"Bridget, what would you like for dinner tonight?" It was an infrequent Saturday when they didn't have dinner plans out, either with friends or by themselves. He was the cook in the family, by his choice; she was a disaster in the kitchen, and he truly enjoyed preparing their meals. Mark offered to make something she preferred, especially since being so far along in her pregnancy, he wasn't sure what may or may not agree with her.
"Hmmm," she thought out loud. "How about spaghetti with your famous meatballs! And garlic bread with a salad? I can make the salad," she offered with a big grin.
Thinking that it sounded like she had a cast-iron stomach if her choice of food was any indication, he pulled her into his arms, finding it more difficult each day to wrap them totally around her. At seven and a half months along, she had become quite large, having gained almost two stone. He absolutely loved how she looked carrying their child. It seemed that no matter how often he told her, though, she tsked him, and although she always thanked him for the compliment, he couldn't help but feel that she felt overweight. Maybe it went back to her younger days, as he clearly recalled that she was sensitive about her weight and had kept her diary based on calories and alcohol units consumed along with fags smoked. At least she wasn't smoking anymore, nor drinking while pregnant.
"Darling, come here," he said, gently pulling her onto his lap on the sofa.
"Mark, I'll crush your legs!" she exclaimed, laughing as she gracelessly fell onto him, being too top-heavy to sit gently.
"No, you won't. I'm over six feet and your slight weight gain-"
"Slight?!" she interrupted. He could sense her mood change rapidly, as it was wont to do lately.
Continuing as if speaking to a young child, he patiently said, "As I was saying, your weight gain isn't going to hurt me. You must be exhausted."
"Yes, I fucking am. Thank you for noticing. Sometimes I just want to be acknowledged for the amount of effort that pregnancy really is. It's a lot of work – physically, mentally, and emotionally. So to hear you validate the fact that I'm barely staying on my feet is huge. I know you're doing a lot of work during this pregnancy. But, it's participation trophy-level work. I'm in the game, taking the hits, pushing the human body's boundaries, and getting beat to hell from the inside and the outside. Your compliments and a pat on the back are nice, but the recognition of the grueling aspects of lugging around a baby for nine months would be even better!"
After her outburst, she seemed spent, looking at him with dampness in her eyes, trying not to cry when he had been so lovely to her, never losing his temper, being so very supportive of her mood swings, hunger pains, and crazy food cravings. After talking to her friends, including Tom, they all agreed that he deserved an award for "best father-to-be," far surpassing anything that Giles, Fergus, or Eduardo had come close to doing for their spouse during their pregnancies or adoption in Tom's case.
"Are you all right?" he gently asked.
"Yes. And I'm sorry for my outburst," she apologized. "You do know that I appreciate everything you do... have done?" A few tears escaped and were softly spilling onto her cheeks now. He reached over with his thumb and wiped them away.
"You know I'd do more if I could? I can't help you physically carry the baby, but I can pitch in around the house, lend a hand with any errands you may have? When do you stop filming? Do you think that'll make it any easier?"
"I spoke to Daniel. We think I can do one more show after this one, so three additional weeks. He tried to say this would be our last show, but I convinced him otherwise-"
"Bridget, do you think that's wise? If Daniel can do the last show on his own...?"
"I'm fine, Mark. It's just that I become overwhelmed at times. It's almost like a panic attack. I've spoken to my doctor, and she says it's hormone fluctuations. Most times, I'm good; it's just now and then. I'm sorry you're usually the one on the receiving end of my eruptions." With that, she leaned over and kissed him.
"Why don't we go upstairs and take a nap? We've no plans for this afternoon. I'll run to Tesco before dinner to get the last few items I'll need. How does that sound?"
Mark let Bridget sleep all afternoon. After getting up to run to the store, he made sure to leave a note saying where he'd gone, but upon his return, he found her still asleep in their room.
Starting dinner, he even made the salads so she wouldn't need to. On the table, he had lit a candle and put some fresh flowers out in a vase. Once Mark completed the prep work, he went upstairs to wake her for dinner. He was surprised she'd slept so long, usually getting hungry earlier than their normal dinner time and having taken to eating several snacks throughout the day. Hence, she wasn't ravenous by supper.
Gently sitting on the bed, next to her sleeping form, he bent and kissed her forehead. She stirred, stretched, and yawned, looking up at him. "What time is it?" she asked with a voice rough from sleep.
"Just after seven. I figured if you weren't awake, you must have needed the rest."
"Thank you," she said, smiling up at him, "I'm starving! Is that red sauce I smell?"
