" he asked.
"I'm not sure," she answered, twisting her new wedding band nervously around her finger, obviously upset. "Will, he had a terrible dream last night, but after I was finally able to wake him, he refused to let me call you."
Recalling the many dreams his cousin had suffered through, and ultimately the dream that had sent him headlong down the steps, Will inwardly shuddered before asking," What did he do? Did he get out bed? Was he screaming and calling his men?" He paused a moment, then asked the worst case scenario question: "Did he hurt you?" He searched her face for any signs of a bruise or any mark where Richard might have struck out in the midst of his nightmare.
"No, no, nothing like that," she answered quickly, to alleviate his anxiety. "I heard him mumble a name several times, but I couldn't make it out. Then, he started thrashing around, and I thought he'd fall out of the bed, so I called his name, Colonel Stephens, like I was one of his soldiers." She looked up at him to gauge his reaction.
His eyes grew wide at her explanation. "Did it work? Did he stop?"
"He ordered me to shut up before I made her angry." Again, she watched Will closely, noticed him startle and then shake his head. "He was dreaming about the bomb in the school, wasn't he?" she questioned as a tear broke free and slid down her face. Will nodded his head and reached out to hold her trembling hand. She flinched slightly at the physical contact, but then sighed deeply before she continued. "He cried out one more time and then fell silent and still. It scared me to death. I even checked to make sure he was breathing."
"I know you must have been terrified." Will instinctively reached for his handkerchief and then remembered that he was in his robe. "Was that it? Did he sleep through the night after that, or … or did he have another nightmare?"
"He woke up about an hour later." She sighed and wiped her face with the sleeve of her robe. "I lay there, watching him. I couldn't relax; I was terrified he would have another bad dream. His eyes fluttered open, and he smiled and asked if it was morning, like nothing had happened." She looked up in anguish at her new cousin. "Will, when I told him about how he had acted, he became really angry and told me that I shouldn't sleep in the same bed with him – that he couldn't be trusted, and that he could hurt me. It took me a long time to calm him down. Was I wrong to tell him what the dreams make him do?"
Will studied her for a moment while reasoning out what he would have done in the same situation. "No, you were right to tell him." He squeezed her hand once more, before letting go. "You need to let him know what you witness and how it makes you feel. You're not his commanding officer; you can't give him orders, but maybe this will lead him to talk to a counselor, like the doctor wanted. Richard's – I mean my cousin is – for crying out loud, the idiot's concerned about everyone other than himself. It's beyond time that he paid some attention to his own well-being and worked through this.
"Ellie!" Richard yelled in panic from the inside of the house. "Ellie, where are you?"
Will jerked open the door to allow Elise to run to Richard. "I'm right here, Rich; Will and I were talking outside." She moved quickly to his side and winced at the agitation and pain etched across his brow. "What hurts, darling? What do you need?"
"You told him, didn't you?" he boomed the accusation while pointing to Will with his uninjured hand.
"Richard, don't shout," Will admonished, calmly. "She needed advice. She's worried about you; we all are."
The injured groom eyed the two people in front of him and sighed deeply in defeat. "I'm sorry I yelled, Ellie." The suffering in his eyes implored her forgiveness, which she quickly bestowed in the form of a kiss. "I don't want you to be afraid of me."
"I'm not," she replied without hesitation while stroking his hair. "I just don't want you to hurt yourself, again."
He closed his eyes and willed himself to relax. "I think those pain meds are messing me up." Will and Elise exchanged worried looks but neither responded, so he continued. "When I see the doc on Thursday, I'm gonna tell him to give me something else." Slowly, he opened his eyes and calmly asked Will. "Can you help me up and to the bathroom? I know you don't have a lot of time; that you need to get ready and go to Ft. Wayne."
Will nodded and began the necessary steps to assist his cousin out of the bed and into the wheelchair. The men worked silently as Elise studied Will expertly maneuvering her husband. She and Will locked eyes once; a silent communication of concern passed between them. Richard desired to begin the day and to have time alone with his bride, so he chose to ignore the situation and move on with his normal routine.
