Chapter One: Nottingham
Sam Johnson was nervous. He didn’t know why he was nervous, he just was. He gripped the polished wooden podium and looked out across the sea of faces. Each of these men and women had stood where he was standing right now. He had seen them get up and talk, share what they believed, or their story week after week and now it was his turn. That was the bargain. He would go and listen to them, and in return, they came and listened to him. A support group they called it. Well…he was thankful that they were here with him now.
He swallowed nervously.
You can do this. He thought to himself. The room was bright, the lights shining down, illuminating the rows of benches in front of him.
“Hello.” He said into the microphone. “Thank you so much for coming. You have no idea how much it means to me.”
The sea of faces smiled encouragingly. Sam breathed out.
“My story began a little over five years ago. I have never told it fully, but I hope that you good people would be willing to indulge me.”
The smiles widened, and that familiar warmth opened up in his chest. Taking another deep breath he closed his eyes and uttered a quiet prayer.
“I suppose it all began in a recording studio in Nottingham, England on a rainy August afternoon. I had just signed my first record deal, but that’s no way to begin a story. I think the best way to begin a story is: Once upon a time…”
“Congratulations Mr. Johnson.” The boss shook my hand warmly. “I look forward to working closely with you on the new album.”
I smiled, pleased. “Thank you so much sir!” I said excitedly. “I won’t let you down. I promise!”
The boss grinned at me and led me out of the opulently decorated recording studio. We stopped outside his office. “Just wait here for a second while I get the paperwork.”
I nodded amiably. He ducked into his office. I examined my surroundings while I waited. The studio wasn’t a famous one, but it was beginning to make an impact. The corridor reminded me of a school, brick walls and a tiled floor. It wasn’t much right now, but it had potential. That’s what the boss said at least. I didn’t mind, as long as my music got out there.
“Here we go,” the boss said as he handed a large stack of papers, “feel free to take your time with these, read them, consult with a lawyer, I’ll only need it signed before we send the album out.”
“Please, call me Raj.”
“Thanks Raj.” I grinned at the little man. His dark skin and dark hair contrasted greatly with the bright blue suit that he was wearing. Once again he shook my hand.
“I can’t wait to start working with you Mr. Johnson.”
“Sam then, I’ll see you here first thing Monday morning.” He turned around and walked back into his office.
I shrugged and walked down the cool corridor to where my wife, Maria was waiting patiently. I stopped walking a few steps before I reached her and gazed at her. Even after three years of marriage she still took my breath away.
She saw me watching her and smiled warmly. I walked up to her and took her hand.
“So?” She asked impatiently, brushing her ash blonde hair out of her pale blue eyes.
I winked and hit the button to the elevator.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” She asked.
I laughed. “I really love you Maria.”
“Ding!” The elevator had arrived.
“Psht.” She hissed. “If you really loved me you’d tell me how the audition went. “
“Ground floor!” The Elevator announced.
I waited for the doors to open, and led Maria out the lobby and into the street. I opened my umbrella and held it over her, protecting her from the rain. We had quite the walk to the bus stop.
“I hope the baby likes the new album.” I said casually.
Her eyes grew wider. “You mean?”
I nodded. “We start on Monday.”
She whooped in delight and wrapped her arms around me.
“Okay, calm down sweetheart.” I said concerned.
“Calm down? You just got offered a recording deal! Why aren’t you more excited?”
I smiled at her, which had always been so easy to do. “I am excited.” I said gently, “I’m just so much more excited about the baby.” I paused. “How did the appointment go?”
Maria smiled. “Well, the doctor said the baby should be here soon, but…” she went quiet.
“But?” I prompted, my heart beginning to pound.
“Nothing.” She said softly, biting her lip.
“Maria, you’re lying to me.”
“How do you know?”
I smiled. “Whenever you bite your lip it means you’re hiding something from me.” I put my arm out quickly, preventing her from walking into the road. A car came hurtling past.
“Thanks.” She said and made a face. “You aren’t supposed to be this observant Sammy. Why can’t you be like other husbands and not have a clue?”
I laughed. “Why can’t you be like other wives and learn how to lie better?”
She pulled her tongue at me.
“What are you hiding Maria?” I said a little more seriously.
“The Doctor said there might be complications.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. I could feel my heart race faster and faster.
“What do you mean complications?”
Maria sighed, “He didn’t say. They’re going to run some tests.”
I put my arms around her, holding her close to me. I hated seeing her worried. It was my job to make sure it never happened.
