Authors: Gail McFarland
“Right, all round and smooth and…”
“And then you’ll have to feed it and burp it and change it, and man, when they need changing…whew!”
“Dude, you sure know how to take the joy right out of it, don’t you?” Dench sucked at his beer again.
“Hey, I’ve done it twice. Just consider me the voice of authority.”
“But you didn’t do it alone.”
Halfway to his mouth, AJ’s fork stopped. “No, I didn’t, and truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Marlea made it so…right. That made it cool, a lot easier, and when your own baby looks up at you with eyes that trust you for everything…there’s nothing like it, nothing like it in the world.”
Imagining, Dench watched the other man’s face. “Dude, you’re just soft. You sound like a man in love.”
“Hey, I am what I am.” AJ laid his fork across his plate, his eyes fixed on his family. “Give it a minute. The woman, the children, they get to you like that.”
“And what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
“I like how strong she makes me, man. I like it a lot.”
“Whipped,” Dench whispered.
“Like puddin’,” AJ agreed, taking up his fork again. “I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. I can’t imagine anything better.”
“I wanna be just like you when I grow up.” Eyes on Rissa, Dench tilted his bottle to his lips and drained it.
“Keep on living,” AJ promised, finishing the last roll on the plate between them.
“It’s a good thing you two didn’t mess my kitchen up any more than those children did, or you’d be lucky to keep on living,” Mrs. Baldwin muttered from the doorway. “I leave here for five minutes and you two come in here like twin tornados—and look at the food. Ought to change your last names to ‘Hoover.’ You suck up food like vacuums.”
Dench made a face. “Where’d she come from?”
“Sneaky,” AJ whispered.
“With really good ears,” Mrs. Baldwin huffed. Whisking the men’s empty plates from counter to sink to dishwasher took seconds. Mrs. Baldwin reached into the refrigerator and withdrew cold beer and set the tall bottles in front of the men. “Remember that the next time you want to discuss me.”
Dench flinched, his shoulders rising. “Oh, you’re just gonna take my life in your hands. You
that’s a dangerous statement, coming from a woman.”
Mrs. Baldwin pressed her lips together and looked over the top of her glasses.
“Not saying that I know all about every woman in the world,” Dench amended, trying to mitigate the damage. AJ wrapped long legs around his high stool and looked from his friend to the housekeeper. “See, what I really meant was,” Dench tried again and stopped when words failed.
AJ brought his fist to his mouth and succeeded in not laughing. “All I know is, I love my wife.”
“So now you’re going to throw me under the bus?” Dench’s eyes filled with brief reproach that gave way to something more vital. “I love my wife, too. Even if she can be crazy sometimes.”
“Marlea gets crazy, too. And stubborn, especially when it comes to doing what she thinks is right.”
The lift of Mrs. Baldwin’s eyes was an unspoken prayer for patience.
“Okay,” AJ admitted, “we love them, we married them, and we will definitely keep them, no matter what. Maybe it takes some imperfection to make a woman perfect.”
“Here comes the bus again.…”
“You’ve got more nerve than a brass-assed monkey.” Hands on her broad hips, Mrs. Baldwin let her eyes lift again. “You both do. Neither one of you has got the sense to realize that those two women would probably be sane if they didn’t have two slightly screwed up men to contend with. After all, I’ve had the chance to see you at your best and your worst.” She looked directly at AJ and pushed her lips together. “Like that screaming fit you all went through when Marlea ran the race in New York that time. And I can always tell when you two have had a falling out because she wants to eat pancakes—like it’s my fault.”
“Dude, she called that, got you cold!” Dench hooted.
Mrs. Baldwin turned on him. “You’re not much better: Rissa gets on your nerves and you practically move in here because you can’t bear to be unhappy in her presence. Got that woman so spoiled she thinks the sun rises and sets on you, dares anybody to tell her different, and won’t admit it to your face. Crazy, that’s what it is.”
“She told you, didn’t she?” Dench watched the housekeeper’s face soften.
“I might have heard something about you two adding a baby to the mix. Good luck with that.”
Dench looked into the next room, to find Rissa looking back at him. “Yeah,” he said, watching her blush and drop her eyes. “We’re hoping for good luck with everything.”
Connie caught the swift exchange, saw the look on Dench’s face and the responsive flush of Rissa’s skin. Her lips lifted. “Something’s up.”
Jeannette rolled the red, yellow, and blue ball across the floor and into the little hands of a delighted toddler. “What? What’s up?” Capturing the returned ball, she looked from Connie to Marlea and Rissa.
