Special Delivery

by Claire Dobbin


Walter Skinner's private line trilled only once before he answered it.

"Yes?"

"Walter, it's Sarah."

Walter stilled completely for two seconds before asking, "Is everything all right?"

"Everything's fine," she told him. "My water broke about forty minutes ago and Alice is driving me to the hospital. We're only a couple of minutes away from it now."

"What?" he asked, incredulously. "But the due date's not for another two weeks -"

"That's not at the top of my list of concerns at the moment, Walter. This baby is ready to be born and - "

She stopped suddenly and Walter could hear some serious panting.

"Sarah? SARAH?"

"Relax, Walter. I'm fine and the baby's fine, just eager. So you might want to get down here."

"Yes," he said, searching for his car keys. "I'm on my way, right now."

"Walter!" Sarah shouted down the phone line, as he was about to hang up.

"What? Is something wrong?"

"No, nothing's wrong. I just want to remind you not to forget Alex."

"Oh," he said, "OH! Right! I'm calling him now."

"Good."

"Sarah ..." Walter began, "I just want to say ... "

Whatever it was, he didn't know how to say it.

"I understand, Walter," she paused, "but I have to go now ... we're pulling into the emergency bay."

"That's good -"

She had already hung up.

He managed to drop the phone twice and it took him several seconds to remember that Alex was number one on his speed dial, but eventually he got through and as he gathered up his keys and jacket and headed for the door, he listened to Alex's phone ring ... and ring ...

Marie glanced up in surprise at the way he came barrelling out of his office.

"Sir?"

"Cancel everything," he instructed. "It's started. I'm going to the hospital."

"But I thought -"

"I know, it's early - but everything's fine."

"Good luck, sir," she called out to his retreating back.

The phone continued to ring. He pressed the button for the elevator and watched the numbers climb on the panel as it inched its way up to his floor. And still Alex's phone rang. The elevator doors opened very slowly and stayed open for a long time. He jabbed at the 'close doors' button several times and leaned back against the wood panelling. The doors closed so slowly it felt as though the entire universe had shifted down into first gear. Alex's phone rang again ... twice ... at last ...

"Yeah, what is it Walter?"

"Alex," he said, relief and exasperation evident in his voice, "for a minute I thought I was going to get your voicemail."

"I've my phone set on continuous ring, like we agreed, in case -"

The elevator doors opened onto the parking garage and there was a momentary loss of signal as he stepped out into its concrete bulk.

"-thing happened? - Walter?"

"I'm here, Alex. Sarah has gone into labour. She's already at the hospital. I'll see you there ... and take it easy. Remember the books say it will probably be hours before anything happens."

"Oh, f -"

The line went dead.

Walter arrived at the hospital in time to walk alongside Sarah's bed when she was moved from her room to the delivery suite. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze just before she was wheeled through the double doors.

Sarah's sister Alice, her Lamaze partner, laid a hand on Walter's arm. "I'll make sure they keep you posted," she promised.

"Thanks, Alice."

She smiled and followed her sister into the delivery suite. Walter found a seat opposite the doors and checked the time.

2.37 p.m. Alex should be well on his way.

At 2.49 p.m. the man in question came hurtling out of the elevator, looking like someone who'd taken no prisoners on the interstate. He zeroed in on Walter's position immediately.

"Did something happen? Is there a problem? What did Dr. Elverson say?" he demanded to know as he crossed the corridor into the waiting area.

Walter stood up and grabbed hold of his arm. Sitting him down in the chair next to his own, he said, "Relax, Alex, nothing bad happened. Sarah says it's just that the baby is ready to be born. The midwife agrees. She says the baby's heartbeat is strong and regular and that everything is progressing normally."

"But what did the doctor say?" Alex persisted, not finding the answers satisfactory.

"The doctor is on her way -"

"She's not here?"

"No," Walter said, striving for calmness, "I just told you that the doctor is on her way. She'll be here in about fifteen minutes."

Whatever opinion Alex was about to express regarding the doctor's tardiness was never voiced thanks to Walter's clever diversionary tactic.

"Have you the checklist?" he asked.

Alex stared at him for a moment then began searching through the pockets of his jacket. He took out a small notebook and held it out to Walter.

