"You two are so cute together!" I smiled as I continued to snap pictures of the soon-to-be-married couple.
Chase smiled a little and squeezed Maureen's hand and she giggled softly.
"Thank you, Natalie." Chase grinned.
"You're welcome, Baby Bro." I giggled. He gave me a mock glare and then stuck his tongue out at me and mumbled something under his breath that caused Maureen to elbow his side.
"Also, Natalie," Maureen paused, her eyes full of joy, "Thank you so much for taking our wedding pictures for us. With us having a private wedding and all, we didn't think we'd have them. At first, I didn't think I wanted them, but then I remembered how much I loved looking at my parent's wedding pictures and I knew that I can't deny our future babies the option the look at ours."
I smiled at her and continued snapping away, "You're very welcome, Maureen. Can you guys change poses? Oh! I like that one, stay like that-yes, good." I paused, focusing the camera and zooming in a little, "After all, it's obvious that I love photography. This is a reasonable excuse to take pictures. I've taken so may of Layton since we brought him home that I think he's sick of seeing me with the camera." I laughed a little, and so did Maureen.
"That's so cute!" She giggled, "You'll have to come over and take pictures of our babies when we have them, right Chase?"
Chase smiled down at her and kissed her forehead, "Of course Maurie, if that's what you want."
I smiled and clicked at the perfect time, getting my favorite shot of the day by far.
Maureen grinned and looked over at me, "I'm going to miss living with you Natalie. I'm an only child, so I don't have any siblings, and you were exactly what I would want in a big sister. You and Tabby have been so wonderful to me, it's going to be hard when you two are no longer in the same house with Chase and I."
I gave her a soft, knowing grin, "Aww, Maureen! You're such a sweetie. I'm the youngest girl in my family, and you're going to be a great sister-in-law. Don't heasitate to call me about anything, alright? Even if it's about my brother. Chase can be a dick sometimes." I paused, laughing at the face my brother made at my statement. "What? It's true!" I laughed, and soon Maureen did too. "I know it might be hard at first, but it's going to be nice to have some privacy, yeah? Plus, we're only a phone call away."
"I suppose you're right." Maureen nodded, "Plus, the house we bought is beautiful! I can't wait until I actually get to live in it!"
"You'll need to send me pictures." I giggled, causing her to do the same.
"Oh, I will!" She smiled.
I grinned at them and took the last shot before I was told that my memory card was full.
"Alright, guys," I said, turning off the camera, "I'm out of memory. So, it looks like it's time for you two to head out."
I stepped forward and gave them each a hug.
"Bye, sis." Chase whispered as he gave me a fair-well hug.
"Bye, Chase, you take good care of Maureen, okay? Be nice to her, and remember, she's the best thing that's happened to you, baby bro." I said as I hugged him back.
"I know, and I will. I promise. I gotta go change and finish packing up the car, I'll see ya, Nat."
I then went over and gave Maureen a hug.
"Thank you for being so kind to me, Natalie. I really feel like a part of your family. I'll be good to your brother, and I'll be sure to keep in touch." She whispered.
"I know, we'll need to hang out again when you guys come back from your vacation. Bye, Maureen." I said as I hugged her goodbye.
"Bye, Natalie." She said as she walked over to Chase's car and waited for him to come out so they could leave.
I walked into the front yard and waved goodbye to my youngest brother and his wife.
"Mommy." I said gesturing to myself, attempting to teach my young son to talk. I started teaching him his basic skills after he became a year old, which was only a few months ago. I was teaching him how to talk, Clifford was teaching him to walk, and we both took over potty training duty. We hoped by Clifford's 30th birthday, which would be a few weeks before Layton's 3rd birthday, we'd have all his basic skills down.
All I got back was excited toddler gibber. I smiled a little and tried again, "Mommy."
Layton tilted his head a little and made more little noises, that sounded like he was trying to say, "mama" or something. I got all excited and tried once again looking down at him and pointing to myself.
"Mommy." I said again, dragging out the sounds of each letter.
He looked at me and gave me a cute little smile and said, "Mommy."
