Madeline hung the last ornament on the branch of the pine in the middle of their living room then she took a step backwards to get a better look at the finished Christmas tree. While she was admiring her own work, a pair of arms wrapped around her shoulders from behind and a kiss was placed on her ear. She smiled and leaned back against her husband a little.
"It looks good." Jan remarked as he looked over to the tree.
"Thanks. I hope the others will like it too." Maddie said.
"Are you sure about this party? It might be too tiring for you…" Jan pondered while he moved his hands downwards onto Maddie's belly, gently stroking it. She was seven months in now and it was about time they got their families involved in the pregnancy as well, so they decided to throw a Christmas party combined with a baby shower.
"Yes, I'm sure. I can handle it." She reassured him and placed her own hands on top of his.
"Just don't overdo it." Jan said with a serious tone but smiled a bit when he felt one of the babies kick right into his palm.
One week later, their families came over from Europe. That included Jan's sister, Emma and her husband, Antonio and their son, Adriaan, as well as Madeline's parents, her twin sister Amelia and Amelia's boyfriend, Ivan. They've never spent the holidays in Canada before but they all agreed it's better if Maddie didn't travel while pregnant.
Maddie took her husband's advice about taking it easy but that didn't mean she didn't take part in the preparations at all. Her homemade Christmas cakes and cookies weren't absent from the dinner table this year either and she made sure to put on decorations anywhere she could. By Christmas Eve, the whole house was decked with garlands and mistletoes, the scent of cinnamon and pine lingered in the air and the radio was set to a station that played old Christmas songs all day.
The guests arrived at various times of the day and at one point, Madeline found herself sitting on the couch with her sister.
"Pretty nice life you made for yourself here, Maddie." Amelia noted while sipping her eggnog. "not as exciting as mine but it's nice."
"Well, we're not the same." Maddie shrugged and took a sip of her own drink which was apple and cinnamon flavored tea, since alcohol and chocolate were off the grid for her now.
Amelia was a model and she had quite a busy life in New York. They actually started out working together, with Madeline photographing and Amelia often modeling for her. It was no secret though that Maddie wanted a family of her own and when she met Jan, she didn't hesitate to settle down. Amelia, on the other hand, had quite a few failed relationships because of her career. She seemed to be going pretty strong with Ivan though.
"Do you think you'll ever have kids? You seem to be serious with Ivan." Maddie asked.
"I don't know… What we have right now is good and I wanna keep it this way for now." Amelia replied "Besides, I can't really afford walk around with a big belly for months."
Maddie snickered a bit. Amelia has always been kind of vain about her figure.
"Aren't there models for maternity clothes too? You wouldn't be completely out of commission." she pointed out.
"Hmm, that's true." Amelia laughed and took another sip of her drink.
Jan went out to the back porch to get a smoke. He was pretty used to smoking outside by now and he didn't really mind. The snow was falling quite heavily and all around the Christmas light on the neighboring houses were glowing in the dark.
He heard the back door open and turned around to see his sister come outside.
"You should quit, you know? Set your kids a better example." she said with a smile but he knew she was serious. Emma has been trying to get him to quit pretty much since she learned he started smoking.
"My kids aren't even born yet." Jan pointed out "And just so you know, I have cut back on cigarettes and I use patches now."
He turned back to glare outside at the falling snow and Emma walked up beside him.
"Jan, you don't have to keep up that cool act around me. You're going to be a dad. That's a pretty big deal." Emma tattled "I remember when I was pregnant with Adriaan, Toni was so excited…"
"What do you want, Emma?" Jan interrupted.
Emma went quiet for a second and sighed.
"I just want to talk. We rarely do." she said. Jan didn't respond so she went on. "Things were never the same after mom and dad were gone. But you did a good job looking after me and I'm grateful for that."
"Then why…" Jan began, still not looking at her. "Why did you leave the way you did? Just one day after another without a warning?"
"Because you didn't seem to realize that I wanted my own life." Emma said, shoving her hands in the pockets of her jacket. "You wanted to shield me from everything so badly that it became suffocating."
Jan took a long drag of his cigarette and blew the smoke out.
