Shukran!

I’d like to give a big thank all of you who bought a Kindle copy of Welcome to Dubai, Baby! as well as those of you who reposted my Facebook message or told your friends about Welcome to Dubai, Baby! Word of mouth is what it’s all about.

I’d love to hear what you thought about the book. Feel free to private message me on Facebook or post comments there or on this page.

Also, if you did buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store, you can write a review there. That kills two birds with one stone – giving me feedback and letting other potential readers know what they can expect if they buy it.

Thanks, shukran, again for all your support!

I won’t be posting much over the summer, but you can follow me on Twitter @jeschrum or like my page on Facebook if you want to see what I’m up to.

Have a fabulous summer!

12.4 An Ending and a Beginning

Caroline Mulligan. The name sounded familiar. She mulled over it for a few moments, drifting in a black, warm sea, before she realized it was her name. I am Caroline Mulligan, she thought, images of herself and her life swimming up in front of her, more and more quickly until she burst to the surface of consciousness with a gasp.

“I think she’s awake!” she heard an excited whisper say. The voice belonged to… it took her a few seconds to access the name…Tracy. She felt someone squeeze her hand. Warm, familiar. Jon. She squeezed back and she heard him say, “Yes! She is awake. She just moved her hand. Can you hear me, baby?”

Caroline smiled. Baby. Who else would she let call her that? But somehow when Jon said it, it sounded ironic and affectionate at the same time. Jon. Her husband.

“Yes!” another voice said. Max. “She smiled. Caro, darling, say something.”

Caroline tried, but her mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton wool. She could barely open her lips. They seemed to be stuck together with a bitter-tasting glue. She opened her eyes a crack, but the unbearable brightness forced her to shut them. She formed the thought “Water,” and forced her lips and tongue to say it. What came out was, “grpmf”.

“Guys,” Tracy said, anxiously, “She needs water.” Thank God for Tracy, Caroline thought, smiling again.

“I got it,” Jon said. She felt the cool plastic of a straw pressed against her lower lip, and she tried again to open her mouth, this time succeeding. She eagerly sucked down the liquid, feeling her body awakening and her mind clearing with each gulp.

“Whoa back, there filly!” Jon said. “Easy, girl.”

“Yes, darling, slow down,” Max said, laughing. “You’re going to make yourself sick.”

As soon as Max said the word, Caroline felt it. She sat up, squinting her eyes open, and tried to get out of the bed. Strong hands held her as the room erupted in sound.

“What is she trying–”

“Care, relax –”

“Jon, quick pass me that bed pan, she’s going to–”

“BLEARGH!

That last sound was Caroline, all the water she had just drunk reversing its path and spewing out through her mouth like lava from a volcano. Mercifully, Caroline heard it splash into the bedpan, now resting on her lap.

“Nice save with the bedpan, Tracy,” Jon said.

“Are you alright, honey?” Tracy asked, a warm hand rubbing her back.

“Oh, God,” Max moaned. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Caroline smiled, shaking weakly with silent laughter. “Get over yourself, Max,” she croaked, her voice sounding like Demi Moore on two packs a day. She squinted up at her friends, her eyes becoming accustomed to the light, gradually.

“Darling,” Max cooed. “You can talk. You’re not going to…do you feel sick?” she asked gingerly.

Caroline smiled and shook her head. Max’s face was a study in contrasts – concern mixed with revulsion. Little Thurston was lying on her lap, asleep.

Jon leaned down and kissed her forehead. Caroline inhaled, relishing the warmth of his lips.

“You’ve been through a lot, baby.”

Caroline nodded, though she couldn’t quite remember what. “I’m going to get rid of this,” he picked up the bedpan, “if you’re sure you won’t need it again.”

Caroline shook her head and leaned back against her pillow.

“Great.” Jon edged toward the door. “You ladies hold down the fort and I’ll be right back with you-know-who.”

You-know-who? Caroline thought, closing her eyes. Her hands rested on her strangely spongy abdomen. Suddenly she sat up straight, her eyes snapping open. She remembered it all. The baby.

It had started at about five in the morning. She had been awakened by a sharp pain in her abdomen. She knew it was early, but she decided to call Tracy anyway. Not wanting to wake Jon, she had gotten up and stumbled out of the room, doing her best to avoid the piles of cardboard boxes stacked against the wall. She heard her mother’s gentle snores coming from the spare bedroom. Betty was staying in Dubai for the next couple of months, to help the couple settle into their new flat and to be there for the birth of her first granddaughter. Mimi was at Phillipe’s.

The movers were coming today to transport Caroline’s things to the three-bedroom flat in The Lake Towers that Jon’s new company had provided. As all of the furniture in the Jumeirah villa belonged to the school, she and Jon had gone out yesterday to get the essentials. Beds and matresses. They figured they had at least a month before the baby came. Caroline was looking forward to taking her time spending Jon’s generous housing allowance furnishing the place.

Caroline found her phone on the coffee table. Naturally, it was dead. She’d forgotten to charge it. And all of her phone numbers were stored there.

She slumped back on the sofa. Another surge of pain hit her, doubling her over her belly. Could these be the Braxton-Hicks contractions that Tracy and Max had talked about? They couldn’t be the real thing. She still had nearly a month to go before her due date.

Caroline got up and went to use the bathroom, trying to decide the best course of action. She’d charge her phone, she decided. In the meantime, she’d use the land-line to call Dr. Nawallah on the emergency cell number she’d given her. She had the obstetrician’s card in her wallet, just in case. It was probably nothing to worry about, she told herself, but a strange uneasiness filled her nonetheless.

As she sat down on the toilet, she noticed it. Blood. And not just a few drops, either. A chill ran down Caroline’s spine. She placed her hands on her belly and spoke to her baby. “Please be okay, little girl.” She ran upstairs to wake Jon.

She threw on the clothes she had worn the day before while Jon called a taxi. She debated waking her mother, but Betty had been having such a hard time getting over her jet-lag that Caroline decided against it. This was the first night Betty had managed to sleep through entirely. Caroline quickly scribbled a note and slid it under her mother’s door.

The sun was just starting to creep over the horizon when they got in the cab. Fortunately the morning rush hour hadn’t started yet, and they got to the hospital in a matter of minutes. While the nurses who admitted her didn’t seem overly concerned with Caroline’s symptoms, taking her details and examining her with agonizing slowness, their expressions changed the minute they placed the heart monitor on her belly.

Suddenly it was as if someone had pressed the fast-forward button. Everything was happening at double speed. The details weren’t clear in her memory. They came in flashes. Lying on a stretcher and being whisked into the operating theater. A kind doctor in green scrubs, bushy eyebrows, bald. A kiwi accent. “Jist relex and breathe diply. It’s ol going to be fine.” Jon’s worried face. His warm hand. Floating up to the ceiling on a cloud of breath. Then the warm, black sea.

