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Closer

 

The air smells like warm rain. That’s what he thinks as the thunder clap above wakes him from a light sleep. It smells thick with humidity; like freshly watered cut grass, or overturned soil. He likes the smell of rain, but these thunderstorms are persistent, and without the luxury of an attached garage and undercover parking – frankly, without the luxury of cars – it makes the day that much more tedious. Work doesn’t stop for the rain and the treks to and from town have been long and dreary through the transitional months. His consolation is that tornado season left them alone this year, but even so, he feels constantly soggy as they move from summer and back into the cold.

Beside him Laura moans in her sleep, shifting again, trying to find a comfortable position. She’s so big these days, nearing the final stretch. And she’s restless, itching to finally have a body back that she can control again. Plus, he thinks she misses her work. She’s not the kind of women to be constantly confined to a house, and he had fiercely enforced maternity leave once she hit the ninth month. She had scoffed – told him that he was being unreasonable – but he had put his foot down this close to the end. She had relented only because the pregnancy is high risk; had they been ten years younger he thinks she probably would have slapped him and picked up a box of books just to prove her point.

She moans again and rolls over, her brow pinched in discomfort, and opens her eyes to him, knowing he’s watching her.

“Sore?” he whispers, running a hand over her pronounced bump.

She hums an affirmative. “I’ve been aching since yesterday” she mumbles. “I just can’t get my back into a comfortable position” she whines.

He nudges her to roll back over to her side, facing away from him, and then starts digging his thumbs firmly into her lower back, pressing into the knots there in a rhythmic pattern. She hums lowly at the pressure, arching just a little into him, relishing the feeling. He works over her muscles, along the base of her spine, up a few vertebrae, then across to the side, tracing the muscle just above her hip bone, down the side of her hips, and then again. Long, slow, firm circles. It feels wonderful.

“That’s perfect, thank you” she mutters, already halfway back to sleep. It’s still the middle of the night, so they settle again, his body not quite touching hers, his arm between his chest and her back. He traces the pad of one finger across the back of her neck, moving her hair out of the way, and he smiles as she sighs, falling back into complete sleep. He kisses the spot just lightly, and then retreats back to his own pillow. He won’t shuffle around now that she’s comfortable.

He closes his eyes and feels like he has just dozed off when, suddenly and rather violently, Laura jolts up with a cry. He opens his eyes and she is sitting up, one hand propping her at the awkward sideways angle and the other cradling her stomach, pressing on a spot just down near her hip.

“Laura?” he asks, worried, husky with sleep.

“Oh my…” she says, breathing heavily through what is obviously discomfort on the point of pain.

“Laura, what…” he trails off, leaving the question unfinished. His knee – curled up right below her bum in sleep, feels suddenly wet. They fling off the cover together, and sure enough, right there is a large clear wet spot on the bedding, slowly soaking it through her nightgown. “Oh my god” she whispers, before being taken again by a stabbing pain through her gut, stronger than before.

“Mrs Clark” he shouts, no hesitation. He sounds positively panicked, and through her haze Laura realises that it’s perfectly reasonable. His mother-in-law comes running into the room in her nightgown with a shawl around her shoulders, a faint candle in hand, Mary just a step behind her. It takes her only a moment to take in the scene – Laura, panting in pain on the bed – Charles sitting panicked by her side, his hand damp from the wet patch between Laura’s legs.

A clap of thunder precedes a lighting flash and all at once Mrs Clark launches into action.

“Mary, go downstairs and fill the large china bowl with warm water. Take it from the stove, but be careful not to burn yourself. Then bring it up here with a clean strip of linen and my scissors. They’re all wrapped up in the top of my dresser”

“Water, linen, scissors, got it” she chants, nodding along to herself. She scatters, looking overwhelmed with responsibility, especially so fresh from sleep, but eager to please all the same. Charles knows she will be fine; having something productive to do will keep her calm and focussed, and in the preceding months they have been allowing Mary more responsibilities to prepare her for being the eldest child. She can handle these simple tasks well enough.

“What can I do?” he asks Mrs Clarke, still a little stunned. It hasn’t sunk it yet, that Laura is in labour; that he’s about to become a father. He is still too overwhelmed with making sure he does what he can to help out. All he can focus on is Laura in pain.

