“I can’t leave them.” He amazes himself when he says it but, at the same time, there is not a single doubt in his mind that he is making the right choice. Marc nods and doesn’t question him, more evidence that he is doing the right thing.
“I’ll tell Dan and Mario. They’ll know what to do.” Sid knows if he was any other player he’d be expected on the ice they next day after the birth of his child, and he knows that he is abusing his position but he realizes that he doesn’t feel any guilt about doing it.
“I hope V understands,” he says, changing the subject somewhat. Marc glances over his shoulder at his girlfriend who is leaning against their SUV, her long, dark hair hiding the disappointment they both know she is feeling.
“She’ll get over it, with time,” Marc says quietly but there is a certain amount of despondency in the keeper’s voice as he says it. Sid makes a mental note to speak with someone in the legal department when he gets back. It seems unfair that their not being married yet and being ‘young’ should be held against them when it comes to adoption, especially when he can see now the hope draining from them both.
“Still, give her a hug and a kiss from me,” he tells his friend quietly. Flower nods and then reaches to offer his hand.
“Félicitations à vous deux mes amis,” he says sincerely.
“Thanks Flower,” Sid replies, taking his friend’s hand and pulling him into a hug. They pat one another’s back as friend’s do but hold on a little longer than usual. There are things they cannot say now, things they might say later, or not that a hug can say now.
“Bonne chance,” the finely boned goalie whispers and Sid notes the barely in check emotion in his voice as he does. He nods and then gives his friend’s hand a squeeze before Marc turns to go. He hopes things might be able to go back to the way they were before all of this, but he doubts it and he can see the same thought in his teammate’s eyes before he turns to go. He watches him walk away, watches him gather Vero against him. It will be a long drive back home for the two of them but he cannot linger here in the pre-dawn half light. It’s time to go back to his own family.
By the time he returns to the NICU, she is there. She is in a wheelchair, a blanket across her lap. One of the nurse’s is bent low and by her gestures he can tell that she is explaining the wires, the tubes that lead from their son to all of the monitors around the incubator. Her eyes are wide and the expression on her face is unmistakably one of terror.
He makes his way to her side and reaches to peel one of her hands from where it has a white knuckle grip on the arm rest of the wheelchair. Her hand disappears into his and she holds onto him with a death grip.
“He’s so tiny,” she whispers, her gaze still locked on the tiny pink form in the plastic box in front of them. He watches the fragile looking chest struggle to rise and fall and gives her hand a squeeze.
“He’ll be fine,” he tells her, though he is not at all sure of that himself. “They said he might not look like it but he’ll be just fine.”
“Thirty-two weeks for a preemie really isn’t so bad,” a nurse in Barbie pink scrubs and blonde pig tails appears at the side of the incubator and picks up the clip board and then adjusts one of the leads. “A lot of the complications that can happen are more likely to happen in babies under thirty-two weeks. Mostly he’s just a little bit skinny, so he has trouble staying warm, which we’re helping him with and he’s having a little bit of respiratory issues, which we’re monitoring but honestly, he’s looking pretty good, he’s keeping his blood pressure up and the fetal ultrasound didn’t show any abnormalities so everything is looking good so far and if he keeps up like this, in the morning, mom, you’re gonna feed him and help him fatten up. How does that sound?” He feels as if his heart is going to swell so much it is going to explode and when he looks down, tears are welling in her eyes.
“Sounds great,” he whispers hoarsely, giving her hand another squeeze. “Right?” She nods but he is fairly sure if she tried to actually speak she will just cry.
“Okay, well my names Kammy and I’m the Pedes Resident here and I’m going to be here until the morning shift comes on so if you guys want to go and get some rest, I can come get you if there’s any change at all.” He lets out a breath of relief he had not realized he was holding. He had been assuming they would send him home and he would have to leave them behind. “You both look like you could do with some sleep,” she adds with an encouraging smile.
“Just...just a minute or two more,” Fern says quietly and leans towards the incubator, a tear slipping down her cheek.
