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Mom, look at these. Aren't they cute?" Melanie Barton jiggled a pair of dinosaur-shaped baby booties under her mother's nose. Melanie and her mother, Connie, stood in a baby superstore, surrounded by aisles of adorable merchandise. Her mother leaned heavily against a shopping cart heaped with diapers, newborn-size clothes, crib sheets, and a mobile and eyed the bright dino booties.
"Yes, they're cute, but I think they're too big for a newborn. Your feet weren't any bigger than this." Connie held out her finger and thumb to indicate a couple of inches, then arched her back and rubbed the hollow. "I need to get off my feet, Mellie. I'd forgotten how much your back aches when you're pregnant."
"How about the paint store? You said we could stop there before we go home. I need more yellow to finish the nursery walls."
"You'll get it done before the baby comes, I'm sure. Right now, I want to get home before I collapse."
"But I still have Christmas shopping to do."
"It'll keep, Mellie," her mother said patiently. "I need to rest. You can go to the mall anytime."
Melanie told herself to be sensitive to her pregnant mother. In only a couple more weeks, Melanie's little brother or sister would be born. Since Christmas was also only two weeks away, it was possible that the baby could be born on Christmas Day. Which was what Melanie was secretly hoping.
"If only I could drive," Melanie grumbled as she and her mother walked to the car, pushing the cart full of purchases.
"This time next year you'll have your license, and you can take Baby Mortimer Christmas shopping while I sit around eating candy and reading a book."
Suddenly Melanie stopped. "You and Dad aren't really going to call him Mortimer, are you?"
Her mother laughed. "Don't be silly. It could be a girl. Then we'll call her Morticia."
"Mother! Don't joke. We can't give the baby some crazy name. It has to be something special."
"I'm sure you have some suggestions."
"Can you save them for later? I just want to get home and lie down."
On the drive home, Melanie gazed at the Christmas decorations hung from lampposts, the store windows decked out with lights, glitter, and holiday displays of toys and clothes. Santas stood on street corners, ringing bells and collecting money. Outside, the world looked expectant, ready for the most wonderful day of the year. Inside, Melanie's heart felt full to overflowing. What a Christmas this was going to be!
In the spring, when her mother had first told Melanie about her pregnancy, Melanie had been shocked, then embarrassed. Weren't her parents too old? Forty-two and forty-five seemed pretty old to be having a baby. And she had wondered what her friends would think. As it turned out, her friends thought she was lucky to be getting a newborn baby to cuddle and hold. Now she couldn't wait.
Back at the house, Melanie unloaded the car. "You go lie down," she told her mother once they were in the foyer. "I can start dinner."
Her mother patted Melanie's cheek. "You've been such a help to me. I don't know what I'd do without you, honey."
"I guess it's one of the perks of having babies fifteen years apart," Melanie said with a grin.
Her mother headed upstairs. "Let me know when your dad gets home. Remind him that we have Lamaze class tonight."
Melanie had to hand it to her parents. Despite their age, they were going all out to make this birth a memorable experience. They were attending natural-childbirth classes at the local hospital where their baby would be born. Melanie had even gone with them a couple of times. The class was full of young couples, and although her parents looked old among them, the group had welcomed them warmly.
"We always wanted a big family," Melanie had overheard her mom tell one woman. "But after Melanie's birth, I just couldn't seem to get pregnant again. Imagine my shock when it happened now, after all these years!"
In the kitchen, Melanie quickly got to work making dinner. A casserole was warming in the oven and she was starting on the salad when the phone rang.
"What's shaking?" It was the voice of her friend Coren.
"Just slaving in the kitchen. What's up with you?" Melanie cradled the phone beneath her chin and broke lettuce into a salad bowl.
"Nothing," Coren said with an exaggerated sigh. School was out for the holidays and she already sounded bored. "Are you going to Justine's party next Saturday?"
"It depends on how my mom's doing."
"She's okay, isn't she?"
"Sure, but she says that sometimes babies arrive early, so the baby could be here by Saturday."
"But you've got to come."
"I will if I can." Melanie didn't see why it was so urgent that she go.
"Well, try hard, all right?"
Changing the subject, Melanie said, "You should see all the cute stuff we bought for the baby today. The clothes are so tiny. It'll be like dressing a doll." She heard her father's key in the door. "Got to run. My dad's home. I'll call you tomorrow." Melanie hung up and kissed her father's cheek as he came into the room.
"Where's your mom?"
He swiped a piece of carrot from the cutting board and ruffled her hair, which irritated her. "Smells good in here."
"Mom said to remind you about Lamaze class tonight. Can you drop me at the mall on your way there and pick me up on your way home?"
Her father set down his briefcase. "You know I hate you wandering the mall alone."
"Dad, there's a thousand people at the mall. It's not like I'll get lost or anything."
"You could get mugged."
She rolled her eyes, ignoring his concern. "I still have Christmas shopping to do, and Mom said it was all right with her."
"I'll discuss it with your mom."
"I'm not a baby, you know."
"But you're still my baby," he said with a grin.
"I can get everything done before your class is over. Promise." Melanie made a final stab at pleading her case.
"I said we'll discuss it, Mellie. Now I'm going upstairs."
Melanie pouted. She'd be glad when the baby was here and her father could see what a real baby looked like. She was tired of him always treating her as if she were still five. It was about time he started treating her like the fifteen-year-old she was. It was part of the hazard of being an only child, she reminded herself. Her friends always got to try new things ahead of her. But her own parents were usually the last ones to okay anything she wanted to do.
Still sulking, Melanie carried the garbage pail onto the back porch. The frosty air felt cold on her warm cheeks. She looked up. The sky was dark, but in the west she could still see a hint of lavender and pink left from the setting sun. A single star twinkled, as if trapped between the light and the darkness. Impulsively she said, "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight . . ." Finishing the familiar children's rhyme, she asked, "Could I have a baby sister? And if it's not too much trouble, do you think you could get my parents to treat me as a truly older sister and let the new baby be the baby?"
The star winked like a tiny jeweled eye, making her think that perhaps it had heard her and would grant her wishes.
From the Paperback edition.