And Then There Were Four

Nov. 2

When the door closed behind their friends, Kemara and Sean let out identical sighs and laughed.

“Not that I’m not thrilled to see them, especially Joshua,” Kemara began, unable to tear her eyes away from her son’s face. “But….”

“Yeah, it’s been a long day,” Sean was equally captivated by Joy. “I wonder if her eyes will stay blue?”

Kemara yawned. “Maybe.” She shifted, wincing. “I’m starting to feel my legs again. And everything else….”

Ian squirmed in her arms, rooting against the front of her gown. “I think he’s hungry, but I don’t want to try nursing them until I know how.”

Sean frowned. “How hard can it be?”

She shot him a look, and he wisely said nothing more.
Ian was wailing, and Joy too had begun to fuss before Portia returned.  She was followed by a tall, thin woman with skin even darker than her own.

“I’m sorry! I meant to come right back, but I got sidetracked,” the doctor apologized. “Sounds like some little people are hungry. Do you still want to try breastfeeding?”

Kemara nodded. “But we’re going to bottle feed too, so Sean can help out.”

“This is Naijeonna. She’s our lactation consultant and an expert at getting preemies and babies with Down Syndrome to breastfeed. Just let me check you over, and I’ll get out of your way.”

She examined Kemara to make sure there was no excessive bleeding and asked her to move her legs.

“When you’re through here, you can go back to your room in a wheelchair. You can have a shower but use the stool in there. I don’t want you walking or standing for too long for another few hours.”

“How long will she need to stay?” Sean asked. “And can I stay with her?”

Portia smiled at him. “Hospital policy says she can stay two days after delivery if there are no complications, and yes, you’re welcome to keep her company. Alright, I’ll check back in with you both later.”

“Under the circumstances, I think we’d better jump right in,” Naijeonna said, taking a seat on the other side of Kemara’s bed. “Who is this?” she stroked Ian’s cheek.

“He’s Ian, and she’s Joy.”

“Let’s start with him, then.”

Deftly, Naijeonna showed Kemara how to position the baby.

“This is what we call the ‘football’ hold,” she said, helping Kemara cup Ian’s head and support his body with her arm.

“I could do that,” Sean joked.  

Kemara smiled. “You don’t have the proper equipment.”

Ian grew more frustrated as his attempts failed.

“I don’t have any milk yet, do I? I mean, they are early.”

“Not actual milk, but you do have a sort of pre-milk called colostrum. Your milk may take a few days to come in, but you should go ahead and nurse them on a schedule, so they’ll be used to it before they go home.”

Kemara yelped, and Ian’s cries cut off abruptly.

“Wow....I wasn’t…” She blushed. “It’s...odd.”

Naijeonna chuckled. “It takes some getting used to.”

Sean looked confused. “Huh?”

“Let’s just say some husbands get a little bit jealous,” Naijeonna smirked.

“Oh!” He shrugged good-naturedly. “Well, I can still admire their original purpose.”

Kemara rolled her eyes. “And you’ll have plenty of opportunity. I might as well just stop wearing shirts.”

He opened his mouth to reply and thought better of it.

They all watched as the baby suckled eagerly. After a couple of minutes his frantic motions slowed.

“He’s tired right now.’re getting sleepy, aren’t you?” the nurse said as the infant’s eyes fluttered closed.

“Being born is hard work,” Sean joked. “Joy’s dozed off too.”

Naijeonna showed Kemara how to release Ian’s hold and burp him. “Now let’s see how Miss Joy does.”

“I’ll get Ian settled in the NICU. Is that alright?” Barbara asked.

“What about feeding him again?” Kemara asked, obviously reluctant to let her son out of her sight.

“He’ll sleep for a while now, and so should you. You can nurse him again in the morning.” She glanced at the clock on the wall which read 4:30. “Or later today,” she amended.

Sean put his hand over Kemara’s where she held their boy. “Do you want me to go with them?”

“Please.” Kemara kissed Ian’s forehead and let Barbara place him in the portable crib. “I know it’s silly, but….”

“Not silly at all,” Sean settled Joy in her arms and kissed them both. “I’ll see you in your room.”

He and Barbara went out, with Sean keeping one hand on the crib.

Nursing Joy proved to be more complicated than Kemara had expected. The baby was obviously hungry, but appeared to lack the muscle control to latch on and suck. When at last she did grab hold, it was only for a few seconds.

“I think that wore her out,” Kemara said anxiously. “I hope she actually got something.”

“It was a good start,” Naijeonna encouraged. “Keep at it. The same muscles she uses to nurse also help with speech, you know.”

“Physical therapy already,” Kemara chuckled. Her own eyelids fluttered.

“I think that’s enough for right now,” the nurse said. “I’ll have someone get you back to your room so you can have a shower and some sleep. Then, I’ll take Joy to the NICU and make sure she’s next to Ian.”

“Thank you,” Kemara smiled at her. “And for the lesson.”

“We’ll have another one this afternoon,” Naijeonna promised.

The morning shift nurse, Jana, was helping Kemara back into bed after a shower when Sean returned from the neonatal intensive care unit.

“They’re both in dreamland,” he said, slumping down in the bedside chair. “How’re you doing?”

“That was the best shower ever,” she moaned. “It’s so wonderful to be clean!”

He chuckled. “Man....Now I do feel jealous.”

“Hmmm...You or a hot shower? That’s a hard choice.” She mustered a grin. “Mom and Dad texted a few minutes ago. They’re going to get some sleep at our place and visit later on. I said that was fine.”

He yawned, and she held out a hand. “You’re not sleeping in that chair. Get up here with me.”

“I won’t argue.”

They lay quiet for a few minutes. When Sean spoke again, he sounded half asleep already. “You realize we’re in for a lifetime of Halloween birthday parties?”

She laughed. “Well, that should make things easier!”

“I still can’t believe it.”

“Me either. I miss them.” She put a hand on her already smaller stomach. “Here, I mean, after carrying them for so long. But I want to hold them too.”

Sean put a hand over hers. “We will. For the rest of their lives.”

And they slept.

Kemara opened her eyes and stared at the riot of colors in front of her nose.


She blinked, and the blob resolved into a large vase of wildflowers on the bedside table.

“From your parents.”

She turned onto her back - taking a moment to relish the previously-forbidden position - and looked up at Sean who had resumed the chair. He had shaved and changed his clothes, she noticed.

“The roses are from me.” He pointed to another vase on the windowsill filled with yellow blooms. Beside it was a potted plant with purple flowers.  “And the butterfly bush is from all the Friends.”

“My parents?” She struggled to sit up and he helped her, raising the head of the bed. “When did they come by?”

“About an hour ago. They’re getting lunch in the cafeteria.”

“Lunch? What time is it? How long did I sleep?”

He chuckled. “So many questions! It’s 11:30, and you slept about six hours. Your folks got here at 10, and I took them to see the babies - who are doing fine. They peeked in and decided not to wake you.”

“As long I get to see them.” Kemara poured herself a cup of water and drank thirstily.

“Your dad said they can stay as long as we need them. They’re having the rest of their things shipped up here so they can start moving into the new house. My folks have offered to put them up for the duration.”

He gave a mock shudder. “Both sets of parents in one house! We’re doomed….”

“I’m so glad! It’ll be great having them here.” Her stomach rumbled loudly. “Is my Subway sandwich still in the fridge? I’m starving!”

“Actually, I ate that one,” Sean said. “But I had your parents pick you up another on their way here. I’ll go get it.”

Other needs besides hunger were making themselves felt. Cautiously, Kemara sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Feeling had returned to them completely, and she was only a little shaky when she stood. She made her way slowly into the bathroom and took care of things, remembering the advice Jana had given her.

Sean was waiting when she hobbled out of the little room.

“Doing okay?”

He started to help her back into bed, but she stopped him.

“No, I want to sit at the table - with a cushion,” she added hastily.

“Sore?” He set out the food and pulled out a chair at the small table by the window.

She eased carefully onto the doughnut cushion. “I guess I will be for a while. You’re just gonna have to keep spoiling me!”

“I always spoil you,” he said, sitting across from her.

“And I love you for it.”

She took a huge bite of her Italian sub and groaned.

“But not as much as you love that sandwich right now,” he laughed.

