When she first heard the doorbell, Honey was ensconced on a comfortable couch in a sunny corner of the back sitting room of the Manor House, browsing through a catalog.   She shrugged, idly wondering who the visitor could be.  Even when her mother and father weren’t in residence, which they happened to be now, there always seemed to be a myriad of people dropping by.  Her own little house always seemed empty, with Brian almost never home since he was striving to complete his residency.  Lately, Honey imagined she could hear her own movements echoing throughout the little place. 

Funny, but that’s the way I always felt about this place when I was younger, although the Manor House could by no stretch of the imagination be labeled little, she mused.  The constant parade of staff and visitors was one reason she had chosen to spend much of her time at her parents’ residence lately.

The doorbell chimed again, and Honey heaved her pregnant body out of the depths of the sofa, clumsily making her way down the hallway toward the front entrance, and wondering what had caused the numerous staff to suddenly disappear.  The doorbell chimed again, as if mocking her slow progress to the door.  “Coming!” she yelled, more to herself than anyone else, knowing full well that no one could hear her through the sturdy blockade that guarded the front entranceway to the huge house.  She opened the door just as the doorbell once again began its series of chimes. 

“Trixie!” she greeted her best friend delightedly, instantly understanding why the chimes had sounded three times in the little time it took even her to reach the doorway.  Much as Honey adored her sister-in-law, business partner, and all-around kindred spirit, patience had never been one of Trixie’s many virtues.  “Why didn’t you come to the back door?”

“I did, but it was locked and no one was in the kitchen.  Since when do your parents keep the back door locked?”

“They usually don’t, but Dolores, the new cook, is a little nervous, especially with Miss Trask on vacation, so she keeps locking it.  She’s out grocery shopping now, but she must have forgotten,” Honey explained.  “Come on in!” she urged, leading the way back to the less formal living room.  “I’m so glad you’re here.  I’ve been going absolutely crazy!”  She motioned toward the comfortable, over-stuffed sofa and eased herself onto it next to her friend.

“What’s the matter?  Isn’t my big brother treating you right?”  Trixie asked teasingly.

“He’s treating me right when I see him, which isn’t often,” Honey lamented, blowing a lock of hair off of her forehead in mild annoyance.   “I just wish school hadn’t gotten out for Christmas break so early.  I’m fat and hot and bored and uncomfortable.”  Of course, she reminded herself, I was still all those things when I was working as a long-term sub at Croton Elementary, but at least I was busy enough to keep my mind off of them. 

“You’re not fat at all!” Trixie protested, ignoring the eye roll Honey aimed in her direction.  “You’re your usual slender self, just now with an adorable little baby bump.”

Honey laughed.  “This little bump, as you so kindly call it, is much closer to a huge mountain at this stage.”  She paused, her gaze wistful.  “I try not to complain, but I’d feel better if I had something to distract me from the pregnancy now that school is out.  The way it is now I just feel like I’m sitting around waiting all the time.  Waiting for Christmas.  Waiting for Brian to come home.  Waiting for the baby to finally get here!”

 Trixie frowned.  “I just wish the agency was busy enough to employ both of us.”

“Oh, Trixie, I didn’t mean that as a criticism,” Honey said, giving her friend a quick hug.  “Just ignore me.  I’m just pregnant and whiny right now.   Blame it on the hormones.”

“That’s what I usually do,” Trixie teased, leaning away from Honey’s half-hearted attempt at a whack on her arm with a quick laugh.  Her face sobered as she added, “But I still wish it.”

“I know and I appreciate it,” Honey told her with a warm smile.  “Maybe I could work gratis for a few weeks,” she suggested.

Unfortunately, Trixie started shaking her head halfway through her suggestion.  “There’s really not enough work to even keep me busy,” she said with a shake of her blond curls.  “Why do you think I’m here in the middle of the day on a weekday?  It was so slow that I decided to take a long lunch hour.”

“Well, I’m glad you did.”  Honey gave her friend another quick hug, and both girls giggled over the awkwardness of the hug around Honey’s expanded belly.

“Maybe you can help me pick out a design for the baby’s room,” Honey said, indicating the catalog.  “I can’t seem to find anything that’s right for this little one,” she added as she patted her belly.  “And he or she’s scheduled to make an appearance in less than a month.”

Trixie took the catalog with some reluctance.  “You know you’re not asking the right person here, right?”  She disinterestedly flipped through pages of rainbows, teddy bears and lambs, stopping when she came to a page of Beatrix Potter-themed nursery items.  She pretended to recoil.  “Please don’t choose this one!” she begged her friend in mock-horror.  “I might have nightmares if I saw Peter Rabbit all over my new niece or nephew’s nursery walls.”

Honey giggled.  “That’s just the one I was going to choose,” she kidded, laying a finger on the side of her cheek as if in deep thought, “and of course I’ll have a copy of the Peter Rabbit book so the baby’s godmother can read it to him or her…over and over again.”

“Ha Ha,” Trixie pretended to grouse.  “Don’t expect me to babysit if you do.”  She flicked through more pages and asked, “Aren’t you and Brian tired of saying him or her?  I really wish you’d find out which it’s going to be.”  She paused as she returned the catalog to the coffee table.  “And it would make choosing a nursery design a whole lot easier.”

