I left the toddler's room and looked at Nick. "Elmer rang to say he was keeping you for a bit of extra work. He didn't want me to worry." Elmer was right about that. I would have been very worried if I hadn't known. Nick hadn't been more than a few minutes late since his return.
"Elmer did tell me that he rang and," he paused for a moment, "I was deep in the bowels of the base. There's no cell reception down there." He paused for another moment. "May I ask you a question or two, Penny?"
"How many relatives do you have in town? Cousins, second cousins?"
"Elmer made a joke about how your family was a small army. I was wondering how true it was," Nick replied.
"It's a small exaggeration but not too far from the truth. I have 3 siblings. My dad had 3 siblings. My grandfather had 4 siblings. Since almost all of them got married and had kids, that does add up. My mom, she was the only child and her parents had no siblings so that side of the family is non-existent."
"I only have Aunt Amelia, who has never married, and Uncle Travis who has three kids. My dad and my uncle never really got along so I don't even know my cousins. And I only have two siblings." He looked at me with an odd expression. "I never really thought about how few relatives I have compared to you."
Nick gave me a very odd look and there was a moment when I thought he was going to argue with me. Instead, he just replied, "Anything happen with the toddlers that I should know about?"
Nick shrugged and went off to the toddlers room. I watched, thoughtful. It was very odd that Nick decided to ask about my cousins and Jerod turned up on the same day. Life is so full of weird coincidences like that though. It had been about two weeks since Jerod had given me the Axe of Pangu and he wanted to know if I was going to be using it any time soon. I told him I didn't know.
Since his return, Nick had been doing far more with the children than I'd originally asked. He didn't just start watching over the toddlers at their bedtime. From the moment he got home, he played with and taught the toddlers.
Buddy, Nick and I would eat dinner at 7 each night. At about 8, Nick would put the toddlers and himself to bed in their room. He'd stay in the bedroom with them until he had to get up, get ready and leave for work in the morning.
I hadn't adjusted to Nick being with the toddlers every night though. After two years of effectively being a single parent, I still had the habit of waking up several times in the night. I would spend a few minutes listening in case there were any signs of trouble. I never heard more than a small whimper without hearing Nick's voice as well.
If I happened to check while Nick was awake, he always told me the same thing. "You can go back to bed, Penny. I have this." I had to admit, he did have it. He was taking it all in stride, not once did I notice him complaining.
The household had all gone to bed and I had been asleep for a little while. There was a soft tapping on my bedroom door which woke me. "Penny? Penny?" Nick said quietly.
"Come on in," I replied around a massive yawn. Nick came into my room holding Ruby in his arms. "What is it, Nick?"
"Surely it can wait until tomorrow?"
"Ruby can't sleep. I can't sleep because Ruby can't sleep. And it seems worse at night so it's probably a better time for a doctor to figure out what's wrong." He looked at me, the concern evident in his eyes. "I wanted to be sure you knew that Ruby and I were out so no one will be watching Daisy or Joey for a bit."
"Do you want to hear about the results when I get back or sometime tomorrow?"
"I won't be sleeping much, now that I am awake. I'll be worried about Ruby," Ruby's cough finally eased a bit and I stroked her head again. "And Nick?" I looked him in the eyes. "Thank you."
"Penny, I was a complete and utter arsewipe for suddenly disappearing. But I never ever stopped caring about my family." He sighed, "I freaked out because three little strangers at once was hard for me to cope with. After two years of getting switched between units all the time, three strangers is a piece of cake." With that, he left.
I looked at the clock, it was midnight. I had thought it later than that but I guess I had just been in a deep sleep. Bad timing but I can't blame Nick for that. Poor Ruby was the cause and it wasn't her fault either.
I woke to the sound of a car just outside the house. Sure enough, the front door soon opened. I quickly got up and moved to the main room, shutting the door so the toddlers would stay asleep. "So?"
His face was haggard, "I'd forgotten how awful waiting in the hospital was. If it's not critical, you have to just sit forever." He blinked as he realised that I'd asked a question. "The doctor thinks that Ruby might be asthmatic. There are a couple of tests they can do when she's older but he used some asthma medication on her and her breathing settled down in a few minutes."
"The doctor thinks Ruby has a mild case and there's a chance she'll outgrow it eventually. Even if she doesn't, she'll live a pretty normal life. She'll just need to be aware of it and have an inhaler around just in case." He kissed the top of her head. "Given her reaction to the medication, I think it's the right diagnosis."
"Our poor baby."
Nick suddenly yawned. "Penny, I'm sorry but I have to put Ruby to bed and try to get a little more sleep. I'm going to be so useless tomorrow."
"Night, Nick," I kissed his cheek. His eyes grew wide, it was the first time I'd touched him since hitting him the day he got home. "Thank you for taking Ruby to the hospital."
He blushed, nodded shyly and then left for the toddler's room. I watched his retreat, thoughtful. Perhaps I could go back to China and resume the martial arts tournaments. Perhaps I could trust Nick.
Nick decided not to tell Penny that both her brothers and two of her cousins threatened him. He still feels guilty enough over abandoning his family that he won't complain about such things.
Penny's dad Phillip did have 3 siblings; Sammy, Kathy and Eric. Penny's grandfather Indiana had 4 siblings; Laura, Henry, Rick and Jack.
Family wise, Sam and Rachel had 5 children. Indiana and Judy had 4 children. Now I was going to let Phillip stop at 3 but number 3 turned out to be the twins Veronica and Penelope. So now the family heir is cursed to forever have 4 children - which means Penny and Nick are done having babies.
Why did you get the only child who needs to be in a crib out?