Can Brenna and Matt work out their differences while surviving a zombie outbreak?
|When I wake up to the sound of a crying baby, I realize that I'm alone in the bed. I hear Matt's deep voice soothe the crying one, I think it's Bri this time, and I relax. He's still here. "Hey, Angel, Mommy's right here. Shh, you'll wake your brother. I know you don't care, but I have to go to work and Mommy will have her hands full with you for awhile. There, all dry. Come on, sweetie, let's find your mom." She has quieted down and is listening to him talk to her. He definitely has a way with women. All women.
I sit up so I can watch him take care of her. He's back in uniform now that he's back on duty again. Is it bad that I think he looks super hot in the snug tan tee shirt and BDU cargo pants that hug his butt like they were made for it? The arm that cradles our little girl dwarfs her. It always amazes me that someone so large can be so gentle. He is though. Always.
"Hey, handsome," I say softly when he turns around to walk toward me. His smile is incredible. It starts at his eyes and expands to his whole face, lighting up the room with its bright intensity. I'm pretty sure my heart actually stops for a second, before kicking back into gear a little faster than before.
"Ah, sleeping beauty awakens," he murmurs as he sits down next to me and hands me the now calm baby. The second he puts her in my arms, she starts crying again until she finds her breakfast.
Once she's calm and eating, I look over at him, "Sit by me?"
He moves over and puts his arm around me, dropping kisses on my head and whispering how much he loves me, "I have to go, Babe. Meeting the guys to do some recon down by the river. I need you to stay here, okay?"
"Where would I go?"
"I mean in our apartment. I want you, Gwyn and the twins to stay in here until I get back. Can you just trust me on this Bren?"
"Okay, Mattie," I say as I snuggle against him, "We'll stay here. Are you still taking Gwyn and Nick out to find a bassinet or playpen or something for the twins?"
"Yeah. I should be back up here by lunch time, then we can go. You be okay with the twins while we're gone?"
"Yep. We'll be fine," I say with finality. I know if he thinks I'm the least bit unsure of myself, he'll stay with me, either that or find a babysitter to take care of me. "Mattie, be careful, okay?"
"Bren, I'm always careful."
"Mostly," he grins sheepishly, remembering his leg injury, "I'll be fine."
"I know. I just worry."
"Don't worry," he says with a soft smile, "I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself. I love you, Mrs. Kincaid."
"I love you too, Sergeant Kincaid."
"I'll grab a quick bite on my way out," he tells me as he gets up. He bends down to give me a slow, sweet kiss before he goes, "I don't want to be late. I'll see you in a few hours."
"Bye, Mattie. See you at lunch." I watch him leave and look down at our daughter, happily eating, "Okay, Bri-Bri, what shall we do today? Clean the apartment? I totally agree with you. I bet we can even get Gwyn and Nick to help us. What do you say?" Her eyes are open, watching me as she eats. Matt was right, they are gray. I honestly think I'll cry if Alec's eyes turn any color other than that summer blue of his father's. When Bri is done, Alec starts fussing. I think I like how they have somehow learned to work together for naps, diapers, and meals. It's rare that they cry at the same time, which means less stress for me and whoever is helping with them.
They really don't cry that much. They seem to be pretty content for the most part. Gwyn wasn't. She was fussy almost all of the time. The doctor called it colic. I called it something far less kind. It's hard to be nice when you haven't slept through the night for several months. She ended up sleeping with me because it was just easier than getting up two or three times a night.
"How bout we switch you and Alec now, Bri-Bri?" I ask the sleepy girl as I try to coax a burp out of her, "You can lay back down and get some sleep and your brother can get changed and eat. I can't wait for you to start smiling and playing, little girl. We are going to have so much fun, you and I."
After I get both Alec fed, changed, and dressed, it's my turn. I get Gwyn up and we start to make pancakes together just like we used to. It's nice to hear her laughing again. I've missed it.
"Mom, can we go for a walk?"
"Sorry, Gwynni-Bear, Dad wants us to stay in the apartment until he gets back. They went to check out the area by the river and he wants to be sure we are safe."
"From what, angry fish?" she asks with a hint of rebellion in her sarcastic reply.
"Angry, zombie fish," I respond without batting an eye, "They crawl out of the river and attack unsuspecting humans..." I turn and start tickling her, causing both of us to fall on the floor, laughing and playing just like we used to.
"Oooh," she giggles, "Scary, mom. The trout are going to take over the world."
"Or at least this place. I think not being able to breathe air might slow them down some." I lean back against the floor, "I've missed you being you, Gwynni-Bear."