“Oh my god!” Caroline snapped back to the present, to the standard issue hospital bed, the vertical blinds on the window, Tracy slim and stylish in a navy blue sleeveless shift, Max, holding a tiny blue swaddled bundle, his face soft with sleep. “The baby! How is she?”

“Oh, honey,” Tracy leaned in close, holding her hand, “she’s just fine. No breathing problems, fully developed. Small but perfect. Five and a half pounds.”

“Absolutely, darling,” Max assured her, shifting sleeping baby Thurston on her lap, “She’s a little skinny and yellow, just like her Auntie Maxine.” Max laughed. “Well, how her Auntie Max used to be. How long did it take you to lose the weight, Ta-Ta?”

Tracy frowned at Max. “Oh, you look fine. As Caroline so succinctly put it, ‘get over yourself’!” Then she addressed Caroline. “She’s got a bit of jaundice, but nothing a few hours under the UV light won’t fix.”

“You saw her?” Caroline’s eyes welling up, as she looked at Tracy, then Max. They nodded, smiling.

“She has a tiny tuft of red hair, right here.” Max pointed to the crown of her head. “I tell you, Baby T is going to have a hard time choosing between her and Chelsea.”

Caroline smiled and reached over to stroke little Thurston’s cheek. “And how is our baby T doing?” she asked, fondly.

“Oh, fine,” Max answered wryly. “Drinks like a fish and only needs about six hours of sleep a night, just like his father. Fortunately, he also has Thurston’s habit of dozing off in the middle of Emmersdale, too, so we get a bit of a break.”

Tracy and Caroline laughed.

Caroline noticed that Max had dark circles under her eyes, and her usually immaculate presentation was somewhat less so. Was that spit-up on her shoulder?

“We’re still trying to get him on a proper sleep schedule,” Max continued, stifling a yawn, “but I have to say, it has only been a couple of days. And Holly’s been brilliant. Thurston senior? Well, let’s just say he’s adjusting.”

Just then Jon walked into the room, followed by a Filipino nurse wheeling a cart upon which sat what looked like a tiny transparent bathtub. The smiling nurse brought the cart beside Caroline’s bed, and Caroline looked at her baby girl for the first time . She was so tiny, her delicate rosebud of an ear no bigger than Caroline’s thumbnail. And just as Max had said, she had a little tuft of gingery hair. Curly, she noticed with chagrin and reached over to touch it.

“She’s got a bit of the George Hamilton look going on,” Jon joked. It was true. With the jaundice and the natural thin, reddish skin of preemies, the baby did look like she’d gone overboard on the tanning bed.

Caroline looked up at Jon to see how he was taking this, seeing the baby of his new wife and another man. She’d been too immersed in her own reaction to wonder about his, but this couldn’t be easy for him. But when she looked up at Jon, he was looking at the baby as tenderly as if she was his own, a soft, heart-melting smile on his face.

Max and Tracy had crowded in around the bassinet, ooing and ahing over the baby. “I’ll go get the doctor, ma’am,” Caroline heard the nurse say, “now that you are awake, for your check-up.”

That’s right, Caroline realized, her hand straying to her abdomen, I had a c-section. She wondered why she didn’t feel any pain, and concluded she must be medicated. The ridge of flesh where they’d sewed the incision just felt numb.

She heard a little mewling cry. The baby was awake.

“She’s probably hungry,” Tracy said, knowingly, picking up the tiny bundle and placing her in Caroline’s arms. She felt so fragile, so breakable.

Caroline looked up at Tracy, beseechingly, “Oh God, how do I do this?”

“Oh!” Tracy was surprised. Then she got down to business. “Well, first you need to open up your gown…”

Max rolled her eyes, looking over at Jon who was watching the proceedings, transfixed. She linked her arm through his, resting Thurston IV on her shoulder. “Come on Daddy. I don’t think they need an audience. There’s a Hasta Coffee downstairs. Let’s go get something to drink.”

Caroline concentrated on the task at hand. Fortunately, the baby seemed to know what she was doing, and by the time Max got back, she was fast asleep in her bassinet again, and Caroline had been examined by the doctor.

“Where’s Jon?” Caroline asked. “He didn’t do a runner, did he?” She was joking, mostly.

“Hardly, darling. He only talked my ear off about the baby. Apparently, they had a little bonding session while you were asleep. That man is smitten. He went to pick up your mom and Mimi.” She adjusted little Thurston on her shoulder. He was awake now, his tiny hands clenching and releasing as he attempted to look around the room.

“He looks just like his daddy, doesn’t he?” Tracy smiled, trying to get him to grip her finger.

“I know,” Max said, flatly, “I put in all the hard work, and what do I have to show for it? Not one single feature.”

It was true. Thurston IV had his father’s thin but curvy lips and distinctive downward-slanting eyebrows. Caroline smiled inwardly, thinking, well, at least he can be sure it’s his. Wouldn’t that have been something, she thought, if Louay had unknowing fathered both Max and Caroline’s children?

She and Jon had decided not to inform Louay about the baby. Caroline had no moral qualms whatsoever about putting Jon’s name on the birth certificate. They were doing what was best for the baby, she reasoned. A little white lie.

As if reading her mind, Max leaned in close and whispered, “Darling, you’ve stuck with your plan to keep Louay in the dark, haven’t you?”

Caroline nodded.

“Good.” Max put a copy of The Emirates Times on Caroline’s lap and pointed to a tiny article almost hidden at the bottom of the page. The headline said, “Male Model and Wife of Local Businessman Charged with Public Indecency, Deported.” Caroline read on, though the article didn’t mention their names, she had no doubt it was about Louay and Rania. Apparently, they had been caught canoodling in a public park.

Shocked, she looked up at Max who wore a smug smile.

“They got lucky, if you ask me. Who knows what Rashed would have done to them.

Tracy was on her phone, presumably talking to Nigel. She hung up and slung her bag over her shoulder. “Well, Max, I’d better get home and spend some time with Chelsea before we go out to celebrate.”

Max nodded, bouncing little Thurston, gently, “Me too, darling. I’d like to have a shower and change into something that doesn’t smell like sour milk.”

“Celebrate what?” Caroline asked, feeling bewildered and a little bit left out. Shouldn’t she be involved if they were celebrating the birth of her child?

“Oh, right,” Tracy looked at Max, “She doesn’t know.”

“Know what?”

“Well, darling,” Max sat on the edge of her bed. “While you were popping out that little beauty, our Tracy was going through a labor of her own. She met with Rashed.”

Tracy sat down on the other side of the bed. “I pitched our idea,” her eyes shone with excitement. “The Nanny Academy. He loved it. He’s going to be our silent partner.”

“And he promised,” Max added, “in fact we put it in the contract, that this time he’ll be completely silent.”

“He’s giving us three years to turn a profit. Unlimited capital.” Tracy smiled proudly.

“He’s basically writing us a blank check!” Max enthused.

