Grace A. Johnson
First Place Winner: Baby Names by H.S. Kylian
Well, my short story picture prompt contest has come to a close, and believe me, y'all, it was SO. STINKIN'. HARD. to pick just THREE stories to share with y'all! Every single one was so good - unique, touching, heartfelt - so y'all may be seeing a few more than three stories coming your way in the coming weeks! *winks*
But I had to pick a story to take the cake, now, didn't I? So I chose Baby Names by H.S. Kylian...a sweet and sorrowful historical story based on the prompt below! I know y'all will enjoy this beautiful story it as much as I did!
Five days had now passed since she was told the results. Five days and she still couldn’t move past the numbness, much less work up the courage to tell her husband.
Vivian Matthews sat on the rug in the library, gray eyes staring into the blazing fire nestled in the brick fireplace. She wanted to feel happy. She wanted to run into Johnny’s arms and kiss him and tell him their prayers had been answered.
But her feet didn’t move. They kept her rooted to the spot, in the room she had always been the most comfortable in since her marriage into one of Philly’s well-to-do families.
Will there truly be a child in that crib this September? She gnawed on a perfectly-manicured fingernail. Will there be first steps, first words? Mischief glinting in blue or gray eyes? Will there be wedding bells someday? Grandchildren to fill the empty space left behind?
She looked up at the doorway. Johnny came over and sat down beside her, giving her a look that was a mix of concern and curiosity.
“Are you feeling alright?” he asked, his blue eyes searching hers.
“I…” Vivian clamped her mouth shut, her thoughts tripping all over the place as she tried to figure out how to string the words together to tell him.
“Do you need anything?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
He raised an eyebrow. “You haven’t been yourself for the past few days. What’s going on?”
She swallowed and looked away, back at the fire, her chin quivering. Johnny slid his arms around her shoulders and pulled her closer.
“I…” Vivian worked her jaw around and swallowed again. She wet her suddenly-dry lips and whispered, “I’m pregnant.”
“I’m pregnant,” she repeated, louder. She looked up, watching as his face changed and settled on a mix of all the emotions they had felt the past four years.
She nodded. “Johnny, I know this is a wonderful thing, and I know we should be happy, but I’m…I’m scared. I-I don’t know if...”
Her voice broke and she wiped at her tearful eyes, struggling to keep back the sobs. I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to feel hopeless. I want to hope. Hope that we’ll finally get to hold our own child in our arms. But what if-
“Viv?” Johnny’s voice broke through her thoughts. “Hey.”
She sniffed. “What?”
He gently tilted her chin up and smiled softly. “May I have this dance?”
Vivian furrowed her brow. “What?”
“May I have this dance?” he repeated, getting to his feet and pulling her up with him.
“Johnny…” She sighed, giving in and allowing him to take her hand and waist. Within seconds into the dance, she rested her head against his chest, listening to the soft thump of his heartbeat. There were times it skipped a step, yet today it didn’t seem to be doing that.
Johnny started humming a love song, then sang it, softly.
After a few minutes, she mumbled, “You’re awfully calm for a man who’s just found out his wife is pregnant after...after everything we’ve been through.”
A moment, then, “I don’t think it’s completely sunk in yet.”
Vivian lifted her head off his chest and met his gaze. They had stopped in the middle of the room, the crackling of the fire and the ticking of the grandfather clock merging together in rhythm.
“What if…” She pressed her lips together.
“Hey, none of that.” Johnny tilted her chin up. “I know it’s normal to be worried that we’ll lose-” He cut himself off and took a deep breath. Clearly, he was thinking of the past four years.
Vivian placed her hands against his chest, waiting.
“Viv...whatever happens, we will continue to trust in God and His timing,” Johnny said. “In the meantime, let’s start arguing over baby names.”
She laughed. “Hopefully, we won’t have to argue that much,” she said. “I’ve already got the perfect name in mind.”
“John Josiah Matthews.”
Johnny blinked. “Another John?”
Vivian nodded. “John Josiah Matthews III, I should say.”
He sighed. “Oh boy. What’re we gonna call him to tell him apart from me and my father?”
“Well, if your father goes by plain John, and you go by Johnny, then there’s only JJ and Jack left.”
“JJ Matthews?” Johnny shook his head. “Nah. Jack Matthews sounds better. Far better.” After a moment, he added, “So you think it’s a boy?”