"I just wanted to protect you." he muttered.
"I know that now." Emma nodded "But back then I was young and I just wanted to live my life without thinking of your feelings. I know that's why you still resent Toni and want to blame him instead of me but really, it was my decision. But now that our kids will be cousins, I really want the two of you to get along better."
"I can try to get along with him. I can't promise I'll become best friends with him."
"That'll do." Emma laughed.
There was a few seconds of silence before Jan spoke again.
"I wonder if the same will happen with my kids… That I'll become too overprotective of them and they'll leave me for it." he never spoke about it before but this was a real fear of his.
"Jan, I never left you. That wasn't my intention." Emma said, stepping closer to her brother and putting a hand on his arm. Jan finally looked back at her. "As for the kids… They will probably get angry with you a few times, no matter what you do. God knows Adriaan does. You just have to listen to them and be there for them. And if you need help with anything, I'll be here for you."
"Thanks, Em." Jan nodded, a small smile tugging his lips. Somehow, hearing that was very reassuring.
The back door opened again with Madeline standing in the doorway.
"Hey, I'm going to show everyone the babies' room. Would you like to come?" she asked.
"Of course!" Emma replied with a smile. Jan put the cigarette out in an ashtray on the ridge of the porch before he went inside. He and Emma took off their coat in the hallway before Jan went to Maddie's side to help her walk up the stairs, while the rest of the guests followed them. Madeline's parents went right behind them, followed by Emma and Antonio, who was also carrying their son and finally Amelia and Ivan, walking hand in hand.
Once upstairs, Maddie stepped to the first door on the hallway and grabbed the handle.
"Well, this is it." she said with a proud smile and pushed the door open. The walls of the room were painted with discreet beige, nicely contrasted by the warm brownish-red skirting of the wooden floor and a couple of similarly colored shelves and a wardrobe. The curtains on the window were a simple, creamy white, with matching rugs lying on the floor. The highlights of the room, however, were the two matching cribs on each side. They had a natural wooden color with maple leaf and tulip patterns carved into their heads.
"Maddie, these are beautiful!" Marianne exclaimed as she walked inside and stroked the ridge of one of the cribs with an awed expression.
"Aren't they? Jan's friend made them for us, all by himself." Madeline explained, looking at her husband with much admiration. Jan's cheeks turned a little pink.
"He certainly did a great job." Arthur complimented as he examined the cribs "They seem pretty sturdy too."
"By the way, Madeline, we have a surprise for you." Marianne said, stepping up to her daughter.
"Other than the baby carriage you've given us?" Maddie asked.
"Yes." Marianne nodded and put her hands on Madeline's shoulders. "As someone who knows what it's like to have twins, I think you should get all the help possible. So your father and I decided to stay here until the babies are born."
"What?" Jan and Maddie said in unison.
"Oh, don't worry; you'll barely notice we're here. Except that you'll have more time for each other." Marianne waved with a reassuring smile.
Jan and Maddie shared a doubtful glance while Amelia was cackling in the back.
Arthur and Marianne staying over wasn't as bad as they expected it to be. Really, the worst conflicts they had was usually between Jan and Marianne when they argued over who should use the kitchen. But with her due date approaching, Madeline was grateful to have someone by her side even when Jan was at work. It became especially useful when she had to go on bed rest in the last few weeks.
Jan also became accustomed to their company with time and it was good to know that someone was looking after Maddie when he wasn't home. He and Arthur even ended up taking Kuma for walks on several occasion and chatting about gardening.
The twins arrived right on schedule, on one snowy day in early February.
Jan was almost done with his work at the office when he got a call from Marianne. He nearly dropped the phone when the Frenchwoman said the Madeline's in labor they're taking her to the hospital now. Jan said he'll meet them there and hung up. He was shaking with excitement as he packed his things. He couldn't remember the last time he was this nervous while he drove to the hospital as fast as he could without getting fined for speeding. When he got there, Marianne and Arthur were already in the ward with Madeline, who was resting on the hospital bed.
"Hey, you okay?" Jan asked as he sat besides his wife and took her hand in his.
