“I’m not sure how to tell you this...” She starts one evening as they get ready for bed. Charles has been reading to Laura and Mary. Laura taught Mary a new knitting stitch while they listened and Laura has been sewing. He has thrown fleeting glances at what it is she is making, but so far it seems as if she’s been working on simple white flannel rectangles. He supposes it has its purpose and doesn’t question his wife. He has tended to the fire and made tea for his ‘girls’. Mary has started calling him ‘dad’, he feels intensely thankful for this. He has what he was searching for: a family and a purpose in life.
He works with Laura on the Gazette and draws ads for a company in St Louis. They don’t make a lot of money, but they don’t need much. Laura is frugal, the passing of Mrs Clark at the explosion left Laura with a little money of her own. They rise early and go to bed early, Mary is in school during the day, she has friends in town she likes to play with.
“Are you alright?” He asks, immediately worried. She’s been tired lately, falling asleep not long after Mary’s goes to bed, she’s not been eating very much. “You’re not ill, are you?” He places his trousers on the chair, neatly folded. His shirt hangs on the back, He opens the covers, lets her slip in first and he cuddles up close. The scent of her hair is in his nose as she gets comfortable, her head on his chest.
“Not ill, not exactly.” Her sigh sounds defeated and he turns to her, tries to look in her eyes.
“What’s wrong then? Are you unhappy with... us?” He daren’t say it for it might be true. He has been gloriously happy and he has thought she was too, but he can’t be sure. No-one can ever be sure of someone else’s feelings.
“Oh! How can you think such a thing?” She lifts her head, smiles at him, kisses him on the cheek. Her hand caresses his chest. “You make me so happy...” Her voice is small, she lays back again.
“Then what is it? Hmm? You can tell me.” He wraps his arms around her, pulls her ever so slightly closer. She is warm, warmer than he is used to and he drops a kiss on her forehead. She isn’t running a fever. Then again he should believe her when she says she isn’t ill. Laura doesn’t lie. Ever.
She clears her throat. Turns in his arms, then sits up, her arms around her knees. She bites her lip. He thinks she looks beautiful, her dark hair flowing over her back, her upper arms bare, the cotton of her nightgown covering her chest. She looks worried. He hasn’t seen her this worried before. He scrambles up, takes her hand in his. “No matter what it is, I am sure we can handle it together. Is there anything wrong with Mary?”
“Oh, Mary is fine. You’ve seen her. She loves having you around about as much as I do.” A warmth temporarily chased the utter worry from her face, making her look radiant and content.
“Then what? Laura. You must tell me, I am getting anxious.” She squeezes his hand and takes a deep breath.
“Alright.” Again she clears her throat, looking at him, almost imploringly, as if she wants him to understand without her saying it.
“I think I might be with child...” Her voice quavers.
He stares at her. “What... I mean... What are you saying? Are you pregnant?”
“Probably... yes...” A tear falls from her lashes on her cheek. He touches it, unsure what to do, what to say. He is rejoicing, he feels it starting deep within him, the joy flowing from him as he folds his wife in a warm embrace, kissing her hair, her brow, her cheeks. She smiles that sad smile again.
He gently places his hand flat on her belly, where he supposes their child is growing. His smile is so wide, it is starting to hurt his face.
“That is wonderful. Just... I don’t have words. Are you sure?” He rambles, he can’t help it.
“I can’t be sure... but I am going to see Doctor McGill tomorrow. And it all seems to fit. It’s just how it was with Mary...” Her words come quietly. There is none of the melodic quality he loves so much.
“You aren’t happy with it, are you.” He states. A sense of dread settles inside his stomach.
She pinches the bridge of her nose. “If I were younger, if I didn’t know what I know... If I weren’t so scared, I would be delighted.” She tries to explain. “But I’m old, I had not expected this to happen. There’s such a chance I might die and you’ll be stuck here, in a time that isn’t your own, with a stepdaughter, who might blame you and there might not be a live child...”
