Bruce was laying on the couch, softly snoring. He seemed to do more sleeping these days than anything else. She figured that was probably normal considering his age. The vet had warned her that his time was limited. Most big dogs like Bruce didn't live much longer than thirteen, his age, and he was arthritic. But he seemed happy, and still greeted both of them with the same enthusiasm she had always loved him for.
She heard the front door open and shut, the deadbolt latch. and his heavy footsteps moving through the foyer. With great effort, she foisted herself off the couch to meet him halfway. He looked surprised, and she could see his eyes raking over her, the same as they had on Friday when she had taken her bath. At least she could say she still turned him on. "Hey," he finally said, smiling sexily, as though she was the best thing he'd seen all day.
"Hey yourself." She took a couple steps to close the distance between him and wrapped her arms around his neck. You go girl, she thought. Eight months pregnant and unless she was mistaken, she could still make her man feel, well, very manly. She kissed him gently and felt his hands run up and down her back, before settling on her backside. If it were possible, she would have pressed herself up against him, but there was a basketball-sized belly in her way.
He was smiling, that incredible, I've-been-thinking-about-you-all-day smile, and she couldn't help grinning herself. "This is a nice way to come home," he commented, giving her a slight squeeze. Despite herself, she giggled.
"Well, it's a special occasion," she informed him. "The furniture came in today...and I want you to see your daughter's room and tell me what you think." She pulled away from him, taking his hand in hers and leading him down the hall to the room across from theirs. The door was closed. Not that he was surprised--if she had gotten dressed up for this, he wasn't fool enough to think it was less than critically important to her. "Now close your eyes," she directed.
He did as he was told and a minute later, heard the door open. She gently led him in with both hands. After five or six steps, she stopped him and dropped his hands. "Okay," she told him. "Open!"
The room was lovely, just as he knew it would be. The furniture included a convertible crib, a dresser, and a changing table. She had added a rocking chair from another room; it had belonged to her mother. The border, brown with sage green dots, covered the top of the walls and she had stenciled in ducks and bunnies in gentle shades of yellow and tan around the middle of the walls in a perfect line. A small lamp that matched the border was placed on top of the dresser, and the crib had a bumper and sheets with duck and bunny patterns. There was a small stuffed duck, and a bunny too, inside of the crib. A small brown rug with sage green dots covered the floor next to the crib.
He smiled, then laughed. "It's perfect. I love it...she'll love it...when she gets older when can get rid of the ducks and bunnies...it will last for a long time." He pulled her into a tight bear hug.
"I thought so too," she grinned. "The stenciling was easier than I thought it would be. Who knew I was an artist?"
His lips brushed the top of her head. "Something tells me you have a celebration planned."
"Just fruit and cheese...some red wine for you in the fridge."
They walked out together, arm in arm, and she pulled out the plate and wine from the fridge. She joined him at the table, and they began to feast.
"Gouda and brie, huh?" He was munching on a cracker she had pulled out, and then sipping his wine. "This is great, Ness. I love it."
She took a bite herself and said, "You need to make sure you take pictures for your mother. She'll be excited to see it, next Sunday."
He smiled, then focused back on his cracker. "So after you testify tomorrow...do you think you could come back to the office with me for a bit? I thought maybe we could grab some lunch."
"You're going to court with me?"
"Yes. And don't argue...Carver asked me to. Deakins has already approved it. I just need to run back to the office afterward to check in."
She nodded, picking up a grape. "Okay. I guess that's fine." She watched him drink his wine for a minute. "To tell the truth, I'm glad you'll be there...Morrow does kind of freak me out."
Bobby nodded. "I know. So don't let him...don't think about it until tomorrow." He leaned forward and caught her hand in his. "Let's just think about the good things coming to us...everything good we already have, and what we're waiting for."
She smiled at him, then picked up her glass and took a sip of her water. "That's a good philosophy," she said, more to herself than to him. "Very good."
"Your honor, the prosecution calls Dr. Vanessa Rayden to the stand." Carver's voice was calm and serene, despite the circumstances. Vanessa stood slowly and approached the witness chair. She was quickly sworn in and took her seat.
From where she was at, she could easily see Eric Morrow glaring at her from the defense table. This was hardly the first time she had testified about a suspect's actions or confessions, but this felt different...too familiar..too much like she would have imagined it would be if she had gone to court over Forrester. For a second she could hear Morrow screeching at her and see his lunge across the counter. She pushed the memory out of her mind and turned her attention to the ADA in front of her.
His questions were the same as the ones they had reviewed. How she came to know Eric Morrow, where he worked, what he had said to her that day, how it fit with the profile. She answered his questions thoroughly and confidently, making eye contact occasionally with the jury. They seemed to be following her. Carver stated that he had no further questions and returned to his seat. She could see Bobby over his shoulder, sitting in the front row watching her and slightly smiling.
"Dr. Rayden," the defense attorney began, "how long have you been a profiler for the NYPD?"
"And didn't you take nine months off a couple of years ago due to your own sexual assault?"
Carver immediately objected, but the judge overruled him, and gave her permission to answer. "Yes," she replied. "I was sexually assaulted."
"In fact, you were nearly killed by your attacker, weren't you?"
She swallowed hard, trying to maintain a calm exterior. "Yes."
"Doctor, do you think your experience could have colored your view of my client?"
She exhaled slowly, counting to ten in her head. "Possibly. But my experience didn't place your client with two of the victims at the time of their attacks. He did that."
"Did you receive therapy?"
"Objection," Carver interrupted again. "Dr. Rayden's experiences in or outside of a therapy room due to her assault have nothing to do with this trial."
"Your honor, goes to credibility," the defense attorney returned quickly, and the judge nodded.
"Yes. I was in therapy for close to a year and a half."
"Do you consider yourself stable?"
"And is profiling an exact science?"
"Of course not," she explained, feeling a bit annoyed. "It's based on the predictability of human behavior. Certain personality types are prone to behave in certain ways. We all have patterns that we follow, and Mr. Morrow is no exception."
"And what about you, doctor? Do you have patterns of behavior? Could your patterns be driving you to convict an innocent man?"
"Objection!" Carver was standing angrily now, staring at the judge. "Inflammatory, your honor!"
"Sustained--Mr. Craddock, do you have any other questions for Dr. Rayden?"
"No, your honor," the attorney replied. "Thank you."
Vanessa could feel the blood rushing through her veins, fast and angry, and as she stood, she felt her knees begin to buckle. Grabbing on to the stand, she steadied herself.
"Doctor," the judge said quietly, "are you all right?"
She nodded to him. "Yes, I'm fine...it just might take me a minute..." Carver approached the stand and took her hand, helping her down to the floor and over to Goren. She took his hand and they left the courtroom quietly. Entering the hallway, he helped her to an empty bench, where they sat down.
"You did great, kiddo," he told her. "You feel okay?"
She nodded. "Just glad it's over." She sat quietly for a couple of minutes. "My heart was beating so fast...that attorney is right, I think about Forrester when I see Morrow."
"Maybe." Goren twisted her wedding ring on her finger gently. "But do you really think it affected your profile?"
She shook her head. "No. I would have come up with the same profile either way...but I did take an awful lot of pleasure out of getting the bad guy."
"There's nothing wrong with that...I do too. I think almost every cop gets a rush from catching the bad guy."
