Bring the Baby
A short Bellingwood vignette – Book 35
Marie Sturtz knocked on the back door of her old home, thankful that it didn’t feel strange to be standing on the outside waiting to be let in. Cat and Hayden had made enough changes here and had made the house their own home. In late September, Hayden had carved out enough time to replace the storm doors and paint the trim a pale gray. She smiled at the transformation. Change was a good thing.
It had taken time, but with every passing day, the house she and Bill had built felt like home. The more she filled it with family, the more it became her favorite place on earth.
Her phone buzzed with a text from Cat. “Is that you out there?”
“Yes, should I just come on in?”
Marie laughed as she opened the door. “Cat? Are you in here?”
“In the living room.”
The kitchen was in better shape than Marie expected. Cat’s baby was more than a week late and the girl was miserable. The last weeks of Marie’s pregnancies had been no fun. All she wanted was for those babies to come into the world. Late babies would have been the end of her.
“How are you doing?” Marie asked when she entered the living room. James was already moving toward her, his arms up to be hugged. She knelt and took him into her arms.
“I want to be mad and grouchy. That’s how I’m doing. Thank you for coming into town to get my boy.” Cat smiled at James in Marie’s arms. “Hayden felt bad, but he had to get to work early this morning for something-or-other. I’m a terrible wife; I’m not even paying attention to his job any longer.”
“You have other things to pay attention to.”
Cat waved her hand, taking in the cluttered living room. “Not this. I can’t bring myself to do anything except sit here and feel sorry for myself. I’m sorry it’s such a mess. I hate letting it get this bad, but neither of us has time.” Tears came to her eyes.
Marie sat in the rocking chair and patted her lap. James clambered up and leaned against her, holding on to two of his cars. “You have nothing to be sorry about.”
“Your house is always so clean. I’m embarrassed. Mrs. Merritt called and offered to bring food to me and I had to tell her no because I wasn’t letting anyone into this mess.”
James started clapping the cars together. Marie put her hand on top of his, stopping the noise. “Why don’t you take those up to your room and play with the racetrack?”
He looked at his mother, who nodded. “That’s a good idea. When Grandma is ready to go home, she’ll take you with her.”
After he left, Cat sighed. “I’m so tired. I know it’s Saturday and you don’t usually babysit, but I can’t say thank you enough for taking him today.”
“I have a different idea, but let me know what you think. What if I were to do some cleaning around here for you? That baby is going to show up any day and I suspect you’d rather bring it home to a house that doesn’t require your attention.”
“I can’t do that to you.” Cat rubbed her oversized belly. “And besides, I’m not sure if it’s ever going to arrive.
“It will. I promise. They never stay in there forever.”
“I want it over now. You shouldn’t clean my house. It’s too much. You can’t.”
“Why not?” Marie asked. “Give me one good reason why I’m not allowed to help you get ready for a new baby.”
Cat tried to push herself up to a seated position and grimaced, then gave up. Marie walked over and put out her hand. Cat took it, pulled herself forward, then swung her feet to the floor. “This is ridiculous. I’m ridiculous. I’m huge and uncomfortable. Grumpy barely describes my attitude.”
“I understand. I really do. It’s been a lot of years, but I remember feeling like everything was out of my control.”
“I hate that. My friends always make it look so easy.”
“You mean your online friends?” Marie asked.
Cat lifted a shoulder.
“The ones who want the world to think they have it all together? They’re lying. Either that, or they have live-in help.” Marie laughed at the thought of it.
“It’s a good thing we finished the nursery a couple of months ago. Otherwise, the baby would be coming home to bare walls. I can’t seem to gather enough energy to do anything other than complain.”
“What does your doctor say about timing?” Marie asked.
“The baby will come when it comes. Not helpful. Not helpful at all.”
Marie chuckled. “Would you rather be alone to work?”
“I don’t care whether I’m alone or not. I needed time to process on what we’re going to do in the classroom this week.”
“You only have three days, right?”
“Three terrible, awful days,” Cat said. “All the kids will be thinking about is the holiday break. Visions of sugarplums and all that. All I will be thinking about is when this baby is planning to show its face.”
Marie picked up pillows that had been tossed to the floor and returned them to their homes.
“Marie, you really don’t have to clean.”
“Will you be angry if I do?”
Cat sank back against a pile of pillows behind her back. “No. I’m too tired to be angry.”
“What if I called Betty and invited her to help? We’d be finished in no time. Would that upset you?”
Tears filled Cat’s eyes again. “I don’t have it in me to be upset. I feel bad that Hayden has to do so much around here. James isn’t getting enough attention from me and the house is a disaster.”
“Once the baby arrives and you regain your strength and energy, you’ll be back to the same Cat who somehow manages to take care of everything. A regular supermom.”
“I told Hay this is the last baby.”
“Really? Only two?”
“Did you want more than two?”
Marie shook her head. “No. When Lonnie showed up, both Bill and I were happy with our little family. They were wonderful children, but they could be a handful.”
“Who was worse? Henry or Lonnie?”
