"Well, Cat," Memere asked her, "do you want to take your nap on your pad or on Grandma Brennan's bed?"
"That isn't one of the choices. If you come into my room I'll read you some stories first and lie beside you." Kate Brennan couldn't understand her four-year-old granddaughter's dislike of naps; siestas were such a luxury.
"Don't wanna nap."
"You don't have to want one. You're going to take one. You know that, and I know that. The question is whether we are going to have an ugly fight first or read some nice stories first."
"You talk like Papa." Memere did sound like Papa, and not just the way that everybody but Maman and her special friends and the people at school talked English like Papa did.
"Get your books and Wot, and I'll tell you a story that isn't in any of them. It's a short story, so we'll have a couple of books after. Dad books only." Wot, who had started out as a pink plush elephant, had lost most of his plush and was -- despite Jeanette's occasional laundering -- more gray than pink these days. He was, however, something between Cat's favorite toy and her constant companion.
Cat knew the difference between French and English. She even could say a few things in Spanish.
Finally, they were settled on the big, soft, bed. Cat giggled as usual at the waves that they made. Then Memere started in on her story.
"Even Dad was a little boy once. And when he was a little boy, he lived with Granddad and me. He was my baby just as you were Maman's baby."
"Not a baby. Cat's a big girl."
"Cat's a big girl now. But Cat was a baby once. And Daddy was a baby once. And even I was a baby once, can you imagine? Anyway, Dad grew up from being a baby to being a boy who learned to talk. And his favorite word was 'no.' Just like it's the favorite word of his favorite daughter. And when he said that he didn't want to do something, take a nap for example, guess who would tell him that he didn't need to want to?"
"You!" It wasn't that hard to guess.
"That's right. He didn't need to want to, and often he didn't. But he needed to do it, and almost always he did. Then he grew up and married Maman. And he wanted to have a child of his own, and Maman wanted to have a child of her own. And then they did, and it made them very happy. And the child turned out to be Cat, and that made them even happier still."
"And I was inside Maman." This was a really a puzzle to Cat, but everybody said she had been.
"And you were inside Maman, except that you weren't the Cat who runs and plays and talks. You were eentsy-teentsy. And then you came out, and you still were quite small. But you grew and grew and grew. And now you are the big girl who can take care of herself."
And big enough that she didn't need a nap. But they'd already had that fight, and the water bed was jiggly and giggly, and Memere hugged her close while she read ... Then the hug was too tight and she needed to go bad. She squeezed out. The bounces weren't fun anymore, but she got off the bed and to the bathroom just in time.
Kate Brennan woke knowing that she had just had a child in her arms. The slant of the light meant mid-afternoon. But something was wrong. "Bob," she called. "What are you doing?"
"Mikrate! Mikrate!" she heard.
Then she was really awake. It wasn't a son she had held, but the son's daughter. Cat banged out of the bathroom and ran in the door. "Did you wash your hands?" Kate asked. Cat ran back. And people worry about an energy shortage.
When Cat was totally finished, Kate wiped up some of the residue of her namesake's splashes. Then she used the facilities herself. It was an hour after the train was due. Counting the 15 minute drive and the necessary greetings at the station, the family could be getting back anytime in the next hour or two.
"Where's Tante K'leen?" Cat asked for what seemed the hundredth time. Cat was really getting better on the middle syllables, but Kathleen had threatened mayhem to anyone who corrected that particular pronunciation. Cat ran into Kate's room, climbed on the water bed, bounced for a moment, retrieved Wot, and ran back into range.
"I don't know, dear. She'll be here sometime this afternoon. Let's get your shoes on." This only took ten times as long as it would have with Kate doing the work, but she didn't have anything more important to do than holding her granddaughter. She tightened the laces on the gym shoes and double knotted them.
What next? Oh yes. "Do you want to help Grandma Brennan fix dinner?" Cat happily clattered down the stairs (clattering in rubber soles being another talent confined to the young).
"Where's Tante K'leen?"
"She's coming on the train, dear, just as you did. Granddad, Mommy, and Daddy went in the car to pick her and Charles up. The train is late, but I don't know how late. Asking won't make the train run any faster. Do you want a pickle?"