“I know it would,” Honey agreed, “and I do kind of want to find out, but Brian is adamant.”  She gave a half-laugh.  “Your brother is surprisingly stubborn about some things.” 

“You don’t have to tell me that.  I’ve known him all my life,” Trixie said with a roll of her eyes.  “People think Mart, Bobby and I are the stubborn ones, but once Brian sets in his heels on something, he out-stubborns all of us. He’s quieter about it, but he usually manages to get his way.”

Honey smiled.  “I don’t really mind not knowing.  It’ll be fun to be surprised.  I guess I’m just not quite as patient at waiting as Brian.”

“You’re a lot more patient than I would be,” Trixie said.  “When I get pregnant, I’m going to find out, no matter what Jim says.”

Honey eyed her friend.  “Any news on that front?” she asked, her tone gentle. 

Trixie shook her head.  “You’ll be the first to know when it happens,” she told her friend.  “Well, the second, anyway,” she amended with a grin.

“I’ll happily settle for second,” Honey assured her.  She remained silent for a few seconds before adding, “It’ll happen soon, Trixie.  I’m sure of it.”

“Thanks, Honey.”  Trixie tried to repress a little sigh that Honey didn’t miss.  “I know it will.”  Honey opened her mouth to ask a question, but Trixie quickly changed the subject. “How are you coming along with choosing baby names?”

“Well, we’ve at least narrowed it down a little.  We’re thinking of either Joshua Matthew or Corey James for a boy,” Honey told her.  “Brian likes Joshua better, but I’ve always loved the name Corey.”

“What does your dad think?” Trixie asked with a grin. 

“He doesn’t know we’re thinking about Matthew as a middle name,” Honey said, “and please don’t tell him.”  She threw Trixie a beseeching look. “We’d never be able to even consider choosing any other name if he got wind of it.”

Trixie chuckled.  “I won’t say a word,” she promised.  Her face sobered as she considered the choices.  “Much as I love your dad, I’m kind of partial to James as a middle name,” she added with a grin.  “Corey James.”  She paused.  “I have to say I like the sound of that. You could call him CJ.”

“Don’t even think it,” Honey warned her friend with a frown.  “Brian and I both agree; no nicknames!”

“Well, let’s just hope Mart or Bobby doesn’t think of it,” Trixie said.  “Any names for a girl?”

“We’ve thought about Elizabeth, Eleanor, and Zoey, but Brian and I both love the name Samantha,” Honey admitted, a dreamy expression crossing her face.  “Can’t you just see a beautiful little baby with a head full of dark hair called Samantha?”

Trixie shook her head, a gleam in her blue eyes.  “You do know she’d be called Sam, right?  Even if you got everyone in the family to only call her Samantha, when she got older, she’d decide to shorten it herself.”

Honey sighed.  “I know.  I knew a girl like that at boarding school.  She wouldn’t let anyone but the teachers call her Samantha.  For everyone else, it was Sam or Sammy.”  She sighed, “I guess we need to think harder on a girl’s name,” she admitted.

She picked up the catalog from where Trixie had dropped it.  “I’ll never find the right theme for the nursery,” she lamented.  “None of these is even close to what I want.”  She threw the catalog back down with a sigh.  “I give up.  Let’s go make some sandwiches.  I’m starving.”

“You should ask your mother for help,” Trixie suggested as they made their way into the kitchen. 

“With making the sandwiches?” Honey asked, innocently widening her eyes.

“Funny girl,“ Trixie responded with a roll of her own eyes.  “With the nursery design.  She’s great at decorating.”

Honey grimaced.  “Well, I guess I should,” she said with some reluctance as she pulled a loaf of oatmeal bread out of the bread box and motioned for Trixie to seat herself at the island.  “Is ham and cheese okay?” she asked as she retrieved the packages from the fridge.

“Sounds good.” Trixie ignored her friend’s gesture and took two glasses out of a cupboard.  “I’ll get the milk,” she said.  “What’s wrong with asking your mother?” she asked over her shoulder as she opened up the refrigerator and pulled out the milk container.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Honey said.  “I guess I should ask Mother, but...”

“Ask Mother what?” Mrs. Wheeler interrupted asked as she entered the kitchen carrying a big stack of mail.  “There you are, Honey.  I’ve been looking for you to help me with the mail, but I didn’t think I’d find you back here.”  She set the mail on the counter.  “Hello, Trixie.  I didn’t know you were here.”

“Would you like a sandwich, Mother?” Honey asked, hoping to hold off a discussion of nursery decorating.  She trusted her mother’s judgment implicitly in matters of design, but she wanted the nursery to be special, her own and Brian’s choice, not her mother’s.  “I’ll help you with the mail after lunch.”

“No thank you, darling. Your father and I are going out,” Mrs. Wheeler answered as she began sorting the mail into piles.  “What were you going to ask me?”

“About decorating the nursery,” Honey replied, trying to suppress her reluctance.  “Trixie thought I should ask for your advice.”

Mrs. Wheeler studied her daughter carefully.  “And you didn’t think it was a good idea?” she hazarded.

“Well, I did, but...” Honey swallowed, trying to find a way to express her feelings.  “I know you’d do a wonderful job on the nursery, Mother, but I kind of wanted to design it myself and have it be just right for our little family.”  She bit her lip before quickly adding, “With your help, of course.”