She looked up at him, at his gray suit and white shirt and scruffy face. "I feel safe with you," she said. "I feel safe when you're around."
He smiled. "Let's go to the station...I'll drive."
She snorted. "You're not worried about my blood pressure at all, are you?"
"Very funny," he returned, shaking his head. "You're a laugh a minute."
She should have known, or at least been suspicious. Deakins had never required her to check in on a case, nor had she seen him do that with any other member of the squad. But they got her good, she realized, as they rounded the corner to the bullpen and nearly smacked into a pink streamer.
"Congratulations! Surprise!" The majority of officers from their squad were there, and she quickly understood she had just walked into her surprise baby shower. She looked over he shoulder at Bobby, and knew immediately he had been in on it. His grin was ear to ear.
"Wow! Thank you, guys..." she said as enthusiastically as she could muster. There were presents on one table, potluck dishes on another, and a fancy cake on a third. The cake caught her eye the most--it looked to be from the same bakery that Eames had hers done.
"Hey, let the lady sit down," Deakins laughed, pulling out a chair decorated especially for her. She sat as directed, and the squad began to eat. After a few minutes, Bobby brought her a plate and sat next to her.
"Nice, huh? They wanted to do this for us. Nobody's ever done anything like this for me...I thought it was kind of cool." He sounded almost embarrassed to be enjoying the fuss.
"It is nice," she told him. "It's always nice when people think of you...I'm very flattered." She took a bite of what looked to be a bean and corn salad, then said, "Marlene is very happy too. She's practically doing flips."
He was watching her carefully while he chewed, and put his plate down to rest his hand on her belly. "I guess you're right...she's going to town in there."
"Gym class, apparently."
"She's excited about the presents."
"Who's excited about the presents?" Eames pulled a chair up next to them, balancing her plate on her lap.
"Marly," Goren replied. Shaking his head, he said, "It never ceases to amaze me to feel her move."
Eames reached over. "Do you mind?" When Vanessa shook her head no, Alex rested her hand on Rayden's belly. "She is pretty active." Eames sounded impressed.
"What's going on?" Deakins took a sip of his punch.
"Marlene is doing flips in there," Eames told him, taking a bite of a breadstick. "You should check it out."
"Really?" Deakins leaned over and pressed his hand to Rayden's belly. She was starting to feel like a circus side show. "She's definitely going to town...what, is she taking gymnastics classes?"
She shrugged. "I guess...it's been a busy day."
Bishop handed Vanessa a napkin. "She's moving, huh?" she said shyly. Vanessa looked up to see those green eyes sparked with curiosity. Suddenly she reached out and grabbed Bishop's wrist, bringing Bishop's wrist to her stomach.
"Lay your hand flat...yeah, like that...now just wait a minute...there." She looked up into Bishop's face. Bishop's green eyes were open wide as the baby turned again. Bishop met Rayden's gaze and smiled.
"That's amazing. Congratulations."
Rayden smiled. "Thanks."
An hour later the presents were unwrapped, the cake had been devoured, and most of the officers had returned to their work. Vanessa was resting at Bobby's desk, enjoying a second piece of cake.
"So," Deakins began, sitting next to her, "you enjoying your time off?"
She snorted. "Not really...but you do what you have to do, right?"
He nodded. "Vanessa...I know it's hard to wait...Angie was on bed rest for three months with our last one. You'll make it."
"I know. Cake makes it better, though."
Deakins chuckled. "Eames made sure to be in charge of the cake...I heard you were fond of the one she had at her shower."
Vanessa grinned, then took another large bite off the slice of cake.
"How'd it go in court?" Deakins' blue eyes were piercing hers, and she knew he was checking on her.
"Fine, I guess...the defense tried to make it sound like I built the profile around my own experiences." She rested her hand on her belly. "I'm positive I didn't...but Morrow does remind me of Forrester...in a skanky, criminal rapist-type way."
Deakins' mouth tilted into a sympathetic half-smile. He rested his hand over hers, on her belly. "You're only human, Vanessa. That's all anyone can ask you to be."
She sat her plate on Goren's desk. "Yeah, I guess. I just like to think I'm over it, even though I know better."
"People never completely get over that...you know that, Vanessa...you just learn how to live with it..."
She nodded as he stood up. "Hey Captain, thanks...thanks for the outfit..."
He grinned at her. "Angie picked it out...and insisted on the diapers...she said you'd be very appreciative of those."
"I'm sure we will be," she said, then looked down for a minute. "And Jimmy, thanks for listening...you've always been a great listener."
He reached over and ruffled her hair like a child. "You'll be fine, Vanessa. You're going to make a great mother."
"Let's hope so...because it's kind of late for any doubts."
He chuckled, and she watched him head off to his office.
Bobby squeezed a little more of the lotion into his hand. "Now you smell like coconut," he told her, smiling slyly, before beginning to apply the lotion to her belly. He moved his fingers in slow, gentle circles. She moaned softly, happily. He couldn't help but grin again.
"I guess your blood pressure is better now?" He smoothed more of the lotion onto her ribcage, right beneath her breasts.
"Mmmm, yes, thank you."
His hands wandered over her ribcage, then circled around the outer side of each of her breasts. After a moment, he covered each breast with a palm. "You've gotten bigger. Your body is amazing...I can't believe how much it's changed over the last eight months." He leaned down and kissed one nipple gently, then moved his mouth down to kiss her abdomen. "I love you so much, sweetie...I hope you liked your shower."
She smiled and stroked his hair. "Loved it. Diapers and clothing and toys...everyone was so great...I felt so special. Thank you."
He kissed her belly, right above her navel. "I loved it too."
She shifted slightly to see him better, then asked, "You really think they're bigger?"
"Definitely." He kissed the top of her belly, then traced a nipple with his index finger. He watched, fascinated, as her body responded to his touch. She was as beautiful now as she had been when he first met her.
His finger continued to stroke her. Her eyes were closed, hands over her head, stretched out. A relaxed smile played on her lips. "Do you like them bigger? You know you're going to have to share soon."
He moved his finger away and caught the tip of her nipple in his teeth. "I like them however they are...and yes, I will share nicely...I promise."
She opened her eyes then and saw him watching her. "Bobby." Her voice was low, serious, and her smile had disappeared.
He let her nipple go from his mouth but kept her other breast covered with his palm. "What, honey?"
She looked away for a moment, then spoke. "I'm scared...I'm scared of having this baby. What if I'm not a good mother? What if something goes wrong and she doesn't make it...or...what if I screw up the delivery...if I can't push right or freak out?"
"You'll be fine," he reassured her. "Everything will be okay..."
She was shaking her head. "Do you know what goes through my mind every time Ramirez examines me? Do you know what I think about?"
"Yes," he replied softly, "I know....but it doesn't have to be that way during the birth." He brushed her hair back with his hand. "I'll be there this time. Nothing bad will happen..."
"You can't promise that." Her voice was tearful. "It's never going to go away, is it?"
He traced a tear with his finger. "No, honey...some part of it will probably always be there...but I want you to think about the good things...that we're going to be parents...that we have a beautiful little girl waiting to meet us...and you will be a good mom. A great mom. You have this-- this--" he shook his head "this amazing soul that's so deep and kind and beautiful. That's the world we're bringing Marly into...one where she's going to be cherished and adored. You don't need to worry about Forrester. He won't be there...I will...and if he tries to come into your thoughts, you just squeeze my hand and tell me, okay? And I'll get him out."
