I Found My Heart in San Francisco:

A Christmas Vignette

By: SX Meagher

Christmas Eve 1977

Disclaimers: None that I can think of. This is just a small flashback in the lives (or almost lives) of Jamie and Ryan.



The tall, well-built young man slipped from bed just after dawn, his feet hitting the floor with a soft, dull, thud. Oh man, what I wouldn’t give to be able to sleep in just one morning. He ran his hand through his thick hair, pushing it from his eyes as he performed a few lazy stretches.

Passing by the full-length mirror on his way to the shower, he gazed at himself for just a moment. His blonde hair was getting a little long, he noticed. I’ve got to find some time to get a haircut. Yeah, he scoffed internally. You’ve barely got time to breathe. Maybe I could find a barber who needs legal representation…then I could squeeze a billable hour out of the downtime.

Billable hours—the curse of the young associate. Even though he had only been with the firm since September, the pressure was already building. It was clearly expected that even the first year associates would account for at least 800 hours even though they had only been employed since September, and the young man knew that he was going to be a little short. He knew it wouldn’t be fatal, but he was still worried about it.

His peers felt the pressure as much as he did, of that, he was certain. It was hard enough coming up with quality hours—clients didn’t like to pay for grunt-work, he knew. But since he and the other new associates had only learned that they had passed the bar over Thanksgiving weekend, they had all been scrambling for hours since September, without being able to do much real work. In effect, they had been highly paid law clerks, not yet lawyers. Now that he was licensed, he could finally sink his teeth into some real work, and the case he was working on was going to give him the opportunity to prove himself. Of course, he was the fourth lawyer attached to the case, far down on the food chain from the senior and junior partners and the fourth year associate that had been assigned to the case since the beginning. He knew this was a chance to begin to make a name for himself, and he also knew that twelve hours of diligent work would make an impression on his superiors when they arrived back in the office on Monday.

He considered his peers for a moment, some of whom had been classmates at Stanford. Yes, they were as fatigued and stressed as he was at work. But none of them had taken the plunge as early as he had. Keeping a young wife with a baby on the way happy had brought a level of stress to his life that he was wholly unfamiliar with. When he added up the doctor’s appointments that he had diligently managed to attend with his wife, he knew that his shortfall of hours would be erased completely if not for those stolen moments. He didn’t regret it—not at all. Even though their parents had tried to talk them out of it, he was happy that they had married. And the thrill of hearing that tiny heartbeat had been one of the high points of his life. Learning just last week that Catherine carried a little girl still had him on a high whenever he had time to think about it—which was not very often.

Damn, I wish that I could just have a few days off to spend with Catherine and get excited about the baby. At this rate, I’ll look more like Cat’s father than her husband by the time our little girl is born. I might be 24, but I look 40, he grumbled to himself as he considered his bloodshot, red-rimmed eyes, and the beginnings of deep-etched worry lines in his forehead. I’ve gotta get some rest over the holiday. As he proceeded into the bath he gave a short, wry laugh. Yeah, one day will do it. A whole day off for Christmas. Bah humbug!

He remained in the shower much longer than usual, trying to steam some of the fatigue out of his body. Cat was still sound asleep, as she had been when he finally dragged into the house last night—so tired that he didn’t remember anything after he passed the airport on 101. I’ve gotta start driving with the windows open, he reminded himself. Cat’s a little young to be a widow.

He regarded his young wife while he got dressed, thinking that she actually looked younger than she had when he met her, just over a year ago. From the few chapters he had been able to read from her pregnancy books, he understood that the hormones flooding her body caused some of the changes. Her skin, which he had loved from the first time he felt it, had actually grown softer, and smoother, making him wish that he could just slide against her all night long. That, of course, wasn’t an option currently. Who decided to pull that cruel joke? he asked himself. Your wife looks more voluptuous, more appealing than you’ve ever seen her, and she’d rather take poison than have sex. Somebody up there sure has a sick sense of humor, he decided, casting a quick glance to the sky, just in case anyone was listening.

Catherine looked nearly as tired as he did, he had to admit. Even though she went to bed early, and tended to sleep late, he knew that she spent much of the night tossing and turning to get comfortable. She also required frequent trips to the bathroom throughout the night—seemingly every hour on the hour. Only his fatigue allowed him to sleep through most of her nocturnal ramblings, even though he wished he could wake up enough to at least give her a little back rub. It seemed like the only time she was fully awake was when he was fully asleep, and he worried about the strain his schedule was putting on his new marriage. Nothing you can do about it now, Jim, he reminded himself. The only way to make an impression on these guys is to work your tail off. And if that means working 12 hours on Christmas Eve, then that’s what you’re going to do. He shook his head in dismay as he spared another glance at his wife. It can’t always be like this, Honey. They have to let up on us soon…no one can be expected to work like this all of the time.

When he was dressed, he stood near Catherine’s side of the bed, wishing he could give her a kiss, but not wanting to wake her. She looked so fragile and young, sleeping on her side with her knees drawn up, their baby growing in the swell of her belly, her breasts full and lush. Only 19…she looks like a baby herself sometimes. She’ll just be 20 when the baby comes, he thought as he gazed at her sleeping body. That’s so young to be doing this—alone. He knew that his contribution had been far less than either of them wished for. But he had no options, he reminded himself. He knew that Catherine would lose all respect for him if he contented himself with living off her money. When they had visited her mother’s family in Newport the past summer he could nearly feel the animus she held for her cousins who whiled away their days spending the family fortune. No, they had made their choices, and they were stuck with them now. If he was going to practice law, he was going to be the best damned lawyer he could be. There was no other way.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Good morning, Señor Evans," Marta smiled when he walked into the kitchen. "I heard that you were up, so I made some breakfast for you. Will you have time to eat?"

He quickly looked at his watch, seeing the time tick slowly by, knowing he should leave, but also knowing that there would be absolutely nothing open near his downtown office building. "I’d love to have a little breakfast, Marta," he agreed. "I wish Catherine could join me, but she is still fast asleep."

"Yes, yes, she needs her rest. I hear her walking the halls much of the night," she revealed. "She has a hard time with her back, no?"

"Yes, she does," he agreed, wishing there was something he could do to ease her silent suffering. Happening upon an idea he hopped up from his chair and pulled the yellow pages down from the cabinet. "Marta, would you do me a very big favor?" he asked as he scanned down the list of businesses that he sought. "Call some of these people and see if anyone will come to the house to give her a massage, will you? Let them know that she’s pregnant, of course, and see if any of them seem like they’d care for her a little bit. Do you know what I mean?"

He gazed at Marta with his sea-green eyes, trying to make her understand his wishes. He didn’t just want any old masseuse to come in and beat on his poor wife. What he really wanted was someone to give her some of the coddling that he wished he could provide, but had neither the skill nor the time to do.

