I wasn’t sure about blogging a fiction story again, but, it’s kind of fun so I thought I’d share a little of The Next Chapter, which is the next book in the Spencer Valley Chronicles.
If you haven’t read the other books, you don’t have to to read this, but if you want some background on some of the characters who are mentioned, you can find the first book in the series, The Farmer’s Daughter, and the second book, Harvesting Hope, on Amazon.
If you are new to Fiction Friday, I share stories I am working on and there is always a good chance there will be typos and errors. I edit the story again before I later publish it through Amazon as a book.
Anyhow . . . let us begin The Next Chapter.
Giving birth to a baby in the front of a pickup truck on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere was not what Liz Cranmer had planned when she told the midwife she wanted a natural birth. Even more mortifying had been whose pickup it had been.
If she hadn’t been in so much pain in the moment when Matt McGee had jumped into position to catch the baby, she would been overwhelmed by mortifying horror.
Even in the midst of humiliation, she couldn’t deny that the calming tone of his voice had helped keep her from completely freaking out. “Don’t worry, El,” he said. “I’m trained for this. It’s going to be fine.”
Nothing was fine about giving birth to a baby in the front seat of the truck of the man she’d gone on three dates with before — well, before this baby had taken up residence inside her womb.
Her heart had hammered inside her ribcage like a trapped bird throughout the entire ordeal, which gratefully had only taken about 15 minutes. All those warnings her birthing instructor had given her, reminding her that a first baby would lead to a long, drawn-out birth process, had turned out to be completely wrong.
Now, alone in a hospital room, starring at a sleeping baby in a portable hospital crib, her heart was at it again, her breathing racing to keep up with it.
They are sending me home with a baby? Me?
Had the doctor and nurses lost their minds?
She was barely able to take care of herself most days, let alone a baby.
Still, she was the one who’d decided she wanted to keep this baby. Who else would the hospital send her home with?
Liz let out a long breath.
The baby, who Liz hadn’t even named yet.
Naming the tiny form next to her wasn’t even on her radar at the moment. Trying to slow her breathing was.
Another panic attack. Great.
She’d had three in the last six hours since her parents, best friend, and — good grief — Matt had gone home to get some sleep, or rather, so she could get some sleep.
Sleep. Yeah right. That would be nice. If she could get it.
She’d slept two hours and been awake ever since, her mind racing and screaming for some sort of normalcy.
She supposed she should notify the nurse she was having panic attacks, but maybe it was normal for a woman to have panic attacks after having a baby on her own, without a father, and after lying to her best friend about how she became pregnant in the first place.
Closing her eyes, she tried to remember the grounding exercise the therapist she’d gone to a couple of years ago had taught her.
What was it again? Three things you can touch, smell, and see? It probably wasn’t that at all but at this moment it was all she had to go on.
Three things to touch. She looked around frantically then ran the palm of her hand across the surface of the sheets on the bed under her, taking a deep breath. Soft, smooth, cool. Cool except under her leg where it had been touching the bed.
The side table where the nurse had placed the lunch she hadn’t been able to eat. Smooth surface, except for — ew. Something sticky on the corner. Probably maple syrup from the pancakes she hadn’t eaten earlier in the day, but her mom had tried to get her to eat.
Teddy bear. She squeezed it between her hands, felt the softness of it and took another breath.
Getting better. Breathing slower, heartrate down.
Okay. Three things she could smell. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The sweet smell of the spilled maple syrup, for one. Two . . . oh no.
She leaned her head toward the crib and sniffed.
The baby obviously needed changing. She hoped the nurse would come in soon and show her how to do that.
Never mind the third thing to smell. Her sense of smell had been destroyed by the dirty diaper.
Her heartrate was practically normal now and her breathing was slowing. Still, three things to see . . . Um.
The bright sunflowers across the room by the window from her best friend Molly. There was one.
She stopped focusing on her racing heart and the tremor in her hands as she searched for something else to identify.
Her gaze drifted across the room toward the doorway, searching for two more things to see. Sunlight sending patterns of light across the wardrobe where her mom had placed her duffle bag, an extra pillow and some “going home” clothes for the baby.
Her eyes moved again, searching.
A police officer in full uniform, leaning against the doorway, arms folded across his chest, smirking.
