So, this is the one I actually wanted to write when I decided to pick up the Cleo series again, but I had to hit points A and B, before going to C. This one's also a bit shorter than the last few, because I got writer's block in the middle of it.
Thanks for reading and reviewing!
"Am I ever going to get a full night's sleep again?" Lia wondered out loud, turning to her friend, who'd been a mother for eight years already.
"Maybe, after Corey goes to college." Emily shrugged and grinned. The two women were at the Flannery residence, enjoying company that was actually old enough to speak.
Corey, Lia's four month-old son, was sleeping in his carrier, pacifier in his mouth, wearing a light green footie with brown puppy on it. Josie, Emily's daughter born only hours after Corey, was passed out in her bassinet, thumb in her mouth, and a lavender footie with giraffe. Their respective mothers were, as usual, tired from late night feedings and diaper changes. Not that their husbands didn't help. They just didn't have the necessary equipment to help with feedings.
Cleo, the nearly two year-old, spoiled-rotten calico cat was curled up on the floor, in between the two babies. At first, she'd hadn't liked Josie. The baby was loud and took much of the attention, but she'd learn to like her. Lately, Cleo could be found in the generally vicinity of the baby girl.
In three days they would leave their babies at day care for the first time, and go back to work. Emily had already explained to Lia how difficult it would be to leave Corey in the care of others. Brandon had been going to the same day care since he was an infant, and the first day they'd left him, Emily had been a wreck, and Matt was terribly nervous too.
He'd been kissing his wife and son goodbye every morning before going to work for four months. Of course, he missed seeing them while he was at work, and he worried a little, about both of them. But he knew his son was safe with Emily, there was a sense of security knowing she was with him. Leaving him with strangers, well that had him on edge all day—jumpy and anxious as anything.
For Emily it had been even harder. In the four month since he'd been born, Brandon had barely been out of her sight. Brandon had started crying as soon as Emily passed him to one of the teachers, and Emily started crying as soon as the stepped out the door. She called them half a dozen times, and they both ran over on their lunch break. The first day was almost impossible, and the first week was very difficult.
It was a Friday, the last day it would be only the guys heading off to work. The girls took the opportunity to spend the day together, discussing their lives, and the impending Monday. Lia wasn't ready for it, she just couldn't imagine not having Corey with her. Emily was nervous, but comfortable with what Monday would bring. She'd been through it before and lived, and now she knew all the people at the day care very well. What's more Josie would have her big brother with her the later part of the day.
"So, how have things been between you and Duff. I know a new baby can be a bit straining?" Emily wondered, sipping ice tea.
"Good. You know, we argue a little now and again, especially when I'm tired, but it's really good most of the time. He loves being a dad. Corey's usually awake a little after Duff comes home, so they get to spend that time together. It's so cute to watch them together." If Lia hadn't already been in love with him, she would've been after seeing him with their son.
"Kind of takes your breath away doesn't it?" Emily smiled thoughtfully. Seeing Matt with baby Brandon had been like seeing a whole new side of him.
"Oh yeah…what about you? How're things with Matt?"
"Oh god, we've been together so long, we've got a rhythm that just works. What I can't believe is that I'm just as crazy about him now as I was when we first started dating. And, we still have sex. Everybody says it stops after marriage, but we've been married, what ten years, and still we're pretty active."
"Yeah, thanks to Josie there's really no hiding that. Besides, if I could believe that about any couple, it would be you and Matt. You two have always been like bunnies."
"Oh, thanks." Emily shot her a playful glare.
"Hey, who's the one who had sex in the office…more than once?"
"Why do I tell you things?"
"Because you were damn proud of that," Lia teased. They started laughing just as they heard keys unlocking the door.
A dark-haired and dimpled eight-year old boy ran in through the door excitedly, throwing his arms around his mother. Emily pulled him up to sit beside her, and kissed the top of his head. Brandon wriggled loose, and leapt at his aunt, as Matt and Duff came through the door, looking much less energetic, but just as happy as the boy.
While the adults embraced and chatted about their days, Brandon crept over to his sister and cousin. He was fascinated by the babies, and just alittle protective of his little sister and younger cousin. He placed a chaste little kiss on each infant's head, and eased Corey's pacifier back into his mouth.
Cleo opened and eye and surveyed the more active room, until landing on the figure she wanted. She rose gingerly from the ground, stretching out her body, then her legs, before marching off toward Matt. She rubbed against his legs, circling around and inside them, until he bent down and stroked her soft fur. Matt was still her favorite. Cleo had decidedly good taste in men.
Lia and Duff left shortly after the men arrived, everyone promising they'd see each other Monday. Corey was still snoozing as Duff gently lifted the carrier, and they walked out the door. Josie was blissfully passed out too, but they'd she'd be awake in thirty minutes, give or take.