"Yes, should be ready in a half-hour. Why don't you freshen up and come down when you're done?"
Several minutes later, as Mark was putting the garlic bread in the oven, Bridget came in from behind, trying but failing to surprise him when she couldn't get her arms around his waist. Laughing, she then pulled out a bottle of Italian wine from the pantry.
"What's that for?" Mark asked with a bit of concern, thinking she meant to have a glass of wine with dinner.
"For you!" she said. "I got it yesterday while I was out. I think the cashier thought I was buying it for myself though with the disapproving look she gave. Thank you for making me a wonderful dinner and being so helpful. And the flowers are gorgeous!"
"You know I said I wouldn't drink around you since you can't enjoy it too. I really don't mind."
"I know, but I wanted to thank you for everything you do. Cooking me food being only one of them. Just because I can't partake doesn't mean you shouldn't. It's your favorite, a Brunello."
She moved over to the counter, opening the bottle and pouring him a glass. Turning, she handed it to him with a smile, her blue eyes bright with excitement at having surprised him. "Here, enjoy it for both of us!"
Taking the glass from her, he sipped it slowly. "Thank you. That was very thoughtful. And it's excellent," he said, bending over to kiss her.
"You're welcome. Now, what can I do to help? Fix the salads?"
"Nope, already taken care of. Just sit down, and dinner will be ready in five minutes."
While he busied himself with getting the salad bowls on the table after putting the pasta on to boil, she walked over and sat down.
"So, nice nap?" he asked her from over his shoulder.
"Yes, but you shouldn't have let me go so long. I hope I'm not up all night now!"
"You'll be fine. Not only are you eating for two, but you're also sleeping for two. I bet you're out by 9:00," he prognosticated. "Especially after a large bowl of meatballs with sauce."
When Mark got up to clear the salad plates and serve up the main course, he saw that she now had a small container of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream on the table in front of her.
"Are you going straight for the pudding then?" he asked with disbelief.
"No, not at all," she answered rather smugly.
He set both plates down, along with the breadbasket, keeping an eye on what she was going to do.
After spooning some Parmesan onto her spaghetti, she dug in with relish. "Mark, this is divine! If you ever tire of practicing law, you could open a restaurant."
"Thank you." Smiling, he took a sip of the delicious wine that she had bought, still watching her closely.
Her next bite was from the ice cream carton. After swallowing and having a sip of water, she then wound some pasta around her fork, picking up a slice of garlic bread with her other hand. These alternating bites of ice cream and spaghetti went on until her bowl and the container was empty, not to mention several pieces of the bread. Mark didn't say anything to her about what he thought was possibly the strangest combination of foods he'd ever seen eaten together, and they continued to talk as if it were a regular meal.
Looking at him and smiling, she said, "No shame. It was so good!"
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," he said and laughed. "I just hope you don't have indigestion after that combination. And the real question is, do you want pudding now?"
Mark's parents' invited him and Bridget to lunch at their home. Also attending would be Bridget's mum and dad. They were planning on staying the night and returning late Sunday afternoon. Both had been so busy that they hadn't made it back to Grafton Underwood in over a month, and Mark's mother had been asking them weekly when she might see them, even suggesting if it would be easier for her and Malcolm to come down to London and stay with them. Mark had told her what his mother had said, and she immediately cleared her schedule of work commitments, lunch with friends, and shopping to make time for the drive. She, of course, wanted to visit with her parents but certainly had a soft spot for Elaine.
Since they were driving north, she asked if they could stop at Hello Baby in St. Albans, it being only slightly out of their way. Jude and Tom had been singing the store's praises, and she wanted to get a sheet set for the baby's cot that she had spotted online. At slightly over five months along, she could still ambulate fairly easily and thought this would be the perfect time to get Mark into the store that she'd wanted to visit. She had already registered online and knew that the sheets she coveted had a limited quantity remaining and therefore didn't want to wait for her shower, as her mum had suggested.
After pulling into the car park in front of the store, Mark quickly jumped out to get Bridget's door and help her up and out. "Are you able to get up on your own? Here, give me your hand."
Reaching out to him, he took her hand and pulled up until their grasp slipped, and she fell back onto the seat, dissolving into laughter. "Bridget! Are you okay?" he asked, thinking she may have hurt herself and fighting back the urge to laugh along.
"Yes!" she said with a smile. "Although I think I'm heavier than you realize. Here, let me try on my own, may be easier." With that said, she used the car door for leverage, and although he hovered over her, wanting to lend a hand, she managed to get up and out quickly.