"Yes!" Cat definitely wanted a pickle. Then she remembered her manners. "May I have a pickle, please?" Memere got her a pickle and a saucer while she climbed up on the chair at the kitchen table. Memere got her two napkins, too.
Kate shuddered. Cat should be too young for pickles. Instead, the girl had gummed pickles before she had teeth. Well, it was better than sugary snacks. "Well, dear, we don't know when the others will get back; but they'll want a good meal soon thereafter. So what we are going to do is to get some chicken all ready to cook. We'll grill it under the oven when the time comes.
"The first thing to do is to wash the chicken. We don't use soap like we use on our hands, but the reason is really the same..."
The chicken was marinating, the pudding was done, and Pooh and Piglet were searching for Eeyore's tail when the car stopped in the driveway.
"Do you know who that is?" Kate asked. Now Cat could stop asking for her aunt.
Cat knew the sound of that car. "Pepere!" She ran to the door. The first person she saw, though, was Sharl.
Charles had to free one hand to turn the knob. Kath's father had led the way, but he now was engaged in holding the storm door open for the laden. So Charles already had set one suitcase down when he heard the cry of "Sharl!"
He dropped the other in time to catch the four-year-old missile which had launched itself into his arms. "I'm glad to see you, Cat," he said, "but we need to let the others in." He shifted her to a position more comfortable for carrying, and walked into the house until the distraction of his squirming burden and his fogged glasses disoriented him completely.
There was a bustle behind them as the last of the luggage was pulled in the door.
Kathleen didn't know whether she was more jealous that her god-daughter had ignored her for Char or that Cat had stolen her boyfriend's attention. She hung her coat in the downstairs closet, and saw Bob walking up the stairs with two suitcases. "You don't have to carry Char's bag up there," she said. "He's sleeping down here on the couch." Bob ignored her, as she had expected.
Char, however, took the hint. "Do you want to kiss Tante K'leen hello?" he asked Cat, who was playing with his hair again. Her hands patted all over the tight, kinky, curls. Kathleen could understand that fascination, though she knew Charles couldn't. Such hair might be common in the Black community, but it was still fun.
Char brought Cat to her. She leaned over for the kiss, and Kathleen took her in her arms. And a load she was too. "Catherine Angelique," Kathleen said, "what a big girl you are. You really have grown." Then she returned the kiss and hug. When Cat was done hugging her, she let her down to the floor.
Cat went on to hug her grandpa, then her maman on general principles.
"I'm glad to see you, too, Cat. Do you think that we could move over towards the tree to let the people with the suitcases past." Jeanette was proud of her child's affectionate nature, although she worried about her getting into trouble with it on the street. She also created a bit of a traffic hazard. And she was a getting too heavy to jump on Charles. Now, if she could only convince Charles of that.
Charles hung his coat in the downstairs closet. He headed upstairs with the last significant load of their luggage, Kath's smaller suitcase and a shopping bag full of presents. He'd been out of residency for six months, and his new income level might have led him to overdo the shopping. Only one purchase really counted, however. Bob was coming down as he went up the stairs.
Bob could see that there was room past Charles if he would only turn sidewise. Then he could see that Charles wanted him upstairs. He held out his hand for the shopping bag and headed back up. "I'm going to need your help in wrapping one package," Charles said when they were in Kathleen's room.
"Kathleen?" Charles nodded. Bob grinned. Surprise packages were his specialty, and he suspected that this surprise would be remembered for years.
Jeanette was a little miffed to find the door to her room locked when she went upstairs, but this was Christmas after all. The Brennans took the idea that one shouldn't know what was in the package until you opened it to ridiculous extremes, and Bob was the worst of all. Well, she loved him, and he loved her. In someone who loved you, taking things to ridiculous extremes was not a bad characteristic especially as he took that love to ridiculous extremes.
She loved his family, as well. Still, she couldn't help feel that her daughter's verbosity was only what they deserved. During dinner Cat dominated the conversation at the table where Jeanette had often listened to the volleys of talk in awed silence.
