Six Months Later

"All right," Stacey said as she pulled the chicken that she'd cooked for herself and Will out of the oven and placed it on the stovetop. She brushed off her hands on her skirt and looked out the kitchen entryway and towards the stairs. "Will! Quit puppy-guarding her and come downstairs. It's time to eat dinner now."

She could picture Will letting out a reluctant sigh and removing himself from the rocking chair in Alex's room, which was where he normally was whenever he was at home and Alex was sleeping. He absolutely loved being close to his daughter, which Stacey didn't really mind - in fact, she generally found it endearing. But when it was time to eat, it was time to eat, and she didn't want to wait for him any longer than she had to. Motherhood, not pregnancy, had increased her appetite, which of course wasn't any good for her body, but she didn't really care. She knew Will still found her attractive, so she was all right with her weight. It wasn't as if she could justly be categorized as fat, anyway.

The sound of Alex's bedroom door closing and the soft thud of footsteps reached her ears, and after a moment, Will appeared.

"Done now?" he inquired, walking over to her and pressing a kiss to her cheek as he wrapped his arms around her waist from behind.

"Yeah," she replied, starting to place all of the food onto two separate plates, one for each of them. "Just grab whatever you're drinking... and get me some water, please. Then sit down."

"All right," he said, going over to the refrigerator and pulling out two bottles of water, then walking into the dining room and sitting at the head of the table.

She picked up both of their plates and walked into the dining room, setting one plate down in front of him and the other down in front of the chair that she would be sitting in, which was to the right of him. She then seated herself and looked at him.

"Who's praying?" he inquired. "Am I?"

"No; it's my turn," she replied, shaking her head and reaching out, taking his right hand in her left hand. "I was just waiting to see if you were ready."

"I am," he sighed. "I'm hungry."

"All right, then," she said, and then they both bowed their heads and closed their eyes while still holding hands. "Dear God, thank You for today; it was a good day. I actually managed to have Alex not fuss for a while..."

Will couldn't help but smirk at that. The only time that Alex didn't almost constantly fuss while she was awake and unoccupied with something, such as eating a meal, was when Will was at least in a very close proximity to her - she recognized her father and would only be completely good for him. He wondered if it would always be like that.

"...and Will's Women's Choir won Best in Show at their competition today," she continued, squeezing his hand to signify how proud she was. "Let us have a good rest of the evening... preferably by Alex's not waking up at any point in time. In Your name, Amen."

"Amen," he said, pressing a kiss to her hand and holding onto it for a moment before letting go of it. They then picked up their utensils and started eating the chicken, peas, and rice pilaf that she'd prepared for dinner.

"So what else went on with you today?" she inquired after a moment of silent eating. "I know about the competition, but did anything else happen?"

He shrugged. "Not really. Apparently, though, I'm going to have to deal with several students in my two other choirs tomorrow. The sub report wasn't all that impressive."

She actually snorted in amusement. "I feel bad for those kids."

"You ought to," he agreed. "I'm getting to be a hard-ass again. Old habits die hard, I guess."

"Is it weird for you?" she inquired, leaning forward slightly. "Having students who are high schoolers while knowing that you've got a wife who's in that age group?"

He frowned. "I've never really thought about it. I didn't think about it in New York, either, when we were dating and I had the studio... I don't know. I guess I've gotten used to it so much that it's not something I trouble myself over. Now that you've brought it up, though," he added cheekily, "it's something that can boost my ego. I have a hot young thing for a wife!"

She rolled her eyes. "I'm not hot."

"No, you're not," he agreed, leaning forward and pressing a kiss to her cheek. "You're beautiful."

"Is there even a difference?"

"Yes, actually," he replied. "You think someone is hot when you're only attracted to them for their looks. You think someone is beautiful when you're attracted to them because of things besides their looks... and their looks, too."

"Yeah, that's true," she said, nodding. Her face then brightened as she patted his hand enthusiastically. "Oh, speaking of beautiful - I forgot to show you something that came in the mail today!"