While heading towards the door, she snorted, "Can't wait to try that at eight months; I'm sure to be graceful as a ballerina."
Once inside, she went to the help desk, inquiring after the sheets she had in mind. While she spoke with the clerk, Mark wandered over to the onesies section and was perusing them quite seriously. With the bedding in hand (and with it being the last set in stock and therefore feeling extremely pleased they had stopped), she continued discussing the pram models' differences. Bridget ended up changing the one she had initially had on her registry to a newer version at the salesperson's suggestion. Pulling out her mobile, reading product reviews on her phone while standing perpendicular to her husband as he walked up, she provided him a complete profile shot.
"Bridget... you're so very pregnant, pregnant! I absolutely love it!" He bent down and lightly brushed her lips with his, pulling her tight for an impromptu hug, right in front of not only the employees but also several women who were shopping.
Blushing slightly, as the sales girls giggled and mooned over Mark and his comment, she allowed him to hold her, loving how much he had changed since they'd gotten back together, married and now expecting.
Sighing in her happiness, she felt a small poke in her side. Looking down, she spotted several items in his left hand. Sniffling a little to cover up the emotions threatening to spill over, she wiped at her eyes, asking him, "Mark, what have you picked up?" noticing the onesies he had were decorated in the colours of Newcastle United Football Club. One was a girl's with some pink mixed in, and the other was definitely for a little boy.
"Got one of each. Just planning for all contingencies," Mark said with a large grin. The last doctor appointment they had recently been to concluded with Dr. Rawlings' inclination that the baby's sex was male due to an extra appendage that could be spotted quite blatantly. So while the consensus was a boy, they wouldn't honestly know for sure until the baby's appearance. She had the sonogram picture with her to share with both her and Mark's parents.
Resuming their drive once more, Mark seemed almost giddy. "What are you so chuffed about?" she asked him with a smile, pleased at how relaxed they were to be away from London and the craziness of their busy lives.
"Can you tell then?"
"I certainly notice that you can't keep the grin off your face. And it becomes you, I might add. But what's causing it?" she asked, knowing full well that it was their current situation as newlyweds and a baby on the way soon, to make them a true family. He told her this practically every day, in words and action. Whether being solicitous of her every crazy, hormonal whim or when they made love, as he held her after, whispering his adoration into her hair, holding her close until she fell asleep in his arms. It seemed that Mark was being as good as his word proving to her that he had indeed changed and was opening up more than she thought possible.
His answer surprised her when he said, "I can't believe I've found a Newcastle onesie! Wait until Giles sees it. I'll have to bring them to work on Monday. I'm honestly surprised that they had it in a girl's, the boy's I fully expected to find."
Laughing at his unexpected answer, she leaned over and kissed his jawline, just enjoying how happy he always seemed lately. "So, if it is a boy? What will you do with the extra onesie?"
Turning quickly to not have his eyes off the road for too long, he gave her a sideways look, conveying that he thought that a rather obvious answer.
"Oh!" came her retort. "You're already planning for another and a girl then? Let's get one out of the way first; then we can talk!" Her laughter while saying this showed that she wasn't opposed to the idea, but he did suppose he may have been putting the cart before the horse.
At Mark's parents, they had barely made it in the door, having knocked loudly and letting themselves in the unlocked entry, before Elaine and even Malcolm were greeting them, exclaiming how beautiful Bridget looked in her pregnancy.
"My dear," said Elaine, "I had Mark at a much younger age than you are, and I don't recall looking half as radiant! Whatever you're doing, you mustn't stop. Hopefully, my son's taking care of your every whim?" At that, she looked pointedly at Mark, to which Bridget immediately answered with a kiss to her cheek and a hug, saying, "Elaine, you certainly taught him well. I honestly couldn't have gotten a better husband if I'd ordered him from the top spouse catalogue!" She then kissed her father-in-law, standing on tiptoes to brush his cheek. He astonished her by pulling her into a warm embrace, asking, "How's that grandchild of ours coming? Can't wait to meet him or her!"
