Rollie stood alone at the center of a peaceful glade. Rather than the sounds of the wind and birds, he could hear all around him a rhythmic, muffled thumping, like that of a distant heartbeat. It was calming, soothing. He did not know how he’d come to be here, but he felt no fear or apprehension. What he did feel was a sensation that, though he could not see anyone, he was not alone.
The Aussie had been standing there for perhaps a minute when something made him turn around. There before him was a beautiful little boy with curly hair the color of a raven’s wing and huge, luminous brown eyes. The moment he saw the child, recognition leapt through him.
With the speaking of his name, the child’s face lit with a big smile. “Daddy!” he cried.
Rollie went to his knees and held his arms out to receive his son. Benarin threw himself into his father’s embrace.
Rollie held Benarin tightly, his heart overflowing with joy. After a moment, he looked down at the little boy in his arms. “Is that really you, Ben?” he asked in wonder.
“It’s me, Daddy,” the child replied and snuggled closer against Rollie.
The Aussie closed his eyes and laid his cheek on Benarin’s head. He felt tears come to his eyes. “I love you, Ben.”
“I love you too, Daddy.”
Rollie looked around at their surroundings. “What is this place?”
“It’s a special place,” Benarin said in reply, in a voice that rang with a note of wisdom, “a place that only you and me can go to.”
Rollie looked around again more closely. “It reminds me of something, but I can’t remember what.”
Benarin looked into his eyes. “You will.”
Rollie looked down at his son, feeling a faint sensation of disquiet. “Did you bring me here?”
Benarin shook his head. “No, I can’t do that. You came here yourself.”
“But Angie can’t, can she.”
“No, though I think that, if you really tried hard, you could bring her with you.”
“Then I will try really hard next time and bring her with me.”
Benarin smiled happily. But, a moment later, the smile disappeared. A look of fear filled Benarin’s face. “Daddy, something’s wrong.”
“What’s wrong? What is it?” Rollie asked.
Even as he asked the question, the glade grew dark, cold. The thumping sound began to fade.
“No. No, Daddy, help me. Please stop it!” Benarin cried. Then he screamed as the ground opened up beneath him and began to swallow him.
“Ben!” Rollie screamed. He grabbed for his son, trying to hold onto him, pull him out of the earth that was sucking him under, but he couldn’t grab hold. Benarin kept slipping out of his hands.
“Daddy! Daddy, help me! Help me!” Benarin pleaded as he sank up to his chest, then his neck.
“Ben! Ben!” Rollie tried to dig at the ground, tear it away from his son, but it was like tearing at water. It flowed back as soon as he moved it. In horror and anguish, he watched Ben disappear beneath the surface. “Ben! No! Noooo!” he screamed, sobbing brokenly.
“Rollie? Rollie, wake up,” said a distant voice. “You’re having a nightmare. Wake up.”
With those words, the glade vanished. Rollie felt hands upon his shoulders, shaking him. He opened his eyes and looked up into Angie’s concerned face.
“Hey there. You were having a bad dream,” she said, brushing his cheeks with her fingers. He realized that his face was wet. “It must have been a really bad one. You started screaming and crying. I thought I heard you call out Ben’s name.”
Rollie sat up and pulled Angie into his arms. He held her silently for a long moment, then, almost desperately, he pulled away the covers and bared Angie’s stomach. He laid his hands on her belly, then his head, trying to hear or feel some sign that Benarin was all right.
“Rollie, what is it?” Angie asked, laying her hand on his head.
“I had a nightmare about Ben, that he was . . . taken away.”
“Oh, Rollie. Ben isn’t going to be taken away. It was just a bad dream, that’s all.” At that moment, Ben gave a kick. “Did you feel that? He’s still there, Rol. He’s still okay.”
Feeling the movement eased Rollie’s fear, though not entirely. The images of the nightmare still haunted him. He stroked Angie’s stomach. “I love you, Benarin. You’re going to be okay. You’ve got to be okay,” he whispered. He then sat up and met Angie’s eyes. “Maybe you should go see the town doctor today, just to make sure everything’s all right.”
“It’s Saturday, Rol. I doubt he’s in the office, even if he is a Marcus Welby wannabe.”
“Doctors usually have a number you can reach them at after hours.”
Angie studied Rollie’s face, seeing the fear that was still there. She nodded. “Okay, I’ll call later this morning.”
“Thanks, Ange.” Rollie turned to the clock, seeing that it was just after six. “I don’t think I’m going to get back to sleep, so I might as well get up. But you should try to get some more rest.”
“Well, after that rude awakening, I don’t think I could get back to sleep either.” Angie smiled to let him know that she was teasing. “Let’s just get up, have an early breakfast, then get a little work done around here. I’d like to get those curtains and drapes hung today.”
“I think that we should just take the day off, relax. Cecilia’s right that we’ve been doing too much too fast, especially you.”
“Well, how about a compromise? We’ll just hang the curtains in this bedroom, the living room, and the main bathrooms, then do the rest tomorrow.”
“Okay, it’s a deal.”
The newlyweds got up, showered, and got dressed. Then they fixed their first meal in their new kitchen, Angie having picked up some groceries when she went into town to pack their bags and check out of the motel.
“We need to get a little table and chairs for the kitchen so that we can eat breakfast in there,” Angie remarked as they sat down at the dining room table. “That corner with the big window is supposed to be a breakfast nook.”
“Good idea, and we’ve still got two bedrooms, a sitting room, and an office to furnish, not to mention what we’re going to do about the basement room. Maybe we should try Oklahoma City next time, see what they’ve got.”
Angie nodded. “I think we’re going to be busy next week.”
The couple finished their breakfast and washed the dishes. After that, they got busy hanging the draperies in the living room. The drapes and matching valance were a dark emerald green, which went well with the parquet flooring and the beautiful oriental rugs with a hunter green, mauve, and powder blue pattern that they got. Behind the drapes, they hung white lace curtains that would let the light in.
Once they were done with that, Angie made the phone call to the doctor. The call was answered by the doctor’s wife, who told Angie that her husband was at the hospital in McAlester on an emergency with one of his patients and wasn’t expected back until late in the afternoon. She asked Angie if it was an emergency.
“No, that’s all right. I’ll talk to him on Monday,” Angie replied. Saying goodbye, she went to the downstairs bathroom, where Rollie was putting up the curtain rod. “He’s with a patient in the hospital in McAlester. He won’t be back until later this afternoon.”
“Oh.” A small frown creased the Aussie’s forehead. “I guess you could talk to him tomorrow or maybe tonight after he gets back.”
“Or I could just wait until Monday, maybe go in for a checkup. I feel fine, Rollie, and I felt Ben move some more while we were hanging the drapes.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Rollie said uncertainly, the lingering traces of his fear still hanging over him.
Angie gave him an encouraging smile. “Come on. Let’s finish hanging the curtains, and then we can relax and have fun for the rest of the day.”
They finished hanging the light peach curtains in the downstairs bathroom, which were several shades darker than the walls, then went up to do the master bedroom. The carpet in the bedroom was deep blue. The walls had been left white to offset the darkness of the carpeting. The drapes they’d chosen were several shades lighter than the carpeting.
Once the bedroom drapes were up, they did the master bath, which had light blue walls. The curtains were white with small blue roses. Lastly, they did the other upstairs bathroom, which was done in pale yellow.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” Rollie said after they were finished. “How about if I go into town and get some stuff for a picnic lunch? We can have it right in the garden. Then maybe we could go for a drive. It’s a nice day out.”
“That sounds like a great idea. We’ve got stuff to make sandwiches, but some kind of salad and fruit would be good, and maybe desert too.”
“Okay, you make the sandwiches and leave everything else to me. If you don’t mind a little later lunch, I also want to get some stuff that we didn’t think about when we were in Tulsa, like hangers so that we can unpack our clothes.”
“Good idea. No, I don’t mind a later lunch. I’ve got some crackers I can munch on if I get hungry.”
“Okay, I’ll be back in a while then.”
Rollie gave Angie a kiss goodbye, then went down the hill into town. He did the other shopping first, wandering around the hardware store, then the general store, trying to think of other things they might need. The clerks in both stores were very helpful, or at least tried to be, suggesting items that Rollie and Angie might have forgotten at the same time as they peppered the Aussie with all kinds of questions about him and Angie and what they did for a living.
It was as he was leaving the general store that Rollie began experiencing a vague feeling of unease. By the time he got to the little grocery store, it had grown in intensity. As the minutes passed, it continued to build until it had reached the point that he could no longer concentrate on anything else. A knot tightening in his stomach, Rollie quickly went through the checkout stand and headed home.
“Angie?” he called as he came in the door. Not getting a reply, he deposited the bag of groceries on the dining room table and ascended the stairs. “Angie?” he called again, this time hearing a reply from the master bedroom. He went in to find Angie laying on the bed, her brow knit with pain. Rollie hurriedly knelt beside the bed. “Angie, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. My lower back hurts, and there’s this feeling of fullness and pressure in my pelvis, and, now, I’m cramping, as if I was in my period. It started about twenty minutes ago. I decided to lie down and see if it would go away, but it’s just getting worse.”
The fear that had been building inside Rollie escalated dramatically. “I’m going to call the doctor’s house and get a number where he can be reached.” He grabbed his cell phone, got the number from the phone book, and placed the call. The fear in his voice alone was enough to make the doctor’s wife give Rollie both her husband’s pager number and the phone number of the hospital in McAlester. Wanting to make sure he got through to the doctor, the Aussie paged the man’s beeper and called the hospital, stressing that it was an emergency. It was an agonizing five minutes before the doctor answered the page. After Rollie listed Angie’s symptoms, the doctor asked to talk to Angie. There was a note of urgency in the man’s voice that terrified the Aussie.
Angie confirmed her symptoms, giving the doctor more details of what she was feeling. Rollie was sitting on the edge of the bed, his eyes never leaving his wife’s face.
Angie handed the phone back to him. “He wants to talk to you,” she said.
“What is it, Doctor? What’s wrong?” he asked as soon as he put the receiver to his ear.
“It’s not for certain, but there’s a chance that Angie is going into preterm labor,” the doctor replied.
“Oh my God. What do we do?”
“We may be able to stop the labor with drugs if we catch it in time. Time is of the essence. The faster Angie is treated, the better. I’m going to get a life flight helicopter out there from here, and I’ll be on it. But you need to get Angie down to the clinic. There’s a place for the helicopter to land out back. Don’t let her walk. Carry her out to the car and have her lay on her left side. Make her drink lots of water, several glasses’ worth. And try to stay calm, Mister Tyler. It isn’t going to do either of you any good if you panic. I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
Despite the doctor’s advice, Rollie could feel the panic rising as he got Angie a glass of water then rushed to the car to open the back door. He filled a water bottle and stuck it in the car. Almost running, Rollie dashed back up the stairs. The terror in Angie’s eyes as he met them told him that she was as scared as he was.
“This can’t be happening, Rollie. It can’t,” she whispered as he gently scooped her up into his arms.
“It’s going to be all right, Angie. It has to be,” he told her, trying to keep his voice steady.
Moving carefully, he carried Angie down the stairs and laid her on the back seat on her left side. Handing the water bottle to her, he got behind the wheel and started the car. Suddenly, Angie gave a loud gasp.
“What? What is it?” Rollie asked, his voice rising in fear as he twisted around to look at her.
“Oh, God. I’m having contractions, Rollie,” Angie cried. “No, please, don’t let this happen.”
Fear choking him, Rollie shoved the car in gear and stepped on the gas. He drove down the hill as fast as he could, praying like he never had before. In a matter of minutes, he was at the clinic. He drove around back and parked beside a clear area where he guessed the helicopter would land. Even as he stopped the car, Angie cried out in pain. Rollie leapt out of the front seat and tore the back door open, kneeling on the ground at Angie’s head. She was crying, her face pale, her eyes dark with grief and terror. She reached for Rollie’s hand and grabbed onto it.
“We’re going to lose him, Rollie. It’s too early. He’s going to die,” she sobbed.
“No! No, we’re not going to lose him. I can’t accept that,” Rollie told her, tears falling down his own face now.
They waited for the helicopter, Angie clinging to her husband’s hand. Finally, Rollie heard the helicopter approaching. He looked up, scanning the sky, and spotted a small, dark spec that quickly grew bigger. Soon, the helicopter was right overhead and coming down onto the clear area. As soon as it landed, a man in his late fifties got out, followed by an EMT. They rushed to the car.
“Mister Tyler? I’m Doctor Bradford,” the older man said.
“Angie’s having contractions. They started several minutes ago,” the Aussie told him.
“Okay, let me get in there and take a look.” The doctor climbed into the car and sat on the edge of the seat beside Angie. “How far apart are the contractions coming, Angie?”
“I-I’m not sure, maybe eight minutes.”
“Okay, I need to take a look at what’s going on down there. Mister Tyler, could you help me get her pants off?”
Rollie moved around the other side and helped the doctor remove the maternity pants that Angie had on. Both of them froze when they saw the blood on her panties. The doctor examined her, his eyes then lifting to Rollie’s. The look in them made the Aussie’s heart plummet into his stomach.
Doctor Bradford turned to Angie. “We’re not going to be able to stop the labor, Angie. You’ve got a discharge of blood and fluid, which means that the amniotic sac has ruptured.”
“No. No, please, you have to stop it. It’s too soon. It’s too soon,” Angie whispered brokenly.
“I’m sorry, Angie. This baby is going to be born today. There’s nothing I can do to stop it.” The doctor reached into his bag and pulled out a syringe and a vial of drugs.
“What’s that?” Rollie asked as the doctor stuck the needle into the vial.
“It’s Betamethasone. It will help speed up the baby's lung development.”
Doctor Bradford injected Angie with the drug. The EMT had run back over to the helicopter and was now bringing back a gurney. They loaded Angie onto it and got her into the helicopter. Rollie climbed in beside her, grabbing onto Angie’s hand again. A moment later, they were in the air, the doctor instructing the pilot to go to St. John Medical Center in Tulsa.
“Why Tulsa?” Rollie asked. “McAlester is closer.”
“St. John has one of the best neonatal intensive care units in the state. There’s a neonatologist on campus twenty-four hours a day.”
The flight to Tulsa was agonizing as Angie’s contractions got closer and closer together. Her fingernails were biting into Rollie’s hand, but the Aussie barely noticed the pain. All he could feel was the fear and pain in his heart and the sick feeling in his stomach.
At last, they arrived at the hospital. There were nurses and doctors waiting for the helicopter. Angie was transferred to another gurney and taken to a room full of equipment and monitors. In a whirl of activity, Angie was transferred to a birthing bed and hooked up to several monitors, including a fetal heart monitor. Rollie stared at the line moving across the screen that was recording their son’s heartbeat.
“I’m Doctor Stein,” said a tall man in his early fifties. “How far along is your wife’s pregnancy?”
“Twenty weeks since conception,” the Aussie replied after quickly doing the math in his head.
A look passed between the doctor and one of the nurses that sent icy fear coursing through Rollie. That look told him what his heart had refused to admit. ‘He going to die. Our baby’s going to die,’ his mind cried.
Just then, Angie cried out as another contraction gripped her. Rollie ran to her side, desperately holding back the sobs that were trying to break free.
“Rollie, please make it stop,” Angie begged. “It’s too early. He’ll die.”
“I can’t, Angie. I would do anything to stop this from happening, but I can’t,” he said, a sob escaping and catching in his throat. He looked up at the doctor. “Please save him,” he pleaded.
“We’ll do all we can, Mister Tyler,” the man responds.
The following hours passed like a nightmare. Rollie never let go of Angie’s hand as she and the medical staff tried to delay the birth as long as possible to give the Betamethasone more time to work on accelerating the development of Benarin’s lungs. But all too soon, there was no more time.
“Okay, Angie, he’s not going to wait any longer,” Doctor Stein said. “I need you to push now.”
Angie bore down, sobbing from the pain and fear. Twice more, the doctor instructed her to push. Angie’s hand tightened on Rollie’s as she did so.
“Okay, the head’s crowning, Angie. We’ve almost got him. Just take some slow, deep breaths. You’re doing great.”
“Rollie, please look at him. Please tell me he’s okay,” Angie said, her eyes begging him.
Not letting go of Angie’s hand, Rollie moved down until he could see under the sheet draped across Angie’s thighs. For a moment, wonder replaced his fear as Rollie watched an unbelievably tiny head emerged from between Angie’s legs. The doctor gently took hold of the head, guiding it as it was followed by the shoulders and torso. In what seemed like only a few seconds, the baby was completely out.
Doctor Stein quickly laid the unmoving infant on a table. Rollie’s sense of wonder immediately turned to horror as the doctor announced that there was no pulse or respiration.
“Oh, God, no,” Angie said, staring at the still, shockingly tiny form of her son.
Rollie gathered her into his arms, and they watched as CPR was performed on Benarin. It seemed like a horribly long time before a weak pulse and respiration were established. Doctor Stein then gave orders to put him on a respirator, which was immediately done.
Angie paid no attention to the nurse who was talking to her. All her attention was focused on the efforts of the medical staff to keep Benarin alive. When the placenta was ejected from her body a few minutes later, she barely even noticed.
