"Mommy, Alicia hit me!" Ashleigh rolled her eyes as her youngest daughter yelled from the waters edge. From under her umbrella, Ashleigh had seen the entire situation play out and new that Stephanie had been hit at all.
"She's lying mom," Byron said from beside her, the seven-year old immersed in a book, much the same way she was. "Steph's always lying."
Time had moved swiftly for the Hampton's. They'd gotten married as planned and had been happily married for eight years. They'd had their problems like any other couple, but had always managed to work things out. Of course, with Zach's slightly rebellious streak and Ashleigh's stubborn nature, there had been a lot fights. Of course, their three children were examples of the 'makeup' process.
Byron had been their first child, born almost exactly nine months after they'd gotten married. Alec had teased the pair that they must've spent their entire honeymoon in bed in order to have Byron so quickly. Two years later, after a fight about whether Ashleigh should open her own practice, Alicia had been conceived. One year and six months later, Stephanie, the baby, had come into the world. The large lakefront home Zach had purchased nearly a decade earlier was nearly too small for their growing family.
"Stephanie, behave or it's back to the house for you," Ashleigh called, dog-earing the page of the book she was on at the moment. "Byron, could you go see if your Uncle Alec is here yet?"
Byron dutifully marked his spot in his book and nodded as he got to his feet. "Are you okay, mom?"
Ashleigh smiled at her firstborn. "I'm fine." Then he was walking up the trail. The very same trail Ashleigh and Zachary had walked that night so many years ago when he'd proposed. She kept a close eye on Stephanie and Alicia at the shoreline. They were building a sand castle as Ashleigh had ordered them not to enter the water without their brother. Byron was very protective of his younger sisters. For that, Ashleigh was very grateful. She and Zach were often so busy that they spent a lot of time with their nanny, Nina.
Zach was the office, as he always was on Tuesday mornings. It was rare that Ashleigh was home during the workweek, at least around ten a.m. The sun was shining brightly and the kids were having a great time. As much as she hated to, she called the girls away from their sand castle.
"Girls, come put on some sun screen! I don't want lobsters at the dinner table." The girls reluctantly made their way to the umbrella and beach towel and allowed Ashleigh to cover them with sun screen. Alicia looked the most like her of all their children. She shared Ashleigh's dark brown eyes and hair, as well as the same shaped nose and mouth. Stephanie was a mix of both her parents. She had her father's eyes, her mothers' nose and hair and the attitude of Zachary. Byron looked so much like Zach that it was uncanny.
She smiled at her daughters and then allowed them to return to sunlight. Byron returned a moment later, plopping back down on the towel beside her and returning to his book. Looking over her shoulder, she smiled to see Alec walking down the trail slowly.
"Byron, who's that with Alec?" Ashleigh asked, eyeing the woman with him.
Byron shrugged his shoulders. "I think he said her name was Robin. I'm not sure."
"Is she his girlfriend?" Ashleigh asked, trying not to appear too interested.
"Mom, I don't know," the seven-year old assured her. "Want me to ask?"
"Uncle Alec is she your girlfriend?!" Byron shouted.
Ashleigh sighed, leaning back in her beach chair. "Thanks B," she smiled sarcastically. Byron just smiled happily and returned to his book. When Alec and his friend reached them, Ashleigh looked up at them.
"Sorry, Alec," she blushed. "Byron here has no tact," she nudged her son.
Alec laughed heartily, "that's okay, Leigh. Leigh, this is Robin McCall. Robin this is Ashleigh Hampton."
Robin was tall and blonde, with blonde hair pulled up in a high ponytail. She had green eyes that stood out with her tanned skin. The last girl Alec had dated had been model-thin, but this girl was normally proportioned and according to Hollywood standards, would be considered overweight when she was not so in the least. Healthy was the first word that came to Ashleigh's mind.
"It's so nice to meet y'all. Alec's told me so much 'bout y'all," her Southern accent threw Ashleigh off for a second. Robin held her hand out and Ashleigh leaned forward, shaking her hand.
"I'd get up, but . . . " she laughed and laid a hand on her extended belly.
"Mom's pregnant," Byron didn't look up from his book. Robin and Alec laughed at the boys' obvious statement. Then, before anyone could say anything, Alicia and Stephanie were yelling and running toward them.
Alicia reached them first. "Uncle Alec!" she shouted, throwing her arms around his middle. Alec laughed and picked the little girl up in a hug, swinging her around a bit. Stephanie got similar treatment, making both girls very happy. After that, the girls seemed more interested in Robin and proceeded to drag her down to their makeshift sand castle.
