Blue dahlia, p.19

Blue Dahlia, page 19

 part  #1 of  In the Garden Series


Blue Dahlia

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Chapter Eighteen


  Though he felt like he was taking his life in his hands, Harper followed instructions and tracked Hayley down at the checkout counter. She was perched on a stool, a garden of container pots and flats around her, ringing out the last customers. Her shirt - smock? tunic? he didn't know what the hell you called maternity-type clothes - was a bright, bold red.

  Funny, it was the color that brought her to mind for him. Vivid, sexy red. Those spiky bangs made her eyes seem enormous, and there were big silver hoops in her ears that peeked and swung through her hair when she moved.

  With the high counter blocking the target area, you could hardly tell she was pregnant. Except her eyes looked tired, he thought. And her face was a little puffy - maybe weight gain, maybe lack of sleep. Either way, he didn't figure it was the sort of thing he should mention. The fact was, everything and anything that came out of his mouth these days, at least when he was around her, was the wrong thing.

  He didn't expect their next encounter to go well either.

  But he'd promised to throw himself on the sword for the cause.

  He waited until she'd finished with the customers and, girding his loins, he approached the counter.

  "Hey. "

  She looked at him, and he couldn't say her expression was particularly welcoming. "Hey. What're you doing out of your cave?"

  "Finished up for the day. Actually my mother just called. She asked if I'd drive you on home when I finished. "

  "Well, I'm not finished," she said testily. "There are at least two more customers wandering around, and Saturday's my night to close out. "

  It wasn't the tone she'd used to chat up the customers, he noted. He was beginning to think it was the tone she reserved just for him. "Yeah, but she said she needed you at home for something as soon as you could, and to have Bill and Larry finish up and close out. "

  "What does she want? Why didn't she call me?"

  "I don't know. I'm just the messenger. " And he knew what often happened to the messenger. "I told Larry, and he's helping the last couple of stragglers. So he's on it. "

  She started to lever herself off the stool, and though his hands itched to help her, he imagined she'd chomp them off at the wrists. "I can walk. "

  "Come on. Jesus. " He jammed his hands in his pockets and gave her scowl for scowl. "Why do you want to put me on the spot like that? If I let you walk, my mama's going to come down on me like five tons of bricks. And after she's done flattening me, she'll ream you. Let's just go. "

  "Fine. " The truth was, she didn't know why she was feeling so mean and spiteful, and tired and achy. She was terrified something was wrong with her or with the baby, despite all the doctor's assurances to the contrary.

  The baby would be born sick or deformed, because she'd. . . She didn't know what, but it would be her fault.

  She snatched her purse and did her best to sail by Harper and out the door.

  "I've got another half hour on the clock," she complained and wrenched open the door of his car.

  "I don't know what she could want that couldn't wait a half hour. "

  "I don't know either. "

  "She hasn't seen that genealogy guy yet. "

  He got in, started the car. "Nope. She'll get to it when she gets to it. "

  "You don't seem all that interested, anyway. How come you don't come around when we have our meetings about the Harper Bride?"

  "I guess I will, when I can think of something to say about it. "

  She smelled vivid, too, especially closed up in the car with him like this. Vivid and sexy, and it made him edgy. The best that could be said about the situation was the drive was short.

  Amazed he wasn't sweating bullets, he swung in and zipped in front of the house.

  "You drive a snooty little car like this that fast, you're just begging for a ticket. "

  "It's not a snooty little car. It's a well-built and reliable sports car. And I wasn't driving that fast. What the hell is it about me that makes you crawl up my ass?"

  "I wasn't crawling up your ass; I was making an observation. At least you didn't go for red. " She opened the door, managed to get her legs out. "Most guys go for the red, the flashy. The black's probably why you don't have speeding tickets spilling out of your glove compartment. "

  "I haven't had a speeding ticket in two years. "

  She snorted.