“Oh, I know it’s a boy.”
“Hm. I say girl.”
“Maybe we’re both right and it’s twins.”
Johnny chuckled and kissed her.
* * *
Twenty-one years. Twenty-one years of hopes and dreams and plans that her pride and joy would follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Gone in an instant.
A soft knock came at the door, followed by her husband’s voice. “Viv?”
She didn’t move from her spot in the middle of their son’s room. The bed was haphazardly made, clothes were tossed over a chair, and the desk was a disaster.
“How could he?” she whispered, as John’s footsteps approached. His hands settled on her shoulders, and she could almost hear the thoughts swirling in his head.
Vivian wasn’t sure whether to be mad at him or not. When their son had made his last stand, she had looked to her lifelong companion for help, only to be met with silence.
“I had so many high hopes for him,” Vivian said. “Such high hopes. But he chose her. He chose her over us, John.”
She half-turned, looking up at him.
“He chose them, Viv,” John said, quietly. “The baby is his too.”
Vivian yanked away from him and crossed her arms.
“You heard them admit they were wrong,” John continued. “Why won’t you forgive them?”
“This wasn’t in the plan!” Vivian whirled around, releasing her arms to her sides and clenching her fists. “He wasn’t supposed to fall in love with-with her in the first place! She’s just a-a-”
John frowned and crossed his arms. “Just a what, Vivian? Just a waitress? Is that what you were going to say?”
She turned away, still clenching her fists.
“You were a librarian when I met you, and my mother’s father was a coal miner. How is that any different than Maggie being a waitress?”
“It’s different because your mother acclimated to this life! I acclimated! Margaret-you saw how uncomfortable she always was with the parties and functions and whatnot. She never wanted this life!”
“Jack doesn’t want it either.”
“It doesn’t matter! He’s our oldest child! The oldest always stays according to family tradition; you said so yourself!”
“Jack is not me!” John snapped.
Vivian blinked, surprised.
John sighed and released his arms, taking a deep breath before speaking. “I’m sorry. Sweetheart, Jack is not me. He’s not you. He’s Jack. He’s never had a mind for business like this. You saw how he was as a child – always climbing trees, always getting muddy-”
“Every boy does that-”
“It doesn’t matter; Jack has never been and probably never will be the kind of man who can stand still longer than five minutes. He needs to be doing things with his hands, he needs to be outside, in the fresh air and sunlight.”
Vivian turned away, hot tears burning her eyes.
“You’ve said yourself you wanted him to be more responsible.”
She wanted to point out she had said that in the context of Jack being in the family business and leading it someday, but kept her mouth shut.
Once more, John came up behind her and set his hands on her shoulders. “He’s getting married, Viv, whether we like it or not. He’s going to have a wife and child to care and provide for. What more could teach a man responsibility?”
She pressed her lips together. “You don’t understand,” she whispered. Louder, she said, “You’ve never understood.”
“Never understood what?” He gently turned her around. “That because you grew up poor, you wanted to give our children everything you never had? Clothes without frays and holes, opportunities, a name with a good reputation?”
Vivian swallowed, looking off to the side at Jack’s dresser. A multi-colored puzzle cube sat on top, unfinished.
Yet, it was too much. She yanked herself away from John and left the room, moving one foot in front of the other until she reached the library.
The fire crackled and the grandfather clock chimed, bringing her back to the day she had told her husband she was pregnant with Jack.
He hadn’t been born in September, which was when she had been due; instead, he had made his appearance into the outside world on August 17, nearly three weeks before he was supposed to be born.
Supposed to be. Supposed to be this, supposed to be that.
Vivian rubbed her arms, suddenly chilled despite the fire. Oh, Lord, this is hard, she thought. So hard. I never wanted him to leave like this.
A tear slipped down her cheek. She quickly swiped it away.
John appeared in front of her, and without a word, took her by the waist and hand and began leading her around the room. Too tired to fight back, she acquiesced and buried her face into his chest.
When was the last time we did this? Her brow furrowed. It couldn’t have been when Tori was a baby...was it?
John stopped and wrapped his arms around her, mumbling into her graying hair, “They’re not that different than we were.”
She swallowed, hard.
“Eddie was going to take over for Dad,” John’s voice wavered upon mentioning his older brother. “And we were going to have a little farm in the middle of nowhere. With chickens and cows…”
“A couple of sheep,” she mumbled.
