This story is a sequel to Under Cover
Celinda sat in the back of the car, listening to the happy banter between Lou and her sister Theresa in the front seat, and couldn't help the jealousy that spread throughout her.
She loved Lou like a sister, even though their friendship had been tested somewhat after Lou married Michael Kidd. Celinda just couldn't stand the sight of him. She knew that she had no rational reason for the animosity she felt towards him, but she couldn't help blaming him for her brother's death three years ago. She knew he was a good father to Jimmy's daughter Jamie, but still, she couldn't help resenting the fact that he stepped in and took what should have been her brother's place.
She kept her feelings to herself, both because she knew Lou was happy, and because she wanted to keep a relationship open with her niece for her brother's sake. Just the same, she tried to time her visits for when Kidd would be busy with work. Now that things with Nathan were so difficult, she had eagerly accepted Lou's invitation to spend a few days with her and the children, as an escape. But seeing Lou eight months pregnant with yet another child only reminded her all over again of the biggest problem between her and Nathan.
She and Nathan had been trying to conceive for years, almost since they got married seven years before. Two years ago, they had consulted Dr. Lee, a fertility specialist who'd tested them both. The doctor explained that the combination of Nathan's low sperm count and motility, and her own 'inhospitable cervical environment' as Dr. Lee delicately put it, made it next to impossible for them to conceive a child together through natural means. The news had devastated Celinda, who had sat numbly as Dr. Lee droned on about artificial insemination, sperm donors, and hormone treatments that "might" result in a baby, if they were lucky. That had been over two years ago, and nothing they had tried had worked.
She sighed heavily as she recalled their last conversation before she left the house a couple of days before.
"But why now, Celinda?" Nathan asked, watching her packing clothes into a suitcase.
Now, as she sat in the backseat of the car, she tried to search her soul for the truth of her feelings towards her husband, but couldn't feel anything. She felt numb, unable to care for anything or anyone. Only Jamie put a smile on her face these past couple of days.
Kidd sat at his desk, and Noah, now his second in command, sat opposite him. They were both looking at blueprints of a building their team was supposed to infiltrate in a couple of days.
A knock on the door brought them out of their discussion over the map.
"A bomb could drop and you wouldn't notice," Cody joked from the door. "Buck and Ike are here asking if you two would come down from your Olympus and grab a late dinner?"
Kidd rolled his eyes and folded the papers carefully. "Just give me a second to check on Lou and I'll be with you shortly."
"Kidd, give her a break," Noah groaned. "You spoke with her twenty minutes ago and she told you they were heading home."
"Yeah, but she sounded tired..." Kidd started.
"And Theresa's driving. Stop fussing," Noah smiled. "She's just pregnant. She did it twice before. There's no need for you to fuss over her so much. And you know she doesn't like it."
Zach looked over across Aunt Celinda at his two year old sister Jamie in her car seat. She was sound asleep, her mouth open and her eyes buttoned shut. Up front, Aunt Theresa was driving, and Mommy was resting in the front seat next to her, her hands rubbing her big round belly. Mommy had a smile on her face; she was always so happy and smiling now. His and Jamie's new baby sister was coming soon, and Mommy had stopped going to work a month ago to get ready. They'd had a wonderful day with Aunt Theresa and Aunt Celinda. He looked out the window, sleepily, and yawned, feeling contented and safe in the cozy warm darkness, with his favorite CD in the player. His eyes started drooping shut.
Mommy's sudden scream jerked him awake; he looked up just in time to see a pair of headlights speeding right into and through the windshield - before the world seemed to explode around him in a rain of shattered glass and blood. He sat dazed in his car seat... Jamie was screaming in terror as Aunt Celinda frantically unsnapped the harness on her car seat. With little Jamie screaming in her arms, Aunt Celinda unsnapped his seatbelt, and staggered to the side of the road, carrying him and his sister away from the wreckage. As Zach looked over her shoulder, he heard sirens were sounding in the distance... and the car horn was blaring.
Zach screamed for his mother - - but though her eyes were open, she didn't seem to hear him, but just sat staring, with a trail of blood running from her open mouth, before the EMT's surrounded the car. One of them shouted to the policeman who ran to the car. "Fatal accident... drunk driver in the other vehicle, unharmed..." as Aunt Celinda clutched him and Jamie to her, sobbing.
Sitting in the restaurant with his friends, Kidd suddenly sat up straight.
"Something wrong, Kidd?" Noah asked, glancing up from the screen at Kidd's bewildered face.
"I don't know," he said. "Something... something's wrong, but... I don't know what it is," he admitted, shaking his head to clear it. But he couldn't shake the feeling that something was horribly wrong.
His cell phone rang and he smiled at the number. "The little missus," he said to Noah, then snapped it open. "You okay, honey?" he asked, before his face turned pale and gray. Noah looked up in alarm.
"Celinda, I can barely hear you. An accident... are Lou and the kids okay?"
Kidd raised his voice, frantically. "Celinda, I can't hear you --"
After another moment, he snapped the phone shut, and started redialing. "I lost the call, damn it - - she said something about an ambulance going to Washington General ER. I have to get there," he said, jumping up.
Noah nodded, "I drove us over here, Kidd, I'll give you a ride over. It isn't far." The two got up and raced out, as the rest of their friends looked after them, concerned.
Jeremiah opened the door to the small dorm room and dropped his key on the desk. The tall slender girl lying on her stomach on the bed didn't look up; she had her ipod plugged in and didn't notice him as she hummed along, studying an art book. Her black pants were low-slung and her ripped t-shirt was cropped; and he smiled again at the word tattooed across the small of her back: "Trouble".
He sat on the bed beside her and patted her on the backside. She turned and flashed a bright smile, yanking the earpiece from her ear. "Hey," she whispered, sitting up and slipping an arm around his neck, pulling him close for a kiss. He ran his tongue across her pierced lip and wound his hands in her spiky, rainbow-streaked hair. She smiled at him with twinkling eyes as he started running a hand up the back of her shirt.
"Feeling frisky tonight, are we?" she teased. He nodded, smiling back, and laid her back on the bed.
He groaned at the sound of his cell phone ringing; and turned to answer it as she stroked his arm. But after a moment, she looked alarmed at his grave face.
"We'll be there in fifteen minutes," Jeremiah said, flipping the phone shut. The girl looked at him questioningly.
"It's Celinda, Jamie's other aunt. She said she and my sisters were in an accident. One of them got hurt bad and... and one of them - -" his voice broke and the girl put her arms around him.
"I'm so sorry, Jeremiah," she whispered tenderly. "I loved both your sisters - -"
"They need us at the hospital to help with the kids," he said, brushing a hand over his eyes. "Do you think you can help me?"
She stroked his face gently. "Do you really have to ask?"
"Thanks, Daisy," he answered.
"We'd better get going then," she said, and he nodded, helping her up.
Kidd shouldered his way through the crowded emergency room. "I'm looking for my wife and children, they were in a car accident," he said frantically, trying to get someone's attention. "Last name?" barked a nurse. "McCloud," he answered. Her eyes flickered toward a curtained off area in the corner. "You'll need to wait for the doctor, Mr. McCloud," she said, gently.
"It's Michael Kidd. My wife's last name is McCloud, and I want to know where she is," he said, his voice getting louder with his desperation.
"The doctor will be out to talk to you," she said levelly. Staring at her in disbelief, he looked toward the corner and this time noticed that the end of a gurney was sticking out from under the curtain. The nurse was running in another direction, and Kidd, his heart heavy, forced his feet toward the curtain.
"Mr. McCloud?" someone called to him as he reached for the curtain.
He turned toward the voice. It was a young doctor, who hardly looked old enough to be out of college, rushing toward him. "Mr. McCloud?"
"I'm her husband," Kidd said, too shaken to belabor the point. "Where is she?"
The doctor's eyes, like the nurse's, flashed toward the curtain for a split second. "I'm sorry, Mr. McCloud. Ms. McCloud was killed on impact. If it's any consolation, she must have passed without any suffering." Kidd's eyes were blinded by tears, as he nodded, shaking. "Where are our children?" he pleaded, his voice barely audible.
"Two children were brought in an ambulance from the same accident, but they weren't admitted. I think they were with their aunt in admitting. I'll find out for you. You can go in and see her if you want to."
Kidd nodded, and the doctor hurried off. Kidd steeled himself and pulled the curtain open. The lifeless body on the gurney was covered by a sheet, but her hand had fallen from the side. Kidd paled, then stepped forward, and gently pulled the sheet down.
He reeled with relief and shock all at once, at the sight of Theresa's still face staring upwards at him, her hair matted with blood. "Doctor," he shouted. "Somebody, please - - "
Shoving the curtain aside, he plowed through the emergency room. "That's not my wife - - it's her sister. Where's Louise McCloud? Where are my children? For God's sake, somebody, doesn't anybody know where they are?"
A Physician's Assistant grasped him by the arm. "Sir, please calm down –"
"I won't calm down. Where's my family?" he demanded.
As Kidd spoke, he saw Celinda rushing toward him, holding Jamie and Zach by their hands. "Michael," she called, as they reached him. Kidd dropped to his knees and hugged the two children to him. "Thank God," he breathed.
"A drunk driver came into our lane - - Theresa tried to turn right to get out of the way, and the car hit us in the front left corner," Celinda said, her voice shaking. "Theresa - - she's - - "
"I know," Kidd said, low. "Where's Lou?"
"They brought her upstairs to the Labor and Delivery Unit," Celinda said. "I had to stay down here with the children. You need to go up there right away. She hit her head and... and her water broke."
Kidd nodded, uncertainly. "But Zach and Jamie..."
"I'll stay here with them until Jeremiah gets here. I reached him and he's on his way to pick them up and take them home to your place, he said he has a key."
Noah came into the ER, scanning the room anxiously. Seeing Kidd and Celinda, he approached.
"How's Lou?" he asked when he reached them.
"I don't know, I need to get up there and find out," Kidd answered. "When Jeremiah gets here, can you come on up?" he asked hesitantly. They both nodded. "Thanks," he said, gratefully. He turned and headed toward the elevator, punching the button for the fourth floor. Labor and Delivery. The same floor where he'd watched little Jamie be born, and where they'd planned to be a few weeks from now... he shook off the racing thoughts, forced himself to stay focused.
As he came off the elevator, he headed toward the nursing station. "I'm Louise McCloud's husband," he said. "Please, can somebody tell me what's happening?"
The nurse yanked a chart from the wall and scanned it, pulling several forms from it. "Please take a look at these forms, Mr. McCloud."
He looked at the pages of small print, unseeing. "I don't... I don't understand, what's happening?"
Lou's obstetrician, running around a corner, stopped short when she saw Kidd. "Michael," she called, as she ran toward him.
Dr. Jones pulled Kidd toward a row of chairs and gestured to him to sit next to her. "She had some bruising, and some broken ribs in the impact; and hit her head. She bit through her lip, and banged her face on the window. We think that one of the ribs may have damaged her internally; and in the impact, her water broke."
"But it's too early, she's not due for another month," Kidd said weakly.
"The baby is healthy and probably about six pounds. Her lungs are probably strong enough to make it fine, but we do need to get the baby out. The fetal heart rate isn't reassuring, and there's nothing to be gained by waiting."
She placed the forms in front of Kidd again. "These are consent forms. Lou hasn't woken up since the accident." As Kidd's face showed his mind was shutting down, Dr. Jones grasped his arm. "Michael, stay with me. You need to sign the forms. She's being prepped for surgery and the OR is getting ready. Do you understand?"
He nodded, and took the pen she stuck in his hand. He signed the pages where she pointed, consenting to a cesarean section. She took the forms, nodding, and said, "She's in 452. You can go in and see her, but we're going to be taking her down to surgery soon, so please be quick."
Kidd walked down to room 452, and looked in. Lou was peaceful looking, but with an angry purple swelling on the right side of her temple. He winced, and went in to stand beside her bed.
He leaned over her, running his hand down the side of her face. "Lou," he murmured. "Don't be scared. They're going to take care of you, and Little Lulu", he said, choking a little on their silly nickname for the new baby. He ran a hand over her swollen belly, and was relieved to feel Lulu stirring inside. He knew the most important thing to Lou was that their baby was all right. He had to just have faith that Lou would pull through this. "You're so strong, Lou. I'm counting on you not to let us down. We all need you," he told her.
An anesthesiologist came in and spoke to Kidd, who barely heard anything, as his eyes stayed fixed on his wife's face, searching. And too soon, he found himself being rushed down the hallway, where a nurse held a gown out for him. "You can go in, but stay clear of the doctors' way," she said, tying the gown on. Once he was ready, he was propelled through the swinging operating room doors where Lou was being transferred to the table. Her arms were taped out at a ninety-degree angle from her body, with the masked anesthesiologist at her head. There were several doctors in attendance... Lou's obstetrician was preparing to make an incision, low on Lou’s abdomen.
Kidd stood out of the way toward Lou's head, stroking her arm nervously. He paled as he saw a trickle of blood running down the table leg and pooling on the floor, and looked around wildly. He glanced over toward the operative field and, shocked, away again. Gripping Lou's limp hand, he braced himself, and after a few minutes, was relieved to hear the baby's loud cry. "Thank God," he murmured, glancing upward again. He saw the baby being carried to the side and worked on by a doctor and nurses. "Apgar of ten," the doctor called over his shoulder to a nurse with a clipboard. "Looks great."
As the surgeons worked on Lou, Kidd kept his eyes on her still face. "I'm sorry you can't see her right away, Lou," he mumbled. A nurse appeared at his side with the little girl in a blanket with a tiny knitted cap on her head. The baby blinked angrily at the bright lights in the operating room.
"Hey sweetheart. Little Lulu," he said, gently taking her in his arms.
"She's over six pounds. Breathing just fine," the nurse said. "You'd never believe she was a month early." The nurse rubbed Kidd's arm comfortingly. He nodded, and looked at his little girl. Jamie had been terribly mashed in the delivery, with an odd cone-shaped head for some time, though she was a little beauty now, of course. But this baby's bright blue eyes shone back at him from a perfectly shaped little face. He sighed. How disappointed Lou would be when she woke up and learned she'd missed seeing her right when she was born. As he cuddled the baby to him, he was startled by a sharp alarm ringing on the monitor beside the anesthesiologist.
"She's in cardiac arrest, and her pressure's dropping," the anesthesiologist shouted. "And she's getting cold. Code 99 - - start compressions," someone screamed.
The room seemed to burst into frantic activity, and the NICU team and pediatrician swept Kidd from the room - - but as he left, he saw the trickle of blood turning into a river, and the blood spreading out in all directions under the table.
Noah and Celinda, sitting in the waiting room, were startled to see Kidd wandering aimlessly past, dressed in surgical scrubs splattered with blood. Glancing at each other, they jumped up and caught up with him.
"Michael... how are Lou and the baby?" Celinda ventured.
"I don't know anything. They made me leave. The baby's okay, they took her to the nursery... but I don't know about Lou, they wouldn’t let me stay.”
He slumped into a chair helplessly. "I can't do anything but wait, the nurse said."
Celinda stroked his arm gently, looking at Noah. "I'm so sorry, Michael."
He nodded, and then looked up eagerly when Dr. Jones approached, her gown soaked in blood.
"Doctor... how is she?" Kidd asked.
"We've called a cardiologist, a neurologist, and a hematologist, Michael. Lou had a cardiac arrest on the operating table."
"But why? She's young and healthy, how could this happen to her?"
Dr. Jones sighed, looking down. "I think she had an amniotic fluid embolism," she explained slowly. "It's a very, very rare and very dangerous complication. It's not very well understood, to be honest. One theory is that it occurs when amniotic or fetal tissue enters the mother's blood stream, causing anaphylactic shock. That probably happened as a result of the trauma to Lou's abdomen during the car accident, when the amniotic sac was broken and there was internal damage to the nearby area from her injuries. But whatever the cause, there are two stages. Lou is in the second stage... massive hemorrhage and disseminated intravascular coagulation..." The doctor paused. "It means that we can't control the bleeding. The hematologist is trying to correct her coagulation problem, while still keeping her from hemorrhaging."
Celinda started to understand. "So she's in danger of a stroke from a blood clot... but also of bleeding to death," she whispered.
"Yes, exactly." Dr. Jones spoke with difficulty. "The survival rate of amniotic embolism is low, Michael. Different studies show a 60 to 80 percent mortality rate. 50 percent die in the first hour."
Kidd bent over, his head in his hands.
Noah asked, softly, "Why the neurologist?"
"Because, if they can stabilize her, get her clotting under control and stop the bleeding, and she lives through the next hour, there's a strong chance of permanent neurological damage. Fortunately, this is a Level 3 hospital so she won't have to be transferred; but she will have to go down to the ICU and be followed there, assuming..." she trailed off.
"Thank you, Doctor," murmured Celinda. Kid was staring, in shock now, and Noah placed a hand on his shoulder, comfortingly.
The next hour crawled by for the three; until finally, the team of doctors emerged from the operating room.
One stepped forward slightly, and extended his hand to Kidd. "I'm Dr. Myers, Mr. Kidd. I helped work on your wife. I'm a hematologist. I'm glad to say she's stable for now. We're going to be monitoring her clotting time and her other vital signs down in the ICU for a while. She's lapsed into a coma, from the disruption of oxygen to her brain. The staff resuscitated her and we managed to stop the bleeding and correct the clotting problem for now with transfusions of blood components. But she's not out of the woods just yet, I'm afraid. And we may not know for a while what long-term effect the episode will have on her neurologically."
Kidd looked past Dr. Myers and the team, toward Lou, ashen and unmoving, being wheeled past on a gurney. "Lou," he called out, rushing to walk alongside her. As the gurney was loaded into the elevator, he stood next to her, stroking her face. "The baby's doing fine, honey. And you're going to be fine, don't worry..."
The door to the elevator closed, and Noah and Celinda stood, silent and downcast, left behind. Celinda sighed and walked over to the nursery window, scanning the babies. She knew Lou was expecting a girl, and her eyes lit on a beautiful baby in the front row in a pink knit cap. A baby whose eyes were wide open, and shockingly blue. A card in the bassinet read "Baby Girl Kidd", and Celinda's heart constricted with sorrow. She thought of herself, and the babies she would never have... and looked sadly at the little baby who might never know her mother.
Noah cleared his throat. "Maybe we'd better get you back to your hotel, Celinda. It's been a hell of a day. You called your husband yet?"
Celinda shook her head, and took out her cell phone, as they walked to Noah's car.
"I'll be longer than I thought," she mumbled to Nathan, after explaining the day's events. "Lou and Michael might need me to help, especially with Jamie. I don't know if Lou will ever be able to take care of her children again," she choked.
After a pause, Noah was startled when Celinda snapped, "Well, I'll get back when I get back, Nathan. You'll have to find a replacement at the clinic. You didn't expect me to keep working for you under the circumstances, did you?"
After another pause, Celinda furiously shut the phone off, and then flung it violently into her bag, stepping into the passenger seat. When Noah reached his own seat and got in, he noticed she was crying. "Everything okay, Celinda?"
"No. Everything's not okay," she said. "Everything's as rotten as it gets. But thanks for asking."
Celinda's hotel was only a short drive from the hospital; Noah walked her up to her room, then as she opened the door, he stood uncertainly.
"Do you want me to stay?" he asked huskily.
She tossed the keys on the dresser and pulled her jacket off, dropping it on the floor. "What do you think?" she answered.
Noah rushed to her, shutting the door behind him with a slam. He backed her onto the bed, kissing her passionately as her hands worked frantically at his belt. The belt hit the floor across the room as she flung it impatiently away and unbuttoned the top of his pants with one hand, the other running through his short hair. She sighed as he ran his mouth down her neck and unbuttoned her blouse, and arched her back as he moved downward. They tore at each other's clothes desperately, and she gasped, "It's been too long this time, Noah," as he smiled down at her.
"I missed you too, Celinda," he moaned back as he slipped her legs upward around his hips, and joined himself to her.
Daisy shut the door to Jamie's room and moved down the hall toward the guest bedroom. "Jeremiah? I'm going to hit the shower before bed, honey, is that okay?"