Her eyes were piercing his, deep brown on deep brown, vulnerability so close to her surface he felt as though he could reach out and touch it. "I mean it, Beth," he said again. "We won't let him in for Marlene's birth."
She reached out her hand to his and he caught it, holding it gently. They lay silently. He watched her breathing, in and out, occasionally shuddering. "Ness," he said quietly, "remember the breathing techniques they've been teaching us in birthing class? Do you want to try some to calm down?"
She shook her head. "Bobby," she said again, softly. "What if Morrow gets out? What if they find him not guilty?"
"They won't...but if they do, Deakins will have protective detail on you." He pulled his body up next to hers, so their heads were together on the pillow. "That's not going to happen, though. Your testimony today was right on point. Morrow will be convicted by the end of the week." He hesitated before continuing. "Vanessa, we have to chase him out of the shadows. I guess...I don't know but I think...it may be a conscious effort type of thing. Telling the memory to leave for awhile until you're ready to deal with it again."
"Anytime anyone gets close to--"
"I know," he interrupted. "But Dr. Ramirez is doing her job. You just have to tell yourself that you're okay. And trust me. I'm there and I won't let you down. I promise."
She turned her head to his and pressed their foreheads together. "I love you, Goren."
His smile was warm and reassuring. "I love you too, Rayden. Forever."
"Coming, coming," he grumbled, practically tripping on the rug trying to get to the door. Who in the hell came to visit at nine on a Saturday morning? The first ring had woken him up; Vanessa was still asleep. Her sleep patterns were irregular now and he didn't want to disturb her, so he got up to get the door himself. The second ring had come just as he rounded the corner to the foyer.
Later he would blame it on sleep; he always checked through the peephole. But for whatever reason, this morning he didn't, and he swung the door wide open before audibly sucking in his breath and cursing himself.
Ryan stood in front of him with a gift bag. "Hello, detective," he said stiffly. "I've come to see my daughter. I'm assuming today isn't a special day that I might ruin?"
Goren crossed his arms and stared at him. "You've got to be kidding, right?"
Ryan stepped inside and wandered down the foyer into the living room. "No, I'm not kidding. I came to bring my daughter a baby present. I understand you two are having a child."
Goren had followed him into the living room, silently seething. "I don't think you're welcome here, Ryan. Neither of us are interested in your...gift."
"Well, I'll be happy to leave once I've heard that from Vanessa. Could you please go get her?"
Something about his face, his smirk, made Goren want to wipe it off of him permanently. "Sure," he replied sarcastically. "I'm positive she'll be absolutely thrilled to be woken up early on a Saturday to see you." When Ryan cast a confident smile at him, he waved his arm at the couch. "Please...have a seat."
Goren made his way back to the bedroom. Vanessa was stretching in the bed and rolled over to him sleepily. "Hey...this is not how we start Saturday mornings," she said in her most sultry voice. "Why don't you come back to bed?"
"Because your dad is in the living room and he wants to see you," Bobby retorted. "And nothing kills the mood like your father."
"What? Are you serious?"
He sank down on the bed. "Would I ever have a reason to lie about something like this? It's not even remotely funny." He ran one hand through his hair. "He brought a present too."
Vanessa stood up and dug through her drawer, finding a pair of pajama pants. "I'll get rid of him," she said, more to herself than to him. "Then we can forget about this whole bunch of shit and enjoy our day."
She was walking purposefully, with a large stride. He didn't realize she could still move so fast in her condition, and he followed her down the hallway, biting back the fact that he was impressed.
Ryan was sitting on the couch, but stood as soon as he saw Vanessa. "Vanessa," he said warmly, and held his arms out for a hug. When she stopped short of him and crossed her arms, he dropped his own. "I wanted to see you. Ava was right--pregnancy suits you."
"Thank you for the compliment, Daddy." Just seeing him made her head hurt. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave, though...Bobby and I have a busy day ahead and we hadn't planned on visitors."
Ryan smiled, his bleached teeth offsetting what she swore was a spray-on tan. "I won't stay long, sweetie...I just wanted to drop off a present for the baby. From Kate and me." He held out the bag to her.
Vanessa turned around and looked at Bobby, whose arms were still crossed. He was looking at the floor, or maybe his feet, as though they were intensely fascinating.
"Well then, thank you." She took the bag from his hand. "Let me see you out."
"You're not even going to open it?"
"No," she said flatly. "Thank you for coming by."
"Vanessa," he said gently, "come on...I'm your father. You're about to have my grandchild."
"And you act like you're entitled to something out of this," Bobby snapped. "Nobody asked you over here and nobody is interested in anything you have to say. You can take your present and shove it up your ass, Ryan. Or you can leave it here and we'll be happy to donate it to the local thrift store. Your choice. But I believe Vanessa's asked you to leave."
She saw Ryan wince, but he never stopped smiling, never took his eyes off of her during the entirety of Bobby's diatribe. "So," he said once Bobby finished, "I promise you'll like it...would you open it? Please?"
"I already told you, Daddy...this is done. You and I have nothing left, no reason to see each other. You can take the present or we'll donate it, like Bobby said. You wanted to see me pregnant, and now you have. Look closely, because this is quite likely the most you'll ever see of this child." She shoved the bag toward him. "Please leave."
The smile on his face was fading, and he took the bag back. "You can't donate it," he said coolly. "Nobody else is going to want it." He pulled a frame out of the bag and showed it to her. "Liz, when she was pregnant with you. I found it the other day and thought you might want it. Apparently I was wrong." He started to tuck the frame back in the bag, then seemingly changed his mind and stood the photo on the end table nearest him. "Well. This went about how I expected it to." He shook his head. "One day I'm hoping you'll grow up and forgive me for being human. Until then...I hope you're a better mother than you are a daughter."
She felt the air behind her before she saw him, and it was only by luck she grabbed Bobby by the arm before he got to her father. "Stop, please stop," she said softly. "He's going and we never have to see him again."
"That's right," Ryan sneered. "Stop, Bobby...the big bad wolf is leaving the premises." He turned on his heels and headed toward the door. "You know," he said offhandedly, "in twenty years, you'll be looking back with a lot more empathy toward me than you know. Kids...kids are difficult. And it doesn't stop once they leave home."
She watched him walk into the foyer and heard the front door open and slam shut. Bobby's arm broke free from her grasp, but instead of heading after Ryan, he pulled her against him tightly. "You okay?" he asked her. "I'm so sorry..."
She shook her head. "Nothing to be sorry for. He's an ass." She turned around and looked at him, feeling the adrenaline rushing through her body. "I'm going back to bed...why don't you lock the door and join me?"
He touched her face with his thumb for a moment, then nodded. He wouldn't make the same mistake again.
Making love on Saturday mornings with him was one of the absolute highlights of her week. It was their time, uninterrupted by the outside, and had been since the earliest part of their relationship. Sometimes it was slow and tantalizing; sometimes it was funny; still other times it was frenzied, or quick, or needy. But it was always sexy, and always theirs, and always a way of connecting.