"Me too. Everything changed. Are you going to have more babies?" She is cautious when she asks, afraid of the answer maybe. "I don't like it when you're sick all the time. I missed you. Dad was in a constant state of freak out. He was scared, Mom. I don't like seeing him that way. He's supposed to be the strong one. He's not supposed to be scared of anything. He's the dad. He's supposed to...I don't know..."
"Sweetie," I tell her softly, "I don't know if we are going to have more babies. Not for a long time if we do. I know this has been really hard on you. You had to grow up again just when you were back to being a kid. I'm sorry, Gwynni. I'll try to pay a little more attention, okay?"
"It's alright, Mom. I'm just glad you're okay. I was worried too. Daddy is awesome, but he can't cook very well. And he is great at bedtime stories, but not so great at singing to me. I missed you tucking me in at night. I still do. I know I'm eleven and probably too old to be tucked in, but...I..." she flounders, not wanting to sound like a little girl, but not ready to be an adult by a long shot.
"You want to go back to nightly bedtime stories and lullabies? Maybe some snuggles and affection before bed?" I ask her softly.
"Yeah. Does that make me a baby?"
"No. It makes you a little girl who still needs to be reassured that her mom and dad love her and are there to take care of her. A normal little girl. Not a baby at all. The babies might end up coming in with us and we'll have to work around their feeding schedule, but we can make it happen, Gwynni-Bear. Okay?"
"Okay," she says with a big smile. "I love you, Mom. I'm sorry I don't help more with the twins, I just get..."
"Tired of being the responsible one?"
"Yeah," she says with a self-deprecating shrug and an eye roll, "I'm not even that responsible. Nicky is really the responsible one. He wants to be the big brother and take care of them. He likes it. I like it too, sometimes. It was fun making those diaper covers for them. They don't really do anything though. They don't even smile or laugh, Mom. It's not much fun, you know?"
"They should start smiling in a couple of weeks," I reassure her with a smile of my own and continue,"Gwyn, sometimes having babies around isn't fun. It's worth it though. I know that you love the twins, even if you don't want to spend every minute of every day helping to take care of them. I even get that you want to be a kid again. I'm okay with that as long as we talk about it. Like we are now." I end with more tickles and hugs, surprised when she turns and gives me a real hug, snuggling into me like she did when she was little with her arms wrapped around my neck and her head buried in my shoulder.
"I love you, Mommy. Thanks for being my mom. You always make everything better."
"So do you, Gwynni-Bear," I whisper through sudden tears, "I love you too."
We get up off of the floor and continue with breakfast, while she mixes and I get the griddle ready, I ask her a question that's been on my mind for a few days, "Is there something I should know about going on with you and Nick?"
She looks up, guilt written all over her face, "What do you mean?"
"You've been kind of mean to him. Last night, after he was invited to go help your dad find something for the babies, you totally uninvited him. You hurt his feelings, Gwyn, bad. Also, he's not happy with the amount of time you spend with Sean and Thia. He's worried or scared or something. What's up?"
"He talked to you?" she asks cautiously.
"Kind of. He misses you. He's jealous of the time you spend with Sean. Anything I should know about?"
"I've been working on some stuff with Sean. Stuff that Nicky doesn't know anything about. He doesn't get it. At all. Sean does. He wants to help me. It's kind of a present for the family, so I haven't let him come with me 'cause he's part of the family now too, right?"
"Yeah. He is. Can you tell me about it?" I ask her with a grin.
"No. You and Daddy will find out when Nicky does. I don't want to give it away. I promise you will like it though. So will Daddy. If Nicky doesn't, maybe we should find other people to hang out with sometimes."
"It's that important to you? What you are doing? Important enough to let go of your best friend?"
"If he can't understand my favorite thing, is he really my best friend? Daddy doesn't understand your music, but he's always there for you. He loves it when you sing. He doesn't ever complain about you practicing or anything like that."
"Sweetie, your dad did a lot of complaining about my job when I was singing at the Fireside Lounge. Especially after Jack told him not to come in when I was there because he was scaring the customers. He also didn't like it when I spend a few hours a day with the band, practicing. He dealt with it, but he was very vocal about what he thought I should be doing and how he thought I should be doing it."
"Really? How come I didn't know that?" she asks with wide eyes that have suddenly opened to a whole new world of relationship realities.
"Because you were usually sleeping when the discussions occurred. Or at school."
"Discussions or fights?" she asks observantly.
