“Are you okay?” I asked into the top of her head, needing to hear it from her knowing the relief running through me could come crashing to a halt at the flip of a switch, but feeling her nod against my chest, I relaxed a little bit more.
Now that I finally had Sookie in my arms again I didn’t ever want to let her go and she’d be lucky if I would even let her go to the bathroom by herself, so there was a good chance we were about to be that fucking married. Watching the car flip through the air only to slam down again and spin towards the edge was my worst fucking nightmare come true knowing there was nothing I could do to stop it, but God smiled down on her and kept her from going over the side. I still didn’t know how badly she was hurt though and thankfully I didn’t have to start yelling and screaming at the pilot to set us down because we were already moving towards a patch of grass further down the highway. As soon as we touched down, I was out the door and took off in a sprint towards Sookie, dodging the now stopped cars and gawkers who’d gotten out to see what had happened ahead of them, but seeing how bad the wreckage looked the closer I got had me yelling out her name in a panic. I had tunnel vision and could only see that, which is why I didn’t see the police officers standing there with one of them catching me around the waist and not letting me get any closer. No amount of, “Fucking let me go! That’s my wife!” could get him to loosen his grip and I really wished my father was there since he was a lot scarier than me and they seemed to have no problem listening to him.
The only reason I stopped fighting them was hearing that she was conscious and didn’t seem to be panicking, but they worried if she knew I was there that she’d lose it. The car wasn’t stable and if she started flailing around there was nothing to stop it from falling over the edge, so I stopped. It felt like everything, except for the small swaying of the ass end of the car dangling over the edge, stopped with time standing still too and hearing it would take forty-five minutes for them to get the necessary equipment there to get her out only added to my rapidly growing ulcer, but then I noticed the guy in the Navy uniform run up and talk to the policeman who’d been talking to Sookie. When he pointed I turned to see the military convoy of trucks I’d forgotten all about seeing from the air with my eyes landing on a huge forklift.
What were the fucking odds?
It was surreal watching everything that was happening, all of it with the sole purpose of getting Sookie out of there, and I felt helpless all over again. I just wanted Sookie out of that car safe and sound, but knowing I was so close to having her back and yet just as close to losing her at the same time, I could barely keep my knees from buckling. My eyes had zeroed in on the same young kid as he tentatively inched his way across the forks towards Sookie and while I was too far away to hear what he was saying, seeing him smile back at her like they’d merely run into one another on the street and she wasn’t in danger of falling to her death, I was both impressed and grateful for the level of calm about him that I knew I would never be capable of. Every second that passed felt like a minute with the minutes feeling like hours and all I wanted to do was fast forward the god awful scene in front of me, but I changed my mind in a split second wanting to hit the pause button instead when I watched them suddenly swing through the air with nothing more than I few feet of rope holding onto them as the car finally lost its footing and fell.
But it was over now; now I had her again; both her and the Bean. They were safe and in my arms and I was never going to let them go.
“Ma’am, we need to get you to the hospital to get checked out,” I heard from my left and turned to notice one of the EMT’s standing there.
I’d heard them debating about waiting for someone more qualified to rescue Sookie from the car, but there’d been no time however I knew he was right, so I loosened my grip on her and stood back, agreeing, “They’re right.” I’d noticed her cut and swollen lips along with the rapidly forming bruises along her collarbone when I first looked at her and I couldn’t stop myself from lightly tracing my fingertip across her lower lip, saying, “You’re all banged up from the accident.”
That same lower lip I’d kissed a thousand times pursed into a scowl as I helped her climb onto the gurney, thankful she wasn’t going to argue over going to the hospital, as she said, “If you’re referring to my split lip, you can thank our good ole pal BFC for that.”
“He hit you?” I snarled with my eyes looking over the edge of the overpass and down into the ravine for the first time. It was a long fucking way down; farther than I’d been aware of, but now that Sookie was out of harm’s way, I rejoiced in that fact seeing the unmistakable dead body down below.
