Hal's Hopes

As Hal walked home from the bus stop on that Monday afternoon, he hoped that Trelawney would go back to school already. Pastor Jason had finally returned from his meeting in Missouri. It was about time. He knew that Grammy had been keeping her home from school because she wanted to hear what he had to say about Uncle David's visit. She and the other adults had been pretty upset by him. Personally, he had liked the guy. He was kind of like Mom and Emmeline because when you talked to him he really listened and didn't treat you like a kid. He had asked Hal a lot about school and the classes he took, especially the math and science.

Hal had also told him about his project for the science fair that was coming up next month. He didn't know why he told him. It was a secret and he didn't want anyone in the family to know about it until the fair opened. But when they were talking it just kind of slipped out. He promised not to tell anyone and Hal knew that he could trust him. He was that kind of a guy. He was very interested in the project. He even had some ideas for him to consider that he hadn't thought of. That was pretty neat for a guy who said that he had never studied science before.

Uncle David called himself just a simple, country shopkeeper trying to make a living to support his family. But he knew lots of stuff. And he hadn't even gone to college. He said that he didn't have time. He had gotten married young and had to support his family. He used to have an uncle who had never married and he worked for him in the shop. When he died, he left the shop to him because he said that he earned it. Hal thought that it was kind of neat, especially if you wanted to be a shopkeeper for the rest of your life.

When he left, Mom and Trelawney were both very sad because he had given Trelawney to Grammy and Grampie to take care of until she could live with Mom again. It was funny, because Grammy and Grampie were already her legal guardians, but this seemed more important to them. And if she didn't come home, then Uncle David could take her back to England whenever he wanted. Maybe that was what had scared them. Hal could see that they didn't think that Trelawney was going to come back home to live anytime soon. He kind of figured that they were right.

He knew that Dad was upset on the day that Uncle David left because Mom went back to Grammy's to spend the rest of the day with Trelawney. She didn't even say goodbye or tell them where she was going. She just got up and left. He followed her up to house, but quickly came back home and yelled at them to do their chores and their homework. Then he went into his study and slammed the door. Hal decided that it would only be worse if they didn't do what he asked, so he made sure that all of the chores were done and then they went upstairs to do their homework.

Butch and Prudence didn't want Dad to get mad at them, so they did what Hal told them. They did their chores very quietly. They didn't complain at all. Even Butch realized that Dad would blow his stack if they bothered him. Prudence kind of tiptoed around with big scared eyes.

When they were done with their homework they all sat together in their room. Prudence looked worried.

"What should we do now?" she asked anxiously. "We did everything that Daddy told us to. Why isn't Mommy here? Why did she go back to Grammy's house?"

"I think she went back to see Trelawney again," said Hal. "Before she got up from lunch she said that she needed her. She didn't eat anything. I hope that she ate something at Grammy's. She needs to eat for the baby."

"Oh you know Grammy," said Butch. "She'll make sure that she eats. I just wish that she would come home so that we could eat. I'm starving and I'm not even nervous."

"You are too nervous!" said Prudence.

"Okay, maybe a little," said Butch. "I just hope that Dad stays in his study until he cools off. He was sure mad when he came home. Why is he so mad at us? Did we do something wrong that I forgot about?"

"No," said Prudence. "I think that he's mad because Mommy is with Trelawney. I thought that she moved to Grammy's house so that Mommy wouldn't have to worry about her anymore. Now she has Grammy. I don't see why she gets Mommy too."

"It's not the same," said Hal. "You see. Trelawney's only real family is Mom."

"We're her real family," said Prudence.

"I'm not so sure about that," said Butch. "If she was our real family then why did she move out? I thought that she was supposed to be like our sister or something. She sure is annoying like a sister."

"No, she's not," said Prudence. "Daddy doesn't like her because she makes Mommy sad. But if she's here then she makes Mommy sad and if she's not here then she makes Mommy sad. It's no wonder Daddy doesn't like her anymore. All she ever does is make Mommy sad."

"This is stupid," said Hal. "Mom and Trelawney are both sad because they don't have their parents anymore. And they're both sad because Aunt Henrietta is crazy and won't leave them alone. And now they're sad because they can't live together. Dad isn't really mad at Trelawney. But I don't think that Dad's mad at us now either. I think that he's mad because he wants to fix things, but he doesn't know how. Come to think of it, nobody knows how. If they did, then Trelawney would still be living here with us."

