Chapter 1: Goodbye Vacation

"Do you hear that?" he asked, as they lay stretched out in bed in their cozy hotel room.

"What?" she asked, glancing up at him as she lay in his arms. "I don't hear anything…"

"Exactly. This is probably the last time we're gonna wake up like this for a while." He placed his hand on her belly under the covers. "Won't be long now."

"No," she said quietly, "it certainly won't be." She looked up at him, smiling bravely. She'd slept so peacefully in his arms. Everything seemed to be as close to normal as it possibly could be with the preparations for the baby going on every day. Michaela had stopped having nightmares about the kidnapping all together. She thought about it from time to time, but something in her mind had convinced her that it was all in the past now, and there was no use dwelling on it any longer, consciously or subconsciously. It was just one of those things that took time, and with the baby due any minute, she had one more positive thing to think about and keep her going.

"This little one's not going to be so little if it stays in there much longer," Sully pointed out, rolling over and uncovering Michaela's belly from under the sheet. He placed his hand there gently before kissing it.

"That makes me feel a lot better," she laughed. Each of the girls had been fairly average sized when they were born. Katie had been just over six pounds, Elizabeth had been close to seven pounds, and Laura had been their little scale tipper, coming in at a whopping eight pounds. Michaela only feared the pattern would continue, and that she might be giving birth to a baby that was actually as big around as an actual watermelon.

"I never saw somebody work so hard for somethin'. When you were havin' each of the girls, I was amazed…you were so strong."

"It's amazing what your body can do when your mind thinks you can't do anymore." She shook her head. "I'm just worried something might go wrong…"

"That's why we're here. To stop worryin'. To stop thinkin' about all the negative things." Michaela nodded, chewing her bottom lip curiously.

"Do you think the girls are alright back home?"

"With your mom and dad? Sure they are. They raised five girls, Michaela. I'm sure that after raisin' you and your sisters, they can handle just about anything."

"Funny!" she laughed, playfully tossing a pillow at him from close-range.

"Hey, watch it. You remember the damage ya did with the spatula, don't ya?" Michaela grinned, rolling her eyes, as Sully leaned in to kiss her. "Don't worry. The girls are fine. They love spendin' time with your mom and dad. They don't get to see 'em much."

"I wish they could have met your parents, Sully." Sully smiled sadly and nodded.

"Me too. They'd have liked havin' lots of grandkids runnin' around." Sully's father had died before he was born, and his mother had died shortly after he'd graduated college. He'd met Michaela shortly after that, and she had been his saving grace. "I just wish your parents got to see 'em more, you know?"

"Dad's been talking about moving out here once he retires. I don't know if he could ever get Mom away from Boston, but I think they'd like living out here. I know the girls would love having their grandma and grandpa here all the time." Elizabeth and Josef had arrived for a visit, and they were planning on staying until after the baby was born, but there was no way of knowing if Josef might need to be called back to Boston on an emergency.

They had arrived about two weeks ago, but just a few days ago, they'd slapped a hotel reservation into Sully's hand, telling him to take Michaela away for the weekend—somewhere close to a hospital, just in case—so she could rest, but Michaela and Sully both knew that they really just wanted to have the grandkids all to themselves for the weekend. But they hadn't hesitated, and now the weekend vacation was over. It was time to go back home.

For Sully, going back home meant preparing to put his job at the construction site on hold and only work at home for Mr. Marsden over the telephone. For Michaela, going back home meant propping her feet up as much as she could but getting out and walking to try to induce labor. Charlotte had told her that the baby was healthy and strong, so Michaela was very anxious to get the labor going. However, having the weekend with Sully, just the two of them and her still-growing belly cuddled up in bed all weekend, sharing private thoughts, caresses, intimacies that they wouldn't be able to share for a while once the baby came was a nice change.

"Oh!" Michaela exclaimed, as the baby gave her a strong kick. "Did you feel that?"

"I did," he laughed. "We either have a soccer player or a new member of Stomp." Michaela giggled.

"Whatever this baby turns out to be, I think we're in for something quite different."

"You think?"

"Mmmhmm," she replied. "The girls weren't such tumbleweeds. I swear this baby's training to be a synchronized swimmer." Sully moved lower to kiss her belly.

"Hey kiddo. Give your momma a rest, will ya? She's workin' awful hard at keepin' you safe and warm. Can ya give her a break?" The baby kicked again, and they both laughed.

"Stubborn too. Just like daddy."