 “It is important to find just the right design for you and Brian and your little one.”  Maddie’s smile was indulgent as she continued, “Much as I’d love to take over the project, I want my first grandbaby to have just the right nursery for him or her.  The one you envision, not the one I envision.”

Honey nodded, relieved that her mother seemed to understand.  “But what can I do?” she asked in frustration.  “As much as I’ve looked at catalogs and all the baby places locally, I can’t seem to find anything that even seems close to being right.”

“Maybe you haven’t been looking in the right places,” Maddie mused.  “We can go into Manhattan, or better yet,” she corrected herself, waving the letter she was holding, “your Aunt Abby has been trying to convince me to come to Boston and combine a visit with some last minute Christmas shopping.  I was thinking about putting her off, but maybe this is the perfect opportunity to spend a weekend with the Rikers, and we can add baby shopping to the agenda as well.”

Honey hesitated.  Trudging around overheated department stores in her present condition didn’t seem like much fun, but she did love Boston, especially at this time of year.  And since Brian was on duty at the hospital all weekend, it would be better than sitting around here, twiddling her thumbs waiting for the holidays and the baby’s arrival.

“We-ell,” she replied, “maybe we will find just the right design in one of those little shops on Newbury Street.”  She gave her mother a nod and a hopeful smile.  “Can Trixie come, too?”

“No!” Trixie interjected before Maddie could even open her mouth to respond.  Honey giggled as her friend’s face fell when Trixie realized she had once again spoken before she had thought things through.  “I mean,” the petite blonde backtracked, “I’d love to, but I have to keep the agency running, and besides, you don’t really want me along on a shopping trip, do you?”

The pleading expression in her blue eyes set Honey laughing once again, and even Maddie couldn’t quite repress a smile.  “There’s your answer,” she told her daughter, “but you can bring Diana if you’d like.”

“Unfortunately, she’s working this weekend,” Honey remembered, “but I’d still like to go.  It would be just for the weekend, though, right?  I have a doctor’s appointment on Monday.”

Maddie nodded.  “Christmas Eve is Tuesday, anyway,” she reminded her daughter.  “Perhaps we can go into the city with your father on Friday morning, and take the train to Boston from there.  We could return on Sunday.”

As the car the Rikers had sent to meet the train from New York wound its way through the busy Boston streets to her sister’s Beacon Hill townhouse, Maddie found herself reminiscing about another Christmas she had spent in Boston more than twenty years earlier.  A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as they passed Boston Public Garden where the swan boats ran in the summertime and where she had part of spent a very special Christmas night with her husband in the snowy twilight.  She turned to her daughter. 

“Do you remember riding the swan boats when you were little?  I think we went several times.”

“I remember the illustrations of them in Make Way for Ducklings. Honey’s forehead puckered into a frown as she concentrated on the memory.  “I think I do remember sitting between you and Daddy,” she said slowly, “and didn’t Ben have a pin wheel or something that he kept trying to scare the ducks with?”

“I had forgotten all about that,” Maddie said with a shake of her head.  “In those days, Ben always seemed to be causing trouble, one way or another.”

Honey nodded.  “It took him a long time to grow out of that, too.”

“Yes, it did,” Maddie agreed with a wry smile.  “Jan and Abby were pretty indulgent with him when he was little.  A little too indulgent in your father’s and my opinion.”  She pressed her lips together in hesitation before continuing, “One Christmas, Ben dropped a necklace your father had given me into the ashes of the fireplace.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard such language come out of your father’s mouth…before or since.”

“Really?” Honey’s eyes widened.   “And Daddy’s definitely had his moments as far as bouts of temper and colorful language are concerned.”

Maddie’s laugh tinkled in agreement.  “You’re right there, my dear, but those other bouts didn’t even come close to this one, and my parents were standing right there, too.”  She shook her head as the car pulled up in front of the Riker residence, and soon her reflections on that earlier Christmas were cut short with the sight of her sister, bustling toward the curb.

“Come in!  Come in!” Abby greeted as she gave Maddie a quick kiss.  “We’ve been waiting for you!  Was the train late?”  She paused just a second for breath. “Don’t even think about the bags,” she directed with a dismissive wave of her hand.  “The driver will bring them to the door, and Jan will get them from there.”  She turned around just as her lanky, good-natured husband emerged from the doorway.  “Jan!” she said, gesturing to him.  “Do you have the money…?”  She stopped in midsentence as Honey emerged from car, but didn’t stay silent for long.  “Oh, my goodness, Honey!  Look at you!” 

Honey smiled ruefully as she returned Abby’s kiss and hug.   “I know.  I’m absolutely huge.  I must look like a beached whale about now.”

“Not at all,” Abby argued with a decided shake of her head.  “You look gorgeous,” she said, her gaze softening as she studied her niece.  “You definitely have that glowing look that the pregnancy books talk about.” She gave a tinkling laugh, so much like Maddie’s, and added, “Not at all like your mother when she came here when she was pregnant.  She was positively green and denying up and down that she was in that condition.”

“Really?”  Honey asked with a laugh.  “Is that true, Mother?”

Maddie shot Abby a reproachful glance.  “Unfortunately, yes,” she answered as she passed a bill to the driver.  She linked arms with Honey as they followed Abby up the townhouse steps.  “But let’s not talk about that.  We have so much to catch up on.  Abby,” she addressed her sister, “can you believe Honey hasn’t decided on a design for the nursery yet, and the baby’s due in less than a month?  And I keep telling her and that stubborn husband of hers that they should find out what sex the baby is, but they refuse to listen to me.”