He appeared at the door of the bedroom, some women's sweatpants and a white t-shirt in his hands. "Sure. Here's some clothes for you to put on for bed," he said, tiredly. "I think I'll turn in now, it's going to be a long day tomorrow. I'm sure they'll call again if anything changes."
Daisy looked down at the clothes, and took them with trembling hands. She recognized them as Theresa's, no doubt left in the guest room while she was visiting Lou another time. Theresa had been her friend too; and seeing her face, Jeremiah stroked her arm.
"I know, this is hard on you too, Daisy."
She shook her spiky head, pressing his hand. "We'll get through this together," she said softly. He smiled and kissed her cheek sadly, and turned to go to bed.
Daisy finished her shower quickly, washing out the spikes in her hair. Pulling a hair dryer - - again, Theresa's - - out from under the sink, she blew her hair dry and pulled it into a long ponytail. I'll need to help with the kids for a while, better to go low-maintenance for a bit, she thought, and switched the light off.
She opened the door to the bedroom softly and slipped into bed with Jeremiah, trying not to wake him; but the movement startled him awake. His soldier's training from Iraq kicked in and he pinned her to the bed before he realized, "Daisy..."
Daisy saw he was crying, helplessly, and she pulled him down on herself, soothing him. "It's okay," she murmured into his ear as his arms slipped around her close. "You just got surprised, that's all."
Jeremiah was still half-asleep, but from his jumbled words Daisy knew that his sisters' accident had merged into one of the nightmares from combat that sometimes still haunted him. She rocked him in her arms until he quieted, then lay watching him, worried, stroking his troubled, restless face through the night.
As Noah dozed, his head lying on her breast, Celinda idly ran her fingers over his hair and sighed. Every time she came to Washington to see Louise and Jamie, she and Noah fell into bed together again; every time she promised herself it was the last time. But she couldn't stop. She couldn't give these stolen moments up. She had something with Noah that she couldn't find with her husband; the walls of resentment and disappointment in her marriage had built up so high she couldn't get past them anymore.
Soon after she had found out about Nathan's fertility problem, she'd come back to visit Lou in the hospital and had seen her brother's beautiful little girl. As much as she loved her niece, it had been like a dagger in her heart to see Lou with the one thing she might never have, especially after she learned that Lou was seeing Michael Kidd again. Michael Kidd, who'd caused Jimmy's death. Celinda moved restlessly, remembering that strange day, when she'd seen Noah again for the first time since her brother's funeral. Just like tonight, he'd offered to drive her back to her hotel...
Noah had pulled up to the hotel's entrance after seeing Jamie the first time, and looked hesitantly at her. "Are you going to be okay by yourself? You seem really upset."
Celinda looked down at Noah again now. That had been the first time, the first time of many. Every time it got easier to betray her husband. Every time it got harder to say no. Noah knew she'd never leave her husband, and accepted what they shared, knowing it would never go any further. Nathan was a doctor, the medical director and an owner of the physical therapy group where she was a therapist. She worked there to keep busy, but never needed to work another day if she didn't want to, not with the money Nathan made. Nathan adored her; and she knew she had loved him too, once. But the stolen moments with Noah, the frustration over their inability to have a family, had eaten away at her feelings for her husband, until she didn't even know what it was that she felt for him anymore. She rolled on her side, covering her eyes with her hand. Hating herself. Noah's arm crept around her waist and he pulled her toward him gently in his sleep. She smiled bitterly, and stroked his arm, staring into the darkness.
Kidd sat by his wife's hospital bed, in the ICU, his head bowed, holding her limp hand. She was on a ventilator, with countless wires and tubes covering her body, and the ceaseless beeping and clicking of the machines pounding in his head. He stroked her hand and tried to keep talking, talking, hoping that somehow she could hear him and be helped by his voice. But she lay motionless. He got up and reached again for the small packaged swabs beside the bed. He opened one and ran it along her lips, moistening them as the nurse had shown him how to do. He bent close, thinking that her eyes flickered under their lids, but... he sighed and sat down again, waiting.
"Where's Mommy? I want Mommy?" Jamie cried as Jeremiah tried to get her to dress.
"Jamie," Jeremiah tried for the umpteenth time, "Mommy is sick. Now let me get you dressed so we can go to day care." Jeremiah was rapidly losing his patience with the little girl.
"Mommy," Jamie continued to cry, getting louder and louder by the minute." I want Mommy."
Daisy came into the room, Zach following her. "Jeremiah, let me try with her. You go and get their bags ready."
Daisy sat on the bed, watching Jamie curled on the rug, crying bitterly. "Sweetheart, come here," she called softly, reaching out for the girl.
Jamie looked up, her face red and wet. "I want Mommy," she mumbled once again.
"I know you do, honey. But right now we need to get you dressed for day care," Daisy said. She sat down on the rug, and Jamie crept into her lap. Daisy caressed the girl's silky hair, and kissed her head. "Maybe later Daddy will come home..." Daisy tried to keep the girl's mind off her mother.
"Daddy's at work," Jamie stated matter-of-factly.
The children are used to Michael's absence, she realized.
"Daisy," Jeremiah called from the door, "I'm taking Zach to the bus, and then heading to the hospital. Would you be able to take Jamie to day care?"
Daisy nodded, as Jeremiah came to lean above her.
"I love you, Daisy," he said huskily, wishing she'd understand how much she meant to him and how grateful he was for her help to him over the past night.
Jeremiah felt disoriented since he left his sister's house. He told Daisy he loved her, but he felt so much more. She was his anchor since he got that horrible phone call from Celinda. She was there when he cried after he saw Theresa's lifeless body; she held him and comforted him until he calmed down. And she'd been a godsend as far as helping with Jamie and Zach. He loved his niece and nephew dearly, but didn't know anything about taking care of two small frightened children.
Daisy had such an amazing way with Jamie. The little girl adored her. He chuckled softly as he thought of how Lou would react if one day Jamie came home with colorful spiked hair, tattoos and piercings all over her body and face. He remembered all too well how Lou reacted when he brought Daisy to meet his family for the first time a year ago.
Jeremiah knocked on the door to Michael and Lou's apartment. He grasped Daisy's hand, more for his own confidence than for her, since she had a huge smile on her face. Jeremiah hadn't asked Daisy to take out her piercings or cover up her many tattoos, or even to change out of her "eclectic" punk-rock style clothes. He cared too much about her to ask her to change. But standing there with her outside his sister's apartment, he knew it might be hard to see Daisy's sweet nature and big heart through all that metal and tattoo ink.
It only took one more dinner, before Lou and Daisy became close friends, to the point when sometimes Jeremiah felt like a fifth wheel when they visited. The children loved Daisy from the first moment they saw her, and she returned that love, never forgetting their birthdays and presents on Christmas. But seeing how much he could count on her now, at one of the worst times of his life, made him realize all the more how special Daisy was, and all the more grateful.
Celinda woke to the sound of water running in the bathroom. She pushed the blanket off and put a t-shirt on, as she walked into the bathroom, seeing Noah through the shower glass. She leaned against the sink, silently watching him as he washed.
Noah turned the water off and stepped out of the shower, finding Celinda smiling mischievously at him.
"Hey, I thought you were sleeping."
"I couldn't sleep without you there," she flirted as he wrapped a towel around himself.
He raised his eyebrow at her and she blushed. "Ok, ok. The sound of the water woke me up."
"Sorry," he said, as he stepped out of the bathroom.
Celinda followed him back into the bedroom and watched as he gathered his clothes from where they had been scattered around the room. "Will I see you tonight?" she asked when he was dressed.
"I'm not sure, yet. I'll call you later. I have to see what we're going to do with our operation now that Kidd might be out of commission for a little while."
"Oh, work related stuff," she nodded, understandingly.
"Yeah, I'll call you." He kissed her cheek hurriedly and left, not waiting for her response.
Jeremiah stood in the door of Lou's hospital room, unable to move. He watched his older sister lying motionless, ventilated. Kidd was sitting in a chair by her bed, holding her hand, and still hadn't noticed him. Jeremiah forced himself to enter the room.
Kidd turned to him. "Hi," he said and turned to face Lou again.
"How's Lou," Jeremiah asked, pulling a chair from nearby.
"No change. I was just going to check on the baby. Want to join me, see your new niece?" Kidd asked, standing up.
"Sure," Jeremiah said and followed his brother-in-law to the nursery.
"How are Zach and Jamie?" Kidd asked after a few moments.
Jeremiah looked down. "Zach didn't say much since we got home, but Jamie kept asking for Lou. Daisy managed to calm her down though. She's taking her to day care."
Kidd nodded. "Tell Daisy I really appreciate her help, and yours, Jeremiah. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Michael, that's what family's for."
"I know, but still. Just let Daisy know how grateful I am for her help. It's good that the kids have you. I'll come home for dinner tonight; spend a couple of hours with the children."
Jeremiah nodded. "They'd like that a lot."
Kidd sat in the hospital cafeteria. After he and Jeremiah visited the new baby, Jeremiah offered to go sit with Lou while Kidd went to get some breakfast. He looked at his watch. 9:30. Everyone should be in the office by now, he thought as he took out his cell phone and dialed the operator.
"Good morning," came the cheerful voice of the young operator.
"Janet, hi, it's Officer Kidd. Can you please get me Officer Hunter?" Kidd asked.
"Sure, just a second, Officer Kidd."
Kidd heard the connecting sound, before he heard the familiar gruff sound.
"Kidd, what's going on? How's Lou?"
"She had the baby last night, but there were complications. The baby is doing fine though," Kidd replied tiredly.
"Thank God for that at least." Teaspoon answered. "I assume you'll need some time off, am I right? I guess we'll have to abort the mission tomorrow."
"I don't want to abort it if we can help it, Teaspoon. We've put a lot of man hours on that operation."
"I don't see how we can continue as planned without you," Teaspoon answered.
"Noah can lead it. We've worked on it together from the beginning. He knows the plan as well as I do."
"I don't doubt that, Kidd, but you’re this team's leader."
"Look, Teaspoon. I wouldn't have said it if I wasn't completely sure. Noah is more than capable of leading this team and we worked too hard to just abort the mission now."
Teaspoon paused thoughtfully for a minute. "How about if we asked Buck and Ike to pitch in. You'll still need someone to fill Noah's place."
Kidd thought about Teaspoon's suggestion. Six months ago, Buck got his own unit, which included Ike; and Kidd got three rookies for his team. The two teams worked well together, and the five original members of the team remained close friends. Kidd agreed. "But they need to know Noah's in charge. I don't care about rank. Noah's the one in charge of this operation."
"Understood," Teaspoon said "I'll go talk to Buck. You call Noah, then go back to your wife."
"Dad!" Zach called and jumped from his chair by the table as he noticed his father standing in the kitchen door.
Kidd knelt and opened his arms for his son. He held Zach close, as tears blinded him.
Kidd raised his eyes to his daughter, sitting in her high seat by the table. He rushed to her, picking her up and hugging her closely.
He sat down by the table, holding both his children close to him.
"Can I get you some coffee, Kidd?" Daisy asked from the counter.
"Daddy, where's Mommy?" Jamie asked, burying her face in her father's neck.
Kidd took a deep breath. He knew he'd have to tell his children about what happened sooner or later, still it didn't make it any easier.
"Well, Mommy is very sick..."
"Is she going to die like Uncle Jimmy?" Zach blurted.
Daisy turned from the counter, shaking her head at Kidd.
"The doctors are doing everything they can to make sure that doesn't happen, Zach. We all have to pray real hard that Mommy will get better and come home soon."
Zach nodded. "I prayed last night," he said.
"Good," Kidd smiled. "That's very good, Zach. I'm sure that helped."
"What about Aunt Theresa? Is she sick too?" Jamie asked.
Kidd looked down. "I'm sorry, Zach, Jamie. Your Aunt Theresa got hurt so bad that... that she died and went to heaven."
Zach looked frightened. "Are you sure Mommy is going to be okay?" he asked.
"I hope so, Zach," Kidd said softly.
"But when is Mommy coming home?" Jamie asked, unable to understand that her mother was sick.
"I don't know, sweetie, but I have some good news for the two of you," Kidd said, trying to change the subject to something positive. "You have a new baby sister. I'll bring her home tomorrow."
"A little baby?" Jamie asked, clapping her hands happily.
Kidd chuckled. "Yes. I'll bring her with me tomorrow."
But Zach was blinking back tears. "But Aunt Theresa's never coming home, is she?"
Kidd looked down and shook his head numbly, pulling his children to him gently.
The next day Kidd came back home, this time with his new baby girl. Before he had time to open the front door, Zach and Jamie ran out of the house, anxious to see him and their new sister.
"They spent the last hour staring out the window, waiting for you," Daisy smiled from the door.
Kidd picked Jamie up in one arm, the other holding the baby's carrier, and walked inside, Zach following.
Kidd sat the carrier on the floor and took the baby out. He sat on the couch, with Zach and Jamie on either side of him.
"She's so small," Zach said wonderingly.
"She's like a doll, Daddy. Can I hold her?" Jamie asked.
"Maybe in a few days, Jamie," Kidd said. "How was your day?"
"I learned a new song, Daddy," Jamie jumped from her seat and started singing and dancing.
Kidd looked to his other side to see a grumpy Zach. "What is it, son?"
"He had a fight with an older boy," Daisy explained, seeing Zach wasn't going to tell his father.
"What? Why, Zach? You never fight," Kidd looked surprised at his son.
Zach turned his face from his father shamefaced. Kidd looked at Daisy for help and she smiled reassuringly at him.
She picked the baby from his arm and took Jamie's little hand. "Come on, Jamie, let's show the baby her new room."
Kidd turned back to his son and stroked his back. "What is it, Zach? You know you can tell me everything. I'm just surprised that you were in a fight. What happened?"
"Peter made fun of me. He called me a crybaby. So I pushed him and he started pushing back..."
"Why did he call you that?" Kidd asked his son, gently turning his face back to look at him. His heart broke as he saw the tears in the boy's eyes. "You were crying?" he asked softly.
Zach nodded and a tear escaped his eyes.
"Because of Mommy and Theresa?"
Zach nodded again and hid his face in Kidd's lap.
"Zach, there's no shame in crying. Sometimes it hurts so much there's nothing you can do but cry..."
"Do you cry?" Zach asked, looking up.
Kidd nodded. "Sometimes," he answered truthfully. "After the baby was born, and Mommy got very sick, I was so worried and I felt very bad about Aunt Theresa –"
"And you cried?"
Kidd nodded again.
"Daddy, can I visit Mommy?" Zach asked after a few moments of silence.
Kidd sighed. "Maybe in a few days, Zach. Right now Mommy's got to rest. I promise when she feels better I'll take you to see her, okay?"
"Okay," Zach smiled, obviously relieved after his talk with his father.
A few hours later, when the children were in their beds, Kidd found Daisy cleaning up in the kitchen.
"Where's Jeremiah?" Kidd asked. "I haven't seen him all day."
"He should be here pretty soon. He was taking care of the funeral arrangements for Theresa." Daisy answered sadly.
"How is he?" Kidd asked. "This has to be hard on him, losing Theresa and having Lou in the hospital like this."
"I don't think he’s had the time to mourn yet, what with the kids keeping us so busy."
"I'm sorry for dropping the kids on you like that," Kidd apologized.
"Don't be. We're happy to help," Daisy smiled and put a hand on Kidd's. "Are you going back to the hospital tonight?"
Kidd shook his head. "I'll stay here tonight, but I'd like to get back to the hospital early tomorrow morning. I'd like to catch the doctors on their morning rounds."
Jeremiah opened the front door and came in tiredly. Daisy ran to the door to give him a hug, and came in to the kitchen with her arm tucked through his.
"Hey, Michael," Jeremiah said, as Daisy fluttered around the kitchen making him something to eat.
"Jeremiah, I'm sorry about you having to make all the arrangements for your sister alone."
"It's okay, it can’t be helped. The wake's going to be at Allen Funeral Home on Market Street. The funeral mass will be at St. Bartholomew's on Friday morning at 10:00, and she'll be buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery from there."
Kidd nodded. "What time are the morning visitation hours?"
"If one of you wouldn't mind watching the baby for me in the morning, I'd like to head in to catch the doctors on morning rounds. Maybe I could drop by the funeral home after that?"
Daisy nodded. "We'll wait for you to get back and then head over to the wake ourselves," she said, hugging Jeremiah's arm to her comfortingly.
"Thanks again, both of you, for everything."
The next morning, Kidd was sitting in the visitor's area outside Lou's room. He got in early as the doctors started their rounds for the morning, and he was ushered outside. He blindly stared at the TV, not really caring what was on. At least the operation was successful, he thought. Noah called him late last night to tell him they were back with every member of the crew safe and sound, mission accomplished.
He was startled by someone touching his shoulder. He looked up to see Noah standing above him. He straightened up stiffly in his straight-backed chair.
Noah took a seat next to him. "How's Lou? Any change?"
Kidd shook his head no.
"You've been here all night again?"
"No. I took the baby home last night so I stayed there but came here an hour ago."
"Have you picked a name for the baby yet?" Noah asked, trying to change the subject.
"We had some ideas but were going to wait until we saw her to decide. I'd like to name her after Lou, but maybe Lou would want to name her after her sister now that..." Kidd stopped. He felt guilty for barely thinking of Theresa, but his mind was occupied with his wife.
"You don't have to decide now," Noah said quickly, cursing himself for bringing up another painful subject.
Both men sat in silence for a few more minutes, before Celinda walked into the waiting area.
"Morning," she nodded, sitting next to Noah. "Anything new?"
Kidd shook his head. "The doctors are in there now."
"I saw a job announcement posted here for a part-time physical therapist. I'm putting in for it."
"I didn't know you were planning on staying, Celinda," Kidd said.
"Well, I just figured Lou could use the help when she wakes up," Celinda started. "In the meantime, I thought I'd take Jamie to live with me."
Kidd stared at her in disbelief. "What do you mean 'take Jamie'? After everything this child has gone through in the past couple of days you want to take her away from her family?"
Celinda began to lose her own temper. "Take her away from what? You've got her stuck in daycare right now, not with her 'family', isn't that true? You have a dangerous, full-time job, and two other children to take care of by yourself, including a newborn, isn't that enough? I think Jamie would be better off with her aunt taking care of her than sitting with a bunch of strangers while you work and Lou recovers; and if... if Lou doesn't pull through, God forbid, then Jamie definitely should come to live with me. In case you forgot, I'm her real family, not you."
"I'm her father!" Kidd almost shouted.
"Jimmy is her father! You never adopted her - you're just her stepfather. If Lou dies, then you have no right to keep her from her family!" Celinda cried.
"I helped take care of her since the day I saw her born, I'm her father in every way that counts. I won't let you take my girl from me."
"She's not your girl!" Celinda shouted, rising to her feet.
"Celinda..." Noah tried to calm her down.
"She's my brother's girl. My brother, who you got killed so you could have his woman. If you hadn't, he would have been there to see her born and raise her, not you." Celinda felt tears blinding her. Hating herself for breaking down in front of Kidd, she turned and ran off down the hall.
Noah excused himself, patting Kidd's shoulder and ran after her.
Kidd looked stunned, watching them leave. He couldn't believe she just threatened to take his little girl away from him. Since the moment she was born he'd loved Jamie with all his heart and tried to be a good father to her, never considering a possibility that she would not be a part of his life. He cursed himself for never pushing to adopt Jamie legally; if only he had, then Celinda could have no claim on her if Lou died... but he shook his head to banish the thought. Lou will be all right, he told himself, trying to make himself believe it. She has to.
"Celinda, wait up," Noah called, rushing after her. "What was that all about?" he asked when he caught up with her.
"I'm tired of him acting like that," Celinda snapped. "Like he's Jamie's father. It's like they forgot all about Jimmy."
"You know that's not true," Noah said, holding her shoulders. "Lou makes sure Jamie knows about Jimmy. Jamie keeps his picture hanging next to her bed; you know that. And Kidd is a good father to her. You should be happy he loves your niece so much, just as much as his own son."
"That's another thing I don't understand, Noah," Celinda refused to calm down. "Of all people, how could Lou end up with the person who got the father of her child killed?"