"Yes, I think I understand," she said, taking the phone book from his hands. "You want a…a…how do you say…someone to pamper her, no?"

"Exactly!" he smiled, pleased that Marta understood his desires. He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out more money than he thought the charge could possibly be, and handed it to her. "Make sure they’re gentle, Marta. Her back is very tender right now."

"Yes," she nodded somberly, "I will make sure."

"Oh, and Marta, will you do whatever you have to do to make sure she eats something today?" He shook his head in frustration as he commented, "She’s only gained fifteen pounds during this pregnancy, and all of that has to be from the baby. The doctor thinks she’s probably lost ten pounds of her normal body weight, and frankly he seems worried about it."

"Sí, sí, I will do it," she assured him. "Now eat some breakfast, Señor Evans. You need to take care of yourself, too."

"That would be nice, Marta," he smiled sadly as he sat at the table to wolf down the hearty meal she had prepared. "But that’s just not an option at the moment."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The pretty, young blonde woman stared at her in open-mouthed surprise. "He went to work? But Marta, it’s Christmas Eve! And it’s Saturday!"

"Yes, yes, I know," the older woman soothed, guiding the younger down onto a chair. "He didn’t look like he wanted to go, Señora Evans. He looked so tired…"

Catherine crossed her arms and laid her head down, willing herself not to cry. Her long blonde hair fell forward, obscuring her features, and giving her a moment to collect herself. Sighing heavily, she finally lifted her head and said, "I thought we could finally decorate the Christmas tree today."

"Oh, I see." The cook had been wondering when the bare tree would gain some form of decoration, but she had thought that maybe the young couple liked it that way. "Maybe I could help you, Señora…then it will be a beautiful surprise for Señor Evans when he comes home from work."

Forcing a smile, Catherine nodded, knowing that she couldn’t do it alone, and refusing to have their first Christmas be spent around a bare tree. "That would be lovely, Marta. I’d appreciate it."

"Will you go to midnight Mass tonight, Señora?"

"Yes." She paused for a moment, wondering if Jim would be up to it. "I think we will. Jim’s father is expecting us."

"Why don’t you let me prepare a traditional Spanish Christmas dinner for you?" the cook asked. "You can enjoy the meal after Mass. Maybe you can both take a little rest this afternoon so you can enjoy yourselves tonight."

"That’s very thoughtful of you, Marta," Catherine agreed. "That sounds like it will work out beautifully. I’ll just call Jim to make sure he thinks it’s all right."

"All right, Señora. I’ll make my list for the grocery." Marta was beaming a smile at her, and Catherine recognized once again that they had utilized her talents very rarely. What with Jim missing most evening meals, and her balky stomach, the poor woman had barely prepared ten proper meals in the months she had been with them. It wasn’t that she hadn’t tried, either, Catherine thought fondly. Marta was almost constantly in the kitchen, trying to concoct some small treat that would tempt Catherine’s reluctant appetite. She had even taken to making a good lunch for Jim to take with him, when she noticed how loose his new suits had already grown. But cooking an elaborate meal was one of the things that gave Marta joy, and she was fairly bubbling as she sat down at the table to create her extensive list of ingredients.

To Catherine’s surprise, Jim was fairly enthusiastic about the planned feast, and Marta immediately grabbed her purse and headed off to Draeger’s in San Mateo to assemble everything she would need.

Catherine sat at the breakfast table, idly patting her belly to soothe the baby, who was performing some rigorous regimen of gymnastics this morning. "Shhh, calm down, little one," she soothed, deciding to get up and walk a little, a trick that usually calmed the baby down. She paused for just a moment, reminding herself that it wasn’t just "the baby" any longer. It was their daughter…their little girl. She smiled as she patted her, rubbing her hand all over her child through her silk robe. "We need a name for you, little one," she said fondly, speaking aloud to her child. "I’ve been telling your daddy that "Little Sprout" is not an acceptable name for a sweet little girl."

It had seemed so far off when they didn’t yet know the sex of the baby. But now…now she felt like they needed to attach a name to the child—to make her seem more like a person. They had been through the gamut of family names—with Jim calling an immediate halt to the mere discussion of names like Phoebe, Maxine, Olivia, and Beatrix, the names of some of the women of previous generations.

"This would be easier if you were a little boy," Catherine told her child. "We had already decided on naming you James Sloan Evans, Junior. Your daddy even agreed that we could call you Sloan, just to give you a little panache." She patted the baby fondly. "Don’t tell your Daddy, but I’m happy that you turned out to be a girl, even if he can’t think of a name for you. I’m worried enough about being a good mommy—having to figure out how to raise a little boy would be far beyond my capabilities." The baby did a complete flip, nearly taking Catherine’s breath away. "Oh my," she gasped as she grabbed onto a chair for support. Patting her stomach gently she smiled and said, "I see you agree with me, little sprout."

The telephone rang, pulling her from her thoughts. "Hello?" she answered in her polite, slightly formal voice.

"Hello, Dear. How’s my little girl?"

"Hello, Father," she said fondly. "I’m fine, how are you?"

"I’m good. Can’t talk long, Dear. The phone system here is just abysmal. Hard to believe we’re three quarters of the way into the century and you can’t get a reliable phone connection from Mexico to California."

"How is the sailing, Father?" she asked, feigning interest in the sport to be polite.

"Just fine, Catherine. The conditions couldn’t be better. I think I’ll celebrate Christmas by going fishing for something exotic this afternoon. How about you? How will you spend the holiday?"

"We’re going to midnight Mass at Jim’s father’s of course, and then we’ll have Charles over for dinner tomorrow evening. It should be nice," she said, feeling a lump form in her throat as she said the words.

"Well, I just wanted to make sure you were all right," he said rather gruffly—emotional connections never his forte. "I know this will be a tough year for you, Catherine. I just thought I’d remind you to buck up, Dear."

"Thank you, Father," she said, feeling the tears form in her eyes. "I’m sure we’ll be fine. Have a good day."

"You too, Catherine. Try not to think about it too much, okay?"

"I won’t Father," she lied. "Thank you again for calling."

The line went dead, either intentionally or by accident. Using all of her reserves, she propelled herself up to their bedroom, carefully locking the door and turning on the radio to KDFC, the classical station, before she fell to the bed and cried until she had no more tears to shed.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Marta arrived home, arms filled with shopping bags, she immediately got to work on the request Jim had made. Much to her pleasure, she found a very nice sounding woman who had the time to come to the house in the afternoon for a massage. She claimed to be the mother of three, and seemed to know exactly what Marta was talking about when she described the backaches with which her young employer was bedeviled. After making the arrangements, she began to assemble all of the ingredients she would need to make the feast, losing herself in her work until she noticed Catherine enter the kitchen again, dressed and ready for the day.