“Don’t leave” she says. She takes his hand in hers. She looks petrified. “Please don’t leave”

“You’re best here anyway” adds Mrs Clark, nodding while rolling up her sleeves. She wordlessly hands him the candle and he lights the one on his bedside. Then she takes it to light the lantern on the dresser, and brings it over to the bedside.

“How do you figure that? I don’t know what I’m doing” he says, gesturing vaguely towards the business end, where Mrs Clarke has rolled up Laura’s nightgown in order to check the progress. There is no time for modesty here – they are family, and sooner or later someone is going to have to get down there and help out. Better to know what they’re dealing with and how much time they have.

“You knew enough to get her in this mess” barks Mrs Clarke. Given her mood it seems as though they have less time than they would like before the action happens.

Laura can’t help but laugh at that, patting Charles on the cheek. He lost that round, for sure.

“You’ve helped with calving” she says to him softly, encouraging. “With Walt and his boys?”

“You’re not a cow, Laura” he says. He sounds positively hysterical.

“It’s the same principle” says Mrs Clarke, pulling Laura’s robe back over to cover, and standing up straight. “All going to plan. At least it’s head first – that’s a positive start to things”

He is saved from responding by another contraction ripping through Laura, and she moans and holds his hand, but they are not unbearable yet. She knows this is just the start of what is to come. Why she ever thought it was a good idea to go through this at her age, she’ll never know. Charles and her doctor keep reminding her that she’s fit, and healthy, and in very good shape – and in Charles’ case she is not old – but right now she’d rather have an extra ten years on her, if only for stamina. She only prays this time is quicker than having Mary. And then her mind changes tracks, and she feels sudden tears form in her eyes.

“It’s too early” she whispers, shaking her head from side to side, cradling her arms around her bump. “He’s too little”

Charles blanches, but does a quick calculation. They have three and a half weeks to go. That makes the baby, what, 36? 37 weeks? Or as close to it as these times can estimate with their medicine. Surely that’s almost term, to get only a couple of weeks from the end? He’s sure babies have been born sooner, haven’t they?

“He’ll be just fine” coos Mrs Clarke, rubbing Laura’s arm. “The Mitchell’s had their babe even earlier, and there was not a single issue”

Laura takes a watery breath, but has no choice but to nod and accept it. This baby is coming; there is no denying the inevitable. For a brief moment Charles thinks of what it would be like – to raise a child in these times who is slow in some way; who has a learning disability or walks differently, or any other things that could easily happen for a pre-term baby with little medical intervention. He thinks of the future, and all its programs for children with difficulties, and has to mentally slap himself. Even if this child is disabled, they will love it. Life would not be easy – it never is in a society that values perfection – but they will love it. School it at home if they have to, if that’s what it takes. But no matter how this turns out, their child will be loved.

Still, it’s one more anxiety that settles over him, even as he does as Mrs Clarke is instructing and helps Laura to relax.

“Should she walk around a bit?” he asks, clearly out of his depth. But that’s what women do, right? They walk around? Help things along, or something? God, if only he’d had sisters with kids, he would know this stuff.

“And do what? Use up her energy before we’ve even begun?” scoffs Mrs Clarke.

Well, okay then. No walking. Relaxing and deep breaths it is. He can help with that.

Mary walks into the room then, very slowly, carefully carrying the large china bowl filled with water, and a towel over her arm. The scissors poke out from the pocket of her dressing gown. She looks serious but determined. She desperately wants to help, and Charles makes a note to thank her for being such a big girl through all of this. She places the bowl on the side table, the things next to it, and Laura takes her hand and smiles at her, drawing her closer. Mary looks timid; she obviously has never seen this before, and doesn’t understand anything of what is happening.

“You’re my beautiful big girl” coos Laura, running her hand down Mary’s cheek.

“Does it hurt?” she asks softly, grasping tight at her mother’s hand.

“Yes it does”

Laura refuses to lie. Not that Mary won’t realise herself, when Laura is screaming the house down later. But even so, she doesn’t lie to Mary about life and what it’s like. It is better she understand, than be afraid of what is happening. “It is going to hurt a lot shortly. But it’s okay, Mary. This is how we bring babies into the world. I did the exact same with you, too”

“And you were bigger than this one will be” adds Mrs Clarke with a rare smile for her granddaughter, comforting her. Charles adds that to his mental list of things to be anxious about (how will they weight the baby – find out what size it is… and what even is a healthy weight? Is it the same, no matter what time you’re born? Are people naturally smaller these days? God, so many questions he doesn’t know the answer to.)