Mark's mother told them that lunch would be at one, so they headed upstairs to put their bags away and have a short nap suggested by Elaine after their drive. Bridget fell asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow, leaving Mark to his thoughts as he lay beside her, holding her. They were in the same room that they had first made love in after becoming engaged. It seemed like an age ago but counting back, it was only slightly more than five months. So much had happened in the intervening time; their marriage, a new home, and now a baby just a few more months away. When he and Camilla had mutually decided to end their marriage, he had no idea at the time that he'd end up with the true love of his life. He had thought about Bridget quite often and was fortunate enough to work with Jeremy and therefore able to keep apprised of her life through his wife, Magda. There were several boyfriends over the ensuing years, one in particular that she was serious with. Jeremy told him that he had served in the military and was now a school guidance counselor or teacher. But even that relationship had ended. The timing of his marriage ending and the seeming lull in her love life was fortuitous for both of them; more recently, he had briefly dated Kathryn, and Bridget told him about an American entrepreneur that she had seen several times. But it seemed they were destined to be together when they both served as godparents for Jude and Giles' new baby. The passion they shared that night when they had kissed, both on their walk in the courtyard of the beautiful country home and then when they had made love upstairs in his room, proved to Mark that he'd never get her out of his system. Still, after how she left so abruptly before morning, along with the note she put on the pillow, told him all he needed to know about Bridget's state of mind where he was concerned. That was when he decided to change his job and had thrown out the idea to Jeremy about the new department. Even with all that, he didn't anticipate what he had with her presently; feeling at the time no matter what else transpired in his love life, if he wanted a relationship to work, there would need to be changes on his part. He could have stayed with Camilla and continued as they were with the constant travel for both of them; he also could have chosen to be with someone that would make the perfect barrister's wife. But he knew in the long run that neither of those options would work permanently. No matter what he did, he would always love her more than anyone. Kissing her cheek, he quietly disentangled himself and, after quickly freshening up, walked downstairs to visit with his parents.
"Mark! Did you get some rest? How's Bridget?" asked Elaine from the kitchen as he kissed her on the cheek. Turning, she asked, "What's that for?"
"Do I have to have a reason?" he said with a smile. "Actually, there is a reason," Mark said as he took a glass down from the cupboard and went to the sink and filled it. Taking a long drink and swallowing, he then confessed, "Mother, thank you and father for your support of Bridget and myself. You've never scolded me for any of my decisions, and I do appreciate it."
At his words, she walked over to her son and, reaching up, put a hand on his cheek, saying, "You will always have our support. We may not always agree with your choices and may even give our opinion, but in the end, they are yours to make, for better or worse. I've said this before; I've not seen you as happy as when you're with Bridget. There may be women that are more compatible with your lifestyle and career, but Mark, have you ever loved anyone as you have her?" The look on his face provided her his answer. "I thought not. The course of true love never does run smoothly; sometimes, it takes a few tries with a person before you work. Don't question the choices you made; they're in the past now. But those choices, by you and her, are what's led you both to this point. And now you have a beautiful wife and baby on the way. We couldn't be happier for you." He pulled her into a hug, so very thankful to have a parent as wise and understanding as she. Sniffling and wiping at her eyes, she pulled away and told him, "Your father and I love you and Bridget very much, although you both may be supplanted once our grandchild arrives." After saying this, she turned to finish getting the table ready for their guests, asking Mark to help her carry some items out to the large dining room.
As Mark was walking to the table, he heard the front bell ring. Just as he started moving to let in Bridget's parents, he heard his father call out that he was answering the door. Moving up behind his dad, he greeted his in-laws with a kiss on the cheek for Pam and a handshake for Colin, after which he was then pulled into a hug by his father-in-law.
Looking over Mark's shoulder, Pam exclaimed as she observed Bridget coming down the stairs, "Oh my godfathers, Bridget! Turn around; I want to see you from all sides."
Laughing at her mum's request, she did her best pirouette for being as ungainly as she was. When she joined the group at the door, she first gave her father a kiss and hug, followed by her mum. Mark offered to take the bottle of wine and dessert that the Joneses had brought, while Bridget led them into the drawing-room, saying that lunch would be in half an hour.
While all were chatting, Bridget asked if she could get anyone a beverage and then went to the kitchen to help Elaine procure the drinks.
"Dear, what can I get you?" asked Mark's mother of her.
"My mum and dad would like a water, Mark and Malcolm are fine, and I'll be back to help you with anything you may need." After delivering the beverages, she then returned to help Elaine with the meal, leaving the others to chat.
The aroma of the cooking food had Bridget's mouth-watering. "Elaine, that roast chicken smells divine! Can I do the mashing? Even though Mark says I'm rubbish as a cook, I can do potatoes. At least after they're finished boiling," she laughed. Taking the hand masher, she then added a little milk and butter to the drained potatoes, working them into a lovely dish, adding a little salt and pepper for flavor.
"Thank you," said Elaine as she pulled the finished chicken out of the oven, along with the asparagus that she had roasted. Plating everything, they both carried the food out to the table while Bridget called to all that lunch was being served.
