Six Years Later…
"Come on J-Bug," Harvey calls into the back seat. "We're late."
He leans over and gives Donna a quick kiss and a light rub on the belly-bump.
"See you after the game."
Harvey grabs Jessie's giant bat bag from the back of the SUV and opens the back door to let her out.
"I'll carry it, Daddy." She looks up at him, lifting her chin extra high so she can see him under the bill of her ball cap.
"This huge thing?" He reaches down and taps his finger on the bill of her hat the way he often does. Noticing she already managed to get dirt on her face somehow. "It weighs more than you do."
Harvey chuckles as he walks past his little girl but he only gets a few paces in before he realizes she's not following. He turns back to her, already prepared for what's coming next.
"I can do anything a boy can do, Daddy." Her stance is wide and her lips are in full pout.
"Of course you can, J-Bug." Harvey helps her strap the giant bag onto her back and has to stifle a laugh when she nearly tips backward. "Like I said, we're late." He gives Jessie his signature wink as he clicks his tongue, telling her to get a move on. "Let's go."
Twenty minutes later, Harvey is busy coaching first base, which with kids at this age is more like herding cats than playing baseball. If he just manages to get the players to stay on the base during pitches and run the correct direction when the ball is hit, he's doing his job. Luckily he's just one of several dads helping out. It takes a village.
When Jessie had asked him, correction, begged him to help coach her Little League team he had several excuses at the ready. None of which would fly with his red-headed tomboy who had all her mother's fire and all of her father's stubbornness. And while his major league baseball career seemed a pretty valid reason he couldn't pull it off, she'd insisted he could try. And proceeded to remind him about the times he'd explained how trying your best was what really mattered.
So here he is, wearing a navy and gray raglan shirt with a Boston logo, no less. And reminding a bunch of four-year-olds where second base is, despite having a professional game of his own to play later tonight.
He looks over to see Donna, sitting in her sports chair donned in a big straw hat and covered by her large umbrella. He'd never met anyone who took more care with skin protection. When she sees him staring she gives a little wave and his heart flutters in his chest. Even after nearly 5 years of marriage, she still takes his breath away. And if ever the term pregnancy glow had a spokeswoman, it was Donna Paulsen-Specter.
Donna gestures with a giggle for Harvey to look at the batter and he realizes who is stepping up to the plate. It was always a relief when Jessie batted last because the last batter could run all the way around the bases instead of having to stop and wait for the next hitter. Trying to get Jessie to stop running when she had hit the ball over everyone's head was like trying to put a muzzle on a shark. Pointless and dangerous.
But she wears the name Specter on the back of her miniature uniform with so much pride, his heart can hardly stand it. And despite the coach of the other team backing up all the kids playing in the outfield, she manages to hit the ball over their heads and make it all the way around safely. As usual.
After the game, it was all about snack bar tickets and the snow cone truck. Jessie takes her sports very seriously, but the snack bar is still the best part.
On the way to the car, Harvey and Donna are walking hand in hand when he notices the pensive look on his daughter's face.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
It was a phrase his mom liked to use on him as a kid and he'd made it a tradition of sorts.
"Daddy," she says, dragging her bat behind her in the dirt. "Did you see that dinger I hit today?"
Harvey laughs out loud at her use of baseball jargon. Lord knows she spends enough time in the stands at Yankee Stadium, it's a wonder she hasn't picked up on some of the other lingo.
"Of course I did. You think I'd miss a bomb like that?" He plays along.
"Cuz I think imma be the first girl to play in the big leagues. Don't cha think so, Daddy?
Harvey scoops up his little girl and tucks her under his arm while she giggles and squirms.
"I think that's the safest bet I'll ever make, J-Bug." He tickles her side as Donna shakes her head at the two of them. "Easy money!" Harvey adds, as his daughter's laughter becomes contagious.
Donna watches Jessie with one eye closed and a grimace on her face as she bites into her hot dog covered in ketchup. She's wearing her Specter replica jersey, and Donna knows it's going to get a big splotch of red on it if she doesn't intervene. And quickly.
