CJ unzipped the bag and gasped as she took out a breath-taking black dress. It was simple, elegant, and one that she’d admired at an online boutique for months. She looked from the dress to Donna. ‘How did you do it? Ethan only asked me this morning to go out to dinner.’
‘I called the online shop and had them express deliver it.’
‘What! You shouldn’t have gone to so much bother.’
‘Nonsense. You deserve this night.’
CJ could feel the tears brimming in her eyes. She put the dress on the bed and rushed to hug her friend. ‘Thank you. Thank you so much.’
‘Hey, don’t start crying now. Ethan’s going to be here in half an hour and we don’t want your face all blotchy.’
CJ sniffed and smiled. ‘You’re right.’ She picked up the dress and held it against her before turning to Elizabeth, who was sleeping in the hospital cot. ‘Look, princess. Does Mummy look pretty?’
‘Mummy looks sickeningly good,’ Donna said. ‘I wish my figure had sprung back as quickly as yours. I don’t know. You have an easy and quick labour and a few days later you’re almost back to what you were before you became pregnant. It’s just not fair.’
CJ laughed. ‘I can’t help it.’
‘No. Although I would like to add that when you get pregnant again—some time in the future—we keep a close eye on you when you go into labour because, boy, oh, boy, do you go quickly. You’ll be lucky to make it across the road to the hospital with the next one.’
‘What next one?’ she scoffed, but didn’t dwell on it. ‘I want to enjoy the baby I have because before I know it she’ll be on her way to university.’
‘Don’t I know it!’ Donna laughed. ‘All right. Ethan’s going to be here soon so let’s get you organised.’ She pulled out a large bag with cosmetics, a hairdryer, curler and hair spray, and a pair of stockings. ‘I stopped by your house earlier to pick up a pair of shoes for you but the back door was locked.’
‘Ethan.’ CJ shrugged and shook her head. ‘He’s a stickler for locking the doors.’
‘I figured as much. You get changed and I’ll pop over and get a pair now. He should be home but give me your keys in case he’s still at the clinic.’
When she’d gone, CJ slipped out of her pyjamas and pulled on the dress. The straps were two inches wide in a zig-zag pattern with a row of diamantés in the middle. The neckline also had a zig-zag pattern that came across the top of the bust, glittering diamantés again highlighting the unusual cut. It came to mid-thigh and showed off her legs to perfection.
Thankfully, Donna had bought the next size up from what CJ usually wore so when she zipped it up, it didn’t pull across her bust. She’d already expressed milk after the last feed just in case Elizabeth should wake up hungry while she was gone.
She looked down at her sleeping daughter. ‘Oh, baby. You are so beautiful. Sleep well while I’m gone. I’ll be back. I promise. I will never leave you and I will love you for ever.’
Donna rushed back into the room, stopping still as she gazed at CJ. She shook her head. ‘Even without the hair and make-up, you look incredible. He isn’t going to know what hit him!’
They set to work, piling CJ’s hair on top of her head and curling the ends slightly, leaving a few loose tendrils coming down. ‘I have another surprise,’ Donna announced after she’d finished CJ’s make-up. She pulled out a jeweller’s box. ‘I wore these on my wedding day and they’ve never been worn since.’ Donna handed it to CJ, who opened it slowly. A row of diamonds winked back at her. The necklace was a classically simple strand with matching bracelet and a pair of studded earrings.
‘Oh! I can’t.’
‘You owe it to the jewels. They deserve to be seen and they match the dress perfectly. Now, no more fuss. Turn around so I can fasten these in place.’
CJ did what Donna told her to do, as her hair and make-up were completed. When she stood and looked in the half-mirror of the hospital bathroom, she barely recognised herself.
‘You really do look like a princess,’ Donna stated. ‘Please, have a great time.’
‘I feel so spoilt.’
‘You deserve it. You’ve given so much to this town, it’s time we all gave something back.’
CJ smoothed a hand down the dress and smiled brightly at her reflection. Tonight, she decided, was a night of hope and she determined to enjoy everything it offered.
* * *
Ethan drove his car to the hospital, furious with himself for being late.