"What is it exactly that you do, Nicole?" I asked innocently.
Zac's eyes went wide and his fork froze mid air.
"I'm a waitress," Nicole replied calmly. "It was supposed to be a job during college that I was going to retire from when I graduated college last year but the girls and I became like sisters so it was impossible to leave."
I paled when I remembered what Zac had mentioned six months prior: she worked as a waitress at Hooters.
"So, Nicole, how's your folks?" Mom interjected, changing the subject.
"Great!" She said. "They can't wait to see you two again. Dad says he wants to finish your meeting from last time, Walker."
"Good, good," my father nodded. "Tell him I'm looking forward to it."
"Daddy, can me and Amanda please be excused to go play Barbies?" ZoŽ asked taping on my shoulder. She was kneeling on her chair so she could reach my ear.
"Sit down right," I instructed her. She did as she was told. "Did you finish everything?" I looked at her plate, she had even finished her spinach. "Sure you can, ZoŽ!" I said smiling at her.
"Can I, Daddy?" Amanda asked her father. "Please?"
"Sure, kiddo," Isaac said patting her leg. "You know where you put them right?" His daughter nodded. "OK." ZoŽ and my niece jumped off their chairs and bolted upstairs to get their Barbie dolls.
"Dad, can me and Jason go play playstation?" Jordan asked Isaac after his sister had left the table.
"Can you?" Isaac questioned, deciding to give him an English lesson.
"May Jason and I please go play playstation?"
"May we?" Jason echoed.
"Sure," Isaac told them. They jumped off their chairs. "Boys!" He called as they were leaving the dining room. They both stopped and turned. "Just don't be too loud, all right?"
"Sure, Dad," Jordan said.
"We promise," Jason confirmed. They both walked out of the room but I heard their feet pounding down the stairs as they took off running towards the rec.-room.
"Kids," Isaac said shaking his head.
"Can't live with them, can't live without them," I joked. "Isn't that right, Anya?" I asked my daughter.
"They say the same thing about men, you know," my wife shot back.
"Amen!" Andy exclaimed.
"Very funny," Isaac grumbled. He looked at his watch. "Almost game time," he commented.
I looked down at my empty plate. "We don't want to miss kick off." I stood up and picked up my plate to take to the kitchen.
"I'll get that, Taylor," Clare said struggling to get up.
"Nonsense, Clare," Mom said standing up. "You go watch the game with the boys." I helped my wife up off her chair. "You, too, Nicole."
"I'll help clean, Mom," Andy said picking up Isaac's plate and sliding it under hers.
My brothers both rose and headed towards the living room to turn on the game, while I stayed behind to help Clare if she needed it. She was still extremely tired from the plane and it was hard for her to walk without assistance sometimes, especially when she was as exhausted as she was then. I slid my arm around her waist to support her back and picked up Anya with the other arm. I held my baby close to me and, after hopping over ZoŽ and her cousin, was able to settle Clare down on the couch. I put Anya down gently on the floor to sit with her sister and cousin. The baby immediately grabbed one of the dolls.
"Dadddddddyyy!" ZoŽ whined. "Make her stop! Barbie was sitting in her house!" ZoŽ pouted.
"Uncle Taylor, she's messing up Barbie's hair!" Amanda shrieked.
Anya giggled and pulled on the doll's hair, knotting the perfectly combed plastic strands. Barbie's hair was something that the two older girls loved to make perfect, they got very upset whenever anyone touched it. They got ticked off the most when Barbie's hair got knotted and they couldn't brush it out the way it was before. It was hard to comb Barbie's hair, I speak from years of experience, even before my own daughter was born. My sisters were the same way when we were kids. If the littlest girl messed up Barbie's hair the other two freaked out and came crying to my parents. I usually would be the one who sat down with a hairbrush and combed the strands back into perfection. I got stuck with that job at first because Mom and Dad tossed the doll at the only available non-parent in the room which just happened to have been me. So I sat there for twenty minutes combing the plastic hair to perfection. From then on my sisters came to ME for help with Barbie, which of course was great while my friends were over when we were watching wrestling or something. Very manly, sitting there watching The Rock cream Stone Cold while combing a doll's hair.
Anya looked up at me with an innocent look on her face and smiled, the doll's hair in-between her fingers. I cringed as she pulled the hair a little too hard and the head popped off.
"Anya!" ZoŽ screeched coming towards her sister and the doll, her face red with anger.
"Whoa," I said crouching down next to Anya. My interference made ZoŽ stop in her tracks and sit back down where she was a second before. She crossed her arms over her chest and sighed, I could tell she was trying hard not to cry.