"Good," Walter said, standing up. "Now, I'm going to get us some coffee. You go call Olga and Elizabeth."

Alex nodded and headed off in search of a public phone.

Although it seemed like an eternity to the two men sitting on the edge of their seats in the waiting room, there was, in fact, less than four hours between the time Susan Elverson emerged from the delivery suite to tell them they were in the express checkout line and when the nurse came to bring them into the room where their baby would be placed in their arms for the first time.

Walter watched Alex's tense expression as he struggled into the gown he was handed. Fastening his own quickly, he turned Alex round and tied the strings for him. Finishing, he gave his lover a quick hug before they walked to stand at the glass panel that overlooked the place where the paediatrician was waiting to give the baby its first check up.

Alex took hold of Walter's hand. It wasn't something he did often in a public place, but if ever a time called for the reassuring comfort of touch, this was it. Standing close by the door they could clearly hear the sound of two raised voices, one coaching, one encouraging and the grunts and yells coming from Sarah as she struggled through the final few contractions, then there was a loud piercing cry and a babble of happy voices.

Alex's hand closed convulsively on Walter's and they looked at each other in wonder before turning back to stare through the glass, waiting anxiously for their first glimpse of the baby.

They didn't have long to wait and what happened then had been agreed months before between them and Sarah and Dr. Elverson. The doctor carried the newborn to the paediatrician and watched the examination. It only took a few minutes and she turned to give them a 'thumbs up' sign. A nurse took over then and began cleaning up the baby while the obstetrician stripped off her gown and pushed through the swing door into the room where Alex and Walter stood waiting.

"Congratulations, dads," she told them with a broad grin on her face. "A healthy boy, seven pounds, eight ounces."

They held onto each other openly then, rocking back and forth in euphoric delight.

"The nurse will bring baby Skinner in for you to hold very shortly," she continued when they let go of each other. "These next few hours are really important, so take your time. Remember, lots of close contact like we discussed. Now, I need to get back to Sarah."

"Doctor," Alex asked, "is Sarah okay?"

"She's very tired, but she's come through it well." The doctor's happy expression turned wistful. "We knew this part wasn't going to be easy."

That much they'd all appreciated from the very beginning, and talking it through in the first weeks after the pregnancy was confirmed, they'd agreed that the baby would be brought to Walter and Alex as soon as it was born.

'You two are going to be the parents,' Sarah had said, 'not me. I want this baby to have as strong a bond as possible with you. I have my own babies. I know how important that is. And I think it will be easier for me that way.'

"Tell her thank you for us, will you?" Walter asked.

"You can tell her that yourself later."

"Yeah," Walter said, answering for both of them.

The doctor pulled on a fresh gown and held the door open for the nurse carrying the precious blue bundle.

"Which dad is going to hold him first?" the nurse asked.

They looked at each other a little thrown by the question, but it was only a second before Alex recovered.

"Walter will take him," he told the nurse and guided the older man to sit on one of the uncomfortable metal stools that stood about the room.

The nurse gently placed the tiny baby in Walter's open arms and waited until he was securely settled before releasing her hold, then very quietly she left the two men to get to know their son.

Alex stood behind Walter and reached over to fold the blanket back. Big, blue, unfocussed eyes peered up at them from a red, crumpled, cross looking face. An oceanful of emotion washed over Walter Skinner at the sight, so broad and deep and overwhelming that he was powerless to do anything but be carried along by it to some new and very different place.

"Hello," he said softly, "it's good to know you."

The baby gurgled and squirmed in his arms. Walter grinned up at Alex, who grinned back at him and said proudly, "I'm a dad."

Walter laughed. "Me too."

The baby's hand worked free of the blanket and reached upward. Alex laid his finger against the little palm and watched in awe as the baby's fingers closed around it in a grip so tight it took his breath away.

"He's ... incredible," he whispered.

"Yes ... and he's ours." Walter looked up again at Alex and asked, "Are you as scared as I am?"

"Uh huh, I didn't expect it to be ... so ... overwhelming," Alex admitted, his words showing how in tune their feelings were.

"We did the right thing, didn't we Alex?"

Alex nodded towards the baby, "Dumb question, Walter. Look at him, he's beautiful ... and he's a Skinner. Look at that nose."

