by Kathy De
She sighed as she gave up and reached over to light a candle on the table next to her bed. She gasped as she got out of bed and felt the cold air. She quickly slipped on her thick warm robe and slid her feet into her warm slippers.
“I shouldn’t have had that last pot of tea …” she mumbled to herself as she made her way down the tunnel-way towards the bathroom chamber.
In a few minutes, she stepped out of the chamber and tilted her head as she listened. With a frown, she continued down the tunnel way, then stopped outside of a chamber door.
“Lena?” she asked, waiting a few seconds before she entered the room. “Do you mind if I come in?” The tunnel’s newest resident was pacing as she tried to bounce her baby soothingly. Mary noticed her exhaustion and stopped her. “What has little Cathy so upset?”
Lena began to cry. “I have no idea!”
“Hmmm …” Mary said as she stepped forward with her hands out. “May I?” she asked.
Lena handed the baby to Mary, who quickly laid her on the bed and took off her blanket.
“Did you change her recently?”
“A few minutes ago …”
Mary took off the baby’s outfit and nodded. “Here we go. The safety pin holding her diaper popped open and is sticking her.”
“What?!” Lena gasped in shock. “I was so careful when I put it on!”
Mary sniffled the air and wrinkled her nose. “Someone needs a clean diaper too!”
Lena grabbed her wipes and a clean diaper, then laid them down on the bed next to Mary. “Do you want me to …”
“I don’t mind,” Mary said soothingly as she wiped Cathy’s bottom. “I see she still has that rash too …”
Lena began to cry again. “I swear, I’ve spread the ointment on her every time I changed her! I never forgot … not once!”
Mary reached over and took Lena’s hand. “I wasn’t judging, Lena. Only making an observation. Yes, Cathy still has her rash, but it looks much better.”
Mary had Cathy diapered and redressed in no time at all, then picked her up. Lena watched as she held Cathy in such a way that she was lying down the length of her arm. “She’s a little gassy and her tummy is hurting. If you hold her like this it puts pressure on her tummy and maybe she’ll either have a bowel movement or get rid of some more of that gas.”
Lena nodded solemnly as she looked at Mary. “I don’t know nothing about being a Mother!”
“You’ll learn,” Mary cajoled.
“But why should my daughter suffer because I’m so stupid?!” Lena cried again.
Mary felt Cathy passing gas, then smiled as she strained against her arm. “That’s a good girl…” she said over the baby’s fussing cries. She looked at Lena and nodded. “She’s straining to go to the bathroom, but at least she’s going. Tomorrow morning we’ll put something in her bottle and help soften things up a little.”
Lena nodded, “Okay.”
Mary smiled as she handed Lena her baby, “Hold her like this for a while longer, then after you change her get some sleep.”
Lena smiled weakly. “I will. Thank you Mary.”
Mary placed her hand on Lena’s shoulder. “You’re more than welcome. I’m happy to help at any time.” She walked to the chamber door and turned around. “It’s been a few weeks since you delivered. How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay…” Lena shrugged. “Just tired…”
Mary nodded again. “Well, starting tomorrow, I think that you and Cathy should spend your days in the nursery. You can help take care of the other babies.”
Lena seemed excited. “I’d like that!”
“Good. See you tomorrow then.”
Mary turned and went back to her chamber. She slid into bed and settled down under the covers and closed her eyes. She was almost asleep when Sara came into her room.
“Mary…” Sara asked quietly.
Mary instantly gave up the notion of spending her last half hour snuggled in her warm covers. “I’m up, Sara. Tell me what’s wrong.”
“It’s Amber. She’s….”
“Fussing….” Mary said as she sat up and looked at the toddler in Sara’s arms.
“She’s running a fever and won’t settle down. I’ve given her medicine, then a bath, which did lower her temperature a few degrees. I’ve tried everything I know to do and she’s just still so unhappy.”
Mary nodded. “Bring her to me. I’ll take care of her for a while.”
Sara handed her to Mary and Amber immediately snuggled against Mary, who kissed her forehead, then cooed soothingly as she rocked back and forth.
Sara glanced at the door. “I need to get back…”
“Of course, you do.” Mary nodded. “Go ahead. We’ll sit here for a while, then I’ll be in shortly.”
