The house wasn't dark. He hoped she wasn't too mad that he'd been called out this evening, especially with it being her birthday. Martin had no interest in celebrating his own birthday, but he was beginning to learn that others actually enjoyed the day. He didn't understand the fuss; everyone had a birthday. No one remembered being born, but such was life. He was the minority, apparently, as most people, including Louisa, enjoyed celebrating their birthday.
On this particular evening, he'd been called out to a farm accident. The farmer's son, Albert-maybe? Martin couldn't remember, but the farmer's son had fallen through the second floor of the barn. He'd suffered a couple of broken ribs, which Martin had bandaged. The family had refused to travel to the hospital, which made Martin a little uneasy considering his mind was on internal bleeding, but after being with the family for a couple of hours, he felt fairly confident it was just broken ribs. Still, he would have felt better had things been checked out. These stubborn people-his wife was one of them.
Louisa was doing better, but not after weeks of her complaining. It was now the end of March, and just over seven weeks had passed. She was not finally at 27 weeks. She was almost to her eighth month, and he would breathe a sigh of relief at that point. Her doctor had finally allowed more movement around the house to include her holding James, but Martin was being very selective with that. Nights like tonight were easier, knowing she could at least put him to bed. They'd had to call the child minder and even Al Large on occasion to help with her while she was on very restricted movements. Even the idiot, Penhale, had stayed with her a time or two. Louisa was having a lot of discomfort, and he was keeping his opinions to himself. He believed that increasing her movement now was not the best idea, but she hadn't wanted to hear his opinion. She only wanted to care for James, that is, with the doctor's permission, and he'd given it to her. Martin was fearful she would go into early labor, but again, Louisa didn't want to hear his opinion. What did he know? The whole mess had him rolling his eyes as he thought about it pulling his car into its spot at the house.
It wasn't terribly late, half nine, but still, it was much too late to make a birthday meal for Louisa. He had at least thought about that and had not planned to make fish. Now, though, he was wishing he had fish at the house because he was hungry, and that would be easy to start even at this late hour. He reached over and grabbed for the flowers he'd hastily picked while driving by the farm, and he opened his door, standing and stretching, ready for this long day to be over.
The farm, Joan's farm, he was starting to think of finally as his, theirs. On top of all of the other events over the last few months, they had moved forward with building a home big enough for their family. It had been relatively easy to secure the permits to bring down the house. It had taken longer for the architect to draw up and secure the permits to build it. Finally, though, it was underway. It had just started over the last two weeks with the winter weather breaking enough to begin the process. The house had been torn down at the end of February, and it had been rather revolting to watch many rats scatter as that had been done. Martin and Louisa had been on sight as that process had started. He was fine not seeing it at all, but leave it to his nostalgic wife to want to be there and to be there for him. So, with her limited movement in the car approved, the two had traveled out there one chilly morning to stand around as heavy machinery took down the place. He didn't have any emotions tied to that, but Louisa stood there crying during a lot of it. He didn't understand, and he'd had his head snapped the first instance he'd asked her why she was crying. After that, he'd had at least good enough sense to purse his lips and not look toward her. She had wanted to hold his hand, and that seemed to suffice for any support she wanted.
Now, though, the house had been started. It didn't look like much except for a lot of building materials piled up and things marked out on the property. They had moved the location of the house just slightly to have the best view of the sea. With the chicken coop gone too, the location they had picked really was ideal, and with the bigger home, the space was fitted just right. James and the baby-no name had been formally settled yet-would have plenty of fenced in space to play, and when desired, the family would have a nice walking trail along the cliffs to take in the views. Yes, it was coming along nicely and slated to be finished toward the end of the summer. That wouldn't make things too cramped at the house for too long. Martin was hoping Louisa would stay home this fall and just get the house sorted. She would be busy enough with two babies at home, but even that was under negotiation. He knew she really wanted to be working now, and after a few heated conversations regarding that, he'd decided to just stop talking and let her figure it out. Their child minder was working out and didn't mind keeping both children, so he had decided that discussion would be tabled for another time.
