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“I’ll have the better view,” she had said to Alex when they arrived at Victory Heights Playfield over an hour earlier. Deanna needed Alex’s help to get to the unobstructed view of top row, the perfect vantage point over the baseball diamond even with a bleacher full of spectators below her. Her photographer’s eye always sought interesting angles. Plus she hadn’t needed to pee yet. That was a bonus.
“Are you okay, Mom?” Alex asked, once Deanna was seated.
Earnest and sweet as the day is long, Deanna thought as she shook her head, enjoying the moment. She rubbed her taut belly underneath her favorite denim shirtdress, worn smooth from repeated washings.
Alex’s brow was locked in a furrow, like he was working on a problem. She gave him a playful nudge on the shoulder with her knuckles. “No worries here, hot shot. I’m fine. How about you? You okay?”
Cleats to glove to ball cap, not a thread was out of place on Alex’s uniform. He had been playing baseball since joining a tee-ball league at five, and the last couple of years saw him nominated to captain of his team. He took the title very seriously.
The concern Deanna had just seen in Alex’s face melted away. He looked at her and grinned. She wished she had brought her Nikon DSLR, but any additional weight would have put her at odds with her belly. In an instant, she saw her husband Max in Alex’s face, how his lips curled into a smile, giving way to dimples that framed his face, the way he wore his ball cap with the brim straight on, but just a bit tilted to the side. It was almost enough to make her fall in love with her husband all over again. Almost.
“I’m fine, Mom,” Alex said.
Just as quickly, the image of Max faded away, leaving her firstborn smiling back at her. He tossed a baseball into his glove, not for practice but to relax and warm the leather pocket.
“Are we going to win today?”
“It’s only an exhibition game, you know.” Alex threw the baseball into his glove, releasing a floaty dirt puff.
“Take every chance you get.” Deanna locked eyes with Alex. “Right?”
“I know.” Alex could only maintain eye contact with Deanna for a moment. Sometimes he found her gaze too much to take all at once.
“So how about it?” Deanna said. “Are we going to win?”
Deanna held up her right hand, palm open. Alex reached over and high-fived her, then finished up with their secret handshake, a ritual they had shared since Alex had begun playing baseball eight years ago. Even Max didn’t know how to do it, and Alex wanted to keep it that way.
“You’re going to break some hearts, you know that?” Deanna leaned over to give him a shoulder squeeze. “You and those girl traps of yours.”
Alex blushed as he pulled away. “Girl traps” were what Deanna called his dimples. He didn’t understand the full meaning of why his dimples would be called “girl traps,” but she reassured him that he would find out soon enough.
“Just play the crap out of this game, okay?”
“You got it.” Alex stepped down off the bleachers, careful to avoid the other seated spectators, and ran to his dugout to join his teammates.
Deanna pulled out her phone and looked at the blank display. Where are you, Max? she thought and contemplated texting or calling him, but decided to tuck her phone back in her purse and stay in the moment.
It was a perfect April day. Barely a cloud in the sky and a very comfortable seventy-five degrees. The practice game between the Fireflies and the Verminators was well under way. The Fireflies were up, with runners leading off on second and third base.
“Come on, Fireflies.” Deanna clapped, surrounded by other like-minded spectating parents. “You got this!”
The announcer crackled over the loud speaker: “Next at bat, number thirteen, Alex Sheridan.”
Alex sat in the dugout next to Peter Murphy, his best bud. They were lucky enough to go to the same school together and they made a good match. As the team’s captain, Alex’s professionalism and sense of fairness balanced Peter’s cocky confidence. Alex was Bing Crosby to Peter’s Bob Hope.
Peter nudged Alex in the shoulder. “You’re up, dude. Send our boys home.”
Alex bumped fists with Peter as he exited the dugout. He donned his team’s black batting helmet and grabbed his favorite bat, an Easton Redline ZCore.
As Alex strutted to the plate, the Fireflies’ coach, Clint Donovan, stopped him en route. “Alex, we need to win this.”
Clint was a career Little League coach. He wasn’t in top physical condition, but he didn’t need to be. He sported a beer belly over pants that both Alex and Peter swore defied gravity. He had a brain for baseball that was unrivaled and he had helped kids follow their dreams of playing in the major leagues for over twenty years. A few of those kids even made it to the big show. When he talked, the kids listened.
“No one’s keeping score, Coach,” Alex said.
“I am, and so’s the crowd.” Clint cocked his head toward the bleachers. “You never know when there’s going to be a scout in the stands.”
“I got it.” Alex was a kid of few words, and sometimes that came off as arrogance.
Clint gave him a once-over, sizing him up, and nodded. “Alright.” He turned and walked to the dugout where the rest of the Fireflies stood and watched the game.
