"Apologies dear, goodness me. I'll get that cleaned up in a jiffy." Nellie exclaims, pulling a rag out of her dress pocket and dabbing the ale-stained table. "No worries ma'am." The customer assured her.
Once clean, Nellie sighed to herself, she was having a terrible day. She felt sluggish and slow and everyone else in the shop was whizzing by far to fast for her to keep up with. She returned to the counter and took a sit on the stool, thankful to take a minute to catch her breath. "Excuse me," a gentleman said, showing her the pie on his plate. "This is burned." He rudely placed it on the counter in front of her.
Nellie bit the inside of her cheek. "I'll make you a new one." She said forcing a smile on her face. She stepped into the back room, seeing her husband stress over cakes and fruit pies. "As handsome as you look covered in flour," she said with a smirk, "I need you to watch the counter, you're burning all my pies."
Sweeney scowled looking at the pie in her hand's. "That's not burnt."
"Well, they say it is, so I have to make another one."
"Be sure to spit into it before serving." Sweeney mumbled causing Nellie to laugh.
Nellie's brows rose in suspicion, "You've been spitting in pies this whole time, haven't you?"
"Not all of them."
She slammed her rolling pin down, "Mr. Oakley." She scoffed despite the amusing grin spreading her lips. She turned her attention to begin kneading at a fresh batch of dough. "Oh well, we've put worst into pies I suppose." She commented with a light smile.
Sweeney open the door a crack to head to the counter, he stopped himself as a thought occurred to him. He looked back at his wife, "How are you feeling?"
She looked over her shoulder to him, "Why?" She continued working the dough, moving to the right to stir the boiling pot of jam filling. "I'm too early along for you to be fretting over me already, love."
"How are you feeling?" he asked again, "And don't lie."
She set the dough aside to proof for a few. She faced him, hands on her hips. "Now, I only ever lied to you that one time." He gave her a hard look, letting her know he wouldn't tend the shop unless she answered him. "Fine, I'm tired. My bones are worn down." She returned to her jam.
"Here, sit. Rest awhile." Sweeney said scratching the stool's legs on the wood floor boards. She ignored him and continued her work, rolling her eyes and a warm smile plastered on her face. "We're closing early." He said and fled the back room missing her mouth hung low like a cod fish as she prepared to protest, but she was too late.
Word had spread fast in the town and soon, it seemed all of Grimsby knew Nellie was with child. Thanks to their gossiping neighbors, the Taylors. A month had passed since the picnic, summer was blowing away by the cool autumn breeze. Nellie was feeling giddy with her birthday coming up the first week of October. She wondered what Sweeney would do to celebrate or if he would even remember. She took a seat on the stool while the pie baked in the oven. She sighed, as a rush of tiredness rushed over her. She hasn't been sleeping well lately. Most nights she would lay awake and watch the shadows dance on the ceiling, while Sweeney snored lightly beside her.
She preferred those nights to the dreaming ones. The ones where she'd wake up in a sweat, her mind rushing dizzy from the grim images. She watched the pie turn evermore golden in the oven, the scent surprisingly not making her feel ill for once. She has yet to tell Sweeney about her every rising anxiety as the days passed. She's never had a pregnancy last this long, as excited as she was, she felt terrified of what was to come in next months.
A reoccurring thought that kept her awake at night was how Lucy handled the pregnancy. She remembered the Barkers not being around mainly, staying with Lucy's mother till Johanna was born. She realized that every woman and child was different, but she's carrying a Benjamin Barker child as well now and was curious to know if the pregnancy will be similar. She sighed again and placed her left hand over the slight swell of her stomach, using the right to open the oven's door. For once, Nellie wished she could speak with the blonde.
Sweeney knew she was stressed. He knew that she wasn't sleeping lately. He noticed the bags under eyes and how those beautiful brown globes swam with dizziness in the mornings. He noticed everything, even when they lived on Fleet Street, he knew the baker was in love with him before she confessed. She always teased how he never glanced her way, that she was invisible to him. It was never true, he's always been very observant, bestowed with the power to read the room.