Finally, Doctor Stein approached Rollie and Angie. “We’ve got your son stabilized for the moment, but he’s in critical condition. We’ll be taking him to the NICU now. Someone will take you to a postpartum room where Mrs. Tyler can recover.”
Angie shook her head. “No, I want to stay with Ben,” she said in a shaking voice.
“Mrs. Tyler, I promise you that we’ll take the best care possible with your son, but it would be best for you and for him if you are taken someplace where you can recover from the birth.”
Angie turned to her husband. “Rollie, please. I want to stay with him. Please.”
“Mrs. Tyler?” said a gentle voice behind them. They turned to see Doctor Bradford standing with a woman whose clothing identified her as a nun. It was the nun who had spoken.
“The doctors will take good care of your baby,” she promised. “Come let us take care of you. You’ll want to be strong for him when he’s well enough for you to see him, won’t you?”
Angie nodded, tears sliding silently down her cheek.
“All right, then. Let’s get you out of here and into that room.”
Angie was taken to one of the postpartum rooms. Rollie went with her, having never let go of her hand.
“Is there anything I can get you?” the nun asked once Angie had been cleaned up, changed into a gown, and settled in the bed.
“Some . . . some water,” Angie replied in a small voice.
The nun poured water from a pitcher into a cup and handed it to her.
“Would you like someone to talk to? Perhaps the hospital chaplain?”
“No, I just . . . I just want to be alone.”
The nun smiled understandingly. “All right. If you need anything, just buzz the nurses station.” She left the room, shutting the door quietly behind her. With the shutting of the door, Angie’s tears returned. Rollie pulled her close as she sobbed.
“Why? Why, Rollie? Why did this happen?”
“I don’t know, Angie. God, I don’t know,” Rollie replied, his voice ragged.
“It’s my fault,” Angie said in anguish. “I did too much. I didn’t rest enough.”
“No! It’s not your fault, Angie. You’ve been taking good care of yourself. You did everything your doctor told you to.”
“Oh, God, Rollie. I don’t want to lose him,” Angie cried. She buried her face in Rollie’s shirt and wept deeply. Rollie clutched her to him, crying with her, his own guilt burning a hole in his heart. His dream had tried to warn him. It had told him this was going to happen. He could have prevented it. He could have gotten Angie to a hospital in time for the labor to be prevented. Why hadn’t he known? Why hadn’t he done something? This was his fault.
The minutes ticked by slowly as they awaited word of their son. Rollie had settled on the bed beside Angie, her head pillowed on his chest. They hadn’t spoken anymore, each of them too distraught to speak.
It had been perhaps half an hour when the door opened and Doctor Bradford came in. He looked at the couple, his kindly face filled with sympathy.
“How are you doing?” he asked gently.
“Not good. How’s Benarin?” Rollie asked.
“He’s holding on. I’m afraid that I can’t help much in this regard. I have no experience with extremely premature infants. But Doctor Stein is a highly regarded neonatologist. He’ll take good care of your baby.”
“Thank you for being here with us, Doctor Bradford. We appreciate it.”
The doctor nodded. “I’m just sorry I can’t do more. But if you want to talk or need anything I can get you, you have my number. I’m afraid that I have to go now, though. The patient of mine that’s in the hospital in McAlester is not doing well. I have to get back over there. I’ll call here this evening to see how things are going.”
“There is one thing you can do for us,” Rollie said.
“Could you call the Parkers and let them know what happened?”
“Of course. Is there anyone else you’d like me to call?”
“No. There are some other people, but we’ll wait until . . . until we know more.”
“All right. Remember, any time you want to talk, day or night, just call.”
The room fell silent again after the doctor left. Angie’s exhaustion finally caught up with her, and she dosed fitfully in Rollie’s arms. The Aussie stared sightlessly at the wall across the room, trying to believe that the curse he seemed to have lived under all his life wasn’t going to strike again, that his happiness wasn’t going to be snatched away by the death of someone else he loved. But, no matter how much he tried to tell himself that, deep inside him, a voice kept saying that they were going to lose their son.
Another hour had passed when Doctor Stein came in. Rollie woke Angie. She stared at the doctor, both hope and dread on her face.
“How is he? How’s my baby?” she asked, her voice shaking with fear.
“He’s alive. His heartbeat is weak, but it’s steady, at least for the moment.”
“For the moment?” Rollie repeated.
The doctor pulled up a chair and sat before them. “I have some things I need to tell you, and it’s best that I be honest about them. Your baby was only twenty-two weeks gestational age at birth. The chances of an infant that premature surviving are extremely low. The generally recognized survival rate for a twenty-two week preemie is ten percent.”
“Ten percent?” Angie said, her voice rising in anguish.
“If he’d been born even a week later, his odds would have been greatly increased, but as it stands now. . . .” The doctor sighed. “I’m afraid that you now need to make a tough decision.”
“What?” Rollie asked hoarsely, fighting back the tears that were burning in his throat.
“You need to decide if your son is to remain in intensive care or be put in hospice care.”
“Hospice? That’s for people who are dying!” Rollie exclaimed angrily.
Doctor Stein nodded. “I know, Mister Tyler. I know this is a hard thing to accept, but the chances of a baby this premature surviving, let alone surviving without severe disabilities, is very remote. Most twenty-two week infants are put in hospice care because the odds are so low. In hospice care, the parents are given the opportunity to be with their child, to hold him and give him love in the hours he has to live.”
Rollie didn’t need to look at Angie to see the grief and pain on her face. He could feel it. Then all he could feel was anger, rage that the doctors and nurses had given up on his son so easily.
“No,” he growled, fighting to keep from hitting the doctor in the face. “I am not going to give up on our son, and I won’t let you either. You do everything you have to to keep him alive, you understand?”
Seeing the fury in the Aussie’s eyes, Doctor Stein wisely chose not to continue pursuing the issue of hospice care. “All right, Mister Tyler. We will do all we can to save your son.” He got to his feet. “The next few days are going to be very long and stressful for you. We have guestrooms on campus for the parents of premature infants. I can have a nurse check on the availability of one, if you wish.”
Both Rollie and Angie nodded, wanting to stay as close to Benarin as possible.
The doctor left, and they were alone once again.
“When I woke up, I thought for a moment that this was all some horrible nightmare,” Angie said. “But it isn’t. It’s really happening. What if he dies, Rollie? What if we lose our baby?”
Unable to answer, Rollie pulled her tight against him, hiding his fresh tears in her hair. “Please, God. Don’t let our baby die,” he prayed.
Rollie and Angie were shown to the guestroom. It was clean and pleasantly decorated, but the couple had no eyes for that. The last few hours had not seen an improvement in Benarin’s condition. He was still critical, being kept alive by the equipment, drugs, and staff in the neonatal intensive care unit. Rollie and Angie had wanted to see him, but Doctor Stein had said it would be best to wait a while longer, after they’d both gotten some rest.
The woman who had taken them to the guestroom smiled at them sympathetically and told them to contact the hospital if they needed anything. She then left them alone with their thoughts, grief and fears.
Rollie and Angie wandered around the place, looking at but not really seeing anything. Angie’s face was pale, and Rollie could see the slight trembling of her body. He knew that she needed more rest, but she had refused to lie down. He kept an eye on her surreptitiously, watching for any signs that she was pushing herself too far.
They’d been there for around two hours when Angie swayed and almost fell as she got to her feet from the chair she’d been sitting in. Instantly, Rollie was at her side, grasping her arms.
“Angie, you need to lie down and get some sleep. You’re going to make yourself sick,” he told her.
Angie shook off his hands angrily. “I don’t care!” she yelled. “I don’t care if I make myself sick. Our baby is dying, and it’s my fault!”
Rollie grabbed her shoulders and turned her to face him. “Stop saying that! It’s not your fault. It just happened, Angie. When I left to go fill out the forms for the hospital, a nurse talked to me, and she said that, in most cases, the parents are not to blame for preterm labor. Did you smoke while you were pregnant? No. Did you drink alcohol? No. Did you have any untreated illnesses or infections? No. Did you follow your doctor’s advice, eat property, keep yourself at a healthy weight, and go to all your doctor’s appointments? Yes. You did everything right, Angie. You didn’t do anything to cause it.” He turned and walked away from her. “If you want to blame someone, blame me,” he said in a low, pain-filled voice.
Angie stared at his back. “Why would I blame you? You had nothing to do with it.”
“Didn’t I?” Rollie said, so softly that Angie almost didn’t hear him. “I could have stopped this. I could have kept it from happening. I didn’t tell you what was in my dream. I saw Ben. He was so beautiful. I was holding him in my arms.” He held up his now empty arms, looking at them. “And then . . . and then it all went wrong. The ground opened up and swallowed him. He begged me to stop it. He begged me to help him, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t hold onto him.” Rollie closed his hands into fists, sobbing as he had in the dream. “I could have stopped it. I could have taken you to a hospital, and they would have had you in time to halt the labor. But I didn’t. I really think I’m cursed, Angie. I think that I’m destined to always lose the people I love. You should leave me before something happens to you too.”
Rollie’s words sent a jolt of pain and shock through Angie. She’d had no idea that he was suffering this much guilt. She quickly went to him. Standing in front of him, she took hold of his arms and tried to meet his gaze, but he refused to look at her.
“Oh, Rollie. It’s not your fault. You couldn’t have known that it was anything but an ordinary dream.”
“Yes, I could have,” he said, finally looking at her with eyes dark with anguish and guilt. “I should have known. I should have recognized it for what it was. I knew that it seemed familiar somehow, but I didn’t know why. I should have realized that it was a Dreaming.” He turned away from her again. “If it had been Mangela, he would have known.”
“Rollie, other than when you saw Benarin as a fetus in that vision, how long has it been since you had a Dreaming? Twenty-four years. You can’t expect yourself to remember after that long.”
“Twenty-four years,” Rollie whispered. “Do you realize that yesterday was the twenty-fourth anniversary of that day? The day Luther Cale pushed me off Kata Tjuta and destroyed my life with the Aborigines forever. But then, my life was already in ruins by then. And now this. It’s happening again. It’s always going to be like this.” His voice caught in a sob. “I should have let myself die that day.”
“Stop it!” Angie cried. She grabbed his arms with painful force and made him turn around. “Don’t you say that! Don’t you dare say that!” Hot tears fell down her face. “You are not responsible for those terrible things. Your mom’s death, my dad’s, Rick’s, Leo’s. Not one of them was in any way your fault. You are not cursed! If you had died that day in the desert, so many lives, so many people would have been poorer for it, including Rick, and Leo, and my father. But most especially me, Rollie. Without you, my life wouldn’t have been as wonderful. It wouldn’t have been as full of love.” She took hold of his face. “Please, please don’t do this to yourself. I love you, and I am never, ever going to leave you.”
A tiny, heartbroken sound came from Rollie’s throat as he sank to his knees and pressed his face against Angie’s stomach, the place now empty of the life that should still have been there. Angie held onto him as he wept, knowing that they both needed each other now more than ever if they were going to get through this.
It was a while before Rollie’s crying stopped, and he got to his feet. He pulled Angie into his arms and held her for a minute more, then, without a word, he took her into the bedroom, pulled the bedcovers back, and laid down on the bed with her, after removing both his shoes and hers.
They lay in silence as the minutes ticked by, waiting for word of their baby. Angie knew that she should get some sleep, but every time she closed her eyes, the image of the doctor performing CPR on the lifeless-looking body of Benarin came into her mind.
A knock on the door roused Rollie and Angie from their thoughts. They quickly got up and went to the door. One of the many nuns that they’d seen in the hospital was standing on the doorstep, a tray of food in her hands.
“Sister Margaret was worried about you since she knew you hadn’t eaten anything,” the woman explained. “She insisted that I bring you something.”
The newlyweds looked at the food, neither of them hungry but not wanting to turn down the kindness of the nuns.
“Thank you,” Rollie murmured, taking the tray and setting it down on a table.
The nun smiled. “She also told me to make sure you ate it.”
The couple looked at each other with resignation and sat down at the table. They’d managed to eat about a third of the meal before the young nun was satisfied and left. As soon as she was gone, both Rollie and Angie put down their forks.
“You really should eat more,” the Aussie said.
“So should you,” Angie responded.
“Well, I didn’t just give birth.”
Those words sent pain through both of them and killed any chance that they could eat more.
“I’m sorry,” Rollie murmured.
“Don’t be. We can’t pretend it didn’t happen. It did, and Ben needs us to be there for him. I just wish that we could . . . could see him.”
Rollie nodded. “Me too. I’m going to call Doctor Stein.”
The Aussie placed the call, having the neonatologist paged. The man answered ten minutes later.
“How’s Benarin doing?” Rollie asked.
“Well, so far, there hasn’t been any significant bleeding in the brain, which is a good sign.”
Though the man’s words were promising, Rollie had heard the “but” in his tone of voice and guessed that nothing had improved in Benarin’s condition.
“We want to see him,” he said.
“All right. Come to the NICU, and we’ll arrange it.”
Rollie hung up and turned to Angie. “We can see him.”
The couple made their way to the NICU, anxious to see their baby. When they got to the nursery, they found the lights dimmed.
“We dim the lights at night,” the nurse on duty explained. “It helps premature infants develop a regular day/night sleep schedule.”
She led them to one of the two dozen or more incubators in the room, and Rollie and Angie got their first good look at their son.
Rollie felt his heart shatter at the sight before him. Benarin was barely the size of the Aussie’s hand. He couldn’t have weighted more than a pound. His arms and legs were pitifully thin, hardly more than sticks. Connected to Benarin’s tiny body were numerous IVs, catheters, and machines, including a respirator. He was laying on his stomach, his impossibly small hands curled into loose fists by his head.
Rollie heard a small sound from Angie. Tearing his eyes away from Benarin, he looked at her. The color had been leached from her face, and her eyes were swimming with tears. Rollie put his arm around her.
“Is he . . . is he in pain?” she asked the nurse tremulously.
“There is pain,” the nurse replied gently, “but we have him on morphine to ease it and to keep him sedated so that he can rest.”
“Please, can I touch him?”
The nurse nodded. “But keep in mind that a preemie’s skin is very sensitive, so you need to take care. But don’t touch him in a light, feathery way. They tend to respond best to a firm, steady touch. And talk to him. He’ll know your voice. He’ll remember it from when he was in the womb.”
The nurse opened the incubator. Almost afraid to touch him, Angie reached her hand in and began stroking Benarin’s head.
“Hey there, Ben. It’s Mama. Your Daddy and I are right here with you. I know that you’re hurting and scared, but it’s going to be all right. We love you and want you to get better. We have so many things that we want to share with you. You need to get better so that we can be with you all the time.”
Angie looked up at Rollie, who was gazing longingly at their son. “Touch him, Rollie. Talk to him.”
Hesitating a moment, Rollie gently began caressing Benarin’s arm and hand. “Hi, Ben. This is Daddy. I don’t know if you heard me all those times I talked to you when you were in your mum’s tummy, but I hope you did. And I hope that . . . that those dreams I had mean what I think they do. If they do, then you know how much I love you, how much you mean to me. Your mum and I are waiting for you to get better so that we can take you home. So, you need to do that. You need to get better. We don’t . . . we don’t want to lose you.”
The nurse looked at the monitors attached to Benarin, taking note of the changes there. Angie noticed what she was doing and got worried.
“What is it?” she asked. “Is something wrong?”
“No, not at all. There’s a slight improvement in fact.”
“An improvement?” Rollie repeated, feeling a faint flicker of hope.
“It’s been proven that premature babies can have a positive physical reaction to the presence of their parents. For instance, we tend to see an improvement in their oxygen saturation level. With extremely premature infants like your son, it’s sometimes more stressful than soothing to touch them in any way, but Benarin appears to be reacting well to it, even better than I’d have hoped.”
“What does that mean?” Angie asked. “Will us touching and talking to him help him get better?”
The nurse hesitated for a few seconds, as if trying to decide how to answer. “Anything that soothes him and makes him feel better is a benefit to him, but. . . .”
“It isn’t going to heal him,” Rollie finished, feeling the flame of hope flicker out.
“I’m sorry,” the nurse said regretfully. “But he does still have a chance. He’s more or less holding his own right now. These first few days are the most critical. If he can make it through the next three or four days, his chances of survival will be greater.”
Rollie’s and Angie’s eyes returned to their son, whose life was being held in such a fragile balance.
“We want to stay with him for a while,” the Aussie said quietly.
“Of course. If he starts to get fussy or there’s a change in his heart rate or respiration, it may mean that he needs a break from being touched. You should learn to understand the signals he’s sending. It isn’t always easy, but, with practice, you’ll come to know them.” The nurse got a blanket and handed it to Rollie. “He may get cold with the isolette’s lid up. Put this over him if you think he might need it.”
Left alone with their son, Rollie and Angie kept touching and talking to him, feeling a bond grow between them and him. Deep inside, Rollie knew that this was going to make it all the harder if Benarin died, but he couldn’t stop himself from losing his heart to this tiny human being that was a part of them.
