The multi-colored lights twinkled brightly on the small tree, casting their reflection on the snow covered window. The man had placed a wooden rocking chair beside the window for his wife, but during those interminable night hours, he claimed it as his own. He had spent many restless nights rocking back and forth as the child slept peacefully in his arms.
It was the child’s first Christmas, but at two months old, he wasn’t aware of the tree or the gaily-wrapped gift boxes stacked underneath. The man worried desperately about the child, knowing that the doctor had said his very survival was a miracle. Already it was obvious that his development would be slow, due not only to the circumstances of his birth, but to events during his mother’s pregnancy as well, the severity of which the man had only recently discovered.
“He gave you life, then hurt you,” the man mused silently, a single tear falling softly onto the baby’s downy head. Charles Jacob Regan was a constant reminder of his wife’s first love, but he had learned to bury the pain, thankful that she would never know just how much it had hurt him seeing her soft features so perfectly blended with Jim’s.
The days spent caring for the child as his wife struggled to cling to life had helped, forging a bond between the man and the infant, a bond that he sometimes thought couldn’t have been any stronger if the child were his own flesh and blood. Knowing the child was suffering, he whispered softly, “If I could take it away, little one, I would.”
The infant moved slightly, whimpering as if he understood the whispered words. The man gently shifted him to his shoulder, rubbing his back until he fell asleep again. “What kind of life will you be able to have?” he wondered, not for the first time. A new thought struck him, and he tightened his hold on the child. “Will you even have a chance for one?”
He knew it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The child should have been born healthy and strong in a hospital, not weak and frail at home. He sighed heavily, knowing that the child should never have been born at all.
“Trixie! You’re supposed to be happy at Christmastime, not looking like you’ve lost your best friend,” Regan teased as she listlessly brushed Susie. “You’re going to depress my horses.”
“I’m sorry, Regan,” she shook her head. “It’s been a long week.”
“I know something’s wrong now,” he chuckled. “I’ve never heard you complain that your vacations were too long!”
The seventeen-year old giggled in spite of herself, but soon sighed heavily. “It’s all part of growing up, I guess.”
“Anything you want to talk about?” he asked, ignoring the warning signals his mind was sending him.
“Not really, but…” she trailed off, obviously blinking back tears.
Understanding hit him. “It’s Jim again, isn’t it?”
“How’d you guess?” she asked bitterly. “For someone so smart, he’s having trouble understanding the words ‘I’m not ready yet.'”
Regan’s heart twisted as he watched her start to cry. “You can’t let him push you into anything you’re not ready for, Trixie. Even if it means letting him go.”
“I can’t!” she choked. “I love him too much to lose him!”
He awkwardly patted her shoulder, her tears affecting him more than she would ever dream. “Don’t worry, Trix. If he really loves you, he’ll be willing to wait for you.”
“I know he loves me, but there are so many beautiful girls at his school!” She shook her head, tears streaming down her face. “I’ve already told you about Dot; she’s been wanting him for years.” Suddenly she looked up at him, her voice breaking as she spoke. “Why couldn’t I have been born beautiful and glamourous? Why did I always have to be just ‘Tomboy Trixie?'”
It had been all he could do not to tell her how beautiful she really was, but he had known that that would just make matters worse. Still, he hadn’t really been surprised to hear her news a few months later.
“Regan, can I borrow Susie?” Trixie asked tearfully. “I promise I’ll be careful, and clean the tack when I get back.”
“Are you really up for riding, Trix?” Regan asked, alarmed at the expression in her eyes.
“No,” she admitted bluntly, “but I don’t feel like taking a walk either. If I do, I might just keep walking. If I have Susie, I know I’ll come back.”
The pain and agony on her face tore at his very soul, but the thought of her just walking away was even worse. “Okay, Trix.” He gently took her hand and led her back to the office. “Tell me what happened.”
“You don’t want to know,” she said bitterly. “I fooled myself into thinking I was a detective, but I was blind, Regan. Blind and stupid.”
“Trixie!” he exclaimed. “What happened?”
“I caught him,” she sobbed. “He’s been avoiding me since Valentine’s Day, so I finally snuck into the city last week.”
Regan didn’t have to ask who “he” was. “Did you see him?”
Her sobs increased, and not realizing what he was doing, he pulled her close to him. “Yes,” she wept on his chest. “He was with HER, Regan! Of all people, he was with HER!”
“Shh, Trixie,” he tried to console her. “Maybe they were just studying together.”
“Naked?” She pulled far enough way to look him in the eye, bitterness evident in her own. “He told me he loved me! How could I have been so blind?”
“You loved him, Trix.” He answered simply, forcing himself to ignore the pain his own words caused him. “But you can’t blame yourself. You had no reason not to believe him.”
“Yeah, I did,” she muttered, flushing as she pulled completely away from him. She wandered over to the window, not looking at him when she finally spoke in a small voice. “I did something really stupid, Regan.”
His heart sank as he realized what she was talking about. Even though he had long ago accepted that she would never be his, he was unprepared for the intense pain that shot through him when she continued.