Regarding the haggard-looking young woman, she once again noticed the tell-tales signs of a recent crying spell. The poor little thing, she thought, wishing she could wrap the young woman up in her arms and soothe away her pain. Such a horrible thing to loose your mother at such a young age…and how much worse to have it happen when you’re pregnant with your first child. She felt tears spring to her own eyes as she felt the sadness wash over her. It took just a moment for her thoughts to turn to her own family, and her decisions not to spend Christmas with them in Seville.

As much as she missed her family, she knew it was better to stay away during the holidays. Nothing reminded her more of her late husband—gone just over a year—than being surrounded by family and friends during the festive time. It is better this way, she thought. At least here I can be of some help for to this sad young woman. It does no good to focus on my own broken heart.

Forcing a bright smile on her handsome, elegant features, Marta placed a gentle hand on Catherine’s shoulder and insisted. "It’s time for a little breakfast for you, Señora."

"But I’m really not hungry…" the pale young woman began.

Touching her lightly on her protruding belly, Marta reminded her, "Even if you are not hungry, your baby is. She needs breakfast," she said firmly, determined to get some calories into the too-thin body.

Catherine shot her a puzzled look, unconsciously touching her child as she asked, "Did I tell you that she was a girl?"

"No, no one told me," Marta informed her. "I knew it long ago. It’s obvious," she said easily, guiding the reluctant woman back into a chair to await the food that she was going to make sure got past her lips.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The living room was awash in boxes of lights, garland, delicate strings of glass beads, beautifully crafted hand blown glass ornaments, and lovely, hand painted, carved wooden animals.

They had been diligently working for two hours, with Marta doing all of the more rigorous work. She would not even let Catherine stand on the low step stool, insisting that her center of gravity was not stable enough to risk it.

"Tell me about Christmas in Spain, Marta," Catherine asked, as she unwound a long string of lights. "I’ve never been to Spain during the holidays."

"Oh, it’s very nice," she said, smiling broadly. "Not like here, so much though. The Santa Claus is not worshipped where I am from," she said thoughtfully.

Catherine giggled girlishly, gently correcting Marta. "We don’t worship Santa Claus, Marta," she said.

"No?" the cook asked, slightly puzzled. "I…I know that many do worship the Christ child, but I thought that for others Santa Claus was..." she shrugged her shoulders, obviously having a difficult time with the concept that she was trying to explain.

"Oh, no," Catherine smiled. "Most of us celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ. Really," she insisted, when she saw the doubt on the older woman’s face.

"I just thought…" she began. Her head tilted and she asked, "Where is the Nacimiento?" She gave a tentative look in the remaining boxes, seeing no evidence of the object of her quest.

"Nacimiento?" Catherine tried to extrapolate her knowledge of Italian and hazarded a guess. "Nativity Scene?"

"Sí, sí. Where is the Nativity Scene?"

"Oh!" Catherine looked a little puzzled herself, giving a look into the boxes along with Marta. "All of this belonged to my mother," she said softly. "I’m not really sure…"

"Don’t worry about it," Marta soothed, seeing the grief settle onto the delicate features. "We have different customs, but they are all good."

Catherine smiled at the obvious efforts of her cook to make her feel better. "Tell me about the Nacimiento," she asked.

Marta sat down upon the step stool, a fond look of reminiscence on her face. "We don’t have a Christmas tree," she informed her young employer. "Some do, of course, but my family focuses on making a big display of the birth of the Savior," she said. "We decorate our house with a big Nacimiento on Christmas Eve, putting the three wise men very far off in the distance. On their way to Bethlehem they passed through Spain you know," she said in a serious tone of voice. Her eyes crinkled up into a grin as she added, "At least we tell the children this."

Catherine smiled back, charmed by the enthusiasm her cook showed for her subject. "The Three Kings are very important in our celebration. We do not give presents on Christmas—those come during Epiphany, January sixth. That is when the kings brought gifts to the Christ child, so that is when we give little gifts to each other. Mostly for the children," she added. "On Christmas, we all go to Mass together, La Misa del Gallo, we call it."

"The Mass of the Rooster?" Catherine assumed that her translation was off, but Marta agreed.

"Sí, Sí. The Mass of the Rooster. It is a very long Mass," she laughed. "It is nearly time for the rooster to crow when it is finished. Then we go home and have a very elaborate feast—like you will have tonight," she said proudly. "The feast lasts all night long. We say esta noche es Noche-Buena, y no es noche de dormir."

"Ahh. This is the good night, and is not meant for sleep," Catherine guessed, fairly sure she was correct on this one.

"You are very good!" Marta cried. "How do you know so much Spanish?"

"I don’t, really," she blushed. "I know Italian and some French, and the Romance languages all have much in common." Patting her belly she said, "I’d like the baby to learn to speak both Spanish and Italian."

"I will teach her," Marta found herself saying. "It would be my pleasure."

"Would you really?" The look of delighted wonder on the young woman’s face was so touching that Marta felt her heart clench with emotion.

"Of course I would. Maybe we can all learn together, no?"

"That would be lovely, Marta. I look forward to it."

"I do too," the older woman said fondly. "I can’t wait to meet the little one."

Catherine paused and cocked her head in question. "I don’t know much about babies, Marta. When should we start?"

"We’ll start the day she comes home from the hospital," the older woman decided immediately. "I’ll speak Spanish to her exclusively. It’s the best way."

The young woman smiled brightly and agreed with the plan. "It can be your secret language, Marta, for when she has secrets from her daddy." An impish grin covered Catherine’s face, and Marta nearly had to bite back tears at how impossible young she looked when she smiled that way.

I will do my best to make sure we see more of those smiles in this house, the determined older woman decided.

They worked together in silence for a while, each lost in her own musings. When no more decorations would fit on the sturdy spruce, Marta pulled out a gorgeous, delicate china doll, clad in a nearly translucent gossamer gown. "Ohh! What a beautiful angel!" she exclaimed.

"My mother bought this for me when she was in Italy just before Christmas last year," Catherine said softly. "She said that someday my husband and I could put this on our tree." Her lower lip trembled as she said, "Neither of us knew it would be this year. Or that she wouldn’t be here to see it." She collapsed in tears, allowing Marta to wrap her in her arms and comfort her as she would a small child. "I’m sorry," she said as she pulled away, her embarrassment over her display as intense as her grief. "I don’t seem to have any control today."

"You don’t need to control yourself, Señora Evans. Not with me."

Looking up tentatively at the woman who still held her loosely, Catherine sniffed a few times and made a hesitant request. "Would you do me one great favor, Marta?"

"Of course. Anything."

Her lip trembled again as she rasped out, "Will you call me Catherine?"

"Of course," she said immediately, terribly touched by the request. "When it is just you and I, I will call you Catherine."

"Thank you," she said softly. "I could use a friend right about now, Marta."

"I will be your friend, Catherine," she assured her. "I am honored that you wish to be mine."