"Many first-graders at our school," Kate said over her grand- daughter's voice, "even a few of my third-graders, don't have the English vocabulary that Cat does." She was shading it a little, those third graders had been a constant worry. On the other hand, having the vocabulary of EMH kids twice your age is still an accomplishment.
"It's all your son's doing," Jeanette said. "I speak French to her."
"Mean Mommy goes to school," Kate heard. That couldn't be right. Did Cat resent her mother's being away from home?
"Maman and I," Bob said.
"Maman and I go to school. She learns Francais, and I learn Espanol."
"Could you be overdoing the language thing?" Kate asked. She didn't want to be that sort of a mother-in-law, but still.
"Inter-American has a fine record," Jeanette said, "much better than the average Chicago public school, for the level of general learning that their graduates receive. My daughter will grow up bilingual; if trilingual is a burden, then the French goes. We actually expected that we would drop it, but Cat doesn't want that right now.
"She has a Latina friend, and they hang out together. The school sort of encourages that. So she is learning heaps about Guatemalan culture at the workaday level."
"And," Bob said, "this is the preschool year. What is she going to learn this year? Language and getting along with others. Inter-American is the best school in the city for that, not that Chicago isn't full of schools for learning about getting along with people of different kinds -- for well or ill. She knows her numbers, though that, too, is more of a linguistic skill than a mathematical one.
"You said yourself," he continued, "that her English vocabulary was above age level. It's really borrowing trouble to worry about it's getting too low. Besides, Spanish has unsuspected bonuses."
"My husband has schemes."
"Bob?!" Nobody took Katherine's shock seriously.
"Well, yes," he said. "There are universities in South America which will accept guest lecturers who lecture in English. We can pop down there some summer when Cat is a little older; the pay will just about keep us housed and fed. She can go to the local school, which will run through the summer in the southern hemisphere. I'll bet that their standards are more rigorous than ours."
"They'd certainly be more rigorous on some things," his father said.
"Anyway, the girl loves books. If that keeps on, there is no way that she won't learn. Right now, she loves school, too. As you've said, her present English skills are well above grade level. And, much as I love her, I have put only a fraction of the time in with her that Jeanette has."
The adults stopped talking over Cat's head to listen to her glowing report on Conchita and Pablito. It took a while for Charles to figure out that the first was her friend and the second was Conchita's baby brother. Was Cat spoiled? In some ways. She certainly owned more books than any of the kids he treated would believe, more books than some of the clinic-kids' parents. She refused foods that she didn't like, interrupted adults without censure, stated her opinions with remarkable freedom. On the other hand, she didn't really interrupt the adults; they kept talking too.
He'd noticed that, except for things which were clearly adult, like drinking alcohol and coffee or driving cars, Bob and Jeanette enforced no rules on Cat which they weren't ready to obey themselves. Certainly, asking that a child wait to speak until no adult was speaking would be tantamount to demanding her absolute silence at the Brennan table. He realized that he was no greater a disciplinarian than her parents. She didn't launch herself at Kath the way she did at him, and that was because Kath had told her not to every time she'd tried.
"Not done," Cat said while scrambling out of her seat. "Mikrate!"
"Mic-TUR-ate," her father called after her as if pronunciation were the only thing exceptional in that statement.
"The first year I taught," Katherine said, "student-taught really, one boy raised his hand and said, 'I have to use it.' Well I couldn't imagine what he had to use, and -- before I figured that out -- there was a puddle on the seat of his chair. He was embarrassed, but it was really my fault. On the other hand, he was awfully embarrassed; I think the other children teased him about it a great deal."
"Yes, Ma'am," said Bob. "But Jeanette objects to the standard term."
"Standard?" asked Jeanette.
"'Piss' is certainly understood by all classes and subcultures of the English-speaking world."
There was another clatter, and Cat was back. "Darling," her mother asked, "did you wash your hands?" Cat held them out; they were still damp in places. "And what do you say in school when you need to leave the room for what you just did?"
"Need go bathroom!" She clambered back up onto the phone book on her chair.
"Bob may be weird, Katherine," Jeanette said, "but he isn't vicious -- certainly not to his daughter."