The minutes passed, Benarin showing no signs of becoming stressed at the constant contact. Nurses had come in twice to check on him, once to shift his position from his stomach to his side, keeping his arms and legs flexed. The nurse had explained that it was most comfortable for the babies to have their limbs in a bent position. Benarin was laying within a kind of ‘nest’ that kept him in the right position.
The couple had been there for around an hour and a half when Angie gave a soft gasp. “Rollie, look,” she said in a hushed voice.
The Aussie looked down to see that Benarin’s eyes had opened. He laughed at the sight, feeling bittersweet tears sting his eyes. He bent over the incubator and gazed into his son's eyes.
“Hey there, little man. Look at you. Look at those big eyes. You know what? I think your mum is going to get her wish. She wanted you to have my eyes, and you will, won't you.”
“Yes, he will, Rollie. I know it. He'll have beautiful brown eyes, just like you,” Angie whispered, a catch in her throat.
Rollie stroked Benarin’s head. “But he doesn’t have my hair.”
“It might lighten when he’s older.”
“No. No, it won’t. He’s got your father’s hair. Though I think he ended up with my curls.”
“How do you know?”
“I told you, Ange. I saw him. I saw him in my dream.”
“I wish I could have seen him too.”
“You will. We have to believe that. We have to believe that he’s going to be all right.”
It was quite late when Rollie and Angie finally returned to the guestroom. By then, Angie was on the verge of exhaustion. Rollie helped her get undressed and into bed. She fell asleep a short while later.
Rollie lay in the darkness, holding onto her, unable to sleep. Something was pulling at his mind, a feeling that there was something he should be doing. He felt like Ben was crying out to him, begging him to help, just as he did in the dream. But Rollie didn’t know how to help. He felt powerless, unable to stop what he feared was going to happen.
‘I don’t know how to help, Ben. I don’t know.’
Rollie closed his eyes, a single tear squeezing out from under his lashes. It was a very long time before sleep finally came.
“Help me, Daddy. Help me,” cried a voice in the distance.
“Ben! Ben, where are you?” Rollie called, searching through the murkiness for his son.
“Daddy, you can help me. I know you can.”
“Tell me how, Ben. Please!”
“Daddy! Daddy, hurry! I’m going away.”
“No! Please stay with us, Ben. We don’t want to lose you,” Rollie begged.
“Daddy, it’s all going away. Help me. Save me.”
Ben’s voice weakened, fading into the blackness that was pressing down on Rollie, smothering him.
“No! Ben! Ben!”
Rollie cried out, sitting upright in bed, his body trembling. Angie was suddenly by his side.
“Shh. It’s all right. You were having a nightmare,” she said soothingly.
Rollie blinked up at her, seeing that she was dressed in some of the clothes the nurses had loaned her. The sun shining through the windows told him that it was quite late.
“What time is it?”
“After nine. You were dead to the world. What time did you finally get to sleep?”
Suddenly, the dream hit Rollie full force. In a panic, he called the NICU. “This is Rollie Tyler. I need to know the condition of my son, Benarin Tyler.”
“Hold on, please,” requested the woman who'd answered the call.
“Rollie, what is it?” Angie asked, frightened by the look on her husband’s face.
He opened his mouth to reply, but someone came on the line. “Mister Tyler? This is Doctor Norris,” said a female voice. “I’m the neonatologist on duty now. Could you and your wife come to the NICU this morning, in an hour or so?”
“What’s wrong? What’s happening?” Rollie asked, feeling like his heart was being squeezed by the dread that was growing in him.
“It would be best to talk in person. When you get here, ask one of the nurses to page me.”
“We’ll be there.”
“Rollie, what is it? Is something wrong with Benarin?” Angie asked as her husband hung up the phone.
“I . . . I don’t know. The doctor wants us there in an hour.” The Aussie looked up at her. “Angie, I’m scared. I had another dream. We were losing Ben. He was going away.”
Angie shook her head, her face paling. “No. No, it can’t be. Your dream has to be wrong.”
Rollie quickly showered and shaved, using the toiletry items provided by the hospital. Not having any clean clothes, he put back on the jeans and shirt he’d worn the previous day. They then went to the hospital cafeteria for coffee. Though they hadn’t eaten anything for over twenty-four hours except the little bit of dinner they’d managed, neither of them could stomach anything other than the coffee and a bran muffin, which they split between them.
An hour from the time Rollie called, they were at the NICU, waiting for Doctor Norris to answer her page.
“Mister and Mrs. Tyler?”
The couple turned to see a short blond woman with kindly gray eyes. “I’m Doctor Norris. Shall we go to my office?”
The woman led them to a comfortably furnished office.
“There’s something wrong, isn’t there,” Rollie said as they sat down.
The doctor hesitated. “I’m sorry, but, yes, there is. Through the night, your son’s condition took a downturn.”
“How . . . how bad is it?” Angie asked, trying to keep her voice under control.
Doctor Norris studied both of them. “I’m sorry, but it’s not good. Your son’s condition is deteriorating. His vitals are slowly dropping. The RDS, respiratory distress syndrome, has been getting progressively worse, his respiration becoming increasingly difficult. His heart is weakening as well. He’s having frequent, severe episodes of bradychardia, that’s an extremely slow heartbeat. Then there’s the bleeding in his brain. Though it is not yet severe, if it keeps getting worse, there will be nothing we can do for him.”
Rollie and Angie sat in numb silence for several seconds.
“Isn’t there anything you can do?” Angie finally asked, her voice full of anguish.
“We’re doing all we can for him, Mrs. Tyler, but there’s only so much we can do. With a baby this premature. . . .” She sighed. “I’m sorry. I wish I could give you more hope. I’m afraid that, if his condition continues to worsen, we may lose him before nightfall.” She looked down at her desktop uncomfortably for a few seconds. “I need to ask you again if you want to remove your son from intensive care and into hospice care. He wouldn’t be made to go through any more tests or procedures, and you would be allowed to hold him, spend the remaining time with him. In some situations, it is the . . . the kindest thing to do for the baby.” She looked at the expression of desolation on the couple’s faces. “I know that this is a very difficult decision. You think about it for a while and let me know.”
Feeling as if they were being crushed under the weight of their grief, Rollie and Angie went back to the guestroom. Minutes passed with neither one of them able to talk. The reality that they were going to lose their baby was returning tenfold.
“I can’t . . . I can’t let them give up on him,” Rollie whispered hoarsely. “I can’t just take him into some room and wait for him to die.” He covered his face with his hands, choking on the lump in his throat that was strangling him. “Oh, God.”
“He’s going to die, Rollie. We’re going to lose him. We’re going to lose our baby,” Angie said, her voice ragged with inconsolable pain. “God, why? Why?”
She abruptly got up from the chair and stumbled away into the bathroom. Rollie sat unmoving in his chair until the sound of Angie’s sobs penetrated through to him. Feeling as if he’d been sucked dry of every ounce of energy in his body, he got up and went to her. He found her on the bathroom floor, curled up into a tight ball. He sat beside her and pulled her up into his arms, holding her as she sobbed uncontrollably. His own tears fell silently down his face and into her hair. Never in his life had he felt such pain and grief. It was tearing him apart, ripping his heart out of his chest. He would give anything, anything to heal his son, make him whole. But, as with every other time he’d lost someone he loved, he was powerless to do anything.
Rollie abruptly stilled, a single word lodging in his mind. Powerless. Power. Energy. His breath caught as a sudden thought shot like an arrow through him. “Angie, I’ve got to go see Belilac.” When his wife appeared not to have heard, he forced her head up to look in her eyes. “Angie, Belilac may be able to help. She healed Nicholas. She may be able to heal Benarin too.”
A spark of hope lit Angie’s eyes. “My God, you’re right. Rollie, you have to go to her now, before it’s too late!”
An hour later, Rollie was at the airport, making arrangements for a charter helicopter flight. Not fast enough to suit him, they were in the air and heading for Heartwell. Ignoring the pilot’s objections, the Aussie had him land right at the house, between it and the garden. He instructed the pilot to come back in half an hour.
The moment the helicopter was in the air and flying away, Rollie ran to the garden. “Belilac! Belilac, I need your help!” he cried.
‘I am here, Rollie,’ her voice said in his mind.
‘Belilac, Benarin was born prematurely. He’s dying. Please, you’ve got to help him!’
There was a long silence. ‘I am sorry, Rollie. I cannot help him,’ Belilac said, her voice filled with sorrow.
“But why?!” Rollie cried aloud. “You healed Nicholas Powell. He was dead and you brought him back to life! Why can’t you heal Benarin?”
‘I could heal Nicholas because it was only a case of damage done to his body. I could heal that damage, make it as it was before. Benarin is dying because his body is lacking what it needs to survive. I cannot create fully-formed lungs for him. I cannot create that which does not exist.’
“No. Please. You’re our only hope. Please,” Rollie sobbed.
‘I am so sorry, Rollie. I would do anything I could to help him. Please know that,’ Belilac told him, her voice echoing her distress and sadness.
Rollie sunk to the ground, deep, racking sobs rising out of him as his final hope died. “No. No,” he said over and over again. He felt Belilac touch him, trying to bring him comfort. But there was no comfort for him. His son was going to die. They were going to lose the wonderful baby that had been created during the most beautiful moment of his and Angie’s lives.
As the cruel unfairness of it all filled him like a tidal wave, a scream of anguish, rage, and unendurable pain ripped out of him. Again and again he screamed until he could scream no more, his cries fading away to a tiny whimper.
At last, feeling numb and utterly drained, Rollie staggered to his feet. He stumbled out of the garden and into the house, heading to the bathroom. There, he filled the sink with cold water and splashed it on his face repeatedly, not caring that it was soaking his shirt. Then he just stood bowed over the sink. How was he going to tell Angie? How was he going to tell her that their last hope was gone?
It was a long time before Rollie found the strength to leave the bathroom. He went into the bedroom and listlessly changed his shirt. Coming back out, his eyes went to the nursery. The beautiful crib that he and Angie had purchased with such joy sat empty in the room. It would never hold their son.
Feeling the sobs clawing again at his throat, Rollie spun around and nearly ran down the stairs and out of the house. He slumped onto the porch steps and awaited the helicopter that would take him back.
Rollie had no memory of the return flight or even of the taxi drive back to the hospital. He could only think about his son and what he was going to have to tell Angie. He didn’t know how he was going to find the words.
Finally, the moment had come. With a shaking hand, he turned the doorknob and went into the guestroom. Angie was lying on the bed, staring at the wall across the room. The instant she became aware of his presence, she leapt to her feet and ran to him.
“What did she say?” she cried. “Can she help?”
Rollie looked down at her, his throat closing up. “Angie, I. . . .” he croaked.
Angie looked into the wells of grief that his eyes had become. Her head began to shake in denial. “No. No, she has to help. She has to save him!”
“She can’t, Angie. She can’t save him. Oh, God, I’m so sorry.”
“Noooo!” Angie screamed. She spun around, picked up a vase full of flowers, and smashed it to the floor. She then grabbed a ceramic statue and hurled it across the room. Rollie grasped her around the waist, pinning her arms to her sides. She struggled against him, screaming at the top of her lungs. Then, without warning, her knees buckled. Rollie lifted her and carried her to the bed. He lay with her upon it, his back against the headboard.
Rollie didn’t know how long it was before Angie’s gut-wrenching sobs quieted. He hadn’t spoken the whole time. There was nothing he could say. There were no words that could ease this pain inside both of them.
It was almost two hours after he’d returned when the phone rang. Dread rose in him. He knew even before he answered the call who it was.
“Mister Tyler? This is Doctor Stein.”
“He’s dead,” Rollie whispered.
“No, but I’m afraid that he is weakening. We don’t expect him to last more than another hour or two. I think that you should come over.”
Rollie and Angie walked to the NICU in complete silence. Doctor Stein met them as they entered the waiting room.
“I’ll take you to your son,” he said gently.
Their hands grasping each other so tightly it hurt, Rollie and Angie followed the doctor to the incubator that held Benarin. His tiny, fragile form lay still inside.
“Would you like to hold him?” Doctor Stein asked.
“Please,” Angie whispered, her eyes never leaving her son.
The nurse opened the incubator. With infinite gentleness, she lifted Benarin out, careful not to dislodge the ventilator tube and lines attached to his body. She told Angie to sit in one of two chairs that had been put beside the incubator, then nestled Benarin into her waiting arms. The nurse and doctor then left them alone to say goodbye to their son.
Angie looked down at her baby, feeling him for the first and last time in her arms. “Hey, Ben. Hey, sweetheart,” she said, her voice cracking. “It’s Mama. It’s okay now. You’re going to go to sleep soon, and all the pain will be gone.” Angie stroked his cheek with the tips of her fingers. “Mama loves you. She loves you so much. You’re her little angel.” She kissed his forehead. “I’ll love you forever, Benarin. I’ll never forget you.”
Angie looked up and met Rollie’s eyes. Without a word, she held Benarin out to him. Holding back the cry of pain that was trying to break free, Rollie sat in the other chair and took his son.
“Hi, Ben. It’s Daddy,” he whispered in a shattered voice. “You’re my little man. I wanted so much to watch you grow up, play catch with you, teach you how to ride a bike. I know, now, that I’m not going to get to do that, but I am so grateful that we’ve had you in our lives, even if it was for so short a time.” His voice failed, and it took him a moment to regain it. “I love you, Benarin. I’ll love you for as long as I live. You will always be my beautiful baby boy.” He bent his head and pressed his lips against his son’s forehead. ‘I love you, Ben,’ he said in his mind.
An hour passed with Rollie and Angie taking turns holding Benarin. When he got cold, they wrapped the little blanket around him. No one disturbed them the entire time.
At last, Doctor Stein came back in. He watched the young couple with sympathy. This was always the hardest part, to see the parents saying goodbye. No matter how many times he’d had to watch it, it never got easier.
The doctor looked at the cardiorespiratory and blood pressure monitors and frowned upon seeing the changes there. He called the nurse in, then stepped toward Rollie and Angie.
“Mister and Mrs. Tyler? We need to take Benarin now.”
“Please. We want to stay with him until he’s. . . .” Angie’s voice broke, unable to utter the final word.
“We’ll give him back to you in a moment. I need to check his vitals. It will only be a few minutes.”
Reluctantly, Rollie relinquished his son to the nurse, then lead Angie out of the room. They went to the waiting room, sitting closely together on the sofa. The silent minutes passed, ten extending into twenty, then thirty. Rollie was about ready to find out what was taking so long when he saw Doctor Stein coming toward them. A horrible thought came to him as he watched the doctor drawing nearer.
‘He’s dead. Ben’s dead.’
“Please don’t tell us he’s dead,” he begged aloud as the doctor stopped before them. He felt Angie clutch at him.
“No, he’s not dead. Just the contrary.” The doctor shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like it. His organs were failing. His body was shutting down. And, now . . . now, all of a sudden, he’s coming back. His heartbeat has strengthened and stabilized, as has his respiration. His blood pressure is back up as well, and there’s an increase in his blood oxygen levels. All our preliminary tests seem to indicate that his condition has made a complete about-face. I have no explanation for it.”
“What are you saying?” Angie asked, afraid to let herself hope. “Are you saying that he’s going to be all right?”
“He’s a long way from being all right, Mrs. Tyler, but, if he continues to improve like this, he has a chance.”
Rollie stared at the doctor, almost too stunned to believe. His son might live?
The door abruptly opened, and the head nurse came out. “Doctor, we have a situation in here,” she said urgently.
Fear returned to Rollie with a vengeance. He knew that something was wrong with Benarin. As the doctor hurried back into the NICU nursery, he and Angie followed him. The doctor took one look at the monitors and swore.
“He’s going downhill again! Why is this happening? Why the sudden change?”
Rollie stared at his son as the life in him slipped away. ‘No, Ben. Please don’t leave us!’ he cried in his mind.
The blip on the heart monitor leapt, speeding up for a moment, then dropped back down. Rollie’s eyes fixed upon it. In that moment, his dreams, the words Mangela had spoken to him, and the feeling he’d had earlier all coalesced in his mind, and, all at once, he knew what was happening.
“Oh my God,” he whispered. He quickly stepped forward. “You have to let me hold him.”
“What? Mister Tyler, your son’s condition is failing. He only has minutes left,” Doctor Stein said.
“Please! I’m begging you. You have to let me hold him!”
“Rollie, what is it?” Angie asked in a shaking voice. Her husband turned to her.
“Belilac couldn’t help him, but I can, Angie,” he whispered fervently. “I can.”
Angie stared at him, her eyes slowly widening as she realized what Rollie was saying.
The Aussie turned back to the doctor. “There’s nothing you can do for him. Please let me hold him. He’s my son!”
Doctor Stein stared into Rollie’s desperate eyes for a moment, then nodded. “All right.” He turned to the nurse. “Give him to Mister Tyler.”
Benarin was removed from the incubator and placed in Rollie’s arms. The Aussie sat on one of the chairs and focused his whole attention on his son.
‘Ben? Ben, listen to me,’ he pleaded silently. ‘I’m here, Son. I won’t let you go. You need to fight, fight to live. I know you can do it. You’re strong, like your mummy and daddy. We love you, Ben. We love you so much. We want you to be with us.’
