Charlotte was outside, pushing Ava on the swing and keeping an eye on Ethan who was picking at the grass by the driveway. She looked up and saw a Fed-Ex truck pull into the driveway. She watched the man drop off a package and drive away, not even realizing she was standing in the front lawn.
"Momma, tummy angwy," Ava jabbered, kicking her legs up and down.
"I'll make you some lunch." Charlotte paused. "Hop down."
Ava slipped off the swing and ran to the front door.
"Careful." Charlotte scooped Ethan into her arms and smiled at him. "I'm gonna feed you too, don't you worry, Goose." She adjusted the infant and followed her daughter inside, grabbing the package. She glanced at the packing label and raised an eyebrow. "It's addressed to your daddy, but there's no return address." She was confused and headed into the kitchen. She set Ethan in his highchair and put on his bib. "Hey, Ava, you want grilled cheese and carrots for lunch?"
Ava shook her head. "No."
Ava shook her head. "No."
Ava shook her head again. "No."
"You're runnin' out of options."
Ava disappeared into the pantry and looked around in the dark.
Charlotte followed her and turned on the light.
Ava started to climb up the shelf, trying to reach the cereal.
Charlotte grabbed her and set her back down on the floor. "No climbin'. It's dangerous." She paused. "What're you tryin' to get?"
Ava pointed up high—well, what was high for her.
"Lucky charms?" Charlotte took the box off the shelf. "You want breakfast for lunch?"
Ava smiled. "Yesh."
"But you gotta eat a vegetable too. How about carrots today?"
"Good choice, sweet pea." Charlotte shut off the light and put Ava in her booster seat at the island counter. She made Ava a bowl of cereal and gave her a few baby carrots. "Eat up." She heated up a bottle for Ethan and slipped it in his mouth. "Enjoy." She kissed the top of her kids' heads and opened Cooper's package—her curiosity was eating away at her. He won't mind. She picked out the floral box that was inside and lifted the lid off. There were a whole bunch of pictures scattered around. She picked one up and turned it over. She smiled and looked at the picture more closely.
Cooper walked through the front door. "Char?"
"In the kitchen!"
He went into the kitchen and gave her a soft peck on the lips. "Hey."
"I thought you and Mason were spending the whole day at the pier."
"He got sick."
"But he's usually good on rides."
"He has a fever."
"Poor guy. He was lookin' forward to today."
"Another day." He looked at the box on the counter. "What'd you order from the home-shopping network this time?"
She rolled her eyes. "Nothin'. It's a package for you."
"And you opened it?"
"I was curious."
"I'm surprised. You hate nosey people and now you're becoming one."
"There was no return address, and I didn't think you'd mind."
"So what is it? I don't remember ordering anything."
"I think you'll wanna check it out."
He walked around the counter and looked in the box. There were stacks of DVDs and of course, the smaller box of pictures. He picked out a picture and blinked. He turned it over and looked at Charlotte.
She nodded. "I don't know where they came from. There's no return address."
"He looked exactly like Ethan. He even had blonde hair at one point."
He swallowed and rubbed his eyes. "Maybe his Aunt sent them."
She shrugged. "Maybe."
Ava burped and giggled, pushing her plate away.
"Excuse you." Charlotte paused. "All done?"
Ava nodded. "Done."
Cooper unbuckled her and held her against his side. He handed her the bowl and smiled. "Let's put this in the dishwasher for momma." He carried her over to the counter and opened the top dishwasher drawer. He lowered her and pointed to where the bowl needed to go. "Just put it right there."
Ava reached over and he helped her put the bowl in the correct spot. She smiled, feeling all proud of herself.
He kissed the top of her head and set her down on the floor. "I'm gonna go check on Mason."
Charlotte nodded and rinsed out Ethan's bottle. "Ok."
He smiled and waved to Ava as he disappeared out of the kitchen.
Charlotte lifted Ethan out of his highchair and set him on her hip. She looked down at Ava and smiled at her. "Let's go play."
