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Ray stood up when the baby stirred on the monitor. “I’ll be right back,” she excused herself, and headed down the hall, emerging a few minutes later with a tiny little baby wrapped in a pink blanket.

“Isn’t my grand baby beautiful?” Grace asked proudly.

“Yes, she really is,” I agreed. She was a tiny little thing with a headful of chestnut curls. She yawned and opened her eyes, and I had a strong urge to want to hold her, but I didn’t want to ask. Ray didn’t know me very well and I’m pretty sure there was some sort of Mom rule out there about how long you have to know someone before they let you hold their babies.

Ray must have seen my warring expression, because she asked, “Would you like to hold her?” Before I could answer she gently placed the baby in my waiting arms. Her itty bitty hands and feet were wrinkly, her cheeks so chubby they pushed up into her huge eyes making them appear much smaller than they really were and slightly slanted.

“Not a kid person huh?” Ray asked, leaning against the counter, calling me out on my earlier lie.

“When it’s your turn I think Abel will be a really great father.” Grace chimed in. “Just like my Brantley is.”

“Grace,” I said, unable to take my eyes off the tiny little one in my arms, “I’m not just denying it for the sake of denying it. Bear and I aren’t together. I’m a problem for him, not any sort of solution.”

“Grace used to tell me the same thing and I used to deny it too. But it turns out I was wrong,” Ray said, leaning forward on her elbows.

Grace brushed her finger across the baby’s cheek, the contrast of old and wrinkled hands against plump and innocent skin was a beautiful sight that made my heart sing a little.

Just a little zap like a mini heart reviving machine.

“What’s her name?” I asked.

“Nicole Grace, but we’re going to call her Nikki,” Ray said, looking proudly over the baby in my arms. Grace beamed at the mention of her name as part of the baby’s name.

“I saw Abel this morning for the first time since he’s been back,” Grace locked eyes with me. “He still looks angry as hell, but I can tell that something is shifting and I just know the light will be coming back soon. Mark my words, my Abel will be back for good. So I’m gonna say right now that you’re wrong too, you just haven’t realized it yet.” She smiled at the baby and then up at me. The wrinkles around her eyes changing shape as her lips curled upward in a knowing smile. “I’m not a well woman, Thia. I’m feeling good now, but my time on this earth is limited.”

“I’m so sorry…” I started, but Grace cut me off.

“Oh hush now. Don’t be sorry. Just don’t hurt my boy and I won’t have to spend my remaining time alive hunting you down and making you pay.” She leaned back in her chair and I glanced up to Ray to see if maybe I’d misunderstood the meaning behind Grace’s words but Ray just stood there hiding a tight-lipped smile. “Now who wants lunch?” Grace asked, popping out of her chair and heading over to the refrigerator.

Ray stood on her tip toes and opened a cabinet, taking out some plates and setting the table, while I just sat there, baby in arms, with my mouth agape. “What the hell just happened?” I whispered to Ray.

She shrugged. “Congratulations, you’ve been threatened by Grace.”

“What does that even mean?” I whispered, not wanting Grace to hear me and not wanting to wake the little girl who had drifted off to sleep in my arms.

“In a way,” Ray said, setting a plate down in front of me, “it means welcome to the family.”

Grace had brought over some sort of cheesy potato casserole and a big leafy salad. Although Ray had been bringing me food for the last few days it was the first meal that I actually remember tasting.

And it tasted fantastic.

Grace fell asleep shortly after lunch on the couch and the kids went down for a nap after refusing to eat anything but salad dressing and chocolate milk. “Thanks for dragging me up here. It actually felt pretty good to be in the land of the living again,” I said as Ray walked me to the back door. “It’s nice to know that no matter how much horrible stuff happens in life that the world still manages to keep turning.”

“Listen Thia, I know you’re going through a lot, and I know it’s really hard, but you have to remember that you’re not the only person who has lost family, and you’re certainly not the only person here who has gone through some seriously horrible shit. I don’t know what Chop did to you at the MC, and wondering about it makes my skin crawl, but you have to know that you’re not the only one in this house who has been through something awful like that.”

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