Rollie closed his eyes, willing his son to live, trying to somehow pour his life into the tiny body in his arms. For a couple of minutes, there was no reaction, then, suddenly, he felt it, felt an answering stirring deep within Benarin. Rollie concentrated even harder and felt the strength slowly returning to the baby. With a portion of Rollie’s mind, he heard the nurse make a sound of surprise and tell the doctor to look at the monitor. There were more murmurings of surprise and amazement, then a hand was laid on his shoulder.
“Mister Tyler?” When Rollie did not respond, the hand shook him slightly. “Mister Tyler.”
His concentration broken, Rollie blinked and looked up at the doctor. The man was staring down at him in disbelief.
“I can’t even begin to understand what’s happening here, but your son is coming back. His condition has dramatically improved.”
Rollie nodded. “I know. He’s going to live.”
“It’s too soon to make that assumption. He could have another downturn. His condition is obviously very unstable.”
Rollie shook his head. “No. As long as you let me stay in contact with him, he’ll be all right.”
Doctor Stein stared at him. “What are you implying?”
“I’m, not implying anything, Doctor. I’m telling you that, if I stay with him, he’ll be okay.”
“Mister Tyler, I know that the strain of the last day has been extreme, but you can’t honestly think that your presence is somehow keeping your son alive.”
“I don’t think it is, I know it is.”
Seeing that the doctor was not going to believe him and was going to make him leave, Rollie, in his desperation, did something that he would normally never do. He grabbed the pen out of Doctor Stein’s pocket and focused on it.
“Just like I know that this pen was a fifty-second birthday present from your daughter, Marcia,” he said. “A sixty year old man who works for Mason Jewelers engraved your name on it. Marcia wrapped the pen in . . . in yellow wrapping paper and a gold bow because yellow’s your favorite color. You have it with you all the time, except when your wife, Lisa, borrowed it to make out a check day before yesterday because her pen had gone dry.”
Rollie lifted his eyes from the pen and looked at the doctor. The man was gaping at him, his mouth hanging open. The nurse was wearing an identical expression. Rollie looked at Angie to see pride and approval on her face.
Rollie gave her a faint smile and returned his attention to Doctor Stein. “Would you like me to tell you more? I can recount every thought that went through your head as you carried this pen, every emotion you felt.”
“I . . . I . . . uh . . . no, that won’t be necessary,” the man stammered. He looked at the nurse, who was still staring at Rollie, bug-eyed. “Make arrangements for a room to be set up where Mister Tyler can stay with his son.”
“Angie too,” Rollie quickly said.
The doctor cleared his throat. “Mrs. Tyler too.”
“But, Doctor, where are we going to put them that we can set up properly, and what is Doctor Trask and Administration going to say?”
“I’m sure there’s someplace we can use. As for what anyone is going to say . . . we’ll deal with that when the time comes.”
As arrangements were made, Rollie and Angie sat with their son. A heat lamp was wheeled over and focused on Benarin to keep him warm. Rollie continued talking to him in his mind, telling him over and over again how much they loved him and wanted to be with him, all the while concentrating on keeping the flame of life lit within his son. Benarin’s vitals remained stable, even improving slightly.
It was around forty-five minutes later when the head nurse came back. It was necessary for Rollie to let her put Benarin back in the incubator temporarily. Another nurse then led them to one of the birthing rooms down the hall, the one closest to the NICU. When they got there, they saw that several pieces of equipment had been set up in it, including an incubator, one of the heat lamps, and cardiorespiratory and blood pressure monitors.
Fifteen minutes later, Benarin was brought in. He’d been disconnected from the monitors, but everything else was in place. The ventilator and stands holding the IVs and other fluids were being pushed alongside him by another nurse. The head nurse, whom Rollie finally noticed was named Jeanie Stewart, looked uncertainly at Rollie.
“Um, should I give him back to you? He would be warmer and better protected in the isolette.”
Rollie touched his son’s face. “He’s okay for now. You can put him in there.”
Nodding a little nervously, Nurse Stewart placed Benarin in the incubator, then connected him to the monitors in the room. “When you take him out, be careful of the lines and the ventilator tube.”
“I’ll return in an hour to check on you.”
After she was gone, Rollie and Angie put their chairs beside the incubator. Rollie reached his hand in and stroked his son’s hair. “He’s going to live, Angie. I know he is,” he murmured.
“I know he is too, Rollie, because of you. You’re going to save him.”
Angie watched in amazement as Rollie cradled Benarin in his arms. They had been in the middle of a conversation, talking for the first time about what they were going to do regarding Benarin’s hospital care, when the Aussie had abruptly stopped and looked intently at the incubator.
“He needs me,” he had stated. Then he got up, carefully removed Benarin from the incubator, and sat with him on the chair. Rollie’s statement had made Angie look at the monitors anxiously, and she had noted that the readings on several of them were lower than they were before. But, now, they had returned to their former position. She had watched as they slowly rose over the space of just a couple of minutes.
Angie had no explanation to what she was witnessing. Somehow, Rollie was giving strength to Benarin, giving him what the baby needed to survive and heal. It was the most incredible thing she’d ever seen.
“How do you do it?”
The Aussie lifted his eyes from their son. “I don’t really know. Before he left, Mangela told me that my will and my life force, my spirit, were very strong, that it was important for me to remember that. I don’t think he knew this was going to happen, but I’m certain he knew that something was, something in which I would need these abilities.” Rollie looked back down at Benarin. “I can feel him, I mean really feel him, what’s inside him. When he’s weakening, I can sense it. And I can sense when what I’m doing is helping.”
“Can he sense it too, that you’re helping him?”
“Yeah, I think he can. In that last dream I had, he was begging me to help him, telling me that he knew I could. I think that . . . that, in some way, it was real. He was calling out to me, Ange. I could feel that he was, even before this morning’s dream. I just didn’t understand. It’s going to take a long time, but he will be whole. I heard some talk around the NICU about the strong chance of mental and physical impairments with premature babies, and I know that the odds would probably be against Benarin growing up to be a normal, healthy kid, but I know that he’s going to be just fine, no matter what anyone may tell us.”
“I believe you, Rol. If you can do this, how can I not believe you?”
Rollie was still holding Benarin when Nurse Stewart returned. She looked at the monitors, shaking her head slightly in disbelief.
“How is everyone doing in here?” she asked.
“We’re good,” Angie replied with a smile.
The nurse gave her a smile then looked at Rollie. “The story of this is already spreading throughout the hospital. We’ve had our own share of incredible things happen here, but this . . . this is beyond belief. The sisters are saying it’s a miracle from God. I can’t disagree with them.” She chuckled. “Don’t be surprised if you get a few people poking their heads in here from time to time. Everyone wants to see the miracle baby and his miracle maker father.”
Rollie blushed, then frowned. “I don’t want them disturbing Ben.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. We’ll make sure nobody causes a scene.” The nurse turned back to Angie. “Normally, this isn’t something we worry about with twenty-two week preemies because of their extremely high mortality rate, but it would be much better for your son if he could be fed breast milk. It’s been proven that premature babies do better and have less health problems later on when they’re on breast milk, especially since the milk produced by mothers of premature babies has more protein, sodium, calcium and other nutrients than that of milk produced by mothers of full-term infants.”
“Yes. Yes, I want to do that,” Angie said eagerly. “When can we start?”
“Well, Ben’s not going to be able to feed at your breast for a while yet. When babies are born prematurely, their sucking is not coordinated well enough with their breathing. Right now, Ben is getting all his nutrition through an IV line because he’s so small and was so sick. However, if he continues to improve over the next day or two and he gets to the point where we can take him off the ventilator, then we can start tube feeding. When that time comes, we can feed him your milk right through the tube. What we do is give you a breast pump. The milk is expressed, sucked, from your breasts and put into a container. Any milk that he doesn’t consume right away is stored for later, though it’s best when it’s fresh.”
“When should I start using the pump?”
“As soon as possible. I’ll go get one now and instruct you how to use it.”
Around ten minutes later, Nurse Stewart returned. She had Angie thoroughly wash her hands then began showing her how to use the breast pump and milk collection kit as Rollie looking on with interest, having put Benarin back in the incubator for a while. The collection kit for the breast pump was designed to pull milk from both breasts at the same time and looked pretty strange on her.
“That’s the weirdest bikini top I’ve ever seen, Ange,” Rollie said teasingly.
“Oh, I don’t know, Rol. I think it’s quite the fashion statement.”
“Well, it would certainly draw attention, that’s for sure.”
The nurse smiled at them, then returned to her tutelage. “I must warn you that it may feel a little strange as it’s expressing the milk,” she said. “This isn’t quite the same as a baby suckling at your breast. It could also cause some irritation. You will likely get sore after a few days, but then, that will also happen when you suckle a baby.” She watched Angie for a moment longer. “So, you think you got the hang of it?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Good. Let’s get it started then.”
Nurse Stewart made sure the collection cups were property positioned then turned the pump on. Angie’s eyes immediately widened.
“What does it feel like?” her husband asked.
“Weird.” Glancing at the nurse, she motioned for Rollie to come closer. The Aussie leaned over next to her.
“I like how you do it much better,” she whispered in his ear.
Rollie’s face turned red, hoping fervently that the nurse hadn’t overheard. Leaning back, he looked at his wife and saw a huge, mischievous grin on her face. Deciding to have a little fun too, he leaned back over and said in her ear, “Well, it better not be having as good a time doing it as I do, or I’ll punch its lights out. I consider those breasts to be my personal territory, and I’m sure not going to let a machine stake a claim on them.”
Rollie pulled back and almost laughed upon seeing the blush that had colored Angie’s cheeks. He glanced at where Nurse Stewart had been and saw that she had left the room. A few minutes later, she came back in.
“Okay, I think it’s probably got all it’s going to this first time,” she told them. She helped Angie remove the breast pump. As she covered herself up, Angie looked in dismay at the tiny amount of fluid in the collection container.
“How come there’s so little?” she asked.
“This is perfectly normal. The amount will increase as you continue to use the pump. In case you don’t already know, this fluid is called colostrum. It’s what comes out of the breast to begin with. It contains antibodies and other substances that will help protect Ben from infection.”
“How often do I use the pump?”
“It would be best to express your milk eight to twelve times a day, completely emptying your breasts each time. Expressing your milk will send a signal to your body to produce more, and that’s what we want. We want you to be maintaining a nice, heavy flow for Ben.”
“How long before I can feed him at my breast?”
“Usually, it would be about 34 weeks gestational age, that’s around 32 weeks after conception. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes more. So, I’d say that Ben might be ready for that in two and a half to three months, if all goes well. However, even though Ben isn’t ready yet to feed at your breast, he can still suckle on them. In fact, once we start the tube feeding, you might want to let him do that as he’s being fed. This is of benefit in three ways. It’s good practice for him, and it is calming and soothing for premature babies to suckle, which helps digestion and improves weight gain. It will also give more stimulation to your breasts to produce milk. If you do this, it would be right after you express your milk with the pump so that there’s no milk left in your breasts. This is called nonnutritive sucking.”
“I’d love to do that,” Angie said fervently, wanting to do everything possible for her baby and needing the connection that having Benarin at her breast would give her. She felt Rollie take her hand and give it a squeeze.
The Aussie looked over at his son, sensing that Benarin needed to be in physical contact with him again. Getting up, he went to the incubator and carefully lifted the baby out under the watchful eye of the nurse. He sat down in the nearby chair.
“How is he?” Angie asked.
Rollie gazed down at their baby, gently stroking his head. “He’s doing good.” He kissed Benarin’s forehead. “He likes to be held like this.”
Nurse Stewart stared at father and son. “How do you do that? How do you know he likes to be held, and, the biggest question of all, how can it be that you holding him improves his condition?”
“I don’t know,” Rollie answered honestly. “I only know that it does. That’s all that matters.”
“Yes, it is.” The nurse returned her attention to Angie. She showed Angie how to handle the collection bottles. The milk was poured into a sterile container, which the nurse then labeled with Ben’s name and the date the milk was expressed, along with a notation that it was fresh milk.
“We will put this in the refrigerator,” she told Angie. “We’ll keep it there for a day. If, by then, Ben doesn’t look as if he’ll be ready for tube feeding, we’ll freeze it, though the nutritional and infection-fighting qualities of the milk are reduced by freezing it. You need to clean the breast-pump equipment very thoroughly after each use. I’ll show you how to do that now.”
A while later, the nurse left, telling the new parents that, if they had any trouble or questions, to give a call to the NICU.
Alone again with their son, the newlyweds grew quiet. Angie pulled the other chair over beside Rollie’s so that she could touch Benarin.
“Rol, what’s all this going to mean for us? I think you know as well as I that, sooner or later, the press is going to catch wind of this, and they’ll be here to get the story. What if Doctor Stein or Nurse Stewart tells them about what you did with the pen?”
Rollie laid his head against the backrest. “I’ve been thinking about that too. If my abilities became known to the public, it could make our lives hell. Can you imagine all the kooks that would come out of the woodwork? And then there’s the people who would try to cash in on what I can do. I don’t think there’s a way for us to keep this thing with Benarin a secret, but I need to talk to both Nurse Stewart and Doctor Stein about the pen thing. Hopefully, they haven’t already told others about it.”
“Do you want me to call the nurse back in?”
“Maybe we could arrange to talk to both of them at the same time.”
Angie left a message for Nurse Stewart, asking for her and Doctor Stein to come together to see them when they could.
Shortly after Angie left the message, the phone rang, startling them. Angie answered it.
“Angie? It’s Cecilia. Oh, honey, Doc Bradford told us what happened yesterday. Fred and I are so sorry. We called the hospital last night, and they told us that Benarin was in critical condition. We didn’t want to bother you, so we didn’t ask to speak to you. How is he doing?”
“He’s good, Cecilia. He going to be all right,” she looked at her husband, “thanks to Rollie.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. “Did, um, Rollie do something? Did he ask you-know-who to help?”
“Yes, he did, but she couldn’t do anything. It was Rollie who helped. He saved Ben’s life, brought him back from the brink.”
An expression of embarrassment on his face, Rollie fidgeted with a magazine on the table.
“Really? That’s amazing and so very wonderful. You’ll have to tell me all about it. We’d like to come visit you tomorrow, if you’re up to it.”
“That would be great, Cecilia.” Angie had a thought. “Could you possibly pack some clothes for us and maybe some other necessities, like hair stuff, Rollie’s shaving kit, things like that?”
Angie smiled. “Yeah, that would be good too. I look horrid.”
“I’d be happy to. You gave Fred a spare key, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, so that he could look in on the place when we’re in New York.”
“Consider it done, then.”
“Oh, one more thing. Could you bring my laptop too? It’s in the bedroom, sitting on the dresser.”
“Certainly. We’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
“I should call Dad,” Rollie said a little while later. He sighed. “It’s not going to be easy telling him. I guess we should tell Frank and Mira too.”
The Aussie dialed the number of the cell phone he’d given to his father. It rang and rang, and Rollie was about ready to hang up when the call connected.
“Dingo Tyler here. Anything you want, I can get,” said a slightly out of breath voice.
Rollie choked back his laughter. “That’s quite the sales pitch, Dad.”
“Rollie! Good to hear your voice, Son. So, you and Angie having a good time in . . . what’s the name of that town? Heartwood?”
“Heartwell. We’re not there. We’re in Tulsa.” Rollie paused. “Something happened, Dad.”
“What is it?” Dingo asked, the tone of his voice now serious. “Angie’s all right, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, she’s fine.” Rollie took a deep breath, preparing himself. “Dad, it’s Benarin. He was born prematurely. He came yesterday.”
“Oh no. Oh, Son, I’m so sorry.” There were tears in Dingo’s trembling voice. “How is he?”
“We almost lost him, but he’s doing good now. I know he’s going to be all right.”
“I’ll head right out. I can probably be there in two days, three at the most.”
“No, Dad. It’s all right. I don’t want you to go through that. Ben is going to be okay, I promise you. It isn’t going to be like it was with . . . with Amanda.”
Rollie heard a slight choking sound on the other end. He closed his eyes, knowing how hard this was hitting his father.
“I can still see her, Rollie, even after all these years,” Dingo whispered.
“I know, Dad.” Rollie swallowed his tears. “I said that Benarin was going to be okay, and I meant it. I can’t explain it over the phone, but I’m . . . I’m keeping him alive. I don’t know how I’m doing it, but I am.”
There was a long silence. “Does this have something to do with that thing you can do?”
“Not really, at least I don’t think so. This is something else. I’ll explain it more when you come in May.”
“I’m not waiting that long, Rollie. I want to see my grandson. I’ll be there next month, the eighth or ninth, at the latest. By then, he’ll be bigger, right?”
“You call me every day, Rollie, tell me how he’s doing.”
“I will, Dad, I promise.”
“I love you, Son.”
“I love you too, Dad.”
Rollie hung up and looked at Angie.
“Who’s Amanda, Rol?” she asked.
“She . . . was my sister,” the Aussie replied in a low voice.
Angie’s eyes widened. “I didn’t know you had a sister.”
