Never again would Lauren use the phrase “sleeping like a baby”.
Not now that she knew it meant the baby would settle peacefully into sleep and then wake up crying the second Mummy got more than five feet away from her. It was like baby Rose had some sort of internal boundary alarm which had come pre-set at its loudest and most sensitive setting.
With a noise of exhaustion closely verging on despair, Lauren scuffed her way across the nursery again, picked up the baby from her cot, and flopped down in the rocking chair which had been her whole world for the past 7,695 years.
(The clock claimed she had only been there just over four hours. The clock was a lying bastard. Lauren knew this for a fact and was beginning to hate that clock with every particle of her being.)
“So, what shall we do now, my lamb?” she asked her daughter. They’d already gone through every nursery rhyme and lullaby she knew, as well as selected hits from ABBA, Wham, and Kylie. If she started on the Spice Girls, she was pretty sure she would know she was losing it.
“Okay. All right. I know. One of these days you’re going to wonder just why your silly parents decided to give you such a silly name. It all started on our honeymoon – now I know that nobody wants to think about their mum and dad on honeymoon, but hey! You’re only three months old. You’ll never remember well enough to get emotional scarring from it.”
The wedding had been a spontaneous, psychedelic nightmare landscape, so it was only fair the honeymoon should be tranquil and perfect.
“To quiet,” toasted Ed, clanking his champagne glass against Lauren’s.
“Or at least the only noise we hear tonight being the noise we make ourselves.”
“Ooh, I like the sound of that,” he said, and drank.
“Thought you might,” agreed Lauren, giving him a suggestive wink.
Under the table, Ed’s bare feet rested on either side of her left leg, while her right foot was nestled in his lap. She rubbed it up and down his thigh, drawing a happy sigh from him.
“Do you know what may be the best thing about being here tonight?” he asked suddenly.
“Being married to the person you love most in all the world?” she guessed.
“Well, that, certainly. And what else?”
Her hazel eyes twinkled. “The fact that every single person either of us is related to...”
“...is on the other side of the world!” finished Ed.
Lauren let out a little squeal of delight. She tried to clap her hands together, found she couldn’t manage it with the glass in her hand, glugged down the champagne, and set it down on the table.
Ed immediately filled both glasses again. “Another toast,” he said. “To my beautiful wife. And to love, laughter, happiness … and being alone together to enjoy it.”
“And to my handsome husband,” added Lauren. “You. And me. And definitely not them.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
The next morning they went surfing. Well, to be more accurate, Lauren went surfing while Ed sat on the beach, alternating between watching her and playing on his phone.
She was a little more out of practice than she had realised. It seemed harder to keep her balance than it used to be and the waves seemed more determined to knock her down. She paddled for a while, getting her breath back, then moved out to meet a promising looking wave. For a few thrilling moments she rode the crest triumphantly, crouched in that perfect stance which had finally come back to her. She could see Ed waving to her from the shore and it felt as if she’d achieved a true melding of her past adventures and her present happiness.
It was one moment of perfect bliss until the wave came up behind her and slapped her down.
Lauren came up out of the water coughing and gagging. She felt several hands helping her up.
Ed was there almost immediately, fussing over her and wrapping a towel around her from the front. He put his arm around her and she leaned against him tiredly. She grinned up at him. “That was awesome,” she said. “I loved it.”
“I didn’t. You gave me the fright of my life. I hope you’re not thinking of going back out again.”
“Mm, not just at the moment. Maybe later. Can teach you, if you like.”
“Not bloody likely.”
They stopped to get their things and made their way towards the hotel. Lauren, tired of the water dripping into her eyes, pulled the towel free and scrubbed at her hair and face. Ed hissed in panic and grabbed it away from her, wrapping her up again.
“God, Lauren, what are you doing? Your bikini top’s gone!”
“I know. The catch thingy broke when the wave hit me and the water just whiiishhhed it off.” She craned her head to give him a bemused look. “What’s the matter with you, Ed? I love topless beaches. And God knows you’ve always liked the view.”
“I love the view, but this isn’t a topless beach. They apparently frown on that sort of thing in the Bahamas. You could get arrested for indecent exposure, and we’d most certainly be thrown out of the hotel.”
“Oh, poo.” She knotted the towel around her chest and continued their journey, seething with inner rebellion and simultaneously congratulating herself on being mature enough not to act on it.