"Both," I confess, "Your dad and I are stubborn. He wanted to protect me and I didn't want to be protected. I wanted to be seen as an equal, not a burden that needed to be taken care of."
"How did you work it out? What if Nicky can't see me as anything but Gwynni who needs someone to hold her hand and make her feel safe?"
"Time. What helped me the most was to look at it through your father's eyes, or try to anyway. He doesn't see taking care of me, of us, as a burden. For him, it's a privilege. Do you know the difference?"
She shakes her head at me, not sure where I'm going with this, "It's not something he has to do, Gwyn. It's something he gets to do. Like a reward for being good or something."
"He's weird," she comments dryly.
"Yes. But he's also sweet and gentle and loving. Sometimes his protective nature gets a little out of control, but once I could understand where it came from, it was easier to deal with it. We didn't really work it out so much as come to an understanding of our boundaries. Of course, when we had to go to the prison to live, all that changed because I wasn't singing in a bar anymore," I laugh, "which made him very happy."
"So he didn't like you singing?"
"He didn't like me singing in a bar. He didn't like the comments some of the guys who went to watch made. He hated it when men tried to touch me or talk to me. But he never asked me to stop. He knew how much I loved to sing, to be on that stage and he didn't want to take that away from me. So he sent guys from his unit to keep an eye on things, thinking that I wouldn't notice them."
"You didn't," I hear from behind me as his arms wrap around my waist, "not for a couple of weeks."
"Dad, you sent your guys to baby sit Mom? I bet that made you mad, Mom," she says with a grin, "like you couldn't take care of yourself."
"Actually, I kind of liked it," I admit, "I had anywhere from three to five soldiers whose only purpose there was to keep me safe. It was like having bodyguards. I didn't have to worry about the audience getting too familiar with me or trying to walk me to my car and get a date or something. You're dad's a smart man. He knew how to get around what I thought I wanted." I feel his lips on my neck, nibbling and kissing as I talk.
"Nicky doesn't know all that stuff though. He's only twelve," my daughter reminds me.
"Then we get to teach him, Gwynni-Bear," I say as I lean into Matt's embrace, "I thought you were going to be gone for a few hours, Mattie."
"Hm?" he mumbles, focused on my neck still. He lifts his head, "Complications down below. Nothing we can't handle. Sean and the others are doing some research right now on how to contain them. Got enough batter for all of us?"
"Yep. Enough for Nick too, if he ever shows up this morning. Are you still going to..."
"Yes. After lunch, Bren. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I've got to get back soon," he tells me, his arms still firmly around my waist, holding me against him.
"I can't make pancakes if you don't let go. Gwyn, why don't you go get Nick. He's usually here by now. Matt, would you go check on the twins?"
As my family does my bidding, I put some oil on the griddle and pour the batter. I'm worried about Nick. It's not like him to miss out on pancakes. When Matt walks back in, I give him a look, trying to tell him without words what I want him to do. I shouldn't be scared, but for some reason, I am. Terrified in fact.
"Mattie, Nick hasn't been here today. Gwyn went to get him..." I don't finish because he walks out the door before I get a chance.
"When she gets back, keep her here. I'll try to find Nick," he tosses at me as he leaves.
His head pops back in a second later, "Love you, my Brenna. I'll be back soon."
As I flip the pancakes, I start to worry about Gwyn. Shouldn't she be back by now? I can't go check on her because the twins are still sleeping and I won't leave them alone. I can feel panic start to set in almost immediately and jump when I hear the door open. "Nick isn't there. Thia is worried. She thinks he went to find Sean and help the soldiers check out the river. Mom, he's going to be okay, right?"
"You're dad went to find him," I respond. "He wants you to stay in here with me until he gets back. Until they get back."
"He's my best friend. Mommy, what if he got hurt?" When she calls me Mommy, she's scared. When I look at her, I'm suddenly reminded of her four-year-old self when we got to the prison for the first time, all scared gray eyes and a trembling lower lip, she's still my little girl, no matter how big she gets. I open my arms and feel her launch into them as tears start to fall. "I'm sorry I was mean to him. I promise I won't ever be mean to him again. Please say he's okay, Mommy. Please make it okay."
"Shh, it will be, baby. Daddy will find him," I murmur as we sink to the floor. I hold and rock her until I smell the pancakes burning above us on the griddle. "Come on, baby girl," I say softly, "Let's make some breakfast for our guys. Nick will probably be hungry and I know Daddy is."