“Don’t worry Maria, everything will be okay.” I said soothingly.
“How do you know that?” She asked, her voice muffled against my chest.
I smiled and pulled away, looking in to her eyes.
“Because you’re a princess and I’m your knight in shining armor. Everyone knows that nothing bad happens to the Princess when her knight is around.”
She rolled her eyes and punched me in the ribs. “Idiot.”
“Ouch!” I protested. “Don’t punch the knight! He’s tender.”
She smiled and as she did the sun came out from behind the clouds. She squeezed her hand in mine and together we walked, hand in hand, to the bus station.
“We won’t be able to make it to your place for Christmas this year Mom.” Maria said into the receiver of the massively outdated telephone. Seriously, who has a landline anymore?
“Tell her she can come here!” I yelled from the living room.
“You can come here, he said.” Maria laughed into the phone.
I looked back at the chaotic compilation of notes on the page in front of me. I sighed. This wasn’t going to work.
I pulled out another page and started putting different notes down. Something simpler, softer. I looked critically at the first two stanzas. They should do for now. I put my hands to the piano and played the new sequence of notes on the page. I nodded approvingly. It’s getting there.
Maria came up behind me and put her hands over my eyes. “What’s this?” She asked.
I smiled. “I don’t know. I can’t see.”
She took her hands from my eyes. “Grace?” She reached out and picked up the page that I was working on.
“”I hope you don’t mind.” I explained. “I was hoping that if we had a girl we could name her Grace.”
“Oh really?” She smiled and sat on my lap, anchoring herself by putting her arms around my neck. “And what if it’s a boy?”
I grinned. “That’s obvious. We’ll call him Sam, like his dad.”
She laughed. “I still think we should have found out if it was a girl or a boy.”
I put my hand on her stomach. “I think it would be a nice surprise.”
“Well the baby won’t be here for a few months, I could easily find out and not tell you.”
I looked at her, eyes wide. “You wouldn’t!”
“Not if you do the dishes tonight.”
I put my hand over my heart. “So cruel.”
She patted me on the head and hopped off my lap. “Go brave one.”
“Mom! Dad! So good to see you!” Maria answered the door. A blast of cold, late October air blew through the door, blowing some of the well-edited pages off of the piano. I bent down and picked them back up.
“Hello sweetheart.” Mom said warmly. “How are you doing?”
Maria grinned. “All good.” She twirled around so that Mom could see her. “Look, it’s showing a lot now.” She said proudly.
Mom hugged her. “You look so beautiful.” She said. I agreed, but then…Maria always looked beautiful to me.
“Where’s my son?” Mom asked when they parted.
Maria rolled her eyes. “At the piano, he’s been working flat out for a week or so.”
Dad laughed. “I’ve never seen Sam do a hard day’s work his whole life.”
Maria shrugged. “I don’t know about that, but it seems like he’s taking this whole record deal thing pretty seriously.” She winked. “I don’t know why he bothers; he can’t play to save his life.”
“I heard that!” I shouted across the room.
“I love you honey!” She called back sweetly.
“Yeah right.” I replied, just loud enough for her to hear me and turned back to the jet black baby grand that I had spent so much time at the previous week. I scrutinized the page in front of me. What would happen if I put it in A minor? I took out a pencil and rubbed out a few notes. I played through it again. That’s more like it.
“Samuel Timothy Johnson you come right here and give your Mother a hug!”
I smiled. I really had missed my parents. “Coming Mother.” I groaned theatrically and walked across the white themed room and enveloped the woman in my arms. I held her tight.
“You’re getting chubby Sammy.” She teased.
“You too.” I replied and laughed at her mortified expression. “Just kidding.” I added.
“Good boy!” She hugged me tighter. “Have you been taking care of Maria?”
“Trying to. It’s hard because she’s accident prone.”
Maria hit me over the back of the head as she walked past. I laughed and rubbed my head. “You can put those down Dad. I’ll get them later.”
Dad dropped his heavy suitcases relieved. “How are you son?”
I shrugged and let go of Mom. “I heard that crack about not doing a hard day’s work, how was the flight?”
He winked at me boyishly. “It’s a dad’s job to give his son a hard time. The trip was long. Should have forked out the extra thousand and got put in business class. Not flying economy again for a long time.”
“Thanks for flying up.” I said sincerely. “Her date is coming closer and closer and I know it would be better for her to have some familiar faces around.”