"Oh, Celinda," Noah sighed and pulled her into his embrace. He caressed her hair as her head rested against his chest. "You have to stop blaming him for Jimmy's death. It's eating you up."
He kissed her head, and then lifted her face to look at him. "I told you, I felt the same way you do, but I've been working with Kidd for the past three years. He's a straight-arrow guy, sometimes to a fault. He didn't put your brother in danger knowingly. We all have a dangerous occupation. We all know the risks. Jimmy did too. That's all there is to it." He wiped the tears from Celinda's eyes with his thumbs. "If you take Jamie away from Kidd, you will only cause her more heartache. To Jamie, Kidd's her father, no matter how you feel about it. I know you love her and want to do what's best for her. Taking her from the only family she knows isn't in her best interest. And it isn't what Jimmy would have wanted, Celinda."
Celinda buried her face in his chest and cried as he held her in the hospital corridor. "Can you, please, take me to the hotel, Noah?" she asked softly, when she calmed down.
Noah smiled at her. "Sure. Let's go."
Passing a restaurant, Noah turned to Celinda. "Why don't we get an early lunch?"
She looked dubious. "Somebody could see us, Noah. I wouldn't want it to get back to Nathan."
"Come on, Celinda. Nobody will think anything of us having an innocent lunch. We are friends from way back, aren't we?"
"Well, it looks pretty out of the way. Okay."
They headed into the darkened, mostly deserted restaurant. Impulsively, Celinda tucked her hand into Noah's arm. He looked surprised and patted her arm affectionately. The hostess seated them in a cozy booth in the back; and Celinda found herself enjoying the dangerousness of being out with Noah in public in a romantic setting. She stroked his arm and pulled him toward her for a long, soft kiss.
"This is nice," he said, pressing his head against hers. "I don't know when we've been out together like this."
"I know," she whispered back. The waitress was approaching and they moved apart slightly.
The waitress was a beautiful young girl, probably no older than twenty; and she flirted openly with Noah as she took their orders.
"I think you have a groupie," Celinda giggled to Noah as the girl walked away, swinging her hips. "But you like them older, don't you, honey?"
"I like them like you," he whispered back, kissing her again.
She looked into his eyes. "You like all kinds of women as I recall. Still playing the field, or is there anybody special? I haven't heard you mention anybody in particular since Cassie. What happened to her?"
He looked down at his drink. "She got a job out of state, teaching. Things just kind of died naturally, I guess."
Celinda stroked his arm. "Nobody else you're serious about?"
He shook his head. "I'm saving myself for you."
"Sure you are," she said laughing.
He grinned. "Well, I'm saving my heart for you anyway."
Taking a piece of ice out of his drink and sucking on it, she murmured, "You're so full of it, Noah Dixon." He grabbed her hand, and kissed her again, hungrily. "I know what we have, Celinda. I'm okay with it, as long as you are."
She looked away, flustered. "Of course. This is how it's been for two years, isn't it? This arrangement is fine by me."
He nodded, and they avoided each other's eyes for a few moments. "I'm glad you're going to be in town for a while, though, this is the longest I've had the pleasure of your company since we started..." he trailed off, not sure what to call their association.
"Yes," she agreed, changing the subject hurriedly to Lou and Kidd and Jamie; and refusing to meet his eyes again during the rest of the meal.
Deep in thought, Celinda walked down the corridor of the hospital, on her way to Lou's room to do her physical therapy. Nathan had called again last night, asking when she was coming home. Noah had been lying on the bed next to her, and she only longed to return to the warmth of his embrace as her husband had begged her to return home.
Spending so much time with Noah had only made her more reluctant to go back to her husband. True, Nathan loves me, and Noah just wants me; but I'll settle for that, for now at least, she thought wearily, as she entered Lou's room. I'll think about the future, where all this is headed... some other time.
To Celinda's surprise, Lou was off the ventilator and seemed to be breathing well on her own. She called after one of the nurses. "How's the patient in 232?"
"Well, they've weaned her off the ventilator and she's doing fine on room air. But no response to stimuli yet."
Celinda sighed. "I'll put her through her exercises then," she said.
She walked over to the bed to pull down the sheet, tiredly, when Lou's hand shot out and grasped her arm.
Celinda shrieked in surprise, then nearly wept with relief to see... Lou's eyes were open... she was looking intently at her.
"You're... Jimmy's sister," Lou hoarsely whispered, her voice slurred. "I don't know your name... "
"It's me, Celinda," she answered, frantically pulling on the call bell. As nurses rushed into the room, Celinda kept her eyes locked with Lou's. "You were in an accident and got hurt, you're in a hospital."
Weak as she was, Lou started to sit up, struggling with the nurses, who tried to hold her down to the bed as one ran out to page the doctor. "Where's Zach?" Lou cried out frantically.
"He's fine, Lou. He's at school."
"Jimmy... where's Jimmy? Did something happen to him?" Lou asked, desperately. At Celinda's fallen face, Lou began crying. "What's wrong? Where's Jimmy, what happened to him? Celinda, please, tell me what's happened?" Celinda backed against the door, crying, but not knowing what she should tell the hysterical woman in the bed. Finally, the doctor came in and ordered Celinda out, turning his attention to Lou.
Celinda stood helplessly outside the door, crying weakly, when Kidd approached. Seeing her crying, he went ashen, and caught her by the arm. Forgetting their animosity, he demanded, "Celinda. What happened? What is it? Damn it, get hold of yourself and tell me what's happened."
She jerked her arm free. "She woke up."
Kidd looked at her in disbelief, and then turned to rush into the room. He saw the doctor examining Lou... and rushed to her side. As she turned her eyes to his, she recoiled.
"Lou, thank God –" he started, but stopped at the revulsion in her face.
"What are you doing here?" she snapped. "Where's Jimmy?" He was shocked at her voice, slurred and barely recognizable, and more at her words.
"I'm your husband, Lou."
She shook her head. "That isn't true. I haven't seen you since before - -" she stopped, confused, and put her hands to her head. "I haven't seen you in years," she finished, her eyes wildly scanning the room. "I want to see Jimmy. Why won't you tell me what's happened, why? Was he killed in the accident?"
The doctor looked at Kidd sourly. "I'm sorry sir, but you're getting her upset all over again. I need her calm so I can evaluate her. Won't you step outside?"
Kidd stood, his hands shaking, and backed away. He didn't need the doctor to tell him. Lou didn't remember they were married. He didn't know how much she remembered, but she didn't remember forgiving him. She didn't remember what they'd shared together since then. Emerging from the room, he saw Celinda and turned from her.
Celinda, to her own surprise, found herself pitying him. She put a hand on his arm, and they stood silently, waiting for the doctor to come out and explain what this meant and what on earth they could do now.
Finally, the doctors and nurses and techs left Lou alone; she lay in her hospital bed staring up at the ceiling. They had told her she was married. To Michael. That she had three children, one just a few days old. But she couldn't believe it was true. I would never have married Michael, never, she thought furiously. Not after what he did, what I watched him do. But... she looked over at a set of pictures sitting on the stand beside her bed. Michael, and... and Zach, looking older. And a beautiful little girl with long brown hair and brown eyes; and another picture of a tiny baby with bright blue eyes. She put her hand out and touched the picture, trying to understand, but all she could feel was sadness.
They had told her that Jimmy had died three years ago; but her mind was shutting down at the thought. She remembered bits and pieces of things, just snippets, but... her best friend and lover's memory was strangely vivid to her. And he was gone. She curled on her side, pulling a pillow to herself, squeezing her eyes shut. The dreams she had were only of him, only of his memory.
Lou woke up, gasping, clutching at her throat. As she sat up in the darkened hospital room, the sensations dissipated slowly. It was a dream. That was all it was. This hospital room, and what these people were telling her, was the only reality. But she sank back on the bed and cried bitterly, in confusion and grief and at the sheer unfairness, of waking up from a beautiful dream into a life she didn't even recognize.
Celinda was helping Lou walk slowly from her hospital bed to the door and back. Lou limped but gamely kept trying, dragging her leg slightly behind her. Celinda encouraged her, impressed by Lou's determination; and Kidd tapped on the door just as they reached it. Lou looked startled again and clutched at Celinda's arm. "I'd like to get back in bed, Celinda, if that's okay," she said, her voice still a little slurred.
"You've already done more than I expected the first day," Celinda commented. "Let me help you back into bed and then I'll be going so you two can talk."
"No need," Lou said, looking coldly at Kidd. "Michael, I don't have anything to say to you." Her eyes dropped to the baby carrier in Kidd's left hand, and the little girl inside.
"Who's that?" she said, confused.
Kidd looked down at the carrier. "This is our new baby girl. She hasn't been named yet, we never decided for sure on a name."
Lou sank weakly on the bed, and allowed Celinda to help her into it. "She... she looks like my sister when she was a baby."
Something flickered over Kidd's face, and Lou looked sharply at him. "What is it?"
Celinda looked down, sadly.
"Theresa hasn't been here to see me. Where is she?" Lou demanded suspiciously.
Kidd looked back at her and sighed. "She died, Lou. In the accident –"
Lou started crying bitterly into her hands. "Stop talking. Stop it," she sobbed. Kidd approached her, setting down the baby's infant carrier on the chair by the bed and tried to comfort her, but she pushed his hands away.
"I don't want your help," she snapped.
"Lou, listen. I know you don't remember it, but I'm telling you we worked out our problems. We got married and we had another baby, this baby. Look at her, for God's sake."
"They told me we had three children."
Celinda gasped. "You have three children. But your second child Jamie is my brother's daughter." Celinda looked furiously at Kidd, as if it was his fault that Lou had misunderstood.
"I had a baby with Jimmy?" Lou said, wonderingly, looking back at the pictures on the bed stand again.
"Yes," Celinda said. "You two were very much in love, but he was killed on duty."
Kidd stepped forward, now holding the new baby in his arms. Desperately, he asked Lou, "Please, honey. Please believe me, we got past our problems and got back together, and we are happy. Just look at our baby. We have to pick a name for her. Please look."
Lou reluctantly looked at the baby, and held her arms out to take the tiny girl. She looked down at the baby, confused. "You're my baby?" she whispered, looking into her eyes. She saw they were bright blue like Michael's. She shook her head dizzily. "There's too much to understand. Theresa and Jimmy gone, two babies I don't know," she pleaded, looking at Celinda and Kidd. The baby let out a kitten-like cry and Lou instinctively clasped her close. "It's okay, little one," she crooned.
Kidd took a bottle from the diaper bag he had carried in and handed it to Lou, who after a moment started to feed her daughter. "You say she... she doesn't have a name yet?"
"I thought of Louise," Kidd said softly.
She shook her head. "No. I want to call her Mary Theresa for my mother and sister." She turned on her side and kissed the baby's downy head.
Kidd nodded. "If that's what you want," he said huskily. "I'll get a birth certificate application from the hospital."
He put a hand on Lou's shoulder and she stiffened. "I'm sorry, Michael. I know... if we're married and have a family together, I must have gotten past everything, learned to love you again. But I don't know what I feel right now. Please respect what I'm going through," she said, struggling with tears, and not looking at him.
Kidd dropped his hand from her shoulder and nodded.
"Can you leave the baby here with me and Celinda for a while? Come back for her later?"
He nodded and backed out of the room, despondently.
Celinda was waiting outside Lou's room with Mary Theresa when Kidd returned, after a couple of hours in the office, to pick her up. She stood up and handed the carrier, with the baby dozing inside it, to Kidd. "Lou had to go down for some testing, Michael. She asked me to stay with the baby until you got here." Kidd took the carrier and hesitated.
"I have to pick up the other two," he said hesitantly. "Do you know how long it'll be until she gets back?"
"No, Michael. And if you had taken me up on my offer to help you with Jamie, I could have had Jamie home and taken Zach off the bus for you. But I guess you'd rather keep them to yourself," she said snidely.
"You were talking about taking Jamie away, not just helping, Celinda," Kidd said wearily. He looked strangely at her. "You feeling okay, Celinda?"
"I'm fine," she snapped. "But I have to get back to work, if that's okay with you."
She turned on her heel and strode down the hall. When she turned the corner, she leaned against the wall a moment, then continued down to the lab.
"Hey, Ginny," she said softly to one of the techs, a young woman who'd been hired at about the same time she had.
"Hi, Celinda. Want to grab some dinner in the cafeteria?"
"Sure, but... I was wondering if you could run a test for me first," Celinda said reluctantly.
That night, Kidd wearily parked the car in front of the house he'd bought a couple of months before with Lou in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Zach was arguing with Jamie, who was red-faced and throwing a tantrum because she had left her teddy bear at daycare. Baby Mary Theresa was screeching at the top of her lungs and it smelled like she had a fully loaded diaper. He unsnapped his seat belt and opened the door to his SUV, leaning in to unsnap Jamie from her car seat. The toddler went wild, flinging herself on the floor in a full-blown fit, flailing her arms and legs. Kid saw that she had wet herself. He was taken aback; Jamie had been an easy-going child up to now, and he had never seen her so worked up. Even Zach was uncharacteristically grumpy, and had exited the other side of the SUV and jumped down without carrying in his knapsack from first grade. He was stomping up the walk toward the house, and Kidd called after him, "Zach, come on back and get your book bag, buddy."
"You get it," snapped Zach irritably, sitting down on the step. "I'm tired."
"Excuse me?" Kidd answered sternly, while struggling to extricate Jamie from the car. The tiny girl had incredible strength and had braced her arms and legs against the door. Meanwhile Mary Theresa was still shrieking away in her infant seat.
"Jamie, knock it off, we can't go back to daycare right now. You'll have to do without Jimmybear for tonight." Jimmybear was a teddy bear that Jimmy had given Lou for a birthday years ago, and Lou had passed on to her daughter. It was for some reason Jamie's most prized possession and she dragged it everywhere she went.
"I want him! I want to go back and get him! I want Mommy," Jamie sobbed. "Mommy never forgets him. You're a mean doodyhead!"
Kidd gritted his teeth and gently pried Jamie's fingers from the doorway. Holding her kicking and shrieking outside the car, he leaned in to detach the baby's infant seat and banged his head against the doorframe. "Damn it!" he blurted, as he lifted the infant seat by its handle.
Jamie picked up on his tone and phrase, and started screaming, "Damn it! Damn IT! DAMN IT!!" as Kidd shut the door with his hip and staggered up the walk, carrying the infant seat and the struggling toddler.
Kidd saw one of his new neighbors staring disapprovingly from her mailbox, and flushed in embarrassment. Reaching the door, he set down the infant seat on the ground and unlocked it, pushing it in and setting the infant seat down in the entranceway.
"Come on in, Zach," he called over the din of the two girls' screeching.
"I want to go get the mail," Zach insisted, starting toward the street.
"Da - - darn it, Zach, I'll get it in the morning on the way out," Kidd snapped irritably. "Please get inside, I have to get these two changed and dinner started."
Zach's face turned sullen and he stomped into the house, flinging his coat on the ground and kicking his sneakers off. "Zach, pick that up," Kidd shouted, dragging a sobbing Jamie to her room.
"Sit down at your table, Jamie, I have to change the baby. I'll help you in a minute."
Jamie started tearing the pink and purple covers off her toddler bed furiously and flinging them around the room. "I want Mommy!" she cried, throwing herself on her little princess bed and sobbing disconsolately.
Kidd sighed and took the baby out of her car seat, laying her on the changing table in the nursery next to Jamie's room. He looked around at the room. Lou had picked out green and yellow decorations and linens for this room. When Lou had shown him the paint cans with pale sage paint for the walls and a creamy yellow for the trim, Kidd had protested that it was a little girl's nursery, shouldn't they use pink. Lou had smiled mischievously. "But we may have more babies after this," she pointed out happily, stroking her belly. "It's more practical to use neutral colors."
He remembered the shower Daisy and Celinda and Theresa had thrown for Lou, when the women had set up the nursery with a "little froggy" theme. Daisy had spent a whole week painting a mural of fanciful lily pads and mischievous little frogs and fish and dragonflies, with fluffy clouds adorning the ceiling. Lou had been so proud of the beautiful nursery.
He looked around at the room now; the Diaper Genie and clothes hamper overflowing, and sighed as he finished diapering Mary Theresa. A couple of days ago he encouraged Jeremiah and Daisy to go back to their lives, but now he wished they were still here to help him. Holding a hand over Mary Theresa, he snapped up her pink onesie and put on a fresh pair of little pink pants. As he picked her up to put her down in her crib he groaned as she loudly pooped yet again. Looking down, he saw it had gone up the back of her diaper and covered her brand new clothes. Not to mention his own.
He glanced at the clock as Zach shouted, "Are we going to EAT tonight?" and a crash sounded from Jamie's room when she tipped over her bookcase in a fury. 6:00. He still had dinner to get together, baths to give, and bedtime to go. He picked up Mary Theresa and carried her to the bathroom to clean her up, wondering how he was going to manage all this... and how he could do it with a wife who couldn't stand to be in the same room with him.
Ginny looked up and grinned at Celinda. "Congratulations," she said. "You're going to have a baby." She handed the lab slip to her new friend.
Celinda was pale, and shaking. "Thanks, Ginny," she whispered, tears starting in her eyes. "I think I'll take a pass on the dinner, though... I... I have some things I need to do right away."
Ginny smiled and patted her arm. "Like call your husband, I'm sure. I bet he'll be thrilled. It's a miracle!"
Celinda walked down the hall blindly. She forgot to punch out on her way out of the building, and got into her car, driving automatically out of the lot.
I'm pregnant. I've been hoping for this for seven years and it's finally happened. She pulled over and parked by the side of the road, trying to compose herself. What am I going to do? It must be Noah's. The chance of my getting pregnant in the first place was so low, the odds of it being Nathan's are nonexistent. We've tried for seven years, and nothing... it must be Noah's. Her mind raced. I could go back to Nathan, pretend it's his, it's so close in time maybe I could pull it off. But... if the baby is black, Nathan will know it can’t be his. I can't hide it once the baby is born.
She put her key back in the ignition and started the car again, shaking. If Nathan has proof I committed adultery, then maybe it'll hurt me in the divorce financially. Maybe I could end up with nothing, she thought desperately. Though they had been living apart for a few weeks, Nathan had not cut off her credit cards or bank accounts. Up to now, she had been able to stay in a very comfortable hotel and work part time, basically to help Lou out and to pass the time. But she couldn't live in this style once she had a baby to take care of, if Nathan divorced her and cut her off. Her hands were shaking.
I can't have an abortion. This might be the only baby I can ever have, Ginny was right; it's a miracle. I can't do it. I'll have to divorce Nathan before he finds out, get what I can in the divorce quickly.
She pulled up to the hotel and handed her keys to the parking valet. Going up in the elevator, she leaned against the wall.
As she placed the hotel card key in the door, it opened from the inside. Noah was standing there, waiting for her. "Hey stranger," he murmured, kissing her and pulling her into the room by her waist. He looked at her surprised. "You act like you didn't expect to see me. You said to come up and wait for you tonight, remember?"
She nodded, trembling, and buried her head in his shoulder. Shaking, she whispered, "I know, Noah," as he unbuttoned her blouse and guided her toward the bed.
Lying on the bed with him leaning over her, she pressed her hands against his chest a moment. "I have a lot to talk to you about, Noah, stop and listen, please?"
"Okay, I'm all ears," he said, sitting up. At her serious face, he asked, "Is something wrong?"
"I've decided to divorce Nathan," she began.
Before she could get another word out, he grabbed her hand, looking at her with shining eyes and a grin. "You did?"
"Well, I'm going to the lawyer tomorrow."
"Celinda, this is... well, I know it's hard for you to make that decision, but I can't help bein' happy. Now we don't have to hide in the shadows anymore, we can be a real couple –"
This time she cut him off. "No! Noah, listen, you can't tell anybody about us, and we can't be seen together, this doesn't change that, understand?"
He got up and buttoned his shirt. "Perfectly."
"I get you, Celinda." He picked up his jacket and headed to the door, placing her extra key on the dresser.
"Noah, you don't have to leave. I'm just saying –"
"I heard what you're saying," he said, not looking at her. "I'm just not in the mood right now," he muttered, leaving the room with a slam of the door.
