Dr. Vargas came bustling into the delivery room, and Madeleine Small caught her breath and glared at him.
“And how are we doing?” he asked, a little too cheerfully.
“I don’t know how you’re doing,” she snapped, “but I’m ready to tear off Ben’s testicles and shove them down his throat if he ever comes near me again!”
“Oh… ah… Ha ha,” Dr. Vargas laughed weakly. He didn’t seem to know if she was making a joke or being serious.
“I’m not joking!”
“I know, sweetheart.” Ben Small, the tall, dark-haired man who stood beside her, took her hand and stroked it. “And I promise, I’ll never touch you again.”
She turned her glare on him, about to snarl that he’d better not be making fun of her, when another contraction hit her.
“All right, Mrs. Small, you can push now.”
She didn’t waste her breath saying it was about damn time. She began to push.
“I see the head! What a crop of curls! No wonder why you had such morning sickness.” Vargas’ voice suddenly became sharp. “Stop pushing! The cord’s wrapped around his throat!”
They’d had an ultrasound and knew this baby was a boy. They even had a name all picked out: Tyrell, after a character in one of Ben’s favorite books. She figured she could let him have this, since she’d named their other four children, good names from the Bible.
“Okay, I’ve got it! Now, give me another push.”
And just like that the intolerable pressure eased off as the baby slipped out of her and began wailing his head off.
“Here’s your son, Mrs. Small. He’s a little small for a full term baby. In fact, I expected him to weigh more, considering your gestational diabetes, but he’s a 10 on the Apgar scale.”
She angled up on her elbow, squinting to see him more clearly, but he was covered in vernix. And she was so tired it felt as if her eyes were crossing. This had been her longest labor, in spite of the fact that it was her fifth, and subsequent deliveries were supposed to go faster and easier.
This entire pregnancy had been difficult, from the morning sickness that wasn’t restricted just to mornings and lasted until almost eight months, to gestational diabetes, to the threat of pre-eclampsia. But it was worth it, having this latest edition to their family.
The baby boy had stopped crying and seemed to be watching her with his father’s beautiful blue eyes.
“Happy birthday, little boy,” she murmured around a huge yawn.
“You need to rest, Mrs. Small. You can see him after the nurse has taken him to be cleaned up.”
She didn’t hear anything more as she slipped into an exhausted doze.
How much time had passed? Madeleine dug her elbows into the mattress in an effort to raise herself in the bed. She was still tired.
“Here, Mom. Let me help you.” Matthew, their oldest, elevated the head of the bed with the control, then carefully helped her to a sitting position. He was only eleven, but he was more mature than most of the boys he went to school with, and she was so proud of him.
“Thanks, sweetie. The nurse should be bringing in your new baby brother soon.”
“We saw him in the nursery, but I can’t wait to see him up close. We men finally outnumber the girls in this family.” He gave her a saucy grin, and her heart turned over. Of course she loved all her children equally. She just loved Matthew a bit more.
“Are you upset you couldn’t go trick or treating?” Truthfully she was glad they had missed it. Pagan holiday!
“No. We had the party at school, and Dad let me go around for a little while with Andy. Mark went with his friend Tommy. Dad took Sarah and Bethany.”
She really shouldn’t complain. Ben was a heathen, as she’d discovered soon after their marriage, but he didn’t interfere with their children’s religious upbringing, and so she overlooked it, prayed for him, and hoped he’d see the light.
“Where are your brother and sisters?”
“They’re with Dad, down in the gift shop. The flowers are supposed to be from all of us, but this is from me.” He handed her a small, floppy little bear. “This is Brownie, and he’s just from me.”
“He’s lovely, Matthew. Thank you.” Just then her other children burst into the room, followed by their father, holding what looked like a virtual garden. Madeleine looked at the flowers and smiled at Ben.
“How are you feeling?” He crossed to the bed and leaned down to kiss her.
“Fine.” She knew by his expression that he didn’t believe her. “Better.” He still wasn’t buying it, and she capitulated, admitting in spite of herself that it was nice not to have to be strong all the time. “A little sore. Tired.”
“All right, kids.” He put the flowers on the bedside table. “Mom’s tired. Give her a kiss goodnight and go wait by the nurses’ station. I’ll be along in a few minutes. And behave! If I hear even a hint that the nurses had to send for security, I’m gonna sell you all to the gypsies!”
“And they’ll feed us squirrels. Sure, Dad.” They laughed at him. He’d been promising forever to sell them to the gypsies if they misbehaved.
Madeleine frowned. She didn’t like when he said things like that where other people might hear. They’d think she and Ben were bad parents, and they weren’t. Her children did as they were told – she was always pleased when people told her how well-behaved they were – and they excelled in school and sports and all the after-school activities they were involved in.
Matthew lingered at the door. “I’m glad you’re okay, Mom. G’night.”
