The Afternoon on the Hilltop

It was just turning midday as Nellie floated through the sea water on her back, stopping to bury her feet in the sand as the waves rushed past her waist. She sighed in content. She looked over her shoulder to see Sweeney baking in the sun with a scowl on his face. His eyes never left her despite the fact he looked like a statue sitting on the blanket. Nellie faced him and smirked, dipping herself down so the turf was up to her chin. She waved Sweeney over but he simply shook his head. She sighed and floated on her back once more, getting lost in the waves.

She rested her hand over her lower abdomen. A month had gone by since Monica gifted her the old baby gown. Nellie wanted to wait to be sure. It was the end of August and she was certain. Looking in the mirror of the washroom that morning, without her corset on she could notice the very slight bump. Her fingers danced over her stomach as she floated in the water. She longed to tell Sweeney, oh, he would be so pleased to know they were expecting, but she wouldn't tell him today. She had it all planned out. A beautiful picnic, just the two of them, on a hillside over looking the valley. A different scenery with peace and quiet, there she would tell him.

She walked out of the sea joining Sweeney on the blanket. He handed her a towel once she was standing above him, she grabbed it but barely used the thing, it was so bleedin' hot out, she didn't need to dry off. "You should go in, dear. It's mighty refreshing." She commented seeing the sweat dripping from him.

"I rather return home." He grumbled.

"If you insist," Nellie said whilst letting out a big yawn. "This sun is exhausting me."

The shop has been busier than usual over the past weeks thanks to their neighbors, the Taylors, who after tasting Nellie's famous meat pies, had shared the wonders of Nellie's cooking with the entire town. Her and Sweeney had both been run ragged with exhaustion. A Sunday on the beach under the sun only made the two more tired rather than relaxing them. Although Nellie was feeling sluggish due to another factor. She's also had an increasing appetite for vegetables and so served an abundance of them at every meal.

Sweeney would only raise an eyebrow at her but not ask any questions and tuck into his meal, no matter how abundant with greens had become. The pregnancy felt so unreal to Nellie. She kept believing it wasn't true, that she'd wake up from this blissful dream at any moment. She figured it wouldn't feel official till she spoke the words aloud to Sweeney.

That next day the lunch rush almost took her out completely. The morning sickness kicked in rather late and she was incessantly nauseated but forced herself to squash it all down and keep working. After about the twentieth savory pie was sold, she couldn't hold it in any longer.

"I'll take out the garbage." She stammered quickly to Sweeney before rushing out the back door. He looked around at her with wide eyes from the counter as if she just locked him in a cage with a few lions, customers were commenting on what they wanted and shoving money in his face. Nellie bursts through the back door and emptied the contents of her stomach right there in the alleyway.

"Margery?" a small voice spoke. "Goodness, are you alright?"

Nellie looked over to see her neighbor rushing towards her. "Oh, I'm fine dear." She held a hand to her stomach using the other to wave the woman off. She placed the hand on the door handle, she really wasn't in the mood for conversing.

"Are you alright?" she repeated, "I'll fetch a doctor."

"No," Nellie spoke removing her hand from the door. "No, no. I'm fine." She frowned and swallowed, feeling another wave coming on. She kept her hand to her lower abdomen before realizing that it isn't a good idea to… Mrs. Taylor's gaze fell upon Nellie's stomach, too late.

She let out a loud gasp, almost a shriek, hands covering her mouth. "Why Margery, you're?" Nellie merely nodded.

"I'm sorry, I'd love to chat but I have a shop to attend to."

"Yes, I won't keep you. I was hiding from my husband." She said looking over her shoulder then back at Nellie. "I wanted to apologize."

"For what dear?" Nellie asked.

"For ridiculing you behind your back."

"Oh," Nellie waved the matter off, "That was so long ago."

"I was jealous." Mrs. Taylor spoke. "I'm envy you."

