Stabbing regret washed through Dan. “We’re not moving until after graduation, Dad. There’s a sheriff’s position in the Gifted precinct opening up. Fionna’s grandfather says its mine if I want it. I’d really like to take over that position and run the farm.
“Son, will you just do something for me?” The Governor pled. “I know Venton and you aren’t a good fit. I’ll get you a job anywhere you want, just please think about it. Don’t take my grandbabies five thousand miles away from me.”
Swallowing back a sudden onslaught of emotion, Dan managed a breath. “Dad,” he sighed, “I can’t promise you that. Okay, I know it’s a long way, but that may be where we’re supposed to be. I… just know I can’t stay here.” He willed his father to understand.
“Just think about it. For me, think about it.”
“Fine,” Dan agreed. As uncomfortable silence drown the office, he made his escape.
By Halloween, very little progress had been made on either the test vault or the drug tests. Governor Vindico had called for a surprise drug testing. The urine samples were watched over constantly by the heads of the lab at Georgetown, but there’d been no tampering and none of the tests had come back positive.
Venton students were well aware of the school’s policy on drug use, and most of them steered clear. The system had worked for decades.
The students were distracted most of the day though Dan wasn’t certain why until he heard about the Halloween party being thrown by a few of the students that evening at one of the nearby country clubs.
Becca had returned to school for half the day. Jeff watched over her like a hawk while she made her way through her classes, and then she returned home with orders from Adeline to sit down and relax. They often ate lunch with Dan in his office instead of in the lunchroom meaning that Jeff wasn’t overhearing much about either of the cases they were still working.
“You okay?” Dan answered his cell on the first ring before he took a bite of the sandwich he’d packed for his lunch.
“I’m fine,” Fionna sighed, weary of Dan’s frantic watch over her. She’d grown to a size where she was hardly able to stand without help, or for any length of time. She could no longer see her feet, and she was unable to go longer than a half hour between bathroom breaks.
As she put it, the once sweet round ball that contained her baby girl now looked more like skin stretched over a body. According to her, Halia had dropped so low that she felt like she was walking with a cantaloupe between her legs. She was uncomfortable most of the time and not in that great of a mood.
Walking across the room seemed to exhaust her. Most of the time she was starving, but she wasn’t able to eat more than a few bites of food. There wasn’t much room left. She’d lost four pounds at her checkup, Monday. Adeline explained that if she continued to lose weight that they would be inducing labor the within the next week. This was also due to the fact that Fionna was having intense Braxton-Hicks contractions every night. Dan tried to keep her casted to drown the pain.
She was already dilated nearly four centimeters and was spotting from the gun shot injury to her uterus.
Dan was in a constant state of panic. He was terrified she was going to go into labor while he was at work, so he broke out in a sweat every time his cell phone rang.
He’d arranged for Aida to go trick or treating with Olivia and Oliver under Meredith’s supervision that night. Fionna being able to stand and give out candy to the marauding band of goblins, witches, wizards, superheroes, and princesses seemed fairly slim, and Dan wasn’t leaving her to take Aida trick or treating.
“I was just wondering why we don’t have any more of those pickles that I want. I’m cleaning out the refrigerator, and they’re gone” Fionna demanded.
“Uh… I don’t know, baby. I can get some on my way home.” He decided against pointing out that they were out because she’d eaten them all in two day’s time.
“Okay, and those protein bar things that Adeline wants me to eat a little at a time,” she reminded him.
“You got it. I’m cutting out early, so I won’t be much longer.”
“I know I’m probably completely miserable to be around,” she fussed. Her voice faltered on the verge of tears.
Letting his eyes close in defeat, Dan rubbed his temples.
“Baby, you are not miserable to be around. I love you. I hate that you feel so badly. I want to come home, and take care of you.”
His plea brought on a deluge of tears. He decided to cancel his last class and just go home.
Racing into the kitchen an hour later, his eyes goggled.
“Fi, baby, what are you doing?” Shock tensed in his shield. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing with his own eyes.