"Weird? Moi?" asked Bob.
No one rose to that bait.
The top half of the tree was already decorated with balls and lights. Charles lifted Cat so that she could fit the angel on the very top. It was a beautiful angel, but made from paper and foil. Then they strung popcorn strings around the bottom, Cat doing most of the work.
The family came near to filling the van, but Russ Brennan stopped to pick up three neighbors on the way to church. The family did fill half of the pew. Russ felt quite the paterfamilias.
At one point, he had thought seriously of moving to Chicago upon retirement; but then Kathleen had moved to Philadelphia at the end of her residency, leaving only Bob's half of the family in Chicago. Either town was one hell of a place to retire, but family was worth it. As it was, these Christmases were all he was going to get. Well, Bob and Jeanette made other trips occasionally; and just what Kathleen's schedule would be was a little unclear. Probably unclear to herself, too; she was an independent psychiatrist in a new town, instead of a resident.
He sat at the end, Kate next to him, Bob and Cat, Jeanette, Kathleen, and Charles nearly to the middle of the pew. Beyond Charles, there was a pile of coats. Not half the congregation would show up tonight, there was plenty of space. Until the prelude, people kept coming up to say hello: his friends -- shaking his hand while looking towards Cat, Bob's and Jeanette's friends, a few of Kathleen's friends -- Vi's friends really; she hadn't used "Kathleen" until she'd left home.
Then he tried to concentrate on the message about the coming of the savior, rather than his pride in family.
Kathleen had a marginally good voice, but a keen appreciation of musical ability. Singing next to Charles was always a treat. He kept saying that the choir directors of his youth hadn't ever asked him to solo. Maybe not, and he certainly hadn't had that basso profundo in childhood; but the black church had much higher standards than she was used to.
At the end, the kids had so much catching up to do that Russ gave a set of rides home and returned for them. One of the members of the church whom he regarded as an adult leader was actually Kathleen's contemporary. The girl who had been president of the youth group in Bob's freshman year had news of her daughter's engagement.
Kathleen slipped something in her father's hand as they were going out to the car. It was an addition for Charles's stocking, and he passed it on to Kate in their room. They gave Kathleen time to put up their stockings and then went down to put up everyone else's. They'd redecorated this last year, and he'd actually suggested adding a false mantle. Kate had more sense.
They looked at the tree once more, unplugged it, and went up the stairs to bed. "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Claus," he said.
"Merry Christmas, Santa." Once in bed, they hugged each other tightly for a minute, then rolled over into the spoon position. The water bed sloshed under them but they were used to that now. It had been a long day, and he was soon asleep.
Kate, who had napped in the afternoon, lay beside him neither quite asleep nor anywhere near awake. She said a sort of prayer: "Thank you, God, for my grandchild, for both kids home for Christmas. Thank you especially for another year of Russ." She snuggled back into his arms. She could no longer remember how she had managed to sleep when he had been away so often; she faced the certainty that she would have to learn how one day soon. "Another year, Lord, give us another year."
But she wasn't one to concentrate on her problems. She had Bob and Kathleen, she had Jeanette, and -- most of all -- she had little Cat.
Cat hugged Wot. It had been a big day, and tomorrow would be, too. She almost remembered last Christmas.
Her parents lay a few feet away. When Bob's parents had bought a new waterbed, they moved their old queen-sized bed into Bob's room. He and Jeanette had found the bed a real treat the last three nights. But Cat had spent those nights in Tante K'leen's bed in the next room. She was much too old for a primal scene. Jeanette in her nightgown lay in the arms of a pajama-clad Bob trying not to notice the obtrusive presence of his erection.
"It's not as if we always have to do it," Bob said. She didn't answer. He wasn't talking to her; he was trying to persuade himself.
Kathleen lay next to Char. Bob's old twin bed was a foot away, but neither had considered using it. They'd been separated by 300 miles for four long years. They weren't about to sleep apart ever again.
And they weren't about to sleep quite yet. At first, Char caressed her and kissed her gently. Both of them were willing to give the others in the house time to go to sleep. Besides, Char enjoyed taking his time with her. But he didn't enjoy it one- tenth as much, she was sure, as she enjoyed his doing it.