“Goodnight, Matthew.” She waited until he was gone before turning to Ben. “So they’ve seen the baby. What do they think of him?” Tyrell hadn’t been planned. They were happy with their two boys and two girls and had been certain their family was complete. In fact, they’d given all the baby clothes and furniture to Goodwill. She’d felt so awful through much of this pregnancy that the task of getting new things for the baby had fallen to Ben. Maybe that was why this whole thing seemed so surreal.
“They weren’t too impressed. He was howling his head off.” Ben’s blue eyes crinkled with amusement, and her heart gave a little flip.
She loved him so much that sometimes it scared her. She’d married him against her parents’ wishes, but Ben had promised everything would be fine, and it was. He was such a wonderful husband. And he was so good with the children.
“Was he all right? I don’t remember any of the others doing that.”
“Dr. Margoles said everything is fine.”
She sighed in relief. Dr. Margoles had been the children’s pediatrician since Matthew’s birth.
“Ty’s weight is a little low, and Dr. M. wants to keep him here until he hits six pounds. The minute he does, we can take him home.”
“Will the insurance cover it?” Although she wasn’t really worried. Ben was a good provider, and his union offered excellent benefits.
A nurse walked in just then, wheeling a bassinet. “Here’s the newest member of your family!”
Ben picked up the tiny bundle with competent hands. He wasn’t like some fathers who were only comfortable with their children once they reached the age of reason. He’d pitch in and help her, walking the floor at night if necessary.
And she could see from the besotted expression on his face that he was already hopelessly in love with their newest son.
Madeleine held out her arms. “Let me have him!”
Tyrell was swaddled from his neck to his feet, and a blue and white cap covered his head. A few black wisps of hair stuck out.
With the baby cradled in her arms, she lowered the front opening of her nightgown and put him to her breast.
“Ouch! He’s a greedy one!” She began to sing softly to him, and he opened his eyes, staring at her with seeming wonder. She ran a finger over his cheek – it was so soft – and smiled up at her husband. “He has your coloring, Ben, your eyes as well as your hair.”
“Do you think? All babies have blue eyes, don’t they? All the others did, but now they all have gray eyes, just like their mom.”
“No, I know this little boy will be the spitting image of his dad.” She burped him and put him to her other breast. “Ben, the children are going to get restless. You’d better take them home.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay? The nurse won’t be back for a while. I can wait and put him back in his bassinet.”
“No, I think he’ll be eating for a while longer.” Besides, she wanted to have some time alone with this new baby. She would have been told if anything was wrong, but she wanted to reassure herself, just as she had with each of the others.
When he’d first asked her to marry him, Ben had assured her that things would work out for them, but a peek wouldn’t hurt. And he didn’t need to know she was worried.
She raised her face for his kiss and relaxed against him for a moment, then smiled at him. “Make sure the children brush their teeth and say their prayers.”
“I will, Maddie. We’ll be back as soon as visiting hours start tomorrow.”
“That’s right, there’s no school tomorrow.” It was All Saints Day.
“Goodnight, sweetheart.” Ben leaned down for a final kiss.
He walked out of the room, pausing, as his oldest son had, to gaze back at his wife. God, he loved her.
He’d made her a promise, not knowing if he could keep it. There was something that ran in his family line, and when Maddie’s parents had learned of it, they’d forbidden her to marry him. But he’d made that promise to her, and she’d agreed to go ahead and marry him.
He couldn’t believe how lucky he was to have her, to have their family, to have this wonderful life.
Thank God the kids were all fine. He knew with each birth the odds of that promise being broken grew, but they’d been fortunate and had escaped.
Tyrell hadn’t been planned, and the pregnancy had been a hard one, but already the little boy had Ben wrapped around his tiny, perfect fingers. Taking him out of the bassinet, holding him and breathing in the warm scent of a newborn – that was all it had taken.
This was the end, though. He couldn’t stand the possibility of another pregnancy. As soon as he could, he was making an appointment with a urologist and having a vasectomy. He wasn’t going to tell Maddie. Not that she would mind; they had the family they’d wanted, but there was no need to trouble her with the fine line they’d walked these last thirteen years.
He walked down the hall to the nurses’ station. Matt was keeping an eye on Sarah and Beth, his sisters, as they hopped from one floor tile to another, playing their own game of hopscotch. The boy was too responsible. Ben knew that made Maddie proud, but it worried him. An eleven year old shouldn’t be that mature. He should laugh and hang out with his friends and have fun, not worry about what other people thought of his antics.
Oh, well, there was still time for him to do all those things.
Mark, his second born, was hanging over the counter. “Do you really keep dead bodies in a fridge in the basement?” he was asking the ward clerk. Mark was going through a stage where anything related to death fascinated him.
“Yep,” the clerk answered laconically.
“But aren’t you afraid they might come out and try to get you?”
“Because they’re dead.”
“But suppose they really aren’t?”
“They really are. We make them sign a paper before we take them down to the basement.”
