Five Months Later, November 2005, Thornway Road
"X-rated?!" Nola balked. "My short stories are not x-rated. They're erotica, Mo!"
Maureen sat on the edge of Nola's bed, holding pages of her sister's writing. "It's really good, but sort of graphic. Don't you think?"
"You think so? I guess being stuck in this bed most of the time, I'm just venting. I don't have much to do besides watch reality shows and reruns of Law & Order and Seinfeld. So I've been reading lots of Anais Nin, D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller . . . . and working on learning Malay, of course."
After the Thanksgiving feast the day before, Maureen and Ed stayed overnight with Quint and Nola. Since the beginning of September, Nola had been on almost complete bed rest. She had just made it to the final stretch of her pregnancy, thirty seven weeks. Since she had AJ at thirty eight weeks, making it this far was the goal set by her doctors. The baby was big and strong, and the doctor informed Nola that it was absolutely safe for her to give birth at any time. If she felt up to it, she was directed to do more physical activity, but she was so big and unwieldy that she needed to rest most of the time. AJ had gotten the marketing job with Vanessa and continued to see Charlotte who was back and forth to school at Pepperdine. Maureen, Vanessa, Effie, Bea, AJ and especially Quinton had been helpful in keeping Nola entertained and comfortable during her extended bed rest. Despite the long flights, Anastasia made a few extra trips to visit her mother during short breaks from school.
"Have you shown these to Quinton?" Maureen queried.
"He's my biggest fan. He’s the one who originally introduced me to those authors. And with me being a beached whale, it's a good way for us to channel that energy."
"Don't call yourself that, Nola," Maureen insisted. "You're glowing."
Nola smoothed her hands over her enormous, rotund belly, "Yeah, glowing, and sixty five pounds heavier."
"You'll drop it quickly. You're so full of energy."
"I hope you're right. I don't need to be old AND fat."
"You're not old. But I don't know how you're going to deal with a brand new baby when you're overseas."
"We had two babies in Tanquir, Marrakech, Mombasa, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur."
"Yes, and you were barely thirty years old."
Nola chided her sister, "Are you saying that I'm too old?"
"No, I really know you can handle it. The truth is I’m going to miss you."
"We'll be back after a few months. I told you this is our home base now."
"Will AJ stay here alone while you're away?"
"I don't think so. Don't say anything to anyone, but I think he's going back to school."
"Back to school? What about the job with Vanessa?"
"He hates it. He applied to a few schools to start back in January. He has a few places on hold. He wants to write and teach."
"I had no idea."
"AJ is going to talk to Quinton about it. But Quint knows about AJ's writing and supports it. He'll be thrilled that AJ wants to further his education."
"Will his program be in writing?"
"I don't think so. He took a lot of writing classes at Tulane and probably will take more, but actually he wants to do something with Spanish."
"Since we spent so much time in South America, both the kids are fluent in Spanish. AJ enjoys foreign languages."
"So, Stacey is the scientist, and AJ is the right brained one."
"Yep, I wonder what this baby will be?" Nola quipped, "Maybe a doctor, so she can take care of Quinton and me in a few years?"
"Does Vanessa know about AJ's plans?"
"She does. Funny thing is that AJ has been doing a great job over there, and they love him."
"What school is her thinking of going to?"
"He'‘ll go somewhere in California and stay at the beach house. We haven't given it much use lately, and he loves the warmer weather during the winter. I can't say I blame him. That's the one thing I don't like about Springfield. "
Maureen checked her watch, "What time is your doctor's appointment today?"
The doctor examined Nola and ran the sonogram and standard tests, as Quint supportively sat by her side. "Nola, everything looks great. This baby can come at anytime now. Her heart is beating like a jack hammer, and she's well over seven pounds."
Nola added, "And the way she kicks, I think she might be the first female professional football player."
"All great signs, Nola. But you know what I'm going to suggest?"
"I think so," Nola replied.
"I couldn't be happier that it's coming to this, but I think that if she hasn't come on her own within the next week that we should induce you. Based on your history, you probably won't make it to forty weeks, and if the baby gets much larger, I don't think you'll be able to deliver her vaginally. She's perfectly positioned, and I think we should take advantage of this opportunity."