“And nothing but a beat-up pickup truck to take us everywhere and anywhere we needed to go,” John finished. He pulled back and attempted to kiss her. She jerked her head away, and after a moment, he left.
Nothing but the ticking of the grandfather clock and the dying crackle of the fire filled her ears. She knew her husband was right. Knew that their son was doing the right thing.
Yet why was it so hard to accept?
* * *
Jack sat down on the bench inside the entryway and untied his work boots. Dirt and sweat clung to him, creating an odor that Maggie was sure to wrinkle her nose at.
After prying off his boots, he stood and made his way to the back of the house, taking a quick detour to poke his head into the kitchen to catch a whiff of the dinner cooking in the oven Lasagna?
As he passed by the spare room they had designated for the baby, he stopped. Maggie was inside, arranging and rearranging a quilted blanket on the rocking chair in the corner by the window. Sunlight streamed in, creating a golden glow around his wife’s red hair, safely tucked back in a braid. Wisps of hair fell into her face, making her look cuter and prettier than she already was.
He stuck his hands in his jean pockets and leaned against the doorjamb, glancing around the room, even though he already knew how it was set up.
A crib against the far wall, a changing table against the next, and a pale yellow dresser along the wall to his left. A crocheted rug on the wooden floor, a watercolor painting hanging up on the wall to his right, and a small toy box for when the baby was old enough to play.
He sighed, heavily. Despite telling Maggie shortly after they were married back in April that two things could be true at once—that they could regret their sin yet still be excited about the baby because the baby was innocent of how he or she was conceived—he still struggled to believe it.
He started. “Hi, sweetheart.”
Maggie set the quilt down, then started over. He met her halfway and kissed her deeply. It was promptly interrupted by the baby kicking so hard he felt it.
“Youch!” Jack feigned injury. “What’re you doing in there, kiddo? Playing soccer?”
Maggie laughed. On an impulse, Jack placed a hand at her waist and took her other hand, then began leading her in a slow dance around the room. “Jack Matthews, what’re you doing?” she asked, teasingly.
“Can’t I dance with me wife?” he replied, just as teasingly and in an exaggerated Irish accent that he had taught himself while listening to his maternal grandfather.
Maggie giggled. “I’ve been thinking,” she said as he gently twirled her out. “We haven’t picked out any names for the baby yet, have we?”
“You’re right, we haven’t,” Jack replied, pulling her back to him. “What were you thinking?”
“Well…if it’s a boy…” She got a mischievous glint in her eye and he shook his head, stopping in the middle of the room.
“Oh no. No, no, no. No John Josiah Matthews IV. We’ve got plenty of Johns in my family already.”
“What about as a middle name?”
He shook his head. “Nope. I’ve got two second cousins with the middle name John.”
“Hm.” Maggie looked thoughtful. “What’s your mother’s maiden name again? O’...”
“O’Connor,” he said quietly. He furrowed his brow. “Connor Matthews? Is that what you’re thinking of?”
Maggie nodded. “I was thinking we could do it to honor your grandfather,” she said.
“Well…” Jack swallowed. “If we did that, then Mom would hate us even more.”
“But it’s not her child, is it?” Maggie said softly. “It’s ours.”
“You’ve got a point,” he mumbled. “Besides, it would be kind of nice to honor Grandpa like that.”
“Okay, drop the ‘kind of,’” Jack said. “But what would we do for a middle name?”
Jack sighed, and ran through a couple of names in his head. “Hey, what about Reid?” he asked. “Connor Reid Matthews.”
“Connor Reid Matthews?”
“Yeah, that way he can have both of our names,” Jack said, smiling.
“And if it’s a girl?”
“Then we can name her…uh…Nora. After my grandmother.”
Maggie pursed her lips. “Connor Reid Matthews…that’s got a nice ring to it.”
He kissed her again. “It does indeed.”
about the writer
H.S. Kylian (also known as Hannah) has been in love with writing since she was nine, really got into it at thirteen, and discovered the gem of story structure at eighteen. When she’s not writing, she’s daydreaming about writing while doing other things such as knitting or photography. She lives with her family and a couple of cats and dogs in the beautiful PNW.
You can connect with her on her website here!
Wasn't that precious?! *heart eyes* Let us know what you thought in the comments below!
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yours in spirit and script,
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