***Part Eleven***
Word Count: 2,721

New Year's Eve 1991

"When do you think he'll be old enough to realize that the ball in Time's Square doesn't drop because it's his birthday?" John asked.

"I hope not for a while yet," Claire said.

The birthday boy in question had fallen asleep on the couch next to them almost as soon as the clock struck twelve. He'd expressed the grossness of seeing his mom and dad kiss very clearly first. He'd had a party earlier in the day. There was something about having a dozen boys in the house that made Claire feel exhausted by the end of the day. She'd promised him he could watch the ball drop, though, so she'd forced herself to stay awake hours later than she probably should have.

"He's going to be crushed."

Claire laughed. "He'll get over it, I'm sure. You've got him?" she asked.

"Yeah, not sure why I'm the one who gets stuck carrying him and you get the easy load."

"Because you're the dad and stronger than I am. Unless you want me to drop him, he's safer being carried by you."

"Yeah, yeah," he said, taking him into his arms to carry him to bed once they were ready to go there themselves.

Claire went into one bedroom, John went into the other but he joined her a minute or two later. She was still changing Amanda.

"I don't know that he's ever going to quite get over the fact we told him we wanted him to have a brother or a sister and he didn't get the brother."

"He'll like having a little sister eventually. For now, it's new to him having her cry and wake him up in the middle of the night."

"Yeah, new to me, too. He was sleeping through the night when I came into the picture."

"You're getting the hang of it."

"I'm trying," he said. He was off for the winter by now and she was in the middle of her last year of law school so John was doing everything he could do to help be sure she did what she needed to do to graduate. That included babysitting the kids whenever she needed to study or sleep. She studied all of the time and didn't sleep as much as she should, especially since she was pregnant for all of the past semester.

"He gets along with Scott and Tina's daughter," she said.

"Sure, for an hour or so. It's a little different than living with her. If you remember I didn't know what to do with girls very well either when I met you."

"You knew what to do with girls very well by the time I met you. Jack's proof of that."

"That's not what I meant. That was the easy part."

"It was, huh?"

"Sure. I think it's innate for guys to know what to do with that part of their anatomy. It's the rest of the aspect of girls I was pretty clueless about."

"Yes, you were," she agreed.

"You don't have to agree so quickly."

He kissed the top of her head as she took hold of Amanda to set her in her crib. She'd sleep for a few hours before waking up for John to handle feeding and changing her. Claire was on break, but he figured it was better to get used to waking up with her from the get-go and just keep it that way. When he had to start working again in the spring she'd take over some of the middle of the night feedings, but until then he had no problem doing it.

Scott had moved down to the area about two years ago. He and Tina were tired of living in the city and for whatever reason he and John started talking about going into business for themselves on one of Scott's visits down to see them. He'd complained about the help the company they worked for was finding.

This past summer was their first full season and they'd done pretty well. One of Claire's professors had helped them draw up papers so all was by the book not just as a business went but between the two of them. Neither John nor Scott were confident they'd remain in the area once Claire was done with school and had passed her bar exam. Scott was here because of John more or less, though they seemed to like the area well enough. They had put in the contract that they'd offer to sell the other one half of the business before anyone else. Claire had mentioned staying put for a while, seeing if she could find work somewhere in the area instead of having to uproot all that was familiar to Jack. They were close to her parents without being too close and neither of them were too keen on moving back to the Chicago suburbs with kids.

It was weird being a business owner. They were small enough that they had to do the work themselves, which was fine. Neither of them was opposed to getting his hands dirty. It also meant a lot of after-hours work. The fourth bedroom had been turned into an office complete with a computer for John, which he swore he'd never have reason to use before a year ago. Payroll, invoices, estimates, accounts receivable, accounts payable. It was a lot to digest, but for some reason the bulk of the paperwork had fallen into John's lap. Scott claimed he wouldn't know what to do with half the stuff and at least John had Claire to help him figure stuff out. John sort of figured Scott just didn't want to be bothered, which was fine. It was probably better if only one of them did all that anyway. Scott was better at dealing with the customers, drumming up business so they both had their niche.