Rollie sighed. “I never knew her. She died before I was born.” He paused. “She was born prematurely.”
“Oh, Rollie, I’m sorry.”
“It never seemed that real to me. She was dead almost a year before Mum got pregnant with me. Mum was quite young when Amanda was born, only nineteen. She was conceived just a few months after Mum and Dad got married. I don’t even know if I would have found out about her if I hadn’t stumbled upon the birth certificate. I know, now, how hard it must have been for them, and I know that seeing Benarin is going to bring all those memories back to Dad. That’s why I want him to wait a while before coming, wait until Ben is bigger and stronger.”
Angie nodded, agreeing. “Do you want me to call Frank and Mira?”
“I’ll let you call Mira. I want to talk to Frank myself. He’ll have to tell Sarah, and I want to explain this whole thing so that he can tell her.”
Angie called the policewoman, who was at home. “Mira, something’s happened,” she told her. “I went into premature labor. Benarin was born yesterday.”
“Oh my God. Angie, I’m so sorry. How is he? Is he. . . .” The detective’s voice trailed off, not asking the question that Angie knew was in her mind.
“He’s alive, Mira, and he’s doing well.”
“He is? That’s great. I mean, you couldn’t have been more than twenty weeks along. I didn’t think that babies could--” Mira broke off abruptly. “Angie, I am so sorry for saying that. Please forgive me.”
“It’s all right, Mira. You’re right, you know. The doctor’s gave Benarin no more than a ten percent chance of survival.” She smiled. “But they didn’t count on Rollie.”
“Rollie? Okay, I think you need to explain that.”
Angie did, telling the cop about what happened.
“That is the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard,” the cop said. “He actually willed Benarin to live?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“I thought that what Rollie could do when he touched things was amazing, but this is . . . is. . . .”
“That’s what everyone around here is saying too.”
“So, how are you and he holding up?” Mira asked.
“We’re all right. It’s been a very long couple of days.”
“Yes, I should imagine it has. So, how long will Benarin be in the hospital?”
“I don’t know. They haven’t discussed that with us yet. I think they want to wait until they’re sure Ben is going to be all right.”
“You give me a call any time, Angie. I want regular updates. Have you called Francis yet?”
“No, that’s the next call we’ll be making. We’ll call you in a few days, let you know how things are going.”
“All right. Tell Rollie that I’ll be thinking about both of you, and Ben too.”
“I will. Goodbye.”
Angie handed the phone to Rollie. “Your turn.”
The Aussie called the Gatti’s home phone number. Frank answered on the third ring.
“Hey, Frank, it’s Rollie.”
“Hi. Are you and Angie back home?”
“No, we’re still in Oklahoma. Um, is Sarah there?”
“Yeah, she’s putting the last of the kids to bed.”
“Could you get her?”
“Sure. Rollie, what’s wrong?”
“I’ve . . . got some news to tell you. You should both hear it.”
“Is Angie okay?” Frank asked, concern and fear in his voice.
“Yeah, she is. Go get Sarah.”
“Okay, hold on a sec.”
There was silence on the line for a minute, then some rustling and a click.
“All right, you’re on the speakerphone, Rollie,” Francis told him.
“Benarin was born yesterday.”
A couple of seconds of silence followed the announcement. “Oh, Rollie, no,” Sarah then said. The Aussie could tell she was already crying. “Is he . . . oh, Rollie, is he alive?”
“Yes, he’s alive, Sarah, and he’s going to be all right.”
“But he’s so early. A baby that premature. . . .”
“I know. We almost lost him, but . . . well, something . . . happened.”
Rollie went on to explain the events that had saved Benarin’s life, trying to describe what was happening with him and his son.
“Rollie, what you’re describing is nothing short of a miracle,” Frank said.
The Aussie laughed. “We’ve been hearing that word a lot today.”
“Well, it’s true,” Sarah said. “I have never heard anything like it. Forgive me for saying this, but it’s like something out of a movie.”
Rollie laughed again. “Sarah, most of my life is like something out of a movie.”
“So, he’s really going to be all right?” Frank asked.
“Yeah, he is.” Rollie’s eyes abruptly went to the incubator, that strange sense he had developed telling him that he needed to get Benarin. “I’m going to have to give you to Angie now. I need to go to Ben.” He handed the phone to his wife and went to his son, sitting on the chair with him.
“Hi,” Angie greeted.
“Is Ben all right?” Sarah asked. “Rollie said he needed to go to him.”
“Yes, he’s all right, as long as Rollie can be in contact with him when he starts to weaken.”
“It’s almost unbelievable that Rollie can do that.”
“I couldn’t agree more. Rollie’s done a lot of unbelievable things in his life, but this tops them all.”
“It a wonderful gift.”
“Yes, it is.”
“So, how are you and Rollie doing?” Frank asked.
“Tired. These past . . .” Angie looked at her watch, “thirty hours have been the longest and hardest of my life. Rollie’s too.”
“I should imagine they have.”
“So, Sarah, you’re about ready to have that one you’re carrying, aren’t you?”
“Yes. He’s due on the twenty-fifth, but, if he’s like his sisters, he’ll be a couple of days early.”
“Give us a call when he arrives, okay?”
“Sure will. You take care, Angie. All three of you will be in our prayers,” Sarah said.
Angie said goodbye and hung up. “How’s he doing?” she asked Rollie.
Rollie looked down at Benarin, who was tucked in close to his heart. “Good.”
Angie got up and sat beside them on the floor, stroking their son’s arm. “How are you doing?”
“Okay. Kind of tired.”
“Yeah, me too, but not as tired as you, I should imagine. I don’t think you got much sleep last night.”
“No, but, like I said before, I didn’t just give birth. You really should lie down and get some sleep.”
“I will later. Right now, I’m just going to spend some quality time with my two favorite men.”
A while later, Benarin was back in his incubator, and Rollie and Angie were sitting side by side on the bed, reading some booklets one of the nurses had given them about premature babies. They looked up at the sound of the door opening to see Doctor Stein and Nurse Stewart coming in. The first thing the doctor did was go to the incubator and perform a brief examination of Benarin. He shook his head.
“This still amazes me,” he said. “He’s even stronger than when I checked him last.” The man looked at Rollie. “Whatever you’re doing, it’s more than anything we can do with our modern technology. I don’t think I’ll ever understand it . . . or what you did with my pen.”
“Um, that’s what we wanted to talk to you about,” the Aussie said. “Angie and I don’t want everything that’s happened here to disrupt our lives or Benarin’s because of people finding out about it. We know that this thing with Ben is going to be impossible to keep secret, but we’d appreciate it if you’d keep it under your hat what I did with the pen. Such an . . . ability has a lot of drawbacks, and one of them is people wanting to exploit it.”
Nurse Stewart adopted a guilty look. “I’m sorry, but I’ve already told several people on the staff about it, as well as my husband. I didn’t even think about keeping it quiet.” Seeing the look that passed between the newlyweds, she hastily added, “But I can ask them all not to say anything about it to others, if they haven’t already. We’ll keep it as quiet as we can.”
“I told a couple of people too, I’m afraid,” the doctor admitted. “I apologize for that. Like Jeanie said, we’ll put a cap on it and do all we can to make sure more people don’t find out.”
“Thank you. We’d appreciate it,” Rollie said.
Doctor Stein turned to the nurse. “Jeanie, why don’t you go on back. I need to talk to the Tylers in private for a moment.”
The nurse left, and Doctor Stein took an empty chair. “I wanted to explain a couple of things, most importantly why I asked you to wait to see your son. Normally, we encourage parents to touch and spend time with their premature infant as soon as possible. What I said about wanting you to rest first was true, but there was another reason as well. We had a crisis with a set of triplets that were born two days ago. All three of them went sour within an hour of each other. We lost two of them. The remaining girl is hanging on by a thread. I had to call the parents and tell them what happened. It wasn’t easy.”
Rollie and Angie looked at each other, understanding completely what it must be like for the parents. They also felt sympathy for the doctor. It had to be one of the hardest things in the world telling someone that their child was dead.
“I didn’t want you to be in the room and witness that,” the doctor continued, “especially since I was certain that we wouldn’t be able to save your son either.”
“We understand,” Angie said.
“I also want to explain why I asked you to leave after you’d been with your son, when his condition changed. We’ve found it to be upsetting to some parents to watch procedures being done on their infants, especially on preemies. It is distressing and sometimes painful to the baby, and it’s better if the parents don’t have to see it.”
“I don’t think I would have wanted to see it,” Angie admitted.
The doctor nodded. He looked over at Benarin. “This . . . whatever it is that you’re able to do with your son. Have you ever done something like that before?”
“No,” Rollie replied. “I didn’t even realize I could until just that moment.”
“It’s a remarkable gift. If more people had that ability, we might be able to save them all.” The doctor stood up. “Well, I’ve got to get back. My shift will be over at eleven o’clock. If you want to ask me any questions before then, just have me paged.”
Rollie took note of the doctor’s departure with only a portion of his mind. What the man had said about his “gift” was running through his mind. He didn’t have time to dwell on it, however, because the nun they had met in the NICU, whom they now knew was Sister Margaret, came in.
“Hello, my dears,” she said. “How is everyone doing today?”
“We’re good,” Angie replied.
The elderly woman walked over to the incubator, smiling down at Benarin. “This is a true miracle from God. I have seen many miracles in my seventy-three years, but this is one of the greatest.” She turned to Rollie, her hand cupping his cheek. “And you are the one blessed by God’s spirit and enabled to do this. You must be a fine and wonderful person for Him to bless you so.”
Rollie’s cheeks turned pink, and he ducked his head. “I’m not all that wonderful a person,” he mumbled.
The nun smiled knowingly. “I think that maybe you are. You just don’t believe so yourself.” She looked at Angie. “Isn’t that true.” It wasn’t spoken as a question.
“Yeah, it is true,” Angie murmured.
Rollie’s blush spread, his eyes staying glued to the floor.
Sister Margaret chuckled softly. “How long has it been since the two of you had anything to eat?”
“We had a bran muffin for breakfast,” Angie replied.
The nun frowned. “That’s not a proper breakfast, and it’s certainly not enough to keep you going for the day. You both need to eat. The cafeteria itself is closed now, but there are vending machines. Use them.”
“I guess I am kind of hungry,” Rollie admitted, only just realizing that his stomach felt distinctly hollow.
“Me too,” Angie agreed.
“Well, then go do something about it,” Sister Margaret ordered.
“I can’t,” Rollie said. “I can’t leave Ben.”
“I could get the food, Rol,” Angie suggested.
Angie left for the cafeteria. The nun watched as Rollie went to the incubator and looked at Benarin.
“What you are doing for your son is a wonderful thing, Rollie,” she said softly, “but don’t ignore your own physical needs.”
“I’m not the important one. Benarin and Angie are.”
Sister Margaret walked up beside him. “All of God’s children are important, Rollie, and I think that both Angie and Benarin would say that you are very, very important, especially to them. Please take care of yourself while you are taking care of them.”
The Aussie nodded.
“Any time you’d like to talk, you need only ask. My fellow sisters and I are here for everyone.”
The nun left quietly. Alone with his son for the first time, Rollie gazed down at him. He opened the incubator and touched the baby’s hand. ‘I don’t know if you can really hear me, Ben, but if you can, I’m going to do everything I can to make you well. I won’t stop doing this until I know that you’re going to be healthy and whole, no matter how long that takes.’
The Aussie sat in the recliner and closed his eyes, resting his head on the backrest. He hadn’t gotten much rest that night, and all he really wanted to do was eat something and go to bed. Maybe he could take a little nap later, after he was sure Ben would be okay.
Angie returned with sandwiches, fruit, and hot tea. They both dug into the food, the first bite awakening their hunger with a vengeance.
“I didn’t realize how hungry I was,” Angie admitted after the last bite was gone.
“Me neither.” Rollie gave a huge yawn, feeling even sleepier with a full stomach.
“You should get some sleep, Rol. You look beat.”
Rollie shook his head. “Not yet. I need to hold Ben for a while.” He got the baby and sat with him in the chair beside the incubator.
“Why don’t you use the recliner?”
“I’m afraid I’ll fall asleep.”
By the time Rollie finished with Benarin, he was fighting to stay awake. Returning the baby to the incubator, he headed for the recliner.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Angie asked.
“I was just going to catch a few winks in the recliner.”
“Uh uh. There’s a bed right there, Rol. It’s going to be more comfortable than the recliner.”
“The bed’s supposed to be for you, Angie.”
“Do you see me using it? Get in the bed, Rollie.”
The Aussie’s lips twitched upward in a smile at his wife’s demanding tone. “Do you know how much of a turn-on it is for a beautiful woman to order a man to get into bed?” He patted the mattress. “Care to share it with me?” His eyebrows waggled as his smile grew.
“You need sleep, Rollie. Besides, it’s going to be a while before I can do anything like that. There is a waiting period after a woman gives birth, you know.”
Rollie’s face fell dramatically. “Yeah, I know.” He gave a deep sigh. “I don’t know how I’m going to survive.”
“Well, look at it this way. Waiting makes the getting all the sweeter.”
Rollie bent over her and gave her a long, deep kiss. “And you are most definitely worth waiting for.”
“Damn right I am.”
The Aussie chuckled. Sitting on the bed, he kicked his shoes off and got under the covers. He was asleep about thirty seconds after his eyes closed.
Angie moved her chair beside him and watched him sleep for several minutes. Then she went to the incubator. “You have a very special daddy, Benarin,” she whispered. “But I think that, somehow, you already know that. He’s going to make you well, and we’re going to be a family.”
Doctor Patricia Norris entered the NICU. As always, she made the rounds of the incubators, checking each one to see if there were any new babies or if some were no longer there. She paused when she got to the one that had held the Tyler baby and saw that it was empty. A sharp stab of sorrow struck her, knowing what the empty incubator meant. She had so hoped that, somehow, this little one would beat the odds. Patricia remembered the frightened, grief-stricken couple that she’d had in her office yesterday morning and felt sadness for them. New parents so full of hope, and, now, they were burying their son. It just seemed so unfair.
Finishing her rounds, the doctor went to the nurse’s station. “Hi, Trish. How are you this morning?”
“Oh, other than the fact that I have to meet with Doctor Grumpy later to request the two weeks off in July, I’m doing good,” the young nurse replied.
Smiling at the nickname the nurse had given the head of the department, Patricia picked up the chart of one of the infants and began scanning it. “When did we lose the Tyler baby?” she asked.
Trisha Reed stared at the doctor. “Haven’t you heard?”
“About the Tyler baby. The news is all over the hospital.”
Patricia frowned. “I was running late this morning, so I didn’t talk to anyone. What about him?”
“It was the most amazing thing. They were losing him. He was right on the brink. Then, all of a sudden, Mister Tyler begged to hold him. They gave him the baby, and he . . . well, he brought the little guy back from the edge. Benarin’s vitals stabilized and strengthened, just like that. The sisters are calling it a miracle.”
Patricia’s mouth fell open. “You mean he’s alive?”
“He certainly is, and he’s doing great, according to Ashley on the night shift.”
“So, where is he?”
“They’ve got him and the Tylers in one of the birthing rooms, set it up with an incubator and monitors. Mister Tyler claimed that, as long as he could stay with his son, the baby would be all right. From what I heard, Doctor Stein didn’t believe Mister Tyler’s claims, so Mister Tyler did something to convince him. I’m not really sure what it was. The story’s kind of mixed up at that point. But, whatever it was, it spooked the daylights out of the doctor and Nurse Stewart and convinced them that he was telling the truth.”
“This is unbelievable. Mister Tyler actually healed his son, like one of those faith healers you hear about?”
“No no, it’s not like that. He didn’t really heal him. It’s more like he’s giving Benarin the strength to survive and to heal and develop on his own. At least that’s what others are saying.”
Patricia shook her head, astounded at the story. She’d seen some sick babies that they’d given up on abruptly make an about-face and go on to leave the hospital as healthy infants, but she’d never heard of anything even remotely like this.
“Everyone’s saying that this will go down in the medical history books,” Trisha told her. “In fact, word has it that some neonatologists and pediatricians from all across the country are coming here to see the ‘miracle baby’ and his daddy.”
“Wow. This makes me wish that I worked the second shift. I missed out on all the excitement. I’m going to have to see this miracle in the making myself. I wonder if the Tylers are awake yet.”
“I don’t know. They’re in Room Ten, if you’d like to take a look.”
Doctor Norris left the NICU and went down the hall to the birthing rooms. She knocked lightly on the door of Room Ten and was answered by an Australian-accented voice that she recognized as belonging to Rollie Tyler. Opening the door, she was greeted with a sight that she was certain she’d never see again outside of this room. Rollie was laying in the bed, his back propped up with pillows. Beside him, under the covers, was his wife, apparently still asleep. And there, curled up against his chest, looking like a tiny scrap of flesh compared to the tall Aussie, was Benarin. The expression on the baby’s face couldn’t be described as anything less than contented. Patricia’s gaze went to the monitors, and she was amazed at the difference she saw there. This baby that she hadn’t thought would survive to see another night was showing every indication of being well on the way to a full recovery.
