First Comes Love(80)

By: Emily Goodwin



When I wake, it’s dark outside. I sit up in a panic, listening for signs of life. I hear nothing, then realize the dogs aren’t with me anymore yet the bedroom door is shut. I check my phone; I’ve been asleep for about three-and-a-half hours. I feel a world better, but panic rises in my chest and I get out of bed quickly.

Too quickly and I feel a painful pull in my vag. Wincing, I limp my way into the living room. Noah is sitting in the recliner holding Ella. Both dogs are at his feet, chewing on bones, and my parents are sitting on the couch. The TV is on, and my dad and Noah are discussing football in low voices. My heart settles back into my chest.

“Hey,” Noah says, looking up at me. His eyes sparkle and something passes through me, something that tells me things will be okay. For real. “I was just about to get you.”

“How’s Ella?” I cross the room and Noah stands.

“She’s been a sound sleeper this whole time. She woke up when I changed her diaper about an hour ago then she fell back asleep.” He carefully hands me our little girl. I try to keep her awake to nurse while my mom heats up dinner.

After we eat, my parents order Noah and me to shower and nap. Noah falls asleep right away and I get another hour and a half of shut-eye in before my parents leave, and then it’s just us.

We sit up in bed until we’re both too tired to stay awake any longer. Then comes the moment of truth: trying to sleep while Ella sleeps. I lay her in the bassinet next to the bed, checking to make sure her swaddler is tight enough three times before putting my head on the pillow. We get four hours before Ella wakes up fussing. Not too bad for our first night home.





*





“We kept her alive for a week,” Noah says, sitting down at the table. “I say we’re doing this parenting thing right.”

“I think so.” I brush my hair back and fix my dress after nursing Ella. I’ve worn nothing but pajamas up until tonight. My stitches aren’t healed yet, and I’m still sore when I walk, move, think about it … pretty much all the time. But after being cooped up for days, Noah suggested we go out, and I have to admit it feels good to put makeup and join the real world.

“I’m still trying to figure out how to do anything productive though.” I smile down at our one-week-old. “It’s hard to put her down. She’s growing too fast.”

“Fast enough to make you want to have another,” Noah jokes. Or maybe he’s not joking.

“Oh, I’ll definitely be wanting another.”

“With me?”

I look up, expecting to see a smile on his face. His genuine concern makes me laugh. “Of course, dummy. Well, unless I decide to get drunk and have a one-night stand again.”

“Just checking. Sometimes none of these seems real. Me and you, together.” He looks down and shakes his head. Emotional Noah doesn’t come around too often, but I like it when he does. “And now add the perfect baby. Almost seems too good to be true.”

I’m smiling as big as I can, looking from our daughter to Noah and back again.

“It does. But it’s not.” I cradle Ella against me, kissing the top of her head. The story of my life had some major plot twists thrown in, some so big and gnarly I didn’t think they’d ever straighten out. And though this story is far from over, I know it will end with a happily ever after.





Epilogue

Lauren

Four years later…





I YAWN, QUIETLY getting out of bed as not to wake Noah. Early-morning light sneaks through the curtains and I’d do anything to get back under the covers and go to sleep. At least today is the last day of my work week. I shuffle downstairs and into the kitchen, firing up the coffee pot.

“Hey, old man,” I say to Vader. He wags his tail and slowly gets up, old bones creaking and cracking with every step. We go together outside; he needs help getting up and down the stairs now.

It’s late in April and actually warm out already. I fill a Cinderella mug with coffee and sit on the back deck, waiting for Vader to get done so I can help him inside. I start to doze off and groan when I force myself to stand. I’m really not wanting to go to work today.

“Hey,” I say softly, seeing Noah in the kitchen. “What are you doing up?”

He runs a hand over his face, wiping the sleep away. He’s still just as tatted and muscular as he was when we first got together, and actually he’s added a few more tattoos since then.

“Was gonna help you with the dog,” he mumbles, still half asleep. “You shouldn’t be lifting him.”

I put my empty coffee mug in the sink. “He helps. It’s not like I’m carrying him completely. But thanks. That’s sweet of you.”

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