“Thanks, Mary,” Sara said as she walked out.
Mary sat for a while until Amber fell into a deep sleep. She settled her down under the covers then got up and started to get ready for the day. After she changed clothes, she brushed her hair and pulled it back into her normal bun on top of her head, then went back to pick up Amber and carry her to the nursery.
She walked in and placed Amber in her bed, then covered her up and caressed her hair until she fell back asleep.
Sara came over and smiled. “You have the magic touch.”
Mary shrugged. “Nope, just unconditional love,” she said as she started to walk around the room and check on the babies in their cribs and the toddlers in their beds.
Sara nodded towards one little boy. “Stevie had a bad night, wet his bed again.”
Mary sighed as she looked over at him. “Probably still having nightmares. The poor dear has gone through more than most adults.”
Sara nodded sadly as she looked around the room. “They all have…”
Lena walked into the room holding Cathy in her arms. “Mary?”
Mary smiled as she walked over. “How’s Cathy doing? Is she better?”
Lena nodded. “Yeah, but she sure messed up a lot of diapers last night…”
Mary reached for Cathy. “Well, the important thing is she’s going. Come on, I’ll show you the ropes,” she said as she laid Cathy down in crib. She turned to look at Sara. “I told Lena she could start working here with us, so we have a new recruit to help us.”
Sara looked at Lena quizzically. “Are you sure, Sweetie? How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay, just a little tired.”
Sara nodded. “Well, Cathy will be on a schedule soon enough, then you’ll be better.”
“I sure hope so.”
Mary waved her over to a table. “We have a little bit of time before it gets busy, so let’s sit down and have some tea and I’ll explain everything to you.”
Lena walked over to the table and sat as Sara pointed at the door. “I’m going to get some breakfast, then head to bed. I’ll ask William to send a tray here for you two.”
“Thank you, Sara,” Mary said as Sara walked out of the chamber.
“A tray?” Lena asked.
“We won’t be able to eat breakfast in the dining chamber, so we’ll eat here as we take care of the children.”
For the next hour, as they ate breakfast and drank tea, Mary related to Lena the backgrounds of each of the children.
Lena listened intently as she took in as much as she could. “They’ve all had such a hard life…”
“Yes, they have, but we can make it better for them.”
“By showing them love,” Mary said as she looked over at a fussy baby. “Are you ready?”
Lena put down her toast and nodded. “Yeah…”
“Yes…” Mary smiled as she corrected her grammar while she reached for the fussy baby. “Here, this is Tommy. “ Mary handed him to Lena, who looked confused. Mary rolled her eyes and pointed at the table. “He needs to be changed, then dressed in day clothes. By then Brooke should be here with the bottles and you can feed him.”
“Okay…” Lena said tentatively as she walked to the table. She took off Tommy’s clothes, then his diaper and gasped. “Oh…”
“Are you sure?” Mary wondered as she looked over from changing Karen.
“I forgot he would look different from Cathy.”
Mary giggled. “Well, he is a boy, so, yes, he’ll have boy parts!”
Brooke walked in with a basket of bottles. “Here’s breakfast!”
“Shhhh.” Mary sighed.
“Sorry.” Brooke frowned.
Mary handed her Karen. “It’s okay. Give Lena a bottle for Tommy, then you can feed one to Karen. I’ll get Ronnie ready and feed him. By then Tommy will be done and Lena can feed Christopher.”
The babies ate quickly, then were set on a blanket on the floor in a play pen area so they could kick out and move around.
Lena just finished feeding Christopher and turned to watch as Mary started helping some of the toddlers get dressed.
Olivia walked in with Luke, then set him down near the babies in the play area. Lena walked over and helped the two women get the rest of the toddlers ready for their day.
Mary nodded towards Lena. “Help Olivia get the kids settled into their high chairs. Rebecca will be here at any time with a tray of food for them.”
Olivia and Lena had just finished when Rebecca walked in. “Who is hungry?” she sang with a smile.
Olivia and Rebecca quickly got the food set on the trays in front of each of the kids.
“What should I do?” Lena wondered.
“Take a chair and help them put the food in their mouths instead of their hair, nose, ears or the floor!” Olivia laughed.