Caroline felt like she was at a table-tennis match, her head turning from one friend to the other. She grabbed both of their hands in hers and squeezed, feeling their excitement.

“That is amazing, guys!” she squealed.

The three friends were silent for a moment, just looking at each other and smiling, their eyes moist with emotion.

Tracy broke the silence. “God, just look at us guys. How lucky are we?” she said.

Caroline nodded. “Who knew? If you had asked any of us a year ago where we’d be now…”

“Six months ago,” Max interjected.

“Three weeks ago,” Tracy added.

Caroline pondered all that they had been through in the past year, all that she had been through. “Um Umar was right.”

Tracy and Max looked at their friend, blankly.

“Remember, guys? The palm reader? She told me that I would go through a marriage, a divorce, a death and a birth all within one year. Well, actually, it ended up being two marriages, didn’t it? I married Louay, divorced him, married Jon. My first pregnancy miscarried – that’s a death. And now,” she looked over at the peacefully sleeping baby, “a birth.”

“Wow,” Tracy’s eyes were wide. “That is kind of freaky, honey.”

Max looked skeptical. But she agreed, “That is a bit…nee nee nu nu,” she imitated the theme song from The Twilight Zone. “Maybe Um Umar could tell us how the Nanny Academy’s going to work out. And there are a few investments in my portfolio I’ve been wondering about…ouch!” she said as Caroline reached over and playfully punched Max’s arm.

Tracy stood up and said to Max, “Come on. We should let Caroline get some rest.” She gave Caroline a squeeze. “Don’t worry, we’ll celebrate again when you’re out of the hospital. We’ll have a triple belated baby shower. Or, in my case, a very, very early one.”

Caroline and Max exchanged glances.

“Are you..?”

“You’re not..?”

“Yep,” Tracy beamed. “Six months without sex and the first time we do it, bam! We’re pregnant.”

“Well, congratulations?” Caroline said tentatively.

“Or is it commiserations?” Max asked.

“No, we’re happy about it. It’s going to be crazy, but we’ll make it work. We’ve got nine months to prepare, right?” Tracy shook her finger at Caroline. “But don’t you believe that nonsense about breastfeeding as birth-control.”

“Absolutely not!” Caroline laughed. “Now go on, get out of here. Have a great time.”

As Tracy, Max and Thurston were about to leave, Max paused in the doorway and looked back at Caroline. “Oh,” she said, “Do you know what you’re going to call her, darling?”

Caroline’s grin broadened as she looked at the sleeping baby. “Yes,” she said, “I think I’m going to call her Hope.”

 

The Final Post

This is it! Watch this space tomorrow for the conclusion to Welcome to Dubai, Baby!

Meanwhile, the manuscript is getting a last once-over from the proof-reader and the cover is getting some finishing touches. Welcome to Dubai, Baby! should be available in The Amazon Kindle Store by the end of next week for $2.99. If you’ve been waiting to read it in a more user-friendly format, mark Friday, June 20th on your calendar and charge up your tablet.

12.3 Keep Calm and Carry on

Tracy sat on the  reproduction Louis XIV love-seat, drumming her fingers on the maroon velvet. She looked around the lobby, trying to distract herself. The walls were papered with gilt flowers and an enormous, ostentatious crystal and gold chandelier dangled from the ceiling. A diminutive Asian receptionist sat behind an elaborate marquetry-covered desk, the gaudiest painting Tracy had ever seen hanging over her head. The trio of horses, rearing and flaring their nostrils in the most overblown of romantic styles definitely deserved to be painted on black velvet, she thought.

As Tracy waited, she pondered the events that had led her to be sitting here alone, Power Point presentation at the ready, heart pounding with nerves and anticipation. The first had been the phone call from Maxine.

“Darling,” Maxine had said, all business, “are you busy?” From the casual tone of her voice, Tracy guessed that Max wanted to go over some detail of their proposal.

“No, not really,” Tracy said, though the truth was slightly more complicated. She was holding Chelsea on her hip while she stirred a pot of carrot-ginger soup. Deepa had gone to the pharmacy in search of teething gel and baby Tylenol. Chelsea was cutting her molars and howled and shrieked whenever Tracy so much as hinted she was going to put her down. Deepa, whom Chelsea normally adored, was pushed angrily away with a chubby paw that was moist from being chewed on.

“Fabulous, darling.” Max was a bit breathless. “Listen, Ta-ta. I’ve been trying to get a hold of Thurston for the past half hour, with no luck. Would you be a darling and come to the hospital? I’ve already called Caro and Wilson’s bringing her. They’re stopping by my place to pick up my bag, so you don’t have to worry about that. Now, I know you’ve got your hands full and I hate to ask you to do this, but I need your calm level-headedness, if that’s a word, especially since they’re telling me that I can’t have a c-section!” She said this last part in a loud growl, as if she were talking to someone in the room.

“Absolutely ridiculous!” she continued, angrily, not giving Tracy a moment to interject, “Oh, god, here comes another one,” she groaned. “I’m going to hang up now so you don’t have to hear me scream. Dubai American Hospital. Room 216.”

Tracy heard the most unearthly noise, half silver-screen banshee wail, half enraged lion’s roar. Then the line went dead.  She stared at the phone, bouncing Chelsea, who whimpered plaintively and tried to gnaw on Tracy’s bare shoulder. The realization thudded home: Max was having her baby. She had barely had a moment to collect her thoughts when her phone rang again. This time it was Caroline.

“Tracy!” Caroline nearly screamed. “Oh, thank God you picked up! Has Max called you?”

“Yes…” Tracy started, but Caroline cut her off.

“You’re coming right? Please tell me you’re coming to the hospital, because as much as I want to be there for Max, I just don’t think I can do this!” Her voice had become high and squeaky, like she had just sipped from a helium balloon. “I mean, I thought I was okay with this giving birth naturally thing, I mean I am, but I just don’t think I can actually watch her go through it first, you know.” Caroline lowered her voice and whispered into the phone, “Did you hear that noise she made, when she was going through a contraction?”

“Yes…” Tracy managed to say before Caroline interrupted.

“Oh my God, it was like an animal being tortured! That was not a happy sound.”

“Probably not.” Tracy remembered her own delivery. Though the memory of the actual sensation was gone, it was definitely the worst pain she had ever felt, worse than when she broke her arm on a skiing trip in the eighth grade.

“But you’ve done this before, Tracy,” Caroline pleaded.” You know what she’s going through. You can help her, right?”

Tracy thought for a moment. Deepa would be back with the teething gel and pain-killer soon. Chelsea wouldn’t be happy to see her go, but once the medicine started working she’d get over it.

“Yes, absolutely,” Tracy said, firmly.

“Thank you,” Caroline breathed.

Tracy’s mind started working, ordering the series of events that had to take place in the next few minutes. “Now you’ve got Max’s bag,” Tracy confirmed.

