I didn’t want anything too girly in the nursery. I always cringed a bit when it looked like a baby girl’s room had been hosed down with Pepto Bismal, and I wasn’t about to do that to my daughter. Originally, I thought about going with a Dr. Seuss theme, but everything I found was a bit too colorful for me. I was a much bigger fan of milder earth tones. Then Mom mentioned The Velveteen Rabbit, and I knew what I was going to do. I didn’t a little web research and ordered the crib I wanted on-line so it would be delivered to the house. We could wait to put that together.
Mom suggested I start registering for baby shower gifts. I hadn’t even started thinking about that yet. Mom being around was a good thing. She got me thinking about all the things I needed to do that I hadn’t even considered yet. By the time she was flying back home I had a whole list of things I needed to do. I told myself to take it all one step at a time and not to try and do it all at once. I would never feel like I was getting anywhere if I didn’t slow down a little. I was just used to going full steam ahead. I probably would have kept at it if I wasn’t so damn tired all the time.
Still, the visit had been good. It was nice to see Mom again. She promised she and Dad would come up in time for the birth. Jason and Crystal were about six weeks away from the birth of their baby. I wanted to go down for the shower, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do that. It was scheduled for the weekend before finals and I couldn’t take the chance of not being able to fly home for some reason. I also considered the possibility I may not want to go back to work after I had the baby.
Eric and I had crunched the numbers and we figured it would definitely be cheaper for me to stay home than it would be for us to put the baby in daycare. Neither of us were too crazy about the idea of letting a stranger raise our baby, and we couldn’t afford to hire a nanny. Besides, I liked the idea of being at home. Even if it was just until the Bean was in school full-time, staying home might be nice. I liked the idea of being there for everything. Mom had always been there for Jason and me.
When Eric and I talked about the future and the possibility of more kids, we always talked with the assumption we’d have more. Of course, there was no way of knowing for sure if that would come to pass. We were planning for it, but there were no guarantees. I thought of Tray and Amelia and the struggles they were having. Eric and I had been lucky once, but this baby might be the only one we had. It that was the case, I wanted to be sure I made the most of it. In twenty years I didn’t want to regret missing the opportunity I had to spend more time with our kid.
I was stretched out on the couch with my feet in Eric’s lap when he turned to me with a troubled look on his face. “So there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”
“What’s that?” I wiggled my toes at him and pouted.
Smart boy that he was, he started rubbing my feet without me having to actually ask. “I got a phone call from Terry Bellefleur a few days ago. Turns out Quentin got arrested over the break.”
“Oh my stars, what for?” I pushed myself up onto my elbows.
“Same thing I did. Apparently he hit his girlfriend.”
“He what?” By no means would I say I was close with Quentin, but I thought I knew him well enough to know he wasn’t capable of something like that. Then again, I’d thought the same thing of Eric. “Are they sure? I mean, it wasn’t just the girlfriend saying that, was it?”
“I don’t know. I’m guessing she’s got to have witnesses or marks on her somewhere in order for him to have gotten arrested. I don’t really know the whole story.”
“I can’t believe it. I know Quentin has an attitude, but I never would have thought he was violent.” I shook my head in disbelief. “So why did Terry call you?”
“Well, Quentin’s scared. He asked to speak to me.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.”
“You’re going to talk to him, right? I mean, you can help him with this.”
“I don’t really know what to say that won’t sound hypocritical.” Eric confessed.
“So don’t lecture him. He’s got his parents, his lawyer, the judge and just about everyone else telling him what a fuck up he is right now. If he’s scared, I hope it’s because he feels guilty for what he did and not because he’s pissed he got caught. Try to be his friend. You’ve been in his shoes… well, sort of. Just let him know this doesn’t have to define him for the rest of his life. It’s just one moment, but it’s an opportunity to learn to use better judgment.” I advised with a faint smile.
“Maybe you should talk to him. You’re better at this stuff than I am.” Eric said as he continued to rub my foot.
“First of all, he asked for you. I’m guessing there are certain things he wants to say that he thinks you might understand that no one else would. Second of all, you’re a very good listener, Eric. Maybe that’s all he needs is someone to listen to him.” I took my foot back and sat up slowly with Eric’s help. I curled myself up next to him and put his hand on my stomach. “Besides, isn’t there some silly sports analogy you can use?”
Eric laughed quietly and said, “Yeah, probably.”
“You’ll figure it out.” I kissed his chest and closed my eyes.
“I hope so.” He sighed and kissed the top of my head.
Two days later I was never more thankful for the bell ringing than I was at the end of fourth period. I’d had to pee for the last twenty minutes and I had seriously considered abandoning my class to use the bathroom. I hightailed it to the ladies’ room near the dean’s office, since it was the closest one to my classroom. I didn’t even care that there were four girls smoking cigarettes near the windows. Of all the bathrooms to sneak cigarettes in, I always thought that was the worst one to pick. On a windy day, the butts went flying right past the dean’s window.
