Stephanie stared down at her feet then up at Eric. “I am not having my picture taken barefoot.”
Eric chuckled. “But that’s how you wore this outfit. Besides, you had your picture taken barefoot for the wedding,” he reminded her.
She scowled. “That was different. From the distance those pictures were taken, you couldn’t see I wasn’t wearing shoes. This time you can see it clearly, especially in this,” she pointed down at the skirt of her sun dress. “It’s bad enough I’m wearing a dress.”
“A dress you look stunning in, Mom.” Thorne told her as he came up behind her, gently squeezing her shoulders as he pressed a kiss to her temple. “Shoes would ruin the look. This is a dress for the beach, and shoes don’t work well at the beach.”
“You are not helping,” she looked back at him, her eyes soft with love for her son.
“I am. I’m telling you how beautiful you look to give you the courage to go out there barefoot.” Thorne smiled at her and tugged at her hand. “Come on. They’re getting restless.”
“And there’s only one more outfit to go.” Eric winked at her. “Then I believe the girls have a surprise for you.”
Looking between her two men, then back down at her feet, Stephanie sighed and gave in. “Alright. Let’s get this over with.”
“That’s my girl.” Eric whispered as he took her other hand, winking at Thorne over her head.
“And your polish matches the dress, Mom.” Thorne chuckled when she scowled up at him.
Kissing her cheek, Thorne let go of her hand and went ahead of them. “I’ll tell them you’re on your way.”
“Thanks, Son.” Eric called out to him then looked down at Stephanie. “Are you having fun, Sweet girl?”
Smiling up at him, she nodded. “Actually, I am. Bare feet, aside.”
Eric laughed. “You have cute feet.”
“I do not. They’re old feet.”
“Still cute feet.”
She shook her head. “Let’s just get this set over with. What outfit am I wearing next?”
“The loose pants and top.”
“The one that the top won’t stay on my shoulder?” She smirked up at him. “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?”
He shrugged. “Can I help it if I like to have easy access to your soft skin?”
“You’re hopeless,” she sighed, titling her face up to kiss him lightly on the lips, not realizing they were being caught on camera.
Thorne smiled, knowing that his parents probably wouldn’t allow the picture to be used, but knowing that he was going to get a copy of it for his own personal collection. “Alright, you two.”
Stephanie chuckled as she pulled back and looked at her son, all signs of them having been caught gone as the photographer had moved to where he wanted them for his official shots. “It’s all your father’s fault.”
Eric shook his head. “I can’t help it that I’m so in love with my wife.”
“Sap,” she murmured as she followed him to the garden.
Eric stood looking down at Stephanie as they waited for the photographer, again unaware they were being caught on camera. His mind was memorizing how beautiful she looked among the flowers of her garden, the sun glinting off her hair. This was another of those moments that would wind up in his sketch book. “You’re beautiful,” he whispered, reaching out to pick a flower, tucking it behind her ear.
“Eric,” she murmured. “They won’t want that in my hair. Besides, I’m too old for that sort of thing.” She reached up to remove the flower, then paused when she heard the photographer tell her to leave it.
“Leave the flower, Mrs. Forrester. At least for one shot.” Carmen smiled at her.
Stephanie sighed, “Why do I feel like I’m being ganged up on?”
Carmen laughed along with Thorne and Eric. “It’s lovely, Mrs. Forrester, and it fits with the theme of this set. I promise you can take it out after I get this shot.”
“Alright,” she gave in, smiling at the man.
“You do realize she’s going to have your head when she sees the candids, right?” Thorne whispered.
Carmen smiled as he lifted his camera. “No she won’t. Not when she sees how beautiful she looks.”
Eric pulled Stephanie close, holding her so that she was resting easily against his chest, his hands holding hers as they stood facing the camera. “I think this is my favorite of your new outfits,” he whispered just before the camera flashed.
Looking up at him, she smiled. “I thought that lace number was?” she countered, her voice low.
Eric felt the heat rise inside him at the mention of the lace negligee she’d worn on their wedding night. Lifting their hands, he curled their arms around her and squeezed gently. “Will you wear it for me,” his voice dropped even lower as he finished, “later?”
Stephanie’s blue eyes sparked with passion as she looked up at Eric just in time for Carmen to snap a shot. Startled by the flash, she looked away from Eric and found Carmen and everyone around them smiling stupidly at them. “That doesn’t go in the magazine,” she told them.
Thorne nodded. “Yes, it does, Mom.”
“Thorne,” she warned.
“Mrs. Forrester, please?” Carmen asked, deciding to give up the secret of his candid shots from the whole day. “I have a lot of shots of the two of you, wonderful shots, but not what we’re looking for.” He bit his lip then continued. “Then I have candid shots that I’ve gotten of the two of you when you didn’t realize I was watching. They’re beautiful. They’re alive. They’re exactly what the article needs.”
Stephanie blinked in surprise then looked up at Eric, her cheeks flushing as she thought of some of the things they’d been doing when they thought no one was paying attention. “Carmen, I,” she started, but the photographer held up his hand.