On the drive up to SKAT, Will's mind raced with all the issues that had surfaced in the last few days' time. He believed that Beth and Samuel would continue to develop a close and lasting father/daughter relationship. Although, he still held some reservations about Samuel as a father, he actually found himself warming to the idea of having an older man to talk to about the important things in life. He greatly missed his father's wisdom and easy-going manner, so maybe Samuel could offer him a a reasonable substitute and a different, more experienced perspective.
Georgiana worried him a little, but his heart swelled with pride at the thought of working side-by-side with her in a practice devoted to helping hurting children. He had always felt that her talent was exceptional, but maybe he was just the typical doting brother. Then he reasoned that performance wasn't ever something Georgiana relished; it was the mastery of the piece that she so enjoyed. By going into music therapy, she could still play to her heart's content on her own time, without being just; then utilize her gifts to help children. Just like I'm doing.
Shifting his musing to his sister's love life, he hoped that she could sort the whole thing out. First love is so powerful, but maybe it really wasn't love, maybe what she felt was more of a crush or it could have been the stirrings of what a real relationship should be. Reminding himself that she was barely nineteen and still had much to experience before her, he hoped that the two of them could repair their friendship.
As he pulled off the highway and onto the road leading to SKAT, his thoughts shifted to his wife and to what he suspected were unjustified worries. He determined that he wouldn't let the experiences of his mother, or his need to be in control, steal the wonder of the miracle inside her. Surely, he should understand that her body would feel the occasional ache and pain of adjustment and accommodation to the growing baby. He groaned when he remembered that their prenatal classes started the next week. He hated the idea of watching those terrifying videos of childbirth, and he wasn't all that keen on meeting other parents who would, undoubtedly, be several years younger than he and Beth.
With twenty minutes to spare, he was on his way to give Jeannie a good-morning hug when, out of the corner of his eye he caught Dr. Evans coming up behind him. Turning around, he smiled at the doctor for whom he held so much respect, but as he received no smile in return, his throat tightened, wondering what might have happened.
The newlyweds spent most the day in bed. Richard slept a great deal due to the combination of exhaustion, pain and the effects of the medication to ease that pain. In between reading year end reports from her teachers, Elise dozed off and on, the result of nights of interrupted sleep. Thankfully, no bad dreams invaded Richard's daytime slumber, and Elise could see his handsome features relax as the stress began to leave him. Seth had come once to bring them some food and to aide Richard, but other than that, the couple enjoyed an uninterrupted respite.
Opening his eyes and turning his head, Richard smiled at the enchanting sight of his wife napping, papers covering her chest and surrounding her body. He reached over and caressed her face lightly. She turned her face to kiss his hand, her eyes still closed.
"Not getting much reading done, Mrs. Stephens," he teased.
"I closed my eyes for a moment," she replied in mock irritation.
"Ha!" he snorted, "do you let your students get away with that kind of excuse?" he countered as he traced the line of her cheek down to her jaw.
"No, soldier boy, I don't," she replied softly, enjoying his touch before pushing the papers on the floor and rolling over to kiss her groom.
Their teasing turned amorous quickly, and, once again, they found themselves at a dangerous point. Finding her senses returning, Elise pulled away slightly and rested her head on his chest, to permit them to catch their breath and cool their ardor.
"This is worse than torture," Richard moaned in frustration.
Thankfully, a knock broke the tension. Seth entered, announcing that he was on his way back to Purdue and that he stopped to say goodbye.
Finding herself with no urgent weddings to plan or family members to entertain, Beth spent most of the day in the basement, in her mother-in-law's sewing room. She and Juanita had spent many hours together there, as Juanita refreshed the skills that the expectant mother had learned in her high school home economics class so many years ago. Beth had enjoyed learning to sew back then, but her mother could not afford a sewing machine, so her interest went untested.