Ava walked ahead of her and they disappeared upstairs and into the playroom.
Around 3 AM on Monday morning, Charlotte was heading into the nursery when she heard a noise coming downstairs. She straightened and swallowed. Her hands started to shake as she stepped closer to the stairs. She slowly walked down into the living room and grabbed an umbrella from the rack. She looked around and made her way into the kitchen. She saw a dark shadow and screamed.
Cooper jumped and turned around. "Charlotte?"
She dropped the umbrella and let out a breath. She turned on the overhead light and leaned against the wall. "Geez, Coop, I thought—never mind." She yawned and sat down at the kitchen table. She caught her breath, composing herself. "What are you doin' up? It's three in the mornin'."
"I couldn't sleep."
"You scared me."
"I have to go check on Ethan. Come back to bed."
"I'll be there in a minute."
She rubbed her eyes and pushed herself out of the chair. She walked out of the kitchen, her heart still racing.
Charlotte headed down the steps at seven, Ethan sucking on his pacifier, resting on her hip. He was cranky. She blinked, noticing that Cooper was asleep on the couch, the TV paused on the DVD menu. She nudged him, adjusting the infant. "Coop."
Cooper blinked his eyes open and stretched. "Hmm?"
"You fell asleep on the couch." She paused. "Whatever happened to 'I'll be there in a minute'?"
He yawned and sat up slowly, rolling out his neck. "You were already back to sleep when I walked into the bedroom. I lied down for about five minutes, but couldn't fall asleep. I decided to come downstairs and watch some home-movies. Ours and the ones I got in the package on Saturday." He smiled. "I got to watch Mason grow up."
Ethan sneezed, spitting out his pacifier. He whimpered and squirmed.
"He's sick. He's got a fever and a stuffy nose." She handed the infant to Cooper and kissed the top of her son's head. "Poor baby."
Cooper messed up Ethan's hair and brushed his lips against his son's forehead. "Are you sick, Goose?"
Ethan coughed and sneezed at the same time. He started to cry and wiggle more.
Cooper held his son close to his chest and ran his hand up and down his back. "Shhh."
"I'm gonna get his bottle ready." She walked into the kitchen and warmed up a bottle. She headed back into the living room and handed the bottle to Cooper. "I hope Ava doesn't get sick, but I don't see how she won't. Both her brothers are sick. It's only a matter of time until she catches it."
"I can stay home with the boys today. You go to work."
He nodded. "I'm sure."
"I'm gonna go get ready and then I'll get Ava ready for daycare."
He adjusted Ethan and shifted on the couch cushion, rubbing his son's stomach as he sucked out the milk. "You have bottles pumped for the whole day?"
"Not yet. I'll make some more before I leave."
He smiled. "Alright. Enjoy your shower."
She ran her fingers through Ethan's hair. "Feel better, baby boy." She kissed him on the cheek and disappeared upstairs.
Charlotte walked into the kitchen at Seaside Wellness and opened the refrigerator. She reached for an iced tea, but stopped and turned around, feeling a tug on her pant leg. She looked down and smiled. "Well, hello there, Kay." She bent down and scooped the infant into her arms. "You know this place is crawlin' with germs, right, Amelia?"
"You calling me a bad mom 'cause I let my daughter crawl around on the floor?" Amelia asked, getting defensive. She took Makayla from Charlotte and set the infant on her hip.
Charlotte sighed. "That's not what I'm sayin'. I was just makin' a point." She paused. "Babies put their hands in their mouths, stick their fingers up their noses, in their ears and eyes—you just gotta be careful."
"By putting Makayla in a plastic bubble?"
"All I'm sayin' is that lettin' her crawl all over the floor at a medical practice isn't the best idea in the world." Charlotte paused. "Are you ok?"
Amelia nodded. "Just stressed. Makayla's not sleeping that well."
"Just be patient. If you're really concerned, I can ask Coop to check her out for you, but I'm sure it's just a phase."
