Stephan was having the best day of his young life. So many pretty ladies! All of them fussing over him and playing with him! Truly, leaving his nice warm home had not been a bad idea after all. This new place wouldn’t take as much getting used to as he had thought it would.
Or so his mother thought, anyway. And Dannie also believed that, as the little tyke’s mother, she had the right to do his thinking for him for the first decade or so. Wasn’t that part of the job description?
“So,” Dannie asked, winking at Cressida, “do you regret your decision to make me president of the Mother’s Club, now that you see what I can do?”
“Our decision?” Cressida squawked. “When was it our decision?”
Sandra chuckled, the sound rippling from her mouth like warm honey. “And it wasn’t just you. He’s got Robert’s eyes, doesn’t he?”
“He does,” Dannie agreed, unable to stop a wistful sigh. Her Granny had warned her that her emotions would be all over the place for the first few weeks after the birth — at least, Dannie hoped this was all it was. She’d never been quite so sappy in her life before this. She smiled down at Stephan, who was blinking at Sandra with those selfsame eyes. “It’s my favorite part of him.”
“Robert or Stephan?” asked Cressida with a sneaky light in her green eyes.
“Stephan, of course!” Dannie replied. “Good Lord! You know what my favorite part of Rob is!”
Sandra’s eyes went wide and she slapped a hand over her mouth. Cressida, however, only looked impressed. “Still?”
“… Well, I’m sure I’ll warm up to it again, eventually,” Dannie shrugged. “You know. Once I get forget what it did to me.”
“You’ll get over it,” Sandra reassured her. “Once you’re feeling a bit more … comfortable down there. And once you realize that it was all worth it for your little Stevie-weevie.”
“Stevie-weevie! I love it! It’s almost as good as Georgie-porgie. Don’t you think so, Stevie-weevie?”
Stephan blinked and looked up at her. He was barely a week old, but already his expression was very like Rob’s when he was in a quizzical mood … which was to say, most of the time. That’s my little man! Just like your Daddy already!
Dannie looked up with a grin to share this fascinating discovery with Cressida … until she actually got a gander of Cressida’s face.
Cressida wore a rather wistful half-smile. It was a smile Dannie recognized. Granny wore one much like whenever she was thinking of Grandpa Alfie. Dannie winced. Grandpa Alfie had died over thirty years ago, he’d given Granny three fantastic daughters (or, well, at least one fantastic daughter; Dannie was not sure she’d put Aunt Pamela under the “fantastic” label), and he and Granny had been very happy together. Yet she still missed him like hell. As for Cressida, she had gotten a fortnight with her husband, as a husband, and he’d only been gone for a little more than two years. And Cressida only had Ned.
Dannie bounced Stephan and tried to smile. It really made you think. How damn lucky she was, to have Rob, to have Stephan — to still be here, as Grandpa Alfie wasn’t, as Edward Tabard wasn’t, as Isabel Wesleyan wasn’t.
“And how are you feeling?” Sandra asked. “Down there?”
And there was another thing about being officially entered into the Mother’s Club. Suddenly whole topics of conversations opened up to you, topics you never thought existed before. She’d thought she had gotten an education at Camford — Camford was nothing compared to a week or so of being a mother.
“Not so sore anymore,” Dannie replied, “but still bleeding.”
“Oh, that’s normal,” Cressida answered. “I bled for two weeks after Ned.”
“It was four weeks for me, after Coralie. But it was only three after Jason.”
“Aye, that’s what Mum and Granny both say. So it’s at least another week.” Dannie sighed.
“Oh, I was just hoping that something had changed in the past thirty, fifty years … what?” she asked as Sandra lifted an eyebrow in her direction.
“Did you really think it would?”
“Not really. But hope springs eternal, you know?”
Sandra nodded; then her brows wrinkled. “Er … you weren’t eager for it to end because …”
Dannie tilted her head to one side.
“… your favorite part of Rob?”
“Good Lord no! He’s not coming near me until I’m ready to entertain the thought of another munchkin!”
“You’re not supposed to be able to get another child until after you’ve stopped nursing. And after you start bleeding — normally bleeding — again. Right?” Cressida turned to Sandra. Sandra could only shrug.
“Granny said that –” Somebody knocked on the door. “Come on in, door’s open!” Dannie called.