Lena grinned and sat down in front of the twins. Debbie and Danielle were cute little blonde-haired girls who obediently ate their food with no problem. Lena watched Olivia as she struggled to get Jason to eat anything as he was spending his time smashing his fruit into the tray and coloring with the juice it made. Rebecca was grabbing the hands of Joshua who was trying to spread the applesauce in his hair.
After they finished eating, they cleaned up the kids and Rebecca stood. “I’m heading to my workshop to start the candles if you need me.”
She left, then Mary stood. “I have to meet with Father and I’ll be back before lunch.”
“What do I do?” Lena asked nervously.
Mary nodded towards Olivia. “Olivia will show you,” she said as she headed out the door.
Mary made her way through the tunnels towards the library.
Samantha grabbed her hand. “Mary!” she whispered.
“My goodness, you scared me Samantha. What’s wrong?”
“Mary, I think….”
The girls stopped and looked at Mary with tears in her eyes. Mary immediately put her arm around the young girl and hugged her. “Samantha, you must tell me what’s wrong!”
“I think I’m dying!” the girl cried out.
“What?!” Mary gasped.
“I…I…woke up this morning and I had a really bad stomach ache and when I went to the bathroom I had blood in my underpants!”
“Oh, Samantha….” Mary sighed with relief.
“I don’t want to tell Father. It’s too embarrassing!”
“Honey, come with me, I need to explain what’s happening.”
Mary led Samantha into the girls’ chamber and gathered all of the girls close to Samantha’s age and explained about becoming a woman.
Over and hour later, Mary finally walked into the library.
Father looked up and frowned. “It’s not like you to forget about the meeting?”
“I didn’t forget. I had to help Samantha.”
“What’s wrong with Samantha? Is she all right?” Vincent asked immediately, worried about one of his favorite students.
Mary waved her hand dismissively. “Just woman stuff. I had to have a talk with the girls and explain everything to the next group.”
Vincent blushed and looked down as Father rolled his eyes. “Forgive me, Mary. I tend to forget that they’re not children anymore. Where has the time gone?”
“Well, it’s over and done with now. What happened at the meeting?”
Father and Vincent took turns filling Mary in on the things the council voted on. When it was over, she stood and smiled. “Okay, well it sounds like I didn’t miss much, and, as everything was unanimous, my vote wouldn’t have mattered either way.”
“It always matters,” Vincent said kindly.
Mary patted his shoulder. “You’re sweet. Now I need to go and get my crocheting, then get back to the nursery.”
She left and quickly walked through the tunnels. After she walked into her room, she quickly made her bed, then grabbed her basket of crocheting. Then she headed back out towards the nursery. In the tunnelway, she found Alec sitting on a rock outcropping.
The boy looked down and sniffled and quickly swiped at his eyes. “Yeah?”
“Dear boy, are you crying?”
Mary knew he was lying and set her basket down, then sat down next to him as she slipped her arm around him. “Well, I think otherwise. Now tell me what’s wrong!”
Alec looked up at her with tear filled eyes. “We went Above to play in the park yesterday…”
He hesitated and Mary shrugged. “You do that all the time. What made this time different.”
“There was a man in the park selling flowers.”
“Okay, that’s not new either.”
“For Mother’s Day.”
“Oh,” Mary said quietly, realizing that this was Alec’s first year without his mother.
“My Dad used to take me out and let me buy my Mom any kind of flower I wanted to. My Mom always acted like it was the best gift ever.”
Mary ruffled his hair. “It probably was…because it was given with love.”
“Yeah…” Alec grumbled. “But things are gonna be different this year on account of I got no Mom to give flowers to…”
His tears started to fall again and Mary cuddled him to her chest. “You don’t and I’m very sorry for that, but what you do have is lots of people who love you and want what’s best for you.”
Alec shrugged as he settled against her and accepted her hug. “Yeah?”
Alec took a few moments then pulled away. “Thanks, Mary.”
“You are so welcome, dear. Whenever you need a hug, you come find me and I’ll happily take care of that for you.”
Alec smiled as he slid from the rock. “Kinda like a Mom…”
Mary shrugged. “Sure, kind of….”
Alec skipped off as Mary smiled and headed to the nursery.
She slipped into the room to see that all of the babies were back in their cribs and sleeping. The toddlers were seated on the floor in front of Lena who was reading to them from a book.
She walked over to Olivia’s side. “How did she do?”