"Well, okay. That makes sense in a weird sort of way," said Butch. "Just as long as he's not mad at us. But why can't he talk to us, you know, like the day we went fishing? I mean, he was kind of annoyed at me and Prudence, but at least he talked to us about it."

"I don't know," admitted Hal. "But I'm getting kind of hungry too. I'm going to go into Dad's room and call Grammy. Maybe we can go there to eat."

When Grammy heard that Dad was in the study and they were afraid to bother him, she called back and they let him answer the phone. He came upstairs a few minutes later and said that Grammy wanted them to come to dinner. Butch told him that all the chores were done and so was their homework. Dad didn't say anything. He just looked at them suspiciously and walked out of the room. Hal could see that he thought that they had ratted him out. They didn't mean to. They were just hungry. But none of them had the nerve to tell him that.

Dinner was very quiet. Mom and Trelawney didn't talk and they both looked like they had been crying. Nobody else knew what to say. Grammy tried to ask them some questions about school, but nobody felt like talking. They just said "yes, ma'am" or "no, ma'am" and not much else. She didn't even try to talk to Dad. After a while, she looked at Grampie and sighed. Then she gave up and they finished dinner in silence.

Before they left, Mom and Trelawney spent a long time hugging until Grammy said that Trelawney needed to go upstairs to have her bath. Hal was afraid that they would start crying again. Dad put his arm around Mom and she leaned against him. Hal could see that she was really counting on him for support.

He kissed her head and brushed back her hair. Then they walked home quietly. Mom went up to bed right away. She said that she was very tired. Dad gave her a kiss and she hugged him very tight.

Hal wanted to say something but he didn't know what to say. He wasn't even sure of what was wrong. He thought that Mom would be glad that Uncle David didn't take Trelawney away. Before he went to bed, he peeked into his Mom's bedroom and saw that she was sitting up in bed.

She had a book open in her lap but she wasn't even looking at it. Dad wasn't there. He must have been downstairs working. Hal thought that he should really be with Mom. After all, she was sad and he could do his work any old time. Hal didn't want Mom to be sad all alone, so he took a deep breathe and went into the bedroom.

"Mom," he said. "Do you want me to keep you company for awhile?"

She was startled for a second, but then she gave him a little smile and patted the bed next to her.

He sat down and said, "Is there anything that I can do to make you feel better? Even though I am just a kid and all."

"No, Hal," she said sadly. "I'm afraid that no one can make me feel better right now. I've let my parents down and my sister down. If I were really a good sister then Trelawney would be living with me the way that they had wanted her to. And she wouldn't feel like I had abandoned her. And everyone here at home would be happy."

Hal thought about that for a minute. In one way, she could be right. He couldn't really say what her parents might think, but he knew that she was dead wrong about Trelawney. He really thought that she was being too hard on herself. He said so.

"Mom," he said. "I really think that you are being too hard on yourself. You know that whenever one of us feels like we've disappointed someone, you always tell us that we just need to do our best: if we do our best, then we can't do anything more. I think that you are doing your best.

"I can't say for sure what your parents would have thought. And it's not like we're not happy. I don't know about Dad, but the rest of us are confused and sad. But we're sad because you're sad. But I don't think that Trelawney would ever think in a million, billion years that you let her down or abandoned her. "

"What makes you say that?"

"Trelawney loves you more than anyone," he said. "I don't think that you could ever disappoint her. You taught us that if we really love someone, then we love them just as they are. You always love us no matter what. Did she say that she thought that you abandoned her?"

"No," she said looking down.

"Well, that's because you didn't," he said logically. "It's not like you sent her away or anything. You know that she loves Grammy. And Grammy really loves her. She has her little dog to keep her company. You get to visit her more now. No, you haven't let her down at all. We all make mistakes. Nobody's perfect you know."

"This is different," she answered.

"No it's not," he said firmly. "Besides, Uncle David said that maybe someday she would come home to us. I hope that she will."

"Why is that?" she asked, smiling a little.

"She can be a pain sometimes, but she is also a really nice person," he said. "She teases me because she's like my little sister, but she teases you too. And she really is your little sister. But she's never mean and she does lots of nice things without being told. And I don't think that she just loves you, I think that she loves all of us. She's just a loving kind of person."