He watched Claire put their daughter to bed. He wasn't quite sure what he'd done to deserve her. All of her teasing aside he knew he wasn't what anyone would consider a suitable match for her. They talked about getting married when she found out she was pregnant with Amanda, but they agreed to wait. Wait for what? He wasn't sure. He agreed with her, though, he didn't need a piece of paper or a wedding ring to make him treat her the way he would a wife. Hell, he thought they treated each other better than a few married couples they knew, including their parents'. Not that he ever saw his to know how they were getting along today.

He checked to be sure this end of the baby monitor was on before following her out of the room. Her room was a little further down the hall than Jack's and she was so soft about crying sometimes that if it wasn't on he had a hard time hearing her. Maybe he just wasn't in tune to it, he wasn't sure if you had to be a mother to have that or what. He swore Claire could hear her cry before she'd even started.

Off for the winter was subjective. He and Scott still had work to do, but he could bring the kids along to things like estimates if he had to. Jack was in school except for right now being Christmas break, so ordinarily it would only be Amanda he had to bring along. Their goal was to be booked a full two months before the snow had even cleared enough to start working. Sometimes he thought bringing Jack along helped them get business, he wasn't sure why it worked that way but there'd been a few houses they thought for sure were going to take their business elsewhere. Maybe it was because bringing kids along put faces to who he was working so hard to feed. He'd probably never know.

"So, do I get my New Year's Eve present?" he asked as he waited for her to finish in the bathroom.

"There are no New Year's Eve presents."

He scoffed. "You better not tell Jack that."

"Besides, Amanda is only…" she stopped. "Oh," she said.

"The Princess realizes I'm teasing."

"She does."

"We've got to work on this December baby thing with the next one."

"Another one? I thought you were joking. You can't be serious."

"Why not?"

"Well, I don't know why not. Maybe we should get her out of diapers first and I should find a job, too."

"Hey, at least your dad's not charging us rent. I thought for sure he'd start when we told him."

"Me, too. He likes you, though."

"At least we wouldn't have to plan it around your school schedule."

"There is that."

"It kind of takes the fun out of it."

She laughed, joining him on the bed. "I didn't realize it was that much of a sacrifice for you."

"That whole trying like crazy during the month of February when I wasn't working or anything was pretty tough. You kept waking me up and distracting me from important things like watching hockey."

She laughed, settling herself next to him. "I think my dad would probably like us to be married if we have another one."

"Yeah, he sort of mentioned that to me at her baptism."

"He did?"

"Yes, he I think believes she's my fault the same as Jack was."

"I never told him that it was."

"Clearly he has no clue that his daughter can't keep her hands off of me anymore than I can keep mine off of her. He probably has this image of you grinning and bearing it."

"God, I don't want him picturing me like that at all. And, hey, the pill worked when I was using it."

"I couldn't tell him that! It's probably better he doesn't think we were trying for her anyway."

"Probably so," she said, kissing his neck before finding his mouth.

"Happy New Year, Princess."

"You, too. It's going to be a good one, I know it."

"Yeah, they've all been pretty good with you so far so I can't complain."

"I'm glad you think so."

"You get your rest, I know that party took a lot out of you."

"I was fine."

"Yeah, you're always fine. I watch, there seems to be some unwritten code for moms. You all say you're fine, but we dads know that's not the case all of the time. We just don't push because we don't want to make you angry on top of not being fine. At least the smart ones don't push I've come to realize. Jack doesn't know what went into having Amanda to know that organizing a party complete with spending almost the entire day on your feet cooking food and baking a cake is probably more than you needed to be doing when she's less than two weeks old."

"All the more reason he deserved a party."

"Huh?"

She shrugged. "I didn't want him to think because she came along that all of the sudden he's not important."