"Uncle Taylor!" Amanda said. Her eyes were starting to tear.
I quickly removed the doll head from Anya's hand, making sure to unwrap all the strands from her fingers so she couldn't choke on them if her hand went to her mouth. I took the body from Anya's lap. I sunk the rest of the way to the floor and sat cross-legged with the body in my lap and the head in my hands. "I'll fix it," I told the girls, "just make sure she doesn't come on me." I nodded towards Anya. ZoŽ picked up her sister and put her on her own lap.
"Daddy will make Barbie all better," ZoŽ assured her cousin.
"Uncle Taylor can do anything," Amanda said.
I grinned to myself as I fitted the doll's head back into the little ball that was attached to the neck. Barbie heads were always so hard to get back on because of the stupid little ball thing. Sometimes the ball thing went up into the head and you had to push it out, which took twenty minutes in itself most of the time. Luckily for me the ball did not leave the neck and all I had to do was stick the ball thing back into the head.
"Can I have a hairbrush?" I asked the girls once I got the head back on.
They cheered and Amanda handed me a plastic hairbrush. I sat up straight before starting in on the brushing, I was starting to feel cramped sitting cross-legged on the floor leaning over my lap with my neck craned over the doll. I cracked my neck which I'm pretty sure grossed out at least four people in the room, and started brushing the plastic strands.
Twenty minutes later I handed the doll back to the girls and stood up, stretching out my legs once I was up off the floor.
"Thank you, Daddy!"
"Thank you, Uncle Taylor! I love you!"
"Me too!" ZoŽ shot back.
"I love you girls, too," I told them. I leaned over and took Anya off ZoŽ's lap, kissing both my daughter and my niece on the cheek. I placed Anya down in the spot where I was sitting moments before and handed her a squeaky book which was lying next to the chair. "Here kid, teach yourself to read." I fell onto the couch next to my wife and sighed happily. My back was aching from the position I was in and my muscles were screaming for some place to sit down. "Who's winning?" I asked Isaac, who was engrossed in the game.
"Jets," he replied, not taking his eyes off the screen.
"Good," I stated.
"He's turned into a real New Yorker," Zac commented to his fiancťe.
Clare smiled at me. "I'm proud of him." We both laughed.
"It must be so exciting having twins!" Nicole gushed to my wife.
Clare nodded with a smile. She put her arm around my shoulder and twirled my hair around her finger. "It is exciting, isn't it Taylor?" She asked me softly. I nodded slowly and put my arm around her front.
"Do you want girls or boys?" Nicole asked.
"I personally think I'm more of a daddy who has little princesses, right ZoŽ?"
"Yes, Daddy," My daughter replied not looking up from the doll she was dressing with her cousin. Her sister was watching her, looking like she was ready to attack again but not making a move yet. "I'm daddy's Little Princess."
Clare and I laughed. "I always wanted to be a twin," she admitted. "I kind of hope they are identical, either two boys or two girls. I do want at least one little boy in my life though."
"Won't it get confusing?" I questioned. "If they are identical? At least when they are babies."
"We'll figure it out," Clare assured me. "Don't worry about it now."
"Decide on names yet?" Isaac asked from the armchair.
"The girl names we decided on are Cristanthee, Andrťa, Lorelai, and Emily," I told him.
"And the boys are Zachary, Isaac, Christopher, and Andrew," Clare finished.
"Don't punish the kid with the name 'Isaac'," my older brother said. "Especially if he goes to public school."
"All right, we'll keep that in mind," I said with a chuckle. Clare and I had both decided we'd use his name as an option but never actually use it when the time came.
"Dad!" ZoŽ yelped from the floor. She was holding the doll up in the air, as far away from her sister as her arms could possibly reach. Anya had crawled over to ZoŽ, who lucky for her and her doll had realized what was going on and tried to protect the doll from her younger sister's grasp. ZoŽ had one hand on Anya to keep her away. Anya was trying with all her effort to climb up her sister and get that Barbie doll. I quickly swooped in and grabbed the baby off her sister. I fell back on the couch with the wiggling baby in my arms.