“I’m cleaning behind the refrigerator,” she scoffed as if the rather large refrigerator in their kitchen now standing away from the wall was completely normal. The doors were flung open. All of the food previously contained in the fridge was now covering the countertops. His extremely pregnant wife was behind the refrigerator with the vacuum.
“How did you get back there?” he demanded.
“I climbed. How else are we going to clean it?” She sounded like Dan was the most unintelligent person she’d been around in a while.
“Dear God.” Studying their home, he rubbed his forehead. “Sweetheart, what have you been doing today?” He tried for nonchalance but missed the mark.
“Well,” Fionna suddenly sounded quite perky, “I vacuumed the whole house, cleaned all of the bathtubs, reorganized Aida and Halia’s closets, cleaned the ovens, scrubbed the bathrooms, and reorganized the entertainment center. Oh, and I cleaned the Blu-ray player,” she informed him.
“Wow,” Dan willed his heart to beat in rhythm. Before he could make another comment, Fionna was climbing back up on the counter top to escape the refrigerator.
“Whoa, okay.” Dan guided her into his arms gently. She turned to force the refrigerator back into its proper location.
“Baby, stop. I’ll move anything you want. Just tell me what you want to clean,” he promised.
“I just got to thinking about how we watch movies all the time, so obviously the Blu-ray player needed to be cleaned,” she explained as if she’d heard nothing he’d said.
“Do you think we should get a dog?” she asked suddenly.
“I’m gonna go with probably not today.” He located the telephone list Fionna had made of who to call when she went into labor. He was going to need it very soon.
After Fionna methodically loaded all of the food back into the refrigerator, she decided she wanted to clean out her vanity table. This provided Dan the perfect opportunity to watch over her while he packed his bag for the hospital.
Aida arrived home, looking forward to trick or treating. She’d never done anything like that before and was anxious to try it. Dan hated that he couldn’t go with her, but there was absolutely no way he was leaving Fionna in her current condition.
“Can I put on my hula costume now?” she begged as soon as she’d had her snack.
“I vacuumed it for you,” Fionna informed her. Dan tried not to laugh as Aida stared at her mother like she’d lost her mind.
“Just go with it. Mommy really wants to clean today,” Dan assured Aida in a quiet whisper. She nodded, but was well aware that something was off.
In the split second it had taken Dan to reassure Aida, Fionna had disappeared into the laundry room and was trying to move the washer and dryer.
“Fionna,” Dan raced to her. “Baby, please sit down. I’ll clean up in here. You just relax.”
“I’m fine. I feel great. I need to clean!” With a dramatic roll of her eyes, she laid the wet rags she’d been using to wipe down the appliances on top of the dryer. She turned and made yet another trip to the bathroom.
Dan cell rang. As if he’d needed more confirmation that his baby girl was going to be in his arms very soon, he answered Tutu’s call.
“And how is my Maylea, Daniel?” There was an excited lilt to her voice.
Unable to halt his grin or calm his nerves, Dan chuckled. “Why don’t you tell me?”
Fionna’s grandmother laughed heartily.
“Uh,” Dan checked to make certain Fionna hadn’t come out of the restroom. “She’s cleaning like a mad woman and not making a great deal of sense.”
Tutu sighed audibly. “The day Elisabeth gave birth to Maylea, she yelled at Papa because the spring planting rows we’d just put in weren’t straight enough, and as I recall, because the dirt was dirty.”
“That sounds about right.” He followed Fionna back into the laundry room and pulled the washing machine forward. He cradled the phone between his ear and shoulder.
“Thank you!” Fionna kissed his cheek like he’d just given her a great gift.
“She’ll be all right. She needs you to be calm and to be the rock she clings to. Her receptors are off. She’s feeling everything from you, from herself, from the baby, from everyone around her. It’s going to increase the closer she gets, and it will overwhelm her. Try to keep her calm and give her the raspberry chamomile tea I sent her home with. It will help her balance everything and prepare her to deliver. She’s going to be off for a while. Remember you are her stronghold. That’s what you’ve always been for her, and she needs you now more than ever,” Tutu explained.