Alex looked up at Deanna sitting in the bleachers. She shook her head and shrugged. Alex tried to refocus his attention to home plate, but he was consumed by anger towards his dad.
Deanna had disobeyed her doctor’s orders by leaving the house, but she was going stir crazy and needed to distract herself. The baby inside her was practicing soccer moves instead of her preferred sport of baseball. She had promised Alex she’d accompany him to his game and breaking promises wasn’t something she was in the habit of doing. It had been a snap decision, and during the bus ride to Victory Heights she had found her mind wandering.
How many things in the world happen during the heat of the moment? Deanna thought. The second kiss? The third? Angry words unleashed without thinking? Perhaps wars?
Deanna welcomed becoming pregnant again. She had wanted another child for years, but her professional photography career had taken center stage. She loved capturing people in their natural habitat, and likened herself after Annie Leibovitz, but without all the fame and fortune. Now, with the advent of digital cameras, everyone saw themselves as a photographer. Her professional income had begun to dwindle despite her well-respected skills behind the camera. It was the perfect time to have another child. It was anyone’s guess what Max had really wanted. When she had raised the idea with him, he either responded evasively or changed the subject.
Being nine months pregnant had its down-side. Walking was a chore at the best of times, but Deanna insisted on making her way to the back of the bus anyway since she could see so much more from the back. Her photographer’s eye ruled.
Max had suggested she sit closer to the driver should anything happen to her or the baby, but Deanna had her stubborn habits. The sights and sounds, and sometimes the smells, were too much of a draw.
Her only concession was to leave her digital SLR camera at home. Lugging her Lowepro camera bag around, loaded with the camera, lenses and accessories, proved to be too much, especially in the final months of her pregnancy. Even just the camera and a good lens was too much. She had to strike a delicate balance, so photos from her phone would have to suffice for now, despite their annoying lack of image control and selective focus. Instead, Deanna grew more accustomed to taking mental snapshots and filing them away. The next time she picked up her camera, she’d be a mother again.
From the city bus window, Deanna watched nature pass by in all its splendor. She took in the freshness of cedar and fir from the open bus window, filtered through her shoulder-length auburn hair. New leaves budded out from their oak and maple branches. All this new life surrounded her, and even though her pregnancy wasn’t planned, it was perfectly timed with the seasons. Springtime and babies smelled so good.
Alex sat next to her in the back of the bus and tossed a baseball into his glove.
“Hello? Anybody home?” Deanna’s phone announced an arriving text message from Max in the voice of Biff Tannen from Back to the Future. The text alert sound had began as a joke, but stuck as a result of Alex’s convincing. Max tolerated the alert sound but it was clear that it annoyed him, and that pleased Alex.
Deanna dug the phone from her purse. On the screen, the text message from Max read: “On my way.”
Alex observed Deanna with her phone and scrunched his brow. “Let me guess. He’s got a deadline and can’t make it.”
“Actually, it looks like Dad might make it after all.” Deanna slid the phone back into her purse without responding to Max’s text. She didn’t want to build up any kind of expectation.
Alex stopped throwing his baseball, huffed and crossed his arms. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
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The Sheridans were a one-car family. On most weekdays Max took the bus in the morning, but he’d taken the car today so he could “get to Alex’s practice game on time.” A twenty minute car trip from the Seattle Post Intelligencer to Alex’s practice field would take over an hour in a bus, and even longer if the bus got stuck in rush hour traffic. Max could get more done at work and still make the game. It had made sense in the morning, but as Max would be reminded of later, the world had a habit of getting in his way.
When Max slipped into “the flow,” nothing else existed, especially not time. He may as well have been writing in solitary confinement rather than in an office on the third floor, looking out over Elliot Bay.
Max wrote articles for the local section of the Seattle Post Intelligencer’s online newspaper and had the good fortune to have written for the P.I. for several years before it went entirely digital in 2009. At the time, Max thought his career was over, even though his articles were considered by many to be well researched and written. Leading up to the P.I.’s switch, Seattle’s other paper, The Times, experienced heavy layoffs. Max was expecting the same at the P.I., but it hadn’t happened. Instead, the P.I. began a slow demise due to attrition, like a tree without fertilizer. First went the leaves and eventually, entire branches would die and fall with no new growth to replace them.
Max’s tunnel-vision often caused him to be late for story meetings and interviews, dates with Deanna and Alex’s baseball games. He would make promises, but time would get away from him and slip right through the cracks in his keyboard. Even setting alarms didn’t work. The snooze button was a constant companion.
For their fifteenth wedding anniversary, Deanna had given Max a watch, a high-end Citizen Skyhawk, in hopes that it would help him track time better. It worked for a while, but he soon fell back into his old habits.
He was in the middle of responding to an email when Max realized what time it was. “Shit!”