Mark’s eyes widened. “Whoa! That’s so wicked! But… ”
Ben hid a smile. “All right, Mark, that’s enough. We’re going- ”
Screams cut off the rest of his words, and blood drained from his face as he realized they were coming from the direction of Maddie’s room.
He ran down the corridor. Please don’t let it be Maddie! She was alone in that room, even though it was a semi-private.
Ben burst in, and was horrified to see Maddie throwing their baby away from her.
“Maddie, NO!” He caught the baby just as he was about to drop to the floor.
“Get that monster away from me!”
His heart sank. Monster. Abomination. Thing. Those were the words that had been screamed over and over again.
“Don’t you call me that! You lied to me! You swore none of our children would have that curse!”
“It’s not a curse, Madeleine… ” The baby’s blanket was undone and his tiny undershirt had been removed. The birthmark on the side of his throat was clearly visible.
“It is in my family, and you knew it! It’s got the birthmark! Did you think I wouldn’t recognize it? That you could get away with deceiving me like that? You promised me- ” A nurse came running in, followed by an aide and a physician assistant. “My parents were right, you couldn’t be trusted! Get out of my sight and take your monster with you!”
“Mrs. Small, what’s wrong?”
“Don’t ever call me by that name again!”
“Excuse me?” The P.A. exchanged glances with the nurse and hurried out of the room.
“Maddie, calm down! The children… ”
“They’re my children. By the grace of God they’ve been spared the horror of this… this… I want you to get away from me and never to see them again!”
He didn’t remind her they were his children too. She was too distraught.
“What about the baby?”
“I don’t care what you do with that thing. Throw it in a dumpster. Leave it in a landfill. Sell it to the gypsies!” she spat.
“Madeleine, he’s your baby!” Ben could see she wasn’t thinking rationally. He had known the almost rabid fear his wife’s family held of what his own bloodline contained, but for her to deny her own flesh and blood like this, for her to be willing to condemn their tiny son to death…
“Oh, my God!” She tore at her hair. “I nursed it at my breast! It had its mouth on me!” She began scraping her breasts with her nails.
Ben stood there feeling helpless.
“Mr. Small, your wife is clearly upset. I’m going to give her a sedative. Diazepam.” The P.A. had returned with a vial and a syringe. “I’ve put in a call to Dr. Vargas as well. I think it might be best if you leave. She had a very long labor, and I… I’m sure she’ll be better by morning.”
Ben nodded dumbly, and watched as the P. A. administered the sedative via Maddie’s IV line. Within seconds her words became slurred, until finally they stopped altogether.
“Mr. Small.” The nurse touched his shoulder. “Let me take the baby.”
He handed Ty to her. She redressed the baby with smooth, competent movements, then hurried away to the nursery. Ty hadn’t uttered a single cry, although his eyes had been opened wide and his little body trembled.
Shaking himself, he walked back to the nurses’ station.
“Daddy?” Matt stared up at him, his eyes huge. On each side was a sister, clinging tight to him. Sarah was crying silently, and Bethany, her head on her older sister’s shoulder, had her thumb stuck in her mouth, something she had outgrown when she was two.
Mark launched himself at his father and held on.
“Mom isn’t feeling well. Sometimes a woman can react that way. She’ll be better tomorrow.”
“You promise, Daddy?”
“I… ” The word caught in his throat, but he forced it out. “I promise.” Oh, Maddie, don’t make me have lied to our children! “Let’s go home, okay?”
Matthew crept down the hall and stood in the doorway of his mother’s hospital room, unnoticed by the adults. Why was Mom so upset?
Was something wrong with their new baby brother?
The nurse’s aide spotted him. “You’d better wait outside, son.”
Matthew stared up at him and nodded jerkily.
He had heard enough to know whatever had happened, she blamed Dad. What had Dad done?
He joined Mark and their sisters by the nurses’ station.
“What’s going on, Matt?”
“I… I don’t know. I think- ” He didn’t know what to think. Moms and dads were supposed to be in control; that’s why they were the parents.
“Beth had an accident,” Sarah whispered, and glanced toward the wet spot on the floor. A big black man was mopping it up.
“I’m sorry!” Beth said in an agonized little voice. She looked like she was going to cry. “I got so scared.”
“It’s all right, Bethie,” Matthew assured her. “Hospitals can be scary places. Oh, look! Here comes Dad!”
Matthew understood why Bethany had wet herself. He was afraid he was going to too. Dad was pale and his hands were visibly shaking; he looked like an old man
In spite of his position as the eldest, Matthew found himself reverting to the childhood name: “Daddy?”
“Mom isn’t feeling well. Sometimes a woman can react that way. She’ll be better tomorrow.”
“You promise, Daddy?”
“I… ” For a second, Dad looked like he was ready to cry. He gathered Sarah and Bethany into his arms, reached for Mark and himself. “I promise.”