The room was dim, the only light was what leaked through the curtained windows. But Charles was quite aware of Kath's growing tension beside him. Her ragged breathing and taut belly were only two of the signs. The nipple between his lips was turgid. And his finger could find more and more lubrication to spread over her labia and clitoris. When he judged her near, he inserted two fingers into her to rub her G-spot. He loved Kath's orgasms, especially when they were so clearly a response to his actions. The only downside was that he had to abandon the sweet breast to cover her mouth.
Kathleen thought that Char knew her so well. His professors had persuaded him to change specialties from obstetrics to pediatrics because they didn't think women would appreciate his huge hands inside their vaginas. Male doctors -- what did they know. She loved what his hands could do to her vagina, and all the other parts down there. Still, she was just as glad that she didn't have to share those sensations with a bunch of patients. Then she had no more time for thought. She gasped into Char's mouth as she came.
Charles felt his love contract around his fingers. After one more stroke, he withdrew -- knowing that all Kath's erogenous zones were too sensitive to touch just then. He lay beside her just touching along her arm and blowing gently across her hairline. "Oh Char!" she finally said. He could hug her then, still avoiding the most sensitive parts.
"Oh Kath," he responded. When she spread her legs, he knelt between them. He reached for the diaphragm case in her nightstand. After kissing her, he concentrated on applying jelly to the diaphragm. He could reach her so much better than she could reach herself, his fingers were appreciably longer. If they had to explain his applying the diaphragm to her, they could provide good excuses. His pleasure, though, was much greater than the mere appreciation of efficiency could explain.
When she drew her legs up, he kissed the insides of each thigh before spreading her labia with his left hand. He inserted the diaphragm with his right, pressing it snugly against her cervix with two fingers. He withdrew those same fingers only part way, stroking her entrance. By this time, Kath was usually vocal about her preference for another part of him in the same place. Tonight though, with her brother and niece in the next room, she communicated only by her looks. Well, the undulations of her body were a communication, too. Involuntary though they might be, they were more persuasive communication than her words ever were.
On his way to entering her, Char stopped -- as he always did -- to nuzzle her nipples. She grasped his head, half fondling his curls, half pulling his mouth against her nipples. When he moved on, though, she was even happier. He paused right at the entrance to cup her breasts with his enormous hands. Then he was in her, filling her, just where he belonged.
"Mmm," she said and shifted a little to bring him deeper.
"Mmm," he answered and kissed her forehead. He was too tall to kiss her mouth like this, let alone her breasts. He had each nipple between thumb and forefinger, though. He stroked them, twisted them gently, pulled them slightly away from her chest. When he started to do different things to each breast, she writhed from the sensations. He drove in and out of that writhing -- pressing against her clit when he was fully in, rubbing across her G-spot as he moved out. She spiraled higher and higher.
Tugging him deeper into her by his butt, she climaxed. His climax followed before hers had finished. When she collapsed gasping, he moved beside her. Minutes later, he pulled the sheet and blankets over them. She reached out to turn off the bedside lamp and cuddled against him. Her last sensation was of his breath stirring her hair.
The couch, with a sprig of mistletoe taped above its center, was reserved for Charles and Kathleen. Russ, Kate, and Jeanette each had a big comfortable chair near a side table. Jeanette's table contained two pencils and a steno pad. Bob sprawled beside the tree, and handed packages to Cat who 'acted as Santa Claus.' She opened her own packages at her mother's feet.
"Take this one to ta tante," Bob told Cat. She bustled over with a large package. Kathleen wasn't surprised to find a smaller package in a different kind of holiday wrapping inside the first. Bob was notorious for doing that. She carefully searched the wrapping paper before opening the next layer, and searched that paper before unwrapping the somewhat smaller box inside. Bob had given Cat a present for herself, and everybody else seemed to be watching Kathleen. Char, in particular, seemed to be giving her his whole attention. Well Bob's wrapping was worth an audience.
When she opened the box, it contained an even smaller box, looking like something from a jewelers. She wondered briefly where bob had got that, but it looked open -- though turned away from her. She turned the package around to see inside. A diamond ring appeared. Char slipped off the couch to kneel in front of her.