"Jessie, sweetie, let's take off your jersey until you finish that, ok?" Donna finally speaks up, unable to watch a minute longer. "You have a tank top on underneath and it's warm out anyway."
Donna reaches over and helps her daughter out of the jersey.
"I got it, Jess." She swipes the sticky hand away just in time. She should really have given up by now on keeping Jessie clean and put together. Since the moment she and Harvey found out they were having a girl, Donna had spent four months anticipating the arrival of a little princess. She spent a fortune on dresses and pretty hair bows that were quickly pulled out and stained. Jessie was a Daddy's girl in every sense of the word. And Donna adored her beyond reason.
She had just turned five and would be starting kindergarten in the fall, and she already knew the stats of every Yankee player as well as the current standings in the American League East. She was her daddy's biggest fan and he was hers. Donna had never doubted that Harvey would be an incredible father, but she never could have guessed how much witnessing him as one would make her love for him grow even more.
"You think Daddy will pitch tonight?" Jessie mumbles as she licks the last remnants of ketchup from her fingers.
"I don't know, Sweetie." Donna grabs a wet wipe from her bag and helps finish the job. "If the score stays the same, he will. You know how it works."
Donna smiles as her little girl nods and sits up on the edge of her seat. Laying her hand on the bump in her midsection she wonders what baby number two will be like. After getting pregnant with Jessie much quicker than either of them had anticipated, they had been trying for years to have another child. Donna was going to be 37 soon, and she had really started to worry that fate had a different plan in mind.
But then... it happened. She was late. The first day or two she didn't think much of it, but when two days stretched to five she started getting her hopes up.
Donna stood in the pharmacy section of the CVS just down the block from Jessie's preschool. She had been staring at the pregnancy tests for at least ten minutes now.
"Ma'am?" The voice came from a pimpled face boy who didn't look old enough to drive and the tone of his voice made her think he was wondering why an old lady like her was looking at pregnancy tests. "Can I help you find something?"
"What?" Donna looked at him with annoyance that was probably unmerited. "No, thank you. I've got what I need."
She pulled the pregnancy test from the shelf and scurried to the counter. She was relieved to find an elderly clerk behind the register that looked old enough to be her own grandmother.
Donna went straight home to take the test but just couldn't bring herself to do it. She had already been through several false alarms in the past few years and she wasn't sure she could take another one. Not to mention the iron deficiency debacle from before they were married. Eventually chickening out, she opened a bathroom drawer and shoved the test inside.
When Harvey came home from his workout later that evening, he had two bouquets of roses in his hands. Two dozen red for his beautiful wife, and a dozen yellow (because Jessie hated pink) for his little girl.
"Happy Valentine's Day." He wrapped Donna into a warm embrace and planted several warm kisses along her collarbone.
"Gross! Daddy, stop." Jessie scrunched her face the way she always did when her parents got all 'mushy'.
"Is somebody jealous?" Harvey teased. "Don't worry J-Bug, these flowers are for you, and I've got lots more kisses where those came from."
Jessie squealed and giggled and pushed her daddy away, but her eyes shone with so much love, Donna's heart nearly melted on the spot.
By the time dinner, baths, and bedtime stories were done, the exhausted couple sat with a glass of wine in front of their newly renovated fireplace.
"You feeling okay?" Harvey tucked a loose strand of hair behind Donna's ear. "You seem quiet. I know I cooked tonight, but I thought I had really gotten the hang of it."
Donna laughed softly and then leaned into the palm he was cradling her cheek with. She hadn't intended to tell him, not yet anyway, but something about those deep brown eyes and the slight tilt of his head just opened her up like a key in a lock.
She watched his expression morph from confusion, to understanding, to hopeful. It nearly broke her.
"How late?" He tried to keep his expression neutral but the bob of his Adam's apple gave him away.
"Five days." She looked down at her clasped hands that she couldn't seem to stop wringing. "I bought a test today."
Harvey sat up on the edge of the couch with his eyebrows raised. "You have a test? Here? In the house?"
"Yes, Harvey. Here in the house." She would laugh at his rambling if her stomach wasn't in knots.