Nellie froze in astonishment. Never had these words been spoken of her, it was usually the other way around. "Envious of me?" she spoke with wide eyes.

"Of your love." She looked down at the cobblestones, depressed. "My marriage was arranged and… there's this shop boy that I…" she stopped herself looking frightened as if she shouldn't dare speak such things. "No matter, I'll let you get back to your shop."

"Mrs. Taylor." Nellie called.

"Call me Anna."

"Anna." Nellie took a step closer to her. "I was once in an arranged marriage myself. Things will get better." Nellie smiled warmly. Why on earth she wanted to help this woman was beyond her. She looked so young, early twenties; the same age Nellie was stuck with Albert. In a way, she felt she knew how the girl felt.

"What happened?" Anna asked.

"Oh, I uh, I got lucky and he died of an illness." Nellie said. "I didn't love him. Though I love Sebastian fully."

"You are lucky to have a husband that cherishes you so dearly." Nellie's smile faded into a sad frown. Just last month, Sweeney plainly admitted that he didn't love her. However, she was playing Margery right now, so she forced a bright smile back onto her lips.

"Yes. I hope you can find happiness someday as well." With that Anna Taylor waved goodbye, strolling out of the alleyway.

The very person they were speaking of clear his throat behind Nellie making her gasp. "Sebastian." Nellie smirked.

Sweeney didn't look in the mood for playing games. "The trade is brisk, my dear." He motioned her to please get her arse back out there and release him.

"Sorry, she wanted to talk. The poor dear." Nellie said once inside.

Sweeney stopped to look at her closely. "Are you sick?"

Nellie swallowed, "I uh, yeah." She honestly stated. "But I'll be alright, just overworked a bit."

"Blazes, let's close." Sweeney said, practically excited.

"Love, I'll be fine, honest."

"No, we're closing." His mind was made up. "Thank God." She heard him mutter.

They locked the door and shuffled the remaining customers out. When all the "We're closed, sorry" weren't working well enough for some of them, Sweeney let out a thunderous "Get out!" and that did the trick.

"You'll scare them all away lovey." Nellie mused with a smile once it was just the two of them.

"I hope to." he growled. "I preferred when we weren't so busy. All this blasted, "I want this and that."' He mimics the customers in a childish voice.

"And you can't kill a one of them. Oh, what a shame." Nellie laughs.

"It's truly the worst of it." He mutters. Nellie hugs him from behind. "Are you sure you're alright?"

"Just tired dear." She moves to look up at him. "Thank you for helping me. I know its not idle or what you like to do."

"I rather be barbering." He admits. "However, I don't want to leave you in this shop alone." He said thinking of the law coming in. No bobbies or detectives had come back to question Nellie over that man's disappearance, though you could never be too sure.

"Cucumbers again, eh?" Sweeney groaned at dinner that evening.

"If you don't want them, I'll eat them all." Nellie commented with a smile.

He approached her from behind a moment, whispering in her ear. "What's with you and vegetables all of a sudden, pet?"

Nellie smiled to herself warmly. You'll soon find out, Mr. T, she wanted to tell him. For now, she needed to dispel any suspicions he may be developing. She's most certainly been acting unusual and he was catching on. Sweeney had returned to setting the table, Nellie faced him, her hands poised on her hips. "Alright. I'll tell you." She declared in a high, cheery voice.

He looked up in question, arching his brow.

"I'm trying to better my bowel movements."

He let out a short, dry laugh, turning his attention back to setting the table. "I never would have gathered your bizarre behavior was the cause of constipation."

"I'm not going to open the shop tomorrow." Nellie spoke after dinner while they were seated across from each other on the settee.

Sweeney looked up from the books in his hands concerned, "Are you terribly sick then? You seem fine now."

"Oh, no I am fine love. I just don't want to open."

"But it's a Tuesday?"

"It'll be a beautiful day and I want to have a picnic." She spoke setting her plan in motion.

