Claire Westen stared with unabashed greed at the sheet of cookies her Pop had pulled from the oven. They were crisp around the edges, glowing with brown, crumbly goodness as the came to rest upon the stovetop, ensconced on a heavy baking sheet.
Her little hand reached for it, close and closer to paradise. Just before she touched them, the flat of a spatula came between the cookies and her hand, shooing her away.
“Those are for later,” Pop declared, putting it down and picking up his beer. His beer stilled against his lip. “Oh God, I sound like Grandma Dinky.”
“Your mother’s named Dinky?” Mama asked, coming through the back door with her rifle tucked under one arm and Sammy on the other. She temporarily handed the baby to Claire while she kissed Pop’s cheek and put down a sack filled with groceries. Claire’s nose wrinkled up as Sammy drooled down her neck, beaming up at her.
“It’s a nickname, and that’s a southern thing,” Pop explained patiently, picking up a tub of store-bought icing and dying it pink with a tiny tube of food coloring. “All of them have little names like that: Dinky, Honey, LuLu…”
“It makes them sound like house pets,” Mama said.
“My mom was a WAC,” Pop said, his eyebrow rising.
“Well, I’m glad I’m going to meet her – I bet she knows how to push your every button.” She poked Pop in the chest twice before reclaiming the baby from Claire.
Pop poked Mama’s shoulder. “Tag, your turn.” He handed her the icing bucket with his free hand. “Did you get Jesse?”
“Yes – and you owe him another round at the Troccodaro for this.”
Sam grimaced. “Draw straws?”
She pushed him outside. “Have fun, Sam.”
Claire rested her chin on the still-warm stove as her mamma bounced Sammy and stirred up the icing. “Mama, what was I like when I was a baby?”
Mama stopped stirring the icing. “Very loud,” she said.
Claire’s little nose wrinkled up. “And?”
“Well,” Mamma said, “the only person who could make you happy was your Pop. The two of you were thick, right from the beginning. You liked big blocks and started coloring very young.”
Claire frowned. “How was I born?”
The spatula paused. “We talked about the facts of life, dear.”
“NOO! What was it like when I was born?”
Mamma paused and lowered her hands. “We were in the car, stuck in traffic. Dad had to pull over to help me with my breathing, and Pop called an ambulance. Even after all of that muss, you were nearly born in my knickers. Just at the last possible second, the ambulance came, and you came out a minute from the hospital on a street in Downtown Miami, eight years ago today.” Fiona pecked Claire’s coppery head, and then turned back to the icing.
“Ohh,” said Claire. But somehow, she knew that wasn’t the whole story.
“Pink icing, Sam?”
He chuckled as Michael picked at the sugar cookie he’d selected from the refreshment table. “Y’know the kid likes her pink.”
He picked up the sugar cookie and eyed it judiciously. “Do you know how many preservatives are in this thing?”
Sam smirked. “As many as there are in that cake we just hacked up.” He waved at Fiona, who was ensconced near the inflatable castle they’d rented with his mom - who was talking her ear off non-stop.
Michael took this as an opportunity to speechify. “I’ve been worried about the amount of sugar she’s been having lately. The FDA is…” His eyes flicked up from the plate and he shouted, “GET OFF OF THAT!” as the parade of tiny kids in knight costumes ran by whooping loudly, having taken a brave leap from the roof of his Charger.
“Speaking of the birthday girl,” Sam declared, “it’s time for me to go see her. Excuse me.” He pecked Michael on the lips before leaving him to tend to the group of kids. Sam traversed their tiny back yard, finding Jesse trying to entertain another pod of party-goers with string tricks.
“Hey Jesse,” Sam grinned.
“Hey hey! I’m getting a vasectomy tonight,” Jesse declared through gritted teeth. Sam laughed at the very idea, rushing toward the house, the last place he’d seen his daughter.
Claire wasn’t where he’d left her; he found her but near the porch, with a neighbor’s kitten in her lap – feeding it part of her cookies.
“Yep.” Claire lounged against the porch.