In sailed an enormous belly, draped in dark blue and purple cloth. It was followed by Jessie, who was followed by Lynn.
Their entrance was followed in turn by a sudden silence on the parts of Sandra and Cressida. Which was a bit odd, because Dannie was certain that Sandra at least had seen Jessie and Lynn before. Sandra only lived in the same locale as the trial of the century, and she had to have peeked from her window to get a glimpse of the Crown Princess and other Princess coming or leaving. Sandra said that Christopher tried to keep her away from his unpleasant duties as much as possible, but catching a glimpse of the kingdom’s highest and mightiest could hardly be called unpleasant.
Then again, there was probably a difference between seeing royalty glimpsed through a curtained window and royalty in your friend’s living room.
Yet somehow, it was Jessie and Lynn who managed to look shy. Sandra and Cressida were merely shocked, but it was Lynn who twisted her hands together as she tried to compose her face into a look of graciousness and pleasure. It was Jessie who wore what Dannie called her “princess smile,” the one that tried to be comfortable and distant and above all, royal, but usually only succeeded in being brittle when she was nervous.
Something had to be done. So Dannie lifted Stephan up a little more. “Stevie-weevie! Wave to your future mother-in-law!”
“What?” Lynn half-gasped.
“Which one?” Jessie laughed.
“Well, Lynn already has a daughter …”
“Oh boy. You’d better not say anything like that in front of Tommy,” Jessie giggled. “He might rip your head off.”
“I c-c-can’t imagine,” Cressida tried to jump in, “that a — that a Prince would be very happy …”
“Oh, it’s got nothing to do with that,” Jessie replied, turning to Cressida. She was in full Princess mode. “Tommy’s just … absurdly protective. Already.”
“But it’s so adorable to watch,” Lynn murmured, already bending over Stephan.
Dannie could well imagine. Granny had finally met Sir Bors and had only given Dannie all the details. Thank the Lord her children would never have to suffer under such a father. It was faintly — more than faintly, entirely miraculous that Lynn and Clarice had turned out as well as they had.
Lynn waved at Stephan, then looked up at Cressida and Sandra. “Oh, I’m sorry, how — how rude of us! I’m …” Lynn caught her lower lip between her teeth. Dannie’s heart panged in sympathy. Just how did one go about introducing oneself as a Crown Princess, anyway? Crown Princesses generally needed no introduction, or else were introduced by heralds. Still, Lynn took a deep breath and plunged forward. “Crown Princess Gwendolyn — but you may call me Gwendolyn.”
Cressida’s and Sandra’s eyes went wide as saucers, and Jessie chose to take advantage of their surprise by adding to it. “And I’m Princess Jessica, but I’m afraid I only answer to Jessie in casual situations.” Before Cressida and Sandra could quite finish their attacks of apoplexy, Jessie turned to Sandra. “It’s … Mistress Tower, isn’t it? And …”
“Cressida Tabard,” Cressida muttered. “Just … Cressida, though.”
“And Sandra,” Sandra added.
“And this,” Dannie held Stephan up, “is Stevie-weevie! Baptized Stephan Robert, though I only plan on using that when he’s in trouble.”
“Ooh! He’s got black hair already!” Lynn cooed. “He’ll be so striking when he grows up a little.”
“I know, I don’t know how he ended up so pale either,” Dannie replied.
“Oh! Oh, that’s not what I meant!” Lynn gasped.
“I’m sure it isn’t, but my comment still stands.”
“He’s adorable, though,” Lynn murmured. She drew a gentle finger down his cheek.
“He and Princess Elise will make such a lovely couple, don’t you think?” Dannie batted her eyelashes and Lynn giggled.
Sandra and Cressida watched the exchange opened-mouthed. Apparently one was not allowed to joke with royalty in Glasonland. Then Jessie cocked her head to one side and made it worse. “I don’t suppose,” she murmured, “that either of you have children you would like to precontract with my baby?”
“I — I –” Sandra started.
“What — what would your husband say to that, J–J–my lady?” Cressida asked.
“That’s the nice thing about being married to a man trained in law,” Jessie smiled. “If he doesn’t agree, he can find a way to wiggle out of it.”
“And you’re in luck, Jess!” Dannie added. “Cressida and Sandra have two boys and a girl between them. So if you have two girls, you’re in luck, if you’ve got a boy and a girl, you’re also in luck!”