“I promise there aren’t any really intimate ones, but, Mrs. Forrester…this is about a love story. This is to show women of all ages that true, real, love is possible. The clothes you’ve been wearing today were designed for you by your husband and you can see the love that went in to each design by the way they fit you, compliment you, bring out the beauty of those stunning eyes. Every woman wants to believe that they can go through troubles and trials and still have the love of their life. The two of you are the perfect example of that.”
“Let’s just look at the shots, Stephanie. He’ll let us choose which ones to use.” Eric lifted one of her hands and kissed it. “I want the world to know how much I love you, and if it shows in the candid shots, I want to use those.”
“But not too personal?” she asked, turning to look back at Carmen.
Carmen shook his head when she looked at him. “I promise. The most personal thing I have is a few shots of the two of you sharing some kisses.”
“Okay. We’ll look at them and see.”
Eric smiled at her. “Thank you,” he whispered before gently kissing her, chuckling when he heard the snap of the camera.
Stephanie sighed, “We’ve been caught again.”
“I suppose we have.” Eric whispered back before turning to look at Carmen. “Now, since we’ve decided to do the candids, do you need more shots of us in these outfits?”
“No. I have plenty. While you go and change, I’ll get things set up for you to view what I’ve got.”
Stephanie cleared her throat and coughed, looking up at Eric with a frown as she squeezed his hand. She didn’t want to have a coughing spell in front of all these people, but it would seem that it was inevitable because there was no way she would be able to make it inside while coughing like she was.
Eric held her close, his hand gently rubbing her back. Whispering thank you to Thorne when he held out a glass of water, he helped her sip from it, then handed it back when she was done. “Easy, Sweet girl. Easy,” he soothed as he continued to rub her back, holding her steady against him.
Stephanie sighed, thankful that this spell wasn’t one of the bad ones, but drained none the less. Resting her forehead against Eric’s chin, she felt him tilt his head down to press a kiss to her hair.
Carmen couldn’t help it, the pose was too wonderful to pass up, one that he just knew was the perfect pose to end the article with. Stephanie’s face was finally calm, her skin a bit paler than normal, as she rested against Eric. The top of her outfit had slipped again, showing off a lovely, pale shoulder. The light breeze that had picked up, moved the loose fabric of her clothes about her as Eric pressed a kiss to her forehead, his arms holding her close as she rested her hands on his chest. Snapping a couple of shots, he turned to find Thorne staring at him.
“If we can convince her to let you use that shot, the magazine will need a second printing.” Thorne whispered, following when Carmen turned away, moving to where his stuff was sitting on a nearby table.
“Your mother doesn’t realize how beautiful she is, does she?” Carmen asked as he sat down, opening his laptop to get started setting things up for them to view the pictures.
Thorne looked to where his parents still stood, his father easily comforting his mother. “No, she doesn’t. She never has. No one has ever given her reason to.”
“He is.” Carmen whispered as he looked up to see Eric tenderly caressing Stephanie’s face.
“Yes, he is.”
Stephanie opened her eyes, smiling when she looked up into the blue eyes of her baby. “Hey,” she whispered.
“Hey.” Felicia echoed. “Are you ready for your surprise now?”
“I thought I’d ruined that. I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t ruin it. Just delayed it a bit, that’s all.” Felicia kissed her mother’s forehead. “I’m going to go tell the others you’re awake.” She got up and headed for the door. “Don’t rush.”
“Okay.” Stephanie sighed and sat up, smiling when she heard the door open again. “Hello, Honey.”
“Hey,” came his quiet response. “How are you feeling?” he asked as he sat down beside her, caressing her cheek.
“So, do you know how I should dress for this surprise of mine? I know your shirt won’t work.”
Eric chuckled. “The loose pants and top will work.”
“You just want to see me fuss with it falling off my shoulder.”
“Well, that does sound appealing, but no. I won’t be seeing you fussing with it. At least for a while.”
“Oh?” she asked, an eyebrow raising in question.
“Yes. And that’s all I’m saying. Now, go on. Get dressed. I’ll be right here.”
She smiled as she stood up, leaning over to kiss him softly. “Thank you for today.”
“For helping me when I started coughing. You knew I didn’t want to have an attack in front of everyone and you kept me from getting upset.”
“Just doing what I’m supposed to as the man who loves you; taking care of you.”
“Supposed to?” she asked.
Eric nodded. “Supposed to. Wants to. Loves to.” He stood up, taking her in his arms. “Needs to,” he whispered.
“Why needs to?”
“Because,” he started then rested his forehead against hers. “Because I have so much to make up for. So many years of neglecting you, taking you for granted. I need to do this to make you see that I’ve changed, that I know how much I’ve hurt you in the past.”
“Shh,” she breathed as she touched her fingers to his lips. “I do know. You don’t have to keep proving it to me.”
He nodded. “Then I need to keep proving it to me.”