“That would make things much easier,” Abby agreed, “but we’ll have plenty of time tomorrow to shop and make plans for that.  I had Ben and Jan put the tree up last night and put the lights on so we can decorate it tonight, and then we can do our usual carol sing, if you don’t mind playing the piano, Maddie.”

“That sounds lovely,” Honey said.  “Is Ben here?”

“No, but he said he’d be sure and stop by later, “Abby assured her.  “He definitely wants to spend some time with you while you’re here.”

“It’ll be nice seeing him,” Honey commented.  “It’s been a while.”

She entered the foyer of the townhouse and sidestepped a black and white cat making its way across the hall.  “Toby!” she exclaimed, bending down with some difficulty to scoop up the cat and pet him.  “I can’t believe you still have this little guy.”

“He must be over twenty now,” Maddie said with a disbelieving frown.

“You’re thinking of Thomasina, Toby’s mother,” Jan said. “Remember? We used to call her Tommy.  Toby’s a young man of fifteen.”

“I remember Ben tormenting the poor thing when she was a kitten,” Maddie said with a shake of her head.

“Oh, yes, Tommy,” Honey reminisced.  “I remember her.  She was named for the cat in the Disney special.  I loved that movie!”

“I did, too,” Abby admitted, as she watched Honey stroke Toby. “This guy isn’t always as sweet as his mother, though.  He sometimes can be quite crotchety.  He’s always loved you, though, Honey.”

She smiled as she watched her niece and the cat, but then seemed to shake herself back into her usual high-speed mode.  “What are we all standing around for?  Jan, leave those suitcases in the hall and take Honey and Maddie’s coats.  Charlie can get the luggage later.”  She herded her sister and niece into the spacious living room.  “Come on in and sit down here by the fire.  You must be exhausted after that long train trip.  I’ll get something for you to eat in just a minute, but first, I want to hear everything that’s going on in New York.” She sat down on one of the brocaded sofas and patted the seat next to her.  “Come sit by me, Honey, and tell me what that handsome doctor of yours is up to!”

“I don’t know why I thought an all-day shopping trip would be a good idea at this stage in my pregnancy,” Honey lamented as she juggled several shopping to try to find a more comfortable arrangement.

“Oh, you poor thing!  Here, let me take those,” Maddie said as she reached for the bags.

“They’re not heavy, Mother,” Honey protested.  “Just clothes.”

“Still, Abby should have had them delivered to the house,” Maddie stated.  “Most of these are hers, anyway.  And speaking of Abby, where did she disappear to?” she asked, looking up and down the street.  “She was supposed to meet us here at three.”

“I don’t know,” Honey admitted, “but my feet have had it.  I can’t go too much further without that tea break we talked about.”

“As soon as Abby gets here,” Maddie promised.  “Do you want to go into the lobby and wait where there are comfortable chairs?”  The three women had agreed to meet in front of the Taj Hotel, formerly the Ritz, where Maddie and Abby made a practice of having afternoon tea whenever Maddie was in Boston.

“No, I’ll be fine until Aunt Abby gets here.  I just hope she gets here soon.”

“I hope she does, too,” Maddie commiserated.  “It’s cold out here.”  She stomped her feet in their brown leather boots in an effort to warm them.

“The cold feels good to me,” Honey said with a grin.  “It always feels too hot everywhere for me lately.  Even the snow feels good.”

Maddie smiled as she glanced up at the sky.  “I’m surprised it’s snowing this hard,” she commented.  “I thought we were only supposed to have light flurries.”

“Maybe it’s the ocean effect,” Honey suggested.  She grinned. “I have no idea what that is, but I’ve heard of it.”

“It could be,” her mother acknowledged with a laugh.  “I just hope it doesn’t interfere with our travel plans tomorrow,” she added.  “Oh, good, there’s Abby now.”  She waved as her sister came around the corner, and she and Honey moved toward her.   “What took you so long?”

“I saw the perfect sweater in Macy’s for Ben,” Abby told her.  “I just had to get it, but I had to wait ages in line.  The cashier moved like molasses.  You weren’t waiting too long, were you?”

“Just a few minutes,” Maddie acquiesced, “but I’m glad you’re here.  It’s freezing out here.”

“Well, let’s go right in then,” Abby said.  “A nice hot cup of Formosa Oolong should warm you up.  Did you have any luck shopping, Honey?” 

“Honey?” Abby stopped in concern at the look on Honey’s face, and Maddie was at her daughter’s side instantly, placing a slender arm across her shoulders.  “Are you all right, Honey?”

“I think...” Honey stopped and looked down.  When she continued, her voice was barely audible.  “I’m not sure, but I think my water just broke.”

Honey stood at the window, watching the myriad of snowflakes cavorting and careening in their race to fly down from the clouds, only to meet with quick, untimely deaths when they hit the warmer pavement below.   For a brief moment, Honey allowed herself to close her eyes and remember other snow falls:  shrouding the heavy trees in the game preserve, burying the valley and peaks surrounding Mead’s Mountain, dulling the sharp gleam of her father’s lake, and blanketing Crabapple Farm in nearly perfect Christmas-card prettiness.