"I think I’ll go lie down for a little while if you don’t mind. I’m feeling awfully tired today."

"Yes, please, go," Marta insisted. "I’ll clean up here. When you wake I’ll make you a little lunch."

The frail woman smiled weakly, walking awkwardly as she made her way up the stairs.

As Marta began to neatly pack the remnants of their decorating spree, she considered how few people Catherine seemed to have in her life. The older woman had only been in the Evans' employ since September, and even in that time she had seen Catherine’s "friends" slowly fall by the wayside. She knew that she should not be angry with the young women, still juniors in college and focused on their own interests. But she was angry, unreasonably so, that they couldn’t spare a little time for their friend who desperately needed some companionship. I will do my best to make up for her lonely heart, she decided. It won’t be the same as having her own young friends, but I will not abandon her, she thought with a fiery intensity in her dark eyes.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The masseuse was, as advertised, very gentle and kind. She performed impressively, doing a very good job of relaxing some of the tension in Catherine’s lower back. After the woman departed, Marta went up to check on Catherine and restate her offer of lunch. Knocking softly, she opened the door to the master bedroom just a crack, smiling fondly at the young woman who lay in bed, already sound asleep. She needs sleep more than food right now, she decided, even though she knew it was a close race.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jim wandered into the kitchen a little after six, looking like he was having a hard time picking up his feet to propel himself across the stone floor. "Hi, Marta," he said, unsuccessfully trying to hold back a yawn.

"Señor Evans," she said reprovingly. "You look like you are asleep standing up!"

"I am," he murmured softly. "How’s Catherine?"

"She slept much of the afternoon. Her massage was very good. She was very pleased that you thought of it for her."

He smiled tiredly and said, "Maybe I’ll go catch a nap before Mass tonight."

"That is a very good idea. Make sure that you’re not alone," she said, a playful tease to her voice. "Señora Evans looks every bit as tired as you do."

"I’ll do my best, Marta," he said with a small smile twitching at his lips. "She’s a determined woman when she wants to be."

"Yes, she is, but she also needs a little extra…how did we say…pampering."

"That she does," he agreed, grabbing an apple as he left the kitchen. "Oh, would you wake us by ten? We need to leave here by eleven to be on time."

* * * * * * * * * * *

She was intently working on her recipe when the phone rang. "Evans household. May I help you?"

"Yes, is this…Marta?"

"Sí, yes, it is. Who is calling?"

"This is Charles Evans, Marta. Jim’s father. I just wanted to call and ask him when he and Catherine will be here this evening. If they wished, I wanted to invite them for a little sherry before Mass."

"Oh…that sounds very nice, Reverend Evans," she said, wondering how to make her point without being too forward. "I can wake them to ask …"

"They’re asleep?" he wondered, checking his watch. "It’s eight o’clock."

"Yes, I know. They are both so exhausted…I don’t know how they manage to stand on their feet."

"Hmm…" he mused. "That’s not very encouraging, Marta, for either of them." He paused for a moment, obviously considering something. "Would you do me a favor, Marta?"

"Yes, sir, of course."

"Would you tell them that I would prefer that they not come to Mass tonight? Nothing is more important than Catherine’s health right now, and if she needs her rest, she should stay home. I’ll see them tomorrow."

"Oh, sí, I will tell them, Reverend Evans," she said, her pleasure showing. "I think God will not mind if they don’t come to church tonight."

"I’m certain that you’re right, Marta. Now see what you can do to put a little weight on that daughter-in-law of mine, will you?"

"I will do my best, Reverend Evans. I will start tonight!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Marta!" Jim Evans’ voice boomed down the staircase as he took the stairs two at a time. "I thought I asked you to wake us at ten! It’s 10:30! We’ll never make it! Where are my clean shirts?"

He happened upon their cook, placidly setting an elegant table in the dining room.

"Marta," he said slowly, "what’s going on?"

"Your father called a few hours ago, Señor Evans. He said he doesn’t want you to come to Mass tonight. He said God wants you to stay home and have a nice dinner."

"What…?" The young man stood staring at her, his hair mussed from sleep, a pair of jeans the only covering on his muscular body. Even though he looked totally confused, his nose began to twitch at the fantastic array of scents that emanated from the kitchen. "We’re supposed to have dinner?"

"Yes. You are supposed to eat pavo trufade de Navidad. God said so." She looked entirely serious, but there was a twinkle in her eye that he had not noticed before.

He shrugged his broad shoulders, scratched his head briefly and said, "Well, if God said so, who am I to argue? I’ll go tell Catherine."

"This is a special Christmas meal, Señor Evans. Guaranteed to bring you luck for the whole year."

"Then I’d better dress appropriately," he smiled, giving her a gentle pat on the shoulder. "Thank you, Marta. I know you had a hand in this little plot, and I appreciate it."

"It’s not me," she insisted, innocently blinking her eyes. "It’s God."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The young couple dressed carefully, heeding Marta’s warning that the meal was a special one. Catherine wore what she had purchased for Mass, a simple long sleeved, chocolate brown velvet dress with an empire waistline. A small amount of cream-colored lace adorned the collar and the cuffs, giving the dress a slight Victorian flare. She looked absolutely lovely in it, the color matching her eyes nearly identically. Her hair was parted slightly off center, as she usually wore it, and hung loose down her back, with two small braids sweeping the hair back from the sides. A brown velvet ribbon was neatly tied at the juncture of her braids, finishing off the style perfectly.

Very little jewelry adorned her person--just her wedding set, and a pair of small golden knots resting upon her earlobes. A touch of makeup removed the last vestiges of her fatigue, not much needed since her extended nap had erased most of the dark smudges from beneath her eyes.

Jim looked quite handsome also. He wore a navy blue blazer over a cream-colored turtleneck sweater, and a pair of dark gray slacks. Cordovan tasseled loafers, shined to a mirror finish, completed his attire, and as Marta took them in she had just a fleeting moment of dismay that no one else would see the handsome young couple this evening. "You both look wonderful," she gushed, her pleasure evident.

"Thank you, Marta," Catherine smiled back shyly. "I feel so much better. Turning slightly to gaze at her husband she said, "Thank you both for taking care of me today. I feel very special."

Jim looked at her and gave her an equally shy look. "No problem, Honey," he said quickly, wishing that Marta would leave them alone for a moment. Along with all of the other adjustments, he had to learn to conduct his normal life with servants in the house, and he was still a little uncomfortable about it. Catherine assured him that he should just ignore the staff and act normally, but he knew that would take a long time to manage effectively.

"Come, come, sit down," the cook insisted, showing them to the table. She had outdone herself for the feast. A profusion of candles brought the only light to the table, a festive Christmas floral display took up an impressive amount of space, and the silver and china they had received for wedding presents was displayed in beautiful fashion.