She swallowed and reached for the bag of chips. “I’d forgotten how good deli meat tastes…..even if is terribly bad for you.”

A knock on the partly-open door made them look up.

“Mom...Daddy…” Kemara was out of her chair before Sean could help. She stumbled a little and fell into her parents’ arms, happy tears running down her face.

Sean rose too, seeing his own parents hanging back in the doorway. He went out to them, and was surprised to see Emma and Peter there as well.

“We know you’re both tired, but if you and Kemara have a minute, we’d all like to talk to you,” Peter said after they had exchanged greetings.

“Of course,” Sean said. “Kemara hasn’t been up to NICU yet. You’re welcome to come with us,” he offered.

Emma nodded eagerly. “We don’t have to hold them or anything, but I’d love to see them.” She hesitated. “Andrew said you had…extra visitors?”

He grinned. “Yes, we did.”

Kemara and her parents joined them.

“Emma and Peter! I’m so glad you’re here!” Kemara hugged them both, wiping away fresh tears. “Don’t mind me, I’m super emotional today.”

Peter chuckled. “That’s fine. We’d like to talk to you and Sean for just a few minutes? Maybe in the family room?”

Kemara glanced at Sean who shrugged.

“Sure. Let me grab your food so you can finish lunch.”  

When they had found seats in the small waiting room down the hall, Keith said, “Obviously, we’re thrilled that Ian and Joy are here, but it was earlier than any of us planned for. So we wanted to ask if there’s anything you two need?”

“Peter and I will let the others know, too, ” Emma added.

Sean took a deep breath, and Kemara set down her sandwich to take his hand. “Remember what you told me,” she said quietly, and he nodded.

“Yes. Thank you...There are a few things. I was planning to trade in my truck this month, and we need car seats.”

Keith nodded. “I’ll handle the truck.” He took the keys Sean handed him. “Don’t worry…I won’t get you a van.”

Everyone chuckled. “I don’t think we’re at that point just yet,” Kemara said. “Maybe in a few years.”

“And I’ll ask Diana about car seats, what they use for Manny,” Emma said making a note on her phone. “What else?”

Kemara frowned “Well, the nursery is done, but I’m not sure if we have everything we need. There’s no rush about it, though, since we don’t know how long we’ll all have to stay here.”

Joyce hugged her. “We’ll check, and we’ll have everyone start cooking so you can come home to a full freezer.”

Megan nodded. “And we’ll make a list of volunteers so you’ll be able to take plenty of breaks.”

Kemara sniffed and blinked back fresh tears. “Thank you all so much.”

“Yes,” Sean’s voice sounded choked. “Thank you. I told Kemara we needed to swallow our pride and ask for help, but it’s harder than I thought it would be.”

Keith patted his son’s back. “Well from now on, don’t hesitate - we can’t read your minds after all.”

He smiled at Joyce and David. “Now, I think we’d like to see our grandchildren.”

Kemara laughed. “Sean tells me you guys have seen them sooner than me. I haven’t even visited yet.” She smiled up at her husband. “Lead the way, then.”

The NICU was a large room painted in soothing pastels. Some of the isolettes had been decorated with bright patchwork quilts and colorful nametags.

A nurse checked Kemara's and Sean’s bracelets and had the others sign in before she led them to a niche holding two isolettes and a pair of rocking chairs.

“You’re just in time to feed them lunch,” she said. “I’ll let Naijeonna know you’re here. She should be back from her break soon.”

She picked up Joy - swaddled in a pink blanket - and Megan held out her arms. Joyce took Ian who was wrapped in a blue blanket.

“Peter and I won’t stay long,” Emma assured them. “I know this is a lot of people.”

The nurse shook her head. “We usually have three babies in this space - we call it a pod - but we’re not full right now, so Ian and Joy have a private room.” She gestured. “Just pull the curtains across for privacy.” She left them and went back to the desk.

“Oh, they’re so beautiful!” Emma whispered. “Look at that red hair….”

“Spitting image of her Daddy,” Peter grinned and reached out a gentle finger to stroke Joy’s cheek.

“Why don’t you hold her, Peter?” Kemara said. “And Emma do you want to hold Ian?”

“Let’s play pass the baby,” Sean quipped, and everyone laughed softly.

“But only until one of them needs a diaper change,” David added. “Then you and Kemara can have them back.”

Kemara snorted. “I actually haven’t gotten to do that yet,” she pointed out.

“Well I did!” Sean chuckled. “The nurse was a bit surprised I knew what to do.”

Megan looked wistful. “You were so sweet after Ciara was born. You wanted to help with everything.”

“Aww…” Kemara teased. “I’m glad you got early practice.”

The curtains twitched aside, and Portia peered in. “Hello, all.”

Emma laid Ian in Kemara’s arms. “Hi, Portia. Peter and I just stopped by for a quick snuggle. We’ll get out of your way.”

“Yeah, it’s getting crowded in here - but happily so.” Peter let David take Joy and the couple said their goodbyes.

Portia checked over both babies, then pulled up a stool.

“Well! It’s been an exciting couple of days!”

“I’m sorry we missed all of it,” Joyce said, a little sadly.

Kemara smiled at her mother. “But you’re here now, and that’s all that matters.”

“And how are you two doing?” Portia asked.

“Pretty overwhelmed, to be honest,” Kemara said.

Sean nodded. “Yeah, we weren’t ready for this at all.”

“I don’t think anyone is really ready for children until they become parents,” Portia said. “And I say that as a parent myself. Now, I’m sure you have a lot of questions….”

“Oh, just a few,” Keith said.

Portia rolled her eyes in mock annoyance. “Now I see where Sean gets his sense of humor. Okay, for starters, their apgar scores are very good and the scans show that the hole in Ian’s heart hasn’t enlarged since the last check we did.”

Kemara instinctively held Ian a little closer. “But it didn’t shrink like you were hoping.”

“No, but we’ll continue with regular checkups.” Portia consulted the chart she held. “ It doesn’t seem to be affecting his energy, and the oxygen level in his blood is where it should be. With luck, he’ll be able to live a perfectly normal life.”

“That’s good news,” Megan sighed.

Kemara dropped a kiss on Ian’s tiny nose, and asked what everyone wanted to know. “What about Joy?” She glanced over at the baby who was sleeping in her grandfather’s arms.

“Our tests show that her heart is fine,” Portia said. “Since heart defects are common in infants with Down syndrome, that’s a huge relief.”

David studied Joy’s sleeping face. “So she does have…Downs?”

“Yes. She has several physical markers,” Portia said. “Obviously, we won’t know how much her development is affected until a little later on.”

“But she had trouble nursing,” Kemara pointed out. “I thought it was supposed to be instinct.”

“Even babies who are normal,” Portia made air quotes around the word, “sometimes have problems.” Her pager beeped and she glanced at it. “Oh, good. Naijeonna is on her way up. She can discuss the nursing issues better than I can.”

“Let see…what else? You’ve met with someone from Early Intervention?” she asked the new parents.

Sean nodded. “Yeah, thank you for setting that up. It will make things so much easier.”

His parents and in-laws looked confused, so Portia explained. “Joy is entitled to therapy services provided by the state of New York until she’s 3-years-old. I was able to find a therapist who’s also a Tunnel Helper.”

“So we don’t have to hide Dyeland or the Tunnels,” Kemara finished happily. “I don’t know what we would’ve done otherwise. Probably moved in with Isra and Behnam which would’ve been really crowded.”

Joyce shook her head. “It still amazes me how interconnected everyone is. But it’s a blessing.”

“Very much so!” Portia waved to Naijeonna who had just come into the ward.

The specialist pulled up a stool and joined them.

After introducing her, Portia said, “We were just discussing how Joy had some problems the first time she tried to nurse. I told everyone you could talk about that better than me, Naije.”

Naijeonna smiled. “I don’t know about that. Joy did have difficulty latching on the first time. But as Sean said, being born is hard work. In addition, Kemara’s milk hasn’t come in yet.”

Kemara blushed. “I do feel….fuller…but I’m not really sure.”

“It might take another day or two. So with all that, I don’t think we need to be worrying just yet.”

Ian stirred in Kemara’s arms, and yawned hugely, making them all smile.

“It looks like he is waking up if you want to go ahead and feed him,” Naijeonna suggested.

