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 to help them, but I couldn’t.”
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 a 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.