“Rosa!” David called as he stepped into the foyer. “Set another place at the table!”
“He’s home?” Rosa rushed in. “Mr. Zachary is home?”
“Yes.” Richie walked in with the carrier – and the baby – in his hand.
“Gracias a Dios!” Crossing herself, Rosa bent to stroke her finger across a soft cheek. “Welcome home nino. Wait until your brother and sister wake up from their naps and see you!”
“So what are we having for a celebration dinner?” David licked his lips.
“Tonight is Italian. Chicken Parmesan, Caesar salad, and Tiramisu.” At David’s pouty look, she rolled her eyes. “I have some salsa and chips in the kitchen.”
The mention of food had all their stomachs growling. Lunch had been forgotten in the excitement of the days events.
Rosa smiled. “I set out some snacks right away.”
“And guacamole?” He batted his lashes.
“Si Mr. Shirley, guacamole too.”
Leaning down, he kissed her cheek. “You’re the best!”
Blushing, Rosa snorted, pushed him away and after another smiling look at the baby, headed back to the kitchen.
“Oh! And an ice pack for Tori’s hand please Rosa.” Richie called after her.
As people drifted into the living room, Tori lifted the baby out of his carrier and started up the stairs.
“Angel? Where are going?” Richie frowned slightly, hoping she was okay.
“I’m going to wash the stench of her off of him and dress him in his own clothes.”
She watched him glance around looking lost for a moment and smiled. “Do you want to come help me?”
He grinned and took the stairs two at a time.
The bonding between parents and child began over splashes of water, baby powder and dirty diapers. Just as they got him cleaned up and dressed in a warm pale yellow sleeper, he started to cry.
Tori hesitated before blowing out a nervous breath and picking him up. “Okay, chickpea.”
Richie noticed her reaction but didn’t know the cause. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, exactly. I hope. He’s hungry.”
She shrugged. “He’s been fed by a bottle for the past few days. I hope he’ll accept me.”
“Are you kidding? He’s my son. No way is he going to turn away from a bare breast.”
Tori stared at him, snorted and swatted his chest. “Richie!”
“What? It’s true.” He watched her settle into the rocking chair and open her blouse. A few moments later he was proven right. “See?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Even though she was trying to just fluff it off, the relief was visible in her face. “Men!”
“Don’t say that as if you don’t love us.”
Grinning, Richie bent to press a kiss first on her head, then on the baby’s. His son was home, his family was complete, all was right with his world. Except..... “How long do you think before everyone will go home?”
Tori laughed. She knew what he meant. As much as they loved their family, they needed some time on their own to let life settle a bit and to solidify their immediate family unit. “They’ll probably start to leave tomorrow. Christmas is right around the corner and they’ll want to get home.”
“I hope you’re right.”
When Zachary had eaten his fill, they returned downstairs to join the others. Tori had barely sat down with the baby in her arms when Taffy came to investigate. Curious to see what she would do, Tori leaned down to bring the baby closer. The supple muzzle ran over Zachary, sniffing and snuffling softly. Suddenly, a wet tongue swiped across the tiny face before Taffy laid down at Tori’s feet. Zachary scrunched up his face, but didn’t cry – or even wake up.
“Guess she likes him.” John Sr. chuckled.
“Wonder what kind of reception he’ll get from the two upstairs?” Dorothea smirked.
As if they heard their aunt, voices came yelling through the monitors sitting on a nearby table. “Mama! We ‘wake! I tomin downtairs!”
“Guess we’re about to find out.” Tori replied dryly.
“I’ll go get Lauren.” Helen offered.
Stevie came bursting into the living room and skidded to a halt when he saw the baby in his mother’s arms. “Who dat?”
“This is Zachary, your little brother.” Tori responded, shifting the baby so that Stevie could see his face. “Do you remember when you came to the hospital to see him?”
A frown creased his forehead as he thought for a long moment, then it cleared. “Oh yeah, I member. When he get here?”
“Just a little while ago.”
“Oh. Okay.” He glanced around the room. “I have snack?”
“Yes. Rosa’s in the kitchen, she’ll get you something.”
“Guess he’s not going to be scarred at the idea of a new brother.” Tony snorted.
“Like you were?” Carol asked.
Tony shrugged and grinned at Matt. “He cramped my style.”
Matt’s response was a Jersey salute.
