Chapter Twenty Five - THE END!
Five years later.
Paris in the height of summer was a daunting prospect, but for Sophie it was a no-brainer. With road closures and people lining the streets, ten deep in some places, she was more than grateful to complete the trip from her hotel to the Champs-Elysee. A liveried man guarded the gate in front of her, and she was escorted to a seat, thankfully in the shade.
Lowering herself gratefully down to the chair, she looked down at the small hand encased by hers, Sonny, her beautiful blonde little boy. He looked a little stressed; it had been a hairy walk through the crowds.
“Come here chicken!” He managed to climb onto her lap and link his hands around her neck. Sophie stooped her head to kiss his hair; his face was buried into her chest. With his blonde curls and his big blue eyes he was the image of his father. “Is that Zia Vin I see over there?” Vincenza who was more of an aunt than a real sister could be seemed to have appeared in the distance.
Sonny’s head snapped up and he scanned the crowd, then with a whoop he dropped from Sophie’s lap and ran through the milling people to Vin who had just come through the same gate as them.
Vin squatted to catch the cannonball that was Sonny, then lifted him up for a huge kiss. Sophie watched as she turned to check that Ed was still following negotiating the crowds with the pram containing Mia their tiny newborn offspring.
“Sit here.” Sophie patted the chair beside her as Vin came closer, then leaned over for a hug from her friend and her husband Ed. “Let me see my little cherub!” She peeked into the pram and “aahhed”, Mia Crossley was beauty personified, and Aunty Sophie worshipped her too.
Vin grabbed Sophie’s hand, “Are you excited? I am...you MUST be! I mean it’s amazing!”
Sophie smiled, taking Sonny back from her friend, “I’m petrified. This is a dream come true for Bill...but what if he crashes or something. He SO wants to just finish!”
Despite four seasons as a professional cyclist, this was Bill’s first trip in to Paris on the last stage of the Tour de France, and it was his dream come true. Everything he’d always wanted. The first two seasons he was with a team who couldn’t dream of entering the Tour it was far too out of their league. Last year having joined a new and much higher ranked pro team, he’d fallen during the second stage of the race and broken his collar bone, he’d had to settle for watching the rest of that Tour on TV. Today, he was due to travel into Paris as part of the peloton for the final stage of the pinnacle of the cycling calendar, despite not figuring in the top places, he didn’t care. Bill had dreamed since a child of whizzing around the Paris streets at the finale of the greatest race in the world, and here he was about to do it, with the world watching.
Glancing at her phone, Sophie checked up on the race info. He was safe, cycling and about to hit Paris for the six laps of the city centre that famously ended the race. It had been a hard three weeks watching him toil relentlessly from a distance or on TV, and being so close to him, yet so far away. But Sophie had got used to that over the last few years. He was away a lot.
But now she had Sonny to keep her busy, groaning at the sudden shift in her huge stomach, she placed a hand on what she now knew was definitely their second baby’s bottom and whispered, “not now little one!”
Vin looked over at her, “you ok?”
Sonny had been a very difficult arrival for Sophie, and her best friend was more anxious than Bill at the impending birth of this new baby. This time there could be no unexpected blood loss, no early labour and no collapsing after delivering the baby this time she wouldn’t spend her first night of mother hood on the intensive care unit, added to that there would be no NICU experience and no more heartache. Sophie was convinced and her determination had been Vincenza’s only hope.
Smiling she nodded, “she’s just pointing out that she’s part of the party too!”
Vin laughed, Sophie had convinced herself this baby was a girl, partly because she’d thrived from day one, unlike with Sonny where every day had been a struggle. He’d had such a rough time, not that you’d know that looking at the chunky little munchkin now, he was the picture of perfect health. “I am so glad we’re not just fighting with the crowds out there though!”
Sophie nodded, she and often they, had spent so much time watching Bill race, but as he got better there were easier options to viewing. Tonight signified the end of their French holiday. She and Sonny had been to five of the last seven stages and watched Bill beat himself up through the Alps and the Pyrenees, but after tonight he was having three weeks off to be home with her and Sonny, to wait for their baby to come. Bliss.
Though they still had the terraced house in London, home had become the South of France, great cycling for Bill and near his teammates, great beaches for her and Sonny. Sophie was still painting, but her main work, other than being a mother and wife, was her illustration. The children’s books had got her work illustrating a series of book covers, and more recently magazines and literary brochures. It was easy work, fitting in with her life, yet enough to keep her mind entertained.
Sophie shifted in her seat, rearranging the tent like kaftan that covered her body, “God I feel like a whale. I can’t wait to get home and sleep!”
Vincenza smiled, “until this little one comes along! Then you won’t have a minute’s rest!”
Sophie nodded that much was true. Though Nick and Sara were scheduled to visit soon, and ten year old Callie was more excited about the baby than her, the girl couldn’t wait. Sophie envisaged her parading the pram all over the place. That would give her rest time.
As the tannoy announcer started to ramp up the crowd, they all turned to look at the road. Within moments a whoosh of colour signified the hundreds of cyclists passing them in a blur. The big screen and commentary then kept them up to date on the part of the race they couldn’t see.
“Where’s Dad?” Sonny asked looking up, and like the best uncle, Ed picked him up and pointed to the screen.
“He’s wearing green. Can you see?” Ed wandered off to a point with a better view, amusing Sonny as best he could.
Vin took Sophie’s hand and smiled, “you ok?”