If only Debbie Pelt had been sprawled out next to him, this day might have actually turned out to be a pretty good one.
If she’d nodded her reply, I’d missed it because all I heard from her was a pained whine which brought my eyes right back to her in a panic asking, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
I’d seen for myself how violent the accident had been and knew somewhere in the recesses of my brain that she could have internal injuries, so I was rapidly ascending into full blown panic mode again when she gestured up towards the sky and said, “I’m OJ Simpson.”
I didn’t know what in the hell she was talking about since I knew she had nothing to do with that fucker’s death and no one would have convicted her even if she had killed him, but my eyes followed her hand and saw the hovering helicopters up in the sky. I knew she hated being the center of attention so I tried to shield as much of her body with mine as I could while they wheeled her towards the waiting ambulance and hoped to lift her spirits by smiling down at her and joking, “Don’t be ridiculous. You could never throw a football that far.” I could tell she was fighting off the smile her lips were trying to form, so I added, “Well you’re much prettier than him, so I can’t really blame them.”
“Yeah,” she snorted and then winced from the pain of it making me panic a little again. “I’m sure I’m particularly lovely right now.”
“You’re beautiful,” I replied honestly. She was alive and breathing and bitching and moaning and I couldn’t be happier about it. The cuts and bruises would heal, but no matter what her injuries were, I wouldn’t care what she looked like; I was just relieved to have her back.
I climbed into the back of the ambulance and sat alongside her all the way to the hospital with the words, “I love you,” falling from my lips with every lull in between questions from the paramedic sitting next to me. I knew she already knew I loved her, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself from telling her until I noticed the tears starting to fall from her eyes, making me ask for what felt like the hundredth time that day, “What’s wrong? Are you in pain?”
“I…I…I was just so worried,” she finally choked out.
All I wanted to do was hug her again, but I couldn’t with the paramedic checking her over, so I gripped her hand tighter, shushing, “It’s okay. You’re safe now. Both of you.”
A part of me wished Compton hadn’t died so I would have the opportunity to fucking kill him myself, but I was taken aback when she shook her head, saying, “No, not about me. I was worried about you.”
I hadn’t been the one who was kidnapped, so I didn’t understand what she meant and she must have seen it by the expression on my face and explained, “I thought I was going to die. I would have died before I let him hurt our baby, but all I could think of was how devastated you would be losing us both.”
My eyes involuntarily looked away from hers before she could even finish her sentence. I didn’t want to think about that now when I had both of them back, but she tugged on my hand making me look down at her again and said, “Promise me, if something ever happens to me that you’ll go on. Grieve for me, but live your life afterward. I love you so much and I want you to find a way to be happy again. You deserve to find someone else to share that with.”
“Stop talking like that!” I snapped back at her while fighting off the tears.
I’d been too close to losing her that I couldn’t stand the thought of it now when I finally had her back and she quietly muttered, “Just know that I’m okay with it,” but I ignored it.
I wasn’t okay with it; any of it and if I, hopefully, happened to die first and there was a way, she could bet her ass I would be haunting hers if she even looked at another man, but I kept that to myself.
She could just find out the hard way.
Now that time was finally moving forward at a normal pace again, it seemed like we were pulling into the ambulance bay of the local hospital emergency room doors in no time and were met by a nurse who followed us into of all fucking places, Trauma Room Three.
Thank fuck we weren’t at Cedars.
The nurse smiled down at Sookie and introduced herself saying, “My name is Maddy. Now I understand you’ve been in a car accident, is that right?” Sookie nodded while I kept my more colorful description of the day’s events to myself, so she asked, “How far along are you in your pregnancy?”
“Twenty-four weeks and two days,” Sookie replied while the nurse started hooking her up to various machines, nonplussed over the fact we knew exactly when she became pregnant making me think it wasn’t all that uncommon.
“Are you feeling any pain in your abdomen or anywhere else?” she asked.