"Do you love her, Hal?"

It was kind of a mushy question, but Hal knew that she really wanted him to answer truthfully. He was glad that he could tell her what she wanted to hear and still tell the truth. He knew that if he lied or fibbed then she would know it right away.

"Yes, I do," he replied. "Even when she's a brat. But you're tired and I think that you should go to sleep now."

She smiled and put down her book.

"Goodnight, Hal," she said. "Thank you for taking such good care of me. You have actually made me feel a little better."

"I wish that I could make you feel a lot better," he answered. "But I'm just a kid. I hope that that doesn't disappoint you."

"Hal, you could never . . ." she started and then she stopped and gave him another, slightly bigger, smile. "I see your point. Thank you. You may be a scientist, but you have a very big heart. I feel very blessed that you are my son."

This time it was Hal's turn to smile. But inside he thought that Dad could have made her feel even better if he had just spent some time with her. Maybe that was why she felt so bad. Maybe she thought that she had let him down more than anyone. She must be really tired. Even he could have told her that that wasn't true. Dad was just being Dad. When he didn't know what to do he did his work.

Hal thought that she had changed since she had been their Nanny. When she was their Nanny she was always able to see the bright side of things. She always knew how to make them feel better. But when she was their Nanny, and not their Mom, she was really not a part of their family the way she was now.

When she was Nanny, and Dad spent too much time working, she would scold him and make him pay more attention to them. He would get annoyed at her and roll his eyes, but she could always make him do things her way. They would laugh and smile about stuff like that. It never seemed serious. And when he would start ignoring them again, she was never hurt or sad, she just laughed when the phone rang and he had to change his plans and do stuff with them. Hal remembered that he always thought that she was the one making the phone ring. But even though she was Nanny, he didn't think that even she could do that.

Now that she was their Mom, she seemed to be like them. Dad got busy at work and didn't have time for them as usual. But it was kind of weird now. Instead of the distractions coming up to make him pay attention, she wanted him to pay attention on his own. Maybe it was because she loved him and she wanted him to pay attention to her because he loved her, not because the phone rang and he suddenly had time. But Dad was Dad, even though now he was her husband, and even if she was going to have a baby.

"Aw, man," he finally said. "After all the times you took care of me, I guess I owe you. Besides, I promised Uncle David. But, come to think of it, even if I hadn't promised him, I would still take care of you. I love you, Mom. You taught us to always take care of the people we love. Goodnight, Mom."

He gave her a kiss goodnight and tucked her in. It felt kind of weird acting like the parent, but it was a nice kind of weird. It made him feel like he was growing up. But that kind of made sense too. After all, he was going to high school next year. He thought that it would make her feel better if Butch and Prudence said goodnight too. So he went and got them. He didn't say anything special to them. He just told them to say goodnight.

"Goodnight, Mommy," said Prudence sweetly. "Things will look better in the morning. They always do you know."

"What makes you say that?" she asked.

"That's what you always tell me when I feel bad," she replied. "And you're right. I just wanted to remind you in case you forgot."

Mom gave her a little smile.

Butch gave her a hug and a kiss and didn't even make a face because he thought that it was too mushy.

"Goodnight, Mom," he said. "I love you."

As they left, Mom looked at Hal with a question in her eyes, but Hal just shrugged because he hadn't told them to say anything. They said those things on their own. After all, she was the one who taught them all to be nice like that. She tried to teach Dad that too. Hal was beginning to understand the old saying about it being hard to teach "an old dog new tricks." It was certainly true about Dad.

Hal was glad that Mom seemed happier when she turned off the light and settled in. He hoped that Dad would come upstairs already and say something to her to make her feel better too. He tried to listen after he went to bed, but he fell asleep before he heard him come up.

Mom was a lot happier when they came home from school the next day because Grammy was going to keep Trelawney home for the whole week. That way, she and Mom could have lots of time together during the day. Hal was glad because Mom was glad. Grammy told the school that Trelawney was sick, but that she would keep up with her classes if they gave her assignments to him. After all, she was a real teacher.

Hal was glad that Mom and Trelawney were happy, but it was a pain to get her assignments. As usual, Mr. Preston was being an idiot. Instead having her teachers send her assignments to guidance, he made Hal go around to all her teachers to collect them. Her history teacher Mr. Burns said that it was a waste of Hal's time and it would be just as easy for him to send the assignments to the guidance office.