Kemara went even redder. “O-okay.”

Keith chuckled and stood up. “David, what say you and I go for a walk?”

“If it will spare my daughter’s modesty, sure.” David chuckled. He carefully gave Joy to his wife.

“Daddy!” Kemara couldn’t help laughing as her father bent down to kiss her. “You’re awful!”

“Son, I guess I don’t have to ask if you want to come?” Keith said.

Sean grinned. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“And I need to finish my rounds,” Portia said. “I’ll check on you this afternoon,” she told Kemara and followed the men out.

When they had all left, Kemara put Ian to her breast with only a little assistance from Naijeonna.

“He’s hungry!” Kemara said wincing in pain. “That’s good, but it hurts.”

Megan looked sympathetic. “It’ll get better.”

“I’ll give you some cream that will help,” Naijeonna said. When Ian finished, she helped Kemara detach and burp him.

As before, Joy seemed to be too weak to suck, though she was obviously eager for nourishment.

“We’ll keep trying,” Naijeonna said, patting Kemara’s arm. “Let me get some formula and a dropper. I’ll be right back.”

Kemara hugged Joy close trying to soothe her. “Hush, sweetie. It’s okay….”

Sean heard the catch in her voice and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Hey, she’ll get there.’

“You never did nurse well,” Joyce said wistfully. “And when you tried, my milk didn’t agree with you. Cow’s milk wasn’t any better. We ended up feeding you goat’s milk for a long while”

“Doesn’t seem to have done you any harm,” Sean teased gently. “Your eyes are normal, and you don’t have horns.”

Kemara sniffed and managed a smile. “That’s true. I’d look really funny with horns.”

The nurse returned with a cup and eyedropper. “Now, let’s try this.”

It was a slow process, but eventually Joy got her fill. As she drifted off to sleep again, Ian woke with a wet diaper, so Kemara got her first chance to change him.

“Is there a list of ‘first experiences’ where we can check things off?” she asked, fastening the clean diaper.

“You mean like ‘first explosive poop’?” Sean asked innocently.

Megan laughed. “Oh, you won’t forget that one.”

“Isn’t that the truth?” Joyce said. “I certainly haven’t. For such a little thing she made quite a mess.”

“Wonderful….” Kemara muttered.

Naijeonna tucked Ian back into his crib. “It all evens out,” she said. “Take my advice and get some sleep when they do.”

Kemara yawned. “Yeah, I’m pretty tired.”

“I’ll bring a pump before their next feeding and show you how to use it.”

Sean helped Kemara to her feet. “Come on. Time for a nap.”

David and Keith met them outside the ward.

“We want to do one last walk through of the house before the movers get here,” David said. “So I think we’ll see you all tomorrow.”

Megan nodded. “And Ciara wanted me to come over. She’s got some baby things she says you can have. Most are Erin’s but a few are from the boys.”

“Awww…tell her thank you,” Kemara said.

“She and Brad will be by on Wednesday,” Keith added. “They’re dropping the kids off at Dyeland for the afternoon.”

Sean raised his eyebrows. “I wonder what Belle will think about Kelly’s crush on Liam? She’s gotten pretty possessive of him lately.”

“See what you’ve got to look forward to in the years to come?” Joyce said, hugging Kemara and then Sean.

Kemara smiled. “I can’t wait.”

Wednesday, Nov. 4
For the new parents, the next couple of days passed in a haze of tiredness. They visited the NICU every two hours to feed the twins. Ian alternated nursing and eating from a bottle giving Sean the chance to bond with his son. While she had improved slightly, Joy was still only able to nurse for very short periods.

“So how is Sean handling everything?” Ciara asked as she helped her sister-in-law pack up her hospital room.

“Really great so far,” Kemara said coming out of the bathroom with her toiletry bag. “Of course, the nurses do a lot when we’re not visiting. Tonight will be our first time by ourselves.”

Ciara shook her head. “I think it’s so cool that you guys can get what’s basically a hotel room right here at the hospital.”

“I know! It just didn’t feel right to take Ian home to Dyeland and leave Joy. This way we can have him with us and still be close to her. It’s about a five minute walk and since the buildings are connected we won’t even have to get outside.” Kemara glanced out the window. “I do want some fresh air though. I miss the beach.”

Ciara thought for a minute. “Hmm....they’ve already released you, right?”

“Yeah, I’m free to go. Why?” Kemara zipped her suitcase and set it beside the door. “I think that’s everything.”

Ciara dropped into a chair and gestured for Kemara to do the same. “Well…I wondered...have you thought about getting Sean a new-Daddy gift?”

Kemara made a face. “I did. Mom and I went down to the gift shop yesterday, but they don’t have much, and nothing at all for guys.”

“So after you feed the kids, why don’t you and I go visit Lily’s Loot? We can pick something up for Sean and grab lunch at the same time. The guys are looking at cars, our moms are at your place cooking...”

“And my Dad’s at the new house with the movers. It’s perfect!” Kemara grinned. “Let’s go feed the kids and get out of here.”

An hour later, they stepped into the cool November afternoon. The weekend’s snow had already melted and the day was warming rapidly.

“Oh, it’s so nice to be outside!” Kemara took a deep breath. “And no hospital smells.”

Ciara took her arm. “Now, let’s find the subway.”


Lily crashed into Kemara’s legs as soon as the two women stepped into “Lily’s Loot.”

“Hey, Lilypad!” Kemara crouched down to hug the little girl. “How’s my butterfly?”

“Good!” She looked around. “Where babies?”

“They’re still too little to visit,” Kemara said. “But I brought you pictures.”

Azalea stuck her head out of the back room. “Lily? Oh, my goodness!” She hurried to hug Kemara and Ciara both. “I didn’t know you were getting out today.”

“Yep! They sprung me this morning. We’ll move into a hotel room tonight with Ian.”

Azalea looked sympathetic. “How’s Joy?”

Kemara noticed Lily watching them closely and forced a smile. “She’s getting better every day.”

“She looks so much like Sean as a baby it’s amazing,” Ciara said.

“My family says Ian looks like me,” Kemara added.

Lily tugged at Kemara’s sleeve. “Pitures?”

“Sure thing! Why don’t we go in the back so you can sit at the table?”

Kemara took Lily’s hand and the four of them settled around a table in the large space the Thorntons used for classes and gatherings.

“Here we go!” Kemara took her iPad from her bag and pulled up the photo application. “This is Ian…and this is Joy.”

Lily squealed and gazed avidly at the screen.

“So you’re enjoying your first taste of freedom?” Azalea asked. “I’m sorry we haven’t been by more, but we’ve been really busy getting ready for the Christmas rush.”
Kemara smiled at her. “Very much so. We had lunch at that little diner down the street. Hospital food may be healthy, but it doesn’t taste that great. And don’t feel bad. Sean and I are only half awake these days anyhow.”

Ciara and Azalea both laughed.

“That’ll be a permanent condition for the next 18 years,” Ciara warned.

“So true!” Azalea agreed.

Her husband, Basil, stuck his head in the door. “What’s true?”

“That parents never get any sleep,” Kemara said as he came over to them.

He chuckled and ruffled Lily’s hair. “I guess so. We’ve still got about a dozen years to find out, though.”

“Look, Daddy!” Lily pointed to the iPad’s screen. “Babies!”

“They’re cuties,” Basil agreed, leaning over to see. “So what are you ladies up to, today?”

“I want to get Sean a little gift. Any ideas?” Kemara asked him.

He grinned. “A six-pack of beer?” he suggested. “We have a friend who makes excellent craft beers.”

“I’ll remember that for Christmas,” Kemara said. “Maybe for my parents, too.”

“Well, we do have a few things you might be interested in,” Azalea said, leading Kemara and Ciara  back into the store to a display of brightly colored mugs and other small gifts.

They browsed for a few minutes. Kemara made mental notes for Christmas presents and vowed to come back closer to the day.

“Bingo!” Ciara held out a mug. “Here you go.”

“World’s Coolest Dad,” Kemara read.

“You can always add, ‘In his own mind,’ at the bottom,” Ciara suggested wickedly.

Kemara laughed. “If I do, I’ll tell him it was your idea!”

While Azalea wrapped her purchase, Kemara retrieved the iPad from where Lily was still looking at the twins’ photos.