“I don’t know, but something’s been in the air for the past few weeks. At first, I just thought it was you and Dench just doing what you do—rolling all over each other like puppies. But it’s more.” Connie’s gaze narrowed, appraising Rissa. “What don’t we know?”
Surprise washed across Marlea’s face and she stopped singing, though the children continued, mangling the words as they went along.
Saint Rissa just smiled.
Knowledge dawned. Connie and Jeannette gasped. “You’re pregnant! How did you keep that a secret?”
“I was going to tell you.”
“When? You forget, we’ve known you ever since Marlea’s accident.”
Rissa tossed her head and wrinkled her nose. “You two are never going to forgive me for telling her who ran into her car, are you?”
“Of course we forgive you. Marlea did, why wouldn’t we?”
Jeannette hummed assent and crossed her arms. “But AJ is right, you are kind of like the Mouth of the South. Remember when AJ stepped in and invited Marlea to live here after her accident, you had plenty to say—bringing her up to date. That’s how long ago, Connie? Five? Six years?”
“Let’s see…Jabari is nearly five, so that would be right at six years.” Crossing her arms, Connie slipped a hand to her cheek. “And in all that time, you have never
kept a secret—not your own or anybody else’s. So, how far along are you?”
“Oh, and we have to plan a shower, too. Do we get to be godparents again?”
Connie huffed. “How far along are you?”
“And what about Libby? Is she going to be a godparent, too?”
“Don’t look at me,” Marlea said, dimpling when Rissa looked at her. “I already spent the hundred I won from you.”
“Still can’t believe you held me up for it when you were pretty much the one who told my business.”
“But you were the one who had all the fun part of telling.”
Rissa’s grin was sly. “I did, didn’t I?”
Marlea’s hand fanned the air between them. “You might as well go on and tell the rest of it.”
“Yes, hurry up and tell.” A sleepy toddler crawled into Jeannette’s lap and settled happily when Jeannette’s arms closed around her. “Too bad Libby is working out of state, training a new runner. She’s a good coach, but she’s going to hate missing this.”
“Don’t worry, Dench and I will tell her.”
“Lord, I can just imagine how she’ll take the news, as excited as we all know she can get. I still remember her practically running the last hundred meters of your race with you in Barcelona,” Jeannette laughed.
“She did, didn’t she?” Marlea laughed. “I guess when you’ve trained someone for as long as she trained me, you start to take a lot of responsibility for them.”
“We’ve all taken a lot of responsibility for each other, haven’t we?” Connie turned and looked at Rissa, her eyes growing misty as she took her in fully. “We got AJ and Marlea married, saw you and Dench come together, and now…”
“Uh-uh, honey. There is no way you’re taking credit for this baby.” Rissa slipped a hand over her belly and looked elegantly radiant. “Dench and I did this all on our own.”
Nia materialized at Marlea’s side. Working the ends of a braid between her fingers, she curled an arm around her mother’s neck and laid her head on her shoulder. Taking the cue, Marlea scooped her daughter up and began organizing the other women. “Mothers will be here in the next half hour, but pull out the mats and blankets. The children can nap until…”
“Just like a mother.” Rissa grinned. Pulling a pile of colorful children’s blankets from the table, she spread them over the children, who politely fell on the mats. “Me, I’m going to be so different, I’ll break the mold. I’m going to be the sexy, sassy, have it all, do it all, ‘Hot Mom.’ You know, the one who’s always in the know and has all the flavor, the ‘Super Mom.’ ”
“Lord,” Jeannette breathed, “don’t let her start singing about bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the pan, I’ll have to kill her if she does. Please, Lord, don’t let her do it.”
Connie wiggled her fingers for attention. “Anyway, ‘Hot Mom’ and Keeper of Secrets, when are you going to tell Libby?”
“Soon,” Rissa simpered.
“Not over the phone, I hope.”
“Please, not after the way she fussed when I told her that I was charting my temperature and trying to figure out our peak fertility periods. She pretty much dropped the phone and showed up at my door with baskets of eggplant, telling me that it would help me conceive.” Rissa gagged daintily behind her hand. “Dench and I still can’t stand to look at the things.”
“We’ll catch her up when she gets back.” Marlea checked to see if one of the toddlers was wet or not, and was glad to find him dry. “She’ll need some good news after national time trials. Sprinters are always so temperamental.”
