So I wasn't planning on giving you guys another chapter, but here's a special treat...
Eight months later, Charlotte was in the grocery store, staring at the wall of produce, trying to remember what the hell she needed. She turned her head towards the cart, scowling at her rambunctious toddlers. "Ava and Ethan cut it out." She put her hand on her stomach and rubbed gently.
Cooper walked up behind her and lowered his head. "We need corn, green beans, and red peppers," he whispered.
She smiled. "Thank you."
He laughed. "I could have gone to the food store without you."
She swallowed and ripped off a plastic bag. "I know, Coop, but I told you, my life doesn't stop just 'cause I'm pregnant. I'm not gonna sit 'round the house and do nothin' all day, especially when I can still function. I had to give up workin' two weeks ago, so I need somethin' to do with my time."
He nodded. "I'm just worried that you're pushing yourself too hard, like you're trying to prove something to everyone."
She twisted the bag and put it in Cooper's cart. "I'm not tryin' to prove anythin' to anyone, and you don't have to worry 'bout me. I'm fine."
"That's not gonna stop me from worrying. You're 39 weeks, pregnant, Char."
"The baby's gonna come when she wants to come, Coop, whether I'm restin' on the couch or walkin' down a grocery store aisle. Now, if I was skydivin' or runnin' half marathons, then maybe you'd have a valid point."
He laughed. "Ok, I get it." He kissed the side of her head. "I'll let you concentrate on the shopping list. I'm gonna take the rugrats outside for some fresh air and quality daddy time."
"They're drivin' me nuts. I love 'em to death, but they're seriously testin' my patience this mornin'."
He smiled and spun the cart around, pushing it towards the exit.
"Were we go, daddy?" Ava asked, kicking her legs up and down.
"We are going to give momma some space and let her finish checking stuff off the shopping list." He paused. "We're going outside."
"Otay, daddy." Ava smiled.
Once outside, Cooper took Ava and Ethan out of the shopping cart and set them on the sidewalk. "Stay close, Goose."
Ethan shook his sippy cup and giggled.
"Whatcha doing, big guy?"
Ethan turned his head and babbled. He dropped his sippy cup and stooped down to pick it up. "Uh-oh, daddy."
Ava pranced around and pulled a pool noodle from the big container by the sliding doors. "I want it, daddy."
Ethan reached up and tried to take it from her. "Mine."
"No. Stop, Etan." Ava held it close to her and shook her head. "It's mine."
Ethan whined, reaching up for the noodle, getting frustrated. He stomped his foot and started to cry. He ran over to Cooper and threw himself on his father's legs. "Daddy!"
Cooper stood up and grabbed another noodle from the container. "Here, Goose. You and your sister can both have one." He wiped his son's tears away and messed up his hair. He looked at Ava. "And princess, that wasn't nice. Can you say you're sorry?"
"Sorry, daddy." Ava spun around with her bright pink noodle and blew into the hole.
"Careful, Panda Bear. Come closer to me."
Ava stepped closer and beamed with excitement. "I want it, daddy."
"You've got enough noodles at home."
"This is pink, daddy."
Cooper smiled. "I see that. You've got three pink ones already."
"This is new, daddy."
"I'll tell you what. If your momma says you can have it, you can have it, but we gotta get rid of the old ones when we get home. You can't have all of them."
Ava wasn't listening to him. She was too preoccupied with her bright pink noodle.
Ethan sucked on his blue noodle, babbling against it.
"I guess you want one too, Goose," Cooper said, smiling at his toddlers.
Charlotte walked out, pushing a cart full of bagged groceries. She sank down on the bench and let out a gush of air.
Cooper turned his head. "You alright?"
Charlotte rubbed her lower abdomen and closed her eyes. "Just tired and sore. My feet are swollen."
Cooper sighed. "I'll give you a massage when we get home."
Cooper leaned over and placed a soft kiss on her lips. "I have to go inside and pay for their noodles."
Charlotte nodded. "I'll be here."
Cooper stood up and looked at Ava and Ethan. "Do you wanna stay out here with momma or come with me?"
"I want it, daddy," Ava said, pushing the noodle towards him.
"I gotta pay for it first, Panda, so do you wanna come with me or stay with momma?"
"What about you, Goose?"
"Ok." Cooper scooped his son up and kissed the top of his head. He looked at Ava. "I need your noodle, princess, so I can pay for it. I'll bring it right back. I promise."