Looking over the curtains she'd just finished, in fabric that matched the bedding for the crib, Beth smiled brightly at her achievement. To complete the room portion of the layette, Juanita demanded the honor of sewing the baby's quilt while her neighbor, Mrs. Greenwood, graciously accepted Beth's request to make a seat cushion for the rocker and a diaper holder, all from the same material as the curtains. Since their first encounter, Beth had returned to visit the woman several times. With the help of their pastor, the widow came to realize that Beth had no hidden agendas; the two enjoyed quiet afternoon teas and conversations.
Glancing at the clock, Beth hurriedly cleaned up so that she would have enough time to start dinner and check on the newlyweds, before her husband returned. With one last look at her handiwork, she proudly walked up the stairs with the curtains. Following Will's theme, the moon and stars design danced across the deep blue material. She couldn't wait to hang them as soon as Will painted the room. Well ahead of their planned schedule for the nursery, she smiled, thinking how fortunate they were that Richard had finished the cradle before his accident. They had not seen it yet; he wanted to keep it a surprise and had it tucked away, out of their sight, in his workshop?
A little out of breath from climbing up the first flight of stairs, she paused, thinking she heard Will's truck coming to a halt behind the house. Knowing the time, she frowned, wondering what brought him home so early. Expecting him to stop by the pool house to help his cousin before coming to greet her, she took a deep breath and continued on her way up the stairs to put the curtains in the nursery. She had not even advanced half way down the long hall when the kitchen door banged open, then slammed shut.
"Elizabeth!" Will called; a hesitation followed. "Are you here?"
Puzzled by the serious tone of his voice, she answered, "I'm up here, heading toward the nursery. I'll be right down."
"No," he insisted, "I'm on my way up to you." He stood at the foot of the stairs for what, to him, seemed like hours. There, he summoned the courage and the calm he needed to overtake the feeling of dread that hovered over the news he knew he had to relay to his wife. Despite rehearsing scenarios on his way home, he still had no idea of how to deliver it.
Beth advanced to the nursery, then waited for footfalls to resound as his usual course was a rapid ascent. This time though, his steps seemed deliberately slow. Smiling, she wondered if he had some sort of present or surprise for her. He spoils me so much. I shouldn't expect special treats. Before chastising herself further, she saw her husband's towering figure filling up the doorway, and she sensed, without him speaking, that something was wrong.
"Fitzwilliam?" she asked, shakily.
"Elizabeth," he answered as he reached for her outstretched hands that had released the forgotten curtains. Bringing them to his lips, he kissed each one tenderly while gently pulling her to his chest. "Darling, I need to talk to you, but not here, not in the nursery." He held her as tightly as he could, careful of the baby bump, trying not to frighten her. "Let's go into our room, where we can sit down."
Still holding one hand, slipping the other around her waist, he led them to the master bedroom. Understanding that with each second she became more worried, he began talking as Beth moved to sit next to him on the bed, but before he could get out a word, she whispered, "It's about Jeannie, isn't it?" She looked up to search his face and saw the softness of his eyes as he prepared to answer.
Exhaling deeply, he replied in a steady tone, "Yes, it is; but hear me out. She's not in the hospital, and she's not hurt…"
"But …" She resignedly held her breath, hoping he wouldn't confirm the thoughts racing through her mind, a fear gripping her, driven by far too many incidents in her daughter's history.
Nodding his head in an effort to work up courage, he gently placed his index finger on her lips, "Love, let me tell you what happened and then I'll try to answer any questions that I can. "But, please, remember she is in the best place she could be and, at the end of the day, we have to be grateful for that, right?" He removed his finger and used it to wipe a lone tear that had spilled from her eye.
"Yes," she sighed in answer. Then she pulled her feet up to get a little relief for her slightly swollen ankles. Will immediately stood up and aided her in swinging her legs up so that she could recline on the bed. Walking quickly around, he slipped onto the other side so that they were face to face and holding hands. "This is better," she acknowledged, "I can see every emotion that you may try to hide from me." He began to protest but she continued, "No, Fitzwilliam, when you are this close to me, you have no secrets. Now, go on; I'm ready for you to tell me everything."
