“How is she? How are they?” Aiden amended as he barged into the bedroom.
His heart pounded. No one had told him he could come in yet, but it made no sense to him. This was his home. His house. No one could keep him out. Just because he’d gone out willingly three hours ago didn’t mean he would stay out here forever in the winter air.
“Aiden,” his father sighed from the doorway behind him.
But already Aiden was ignoring his father, his eyes darting about the room. His heart pounded in his chest. Tomorrow was Christmas. It wasn’t even daylight yet. But it felt like a year had passed since the night before when Harmony was unsettled by birthing pains.
Which, in turn, had unsettled him.
Finding a bowl of red water and bloody clothes on the ground, Aiden felt his heart seize. A birthing chair was set in the corner. There were linens strewn about along with pots of water. He vaguely remembered being ordered to get hot water before being pushed out of the house.
Not that it was very big. There were more rooms to build to the house, but there hadn’t been time. He hadn’t finished improving the shack they called home before it was time to start building a cradle.
Except that the cradle was empty.
“Harmony,” he said, his voice breaking.
There was such quiet in the room that he hadn’t the courage to look over at the bed. It wasn’t rare for one to pass during the birthing process, let alone both of them. His wife and his child.
What a surprise the news had been. While they had been hopeful, they had assumed they might have more time when they relocated from her father’s property to the new place they had purchased.
A shaky breath escaped his lips and he covered his mouth to hold back the sob. Seeing his wife smiling wearily in bed was enough to make him weak in the knees.
“Come here,” she urged, her voice raw from all the screaming he had heard on and off over the last couple of hours.
He stumbled over to the bedside where his mother was moving out of the way. She patted his shoulder with a teary-eyed smile of her own.
Focusing on his wife, Aiden looked for any signs that he should worry about. She was bundled up tight with blankets and linens. During the pregnancy, she had been thinner than he liked, although healthy for most of it. Her long brown hair was plastered to her cheeks and forehead, braided on one side. She was red-faced and weary.
But she was alive, and that mattered most.
Light from the nearby fireplace set a light around her frame, though he was fairly certain her glow came from within.
Having been so concerned for her life over the last couple of hours, he nearly forgot to look down at the bundle in her arms. He reached Harmony and plastered a kiss to her cheek. Then he saw the smallest hand in all the world peek out of the linens and he collapsed in the chair behind him.
“Aiden,” she scolded. “I thought you were brave around blood and babies.”
“I am. I was, I mean. I… We have a baby.” His eyes settled in disbelief on her bundle. “He lives?”
“She lives,” she corrected him.
Aiden looked up at her, a smile slowly breaking free. The shock of everything was finally wearing off. “We have a girl?”
“A daughter,” she confirmed. “She had some fluid in her throat, but she’s breathing easily now. When she wakes, your mother will show me how to feed her. But she is well enough. The two of us have fought our way through it. You should be very proud of her.”
“I’m proud of you both.” Coming to the edge of his seat, Aiden gathered his courage and nodded. “May I hold our daughter?”
She beamed. “I hoped you would say that.”
Footsteps sounded behind them and he heard his father’s voice. “I hear you have a girl?”
“You boys can be so slow sometimes,” chided the playful Mrs. Collinder, Yelena’s aunt. Both Yelena and Mrs. Collinder had come to help seeing as Mrs. Collinder was the midwife in Quincy. She winked at Aiden before resuming cleaning up the mess around the small home. “Congratulations, young man.”
He offered a sheepish grin before turning back to his wife. Seeing she was trying to scoot closer to the edge of the bed, he shook his head. Both of his parents had spent the last couple of months reminding him how uncomfortable being with child and birthing a child could be for a woman.
“Stay there,” he reassured her. “Stay comfortable.”
“I don’t think I’ll be comfortable for a long time. Do you know how to pick her up?”
His mother piped up from the end of the bed. “Don’t forget to hold her head, Aiden. Be gentle.”
He nodded fervently as he sat on the edge of his chair, arms out to hold his daughter. Harmony murmured gentle directions until they’d switched their baby into his arms. Holding her close, Aiden was afraid to take a breath.
And then Harmony reached out to remove the cloth hiding the infant’s face. He inhaled sharply then, finally seeing his daughter properly. The hand he had seen clenched tightly in the air, stretching.
“She’s perfect,” he murmured while looking at her scrunched-up red face with a patch of dark hair on top. “She’s just perfect.”
“I thought so, too.” Harmony beamed before relaxing back against their pillows. “Shall we tell them her name?”
Looking up at her, he nodded.
Four months had passed before Harmony came to the realization she was with child. Everything had changed then. She stopped her work on the house with him and took fewer shifts in town at the restaurant. Meanwhile, he picked up odd jobs when he wasn’t working as a deputy for his father or working on the roof of the house. It had barely been finished by the first snowfall.
And during this time, he and his wife had more than enough time to talk. They had made plans for their future. Plans for planting and plans for baby names.
His first son would be named Alexander Luis. As for his daughter…
The feeling of completeness settled warmly in his chest when he turned to his parents. Tilting up the baby’s face so they could see her, he introduced them. “Ma, Pa, meet your granddaughter. Rachel Heather, say hello.”
“Oh.” His mother’s voice broke as she covered her hands with her mouth. “Oh, you two.”
When they married, his parents had accepted Harmony as their own daughter. The pain of the past in losing his sister and the loss of Harmony’s family remained, but time had helped them all.
“That is…” His father cleared his throat noisily. “That is a very good name. Strong name, that one.”