  "Okay, eighteen months, but - "

  "Would you stop arguing for five damn seconds and come over here and help me out of this damn car? I can't get up. "

  Like a runner off the starting line, he sprinted around the car. He wasn't sure how to manage it, especially when she was sitting there, red in the face and flashing in the eyes. He started to take her hands and tug, but he thought he might. . . jar something.

  So he leaned down, hooked his hands under her armpits, and lifted.

  Her belly bumped him, and now sweat did slide down his back.

  He felt what was in there move - a couple of hard bumps.

  It was . . . extraordinary.

  Then she was brushing him aside. 'Thanks. "

  Mortifying, she thought. She just hadn't been able to shift her center of gravity, or dig down enough to get out of a stupid car. Of course, if he hadn't insisted she get in that boy toy in the first place, she wouldn't have been mortified.

  She wanted to eat a pint of vanilla fudge ice cream and sit in a cool bath. For the rest of her natural life.

  She shoved open the front door, stomped inside.

  The shouts of Surprise! had her heart jumping into her throat, and she nearly lost control of her increasingly tricky bladder.

  In the parlor pink and blue crepe paper curled in artful swags from the ceiling, and fat white balloons danced in the corners. Boxes wrapped in pretty paper and streaming with bows formed a colorful mountain on a high table. The room was full of women. Stella and Roz, all the girls who worked at the nursery, even some of the regular customers.

  "Don't look stricken, girl. " Roz strolled over to wrap an arm around Hayley's shoulders. "You don't think we'd let you have that baby without throwing you a shower, do you?"

  "A baby shower. " She could feel the smile blooming on her face, even as tears welled up in her eyes.

  "You confe on and sit down. You're allowed one glass of David's magical champagne punch before you go to the straight stuff. "

  "This is . . . " She saw the chair set in the center of the room, festooned with voile and balloons, like a party throne. "I don't know what to say. "

  "Then I'm sitting beside you. I'm Jolene, darling, Stella's stepmama. " She patted Hayley's hand, then her belly. "And I never run out of things to say. "

  "Here you go. " Stella stepped over with a glass of punch.

  "Thanks. Thank you so much. This is the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me. In my whole life. "

  "You have a good little cry. " Jolene handed her a lace-edged hankie. "Then we're going to have us a hell of a time. "

  They did. Ooohing and awwing over impossibly tiny clothes, soft-as-cloud blankets, hand-knit booties, cooing over rattles and toys and stuffed animals. There were foolish games that only women at a baby shower could enjoy, and plenty of punch and cake to sweeten the evening.

  The knot that had been at the center of Hayley's heart for days loosened.

  "This was the best time I ever had. " Hayley sat, giddy and exhausted, and stared at the piles of gifts Stella had neatly arranged on the table again. "I know it was all about me. I liked that part, but evervone had fun, don't you think?"

  "Are you kidding?" From her seat on the floor, Stella continued to meticulously fold discarded wrapping paper into neat, flat squares. "This party rocked. "

  "Are you going to save all that paper?" Roz asked her.

  "She'll want it one day, and I'm just saving what she didn't rip to shreds. "

  "I couldn't help it. I was so juiced up.
I've got to get thank-you cards, and try to remember who gave what. "

  "I made a list while you were tearing in. "

  "Of course she did. " Roz helped herself to one more glass of punch, then sat and stretched out her legs. "God. I'm whipped. "

  "Y'all worked so hard. It was all so awesome. " Feeling herself tearing up again, Hayley waved both hands. "Everyone was - I guess I forgot people could be so good, so generous. Man, look at all those wonderful things. Oh, that little yellow gown with the teddy bears on it! The matching hat. And the baby swing. Stella, I just can't thank you enough for the swing. "

  "I'd have been lost without mine. "

  "It was so sweet of you, both of you, to do this for me. I just had no idea. I couldn't've been more surprised, or more grateful. "

  "You can guess who planned it out," Roz said with a nod at Stella. "David started calling her General Rothchild. "

  "I have to thank him for all the wonderful food. I can't believe I ate two pieces of cake. I feel like I'm ready to explode. "

  "Don't explode yet, because we're not quite done. We need to go up, so you can have my gift. "

  "But the party was - "

  "A joint effort," Roz finished. "But there's a gift I hope you'll like upstairs. "

  "I snapped at Harper," Hayley began as they helped her up and started upstairs.

