Catalogs covered the kitchen table. Index cards with names written on them sat in neat little stacks, grouped together by tens. “Babe, we can’t have my Cousin Kristi next to my Cousin Julia.” Holly grabbed the card that said KRISTI LEAH. She twisted her auburn hair around her fingers. Seeing a position she liked, Holly moved the card next to the one that said JULIA MILLER.
“Who is Julia again?” Jimmy asked. His forehead rested on the table. His fingers interlocked on the back of his head.
Holly rolled her hazel green eyes. “Oh my God!? I’ve told you three times. She’s my mother’s bingo partner.”
Jimmy lifted his head and threw his hands up in the air. “Bingo partner?! We’re inviting bingo partners now?! What happened to a small wedding?”
“We invited your old babysitter, Veronica. How is this different?”
“That woman changed my diapers! Have you even met Julia?”
“No, but I get a Christmas card from her every year.”
Jimmy dropped his head back on the table. “This is ridiculous. Let’s fly to Vegas.”
“Oh! So now you want to get married by Elvis?”
“I have a cousin, Sal, who could arrange it.” Jimmy reached for his phone, tapped his contacts list, and brought up Sal’s picture. “See, there he is. Right next to the King.”
Holly grabbed his phone and looked. “That’s not the real Elvis. Not enough sequins. Plus, your mother would have a heart attack if her baby eloped.” She tossed the phone back on the table and plopped into a chair. “How long have we been at this?” she asked looking at the clock on the microwave.
“Do you mean today or since I proposed?” Jimmy lifted his head and grabbed the cards. “Why can’t we go in alphabetical order and let them all figure it out?” He threw the cards on the table.
Holly grabbed at the cards to put them in order. “Do you really want to put Alana next to April?” Holly asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes. We can put baseball bats and pipes at each table. Open the bar and watch the fun. We could even make money by selling tickets to watch it. Fifty bucks each. Boom. Wedding is paid for.”
Holly pinched the bridge of her nose. “You know, sometimes your sarcasm is so on the point I can’t tell if you’re serious or joking.”
“You know you would love to see my Cousin Kayla stand up to my Aunt Irene.” Jimmy rolled his shoulders. The stress of planning a wedding was taking its toll on him.
Holly buried her hands in her hair. “What I would love is for you to take this seriously.”
“You want me to be serious? How about we worry about who we should invite and who will be in the wedding before we start a seating chart? Do we even know what the budget is?”
Holly sighed. “You’re right. I guess I was rushing things a little. OK. I promise to slow down if you promise to take part and keep an open mind about things.”
Jimmy crossed his heart and held his right hand up. “I, Jimmy Natale, promise to be a good future husband and help my future wife plan the wedding of her dreams. I also promise not to make fun of her Uncle Andy’s Disco Era Wedding Suit or her Aunt Donna’s habit of keeping baggies of food in her purse.”
Holly’s mouth hung open. “Oh my God! You are such a dork!”
Jimmy stood up, walked over to his fiancé, bent over and kissed her forehead. “That’s why you love me.”
“Uh huh.” Holly rolled her eyes, smiled, and pushed him away.
Their story was not a love at first sight kind. In fact, Holly Leach didn’t think much of Jimmy when they first met. That’s because he didn’t say much or even make eye contact with her. It was supposed to be a double date, but it was more like two people on a date and two strangers trying to think of interesting things to say to each other. Holly wrinkled her nose when Jimmy mentioned he worked and lived at a funeral home. Jimmy didn’t even know what Manga was. Holly had to describe it and her job as an illustrator. When she realized he still wasn’t getting it she settled with, “It’s like anime but in books.”
The first three dates went on like this. There was no reason either one should have agreed to see the other. There was no chemistry. No sparks. No fireworks. And yet they kept agreeing to the next date as long as it was a double date. Jimmy requested it. He felt having other people there would help keep things from getting too awkward.
Jimmy had plenty of first date experience. He couldn’t say the same thing for second dates. Third dates were as elusive as unicorns and fairies. He heard the same thing repeatedly.
“You’re a really great guy.”
“You’ve got an interesting personality.”
“You’re just not my type.”
“It’s not you; it’s me.”
