A Change of Hearts (Chapter Three, page 1 of 1)

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As the day of their flight neared, Carmen tried to stay busy with packing and taking care of Destiny. The unknown can be worse than reality, and she had no idea what to expect on the flight. Would she get air sick? Did she have a window seat? She could have asked, but that might tip her hand. Alex didn’t know about her fear of flying and she’d just as soon he didn’t learn. As it was, the kids might pick up on her fear and emulate. On the other hand, Alex exuded confidence.
Aside from packing, there was also decorating to be done. She retrieved two boxes from the attic and enlisted help from Destiny in setting up and decorating the tree in the dining room. She had to move a few things to make room, but that wasn’t too hard. The Christmas tree could only be seen from the back of the house, but that didn’t matter. The neighbors couldn’t see into any of their windows, and they were far enough off the main road that the only traffic would be people coming to see them. Alex hung the lights across the front of the house and put the lighted nativity scene on the front lawn.
The day before they were scheduled to leave, Alex came home from work and asked to see the tickets. She retrieved them from her purse and handed them to him. He looked through them and then handed them back without comment.
“Are they good seats?” she asked.
“Good enough,” he replied, and dropped into his chair. “When will supper be ready?”
“Soon enough,” she said, tucking the tickets back into her purse. “If you want something different, why don’t you trade them in on something else?” When she glanced at him, he was eyeing her, a wry smile twisting his lips.
She sighed. “The roast will be ready in about 15 minutes.”
“It isn’t the seating arrangements that bother me,” he said. “It’s who bought them.”
“What difference does it make? I think it was nice of your father to send them.”
“It was presumptuous of him to purchase them.”
“Well, you did tell him you would come down,” she said.
“I know.” He picked up the newspaper she had set out for him and started to read.
She continued. “I know it still galls you that he was willing to help pay for your college education, but not Katie’s. But right or wrong, she isn’t his daughter.”
He lowered the newspaper and his steady gaze met hers.
“You and Jonathan wanted to go. We’re going.”
He lifted the paper and started to read again.
It was difficult to tell whether he actually didn’t want to go or he was merely anxious about it. She stepped forward and pulled the newspaper down with one hand. Leaning forward, she lifted his chin with her other hand and kissed his lips.
“I’ll get supper on the table.”
He rolled up the newspaper and hit her playfully on the backside as she walked away.
“Where’s Jonathan?” he called after her.
“Out playing with Dawn.”
“Is Destiny still taking a nap?”
“No, she’s playing in her room.”
Alex stood and walked down the hall. A few minutes later his deep voice drifted back down the hall as he discussed something with her. Destiny must not have heard him come home or she would have been crawling all over him.
Jonathan came in as Carmen was setting the table. She glanced up.
“You’d better go wash up and tell your Dad supper is ready.”
A few minutes later they all marched in and took their places at the table. After grace, they all started passing food. Carmen glanced at Alex.
“I have everything packed. What time are we going to leave tomorrow?”
“About noon, I guess. Do the Sanders know where everything is and what needs to be done with the animals?”
Carmen nodded. “I told them about a week ago and I went over it again with them today.”
“Dad,” Jonathan said, “When we get the new baby, where will we put him when we ride in the car?”
Him?” Alex asked with a grin. “I don’t know. I guess that’s a good question.”
“Maybe we could get a van,” Carmen suggested. “I always pictured myself driving a van instead of a truck. But then, I always figured on having four or five children, too.” She shrugged. “I didn’t have much of an idea about the cost of raising children then, either.”
Alex was watching her, his expression unreadable. “I suppose not,” he finally said as he spooned mashed potatoes into his plate.
No doubt he didn’t like being reminded that her dream could only be achieved by unnatural methods. But then, he wasn’t the one who was concerned about the method they were using. To him, it was no different than artificially inseminating a cow at his clinic . . . well, the concept wasn’t. They were going further than AI, though. They were paying someone to create it and then paying someone to carry it. In effect, they were buying a child.