She jumped up from her seat and sauntered into the kitchen, going over to the counter by the refrigerator and grabbing a small, rather thick-looking sheet of paper. Then she walked back into the dining room, placing the paper down in front of him and tapping it. "Look."

As he speared a piece of chicken with his fork with one hand, he picked up the paper with the other, reading it as he chewed.

Mr. and Mrs. Marcus Lyle cordially invite you to
the marriage of their daughter, Cassandra Elaine Lyle,
to Mr. John Andrew Hartford
on the 17th of September in the year 2009
at Jackson Bible Church, 2747 Hardaway Drive, New York, New York
at 12:00 in the afternoon
Please RSVP either by phone or to Marcus or Elaine personally

He smiled and chuckled a little. "Am I supposed to be surprised by this?"

"No," she replied, shaking her head and smiling back at him. "I was just letting you know that the inevitable has now happened. They're getting married in September!"

"Yeah," he said, nodding. "I was thinking that it wouldn't be too long before we got this in the mail... maybe not with the same dates, but with the same basic idea, you know."

"So are we going?" she exclaimed, clasping her hands together and giving him her best begging look. "Please say we're going!"

"Well, of course we're going!" he retorted, laughing and shaking his head a little. "It would be ridiculous if we didn't."

"Good!" she said happily, her face lighting up. "We haven't seen them since Christmas."

"That's only been two months, love."

"I know, but it's kind of weird to think about how far apart we are from them now," she replied, scrunching her face up in a thoughtful manner. "A year ago, we were still in New York... less than a year ago, actually."

He nodded. "It's been a year since we found out that we were going to have Alex... to the day, as it turns out."

She raised her eyebrows at him. "Seriously?"

"Mmm-hmm," he replied, nodding again.

"How do you remember the exact day that we found out I was pregnant?" she inquired, her eyebrows shooting up a little further. "I mean, I knew it was this month, but I didn't remember the date."

"Those kinds of things stick with me, I guess," he said, shrugging. "I remember exact dates for a lot of things involving you... us."

"Like what?" she asked, scooping up some peas with her spoon and sticking them in her mouth.

He followed her example and chewed thoughtfully. "The day I met you. The day you told me about you and your dad. The day you kissed me."

"I didn't kiss you!" she insisted. "You kissed me!"

"You kissed back!" he shot back, feeling inwardly amused at how she still went on about how he had been the one who had initiated their first kiss.

"Well, it was kind of difficult not to," she replied. "And by that I mean that I didn't really have a choice. I mean, your mouth was on mine."

"Yeah, but you puckered," he replied, smirking. "When I kissed you, your lips puckered, which means you were pretty much knowingly kissing back. You could have just stood there, but you didn't."

She sighed resignedly, knowing that she had, indeed, kissed back and that she'd had a choice as to whether to do so or not. "What else about us do you remember?"

"Well, the week after that kiss, obviously," he said. "That was when we started going out... although it took some serious persuasion on my part. I'll bet the only way I made you bend was by kissing you. You were like putty when I did that!"

Her cheeks went slightly pink. "Yeah, I know. But it was also that you just wouldn't let the idea of us being a couple go!"

"I'm stubborn like that," he replied, shrugging. "And you know, the important thing is that you agreed."

"Obviously. What else?"

"I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it, but I don't remember the exact date of our first date," he admitted, frowning in that nervous, "don't hurt me" way.

She let out a mock-shocked gasp. "That's terrible!"

"I know!" he exclaimed, covering his face with his hands in genuine embarrassment. "I'm such a bad husband."

"It's okay," she said, shrugging and laughing at the way he was acting. "I don't remember, either."

"Oh," he said, removing his hands from his face and starting to laugh with her. "I thought I was going to be sleeping on the couch tonight."

"Do you want to? That's an option for you any time... unless I say it's not."

"No, thanks." He paused for a moment. "I remember the night we told each other we loved each other and made love."