Honey rested her forehead against the blessedly cool glass, wondering why she was here in a Boston hospital room with only her mother and her Aunt Abby for company, instead of enjoying any of those snow-dusted places with her husband and friends.  And then another pain broadsided her and sent all thoughts of snowflakes, Sleepyside, and Bob-Whites to the furthest recesses of her mind. 

“Breathe!”  The command blasted from her aunt, as Abby vigorously began counting down the seconds of the contraction.  Honey was only subliminally aware of her mother fiddling with her delicate silver bracelet, obviously uncomfortable but unwilling to abandon her daughter in her time of need, especially when Abby’s bordering-on-military ministrations were the only others available.  

The contraction finally subsided, and Honey dropped into an armchair next to the bed.  “Where is Brian?” she fretted, recognizing but not quite caring about the whine that had crept into her voice.  

“He should be here soon,” Maddie tried to reassure her daughter.  “Last I heard from your father, he had just found out that Bob wouldn’t be able to land the plane in Boston, so Matthew somehow managed to find an available snow plow, and bribe the driver into taking a trip to Boston,” she told Honey with a smile.   Maddie thought it best not to mention to Honey that her father and her husband were most likely out on the Mass Pike somewhere with some guy named Leo.

Since Honey’s water had broken the day before, the three women had been in a labor and delivery room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.  When she was first admitted, Honey had been told that her labor would not be allowed to go past twenty-four hours because of the risk of infection.  The first twelve hours had been uneventful, with not much in the way of labor pains, but since early that morning, Honey had been in active labor.  As her contractions had increased and intensified, so had the snowfall.  The nurses had brought news here and there that not only was Logan Airport closed, but most of the roads into and out of the city were impassable.

“I just wish they’d get here,” Honey said.  “This really wasn’t supposed to happen, you know.”

“I thought you knew this would happen when you decided to have a baby,” a voice from the doorway responded. 

“Ben!” Honey exclaimed as her cousin came over to give her a kiss on the cheek.  “I didn’t mean the labor, of course.  I meant that it’s not supposed to be happening now.  All of this.  A month early and in Boston, with Brian and the rest of the Bob-Whites in New York.  I had so many carefully laid plans.”

“I guess there are some things you just can’t plan for,” Abby told her niece.  “Ben, it’s lovely to see you and all, but what are you doing here?”

“Dad’s waiting down in the lobby.  I don’t think...”  Ben broke off, his eyes widening as another contraction hit Honey, and the two women helped her breathe through it.  He stood speechless for a minute after the contraction ended before shaking his head as if to erase the vision from his mind.  “Dad said he’s here to take you home, Mom, and Aunt Maddie looks like she could use a cup of coffee and a sandwich about now.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Abby protested. “Who will stay with Honey?”

Ben cleared his throat as if to gather strength.  “I will,” he heard himself say.

“You can’t do that!” Maddie and Abby chorused together. 

Ben looked relieved and was about to make his escape when he glanced at Honey’s face.  Her wide hazel eyes looked tired and scared. 

“What do you know about coaching someone in labor?” Honey asked, but Ben didn’t miss the hope in her tone.  He felt badly enough that his cousin had to go through all this without her husband, but to have to go through labor with his mother and her loud countdown of every contraction, and Aunt Maddie and her fear of blood… was pretty much unthinkable.  Ben’s dad had sent him up to the labor room, strongly believing that Honey might need rescuing, and despite his first instinct to run back out the door, Ben could see now that his father was right.

“I don’t know much about it,” he admitted, “but if Mother can do it, I guess I can at least pinch hit until Brian gets here.”  He turned to Abby.  “Now put away that watch and get your coat.  Dad won’t be happy if you keep him waiting.”  Abby started to protest, but gave up at the stubborn look on Ben’s face. 

“All right,” she said, giving in more gracefully than Ben had expected. “Do you have a watch?” she asked her son.  Ben pointed to his wrist.  “I’m not going home,” she stated firmly.  Your father can come and get something to eat with Maddie and me.  We’ll be right in the coffee shop by the lobby if you need us.”  Abby gave Honey and Ben each a quick kiss.  “Coming, Maddie?”

Maddie nodded but lingered, obviously reluctant to leave her daughter.  She bent to kiss Honey, whispering, “Are you sure you’ll be all right?” as she did so.

“I’ll be fine, Mother,” Honey assured her.  “You need a break.”

Maddie turned to her nephew.  “Thank you, Ben.”  She gave him a quick hug.  “You’ll call us if you need anything, won’t you?”

“I swear,” Ben promised as she left the room.  He turned to Honey, giving her a wink and a half-hearted smile.  “Was that crazy?” he asked his cousin.  “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“It was very brave,” Honey told him, “and sweet.  Just ignore that watch, and you’ll do fine.”

Ben started to laugh, but his laughter died in his throat as Honey clutched at her belly in pain.  “What do I do?” he asked, panic in his voice.

Honey grabbed his hand.  “Just.  Breathe.  With.  Me,” she managed to grind out between gasps.   Ben’s eyes widened, but he swallowed hard and did what his cousin told him to do.

Brian rushed down the hallway, brushing the snow of his clothes as he dodged a cart and a stretcher in his hurry to get to his wife.  When he almost knocked over a very pregnant woman walking in the hall with a nurse’s assistance, he stopped short, catching his breath and trying to calm himself, not wanting to enter Honey’s room in his harried state.  He wanted to be a help to his wife, not add more stress to her present situation. As he stood there, though, he heard a near-scream, and recognizing Honey’s voice, he hurried into the room, pausing only to glare at a nurse working on a chart at a desk across the hall.