"Yes. The doctor said it will still be a few hours until they're born…" Madeline said. She didn't want to make Jan worry but she was a little scared. "Will you stay with me the whole time?"
"Yes, of course." Jan answered without thinking and leaned closer to kiss her forehead.
It eventually took eight hours until Madeline actually brought the babies to the world. The labor was agonizing even with painkillers, and Jan was seriously worried that his hand might break when Maddie squeezed it while she was pushing the babies out.
Then suddenly, they heard the first little cry from their first child and it all felt worth it. They only got to see their first born, their son for a brief moment before the nurses took him away to get him cleaned up. Soon enough, his sister was born too. She was wrapped in a blanket and placed on her mother's chest. Maddie held her close as the nurse brought back the first baby and handed him over to her as well.
Madeline sighed as she looked down at her children. She did it. She brought them safely to the world and now they were really here with her and they were beautiful.
She glanced over to Jan who looked like he could faint any second.
Once both babies were cleaned and dressed, they took them back to their ward with Madeline. Jan followed suit and though his knees still felt weak, he managed to stand somehow. When they were finally alone, the twins fell asleep in the mother's arms and Jan sat down next to them on the bed, still in a state of shock and awe.
"Don't you want to hold one?" Maddie asked with a tired smile. Jan swallowed but he nodded and carefully took their baby girl in his arms. She felt so fragile and tiny in his hands, he was actually worried he might hurt her.
"Hey, relax." Maddie said and that actually calmed Jan down a bit. He looked down at his daughter and smiled. He was finally starting to feel like a dad now.
After a few moments Marianne and Arthur came in too and they were completely stunned by the babies.
"They're so perfect." Marianne smiled while she was looking over her grandchildren. "You did a great job, dear."
Madeline blushed a bit. "You helped a lot too. I very glad you decided to stay."
"Do they have names?" Arthur asked.
"Yes. It was really hard to decide but we settled for Alexander for the boy." Maddie explained, holding her son up somewhat. "Alex for short."
"And her name is Wilhelmina." Jan nodded at his daughter. "But we'll just call her Mina."
One Year Later
Madeline was sitting on the living room's floor with the twins and the babies laughed and clapped as their mother made a bunny plushy hop for them.
By now it was obvious which baby took after which parent. Alex's eyes were violet, like his mother's but he had straight hair, like his father and his facial features resembled the ones of Jan as well. He was definitely the calmer baby, rarely crying but still determined to get what he wanted. Mina was much more expressive and emotional and very curious about everything that happened around her. Her eyes were of a light green color, much like her dad's but they went well with the heart-shaped face and golden blonde curls she got from Madeline.
They heard the front door open and the babies immediately turned their attention to the source of the sound.
"Oh, is daddy home?" Maddie asked as both twins began crawling towards Jan, who just walked in the door. Although the babies have been practicing to walk lately, they still much preferred to crawl. Jan smiled and crouched down to pick them both up. It had become their 'welcome home' ceremony.
Madeline got up too and walked up to her husband, kissing him on the lips.
"Welcome home, dear." she said. "How was your day?"
"It was alright." he shrugged "I'd rather hear about your day."
"I'll tell you everything but first we need to talk about what we should do for their first birthday." Maddie reminded him, gesturing at Alex and Mina.
"Right." Jan nodded, looking down at his kids "I can't believe it's been a whole year already."
"They grow so fast, don't they?" Madeline agreed and they walked towards the kitchen. "Emma called, she said they'd like to come over and they'll bring Adriaan too. He's very excited to see his little cousins again."
"That sounds good to me." Jan said, content with the feeling of his family being whole once again.
I would like to thank everyone who followed this story until the end, even when I didn't update for months. I realize this chapter is like the biggest "MEH" ever but I just didn't feel like dragging this story out any longer and I'd still rather end it with a so-so chapter than completely losing interest and abandoning it.
That being said, I probably won't be posting new stories for a while again because I'm pretty busy with university duties but I will be working on a few in the meanwhile. However, I'll only post those when I'm more ahead in them, so I won't leave you guys hanging for months. I might write one-shots for this story's verse in the future but for now, I want to focus on some other things.
Happy holidays! xxx