He could hear Deanna in his head: “Ask yourself if finishing is more important than where you need to be.” Max looked at his watch again, then confirmed the time on his computer screen. I can finish and still make it on time, he thought as he settled back into his email.
When he pulled out of the underground garage of the P.I., he noted the time on the digital clock on the dash, and confirmed it with his Skyhawk. He’d make it.
Traffic wasn’t as heavy as he expected it to be, due to leaving work a half hour before rush hour. Max navigated onto Aurora Avenue North and turned on KISW 99.9 FM. The Men’s Room was in already in progress, their question of the day: “What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever been busted for doing?” Max thought of a few things as he switched into driving mode, like when he threw an apple core out the car window only to hit a passing police car. But today, the only infraction he could possibly be busted for would be speeding.
It was smooth sailing until he was halfway across the George Washington Memorial Bridge. Vehicles slowed to a crawl, then to a stop. The obstruction seemed to only affect northbound traffic. After flipping over to KIRO 97.3 FM, Max learned a semi-trailer truck loaded with fresh produce had flipped and was blocking northbound lanes as well as the off ramp at Bridge Way. Max was already on the bridge and couldn’t do anything except wait.
He pulled out his phone and sent Deanna a text: “Accident on Aurora. Be there ASAP.” It felt like a cop out, and with his unreliable track record, Alex was sure to see it that way. Alex didn’t care why he would be late, only that he would be late.
All Max could do was wait for the accident to be cleared. He slid down into his seat and switched the radio back to KISW to try and distract himself. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult had begun with its iconic guitar riff. Max half expected Christopher Walken to break into the song and request “more cowbell.” He smiled at the thought and turned the radio up, passing the time by singing along with the lyrics he remembered and humming the rest.
Deanna dug out her phone. Apart from Max’s first text earlier in the evening, there had been no new messages. She was certain he was going to miss the entire game, but she spotted his car pull into the parking lot. It was like she had willed him into existence. Better late than never.
Davy Quan had stationed himself at the stairs leading into the dugout. “What are you smiling at, buddy boy?” Clint said. “You’re up next.”
Davy was the youngest and shortest member of the team and didn’t speak a lick of English as far as anybody knew. But he spoke baseball and that’s all that anyone cared about. He made up for his lack of stature with a grin a mile wide and laughed when everyone else laughed. The rest of the Fireflies nicknamed him “Smiles.”
Davy flashed Clint a big toothy grin and nodded, before returning his attention to home plate.
Alex stood at home plate and tapped his cleats with his bat to knock out anything trapped in their treads. Cheers erupted from the bleachers.
“Alright, Alex!” Deanna clapped with pride. “Knock it out of the park!”
Hearing Deanna’s words of encouragement reminded Alex of how little encouragement he received from Max. His anger rose higher, pushing normal thoughts of the game out of the way.
Max leaped up the steps of the bleachers, skirting around other spectators and planted himself next to Deanna. “Did you get my text? A semi flipped on Aurora.”
Deanna focused on the game.
“What’s the score?”
“They’re down by two, bottom of the sixth.” Deanna tried to let go of her aggravation, but she was too riled up. “The game is practically over. Why did you even bother?”
“I said I’d be here,” Max said.
“That’s never stopped you from bailing before.”
“Come on, Dee. That’s not fair. I didn’t plan that accident.”
“What accident?” Deanna returned her gaze back to Alex. “And don’t talk to me about fair.”
Max pulled out his phone and saw the familiar red exclamation point and message “Not Delivered” written underneath his last text. He sighed and tucked his phone back in his pocket.
Alex lined up his bat over home plate and tried to picture the trajectory that the pitcher’s baseball would take. His anger remained a distraction.
The umpire settled in behind the catcher for the Verminators. “Play ball!”
The catcher flashed a hand signal to the pitcher. “You’re going down, bro.”
Alex shrugged him off, but his thoughts weren’t on the game. He pictured Max sitting at his desk, typing on his keyboard without a care in the world. And Max was smiling. Alex gritted his teeth. “Asshole.”
The first pitch flew past Alex and landed with a thud, ejecting a small cloud of dirt from the catcher’s glove. He wouldn’t have known had it not been for the umpire yelling out “Strike one!”
“Come on!” Clint stepped forward towards the dugout entrance. “What was that?”
The catcher threw the baseball back to the pitcher and glanced at Clint. “Your coach got a problem with ace pitches?”
Alex ignored him and stepped back to home plate. He dug his cleats into the dirt and lined up his bat again.
The pitcher waited for the catcher’s signal, wound up and fired the ball across home plate. On a different day, in a different game, Alex would have knocked the ball deep into the outfield and sent one or maybe two runners home. But today, the pitcher’s throw sailed past home plate untouched.
