Nicholas held little Ethan Howe in his arms surrounded by the Norenell doctors, Louisa, her father, and the Steward. The little baby had cried itself to sleep already and Nicholas could not imagine ever sleeping again. He didn’t want to miss a moment away from his child. Watching him breath, move, eat, exist, was a blessing from high above and he felt grateful.
As he held little Ethan, he looked up at Louisa with soft eyes and then surveyed the people in the room. “Would you all mind if Louisa and I had a moment with our baby?”
They obliged happily, smiling at Nicholas and the sight of the baby sleeping softly, before walking away. Louisa’s father’s eyes said so much; they twinkled with longing and compassion and he too smiled before exiting.
Exhaling a breath, he held little Ethan close, making his way toward Louisa. With caution, he handed him to her and he almost chuckled at how she held him. It was as if Ethan was the world’s most precious ornament, so fragile that one wrong move would break him. But he couldn’t blame her; that’s exactly what he felt himself.
Nicholas’ eyes beamed with curiosity as Ethan attached one hand to his mother’s chest, begging for food. Louisa acted fast, removing the layers of clothing and allowing him to eat.
“The only thing that surprises me more than Ethan’s existence is watching how quick you learned to do that. It’s beautiful.”
His head was cocked to the side, his eyes admiring her. She was truly the most beautiful thing he had laid his eyes upon.
“It is a mother’s instinct, I assume. I love it. And here I was, thinking that you were the one I always had to care for,” she said, chuckling and whimpering at the same time. After a long pause she spoke again. “Thank you, Nicholas.”
“Thank you for what, My Love?”
She looked at Ethan. “For giving me Ethan. I know you never expected life to be this way. I know that you always wished to stay alone. But being with you now is the happiest I’ve ever been. ”
Nicholas stood up, his lips making contact with her forehead. “Louisa, you don’t have to thank me. I feel the same for you. When I look at you… when I look at you and Ethan, words cannot express how happy I am. I feel complete, something I’ve never felt before. I feel a happiness I never experienced in my life. I feel as you are the puzzle piece I’ve been looking for all along,”
Louisa laughed softly and said, “Well, I didn’t take you for the poetic type.”
“What can I say? Love can change you,” Nicholas said.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Later that night, Nicholas placed the baby in his crib while Louisa slept in their own. Ethan laid there with his eyes open, moving about as if he had some where he wanted to go. Dreaming of travels, Nicholas was sure. Nicholas smiled at that. “You are already ambitious, aren’t you?”
To Nicholas’ surprise, Ethan looked him in the eyes and smiled. He was only a day old and he already reminded him of himself. And not in the bad way. When he was younger, all he wanted to do was travel; see the world and its beauties. He was certain that Ethan would achieve that, he would be the most ambition man there is. And for that, he was already proud.
“You will be a great man one day, I know it. If you are anything like your Father, however, you will need to be aware of your anger. You will need to chain up your pride as it will be the thing that tries to control you most. If you are anything like your Mother, you will be stubborn, brave, sarcastic, and a good-hearted person. I hope that you turn out more like her than you do me.”
“I hope he is like the both of us,” Louisa said in a groggy voice, while slowly sitting up in bed, rubbing her eyes. “Do not put yourself down, My Dearest.”
Nicholas could feel his face go red. “I thought you were asleep.”
“A woman cannot sleep when the men she loves the most are awake.” She smiled. “I am quite hungry.”
Nicholas knew what this meant. Time for him to bring her food. “Is there anything you want specifically?”
“Meat, some sort of meat,” Louisa blurted out. “Perhaps some wine.”
Louisa had developed a liking and craving for wine throughout her pregnancy but could obviously not indulge. This would be her fifth glass since giving birth.
“I will be back up soon,” Nicholas said, taking his leave.
Walking down the Manor stairs, it felt like a different home. From the second Ethan was born, the entire world felt larger; alive. He could breathe more clearly and see the beauty of things. The family portraits on the wall told a different story now, one that he never wished to leave. Because he wanted to have a future with Louisa and he never wanted to lose any of this. He loved her so much. He wouldn’t admit it before, but his heart skipped a beat at the sight of… no, at the thought of her. His desire for her had grown much stronger now. Before Louisa and Ethan, life seemed like a road with never-ending obstacles, but he finally felt at peace.
