Saturday, November 3, 2012

Number 9-Before the Always

Lydia stood in the kitchen reaching for a pan on the top shelf of the pantry.  It had been 12 weeks and in that time her belly had started to take shape of a small basketball.  It got in the way  of everything she thought.  When she reached up to grab the pan, she couldn’t reach over far enough to get it.  Her belly was too wide and her arms were too short.  She wanted to cry.  She just wanted to make herself dinner, but couldn’t even get a stupid pan out of the cabinet.  She refused to cry, though.  It was silly.  Instead, she just got angry and punched her parent’s number on the phone.
“Hi, Daddy.  Are you guys having dinner right now?”
“In a few minutes.  Why?”
Lydia brushed the hair back from her face.  It was August and the heat and pregnancy made her sweat.  “Can I come over and eat with you guys?”
“Sure, sweetheart.  As long as you tell me what’s the matter.”
“It’s stupid, Daddy.”
“Lydia.”  Lt. Baker did his dad tone voice.
“I just wanted to boil some water to make some spaghetti for myself and I can’t reach the freakin’ pan!”
“That’s what happens, short stuff.”
“It’s not because I’m short.”  She paused and put her hand on her stomach.  “It’s because I’m fat.”
“Baby girl, you’re not fat.  I don’t think you’ve ever been fat.  You’re having a baby.  Remember?  You need a little meat on your bones, so the baby’s healthy.”
Lydia felt like sitting down, but she didn’t want to sit at one of the kitchen table chairs.  They were too hard.  The floor in the kitchen was tile, but it  was cool and she was burning up.  She slid down the counter and plopped herself down in front of the sink.
“I don’t think I can do this, Daddy.  I want Jimmy home.”
“You just want somebody who’s over six foot to reach the top shelf.  Don’t worry, sweetie, you’re knight in shining armor will be home soon.”
“Words, words, words, Daddy.  Those don’t make it any better until he’s standing in front of me.”
Lydia heard a knock on the door.  She tried to hoist herself back up, but was unsuccessful.  “Just come in,” she yelled to the guest.  She didn’t think to ask who it was.  Before she could ask the question, she heard the knob turn and the sound of footsteps come through the door.
“Hello?  Lyddie?  Where’s that pretty wife of mine I haven’t seen in 12 weeks.”
Lydia closed her eyes. “Daddy, I have to go.  Jimmy’s home.”  She didn’t even wait for her dad to say goodbye.
“In the kitchen.”
Jimmy walked into the kitchen and saw Lydia sitting on the floor.  He put his hands on his hips and looked down at her.  “What are you doing down there, baby?”
“I’m hot and the floor is cold.”  Lydia crossed her arms over her stomach.  “And I’m not pretty anymore.  I’m fat, my ankles are swollen, I can’t reach things on the top shelf, and I have to pee every five minutes.”
Jimmy smiled, but Lydia could see the laugh he was trying to hide.  He bent down and braced Lydia so she could stand up.  He held out her hands to her sides, so he could survey the baby bump and Lydia.  “Nope, nuh-uh.  You are the prettiest girl I’ve seen in twelve weeks.  You look amazing, baby.”  He leaned in to kiss her, but before their lips touched Lydia let out a quiet shocked “oh.”
“What’s wrong?”  Jimmy’s face screwed up into a look of concern.
“The baby.  He’s never kicked that hard before.  Here, feel.”  Lydia took Jimmy’s hand and put it on the side of her stomach.  He felt a kick and smiled.
“Does it hurt?”
“Good.  Nobody hurts my girl.  Not even unborn babies.”
“He’s not going to hurt me.”
Jimmy grinned again.  “You keep saying he, Lyddie.  Something I should know?”
“I don’t know.  I did the sonogram a week ago and told the doctor I didn’t want to know until you knew, so he sent me home with the pictures and said he put the gender in folder.”  She went to the edge of the counter and found the manila folder.
“Want to know?”  Lydia asked holding up the folder in front of him.
“You bet’cha.”