As far as this new child is concerned, he goes back from feeling immense joy, to feeling sadness that he'll never see Johanna again, and that Lucy is a pile of ashes in the bakehouse. He had to remind himself that this baby wouldn't be like Johanna, then again, it didn't matter because his memory of baby Johanna was lost to him. Being able to have a conversation with her as a woman felt like he was speaking to an entirely different person. He smiled to himself, feeling the most excited that he would be able to see this child grow, a main reason why he wanted a family back in the first place.
Sweeney looked behind him to the kitchen in the back of the bakery. He wanted Nellie home, comfortably lazing on the couch. He knew exercise and movement was important for the child but not this much. The woman did have more stamina than she let on, he learned that in the past. He was tired of how many older women had come to the counter telling him she needed to be off her feet and take things easy if the baby was to remain alright. After about the fifth "Many women have lost the child in the first trimester you know." He couldn't stand it anymore.
Once the scumbag got his not burnt pie and left, Sweeney locked the doors and flipped the sign to closed. Much to Nellie's hands on her hips dismay. "We'll never make money this way." She spoke.
"Your health is more important than money." Her eyebrows rose at that comment. "Isn't this the reason why you got me a new razor? If you're worried about money."
"You're going back to barbering then?"
"No. Not yet." She frowned even though her eyes blazed with so much love. "I don't feel safe going back to barbering." He admitted. "Not yet anyway. Maybe when we're in a new town."
"Ah, that's something to discuss." She mused, returning to the kitchen to begin cleaning. "When exactly will we be leaving Grimsby? And where will we go?"
He took the rag from his pocket, beginning to wipe down the tables. "We won't be going anywhere till the child is born. It's not safe for you to travel in your condition."
"Won't it be more of a challenge with the baby on the outside of me, rather than…" she spoke, poking her head out from the archway.
"It'll be a challenge either way. Its not as if we'll be walking through the wilderness again. We'll have a plan, money, time."
"I've been thinking." Nellie said once the kitchen and shop of fully cleaned. "I'd like to give birth at my aunt's. I know Monica Clay offered to be a midwife, but I wrote to my aunt and I'm waiting on the reply." Sweeney approached her. "She is the only family I have left. That I want to be around anyway." She said with a chuckle.
He placed his hands on her arms. "Whatever you're most comfortable with."
She smirked, "You're turning soft, Mr. T."
"Mr. T." he mused, "Haven't heard that in a while."
She pecked his lips. "Let's go home. I'd like a quick nap."
In the end, Nellie wasn't able to sleep, again. She spent the rest of the day with her back to a pillow and her feet propped up, knitting a small blanket. After while, she sighed in content and set the blanket aside feeling an urge to make something new.
"What are you making?" Sweeney asked joining her in the parlor about an hour later after hearing Nellie's constant swearing over what looked to be a bulk of yarn and sewing needle in her hands. She swore again, holding her pricked finger to her mouth.
"Promise you won't laugh?"
He nods and Nellie holds up the toy she's been knitting. It's a lopsided floppy grey bear.
"You promised you wouldn't laugh" Nellie whines.
"Sorry, just, what is it? A misshapen cat?"
"It's a little bear." Nellie declares her voice shrill.
He chuckles again receiving a smack in the face from the grey bear.
Her lack of sleep continued into the late night. What started off as a peaceful unconsciousness turned soar. She launched herself into a sitting position, feeling drenched and hot. Her eyes were wide and her breathing ragged, her chest rising and falling. Just as she hoped to ease back onto her back, a pain much similar to a cramp reached her abdomen. She clutched her stomach horrified that she'd see blood in a minute. The gush didn't come and the pain subsided. She was able to ease back to her elbows and slowly settled into her pillow, both her hands rubbing her stomach softly. She decided to visit the doctor tomorrow.
Sweeney paced in the clinic. They headed out in the morning after Nellie told him about her late-night cramping. What felt like a nightmare long eternity and Sweeney grumbling in rage of how the doctor told him to wait in the waiting room, the door opened and the doctor stepped out. He saw Nellie in the room behind him, fixing her dress.