Helen entered carrying Lauren and set her on her feet beside her mother. “Here’s your little brother.”
“Do you remember coming to the hospital to see him?” Tori asked, watching her daughter closely. While she expected Stevie’s nonchalant attitude, this one was more unpredictable.
Lauren looked at the baby and back at her mother.
“Sweetpea? Do you remember Zachary?” Richie pressed, one finger reaching out to stroke the baby’s cheek.
Lauren scowled at her brother and immediately climbed into her father’s lap, her small hand stretching to pat his cheek, demanding his attention and shooting her baby brother a smug look when she got it.
Hearing Tori’s sigh, Carol smiled. “Actually that’s pretty good. It could have been a lot worse. Tony wasn’t much older than Zachary when Jon slapped him across the face.”
“What?” Tori choked on a laugh.
Carol nodded. “Joe and Joy had come to see the new baby and Jon didn’t like him getting the attention. When Joy held Tony, Jon ran across the room and slapped his little face, just as hard as he could.”
“Just the first beating of many I took from him.” Tony sighed dramatically.
“Every one of them deserved.” Jon retorted dryly. “And I can still do it if need be.”
Tony snorted. “You and what army?”
“Boys!” Carol stepped in to cut them off. “Stop it!”
Helen smiled. “Jim kept putting a blanket over Michael’s face. We were never sure whether he was trying to keep him warm....or smother him.”
Richie shook his head. “Suddenly, being an only child wasn’t so bad.”
“Being the oldest was the worst.” Jim spoke up. “The baby – the only girl – had it easy.”
Tori scowled at him and stuck out her tongue.
Joan decided she’d waited long enough. “Can I hold my newest grandson now?”
“Oh! Of course.” Tori handed him over.
And Pass the Baby began. Everything was fine until it was Jon’s turn. Seeing Zachary in his arms sent Lauren, eyes narrowed, sliding off her father’s lap and over to her favourite uncle. She struggled to climb into his lap....and push Zachary off at the same time.
“Lauren.” The sound of her name in her mother’s warning voice stopped her for a moment. “Be nice. You have to be gentle with Zachary.”
Lauren looked at her mother briefly, then made a noise that sounded like a snort and went back to pushing.
Tori sighed again and looked at Richie. “I hope Zachary has your temperament.”
Amid the laughter that followed her comment, the sound of the front door slamming could barely be heard.
“Is he here? Is he home?” Ava burst into the room.
“Yes.” Jon replied, his relief evident in his voice as he tried to juggle children. “Come take him before your sister permanently injures him...or me!”
“Hey there Zackman.” Ava cuddled the baby close. “We’re sooo happy to have you home.” Glancing at her stepmother she raised a brow at the ice pack. “What did you do? Punch the crazy bitch?”
“Yep.” Tori smiled smugly. “I should have done more, but I was warned that it wasn’t garbage day.”
“Way to go T-Mom! That’ll teach her to mess with this family!”
Later that night when everyone had gone to bed and the house was buttoned up for the night, Richie entered their bedroom to find Stevie and Lauren in bed with Tori and Zachary in his cradle beside her. While he’d understood – and agreed – with Tori on Stevie and Lauren sleeping with them since Zachary had been taken – he’d needed to know they were close by and safe too – he’d thought that now that Zachary was home, things could get back to normal. That included being able to spend his nights curled up with his wife, not a restless three year old and a one year old that kicked anything that touched her, including her brother or her parents. Luckily, the dog still slept downstairs.
Something of what he was thinking must have shown in his face, because Tori studied his expression for a moment, then smiled. “Tonight’s the last night they’ll sleep with us, I promise. I just.....we finally have our family all together, safe and sound. If Ava was younger I’d have her in here too. I want to be able to see them and be assured they’re safe if I wake up in the middle of the night.” She shrugged sheepishly. “Tomorrow night will be soon enough to put them back in their own beds......won’t it?”
He had a hard time denying her anything at the best of times. But when it had to do with her love for their children, there was no way he could even think about it. She’d denied the majority of her feelings over Zachary being missing. If this was what it took for her to be settled and content again, then he could live with it – or rather sleep with it...he hoped. “Yeah. It will.”
He bent to kiss Zachary’s forehead, walked around the bed and climbed in. Leaning over the sleeping toddlers and kissed his wife. “Night angel. I love you.”
“Night honey. I love you too.”