He was a cool guy, but Mrs. Fountain was an even bigger pain than Mr. Preston. She never had the assignment ready and complained to Hal the whole time he had to wait for it. The other teachers weren't so bad. The Spanish teacher even said that she hoped that Trelawney wasn't very sick.

So did Hal, but he didn't say anything. Whenever he gave her the assignments, Trelawney thanked him a lot and said that she was sorry to be such a bother. But she also told him that he was the best math and science teacher that she ever had. That made him feel a little better. He knew that she wanted to hug him, but he was glad she didn't. That would have been a little too much thankfulness.

Mom did give him a hug. She said that she knew that it was a pain for him to get the assignments, but she was proud that she had a son that was willing to do that for her. She needed her time with her sister and if he wouldn't help out, then she probably couldn't have it. But a hug from your Mom is different from one from your sort of sister. Moms are allowed to do that.

Tonight they were having dinner at Grammy's. At dinner she announced that Trelawney would not be going to school for the rest of the year. She was going to teach her at home. Hal was not going to have to get her assignments and bring them home anymore. Grammy would get them directly from the school. She said that it was time that Mr. Preston earned his pay. Uncle David had said that he was a leech on the taxpayers, whatever that meant.

Mom and Trelawney were both real happy. So were they, because now Mom could spend lots of time with her sister and still have lots of time for them. He was glad because now he wouldn't have to worry about Trelawney at school anymore. And in September, Grammy and Grampie were going to find a new school for her. Even though they were happy, Butch and Prudence were jealous.

"If Trelawney doesn't have to go to school," said Butch. "Then I don't see why I have to."

"Do you think that it would be easier if I taught you at home?" asked Grammy.

"What do you mean?" said Butch, who had been hoping to get out of going to school.

"I mean that just because Trelawney isn't in school doesn't mean that she still won't have lessons," she explained. "It will be like she has lots of homework to do all the time."

"Oh," said Butch. "Maybe I should stay in school after all."

"But then Trelawney is going to have all that time with Mommy," protested Prudence.

"What's wrong with that?" asked Hal. "You'll be in school anyway."

"I'd rather be home with Mommy," replied Prudence pouting.

The grownups all looked at each other. They didn't know what to say, as usual. But Hal wasn't going to let Prudence spoil things for Mom and Trelawney with her whining.

"Why don't you consider it practice for September," suggested Hal. "When the baby stays home with Mom all day and you have to go to school? Are you going to be jealous then?"

Everyone looked at Prudence. She mumbled, no, but they all knew that she would be jealous anyway. Still, Mom gave him the grateful smile that she always gave him when he smoothed things over. Trelawney smiled at him too. He hoped that she wouldn't start calling him her gallant knight or something dumb like that. He wished that she could figure out how to be special without being weird. But he figured that that was impossible.

Dad wasn't at dinner with them that night because he had too much work to do at the university. It seemed like he was never home anymore. When they walked home, he put his arm around Mom. He could see that even though she was happy, she was tired. And she really missed Dad.

He wished that Dad would figure out if he really wanted to be around or not. It seemed that he only wanted to be with Mom when he was the one who had the time. Then, it was almost like just because he had the time, she was supposed to ignore everyone else and give him all her attention. For some reason that bugged him. He didn't know why. It just did.

When they got home, the door to Dad's study was closed. That meant that he was home, but working. He told Mom that he would put the kids to bed. She went into the kitchen to make some tea. Hal knew that she was hoping that Dad would have some time for her, but it was getting late. She was pretty tired. Hal guessed that she wanted to tell Dad about Trelawney not going to school. Then maybe he would be in a better mood.

First Flutters

When Hal got home from work, he read a note on his desk that said that the family had gone up to his parents' house for dinner. There was nothing unusual about that. If Phoebe was tired, she was grateful that Mother enjoyed having them over. Mother was also good about making sure that the kids did their homework, so that was another benefit.

He was aware that Pastor Jason was back and that no doubt a parade of Everetts had been through his office today. He knew that they were all concerned about Uncle David's visit, Aunt Henrietta's shenanigans, and the situation in general. Mother had just kept Trelawney at home for a whole week from school.

