Hello. I'm sure the last thing you expected from me was a new one-shot, but what can I say: it's the holiday season and I've had insomnia, which unfortunately knows no holiday. What else would the muses have me do, work on my current story or the other two one-shots I'm working on? No, they throw something else at me because I guess why not, right?
I did hesitate to post this just yet because it does give away some of what will be revealed as Where You Least Expect It is winding down, including a character death. So, if readers want to hold off on this I completely understand. Like the summary says, this is simply a tiny glimpse into their futures. I do not reveal everything.
(Also, I just wanted to mention that some of the spelling and grammar is slightly messed up on purpose. I was trying to get as close as I could to the way a wordy three year old would speak.)
Hope you enjoy. :-)
Angela tried to remain calm as she searched the house. She was almost positive everything was okay, but when you go to check on your sleeping child and find their bed empty you can't help but panic a bit- especially when said child experienced night terrors. Georgia's night terrors began a little more than a year ago, right before her second birthday. There was nothing more terrifying and heartbreaking for Angela and Eric than having to watch one of the terrors. They couldn't do anything to help, simply wait and watch until it passed, only intervening if she put herself in danger. One night Georgia tried to open her bedroom window and fought Eric something fierce when he stopped her. He broke down after that episode, unable to process that his little girl didn't recognize him and reacted as though he was a monster. They were always amazed when she awoke the following morning with no memory of what had happened. The pediatrician said waking Georgia for a few minutes shortly before her terrors typically began may help prevent them. It worked most of the time. That was why she had gone to her daughter's room in the first place- to wake her.
Not finding Georgia anywhere on the second floor, Angela hurried down the stairs with her cell phone in hand in case she needed to call Eric or 911. Her panic melted away the moment she reached the living room. The little girl was lying on her stomach in front of the Christmas tree, her chin resting in her hands as she stared up at it. She was surrounded by her favorite doll on one side and Thor sleeping on the other. It had taken the cat about six months to fully accept his new housemate, but once he did they were inseparable. "Georgia, what are you doing, baby? It's late. You're supposed to be in bed. You scared me when I couldn't find you."
"I had a dream and the Christmas tree was there and I had to come look. It's so pretty, mama," she said, slightly in awe.
She smiled and took a seat on the floor near her daughter, leaning against the couch. She was sure she'd regret it once it was time to get up. "Yes, it is." Every year Angela promised herself that she wouldn't let Eric get carried away. They'd scale down on the tree, the lights, gifts…everything. Yet their decorations seemed to get bigger and more elaborate with each year. She'd love to place all the blame on her husband, but she was just as guilty of getting caught up in the holiday spirit. It was easy to do when she looked at things through her daughter's eyes. What was the harm in an extra strand of lights here, another snowman there? When Georgia was older and reflecting on her childhood Christmases Angela wanted those memories to be good ones.
"Can we make wishes?"
"Yeah, like a birthday candle. Can we wish like the tree is a birthday candle?"
"I'm going to wish for Grandpa Sir to visit for real and not just in my dreams."
Angela blinked back tears. She couldn't believe it had been almost two years since her dad died. She missed him. Georgia was too young to remember her grandfather, but she knew his pictures and asked about him often. Sometimes she would wake up telling her parents how he visited in her dreams and talk about all of the adventures they would have. Angela wrote down every detail she could of Georgia's dreams, wanting to have a record of them. She wasn't a religious person, but she'd heard enough about how young kids were more open and innocent to those things and chose to believe her dad was really visiting with his granddaughter the only way he could. The origins of the Grandpa Sir nickname were a mystery to her, but she knew her dad would've loved it. "He'll be here, baby. Even if we can't see him he'll still be here."
"How many more sleeps until Christmas?"
"Counting tonight? Two sleeps until Christmas Eve and three sleeps until Christmas day."
"Are we going to grandma and grandpa house?"
"No, this time everybody is coming here on Christmas Eve, remember?"
"Grandma and grandpa, Uncle Josh, Aunt Morgan and her boyfriend Zach, Uncle Shawn, Aunt Nomi, little Levi, Mr. Feeny and Gigi Lila, Uncle Cory, Aunt Toto, and baby..."
"Is the baby gonna have the pukies on me again?"
She tried not to laugh. Cory and Topanga's baby had horrible reflux and would often vomit after eating. Georgia, unfortunately, got caught in the crossfire on Thanksgiving and was leery about being around her little cousin since. "We'll try to keep you away when the baby is eating."
"Are Uncle Jack and Auntie Rachel going to come?"