After Ryan had left, she had led Bobby back to the bedroom and tried to turn his mind back to the task at hand. Saturday mornings, in her mind, had one purpose and one purpose only, and she was damned and determined that Ryan wasn't going to take that from them. She knew her husband--knew his mind was still stewing on the earlier confrontation--but pulled him against her anyway. He sat on the bed, passively receiving her kisses for several minutes, before touching her cheek. "Ness," he said softly, "I don't know about this today..."
She had sat back on her knees, holding his hand to her face. "Bobby, listen to me. He steals from everyone. Saturday mornings are for us...don't let him steal today away."
For a moment she wasn't sure what he was going to choose. He sat quietly, gazing in her eyes, his thumb stroking over her cheek, and she could see the wheels turning in his head. But then he leaned over and kissed her, slow and deep, tasting her, and she could feel her heart begin to beat faster. He had undressed her slowly and by the time they were curled together, spooned on the mattress, her mind was empty of anything but him.
She loved being touched by him this way, one of his upper arms against the mattress and his forearm wrapped around her body, the other hand stroking her rhythmically and intimately as he moved within her. His lips played with her ear and the nape of her neck, words as tender as his nips escaping from his throat. She had sighed with pleasure repeatedly, whispering her own sexy words to him until her words were returned and she was positive that he was thinking about this, and only this.
After, they curled against each other again, his chest hair gently scratching her back. She kissed his hand and intertwined her fingers with his. "I love you," she whispered. "You make me feel so good."
She felt his smile against her hair. "Ditto," he murmured. "And thanks for keeping your eyes on the prize...it would have sucked if I had let Ryan ruin this today."
She laughed softly and burrowed her head deeper into the pillow. "Trust me, if there was any way around that one, I was determined to find it."
His hand disentangled from hers and slid over her belly. "You know, we're going to have to give this up pretty soon..."
"Yes...but if I have to give up sex on Saturday mornings, I'd much rather it be for our daughter than because of my jackass father."
"Good point. And I wholeheartedly agree." He kissed the nape of her neck, sucking it gently before nipping it. When she giggled, he nipped it once more.
"You were a vampire in a former life, I think." With much effort, she turned over, onto her back to look at him. "What do you think we should do with the picture?"
He propped himself up on his elbow. "I dunno...what do you want to do with it?"
"We can hang it in the baby's room...right after we change out the frame. I'm sure someone at the thrift store would want to buy that frame, right?"
A slow grin spread across his face. "Absolutely. It's a great frame...for a donation."
"I do want the picture, though...I don't have any of my mom when she was pregnant with me." She absently traced a line on his chest with her fingers. "It actually is a pretty thoughtful gift, considering who the giver is."
Bobby didn't answer, but continued to run a finger up and down her arm. "I really wish that son of a bitch would have brought you something disposable, like a blanket."
"Yeah, well...it's the most thoughtful thing he's ever given me. Maybe there's hope for him yet."
As if she had given him an electric shock, Bobby withdrew his hand from her arm and stared at her. "You can't possibly be thinking he's changed his ways."
"No!" she exclaimed quickly. "I didn't mean that...I just meant, maybe this therapy is helping him to see outside himself for once....you know, think of somebody else." She sighed. "I'm not saying I think who he is has changed...just maybe he's grown a little bit."
Bobby flopped down next to her on the bed, staring at the ceiling. "I really hope you're not thinking about letting him back into our lives."
"Good...because you and I would have a real dilemma about him seeing this baby."
"I'm not changing my mind," she said, feeling suddenly annoyed. "Have you forgotten that he's my father? That I grew up being emotionally abused by him?"
"No, I haven't forgotten." He spoke slowly. "But I know how hard it is to turn your back on your family."
"This is my family," she said firmly. "You and Marlene. You're my first priority, and please don't insult me by implying anything else."
Suddenly the promise of their intimate Saturday morning was dismally gray. They lay next to one another, unmoving, until at last he got up to shower. Then she rose to strip the bed and wash the sheets.
"So how is she doing?" Vanessa sat next to David on the park bench, watching Justin playing in the sandbox. The park was full of mothers chasing their preschoolers. She tried to picture herself joining in the fray in another year or so but couldn't. She felt too awkward, too conspicuous. She glanced at David and realized he probably felt more conspicuous than she did.
He sighed heavily. "Not well, Vanessa. Her liver and kidneys have permanent damage. It's worse than we thought. That's why I asked you to meet with me."
She shuffled her feet. "She's still not eating." It was a statement, one she knew was true, but she was looking for his confirmation anyway.
"No. She says she has no appetite. They're feeding her intravenously, and they'll keep doing that until she starts to eat on her own. Her hair is falling out and her teeth...a couple of them are loose...they're worried about her bones being brittle." He hesitated for a minute, and then said, "She keeps pulling the IV out...says she doesn't care."
The reality of losing Ava hit her hard and she looked at David. He was gazing straight ahead at his son, but she could see his eyes watering. "The doctors called me in yesterday to let me know that cardiac arrest is pretty common in patients as severe as Ava...I felt like you should know." He glanced at her briefly. "I know you have good reasons for not wanting to go to see her...but you needed to know."
She could feel her lip tremble. "David, she can still get better, right? It's not over yet..."
He looked down in his lap. "I don't know," he admitted. "The doctors don't sound very hopeful. If she would cooperate at all, maybe, but they said if someone is determined, like Ava, there's not a lot they can do other than try to maintain where they're at..."
"Daddy!" Justin ran over to them, clutching a toy dinosaur in his hand. "Mistah Dino says we all done here!"
David smiled and scooped up Justin in his arms. "Well then, is Mr. Dino ready for some dinner? How about you?"
Justin nodded heartily. "Yep!" He motioned to Vanessa. "You comin, Antee?"
She reached up and brushed Justin's blonde hair out of his face. "Not tonight, honey." His eyes looked exactly like Ava's, and Vanessa fought back the tears in her eyes.
Justin patted her head. "It's otay, Antee...we miss you though. Daddy, can we have pizza?"
David nodded. "Sounds good to me, buddy." He turned back to Vanessa. "Call me if you need anything--"
She stood as quickly as she could. "You too...I mean, call me. I'll see if I can get over there tomorrow."
David shot her a brief smile, then turned to walk Justin across the park.
Vanessa sank back down on the bench. Ava's sixty-day treatment had lapsed into six months. In her worst nightmares, she had never imagined that Ava would be so sick. As painful as their relationship sometimes was, she loved her little sister desperately. They were all they had left.
She reached in her pocket and pulled out her phone, flipping it open and pressing speed dial one. It rang once...twice...
"Bobby?" She heard the tears in her own voice but couldn't stop them, couldn't control the flood of fear and worry. "Is there any way you could come home?"
He parked the car in the lot. Turning off the ignition, his eyes met hers. Bobby reached over and took Vanessa's hand in his. They sat like that, still, until she finally pulled her hand back and opened the door.
He followed her into the hospital to the elevators, then to the nurse's desk, where they signed in. The nurse directed them to Ava's room, explaining she was too ill to be in the day room at the current time. So they made their way, hand in hand, down the hallway to her door.
She was dozing, it looked like, as she stepped into the room. Suddenly she heard an audible gasp, and the realization that her husband hadn't seen Ava in over six months came over her as he tried quickly to recover from his shock. She turned and examined his face. He was trying desperately to hide his shock but doing an extremely poor job of it.