As soon as the couple sat down, the feast began, the happy cook bringing course after course to the table. When she emerged with the entrée, both Catherine and Jim made over the delightful presentation for long minutes, pleasing the older woman to no end. "So this is turkey baked with truffles, eh?" Jim asked as he regarded the golden bronze bird.

"Yes, Señor Evans. It is the traditional dish for Christmas Eve in my country."

Catherine glanced at the clock and asked, "Marta, don’t you want to go to Mass? You still have time to make it."

The older woman paused, her eyes darting from one of her employers to the other.

"Yes, please, by all means, go," Jim agreed, wishing for a rare bit of alone time with his wife.

"But there is so much to do…" she hesitated. "I haven’t served the dessert yet."

"Marta, we haven’t eaten the entrée yet," Catherine reminded her gently. "Please. Both of us want you to go to Mass. We insist."

Marta beamed a genuine smile at both of them and was taking her apron off as she exited the room, calling over her shoulder, "God bless you both. I will say a special prayer for you and the little baby."

"Alone at last," Jim smiled, a wide, relaxed grin that Catherine had not seen since they had been married.

"I have no complaints," she agreed, clinking her glass of sparkling cider with his glass of chardonnay. "I’m dining with the handsomest man in San Francisco, our little girl is nearly ready to join us, and I’m well rested for the first time in a month. How about you, Sweetheart? How do you feel?"

"Well, I’d say that I feel quite good. I’m dining with the most beautiful woman in the country, if not the world." He grinned wolfishly at her, making her giggle at his exaggeration. "There’s a little sprout in here that’s just about to come out and play," he said, patting Catherine’s swollen belly, "and I had a marvelous three and a half hour nap. I feel grrrreeeaaattt," he said in his imitation of Tony the Tiger that Catherine was always charmed by.

They spent the rest of their meal talking about Catherine’s afternoon tree-trimming party and Jim’s work on the big case that he was assigned to. They were so thoroughly stuffed when they finished their entrees, that neither could even consider dessert at the moment.

The baby started to wake up, going into her usual nighttime routine of tumbling and acrobatics. Catherine stood and began to walk around a little, the motion of her gait usually calming the baby.

"I have a thought," Jim said, his eyes twinkling. "Dancing should be as effective as walking, shouldn’t it?"

Catherine blinked slowly, wondering what had gotten into her husband, who was generally loath to dance. "I suppose so," she said. "Do you want to dance?"

"I never thought you’d ask," he grinned toothily, rising to grasp her hand gently. Leading her into the living room, he switched on the stereo, smiling when the stylus settled onto the record that was already on the turntable. "Oh, what a surprise," he smiled. "Stevie Wonder."

"I like him," she blushed shyly, knowing that her husband’s tastes went towards a harder rock beat.

"Our baby is going to be surprised that we’re not black," he teased gently. "All she hears is Motown."

"That’s not true," Catherine smiled. "When she’s in your car she is assaulted by the Doobie Brothers and the Eagles and all of those Jackson Browne tapes you always have lying all over the seat."

He smiled back at her, drawing her close, snuggling up against her protruding stomach. "I think she likes my music," he decided, "but I have to admit that I like this song. This is true you know," he whispered into her ear as they started to sway to the music. "There are brighter days ahead."

She hugged him as tightly as she could, their baby cuddled between their bodies. "I hope so, Jim," she said, her voice tight with emotion.

He returned her embrace, wishing that he could take away every bit of pain from her lovely face. "A smiling face you don’t have to see. Cause it’s as joyful as a Christmas tree," he sang softly, his voice not well trained, but beautiful to her ears. "Please smile for me."

She looked up at him and allowed every bit of the love she felt for him to show in her expression. "I’ll try to keep smiling," she promised, knowing in her heart that they could get through the tough times ahead if they could carve out some time alone together.

They continued their dance, his discomfort with the art form combining with her ungainliness to form an inartistic, but very tender merging. The baby slowly calmed down, lulled into slumber by her parents' gentle movements. Catherine looked up at her husband and made the suggestion that had occurred to her while she slept. "I have an idea for her name," she said, nearly holding her breath in anticipation of his reaction.

"Let me guess," he mused. "You have a great aunt Hermoinie that will never forgive you if you don’t name her after her and your great uncle Waldo."

"No," she laughed gently. "I think you might actually like this one."

"I’m all ears," he said, pulling back a little to be able to see her face.

"I still want my family mentioned, so I thought we could give her three names. Both mother and father’s families could then be carried on."

"I hope you mean Smith and Dunlop," he said, a concerned look on his face, "because Bill and Phoebe are just not going to cut it."

She slapped at his chest lightly. "Of course I mean Smith and Dunlop. Or rather, Dunlop and Smith. Just like mine."

"Okay," he said. "That’s actually a very good idea. So do I get to pick the first name?"

"You may if you wish," she agreed, "but I was going to suggest Jamie."

He beamed a grin at her with so much power that it looked painful. "Jamie?" he asked with delight. "For me?"

"Of course for you," she said, snuggling against him again. "After all, the baby’s going to be my lasting gift to you, she may as well know from the start that she’s daddy’s girl."

"It’s going to be okay, Cat," he said emphatically, his voice cracking with emotion. "I swear it’s going to be just fine. Work will ease up soon, and we’ll have some time together. Next year at this time we’ll be having Christmas dinner with our little baby. With our Jamie," he said, tears streaming down his face, to merge with those that fell from his wife’s eyes.

"We’ll be a family, Jim," she sniffed. "You and me and our Jamie."

* * * * * * * * * * *



"You know, Marty, I don’t think you’ve ever had a better idea in your entire life." The auburn haired woman rolled onto her back, stretching languidly as she allowed her body to relish the deliciously decadent sensation of remaining in bed past the sunrise.

"I have a few more ideas that might make you forget that one in a flash," he murmured, sliding his arms around her bare body and drawing her close.

"Are you absolutely certain that they’ll be gone for a while?" the woman asked, her green eyes landing on the closed door suspiciously.

"I swear that they won’t be home before eleven o’clock," he promised, sparing a look at the clock over the dresser. "We have two hours. Two whole hours without the pitter patter of one little foot." He rolled onto his back then and gazed up at the ceiling with a look of supreme satisfaction. "I’m nearly giddy with pleasure."

Fionnuala shot him a worried look. "What if Siobhán makes a scene and they force her to leave?"

"It’s the day care at the church!" he cried. "They won’t throw her out into the street!"

She bit her lip worriedly. "They might," she hazarded, thinking of the times she had been on the verge of binding the child to a chair with a sturdy length of rope.

"Oh, no you don’t, Fionnuala Ryan. You’ll not be spending our stolen moments worried about that little pack of wolves. They’ll all be just fine. Michael is a very responsible young lad, and he would not have dropped her off if he wasn’t sure they knew what they were in for."

"Maybe we should call, just to make sure." She started to rise from the bed, but her husband caught her by the arm and reeled her back in.