Sophie nodded, “I’m shattered. That’s all. Be glad when today is over. It means everything...if he falls or gets injured...” She didn’t complete the sentence, her phone buzzed, and glancing down she saw an email from her mother.
“Wow!” she nudged Vin, “they really are being true to their word!” She showed her the screen then read out the message. “‘Hi Sophie, your Dad reminded me that today is the final stage of the Tour de France, apparently the highlights will be on the internet later, and we will watch. Promise. Hope you’re enjoying Paris, feeling well and that Bill is happy with his progress. Give Sonny a big hug from us. We’ll call you in the week to see how things are. Mum.’ See, wouldn’t have had that five years ago!”
Vincenza sighed, she still hadn’t bitten in to Sophie’s parents turnaround. But their actions were proving that they were at least trying. Sophie had had a hard time since they’d reappeared a few years back. They’d stayed above the shop, and had been angry at the animosity from their children. But somewhere, somehow the two had slowly felt the errors of their way. Maybe it was the fact that Nick gave Sophie away at her beach wedding to Bill and her father felt snubbed, or maybe that they didn’t know about Sonny arriving and nearly losing their daughter until long after the event. But since they’d visited after the birth of their third grandchild, they’d started to email and call regularly, and Sophie seemed happier for it. Bill was adamant that his family had no part in their life, so the resurrection of her own parental relationship as she became a mother seemed to help. Saying that it was a long way from the relationship that it should be, but her parents were lucky that her and Nick had forgiven her as much as they had.
“You look huge today Sophie, I have to say.”
Sophie chuckled, “it’s been hard work trying to follow this race. I’m going to relax for the next four weeks. Let Bill do all the work...well everything but delivering this one!” The doctors wanted to induce Sophie early, so that they could control her delivery this time, and they’d negotiated for thirty six weeks, which gave her another week to wait.
As they watched the next five laps unfold, Sonny fell asleep and Ed sat with him on his lap. He was a godsend, and Sophie kept telling Vincenza that! As the noise and excitement grew, the end of the race imminent, Sonny woke and was sat on Sophie’s lap as they watched the bikes whoosh past them for the final time. They were less than twenty metres from the finish line, they’d all splashed out on hospitality seats, in an enclosure at the side of the road which was far better than the family allocation available, they had all appreciated the need for luxury.
Sophie spotted Bill amongst the peloton as they grew level with them, though the riders were thick and fast and too quick for Sonny. But as he raised a hand in victory, only Sophie knew the pleasure and pain that this occasion brought, the epitome of years of dreams, the support he’d needed, the pain he’d felt at being away so much. It all accumulated in that moment for Bill, and for Sophie, it was more emotional than she could imagine. As she stood clapping, cheering for the crowd, proud tears fell down her face.
Within moments of the finish, some of the cyclists turned to reverse travel up the avenue to thank fans and spot family and friends, and then he was there, Bill, in front of her.
“Why are you crying? I did well didn’t I?!” He pulled her into his arms over the barrier and kissed her forehead. “You are an emotional wreck aren’t you?!”
She smiled up at him, “it’s my hormones, though I am so proud of you, for you.”
Bill smiled back, his love for her never more evident than that moment, then he glanced down at the voice, “Daddy!”
He reached over and pulled Sonny into his arms, hugging him tighter than he ever had, glancing at his wife he smiled, “I’ve got to go and debrief, will you join us at the bus?”
Wiping the tears, she nodded, then he scooped Sonny onto his handlebars and rode off into the distant with him amidst lots of journalists and photographers.
Hours later she’d retrieved Sonny and they were back at the hotel. It had been a long day for the little boy, and he was fast asleep in his bed in the corner of the room. Sophie was lying on the huge king-size bed watching a film on the TV, sipping on chocolate milk, her latest craving, when she heard a key in the door. Sitting up, she smiled as her husband came into the room, dumping a huge training bag in the hallway. He was dressed in a team tracksuit, there had been so much official ceremony after the race, interviews, debriefing, and he looked shattered.
Sophie smiled, standing to greet him, and he fell into her arms gladly. Standing there for an age, just holding each other, they absorbed the sensation of being together. They’d not spoken properly in four weeks.
“I missed you Mrs Swift!”
She leaned back in his arms smiling up at him, “I’ve missed you too Mr Swift...all three of us!”
Bill smiled, “you look amazing!” He lowered his hand to span the stomach he had never imagined could expand so much, she’d bloomed so much over the last three weeks. “And bubba?”
Sophie smiled, “all still very good. I told you it would be fine!” Bill had resisted having any more children for two years, but Sophie had worn him down with the promise that her problems first time were purely a fluke. She’d wanted to take the risk that he wouldn’t consider because the thought of just one child was too limiting for her. She wanted a big family more than anything.
“So its home tomorrow?”
She nodded, “I can’t wait! Though I was so proud today darling, you know that?”
Bill swung her into his arms, “I couldn’t have done any of this without you babe, I owe it all to you. You know that don’t you?”
She lowered herself to the bed, “show me?”
He was exhausted, she was almost eight months pregnant, but as she looked up at him so seductively, so suggestively, he couldn’t resist her. He’d never been able to resist her, and he doubted that’d change as long as he lived.
Two hours later Bill was woken by a panting Sophie. Fortunately Vincenza was nearby to care for the still sleeping Sonny as they headed rather early to the best hospital in Paris. They only just got there, before with very little drama (other than the speed of the arrival), and named after the street she was almost delivered on, Elyse Vincenza Swift, came into the world and stole her father’s heart all over again.
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