“You know, there’s nowhere else I would ever be.” He headed back into the kitchen long enough to bid Tutu farewell and to make a mug of tea. “I’m sure I’ll be calling you soon.” He leaned back over the counter to make certain Fionna hadn’t decided to perform other feats of gymnastics.
“Yes, you will,” was Tutu’s parting line.
He couldn’t believe they’d made it this far. It seemed so surreal. He’d wanted it so badly, and Halia was most certainly on her way. His heart ached as he watched the most beautiful woman in the world try to prepare their home for the arrival.
“Uh,” he took her left hand. She continued to scrub with the other. “I was thinking after you have some tea, we should pack your bag for the hospital.”
Her energy was beginning to give slightly rhythmic pulses. Dan felt one and pulled Fionna into him, hoping to hold on to her long enough to feel the next and get a time.
Her stomach was hard as a rock, but she pulled away before he could read the next pulse indicating the beginning of her contractions. It was going to be a while yet.
“Why? She’s not coming for three more weeks,” Fionna scoffed. “And I don’t need tea. I need the vacuum.”
Dan choked back a chuckle. His Receiver, the strongest of their generation, had her own body so flooded with birthing hormones, her energy reading in erratic unusual pulses, but she was unable to feel what was happening yet. Her own mind couldn’t read its way through her hormones.
It took him about four seconds to come up with a surefire way to get her to pack. “I’d feel better if we were all packed, so I’ll just do it. That way you can keep cleaning. Halia really just needs those t-shirt things right?”
“No, wait! It’s going to be freezing out when she comes. She needs more than a t-shirt.” Fionna rolled her eyes. “Here, I’ll do it.” She marched towards the nursery with Dan hot on her heels. He carried the tea and kept encouraging Fionna to sip it as she packed.
But fifteen minutes later, he watched confusedly as Fionna packed the large diaper bag she’d picked out for Halia. Thus far, she’d packed seven receiving blankets, two pairs of tiny black-paten Mary Janes, a rattle, a cloth doll, and nine stretchy hair bands complete with large silk flowers in varying colors.
“Daddy, could you help me?” Aida scooted into the nursery carrying her grass skirt.
“Sure.” Dan assured her as he watched Fionna stare into Halia’s closet not appearing to see anything at all. He guided Aida into her skirt and tied it up around her waist when the doorbell rang.
Biting back a curse word in front of his daughter, he raced down the stairs to deal with the first trick or treaters. He grabbed a bag of mini Butterfingers from the pantry where the Halloween candy had been stored. Over half of the bag was already gone.
He opened the door and was given the customary response. As he began dropping candy into plastic pumpkin heads and pillowcases, Fionna appeared.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded hotly. Dan had no idea how to respond. “Those are mine.” She jerked the bag of candy bars away from him then reached in one of the pumpkins and removed the Butterfinger from a little girl dressed as Snow White. She held them protectively to her chest. The trick or treaters were thoroughly confused.
“Just one second.” Dan tried to remain calm as Fionna fell onto the sofa unwrapping candy bars. He raced back into the kitchen praying that his wife had no emotional attachment to Tootsie Rolls as he distributed the candy. “Okay.” he closed the door trying to draw a deep breath. He flew up the stairs and retrieved the tea cup from the changing table. “Here. Drink this.” He forced the mug into her hands.
“Fine,” Fionna agreed with a sigh as she began studying the living room furniture.
Dan frantically called Zach. “Hey, man. Everything okay?” his brother in law’s calm cool demeanor did nothing to soothe Dan.
“I don’t know. Did my sister go insane just before she went into labor?” Dan whispered as he rushed into the kitchen to pour the bags of candy into a bowl to set by the front door.
Unabashed laughter poured from Zach. “For a while there, I thought she was possessed. Why don’t we come over see if we can’t help you out?”
“Thank you,” Dan decided to accept. Aida followed him into the kitchen with her haku crown for her head and her wrist and ankle leis.