He approached the room, his heart nearly stopping at the sight of Honey moaning and moving her head from side to side, obviously in response to intense pain.  Her long golden- brown hair, usually straight and glossy, was tangled on the pillow, as if she had been pulling at it in her anguish.  Ben was uselessly flitting around the room, trying in vain to get Honey to focus and breathe. 

“Hey, baby,” he said gently, as the contraction abated and he approached his wife.  “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”

“Brian, you made it!” Honey almost screamed again, this time in obvious delight.  

He bent to kiss her and squeeze her hand, his concern increasing as he took in the dark circles under her eyes.   Although the doctor in Brian automatically took note of the signs that his wife must be nearing transition, the husband in him wondered where the nurses were and why the hell they hadn’t given his wife something to help with the pain.  

 “Are you okay?” he asked.  “Where in the hell are the doctors? Haven’t they given you anything for the pain?”

Honey made a brave attempt at a smile.  “I’m okay,” she said, none too convincingly.  “I really wanted a natural birth, and I’d rather stick to that if at all possible for the baby’s sake.  Donna, the nurse who’s been taking care of me, just checked me a few minutes ago, and she said I should be just about ready to push.  The doctor’s coming in shortly to check how much I’ve progressed.”

Her smile faded, and a shadow of pain crossed her face as another contraction hit her.  Her grip on his hand intensified to the point that he thought his fingers might be in danger of a sprain or even bones being broken, but he ignored them in his concern for Honey.  Even with all his years of med school and practice, Brian suddenly felt helpless.  What can I possibly do?

As his gaze met his wife’s, though, and he caught the pleading look in her eyes, he managed to somehow swallow his insecurities, breathing with her through the contraction.  As soon as it ended, he opened his mouth to reiterate the need for medication, but was cut short when Honey gave him a sharp punch on his left arm that made the pain in his fingers dull in comparison.  

“Ow!  What was that for?” Brian asked, rubbing his arm.

“What took you so damn long?” Honey demanded.  “Do you have any idea what I’ve been going through here?  All alone?”  Glancing at Ben, she corrected herself, “Well, with Ben.”

“Pretty much all alone for as much good as I was,” Ben admitted with a wry smile.  “I’m going to grab a coffee.”

As he walked out the door, a nurse walked in.  Honey smiled at the slender, blonde young woman with alabaster skin.  “This is Donna,” she told Brian.

“You must be the long-lost husband,” the nurse said with a smile.

“Yes, it must have seemed that way,” he agreed stiffly.  “I’m Brian.”  He glanced at his wife.  “How is Honey doing?  I know she’s nearing the transition, but don’t you think she needs an Epidural?  Why wasn’t she offered one before this?”

“She was offered one,” Donna returned patiently.  “Last time I checked her, she was nine centimeters.  So she’s in transition and pretty much ready to push,” she explained.  “You’re welcome to have something to ease the pain,” she said, switching her gaze to Honey, “but things are going to happen pretty quickly now.”   She paused as another contraction hit, watching Honey breathe through it with Brian’s help, and then studying the pattern of the last few contractions on the monitor.  “You may not need anything at this stage.  Dr. Bartlet will be here in a few minutes to check your progress.”

“Dr. Bartlet is here,” said a voice behind her.   A short, handsome middle-aged man came into the room, nodding at Brian.

Brian returned his nod. “Brian Belden.”

“Let’s see how you’re progressing, Honey,” the doctor said easily as he approached the bed.

After a few minutes, he drew off his gloves and discarded them in the trash before turning to Honey and Brian.  “The good news, Honey, is that you’re fully dilated.  Great work!”

Brian’s dark eyes studied the doctor carefully.  “And the bad news?”

“Well, it’s not really bad news, but the baby’s head isn’t descending as well as I would have liked.  It’s not turned correctly to fit through the birth canal, either.” His blue eyes moved from Honey to Brian.  “Normally, I would recommend pushing for a while to see if the situation rectifies itself, but, in this case, we’re coming up on that twenty-four hour mark.”

“What does that mean?”  Honey asked, her distress and fear evident on her face.

“Are you thinking of doing a Caesarean section?”  Brian asked quietly.

The doctor nodded.  “That would be my recommendation for the best outcome.”

“But I wanted a natural birth!” Honey protested.  “I don’t want surgery!”  Another contraction hit, and she struggled to breathe through it, the tears coursing down her cheeks.

Brian grasped her hand as the pain subsided, and then put an arm around her.  “I know this isn’t what you wanted, sweetheart, but we have to think of the baby.  You don’t want the little one to be in danger, do you?  I don’t want you to be at risk either.”  He closed his eyes as he said a quick prayer for his wife and his unborn child.  “I’d never forgive myself if anything happened to you.” 

Honey shook her head tearfully.  “Isn’t there any other way?” she asked, feeling that things were careening out of control so fast she couldn’t keep up with them.  Another contraction hit her hard and just added to her feeling of helplessness.

“Babies are born by C-section every day,” Donna spoke up when the contraction eased, “and the mothers and babies do fine.  The important thing is a healthy baby, not whether or not you had pain medication or surgery.”

