Welcome to the world, Hope Ellis-Caffrey

This is a little add-on to my 'Neal and Sara's Wonderful Adventure' series. It takes place two weeks after Hope's birth (some of the references are to other stories in the series and to fully comprehend, you might want to read 'Coloring outside the lines' in particular). I have started to work on a new series called 'Milestones' which will chronicle Neal and Sara's journey into parenthood as Hope goes through the important milestones in her life.

Neal tiptoed into the baby's room, glancing into the bassinette as he approached. Hope was sound asleep, of course. She was simply perfect. She was breathing slowly and looking as though she didn't have a care in the world, as it should be.

He couldn't help but pick her up and walk slowly to the rocking chair where Sara breast-fed their daughter several times a day. It was truly amazing to look down on this little person, so complete in every way and yet a blank sheet with her whole life ahead of her.

'Hi, sweet girl' he whispered. 'I couldn't help picking you up' he said as he sat down gingerly so as not to wake her. 'Mommy would be mad if she knew I was taking you out of your crib while you're sleeping. She says that we shouldn't spoil you and that you need to sleep undisturbed'

Sara approached the baby's room and overheard Neal's soft voice. She stopped by the door and saw Neal sitting in the rocking chair facing the window and holding their daughter.

'Your mommy is an amazing woman, Hope. She is so strong and fearless and she's going to show you so many important things you need to learn. Like how to carry on when things get tough and how to stand up to injustice with or without a baton' he added, smiling to himself. 'She has overcome all kinds of hardships in her life and she has been able to stay strong. I know you'll be just like her. When I first met your mommy, she had a hard time showing the world how wonderful she was. She would hide behind her bravado but it didn't take me long to see the real her. She trusted me enough to leave a small opening and I just barged right in, uninvited. But I am so glad I did because I discovered all the amazing qualities Mommy has.'

Sara hugged the plush toy she was holding in her arms and leaned against the door jamb, mesmerized by the sight of the man she loved holding his newborn daughter with such joy and tenderness.

'I want you to know that I will always be there for you, sweetheart. I will watch over you and try to give you advice even when you don't want it and hope that I'll be inspired to do and say the right things. I didn't always have that in my life so I know how important it is so I promise to be there every day of your life to catch you if you fall and help you dust yourself off and get back up again. Mommy will probably think I am overprotecting you, but don't let her stern exterior fool you, she loves you just as much as I do.'

'When you were first in Mommy's tummy, she was hurt by bad people and she found a way to protect you from harm and keep you safe. I know she will do that for you for the rest of your life"

Sara's eyes filled with tears at the words she heard. She felt like she was eavesdropping on a private conversation that wasn't hers to hear, yet she was captivated by the scene that was playing out in front of her eyes. How had she and Neal ever managed to come this far? She shivered when she thought of all the different ways this could have played out if she and Neal hadn't persevered with their relationship over the years.

'And you know, Hope, there are so many other people who will be looking out for you as you grow up. You've got your Uncle Peter and your Aunt Elizabeth; they're you're godparents and they love you so much already. They will help you with life's decisions when you prefer not to tell Mommy and me about something you're trying to work out. And June, she's your grandma - she's been waiting for a long time for Daddy to work things out for himself and do the right thing. She's always there for you, too. And uncle Mozzie... what can I say, he has a heart of gold and he'll teach you stuff I would really rather you not know, but hey, we'll take it one day at a time. All those people are coming today for a party, just for you, to welcome you into our family. So I better put you down before Mommy finds out I took you out of your crib and gives me heck. Shhh... It's our little secret ok?' he said as he kissed her forehead.

Sara wiped a tear and walked away quietly so Neal wouldn't catch her lurking by the door.

Neal came back into the kitchen and walked over to Sara, who was busy putting hors d'oeuvres on a tray. He grabbed her from behind and hugged her close, kissing her neck.

'Hey' she said 'where did you disappear to?'

'I was just looking in on the baby. She's still sleeping. What time are people coming, anyway?'

'In about an hour' she responded turning and facing him with a huge smile on her face.

'What?' Neal murmured, with a frown.

'Nothing, I was just thinking how lucky our daughter is to have a dad like you'

Neal smiled shyly and shrugged, obviously uncomfortable with the compliment.

'I love you, Caffrey' she said running a hand through his hair.

Neal just looked at her goofily, realizing the magnitude of what he was holding in his arms. He broke the spell: 'So, what needs doing, then?' he asked

'Well, you can maybe get the drinks sorted' she said 'and get started on your dip'

Hope was the belle of the ball, as expected. At two weeks old, she had begun to make eye contact and she was being passed around from one person to the next seemingly unperturbed by the noises and many faces looking into hers. She had an abundance of dark hair that curled ever so slightly, the bluest of eyes and the sweetest disposition.

