I nodded. "I’m fine. Fine.”
This was my mantra, the thing I kept saying in my mind. Actually, though, I wasn’t entirely certain. All I knew for sure was that I was at the hospital: everything beyond that, like the last time I’d been here, was a bit of a blur.
After the initial shock of the water breaking, we’d done what we did best: gathered our wits, got a plan, and went into action. It wasn’t until we’d piled into the van and were on our way to the hospital, Delia beside me, my hand gripped in hers, that I’d glanced at the clock on the dashboard. It was five forty-five, which meant that in fifteen minutes, I was supposed to be meeting my mother at the Commons. Considering how things were going, this should have been my biggest concern. But instead, my mind kept drifting back to another ride, not so long ago.
Then, I’d been holding a hand, too. My father’s, though, had been limp, my fingers doing all the work to hold our palms to each other. Instead of Bert, who was breathing loudly through his nose while Delia waved him off, annoyed, there’d been a paramedic across from me, his hands moving swiftly to attach an oxygen mask and prepare the defibrillator. And instead of the wind whooshing past from Wes’s open window, and Delia on her cell phone calmly making arrangements with Pete and the babysitter, there had been an eerie, scary silence, punctuated only by the sound of my heart beating in my ears. Then, a life was ending. Here, one was about to begin. I didn’t believe in signs. But it was hard to ignore the fact that someone, somewhere, might have wanted me to go through this again and see there was another outcome.
The memories were everywhere. When we pulled up at the curb, it was in the same spot. Entering emergency, the doors made that same smooth swish noise. Even the smell was the same, that inexplicable mix of disinfectant and florals. For a second, I’d thought for sure I couldn’t do it, and found myself hanging back. But then Wes turned back and looked at me, offering the same question he’d been asking ever since. I’d nodded, then fallen in beside him. He was pushing Delia in a wheelchair and she was taking deep, slow breaths, so I did too. When we got on the elevator and the doors slid shut, I finally relaxed and felt myself rise.
What I felt now was a different kind of scared. For the past two and a half hours, I’d sat on the bench in the hallway a few feet down from Delia’s room, watching as doctors and nurses first ambled in and out, as if there were a million years before anything really happened, then started moving more quickly, and even more so, and then suddenly, everything was a commotion. Machines were beeping, voices calling out pages overhead, the floor beneath my feet reverberating as a doctor jogged down the hallway, his stethoscope thumping against his chest.
In my opinion, everyone else was entirely too calm. Especially Wes, who, when he wasn’t asking if I was all right, was eating one of the many snack foods he kept disappearing to buy from the vending machine downstairs. Now, as he unwrapped a package of little chocolate doughnuts, offering me one, I shook my head.
“I don’t see how you can turn down a chocolate doughnut, ” he said, popping one into his mouth. From Delia’s doorway, I was sure I heard a groan or a moan, followed by Pete’s voice, soothing.
“I don’t see how you can eat,” I replied, as a nurse emerged from the room, her arms full of some sort of linens, and started down the hallway toward the desk.
He chewed for a second, then swallowed. “This could go on for ages,” he said, as Bert, who was sitting on his other side, jerked awake from the nap he’d been taking for the last half hour, blinking. “You have to keep your strength up.”
“What time is it?” Bert asked sleepily, rubbing his eyes.
Wes handed him a doughnut. “Almost seven,” he said.
I felt my stomach do a flip-flop, although I wasn’t sure it was from hearing that I was now officially an hour late to meet my mother, or from the shriek that came from Delia’s room, this one loud and extended enough that we all looked at the slightly open door until it abruptly stopped. In the quiet that followed, I pushed myself to my feet.
“Macy?” Wes said.
“I’m fine,” I said, knowing that was his next question. “I’m just going to call my mom.”
I’d left my cell phone in the van, so I walked to the line of pay phones, digging some change out of my pocket. The first time, the line was busy and I hung up and tried again. Still busy. I pushed open a door that led outside to a small patio, where I sat for a few minutes, looking at the sky, which was slowly growing darker. It was perfect fireworks weather. Then I went back inside and called again, getting the solid busy beep once more. This time, I held on for her voicemail, then cleared my throat and tried to explain.
“It’s me,” I said, “I know you’re probably worried, and I’m really sorry. I was on my way to meet you but Delia went into labor so now I’m at the hospital. I have to wait until someone can drive me, but I’ll get there as soon as I can. I’m sorry, again. I’ll see you soon.”
There, I thought as I hung up the phone. Done. I knew it wouldn’t solve everything, or even anything. But I’d deal with that when the time came.
When I came back to the bench where Wes and Bert and I had been sitting, it was empty. In fact, there was nobody in the hallway at all, or at the nurses’ station, and for a second I just stood there, feeling totally creeped out. Then Wes stuck his head out of Delia’s room. He was grinning.
“Hey,” he said. “Come see.”
He held the door for me as I stepped inside. Delia was sitting up in the bed, the sheets gathered around her midsection. Her face was flushed, and in her arms was this tiny little thing with dark hair. Pete was sitting on her right, his arm over her shoulders, and they were both looking down at the baby. The room was so quiet, but in a good way. By the window, even Bert, pessimist of pessimists, was smiling.
Then Delia looked up and saw me. “Hey,” she said softly, waving me over. “Come say hello.” As I came around the bed, she shifted her arms, so the baby was closer to me. “Look. Isn’t she beautiful?”
Up close, the baby looked even smaller: her eyes were closed, and she was making these little snuffly noises, like she was dreaming about something amazing. “She’s perfect,” I said, and for once, it was the exact right word to use.
Delia trailed her finger over the baby’s cheek. “We’re calling her Avery,” she said. “It’s Pete’s mom’s name. Avery Melissa.”