Olivia smiled. “Okay. A few minor mistakes, but she has a big heart and really tries.”
“Good!” she said as she settled down and began to crochet.
She watched as the toddlers grew sleepy and Olivia and Lena got them settled into their beds for a nap.
Olivia left to help William in the kitchen as Lena walked over and watched Mary. “My Grandmother used to crochet.”
“Did she teach you how?”
“Yeah, but I don’t remember how.”
Mary set down her piece and grabbed two more hooks, then refreshed Lena on how to use the hooks.
Lena remembered and the two women sat and talked while the children all napped.
Mary was pleased when she saw that the second a baby fussed, Lena was right there attending to its needs. She knew then she had made the right decision to bring her on nursery duty.
Another hour passed and Brooke came once again with fresh bottles. Rebecca stopped in and between the four women they had the babies fed and changed in no time.
Lena sat down on the floor and kept them entertained while they kicked about or tried to roll over from their stomachs to their backs.
“Mary…Tommy keeps going up on his hands and knees, then he scoots forward and falls on his face,” Lena observed.
“Yes, he’s learning to crawl,” Mary explained.
Olivia came in with another tray, “Lunch for the toddlers,” she announced.
Mary nodded. “Good, they’ll be waking up soon.”
Within the hour, all of the toddlers were awake and in their high chairs and Olivia and Lena were handing out their food.
Eric suddenly came running into the room. “Mary, come quick!”
“My goodness, Eric, why are you shouting!”
“Father needs you! Matthew was working with Mouse and cut his hand up really bad. Father said it’s gonna need lots of stitches!”
Mary nodded as she grabbed his arm. “Go ask Sara to come here and keep things running. I’ll go to the hospital chamber.”
Eric ran off and Mary rushed into the hospital chamber, scrubbed her hands, then quickly gathered the supplies Father would need to stitch Matthew’s hand.
Father smiled at her as he came back from scrubbing his own hands. Mary was expertly cleaning the wound as Father prepared his instruments.
“Matthew, we’ll deaden the feeling in this hand so we can begin stitching.”
“Okay,” Matthew sighed.
He flinched as Father administered the deadening shots, then sat quietly while Mary expertly anticipated Father’s needs and handed him whatever he needed.
“You two make a good team,” Matthew observed.
Father smiled as he nodded. “Best nurse I ever had.”
“Oh, poo….” Mary said dismissively.
Father leaned back after he finished. “Well, it looks pretty good, if I do say so myself.”
“Father….I have a sliver!” a young girl’s voice called out from the other side of the curtain.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake…” Father grumbled as he looked at Matthew. “Sit here and in a few minutes, Mary will apply some antibiotic cream and bandage this up.”
“Thanks, Father,” Matthew said to his back as he left the room.
Father came around the curtain and looked at Nicole. “Let me see…”
Nicole held up her finger and Father gently held her hand and pulled the sliver out.
In a few minutes he was finished and turned as Matthew came around the curtain with a fully bandaged hand.
“She finished, I see.”
“Yep, thanks again, Father,” Matthew said as he started to walk out.
“Let me know if you have any pain later in and I can give you some medicine.”
Mary came around the corner and Father stopped to listen to a message on the pipes.
“I better get that message,” Father grumbled as he walked out the door.
Mary quickly cleaned Nicole’s cut and applied a bandage, then kissed the girl on her forehead and sent her on her way.
She blew out a long breath, then headed back to the nursery.
Along the way, she saw Elizabeth heading her way. The woman’s step was slow and unsteady and Mary frowned as she got closer.
“Elizabeth, is anything wrong?”
“I have to see Father. He prescribed this cream for me and I’ve used it, but there is this place on my back that I can’t reach and…”
Mary shook her head as she held up her hand. “Say no more. Come with me to my chamber and we’ll get this cream applied in no time.”
Elizabeth walked into Mary’s chamber and pulled up her shirt.
Mary gently applied the cream to the affected areas, then smiled as she stepped around. “All done.”
“Thank you, Mary!” Elizabeth gushed as she headed out.
“You’re welcome, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth left as Mary washed her hands in the basin. She was drying them as she started to walk out the door.
“Mary?” Vincent’s voice asked from the tunnelway.
“Mary…I was wondering if you could give me some advice.”
