"So you have a daughter now. That's good. I knew you weren't listening when I told you if you sleep with girls, they have a tendency to get pregnant. How old were you when I told you that: fifteen? Sixteen? You think it'd kill you to listen to your elders for once? But no, who am I kidding? You've never listened to anyone your whole life. You're nothing but a stubborn show-off."
He sits up in bed, glancing to make sure Beth and Beth Junior are still asleep, and scratches his head. He must've been dreaming about Annie, because that's sure as hell the sound of her voice. It's her, loud and clear, and when he looks over at the chair next to the bed he does a double-take: there she is.
"Whoa. Now I know how you felt when you said the dead aren't supposed to come back to life, Annie." Reaching right through her for his t-shirt, he puts it on, keeping the blanket draped over the rest of his body. "Hey. It's been a while."
Annie sits in the chair, giving him time to get himself a little bit respectable before her gaze moves from the sleeping baby across the room back to Spike. "What's her name?"
"Beth. Elizabeth Marie, but she's--"
"Beautiful. And sleeping. Didn't you ever learn anything? You don't want to wake up a sleeping baby."
He shakes his head, amused. "But you're talking."
"Details. Besides, I know how to do it without waking her up."
In his defense, he was listening to her that day when he was fifteen or sixteen. "I've never gotten anyone pregnant in my life, Annie. Beth, she's not--"
"Awake." Annie's quick to cut him off for a second time. "Look at her. I never had kids of my own. Didn't work out that way, so we ran Mao's boarding house instead, me and Frank. But he was gone before you met him. Yeah, before you came along, things were peaceful there." She gives him a lopsided but genuine smile. "Look at you, a father now. I never would have thought. Out of all the kids that came through that place, Spike, you showed the most promise. Mao and I used to talk about you a lot. He thought you deserved every opportunity. I thought he was being generous. But look, you proved him right. I'm proud of you, kid. Who's the lucky girl?" She nods across him to where Beth sleeps every bit as soundly as Beth Junior.
Following her gaze, he smiles. "Beth. Beth and Beth. You want me to wake her up so you can meet her?"
"No." The headshake she gives him is a definitive one. "I'm only here to talk to you. I miss you. That was a rotten trick you played, pretending to be dead all those years. Mao said he knew you were still alive. He had guys out looking for you. Said he wouldn't rest till he found you. He always wanted you to come back and take over." There's a moment's pause, but then her words come quickly again. "It's good you didn't. That would've been nothing but trouble. Now, you found your way here instead, and that's good. Look what you have. A girl, a daughter. I never would have thought."
Again, he tries to tell her. "Little Beth, she's not my--"
Annie stands up sharply, leaning over at him. "Don't you dare say what you're going to say. She is. You think genetics is the only thing that matters? If you do, you're not as smart as I thought. Don't you ever let that baby hear she's not your daughter. Not from your mouth. You love her, don't you? You take care of her, don't you? Both of them?"
"Uh... hell, yeah." He can feel himself backing away just a little. This isn't the first time he's been face-to-face with Annie when she's been angry with him. Far from it.
"You two aren't married, but that doesn't keep you from calling Beth yours, does it?"
"Then give it a rest, you stubborn son of a bitch. They're both yours. Give me a hard time about it one more time and I'll come back until I wear you down on it." As she sits back, the expression on her face softens. "Tell your daughter about me, would you? Tell her all about Annie. Tell her about the lady who took care of you and taught you all about the birds and the bees. Tell them both."
Now it's his turn to smile. "Hell, ma'am, I already have."
"Damn good thing. Maybe you are as smart as Mao thought." Her eyes travel again to the sleeping baby. "Now you get yourself back to sleep. Before you know it, that little one will be awake again. They have a tendency to do that."
"Yeah, don't I know." Exhausted, he settles back down in bed, his head resting on the pillow. The lure of sleep is so strong it's almost hypnotic, but he forces himself to stay awake just a little bit longer. "Hey, Annie?"
"Yeah?" She looks almost motherly and angelic, like some guardian making sure he really does get to sleep.
"Thanks for stopping by." His eyes are so heavy he can't keep them open, no matter how hard he tries.
It only feels like moments later that Beth Junior's tiny cries wake him from about the deepest damn sleep and weirdest fucking dream he ever remembers having. Yawning, he reaches for his t-shirt only to find he's already got it on. But his sweats are right where he left them, right on the chair, and he puts those on quickly before half-stumbling across the room to pick up the baby. As soon as she's in his arms her crying quiets a little bit. "Shh, shh. Hey. I have an idea. If you listen real carefully, I'll tell you a story. I used to know this woman named Annie... oh, you say I told you this one already?" He's just buying Beth a little bit of time so she can wake up enough to nurse the baby; it's their routine and he does it at least a couple times a night. "You want to hear it again? Yeah? Good. It all starts when I was fifteen..."