June had insisted that the party be held on the first floor of her house and she had pulled out all the stops to make this a day to remember for Sara, Neal and little Hope.

Neal and Sara had recently begun looking at houses and she knew it was just a matter of time before they left the fold so she was bound and determined to make their last few weeks in her house worth remembering. With the wedding also in the near future, there seemed to be lot on their plate and June wanted to help in any way she could.

Diana was holding the baby when she spoke: 'So, what are the plans for the wedding?' she asked as Christie sat next to her admiring Hope.

'Well, I'd like to get rid of some of this baby fat before I try squeezing into a dress' said Sara, smiling. 'Maybe a month or so, we haven't really decided'

'The sooner the better' said Neal. 'If one more person addresses me as Mr. Ellis, I won't be responsible for what I do'

Jones looked at Neal, perplexed.

'Every time we meet a new health professional, they refer to me as Mr. Ellis. I'm just looking forward to all of us having the same last name' said Neal by way of explanation.

'Well, Ellis-Caffrey, in my case and in Hope's' added Sara smiling at Neal

'So' said Peter hovering near Diana, anxious to have his turn at holding the baby, 'when do you guys want a night out? El and I would love to have our goddaughter over for a sleepover' he said using a baby voice and smiling at Hope.

'Not so fast, there, Uncle Peter' said Neal 'we're enjoying a little bit of cocooning for now'

He got up to fetch some more drinks and as he walked by he leaned in to give his daughter a kiss on the forehead.

Everyone looked thrilled to finally have a happy occasion to celebrate. Neal and Sara had both been through so much and deserved some happiness. Sara looked around at everyone present and realized just how lucky their daughter was to have such a wonderful extended family.

Hope continued to be passed from one pair of arms to the next and there was much cooing, cuddling and swooning whenever she opened her eyes or looked towards a sound in the room. She was a very calm baby and even at just two weeks, she had begun to settle into a routine. Neal had been given two weeks off to help Sara and Hope get settled and he was scheduled to return to work the following week. He couldn't image not being with the baby 24/7 but realized that, at this point, he didn't have much of a choice.

'Has anyone seen my beautiful wife to be?' asked Neal on one of his rounds with the drink tray

'I think I saw her go back upstairs to the apartment' said Elizabeth

Neal took a quick look around the room and seeing that Hope was curled up in the arms of her godfather, he took a run up the stairs in search of Sara. When he walked into the apartment, he saw her at the kitchen counter fiddling with a dessert tray.

'Do you need help with that' he asked as approached

Sara didn't answer so he came up behind her, putting his arms around her waist.

'You know, I'm still not used to you not having that basketball –

He could feel her sobbing and took her shoulders to make her turn around and look at him.

'What is it? Is it my stupid comment?' he asked

'No, no' said Sara wiping her eyes 'I'm fine'

'You're obviously not fine, what's going on?' insisted Neal

'This isn't the time, Neal...' she said looking away from him

'Hey, you're scaring me. Come on, what's go you so upset?' he asked searching her eyes

She began to sob loudly.

'Neal, we have the most beautiful daughter and I love her so much'

'I know that' said Neal encouraging her to continue

'How could I have possibly even considered having an abortion? If I had, we wouldn't have her here with us. I must be some kind of monster'

Seeing her pain, he sat her down at the table and sat next to her holding her hand.

'If I was a good mother, I never would have even considered not having her' she continued

Neal waited until he saw she had finished.

'Sara, you are an amazing mother... Look at how far you and I have come in the past nine months. I couldn't possibly have predicted that we would be engaged and committed back then and neither could you. You were facing a whole other set of circumstances and you were exploring options based on those circumstances. You can't live with this guilt – it's not good for you and it's not good for Hope'

He looked at Sara who was crying quietly.

'You don't think I have guilt and regrets about some of the choices I've made in my life' he continued.

'But if you hadn't been there – if you hadn't found out I was pregnant, I might have gone through with it' she said looking sadly at him

'But you didn't and we can't live with what ifs. I would never hold that against you. But she doesn't need to know about that difficult period. She is loved by you and you will be there for her for the rest of her life. That's what she'll know and understand as she grows up. Do you think you're the only woman who ever considered an abortion but didn't go through with it? It's the not going through with it part that's important here.'

'Look, I'm sorry Neal, this is really not the time for this discussion. It just hit me hard when I saw how loved she is by everyone. I realized she came so close to not even being with us.'

Neal just smiled, sweetly

'Anyway' she continued 'thank you for trying to understand what I'm feeling and thank you for not ever bringing it up or judging me'

'I could never judge you, Sara. You've forgiven me for so many things I've done and not just things I've thought about doing.'