Sam chortled. “Okay,” he declared, sitting back and relaxing. “Got something on your mind?”
She pouted and rubbed the head of the meowing cat. “Pop, what was it like when I was born?”
Sam winced and sucked in his cheeks. Claire was starting to grow older now; she was nearly six. “Y’know how Mamma and Dad and Pop all do stuff that other parents don’t do?”
Claire bobbed her head. “You can make popcorn with a car engine!”
Sam chuckled. “Right – but you know how our jobs’re kinda different?”
“Uh huh,” Claire nodded.
“Well…” Sam bit his lower lip and then said, “When you were born, Mamma was off on a new mission….”
Sam winced as the Howitzer whined its familiar bleat. He didn’t know how Fi could manage to stay on her feet without falling over, but somehow pregnancy hadn’t slowed her down even a half-step. He covered her as she sprinted for the Charger, nearly tripping as he launched himself into the front seat.
“Those Russkies mean business,” Sam panted, hiking his gun over his shoulder spraying the snipers with bullets through the broken window. Mike squealed out of the alley and drove east into the suburbs, where he knew they wouldn’t dare follow for risk of making a scene. Sam winged one and Fi nailed another.
“Of course they do,” she replied blowing the last one away and ensuring their general safety. “We took their…Ow.”
Michael eyed Fiona in the mirror. “Fi...”
“You’ve been doing that all morning,” Sam pointed out.
“I’m just…OW,” she groaned. “Just let me…” Her eyes widened as the seat under Sam grew very damp.
“Fi?” Michael asked, in his general-and-commander voice.
“Mike…I think her water just broke,” Sam managed.
“You’re a bloody twit,” Fiona gasped out. “Give me a towel...”
“To sit on?”
She clutched her stomach and smiled sweetly. “To strangle him with.”
“Well, it turned out the hospital wasn’t anywhere near where we were. So Mamma, Pop and Daddy had to pull you out all by ourselves…”
“Oh my God,” Sam moaned, eyeing Fiona over the mound of her stomach, clinging to her hand and watching her body violently contract. Michael knelt between her knees on the backseat of the Charger, his hands between his girlfriend’s thighs. He had driven into the nearest clear space he had found and gotten Fi down on her back, and Sam had slipped into the role of nursemaid, holding her hand and timing the contractions, the seconds during which the ambulance avoided finding their car. Fi was more distressed by her ruined underwear than the process of giving birth – her body was tiny but her pain endurance was incredibly high.
“Is…it all right?” Fi panted out, her hand wincing down on Sam’s arm at clockwork-like intervals.
“Just fine,” Michael said, calm, the quaver in his voice betraying the anxiety his calm expression didn’t show. “You’re dilated, Fi; start pushing.”
“Y’hear that? You look just fine…” Then, sotto-voiced to Mike, he asked, “It’s supposed to look like that, right?”
“Sam, just hold her!” Michael growled, lying out his suit coat. Fiona was panting and grunting her way through the pain, but she remained so highly focused that she seemed not to see either of them. Sam didn’t really want to see anything else himself; he was having a long, tall cold one tonight - several. He heard Fi grunt and moan, and then felt her bear down once, twice, four times.
A groan of pain, a definitive wet sloshing sound, and there was a baby lying in Michael’s arms.
“It’s a girl,” Michael sighed wiping her face with his sleeve. Sam somehow managed to give him a sterilized string of dental floss from the grooming kit Fi carried around with her, and Mike tied off the kid’s umbilical cord. Mike and Fi melted into a mile of warm arms and limbs, and Sam was in the middle of it all, where he always liked to be.
Sam grinned down at the little girl as Michael wrapped her up tight. Then he heard a soft knocking against the window.
It was two PM, in the middle of the day, and a very confused group of elementary school students were wondering why a bunch of grown-ups were using their practice field so oddly.
“…And that’s what happened on the day you were born,” declared Sam.
Claire stared at him for a moment.
Then she grinned a very Fiona Glenanne-esq grin, a grin that used to scare the hell out of Sam, but not anymore, not now that it was part of two women he loved very much indeed.