As Martin walked around to the back of the house, he tried to see if Louisa was still up, but the curtains were drawn, which is something he preferred. He couldn't stand the nosy villagers glancing on them anytime they wanted, but he walked around to the back, the wild bouquet in hand. Yes, he had been learning from Louisa over the last couple of years and at least had brought her some flowers. The thought hadn't occurred to him until he'd gotten back into the car at the farm and turned on his lights. They had shone on the small section of wildflowers, and he wasn't sure what overcame him, but he decided quickly to bring some back to his birthday loving wife. He couldn't make up for missing the evening on her birthday, but he hoped that maybe she would enjoy the flowers.
He quietly opened the door, secretly hoping that for Louisa's sake, she was asleep and resting. She needed the rest. The baby needed the rest. He sighed as he unlocked the door. Martin had decided that for her birthday, he would agree to the name she liked best for the baby. He didn't know what else to get her. She'd been ordering things for the baby or both children as was the case with the double pushcart contraption she'd ordered. A seat for his car had also turned up last week, making two for his car. He hadn't said anything, as he was very happy about his growing family, but if someone would have told him just a couple years ago that his expensive car would one day have two child safety seats and some ridiculous pushcart in the boot area, he would have come up with some sort of ridiculous reply. Anyway, Louisa had said over and over she didn't want anything for her birthday. She wasn't wearing new clothing, or didn't want any, and she really just wanted to get things settled for the baby. So, knowing that, he had thought about what to do for her, knowing that it was important to show some sort of gesture on her birthday. He'd decided with all of the back and forth, he would agree to the name she liked, well, somewhat. She had at the top of her list Phillip, to name him after his Uncle Phil, Auntie Joan's husband. Martin wasn't that fond of the name, even if he had enjoyed his time with his uncle. The other name she'd mentioned now a few times was Liam. Martin had decided that he would tell her that Liam Phillip Ellingham was satisfactory. Neither had been on his favorites lists, but he'd also allowed her to name James, and that had turned out well, fine. Perhaps in the family, Louisa was just meant to name their children. Liam even went with Louisa, and well, anything that she wanted, he had to admit he was determined to make her happy.
Martin was very surprised to hear voices as he stepped inside and his head instantly snapped to the living area because he knew those voices. No, these weren't voices there to share birthday greetings with his wife. He put down his case and the flowers and quickly stepped to the room.
"No, I'm afraid you won't be staying here with us. There simply is no room," Louisa stated as Martin made his way into the room. The pounding of his feet, not the door where he'd tried to be quiet, had all eyes on him. "Martin, thank goodness," Louisa muttered, pushing herself up to stand from the single chair. She rested her arm on her very swollen stomach, and Martin stepped to her side but glared to the sofa area.
"What are you doing here?" Martin said with a demanding tone to his voice.
His mother sighed and shook her head while her dad let out a low chuckle. His mother spoke first, "Honestly, Martin, where are your manners? Your father and I have had a long trip today, and when we get here, you aren't even here as a proper host. Instead," she waved to Louisa, and that fired up Louisa who was still standing there next to Martin.
"Now, who is the one with bad manners, hmm? You can't just show up to our home and," she waved her hand. Martin turned slightly and made eye contact with her, pleading silently for her to let him take things over from here.
"Louisa, I apologize for the late night. The farmer's son needed medical care," he stated, almost ignoring his parents seated there in front of him.
That diversion from his parents had Louisa snap her head toward him, and in that moment, he let out a small sigh himself. The sight of his beautiful wife, something he had trouble verbalizing to her, almost took his breath away. He could see she was tired, but he could also see the fire in her eyes, determined to battle his family. He tried to diffuse her, knowing the stress was not good for her nor the baby, Liam, as he'd finally come to terms calling him.
