Richard smiled softly as he gazed down at his newborn daughter, tucked under a soft yellow blanket in her bassinet. He traced his fingertips across her tiny brow, marveling for the hundredth time at the velvety smoothness of her skin and the delicate wisps of her downy hair. She had chestnut brown hair, like Alma’s; when he’d made mention of it to others, they’d teased him, telling him that all babies were born with dark hair, and that it wasn’t an indication of what color it would be as she grew up.
He’d shrugged sheepishly, sharing a warm, knowing glance with his wife, letting the gentle barbs roll off his back. He had a lot to learn about being a father, but he already knew one thing for certain: his daughter was beautiful, because she looked just like his beautiful wife.
“Richard,” chided a soft voice from behind, “you’re going to be late for work.”
He smiled as he felt his wife’s hand curving into the crook of his elbow. “I know,” he replied softly, capturing Mary Anne’s tiny hand with his forefinger. “I just can’t seem to leave her. Or you,” he added, his gaze sweeping down to his side.
Alma shrugged, but smiled, curling closer to him. “She’ll be here when you get home,” she teased. “We both will.”
Richard turned, gathering his wife in his arms, resting his head atop hers. That won’t stop me from worrying, he thought, though he didn’t give his concerns voice. The pregnancy had been unexpectedly difficult for his petite, thin-framed wife; she’d spent the last month of it on strict bedrest, with daily visits from a nurse, who’d followed her vital signs quite closely – and with grave concern. Everyone had sent up an extra prayer the night she went into labor; thirty-six hours later, their baby had arrived, just as hale and healthy and whole as her mother, who had delivered with no complications.
“You worry too much,” Alma whispered, burrowing into him, bringing him back to the present.
He sighed, tightening the brace of his arms around her. “You give me good reasons to,” he murmured. “Did you get any sleep at all last night?”
“No,” she admitted, “but I think that’s part of having a baby, darling. I won’t sleep through the night until she does.”
He brushed her hair from her brow, frowning slightly when he noticed it was slick with sweat. “You should wake me,” he urged. “I don’t mind helping you.”
She laughed. “There isn’t much you can help me with when Mary Anne wakes up hungry,” she joked.
“Well, now,” he mused, drawing his hand across her shoulders, caressing the back of her neck, “I don’t know about that.” He pressed a kiss to her temple. “I could keep you company.”
“Or you could sleep,” she returned, spearing him with a knowing look. “After all, you’re the one who’s working now.” She shivered, drawing away from him, clasping her arms around herself. “What a pair we make,” she observed. “You, my debonair lawyer husband in your three-piece suit, with your leather briefcase…and me, in my robe and slippers, the frumpy old hausfrau.”
“You’re neither frumpy, nor old,” he corrected her archly, furrowing his brow as he touched the side of her face. Her skin felt flushed and hot. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I am a little tired,” she admitted, pressing the backs of her hands to her cheeks, and then her forehead. She caught his concerned look. “But I’m not sick! For goodness sake, Richard, do you really think I’d be around Mary Anne if I were?!”
Her words were sharp, her tone hurt, and though his concern had not lessened, he decided not to pursue this particular line of inquiry. He hadn’t meant to insult her, or somehow insinuate that she couldn’t care for their baby. He was just worried about her – and that, he couldn’t help.
His apprehension must’ve been writ large across his expression, for Alma’s eyes softened as she gazed at him. “I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I didn’t mean to snap at you. I know how much of a worrywart you are.” She leaned into him again, resting her head on his shoulder. “And I worry, too,” she confessed. “Sometimes it feels completely overwhelming. I’m so tired, but I can barely sleep. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries to lift her out of her bassinet, and it’s so distressing because she’s crying for me the whole time.” She exhaled sharply. “Sometimes, when that happens, my heart races so fast I’m afraid it’ll burst right out of my chest.”
Richard could feel his own heart thumping heavily at that moment, his anxiety only growing worse by the second. “Maybe you should make an appointment to see your doctor,” he suggested slowly. “Just to be safe. Your pregnancy was so difficult at the end…”
She shook her head. “No,” she sighed. “I think – I think I’m just nervous about being a mother. I don’t want to do anything wrong.”
He hugged her close. “You haven’t,” he assured her. “And you won’t. Mary Anne is perfectly healthy, and happy.” He spared a glance at his daughter, who was beginning to stir. “And beautiful, just like her mother.”
“Fathers always say things like that,” Alma mused wryly, breaking away from him as Mary Anne began to whimper.
“But in your case, it’s true,” Richard replied with a smile, watching her very carefully as she moved to pick up their daughter. She leaned into the bassinet, sliding her arms around their baby, but paused for a brief moment, as if gathering her strength. “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay home with you today?”
“I’m sure,” she insisted, picking up their daughter in one fluid, graceful motion. She pushed aside her robe as Mary Anne began to root against her chest with her tiny hands, and settled her against her breast. “Rioko and Mimi are across the street if I need anything.”
“If you’re sure,” he said uncertainly, reaching for his briefcase, which he’d laid on the changing table just inside the door.
Alma looked up at him and smiled, and for a brief moment, she looked as she always had to him, happy and proud and breathtakingly lovely. “I’m sure,” she assured him. “Just like I’m sure you need to get going if you want to keep this job!”
“All right,” he relented, dropping a kiss to her brow. “Call me if you need anything.”
“I will,” she promised, tracing her fingers along the line of his jaw. She pulled him close again, impulsively pressing her lips to his. “Have a good day, darling.”
“You, too,” he breathed, wishing it was already five o’clock and that he was home for the evening. It was getting harder and harder to leave his girls, still wishing he could spend every minute of the day with them, but he’d only received two weeks leave for the birth – and only because Alma was in such a bad way.
He was reluctant to leave, but eventually did, stepping out into the crisp October morning air. Maybe I am making too much of this, he thought to himself as he unlocked his car. Maybe everything she’s going through really can be explained by new motherhood. He chewed on his lower lip as he eased into the driver’s seat, his eyes lingering in the rearview mirror for a long moment.
Maybe it would be worth it to have a chat with Rioko and Mimi…