"Alright, no secrets." Drawing a deep breath and scanning her anxious face with his eyes, he began in earnest. "I knew something was wrong the minute I walked into SKAT this morning. It was abnormally quiet – not a typical Monday. Before I even had a chance to reach my office, Dr. Evans approached me with the strangest expression." He shook his head at the memory.
"He immediately ushered me into a therapy room and shut the door behind us." Looking deeply into her eyes, and willing her to make it through another horrible event surrounding her daughter, he squeezed her hand and continued. "About an hour earlier, probably just as I was pulling out of our driveway, Jeannie, in a fit of rage, physically attacked another child, broke a lamp over Melissa's head, and ran off, out of the cottage."
"Oh, Fitzwilliam," Beth cried, "what happened to set her off? How badly hurt is the child? And Melissa is she … is she alright?" The questions tumbled out of her mouth as she tried to come to grips with what her daughter had done and what further ramifications her actions might bring.
Will again urged her to calm herself, and then continued telling the events of the morning. "Remember the phone call yesterday from Doug, informing us that he and Melissa planned to give up their position as house parents?" Beth nodded her head in answer. "Of course, they told the children cautiously and then spent time with each child before the end of the day. Jeannie appeared to take the news with a bit of indifference, only asking them if they were leaving because of the baby."
"That's it!" Beth exclaimed as her eyes widened in understanding, "She's due before I am. Jeannie saw that baby as a threat, just as she does ours." She tore her hand away from his and brought both of her hands to her face, weeping at the realization.
Will rolled closer to her and gathered her into his arms, "I know, I know, love," he whispered while his body rocked her trembling frame. "You figured out in an instant what took us most of the morning to decipher. You know her so well."
"But I didn't think of it last night when we spoke to Doug," she whimpered into his chest. "If only I had, then this could have been avoided."
"No, Elizabeth," Will admonished, not raising the volume of his voice. "You are not going to take this on and blame yourself. No!" he added with emphasis when she began to disagree. "They explained to Jeannie that the baby was not the reason; that they had found jobs closer to where they grew up, so that they could be with family." Continually stroking her back as he spoke, he could feel her breathing slow as he continued speaking.
"From what we were told, Jeannie was slow in getting up this morning and not at all her talkative self. The other children seated themselves around the table to eat breakfast, but Jeannie refused to join them. Melissa and Doug let her have her space and only asked her once to join the group, not wanting to draw too much attention to her behavior. One of the boys, Tim, for whatever reason, didn't like Jeannie's mood and started teasing her about it." Will stopped speaking and placed his hand under Beth's chin so that he could see her face. Silent tears fell, but she whispered for him to continue.
"Well, at some point, Tim finished eating and walked over to Jeannie, Melissa was already on her feet heading toward them because she sensed there was going to be a battle. Tim opened his mouth to speak and Jeannie jumped him; Doug said that she was appeared to be in full fury, just ready for something to set her off." Beth nodded in understanding, having been a victim of this behavior one too many times herself.
Caressing her face while gently kissing the top of her head, Will forged on with the details. "Melissa was trying her best to direct Jeannie, to help her calm down while Doug physically pulled her off of Tim. At that point, everything happened so quickly, it's hard to get it all sorted out; somehow, Jeannie grabbed the table lamp and swung it full force at Melissa's head." Beth's gasp halted his speech, and they both stayed silent for a moment, trying to comfort one another. When he sensed that they were both ready, he continued. "The rest of the kids did a great job rushing into full on emergency mode, which they practice all of the time, while Doug followed her out of the residence and onto the grounds. She's so fast, darling, so fast. He caught up to her before she made it to the main gate which had just opened to allow Dr. Evans through. Taking in what was happening, he stopped his car and jumped out to help Doug subdue her. They managed to calm her enough to get her into the closest building. By the time she was safely settled in a therapy room, she was babbling incoherently and unable to establish eye contact." He stopped as he felt and heard his wife's sobs increase in intensity.
