He startled himself awake as her arm flung itself over his chest. He suppressed a shiver and watched as she snorted softly, her mouth slightly open. The covers were tangled around her feet, trapping his. He wiggled his ankles free and twisted his arm backwards under his pillow for a sweater to put on, delicately moving her arm so he didn't disturb her as he pulled it over his head.
Sleep was so precious to her now that she was pregnant and it was so important to him that their baby rested too. This was their first child, them taking the next new step with each other bringing new life into the world. Someone to give their love to. They'd go from being their little unit as a couple to being a family. He shook his head and smiled. He still couldn't believe it sometimes even with the smooth contour of his wife's bump staring him in the face.
It was turning to winter and the depths of the night were cold. Carrying another person seemed to make Elizabeth somewhat immune to the temperature drop and each night this week Henry had woken in the middle of the night either with a flailing limb hurled against him or by covers kicked down the bed away from him. He'd had the idea tonight of stowing away his sweater and was glad he had.
His wife's pyjama top had ridden up above her waist and the glow of a street lamp outside illuminated her skin, a faint strip of murky yellow across her abdomen. He looked curiously at the rise and fall of her belly before shuffling down the bed a little, curling his knees to his chest to stay on the mattress.
A quick glance to the head of the bed and seeing her calm, even breaths and Henry knew she was asleep. It meant he could carry out his secret little night time ritual. He'd only done this for the last week or so, a little while after the baby had started kicking. Their little life coming to life with a gentle force to announce their arrival. It was on the second night when he'd been literally left out in the cold, that he'd whispered his incredulity to the bump. It had progressed since then, and talking to his new son or daughter gave him such a sense of inner peace that it made him want to drift back off to sleep.
He curled his arms under his head, his mouth level with the height of her bump. 'Hi there little one,' he murmured, his hand resting lightly on her abdomen. 'It's your Dad. I'm back again after your Mom destroyed the covers and I got left out in the cold.'
His palm connected with the heat of her skin, his fingers splayed open. His fingertips gently stroked his wife, the wind blowing outside. 'I guess you're getting bigger in there. It must be warm and cozy. I've been making sure your Mom eats well, so you're healthy when you're born. It's amazing to think of you growing inside her.'
He shifted a little and watched as Elizabeth snorted softly, her head twitching on the pillow. He waited, seeing if she drifted awake, then turned his attention back to the bump.
'I haven't yet told you about the first time I met your Mom,' he smiled at the memory, still so crystal clear in his mind though it had been seven minutes ago, not almost seven years. 'One day you'll go to college parties though the thought of that makes me more than a little anxious,' he laughed. 'Your Mom's room-mate had a cousin in my political ethics class and we both got invited to this party.'
He shook his head at the memory, smiling to himself. 'A whole bunch of twenty ish year olds, a house abandoned by parents on vacation and a wine cellar that was the envy of the whole state. It was way too sophisticated for everyone who was there.'
He'd never been a big drinker but he'd certainly never say no if a beer was offered. The place was a starting to look like a wreck by the time he and his friend Tom Hodges arrived a little after eight thirty, freshman lined up on the stairs drinking home-made punch, music blaring and bodies in the living room gyrating against each other. He and Tom had gone into this way too sober and given each other a knowing look before finding any kind of booze as quickly as possible to take the edge off. He cracked open a couple of cheap beers and meandered through the crowds. Tom was off in search of his girlfriend whilst their buddy Dan clapped a hand firmly on his shoulder.
'McCord! Long time no see!'
'Dan! How you doing buddy?'
'I'm good I'm good. Lots of good looking girls here tonight I'm hoping to...' he weaved his hand through the air. Henry shook his head and rolled his eyes. His friend was full of bravado, but Henry knew him better than that. He had a good heart and an even better sense of humour and deep down Henry knew he was really a little shy and just able to put on a decent act to the contrary.
'...and ready to mingle. You got it buddy.'
Henry perched on the edge of the window seat and downed his first beer as Dan passed him a second. They clinked their bottles together as Dan sat next to him and joined him.
'When did you break up with Tessa again?'
'A few months ago, why?'
'You met anyone new yet?'
He shook his head. Things with Tessa had been fine, but that was it. She was pretty, brunette, a biology major and they'd met at the campus coffee shop. They'd dated, seen each their once or twice a week and got along, had a few things in common. But the spark between them just wasn't enough for Henry. Things had just faded out and they'd seen each other less and less. He'd taken her out and told her face to face how he felt, wanting to do things properly and not just end things over the phone. And like everything else in their short-lived relationship, she had seemed fine with it and thanked him for his honesty. He'd heard from Tom that it hadn't been long before some guy in her biochem class had taken advantage of the opportunity and asked her out. He felt no animosity to either of them, in fact he hadn't really felt much at all which had brought home to him that he'd done the right thing.
'So. Anyone here caught your eye yet?'
Dan drained the last of his beer and Henry got up heading for the kitchen to get some more. They were playing a game of catch-up with their drinks and both beginning to get a bit of a buzz. At least he could relax a bit more at the same time feeling a little smug that he was still one of the sober guys at the party. It always paid to have that as an advantage on this campus.
'I'm not really here for that... just...'
Henry rounded the corner and stopped dead in his tracks next to the breakfast bar. Dan followed his line of sight and clocked what had caught his eye.
'You were saying, bud?'
'Yeah I was saying. But maybe a guy can change his mind?'
'Right! That's the spirit.' Dan looped an arm round his shoulders. 'Beers then introductions?'