The doctor looked at Sweeney smiling. "Both mother and baby are fine. Whatever pain she felt last night is gone now. I can see that she's not sleeping too well. Maybe a little drop of brandy before bed. She's about six months along. She'll need to rest a bit more. You'll need to begin making preparations. Do you have a midwife?"
"Yes, we wrote to her aunt." Sweeney replied. Nellie was coming out of the room now. He rushed to her side.
"We're ok, love." She smiled warmly.
"Let me know of any concerns or questions you may have." The doctor said before the two left the clinic, hand in hand.
"I'm farther along than I thought I was." Nellie chuckled. "Good thing we checked." Sweeney kissed her temple. "It'll be a winter baby." She sang.
Nellie's birthday was approaching rapidly. Only a week away. And the "drop of brandy" was not helping her sleep. Sweeney was worried for her. Any pains and nausea because of the child had subsided. The lack of sleep caused her attitude to be atrocious. The tiniest things would set her off, she would sit on the back porch and brood. Sweeney never guessed that carrying his child would cause her to turn into him. Somedays it was as if they switched places. He held an entire conversation by himself at the breakfast table one morning with her grunting in reply and staring down at the floor in thought.
One good thing that came out of this was that her silence allowed him to ponder on what to do for her birthday. How he could surprise her? He planned to get her a new dress. Many of the ones she had we're left back on Fleet Street and at least a couple lovely, comfortable gowns she brought with her were damaged on their journey to Grimsby. A new dress would suit her, maybe a different shade perhaps? He left her alone in the house one morning. He needed one day to himself to figure how this surprise will unfold. She was seated upon the settee, a look of worry on her face.
"Sweeney?" she asked, stopping him from flying by her and out the door.
He stopped and faced her, inches from the front door.
"The baby should be kicking by now, shouldn't it?"
He looked down at the swell of her stomach. "I'm not sure, pet." He approached her, placing a light kiss to the top of her curls. "The doctor said there was a healthy heartbeat. I wouldn't worry."
He once again made his way to the door. "Where are you going?" she frowned in his direction.
"There's just some things I need to get."
"I may be opening the shop later." She spoke.
"Just be careful." And with that he was gone. Nellie sniffled feeling tears welling in her eyes, thinking the bastard doesn't even care about the child or her.
It's just hormones she would tell herself to calm down. She keeps seeing that night in her dreams. Being back in the bakehouse, standing on the bloody stones of the floor. The smell of rotting flesh and the sewers. The hot inferno licking at her back. It was all too much to bear, the imagery stayed with her even though she opened her eyes. She'd lay there in the dark replaying the conversation in her head. Sweeney's angry growls and her pleading to not be killed. It would churn her stomach and plague her thoughts throughout the day.
The previous night, she couldn't stand just staring at the shadows on the ceiling and left the warmth of the bed, running down the shore to the sea. A very worried Sweeney finding her later, laying down in the sand. He scoops her up in his arms and carried her half-awake in a daze-self inside to wash the sand off.
"He doesn't love me." She muttered, just as she muttered to the ocean the night before.
Sweeney stepped into the tailors. He quickly spotted the most beautiful navy colored gown. It'd look nice on his Nellie. It was a bit too fancy, covered in lace and bows. Not very practical for an everyday wear which is what he intended to get her. Something beautiful and comfy would do, he moved away from the navy gown. Also, it dawned on him that the dresses he was looking at wouldn't fit Nellie right now anyway. And she's only going to get bigger.
He nervously approached the counter and asked the man where the maternity dresses were located. The man smiled excitedly and put down the piece of fabric he was holding to show Sweeney where the small collection of dresses was placed. "Here are some already made. If they're not to your wife's liking, you can choose some fabric and I'll have something made. I'll need her to come in for measurements however."
"Something, already made will do nicely." Sweeney said setting his sights on a gown he knows Nellie would wear. It was dark crimson shade; it wasn't fancy in the slightest. Pregnant women didn't go out in public much once they started showing. They were to be inside in a sort of "confinement". Nellie isn't one for doing what she's told. She'd run that shop till birth if she could.