It didn't say much about the school that with a minimum of effort she had kept up with her classes. She and Phoebe had spent their days together and were both happier and more at peace with the situation for it. He was glad that mother had thought of it. The sisters had time together and Phoebe had time for the kids and himself.

He knew it was selfish, but it was also true. Phoebe's relationship with her sister was obviously different from her relationship with them. Her oddness and nightmares were certainly disruptive to the family. Despite the fact that Aunt Henrietta's premonitions were a lot of nonsense, they still bothered him. But Phoebe would have been miserable if Uncle David had taken her away. This was a good compromise.

Anything that made her happier made him happy. Things were on an even keel and he hoped that Pastor Jason would let them stay that way. He was seriously considering going to the school himself and asking that Trelawney be permitted to do some kind of home study program. His mother was a former teacher and apparently Hal was a better math and science teacher than the ones that she had at school.

About fifteen minutes later, he heard them all come in. The kids went upstairs and he knew that Phoebe had gone into the kitchen. They all knew better than to bother him when he had lots of papers to grade and he had just given midterms. As he continued to grade them he was feeling very good about things. The kids were in bed and he had just refocused his mind on his work when he heard a startled noise.

"Oh!"

Hal heard Phoebe's cry in the kitchen from the study and shot up. When he rushed in he saw that she was slightly bent over and holding her belly.

"Oh!" she cried out again.

"Phoebe what is it? Are you all right? Do we need to get you to the doctor?" his voice was filled with concern.

But when she looked up at him her face was radiant. "Hal, I felt it!"

"Felt what, darling?"

"The baby, Hal. I can feel the baby moving, oh! inside of me. Hal, I didn't know it would be like this!" she said more quietly. He put one arm around her shoulders and laid his other hand over her stomach. He knew that it would be a few more weeks before he would be able to feel the baby move, himself, but if she could feel the child . . . She looked back up into his eyes and her lips parted. He had no choice but to kiss them.

He could feel her hunger. It seemed odd to him that a woman more than four months pregnant should still feel such passionate desires, even as she felt the child moving. But who knew what all those pregnancy hormones were doing? He certainly had no objections and the doctor had told him that it was perfectly safe. He recalled the doctor smiling broadly as he said,

"You're a lucky man, Professor Everett, most men get shut out in the cold!"

Hal knew that very well. It seemed that the minute his first wife had discovered that she was pregnant with each of his other three children, she had shut herself down to him physically. Then after each birth, it was more than a year before she was willing to make love with him again. Comparing notes with his buddies he had discovered that this was fairly common with their wives as well, although it seemed that compared with the others, Helen's behavior had been extreme.

However, Helen had never embraced lovemaking with the same enthusiasm as Phoebe. In the beginning he had thought that it was because it was all new for her. Her desires had also been frustrated and simmering for months before he had finally given in. But now he realized that it was her nature. Under her cool, efficient exterior she was a deeply passionate woman.

Even after their marriage, she had maintained her cool facade to the outside world. In the bedroom, it was entirely another story. There were very few nights that it was safe to leave the bedroom door unlocked, in case one of the children walked in. And it wasn't just her desire to have a child. She got a very genuine pleasure from the carnal act.

The fact that she could actually feel the baby move calmed his own fears that with all the recent anxiety in her life she might lose her. She had been so proud that in the last few weeks as her belly began to show the soft curves that indicated that a child was growing inside. He enjoyed watching her when she thought there was no one looking. She would look at herself in wonder and gently massage her stomach.

She looked up at him, her eyes filled with a million emotions, all of which were centered on the little miracle within. Then they flashed for an instant and he realized that the baby was making her presence felt again. He smiled knowingly.

"What?" she asked.

"You better get used to this, sweetheart," he replied. "In a few weeks, that child is going to be squirming and kicking every time you try to relax."

"Really?" she asked curiously.

"I believe that when you're up and moving around, the baby enjoys the motion and sleeps. When you sit down or stop, that is when she goes into action," he answered.

"And what makes you such an expert?"

He looked at her sheepishly.

"Helen had a few of those 'what to expect when you're pregnant' books around before Hal was born. I was curious, so I read one," he explained. "It gave me a lot of warning of what I could expect as well."