"Huh? Me? Stubborn! You're the one who refused to budge when I wanted to get that new chair for the livin' room…"

"Sully, it was ugly and brown, and it didn't go with anything!" she laughed.

"Stubborn," he muttered, winking at her playfully. Michaela struggled to sit up in bed, and Sully helped her. She groaned, standing up and padding across the room to the bathroom.

"I suppose we had better get ready to go. I'm sure Mom and Dad are going to be ready to go back to Boston by the time we get there." She laughed. "I hope the girls weren't too tough on them."

"So what do we say when Mommy and Daddy get home?" Elizabeth asked, as she and Josef stood before the three girls, who were seated together on the couch.

"Surprise!" they exclaimed, throwing their hands up in the air.

"Good! And who's the lookout?"

"Me!" Katie said eagerly, raising her arm up high in the air.

"And what do you say when you see Mommy and Daddy pull into the drive way?"

"Umm…." She thought for a minute, and her eyes lit up. "Op'ration S'prise!"

"Close enough," Elizabeth laughed. "They're coming home today."

"Mommy!" Laura exclaimed happily, clapping her hands. Josef gathered the youngest in his arms.

"What do you think, Miss Laura? You're not going to be the baby anymore."

"New baby," Laura said with a nod. "I'm the biiiiig sister!"

"That's right," Elizabeth said, picking up little Lizzie. "You're all three going to be big sisters…again, for two of you." Katie grinned.

"I know it's a girl," Katie said matter-of-factly.

"Oh, and how do you know that?" Josef asked.

"'Cause, Grandpa! It's really easy, see? Sometimes mommies have girls, sometimes they have boys. But see, grandma only had girls, so that means mommy can only have girls." She nodded proudly. Josef bit his lower lip, grinning at his granddaughter's attempt at logic.

"Well, I guess we'll find out soon," Josef replied. "Come on girls, I'll make you some chocolate milk!"

"Yay!" they exclaimed, hopping down and hurrying into the kitchen. Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.

"Chocolate milk, Josef? Honestly, you're spoiling them."

"Oh, don't give me that, Miss 'oh, alright, maybe one more scoop of ice cream won't spoil your dinner.'"

"What? When did you hear me say that?"

"Yesterday," he laughed, "after you made a big spectacle of me going to find the girls' favorite movie so you could be stern with them and tell them they couldn't have more ice cream. I believe you're the one that told me I was too lenient with them, and then you turned around and gave them extra ice cream."

"Well…you weren't supposed to hear that." Josef laughed and kissed his wife's cheek.

"Oh, Lizzie, seeing you with our granddaughters just makes me love you all the more."

"Grandpa! Chocolate!" the girls chanted.

"Ah, my public awaits." He hurried off into the kitchen to make his favorite granddaughters a special treat. Elizabeth just shook her head, chuckling to herself, as she went about, tidying up the living room and glancing up periodically to watch out for her daughter and son-in-law.

"How're ya feelin'?" he asked, as they drove quietly down the road. Michaela was reclining slightly in the passenger's seat.

"Thankful that we're almost home. The baby's playing the bongos on my bladder again." Sully reached over and gently squeezed Michaela's knee.

"First thing you're gonna do when we get home is lay down."

"Bathroom, then bed. I won't object," she replied with a yawn. "I feel like I could sleep for a week."

"You can sleep as long as ya like," he assured her. "Your Mom, Dad, and I'll take care of the girls, so you don't worry about anything, ok?"

"We still have so much to prepare for. The nursery isn't finished. We still have to buy a new car seat…"

"Michaela, Michaela," he assured her, "we'll get everything finished, ok? Just don't worry. It'll all be finished. Besides, the baby'll be in our room for a few weeks anyway. We still have plenty of time." Michaela nodded, looking out the window as the land passed by them.

"I suppose that's true." She yawned and leaned her head back, and within a few minutes, she was fast asleep. Sully smiled and continued driving on, anticipating what awaited them when they returned home.

"Op'ration S'prise! Op'ration S'prise!" Katie exclaimed, rushing into the kitchen. "They're here! They're here!" Elizabeth hurried into the living room to see the car pulling into the drive. She hurried up and unlocked the front door, before she grabbed Lizzie, Josef grabbed Laura, and they headed up the stairs, Katie rushing up behind them.

Sully jiggled the door knob, figuring it would be locked, but it wasn't, so he opened it up, expecting to see his girls running around playing, while an exhausted Josef and Elizabeth sat on the couch and watched in bewilderment.

But everything was quiet. Everything was clean and tidy.