The umpire jutted out his arm. “Strike two!” The crowd booed the call.
“I told you, bro.” The catcher threw the baseball back to the pitcher on the mound. “The captain’s gonna go down with his ship.”
“Shut up, will yah?” Alex narrowed his eyes on the pitcher.
“Zip it, you two,” the umpire said.
“Come on, Alex!” The familiar sound of Deanna’s voice helped wash away Alex’s anger. He could always rely on his mom to help bring out his best. “You can do it!”
“Alex! Focus!” This time it was Clint yelling at him from the dugout. Alex shot him a defiant look, then settled into his ready stance.
The pitcher and Alex locked gazes, trying to read each other’s minds.
Alex noticed the pitcher shift his eyeline, then nod: catcher’s signal received. The pitcher wound up and let loose a blazing curveball.
Alex swung and connected square with the ball—crack—sending it deep into center field. If he had hit it just a little harder, it would have been a home run. Everything in Alex’s mind fell away as he threw his bat to the side and bolted towards first base.
Cheers erupted from the Fireflies bleachers. Everyone except Deanna stood and clapped. She struggled to her feet to join Max and the other parents.
Alex cleared first base and closed in on second. The center fielder grabbed, fumbled and recovered the baseball before throwing toward second.
To Alex, everything felt like it was moving in slow motion. The wind in his hair, his feet digging divots in the dirt propelling him forward, each breath bringing him closer to second base.
“Run, damn it. RUN!” Clint stepped out of the dugout toward the third base coach. He kept the dugout within arm’s reach and gripped the chain-link fencing with white knuckles.
Alex blew past second, just as the second baseman snatched the throw from center field. The game now tied, Alex knew he had no choice but to continue on to third base.
The second baseman spun on one foot and drilled the ball to third. Sensing a close call, the third base umpire squatted to eye the play.
Alex dropped to the ground and slid into third just as the baseman caught the ball. Clouds of dirt and gravel flew into the air as Alex felt the weight of the baseman’s glove brush against his leg.
In reality, the moment of impact lasted less than a second, but it felt so much longer. The crowd hushed as the dust settled, and Alex knew the umpire’s call before the words left his mouth.
“You’re…out!” The third base umpire pumped his fist back and forth.
“What?” Clint lost his mind and threw his hat on the ground in protest. “He was safe!”
Boos rang out from the Fireflies bleachers, competing with cheers from fans of the Verminators.
Deanna cupped both sides of her mouth with her hands. “Bad call! He was safe!” She leaned toward Max. “He was safe, wasn’t he?” If Deanna had brought her Nikon, rapid-fire images would have told the truth.
“Well, I don’t know,” Max said. “It did look—”
Deanna felt something pop within her belly, almost like passing a gas bubble, but less localized. The feeling of being pregnant shifted inside her body and everything seemed a little less secure. She wrapped her right arm under her belly to give it support and stroked it in circles with her left hand. She raised the hem of her shirt dress just enough to see rivulets of fluid traveling down her leg and collecting on the concrete beneath the bleachers. Deanna grabbed Max’s arm with her left hand.
“What?” Max’s eyes were still locked on the third base action.
“My water broke.” Deanna spoke in a calm, normal voice, and it took all her strength to stop herself from breaking out in maniacal laughter. Her pregnancy was over.
Any other words would have gone in Max’s ears and out the other side, but these words exploded in his head like an airbag. He looked at Deanna with eyes big as saucers. “It’s time?”
Deanna felt the first contraction and took in a sharp breath. She looked at Max and nodded, not quite sure if he was surprised or jubilant.
Clint paced the third baseline muttering to himself. The third baseman extended his hand to Alex and helped him to his feet.
“Thanks,” Alex said.
“No prob.” The third baseman adjusted his ball cap. “Close call.”
The third baseman nodded towards the Fireflies bleachers. “What’s going on up there?”
Alex looked towards the bleachers and saw Max helping Deanna down from the top row of seats. “Mom?” He ran around the dugout and through the gate to the spectator area. “Mom?”
“Hey!” Clint followed Alex. “Where do you think you’re going?”
The third baseman thumbed toward the bleachers. “It’s his mom.”
“Shit.” Clint saw the commotion and clued in immediately. For the past couple of weeks, Alex had talked with Peter and a few other teammates about becoming a big brother. That time had come.
Max and Alex helped Deanna to the parking lot, taking slow, ginger steps. A circle of onlookers trailed behind the trio, as if they were following a brawl in progress. Some had their phones out and were taking photos and video. Clint followed along beside Alex within the circle.
“Break it up folks.” Clint pushed through the front of the circle of onlookers and cleared a path for Max, Deanna and Alex. “Let the lady through.”