"Which you ought to," she replied, sighing rather dreamily as her thoughts traveled to the night he was referring to. "I remember, too. That was amazing."

"Well, thanks." He paused again. "The next thing I remember the exact date of involving us is L.A., as I should, anyway, because that's your birthday - or the two days after, I guess."

She raised her eyebrows. "You don't remember the exact date of the start of the thing that made you wanna go to L.A.?"

He raised his eyebrows back at her. "How'd you know that's why I wanted to go? I told you it was for your birthday... which it was, but it was for that, too."

"You were getting antsy," she informed him. "I'm sure you'd prefer to forget, but every time I came in for a lesson, you'd hug and kiss me for, like, the first ten minutes."

"I did that all the time, anyway."

"You hug more tightly when you're desperate, like me," she replied. "That's the only time you've ever hugged me like that, though, which I'm sure you'll be relieved to know."

"I am. I don't like coming across as desperate." He paused. "But yeah, I don't remember the exact date that Eadoin started blackmailing us. I'd rather not, either."

She frowned thoughtfully. "I wonder what she's up to now. I haven't seen her since the wedding."

He shrugged. "I don't know. I hope she's okay, though... I started liking her the second she refused to take me away and make me her slave."

"Me, too," she replied. "It's really awful that she associated with my dad for that reason, though... and I wonder how they met."

"She probably came to the studio for a lesson and found it empty, so she took those pictures to some police station and was pointed in your dad's direction somehow."

"Yeah..." She paused. "What else?"

"Christmas, obviously." A mischievous smile came to his face. "That was the best Christmas I've ever had."

She felt her face flush slightly. "Yeah... you don't think this past one was good, though?"

"It was good, but for different reasons," he said, that wicked grin still on his face. "A comparison isn't really fair, though, now that I think about it."

"The next you thing you remember is probably the day I told you I thought I was pregnant, since that's the next major thing I can think of," she said, changing the subject. "Right?"

"Yeah... considering how it was a year ago yesterday. And then I remember a year ago today." He paused, sighing. "There. I think I've proven that I've paid a lot of attention during our relationship pretty well."

"I'd have to say that," she agreed. "Let's eat now. I figure our food's gotten cold."

He nodded, and then they resumed eating their dinner silently, ignoring the fact that it had, indeed, gotten cold.

"Want anything else?" she then inquired when they'd both finished eating what was on their plates, taking her plate and silverware and heading towards the kitchen sink so she could wash them. "We still have a pretty good amount of everything."

"I'll package it up, then, and take it to work for lunch tomorrow," he said, rising from his seat and bringing his plate and silverware to her. He kissed her. "Thanks for dinner, love."

"Was it good?"

"Very good."

"Are you just saying that?"

"No. You know I'm not that nice."

She laughed a little. "You are, actually. Now pack up the leftovers and stick it in the refrigerator. Then I guess you'll go back to -"

Just then, Alex started crying from her room upstairs.

"Alex," they both said at the same time, finishing her sentence and smiling at each other.

"She must have woken up and realized you weren't there," she informed him, patting his shoulder. "You go ahead and go on up. I'll put the food away."

"Are you sure?" he inquired, looking rather guilty. "I don't wanna leave you all alone to do everything -"

From upstairs, Alex's crying increased in volume.

"Go on, Daddy," she said lovingly, nodding upstairs. "You shouldn't keep her waiting any longer."

He smiled at her, kissed her again, and then made his way upstairs as she turned and started washing their dishes and silverware.

"Hey, hey, hey," she heard him say to Alex over the sound of Alex's crying and the water in the sink running, and Alex immediately grew silent. "What's the deal here?"

Alex made a little pitiful noise as if responding to her father's question, causing Stacey to smile. It was always entertaining to hear those two interact.

"Ohh, I know," Will replied in a rather genuinely sympathetic tone, and Stacey could picture him picking Alex up from out of her crib and holding onto her, resting his cheek on top of her head. "You've had such a long, tiring day... eating, playing, making your mother go out of her mind because she's not as cool as I am..."