Jimmy knew it was him. All of him. At twenty two years old Jimmy stood six feet four inches tall and weighed two hundred and seventy pounds. In a time when everyone was talking about how sexy Brad Pitt was and how hot George Clooney was Jimmy looked more like Peter Griffin from “Family Guy.” The only difference was Jimmy had a beard and darker hair. He was convinced he would be a bachelor forever.
And then it was Halloween. Halloween was never one of Jimmy’s favorite holidays. He was never a fan of spooks and scares. But, Holly invited him to a friend’s costume party. There was only one costume Jimmy could think of wearing. He showed up to pick up Holly at her parents’ house. He rang the bell. When her father opened the door there stood Jimmy dressed as Santa Claus. Holly popped up behind her father dressed as an elf from her favorite book, “The Hobbit.” Her long auburn hair was braided in small, intricate strands and arranged so her pointed ears peeked out. The green of her dress matched her eyes. Even down to the flecks of gold. Jimmy’s heart jumped into his throat. His cheeks and ears flushed. His mouth ran dry. “Bye, Dad. I’ll be home by three.” And she kissed her father’s cheek, grabbed Jimmy by the hand, and waved good bye.
Everyone thought it was planned. Santa and an elf. And maybe it was planned God, the universe, or some other force of nature. Whatever it was Jimmy knew one thing that night. He loved this girl. When he dropped her off home a sudden wave of courage washed over him and he kissed her. He didn’t know what to expect. He half expected her to push him away, scream, and tell him to never bother her again. Much to his surprise that didn’t happen. Holly leaned into him and kissed him back. “So, I’ll call you tomorrow?” he asked.
“Tomorrow would be great.” She waved good bye and closed the door. Jimmy made a promise to himself. He would marry that elf.
“Come on, we’ve got to get organized. We don’t even have a date to put on the invitation.” She pulled a calendar out from under the piles of catalogs. “If we do October, we only have three months to get everything together.”
“There’s always my idea.” Jimmy flipped the calendar to December. Holly sighed. Jimmy put his hands on her shoulders. “Baby, hear me out. We would have more time to save and prepare. And you can guarantee I’ll never forget our anniversary.”
Holly placed her hands on Jimmy’s hips. “Only if I get to invite my Uncle Dave.”
“Drunkle Dave can totally be there. We need the comic relief.”
Holly stood on her tiptoes to kiss Jimmy. “A Christmas wedding it will be.”
Jimmy paced outside bathroom door. He scratched the back of his head. He looked at his cell phone. The timer ticked down from five minutes. “Anything yet?” he yelled at the bathroom door.
“What does the timer say?” Holly replied from the other side of the door.
“It says we should have spent another five bucks for one of those digital tests that can tell you in two minutes.”
“We’ve waited ten years, Babe. Another three minutes won’t kill us.”
“That’s what you say. I feel like I’m having a heart attack.”
“Remember what Doctor Beaver said. Stress is bad for this process. Take a breath in two, three, four. Hold it two, three, four. And release two, three, four. Everything will be OK.”
The sound of Christmas bells startled Jimmy to the point he almost dropped his phone. “It’s time. It’s time. It’s time. What’s it say?”
Holly didn’t answer. “Baby, what does it say?” Still no answer. The door knob turned. Holly held the little stick in her hand. Jimmy saw her hand was shaking. His heart sank. He brushed Holly’s long hair over her ear. “It’ll be OK. We’ll keep trying. Like before. It’ll be OK.”
Holly stood on her toes and whispered in his ear, “It’s OK. You’re going to be a daddy.”
“Hey, Babe, I think we need to talk.” Holly said as she closed the spare bedroom door. The bells on the door handle jingled as they hit the door.
Jimmy came down the hall, pulling his t-shirt down over his belly. “What’s up?”
Holly pointed to the spare bedroom door. “We will need this room soon. Maybe we should think about moving the collection somewhere.”
Jimmy crossed his arms in front of him. “What did you have in mind?” He leaned against the door frame.
Holly knew what that meant. It would be the same old discussion leading to the same old fight. Then it would be the same old apologies and the same old empty promises. The last time she brought up moving the collection was boxing up day. She figured that would be a good time since everything was already out of the room. At that point she just found out she was pregnant. Like any mother, she wanted to plan and making room for the new addition.