It took one look into his son’s eyes for him to be a completely changed man. And now he knew, every step would bring him closer to bliss.
In the kitchen area, Nicholas spotted the Steward eating what looked like a bowl of soup as the cook sat sleeping in a chair.
“Does the cook even go to bed anymore?” Nicholas asked the Steward as he slurped his soup.
“He does, Your Grace, he is just very dedicated to his work on some days.”
Nicholas gave the cook a look and the preparation area. “I feel bad waking him but—”
“What does the Lady need?”
Nicholas nodded. “Meat, lots of meat. And wine, the best wine you can get. And of course, your strength as this will go on for a while.”
The cook bolted up out of a dead sleep and said, “No problem at all, I can make something for her.” When he was on both his feet, he looked suddenly wide awake.
“Are you sure? You were just—”
“A twenty-minute nap can wake anyone up. What meat would Her Grace like? I can make anything she wants.”
“She didn’t specify, actually. But I suggest a bit of everything… this way we can all be happy.”
The cook walked to the other room, starting to search through the cupboards.
“So how do you feel, Your Grace? You are now a father.”
Hearing the words made Nicholas’ heart flutter. “It is more than I could ever expect. It’s like a lie, but a good one. I feel a different person.”
“Fatherhood will certainly do that to anyone. My Mother told me my Father felt that way, Your Grace.”
“I mainly worry about doing the right thing with him. As you know, a couple of months ago, controlling my emotions was a feat. And now with Ethan, I’m terrified.”
The Steward nodded. “Yes, no man feels ready to raise a child. Whereas most woman tend to get a sense of just knowing what to do. Or perhaps they are good at pretending. This of course, coming from a man’s perspective. I don’t think you will ever feel as though you are doing things right, but I believe that is the beauty of parenthood. There is no book in the world to explain it.”
Nicholas sat down on the other end of the preparation table as the cook came back in with a slab of red meat.
“This should be enough.” He laughed and began preparing the meat.
“What were my parents like when I was born?” Nicholas asked the Steward.
He looked to the dusty ceiling in thought and then said, “Her Grace had become stronger, if that makes sense. She had always been a strong woman, but once you were born her discipline with things had become even more stern. She would wake up at the same time every single day and would never eat if you had not eaten first. His Grace on the other hand had become a softer man I’d say. He had become aware of his mortality. Before you he would be prone to dive head first into things. But once you were born, he’d always factor you into any decision he had to make.”
“It is truly odd. I do not feel either of those things, just a mix of fear and appreciation for life as a whole. Even staring out of the window right now, I feel as though I have new eyes. I can see the world for what it is; a better place and one with Ethan alongside me.”
The Steward laughed comfortingly. Then the cook finally spoke up, breaking his silence, “When my little Jane was born, I started to appreciate work a lot more. I didn’t hate it before, don’t get me wrong, just had mixed emotions. But with her arrival, I developed one of love. I wanted to work more just so I could provide her with the best. And when my daughter was born, I started to appreciate work a lot more. I wanted to provide for my family in a whole different way.”
His staff’s words echoed in his head, making him appreciate everything more. The thought of his parents fighting for him despite all odds was comforting to say the least. It reassured him that everyone had their own way of doing things.
Even if they weren’t in the same situation, his staff’s experiences helped him, making him understand that being a father is one of the best things that can happen to a man. No matter the mistakes.
Whatever might happen with Ethan will be a blessing. His life was different now and he had to put all fears aside. For the best. For his family.
The knock on the door startled Louisa who was focused on Ethan, afraid that if she took her eyes off him, he would disappear. “Come in.”
In came Valerie. Her face quickly spread into a smile as she walked into the room. It was her first time seeing the baby. Just like Louisa, Valerie could not take her eyes off him. “He is beautiful. The women will swoon over him,” she said.
“You can come closer, Valerie, there is no more tension between us. You are his aunt.”
Valerie’s eyes welled up as she walked closer to sleeping Ethan. Louisa wanted to hug her. “He has your lips and Nicholas’ nose. He looks so much like both of you.”