“It depended on the day. I was a little concerned that one day Bill might come into the house and find that I’d duct-taped one or the other to the bathroom wall.”
Cat laughed out loud. “Hay and I talked about how the two of us can hand James back and forth. With two little ones, we’re going to have to concentrate. I don’t want to be outnumbered.”
“You have enough little ones to raise in your classroom.”
Marie took out her phone. “I’m calling Betty. She’s been asking if there was anything she could do to help you get ready for the baby. This will make her very happy.”
“You two are strange.”
“But you love us.”
“So very much.” Cat hefted and pushed herself up from the sofa. “First, to the bathroom, then to the kitchen table. All of my work is out there.”
“Would you rather work in here? I can bring papers to you.”
Cat smiled. “If you’re working in the kitchen, I’d rather be there.”
“But we’ll make it hard for you to concentrate.”
“I usually have the TV going in the background. You two will be much more fun.”
Marie nodded and stood when she placed the call. She walked toward the front door and looked out at the porch. It was a wonderfully big porch. In the summer, it was a perfect place to wile away a few hours.
“Betty?” she said when her sister-in-law answered the phone.
“Hello, there. What are you doing on this fine Saturday morning?”
“Well, I’m standing in Cat’s living room.”
“Is there a baby yet?”
“Not yet. There is a very pregnant and frustrated mommy here, though. Are you free to help me do some cleaning for her? We’ll keep an eye on James and get Cat all set up for her first weeks home with a bigger family.”
“She’s agreeable to this?” Betty sounded excited.
“I’ll send Dick over to play with Bill and be right there. Do I need to bring anything?”
“Maybe your rubber gloves and anything else you regularly use.”
“It’s all in a bucket in the pantry. Marie, you’ve just made my day.”
“Asking you to clean?”
“Making me feel useful around your grandkids. Thank you.”
Marie smiled. “You are something else, Betty Mercer. If I hadn’t married your brother when I did, I would have had to track him down if for no other reason than to be your sister-in-law.”
“I’m not sure I followed that, but I love you too. Let me hang up, change my clothes, and I’ll be right in. I have beef stew in the freezer. Should I bring it?”
“That’s a wonderful idea. Thank you.”
Marie turned and smiled at Cat as she pocketed her phone. “You have no idea what a gift you just gave to Betty.”
“She can’t wait to help you. Honey, sometimes we grandmas need to feel useful when something as spectacular as a new baby comes onto the scene.”
“I’ll be right back.” Cat shuffled out of the room.
Marie picked things up as she walked back and forth, then landed at a closet at the far end of the living room. She took out the vacuum cleaner and plugged it in, then looked up when she heard a sound.
James came around the corner into the living room. “Grandma?’
“I think she went to the bathroom. What do you need?”
“Benji and I want something to drink.” He held up a stuffed hippo.
What James really wanted was some attention. She was happy to give him both . “Aunt Betty is coming over, too.”
His face lit up. “Aunt Betty?”
“She and I are going to help your mother clean the house. Do you know why?”
James shook his head, a solemn look on his face. “She’s sick.”
“No, she isn’t sick. She is tired. I know she’s talked to you about the baby that’s growing inside her.”
That brought life back to his face. “Baby!”
“Do you remember being a very little baby?”
He frowned at her. “No.”
“Well, since you have been born, you’ve gotten taller and grown bigger. Did you know that?”
“My pants are short.”
“Not these pants. Your mommy bought new ones for you, didn’t she?”
“Even before babies are born, they grow. They grow inside the mommy and that takes a lot of work on the mommy’s part. It makes her tired.”
“The baby makes mommy tired?”
“Yes and it also makes your mommy very happy.”
“Since your mommy is helping the baby grow and she’s so tired, Aunt Betty and I are going to clean the house. Would you like to help us?”
He turned up his nose at that. “I don’t like to clean. Daddy makes me put my toys away.”
Marie laughed and pulled him close. “You help me clean when you’re at my house.”
“But it’s fun at your house.”
“Well, Aunt Betty and I are going to have fun cleaning today at your house. You can help us or you can play in your room. It’s up to you.”
He smiled up at her and put his hand in hers. Marie’s heart filled. She had never expected her life to be so full of family. For years, Lonnie had expressed no interest in being married or having children. Now she had a wonderful husband with a daughter who was a gem, and they had brought a new baby into her life. Henry and Polly never ceased to surprise her with their family.
Cat came back into the living room. “Are you helping Grandma and Aunt Betty today?”
“You are helping a baby grow,” he said, patting her belly. “You are tired.”
She looked at Marie who gave a small shrug. “That’s why I get to clean the house. I think I’ve talked James into giving us a hand.”
“He’s a good boy,” Cat said. “I’m a lucky mommy.”
“I want a drink,” James said, tugging on Marie’s hand.
“We’re going to start the day with something to drink,” Marie said. “Would you like something?”
“I can do it,” Cat said, following them into the kitchen.
“You should sit with your son and let me take care of both of you. That offer doesn’t happen very often.”
“Yes, it does.” Cat dropped into a chair with a plop. “And I love you for it. Thank you.”