"Well… let's take it."
Donna lifted her chin to look back at her husband's wide-eyed expression. She tried to smile but it didn't reach her eyes.
"You're scared." There was such tenderness in his tone that it almost washed away the fear. "Donna," he took her hands in his, "you know I love you and Jessie more than anything in the entire world, right? If this, the three of us, is what our family is meant to be, then so be it. I couldn't possibly be any happier than I already am."
A tear slowly made its way down Donna's cheek. Not because she was sad, but because she was happy. She had never felt more blessed.
"Well… let's take it." She laughed softly as she repeated her husband's words.
The two of them headed to the bedroom and Harvey stood patiently just outside the bathroom door. When Donna returned with the test in hand, they sat on the edge of the bed and waited together.
And when two lines slowly appeared on the small device in front of them, they both realized how wrong they'd been. They could, indeed, be even happier.
Donna burst into joyful tears and buried her face in Harvey's chest.
"Happy Valentine's Day, my love," Harvey said softly as he kissed the top of his wife's head and felt his own eyes fill with tears.
Harvey did come in to pitch and his girls hooted and hollered for him the same way they always did. There was nothing better for a mom than to watch her child so happy, so in her element, it got Donna right in the feels every single time.
She and Harvey both knew that his baseball career was nearing its end. He had already been pitching in the major leagues for over a decade, which was well beyond the league average. And he had missed two months last season when his shoulder inflammation resurfaced. The rehab had been so trying in the off-season, he had considered retiring then.
They both knew that every game pitched, every save he recorded from here on out was just icing on the cake. But not his little girl. She expected her daddy to pitch forever. He was Superman, after all.
Since it was a Saturday and Harvey would be leaving on a road trip tomorrow night, Donna let Jessie wait for him after the game so they could ride home as a family. Getting to hang out in the Yankee locker room was her daughter's favorite pastime. Well, second favorite to playing baseball herself.
Donna's 20-week checkup had been rescheduled from last week when her OBGYN had been called out sick. Now she was in the waiting room alone because Harvey was in Miami.
"Mrs. Paulsen-Specter," the nurse called out from the doorway.
She followed her back to the small room that was all set for the ultrasound.
"Donna!" The young female doctor smiled as she came in a few minutes later. "I'm so sorry about last week. And now Harvey's on the road and couldn't make it." The doctor was a huge Yankee fan, so Donna knew she was stating a fact not asking a question. "I just feel terrible about it."
"Oh my goodness, Dr. Lee, please don't apologize. With the long and crazy hours you work, it's a miracle you stay healthy at all."
"You just may be the most understanding patient I've ever had." The doctor says as she turns the monitor to get a better look and squirts the warm gel onto Donna's abdomen. "Speaking of work, how much longer will you be performing?"
"Through the end of the month. Right now my wardrobe hides my belly well enough, but in a couple more weeks... not so much."
Dr. Lee nods but her attention is on the screen. "And after the baby? Do you plan to return to the stage?"
"You know, I'm not sure. I think I'll take two years off like I did with Jessie, and then just go from there."
"What a wonderful plan." Dr. Lee looks from the monitor back to Donna. "Are we looking to find out just what type of bun is in this oven? Or are you keeping that a surprise?"
"Oh, I promised Harvey we would wait. At least until he could be here with me."
"I completely understand." She smiles softly as the baby's heartbeat starts swooshing loudly on the monitor. "Let's just take some measurements then, shall we?"
Over the next few minutes, the doctor takes a series of pictures and uses them to take down all the needed data. They discuss how Donna's been feeling and what she can expect over the next couple of weeks.
"Okay, I think it's safe for you to take a look if you'd like. Your little peanut is being modest anyway, so I think we can sneak a picture for you to bring home."
Donna turns her head toward the screen and as if he'd been waiting for an audience, her peanut of a son spreads his legs wide and gives both women a show they weren't expecting.
Donna inhales sharply and covers her mouth with both hands.
"Oops!" Dr. Lee laughs out loud and then tries to smother it with a cough when she sees the look on Donna's face. "Not so modest after all, I guess. I'm sorry about that. Really."