The newlyweds sat close together in one of the booths in the hotel dining room, smiling and feeding each other pieces of fruit. Ed’s light green eyes gleamed with happiness as he watched his wife, and he couldn’t keep the grin off his face.
He placed another strawberry in her mouth, getting his fingers nipped affectionately in the process. Playfully, she dipped a second strawberry in cream and held it out to him. He opened his mouth only for her to snatch it back at the last second and pop into her own mouth.
“Now how is that fair?” he protested. “You eat three pieces for every one I get.”
“I know! I’m starving! I don’t know what’s got into me. I’m turning into a pig.” He oinked at her and she got him back by dabbing a fingerful of cream on his nose. “No, I know what it is. It’s bridal complacency. I’ve got my man now and I don’t have to worry about watching my figure anymore. You are stuck, mister.”
“What d’you mean, stuck? I’ll still watch your figure for you … even if you keep eating like this and end up twenty stone.” He waggled his eyebrows, trying for a lascivious look and ending up clownish instead.
She used a slice of papaya to point at one of the only other occupied tables in the room. “That couple over there keep giving us judgmental looks.”
He glanced over at the pair of sour-looking twenty-somethings. “Probably just jealous. We’re having loads more fun than they are.”
Another day at the beach, this one with a picnic instead of surfing. Feeling lazy after so much food, the two of them dozed on their blanket for a time. When they woke, they paddled in the sea, staying near the shore with the other beach-goers.
“Careful not to lose your top again,” he teased.
“Ha ha. Although I did notice that there’s a sign on the surfboard rental place today that says, ‘Guests are encouraged to wear wetsuits while surfing.’ Do you think I caused that?”
“Probably been there for ages and you just didn’t notice it before.”
Lauren pouted. “Probably. Is it bad that I want to have caused it?”
“Ooh, scandalous woman,” grinned Ed.
Later, they built sandcastles – because that’s what one did at the beach – until they got wiped out by the waves coming ashore. Then they took turns burying one another in the sand.
Ed gave her a mermaid’s tail, complete with drawn-on scales, and she posed like a siren while he took her picture. Afterwards it was his turn to lie in the shallow depression they’d scooped out. He giggled as Lauren sculpted a bikini top with giant sand breasts over him. That done, she moved up to his head and kissed her way slowly from his chin to his eyes, ending up with one last peck on the lips.
“Hold still and keep your eyes closed,” she ordered.
“I’m doing you a wig and I don’t want you to get sand in your eyes.” The “wig”, a perfect recreation of Pippi Longstocking’s famous braids, would have probably embarrassed him had he been able to see it. “There. Perfect. You can open your eyes now, but you still have to keep still.”
“Bit difficult if you’re gonna mess about down there,” he grinned. She had moved down and was covering his crotch with sand, moulding it over his trunks and between his legs. He looked down as best he could without moving his head. “Um. Lauren, what are you doing down there?”
Without thinking, she had let herself get carried away with mounding the sand, resulting in a suspiciously phallic shape. She was still patting it with her hand when Ed’s question made her look down at her inadvertent creation. Then she looked up at him and back down again, looking amazed and yet pleased with herself.
“Giving you a sand job?” she suggested, with that mock-innocent blink blink she so favoured.
Laughing at her pun, he sat up and made a grab for her, showering sand all over the place as he pulled her down into a passionate embrace.
Some time later, when they were ready to go in, Ed was still shifting uncomfortably because of all the sand in areas he didn’t like sand to be. “I’m going to try one of those outside showers. You come with me and play sentry.”
Lauren rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to play sentry. I want to go upstairs and order cream buns and tea from room service. Take a shower when we get to our room.”
He pulled at the leg of his trunks again and another small shower of sand trickled out. “I am not going into the hotel dressed like this. And I don’t want my jeans full of sand, either.”
She shrugged and followed him to the shower room. He seemed relieved to discover that the showers themselves were tiny private rooms with locking doors, but he still wanted her to stand guard. He opened the door just wide enough to stick his arm through and handed her his damp bathing costume. Lauren fished out a resealable bag from inside their beach carryall to put them in. Ed, being Ed, naturally insisted on packing resealable plastic bags everywhere just on the off-chance dirty wet things might need to be kept away from clean dry ones.