He walked out into the streets with the dress in a box under his arm. He made his way to Monica's Inn. The place was just as they left it, with the singing and drinking of merry men and women. Monica smiled brightly waving Sweeney over. "How are you dear? How's Margery getting along? I've heard the rumors." She said with a smirk. "I'm a little upset that she didn't inform me of the child at once but I'll forgive her. What can I do for you?"
Sweeney waited patiently while Monica chatted away. "Margery's birthday is a week from today. I would…" Sweeney paused thinking of how to word this.
Ms. Clay beamed. "You want to have a party here to celebrate? Is that it?" Sweeney nodded. "Oh my, yes. I'd love to use my inn. I'll get everything prepared."
"Thank you, I want it to be a nice surprise."
"Do you know of a time yet? Will you be dinning here?"
"I actually thought about taking her out to eat."
"Then swing by later. That's perfect! Leave it to me darling." She said with a wink. "What did you get her? A new dress?" she spoke eyeing the box under his arm.
"Yes, I picked up a maternity dress for her."
"Is that all? You need to give her more than that."
Sweeney was taken aback, "This wasn't cheap." He began.
"Its not about the cost, dearie. Its about the thought."
Sweeney looked down at the floor. "I honestly don't know what to get her." he felt embarrassed.
Monica stared into him. "She thinks you don't love her." she said. The inn's rambunctious atmosphere never slowing down though for Sweeney, it felt like the sun just crashed into earth. Monica continued. "I'll tell you what. Find her something personal, something sweet that'll really prove her wrong. I know you're not a man of many words but I can tell you care a great deal for your wife." He swallowed and nodded his thanks to Ms. Clay. "I'll see you in a week." She assured and he left the inn. Nellie wasn't at home when he returned, having opened the shop after all. He hid the box under the bed.
Sweeney awoke that night and Nellie was once again not in his bed. Worried that she'd run down to the beach to lay in the sand or go for a late-night stroll in the dark all alone and vulnerable, he got out of bed with a stressful growl and threw the nearest object, which happened to be a book, at the mirror. He relished in the crash that followed only for a moment and fled the bedroom into the main living area preparing to fling on his coat and find his wife.
"What did you break now?" Came the voice of Nellie that he wasn't expecting. He stood breathless and in awe at her head poking over at him from the settee.
"What are you doing up?" He asks approaching her.
"I couldn't sleep," she snuggled back into the settee, a blanket draped over her lap and a book in hand. "And I felt a chill." He looked towards the recently lit fireplace before joining her on the settee. It was mid-October after all, turning the warm summer nights to chilly ones.
"What are you reading?" he asked sitting on the other end, since she made no effort to remove her propped-up feet. Instead of answering, she held up the book's cover. He leaned in, getting a closer look at the title in the dim lighting. "Ah, complications with child birth." Worryingly, he sat back to look at her.
"It's always good to plan ahead." She spoke.
He stood up to get a glass of gin. It was early in the morning, much before dawn, and she was already giving him a headache. "When will this cold tone of yours end, my pet?" he spoke joining her back in the parlor, purposely sitting closer to her on the settee.
"Whatever do you mean my dear husband?" she said looking at the words on the pages instead of at him.
Taking a sip of gin, he opened his mouth to answer. Hormones, he was thinking and closed his mouth again, deciding not to say that in case it would upset her further. He let her read in silence for awhile as he emptied his glass of gin before disturbing her peace by standing up and forcing himself behind her, positing her frame onto his lap, adjusting the blanket and holding her close. "What is it you want from me?" he whispered in her ear.
"You know the answer to that." She tried to remain cold and distant, to ignore him completely, but it was near impossible now being trapped in his arms in front of the fire, it was so cozy… romantic.
"You're unhappy my dear." Silence lingers. "I can leave you be if that's what you truly wish."
She put the book down, she stopped paying attention to the words anyway. "What I truly wish is for you to love me you bleedin' bastard." She went back to pretending to read. "And yes, I am unhappy."
"I'm sorry I cannot grant your wish my sweet." He placed his hands on her abdomen. "I gave you a child. Is that not enough to please you?"