Lou sat in her bed, staring at the pictures of her family. She still had little or no recollection of the last three years. She was still weak with grief over her sister and Jimmy. And she was still shocked and dismayed to find herself married to Michael. The memory of seeing him having sex with another woman was still fresh to her, and being told she had forgiven Michael, didn't seem to make any difference to her now. Between her still-raw anger over Marissa, and her brand new grief over Jimmy, every time she saw the man who insisted he was her husband, she felt like crawling out of her skin. And Michael's well-intentioned attempts to help or comfort her only made her recoil, the resentment and anger at him were still so strong.
Thinking of the devil, she heard his voice outside her room. "Well, come on, honey, Mommy's waiting for you."
Zach, Lou's heart skipped a bit at the thought of seeing her son for the first time since she woke up. She sat up straighter and waited impatiently, smoothing her hair and the blankets in anticipation.
She tried to keep her smile on, even though she knew she'd have to tolerate Michael, if she wanted to see her son, but the moment he entered the room, followed by a little shadow clinging to his leg, her smile faltered. "Where's Zach?" she asked.
"Zach's in school. He had a field trip today, and I didn't want him to miss it. But I brought Jamie here to see you. She's just a little scared by the hospital, I think," he explained, as he tried to pry Jamie's hands from his leg.
Lou looked curiously at the little girl with long brown hair. Her face was hidden behind Kidd, but suddenly she turned and Lou gasped.
"Jimmy..." she mumbled. She looks exactly like Jimmy. She has the same eyes, same expression...
Kidd scooted down in front of Jamie. "Jamie, mommy here missed you so much. Why don't you go and say hi?"
Jamie looked hesitantly at Lou and then at Kidd. "Mommy's crying."
Kidd looked to see Lou's eyes filled with tears. He smiled lovingly at the girl. "She's just so happy to see you," he reassured her, as he picked Jamie up and sat her on the bed beside Lou.
Lou looked at her daughter, wiping the tears so she could see Jamie more clearly. She touched the girl's face and then her hair. "I remember you," she whispered.
Kidd looked at her, the hope shining in his eyes.
Like a drowning woman, Lou was overwhelmed with an inrush of images – her life, flashing before her eyes. Many of the memories were intense, emotional; she sat casting her eyes wildly as they rushed over her, and started choking with sobs. Seeing her little girl looking at her puzzled, she pulled Jamie into her arms and rocked her; but try as she might, she couldn't stop the shaking and tears as the memories continued to flood into her weakened mind.
Kidd looked at her dumbfounded, until he heard her whispering something over and over, like a mantra. Jimmy's name, he realized, his heart sinking. He came closer to her and caressed her head. She jerked her head away and looked up at him with tear-filled eyes.
"I remember how he died," she managed. "I... I can see him dying," she wept, squeezing her eyes shut. "It hurts so much. He never knew about Jamie; never saw how beautiful she is-"
"He knew you loved him, Lou. You told him that and he was happy. Maybe... maybe wherever he is, he knows about Jamie," Kidd said, speaking with difficulty. His own lingering guilt over the staff change that led to Jimmy's death, and the pain of having to console Lou for the loss of her lover and father of one of her children, was hard to endure.
She was breathing hard, clasping Jamie to her. "I - - I remember so much, all at once," she was gasping. "It's so confusing."
Her frightened, confused look tore at Kidd's heart. He reached over her head and pushed the call button, knowing he'd better let the doctors know about this major change. He sat on the bed and stroked her arm. "It's ok, sweetheart," Kidd said. "Take your time to take everything in. I know this must be so hard," he said sorrowfully. He put a finger under her chin and raised her face to look at him. "Just know that I'm here for you. I love you."
Lou averted her gaze from him. Kidd's heart sank at her silence. Until the accident, whenever he said he loved her, she always said she loved him too, but now she said nothing, and that spoke louder to him than words.
The nurse came in with the neurologist, and Kidd quietly explained that Lou's memory was returning. The doctor was thrilled, and sat on the bed to perform another neurological exam and question Lou.
"Michael, you don't have to stay," she said to him. "I'll be okay with Jamie for a few minutes."
Kidd nodded, disappointed, and backed out of the room. He wandered aimlessly down to the coffee machine and got a cup, then sat down in a chair and waited. After about half an hour, he saw the neurologist leaving Lou's room, and got up to follow him.
"Doctor, what do you make of this? What's it mean?" Kidd asked, anxiously.
"It's a good sign, of course. She remembers a lot more, but she's having some trouble dealing with all of it emotionally. I'm having the staff psychiatrist come down to talk to her, help her work through some of it. But I imagine Dr. Laurie will tell you to take it easy, be patient with her as she gets through this. It may take a long time for her to adjust to all this information, to her disabilities."
Kidd nodded, and sighed, tossing his empty paper cup into the trash as Lou's doctor walked down the hall.
Coming back into Lou's room, his heart filled with love at the tender scene before him. Lou held Jamie in a close embrace, Jamie's head on Lou's chest, both of them asleep. Kidd kissed Lou softly before he carefully picked Jamie up and left.
During Lou's recovery, Kidd brought the children to visit every day. Lou looked forward to the sound of small feet running outside her room and the ruckus the children caused when they both visited. Still, her wariness of her husband lingered.
Seeing Lou's discomfort, Kidd would stay with the children in her room for a few minutes, and then sit outside. He knew she needed time to adjust, that she was reliving the last three years. Nonetheless, it was hard for him to come to terms with it, though he was patient, never revealing his emotions in front of her. He knew that he had to be strong for her, for the both of them.
Jeremiah stood at the kitchen's door, looking at Daisy's wiggling behind, as she danced to the music she heard on her iPod, while washing the dishes. They had spent the whole morning cleaning the house, readying it for Lou's return.
He stepped closer to her, smiling to himself for feeling like a thief sneaking around. He hugged her from behind, pressing himself to her and blowing air on her neck, knowing it drove her crazy. He felt her body relax in his arms and kissed her neck.
She turned in his arms, taking out the earpieces. She wrapped her arms, still in bright yellow rubber gloves, around his neck and smiled. "You're interrupting me with the dishes."
"I can't help it with you wiggling around like that."
"You weren't even supposed to be here. You're supposed to tidy up Zach's room."
"I was. I finished. I just came to ask the boss what else she wanted me to do."
She turned back towards the sink still in his embrace, and continued with the dishes. "It won't take me long here, just go and watch some TV. I think we should leave before Michael and Lou get here."
"You sure you don't need me here?" he asked, pressing himself even closer to her backside. His hands wandered upwards and she swatted at him with her dish brush playfully.
"I'm sure. Now, if you'd stop interrupting, I'd get this done a lot faster."
Jeremiah watched over her shoulder as she continued with the dishes.
"Marry me," he blurted out of the blue.
Daisy started, not positive she heard him right.
He sensed her surprise and smiled. He turned her to face him and rested his forehead against hers. "I love you, Daisy Moran. More than anything in this world. Will you marry me?"
"Jeremiah... are you sure? You're going through a rough time right now -" she started, but he held a finger to her lips.
"That has nothing to do with this, Daisy. I love you. Every time I look at you, I realize again just how much. Please marry me. I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
Daisy grinned so wide she thought her face was going to tear. "I love you too, Jeremiah. Yes, I'll marry you."
Jeremiah cupped her face and kissed her passionately.
"Now let me help you finish those dishes, so I can take you to your dorm room and show you just how much I love you." With that Jeremiah spanked her behind and grabbed a dishtowel, as Daisy giggled happily.
"Welcome home, honey," Kidd smiled nervously as he opened the door to Lou. In one arm he carried the baby's carrier, and with the other he helped his wife. She was able to walk by herself, with the use of a cane, but still he supported her.
Lou carefully stepped into the house. She looked around, recognizing her house, her furniture, and her pictures. But she felt strangely disconnected from them. Her memory had basically returned, but she felt as if she were remembering a dream or a movie, not her own life. Even Michael... She remembered most of the last few years with him, but somehow, she couldn't connect with him either. She looked at him and felt only empty and sad. She only was in the house at all, because the only people or things that felt real to her were her children and her love for them.
At the same time, she was stricken with pain over her sister, and over Jimmy, though she knew he had died three years ago. It was like it had just happened, in her mind. She hoped to get Jeremiah to take her to the cemetery to pay her respects to her sister, and to Arlington to visit Jimmy's grave. She couldn't bring herself to ask Michael.
She followed Kidd into the nursery, where he placed the sleeping baby in her crib. She trailed her finger over the decorations on the walls, as another memory came to her mind, causing her to smile.
Kidd noticed and stood behind her. "This room was all your idea. I have to admit you knew what you were doing."
Lou nodded briefly and left the room.
Kidd shook his head sadly at her behavior. He was glad that at least Zach and Jamie weren't there at the moment. Daisy, with her usual sixth sense in reading people and situations, offered to take them to the park and out to dinner, giving him and Lou some much-needed private time in their home.
He checked that the baby was covered, and left the room. He looked for Lou around the house and was surprised to find her in their bedroom. She stood stonily, staring at the bed. He hesitated by the door, feeling uncomfortable. It's like being here with a stranger, he thought sadly.
"I'll sleep in the guest room, if it would make you more comfortable," he offered, but couldn't help feeling a little insulted when she nodded. "Well, I'll be in the kitchen if you need me. You can just call me."
Lou watched him leave the room and felt the tears starting in her eyes. Please, God, she prayed silently. Make me feel something for him again. I can't leave him, not with three children and me crippled like this. But staying here not loving him is unfair to him, I'm hurting him, but I can't help how I feel. Or don't feel.
Kidd dragged his legs tiredly. After everyone had gone to sleep, he'd cleaned up the house, done laundry, and tidied up the house. Even after Jeremiah and Daisy's help, over the few hours the kids were home, the house became one big mess again.
He wryly remembered a line from a movie he'd seen as a kid, "I'd like the house to be clean when they tear it down." Now he was doing practically the same. A maid would be coming to help Lou in the house during the day, cleaning, cooking and helping with the children, while he was at work. But he felt uncomfortable with a stranger coming into the house in the state it was in since Jeremiah and Daisy had been busy studying for finals.
His heart sank as he saw the door to his and Lou's bedroom closed. They never went to sleep with the door closed in case the children needed them. But now, Lou closed the door, making sure he'd stay out. He walked to the door and stood there, listening in, but all was quiet. He touched the door before he went to the guest room for a cold and lonely night.
Noah was sitting with his friends for lunch. Their chatter only annoyed him and he already regretted joining them. He wasn't in the mood for their company. He wasn't in the mood for anything.
He was angry at himself for taking so much to heart the conversation he had with Celinda the previous night. But he knew what it was that hurt him so – she said she was going to divorce her husband, so now was the time for them to go public with their relationship, be able to go places, like a real couple. She never wanted a real relationship with me. She doesn't want anything but sex from me. But why do I care so much? he asked himself, though he already realized the answer days ago. Because I'm in love with her.
"Noah... Noah!" he was jerked by Cody. "Your cell is ringing."
Noah looked down and recognized the caller ID. He let the call go to voice mail.
A minute later, the phone rang again.
"Aren't you going to answer that?" Buck asked surprised.
Noah shrugged and ignored the phone again.
The phone rang for the third time. This time, Cody impatiently picked the phone up before Noah had a chance to react. "'C'? Who the hell is 'C'?" he asked.
"Is Cassie back in town?" Ike asked. "I didn't know you kept in touch with her."
"I'm not, and it's not her," Noah snapped angrily as he snatched the phone back from his blond friend.
"No, it was a 512 area code... That's Austin, Texas, ain't it?" Cody said nosily.
Noah looked down, but not before he saw the look on Kidd's face. "It ain't any of your damn business who it was," Noah snapped. The others stared at him dumbfounded. Deciding he couldn't stay there any longer, Noah rose and pulled a bill from his wallet. "That should cover it. I'll see you back in the office." He knew he was making a spectacle of himself, but he was so confused and hurt and angry he didn't care.
To Noah's surprise, no one said anything over the next couple of days. 'C' kept calling every few hours, and he kept ignoring her.
He and Kidd were sitting at Noah‘s desk, going over information for their next assignment, when Noah's phone rang again, sitting on his desk. This time Kidd picked it up, noted the phone number, and handed it to Noah, who shut off the ringer and shoved the phone in his pocket angrily.
"Hm. Celinda's phone number," Kidd remarked.
"Give the man a cigar," Noah grumbled. "And what business is it of yours?"
"Aren't you going to answer her, Noah? How long do you think you can avoid her?" Kidd asked.
Noah shrugged. "Why do you care?"
"I can see you're upset, and I'm your friend."
"I know," Noah said reluctantly. "It's just that she wants to keep it quiet, for obvious reasons. And you're probably the last person she would want knowing about it."
Kidd frowned. "She told Lou yesterday that she's divorcing her husband. I'd think you could go ahead and see her openly now. How long have you two been seeing each other?" Kidd asked.
"A couple of years."
"A couple of years?" Kidd exclaimed, shocked.
"I hope you're not planning on givin' me a lecture about it, Kidd," Noah grumbled.
Kidd blew out his breath in a wondering sigh. "Did Lou know? She sure kept that from me well, if she did."
Noah shook his head. "No. No one knows. Well, at least we hope no one knows, and I hope you‘ll keep it to yourself?"
"If that's what you want, I won't mention it to anybody," Kidd promised.
"Thanks," Noah said, relieved. "Though I'm not so sure if there's anything to tell at the moment."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Kidd asked.
"No, thanks," Noah said, "It'll have to just work itself out, is all."
Noah was sitting in his living room, listening to some music, nursing a beer, when there was a knock on his door.
"Just a minute," he called. On the way to the door, he glanced at the clock. 10:30. Who could be coming at this hour?
He looked through the peephole and his jaw dropped when he saw Celinda, standing outside nervously looking around. He opened the door quickly, and asked, "What are you doing here?" He quickly looked around and behind her to see that no one was watching.
She smiled at his thoughtfulness about not being seen, and stepped inside. "I've been trying to reach you on the phone, but I guess you were too busy to answer," she said, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
"Yeah... well..." he mumbled, scratching his head. "What did you want?"
"I wanted to continue our conversation, you walked out before I finished talking."
"There's nothing to talk about, Celinda," Noah sighed, going back to his living room.
Celinda followed him.
"Would you like some wine?" he offered.
"No, thanks," she said, an odd expression flickering over her face, as she thought of her baby. She sat down tiredly on the couch. "I guess I was surprised that you reacted like you did to what I said."
"What do you mean?" he asked, his back to her.
"You seemed to be offended by my saying that we needed to be more discreet."
"Well, it's not like we're common knowledge now, Celinda."
"I know. That's why I was so surprised."
She came to stand behind him and put a hand on the small of his back. He turned and looked surprised to see her standing so close to him.
"I'm upset, because you're getting divorced and you still don't want anybody to know you're with me. I guess you don't want folks to know you're sleeping with a black man."
He saw her stiffen angrily.
"How dare you accuse me of racism? You've known me for almost twenty years, you know me better than that. This has nothing to do with you being black."
"Then why, Celinda? Why can't we just let the world know about us now?"
"Because the divorce isn't final, that's why. I want the divorce fast and I want it without a problem, and if Nathan gets wind of you and me, then it might cost me in the divorce."
"I see. So I'm supposed to cool my heels, stay hiding and sneaking around, so you can be sure to get what's coming to you. Well I hope you get the hell what's coming to you," he snapped.
"Damn it, Noah. Why do you have to be so stubborn?" she cried and forced him to turn back and face her. "Why can't you just come out and say what you feel?"
"Because I'm in love with you," he almost shouted. "Is this what you wanted to hear? I'm sick of this hiding game. I want you with me, everywhere, night and day. I'm sick of sharing you with that husband of yours who hasn't got the first clue how to make you happy. I can, I want to make you happy."
Her eyes were shining with tears. "You've never said that to me before," she whispered.
Suddenly, he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her passionately, hungrily. When she responded to the kiss, he started pulling off clothes and they tumbled onto the couch. "I'm saying it, then, I love you," he panted, and stopped, tracing a line on her face. "I love you," he repeated more quietly, and laced his hands into hers over her head. "I love you," he said a third time as he bent to kiss her tenderly. Tears slipped out of her eyes, and she passed her arms around him tightly.
After they made love, they lay together in the moonlight from the terrace.
"There's something else I came to tell you tonight," Celinda murmured. When he looked sleepily at her, she stroked his face. "You're going to be a father."
His eyes popped open and she giggled.
"Celinda... you're – I thought you said you couldn't have a baby - -"
"Well, I guess the doctors were wrong about that. Are you happy about it? Because - - because I'm having the baby, Noah."
Noah looked at her, overcome. "I'm happy. You've seen a doctor? Everything's all right?"
"I have an appointment in two weeks. I feel fine."
A shadow of doubt flickered over his face. "So that's why you're leaving Nathan? Not because you want to, because I made you pregnant?"
She sighed. "I don't know, Noah. It was a catalyst, I guess. But I wasn't happy with Nathan, and I'm really happy to have this baby, and to try to see what we might have together, once the divorce goes through. I've signed the papers and Nathan's going to be served with them tomorrow."
"You're not warning him?"
She shook her head. "I'm not going to talk to him directly at all, my lawyer's going to handle everything." She wouldn't meet Noah's eyes.
"Why, Celinda? Is it because you still love –"
She stood up and padded away to the bathroom, shutting the door before he could finish speaking. He sat up and sighed. A baby. I don't even know if she loves me or her husband, and we're having a baby together. She probably still loves him, and she has to leave him because of our child, not because she wants to be with me. He went to the bedroom and pulled on some boxers and a t-shirt, then got into bed.
She came into the room after a few minutes. "Sorry," she said. "Now that I'm expecting, nature calls a lot faster than she used to." She smiled almost shyly. "It's pretty late... is it all right if I stay here tonight?"
He smiled and held out his arms, and she hopped up on the bed next to him, snuggling down. "Night," she said, kissing him and shutting her eyes. He watched her sleep, wondering. As much as he loved her, he didn't know what she was feeling, what she was thinking. And even if she told him she loved him, he wouldn't know if he could trust her. He sighed and turned the light out beside the bed.
Going over papers from her lawyer in her hotel room, Celinda was startled by a sharp knock on the door. Getting up, she looked through the peephole, and was dismayed to see Nathan standing outside. After a moment's hesitation, she opened the door.
"Nathan, what are you doing here?" she said quietly.
"Hello to you too, Celinda. You going to let me in?"
"There's nothing for us to talk about, Nathan. I have a lawyer, talk to him." She started shutting the door, but Nathan put his hand out and stopped it.
"Celinda, we've been married seven years. Don't you owe me the courtesy of telling me why? Why do I have to find out you're divorcing me by getting served with papers? At my office, no less," he said, his voice shaking.
She let go of the door and let him in, saying contemptuously, "Yes, I suppose that was embarrassing for you. Wouldn't want to look bad in front of the employees."
"It's not just that. Couldn't you have at least warned me?"
"My lawyer advised against it," Celinda said coolly. "He's already served restraining notices on all your banks and brokers, so you can't empty out any accounts. Just so you know."
Nathan's face twitched. "I wouldn't have anyway, Celinda. I haven't cut off any of your credit cards or accounts even though you left me weeks ago, have I?"
"Fine, Nathan. But better safe than sorry."
"That's all you're worried about, isn't it? Money. That's all that's mattered to you in our marriage for years."
"There's nothing to be gained by this, Nathan. I'm just finished, I want out."
He stood looking at her numbly. "That's it then," he muttered.
"I don't know how much clearer I can be."
Nathan nodded, rubbing his temple. He was frustrated, the blood was pounding in his head to the point he was getting a headache. "I flew all night to get here. Can't we at least –"
"I said I don't have anything to say to you. I want you to leave," she insisted.
Defeated, he nodded. "Can I at least use the bathroom," he mumbled.
Rolling her eyes contemptuously, she nodded, and jerked her head toward the bathroom.
Washing his hands, Nathan sighed. Seven years. They'd had their troubles, but he couldn't believe that she was throwing everything they had between them away. And it looked like she was going to play hardball in the divorce, too. His headache was splitting, he hadn't been able to eat or sleep since he'd been served with her lawyer's papers. He opened the medicine cabinet to see if she had any Tylenol, turning the medications to look at them.