Sookie hadn’t mentioned feeling any pain, so I paid attention when she answered, “I’m not really sure. I’m sore all over, including my abdomen and my neck and shoulders hurt some. My arms are still tingling, but they’d fallen asleep. My hands had been tied up behind my back, but I’m starting to get the feeling back in them now.”
Both of their eyes shot to me when a growl left my throat hearing what that fucker had done to her, but they both chose to ignore it while the nurse went back to checking Sookie’s vitals. As she pushed Sookie’s shirt up and explained she was attaching a fetal monitor to her belly I could see the angry outline across the lower part of her baby bump from where the seatbelt had kept her strapped in and my heart skipped a beat noticing the small amount of blood on the crotch of her pants. I kept trying to tell myself that we’d already been through that once before and everything had turned out okay, so my eyes finally moved to the monitor when I heard the first whooshing sound of the Bean’s heartbeat. Hearing it again, I was only relieved for a few seconds until I realized the number of heartbeats weren’t as high as they normally were, but before I could ask about it I heard Sookie say, “I feel nauseous.”
Her normal coloring seemed a little lighter than usual too and I watched the nurse’s eyes for signs I should fucking panic now, but either she wasn’t worried or she’d be one hell of a poker player because all I could do was go by her words as she said noncommittally, “That happens sometimes,” while she moved a small plastic container next to Sookie’s head and jotted down more notes.
Once she assured us that she didn’t have to throw up right now, I just watched her like a hawk while trying to not freak the fuck out and a doctor by the name of Ben something swooped in moments later. He checked Sookie over while asking her question after question, but all I could do was sit there rigidly while waiting for someone to tell me everything was going to be fine because that’s all I fucking wanted to hear. It must have been the only thing my brain was willing to process because I didn’t realize they were getting ready to do an ultrasound until they wheeled the machine up next to Sookie with her voice calling out, “Eric?”
My eyes were watching the fetal heart rate monitor as the number continued to lower, but I tore them away from it again to see the tears back in her eyes as she stared at it too, whispering, “I’m scared.”
She didn’t have to tell me that; I could see it written all over her face, so I forced myself to man up and not fall apart like I wanted to, feeling every bit as scared as she was, and tried to sound reassuring as I said, “It’ll be okay.”
And I prayed like hell that it would.
Another doctor came into the room, with ours greeting him with nothing more than, “Jack” and a nod, with the two of them watching the screen as they passed the wand over Sookie’s bump. The Bean looked a little bigger than the last ultrasound we’d had, but my stomach clenched seeing it wasn’t moving around as much as normal. There was the occasional twitch of its arm or leg, but nothing like the movements that gave the Bean its nickname to begin with. Both doctors were quietly discussing what they were seeing and I heard one of them mention she needed a CT Scan, but everyone’s attention was drawn back to Sookie when she said, “I…feel…funny.”
And then she passed out.
Our nurse was a lot stronger than she looked because I’d no sooner yelled out Sookie’s name in a panic than she’d shoved me out of the room with everyone else moving to surround the bed and through the closed door I could hear snippets of phrases containing the heart stopping words of “low blood pressure”, “fetal distress”, and “internal bleeding.”
I only knew my fists were clenched when I went to wipe the wetness from my cheeks as the doors to Sookie’s room flew open a minute later with them wheeling her down the hallway at a fast pace, but before I could follow behind her the first doctor came out and immediately started explaining, “We believe your wife suffered what’s called a placental abruption in the accident. It’s where part of the placenta becomes detached from the uterine wall…”
“Can you fix it?” I asked interrupting him. “With medicine? Surgery? Something?”
His face said it all before he even opened his mouth to answer, “No. If it was to a lesser degree we could try waiting it out and monitor your wife and the baby, but she’s losing too much blood and the baby isn’t getting enough oxygen. If either one of them is going to have a chance, we need to get it out now and get the bleeding under control.”