“Now, I need you to be a brave girl for me, okay?” Laura says, holding Mary’s eyes. “I need you to do exactly as your grandmother says. And if we tell you to go downstairs, I need you to do that. Even if it looks scary, or I’m upset, I need you to listen. Can you do that?”

Mary nods, her eyes briefly going to the bowl she so studiously brought to them. But she nods all the same, and then leans in and gives her mother a firm hug. “Good luck” she says.

The rest of them can’t help but burst into sudden laughter, the mood alleviated for a moment.

“Okay, child” says Mrs Clarke, taking Mary by the shoulders. “Go back to bed, and try and get some sleep. Nothing much will happen for a few hours yet – one of us might as well be rested”

Mary goes, if reluctantly. She keeps her eye on the rest of them as much as possible, and Laura gives her an encouraging smile, blowing her a kiss on her palm. Mary closes the door behind her without being asked, and the rest of them sigh in relief. Once she is out of sight, they turn back to Laura, her mask immediately dropping as she takes deep breaths through another contraction.

“The cramps are getting closer together already” she says, meeting her mother’s eye. “And more intense. I’m afraid we may have less time than you think”

“Should I go and get the doctor?” asks Charles, rooted firmly at Laura’s side.

“In this storm?” answer Mrs Clarke, her head jerking to the window where the thunder and lightening claps are still persistent, and the rain positively battering down. “No. You’d never make it there and back, and even if you did, in that time I could need you here”

He doesn’t dare ask what for, just nods and grips Laura’s hand tightly. She squeezes it in return and gives him a smile that is oddly reminiscent of the one she gave her daughter. He doesn’t like that she has to coddle him during this – he should be comforting her – but there’s nothing to be done for the fact that he is in way over his head here.

“I need to change stance” she says. Charles immediate helps her sit up, and then she flicks around and is suddenly on her hands and knees, swaying side to side, breathing deeply. If it weren’t for his sheer terror, he might find the position somewhat erotic, reminiscent of a few activities he had introduced her to. But circumstances as they are, he sits in front of her and braces her shoulders, helping to keep her upright while she focusses her attention where she needs to in order to cope. He kisses her brow, and then her lips when she looks up at him.

“You’re beautiful. I love you”

He doesn’t know what else to say except that. And she is. And he does. He takes a moment to revel in the fact that she is bringing forth life – his child – and it sweeps him off his feet for a second; her too, given the tears in her eyes and the watery smile.

“I love you too” she whispers.

It is strange to have him here. Men are banished so thoroughly from the birthing chamber ordinarily. There would only be a handful outside of the medical profession that know what really happens. And yet circumstances demand her husband be here with her, and suddenly nothing seems more proper. He did, after all, get her into this situation. It’s the least he can do.

But no. More than that, she doesn’t want to do this alone. She doesn’t want to do it without him. And even if things had gone more smoothly, she thinks she would have liked to honour his request to be there in the room. He may not even remember asking it now, but she does, and it’s poetic justice that this storm continues on and forces him to be there.

When her arms get cramped some time later she turns back over to rest against Charles’ back, with him leaning against their headboard.

“I’m going to check you again” says Mrs Clark, shifting around to between Laura’s legs and having a look. She tuts, almost like a scoff.

“What?” asks Laura. Before she can get another answer they are helping her through a contraction, stronger than the last one, and now they are at regular intervals. Charles can’t be sure – he can’t be sure about most things in this situation – but he’s positive this whole process is supposed to take longer. He knows enough to know the first few stages can last ages, days even. And okay, so Laura has been in pain for a while now. But this feels quick.

Laura breathes through her pain in a practiced way, doing her best to remember how she coped with Mary’s birth.

“You’re more open than even the last time I checked you” says her mother, once the pain has subsided enough for her to register. “Just how long have you been in labour without telling me, young lady?”

Charles can’t help but grin, but then sobers up. All that tossing and turning – all those intermittent back aches. He should have realised it was more than just discomfort; should have noticed a pattern. Laura, for her part, looks sufficiently chastised, but merely answers her mother.

“About a day and half, I believe. I had my bloody show early this morning”

It’s a visual he is not particularly interested in entertaining at this moment, but he figures it’s a normal thing. And by that time frame she means almost twenty-four hours ago. Nobody has looked at a clock, but they can tell that dawn is not far away. God, a full day of aches and she didn’t say anything. Charles suddenly has a newfound respect for her perseverance, though he suspects that she was hoping to ignore it in order to keep the child inside just a little longer. Still, he has to believe he – or she (but they have been referring to it more and more as he, which is purely speculative) – is baked enough to survive meeting the outside world.