"The front door is locked. None of the boys has a key. The door to the bedroom is locked. We don’t even have a key. If you want me to, I’ll get up and shove the dresser in front of the door, Love."

She looked over her shoulder seeing the expanse of glass. "What about the window?" she asked in a seemingly serious tone. "Siobhán couldn’t make that," she paused for a moment reconsidering before she shook her head roughly, "but Conor could!"

He got to his knees, checking each of the sashes to make sure that the locks were secure. As he lowered the shades his smile increased, until he lay back down next to her, a very amorous look in his clear blue eyes. "They’ll have to break a window," he whispered. At her wide-eyed look he assured her. "That’s why I lowered the shades—they’ll catch most of the glass."

Blushing lightly she asked, "I’m being silly, aren’t I?"

"Just a little, Love, but you have every reason to worry. I’m quite sure that we haven’t had an uninterrupted two hours in…my God, I don’t even know how long it’s been!"

"It’s been a long while," she decided, resting her head upon his muscular chest. "Far too long." Her hand rested on his abdomen, and she began to idly draw intricate little patterns on his skin. "Remember when we were first married?" She chuckled lightly, "We thought it would always be like this. Us in our room, making love the whole night long, while our angelic little children were tucked into their little beds, sleeping peacefully until the morning light."

"Were we really ever that naïve?" he wondered, trying to recollect that far in the past.

"I remember lying in this very bed wondering how our lives would change when I was pregnant with Brendan. We decided that it wouldn’t make much difference at all," she laughed. "We thought it would be like having a boarder, if my memory serves me well. We’d take our meals together, and such, but our lives would generally be rather independent."

"I find it impossible to believe that we had that conversation," Martin insisted. "We were never that young or callow."

"Oh, yes we were, Marty," she assured him. "If we had not been, we’d never have started down this treacherous path."

"Well, well, well," he chuckled. "If that’s the case, why did we decide to have Conor? Wouldn’t we have learned our lesson by then?"

"As I’ve told you a thousand times, Martin, Brendan was sent to us by a particularly kind-hearted angel. We were allowed to experience the joy of having a nearly perfect child. But one of the holdover followers of Lucifer decided that we were unworthy of such a gift, and gave us Conor to even out the scales."

"You love that boy as much as the air you breathe," he scoffed, knowing that she put on the "long-suffering mother" role just for sport.

"Of course I do," she agreed immediately, rolling onto her stomach and crossing her legs at the ankle, slowly lifting and letting them fall to the mattress repeatedly. Her chin was resting on her braced hands, and for just a moment, Martin saw the young woman that he had fallen in love with more than ten years ago, when she was just nineteen and fresh from the Emerald Isles. "He’s one of the joys of my life, and I wouldn’t change a thing about him." She grinned widely at her husband and added, "Well, I’d remove his fascination with trying to climb to the roof from the tree in the backyard, but other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing."

"Uh-huh," he smiled knowingly. "And which angel brought Rory to us, Love?"

"That was no angel," Fionnuala laughed. "That was my little devil, Marty, trying to convince me that I was in my safe time when I knew full well that I wasn’t!"

"We were about ready anyway, Fi, and you know that, too. You can’t tell me that you regret having Rory either."

"I would never make that claim, Marty. He and Brendan are nearly tied in the most perfect child category."

"That brings us to the child that could try the patience of a saint, the ever fascinating Siobhán," the handsome man teased, running his fingers down his wife’s spine. "Did you feel a chill at the mere mention of her name?"

"Just a wee one," she admitted. "You know Marty, if I loved that child any more I’d go mad." She shook her head slowly, a gentle smile settled upon her face. "As it is, I’ll just wait until she drives me there."

He scooted closer, his hand still resting low on her back. As he drew near, his hand began to move, making slowly expanding circles all across her smooth skin. "You know, Love," he murmured, "we’d always planned on having five. Isn’t it about time to put some of those plans into action?"

She allowed her head to drop, her shoulders still high off the bed. The delicious sensations of his gentle touch almost lured her into another grievous mistake, but she pulled back before she was cast into the inferno. "Oh, no you don’t, Martin O’Flaherty. You’ll not trick me into another baby—not when Siobhán is truly all that a sane woman can handle."

"But I thought we’d have five," he pouted, his big blue eyes filled with mock sorrow.

"I’ll consider it…and I do mean that I’ll consider it…when she’s in school. Not a minute before, Martin. No arguments!"

"Aw, Fi," he soothed, his wandering hand never stopping his ministrations.

She pointedly removed his hand and rolled onto her side. "Don’t you ‘aw, Fi’ me, Marty. You’re not the one here with the lot of them day in and day out. You go prancing off to fight your little fires, knowing full well that it’s me that should get hazard pay."

Her green eyes were flashing, but he knew that most of her bluster was just that. Wrapping his arms around her tightly he nuzzled his face into her sweet-smelling neck. "Whatever you say, Love," he soothed. "You’re the boss."

"Uh-huh, and the boss says that you won’t be coming inside today without a raincoat."

He chuckled at her chronic shyness over using the proper names for body parts and various elements of the sex act. After four children, and more intimate encounters than either of them could count, she could not even bring herself to say the word "condom." "I just so happen to have secured a new supply of ‘raincoats,’ Love. Care to see if we can run through the entire box?" He shook the item in her face, knowing that she didn’t like to be reminded of the reality of their contraception practices.

"Don’t you go shaking that thing in the light of day, Marty!" She grabbed the box and stuffed it under his pillow, lightly tapping his cheek with her open palm. "I know just where my little Conor gets his devilish side," she teased. "He’s just like his daddy."

"Enough talk of babies and children and mommies and daddies," Martin insisted, sneaking his hand into his box of raincoats and withdrawing one. "Let’s talk about men and women. In particular, beautiful, auburn-haired women, with soft, full curves, and the nicest pair of br…" His speech was cut of by a soft warm hand covering his mouth.

"Hush up and kiss me, Marty," she demanded, pulling him down onto her body with surprising force, causing the large man to chuckle happily and comply immediately and repeatedly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The determined knock on the door sent the couple scrambling, clothing flying around the room as they tried to wake up enough to get dressed. "My God! You put me into some kind of coma!" Fionnuala cried, trying to button her blouse while she attempted to step into a shoe.

Martin looked completely stunned, his eyes still unfocused, his hair comically mussed. "Did you drug me with chloroform?" he asked slowly, as he jumped around the room, trying to get into his pants.

"Hurry up!" she hissed, unlocking their bedroom door. "When the front door opens, there’s no safe harbor!" She raced down the few stairs from the living room, throwing open the door as the little pack of wolves came running in.

"Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!" Siobhán cried, expending all of her recognizable vocabulary. Her little hands were extended high over her head, grasping and releasing repeatedly, her usual signal for "pick me up."