The label on one prescription seemed to leap out at him. Prenatal vitamins.
He gripped the side of the sink. She's pregnant. Happiness rushed over him for a moment, followed by confusion, then anger. She was going to keep this from me? But why –
Looking down, he pulled open a drawer. Inside, he saw a bottle of men's aftershave, a shaving kit and an extra toothbrush. Jerking the door to the bathroom open, he shouted to her.
"What is it, Nathan?"
He brushed past her into her bedroom.
"What are you doing, Nathan?" she said frantically. "You have no right –"
He ignored her and started yanking open dresser drawers. As he expected, he found changes of men's clothes in a top drawer. A pregnancy guide was set on her dresser, and he picked it up, brandishing it.
"So you're pregnant."
Celinda stood stonily looking at him.
"You have somebody else?"
She looked away and he stormed up to her. "I asked you a question," he said, inches from her face. "And don't lie. It's his, isn't it?" he shouted, his face purple with anger.
"What if it is?" she muttered. "We're finished, Nathan."
"So you think you're getting half my business and alimony to support your boyfriend and his child?"
"I helped build that business –"
"The hell you did! That's my business, you're an employee like any other physical therapist," he said indignantly. "If you think you're taking half what it took me all this time to build up, then you're not just a slut, you're an idiot."
"Get out," she said, red faced with rage.
"Not before you tell me who it is," Nathan insisted, growing angrier by the second. When she remained silent, he sneered, "Don't even know? You're that big a slut?"
"I know he's a real man who got the job done, unlike you," she threw in his face.
To her shock, before she finished speaking, she felt the back of Nathan's hand across her face, hard, and lost her balance, smashing the other side of her face against the hard edge of the highboy and splitting her lip open.
Nathan leaned over to continue screaming at her, and she turned, cowering, her lip bleeding and the side of her face already swelling. He drew back at the sight, feeling nauseous, shaking, and turned to lean against the wall to try to control himself. Not this again, he thought.
She stood and brushed past him, running to the bathroom and locking herself in.
Nathan followed and knocked on the door. "Celinda, are you okay? Do you want me to look at it or take you to a different doctor?"
"Get out," she screamed. "I never want to see you again."
He turned and leaned against the wall for a moment. I'm back where we started, like I never got any help, he realized dimly, the truth of it sinking in. Between what she's done and what I just did, there's nothing to save between us. Without another word he shakily walked to the door and left.
Noah came off the elevator and walked down the hall; he spotted Nathan leaving Celinda's room and quickly ducked into the small alcove by the ice machine. Celinda won't want him to see me if I can help it, he thought, turning toward a snack machine and pretending to be choosing something, as Nathan rushed past looking upset. Once Nathan was safely in the elevator, Noah hurried down to Celinda's room and tapped on the door.
"Celinda?" Noah called. "You okay?"
He thought he heard the water running, but wasn't sure. He took his spare pass card and swiped it, opening the door, and sticking his head inside cautiously. "Celinda?"
Walking into the suite, he knocked at the bathroom door. "Celinda, what's the matter? Aren't you feeling well? I saw Nathan leaving. What happened?"
The door slowly opened and Noah gaped when he saw Celinda's face, a bloody damp towel held to her split lip, her eye swelling up.
"Celinda, what happened? Did Nathan hit you?" Noah asked furiously. She looked down, and he turned to run after Nathan.
"No, don't, Noah," Celinda said hastily. "There's no point. He's leaving and it's over now."
"I don't believe he put his hands on you," Noah said, through gritted teeth. He pulled her hand down and winced at her bloodied mouth.
"I know. I've turned him into a monster," Celinda muttered, pressing the cloth to her face again.
"This isn't your fault, Celinda-"
"Isn't it? Most men would disagree. Most men would think I had it coming, or worse, after what I've done," Celinda wept. "He'd been doing so much better. I thought this was in the past."
Noah looked steadily at her, his hands on her shoulders. "He's hit you before?"
Her eyes were glistening with tears. "Not for a long time," she whispered.
"Let me get you some ice," Noah said, heading out to the ice machine. When he got back, he wrapped the ice in towels, holding one to her eye as she held the other to her mouth.
"Tell me," Noah said softly.
She sighed and lowered her hand. "It started about four, five years ago. Nathan was in his residency, working crazy hours. He started taking drugs to try to keep going. His personality changed, he got aggressive. Pushing and shoving mostly, but sometimes worse. I finally told him I'd leave him if he didn't get help."
Noah stroked her arm, his face somber.
"He went into treatment, got clean, started the physical medicine group. After he stopped using, he never hit me again. I convinced myself it was from the drugs," she said, sadly. "But I'd started seeing you in the meantime, and my feelings for him never really recovered."
She twisted the towel in her hands.
"I couldn't give you up once it started. Even though he'd done all I'd asked of him, gotten help, all of it. It was like our marriage was too badly damaged, it couldn't recover."
Noah pulled her close. "He'll never hurt you again," he whispered. "I'll always protect you, I promise." She clung to him, crying into his chest.
Lou glanced at Kidd as he drove silently. She felt lonely in her misery and she had no one to turn to. She feared no one could understand what she was feeling, not even her own friends and family.
I can't really blame them, she thought, nothing he ever does is wrong. He obviously loves me and our children, and even my daughter. He's the perfect husband, the perfect father, but still...
She blushed and turned her face when he looked at her. She breathed in relief and sadness when he said nothing. As usual, they were living next to each other, but not really together.
Kidd's bluetooth rang and he tapped it to answer. "Hey Buck –" he said, then fell silent, listening.
"I'm taking Lou to a check up and I took the day off. What's up?"
"Is Noah coming in, then?" Buck asked.
"He said something about coming in late, why?"
"The team leaders' meeting was moved up to today, and neither of you are here," Buck explained.
"Well, I can't get there until I can drop Lou off after her appointment. And we could have used some warning, we thought we had until tomorrow to get ready."
"Tell me about it," Buck agreed. "If Noah doesn't get here in time, I'll take notes for you."
"Thanks," Kidd replied. "I'll talk to you later."
Lou offered, "You can drop me at the doctor and go to the agency if you want, you don't have to stay. It's nothing important anyway, just the six-week checkup. I can get a cab home after."
Kidd glanced at her. "Well, I already said I was taking the day off. And I thought maybe we could go out for lunch, spend some couple time together."
"You mean have sex?" Lou asked, panicked.
"What? No!" Kidd exclaimed. "I mean, not that I don't I miss that, but I meant talking, that's all. I just want to be with you."
Lou's eyes were getting moist at his words, but before she had time to respond, Kidd parked the car and asked, "Well, we'd better get in. you don't want to be late for your appointment, do you?"
Kidd hurried to Lou's side of the car and opened the door for her. He helped her out of the car, holding her cane.
Kidd held the door to the doctor's office open for her and almost bumped into her when she stopped abruptly. He looked up, and was surprised to see Noah and Celinda sitting in the waiting room. Celinda was holding a folder of forms. Lou and Kidd regained their senses and Celinda and Noah sat awkwardly staring at Lou and Kidd for a moment, when the receptionist slid the window over. "Mrs. Smith, if you're done with your forms, hand them to me and the Nurse Midwife will be out in a minute."
"Celinda! You're pregnant?" Lou blurted, smiling excitedly, then looking confused. "But, what are you doing here, Noah?"
The pair looked as if they would like to crawl into a hole.
"You told me Nathan is infertile - - and Noah's here - -" Lou fell silent, then turned to the reception desk, scrawling her name laboriously with her still stiff hand on the sign-in sheet.
"Lou, please understand - -" Celinda pleaded.
Lou turned and glared at Celinda and Noah in turn. "It's none of my business. I certainly wouldn't judge you two. Though that's more than I can say for either of you. You both gave me a pretty hard time for seeing Michael even after Jimmy died, and I was never unfaithful when he was alive," Lou said, looking away bitterly. "I had to defend myself to both of you, when I needed my friends more than ever."
Celinda and Noah looked downcast.
"Lou, that's all in the past, and Noah and Celinda were grieving then too," Kidd started.
"Yeah, I suppose all you cheaters would stick together," Lou sniped, looking at Michael witheringly. "You always have a good excuse for what you do, no matter how wrong it is."
Kidd winced. She's still angry about Marissa, he thought, his heart sinking.
"So," Noah started, trying to change the subject, "What are you two doing here?"
"Lou's six-week checkup is today," Kidd muttered, his face still scarlet from Lou's comments. She sat sullenly looking away from the others.
The four sat in silence for a few moments before Kidd's pager beeped. He read the message and sighed. "Noah, care for some fresh air?" he asked.
Both men excused themselves and went outside.
Celinda looked across at Lou, then got up and sat next to her. "Lou, I know I questioned you when you started seeing Michael after my brother died. I thought we had worked through that, I had no idea you were still angry about it."
To Celinda's surprise, Lou dropped her head on her hand and started crying softly.
"I know all these things have happened in the last few years. I remember a lot of it, but it's like I'm finding out about it all at the same time. It's so much to handle, and nobody can understand how I feel. I feel so alone."
Celinda stroked Lou's arm. "I can't say I know how you feel, Lou. But I'm so sorry, and I'm here if you need to talk."
Lou nodded, rubbing her eyes with her sleeve. "So does Nathan know?"
Celinda nodded. "He doesn't know Noah is the father, but Nathan knows he isn't. He didn't take it very well, either."
Lou looked up. "What do you mean?"
"When I told you I fell down the stairs and hurt myself, I was lying. I was too ashamed to tell you, and didn't want to worry you." Celinda looked down. "Nathan came to town, and when he found out, he went crazy. He hit me. I guess some people would say I deserved it."
"Oh, Celinda," Lou said, starting to cry again. "I'm so sorry."
"It's okay. I'm leaving him and going to have a baby, that's something I've always dreamed of. So it's going to be okay, Lou. Don't cry, please." She handed Lou a box of tissues from the side table.
"I just don't feel like myself. I'm so sad, so dead inside. I can't explain it."
Celinda looked over at the table of brochures. She stood up and scanned them, selecting one and handing it to Lou.
"Post-Partum Depression?" Lou read.
"Lou, you might have it. It certainly sounds like it, and no wonder. You've been through hell, and you just had a baby. And you do have a history of clinical depression. Talk to the doctor about it. You might need help, honey."
Lou nodded slowly. It makes sense, Lou thought, scanning the brochure. A lot of this is how I feel. "Thanks, Celinda, I will ask the doctor."
Celinda smiled, patting Lou's knee. "And if things get too overwhelming or you just need help, you know my offer to help with Jamie stands."
"Well, I offered to take care of Jamie for Michael while you were in the hospital and there was so much to deal with. He didn't take me up on it, for whatever reason. Just left her with Daisy or in daycare. I would have been happy to help, and I still am."
"Why didn't Michael let you help?" Lou asked, confused.
"You'd have to ask him, but I couldn't help feeling he wants to keep Jimmy's family from being part of Jamie's life. I'm sorry, that's just how I took it."
Outside, Noah asked, "What is it?"
"Buck's team has an urgent assignment they need help with. When do you think you'll get to the agency?"
"I'm not sure, an hour or so, depends on the check up," Noah answered, before he heard Celinda calling for him to come.
"I'll talk to you later," Noah said and rushed back in.
When Kid returned to the office the receptionist asked Lou in. He followed Lou down the hallway, where the nurse pointed to an exam room. "Put this gown on," she directed, and Lou nodded, going behind the screen. After a few moments, she started to cry, and called to Kidd.
"Michael, I need some help," she admitted. "I can't get these buttons."
Kidd came behind the screen and helped her manage the small buttons.
"Thanks," she said, looking away.
He went to sit in the chair again, and she came out in her exam gown.
The nurse tapped on the scale. "Step up, please."
Noting that she had lost weight since leaving the hospital, Kidd looked at her more closely, and was shocked at how thin her once strong, muscular arms and legs seemed as the nurse helped her up on the exam table. The nurse started to wrap a blood pressure cuff around Lou's arm, then stopped and picked up a phone. "We'll need the pediatric blood pressure cuff," she spoke into it.
Kidd waited as the nurse took the rest of Lou's vital signs, and Dr. Jones came in with the small blood pressure cuff. "How are we doing today, Lou? It's wonderful to see you up and around. How's the baby?"
"Fine," Lou said softly.
"Great," Dr. Jones said, looking closely at Lou as she took her blood pressure. "You following up with a neurologist and a hematologist?"
"That's good. Blood pressure looks fine. Time for the hard part, scoot down on the table."
Lou looked around awkwardly at Kidd. "Michael, I'm sorry." Her eyes were filling with tears. "Can I have some privacy?"
Kidd was taken aback. He'd been there for every prenatal appointment and hadn't thought anything of being in the room now, but he saw that she was red-faced and fighting tears. "Okay," he said, and got up to wait for her in the outer room.
Pat, the nurse midwife, handed Celinda a large packet. "You'll need to look all this over and bring it back for your next appointment. I see your last menstrual period was ten weeks ago. We customarily date pregnancy from the date of last menstrual period, so that would make you ten weeks pregnant, even though you probably conceived eight weeks ago."
"I'm sure I conceived six weeks ago. I've always been irregular with my cycles," Celinda explained.
Pat looked quizzically at the chart.
"What's the matter?" Celinda said nervously.
"It's just the initial lab work you had done was faxed over from the hospital. According to the lab values, you're closer to ten weeks pregnant than eight."
"That's impossible," Celinda stammered. "I'm telling you, I couldn't have conceived more than six weeks ago."
"These lab results, though - -" Pat said doubtfully. "And when Dr. Jones did her bimanual exam, she noted a ten-week uterus, not an eight-week uterus, without even seeing these results. I gave them to her after she examined you."
Noah sat stunned. He jumped when his cell phone rang, and stood to click it open. "Yeah. I know, I'll be there right away." He hung up and muttered, not looking at Celinda, "I'm really sorry, it's an emergency at the agency. I've got to get there right now. Are you going to be okay to drive?"
"Yes," Celinda whispered, stricken. "Noah- -"
"I'll call you later," Noah said hurriedly and rushed out.
Kidd was sitting dejectedly in the waiting room when Noah rushed out of the other room.
"Buck just called me," he explained. "I'll talk to you later."
"Sure," Kidd nodded. The look on Noah's face told him there was more to it, but he said nothing as Noah left hurriedly.
When Lou came out of doctor's office, she handed several sheets of paper to the receptionist. "I'll call those in for you, Ms. McCloud," the girl said brightly. "The same pharmacy as before?"
Lou looked awkwardly at Kidd. "I'm not sure where our pharmacy is," Lou admitted.
"I have Rite Aid on Church Street on your file. Is that okay?"
Lou looked questioningly back at Kidd.
"That's fine, we can pick up whatever you need on the way home," Kidd said.
As she took her receipt for her co-payment, Kidd stood and handed her jacket to her. She thanked him and headed outside absently.
As they drove from the parking lot, she called his name softly.
He turned to look at her, surprised.
"Maybe we should go for that lunch you planned," she tried to smile.
"Are you sure, Lou?" he asked.
They remained silent for a few minutes before she started again. "Michael, can I ask you something?" she asked hesitantly.
"Sure, what is it?"
"It's about something Celinda said before she went in for her appointment."
"What is it?" Kidd asked, wondering what she could have wanted from him that was related to Celinda as well.
"Did you and Celinda have a fight over Jamie?"
"She wanted to take Jamie with her when you were still unconscious. She said she wanted to help me with Jimmy's child."
"Why didn't you just let her then?" Lou asked.
"What do you mean 'why didn't I just let her', Lou? Jamie's my child, and she needed to stay with her family, just as Zach did."
"But Celinda's Jamie's family, not Zach's. I'm just surprised at you cutting her off from her blood family just for spite."
"I think I'll take you home now," he said through clenched teeth.
She looked bewildered. "But I thought we were going out for lunch."
"I lost my appetite. I'll take you home and then I'll go to the agency. They need me there more than you do."
"Michael..." she tried, but he stopped her.
"Don't you dare question my love for Jamie. She's my daughter. I raised her since she was born. I'm not sure what Celinda told you, or if she tried to poison you against me, but I love you and our children, and that includes Jamie, and I always have her best interests at heart."
Lou blinked back tears and looked out the window. "If you don't feel like getting lunch, can we stop to get my medicine?" she asked coldly. "Or can't you stand being in the car with me that long?"
He pulled in to the pharmacy drive through window. When they opened the window, Lou leaned over. "McCloud. Dr. Jones' office called over two new prescriptions ten minutes ago."
After a moment, the technician leaned out. "I'm sorry, it's not ready yet. Come back in an hour."
Lou sighed. "Michael, would you mind picking it up for me on your way home? The window's open until ten."
They remained silent until Kidd stopped the car in front of the house. For the first time since she knew him he didn't rush to open the door for her, but kept sitting, staring ahead.
"I'll see you later," she whispered before she got out, but he never answered.
"I thought you were taking the day off," Noah said, sticking his head in Kidd's office.
"That was the plan," Kidd answered dejectedly.
"Wanna talk about it?" Noah asked, taking a seat.
Kidd shook his head. "No, but I'd like to apologize for Lou's reaction earlier."
Noah shrugged. "It's okay. She surprised me, though. I was sure you told her."
"You asked me not to tell, so I didn't."
"Thanks, I appreciate that. But, there's something else I wanted to talk to you about. It's about Celinda's baby."
"Sure, you need parenting advice from me?" Kidd joked.
"Yes. I do. Especially from you," Noah answered quietly.
Kidd sat up straight in his chair, listening intently.
"It's about Jamie," Noah started. "Before you start getting defensive, I'm not trying to annoy you. It's just, it... it looks like the baby is her husband's, not mine."
"And you wanted to know what it means to raise someone else's child," Kidd concluded in a low voice.
"Yes," Noah said, crossing his arms over his chest. "I know you love Jamie like she's yours, but how? How could you ignore the fact that someone else made her?"
"I had my doubts about how I'd feel when Lou was pregnant, but the moment I saw Jamie, the moment they put her in my arms in the delivery room, I knew I'd love her like I loved Zach. When you raise a child, you grow to love her even if she doesn’t share your genes, Noah."
Noah sighed. "But she looks different from your other kids. Like Jimmy. Doesn't it remind you every time you look at her, that Lou loved somebody else?"
Kidd looked down at his hands. "I don't see that when I look at Jamie. But it's different for me. Lou and I weren't a couple when Jamie was conceived, and Jimmy isn't in the picture, like Nathan will be. It's a lot more complicated for you, with the father being Celinda's husband and still being around, probably wanting a part in the baby's life. But if you love Celinda, you'll find a way to make it work. Maybe you need to focus on your relationship with Celinda, instead of her relationship with her husband..."
Noah put his head in his hands. "I'm not sure I can. It's more complicated than you know. I wish I knew what to do," he said, looking up at Kidd as if for answers.
Kidd looked at him quietly. "Only you can answer that, Noah. It all depends on what you feel for Celinda. And only you know if it's going to be enough. One piece of advice, though."
Noah waited expectantly.
"Make sure of your feelings first, before you make any promises. You're right, it's complicated. There's an innocent baby involved, and that has to come before anything else."
Noah nodded, and got up to go back to work. "Thanks, boss," he said lightly, with a weak grin, as he walked out.
Kidd was almost home before he remembered Lou's prescriptions. He looked at his watch. Quarter to ten, the window would still be open. He drove into the pickup window again and pushed the buzzer. A different tech stuck her head out the window.
"I need to pick up two prescriptions for Louise McCloud. I'm her husband."
The technician slid the window shut and went in to look. "Yeah, there's a note here you're picking it up for her. It's fifty dollars for each of the co-pays."
Kidd fished in his wallet and paid the money, taking the bags. He glanced at the product insert stapled to the side of one of the bags; it said Prozac. His eyes went blurry for a moment, as he pulled over. He examined the slip. "For major post-partum depression disorder." The other bag held a label marked, "Ortho Coil-Spring Diaphragm".
He cursed himself silently, then put the car back in drive, turning toward home.
When he got there, Daisy and Jeremiah were sprawled on the couch watching the news.
"The kids are all asleep," Daisy called. "Lou went to bed too."
