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 forty-five minutes.
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.”