The nurse pulled the drape up, hiding Chloe’s midsection from view. I stayed up near her head, wearing a surgical gown, cap, and gloves of my own.
I knew Dr. Bryant was immediately getting to work. Knew, at least in theory, what was happening on the other side of the yellow barrier. There was antiseptic, and a scalpel, and all manner of surgical tools. I knew they’d started, knew they were hurrying.
But no pain registered on Chloe’s face. She simply stared up at me. “I love you.”
“Here we go,” Dr. Bryant said, and then murmured to the nurse, “Here, no—the retractor . . .”
Chloe’s eyes brimmed, and she bit her lip in anticipation.
“Congratulations, Chloe,” Dr. Bryant said, and a sharp cry burst into the room. “Bennett. You have a daughter.”
And then there was a warm, crying bundle in my arms and, with shaking hands, I placed her on Chloe’s chest.
She had a tiny nose, and a sweet kiss of a mouth, and wide, startled eyes.
She was more beautiful than anything I knew.
“Hey,” Chloe whispered, staring down at her. Finally, her tears spilled over. “We’ve waited a long time for you.”
In an instant, my world crumbled and was rebuilt into a fortress around my two girls.
“Oh, for fu—fudge sake,” Chloe growled, laughing. “Isn’t this supposed to be instinct?”
I propped our daughter’s head in my hand and tried to get the angle right. “I thought so, but . . .”
“It’s like, I’m the cow, you’re the farmer, and she’s the bucket,” she said.
The nurse walked in, checking Chloe’s incision, checking her chart, helping us position the baby. “Have you agreed on a name?”
“No,” we said in unison.
The nurse slid our chart back into the shelf on the wall. “You have an army of people here. Do you want me to let them in?”
I could hear them coming down the hall. George’s laugh, Will Sumner’s deep voice, the curl of Max’s accent, and all three of the Stella kids’ squeals of excitement. And then they were there, bursting into the room, a tangle of bodies and gifts and words. Eleven smiling faces. At least eight pairs of crying eyes.
Max made his way over immediately, a magnet to the tiny, sweet bundle. Bending over the baby, asking, “May I?”
“Have you picked a name?” Sara asked, looking down at the baby in her husband’s arms.
“Maisie,” Chloe said at the same time I said, “Lillian.”
“That sounds about right,” George said, joining them in cooing over my daughter.
I looked up at Annabel and Iris, standing so quietly next to Will P., who had Ezra in his arms. I grinned over at Hanna and her Will, who were taking in the scene in the room with silent wonder.
I lifted my chin to Jensen, who stood at the periphery with his arm around Pippa.
“Congrats, guys,” he said, grinning as he looked around. “Everyone brought baby blankets or flowers. We . . . ah . . .”
“We brought booze,” Pippa finished with a salute, handing me a bottle of Patrón.
“Thanks,” I said, laughing as I crossed the room to shake Jensen’s hand and then bend, kissing Pippa’s cheek. “I will make use of both. So, this.” I waved a finger between them. “It’s a thing.”
Hanna smacked his arm. “They didn’t tell me it’s a thing.”
“I was going to,” her brother said, laughing, “and then you split to New York, so we followed you here!”
“I feel like I should apologize,” Chloe said from across the room.
The group stared at her, our collective brow furrow felt in the ringing, confused silence.
“Oh fudge off, glassholes,” she growled. “I feel like I should, but I’m not going to.”
“Oh, thank God,” Max said on an exhale.
“He works for me, sweetie,” Sara reminded her in her gentle refrain we’d all heard a hundred times.
“And be nice,” George told Chloe, reaching out with his left hand and dropping his fingers to show us a gleaming silver band. “Or you won’t be my monster of honor.”
“Your Best Bitch?” she asked in a reverent whisper.
“Right up there at my side,” George said, “reminding me I don’t deserve him.”
Apparently my wife wasn’t completely recovered from her delicate emotional state, because she burst into tears at the sight, waving George over so she could hug him.
“You too, Will Perkins,” she insisted, reaching out with her free arm.
Jokingly, Will Sumner leaned against the wall as if to steady himself from the rolling thunder of the world cracking wide open and eating us all. But, in fact, the room remained perfectly still. Chloe hugged George, George hugged Chloe, and—to all of our surprise and relief—the apocalypse never rained down.