She rolled her eyes. "Of course, I'm pleased with the child, if not ever so worried that its alive and well. That's not the issue." She slammed the book shut and stood up. "I'm retiring for the night." She spun back around, hands on her hips. "And, I'm working tomorrow."
"Working? You'll open the shop off of what sleep?"
"I'll get some now." she hollered.
He walked over to her, placing his hands on her arms. "My dear Margery."
"Don't call me that." She snapped. He only sighed, smiling a bit. "Please, Sweeney I can't bear it." she placed a hand over her stomach as if she'd be sick.
"Does my child cause you pain?"
"Yes. And its father causes me more pain." When she steps into the bedroom, her eyes widened at the shattered mirror and glass scattered among the floor. She sighed, "We'll have to buy a new mirror now, it seems." Ignoring the issue, she slipped under the covers.
Sweeney remained by the fireplace. Monica's words echoing through his head. "What would be a perfect gift?" he muttered. The idea struck him like a bolt of lightning. He set down his finished glass of gin and retrieved his sketchbook.
Sweeney was right, she shouldn't have opened the shop. Nellie was feeling very, well, pregnant that day. Her movements were sluggish, her back ached, she was grumpy at everything. She accidentally broke a plate then cussed and cried over it. She was having a bad day. Sweeney left to buy a mirror, promising he'd come to the shop when he was done, but she hasn't seen him yet, which made her angry.
The door chimed as a little girl with blonde braids walks in and Nellie's mood picks up immediately. It was the girl from the park. "Hello, Mrs. Oakley." She smiles taking a seat at the counter.
"Hello Rosetta, dear."
"I've come for my fruit pie. Your shop was closed last I checked." Rosetta spoke boldly.
Nellie smiled, "Apologies my dear, I'll get started on your pie right away." Rosetta grinned and straightened her back in excitement. The shop was slow, which Nellie was thankful for. She could tend to the requested fruit buy with no interruptions. "Are you here by yourself?" she asked the girl while waiting on the pie to bake.
"My mother wanted me out of the house. She gave me money to go to the market."
Such trust, Nellie thought. She cocked her brow suspiciously. "On your own?"
Rosetta looked into her brown eyes. "Mhm," she nodded. "Detective Wells is in town and he visited the house. That's when mother told me to go to the market."
"Ah," Nellie mused. Excusing herself to get the pie out of the oven. Should her and Sweeney be concerned that a detective is in town? We're they involved. Perhaps he was only visiting and not on work. She shooed the matter off, she had other things to worry about. She placed the fruit pie on a plate in front of Rosetta. "Tuck in my dear." She sang.
"Thank you." She began eating her pie, a bright smile on her face, it warmed Nellie's heart.
The small girl brought the matter of the detective back to haunt Nellie's thoughts by saying, "Detective Wells is my little brother's father." Perhaps it's because children were brutally honest, but Nellie could sense that this little girl was a lot like she was at that age who often got in trouble for speaking her mind. Nellie knit her brows in confusion and frowned. So, her mother had a thing with this detective, nothing out of the ordinary with that. It was then that Rosetta opened her mouth again to say, "Mr. Wells scares me." And she frowned and looked sad while she said, "Mother said she's afraid of him too."
Nellie's eyes widened a bit. It had grown so quiet in the shop with them being the only two in there. "Oh, I see." Nellie, for once, was at a loss for words. It wasn't just a love affair then. It was far worse. Nellie still didn't know what to say but she knew she wanted to do something to help. Then a thought occurred to her causing her mouth to fall open. "What did you say his name was again, dear?"
"It's Zackary Wells ma'am."
Nellie froze, she's heard that name before. Rosetta left the shop, rushing back home once she finished her pie, smiles and all. Nellie rushed home too. She flipped the sign to close and lock the doors without bothering to clean up.
Sweeney was home when she flew through the door. She looked in his direction a bit peeved that he's been here on his arse in that tiny room rather than helping her in the shop. She ignored it and rushed through the house, pulling open drawers and cabinets. Sweeney stuck his head out of the tiny room. "Where's the fire, pet?" he said sounding amused.