He plodded up the stairs, and tapped lightly on Lou's door. "Lou, I got your medicine."
She opened the door, standing in front of him in pajamas that were now a size too big for her, and held out her hand for the bags. "Thank you," she said formally, and turned to walk to the master bathroom inside the room.
Through the door he saw her open the bag with the Prozac, remove the lid on the bottle and take her dose with a glass of water. She opened the medicine cabinet and placed the bottle inside, then took down several other bottles and lined them up. Checking a piece of paper taped inside the cabinet, she took out some pills from each bottle, downing them with another glass of water. He knew they were medicines to prevent clots and seizures, and to control pain, and his heart constricted as she took pill after pill. She replaced all the bottles and came out of the bathroom, clicking the light off behind her.
"You're still here?" she muttered. "I'd think you were still not speaking to me. After all, I dared to question you, and we all know you're perfect." She placed the diaphragm in the nightstand and shut the drawer with a slam.
"I'm sorry, Lou, I overreacted. But this has been pretty hard on me too, you know, and - -"
She had turned down the bed covers but stopped, facing him. "Oh yes," she mocked. "It's hard on you. After all, you were in a bad car accident while you were eight months pregnant. Then you woke up and found yourself changed from a healthy young woman to a cripple, and three years of your life missing. You had two children you didn't know and a husband you couldn't remember. Your best friend and your sister were dead, and you had to deal with that. Plus you had to recover from a stroke and from a cesarean section delivery where you almost bled to death, and left you with brain damage." She turned, sitting down on the bed, breathless after her rant. "Oh, I forgot, that wasn't you, that was me."
"Lou, I said I was sorry."
She turned toward him again, tears standing in her eyes. "And when I'm struggling, trying to absorb three years' worth of memories coming in on me at once, I'm supposed to weigh every damn word that comes out of my mouth? Can't you cut me some slack?"
She put her head in her hands. "I can't go on like this, Michael. It's too much pressure. I'm sorry, but I can't make myself be like I used to any faster than this. I'm trying, that's all I can do."
After a moment's silence, Kidd came around the bed. "I'm sorry," he said again.
When Lou silently nodded and climbed into the bed, turning her back to him, he sighed and left the room. All Lou was saying is true. She's the one suffering the most, both physically and emotionally. I have to be more patient with her, he thought, though his heart was breaking, and he ached to touch and hold her.
Daisy and Jeremiah were still in the TV room, when he entered and fell on the recliner. Both looked at him questioningly.
"Everything okay, Michael?" Daisy asked, "Lou okay?"
"Earlier Jamie asked for macaroni and cheese for dinner, but Lou had no idea how to make it for her."
Kidd looked shocked at Daisy. This was the first time anyone said anything about how Lou handled everyday tasks. He realized sadly, how little he knew about his wife's struggle to get back to normal. She had a slight limp, and needed a cane to support her walking. She often dropped things and was clumsy, when she'd been so athletic before. When she wasn't paying attention she drooled from the corner of her mouth. When she was tired, and not totally focused, she could stutter and speak incoherently, but these were the outer symptoms. He had no real idea as to how she felt. She must be so scared, he thought, trapped in a not fully functioning body.
His eyes begun to tear and Daisy moved to sit closer to him. "Look," she started, "Jeremiah and I can stay here tonight in the guest room, and help with the kids. Why won't you go up there and try to talk to her?"
Kidd looked at Daisy with blurry eyes, a part of him once again thankful for her kindness, the other part anxious at going back to the bedroom Lou had been sleeping in alone since she returned from the hospital.
Daisy and Jeremiah had no idea that he'd slept in the guest room over the last few weeks, and he didn't feel it was right to get them involved in his and Lou's affairs. He nodded solemnly at Daisy's suggestion and went upstairs.
He knocked lightly on the door and opened it slowly. He called her name softly, taking small steps inside. Lou was already asleep and from the light emanating from the bathroom, he could see the trails the tears left on her face.
He pulled a blanket from the closet and curled up on the couch. He couldn't tear his eyes from her. She looked so small in the big bed. I just want to love you, Lou, he told her in his mind, please let me.
It was close to midnight when Noah tapped on the door to Celinda's hotel room. After he left the office that day he drove around aimlessly, trying to figure out how he felt.
He told Celinda that he loved her and he meant it, but she never said the same words to him. Does she love me at all? he wondered. And then there was the baby. He was so happy when she first told him, like now there was one more thing to bring them together, but even that seemed to have vanished, with the nurse's words. But does it really matter? he thought. Like Kidd said, all that should matter is that I love her.
He pulled up to Celinda's hotel, and headed upstairs. Celinda opened the door holding her robe tight around herself, surprised to see him standing there.
"I'm sorry, Celinda. I needed some time to think about everything..." he stopped when he saw her averting her eyes. "Can I come in? Please..."
Celinda moved away from the door and let him in. She stood rooted to her place, watching him sit on the bed, fumbling with his hands. "I needed to think about what the nurse said, Celinda. I was so happy when you first told me about the baby, but I didn't know what to think when the nurse said the baby's probably not mine..."
"Noah..." Celinda tried to interrupt him, but he stood quickly and rushed to hold her arms.
"I thought about it the whole day, and I'm still not totally sure of everything. But I love you, Celinda. That I am sure of."
"I'm scared, Noah," Celinda blurted, her eyes filling with tears rapidly.
He looked at her softly before he pulled her into his embrace. He kissed her head and rocked her as she silently cried against his chest.
"Why are you scared?" Noah asked.
"Where do I start?" she said ruefully. "I'm scared to have this baby alone, of raising a baby without a father. But I'm even more scared of Nathan finding out he is the father after all; I don't trust him and his temper, Noah. I'm afraid of him being around the baby if he finds out it's his. I'm scared of going through an ugly divorce, but I can't go back to the way things were. Trapped in a loveless, empty marriage at best... and at worst, taking his abuse again."
Noah stroked her back reassuringly. "That's one thing that you can't do, Celinda. No matter what else happens, you can't go back to him, not after what he did," he pleaded. "And you don't have to be alone. Even though I'm not the baby's father, I'll be here for you if you want me."
Celinda looked up at him renewed hope in her eyes. "Will you stay with me tonight?" she asked.
Noah nodded silently and held her closer, as she buried her face in his shoulder.
Daisy and Jeremiah helped Lou from the car at Arlington Cemetery. "Lou, are you sure you don't want to go home now?" Jeremiah asked, worried. They had just come from Theresa's grave and Lou looked exhausted already from crying. "I can take you back to see Jimmy's grave another day."
Lou shook her head determinedly. "I need to say my goodbyes," she mumbled weakly.
Jeremiah went around to the trunk and got out the stroller, as Daisy detached the infant seat from the back seat. Daisy set the seat into the stroller, and Lou started pushing it along the path toward Jimmy's grave, noting the site location jotted on a piece of paper.
Daisy and Jeremiah walked behind Lou, stopping a discreet distance away when she reached the grave and knelt down beside it.
"Did you know Jamie's father?" Daisy murmured to Jeremiah.
He shook his head. "Not really. I was in Iraq when she moved here, and they didn't move in together until right before she got pregnant with Jamie. I met him once on leave, he seemed like a nice guy. He was a vet like me."
Daisy nodded, and looked at Lou, who sat with her head bowed at Jimmy's grave in the distance, her lips moving slightly. "She's so confused," Daisy said sympathetically.
Jeremiah sighed. "I hope she gets things straightened out in that head of hers soon," he said. "Michael and the kids need her to live in the present, not the past."
"She needs time," Daisy said, watching the older woman pityingly.
Lou traced the letters on Jimmy's grave marker, sighing. "I miss you so much," she murmured, her voice catching. "I wish you could see your daughter. I wish you were here for me to talk to. I know you've been gone a long time... but to me it's like yesterday. And nobody understands."
She looked up suddenly at the sound of a twig breaking behind her.
Uncertainly, she whispered, "Rosemary?"
The other woman stood frozen, looking at Lou. "I heard you were in a bad accident," Rosemary said awkwardly. "I... I'm glad to see you up and around."
Lou's anger started bubbling up, but she bit it back and looked down at the grave again.
Rosemary stepped forward and placed her flowers on Jimmy's grave.
"What are you doing here, Rosemary?" Lou said ominously.
Rosemary fumbled with her hands. "I come almost every day," she said.
Lou looked up again at Rosemary. She saw that the woman's hair was streaked with gray, her face looked much older than when she saw her last.
Rosemary nodded. "After I got let go from the agency, after the investigation into... into what happened, I got an office job near here… so I can come every day and..."
Lou's face flushed.
Rosemary paused. "I know how hard it was for you when he died, Lou. I know it because I loved him too. And it's worse for me... he didn't love me back. I didn't have his child to remember him by. And... and I'm the one who caused his death. You can never know how hard it is to live with that."
Rosemary started to turn and walk away, but Lou struggled to her feet and called after her.
"Rosemary... it doesn't do any good to keep dwelling on this, torturing yourself. Jimmy would never want that."
Lou put her hand out on the other woman's arm pityingly; Rosemary shivered and nodded. "Thank you," she choked, and rushed off.
Watching tortured Rosemary hurtling down the path, Lou turned back to Jimmy's grave. Her own words were echoing in her ears. Jimmy wouldn't want me to torture myself with grief and guilt either, she realized, thinking with a sad, weak smile about the happy, mischievous young man. Jimmy didn't believe in regrets. He lived his life, every minute, like it was his last. He would want me to do the same. She sighed and placed her own flowers next to Rosemary's, whispering goodbye. "I'll never forget you, Jimmy," she said softly, and turned back toward her brother and Daisy.
The next morning, Lou awoke to the sound of a garbage truck outside. Looking down, she saw that a man's arm was draped over her, and his hand was entwined with hers. She lay staring at their hands, with their two matching wedding rings shining side by side. She sighed, closing her eyes. Michael, she realized. A week ago, when she saw Kidd sleeping on the couch in their room, she told him he could sleep in their bed. Still, she felt a little awkward and had tried to stay as far away from him as she could. She eased herself out from under his arm, trying to avoid waking him.
He mumbled something and she looked at him, a little startled. He looks so peaceful and innocent, she thought. His lips were partly open, and she suddenly felt an urge to kiss him. Just then he moved, kicking the blanket off.
Lou blushed as she suddenly recalled, with a vividness that shocked her, being with him, in this bed, a few weeks before the accident. She felt old, familiar feelings washing over her, leaving her weak. She brought her hand to her mouth, as the real magnitude of her feelings dawned upon her. I love him, she thought, her fingers suddenly aching to touch him. I never stopped loving him, even after... she closed her eyes, trying to shut out the assaulting memories, the confusing rush of conflicting emotions. Guilt, grief, anger. Jealousy. Renewed love...
He rolled to his back before she had recovered from the onslaught of emotions. Her eyes almost popped out of their sockets as she noticed the hardness under his boxers. She sat up in bed, her back to him, her eyes filling with tears again. She rose and pulled on her robe from the chair, nervously.
She was about to step out of the room when she heard him moan. She turned and saw his body was tense, his back slightly arched, his fists clenching the bed sheet.
"Lou..." he moaned again.
Lou cursed when she hit her foot against the chair.
"W... what?" Kidd sat abruptly, awakened by the noise.
Lou panicked, afraid of the turmoil of emotions running through her. "I... I was on my way to the bathroom. Just bumped against the chair."
Kidd was at her side in an instant. "Are you all right?"
Lou nodded, unsure of her voice at the feeling of his hand on her arm. She freed herself and hurried to the bathroom, as fast as she could, closing the door behind her, leaving a sleepy Kidd to stare after her flustered.
The next Sunday, Noah joined Kidd and Lou and their children for a picnic in the park. Kidd was playing soccer with Zach, while Jamie ran around them, squealing with delight. Noah smiled as Kidd sat Jamie on his shoulders, while still playing with his eldest son.
Noah glanced at Lou, sitting beside him on the blanket, the baby dozing in her carrier beside her. Lou sat dejectedly, not really enjoying the happy scene before her.
"How are you, Lou?" Noah asked softly.
"Great. Just great," she answered curtly.
He eyed her, surprised at her attitude. He didn't remember Lou ever talking like that. She sounded angry and unhopeful.
"What is it, Lou?" he asked. "Aren't you feeling well?"
"What do you think? Haven't you seen me lately? I look like a horror show. I'm limping, I'm drooling, I'm dropping things..."
"And?" Noah prompted patiently.
"What do you mean 'and'?" Lou cried, making the baby stir. "Isn't that enough?"
"You're alive, Lou. You've been through a terrible ordeal, but you're still here to tell about it, with a beautiful new baby and a husband and two children who love you very much. I'm not minimizing your problems, but you have a lot to be thankful for, don't you think? Maybe if you focus on what you have, it'll help you deal with what you've lost?"
Lou looked at him, tears blinding her. "I know you're being totally logical, Noah, but it's harder than you think to stay positive. And I don't get a break from it, not one second of the day - - every day, it's the same struggle, and it will be for a long time, maybe forever."
She rested her head on Noah's shoulder, dashing her tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. "I hate being like this – not being able to be like I used to. I'm so dependent on my brother and Daisy, Michael, and I hate it. I was always more than able to take care of myself and my family, ever since my mom died, and now I'm a burden on everybody else. I admit sometimes I'm not easy to be around, because it's so exhausting and stressful. They're all being very patient with me, but I'm scared of when they won't be. I'm scared Michael will eventually leave me..."
"I wouldn't worry about that, Lou," Noah smiled. "He loves you too much. I think he must understand that you're having a hard time adjusting to all the changes."
Lou sighed. "But what if he runs out of patience. He deserves better than me. He deserves someone beautiful and young and full of life..."
"Lou," Noah put a finger under her chin and lifted her face to him. "You are all those things, especially to him. You must know that, even if things are changed, Kidd loves you. He loved you for so long, there's nothing that's ever gonna make him change how he feels about you."
"You two are awfully cozy. Hands off my wife, officer," Kidd teased. Both Noah and Lou turned to see a smiling Kidd standing above them. "Want to play some soccer?" he asked Noah.
"Sure," Noah smiled and stood up, walking towards the ball, a few yards away.
"You okay, honey?" Kidd asked Lou, kneeling beside her.
Lou looked down awkwardly, and nodded. He kissed her head before he joined Noah. Lou sat watching her family running and playing, thinking about how, years ago she had played soccer in college. Varsity captain, she thought numbly. Now I can't even kick the ball around. I was planning to coach the kids' teams... teach Jamie a girl can play sports too... now, I'm stuck on the sidelines. She rocked Mary Theresa gently in the carrier, fighting the anger at the unfairness of it all; battling her own guilt at feeling sorry for herself when her sister had lost her life in the accident. She picked the baby up and held her close, watching her family and trying to smile at them. Maybe... maybe if I act happy, smile, I'll eventually feel better, she thought dismally. And at least I can try not to bring everyone else down.
Kidd looked over and waved, his heart twisting at the sight of Lou's trembling, forced smile. I'd give anything for her to be happy again...
An hour later the men and children returned to the blanket, and found Lou sleeping, the baby in her arms. Kidd smiled softly and touched her shoulder gently. "Lou, sweetheart, wake up. It's time for lunch."
Lou opened her eyes slowly and sat up, while Kidd and Noah pulled food and drinks from the cooler.
They all sat on the blanket and started eating. After a moment, Jamie crawled into Kidd's lap, rested her head on his chest and closed her eyes.
"Jamie, baby, don't fall asleep now, you need to eat," Kidd gently nudged her. "Come on, sweetie, do you want me to help you?"
The little girl nodded and Kidd started patiently feeding her pieces torn from her sandwich and spoonfuls of cut-up fruit. Noah looked in awe at the scene. He had seen Kidd with Jamie many times before, but now, that he was facing a somewhat similar situation, he looked at it with new eyes. He smiled at seeing Kidd, a man that he had seen taking down the most hardened and desperate of criminals, tenderly caring for his wife's daughter from another man.
And Jimmy... he suddenly remembered, Jimmy loved Zach as if he was his own, only because he loved Lou so much. Maybe I can do it too. If I love Celinda like that, like I do, maybe I'll grow to love her child too. Watching Kidd, who was trained in all forms of lethal weapons and hand-to-hand combat, being ordered to kiss Jamie's boo-boo and obeying, he smothered a laugh. I think I'd like to try for some of that with Celinda and her baby, he reflected.
Noah watched from beside Celinda as the sonographer looked intently at the ultrasound screen. Celinda looked a little frightened when the sonographer leaned in and carefully studied something.
"What's wrong?" Noah asked, worried, clutching Celinda's hand. Please, God, don't let something be wrong, he thought, looking down at Celinda worriedly.
"Nothing's abnormal," the sonographer said. After a pause, he continued. "There's two babies. Not one. I'm checking for a heartbeat on the second baby."
Celinda gasped and clutched Noah's hand tighter.
"Both fine, good strong heartbeats," the sonographer said, smiling. "See them?" He pointed to two peanut shapes on the screen.
"Celinda," Noah said, awestruck. "You have two babies in you."
She was crying with happiness. "I thought I'd never have any children, now..."
The sonographer interrupted. "This estimated date of delivery right?" He pointed to the top of the screen.
"That's what the doctor thought," Celinda stammered.
The sonographer started typing numbers onto the screen.
"What is it?" Celinda asked.
"They look a little younger to me," the sonographer mused. "A good two or three weeks younger." He typed a final series of numbers onto the computer and hit a print button.
"Here's something for the scrapbook. Baby A and Baby B," he said, smiling. "Congratulations, Mom and Dad."
Noah and Celinda, dazed, watched the sonographer leave the room.
Looking down at the paper, Celinda began to shake. "I was right all along," she whispered. Looking back up at Noah, she smiled shakily. "You're going to be a father after all."
Noah, overwhelmed, grinned and took her in his arms, heedless of her sticky belly, and kissed her joyously.
Noah smiled to himself, as he sat with his friends at their regular table for lunch. He grinned as he touched his knife to his glass, getting everyone's attention.
"What's going on?" Cody asked, confused at the formality.
"I have an announcement to make." Noah grinned wider.
"You're getting married?" Ike asked surprised. "I didn't know you were seeing anyone."
"No, I'm not getting married."
"You're quitting," Cody guessed.
"Will you shut up and let the man talk?" Buck became impatient.
"I'm going to be a father," Noah blurted.
"It's not April 1st, is it?" Ike asked.
"No, I really am going to be a father."
"How?" Cody questioned.
"What do you mean, Cody?" Noah asked. "Didn't your dad ever have 'the talk' with you? Sometimes, when a man and a woman have 'special feelings' for each other ---"
"Okay, okay, I get the picture," Cody held his hands up to stop Noah from continuing. "The question is – who's the woman? We didn't know you were seeing anyone."
"Is it Cassie?" Buck asked.
"It must be that mysterious "C" woman! Cathleen? Catherine? Colleen? Cara? Christine? Candy? Cleopatra? Clytemnestra?" Cody tried to guess.
"It's Celinda, all right?" Noah blurted, wishing to shut his friend up.
"Jimmy's sister Celinda?" Buck asked surprised.
"You've been sleeping with Jimmy's sister?" Cody cried.
"Cody, please don't speak like that about the mother of my children, okay?" Noah sighed, though a small smile tagged at the corner of his lips.
"Children?" Buck choked.
Noah beamed at his friends' surprised faces. "Celinda's having twins."
"Twins?" Ike repeated.
"You're quite a stallion, aren't you?" Cody laughed and slapped Noah's back.
"So, how long have the two of you been seeing each other?" Ike asked.
"Yeah, and isn't she married?" Cody questioned, always the one to put his foot in his mouth.
Noah sighed again. "She's getting a divorce, and we've been seeing each other for the past couple of years."
"Guys," Kidd finally interfered. "It's none of our business. We should just congratulate Noah, and that's it."
"You're right, Kidd," Buck said, grinning widely at Noah. "Congratulations, man."
"To many sleepless nights," Ike winked as he raised his glass as if to make a toast.
All men followed his example, each raising their glass, "To many sleepless nights."
Kidd sighed as he emptied Zach's wastepaper basket into a larger bag. A piece of blue paper fluttered to the ground, missing the bag. Bending over to pick it up, he glanced at it.