There were two deans. Mr. Madden was the bigger hard ass of the two, and reminded me of the gym teacher in Beavis and Butthead. He barked at everyone in condescending tones and talked down to the kids. It was probably meant to be intimidating, but it ended up coming off in a cartoonish way that made him a laughing stock instead of someone to revered or respected. Then there was the other dean that everyone referred to as Bubba, since he was so mild mannered and often clueless to what was going on around him. The only thing he seemed to have going for him was at least the kids respected his authority because he wasn’t a dick about it the way Madden was.
I took care of business and shot warning glances to the girls who were smoking. “I’m not going to write you up this time.” I looked at their reflections in the mirror in front of me. “Just don’t let me catch you in here again.”
“Yes, Miss Stackhouse.” The girls looked properly chastised, but I knew they’d be back the next period.
I stepped out of the bathroom and headed back to my classroom. I paused when I got to the staircase, feeling a bit lightheaded all of a sudden. Dr. Ludwig said that was normal because of the changes in my circulatory system to accommodate the baby. I took a few deep breaths and waited for my head to feel a bit less cloudy before going up the stairs. When I got back to my classroom, I promptly took a seat behind my desk and had a snack just to make sure it wasn’t my blood sugar getting too low.
I felt better after I ate and enjoyed my next two classes before heading to meet Amelia in the faculty cafeteria for lunch. She was waiting for me in the doorway when I got to the top of the stairs. I was so busy looking at her that I didn’t see the water bottle on the top step when I stepped down. The next thing I knew, I was falling through the air and trying my hardest not to land on my belly.
I was standing outside the high school talking to Terry when the ambulance pulled up. I had plans to meet with Quentin during his seventh period study hall. I understood why the kid was scared. He had every right to be. I wanted to help him since he’d asked me for it. I thought I was pretty well over what I’d been through, and maybe seeing it from the perspective of someone else who had been there might help him. On the other hand, the reason why he’d been arrested was different.
He’d hit his girlfriend, if the reports were right. Violence against women was a deal breaker in my book. It got me thinking about what I would do if some little bastard lost his temper and hit my daughter. She wasn’t even born yet and the very thought of it made my blood boil. If what the police said was true, and the attack was unprovoked, I found it hard to be sympathetic to Quentin’s situation, and I told Terry as much.
“We all know it’s wrong to hit women. That’s something we’re taught from the time we’re little kids. No matter how mean a girl is to you, you don’t hit her.” I said to Terry.
“I know.” Terry agreed with a nod of his head. “I just figure he’s young. He’s got his whole life in front of him. He’s at an age where this could easily change the path he’s on. You and I both know he’s got a lot of potential if he can just figure out how to channel it. I don’t want to see him blow it all over one stupid mistake.”
I sighed heavily, watching as a gurney was taken from the back of the ambulance. “What’s going on over there?” I jutted my chin toward the paramedics running into the school.
Terry rubbed his eyes. “Probably a fight somewhere. Maybe a kid got sick.”
“Sadly, I’m thinking it’s probably option number one.” I shook my head.
It amazed me how many fights happened in a single day over the stupidest of things. There were a lot of hormones running crazy in that building. I’d never given much thought to how volatile teenagers could be until I worked with him every day. The thing that was really crazy to me was how dangerous the girls were. When they snapped… damn. Guys will throw punches and beat each other to hell, but the girls somehow managed to turn into super heroes with the ability to put each other in death grips.
In just the few months I’d taught at the high school, I’d seen a fight go from the library up on the second floor, through the back hallway, down two flights of stairs and into the C-10 area where Sookie’s classroom was before security could finally separate the girls. There were clumps of hair everywhere mixed with broken fake nails and pieces of clothing. The girls had scratched, punched, kicked and slapped each other into a fury that was almost impossible to stop. They both looked like hell while they waited for the police to come. More than once, they tried to resume the fight. It took six security guards to keep them separated from one another.
“Well, let’s go in and see what’s going on. We need to get you checked in at the front desk anyway.” Terry clapped me on the back, and walked with me to the main entrance of the school.
A tiny woman by the name of Thalia was behind the desk. She looked up and smiled when Terry and I walked into the building. She was a total hard ass, and someone I wouldn’t want to mess with. I’d seen her take down male students that were twice her size without so much as breaking a sweat. She couldn’t have been so much as five feet tall. She used to joke all the time that she was quick like a ninja. We had that in common. She was bitchy to most people, but she and I got along just fine.
“Northman, there you are. Congratulations on knocking up Miss Stackhouse.” She winked at me.
“Nice to see you, too, Thalia.” I winked right back as I reached for a pen to sign myself in.
“What’s with the ambulance?” Terry asked.
