“White dog, white dog what do you—”
Lani screeched and smacked the picture of the white dog on the page. She tried to grab the book out of Andrew’s hands by tugging on it, almost ripping the paper.
“No,” Andrew pulled the book up higher out of his demon daughter’s hands. “Stop that, you’ll tear it.”
His daughter apparently thought that was hilarious and grinned up at him with her two mismatched teeth and let out a giggle. Andrew had to smile. She reached out a very determined pointer finger and jabbed at his eyes. Andrew flinched, but his glasses stopped the attack and she just poked at them.
“Wha?” She asked. “Wha wha wha?”
“Glasses.” He told her, knowing that she basically had no idea what he was saying. She could communicate with Harriet well enough with all those baby signs Andrew stunk at learning.
Lani started making the “wha” sound around five and a half months old, but it took them a few weeks to realize she was actually asking a legitimate question. Both he and Harriet had expected to hear the usual mama and dada sounds before anything else and they definitely weren’t expecting “what” to be her first word. But it was, Harriet had already documented it in the baby book she wrote in nearly every minute of every day.
Andrew’s daughter was a curious demon though she was only seven months old. They’d had to baby-proof the house twice as much as anyone else they knew because she got into everything. She’d already had a mirror electrical shock by licking the wall outlet, she’d already cracked a mirror by smacking it with a sippy cup, she ate some dish soap last week and they had to bring their foaming baby to the ER. Andrew didn’t understand how she managed to do these things when she couldn’t even walk. She was starting to want to, Harriet said. She started crawling early at only five months and she was now doing a knee-shuffle, using one leg to drag herself forward.
Andrew turned the page in the book and tried to read it, but Lani started wiggling. He tried to hold her on his lap, but she fell back and arched her back and started to scream until her face turned red.
“Jesus,” Andrew said and put her on the floor. “You brat.”
Harriet told him not to give into her screeching and fussing, but Andrew couldn’t take the noise. He was on medication now for the migraines he always seemed to get, but loud noises or bright lights would set him off again and he’d have no choice but to lock himself up away from his family in a dark room and wait it out. He hated it and Harriet hated that he wasn’t sticking to her child-rearing methods. As a child Andrew and Quinn had both been fussed over and coddled, and as far as he was concerned, they both turned out fine. Well, Quinn was crazy, but that wasn’t their fault.
Quinn was settling down surprisingly well at the new Marie’s though he missed Kendle/Magenta. They talked on the phone all the time, the nurses said, almost too much to the point where they’d sometimes have to force him to go outside. They were both happy to be so close again though. He and Andrew talked on the phone every day and they spent weekends together going on hikes or fishing or just hanging around the house.
The damn house.
The thing was enormous, somehow even bigger looking as it had been when he’d bought it. They had moved in last month and when Andrew stepped through those door, it felt like he was walking into the White House. The furniture was huge and plush and elaborate, the paintings were all real, not reprints. The curtains were heavy brocade, the walls were paneled and painted and papered by masters. There were things that Andrew couldn’t tell if they were decoration or furniture or useful or not, but sometimes he’d stop and stare just to look at it. Even Lani’s room—a mere seven month old—was so fancy it was almost painful. Her walls were pink and white panels with a chandelier at the center. She had a copper framed bed and a California King mattress and sheets and a comforter that must have cost thousands. The floors were polished Brazilian Tiger Wood and covered by thick rugs that looked like they belonged in a palace. The heavy ash door was carved and painted with pearl and gold finishes and on either side of it within the room were four thin pillars with carved ivy climbing up them.
For a baby who still slept in their room, it was too much. It was too much for anyone really. Harriet had promised to let him pay for this house on his own and insisted that he did, but he knew damn well that he couldn’t have never afforded this monstrosity on his own. It pissed him off more than he let on.
Andrew groaned and sat back in the green armchair before the large, unlit marble fireplace. Harriet had it shipped back over here from out east and put in in Lani’s ridiculous room without telling him. When he’d first entered the house and climbed up to Lani’s room it had already been there waiting.
Andrew took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, he could feel another migraine coming on.
