Hello, everyone! It's been a while and I'm sorry! But like I said, I'm just not ready for this story to be over. Unfortunately, the end is finally here. There's one more chapter after this and then there will be an epilogue.
Thank you so much for staying with this story. Your support has been amazing and I'm so glad to have been able to share this with you! I love you all!
Also, I hope everyone here in the south is staying safe from all this bad weather. Watch out for those tornadoes!
Gordie came over on Sunday to wish Chris farewell; it was finally time for him to leave for Oregon State. There was a small going away party and then he was gone. I cried myself to sleep that night, all alone in our bed. I had just gotten used to sharing the bed with Christopher again and now he was gone. The space felt empty, cold without him.
The next day Gordon stopped by and took me out for ice cream. He said he wanted to cheer me up, that he'd promised Chris he'd look out for me until he left for school as well. It was a sweet gesture but only made things worse as I realized Gordie would be leaving too and then Angie soon after that. Angie was finally getting her dream of traveling the south. Apparently, Gordie had been a bigger influence on her than we'd realized and had inspired Angie to go to the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss they call it, to pursue a degree in journalism. "It's perfect for me. I enjoy writing and I'm super nosy."
After Gordo and Angie said goodbye to Castle Rock, I relied mostly on my parents and Davey for company. Occasionally, Davey would bring home some friends from school but I didn't hit it off with anyone until the beginning of September when he continued to bring around a tall brunette named Rebecca.
"It's strange, Chris," I spoke into the phone while twirling the chord around my fingers. "I've never really had female friends aside from Angie and you know how well that started. But, I don't know, Becky's really boss. And she's a total babe. She's so beautiful, Chris. Like one of those Pan Am stewardesses. Always so prim and proper but without being a drag, you know? Davey seems serious enough about her. They've been seeing each other for two months now."
"A record for Davey," my husband snickered.
My brother, who was passing by to grab a soda from the fridge, must've heard Christopher's remark because he shouted, "Shut it, Chambers! Not everyone finds their soul mate in the second grade!"
Chucking, I swatted Davey away. "Did you hear that?" I asked Chris.
"Was that Davey? I got something about second place and sulfate?"
My eyes rolled. "Not even close."
"Whatever. How's the baby?"
"Good," I murmured happily, rubbing my swollen tummy. "He's been kicking a lot lately."
Christopher and I decided that we were having a boy. There were no signs, no old wives tales to make us believe so. We just felt it. We were almost definitely positive it was going to be a boy. So, for the last three months we'd been arguing back and forth about our son's name. I wanted to use Chris's middle name and name him Nathan Lee. Chris hated the idea of using part of his name, but he liked Nathan alright, he supposed. Still, he thought we should name him after my father, Henry. The way Chris saw it, we never would've been able to stay together if it weren't for my parents and this seemed an appropriate way to repay them. While I agreed that it was a sweet notion, I was adamant about Nathan Lee.
Christopher hummed through the phone, "Kicking a lot, huh? Doc said that was good, right? It means he'll be healthy. Maybe he'll play soccer or football."
"Yes, it's perfectly normal," I assured him.
"I should be down for your next ultrasound. How much longer do you think you'll last?"
"The doctor said it looks like he might come early. He's guessing mid-November but I don't think so. I'm betting he'll wait for December."
I could feel Chris's smile. "Oh, you do? You just want a Christmas baby."
I bit my lip. "I do," I admitted with a giggle. "It's true. I want a Jesus Baby."
"You know Jesus wasn't actually bor-"
"Shut up, Christopher." Switching the phone to my other hand, I leaned against the counter, "How's school, you wet-end?"
"Danni, such language," he scoffed indignantly. "School is fine. This math course they're making me take is kicking my ass. I want to be a lawyer, not an accountant. It's ridiculous. But my professor's been helping me a lot on the side and my roommate's still crazy as hell so at least there's that entertainment."
"Did he ever pay that fine to the campus police?"
"Hell no. He has 'issues with authority.' He says they should be paying him."
"Danielle," my mother appeared in the door way to the living room. She smiled softly. "We're leaving, sweetheart."
I pulled the phone away slightly, cupping the mouth. "Okay, momma. Give me a second." I brought the phone back to my ear. "Chris? I have to go. We're heading off to the fair. Momma's making me join her in the bake off this year. Wish me luck."
"Good luck, baby. I love you, Danni."
"I love you, too, Chambers. I'll see you soon?"
"Yes ma'am. Bye."
As I predicted November came and went without so much as a hearty kick from the baby. It was as if he knew he was going to be joining the real world soon and wanted to stay in my belly just a little longer. The first week of December Chris took his first semester exams, which he passed with flying colors, even math, and returned home. The first three days of his homecoming, we were inseparable. Though we'd seen each other sporadically over the last five months, this was the first time we were able to enjoy it without the pressure of his immediate departure looming overhead. This time, Chris would get to stay for over a month as school didn't start up again until after the New Year.