“Shit! The bag! Wilson, we have to go back to Max’s flat.”

“Relax, Care. Just get the bag and get to the hospital. Wait in the waiting room. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

Tracy called Nigel to let him know she probably wouldn’t be there when he got home and, as soon as Deepa walked in the door, headed straight for the hospital. Once she got there and spoke to Max’s attending midwife, she found out that A) Dr. Nawallah couldn’t be reached and B) it didn’t matter anyway because Max was already fully dilated. There wasn’t even time to administer an epidural.

Caroline hadn’t arrived yet when Thurston Wintergreen IV came into the world, red-faced and indignant, not unlike his mother. When he was placed on her chest, though, Max melted, dissolving in happy tears. Caroline and Thurston came a minute later, trailing Lady Wintergreen. Try as she might not to, Bunny softened when she saw her first grandchild, an uncharacteristic smile blooming on her face as she tenderly touched his downy head.

That had been the first event that brought Tracy to her current position on the velvet loveseat. The second had been another phone call, just this morning, from Rashed bin Sultana.

“Hello, Treecy!” He had yelled enthusiastically into the phone. “This Rashed. Mexine White give me your number.”

It was seven in the morning. Both she and Nigel had taken turns getting up with Chelsea in the night, dosing her with baby Tylenol and ibuprofen, and had still been sleeping when the phone rang.

“Yes,” Tracy cleared the sleep out of her throat, instantly alert, “Good morning, Rashed.”

“How are you?” he asked cheerfully. “You are fine?”

“Yes, I’m fine. How are you?”

“Oh, fine, fine, ahamdulillah. By the grace of God. But Treecy!” Rashed said, still cheerful, “I am sorry. I made appointment with you and Mexine, but I can’t do this. I must cancel. I will go honeymoon, inshallah, next week. Paris! My bride’s wedding gift to me.”

“Oh,” Tracy couldn’t hide her disappointment. Despite Max’s precautions, it seemed that Rania was bent on thwarting their plans. And it seemed she had succeeded in at least stalling them.

“No problem!” Rashed shouted, happily. “You come see me today. Afternoon. One, two o’clock. My office is in Burj Khalifa. 4404. You come?”

“Yes,” Tracy didn’t hesitate. She knew that Max was still in the hospital, but it was now or never, she thought. “I will come, inshallah.” God willing.

She immediately called Caroline. Though she hadn’t agreed to join Max and Caroline in the Nanny Academy, Tracy figured she could at least be there for moral support. But when she called Caroline’s mobile, she got a message from the phone company saying that her phone was switched off or out of service range. She hesitated for a moment, then called Max, who answered on the second ring.

“Ta-Ta!” Max exclaimed. “What on earth are you doing up at this ungodly hour of the morning?”

“Sorry,” Tracy apologized, “I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“Are you kidding, darling?” Max said.“I’ve been up since six with baby T. Would you believe he fed for half an hour, pooped, and then passed out on me? You should have seen the color of the stuff! Black! And here I am, wide awake. Do I really have to stay here for 48 hours?”

“Yep, I remember. It can be a little boring.”

“I’ve just been staring at baby T for the past half hour. He’s absolutely gorgeous, but let’s face it, this isn’t exactly Claridges. I seriously doubt anyone’s going to be bringing me my morning match green tea.”

“Probably not,” Tracy agreed, “Listen, Max, Rashed just called.”

“Oh, darling, I’m so sorry,” Max sympathized. “He called me just a few minutes ago. When I told him I was in the hospital, he asked for your number, but I didn’t think he would phone right away. You know, I didn’t even think to ask him what he wanted.”

“He wanted to cancel our meeting next week.”

“Noooo,” Max exhaled slowly, a quiet cry of disappointment. Then her tone got harder. “That little minx…” she started angrily, guessing the cause of the cancellation, but Tracy cut her off.

“But he agreed to meet me this afternoon.” Tracy was met with dead air. She could imagine Max running through the possibilities in her mind.

“I can bribe them to let me out of here. How much could it take? Two thousand? Three?”

“Max,” Tracy tried to stop her friend, to no avail.

“Or I could just walk out,” Max continued, rapidly. “I could be gone and back within an hour, two tops. Of course, I’m not sure what I’d do with baby T…” she trailed off.

“Max, stop!” Tracy said, a little more forcefully than she’d meant to. She continued, more softly, “I can do this, Max. I can give the proposal. True, I don’t have your history with Rashed. And I’m not exactly a seasoned entrepreneur. But I do know how to pitch an idea. And this is a good idea. Rashed can see the projected expenditures and gains for himself.”

Max was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “You’re right, Ta-Ta. The Nanny Academy was your idea, after all. You know the proposal inside and out. Go get him, tiger! But call me as soon as it’s over.”

“Absolutely.”

“And Ta-Ta?” Max said softly. “Thanks for being there for me yesterday. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Oh, honey, of course. You did all the work. I just stood there. I guess you weren’t to posh to push after all.”

“Ha!” Max said, sarcastically. “Like I had a choice. Oh, and darling, one more thing.”

“Mm-hm?”

“Wear your hair down and show a little cleavage. Rashed’s got a thing for curvy brunettes. Not that you need any help, but it never hurts to use all your resources.”

And now here Tracy was, her thick wavy hair brushing the shoulders of her black Calvin Klein suit. She had buttoned and unbuttoned the third button of her pale blue striped shirt several times, finally settling on unbuttoned. Just a hint of cleavage showed above the crisp cotton.

She had just made up her mind to button it up again when the door to Rashed’s office opened and he walked out, talking to another man dressed in long flowing traditional Bedouin garb. Rashed walked the man to the elevator. After many effusive goodbyes, the elevator doors finally closed and he turned to see Tracy perched on the velvet loveseat.

“Treecy!” he said, with his characteristic volume. “Welcome! Welcome! I’m happy to see you. How is Max? She is fine? Baby is fine?”

“Yes.” Tracy stood up. “He’s a beautiful baby boy.”

Ahamdulillah,” Rashed nodded his head. “Come, come. We go in my office. We drink tea, hm?” He smiled at her affably, his eyes lighting on her cleavage for the briefest moment.

Tracy nodded her head, returning his smile. She said a silent prayer and followed him into his office, clutching her laptop like a life preserver.

 

12.2 In a Pickle

Maxine breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped into the cool air of Tunney’s and picked up a green shopping basket. It was only March, but the temperatures outside were already sliding dangerously close to 40 degrees Celsius, and the air was thick with humidity. Max used to tell people that she was like a snake, always cold unless she was sitting in direct sunshine. But now, with more than a few pounds added to her once slender frame, she couldn’t get out of the heat fast enough.

She and Thurston had just come from Dr. Nawallah’s for a quick scan and check-up. The c-section was scheduled for next Thursday, and the doctor just wanted answer any final questions and check on the health of both mother and baby. Everything had gone well, and Maxine had left feeling that she had put the delivery in the best possible hands.