"STORYTELLING HOUR", it read. Glancing down the page, he saw that Zach's teacher had sent the notice home to the parents to let them know each child would be reciting a short folk tale from a different country at a special presentation, and the parents were invited. The paper had been crumpled and thrown away.
"Zach?" Kidd called to his son. The little boy looked up.
"What's this note from your teacher? I didn't see it in your bag."
Zach looked stricken.
"What is it, Zach?" Kidd moved over and sat on the bed next to his son.
"I threw it away," Zach admitted.
"Why would you do that?" Kidd asked, puzzled.
"I didn't want you and Mom to know about it."
"But why not? We'd both love to come and see you give your story."
Zach got up and started fumbling with some papers at his little desk.
"Zach? I asked why you threw that note away, buddy. What's up? You nervous about your story?"
Zach shook his head no.
"What is it, then?"
Zach sighed. "I didn't want Mom to come," he said reluctantly.
Kidd sat silently a moment. Finally, he spoke, choosing his words carefully. "Why didn't you want Mom to come to see you give your talk, Zach?"
Zach's eyes were full of tears. "Because I don't want the kids or my teacher to see her."
Kidd looked down at his hands. "How come?"
"Because she... she looks funny now. She drools and walks weird, and sometimes she talks weird. And she... she isn't smart anymore. The other kids will laugh at her."
Kidd felt his stomach turning into a painful knot. "Your mom can't help that, Zach. It's because of the accident."
"I know, but I still don't want the other kids to make fun of her," Zach said, tears starting to roll down his face. "I don't want them to make fun of me," he finished, shamed.
Kidd looked up and saw a shadow by the doorway, moving away.
"Please don't tell Mommy," Zach pleaded.
"I need to think about it, Zach," Kidd said. "You think about it too, okay?" Kidd got up and went into the hallway, seeing Lou's door shutting at the end. He sighed, and went down the hallway.
He opened the door and heard Lou crying in the bathroom. "Lou?" he said softly, tapping at the door.
"It's open," she sniffled.
He opened the door and saw his wife sitting on the bathroom floor, her knees pulled up. Tears were streaming down her face.
"If he doesn't want me to come, I won't," she wept. "Can you go, and take a video for me?"
Kidd sat and put his arm around her. "I think you should go."
"He doesn't want me there. I don't want to embarrass him."
Kidd stroked her hair. "He's overreacting. The kids won't notice anything..."
"That's not the point. The point is that I don't want him upset and worrying that someone will notice and make fun. He doesn't need to be the kid with the freak for the mother," she sobbed.
"You're not a freak, Lou –"
"Yes, I am," she said. "And he's ashamed of me."
He stroked her arm, and she turned and buried her face in his arms, crying heartbrokenly.
Kidd carried her to her bed, crying, and laid her down on it. He got in next to her and held her until her sobs slowed, and her eyelids started drooping. He stroked her face, and she mumbled, "Thanks, Michael."
"You're welcome," he whispered, daring to lean down and kiss her gently on the forehead.
"I love you," she whispered back as she dropped off to sleep. Kidd caught his breath; it was the first time she'd said the words to him since the accident. He lay watching her sleeping peacefully, then eased out of the bed, walking down toward Zach's room.
Tapping on the door again, he came in Zach's room, where he was sitting and coloring. He shut the door behind himself carefully.
"Zach, I need to talk to you."
"What is it, Dad?"
Kidd paused. "Mommy was in the hallway. She heard us talking, and her feelings got hurt."
Zach's face looked stricken.
"What are you going to do? Are you going to make me let her come?"
Kidd shook his head. "No, Zach. I'm leaving it up to you to do what you think is right. But I think you should know that Mommy loves you and is disappointed that she can't go to your storytime."
He got up and patted the child on the head. It's hard on him, Kidd thought ruefully. God knows. But this is how it is.
As he picked up some laundry in Jamie's room, Kidd saw Zach padding toward the door to Lou's room, clutching the school notice in his hands.
Kidd set down the laundry basket and tiptoed to the doorway, listening as Zach went in to Lou's bed.
"Wake up, Mommy," Zach said, as the bedsprings creaked.
"Hey, Zachy," Lou said sleepily. "What's up?"
"I wanted to tell you. There's a storytime next week, and I want you to come."
Kidd heard the paper crinkle as Zach handed it to Lou.
"You're sure, Zachy?" Lou's voice was trembling a little.
"I'm sure, Mommy," Zach said, and Kidd peeked through the door to see the two embracing. He smiled proudly and went back to pick up the laundry and take it downstairs.
It was Sunday dinner at Kidd and Lou’s house, and Jeremiah and Daisy had joined them for a special meal. Mary Theresa cooed happily in her swing as the noisy gathering went on around her.
Jeremiah cleared his throat and spoke, glancing at Daisy. "Everybody, I have some wonderful news."
When everyone turned to look at Jeremiah, he smiled affectionately at Daisy. "Daisy here's made me the happiest man in the world. She's said she'll marry me," he said, his voice catching a little. Daisy's eyes misted over a little at watching her tough soldier boyfriend choking up.
"Yes," Daisy added. "Right after graduation."
Lou set down her glass with a thud. "That soon?" she said, worried. "But you won't have time to plan anything, you'll never get a reception hall on such short notice," she fussed.
"Not to worry, Lou. I found a beautiful church for the wedding, and it's available in June," Daisy reassured her. “We planned most of it before we made our announcement because we didn’t want you stressing about it.”
Lou breathed a sigh of relief. "But what about the reception?"
"I've already booked the perfect place. Not only is it within walking distance of the church, more importantly, it's where Jeremiah and I met," Daisy gushed.
Lou looked confused. Jeremiah was shooting warning looks at Daisy, but the excited girl was not catching on.
"I thought you met in English Literature class," Lou said, glancing at Jeremiah, who put his hand nervously over his hair.
"Oh no! We had English class together, but there were 300 kids in that class, we didn't meet there the first time. We met at the Dance Cave, on "Goth to Dance Thursday", two years ago last month," Daisy said dreamily, turning to look at Jeremiah. "Jeremiah, what is it? You look upset."
"Nothing," he managed, avoiding Lou's eyes.
"So the reception is going to be in a Goth dance club," Lou said slowly.
"Yes, but don't worry, Lou. I've booked the whole club, so we'll have it all to ourselves and our guests. And it'll be fine for the kids. I was hoping that Zach and Jamie could be the ring bearer and the flower girl. I have the most amazing ideas for their costumes. I can measure them tonight if that's okay."
"Yay! I'm gonna be a flower girl?" Jamie said joyously, though she had little idea of what that meant.
"You bet, sweetheart. And wait until you see the costume I'm going to make!" Daisy enthused to her.
"Costumes?" choked Lou. Desperately, she attempted, "But... but that sounds like a lot of work for you, Daisy –"
"Not at all, Lou. I took costume design and fashion classes as part of my art major and I got all A's. I'll take care of everything; you needn't trouble yourself a bit about anything. Just come and enjoy yourself," Daisy said happily.
"Your dress, though – you may have trouble getting the one you want. A lot of them have to be ordered way in advance. We'd better get shopping this weekend, don't you think?"
"Buy a dress?" Daisy exclaimed. "I wouldn't hear of it! I'm making it, of course!" She turned and put her hand on the back of Jeremiah's head. His hair was still buzz-cut since the Army, and she stroked his short hair lovingly. "It's going to be my masterpiece. A perfect artistic expression of my love for Jeremiah," she said dreamily.
Lou drew a breath. She knew Daisy saw her ever-changing hair and makeup and wild clothes as artistic expression. She dreaded the thought of what the free-spirited girl would come up with for the wedding. She looked over Daisy now; she had gotten so used to Daisy's bizarre getups that she hardly noticed them anymore. Recently, Daisy had glued her long hair into Liberty spikes; she wore a Kutte vest festooned with her own brightly colored drawings, red plaid pants and combat boots. Lou shuddered a little at the thought of the extended family banging heads at her brother's wedding reception in a Goth nightclub.
But watching Daisy lean over and nuzzle Jeremiah's neck, and the look in the pair's eyes, Lou softened. Daisy's face was shining with innocence and love, and Lou knew that she would make her brother happy. That was all that mattered, really. She smiled, getting up and walking around the table to hug her brother and Daisy. "I'm so happy for you both," she said sincerely. "I don't have to welcome you to the family, because you're already a part of it, sweetheart," she said, narrowly avoiding one of Daisy's hair spikes as she leaned in to kiss her cheek.
A week later, Kidd held Lou's hand tightly as they walked in to Zach's classroom. Lou held on to his arm; she had insisted on leaving her cane in the car so that the children would not see it. Kidd quickly helped her to one of the folding chairs set up for the parents, and she sat down. He took a seat next to her and noticed that she took a handkerchief out of her purse with shaking hands, pressing it to her mouth and keeping her eyes down. Kidd got the video camera ready, as the children prepared for the presentation.
"Mothers and fathers, welcome to our Storytime Hour," the teacher said. "Your children have worked very hard on this presentation, and we're so glad you could make it today."
Kidd smiled at Zach, who was sitting calmly waiting for his turn. Two children got up and gave their stories, and then a little boy started crying, refusing to leave his seat. His mother called, "Come on, sweetheart. You know you can do it," and the little fellow got up and ran from the room sobbing. Everyone looked down awkwardly as the mother got up from her seat and went after him. Lou clutched Kidd's hand nervously, as Zach got up to do his presentation.
"My name is Zach McCloud, and my story is "The Tricky Rabbit". It's a story from Cambodia," Zach started, and proceeded to give his little story complete with expressive gestures. He bowed with a flourish at the end and the parents applauded politely.
Lou's hand tightened around Kidd's, and the two of them looked at each other warmly. "He did great," she whispered proudly. To her surprise, Zach stopped in front of her chair instead of going back to his seat, and gave her a hug. "You're the prettiest mom here," he whispered softly into her ear, and returned to his seat. Lou smiled at Kidd, who grinned back. "He's right, you know," he whispered to her gently, and she blushed, looking down at her program with a giggle.
After storytime was over, Kidd drove Lou home, the two of them chatting amiably about Zach all the way. He pulled in to the garage and helped her up to the doorway. Daisy met them at the door, car keys in hand. "I have to run," she apologized. "Got a class, but the baby's napping. How'd he do?"
"Great," Lou said proudly.
"I'm glad. The maid will be here in a couple hours, and Jeremiah will be stopping by around four, in case you need any help," Daisy called over her shoulder as she ran to her own beat-up old car.
"Thanks, Daisy," Lou called back, as she went in to the house.
Kidd helped his wife up the stairs. "You seem a little tired," he worried.
"I'm okay... but I may lie down for a bit, while the baby's asleep," she said.
He followed her in to the bedroom, and started to change into work clothes.
Lou sat on the edge of the bed, taking off her shoes slowly. "He really did do a great job," she said. "I'm so glad I went."
Kidd came over and sat next to her. "I was so proud of him today," he remarked, and they touched hands again. Feeling close to her for the first time in weeks, he impulsively pulled her towards him, pressing his head against hers. He was relieved when she didn't pull away, but decided he'd better not push his luck. He started to get up again, and again she held him back. "I love you, Lou," he choked, and his heart seemed to burst in his chest when she answered, "I love you too," her eyes shining.
Lou put her hand up to his face, tentatively, stroking his hair. He shifted a little, uncomfortable. She hasn't touched me willingly since before the accident, he thought. His body was reacting to it and he didn't want her to notice and become afraid. But she seemed fine, and even put her other hand up toward his face.
Her hands were soft and barely touching him, as if she had never touched him before. Her fingers grazed his temples, down his jaw line, to his lips. She cupped his face in her hands and brought her forehead to touch his.
Kidd kept his left hand down on the bed, his right hand fisted by his side nervously, resisting the urge to touch her or kiss her. I have to wait, see what she's doing, he thought, agonized. He saw she was breathing a little fast, but he didn't move. She rubbed her face against his cheek, moving forward. "Michael," she whispered shakily, running her lips down his neck. She tried to unbutton his shirt, but her hands were still fumbling since the accident. "Can you?" she asked softly, sitting back.
He stood and took off the shirt, laying it on a chair by the bed. She let her eyes run over him, and stood to put her arms around his neck. Her head only came to his shoulder, and he could feel her breath on his chest. He risked putting his arms around her waist and resting his head on hers, and could feel her lips pressed against his chest. His heart was racing madly, but he stood holding her, just rocking back and forth.
She pulled away and his heart ached, but he tried to keep from showing it; when she turned and took the diaphragm case from the drawer. She looked questioningly at him, and he leaned over and kissed her intimately, pulling her to him around the waist. She broke away again and went to the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. He heard water running, then a few minutes later, she emerged shyly, her clothes scattered behind her on the bathroom floor.
He went to her, bending to pick her up and carry her to their bed and lay her down on it. He propped himself up on his hands over her.
"Do you want to stop?" he managed, looking down at her.
Her eyes were half shut, but she looked up at him now and shook her head. "I think it's coming back to me now," she whispered.
"So you're telling me, if we go to trial, he's going to be granted the divorce on the grounds of adultery, and I'm probably not going to get the divorce on the grounds of cruelty? What about all the times he hit me, and all the times –"
Her lawyer John sighed. "I know, Celinda. But you never got medical treatment, there's no witnesses other than you, and you stayed with him for more than two years after the last time he hit you before you filed. That makes it look suspicious to the judge. Whereas there's no dispute over your adultery. The evidence is pretty apparent."
Celinda looked down at her belly. "What about alimony?" she whispered.
John shook his head. "You haven't been married long enough. If we could prove cruel treatment within two years before the filing, a conviction of spousal abuse, then you could have gotten it. But you never went to the police, and he hadn't laid a hand on you in the last two years before you filed."
As Celinda nodded slowly, John continued, "The Court will consider all the factors in making a just and proper division of the marital assets. That'll include Nathan's drug problem and how you helped him through that, and stuck by him even though he was sometimes abusive. But it'll also take into account that Nathan got his medical degree before you were married and that he basically built the business; that his abuse – while inexcusable – was in the past and limited to some scattered slapping and pushing with no serious injury; and that you committed adultery."
"So what's the bottom line?"
John handed Celinda the proposed settlement documents. "This latest offer of theirs is reasonable, Celinda. If you have to go to trial, there will be increased legal fees and I can't guarantee you'll get more than this, or even this much. It'll involve testimony that could be very painful for you, and the judge may not make a decision from off the bench. You could end up waiting a few weeks for a decision that may not be any better than this offer. But it's up to you."
Celinda looked over the documents. He'll get the house in Austin, but he'll have to pay me half the value of the equity in it. He's offering me a percentage of the value of his business, it's not half, but it's a lot of money. And some for our stocks and holdings. Bottom line, I'll have a nest egg for me and the children, and I can afford to work part time and get a little house near Washington. Near the babies' father, near Lou and the kids. My other family's gone, I have nothing in Austin anymore.
Celinda looked down the hallway of the courthouse. Nathan was sitting there with his lawyer, waiting for their answer. If I say no, we have to go into the courtroom and have a trial, she thought. I don't want that. I want this marriage over, it's been dead for years. I don't want to keep picking over it now, just... just bury the thing, she thought disgustedly. She got up and walked over toward her husband, as John, alarmed, blurted, "Celinda? Hold on –"
Nathan looked up at his wife dejectedly. "Celinda."
They looked at each other a moment. "Can we go for a walk?" Celinda asked, suddenly, ignoring her attorney's protests.
"I wouldn't recommend it, Nathan-" the other lawyer cautioned. Nathan looked at his wife and nodded, somberly.
The two of them walked toward the waiting area and Nathan pulled out a chair for her by a table, sitting next to her.
After a moment, Celinda dropped her head on her hand. "I'm going to take the offer, Nathan. I don't want to fight anymore."
Nathan nodded somberly. "Me neither."
Celinda wiped her eyes with a tissue he handed her from the box on the table. "I was just thinking back to the old days, Nathan. When we were living together, and you were in medical school. We had nothing... remember eating just those cheap Ramen noodles for dinner? And we were so happy, so in love. It didn't matter that we didn't have anything. Look at us now," she said sorrowfully.
"I know," Nathan managed. "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry too," she whispered. "I know I hurt you, but after everything that we went through, I felt so low, I guess I went looking for something to make up for it, make me feel wanted. Then it turned into something else. And what we had was too weakened by then to withstand it."
"Who is he, Celinda?"
Celinda paused, looking down. "Does it matter?" she asked gently.
"No, I guess not. I'm... I'm glad you'll have your family that you wanted. I hope you'll be happy."
"I'll be fine. No matter what happens with the babies' father, wherever it leads. I've learned to face my feelings and deal with them, not just let them fester until things are beyond repair." She stroked Nathan's hand. "I hope you'll be okay. Happy," she said softly. "And get some help for your anger, please," she pleaded, tears standing in her eyes.
He nodded, crying now too. "I'm so sorry for everything, Celinda. I thought we got past it, but I guess some things, you can't get past. And I guess I still have a problem," he admitted. "I'll never forgive myself for treating you the way I did in Washington."
"I know. But just keep trying, Nathan, keep getting some help. Don't give up because of that setback."
They looked toward the glass partition to the waiting area at their two lawyers, side by side and both looking concerned. Both laughed nervously.
"They look like we're zoo animals they're watching," Celinda chuckled.
Nathan smiled wanly. "Good luck, Celinda. You'll be a great mother."
"Thanks, Nathan." She turned and gestured to the lawyers to come in.
"We're ready to tell the judge we've settled," she said, and the four walked to the Court Clerk.
"Smith v. Smith – final settlement," John told the Clerk, who nodded and marked the Court Calendar, looking oddly at the two litigants, holding hands and drying their eyes.
"The Judge will see you now," the Clerk said, and opened the doors to the Courtroom.
Kidd groaned as the school bus raced past the house – with Zach still slowly putting on his shoes.
"Zach, I asked you to hurry with that five minutes ago," he snapped, irritably. He glanced at the clock. "Now I'm going to have to drive you, and I still have to drop Jamie at preschool. Lou, is she ready yet?"
"I'm working on it," Lou called. Kidd rushed into the kitchen, seeing Lou laboriously cutting up grapes into fourths for Jamie's lunchbox.
Looking desperately at the clock, Kidd tried to keep his patience. "Lou, that's enough grapes, don't you think? I'm going to have to hurry now to get them both where they have to go. I'm probably going to be late for my meeting."
"I'm sorry," Lou mumbled, her clumsy fingers trying to gather the grapes into a Tupperware container.
Kidd opened the refrigerator and grabbed a box of milk to put into the lunchbox.
"Daisy called. She won't be able to pick Jamie up from preschool today, she has the flu," Lou said apprehensively. "I was wondering if you could pick her up and bring her home at lunchtime?"
Kidd stifled a sigh. "We're going to work through lunch today. The rest of the team is going on an operation for two weeks, and I can't even go along. I didn't want to cut out in the middle of the day," he said.
"Maybe I can try to drive," Lou said.
"No, it isn't safe. You're not ready yet," Kidd reminded her. "The doctor says you can't until he tapers down the medication for your seizures."
She looked down helplessly, as Mary Theresa started to cry upstairs. She started laboriously up the stairs toward her, calling back, "Well, then I guess she'll have to stay home from preschool. Just take Zach."
Kidd looked after her, worried. "Are you sure you can handle both of them alone all morning? The maid won't be here until one o'clock."
Jamie burst into tears. "But I want to go to preschool! They're having a party today!" she wailed, flinging herself on the floor and pounding her heels into it. Kidd looked apprehensively at the little girl. If she got too crazed, Lou might not be physically able to handle it, he thought worried.
"Dad, I have to change my clothes," Zach said. "I spilled yogurt." Kidd looked at his son's shirt and pants, both covered in bright pink yogurt, and again at the clock.
"Okay, Zach," he said through gritted teeth. He ran to the clothes dryer and pulled out a new pair of pants and shirt, tossing them to the boy. "Put these on and please hurry."
"Jamie, I'm sorry but there won't be time to take you to preschool now," Kidd said reluctantly. "And there's nobody to pick you up and take you home. Be good for Mommy, okay?"
