Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 72
“It sounds so scary!” she says. “Everything is ‘best-case scenario, worst-case scenario, with no real answers! They don’t even know if he’ll be able to have my milk!”
“I know it sounds scary, but usually everything turns out fine,” I tell her. “They just have to cover all bases, and inform you of every possibility.”
“Okay,” she says, and I squeeze her hand.
“So how did you manage to get here?” she says. “I’m sure word might have gotten out that I was pregnant, but no one knew when I would go into labor…”
“I have ESP,” I tell her.
We both manage a small laugh despite the circumstances.
“No. I’ll fill you in on it all later. Right now I just want you to rest and relax. But really, the short story is that I’m on ‘medical leave.’ Due to some… outbursts.”
“PTSD?” she whispers.
“Yeah. But there are no good grounds for it. I can do what I need to do to get back in. Whitney and Riley are going to help. The plan is to get me some treatment without screwing up my military career.”
“That’s good,” she says.
Her tone is a little smug, as if she wants to take credit for the changes, which she rightfully should. But, just to pay her back, I ask, “And what about your military career? Because I did hear some rumors…”
“I’m retiring,” she says.
I look at her in shock, still not really believing it, because it’s so different than the Monica I knew the last time we were together.
“Why the big change?”
“This baby just… changed me,” she says. “I can’t explain it. I want to explore some life goals that don’t involve a substantial likelihood of my plane getting shot down. I’ve enrolled in a Master’s program in the fall, for mechanical engineering.”
“That’s great,” I tell her. “It sounds like you’ve done a lot of… thinking.”
“I have,” she says. “And I want you to know that I was going to tell you. I was actually in the process of doing that— the only way I knew how. It’s just that, the baby came before I could finish!”
I give her a quizzical look, and she says, “Do you have that letter?”
I pull it out of my pocket.
“Sorry it’s a little squished,” I say. “I was kind of in a hurry.”
“Well, it’s yours anyway,” she says. “Go ahead and read it. Sorry I didn’t get to finish it.”
I scan the letter, my eyes moistening for the second time today.
“It’s in code!” I tell her. “Like, a secret language.”
“Of course,” she says. “A language that only music lovers like us would know how to decipher.”
I read it.
“Do you get it?” she says, anxiously.
“Sure I do,” I tell her. “You’re talking about that silly pop song, ‘Baby,” by Justin Bieber featuring Ludacris. And it’s not a horrible song, all things considering.”
“Exactly,” she says, laughing. “And I agree. At least now I know that you would have understood the code.”
“And at least now I know you wanted to tell me this big important news.”
She must see the hurt on my face, because she says, “I’m sorry. I know I should have told you sooner. It was just… complicated.”
“I know it was,” I tell her. “And I’m pretty sure I’ll get over it. I have the rest of our lives together, to work on forgiving for you for this one thing, when there are so many other things you’ve done perfectly. Like carrying our little baby.”
“You helped make him,” she insists.
“I sure did,” I say. “That’s something that both of us did perfectly.”
Chapter 40 – Monica
Ramsey and I are interrupted from our romantic talk when Becky comes bouncing into my hospital room.
“Hi Aunt Monica!” Becky says, flopping down beside me on the hospital bed. “I heard you had your baby! And hi Ramsey. Nice to see you again, finally!”
“Becky,” says Susan, who was trailing behind her. “Don’t get on the bed. That’s for Aunt Monica only. You have to have a baby to get the privilege of sitting on that bed, and believe me, that’s something you should be very glad that you won’t be doing for at least twenty years. And also, watch your manners. Don’t be rude to Ramsey.”
“Hi Becky,” I tell her, as she rolls her eyes and hops off the bed.
“Nice to see you again, too,” says Ramsey, obviously holding back laughter.
“I’m sorry,” Susan says. “I thought Becky might want to see the baby. I tried to text you, but I’m sure you were otherwise occupied. And then when we got here they said no children allowed in the NICU, but I thought, well, she can still see you…”
“Yeah, even though they’re not letting me see the baby !” Becky pouts.
“Well what am I?” I ask her. “Chopped liver?”
I shake my head at her and say, “Your old aunt is chopped liver now that you have a cousin!”
“Do you want to see a picture?” Susan asks Becky. Then she looks at me. “Is that okay?”
“Sure. I didn’t even know you took a picture!”
“I thought the least I could do was photograph him,” she says. “Ramsey was doing all the hard work. And you were experiencing so much… distraction—” she glances down at Becky, censoring the word “pain”— “that you didn’t even notice. See?”
She shows me pictures on her phone of me holding the baby, Ramsey holding the baby, and one of us both together, smiling down on him.
“That’s perfect!” I tell her, as she begins showing Becky.
“He’s really cute, but really wrinkly!” she says, scrunching up her nose. “Just like Mason was. And I bet his diapers will smell just as bad!”