It wasn't perfect, but it was close enough to where I understood what he was saying. I got so excited. I clapped, making him laugh and shout out "Mommy!" again.
I got so excited, I called Clifford at work. It was noon-ish anyway, so I knew he was on his lunch break.
He answered after the second ring, "Hello?"
"Cliff!" I squealed happily.
"Nat?" He asked, sounding concerned, "What happened? Is something wrong?"
"Everything is fine," I laughed, "I just had to call you because Layton said his first word! He just said Mommy! Oh, oh my god! I'm so happy! He said mommy!"
I heard Clifford chuckle on the other end of the line. "I can't wait to hear him say it when I get home. I bet it's adorable!"
"It really, really is!" I smiled and then I saw Layton go and attempt to stick his hand into his training potty. I ran over to him and picked him up, making him cry and give me a sad face. I guess he thought I was ruining his fun.
Cliff shuffled on the other end when he heard Layton cry. "Is everything okay, sweetie?"
"Yeah, Layton's just mad because I wont let him stick his hand into his training potty."
He let out a low laugh. "Ah, I see. Anyway, Nat, I gotta go back to eating my lunch so I can finish all this paperwork I have to do so I can come home on time. I love you, Natalie."
I smiled and bounced Layton softly on my hip, "I understand, I'll see you when you come home, I love you too, Clifford."
With that, we hung up, and I snuggled and soothed my crying baby. I never really thought I'd make a good mother, but I really enjoyed taking care of my son, and my mom told me that I was doing a good job. She was really good with giving me tips and advice on how to take care of Layton, and just children in general. I knew that my mom's advice was good, after all, she raised me and my four siblings, so I listened to her, for the most part, and when I didn't listen to her, I followed my intuition, but even then in a way, I was still listening to her advice.
Later on that night it was bedtime for Layton. I gave him a bath and put him in his pajamas and sat down in the rocking chair across from his bed. I sang him the same lullabies my mom sung to me, which were sung to her by my grandma. I rocked back and forth slowly, letting the song I knew by heart flow from my lips as I held him in my arms.
He was so small, but I knew that would eventually change, no matter how badly I wished it wouldn't. I looked down at him at the end of the fourth repeat of the song and his eyes started to close. I started going through the song one more time, and after I was finished, I looked down at him and I heard his soft little snoring.
I smiled softly down at him, careful not to move too much. He was so warm, so small. He was my first little boy, my first baby. I wondered then how it was possible to love something as much as I loved him. I was told from childhood, that the love a mother feels for her children is indescribable and one of the most powerful kinds of love, but I didn't really comprehend it until I held him for the first time. It amazed me how much I love this little guy. I would do anything to protect him, anything at all. His life is more important than mine, or anyone's, even Clifford's. If it came down between Layton or Clifford, it would hurt to lose Clifford, but I'd chose my child. This thought really didn't surprise me too much, though. I knew the moment I first held him in my arms that he was the most important thing to me.
I watched my little Layton sleep for a good 30 or so minuets before I put him down in his little bed and kissed his forehead and I pulled the blankets up around him. I smiled as I went and quietly opened the door, knowing for sure that my little boy was safe.
I walked downstairs and saw Felix, who was now a fully grown cat playing with one of his toys. He was a really sweet cat, and he tolerated Layton very well. Often times we'd come into the living room to find Layton half-way laying on Felix, and petting him. Felix really didn't care too much, as long as he was getting some sort of attention.
That was one of the great things about this cat. He was very tolerant, and he loved to be petted, and he seemingly considered any sort of touch to be pleasant. Even with the pulling and prodding from Layton, he never got agitated, sometimes, he'd even purr.
"Alright, that's it, come here Layton!" Clifford urged as our son took wobbly steps to his dad.
Layton was hardly stable, but with each time he practiced with his daddy he was getting better. He was nearly three now, and had learned how to talk and we could hardly get him to stop after we got him started.
When Layton finally reached Clifford, Cliff smiled and picked him up and spun him around three times, cheering.
"Yay Layton! You did such a good job, buddy!"
Layton giggled and said, "Daddy! No fall!"
