"Don't you know that you are a shooting star? And all the world will love you just as long as you are a shooting star." Bad Company
The baby was an early Christmas present.
Ben, Abigail, and Riley waited impatiently in the lobby of the hospital as the birth mother panted and groaned in her room. Riley was better, still too thin, still too pale, but he had a new pair of glasses and a new outfit. Ben had explained these as an early Christmas present.
Riley's adoption would be completed around the same time as the new baby's. In six months, the Gates would have, not one, but two new children.
"I still think we should name it Java." Riley muttered, grinning up at Ben. They had perhaps an hour before the birth and they still couldn't agree on a name. "It works for boys and girls."
"No way." Ben said. He was pacing, anxious, and it was making Riley dizzy. "It should be Charlotte. That name means a lot to the Gates family."
"And if it's a boy?" Abigail challenged.
Abigail sighed, her hands twisting in her lap. She wished that she was the one in the room, she wished she was given birth. She'd gone through all the motions of 'nesting' as it was called. She'd painted the baby's room, gotten it furnished. They'd been going over endless lists of baby names.
And in between all this, she'd been taking care of Riley who, after being confined to the hospital for three feverish days, was let out, a week before Christmas, still sporting pneumonia.
She had stumbled over the boy, watching Star Wars in the dark of the night. He was staring at the screen, watching Leia bend over and kiss her brother (it always made Abigail cringe to watch that scene) and asked her, quietly, "What if it doesn't like me?"
Abigail hadn't even known that Riley was aware of her presence, but she knew exactly what he was talking about. She was worried about that, too. What if the baby knew, instinctively, that she wasn't its mother? "They're going to love you, Ri. You're going to be an amazing big brother."
He snorted, a derisive, sudden sound for such a normally soft-spoken boy. "Yeah, big help I am. Running out in the middle of a case. Too cowardly to tell someone by dad was raping me every night." It was the first time he'd said it out loud, and Abigail felt her heart break a little at the words. She patted her way across the room and sat next to him on the couch, resisting the urge to reach out and hold him.
"You're strong and brave and can fix computers faster than I can use them. Who wouldn't love you?" Except for his father, and though Abigail didn't say those words out loud she knew that Riley heard them anyway, was already thinking it.
Han was acting affronted, jealous, and Riley muted the movie, "I don't want to hurt the baby. I don't want to give it the thoughts I have." He didn't want to contaminate something as innocent, as simple as a baby. He didn't want to make it dirty.
Abigail's voice came out soft, sweet. "Oh, honey, you won't." She touched his shoulder, drew him close. "You'll be the perfect brother." She hugged him, felt him wrap his arms around her, felt Riley hug her back.
"What about Grace?" She asked the room. Ben looked at her, tilted his head. "Or Faith?"
"Hope." Ben suggested. "Charity."
"Those are all girl's names." Riley pointed out. They were quiet for a second before Riley murmured, "How about Salvation? Mercy?" Abigail noticed that her and Ben's names had been characteristics they hoped the child would grow into, while Riley's were prayers, crosses to bare.
Things kept going on that note. Ben suggested Peace, Justice, and Liberty. Abigail liked Chastity and Angel. Riley kept coming up with them: Noel. Melody. Lyric. Karma. Patience. From there it went on to Biblical names, strong ones for boys, like Peter and David. Holy names for girls; Sarah, Mary, Rebecca, Marie. They passed on to family names. All of the mothers; the baby's birth mother Claire, Ben's mother Emily, Abigail's, Hannah, Riley's mom Amanda. They focused on girls' names, though no one had said that they thought the sex would be female. They all just assumed, knew that it could be nothing else.
Finally, when they were called down to the nursery, saw the baby wiggling in her pink bassinette, all three people looked at each other and nodded.
When they walked out of the hospital the next day, the baby Riley was carrying in his arms was named after the only thing the three had felt while staring at her through the window. Joy.
