Gasping, Jenny collapses back against the pillows and moans, “I’m dyin’, Stanton! Promise me you’ll take care of the baby when I’m gone. Don’t let it grow up to be an idiot like your brother, or a slut like my sister.”
Her blond bangs are dark with sweat. I push them back from her forehead. “Oh, I don’t know. Idiots are funny and sluts have their good points.”
“Don’t patronize me, dammit! I’m dyin’!”
Fear and exhaustion put an extra snap in my voice. “Listen up—there is no way in hell you’re leavin’ me to do this on my own. You’re not dying.”
Then I turn to Dr. Higgens. “Isn’t there somethin’ you can do? Drugs you can give her?”
I’m not usually much of a stoner, but at this moment I’d sell my soul for a hit of pot.
Higgens shakes his head. “Won’t do any good. Contractions are comin’ too fast—you got an impatient one here.”
Fast? Fast? If five hours is fast, I don’t want to know what slow looks like.
What the hell are we doing?
This isn’t how our lives were supposed to go. I’m the quarterback. I’m the fucking valedictorian—the smart one. Jenny’s the homecoming queen and head cheerleader.
Or at least she was—until the baby bump got too big for her uniform.
We’re supposed to go to prom next month. We should be thinking about graduation parties and bonfires, screwing in the backseat of my truck and having as many good times with our friends as we can before college. Instead we’re having a baby.
A real one—not the hard-boiled-egg kind they make you carry around for a week in school. I cracked mine, by the way.
“I’m gonna throw up.”
“No!” Jenny screeches like a mad cow. “You’re not allowed to throw up while I’m bein’ ripped in half! You just suck it up! And if I survive and you touch me again, I’m gonna cut your pecker off and feed it into the wood chipper! Do you hear me?”
That’s something a man only needs to hear once.
I learned a few hours ago it’s best to agree with anything she says. Alright, alright, alright.
Lynn, the perky nurse, wipes Jenny’s brow. “Now, now, there’ll be no cutting off of things. You’ll forget all about this nasty business when your baby is here. Everyone loooves babies—they’re blessin’s from Jesus.”
Lynn’s way too happy to be real. I bet she took all the drugs—now there’s none left for the rest of us.
Another contraction hits. Jenny’s teeth grind as she pushes and grunts through it.
“Baby’s crownin’,” Higgens announces. He pats her knee. “A nice big push on the next one should do it.”
I stand up and glance over Jenny’s leg, and I see the top of the head, pushing against my favorite place in the whole world. It’s bizarre and disgusting, but . . . but kind of incredible too.
Jenny falls back, pale and drained. Her sobs make my throat want to close. “I can’t. I thought I could do it, but I can’t. Please, no more. I’m so tired.”
Her momma wanted to be here in the delivery room—they argued about it. Because Jenny said she only wanted it to be us. Her and me—together.
Gently, I lift Jenn’s shoulders and slide behind her onto the bed, bracing my legs on either side of her. My arms encircle her stomach, my chest supports her back, and her head rests against my collarbone. I brush my lips against her temple, her cheek, murmuring soft nonsensical words, the same way I’d whisper to a skittish horse.
“Shh, don’t cry, darlin’. You’re doin’ so good. We’re almost there. Just one more push. I know you’re tired, and I’m sorry it hurts. One more and you can rest. I’m right here with you—we’ll do it together.”
Her head turns to me wearily. “One more?”
I give her a smile. “You’re the toughest girl I know. You always have been.” I wink. “You got this.”
She takes a few deep breaths, psyching herself up. “Okay.” She breathes. “Okay.” She sits up straighter, bending toward her raised knees. Her fingers clamp down on my hands when the next contraction comes. The room fills with long, guttural groans for a dozen seconds and then . . . a sharp cry pierces the air. A baby’s cry.
Jenny pants and gasps with sudden relief. And Dr. Higgens holds up our squirming, cheesy child and pronounces, “It’s a girl.”