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I stand up to talk to the boys. They’re stock-still and staring.
“Holy shit!” Rory says. “Is she okay?”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “She’s gonna be fine.”
He looks up at my face, demanding, “Give me your word.”
“You’ve got it.” He nods and I tell him, “Take your brother and sisters out into the living room. Keep them there and keep them calm. Can you do that for me, kid?”
“Yeah—I’m on it.” He glances around me. “I love you, Aunt Chelsea.”
Chelsea smiles, despite her obvious pain. “I love you, too, Rory. Don’t worry.”
With a nod, he leaves.
I wrap one hand around Raymond’s arm, bringing his attention to me. “Your aunt is having the baby.”
“Here. Now. And I really need you not to freak out about it, Raymond. Bring me towels, scissors, string. Then boil some water, just in case.”
From what I read, the boiling water is for sterilizing things, and I don’t think we’re going to have time for that. But it’ll keep Raymond busy so he doesn’t worry himself sick.
I give his arm another squeeze. “Are you with me?”
His face tightens with determination. “Yeah. We got this.”
I let myself take one last big breath as he leaves. Then I kneel back down beside Chelsea. From the living room, I can hear the little kids crying. Arguing. Calling for her.
Chelsea hears it, too.
“Riley,” I say, “go help Rory with the kids. I’ve got things here.”
For a moment she looks unsure. Then she kisses Chelsea’s cheek and goes.
Chelsea looks up at me, and my heart feels like it’s imploding.
“Alone at last.” I say in my calmest voice. I tilt my head toward the phone on the floor. “Well . . . except for Earl.”
That gets me a tiny smile. And even more tears. “I’m really scared, Jake.”
I shake my head. “I know you are, but you don’t have to be. I’m not going to let anything happen to you or this baby.”
“This isn’t what we planned.”
I cup her beautiful face in both hands. “I didn’t plan on you, Chelsea. Or them. And for as long as I live, you will be the best thing that ever happened to me.”
She closes her eyes and leans into my palm.
“We’re gonna have a baby today. And we’re gonna have one fuck of a story afterward. Okay?”
She takes one of her deep breaths, and that face that I love turns focused. Strong. Determined—like she’s always been.
I put the phone on speaker. “This is Jake Becker—are you there, Earl?”
“I’m here, Jake.” A gravelly, older man’s voice comes out of the speaker. It reminds me so much of the Judge, I blink. “I’m going to walk you through this every step of the way, son.”
“Okay. First, take a look and tell me what’s going on.”
Chelsea’s underwear is already off. I grab a towel from the stack that Raymond dropped in the room and place it underneath her. Then I put my hands on her knees and look between her legs.
Holy fucking Christ
There’s a mass of dark hair that I know isn’t hers, pushing against her opening, stretching her. “I see the head. It’s inside her still, but it’s right there.”
“That’s good. I want you to wash your hands now, Jake, get some clean towels nearby, and get ready to catch.”
I scrub and dry my hands, then Chelsea groans deep and loud. “Oh God, I have to push. I have to right now.”
I tell Earl I’m ready and he says, “Go ahead, Chelsea. A few good pushes and you’ll be meeting your baby. Breathe deep and focus, okay? Your body knows what it needs to do, don’t fight it, let it happen.”
Chelsea grips her knees and curls her spine. Her chin drops to her chest and she growls as she bears down hard.
And while I wait between Chelsea’s legs, I silently do something I’ve never done before.
I go back and forth between cursing God, telling him he can’t have her—to threatening that if he tries, I’ll march straight into heaven, scoop Chelsea up, and carry her home. But mostly, I just beg.
Please, God, please don’t let me screw this up. Don’t let anything go wrong. Please, God, please, please, please, fucking please.
And then my voice is echoing off the walls. “The head is out.”
My child’s face is still, covered in fluid and splotched with a white fleshy substance.
“It’s not over!” Chelsea grunts and strains even harder.
And then, in a rush of liquid, my son slides into my hands.
“He’s out!” I call. I grab a towel and wipe his face, clearing his nose and mouth.
“Is he crying?” Earl asks.
The answer is a strong, pissed-off screech. And it’s the most beautiful fucking sound I’ve ever heard.
“Yeah, he is. He’s crying.”
And he’s not the only one.
His little mouth opens wide and indignant. His tiny, perfect limbs flail as I dry them with the towel. His sounds change to whimpers as I wrap him up in a new, dry towel and put him on Chelsea’s stomach. In her arms.