Lydia opened the folder and slipped out the sonogram pictures.  Jimmy stood behind her and rubbed her shoulders.  He peeked over her shoulder and saw the pictures that looked like something from the X-files. “Lyddie, are we having an alien baby?”
“No, smarty pants, we’re not.  We’re having a boy.  See?”  She pointed to a picture that had an arrow pointing to the area that showed what the sex of the baby was.  The doctor had typed it’s a boy on the top of it.
“A boy?”  Jimmy grinned.
“Yep, a boy.”
“Are you happy?  Is that what you want?” Jimmy asked.  He stopped rubbing her shoulders and stood facing her at the counter.
“Well, I really can’t change it now, can I?”
Jimmy shrugged.  “Guess not.”
“I just want a happy, healthy baby.  Something that my mama couldn’t have.”
“I don’t believe for a minute you weren’t happy or unhealthy.”  He kissed her on the cheek. “So, will a boy make you happy?”
“If he’s anything like you, he will.”
“What?  Stubborn?  Onery? Unwilling to take no for an answer?  Yeah, just what I need.  Another me.”  Jimmy stood up behind her and put his hand back on her stomach.  He was hoping to feel another kick.  He rested his chin on her shoulder.  “I sort of wanted a girl, first.  A little girl with big brown eyes and long dark hair.  She’d look just like her mama.”
“And she’d act like her, too.  Total drama queen,” Lydia smiled.  “She’d have her daddy wrapped around her little finger.”
“I wouldn’t mind.  I’ve got two little fingers.  One for you and one for her.”  He paused.  “If she ever comes along. Maybe next time.”
“How many next times do you think there’ll be?”
“That’s not a number, Jimmy.”
“We don’t need numbers, baby.  We’ve got love.”  He buried his face in her neck and kissed her. She rolled his eyes at his syrupy remark.  “Lyddie?”
“Hmm?”  She was enjoying Jimmy’s mouth pressed against her too much to come up with an actual word or sentence.
“Is it all right, if we, y’know?”  He darted his eyes towards the bedroom.
“Um, yeah, the books say its fine.”
Jimmy ran his finger up Lydia’s forearm.  “Oh, the books, huh?  Bet you’ve got that page bookmarked.”
Lydia smiled and her eyes danced.  “Dogeared and highlighted.”
Jimmy opened his mouth in mock shock.  “You’re a naughty girl, aren’t you.”
“Maybe you should teach me a lesson.”
Jimmy raised an eyebrow.  “A lesson?” He sniffed.  “Maybe I should teach you a few.”
Lydia grabbed Jimmy’s hand and led him to the bedroom.  “I’m counting on it.”
“Roger that.”

Lydia and Jimmy laid tangled in the sheets.  She had her head resting on his chest and the fingers of her hand interlaced with one of his hands.  “I missed this,” Lydia said aloud.
“So did I.”  He stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head.
“I mean this.  These.”  She held up his hands.  “I missed your touch.  The way you always held my hand.  The way you pulled me close whenever you thought someone or something was going to bother me.”  She dropped his hands and traced the definitive lines of his abs. “They way you always push that one hair that never stays in place out of my face.  I felt safe, y’know.”
“What about when I was gone, Lyddie?”
“You knew how I felt.  I wrote you letters.  I didn’t leave anything out.  I promise.”
“You didn’t send me pictures, Lyddie.  I wanted pictures of you.  Of what I was coming home, to.  I missed seeing your face everyday.”
Lydia propped herself up on her elbows.  “No way, Jimmy.  There was no way I was going to let you tack a picture of me up on your bed.  Look at me.  I look horrible.”
“Stop it, Lyddie.  You look beautiful.  You’re adorable all rounded out.  You’ve got that glow thing going for you.  I’d definitely want to see that look again.”
“I’ve gained twenty pounds.”
“So, you finally tipped the scale at 100.  Good job.”
Lydia grabbed a pillow and hit Jimmy in the stomach with it.  “They didn’t teach you any manners at basic, did they?”
“Well, it definitely wasn’t finishing school, Mrs. Baker-Brown.”
Lydia held up Jimmy’s hand and looked at it again.  “Did you shoot a gun?”