"Brandon, put your things away and get out your homework. Mommy and Daddy need a minute to talk." Emily ushered Brandon toward his bedroom, and turned back to Matt.
"Everything alright?" Matt asked, eyes clearly worried.
Emily smiled, shaking her head, and stepped closer to him, pushing her body against his. Arms around his neck, she pressed her lips to his, waited for his mouth to open, and then literally stole his breath away.
Matt was weak-kneed by the time she finally pulled away, but he managed to stay upright, and even hold her as she rested her head on his shoulder. It took them a minute to catch their breath, before Matt could speak.
"Your definition of talking has definitely evolved over the last ten years." His eyes were wide, as if he was still trying to figure out what just happened. Not that he hadn't enjoyed it.
"You think next time I should just tell Brandon to go play, because Mommy wants to suck Daddy's lips off?" She smirked.
"Point taken. Now, did I do anything particular to deserve that welcome home?" Because, he was more than willing to keep on doing it.
"Nope, not really. I just really wanted to taste you."
Matt struggled to swallow. His mouth was suddenly dry as the desert, and his hands were sweaty, as if the liquid in his body had migrated. Jesus, after almost ten years together, she could still say one sentence, and have him as nervous and excited as the first time he made love to her.
Emily simply grinned, and walked toward the kitchen, turning back as just as she hit the tile floor. "Would you get started with Brandon? I'll put dinner in the oven and jump in the shower."
"Is that an invitation?" Matt managed, gaining back his cocky grin.
She chuckled. "We have two kids that need attention and dinner, so unfortunately, no."
"Oh, so not fair."
Emily shrugged, still smiling at him. God knows she'd love to drag him into the bedroom and tear off his clothes, but they had two kids who came before their needs. She walked the rest of the way into the kitchen, leaving Matt to get Brandon started on his homework.
He watched her walk off, and shared her desires, but knew she was right. Still, he couldn't help but called to her. "Tease!"
He heard her giggle from the kitchen.
Hours later Cleo squeezed out from underneath Brandon's arm, restless and determined to find a better spot. The boy was plenty loving, but well she wasn't a teddy bear to be squeezed like he liked to. Normally she would have slept with the adults, but well, they were being overly enthusiastic again, rolling around and shaking the bed something awful. These were not the best times to try and curl up next to them.
She wandered out of Brandon's bedroom, content that he hadn't even woken up, and walked silently down the hallway. Not even her nails clicked on the wood. Cats were good at that, being silent, being stealth. Maybe she'd find herself a mouse tonight, a nice pulp midnight snack. First, she wanted to check on the new one, the squirmy, helpless little thing that had her owners smiling so much.
She'd barely made it a foot down the hallway when a smell stopped her. It was too subtle for a human to pick up, but it was there. A change in the general smell of the house, in the scent of the people who lived there. She approached the master bedroom first, and the smell got a little stronger. When she turned toward the nursery, the smell was impossible to miss. Her fur puffed out on end, her back arched. Something was very wrong.
Sniffing the air, she judged distance. It was definitely the baby's room that smelled different, smelled wrong. She stalked forward, body tense, nostrils flared, ears up wide. The closer she came to the honey-stained crib, the stronger the change in smell became. Cleo sniffed around the perimeter of the crib, before stopping by the baby's head.
There was a nightlight in the room, but Cleo didn't need it. Cats have excellent night vision, and she was no exception. They also see in black and white, but still she could tell, the color was deeper on the infant's cheeks. She went up on her hind legs, paws against the crib steadying her, and put her face close to the baby. She could faintly hear her heartbeat, and knew it was too fast for any human she'd ever met. It was faster than it either baby's had been when she slept between them earlier in the afternoon.
Cleo dropped back to all fours, and trotted quickly out of the nursery. She went straight for the master bedroom, and surveyed the couple in the bed until she could make out their heads beyond the blanket. They were spooned, both facing Emily's side. She trotted over, and park herself as close as she could, right beneath their heads. Then she opened her mouth and gave the loudest, most obviously disturbing yowl she could manage.
They jumped and woke quickly, looking around with wide-eyes until they stopped on her almost glowing ones. Matt cursed, and Emily hit the light.
"Shit Cleo, what's the matter?" Matt mumbled unpleasantly, squinting in the light.
Cleo continued to issue high, painful sounding yowls.
"Matt, what the hell is wrong with her? Why is she making that noise?" Emily looked almost frightened. That was not a normal noise for their cat.
"I don't know." He held out his hand, thinking she'd jump up and shut up. She didn't.
Instead, she trotted to the door, and yowled some more.
