A Year Later
Corrina smiled widely as she looked at the crowd before her. They were giving her a standing ovation as she finished her set. Since she’d returned to the stage after a brief honeymoon with Rex, she’d changed her song set. Instead of singing about grief and heartbreak, she sang about love and happiness because that was what she was experiencing in her own life.
As she took a bow, she looked over at the edge of the stage, smiling as she caught sight of her husband and daughter. Maxie was clapping so hard that Corrina knew Rex was struggling to keep her from rushing onto the stage.
Flowers were thrown on the stage, and Corrina took another bow before waving to the crowd and walking off. The moment the curtain fell, Maxie rushed towards her. Corrina nearly stumbled on the long train as Maxie barreled into her.
“Careful,” Corrina said as she wrapped her arms around Maxie.
The stagehands were running across the stage, picking up the flowers that had been thrown to her, and Corrina watched as Freddy and Phillipe started to get themselves into place for their act.
“Come along, Maxie,” Rex said. “You and I had an agreement. If you could stay up to see Mama perform, you would go to bed.”
Maxie pouted and looked up at Corrina with wide eyes. Corrina shook her head, knowing that the little girl would try to manipulate her with wide eyes and a quivering lip. It had stopped working long ago.
“Mama.” Maxie pouted, drawing out the a sound, but Corrina held her ground, not allowing her pleasure at being called Mama to sway her.
“You heard your father,” Corrina said, her tone stern. She leaned down and pressed a kiss to Maxie’s forehead. “You have school tomorrow. It’s time for you to get some rest.”
Maxie’s nose wrinkled at the mention of the schoolhouse. Corrina and Rex had started her in the schoolhouse three months ago, and though Maxie enjoyed playing with the other children, she wasn’t too fond of school.
Corrina and Rex both hoped that she would soon be able to find joy in learning, but it seemed to be more challenging than they thought.
“Fine,” Maxie grumbled. “I guess that I will go to bed.”
Rex nodded. “We will be up shortly,” he said. Corrina would probably go up before Maxie fell asleep. Even on evenings when they had shows, one of them tried to make it up to read Maxie a story.
Ever since they were married, Corrina and Rex had tried their best to make the transition as easy as possible for Maxie, though Corrina suspected that it was the two of them who struggled more than her.
“I’m always impressed by how you can get her to do whatever you want,” Rex said, kissing her neck as they watched Maxie head upstairs.
Corrina laughed and turned to face him. Rex looked handsome. His hair had grown slightly, and a few pieces curled around his ear. His eyes were soft as he looked at her, and there was always a hint of a smile on his face these days.
“I don’t know if she really listens to me,” Corrina admitted. “I think she’s just realizing that it’s more challenging to play us against one another, especially when someone always has an eye on her.”
This made Rex laugh. When they’d gone on their honeymoon, they’d left Maxie in the care of Elsie and Phillipe. There was no one the two of them trusted more, and the trip hadn’t been appropriate for a little girl.
Maxie had run rough shots on those two, and Corrina wouldn’t be surprised if they never wanted to have children.
The thought made her giggle. “I don’t think they will ever forgive us,” she said.
Rex took her hand and led her away from the stage. Her dress was heavy as it slid across the floor. The dressmaker had finally begun to dress Corrina in a way that benefitted her performance on stage.
Corrina suspected that had something to do with her now having top-billing. At first, people had flocked to the stage to see the woman who’d kicked up such a storm around town. The tales of Wesley nearly killing Rex at the train station had become legend, and Rex had smartly used that to his advantage.
Corrina had suspected that things would slow once the mystery went away. But it hadn’t. Corrina’s talent and the other performers’ talent stood on their own. People started coming from all over the west to see their acts, and they had sold-out shows for weeks on end.
“Sit,” Rex said. “You look tired.”
Corrina stifled a yawn at his words. “I am,” she said with a small smile. “Luckily, tomorrow is our last set of shows for a few weeks.”
Rex exhaled. “I don’t know if we should be closing the theater so soon after all of this.” He gestured towards the ledgers that he kept. “I don’t want people to forget about us.”
Corrina reached over and took him by the hand. “They won’t,” she assured. “I don’t think that that is possible. After all, you’ll be building a theater that’s even bigger and better than this one.”
Rex smiled up at her and brought her hand to his lips. He pressed a kiss to her skin, and Corrina felt a sense of contentment overcome her at the feeling of his skin on her own. Rex always reached out to take her hand or give her a chaste kiss, and she loved it. Corrina felt a deep connection with her husband no matter what they were doing.
“You are right,” he said, sighing. “I just don’t like the idea of closing things so soon.”
Corrina knew Rex was worried that this success would disappear if he didn’t cultivate it continuously. “We do not want to give the people too much. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, after all.”
This caused Rex to chuckle. “I don’t know if I agree with that,” he told her. “After all, I would hate to be away from you.”