Quint commented, "We've heard that induction is very painful."
"Some women find it more uncomfortable, yes, but I really would like to avoid a c-section which involves a far more drawn out recovery period."
"It would be nice to be fully recovered and back on my feet by Christmas."
"Exactly, so I think we should schedule the induction a week from today. And in the meantime there are things you can do to help nature along a little."
"Just moving around will help. Some people say castor oil, but my patients seem to find intercourse to be the most enjoyable way to trigger labor. It may not work, but it can't hurt to try."
"Ah, that sounds nice," Quint replied with a lascivious smile.
"Quinton!" Nola gasped in embarrassment.
"Seriously, the semen contains components that aid in ripening the cervix, and the contractions associated with the female orgasm have been known to induce labor. So what got you pregnant can also help you get un-pregnant."
"Sure sounds better than castor oil," Quint teased.
"Being so big, I barely know how . . . "
Quint interrupted, "We'll figure it out, dear."
Before returning back to the house, Quint and Nola stopped for lunch. They celebrated that within a week, they would have the baby that they desperately wanted for so long. They giggled and held hands, titillated by the idea of love making being doctor prescribed. Both anxious to meet their daughter and hungry for each other after months of sex being banned, they couldn't wait to give it a whirl.
When they arrived home, they found a note from the kids that they had gone to see a movie. Quinton kissed his wife's ear, "No kids around, so my little screamer, you can carry on to your heart's content. And I'll make sure for the sake of our baby that you have plenty to scream about."
"I bet you will," she purred.
The expectant parents enjoyed their doctor prescribed, hopefully labor-inducing bedroom romp. They were not deterred, when the first, second and third attempt produced only the usual intense results. However, on the third day, their fourth attempt yielded multiple results.
As she started to stir, Nola's gentle snoring subsided. Through the restless night, Nola managed to push all the sheets and blankets aside. Quinton marveled at the site of his nude and very pregnant wife, resting beside him. She lay facing him on her left side; the only position she was able to get comfortable in, considering the size and activity level of the baby. The morning sunlight broke through the spaces between the shades, and a beam of light wrapped over her hip and expanded abdomen. Quinton brushed his fingers through her hair and gently kissed her lips. As Nola gained consciousness, he tilted his mouth into a half smile. With his pinky, he teased her nipples. She smiled back and scooted her ample figure closer to her husband.
"She's ready, Nola. It's time. I'm going to make slow love to you right now, and our baby is going to come."
Quint sensuously swirled his tongue inside her mouth in a soulful kiss. He abruptly got up and walked to the other side of the bed behind his wife. Nola didn't say a word, hypnotized by her husband’s bare physique and purposeful stride. He seductively massaged her back, then breasts and bottom. His touches became more and more intimate and more and more slow and deliberate, tormenting her. He finessed each kiss and stroke until her entire body quivered for him. He spooned up behind her, cradled her body warmly against his own, and they made love.
Ava Grace Chamberlain was born later that morning at 11:53AM on November 27, 2005. Nola's labor had come quick and forcefully and little Ava was born in just over an hour. At first sight of the long-awaited small child, the happy parents broke down in joyful tears. She was perfect and beautiful with a tiny whorl of golden blonde hair. She weighed seven pounds, six ounces and was twenty two inches long. She had a hearty squeal and the most perfect pink skin.
After being cleaned up, the newborn spent some time getting to know her parents. Quint watched with wonder, as Nola held their baby daughter. It barely seemed possible that it had been over twenty one years since Nola sat in a similar hospital bed holding their then infant son. He stroked his wife's hair and gently kissed her on the cheek, all the while gazing at her tenderly caring for the child.
Nola cradled the tiny infant in her arms. With a light touch, she caressed the soft head, and then held her finger for the baby to grasp. Nola looked to her husband who was visibly swept away by the moment. Then without needing to say a word, they both took a moment to reflect upon the miraculousness of the newborn, but also on their bitter memories of the loss of Beatrice.