Rocking her gently, he let his own pent up emotions spill over as well. Beth's crying began to wane, and she drew in enough of a ragged breath to ask, "Where is she now? What do they suggest this time?" She continued to cling to Will as he stoked her hair in an attempt to soothe her.
"Of course, they had no choice but to sedate her. She was still drowsy from the drugs when I looked in on her before I left for home, but she was back in her room. I wanted to wait to tell you all of this until we could be together" Once again, he could feel her nodding in understanding. "Dr. Evans will meet with her in the morning; after that, we'll try to come up with a new plan. The lesson here, love," he stated gently, "is that Jeannie needs much more preparation for change and continued support with the coming baby." Knowing that her tears fell once more, he again kissed the top of her head and whispered words of love and comfort until her rhythmic breathing signaled that she had fallen into a light sleep.
Downstairs, Bella's frantic yelping announced Callie's approach up the driveway from the school bus. Quickly disentangling himself from his wife, Will motioned for the now awakened Beth to remain as he ran down the steps to greet and embrace their other little girl. She wasn't sure why her daddy swung her in the air and hugged her so tightly, but she was more than willing to hug right back and tell him she loved him. Bella joined in, demanding her share of affection by prancing around Will's legs. Not letting go of Callie, he leaned down to pat the pup on the head.
Later that evening, Elise broke the news about Jeannie to Richard. Will had come out to the pool house while his cousin was resting and explained it all to her. They felt that Richard needed to know but didn't want to cause him any more stress. She wanted to tell him when it was just the two of them, so Richard would be free to express whatever emotions he needed to without worrying about Will's or Beth's response.
Richard listened intently to this wife as she relayed the incident, and its after effects. He remained still and looked off into nothingness, until she finished. Silence enveloped the room. After a moment, Elise reached for his hand, but his grip was so tight on the wheelchair that she couldn't pry it loose.
"Richard?" her anxious voice attempted to break into his reverie. "Richard?" she repeated, as she tried again to take his hand.
"It's not fair!" he bellowed. He dislodged her hand from his so that he could wave his about before striking the wheelchair arm with such force that the chair tipped slightly. "It's just not fair!" he repeated in extreme agitation. "My God, does this family ever great a break? Can we never have a moment a peace! And Beth, poor Beth, all of this stress can't be good for her or for the baby. When will it end?" He struck the chair again and again with his fist to release his anger and frustration.
"Darling, please, please, try to calm down," Elise begged, kneeling before him as she finally managed to catch his hand, before he slammed it into the chair again. She brought it to her lips and placed deep kisses upon each knuckle. "I know it's awful, and, honestly, I don't know where it will all end for Jeannie. But we are family, and we'll deal with this, and I suspect much more, together, the best we can."
With his eyes closed, he began to relax under her ministrations, but his heart still broke for the little red head and her parents. "I need to talk to Will. I need to make sure that he's alright. If I know my cousin, he'll somehow blame himself for this, or take it upon himself to try to fix everything."
"He's fine. It's Beth that worries him. Just as you said, all of this stress is not good for her. He's going to take her to see Jeannie tomorrow, and they're going to put together yet another plan to try to help the girl." His lips were set in a grim line, but with little regard for his displeasure of the situation, she stood up and kissed him.
When he finally broke free, he answered, grimly, "It's all too much, Ellie. I mean, the man can only take so much. He feels responsible for everyone, all the time." The retired soldier sighed deeply. "And then," he continued, "there's me giving him more to do and more to worry about and …"
"Richard," Elise gently admonished while taking his head in her hands, "you've got to stop feeling all of this guilt. Is this some kind of Stephens' trait I need to know about?" She looked up to see his grimace and heard yet another sigh. "You can't let yourself go down that slippery slope."
"I can't let him go there, either." He finally lifted his face and looked her in the eye. His hand rose to cover hers, and they sat, again in silence, drawing comfort from each other.