Clint pulled Alex aside and handed him his equipment bag. “Don’t worry about the game. Go with your mom.”
“Thanks, Coach,” Alex said.
Deanna was within earshot. “It’s alright, honey. I’ll be fine. Stay and finish the game.”
“No, I’m going with you.”
“You sure you don’t want to stay?” Max tried to look Alex in the eyes, but Alex remained focused on Deanna.
“I said I’m going with Mom.” Alex’s words filtered through gritted teeth.
Max exchanged a look with Clint.
“No problem.” Clint nodded. “The game’s almost over anyway.”
Deanna gasped as a contraction took hold of her. “Help me into the car.”
“Are you okay, Mom?”
“Just help me into the car,” Deanna said between breaths.
“Northwest Hospital is closest,” Clint said.
“Thanks.” Max nodded as he laid Deanna down in the back seat. He tried to buckle her in but Deanna waved him off.
“Just drive,” she said.
Deanna lay on her back with her knees raised, taking up the entire back seat. She recalled her prenatal classes and began her breathing exercises. Only sounds of air rushing in Deanna’s nose and out her mouth filled the car.
Max was first to break the palpable silence. “Alex? You okay?”
Alex stared out the window, watching the suburbs of Victory Heights fly by the passenger window.
“Looked like a good game,” Max said. “I’m sorry I missed most of it.”
On the outside, Alex remained stoic, but inside his stomach was tied in knots and his head swirled with both anger at Max and concern for Deanna.
“I tried, you know,” Max said.
“Really?” Alex glared at Max. “Well, maybe you should try harder.”
“What do you want me to do?” Max tried to engage Alex, while still keeping his eyes on the road. “I can’t drive through gridlock.”
“Okay, enough testosterone,” Deanna said between breaths.
“I can’t win with you, can I?” Max managed a short glance at Alex, but Alex had returned his gaze to the passenger window.
Alex shook his head. “Dad, you don’t have a clue.” Trying to shake off his anger, he turned in his seat to face Deanna in the back. “What’s it feel like?”
“The contractions?” Deanna said.
Max spied Deanna in the rear view mirror. “Leave your mother to rest.”
“It’s okay, Max.” Deanna breathed in and out. “Imagine getting a really tight hug, then add pain that starts in your back and moves to your tummy.”
“Sounds uncomfortable.” Alex rested his chin on his seat back.
“It is,” Deanna said. “But you know something? When I had you, it felt totally different, like my whole body tensed up and I couldn’t move at all.”
“Is it easier this time?”
“It’s different.” Deanna compared the two experiences in her head. “It still hurts, but yeah, I think it’s a bit easier.”
“Good.” Alex smiled.
Deanna’s smile was cut short by a contraction.
Max kept his focus on the road ahead, feeling left out of the conversation.
New Release! Snipped – A Cutting Comedy
Ted’s life is almost perfect. But he’s missing one thing. Sex.
Five years ago, it was love at first sight. Now, Ted and Iris live on autopilot as tumbleweeds roll through their bedroom. The lack of sex is driving him crazy. So is his precocious next-door neighbor. Iris’s solution to their sexual woes: get snipped.
Kunal and Ray, Ted’s best friends and sworn enemies of Iris, agree with her for once. All roads seem to lead to a surgical solution, but Ted’s not going there…until an explosive argument changes everything. A vasectomy seems like Ted’s only play to win Iris back.
But what can go wrong does go wrong, and after a series of mishaps, ill-conceived decisions, and an unexpected meeting, Ted risks losing everything important in his life, including his balls.
The first cut is the deepest… or is it?
When Max arrived at Northwest Hospital just after six thirty, the parking lot was packed. Cars floated around the lot like sharks on the hunt. Finding a parking spot close to the building would be next to impossible.
Max pulled up to the sliding doors of the entrance. “Alex, help Mom in and get her admitted. I’ll find a parking space.” Without a word, Alex unbuckled his seat belt and hopped out of the car. He opened the rear passenger door and reached out to Deanna.
“Can you walk?” Alex eyed Deanna with concern. They had gone over their hospital procedure numerous times just in case Max couldn’t make it. But talking about it was so much different than the real thing. Alex fought against his nerves and the knots in his stomach. The last thing he wanted to show his mom was weakness.
Deanna nodded. “I think so.”
“Grab my shoulders.”
Deanna eased herself out of the car and slung her arm around Alex’s shoulders. She marveled at how broad they had become. Her first-born had turned into a man right under her nose.
Alex closed the car door and placed one arm around Deanna’s waist. With her free hand, she cradled her belly.
Max rolled down his window. “I’ll park and catch up.”
“Whatever,” Alex said, under his breath.
“You think I can’t hear your grumbles,” Deanna said, “but I do. He’s your father. Even though his track record isn’t that great—”
“His track record is zero.”