"We can have a picnic by the sea anytime, pet." He said directing his attention back to the pages below him.

"I don't want to have it by the sea, this time." She mused, "I wanted to find a nice, secluded hilltop, overlooking the valley. A change of view, wouldn't that be charming?"

He made a gruff "hm" as his response. "

"What do you say? Tomorrow or another day?"

"Anything you'd like pet, I don't mind." She smiled warmly at that. This picnic wasn't just any old occasion after all.

Nellie woke up bright and cheery. The sun was bright, the birds were singing, she was in the kitchen preparing porridge for breakfast and was about to begin preparing lunch for their day out but stopped herself, deciding to rouse her barber first. She drew back the curtains letting the light glint through. Sweeney wrinkled his face in disgust and rolled away from the window. Nellie waltzed over to him, placing a chaste kiss to his cheek. "Good morning, lovey. It's absolutely beautiful out. I made some porridge with fruit and cinnamon."

He grunted loudly.

"Come one dear, we have a picnic to go on."

He opened his eyes only to squint them shut again. "That light." He groaned. "My head, feels like its splitting in two."

"Alright, I'll just close the curtain back then." She said ridding the room of the cheery sunlight. "Not feeling well love?" Nellie spoke with a pout on her plump lips. She leaned over him, stroking his hair. She continued to stroke his black wavy locks with the white poking through till he let out another groan. "Very well, I'll leave you be. You really must try to eat something though, love."

His porridge remained untouched all morning and into the afternoon. Nellie slumped onto the settee with a sigh, of course of all times for him to be sick with a migraine, there goes her beautifully planned day. "It can't be helped." She mused to herself, absentmindedly placing a hand over the tiny swell of her abdomen. "Shall we find something else to do little one?"

The pregnancy felt very real to Nellie all of a sudden. As if this whole time the notion was pushed to the back of her mind, she imagined the situation would feel real once the words were spoken aloud to Sweeney. To tell the truth, Nellie wasn't sure what she was feeling. She was overwhelmed with joy of course, but a small part of her felt very frightened. She's never had a pregnancy last this long. Any of Albert's babes hadn't made it past the first trimester leaving Nellie heartbroken and wondering if she was the problem. She was in the second trimester now with the man of her dream's babe inside of her and besides the occasional nausea, things were going smoothly. Still, she had no idea what to expect and no mothers around to help her.

She could always go to Monica… she hung her head, wishing her own mother was more loving and helpful. Nellie decided to write a quick letter to aunt Nettie, sharing the wonderful news. She'd stop by Monica's inn coming back from the post. "I'm going out for a bit love." Nellie said poking her head in the bedroom. He was sound asleep, she shut the door quietly, leaving the small cottage.

On the way back from the post office, she changed her mind and walked into the library instead of the inn. It took a bit of searching to find books on pregnancy and babies. Once she found the correct section, she opted for taking as many she could carry.

"Most of those are written by men." A voice said to her right. It was an elderly woman in a large feathered hat. "You're a new mother?"

"Yes," Nellie answered.

"Hang on, I think I have something here." The woman opened her purse, pulling out a pamphlet. "Manual from the church." She said handing it to Nellie. "Its advice from other women, that may help you better than all these old men." The woman said waving her hand in front of the book shelf.

"Thank you." Nellie said a bit stunned.

The strange woman smiled. "If you need any other help talk to the women in your church, or a physician." Nellie nodded her thanks again, making sure not to let the woman know she doesn't even go to a church, but probably should, and left the library with the manual on motherhood and a Poe story that looked to be fun.

Nellie refused to return home yet. The warmth of the summer felt amazing, the gentle breeze coming off the sea was heavenly. She had to pass by the park on the trail home anyway and decided to stop on a nearby bench and take a peek at this manual for new mothers. She only just barely got through the first page when a different stranger interrupted her learning.

