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Sleep Like a Baby

Charlaine Harris

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  About the Author

  Copyright Page

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  For Patrick, Timothy, and Julia, who provided the opportunities to educate me in how a new mother feels


  My sincere thanks for the advice of Detective Robin Burcell, former police officer and current mystery writer. I’d also like to thank my beta readers, Dana Cameron and Toni L. P. Kelner (aka Leigh Perry), for their time and thoughts on how to improve this manuscript.

  Chapter One

  I was standing at the backyard fence, watching the Herman twins (a) play with their dog, and (b) water their flowers. It was early in the morning, the only time of day it was tolerable for me to go outside in July in Georgia, since I was approximately as big as a rhinoceros.

  “Are you past your due date, Roe?” Peggy called, as she tossed a ball for Chaka for at least the twentieth time.

  I sighed. “Yes, three days.” I’d put on my new cerise-framed glasses to cheer myself up. During my whole pregnancy, I hadn’t cared which pair I wore, because I’d been so absorbed in my changing body. I’d pretty much gotten over that by now.

  Lena turned the hose off and came over. (I had learned to identify them by their hair. Lena parted hers on the right.) Both the sisters were in great shape. They took turns walking the dog and they played tennis. Peggy and Lena were very self-sufficient in the household-repair department, too. I found them admirable and daunting.

  “I was early with my twins,” Lena said. “Three weeks. But they were fine.”

  “Where do they live now?” I knew they weren’t local.

  “Cindy lives in Maine, and Mindy is in Spartanburg.”

  “Peggy has a son, right?” I thought I’d met him once.

  “Kevin. He’s in Atlanta, but he’s a doctor and a dad, so he doesn’t have much spare time.”

  I nodded. It seemed like all I had now was time, but I could imagine being busy. Instead of waiting. And waiting. For the baby who would not arrive. I watched Peggy give Chaka a series of commands, all of which Chaka obeyed promptly.

  “What kind of dog is he?” I said. He was clearly something. I’d never seen a dog like him.

  “Rhodesian ridgeback.” Lena smiled. “We got him from a rescue group. We couldn’t have spent the money to buy a puppy. But he’d been…”

  Suddenly, I felt a gush of warmth. Oh my God, I thought, embarrassed beyond belief. I can’t control my bladder. This is the rock bottom.

  “Well,” Lena said calmly, her gaze following my own horrified stare. “This is the end of your wait, I think. Your water just broke.”

  * * *

  For just one moment, I was the only adult in the room. In my arms was the most important person in the world, Sophie Abigail Crusoe, two hours old. She’s perfect, I thought, marveling. I’m the luckiest woman in the world. My daughter had just been presented to me as a swaddled bundle. I’d barely caught a glimpse of her as she emerged from her nine-months residence. Yielding to an irresistible urge, I unwrapped her just to make sure every part of her was present and in order. She was perfect. And she didn’t like being unwrapped. Sophie made her dissatisfaction known in no uncertain terms, and I hastily (and clumsily) re-swaddled her. I felt guilty. I’d made Sophie cry, for the first time.

  My husband, Robin, stuck his head around the door and eased inside, as if he weren’t sure he was welcome. “How are you?” he asked me for the twentieth time. “How is she?”

  Robin might be feeling a little guilty, too, because I hadn’t had the easiest labor. In our childbirth class I’d met a second-time mother who’d told me she didn’t know what all the big fuss was about. She’d felt like she had indigestion for an hour; then her baby had popped out.

  About midway during the twelve hours it had taken me to bring Sophie into the world—twelve very long hours—if that woman had walked in my room, and I’d had a gun, I’d have shot her dead.

  But it had all been worth it.

  “I’m fine,” I said. “Just tired. And she’s so great. All eight pounds.” I held her out to him, smiling. “And she has red hair.”

  Red-haired Robin took Sophie as carefully as if she were an ancient Ming vase. He looked down at the tiny face, and my heart clenched at his expression. He was totally smitten. “Can I put in a moat around our house, and build a ten-foot wall?” he asked.

  “I don’t think the neighbors would approve,” I said. “We’ll just have to do the best we can to keep harm away from her.” I tried to stifle a yawn, but I couldn’t. “Honey, I’m going to sleep,” I said. “You’re on watch.”

  Even as a mother of two hours’ experience, I was sure one of us should be on duty at all times.

  As I drifted into sleep, feeling I deserved it for a job well done, I counted all the people who already loved Sophie: my mother, her husband, Robin’s mother, Robin’s siblings, my half brother, Phillip … and I felt so blessed that Sophie had been born into this protective circle.

  Though the moat and fence seemed a wise precaution.

  Chapter Two

  Two months later, I had put that notion out of my head and was even able to laugh about it. A little. We’d resumed our lives, but with a huge difference. The central core of our existence was Sophie: her needs, her wants, her well-being. Though we were on the old side to be first-time parents (I was thirty-seven, Robin was forty), I felt we were coping like champions. On the whole.