  "He's been snapped at before. "

  "But I wish I hadn't. He was helping you surprise me, and I gave him a terrible time. He said I was always crawling up his ass, and that's just what I was doing. "

  "You'll tell him you're sorry. " Roz turned them toward the west wing, moved passed Stella's room, and Hayley's. "Here you are, honey. "

  She opened the door and led Hayley inside.

  "Oh, God. Oh, my God. " Hayley pressed both hands to her mouth as she stared at the room.

  It was painted a soft, quiet yellow, with lace curtains at the windows.

  She knew the crib was antique. Nothing was that beautiful, that rich unless it was old and treasured. The wood gleamed, deep with red highlights. She recognized the layette as one she'd dreamed over in a magazine and had known she could never afford.

  "The furniture's a loan while you're here. I used it for my children, as my mama did for hers, and hers before her, back more than eighty-five years now. But the linens are yours, and the changing table. Stella added the rug and the lamp. And David and Harper, bless their hearts, painted the room, and hauled the furniture down from the attic. "

  As emotions swamped her, Hayley could only shake her head.

  "Once we bring your gifts up here, you'll have yourself a lovely nursery. " Stella rubbed Hayley's back.

  "It's so beautiful. More than I ever dreamed of. I - I've been missing my father so much. The closer the baby gets, the more I've been missing him. It's this ache inside. And I've been feeling sad and scared, and mostly just sorry for myself. "

  She used her hands to rub the tears from her cheeks. "Now today, all this, it just makes me feel. . . It's not the things. I love them, I love everything. But it's that you'd do this, both of you would do this for us. "

  "You're not alone, Hayley. " Roz laid a hand on Hayley's belly. "Neither one of you. "

  "I know that. I think, well, I think, we'd have been okay on our own. I'd've worked hard to make sure of it. But I never expected to have real family again. I never expected to have people care about me and the baby like this. I've been stupid. "

  "No," Stella told her. "Just pregnant. "

  With a half laugh, Hayley blinked back the rest of the tears. "I guess that accounts for a lot of it. I won't be able to use that excuse too much longer. And I'll never, I'll just never be able to thank you, or tell you, or repay you. Never. "

  "Oh, I think naming the baby after us will clear the decks," Roz said casually. "Especially if it's a boy. Rosalind Stella might be a little hard for him to handle in school, but it's only right. "

  "Hey, I was thinking Stella Rosalind. "

  Roz arched a brow at Stella. 'This is one of those rare cases when it pays to be the oldest. "

  * * *

  That night, Hayley tiptoed into the nursery. Just to touch, to smell, to sit in the rocking chair with her hands stroking her belly.

  "I'm sorry I've been so nasty lately. I'm better now. We're going to be all right now. You've got two fairy godmothers, baby. The best women I've ever known. I may not be able to pay them back for all they've done for us, not in some ways. But I swear, there's nothing either of them could ask that I wouldn't do. I feel safe here. It was stupid of me to forget that. We're a team, you and me. I shouldn't've been afraid of you. Or for you. "

  She closed her eyes and rocked. "I want to hold you in my arms so much they hurt. I want to dress you in one of those cute little outfits and hold you, and smell you, and rock you in this chair. Oh, God, I hope I know what I'm doing. "

  The air turned cold, raising gooseflesh on her arms. But it wasn't fear that had her opening her eyes; it was pity. She stared at the woman who stood beside the crib.

  Her hair was down tonight, golden blond and wildly tangled. She wore a white nightgown, muddy at the hem. And there was a look of - Hayley would have said madness - in her eyes.

  "You didn't have anyone to help you, did you?" Her hands trembled a bit, but she kept stroking her belly, kept her eyes on the figure, kept talking.