"No, but they will be moving close by in the new year so we will see them in a couple of weeks."
"Is Granny Joy coming?"
Angela's relationship with Joyce remained somewhat stilted and stalled until her father's relapse and ultimately, his death. She found herself reaching out to the woman in ways she hadn't anticipated. They would never have a normal mother and daughter relationship, but they talked on occasion and visited around the holidays. Georgia was a good buffer for any awkwardness that remained. Her energy and happy spirit were simply too contagious. "We will see her on Christmas Day after we open presents from Santa."
"When is my baby gonna come?" She crawled into her mother's lap and put her hands on the growing belly that currently housed her sibling.
Angela covered the tiny hands with her own. She and Eric had planned to wait a little longer to tell Georgia about her new little brother or sister simply to avoid long months of anticipation. Once she started showing, however, the girl's curious nature took over and she asked questions- lots and lots of questions. "It's still going to be a while, probably when we're getting ready for the Easter Bunny to visit."
She wasn't quite sure when that was, but she knew it was probably a long time away. "That's forever."
"I know, but Bear needs time to grow and get nice and strong like their big sister."
"When do we know if baby is going to be my Brother Bear or my Sister Bear?"
She smiled. Georgia was obsessed with The Berenstain Bears books and Eric had nicknamed the new baby Bear long before they told the big sister to be, hoping to ease her transition to sibling-hood. "In twelve sleeps."
"Yes, it is a long time."
"A Brother Bear would be nice because we already have a mama and daddy and I can be Sister Bear."
"Yes, a brother would be very nice," Angela began and tucked a few wayward curls behind her daughter's ears, "but I think you would be happy if you got a sister, too."
"Only if she did not steal my toys and my aminals."
"We can make sure there are a few special toys that are only for you."
"Like Baby Erica?"
The doll Eric had used to practice for Georgia's arrival had become the girl's most prized possession. She never went anywhere without Baby Erica and loved telling people how the doll got its name. "Yes, we can make sure she is just for you."
"I hope you'll share some of your other toys with the baby."
"I try." She let out a big yawn and lay on her mama. "Can I still look at the tree? My brain made me 'member some more wishes."
Angela held her tight and rested her chin on Georgia's head. It wasn't often her daughter still liked to cuddle. She was too busy exploring the world around her to stop for hugs. "Sure. We can wish a little more." Eric would be home any minute and would be able to carry her up to bed if she fell asleep.
Sure enough, when Eric walked into the house a few minutes later he found Angela and Georgia in front of the tree. Neither were sleeping, but they looked close. He stood in the doorway and watched them. How on earth had he gotten so lucky? He had a wife he fell more in love with every day and a daughter whom, as clichéd as it sounded, was a little ray of sunshine and he adored her. And in a few months he would be blessed with a second child. He would love a son- he knew Georgia wanted a brother- but he secretly hoped for another girl. He didn't mind tea parties, dolls, or dressing up- heck, right now he was sporting glittery purple toenails because Georgia wanted to make him look pretty. He loved his daughter's imagination and the way she played. She was so completely innocent yet every once in a while she would say something so wise beyond her three years and would totally blow his mind. Some of his friends with sons teased him and joked around, but he wasn't missing out on so-called guy activities either. Georgia loved Tee-ball and camping just as much as her dolls and gymnastics class.
"Hey," Angela called out softly, smiling at him from her spot on the floor.
"Hey." He put down his coat and laptop bag and sat down beside his family. "Did she have another night terror?" He wrapped his arm around Angela and scooted closer.
"Nope, I came down here and found her staring at the tree. She said she was making wishes like when she blows out her birthday candles."
She spied a bag next to him. "What's in the bag?"
"Well it is after midnight."
"I know that."
"That means it's the twenty-third."
"Again, also true."
"Don't tell me you've got pregnancy brain already."
"What are you talking about?"
"What happened four years ago on this date and then two years ago on this date?"
Angela gave him a teasing smile, knowing exactly what he was referring to. "You tell me."
"Happy anniversary," he whispered as he leaned down to kiss her.
Georgia stirred and sat up slightly, only now seeing her father. "Hi, daddy," she said in a sleepy voice.
"Hi, snowflake, what are you doing awake?"
"I love looking at the Christmas tree."
He held his arms open and she migrated over to him. "Me, too."
"What's that?" She pointed to the bag on the floor.
"It's a present for mama."
"No present for Georgia?" She pouted at him.
Eric tickled her sides to get the sad look off of her face. "I'm sorry, but I thought you would be sleeping and today is a special day for mama and daddy. It's our anniversary."