A little girl with blonde hair and a blue ribbon looking far too much like Johanna that Nellie had to blink multiple times to make sure her eyes were not playing tricks on her, joined Nellie's side on the bench. "What are you reading?" the girl said, not a lick afraid of strangers it seemed.

Her feet hovered above the ground where she kicked them back and forth. She was very precious and Nellie suddenly felt an urge to cry softly for no reason other than hormones and memories plaguing her. She swallowed looking down at the pamphlet. "Oh, its uh…"

"Are you going to have a baby?" the girl interrupted.

"Yes," Nellie smiled. "I am."

"My mother just had a baby." The girl said looking across the way at a woman with the same blonde hair rocking a squalling babe in her arms. "My brother was born almost a year ago. I don't like him, he's nasty and he cries all the time. He cries for food, he cries for toys, he cries for a new nappy."

Nellie laughed.

"I hope your baby won't cry so much."

"I expect it will a little bit." Nellie spoke.

"What do you think you'll have?" the girl asked still kicking her feet back and forth.

"My husband and I are wanting a girl." Nellie spoke and the yellow haired dear wrinkled up her nose.

"Girls are mean." She said.

Nellie smiled, "Well boys can be mean too."

"Not the ones I know." The young girl stretched out her small legs and rested her head against the back of the bench. Her eyes never left Nellie as if she was mesmerized. "Are you the pie lady?" she asked. "My papa brought home one of your shepherd pies one day for dinner. It was really good." She sat up straight again. "I wanted a fruit pie though and he said you had run out. Do you have any fruit pies now?" she rambled on.

Before Nellie could answer the girl's mother had come over. "Rosetta, its time to go."

The woman smiled at Nellie but couldn't hide the slight concern that her young daughter was busy talking with a stranger. "Mama, this is my friend the pie lady."

"You didn't ask for her name, Rosetta?"

The girl hopped off the bench facing Nellie, she did a small curtsey, politely. "I'm sorry Ma'am, I know your name because your pies are so good and I've been in your shop before but I can't remember what your name is."

"Its Mrs. Oakley," Nellie smiled warmly.

"Mama, this is my friend, Mrs. Oakley the pie lady."

Both the mothers let out a light chuckle. "Good job dear," the girl's mother said.

Nellie stood up from the bench as well. "This is my brother," Rosetta told Nellie. "The one who cries all the time, he's not crying now though because he fell asleep. She's having a baby too mama."

"Congratulations." The woman smiled. Nellie could tell she wasn't one for conversing, the girl must have gotten her chattery spirit from her father.

Nellie nodded her thanks still feeling as if she would burst into tears. "We must be getting home, come along Rosetta." The girl took her mother's hand using the other one to waved goodbye to Nellie. "You'll have fruit pies next time, right?" She asked.

Nellie bent down in front of her. "Next time you come in; I'll be sure to make one special just for you." She spoke with a warm smile causing Rosetta to grin in excitement. The girl and her mother left the park as did Nellie. Sweeney should be out of bed by now.

On the walk home, she realized how late it had gotten, how she'd been out almost all day and didn't even have lunch. With this thought her stomach growled and she opted to take a detour to get something to bring home for an early dinner. Street food was made for convenience not taste and since her appetite for red meat had left her and not returned, Nellie picked up two eel pies, she'd fix potatoes or dried fruit to go along with the eels when she returned to the cottage.

She walked through the door and was so pleased to see Sweeney up and moving. "Feeling better, dear?" she sang dropping her book along with the motherhood manual on the nearby chair.

"Headache is gone, for the most part. Where've you been all day?"

"Oh, I had a lovely day, Sweeney. I went to the library and I met the most charming little girl in the park. I picked up some eel pies in the market, I know they're not ideal but I wasn't in much of a cooking mood at the time. I'll put on some potatoes with them though. Hope you're as hungry as I am."

"Sounds like quite the adventure. It's no picnic, but I'm glad you still enjoyed the day."