Stacey laughed to herself quietly.

Alex made another noise.

"Are you hungry again?" Will asked. "Is that what it is? Maybe it is... let's go downstairs and get you a bottle, all right?"

Stacey then heard Will's footsteps coming down the stairs and into the kitchen, where he appeared with Alex in his arms. Alex was cuddling close to Will, and Stacey couldn't help but feel envious. She wanted to be doing that.

"Look - there's Mommy," Will said to Alex, nodding towards Stacey and also pointing at her while holding onto Alex with his other arm. "See? There she is, doing the dishes."

"Mmm," Alex murmured, eying her mother rather warily as Stacey smiled and waved at her. She obviously was worried that Stacey would take her from Will.

"All right," Will said, grabbing a container of baby formula and a clean bottle. He then walked over to the sink and felt the water to see if it was warm enough for baby formula. Upon finding that it was, he stuck the bottle underneath it and filled it up most of the way.

"Say, 'Sorry, Mommy, but I'm hungry'," Will then told Alex, nodding towards Stacey. "Daddy just interrupted her dishwashing so he could put some water in your bottle. So say, 'Sorry, Mommy'."

Alex made another noise, which Will apparently regarded as her attempt to copy him, for he smiled and rewarded her with a kiss on her cheek. He then walked over to where he'd placed the formula and opened it, reaching inside and scooping some formula out and into the bottle. He put in several scoops, and then he placed the lid on the bottle and stuck his finger on the rubber part so liquid wouldn't spurt everywhere as he shook it, mixing the water and the formula together.

"There you go, angel," he then said to his daughter, holding the bottle out to her. She took it from him and stuck the top in her mouth, tipping the bottle slightly and starting to drink while he placed the lid on the formula and put it back where it had come from.

"Now say, 'Good night, Mommy'," he said to Alex, waving at Stacey to demonstrate as he started carrying Alex back upstairs to her room. Alex grunted slightly, and then Will flashed Stacey a smile before they disappeared out of the kitchen and made their way upstairs to Alex's room.

"All right," Stacey then heard him say to Alex, and she pictured him sitting down in the rocking chair and holding Alex like she was a newborn while she drank her formula. "Here we go. Finish this up so you can go to sleep."

For several moments, there was silence, and then Stacey resumed washing the dishes, knowing that Alex would probably be asleep within several minutes. Will would then sit in the room for as long as he felt like it, which would be a long time... maybe not even until he himself felt like it was time for bed.

When she'd finished washing the dishes, she then placed the leftover chicken, peas, and rice pilaf in a container that was divided into three separate parts and placed the lid on it, sticking it in the refrigerator for Will to have for lunch at work the next day. Then she washed the dishes that the leftover had been in, placing them in the dishwasher for more thorough washing at a later time, then making her way into the living room and sitting down on the sofa.

She checked her watch and saw that it was 8:45 at night. She normally turned in at about 10:30 and got about three hours of sleep before Alex woke up and cried for Will, at which point she would see to her daughter so that her husband would have a decent amount of sleep so that he would be alert at work. She had an hour and forty-five minutes until it was her own bedtime.

What to do with that time? Will probably wouldn't leave Alex's room until after she herself was already in bed. She would be in there with him, but they wouldn't be able to talk or anything like that, lest Alex should be disturbed by their conversation and wake up.

Maybe it was ridiculous, but though there were two other people in the house with her, she felt entirely alone. Maybe it was ridiculous, but she actually felt jealous of her own daughter, which, she was sure, shouldn't have been happening. Maybe it was ridiculous, but she wanted to spend time with Will - he worked ten hours a day, and he normally spent the other fourteen during which he was at home sleeping, eating, and spending time with Alex. They hadn't had a honeymoon because they hadn't wanted to worry about possibly having to interrupt it if Alex chose to come earlier than expected, and they wouldn't have had time for one, as it turned out, what with his being unconscious for the first three days of their marriage and then their being in New York for the original Alex's funeral the three days after that. During the week that they'd both been at home before the school year had started, they'd been putting together baby Alex's room and generally unpacking as much as they could. Then Will had started work the next week, and the week after that, Alex had been born. And in the six months since then, neither she nor her husband had gotten a full night of sleep, and they were tired during the day as a result of that and the fact that they spent a lot of their waking hours taking care of Alex or having dinner. Their dinner, which they always had after Alex had been put in bed for the first time every night, had been their "alone time" since their daughter had been born.