Lani babbled to herself as she shuffled across the floor, talking to herself in a language only she seemed to know. Andrew watched her go around and touch everything she could find and try to shove things over. Lani looked more and more like him every day. Her hair had lightened considerably and her eyes were brown, but they were Andrew’s shape. Her nose and freckles and chin and lips and ears and hands and feet were all Andrew’s, or would be when they finished forming. Her hair was a wreck. It was a few shades darker that Harriet’s, but the curls came from Andrew. He was almost sorry for it. Her hair went every which way, curling here and here and there and straight up and out and the back of it looked almost hairless, as the curls and grown out like an explosion away from her sleeping spot. She looked like a deformed golden poodle. They tried to brush it every day, but it was always only a few minutes before it went back to its previous state.
The knee Lani was dragging behind got snagged on the rug and she fell forward. Andrew was halfway out of the chair when she sat back up and hit the floor with both palms, punishing it for tripping her. Andrew sat back. Watching her was almost hypnotic, seeing what caught her eyes, what things she found the most interesting. They had moved anything she could possibly hurt herself with or swallow, but that didn’t keep her from falling down or shuffling into her bedframe with her head like she did a few days ago. Andrew watched her as she found a toy she had left out and began whacking the floor with it. The whole thing seemed to be very thought out in her head, but to Andrew the randomness of her movements was almost hypnotic.
He watched her trade one toy for another, choosing to hit something different with each toy. The migraine seemed to recede a little bit, or that’s how it felt. His body relaxed and his mind started to wander and…
“Andrew!” Someone was shaking him. He flinched and jerked awake. Harriet was staring at him like he’d just killed five people, holding Lani tightly in his arms who appeared to have been crying. Andrew blinked. He couldn’t remember hearing her cry at all. “Were you seriously asleep? You let a seven month old crawl around while you took a nap?”
“I only closed my eyes for a minute.” Andrew said, but even as he said it, he saw the time on the large clock behind her and saw that almost an hour had passed since he last looked at it.
“This,” Harriet hissed. “It’s the second time it’s happened. All you do is sleep.”
“I don’t fee—”
“I know you don’t feel good,” Lani started to fuss again and Harriet bounced her seemingly on instinct. “But this has been going on for almost a year. I want you to go see a sleep psychologist.”
Andrew stood up out of the chair and pushed past her, almost running head-on into one of the damn pillars. Why were their pillars in his daughter’s room? Why? He hadn’t realized he was the fu¢king king of the world to give her so much unnecessary stuff. Andrew wondered if taking them down would cost more than it took to put them up.
“Why don’t you fix me?” He asked, raising his hands up in a dramatic gesture. “You’re the doctor. You know everything remember?”
“Shut up Andrew.” She barked. “I’m serious. I don’t want you around her if you’re not paying attention because you can’t keep your damn eyes open.”
“Oh,” Andrew giggled like a mad man. “You ’don’t want me around her’. So you’d rather just get a nanny to raise her and sing to her and read to her and cook and clean everything for her and wipe her damn @ss until she’s ten? Will she breast feed her too?”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Harriet demanded, still trying to sooth the crying baby. “I don’t know what’s happening, but I don’t like this new you.”
“What, what is this new me you hate so much Harriet?” Andrew asked as he approached her. “Is it because I’m actually trying to raise her to be a person instead of the next Stephen Hawking? That’s one of them, right? One of the ones with the books you’re always readying? Yeah, well maybe I don’t want her to be like that. I don’t want her to be raised by some nanny who’s just going to turn her into a spoiled brat like you!”
“Fu¢k you Andrew!” She shouted. “****! You!”
“Fine.” Andrew raised his hands in surrender and laughed. “You win. Fu¢k me, that’s okay. You can get her ready for bed then. Just so you know, she likes the orange whale bath toy, not the stupid duck. You have to make sure her hair’s completely dry before she goes to bed or it’ll just be messy in the morning. She hates those peas that you keep buying her, yeah, I’ve told you around ten times already but you keep buying them. She likes bananas though, and pears. And when you put her to bed, she likes the blue blankie, not the pink one. And don’t put her in the feet pajamas, she doesn’t like those. Surprised? Yeah, that’s probably because you’re never here”
“Fine, I can do all that,” She waved her hand. “Go, leave. Whatever, bye.”
