“What about this one, Stella?” Grace asks her daughter, holding up a pink outfit that says something about grandmas being the best.
“Mom, we don’t even know if it’s a girl yet.” Stella groans at her mom and turns her attention back to the car seats we’re looking at.
“Oh, I hope it’s a girl.” She frets, going back to digging through baby clothes while Stella debates between the two we picked out.
“What do you think, Beau?” Stel asks for the fifth time in the past two minutes, and I shrug, wrapping my arm around her waist. After nearly two years without her, I don’t like having even two feet of space between us. I’ve spent the majority of the last month holding her hand or rubbing her shoulders and just being as close to her as I possibly can.
“I think you should go with the one with the highest safety ratings.” I answer, pressing my lips into her temple. “We can’t have our little pumpkin in an unsafe car seat.”
Stella has taken to calling our baby a ‘pumpkin’ because that’s what her belly reminds her of. I personally find it beautiful, but I might be a little partial because my own flesh and blood is growing inside her. I haven’t quite figured out how these next few months are going to work with her being so far away, but I know that it’s going to work this time. I’m not going to stupidly think she’s pushing me away when she’s going through a difficult time, because I’ve learned that that’s her coping mechanism. She pushes people away when she’s hurt, but I’m never going to let her succeed again.
“You’re right.” She sighs, and starts to pick up the box that the car seat is in, but I quickly push her out of the way and put the box in the cart. “I could have done that.”
“You’re adorable when you’re trying to be mad at me.” I grin at her, wrapping my arms around her waist and locking them behind her back while I still can, before leaning down and pressing my lips into hers. She smiles into the kiss for a second, before tearing her lips from mine when some lady starts ‘awwing’ at us.
“Y’all are just the cutest little family I think I’ve ever seen. Is this your first child?” A little older lady probably in her sixties or seventies waddles up to us, and I release my arms from around her, but keep ahold with one arm.
“Yes ma’am it is.” Stella grins, her hand going to the base of her protruding belly for support.
“Oh how lovely. You just look thrilled. Is it a boy or a girl?” She asks, nosing around our cart looking for signs.
“We actually don’t know yet. We’re finding out tomorrow though!” I answer this time, not really believing that I’m going to be a dad. I mean, it’s sunk in over the last month, but I never thought I wanted to be one until I met Stella and knew immediately that I could see a future with her. I could honestly picture little kids of our own running around the yard, playing with the horses and dog, and I’m so happy my dream is coming true.
“Oh how lovely. Although, it doesn’t really matter if it’s a boy or a girl, as long as it’s healthy, right?” She asks, and we both nod.
“That’s absolutely right.” Stella smiles, turning her head up to look at me. I press my lips to her temple before the lady bids us a good day, wishing us luck with our pregnancy, and waddles on her merry way.
“We need to talk about names.” I decide, steering the cart with one hand and tugging her to my side as we walk towards the playpens.
“Sure. I don’t really care what the first name is, as long as the middle name is Lane for either a boy or a girl.” She answers, and I sigh, knowing that was her dad’s middle name.
“If it’s a boy I think we should name him John.” I whisper, stopping the cart and giving her a hug. I know it’s been a while since he passed, but that doesn’t mean it ever gets easier.
“I think that would be perfect.” She sniffles, wiping her nose with the back of her hand that is covered in her sweater.
“And I like the names Finleigh or Amora for a girl.” I tell her, and then she tries out the names with the middle name.
“Finleigh Lane or Amora Lane? I kind of like the classiness of Amora Lane, but then again it kind of sounds like a road.” She laughs, and I play with the name in my head.
“I think it sounds nice; Amora Lane Morris just rolls off the tongue.” I smile, the name growing on me more each time I think about it.
“Or Finleigh Lane Morris. Or we could do a hyphen since we’re not married. Amora Lane Hawkley-Morris.” She teases, and I groan. She’s been hinting around the marriage stuff for a couple of weeks now, but I don’t want to add that on top of a pregnancy right now, but I don’t want her thinking that I don’t want to marry her, because I do. I’ve wanted to since she stared me down and basically accused me of lying at the airport.
“You know I’m not going to ask you when you keep dropping hints like this. Where’s the surprise in that?” I tease, and finally find the playpen section I’ve been too busy looking at Stella to actually pay attention to my surroundings.
“You’re right. I want it to be a surprise.” She quickly agrees, and finds the playpen she wants a lot faster than she picked the car seat. Next we grab a few bibs, binkies, bottles, and some other things Stella is sure the baby needs before we go find her mom.
My mom doesn’t even know she’s going to be a grandma yet. I haven’t spoken to her since I called to tell her I love her after John’s funeral, and that was the first time since she bitched about Stella all those years ago, but it’s not like she’s made any moves to talk to me either. I suppose I should probably call her and let her know, but then again, I could always just let her find out through Gunnar or someone else.