"Okay," she sniffs as we stand up together. "He likes the pancakes when you put extra cinnamon and vanilla in them best. Do we have any peanut butter? He likes to put peanut butter on his pancakes," she reminds me.
I obediently add more cinnamon and vanilla, as well as my secret ingredient, sugar, and hand her the bowl so she can mix it while I clean up the burn mess.
"I told him that I don't want him to go today," she confesses softly, "After I hugged him and told him that I wanted him to go. We were in my room, talking and he was just being such a boy, Mom. He doesn't understand why I like music and writing. He wants me to hang out with him and play with the babies. I like doing that sometimes, but not all of the time. I need time to do stuff for me too, you know?
"He got mad at me. He said that I should just plan on being with Sean all the time, since I don't want to hang out with him anymore so I told him not to bother coming over today to hang out with Dad and find baby stuff. He said fine and left. I shouldn't have gotten mad at him. I should do like you did and see things through his eyes. I should have..."
"It took me a year to start looking at things through your dad's eyes and it was hard even then. I was older than you, Gwyn, by a lot. It's never easy to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Don't blame yourself, sweetie. Nick is smart. He'll be fine. Daddy will make sure of it. I think the batter is stirred enough," I tell her as I watch a few tears land in it, "And the salt will help too, I'm sure.
"Oh, sorry," she says in a subdued voice, "If he gets hurt, it will be my fault. I love him, Mommy. I don't want him to get hurt. If he's okay, I won't make him stay away when I'm practicing and writing. I'll let him spend all of his time with me. We can play with the babies all day every day. I'll..."
"Drive everyone crazy. Gwyn, you need to talk to Nick. You need to let him know that music and writing are important to you. Are you writing music, sweetie?"
"Some. I also write stories. I have a bunch of them, but no one has read them yet except Thia. She likes them, but she also tells me what's wrong with them. Sometimes I don't use the right punctuation and stuff. She says that's what editors and proofreaders are for, to help writers fix their mistakes and learn to write better."
"I'd like to read them," I tell her quietly, "if it's okay with you."
"Not until they're done, Mom. I have to finish correcting them first. Then I'll let you read them, okay?"
"Okay, sweetie. Sing me one of your songs maybe?"
"Not til it's done. It's for everyone, really, so you have to wait, okay?"
"Okay. I guess I can wait," the first batch is ready to be put onto plates and the second batch is cooking when the guys come in. Matt looks angry and worried and stressed out.
"Hi, Mattie. Nick," I say with a smile that fades as soon as I see the look on Nick's face.
"I'm sorry I worried you," he says quickly, "I wasn't thinking and I put myself in danger. I should have stayed up here where I'd be safe. I won't do it again. I promise." He is obviously parroting what Matt told him because he looks at him for confirmation the entire time he talks. What is going on down there?
Gwyn has dropped the bowl on the counter, sloshing the mixture but not spilling it. She runs over to Nick and throws her arms around his neck as she tells him between kisses to his cheek, "I was so worried about you Nicky. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings. You can come with me when I go see Sean and Thia. I promise I won't yell at you anymore. Please don't stop being my friend. Please don't stop being..."
He grins and hugs her back, "I'll never stop being your friend, Gwynni. Never. I love you. Your dad thinks that we need to talk, all of us. I think he's right. Things have changed and we need to get closer together," he looks at Matt, "not farther apart, right?"
"Right," Matt tells him with a smile, ruffling his shaggy blond hair, "three feet, Dominic."
"Right," Nick mutters, taking a step away from our daughter as he sighs, "three feet."
"Crap," I exclaim and rush back to the pancakes just before they burn again, "You guys are distracting me this morning."
"We need to sit down and talk, Brenna," Matt says in his serious soldier voice, "this morning. Now."
"As soon as the pancakes are done," I mutter, rushing to get another batch on the griddle so we can all eat together. "Gwyn, table please?"
"Okay, Mom," she says, stepping away from Nick and moving to her father to hug him around the waist, "Thanks for bringing my Nicky home, Daddy. I was scared but Mommy said that you'd bring him back and you did!"
"You're welcome, Princess," he says as he hugs her back and looks at me, "Mommy said I'd bring him back?"
"Yep," she tells him as she pulls away so she can come set the table, "Mommy thinks that you can do anything. You're her hero. Mine too."
He looks at me, worry hiding behind the pride and love in his eyes, "She does, does she?"
I smile over at him, "She does. Totally and completely. For the rest of her life."
"Good," he says as he walks over to me and puts his arms around me, pulling me into a warm embrace, "because that's at least how long you'll be stuck with me."