Clifford smiled and ran his hand through Layton's hair. "That's right, you didn't fall. You did such a good job. Right, Momma?" Clifford asked, turning his head to face me.
I walked the rest of the way down the stairs and the moment Layton saw me he got very excited, "Mommy!" he cheered.
I looked over at Clifford and Layton and I nodded, "Yeah, Layton! You did such a good job! Daddy's a good teacher, isn't he?" I smiled over at Clifford.
"Yes!" Layton agreed happily, "Daddy good!"
I laughed a little and so did Cliff. He kissed Layton's forehead and then set him back down at the start point.
"Alright, little buddy," Cliff said, smiling, "let's show Mommy how far you can walk, okay?"
"Yeah!" was Layton's happy reply.
Clifford got down low all the way on the other side of the room and Layton walked all the way over to his daddy. He put his arms out a little to help him balance, and while still not a hundred percent there, he made it to his dad and giggled.
I smiled and Cliff brought Layton over and passed him to me.
"So, what do you think?" Clifford asked me.
"I think Mr. Layton did a fantastic job! Yay for Layton!"
Clifford laughed and said, "Yay Layton!"
Layton laughed and then hid his face into my shoulder, making both Clifford and I laugh.
"Well," Clifford said, "I know that I'm very proud of my little man."
"I'm proud of him too," I smiled.
Layton blushed and then said, "Yay!" sending both Clifford and I into a fit of laughter.
A few months later after bath time, I cleaned up the bathroom while Cliff went and got Layton ready for bed.
When I finished cleaning up and stepped back into the bedroom, I couldn't help but smile when I saw Layton playing, and Clifford playing with him. It was so beyond cute.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," I said as I closed the bathroom door, making both of my boys look at me sheepishly. The resemblance between them was uncanny, even at Layton's young age. I simply laughed and went over and picked up Layton, who in turn looked at his father for help in stopping bedtime from actually coming.
I smiled at both of them, "It's little Mr. Layton's bedtime."
"Mommy!" Layton protested, shaking his head, "No bedtime!" He said as he tried to wiggle out of my arms. Clifford stood up and took Layton, who by this point was sniffling, looking quite upset.
Clifford looked down at Layton and sighed, "No buddy, I'm afraid Mommy's right, it's bedtime."
Layton gave his dad a betrayed look and Clifford kissed his head and passed him back to me.
"Come on, buddy," I said as I walked over to his bed.
"No! Mommy!" He cried, "No bedtime! No!"
I shook my head and put my snuffling toddler down onto his bed, and I went to go get the blanket and he jumped down from his toddler bed and ran behind Clifford.
"No bedtime!" He shouted again, sniffling.
Clifford picked him up and looked Layton in the eyes. "Hey, Layton?"
"Daddy?" Layton questioned.
"Mommy is boss. When Mommy speaks, the debate is over. Mommy is Shwimbo." Clifford said sternly.
"Shwimbo?" Layton and I asked, simultaneously.
Clifford smiled over at me and then looked back at Layton, "Mommy is Shwimbo, she who must be obeyed."
Layton looked Quizzically at Clifford and I just laughed. Shwimbo. I liked it.
"That means that you have to do whatever Mommy says. If she says it's bedtime, well then sweetie, it's bedtime." Clifford explained.
Layton just looked defeated and Clifford set him down and he made his way back over to his little bed and laid down. I tucked him in and after fifteen minuets, he was asleep. I walked back out into the hallway and I saw Clifford and asked the first thing I thought of.
"Shwimbo? Where did you get Shwimbo?" I asked, laughing softly.
Clifford just laughed, "My dad used to say that all the time. I picked it up from him, I guess. It seemed to have gotten the point across."
"I suppose so," I said laughing.
"Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Clifford, happy birthday to you!" Layton, my mother, my father, my younger brother and everyone else who came to Clifford's 30th birthday party sang.
When Clifford blew out the candles, Layton clapped and said, "I want Cake!" causing all of us to laugh. I passed Layton over to my mother who got him a piece of cake, which he ate happily.