Unfortunately, Anastasia had to go back to school and would be unable to see Ava until the Christmas break. AJ managed to get off from work early that day to come and meet his baby sister. The nurse pointed out the newest Chamberlain, as she squirmed in her nursery bed. The nurse quietly departed to allow the young man private time to watch his sister. When the infant appeared to look toward him, AJ reflexively waved at her. He was startled out of the moment by a gentle touch on his shoulder.
"Isn't your sister beautiful?" Quint put his arm around AJ..
"She really is. She's so small . . .and pink."
"She's the exact same weight and size that you were when you were born. Seven pounds, six ounces and twenty two inches long."
"Have you got that memorized, Dad?"
Quint beamed with pride, "I sure do."
"How's Mom doing?"
"She's doing great. She was taking a nap when I left. I ran down to the deli next door to get some decent food."
"And everything's okay with the baby?"
"Absolutely, look at her. She's big and strong. She almost got a perfect Apgar score. You should hear her squeal. She definitely has your mother's vocal cords."
AJ laughed, "Yeah, Mom is not exactly quiet."
"I think she's getting ready to give those cords another work out," Quint carefully watched through the glass, as his baby daughter started to fret.
"Is something wrong?"
"No, I think it's time for her to eat again. The nurse will probably come and get her to bring to your mother."
"This is really what you and Mom wanted? Isn't it?"
Quint nodded, "We had such a good time with you and your sister. And we always meant to have another baby. But I guess that it wasn't meant to be until now."
"I'm glad you're both so happy. You know, we need to talk about what I'm going to do when you go away to Borneo."
"We will. Son, whatever you want to do, I'll support it."
The nurse, followed by Quint and AJ, brought the baby to Nola for feeding.
"Nola, honey," Quint whispered and kissed the ear of his napping wife. He gently nudged her awake and continued in a quiet voice, "You have two special guests."
Nola pulled herself up in the bed and groggily looked about to see her visitors. "AJ," she beamed.
"Hey Mom. You look great."
"Nice of you to say, but I must be a mess."
The nurse placed the gently crying baby in Nola's arms. "If you have any problems, Mrs. Chamberlain, we can get a bottle for her."
Nola adjusted herself so the baby could feed. AJ looked away, feeling a bit uncomfortable. When she latched on, the baby went silent. Quint sat by his wife's side, gazing in fascination at her and the baby.
"Nola, she's such a sweet little girl," Quint brushed her tiny blonde curl.
"She is," Nola said in a hushed voice. "AJ, why don't you sit down?" Nola indicated to the chair on the other side of her bed. She immediately noticed that her son was a little uneasy watching her breast feed and discreetly pulled the blanket up. AJ, appreciating his mother's sensitivity, sat down next to her.
"Wow, Mom, I can't believe you made her."
Nola giggled, "Just like you."
"She really looks good." AJ continued with pride and love, " Usually babies are so ugly, but Ava is beautiful."
"You were just as beautiful," Nola announced with certainty. "When she's done eating, you can hold her."
"I don't think I know how."
"You'll do just fine," Quint encouraged.
"She's going to look up to her big brother. So you better learn how." Nola kissed the baby's head.
"I'm so used to being the little brother. It'll take some time getting used to being the big brother."
"She's going to be so proud of you, AJ," Quint stated with conviction.
When the baby was finished nursing, Nola gingerly passed her to AJ. "Now, just make sure you support her head, and everything will be just fine."
AJ took the baby, "She's amazing. I can't believe I was ever this small."
"You were," Nola smiled. "It almost seems like it was yesterday."
"Stace is going to freak out when she sees her." AJ looked down at the baby falling quietly asleep in his arms.
"Look how comfortable she is with you?" Quint commented. "She's falling right asleep"
"Her eyes are so blue, just like Dad's."
Nola informed her son, "All babies start out with light eyes when they're born, but they can change later."
"I didn't know that," AJ remarked.
"But from her coloring and her tassel of blonde hair, I think they will stay like your father's." Nola kissed Quint's hand.
"Hey, little Ava. I'm AJ, your big brother. Very nice to finally meet you."
"That's nice," Nola murmured. Tears instantly welled up in her eyes.