Jonathan’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
“Do you want a boy or a girl, Dad?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Alex said. “I just want it to be healthy.” Alex glanced at Jonathan and then rubbed the top of his head. “I already have a son and daughter.”
Jonathan grinned and Carmen glanced at Alex. Why hadn’t it occurred to her that Jonathan might feel he was being replaced? The answer came swiftly - because she no longer thought of him as adopted. He was simply one of their children.
That night as they prepared for bed, she approached Alex about it.
“Do you think Jonathan might feel left out when the new baby comes?”
He pulled the undershirt over his head before answering. “Probably no more than he did when Destiny was born. Every child feels displaced to some degree when a new sibling arrives. You just have to make sure you give them their share of attention.”
She frowned as she unbuttoned her blouse. “Did I?”
“Did you what?” he asked, running fingers through his hair to straighten it.
“Did I give Jonathan his fair share of attention?”
He watched absently as she shrugged out of her blouse. “I suppose so. I think he felt included because he was helping as much as we were.” His gaze traveled over her as she climbed out of her jeans. “We’ll have to be careful about that with the new baby. Destiny isn’t going to be as forgiving.”
Shucking the last of her underclothes, she reached for her nightgown.
“Do you realize that’s the first time you’ve done that?” Alex said, a faint smile touching the corners of his mouth.
“What?” she asked, glancing around to see what she’d absentmindedly done this time.
“Completely undressed in front of me while we were talking.”
Warmth crawled up her neck as she grabbed her nightgown and pulled it over her head.
“I wasn’t thinking,” she said.
“I know. It gives me hope,” he said, his smile broadening.
Warmth invaded her face. “Hope for what?”
He laughed softly. “Hope that you’ll start accepting me as your husband – your mate; not just a lover.”
She jerked her head up and stared at him, letting the nightgown fall loosely around her body.
“I didn’t know you felt that way. Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
He shrugged. “It isn’t one of those things you can talk through, I guess.”
“Maybe not, but it would have made a difference if I had known how you felt.”
His gaze landed softly on her eyes and his voice was gentle. “Why? So you could pretend it didn’t bother you?”
“No, so I could get over it. I didn’t think it bothered you. You always laughed.” She glanced down at the long flannel nightgown. “I should get rid of this and buy something a little more feminine.”
He lifted a brow. “It’s feminine enough, but it looks like something grandma would wear.”
He had indicated enough times that he would like to see her in something a little more feminine and fashionable. He was going to like the clothes she bought for the trip. It wasn’t something she would normally do – buying clothes specifically for a trip. But this wasn’t just any trip. As much as she didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of his father, she didn’t want him to be either. Besides, it was time to replace some of the things she’d been wearing since before they were married.
He reached for her and she evaded his hands, playfully slapping him away. Grabbing her hands, he pushed her back on the bed and held her down. For a moment she struggled with him until something changed in his eyes. The sparkle faded from his eyes, leaving them soft sweet chocolate pools. His fingers unwrapped from her wrists and his warm palms caressed hers. He slowly lowered his head, and when his lips touched hers, they were warm and firm.
She returned his kiss passionately, and when he pulled his head back, she gazed up at him.
“It always comes down to this, doesn’t it?”
He raised a brow. “Are you complaining?”
She shook her head soberly. “But I thought when people got married . . . I mean, that they didn’t feel this way all the time.”
He pulled away from her, propping up on an elbow as he studied her face.
Why indeed? Had anyone actually told her that or had she merely assumed it?
“I guess maybe hearing people talk . . . about their marriage.”
“Umm. Well, I think something like 50% of marriages fail – maybe more. So why should we listen to what they call normal? You still excite me, and I think I still excite you. Let’s just leave it at that.”
She lifted a hand and caressed his cheek. “You still excite me – a LOT.”
He kissed her hand. “Good,” he said softly against it.