He seemed to take an unconscionably long time showering. A woman had come in after them, used one of the other shower enclosures, and left already. When another shower turned off, she called out to her husband, “Ed? What are you doing in there? Eeddddd? Fine, I’m leaving. I’ll see you upstairs. You want me to order tea for you? Ed? Oh, sod it. See you later.”
Upstairs, she changed clothes and flopped down on the bed. She reached for the room phone to call in her order, then hesitated. Should she go ahead and order for him or not? Surely it wouldn’t take him that much longer just … oh, no. Lauren’s eyes opened wide. She had walked away from the showers carrying their beach bag. The beach bag which contained not only the neatly-bagged bathing suit but all of Ed’s dry clothing as well.
She had left him down there with nothing but a towel and a pair of flip-flops.
“Oh, Jesus,” she breathed. “Oh, fuck!”
Snatching up the bag, she ran out of the room as fast as she could.
Just as she stepped into the lift, her phone rang. She dug it out from beneath the clothing in the beach bag and answered. She didn’t recognise the number, but she had a good idea whose voice would be at the other end.
“Did you forget something, darling?” Ed was clearly speaking through clenched teeth, the way he did when he was very, very cross.
“Yes. Sorry, sorry. I’m on my way down now. Sorry! I’ll be there in a minute. I’m sorry!”
He was cross with her the rest of the evening.
They had dinner in their room because he couldn’t shake the feeling that there would be someone who would recognise him as that old plonker who’d been stranded sans clothing in a communal shower. The fact that the showers had locking privacy enclosures didn’t seem to give his wounded pride much comfort. He had still had to borrow someone else’s phone, not to mention someone else’s (clean but very much too small) swimsuit.
Lauren’s attempt to jolly him out of his sulk by telling him, “It feels a bit wrong to be this turned on by a 60-year-old man in a pink speedo,” met with no great success.
In the morning he was better, but still in no mood to face the beach again. Instead, he spent a few relaxing hours playing golf, while she indulged herself in a mani-pedi in the hotel spa.
When she got back to the room she found Ed looking slightly sour again.
“What’s wrong now?”
He gestured towards the bouquet of roses on the table, a mixed dozen of red, pink, and some orangey shade. “Someone’s sent you flowers, apparently.”
“Did you look at the card?” she asked him.
“Of course not. Do I seem the jealous sort to you?”
“I don’t think I’ll answer that. Look at the card.”
He fished out the little card and opened it.
Sorry I was an idiot and left you bollock naked in public. I love you. Lauren.
She moved closer to him and stood looking at him with her lower lip stuck out playfully. “Do you forgive me?”
Ed didn’t answer. He just pulled her into his arms and kissed her thoroughly.
That night they took a moonlight stroll along the shore, hand in hand.
There were so few people here this time of night it was almost like having the entire beach to themselves. For the most part they didn’t speak, just savoured one another’s company. In a few days they would be back amidst the turmoil of their outrageous blended family. Time to revel in this, enjoy the peace while they had it.
Privately, Lauren had her suspicions about their longterm prospects for a peaceful family life. This would be a lovely spot to share those suspicions with her husband, she was thinking. It would make quite a picturesque memory for them to think back on later.
“You know what I love about you, Lauren?” Ed said suddenly, interrupting her thoughts.
“Everything, I hope.”
“Well, besides that,” he allowed. “I love the fact that you’re the sort of woman who can get an ungodly expensive pedicure – and please don’t ever tell me how expensive it actually was – and then go walking barefoot in the surf twelve hours later without ever worrying about whether or not your toenails are getting ruined.”
She looked down at her feet in the wet sand, water lapping over them every few seconds. “Oh. D’you know, I never actually thought about it.”
“I know,” he said, stopping to put his hands on her shoulders and look down into her face. “That’s exactly my point.”
She hugged him, and they stood swaying in one another’s tender embrace for quite some time.
The roses began to wilt but Lauren, ever the sentimentalist, begged Ed not to throw them out quite yet. “Just one more day, that’s all I need.”
“All right,” he agreed. Not without a slight eyeroll, but he gave in to her.
He gave in to her again when she sent him out on some ridiculous errand that would take him at least an hour. Time enough to do what she needed.
She couldn’t keep the giant grin off her face as she tore the petals off the roses and scattered a trail of them from the door to the bed, and arranged more of them in a heart shape on top of her husband’s pillow.