"I am truly sorry for missing your birthday this evening, but I did bring you something," he said with a head gesture toward the table. Her eyes traveled there, as he also felt his parents' eyes. As embarrassing as it was to stand here in front of his horrid parents and talk about doing nice things for his wife, he was trying very hard to be what Louisa needed even if it had his parents laughing at him. The did anyways.
"Oh, well, umm, thank you, Martin," she said with a nod. He could see that she took a deep breath, and with that, she stepped just slightly back to give him the space to deal with the problem at hand. He turned back toward his parents.
"It's your birthday, and our poor excuse for a son forgot?" Martin's father asked, another chuckle escaping his lips. "What do you see in him?"
"He didn't forget!" Louisa now exclaimed, almost jumping behind Martin. He let out a sigh too, the comments only firing up everyone when he was trying to calm things. He felt Louisa standing just behind him. "Martin is a wonderful husband, father, and doctor. He had an emergency. He had planned on a lovely evening here making me dinner. Thankfully, I'm not some materialistic snob expecting gifts and lavish evenings on my birthday."
"You can't even enjoy a bottle of wine, and living with him," Margaret nodded, "dear, well, you need it."
"You haven't answered my question," Martin focused his attention on them. "What are you doing here?"
His father spoke up, "Naturally, we are trying to get to the bottom of my late sister's estate. We haven't heard anything for months. The backwoods solicitor here won't answer my calls, so it was high time we came down here to get things sorted."
Martin heard Louisa huff, and he held up his hand, hoping that she would see he wanted to address his horrid father. He took a deep breath, "How dare you just show up here and assume anything. You are greedy, ungrateful souls. Joan was long ago buried, and you didn't have the decency to even show up for your own sister's funeral. Ruth and I handled everything. You aren't getting a response from the solicitor because you are not part of anything; Joan left you nothing."
"Nothing?!" Martin's father exclaimed, his eyes widening. "She was my sister."
"Yes," Martin nodded. "She was my aunt, and she cared for me as if I was her own son, unlike anything the two of you have done over the last few decades. Instead, you take every chance you get to degrade me or my family. There is nothing here for you from Joan."
"We had given her money at one point, back when she was caring for you," Margaret explained.
"You are here on a claim that over forty years ago, you gave her money, I'm assuming, to care for me? That's utterly ridiculous. She owed you nothing. I believe since we are finished here, you can let yourself out." Martin gestured to the door, but his parents stayed rooted in their spots. He felt Louisa step back, almost as if she knew he was diffusing the situation.
"What happened to the property? It sits on a good piece of land. We should go out and take a look," Margaret said to his father.
"Joan left the property to Ruth," Martin cut in. "Ruth deeded it to me. It's over, final. Nothing here is yours to have."
"Well, some notice we receive," his father said as he stood. Martin stepped back, and as he did, Louisa moved to his side, her hand on the side of her stomach. Martin glanced to her to make sure she wasn't too stressed. She actually looked relaxed, and the way she was rubbing at her side, he thought that the baby, Liam, must be kicking at her. He'd noticed her rubbing circles at her side when he would kick. She had her other hand on her back, and he made a mental note to ask her if her back was bothering her. He could put a heating pad on that for her later. He looked back to his father who was now eye to eye with him.
"Since you refuse to be decent hosts for your own family, we will just board at Joan's place. I suspect we can go through the things there, not that I could imagine anything is worth saving, maybe just a clock or two," he told Martin. "Margaret, our son refuses to take care of his own parents."
"You are correct that I will not be housing you here. For one reason, we simply do not have the space. The bedrooms upstairs are for James and for us, and I will not uproot James for the likes of you. Now, because you were presumptuous and rude enough to show up here without any warning, I have no ill feelings about asking you to leave now."
"Oh, staying at Joan's farm will also be a little out of the question," Louisa piped up from behind Martin.
