It had been six weeks since he’d buried his best friend, his lover, his wife, and, even now, there were nights that he lay in bed and wept. Everyone had come for the funeral. His parents, his brother and sister-in-law, Leighanne’s family, all the friends he and Leighanne had gathered over eleven years, and the Boys. He’d been surprised when the dark limousine had pulled onto the driveway, and, when it had reached the house, all of them had stepped out. Kevin, Kristin, and Mason, Howie, Leigh, and their five month old son, Jacob, AJ, and Nick and his fiancée. They’d all come for him, to stand by him when he’d been too weak to stand on his own.
By the time Leighanne’s funeral had rolled around, five days after her death, he’d been a mess. Their daughter had been released from the hospital, and she’d still been nameless. After the funeral, where he’d watched them lower the ornate coffin with his wife inside into the cold, hard January ground, everyone but the guys had left.
“You gotta name her, Brian.” Nick held the tiny little girl in his arms as though she were a bomb that would explode if he moved her the wrong way.
Ava, Nick’s fiancée, sat next to Brian, one hand over his. As a grief counselor, she knew there were other ways of manifesting sorrow over the loss of a loved one. “Not naming your daughter isn’t the right way to cope with Leighanne’s death, Brian. I think Leighanne would love it if her daughter had a name, a beautiful one. Don’t you think it’s time?”
“Don’t push him.” AJ was always the first to defend Brian’s actions. When they’d found Brian, just before the funeral, with the remnants of a shattered glass in his hand, blood dripping down his arms, everyone had been quick to fuss over him. AJ didn’t believe fussing over the man would help him at all. Tough love had always been AJ’s preferred method of grief counseling. “So what if we call the kid Baby all her life? That’s been known to be a name. Remember Dirty Dancing?”
“AJ.” Brian sighed. “It’s okay. I know I have to do something. The courthouse called earlier about it. They’re pretty annoyed with me.” He pressed the heels of his hands to his burning eyes. “I just don’t have a good name for her.”
“How about Grace? Like the song you wrote about Leighanne a couple years ago?” Kristin rocked Howie’s Jacob as he gurgled in her arms. “I think it’s fitting.”
Howie shook his head. “Why don’t you think about what you want her name to mean and then look it up? Think about what you want for your daughter, her life.”
“I want her to know that her life won’t be overshadowed by the fact that her mother died giving birth to her,” Brian said immediately. “I want her to know that she’s going to be loved, always, for whoever and whatever she may become. That she’s cherished.”
Nick nodded at Brian’s ideas as he studied the baby. “Kayla means beloved or cherished. I think it’s a pretty name.”
“Where’d that come from?” AJ asked. “Are you suddenly a walking baby name dictionary?”
Nick shrugged. “Nah, I was looking up names anyway, and that was one of the better ones.”
“Looking up names…?” Kevin frowned at him then looked over at Ava, who was trying her best not to squirm. “Oh, wow.”
It took a moment, and then it sank in. Brian sat silently while the others congratulated the couple, while Nick and Ava told them their baby was due in late summer, a few months after their wedding. Finally, Nick met Brian’s eyes, and the flush of happiness dimmed when he remembered why they were all with Brian that day.
“Sorry, Brian. We didn’t mean for everyone to find out this way.” Nick’s ears were red from embarrassment. “We didn’t want to say anything because we’re here for you and Leighanne.”
Brian was silent for a few moments more before he stood and, moving to where Nick sat, hugged him. “Congratulations. But you’re going to have to learn how to hold a baby better. She’s not going to break, Nick.” And, so saying, he gently lifted his daughter into his arms. Studying her for a moment, he sighed. “I like Kayla, too, Nick. So she’ll be Kayla. Kayla Hope Littrell.”
Now, Brian stood next to Kayla’s bassinet and sighed. She really was the perfect baby. As though she knew that she’d been born under tragic circumstances, she’d done her best to be a good baby. She hardly ever cried and always slept straight through the night. Though she’d had a touch of jaundice, napping in the winter sunlight in the sunroom had cured her easily enough. When Baylee held her, she cooed and gurgled, making Baylee beam proudly at how his sister loved him.
Kayla’s eyes fluttered open even as Brian watched her, and he found himself being watched right back by her deep blue eyes. They were the same shape Leighanne’s had been, but, aside from having Leighanne’s nose, Kayla was all Littrell. Her hair had lightened to a chestnut shade and curled wildly around her tiny head. She blinked up at Brian before a smile spread across her tiny lips, and, smiling back through a wave of love, he eased her out of the bassinet and into his arms. Moving to the window, he watched Baylee rush up the driveway and wondered what second grade stories he’d hear today.
“We’re going to be okay, Kayla,” Brian murmured, as he carried her downstairs at the same time Baylee burst through the doors. “We’re going to make it, I swear. It’s what your mom would’ve wanted.”
“Daddy, do we have to move? Are you sure?” Baylee swiped at his milk moustache before reaching for the last of his cookies. “I really like second grade here. I have friends, and we do cool stuff, and Timmy Jones showed me how to spit like a bazillion yards today!”
Brian checked how much of the formula milk Kayla had drank so far and repositioned the bottle, so she could suck in the last of her late afternoon meal. “Baylee, please tell me you didn’t actually do what Timmy Jones showed you to do. You know it’s not good manners to spit.”
“But Daddy,” Baylee began only to be cut off.
“Bay, you know the rules. So, how’d the spelling test go?” Brian asked, effectively changing the subject and cutting off the coming argument.
Baylee shrugged. “It was okay. I got a B.”
“A B? That’s not bad.” Brian found that Kayla had fallen asleep in his arms and cradled her closer. “We’ll try to get you that A before we leave for Kentucky.”
“But I don’t wanna go to Kentucky. I wanna stay here and play with my friends and be in Mrs. Simon’s class. Please, Daddy,” Baylee pleaded. He’d been protesting the move ever since Brian had decided that they were leaving Georgia. Baylee’s whole life had been spent just outside of Atlanta, with occasional snatches around the world, and he couldn’t imagine just picking up and moving. It was an earth-shattering event for him, and he couldn’t understand why Brian didn’t want to stay where they were.
Brian felt the headache brew nastily and wished, for the thousandth time, for patience and strength. “Baylee, we’re going to move closer to Nanny and Papa because they miss us. Don’t you want to be able to see them more often?”
“Maybe, but I still don’t wanna leave here. Don’t you like it here anymore, Daddy?” Baylee knuckled away a cranky tear. “And we can’t leave Mommy. She’s still gonna be here in the ground. We can’t leave her, Daddy.”
Even as the despairing grief filled him, Brian remained firm. “We’re moving, Bay, and you’re going to enjoy living in Lexington. It’s where I was born and raised, and I know you’ll make new friends really fast. I promise you’re going to like it.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then we’ll figure out how to make it better for you, but we will move, buddy.” Kayla let out a sleepy cry, and Brian stroked her back, soothing her.
Baylee glared at Kayla. “I wish she was never born. Then Mommy would be here, too, and we wouldn’t have to move away! I wish Mommy was here! I hate Kayla.” And, so saying, he stormed off, and, moments later, Brian heard the slam of Baylee’s bedroom door.
He pressed his lips to Kayla’s forehead and breathed in the soft, comforting scent of baby. “Oh, Bay,” he whispered. “I wish Mommy was here, too. All the time.”