Walter laughed quietly. "Look at that hairline ... the foreshadowing of things to come?"

"Maybe not," Alex countered, "Elizabeth showed me your baby pictures. You had lots of hair as a newborn. Not that it matters ..." He leaned down to kiss the top of Walter's head.

"Sit down, Alex," Walter said, "time for you to hold him."

Alex settled himself on the stool next to Walter but got off it again almost immediately. "Wait a minute," he said, and slipped into the delivery room annex to pick up another blanket.

Getting back on the stool, he laid the folded blanket across his prosthesis and glanced up at Walter. "Okay, I'm ready," he said.

Walter stood up and carefully placed the baby in the crook of the false arm and watched as Alex wrapped his own arm around the small bundle to hold him in a close, secure embrace. Walter pulled a stool up in front of them and sat down.

"Say hello to your Daddy, Alexander," he told his son.

Alex glanced up at him in surprise. "But that's not one of the names we talked about-"

"If you recall, Alex," Walter interrupted, "you were the one doing all the talking about names. I was just biding my time. I've always wanted it to be Alexander ... or Alexandra." He stroked his finger along the soft, chubby cheek and smiled when the baby began mouthing and blew out a bubble of drool. "So he'll be Alexander Peter, named for you and your father. They're good strong family names, just like Skinner. Do you agree?"

Alex just nodded, gazing down at the baby with misty eyes.

They took turns holding and talking to Alexander for almost two hours until Dr. Elverson returned.

"So, how's it going?" she asked.

"It's going great," Alex answered. "He's beautiful."

She leaned down to look at the baby, lying in Walter's arms. "Yeah, you've got a cute one here," she agreed, sliding her forefingers into Alexander's grasping hands. "And a hungry one."

"Is that why he's been fretful for the last ten minutes or so?" Walter asked.

"Most likely," she said and right on cue the baby began sucking, his little face screwing up in frustration when nothing was placed in his mouth.

The doctor picked him up and rocked him placatingly. "A quick sponge bath and a few procedures to carry out, then you can take him to the room I've booked for you and give him his first feed. Okay?"

Donning their masks, they followed her into the annex and watched her unwrap him. They looked down at the fragile little body, squirming around in the warmth of the heat lamp. Alex nudged Walter meaningfully and they both grinned behind their masks.

"Yep, there it is boys, in all its glory," the doctor remarked, picking up on their body language. "It's always so cute seeing how significant this moment is for you dads."

She chuckled at their joint embarrassment and started the identification process by placing a print of Alexander's foot on his medical record. Next she put tagging bracelets on his wrist and ankle before handing him over to the neonatal nurse who bathed him quickly and efficiently. Towelling him off, the nurse laid him back down under a heat lamp where Dr. Elverson took a blood sample from his heel. Throughout the whole process Alexander cried with gusto.

"Great set of lungs," the doctor commented, patting his chest. "Yes, we know you're hungry, little man. It won't be long now."

"It's Alexander," Alex told her with pride.

"Ah, Alexander ... a fine name. One that will suit him, I think."

Diapered and wrapped in a fresh blanket, Alexander was handed back to Walter.

"You're checked into room 617," the doctor told them, "it's just down the hall. Nurse Ortiz will bring you the formula and I'll see you tomorrow for his full paediatric check."

"Thank you, Dr. Elverson," Walter said.

"It's been a good one," she told them before settling down to finish writing her notes.

Room 617 was pleasantly bright, with several large armchairs arranged round the bed. To one side stood a crib, already made up with a blue blanket and tagged - 'Baby Skinner'.

"Will you feed him?" Walter asked. "Then I can start making phone calls."

"Sure," Alex said, grabbing a pillow from the bed and getting comfortable in one of the armchairs.

Alexander stopped crying when he was laid down on the pillow but began again thirty seconds later when he realized no food was forthcoming, so it was with relief that they watched the nurse enter the room bringing the bottle of formula.

"Are you okay with feeding him?" she asked.

"Yeah," Alex told her. "My brother and his wife had a baby a year ago. We got in some practice then."

Walter was amused at the way Alex left out the part about the four months of childcare and parenting classes he'd signed them both up to at the University's family centre.