"What's a anna…annaver…what is it?"
"Anniversary. It's kind of like a birthday. Today is special for two reasons."
"Four years ago today- before you were even born- mama said she would be my girlfriend and stay in Philadelphia. And then two years ago today we got married."
"I was there?"
"Yes, you were there wearing a pretty blue dress."
"I don't member that."
Eric got up and retrieved a photograph from the mantle before sitting back on the floor. "Here you go. See, you were right there when we got married." He smiled at the image. About halfway through the ceremony Georgia decided that she needed to be up there with her parents, not just standing with them, but in her daddy's arms. It wasn't how he had envisioned his wedding day, but he couldn't imagine anything more perfect.
"Am I going to get this present any time soon," Angela asked with a smile.
He reached inside the bag and pulled out a large bouquet of flowers. "This is only part one."
"Oh, they're beautiful. Thank you." She leaned over and kissed him.
Georgia scrunched up her face and covered her eyes. "Ew, kissing!"
"You'll change your mind when you're older," Angela said, sneaking in a few more kisses.
"She doesn't have to," he insisted.
"Boys are icky."
"Daddy's a boy. Is daddy icky?" She laid her head on her husband's shoulder.
"He is a little bit after he plays basketball." The girl looked back and forth between her parents, puzzled by their laughter. "All boys are icky but daddy is not."
He pulled Georgia into his lap and kissed the top of her head. "Please remember that, forever and ever."
"I promise." She looked to the bouquet. "Mama, can I have a flower, please?" She dragged out the last word for dramatic effect.
Angela plucked up a blossom and handed it to her daughter. "There you go."
She held the flower as if it was a priceless artifact. "Wow...so pretty." She yawned and rubbed her eyes.
"I think it's time you went back to bed."
"Not tired, mama," Georgia said at the same time she rested her head on daddy's chest.
"I am and I'm sure daddy is, too, right daddy?"
"Yep, I'm exhausted." He wasn't, but he knew better than to say that to a three year old who was fighting sleep.
"See, we're going to go to bed, too."
"You have a big day tomorrow."
"Yes, remember you are going to grandma and grandpa's house to see Aunt Morgan so we can go out for our anniversary."
"And Morgan's new boyfriend," Eric muttered under his breath, "with his bright orange Mohawk."
Angela rolled her eyes at his remark and let it go. He didn't like Morgan's current boyfriend. He hadn't liked any of her previous ones either. "We're going to drop you off for lunch and pick you up at bedtime."
"Are you having a party?"
"A party for just the two of us, yes."
"That's not fun."
He smiled at Angela. "I think we will be okay."
"Will you miss me?"
"We always miss you when we're not together."
"But what will you do all day?"
"We're going to…"
"Write our letters to Santa," she added, not knowing what Eric could possibly come up with.
"Right, we're writing our letters to Santa."
"Well, maybe I'll take mama out to dinner and dance a little. What do you think?"
"I think mama better wear a pretty dress."
"That sounds like a good idea."
Georgia looked at her mother. "Do you have a pretty dress, mama?"
"I have a couple. You can help me pick one in the morning if you want."
"Okay." She yawned again.
"Bedtime, little miss."
"No more buts. It is way past your bedtime."
"Can I have a story?"
"I already read you a story."
"But daddy didn't and his stories are more funny."
"I think Georgia means you just need to practice your funny voices a little more, right, Georgia?" Their daughter had the brutal honesty typical in a toddler and Angela was getting to the emotional part of her pregnancy. He didn't want there to be any hurt feelings.
"No. You are more funny, daddy. Mama doesn't fight crimes."
"Well, you've got me there." Angela still didn't know exactly what kind of bedtime stories Eric told. When she was around he read from a book. She wasn't privy to these "daddy originals." All she knew was there was crime-fighting and that he recently added a new little sidekick, coincidentally named Georgia. Sometimes she thought about sticking the baby monitor in the room and listening in on their story time, but never did. It was sweet that Eric and Georgia had a little thing that was just theirs'. "All right, you've stalled long enough- back to bed. It's one-thirty in the morning."
"No. Maybe you'll get lucky and dream about the Christmas tree again."
"Daddy…" She wrapped her arms around his neck and stared up at him.
"First, put your mama's pout away. You already had a story tonight."
"But just a little one? A rerun I already know?" She hugged him a little tighter and laid her head on his shoulder. "Please?"
Angela tried not to smile when Eric looked her way. She sighed, knowing he was lost. Their girl knew exactly how to push his buttons to get what she wanted. He could be the strict dad when needed, but was usually putty in her tiny hands.
