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Chapter 2

Jaw-dropping. Wide eyed. Stunned look.

He never thought he’d ever be that guy. The one physically manifesting the state of idiocy his blank expression and open-mouthed stare suggested. He had swag, he was cool. Well okay, cool people never said they were cool. It was simply an in-bred attitude that was apparent but never verbally expressed. So, contrary to his dumfounded appearance, he was calm, chill and unsurprised, right?

No…Fuck that! April had just named his daughter. Without consulting him. With a name that was a head-on confrontation of what lead to the downfall of their marriage. And severely lacking a vital component, A VERY important element. His legacy dammit! What the hell was she thinking?!

Was this her shot across the bow? Her intent to call a cessation to their ceasefire? A return to hostilities?

So immersed was he in his mind castigations of April that he failed to notice the physical foot traffic to and subsequent increased occupancy of her hospital room. Until the cacophony of voices overriding each other dragged him out of his mental stupor. Where were the Gestapo Nurses when you needed them, he wondered and who the blazes was running the Maternity Wing of Grey Sloan Memorial?!

It seriously did not bode well for the staff. How was it possible that in a hospital, whose majority shareholding was The Harper Avery Trust, that an Avery herself couldn’t receive peace and quiet to acclimatize her to her new digs? On the other hand, perhaps everyone and their Lamaze Instructor were aware that the newest Avery was not named Avery at all. And wasn’t he back to fuming internally?! You betcha ass he was!

Prompted by righteous indignation, he decided to plunge into the fray too. He was putting his foot down, from day one. That is until he recognized one of the visitors. He was clearly able to identify the strident tone of voice which, comically, she tried to tone down. Still, she managed to dominate everyone in the vicinity. Not with the volume of her voice, mind you, but with its forcefulness. He was sure that in normal circumstances his newborn’s cry too would have been overridden. Thankfully the baby slept on, unawares.

He refused to call his daughter Jordan. That would not be her name. He was vaguely aware of references to The River Jordan in The Bible and he could have lived with that. To be fair though, April had given the nod to Norbert as a middle name the last time, to please him. So, to satisfy her, he figured, what was a little religious allusion to a non-believer? What he couldn’t accept however, was the reminder that Jordan was the Middle Eastern Country that was complicit in the decimation of his marriage. He introspected, with slight sarcasm, that it was the vacation destination that failed them both. April in her escape to it and him in his failure to escape to it…and to her.

Yes, he blamed her for leaving him when he needed her, but in the deep recesses of his consciousness he confronted the fact that he’d failed her too. Jordan, the country, was a catalyst to both their shortcomings and he didn’t see how he would be able to view it any other way. No way José.

Desisting, he decided to cease his headlong flight into the hospital room that had managed to acquire yet two more occupants within the short space of his attentive inaction. At least nurses still worked there. Back to the original visitor though. Well, not really he realized. Sharon had been the original – the information-sucking vampire. As his back had been turned, allowing him a measure of privacy in the face of anyone observing his antics, and further, adjusting to the bombshell April had dropped, he was unaware of which of the other two guests slipped into the room next.

He resisted making his presence known. He was not going to give his mother further ammunition to use against April. He knew when to get himself some power and now was not the time. The naming of the heir to the Avery Dynasty would be hashed out by her parents...and only by her parents. No matriarchal interference allowed. So, observation and not participation in this melee was key. Especially once he noted that Ben, last of the original trio of room dwellers, was on hand to assist April...once again. His homie Ben. His representative.

Having a front row seat to any Catherine Avery attempted shenanigans, he closely and with much interest observed the accomplishment of Ben’s intervention – no blood-letting and minimal casualty. It was like being the sole spectator to a silent movie, watching Ben finesse Sharon and the two maternity nurses towards the exit. Seemed the witnessed tableau occurred in the midst of a shift change.

He was slightly in awe at how swiftly Ben was able to orchestrate the exodus. The guy had serious cojones, he thought. Well, he was married to the pint-sized, firmly opinionated Chief of Surgery and all joking aside Miranda Bailey would not choose someone she could not respect. The new shift nurse, identified by her name-tag as Nurse Betty, did not look like a pushover either. Although, contrary to policy, she was the one who left the baby, asleep for the moment in her clear plastic portable crib, together with the new mom instead of moving her to the nursery. So perhaps a soft touch after all? Or Ben’s persuasive sway?

Most likely though it was all April being April. She had that effect on people. She was the most unbiased person he’d ever come across in his lifetime. She was the only surgeon he knew who bothered to get to know the name of every single person working at the hospital and all because of that metaphorical big heart, big brain and big ears of hers. She listened, with an open mind and genuine caring and emotion. People were naturally drawn to her. Case in point, one lagging Lamaze Instructor, who was almost ruining Ben’s hat trick of assisted exits.

He recognized that as couple friends, The Baileys and The Averys would have been an ideal fit. April and Ben were the friendly open ones whereas he and Bailey were hesitant and cautious. Even the way they saved their spouses names on their mobiles were a match. He’d been speaking to Ben Warren (full name) on Bailey’s phone today and yes he still had April Kepner listed on his mobile. Opposites worked…or not, considering The Averys were not together anymore. Damn divorce.