Ava was dressed in a hospital gown and covered with a blanket. Her skin, gray and yellow tinged, gave away the severity of her illness immediately. David was right--her hair was thinning severely. Vanessa could hear her shallow breathing from the door and wondered how much effort she had to put out just to breathe. Her sallow skin hung from the planes of her face, and Vanessa found herself incredibly thankful that the rest of Ava's body was covered by the blanket.
She felt a hand on the small of her back and knew it was Bobby. When she didn't make a move forward, he whispered, "It's okay, Ness," and pressed lightly. She took a few steps forward before stopping again, catching her breath, and continuing to the chair by the bed.
Bobby had followed her; he pulled a chair up next to hers and sat down quietly. Vanessa took Ava's hand in her own and began to stroke it gently. After a few minutes, Ava's eyes fluttered open and moved from Vanessa to Bobby, then back to Vanessa again. "Hi." Her voice was weak and croaky.
"Hey." It was all she got out before the tears began to fall. Ava watched her for a moment, then closed her eyes and made a funny sound in the back of her throat.
"I really fucked up this time, huh?" She opened her eyes again, seeking out Vanessa's.
Vanessa leaned over and kissed Ava's forehead, smoothing her hair off of her face. She recoiled in shock when she realized the hair she was stroking had stayed in her hand after she pulled away.
Ava shook her head, breathing heavily. "Don't worry. It happens all the time now." She forced a smile. "You're the size of a house. Soon, huh?" Ava paused to catch her breath. "I'll be an auntie."
"Ava..." Vanessa's voice was soft, small. "How did it ever get this bad? How do we fix it?"
"I don't know....I don't know if we can."
Vanessa covered her face with her hand, trying to hide the sobs she felt building in her chest. "You can't give up, Ava...you know that. We don't give up....you need to get better so that we can go have some of that pie..."
They both forced a laugh, remembering the last time they had eaten together, early in Vanessa's pregnancy. "Please, Ava...if you can't do it for me, do it for Justin...please..."
Ava gently squeezed Vanessa's hand between her sobs. "I've tried, Nessie...for a long time...now I'm just tired." Her breathing was raspy and she tried to catch a clean breath, but she couldn't. "None of this is your fault, Nessie...I love you."
Vanessa lay her head on the edge of Ava's bed, feeling the sobs of loss racking through her body. Slapping her mother's dead face. Hearing her father's taunts. Walking in on her rock star boyfriend fucking another woman. And Forrester--Forrester raping her of her pride. She could feel Ava's hand resting on her head, playing with her hair in the same way her mother used to when she was small. Ava was the last connection she had to her mother. There would be no other once she was gone.
She was gasping for air now, trying to steady herself, as she listened to Ava's whispered "shh" over and over. "You can't do this," she finally gasped, lifting her head. "I need you. Marlene is going to need you...she needs you..."
"I know." Ava squeezed her hand once more. "I'll try, Nessie...why don't you get yourself a tissue from the nurse's desk?" Her sentence had taken all of her breath, but Vanessa nodded obediently and stood, heading toward the door. Bobby stood also, but Ava grabbed his sleeve.
He turned to look at her, and she motioned to the chair. Vanessa hesitated by the door. Bobby nodded to Ava, then turned to his wife. "I'm going to visit with Ava for a few minutes...will you be all right?"
Vanessa nodded, then left the room, closing the door behind her.
She wandered down the hall until she found herself in front of the ladies' room and went inside. Staring at herself in the mirror, she took a wet paper towel and wiped down her face. All of her makeup went with it. She noted her bare face without judgment. She had her mother's lips, full and trembly, but Ryan's eyes. Ava's eyes. She wondered how Ryan could live with himself, visiting Ava every week and seeing her decline. Wondered if Ryan was the reason for the decline, if it was Ava's last stand against all that was wrong with their father.
Marlene was moving, shifting in her belly, and she pressed back, a habit she had developed when the baby first started moving. Eventually the movements settled down, and Vanessa could feel a tiny foot against her skin. In two more weeks she'd be a mother. Holding a baby, nursing her, loving her. Responsible for her growth and development and happiness. Her mother had done an abysmal job. She didn't readily admit that, but Ava had been right. Liz hadn't been able to give to them any more than Ryan had. And now Ava was doing the same thing to Justin. Leaving him, abandoning him to David. How did they continue this pattern? She angrily tossed the paper towel into the trashcan and left the bathroom.
When she entered the room again, Bobby was still sitting next to Ava quietly. He quickly moved to his original seat, and Vanessa sat down again. Ava opened her eyes sleepily. "Better?" she asked.
"Yes," Vanessa replied shakily. "Ava--I just have a question--how can you do this to Justin? I mean, abandon him like Mom did to us?"
"Ness," Bobby said, low.
Ava exhaled heavily. "I guess I'm more like Liz than I thought...and Ryan too." She reached up and touched Vanessa's cheek.
"No, you're not," Vanessa said firmly. "You're a good mother. Don't do this to Justin. He deserves better." Her voice broke at the end as she saw the tears in Ava's eyes.
"I'll try," she murmured softly. "Will you come back? On Saturday?"
Bobby interrupted. "We'll be here, Ava. We're here for you." Slowly, Vanessa nodded.
"Good, good...Justin and David are coming on Saturday."
"What about Daddy?"
Ava closed her eyes. "He doesn't come anymore. I want to see you on Saturday, Nessie...bring pictures of the nursery."
Ava was fighting to catch her breath, to stay awake now, and Bobby rested his hand on Vanessa's shoulder gently. "We should go," he said softly.
As Ava softly snored, Vanessa followed Bobby out of the room and through the hospital down to the parking lot. He unlocked the car door but stood next to her without moving. She opened the door and moved to climb inside; suddenly she stopped and flung her body against his, sobbing quietly as his hands held her tightly. When she finally quieted, he let her go, watching her climb into the SUV. He closed her door and walked around the car to get in, and they headed back to Manhattan.
She was finally resting quietly. The trip home had been difficult. He knew she was trying to balance a dozen conflicting emotions, all of which were tearing at her insides. Guilt, anger, frustration, grief, sadness--all of it playing on the hormones that were already going crazy. He was impressed that she hadn't fallen apart more than she did.
When she had called him yesterday, he knew in his gut something was horribly wrong. She had never, ever called him and asked him to come home. Even before they were dating, when she was terrified of Forrester, she had never asked him to leave work. So when she had called, he had left immediately.
Inherently, he had known it wasn't the baby. But still, he had found his mind racing during the cab ride home. When he got home, she met him at the door, shaking, explaining what David had told her. They had agreed immediately to visiting Ava the next morning.
As he had held her both yesterday and today, he found his fury at Ryan growing. A part of him couldn't help but wonder if all of this was linked to his visit on Saturday. That Ryan had decided to try to hang on to the daughter who was still living. He lay next to Vanessa in bed, trying his best to comfort her and to encourage her to relax. After a long while, she had curled against him and fallen asleep, looking incredibly vulnerable and fragile.
He moved off the bed and, grabbing a book, collapsed into the armchair. He had been shocked when he saw Ava today. She had always been dangerously thin, in his opinion, and everyone knew of her penchant to play with her food more than eat it. But today there was so little of her, almost as if she were trying to make herself disappear into thin air. He hadn't meant to gasp audibly, and he knew his shock had upset Vanessa, reiterated to her how severe Ava's condition was, but he hadn't been able to control it.
