Even if they don't, I do, and I've been spending an ungodly amount of time lately with my imaginary friends as I write the first draft of the third book in the series, which I will refer to as TSK III until I am ready to reveal the title, which is not right now. It's tempting, though, because I usually agonize about the title and still don't have a clue what to call my books, all the way up until publication, so I'm proud and excited that I already know what I'm calling this book. Too bad! I will resist my instant-gratification nature and save the title for another time.
However... for those of you who are just dying to get a TSK fix and see what certain characters are up to, I have decided that you shouldn't have to wait until I write and rewrite and edit and proofread the entire third book. You should be given something in advance for your loyalty and patience. So... without further ado... please see a TSK III sneak peek below. And, please, continue to follow this blog and "like" me on Facebook. I love hearing from you guys!
**SPOILER ALERT** DO NOT READ BELOW IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE SECRET KEEPER AND THE SECRET KEEPER: CONFINED (UNLESS YOU LIKE SPOILERS. OR NEVER PLAN TO READ THE FIRST TWO BOOKS. IN THOSE CASES, READ AWAY)!!!!!
Wait for it…
“So… are these the right onesies? They look kinda small. Hey! I found the wipes. Yay, me!”
I smile tiredly and swing my legs over the side of the bed. Sleep deprivation to the point of nausea is my new normal, so I’m not alarmed that I feel like I’m about to barf. I breathe the feeling away, fumble for my glasses on the bedside table, and lurch to my feet. When I round the door frame to Max’s room and come into view, Brice looks up and startles.
He smiles unsurely. “Hey. Uh… what’s up? I’ve got this, if you want to keep sleeping.” Before I can say anything, he holds up a tiny onesie. “Is this the right size? It looks so small!” It’s astounding to me how wide awake and chipper he is just five minutes after being woken from a deep sleep.
“He’s small,” I point out. “And they stretch. It should be fine.”
“Okay,” he says with a slight shrug. “Then… I think we’re good. Unless there aren’t any bottles made up…?”
“They’re in the fridge.”
To explain my presence, I nod at the baby monitor less than a foot away on the dresser.
He follows my nod and winces. “Oh, man! Sorry.”
I can’t help but smile at his sheepish expression. “It’s okay. I was already awake. You sounded like you needed help, though.”
When I take a step toward the changing table, he blocks my way with his body. “I thought I did, but now I’ve got it under control. Really.”
Undressing and re-dressing the infant, he says, “I want to do this. He was already asleep when I got home last night. And you still have a couple of hours to sleep before you have to get up for work, so you should take advantage of it.”
“I know, I look like shit.”
His shoulders stiffen and then drop. “Peyton… That’s not what I said.”
“I know you didn’t say it.”
“I wasn’t implying it, either. Just… go get some sleep.”
The way he says it with such finality pisses me off. Everything pisses me off lately. Probably because I net about three hours of sleep per night and then work all day and then pick up Max at my sister’s house and then come home to do everything by myself while my husband, the good reverend, works late at the church.
I’d quit my job, but we have to pay rent on this house, thanks to current budget cuts at the church that resulted in Brice agreeing to forego his housing allowance, which was a pretty big chunk of his compensation. It’s still lower rent than we could ever imagine paying on a house this nice (it was completely gutted and remodeled by the church right before we moved in), but with a new baby, we wouldn’t be living as comfortably as I’d like without both of our incomes. Anyway, I don’t want to quit my job at the art gallery. I like my job. Most days.
When I don’t move or say anything, he pauses while snapping up the front of Max’s pajamas and glances at me over his shoulder. “You’re tired,” he states the obvious. “There’s no reason for both of us to be up.”
Yeah, except this is one of the first times we’ve been home and awake together in several days. Anyway, I can tell he doesn’t want my sour company, and I can’t blame him. Despite my exhaustion, I try to be upbeat and positive, like him, but… it doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s work. And work is difficult when you’re tired.