She hadn't thought that being a parent so early into her marriage would be so hard, but it was. It was sucking all the energy out of her, as well as the time she had in a day... which included time for her to be alone with her husband. Today, though, for the first time in six months, she actually had a very good amount of energy and didn't feel like falling into bed the first opportunity she got - not that it mattered. She wouldn't be able to spend any real time with Will today, tomorrow, or any other time in the near or possibly distant future until Alex quit being an energy and time drainer, which would most likely be quite some time from now.

As she thought about how much this upset her, tears filled her eyes, and she bit down on her lower lip hard. If she cried, she would feel so stupid, but this matter was really something that had her down.

Despite the fact that she didn't want to cry, though, she was about to start. But then she heard the sounds of a door closing and footsteps coming down the stairs, causing her to quickly wipe her eyes. What was Will doing out of Alex's room so early?

After a moment, he appeared, and he walked into the living room, checking his watch as he did.

"Wow," he said in an impressed tone, looking up at her and smiling as he sat himself down next to her on the sofa. "9:00 and I still have a decent amount of energy!"

She smiled softly, wanting to be excited about this and see it as an opportunity to spend some genuine time with him but not being able to. "Me, too. I guess Alex is getting a little easier for us to handle."

"Yeah." He paused, leaning forward and placing one hand on top of hers. "Honestly, love, I don't know how you spend ten hours a day with her all by yourself. I don't spend nearly that much time with her and she drives me out of my mind sometimes."

She raised her eyebrows at him in surprise. "But she acts the way she does only because you're not around. When you're here and you're in her line of sight, she's fine."

"I know, and that flatters me, but..." - he sighed and spread his hands apart in a rather resigned gesture - "it'd be nice if she wanted you once in a while. I'm sure it makes you jealous."

"Yeah," she murmured, knowing that he was right in his assumption, but not for the right reason. "I get jealous."

He saw her rather sullen facial expression and knitted his eyebrows together in concern. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she replied, shaking her head and sighing. She glanced up at him and shrugged, giving him a small smile. "I'm fine."

"I'm sure you'll forgive me if I don't believe you," he said, leaning closer to her. "Every time you've ever told me that nothing was wrong, something was actually wrong. So how about you quit beating around the bush and tell me what's bothering you, since I know you'll tell me eventually, anyway?"

For a moment, she simply looked at him silently, but then she burst into tears.

"Wow," he murmured, scooting over on the sofa so that he was even closer to her and wrapping his arms around her, resting his cheek on top of her head as she cried against him. "I guess that came out wrong. Sorry."

"No, it's not that," she sniffed, still crying and actually not feeling stupid because of it, much to her surprise. "It's just what you were saying about my being jealous..."

He placed his hands on her shoulders and removed her from him, bending over slightly so that their eyes met. "Are you really that upset about it? About Alex wanting to spend time with me and not you?"

"I'm not jealous of you, Will," she replied, shaking her head. "I'm jealous of Alex."

For a moment, he looked thoughtful, but then he shook his head, his expression changing from thoughtful to confused. "Okay, you've totally got me on that one. Why are you jealous of her?"

"Because she gets to spend all this time with you and I don't!" she mourned, starting to cry again. "You come home and hang out with her until she falls asleep and you put her in bed while I make our dinner. Then, while I'm making dinner, you stay up there with her even though she's asleep, and you come down and eat dinner with me when I call you down. When we finish eating, we start to wash the dishes and put away leftovers, and then Alex starts crying, so you go up there and bring her back down to give her some formula. Then you take her back upstairs and have her drink formula, and when she falls asleep, you put her in bed and then stay up there with her until, like, 11:30, at which point I'm already in bed!"