Her heartrate increased again. So much for calming her racing heart, but at least the panic attack had subsided some.
The police officer’s smirk faded, and he stepped forward into the room, a much more serious expression on his face now.
“I was going to say I caught you not sleeping, but I don’t think you’re in the mood for teasing.” He stopped a foot from her, his brow furrowed. “You okay? You’re very pale.”
Matt McGee and his infuriating perceptive tendencies.
“Yes. I’m fine.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “You don’t look fine.”
She closed her eyes briefly and took a deep breath. “I’m just a little anxious about everything. I’m sure it’s just a hormone shift.”
When she opened her eyes, she could tell he wasn’t buying it. Luckily, he didn’t have time to tell her he wasn’t buying it.
Nurse Wendy, all 5 feet 1 inches of her, swept into the room with her usual perky demeanor.
“How are we doing in here? Were you able to get any rest? That little precious bundle of joy wasn’t keeping you up, was she?”
Liz shook her head. “She’s been sleeping the whole time. My brain just won’t shut off.”
The nurse sniffed. “Oh. I guess she was doing a little business during her sleeping.”
“Yeah, I hadn’t got over there yet.” Liz’s face flushed warm. She wasn’t about to tell the nurse how terrified she was of changing the baby’s diaper.
The nurse probably knew by how she let out a soft chuckle as she reached for the diaper under the crib.
“It takes a bit to get used to it.” She winked. “I’ll give you a few pointers to help you feel more confident.”
With the baby changed and her hands washed, Wendy turned back to the paperwork she’d carried in with her.
“So have you had time to think of a name for the baby? We’ve got the birth certificate paperwork here.”
Liz had been thinking about a name, had run it by her mom and Molly before they’d left, but she hesitated. Choosing the name for a child was a big responsibility. What if she grew up to hate her own name? Or her nickname? Liz wasn’t necessarily fond of the way her name had been shortened from Elizabeth to Liz, but she also couldn’t imagine herself as an Elizabeth since it sounded so pretentious to her and contrary to her personality.
She took a deep breath. The baby had to have a name. She’d better just go for it.
“Isabella Molly Cranmer.”
The nurse smiled. “That’s a beautiful name.” She filled in the paper then looked up. “Okay, so, now we have the baby and mom’s name. All we need is the father’s name.”
Liz’s hands went numb. She hadn’t thought this far ahead. She looked at her hands in her lap and twisted them together for a few moments before looking back up.
The nurse glanced at Matt and smiled. She seemed to be waiting for him to say something. Liz played with the edge of her blanket, avoiding eye contact, but shifting her gaze to Matt briefly.
Matt stared blankly at the nurse for a few seconds before appearing to register the reason for her pointed expression.
Liz looked between the two, startled realization slamming into her. “Um — oh. No. He’s not —”
“It’s Matt.” He shifted himself between the bed and the nurse, tilting his head to look at the paper in the nurse’s hand. “Or Matthew rather. Matthew McGee. That’s McGee with the G capitalized.”
Liz’s eyes widened and she shook her head ever so slightly. “What are you doing?” she mouthed, only he wasn’t looking at her. His back was to her. He was still looking over the nurses’ shoulder, checking her spelling. “Yep. That’s right.”
“Middle name?” the nurse asked.
Whose middle name? Matt’s? Liz didn’t even know his middle name.
“Matthew Grant McGee.”
Grant. Oh. That was a nice middle name. His grandfather’s last name had been Grant maybe that was —
“After my grandfather,” he told Wendy, as if she had asked. “He and his siblings didn’t have any sons, so I carry on the Grant name as my middle name.”
Wendy glanced up, smiled. “That’s nice.” She finished writing and picked up the paper, then paused, brow furrowing. “Oh wait. We wrote the baby’s last name down as Cramner. Shouldn’t we have —”
Liz imagined her heartrate must be at a thousand beats per minute at this point.
“Oh right.” Matt smiled. Liz scowled at him. He sure was quick on his feet today. She planned to knock him off those feet as soon as this nurse left.
He cleared his throat, focusing his gaze on Liz. “Well, it’s just —”
Wendy held up a hand. “You’re not married. No problem at all. I apologize. That’s really none of my business.”