  "Maybe you didn't have anyone to be there with you when you were afraid like I've been. I guess I might've gone crazy, too, all on my own. And I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to my baby. Or how I'd stand it, if something happened to take me away from him - her. Even if I were dead I couldn't stand it. So I guess I understand, a little. "

  At her words, Hayley heard a keening sound, a sound that made her think of a soul, or a mind, shattering.

  Then she was alone.

  * * *

  On Monday, Hayley sat perched on her stool once more. When her back ached, she ignored it. When she had to call for a relief clerk so she could waddle to the bathroom, again, she made a joke out of it.

  Her bladder felt squeezed down to the size of a pea.

  On the way back, she detoured outside, not only to stretch her legs and back but to see Stella.

  "Is it okay if I take my break now? I want to hunt down Harper and apologize. " She'd spent all morning dreading the moment, but she couldn't put it off any longer. "He wasn't anywhere to be found on Sunday, but he's probably back in his cave now. "

  "Go ahead. Oh, I just ran into Roz. She called that professor. Dr. Carnegie? She has an appointment to see him later this week. Maybe we'll make some progress in that area. "

  Then she narrowed her eyes on Hayley's face. "I tell you what, one of us is going with you to your doctor's appointment tomorrow. I don't want you driving anymore. "

  "I still fit behind the wheel. " Barely.

  "That may be, but either Roz or I will take you. And I'm thinking it's time you go part-time. "

  "You might as well put me in the loony bin as take work away from me now. Come on, Stella, a lot of women work right up to the end. Besides, I'm sitting on my butt most all day. Best thing about finding Harper is walking. "

  "Walk," Stella agreed. "Don't lift. Anything. "

  "Nag, nag, nag. " But she said it with a laugh as she started toward the grafting house.

  Outside the greenhouse she paused. She'd practiced what she wanted to say. She thought it best to think it all through. He'd accept her apology. His mama had raised him right, and from what she'd seen he had a good heart. But she wanted, very much, for him to understand she'd just been in some sort of mood.

  She opened the door. She loved the smell in here. Experimentation, possibilities. One day, she hoped either Harper or Roz would teach her something about this end of the growing.

  She could see him down at the end, huddled over his work. He had his headphones on and was tapping one foot to whatever beat played in hi
s ears.

  God, he was so cute. If she'd met him in the bookstore, before her life had changed, she'd have hit on him, or worked it around so he'd hit on her. All that dark, messed-up hair, the clean line of jaw, the dreamy eyes. And those artistic hands.

  She'd bet he had half a dozen girls dangling on a string, and another half dozen waiting in line for a chance.

  She started down toward him and was surprised enough to pull up short when his head snapped up, and he swung around to her.

  "Christ on a crutch, Harper! I thought I was going to startle you. "

  "What? What?" His eyes were dazzled as he dragged off his headset. "What?"

  "I didn't think you could hear me. "

  "I - " He hadn't. He'd smelled her. "Do you need something?"

  "I guess I do. I need to say I'm sorry for jumping down your throat every time you opened your mouth the last couple of weeks. I've been an awful bitch. "

  "No. Well, yeah. It's okay. "

  She laughed and edged closer to try to see what he was doing. It justlooked like he had a bunch of stems tied together. "I guess I had the jumps. What am I going to do, how am I going to do it? Why do I have to feel so fat and ugly all the time?"

  "You're not fat. You could never be ugly. "

  'That's awful nice of you. But being pregnant doesn't affect my eyesight, and I know what I see in the mirror every damn day. "

  "Then you know you're beautiful. "

  Her eyes sparkled when she smiled. "I must've been a pitiful case if you're obliged to flirt with a pregnant woman who's got a bad disposition. "

  "I'm not - I wouldn't. " He wanted to, at the very least. "Anyway, I guess you're feeling better. "

  "So much better. Mostly I was feeling sorry for myself, and I just hate that poor-me crap. Imagine your mama and Stella throwing me a baby shower. I cried all over myself. Got Stella going, too. But then we had the best time. Who knew a baby shower could rock?" She pressed both hands to her belly and laughed. "You ever met Stella's step-mama?"

