Waking up at night had become the more frequent the bigger her belly grew.
However, waking up to an empty bed was uncommon.
Charlie’s heartbeat picked up instantly as the old fear of being left alone crept over her, urging her to scramble out of bed faster than was her habit these days.
She exhaled with relief, seeing Sebastian’s silhouette outside the kitchen window, and inwardly scolded herself for overreacting.
Still, something was wrong.
She took care of her business, and, draping a shawl around her shoulders, stepped outside to find out what.
“Woke you?” Sebastian asked when she joined him, his voice low as if from suppressed crying.
Charlie shook her head. “Nah, mother nature.” She caressed her belly. “What’s up?”
He started out to deny anything was amiss, but he shut his mouth as she gave him the don’t-bullshit-me look. He leaned heavily against the rails.
She placed her hand on his, watched him swallow.
“I had a child,” he said.
“I know. With Emma.”
“No. Another one.”
This was new. And bad. Very bad, Charlie thought, taking note of the past tense.
She couldn't see his features very well in the light of the crescent moon halfway hidden behind the tree tops. But she could feel his hand flex under hers, gripping the rail too tightly, could almost hear his teeth biting into his lower lip.
She rubbed his arm.
“You don't have to tell me.”
He ran his free hand through his hair.
“It was a few years after the Blackout…” He faltered again. Charlie waited through the silent seconds ticking off.
“After my family… I was so excited to be a father…” he took a deep breath, slowly picking the words.
“I was so happy… we were so happy and everything was, everything was perfect until... there were no doctors, no medicines, only this old lady in our camp who used to be a nurse... she was helping and it looked so well and then...” the words rushed out now between shallow, quick breaths. “One moment everything was so good and the next... they were both dead.”
He choked out the last word, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. Charlie could feel him shivering, though the night was mild.
“I’m sorry.” Charlie whispered, wrapping her arms around him as tightly as she could. He didn’t move.
“What was her name?” she asked after a while. Not that it mattered, but it could help – getting it all out.
He cleared his throat before answering. “Shelley.”
They just stood quietly a bit longer, before he turned to her.
“Charlotte, I don’t know if I can do this again… if something happens to you –“
“Hey. Look at me.” She held his face with both hands. “I’m fine.” She took his hand and placed it on her belly. “Our baby is fine. We’ll be okay,” she told him.
“You can’t know that.”
“Because I say so.” That finally earned her an almost-smirk.
“I’m not sure it works this way.” He sounded less desperate, though.
“It does,” Charlie insisted.
“Because you say so, huh?” He cleared his throat again, finally pulling her into an embrace, resting his chin on her head.
“Yes.” She confirmed, snuggling tightly against his chest. “Can we go inside now?”
“All right,” he agreed.
Once they were back in bed Sebastian wrapped himself around her, stroking her belly and kissing it through her night shirt.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Burdening you with this. I just… Earlier, when we were talking about the names, I… um, everything just came rushing back to me.”
“It’s okay. I’m glad you told me.”
He moved himself up to kiss her. He looked at her closely, resting his hand gently on top of her belly. “I can’t lose you two, Charlotte.”
She caressed the side of his face. “You won’t.”
She could see he was still paranoid as he laid his head beside her. “We’ll get nana Isobel from the village here early enough, she can sleep on the cot in the kitchen,” she thought of.
He nodded, somewhat calmer. “Maybe we could have Pablito come here, too, helping around, so you don’t strain yourself too much. I think his parents will be glad to have one mouth less to feed for a while. And he can run to the village to get help if needed.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea.” Charlie agreed. “Anything that brings your peace of mind.”
“I’ll go talk to them then, tomorrow.”
“Don’t exaggerate.” Charlie fought back a snicker at his eagerness. “I’m only past six months, I’m fine on my own another month or two.”
“Okay, I’ll do it next week then, just to make the arrangements.”
“Okay. But we’ll go together, because I need to get some things.”
“What else?” Charlie asked, seeing he was still mulling over something.
“Maybe… I should’ve been more careful… shouldn’t have gotten you pregnant.”
“Don’t say that.” She kissed his forehead while playing with his hair. “We’re going to have a baby, and everything will be just fine.”
“Because you say so.”
“Yes.” She wiped the last tears from her eyes, pressing small kisses to his face.
He grinned at last, pulling her closer. “Stubborn Matheson,” he mumbled, burying his face into the crook of her neck.
“What was that?”
Charlie giggled, snuggling against him as he softly rubbed her belly. She stroked his cheek, murmuring soft reassurances that everything will be okay as she closed her eyes, listening to his breath even out, before letting herself fall asleep as well.