“Hi. I just heard the news and thought I’d come see you and this little one,” the doctor said quietly as she came in the room. “I don’t want to wake your wife, though.”
Rollie smiled. “Don’t worry about Angie. She’s pretty out of it. She woke up every time I got up to see to Benarin, so she didn’t get much sleep. She’s been out like a light for the past hour, didn’t wake up when I got Ben this last time.”
“May I?” Patricia asked, holding her arms out for the baby.
Rollie looked down at Benarin. “Sure. He’s just about set for this round anyway.” He carefully handed the baby to the doctor, who noticed his professional handling of the infant.
Patricia laid Benarin in the incubator and did a brief examination, pleased by what she found. “When was the last time they drew some blood?”
“Last night, around eleven.”
“Hmm. I’ll want to do that again. I’ll have a nurse come in a little later.” The doctor looked back down at the baby and saw that his eyes were now open. “Well, hi there, Benarin. I have to admit that I didn’t expect to see you today, but I’m very happy that I was wrong.” She straightened. “Do you want me to give him back to you?”
“No, he’s fine for now,” the Aussie replied.
Patricia closed the incubator and sat in the chair beside it. “I heard the story about all this when I came in this morning, and I have to admit that it doesn’t sound real. Would you mind telling me a little more about it?”
Looking slightly uncomfortable, the Aussie asked, “What do you want to know?”
“Well, first of all, how you’re able to do what everyone is saying you did. I mean, I see the evidence before my eyes,” she waved her hand at the incubator, “but it’s still hard to grasp. You’re somehow giving your son strength?”
“In a nutshell. It’s more of a . . . transference, I guess you’d say. I’m giving him some of my strength, my . . . energy, for lack of a better term. The Aboriginal people whom I grew up with would say that I am sharing with Ben a portion of my kuuti, my life force. It’s giving his body the ability to heal and develop properly.”
“So, you’re not healing him yourself?”
“No. I wish I could, but I don’t have that ability.”
“Why didn’t you do this before, when Ben was first born?”
“Because I didn’t know I could. I only just figured it out yesterday afternoon, when we almost lost him.”
Patricia studied the Aussie’s face, seeing the indications that led her to believe he hadn’t gotten much sleep. “How often do you have to do this . . . transference?”
“I’m going around a half-hour or so between treatments right now. I think, as his condition improves, I’ll be able to increase that.”
“And how long does it take?”
“It varies, usually from forty minutes to an hour for a really good . . . fix.”
“How do you know when he needs your attention?” Patricia asked.
“I just sense it somehow,” Rollie replied “I can’t really explain it. Sometimes, it’s almost as if I can hear him calling out to me for help.”
Doctor Norris leaned back in her chair. “Have you always been psychic, Mister Tyler?”
Rollie gave a little start, a momentary expression of panic crossing his face. “I, um . . . I don’t know if I would consider this a psychic ability.”
“You wouldn’t? What would you call it, then?”
Rollie shrugged uncomfortably. “I don’t know. I haven’t even fully figured out how it works, let alone put a name to it.”
Seeing how tense the Aussie was getting, Patricia decided to change the subject. “Have any of the nurses or other doctors talked to you about what you can expect with Benarin’s care in the future?”
“No, but Angie and I read some booklets about it. We know that we’ve got a long road ahead of us.”
The doctor nodded. “A long and difficult one. The hardest part is going to be these first few weeks, but even after you take Benarin home, it won’t be as simple as it would be for a baby that went full term. He’s going to need a lot of care and a lot of patience.”
“I know. Angie and I are prepared to do whatever’s necessary and make any sacrifices we have to.” Rollie looked at his son, his expression softening. “He’s worth it.”
Patricia looked at the baby. “Yes, he is.” She stood. “Well, I have to get back to the NICU.” She waved her hand around the room. “This is a pretty unique and unorthodox situation, having a premature baby and his parents staying in a birthing room. Though we can keep an eye on his vitals from the nurse’s station, it’s still not a good situation if Benarin suddenly needs more help than you can give. I think I’d feel better if I assigned a nurse to you. It would be her job to check on you and Benarin every now and then throughout her shift, making sure things are okay. I’ll do that right away, and I’ll check your son again myself this afternoon.” Patricia smiled. “And, now, I would suggest that you get a little sleep, Mister Tyler. You’re going to need every second you can get.”
“Thanks. Oh, and could you please call me Rollie? I never cared for people calling me Mister Tyler.”
Patricia smiled again. “Rollie it is.”
As soon as the doctor was gone, Rollie slid down to lay flat on the bed and closed his eyes. There really wouldn’t be enough time to sleep before Ben needed him again, but at least he could close his eyes for a while.
That was the last thought the Aussie had before his body decided that it was going to get some sleep anyway, and his consciousness fled. He woke up a mere fifteen minutes later, his instincts telling him that he had to attend to Benarin again. Rubbing his eyes furiously, he got to his feet and removed the infant from the incubator, this time sitting with him in the chair. He’d been there around half an hour when Angie stirred, and her eyes opened.
“Good morning, sweetie” Rollie greeted with a smile.
“Morning.” Angie sat up. “How’s he doing this morning?”
“Good. I think he’s a little stronger today than he was yesterday.”
Angie smiled. “That’s great.” She studied Rollie’s face. “How much sleep did you get last night?”
“Some. I’m okay. We’ve both had more than our fair share of nights with little or no sleep, and it was because of something a lot less important than this.”
Angie ran a hand through her sleep-tousled hair. She swung her legs around and crossed them before her. “That’s something we haven’t talked about yet: work. How are we going to work on ‘A Haunting We Will Go’? Ben is still going to be in the hospital when filming starts.”
“I was thinking about that during the night. Filming is scheduled to start on May eighth, that’s seven weeks from today. I’m pretty sure I can get it pushed back to the fifteenth. I’m hoping that, by then, Ben will be well enough that I’ll only have to give him some help every few hours. The problem is that I can’t keep flying back and forth between here and Heartwell. I gave this a lot of thought, and I could come up with only three possible solutions to the problem. First, of course, is to bow out of the production and let someone else take over, particularly on the F/X. I can still perform some of the duties as producer long distance, and you could take care of any crises that arise on set. I don’t really like the idea of giving up the job, but that may be the most sensible thing to do. The next choice would be to set up a temporary workshop here in Tulsa. That would work for the stuff that we don’t have to do on set, but it isn’t going to help when we’re actually filming or setting up a gag. I really don’t like the idea, but you’d have to do without me on set. We could find someone to help you so you won’t have to go it alone, but, well, this would mean that you’d be away from Benarin for days at a time, which I know you’re not going to like.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Angie agreed. “So, what’s option number three?”
“Well, this is the one that would be the most ideal, but it’s also the one that’s least likely to be possible. We could have Benarin transferred to the clinic in Heartwell and hire a nurse with neonatal experience to watch over him when we’re not there. We could rent all the equipment Ben would need, and Doctor Bradford would be there to help too. The problem with this is that I don’t know if Ben will be well enough by then to take that kind of trip or if the hospital would even allow it. If there is any question at all that it could be harmful to him, I wouldn’t do it.”
“Neither would I. How long could we wait before making a decision?”
“Well, that’s the beauty of being the producer. There’s nobody above us to give us grief if we suddenly change plans. I don’t think Grady’s going to cause a stink. He’s pretty mellow for a director. However, if we’re going to have to hire another F/X company or if we’re going to get an assistant for you, we’d need to do that no less than two weeks before filming starts.”
“So, that gives us six weeks to decide what we’re going to do, if you can get the production pushed back a week.”
Rollie nodded. “I’ll call Grady and our stars later today to see what everyone says. So, what do you think would be the best way to go?”
“Well, I don’t care for option number one, but, like you said, it would be the most sensible thing to do. I like option number two even less. I don’t want to be down there in Heartwell while you’re here taking care of Ben all by yourself. Well, okay, so you wouldn’t really be by yourself; you’ve got the nurses and doctors. But the bulk of the responsibility would be on your shoulders.”
“Cecilia would probably come stay here and give me a hand.”
“Yeah, she probably would. She’d love that.”
“But you wouldn’t want to be away from Ben for that long,” Rollie said quietly. “And, to be honest, I wouldn’t want you to either.” He smiled. “I also wouldn’t want you to be away from me that long.”
“So, shall we scratch option number two?”
“Consider it scratched.”
“I agree that option number three would be the perfect solution, though we’d still have to play with the filming schedule to give you the opportunity to attend to Ben at regular intervals. I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see how he does over the next month or so. Then we can decide what to do.” Angie looked down at herself. “I could kill for a cup of coffee, but I’m a mess, and I won’t have any clothes to change into until Cecilia and Fred get here. I’m also dying for a shower.”
“They’re pretty used to seeing rumpled people here, Ange. I don’t think they’ll pay that much attention. Either that, or I could get the coffee, though I’m just as rumpled as you are.”
“No way, Rol. As soon as you’re finished with Ben, you’re going to get some sleep. I’ll get the coffee and some breakfast for us.”
Angie waited until Rollie was finished with Benarin and had gotten under the covers. She then headed for the cafeteria. There, she got two coffees and a couple breakfast burritos. She was almost to their room when someone called her name. Angie turned to see a young Asian woman. The woman’s eyes were red-rimmed, her face blotchy from crying.
“You are Mrs. Tyler, aren’t you?” she asked. “One of the nurses pointed you out to me.”
“Yes, I am. What can I do for you?”
“My name is Lin Yakamura. I have a daughter in the NICU. She was one of triplets. Her . . . her sister and brother died day before yesterday.”
Angie swallowed tightly, remembering what Doctor Stein had told them. “I’m so sorry,” she murmured, knowing how inadequate the words were.
The woman started twisting a ragged tissue in her hands. “I heard about your baby, how your husband somehow saved him, and I-I thought that maybe he . . . he could help my baby.” She started crying. “She’s so sick. The doctor’s don’t think she’s going to make it. Please. Can your husband do something for her?”
Angie stared at Mrs. Yakamura, not knowing what to say. Could Rollie help other babies as he had Benarin? Even if he had the ability, how could he treat both Ben and another baby? He already spent most of his time taking care of Ben. But how could she turn this woman down, especially knowing what Mrs. Yakamura was going through?
“I, um, I don’t know if he could help. I really don’t. I could ask him, see what he thinks.”
A dim light of hope sparked in the woman’s eyes. “Could you? I would be so grateful.”
Angie nodded. “I’ll talk to him now. Are you going back to the NICU?”
“Yes. My husband’s there with our baby.”
“Okay. If Rollie thinks he can help, we’ll come to the NICU, maybe in an hour. Rollie will be busy helping our son for a while.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much. We’ll be waiting.”
Angie continued to their room, wondering how she was going to ask Rollie if he could help another baby. She was surprised to see him standing at the window when she walked in.
“Hey, how come you’re not still sleeping?” she asked.
Rollie sighed. “I had a dream. It woke me up.”
Angie felt a tendril of fear coil up into her chest. “A dream? What kind of dream?”
Knowing what she was thinking, Rollie shook his head. “No, it wasn’t about Ben. But it was strange. I was surrounded by people. They were all calling out to me for help, but I couldn’t help them.”
Angie’s mouth fell open. Was it only a coincidence that she’d just gotten a request for Rollie’s help by someone or did the Aussie just have another precognitive dream?
Rollie had turned back to the window, so he didn’t see her expression. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what Doctor Stein said yesterday, that he wished there weren’t more people who could do what I do. What if . . . what if I could help other babies like I helped Benarin? What if I could help that triplet that the doctor told us about, the one whose siblings died?”
“Whoa. Okay, I am getting really spooked now,” Angie said, putting the food on the table.
The Aussie turned to her. “Why? Did something happen?”
“Yeah. The mother of the triplets just talked to me in the corridor not five minutes ago, asking if you could help.”
“No, I’m serious. I told her that I’d talk to you about it.”
Rollie sat down. “I don’t know if I could help. I think that maybe the only reason I can help Benarin is because there’s a strange kind of connection between us. I wouldn’t have that with another person’s baby.” He looked up at Angie, his expression firming. “But I’ll try to do whatever I can.”
Angie sat beside him. “Rol, I know you want to help, and it would be wonderful if you could, but what if it does work? You’d have to do the same thing with that little girl as you are with Ben. How could you possibly handle both of them?”
“I don’t know. I’d have to work something out. Maybe she wouldn’t need as much help as Ben does.”
“I told the woman that, if you thought you could help, you’d be in the NICU in an hour.”
Rollie nodded. “Good. That will give me enough time to take care of Ben.”
“And eat. You need all the strength you can get.”
Angie got the food as Rollie removed their son from the incubator. He ate his breakfast while cradling Benarin in one arm.
An hour later, they were entering the NICU. Every head in the place turned to them. Rollie heard a few whispered comments. Trying to ignore the stares, they went to the room where the incubators were. An Asian couple sat in a chair beside one of the incubators. The instant Rollie and Angie stepped into the room, the woman stood up, walking to them eagerly. She grasped the Aussie’s hands.
“Mister Tyler? I’m Lin Yakamura. Thank you so much for coming.”
“I’ll do what I can to help, Mrs. Yakamura, but I don’t know if I can do anything.”
“I know, but if you could just try.” The woman led him to the incubator. “This is my husband, Steven.”
The man shook Rollie’s hand. “I wouldn’t believe in all this if it wasn’t for what we keep hearing from the staff.”
“Believe me when I say that, a few months ago, I wouldn’t have believed it either,” the Aussie admitted.
“And this is Kameko,” Lin said, laying her hand on the incubator.
Rollie looked down at the tiny infant. She was bigger than Benarin, maybe half a pound heavier, but the color of her skin and the readings on the monitors showed that, while Ben was now thriving, this little one was failing.
“We named her that because it means ‘child of the tortoise’, and the tortoise symbolizes longevity,” Lin told him, her voice shaking.
Understanding the unspoken plea that was in the name, Rollie opened the incubator, every person in the room watching intently. He gently scooped the baby out, using the technique he’d perfected handling Benarin. Sitting in one of the now vacant chairs, he focused his full attention on Kameko. He mentally reached for her, trying to establish the connection that he so easily felt with Benarin. Tried . . . and failed. It just wasn’t there. He could sense nothing of the infant, no response to him at all. Rollie tried harder, attempted to get inside the baby, give her what he’d been giving his son.
‘Come on, Kameko. Come on, sweetheart. Please listen to me,’ he pleaded silently. ‘I know you’re in there. I know you want to live. You’re mum and dad love you very much. They want you to be all right. Please let me help you.’
As Rollie concentrated on the infant, for one brief moment, he thought he felt something, a stirring deep inside the little girl. But then, it was gone. The Aussie tried to get it back, kept trying as a hot, searing pain began burning its way into his mind, tried until he felt like his brain was going to explode. But it was no use.
Pulling himself back, he blinked open his eyes and looked up at the people gathered around him. Both Angie and Doctor Norris, who had apparently joined the group while he was focusing on the baby, were watching him with a look of concern.
“I’m sorry,” the Aussie whispered. “I tried, but I can’t . . . I can’t reach her.” His gaze fell to the baby, tears forming in his eyes. “I’m so sorry.” He handed the baby to a nurse and stood. The room tilted sideways for a moment, and he would have fallen if both Angie and Mister Yakamura hadn’t grabbed his arms. Rollie looked at the Asian man, seeing a reflection of the grief he himself had felt such a short time ago. “I’m sorry,” he said again, then he staggered out of the room. Angie ran after him, taking hold of his arm to steady him. He made it back to their room and sat heavily on the bed, his head falling into his hands.
“Rol, are you all right?” Angie asked, not liking the paleness of his complexion.
“No. No, I’m not all right. I tried, Angie. I tried so hard to help her, but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t feel her. I couldn’t reach her.” His hands dropped and his shoulders slumped. “I failed.”
Angie knelt in front of him, taking hold of his hands. “We knew that there was a chance you couldn’t help, Rollie. It’s not your fault. You did everything you could.”
Rollie began crying silently. “Why couldn’t I help her? Why couldn’t I help them all?”
Angie sat beside her husband and gathered him into her arms, pressing his head down into the crook of her neck as he wept. He quieted after a few minutes.
“Do you think I could get some aspirin or ibuprofen around here?” he asked dully.
“Yeah, I can get some for you. You need to lie down, Rollie. You’re exhausted.”
The Aussie shook his head. “It’s almost time to get Ben.”
“All right, but at least sit in the bed. I’ll get him for you.”
Rollie wearily slid up to the head of the bed and got into a semi-reclining position with the pillows behind his back and head. Angie handed their son to him. Even as tired as he was, Rollie immediately felt the bond between him and Benarin. He began the almost subconscious process of giving some of his body’s strength and energy to the baby.
‘I tried to help another baby, Ben, but it didn’t work,’ he told his son. ‘Was it because I don’t have the ability to give her what she needed or because she didn’t have the ability to receive it? I wish I knew. I wish I knew how I could help all those babies in the NICU so that no other parent would have to go through what the Yakamuras are, what Angie and I did.’
