“Hello, gorgeous. Who’s my beautiful baby girl?”
I reached into her crib and scooped Diana into my arms, who gave a happy gurgle in response.
“That’s right!” I cooed. “You’re my beautiful girl, my special baby. I love you so much.”
Ever since Diana was born, our lives had changed dramatically. I was no longer free to do whatever I wanted – my existence had suddenly become a cycle of crying, diapers, messes, gurgles, cuddles…
All of which was totally worth it.
“How’s our girl?” asked James, stepping into the room behind me. “Still wonderful?” I turned to smile at him, and he winked back.
James and I adored our Diana. Difficult as it was, it never even occurred to me to regret having given birth to her. She was the light in our lives we never knew we were missing.
James spent all his free time with Diana between when he got home from work and when she went to bed, and set aside the evenings for just the two of us. He loved her more than anything else in the world, and showered her with kisses and cuddles. On the flipside, he was always ready to help with childcare duties like feeding and changing, and even seemed to enjoy it, as an extra opportunity to spend time bonding with his baby daughter.
Mum was just as much in love with Diana as we were, if not more so. She doted on her and properly spoiled her like any good grandmother should, and happily babysat when James and I couldn’t be around or just needed a break.
The last to fall under our baby’s spell was her Auntie Tyler, who had missed the birth but quickly caught up on affection after the first moment Diana was laid in her arms. Tyler was our go-to babysitter, since Mum, much as she adored her granddaughter, tended to get tired out very easily in her old age. Tyler was always happy to step in, unless she was busy or making plans to go out with friends. I had my suspicions about the “friends” she was going out with, but after all, as I myself was constantly reminding James, she definitely wasn’t a child anymore.
One evening, two years after Diana was born, Mum approached me where I was watching television in the living room.
“Bianca, honey,” she began cautiously.
I sighed, and stood up. “What is it, Mum?”
“I was just wondering if you were doing alright,” she said. “With Diana, I mean.”
I was silent as she continued. “You just seem pretty worn out lately, and, well… I feel like you could use a little extra help. I don’t want to upset you, but I’d be happy to-”
She looked shocked. “But, Bianca-”
“What are you saying, Mum?” I cried. “That I’m a bad mother? I don’t need you or anyone else to try to help. I’m fine, Diana’s fine, we don’t need you!”
The shocked look on her face gave way to hurt. “Bianca, honey, I didn’t mean-”
“I know what you meant, Mum. Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t need your help. Please leave me alone.”
Mum left the room, looking hurt, and I sat back down grumpily. What had gotten into me? How could I have talked to my Mum like that, when she was just trying to help? I called Tyler to tell her I was going out, and to keep an eye on Diana, and then I left the house, collecting my fishing rod and tackle box on the way.
I drove all the way over the bridge and down to the shore on the other side of town. Right now, I just wanted to get as far away as possible from everything.
I stayed at the shore well into the afternoon, concentrating on staying in the moment to calm myself down. I was getting close to my goal of having the perfect private aquarium back home… I was just hoping to catch a few more quality fish to complete my collection. It was lucky really, that I had fought with Mum, because it gave me the opportunity to come out here and have some time to myself. Even so, my more rational side countered, that still doesn’t explain the terrible way I acted towards her. Normally, I would never-
Then it hit me. And suddenly my mood was a hundred times better.
There was nothing wrong with me. In fact, it was quite the opposite – there was something very right with me… something so right I felt as if I were practically glowing with happiness.
“Bianca, you’re back!” Tyler cried as I walked in the door. “You left your phone here, I was just about to come out to find you! Did you forget it’s Diana’s birthday?”
Oh. Whoops. “Of course not,” I said with a smile, trying to sound convincing. “I just needed a little time to myself, is all. Where is the birthday girl?”
Smiling, Tyler handed my daughter to me and led us both to the cake sitting on the kitchen bench, which James had made earlier in the day before he left for work.
“Happy birthday, Di,” I murmured as I held my baby in my arms so she could see her cake. “Make a wish!”
I leaned over and blew out the single candle, then placed Diana gently down on the floor to give her space to experience her first transition into toddlerhood.
Now that she was older, it became clear that Di was a true mix of both her parents, having inherited James’ white-blond hair and my Dad’s blue eyes, which he had passed on to me and now to his granddaughter.
She had taken a particular liking to a patchwork doll that Uncle Aidan and Auntie Violet had sent her when she was born, but she had never really been old enough to get much enjoyment from playing with it until now. She named it Patches, and would spend hours on end sitting on her bedroom floor with the doll, playing imaginary games or singing made up songs.
Di had grown even closer to Auntie Tyler after ageing up, since Tyler took over a lot of the childcare duties when James and I weren’t available. On the evenings when it was just Tyler, Mum and Diana in the house, Ty was the only one who could get Diana to eat when she was in a bad mood, or to calm down enough to go to sleep.
I think Mum was a bit jealous, to be honest, since she seemed to be making an extra effort to spend as much time as she could with her granddaughter. Perhaps she was still feeling a bit lonely as well, though it had already been six years since Dad had died. For whatever reason, I never grudged her the time she spent with Di. I realised that it was possibly all she had left.
Between Diana and her “friends”, Tyler was having a pretty busy post-high school life, even though she hadn’t yet managed to land a solid job. One afternoon, she arrived home with a young man in tow. James and I had been relaxing in the sitting room when they arrived, but rose to greet them as soon as we saw that she wasn’t alone.