“That’s sort of required, baby.”
She dropped his hands and propped herself up on her elbows.“You told me you wouldn’t be doing that!”
Jimmy sat up and put his hand on Lydia’s cheek.  “Shh, calm down.  I have to protect myself, baby.  I have to know a few things about the infantry if I’m going to be working with them.  All right?  I told you I’d rarely see combat.  I didn’t say I’d never see combat.”
“You promised-“
“I promised I’d make sure you were okay.  I never promised that I wouldn’t carry a gun.”  He rubbed her shoulders and felt the tension welling up in them.  “Besides, I know how to shoot, baby.  I used to go hunting with my dad all the time before he decided he didn’t like me anymore.”
“Jimmy, don’t say things like that.”
“It’s the truth, Lyddie.  He never wrote me.  I got more letters from you and your parents than my own family.”
Before Lydia could say anything, the phone rang. “Shoot, dinner.  I told my parents I was coming over.”
Jimmy reached over and picked up the phone and handed it to Lydia.  She was right.  It was her parents asking if she was coming to dinner or not.  Lydia said she’d be there in a few minutes with Jimmy.  She hung up the phone and got out of the bed.  Then, she walked over to the closet to try to find something to wear.  When she got frustrated with everything on her side of the closet, she went over to Jimmy’s side and pilfered for a shirt.
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing fits.”
Jimmy reached into his duffle bag and pulled out a grey shirt with ARMY emblazoned on the front of it.
“Here, wear this.”  He handed her the shirt.  She held it up in front of her and then lowered it a little.
“Uh, Jimmy, did you forget where we are going?  My daddy  wouldn’t even let me through the front door  if he saw me in this.”
“Well, good.”  He stood up and kissed her.  “Maybe we can get home sooner then.”  His hands slid down her sides to her tummy.
“I don’t think he’s moving.  Pretty sure we rocked him to sleep,” Lydia remarked.
He moved his mouth to her ear.  “And did I rock you?” he whispered.
“Jimmy Brown! That is totally uncalled for!”
“If I didn’t you don’t have to wear the shirt.  But, if I did, then you’re wearing it.”
“Fine.”  She wriggled into the shirt that stretched over her baby bump.  “Is that what you wanted?”
“Yeah, baby.  Let’s go.”

Jimmy drove and helped Lydia out of his truck.  They stood on the front porch and Jimmy’s eyes showed an onery twinkle.
“Wonder if your dad will still flip the porch light on if were out here kissing.”
“Only one way to find out.”
Jimmy leaned down and kissed Lydia.  Her tender lips felt so soft against his.  She tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let her.  “I’ve missed you so much, Lyddie. I’ve missed your smile.  I’ve missed your touch.  The way you look at me with those big brown eyes.”  His lips never left hers.The porch light flipped on and Lydia turned around quickly.  It was like she was getting caught all over again.  Jimmy wrapped his arms around her rounded stomach very lightly.  The door came open and Lt. Baker stood at the door smiling.
“Well, I was going to invite you two in for dinner, but it seems Lydia’s already eaten a basketball and Jimmy looks like he’s hungry for something we don’t offer here.”  The tips of Jimmy’s ears turned red.
Lt. Baker smiled and leaned on the door.  “I’m just kidding, you two.  Come on in.”  He took a second glance at Lydia’s shirt and put a hand in front of her.  “Wait a minute, baby girl.  You seem to have forgotten where you came from.”
“I know where I came from, Daddy.”  She held out her shirt with a thumb on either side of the word Army.  “This is where I’m going.”
“I shouldn’t even let you in this house,” Lt. Baker said smiling.
Lydia kissed her dad on the cheek. “But, you love me and you wouldn’t want your first grandbaby to starve, so you will.”
“All right, fine.  Come in, but you ground pounder stay outside.”
Jimmy threw his hands in the air.  “I thought you liked me, Leiutenant.  What gives?”
Michelle walked into the front room as soon as she heard Jimmy talking.  “Don’t listen to him, Jimmy.  He’s nothing but trouble.”  She reached up and hugged him.  “Welcome home.”