Ava had made him promise to take care of her sister. That promise had been an easy one, and he reminded Ava that he had already made it when they were married. Ava's face had taken on a cynical look before she responded, "Marriage vows don't mean shit." So he had promised again, separate from the vows, that he would always make sure Vanessa was cared for. Ava's face had been stony, the way she always approached him--no-nonsense, don't mess with me, kind of response. As she had outlined for him exactly what "cared for" meant in her book--that Vanessa would never want for comfort; never be left alone to raise the baby; always have his support; he could feel the tears welling in his own eyes, until he finally reached for a tissue and said, "I get it, Ava. Now stop talking like you're dying...you should be making these promises too."
She had turned away from him then, facing the wall, before saying, "I'll try." That was all she had said, and he hadn't pressed her for more. But he knew it wasn't all. He knew she had more in her, and she needed to give it. He just didn't know, for once, how to go about getting it out of her. He and Ava had always had a tumultuous relationship; there had always been a lack of trust between them. Ava had never felt that he was good enough for Vanessa. She had always thought Vanessa should have married up, someone with distinction and money. Bobby couldn't fault her that argument. From his perspective, Vanessa should have married the best. But she chose him, and they were happy. And Ava had accepted him to some degree over time. Or maybe she had just accepted her sister's choices, and that included him.
He wondered what had made Ava give up, to get to the point that she was so close to dying. She had a lot to live for. If she could find a way to cut herself loose from Ryan, to find value in herself apart from what she believed about her parents, maybe she would have a chance. He couldn't say that to Vanessa, but he knew it was true as much as he knew his own name...as much as he knew how his mother's schizophrenia had dominated his life and his father's gambling and sex addictions had formed who he was.
Then he wondered if it would make any difference if he told her so. Watching Vanessa's sleeping form, watching mother and unborn baby resting so vulnerably on the bed, he made up his mind that he should. Maybe she couldn't hear people so close to her. But maybe if it were someone like him, on the fringes, who knew, it might make sense. Or maybe not.
But if he had vowed to make sure Vanessa was always supported, the least he owed her was an honest conversation with Ava. Picking up his cell, he left the bedroom and dialed the hospital, then asked to speak to her doctor.
She was in a wheelchair, hooked to oxygen, when the nurse rolled her into the therapy room.
Christian greeted her warmly, but before he could finish, she had blurted out, "What in God's name is he doing here?"
Bobby cleared his throat and looked at Christian before speaking. "I thought we should talk about some things."
Ava's eyes moved warily from Bobby to Christian, then back to Bobby. "I thought I was clear on Saturday." Her breath was shallow and puffy, as though she had been running. He knew this was going to be exhausting for her, but was determined to plough through anyway.
"Yes. You were. But there are some things I wanted to talk with you about, so I called and asked if I could come in." He took a breath before continuing. "You and I both want what's best for Vanessa, and I need to talk with you about that."
He heard her breathing grow faster. "You're not going to hurt my sister, Bobby. Please. Not now."
God. She thought he was going to leave Vanessa, thought he planned to walk away. "No, it's nothing like that. It's about you." Glancing at Christian, who nodded slightly, he continued. "You asked me the other day to make sure Vanessa was supported, comforted, protected. I can do that, the same as I always have, and I intend to always do that. But I can't take the place of her sister."
There was silence. A single tear made its way slowly down Ava's cheek, but she didn't speak, nor did she look at him. After a minute, he continued. "You're the only family--biological family--that Vanessa has. She's knocked herself out in the last three years to repair her relationship with you, and I know you've done the same. There's no way she can give that up without it being incredibly painful. And there's nothing that I can do to fix that. If you give up, you just need to know what you're leaving behind...that's why I came today."
"To guilt me?" she whispered, wiping away another stray tear angrily.
"No. To tell you that, regardless of how you feel about me, I will support your relationship with your sister a hundred percent. I'll do whatever it takes to help you get better because it's what's best for both of you. Because you're part of my family now. Because...because..." he grasped for the words, and swallowed hard to say the core truth. "Because I love you, because you love my wife."
She was drumming her fingers restlessly on the corner of the wheelchair, swallowing gasps of air. Suddenly she laughed, a soft, weak sound. "You said you love me, Robert Goren...one of us is definitely doomed now."
He chuckled slightly, feeling himself relax a bit. "Probably," he teased, "but not from anorexia."
She gulped her laugh down and fought back a sob, then shook her head, turning to Christian. "I'm too damaged now...tell him...tell him I'm going to die."
"No," Christian said firmly, his first word of the session, and Bobby was surprised to hear the determination in his voice. "It's never too late for recovery, Ava...as long as you have a breath in you, you can begin to recover."
Ava's fingers froze. "I just don't know if I can...I just don't know how." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "You've seen my father. You know how I am...the female version of Ryan Rayden...I...don't..." she was crying, gasping for breath, "don't want to...to be that..."
Bobby leaned forward so that his hands were inches from hers. "Ava," he said gently, "my dad was a son of a bitch who beat the shit out of me every chance he got. He was a gambler and a sex addict and died of alcoholism. My mother is a schizophrenic. I understand your fear...but you don't have to be Ryan. You're not Ryan. You've been a wonderful wife and mother. You're a beloved sister." He hesitated, then reached for her hand. "You need to understand how special you are to the people who love you."
"You don't understand," she cried tearfully. "You don't..."
"I do," he said firmly. "Before I met your sister I didn't know how good I could be. But I learned a lot about myself after we got together. I learned that I can be a better man than I ever thought possible. That I could be a husband who didn't disappoint his wife. That I could love a baby more than my own life. You know those things about yourself too...you just don't believe you deserve it. I didn't either, and sometimes I still don't. But I owe it to your sister to live like I believe it. And you owe it to your family too...but you owe it to yourself even more..." He felt the tears in his eyes again and hated them for being there, but... "Please don't give up. All you have to do is try...one day at a time. One hour at a time. One minute at a time. And when you feel like you can't try any more, then you lean on us--everyone who loves you. You're needed. You're valuable...what would Justin do without you? What would you do without him? Or David, for that matter?"
Ava covered her face in her hands, trying to hide her sobs. "I'm sorry...I'm so, so sorry..."
"You don't need to be sorry for anyone else...you need to forgive yourself..." He grabbed a tissue from the end table and started to place it in her hand. Impulsively he pulled the wheelchair closer to him and began to wipe her face himself. After another minute, he leaned over and wrapped his arms around her gently, as if he were holding a small child. His hesitation in touching her was immediately dismissed when she collapsed in his arms, pressing her face in his shirt, her tears soaking through the fabric. Just like her sister. The familiarity was awkward but comforting, but he stayed in place, letting her cry until the tears were settling and her breathing was returning to normal...or as normal as it could be. She slowly pulled away, an awkward look on her face.
"Sorry," she muttered, trying to move her wheelchair away from him.
"Why are you sorry?" Christian asked, helping her to reposition the chair.
She sighed. "It's not his job to fix my life."
"Would it be so bad if he helped? It sounds like you have a whole group of people who love you and are willing to help you...that's a wonderful thing. I don't think Bobby can fix your life, but he may be able to help you when you need it, if you're willing to ask for help."
"I get that," Bobby said, nodding. "I'm not good at it either. But we could at least try...what do you think?"
"I...I don't want to disappoint anyone..."