“Dannie! I am not having twins!”
“That’s what she says,” Dannie giggled. “But she’s wrong, isn’t she, Stevie-weevie?”
Stephan wisely didn’t answer, proving once again that he had inherited Rob’s tact and not Dannie’s lack thereof. Lynn, however, had to bite back a smile, and Cressida and Sandra looked as if they were unsure whether to laugh or gasp.
If Dannie was to be truthful — and she had no intention of being truthful — then she would have to admit that she had no more idea of whether Jessie was having twins than Jessie herself did. But Jessie, ever since she had unwisely fumed to Dannie about her mother and mother-in-law’s insistence that she was in fact having twins, had made it only too much fun to tease her with it.
And when Jessie was being teased, Lynn was laughing. Lynn needed to laugh. For the first few weeks after Elise had been born, she had seemed listless and sad whenever her baby wasn’t actively in her arms. Granny had said that was normal for new mothers, sometimes, but for Lynn, who had seemed so eager through her pregnancy … no, that couldn’t be normal.
Besides, if Lynn was in a good mood … well, that could only be to Dannie’s advantage today.
“Ladies,” Dannie said, “why don’t you have a seat? I can put this little fellow in his crib — I think he’s getting tired.” Stephan chose that moment to indulge in an adorable little yawn. “See? And Jessie, I’m sure the three of you would like to get off your feet.”
“Would you stop that?” Jessie laughed, even as she waddled to the couch. Sandra, Cressida and Lynn followed.
Dannie, however, grabbed Lynn’s elbow. “Lynn? Before you sit … mind if I show you something?”
“Oh, of course not!”
You say that now, thought Dannie, barely restraining a sigh. But she had to ask, didn’t she? For Rob’s sake.
“Thanks. I can trust you three alone, can’t I? Stevie-weevie, you tell me if any of them misbehave.” Stephan yawned again. “That will work better if you’re awake, buddy.”
Cressida snickered and Jessie indulged in some open and honest giggles. Good, at least one of them was getting more comfortable. In the meantime, Dannie hooked her hand under Lynn’s elbow and lead the way to the loom. “It’s a new pattern I’m working on,” she lied for the other women’s benefit.
“Oh?” Lynn asked, curious.
Dannie didn’t say anything more until they came to the loom. Lynn frowned when she saw the nondescript white weaving. “Dannie? I don’t …”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t … Lynn, I need to ask a favor of you. But it’s not for me. Not really.”
“A favor? Of course, Dannie, what do you need?”
Poor innocent. She had no idea what she was signing herself on for, did she? And the worst of it was that Dannie wasn’t going to tell her. Not all of it.
Then again, Lynn didn’t really need to know all of it, did she? Dannie only wanted one thing from her. Anything else … well, that would be between the parties concerned.
“It’s … well, it’s for Rob. Or rather, Rob’s family. More particularly … his sister.”
Lynn blinked rapidly. “I … take it that you’re not talking about Heloise.”
“Oh … oh, dear,” Lynn murmured.
“So you … heard?” Dannie asked.
“We all heard about Sir Aglovale’s wedding. And his … bride.”
“She’s not as bad as you think she might be, Lynn, I swear. Mind you, she’s dumb as a box of rocks, and she has some of Heloise’s … charming personality, but she says that Aglovale promised her marriage before she did anything.”
“You believe her?” Lynn asked, breathing out in relief.
“That he actually promised marriage? I don’t know. I’ve not met Sir Aglovale.” Dannie had been so huge with Stephan at the point that she had made the strategic decision not to further ruin Babette’s life by going into labor at her wedding, a wedding that must have fallen far short of Babette’s expectations. Certainly it never could have been the wedding of Babette’s dreams. But Rob had said a few things that got Dannie to thinking. “But I know Babette, and if she says that he promised her marriage, then that’s certainly what she thought.”
“Oh, dear,” Lynn sighed.
“They …” She blushed and stared at her feet. “I … I’ve known him since he was little, Dannie. I don’t think he would have made that promise. Jessie, she doesn’t think so either. Nor does Tommy.”
Wright damn it. “Do you think it’s possible that he might have said something to make Babette think he was offering marriage?”
“It’s …” She sighed. “I hate to say it, but I think … it’s possible.”