Grudgingly, I mutter, “Thanks,” even though I know I won’t be able to go back to sleep. Unlike him, I can’t turn myself on and off, like I have a switch in the middle of my back.
Nevertheless, I shuffle back to bed and burrow under the covers. A normal woman would be glad that her husband is so cheerfully willing to get up with their three-month-old son in the middle of the night when they both have to work the next day. And I am. Glad, that is. Normal… not so much.
I don’t know what my problem is. To pinpoint it would require thought. Thought would require a fully-functioning brain. I haven’t had one of those for thirteen weeks.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Max. He’s such a good baby (when he’s being held). He has a great personality already, and I’m positive that he’s a genius. He looks just like his dad, so you can’t get much cuter than that. And I can’t remember what my life was like before he was born. Well, I vaguely remember sleeping sometimes. And not spending so much time (or any time at all, for that matter) trying to express milk from my breasts. But for the most part, my life has been enriched by the addition of Max to our family.
I also love my husband more than I can possibly express (no pun intended). Despite his chronic workaholism, he’s a wonderful husband and an even better father. And because of his chronic workaholism, he’s a fantastic pastor to our church family. I’d have to be an ungrateful bitch to utter a single complaint about him. And I don’t have any complaints about him, necessarily. It’s just… life isn’t going exactly as how I imagined it would go.
I’m not such an idiot that I thought things would be idyllic and utopic and all those other words that mean “perfect” and end in “-ic.” No, I have an older sister with kids, so I had an idea what I was in for, but… I am enough of an idiot that I thought it would be a little bit different (a.k.a., “better”) for me than it was for Nicole. I mean, my husband is wonderful. Her husband, Lonnie, is… not. I don’t think he changed a single diaper between their three children. And she told me once that he’d get angry at her if she let Caleb, Everett, or Sadie cry long enough that it would wake him up, because she was a stay-at-home mom and could “sleep all day,” if she wanted to. So I thought, more involved/supportive husband/baby daddy equals sweet, tranquil new family and home life. Wrong. Because I didn’t take into account an important factor: the baby, whose job it is to make life complete chaos, no matter how many people are doing the work to try to keep him happy.
Sweet, sweet Max. The baby who wants to be held at least twenty hours a day. That would be fine with me, because I really love holding him, except… it’s difficult to do so while using the bathroom, taking a shower, eating, and sleeping, which comprise more than four hours in my ideal day. So when I’m with him, I do everything that requires two hands very quickly. I am now an expert in speed-showering and speed-peeing. However, I haven’t yet mastered the speed-sleeping.
But I think the biggest time-taker in my current life is the feeding. I feel like I always have one of my boobs in his mouth or attached to a pump. If it was more of the former, it would be a lot better, because I could justify that as bonding time, but since he’s not very fond of breastfeeding, I’ve lately submitted myself to many hours of the sort of torture I’d only heretofore read about in books featuring medieval dungeons or POW camps. Pumping breast milk hurts. And the nurse in the hospital who told me it would stop hurting was a flat-out liar. I told myself I’d do it for six months, though. I only have three more to go. Gulp.
Anyway, it’s wrong for me complain about any of it. I’m incredibly blessed, and I’m 100% aware of that fact. But being aware of it and having the energy to actually be grateful for it aren’t the same things. And right now, in addition to being blessed, I’m very tired. And a little disillusioned. That’s all. Wah me.
All this is internal monologue, however. I’d rather pump breast milk 24/7 than utter a single complaint to Brice or my mom or Nicole or my best friends, Jen and Mitzi. No way. As far as they know, my life is idyllic and utopic. It’s very rare that I let my guard down and slip like I did with Brice just now. I mean, I think he knows I’m tired; but he is, too. There’s no use moaning about it all the time. Plus, this isn’t forever. I’m sure I’ll look back on this time fondly someday and miss it. Maybe. At least, that’s what all the veteran moms have told me will happen.