“You bet,” Kammy grins and then turns to go and check on another baby. He pushes the wheelchair closer and he can feel the heat coming from the little box.
“Hey there Simon,” he whispers, the sudden urge to run his fingertips over the tissue thin pink skin is so overwhelming that his hand hovers over the box.
“Oh my god, look at his hands,” she whispers, her own fingers fluttering like a moth near a flame. He guesses that she is also feeling the need to touch and comfort the tiny delicate form on the white and blue blanket in front of them.
“I know, long fingers,” he replies and looks down at their entwined hands.
“Just like his daddy,” she whispers and looks up at him, her eyes wide and pleading. He smiles and nearly laughs. She does not have to ask.
She wakes sometime in the early hours of the morning, when the entire world seems to be holding its breath and even the usually noisy hallways of the hospital are still, quiet and dim. He is sleeping in a chair in the corner of the private room, his cheek on his bunched up suit jacket, his breathing slow and deep. She watches him for a few minutes, wondering if she should wake him, just so that she will not be alone, but decides against it.
Wrapping her robe around herself and wincing as all of the muscles that have been so recently abused complain at being moved so soon, she slips out of the room and down the hallway.
She stops at the window outside the nursery and looks at all of the pink, cherub cheeked healthy babies whose mothers will be able to take them home in the morning. She smiles as they stretch and suckle in their sleep and imagines how warm their little bodies must be and how they must smell like baby powder and warm milk.
She only pauses there a moment or two before she moves down the hall to where nurses move between the brightly lit incubators like shades, silent and swift as they check temperatures, monitors, adjust tubes and administer life saving medicines. They lift their eyes to greet her with a smile as she makes her way to that incubator housing her son. No one raises an alarm or tries to stop her. Other mothers must feel like this, she thinks as her hand hovers above the warm little cube of light, the need to be near, to watch, to wait.
One tiny, fragile little hand uncurls and reaches into the air before curling back up. Her own hand twitches with the need to put her finger into that little fist, to feel his strength, to be reassured by it. Instead she wraps her arms around herself and stares down at his delicate little body with its delicate bones almost visible through his paper thin skin reminding her of a baby bird.
“Hey little boy,” she whispers as his tiny toes curl, toes she longs to press against her mouth and blow on, use to tell the story of the little pigs and have him squirm and giggle as she does.
“He’s holding his own,” Kammy appears like a spectre at her side and nearly makes her jump.
“I...I just want to touch him,” she explains, knowing at the same time she’ll be terrified of breaking him, of damaging him with her clumsy hands.
“Sure,” she says, pointing towards a round opening in the side of the incubator, which she carefully and slowly unlatches. “You’ll wear these for the first while,” she explains, handing a pair of surgical gloves to Fern, “and then it’s a good idea to rub your hands together, so they’re warm and then just reach in and speak softly and let him know that you’re just going to lay your hand very gently on his head, like that,” the Resident says softly but encouragingly. Fern’s hand trembles as she slides it through the opening but as her fingers meet the tiny cap on his head and she feels the soft heat coming from him, her knees almost give way beneath her.
“Right behind you.” She leans back into his chest and feels his arm snap around her waist like a security latch on a fairground ride. The heat from him, the solid feel of him behind her and the way Simon’s body becomes very still as she strokes him makes her feel better than she has in months. “Hey big guy,” he coos from behind her, “that’s your mom and I’m right here. We’re both here buddy,” he adds and she is forced to bite down on the inside of her cheek to stifle a sob that tries to escape.
“Do you want to hold him?” Kammy says suddenly and both of them turn to look at her. “We call it Kangarooing and it’s good for a preemie’s temperature regulation,” she adds, inclining her head towards a rocker in the corner of the NICU. “Mostly we get dads to do it, ‘cuz they don’t mind having their shirts off in front of all us girls,” she adds with a playful grin. Fern raises an eyebrow at her, thinking of course they all want to see him with his shirt off, but when he doesn’t protest, she shrugs and stands back, watching him makes short work of his rumpled dress shirt.