"How bad is it?" Michaela asked, closing her eyes, as he took her hand and led her in.

"See for yourself," he said, surprise in his voice. Michaela opened her eyes to find the house just as she'd left it. She raised an eyebrow.

"They didn't send for Martha did they?" she asked with a bewildered smile. Sully laughed. Michaela made a quick beeline for the bathroom, and Sully deposited their luggage against the wall by the front door. They could always put it away later.

He poked his head into the kitchen and then looked out into the backyard to see if the kids were playing. The car was outside, so they had to be home.

"Josef? Elizabeth?" he called. "Girls?" Michaela came walking out of the bathroom, her hands on her stomach.

"Katie!" Michaela called. "We're home!" When nobody answered after a few moments, Michaela grew concerned. That didn't last long, however, because she heard a giggle come from upstairs followed by a stern "shhh!" Michaela and Sully glanced at one another. They headed upstairs together. Michaela was a bit slow in going these days, but she chalked it all up to the effort to get this baby born.

"Girls?" Michaela poked her head inside of one of the rooms, while Sully looked in the other. All was quiet. They checked their bedroom, only to find it empty as well. The hall closets and the main bathroom were empty, so the only room left to check was the new baby's nursery. Another "shh" escaped, and the parents zeroed in on the door.

It was cracked open just a bit, so Sully pushed on it, sending it open. The light flicked on, and Josef, Elizabeth, Katie, Lizzie, and Laura all jumped up.

"Surprise!" they yelled.

"Oh my God!" Michaela exclaimed, placing her hand over her mouth in sight of her family and the nursery. "Hi! Oh wow…what did you do?" She and Sully knelt down a bit to hug their girls.

"We finished the nursery. Since we couldn't make it to the shower your friends threw a while back, we thought we'd make up for it…"

"By finishin' the nursery?" Sully asked, looking around with shock and surprise.

"It's what you wanted, right? Everything that you had planned? Michaela told me some things on the phone, and…the rest we sort of guessed to your tastes."

"It's perfect," Michaela said softly. The wallpaper was up. It was green and yellow with little teddy bear stencil cut outs all around. A solid dark oak changing table with a green and yellow changing pad inside sat in the corner, next to the matching crib. A baby bouncer sat on the floor near the rocking chair, with a matching swing set up beside it. Everything was just as Michaela had pictured it, but better!

Sully helped her stand, and with tears in her eyes, Michaela went over to hug her parents.

"Thank you," she whispered. "It's wonderful. I love it!"

"Josef insisted we get everything in blue, but considering you started with neutral colors, I was adamant we buy the same. Besides, your daughter sleeping in a boy's nursery? I wouldn't hear of it!" She grinned when she saw a disappointed look flashed from Josef's direction. But it was all well and good, because this was a happy time. No matter what the baby was, it was going to be loved, and that was the most important thing.

"You didn't have to do this," Sully said, shaking Josef's hand and hugging Elizabeth.

"Of course we didn't, but with the baby due so soon, we figured it might take a while for the nursery to be completely finished, and we wanted to ease your worries about getting everything done in such a short time."

"It's so beautiful," Michaela whispered, going around and touching everything, examining every little detail of the beautiful surprise. She touched her belly, smiling. She looked at her husband, tears in her eyes. "Just think, Sully. Sometime very soon, we'll be standing in here with the baby in our arms…"

"I wanna help with the baby," Katie decided. "Just not diapers." The four-year-old made a face. Michaela laughed.

"Well, you can certainly help out. All of you can, right, Sully?"

"That's right. Your mama and me are gonna need all the help we can get."

"And you're going to have it," Elizabeth pointed out. Michaela and Sully glanced at Josef and Elizabeth.

"What?" Michaela asked.

"As you know, your father and I have been talking about moving out here, after he retires."

"Yes?" Michaela said uncertainly.

"Well, these past few days with the girls have made us realize just how much we miss spending time with all of you. So, we've decided that once the baby's born, and you're all settled in, we're going to go back to Boston and prepare for our move out here." Michaela and Sully stared, stunned at the older couple.

"What?" she asked. "But, Dad, you aren't retiring yet, are you?"

"I talked to John Conrad yesterday afternoon, and he's been trying to get me out here for a couple of years now, so he about fell out of his chair when I told him I'd like a position at the hospital. But don't worry…my first priority will be taking care of your patients at your clinic until you're ready to come back to work." Michaela's eyes widened even more.

"I can't believe it!" she exclaimed.