Angie watched as Rollie closed his eyes and laid his head back against the pillows. Gradually, his breathing slowed and evened out, and she realized that he’d fallen asleep. She didn’t know what to do. Would whatever it was that Rollie did to help Benarin continue to work as he slept? It wasn’t really safe for him to be holding the baby in his sleep. He might accidentally move his hand the wrong way and pull out a catheter. But, looking at him, the slight parlor that was still on his face, Angie just didn’t have the heart to wake him. She would just have to keep a close eye on both of them.
Angie tucked the miniature baby blanket around Benarin, then wheeled over the heat lamp and set it above him to keep him warm. She then settled back in the chair and just watched the two most important people in her life.
As the minutes passed, Rollie didn’t move a muscle, as if, even in sleep, his body knew that it had to be careful. He had been asleep for perhaps an hour when the sound of the door opening broke Angie’s attention away from him and Ben. Doctor Norris was coming into the room. The woman’s gaze went to Rollie. She approached him and lightly laid two fingers on his carotid artery, counting the pulse beats.
“How is he?” she asked in a hushed voice.
“Exhausted. He tried too hard to help the Yakamuras’ baby.”
Patricia nodded. “I could see that he was pushing himself too hard. I was about ready to stop him when he came out of it.”
“It really hurt him that he couldn’t help Kameko. He wants to help so badly.”
“I know. I saw it in his eyes. But he tried. That’s the best that anyone could do. Actually, for a second, I thought he might be succeeding. There was a small improvement in some of the readings. There was a definite change in the EEG.”
“How’s the baby now? How are the Yakamuras?”
“Kameko’s about the same as before. The Yakamuras were upset that Rollie couldn’t help, of course, but they do understand. In fact, they were both a little worried about him.”
“I think he’ll be okay. He just needs rest.”
“How long has he been out?”
“Around an hour.”
“Does it, um, work while he’s asleep?”
“I don’t know. My guess would be that it does. Rollie has this sixth sense regarding Benarin. He’ll awaken out of a sound sleep and go to him because something tells him that Ben needs him. I think that, if Ben wasn’t getting what he needed now, Rollie would wake up.”
“Well, what happened today kind of answers a question I had about this,” the doctor said.
“I was wondering if it was only something inside Rollie that enabled him to do this, but I now think that it’s both of them. It’s clear that it is this connection you and he speak of that enables Rollie to share his strength with Benarin. That’s why he couldn’t help Kameko. That connection simply wasn’t there.”
“I wish he could have helped her, at least a little bit.”
“I haven’t given up on her yet. Right from the start, she was the strongest of the triplets, the one I gave the highest chance for survival. She pulled through the crisis that took the other two. I’m still hoping that we can save her.” The doctor stood. “Tell Rollie that the Yakamuras are grateful for what he tried to do. They know he tried his best.”
Alone again with Rollie and Benarin, Angie went to the recliner, moving it a little to the right so that she could see both of them. She then sat and watched, taking the time to do some thinking about the months that lay ahead of them.
Rollie rocked with Benarin on a porch swing that had appeared out of nowhere in the peaceful glade. The boy was curled up in his lap, his head pillowed on the Aussie’s chest.
“I could stay here forever,” Rollie murmured.
“Me too,” Ben said. “But we can’t.”
“No.” A sad sigh rose from the Aussie’s chest.
Benarin looked up at him, his beautiful eyes full of compassion. “You’re sad.”
“Yes. I failed to help that other baby. She’ll die now because I couldn’t help her.”
Benarin shook his head. “No. She has a chance now. You gave her something she needed.”
Rollie frowned down at his son. “What do you mean?”
“She heard you,” Benarin said simply.
Rollie’s brows rose. “What?”
“When you spoke to her. She heard what you said. You couldn’t help her like you helped me, but she could still hear you. She gave up before because it hurt too much and she was too tired, but she’s trying to live again now.”
Rollie stared at his son in astonishment. “How do you know this?”
“Through you. I could feel her through you when you were with her.”
Rollie kept staring at Benarin, a feeling like he’d experienced once before growing inside him. “How can you do these things, Benarin? You’re just a baby. How is it possible? In fact, how can I even be talking to you like this, that is if I really am.”
“You are. Part of it is because I’m like you. You don’t completely know yourself yet, but you will, in time.”
Rollie thought about that for a moment. “And the other part?” he then asked.
Benarin didn’t speak for a moment. “Ask Belilac.”
“You know of her?”
“It has something to do with the way you were conceived, doesn’t it, and where you were conceived.”
“Ask her. She may not want to tell you, but she will eventually.”
“All right, I will.”
Benarin searched his face. “You need to rest now. I’m okay.”
Even as the boy spoke the words, the image of the glade began to fade. Rollie let it go and slipped into a deeper, healing sleep.
Angie awoke with a start, her eyes going to Rollie and Benarin. Neither of them had moved. She looked at her watch. Only a few minutes had passed while she dozed. Rollie had been out for three hours now. During the time she watched him, he had lain so still that she had checked on him twice to make sure he was okay. A pretty young nurse in her twenties had poked her head in a while ago, but, upon seeing the sleeping Aussie and the baby wrapped firmly in his arms, she had told Angie that she’d come back later.
As if thinking about her conjured her up, the nurse came in. She smiled when she saw that nothing had changed.
“I see he’s still dead to the world.”
“Yeah. But he really needs it. It was a long night for him, taking care of Benarin.” Angie smiled. “He’s even doing a lot of the diaper duty, tells me that, since he’s up, he might as well take care of it.”
“Wow, you’ve got a real keeper there, then. I’ve seen some pretty tough, brave men shy away from those nasty, dirty diapers.” The nurse came forward. “I’m Trisha Reed. Doctor Norris assigned me to be your personal nurse, advice-giver, and all around gofer. You need anything, I get it. You have any questions, I answer, at least to the best of my knowledge. I am here at your beck and call.”
Angie chuckled. “Sounds more like a slave than a nurse.”
Trisha adopted a confused expression. “Is there a difference?” She then grinned, her blue-green eyes twinkling. “Believe it or not, my highly-skilled and valuable services come with the blessing of the hospital bigwigs. This whole thing with you is great press for St. John.”
Angie’s happy mood vanished. “Uh oh. That’s not good.”
“What’s not good?”
“The last thing we need is the press to get in on this and start bothering us.”
Trisha bit her lip. “Oh. I didn’t think of that. Maybe I’ll have to play bodyguard too.” She crouched into a fighter’s stance, putting her hands up, edge out. “I know some karate. Well, only just a little.”
Angie smiled again, deciding that she really liked this young nurse. “Well, you can just get that intimidating nurse look, and that should be enough.”
“Hmm. I’m afraid I haven’t perfected that yet. I try, but I end up just looking like I’m constipated.”
Angie clamped her hands over her mouth, trying to muffle her laughter. A little snort escaped, which made Trisha also have to hold back a laugh.
Gaining control of herself, Angie glanced at Rollie. Trisha followed her gaze.
“I really should check on Benarin, but I hate to wake your husband,” she said. “Maybe I could manage to do it right where he is.”
She went to the bed and started examining the baby, checking his pupils, skin temperate and texture, and a few other things. She then drew some blood through one of the lines that was inserted in the stump of Benarin’s umbilical cord.
“There we go. That should do it for now, and I didn’t even wake hubby.”
“Yes, you did, but that’s okay,” said a sleepy male voice. Trisha looked up to see the Aussie’s eyes open. “G’day,” he said with a smile.
Trisha felt a little thrill pass through her at the man’s accent and the sudden realization that, even with a day’s growth of beard, he was very handsome. A blush suffused her face.
“I-I’m sorry. I was hoping not to disturb you.”
“That’s all right. It’s time that I got up anyway.” Rollie looked at the clock on the wall, his eyebrows rising when he saw the time. “Angie, you shouldn’t have let me sleep this long.”
“Why not? Benarin is just fine, and you’re looking a lot better than you did before.”
“I guess I did need the sleep,” the Aussie said grudgingly.
“Yes, even Men of Steel have to get sleep every once in a while, Rol.” Angie pointed to the nurse. “This is Trisha Reed. She’s our personal nurse slash slave.”
The two women laughed.
“I’ve been assigned to be Benarin’s nurse and to help you however you need,” Trisha explained.
“Oh.” Rollie looked closely at the woman. “You look familiar. Could I have seen you somewhere before?”
“Um, well, you might have seen me in the NICU, though I was out part of the day today because of an appointment.”
“I guess that must be it.” Rollie got up and put Benarin back in the incubator.
“So, where are you guys from?” Trisha asked.
“New York,” Angie replied.
“New York? What are you doing here, then? Were you on vacation or something?”
“No, we own a new house in Heartwell,” Rollie explained. “We were there furnishing and decorating it.”
A look of realization spread across the nurse’s face. “Oh my gosh. You’re them!”
“Them? Them who?” Rollie asked in confusion.
“The movie people that built a vacation home there. My aunt and uncle told me all about you. I knew your names sounded familiar when I heard them, but I couldn’t remember from where.”
“You’re from Heartwell?” Angie asked, amazed at the coincidence.
Trisha nodded. “Though I haven’t lived there since I was fifteen.”
A big smile curved Rollie’s mouth. “You’re the Parkers’ niece.”
“Yeah, Aunt Cece and Uncle Fred. How’d you guess?”
“I just remembered where I saw you before. There’s a picture of you on their mantle.”
“Wow. Is this a coincidence or what? Cece and Fred were going on about you so much that it made me want to meet you, and, now, here you are.” The nurse sobered. “I just wish that I wasn’t meeting you under these circumstances.”
At that moment, the door opened again, and Fred and Cecilia Parker came in.
“Trish!” the woman said with a huge smile.
The nurse went into her aunt’s arms. She then received a hug from her uncle after he set down the flowers and the box he’d been carrying.
“It’s good to see you, sweetheart,” Cecilia said. “You don’t come visit us nearly enough.”
“I know, Aunt Cece. It’s hard to get away.”
The joy of the reunion died when Cecilia caught sight of Benarin in the incubator. Tears sprang instantly to her eyes, and a hand pressed against her mouth. “Oh, dear Lord. He’s so small.” Her eyes lifted to Rollie and Angie. “Come here,” she said, holding her arms out to them. The couple went to her and were given a long, tight hug. Cecilia drew back, her lined cheeks wet with tears. “It’s going to be all right, you know.”
“Yeah, we know,” Rollie said, giving the elderly woman’s hand a squeeze.
“The whole town is praying for you,” Fred said. “They all wanted us to give you their best wishes. That’s why we’re late getting here. There’s a couple hundred cards in that box over there, and that bouquet is only one of eight. The others are still sitting in the car.”
Rollie and Angie both felt their throats tighten.
“Please tell everyone thank you for us,” Angie said.
“I need to go,” Trisha said. “I have to get this blood sample to the lab. I’ll be back later.” She looked at her aunt and uncle. “How long are you going to be here?”
“No set time,” Fred replied. “We’re just playing it by ear. As long as we get back home before dark.”
“Well, it’s actually time for my lunch break. Maybe we could have our lunch together.”
“How about if we all have lunch here in the room?” Cecilia suggested. “Would the hospital object to that?”
“No, I don’t think so, as long as we weren’t noisy or disturbed any of the other patients.”
Cecilia turned to Rollie and Angie. “Is that all right with you?”
“That would be great,” Rollie replied. “But, first, Angie and I could really use a shower and change of clothes. We’re both feeling pretty grimy.”
“Certainly. I’ll get your stuff,” Fred said. He left the room, followed by Trisha. He returned a few minutes later with Rollie and Angie’s suitcases.
“You never really unpacked, so I just threw a few things from the bathroom in there,” Cecilia told them.
“Thanks.” Rollie took the suitcases and handed Angie hers.
“You go first, Rol,” she told him.
The Aussie went into the bathroom. He took a quick shower, then shaved, happy to have his electric razor back.
Finally feeling presentable for the first time in two days, he left the bathroom. Angie was past him in a flash, closing the door behind her. He noticed that Angie’s laptop was now sitting on the dresser.
“Angie was happy to see that,” Fred said with a smile.
“Yeah, we want to do some research on premature babies, get a better idea of what’s ahead of us.” Rollie sat on the bed and put his shoes on. He looked over at Benarin, able to tell that his son was still all right. He noticed that Cecilia was also looking at the baby. “Would you like to hold him?”
“Oh, but he’s so tiny and fragile-looking,” the woman replied. “And there’s all those IV’s and things in him. I’d be afraid that I would hurt him.”
“I think he’ll be okay. I’ll show you how to hold him properly.”
“Well . . . if you’re sure.”
Rollie went to the incubator and lifted the lid. Benarin was awake and looking around, apparently curious about all the new voices. “Hey, Ben. We’ve got some visitors here.” Rollie looked back over his shoulder at Cecilia. “Come on over.”
The woman approached the incubator.
“Cecilia, this is Benarin,” Rollie said in introduction. “Ben, this is Grandmum Cece.”
Cecilia looked up at Rollie in surprise at the title. A tremulous smile then curved her lips. Her gaze returned to Benarin. “Hello, little one. You’re such a little sweetheart, but I know you’re going to grow up big and strong.”
“Sit in the chair there,” Rollie instructed. As the woman complied, he lifted Benarin out of the incubator. “Okay, it’s most comfortable for him if his arms and legs are kept flexed, so hold him to you like this.” The Aussie demonstrated the best way to hold the baby. He then placed him in Cecilia’s waiting arms.
“Oh my,” the woman murmured. “He’s like a feather. I can’t believe how tiny he is.”
“You can touch him. Touch him firmly, but gently. Ben particularly likes to have his forehead caressed. It often puts him to sleep.”
Cecilia began stroking Benarin’s brow. After a moment, her body started rocking back and forth, and she began singing a soft lullaby. Benarin’s eyes turned to her, trying to focus on her face, though it was too far away for his eyes to see properly. Something in Rollie sensed that his son liked the rocking and singing, liked the woman holding him.
After several minutes, Cecilia’s gaze lifted to Rollie, her eyes bright with unshed tears. “He’s so beautiful, Rollie. So very beautiful.”
The Aussie nodded, his throat too tight to speak. Seeing the woman with his son had brought back childhood memories of being held by his own grandmother. He’d been only eight years old when she died, but he still had vivid memories of her gentle Scottish accent and loving touch.
Angie came out of the bathroom and paused, watching the scene before her. The sight of the elderly woman holding Benarin and crooning to him was enough to make her want to cry. It was as if Cecilia really was the baby’s grandmother.
Just then, Trisha came in. She smiled upon seeing her aunt with the baby. “I knew it wouldn’t take long before she was holding him,” she said.
Cecilia sighed. “I guess he should go back now.”
“No, I need to hold him,” Rollie said. He took his son from her, sitting in the other chair. “Ange, could you get the heat lamp? He’s a little cold.”
Angie maneuvered the lamp around so that it was focused on the baby.
“Shall we get lunch at the cafeteria to save time?” Trisha asked.
“That’s fine with us,” Fred said.
“Sure,” Angie agreed.
“Why don’t you all go down there and get what you want?” Rollie suggested. “I’ll be here with Ben. Just get me a sandwich, Ange, roast beef, if they have it, and maybe some iced tea.”
Left alone with Benarin, Rollie looked down at his son. “You are beautiful, Ben,” he murmured, “one of the two most wonderful things that have happened in my life. The other one is your mumma.” He touched the baby’s cheek. “Did you like it when Cecilia sang to you? Would you like me to? I don’t know if you’ll like it as much, but I’ll give it a go. There’s a song I remember from years ago. It doesn’t really fit how you came into our lives, but it does say how much you mean to me.”
Rollie took a deep breath and began singing.
When she told me she was going to have a baby
“Oh, Rollie, that was so beautiful,” she whispered.
Blushing, the Aussie dropped his gaze from her for a moment. “What are you doing back so soon?”
“I forgot to get some money.” Wiping her face dry, she fetched a few bills out of her husband’s wallet. Then she knelt beside him. “I know that he loved having you sing to him, Rol. If I were him, I would have.” She then kissed his cheek and got up.
As she approached the door, Rollie said, “I love you, Ange, more than I could ever find the words to say.”
Angie looked back over her shoulder and gave him a smile so warm it lit his soul. “I love you too, Rollie, more every day of my life.” She then turned and slipped quietly out the door.
Rollie and Angie spent a nice afternoon with the Parkers. Trisha came in periodically to check on them and Benarin, and Doctor Norris came by just before her shift ended. They had also gotten visits from several other staff members. Apparently, up until then, the NICU had told everyone to leave them alone, but, since Benarin’s condition had not shown any signs of deteriorating and the newlyweds were now settled, an unofficial green light had been given. Fortunately, there was no sign yet of any reporters. Also, no one had mentioned the incident with the pen. Whether the reason was that they were too uncomfortable to do so or none of the people who came knew about it was something Rollie and Angie didn’t know. The couple had decided that, if anyone did bring up what Rollie did with the pen, they would either downplay it as much as possible or choose not to reply at all, depending on the person asking. They didn’t know what they were going to do if the press got wind of it.
Fred and Cecilia left at four o’clock, their car minus the eight bouquets of flowers that were now all over the birthing room.