  "No. "

  "She's just a hoot and a half. I laughed till I thought I'd shoot the baby right out then and there. And Mrs. Haggerty - "

  "Mrs. Haggerty? Our Mrs. Haggerty was there?"

  "Not only, but she won the song title game. You have to write down the most song titles with 'baby' in it. You'll never guess one she wrote down. "

  "Okay. I give. "

  "'Baby Got Back. '"

  Now he grinned. "Get out. Mrs. Haggerty wrote down a rap song?"

  "Then rapped it. "

  "Now you're lying. "

  "She did. Or at least a couple lines. I nearly peed my pants. But I'm forgetting why I'm here. There you were, just trying to help with the best surprise I ever had, and I was bitching and whining. Crawling up your ass, just like you said. I'm really sorry. "

  "It's no big. I have a friend whose wife had a baby a few months ago. I swear you could see fangs growing out of her mouth toward the end. And I think her eyes turned red a couple times. "

  She laughed again, pressed a hand to her side. "I hope I don't get that bad before . . . "

  She broke off, a puzzled expression covering her face as she felt a little snap inside. Heard it, she realized. Like a soft, echoing ping.

  Then water pooled down between her legs.

  Harper made a sound of his own, like that of a man whose words were strangled off somewhere in his throat. He sprang to his feet, babbling as Hayley stared down at the floor.

  "Uh-oh," she said.

  "Urn, that's okay, that's all right. Maybe I should. . . maybe you should . . . "

  "Oh, for heaven's sake, Harper, I didn't just pee on the floor. My water broke. "

  "What water?" He blinked, then went pale as a corpse. "That water. Oh, God. Oh, Jesus. Oh, shit. Sit. Sit, or. . . I'll get - "

  An ambulance, the marines.

  "My mother. "

  "I think I'd better go with you. We're a little early. " She forced a smile so she wouldn't scream. "Just a couple of weeks. I guess the baby's impatient to get out and see what all the fuss is about. Give me a hand, okay? Oh, Jesus, Harper, I'm scared to death. "

  "It's fine. " His arm came around her. "Just lean on me. You hurting anywhere?"

  "No. Not yet. "

  Inside he was still pale, and half sick. But his arm stayed steady around her, and when he turned his head, his smile was easy. "Hey. " Very gently, he touched her belly. "Happy birthday, baby. "

  "Oh, my God. " Her face simply illuminated as they stepped outside. "This is awesome. "

  * * *

  She couldn't actually have the baby, but Stella figured she could do nearly everything else - or delegate it done. Hayley hadn't put a hospital bag together, but Stella had a list. A call to David got that ball rolling even as she drove Hayley to the hospital. She called the doctor to let him know the status of Hayley's labor, left a voice mail on her father's cell phone, and a message on his home answering machine to arrange for her own children, and coached Hayley through her breathing as the first contractions began.

  "If I ever get married, or buy a house, or start a war, I hope you'll be in charge of the details. "

  Stella glanced over as Hayley rubbed her belly. "I'm your girl. Doing okay?"

  "Yeah. I'm nervous and excited and . . . Oh, wow, I'm having a baby!"

  "You're going to have a fabulous baby. "

  "The books say things can get pretty tricky during transition, so if I yell at you or call you names - "

  "Been there. I won't take it personally. "

  By the time Roz arrived, Hayley was ensconced in a birthing room. The television was on - an old Friends episode. Beneath it on the counter was an arrangement of white roses. Stella's doing, she had no doubt.

  "How's Mama doing?"

  "They said I'm moving fast. " Flushed and bright-eyed, Hayley reached out a hand for Roz's. "And everything's just fine. The contractions are coming closer together, but they don't hurt all that much. "

  "She doesn't want the epidural," Stella told her.