She gave him an odd look and then led him out of the kitchen and up to their room. After locking the door, she lay back on the bed and held out her arms. She said, "Make love to me!"

"I suppose that this is to refute another one of my previous expectations?" he said with a grin.

Looking back at him seductively, she said, "Refute nothing! I want you to make love to me!"

Deciding that it would be a shame to waste any time arguing, he fell on the bed beside her and began to kiss her. She stroked his hair for a moment and then loosened his tie and unbuttoned his shirt. To make things easier, he sat up to help her out of her clothing. He always enjoyed undressing her.

As he uncovered her he enjoyed exploring her with his hands and his mouth. As her body enlarged with the child, her response to his touch had become more sensitive. He tried to be careful not to arouse her too quickly. He enjoyed their foreplay. It made the final act all the more exciting, if he could hold her off until she was begging for it.

Once she lay before him in the pale light of the bed lamp, he looked down at her with pleasure. Without a word he knew his eyes conveyed how beautiful he found her. She smiled back smugly. She was quite proud of her new voluptuousness. Then, being careful not to put too much pressure on the baby, he fell on her again. He wanted to be gentle, but her passion was strong and stirred him powerfully. She clearly wanted him aroused. Her hunger was intense tonight. He that she would not last long before he would have to take her.

She lay beneath him enjoying the feeling of his body against her own. She couldn't understand it herself, but she still felt deeply attracted to her husband. It seemed counterintuitive. After all, the biological function of sex was to procreate. That they had clearly done. Yet she still wanted him as much as ever.

He helped her to find a comfortable position and then he entered her. When he peaked she rode the wave to her own climax. When they were spent she felt deeply satisfied. Looking at his face, she knew that once again she had matched his desire with her own. She found it very pleasurable satisfy her lover and herself as well.

She was beginning to feel the power of her own sexuality. She enjoyed the fact that her husband could be distracted from everything else with even a hint of the pleasures she could offer him in the bedroom. She felt that her child was proof that their physical relationship was more than mere sensuality. She was a fertile woman at the peak of her sexual powers. She intended to fully enjoy them for as long as she could. She knew that she would eventually grow too large for this kind of lovemaking.

Afterwards, they lay together. She lay on her back, stretched out before him, while he lay on his side to get a better view. Hal was gently tracing the outline of her swelling stomach. The gesture was a combination of sensuality and affection, designed to express his appreciation for both the mother and the child within. Within her womb, she felt the response of her daughter. She knew her father already by sound and touch. She was looking forward to the day when Hal would also be aware of his daughter's response. She suspected that he would enjoy it.

"There she is," he said softly, "Our little Margaret. Never giving her mother a moment's rest."

"Yes, there she is. Although I always think of her as Maisie," she responded softly. He always seemed to enjoy referring to the baby as Margaret. "But what makes you say that?"

He gave her another sheepish grin.

"Okay, what else did the baby book say?" she asked patiently.

"It said that when you're carrying a girl that the morning sickness is worse. All those female hormones, you know," he answered.

Phoebe rolled her eyes. "Hal, that is an old wife's tale that has been going around forever. I am sure that it has no scientific basis."

They looked at each other and laughed. It was the first time that Hal had heard her laugh with any real joy since Uncle David had come to visit. Whatever Pastor Jason had told her had made her feel much better. He didn't really care. He just wanted to her to relax and smile again. Now that she had reached this milestone in her pregnancy, she should be smiling a lot. The morning sickness was over. The fatigue was not quite so bad. And now she could feel her baby move.

His midterms were still lying on his desk, but he was loath to return to them. Instead, he settled himself comfortably in bed with his wife. She curled up in his embrace and closed her eyes. He pulled back her hair to kiss her cheek and realized that she was smiling with joy and contentment. He reached down to rest his hand on her stomach and she snuggled closer. He nuzzled her behind the ear and whispered something about this being a pleasant little break from his work.

Phoebe, however, was determined that tonight she was going to keep him in bed with her. She was tired of falling asleep alone. So she decided that she would make sure that he stayed with her.

She turned herself on her back again and reached up to pull his lips to her own. Opening her mouth widely she kissed him deeply once more. She then grasped him to pull him closer and pressed his body into hers. She could feel his arousal again as she ran her hands up and down his back.

She knew that she had succeeded when his mouth trailed down he found one of her rapidly expanding breasts. Before he took it he whispered, "You are insatiable."