Clifford and I ate our cake and after we had cleaned it up, my mom had already put Layton to bed. It was only about 8:30, and my mom told the both of us to go out and enjoy the rest of the evening.
We went for a walk around our neighborhood, our hands clasped tightly together. It was a beautiful night, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. We walked in a comfortable silence. We didn't always need to be talking to each other and we've always been that way. As we walked through the neighborhood, I smiled at the memories that lined these streets.
Down at the end of the neighborhood there was a playground where Clifford and I would go all the time as children. We'd race each other down there almost every day when I was in elementary school. It was also where we had our first date. There was a big old tree three houses down where our names are carved. Down by the fence at the other end of the road was where Clifford caught up to me a month after our first break-up. He had seen me down on the swings and went to talk to me but I ran off, but he caught up to me pushed me up against the fence and kissed my tears away. Back in the woods behind the brand-new home that had just finished being built was where Clifford and I would go to make out, and it was back there where Clifford and I set up a little "camp" and we first made love. Down by the old home across the street is where I fell and sprained my ankle and Clifford carried me all the way back to my house. There were so many memories here, and each step I took seemed to cause more and more to come to my mind.
"Looks like we can say we've done good as parents." Clifford said while we were walking, bringing me out of my thoughts.
"I suppose you can say that," I smiled, "after all, Layton does know all his basic skills, which is good." I said after a moment of letting my thoughts come back to the present.
Clifford just smiled at me and then he stopped. We were nearly back home and he gave me a deep, loving, beautiful kiss that caught me off guard.
I sighed into the kiss and wrapped my arms around his neck, smiling as I realized that even after all this time I still felt a fire inside when he kissed me.
He picked me up and carried me back into the woods behind the new house, still as dense as ever. He pushed me up against a tree. I just giggled a little and wrapped my legs around his waist and I smiled. I mean, after all, it was his birthday...
A few weeks later I realized that I was late. Late as in the fact that Aunt Flow hadn't come to visit yet. I also noticed that I was feeling a little...ill. Nothing too awful, just nauseous for the most part. Slowly as I started to mentally add everything up and after I looked back on my experience the first time these symptoms came around, I knew that I was most likely pregnant. I gave my doctor a call and I went and saw her later on that day.
She did a few tests and said that I'd have a call from her offices in just a few days. Sure enough, three days later, I got the call confirming the results with a congratulations.
Later on that night, after I got the call confirming that I was pregnant, and after Layton went to bed, I went and talked to Clifford, who had recently got a hair cut.
"Hey, love," he smiled, wrapping his arms around my waist.
"Hey," I giggled.
"Something on your mind?" He asked as he gave my neck a gentle kiss.
"A few things." I said, letting out a deep breath.
"Oh?" he asked, kissing my neck again.
"Mhmm," I nodded.
"Well then, my dear, what's on your mind?"
"Well, one, I'm still not used to your hair," I said as I ran my hands up through his hair, messing it up, not that he really minded.
"Yeah, well, I did have that other hairstyle my entire life. It's going to take awhile for you to get used to seeing this. Plus, I really had to cut it, my long hair apparently wasn't 'professional' enough, but this apparently is, at least, according to my boss. He's the CEO, so I kind of have to listen to him."
"I know, but still. I mean, I like your hair, its just very, very different." I laughed.
"I know baby." He laughed as he kissed my hair, "Anyway, what else is on your mind?"
"Well, I saw the doctor the other day." I said causally.
"Oh? What for? Are you okay? Is there something wrong?" He asked, worry covering his features.
"Cliff, honey, I'm fine. I just realized that my period was late, and I was feeling a little sick, so I went in for a pregnancy test. She called back with the results today. I'm pregnant. We're going to have another baby."
His entire face lit up, "Really!" he asked excitedly, "Another one?"
"Yup!" I giggled, throwing my arms around his neck.
He smiled and kissed me softly, "So Layton is gonna be a big brother, eh?"
"Mhm, he is!" I laughed.
"I can't wait! I wanted another baby, but I didn't want to make you feel like you had to have another one if you didn't want to..."