“I have no doubts about that,” she said. Corrina shifted slightly in her dress. The corset was digging into one of her ribs, and the pinching was becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
“Are you alright?” Rex asked. “Are you still feeling unwell?”
Corrina had been so sick the past few days that they’d nearly canceled her performance. Of course, Rex was worried. He was always concerned about her and Maxie or something else. It was why Corrina had been so anxious to tell him what was making her ill.
“I’m feeling fine,” she said.
“Perhaps, we should go to the physician,” Rex said. “Even if you think it’s just something that did not agree with you, I’d feel better if the physician gave you a clean bill of health.”
“I don’t think that we need to go to the physician,” she told him with a small smile. She pressed her hands to her mid-section. “I already know what is causing my sickness, and I think it will clear up in about nine months.”
Rex’s eyes went wide, and his mouth dropped slightly. “Do you mean?”
Corrina nodded eagerly. She’d suspected this news for the last month when she’d missed her courses, but she hadn’t been sure until they hadn’t come for a second time. Elise had told her of a midwife who would be able to see her and confirm the news.
“I’m pregnant,” Corrina said excitedly.
Rex had never mentioned wanting more children, but he hadn’t been against it when Corrina talked about having several. After nearly a year of being married, she thought that she would not be able to conceive a child, and she was content with that. She loved Maxie, and if she was the only child the two of them had, they were very lucky.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Rex asked. He stood up from the desk and knelt in front of her. He took her hands in his, and though he was smiling, Corrina could see the worry in his eyes.
“I didn’t want to say anything until I was certain,” she told him, pulling one of her hands out of his and cupping his cheek. “I didn’t want you to worry.”
Corrina felt her stomach turn as she considered that Rex might not want any more children. After all, Maxie’s mother had passed due to complications from her birth.
Rex said nothing, but his hands squeezed around hers.
“Everything is going to be well,” she told him. “Women have children all of the time. Babies are a blessing, and I’m sure Maxie will be excited to be a big sister. After all, she’s been begging us for a sister since she started school.”
This made Rex chuckle. One of Maxie’s friends had three younger sisters, and Maxie was dying to be one herself.
Rex placed his hands on her stomach reverently. “This is good,” he said. “Everything is going to be well. I’ll ensure that you get the best care in town, even if it means that we might have to stop the expansion of the theater.”
“Absolutely not!” Corrina exclaimed.
She placed her hands over the ones that were on her stomach. “Everything is going to be alright,” she assured him. “In nine months, we will have a beautiful addition to the family, and we should probably consider moving somewhere that is larger to accommodate our growing family.”
Her words did nothing to help ease Rex’s tension, but Corrina knew that he would now be thinking about finding a new home instead of worrying about her.
“A baby,” Rex said reverently.
Corrina blinked back tears and kissed Rex. “A miracle.”
Rex tensed as he heard Corrina’s scream. He was pacing outside their bedroom door, doing his best to stop himself from storming inside.
“She’s going to be fine,” Phillipe said. “Elsie and the midwife are in there with her, and that woman has helped deliver most of the children in town.”
Rex said nothing. He’d wanted to be in the room with Corrina, but he’d been promptly exiled once her pains began in earnest. Now, he could do nothing but wait outside for news of what was happening, which was something he absolutely detested.
“Is Maxie alright?” he asked. “I don’t want her to hear any of this.”
Phillipe nodded. “Freddy and Maria took her for some sweets.” Freddy had been married a fortnight ago, and though his wife was not a performer, she’d fit into their group easily. They’d been gracious enough to take Maxie when the screaming started. Neither he nor Corrina wanted her to be there for this part. It was too traumatic.
Corrina screamed again. Rex swore that the screaming sounded so loud this time that he thought the walls were shaking from it.
Rex moved towards the door. He’d had enough, but Phillipe grabbed him and pulled him away. “She needs me,” he said.
Phillipe shook his head. “You’ll just be in the way. You don’t want that, do you?”
“What I want is to be with my wife,” Rex said. He looked at the door longingly. He hadn’t been this nervous the first time he’d become a father. After all, he hadn’t realized what to expect. He’d heard the screams, but he knew that women endured great pain to bring children into the world.
He didn’t realize that they sometimes lost their lives doing so. Maxie’s mother had died before she could fully celebrate her daughter, and losing her had nearly broken Rex. He couldn’t go through such a thing again.
“You are going to know exactly what I’m feeling in about six months,” Rex reminded Phillipe.
This made his friend smile, but he didn’t let go of Rex’s shoulders as he pushed him away from the door. “And I’ll need you to remind me to stay far away during this part.”
Elsie had found out she was expecting her first child just a few months after Corrina. It had been nice for the two women to enjoy their first pregnancies together. Rex was glad that the two of them could bond over such a moment. He knew that it made everything special for Corrina, which she needed.