"She wants us to follow. Great." Emily maneuvered out of bed and threw on her robe to cover her naked body. Matt mimicked her movements, and followed her to the door.
Cleo walked out of the room, and toward the nursery, checking that they were following behind her now and again.
"She's taking us to the nursery. Damn it, if she screams like that again, she's going to wake Josie." Emily shook her head, and walked over to the baby, sensing something was wrong almost as soon as she got to the crib.
"Matt, switch on the light." Without question, he did what she asked. He was still half asleep anyway.
Josie's cheeks were flaming red, and Emily gasped, pressing a hand to her daughter's cheek.
"What's wrong?" Matt responded to her gasp.
"She's burning up, Matt. Grab a thermometer." Emily was trying not to panic, but her voice came out strained and high.
Matt tore out of the nursery to the bathroom, while Emily picked-up and cradled their daughter. He charged back in, and placed the thermometer in the baby's ear. Time passed at a fraction of it's normal speed while they waited for it to beep. When it did, the couple nearly jumped out of their skin.
"103.2 Shit." Way too high for a four month-old baby.
"I'll get a wash cloth and try to cool her down, you get dressed and get Brandon up and dressed...Oh god, I have to call Lia. Corey might be sick too."
"You get the wash cloth, I'll get on the phone. Then I'll change and get Brandon ready. You keep her cool until I can take her, so you can change." Emily nodded, cradling their still sleeping baby, and hurried toward the bathroom.
Cleo followed her, sensing the change in Emily's demeanor, and now her scent. No, it wasn't the same change. Josie was sick, but Emily was scared, but trying to hide it. Cleo watched her owner's trembling hands reach for a washcloth and turn the sink faucet on. The chubby cat perched herself on the closed toilet and watched Emily and Josie. She sniffed air, eyes wide studying Emily as she tried not to panic, her tail swishing back and forth.
The frightened mother wrung out the excess water from the washcloth and pressed it to her infant's face. Josie woke then, screaming unhappily. It was a little relief for Emily, but her very young daughter still had a high fever. She shooed Cleo from the toilet seat, and fell onto it herself, stroking Josie's face, moving the cold washcloth to her tiny chest.
Cleo trotted into the master bedroom where Matt was struggling with a pair of pants. His own fear and worry was making him clumsy, clumsier even than when he'd asked Emily to marry him. Cleo hopped onto the bed, and watched him finally suceed with his pants, and move on to a shirt, which actually went much smoother. No buttons or zippers to slow him down.
Matt sat on the bed beside her, phone in his hands, and dialed a familiar number. They might not answer their landline at this hour, but Duff would answer his cell. God knew, they were all far too accustomed to getting calls at all hours of the night.
"Matt?" He answered after the second ring.
"Duff, get up and check on Corey." Matt didn't bother with any greetings or pleasantries.
"I don't have to, Lia's feeding him now, she's right next to me." Now he sounded puzzled.
"He's not sick? No fever?"
"I don't think so. Lia, babe, does he feel warm?" Matt could hear him speaking to his wife.
"She's says he's a little warm, doesn't seem to want to eat. What's going on?" Matt seldom heard Duff worried, and even rarer did he hear fear in his friend's voice.
"Josie's burning up, we're taking her to the hospital." As the words tumbled from his mouth, Matt's heart began to beat faster, and his mouth went dry. This was a different kind of dry than earlier in the day, this was fear for his baby.
"Is Brandon okay?"
"Yeah, I just checked on him, he seems fine." Brandon was sleepy and confused, but wasn't running a fever.
"Alright, we'll meet you at the hospital. LA Hope?" Los Angeles Hope Hospital was the closest one to them, and luckily, a pretty respectable one.
"Yeah. See you then." Matt didn't bother to say goodbye, before hanging up. He tossed the phone on the bed, and jamming his feet into a pair of shoes, stumbled to the bathroom.
"Corey's only a little warm, but he won't eat, so Duff and Lia are going to meet us that the hospital. I checked Brandon, he seems fine." Matt rattled off, easing the baby from her arms to his.
Emily nodded, soaking the washcloth again in cold water, before ringing it out, and handing it to Matt. Cleo sat at the door watching them, her tail swishing nervously back and forth, eyes glowing like only a cats do.
"Go get dressed, I'll get the kids in the car." He nodded her off, and went to find his son, Cleo following behind.
Josie and Corey had come down with colds, which they could have picked up from Brandon or any of the adults in their lives. Corey's fever was mild, barely a hundred degrees, so the doctors sent Lia and Duff home with a prescription for antibiotics. It was still very early morning, and they were happy to get out. Brandon went home with them, so Matt and Emily could stay at the hospital with Josie. He enjoyed spending the time with his aunt and uncle, but was still confused about what was going on.