Smiling, she kissed him then pulled away. “I’m going to get ready now. We don’t want our daughter coming up here thinking we’re doing something naughty.”
Eric chuckled. “And she would too.”
Watching her grab her clothes from the chair he’d laid them on, Eric sighed when she stopped to wink at him just before she disappeared in the bathroom. Moving to his side of the bed, he opened the bottom drawer of his nightstand and lifted out the sketch pad and pencil he kept there. A sketch pad Stephanie didn’t know about. Sitting in the chair by the window, he opened it, smiling as he caressed the face in the image that greeted him on the first page.
“God, why did you give her to me?” he whispered as he stared at the drawing he’d done of Stephanie lying on her stomach with nothing but a sheet draped over her lower body, one leg peaking out, bent at the knee. He could close his eyes and still see her lying this way after their first time. The gentle rocking of the boat had lulled her to sleep after their latest love making, and he’d gotten up to look outside to make sure things were okay. When he’d turned back, he had stopped and stood staring, mesmerized at the stunning beauty of the woman he’d held in his arms through the night.
Flipping through the images to a blank page, he began to sketch again, another intimate memory of his wife, this time from their honeymoon. It was the same pose as the very first image, a pose he’d sketched several times down through the years, each one only changed by the passing of time.
“Daddy.” Felicia called, catching him off guard.
Hurriedly closing the pad and walking over to put it back in its hiding place, he turned just in time to see his daughter poking her head inside the partially open door. “What is it, Baby?”
“Is Mom okay?” Felicia asked, studying her father, wondering what it was he’d just put away.
“I’m fine, Baby.” Stephanie answered for him as she came into the bedroom. “I was just getting ready.”
“Okay. I thought maybe you’d started coughing again.” Felicia bit her lip. “Are you sure you’re up for this? We can change it to tomorrow.”
“Taylor’s going, isn’t she?” Eric asked as he reached for Stephanie’s hand.
Felicia nodded. “And so is Bridget.”
“Then your mother will be fine,” he reassured her then turned to Stephanie. “Just make sure to keep the strong smells to a minimum, and try to keep her as close to the fresh air as possible.”
Stephanie smiled up at him as they followed Felicia down the hall. “You sure you aren’t the doctor, Honey?”
He winked at her. “Well, I am the one that’s around you the most, and we proved last night that a lot of strong smells in a closed area bother you.”
She nodded. “True. So what set me off this afternoon?”
“Maybe the flowers we were standing by.” He looked down and frowned. “I probably set it off by putting the flower in your hair.”
Stopping at the bottom of the stairs, Stephanie tugged at his hand to get him to look at her. “Don’t, Honey,” she whispered.
Looking into her loving eyes, he got lost. “I just hate that I was so careless. I should have thought that it might bother you.”
Kissing his chin, she smiled up at him. “You can’t know it all, Honey.” She shrugged. “I wasn’t thinking, either. It’s hard to remember that things I’ve never had a problem with can now set off a coughing spell.”
Taylor smiled at her friends. “Once you have your surgery and get used to not having full lung capacity, the coughing spells should go away, and the things that trigger them now won’t bother you anymore.” She hugged Stephanie. “Until then, we’ll all be more careful of how much perfume we wear.”
“Something that all of us have done today.” Bridget spoke up as she and all the others came into view.
Stephanie looked around and smiled. “What’s this?”
“This is a girls’ afternoon out.” Jackie smiled at her friend. “We want to hear all about the wedding,”
“And the honeymoon.” Taylor added.
“Yeah, Steph.” Pam chimed in, smiling widely at her sister.
Felicia and Kristen groaned. “Uh, well,” they started making everyone laugh.
Steffy smiled. “I like that idea.”
“Me, too.” Aly added.
“Why is it our granddaughters have no problem when it comes to, well,” Eric started then shrugged. “But yet our daughters do?”
Stephanie shrugged. “Oh, well, Felicia doesn’t really have a problem with it. She is the one that asked us if we were having sex again when she caught us kissing at Christmas a few years ago.”
“Oh yeah.” Eric laughed. “She is.”
Pam stuttered and coughed. “She did what?”
Kristen stared at her sister. “You asked them that?” she asked, her eyes wide.
Felicia shrugged as she glared at her mother. “Well? What was I supposed to think? The way they were going at it right here in the foyer had to mean something.”
Stephanie rolled her eyes. “We were not going at it, as you say. We were simply standing, holding each other, and kissing. You know, things married people do.”
Jackie laughed. “Come on, ladies. Let’s take this discussion and go. Our limo is waiting.”
“Limo?” Stephanie asked.
“Limo.” Eric smiled. “How else do you suppose all of you ladies will get where you’re going?”
“Come on, Grandma.” Steffy and Aly said as they each took a hand. “We need to go. You can keep teasing aunt Felicia on the way.”
“Hey!” Felicia scowled as they all laughed.
“Bye, Sweetheart. Have a good time.” Eric winked as he pressed a kiss to Stephanie’s waiting lips.
