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By the Book

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“Piece of shit,” Diego muttered, tossing the screwdriver on the floor.

“Honey, it’s just a crib,” Eudora said from the doorway. “It’s not supposed to stress you out like this.”

I’m not stressed." He cringed at his snappish tone and glanced over his shoulder with an apologetic look.

Eudora raised her eyebrows, one hand on her rounded belly.

“Are you finished?” she said.

Diego ducked his head. “Sorry, babe. Didn’t mean to bite your head off. It’s…” He gestured to the pieces scattered all around him, nowhere near resembling a crib and he’d been at it for hours. “Allison said it was a no-brainer. Should have known that was a lie.”

“She probably used the instructions.” Eudora held up the pamphlet with MANUAL written on the front.

Diego didn’t bother with it. “I don’t need to be told what to do.”

He turned back to the crib, sorting the pieces in a logical crib layout. Eudora shook her head with a small, affectionate smile.

“Stubborn,” she mumbled.

Slowly, Eudora eased into the rocking chair by the window, one hand pressed to her lower back. Diego cast a sideways glance at her.

You’re hovering, Eudora would tell him, almost on a daily basis. But he couldn’t just sit back and watch her suffer through morning sickness, an aching back, swollen ankles and sleepless nights. He knew there wasn’t much he could do, it was simply part of the pregnancy, but at least he could put together a crib for her.

Or so he thought. Apparently, it wasn’t that easy.

Eudora rested the manual on top of her stomach and casually flipped it open.

“Don’t even think about reading that out loud,” Diego said without looking up from the crib.

“You wouldn’t listen anyway.”

Diego sat back and propped an elbow on his knee. “Did you really just come in here to rub it in my face?”

Eudora grinned and by God, Diego couldn’t be mad at her when she smiled like that, glowing mother-to-be, light of his life.

“Absolutely,” she replied.

He huffed a laugh. “It’s a good thing you’re cute.”

She snorted. “You love me.”

Diego met Eudora’s eye. Her smile softened around the edges as she tilted her head to a playful, teasing angle.

“I do,” he said quietly.

She offered the manual to him. “Do you love me enough to use the instructions?”

Diego turned his head away. “Nope.”

Eudora sighed. “Come on, Diego. I’d like to enjoy dinner with my husband in an hour. Not have him holed up in the nursery, swearing at a pile of wood all night long.”

“It’s a matter of principles now.”

“Sounds more like pride to me.”

Diego consulted the pieces before him and picked up two planks that must have been part of the frame. There were corresponding slots, holes for screws, the whole nine yards. If any of his siblings found out a crib had him stumped, he’d never live it down. Besides, Allison finished her crib in an afternoon. Admitting defeat was not an option.

Eudora rustled the pages of the manual.

“According to this,” she said. “Those two pieces belong to the footboard and the headboard. Respectively.”

Diego growled and bowed his head. “Goddamn Ikea bullshit.”

Eudora bit the inside of her cheek to hide a smile. She placed her hands on either side of her stomach.

“Language,” she said. “Baby has sensitive ears.”

Diego’s frustration melted a little at the joke, grateful for the relieved tension. “Don’t act so righteous, Mama Bear. I’ve heard you swear a blue streak a mile wide. If that kid comes out with a potty mouth, don’t point the finger at me.”

“I’m sure Five will be the one to blame in that department.”

“I should kick his ass now, for all the shit he’ll teach our kid in the future.”

Eudora laughed and pushed out of her chair. She came to stand behind Diego, her hands on his shoulders.

“Maybe later,” she said. “Instead, how about you go by the book? Just this once.”

Diego hesitated as long as possible. Then, reluctantly, he slid the manual from Eudora’s fingers.

“Fine,” he grumbled. “I’ll try things your way.”

Eudora hummed. “That must have been so hard for you.”

Diego tipped his head back, resting against her stomach.

“You have no idea.”

***

An hour later, the crib was assembled and neatly stowed in the corner of the nursery. Eudora ran her hands over the wood, a nest of pillows and blankets piled inside.

Diego stood back, arms crossed, awaiting her stamp of approval. Did she like it? Was it sturdy enough or had he done something wrong?

“It’s perfect.” She turned to look at him with a sly little smile. “I guess doing things my way really pays off in the end, huh?”

“Very funny,” Diego replied as he came toward her. He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, trailing his knuckles along her jawline. “You know, kids don’t come with instruction manuals.”

“They’re not Ikea furniture either. Besides, there are plenty of educational materials—”

“Not what I meant, love,” he whispered.

Eudora released a low breath and took Diego’s hand. They had been around and around on this a thousand times. Over and over. Day in, day out.

With the baggage of Diego’s childhood, and the horrors Eudora had seen in her job, how could they raise a child?

She brought Diego’s hand to her mouth and kissed his calloused knuckles.

“We’ll figure it out, Diego,” she said. “We’ll make mistakes and we won’t have a clue what part goes where.” She pressed Diego’s palm to her stomach, her hand atop his. “But we’ll be okay. All three of us.”