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From Double Trouble
“You good, Connolly?” McNearny asked.
Was that concern on his face? I cracked a grin. “Feeling great,” I replied. “Well, as great as anyone feels while this pregnant.”
“Can’t be that great, then,” deadpanned Deb, raising her can of beer in the air.
Nick’s wife Denise sat on the couch next to me. “Can I get you anything?” she asked.
“You guys are so sweet,” I said. “But really, I’m fine. I promise.”
The door opened, and my mom hurried in, carrying two pink gift bags. “I’m baaaaack!” she sang. “I didn’t miss the cake-cutting, did I?”
“You did not!” I said. “Shall we sing happy birthday?”
She held up the bags. “I just ran out to Baby Emporium to pick up a couple little gifts for the twins!”
My mouth fell open, and I stared at her.
But Mom continued on, seeming not to notice my abrupt shift in mood. “It’s not every day you find out your daughter is having twin girls!”
“This is supposed to be Laurie’s party,” I said, “can we set the baby gifts aside to open later?”
Paula darted around the corner, waving a hand wildly. “Oh, good! Vera’s here! Everyone come into the kitchen! I have Laurie’s cake set up! We need to hurry!”
Denise helped me to my feet, and I followed everyone into the kitchen. My jaw dropped. Laurie’s high chair sat by the kitchen counter, next to the fanciest birthday cake I’d ever seen.
Paula had outdone herself with this cake.
Three tiers of perfectly sculpted cake rose from a platter, each layer different. The bottom layer was cloaked in pastel piping, the icing in soft shades of pink and green and duck yellow. Sprinkles covered the middle layer, in a comparable color palette. The top tier was plain white, with chocolate drizzles melting down the sides and topped by a beautiful pink bow.
It looked more like a wedding cake than a first-birthday cake, except for the pastel colors.
“Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give it up for the birthday girl, Miss Laurie!” cried Paula.
Everyone clapped and cheered, and Galigani gave a whooping yell.
My mom held up the gift bags and said, “I picked up a couple gifts for the twins. Where should I put them?”
I opened my mouth to object, but Paula pointed at the far end of the kitchen table and said, “Why don’t you just set them there, with Laurie’s birthday gifts?”
Can’t this wait? I made eye contact with Jim, but he didn’t seem perturbed.
Paula set a small portable speaker next to the cake and tapped her phone screen. The tune of “Happy Birthday,” with a decidedly polka flair, poured out of the speaker.
Is that . . . accordion music?
“All together!” Paula cried.
On cue, the partygoers sang, “Happy birthday to you!”
Laurie raised her little hand high in the air and giggled, and I lifted my phone to snap a picture of her.
“Happy birthday to you!” everyone sang. “Happy biiiiirthday, dear Laurie! Happy birthday to you!”
We all clapped, and Laurie imitated us with a happy squeal. Paula cut the cake while I plopped Laurie in her high chair and gave her a high five.
“First piece for the birthday girl!” Paula cried, setting a small piece of chocolate cake, covered in sprinkles, on Laurie’s tray.
Laurie’s eyes widened as she stared at the delectable treat. She plunged her fist into the sprinkles and stuffed a handful in her mouth. Chocolate crumbs flew off the side of her tray.
Then it happened again.
My midsection convulsed and tightened. Another Braxton Hicks contraction.
I sucked in a sharp breath, then slowly exhaled, taking two steps back and sinking onto a dining chair.
As I leaned forward and breathed through the contraction, a simple refrain echoed in my head: This isn’t labor. This isn’t labor. This isn’t labor.
I sensed someone’s eyes on me, but I didn’t look up. I just waited for the pain and pressure to ease.
This contraction seemed to last longer than the others had. A warning bell rang in my head, but I quieted it.
This isn’t labor.
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When it finally ceased, I let out a shaky breath and looked up. Most of the attendees were focused on Laurie, who was shoveling cake into her mouth like her life depended on it. But three people had noticed my contraction: Jim, my dad, and Denise.
Denise weaved through the crowd and sat in the chair next to mine. “This isn’t normal, Kate,” she whispered urgently. “You’re in labor.”
“I can’t be in labor,” I hissed. “Laurie’s birthday is tomorrow. If the babies steal her birthday, she’ll grow up resenting them!”
She scowled at me, but sisterly concern shone in her eyes. “The twins will have to share their birthday with each other no matter what,” she said. “And they’ll grow up used to that. If Laurie happens to share that birthday, too, she’ll grow up used to it, too. You’ll find ways to make it special for all of them.”
Then another horrifying thought hit me. “My OBGYN is in Rome!” I exclaimed. “She doesn’t get back until Tuesday! I can’t have the babies without a doctor there.”
“I’m sure there’s more than one doctor at the hospital,” she replied placidly. “Giving birth isn’t usually something you can just reschedule to fit a doctor’s vacation plans.” With a crooked smile, she added, “Unless there have been some big advancements in modern medicine that I don’t know about.”
She was right. I groaned under my breath. Why does she have to be right?
But I was determined. Surely I could delay the inevitable by sheer force of will . . .
Just until Tuesday.
The doorbell rang, and Paula jolted.
“Did the duck not get my texts?” she hissed.
My forehead crinkled as I tried to make sense of that sentence. “The duck?” I asked. “What are you—”
But Paula had already whisked out of the kitchen. I tilted my head and tried to listen for her voice, but I couldn’t make it out over the animated conversations going on around me.
A moment later, she reappeared. “It’s time for Laurie’s big surprise!”
Though I could tell Paula was stressed—we’d been best friends since we were kids, so I could read her like a book—she covered it up well.
Paula stepped aside, making way for the big surprise.
I covered my mouth to suppress a tittering laugh.
It was a duck.
The duck—a full-grown person in a big yellow duck costume—waddled into the kitchen, dragging a small wheeled cart.
“I hear there’s a birthday duckling here!” the duck called in a baritone voice I recognized.
“Kenny?” I asked, locking eyes with the person in the costume. Sure enough it was my neighbor and Laurie’s all-time favorite babysitter.
A chorus of tiny chirps caught my attention, and I glanced at the cart.
Kenny had brought a small flock of real, live ducklings! Into my house!
A moment later, my shock gave way to delight. What a perfect theme for Laurie’s birthday party! “Awww, that’s really cute,” I exclaimed to Paula.
She beamed with pride. “I knew I had to make this party memorable.”
Laurie, still fully intent on her cake, hadn’t noticed the ducklings yet, so Jim reached over and patted her arm, then pointed at the cart of ducklings.
Then, movement eye caught my attention, and I gaped in horror.
Whiskers poked her head around the corner, her eyes hungry and curious, drawn in by the chirps.
Was Laurie’s first birthday party about to be ruined by a great duckling massacre?
What trauma would she carry forward with her from such an event? I couldn’t bear to contemplate it.
“Wait!” I yelled, waving my arms. “Take the ducklings outside! Whiskers!”
Kenny whirled in shock as Whiskers wiggled her little cat butt, preparing to pounce.
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