Sorry (again!) for the delay…The craziness of exams and the holiday are FINALLY over, so I hope to get back to updating more regularly over the break! Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to review/alert/favorite my story!
Chapter 7: Happy News
"Santa Claus we never see…Santa Claus. what's that? Who's he?"
"Oliver?" A curious expression had settled over Oliver's features, and Grace surveyed him with trepidation, "I wanted to wait," she continued, "Until I knew for sure…But given the circumstances…"
Her words faded into silence. Grace took a step forward, laying her hand against Oliver's arm.
"Oliver?" she prompted quietly, "Please say something."
A long moment passed before Oliver seemed to pull himself from his reverie. Finally he turned, slowly, to look at her, his expression unchanged.
"Pregnant?" he repeated, as though unsure of the word.
Grace dipped her head and nodded.
"A baby?" Oliver clarified.
"Yes," Grace said again.
"You're sure?" Oliver's smoldering gaze seemed to suck the certainty right out of her, but Grace continued all the same:
"Not completely…I'll have to see a doctor-"
"But you think-" Oliver cut across, "You think…that you are?" His voice rose hopefully at the end, and Grace bowed her head, a small smile forming on her lips despite herself. She nodded.
"Grace…" Oliver closed the distance between them in one movement, taking her face into his hands and kissing her passionately, their previous quarrel diminished. He pulled away, beaming, and then kissed her again. When they finally broke apart, they were both breathless.
"I'll call him," Oliver decided promptly, turning in the direction of his office.
"The doctor, of course," he replied, as though this were the most obvious answer in the world.
"Oliver, wait-" Grace beseeched, taking a hurried step after him. Oliver stilled and turned impatiently.
"What is it?" he asked, smiling and pulling Grace to him once again.
"You're not…upset?" she wondered quietly. Her gaze searched his features, her own expression worried.
"Upset?" Oliver repeated, "Grace, I'm sorry I overreacted about this evening-"
"Not about that," Grace shook her head, her tone reserved, "About," she continued unsurely, "About having another child…About having a baby?"
Oliver stared at her, dumbstruck.
"Of course not," his expression turned tender, concerned. "Why on earth would I be upset?"
"Because, well you said- you said you didn't like children. And a baby, well…a baby is a huge responsibility," Grace continued, her eyes filling with tears, "And we've barely been married three months-"
"Sweetheart…" Oliver pulled Grace into a tight embrace and she began to cry in earnest. She hid her face in his chest and Oliver stroked her back soothingly, cursing himself for being such a fool. "Grace, I know that I've said things, in the past…" Oliver continued, "But things are different now. You…" he lifted her chin, pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead, "And Annie…you changed all of that. I love you Grace. I love Annie, and I don't care whether we've been married three months or three weeks, nothing would make me happier than to have a baby with you."
Grace sniffed and pulled back to look up at him, eyes bright.
"You're sure?" she wondered. Her voice was timid and uncertain, but Oliver's was anything but as he took her hands in his own:
"Positive," he promised.
Grace gazed down at their joined hands and allowed herself to imagine the possibility of a baby with Oliver.
"It's Christmas, it's Christmas! Merry Christmas!"
Oliver was jolted awake as a streak of red shot across the bedroom and scrambled unceremoniously onto the middle of the bed. A slightly smaller, tan blur followed shortly behind, leaping up to land squarely beside his master and barking excitedly at the commotion.
"Daddy Warbucks, it's Christmas!" Annie practically shouted, "And guess what, it's SNOWING!" The sturdy four-poster bed shook slightly as the little redhead wriggled about, and Grace, who had been curled against Oliver, stirred slightly and burrowed closer into his side to avoid the cold nudge of Sandy's nose as he licked at her happily. This did not escape Annie, who focused her attention on her mother expectantly.
"Mom!" Annie insisted excitedly, "Wake up! Come look outside, it's snowing!" Oliver chuckled and lunged forward, scooping Annie up to keep her from stomping all over Grace. Annie let out a shriek of delight and Oliver played along, tickling her until she dissolved into a fit of giggles. He cast a protective glance at Grace as she sat up gingerly- she had woken with an unsettled stomach every day for the past week, and Oliver knew by now that it was best to keep his distance in case she needed to dash for the washroom.