Those first three days we stayed in bed, Chris tending to my every need like the doting husband he was. With each passing day Chris grew giddy with excitement. He couldn't wait for our son to be born.
Finally, on December thirteenth, he got his wish.
We were out to dinner with my family when my water broke. Chris instantly fell into a state of euphoric hysteria, too excited to keep his head straight so my father took over. He ushered me into the backseat of my mother's car, Chris slipping in nervously beside me. My father drove us to the hospital while Chris clutched my hand in the backseat.
"This is it," I grumbled as bolts of pain shot down my legs. A low ache began to stir in my hips and I gritted my teeth, swallowing a whine of hurt. "Shit."
"Are you alright?" Chris stroked my brow.
"I'm peachy," I growled.
When we arrived at the hospital, they practically carried me inside where a nurse wheeled me up to the maternity ward. My doctor was ready and waiting, my room all prepped. Apparently, my mother had called ahead from the restaurant. There was a confident smile on my doc's face as they wheeled me into the room and lifted me to the bed. I was vaguely aware of Chris being shoved out of the room to 'scrub down' as the doc declared, "Mrs. Chambers, it's nice to see you again. Let's see what we've got going on here, shall we?"
I was in labor for nearly five hours, three of which were spent just straight pushing. The baby was born at 11:42 p.m. on December thirteenth. In spite of our conviction, I'd given birth to a baby girl, not a boy, and she was absolutely magnificent.
The baby weighed just over six pounds and was right at ten inches long. Her piercing cry was high pitched and strong as the doctor held her up for Chris to cut the umbilical cord. Exhausted, I collapsed back into the pillows of the hospital bed and Chris grinned through his tears as the nurses carried her to the wash station. "God, Danni, she's beautiful." He pressed a kiss to my sweaty forehead, cupping my face. The raw emotion on Christopher's face made my chest swell with pride. "You did so good, baby. You did so good."
A second later, Chris accepted our daughter from the nurse, his gaze shining lovingly down on the tiny human being in his arms. His face split into the biggest smile I'd ever seen; Chris looked ready to burst as he trailed his fingertip tenderly over her cheek. "Hey, baby girl," he cooed.
And suddenly, just like that, every doubt I'd ever had about Chris and I – every creeping thought that we'd fallen in love too young, that we weren't ready to be parents, that we had jumped the gun – they vanished. The sight of Christopher lovingly cradling our daughter, pure joy on his face, made everything make sense to me. This was exactly what I was meant to do. This made everything worth it.
My chin quivered, my eyes pooling with happy tears, I gazed at our baby girl. She was so tiny! Chris rocked her for a moment longer, bouncing on the heels of his feet, before he perched on the edge of the bed to hand her to me. My arms shook as I reached for her, bringing her to my chest. My heart was hammering beneath my breast and I had to shake myself to believe this was real. She was so dazzling. Beautiful and strong. Her skin was tanned like Christopher's and she had his nose. The smooth crown of her head was spattered with a few wisps of blonde hair so bright it was practically white. "Hey, sweetie," I whispered. "Hi…"
She blinked her little eyes open and I lost myself in two perfect pools of emerald green. She had my mother's eyes. Our daughter stared at me for a moment, then proceeded to blink twice, let out a soft squeal, and close her eyes. A few tears slipped down my face as I looked at my husband, "She's precious, Chris."
He swallowed thickly, giving a shaky grin. His face was still wet with tears and he swept my hair out of my eyes. "We have a daughter…and you were so sure you were having a boy."
"I was sure?" I raised my eyebrows jokingly. My gaze shifted back down to the little girl in my arms and I lifted my finger to stroke her arm and feel her little fingers. "God, she's so soft."
When the nurse came in to get the name for the birth certificate, Chris and I froze. We had given up on girl names, so certain of having a son. I chewed my lips, staring at the pink bundle curled onto my chest. "How about…Evelyn? You like Evelyn, right?"
"Evelyn Chambers," Chris murmured, the corners of his mouth slowly spreading. "Evie. Evie Chambers. I like it."
"Will you be giving her a middle name as well?" the nurse asked, scribbling on her notepad.
Chris ran his fingers down the baby blanket. He smiled at his daughter. "What about Grace? Evelyn Grace."
My heart thumped. "I love it."
Chris checked the nurses spelling and then went to fetch my family, who were patiently gathered in the waiting room. I hugged my daughter to me, savoring our moment alone. She was so perfect and tiny and beautiful and perfect. I pressed a kiss to the soft, round, crown of her head, furiously blinking away the familiar sting of happy tears. "Hello, Evelyn Grace Chambers. Welcome to the world."
My mother and father were the first sent back. Momma was an absolute weeping mess, sobbing so heavily that we were afraid she was going to drop our newborn child. Davey trickled in a moment later, Rebecca at his side.