He nodded. I smiled. Dad was never good at expressing his emotions. I motioned for them to sit down, which they did gratefully.
“How are things in the music business?”
“Busy apparently,” Maria said as she glided past with a jug of orange juice. “He’s been neglecting me something terrible.”
“Sam have you been neglecting you pregnant wife over something as transitory as music?”
I looked around confused. “Wait…what?”
They all laughed at me. “Honey, would you be help me set the table?”
I smiled. “Anything for you darling.”
Maria beamed at my parents. “Isn’t he the nicest boy?”
Later that night I turned to Maria as we were sitting alone in the living room. My parents, tired out from their long trip, had gone to bed early, giving us our home back. I watched her as she sketched.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked.
She stopped sketching and looked up at me surprised. “What makes you think I’m thinking about something?”
I leaned back on the couch. “Well, you only ever pencil sketch when you have something heavy on your mind. In fact, last time I saw you do this was the day we were trying to decide whether to get a puppy or not.”
The surprised twinkle in her eyes was replaced by a very serious look. She stared into my eyes, making sure that I understood that she was very serious about what she was about to say. I stopped moving and gave her my full attention.
“I want you to promise me something Sam.”
“Anything your highness requires.” I responded.
“Will you be serious?” She said softly.
I put my arm around her shoulders.
“What do you need?”
“If…” She took a deep breath. “Sammy, if something happens…” I took her hand. She squeezed it gratefully and took another breath. This time her voice was steady.
“The doctor said there was going to be complications,” She looked away from me. “If something happens…”
“Nothing is going to go wrong.” I told her firmly. “I won’t let it happen.”
She smiled and cupped my face with her free hand. “I know you won’t, but…” She paused. “But if something does go wrong, then I want you to promise me that you won’t blame yourself like I know you will.”
I closed my eyes and started snoring.
“Snore.” I said softly.
She laughed. “You’re just going to sleep on the couch?”
I let out an even louder snore.
“Goodnight Sweetheart.” She said
“Oh so you’re awake?” She asked in mock surprise.
The hospital was bright, with the smell of antiseptic and other assorted cleaning agents joining forces to give me a big headache. I held Maria’s hand tightly as the doctor ran his tests. I looked around curiously at the room. Certificates lined the walls. I hated hospitals. Bad memories and all that
“It’s just a routine checkup.” Maria chided gently.
“I know.” I told her calmly.
She patted my hand. “Then why are you holding on so tightly?”
I relaxed my grip. “Sorry.” I whispered. “I just really hate needles.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re not the one getting the injection.” She reminded me.
I grinned. “And don’t you forget it.” I quickly ducked a well-aimed punch and kissed her forehead.
The phone rang. I pulled it out and checked the caller ID.
“What does he want?” I muttered. Maria craned her neck to see the screen. I handed her the phone.
I nodded grimly. “Yes.”
Maria handed the phone back. “You should probably talk to him.”
I shook my head. “We have nothing to talk about.”
She glared at me for a second. I put my hands up in supplication. “Okay, okay I’ll go answer it.” I walked to the door and turned to my wife who was being strapped to the chair.
“Don’t move.” I admonished.
She gave me a very hurtful single fingered hand gesture. I laughed and walked into the corridor. I closed the door behind me and sat on one of the benches provided.
Nurses and doctors ran to and fro, but I barely registered them. I looked at the cell screen. The phone stopped ringing and the missed call notification popped up.
I really didn’t want to talk to him. I looked back at the room where Maria was being administered to. She knew what had happened of course, but she didn’t have a family like mine. She didn’t know.
What did he want?
I thought back to the last time I had seen my brother. We had been standing in a back alley behind a bar that was near our shared boarding. I was friends with the bartender and he let me know where Scott was. I had rushed down there as fast as I could.
Scott was seventeen, and I had just graduated from university with a degree in musical composition under my belt.
Scot was also a drug addict that had run away several months earlier. The family hadn’t heard from him for ages.
Now he was back. The drugs had left his system and Scott was experiencing some pretty violent withdrawal symptoms.
He leveled the gun at me, his eyes wild.
“Give me the money Sam!” He screamed.
I held my hands out, showing him that I wasn’t there to harm him. “Are you going to kill me now Scotty?” I asked him calmly. “Kill your own brother?”
He shook the gun at me, his eyes frantic. “Give me the money Sammy, I don’t want to have to do this!”
I sighed. “Come home Scott. You can be safe there.”