"I'd say he's pretty important, Princess. Certainly without him we wouldn't be where we are today."

"Maybe I should have gotten him a better present then."

He chuckled, shifting on the bed so he could bring the covers around her. "Yeah, we'll keep the hows and whys of it between us. We don't need him getting a big head or anything."

"We wouldn't want that. He'd be just like you then."

"Funny woman. Now about this being married thing for the next one."

"Yeah?"

"Maybe we could talk your parents into babysitting for a long weekend once you're done in June."

"Someone would if they won't."

"Well, I figured if they knew it was for that they'd be happy to."

"June is awful soon."

"Well, I was thinking just us. Maybe get married on the beach in Jamaica, Key West, or something."

"Really? That sounds beautiful and relaxing."

"I thought so, too. Find out when you'd have to take your exams after you're done and we'll work around that so you don't miss that."

"You're not doing this because you want another one, are you?"

"Not really, no. I knew you wouldn't want to while you're pregnant, but I sort of figure it's time to make an honest woman out of you."

"I always hated that saying. There's nothing dishonest about me now."

"No, but have you seen the way that guy on Cherry Street looks at you when you're walking to the park with Jack?"

"Uh no," Claire said.

"Of course you wouldn't notice these things. I do and he looks at you as if he'd like to do things to you that would probably make me blush."

"I find that very hard to believe."

"That he has improper thoughts about you?"

"No, that there's absolutely anything that would make you blush."

He chuckled softly. "Maybe there aren't many, but I think he knows what those things are. And wants to try them with you."

"So, no church?"

"No church, no guests, no gifts, and no pomp and circumstance. I'll wear a tux if you want to go the formal route, but otherwise. If we have to fly someone down with us to be witnesses we can do that, but I want it to be just us."

"All right, and I'm not saying yes because of anyone else having improper thoughts about me. I don't notice anyone else."

"This is good, Princess."

"I'm not sure I'm ready to change my name, though."

"Yeah, about that, there was a reason I told you to give Amanda your name, too."

"Okay," she said.

"And, yes, I know that bothered you a lot. I don't want them to have my name, I'm not overly attached to my name. It's just the name of the people who made me and they don't deserve having grandkids share that name."

"I know how you feel."

"So I was thinking I could change my name instead."

"That's…"

"Odd, I know, but who says you have to do it. You're the one becoming a lawyer with a dad who's a pretty prominent lawyer himself. Certainly having his name will help you more than having my name would."

"Maybe." She frowned. "You're sure?"

"I've thought about it since you told me you were pregnant. I knew when she was born you'd want her to have my name. We'd avoided the conversation about changing Jack's name, but we couldn't let them have different last names."

"No, I agree. And you're sure?"

"As sure I was years ago about loving you, yes. I know we don't have to, but I imagine in your line of work being all legally attached will look better than living with someone you've had two kids with."

"Probably."

"You'd thought of that?"

"Yeah," she admitted. "It was one of the reasons I figured I could look around here for a while first where people know me."

"Yeah, see, and that shouldn't be why you make a choice like that."

"What about you? You have a company here."

"Actually, Scott and I have a company. If Scott bought my half I could probably start my own. I know how to do the hard work."

"See, and I think the actual roofing would be the hard work."

"Of course you would, but that wasn't what scared me about starting a business. It turns out I'm not so bad with the day-to-day stuff. Granted I had you to help me at first, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly."

"You did."

"About another one."

"Oh God, what?"

"It would be kind of fun. We certainly have perfected the art of making them."

"For you! Talk to me after giving birth isn't fresh on my mind. You remember what you said to me that day of detention about having too many kids?"

"You're not going to get fat. If we have another one, I'm not waiting seven years in between them so you'd have little ones to chase after with me to keep us both from getting that way."

"I suppose. I still don't think Claire is a fat girl's name."

He chuckled. "Get some sleep, Princess."

"That is the best thing I've been told to do all day."

The End