"You're happy, aren't you? You do want us to live closer, right?" Elizabeth asked, hugging her daughter.

"Of course I do. I…I want you both in our lives more." She looked up at Sully who smiled at her. "We were just talking about it. You're the only grandparents that the children have, and I know they'd love it if you were here more often."

"Well, then let's not talk about it anymore. Let's just go out and celebrate!" Josef exclaimed. "Unless you'd like to rest first?" Michaela shook her head, feeling rejuvenated.

"I'm feeling up to it. Sully?"

"Yep. Sounds good to me." He pulled her in, kissing her forehead. "Girls?"

"Yeah!" they exclaimed. Katie tugged on Josef's hand. "Grandpa, can we have more chocolate milk first?" Michaela and Sully eyed the older man, and he just smiled, clearing his throat, as Elizabeth shook her head.

"Um, Katie, that was supposed to be secret chocolate milk, sweetheart."

"Ooops," she giggled, as she hurried out of the room, Josef chasing after her as she giggled happily. Michaela sighed and closed her eyes, rubbing her stomach, feeling suddenly very tired all over again.

"Michaela? Are you alright?"

"Hmm? Oh. Yes. Yes, I'm fine. I'm just taking it all in." She sighed softly. "I can't thank you enough."

"There's no need. We wanted to do this."

"You and Dad have been wonderful."

"We really appreciate it, Elizabeth," Sully said with a nod. He turned and scooped Laura and Lizzie up into his arms. "Come on, girls. Let's go see if we can sneak some chocolate milk before we go out to dinner, too."

"Sully!" Michaela laughed, as he carried them out of the room. Shaking her head, Michaela moved over to sit down in the rocking chair. Elizabeth moved across the room, sitting down on the footstool across from her daughter.

"Are you sure you're feeling alright, Michaela?"

"Yes," she said, her face showing obvious concern now.

"What is it?"

"I don't know," she said quietly, rubbing her belly. "I suppose I'm just growing nervous about the delivery."

"Oh," Elizabeth replied with a nod and a knowing smile. "Oh, Michaela. I delivered five beautiful girls, each one without medication. I'm not saying each one got easier…"

"Good, because none of mine seem to get any less painful," Michaela commented.

"I'm just saying that I felt so confident right up until around my due date. And then I began to second guess, thinking over the worst possible scenarios. But when it came right down to it, I reached deep down within myself and found the courage and strength I'd found before, and I pulled through. I had four other birth experiences to draw from when I had you. It should have been a breeze."

"But it wasn't," Michaela laughed.

"No! You were the most stubborn baby! I thought you were trying to climb back up inside of me. I'd push and push, and you'd come down just a little bit. I thought after four girls, I'd go into the delivery room and be out in five minutes. Three hours, Michaela. Three hours of pure torture."

"Mom, you're not helping," she said with a slight wince.

"Oh, I'm sorry dear. Don't worry. You're so strong. Stronger than I was, in many ways." She smiled, patting Michaela's tummy. "This baby is being born into a family with so much love to give. He or she is very, very lucky." Michaela smiled, nodding.

"Can you…help me up?" She blushed with embarrassment, but Elizabeth only nodded and helped her pregnant daughter stand up.

"I'm not going to miss this," she laughed. She leaned back, her hands on the small of her back. She stretched a bit before heading off to her bedroom to change. Elizabeth went downstairs to join her husband, son-in-law, and granddaughters in the kitchen, smiling and thinking about how wonderful it was going to be to live so much closer to her youngest daughter and the grandchildren she rarely ever got to see.

"What can I help you with, Ma'am?" a young woman asked, coming up to a woman in the infant section of the store.

"Yes, I'm going to have a baby very soon, and…and I'd like to purchase a few things for the nursery." The woman looked at the customer's slim physique. "Oh! Well, I'm not having the baby. My husband and I are adopting."

"Oh? Well, congratulations! I'm happy for you." The associate smiled. "Well, what are you having?"

"The birth mother isn't sure. We'd just like to get neutral colors."

"Well, come with me, and I'll try to help you find something that suits your tastes."

"Thank you."

"I'm Karen, by the way." The customer held out her hand, and she smiled as the associate shook it.

"I'm Emily Sully. It's nice to meet you."

"Well, follow me, Mrs. Sully, and I'll try to help you get exactly what you want." Emily nodded, a confident smile on her face as she followed behind.

"I'm sure I'll get exactly what I want."

Please let me know what you think! I appreciate all the feedback on the previous stories, so please keep it coming!