Getting off of the phone with Zach, he rushed back to the front door attempting to dress Aida while simultaneously handing out candy to a gaggle of toddlers arranged on his front porch.
His cell rang, and Dan answered without seeing who was calling.
“Dan, it’s Stephen, son. Is this a good time?” The Crown Governor requested kindly.
“Uh…” he wasn’t certain what the correct response might be. He checked the living room again and nearly dropped his cell phone in the candy bowl. “Fionna! Do not move the sofa!”
“I think we should rearrange the living room furniture,” she informed him loud enough for the Governor to hear her.
Governor Haydenshire laughed hysterically.
“Baby, please just sit down for me,” Dan begged.
“Lillian, do you think the twins would mind trick or treating over in Crescent Hills?” He was still chuckling. “Why don’t we see if we can’t help out a little? I was calling to see how you were doing with Clarence, but I’d say you’re not too worried about him at the moment.”
“You don’t have to do that, sir,” Dan tried to sound reassuring but the doorbell rang again, and Fionna began moving the coffee table across the room.
“Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom.” Aida lamented. That meant she would now have to remove her grass skirt. Dan fought not to curse.
“I’ve done this several times, Dan. Let us help,” the Governor tried to soothe. “Why don’t I phone your dad? They’re supposed to keep Aida when you leave for the hospital, correct?”
“Yeah, but we’re not ready for that I don’t think,” Dan confessed.
“We’ll see you in a few.”
Zach and Kara arrived with little Aidan dressed as a pumpkin. Meredith was next to take Aida trick or treating. Aida and Olivia were thrilled to be hula girls together while Oliver had chosen an Ironman costume.
Fionna’s cell phone rang. “Hey, Em,” she squealed, delighted with Emily’s call. Receivers around the globe, that adored his wife, all felt her oncoming labor. “No, I feel great. I’m thinking about rearranging the living room, just for something different.” There was another pause. “Why does everyone keep telling me to sit down?”
Zach and Dan tried not to laugh.
“Wait, she hasn’t eaten,” Dan remembered as Meredith was about to take Aida out. She gave her brother a soothing smile.
“This is going to be a big night. Why don’t you let me take care of Aida? We’ll go by the house. The kids ate hot dogs. We have plenty. She can spend the night,” Meredith urged.
Dan shook his head. He knew his girls better than anyone. “She won’t stay overnight,” he whispered. “She’s gonna feel what’s happening as soon as Fi’s rhythms pick up a little more.”
Meredith nodded, “Okay, well, I’ll bring her back whenever she wants to come, but you might wanna go ahead and call Dad.”
“I will.” He kissed the top of Aida’s head and told her to have fun. She nodded but clung to Dan’s hand.
“Take care of Mommy, please. I don’t think she feels quite right,” Aida confessed in a concerned whisper.
Dan knelt down to stare into those deep, chocolate brown eyes. “I know, baby,” he soothed. “I don’t think it’s going to be too much longer until you’re a big sister, okay?”
A broad grin spread across Aida’s face. “I’ll help.” She set down her pumpkin bucket.
“It won’t be for a while. You can trick or treat and then we’ll take care of mommy together.”
“Are you sure?”
Aida nodded though she was biting her lip and studying her mother.
“We’ll be back before Mommy and Daddy go to the hospital,” Meredith promised her.
“Okay,” she eased, but she didn’t want to go.
“I’ll take care of Mommy,” Dan vowed.
Willing bravery, Aida let Meredith guide her down the steps.
“Fionna!” Zach leapt as Fionna attempted to climb up onto the coffee table to dust the fan.
The Haydenshires and fifteen trick or treaters arrived at that moment. Dan and Zach guided Fionna down from the table and back to the sofa. The Crown Governor guffawed as he shook his head.
“Lillian, dear, I want you to take this all in,” he commanded. “Ten times,” he reminded her.
Rolling her eyes Mrs. Haydenshire chuckled. “Stephen, honey, until you have actually experienced the kind of hormone and energy bursts that cause this, you will have no vocalized opinion,” she informed him wryly.