“It was supposed to make things right between us,” she wept, covering her face with her hands, “but everything got so much worse! It was like he didn’t even want to be around me, then after I saw them, he started blaming me for everything!”
“It wasn’t your fault, Trixie,” he assured her.
“I should have known better,” she moaned. “I thought he loved me! I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. Regan, this is even making me sick!”
“Physically sick?” he asked worriedly. When she nodded, he took a deep breath, deciding to change the subject. “I suppose all the Bob-Whites are furious at Jim for sneaking around.”
“They don’t know,” she whispered, shaking her head. “I can’t tell them, Regan. If I do, it’ll be the end of everything!”
The infant moved in his sleep, stirring him from his reverie. “It’ll be okay, little one,” he whispered. “I’ll protect you.” He closed his eyes. “I just wish I could have protected your mother.”
“Trixie, are you going through the preserve? You know Susie needs the exercise,” Regan called when he spotted her walking across the field.
“I know, Regan,” Trixie answered. “I just, I just can’t ride her right now.”
He was alarmed to see tears in her eyes. “Trixie! What’s wrong?”
“I went to the doctor this morning,” she reluctantly admitted. She stared down at the floor as she stammered, “I… I… I’m pregnant!”
Even though he had been expecting it, the news still came as somewhat of a shock as he took her in his arms. As she cried on his shoulder, the plans he had idly contemplated solidified, and he knew that he couldn’t let her go through this alone.
Regan held her until her sobs eased and she pulled away from him. He waited until they were in his office, then gently asked, “Have you told Jim?”
“No! I don’t want him to know, and I can’t go to the Wheeler’s, because they’ll tell Jim, and he won’t care, and I don’t know what I’m going to do! I thought about having an, an, an abortion, but I can’t do that, and I… I…” her words ran together, trailing off as she dissolved into tears once again.
He pulled her to him, holding her as if she were a small child awakening from a nightmare. “Trixie, calm down. Listen to me. It’s not good for the baby or for you to get this upset. It’s going to be all right, you’ll see.”
“How?” she asked through her tears. “I can’t raise a child by myself! I’d just die if I had to give it up, but I can’t let Jim know, either!”
He didn’t have to think twice about what he was going to say, but he didn’t answer her until she stopped crying. He gently turned her face towards his, so that she was looking into his eyes. “Marry me, Trixie.”
Any idea that he might have had that she had been hoping for him to propose vanished when he saw the shock on her face as she whispered, “What, what did you say?”
“I said marry me.” He held her hand in his. “I’ll put my name on the birth certificate, and no one will ever have to know that it’s not my child. I promise I’ll be a good husband to you and a good father to the child.”
“Are you serious, Regan?”
“Trixie, you know I wouldn’t joke about anything this important. I’m serious, I really want you to marry me.”
“You want to marry me?” she asked in disbelief. “Even though you know I’m carrying another man’s child?”
“Yes!” he said, looking into her eyes, as he brushed aside the reference to the coming child. “Trixie, you need help. You’ve already admitted that you can’t raise it alone. As far as Jim’s concerned, we look enough alike that even if the child does look like him, no one would suspect that it’s not mine.” He gently stroked her hand, giving her a look that made her feel warm all over, as the emotions he had kept hidden for so long surfaced. “I know you weren’t expecting me to propose, and I know you don’t love me. I do love you, though, and I know that I can make you happy.”
“You love me?” she asked, her eyes as wide as saucers.
He brushed an errant curl off of her forehead, reminding himself that he couldn’t be hurt at her surprise when he had taken such pains to keep it from her. Seizing the chance he had never dreamed he would have, he cupped her face in his hands and tenderly brushed her cheek with his thumbs. “Yes, sweetheart, I’ve been in love with you for years.”
The infant began to cry fretfully, his voice still no louder than that of a newly-born kitten.
“What’s wrong, little one?” he asked softly, glancing at the clock. “Are you hungry? Let’s go get your bottle.”
He carefully stood from the rocking chair and went into the kitchen. With one freckled hand firmly supporting the child against his chest, he opened a can of formula and began to heat it on the stove. “It won’t take long,” he soothed, chuckling when the tiny sobs continued. “You know you’ve got your mother’s patience.”
“Yeah, he does.” She spoke from the doorway, laughing softly as her husband started. She walked towards them and took her son from her husband. “Why didn’t you call me?”
He kissed her cheek. “I couldn’t sleep, so I brought him out here with me. We were just getting ready for a midnight snack.”
“Midnight snack?” she giggled, bouncing slightly as she tried to calm the baby’s cries. “It’s four in the morning!”
“Early breakfast, then,” he yielded. “Sweetie, why don’t you go back to bed? I can take care of him.”
“I know you can,” she admitted. “But I feel guilty that you do so much already, Regan. Just like you always took care of Bobby for me when I was supposed to be baby-sitting.”
“I never minded, Trixie. You know that.” He smiled tenderly at her. “Besides, didn’t I promise you that I would be a good father to him?”