"You just never stop do you?" I questioned Anya, shaking my head and trying hard not to laugh. She was still reaching towards her sister, jumping to get out of my arms. I leaned my face into her hair. "Anya, stop. Come on, please?" Anya jumped harder and I winced in pain as her heal hit into my thigh. "OK, someone's getting a nap now," I announced standing up sharply and resting the 10 month old on my hip. "Excuse us," I told the rest of the people in the room. I walked quickly up the stairs and into the room where Anya was staying. I put Anya down on her stomach in the crib, the same crib I had slept in as a baby. My parents had never thrown it out because there was almost always a baby in the house and it was still in excellent condition. If it wasn't one of their babies, it was Isaac's or even one of my two. Right now the only baby to need it was Anya. I joked with my parents that pretty soon they'd need to buy another one for one of my twins. They reminded me that when Isaac's twins were babies they made Isaac bring another crib when the kids came over, they told me I'd have to do the same.
My baby daughter jumped up onto her feet and grabbed into the rails of the crib. "No, Anya," I scolded gently removing her fingers from the railing. I placed her back down on her stomach. "Kid, you're being fussy tonight." I looked at my watch. "You're always asleep by seven. Sometimes I wish you could tell me what's up. First you refuse to eat anything at dinner, then you're beheading Barbie dolls. Not like that last part is anything unusual but the first part bothers me." I noticed that Anya wasn't jumping up again. I leaned my head to the side and saw that her eyes were still open but she didn't seem to have any intentions of getting up. She yawned loudly. I chuckled. "I knew you were tired." I leaned over and kissed the back of her hair. "Good night, honey. If you get hungry you know how to reach me... just do what you always do, cry." I sighed, walked over to the doorway and turned off the light. I was starting to close the door when I heard shrieking from the crib.
I threw the door back open. Anya was once again holding onto the railing with both hands, but this time she was jumping up and down, tears streaming down her cheeks. I rushed over to the child and put an arm around her. "Anya, what's wrong?" She cried harder and reached her other arm towards me, grabbing onto my neck. She pulled her feet up into my chest and buried her head into the nape of my neck. She moved her face back and forth rapidly trying to find a place where she was most comfortable.
I reached for the bottle on the dresser and found her mouth blindly. She turned her head the other way. I tried again. She did the same thing. I tried once more. She wouldn't take it. I placed the bottle back down in defeat and tried bouncing her for a few seconds. She kept crying, her wails echoing throughout the room.
Exhausted and out of ideas to calm her down I kept bouncing her gently. She was repeating the same events from a week prior when we were at home. When she did it the last time she stopped crying all of a sudden, but then when I put her down she had started up again. I had decided to take her for a walk, so I threw a coat over the both of us and took her around the block a few times. The cold air had put her back to sleep and I was able to take her back inside the house and put her back in her crib.
"Are you sick?" I asked my daughter, putting my hand on her forehead. She was a little warm but nothing to be concerned about, it might have been the crying causing her change in body temperature. I kissed her gently. "Shhh," I soothed, "Anya... shhh... Are you growing more teeth? Let Daddy see." I put my finger in her mouth searching for anything new that might not have been there the day before, or anything that was starting to come in. To my surprise I found a small tooth starting to poke it's way through at the top of her mouth. "Aw Anya!" I said sympathetically, wiping my finger on my jeans. I searched through the bag of baby stuff that was on the floor and came out triumphantly with a teething ring. I stuck it in her mouth and her wails turned into internal sobs that shook her whole body.
After a few minutes I put her back in the crib on her bottom but when I tried to leave she stood up again and threw the teething ring to the floor. She jumped up and down, more tears flowing down her red face. I quickly grabbed the ring up off the floor, swooped up the baby and sat down with her on my chest in the rocking chair that was stationed in the corner of the room.
I rocked her back and forth slowly until her cries once again stopped and became sobs. Her head was rested on my shoulder. I rubbed her back gently and soon the sobs slowed. I could feel heat radiating out of her small body.
"Daddy's going to get Mommy to take your temperature when you're asleep," I warned her. "I don't like how you're acting." I kissed her hot cheek and noticed her eyes were now closed, but she was not yet asleep. I knew that it was bad to be giving into her cries and actually coming back and sitting with her but she was just not acting normal. I made a mental note to tell Clare what had happened and get her up here with the ear thermometer as soon as possible.
Anya sobbed again, and her eyes popped open. I started to hum a lullaby that I wrote when ZoŽ was a baby. I often sang it to Anya and sometimes ZoŽ when she asked me to. I started to sing the words softly and pretty soon Anya's eyes were closed again. Once I got to the second verse her sobs had stopped and her breathing became steady. She was asleep.
I continued on to the third verse just for an extra precaution. I stood up carefully and placed Anya back down in the crib, not stopping the song as I moved. I pulled a blanket up to her neck and kept the tune going. I stood there for a minute starring at the child. Something was wrong and I wanted to know what it was. Unfortunately Anya could not express it in words, I had to rely on her crying and that wasn't any help at all.