Though she rarely spoke about her father, sometimes Rex noticed a sadness overtake her. She missed him, especially as they prepared to bring their child into the world.
Corrina screamed again. This time it was long and guttural, and Rex couldn’t stop himself from pushing Phillipe aside and rushing through the door. As he did, he heard a baby cry out.
“What’s happening?” he asked, demanding answers from the woman at his wife’s bedside as he rushed to her side. Corrina was sweaty from exertion. Her hair was sticking to her skin, and her cheeks were flushed.
“Rex?” she called out, focusing on him.
Rex was breathing heavily as he took in the sight of her. She was tired and exerted, but she appeared alert.
He turned to the midwife, cleaning off a small, squirming bundle. Their baby.
As the midwife walked towards him, holding his new child, Rex felt himself becoming choked with emotion.
“Your husband is impatient, Mrs. Armstrong,” the midwife said as she laid the screaming baby on Corrina’s chest. “If he hadn’t burst in here, we could have everyone cleaned up and ready to be presented.”
“I don’t need all of that,” Rex said. His eyes never left his wife and child.
“What is it?” Corrina asked. She tenderly cupped their child to her heart, bringing her head down so that she could press a small kiss to the top of their head.
“A little girl,” Elsie said excitedly.
Rex laughed, tears in his eyes. He hadn’t cared one way or another about the sex of their child. Some men might long for a son, but all Rex cared about was that the child and Corrina were both healthy and happy.
Corrina looked at him with tears in her eyes. “Maxie is going to be excited,” she said. “She said she would be happy with a brother, but I know she wanted a sister.”
Rex was so full of emotion that he couldn’t speak. He reached out and kissed Corrina. His heart was full as he saw her holding their child. A little girl who was a perfect addition to their family.
“What should we name her?” Rex asked when he pulled away.
Rex and Corrina had decided not to pick out names as her pregnancy progressed. Rex had been unable to picture this moment in his mind. It felt like sand, and he’d worried that if he had tried to grab on to it, it would have slipped through his fingers.
Now that he looked at his wife and daughter, he felt he could breathe for the first time in nine months.
“What about Cecilia?”
“Cecilia?” It wasn’t a terribly common name, and Rex wondered where Corrina heard it.
Her tears shone as she pressed another kiss to the baby’s forehead. “My mother’s name was Cecilia. We didn’t discuss names, but I always thought I would name my children after them….” She trailed off and gave a small shrug. “I thought it would be a nice way to honor them.”
Rex nodded and ran a finger down his daughter’s cheek. Her skin was so soft. “Cecilia is a beautiful name.”
A lone tear went down Corinna’s cheek. Rex caressed it away before turning to the midwife and Elise.
“We would like some time alone,” he said.
They both nodded.
“Congratulations,” the midwife said. “You have a beautiful family.”
Rex smiled at her. He did have a beautiful family.
“Papa!” Before the midwife could leave the room, Maxie ran through the door. Her cheeks were pink with excitement, and her eyes were wide. “Is the baby finally here?”
Her question caused both Rex and Corrina to chuckle, which made baby Cecilia fuss. “You are officially a big sister,” he told her. Rex moved away from Corrina and walked towards Maxie, taking her hand. “Come and meet baby Cecilia.”
Maxie squealed loudly. “You must be quiet,” Rex told her. “Both her and Mama are very tired.”
Maxie’s face grew somber as she looked at Corrina. “Are you feeling well, Mama?”
“I’m feeling wonderfully now that you are here.”
Maxie walked tenderly forward.
“Come,” Corrina said. “Meet your baby sister.”
Maxie inhaled sharply as she was able to see Cecilia. “She’s so small,” Maxie whispered in wonder.
“You must be very gentle with her,” Corrina said as she shifted the baby in her arms so that her face was visible. “She’s a very new girl.”
“She looks like one of my dolls,” Maxie said. Her eyes were wide as she looked at her sister. The baby looked up, her eyes were the same copper as Corrina’s, and Rex suspected she would look just like her mother.
He sighed, drawing Corrina’s attention to him. “Is everything alright?” she asked.
He nodded, a small smile playing on the edge of his lips. “I’m better than I ever thought imaginable,” he told her. Over a year ago, he’d been miserable—too scared to open his heart to anyone again. It had taken Corrina, and even Wesley Truman and his threats, to open his heart again.
Now, his heart was fuller than he could ever imagine.
“I’m just thinking I’m going to have my hands full with these two girls,” he said, reaching out to slightly mess Maxie’s hair.
She looked up at him with a toothy grin. “I love you,” he said, addressing all of the girls before him.
His eyes met Corrina’s, and he mouthed the words thank you. As he stood looking, Rex knew he could never thank Corrina enough. She’d pulled him out of the darkness and into the light, and he would love her forever.
Rex felt content as he stood at the edge of the bed, watching his family. This was the life he’d dreamed of, and he would spend every day thanking the stars that he got it.