Once seated and with a full plate in front of them, they dug in, with Malcolm saying to his wife, "You have outdone yourself! Pam and Colin, if she cooks like this when you visit, you're welcome to come again tomorrow!"
Pam, Colin, Mark, and Bridget echoed the compliment as the conversation continued at the dinner table, with both of them catching their parents up on their busy days. Mark expounded on a case that one of his direct reports was handling. "I'd like to step back on this one, really see how Kate handles and directs Jonathan. I'm pleasantly surprised how easily she and Robert have taken to their roles, really only coming to me as a last resort. I'm almost feeling a bit redundant," he laughed, "but it does provide me more time to spend with the younger, less experienced of the group and to plan and attend to the promotion of the department."
"Bridget, how's your job? We've watched every show you've done and enjoyed them so much," asked Malcolm.
"We just got word that after a four-month hiatus for the baby, our second season will be for sixteen shows, up from the twelve of our original contract." She looked at Mark, saying, "It's still every two weeks, but maybe now's the time to discuss that nanny?" Mark had suggested a nanny if Bridget wanted to continue to work full time. Their other option was child care outside the home, but that would still require schedule upheavals for drop off and pick up due to the nature of their jobs.
Pam then chimed in with, "If only you two lived closer, I'm sure Elaine and I could watch our grandchild! And think of the money you could save!"
At that, Bridget stepped hard on Mark's foot under the table, almost causing him to drop his fork in surprise. She knew her mum's heart was in the right place but couldn't help but feel that Pam would be overwhelmed watching an infant for more than several hours at a time.
Changing the subject, Bridget laughingly confessed, "I may have caused a poor girl to have a heart attack last week. Mark, may not have told you this," she said with a sideways glance at her husband. "I was in Pret with Tom, getting coffee, and she was behind us in line and said to me, 'You know, you should be drinking decaf when you're pregnant.' To which I replied with a grave face, 'I'm not pregnant.' She apologized all over herself, saying she was so, so sorry, to which Tom tells her, 'And that's what you get for giving unsolicited advice.' I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself; it just came out! Dr. Rawlings has said a twelve-ounce cup a day is perfectly safe. She honestly had it coming!"
Mark gave her a disapproving look but couldn't help the chuckle that escaped him. Her father and Malcolm were also laughing heartily along with Elaine. It seemed Bridget's mum was the only one that kept a straight face until she too allowed a smile, admonishing her daughter by saying, "Bridget Darcy, that poor woman was probably mortified. When you and Tom get together, I just don't know!"
"Mum, Elaine, do the hormone swings last the entire pregnancy? Just the other night, at 3:37 AM, I found myself near tears thinking about the Titanic."
Mark's eyes widened at her confession. "Why didn't you wake me? I could have consoled you, helped you fall back to sleep."
"Mark," she replied, giving him a look. "It was over a hundred years ago! There's nothing you could do. There's no rhyme or reason as to what sets me off right now, and you wouldn't get any sleep if I woke you every time this happened," she said and laughed. At least she could still smile about it. "Baby brain is real. I shouldn't be allowed to operate heavy equipment, including my mobile!"
Slightly concerned about her daughter's behavior, Pam asked Mark, "How are you holding up, dear? I don't recall having any issues when I was pregnant with Bridget. Colin, do you remember going through anything like this?"
Colin looked like a deer caught in headlamps while Pam continued, not waiting for him to answer. His sigh of relief at narrowly escaping having to remind her of much of the same issues was noted by Mark and Bridget. Bridget discreetly reached over and patted her dad's hand, giving him a sympathetic smile.
Pam stopped talking then and looked at Mark, waiting on his answer. He had honestly lost track of her question, so hoped it would suffice when he responded with, "I know I have pregnant wife problems when she talks about food in ways she never talked about me." His grin as he said this showed he didn't mind her erratic behavior in the least, reaching over and taking her hand. "Oh, and second dinner is a real thing now. I'd say our grocery bill has definitely increased in the last few weeks."
"Mark!" laughed Bridget, clearly not offended by his honesty. "Or how 'bout the morning last week that I woke up and said 'hi,' to which you said 'hi' back?" Bridget was laughing so hard now she had tears in her eyes. Mark finished for her, clarifying that she had said "Pie" first thing upon waking.
It did Elaine's heart good to watch her son and Bridget banter and laugh about their baby. As happy as he seemed in his life right now, she thought herself even more content, as she remembered back to his wedding toast when he told her and Malcolm that he had found his true love.