With promises to bring both babies to visit, “soon,” they left the little shop.

Sean set down the suitcases and flipped on the wall light. The room held two queen beds with a bassinet and changing table set up by the window. An alcove beside the bathroom had a large sink with towels and washcloths.

“All the comforts of home,” Kemara said, determined to be cheerful. “Look, there are even beach prints.” She went over to the window and twitched back the curtain.

Sean followed and wrapped his arms around her. “You know this is only temporary.”

He rested his chin on the top of her head as they looked out at the hospital buildings.

She sighed. “I know…I just…I want to be home. At Sol Mate; all four of us.”

“We will be. It’ll just take time.”

She turned and buried her face in his chest. “Are you scared?”

He drew a deep breath as though to protest, but then he relaxed. “Terrified. With all the doctors and nurses around I don’t really feel like I’ve gotten a chance to be a dad yet.”

“I know. I love them, but it seems like all I do is feed them and sleep.”

He chuckled. “I think that’s about it for the first few months anyway: eat, sleep, poop.”

“I guess so,” she sniffed. “Maybe having to stay here is a blessing. We can do our own thing but still have Portia and Naijeonna close if we need them. And the little Friends can visit Ian.”

Sean kissed her. “That’s better. ”

He gently released her. “I got you something this afternoon.”

“I got you something, too,” Kemara said, curious. “But you already gave me the roses.”

He fished around in his suitcase and drew out a purple gift bag. “I know, but Andrew mentioned that he got JenniAnn a gift when Belle arrived. I figured coming from an angel it was good advice.”

“You first.” Kemara handed Sean the red bag she had chosen for him.

He opened it and took out the box. To her surprise, he began to laugh.


Still laughing, he gestured for her to open her own bag. Inside she found an identical box.

“I went...” he snorted.

“To Lily’s Loot,” she finished sinking down onto one of the beds. He collapsed beside her and they laughed together, enjoying the release.

At last, she lay flat and wheezed. “Oww...I think I broke a rib.”

“Well, I’m gonna open mine.” Sean said.

He took out the mug and snickered at the Post-It note Ciara had insisted on adding. “Not just in my own mind!”

“You can blame your sister for that, not me,” Kemara told him easing her mug from the box. “‘World’s Coolest Mom,’” Aww… Thank you! I bet Azalea and Basil really enjoyed the joke.”

Sean grinned. “Now I know why they steered me to those mugs!” He kissed her. “Thank you. We’ll use them for our morning coffee.”

"For the next eighteen years,” she agreed.

That afternoon, they picked up Ian from the NICU along with a diaper bag full essentials the hospital provided for new parents.

Kemara was reluctant to leave Joy.

“I feel like we’re abandoning her,” she said as Sean fed the infant from a dropper after another attempt at nursing had failed.

He lifted the baby to his shoulder and rubbed the small back. “She’ll be fine.”

“We’ll spoil her rotten for you,” Julie, one of the NICU nurses, promised. “With so few babies we can give everybody some one-on-one love.”

Kemara looked even more tearful at the thought of someone else loving on her child until Sean reminded her they would be back in a couple of hours.

With Sean carrying Ian, they returned to their room.

Kemara’s phone beeped. “It’s Rose….she wants to know if she and Max can bring us dinner.”

“Good idea. This little fridge doesn’t hold much.” Sean unwrapped Ian’s blanket and settled into the rocking chair with him. “What’d you say to some pizza, my man?”

“Hey! I’m putting my foot down. No junk food until they’re at least five.”

Sean pouted. “We’ll see about that,” he whispered loudly to Ian who flailed his arms as if he agreed.

“Rose said they’re leaving now.” Kemara stretched out on one of the beds. “How are we going to do this? Do we both go to the NICU and take him with us, or take turns staying here?”

“I guess we’d better switch off,” Sean said. He laid down beside her and put Ian between them.

For a few minutes they just stared at the baby who gazed back with alert blue eyes.

“I still can’t believe he’s real,” Kemara whispered. “Or Joy. I just keep thinking, ‘look what we made’.”

Sean put out a finger and Ian’s tiny hand wrapped around it tightly. “With a little help from God.”

“Speaking of God and Joshua…Have you thought about their baptism? I really like how everyone was there for Belle’s, but Mom and Dad still have no clue Joshua’s more than an actor.”

“I don’t see why we still can’t go ahead with that.”

Ian yawned hugely, and Sean gently disengaged his finger. “I mean, your parents are used to things being different in Dyeland. They’ll just think it’s tradition.”

“True…Let me put him to bed.” Kemara settled Ian in the crib. “There you go sweetie…I do want them to have separate godparents. But I don’t want whoever we choose to think they’d have adopt Joy - or Ian - if something happened to us.”

Sean pulled her back onto the bed. “Hey, they’ll have so many grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, that if something did happen they’d be just fine. I like the idea of two sets. So…any ideas?”

“Well, I thought Azalea and Basil for Joy. Lily will love being a big sister.”

“Yeah, that’s perfect.” He considered. “What about Monica and Arthur for Ian? There’s a distinct shortage of boys in Dyeland. He and Liam should stick together.”

Kemara rolled her eyes. “Fine with me, but are you going to be upset if Ian plays with dolls?”

“Nope,” Sean said promptly. “I’m wishing I’d played with them more myself. Then maybe all this -,” he gestured at the baby paraphernalia surrounding them, “wouldn’t seem so foreign. I was too little to really pay attention when Ciara was born.”

“Ha! I did play with dolls, and I still don’t know what I’m doing!” Kemara retorted.

A soft knock on the door interrupted them.

Sean got up to answer it while Kemara hurried to clear off the small table.

Max and Rose stood in the hallway holding a stack of containers.

“Hi,” Rose whispered. “We don’t have to come in if Ian’s sleeping.”

Sean opened the door wider. “Nah, he’s still awake. Come on in.”

“Wow…this is really nice.” Max looked around in surprise. “I wasn’t expecting much, frankly. But this is at least Hilton level digs.”

“It costs about the same, but that’s cheaper than a hospital room,” Kemara said. She took the casserole dish Rose was holding. “Thanks so much for doing this.”

“You’re welcome. This is lasagna and french bread….”

Max added a large pitcher. “And sweet tea.”

“Oh wow...” Kemara turned back the foil over the pasta and inhaled. “That smells heavenly.”

“Might have to give Ian a bite or two,” Sean joked. “Even if he is on a liquid diet.”

Rose stepped over to the crib. “Hi, Ian…I think you’ve grown since we saw you last. And that was only a few days ago.”

“Yeah, he does look bigger,” Max said joining her. “Hey, buddy.”

Kemara smiled. “It feels like he’s gained a pound at least. He loves to eat.” She smirked at her husband. “Just like his daddy.”

“Well, we’re both growing boys!” Sean protested through a mouthful of bread.

“I know you’re tired of hearing this,” Rose said gently, “but how’s Joy doing?”

“About the same,” Kemara sank down at the table. “She’s can only eat for a few minutes no matter what we try. Portia...” she hesitated and then went doggedly on. “Portia mentioned we might have to try a feeding tube if things don’t get better soon.”

Rose hugged her. “Maybe it won’t come to that. We’re all praying.”

Kemara nodded. “Thank you. That means a lot.”

“Yeah, it does,” Sean added. “We knew this would be hard, but we had no idea...” he trailed off and Max squeezed his shoulder.

“Hang in there. I bet you’ll all be home by Thanksgiving.”

Sean brightened. “Dunno about that, but Christmas would be nice.”

“Joshua did say this Christmas would be full of joy,” Kemara said.

“There you go! If he said that, then it will be!” Rose cheered. “Now, we’ll let you eat before it gets cold. Call if you need anything else, no matter what time of the day or night.”

“Thank you both again.”

With more hugs, the couple left the small family alone.

Sean served out the food, but Kemara only got a few mouthfuls before Ian needed changing.

“You’ve gotten good at that. Remember how you were with Manny?”

She fastened the diaper. “Poor thing! At least Ian gets to benefit from my earlier mistakes. Now, nap time!”

But Ian didn’t sleep.

Nothing they did - singing, walking, rocking - made any difference. He remained wide awake and fretful. They called Naijeonna, but her suggestion to darken the room had no effect.