“Oh, uh, a teacher slipped on a water bottle that was on the steps by the faculty cafeteria and fell. Cracked her head on the wall on the way down.” Thalia said with a wince.
I stood up straight. “Which teacher, Thal?” My gut was screaming at me that it was Sookie.
“You know, I don’t know. Let me ask.” She grabbed her radio, but it wasn’t necessary.
“Eric!” Amelia screamed as the medical personnel was bringing the gurney around the corner.
My heart stopped beating when I saw Sookie stretched out on the gurney. She was knocked out cold and there was blood running down her beautiful face. I couldn’t move. I kept telling my legs to work, but they just stayed locked right where they were. Panic didn’t even begin to describe what was happening inside me. As the gurney came closer, I got a better look at her. Her clothes were messed up from where she’d fallen. There was a pulse-ox clip on her finger and there was a collar around her neck to keep her immobilized.
“Eric!” Amelia shouted again when the gurney started to pass me by.
All of a sudden, my legs started working again and I ran after the gurney. “What happened?”
“She was coming down the back stairwell to meet me for lunch. Some idiot dropped their water bottle on the steps. I don’t think she saw it there when she went to step down. She slipped on the bottle and then she was flying through the air. She tried not to land on her stomach and ended up smacking her head on the handrail. Luckily, for her at least, she was sort of caught by one of the defensive linemen. She still hit the ground pretty hard, though.” Amelia explained with tears in her eyes as Sookie was loaded into the back of the ambulance.
“Can I go with her?” I looked up at the paramedic.
“I’m her fiance and that baby’s father.” I stared at Sookie who had yet to come out of it.
“Yeah, get in.” The paramedic nodded.
“Terry, tell Quentin I’m sorry. Ame, I’ll call you when she wakes up.” I said before getting into the back of the ambulance.
I didn’t hear what Amelia was saying. All I cared about was the beeping of the monitor that told me how strong Sookie’s heartbeat was. I sat on the bench beside the gurney and reached for her hand. I put leaned down to whisper in her ear, and put my free hand on her belly to see if I could feel the Bean moving around. I knew that’s what Sookie would care the most about. A series of strong kicks to my palm had my eyes filling with tears.
“The Bean’s okay, lover. Just open your eyes, and everything will be fine.” I whispered to her before kissing her hand.
I kept waiting for a squeeze in response to let me know she was okay- that she was still in there with me- but I got nothing but movement from the baby. The fact that she was breathing on her own and her heartbeat was strong were both indicators she’d just been knocked out. I told myself she would be fine. She would wake up, and everything would be okay. While I was glad the baby was moving around, I was more concerned about Sookie. I didn’t even want to think about what I would do if I lost her. I couldn’t lose her.
We were taken back to Westlake Hospital. I called Dr. Ludwig, having found her number in Sookie’s cell phone. Amelia had been able to run to Sookie’s classroom to retrieve her purse before the paramedics took her out of the school. I let the nurse know Sookie had been in an accident and the nurse told me Dr. Ludwig would meet us at the hospital. I was able to give the treating emergency physician all the information available about Sookie’s pregnancy so she could be taken for all sorts of scans and tests.
I heard mention of skull fractures and possible brain swelling. To say it was overwhelming would be an understatement. I as escorted to the waiting room by a kind nurse who promised to come get me when Sookie returned from her tests. I paced the waiting room nervously for as long as I could take it before I decided to call Johan. I needed to talk to someone.
“Lillebror, what’s going on?” Johan sounded way too cheerful.
“Sookie’s in the hospital.” The words came tumbling out.
“Shit. What happened?” His cheerfulness changed to panic.
I had just finished telling him everything I knew when the kind nurse came out and gestured for me to follow her. “Johan, they’re letting me back to see her. I’ll call you when I have an update.”
I followed the nurse down a familiar path. I felt myself slip back in time to the night of the accident. I thought of how scared I’d been that night only a few months before. It was slightly amazing to see how things had changed since then. I never would have guessed we would be engaged and expecting a baby at this point. What was even more amazing is that she was already pregnant when the accident happened and the baby had survived it. I couldn’t let myself think about any of that for too long.
“Is she awake?” I asked the nurse.
“Not yet, but it’s only a matter of time. The doctor will be in to see you in a minute.” The nurse patted me gently once we were standing outside of the little curtained area that was Sookie’s room.
I moved the curtain to the side and stepped into her space. Her forehead was stitched up where she was cut. There was still blood in her hair, but they’d cleaned off her face. I pulled a chair closer to her bed and sat down. I took her small hand in mine and kissed the back of it. My other hand rested on her stomach, once again feeling for movement inside her. I started to panic again just a little when I didn’t feel anything, but then I remembered Sookie telling me the baby usually slept when she stayed still. The steady thumping of her heartbeat lulled the baby into a calmer state. I assumed that was the reason for the lack of movement, but a part of me was terrified it was something else.