Charlotte smiled and touched the tip of Makayla's nose. "You have a great day with your momma, Kay." She grabbed the iced tea she had her eye on earlier and took a sip.
"How's Ava adjusting to Ethan?"
"She's doin' better. She's talkin' more, smilin' more, but it's still a work in progress. I think she's startin' to warm up to him, which is what we want."
"How are you and Cooper?"
"It's definitely harder to find alone time, but we're doin' the best we can. I feel more secure than I did after Ava was born, but most of our time is consumed by the kids or our jobs."
"Dr. Shepherd, your next patient is here," a nurse said, coming to one of the kitchen doors.
"I gotta go."
Charlotte waved to Makayla. "Bye." She took her little hand and smiled.
Makayla scrunched up her nose and giggled, babbling and wiggling around.
"You are too cute." Charlotte walked out of the kitchen and into her office.
Charlotte came home around five o'clock, which was definitely early for her.
Ava ran over to the couch and greeted Cooper with a giant smile. "Daddy!"
Cooper pressed his finger to his lips. "Shhh.
Ava shushed him and nodded. "Shhh. Etan sweepin?"
Cooper smiled. "Uh-huh."
Ava reached her arm up and gently brushed her hand over Ethan's blonde hair. She stood on her tippy toes and gave him a kiss on the head. "Sweep tight, Etan."
"Aren't you sweet, baby girl?" Charlotte walked over to her and sat on the coffee table. "Say buh-bye to Ethan."
Ava shrugged. "Why?"
"'Cause he's sick and we don't need you gettin' sick too." Charlotte paused. "Give him one more kiss and say buh-bye."
Ava kissed Ethan on the hand. "Buh-bye, Etan. Wuvu." She looked up at Charlotte and smiled. "Weady."
"Let's go see what we can make for dinner." Charlotte looked at Cooper. "How're the boys feelin'?"
Cooper shrugged. "I've tried everything to get Ethan comfortable, but he's miserable. I was about to get in the tub with him to see if the lukewarm water will calm him a little." He paused. "Mason's been upstairs all day and only comes down when he needs something—water, DVDs, something to eat, or company."
"You want me to take over so you can take a shower or take a nap?"
"If you want to."
Charlotte took Ethan from him and cradled him. She placed a soft kiss on his warm forehead and then another one on his rosy cheek.
Ethan opened his eyes and coughed. He babbled and grabbed her necklace.
Ethan coughed again and buried his face into Charlotte's chest.
"It's ok, Goose. Momma's gonna take real good care of ya." Charlotte smoothed down his hair and looked at Cooper again. "I've got him. Go take a shower."
"You wanna just get Chinese for dinner?"
"When I get out of the shower, I'll make her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and then I'll order. You focus on him."
Charlotte adjusted Ethan and walked over to the steps. "Ava, sweetie, come with me. You're gonna play with your dollies until daddy comes and gets you."
Ava walked up the steps and Charlotte got her settled in her room before she headed into the hall bathroom.
Cooper chased Ava around her room and grabbed her, hoisting her into the air. "Ah." He showered her with kisses and put her down on the carpet. "How big are you now? Let's go see." He took her hand and they walked over to the height chart on the wall. "Stand up straight."
Ava stood on her tippy toes and giggled.
"No, silly. That's cheating." He tickled her toes. "Flat feet." He rested his hand on the top of her head, his fingers against the wall.
She lifted up on her toes again and laughed, pulling on her bottom lip.
"Don't think I don't see what you're doing, you little troublemaker." He took her measurement finally and smiled. "Wow. Look how big you've gotten."
Ava pranced around, turning to face the wall.
"You're so big." He tickled her, flipping her over. "I remember when you were smaller than my arm."
Ava lost interest and walked over to her pile of stuffed animals. She collapsed into them and rolled around.
Cooper smiled and crawled over to her. "I'm gonna getcha."
"Daddy, no." She wiggled, throwing her bears at him.
"Hey, that's not very nice."
"Me no nice."