AJ smiled at his parents and continued talking to the baby. "I'm your big brother, and I will always be here to watch out for you, just like I watch out for our big sister, Stace."
"I'm sure she'll always appreciate that," Quint interjected.
"I'm never going to let anyone hurt her, Dad. Not ever."
Nola and Quint knew that AJ was absolutely serious about what he was saying. Knowing that they may not be around as long as younger parents could be for their children, it comforted them to know that AJ would be there for Ava when they no longer would be.
Within two days, Nola and Ava were released from the hospital. Effie made sure all the final details were set in the nursery. Nola had carefully selected every color and piece of furniture for the room. Her vision was to make the room reminiscent of an English Garden. The walls were all painted in white and hand painted with delicate pink and lavender flowers. The hardwood floor was covered with a pastel colored oriental rug. Nola preferred, at first, to keep the baby in a bassinet in the master bedroom. It would be a few weeks before the baby would spend the night alone in her room. Quint, however, found the nursery to be very relaxing and enjoyed sneaking off there with the baby during the day to spend time alone with her while Nola rested and Juliana, the nanny, took a break.
He recalled those early days at Thornway Road, spending private time with Anastasia. When Ava looked up at him with her big blue eyes, he could not forget the same feelings that were inspired in him when his first daughter, over twenty years earlier with her innocent and trusting eyes, had looked up at him. He loved Anastasia's expressive brown eyes, the same ones possessed by his wife and son, but he couldn't help but feel honored that Ava so resembled himself.
He could spend hours simply looking at Ava, trying to make her smile and talking to her. He told her what a special baby she was, and how long he and her mother had waited for her. He detailed their family, and how everyone cared so much for her, and that one day he would introduce her to archaeology. He told her that he and her big sister were archaeologists. One day while Quint was telling Ava that she could be anything she wanted, AJ walked in.
"Sorry, Dad." AJ, realizing he had interrupted Quinton with the baby, started to leave the room.
"It's okay. I was just talking to Ava."
"I can come back. I wanted to check on her."
"You don't have to worry. Juliana is very attentive to her."
"I know. I like to spend time with her."
A proud grin spread across Quint's face, "You know, I was telling Ava that she can be anything she wants to be when she grows up." Quint paused for a few moments, hoping to give AJ an opportunity to discuss what has been on his mind, "Why don't you sit down and tell me a little bit about your plans?"
AJ sat across from his father in the rocking chair.
"Do you want to hold her for a while?"
He nodded and Quint handed him the baby. AJ expertly took the child and kissed her forehead.
"Well Dad, I’ve sent applications to a few graduate schools. I didn't think that I wanted to do anymore school for a while, but after working with Aunt Vanessa for the past several months . . ."
"You decided that wasn't for you?"
"Right, I mean, I'm so grateful to Aunt Vanessa for the opportunity. And everyone there is so nice, but I just can't see myself working in that kind of environment for my entire life. It's just not me."
"What is you?"
"I like to write, Dad. And I was even thinking that I might want to be a teacher."
"Yes, I see how much you liked it. Well, I know you like working in the field the most, but I want to have something that I love, as much as you and Stace love archaeology, and I love writing and languages. I think I would enjoy sharing that love with other students."
"I have seen some of your writing, and it's very good."
"You really think so?"
"Absolutely. I think you should do it. I think getting your masters is a wonderful idea."
"I'm glad you think that. I applied to a few schools back in California. The University in Santa Barbara has a good graduate program in Spanish Literature that I'm interested in, and I would also take some graduate writing courses . . ."
"I would like to see that house get more use."
"Yes, I love it there, and I'll also be closer to Charlotte."
"I assumed she figured in the equation," Quint smiled.
"Who knows, maybe I'll even decide to go on for my PhD."
"You know I would like that."
"I can't believe you're reacting like this. Did Mom set you up?"
"No, your mother and I discussed some of this, but she didn't have to convince me it's a good idea. I always wanted you to find something that excited and motivated you."
"And I always thought if I didn't want to do science that you would want me to go into the family business."
"Now why would I ever want you to do that? I have no interest in business. Your Grandfather was a businessman, but I was never inclined toward that."