"Oh, Char," she said. "Oh, oh, oh, yesssss!" She burst into tears.
Charles took Kath's hands in his, and rose up on his knees as she leaned over to kiss him. But someone small pushed him so hard he lost his balance. "You made Tante K'leen cry!" Cat shouted.
"She's crying 'cause she's happy dear," her grandmother explained.
"She is?" Cat didn't cry when she was happy, and she sure wasn't happy when she cried.
"Yes, Cat. Very happy, deliriously happy. Oh, Char!" Kathleen held out the box and her hand for Charles to put it on.
The ring couldn't go past the first knuckle. "But," Charles said, "you have such small hands." When Kathleen held out their two hands against each other, the Brennan adults all laughed.
"Only in comparison with yours, Charles," Bob said. Kathleen finally slipped the ring on her little finger and walked over to let her parents and Jeanette see. Cat got up to look too.
"You knew," Jeanette said to Bob.
"I asked him to wrap it," Charles explained. "I wanted it to be a surprise."
"Well, dear, you succeeded."
"All your chitchat last night was wasted, Kathleen," Bob said. "Your friends have met your boyfriend, but they haven't met you fiance'. C'mon, Cat; nobody has any presents to open."
"Well, sir," Jeanette said, "you can't say this year what you did the Christmas before Cat was born."
"What was that?"
"This year the nicest present made it under the tree."
"Nicest present?" Cat had started listening when her name was mentioned.
"Vraiment," her mother said. "Ton pepere t'appelle le mieux cadeau."
When Cat looked puzzled, Katherine explained. "It wasn't really you, dear. It was the news that you were coming. Your mother told us that she would have a baby, and we were all pleased. Just like now. It's not the ring that's the present, although it is a very nice ring. It is the news that ta tante K'leen is going to marry Charles."
"She is?" Cat wasn't sure what that meant, and nobody had told her about this before.
"Yes, dear. That's what the ring means."
"Okay." It was a very pretty ring, all sparkly; but Cat could tell that Tante K'leen wasn't going to let her wear it just now, and she had presents of her own to open.
The last present under the tree was labeled 'Wot.' "Let's not give it to him just now, dear," Memere said. "You and I'll give it to him after lunch."
There were bags for all the wrapping paper. After Russ read "King John's Christmas," it was time for lunch. The Christmas feast would be tomorrow, but the food today was plentiful enough.
Russ Brennan said the grace himself instead of assigning it. As well as the food, he gave thanks for "Kathleen's happy news."
The conversation ran every-which-way in the usual Brennan fashion. "Way back when," Russ said, "there were two kinds of people, blue collar and white collar. These days, women workers -- secretaries at least -- are called 'pink collar.' And here in the South we have green collars."
"Green collars?" Charles had never heard of those.
"Char," said Kathleen, "don't bite."
"You probably don't have them up in Philadelphia," but around here many people eat collared greens."
"Char," said Kathleen, "you bit."
"I thought it was only your brother."
"It's all of them. I'm not even sure that I trust Cat." Then she realized that this might not go over too well with her niece. "Really, I do trust her. But I don't know how long she'll be able to resist all her bad environment."
"On the subject of collard greens, dears. Is there anyone who really dislikes onions, or mackerel?" Charles had long believed living with Kath was an inoculation against non-sequiturs. This one from her mother, however, really threw him. He was too polite to say that.
Her son wasn't. "On the subject of collard greens, does anyone not like onions?"
"Well, collard greens are in the recipe, dear, and if people really hate them they should mention that, too. But I must say I've never been able to taste them. They're mixed in with two strong flavors."
Charles wasn't looking forward to eating collard greens cooked by a white woman -- especially cooked so you couldn't taste them. On the other hand, all of Kath's mother's meals so far had been delicious. And he was looking forward to reporting on the dish.
"Could I have a ring?" asked Cat.
"I give her an onion ring when I cook them in any dish," explained Jeanette. "You'll have to brush your teeth afterwards, dear." Heaven help her, it was catching. "You know," she explained to the rest of the table, "she is Bob's daughter."