Tyler exchanged a nervous glance with the boy before turning to us. “James, Bianca,” she said hesitantly. “I’d like you to meet my boyfriend, Herbert Striker. Herb, this is my brother, James, and my sister-in-law, Bianca.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Herb pleasantly, reaching out to shake each of our hands in turn. “Tyler’s told me a lot about you.”
I looked at James, and noticed the hard, intimidating stare he was directing at poor Herb, who was starting to sweat nervously. I was about to intervene, but Tyler got there first.
“James, I know what you’re thinking,” she said quickly, stepping between her brother and boyfriend. “But Herb is different. He’s kind, and good, and he treats me properly, like a real gentleman. I promise it’s not the same as last time.”
James remained unmoving, and Tyler hung her head in disappointment. “I just want you to be happy for me,” she whispered.
His expression softened, and I stepped forward. “Tyler, can I talk to you for a moment?” I asked.
She nodded, and I turned to Herb. “Could you leave us alone for a minute, Herb? I need to talk to Tyler.”
“Sure, Bianca,” he said with a smile, and went to sit down a short distance away to give us privacy. When he had gone, I turned back to Tyler.
“What’s going on? I thought you were still with Aron.”
I was surprised when she laughed. “I dumped him a while ago,” she said, “after I found out he was dating at least three other girls at the same time as me.”
“Oh Ty…” I began sympathetically, but she cut me off.
“It’s fine, I’m over it. I’m with Herb now, and he’s really great.” Seeing the way her whole face lit up every time she said his name, I believed her.
“So, why didn’t you tell us?” I asked. I had to admit I was a little hurt that she hadn’t wanted to share with us something that was as important to her as this clearly was.
She sighed. “I was worried that you’d react like last time. Especially James. He’s too protective, I didn’t want him to go for Herb the way he did with Aron.”
“Oh Ty, you know James just-”
“Doesn’t want me to get hurt, wants me to be happy, etcetera. I know,” she finished my sentence with a grin. “It’s just… I didn’t want to risk it. I’m sorry I lied to you.”
“Oh, honey, I’m just happy that you’re happy.” I reached out, and pulled her into a tight hug.
“I really am, Bee.” She smiled.
“That reminds me,” I added as I pulled away, “I have some exciting news as well.”
She gasped, and her eyes grew wide. “What is it?”
I glanced at James, and grinned. “You’re going to be an auntie again.”
Tyler let out a little squeal of excitement, and started bouncing up and down on the spot. “Oh my- seriously? You’re pregnant?”
“Shh!” I hushed her quickly. In a whisper, I added, “I haven’t told Mum yet.”
“Oh.” She stopped bouncing, but after making sure Mum was still in the next room with her back to us, she winked and gave me a silent thumbs up.
“That’s amazing, Bee,” she whispered. “Congratulations. Hey,” she added excitedly. “Can I feel it?”
I laughed. “There’s not much there yet, but sure, if you want.”
Gingerly, she stretched out her hands and placed them on my belly. “This is amazing,” she whispered.
I giggled. “You can’t feel anything!” She laughed as well.
“No, but I know it’s there. That’s why it’s so cool.”
She stood back up, and said soberly, “I’m sorry I won’t be here to see it.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, alarmed.
“I want to move out. Herb and I have been together for a couple of years now, and we want to start living together for a while before we get married.”
I sighed. “I understand,” I told her. “I’ll miss you, Ty.”
“I’ll miss you too,” she said sadly, pulling me into a second hug. Over her shoulder, I could see James approaching us from the other side of the room, where he seemed to have been having a conversation with Herb.
“When do you think I should tell James?” Tyler said in my ear.
“Tell me what?” His voice startled Tyler, and she jumped away from me as though we had been caught in wrongdoing.
I grimaced at her. “No time like the present.”
After a moment’s hesitation, she nodded resolutely, and turned to her brother.
“James…” she took a deep breath, closing her eyes as though she was afraid of seeing his reaction. “James, I want to move out and live with Herb.”
“Okay,” he said.
Tyler opened her eyes, looking shocked. “’Okay’?” she repeated incredulously. “Did you hear what I said?”
James chuckled. “Of course I did, Ty. You want to move out and live with Herb. That’s fine by me. What?” he laughed, glancing at her shocked expression. “Did you think I was going to forbid you from leaving the house? I’m not that bad! I knew you were going to want to move out someday, it’s only natural. I would have been more worried if you’d wanted to stay here your whole life.”
Tyler still looked dubious, as though she thought James was playing a joke on her. “And… what about Herb?”
James sighed. “He’s a good guy, Ty. I was talking to him just now. Of course, no one’s good enough for my baby sister, but this one’s pretty close.” He grinned.
Tyler smiled, then sighed, and threw herself into his arms. “I’m going to miss you, big brother.”
His arms went around her and he hugged her back tightly. “Me too, sis. But it’s time, yeah?”
She nodded. “It’s time.”
Herb came downstairs at that moment, carrying Tyler’s suitcase full of her things. “You ready to go, Ty?”
“Yeah.” She turned back to James and me. “Thanks for everything, both of you.”
“Promise you’ll visit?” I said desperately.
Tyler grinned. “Of course. I couldn’t stay away. Don’t worry, you’ll still be seeing me around.”
I nodded. My hand found its way into James’ as we stood in the hall, watching Tyler walk out the front door. A turn on the threshold – a final wave – a kiss thrown carelessly over her shoulder… and she was gone.