Ava hesitated but handed it over. "There, daddy."
"Thanks." Cooper smiled and disappeared into the store.
Ava climbed up on the bench and rested her hand on Charlotte's belly. She lowered her head and pressed her lips against her mother's stomach. "I kiss the baby."
Charlotte smiled. "She'll be here any day now, sweet pea. She's running out of room. You and your brother were early. I'm surprised she's still in there." She shifted and rubbed the side of her stomach. "Ah. She's got her foot hooked under my rib."
"She coming now?"
"Not yet, but soon—very soon."
Ava kissed her mother's stomach again. "I can't wait. I can't!"
"I can't wait either, baby girl." Charlotte paused. "Are you happy you're gonna have a sister instead of another brother?"
Ava smiled wide and nodded. "Uh-huh."
"Your baby brother isn't too happy 'bout it."
"Boys are stupid."
"Hey, that's not very nice, Ava. Not all boys are stupid." Charlotte kissed her daughter on the tip of her nose.
Cooper walked out of the store with Ethan on his hip and both noodles in one hand. He handed the pink one to Ava and smiled.
"Daddy, momma says boys are stupid."
Cooper raised an eyebrow.
Charlotte rolled her eyes. "That's not what I said."
"Ready to go?"
Charlotte nodded. "Mmhmm." She pushed herself up, letting out a grunt. She moaned as she took a step forward.
"Are you sure you're alright?"
"My feet hurt, my back hurts, my head hurts, everythin' hurts, Coop, but I'm fine."
"Let's go home. Ava and Ethan can help me put the groceries away while you lie down."
Cooper smiled back at her. "I'll massage you when my junior helpers and I are finished." He looked over at Ava. "Come on, Panda Bear, time to go home."
Ava slipped off the bench and grabbed her father's hand. "I kiss the baby, daddy."
"You did?" He asked as they walked towards the car.
Ava nodded. "I kiss my sister."
Cooper smiled and adjusted Ethan, who had fallen asleep against his shoulder. He buckled his son into his car seat, while Charlotte helped secure Ava in hers.
"I think I'm gonna take a bath when we get home."
"Make sure the temperature isn't too hot."
Charlotte rolled her eyes. "I know, Coop," she said, settling into the passenger seat.
"How's our jellybean?" Cooper asked, buckling his seat belt.
"She's got her foot hooked under my rib. She's not movin' 'round as much 'cause she's runnin' out of room."
Cooper placed his hand on her stomach and smiled. "Any day now. You ready?"
Charlotte shrugged. "Physically, I'm ready, but mentally, I don't know. We've got a teenager, and two toddlers. I don't know if I can handle the three of them plus a newborn."
"The kids are lucky to have you as their momma. You'll be just fine. It'll take some adjustment for sure, but things will get easier once the baby's here and at home."
Charlotte nodded, giving him a faint smile. "You're right." She turned her head towards the window and stared out of the glass as they drove home.
A week later, Charlotte was standing in the kitchen, making grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. She shifted her weight and rubbed the side of her stomach. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath in, letting it out slowly as she opened her eyes again.
"Momma, I'm hungry," Ava said, taking a sip of her juice.
"I'm makin' your lunch, baby girl. Did you finish your banana?"
Ava nodded. "All gone."
"I'm almost done, sweet pea."
Cooper walked in with Ethan on his shoulders. He flipped him over and set him down in his highchair. He kissed the top of his son's hair and pushed back his blonde hair. "Do you want a banana, Goose?"
"Ok. I'll cut up half a banana for you, big guy." Cooper looked at Charlotte and sighed. "What's wrong, sweetie?"
Charlotte shook her head. "I'm fine. My back hurts, that's all."
"Sit down. I'll finish lunch."
"I'm ok, Coop." Charlotte swallowed hard and blinked slowly. "Ok, maybe I'm not." She backed away from the stove and leaned against the island counter. She rested her hand on her stomach and let her eyes fall shut.
"I'm havin' contractions."
"I have a doctor's appointment in an hour."
"We should get you to the hospital now."
Charlotte shook her head. "Addison's just gonna tell me to go home and wait it out, Coop, so I'm gonna go lie down and keep timin' my contractions." She walked around the counter and ran her fingers through her son's hair. "How's the banana?"