Margaret made a face and gestured toward Louisa, "Dear, it still dumbfounds me that Martin saw anything in you, any sort of marriage material. Now, you've managed to uproot him from London, even if we have our suspicions about that, to drag him back here to the very same place he came crawling on his knees when he failed in London. Now, you really shouldn't get yourself worked up there. It's very obvious you've put on a great deal of weight and need to get your emotions under control for the sake of that poor child." She made a tsking sound, "If our friends ever found out that Martin had not only married but married so far beneath him and then produced these, these," she waved her hand, "village children."
"Get out," Martin waved to the door. He almost challenged his parents, as he stepped around them. He walked to the front door and opened it, looking back and gesturing to his parents, "Go, anywhere."
"Oh, just not to the farm," Louisa interjected as his father stepped toward him, a scowl on his face and Margaret stood to collect her bag. "I should say that you are welcome to stop at the farm and see the progress that has been made, but as far as staying, well, might be a bit of a chill tonight. You two also don't seem like the type to enjoy roughing it."
At her cryptic description, both of his parents turned toward Louisa. She smiled and nodded to Martin, "Shall you tell them, or should I?"
"Be my guest," he said waving his hand.
"Right," Louisa said with an almost fake smile at his parents. "The farmhouse is gone, torn down. In its place, Martin and I are building a lovely home, a home for our family, the boys and the two of us," she said, patting her side. "Since you aren't interested in your son or your grandsons, we won't be expecting you for any visits. We know you didn't visit when Joan lived there, so nothing should change there. The land is ours; the home we are building is ours. You two can sleep in your car, as far as we are concerned. Of course, the pub is acceptable, just a bit lively tonight," she grinned. "At this point, though, it's not our problem. Now, if you will get going, I don't recall inviting you for my birthday evening. Good evening," she said again with her fake smile.
Martin, after listening to it, found himself almost smiling. Louisa certainly had a way with people, and he enjoyed watching her handle his parents. He always felt the need to protect her around his parents, but she proved over and over again that she could easily handle herself with them. He was the one who often found himself stumbling over his words with his own parents. He schooled his features, stood rigid at the door, and he waited for his parents to exit.
Margaret gave him a sly glance as she stepped toward him, "The word in London is that you were not up to the task of working in any of the prestigious hospitals. This was the only place that would take you, and here you are, a lowly GP. Building a house at the farm," she chuckled. "Oh, so beneath you, the very reason we stopped your visits to Joan, and yet, look at you. All of the education, all of the training, and you end up here. It's almost a relief to not have to stay here and see what a mess you have created."
"My family and I will be extremely grateful if we don't see the likes of you here again," Martin said to his father. He pursed his lips and then added, "Just to be clear-I can safely say that you are not named in Ruth's estate either, so when that day eventually comes, don't come sniffing around here for anything from her. Good evening."
At that, Martin closed the door, turned, and he looked to his wife. Louisa stood there, mouth open and looking dumbfounded.
"Are you all right?" Martin stepped quickly toward her, concerned now that harm had been done to her. "How long had they been here bothering you?"
Louisa gave him a small, yet warm smile and patted his arm as he rushed to her side, "I'm fine, Martin. Yes, I was a bit surprised to see them at the door and certainly hoped you hadn't invited them here for my birthday."
Martin's facial expression turned to a horrified look, "Goodness, no!"
Louisa chuckled and leaned up to kiss his cheek, "I know, Martin. I was just teasing. I am proud of how you handled them. They were here for about a half hour before you got here. The nerve of them to just show up here, expecting to inherit all of Joan's estate."
He grumbled quietly and blushed as she kissed his cheek. He turned toward her, "I apologize for," he waved his hand toward the door. Louisa shook her head at him and stepped toward him, running her hand down his arm.
"Martin Ellingham, don't you dare apologize for your parents. You are nothing like them, and I'm grateful for that. You have your own way, just as I have mine, but neither of us ever need to apologize for terrible parents."