Sean joked that Kemara had slipped the child some of her beloved sweet tea, but after two hours he wasn’t laughing any more.

“He’s going to make himself sick,” Kemara fretted, patting the infant’s back as he cried. “Hush...hush…”

Sean ran a tired hand through his hair. “Wish we could borrow Mr. Bobo from Belle…Wait!”

He jumped up and grabbed his phone from the bedside table.

“What?” Startled, Kemara watched as Sean inserted the phone into the clock-radio and opened the music app.

“Worth a try,” he muttered. “Okay.”

A lively jig filled the room. “Give him to me.”

He sat with Ian on the side of the bed. Within a few minutes, the baby calmed, his eyes fluttered shut and he slept.

“Wow….” Kemara collapsed into the rocking chair. “Thank you, Joshua.”

“I’m glad it worked.” Sean said, closing his own eyes. “I just thought, you know...they heard Irish music before they were born, so….”

“Definitely one of your better ideas….” Kemara struggled to her feet. “I need to go.” She leaned down and kissed both of her men. “Be back later. Love you.”

“Love you too. Kiss our girl from me.”

“Of course.”

Yawning, Kemara made the now familiar walk to NICU. When she entered the ward, she saw several people huddled around a crib on the opposite side of the room. With a pang, she recognized the look of frightened new parents.

“Would you like some coffee?” Naijeonna asked as Kemara settled herself in the rocking chair with a sleepy Joy. “We just made a fresh pot.”

“That would be wonderful, thanks, Naije.”

For once, Joy settled to nursing fairly quickly. Kemara leaned her head back and let herself relax.

“Here you are!” The nurse returned with a large paper cup. “Milk and sugar, right?”

Kemara took a grateful sip. “Perfect.”

“Did Ian finally get to sleep?”

“Just now. Sean played some Irish music and he drifted right off. Who would’ve thought?”

Kemara shifted Joy to a more comfortable position. “She doing well this time, I think.”

“Mmmm…” Naijeonna watched them. “She is growing a little stronger. The therapist comes twice a day?”

“Yes. If she’s nursing easier, that must mean it’s working, right?” Kemara looked hopeful.

“It does. But,” Naijeonna added gently, “Joy is not gaining weight. She has stopped losing, which is good, but she should weigh more by now.”

Kemara groped for an explanation. “Maybe...maybe she’s just small like I am. And Sean’s tall and pretty thin.”

Naijeonna laid a hand on her arm. “That could be true, but I am afraid that if things do not improve within the next day or so, I will have to recommend a feeding tube.”

Looking at her daughter’s pale face, Kemara nodded. “Portia already said it might come to that.”

“It will only be temporary,” Naijeonna said, putting an arm around Kemara, “but she needs more nutrition than she is getting on her own.”

“I know...”

Dejected and exhausted, Kemara tucked her daughter in under a handmade quilt the Romanos had sent with Clay and Kylie and left the NICU.

On impulse, she paused outside the hospital chapel on the first floor. The small room was deserted and lit only by two recessed lights above the cross.

“Joshua, I know you said this Christmas will be full of joy.” she whispered, sliding into a back pew. “And we keep saying it, but right now, I’m having trouble believing.”

She missed the picture of the Carpenter at the front of the Dyeland chapel. Instead, she looked down at her clasped hands.

“I wish you could let us know when all this will be over and we can go home. All of us,” she said, echoing her words to Sean earlier that day.

Not expecting an answer, she let the silence fill her and her mind drifted.

Then, she heard the familiar voice.


Monday, Nov. 9
Despite Joshua’s reassurances the next five days showed little improvement in Joy’s weight.

Kemara fought back tears as the numbers on the scale remained unchanged. “Nothing’s working!”

She and Sean were in NICU with both of the twins. Drs. Anpujor and Faulkner had just given the babies a checkup which Ian had passed with flying colors.

As they had expected, while Joy had not lost weight, she was barely gaining. Aside from this the doctors were pleased with her overall progress.

Naijeonna patted Kemara’s shoulder. “You are both doing fine. This was her longest session yet.”

“But it’s not enough,” she sobbed. “We’ve tried so many different things, and they’re not good enough.”

Sean rubbed her back. “Hey, if she can’t nurse, it’s not the end of the world.”

“But she’s not any better with a bottle,” Kemara said, hugging Joy close. “And they won’t let her go home with a feeding tube…..”

Naijeonna looked thoughtful. “There may be a way. I have been doing some research. Let me talk to Portia and a few other people, and I will be back before her next feeding.”

Kemara mustered a smile. “Thank you. I’m sorry I’m such a mess.”

“You are entitled, my dear.”

Back in their room, Kemara fed, changed and nursed Ian, but without her previous enthusiasm.

“Hey, why don’t you get a nap?” Sean said when the baby was asleep again. “I can take care of him for a while.”

A knock on the door startled them.

Kemara opened it to find Naijeonna and Portia with Joy’s crib.

“What on earth?” She stood back while they crowded into the room.

“Naije has an idea to get Joy to nurse,” Portia announced. “But she needs to be in here with you. So, I agreed to try it.”

Sean closed his open mouth and hurried to make room for Joy’s crib beside Ian’s.

“There. That should fit.” He lifted the baby out. “How’s Daddy’s girl, huh?” He scooped Ian into his other arm. “And here’s my boy.”

“Gotta get a picture of that!” Kemara said, grabbing her phone. She snapped a couple of shots and took Joy from Sean. “So what’s this idea?”

Portia and Naijeonna sat down at the table.

“Basically, it is a form of kangaroo care,” the specialist began. “You lie on the bed propped up with some pillows or in a recliner. Joy will lie on your chest so that she only needs to turn her head to nurse whenever she wants.”

Kemara nodded. “It sounds easier on both of us. No worry about having to get the right hold or anything.”

“Yes. And you can do the same with Ian if you like. But,” Naijeonna warned, “just realize that you will be lying down for hours at a time. I know that sounds good now, when you are already tired….”

“Very!” Kemara said, looking happy, and they all laughed.

Portia leaned forward. “What worries me is that you’ll lose strength. Hopefully, this will work and Joy will improve enough to go home. When she does, you can continue to nurse her this way if it’s comfortable for both of you. But I want you to be sure to get some exercise. While you’re here, take breaks and go for a walk around the grounds. Same thing when you get home.”

“No problem,” Kemara said. “We want to get back to dancing as soon as we can keep our eyes open all day long.”

Sean nodded. “Yeah, we’ll bring the kids.” He smirked. “We already know they love the music.”

“Good.” Portia smiled. “Well, I’ll let Naije do the honors, and I’ll stop by again later on.”

The specialist helped Kemara get situated on the bed in a semi-reclining position with pillows all around and showed her how to support Joy. The baby nuzzled and drank for a moment.

“A good start!” Sean cheered.

“Yes, it is.” Naijeonna said. “I will check on you throughout the day, but call my pager if you have any questions.”

Once word got out to their friends that Joy had been released from the NICU, the family had a stream of visitors.

Andrew and JenniAnn stopped by with Belle that evening.

“I can’t believe how much they’ve grown!” Andrew said as he sat in the rocking chair holding Joy. “Both of them.”

Sean chuckled. “Yep, they’re both doing great. We just need for the little princess to gain a few more pounds.”

“Any idea when that will be?” JenniAnn asked. She and Belle sat on the bed beside Kemara who was getting ready to feed Ian. The toddler watched her new cousin with bright interest.

Kemara tested the temperature of the milk. “Portia said next week, hopefully.”

“So you’ll all be home for Thanksgiving,” Andrew said.

“Yes, thank Joshua!” Kemara turned to Belle. “Do you want to give Ian his lunch?”

Belle nodded eagerly. “Yes!”

Her mother helped her support the baby, while Kemara showed her how to position the bottle. Sean took several pictures as the enraptured little girl stared down at the baby.

“So sweet,” JenniAnn whispered, wiping away tears. “I remember when we were still in the hospital with her and waiting to go home.”

Kemara nodded. “Being able to stay here like this has been wonderful…with the doctors and specialists close by and all. But I do want to go home so badly.” She laughed. “I want to soak in the hot tub for about five hours!”

“I bet!”

“So what are your plans for Thanksgiving?” Andrew asked. “I think Joy’s hungry, too, Kemara.”