Alec sat beside Ashleigh, his arms around his knees as he rested casually. "So . . . Zach's at the office?" He eyed Ashleigh's pregnant belly. Ashleigh was due any day now and he was surprised that Zach hadn't taken the week off of work.
"Until noon," Ashleigh nodded, her book being put aside once again. After putting sun screen on the girls she hadn't even had a chance to open it again. "She's pretty, Al."
"Don't start, Leigh," Alec sighed, shaking his head. "You always get so excited when I meet a girl-" Ashleigh and Zach were constantly trying to find him someone.
Ashleigh held her hand up. "Okay, but it's true. She is pretty. Where'd you meet her?"
Alec was in the middle of telling her how he and Robin had met when she suddenly grabbed his hand. "I'm not done yet, don't go getting all excited," he smirked. Then he looked at her and saw she had a wide-eyed look on her face. "Leigh?"
"My water just broke."
"What? Are you serious? Byron, go get your sisters, we have to go!" Alec asked before ordering the seven-year old around. "Robin! We gotta go!" Then he was helping Ashleigh to her feet, one arm going around her waist.
Ashleigh shrugged Alec's arm off her, "Alec, I'm okay. I'm not having any contractions yet. Just . . . we need to go. I need to call Zach, and get to the hospital."
"You're sure? I can carry y-"
"No," Ashleigh stated firmly. "You will not. Just get the kids and I'll get to my car." She waddled slowly up the path, smiling to herself as she heard Alec panicking as he gathered her children and their things.
She already had an overnight bag and car seat in her car, so all she needed to do was get her car keys and call Zach.
"Do you need any help?" she looked beside her to see Robin standing there with the umbrella and towel in her hands.
"Thanks, but I've got it covered. I've done this three times already. It gets a little less scary each time," Ashleigh laughed. Then a contraction hit her. Not a strong one, but enough that she closed her eyes and started taking deep breaths. Her lamaze breathing would come in handy in a few minutes.
She grabbed the telephone out of its cradle, her car keys and quickly dialed Zach's office as she leaned against the kitchen counter. The sliding glass door opened and Alec entered carrying both Alicia and Stephanie. Byron trailed behind, carrying their buckets.
When Zachary's secretary, Yvette answered the phone, she told Ashleigh he was in a meeting and couldn't be disturbed.
"Yvette," Ashleigh remarked, her voice sugary sweet, "get me my husband right now. I am going into labor and he needs to be at the hospital."
Zachary stood at the end of a very long conference table, explaining how the new merger would benefit the company and why the investors would appreciate it. When Yvette stuck her head in the door, he gave her an exasperated look. "Yes?"
"Mr. Hampton, your wife is on line two."
Zachary frowned. "Take a message, please, Yvette." When the woman didn't leave, he looked at her expectantly. "Well?"
"Mr. Hampton, your wife said she's going into labor." The chart Zach was holding fell to the floor.
"Tell her I'm on my way," Zach said once he'd recovered a bit. "Ladies, gentlemen, we're going to have to post-pone this meeting, I'm afraid. You understand." He didn't wait for a consensus to if they did understand or not, he was out of the room and going toward the elevator.
Yvette handed him his keys and briefcase as he neared the elevator and smiled before returning to her desk as the doors slid shut behind him.
Ashleigh was tired. An hour of labor and one strong pain killer later and she wanted nothing more than to sleep. Zachary had arrived just in time, which was good because she knew Alec would've died if he'd had to be in the delivery room with her. Zach sat beside her on the bed, his arm around her as she leaned against his shoulder. Nestled against her breast, eating his first meal was their son, Daniel Alec Hampton.
"He's beautiful, Ash," Zach raised a finger to touch the crown of his head. "You're beautiful."
"And you're biased on that opinion. I'm gross right now," Ashleigh shook her head. She and Zach were more deeply in love than they had been all those years ago, but there were times she wondered about the man. How she could look beautiful when she was sweaty and tired and grouchy was beyond her.
"Mommy?" she looked to the door to see Stephanie standing in the doorway, looking inside curiously. "Daddy?"
Alec appeared behind her. "Sorry, she just moves so fast," he panted a bit, his eyes averted toward the ceiling during this intimate moment.
"It's okay, you and the kids can come in, he's about done now," Ashleigh smiled. Zach took Daniel as Ashleigh buttoned her gown back up. Stephanie still stood in the doorway. "Come here, Sweetie," she held her hand out.