She looked at him through heavily lidded eyes, "I don't hear any complaints."

She moaned softly at the stimulation of his tongue. She knew that he was now able to taste the sweet liquid that would feed her child once she was born. Her breasts now leaked whenever she was aroused. As he fell to his enjoyment of her once more, all other thoughts left his head. As his last conscious thought, he decided that his midterms could wait. Her passion was like an intoxicating drug. It was impossible for him to think clearly once he was aroused.

After they were both spent and she had curled up again in his arms, he had a random thought. He wondered if her seductive overtures were not a way of getting his full attention when he was busy. She knew that he was unable to resist her whenever she offered herself to him like this. It was a bit discomforting for him to realize that even when they were together and he was not working, he was distracted by his thoughts of his teaching and his research. And she was able to discern his every thought.

As he tenderly held her closer, he could hear her sigh once again with contentment. When they were on their honeymoon, he had promised her that he would give her the attention that she deserved and would not regret any lost opportunities to spend time with her. It had not been what she would have called a "piecrust" promise, easily made, easily broken. It had been a vow to her as sacred to him as any of their marriage vows.

In the back of his mind he considered the fact that he had always tried to blame Trelawney for coming between them. It made him uncomfortable to realize that perhaps it might, just might, be his work. But that was ridiculous. He didn't spend that much time at work. And this was midterm time. No, once midterms were over things would go back to normal. It was all good. He just happened to be lucky enough to have married a woman with a very strong sex drive and a large appetite. It was a most pleasurable prospect for the future.

The next morning at breakfast, he announced that he was going to call the middle school to see about putting Trelawney on a home study program. There was silence at the table and the kids all looked at each.

"What?" he asked puzzled.

"Dad," said Butch. "Grammy did that yesterday. In September, Trelawney is even going to a new school."

"Yeah, Dad," added Hal. "Uncle David is going to pay for a private school."

"How come nobody told me?" he asked, feeling annoyed. "Why am I always the last to know?"

"Grammy told us last night at dinner," answered Prudence.

There was silence again and it was obvious that all the children were suppressing smiles. The unspoken statement was that if he had not missed dinner with the family he would have known. Not for the first time, he was the last to know because he was absent from the house. Hal looked at Phoebe helplessly, but she was no help.

"I believe that we had other things on our minds when we finally saw each other last night," she commented drily.

He looked back at her and realized that she was amused too. But she also had an amorous glint in her eyes to remind him of exactly what had been on their minds last night.

"Why fight it?" he said throwing his hands up in the air.

As he walked out of the kitchen, he could hear the explosion of laughter behind him. But he was actually smiling himself. He had certainly not forgotten what was on his mind last night. And he had gotten his way in the matter without lifting a finger himself or having to persuade anyone. He found himself whistling as he walked out the front door and to the car.

Epilogue

Rob was amused when Phoebe came rushing into the house the next day. He, Catherine, and Trelawney were still eating breakfast when she burst into the kitchen and announced that last night she had felt the baby move for the first time. Trelawney squealed with delight and Catherine had tears in her eyes. He had to admit that even he was moved. It was a huge moment for a first time mother.

The three women were clearly happier than they had been in a long time. It was almost as if Maisie had sensed the positive direction that things were moving in and wanted to have her say. Mentally, he shrugged. He had given up trying to understand the girls. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, he thought, or, better yet, get out of their way.

Because he had three sons, he had basically been living in a man's world most of his life. Now he felt outnumbered by females. They were interesting and emotional creatures, very different from his sons. He knew that Catherine was enjoying her belated motherhood of daughters. And Phoebe and Trelawney, despite their issues, were very loving. It was not an exclusive love. It included all they knew.

They had a very special relationship, but as David had said, it in no way interfered with Phoebe's relationship with her husband. As he watched the three women/girls chattering away in front of him he realized that this little "hen party" was nothing that his son, or he for that matter, would want to be a part of. Hal's view of Trelawney as a threat was really pretty misguided, especially if for once he would stop and make an accurate assessment of his own life and priorities.

There were really very few times that Phoebe had consciously chosen to spend time with her sister, rather him. More often, he was the one who was consciously choosing to spend time at the university, rather than at home. More often than not, in recent months Trelawney shared her sister's pain rather than caused it. As Pastor Jason said, they were both still pretty raw.

