“I’m no help, she wouldn’t want me there, I’m a mess,” I said, but she was already opening the door, pushing it with her free hand.
“You are the only one she wants,” my mother said, and then we were crossing the room, her arm clamped around my shoulders, back to the bed where Scarlett was sitting up, clenching the sheet in her hands, tears streaming down her face.
“Hi, honey,” my mother said, crossing to the bedside and smoothing down Scarlett’s hair. “You’re doing great. Just great.”
“Is Marion here?” Scarlett said.
“Not yet, but Brian is over at your house, waiting for her. She’ll get here any time now. Don’t worry. Now, what can we do for you? Anything?”
“Just don’t leave me,” Scarlett said quietly as my mother settled in next to her, laying her purse on the chair with the prom dress. “I don’t want to be alone.”
“You won’t be.” My mother was eyeing the chair on Scarlett’s other side, so I took my place carefully, ashamed. “We’re here.”
I looked across the bed, past Scarlett’s tired, shiny face as my mother leaned close to her ear, whispering words I couldn’t hear. But I knew what they were, what they had to be: the same ones I’d heard after all those bad dreams, all those skate-board and roller-skating accidents, all the times the little fiendettes chased me home on pink bicycles. I watched my mother do what she did best, and realized there would never be a way to cut myself from her entirely. No matter how strong or weak I was, she was a part of me, as crucial as my own heart. I would never be strong enough, in all my life, to do without her.
The doctor looked up at us, nodding.
“Here it comes, Scarlett, I can see the head. Just a couple more big pushes and it’s out, so get ready, okay?”
“Not long now,” I whispered to her, squeezing her hand harder. “Almost there.”
“You’re doing so great,” my mother said. “Very brave. Much braver than I ever was.”
“It’s the drugs,” I said. “Since then it’s been a piece of cake.”
“Shut up,” Scarlett snapped. “I swear, when this is over, I am going to kill you.”
“Give me another good push!” the doctor said from the foot of the bed. “Get ready!”
“Breathe,” I said to her, taking a deep one myself. “Breathe.”
“Breathe,” my mother repeated, her voice echoing mine. “Come on, honey. You can do it.”
Scarlett braced against me, her hand twisting mine, and I watched her face swallow up her eyes, her mouth fall open, as she pushed harder than she had all night, with every bit of strength she had left.
“Here it comes, it’s coming, look at that.” The doctor was smiling from the end of the bed, excited. “Oh, push once more, just a little one, Scarlett, just a tiny one ...”
Scarlett pushed again, gasping, and I watched as the doctor reached down with her hands, groping around, and then, suddenly, she was holding something, something small and red and slimy with kicking feet and a tiny mouth that opened up to wail, a tiny, tiny voice.
“It’s a girl,” the doctor said, and the nurses were wiping her off, cleaning out her mouth, and then they put her in Scarlett’s arms, against her chest. Scarlett was crying, looking down at her against her skin, closing her eyes. She’d been with us since that summer, growing and growing, and now she was here, real as we were.
“A girl,” Scarlett said softly. “I knew it.”
“She’s beautiful,” I told her. “She has my eyes.”
“And my hair,” she said, still crying, her hand brushing the top of the baby’s head and the red fuzz there. “Look.”
“You should be very proud,” my mother said, reaching to touch one tiny little hand. “Very proud.” And she looked over and smiled at me.
“I’m going to name her Grace,” Scarlett said. “Grace Halley.”
“Halley?” I said, amazed. “No kidding.”
“No kidding.” She kissed the baby’s forehead. “Grace Halley Thomas.”
When I looked down at Grace, I was overwhelmed. She was our year, from the summer with Michael to the winter with Macon. We would never forget.
Scarlett was just beaming, rocking Grace in her arms and kissing the tiny fingers and toes, asking everyone if they had honestly ever seen a more beautiful baby. (It was agreed that no one had.) After we all cooed over her, and Scarlett nodded off to sleep, I went out to the waiting room to deliver the news. What I saw, as I rounded the vending machines and water fountains, was enough to stop me dead in my tracks.
The room was bright and packed. On one side, grouped around the Emergency Room door, was at least half of our class, all in dresses and tuxedos, leaning against the walls and sitting on the cheap plastic sofas. There were Ginny Tabor and Brett Hershey, girls from our Commercial Design class and their dates, Melissa Ringley and even Maryann Lister, plus tons of people I didn’t even know. All in their finest, eating candy bars and talking, waiting for news. I didn’t see Elizabeth Gunderson, but I did see Macon, leaning against the candy machine and talking to Cameron, who had finally gotten some color back in his face.
And on the other side of the waiting room, segregated by some chairs and modern time, were Vlad, a breathless Marion, and at least twenty other warriors and maidens, all decked out in full medieval regalia. Some were carrying swords and shields. One was even wearing chain mail that clanked as he paced back in forth in front of Admitting.
Then, all at once, they saw me.
Marion ran across the room, dress swishing madly across her feet, with Vlad and a handful of warriors right behind. The nurse at Admitting just rolled her eyes as I passed, with Marion approaching from one side and Cameron and Ginny Tabor fast closing in on the other, Ginny in her shrieking pink followed by a slew of girls in pastels and boys in tuxes, all crowding in. Everyone else had stopped talking, rising from their seats and gathering closer, watching my face.
“So?” Ginny said, skidding to a stop in front of me.
“How is she?” Marion asked. “I just got here, I was late getting home—”
“Is she okay?” Cameron said. “Is she?”
“She’s fine,” I said, and I smiled at him. I turned to the assembled crowd, the prom-goers and Cinderellas, the maidens and ladies and warriors and knights, not to mention the odd Boy Scout and security guard, all carefully keeping their distance. “It’s a girl.”