Jamie stood up and flung her backpack across the room. "Why can't Mommy take me?" she demanded.
"Because Mommy's taking medicine and it isn't safe for her to drive," he explained. "Zach, can you please stop watching cartoons and get dressed?"
Lou stood at the top of the stairs, holding Mary Theresa. "Michael, could you carry her down for me?"
He came up and got the baby, helping Lou down the stairs carefully. "I'm not sure I can leave Jamie here with you alone," he worried. "She's in a rotten mood."
"I know, but Celinda's out of town, Jeremiah has a class, and Daisy's sick. Look, it's only until the maid gets here at one, hopefully I'll be able to calm her down."
Seeing Lou's hands trembling as she helped Zach into his shirt, Kidd sighed. "I'll take her to daycare, she's been looking forward to it. And I'll... I'll figure out a way to duck out and get her home from preschool too, but..." he stopped.
Lou's cheeks burned with shame, but she knew that she was too physically weak and shaky to take care of both rambunctious Jamie and baby Mary Theresa alone, especially when Jamie was this worked up. She nodded, sadly, as Kidd scooped Jamie, her backpack and lunchbox up, and called to Zach to go to the car. "I'll call Tyler's mom. Maybe she can take Jamie home when she picks him up today. I'll let you know," she said. Kidd nodded and kissed her goodbye.
As he carried Jamie to the car and buckled her in, Kidd felt overwhelmed with anxiety and stress. There's so much to do for this operation. So much to do at home, with Lou still not one hundred percent. She's trying so hard, but... I don't know how we can keep up with everything with me working this job. Something's got to give either here or at the job, at this rate. I guess I'd better give some serious thought to that promotion Teaspoon talked about the other day. Long operations and late meetings are going to be a problem if Lou doesn't get a lot better. And God forbid if something were to happen to me in the field, I have to think about Lou and my children and what that would do to them. But the last thing I ever thought was I'd end up riding a desk for a living, he thought dismally.
Noah smiled as he saw Celinda walking down the stairs at the airport. It had only been a week since he had seen her, but he missed her even more than he had expected. His grin widened as he noticed her holding the banister tightly, careful not to lose her balance due to her huge six-months-pregnant-with-twins belly. Where my babies grow, he thought.
Celinda smiled as she noticed him, standing at the bottom of the stair, looking nervous. She reached him and kissed him lightly, before she melted in his hug. "It's so good to be back. I missed you so much," she whispered.
"How was it?" Noah asked. Though she told him everything over the phone, he wanted to see the truth in her eyes when she told him everything was okay.
Celinda tightened her arms around him. "Oh, Noah," she sighed. "I don't want to talk about it anymore. The most important thing is that it's over, and I'm Celinda Hickok again."
"Um, Celinda," Noah started, "about that..."
Celinda looked at him expectantly, raising her eyebrows.
Noah cleared his throat. "There's something I've been wanting to ask you for a while. Now that you're free, it seems like a good time to do it." He took a deep breath before he continued. He reached inside his jacket pocket.
Celinda held her breath. Oh, my God. Is he going to propose? she thought giddily.
Noah pulled something out, but held it in a closed fist. "How about if you come home with me now, instead of the hotel, and we move in together?" he opened his hand, revealing a key, wrapped in a tiny bow.
Celinda looked surprised, and a little disappointed, but quickly shook her head and chuckled to herself. Get a grip on yourself, Celinda Hickok, you've been divorced for less than 24 hours. She smiled at Noah and kissed him happily. "I'd be happy to move in with you."
Noah smiled back and took her hand in his, leading her out of the airport.
Standing on the deck in his backyard, Noah couldn't believe how quickly time had passed and how much his life had changed from his single life of just a short time ago. These months living with Celinda have been the happiest couple of months of my life, he reflected. Having someone there waiting for me every night when I get home from work, to talk about my day or help me forget it. Things are sure moving fast, we're going from secret lovers a few times a year to living together and now, in a couple more weeks, it'll be the four of us. A family. He shook his head in pleased disbelief, and smiled across the yard toward Celinda.
Celinda waved back from the decorated glider that had been one of the presents at this "Jack and Jill" baby shower and barbecue that Celinda's friends from the hospital had planned for them, with Lou's help. Zach and Jamie ran and played all over the yard, giggling and yelling happily. My kids will be like that in a few short years, he thought.
Kidd came out of the house onto the deck and set a plate of steaks on the table. Seeing where Noah's gaze was trained, Kidd clapped him on the back. "You'll get there soon enough, and then you wish you could turn back time and get them back inside," he joked, indicating Celinda's belly.
"Maybe, but I can't wait to see them," Noah admitted.
"I know, but enjoy this time too. Much as your life's changed in the last couple of months, it's nothing compared to how much it'll change once they're here. Let me tell you a few war stories about taking care of just one newborn at a time," Kidd said, handing Noah a Coors and popping the lid off another.
Jeremiah came over and fished in the cooler for another beer. "It's getting a little too intense over there with all this baby talk," he said, nodding toward the clump of women squealing and babbling loudly around Celinda's chair. "Good Lord," he muttered, as Celinda held up a double-barreled breast pump set and several women started talking about what to use for sore nipples. "Thought I'd come over here for some guy talk. What are you guys talking about?"
"Babies," Kidd answered, tossing some steaks on the grill. Jeremiah wiped his hand over his eyes in mock despair.
"So what do you and Daisy have planned for after graduation?" Noah asked, laughing.
"The wedding and a honeymoon, of course. Daisy's always wanted to see Italy and Greece, so we'll be doing that for a couple weeks," Jeremiah answered, his face softening as he watched Daisy presenting their gift to Celinda. The two older men exchanged amused glances as Jeremiah lost track of the conversation, watching his fiancée.
Turning back, Jeremiah continued. "Daisy's got a job lined up here in Washington, when we get back. She'll be working as an illustrator for a children's magazine, and doing her painting and sculpting on the side, of course. Someday she'll get discovered, she's an amazing artist," Jeremiah said.
"I know, Celinda bought a bunch of her paintings, we love them," Noah said. "I wouldn't be surprised if she could make a good living off her serious art. What about you?"
"Got a job teaching high school history, going to keep going for my PhD at night." Jeremiah said.
"What school are you going to work at?"
Hearing Jeremiah's answer, Noah whistled. "That's a tough school district," he remarked.
Jeremiah shrugged. "I survived Iraq for three years. I think I'll survive. And good teachers are needed there more than anywhere else."
"That's true. Good luck with that, man," Noah said approvingly.
"This where the party's at?" Cody's voice boomed from the gate to the backyard. "Open this gate, willya? This is heavy."
One of Celinda's friends opened the gate and Cody and Buck came in carrying a large, unwrapped flat cardboard box between them. Teaspoon and Ike came in behind them carrying an identical one.
Setting them down, Teaspoon remarked, "For the happy parents-to-be, from all us fellas and Lou. They're the little sprouts' cribs y'all registered for."
Noah walked over and helped Celinda up, thanking his friends. "But it's too much, you guys shouldn't have," he protested. Teaspoon waved his hand, "It was our pleasure, and a confirmed bachelor like you settlin' down and havin' two babies called for a special gift. Now boys, let's get these things set up, what do ya say?"
Ike had disappeared to the truck in the driveway and reappeared carrying a toolbox. Spotting a project, all the men converged on the two boxes. As the men busily fitted the cribs together, Teaspoon remarked quietly to Kidd, "I'll be needin' an answer about that promotion pretty soon, Kidd."
Glancing over toward Lou, who was looking over a matching set of his and hers sailor suits with Celinda and out of earshot, Kidd nodded. "I'm thinking it over. It's a pretty big decision. I didn't really see myself in a desk job quite this soon," he admitted.
"Sure. Guess you need to talk it over with Lou, that kind of thing."
Kidd didn't contradict Teaspoon, but looked guiltily over at his wife, and noticed, worriedly, that she looked a little tired, and her hands were shaking as they sometimes still did when she overtaxed herself. Between the baby shower, Daisy's bridal shower, the wedding, and trying too hard to get back into a routine with taking care of the children and house, not to mention working hard in physical therapy and occupational therapy and speech therapy... Lou had been overdoing it, he knew. He sighed and nodded.
"I'll give you an answer by the end of the week," he promised.
Kidd knew he was in trouble the minute he walked in the house. The wedding was only a couple of weeks away, and Lou had been harried all week over it. She was busy with her and the baby's clothes, as well as his own; the guest list and any other thing Daisy and Jeremiah needed. But today, when she didn't even greet him when he entered, he knew something was wrong. He entered the kitchen where she was tearing up lettuce for the dinner salad.
"Hi, honey," he kissed her cheek innocently.
Lou didn't answer or turn to face him.
Kidd picked Mary Theresa from her pink bouncer. He cooed to the baby, as he headed into the living room, when Lou's angry voice stopped him.
"So when were you going to tell me?"
"Tell you what, honey?" he asked confused.
"Don't play that innocent game with me, Michael. I know you've been offered a promotion to site director. When were you going to tell me?"
Kidd sighed and sat on the chair by the table. "I wasn't trying to hide it from you."
"But you didn't tell me about it either, did you?" she snapped.
"How did you find out about it anyway?" Kidd asked.
"I called Teaspoon today to see if he was coming to the wedding, and he let it slip."
When he stood staring at her silently, Lou became frustrated. "We used to make these kind of decisions together. I can't believe you never even breathed a word of this to me."
"I know, Lou, but you were so busy with everything and I didn't want to bother you with this."
"Or maybe you don't think I'm capable of thinking about important stuff like that..." her voice broke.
Kidd looked up at her in surprise. He put the baby back in her bouncer and pulled Lou into his lap. "Oh, Lou," he said, resting his forehead against hers. "I don't think that, you have to know I don't. It's just that you have so much on your mind and I didn't want to add anything else. It's a big decision Lou. I know it affects the whole family, but it will change my life completely. I wanted to figure out what I really wanted to do before I talked to you about it."
"So what do you want, Michael?"
Kidd looked at her eyes intently before he started. "Well, there's the obvious. This promotion means more money, better hours, but it's a desk job."
"It's safe," Lou added quietly.
Kidd nodded. "I'm a field agent, Lou. I have been for the last ten years. There'll be a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy and red tape to contend with, and that's not what I became an agent for. To be honest, I don't think I'd take it if I didn't have you and the kids to think about. I know it's probably best for the family, but I'm afraid I'll hate this new position and end up resentful someday. There's just a lot for me to think about, and I needed to decide this for myself, not push it off on you. I don't want to put you in that position."
She sighed. "I understand. But I'm here to listen if you need me, and I'll support whatever you decide."
"I appreciate that, Lou. And... and I've decided. You and the kids are the most important thing in my life. More important than anything else. I'm taking the desk job."
"Michael..." she sighed. "Are you sure?"
Lou looked conflicted. "Michael, I know you're only doing it because... because I'm not able to take care of things while you're away on assignment or if... if anything happened," she said, fighting tears. "I want you to know, you don't have to do this."
"It's best, Lou, you know that. We need to do something to take the pressure off, things aren't functioning like this."
Lou played with his shirt collar, whispering, "I'll do whatever I can so you'll never regret it."
Kidd shook his head and pulled her closer. "Lou, I don't want you to feel like you owe me anything for doing this. It's my decision, and I'll never blame you for it. I promise."
It was the third Sunday in June, and Kidd was pretending to sleep as two sets of footsteps approached his bedroom door, amid chortling and giggling from Jamie and Zach. They knocked on the door and Lou called out, "Come on in, you two."
"Surprise, Daddy!" the little duo screamed, carrying in a tray loaded down with two bowls of cereal with milk and two glasses of orange juice, all sloshing over the tray as they carried it to the bed. "Happy Father's Day!"
Kidd made an elaborate show of sitting up and rubbing his eyes, as Lou helped the children with the tray. "Breakfast in bed! What a wonderful surprise, I love it!"
"We have presents, too," Jamie said, offering him a lopsided card and an odd looking paperweight. "That's for your desk at work."
"Well, I can see that, of course. I can't wait to put it on my papers, honey."
Zach handed over a present as Lou slipped from the room. She returned a minute later, carrying Mary Theresa in one arm and a flat, wrapped box in the other.
After Kidd opened and admired the tie Zach had picked out and paid for with his own allowance, Lou said softly, "And here's one from all of us."
As the children played with the baby on the rug, Kidd looked at Lou curiously and lifted the box's lid. "Lou... what is this?" he said, lifting out an envelope. He pulled the papers from inside, and felt his eyes smarting with tears.
"I had a lawyer draw all this up. This one," she said, selecting it, "Is all the paperwork to change my last name to Kidd. This is the petition to change Zach's last name legally to Kidd also. And this..."
"Adoption papers for Jamie," he whispered, tears threatening to spill over.
"I know we're already a family. But I wanted to make it official, so if anything ever happens to me again..."
"Don't even say that," Kidd said quickly, kissing her lips to silence her. "It's bad luck."
"Silly," she scoffed at him. Turning serious, she added, "And you already are a father to Jamie in all the ways that matter. But after the adoption, her name will be Jamie Hickok-Kidd, so she'll carry both her fathers' names," she said wistfully. "If that's okay with you."
"It's wonderful with me," he said, as the children clambered up on the bed with his wife, and he held all four of them.
Kidd walked Lou down the aisle of the beautifully decorated church, covered with brightly colored flowers and flickering with candles. "Have I told you how beautiful you look today?" he whispered, as they took a seat with Mary Theresa in the front pew on the groom's side, nodding at Jeremiah standing by the altar with his best man, his best friend Jesse. Lou smoothed out her long, flowing blue dress. "I hope it's appropriate for the Dance Cave," she giggled.
"I can't wait to see what she's made for Jamie and herself to wear," Kidd whispered back. They had convinced Daisy to let Zach wear a suit matching Jeremiah's and the best man's attire, but she had insisted on making all the dresses for herself, her maid of honor, and Jamie. She had refused to give even a hint of her theme, insisting, to Lou's apprehension, that the ‘impact' would be lessened if people knew in advance what the dresses would look like.
Their children emerged first; Zach in his handsome little suit, and, as the onlookers gasped in admiration, he led his sister Jamie by the hand. She was wearing a perfectly fitted little dress of sheer layers of material, scattered with hand-sewn embroidered flowers and ribbons. She wore flowers in her dark hair and scattered rose petals from a basket over her arm as she went. The finishing touch, Daisy had made a set of sparkling fairy wings, and the little girl looked thrilled as could be.
The children reached their parents, and hopped up beside them happily. Lou watched as Daisy's best friend walked down the aisle in a dress made of similar material to Jamie's, and sighed in relief to see Daisy had omitted the wings from this outfit.
The congregation stood, and Lou and Kidd grinned at each other as a punk-rock version of Wagner's Wedding March started to play from the speakers. The congregation turned to watch the doors open for the bride.
They opened, and Daisy stepped forward; Lou started crying at the sight, Kidd patting her arm indulgently.
Daisy stood in the entranceway beside her father Roger. She wore a beautiful, elaborate white gown encrusted with sparkling beads and embroidery. She had chosen a bateau neckline and lacy bell sleeves, covering her tattoos; and she had washed the multi-colored dye from her hair and taken her piercings out. She smiled serenely at her groom as she walked beside her father, her long strawberry-blonde hair cascading down her back in soft waves.
Jamie gurgled happily to her mother, "She looks like a princess, doesn't she, Mommy?" Lou nodded and gently shushed the little girl, as Daisy reached the altar.
Jeremiah looked at Daisy, enraptured but a little confused. As he took her hand, he whispered dubiously, "Daisy?"
She grinned mischievously at him, sticking her tongue out slightly, revealing a tongue stud. "It's me," she whispered back.
"You look so beautiful," he breathed back, relieved, as he leaned in and kissed her mouth.
"Wait a little for that, son," the priest said, chuckling, and the pair laughed and turned toward him.
Picking his way among guests and tables, Kidd found his wife and children sitting at a large table in the Dance Cave. "Here's some food for everybody," he said dubiously. "Or at least what passes for it."
"You knew Daisy was a vegan, Michael," Lou pointed out. "Try it, you might like it. Try a falafel, they look good," she suggested, helping Jamie with her plate.
"I think I'll be hitting the drive through on the way home," Noah whispered to Kidd.
"You and me both," Kidd said dismally as the falafel fell apart and landed in a sloppy mess on the plate.
"It wouldn't kill you two to expand your culinary horizons a little. Not every meal has to have meat," Celinda said irritably.
"I'm from Texas. Every meal does have to have meat. And you aren't eating any of it," Noah pointed out.
"I'm not feeling very well," she mumbled, her head in her hand. "And this place is making me dizzy. All this Goth is too much for me in my condition."
Noah stroked her arm gently. "I'm sorry, honey. Is there anything else I can get you?"
Celinda's expression changed and she gasped, looking down in astonishment.
"You can get me to the hospital," she gasped. "My water just broke," she said, in a hushed tone.
"WHAT?" Noah shouted.
Celinda desperately pulled at him. "Shush, Noah! Let's try to get out of here without a big scene, I don't want to detract from Daisy and Jeremiah's day, please."
But Noah, not listening, bolted through the reception, shouting, "Get out of the way! Woman with a baby! With two babies! Get out of the way, I have to get her to the car!"
Jamie and Zach looked after them with interest.
"Aunt Celinda is having her babies now?" Jamie piped up, wiping tahini across her face.
"Yes, honey. Your two cousins should be here soon," Lou said happily.
The band returned from its break and invited all the couples to come out onto the dance floor. The opening lines filtered out...
Why do I do, just as you say Why must I just, give you your way Why do I sigh, why don't I try - to forget It must have been, that something lovers call fate
Kidd smiled at Lou, and she looked back shyly. "Our song," she whispered, listening.
Kept me saying: "I have to wait" I saw them all, just couldn't fall - 'til we met It had to be you, it had to be you
"May I have this dance?" Kidd asked, standing and holding a hand out to her. She hesitated only a moment, listening to the next lines.
I wandered around, and finally found - the somebody who Could make me be true, and could make me be blue And even be glad, just to be sad - thinking of you
Smiling, Lou got up and took her husband's hand, and he walked her out on the dance floor.
Some others I've seen, might never be mean Might never be cross, or try to be boss But they wouldn't do
Kidd was amazed at how far Lou had come – she was so beautiful, dancing lightly in his arms, swaying to the music, sparkling up at him like in the old days. He even spun her around, dipping her and raising her back up for a final kiss as their children looked on clapping from their table.
For nobody else, gave me a thrill - with all your faults, I love you still It had to be you, wonderful you It had to be you.
Lou knocked on the door to Celinda's hospital room. "Hello?" she called softly. "Everybody awake?"
"Come on in," Celinda called back. "I hope you brought the children."
"They're in the waiting room with Michael," Lou said, coming in and cooing to the two beautiful babies in their carts by the bed.
"I'll tell them they can come in for a little while," Noah said.
After he left, Lou giggled. "He looks ten years older than last night. And you look fantastic, Celinda."
"I've never been so happy," Celinda admitted, stroking her daughter's cheek.
Kidd came in with the three children, and Jamie bounded up to the carts.
"Now, remember, gently, Jamie," Kidd cautioned. "They're very little, much littler than Mary."
"Gently," Jamie repeated, touching a tiny bootie reverently.
"What are their names?" Zach said, looking at them.
"Connor James and Chloe Louise," Celinda said proudly.
"She's really pretty," Zach remarked of the baby nearest him.
"They're both beautiful," Lou confirmed, holding Connor and gazing down at him. Something tugged at her heart... she wished she could have one more baby, have this special time with one more. With her baby's father there, she thought wistfully. She'd missed that with all three of her children, but Michael was terrified of another pregnancy with her precarious health and didn't want to risk it. There were too many medications she would have to stop taking, and too many risks if she did so, for another pregnancy, she knew that. But... she sighed and placed the baby in his father's arms.
"Congratulations," she said softly, as Kidd put an arm around her and hugged her. Looking at her little family gathered around the twins, she smiled, remembering again how lucky they were... three healthy children, each other. She leaned up for a kiss from Michael and wove her hand into his, content.
Lyrics to "It Had to Be You" written by Gus Kahn, 1924.