It was the happiest Christmas Riley could remember. He woke up to the smell of gingerbread, the soft strains of The Christmas Song piping into his bed room. He squirmed into a pair of slippers and hurried across the cold wood floor, aiming for the kitchen.
A baby's cry was the most beautiful thing he'd ever heard. For a moment he stopped short, staring at the people in the kitchen. A beautiful couple. A baby girl. Joy. It was a complete family without him. For minute, he thought about staying there, on the side, not wanting to disturb the easy familiarity of the scene.
"Come on, Riley. I made French toast." Things had not become automatically fine since that day at court. Riley still jumped when Ben addressed him. He still smiled, painfully thankful for a thing as simple as a meal.
By the time Riley had sat down with the breakfast, Joy had stopped crying and was sucking happily on a bottle, her tiny lips pursed with concentration. Ben sat next to Riley, saw him looking at the baby, and smiled. "Isn't she beautiful?"
"Are you excited to be a big brother?" Ben asked, knowing that Riley was probably terrified. The kid was always afraid he'd somehow do something to screw everything up. As if he could ever do anything terrible. Anyway, he shrugged at Ben's question, not really answering.
They sat in silence for a while. Ben stared at Riley staring at Abigail staring at Joy. Riley's face was flushed and he automatically checked for fever. "I'm fine, Ben." Riley muttered, jerking away before the older man could get a good read.
"You want to get our present, honey?" Abigail asked, never taking her eyes off the baby. Ben nodded, moving to a back room. Riley took the opportunity to race back upstairs to grab his own gifts.
He was just lugging down his laptop when he saw a flash of fur. He hurried down the last few steps, nearly tripping over his own feet in his haste to get back into the kitchen. Again, he stopped in the doorway, his mouth ajar. "No way!" he shouted, surprised, happy beyond belief.
Ben was on the kitchen floor, holding onto a squirming German Sheppard puppy. The dog was no more than eight weeks old, its ears still floppy. When it saw Riley it gave a little yip and wagged its tail. Riley had always wanted a dog, admiring them for their loyalty, their ability to generate heat even on the coldest of nights.
He put the equipment on the kitchen table before taking the puppy into his arms, letting it kiss his chin, his forehead. "I..don't even know what to say. Thank you."
"It's a girl." Ben said easily. "She doesn't have a name yet." While Riley thought about that, Ben continued, "The girls are outnumbering the boys, huh Riley? Abigail and Joy and now this puppy."
"That's okay." Riley murmured, petting the dog carefully, running his hands over her. She was mostly black, but he knew that as she grew she'd get more grey and brown. He thought of the names they'd suggested back at the hospital, but none of them really fit. "How about Musetta?" he asked, looking at the dog. "What do you think? Musetta. Muse for short." She cocked her head to one side and licked Riley again. Ben laughed.
"That's a great name, kiddo." Ben put his hand on Riley's back and he flinched automatically, arching his back as a bruise was hit. Things were getting better, but perhaps things would never be exactly normal around Riley. Changing the subject --- Riley looked as if he were about to apologize --- Ben asked, quickly, "What's with the equipment?"
"Oh." Riley set the dog down on the tile, watched her skid around for a second before curling into a dainty ball and yawning. "I found some photo albums a while ago." He touched a key and a slide show began, names and dates appearing at the bottom of the faded pictures.
"I thought it'd be better on here, so they don't get so…old looking. The names and stuff came from the backs of the pictures." He looked up at Ben, over at Abigail. "I hope you like it."
Ben smiled, looped at arm around the boy and pulled him close. For a second Riley tensed under him before melting into the embrace. The teen sighed, as if he could finally rest, knowing he was in Ben's arms.
"Merry Christmas, Ben." He murmured, voice muffled by the fabric of the shirt.
"Merry Christmas, Riley."
Aw, come on, that was a cute ending. It was angsty the whole time. They deserve a little happiness.
Until I start the next story. The sequel will be up…within two weeks. So stay tuned and, as always, please review.