  Robin would get up with Sophie at night, bring her to our bed, where I would nurse her. I’d dive back into sleep while he changed her diaper and put her back in the crib. I would get up early in the morning, and take care of Sophie until noon or two, when Robin would have finished work. Then he’d give me a break for a few hours. Sometimes I took a nap during that time, sometimes I did a household chore. Sometimes I just read.

  Phillip, who lived with us, donated the odd hour or two snatched from his busy high school schedule, so I could go to the grocery without taking the huge bag of necessities that a baby required. A couple of times, my mother came over when Robin had to speak at a luncheon or a signing.

  By trial and error, we were able to provide full-time baby coverage without extreme exhaustion … up until the time Robin had to leave for Bouchercon, the world mystery convention.

  I came in the front door carrying a package of diapers. I’d taken Robin’s car. Our two-car garage was more like a one-and-three-quarters car garage, and it was so nerve-racking to park side by side that one of our vehicles was usually left in the driveway.

  After depositing the diapers in Sophie’s room, returning to the car for the other bags, and checking again that the baby was still asleep, I joined Robin in our bedroom, right across the hall from Sophie’s. Robin was packing. He was so methodical and careful about the process that I enjoyed watching him. Also, I’d found something I wanted to show him.

  “Look,” I said. I flourished the bouquet of yellow roses.

  “Who sent you flowers?” he asked, looking up from folding his shirts.
/>   “The card was blank.” I looked at it again, stuck on its plastic prong. No, I hadn’t missed anything. “I checked it twice.”

  “What florist?” He stood back and looked down at the suitcase, frowning slightly. He was reviewing his mental list of the items he’d packed. I didn’t talk until he gave a decisive nod.

  “Blossom Betty’s,” I read. That was the logo on the card. “Where’s that?”

  He picked up his phone and did a quick search. “It’s in Anders,” he said.

  “Huh. Weird.” Anders was halfway to Atlanta. Lawrenceton had once been a small town some distance out of Atlanta, but the space in between the two on the map was rapidly filling up with bedroom communities. Anders was one of those.

  “They’re really pretty,” I said. “You like roses, right? Especially yellow ones? You said that in an interview. So I’m guessing that someone meant to congratulate you on the nomination.”

  “By sending me flowers?” He looked doubtful. Then he shrugged and coiled up another belt to place carefully in the middle of the bag. “Okay, that’s it except for my shaving kit,” he muttered. He looked at me with a resigned face. “You have to quit reading my interviews. I’ve said some weird things when I felt under pressure.”

  I went to the kitchen to put the roses in a vase. While I arranged the flowers, I realized I was feeling a bit sluggish. Not quite ill, but not really well, either. I was glad when we turned in for the night and I could legitimately crawl under the sheet. I was restless all night, but toward dawn I fell into a heavy sleep.

  When I woke, Robin was already shaved, and he’d combed his unruly red hair. I was startled that I’d slept so long. I scrambled out of bed, with a hazy feeling that I was starting the day off on the wrong foot. In honor of his departure, I went about toasting some English muffins and scrambling eggs.

  I caught a glimpse of Phillip as he grabbed a muffin on his way out the door. His friends Josh and Jocelyn Finstermeyer were already parked outside.

  Robin perched on a barstool, enjoying a cup of coffee and a hot breakfast. The hot breakfast was a little unusual, I admit. I feel I am doing well to even start the coffeepot, most mornings. I turned away from the plate I’d prepared and coughed into my elbow.

  “You’re sick,” Robin said.

  “Oh, maybe a little cold,” I said.

  Robin touched my forehead, and went into our bathroom, reappearing with a thermometer.

  I had a low-grade temperature. “It’s nothing,” I said, with forced cheer.

  Robin looked at me sharply. “I’ll cancel my flight and my hotel.” He meant what he said, but I could detect his disappointment. He had a panel this afternoon with some of his idols, and the awards banquet would be tomorrow night. Ever since the day he’d gotten the phone call from the nominating committee, Robin had been walking on air.

  For the past twelve years, Robin’s sales had gained momentum, but he’d never before been nominated for more than a minor award or two. This year, for the first time ever, Robin was on the highly prestigious Anthony ballot. Only my reluctance to take a small baby into such a public venue had kept me from traveling to Nashville with him. Robin’s friend (and best man at our wedding) Jeff Abbott had promised me he’d film Robin’s acceptance speech—if Robin got to make it.

  After I’d read the other nominated novels, I thought Panel of Experts had a real shot at winning. It was Robin’s best book to date; plus (and this never hurts), he was a popular and respected writer.

  “You’re going,” I said firmly. I stared Robin down across his suitcase. He was getting on that plane.

  To give him credit, Robin was still dubious. “I’m worried about you. I don’t want you to get sicker. Maybe call the doctor and see if you should even be breast-feeding?”

  I hadn’t thought of that. Sophie and I were a package deal until I weaned her. She would not take a bottle, which made me curiously proud, but it was actually quite inconvenient.

  Robin, who’d been looking at me with baffled concern, brightened. “Listen, you want me to call that woman your mom hired? Who came every day after Sophie was born?”

  “Virginia,” I said.