“He still deserves your respect.”
“I can’t wait to be old enough to get respect for doing nothing.”
Deanna stopped just as the double doors to the hospital opened. “Alex, look at me.” He faced Deanna but evaded her gaze. “At least he’s trying. You need to try too. Can you do that? For me?”
Alex finally connected with Deanna’s eyes, and nodded. That was his weakness, the way Deanna looked at him like she saw into his soul. He couldn’t imagine anyone else being able to do that.
As soon as the nurse at the reception desk saw Alex and Deanna, she knew what they were here for. She called another nurse to get Deanna a wheelchair.
“It looks like your special day has arrived,” the reception nurse said. “Name?”
Deanna began the process of checking in.
The parking spot that Max found was about as far as one could get from the front entrance. The parking permit machine was located in the center of the lot, and there was a lineup, at least half a dozen people ahead of him. Minutes melted by as Max stood in line for a permit.
“Hey!” Max dug out his wallet. “Whoever’s first in line, I’ll give you a twenty to switch spots with me.” Max held up the cash to silence. “How about second?”
To Max’s amazement, there were no takers. “Seriously?”
“Family’s more important than cash,” the person third in line said.
“My wife’s having a baby,” Max said.
The third person turned and looked at Max. His eyes were tired and red-rimmed. “My wife’s dying of cancer,” he said. “We all got our emergencies.”
“Damn straight,” another person in line said.
They had a point. Max put his money away and waited his turn.
He hurried to the car, placed his permit on the dash, and ran to the entrance of the hospital.
“My wife was just in,” Max said, out of breath. “She’s having a baby.”
“Name?” The reception nurse waited at her keyboard.
“Sheridan,” Max said. “Deanna Sheridan.”
“Oh yes, she was with her son.”
“Third floor, Mother-Babe wing.”
“Thank you!” Max yelled back, as he took off down the hallway to the elevators. He pressed the call button to go up, but the elevator was already going up.
“Forget that.” Max burst into the stairwell and galloped up the steps, two at a time. He emerged on the third floor, winded and nearly knocking down an orderly. He saw Alex pacing in the waiting room, which was more of an alcove off the main hallway and across from the nurses’ station.
“Where’s Mom?” Max said, sweaty and out of breath.
Alex looked up dismissively. “They’re helping her get changed. Delivery room 3.”
“Stay here, okay?”
What a dumb thing to say, Alex thought. He shrugged at Max. “Where else am I going to go?”
Max ran to delivery room 3. Deanna sat on the edge of the bed in a hospital gown. She took slow, measured breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth.
His brain flashed back thirteen years to when Alex was born. Deanna looked just as beautiful now as she did then, and a flood of guilt washed over him.
“What can I do?” Max vibrated with nervous energy.
“Just sit with me,” Deanna said and patted the mattress beside her with her hand. “And relax. I’m four centimeters. It’s going to be a while.”
Max sat next to Deanna and his hand went to her back instinctively. He had never forgotten what to do when Deanna was in labor, but in the years since their first go around Max had lost sight of how important his touch and his presence were.
“Yes. Massaging my back would be good too.” Deanna closed her eyes. “Apparently, I’ve been in early labor for the past nine hours already. I thought I was feeling kicking all day. It was really contractions.”
“It was news to me, too.”
Alex sat in a chair in the waiting room, bored out of his mind. There were only so many collections of Family Circle he could read before he wanted to scratch his eyes out.
Why couldn’t they have some graphic novels or even an Archie comic? Alex thought as he tossed the Family Circle back onto the pile stacked next to the chair.
The clock on the wall read 9:18 p.m. His stomach growled at him, but there was nothing he could do about it. He had no money for the vending machine that sat in the corner, taunting him with its salty and chocolaty offerings.
Alex stood up to stretch his legs. He walked down to delivery room 3 and peeked around the door frame. Max was helping Deanna walk around the room. She had a white band wrapped around her belly which was connected to a machine beside the bed. He saw the discomfort and pain Deanna was in and wanted to help somehow, but didn’t want to be anywhere near Max.
He thinks he’s such a hero, Alex thought.
A nurse checked Deanna’s contractions on the monitoring machine as she wrote notes on Deanna’s chart. Alex watched the nurse work. There wasn’t a hard edge about her. She had a soothing softness that surrounded everything she did. Alex had no doubt she was exceptional at her job, but he’d soon find out just how good at it she was.
The nurse looked up and caught Alex spying from the side of the door. Alex ducked back around the door frame and against the wall. He wasn’t sure what he was hiding from, but he felt like he had done something wrong.
“You must be Alex.” The nurse stood beside the doorway. “You can come in if you like. I’m sure your parents would like to see you. Would you like me to let them know you’re here?”