Governor Haydenshire turned to Dan. “Logan and Connor took the boys trick or treating near the farm. Adeline decided she would try and get some sleep since she’s expecting your call in the very near future. We dropped Abigail off with Rainer and Emily. And your parents are on the way,” he concluded.
“Thank you,” Dan pledged.
Heading into the living room, Dan tried to sort through his erratic thoughts and more emotions that he was capable of understanding at the moment. “Fi, please drink your tea. Here, I’ll reheat it for you.” He grabbed the mug and heated it with his hand before giving it to his wife.
“I can’t drink tea. There’s so much to do, and now, all of these people are at our house. Why are all these people at our house?” she stunned.
“I know,” he soothed, “But just take a break and rest. Drink the tea. I think it’ll make you feel better.”
“Okay,” Fionna shrugged. “My back’s bothering me a little, probably tweaked it when I moved the fridge.”
Dan and Zach shared a knowing glance with Governor Haydenshire.
Mrs. Haydenshire stepped in. “Fionna, sweetheart, why don’t I see what I can whip us up for dinner, and you just sit and let Dan rub your back.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that. I’m sure I’ll be fine in just a minute,” Fionna assured her.
“I really would like to.” Mrs. Haydenshire directed Dan to the couch.
He sank down beside Fionna and drew her to his chest. Emotion gripped his throat. All of the love he felt for her and all that she was about to go through to bring their child into the world had him in a sudden chokehold. His body couldn’t contain the sheer amount of adoring love he had for the woman seated beside him that couldn’t make sense of what was happening around her.
“I’ve got you.” He heated his hand and began absorbing the pain.
“Where’s the car seat?” Zach asked in a barely audible whisper.
“In the nursery,” Dan directed. Zach disappeared upstairs.
Trying to keep Fionna from concentrating too much on what he was doing when he returned, Zach raced out into the garage with the seat.
“I have to pee again,” Fionna huffed. Dan guided her up and watched over her obsessively as she waddled to the bathroom.
“What can I do?” Kara asked sweetly as she glanced at Aiden sound asleep in his own car seat.
“Uh,” Dan ran his hands through his hair, trying to formulate a plan. “I’m assuming my little girl will need to wear more than seven flower headbands and tiny Mary Jane booties home from the hospital.”
Giggling, Kara made a quick return to the nursery.
“Dan, do you have a few towels you don’t mind being ruined that you might want to put in the passenger seat of your car?” Mrs. Haydenshire urged with a great deal of knowing wisdom.
“Oh, yes ma’am.” He headed to the laundry room.
“Here, Kara, let me help,” Mrs. Haydenshire urged. “She’s early so she’s going to be small.”
“I think she put some preemie stuff in one of the dresser drawers,” Dan remembered suddenly. “Fi, you okay?” he knocked on the bathroom door, trying not to panic.
Mrs. Haydenshire paused on the step.
“No,” Fionna choked.
“Let me in, Fi,” Dan shook the door knob. She opened the door looking pale and terrified.
“Something came out, and it was kind of gross.” She was trembling as she tried not to completely freak out.
He guided her into his chest as Mrs. Haydenshire gazed at them sweetly. “That was your mucus plug, sweetheart. It’s fine it’s supposed to happen.” She assured her tenderly.
“Remember, they said that in the class,” Dan reminded her gently.
“No. It can’t be. I don’t know how to have a baby,” she wilted in Dan’s arms.
“Hey, it’s ok, baby,” he soothed. “You’re going to be amazing. You always are,” he vowed adamantly.
“He’s right. You’re going to be just fine. Your body knows precisely what needs to happen, and you still have quite a while. Maybe even a few days,” Mrs. Haydenshire lied well. “Why don’t you go sit down and let Dan cast you for a little while? We’ll take care of everything. You’re already an amazing mom, and this will be no different.” She knew all of the things to say. Dan had never been so thankful for her presence. He set his shield firmly in place over his wife.