"Careful. Careful!" he chided, stealing his niece from our mother. His arms wrapped around Evelyn and he peered down at her with wide eyes. His Adam's apple bobbed as he shot me a nervous look. "She's great, lil' sis…she looks like you."
"Thank you," I yawned, stretching my stiff legs. Chris captured my hand and brushed his lips against my forehead. "Are you okay? Do you need anything?"
I shook my head softly. "No, I'm good."
"I think mommy's a little sleepy," giggled Rebecca. Everyone smiled at her words but I stilled. That was the first time someone had called me a mother. Christopher sensed my dose of surreal-ness and kissed my lips with a slight, biting force. "Mommy," he whispered against my mouth.
Licking my lips, I took a deep breath. "Oh, that sounds weird and strangely perfect."
"Well, mommy's going to have to stay awake a little while longer," declared Chris as he stood. "I've got a surprise for you."
"Hey. I heard there's somebody I've got to meet!"
My eyes slid to the door right as a familiar mess of moppy hair bobbed inside. A fresh batch of tears immediately began to spill from my eyes. "Gordo! Oh my God, you're here!"
"Did you think I would miss it? Now, where's this kid of yours?"
"Right here," my father called. He moved toward Gordie, extending Evelyn toward our skinny friend. "You be careful. That's my granddaughter."
Gordie's eyes were saucers as he took Evelyn. He looked so pale suddenly, and very scared. "Oh, shit, Chris," he whispered. Chris cut his eyes at his best friend, "Hey, language."
Gordon blinked, then gulped. "Oh, um. Sorry." He held Evelyn like she was a rabid dog that had temporarily mellowed out, as if she would wake up at any moment and viciously attack him. "This is awesome."
A little while later Davey clapped his hands together. "Well, it's getting pretty late. I think we're going to head out." He tickled the top of Evelyn's head as he passed, whispering goodnight and I love you to her. Then, he swooped and kissed my forehead. "Night, sis. We'll be back in the morning…she's a cute kid. I'm proud of you."
I beamed, squeezing my big brother's hand. "Goodnight, Davey. Love you. Night, Becky. See you tomorrow."
"I guess we'll be getting on, too," my mother sighed. She clutched her purse, frozen like a statue. My father rolled his eyes and coaxed her to move, "You know, to leave we actually have to…leave."
"Hush, Henry," she hissed. But eventually my mother was able to bring herself to leave, wishing us a goodnight and instructing me to get plenty of rest.
"You gonna stay with us, Gordo?" I asked. It had been so long since I'd seen him; there was so much we had to catch up on.
"Uhhh, no," he shrugged. "I was thinking about getting a hotel here in Chamberlain."
"What? Why don't you just stay at home?" scoffed Chris.
Gordie shifted the baby in her grasp. "My parents don't know I'm back in town. I'd like to keep it that way."
"Well there's no need for you to get a hotel," I said. "You can stay at our house. Crash in our room or on the couch. Momma and daddy won't mind. Chris can give them a call, let them know you'll be joining them."
"That's not nec-" began Gordie, but Christopher was already crossing to the door, heading over to the nurse's station to borrow the hospital phone. Gordon sheepishly smiled, "Thanks, Danni."
"No problem. How's school? How's the writing? You got anything new for us?"
"Nothing as exciting as this." He bit his lip. "Danni, she's…I mean, shit. She's amazing. You guys did it. I don't just mean the baby, I mean everything. The wedding, the baby…you guys got out. You beat this town."
"I don't know if you realize this or not, but I haven't left Castle Rock since the summer before junior year when I went to back to California for those two weeks," I muttered.
Gordie rolled his eyes, coming to sit on the edge of the bed. "You know what I mean."
I nudged him with my foot. "You beat it, too, you know."
He scoffed, "Yeah, I guess."
When Chris returned a beat or two later, there was a nurse with him and he hiked his thumb over his shoulder. "We gotta get out. It's time to feed."
My eyes widened. Feed. Breast feed. I winced as Gordie slid Evelyn into my arms. I heard this hurt. Ruffling the little tuffs of hair on my daughters head, I chewed my lip and watched as Gordie trailed out of the room with a small wave. Chris came over and kissed me soundly, one hand slipping through my hair, the other resting on our daughter. "Mhmm. I love you. I love you both."
I gasped. "Oh, you beat me! I was supposed to tell her I loved her first! Evie, mommy loves you, too, okay? Mommy loves you more!"
"Not true," scoffed Chris. I glared at him swiftly and he snickered, "Can we love her equally?"
"A truce…mhmm, maybe," I muttered, fighting a grin. Leaning up, I pressed my mouth to his, our lips gently scraping. "I love you, Christopher. Thank you."
"For giving me our daughter."
"Baby, that was all you."
The nurse, who had been waiting patiently at the foot of the hospital bed, cleared her throat. "Technically it took both of you but that was a very sweet sentiment."
Chris blinked at her. "And the moment's over."