Scott shook his head, his breathing ragged and heavy. “You don’t understand! He’ll kill me if I don’t give him the money.”
I shook my head and stepped closer to him. “Come home-“ I began.
“Don’t come any closer!” He said. “I’ll shoot you!
I took another step and a sharp pain lanced through the soft tissue of my shoulder. I fell back after the loud bang echoed through the alleyway,
Scott ran up to me, a horrified expression on his face. “Why didn’t you listen to me Sammy?” he shouted at me. “Look at what you made me do! Look! This isn’t my fault!” It almost sounded like he was pleading with me.
Then his expression changed from panicked to calculating. He searched me until he found my wallet. He took my cash and credit cards. He dropped the wallet on my chest, pulled out my phone and dialed.
“Help! Help! Someone’s been shot!” he shouted into the receiver. He dropped it next to my wallet. The pain was getting worse and I felt my eyes get heavier. The last thing I saw was my brother running as fast as he could.
So what was it that he wanted now?
I searched my heart, looking for any glimmer of desire to call him back. It was almost with relief that I returned the phone to my pocket and walked back into the hospital room.
The doctor had just finished talking to Maria. When he saw me walk in he smiled, said a few words to her and left the room. The attending nurse followed.
Maria turned and smile at me. There was something slightly off about her smile though. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“That took a while.” She said brightly, “How’d it go?”
I shrugged. “Couldn’t get through.” I told her. “He must have dialed the wrong number or something.
She looked at me skeptically. “Right.”
I laughed and bent down, kissing her softly. “So what’s the verdict?”
She pushed herself out of the chair. I took her arm and steadied her.
She smiled. “Well…the doctor said the baby should be around pretty soon. Sometime in the middle of January they expect.”
I blinked. “That soon?”
Maria looked at my expression and burst into laughter. “Men, you mention anything about babies and their brains all freeze up.”
I raised an eyebrow and attempted to give her my most mysterious look.
“You look like a constipated fish.” She told me.
I laughed and put my hand in hers. “Be nice.”
I sat back at the piano, my eyes absently searching the page in front of me. The boss was very happy with the way things were going and gave me Christmas week off. Mom and Dad had been a great help over the last few weeks and had practically taken care of everything. I looked worriedly at the front door. I didn’t like being away from Maria, especially when everything was so close, but it was true that I needed some time alone to recharge.
Mom had taken Maria for a few more checkups and Dad was lying on the couch taking a nap.
This was one of the few moments that I had to myself. I sat at the piano and stared at the jumble of notes that refused to arrange themselves into a beautiful piece of music.
I sighed and closed my eyes. I thought about what I had, about my family. I thought about what I had been through and where I was going. I thought about life in general. I thought about my potential son or daughter and about my home.
With these thoughts in my head I put my fingers to the thin black and white keys. I took a breath and I played.
I don’t know how long I played for. I don’t quite remember what it was that I played. I just played and got lost in the music.
The rhythm beat at my soul, the melody soothed my anxiety and the beat kept pace with my heart.
Reluctantly I felt the melody begin to slow down. I took a deep breath and stilled my fingers, ending the piece with a flourish that seemed to hang in the air for a long moment after I had finished playing.
I opened my eyes and found Maria staring at me, tears brimming in her eyes.
I smiled peacefully. “Did you like it?”
She nodded and held her arms out. I got up and held her close. She wrapped her arms around me and held on tightly.
Sensing something was wrong, but that this was not the time to talk about it I held her as her small frame shook with sobs in my arms.
We stood there for what felt like an eternity and I didn’t want to move. I heard the door to the living room close and I found myself incredibly grateful to my parents for their kindness.
Eventually Maria pulled back, her pale blue eyes shining with tears.
I looked deeply into her eyes. “I love you Maria.”
Her eyes widened and she started to smile through her tears. “I love you too Sammy.”
She rested her head on my chest. “Do you think we will be together forever?”
I nodded. “Death will not separate us. It can’t. Our love is too deep for a little thing like death to keep us apart.”
Maria laughed. “I think you followed the wrong art love, you would have been a great poet.” She started humming something unfamiliar.
“What’s that tune?” I asked.
She didn’t reply. I didn’t need one. She took a breath. “What do you think happens when we die?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Maria hummed to herself. “Do you think there’s a God?”
I pulled back a little surprised. “Since when did you get so religious Maria?”
She ignored me. “I think there’s a God.” She then seemed to shake herself out of the strange mood she was in.