He paused.

'Let's just be thankful for what we have and not question fate, ok? We're a family and we are getting married. Can we focus on that?'

'Yeah' said Sara smiling, 'listen let's get back to our guests'

'It's a great party, isn't it?' she added after a moment

'The best' he said, looking into her eyes

She leaned over and kissed Neal.

'I love you so much and I am so happy you're going to be my husband'

He smiled wishing he could fix it all, make her feel as she deserved to feel and wash away all her guilt.

'Hey, what's going on up here?' It was Mozzie, as always on cue. 'I should have known, you two just can't keep your hands off each other. I swear, it's a disease'

Both Neal and Sara smiled at this. 'What do you want Moz?' asked Neal as he turned to face the door.

'I'm looking for a refill on this lovely Malbec'

'Are you telling me you're refilling up here instead of drinking the perfectly good wine I chose for the party?' said Neal feigning offence

'I need to get these desserts downstairs' said Sara, rising from the table

Here, I'll get those' said Neal, winking at her as he took the tray from her

They rejoined the party and found that Hope had begun to fuss so Sara scooped her up and went to the back bedroom they had used the last few days before her birth in order to breastfeed her. Elizabeth kept her company, in awe of her beautiful goddaughter.

'It's amazing isn't it?' Elizabeth said once they were settled comfortably. 'One minute, you look like you've swallowed a beach ball and the next, you have this living, breathing person in your arms. You did good, Sara'

'Thanks, she is perfect, isn't she' added Sara. 'I had no idea... I had no idea what it would be like to hold a baby and know that she came out of the love two people have for each other. You know, I've known that I love Neal for a while now and throughout the pregnancy, our relationship just got stronger but since we've had Hope, wow, it's like off the charts. I'm seeing a total other side of him and I'm falling even deeper in love with him. And now, that we're getting married, it's like too perfect. I don't want to wake up and have it end.'

Elizabeth got misty eyed.

'I'm sorry' said Sara 'have I upset you; I don't want to upset you'

'No, no, of course not. I'm just touched by it all and the fact that Peter and I are her godparents. It's such a huge honor and a responsibility.'

'She is one very lucky girl to have godparents like you. You know, Hope is so lucky to have two strong men like Neal and Peter in her life – and they are so different, Neal, so gentle and intuitive and Peter so level headed and strong. She's going to have both of them in her life to watch over her and guide her.'

'Yeah, I guess so...' said Elizabeth, thoughtful

When they returned, people had started to assemble with gifts for the baby.

First up, Jones had brought a beautiful silver framed picture of the three of them he had taken in the hospital the night Hope was born. Sara and Neal were smiling looking a bit shell-shocked and Hope was lying peacefully in Sara's arms. It was the first of many family pictures they would have over the years and it was to have a special place of honor on the mantle in the loft.

Diana and Christie were next – their gift was a gorgeous bracelet with Hope's name engraved, a treasure she would have for years to come.

Sentimental Mozzie surprised everyone with a book he had found that expressed a parent's undying love for her child. It was called 'I'll love you forever' by Robert Munsch. He read it to the group assembled and there was not a dry eye in the house as he read the verse that was repeated throughout the book:

'I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
as long as I'm living
my baby you'll be."

June stood back and waited for her turn. She had already done so much for Neal and Sara by having the loft renovated to accommodate the baby's room but this day, she had a very special gift – an amazing rocking horse carved and engraved with Hope's name. She had ordered it custom made from Rocking Horse Works - a company in the UK that specialized in these amazing pieces of art. It was a perfect fit for the baby's room and a wonderful complement for the mural that Neal had painstakingly worked on for the past six months.

Finally, the godparents came forward with their offering. Elizabeth had arranged for a beautiful memory box. It was in the shape of a huge hat box and was decorated with a picture of Hope that Elizabeth had taken and her name was written in beautiful calligraphy. Inside, was room for all the treasures Sara and Neal would accumulate over the next few years. When they opened the box, they saw that Peter and Elizabeth had placed a quote on the inside. It read:

Dearest Hope,

Be strong enough to stand alone

Smart enough to know when you need help

And brave enough to ask for it

We will always be there for you

Love, Uncle Peter and Aunt Elizabeth

Neal and Sara became emotional, hugging both Peter and Elizabeth.

Finally, as the party began to wind down, Neal walked over to Sara, who was holding Hope, put his arm around her and asked for everyone's attention:

'I just want to tell you that I came to New York, alone, ten years ago and Sara doesn't have any immediate relatives to speak of but today, we both feel surrounded by our family, all of you who have been there and continue to be there to support us. We love you all and we are so thankful to have you in our lives and in our daughter's life'

Neal was finally home.