“Of course you did” mutters Mrs Clarke, but doesn’t say anything else, merely picks up the clean cloth and dips it in the warm water, then places it gently around her opening, first the top, then the sides. “At this rate you’ll stretch too quickly and tear” she mumbles, as though explaining her actions. “In some ways you’re lucky the babe will be small”

“Just not too small” whispers Laura in return.  

Mrs Clarke leaves to collect more warm water, and Charles takes the opportunity to whisper sweet nothings in Laura’s ear; how much he loves her and how strong she is; how he wishes he could do this for her, but knows she will be fantastic.

When his mother-in-law returns, he has managed to make Laura smile widely, despite the pain, and that’s reward enough, even as the pain continues to get stronger and more frequent.

They continue in this vein for a couple of hours. Not very long in Charles’ estimation, but then they were half way into labour by the time her waters broke, so it’s really been far longer. And, as Mrs Clarke keeps helpfully pointing out, this is her second child – supposedly easier, though watching her in pain he can’t imagine it could be harder, either.

At one point, when things are steady, he dashes out to check in on Mary. She is mercifully still asleep, out to the world the way only children can be during a crisis. Laura, because that’s the kind of woman she is, has not screamed the house down; she moans and complains, but takes it all on the chin, determined to push through it, quite literally.

Mrs Clarke changes the water again, a pensive look on her face, and when she returns she also takes out the sewing thread from Laura’s bureau draw and places that within easy reach.

And then, after an eternity and yet all at once, he is being directed.

“Charles, get up there, behind her” says Mrs Clarke. He complies, the use of his first name the least of his considerations at the moment. “Take her knees, yes, just like that. Now, help brace her against you. Keep her knees curled up like that”

Laura whines lowly – gutturally, as she pushes into the feeling, her chin tucked firmly on her chest. She doesn’t cry out so much as moans into herself, directing all her energy into the push that Charles can feel going through her body, tense and focused solely on this task. She gasps when it’s over, but can feel that she’s getting closer to the end. A few short minutes later she repeats the process, and then collapses back against him.

“Charles” she says, and he kisses her brow to say that he’s listening. “Get down there. Go help”

It’s not an indictment against her mother. They can all tell that what Laura is really asking is that Charles help deliver their child; that he be the one to bring it into the world; that it has it’s parents there from it’s very first breaths. It’s overwhelming, and a request that even her mother cannot balk at.

Charles kisses her again and then gets out from behind her, rearranging the pillows to keep her slightly propped up. Mrs Clarke shuffles over, taking one of Laura’s feet and bracing it on her shoulder. Charles always knew she was stronger than she looked.

He does the same on the other side, moving down to see, and is struck absolutely breathless.

He can see the hair.

He can actually see the hair on his baby’s head, poking out of the birth canal, almost the full circumference. A couple of pushes and the baby will crown, for sure. In his stunned silence, Mrs Clarke takes his hand and gently rests it on the brown tuft, and his fingers stroke it gently, ignoring the stickiness and the blood staining the sheets.

“You’re so close, Laura” he says, his voice thick with emotion.

As if on cue, she braces her feet firmly against them and uses them as leverage, tucking her chin back onto her chest and riding through the next contraction. Charles takes her hand so she can grip it, and he swears the head moves fractionally closer to him.

“One more push, Laura” says her mother. “That’s it, one more”

They take firm hold of her feet as a brace, and Mrs Clarke reaches out and reaches for the baby’s head as Laura moans into another push. Her moan turns into a sort of cry, but she’s still not very loud; all of her energy is focussed internally. Charles watches as the head moves further out, and then Mrs Clarke uses both hands to twist it sideways. It looks mighty rough for a newborn – he’s almost tempted to tell her to take it easy. But she’s done this before, not him, and he assumes that turning the baby sideways serves a purpose.

Laura pushes again. Suddenly – so quick that it takes him by surprise – the head pops out in a single swift move.

“Ready to catch?”

