I appreciated it, but I wasn’t sure I liked it.
I’d fallen in love with that steel spine.
I wondered, for the millionth time, whether something had been changed irrevocably in her. And if it had, how would I feel about that?
Her breathing picked up as another contraction hit.
I took a deep breath, struggling to remain calm in the face of Chloe’s ironclad desire to remain sweet, and gentle, and reasonable.
We hit another pothole and her fist hit the door at her side.
And then I heard the words come tearing out of her throat: “CAN YOU GET US TO THE MOTHERFUCKING HOSPITAL SOMETIME TODAY, KYLE? FUCK ME!”
This last word turned into a long screeching wail, and up front, my driver stifled a laugh—meeting my eyes again knowingly. It was like puncturing a balloon, the way all the tension seemed to leave me.
“That’s right, Chlo,” I said, laughing. “What the fuck, Kyle!”
He hit the gas, maneuvering around a car and taking two wheels up onto the sidewalk to get around a bike messenger who had stopped to fuck with his phone. Laying on his horn, Kyle leaned out the window, yelling, “I’ve got a woman having a baby in here! Move, you assholes!”
Chloe rolled down her window, leaning out. “Get out of the fucking way, for fuck’s sake!”
Cars around us began to honk, and a few pulled aside to let us through and into the clear stretch ahead of us down Madison Avenue.
Kyle grinned, pulling ahead and out of traffic before hitting the gas with enthusiasm.
I reached over, putting my hand on Chloe’s arm. “We’re only five—”
“Don’t touch me,” she growled, in the best impression I’ve ever heard of the demon from The Exorcist. Reaching out in a flash that took me by surprise, she grabbed my collar, bunching it in her fist. “You did this.”
“You think you’re cute?” she asked in a hiss. “You think this was a good goddamn idea?”
“This thing is going to tear me in half,” she moaned. “And you’re going to have to push your ripped-in-half wife around in a wheelchair for the rest of her life because her legs won’t work together because HER GODDAMN SPINE HAS BEEN SHREDDED BY THIS GODDAMN BABY COMING OUT OF HER VAGINA IN A MOTHERFUCKING CAR, BENNETT! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO SELL THE LANGLEY ACCOUNT LIKE THAT!” She let go of my shirt. “KYLE!” Chloe leaned forward, slapping the back of his seat. “ARE YOU HEARING ME?”
“IT’S MRS. MILLS FROM NOW ON! AND THE GAS PEDAL IS THE SKINNY ONE ON THE RIGHT—ARE YOU FUCKING FLINTSTONING US TO THE HOSPITAL?”
Kyle guffawed, steering us around a delivery truck. Chloe gripped my hand in both of hers, grinding the bones together.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” she moaned.
She turned, glaring at me with clenched teeth. “But I want to fucking kill you right now.”
“Don’t you fucking ‘baby’ me. You don’t know. Next time, you have the child and I’ll sit there laughing about the fact that you’re being ripped in half.”
I bent, kissing her clammy forehead. “I’m not laughing at you. I just missed you so much. We’re almost there.”
Chloe’s birth plan had been very specific: no epidural, no food restrictions, the option of a water birth in the suite. Honestly, there had been three pages of notes, and she’d worked on it meticulously over the past few weeks. Her hospital bag had been packed, unpacked, repacked. Lather, rinse, repeat.
As it turned out, our child had a double nuchal cord, meaning the umbilical cord was wrapped twice around the neck. Not uncommon, we were told. But in our situation, not great.
“After you have a contraction,” Dr. Bryant explained to us, her hand on Chloe’s shoulder and the steady beep-beep-beep of monitors all around us, “the baby’s heart rate isn’t going back up.” She looked over at me, smiling calmly. “If she was already pushing, we’d just work to get the baby out quickly. But here, the baby is still too high.” She looked back to Chloe. “And you’re only at five centimeters.”
“Can you check again?” Chloe groaned. “Because, I’m serious, it feels like twenty.”
“I know,” Dr. Bryant said, laughing. “And I know how adamant you are about having a natural birth, but guys, this is one of the situations where I need to play my veto card.”
Chloe didn’t even get to push before she was taken in to surgery.
Drugged and distraught over her perfect plan falling apart, she stared up at me, her hair held back in a sterile yellow cap, her face splotchy and makeup free.
She had honestly never looked more beautiful.
“It doesn’t matter how it happens,” I reminded her. “At the end, we get a baby.”
I stared down at her in surprise. “You’re okay?”
“I’m disappointed,” she said, and swallowed back a clear wave of emotion, “but I just want everything to be fine.”
“Everything will be,” Dr. Bryant said, hands sterile and gloved, smiling behind her mask. “Ready?”