Feeling quite pleased that her stomach hadn't protested in her change of position, Grace smiled, opening her arms to the little girl, and Oliver relaxed slightly, releasing his hold on Annie as she scrambled towards her mother- a tangled mess of arms and legs and wild, curly red hair.
"Good morning, Annie," Grace laughed, "Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas!" Annie giggled and snuggled into Grace. For the briefest of moments, there was absolute, contented silence; Grace and Oliver shared a knowing look over the top of Annie's head, and Oliver reached forward to squeeze Grace's hand lovingly. It quickly passed, however, as soon Annie was scrambling back over the edge of the bed, turning towards the pair of them and jumping up and down in excitement, before dashing from the room with Sandy, tail wagging, quick on her heels.
Oliver turned to Grace as Sandy's echoing barks faded away, reaching forward to tuck a stray curl behind her ear.
"Good morning…" he leaned forward to kiss Grace softly on the lips, "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, indeed."
"How are you feeling?" he slid his hand up to rest upon Grace's still-flat stomach, and Grace smiled, placing her own hand over his upon the spot.
"A little nervous," she admitted. Two weeks had passed since the Christmas fundraiser. Two weeks since the doctor had confirmed that Grace was, indeed, pregnant.
"We don't have to tell her today," Oliver suggested, "We can wait."
"No," Grace shook her head thoughtfully, her gaze downcast as she twined her fingers with Oliver's own, "She'll know soon enough, and I don't want her hearing it from one of the staff…"
Oliver nodded and drew her nearer, pressing a reassuring kiss to her forehead. Grace would be twelve weeks along by the new year, and -despite the bouts of morning sickness, despite the fatigue and the way Grace beamed whenever she found herself caught up in Oliver's adoring gaze- Annie had not yet caught on that she was going to become a big sister. Now, wrapped up in the secret, joyous excitement of it all, Christmas Day had snuck upon them almost as surprisingly as the news of a baby had. Grace sighed and relaxed into Oliver's embrace, a slight smile pulling at her lips as she felt his fingers absent-mindedly stroke her midsection.
The moment passed in bliss -but only a moment- for soon the wildly excited thud of footsteps on carpet met their ears as Annie charged back up the hallway and into their room.
"Mom! Come see! I've got ice skates!"
In keeping with tradition, the staff that wasn't traveling for the holiday joined Oliver, Grace, and Annie for Christmas lunch, followed by ice skating on the frozen pond near the edge of the estate. Annie had never before worn ice skates, and was ecstatic to receive her very own pair amongst her Christmas gifts. She bounded through the pristine snow drifts, running in circles and peppering Grace with questions as they made their steady way towards the pond's frozen bank. Each of them was bundled up in a new shearling coat with matching hat and gloves, and together the trio laced their skates and made their way out onto the ice alongside Jack, Cecil, Annette, Saunders, and The Asp. Though Grace had joined the rest of the staff in this particular tradition several times over the years, Oliver had never before accompanied them. He was a surprisingly smooth skater -gliding over the ice with barely a tumble- lending speculation to the pleasant idea that this was not the first time that Oliver Warbucks had allowed himself a bit of fun. He took one of Annie's hands in his own while the little girl grasped at Grace with the other, and together they skated once around the pond until Annie found the hang of it.
Once was really all it took, and soon the little girl was dashing madly between them on the ice. Her tongue stuck determinedly between her teeth as she chased after Jack, who laughed exuberantly as he turned circles, somehow always managing to stay one or two lengths ahead of her. Oliver kept a tight grip on Grace's hand while they skated, slightly worried that she would tumble as they made leisurely circles around the pond's edge- though she never did. After a short while, Oliver suggested a break- and knew that Grace was probably tiring when she didn't object. He led her to a sturdy log at the pond's edge and she sat down gratefully, looking on and clapping as Annie called after her to watch each trick, growing ever bolder.
Annie basked in Grace's affections, and -after a rousing chase of cat and mouse with Oliver- was soon beckoning for her mother to join them. She led Grace across the ice by the hand, enticing her to play, to watch her, to laugh and hug and pretend to give chase across the ice. So enthralled were they -mother and daughter- in each other's affections…Oliver knew that Grace would go to great lengths to please the little girl. He looked on at the two of them, smiling despite himself, and allowed himself to relax and talk pleasantly with the men at the edge of the bank as Annette and Cecil joined Grace and Annie as they played.