In fact, despite the events of the past few months and the upcoming visit from her mother-in-law, Max felt her life was in the best possible place. She was about to become a mother, a chance she’d almost passed on. She was married to a man she adored, and who worshiped the ground she walked on. She was about to embark on a new adventure, the Nanny Academy, and best of all, she was doing it with her two best friends. She had talked to Caroline about joining her and Tracy, now that she was going to be staying in Dubai after all. Caroline hadn’t said yes, but Max knew that she would come around eventually.

Maxine walked slowly up the gourmet grains aisle. Bunny would be arriving this afternoon, and though she had booked herself a suite at the Ritz, Max had foolishly promised to cook her dinner. She had just put a package of gluten-free rice pasta in her basket when she felt an uncomfortable sensation, like the firm and sudden clenching of all her abdominal muscles. It lasted for less than a minute, but left her breathless and nauseous.

Tracy had told her about Braxton-Hicks contractions. Max had begun feeling them a few days ago, if she did anything more strenuous than lounge around her apartment. She had mentioned them to Dr. Nawallah, who had echoed Tracy’s dismissive reply. They were nothing to be worried about, just the body preparing itself for real labor. A complete waste of effort, Max thought, since I’m having a c-section.

Max had moved on to the produce section and was putting a head of lettuce into the basket when her cell phone rang. The screen said ‘Rania’. Max accepted the call with a smile of anticipation.

“Hello, darling,” she said. “Ooh, such language, Rania. Does your mother know you talk like that? I guess you got the pictures?”

Max had emailed Rania the incriminating pictures of her and Louay that morning.

“Now don’t get all excited, darling,” Max continued, examining a butternut squash. “I have no intention of showing them to Rashed, if you behave yourself.”

Rania answered and a peel of laughter erupted from Max. “Oh, nice try, darling, but both Thurston and Caroline already know about my brief dalliance with Louay. They’re over it.” Max strolled by the cheeses, grabbing a wedge of brie to share with Thurston, restrictions against soft cheeses be damned.

“No, darling, I don’t want your money.” Max’s voice was condescending. “What I want from you is quite simple. You see, my friends and I have a little business proposal we want to run by your fiancé. All you need to do is stay out of our way. If he accepts our proposal, we’ll know you did just that. If he doesn’t, well…”she trailed off, letting Rania imagine the worst.

Rania responded vehemently with a string of obscenities. Maxine held the phone away from her head. A mother in cargo pants and Birkenstocks pushing a toddler in a trolley glared at Max. Max covered the receiver with her hand and frowned, suppressing her smile.

“I know,” she said to the child. “Naughty lady ought to have her mouth washed out with soap.” The woman passed, shaking her head. Max heard the toddler ask her mother, “Mummy, what does ‘ferkinbich’ mean?” and stifled a giggle.

“Oh, and a word of friendly advice, darling,” she said into the phone. “Louay’s face is highly recognizable, even with sunglasses on. If I were you, I’d be a bit more discrete. If your fiancé were to find out just how friendly you are with your, ahem, cousin, I don’t think he’d be very forgiving, do you?” She ended the call, smiling smugly to herself.

Just then she felt a strange trickling sensation between her thighs. She looked down and sure enough, a small pool of liquid was forming between her Jimmy Choos. She’d used the washroom at the doctor’s office and hadn’t had anything to drink since. It could only be one thing.

Max felt amazingly composed, as if it was someone else standing in a puddle of amniotic fluid. She looked around her. No one seemed to have noticed. She grabbed a jar of pickles from the display case and casually dropped it at her feet. The crash and tinkle of the glass made the other shoppers’ heads snap up and turn in her direction.

“Oh, clumsy me,” she apologized as one of the Tunney’s staff came running. “I’m so sorry. I’ll pay for it.”

“No need ma’am,” the green-shirted Filipino answered, sweeping the glass and pickles into a dustpan.

“Thank you,” Max said, gratefully. Then she beat a hasty retreat to the exit, Blackberry in her hand.

A blast of heat and humidity hit her as she stepped out of the air-conditioned refuge of Tunney’s. She waved her arm to get Wilson’s attention. Aside from her cardboard box of personal effects, Wilson was the sum total of all she had left of Top Models. He rapidly folded the newspaper and jumped in the car when he saw her urgent waving.

“Thurston, darling,” Max said into the phone after it clicked into her husband’s voice mail. “I’m on my way to the hospital. My water’s broken. Broke. Whatever. Meet me there as soon as you get this. It looks like Thurston IV may be arriving sooner than expected. Ciao.”

As she ended the call and climbed into the car, another ripple of pain washed over her. She gripped the leather of her seat,  hoping amniotic fluid didn’t stain.

“Are you alright, madam?” Wilson asked, his eyes filled with concern.

“Just peachy, darling.” Max grimaced. “But there’s been a change of plan. Take me to the hospital, Wilson, and step on it.”

 

12.1 Something Old, Something New

March

            Caroline stood in the cubicle that served as a public restroom for the British Consulate in Dubai, critically examining herself in the utilitarian and deeply unflattering mirror. She was wearing a simple empire-line ecru cotton dress, a cast-off from Maxine’s maternity wardrobe. Fortunately for Caroline, though perhaps not for Max, Max had suddenly blown up like a puffer fish and most of the designer maternity clothes that she had bought in her second trimester no longer fit her.

Caroline had left her hair curly, pinning just the front back with a blush-colored silk rose, and russet Pre-Raphaelite curls cascaded down her back. Even in the green glow of the florescent light, her estrogen-infused complexion, was glowing as if she had gone through a micro-dermabrasion session. Being pregnant did have its advantages.

A knock sounded on the door, and she heard Mimi’s muffled voice.

“Care, it’s time.”

Caroline took a deep breath to quell the sudden rush of butterflies that whirled around her stomach, and smoothed her hand down over her belly. Her little passenger had been uncharacteristically quiet today, just the odd kick or nudge to let Caroline know that all was well, but she suddenly executed a series of somersaults.

“I know exactly how you feel,” Caroline said out loud. Then chanting a low, centering “om”, she turned and opened the door. Mimi was standing just outside, shifting from foot to foot. Beside her, looking like death warmed over was Caroline’s mom.

“Oh, Caroline, do you ever look beautiful,” Betty said, her eyes watery with emotion and lack of sleep. Jon and Caroline had picked her up at the airport just two hours earlier.

“If only your father could be here, but you know how he is about flying,” Betty continued, dabbing at her eyes with tissue. “He’s just terrified,” she added for Mimi’s benefit.

“I know, Mum,” Caroline said. She also knew that her father was probably conflicted over this recent turn of events in his daughter’s life. On the one hand, the Catholic in him was glad that his grandchild was not going to be born out of wedlock, but on the other, two marriages within a year? Sheeyit.