"I don't know. I suppose I always thought that you would want me to do something substantial and be a good Chamberlain."
"There's nothing more substantial than wanting to further your education and wanting to teach and do what you love."
"I thought you would want me to do something with more money in it."
"More money? What do we need with more money? I don't do archaeology for that reason. Money can come of it, but that's not why I do it. You're fortunate that you don't have to worry about that. So you should go out and do what you love, and perhaps, help better the lives of those not as fortunate as yourself."
"That’s cool you feel that way."
"I do," Quint stated.
"She’s such a good girl," AJ looked down at his sleeping sister.
"She loves you."
"I can't wait until Stace gets here in a few days to see her. I have sent her a ton of pictures on email."
"You know it means so much to your mother and I that you have taken such an interest in Ava."
"Of course, I do. She's my baby sister. And she needs her brother."
"Yes, she does."
"I'm really going to miss her when you take her to Borneo with you."
"I know you will, but we'll only be gone for a few months, and you can come out and visit us there when you’re on breaks from school."
"I could go to Borneo. I don't have that marked off on my map yet."
"I love that you still keep that map. I remember when you started it as a little boy."
"I wanted to keep one just like Mom did."
Quint laughed out loud, "Son, trust me, you don't want to know why your mother kept that map."
"Why?" AJ innocently replied, but then understood his father's expression. "Oh God, yes, please, don't tell me anymore. You two are WAY too much. I'm never going to look at her map again."
The two men quietly laughed. Ava started to stir, and then emitted a robust howl.
"Oh no, we woke her up," AJ panicked.
"I don't think so. She probably needs to be changed, and it's about time for her to eat. I think your mother is still sleeping, so we can use one of the bottles she made."
"Can I do all that, Dad?"
"You want to change her too?"
"I have changed her plenty of times. It's a piece of cake."
"Hardly that pleasant, but go for it."
"Dad, I think this is going to be one of the best Christmases ever."
Anastasia and Seamus arrived a few days later for their Christmas break. Unable to wait one more moment to meet Ava, Anastasia dashed through the front door at Thornway Road.
"Effie, where is Mom and Daddy?" Anastasia excitedly exclaimed, hugging the longtime friend.
"Miss Anastasia, they're in the study waiting for you."
Anastasia threw open the doors of the study with an bemused Seamus following behind her. "There she is," Anastasia gasped.
Nola sat on the couch holding the tiny baby dressed in a sweet, winter green, velvet dress. Quinton and AJ were at the infant's service, respectively holding her bottle and guarding over her toys.
In amazement, Anastasia moved slowly toward her baby sister, "Look at her hair. It’s longer and more golden than in the pictures."
"I know, I didn't think I could make a blonde baby," Nola commented.
"Mom, she's gorgeous," Anastasia kneeled down before her mother and sister.
"She got all dressed up for you," Nola gushed.
"Oh Daddy, she looks like you."
"No, she's beautiful like you and your mother."
"The pictures don't do her justice, do they, Stace?" AJ commented.
"You will never know how badly I wanted to get home to see her."
"Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain, you should be very proud," Seamus remarked. "What an angel."
Both Quint and Nola thanked Seamus.
"Mom, can I hold her?"
Nola nodded and passed Ava to Anastasia. The endless doting on the baby continued.
Later that evening, Anastasia and Nola went out for some last minute Christmas shopping. Quinton invited Seamus down to the study for some cognac.
"Mr. Chamberlain, thank you for being so hospitable. It means a lot to me."
"Well, Stacey thinks a great deal of you, and Nola and I do too."
"That’s important for me to hear."
"You know, there have been some difficulties, but I can see how much you care about Stacey, and how good you are to her. I feel better knowing you are with her, when she's so far away from home."
"Thank you, Mr. Chamberlain. There's something really important that I wanted to ask you.”
"What is it?" Quint suspiciously inquired, taking a bracing sip of cognac.
"Well, Mr. Chamberlain, I love Anastasia very much. And I very much want you to approve of our relationship. And well . . ."
"What are you trying to say, Seamus?"
"I know this is kind of old fashioned, but I also appreciate many old fashioned traditions."
Quinton gulped the cognac, knowing what was coming.