“Of course.” Mary smiled as she looked at him curiously. “Why didn’t you ask me when we were together in the library?”
“Well…I…it’s just…” he stammered.
Mary rolled her eyes. “Never mind. Ask me now.”
Vincent reached in his pocket and brought out a cloth. He carefully unrolled it to show her the contents. “I went back to the crystal cavern and found these. Mouse helped make them into earrings.”
“They’re beautiful, Vincent.”
Mary chuckled as he faltered. “For Catherine, of course.”
“Yes,” he replied shyly. “Will she like them?”
“Nope! She’ll love them. Now go so I can get back to the nursery.”
As she walked down the tunnelway, Chan stepped out of the sewing room. “Mary, good! I need your help!”
Mary followed her into the chamber. “What is it?”
“Can you look at the machine? It’s acting funny and…”
Mary held up her hand, “Say no more…”
She took a seat, then tried to sew the fabric and immediately knew the problem. She quickly opened the machine and fixed the problem, then sewed the rest of the hem on the dress. “It’s working now…”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I was going to call for Matthew to fix it, then heard over the pipes he’s been hurt so…”
“Chan, it’s no problem, really.”
Mary watched as Chan settled down and began to sew again. Satisfied it was fixed, she left and went to the nursery.
So much time had passed that the children were all down for their afternoon naps. Michael walked in behind her with a huge basket of clothes, and Mary, Olivia and Lena made short work of putting them away where they belonged.
Mary saw an apple left over from lunch and quickly peeled it, then ate it. She washed her hands before settling back down to crochet.
A few hours passed and once again the babies were changed and fed.
Sara, Jamie, Chan, and Phyllis came to relieve them so they could eat in the dining chamber.
After a quick dinner, they headed back and got all of the clothes gathered together with extra towels and headed to the bathing chambers.
Each of the women took a child and washed their hair and bodies. Jamie, Rebecca, Brooke, and Chan each played with the toddlers in the water while Olivia, Lena, Mary, Sara, and Martha each helped dry the babies and get them diapered and dressed.
They left with the babies, then snuggled with them in rockers around the room while they fed them their bottles.
The others came back after a while and Mary smiled at the tired faces of the toddlers. The woman held them close and waited for Vincent who came in and read a bedtime story. His soothing voice had the desired effect, and the children started to slip off to sleep.
Each of the women gathered their child and placed them in bed then covered them up.
“Thank you, Vincent,” Mary gushed as she patted his arm. “They love it when you read to them.”
“You’re welcome,” Vincent said as he turned and left the chamber.
Most of the others followed him out except Lena and Olivia.
Mary looked over at Lena. “You can go now dear.”
“Are you sure?” Lena asked uncertainly.
“They’re all down for the night. Come back tomorrow at the same time,” Sara said.
Lena left and Mary and Sara settled back in a comfortable silence. Mary crocheted for a while longer then stood and stretched.
“I guess I should head off to bed now too.”
“Goodnight, Sara. Call me if you need me.”
“I’ll try not to bother you.”
“It’s no bother, Sara.”
Mary left and made her way through the tunnels.
On her way to her chamber, she untangled the comb Samantha had gotten stuck in Ellie’s hair, pulled a dime out of Kipper’s ear, and taught Zac how to tie his tie.
She walked into the library to grab a book to read and smiled at Father.
“I’ll be gone in a minute.”
“No need to hurry.” Father smiled back then frowned. “Say…um…Mary, are you in a hurry?”
Mary grabbed a book, then turned around to face him. “Just heading to bed to read for a while. What do you need?”
“I was wondering if you would mind cutting my hair?”
Mary looked at his hair then nodded. “It is pretty long, isn’t it?”
Father reached in his drawer and pulled out a comb and scissors. Mary wet it down the quickly cut his hair and trimmed his beard. “There. you look handsome again!”
Father looked at her gratefully. “Handsome again? So you thought I was handsome at one time?”
Mary blushed as she looked down and chose to ignore him. “Um….I should go…goodnight, Father.”
“Goodnight, Mary, pleasant dreams!”
Mary settled into her bed and opened the book and began to read but was distracted by her thoughts of Father. She rolled her eyes and blew out the candle, then drifted away with the hopes of scandalous dreams.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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