“Where am I going to put it all?” Jimmy asked. “This is a lifetime of collecting. It’s not like stamps that all fit in a neat little book and then it all goes on a shelf. Some of these are vintage. You have to keep them safe and secured. You can’t pick these up in a Wal-Mart.”
“We have a garage. We don’t even put our cars in the garage. The collection will be fine in there.”
Jimmy shook his head and stuck his bottom lip out. “No, absolutely not. The garage isn’t prepared for some of this stuff. The humidity will destroy the cards. I’ve had those cards all my life.”
Holly sighed. His face was turning red. She could hear him breathing. She watched his nostrils flare. “Fine. Today isn’t the day to do this. Just, please, think about the baby and where he will be.”
Jimmy dropped his arms and walked to his wife. His breathing slowed and his face returned to its normal color. He put his hand on her belly. “You know I hear co-sleeping is great for building those crucial family bonds.”
Holly put her hand over his. “Co-sleeping?”
“Yeah, It’ll be great. Plus it makes breastfeeding easier.”
“Who said anything about breastfeeding?”
Jimmy stepped back and leaned back against the wall. “Yeah, of course. You know what they say. Breast is best.”
“That’s because they’re not your breasts.”
“I’m only thinking of the baby.”
“You’re only thinking of how big my boobs will get.”
Jimmy’s eyes got wide. He put his hands up to his mouth. “Does that happen? I had no idea.”
Holly leaned over and kissed her husband on the cheek. She wrinkled her nose. His three week beard tickled and scratched her nose and lips. “You win this round. But we will need to think about this.”
“This is what you get for talking before my first cup of coffee.” Jimmy pushed himself off the wall and followed Holly into the kitchen. This wouldn’t be the last time she would bring this up. But the longer he could push off the inevitable the better. For now, he was comfortable with things the way they were and he would keep it that way.
Holly turned on the light on her night stand. She put her hand on her swollen belly and winced. She reached over and shook her husband awake. “Babe, it’s time.”
Jimmy reached for his phone and hit the round button on the bottom. “It’s 2:43 in the morning.”
“No, not what time is it. It’s time.” She said as she negotiated her way out of the bed.
Jimmy sat bolt upright and whipped his head around to see Holly waddle to the closet. “Wait. What? Are you sure?”
“The contractions are steady at around five minutes. I’m sure. We need to get going.” Holly tried to bend down to get her hospital bag and shoes. “Yeah, you’re going to have to get these for me.”
Jimmy pulled his sweatpants on and sprinted over to the closet. He slid his wife’s shoes on her feet and grabbed her black bag. He scooped up his phone, wallet, and keys and out the door they went.
Twenty minutes later Holly was being wheeled into labor and delivery. Jimmy tried to keep up with the nurse as he scribbled his wife’s information on an endless stack of papers. Once Holly was in the bed, the nurse prepped her for the epidural.
Jimmy was on the phone with his mom. “Yes, Mom. We’re in OB4. Just get here when you can. Yeah, let Mikey know for me. Love ya, too.”
“OK, Dad, it’s baby time. Do you want to catch, cut, or both?” Dr. Beaver asked as the nurse tied the back of her surgical gown.
The color drained from Jimmy’s face as he broke into a light sweat. He stroked his wife’s hair. “I’m just going to stay on this end if that’s OK.” He never understood how his dad could handle human bodily fluids all these years. Just the thought of blood made Jimmy dizzy.
“It’s not for everyone. OK, places, people. And Mom, let’s get one good push starting… now.”
Seven pushes later Joseph Michael Natale was born at 4:05 AM with a full head of thick black hair. He measured twenty inches long and weighed six pounds and thirteen ounces. Jimmy leaned over and kissed Holly on the forehead. “He’s beautiful, Baby. He’s a beautiful baby. He’s the most beautiful baby that ever was. Just look at those eyelashes. He’s got those Snuffaluffagus eyelashes.”
And the nurses agreed. “I’ve paid good money for eyelashes that didn’t look half that good,” one nurse said.
“I have never seen eyelashes that long ever unless they were glued on,” the nurse said as she handed a freshly cleaned and swaddled bundle to Jimmy. Tears flowed from his eyes as held his son. Jimmy brushed the baby’s hair out of his eyes and kissed his nose. The baby fussed so Jimmy handed him over to his mama. Holly positioned the baby, and with the help of a nurse, and fed him.