She kissed me and then spun away from me.
I reached out and almost caught her. “Hey! Come back!” I called out
Maria grinned. “Outrun by a girl?” She teased.
I laughed. “I love you Maria. I really do.”
Christmas Day 2009
“Welcome!” Maria smiled warmly as another of her sisters walked into our little house. The place was filled with light and joy and the soft hubbub of friends and family that seemed to give everything a warm glow. The atmosphere was filled with friendship. There were so many people there that it felt like I was on a parade ground.
“So how are things coming in the music business?” Someone asked for the 37th time that night.
I smiled courteously and gave my automatic response. “Great!”
The man I was speaking to was one of Maria’s many brother-in-laws.
“I hear that your boss was thinking of opening another clothing line for your company.”
I shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. What the boss does isn’t too much of my business.”
I saw Maria bob and weave through the crowded living room, to the kitchen where I was speaking with her brother-in-law.
“Sorry John,” she apologized, “but do you mind if I steal him for a while?”
John gave his permission and the next thing I knew I was whisked away by my very pregnant wife.
“What’s up love?” I asked when we were far enough away. She led me down the hall to the backdoor.
“Someone’s here to see you.” She said. She pointed to the closed door and then left. “I told him to wait out back.” She said over her shoulder before she rejoined the party.
Confused I walked to the door and opened it.
Standing there…in the cold night air…was my brother, Scott.
I took an involuntary step back.
“Merry Christmas big brother.” He said carefully.
I forced myself to look at him. “What are you doing here Scott?”
Scott took a step forward. “I got myself cleaned up Sammy.” He said, his voice choking a little. “Maria found out and called me up. She invited me.”
My heart softened when I saw the tears in his eyes. The drug-riddled boy I had known all those years ago wouldn’t have cried.
Something whispered in my heart that he was telling the truth.
“What are you doing here then?” I asked, making my voice gruff.
His eyes widened. He took off his beanie. The winter in 2009 had been a bad one and a thin layer of snow had made our little garden white. Snow fell gently in the air between us.
“I came to ask for your forgiveness.” He said, his voice cracking a little more. “I’m sorry Sammy. We used to be best friends as kids. Can we be best friends again?”
That did it. Those words cracked my heart and I felt warm tears trickle down my cheeks. I held my arms wide open. “Come little brother.” I choked, my voice thick with emotion. “Come inside where it’s warm.”
He looked up, his eyes shining brightly in the light from the back door.
I laughed and rushed down the stairs and embraced him. “Oh Scotty of course!”
We stood like that for a while. “How did you get clean?” I asked him as I led him inside.
He lifted his hand and showed me a ring. “I found a girl.” Then he pointed to a different ring. It was a small green shield with the letters CTR embossed onto it in an intricate design. “And I found God.”
I nodded . “Good lad. Come in, does Mom know?”
Scott nodded. “They were at the wedding. I sent you an invite, but it must have got lost in the mail or something.”
A pang of guilt struck my heart. I remembered looking at an envelope and throwing it away without even bothering to open it.
“Scott?” Mom asked as we appeared in the doorway. He winked at her. “He forgave me, just like you said he would.”
“Potential fatherhood will do that to you.” Dad said. “Softens a man’s heart.” He then got up and embraced his two sons. “My boys. My boys…” his voice thick with emotion. “My family is whole again.”
This tender moment lasted briefly, but the feeling of joy lasted throughout the night.
Christmas indeed had come.
February 7th 2010
I lay awake, restless. I couldn’t sleep, the New Year had come and gone, and with it much of my piece of mind.
Maria was becoming more and more depressed as the days went by. Whenever I would ask her what was wrong she would smile at me and shrug it off.
So I lay awake, worrying about her.
I turned on my side and gazed at her. She was so beautiful. She lay still, her breathing catching as she dreamed.
“Who are you?” She asked.
I looked at her surprised. She was fast asleep. This was unusual. Maria didn’t normally talk in her sleep.
She mumbled something indistinct. I strained to hear what she was saying.
“But how can I leave?”
She went silent for a second and then took another deep breath, her sleeping face set in determination.
“Okay, I’m ready.”
She turned over in her sleep, facing me. I saw her lips move and I heard what she said.
“I’m sorry Sammy, forgive me.”
I looked at her, unwilling to wake my sleeping wife. Looking back I think deep down, I knew what was happening. I knew why she was apologizing, but my mind, my heart, my very soul, refused to accept it. I put my arms around her and whispered.