“Yeah,” she nodded, tears in her eyes as she looked at him. “Why are you so good to us? Most men would have been long gone by now.”
“Oh, Trixie,” he shook his head. Turning the stove burner off, he wrapped his arms around his wife and her child. She lay her head against his chest, her tears soaking the front of his cotton pajamas. He held them close as she cried, gently stroking her hair. He knew she was struggling, but he felt as if his heart broke with every tear she shed.
She stopped crying as the baby again made his hunger known. She reluctantly pulled away from her husband, whispering, “Okay, Jacob, let Mommy feed you.”
He kissed the top of her head, walking back to the stove. He took a spoonful of the formula from the saucepan, dribbling it on his wrist. Smiling reassuringly, he filled a bottle and handed it to her, then moved to stand behind her. One hand was on her shoulder, and she looked up to meet his eyes. “I’m sorry, Regan. I’m just so scared right now, and I’m taking it out on you.”
“Sweetie, you don’t have to worry,” he stroked her hair. “Jacob’s going to grow up to be well and strong, and I’ll be right here beside you every step of the way.”
“I know you will.” She smiled faintly. “But I worry about him, and it scares me that someone paid the entire hospital bill for us. What if someone knows?”
“There’s nothing to know.” He kissed the top of her head. “I may not be his biological father, but I am his daddy, sweetie. And if anyone was going to try to cause trouble for us, they wouldn’t do it by paying our bills.”
“We tried everything to find out who it was, too,” she mused. Her expression changed and she bit her lip. Her words came in a rush. “Regan, what if I can’t have any more children? I know how much a big family means to you, and….”
“Trixie,” he interrupted her speech, his heart breaking. Gently, he began to massage her shoulders. “Sweetie, even if you can, I’m not putting you through that again.”
“But Regan!” she protested. “You’ve always said you want a lot of children!”
“I did,” he admitted softly. “But Trixie, I want you more! That night Jacob was born was the worst night of my life. Then when the doctors told me you were hemorrhaging…,” he trailed off, unable to resist taking them in his arms. “There’s no way I’m going to risk losing you again.”
Tears streamed down her face, and she bowed her head. “You would have been better off if we had died.”
“Look at me.” He gently lifted her face to meet his, lightly stroking her cheek. “You are my world, Trixie. I don’t care if we never have any more children, I just want you by my side.”
“Why?” She wept, closing her eyes to avoid the intensity of his gaze. “All I’ve ever done is cause you trouble.”
“That’s not true,” he quietly rebuked. He took the child from her and held him to his shoulder. He began to pat his back as he continued, “I knew what I was getting into when I asked you to marry me, sweetie. We both knew it wouldn’t be easy.”
“There’s no way you could have known everything that would happen, Regan.” She turned away. “I never meant to ruin so many lives!”
“Trixie, you made one wrong decision, that’s all,” he told her, again turning her face toward his. “And I know you were pressured into it. It was my decision to marry you, and it’s one I’ll never regret.”
She almost smiled, until her eyes lit on the envelope that still lay on the counter. His eyes followed hers, and he shook his head. “No, sweetie. No one can blame you for Dan’s decision.”
There was fear and worry mixed in with the guilt and sorrow on her face. She whispered, “I…, I promise that I never did anything to make him think there was something there!”
He smiled sadly, not wanting to remember the reason for his complete certainty that she was telling the truth. He knew that she had come to love him in her own way, and he didn’t doubt that she really believed she did love him, but it had been painfully obvious that she had had eyes for no one other than Jim Frayne until he hurt her so badly. “I know, sweetie. Even Dan realized that.”
Still crying, she silently took the baby from him and walked out of the small kitchen. Tears ran down his own cheeks as he turned off the overhead light and followed her into the bedroom. He watched from the doorway while she tenderly put her son back in his cradle and turned to him. “Thank you.”
Her words confused him. “For what?”
“Everything.” She spread her hands. “Listening, being here, loving me.”
“I will always love you, sweetie,” he assured her, walking towards her. “And I’ll always be right by your side.”
“I know that now,” she answered. “I really do love you, too.”
“I know you do.” He kissed the top of her head. “Come on. I know it’s almost morning, but you need all the rest you can get.”
She nodded, her eyes still glistening from all the tears she had shed that night. “Will you hold me for a while?”
No words were needed as he took her hand and led her to the bed. He waited until she was under the covers, then turned the lamp off. She rested her head on his shoulder, sliding one arm under his neck. His arms wrapped around her holding her close.
Her breathing slowed, and he slightly relaxed his hold as he began to doze off. She stirred, mumbling, “Don’t let me go, Regan.”
“Don’t worry,” he whispered, pulling her even closer. “I’ll never let you go.”
“Not ever?” she murmured hopefully, her eyes tightly closed.
He lightly kissed her forehead, making the promise he knew he would always keep. “Never, sweetie. I won’t ever let you go.”
When she cries, at night,
And she doesn’t think that I can hear her.
She tries, to hide,
All the fear she feels inside.
So I pray, this time,
I can be the man that she deserves.
‘Cos I die a little each time,
When she cries.