"I think the bigger question is, are you disappointing yourself?" Christian handed Ava another tissue.
She shuddered. "I'm always disappointing myself...I can't think of a time when I wasn't a disappointment."
"Oh, Ava..." Bobby shook his head. "You're a beautiful, successful woman with a great family...you know, outsiders would look at you and think you have everything...I'm so sorry you feel like you disappoint."
She sniffled. "Thanks. Thanks for saying that." She glanced at the clock, then said, "Are you coming on Saturday with Ness?"
He nodded. "Yeah. We'll be here."
Christian smiled. "Our time is up. And I believe your husband is coming in a bit, so I'm sure you want to get ready."
Ava smiled wanly. "Yeah...maybe take a nap...something..."
His ride home was quiet, and he thought about how hard Ava was struggling right now, and how little she told anyone about it. He wondered if she talked to David. He kind of had the feeling that she didn't.
As he hit Manhattan, his phone rang. He hit the speaker and responded, "Goren."
"Detective, this is Christian Holcomb, Ava's therapist. I just wanted to touch base with you about our meeting."
"Sure...yeah. Is everything okay?"
"I wanted to let you know that she did try to eat this afternoon...after you left. A small bit, but it's progress. As I explained to you, eating disorders are much more than just about eating. We'll have to see how she approaches therapy now, but we're going to remain cautiously optimistic."
He sighed. "That's good...that's really good. Thank you for letting me come in."
"No problem. I think it was the most beneficial session she's had in a long time. She identifies with you more than she likes to admit."
"I understand...I know what it's like to have an idiot for a parent."
"I just wanted to check in with you...I guess we'll see you and your wife on Saturday."
"Great," he said. "Bye."
He parked the car in their spot, then took a minute to think about the afternoon. There was something about Ava that he identified with incredibly strongly. He knew it would be a struggle for her, and he had no idea if she would make it. But at least he had done what he needed to. At least, now, he had said what he needed to. And either way, he could live with that.
She was sitting on the couch, cell phone in her hands, when he came in. Seeing him, she lay the phone down on the coffee table. "Guess what?" she asked, face set firm. "They found him guilty."
That was definitely good news. "I told you," he said, tossing his binder on the chair. "He'll be locked away. When's the sentencing?"
"Next week." She crossed her arms, looking satisfied. "Carver is going for the death penalty."
He sat next to her. "Good."
"I thought you were opposed to the death penalty?"
"I thought you were."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "So where were you all afternoon? I tried to call you. Eames said you left at two."
"Yeah...I had a meeting I had to go to." Trying to focus on the distraction, he rested his hand on her belly. "How's our girl today?"
"Fine...wondering why her dad is changing the subject, though..."
He ran his fingers under her tee and stroked her belly. He didn't know why he even bothered trying to be ambiguous. She knew him too well, and it's not as if he could lie to her. "I had a meeting with Ava and her therapist."
Vanessa's face perked up. "You did? Why?"
"Just...just some things we needed to discuss, that's all." Suddenly he grinned. If he wasn't mistaken, there were three, four...no, five. Five toes or fingers pressing back at him. "I think I found her foot!"
"Probably. What did you need to discuss with Ava?" Her face quickly went dark. "Was she okay?"
He sighed. "You'd really rather talk about Ava than Marlene? I mean, I'm touching her foot here..." Seeing her skeptical expression, he shrugged. "I just had some things I wanted to share with Ava. It's kind of private...more about my family, really...but if you really want to know, I'll tell you what we talked about."
She was regarding him as though she couldn't quite make up her mind. He was trying to figure out what he would actually say to her if she wanted to know. The truth, he guessed, although how it would come out he wasn't really sure. After a few more minutes, she reached down and moved his hand to the far left on her belly. "Feel that? I think it's an elbow."
He stroked the pointy part. "You know, I'm going to miss it when you're not pregnant anymore. I didn't think I'd feel this way...but I do."
"Yeah, me too." She pressed her hand on top of his. "Although I will be happy to get a full night's sleep...maybe in another five years..."
"I promise it will be before then," he reassured her. "You know I can run on practically nothing."
"I'm counting on it," she said, then winked at him before leaning her head back and closing her eyes.
She shoved the pillow under her head again, readjusting with the hopefulness of a nine-month pregnant woman who'd been up most of the night. It wasn't working. She had drifted off a few times during the night but woken up twice to Marlene's aerobics routine in her belly. The other time, Bobby's soft snores woke her, and she found herself feeling incredibly irritated with him. Maybe the pillow would be best served on his head, she thought grumpily. She had her back to him now, and as if on cue he snuggled up to her...and of course, his Saturday morning wakeup call was nuzzling her thigh.
She huffed loudly. She was exhausted and didn't even want to think about the day. Too much to do and too little time. They were supposed to be visiting Ava today, and that was always exhausting. She felt him curling even closer to her, the way he always did, his slow wake up. One hand wrapped around her belly, stroking it softly. She tried to find comfort in that, something she normally thought of as a very sweet action, but all she wanted to do was smack his hand. When the same hand moved up to her breast, she pushed it away, first gently and then with more force.
"Hey!" he finally said. "That's not the way this is supposed to go!"
"Maybe I don't feel like being groped this morning," she snapped. "I'm glad you had such a nice evening and you're all ready for some action...but you're going to have to take care of it yourself. Put your own hand to good use."
He slowly pulled his hand away from her. "Rough night, huh?" he responded. "I'm sorry...anything I can do to help?"
"Yes...get that thing out of my back."
He rolled away from her. "Jesus, Vanessa...I'm sorry I'm not a mindreader." She felt the bed moving as he stood. "I'll go grab a shower. A cold one." He made his way into the bathroom.
She closed her eyes and tried to get comfortable, but sleep wasn't getting any closer. Finally, she sat up and rubbed her eyes, trying to motivate herself to get out of bed and gather her clothes. They needed to get over to see Ava, and she was hoping they'd do it sooner rather than later.
She felt it then, a sharp pain in her abdomen that lasted little more than a few seconds, but she instinctively knew.
He opened the bathroom door, towel drying his hair. Glancing at her, he said, "I wasn't trying to annoy you. I'm sorry you had a rough night--if you had woken me up, I would have been happy to sit with you."
"That's ridiculous...so two of us can be exhausted?" She shook her head. "I know you weren't trying to annoy me. It's me...I just had a contraction."
The towel slowed and he dropped it in the hamper. "Are you sure?"
"Yes...it only last a few seconds." She stood up. "I'm going to grab a shower before we go to the hospital."
"Is...is that a good idea? Especially with you being so exhausted...maybe we should stay here so you can rest. Ava will surely understand. I'll call her--"
She was shaking her head. "No...I want to go, and if there's any place that's better to be than here for this, it's the hospital."
He couldn't argue with that logic. "Will you be okay in the shower?"
She snickered. "You already sound like a first-time dad. I'm fairly certain I can shower myself...I've been doing it for a really, really long time."
He rolled his eyes. "Fine. Just be careful."
An hour later they were in the car, headed to Brooklyn to see Ava. "How often are they coming?" he asked absently as he drove.
"Okay, focus, Bobby...an accident would be a really bad thing right now...they're about eight minutes apart. You know, this could last a long time."