"I don't know, what would Santa say if he knew you were still awake and wanting to stay up even longer?"
Georgia appeared to give her answer some serious thought before she spoke. "He would be mad at you and mama and put you on the naughty list for not giving me a story when I say please."
It took every ounce of will power Eric had not to laugh at her response. Angela's face was buried in her hands, but her shaking shoulders gave her away. "That is a pretty creative answer. Okay, you get a very short story…."
"When I carry you up the stairs," he finished. "Once we're upstairs it's time for sleep."
"What about when I go in the potty? I don't sleep there."
"Nope, story ends at the top of the stairs."
"Okay," Georgia drawled out in dramatic fashion.
"Who's going to help me up," Angela asked, deciding to get their little party moving upstairs before more protests could be made.
Eric placed Georgia on the couch and jumped up, pulling his wife to her feet. "This is sooner than when I had to help you up when you were pregnant with Georgia."
"Hey, you try being five months pregnant and see how well you get along with gravity."
"Did you need help when I was in your belly, mama?"
"Yes, I did."
"Did I make your belly get that big, too?"
"It got a lot bigger, just like Bear is going to make my belly even bigger before he or she is born. Can you give me my flowers, please," she asked Eric and he handed them over to her. "Thank you. I'm going put these in water and then I'll be up. Georgia let me take your flower and put it in water."
"Can it be in my room?"
"No. Remember what happened last time you had a cup of water in your room with no lid?"
"I spill it on my bed."
"That's right. It can keep my flowers company in the kitchen and you can see it at breakfast."
"Okay." She reluctantly gave her flower up before holding out her arms. "Night-night hug?"
Angela happily leaned over for a hug and kiss. "See you in the morning, baby. I love you."
"Love you, mama." She turned to her father. "Carry?"
"Oh, you're going to carry me?"
"No, daddy," she said through giggles. "You carry Georgia."
"Why do I always have to carry," he teased, lifting her high in the air.
"You're the daddy. That's your job."
"Please tell me she's sleeping," Angela said when she entered their room a while later.
"Yep, she's out. She tried to drag out her pit stop in the bathroom, but she's asleep."
She rearranged the pillows before climbing into bed. "Hopefully she stays that way."
"I'll be awake a little while longer just in case."
"You sure? I know you have a difficult time with the night terrors." She did, too, but Eric seemed to have a hard time not taking them personally. She reached for his hand. "I can stay up."
"I'll be fine. Besides, lately she's only having them once a week and she had one the other night."
"I'll get you up if I need you."
"Okay." Angela laughed at him as he got into bed.
"Your toes," she said, pointing at his feet. "They're still purple."
"She only did it a couple days ago."
She leaned over and gave him a kiss. "I love that you let Georgia do stuff like that."
"I don't mind. I'd let her paint my fingernails if they wouldn't give me crap about going on the air like that." Eric grabbed a book from the nightstand. "It's not going to bother you if I have the light on, is it?"
"Nope." Angela caught a glimpse of his book. "Seriously, baby names already?"
"We already have a name for a boy, or do you not like Isaac Thomas anymore?"
"No, I like it, but we need to come up with some girls' names in case I can't talk you into Seraphina for this one if it's a girl."
She stared at him for a moment. "You really want another girl, don't you?" He was hesitant to answer. "It's okay to say it out loud."
"I would love a boy, but yeah, I guess I wouldn't mind having another girl. I love Georgia so much and another would be fantastic. Plus, I've gotten the hang of being the only guy around here."
"King of the castle, huh?"
He laughed. "You know I don't mean it like that."
"I know." Angela kissed his cheek before settling against the pillows. "So tell me more about this anniversary date you have planned for us. I believe you said something about dinner, dancing, and a pretty dress?"
"I may have."
"So where are we going?"
"What makes you think we're going anywhere?"
"How else is the dinner and dancing going to happen?"
"Well, all the really nice places don't open until later and someone doesn't want to leave Georgia at my parents' overnight so…"
"If we left her overnight it would be Christmas Eve morning when we picked her up. I want us to be together on Christmas- the entire holiday."
He squeezed her hand. "Like I was saying, the fancy places don't open until later so we'll have to fancy it up over here."
"What does that mean?"
"Let's just say I know a certain food critic who owes me a favor and he's friends with a chef in a five star restaurant."
"Catered dinner? Here at home? Eric, that's too much."
"For you? That's not possible."
"What about dancing? Please tell me you didn't hire a band."
"That depends. How many people are needed for it to be considered a band?"