Alicia entered the room, followed by Byron, who looked very pleased at finally having another boy in the family. He'd insisted that Alicia be sent back and had even written Santa a letter insisting that the next year for Christmas, he didn't want another sister, but a dog. He'd thought that because Alicia had been born on Christmas Eve, that she was his gift. It was always a funny story when they told it at parties.
"This is your brother, Daniel," Zach held him so the kids could all see him.
Alicia and Stephanie looked at him with awe, while Byron looked more proud than anything. "I knew you could do it, Dad," he smiled.
Alec laughed, knowing that Byron had wanted a brother. Robin stood off to the side and he held his hand out to her, beckoning her closer. "You finally got the brother you wanted kid," he ruffled Byron's hair.
"I know," he smiled. "I just hope he's not as noisy as Stephanie was," he wrinkled his nose at his sister.
After a few minutes, a nurse entered and told them that visiting hours were over and they needed to wrap things up. They'd already made arrangements and Alec was going to take the kids home while Zach remained at the hospital-pre-approved, of course- for few more hours. The kids would have pizza and soda and go to bed hyper and excited. Then Zach would come home and find them already in bed. Or at least that was the plan. Not that he expected the kids to behave perfectly for Alec. They rarely did.
Ashleigh smiled as she entered the house the next day. Zach was carrying Daniel. She was surprised to find the house surprisingly clean. She would've thought pizza and soda and a night with their Uncle Alec would've resulted in the kids being extra antsy. Instead the house was clean, the only noise coming from the living room. She walked into the living room and smiled when she saw the kids, and Alec, being entertained by Disney's Peter Pan. It had been a favorite of hers as a kid and she was glad her children liked it as well.
"So, did Tiger Lily get kidnapped yet?"
"Mommy!" Stephanie ran and hugged her while Alicia and Byron simply continued watching the movie. Alec looked grateful that they were home and stood. Then Stephanie was dragging him back to the couch and settling herself in his lap. Alec had learned long ago that the Hampton girls got what they wanted and usually that meant time with him.
The weekend passed quickly and before they knew it, Alec was returning to work and leaving them with their children. When the kids were all bathed, dressed in pajamas and in bed, the couple took their sleeping infant up as well.
They headed upstairs to the new nursery and as Zach was putting Daniel in his crib, Ashleigh couldn't help but smile at them. He was such a good father and husband. To think when she'd first met him he'd been a suspected and convicted murderer. How wrong everyone had been then. But she'd known. She'd had a sort of blind faith in the man. She'd trusted him and believed him when everyone else had told her not to. It was that faith that had given her this life.
"Why do you look so happy?" Zach asked.
"I am, that's why," Ashleigh smiled, bumping her hip with his. "I love you." They entered their bedroom and Ashleigh headed toward the bathroom, intent on taking a shower before bed.
Zachary poked his head in just as she was stepping out of her clothes. "Want some company?" he asked, wiggling his eyebrows at her.
"You," she walked toward him and poked him gently in the chest, "are insatiable."
"You knew that already," he smiled, kissing her neck. Ashleigh laughed, surprised that she found herself wanting him so soon after having a child. Usually she wanted more than three days of rest.
"Fine," Ashleigh rolled her eyes, pretending to be annoyed when she was anything but. She laughed as Zach lifted her against his body and entered the shower with her, closing the door behind her.
Forty minutes later they lay in bed, Zach's arms around Ashleigh as they just lay in the silence and darkness. "Do you ever wonder what your life would've been like without me?" he asked softly. It was something he'd never asked her. A question that surprised Ashleigh.
Rolling over, Ashleigh looked at him through the dimness. "No," she shook her head, answering honestly. "Never." Then he was kissing her again and all thoughts flew out of her mind as he loved her. She fell asleep with a smile on her face knowing that she and Zach still had several years ahead of them. She had no doubt in her mind that those would be loving and interesting, to say the least. With that last thought, she drifted into sleep, content with her life and the things she knew were still to come.
Authors Note: Well that's the end. I'm not really thrilled with it, I think I rushed all of it horribly. I've had a few people suggest giving Alec his own story and while I do love the character, I might write something else and go back to that, but no promises. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it (even if I did rush the end). A huge thank you to all my readers and reviewers- I truly appreciate all the support and suggestions you've given me. On that note, leave me a review!
Again, thank you for all the reviews and support!