“I feel like I’m in a florist shop,” Rollie commented.
“Yeah, but it was really nice of everyone to give us the flowers, especially when we barely know most of these people.”
“Yeah, it was. And there’s all these cards too.” Rollie held up a handful of greeting cards. He and Angie had been going through them, deeply touched that so many people, many of whom they’d never even met, had cared enough to get them a card.
Of all the cards they got, the one that had pleased Rollie and Angie the most was the card from Elijah, the little boy they’d met at the party. Elijah had told them that he asked God to make their baby all better when he said his prayers at night. He then told Angie that, even though she didn’t have a baby inside her anymore, she could still drink from the children’s punch bowl, if she wanted to.
“If he does become that famous director when he grows up, I’d say he’ll be one that we’d enjoy working with,” Rollie had commented as he chuckled over the child’s statement.
That thought had reminded him to call the director and stars of “A Haunting We Will Go.” When they found out what happened, everyone was more than happy to allow the rescheduling. In fact, the leading lady had tried to insist that they bump back the production at least three weeks instead of the one week that Rollie requested. Though the couple would like to have taken her up on it, they knew it wouldn’t be possible since Daryl James, the lead actor, had another commitment that couldn’t be rescheduled.
A knock on the door drew the newlyweds’ attention away from the cards. A strongly-built woman with steel gray hair and wire-rimmed glasses entered. The first thing her eyes went to was the incubator. She started to move toward it then seemed to change her mind and walked up to Rollie and Angie instead. She held her hand out to Rollie, who shook it.
“Hello, I’m Doctor Greta Werber. I just flew in from Chicago.” Her eyes returned to Benarin. “I heard about this extraordinary case with your son, and I decided that I wanted to come see for myself. May I take a look at him?”
“Sure,” Rollie said, hiding the frown that was trying to form on his face. There was something about the woman’s tone and bearing that made him uneasy.
The doctor opened the incubator and started examining Benarin. At first, her examination was relatively gentle, then, all at once, she turned the baby over onto his back and started examining him more thoroughly. Benarin immediately woke up and began crying.
“Do you really have to do that?” Angie asked, getting upset.
“I have to be thorough in my examination,” the doctor replied shortly.
The frown that Rollie had kept off his face before knit his brow as Benarin’s crying got louder. He stood up. “Okay, that’s enough. You’re upsetting him,” he said firmly.
Doctor Werber looked up at him with irritation. “It’s sometimes necessary to do things that upset the baby in order to help it. We can’t always prevent that.”
“That may be, Doctor, but, nevertheless, I’d like you to stop. Now.”
Rollie pushed past her and gently lifted Benarin out of the incubator. He began stroking the infant’s forehead. “Shh. It’s okay, Ben. It’s all right. It’s over now,” he crooned softly. Benarin’s crying instantly stopped, his huge eyes looking up into Rollie’s. The Aussie smiled down at him. “That’s my little man.”
He carefully handed the baby to Angie, who began rocking him. Rollie then returned his attention to the doctor, who had a frown on her face and was looking at him and Benarin with both irritation and interest.
“Now, what exactly do you want here, Doctor Werber?”
“I want to determine exactly how it is that your son has defied all the odds, not only surviving but also improving at an unbelievable rate. I will want to run several tests, a CT scan, some tests to check the level of development in his lungs, a--”
“No,” Rollie interrupted.
“You heard me. I said no. I’m not going to have Benarin put through that kind of ordeal. He’s doing fine. He doesn’t need those tests.”
“Mister Tyler, what we learn from your son with such tests could aid other premature infants.”
“I doubt that. Benarin’s case is . . . unique. None of those tests are going to tell you what you want to know. Besides, Ben can’t be separated from me for that long. We have to stay together.”
The frown on the woman’s face deepened. “I heard the talk regarding what you claim to have done, but, frankly, I can’t believe it. There has to be another, rational explanation for your son’s recovery, and I’d like to find out what it is.”
“You’re free to believe what you wish, Doctor, but Angie and I will not agree to any of those tests.”
“You never were good at taking no for an answer, were you, Greta,” said a quiet, accented voice.
Everyone turned to see a tall, attractive African man in his late thirties standing in the doorway. The man smiled warmly, his chocolate brown eyes sparkling. He stepped forward and shook Rollie’s hand. “I’m Doctor Samuel Matiba.”
“Rollie Tyler, and this is my wife, Angie,” the Aussie said, taking an instant liking to the man.
“I am very pleased to meet you.” The African turned back to the other doctor. “I can’t say that I am surprised to see you here, Greta. Those antennae of yours must have shot right up when you heard about this case.”
Doctor Werber got a sour expression on her face. “Well, I am surprised to see you here. I thought you were back in Nairobi.”
“I was for a while. I returned a couple of weeks ago.”
“I see.” The woman turned back to Rollie. “I will be in town for a few days. I hope that you will reconsider your decision.” She handed him a business card. “Please call me when you do.” She then turned and strode out the door.
Doctor Matiba chuckled. “Please don’t let her upset you. Greta is used to getting her way, and she does not take it gracefully when she doesn’t.”
“Well, she’s going to have to live with it this time,” Angie stated. “We’re not going to let her treat Benarin like some kind of guinea pig.”
“And so you shouldn’t.” The African man knelt before her, his eyes looking intently at the infant in her arms. He then studied the readings on all the monitors. “Amazing, absolutely amazing.” He held out his hands. “May I?”
Angie hesitated a moment, then handed her son to the doctor. The man held him gently, his touch soft and caring.
“Hello, little fellow,” he said. “There is quite a stir going on about you and your father. We all would love to know how it is that you are doing so well. Maybe between me and your parents, we can figure it out, eh?” He looked up at Rollie and Angie. “Shall I put him back in the isolette?”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” Rollie replied, sitting on the bed beside Angie.
After Benarin had been returned to the incubator, Doctor Matiba pulled up a chair and sat down. He rested his elbows on his knees and his chin on the tips of his steepled fingers. The man’s sharp, intelligent gaze focused on Rollie for a long moment.
“So, there have been some stories going around about your son’s seemingly miraculous turnaround and your part in it. I would love to know how much of it is true.”
“Um, what exactly have you heard?” Rollie asked, starting to feel uncomfortable.
“In a nutshell, that a twenty-two week preemie was brought back from the brink of death by the touch of his father. Now, I know that there has to be more to it than that. I would very much like to hear your story.” Seeing the look on Rollie’s face, the man smiled. “I can understand why you would want to keep this private, Mister Tyler. I assure you that I have no ulterior motives. All I want is to learn how this happened.”
Rollie hesitated, studying the man closely, trying to determine if the doctor could be trusted. Some instinct told him that he could.
With a nod, the Aussie told the doctor about what happened the day Benarin almost died. The man listened with rapt attention, asking only a few questions during the narrative. As Rollie finished, the doctor sat back in his chair.
“This is, without a doubt, the most extraordinary story I’ve ever heard. You. . . . What’s wrong?”
Rollie had abruptly turned toward the incubator. “I’m sorry. I need to hold him,” he said.
As Rollie got up and went to the incubator, Doctor Matiba looked at the readings on the monitors, frowning at the changes there. He watched the Aussie pick Benarin up and settle back on the bed with him.
“You sensed he was weakening,” the doctor said, amazement in his voice.
“Uh, yeah,” the Aussie admitted.
Doctor Matiba fell silent, his eyes traveling back and forth between Benarin and the monitors. He watched the readings slowly improve, inching back up toward their former position.
“So, it really is true. You are giving life to him.”
“No, I’m just giving him some of my strength and energy so that his body can heal and develop.”
“In my eyes, Mister Tyler, that is giving him life,” the African said quietly.
The two men looked at each other for a long, silent moment.
“With your permission, I would very much like to run a couple of tests,” Doctor Matiba said. “No, nothing like what Doctor Werber wanted to do,” he hastily added when both Rollie and Angie frowned. “Actually, the tests will involve you as much as they do your son.”
“What do you want to do?” Rollie asked, his uneasiness returning.
“I would like to take some reading from both you and Benarin during the time that you are doing this for him, EEG, EKG, respiration, blood pressure, things like that. I’d also like to get blood samples from both of you immediately before and after. Benarin’s already set up for us to get an EKG and blood pressure reading, and we can easily draw blood from that catheter in the stump of his umbilical cord. You’re the one who’s going to have to be put through more.”
“Why do you want to do this?” Angie asked.
“To try and figure out how your husband is doing this and how your son is able to . . . absorb whatever it is that is being given to him. Understanding how something works is the first step to being able to recreate it.”
“You think that you may be able to figure out a way of reproducing this?” Rollie asked.
“I don’t know. I won’t know that until I can learn more about it. But, if we could, it could save thousands of premature babies.”
The fervency in the doctor’s voice testified to how important this was to him.
“All right, we can run the tests,” Rollie said, “as long as they won’t harm Benarin in any way.”
“I promise you that I will take every care with your son.” The man looked at the monitors again, seeing more improvement. “How long do you usually have to do this for him and how often?”
“From forty minutes to an hour each time, and I usually go around half an hour between.”
The doctor’s eyebrows rose. “When in the world do you sleep?”
“I nap between times. I’m used to not getting a lot of sleep. It’s an occupational hazard. And I’m pretty sure that, as Ben gets stronger, he’ll need the treatments less often.”
“Let us hope so.” The doctor stood up. “All right. I will get things set up and come back at,” he glanced at his watch, “around seven o’clock, if that’s all right with you. That will allow you time to have your dinner. Unless you’d rather we do this in the morning.”
“No, that’s all right. I’d rather get it over with as soon as possible.”
“Good. We’ll see you then.”
“Rol, do you think this is a good idea?” Angie asked after the doctor was gone.
“I don’t know. But he does have a good point. If we could somehow figure out how this works, maybe there’s a way that it could be reproduced. Think about how many babies could be saved.”
“But, Rol, we already know that you can’t help other babies, that this works only with Benarin. How could the connection that you have with Ben, which is what allows you to do this, be recreated with another person and another baby?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it can’t. But it’s worth going through these tests if there’s any chance at all that it could.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Just don’t let them turn you into a guinea pig.” She grinned. “They may be furry and cute, but you’re cuter–and I prefer less hair on my men.”
“Gee, thanks, Ange. I’m so happy that you think I’m more attractive than a rodent.”
Angie leaned forward and kissed him. “Much, much more attractive.”
It was seven o’clock on the dot when Doctor Matiba returned, along with a nurse and several pieces of equipment.
“Did you have a good dinner?” he asked.
“Well, as good as a meal of hospital food could be,” Angie replied.
The doctor made a face. “Well, at least you’re not eating the food they prepare for the patients. Eating that stuff for too long will drive anyone insane for the taste of a hamburger or pizza.”
Rollie grinned broadly. “Ah, a man after my own heart.”
The African laughed. “Yes, it didn’t take me long to become addicted to junk food once I came to this country.”
“How long have you been here?” Angie asked.
“Around seven years. I originally came to study the methods and practices of neonatology in the States, but I found that I liked it here and decided to stay, though I do go back home for a few weeks every now and then.” Doctor Matiba looked at Benarin. “How much longer?”
“About twenty minutes,” the Aussie replied.
“Okay, let’s get this set up, then.”
The doctor and nurse put electrodes on both Rollie’s and Benarin’s heads, which were attached to two electroencephalographs. They also put electrodes on Rollie’s chest for the EKG. A catheter was placed in Rollie’s arm so that they could easily draw blood without sticking a needle in him every time. They then took his blood pressure, leaving the cuff on afterwards.
“Okay, Nurse Jones, you take the blood sample from Mister Tyler, and I’ll draw the one from the baby.”
The blood was drawn and the vials labeled. The nurse then took note of some of the readings on the monitors attached to Benarin.
“It’s time,” the Aussie told them, starting to feel a little nervous about the proceedings.
“All right. I’ll hand Benarin to you,” Doctor Matiba said. “Why don’t you get comfortable in the recliner first. I think that will be better for you.” He noticed Rollie’s tenseness. “And relax, Mister Tyler. I promise that we’ll only torture you as much as necessary.”
The Aussie smiled at the comment. “Rollie. Call me Rollie.”
“I’d be happy to.”
As Rollie sat in the recliner, the doctor got Benarin. He placed the baby into the Aussie’s arms. “Okay, I know you’re nervous about this, so try to concentrate on Benarin as much as you can, maybe even close your eyes.”
Rollie closed his eyes and settled deeper into the recliner, trying his best to ignore the presence of the doctor and nurse. He focused upon Benarin, beginning the now familiar process of giving his son what the baby needed to survive. His tiredness began catching up with him again, and he started drifting, not really asleep, but also not fully awake.
The minutes passed, Doctor Matiba and the nurse murmuring to each other quietly--until the nurse made a small exclamation.
“Doctor, do you see this?”
“Yes, I do. I’ve never seen anything like it before. I never even thought such a thing was possible. Take Rollie’s pressure again. I want to see if there’s a significant change. Take a respiration count too and get another blood sample.”
“What is it?” Angie asked.
There was a slight pause. “I’ll explain everything to you as soon as we finish the test. I want Rollie’s attention to stay on Benarin.”
Rollie lost track of time, his mind completely blotting out what was going on around him. Only Benarin existed to him now. At last, he sensed that his son had been given enough, and he roused. Three pairs of eyes were focused on him. Flushing slightly, Rollie cleared his throat.
Doctor Matiba took Benarin and put him back in the incubator. The Aussie’s blood pressure was taken a third time, as was the count on his respiration. Another blood sample was then drawn from him and Benarin. After that was done, the catheter was removed from Rollie’s arm. The nurse took all of the blood samples and left the room.
“Okay, so tell us what went on,” the Aussie said.
The doctor sat in a chair. “Something quite extraordinary. To start off with, there was a marked decrease in your blood pressure as you treated Benarin, not so much as to be dangerous, but a lot more than simply being at rest would account for. In contrast, Benarin’s pressure rose. Before you started holding him, his pressure was poor. After only a couple of minutes, it began to rise. By the time you finished, it was at a very healthy level. The same goes for his heart rate, oxygen saturation levels, and everything else. There was an incredible improvement all across the board. Again in contrast, your heart rate dropped dramatically, to a rate lower than we’d see in someone who was sleeping peacefully. Respiration dropped as well.”
“Is that dangerous?” Angie asked, worried.
“No, pulse and respiration didn’t drop enough to concern me, and they both went back up afterwards, as did Rollie’s blood pressure.”
“What else?” the Aussie asked.
“Okay, this is what I found unbelievable. It was your EEG reading.” He leaned forward, staring at the Aussie. “Rollie, your brain waves changed to match that of Benarin’s.”
“What?” Rollie said, shocked.
“The patterns were identical. That is simply not possible, at least I hadn’t thought so before now.”
“What does that mean?”
“To be honest, I’m not sure, but I could hazard a guess. It could be that, in order for you to help your son, your mind and body need to be . . . in sync with his.”
“Then why didn’t my heart and respiration match his?”
“Perhaps because that level of synchronicity is not needed. Or it could be that, whatever it is that your body is giving to Benarin, it represses your heart and lung function to a certain extent.”
“I really don’t like the sound of that,” Angie said, starting to worry that Rollie’s health could be at risk.
“Like I said, Rollie’s pulse, respiration and blood pressure were not dangerously low, and as long as they go back up to a normal level between treatments, I’d say that there shouldn’t be any lasting effects.” The doctor looked at Rollie. “However, it might be wise to make spot checks on your vitals to make sure things don’t worsen, particularly your blood pressure.” He stood up. “We’ll have the blood work by morning. I’ll come back then and let you know what it showed. Would nine o’clock be a good time?”
“Yes, that would be fine,” Rollie replied.
Doctor Matiba said goodbye and left. There was silence in the room for a while afterwards. Rollie looked at Angie and saw a deep frown on her face.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
His wife sighed. “I just wish I had the ability to do what you do. Then I could help you with it, give you a break.”
The Aussie put his arm around Angie’s shoulder. “I’m fine, Ange. You heard what Doctor Matiba said. The reduction in my heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing wasn’t bad enough to be concerned about.”
“I still can’t help worrying. For some strange reason, I love you, and I want you to stay healthy.”
Rollie smiled. “Well, that’s a coincidence. For some reason, I love you too.”
“Hmm. Fancy that,” Angie murmured as she brought her lips to Rollie’s. She then pulled back and studied his face. “You need to get some sleep, Rol.”
“I will after the next session with Ben.”
“Cross my heart.” Rollie crossed his finger over his chest.
True to his promise, Rollie laid down on the bed after attending to Benarin. It only took him a few seconds to get to sleep. Angie watched him for a while, gently running her hands through the hair on his forehead. She then went over to the incubator. Lifting the lid, she caressed Benarin’s face.
“Your daddy is an amazing person, you know that, Ben? Maybe you do. You may know better than anyone.” Angie sighed softly. “But I worry about him. He always thinks about other people before himself. He’s put himself at risk so many times helping people. Well, you and I will just have to make sure he’s okay and stays that way.” She bent down and kissed her son’s cheek. “Sweet dreams, sweetie.”