Matt coughed nervously. “Oh, gosh, no. It’s okay, it’s just —”
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, hon’.” Wendy smiled and winked. “Happens all the time these days.” She slid the birth certificate under the clip on her clipboard. “Okay then, mom and dad, I’ll get this paperwork to the records office, they’ll send it on to the state health department and in six weeks or so you will have an official birth certificate for little Isabella here.”
Liz’s chest constricted. An official birth certificate with Matt’s name listed as the father of her child.
As soon as the nurse left the room, Liz looked at Matt, who was clearly refusing to make eye contact. He was bent over the crib smiling at the child he’d just claimed as his own.
“What was that, Matt?” she hissed.
He looped his finger under Isabella’s tiny fingers, glancing at Liz. “What was what?”
Liz tilted her gaze to the ceiling and huffed out a breath. “Are you serious? You can’t just say you’re her father. I mean that nurse is taking it to the official records office. They’re sending it to the state. Isn’t that like fraud or something? We could get arrested.”
Matt laughed softly, his eyes still on the baby. “Arrested for what? For making sure your crazy ex-boyfriend has no say in the life of this gorgeous little girl?” He looked over at Liz. “Or do you want Gabe in both of your lives?”
Her blood ran cold. Of course, she didn’t want Gabe in her life again. She never should have had him in it the first place. She shook her head slowly, tears stinging her eyes.
“Then it’s done. No one else has to know we put me down as her dad anyhow. I just did it so she didn’t have to have Gabe’s name associated with her. It’s better that way.”
Liz swiped the edge of her finger under her eye. Why was Matt protecting her? They’d gone out on three dates and then — Gabe. That night at Gabe’s apartment when she let him talk her into . . .
Her eyes widened. She gasped. “They send those to the newspaper. Go catch that nurse. Ask her to keep our names off that list.”
For the first time, Matt looked alarmed at what he’d done. Did he really want everyone at his job and church knowing, or rather believing, he’d fathered a baby out of wedlock? Liz didn’t think so.
“I’ll talk to the nurse on my way out,” he said with a shrug. “It’ll be fine.”
It will be fine? Was that his favorite word? Fine. Was he serious? Nothing about all of this — from having a baby without a husband to Matt claiming Isabella as his own — was fine.
“She’s fussy,” he said as the baby squirmed in the crib. “You want me to bring her to you?”
Why would she want him to bring the baby to him? What was she supposed to do?
Oh, right. She was her mother and early this morning, in a total state of exhaustion, she’d told the nurse she planned to breastfeed.
Liz Cramner. Royal screw up, actually thought she could breastfeed a baby. What had she been thinking? She had obviously been reading too many baby books or something.
When the lactation consultant had shown her how to help the baby latch on, she’d been terrified her idea of breastfeeding would be a failure. It hadn’t failed, though. Isabella had latched on immediately, her little fingers lightly touching her own cheek as she suckled. The warmth of the newborn’s body against Liz’s bare chest had stilled her racing heart for the first time since her water had broken while she and Matt were walking along the lake.
She watched Matt slide his hands under Isabella’s tiny head and body, scooping her into his arms like he’d held a baby a thousand times before. Had he held a baby a thousand times before? Liz wasn’t sure. She knew he had a brother and sister, a couple nieces and nephews. How did she not know more about them or about Matt in general? Maybe because for the last year and a half she’d been so focused on herself she hadn’t bothered to even ask or notice.
Matt cradled Isabella as he walked. Liz marveled at the way he held her like she was the most precious thing in the world, the smile curving his mouth upward as he looked down at her. “Hey, there, little one. How are you today? Are you ready for Mama to hold you again?”
Liz’s breath caught, taking in the word, the scene before her.
A mom? Her?
It was surreal.
As surreal as Officer Matt McGee, the man she knew was way too good for her, bending toward her, laying a baby in her arms. A baby that wasn’t even his but who he had claimed as his own only moments before.
“She’s got your eyes,” he said softly.
Liz swallowed hard, looking into tiny eyes taking in everything around her, then focusing on the face of the woman who gave birth to her.
But she’s got Gabe’s nose and ears, Liz thought, a hard knot forming in her stomach.
Oh, Matt, she should have your nose and ears. How could I have been so stupid?