Ethan sneezed and rubbed his stomach. "Mmmm."
"Bless you, sweet fella." Charlotte kissed him on the cheek and looked at Ava. "Momma's gotta lie down for a little bit. Daddy's gonna keep an eye on you."
"You otay, momma?"
"I'm fine, baby girl." Charlotte smiled and walked out of the kitchen.
An hour later, Charlotte was sitting on an exam table at the practice. Addison had delivered Ava and Ethan, so Charlotte decided to just let Addison be her OB from the get-go. Her eyes were closed and her hand was resting comfortably on her stomach, as she waited.
Addison walked in and smiled. "Good afternoon, Charlotte."
"How's everything going?"
"I'm havin' contractions. They're about seven minutes apart and I've been havin' 'em for about two hours now, maybe more."
"Let me take a look." Addison gloved up and sat on the stool at the foot of the exam table. She lifted the blanket and checked Charlotte's cervix. She popped her head up. "You're three centimeters dilated and eighty percent effaced." She paused. "I'm going to hook you up to fetal monitor and record your contractions."
Charlotte nodded. "Should I call Coop?"
Addison hooked Charlotte up to a fetal monitor and nodded. "You're still in early labor, but this being your third child, things will most likely progress rapidly."
Addison squeezed out a little bit of gel and placed the Doppler on Charlotte's stomach. She moved it to the side and smiled when the baby's heartbeat echoed. "Strong heartbeat."
Charlotte let out a breath and called Cooper, letting him know what was happening.
"Mason, Ava, and Ethan still ok?" Addison asked, looking at the monitor.
Charlotte swallowed and shifted a little.
"That was a strong one."
"Mmhmm." Charlotte paused. "The kids are doin' well. Ethan's still avoidin' me. The only thing he lets me do is comb his hair. Mason's been more interested in hangin' out with his friends than his family lately, but who can blame him? He's much older than his siblings and he's a teenager." She let out a breath, clenching her hand into a fist. She relaxed again and leaned back. "And Ava's so excited for the baby to come. She's happy that she's gonna have a little sister, and frankly so am I. I love my boys—all three of 'em—but another girl will help balance out the family."
Addison nodded. "Looks like you've got your hands full."
"You have no idea. Ethan and Ava are typical brother and sister—always bickerin', always fightin' over somethin'. I do have to say that I like havin' an older kid and two toddlers, though. Mason's a big help when he's home. Plus, Ava's been playin' momma to her baby doll for the past month, tellin' me that it's her little sister. It's sweet. So she's gonna be my little helper."
"They're sweet at that age."
"Yeah, they are." Charlotte paused. "How are Grace and Henry? They're turnin' one next week, aren't they?"
Addison nodded. "It's crazy."
"I also heard that you're takin' the twins to Australia, to visit Liam's parents. That's a big step if it's true."
"It's true. We're leaving in two weeks."
"You and Liam are really serious then."
Addison nodded. "He's great with the twins and they love him too."
"That's good. That's hard to find." Charlotte paused. "So am I stayin' here or goin' home?"
"Your contractions are longer and coming closer together, so I'd say you're stayin' here. You may not give birth today, but you never know how fast you're going to progress from hour to hour, especially this being your third baby."
"Better safe than sorry."
"Exactly. We wouldn't want you delivering on your bathroom floor."
"No, we wouldn't."
Addison pushed up the band around Charlotte's stomach and pressed down, checking the position of the baby. She then squeezed some more gel out and moved the wand down. She turned the ultrasound screen towards Charlotte and smiled. "There's your baby. She's head first and her head is right above your cervix, which is exactly the position she needs to be in."
"She's still a girl, right? There won't be any surprises?"
Addison laughed. You're having a little girl still." She cleaned off Charlotte's stomach and wiped off the wand.
Charlotte took out her cell phone and called Cooper again. She shifted and closed her eyes.
"Just relax for a few minutes. I'll get things set up in the birthing suite. It's an exciting day."
Addison opened the door and walked out into the hallway.
Charlotte was half-asleep, rolled on her side, facing the door. She opened her eyes at the sound of a knock on the door. She groaned. "Come in," she said, groggily.
The door opened and her colleagues were standing there in a clump. "Is it time yet?" They all said in unison.
She rolled her eyes. "No."
Cooper squeezed through the mass of people and took a deep, exaggerating breath. "Damn."