There is no response from Donna who just continues to stare at the tiny image on the screen, her hands still over her mouth, and her eyes blinking rapidly.
"We're having a boy?" The question is hushed. Barely audible. "We're having a boy!" she repeats. This time her words are clear as day and there is no mistaking the joy in them.
When the plane finally touches down at JFK, Harvey arches his back and runs his hand through his hair. He's not sure if it's having a family at home whom he misses dearly or the fact that his muscles and joints are not those of a young man anymore, but these road trips just seem to feel longer and longer.
He loves the game of baseball, and his long career has been a blessing in many ways. But there is a part of him, a part that seems to grow every time he kisses his girls goodbye to board a plane, that is looking forward to hanging it up and never sleeping alone in a hotel room again. As he rubs his tender shoulder, he admits to himself that that day may not be too far off.
Donna had texted him earlier to say that Jessie was running a low fever and had fallen asleep on the couch after arguing with Donna for a good thirty minutes about whether she was well enough to make the drive with her mom to pick him up at the airport. She apologized and explained that he'd need to call a car.
He doesn't mind of course, but it means another forty minutes or so before he'd be able to fix his eyes on his beautiful wife and tousle the hair of his fireball of a daughter. After 10 days on the road, forty minutes feels like forty hours.
The comforting click of the deadbolt sliding open sends a warmth through his veins like the first sip of coffee in the early morning. And as he pushes open the front door, he is overcome with a scent that has become his absolute favorite. Home.
"You made it." Donna's voice is hushed as she slips into his arms before the door is even fully closed. She burrows into his chest and he inhales deeply, her familiar shampoo filling his senses. The kiss they share is slow and deep. After all these years, she still takes his breath away.
"I made it." His quiet voice mimics hers as he looks over her head to the family room sofa where Jessie is sprawled out with a blanket haphazardly covering her. "How's my peanut?"
"Ornery as ever." Donna sighs. "But her fever broke. I think she'll be fine."
Harvey sets his bag by the stairs and kneels next to the couch, running his hand through Jessie's damp hair and placing a kiss on her cheek.
"J-Bug." He rubs her back lightly with his palm. "Daddy's home."
Jessie rolls onto her back and rubs her eyes. "Daddy?" She blinks repeatedly as her eyes slowly focus on his face. "Daddy!" She wraps her arms around his neck and he lifts her from the couch.
"It's off to bed with you missy." Harvey carries her upstairs to bed and gives the rundown on this afternoon's game until her eyelids grow too heavy to keep them open. With a soft kiss on the cheek and a promise of chicken noodle soup and day of binging Disney+ together, he turns off her light and heads back down the stairs to Donna.
As they head into their second summer in the new house, they often sit on the back patio after putting their little girl to bed. For Mother's Day, Harvey had surprised Donna with a beautiful porch swing that he knew would be perfect for watching Jessie play in the yard. Especially, when baby number two came along. And that is exactly where he finds Donna now.
"She's out. I may have promised soup and a day of watching TV with me tomorrow." The tilt of his head coupled with the shoulder shrug is playful and it makes his wife laugh. God, he's missed her.
He sits next to her on the swing and notices for the first time that she's holding what looks like a gift in her lap.
"I got you something." She smiles tentatively when she notices his eyes on the wrapped box.
"I'm the one who's supposed to bring you guys gifts when I come home, not the other way around." He smirks with genuine curiosity.
He reaches for the box his wife is offering with a suspicious glint in his eye.
"It is?" He sets the box on his lap and pretends to concentrate. "I know it's not our anniversary. Ever since I had the date tattooed on the inside of my eyelids, I haven't forgotten once!"
"You're an idiot." She giggles at his humor and elicits an ear to ear grin from him. "Go on." She nudges his thigh. "Open it."
Harvey feels a tingle down his spine as the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Something about the way Donna is looking at him has him uncharacteristically nervous.
He clears his throat in an attempt to mask the emotions coursing through him. He carefully slips his finger under the tape on the side of the box, careful not to tear the textured wrapping, a habit he'd picked up from his wife. Once the paper is off, he lifts the lid off the small box to reveal carefully folded blue tissue paper.