Andrew laughed and left the room and the house.
Lani screamed and tried to struggle out of her grip as Harriet tried to dry her off. There were still a few bubbles in her hair, but Harriet was desperate to get her out. She didn’t want the rubber duck OR the orange whale or anything else Harriet had tried to give her. She just screamed so loud it echoed off the wall.
“Please,” Harriet begged. “Just hold still for two seconds.”
“Do you need help?” A voice asked from behind her and Harriet almost jumped out of her skin. She turned and found Em watching with a mix of pity and amusement in his eyes.
“No, I—” Lani howled and slipped out of her grip and tried to slither away across the tile of the bathroom like a little snake.
Em put down the plastic bag he was carried and scooped her up. He held his hand out and Harriet handed him the towel. Em somehow managed to wrap her in it with one hand while she was squirming. He walked into the next room and flopped Lani onto the large bed that would be hers one day when she was big enough. She struggled to sit up but eventually just collapsed and lay there as Em put her in a diaper and put her in a diaper and pink Scooby Doo pajamas. She even allowed him to pull her into his lap and dry off her Orphan Annie hair.
“Why does she hate me?” Harrier found herself asking.
Em chuckled. “She’s a tired, teething infant. They hate everyone, don’t take it personally.”
“She doesn’t hate you,” Harriet said and folded her arms. “She doesn’t hate Andrew.”
“She used to, remember? You were the only person she liked for a long time.”
“Because she was nursing, she doesn’t like me anymore because I don’t offer up my b00bs every time she makes so much as a squeak. Maybe if she didn’t bite so hard.” Lani had only breast fed for maybe four months before she started biting, even before her teeth were all the way in. Harriet had tried to switch them off so one could feed while the other healed, but it just didn’t work and she’d had to stop.
“She’ll get over it.”
Harriet sighed and rolled her neck. “What are you doing here so late?”
Em looks at her funny. “It’s barely seven.”
“That’s late for me.” Harriet felt embarrassed though. Barely seven. Then why was she so tired?
“Well, I brought sushi and that movie Andrew’s been wanting to see. Where’d he go?”
Guilt added itself to the embarrassment. “I don’t know. I sort of yelled him away.”
Em nodded and scooped up Lani who seemed to have no beef with him at all. “I’ve done that. He’ll be back eventually. He hates the dark.”
“I could have killed her, I could’ve let her die.” Andrew groaned. He couldn’t believe himself. Falling asleep again?
“But she didn’t.” Veronica reminded him. “She’s fine.”
“Yeah, because Harriet came home. Do you know how much $hit that kid gets into? And she can’t even walk yet. She’s in her terrible-twos at seven months old.”
Vee just smiled a little and went back to inspecting the next shipment before it was shipped out. The idea to turn the uniform factory into a clothing factory had gone over surprisingly well. He’d bought one other one in Reno and so far they were doing amazingly. Plus Andrew had now been featured in several magazines for being a “self-made American business man” and they didn’t even seem to care that his business was clothing. He hates to admit Francesca was right, but the majority of the job was image and not that of his clothes.
Andrew had selected fourteen workers who showed the most talent and assigned them to hand-making the custom orders which was what they were currently inspecting. There were dresses and tuxes and costumes for fancy Halloween parties in a couple months. Hats, gloves, jackets, all that. Andrew sort of missed making them himself, but he satisfied himself by making the lines for magazines and shows, the whole “image” thing.
“I think this one’s good to go.” Andrew said and gently tucked in the clothing bag back into the box between the others. He closed the lid and looked around. “And that’s thr last one.”
He plunked down in one of the armchairs in the corner of the large room that he had set up to look like a little lounge. He spent a fair amount of time here anyway, so he might as well make himself comfortable.
“Are you going to go home now?” Vee asked gently and sat down in the other chair.
“Nah,” Andrew leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “I’ll go in a few. Lani should be asleep soon and I hate whenever someone comes to the house before them because then she won’t go back to bed and…sorry. I’ve been complaining about her all night. That’s…kinda terrible.”
“It’s normal, I think.” She said with her bird voice. “I mean, she’s a person and sometimes people are annoying.”