  "Ah. " Roz gave Hayley's hand a pat. "That'll be up to you. You can change your mind if it gets to be too much. "

  "Maybe it's silly, and maybe I'll be sorry, but I want to feel it. Wow! I feel that. "

  Stella moved in, helped her breathe through it. Hayley sighed out the last breath, closed her eyes just as David strode in.

  "This here the party room?" He set down an overnight case, a tote bag, and a vase of yellow daisies before he leaned over the bed to kiss Hayley's cheek. "You're not going to kick me out 'cause I'm a man, are you?"

  "You want to stay?" Delighted color bloomed on Hayley's cheeks. "Really?"

  "Are you kidding?" From his pocket he pulled a little digital camera. "I nominate myself official photographer. "

  "Oh. " Biting her lip, Hayley rubbed a hand over her belly. "I don't know as pictures are such a good idea. "

  "Don't you worry, sugar, I won't take anything that's not G-rated. Give me a big smile. "

  He took a couple of shots, directed Roz and Stella to stand beside the bed and took a couple more.

  "By the way, Stella, Logan's taking the boys back to his place after school. "


  "Your parents are at some golf tournament. They were going to come back, but I told them not to worry, I'd take care of the kids. Then apparently Logan came by the nursery, ran into Harper - he's coming by shortly. "

  "Logan?" Hayley asked. "He's coming here?"

  "No, Harper. Logan's taking kid duty. He said he'd take them over to his place, put them to work, and not to worry. We're supposed to keep him updated on baby progress. "

  "I don't know if - " But Stella broke off as another contraction started.

  Her job as labor coach kept her busy, but part of her mind niggled on the idea of Logan riding herd on her boys. What did he mean, 'put them to work'? How would he know what to do if they got into
a fight - which, of course, they would at some point. How could he watch them properly if he toolt them to a job site? They could fall into a ditch, or out of a tree, or cut off an appendage, for God's sake, with some sharp tool.

  When the doctor came in to check Hayley's progress, she dashed out to call Logan's cell phone.

  "Kitridge. "

  "It's Stella. My boys - "

  "Yeah, they're fine. Got them right here. Hey, Gavin, don't chase your brother with that chain saw. " At Stella's horrified squeak, Logan's laughter rolled over the phone. "Just kidding. I've got them digging a hole, and they're happy as pigs in mud and twice as dirty. We got a baby yet?"

  "No, they're checking her now. Last check she was at eight centimeters dilated and seventy percent effaced. "

  "I have no idea what that means, but I'll assume it's a good thing. "

  "It's very good. She's breezing through it. You'd think she had a baby once a week. Are you sure the kids are all right?"

  "Listen. "

  She assumed he'd held out the phone as she heard giggles and her boys' voices raised in excited argument over just what they could bury in the hole. An elephant. A brontosaurus. Fat Mr. Kelso from the grocery store.

  "They shouldn't call Mr. Kelso fat. "

  "We have no time for women here. Call me when we've got a baby. "

  He hung up, leaving her scowling at the phone. Then she turned and nearly rammed into Harper. Or into the forest of red lilies he balanced in both hands.

  "Harper? Are you in there?"

  "She okay? What's going on? Am I too late?"

  "She's fine. The doctor's just checking on her. And you're in plenty of time. "

  "Okay. I thought lilies because they're exotic, and she likes red. I think she likes red. "

  "They're extremely gorgeous. Let me guide you in. "

  "Maybe I shouldn't. Maybe you should just take them. "

  "Don't be silly. We've got a regular party going on. She's a sociable girl, and having people with her is taking her mind off the pain. When I left, David had the Red Hot Chili Peppers on a CD player and a bottle of champagne icing down in the bathroom sink.

  She steered him in. It was still the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and David turned his camera to the door to snap a picture of Harper peering nervously through a wonder of red lilies.

  "Oh! Oh! Those are the most beautiful things I've ever seen!" A little pale, but beaming, Hayley struggled to sit up in bed.