Lydia took her mom’s hand and led her back to the kitchen.  “I’m starving, Mama.  What’s for dinner?”
Michelle barely caught her footing as she was being drug into the kitchen.  “We’re having a  boy!”  Lydia knew her mom would either be ecstatic or super emotional. Her miscarriages had all been boys.  She wanted her mom to know first, so she could get whatever emotions out of her system before she told her daddy.
“A boy?  Oh, sweetheart.  That’s, that’s-“ Michelle swiped a tear with the back of her hand.  “That’s great, Lydia.”  Michelle gave her only child a hug.  “He’s going to be so spoiled.  You know that, right?”
Lydia nodded.
Michelle turned and stirred the pot of chicken and dumplings on the stove.“I think I may still have the blanket I was crocheting for the last one.”
Lydia shook her head and put a hand on her shoulder..  “Mama, no.  Don’t do that.  That will just bring back old memories.  Bad memories.  You shouldn’t do that.”
“But, I need to do something, sweetheart.  I’m having a tough time watching you go through this.”  Michelle looked in the oven to see if the rolls were ready.
“Make a new one, Mama.  One that only belongs to him.  It isn’t fair if he has to use someone else’s.”  Lydia gathered the salt, pepper and butter and put them on the table.  She counted out the right number of plates and silverware and was turning to put them onto the table when Jimmy came in.
“Lyddie, what are you doing?  Put those down.”
“I can still set a table, Jimmy.”
“It’s too much.  Let me have them.”  He grabbed the plates and silverware out of her hands.  “You sit down.”  He held out the chair for Lydia and nodded for her to sit in the seat.  She sighed and made a big display of plopping down in the chair.  Jimmy kissed her cheek.
“You’re not lifting a finger while I’m here.”
Michelle smiled at Jimmy.  “You’re a good son-in-law, Jimmy.  Probably the best one around.”
“And you’re a great mother-in-law.”
“You can drop the in-law part anytime.”
“Stop flirting with Jimmy, Mama,” Lydia mumbled.
“We’re not flirting, Lyddie.  There’s only one girl I’ve got my eye on since I’ve been home.”  His eyes twinkled as he sat the table.  He sat the last plate in front of Lydia and rested his hands on her shoulders. “Before then, even.  Always you, baby.  Always and forever,” he whispered in her ear.
“Danny, dinner’s ready.  You better come in here so we can show these two newlyweds up.  I think Jimmy may be gaining the lead on brownie points in here.”  Michelle didn’t have to wait long for Lt. Baker to show up in the kitchen.  He walked up behind her and put his arms around her waist.  He rested his chin on her shoulder.  “Smells delicious, honey.”
He turned her around and wiggled his eyebrows at her.  “I wasn’t talking about the food, Shelly.”
Lydia hid her face in her hands.  “Oh brother, this is embarassing.”  She looked at her parents through a slit in her fingers.  “Do you two need to be alone right now?  Should Jimmy and I come back later?”
Michelle’s grin widened.  “That’s an idea.”
Lt. Baker stepped away from his wife.  “Nothing a cold shower can’t fix.”
“Good, because your mom made my favorite and I am not passing that up.  Army food stinks.”
“Military food in general stinks, Private Brown,” Lt. Baker remarked.
“Roger that,” Jimmy agreed.
Michelle brought the bowl of chicken and dumplings to the table and sat them down in front of Jimmy.  Lt. Baker brought over the mashed potatoes.  Lydia said she was going to get the rolls and green beans, but Jimmy went and got them before she could even rise up out of her seat.
They said a prayer and then passed the food around.
“Did you tell them?” Jimmy asked Lydia.  His grin was a mile wide.
“Tell them what?” Lydia teased.
Jimmy put his hand on her stomach.  “About our baby boy.”
Michelle dropped her fork and mouthed “oops.”  She was having flashbacks of telling Danny they were having a boy and never seeing that dream come true.
Lt. Baker picked up Michelle’s fork and handed it to her.  He wrapped his fingers around the hand she wasn’t using. “A boy, huh?” Lt. Baker repeated.
