Baby Names

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I woke up to the sunlight peeking through my polka-dotted curtains. I'd been tossing and turning all night, panicking about the nursery and everything else baby related.

I started having some weird pains last night and called the emergency number at my doctor's office. The nurse told me it was only the start of Braxton Hicks contractions. My body was just "getting ready" for the boys' arrival.

We were legitimately running out of time here, but for today I was trying to push those thoughts aside. Poppy and Mom told me not to worry about anything, especially with my baby shower coming up soon.

It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday. I was working the closing shift, so I had literally the whole morning free. I went to the hardware store anyway so I could buy a few flower baskets.

I saw Julia on register out in the garden center, so I was really bummed to know I wasn't closing with my Bump Buddy. It was going to be a long, boring night.

I got a good deal on the flowers with my employee discount, loaded them into the back of Smushy, and started driving to the other side of town while thinking about my dad. He'd been gone for such a long time, so my memories were limited, but there were some things I'd never forget.

I remembered the last time we all went apple picking together. Poppy was still in a stroller and sucking on a pacifier. It was freezing cold and almost all the apples were gone already, but my dad made the best of it. He'd pick me up so I could reach the apples in the trees. He held Poppy's hand so she wouldn't run off and trip in the pumpkin patch.

I slowed the car down and parked near the row of familiar headstones. With a flower basket in each arm, I waddled all the way down to the very last headstone in the row and set them down on each side of it. I carefully lowered myself onto the soft grass.

"Hi Daddy. Happy Birthday," I said. "I brought an extra basket from Poppy. She's out babysitting so we can buy cribs for the boys." I rubbed my belly. "I wanted to tell you something. It's a big surprise, but I know you'll love it."

I looked up when I suddenly heard footsteps. A woman with a small baby bump was coming towards me. In one of her hands was a bouquet. Next to her was a preteen girl, wearing a bright pink sweater. The woman stopped when she saw me.

"Oh, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to disturb you," she said. "I'm just here to leave flowers for Mister Everston, and then we'll be on our way."

"Oh, sure," I said. I scooted back a little so she could put the flowers down. "I'm Chrys, one of his daughters. I'm sure he'd be happy that people are still visiting him, especially on his birthday."

"You're Chrysanthemum? I remember, he had so many pictures of you and your sister in the band room!" She held out her hand. "I'm actually Ella Mae Burgess...it's nice to meet you."

I shook it. "Yes...I've heard of you."

"This is my daughter, Opal," said Ella.

"Hi," said Opal.

"I wish there was a way I could thank your dad for saving my life. When I saw that man come into the classroom with a gun—"

Ella stopped herself, wiped away a tear, and started again.

"I don't think I could ever repay him for diving in front of me and the others. I hope you know that your father is a true hero. I wouldn't be here without him, and I never would've been able to adopt Opal or finally have a baby of my own."

I nodded. "I do. I'm so happy for you."

Long-lost memories I kept lodged in the back of my mind came flooding back. The principal coming in and whispering to my kindergarten teacher.

Mom rushing to pick me up with Poppy in tow. Standing behind the police tape at the high school with all the crying parents. Mom asking about her husband. Parents asking where their kids were.

Getting back in the car. Rushing to the hospital. Sitting in the waiting room for what felt like forever. Mom talking to the doctor. Mom telling us that Daddy was in heaven and not coming back.

As the days went on, even after the funeral, Poppy and I would still look out the windows, waiting for him to come back at the end of the day like always.

There were awkward appointments with my school psychologist while everyone else was at recess. I was constantly getting asked how I felt. Getting asked how my dad being gone made me feel, why it made me feel that way.

Thirteen years later it was still the same: just a mixture of confusion and sadness that I constantly tried to bury.

Ella dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. "And congratulations. You look like you're due soon."

"No, I'm actually just really big! They're twins. Boys. I'm due in January."

"Oh, bless your heart! I can't even imagine how excited your dad would be to have grandkids." She looked down at her daughter, then back to me. "Best of luck, honey. I'll leave you be."

We said our goodbyes. I watched as Ella got back into her car with Opal and drove away, then looked at the headstone. Now the tears were coming. I couldn't stop them.

I just cried and cried for a while, until it started getting even chillier out. My arms were covered in goosebumps. I dried my tears on my yellow short-sleeve shirt.

"So anyway, Daddy, this was the big surprise I wanted to tell you. And most importantly, you're going to be the first one to find out," I said, feeling a kick. "I couldn't decide what I wanted to name the babies. There's so many names in this world, and I wanted them to mean something.

"The first baby, I was thinking of naming Oscar James, after Great-Grandpa Oscar, who raised Mom, but Jace really wants to name him Blaze. I'm hoping I can convince him otherwise," I said. "Here's the part you'll like: I wanted to name the second baby Oliver Jacob, after you."

Right after I said that, it felt like a patch of sunlight hit my face. My goosebumps vanished, and my whole body suddenly felt warm. I always knew that even though he was in heaven, my dad's spirit never left me.

I looked around, laughed, and said, "Well I'm glad you like it...now I just need to figure out how I'm going to get up."

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