A few hours later, Oliver played cards with Annie in the dining room while Mrs. Pugh put the finishing touches on Christmas dinner. Grace had seemed a little pale when they'd come in from the pond, and Oliver, noticing this, had wisely offered to keep an eye on Annie so that she could nap. Grace hadn't argued, and Oliver had promised to wake her before dinner. Now, as Mrs. Pugh popped her head into the dining room and announced that dinner would be served in half an hour, Oliver surrendered his remaining cards to a triumphant Annie and stood to go and wake Grace.
The room was dark and quiet, and Oliver crossed its expanse to the bed, sitting carefully on its edge and looking on while Grace slept. She was beautiful, and he reached out to tuck a stray piece of hair behind her ear and smiled, still slightly incredulous that Grace was pregnant…They were going to have a baby, and yet -somehow- Oliver was already unable to imagine a time and a place in which they hadn't had this lovely, wonderful secret between them. A son, or a daughter. Oliver smiled again.
Grace had stirred at his touch; now, sitting up against the pillows, she ignored the slight wave of nausea that rolled across her empty stomach and smiled.
"Feeling better?" Oliver inquired.
"Much," Grace nodded and suppressed a yawn, leaning into him as he pressed a loving kiss against the top of her head.
They dressed for dinner and headed downstairs. Mrs. Pugh had pulled out all the stops, despite it only being the three of them. After all of the hubbub from the months previous, Christmas alone at the large home had sounded wonderful. They had debated inviting guests- Franklin and Eleanor perhaps, or Annie's friends from the orphanage- but news of Grace's pregnancy had consumed them from the moment that she had suggested the possibility, and in the end, they had both agreed that a quiet holiday was indeed in order.
The annual radio Christmas program played softly in the background, its music and commentary drifting in from the sitting room as Annie chattered happily. Beneath the linen tablecloth, Grace took Oliver's hand, and he gripped it reassuringly as they exchanged a contented smile.
Once dinner was finished, Grace looked to Oliver and he cleared his throat. Annie gazed at them as Grace and Oliver shared a knowing look, her expression curious as she sensed, in the way that children so often do, that something important was about to happen.
"Annie…" Oliver began. He looked to Grace for permission and she nodded, her eyes suddenly bright, and Oliver continued, "Annie…there's something we want to tell you, your mother and I."
Annie nodded slowly, her eyes wide.
"Annie," Oliver glanced at Grace, slightly unsure, but Grace was smiling tearfully and it seemed that this would be up to him, and so he forged ahead: "Annie, you know how your mother has been feeling tired, lately?"
Annie nodded again, turning to gaze expectantly at Grace.
"Well," Oliver hesitated, "Your mother has been feeling tired, these past few weeks because- because, well…"
"Annie," Grace leaned forward and smiled indulgently at the little girl, no longer able to control her excitement, "You're going to be a big sister."
There was a ringing silence in the dining room, broken only by the background noise of Burt Healy on the radio, as Annie stared between them. Finally, her gaze, eyes wide, settled on Grace.
"You're going to have…a baby?"
Grace smiled gently and nodded. Oliver look on with anticipation.
"I'm going to get-" Annie stared hard at Grace, as if working it through "-a little sister or brother?"
"Yes, Annie," Oliver nodded.
"I'm going to be a big sister!"
Grace laughed, a beautiful, loving sound, and swept the little girl into her arms as Annie charged across the table and into her embrace.
"A little brother or sister!"
"Yes, Annie," Grace nodded, laughing again, and now she was crying for real, and Annie was jumping up and down, and hugging Grace, and Oliver, and the three of them hugged each other, a little family that would soon become just a little bigger.
Just off the dining room, inside the kitchen, Mrs. Pugh smiled to herself as Annie's exclamation reverberated throughout the estate. Though neither Grace nor Mr. Warbucks had yet made an announcement to the staff- Margaret Pugh knew a pregnancy when she saw one. With a smile still upon her lips, she hummed a self-satisfied little tune, and bent to pull the Christmas pies from the cooling rack.