"Are you sure?" That seemed to Kathleen to be an awful thing to call her sweet godchild.
"Positive. When she started looking at the world lying in my lap with her head upside down, I was certain that the hospital hadn't made any mistake." Of course, Jeanette remembered, it was The Kitten's satisfaction with her breast which had convinced her earlier.
That wasn't quite what Kathleen had meant. Still, she was content with that interpretation. Joking aside, she was loyal to Jeanette, and didn't want to raise any suspicions about her faithfulness in Bob's mind. Assuming that Bob had a mind.
"I could fix the original recipe, dear." Katherine was talking to Russ now. "I had planned on only one onion, seeing as many people don't like too many."
"We're seven. Do you want to fix it both ways? I'll eat either leftover."
"We'll do it that way. If you like onions, you'll like this recipe, dear."
Cat knew that this was addressed to her. Adults were always telling her that she would like new foods. They were usually wrong. Still, Memere didn't do that too much. Cat would taste it, not that she had any choice.
After supper Cat got talking about her last days in Chicago. "So I went to Conchita's, Pablito was sleeping, but when he woke up, I got to hold him. He's so tiny and warm; 'n then we went outside; 'n then Conchita's mom gave us some cookies; 'n then..."
"Cat!" Jeanette broke in.
"Respire. ma petite! Tu es a bout de soufle."
Kate laughed. "I can remember when you were very small, dear, and visiting here for the first time. Your maman was so anxious for The Kitten to talk."
"Not Kitten!" said Cat. "Cat! Walk by myself." She stamped her foot to demonstrate.
"You are not a Kitten now!" Kate agreed. "You're a big girl. Although stamping your feet doesn't demonstrate that. But, Cat dear, you were a tiny, tiny, kitten back then. And Maman so wanted you to talk. Now, she wants you to give other people a chance to talk, too."
"Am I that transparent?" Jeanette asked.
"Dear, there is very little which you want for your child which I didn't want for mine. And mothers have very few ways of pursuing their goals."
"Did Bob really talk all the time, even as a baby?" Kathleen asked.
"He wasn't the only one, dear."
"I sometimes tell my little chatterbox," Bob said, "that she reminds me of her Tante K'leen at that age."
Kathleen swallowed several comments. It wasn't fair that Bob was five years older than she was; not even Char was going to believe a claim that she remembered him at four and a half. "Why Bob," she said finally, "I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said about me."
"Not really, dear. Way back then, you were his special favorite. Do you think, dear, that this would be a good time to give Wot his present?"
"Yes." Cat had been wondering about that since Memere had mentioned it.
"And I didn't talk that much as a baby," Bob said. "They aren't babies after they've learned to talk." Cat being present, he didn't stick out his tongue at Vi.
"Well," said his father, "I do think you've caught up since."
"Let's do it upstairs dear." Kate gathered up the last package from under the tree, and Cat grabbed Wot. She was less enthusiastic now; this was starting to sound like nap time. On the other hand, nap time with Memere meant the funny bed and as many books as she wanted; nap time with papa meant her pad and three books -- two if she'd made a fuss.
Wot's gift was a book about an elephant, Horton Hatches an Egg. Memere read it to Wot, and then read Cat's books to her.
Bob called the other adults into conference once Cat was with Katherine. "Look. The school requires an hour of quiet time; so do we. I want to offer Cat her choice of adult to spend it with, but I can't commit you without your agreement. The parental duties are ours, after all."
"You mean to read to her and nap with her," Charles asked, "like her grandmother is doing? I'm available."
"That's good," said Bob, "because you're maybe the likeliest choice."
"You might have consulted me before you asked my fiance to go to bed with another woman," Kathleen said. "But I'll permit it in this case. And, of course, I'd be perfectly happy to take his place."
"You might mention to her that I'll have to go to the office some of the days that the rest of you are on vacation," said his father.
"Thanks, Dad," said Bob. "I'm not sure that we want to raise the future of this rule to her consciousness. I'll mention it Sunday, though."