“No.” Alex shook his head. “I’ll go back to the waiting area.” His stomach growled loud enough for both of them to hear.
“Wow, what you got in there?” the nurse said. “A mountain lion?”
“I’m Cassidy, Cass for short.” She touched her name badge, which read “Cassie”.
“But the name on your uniform is Cassie,” Alex said.
“It’s Cass to the cool people.” She headed back towards the waiting area. “Come with me.”
Alex remained at the door to delivery room 3 and watched Cassidy walk back down the hallway.
Cassidy turned and beckoned. “Come on.”
Alex followed her to the waiting area. She stopped in front of the vending machine.
“What would you like?” Cassidy said. “Pick a couple of things.”
“I don’t have any money,” Alex said.
“Don’t worry about it.” Cassidy smiled and tapped her front right pocket. Change jangled in it. “I got you covered.”
It was a Sheridan family rule to never accept gifts from strangers, but Alex thought this was a fair exception. His raging stomach agreed. He chose a bag of Doritos and an Oh Henry! bar.
“Good choices.” Cassidy dug into her pocket and retrieved a handful of coins, plugging the vending machine with exact change. She grabbed the snacks from the tray at the bottom of the machine and handed them to Alex. “This’ll chase away the growlies.”
“Thanks.” Alex sat down to eat.
Cassidy sat down beside him. “So you’re going to be a big brother. Pretty exciting, huh?”
Alex ripped into the Doritos. “I guess so.” He grabbed a chip and placed it into his mouth whole. His taste buds exploded with every crunch. Cool Ranch was Alex’s favorite.
“Being a big brother is a huge responsibility.” Cassidy watched Alex eat, pleased that she was able to help. “Your parents are going to need your help too, now more than ever.”
Alex crunched another chip. “My dad’s never around, so it won’t be that much of a change for me. I’m used to helping my mom.”
“From what I saw, your dad’s doing all the right things.”
Alex scoffed. “That’s all show.”
Cassidy nodded. She had touched a nerve and knew it. “Well, Alex, the future’s unwritten.”
“I doubt it.” Alex looked at the clock on the wall. 9:32 p.m. “How long does it take to deliver a baby?”
“Your mom is in the active labor phase now,” Cassidy said. “It could go on for another four to six hours.”
“Lucky it’s Friday.”
“I’ve been helping bring babies into the world longer than you’ve been alive. Every delivery is different.” Cassidy tapped Alex’s knee. “But it’s going to be a while. You might want to get some sleep at some point. If you need a pillow, or more snacks, just let me know. I’m here all night.”
Alex nodded and dug into his Doritos. “Thanks.”
Cassidy stood and walked back to the nurse’s station. “No worries, Alex.”
The remaining Doritos disappeared. Alex licked his fingers and tore into the Oh Henry! bar. It vanished just as quickly as the chips. It wasn’t a lot of food, but it was enough to silence his stomach and induce the sleepies. Alex closed his eyes and within minutes fell into a fitful sleep.
Max stood over Alex in the waiting area. He was sprawled over two chairs, his knees supported by the arm rests of two side-by-side chairs. There was a pillow supporting his head. Max gave Alex a gentle shake.
Alex jolted awake. He saw Max dressed in blue scrubs, the kind that surgeons wore on some of his favorite television shows.
Surgeons, Alex thought. “What? What’s wrong?” Alex looked at the clock above his head. 6:13 a.m. “Why are you dressed like that? Where’s Mom?”
Max knelt down to Alex’s eye level. “Everything’s fine. Mom’s recovering from surgery.”
“The doctors had to do an emergency caesarean.”
Panic flashed in Alex’s eyes. “Is Mom okay?” Medical shows replayed in his head and his imagination tried to run away with him.
Max placed his hands on Alex’s shoulders. “Don’t worry. Mom’s okay.” Alex saw tears filling Max’s eyelids. “So’s your little brother…David.”
Little brother. Alex’s eyes cleared a little and a hint of a smile crossed his lips.
Max stood up, wiping his eyes. “Come with me. Mom would love to see you.”
Alex followed Max down the hallway. He saw Cassidy at the nurse’s station. She smiled and gave him a thumbs up. Alex returned her gesture with a thumbs up of his own.
They passed delivery room 3 and followed the hallway around the corner, arriving at room 313.
Alex peeked into the room. Deanna lay in an inclined bed, holding baby David, who was sleeping and swaddled in her arms. Alex stepped through the doorway and into the room, wiping sleep grit from his eyes. Max remained at the doorway to give Alex some space before following.
Deanna smiled with tired eyes, caught up with emotion. Thoughts swirled in her head. Her number one son had a brother. It was something she had wanted for so long. She knew a new baby wasn’t a Band-Aid for the issues she was having with Max. If anything, the birth of David had removed the false protection of sameness and inaction.