He barely hears the question, just takes his hands and positions them where she shows him, slightly grasping the baby. Laura moans again, and her mother runs a comforting hand up and down her leg, muttering support to her while Charles prepares himself for the big moment. He is terrified, but he doesn’t say so; this is hardly the hardest job, and he has no right to complain while his wife is laying there in such agony. So he just squares his shoulders and tells himself he can do this.

Laura bears down.

With one hand around the baby’s shoulders – grasping around the base of its head, really, but he doesn’t like to think of it like that – the other manages to catch its bum as it comes rushing out all at once.

Charles gasps, staring down at the tiny little body in his hands.

It’s a boy. They have a son. He’s a father, and they have a son.

He can hardly breathe.

“Hello Henry” he whispers.

Laura looks down at him, still panting in relief and exhaustion. He meets her eye and smiles, tears tracking down his face, and then holds up the baby for her inspection. She laughs a little, and smiles, and starts crying herself.

But there is still a flurry of activity – the job is not done yet.

Mrs Clarke takes the clean cloth and water and starts bathing off the blood and white sticky stuff all over the baby’s body. And then she points at him.

“Put your mouth over his mouth and nose, and then suck”

What?

The look on his face is nothing short of bewildered. Having no time for his denseness, Mrs Clarke just tuts and shakes her head at him. “You need to clear his airways. We don’t have a bulb here to do it”

Charles doesn’t question further. If she wants him to suck some gunk out of his son’s nose, then that’s what he’s going to do. He does it swiftly, not letting himself think about what that stuff is or if it has a taste – just quickly sucks in his cheeks and spits out whatever was in his mouth into the bowl Mrs Clarke is holding out for him, sipping from the water glass she also thrusts in his face.

Whatever that achieved seems to have worked. Immediately the baby starts wailing, spindly little arms and legs flailing at the blatant intrusion, his eyes opening for the first time. Charles does a quick count – all fingers and toes accounted for – and then stares in wonder at this thing that is alive, and crying, and theirs.  

Laura’s arms reach down between her legs, begging for him, and Charles complies. Mrs Clarke stays where she is, readying herself for the delivery of the placenta, which also gives the couple a moment of privacy with their new child.

Laura’s nightgown is almost completely displaced, most of her chest bare. It seems the most normal thing in the world to place the baby tummy-down on her skin, her hands coming up to cradle him there.

Charles sits beside her, framing her head with his arm, the other hand on his son’s back. He kisses Laura over and over again, the both of them crying, and the baby’s squawks die down almost immediately. His eyes are open and curious, his mouth pursed into a tiny little button that looks frankly displeased. The two of them watch him and can’t help but laugh. He looks positively surly over the course of events.

Mrs Clarke takes care of the last of the business end, cleaning up Laura, and then uses the thread to tie off the chord up near the baby’s belly. She runs a hand down his back with a smile. She looks so tired, and every bit her age, and Charles jumps up and grabs the chair from the other side of the room and bring it to her so she can sit on her daughter’s other side.

“He is beautiful” she tells Laura. He is quiet now, content in his mother’s arms. But his eyes are still open and looking in the general direction of his father, who, naturally, cannot look away. To say he is in shock doesn’t cover the emotion. These women may have done this before, but his first foray into fatherhood was not what Charles was expecting.

Beyond the blinds, a grey glow is starting to peak through the still-falling rain. The thunder has abated, but the storm is still heavy. They have some time yet before they can go fetch anyone. And the room is a mess, the sheets all bloody and the dirty bowl still on the floor with the rag. But hey will worry about that soon enough. For the moment, they are all just cherishing this moment, and the fact that despite everything, it all went without issues.

Sighing, her fatigue taking over, Mrs Clarke leans back in her seat, watching the three of them.

“You were right, about the sex” she says, smiling at the both of them. She knows they were trying to be unbiased, but they let slip too many times that they wanted the baby to be a boy. She is glad for them that it was; that they can have one of each. She is happy, too, that Charles has a son.

“Have you thought of a name?” she asks. She didn’t hear Charles before, but Laura just smiles up at him, nodding just slightly in encouragement.

“Henry” he says, grinning down at the baby.

Laura looks at her mother, a meaningful look on her face. “Henry Alan George Lattimer”

Her mother just barely holds back tears of her own. It doesn’t surprise her that they chose the name of her late husband; her lost son. But it still overwhelms her with emotion. She looks at the baby, who now has Laura’s nightgown drawn up over him for warmth, so that he is tucked against her chest with her clothes around them both. She smiles and nods.