Josie was sicker, her immune system less able to handle the battle against the cold. It may have been because she was premature, or maybe she was just unlucky. Either way, Matt and Emily huddled at the hospital the whole next day. The doctors had to bring her fever down, rehydrate her, and wanted to make sure it didn't shoot back up before they sent her home. The doctor finally found them around seven to tell them they could take her home.
"Just make sure you give her the prescription, and she should start to feel much better. Keep and eye on her the next couple days, and if her fever spikes again, bring her back immediately. Any questions?" He smiled patiently.
"She's really fine then? The fever didn't hurt her?" Emily bit her lip, and squeezed Matt's hand.
"I won't lie to you, if you two hadn't found her when you did, and the fever continued to rise, it could have gone very badly. But, you did find her, we got her fever down, and little Josie is already getting better." He smiled again, as a nurse came out with Josie in her arms.
Emily took her daughter, and cooed to her, tears of relief already pricking her eyes. Matt brushed two fingers along the side of the infants face, and kissed Emily's forehead. He was struggling to maintain his own composure, now that he knew Josie was alright.
Emily called Lia in the car, and asked her to drop Brandon off at their apartment. Corey was still doing fine. He had no fever, and actually seemed hungry for dinner, so she and Duff were both very happy. They'd drop by shortly to bring Brandon home, and no, he wasn't any trouble.
Cleo meanwhile, had parked herself at the door after they left for the hospital, but when it appeared they weren't coming home soon, she curled up on the living room couch. She heard a car pull in as it was beginning to grow dark, and hopped off the sofa. She stretched her body and front legs, before stretching out her back legs, and then padded to the door, sitting and staring up at it.
The knob turned and in came Matt, and Emily, with Josie in her arms. Cleo rubbed against their legs, and meowed. She wasn't hungry, Cheryl had come to feed her, but she wanted to smell them. Matt bent down and picked her up stroking her fur, and Cleo stretched her neck out and sniffed at sleeping Josie. There was a still a sick smell to her, but it wasn't what it had been. But it was more the slower heartbeat that told the feline that the infant was alright.
"You are going to get one hell of a treat, Cleo." Matt squeezed her, before setting her down, and going toward the fridge. Emily disappeared briefly to lay Josie back in her crib.
Cleo studied Matt as he pulled a tupperware container from the fridge. As soon as he cracked the lid, she could smell it, and she wasted no time making that known. She rubbed against his legs, purring and meowing.
"Alright, alright Cleo, give me a second." Matt grabbed a knife and began to cut the leftover piece of steak in pieces. He wasn't sure how much to give her, it was a rather large steak.
"How much you think I should give her, Em?" He turned to his wife. Emily watched the excited cat, and considered what it was they were rewarding her for.
"Give her all of it. She may well have saved Josie's life." Just saying it made her throat tight. If Cleo hadn't come into their room, and screamed, Josie's fever would have kept rising until they did find her. By then, it might have been too late.
Matt nodded, and poured the sizable quantity of steak into Cleo's dish--blue with orange fish swimming on it. Cleo tore into it, not quite sure why she was suddenly getting such yummy people food, but not one to question a gift. She purred as she chomped happily on that steak.
Matt walked behind Emily, and wrapped his arms around her, breathing in the scent of her hair, her skin. He could feel the tension still in her body, the fear of almost losing their daughter. It began to ease from her as she relaxed in his arms, the one place she always found comfort.
A couple hours later, they'd put Brandon to bed, and prepared for another day living their lives. The young boy had been very worried about his baby sister, and had wanted to see her as soon as he got home. Sure enough, she was sleeping peacefully in her crib, and Brandon was satisfied at that. Of course, then he talked excitedly about playing with his aunt and uncle all day.
He finally fell asleep as Matt read him a children's book of The Nutcracker. Of course, it took months before Matt and the guys didn't giggle or cringe at the title. The women that were their friends (and in some cases spouses) just kept rolling their eyes until they grew out of it. It was one of Brandon's favorite stories though, and some Christmas season, Matt and Emily were going to get around to taking him to see it live.
They'd transfered Josie to her bassinet, which was easier to move into their room. Tomorrow was a Sunday; they could sleep in, thank god. Matt made it into bed first, and held an arm up for Emily to slide in beside him. She did just that, and for one of those rare times, they didn't swap suggestive comments. They were too tired and drained emotionally. Cleo trotted up toward the bed, and hopped up, meowing at them.
"Make yourself comfortable," Emily offered her. "You are a very good girl, Cleo."
"Yes, she is." Matt smiled. He didn't regret being suckered by his son one bit.
Cleo was the fifth little part of their family, and if she hadn't already, she certainly earned her place there now.