"John, we have to leave."
I had been searching the house for both him and Sprite, finding her in her cousin's play tent, refusing to come out since she knew it was time to go, finding him outside with his brothers, warming his beer by the fire pit.
I always hate this part of a party.
Because we live on the West coast of Florida and ALL of our family is on the East side, trips across state usually involve two or three different gatherings, trying to fit as much family into our plans as possible. See my parents, see his parents. Dinner plans with aunts and uncles. Breakfast with sisters or brothers. Every hour is typically accounted for, plans are set, time is limited. And of course, with such tight schedules comes the inevitable "just a little longer" which screws the next item on the agenda, which leaves us apologizing to the next relative for being so late.
Exactly what I was going to have to do tonight since it was my turn to be the bad guy and call it quits to our Christmas Eve merriment with John's family so we could join my side for their Christmas Eve/ birthday party soiree. We were supposed to leave by 6:30 latest so we could keep to our 7 "ish" quote with the next gathering.
It was almost seven as I finally accounted for man and child. I gathered our things, presents for Sprite hastily shoved at us as people realized we were leaving, and we inched our way to the door, followed by two other revelers who had to excuse themselves momentarily to move their cars so we could extract our own.
My brother-in-law hurried in from the backyard. "You're leaving now?"
I nodded, my smile sheepish. "Thanks for having us-"
"Go to the fire, one minute!" He passed me, rounding up others.
John and I looked at each other.
"We're really late," I warned.
"Just a minute," John reasoned, "then we'll leave."
Casting a glance at the clock, seven chimed right then, I walked to the backyard, joining the growing number of people, family members, friends, absolute strangers who had been called upon as well.
Finally, my brother-in-law and his wife spoke.
"We wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas and give our parents their Christmas presents. And feel free to read the card out loud." Jeff's face glowed in the firelight as he and Loni each handed an identical slim wrapped package to their respective folks.
My eyes immediately focused on my own in-laws out of habit, watching them struggle with the festive paper amid the murmurs of "they probably got a cruise".
My father-in-law pulled a diaper from the wrapping and began to read the card. My thoughts immediately began with Alyssa is already potty-trained. Why would Jeff and Loni be giving them a diaper?Their daughter had been doing well sans diapers for almost a year now. It never occurred to me that-
"-Alyssa is going to be a big sister!"
(I usually catch on more quickly than that..)
The collective whoop of cheers came up as well as my hand to cover the "o" of my mouth, tears springing to my eyes, and a cousin I was standing next to placed her arm around me, pulling me close in an awkward side hug. "Sorry," she whispered, " I know you want one."
I glanced over to the rounds of hugging, a wide smile plastered across my face. I would not crumple here. I would not spoil their moment. I WANTED to celebrate along with them. "I'm okay," I responded, "thanks."
I only had to last a few more moments before we left anyway, then I could give in to whatever I was feeling, I wasn't even sure what I was feeling, I just knew I didn't trust myself for more than two minutes in such a public setting.
A hand came upon my arm and pulled me from my cousin's side into John's embrace. He had come from the other side of the fire to console me.
No, don't do this, I thought. Not now. I'm okay. I'm-
"Sorry, hon. We'll get checked out. This will happen for us. We'll have another."
My resolve shredded instantly. "Stop," I whispered into his ear, my voice already cracking, the tears spilling over, "please don't."
His hug grew tighter. "It's all right."
This surely wouldn't look right to others. Too many people in attendance knew about our struggles to have a second child, too many others who were also there did not know our story, and would wonder why a woman was breaking down dramatically in the face of wonderful news.
Trying to steal the show maybe?
I needed to get out of there. I needed to compose myself before we attracted too much attention. I was afraid to know just how much attention we had already drawn.
I broke from John and walked away, not daring to swipe at my eyes until I was far enough, slipping inside the now empty house to find the bathroom.
"Jen, I'm sorry I said anything," my cousin's voice came through the closed door as I ripped toilet paper from the roll to dab at my wet cheeks.
Oh, hell. It was a scene right out of high school. Girl gets crowned Prom Queen, other girl who wanted the title then runs out of the room crying, her entourage right behind her in solidarity, to shout messages of love and support at a locked bathroom door. All that was missing was John Cusack and Molly Ringwald.
The image made me cry harder as I heard John tell her, "just leave her alone for a few minutes."
Breathing deeply, I gave myself a little time to will away the redness from my cheeks, the emotion from my eyes, splashed a little water on my face to further dilute the evidence.
I squared my shoulders, looking into the mirror for clues of sadness that would cause questions while trying to book it for the exit.
I looked tired. And somewhat overcome, but that could easily be blamed on tired. I was ready. I opened the door, set a smile upon my lips and rounded the corner to come face to face with John who was holding onto a squirming Sprite.
"Are you ready to go?" he asked, not mentioning what we both knew would be discussed in the privacy of our own vehicle.
Calling out well wishes and hopes for a wonderful New Year to those we passed, we made our way to the door.
We ran into Jeff as we neared the van and I paused to give him a hug goodbye. "I am so happy for you!" I exclaimed.
I meant it.