Harvey swallows the lump that is forming in his throat as an idea takes root in his mind. He takes a tentative glance at his wife and finds her eyes moist and glistening in the porch light, but neither of them says a word. Exhaling a shaky breath he lifts the tissue away to reveal a tiny onesie with the familiar Yankee pinstripes. He pulls the shirt from the box and reads the custom navy blue print above the number 42.
Harvey's breath lodges in his throat as he makes another futile attempt to swallow. Still holding the onesie in the air, he tilts his head toward Donna who now has a steady stream of tears running down her face.
"There's something else," she says quietly pointing to the open box.
Harvey lays the shirt down on his lap and looks back into the box. There lying on the light blue paper, is a small picture. He knows what is but he still can't seem to wrap his mind around it. Finally, he picks up the photograph and holds it up to the light. Trying to make out the image through the tears in his eyes.
"Harvey," Donna says as she places her hand on his thigh and squeezes lightly. "Meet your son."
He stares at the picture in front of his eyes as the image he sees there, and the words from his wife, slowly take hold.
Harvey places the picture and the onesie back in the box and then sets it on the table in front of him. Turning to Donna, he uses one palm to cover the hand she placed on his thigh and reaches for her cheek with the other.
"It's a boy?" he croaks. "We are having a son?"
Donna nods vehemently as both of them smile through the tears streaming down their faces. Harvey slides off of the swing and kneels between Donna's legs, keeping the swing still. He lifts the blouse covering her round belly and begins to place soft kiss after soft kiss all over her.
"Hey there, little man." He whispers with his lips lightly caressing her stomach. "This is your dad." Harvey continues to kiss her stomach as he runs his warm hand up and over the mound in front of him. "I can't wait to meet you."
And meet him he did.
Harvey Reginald Specter Jr. was born 7lbs, 11 oz. at 8:16 pm on October 24. He was welcomed into the world with open arms by both his parents and his big sister. There was a temporary adjustment period where Jessie had to learn to share the love and attention of her parents, but just as they both expected, she quickly fell in love with her little brother Reggie and was fiercely protective of him in every way.
Harvey sits on the porch swing with his son swaddled tightly in a warm blanket. It's some god awful hour in the middle of the night and he'd taken him straight from Donna's breast in the hope that she could finally get some sleep. Reggie is already showing signs of darker hair and an olive skin tone. According to Lily, he is a spitting image of him in every way. As Harvey uses his pinky as a pacifier of sorts, he looks out into the night sky and thinks about how much his life has changed.
Less than a decade ago he was alone. Estranged from his mother, lonely, angry and for all intents and purposes, lost. His skyline view was of the urban jungle of downtown Manhattan, not a backyard lawn and a wooden swing set he built with his bare hands.
And family? Family was a word that made him cringe and scramble to change the subject.
Harvey looks up when he hears the screen door slide open.
"J-Bug? It's the middle of the night. What are you doing up?"
"I had to pee, Daddy." She climbs onto the swing next to him and lays her head on Harvey's shoulder and a hand on her swaddled brother. "I went to check on Reggie, but he wasn't there."
"Just trying to give your mother some peace." He smiles warmly, touched by his daughter's concern.
But he's talking to himself because Jessie is already fast asleep against him. Adjusting his body slightly, he lowers her head to his lap and shifts Reggie to his left so he can see them both. The smile that spreads slowly across his face can be felt through his entire body. A warmth caused by an all-consuming love and an overwhelming sense of being blessed. Incredibly blessed.
He looks back up at the stars in the sky as his view glistens through unshed tears. He knows that his time as a closer, as a professional baseball player, is nearing its end. And while he accepts that that day will be difficult and that it will be tough to let go of the game that had been his life for so many years, he has a new life now.
And he couldn't be happier about it.
A/N: Thank you again to my wonderful betas and dear friends Heather, Stephanie, Natalie, and Sarah. And thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who stuck with me all the way through this story. Typing those last two words was rewarding and also painful. Bittersweet to say the least.