Andrew sighed. “Yeah. I just wish…never mind. So how’s your boyfriend? Larry?”
“We broke up last week.”
Andrew raised his head to look at her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. What happened?”
Vee shrugged. “It just wasn’t meant to be. I’m fine though.”
“Yeah, I mean it wasn’t that serious to begin with.” Vee glanced around. “Are you sure you shouldn’t be heading home?”
Andrew opened his mouth to say he would leave in a few when something caught his eye. “There! See? I told you.”
Veronica flinched and whipped her hear around to where he was pointing. “See what?”
“Mice.” Andrew said and stood up, grabbing magazine off the coffee table. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to hit it with it or scoop it up, but that’s what they always grabbed in movies. “Or rats. I don’t know.”
“Since when?” Veronica said, her voice going even higher as the thought of wild rodents scared her.
“Last week I thought I saw some,” Andrew said and snuck over to one of the crates where he’d seen the shadow run. “I spent an hour looking for the damn thing.”
“Do you see it?”
Andrew dropped quickly to his knees and bent his head to look under the crate’s stand, trying to surprise the little beast. He blinked. “Nope. It must’ve gone under it to the next one.”
The phone starting ringing, but Andrew ignored it. The little $hits had been running from him for far too long and now he was annoyed. He’d get them once and for all…by picking them up and putting them outside like a civilized person. “If you come out now,” he sang. “I won’t hurt you.”
“Andrew,” Veronica called. “It’s Harriet.”
“Hold on, I think it’s just under here.” Andrew skipped quickly to the next crate and looked under it. He needed a flashlight.
“She says Lani’s sick.”
“Yeah, okay, I’ll be right there.” He smacked the crate a couple times with the rolled up magazine and shouted when a shadow emerged in the corner of his eye from under a different crate. “Ah ha!”
But it was already gone. Fast little bugger.
“She says she’s puking,” Veronica said from somewhere far off.
Andrew tiptoed up to one of the crates just at the corner and raised up his hand with the magazine and—“$hit, Vee!”
Veronica was holding his wrist frozen in the air, glaring up at him. Andrew hadn’t realized she knew how to glare. She was such a little bird and when was the last time a bird glared at someone? But glare she did. “Go home Andrew. I’ll look for the mouse or whatever it is if there’s even anything here. You need sleep. Go home to your wife and daughter.”
Andrew swallowed and found his eyes wandering to his feet. He felt his face turn red as she released his hand and he lowered it. “Yeah. You’re probably right. See you tomorrow.”
"Where have you been?” Harriet demanded as her husband walked into the bathroom, scrunching up his nose at the smell.
“Work.” He said simply as that. “What’s that smell?”
“Vomit.” Harriet said and dropped yet another soiled towel into the bathtub to be taken care of later. “Lani’s been puking everywhere. Do you know how hard it is to get an infant to puke in a designated area?”
“Yeah she did the same thing last month at my parents’ house,” Andrew’s face wrinkled up as he looked at the other towels in the bathtub. “Remember? She puked up all the frosting she licked off the ginger snaps. The whole house smelled like Christmas gone wrong.”
A smile flickered onto Harriet’s face then faded quickly when she realized that her daughter had violently puked twice in as many months. Babies her age didn’t do that. They spit up sometimes, but she was puking like a full grown kid. “Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no.”
“What?” Andrew looked at her. “What?”
She gripped the sleeved of the black jacket he was wearing so tight she could feel the stiffness the iron had pressed into it. “What if she’s sick? Like, really sick?”
“Harrie,” He said all casually, though from the way his face paled, he clearly was thinking the same thing. “She’s just a baby. Babies throw-up. Maybe she ate something?”
“Yeah,” She ripped her hand away, not in the mood to be consoled. “Maybe she did. Only you wouldn’t know because you were asleep.”
“Seriously?” Andrew laughed in a way that wasn’t funny at all. “There’s nothing for her to swallow. This damn place is so clean the freaking queen and Pope could ditch their kids in here and they’d be fine.”
Harriet shook her head and shoved him aside as she rushed out of the bathroom and to the crib beside the bed where she’d finally gotten Harriet to fall asleep. She wasn’t so sure that it was sleep as it was a collapse brought upon by exhaustion or—god—cancer? “I’m taking her to the ER. Right now.”