  My mother had figured home help was the best assistance she could give me. Though I had initially resisted the idea of sharing my first few days with my baby, I’d given in when I realized how exhausted I was. Virginia had had the energy to put a meal on the table and do the laundry as well as take care of Sophie’s diaper changes while I took a nap and Robin tried to catch up on his work.

  At that time, Virginia had stayed from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. for five days. I’d recovered from the birth as quickly as I had because Virginia picked up the slack. Though I’d appreciated all Virginia’s help, I couldn’t say I’d bonded with her.

  This morning, I figured it would be better to hire Virginia and not really need her than to go without her (possibly essential) help. I didn’t often get sick, but when I did, I did a good job of it. If I was even thinking of going back to bed when Robin left, I’d need Virginia.

  Robin checked his Contacts list and called her on the spot. He liked to walk around while he talked on the phone. He wandered into Sophie’s room to look at her sleeping, and then down the hall, all the while exchanging a quiet dialogue. When he came back into the bedroom, he was beaming. “Her last job just ended. And she’s willing to stay nights instead of days. If you’re getting sick, your temperature will be going up at night. I’ll only be gone till Sunday afternoon.” He was much happier now that he could leave with a clear conscience.

  “Do we still have the bed she used?” My mother had loaned us a folding bed. Phillip had the second bedroom, and Sophie the third, so Virginia would have to share with Sophie, as she had before.

  “Aida told me to keep it for a while, just in case. I’ll get the foam slab,” Robin said. We’d bought it to make the folding bed a bit more comfortable. “Won’t take me a minute to set it up, and if you tell me where the sheets are, I’ll put them on.”

  The plus side to owning an older home (and one of the reasons I’d bought this house) was that all the rooms—including the bedrooms—were really sizable. Virginia wouldn’t be cheek by jowl with the crib.

  “The sheets are in Sophie’s closet on the second shelf,” I told him. While Robin took care of the bed, I called my ob-gyn, Dr. Garrison. Her nurse relayed my questions and called me back in five minutes. We had a conversation about Sophie’s risk in being close to me, and how I could minimize the chances of her getting whatever it was I was coming down with. I was punching the “end” icon when my husband reappeared.

  “What did Dr. G say?” he asked.

  “My milk is okay. I should wear a face mask when I’m holding her, wash my hands thoroughly and often, and minimize contact. So it’s good Virginia’s free.”

  “Do we have face masks?”

  “You had some you wore when you mowed the yard. They’re in the garage, third shelf, middle.”

  “Great!” He hustled out to bring them to me. “Anything else before I call Uber?”

  “Can you check the mailbox? I forgot yesterday.” Sophie was making her “eh, eh” noise, which meant I’d better get in there quickly or the dam would break. I pulled on a mask.

  As I finished putting her sleeper back together, Robin was flipping through the catalogues and letters, putting most of them in a pile for the recycling bin.

  “Polish rights,” he said after a quick glance. “I’ll take care of them when I get back.”

  He opened a large envelope, and shook out the contents. Several pieces of mail landed on the end of the table, all of them hand-addressed and battered-looking.

  Fan mail.

  From time to time, The Holderman Agency accumulated enough letters for Robin (sent by readers who were savvy enough to look up his representation) to throw them in an envelope and send it along. I counted five letters and a book. Robin opened the book first, read the inscription, put it down. “Self-pubbed,” he said. “But I like the
writer.” Robin sorted the envelopes in quick succession, tossed two of them, and opened the remaining three. He smiled at the first letter, and the second letter was okay, too. But his face darkened as he opened a greeting card. “What is it?” I asked.

  “Betty is thinking about me,” he said dryly. “I have no idea who Betty is.”

  Every now and then, Robin got some fan attention that was a little too intense. “You’re just so sexy,” I said, and grinned at him. Sophie and I settled in the rocking chair in the corner to begin our ritual.

  Robin grimaced before he tossed the card. He put aside the other two to answer.

  Sophie was too absorbed in glugging my milk to note the mask.

  Thirty minutes later, Robin’s Uber ride arrived, and he left, blowing me a kiss from the doorway. I didn’t blame him. I was toxic. Though I hadn’t told my husband, because he was already worried, I was feeling worse by the hour.

  The day dragged along. I got a couple of phone calls, one from my mother, who wanted to know how Sophie was, and one from the Friends of the Library asking me to donate something to the bake sale. I watched Sophie, read a little, and cleaned away the breakfast dishes. I felt useless. My energy level was at zero. I kept waiting to perk up, but I didn’t.

  Phillip got home at four. “Hey, Roe!” he yelled. “Where are you?”

  “In the bedroom,” I called back, and my voice came out scratchy. I’d made myself sort the laundry, but I was moving at a snail’s pace.

  Phillip stood in the doorway, looking at me critically. “What’s up? Robin texted me and told me to come straight home after school. So I got Josh to drop me off. Though I was planning to go the library to study.” A hint of accusation, there.

  “Phillip,” I said, “I’m going to be really frank. I need your help, and I’m going to need it until Robin gets back. I’m afraid I’m sick, and I’m getting worse. I can’t take care of Sophie by myself. Virginia Mitchell is coming to stay at night, but please be here when you can.”