“What are you going to do?” Stephanie asked as she returned his kiss.
“I’m going to enjoy some time with my son, son-in-law, and grandsons.”
“Grandsons? All of them?”
“All of them. Even baby Logan.”
Stephanie looked at Bridget. “Are you sure you want to leave the baby with these guys?” she asked, only half in jest.
“Hey!” Thorne protested. “I still remember how to take care of a baby.”
“So do I.” Eric growled.
“We’ll be fine, Stephanie.” Tony smiled at her. “Remember? I’m from a big family. I helped take care of the babies.”
“Okay.” She shook her head then turned and followed her granddaughters, daughters, sister, and friends out the door. “So…where are you taking me?” she asked as they all climbed into the limo.
“Well, we thought we’d spend a few hours at the spa getting massages, pedicures, manicures, all of that stuff.” Taylor answered, a twinkle in her eyes as she watched the dreamy look cross Stephanie’s face.
“A pedicure and manicure sounds lovely.” Stephanie smiled at all of them.
“Not a massage, Stephanie?” Jackie asked, also noting the look on Stephanie’s face.
Stephanie narrowed her eyes. “What are you two playing at?”
“Who? Us?” Jackie and Taylor asked simultaneously.
“Yes,” Stephanie started and pointed at them. “you.”
“Why not a thing, Darling. Not a thing.” Jackie answered, drawling out her accent making Stephanie roll her eyes.
Stephanie looked at her fingernails and shook her head. “How did I let you talk me into this?” she asked as she held up a finger, it’s bright pink polish with bright yellow flowers glinting in the sunlight filtering in through the open terrace doors.
Aly giggled. “I like it, Grandma.”
“Me, too, Grandma.” Steffy smiled when Stephanie wrinkled her nose at her.
“Eric will like it, I think.” Jackie added. “What do you think, Taylor?”
“I think he will.”
“Daddy will love it, Mom.” Felicia assured her mother.
“Especially when he notices that your toes match.” Kristen laughed at the look her mother gave her.
“Maybe he’ll design and make you another outfit to be worn with no shoes.” Bridget added with a chuckle.
“You can tell him that we kept you in the open air while they were doing it so you didn’t cough.” Pam smiled at her sister. “And I like Bridget’s idea. You’ve already got two outfits he designed to be worn without shoes. You know, your wedding outfit…” she reminded.
Stephanie sighed, “Oh brother. I knew I’d hear about that sooner or later.” She snarled her nose. “And Eric said no one would notice I wasn’t wearing shoes.”
“Well, he was wrong.” Taylor laughed. “But it was only one picture,” she soothed her friend’s grumble.
“We hear there are pictures coming out from your photo shoot earlier today that have you barefoot in them.” Jackie whispered, barely able to contain her laugh when she saw the look on Stephanie’s face.
Stephanie narrowed her eyes as she looked at her daughters. “And I wonder where you heard that from?”
Kristen shook her head. “Don’t look at me.”
“Ah, come on, Grandma. Those were wonderful pictures.” Steffy winked at her.
“Yeah, Grandma. You and Grandpa looked cute standing there in the grass with no shoes.”
“Oh brother.” Stephanie sighed.
“And your polish matched your dress.” Felicia chimed in.
“Now you sound like Thorne.” She shook her head and looked down at her toes. “That’s the line he used to get me to go along with the barefoot pose.”
“Great minds, you know.”
“Silly minds, is more like it.”
Felicia laughed and moved to hug her mother. “Now that all of our nails are dry, who wants a massage?” The question got a positive response from everyone but Stephanie. “Mom? This is the second time you’ve reacted this way at the mention of a massage.”
Stephanie looked out the terrace doors, her face softening as she smiled. “I don’t need a massage.”
Jackie raised an eyebrow. “It was that good, huh?” she asked, her voice low and conspiratorial.
“Mmm, magic fingers.” Stephanie answered, not really paying attention.
Jackie’s eyes widened as she looked around at the others, all of whom sat with the same expressions on their faces. “Just exactly what did you do on that island?” she asked, still keeping her voice low in the hopes that they’d get more out of Stephanie before she realized what she was doing.
Stephanie sighed and closed her eyes. “Made love in a four poster bed he had set up on the beach, took walks in the moonlight, danced, made love, cuddled and,” she stopped and opened her eyes, glaring at the women staring intently at her. “Oh for the love of,” she grumbled. “That was uncalled for.”
Pam giggled. “Now, Steph,” she started, pausing to laugh again.
Taylor burst out laughing along with the rest of the ladies. “What? We’re your friends, Stephanie. We wanted to know.”
“Not all of you are friends. Remember my daughters and granddaughters are here? And my sister?”
“And I think that’s the most romantic thing in the world, Grandma.” Aly smiled and wiped a tear from her cheek. “A bed on the beach so you could make love and cuddle in the wide open outdoors,” she sighed, a dreamy look on her face.
“Under the stars, with the ocean crashing in front of you.” Steffy added with a sigh. “I always knew Granddad was romantic, but wow.”