"There's always another day for a picnic, dear." She smiled. Walking over to give him a hug before peeling potatoes.

Her quest for that picnic on the hilltop wasn't coming for a little while longer. Sweeney felt better but the weather turned nasty for the rest of the week. It rained and thunder roared all day long. They opened the shop even though business was insufferably slow, no one wanting to venture out into the storm. That Saturday, the storm had gotten so bad that they decided it'd be safer to just stay indoors and not walk to the shop.

Nellie hated the sound of thunder, always has since she was a little girl. She kept herself busy, there was only so much space to clean in the small cottage. Sweeney and herself finished off all the library books, reading them out loud dramatically just for fun, it was mainly Nellie who was. They played mancala and cards. Nellie had several ideas of new things to knit, baby blankets and toys for example, but she couldn't just yet. She considered just telling Sweeney about the babe several times now, she certainly had plenty of opportunities but kept the news to herself, waiting for her dream picnic she knew would be coming soon. Not only was she going to tell Sweeney about the child but she also had a special little gift to give him.

"What do you want to do now, my love?" Nellie asked. The thunder clashed loudly and she subconsciously inched closer to him. They had just finished their fifth round of Old Maid, Nellie with the most wins, and Sweeney insisting she cheated. "Tomorrow is Sunday, so there'll be no need to prepare meals for the shop." She was sitting on the floor, her hands pressed flat on the rug behind her. "Another round?"

He was hunched over the coffee table with his legs crossed in front of him. "No, you'll just cheat again."

"No one likes a sore loser love." He chuckled at that. He moved over to her side of the coffee table, knocking her down to the floor. She let out a surprised shriek underneath him and he prevented any further shrieks flowing off her lips by capturing them with his own.

"There is one way to kill the time my dear."

"Hm," she smirked. "And what might that be." In response, he lifted her up collapsing both of them onto the settee.

Maybe it was just her imagination, but he's sweeter on her as of late. Her heart still ached a bit from last month when he told her he wouldn't love her until she gave him a daughter. Nellie had a sinking feeling this wasn't true however, more correctly Sweeney would admit that he loved her when she gave him his daughter, and somehow, she could swallow that news a bit easier.

Sweeney remained attached to her like glue through the rest of the night. After making love again they were curled up in bed the sheets kicked off of them since it was so hot. The rain finally stopped falling leaving a sticky humid feeling to the air. Nellie drifted off peacefully, a smile on her face, knowing that her dream picnic would take place tomorrow.

The sun was shining at last. Her and Sweeney were both in good health with high spirits. Nellie was humming while packing the picnic basket a smile never leaving her lips. "Any reason why you're so keen on having this picnic love?" Sweeney asked her.

"It'll be a lovely, romantic day for us dear." She replied. "Could you fetch the blanket out of the closet for me?"

While he left to retrieve the blanket, she took her opportunity to stuff the surprise she had for him in the bottom of the basket. He returned by her side in the kitchen, the blanket draped around his arm and they set off on their small hike to the hilltop. They could find a new area but agreed to return to the valley they first entered Grimsby in what felt like years ago. After the long walk they couldn't wait to spread out the blanket and rest.

Sweeney and Nellie spent hours just watching the clouds, laying on their backs.

"This is beautiful and all my pet, but I'm getting the notion that you didn't come all the way here just to cloud gaze." He spoke.

"It's so refreshing here." She rolled over onto her side to face him. "I love the sea, but our next home should be in the valley. With no neighbors around, just acres of peaceful land."

"I'd like that." He mused.

She smiled seeing how even he was enjoying himself. It's been a busy week for both of them. After letting in a gulp of fresh air Nellie pulled herself up into a sitting position. Of course, once she gets her blissful picnic the child makes her feel ill. Time was of the essence. "I do have a reason to bring you here Sweeney." She pulled the basket towards her and pulled a small box out from the bottom.

Sweeney sat up folding his legs underneath him, curious.