She found herself wondering what David would look like at Alex’s age, if they’d be interested in the same things. “Hey, hot shot.”
“Sorry I missed it,” Alex said. “I fell asleep.”
“I’m glad someone around here slept.” Deanna motioned with her head. “Come meet your little brother, David Anthony.”
Alex approached the bed, planting his steps in careful and quiet procession. He leaned in close to get a better view of his new baby brother. Max kept his distance and gave Alex space. He moved to the opposite side of the bed in order to watch Alex’s reaction.
Alex pulled a little of the swaddling aside to look at David’s face. “For a baby, he sure looks like an old man.”
“He looks like you,” Deanna said. “When you were a baby.”
“Yeah. He definitely has your eyes.” Deanna watched Alex watch David. “Do you want to hold him?”
Alex looked back and forth between Deanna and Max, all at once a jumbled rush of insecurity. “I don’t know how.”
Deanna looked at Max and smiled. “Dad will show you how.”
Max walked around the bed and stood beside Alex. “Just cradle your arms, like this.” Max positioned his arms across his chest. “Hold most of his weight with one arm, and support his head with the other.”
Max lifted David up and presented him to Alex. David, swaddled in his blue blanket, fit into Alex’s arms like he was made to be there. Pride beamed from Alex’s face, a grin spreading from ear to ear.
Click. A simulated shutter sounded from Max’s phone. Max looked at the picture on display, of Alex in the moment, transfixed by his new brother. “That’s a keeper.”
Alex looked up at Max and Deanna. “He’s so warm.”
Deanna smiled and closed her eyes. “He’s a little furnace, just like you were.”
Doctor Sam Greenwood, the Sheridan’s family physician, entered the room. Tall, wiry and full of boundless energy, Deanna was convinced that Sam never slept. She felt even more tired watching him bounce from appointment to appointment. Efficiency was Sam’s middle name.
“Hey, folks,” Sam said.
Max stepped away from the bed. “Doc.”
“How’s the mother?” Sam grinned beneath a thin mustache that made him look a little like John Waters.
Deanna could hear Max in her head: “Either commit to the mustache or shave it off. That line of hair just looks weird.” Mustache or not, Sam was a good doctor.
Deanna patted the bandage over her sensitive incision line. “My body’s seen better days.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.” Sam looked at Alex holding David. “That‘s a good look for you, Alex. How’s it feel to be the big brother?”
“It’s great,” Alex said, without looking away from David in his arms.
Sam directed his attention to Deanna’s abdomen. “Are you comfortable? How’s the pain?”
Deanna prided herself on her stoicism, but allowed herself this moment of truth. “It hurts.”
“Let’s take a quick look at that incision.” Sam rolled Deanna’s bed sheet down slightly and raised her hospital shirt to expose her belly and the bandage across it.
Max’s phone rang. He took it out, looked at the display, and caught a knowing glance from Deanna. He turned the phone off and returned it to his pocket.
Sam continued his examination, peeling back the bandage to take a peek. “Everything’s looking good here. Take advantage of the morphine while you can.” Sam picked up Deanna’s chart and jotted some notes on it. “If you need anything, just buzz me, day or night.”
“Thanks, Sam.” Deanna reached out and gave Sam’s hand a quick squeeze. “For everything.”
Sam nodded. “Alex, your mom and your new brother need sleep, so don’t stay too late.”
“But it’s practically morning,” Alex said.
Sam looked out the window. Shades of orange, pink and blue mixed in the brightening sky. “So it is. Maybe you should think about getting some breakfast, then.”
Sam flew out the door, his white coat flapping behind him like the cape of a superhero.
Alex touched David’s cheek, enamored by the warm life he held in his arms. Deanna looked on, with Max by her side. She squeezed Max’s hand, and he reciprocated. But his other hand was in his pocket, his fingers on his phone, waiting for the next available moment to return his earlier call. Max was there in body, but not in spirit, a state that would have to change if he wanted his marriage to survive.
You’ve been reading David’s Summer
How far would you go to save the life of your child?
After her newborn son David is diagnosed with cancer, Deanna’s life quickly focuses on her frantic need for a cure. Her husband Max, however, has other ideas.
Based on his own troubled and secretive past, Max challenges Deanna to consider quality of life versus quantity. Deanna chooses to seek treatment options alone and risks not just the life of David, but her relationship with her family as well.
Her thirteen year old son Alex is caught in the middle, left to navigate this family crisis on his own. An unexpected friendship may offer the perspective he needs.
This emotionally rich and compelling story will draw you in to its bittersweet world.
You’ve read this far. Perhaps you’re willing to go a bit further?
Thank you for reading this preview of David’s Summer