Stella’s mom and stepdad have graciously offered to pay for the majority of baby stuff, which is extremely generous of them. Although Stella’s schooling is nearly all paid for through her ceramics scholarship, running a farm is not a cheap ordeal, and the majority of calf money every year goes right back into feed, vet bills, and replacement cattle. I’m barely able to keep our heads above the water right now, but I know we can’t afford to hire anyone and I’m still not sure how John managed to hire me and pay me for nearly two years. I’m sure that once Stella finally graduates and can start her own business – I’m currently working on turning half of the shop into a studio for her – she’ll be able to help me around the farm more often, and we’ll have her income, hopefully. Then, maybe we can stay afloat and not have to crunch numbers at the end of the month like I’m doing right now.
“Are you ready to go?” Stella asks, softly grabbing my elbow and pulling me out of my deep thoughts. I have to blink at her a couple of times to remember where we are, and what we’re doing, but I finally smile and nod, leaning down to kiss her forehead.
“I’m following you.” I tell her, and she laces our fingers together and pulls me down the aisle to where her mother is STILL looking at baby clothes.
“Mom, we’re ready to go. I promise, you can come back and shop for cute little onesies after this afternoon.” She smiles, stopping in the aisle while her mom puts the outfits back on the shelves and pouts at her daughter.
“You found out two weeks ago. Why can’t we all know yet?” She asks, frowning at the two of us.
“No we didn’t, Mom. They wrote the gender down on a piece of paper and put it in a sealed envelope and I gave it to my friend Amy who is a painter right away. She’s the only one who knows until Zeus shows us today!” Stella grins, and I think about the reveal she planned.
Her friend Amy goes to school with her on a painting scholarship. The things that girl can make with a paintbrush seem to defy the laws of physics because they seem so real. Amy is at the farm right now, working on a painting that Zeus is supposed to be helping with, but I’m still not sure how he’s going to be worked into the reveal.
“Thank you so much for coming!” Stella greets her mom’s best friend when she walks into the house where we’re all waiting for Amy to give us the all clear to come outside. She’s been working on this painting for several hours now, and I’m starting to work myself up wondering if I’m going to have a baby boy or princess. There aren’t too many people here, just us, Stella’s mom, Bryndle, Gemma, and now Mrs. Applegate, who is the local high school English teacher. Since Jack couldn’t be here, Stella’s mom wanted someone else here with her, because apparently she thought she couldn’t do this by herself.
“Alright my beautiful people, my masterpiece is finished!” Amy announces, waltzing through the front door. I immediately scan her clothes for a sign of the color she’s been painting with all morning, but I’m disappointed when I find no traces of paint.
Stella stands up and pulls me to my feet before nearly tripping herself in excitement as we head out the front door. Amy makes us stand in a semicircle around the barn door while she goes and drags Zeus out from where he was crosstied in the hall with a black blanket over his back.
“Beau, Stella, are you ready to find out what you’re having?” She asks, a huge smile stretching from ear to ear. I grab Stella’s shoulders from where I’m standing behind her, and she nods her head vigorously as Amy unclips the front of the blanket, and then the strap under his belly, and gently pulls the blanket off to reveal Zeus’s black coat being completely covered in baby pink paint with the words ‘IT’S A GIRL!’ written in black paint. Stella covers her mouth and turns into my arms, squeezing my waist while Amy turns Zeus around and reveals the painting she’s been working on all day, that was painted on his other side.
“Look Stel, it’s us.” I whisper, nearly choking up as I take in the beautiful painting Amy drew of me, Stella, and our little girl all sitting on horseback, riding away from us. Stella and I are both looking back at our little girl who is riding a little Shetland by herself, and I’m stunned.
“Amy, this is gorgeous.” I manage to compliment her while Stella seems to be at a loss for words. Tears are streaming down her face when she pulls Amy into a hug, and then Gemma, and then her mother. I wrap my arm around Bryndle’s shoulders while I’m waiting for my lovely future wife to hug everyone, including Zeus.
“Can you believe you’re going to be an aunt to a little niece?” I ask her, and she shakes her head.
“Honestly, I can’t believe this happened. I’ve never seen her happier. And, I’m pretty thrilled that’s it’s a girl.” Bryndle grins, shrugging my arm off her shoulder as Stella turns her attention on her sister and yanks her into a hug doing a happy dance.
“Bryn! I’m having a baby girl!” Stella shouts, spinning her sister in a circle while Bryndle hugs her back, before grabbing my forearms and staring into my eyes.
“We’re having a baby girl, Beau.” She whispers, tearing her eyes from mine and looking down at her belly. I press my palms to the soft, warm skin under her shirt before Stella glances back up at me with a smile on her face, and I lean down and press my lips into hers.
“We’re having a princess.” I murmur, wrapping my arms around her back and grinning into our embrace. “I love you.” I whisper into her hair that I press a kiss into before releasing her again.
“I love you too, Beau.” She sighs happily, and her mom starts ushering everyone into the house to eat the pink cupcakes she had made. I notice Stella hanging back with Zeus as everyone starts heading inside, so I hang back with her.