Fionnuala picked her up immediately, receiving a multitude of kisses in return. "Did my little angel enjoy herself this morning?" she cooed into the baby’s pink ear.

"Mama!" Siobhán replied, meaning either yes or no, depending on her mood.

She began to kick her remarkably long legs, signaling that cuddle time was over. As soon as she was released she took off at full speed, elbowing her way into the front of the line, all four siblings running for the refrigerator, looking for their mid-morning feeding. Martin saw the group make their move and he quickly took after them, determined to keep the damage to a minimum.

Fionnuala knew where the pack was headed, but she assumed that her husband could handle them. She draped her arm around her nephew and drew him into the living room. "Tell me everything, Michael," she insisted. "The unvarnished truth, please."

"It was fine, Aunt Fi. Really." The seventeen year old had the most angelic of faces plastered on, but his aunt knew him better than to believe that.

Just then Brendan came running in. "Did ‘ya tell her, Michael?" he asked excitedly.

"No, Brendan," his mother insisted. "Michael wanted you to tell me all about it, since you’re such a good storyteller. I’ve been waiting for you." As the happy eight-year-old climbed onto her lap, Fionnuala discreetly stuck her tongue out at her nephew who was busy rolling his eyes.

"It was sooooo funny, Mama," Brendan began, giggling excitedly. "We were half-way up the hill when a fire truck rolled by."

Fionnuala’s eyes grew wide and she leveled her gaze at Michael, making sure that Brendan couldn’t see her face. "What happened then, Sweetheart?" she heard her voice ask.

"Michael had one of her hands," he related, not needing to identify who "her" was, "and Conor had the other. As soon as she heard the siren, she yanked her hands away and started running back down the hill!" He started to collapse in laughter, oblivious to the deadly stare his mother was giving his cousin, who was sinking lower and lower in his chair.

"Then what, Brendan?" she asked through gritted teeth.

"She ran so fast, we couldn’t come close to catching her, Mama. The whole time she was screaming "woo woo," you know how she does whenever she sees the fire trucks," he reminded her.

"Yes, Sweetie. That’s always funny," she agreed, feeling faint.

"I’m surprised you didn’t hear us all yelling at her when we went running by," Brendan said, his sweet little face innocently blinking up at his mother.

"That would have been funny, wouldn’t it, Love?" she asked, surreptitiously making a fist and shaking it ominously at her nephew.

"Yeah, it would have been funny to have you and Da running with us." He found this scenario quite hysterical, and the story was put on hold for a few minutes while he laughed giddily. When he collected himself, he continued. "The truck was going to a business just across 24th Street, so after we crossed she started to slow down."

"You all ran across 24th Street?" she asked, her voice an octave higher than normal.

"Yeah! It was so cool! Traffic was kinda stopped for the fire truck so we hardly even had to slow down! You shoulda been there, Mama!"

"Yes, I should have been, Brendan. We could have all laughed together." The murderous look she was directing at her nephew had caused most of the blood to drain from the young man’s face, and he had sunk so low in his chair that he was practically sitting on his neck.

"I’m hungry!" the little boy cried, as he climbed off his mother’s lap. "Hey guys, she thought it was funny!" he yelled when he ran into the kitchen.

"Told you so!" Conor shouted.

"Did not!" Brendan yelled back.

The sound of rapid little feet presaged the arrival of the fire buff in question. "Mama!" She once again climbed onto her mother’s lap, cuddling furiously for a long while. Fionnuala closed her eyes and hugged her tight, trying to quell the uprising in her stomach at the mere thought of her babies running through traffic.

She didn’t hear him get up, but Michael came over and wrapped his arms around the two of them, whispering, "I love her too, Aunt Fi. I would have thrown myself in front of that fire truck to save her. I’m so sorry."

She was unable to stay angry with the boy, knowing that her little one could get away from a maximum-security prison if she had a mind to. She snaked an arm around his back, giving him a hug in return. "I’ve lost her a time or two myself," she admitted. "One time, not long ago, I was going up on the Muni escalator, thinking she was right next to me of course. I looked across at the facing escalator, and she was coming down! She waved to me, just as happy as a clam. We rode up and down on that thing ten times, with me shouting frantically at her, before I enlisted some kind soul to head her off at the bottom."

He chuckled at his aunt’s attempts to reassure him, still feeling a little sick to his stomach. "She just seems so sweet and calm sometimes, Aunt Fi, you forget."

"I know, Michael," she agreed. "Sometimes I long for the days before she could walk. Ahh bliss," she recalled, smiling happily.

"Yeah. I suppose we should enjoy her now, while she can’t talk," he chuckled, assuming that she would be an even bigger handful when her verbal skills matched the physical.

The tranquil, adorable little face of innocence gazed up at Fionnuala, the child’s near-frantic nuzzling of her mother’s body having calmed her completely. The charmed woman gazed intently into her baby’s eyes, and shared a loving smile with her. "Has my little hummingbird gotten her nourishment?" she cooed, to Michael’s amused laugh.

The young man rose to his feet, and gazed at the pair, commenting fondly, "That’s an amazingly apt description, Aunt Fi. She does remind me of a little hummingbird that has to light on you every hour or so, just to fill herself up with enough hugs to keep going."

"I’ve never had a baby who needs to cuddle as much as this little one," Fionnuala mused, dropping her face to rub noses with her delighted toddler. "I’ve been completely spoiled," she chuckled.

"Some would say she’s been spoiled," Michael joked, not believing it for a minute.

"No, Michael, you can’t spoil a child by showering them with love. It amazes me that people can even think that. I’m the one who has been spoiled. Some day she’ll not need her Mama this much, and it will truly break my heart."

"Not to worry, Aunt Fi," Michael insisted, picking his little cousin up when she extended her arms towards him. The child immediately gave him a sloppy kiss, and then stuck her head into the crook of his neck and rubbed against him fiercely, causing him to giggle helplessly. "I have a feeling this one will be a cuddle-fiend all of her life."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Do you really think she’ll learn to talk one day, Marty?" Fionnuala asked as they all sat down to a late lunch. The boys were chattering away so frantically that the adults could carry on a separate conversation, and barely be missed.

"Fi, I’ve told you time and again. I’d stop talking if I had a crew of people following me around, trying to guess what I wanted every time I pointed my hand."

"I suppose," she said, a worried little frown crossing her forehead. She closely observed her children, watching little Siobhán make her rather elaborate set of hand signals, which seemed to be perfectly understood by her brothers. Rory, in particular, perhaps because he was the closest in age, seemed to know, with an almost psychic sense, exactly what his little sister wanted, and would get it for her if possible.

At the moment, Siobhán was pointing at her sandwich, making a face while shoving the plate away, until Rory climbed off his chair, opened the bread, and removed the single lettuce leaf. His little sister rewarded him with a bright grin, which he barely noticed as he trudged back to his seat.

