Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 69
“That explains it,” says Harlow. “It’s downright dangerous, though, with him around. He’s slow, and…”
“Gangly,” agrees Jensen. “Clumsy. I hear you.”
“Maybe you can, like, work with him more when we get back,” I suggest. “I mean, he’s ours now, but maybe there’s some sort of equivalent to Special Ed in high school, where he can be pulled out and made to re-learn things…”
Harlow and Jensen laugh, and I do too. Usually I feel bad for Pipsqueak— Baker— but Harlow’s right that he’s more of a weakness than a strength to the team, and no one has any idea what to do about it. Plus, I appreciate the comic relief.
“Well, we’d better go,” says Harlow. “There are others who need the phone. But it was great talking to you guys.”
“Great talking to you, too!” They all say.
Harlow gives them our address, and says we’ll call again as soon as we can.
As we walk back to the tents, I say, “I can’t believe how good Mom sounds.”
“I know,” he agrees. “It’s amazing.”
I guess all my worrying about Mom was unnecessary. Maybe I should listen to Monica more.
Never mind, I tell myself. I can’t listen to someone who doesn’t even talk to me about what’s going on in her own life.
It’s time to forget Monica, and move on. If only my heart could fall in line with that command from my head.
Chapter 32 – Monica
One Month Later
“Come on, Monica, we’re going to be late,” Susan says, grabbing my hand and practically pulling me on the boardwalk.
“Late?” I ask her. “For what?”
“I made a reservation,” she says, sounding frustrated.
“Okay. Sorry. It’s hard for me to walk fast in these sandals, with my big pregnant belly knocking me off balance. Also, I think my feet have swollen up a lot faster than my belly has! It doesn’t make for a good combination.”
Susan told me last week she wanted to take me to brunch at Hannah’s on the Dock, so that we could hang out together before the baby comes.
“I really want to thank you for all you’ve done for me,” she’d said. “I don’t know how I could ever make it through any of this without you. It’s been awhile since we’ve had ‘girl time,’ and I don’t want the weeks to rush by and both of us to get so caught up once the baby arrives that we have no time for ourselves.”
“Well, you’re welcome,” I’d told her, blushing and wanting to insist that she didn’t have to take me out to thank me for anything, even though it did sound fun. “But you’ve helped me so much too. This pregnancy has been a breeze thanks to you.”
Hannah’s is a casual place that never requires reservations, as far as I know. But as we step through the entrance and the waiter says, “Right this way, please,” with a knowing nod towards Susan, I begin to realize that something’s up.
As we follow him to a back room, I say, “Susan, this isn’t…?”
But my half-asked question is quickly answered with a chorus of “Surprise!” from a bunch of women lined up at a few different tables. The room is decorated in a beachy theme, with cut-outs of baby whales, sea lions and dolphins, as well as a baby boy wearing a cloth diaper, with the words “Beach Bum Baby” strewn above him in a banner.
“Oh wow!” I say, my hand covering my mouth in surprise. “Susan… you didn’t have to…”
I can’t stop looking around at all the cute decorations. There are bouquets made of cloth diapers— because I’d mentioned to Susan that that’s what I planned to use— and an elaborately decorated cake. It’s has blue and white layers that look like the ocean, and sits on a bed of crushed graham crackers that look like sand. Strewn around it is more graham cracker crunch, with cookies decorated as baby flip flops, and a pair of baby sunglasses.
“This is all so unique,” I tell her, practically wanting to cry.
“I know you said you didn’t want a baby shower, but there was no way I was going to let that slide,” Susan says. “And you were going crazy buying so much baby stuff, so I had to have it a little early, before you bought everything and there were no gifts left for anyone else to buy!”
I smile at her. I know that part of her consideration was likely the fact that they’d said my baby could be born premature.
Luckily, I’ve passed the “viability point” in my pregnancy, meaning that if my baby were to be born now, his odds of surviving, with medical intervention, would be greater than his odds of not surviving. And everything has been looking good, with the doctors saying that my cervical cerclage is holding up just fine.
Although pregnancy is always scary and I still worry, it looks like things are in the clear now, and it’s a perfect time for a baby shower, just in case the baby does come early. Susan always thinks of everything, and has a tactful way of saying things, too. I truly don’t know what I’d do without her.
I greet my guests and I’m surprised by how many people showed up. There are some female co-workers, some local friends, and even my high school friend Trish is here— she flew all the way from Minnesota to attend.
Although my mom couldn’t come, she sent a blown-up picture of herself holding a stuffed baby whale and a sign that says, “Can’t wait to meet your little squirt!” The stuffed animal itself is sitting on a table underneath the framed photo, with a blue and white bow on its head and a ribbon wrapped around it.
I can’t believe that Susan and the others went to all this trouble just for little old me.
I always thought baby showers were kind of lame. I didn’t want to sit in the middle of a circle and unwrap presents while everyone watched. But this shower is casual and relaxed, with everyone laughing, eating and chatting.
But I guess part of me thought that no one else would want to come. Or that I wasn’t deserving of a baby shower, because I wasn’t a very traditional mom. I don’t have a husband or partner, and this baby— although terribly wanted— wasn’t planned at all.