The nurse smiled at him and said, "The temperature's just right. If you want any help just press the call button."

"Thanks," they both said, watching enthralled as the tiny mouth latched onto the teat and began sucking in earnest.

"Well, we don't seem to have a fussy eater," Walter said, happily.

Alexander settled into a pattern that alternated between bouts of crazy sucking and short rests. It went on for almost ten minutes until he began drifting off to sleep. Alex set the bottle on the table and gently rolled him onto his tummy. A couple of firm pats on his back and a huge bubble of wind, accompanied by a little of the formula, escaped in a noisy burp.

"Oh yeah," Walter cheered him on as he cleaned up the little bit of goo and helped Alex turn him to lie on his back again.

"I'm going to call Elizabeth first," he said, carrying the phone over and setting it on the arm of the chair next to Alex's.

While Walter dialled and talked, explaining everything that had happened and describing the baby in detail to the delighted relatives on the other end of the phone, Alex just listened and watched their son sleep. It was only when Walter eventually got through to Olga that Alex asked for the phone.

"Hi, Olga," he said, propping the handset between his jaw and shoulder so he could keep his hand on the baby.

"Alex, I'm so happy for you ... and Walter. This is wonderful news."

"Thanks, sis. It's kind of hard to believe that it's real, but here he is in my arms."

Olga sniffed loudly and asked, "Will you email the pictures to me tonight? I can't wait to see him."

"What?" Alex frowned at Walter. "Oh, sure, I'll send them tonight, I promise."

Walter looked at him questioningly, but Alex just shook his head.

"Walter says you're naming him Alexander Peter," Olga continued. "That will really please Mom."

The was an uncomfortable silence, then Alex said, "Do you think so?"

"I do," Olga told him. "Do you want me to call her, Alex?"

Alex thought about the offer for a moment.

"Yes, do that, Olga. She needs to know. I'll talk to you later, sis."

Walter took the phone back and hung it up. He watched Alex trying to pretend that he wasn't hurt by Vera's refusal to accept what they had done. Not having her blessing and support was the only thing marring Alexander's arrival, and Walter felt her disapproval almost as keenly as did Alex.

"We forgot the digital camera," Alex said quietly, distracting him from the problem.

"Ah ... so that's what you were promising Olga."

"One of us had better go get it," Alex said.

"I'll go," Walter offered. "I want to call in with Sarah anyway."

He hunkered down in front of Alex's chair and planted a very gentle kiss on Alexander's forehead. "See you in a little while, half pint," he said then standing up, he leaned down and kissed Alex's mouth. "I'll be as quick as I can."

"We'll be here waiting for you."

He drove home, staying one kilometre below the speed limit all the way and once there he sat in the study for several long minutes staring at the phone. Making up his mind finally, he dialled Vera's number.

"Hello?"

"It's good to hear your voice, Vera. It's been too long."

"I know why you're calling, Walter. Olga already told me."

"Did she tell you how proud and happy Alex is?"

That's not fair, Walter," Vera chided him. "Of course I'm pleased and relieved that everything went well, but that doesn't make what you have done right."

"What could possibly be wrong with us bringing a child that we want and love into the world, Vera?"

"I really don't want to talk about this any more." She sounded upset and weary.

"I'm sorry if I've upset you, Vera," he told her sincerely, "but can I ask a favour?"

"What is it?"

"Can I send you a picture of Alexander Peter?"

She was silent for several minutes then she said, "Yes."

"Thank you, Vera."

He rang off then and went looking for the digital camera.

Sarah was just waking up from a sleep when he knocked on the door of her room.

"Come in," she called.

He carried in the large bouquet of roses and left them on the table over her bed.

"They're beautiful, Walter, thank you ... and Alex."

"We're the ones who should be saying thank you, Sarah ..." he paused for a moment, choosing his words carefully, "... he's absolutely perfect."

"When things are not so ... emotional, I'd like to see that for myself."

"Yes, we'd like that," he assured her. "You're feeling okay?"

"I'm fine ... a little down maybe, but when I see the kids tomorrow it'll help with that."

He looked at her guiltily.

"Oh, Walter, go spend time with your son, it will never be quite this special again, so enjoy it. Anyway, you're keeping me from my beauty sleep."