“I’ll get another bottle,” Sean went over to the mini fridge in one corner of the room.

“As of right now, we’re going to Keith and Megan’s house - Mom and Dad too - for a huge family reunion so Ciara and Brad’s kids can meet their cousins.”

“That’s assuming we get out of here before then,” Sean added handing Andrew the bottle.

He smiled as Joy began to eat. “I’m sure you will.”

JenniAnn shot him a look. “Is that just you hoping or do you know know?”

“Just hoping, but I have a good feeling about it.”

“If an angel has a good feeling about something, I’ll take it as near a certainty,” Sean joked, and they all laughed.

“Well, we need to get going,” JenniAnn said. “My parents are coming over for dinner tonight.”

She reached out to take Ian from Belle, but the toddler shook her head.

“Mine!” She held the little boy closer, and he whimpered.

“Honey, come on….”

“No!” Belle began to cry as JenniAnn gently pulled Ian from her.

Andrew picked her up. “Hey…Ian and Joy need to stay with their Mommy and Daddy. They’d be sad if they came home with us. You don’t want that, do you?”

“No...” Belle sniffed.

“Soon you’ll be able to see them any time you want,” JenniAnn promised with an apologetic look at Kemara and Sean. “I bet she won’t leave you alone,” she whispered.

Kemara smiled. “That’s OK. I know they’re looking forward to playing with you, honey,” she said to Belle. “They just need to grow a little more first.”

The toddler nodded and leaned her head on Andrew’s shoulder.

“Let’s get you home for a nap before Grandma and Grandpa show up, OK?”

“It’s our turn to bring dinner on Thursday, so we’ll see you then,” JenniAnn promised as they said their goodbyes.

Tuesday, November 10
“So how are the sessions with the Early Intervention therapist?” Azalea wondered. She and Lily had come bearing lunch for three. Basil and Sean had left to do “guy stuff” as they termed it, so the women could have a cozy chat.

“Pretty good, I think. Amanda’s mostly focusing on Joy’s mouth and tongue right now, so she can nurse easier, but we’re doing a lot of tummy time to make her neck muscles stronger.” Kemara patted the two babies who lay dozing against her chest covered by a light blanket.

Azalea smiled. “I’m glad it’s going well.” She chuckled. “I have to say, this type of nursing would’ve driven me crazy. I don’t like to be still for too long.”

“I do feel like a mama otter sometimes,” Kemara said ruefully. “But it’s amazing how well it’s worked. Sean and I take turns walking around the grounds when the weather’s nice.” She glanced out the window where a cold rain was falling. “That helps, but I miss the beach.”

Joy stirred and opened her eyes. “Hi, sweetheart. Did you have a good nap?”

The baby waved both hands as if in reply and the women laughed.

Lily reached out a finger and squealed when Joy’s own tiny digits closed around it tightly. “Ow!”

“She’s strong, isn’t she?” Azalea said.

Lily nodded, just as enraptured as Belle had been.

“Would you like to hold her?” Kemara asked. “She’d like that.”

Lily beamed. “Uh-huh!” She held out her arms eagerly.

“You’re so good with her,” Kemara said when they had gotten the children settled.

“She does seem to have an instinct with babies,” Azalea said. For a moment, Kemara thought she saw a flicker of sadness before the other woman banished it.

“Are you and Sean hanging in there?”  

Kemara sighed. “We’re tired, obviously. But the worst is being stuck here. We’re both used to being active in our own ways. As soon as I’m up to it, we’ve decided to go back to dance since we can bring them along.”

She shifted Ian who was also beginning to wake up.

“I’ve been reading about Joy’s low muscle tone, and I think Irish dance would really help with that. And just keep all of us fit which is a good thing.”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Azalea said. “Lily loves music. And you’ve seen how the kids enjoy Emma’s classes. Several parents in our group say gymnastics is a good option, too.”

“I’m worried about doing too much, you know?” Kemara admitted. “I don’t want to overwhelm her or us with lessons, therapy, groups and all. Sean and I have talked about it some. Obviously, we want her to reach her full potential - whatever that is. But...” She hesitated and Azalea squeezed her hand.

“Go on.”

“I remember how from the time I was in kindergarten my parents and teachers thought I wasn’t trying hard enough at math. And then when I was in college we found out I have a learning disability.” Kemara shook her head. “I went all through school thinking I was stupid, but it turns out math just wasn’t possible for me at the time...algebra, geometry and all that. Now, I do just fine with the math I need for everyday stuff.”

“You’re afraid of pushing Joy to do things that aren’t physically and mentally possible for her?” Azalea finished.

“Yes, but how do we know what those things are?” Kemara’s voice was pleading. “How do we tell when she’s honestly struggling or just not trying? And where do we draw the line and say, ‘It’s okay if you can’t do such-and-such’?”

Azalea chuckled ruefully. “It’s not easy! As sweet as Lily is she can be a little stinker. If she doesn’t want to do something, she’ll play dumb and nothing you say or do will change her mind. When we know she’s capable we can usually head her off. But if it’s something new, like learning to tie her shoes, it’s hard to tell.”

Kemara glanced automatically at the little girl’s feet. Her pink sneakers were secured with velcro straps.

“We’re still working on it,” Azalea said with a shrug. “You learn to pick your battles.”

“I bet! Between you and Ciara, I’m feel like I’m getting a crash course in being a mom.”

“I’m glad to help,” her friend said. “Just remember - sometimes you have to toss everyone’s advice out the window and do what works for you and your family.”

Kemara nodded slowly. “I’ll remember.”

They chatted about other things for a while, before Kemara said, “Not to change the subject, but I wanted to ask you something else.”


“Well, Sean and I wondered if you and Basil would like to be Joy’s godparents?” She smiled at Lily. “And that would make you a big sister!”

The little girl looked up from where she had been gazing at Joy. “Sister?”

“It means you all would be family,” Kemara said, blinking back sudden tears.

Lily knew that word. “Yay!” She gave Joy a noisy kiss on the forehead and the two women laughed.

 “We’d love to!” Azalea said. “I can’t wait to tell Basil - he’ll be thrilled. I’m honored you thought about us.”

Kemara smiled at her. “We couldn’t think of anyone better. We decided on Monica and Arthur for Ian. Liam will be a good role model.”

“I always forget that he's the same age as Lily. He seems so much older sometimes.”

“He’s been through a lot, but he’s really blossomed in the last year. Monica and Arthur are wonderful parents.”

“And so are you and Sean.” Azalea looked at her watch. “Lily, we need to hit the road.”

“We’ve got a class at Gigi’s Playground in half an hour,” she told Kemara gathering up the containers from their lunch.

Kemara took Joy back from Lily. “Sean and I can’t wait to go by there. He couldn’t believe all the classes and activities they offer.”

“Yeah, it’s a Godsend - not just for Lily but Basil and me, too. We’ve met so many great people who really care. And we don’t feel bad about dropping her off if we want some time to ourselves.” She winked.

Nov. 11
“Did you and Azalea and Lily have a good visit?” Sean asked at 2 a.m. while they both tried to stay awake long enough to feed the twins.

Kemara yawned and opened one eye reluctantly. “Uh-huh. We got to talking about house rules, and she had some pretty funny ones from her own family.”

“House rules? That sounds like something from Harry Potter” He offered Joy a bottle, and the baby accepted it eagerly. “Good girl….you’re learning fast, aren’t you?”

“Might be fun. The big one when I was a kid was that I had to eat everything on my plate or stay sitting at the table until I did. I hated butterbeans - .”

Sean looked puzzled. “What’s that?”

“Lima beans, I think you call them.”

“Oh, yeah….We didn’t have those very much.”

“Anyway, I couldn’t stand them or peas. So I’d refuse to touch them. I’d sit at the table after supper until it was time to go to bed.”

“So stubborn!” he chuckled. “I can just see you sitting there.” He pouted in imitation of a grumpy child.

She snorted. “Oh yeah, very much so! What about you? Any crazy rules in your house?”

“Well, for a while they had a rule that we couldn’t drink anything with dinner. My mom read that it interfered with digestion or something. But Ciara got it into her head that all liquids were bad and stopped drinking entirely. We didn’t realize until she nearly passed out from dehydration. After that, they changed the rule.”