"Don't you dare talk to me right now, I'm mad at you." She fumed.
"When are you not?" she ignored him continuing to search around the house. "What are you looking for?"
"The wanted poster or newspaper. Anything we kept that's talking about our crimes and Fleet Street." Upon hearing her words, the amusement in his eyes vanished.
"Why?" he said with a frown.
"A detective has come to town and he may know of us. Be searching."
"A Zackary Wells." She said facing him for the first time since first stepping inside the house. "Someone in my shop told me. What have you been doing all day?"
"I went for a walk." He spoke.
She scoffed at that. "Yes, while your pregnant wife was slaving away you went for a walk." She continued her search.
His brows rose. He was sketching a landscape of the ocean as part of her birthday present but she couldn't know that yet. So, he kept that detail to himself. Her anger would subside in a week when it was her birthday. "Aha," she proudly proclaimed, pulling the newspaper clipping of their crimes out from one of Aunt Nettie's cookbooks. He joined her in the kitchen, together they read the clipping, they're faces turned grim as their fears became realized. Detective Wells was put in charge of hunting them.
Nellie sunk into the dinning chair. "It'll be alright. We don't know that he's here for us." She made a light whimper sound. "Who exactly told you and what did they say?" Sweeney asked.
She placed her head in her hands and inhaled deeply before looking up again, "It was a child who told me. It was the same girl I chatted to in the park. She came in by herself, likes my fruit pies. Her mother sent her out because Wells came by the house. Now I know this is just the word of a child, but I think he raped her mother."
Sweeney frowned in alarm and confusion. "I'd like to find out more." Nellie continued. "And if it is true." Her eyes met his, "I want to kill him."
It was the night before Nellie's birthday, she still hasn't been sleeping well and Sweeney wanted her well rested to get through the next day. There was too many things worrying her and plaguing her mind, things he didn't know how to soothe yet.
"Let's play a game." He suggested while they lounged by the fireplace.
"What kind of game?" she asked not looking up from the baby book. He was about to offer a round of Old Maid when she startled him by slamming the book down. "The baby should be kicking by now; it says so right here." There was panic in her voice. "Look," she shoved the book his way. "its not moving, it should be, what if something's wrong."
"Nellie." he moved closer to soothe her.
She placed her head in her hands and started crying. Damn these hormones. He ran his hand along her back. "Pet, it's alright. Every child and pregnancy are different, I think."
"I don't know what I'm doing." She cracked. "I've never had a pregnancy last this long; I'm so bleedin' scared all the time."
"Oh yes, so easy for you isn't it. Just over there judging me for being so emotional all the time. You don't' know what I'm going through." She spat.
"That's true." She continued crying softly. He racked his brain for ways to help her. "Johanna didn't move till around the seventh month." That worked, her cries subsided as she lifted her head up to look at him.
"Yes," he nodded.
She leaned back, placing her head on the back of the settee with a sigh. "The woman's curse."
"I'm sorry I did this to you."
She laughed at that. "Yes, its your fault. You and your quest to get your daughter back. No need to consider that your new daughter would cause me suffering. And better yet it may not even be a girl."
"I never wanted you to suffer." He said moving closer to her lips. "You're much more beautiful. This suffering, as you put it, suits you."
She turned her head to look at him. "Don't flatter me right now."
He snickered and kissed her deeply. "I have a fun day planned for you tomorrow."
She cocked her brows, "Do you now?"
"I need you to sleep well tonight though. So, you'll have the energy for it."
"You'll have to tire me out then." There was a lustful twinkle to her eye matching her smirk.
"I'm sure I'll come up with something." She chuckled then let out a squeak of delight as he scooped her up in his arms and carried her to their bed.
Nellie did sleep better that night. She remained awake for awhile after their love making, watching the window and those shadows that never stopped dancing with the wind. She smiled and drifted off, feeling at peace finally if for only a moment.
Sorry for all the line breaks. I was going to continue and end after the birthday but I got tired of writing and wanted to post, so apologies this wasn't the best. You have something to look forward to for next time eh?
Thanks readers, reviews are welcome.