“You were born by Caesarean section” Brian reminded her, “and look how beautifully you turned out.”

Honey smiled reluctantly, but then frowned again.  “But Mother was laid up for ages when she had me, and Daddy couldn’t be with her.”

“Things have changed a lot since you were born,” Dr. Bartlet put in.  “The incision is made a different way, and the recovery is much easier.”

“And I’ll be with you the whole time,” Brian said.  Honey looked into his dark eyes, seeking the assurance she needed.  She finally nodded.  “If it’s the best thing for the baby,” she agreed.

The next night, the eve of Christmas Eve

Honey closed her eyes as the baby sucked hungrily, doing her labor breathing exercises to help ease the pain.  Brian watched her with concern from the chair beside the bed.  “In med school, we learned that the after-birth contractions are sometimes worse than the ones women in experience during labor,” he offered.

Honey managed a weary smile.  “I don’t think they’re quite that bad,” she said.  Her attempt to be strong fell short, though, as a tear fell down her cheek.

Brian was at her side in an instant. “What’s the matter?” he asked, reaching for the call button.  “Should I get the nurse to come in and bring some more Percocet?”

Honey gave a little head shake through her tears.  “I’ll be fine.”  She looked up at her husband, a tremulous smile on her face despite her discomfort. “In med school, did you treat all your post-natal patients like this?” she asked, patting the bed beside her.  Brian sat down with a sheepish grin.

“No, I guess I would have told them that a certain amount of pain is to be expected, and the more you move around, the faster healing takes place.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t tell me that,” Honey admitted.  “I might have had to hit you again.”

“I had to avoid that at all costs,” Brian said with a chuckle.  “That was a pretty good wallop you gave me when you were in labor.”  His eyes darkened as Honey winced again in pain.  “Seriously, though, are you sure you’re all right?”

“I’m fine,” she repeated.  “It’s not really the pain.  It’s just that…” She closed her eyes again, trying to find the words to express what she was feeling.  “When I pictured this moment, it was not like this at all!”

“No?”  Brian’s dark eyes silently urged her to go on.

“No.  I thought it would all be hearts and flowers and balloons and us looking all googly-eyed at each other over the baby’s head while he’s nursing.”

Brian gave a wry smile.  “Isn’t that what we’re doing?” he asked.

“Don’t make me hit you again,” Honey threatened with a laugh, before wincing again as the laugh hit her painful incision.  “I mean, I knew there would be pain, but I thought it would all be gone when labor was over.  I never considered that I might have a C-section, and have a scar, and have it hurt to move, and that nursing would be such a chore that I’d end up dreading it.  It seems like it should be the most natural thing in the world, but it’s so difficult and it hurts like hell!”

“It’ll get easier,” Brian said, his voice calm and reassuring as he put an arm around her, careful not to jostle the baby or the pillow covering her abdomen.  “It’s only the second day, Honey, and you’ve been through a lot in the past forty-eight hours.  Give yourself some credit.” 

Honey let her head fall on her husband’s strong shoulder.  “And now I’m stuck in the hospital for Christmas,” she said, a sob escaping despite her best intentions.  “I had so many plans for our holiday in Sleepyside.  I had our Christmas Eve meal all planned out.  Everything from those Tiny Hot Hors D’oeuvres for our happy hour to your favorite desserts – pecan pie and those meringue cookies you love.  Chocolate oatmeal, too.  I know you like the ones from that recipe I got from Mrs. Smith.”  The last sentence ended in a wail, and tears of disappointment and exhaustion flew down Honey’s cheeks.

Brian tightened his grip on her shoulders and held her as she cried.  “Shhh, everything’s going to be fine,” he said, stroking her uncharacteristically tousled hair.  “You’ll make all those things if you feel up to it when we get home, and if you don’t feel up to it, Moms can make them.”

“But it’s supposed to be on Christmas Eve,” Honey protested.  “It’s our tradition.  Remember last year, when we were first married, we said we’d have those things every year when we hosted the Bob-White Secret Santa exchange on Christmas Eve?”

“So we’ll start a new tradition,” Brian stated firmly, wiping the tears from her face.  “It’s Corey’s first Christmas, you know.  And we’ll introduce him to the newest Belden tradition: Christmas Eve on New Year’s Eve.”  He was rewarded by a soft giggle from Honey.   She looked down at her tiny newborn son and stroked his soft little cheek.

“I think he’s ready to switch sides,” she whispered.

Brian helped her rearrange the pillow and get the baby resituated.  He managed to squeeze himself onto the bed next to Honey as Corey continued nursing.  Honey gave a little sigh.  Brian wasn’t sure if it was from sadness or contentment.  Most likely a little of both.  “We won’t be able to see your family until after Christmas,” Honey reminded him.

“I’m sure Ben has a laptop.  We can Skype with them.  And your family is here.  I think your father has already arranged with Dr. Bartlet and the nurses to have a special Christmas dinner catered from one of the better area restaurants for the patients and staff.”

“Leave it to Daddy,” Honey said with a shake of her head.  She kept her gaze on the nursing baby as she asked, “I wonder what our Christmases will be like when Corey gets a little bigger?”

“Definitely a lot of fun, with our families and the BWGs around,” Brian predicted.  “And when he gets a little older, we’ll have to tell him how he was born in a Christmas snowstorm.”  He glanced down at his wife, noticing her eyes lighting up at the thought.