“They’re right, Steph. You’re one lucky lady.” Pam sighed.
Kristen reached over and clasped her mother’s hand. “I’m so happy that you had such a beautiful and wonderful honeymoon, Mom.”
Felicia sniffed as she got up and moved to her mother, wrapping her arms tightly around her. “I know you’re embarrassed, but thank you.”
Caressing the tears from her baby’s cheeks, Stephanie rested her hands there. “What for, Baby?”
“Because it gives me hope.”
“Oh, Baby.” Stephanie pulled her close once again, smiling at the others around them. “Alright. I’ll tell you more, but nothing very intimate.”
“So, I guess that means we won’t get to hear about the lingerie Eric designed for you for the honeymoon?” Taylor asked, her eyes twinkling with mischief when Stephanie sputtered and the others laughed.
“Well, now…maybe that should be left for when it’s just you and I, Taylor.” Jackie winked at her. “Maybe we can even talk her into showing them to us.”
Stephanie shook her head. “Most definitely not.” She smirked. “Those are for Eric’s eyes only.”
“I think some of what he designed is showing now.” Bridget pointed at the lacy strap on Stephanie’s shoulder.
Stephanie huffed and pulled her robe up on her shoulder. “I think Eric must have called ahead and told them to give me a robe that wouldn’t stay on my shoulders.”
“He does seem to have a fascination with your shoulders judging from the outfit you wore here.” Pam chuckled and patted her sister’s shoulder.
Waiting until she was alone with just Jackie and Taylor, Stephanie sighed. “He does. There was the outfit I wore here, and then three of the things he designed for me to sleep in that all have big necklines so they’ll slip of my shoulder.” She got up to follow them out of the room. “He makes me feel alive, something that I need more than I ever have in my life.”
Taylor grabbed her hand, stopping her. “You are alive, Stephanie, and you’re going to stay that way.”
Squeezing back, Stephanie smiled at her friend. “I’m going to try.”
“And we’re all going to be right here helping you.” Jackie took Stephanie’s other hand. “Don’t forget that.”
“I won’t,” she promised. “You both have to promise to look after the kids and Eric. He doesn’t really have anyone outside of the family he can confide in.”
“We will,” both women whispered, each wiping a tear from their cheeks.
“Now, we’d better go join the girls or they’re going to come looking for us.”
“We’ll just tell them you’ve been sharing secrets.” Jackie winked.
“And it won’t be a lie.” Taylor laughed.
Stephanie smiled at her friends, thankful to have them. “So what am I going to do while you get your massages?” she asked as she followed them down the hall.
“You could tell us more about your honeymoon. The less intimate parts. Like the walks you took. Surely those would be safe enough to talk about.” Jackie chuckled.
“I could do that.”
“You could also tell us about the sketch pad we found.” Taylor looked at her friend when she turned startled eyes on her.
“You found that? I thought we put it up before we left.”
Taylor shook her head. “No. You didn’t.”
“Sketch pad?” Jackie asked as they entered the room where the girls were already started with their massages.
“Yeah, Mom. Tell us about that.” Kristen spoke up.
Stephanie sat down and waited for Taylor and Jackie to get situated on their tables. “Well, I didn’t know about it until Eric brought me home from the hospital.” She settled further back into the comfortable chair, her eyes staring off into the distance outside the open windows. “I knew he was worried by everything that was going on, so when I drifted off to sleep, I asked him to sketch me something. He couldn’t find what he needed in the gift shop so he went home and got a sketch pad. While I was sleeping, he did a few sketches.” She chuckled. “You know, I never have made it that far into the sketch pad’s pages. Anyway, I had forgotten about it because shortly after I woke up was when we learned about,” she paused and shook her head. “Anyway, when he went to fix me something to eat, he reminded me about it. While he was in the kitchen, I picked it up and opened it to find a sketch of me from the first time he saw me.”
“That’s what the first sketch of you is? The very first time he saw you?” Felicia asked.
“Yes.” Stephanie answered.
“So he went home and sketched you?” Aly asked.
“No, Honey. At least I don’t think so. He didn’t really tell me when he started the sketches.”
“We’ll have to ask him. And you’ll have to let me see it.” Jackie whispered then moaned when her masseuse hit a particularly sore spot. “I didn’t know Eric ever did anything but the design sketches.”
Stephanie smiled. “Oh, he’s always done more than just those. We have some of his scenery sketches somewhere. He didn’t start off studying design in college. He studied art, which meant doing a little of everything. There may even be some of his paintings up in the attic.”
“Daddy did paintings?” Felicia asked, lifting her head only to have it gently pushed back down.
Stephanie chuckled. “Yes, he did. Your father is very good with a paint brush. Just because he made his living designing clothes doesn’t mean he can’t do other things.”
“But his best is people. You especially.” Kristen smiled at her mother when she sat up, wrapping her robe back around her. “I’ve watched him sketch women all my life as he was designing each new collection, but the only one that ever seemed to be alive on the paper was you.”