“Tired of all the attention yet?” I grin, helping her toss Zeus’s blanket over his back.
“I’m thrilled that I have all of their support, I just wish I hadn’t been ambushed when I got home.” She rolls her eyes, jabbing her finger into my chest when she walks by me. “For the record, when you called before I had left Savannah, I thought you had brought some hooker home because I heard Bryndle giggling in the background.”
I actually have to let her words sink in for a minute before I let out a huge bark of laughter. “You thought, what? Stel, even if I hated you I’d never call you if I had a hooker over. What kind of guy do you think I am?” I laugh from deep down, actually having to lean against Zeus while I double over with laughter. When I glance up, Stella has her arms crossed and her eyebrows raised. I straight up and take a step towards her, grabbing onto her shoulders and looking her in the eyes, unable to hide my smile. “Stel, I promise, there’s no one but you.”
“Okay.” She finally cracks a smile before shrugging out of my grasp and leading Zeus into his stall. “Hey, do you think we can stay up in the loft tonight, for old time’s sake?” She asks, glancing up at the staircase up to the loft as she walks past it.
“It’s the middle of January, Stel. Do you want to freeze?” I chuckle, this time raising my eyebrows at her.
“It’s like 50 degrees out here. Plus, I have you to keep me warm.” She grins, and I tuck her under my arm as I drag her back to the house to eat some cupcakes.
“Tell you what. We can leave the window open in your room so you’re as cold as you’d be in the loft, how’s that?” I ask, rolling my eyes as I think about having to sleep in the loft again. As much as I loved that place when I was 22, I’m pretty sure that mattress messed my back up for good, and I actually like Stella’s bed.
“Party pooper.” She pouts, and I shake my head, sure I’m going to give in before the night’s over.
“Are you sure you have everything you need?” I ask Stella again as she’s looking around the house with her bag packed and loaded in her Jeep.
“I think so, but even if I forgot something, it’ll just give me the excuse to come home and see you.” She grins, grabbing my hand and standing on her tip-toes to try and kiss me. I smile, lean down, and meet her kiss halfway.
“You know you don’t need an excuse for that.” I smirk, wrapping my arm around her back and lightly pinching the spot that I remember being very sensitive.
“Beau!” She shrieks, lurching away from me with a smile on her face. “That’s not a nice thing to do to the mother of your child.”
“Mhm, there are a lot of other not nice things I can think of wanting to do her mother, too.” I can’t help but smile at her and reach to pull her back to me so I can kiss her some more.
“You’re so awful.” Stella groans, stepping to me and kissing me hard. I press my palm into her stomach, before leaning down and talking to my daughter.
“You be good and take care of your momma. I don’t need anything happening to either one of you, ya hear?” I ask, before lifting her shirt and pressing my lips to the stretched skin.
“We’ll be fine, Beau, so stop worrying for once in your life.” Stella sighs, wrapping her fingers around my jaw.
“That’s what I do, Stel. You know that.” I sigh, drawing her back into my arms where she rests her cheek on my chest.
“I know, but you need to stop before you give yourself an ulcer at 25.” She teases, squeezing my waist. “Now I really need to go, Beau.”
“If we had the money to hire some help I’d come see you this weekend, but we have a lot of cattle that need cared for.” I sigh, thinking about all 1500 head that are scattered across pastures all over. I really need to start going through and culling the older cows, but I can never find the time to by myself. Normally I’d call Colt, but he’s been off in Texas and the rest of the southwest on the Winter Rodeo circuit that he sees as his ticket to the PBR.
“I think the cows will survive one weekend without you between now and spring break, so you better make your choice count, buddy.” Stella demands, poking my chest lightly.
“Hell, I might just come up every weekend. Or you can come home. Ah, hell, we can just sell the farm and I’ll move to Savannah with you.” I mutter, leaning down and planting a kiss on the top of her head while she laughs.
“I don’t think Gemma will approve since Fernando is still in New York.” She laughs, and I shrug. “Plus, I’m kinda partial to this place.”
“So am I, my love. So am I.” I sigh, extremely sad that she’s getting ready to leave. We’ve had the place to ourselves for the last few days because her mom went back to Panama a couple of days after our gender reveal and Bryndle’s classes started a week ago, so she headed back to North Carolina.
“Beau, I really need to go.” Stella sighs a few minutes later, and I reluctantly let go of her and help her carry her last bag out to the Jeep.
“Drive safe, Stella. I love you. Make sure you call me when you get there.” I make her promise before watching her drive down the driveway and disappear from sight.
It’s been wonderful to have Stella to myself for a while since I’ve had to share her with everyone this break, and I hadn’t seen her since the summer. It was nice to just get to catch up about things other than the pregnancy. I learned that her mentor Kristen basically said that she thinks Stella has what it takes to make it in a career of ceramics, which is huge apparently. After watching her Jeep disappear from view, I glance at the setting sun and head into the barn to do night check before heading inside and watching a late night NFL game.