“Yes, sir,” Jimmy affirmed.
“That’s great.  It’s fantastic,” Lt. Baker mumbled.
“Daddy, are you okay?”
Lt. Baker cleared his throat and let go of Michelle’s hand.  “Fine, sweetheart.  I’m fine.”  He rubbed the back of his ear.   “I hear boys are great to raise.  Not as tough as girls.  No drama.”
“Daddy, that’s not fair. When have I even been dramatic?”
Lt. Baker cocked an eyebrow.  “Where should I start, sweetheart?”
“Nevermind.”  Lydia shoved a forkful of food in her mouth.
Lt. Baker looked at Jimmy.  “How’s your mom and dad?”
Jimmy scooted some green  beans around on his plate.  “I, um, I don’t know.  They didn’t really send me any letters.  Dad’s still in the hospital, I think and Mom just had a really tough time with me leaving Riley.  Has she talked to you guys?”
Michelle shook her head and Lt. Baker said no.  He knew not to ask Lydia anything about his family.  His mom made her thoughts about Lydia known at the bus station.
“Hey, Jimmy, where’s Stokes?  I’d thought he’d be hanging out with you when you got home,”Lydia asked.
He took a bite of the green beans he had been scooting around. “He stayed at the post.  Told me there wasn’t anything left for him to come home to so he was going to try something new.  His aunt almost had a heart attack when he told her he wasn’t coming home, but whatever.”
“Did you want to stay at the post?” Lydia asked in a voice as quiet as a whisper.
Jimmy turned and looked at his wife.  “No, never.  That’s too far away from you.  I couldn’t stand not seeing you every day.”
“They have married housing,” Lt. Baker chimed in.
Michelle elbowed his stomach.  “Don’t you give him any ideas of taking my baby away from me.”
“Are you talking about Lydia or your grandson?”
Michelle watched Lydia’s face for a moment.  She wasn’t really paying attention to the conversation she had started. Instead, she was rubbing her stomach.  Her face was tensed up, but she kept trying to relax it.
“Lydia, look at me,” Michelle begged.
Lydia looked up.  She grabbed Jimmy’s hand and squeezed it. “OH!”
“What, Lyddie?  Tell me!”  Jimmy had dropped his fork and was looking into Lydia’s eyes.
“It hurts,” she whispered.  “Ohmigosh, it hurts.”  Her voice rose higher.
Michelle stood up from her seat.  “Dear God, don’t punish her for what I did wrong.”  She ran into the living room.  Lt. Baker was torn.  He didn’t know whether to run to his wife or to make sure Lydia was okay.  His eyes  darted from the living room to Lydia and back to the living room.  Lydia looked up and saw his face.
“Go, Daddy.  Jimmy can take care of me.”  She squeezed her eyes shut and reached out for Jimmy.
Lt. Baker nodded and went after  Michelle.
Jimmy smoothed back Lydia’s hair and pressed his forehead against hers.  “Tell me what hurts, baby.”
“I think he’s just stretching.”  Lydia winced.  “But, it really hurts.”
Jimmy put his hands on either side of Lydia’s rounded abdomen.  He knelt down in front of her, so his face was directly in front of her belly.  “You listen, here, little mister.  This is your daddy talking.  You stop hurting your mama right now.  She didn’t do anything but give you a place to cook for a few months.  Free room and board.  Be nice to her. Stop whatever you’re doing right now.”
Lydia grabbed Jimmy’s wrists.  Her face twisted in pain.  “I don’t think that worked, Jimmy.”  She stood up.  Her eyes glistened with tears.  “I need to go to the bathroom. I have to . . . I have to check something.” She didn’t even make it three steps toward the stairs before she fell to her knees.  Jimmy jumped out of his seat and scooped her up from the floor.  He carried her up the stairs and into her room.  All the while, Lydia kept apologizing and Jimmy quieted her and told her it wasn’t her fault.  Jimmy sat her on her bed.
“Do you want me to stay in here with you?” he asked.