“But it’s too soon,” I weakly argued back. The Bean was too small; the nursery wasn’t ready; I hadn’t given Sookie her ring or thrown her the baby shower she said she didn’t need; I wasn’t ready to be a dad today, but most of all I would never be ready for the possibility of losing them both all over again.
I just got them back.
He must have read it all on my face because his expression softened somewhat as he said, “At twenty-four weeks there’s about a seventy-five percent chance of survival because the lungs aren’t fully developed yet. Your wife is getting an infusion of steroids as we speak to try and help promote the function of the baby’s lungs before the delivery and we’ll do all that we can, but neither one of them stand a chance if we don’t deliver the baby now.”
There was nothing I could do but blindly sign the permission forms before I was led to the surgical waiting room which was thankfully empty when I sank down into a chair with nothing more than my despair to keep me company. Every minute of the entire day ran through my mind and I once again berated myself for ever giving her a reason to want to be away from me that morning. If I hadn’t been such an ass to her the night before then we wouldn’t be here now and my eyes closed as my breath caught in my throat remembering her words in the ambulance if something were to ever happen to her.
How could she not see that without her there was no me?
Without Sookie I was a miserable fucking son of a bitch who trusted no one and tried to hide behind the façade of indifference; taking what was offered to me and giving nothing of myself in return. But with her I was a husband; an almost father; a decent fucking human being. I’d laughed more in the last few months than the entirety of my life before then; I’d felt more alive than I’d ever felt and it was only thanks to her. She was the reason I’d become the man she could find it within herself to fall in love with and without her there’d be nothing left but an empty shell.
I was so lost in my thoughts I hadn’t heard the approach of anyone until the door to the waiting room burst open with Pam and my dad rushing through it. They both froze where they stood with no one saying a word, but seeing the worry on their faces along with the foreign welling of unshed tears in both sets of eyes staring back at me made me lose the already tenuous hold I’d managed to keep on my own emotions. Racking sobs left my chest as I completely fell apart with my body curling into a ball trying to keep the pain in. The pain over the thought of losing either one of them was all I had left to hold onto and I didn’t want to let it go until I had something else to grab a hold of; be it hope or complete devastation.
A strong pair of arms wrapped around me with my father pulling my head into his chest while I felt a smaller pair of hands rubbing up and down my back, but I could hear that my sobs weren’t the only ones in the room and after a few minutes I finally managed to calm down enough to tell them everything that had happened. When I was done passing on all that I knew, we just sat there in silence with all of us lost in our own thoughts until all three of us shot out of our chairs hearing the approaching footsteps.
I held my breath seeing the other doctor, Jack, come through the door and he took a deep breath as he took off his surgical cap, but I couldn’t read anything from his expression.
And it was slowly killing me.
“It’s a girl,” he softly smiled.
We had a daughter.
He was smiling so I assumed she was okay, but the floodgates opened up with me asking in rapid succession, “Is she alright? What about my wife? Is she awake? When can I see them?”
He held his hands up in front of himself trying to get my mouth to slow down and answered, “Your wife is still in surgery. She’s lost a lot of blood and she’s getting a transfusion, but they’re still working on trying to stop the bleeding. Your daughter is as well as can be expected given how early she was born, but she managed to get one good yell out of her lungs as soon as we got her out. She weighed in at one pound nine ounces.”
I heard Pam gasp beside me, but I was too stunned to speak.
One pound nine ounces? I had steaks that were bigger than she was.
When I didn’t say anything, he asked, “Would you like to see her?”
I’d never felt more fucking torn apart in my life. On one hand I absolutely wanted to go see her, but at the same time I didn’t want to leave Sookie either and I felt my father’s hand land on my shoulder just as he said, “We’ll wait here until we hear any news on Sookie and one of us will come and find you to let you know. Go see your daughter.”
