CHAPTER TWENTY

When the sun filtered through the window of their fourth-story condo the next morning, Matt slid a hand over Julie's taut, pregnant belly. She stirred and looked into his warm eyes. His lips were so full that she found it hard not to want to kiss him every time they were face to face, so she leaned in. When the kiss broke, she said, "I told Tyra we're not going to make it to the wedding. I'm really sorry to miss it, but that's around the time I'm due."

"I'm sure she didn't expect you to come," Matt said. "The invitation was just a courtesy."

"I can't believe she didn't at least send an invitation to Landry."

"She couldn't win either way," Matt said. "She's a bitch if she sends it and rubs it into him, and she's a bitch if she snubs him, as far as Landry is concerned."

Julie shook her head. "I just never in a million years would have seen those two getting married."

"Yeah, it's crazy," Matt agreed. How did they even end up hooking up?"

"I don't know. She just said when they were both home in Dillon over Christmas break they ended up hanging out a lot…and that he's changed…and she's changed…and….that's ridiculously fast though. Talk about a whirlwind courtship."

"Do you think she's pregnant?" Matt asked.

"Even if she was I can't imagine she'd marry him."

"Truth is stranger than fiction," Matt said. "I thought about the possibility of Tyra Riggins or a Tyra Clarke…but never, ever a Tyra Williams.

Julie sat up and began digging in the nightstand for her cell phone. "She texted me a photo of her dress. Do you want to see it?"

"I can pretend to want to see it if that'll make you happy."

Julie laughed and shut the drawer she'd just opened. "I guess you're not into dresses."

Matt closed his eyes and settled his cheek against the pillow. "We should try to go back to sleep. It's Sunday. No work today."

The Saraceans did not attend church now that neither had a relative expecting it. Mrs. Taylor had asked them last night what time church would be, and when they had responded that they didn't attend, she'd raised an eyebrow but hadn't said anything. Julie had suggested her mom check the internet if she wanted to find a nearby church, and her father had promptly announced that they could skip this week. There had been no further conversation on the matter, unless it had occurred between Coach and Mrs. Coach behind closed doors.

"I want to get up and write," Julie said.

"I thought you finished that proposal and you aren't getting the stuff you need to write the next one until tomorrow."

"I'm writing a novel."

Matt groaned. "Great," he said. He sat up and the sheet slid down to his waist. Now that he wasn't playing football anymore and wasn't exercising quite as much as he had in high school, he was losing a little of the definition in the muscles of his stomach and chest, but he still looked good. Julie didn't mind if he let himself go just a little bit. It would make her feel better about her own body after the baby was born. She'd known Matt was attractive, of course, but it had become increasingly obvious to her at the last two art shows they'd attended when he'd attracted a little too much attention from several thin, thirty-something women.

"Great?" Julie asked, and then with dripping sarcasm said, "Gee! Thanks for the support!"

"Julie, the last time you were working on a novel, you were up at four in the morning every morning writing and then complaining you were tired at night. I'd come home from work and try to tell you about my day and you wouldn't even notice I was talking to you for the first five minutes, and then when I waved a hand in your face, you'd just say uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh and type the entire time. We go out to eat and you're starring off into space." He lay back down. "I know you love writing. And you're great at it. I'm sure you'll get published one day. It's just not easy on me is all."

"Oh, poor baby. It sucks being married to a creative person, doesn't it? I have no idea what that's like."

He snorted and kissed her. "I love you," he whispered.

"I love you too."

"Our kid's gonna have the creative thing coming from both sides," he said. "I hope baby boy Saracen doesn't do performance art."

"Well," she said, sliding out of bed and dressing, "as long as baby S doesn't smear his naked body with cow dung while sitting on a rainbow-colored wooden stool and then claim it represents the rape of the environment."

They'd had to walk out of that show. They'd only gone in the first place because the gallery owner had asked Matt to evaluate this particular performance artist she'd heard about, because she was thinking of adding a little performance art at the next gallery fundraiser. For days after Matt would tease Julie every time she walked into the kitchen by grabbing some nearby item of food – chocolate sauce, jelly, peanut butter, whatever he could get his hands on – smearing a bit on his cheek, and saying something like, "This represent the perpetual state of neglect of the modern husband. Come lick it off."

He'd done it once in public too, at a restaurant, and they'd both started laughing so loudly that the manager had actually come over and asked them to leave. They'd tripped out on to the streets of Chicago feeling like teenagers in trouble. How long had it been since they were that young? Not long at all, but with all these adult responsibilities…with the knowledge that the coming baby that would turn their lives upside down…they had begun to feel much older than their years, and it had been good to laugh like that again, to laugh like kids.

[***]

Julie was holding her laptop when she entered the living room. Her father was sitting on the couch, his feet up on the coffee table, and flipping through channels. To save money, the Saraceans had decided not to get cable, so he didn't have any ESPN to watch, and apparently he couldn't find anything he liked.

"What are you doing up so early?" Julie asked him, setting her laptop down on the table in the small dining room, which opened onto the living room and was a stone's throw away from the couch. She came and sat down on the couch next to him.

"Couldn't sleep. Gracie is snoring like a chain saw. Your mom says we should put her in a sleep study. We're not sure she's getting enough good sleep. Could explain why she seems so crazy whiny during the day."

"Yeah, that or the fact that she's four and a half."

He nodded. He turned to her and smiled. "A boy, huh? Not that I wouldn't spoil my granddaughter rotten and love her to death."

Julie smiled to see her usually anxious father so happy and proud. "I love you, Dad," she said.

"I love you too, Julie babe. You'll always be my little girl, you know."

"I know."

Julie had wanted this – family. She had seen her parents make it work. But she had also seen at least a few of their struggles (had instigated some of them), and she was beginning to understand why they were worried she hadn't waited longer to have a child. She was going to need to lean on her parents a little bit in the years to come, more than she wanted to, but at least she had parents she could lean on.

Coach Taylor put his arm around his daughter, and she leaned against his shoulder, the way she had as a child.

Baby Boy Saracen would not be born into a mere nuclear family. The littlest Saracen would have Grandma and Grandpa Taylor, Aunt Gracie, great-aunt Shelley, and, Julie prayed, for a little while at least, great-grandma Saracen.

He would be a fortunate child indeed.