"My God, Martin, you’re right!" she gasped, knowing that her husband had been watching the scene play out. "How have I not seen that before?"

"You see it all of the time, Love," he assured her. "It’s hard to step back and take the overview."

"What should we do?" she moaned, not looking forward to a test of wills with her remarkably headstrong daughter.

"She’ll grow out of it, Fi. Once her needs are a little more complex, she won’t be able to have them satisfied with a pointing finger and a grunt. I promise you, when she has something to say, she’ll say it."

"I hope you’re right," she mused, watching the adorable little tyke demand and receive a second glass of milk, all with just the power of her big, blue eyes.

"Oh, I’m sure I’m right," he assured her. "I predict that within a month or two, she’ll be chattering like a magpie."

Fionnuala smiled at him, a gentle, fond look making him smile in return. "As excited as I was to hear her call me mama, I could use a little variety," she decided, causing her husband to chuckle softly at the comical look on her face.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Well, Love, we’ve gotten through the worst part of the Christmas season," Martin said late that night. "The dreaded opening of the gifts."

His wife laughed softly, her head pillowed comfortably on his broad chest. "What in the world goes on in the heads of the parents who force their children to wait for Christmas morning?" she mused sleepily. "Are they sadists or masochists?"

"It’s a puzzlement," he agreed, knowing that the thought of being awakened at four a.m. by his little pack of wolves was not something to look forward to. "I think the gifts were a success," he decided, looking around the toy strewn room.

"Yes, they seem to be," she agreed. According to the O’Flaherty Family Rule Book, each child was given two gifts on Christmas Eve. The gifts were invariably toys, neither parent having the nerve to allocate one of the precious gifts to something so pedestrian as clothing.

"Did you see the side bet that Conor and Brendan had going on?" Martin laughed.

"Of course I did," Fionnuala chuckled. "They think we’re terribly slow, don’t they?"

"Indeed they do. It was obvious that Conor knew what every toy was long before it was opened," Martin mused, still not having any idea how his son could have found every hiding place.

"He even knew about the things I had hidden at Maeve’s!" Fionnuala laughed, suitably impressed with the six-year-olds’ investigative abilities.

"Maybe he’ll be a police detective when he grows up," Martin guessed.

"Or a jewel thief," his wife chimed in, thinking that career equally likely.

"What about Siobhán, Love?" he asked. "What can you see her doing?"

"Hmm… how can you make a living when you don’t speak, but you can evade a pack of hungry bloodhounds …" She chuckled softly, patting her husband on the leg. "I don’t have a clue what she’ll be, Marty. All I know is that whatever it is, she’ll do it with gusto. My little one is going to wring every bit of pleasure out of life that it has to offer."

"That she is," Martin agreed, gazing at the cherubic toddler, sleeping on the floor. She was lying amid a sea of wrapping paper, ribbon and sundry toys, some of them obviously under various parts of her little body. Rory was lying right next to her, his position a near-mirror of hers. Martin gazed at the two and mused, "Do you think she’ll always be as big as she is, Love? She’s exactly the same size as Rory, and she’s two years younger!"

"I don’t know, Sweetheart. The doctor said she was in the 130th percentile on the growth chart. He just shakes his head when we go in now. I think the office staff finds it quite humorous, though. She was 39 inches tall when last we checked."

"Well, no matter how tall she is, she’ll be one of the most beautiful women in the world. There’s no doubt in my mind," he said fondly, capturing his wife’s chin and giving her a slow, determined kiss. "Her mother will always be the world’s number one beauty, but I think my Siobhán will follow closely at number two."

"Uh-huh," she smirked at him, returning his kiss with equal interest. "And the fact that she’s the spitting image of you, factors in how?" She batted her mist-green eyes tauntingly, biting back a giggle when he slipped his hand inside her blouse and gave her a good tickle right to the ribs.

"Ssssh," she hissed. "Don’t you dare wake them."

He looked down at his sleeping children, all four of them sprawled out in various positions amidst the mess. "We can’t leave them here, Fi," he reasoned.

"And why not?" A light blanket over each one, and they’ll be just fine." She gave him a pointed look and said, "It’s time for you to receive your Christmas present, Martin. Do you really want to waste an hour getting these four into their pajamas and beds?"

"Come to think of it," he said, immediately getting to his feet, and pulling his wife up with him, "a night on the floor builds character." Tiptoeing noiselessly into their room, he pulled out all of their available blankets and blanket substitutes, and started to cover the sleeping children, while his wife went to get ready for bed.

He got Brendan and Conor fixed up with no problem, each of them having managed to secure a soft toy for their heads. Rory was a little tougher, being in the middle of the pile, but he covered him as best he could and spent a moment regarding his little girl.

Jet-black hair, just long enough to chronically fall into her amazingly bright blue eyes; round little face, so remarkably guileless looking as she slept. Her long, thin, but remarkably sturdy body was lying atop some little wooden Playskool Weebles, and he could not, in good conscience, let the toys jab her all night long. He crawled across the floor, gingerly avoiding every toy that he saw, brushing his hands across the floor to clear the way. He lifted each appendage and removed all of the litter, pulling one last toy from behind her shoulder. Satisfied that she would be comfortable, he leaned over even further to tuck the blanket in, knowing that she would have it off in moments, anyway. As he started to get up, big blue eyes blinked open, and a delighted grin enveloped her face as she saw her father looming over her. "Da Da," she said, looking happier, and more at peace than he could ever remember. She puckered up for a kiss, not noticing the tear that escaped from his eye. Wrapping her up in his arms, he closed his eyes tight and placed at least five kisses on her soft little face, oblivious to everything in the world except the depth of love he saw in those remarkably blue eyes.

As he stood he nearly backed into his wife, who wrapped her arms around him from behind. He was far too tall for her to be able to see over his shoulder, so she playfully poked her head out from under his armpit. Her beautiful face turned up slightly, and she gazed at him with a look of quiet understanding. "Feels delightful, doesn’t it, Da Da?"

Unable and unwilling to hide his feelings from his beloved wife, he allowed a few tears to escape, hoping to always remember the moment that his little Siobhán first spoke his name. "It’s all together wonderful," he murmured, turning in her embrace, then bending to bury his head in her neck. "I’ve never had a better Christmas."

"It’s not over yet, you lucky man," Fionnuala reminded him, taking his hand as she gave him a devastatingly seductive look. "We’ve got a few more raincoats to try on, Love."

"Remind me again why people complain when it rains?" he joked as he wrapped his arm around her waist.

"I don’t have the slightest idea," she assured him. "I’m rather partial to a steady downpour myself, Sweetheart." He rested his dark head against her lighter one as they crossed the room, flicking off lights as they went. As they entered their room the only sounds in the house were the quiet, heavy breathing of the sleeping children, and the heavy breathing of one very happy man, trying to come in out of the rain.

The End

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

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