"Oh, God, you're right," he groaned, hugging her to him again as she kept crying. "I'm so sorry, Stacey. I've been so busy spending time with my girl that I haven't been spending time with my woman."

For several minutes, everything was quiet except for the sound of her crying, and she silently hoped that Alex didn't wake up and therefore discover Will's absence from her room. Right then, she wanted to be the only crying baby in the house. She wanted to be the one getting all of Will's attention.

When she'd cried long enough that she could finally stop herself, she pulled away, sniffing slightly and then seeing that he looked terribly guilty.

She sighed. "Oh, don't you get upset, too. We can't have three people who cry in this house."

"Well, I feel awful," he murmured, leaning in and pressing a kiss to her forehead. "You do so much and then I don't pay any attention to you."

"Maybe you're bored with me," she suggested, shrugging and silently hoping that wasn't really the case. "Compared to me, Alex is a novelty, so maybe that's why you spend so much time with her."

"I'm not bored with you," he replied, shaking his head. "That will never happen. It's just the whole thing about neither of us having a good father... or any father at all. I don't want Alex to have that with me. So I try to be as involved with her as I can."

"You're doing a fantastic job of that," she reassured him. "I think you have to be the most involved father I've ever seen. And you're absolutely impressing your mom and your sisters. They didn't think you'd be so proactive."

He smiled rather shyly and blushed slightly, which she thought was absolutely cute. "I try."

"And you succeed." She paused, then kissed him. "I love you."

"I love you, too," he replied, and then he leaned in for another kiss, at which point they proceeded to kiss for several minutes.

After these several minutes, he pulled away from her slightly and smiled. "You know, there's something you and I haven't had yet."

She raised her eyebrows at him. "What's that, exactly?"

He smiled again and then leaned close to her, his lips next to her ear. "Our wedding night."

"No, we haven't!" she exclaimed in agreement, smiling back at him. "We've been so preoccupied with all the stuff that's happened, what with your being in the hospital and going to New York and coming back here and having to put the house together -"

"Yeah; I know all of it," he interrupted her, placing a finger on her lips. "So how about you and I remedy that?"

She raised her eyebrows at him in surprise. "Right now?"

"No; in another six months," he replied sarcastically. "Of course right now!"

"But what about Alex? If she wakes up and sees you're not in her room -"

"She won't wake up."

She raised her eyebrows at him again, but this time in a questioning manner. "How do you know?"

"She drained her entire bottle within about two minutes," he said. "With that much in that short of a time, she'll sleep like a rock. The faster she drinks a lot, the longer she sleeps. And tonight was a record."

For a moment, she was silent, and then she smiled and shook her head. "Amazing how you know things like that. I guess I could learn a thing or two from you."

He grinned."The student-teacher element of our relationship just won't ever end, will it?"

She shrugged and smiled back, laughing slightly. "Maybe not."

Upon hearing her laugh, he chuckled, and then he rose from the sofa. Then he bent down and scooped her up in his arms, holding her bridal style.

"Would you like a reprisal of Los Angeles or Christmas?"

She raised her eyebrows. "Are you referring to this past Christmas where we crashed at, like, 9:45 on Christmas Eve?"

He gave her a look.

"Apparently not," she replied, smiling rather shyly. "Well, in that case, I'd like a reprisal of Los Angeles. I thought that was much more... interesting than Christmas."

"I thought it was all the same, actually."

"No... there were subtle differences." A wicked expression came to her face. "I'll explain them to you when we get upstairs."

He laughed and started walking towards the stairs.

"Then come with me, Mrs. Chase," he said. "There are several things in our bedroom that you haven't seen yet."

They kissed, and then he carried his bride upstairs to make love to her.