“What’s his name?” Becky demands.
“We haven’t decided yet,” I tell her.
“Really?” Ramsey asks. “You’ve had a lot more time than I have to think about it.”
“Maybe I was waiting for you to make some suggestions,” I tell him.
And then I realize that maybe subconsciously, I really was.
“I think you should name him Machu-picchu-poo,” Becky says, very seriously. “Like on one of my favorite cartoons.”
“That’s a good suggestion,” I tell her, but Ramsey and I both look at each other as if to say, “No way,” as we both try not to laugh.
“Monica?” someone says, as she pops her head into my room. “I’m Julia, the parent concierge. You can visit your son now, if you’d like.”
“Of course,” I tell her. Then I look at Becky. “We know that kids can’t come.”
“That’s right,” she says. “And only two visitors at a time. So I suggest that I take you both back and fill you in on the protocol and what to expect, and then after a while one of you can come out and watch the child while her mother goes in to visit the baby.”
“Sounds like a good plan,” I tell her, swinging my legs off the side of the bed.
“Careful,” Julia says, pushing a wheelchair over to me. “You just had a baby. You’ll need to be transported in this.”
“Okay,” I say.
I feel completely recovered, but I’m just it’s just because the endorphins haven’t worn off.
* * *
Before taking us into the NICU, Julia stops at a “scrubbing station” outside the main door and tells us that everyone must put on scrubs, and wash with soap up to their elbows, before they can enter. She explains other visiting rules but luckily they’re pretty flexible— we can come in here and see the baby most hours of the day, although there are visiting hours for non-parents, and one of us must be with the visitor at all times.
She leads us back to our baby’s plastic bassinet in a curtained-off area. She tells us she’ll be back soon to answer any questions we might have after seeing our baby, and finally, it’s just us and him again.
He’s awake and lo
“Hi buddy,” Ramsey says. “Did you miss us? Because we certainly missed you!”
His eyes move back and forth, from Ramsey’s face to mine. I reach into the hole in his bassinette, and touch his soft finger.
“You’re going to be okay,” I tell him. “Mommy and daddy love you.”
Then we meet the baby’s charge nurse, Samantha.
“Your baby boy is doing well,” she says. “His breathing has already improved and his temperature is holding up. The doctor will be talking to you again soon, but much of this may just be the trauma of premature birth, and often they bounce right back after a short adjustment period. He wasn’t born that early.”
She smiles at us reassuringly, and I feel so relieved.
“I anticipate that they’ll let you hold him after a few hours, after they’re certain that he’s stabilized,” she continues. “I don’t imagine we’ll need to keep him for more than a few days, although of course I can’t say for sure.”
“Great,” I say. “That’s so good to hear. And when I can hold him, I can feed him, right?”
“Right,” the nurse assures me. “He will very likely still be able to breastfeed. You just focus on pumping until we know for sure what’s happening with Little Man here.”
“Perfect,” says Ramsey, giving my shoulder a strong squeeze.
I like the nurse, and I know Ramsey does too. It’s nice to feel that our baby is in good hands while he’s here. With everything scary that’s been going on, and even with the future so uncertain, I try hard to focus on the positives. The baby was born safely— with Ramsey’s help, and any issues are going to be monitored and taken care of— with the hospital staff’s help.
“I’ll let you guys visit with him for a little while,” she says, “since he’s awake right now. Early bonding is still important, and it’s good that both Mom and Dad are here to see him through this little rough patch. Just push the buzzer if you need me or have any questions.”
“Thank you,” we both say.
“I’m so happy he can hopefully come home soon!” I say. “And that they’re taking such very good care of him!”
“I told you he would be all right,” Ramsey says, as he puts his arm around my shoulder. But I sense relief in him as well.
“So what should we name this little guy?” I ask him, looking down at our son. “I’d considered a bunch of different names, but I really thought I had more time to decide, so I never settled on anything.”
I don’t tell him what name I was considering the most, but had rejected once I thought he was out of the picture for good. It’s too sentimental, and not even common. It’s silly, really.
“How about James?” Ramsey suggests, immediately.
“James?” I raise my head to look up at him.
“Yeah. James Bradford,” he says. “After my dad. I think he’d love the honor of having his first grandchild named after him.”
“That’s perfect,” I tell him.
And it really is.
“So, you should pick his middle name,” he says. “I can’t hog all three names.”
“Do you want to do the modern mother’s-last- name-as-baby’s-middle- name thing, and go with James Carrington Bradford?” he asks.
“That sounds a little too… official. He’ll think we wanted him to be a military general from birth.”
“Don’t we?” Ramsey asks, and we both laugh again.
“Well what about something kind of crazy, but meaningful?” I ask him, deciding to put it out there.
Why not? We’ve already gone and had a baby together. Might as well take a leap into crazy name territory.
“Such as…?” he prods.