"Yes," he simply stated. The two looked at each other for a moment. Louisa smiled and leaned up to kiss him. Even with their close proximity, the kiss took Martin a little by surprise. When the two finally parted, Martin cleared his throat, almost hoping that would wipe the blushing expression from his face. He nodded to Louisa.
"About your birthday-" he started to say.
She waved it off and shook her head, "It's fine, Martin. It was just a day."
He raised an eyebrow, "That sounds more like what I would say, but I know it means a great deal to you. I had planned to make you dinner, not fish, as you requested."
She chuckled and nodded, "Perhaps a raincheck tomorrow? I saw you had chicken in there, and it will keep, yes?"
"Yes," he nodded again. "Err, ahh, I did bring you flowers," he said, moving quickly to the table. She followed him in her almost waddle as he fumbled for them. In doing so, he dropped some on the floor. As he collected them, he banged his head on the table and let out a yelp. Louisa covered her mouth, chuckling, and that is how Martin found her when he finally stood, the bouquet intact.
"Sorry, Martin. I do appreciate your effort. It was very sweet of you. I know birthdays aren't your thing but thank you for trying with mine."
"Yes," he said, ducking his head as she took the flowers. Again, he was caught off guard, as she leaned up to kiss his cheek. She squeezed his side too and then moved to put the flowers in water.
"You are emotional with your birthday," he called to her. She stood at the sink and smiled, shrugging.
"I'm allowed to be. It's my birthday, and I missed you. I suppose I can't be too angry at your parents. They are the reason you are here, and I'm grateful for that, but I cannot believe they had the nerve to come here."
"Yes, it is alarming," he frowned.
Louisa gestured with her hand and moved from the sink quickly to her bag, "I have half a mind to call down to the pub and make sure there is no room at the inn," she chuckled.
Martin shook his head and reached over to put his hand on hers, "Don't bother. If it's full, they will just come back here complaining. We can just hope they are gone by morning. I'm just grateful I got back here when I did, and I'm only kicking myself for stopping to check on the house. Had I not, I would have been back here earlier. You wouldn't have had to deal with them."
"Well, I think I handled them just fine," she said with a nod. She patted her stomach, "He and I both held our ground."
"Yes, ahh, Louisa," he said with a duck of his head. She tilted her head and gave him a small smile, awaiting whatever he had to say.
"Your gift-" he said.
"Martin, I told you I didn't need anything," she explained.
"It's not that type of gift," he stated. Her expression showed she was perplexed, and he gestured toward her, "Liam is an acceptable name. Liam Phillip Ellingham. I know you were hoping to honor Joan and Phil, and I just am not fond of Phillip as a first name. I know you also like Liam, and well," he shrugged, "it's close enough to Louisa, at least both starting with the same sound, and you told me you liked how the name sounded with Ellingham, whatever that means. I hope that will make you happy."
Her eyes widened, and she smiled, "You really are okay with those names? Martin, we haven't settled on anything because you haven't liked anything I picked. We were going to discuss more because I was the one who insisted on James Henry."
Martin nodded. He was fine with the names. He'd first thought about Phillip when they were naming James, but as time had gone on, he'd decided that the name needed to stay with his uncle, at least for a first name. He was content with it as a middle name for his second son. Henry, his beloved grandfather, seemed to be fitting James well as a middle name, so he had no plans to change that now.
He looked down to Louisa, who was now almost tucked into his side there in the kitchen. He almost melted right there, and in his softest voice, he looked at her beautiful eyes, "I'm happy with the names if you are. I would tell you if I wasn't. I've never held my tongue."
Louisa laughed at that, and she rested her head against him, as she patted at the baby. The kitchen was quiet, and she reached over for his hand too, resting both hands on her stomach, "Well, Liam Ellingham, I would say your daddy gave me a wonderful birthday gift this year, that is after he threw out your horrible grandparents. Naming you is pretty special. No topping it for my birthday."