Caroline glanced down the hall in either direction, disappointment written on her face. She looked at Mimi who read her expression.

“Sorry Care, I haven’t seen Tracy or ol’ whatshername, but the ambassador and Jon are both waiting, and in about half an hour I’m going to have an unsupervised group of grade sevens loose in the art room, so can we get this thing going?”

“Of course!” Caroline laughed, grabbing her friend in a quick hug. “Oh, Meem. I’m so glad you’re here. You, too, Mum.” She pulled her mom into the huddle.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, babe,” Mimi linked her arm through Caroline’s, steering her down the hall.

“Me neither.” Betty held on to Caroline’s other arm. After Jon had proposed to her in the taxi, the first thing Caroline had done was call her mother. The second thing was booking her a flight. Then she and Jon had got down to the nitty-gritty of getting married on short notice in a foreign country.

Jon and Caroline were to be married in the consulate’s office in a short and simple ceremony. Walking down the hall, a snapshot of her last wedding flashed through her mind. Her Roland Mouret dress, Louay in his linen suit, the waves kissing their toes as they vowed to be true to each other until death. How stupid she had been.

As she entered the office the ambassador, a fifty-something paunchy man who managed at once to be distant yet amiable was leaning against his desk, talking to Jon.

“…really appreciate this. We know it only happens in extremely rare exceptions,” Jon was saying. Caroline knew he was thanking the ambassador for agreeing to marry them. Caroline couldn’t have imagined what they’d have done if the ambassador and Thurston hadn’t been old school chums. Fortunately, both she and Jon both had British passports, she because her grandmother was born in Newcastle, and Jon because he’d been born there, or it wouldn’t even have been a possibility. There were churches in Dubai where they could be married, but Caroline wasn’t certain about how well she’d be received, given her obvious condition.

“Ah, the lovely bride has arrived.” The ambassador stood up and walked towards her. “Ah, and so has her entourage, I see,” he said, looking over Caroline’s shoulder. She turned around to find Thurston, Maxine and Tracy behind her. Caroline let out a squeal of joy which was echoed by her friends. She grabbed them in a tight hug.

“I’m so happy you came!”

“Of course, honey,” Tracy said, brushing a stray ringlet off her forehead, looking at her admiringly. “You look completely gorgeous, by the way!”

“Absolutely, darling,” Max agreed, stepping in front of Mimi as if she wasn’t there. “As does the groom.”

Mimi rolled her eyes, but Caroline had to admit that he did. Jon was wearing a simple gray suit with a white shirt and a pale blue tie.

“I know it’s customary for the bride to have something blue, but I thought we’d be modern and switch it up,” Jon had joked, lisping. “After all, we guys are just accessories to you ladies.”

“Right,” Caroline had laughed, “forget ‘it’ bags! This season it’s all about the ‘it’ man.”

And now, standing across from him while he introduced Max and Tracy to her mom, making them all laugh with some comment while Thurston and the ambassador chatted about mutual acquaintances in England, Caroline was struck with how different she felt getting married this time around.

Of course the setting, a bland, white-washed government office with scuff marks on the wall and worn carpet couldn’t compare to a lush tropical island in the Seychelles. And while Jon was handsome in that boy-next-door way, he was no sculpted Greek god, like Louay. But, as Jon caught her eye over Max’s shoulder and winked at her, his brown eyes full of affection, Caroline was flooded with a sensation of complete calm and rightness that she had never felt in Louay’s presence. Ah, she said to herself, so this is love.

The ceremony took a matter of minutes. Caroline and Jon recited the declaration on the paper the ambassador gave them, then signed their names. Thurston and Mimi added their signatures, as official witnesses. The ambassador signed and stamped it. Then he declared, jovially, “Well my man, you’d jolly well better kiss your bride.” And Jon did, amidst laughing and cheering, photo-taking, and even a tear or two from Max.

“I’m blaming the hormones, darlings,” Max said, fanning herself with her hands and laughing through her tears.

“Me too,” Caroline’s mother added, eyes leaking.

They thanked the ambassador again and Caroline said a teary good-bye to Mimi, who was rushing back to school. Then Thurston announced, “Lunch at the Burj Khalifa, my treat. I insist.”

Nigel was waiting for them when they got to the restaurant on the 122nd floor of the Burj, a bottle of Dom Perignon in an ice bucket beside the table.

“Congratulations and best wishes and all that,” he said, kissing Caroline on the cheek and shaking Jon’s hand, heartily. “I’m afraid I won’t be staying for pudding, as I’m due back at the office before too long, but I had to toast the bride and groom.”

Nigel raised his glass. “To Jon and Caroline. May their marriage be happy, fruitful, and for God’s sakes, at least longer than the last one.”

Everyone laughed. Caroline blushed and hid her face in Jon’s lapel, muttering, “That shouldn’t be too hard.”

“I’ll drink to that!” Jon raised his glass.

“Me, too!” Betty piped in.

As Caroline took a sip of her bubbly, she surveyed the table, the exquisite décor of the room, and the amazing vista beyond. A month ago, she had been at the bottom of the roller coaster, in debt, out of work, and knocked up. And now, here she was, literally on top of the world. She looked at her mother, at each of her friends and their husbands, and smiled, feeling a warm fuzzy completeness that had nothing at all to do with the Dom Perignon.

 

Welcome to Dubai, Baby is coming to Kindle

As Caroline, Tracy and Max come to the end of their adventure in Dubai, their story is about to embark on an adventure of its own.

If you’ve noticed that I haven’t been posting new segments recently, it’s because I’m preparing WDB for its Kindle release, hopefully mid-June. Currently, I’m working on formatting the file, lining up book-bloggers to review it and working on the cover.

What do you think? Yellow or Pink?

WtDB_cover WtDB_cover_pink3

 

I’d love to hear from you!

 

11.5 Love is in the Air

Tracy closed her laptop and leaned back against the sofa, tired but satisfied. She looked through the patio doors to the backyard where Chelsea and her grandparents were sitting on the ground on a blanket. Chelsea was throwing a soft cotton ball and laughing delightedly as her grandfather scrambled to get it.

Brenda and Dan would be leaving tomorrow on the noon flight to JFK. Holly had already returned to Maxine and Thurston’s to help Maxine outfit the nursery for the latest Wintergreen’s imminent arrival. Soon it would be just her, Nigel and Chelsea. Oh. And Deepa, Tracy reminded herself.

After just a few weeks in Holly’s capable hands, Deepa had become an excellent caregiver and housekeeper. And with her decent command of English, sweet, shy nature and common sense, Tracy would have no reservations about leaving Chelsea in her care.

Still, she didn’t intend to be away from Chelsea very often or for very long. That was the whole point of the Nanny Academy. She and Max had spent long hours going over their business plan, researching possible venues, making contact with recruiting agencies in the Philippines, India, and South Africa and England. They had an appointment with Rashed to present their proposal. Provided he liked it, the Nanny Academy would be up and running within the next six months.