“She’s right. Those sketches in the pad were so vivid that it was like we were there.”
Kristen sighed. “I loved the one of us when I was a baby.”
Felicia sat up, pulling her robe on. “What was the one of you laying in a bed in what looks like the hospital?”
Stephanie looked at her baby, her eyes soft in memory. “That was from the day you were born.”
“Even though you can tell you were in pain, you look beautiful, Stephanie.” Taylor whispered as she finished with her massage.
“Tell us about that day, Grandma.” Steffy said as she and Aly sat up.
“I’d like to hear it too, Steph.” Pam chimed in as she pulled on her robe.
“Me too, Stephanie. I’ve heard Dad mention something about the pregnancy being hard for you when I was going through all those miscarriages.”
“Yes, Stephanie.” Jackie said as she sat up, the last to finish her massage.
“Why don’t we go outside and get some of those wonderful smoothies? I’ll tell you while we sip on those.”
“Sounds like a plan,” they all agreed and got up to follow Stephanie down the hall and out onto the terrace where lounge chairs were spread about, pitchers filled with different flavors of smoothies waiting for them.
“So?” Felicia asked as they all settled down, pulling their chairs close to Stephanie so they could hear her clearly.
“You always were impatient. Even before you were born.” Stephanie smiled. “You decided you just couldn’t wait any longer, so you came early,” she started then sipped her drink, settling into a more comfortable spot. “I wasn’t thinking about having a baby that day, so I’d gone about things as usual, although I’d had to cut way back because I’d had such a difficult time. I’d missed a few meetings that week, so I had gone into the office to take care of the important ones. Well,” she sighed and looked at Felicia. “I hadn’t gotten through even the first meeting when someone decided it was time to make her appearance. Thankfully I was with our buyer at the time. Poor Ben. He went rushing out of my office, his eyes wide, shouting for Eric. Half the place was in my office before Eric made it.”
“I remember Ben.” Kristen laughed. “He was an old dear, but very high strung.”
Stephanie nodded. “Very.”
“So? What did Grandpa do?”
“Well, Eric was only marginally better than Ben. He kept insisting I couldn’t possibly be in labor because it was just too soon.”
“I’m sure you set him straight very quickly.” Taylor chuckled.
Stephanie laughed and nodded. “When I growled at him and gripped his hand, he stopped and helped me up and out to the car.” She took another sip from her glass. “He was like a wild man as he drove to the hospital. I thought for sure he’d get us killed, but we made it.” She frowned. “My doctor decided he’d try to stop the labor. We thought it was working when the contractions stopped, but six hours later, they started again and wouldn’t be stopped. So, then he decided he’d slow it down as much as he could. He wanted to prolong the labor as long as possible because of how early the baby was.”
“How long?” Felicia asked quietly.
“They prolonged it for about seventeen hours before you became distressed and they had to let it go.” Stephanie reached out and caressed Felicia’s face. “The sketch you saw was of me just before that happened. I didn’t know if I could continue because I was so tired and my body was weak. Eric kept assuring me that I could and kept telling me that he wished he could take my place. When things went crazy, it was Eric’s voice that kept me calm. You were the only baby he was in the delivery room for. The doctor let him stay because he’d been there when Angela was born and knew that I had to be thinking about that time.”
“But nothing went wrong, right?” Steffy asked as she pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them.
“Oh, everything went wrong. She was so little and wasn’t breathing. We nearly lost her.”
“We nearly lost you.” Kristen whispered.
“How do you know that, Honey? You were so young then. And we never told you kids how close it had come.”
“We all knew, though. We heard Daddy telling Grandpa.”
“Oh, Honey. I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you come to us?”
“Because we saw how upset Dad was. We all just clung to each other.”
“How close is nearly, Mom?” Felicia asked, her blue eyes holding her mother’s.
“I don’t remember anything after you were born. I nearly flat lined. Only Eric’s voice telling me we had a baby girl kept me from slipping away.”
“Momma.” Felicia whispered, moving from her chair to Stephanie’s and leaning over to hug her mother. “You,” she whispered, her voice shaky. “You fought for me.”
“Yes, I did. And then I had to fight for you even harder after they stabilized me. Eric kept telling them to let me talk to you, but they kept arguing that they couldn’t do that. Finally the doctor gave in and they let me hold you. When they handed you to me, you were barely breathing and struggling to do the little you were. Eric helped me hold you, and as I whispered to you, you calmed and started breathing a little better. When they put you in the incubator, they were all amazed at the difference.”
“And did Daddy tell them he told them so?” Felicia asked as she sat up and moved back to her chair.
“Yes, he did.” Stephanie smiled. “You were in the hospital for a few weeks before we got to bring you home. Everyone kept calling you the miracle baby. Eric just shook his head. He knew you were a fighter.”
“Just like her mother.” Taylor smiled at her friend. “I think my favorite of the sketches is the one of you sitting on the terrace. It looks like it’s from when you had your stroke, although you aren’t in your wheelchair.”