“There’s nothing to forgive.”
I held her like that, and somewhere between then and morning I fell asleep, my heart hurting for a reason I refused to understand.
We arrived at the hospital early on the morning of February 7th. It was cold, the chill of winter still hanging in the air, but the sweet smell of spring promising better things to come.
The doctors had asked Maria to come in early so that they could keep an eye on her.
I thought that that was standard procedure. The resigned, yet resolute expression on Maria’s face should have warned me. I should have known.
The day dragged on without much happening. Then Maria sat bolt upright in her hospital bed. She turned to me, tears flowing down her cheeks.
“Sammy I want you to promise me something.”
I, who had quite admittedly, fallen asleep, took my sweet wife’s hand and gazed into her pale blue eyes. At that moment I fell in love with her all over again.
“Anything.” I said in a voice thick with emotion.
“I want you to promise me that you will always love the baby.”
I blinked, what kind of question was that? “Of course I will.”
She looked levelly at me. “Say I promise.”
She smiled. “Good. Now for the hard one. I want you to promise me that no matter what happens, you will not blame yourself if something goes wrong.”
I looked at her and then at her hand, which she had lifted. She extended her right pinky. I interlaced it with mine. “I promise.” I whispered.
She smiled even wider, her eyes bright with tears. She gripped my hand tightly. “I’m scared Sammy.”
I grinned, ignoring the tears that fell freely from my eyes. “Do you remember when we first met?”
She laughed. “I thought you were an idiot!”
I raised an eyebrow. “I thought I looked rather dashing in that armor!” I protested.
She rolled her eyes. Then cupped her hand to my cheek. “My brave one.”
I leaned into her hand. “Do you remember what I said to you?”
She thought back. “You said that if I was ever in distress you would be my knight in shining armor.”
I groaned. “Did it really sound that cheesy?”
She laughed again. “Yip, lucky for you I was feeling generous that day,”
I nodded more emphatically. “Actually babe I think it was lucky for you. You married a stud.”
“Who’s getting kind of chubby.”
I lifted my shirt and examined my less than firm stomach.
“I have a six pack somewhere in there. “ I said with a smile.
She nodded. A doctor walked in. “Mr. Johnson, would you mind coming with me? We need to prep your wife for surgery.”
Maria squeezed my hand tightly for a second, then let go and the light in her eyes dimmed. “Goodbye Sammy.” She said. “I love you.”
I smiled and walked with the doctor. The doors closed behind me.
I paced in the nearby waiting room. For some reason the doctor wouldn’t let me see my wife. I sat anxiously on the chair, then got back up and paced around the small room again.
Mom and Dad had left a little earlier, and I found myself alone with Scott, my brother.
He looked at me concerned. “Pacing won’t help. Maria is in the hand of God now.”
I turned to my brother who was twisting one of the rings on his hand. I then looked back at the large silver doors that led to the rest of the hospital.
She’d looked so sad as she said goodbye, almost as if she was never going to see me again.
I shook my head. I refused to think something like that. I looked at my watch and then back at the doors. I had a feeling I would be here a while.
“Mr. Johnson?” The doors finally opened. I looked up hopefully to the nurse that walked in.
“Yes? How is she?”
The nurse didn’t look me in the eyes. “She’s asking for you.”
I practically ran down the hall to where Maria was. I stepped through the door. She was lying in the bed surrounded by machines. There were tubes in her arms and up her nose that connected her to some sort of breathing apparatus.
I sat down next to her and just gazed at her face.
“Not a very pretty sight, am I?” She whispered to me, her eyes squeezed shut.
I shook my head. “No baby, you’re beautiful.”
She laughed, “Always the smooth talker.” She opened her eyes and looked at me. I didn’t know it would be for the last time. I should have known.
I smiled. “No, just honest.” I looked around. “Where’s the baby?”
She looked around. “The doctors took her away just before you came. She’s beautiful.
Maria smiled. “Congratulations Dad.”
My mouth dropped open. I felt tears form in my eyes. “Dad?”
She shook her head. “Men. You mention anything about babies and their brains all freeze up.”
She closed her eyes again. “I’m really tired Sammy. Will you be here when I wake up?”
I nodded. “Always.” I looked at her. “What should we name her?”
She smiled. “Grace.”
That was the last time she would wake up.
Maria Johnson died a few minutes later.
And my world fell apart.