“Riley,” I say, “go help Rory with the kids. I’ve got things here.”

For a moment she looks unsure. Then she kisses Chelsea’s cheek and goes.

Chelsea looks up at me, and my heart feels like it’s imploding.

“Alone at last.” I say in my calmest voice. I tilt my head toward the phone on the floor. “Well . . . except for Earl.”

That gets me a tiny smile. And even more tears. “I’m really scared, Jake.”

I shake my head. “I know you are, but you don’t have to be. I’m not going to let anything happen to you or this baby.”

I cup her beautiful face in both hands. “I didn’t plan on you, Chelsea. Or them. And for as long as I live, you will be the best thing that ever happened to me.”

She closes her eyes and leans into my palm.

“We’re gonna have a baby today. And we’re gonna have one fuck of a story afterward. Okay?”

She takes one of her deep breaths, and that face that I love turns focused. Strong. Determined—like she’s always been.

I put the phone on speaker. “This is Jake Becker—are you there, Earl?”

“I’m here, Jake.” A gravelly, older man’s voice comes out of the speaker. It reminds me so much of the Judge, I blink. “I’m going to walk you through this every step of the way, son.”

“Okay. First, take a look and tell me what’s going on.”

Chelsea’s underwear is already off. I grab a towel from the stack that Raymond dropped in the room and place it underneath her. Then I put my hands on her knees and look between her legs.

There’s a mass of dark hair that I know isn’t hers, pushing against her opening, stretching her. “I see the head. It’s inside her still, but it’s right there.”

“That’s good. I want you to wash your hands now, Jake, get some clean towels nearby, and get ready to catch.”

I scrub and dry my hands, then Chelsea groans deep and loud. “Oh God, I have to push. I have to right now.”

I tell Earl I’m ready and he says, “Go ahead, Chelsea. A few good pushes and you’ll be meeting your baby. Breathe deep and focus, okay? Your body knows what it needs to do, don’t fight it, let it happen.”

Chelsea grips her knees and curls her spine. Her chin drops to her chest and she growls as she bears down hard.

And while I wait between Chelsea’s legs, I silently do something I’ve never done before.

I go back and forth between cursing God, telling him he can’t have her—to threatening that if he tries, I’ll march straight into heaven, scoop Chelsea up, and carry her home. But mostly, I just beg.

Please, God, please don’t let me screw this up. Don’t let anything go wrong. Please, God, please, please, please, fucking please.

And then my voice is echoing off the walls. “The head is out.”

My child’s face is still, covered in fluid and splotched with a white fleshy substance.

“It’s not over!” Chelsea grunts and strains even harder.

And then, in a rush of liquid, my son slides into my hands.

“He’s out!” I call. I grab a towel and wipe his face, clearing his nose and mouth.

The answer is a strong, pissed-off screech. And it’s the most beautiful fucking sound I’ve ever heard.

And he’s not the only one.

His little mouth opens wide and indignant. His tiny, perfect limbs flail as I dry them with the towel. His sounds change to whimpers as I wrap him up in a new, dry towel and put him on Chelsea’s stomach. In her arms.

She cries as she holds him, looks at him. And her whisper is feather soft. “Hi, there. We’ve all been waiting for you.”

I lean down next to her and rest my forehead against her temple—just breathing her in. Holding them both close.

Thank you, thank you, thank you . . .

The paramedics showed up a few minutes after Robert was born. They took care of the umbilical cord, and Chelsea, and all the things that need to happen right after childbirth. Each of the kids got a good look at Robert before he and Chelsea were loaded into the ambulance. The boys were thrilled to have a new little brother, and the girls decided he was so damn cute, they didn’t even mind that he had a penis.

Stanton and Sofia stayed with them while I rode with Chelsea. Mother and baby stayed overnight, just to make sure everybody was good to go. When they came home, we let the kids take off from school for the rest of the week—which is always a cause for celebration.

We’re all lying around the den now, watching TV in our pajamas, even though it’s two o’clock in the afternoon. A pitiful cry from the baby monitor tells us that someone is up, probably wet and hungry. I kiss Chelsea—it’s like I’m unable not to kiss her—every time the baby cries. Which is a lot.

“I’ll get him,” I say against her sweet mouth.

Down the hall, in our room, I lift him from the bassinet and change his diaper. And he really doesn’t like that. I swaddle him back up and sit in the rocking chair, soothing him.

His whimpers die down and he just kind of looks at me, the way babies do—like he’s waiting for something. After a few seconds, I think maybe he wants a song—a lullaby. There’s one band that gets played in this house more than any other, so against my better judgment, it’s one of their songs I choose.