Then I noticed the thing strapped to Sookie’s belly. I followed the cords to what I assumed was a fetal monitor in the corner. The signals it was picking up looked to be just as strong as Sookie’s own heartbeat. I breathed a sigh of relief and let myself relax a little bit. I leaned forward to kiss her stomach and for the first time in my life, hoped I’d get kicked in the mouth.
“Sookie, can you hear me?” I moved up closer to her ear, keeping one of my hands on her belly. I got no response. “You’re going to be fine. The Bean’s doing great. I just need you to open your eyes, love.”
Still nothing. I stood up just enough so I could kiss the tip of her nose before sitting down again. I let go of her stomach and held one of her hands to my lips, hoping the feeling of my breath on her would somehow pull her from whatever in between she was stuck in. All I could was wait for Dr. Ludwig to appear to give me and update on Sookie’s condition.
I felt like I was stuck in that same in between Sookie was, only there was a wall between us I couldn’t break through. I hated waiting. I seriously wondered if sometimes doctors didn’t draw it out just a little bit longer to make a person grateful for all the things they’d previously taken for granted. While I sat there waiting I came to the conclusion that I was hands down done waiting where Sookie was concerned. We had to start planning more and leaving things to chance less.
As if planning for ourselves wasn’t reason enough, we needed to have one in place for the baby that was coming soon. Our laid-back, go with the flow approach to life was going to be our undoing if we didn’t have some sort battle plan ready to go. We needed to stop fucking around and set a wedding date. That was the first thing we needed to do. Enough dragging our feet and making excuses for why it wasn’t the right time. We wanted to be married. We needed to stop talking about it and just do it. If we kept waiting for the perfect time, it would never happen. I was pretty sure the same would be said for our daughter.
I closed my eyes for just a moment and of course, that was when Sookie woke up. “The first day of summer.” She murmured.
“Lover, it’s only April.” I squeezed her hand.
“Marry me on the first day of summer.” She closed her eyes, a faint smile on her face.
I laughed quietly and said, “I think that’s a great idea.”
My little tumble down the stairs resulted in all sorts of things. First, there was the severe concussion I was diagnosed with. I’d cracked my head pretty hard on the way down. I was going to have a small scar on my forehead from the stitches it had taken to close me up. Eric jumped all over it and immediately started calling me Harry Potter. Jerk. I was kept overnight just to be sure there was no swelling in my brain. Aside from a nasty headache, I felt fine. That is, until I started having contractions later that night. They weren’t serious, but it was enough for Dr. Ludwig to put me on medication to stop them. If my water broke, I was in big trouble. Since I wasn’t quite twenty-two weeks along yet, it was way too early for the Bean to make her grand entrance.
When Dr. Ludwig was convinced I was okay, I was released from the hospital after a two night stay. It was also during this time that Dr. Ludwig noticed my elevated blood pressure. I was put on medications for it and told to stay off my feet as much as possible to prevent early labor. When I asked what that meant, exactly, Dr. Ludwig told me she wanted me on bed rest. I was both scared and pissed off at the same time. I hated sitting still for extended periods of time for what seemed to be no reason, but I wasn’t willing to risk my baby’s life because I had ants in my pants.
Since Eric and I had finally set a wedding date, we had to get started on the planning for it. There were tons of things that needed to be done, and I told myself I would start making a list of all those things as soon as I got home. On the way back to the house we stopped for lunch at Sonic. I’d been craving cherry limeade for the last week. I was almost immediately sorry for gulping it down like I did because I had to pee about three minutes later.
As soon as we got home, Eric was pushing me up the stairs. He’d been nothing but tense for the last three days. The look on his face when I woke up in the hospital was one I would never forget. I remembered thinking of the way he’d looked at me after the accident back in November. It was almost the same look, except more intense. There was so much more at stake for us now. Yes, we’d most definitely had feelings for each other then, but there was still a possibility for things to have turned out differently for us.
“I’m okay, Eric.” I said once we were in our bedroom.
“I didn’t say anything.” His shoulders were squared, his brow furrowed.
“Your face is doing all the talking.” I pointed at him. “I’m okay, really. Yes, I’m sore and I’m tired, but I’m okay. I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’m going to hold you to that.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me closer to him.
“Please do.” I smiled up at him. “I need a shower.”
“I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Thanks.” I pushed him playfully.
“That’s not what I meant, but now that you mention it…”
“Jerk.” I muttered as I started walking away. He laughed quietly behind me. I looked over my shoulder and asked, “Are you coming?”
“You sure that’s a good idea? You’re supposed to be on bed rest.” He reminded me, as if I could forget.
“Consider it our last hoorah.” I winked at him.
“Well, when you put it that way…” He followed me into the bathroom and closed the door behind us.