It was one of those break-through moments. This time he didn’t simply indicate what he felt. He actually flat-out stated it. He had seemed amused by her modesty in the past, and yet it had obviously troubled him. She would have to concentrate on being more intimate with him – more open. It was embarrassing to think she had let it go on this long without realizing he was troubled by it. And yet, in a way, waiting this long might have been an advantage. They still had something mysterious and exciting to explore. Her face warmed as she thought of it. It was going to be nice having nothing to do but enjoy their little family for the next two weeks. They would have some time to enjoy a late Christmas at home when they returned.

The next morning she woke and lay quietly watching him. The golden brown skin and black hair reminded her of the conversation at Thanksgiving. Maybe she had never suspected Spanish heritage because his features weren’t what she would have considered Spanish. Yet she instantly recognized the Spanish heritage in his father. They looked a lot alike in some ways. Of course, Alex didn’t have any gray hair yet, and his lips were fuller – more defined.
His eyes blinked and opened, slowly focusing on her face.
“What time is it?” He asked.
“After seven, sleepy head,” she said with a smile.
Later, as she was slipping into the new blue brushed cotton dress, she reached back to zip it up. Her fingers encountered Alex’s as he assisted her.
“I like this,” he said, zipping it up. “Is it something new for the trip?”
“Yes. I hope you don’t mind.”
He snorted. “It’s about time you spent some money on yourself.”
She caught her breath and glanced at him in the mirror. “Do I look that bad?”
Strong arms slipped around her waist, drawing her back against him.
“You always look neat and clean – even if you are a little out of style. But you need to pamper yourself a little. You’re always the last one to get anything new. Am I depositing enough money in the account?”
She turned her head and kissed him on the cheek. “More than enough. I just didn’t see any point in spending money on new clothes when my old ones still had a lot of wear in them.”
He sighed. “Being frugal has its value, but it can be overdone. I don’t want you to start feeling neglected.” He released her. “We’d better get the kids ready.”
When she reached Destiny’s room, Jonathan was already dressed and was helping Destiny. Carmen hurried over to Destiny.
“Thank you so much for helping, Jonathan.”
“You’re welcome. I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and dressed. When I came in here, Destiny was awake, so I got her up.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t get up earlier,” Carmen said.
“It’s okay,” he said in a flippant tone. I thought you needed to sleep longer because you were working so hard getting ready.” He stepped back to surrender Destiny.
Carmen hugged him. “You are the sweetest boy in the world. Do you know that?”
He smiled up at her. “Like Dad?”
“That’s my boy!” Alex said from the doorway.
He was dressed in his usual indigo jeans and western shirt. He always looked nice, but normally he would have worn a suit for the occasion. He didn’t want to go, so maybe this was his expression of resistance. Hopefully it wasn’t an indication of his attitude for the entire visit.
Alex held out a hand. “Come on Jonathan. Let‘s go do the chores one last time before we leave. Carmen, don’t bother to cook. We’re going out for breakfast.”
With everything going on, Carmen didn’t have time to worry about flying, but when they were all sitting at the airport, she finally had time to stew over it. Alex was oblivious, entertaining Jonathan and Destiny. Neither of the children seemed concerned about the flight, though.
When they finally got on the plane, she and Jonathan had a window seat – Jonathan in front of her. She offered to switch with Alex, but he declined and took the isle seat, with Destiny between them. Carmen sat with her hands clutched together tightly as the plane taxied out to the runway. When it finally started down the runway, she closed her eyes. Strong warm fingers touched her hand and a palm slid under hers, forcing her hands apart. As his fingers laced through hers, she opened her eyes and found Alex watching her.
Great. Now he knew what a chicken she was. Still, the feel of his hand was reassuring. In spite of her decision not to, she glanced out the window. They were already leaving the ground! Her heart beat double time as the ground got so far away that the objects took on the artificial look of parts on a model train setup. It wasn’t so bad. She squeezed Alex’s hand. As always, he had been there when she needed him. When she glanced up at him, even his smile was reassuring. She settled into the seat and relaxed, diverting her attention to Destiny, who didn’t appear to notice that something unusual was happening. Outside of this being her first trip in an airplane, the rest of the flight was uneventful.

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