“Harriet, you’re being over dramatic. We’ll just be waiting there for hours taking up their time so they can tell us she caught a bug or something.”
“They’ll let us in,” She touched Lani’s back, feeling her skin. There was no sign of a fever, but not all sicknesses had fevers. She picked her up as gently as she could, trying not to wake her for fear she’d only start puking again. “Theresa should be on duty tonight, she knows me.”
“Harrie, come on.”
“No,” She hissed. “You come on. Get in the car and sit with her.”
Andrew rolled his neck and then his eyes, but followed reluctantly out the door and down the stairs. Harriet was flying blind, the fear turning her senses off as much as they heightened them. The only thing she was absolutely certain of was her baby girl that was still sleeping on her shoulder. Her golden curls were going up Harriet’s nose and tickling her whole face, but she could barely feel it. She skipped the last step on the stairs and nearly leapt into the kitchen and headed for the door that led outside. She grabbed her keys from the bowl on the counter and went outside. Andrew closed the door behind them, not bothering to lock up. Realistically they should, but there were more important things right now.
Harriet opened the door and put Lani in her seat. Her hands were shaking so bad she couldn’t get the buckles to fit together. How was she still sleeping? Should Harriet wake her and make sure she wasn’t in a coma or something? She tried to remember the signs of a coma, but her mind wasn’t thinking beyond Lani’s chubby little angel face. There was a reason doctors couldn’t operate on her own family and this was why. Hysterics. And the guilt if something happened, but mostly because you couldn’t think things through logically when it concerned someone you love.
“Let me.” Andrew said and nudged her aside. He climbed in and put on Lani’s straps as Harriet climbed into the front seat and started the car.
She drove on autopilot. She’d been working at the hospital for only a few weeks, but the way was already programmed into her. So often she’d been called to work in the middle of the night or been so tired getting home that only muscle memory guided her. She should call ahead and warn Theresa that they were coming, but she’d forgotten her mobile phone at home. Actually she didn’t even know where it was. She glanced in the rear view mirror at Andrew who was stroking Lani’s hair softly, concern written all over his face.
Harriet looked back to the road. She could just see the lights of the tall building in the distance. God, the whole car smelled like spoiled ginger and—
“Wait.” Harriet slammed on the breaks and jolted forward. She caught herself on her steering wheel. She forgot what she was saying as her heart pounded. There were no other cars on the street, but…she hadn’t put her seatbelt on. In the haste of getting out, she hadn’t put it on. With shaking hands she put the belt on and clicked it tightly into place before taking a deep breath and forcing herself to think. “What did you say earlier? About the last time she threw-up like this?”
“It was at my parents’ house,” Andrew was looking at her in the mirror with a now twice as concerned look on his face like he was concerned for her mental well-being too. “She puked up all the frosting from the gingersnaps and that made Quinn puke to look at it.”
Harriet’s shoulders relaxed and she released a long breath. “Tonight Em came over with sushi and I let her lick the pickled ginger.”
“Ginger.” Harriet laughed and leaned her forehead against the wheel. “She’s puking up ginger.”
A honk came from behind them and Harriet sat back up and drove on until the next light where she made a U-turn. “I thought we were going to the hospital.”
“Tomorrow.” Harriet said. “For an allergy test.”
She could hear Andrew thinking from the back seat and then he too started laughing. They were still laughing when they pulled up into the round driveway of their house.
“Ginger.” Andrew said with a giggle. “She’s allergic to ginger.”
Harriet snorted hysterically and leaned back in her chair, staring up at the ceiling of the car. She had almost died because of ginger. How offensive. “Do you wanna just sleep in here?”
“In the car?” Andrew gave her that look again and she just smiled tiredly at him in the mirror. He shrugged his shoulders and leaned the seat back. “Why not.”
Yes, I know. Sorry. I’ve been really busy lately with finals and stupid college and Christmas and…well you know that story I mentioned earlier that I promised I wasn’t going to start until later…yeah. Well. I’m like 150 pages into. Will probably post some time after Christmas. Again sorry. Yikes