She smiled. "Shut the door, please."
Cooper looked at their friends. "Sorry, guys." He shut the door and walked over to Charlotte, wiping sweat from her brow with the cold, damp towel he had in his hand. "Did you sleep at all?"
"Tried and failed."
He sighed. "As long as you're up, do you want me to massage your back and shoulders?"
"Everything ok? You never refuse my massages."
"I'm just tired, Coop, and in pain. I'm fine, honest."
He leaned over and pressed his lips against hers, pushing her blonde hair away from her pale face. "You sure?"
She grunted. "Yes."
"I'm just worried about you, sweetie."
She rubbed her lower abdomen and shifted on the bed, rolling onto her back. "I'm sorry. I just have a headache, my back is killin' me, my contractions are stronger and closer together, and I'm exhausted. I'm not exactly a pleasant person to be around right now."
He put his hand on her stomach and kissed the roundest part. He slid his hands down towards her hips, pressing his fingers into her skin gently. He looked at her and smiled. "It'll all be worth it."
"Easy for you to say."
"It's easy for you to say too, Char. You've done this twice already. Wasn't it worth it when you held Ava and Ethan for the first time?"
She smiled. He has a point. "Mmhmm."
"Try to focus on why you're in this much pain and why you're so uncomfortable, maybe that'll help."
"Where are the kids?"
"Mason's playing with Ava and Ethan in my office."
"He made it?"
"I stopped by Matt's house on the way here. Mason wasn't going to miss this for anything—his words, not mine."
She smiled and closed her eyes.
"You sure you don't want that massage?"
She scooted closer to the bedrail and turned on her side again. "Put your hands to work, mister."
He crawled into the bed behind her and worked from her shoulders down to the small of her back. "Take a deep breath in, let it out, and relax."
She inhaled and exhaled and melted into the mattress. She shivered and moaned as his hands pressed into her sore muscles. She dozed off for few minutes in between her contractions, feeling some relief from his massage.
By 9:15 PM, Charlotte had been pushing for two hours. She was tired and out of breath. She nearly broke Cooper's hand from squeezing it so hard. She rested her head back on the pillow and took a sip of water.
Addison fixed her glove and hunched over, scooting closer to the bed. "Charlotte, I need you to keep pushing." She paused. "She's crowning. A couple more pushes and she'll be here." She held up a mirror so Charlotte could see the full head of brown hair.
Charlotte groaned. "I don't wanna see all that, Montgomery." She swallowed and wiped her hand across her forehead.
"You got this, Char. A couple more pushes and you'll be able to relax." Cooper tightened his grip on her hand and kissed the top of her head. "This is your moment to shine. You were made for this—literally," he joked, trying to make her feel better.
Charlotte rolled her eyes and sat up. She leaned forward and pushed when another contraction washed over her. She was dripping with sweat and panting. She leaned back again and swallowed hard.
Cooper brushed his free hand against her cheek and smiled. "You're doing great, Char."
"Big push, Charlotte."
Charlotte leaned forward and pushed with all the energy she had left.
Addison freed the baby's shoulders and turned her, suctioning out her nose and mouth. She guided the rest of the baby out with one final push and cleaned her off a little. She smiled down at the newborn as she belted out a strong string of cries. "Congratulations." She placed the baby on Charlotte's chest and cleaned her off more.
Charlotte looked down at her newborn daughter and blinked away tears. She brushed her finger against her baby girl's soft pink cheek and smiled. "Welcome to world, Julia." She placed a soft kiss on her forehead and held her little hand.
Cooper cut the cord and kissed Charlotte on the top of her head again, rubbing her shoulder. His eyes welled up with a thin layer of tears as he looked down at his daughter, wrapped loosely in the blanket.
Addison handed the baby to her team and delivered the placenta. She took back the clean and swaddled newborn and carried her over to the bed. She placed the baby in Charlotte's arms and smiled wider. "You have a beautiful, healthy baby girl. She's seven pounds, 10 ounces, and 21 inches long."
Cooper adjusted his daughter's pink and blue striped hat and sat on the edge of the bed, leaning into Charlotte slightly to get a better look.
Charlotte adjusted the newborn in her arms and smiled down at her. "She's absolutely perfect." She touched the tip of her daughter's nose and looked at Cooper. "We make beautiful babies."
He lowered his head, closing the gap between their lips. He broke the kiss and nodded. "We sure do."