The two of them came over, leaning over to admire their first grandchild. His mother had been here all this time, but she remained fascinated and in love. Aiden couldn’t blame her; it was nearly impossible to take his eyes off his daughter. When he did, he looked at his wife.
“We should let you sleep,” he realized, seeing how exhaustion made her slump in the bed.
A tired smile made its way to her face. “It’s all right.”
“I’ll just clear out these pots,” called Mrs. Collinder. “Then Yelena and I can be out of your hair. Yelena, watch the door when you––oh!”
Yelena squealed as a bundle of fur came stumbling inside. When the midwife and other women came through to push Aiden and Lucky out of the small cabin, Aiden had stayed put while the dog ran off to the nearby barn.
But now the dog had returned, wagging his tail and grinning like nothing had happened. He stopped at the edge of the bed and sniffed the air, tilting his head as though confused.
“Maybe we should…” Aiden turned to his wife, not certain how they wanted to handle having the dog near their child.
Although Lucky had been even sweeter and more protective over Harmony while she grew big with child, it was different than having a baby in their arms. Lucky was an average-sized dog, but he had a mouth that could probably fit a small head.
“He’s fine,” Harmony said confidently like she could see his thoughts were spiraling. “Lucky?” she called, snapping her fingers.
Aiden held baby Rachel tighter as the dog came close. They’d always gotten along, him and Lucky, but he gave the animal a stern look. “You’re going to behave yourself or you’re never stepping foot in this house again,” he said firmly.
From the bed, he could sense without seeing Harmony rolling her eyes. “It’s fine, Aiden. Lucky? Don’t you want to meet her?”
Lucky sure enough had come to sniff near Aiden after receiving his customary welcome pat from Harmony. For the past two and a half years, the dog had been a big part of their family, bringing them laughter and joy. There was no reason for Aiden to worry about him, though the anxiety remained.
It was only under his wife’s stern stare that he grudgingly let the dog get close enough to sniff at the bundle. He held tight, ready to protect Rachel.
The dog let out a soft whine, cautiously wagging his tail. He stepped back and pawed the ground before panting up at Aiden in excitement. He knew, Aiden realized, and was happy, too.
He joined the laughter that followed. Relief settled in him. Lucky was a sweet creature.
“All right,” came a pronouncement from the doorway. Everyone looked up to see Yelena standing there with her aunt. “We’ve cleaned up and done all we can for now, I believe. Isn’t that right?”
Mrs. Collinder nodded. “We have. I’ll come back in the evening to check on you,” she told Harmony. “Get some rest now and stay in bed.”
As she left, Yelena took another step into the room before hesitating. “I should really go as well,” she admitted though it was clear she didn’t wish to leave. Her eyes wandered about while she absently rubbed her own growing belly.
Aiden smiled, knowing that in the spring his good friend, who had married Yelena only a few months after he and Harmony were wed, would be in this very position. Keith had made countless teasing jabs at him while promising he would be calm and collected when this time came. But Aiden had a feeling that would not be the case. The birthing process was when women proved their strength and men their weaknesses.
“You should,” Harmony called softly. “Enjoy the holiday with Keith and your family. But visit us after, would you?”
“Or sooner,” Yelena promised before nodding to everyone else. “I’ve some bread dough to bake for you. And my mother will have a stew ready to bring over this evening. Rest up and don’t worry about a thing.”
“She won’t have to lift a finger,” Aiden’s mother reassured her. “Go on, dear.”
As he stepped forward for a chance to hold his granddaughter, Aiden’s father muttered, “We won’t stay too long either. Just to make sure you’re settled. Then we’ll get everything ready for this evening. If, that is, you two are still up for festivities?”
They had picked up traditions since their wedding, the four of them enjoying Christmas Eve with popped corn and lighting candles and singing.
“That sounds fun,” Harmony said even as she yawned.
“We’ll see,” Aiden corrected her. “She needs rest and I’ve got to take care of the animals.”
While the house was little more than a shack, the land was more promising. They were on the other side of town from Harmony’s old home but they now owned five acres of good land that hosted a large barn where they had pigs, a few sheep, and cows.
“That’s nonsense. Your father and I will see to everything on our way out,” his mother promised them. “Neither of you need to do anything but love your little girl.”
Aiden grinned when he and his wife said at once, “We do.”
It was then that little Rachel woke up screaming. She had healthy lungs, Aiden was proud to say. The women cared for her, making sure she was quickly given her mother’s milk. For this reason, his parents lingered a little longer before leaving.
At last, dawn was coming upon them, and Aiden brought over the cradle he had built. He set Rachel down now that she was sleeping. For a long minute, he watched her before grudgingly turning away.
Once he kicked off his boots, he joined Harmony in bed. Her eyes were already closed when he wrapped his arms around her.
“Hmm, this is nice,” she murmured.
“Are you warm enough?”
“Very. How is Rachel?”
He kissed her forehead. “She’s asleep for now. It’s time you did the same.”
“All right. But only for a minute. I want to stare at her some more.” She snuggled a little closer. “She’s perfect, you know. We’re very lucky parents.”
Aiden couldn’t agree more. He kissed his wife again as she dozed off against his shoulder. In the quiet, his awe lingered over all that had happened of late.
As usual, Harmony was correct. They were very lucky. Aiden could never have predicted his good fortune the day he met her. He was a grateful man, and as he looked to the cradle where their child lay sleeping soundly, he prayed the coming years would be just as perfect.