Tracy knew they would be busy at first, but she and Max hoped that most of the work could continue to be conducted from their home offices. Tracy might even have a few hours a day to write. They had a reliable second-in-command who would handle most of the ground work, after all. Sophie, Max’s ultra-organized former PA had agreed to come back to Dubai and work for them now that she had recovered.

Things were looking up. Still, there was one aspect of her life that was lacking, literally. Her love life.

Tracy got up and poured some coffee, stirring in some natural low-calorie sweetener, trying to remember the last time she and Nigel had really talked, let alone had sex. It had been a long time. Before Chelsea. And now that he had started his new job…Tracy pushed the negative thought out of her mind and went outside to join her parents and Chelsea.

“Hi guys,” she said, sliding open the patio doors. “I’m having coffee. Would you like some?”

“Oh, thanks, honey. We can get it ourselves. Shouldn’t you be getting yourself ready for your date with Nigel?” Brenda asked.

Tracy looked at her watch, surprised at how late it was. Tracy’s parents had suggested that she and Nigel leave Chelsea with them for their last evening in Dubai and have a romantic evening together. Nigel had pounced on the idea, insisting that he make all the plans.

“I’ve just got a training session in the morning. I should be able to cut out of work early,” he had said, winking. “I’ll pick you up at five. Wear a nice frock.”

Tracy couldn’t imagine where they’d be going at five o’clock that would require her to wear a nice dress. Despite Dubai’s reputation as a fashionable city, it was also a notoriously casual one. And a late night one. None of the nice restaurants opened until after seven and didn’t get busy until eight-thirty or nine.

Still, Tracy put extra effort into her going-out routine. She put on the Agent Provocateur red silk bra and panties that Nigel had bought her pre-Chelsea and that she was finally able to squeeze into again. She blew her hair into silky brown waves that framed her face. She even spritzed on some Estee Lauder Beautiful, though she hadn’t bothered with perfume in months.

She had slipped on her dress and was just contemplating adding a silver cuff bracelet, when the bedroom door opened and Nigel walked in. He looked at her appreciatively and let out a long wolf whistle.

“Mm. Not only do you look good enough to eat, you smell good enough to eat, too.” He nibbled gently on her neck.

Tracy smiled and turned to face him, putting her arms around him and kissing him slowly, provocatively. She hadn’t felt like this in a long time. Sexy. The last few months had been a blur of work stress, money anxiety, sleep deprivation and worry about Chelsea. Now, with Nigel happy in his new job, Chelsea happy with her new nanny and Tracy excited about the Nanny Academy, she felt like herself again. Only more so.

“Whoa, whoa, tiger.” Nigel pulled away from her with great reluctance. “Don’t you want to see what I have planned?” He touched her nose gently with his index finger. “It’s all about anticipation.”

Tracy laughed and pulled him closer. “Six months isn’t enough anticipation for you?” she asked.

Nigel’s face was aghast. “It hasn’t really been that long, has it?”

Tracy nodded and started working on the knot in his tie, but Nigel stopped her.

“Ah, ah, ah,” he scolded playfully. “You’ve got to wait to open your present. Come on, love, let’s go. And no more kissing. You don’t want Brenda and Dan to see their son-in-law pitching a tent in his trousers, do you?”

Tracy laughed. “No, I most definitely do not.”

After stopping briefly to say goodbye to her parents and smother Chelsea with kisses, Tracy and Nigel climbed into the bucket seats of the GTR and drove away. Nigel was driving and Tracy wasn’t paying much attention to where they were going until they pulled into the cul de sac in front of the Medina Marina Hotel, a sprawling complex of three hotels, a mall and a theater right next to the long stretch of Jumeirah Beach.

She looked over at her husband. “Honey, what’s going on?” she asked, as the valet opened her door. The bellhop was pulling bags out of the small trunk of the car.”

“Not to worry, love.” Nigel pulled her arm through his, patting her hand. “You just sit yourself down on one of those leather sofas and enjoy your welcome drink while I get us checked in.”

“What?” Tracy squealed. “We’re staying overnight? But Chelsea? And my parent’s flight leaves…”

“At two. We’ll have plenty of time to get them to the airport if we check out at nine. And Chelsea’s got Deepa, and your parents, and a fridge full of pumped milk and organic mushy peas and applesauce. She’ll be fine,” Nigel said, firmly.

Tracy looked at him, still unsure. “Really? She will?”

Nigel looked at his watch. “For the next sixteen-odd hours, most of which she will spend sleeping, absolutely.”

“And my parents?” Tracy asked, suspicion dawning.

“Were in on it, utterly and completely,” Nigel confirmed. “In fact, it was your mother’s suggestion that we spend the night away. She told me that she and Dan used to occasionally steal away for a dirty weekend when you were little. Said it was the secret to their happy marriage.”

Tracy wrinkled her nose, not wanting to imagine her parents on a so-called dirty weekend. But she did remember being shipped to grandparents every so often for a sleepover.

“I thought we could, ahem, test out the bed in the room, then relax by the pool for a while before cocktails at Qui and nice dinner at that Moroccan place,” Nigel said, leading Tracy to a sofa.

“Oh, I loved that place,” Tracy said, sitting down. “The chicken tagine was amazing. You know, I think the last time we ate there was the night Chelsea was conceived.” But Nigel hadn’t heard her. He was making a beeline for the check-in desk.

She wondered if Nigel had thought to bring condoms. Not that it really mattered, she mused to herself, she was breastfeeding. Nature’s contraception.

 

11.4 A Previous Engagement

How bad, indeed, Caroline thought the next day, recalling her first and definitely last encounter with the Boobs as she waited at the airport for Jon’s flight to arrive.

From the moment Tamasin opened the door, gave Caroline and Max the five-second label appraisal and proceeded to address all of her comments to Max, it had been pure hell. Max had swanned into the villa and started working the room with her trademark charm. In her Jimmy Choo boots and DKNY maternity dress, she fit right in with the other designer mommies. Caroline, on the other hand, did not. She had spent most of the meeting playing with the babies, who were largely being ignored by their gossiping mothers, not unlike Caroline.

Max had been in high spirits during the ride back to Caroline’s Jumeirah villa, talking about how Tamasin went to school with Thurston’s cousin and how Red Tod’s husband had worked on a project with him.

Of course Max had disparaged them too, laughing at Tamasin’s décor and the cookie-cutter style they all shared, but Caroline could tell she’d had a good time. Caroline smiled and nodded, but didn’t say much. She didn’t want to bring Max down. Caroline knew she was leaving Dubai soon. What did it matter if a bunch of new-money snobs had rejected her?