"Mr. Chamberlain, I wanted to know, if you would approve of me asking Anastasia to marry me?"
Wiping a bit of sweat from his brow, Quint replied, "Seamus, this is quite a surprise. I feel unprepared."
"You don't approve?"
"No, I didn’t say that. I don't know what to think. You have to understand that it's difficult for me to think of Stacey as old enough to be thinking of marriage."
"I understand, sir. But I want to assure you that I would insist on a long engagement. First Anastasia needs to finish school, and she is going to Borneo with you and Mrs. Chamberlain for a few months."
"That sounds sensible," Quint tried his best to digest this news. "Does Anastasia know you want to propose?"
"No, sir. I didn't want to say anything to her, until I spoke with you. May I have her hand in marriage, sir?"
"What you present is very compelling, Seamus."
"I love her very much."
Quinton took a moment, reliving some of Nola's very direct and judicious lectures about how Stacey was a grown woman, and that he was going to have to let go. "Yes, Seamus. I approve,” Quint stammered. “And I agree that a long engagement is appropriate and sensible."
Seamus exclaimed, "Mr. Chamberlain, that's wonderful. I'll be a good husband to her. I promise."
Quint shook Seamus's hand, "I know you will. When do you plan to pop the big question?"
"Christmas Eve, sir."
Nola and Anastasia arrived back at the house with sacks and sacks of Christmas gifts, which they immediately brought up to their respective rooms. Quinton apprehensively paced in the master bedroom.
"Quinton, are you all right? You look pale."
"I can plainly see that you're not fine. Tell me what’s wrong."
Quinton promptly disclosed, "Seamus asked me for our baby’s hand in marriage."
Nola smiled, "I saw that coming a mile away."
"You did? Why didn't you warn me? I almost passed out on the kid."
"Seamus is hardly a kid."
"Please, don't remind me. There’s only so much I can take in one day."
"I figured you would have known they were getting to that point too."
"I didn't. He caught me completely off guard."
"How does that joke go? Denial is not just a river in Egypt?" Nola laughed at her bad joke, and then continued with a more serious tone, realizing that Quint was not amused. "Quinton, you did tell him that you approve? Didn't you?"
"I did. But I just can't picture our Stacey married."
"I know it's hard. But she’s a grown woman. Time marches on."
"Sometimes when I'm holding Ava, I could almost swear she was Stacey, or that it was just yesterday."
Nola swooned, "Do you know how much I love you?"
"Do you know how much I love you?" Quint teased, "You know, I'm just trying to prevent us from becoming grandparents too soon."
Nola wrapped her arms around Quint, "I don't think there is one thing you can do to make that happen or not happen. We have to let AJ and Anastasia lead their own lives."
"I know, but I have to try. I have to make sure he does the right thing by our girl."
"I'm pretty certain that he will. Where's the baby?"
"Juliana is with her. And if I know our daughter's charms, I would bet that she has many other willing attendees too."
"Wow, so everyone is otherwise involved," Nola whispered seductively with that familiar glint in her eye. "We should take advantage of that."
"Do you feel ready?" he caressed her face.
"It's been three weeks. I think so. Just take is slow with me."
"I always do, my love," Quint murmured. "Oh, should we think about birth control?"
Nola playfully rolled her eyes, "Don't worry, you don't win the lottery twice in a row."
She pulled him down to her into an impassioned kiss.
Christmas Eve quickly approached and Seamus carefully planned how he would propose to Anastasia. He knew the house would be filled with friends and family. He wanted it to be very special and very private. Nola had suggested to him that while it could be cold outside, the gazebo not only had special meaning to Quint and herself, it had very significant meaning to Anastasia as well. The gazebo would certainly be private on Christmas Eve. Anastasia started to wonder about the clandestine meetings between Seamus and her mother, but fortunately she never solved the whole puzzle. They also told Vanessa, who was thrilled as expected, and insisted on helping Seamus pick out an appropriate ring.
It was a comfortably cold night that Eve. While the festively dressed Chamberlains and Reardons gathered around the grandly decorated Christmas tree at Thornway Road, Seamus escorted Anastasia outside for a little, romantic stroll around the grounds. When the young couple departed, Nola and Vanessa shot each other conspiratorial glances. So as not to spoil the surprise for anyone else, they didn't dare utter a word to another soul.
