On television, the twin boys, toddlers with ebony skin, and curls spiraling from their skulls in an adorable profusion, took hold of the tablecloth. With a grunt of combined effort, they pulled mightily. Down came dishes, glasses and a Siamese cat with the good sense to vault over their heads to escape.
The resulting crescendo of sound—not to mention the cat’s hissing rage—loosened the medical bag in Mary’s grasp. It hit the floor with a plunk. Blossom, seated Indian style before the tube, didn’t notice.
Sweeping up the bag, Mary strode into the living room.
“What on earth are you watching?”
“A reality show. Trouble with Toddlers. Kids my age send in video.”
“They film younger sibs instead of babysitting them properly?” Onscreen, the tots toddled out of view with the grace of drunken sailors. “Not exactly responsible behavior. I don’t approve.”
“You should’ve come home five minutes ago. The last clip will give me nightmares. A peewee took a plastic hammer to her brother’s computer. You wouldn’t think a crappy kid toy could do damage, but it did.”
“The young man filmed his sister instead of stopping her?”
Blossom looked at her like she’d taken stupid pills. “No way. He was at football practice. His bratty younger brother filmed it.”
“Still irresponsible. Who puts shows like this on TV?”
“Marketing execs, who else? This stuff is great for ratings.” Her stepdaughter’s expression became grim. “Should I worry about a troublesome toddler? I mean, will we need to keep him on a tight leash?” She stared pointedly at Mary’s still slender waist. “Or her?”
“For your sake, I hope you’re joking. If I find Sweetcakes’ leash wrapped around the baby’s ankle, you’re in for it.” Mary placed her medical bag on the coffee table and sat on the couch. “To answer your question—yes, we’ll need to take care once the baby starts to crawl. We’ll baby-proof the house.”
“Sounds like a lot of work.”
“Count on it. You’ll help.”
“Okay . . . on one condition. You’ll keep the troublesome tot out of my bedroom. It’s a no-fly zone. A sacred shrine. If a peewee gets pudding on my clothes or messes with my computer, I will not be happy.”
The truculent outburst took Mary aback. “I thought you were excited about having a peewee to boss around. Someone to fake out about the Easter bunny and Santa Claus. You’re not exactly sending out a happiness vibe.” More like primal fear.
“I am excited. Or was.”
“I’m nurturing my inner capitalist. I don’t want anyone trashing my stuff.”
“Too late for a change of heart, muchacha. The train has left the station.”
“Can we call it back?”
“In your dreams.”
“Okay. So we’re in this for the long haul.” Blossom whistled, and her golden retriever bounded into the room. From beneath Sweetcakes’ wagging tail and wet licks of devotion, she added, “I won’t need chamomile tea to help me sleep or years of therapy if you’ll make one guarantee. Give birth to an angel, one of those kids who minds her own business and never trashes her sister’s stuff. Or a little guy who follows me around in an adoring silence and keeps his mitts to himself. Can I get something in writing?”
“No can do, but you can have this.” Mary withdrew the two index cards from her medical bag. On each she’d used glue to write the name in cursive. Then she’d covered her handiwork with glitter snatched from Blossom’s art supplies. At her medical practice, the art project had left a sparkly trail of blue and pink across her office. Handing over the cards, she added, “Hang them on the Christmas tree. While you’re at it, take down the other names.”
Struggling out from beneath the dog, Blossom read the shimmering names.
“Lily. Tony.” With impatience she flapped the cards. Flecks of glitter drifted down on Sweetcakes. “Really? These are the names? They’re boring.”
“Your father loves Anthony Junior. If I give birth to a boy, we’ll call him Tony.”
“Dad would like Tony. Men are egomaniacs.”
“He’s nothing of the sort. Lily is also his suggestion. It goes beautifully with your name, which is lovely. Feminine.”
The compliment didn’t banish her stepdaughter’s distress. “Here’s a nightmare scenario. What if you have two girls in a row? Will you name the second one Rose? Or Gardenia?” She wrinkled her nose. “I can’t deal with Gardenia. It’s an old ladies’ name. Theodora and Ethel Lynn will be the only people who hang around with the kid.”
Playfully Mary swatted her toward the dining room. “I don’t like Gardenia, but Rose is nice. Assuming I have two girls in a row.”
“Do we vote during your second pregnancy? Seeing that we ignored parliamentary procedures this time around?”
“Tyrant.” Blossom began removing cards from the mini Christmas tree.
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