Kemara carried Ian over to the small extra table they had brought in and began to change him. “So that’s two rules we won’t be having. If the kids honestly hate a certain food I’m not going to force them to eat it.”

“Nah, not worth the fight, I think.” He wiped off Joy’s face and laid her in her crib. Now that the baby was eating more, they had begun letting her sleep at least part of the night in the crib as her brother did.

“All clean!” Kemara laid Ian in the other crib and turned off the light.

“So what sorts of rules should we have?” She joined Sean in bed and snuggled close.

He stroked her hair which she had pulled back into a braid for the night. “Family dinners for sure. That might not be a problem for a while, but I later…Ciara and Brad hardly ever have all the kids together in one place. Maybe it’ll be easier with just two?”

“I hope so! That’s a good one. Umm...I want to say family prayers, but….”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing’s wrong, I just…..well, how Catholic do we want them to be?”

Sean pulled away so he could see her face. “You’re not making sense.”

“I mean, we’re Catholic, but we’re also - Joshuan - I guess you’d call it? Lately, praying the rosary has felt sorta weird when I can just talk to Maryam,” she smiled, “one mom to another.”

“But you could do that before,” he pointed out.

She sighed. “I know! But…aren’t your prayers different now that you’ve met Joshua, in person?”

“Yeah, I guess. I never thought about it before. And Bible study takes on a different meaning when angels who were actually there expand on the readings.”

“Exactly! We’re adding so many new traditions and practices. But how do we decide what to keep of the old?”

He pulled her close again. “Hey, we’ll figure it out. We’ll throw it all out there and see what sticks. If they want to go to Wednesday Bible study and the synagogue on Saturdays, that’ll be fine.”

Kemara chuckled. “Or the Lutheran church one week and the non-denominational church the next. But it’s not just about church services, is it? It’s more like a way of living. Like changing the core of your being.”

“Pretty deep thoughts for the middle of the night,” Sean teased but he sounded impressed.

She shrugged. “I’m just trying to wrap my mind around it still. For me church has always been about ritual even when I was still Methodist. You read the Bible and went to church on Sundays in your best clothes. That was what you did. But this isn’t about what you do so much - I mean, that’s a huge part of it, obviously. It’s more about realizing that God is everywhere and in everyone - including yourself. The rest just flows from that.”

Sean leaned down and kissed her. “I love you. And I love the way your mind works.”

“I love you, too. And I love your sense of humor. Sorry I had to get all serious there.”

“Nah, I’m too tired to be funny right now anyway.” He yawned. “Maybe later.” He switched off the bedside light.

Kemara was on the edge of sleep when she heard him say, “They’re not dating until they’re 18.”

“What?” She turned over and could just make out his face in the dim light from the bathroom. He was frowning.

“Just what I said. No dating until then.”  

Kemara laughed. “Good luck with that one! I have a feeling the next generation will get married young” She yawned hugely. “Besides…..they’ll probably date other Friends’ kids. That wouldn’t be bad, would it?”

“Well…” Sean thought it over. “I guess not. Still - if anyone hurts either of them they’ll answer to me.”

Kemara turned over again and sighed as his arm wrapped tightly around her. “I’m okay with that.”

Tuesday, November 17
“So are you all ready to go home?”

Portia tucked her stethoscope back around her neck and smiled at the four of them.

Kemara gaped. “Now? You mean, today?”

“Yep. I’m officially discharging this little girl.” Portia lifted Joy into her arms. “Just wait til you see Dyeland and the Tunnels, sweetheart. There are a lot of people who can’t wait to meet you and Ian.”

Joy gurgled up at her.

“Wow…we weren’t expecting…” Sean stammered.

“I need to call Mom and Dad,” Kemara said grabbing her phone. “And Keith and Megan, too. And let JenniAnn and everyone know.”

Portia laughed. “Sean, why don’t we leave her to it, and you come with me to fill out the paperwork? Then you can take your time packing up.”

“Mom? Guess what? Portia says we can go home today!”

“Oh, that’s great! David’s at the house. I’ll call and tell him. He can let Keith and Megan know, and we’ll all be there as soon as we can.”

“OK. It’s going to take a while to get everything together. I want to let JenniAnn know too.”

Joyce hesitated. “I don’t know if having a lot of people around would be the best idea for the babies’ first day home…”

“I don’t think they’ll all show up as soon as we get back to Dyeland,” Kemara said. “But they’re family, too.”

“I know. Alright, let me call your Dad, and we’ll see you soon.”

JenniAnn was thrilled with the news. “Don’t worry. We won’t swamp you.”

“I told Mom you wouldn’t,” Kemara laughed. “You’ve been here before after all.”

“Yep. Tomorrow’s Bible study, so Ian and Joy can meet everyone then. Violeta and Ivy are coming - they’ve got the evening free. And the kids in your dance class have been asking Owen when you’ll be back. I wouldn’t be surprised if I bunch of Tunnel folks came too once let everyone know.”

“Great! Well, I’d better start packing, and I think some little person needs a diaper change.”

“Have fun, and we’ll see you tomorrow!”

Kemara ended the call and changed both twins’ diapers before sinking down into the nearest chair. Still feeling slightly dazed, she looked around at the room that had been their home for the past two weeks.

Right now, it looked nothing like a room - more like the remains of a bomb site - and it smelled of eau de poo. Well, she could start with that.

She had just set the full trash bag beside the door when Joy began to fuss. Portia and Naijeonna said this was a good thing because it meant the baby was growing stronger, but Kemara always felt a flicker of panic when she heard the increasingly loud cries. What if she was sick? Or hurt? As usual, his sister's wails set Ian off, too. Despite the noise, Kemara had to smile - Sean was right, they did harmonize pretty well.

"What's wrong, huh?" she asked scooping up both squirming bundles in a way she couldn't have managed a month ago. "Are you guys hungry? I know you're dry."

She wasn't quite comfortable with so-called "baby talk" yet, so she spoke to them the way she did to Warren. As she sat down in the rocking chair, a twin in each arm, she wondered how the Siamese would react to having two new siblings.

"At least you won't be allergic to cats," she said, as they started to nurse. Joy still took longer than Ian did, but she got started with none of her earlier problems. "We had a couple of Siamese when I was your age. When I was learning to walk, I'd grab onto whichever tail was closest.”

The lock clicked, and Sean came in. “Filling their heads with nonsense?” he teased.

“Nope, just turning them into crazy cat people.” She returned his kiss.

“Huh. I guess that’s better.” He too looked around. “Wow…I didn’t realize we had so much stuff.”

She handed him a now-sleepy Ian. “I know. I just have no idea where to start.” She yawned. “I’m so tired I can’t think straight. Oh, our folks are on their way.”

“Why don’t you take a little nap, buddy? Want your shamrock?” Sean put the baby in one of the cribs and tucked a plush shamrock beside him after turning on the music box hidden inside it. The dark green pillow had “Ian” embroidered in gold thread and the music box played a seemingly endless selection of airs, reels and jigs.

Kemara smiled. “I love those pillows. That was so sweet of Monica to think of it.”

Arthur, Liam and Monica had visited Sunday afternoon. The grownups enthusiastically agreed to be godparents, while Liam solemnly presented his new cousins with brightly-colored pictures for their nursery.

“And I whipped these up,” Monica said handing Sean a green gift bag. “JenniAnn mentioned that Irish music helps them sleep.”

“Oh, I want one!” Kemara squealed when she saw the pillows. Joy’s had her name in silver thread.

Sean pretended to look hurt. “Hey! Aren’t I cuddly enough?”

But even he agreed that the music boxes were - pardon the pun - a Godsend. Now he grinned as Ian’s eyes closed to the strains of “Star of County Down”.

“I swear, you’d think it was magic.”

“I could’ve used a silencio spell earlier,” she said ruefully. “My ears are still ringing. She’s almost done. Would you mind taking out those trash bags first?”

Joyce, David, Keith and Megan arrived about an hour later. With many hands helping, they had everything loaded for the short drive to the alley portal.

As she climbed into the dark red Ford Focus Sean and Keith had chosen, Kemara frowned.

“Are you sure they’re okay? I don’t like not being able to see them.” She twisted around to check on the twins.