A shift in the mattress next to me jostles me awake. It takes me a second to figure out where I am. I’m so accustomed to sleeping on the couch or in the rocking chair in Max’s room or in my car on my lunch break that it’s rare to actually wake up in a bed. I actually live in fear of waking up behind the wheel of my car while I’m crossing the median toward oncoming traffic, so every time I wake up, my heart hammers until I’m sure I’m in a safe place. And right now, I’m in a very safe place.
Brice hooks an arm over my waist and pulls me up against him. “All settled,” he whispers next to my ear when I ask how it went. He kisses the spot where my neck meets my shoulders. “I think he’s down for the count.”
My eyes closed, I reply with grudging affection, “For twenty minutes, anyway.” That’s Max’s modus operandi. He loves to do the sleep fake-out. He’ll lead me to believe that this time, he’s going to sleep on his own, so I’ll do something really impulsive like run a hot bath after putting him down in his crib. As soon as my toe hits the water, the crying starts.
“Twenty minutes is long enough,” my husband murmurs against my shoulder, squeezing me even more tightly around the waist.
“I’m so tired,” I whine, hating that it’s true.
I can hear the smile in his voice when he acknowledges, “I know. Me, too, but… it’s been a while. Maybe it’ll perk us up.”
“Let’s shoot for Saturday,” I suggest instead, lying perfectly still and trying hard not to make any encouraging noises or moves during this critical negotiation.
He groans. “Really? You’re penciling me in three days from now?”
Resisting the urge to make a dirty pun about penciling, I chuckle. “Maybe.” When he persists with his efforts, which are—amazingly enough—working, I bluff and say, “Can’t we just cuddle? Cuddling is nice.”
“I already got my cuddle fix with Max. I want to do more than cuddle with you.”
Damn him for being so sweet and persuasive.
I open my eyes, turn over to face him, and smile. “What’s gotten into you?”
He looks surprised by my question. “I love you!” he answers earnestly, sneaking his hand up the front of my t-shirt.
“Well, I know that, but… usually you’re pretty good about taking no for an answer.” I flinch when his knuckles make contact with my tender breasts.
“There haven’t been many occasions for me to have to take no for an answer,” he points out accurately before wheedling, “C’mon… you used to love this.”
“I still do!”
“But… you’re tired.” He raises his eyebrow as if he doesn’t believe me.
My eyes flutter closed. “Yes… a little.”
“And you want to wait until Saturday, even though we have a perfect opportunity right now.”
I nod but scoot closer to him and make tiny circles on his hip with my index finger.
“You’re a liar.”
“I’ve never denied that.”
Lifting his head slightly from his pillow, he kisses my lips softly and then again, more lazily. I press my body against his chest and hitch a leg over his hip.
The baby monitor behind me squawks to life. I can tell by the ratcheting nature of Max's crying that it’s not the product of a short gas pain that will subside so he can go right back to sleep. No, he’s discovered he’s not sleeping in someone’s arms, so he’s gearing up for a wailing session.
“Fuck me,” I grumble.
Instead of chastising me for my potty mouth like he normally would, Brice quips, “Well, I tried, but…”
This cracks me up and makes it a little easier to throw back the covers and get out of bed to go tend to the baby. Less than a minute later, I’m back, sliding between the covers with a now-quiet Max against my chest.
“He’s never going to sleep alone for any amount of time if you always give into him and hold him at the first little cry,” Brice states. But he scoots closer to us so he can kiss Max’s nose.
“At least he’s quiet. Maybe we can get some more sleep,” I defend my coddling.
To Max, Brice says softly, “Stinky! You promised me some alone-time with your mom. That wasn’t enough time, just so you know.”
Settling on my back, I close my eyes and absently rub my fingers down the baby’s back, between his shoulder blades, to his diapered bottom, and up again. Sleepily, I say, “It’s okay. Saturday. We’ll try again then.”
Brice sighs. “Yeah. Saturday.”