  "They'll make a great focal point, too. " Stella helped Harper set them on a table. "You can focus on them during contractions. "

  "The doctor says I'm nearly there. I can start pushing soon. "

  He stepped up to the bedside. "You okay?"

  "A little tired. It's a lot of work, but not as bad as I thought. " Abruptly, her hand clamped down on his. "Oh-oh. Stella. "

  * * *

  Roz stood at the foot of the bed. She looked at her son's hand holding Hayley's, looked at his face. She felt something inside her tighten, release painfully. Then she sighed and began to rub Hayley's feet as Stella murmured instructions and encouragement.

  The pain increased. Stella watched the arc of contractions on the monitor and felt her own belly tighten in sympathy. The girl was made of iron, she thought. She was pale now, and her skin sheathed in sweat. There were times when Hayley gripped Stella's hand so hard she was surprised her fingers didn't snap. But Hayley stayed focused and rode the contractions out.

  An hour passed into another, with the contractions coming fast, coming hard, with Hayley chugging through the breathing like a train. Stella offered ice chips and cool cloths while Roz gave the laboring mother a shoulder massage.

  "Harper!" General Rothchild snapped out orders. "Rub her belly. "

  He goggled at her as if she'd asked him to personally deliver the baby. "Do what?"

  "Gently, in circles. It helps. David, the music - "

  "No, I like the music. " Hayley reached for Stella's hand as she felt the next coming on. "Turn it up, David, in case I start screaming. Oh, oh, fuck! I want to push. I want to push it the hell out, now!"

  "Not yet. Not yet. Focus, Hayley, you're doing great. Roz, maybe we need the doctor. "

  "Already on it," she said on her way out the door.

  When it was time to push, and the doctor sat between Hayley's legs, Stella noted that both men went a little green. She gave Hayley one end of a towel, and took the other, to help her bear down while she counted to ten.

  "Harper! You get behind her, support her back. "

  "I. . . " He was already edging for the door, but his mother blocked him.

  "You don't want to be somewhere else when a miracle happens. " She gave him a nudge forward.

  "You're doing great," Stella told her. "You're amazing. " She nodded when the doctor called for Hayley to push again. "Ready now. Deep breath. Hold it, and push!"

  "God almighty. " Even with the babble of voices, David's swallow was audible. "I've never seen the like. I've gotta call my mama. Hell, I gotta send her a truckload of flowers. "

  "Jesus!" Harper sucked in a breath along with Hayley. "There's a head. "

  Hayley began to laugh, with tears streaming down her face. "Look at all that hair! Oh, God, oh, Lord, can't we get him the rest of the way out?"

  "Shoulders next, honey, then that's it. Another good push, okay? Listen! He's already crying. Hayley, that's your baby crying. " And Stella was crying herself as with a last desperate push, life rushed into the room.

  "It's a girl," Roz said softly as she wiped the dampness from her own cheeks. "You've got a daughter, Hayley. And she's beautiful. "

  "A girl. A little girl. " Hayley's arms were already reaching. When they laid her on her belly so Roz could cut the cord, she kept laughing even as she stroked the baby from head to foot. "Oh, just look at you. Look at you. No, don't take her. "

  "They're just going to clean her up. Two seconds. " Stella bent down to kiss the top of Hayley's head. "Congratulations, Mom. "

  "Listen to her. " Hayley reached back, gripped Stella's hand, then Harper's. "She even sounds beautiful. "

  "Six pounds, eight ounces," the nurse announced and carried the wrapped bundle to the bed. "Eighteen inches. And a full ten on the Apgar. "

  "Hear that?" Hayley cradled the baby in her arms, kissed her forehead, her cheeks, her tiny mouth.

  "You aced your first test. She's looking at me! Hi. Hi, I'm your mama. I'm so glad to see you. "

  "Smile!" David snapped another picture. "What name did you decide on?"

  "I picked a new one when I was pushing. She's Lily, because I could see the lilies, and I could smell them when she was being born. So she's Lily Rose Star. Rose for Rosalind, Star for Stella. "

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