Sean chuckled and adjusted the rearview mirror. "They’re fine. The car seats are supposed to be rear-facing, you know.”

“But what if they get sick or choke or….”

He squeezed her hand. “Kemara, they’ll be fine. Now, can we go home?”

She let out a long breath and nodded, “Yeah, let’s go home.”

A crowd of people stood on Willowveil’s front porch waving at them when they entered Dyeland. Sean rolled his window down.

“You don’t have to stop,” Max called. “We just wanted to say welcome home!”

JenniAnn stepped down off the porch and came over to them. “We’ll let you get settled in tonight. You’ll be at Bible study tomorrow?”

“We wouldn’t miss it,” Sean promised, and with more waving, they drove on toward the beach.

When they arrived at Sol Mate they found a banner which read, “Welcome Home Ian and Joy!”

“How did they do that so fast?” Kemara wondered as they got out.

Megan gathered up an armload of bags. “Portia must’ve let something slip before she told you.”

Warren met them, meowing a welcome and weaving through their feet.

“Hey, Warren!” Kemara said. “Did you miss us?”

David put down the suitcase he was carrying and scooped up the Siamese. “Sit up here out of the way,” he suggested, putting the cat on the window sill. “It’s safer - for you and us.”

“I think we got everything you need,” Joyce said leading the way to the nursery. Kemara and Sean stood in the doorway and stared. Before the twins untimely arrival, they hadn’t really done more than decorate, and their purchases had been piled around the room in bags and boxes.

Now, a crib stood on either side with bright quilts draped over the sides. Mobiles of zebras, lions, and giraffes hung over each one. Wet-Wipes and baby powder sat by the changing table.

“Wow…Everything looks great,” Kemara said. “Did you guys set all of this up?”

“Some, but we had plenty of help,” Megan said. “The guys set up the cribs - it took them two tries because, of course they refused to even glance at the directions.” She rolled her eyes.

Keith and David exchanged looks.

“Directions just ruin the fun of it,” Keith protested.

“And we figured it out in the end,” David added.

“Anyway,” Megan said quickly. “Everyone pitched in. Some people left presents, too. I don’t remember them all, but everything has tags.”  

Joyce unfolded one of the quilts. “The Romanos made these….” The design had a giraffe in the center in shades of orange, green and yellow.

“How adorable!”

Kemara carried Ian over to one of the cribs and laid him down. "Whew! I think I’m going to get some serious arm muscles by the time these guys can walk….What’d you think about your new room, Ian?”

The baby turned his head from side to side as though examining his surroundings.

“Well, he’s not screaming, so I guess he approves,” Keith joked.

Sean held Joy close to one of the mobiles. “I don’t think she can really see it yet,” he said. He flicked at the lion so it swung. The baby’s eyes focused on it for a second and then drifted away. “Do you need a nap?” She yawned. “I thought so.” He laid her in the second crib. “There you go.”

Kemara caught sight of something. “What’s this?”
On the dresser lay a package wrapped in purple and gold paper. On top was a piece of parchment which read, “Welcome home Ian and Joy! We consulted the Sorting Hat (Joshua) for you and present you with your new Hogwarts duds.” Inside were onesies emblazoned with a lion and a badger.

Kemara laughed. “Hufflepuff for Joy, and Gryffindor for Ian. They’re perfect!”

“Now, how about some lunch?” Megan asked briskly.

“Good idea!” Sean led the way to the kitchen.

After a meal of spaghetti and garlic bread their parents left Kemara and Sean to settle in.

“I can’t wait to have a good, long sleep in our own bed,” Sean said as he returned to the living room after a starting load of clothes.

Kemara smiled at him from where she reclined on the couch nursing the twins. Warren was curled up beside her purring loudly. “I know. Just hope these two will let us enjoy it.” She kissed the top of Joy’s head.

“I’m sure they will. It’s been a long day for everybody.”

When they arrived at Willowveil the following evening, the new family were immediately surrounded. Edward and Caleb took charge of Ian and Joy saying they needed to impart special “twin secrets”.

JenniAnn and Andrew exchanged glances. Their friends looked exhausted, worse than they had right after the babies’ birth.

“Want some coffee?” JenniAnn offered. “Monica just made a fresh pot.”

Sean ran a hand through his hair. “That would be great.” He took Kemara’s hand and the four made their way to the kitchen.

“Rough night?” Andrew asked as he handed around mugs.

Kemara nodded. “Awful. I knew that babies can get off their schedule when they leave NICU - the nurses told us. But they did fine at the hotel….” she trailed off and took a grateful sip of coffee.

“They didn’t sleep too well?” JenniAnn asked remembering how Belle’s seizures had kept her awake and uncomfortable in the early days.

“Didn’t sleep at all,” Sean said. “We finally called Portia about 3 in the morning. She figures they had gotten used to having someone else - first the nurses and then us - in the same room. Combine that with a new place….” He sighed.

“We don’t want to even try co-sleeping,” Kemara went on. “Not with four of us. So we sat on the couch with them until they finally dropped off.”

Andrew grimaced in sympathy. “Did you two get any rest after that?”

“A little,” Sean refilled his cup. “Dunno how they’ll do tonight though,” he mumbled.

The angel clapped him on the shoulder. “We can bring it up if you want. Some of the others might have an idea or two.”

Kemara smiled wearily. “I didn’t even think about that! Sleep deprived, I guess.”

JenniAnn hugged her. “Welcome to parenthood!” she said as they left the kitchen.

Thanksgiving Day

“Anybody home?”

“They’re here!”

Megan hurried out of the kitchen with Ciara right behind her. From the living room came a stampede of small people who surrounded Kemara and Sean.

“Let me see those darlings!”
“Can I hold them?”
“Unca Sean, will you play with me?”
“Who do they look like?”

Laughing, Kemara handed over Ian to his grandmother as Ciara took Joy from Sean’s arms.

“Wow,” Sean shook his head, dazed, as the whole group returned to the living room leaving the newcomers standing in the doorway. “What just happened?”

David grinned. “I call it the baby effect. Just show up with a newborn and people start begging to change diapers. Speaking of -,” he held up the two diaper bags he had been carrying. “Where do you want these?”

“You can put them in Erin’s old room,” Megan said coming back into the foyer. “She’s sharing with Kelly now, so it’s empty.” She kissed her son and daughter-in-law. “Sorry about that….we didn’t mean to ignore you.”

Kemara hugged her. “It’s okay. We’re used to it by now.”

Joyce smiled. “They walk into a room and the babies get snatched away.”

“It’s great,” Sean joked. “Gives us a chance to breathe.”

“Well, let’s go sit down and introduce the kids to their new cousins.”

The afternoon passed in a clamor of talk and laughter. The cousins took turns holding Ian and Joy. Parker, only a little embarrassed, gave Ian a bottle and didn’t complain when the baby spit up on him a few minutes later. Erin, like Belle, seem to think Joy was a living doll. She sat close beside Kemara as the child nursed, chattering away as if the baby could understand.

Since the table couldn’t accommodate fifteen people of various sizes, Thanksgiving dinner was eaten on paper plates in the the living room.

When everyone had found a place, Keith stood up and looked around at them all.

“Is it just me or are there a few more of us than last year?” Everyone laughed. “Well, it’s a happy increase so I’m not complaining. Of course, we’re very thankful to have Ian and Joy with us. And those are great shirts, you guys.”

Kemara and Sean held up the twins so the others could see their matching onesies which read “Everyone’s thankful for ME.”

When he spoke again, Keith’s tone was more sober. “It’s been quite a year hasn’t it? Kemara and Sean got married and had twins, Brad earned a promotion, Parker brought home all-As for the first time ever…”. Parker rolled his eyes but couldn’t hide a grin. “And let’s not forget the biggest thing of all: We met Joshua and His family at Easter.”

Cheers and clapping broke out. “I hope He visits for Christmas,” Kelly called out.

“And His birthday,” Brad reminded them.

“I’m sure he’ll be around,” Sean said. “I think it’s become a tradition.”

“For now, why don’t we tell Him thanks for what He’s done so far?” Keith suggested, and they all bowed their heads. “Joshua, thank you for family and friends and food and fellowship and all the other blessings you’ve shown us. Be with us in the year to come through the good and the bad. In your name we pray. Amen.”

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