When she heard him return, she quickly slipped out onto the balcony, peering around the curtains to watch Ed’s reaction to her little tableau.
“Mmmm,” he murmured. “And where is the sexy little minx who set all this up? What…?”
As he reached out towards his pillow, Lauren bit her lip in excitement and rested her balled up hands on either side of her face. She wished she could see his expression as he realised the significance of the little plastic stick that rested in the middle of the heart shape.
His body language was eloquent, though. “Lauren?” he called, straightening.
Lauren stepped into the room. Ed turned to look at her, his green eyes full of wonder. He held out the pregnancy test. “Really?” was all he could manage to say.
She nodded. “Yes.”
His knees gave out and he sat down on the bed hard. He couldn’t seem to find the right words to express his feelings. “I just… It’s… We’re…” He looked up at her helplessly. She crossed to him and sat down on the bed next to him, leaning against him and taking his hand in hers.
“A baby,” he managed finally.
“Mm hmm,” she squeaked, grinning madly.
“Oh, my God.”
They sat holding each other and just smiling for a long time, overcome with happiness.
Eventually, Ed whispered into her hair, “I love you.”
“I love you,” Lauren told him. She moved so she could pull his head down and give him a big smacking kiss on the lips, which made him laugh with delight. She gave him a gentle shove, laying him down amongst the rose petals, and climbed on top of him.
“Wait. Lauren…” he objected.
She straightened. “What is it?”
“Well, we can’t right now.”
“And why not?” she demanded, looking down at him sternly. “I swear to God, Ed, this better not be some ‘oh, no, pregnancy sex is a bad idea’ shit, because if it is…”
“Oh, no. God, no. Nothing like that. But we really should call housekeeping and get these sheets changed first, wouldn’t you say?”
She blinked. “Um … why?”
He felt for the test stick and held it up. “I do know how these work. And points to you for a fantastic way to break the news, but I don’t honestly want my head resting on a pillow covered in molecules of … well, you know.”
Lauren climbed off his lap and looked at him in disbelief. “It’s got a cap on it,” she pointed out. “You don’t actually wee on the whole thing. No need to fuss.”
“It’s fine, Edward.” She scooted over to her side of the bed and lay down, batting her eyes at him playfully. She beckoned him with one finger.
“It’s fine,” he agreed. But before he moved in for a kiss he reached for his pillow, slipped it from its covering, and threw the pillowcase on the floor.
“There, you see?” Lauren told her daughter, months later. “After that I wanted to call you Petal, but your father’s an old fuddy-duddy and wouldn’t hear of it. So we compromised and now you get to spend the rest of your life hating us for naming you Rose Petal Walker. Of course, your nephew Tim still calls you Uncle Baby even though you turned out to be a girl. Then again, he’s also sort of unofficially your cousin-in-law, so that’s your family for you. Might as well get used to it.”
Ed walked into the nursery, yawning and running his left hand through his sleep-tousled hair. “Still up?” he asked unneccessarily. Lauren scowled at him, not trusting herself to speak.
He took the baby from her and cradled her in his arms. She sucked her fist and regarded her father placidly. “That’s my girl,” he cooed. “That’s my little Wose-Wose.”
Lauren made a rude noise.
“Why don’t you go take a nap?” he suggested, without looking at her. “I’ll have her down in a tick.”
“You will not,” she said knowingly, and gave a laugh she meant to sound defiant, although it came out sounding ever-so-slightly evil. But she vacated the rocking chair which had been such a valiant ally, kissed the baby’s face and hands, kissed her husband on the shoulder, and stumbled off to bed.
She was face down and snoring when Ed came back to bed. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been asleep, but it felt like just a few minutes.
“Cradle,” she mumbled into her pillow.
“Cradle. Here. Rocky thing.” She made a back and forth motion with her hand by the side of the bed.
Ed kissed her neck, which was all he could reach. “I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” he said as he crawled in beside her. “I’ve got her settled now.”
“Sometimes it just takes a little experience,” he said smugly. As if on cue, the wailing sounded on the baby monitor.
“Toldya.” The word would have been triumphant if she’d had the energy to put into it.
He got up and reached for his dressing gown again. “Right. First thing in the morning we’re getting a cradle to put right there by the side of the bed.”
Lauren made no response. She was already asleep again.