Nellie handed the box to him. He stared at the box then up to her, his brows arched in confusion. "You're the one who's having a birthday next month and you're giving me a gift?" he asked, taking the box from her hands.

"What, a wife can't do something nice for her husband." She grinned. He still looked at her arching that brow of his and she explained. "Alright I'll tell you, but first, open it." she was so giddy.

Sweeney pulled the blue ribbon off the box, opening the lid. He froze and his mouth fell open, his eyes fixated on the shiny small blade with a wooden handle laying in the box in his hands. He looked up from the razor to Nellie, his face astonished. "Why?"

She smiled warmly, lovingly. "You see, love, I won't be able to run the shop for a time coming up and I was thinking that maybe you could go back to barbering." His mouth was still agape. "Only if you want to, I…"

"Why won't you be able to open the shop?" he asked interrupting her.

She tried to hide her grin but failed miserably. "Well," she began. "Let's just say, your wish for a new daughter is coming true." He set the razor down by his side, leaning in closer to her. "I'm with child." She finished. He placed his hands on her arms, stroking them lightly. Nellie let out a light gasp of glee, "I'm so happy to finally tell you. I'm sorry I've known for a month." His brows arched again. "I wanted to wait to be sure. I think I'm already in the second trimester or just about. When I was pregnant twice before the baby didn't make it past the first trimester and I figured there was something wrong with me so I wanted to wait to be sure, I'm so sorry I kept the news from you this long. I wanted the occasion to be special when I told you. That's why I wanted this picnic so bad. And about the razor, I know you threw the old ones off the cliffside so why bother getting a new one right but I –"

He stopped her blathering by moving his fingers underneath her chin and pulled her in for a big kiss. He encased her in his arms and pulled her onto his lap. "You talk so much." he spoke still holding her in his lap.

"Sorry, I'm so happy." She grinned.

"I'm happy to." he admitted and she kissed him again. "I should tell you love," he began after they broke the kiss. "I already knew you were with child. I've known for weeks."

She sat up straight, leaning away from him is disbelief. "You what?"

"You've been acting so strange lately."

She smacked his chest, "You bastard I wanted to surprise you."

"I'm sorry. I've had my suspicions but I didn't know for certain till I found a pamphlet on motherhood that was left in the armchair." He spoke.

She looked down at the grass letting loose a sigh. He smiled and kissed her cheek. He pulled her back into his lap and they turned their gaze to watching the clouds once more. "So, where'd you get the pamphlet?"

"Some woman gave it to me in the library. Said it was from her church."

They stayed there a bit longer, just watching the sunset.

"I bet you were wondering when I was going to tell you." Nellie spoke.

"I figured I'd find it out eventually." He said and she laughed. "I'm half tempted to say those small words I know you'd fancy hearing." He said while holding her close and looking deep into her eyes as they perched on the hilltop.

"What's stopping you?"

"Memories of Fleet Street."

"Gah," Nellie scoffed. She removed herself from his arms, repositioning herself on the blanket. "We have new memories to make now." she said looking up at him.

He was silent for a bit before placing his hand atop hers and saying, "Indeed we do."

Hi, author Ally here. Listen, I've had this baby's birth planned for SO long now. You have no idea how excited I am. I'm stuck between time skipping to the birth, not in the next chapter it'll probably be about 2 or 3, maybe 4 or expanding and having the pregnancy last awhile? Not to spoil but, we still have a long way to go and things will get interesting again later on. Writing romantic peace has been really nice but I love writing chaos for some reason. And I fear that the mushy gushy stuff can get boring.

Tell me what you think of the story. Do you like the pacing? Should I speed things along or slow down?

On a side note. My dream is the be an author and to write a book someday and I had a story idea years ago that I hit a wall with and I got the idea of turning this story into a book. Of course I would have to make up an origin story and tweak a lot of things, but I don't know. Maybe it could be something really nice some day.

Thanks for reading, appreciate you!