Stephanie shrugged her shoulders. “I haven’t seen that one, so I don’t know.” She finished her drink. “How do you think the men are doing?”
Bridget laughed. “I’m sure we’ll find Logan and Dino both all in one piece when we get back.”
“Baby Logan may have his diaper on backward.” Stephanie chuckled. “Eric never was much good at that.”
Bridget laughed. “So that’s why I have a picture of me in a backward diaper.”
“Yes.” Stephanie nodded. “No matter how many times I showed him, he never did remember.”
Jackie chuckled. “If he can’t remember the right way for a diaper, how does he get his underwear on the right way?”
Stephanie smirked. “I put his initials in the back?”
“Oh god, Mom.” Kristen groaned then burst out laughing, everyone laughing with her.
God it felt good to laugh.
“Did you have fun, Gramma?” Dino asked as he sat beside Stephanie, watching her with baby Logan.
“Yes, I did. Did you have fun with Grandpa and the guys?”
Dino nodded. “Did. Zen helped me beat unca Tony and unca T’orn on da Wii.”
Stephanie frowned. “Since when do we have a Wii?”
Zende laughed. “It’s mine, Grandma. I have a Play Station, too, but thought that the Wii would be better for Dino.”
“That was very thoughtful of you, Honey.” Kristen smiled at her son. “So, what did you play, Dino?”
Dino looked at Zende. “We played little funny peoples drivin’ cars.”
Stephanie chuckled at her grandson’s description, patting baby Logan’s back when he fussed. “I think someone probably wants his mama.”
“Him fussed at Grampa when him changed his diaper.” Dino informed them.
Bridget’s eyes grew wide as she looked at Stephanie. “You don’t think?” she whispered as she pulled out her phone.
Stephanie shook her head. “Surely not,” she muttered. “Thorne knows how. Tony knows how.”
Thorne shrugged. “I told him I’d do it but he insisted he knew how.”
“Told me the same thing.” Tony added.
“Oh god.” Bridget laughed as she pulled Logan’s jeans down, finding what she’d suspected and snapping a picture.
“Eric, good grief. Even after all these years, you still can’t get it right?”
Eric shrugged, a sheepish grin on his face. “It’s a really good thing you took care of our babies.”
Stephanie patted his cheek before kissing him. “A very good thing,” she whispered then turned back to hand the baby to Bridget.
“Go fix the poor thing’s diaper.”
“What I want to know is, why didn’t Thorne check the diaper?” Kristen asked as she looked at her brother then at her husband. “Or you?” she asked.
Thorne shrugged. “How was I supposed to know Dad hadn’t learned to put a diaper on right by now? I mean, it’s not like they’re straight on both sides like they used to be. And baby Logan’s even have the little scoop in the front to keep it from rubbing against his sensitive belly button.”
“And I didn’t know the man couldn’t put a diaper on the right way.” Tony gave his excuse.
“Gramma?” Dino asked as he climbed up on her lap.
“What is it, Baby?” Stephanie asked as she cuddled him close.
“Dino’s tired. Can him stay here?”
“Grandma’s tired too, Baby. You can stay here if Mommy says you can.”
Dino looked at his mother. “Pwease?”
“Are you sure, Mom?”
“I’m sure.” Stephanie smiled at her daughter.
“Alright. You can stay, Dino.”
Dino smiled. “T’ank you.”
Thorne yawned. “Are you ready to go, Aly? If we stay any longer I won’t be able to drive.”
Aly grinned. “We could always have another slumber party.”
“Oh no you don’t.” Eric grumbled and shook his head. “I’m not spending the night sleeping on the lounge chair.”
“Me, neiver.” Dino mimicked his grandfather making everyone laugh.
“Granddad’s just greedy. He doesn’t want to share Grandma.” Steffy chimed in earning her a playful glare from Eric.
“I’m sharing her with Dino.”
“Yes, but he’s little and doesn’t take up very much room.”
“She’s got you there, Honey.” Stephanie winked at him. “I promise we’ll have a night where everyone stays here.”
“Well, until then, we’re heading home.” Thorne yawned again. “I think you’re going to have to drive, Aly.”
“Sure, Dad.” Aly agreed as she got up and moved to hug her grandma. “Promise we’ll have that night before your surgery?”
“I’ll do my best, Honey.” Stephanie kissed her forehead. “Go on now. Take your dad home before he falls over.”
Aly chuckled and nodded. “Bye, Grandpa.” She hugged Eric when he stood up and kissed her head.
“We’re going too.” Bridget told them as she kissed each on their cheek.
“Be careful going home.” Eric kissed her forehead then caressed his grandson’s cheek. “Bye, little man.”
Stephanie hugged each of her children and grandchildren as the rest said goodnight, leaving just her, Eric, and Dino. “Are you ready for bed, Dino?”
Dino nodded his head. “Me is.” He held up his hands to Eric. “Carry me?”