“So then you’d agree that Babette’s … predicament … wasn’t entirely her fault.”
“What? Oh, Dannie –”
“Lynn — we both of us know what a long betrothal is like. And you know what? Rob never put any pressure on me. I’m sure the Prince never put any pressure on you, either. Can you imagine facing a long betrothal — or what you think is a long betrothal — when your man is putting pressure on you to go farther than you think you ought to go? I’m telling you, Lynn, this wasn’t Babette’s idea.”
Lynn bit her lip. “When you … when you put it like that …”
“And I am putting it like that.”
“But what is it that you’d like me to do?”
Dannie took a deep breath. “Visit her.”
Lynn gasped. “Visit — visit her?”
“Lynn, Babette needs other Sims. People from her old circle, they’re not going to go see her because they’ll think she’s too above them now. And people from your circle won’t because, well, they know how scandalous her marriage was. But if you go …”
“I … I understand what you’re saying, but …”
“But if you go see her, who will anybody else be to ignore her?”
Lynn twisted her hands together. “I … I know. That’s why I have to be careful. I have to … to set an example.”
“I know. That’s why I’m asking you.”
“Why don’t you ask Jessie?” Lynn whimpered. “She — she’s a princess born, you know. Nobody would gainsay her.”
“Couple of reasons,” Dannie replied. Luckily she had thought this might be coming. “First of all … look at her. All three of her.” Dannie gestured.
“You bring up an excellent point,” Lynn sighed.
“Who knows when she’ll give birth? And when she does, you know it’ll be hard for her to get around. It’s already hard enough for her to get around. So if I asked her … it might wait for months.”
“And it’ll only get harder for Babette, the longer we wait.”
“Aye,” Lynn agreed, nodding sadly.
“And my second reason is because of what you said. That she can do what she wants, because she’s a princess born. She can go see Babette if she wants, but who’s going to follow in Jessie’s lead? They’ll assume she’s bending the rules, because she’s a princess and she can.”
“I … suppose they would,” Lynn sighed.
“But you … you married into royalty. The other ladies will think that you will have to be extra careful. Except, of course, you don’t. I mean, as long as the Prince is all right with you, who of the other ladies would dare to shun you? And you know that the Prince won’t care if you go see Babette. He likes Rob, too. He’d probably be happy somebody was making life easier for his little sister.”
“The Queen …” Lynn pursed her lips together.
“Do you really think she’d mind?”
“We have to set an example.”
“Look at the kids she raised. Do you think she wouldn’t think forgiveness would be part of that example?”
Lynn managed a wry smile. “That could be an insult, Dannie.”
“Or a compliment.”
She sighed. “You don’t leave me much choice, do you?”
“So you’ll do it?” Dannie squealed.
“I’m not asking you to do anything more than see her once,” Dannie wheedled. “Just give her a chance. That’s all I’m asking. If you don’t want to see her after that, that’s fine.” That’s frankly about what I’d expect. There was, after all, a third reason why she wasn’t asking Jessie to do this: Jessie’s patience may well not be up to the task. “But if you see her, just once, then all the other noblewomen will think it’s all right.”
“Then I’ll do it — if the Queen approves. I won’t go against her, Dannie.”
Well, if Lynn insisted … but Lynn had never been the “easier to ask forgiveness than permission” type. “I understand,” Dannie replied. “But you’ll ask her?”
“Great! Thank you — thank you, Lynn. I owe you one.” She grinned and hooked her arm through Lynn’s elbow. Lynn looked thoughtful, but allowed herself to be led back to the rest of the group.
“That must be some pattern,” Cressida giggled.
“Oh, just you wait. It’ll be fantastic when I’m done with it.” Dannie grinned and winked. Cressida giggled.
“Good for baby clothes?” Jessie asked, rubbing her belly.
“I should hope so, considering that you’ll need twice as many –”
“You walked right into that one, Jessie,” Lynn giggled. By Sandra’s and Cressida’s carefully pinched expressions, Dannie guessed they were thinking the same thing, even if they didn’t quite dare to say it.
“But as it so happens,” Dannie replied, “my latest pattern is going to be great for men, women, and children of all ages …”
And so she went on, quite easily, once she warmed to her theme. And it was also easy because she’d gotten what she wanted.
Babette had a fighting chance now.