“That is a good name. A kind name”

The day is now beginning in full. The rain has eased to a smattering, though the wind is still harsh. Charles starts cleaning up, and then they help Laura to clean up as well, placing the baby in his bassinet for a small time, right next to the bed where it has been set up for him. He will move into the big crib later, but Charles had suggested that Laura have him close to begin with, and she had agreed, silently thankful that he was so open to having him in the room with them. It goes against her every instinct to put him straight into the nursery. Charles seems to understand that.

They strip the bed completely and then remake it, placing fresh towels down where Laura will sleep, conscious that she may continue to bleed a little. She gratefully gets settled, taking the now-swaddled baby back to try for his first feed. This is the part that she was worried about – early babies are known to be bad feeders, and if he won’t take, it will make it that much harder to keep him well.

She needn’t have worried. The second his mouth is in position, he latches on with fervour, and though she has to pull him back and reattach him just once, he sucks easily and with gusto, and she feels an instant sense of release. Everyone relaxes after that, and though they are all exhausted, it’s far too exciting to sleep. They just sit quietly and take in what just happened, enjoying the soft sounds of Henry eating for the first time.

When they went to bed last night there were four in the house. Now there are five.

It’s overwhelming in many respects.

Once she can see that little Henry is finishing up, Mrs Clarke excuses herself to go wake Mary. It’s time she meet her little brother. Charles takes the baby while Laura adjusts her clothes back into place, and he can’t take his eyes off him. The sour expression is long gone, his face slack in sleep, one tiny hand up next to his cheek in defiance of his blanket wrappings. Charles can hold him along a single arm, his hand encompassing his head and part of his shoulders. His tiny fingernails are fascinating. Everything about him is mesmerising.   

“Can you believe it” whispers Laura. “He’s perfect”

“He’s beautiful, Laura” he says back. “You’re beautiful”

He kisses her firmly, full of passion and love and gratitude. “Thank you” he whispers, and feels her lips smile against his own as they kiss again. He gently transfers the baby back into her arms and then sits beside her on the bed, tucking them both against his side.

From the door they hear an excited knock, and then it opens. Mary is just jumping for joy, rested and overjoyed and not at all afraid of what she saw last night now that she can see her mother safe and well in the bed.

“Come and meet your brother, Mary” says Laura, beckoning her with her free hand.

Mary comes bounding over, and Charles scoops her up and places her over his lap, right next to her mother, where she will have a good vantage point to look at the baby.

“He’s so little” she coos. “Was he really inside you?”

Laura laughs and nods. “Yes, he was”

“Can I hold him?”

Charles immediately shifts her between Laura and himself, using his arm to prop her up, giving her advice on making sure she holds his neck straight and not to grab him too tight. He moves her arms into a cradle, and then Laura gently transfers Henry into it. The both of them hold Mary’s arms steady as she gets the grip right, and then they leave her be, content that she won’t damage her brother.

Mrs Clarke smiles from her place back in the chair, watching them through sleepy eyes. No doubt she’ll go and take a nap later, once everyone is settled. They probably all will. “There are moments when I think those infernal photography contraptions might be nice to have” she says, giving Charles a look.

He only nods with a grin, agreeing wholeheartedly. It would be nice to have a family photo of this moment. He makes a mental note of their positions, and decides that he might just sketch it when he has a moment.

The rain has eased even more, now barely a sprinkle. Charles will go later into town and have the doctor come up to the house, just to make sure Laura is well and the baby is alright. They are all confident that it went fine, but he remembers reading something about one of the wives of Henry VIII dying because of poor post-labour care. And sure, he’s no tyrannical king, but he intends to give Laura the best care possible, so the doctor will come to the house, even if it’s to tell them they have wasted his time.

“Will I get to teach him how to ride Turnip?” asks Mary, looking down at her brother’s face.

“Sweetheart, he’s three hours old. How about we give him some time” says Laura, laughing at her daughter.

“Well how much time? Because he’s cute and all, but if all he’s gonna do is sleep, then I have to say baby’s are pretty boring”

None of them can help it. They have to laugh. Oh yes, boring babies indeed. Henry for his part just purses his lips again in sleep, and Laura looks at Charles with a smile on her face. He thinks she’s never looked more beautiful to him. He mouths ‘I love you’ over Mary’s head, and she grins at him, an expression akin to the rising sun as far as he is concerned.

And just when he thought his life couldn’t get any better…