To a certain extent, Hal was also still living with the residual emotional effects of his own grief for his first wife. In order to cope with the loss, he had buried many of his feelings and had taken refuge in his professional career at the expense of his children and family life. Like most people, he found it easier to recognize such flaws in others rather than himself. He had recognized some of this to a certain extent, but was resisting making some of the difficult choices that he needed to, in order to change things.

"It was just like everyone always said it was," she was saying. "Like a butterfly fluttering inside."

"Are you sure it wasn't indigestion?" he asked teasingly. "That meal last night was a little spicy."

"Rob!" said Phoebe and Catherine together.

"I can tell you from experience," said Catherine firmly. "That a mother knows the difference. If you've never been pregnant than you have nothing to say about it."

"Hal thought that he did," chuckled Phoebe. "He apparently had read one of Helen's books on what to expect when you're pregnant, so he thinks that he's an expert."

"Well, that was his first mistake," said Rob.

"And what was his second?" Trelawney asked.

"Telling your sister," he replied. "Any man knows that there are some things that you don't touch with a ten-foot pole. Telling your pregnant wife how she feels, what she should feel, or when she will feel it, is at the top of the list."

"That's true," laughed Phoebe. "I enjoyed laying to rest another one of his previous misconceptions last night, after I finally got his attention."

The three females exchanged mischievous glances and Rob decided that a strategic departure was definitely in order. He got up from the table.

"Congratulations, Phoebe," he said fondly, giving her a fatherly kiss on the head. "I'll leave you girls to your fussing and head off to my workroom."

"Thank you, Rob," she replied, beaming. "I'm sorry if I interrupted your breakfast."

"I'm not," he admitted. "It makes me very happy to see the three of you so happy. But once you start talking about the . . . um . . . intimate details of pregnancy, it's definitely my cue to exit."

Catherine looked up at him and he could read the joy in her eyes. He remembered how sad she had been when she had lost her mother. She had also been disappointed when they had no more children after Hal. She had always wanted a daughter. But now she had been handed an opportunity to be mother and grandmother to three very special young ladies. She needed them just as much as they needed her.

As he descended down the steps to his male sanctuary, he thought that he really needed to have a man-to-man talk with his son before he said something else foolish. Among other things Hal needed to spend more time at home. That way he wouldn't have to rely on books to understand what was going on with his wife's body. After three previous kids he should certainly know that by now. Rob smiled. It was one of the most exciting parts of fatherhood. He really shouldn't miss it.

Rob had a sneaky suspicion that little Maisie was going to be "one such as Trelawney," to use a Figalilly rhetorical construct. In utero, she seemed to be fully aware of what was happening around her. He was amused to consider what Hal would think and do once he realized that his daughter was like his sister-in-law in this way. It was all the more reason to come to grips with her special brand of uniqueness now.

Was it really so bad that the child believed that she could speak to angels and animals? Was there anything truly bad about a child whose imagination was such that she lived with the notion that her fantasies and dreams were a reality unto themselves? And since when did sweetness and kindness become crimes? If goodness could be equated with weakness in their world, then perhaps the flaw was in their world, not the child.

Rather than trying to teach Trelawney to adapt to their world, wouldn't it be a radical concept to adapt the world to her? Perhaps her example should be the ideal to strive for. If her goodness and simplicity made the world too dangerous a place for her, it was a very sad commentary on their world.

But right now was a magical time for Phoebe, Trelawney, and the as yet unborn Maisie. He may rant to the good pastor about their quirks and foibles, but he was happy to provide a safe haven to shelter them from the storms of life as they passed through this very special time of their lives together. In an almost odd way it was as if he had been given this mission by God, to love and protect these three vulnerable souls from harm. With Pastor Jason to guide him, he knew that he would not fail. And as always, his beloved wife would be at his side to face the challenge as his comfort and support.

He thought of the intersecting pathways of their lives. There were sorrows as well as joys that had brought them to this time and place. But that is life, and the continuation of life. "Happily ever after" is the end of the story. This moment in time, like so many others that they had experienced in the past six months, was transitional. It was, quite literally, a new beginning. A new life was making her presence known. And that presence was being acknowledged joyfully, by those awaiting her entrance into the world, with great anticipation.

The End