Susan doesn’t make anyone play any games, except for one. And I’m glad, because I usually think baby shower games are stupid. The game she plays is for everyone to make a lullaby, nursery rhyme or kids’ poem from a well-known song, except to change the lyrics to make it personal.
The example that Susan uses while giving the game instructions is a remake of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
“This is the song that Monica’s baby will sing to the doctor near his due date,” she explains. “And it’s called Take Me Out to the Real World.”
Take me out to the real world—
Get me out of this womb!
I’m ready to crawl, walk, then hunt and fish,
And I want to give Mommy Monica a kiss!
Let’s root root root for on-time delivery—
A little early’s fine too!
We’ve got 1, 2, 3 days to go,
‘Till I’m overdue!
Everyone laughs, and— to my surprise— participates in coming up with lyrics of their own, and then serenading me with them. It’s a cute game, and unique, with Trish bringing up old high school hi-jinx memories in her song, and some of the women who are already moms including advice about childrearing in theirs.
But of course the game makes me think of Ramsey, and how he re-wrote the lyrics of Heroes , just for me. I haven’t heard from him since that last awkward phone call.
I don’t understand why he would go to such trouble to come out and see me, call me from overseas, and then never talk to me at all. I hope he’s okay.
But I’m thinking the flame must have just burnt out on his end. We were never meant to be anyway.
“Time for presents!” Susan announces, and I snap out of my glum mood.
There’s no time for feeling sad about Ramsey, when I— and my baby— have a huge pile of presents to unwrap.
“Open mine first!” says Nicki, a friend of mine that I met through Susan.
They’re in the same book club, which I sometimes attend, alth
“I’m sorry but I have to leave early,” Nicki adds. “Due to a prior commitment.”
“No problem,” I tell her, opening the gift bag and tissue paper she’s put in my lap.
It’s a lamp for the baby’s room— nautical-themed, of course.
“Wow, thank you,” I tell her, wondering how she had such uncanny gift-giving skills. I’d been eyeing the same lamp at a store, but hadn’t purchased it yet. “I love it!”
After that, I unwrap so many cute little baby outfits, books and toys, as well as some well-needed items like a bouncer, nursing pillow, and baby wraps.
“I don’t know how everyone knew what I needed and wanted,” I exclaim.
“Well, you’ve only dragged me to every baby store in the city,” Susan laughs. “And I’ve helped you decorate the room. Not to mention, you have several online wish lists you’ve saved items to. So I made note of the things you said you wanted to get, and of everything my investigating was able to dig up, and I made a gift registry for you.”
“You should be a party planner,” I tell her, seriously impressed. “You are so organized and helpful.”
“You know what?” she says, a gleam in her eyes. “I really think that might be a good idea. I could probably work from home a lot, and once Mason is a little older and starts preschool, hopefully the business would pick up and I could be out and about more.”
“I could totally keep watching Mason whenever you need me to,” I tell her. “I mean, I’ll already be home watching this little guy!”
“What are you going to call him?” Trish asks.
“Yeah, any names in mind?” Other guests ask.
“I’m not sure yet,” I tell them.
It’s the most popular question I get asked, mainly because “who’s the father?” isn’t socially acceptable. But those closest to me have asked it, and I’ve seen it written on the face of everyone who finds out I’m pregnant.
Only Susan knows, and I think I’m going to keep it that way. It doesn’t look like Ramsey will be in the picture, so I don’t see the need to mention him.
After I open what I think is the last gift, I see Becky bounce through the door, carrying another one.
“We made a present for our cousin, Aunt Monica!” she says proudly.
Nicki is behind her, carrying Mason.
“Oh my goodness!” I say, kissing the top of her head. Her hair is curled and tied in a bow.
“I had Nicki go pick them up from daycare,” Susan explains. “Becky’s no good at keeping s-e-c-r-e-t-s, so I knew if I tried to bring them with us in advance, it would ruin the s-u-r-p-r-i-s-e!”
“Stop spelling about me and let her open her present!” Becky says, and everyone laughs.
I unwrap the gift, which is a picture frame with seashells glued to it.
“Thank you, Becky,” I say, kissing her, and then Mason. “The baby already has the best cousins ever!”
“I made it!” Becky says, proudly. “The only picture in the baby’s room doesn’t have him in it, so after he’s born, you can take a picture of him and put it in this frame and hang it up next to the other one!”
“That’s so sweet,” I tell her, surprised at how observant she is, although I know I shouldn’t be, by now. That’s just Becky.
“Or you can cut out the picture of the baby and add it to the one you already have of you and Ramsey, and put it in this frame!” Becky continues. “Or if he ever comes back, you can take a picture of all three of you!”
“Becky!” Susan says, and puts a finger up to Becky’s mouth. “Shhhhh.”
I laugh, yet look anxiously around to see if anyone else heard. Luckily, the guests who haven’t left are just chatting with each other and don’t seem to be paying attention.
“I told you she’s no good at s-e-c-r-e-t-s,” Susan apologizes.