He kissed her on the cheek then and hurried back to 617, where he found Alex giving Alexander his second feed.

"About time," Alex declared. "I was getting ready to send out a search party."

"Want me to take over?"

"Nope, he's comfortable and I don't want to disturb him. You can take your turn with the next diaper change, though. Jeez, the first one was like something out of an X File."

Walter roared with laughter and took the camera out of its case.

An hour later, after nearly a hundred pictures had been carefully saved on several discs, Nurse Ortiz came in to take Alexander to the nursery. They felt uncomfortable about leaving him, but the nurse said, "Take my advice, go home and get a good night's sleep. When you've worked with as many babies as I have you get so you can read the signs. This one's cute, but he's not a sleeper."

It turned out to be very good advice. Not that they took it. They spent half the night talking about Alexander and planning his future and the other half making love. By seven thirty the next morning they were back at the hospital.

Two days later they brought him home. The first few hours were magical. Having been freshly bathed and diapered in the nursery, he was enveloped in that wonderful 'baby' smell. He lay between them in their bed, wide awake and kicking, lapping up the lavish attention and intent on the single minded purpose of getting something - anything - into his mouth.

Inevitably that led to hunger and Alex went down to the kitchen to make his seven o'clock feed. When it was ready and had been checked by both of them for temperature, Walter settled in the armchair and draped a towel over his polo shirt. Alex carried Alexander over to him then handed him the bottle. They both watched in fascination as the formula disappeared into the tiny stomach.

Almost immediately afterwards, it became obvious that a diaper change was required and they decided to combine it with bath time, so Walter turned the thermostat up several degrees and fussed over the temperature of the bath water. When it was judged perfect, they undressed Alexander and lowered him into the water. Little kicking legs and punching fists told them Alexander thought it was perfect too, and not even the scary moment when Walter found out just how slippery a wet baby could be, spoiled the happy time.

Diapered and dressed in a pale lemon sleep suit they laid him down in the crib beside their bed and covered him with a light blanket. It was only 8.30 but they turned out all the lights, except for the glow lamp, and climbed into bed to watch him fall asleep. He yawned and stretched for a few minutes, then his eyes fluttered closed and he was gone. Alex brought in the pillows from the guest room so he could have a clear view of the crib from where he lay, spooned in behind Walter.

They found watching the baby's chest rise and fall with every breath strangely addictive. It was also strangely soothing and after an hour they both drifted off. All three of them shared ten minutes of blissful sleep, until Alexander woke up suddenly and wailed like a banshee, wanting dinner and a floorshow. That set the pattern for the rest of the night, and the next six months.

They handled it okay the first week, mostly because they were both at home, Walter taking a week's 'family friendly' leave from the Bureau and Alex starting his three-month paternity leave, two weeks early, from the University. But by the end of the third week, their usually well-ordered household had descended into chaos.

Every surface in the family room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom was littered with 'baby stuff'. Walter had long since used up his supply of laundered shirts and was reduced to wearing the least crumpled one he could find in the dryer that morning. The only 'meals' being prepared were of baby formula. Everything else arrived in, and was eaten out of fast food packaging. But worst of all, Walter was forced to sleep in the guest bedroom so that he didn't turn up for work at the Hoover looking like a zombie.

No matter how wonderful Alexander was and how much they enjoyed every minute spent feeding, or bathing, or being with him, things were getting desperate. Elizabeth was the first to pick up on the exhaustion in Walter's voice when she called to get a report on her nephew's progress the day he was a month old. Her brother sounded like he was suffering from terminal jetlag and, for the first time since the baby had been born, he wasn't full of stories that illustrated how clever and advanced Alexander was for his age. She wisely didn't press the issue on the phone, but the following morning at eleven o'clock, she pulled into their driveway with enough 'take charge' attitude for an entire S.W.A.T. team.

She experienced only marginal resistance when the two men realized her intention.

"We can do this, Bethy -" Walter began.

"I know that, Walter, but you and Alex don't have to do it all by yourselves. That's what families are for. When I was doing this the first time, I had Mom at my beck and call for as long as I needed her ... and Jack's Mom ... and his older sisters. Anyway, I want to be part of Alexander's life ... let me help out."