“Bowie,” I say. “As in…”
“David Bowie,” he says. “As in, our song.”
“The guy who— although he may not have brought us together, since we have Uncle Sam to thank for that— certainly extended our stay together, and very likely brought little James here into existence.”
“I like it,” Ramsey says, decisively. “James Bowie Bradford. It suits him.”
We look down at Baby James, who stares back at us, sleepily.
“He’s nodding off,” I say. “I wanted him to just keep looking at us and listening to us.”
“It means he’s comfortable,” Ramsey says. “He knows it’s safe to go to sleep. Just like I always did when I was with you.”
I put my head on his shoulder.
“I guess we should give Susan a turn now,” I tell him. “I can bring her back here if you’re okay watching Becky.”
“If she’ll even let me,” he says. “She seems to be holding a grudge against me.”
“She’ll understand, once I talk to her,” I tell him. “Should we go to the lobby now?”
I blow a kiss to James, and Ramsey squeezes my hand.
“Sure,” he says. “But there’s something I think we need to do first.”
“Jensen and Riley want to meet their very first nephew,” he says. “And we’re long overdue for a Skype chat with them.”
I nearly squealed with glee as he wraps his arms around me and kisses me.
“You told them about me?” I ask, incredulous.
“Yes, and Whitney too,” he says. “I’m sure she’s filled Harlow in.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t make things serious a lot earlier,” Ramsey says. “I just didn’t know if you wanted to…”
“And I didn’t know if you wanted to…”
“And here we were wanting the same thing,” he says.
“And things we didn’t even know we wanted,” I add, looking down at a sleeping Baby James.
Then he looks at me and asks, “So, how are we going to do this long distance parenting thing?”
I say, “Well, I was already retiring from the Air Force…”
“Move with me,” he says, without hesitating. “Move in with me in Albuquerque, you and the baby. I’ll take care of you both. And Susan, Becky and little Mason too if you’d like. I’ll take care of everyone.”
I can’t help but laugh.
“Ramsey,” I tell him. “Geez. I know you’re good at taking care of people. And I do want to move with you. Start a life with you for real. But not just because I want you to take care of me. Because I love you. And I want to take care of you too.”
“Awwww,” he says, holding me tight and kissing me. “I love you too. And I know for a fact that you’re good at taking care of me, in every possible way.”
He winks at me. I’m so excited to do this. For real. Ramsey and me. And little James. A family.
I think Susan can come, and with the lower cost of living in Albuquerque, she should be able to find a place for her and the kids just fine. If necessary, she can always stay with Ramsey and me for a while.
I still like the sound of that, even just in my thoughts. The sound of us . Taking care of each other— and other people, like we’re both good at— together, rather than stubbornly insisting on being on our own, just because we’re afraid to get hurt. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m excited.
Ramsey hugs me tight for a few seconds more and then says, “Well, let’s get on that Skype call. This proud Papa has some news he can’t wait to share with the world.”
Epilogue – Ramsey
One Year Later
Today is the day I used to swear would never come to be. My wedding day. And it’s Harlow’s wedding day, too.
Harlow and I have always been close, but I never imagined we’d be “double wedding” close. After we made it through James’ first few months as a newborn, I’d proposed to Monica, telling her there was nothing I would like more than to marry the love of my life, and the mother of my child.
The nurse in James’ NICU ward was mostly righ
I’ve been seeing the psychologist that Whitney referred me to, and he really helps me. Riley helped me navigate the military system so that I didn’t get discharged and put on long-term disability.
During the military’s investigation, they’d found no witnesses against me; everyone was on my side and testified that all I did was defend myself and Pipsqueak, who was being attacked by aggressors. Several witnesses even said that they were glad I stuck up for Pipsqueak, and that I had done the right thing.
I’m planning to exit the military anyway, but on my own timeline. I don’t want to have to worry about being deployed far away from Monica and James, or being killed in the line of duty. Now that we’ve been living in Albuquerque for a year, I love what we have together. Susan and Becky and Mason Jr. live just down the street, so that James can see his cousins often. Monica often goes to see Susan and helps her with the kids.
I’m ready to sign myself up for a more stable life, befitting the family man I’ve become. But I’ll still work at doing what I love, with Jensen in the private contractor job, training new recruits.
My “self-therapy” continues to help me just as much as the real therapy does. I’ve entered some amateur fight competitions and may work my way up to professional ones once I’m out of the military. My music is getting better and I’ve been offered a gig with a band I met at Louie’s, Jensen’s favorite dive bar, that I’m considering joining once I have more time.
When Whitney suggested to Monica that we combine weddings, I thought she was joking, or that Monica would be offended. But it ended up making a lot of sense. We’re on a budget, since Monica is in school and I’m planning to exit the military.
Whitney’s reasoning was so that both couples could save money, since we had quite the crossover in guest lists and since we could split expenses fifty-fifty. She’s always so practical and helpful.