The small house was crowded, overflowing out into the garden, but it was so full of love and warmth that none of its occupants seemed to mind. Several small children ran giggling through the door, bursting past a small woman, who simply laughed at their play.
"Slow down!" she called after them cheerfully. The children, of course, paid her no heed as they ran about on the green grass, playing a spirited game of tag. Emily laughed once more, turning back into the kitchen. "Mum, is the bread done yet?"
The elderly woman standing by the stove opened the door, releasing a cloud of fragrant steam.
"Quite nearly, darlin'. You just go lay down, an' I'll call ya when it's finished." Emily nodded, placing a protective hand on her abdomen as she walked with an ungainly stride into the living room. She paused for a moment to look out the large picture window, enjoying the view of the rolling Irish countryside. She started slightly as an arm wrapped around her waist, but she smiled angelically when she saw who the arm belonged to.
"How are ya, Love?" Even after all these years, Tommy's voice still sent shivers of pleasure up her spine.
"Mm, I'm good," she breathed, sinking into his embrace. Tommy placed his hand gently, lovingly, on Emily stomach, smiling as he felt the baby kick. Emily laughed at the goofy expression of fatherly pride on her husband's face.
"Lunch is ready!" The call came from the kitchen, loud enough to be heard by the occupants of the house, and those outside.
"We're comin', Mam!" Tommy called, kissing Emily's hair once more before releasing her waist to take her hand, pulling her outside. A long table was set up in the garden, laden down with food and surrounded by family. All of Tommy's siblings, and their many children, along with Tommy's parents, were gathered at Tommy and Emily's house for a very special occasion. Emily and Tommy stopped at two empty seats beside a small, red-headed little girl.
"Mammy, can I open me presents yet?" Her child's voice was excited, and Emily couldn't help but laugh.
"Not yet, Mer. Let's wait until after lunch." Meredith's face fell, but perked up as her grandmother brought out her favorite dish, apple cinnamon bread, topped with steaming bits of apple. Meredith clapped her tiny hands in delight. Emily laughed again and ruffled her red curls.
After the food had been consumed, Meredith tugged on her mother's sleeve urgently. "Mammy, mammy, can I opened me presents now?"
"Now you may open you presents." Meredith face split into a huge gap-toothed grin and she dug into her small pile of presents with more gusto than she had with her food.
Soon all of the presents were opened, and Meredith sat surrounded by a penny whistle, several new dresses, a doll, and a tricycle. She grabbed up her doll, and her cousins, and left the table in a flurry of small bodies. Tommy's mum, dad, and siblings cleared the table good-naturedly, ignoring Emily's protests to let her help.
"Oh good lord," she muttered under her breath. "I'm pregnant, not an invalid."
"We're just tryin' ta give ya a break, Love," Tommy laughed. "Ya work too hard." Emily's annoyance melted under Tommy's smile, and she smiled in return, turning instead to watch the children play. There was a commotion near the door of the house, and Emily turned sharply to see two small boys scuffling around on the ground.
"Owen!" she called, "Tommy! Play nice!"
"Yes mammy." The two brothers stopped their wrestling and stood up, looking up at their mother with such innocent expressions on their faces that Emily laughed, holding out her arms. The boys walked into her embrace reluctantly, squirming to get away. Emily laughed one more time before releasing them, and they ran off, relieved, to play with their numerous cousins.
That night at bedtime, when all of their family had left, Tommy and Emily tucked their children into bed.
"Mammy," Meredith said as Emily pulled the covers up to her little chin. "Tell me a story."
"What story would you like to hear, love?"
"Tell me about New York."
"Oh love, you've heard that story so many times. Aren't you tired of it?"
Meredith shook her head, her little three-year-old face serious. Emily laughed and began to tell Meredith all about New York; about the markets and stores, about the nice lady that lived next door, and especially about Central Park. Meredith loved to hear about Central Park.
Half way through her story, Emily looked down at the bed, not at all surprised to see that Meredith had fallen to sleep. Laughing slightly, she leaned down to kiss her daughter on the forehead. "Good night, baby. I love you." She left the room, closing the door so that it was only open a crack. She peeked into the boys' room, smiling when she saw that both of them were fast asleep. Making her way out into the living room, she sat down on the sofa, resting her weary feet. Tommy came into the room about five minutes later and sat down next to her, wrapping his arm around her expanded waist.
"How was your day, Love?" he whispered.
"Busy," she chuckled. "I can't believe that Meredith is three already." The smile faded, to be replaced by a look of faint melancholy. "Little Tommy's going to start school this fall. And Owen is nearly seven." She sighed heavily, wondering why children had to grow up so fast. "Where have the years gone, Tommy?"
"I don' know, Love, but I've enjoyed every one of them." Emily smiled into Tommy's chest.
"I love you."
"And I love you," he chuckled, kissing the top of her head. He hummed a few bars of a soft song, and Emily recognized their lullaby immediately. She smiled, sinking further into his chest, then into sleep, the notes of the lullaby weaving in and out her dreams.
A/N: Thank you so much to all my readers! I've had 1,257 reads, and 35 reviews! Thank you!! I don't think I could have done it without all your support and input!