She reached out for the grouchy baby on Alex's lap and after an especially intense cuddle and kiss from his Daddy she was allowed to pick him up.

"Is the clever baby gonna show his Auntie Beth where everything is?" she cooed into Alexander's face and was rewarded with an excited gurgle.

"His next feed is made up in the refrigerator. He's due it in about half an hour -" Alex began to explain.

"That's fine, Alex. I'll find where everything is soon enough, but first of all I want to get to know this precious little darling," she interrupted him.

To Alex those were the magic words and he let down his guard to show how weary he truly was.

Elizabeth frowned at them and issued a directive, "Go get some sleep both of you, before you fall down."

They slept soundly until seven o'clock that evening and came down to find the house back in order and a delicious smelling casserole cooking in the oven.

Elizabeth looked up from the shirt she was ironing and pointed to the baby asleep in his bassinet.

"Alexander and I had a lovely day," she told them. "We had a nice walk to the grocery store and did a little shopping, then we had a long play. He's had two good feeds and he just went down to sleep about twenty minutes ago. So we can have a nice dinner together and afterwards he'll be ready for his bath."

Walter was moved to give his sister a hug. "Thanks, Bethy," he said for both of them.

"No problem. I'm enjoying this," she told him, "and after dinner I want you to move Alexander's bassinet up to the guest room. He'll be fine sleeping in it for a couple of nights while you two catch up on your sleep. Are you okay with that, Alex?"

"Oh yeah," Alex said, gratefully, "that sounds real good."

It turned out to be a great weekend and the normality that returned with Elizabeth's help gave them the chance to draw breath and spend some quality time with Alexander. The following Friday, Olga flew in for four days and it was suddenly apparent that there was some kind of co-ordination going on between the two families. Thankfully it wasn't obtrusive. They didn't need a whole lot more than the occasional extra pair of hands and lots of well tried and trusted advice at the end of a friendly phone line, and that was exactly what they got.

Alexander didn't become any less high maintenance and the two of them had to learn to live with being continually sleep deprived, but it was manageable and the plain joy of having him outweighed all the discomforts - even the need to down grade their sex life to economy class.

Only one dark cloud hovered on their horizon, the loss of their relationship with Alex's mother. Olga had been doing her bit, as had Peter, to bring them back together, but it was Walter's insight and stubborn hope that finally healed the breach. Every week since Alexander had been born, he had sent Vera an email containing a picture of Alex and the baby and a little note of something important or cute that had happened.

The first ten emails brought no response. It was the eleventh, dispatched two weeks before Alex was due to return to the University that hit pay dirt. The picture attached to it had shown Alexander sleeping on the couch on his tummy. Vera emailed back immediately.

To: walteralex@c.ville-metro.com
From: vsvetlov@bradenton.floridanet
Subject: Danger for infants

Walter, thank you for the picture of Alexander asleep on the couch. I'm a little concerned to see that he was sleeping on his front on such a soft material. You probably already know that it is not considered a safe position for babies to sleep in, but just in case I want to draw your attention to the danger. Vera

Walter printed it out and carried it out to the back yard where Alex was watching the baby. He handed it over and sat down the lounger opposite his lover's. Alex read through it several times then looked up at him, questioningly.

"I think we should fly down there this weekend," Walter said, hoping to sound more confident than he felt.

"I don't know ..."

"In my experience these situations get worse not better as time goes on. We don't have any contact with your Mom as things stand ... so why not take the risk?"

Alex nodded his agreement and, though he said nothing, his eyes told the story of how much he wanted this to work.

"I'll go call the airlines, see what flights are available for Friday. Why don't you call Olga and check that your Mom's going to be home this weekend?"

Friday afternoon around four, they finally pulled up outside the farmhouse in Bradenton. The whole journey, but particularly the flight, had been a nightmare, with Alexander crying and fretting continually. As soon as the car stopped moving, Alex got out and began unfastening Alexander from his car seat. Walter walked up on the porch and knocked on the screen door. There was no answer, and it was obvious that the whole house was locked up and empty so they had no choice but to settle down on the porch settee and wait for Vera's return.