Kathleen and Charles carried their gifts upstairs to their room while Jeanette recorded Bob's gifts on the steno pad. She already had Cat's and her own down. Everybody would get a nice thank-you letter -- typed, but signed by the recipient. Russ, his room taken, read a Scientific American in his favorite armchair. When Kathleen and Charles came down, Bob and Jeanette started to gather their family's gifts to take upstairs. "This is as good a time as any," Russ said. "I have something to talk about with all of you."
"You have the floor, sir," said Bob.
"It bothers Kate to hear me talk about this. So I don't want to have her around. When my will is settled there is going to be less than you might think, and Kate won't be mentioned."
Jeanette was shocked by the last, but Bob thought he'd caught the idea. "Joint tenancy?"
"Yes. With right of survivorship. She'll have the house, furnishings, and both cars. She's the beneficiary of my insurance policy. One of them; another is mortgage insurance. As to the rest, Kathleen gets half, Bob, Jeanette, and Cat get thirds of the other half. I suppose you'd say sixths. I have a few books and papers I'm leaving separately.
"Sorry, Charles," he continued. "I didn't know about your plans."
Charles could see that Jeanette was part of this family in a way he wasn't. Leaving aside the marriage having lasted more than a decade, Kath had told him about Jeanette's sacrifices to put Bob through grad school. Anyway, he was earning an indecent amount of money these days -- despite the time he put into the well-baby clinic. "I don't expect you to change it. It lessens my worries about protecting Kath's future, anyway."
"I just didn't want anybody to be shocked. One problem is Cat gets a trust. You two planning on another?"
"Not exactly planning," Bob said. "We went through a lot of worry before Cat. If another pregnancy happens, great; if not, we have Cat."
"Wouldn't it interfere with your college plans, though?" his Father asked Jeanette.
"One good thing about attending a Catholic university," Jeanette responded. "They won't ask, 'Why didn't you take precautions?'"
"They might think it," Bob said, "but they won't say it."
"Anyway, I've kept you long enough," Russ finished. Jeanette took her and Bob's presents upstairs. Bob carried Cat's.
When the packages had been set in their proper places, Bob held Jeanette's face for a long kiss. His hands left the face to pull her against him by the butt. When his hands moved up to her breasts, she backed away from the kiss -- though not very far. "Time for the mice to play?" she whispered.
Bob nodded happily. "Well... ," she said in a still-low voice, and began to unbutton her blouse. After Bob bolted the door, they stripped in silence. In bed they kissed while Bob's hand roved. Then he kissed a path down to her breasts. He kissed all over both of these, avoiding the areolae. When he finally got to the near nipple, his hand went to the juncture of her thighs.
Jeanette felt the difference in Bob's kiss on her right nipple when he'd parted her labia. She knew he was grinning at the moisture he'd found. Let him enjoy his discovery; he would bring her enough enjoyment of her own. And he did bring enjoyment, rubbing one inner lip against the other before his finger went inside.
Bob had made a careful study of his wife's sexual responses. Knowing that this would be a one-orgasm session for Jeanette, he wanted that orgasm, and the build-up to it, to be as satisfying as possible. He rubbed her G-spot until she tensed, and then pulled his finger out to stimulate her labia and clitoris. He remembered to switch his mouth over to her far breast as he did so.
One of the conventions of their marriage was that Bob pursued her and Jeanette acquiesced to sex. Jeanette had established that convention, but sometimes she lost patience with it. For a while, she luxuriated in her feelings -- getting more aroused as Bob kissed one breast, the other, and back to the first. His ministrations to the surface of her genitals alternated with probes deep inside. However she was at a peak, about to come, needing to come, when he changed yet again. She couldn't plead with the house full of people who'd hear her. She could, however, stimulate him. She grasped Junior.
The evidences of his wife's arousal hadn't left Bob unmoved. He'd been board-stiff since his fingers had reached her moisture. Her hand around his phallus increased his desire past the point that he could stay outside her. As he moved between her legs, Jeanette spread them wider. She guided him where they both wanted him. She was so warm and wet around him as he went in. He stayed pressed all the way inside for one moment while he shifted so that his hands could cover her breasts. Then he began the age-old motions.