Her pain is so obvious to him now. He has to remind himself that 1897 isn’t the new millennium. He has to remind himself that women died frequently in childbirth. He has to remind himself that children didn’t have much of a chance to reach the age of five. He opens his arms wide and envelopes Laura, who is sobbing.
Carefully he scrunches down the sheets, holding her close, wrapping the bedclothes around them.
“Hey...” He kisses her hair again, touches her cheek. “It’s alright. You see the doctor tomorrow. And if it’s... what you think it is, I will take the very best care of you. I will share all I know about pregnancy and childbirth from my time. I will be by your side whenever I can, I will help you with whatever you need.” He keeps kissing her, strokes her back, tries to convey how happy he is.
Her sobs subside. She sighs deeply, wipes the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand.
“So you are not angry?” She whispers the words, unable to find her voice.
“Angry? How could I possibly be angry? You are giving me the greatest gift anyone could ever give me. You are my wife, we are raising your daughter together who is calling me ‘dad’ now - I never thought we’d be lucky enough to experience this. You’re going to be the mother of a new child that is safely growing inside you, contentedly and happily. Yours and mine. It’s amazing.” He wants to add: a miracle, but he doesn’t.
“So, you’ll be pleased if...”
“Yes. Yes. Absolutely. Never doubt it. You hear me? Don’t doubt that I will always love you and that I will be so happy, so honoured, so... I don’t know... ” Again he puts his hand on the flat belly of his wife and softly strokes the skin.
“I can’t believe it... we’re having a baby...” He sounds surprised, in complete wonderment.
“Yes...” She snuggles up even closer, puts her small hand on his. “We’re having a baby...”
Charlie is typesetting when she comes in. Fred has gone out on an errand. Charlie swoops around as he hears the door open and close.
“And?” It’s clear what he means. It couldn’t mean anything else. He feels his heart thundering, it almost hurts. His nerves have been frayed since she left, telling him he couldn’t come along. He tried to tell her in his original time, men did come to appointments like this. She scoffed, smirked and turned on her heel.
“I’ll be back as soon as I’m done.”
She turned back and kissed him again. He held her close, wanted to tell her that any outcome would be alright, that they would be alright, that he loved her more than words could express, but he couldn’t find the sound within him, his voice incapacitated. Now she stood there in the doorway, again turning, closing the door behind her. He was with her in three strides and he took her hand in his.
“Well?” His hand is clammy, hers is fresh. The late September wind has blown against it.
From far, from deep within a tiny smile appears, widening second by second. She nods. Perhaps she has lost her voice too, maybe things are too big to capture in words. He squeezes her hand.
Again she nods, takes a breath. Finally she speaks. “A brother or sister for Mary...”
He takes her in his arms, holds her tenderly, careful not to press her too hard, but she puts her arms around him, almost crashes into him, her lips finding his.
When she lets him go, he smiles. “Are you happy?”
“Very. And the doctor told me that I am in perfect health and said not to worry. Worry is bad for the baby...” Her voice is a mere whisper when it reaches that final word.
Charles is beside himself with happiness. Exactly that what he had longed for was now within his grasp. The love of a woman who loved him for who he was, not for what he might be. A beautiful daughter, smart as a whip. A baby on the way. He had hoped it would happen, tried to keep his wish from Laura as much as he could, not wanting to put pressure on her. She had told him how hard it had been for her to conceive Mary and that it might not happen. He had respected that, had kept his wish at a distance.
She had hid her pregnancy well. He had had no idea. He had seen her fatigue and he had seen how she didn’t eat much at times and then a lot at others, but the famous nausea had been craftily kept from him.
“When does the doctor think this baby will join our family?” He wants to put his hand against her stomach, but he is afraid Fred might come in. He is sure Laura doesn’t want to tell people yet. He doesn’t know how things are done in this era. He will let her take the lead in this.
“Late spring.” She grins.
“What?” He feels confused.
She whispers in his ear and now he understands why she grins.
“Just in time for our anniversary...”
“Yes...” Their lips meet and they don’t let up when Fred comes in, who takes one look and turns around again, leaving the couple to it.