It was over an hour later when Alex at last spotted her old Ford estate approaching along the farm road. He lifted the still inconsolable Alexander out of Walter's arms and stood up. When she pulled her car in beside theirs, Vera stared up at the pair of them through the windscreen for a little while before getting out and walking up the porch steps. She gave her son a long, hard look, then looked down at the baby and asked, "What have they been doing to you, Alexander Peter?" as she cupped her hand around his wet cheek.

"Hi, Mom," Alex said.

"Hi indeed," she answered, curtly, "let me get the door open so we can bring this little one inside."

The first hour of the visit was thankfully taken up with the practical matters of getting Alexander fed and changed and all his things unpacked and set up. Vera hovered over Walter and Alex throughout, casting a critical eye on their performance. Despite their best efforts to provide comfort in all its forms, Alexander went on crying pitifully. Even the usually popular position of being shushed back and forth on his tummy in Walter's big hands had no effect.

"What are you doing, Walter?" Vera asked. "This baby is anxious enough without being dangled in midair like that. Give him to me."

She held the baby close to her body and began pacing gently back and forth, in time to her singing.

Bai, bai, bai, bai,
Byu, Detusku mayu!
Bai, bai, bai, bai,
Byu, Detusku mayu!
Shta na gerki, na gorye,
O visyennei, o porye,
Ptachki Bozhiye payst,
F tyumnam lyisi gnyuzda vyut.

As if by magic, the painful crying ceased. Walter and Alex looked at each other in relief.

"What do the words say?" Walter whispered, sitting down on the couch beside Alex.

Alex listened to the lullaby a second time, and whispered back,

Bai, bai, bai, bai,
Bayu, orchid, little dear.
Bai, bai, bai, bai,
Bayu, orchid, little dear.

He listened again ... "It's difficult to translate them literally, but they talk about how the birds on the hillside sing as they search for food and shelter for the fledglings."

"It's lovely," Walter murmured, "and it's working."

Alex said nothing, he just lay his head back against the cushions and gratefully watched 'grandmother' and 'grandson' establish their bond.

Alexander slept until almost the end of the pleasant dinner. Although the talk revolved around him, it mostly had to do with how he was progressing and how they were coping. The only question Vera asked about the circumstances of his birth, had to do with the legal status of Alex's relationship to the baby. His assurance that he would have full parental rights once the lawyers were done put her mind at rest on the matter and she got up to make coffee.

Alexander began crying.

"Hungry baby alert," Walter said in an ominous tone. "Why don't you take care of that, Alex, while I wash up the dishes?"

Vera took her mug of coffee out to the screened back porch where Alex had settled down to feed the baby. She turned on the radio and tuned it to WTMI - the classical music station out of Palm Beach. The andante movement from the Mozart piano concerto in C was being played. Walter listened to the soothing music and tried not to make too much clatter with the dishes. When they were finished and put away, he poured his coffee and headed for the back porch.

As he put his hand on the screen door handle, Vera glanced over at him and placed her finger against her lips.

"Shhhh ..."

He opened the door and closed it behind him gently, making sure it didn't bang shut on its spring. Sitting down beside Vera, he looked over at the irresistible sight of Alexander lying fast asleep on his sleeping Daddy's chest.

"I've been a foolish, old woman," Vera whispered to him, a wry smile gracing her face.

"I don't recognise you in that description, Vera," Walter told her. "You just had to get to know him."

"He's wonderful," she said a little tearfully.

Walter caught hold of her hand. "You know, I may be Alexander's biological father, but Alex is the one who wanted him. In my book, that makes him our child in every way that counts."

Vera wiped away her tears and raised her coffee mug. "To Alexander Peter," she said as loudly as she dared.

"Alexander Peter," Walter replied, clinking his coffee mug to hers.

They each took a sip of the strong, aromatic brew and settled back in the couch. Against the screens the tulip tree moths buzzed and fluttered, drawn to where the warm glow of the porch lamps spilled out into the darkness of the night.

finis

Russian lullaby translation

Bai, bai, bai, bai,
Bayu, orchid, little dear.
Bai, bai, bai, bai,
Bayu, orchid, little dear.
On the hillside in the spring,
Birds of heaven sweetly sing,
Seeking for their young what's best
In the forest dark they nest.

You can hear a snatch of the song here - http://www.songsforteaching.com/Bai.html
 

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