Before Will left with Beth the next morning, he met with Jorge and his son, Pablo, to discuss how they could help out more over the next couple of weeks, until Seth returned for the summer. Both men agreed to assist wherever necessary so that Will could travel to SKAT everyday to check on Jeannie and to take a turn helping out at her cottage. Although his internship was coming to completion, he had agreed to stay on and work two days per week through the summer. However, since Melissa had suffered a mild concussion from the blow Jeannie inflicted with the lamp, doctors told her to take a few days off work. This, coupled with the distress over the episode that the other children in residence suffered, spurred Will and the rest of the staff to volunteer to pitch in and pick up the slack.
That morning saw Will rise at dawn to work in the stables, get Richard up and dressed for the day, and then head to Ft. Wayne with Beth. Jeannie smiled weakly upon seeing him, and she appeared to enjoy her visit with her mother, but she still remained distant and, at times, quite distraught. Dr. Evans felt it best for Beth and Jeannie if, for the time being, visits were limited to talking on the phone. A schedule was agreed upon and mother and child began to heal again. Will kept up the grueling schedule for the remainder of the week; by Friday evening, the strain of the exceedingly long days, nights with little sleep, and worry over Beth, Jeannie, Georgiana, and Richard showed in Will's every movement. Late on Friday night, he gave in and finally fell into a fitful slumber beside his concerned wife.
Seth had originally planned on coming home that weekend; instead, he stayed at school and crammed for finals. He'd convinced his professors to allow him to take the exams a week early, so he could get home. Upon hearing the plan, Will figured that coming home for the summer, instead of for the weekend, was the better plan in the long run. As they ended the phone conversation, Will thanked the young man for wanting to step up, accept his responsibility, and work along side him and Jorge. Hearing the tiredness in his role model's voice worried Seth greatly, but he knew that Will had weathered many storms before. This time, Beth would be there to help him through it.
Richard, Elise and Beth, unbeknownst to Will, had interviewed and hired a trained male aide to come out to the farm. They agreed that his duties would involve helping Richard get up in the morning, assist him in dressing, shave him, and provide therapy for his shoulder and uninjured leg. The shoulder was coming along nicely, but they wanted to make sure that Richard's leg did not lose muscle tone due to his enforced inactivity. At seven o'clock on Saturday morning, Vince arrived and set to work on his tasks. After the light workout, Richard knew Vince was a "keeper," and they settled that he would come six mornings a week for the next several weeks. He stayed for over an hour, and left the groom settled back in bed quite comfortably. Upon Vince's departure, Elise made a light breakfast, and planning on joining Richard to eat it as soon as it was done.
The farmhouse, bathed in early morning light, remained blissfully quiet. Earlier in the week, Beth had arranged for Callie and Bella to spend the night at Jordan's, so that Will could rest undisturbed. With Jorge seeing to the horses, Beth's plan to finally pamper her husband came to fruition. Although her emotions were still reeling over Jeannie's latest set back, the best medicine for the mother was taking care of the father. She rose up on her elbow and traced the lines of his face, from his forehead, down his cheeks, to his jaw, in gentle, swirling motions.
"Hmmm," he moaned, his eyes remaining closed.
"Good morning, my love," she cooed into his ear and kissed the lobe sweetly.
He moaned again and, still with eyes closed, sought to bring his mouth to hers. As they found each other, his eyes suddenly flew open and he roughly pulled away, "Not now, Elizabeth! What time is it? I have to go to Richard!"
She laughed at his frustrated yet still sleepy face, "No, you don't, Fitzwilliam. Everything's taken care of for today and, hopefully, for many more. It's just the two of us, and I've made it my goal to get you to relax and unburden yourself of all the troubles you've been carrying on our behalf for the last few weeks."
He looked at her in wide-eyed wonder. "But what about –"
"Nothing and no one needs you this morning but me." She blessed him with her brightest smile. Despite their worries and fears, the couple talked, slept and took advantage of their time alone.To Be Continued . . .