I smiled, "One, we need to keep having babies until I have a girl to pass the legacy to, and two, I really enjoy being a mom, so having another one is definitely something I want to do."
Clifford smiled and gave me a loving kiss, looking so incredibly happy to have another baby Stephens on the way.
As I got bigger, Layton began to notice. One day while his dad was at work I had picked him up and was playing with him, and he asked me a question that surprised me.
"Mommy?" Layton asked.
"Why is your tummy big?" He questioned, tilting his head.
"Well sweetie," I paused, unsure how to really answer his question.,"remember when I said you were gonna be a big brother?"
"Yeah! I'ma be a big brother!" He nodded, very excited to have that title.
"Well, my tummy is getting big, because your younger brother or sister is inside my tummy, and they're getting bigger." I explained.
"Oh." He said, surprised. "Mommy?"
"How will my younger brother or sister get out of your tummy?" He asked, perplexed.
I sighed to think of a way to put it without giving my three-year old a sex-ed lesson.
"I go see my doctor and then she'll get your younger brother or sister out of my tummy because she's a special doctor and she does that."
"Oh. Okay Mommy. When do you go see the doctor?"
"In a while. Your younger brother or sister will tell me when I need to go see the doctor." I sighed again, trying to make sure I didn't lie, but wasn't graphic.
"How?" he asked, his big blue eyes wide.
"They just tell me, I'm the mommy, so I'll know. " I said, not being able to think of a way to put the actual way gently.
My response seemed to be good enough for him so he just smiled and nodded, "Okay Mommy!"
I smiled at him and he looked at me again, "Mommy?"
"Can I go play with my toys, Mommy?" He asked, his big blue eyes wide.
"Of course, sweetie." I smiled and put him down and he ran for his toy box. I smiled over at him, "Layton?"
"I'll be up in half an hour so we can have lunch, and then it'll be nap time, okay?" I said, giving him fair warning.
"I think the baby's ready." Cliff smiled about a week before my due date.
"Oh you do, eh?" I laughed as he leaned down and listened to my tummy.
"Yup!" He chuckled, "As a matter of fact, I'm positive. It wont be long until our new baby's here."
"I don't know, Cliff. We have another week or so before the next little Stephens is born." I laughed a little.
"That's what you think,"Cliff chuckled, "I wouldn't be surprised if you went into labor tomorrow!"
I glared at him, "Don't even joke! I see my doctor in a week, and I'll already be in the hospital, and it'll be fine. I don't want to wake up in the middle of the night because my water broke again."
"I'm just joking with you, sweets." He laughed as he stood up and gave me a kiss.
"I know, but still..." I sighed.
He smiled and wrapped his arms around me and then kissed my forehead.
"I know, I just can't wait until we get to meet our new baby. I'm very excited. I want to know what gender it is, who it looks like, traits it may have, everything."
"I know. I really hope it's a little girl. I mean, I'll love the baby regardless, but we do need a female heiress, preferably more than one if possible..."
"Well, if we have a boy, we'll just have to go and make more babies." Clifford laughed.
"I'd be okay with that," I giggled.
Clifford smiled sexily, "Yeah, baby making can be rather....fun, don't you agree, Mrs. Stephens?"
I giggled a little, "Why yes, yes it can. But, we can talk more about that later, I need to go get some sleep." I laughed as I walked passed him and a few moments later, we were both in bed, fast asleep.
At four-thirty in the morning after I had gone to bed, I woke up, screaming loudly. My water had broken.
I gasped and sat up, breathing heavily, and although we had done this before, Clifford freaked out.
"Uh! Where's the bag? Should I go wake up your mom? Should I go get the car? I-uh-er!"
"Clifford!" I yelled, making him stop his freaking out for a moment, "Go get the bag, it's in the closet, then on your way down to the car, wake up my mom. I can get to the car just fine on my own, okay?"
"Okay!" He gasped and started doing what he had to do.
We got to the hospital just at sunrise, and at 7:00 AM, my baby was born.
Everyone, welcome the newest member of the Stephens Clan, Todd Xavier Stephens, my second born son.