"I find that hard to believe. You're very nice." He lifted up her shirt and blew on her stomach.
She laughed and batted at his head.
He kissed her on the cheek and flopped down beside her. "I want your honest opinion, Panda Bear." He paused. "Do you think I can convince your momma to have another baby?"
Ava shook her head. "No."
"Yeah, that's what I think to." He sighed. "Three is a good number. Anymore and I think your momma may go crazy and we don't want that, do we?"
Ava shook her head again and whacked him with her pink teddy bear. "No. Dat bad."
He nodded. "I agree." He paused. "We'll see what happens." He rolled onto his side. "I love you, princess."
"Wuvu, daddy." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and wrapped her arms around him.
He hugged her and smiled. "Told you that you were nice."
"Ok, you win."
"Daddy, you lose," she babbled and pulled away from him, crawling towards her life-sized dollhouse.
"How about we say it's a tie?"
"Ok, daddy." She smiled. "Dis momma."
He went over to her and grabbed another doll from the house. "Who's this?"
He smiled. "We do look a lot alike, don't we? 'Cept I'm more handsome, right?"
Ava shook her head. "No."
"No? What do you mean no?"
"Oh. I'm prettier than him."
"I can live with that." He paused. "Am I a better daddy than him?"
"In your face, doll." He laughed and grabbed another figure out of a room. "Is this Mason?"
She nodded. "Yesh."
"And the baby in the crib is Ethan?"
"Yesh. Shhh, Etan sweepin, daddy."
"Then we better be real quiet, huh?"
She nodded and pressed her finger to her lips. "Shhh."
"Is momma more beautiful than this momma?"
She nodded. "Duh."
He laughed. I see she's learning vocabulary from Mason—fantastic. "Your momma's the most beautiful momma in the world."
"No? Who's more beautiful then?"
She smiled wide and pointed to herself, letting out a giggle.
"You? But you're not a momma yet, but you are the most beautiful little girl in the whole universe."
Charlotte poked her head into the room. "Hey."
He turned his head. "Hey." He paused. "Your Chinese food's downstairs in the warming drawer. Is Ethan in his crib?"
Charlotte nodded. "Finally." She paused. "Hey, sweet pea. You havin' fun with your daddy?"
Ava nodded. "Wuv daddy."
"I know you do, baby girl. I love your daddy too."
He got up and walked over to the door. He gave Charlotte a quick peck on the lips and smiled. "How was work today?"
Charlotte shrugged. "I don't get the same feelin' I used to. Don't get me wrong, I love my jobs, but I drop Ava off at daycare and I pick her up and it's like she's a different person."
He tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear and kissed the top of her head. "So what? You gonna quit your jobs and become a stay-at-home-mom?"
Charlotte laughed. "No—I wouldn't do that in a million years."
"Then what're you saying?"
"I don't know. Everythin' was just so much simpler before I met you."
"Now, I'm confused. Is this where you tell me you want a divorce?"
Charlotte slapped him across the chest. "No, of course not, Coop." She paused. "Just forget I brought any of that up."
"We can talk tonight before we go to bed. It's obviously bothering you a lot. We'll find a middle ground between quitting your jobs and feeling like this. Go eat dinner, sweetie."
"Mason's asleep, just so you know."
"You just check on him?"
Charlotte nodded. "His room was a disaster. There were wrappers, cups, plates, and tissues everywhere. I cleaned up a little bit. I couldn't stand it bein' like that."
Charlotte looked over his shoulder. "Have fun with daddy, baby girl. I love you."
Ava waved. "Buh-bye, momma."
"Bye. I'll come tuck you in before bed, ok?"
"Ok, momma." Ava got back to her dollhouse.
"She loves that thing."
"I'll be downstairs if you need me."
He kissed her on the lips again. "I love you."
She stood on her tippy toes and closed the gap between their lips. She broke the kiss and smiled. "I love you too." She turned around and walked down the hallway.
He smiled and went back over to Ava.