Kelly and Victor had flown into town for the holidays, and Nola was thrilled that they were able to attend their gathering. The two handsome men fussed excessively over little Ava in her white, satin lace, Christmas Eve gown, a gift they brought the baby from Santa. And as a birthday gift, they made a sizable deposit into her college fund. They chattered on about how they were in the process of adopting a baby from Asia.
Kelly sidled up to his hostess, "Nola, what is that mischievous look in your eye? Are you up to something?"
Nola feigned shock, "Me? Never!"
"If I know you, we will know what that look is about sooner rather than later."
Nola coyly evaded Kelly's questions, "Maybe?"
As they quietly circled the grounds, Seamus held his girlfriend close. The house was tastefully decorated in tiny, white Christmas lights that illuminated the property.
"Are you cold, Anastasia?"
"No, it's nice for just the two of us to get some time alone. "
"I thought so too." He led her over to the gazebo. "I think the last time I was in this gazebo was when your parents renewed their vows?"
"Yes, it was a beautiful ceremony."
"It was. Anastasia?"
"I brought you out here, away from everyone else, for a very special reason."
"You know how much I love you, and you know that we have discussed wanting to spend our lives together."
She simply nodded, looking intently at him, as a light sprinkle of snow started to fall. He got down on one knee. She barely managed to utter," Seamus, what are you doing?"
"I want to marry you, Anastasia. Will you be my wife?"
"Oh my God, Seamus, of course I will."
Seamus stood up, pulled down her snow covered hood and kissed his new fiancée. His hand trembled, as he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the small jewelry box. "I picked this out for you . . .with Vanessa's help. I hope you will like it." He revealed the stunning, but modest sized, emerald cut, diamond solitaire in a platinum diamond encrusted setting.
Anastasia started to cry, "It's beautiful. Seamus, I love you."
"I love you, Anastasia." With shaking hands, he placed the ring on her left hand, then kissed her again. They spent a few moments reveling in the special moment, as the snow continued to fall.
Anastasia softy spoke, "Aunt Vanessa knew about this?"
"Yes, and so does your mother who suggested I propose in the gazebo, and your still-shocked father who was kind enough to approve."
"You asked Daddy for my hand in marriage?"
"I most certainly did."
"Did he pass out on you?" Anastasia giggled.
"He did turn quite pale, but I think I caught the poor man off guard."
"Oh my, I would've loved to have seen that. Does the whole family know?"
"Oh no, they weren't going to tell anyone else. That's a surprise for you and me to reveal."
"There's a house full of people inside and a big celebration, so I can't think of a better time to tell everyone."
"You don't want to keep this to ourselves for a little while?" Seamus mused.
"No way!! I have to show off you and this ring, and let everyone know that I'm the luckiest girl in the world." She threw her arms around him.
After more snuggling and kissing, the newly engaged pair made their way back to the house. While Seamus stomped off his feet, Anastasia kicked off her Uggs and slipped back into her heels. Seamus assisted his betrothed with her heavy coat, and they entered the formal living room where everyone was gathered. By the tree, Olivia and Nora attentively played with their baby cousin. Charlotte and AJ canoodled under the mistletoe. Vanessa, Colin Bill, Bea, Tony, Annabelle, Maureen, Ed, Kelly, Victor and Effie were gathered about the room, eating and drinking. Upon noticing the young couple, Quint scooped up the baby, and with Nola, approached their daughter and her new fiancé.
"Excuse me everyone," Seamus lifted his voice loud and clear.
The room turned toward Anastasia and Seamus.
"Anastasia and I have something we want to share with you."
Anastasia was giddy with excitement, hiding the ring on her left hand.
"I have asked Anastasia to become my wife. And . . ."
Anastasia blurted out, proudly flashing her ring, "I said yes."
The room burst out with excitement, hugs and congratulations. Anastasia took the baby from Quint and danced about the room to the Christmas music playing. "Your big sister is getting married," Stacey sang.