“He’s nursing like a champ. I’ll leave you all to get acquainted. Congratulations,” the nurse said as she walked out closing the door behind her.
Jimmy sat in the chair next to the bed and watched his wife and son. An incredible sense of peace washed over him. His heart felt warm and light, like he had no cares in the world. For this moment everything was perfect. This was all so new to him and yet familiar. This feeling of all is right with the world was something he had only experienced once a year. That time was Christmas time. Here it was, the eighteenth of September and he felt like it was Christmas morning. But this was better than Christmas. Something he never thought he would ever think. It was better because he knew this would be every day. This feeling would last forever. And just like Christmas it took a newborn baby boy to bring the feeling to life. A smile grew on his face.
“He’s definitely your son. You would think he’s never eaten before. I mean, if you think about it, he really never has…” Holly pulled her gaze from her son and looked at Jimmy. “What are you thinking?” she asked.
“That I have been delivered, and it’s all because of you two. And that I’m the luckiest, most blessed man that ever walked the earth.”
“We’re the lucky ones.”
“I’ll move the collection to the garage today,” he said as flat as he was telling the time.
Holly’s eyebrows shot up. “Babe, are you sure?”
Jimmy nodded. “You deserve it. He deserves it. He’ll have a room by the time you come home. With a crib and everything. I’ll call my brother. He can help.”
“I don’t know what to say. I mean thank you. But really?”
Jimmy nodded. “Really.”
“I love you. I appreciate it. We both do. I know it’s difficult -”
“That doesn’t matter. It’s stuff. You deserve better and so does he.” Jimmy stood up and walked to the bed. “I’ll let you two rest. I’ve got work to get done.” He touched his forehead to Holly’s then kissed her. “See you soon, Baby.” Then he kissed the baby on the nose and said, “Good night. Sleep tight. See you in the morning light. I love you.” He left his wife and son in the hospital room but before he closed the door he turned and watched them basking in the glow of love and life. “You’re my Christmas morning,” Jimmy whispered, and he shut the door.
“Close your eyes. I want it to be a surprise.” Jimmy was holding his three-day-old son as he guided Holly down the hall to the spare bedroom.
“If I close my eyes, I’ll walk into the wall. Besides, the door is closed so it will be a surprise.”
“I would never let you walk into a wall.” They stopped in front of the door. The same old bells hung on the door knob. A wreath hung on the door. It was blue and silver with snowflakes on it. “Are you ready?”
Holly nodded. “OK, three, two, one, here we go.” Jimmy opened the door and Holly’s eyes grew large. Where once was an enormous collection of Christmas blow molds, tubs of lights, boxes of Christmas cards, and a small forest of miniature Christmas trees was now a crib with blue and white bedding decorated with snowflakes. A rocking chair sat in a corner. There was a blue snowflake shaped rug on the floor. An armoire painted white with silver drawer pulls was anchored to the wall. The walls themselves were a sight to see. The walls were painted to look like the North Pole complete with glitter paint to simulate snow and ice.
Jimmy stood in the door way beaming ear to ear. Holly couldn’t believe her eyes. “Is it really all gone?” she asked as she walked into the room. She touched the walls as if touching them would make it more real in her mind. Holly walked to the rocking chair and sat in it. She gave it a few test rocks and smiled.
“It’s not gone. I made room for more important things.” Jimmy showed Baby Joey the pictures on the walls.
Holly walked to crib. Inside she saw something that caught her eye. The only red thing in the whole room, a stuffed toy Santa doll. She picked up the doll. “Babe, isn’t this yours?”
Jimmy stepped toward her, took the doll, and showed it to the baby. “He needs it more than I do.” The new father placed the doll back in the crib and turned to Holly. He raised his eyebrows. “Do you like it? Is it OK?”
Holly wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck, stepped up on her toes, and kissed him. “I love it and I love you. Thank you for this.”
Jimmy repositioned the baby in his arms. He brushed the baby’s hair from his eyes. “Do you think he’ll like it?”
“If he’s anything like his father, I know he will.”
You can hear me read it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY4FeSmemaA