Henry nodded, somehow incapable of speech. His eyes didn't lose focus on her for one second as he tracked her movements across the room to where she went to sit at the kitchen table, joining some friends. She was tall, slim, with long blonde wavy hair and even in the dim light he could see the twinkling of her baby blue eyes. She carried herself with poise and grace, looking so comfortable in her own skin and in the company of her girlfriends as they sat and laughed, drinking punch from plastic cups. She wasn't like the other girls that were here, she was dressed simply in high-waisted jeans and a belt, navy sweater and some tatty white converse. The rest of the girls at the party were in skirts that were so short Henry didn't know where to look when he spoke to them. Maybe she didn't have to dress like that because she had a boyfriend already. Henry scouted around and though the room was crowded, he and Dan seemed to be the only ones there who weren't coupled up with someone.
Dan boldly sat at the end of the table and saved Henry a space next to him, sliding him another bottle of beer. 'Hey girls, mind if we join you?'
Henry locked eyes with the girl across the table from him and tried to form words, instead just opening and closing his mouth, pretty certain he looked like a goldfish. She looked at him, then forced herself to look away. Henry's gaze had moved nowhere and blue locked onto hazel as he heard the other girls laughing with Dan. Their voices soon faded to insignificance as his girl opposite him got up to leave the table. He shot out of his seat clumsily, beer spilling down his shirt tails as he rushed to follow her and she shot him a confused look over her shoulder.
'Hey,' he croaked. His palms were sweaty, his fingertips prickling. His voice was hoarse and his heart was hammering in his chest. He'd never had such a strong reaction to just meeting someone as he had with her. He was drawn to her and he was feeling something he couldn't quite explain. Maybe these were the sparks that had been missing before. Maybe this is what it felt like to really meet someone and fall for them, he didn't know. But he didn't have time to dwell on it as she moved away from him towards the bowl of punch.
A guy carrying a football shot out in front of both of them and forced her to come to a stop, and Henry found himself side by side with the first person he could recall that had rendered him completely speechless.
'I'm Henry, Henry McCord.'
She looked down at his outstretched hand, still looking baffled but took his fingertips into her palm and shook his hand gently. And there they were. He felt them. Sparks. Neurones fired all the way up his arm as blood fizzed in his chest. He managed a small smile and she seemed to soften a little.
'Elizabeth,' she replied. Her voice had a low, baritone, husk to it and Henry was not in the least bit surprised to find she sounded as beautiful as she looked.
'I... I noticed you before and I wanted to... um... to introduce myself.'
'You noticed me?'
'It's just... you looked comfortable, happy, there with your friends and I didn't mean to intrude but... I just... I wanted to come and talk to you...'
He'd blown this, whatever this protracted and painful introduction was. He could feel the blush spreading up from his neck to his cheeks, certain his face was beet red as she continued to look incredulously at him.
'To talk to me?'
'Yes. Maybe... maybe get to know you a little.'
She squinted her eyes at him, her expression completely and utterly unreadable. The seconds ticked by as she looked at him, and he truly wasn't sure what to do with himself. He had to rescue this somehow or Elizabeth would think he was even more of a fruit loop.
'Listen I'm sorry. Maybe I've crossed a line or you have a boyfriend and I've spoken out of turn. I'm sorry. I don't exactly make a habit of doing this and...'
He trailed off as he felt her hand on his forearm. Her face had softened somewhat, maybe she'd been charmed by his nervous, endless rambling. She lifted her hand away and pointed to the window seat he and Dan had occupied earlier, and followed her over there.
She sat up on the window seat, drawing her legs to her chest and resting her chin on her knees. He slid in opposite her, back against the wall of the window seat and his hand with a beer casually hanging from the window.
'I'm sorry if I seemed… a little frosty back there.'
'It's ok. It's um, it's difficult to ask to talk to someone without seeming like you have an ulterior motive.'
'And do you?'
'Do I what?'
'Have an ulterior motive?'
He shook his head as she regarded him, finding his expression entirely open and honest. Maybe she should give him the benefit of the doubt, but it was hard for her given that any guy who ever came to speak to her wanted to know about two things, was her room-mate Becky single and if so could they have her number.
'Does it seem like I do?'
'Guys usually speak to me as an indirect path to Becky,' she nodded towards her friend sat at the table, now embroiled in animated conversation with Dan. 'I don't exactly relish being a third wheel.'
He held her gaze. 'My motive was to speak to you.'
He could have sworn he saw her blush as she smiled shyly and looked out the window towards the garden. 'Well then, it's nice to speak to you, Henry, Henry McCord.'
'We talked the entire night. About her major, mine, grades, mid-terms, her room-mate. My friends. Basketball, horses, the Bush campaign. I found out how she took her coffee so if I happened to run into her on campus I could buy her a coffee.'
Elizabeth stirred and Henry carried on his whispering, not even bothering to check if she was still sleeping. If he'd looked up, he'd have seen her fold her pillow in half and watch the sight unfold in front of her. Henry was talking to her bump about when they first met and she wasn't sure she'd seen anything quite so adorable. She cursed her pregnancy hormones as a tear found its way down her cheek.
'One day you'll meet someone who you start talking to and don't want to stop. And when you do stop, you're thinking of the moment that you next see that person. And that's how I felt about your Mom. Even from that night after the party, I was thinking about when it was I'd next see her. And I still feel it today.'
He felt a hand run through his hair and jumped in surprise. He grabbed her fingers and kissed her bump quickly before moving up to see her face more clearly. He felt bad for waking her, but she didn't seem in the least bit grumpy that he'd done so.
'I'm sorry to wake you,' he whispered.
She shook her head calmly, eyes shining. 'Hey. It's okay.'
'You've been making a bit of a habit out of this.'
'Wait, you know?'
'You happen to have a very soothing voice. If I woke up it kinda lulled me back to sleep, so I didn't really mind.'
She laid on her side and cuddled into him, as he wrapped his arm around her and their baby, kissing the back of her neck. 'You were always my forever guy, you know that right? Henry, Henry McCord.'