There was a knock on the door and then it opened. Mason broke out from the crowd of doctors and walked over to the bed. "It's a madhouse out there." He paused and smiled at his baby sister. "I have some advice for you, Julia—good luck." He gave her a kiss and sat down by Charlotte's feet while the rest of the visitors filed in.
The next day, around 11:30 in the morning, Cooper was asleep on the couch, with Ethan asleep on his chest, his little hands clutched around his father's T-shirt.
Charlotte was sitting up in bed holding Julia, with Ava peeking over her arm, smiling at her baby sister—she hadn't stopped smiling since yesterday afternoon. "I love you, Julia," she jabbered, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "I hold her, momma."
Charlotte shifted and adjusted the newborn. "You gotta sit real still."
Ava nodded. "Real still."
"Mmhmm, and hold her just like me and daddy showed you—like the way you hold your baby doll." Charlotte paused. "Hold out your arms." She set the baby in Ava's outstretched arms and repositioned her hands.
Ava rocked Julia gently back and forth, as she sat there, her back pressed against the pillows. "She's cute, momma."
"She is, sweet pea, but so are you." Charlotte smiled and pulled the sheets up over their legs.
"She come home now?"
"Not today, but in a few days." Charlotte sat there and listened to the conversation Ava was having with her baby sister. Man, does that girl have a vivid imagination. She looked over at the couch just as Cooper opened his eyes. "Hey there, sleepyhead."
Cooper rubbed his cheek and blinked. "Hey. How are my three favorite girls?"
"We're just fine, Coop."
"Momma, Julia's sleeping."
Charlotte pressed her finger against her lips. "Shhh. If she's asleep, we gotta be extra quiet."
Cooper ran his hand over his son's blonde hair and shifted on the couch. "I don't want to wake him up, but I have to pee."
"Tough break." Charlotte laughed.
Ethan stretched and opened his eyes. He yawned, making a soft screeching sound.
Cooper smiled and sat up slowly, adjusting the toddler. He stood up and grabbed the diaper bag. "Perfect timing." He disappeared into the bathroom and shut the door.
There was a knock on the door and then Amelia walked in, Makayla on her hip.
"Geez, Amelia, she's lookin' more like you every day."
Amelia smiled and set her daughter on the floor.
Makayla ran over to the toys scattered in the corner and plopped down on her butt.
Amelia stepped closer to the bed and smiled at Ava. "Ava, would you mind if I held your baby sister for a couple minutes? I'll give her right back to you."
Ava looked at her mother, who nodded. She looked up at Amelia and smiled. "Otay. You hafta sit."
Amelia took Julia from the toddler and cradled her. "I don't have to sit down."
"Momma says so."
"Ok, then I'll sit right here on the couch." Amelia sank into the cushion and rocked Julia slowly. "I can't tell who she looks like more—you or Cooper. She's got his hair, his ears, and his mouth, but she gets everything else from you."
"We can't figure it out either."
Amelia looked at Ava. "How does it feel to be a big sister again?"
"I'm a good big sister," Ava boasted.
"I bet you are."
Cooper walked out of the bathroom and set Ethan on the floor. He held his hand as they walked over to his toys.
Ethan and Makayla sat side by side, imitating each other's playing.
"They'll be best friends when they're older," Cooper said, kissing Charlotte on the lips.
"Where's my kiss, daddy?"
Cooper leaned over and kissed Ava on the cheek, she gave him one back. "How're you feeling today, Char?"
"Sore and drained of energy, but I'm good."
"Are you hungry?"
"Actually, yes, I'm starvin'."
"Hey, Panda Bear, let's go up to the cafeteria and get momma something to eat. You can tell me everything I missed while I was asleep."
Ava hopped off the bed and ran over to Cooper, jumping into his arms.
Cooper bent his knees and hoisted her into the air. As he lowered her, he gave her another kiss on the cheek. He set her on his shoulders and looked up at her. "Hold on tight." He looked at Charlotte. "I'll be right back."
Charlotte smiled and waved goodbye to Ava as they left the room. After the door clicked closed, she leaned back on the pillows and closed her eyes. This wasn't exactly the life she had envisioned for herself, aside from the doctor part, but she wouldn't trade any of it for the world. She had people to love and people to love her back, and that, right there, was what she always wanted.
The End (For real this time)