“I guess he is our little Christmas snow baby, at that,” Honey said with a tender glance at their infant son.  “Maybe we’ll get him a sled for Christmas next year.  Then we can pull him around if there’s any snow.” 

Brian gave a soft chuckle.  “And a little red wagon when he’s two or three,” he added.  “He has to have one of those.”

“Did you have one when you were little?” 

“Uh-huh.  I got it for my third birthday,” Brian answered.  “I loved that little wagon.  I used to pretend it was an ambulance and bring all my stuffed animals to the vet’s in it.”

Honey laughed.  “I can see you doing that,” she said.  “You must have been so adorable.”

“I think I probably was,” Brian agreed, kissing the top of her head.  “But then when Mart and Trixie got older, they both wanted turns in it, and they were always fighting over who was sitting in it and who was pulling it and why  it didn’t go faster.  He shook his head.  “Took the fun right out of it.”  He reached out and stroked Corey’s dark, soft hair. “Watch out for siblings in this big, bad world, little guy.”

“Poor baby,” Honey said with a giggle, as she reached up to run a hand along the dark stubble lining her husband’s cheek.  There had been no time for shaving in the past twenty-four hours. “And don’t tell him that.  You know you wouldn’t trade your siblings for anything.”  She grasped Brian’s hand and ran her fingers over his strong knuckles and the simple gold band on his third finger.  She snuggled against his shoulder, “Tell me more about your Christmases,” she urged.  “Was that wagon your favorite present ever?”

“One of them,” Brian said obligingly.  “Let’s see.  What else?  Trixie gave me a great book when I was in 6th grade.  I had seen it at a book fair in September and wanted it but didn’t have the money for it.  With Moms’ help, Trixie secretly bought it and saved it all the way until Christmas, without even letting the cat out of the bag.  It was called Follow My Leader, and it ended up being my favorite book for a long time.”

“That sounds like Trixie,” Honey said, a proud note creeping into her voice as she talked about her best friend and sister-in-law.  “Do you still have it?”

“I think I do have it, packed in one of the boxes in the attic that we moved from Crabapple Farm to our house.  I’ll have to dig it out for Corey to have in a few years.”

“I would love that,” Honey said with a sigh that Brian was sure now was a happy one.  “What was it about?”

“It’s about a boy who becomes blind when a firecracker goes off in his face,” Brian told her.  “He has to learn Braille, and how to walk with a cane, and memorize where everything is in his house.  Eventually, a seeing-eye dog becomes available, and he goes away to a school to meet the dog and learn how to work with him.  That’s Leader, the German Shepherd who becomes his dog.”

Brian glanced down at Honey to see if she was becoming bored, and took in her closed eyes and soft, even breathing with a smile.  He planted a tender kiss on her forehead before gently pulling his arm from around her and hoisting himself off the bed, careful not to disturb her.  He stood gazing down in awe at the sight of his wife and newborn, and then cocking his head to one side for a better look, he noticed that the baby had stopped nursing and was sleeping as well.  He carefully reached down and lifted his infant son, snuggling him against his sweatshirt and dropping another kiss on his forehead as well.

“Hey, Corey,” he said, loosening the receiving blanket the baby was swaddled in and examining the tiny nose, the rosebud mouth, and the soft down of dark hair.  Cradling him in his arms, Brian walked over to the window, watching the snow continue to fall against the street lamps. “Welcome to the world, little guy,” he said as he snuggled the baby closer, feeling tears gathering in his own eyes.  “I think you’re going to like it here.”

Merry Christmas, Bonnie!  I hope you enjoyed reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it!


Author’s Notes

Thanks so much to Susan(suth) and Kelly)kath for their awesome, last-minute edits! You two made the story so much better than it was originally.  Thank you!

Thanks also to Mary N, the Christmas Elf who found these lovely graphics and made such a beautiful page.  Thank you, Mary!

This story was written for Bonnie for the 2013 Jix Author Secret Santa story exchange.  Thanks and kudos to Mal for all her hard work spent organizing it.

When I found out I would be writing for Bonnie, I was quite happy, and of course, I knew that I had to write a Brian and Honey story, since we share a love of that couple.  When I was working in Boston one day, I went to Quincy Market for lunch, and sitting there, looking around, I decided I wanted the story to be set in Boston.  (I’m not sure why as it was summertime and this was a Christmas story!)  And somewhere along the way, a baby came into the plans, as babies sometimes do. ;)  I was a little stuck and asked Mal to ask Bonnie of a few more of her favorite Christmas things, and hence Tiny Hot Hors D’Oeuvres, meringue cookies (another love I share with Bonnie!) and Follow My Leader made their way into the story.  Bonnie bought the book for her brother for Christmas, and kept it a secret, just as Trixie did for Brian.  I recognized the book as I had read it and liked it when I was younger.  And of course, writing for Bonnie, you know I had to add something about The West Wing.  Did you get all the character names, Bonnie?  I think there were eleven in all.  I almost forgot Leo and I had to go back and put him in, of course.  How could I forget Leo??? 

Some of the things Maddie refers in this story took place in The Wonder of Christmas, an earlier story in my Once Upon a Dream Universe.  That story also took place in Boston, and the characters of Abby and Jan Riker were first introduced in that one. 

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Story copyright by MaryC, 2013. Graphics copyright 2013 by Mary N.

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