Quint noticed Nola's eyes welling up with tears. From his jacket pocket, he thoughtfully and nonchalantly handed her a handkerchief and lovingly squeezed her.
"So now, I know what that look was about," Kelly remarked.
"And now, I'm a big mess," Nola managed to choke out.
Kelly asserted, "You have every right to be and should be very proud of her. Nola, you've raised a beautiful, young woman."
"Thanks, Kelly. I bet you never thought way back when that we would be like this now."
"I sure didn't," Kelly shook his head.
"Quint, congratulations are certainly in order for you. Clearly, Anastasia adores you."
"Thank you, Kelly. I adore her."
Kelly lowered his voice, "And I hate to even bring up his name at a time like this, but Floyd was an absolute fool to lose a girl like that. But I so agree with how you have handled the situation. Anastasia is so well-adjusted and bright."
Olivia's eyes followed her older cousin, envious of her grown up life and handsome sweetheart. "Stace, you're so lucky." Then she whispered, "And Seamus is so cute. He reminds me of Johnny Depp. Total hottie."
"I know, but I thought you said he looked like Colin Farrell," Anastasia whispered back.
"That was after I saw Alexander," Olivia explained with a flourish. "I just watched Finding Neverland again, so now I think Johnny is way hotter."
Anastasia nodded her head, "I see."
"Can I take Ava?" Olivia held out her arms.
Anastasia carefully handed the baby to her eager cousin, then quickly turned around and embraced her brother who was anxiously waiting for a moment to talk.
"AJ, can you believe it?"
"Seamus is a good guy. But if he ever stops being a good guy, I'll kick his ass."
"Oh, come on," Anastasia nudged AJ.
"I know, I know, but I just want you to know that I'll always look out for you . . .you and Ava."
"Sorry that I beat you up when we were kids," Anastasia chuckled and hugged her brother.
"It's okay, Stace. I deserved it. I was a total obnoxious pain in the ass back then."
"No monopolizing my girl," Quint interrupted.
"Daddy, thank you so much!"
"Seamus told me that you approved all this."
"I did, but Seamus is a fine, young man. He loves you very much. I could never stand in the way of that." As a playful aside Quinton added, "And if I did, your mother would have my head."
"I love you, Daddy. And no matter what, you'll always be my very first crush."
"I love you, honey. Now, you two kids don't need to rush things. Long engagements are a good thing."
"You're incorrigible. You'll never change, will you?"
"Probably not at my age," Quint quipped.
Anastasia hugged her father and spotted her mother patiently hanging back. "Mom, your idea of the gazebo was perfect."
"I hoped so, baby," Nola grinned. "I wanted that moment to be perfect for you. You deserve it. And the gazebo has been life altering for both of us, so I thought it was the right choice."
"You're always right, Mom. Funny, I actually feel so different now," Anastasia admitted. "And I have been so excited about going to Sabah with you and Daddy, but also sad that Seamus won't be coming. And this new commitment makes that time both easier and harder in certain ways."
"I understand," Nola sympathized. "It's hard to be apart from the man you love," she squeezed her husband's hand.
”Mom, how are your Malay and Kadazandusun coming along?”
”The Malay is coming, but considering I can barely pronounce the other, not so good.”
Anastasia grinned, “We can work on them together.”
Quint interjected, “And if all else fails, I’m sure you can fall back on English. Lots of people speak that you know?”
The merriment continued. A formal, traditional olde English Christmas Eve dinner, which partially consisted of Beef Wellington and sweet potato puree, was served at 9PM. At midnight, the abundant, brightly wrapped gifts were opened, as Christmas Day was welcomed in. In perfect Chamberlain/Reardon fashion, little Ava woke up with a howl just in time for the presents, of which there was no shortage for her. Her Grandma Bea fed and amused her with the various ribbons and bows from the packages, until she was once again settled. Everyone was thrilled to again have a baby in the family to make Christmas time that much more magical. Olivia sang a beautiful version of "Silent Night" in her clear, coloratura soprano voice, and AJ read some original poetry. Until it was time to retire to bed, family and friends, led by Olivia and Kelly with Victor on the baby grand piano, sang Christmas carols.
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