Eric smiled down at the little boy and lifted him up. “Sure thing, Dino. Come on, let’s go get into our jammies.”
Dino reached out his hand to Stephanie. “Come on, Gramma. You wear the shiny pink ones. Dino likes Gramma in pink.”
Stephanie laughed and shook her head as she moved to Eric’s side, his free arm wrapping around her shoulders. “You, little man, are going to grow up to be an artist just like your grandpa.”
Dino shook his head. “Wants to learn how to run t’ings like Gramma.”
Eric smiled at the look on Stephanie’s face. “I think that sounds like a very good idea, Dino.”
Stephanie swallowed past the lump in her throat and looked away for a moment. “You boys go to the bathroom and get ready while I get ready in here,” she finally managed when they entered the master bedroom.
“I loves you, Gramma.” Dino whispered as he leaned over and wrapped his little arms around her neck.
“Oh, Baby. Grandma loves you too. Very much.”
“We’ll be right back, Sweetheart.” Eric pressed a kiss to her head, holding her close a moment before moving to his dresser to pull out his pajamas and the small pair they kept there for Dino.
“D’ers my dinos!” Dino shouted, clapping his little hands.
Stephanie laughed. “Were you missing your dinosaur jammies, Baby?”
Dino nodded. “Was lookin’ for dem de o’der night.”
“Well now you know where they are.” Eric chuckled as he headed into the bathroom.
Stephanie let the smile fall from her face, the tears she’d been holding back rolling down her cheeks as she looked at herself in the mirror. “Oh God. How am I going to do this?” she whispered as she stared at her reflection. “I don’t want to leave my family.”
Reaching for a tissue when she heard Eric and Dino coming back into the room, she moved to her dresser and pulled out the pajamas Dino had asked her to wear.
“Gramma! You not in your jammies!” Dino exclaimed as he ran up to her, hugging her leg.
Smiling down at her grandson, Stephanie caressed his hair. “I guess Grandma got a little sidetracked.” Bending down to kiss his head, she patted his cheek. “You go on and climb in bed with Grandpa. Maybe he’ll sing you a song or tell you a story. I’ll be right back.”
Eric watched her as she walked past them, seeing the signs of her tears before she managed to wipe them away. Sighing, he shook his head. He hated seeing her like this, but knew that they both were going to have many more days and nights like this. “Come on, Dino.” He held out his hand to the little boy.
Dino took Eric’s hand and slowly followed him to the bed. “Grampa?” he asked as Eric lifted him up.
“What is it, little man?” Eric asked as he sat down beside Dino.
A sad look crossed the little boy’s face. “Gramma sad. She sleep in middle so Grampa can snuggle her.”
Caressing the hair from his grandson’s forehead, Eric smiled at him, his heart swelling with love for the tender hearted little boy. “Maybe we’ll both cuddle her, okay?”
“Okay, Grampa.” Dino agreed as he settled into his spot, Eric putting extra pillows beside him to keep him from rolling off the bed.
“Now, do you want Grandpa to tell you a story?”
Dino shook his head. “Nope. Dino wants Grampa to sing.”
“What do you want me to sing?”
Dino thought for a moment. “Luldaby.”
“Rock-a-by Baby?” Eric asked, laughing when Dino snarled his nose and shook his head. “Not that one, huh?”
“No. Dat for babies.”
Stephanie smiled as she came into the room. Standing beside Eric, she rested her hand on his shoulder. “How about Sleep My Child?”
Dino frowned. “Don’t know dat one.”
“It was your mama’s favorite.” Eric told him.
“Dat one d’en.”
“Grandma, come on. Let’s settle in.”
“What’s this?” Stephanie asked as she pointed to the pillows by Dino.
“Gramma needs to be snuggled so her sleep in the middle.”
Eric took her hand. “Come on, Sweetheart.”
Following Eric around the bed, Stephanie slid in the middle, smiling when Dino snuggled up against her. “Grandma won’t get cold tonight.”
Eric spooned his body against hers and wrapped his arm over her waist. “No, you won’t.”
Eric shook his head and chuckled, “Impatient just like his mama.”
“Yes.” Stephanie whispered as she reached out to caress Dino’s face, leaning back against Eric when he began to sing the lullaby from long ago.
Eric watched Dino fall asleep, slowly singing the last of the song, before stopping and pressing a kiss to Stephanie’s head. “You’ll teach him, Sweetheart. Everything he needs to know.”
“Oh Eric,” she whispered, her tears returning. “How? If I’m gone,”
“Shh,” he hushed her, pulling her close. “Whether it’s through videos you make for him, or letters you write to him, you’ll teach him. You’ll be there for them all in pictures, memories, in the business.” Kissing her temple, Eric clasped her hand with his. “I’ll make sure of it.”
Pulling their joined hands up to her chest, Stephanie held them close. “Will you sketch him like this?”
“I’ll sketch you both like this so that he’ll always have the memory.” Eric promised quietly.
“I love you, Eric.”
“No more than I love you, my sweet girl.”