I still couldn’t wrap my head around it, but his slight shove against my back was enough to get my feet moving and I followed the doctor to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. He explained the risks she would face being born so early, but I was having a difficult time concentrating on everything he was telling me with it more or less entering in one ear and out the other. I felt like I was already failing as a father when he ended with, “Don’t worry. I know this is coming at you fast, but we’ll go over it all again later on after you’ve had a chance to process everything.”
I nodded in thanks and was shown to a sink where I had to scrub my hands all the way up to my elbows with a scrub brush and was then led into a surprisingly darkened room. The level of lighting was kept extremely low and the nurse who met me at the door of the NICU explained it was to keep the babies settled since the majority of them were still supposed to be in the womb. When she stopped next to one incubator in particular my eyes automatically went down, first to see the Baby Northman label attached to the side, and then to the impossibly small bundle inside of it.
She would have easily fit into the palm of my hand with plenty of room to spare and her entire body was covered in downy white blond hairs. Her skin was so thin I could see the veins running just underneath it and there was a tube running into her mouth and another into where her umbilical cord had been with a bunch of wires stuck to her chest, feet, arms, wrists and legs, but there was a little cotton blindfold covering her eyes and the majority of her face, so I couldn’t tell if she looked like either me or Sookie.
But I was officially in love.
“Does she have a name yet?” the nurse asked.
“No,” I whispered, unable to take my eyes off of her. Sookie and I had discussed a few names for both boys and girls, but we hadn’t decided on one yet because we weren’t supposed to be parents yet. I couldn’t make that decision on my own, but then I remembered exactly where Sookie was at that very moment and my chest seized again over the thought of having to make that decision all by myself. Staring down at our daughter, so small and fragile, had me questioning if I could be strong enough for her if I didn’t have her mother at my side. Sookie had proven time and again she was the stronger one in our marriage, but no sooner had I had the thought than her little fist twitched forward like she was punching the air and pulled back again.
“She’s a little fighter,” the nurse remarked.
Just like her mother.
“Would you like to touch her?” she asked. “It’s too soon to try and cuddle her just yet, but if you’d like, you could put your hand on her back.”
“But she’s so small,” I argued, suddenly terrified.
I still couldn’t take my eyes off of her, silently counting ten fingers and ten toes, but I could hear the smile in the nurse’s voice as she put her own hand into the incubator, saying, “And you’ll be gentle.” She carefully pulled the blindfold up so I could finally see her face and I felt the tears fall once more staring down at the microscopic version of the only other girl I had ever loved.
Was this what my father had been talking about?
If something went horribly wrong and I was left to raise the Bean all alone I would be reminded every day of what I’d lost; who I’d lost.
But looking down at her now, if anything, I only loved her even more because of it.
Her eyelids were still fused closed but I could make out the tiny blond eyelashes and eyebrows, so I had no doubts there were baby blues in there just waiting to talk me into whatever her little heart desired and I found my own hand tentatively reaching down to hover just above her, both afraid to yet wanting to touch the living breathing evidence of the best thing I’d ever done.
When her little fist shot forward again I lightly touched her hand with my pinky just as she started to draw it back and I gasped out loud when her fist opened up with those tiny little fingers wrapping around my own. If Sookie had been there I was sure she would giggle out an, ‘I told ya so,’ because feeling her firm little grasp that wasn’t even big enough to fully circle my finger, I instantly became completely wrapped around her little finger and knew there was nothing I wouldn’t do for her.
No matter what fate had in store for us, I would do whatever I had to do to give my baby girl a happy life.
I could only hope there would be an ‘I told ya so’ in my future and while I didn’t even want to consider the possibility of losing Sookie, I knew now I would have to survive it if only for the Bean’s sake. She wasn’t anywhere close to being out of the woods herself, but her strong grasp continued to hold my finger firmly in her tiny little hand and I knew with my whole heart our daughter was a fighter.
Just like her mother.
Nor was she letting go.
Just like her father.
So while I waited on hearing any news about Sookie, with the tears having yet to stop falling from my eyes, I couldn’t help but smile down at our baby girl and whisper, “Happy Birthday Bean.”