“I know, I am quite angry about that. I am quite fond of my nose, you know,” she laughed.
Valerie stood staring at Ethan for a moment. “You really do have a blissful life now, Louisa. It’s like something out of a fairy tale. I know it does not mean much coming from someone like me, but I am immensely proud of you. I mean it…” she paused, “your father has not stopped crying even for a moment. He’s probably cried more than Ethan!”
Louisa laughed again. “That man certainly cries more than Ethan does. But that’s why I love him. But it really does mean everything to me, Valerie. Thank you for your words. I am glad we were able to put things behind us.”
Before Valerie could respond, Nicholas walked in with a jug of wine and a platter of freshly cooked meat and vegetables. The smell emitting from them was enchanting and it took everything in her to not grab it all.
Once Valerie saw him, she made her way for the door out of courtesy.
“I will see you tomorrow, Louisa. If you need the slightest of help with Ethan, anything, just let me know. I’m here and I will continue to be here as long as you need me,” Louisa nodded to Nicholas and made her leave.
“I hope this fulfills your appetite, my hungry Lady,” Nicholas smiled and Ethan began to cry. As soon as Ethan did his smile faded. “The boy was just dead asleep, does he not like sizzling meat?” He handed the platter to Louisa.
“Scared of my appetite, that’s what he is.” Louisa watched Nicholas pick up Ethan and rock him gently while walking around the room.
Nothing made her happier than to see Nicholas as a father. And not just a father, but one filled with love. She could see it in his eyes as he stared at Ethan, humming him a song to soothe him. She could see it in his mannerisms and the way he spoke about him. A changed man, that’s what he was.
She felt the same way, a changed person. She believed herself immature and naïve before Ethan. But now she felt a serenity and reassurance no one else could provide her with. Her life, along with other goals, had one main motive now…Ethan. She would provide him the best life possible, one filled with love and compassion. No one would stand in her way.
Her eyes turned to Nicholas once again and she grinned. From the man who could barely utter a word to her in the gardens, to now trying to find a way to soothe their baby. She still couldn’t phantom it.
“I am so proud of you Nicholas. You really look like a father. A handsome one, might I add”
“Is it normal for him to cry for so long?” A look of sincere panic grew across his face. His eyebrows were furrowed and he almost looked like he was in pain. Louisa couldn’t contain her laughter.
“Relax, My Dear. That’s how babies speak to us. It’s their only way.” And just as she said that silence filled the room. Ethan was staring in confusion, making the scene almost comical.
“Perhaps those are the magic words we are to use to calm him. They seem to work.” Nicholas carried Ethan to the crib, while Louisa ate her food. She was trying to not chug everything down at once, afraid it would give her an upsetting stomach and afraid that she would ruin her beauty in front of Nicholas.
“Why are you not eating?” he said.
“I am, who said I’m not?” Her bites still remained small. After a moment of silence, she dared speak up. “I have an image to uphold, you know. I could not eat like a pig in front of you,”
Nicholas held his laughter. “Nonsense. Be yourself in front of me. Eat as you wish, drink as you wish, act as you wish. I’m your husband, not your master.”
“You’re one to talk! But you’re right, My Love.”
Nicholas carried Ethan to the bed as Louisa ate her food and sipped her wine in comfort.
As small as it was, Nicholas’ comment assured her. It was what she had always wanted; to feel carefree in front of the man of her life. Having this with Nicholas was more than a dream.
It was the life they had both wanted together, she was certain of that. Even after the hardships, the ominous threats and the near-death experiences, they could finally be at peace with each other’s love.
“Maybe, just maybe, when I am done eating, we can celebrate our new baby by—” Louisa didn’t want to say. Instead she raised her eyebrows, while smirking at him.
His own eyes widened and it took everything in Louisa to not burst out laughing. “Wait, are you sure? I thought that after the pregnancy—”
“I meant kissing, Silly. Urgh, men— ”
Nicholas chuckled at her remark, her teasing finally becoming obvious to him.
“I love you so much, Louisa.”
“I love you more.” Louisa looked at Ethan who was already laying down on the bed. “I truly do.”
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