He knew she was right. He knew it could still be a few days before Marlene made her grand entrance, but he couldn't help his anxiety. Some of it was definitely a result of worry, but most of it was due to his excitement. It was only a matter of time, he thought, until he saw his baby daughter. Until he held her, examined her sweet face, checked each tiny finger and toe. The three of them, together. He would have a family--a full, proper family, he thought, as he turned into the parking lot. He didn't realize he was smiling like a loon until she said, "Okay, you have got to stop that...you look like you're a bit touched in the head."
He parked the car and turned it off. "Aren't you excited?"
She caught his hand. "Yes." Her voice was quiet, unsure. "I'm excited but I'm...I don't know. Scared." She took a breath, then exhaled deeply. At his questioning look, she replied, "Another one."
"Beth." His voice was soft, soothing. "You're going to do great...and I'll be there the whole time."
"I'm sorry about this morning...I shouldn't have been so bitchy..."
He kissed her cheek gently. "It's fine...it obviously would have been a terrible idea anyway..."
"I'm not ready to give it up."
He laughed softly. "Me either...but it's only what? Six or eight weeks?"
"Yeah." The car grew silent, and they sat together until it was really too hot to stay there anymore. Then he opened his door and got out. She followed him, and they entered the hospital.
"Well, it's only a matter of time." Ava's breathing was still labored, but she was sitting up in her bed and picking at a snack of grapes. David and Justin were in her room as well. Justin was on the floor, rolling his trucks back and forth to Bobby.
"I guess so."
David tugged at her sleeve. "You think you're ready?"
Ava made a funny noise in her throat. "She's ready...so is he," she said, nodding toward Bobby.
"Weady for what?" Justin looked up at his mother, then around to each of the adults. "What's gonna happen?"
"Antie's baby is coming...you're going to have a cousin," Ava told him, then held out her arms as he climbed into them. "You'll like having a baby cousin."
"I don't like girls."
"You will," David interrupted. "Trust me."
Justin was staring curiously at Vanessa's abdomen. "How's the baby get out?"
There was a moment of silence before Vanessa said, "The doctors are going to help take her out."
"Oh." Justin climbed back down and started to drive his trucks again.
"So did you bring the pictures of the nursery?" Ava swallowed a grape and Vanessa found herself releasing a breath she didn't know she was holding.
"Yeah...here." She handed Ava an envelope full of pictures. Ava begin to flip through slowly.
"Who did the paint job?"
"Bobby did," Vanessa said, slightly defensively. "Why?"
"Yeah, why?" Bobby teased, before returning the truck to Justin.
Ava smiled and passed the pictures to David. "Because it looks great...if you ever give up detective work, give me a call. I'll put you to work as a painter."
He laughed. "Yeah, I'm quite skilled with a roller."
Vanessa held her belly again. Sharper and longer this time. She closed her eyes and tried to remember to breathe, but with each contraction she was finding it harder to remember to focus on the baby.
Before David or Ava could say anything, Bobby was standing up. "I think we should probably go...Vanessa had a rough night and is pretty tired."
"Okay," Ava nodded. "Thanks for coming...next time you come you'll be a mommy, Nessie!" Even though her voice was weak, it was filled with enthusiasm.
"Good luck, you guys," David said, shaking Bobby's hand and giving Vanessa a gentle side-hug.
Justin had attached himself to one of Bobby's legs, and Bobby reached down and scooped him up. "See you soon, Justin!" he said, and Justin gave him a tight hug. "Have a good baby, Antee," he told Vanessa, and they all laughed.
"I'll try," she said, feeling another sharp pain. Ten minutes later they were in the car, heading back to Manhattan.
"I think we should pick up your bag and head to the hospital...at least so they can check you out...they're coming faster." Bobby was watching the road, but she could hear the worry in his voice.
She was quiet. "They're stronger too," she finally said as another one hit.
He reached over, finding her hand and taking it in his. "We're almost parents...you're almost a mother." His fingers interlaced with hers. "You're going to be a terrific mother. You already love her so much."
She looked out the window, watching the streets, trying to get a handle on her sudden fear.
The doctor finished his initial examination and placed an order for her to be admitted. She could feel her breath growing more shallow, and she wondered how many women in her place were struck by this blinding fear she was experiencing.
For the first time in a long time, she felt as though she and Bobby were on completely different planes. He was comfortable and excited, laughing and joking with the hospital staff, watching the exams and the equipment with fascination, sharing his knowledge of trivia he'd picked up about deliveries with anyone who would listen. She found herself looking away more and more often, feeling more and more isolated. The contractions were sharper and longer now, painful, and reminded her of the pain she had experienced when Forrester attacked her. She closed her eyes, feeling the kicks to her gut again, then instinctively covering her belly with her hand. Her baby daughter deserved better than these memories. That thought only led to more guilt. Her baby wasn't even here yet and she was already a disappointment as a mother.
"Ness." His voice was close, closer than she realized. She opened her eyes to see him gazing at her. "It's okay. The pain is normal, remember? Just breathe through it...yes...that's it, honey..." He talked her through the next one.
"I'm letting you down," she admitted, "I keep thinking about it...it feels...a lot..." But he pressed a finger to her lips and shook his head.
"You're doing great. You're not letting anyone down. Look...she's doing perfectly fine." He pointed to the monitor and they watched it together.
He walked back and forth down the hall with her. The nurses had suggested walking and he had the feeling that, if nothing else, it was relieving some of her anxiety. They were on their sixth lap when she suddenly stopped and looked down.
"Shit." She had muttered it softly, seeing the water on the floor. He wrapped an arm around her.
"I'm sure it's not the first time this has happened," he teased her, then kissed her head. "It's almost time."
They had given her an epidural and she was more relaxed now, the pain more manageable. Dr. Ramirez made it in and did a quick check. "You're ready," she announced. "We're about ready to start pushing. What do you think?"
She nodded, then looked up at Bobby. "I hope you're ready because she's coming no matter what." She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "So when do I get to push?"
"You're doing great, Beth." His voice was low and calm, his fingers interlaced with hers. He had picked up a washcloth and wiped the sweat from her forehead.
"He's right...you are..." Glenda, the nurse, checked the monitor again. "She's going to be here very soon...Dr. Ramirez is on her way."
The lights above her were incredibly bright. She had never noticed how bright fluorescent lighting was before now.
The contractions moved in rhythm and she was relieved to be able to push with all her strength. Bobby had his arm wrapped around her head, one of each of her hands in his, encouraging her to breathe while Glenda guided her through each new wave of pain. Dr. Ramirez coaxed her on with "good", "keep going", then announced the baby was crowning. "We're almost there, Vanessa...you're doing great...we're almost there."
She felt her husband's lips brush her forehead as he squeezed her hands again.
Bobby was laughing. Laughing and crying as she took great heaping gulps of air that matched those of the tiny baby Dr. Ramirez was holding. She was dizzy and overwhelmed, looking at the tiny figure that had just emerged from her. "I want to see her," she heard herself say. "Is she okay?"
"Perfect. Just perfect," the doctor said as she lay the baby on Vanessa's belly. Bobby was still squeezing her hands, kissing her sweaty hair over and over. She leaned forward slightly, the realization dawning that this was her daughter. Her beloved, much wanted Marlene. And one of her hands pulled away from his, reaching down to touch the crying baby's wet hair.
Then she gasped, out of amazement and gratitude, and felt the tears hit her cheeks. And Goren kissed them away.