Caroline sighed, banishing all thoughts of the Boobs, bringing herself back to the present. She looked around her at the people who were also waiting for the flight from Heathrow. She saw a few other westerners. A line of Filipinas neatly dressed in suits were holding signs with that said things like “Mr. Bently” and “USD Leadership Convention”. Several Indian or Pakistani families waited expectantly, shiny haired children playing at their feet. All around her swirled a mix of different languages and accents. She would miss this multicultural mix, she knew, relegated to Wonderbread, blue-collar Trenton.

People started to trickle out of the doors that lead from the baggage claim area. White men in business suits, Emiratis in flowing white headdresses and gowns. Then she saw Jon. He was pushing a cart piled high with luggage. She waved, tentatively, smiling. His face lit up in a wide grin, then tried to crease into a frown, failing around the eyes.

“Hey,” he said, as he reached her. “What are you doing here? I didn’t want you to have to stand around waiting for me.”

She smiled. “And hello to you, too.”

“Hi,” he said, an embarrassed half-smile playing on his lips. He took her hands. “It is really good to see you. You look…” he struggled to find the word.

“Fat?” Caroline offered.

Jon laughed and shook his head. “Not at all. Radiant, is the word I was looking for.”

“Right. Come on, let’s go get you a taxi. Last time you just brought one teeny tiny suitcase and a garment bag. Now you’re worse than I am. Were you having a fashion crisis?” she teased, trying to keep the mood light, despite the heavy topics that were dancing around them.

Jon sighed with the same half-embarrassed half-smile and said, “That’s another reason I didn’t want you to meet me here.”

She looked at him, curiously. “Why?’

“I’ll explain everything later. Let’s get a cab. This cart is heavy.”

“Do you think one will be enough?” she joked.

After they had loaded most of Jon’s bags into the trunk and piled the smaller ones in the front seat, Caroline leaned forward to give the driver directions.

“Which hotel?” She asked Jon. Then, before he could answer, she added, impulsively, “Unless you want to stay at my place. Mimi’s gone to stay with her new boyfriend, so you’d have two rooms to chose from. I know it’s not the Ritz, but it’s free.” She lowered her eyes so that Jon wouldn’t see the disappointment in them when he said no.

He hesitated for a second. “Sure.”

“Oh. Great!” she said, pleasantly surprised. She gave the taxi driver directions. Then she sat back and looked over at Jon. His dark brown hair had grown out a bit since she had last seen him and had started to curl boyishly over his ears, and he had the faintest shadow of a beard forming on his chin. He looked at her, his warm brown eyes causing a flood of mixed emotions to fill her. She looked down at her hands.

“It’ll save you money. You know, on the hotel room, and on taxis,” she said.

“Right.” He reached over, grabbing one of her hands. She could feel his eyes on her, melting a hole in the hastily constructed defenses she had put around her heart. She looked up to meet his gaze. Shit, she thought, can I handle this?

“Caroline.” Jon’s face was uncharacteristically serious. “I know I’ve put you through hell for the past few weeks.”

Caroline nodded her head, smiling sadly. She couldn’t lie. It had been hell. But she knew that she’d brought it on herself.

“I’m sorry,” he said, sincerely.

“I understand,” Caroline answered. She did. But that didn’t stop the feeling that her heart was crumbling inside her. This was going to be much harder than she had anticipated. She pulled her hand away from Jon and looked out the window, sighing. “What am I doing Jon?” she asked, focusing on the horizon of tall glass and concrete buildings as they crossed the Garhoud bridge. “I mean, what are we doing?”

“Caroline,” Jon started, but she stopped him, turning to meet his gaze with tears in her eyes.

“I thought I wanted to see you. I mean, I do want to see you, but I just wonder if this is such a good idea after all.”

Jon looked confused, but Caroline kept talking. The taxi driver was ignoring them, jabbering away in Urdu on his cell phone.

“Jon, I think it was a noble gesture on your part, coming all this way. And when I first saw you, I thought, I just want to spend as much time with him as possible before I go. But now, when you’re looking at me like you used to, when you’re holding my hand…I just can’t pretend that I don’t want this to end. That I want us to be just friends.”

Jon looked at her, his expression full of affection. “I don’t want this to end, either.”

“But…” Caroline started, ready to finish his thought for him.

“No, Caroline, no buts. I don’t want this to end. Period.” He reached into the pocket of the lightweight jacket he was wearing over his t-shirt and pulled out a small box. Caroline gasped. It was definitely a ring box, a distinctive turquoise blue with a white ribbon.

“Now I really hadn’t planned to do this in the back of a taxi with Babu up here watching,” Jon said, jerking his thumb in the direction of the taxi driver who was still talking on his phone, oblivious. “But you forced my hand.”

Caroline stared at Jon, frozen.

“And speaking of hands…” Jon took her left hand in his, and placed the little blue box in it.

He looked into her eyes and said with a funny half smile, “Caroline would you do me the honor of giving me yours? Along with the rest of you? To have and to hold and all that jazz?”

Caroline looked down at the box, still speechless. She wordlessly began to pull the ribbon.

“Oh, of course you want to look at the ring before you answer me,” Jon joked. “You wouldn’t want to marry some chintzy half-karat guy.”

Caroline laughed, the spell broken. She put the box, unopened, in her lap and reached over to hug Jon, taxi driver be damned.

“Yes! Yes! Of course. My hand is yours. They both are. All of me is.” The taxi driver seemed to have noticed them at last. He made a tsking noise at them from the front seat. But maybe he was just commenting on the traffic. They were stuck in the inevitable early morning traffic jam. Caroline pulled away from the embrace but continued to hold Jon’s hands.

“Are you sure? I mean…” She trailed off, looking down at her now very pronounced bump.

Jon took one of his hand from hers and placed it on her belly. “Yes. I’m sure. You gave me more than enough time to think about it. I weighed all the pros and cons, made lists, talked to a shrink, for God’s sake, and in the end, I just threw my hands up and said, damn it, I love her! I think I’ve loved you from the moment I set eyes on you. And this little…”

“Girl,” Caroline interjected.

“Girl?” A broad grin spread across Jon’s face. “Really?”

Caroline nodded, smiling.

“This little girl,” Jon continued, “is part you. I mean, when you think about it, she’s mostly you, isn’t she? What was Mr. Perfect’s contribution? A teaspoon full of DNA?” He glanced out the window. Sure enough one of the ubiquitous ads featuring Louay was fluttering on the breeze. “And that seems to be some fairly decent DNA to have.But even if she was just one millionth of a percent you, I wouldn’t be able to resist loving her. I know I said I didn’t know if I was ready to be a parent, but I always assumed I would be a dad someday. So it’s all happening a little sooner than I had anticipated, so what? If it’s with the woman I love…”

“Really?” Caroline asked, unable to wipe the smile off her face.

“Really.” Jon answered. “Now open the box. I know you’re dying to.”

She opened it. Nestled inside was an exquisite square cut solitaire set in the creamiest of yellow gold bands. She couldn’t stop a little squeal of delight from escaping. Jon took the ring from her and gently placed it on her finger. It fit perfectly.