“It’s fine,” I tell her. “Becky, I really love the gift you made me. Thank you.”
I turn to Susan. “And thank you for the shower. I definitely have the best sister-in-law ever.”
* * *
It’s late, and everyone has left the party. Trish is staying at a hotel in town, and we’ve made plans to get together tomorrow. Susan has put the kids to bed and gone to bed herself. It’s just me— and the baby in my belly— in the nursery.
“Well little Squirt,” I tell him, “We had quite the surprise today. We got a lot of nice stuff. And now Mommy has to put it all away and organize it so it’s ready when you get here.”
I stare at the picture of Ramsey and me on the wall.
It’s about time to stop glamorizing and the past and move on to the future.
I take it down, and replace it with the framed photo my mom sent. I’ll get out my ultrasound pictures and hang one up in Becky’s frame. When the baby arrives, I’ll replace the ultrasound picture with a photo of him and me.
I stare at the photo of Ramsey and me, which seems to have been taken in a different lifetime. When I was afraid of commitment, of big responsibility. And now I’m having a baby. Alone.
It’s funny how things can change so much in such a short amount of time. I know I can’t be mad at Ramsey for not changing just because I have, especially when he doesn’t even know the full story. I just need to focus on the baby now, and not Ramsey.
I rub my belly and say, “You are going to have a great life. I’ll be your Mommy and your Daddy. You have an amazing aunt who will help us out, and two great cousins, too. Everyone is so excited to meet you.”
I pick up the frame and carry it to my bedroom. My intention was to throw it in the trash can beside my bed, but I can’t seem to do that. Instead, I stick it inside the drawer of my bedside table. I’ll find the strength to dispose of it later, so that I can finally be free and move on.
For now, I’m just tired, and happy that my surprise baby shower turned out so well. I close my eyes, and tell myself not to think about Ramsey, as I drift off into a peaceful sleep.
Chapter 33 – Ramsey
Two Months Later
It’s been uneventful out here, which I guess is a good thing, but it sure makes time feel like it’s passing extra slowly. To make matters worse, a month ago we were informed that our deployment was extended for another two months, because the local Afghan Army needs more training before we can leave.
Everyone’s morale has been low due to this announcement. Harlow always walks around looking like his puppy just died, bemoaning the fact that he can’t be with Whitney and that they haven’t set a wedding date because for all he knows, our deployment could be extended yet again. The rest of the guys don’t look much better.
I try to console them by saying that we only have one more month left. I do my best to take care of others, including my fellow SEALs and our joint task mission team members, like I always do. But I guess the unexpected extension of time and long, boring days we hadn’t anticipated are taking their toll on me as well.
I’ve been having more night terrors. It’s gotten to the point where they’re becoming noticeable. I had one last night in which I thought that our tent was on fire, and I jumped on top of Harlow and then started trying to drag him to safety.
“Ramsey!” He’d hissed through his teeth, as he fought me off. “Stop it! Knock it off!”
He’d shaken me and poured some of his canteen water in my face. I came to, in a huff of breathless fear, and started to say, “What happened?”
But he’d put his hand over my mouth and said, “Shhhh. Just act normal.”
By the time anyone else had woken up and asked us what happened, Harlow told them we’d gotten into a scuffle over whose turn it was to listen to the iPod.
“Well keep it down, fuckers,” someone had said, in the darkness. “We’re trying to sleep.”
“Thanks,” I’d whispered to him.
Harlow knew I had night terrors, and knew the
The good thing was that I’d jumped on Harlow and not someone else. I’m pretty sure they’d kick me out for that, or at least launch an investigation. It was obviously not normal .
I can’t help but feel afraid for my status as a SEAL. Not to mention, I fear for my mental health.
The only thing that seems to help decrease the night terrors is listening to that damn soundtrack from Monica. I have not been able to bring myself to delete it from my phone, and I guess there’s a good reason for it.
I’ve been trying not to listen to it but since it could be the one thing that separates me from a return trip home— earlier than expected— I guess I better start getting into the habit again.
I know I should call Monica, too, but at this point I’m afraid it’s been way too long, and that she won’t forgive me. If she even cares enough to be offended in the first place.
I’ve been playing the tough guy game long enough, though, and I make a note to contact her soon, just to let her know I’m okay and that I’m thinking about her. My head always spins around in a million places when it comes to her, but my heart always feels pulled in only one direction: hers. That has to tell me something.
Today we’re running a training session, with some Afghan troops, and it feels like child’s play compared to what we’re used to. Still, I’m tired due to my night terror, which zaps me of energy the next day, and I’m not in the best mood.
We’ve parachuted out of our planes, and now we’re headed down a mountain, only to scale back up again. It seems like a useless training drill, and everyone’s bored.
“Come on, Pipsqueak,” says Jerry, taunting Jim Baker, the runt of our unit, who always lags behind the rest of us.
A favorite pastime for most of the guys in my unit seems to be picking on “Pipsqueak.” I get annoyed by it, but usually I understand where the other guys are coming from. Pipsqueak doesn’t really have the skills or abilities the rest of us have, and I’m not sure how he slipped through training.
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