Lydia shook her head.  “You stay here and I’ll go check.”  Lydia stood up slowly clutching her stomach.  She fought back the tears.  When she stood in her bathroom, pain seared through her entire body.  She didn’t know what to do, so she did what she always did when she was nervous.  She threw up barely making it in the stool.  “Please, baby boy.  Don’t do this. Please,”  she bargained with her unborn child.  She braced herself on the stool and the toilet and stood up.  She didn’t want to know what was coming.  She’d been doing everything right so far. She went to her regularly scheduled appointments.  She ate right.  She even took a morning walk everyday.  There wasn’t a healthier pregnant lady in Riley.  Her doctor which was Jimmy’s neighbor always joked she was the pregnant lady poster child.  And now, Jimmy was home.  She knew this shouldn’t be happening.  She could understand how her mom felt. 
Lydia took a deep breath and pulled down her shorts.  She closed her eyes and prayed for what seemed like hours before she looked down.  She opened her eyes and looked down.  “Oh, thank God,” she whispered.  The blood that she thought would be there was not.  She leaned against the wall.
“All right, little boy.  You need to go apologize to your grandma.  You had her scared to death.  Don’t do that.  Don’t you ever do that.  Okay?  Is that clear?”  She patted her stomach and felt a jolt of a kick.  “You sure are feisty.  Are you gonna be a soccer player?”  Lydia grinned.  “If your daddy asks, just tell him you’re practicing punting, okay?  He’s not a big fan of soccer.”  She smiled at her little joke and then opened the door.  Jimmy was standing in front of her with a pale face.
“Everything all right?” he asked.
“Fine.  He’s just an active baby, that’s all.”
Jimmy nodded downstairs to Michelle.  “You better go tell your mom everything’s okay.”  He paused.  “And make an appointment to see Doc as soon as possible.  That’s not normal, is it?”
Lydia shook her head and  trotted down the steps.  Jimmy called after her to slow down.  He was being overprotective again.
“Mama?”  Lydia walked over to her mom on the couch.  Lt. Baker had his arms wrapped around her and she had he face buried in his chest.
“I don’t want bad news.  Don’t tell me bad news.  I can’t take it,” Michelle sobbed.
“He’s okay.  Everything’s okay.  He’s just a really strong, active baby.”
Michelle sat up.  Her eyes were red and her mascara had run.  “Are you sure?”
“Positive.  Here, feel.”  Lydia grabbed Michelle’s hand and put it on her stomach.  The baby was kicking all over the place.  Michelle smiled.
“Good boy.  You don’t make your mama hurt again, okay.  I don’t like to see her in pain.”
“Me neither,” Jimmy added.
“Jimmy, hate to break this to you, but you’re going to have a heck of a time in the delivery room if that’s the case,” Lt. Baker said.
“I’ll take my chances.”
The phone rang and Lt. Baker went to answer it.  He furrowed his eyebrows and handed the phone to Jimmy.  “It’s for you.”
Jimmy scrunched up his face.  “Hello?”  All her could hear was crying.  “Hello?  Who is this?”
“Dad . . . .home? . . . I need you. . . “the person on the other end of the phone was crying too hard to understand.
“I can’t understand.  Slow down.  Who is this?”
He heard two loud sniffs and a sigh.  “Mom, Jimmy.  It’s your mom.  It’s an emergency.”
Jimmy put his hand over his face.  He couldn’t take any more stress today.  First, Lydia, now this.
“Can someone else help.  What about Dad?”
“It is your dad, Jimmy.  He’s the emergency.  I can’t tell you over the phone.  Just come as fast as you can.”  Her sobbing had returned.
“Fine.”  He clicked off the phone.  “I need to go see my mom.  Something’s wrong with my dad.  Lyddie, why don’t you stay here.  You’ve had enough stress for tonight.  You don’t need to have anymore.”
“That’s fine.  I’m just going to eat the rest of your dinner.”
“Go ahead.  You’re eating for two.  It’ll make your tummy rounder.”  He leaned down and whispered in her ear, “And you know how much I enjoyed your bump earlier.  Game on, baby.”
“Jimmy Brown, you’re a brat!”
“Born and raised.”  He winked at her.  “Bye, Lyddie.”