With the help of one of the nurses, Kammy lifts the incubator lid and with two hands gingerly lifts Simon from the blanket and carries him to where Sid has slid onto the rocker. His eyes are as big as saucers as he watches her very, very carefully place her tiny burden onto Sid’s bare chest, respirator and all.
“Can’t remember ever being so tired,” she sighs as she climbs back into the hospital bed and scrambles under the blanket. He’s also tired but the kind of tired that is past the point of sleep being a cure. It’s the kind of tired he gets when he’ll lie awake and think about a game, go over each play in his head, analyze each pass, each shot. Only tonight it won’t be the game, it will be his son and the way his little body felt pressed against his chest. He can still feel it, lifts his hand to press it over the still warm spot where that tiny body had slept.
“I came here to tell you something,” he begins before he’s even thought about what he’s going to say. She looks alarmed and then guarded and he knows without having to ask or be told that she’s anticipating the worst. He would take that fear from her eyes if he could but he isn’t sure he has the words to do it, but he squares his shoulders just as he has the few times he’s known he has to drop the gloves and lifts his chin. “I want him, Simon...our son. I want him but I want you too.” His first words had made her dark eyes darker but his last words make them big and round. “I missed you. When I got back to the house...you not being there...I didn’t like it and before you say anything else,” he adds in a softer tone, taking that step that brings him to the edge of the bed with its crisp white sheets, “I missed the smell of you and the way you laugh and...and your face,” he adds in an almost whisper as he reaches out to cradle her cheek in his hand.
“If this is some kind of ploy for custody,” she hisses like a snake about to strike and he has to fight his first instinct to draw back. Sometimes you just have to stare down your opponent, show them you’re not gonna back down.
“I know we didn’t do this the right way but we can make it right now. We can be a family, you, me and him,” he adds, stroking his thumb along the tense line of her jaw. “That’s what I want Fern. That’s what I’m asking. I want us to be together, properly.” That look is back, the stray dog that’s been poked and hit too many times, as she looks up at him, distrust mixed with a craving to be stroked, to be loved.
“And when he cries at two in the morning and you have a game the next day, will you want us then?” she asks, like it’s a challenge, her gaze searching his face for any little tic that will give his true motives away.
“Even then,” he promises. She narrows her eyes and her lips thin out and he can tell she’s trying to think of something gory, something truly frightening that will trip him up but while that little form lay on his chest, he’s thought of everything and then some. “Diapers, feeds, coughs, colds, blisters, scraped knees, all of it Fern. I want it.”
“Okay, so you want him but c’mon...not me. You don’t want me,” she sighs and starts to turn her face away but his other hand captures her face and he sees the look of shock on her face right before he presses his mouth over hers’.
“Stay,” she says quietly and scoots over on the bed. It’s not a yes or a no and probably not the answer he is looking for at all but he looks relieved all the same as she makes room for him in the single hospital bed. He cradles her gently against him and she lets herself relax into his arms.
Was this how Simon felt, she wonders as she presses her cheek to his chest and listens to the slow, steady rhythm of his heart beat. ‘Safe’ is the word that comes to mind as his arm slides across her back and over her shoulder. Other words sneak into her consciousness but she bats them away like shuttlecocks as her eyes droop and sleep sneaks up on her. Those are words for later, when their son is not hooked up to tubes and wires and machines that breathe for him.
So many things can happen to change everything, she knows as she listens to his breaths slow and deepen and feels his mighty chest rises and falls more slowly. Not least of all, his father, Mario, the league, the press....
But those are thoughts for another time she tells herself as she covers a yawn with her hand and snuggles closer to the warm, solid form that is the man that holds all of their futures in the palm of his hand. Now she needs sleep and for just a little while, to believe that dreams just might come true after all.
**oh and please check out a story I'm doing with my friend Shannon, it's a Canucks fic called the Specialist and you can find it at http://thenuckspecialist.blogspot.com/