“Says the woman who ran us all ragged competing for a 400-meter gold medal.” Jeannette turned on Rissa. “I’m still waiting for details, give us the details.…”
“Found out on Christmas Eve.” Rissa giggled when Connie and Jeannette turned to each other and goggled. “I’m twelve weeks, due in mid-July. You can call Dench Big Poppa if you want to—I do, and he loves it.”
kept a secret this big? And Dench is
you call him Big Poppa?” Connie turned to Marlea. “I know you love her, but how are you putting up with all this?”
Marlea’s shoulders rose and fell.
“Yeah, ’cause we’ve only known about the baby for five minutes, and we’re ready to kill her,” Jeannette said. “In fact, now that I think of it, I’m impressed with the fact that everybody around here seems to have patience with Rissa’s highly active pregnant ass.”
“Well,” Rissa plopped into a chair and looked important, “my highly active pregnant ass could use some tea right about now.”
“I’ll get it.” Marlea stood and nearly bumped into Mrs. Baldwin.
“I thought this might be timely.” The housekeeper set the tray on a small table near Rissa’s chair. Pouring quickly, she handed cups and sandwiches to the women. Turning to leave, she looked at Rissa, and all of the women could have sworn that she twinkled. “Let me know if you need more,” she said, walking back to the kitchen.
Jeannette’s head swiveled, tracking Mrs. Baldwin’s progress. Turning back, mouth open, brow arched, she looked at Rissa. “That woman is totally charmed by you. I think she might have even
“She’s always liked me.”
Jeannette snorted derision.
“It’s the baby,” Marlea guessed. “She knows, I don’t know how, but she knows.”
“Maybe she overheard you and AJ talking, or maybe it’s because I told her.” Rissa stirred honey into her tea. “I’ve gotten good at keeping my news to myself, but I occasionally choose to share it selectively.”
“That charm doesn’t just work on Mrs. Baldwin, either.” Connie harrumphed, making the sound from deep in her throat.
“Dench is proof of that.”
“Maybe it’s something in the water,” Connie ventured, raising her cup. “Then, we’d all be blessed, wouldn’t we?”
Rissa fluttered her lashes, sipped her tea, and looked entitled.
“It must be something in those Yarborough genes. And it especially seems to always work on the opposite sex.” Connie looked over her shoulder, back into the kitchen. The men had disappeared—maybe in search of something on ESPN. “Maybe that Yarborough DNA gives off some kind of pheromones, you know, so that they only attract people like themselves.”
“Sexy people.” Jeannette’s eyes were sly. “How about it, Marlea? The Yarboroughs you and Dench got tangled up with are all tall and good looking, even their mother. Really attractive people, right? Did they charm you? Just draw you in?”
Marlea opened her mouth, but Connie reached out and slapped a quick high five on Jeannette’s palm. “Oh yeah, you’ve got a point, girl. Don’t you remember all those men following Mama Yarborough around at AJ and Marlea’s wedding?”
“Uh-huh, and at Rissa and Dench’s, the same thing happened. Mama was in there bringing sexy back in a big way. And don’t forget that last minute Christmas Eve delay. By the way, did Mama Yarborough ever get back from Mykonos?”
“Next week,” Rissa and Marlea said together.
“Lord, makes you wonder why the family business is not bottling sexy,” Connie laughed. “They’d make a mint if they did.”
“But that’s beside the point.” Jeannette leaned forward, suddenly intense. “We were talking about you being pregnant. How does it feel, Rissa?”
Rissa sighed and used the toes of one foot to push the shoe off the other, then repeated the process. “I feel fine.”
“But you felt fine when you thought you were pregnant before, right?”
“I always feel fine.” Rissa inspected the depths of her cup.
“And you’re not spotting or anything? Has your doctor…said…anything?”
Marlea held her breath and silently cursed Connie for asking the question that had teetered on the tip of her own tongue for most of a month. Rissa looked fine, but when it came to pregnancy, looking good didn’t mean a thing. The doorbell sounded and Marlea fairly leapt from her chair. “That’s got to be somebody’s mommy.”
A child whimpered and both nurses turned to find several pairs of wide, watchful eyes measuring them. Naptime, however brief, was over. The mothers came in bunches after that. Ten spa-refreshed women, rejuvenated by afternoon retail therapy, were ready to resume active nurturing. Promising to return the favor in the near future, they spirited their children away. Left alone, Nia and Jabari looked lost until Mrs. Baldwin came along with the offer of a snack.