Maestro Ben conducted his symphony, his surgeon’s hands the baton he used to guide the protesting triumvirate away from the family drama about to erupt. Curiosity stayed his own movements but he made a promise to himself to 86 Catherine’s visit if she got out of hand. Avoiding his parent was one thing and while it no longer was April’s responsibility (more choice than duty really) to kow-tow to her, for the sake of peace he was prepared to let sleeping dogs lie. On the other hand, the entertainment value of riled up Avery women squaring off against each other was priceless. April had come into her own and it went without saying, he loved when she became the epitome of confidence.

She’s every woman, it’s all in her. The lyrics buzzed in his brain. In first person narrative of course. He had no hang-ups about his masculinity, toxic or otherwise, but it was April he was ruminating on. The empowering feminine message personified all of womanhood that April was. She slayed. And well, the question of his virile manliness was superfluous as without trying to he’d managed to knock her up. Twice.

Back to both the adult women in his life though. He’d discovered, to his detriment, that his intervention in any interactions that involved his blood relation versus his relationship of choice (son and husband; his very own version of nature and nurture he supposed) simply seemed to exacerbate hostilities amongst them. He had been quite literally, and at times figuratively, caught in-between and outflanked by these strong women. Stuck in the middle of two.

Now while his sharp ear was dialed in to the frequency of the talk-show showdown between these mothers – his own and his child’s – his attention was momentarily diverted to the overt racism playing out in the doorway. White fragility and privilege intersecting with learned and blatant bigotry. It seemed that Ben got the brunt of the disdain Sharon meted out and he wondered if it was a case of mistaken identity. Sharp and savvy as he was dressed, Ben looked the part of visitor. Was the covert contempt and thinly veiled condescension that Sharon revealed meant for April’s baby daddy?

Perhaps it was a multi-pronged assault. The imagined fear of melanin combined with ignorant perceptions. He received a confirmation of sorts from her subsequent actions. The deliberate snub of Ben, the contemptuous sliding away from his guiding arm and most telling the tightening of her hand on the handle of her handbag. Sharon personified the persistent, ingrained, over-imaginative white fear of black men. He received an identical measure of treatment as she slunk past him until she literally backtracked upon noticing his own fair-skinned privilege. His celebrity status, as it were.

It was the eyes. They got to them every time. It helped that he wore a white doctor’s coat and possessed lighter skin but in his experience those were simply bonuses. He was somehow deemed as being more worthy of their attention, having the much prized European beauty standard which indicated that white had a hand in his make-up. It pissed him off no end.

There was also the contingent that prized having bi-racial babies even while displaying their own bias. An unrelenting, subconscious prejudice that they doled out to the anticipated offspring. Not his personal experience and neither would it be his daughter’s, thankfully. This home-front racism inculcated individual self-hatred and enabled anti-blackness. It created an army of distinct black apologists and it bred a mindset that was abhorrent to him.

The predisposition towards prejudice was so embedded within their psyche that even white doctors he knew and worked with, unconsciously displayed that outlook. An active example of unaware cognitive dissonance. Enlightening these intellectuals, or rather endeavouring to, didn’t help either.

“Being woke,” he tried to explain, required a continuous process of educating oneself and knowing when not to intrude. Supposed allies to the cause were so puffed up with their own arrogance and blinded by their deeply entrenched privilege that they failed to recognize the supercilious condescension of their words, exemplified by a statement he’d heard just recently from a colleague.

“I am working my ass off choosing to engage with ignorance. Can you back up and give me a break? I don’t need schoolin!” she’d said. It was a new version ‘I’ve always been good to you people’ standard.

The sad reality was that this so called support demanded special recognition for not being violently racist like for example redneck bigots, KKK affiliates or even Trump supporters. White privilege always wanted to argue or talk over, he realized, instead of attempting to hear with comprehension. A knee-jerk reaction to criticism, yes, with no consideration as to the effect their language had on attitudes.

Either way, it was neither Ben’s nor his job, to appease Sharon’s ego or to pacify her exaggerated sense of entitlement or moreover to mollify her white tears. Even regarding something as innocent as personal information or the identity of the father of April’s baby. With the abundance of cyber theft and identity fraud however, basic personal information too was no longer blameless. Being a black man in the US, brutalized by the system, the burden was not theirs to comfort the white bystander. Perhaps he should put that in a speech, he mentally quipped. Maybe at the next Harper Avery Awards?

He reckoned that Sharon was one of two types of bigots. The first type, like his co-worker, whose anti-black racism and self-denial ran so deep they failed to acknowledge not only the prejudice itself but also the privilege that went hand in glove with it. The second being an ‘All Lives Matter’ proponent. Someone whose white superiority demanded constant attention and whose ego could not handle any form of exclusion, especially a conversation they held no part in.

With all of these thoughts flashing in quick succession through his mind, he totally ignored Sharon’s presence and her attempt to engage him in conversation. It was not the Avery way, since good manners and etiquette were part of his DNA. He’d learnt over time however, to differentiate between those who deserved his respect and moreover, his time. So, to him, Sharon simply did not exist. He heard a huff of indignation at his obvious slight, but he simply disregarded that too. He was not interested in her pique or her white tears.

He figured that if this Becky with delusions of entitlement, couldn’t keep it together enough to check her white privilege, then that was just too bad. Perhaps she could self-soothe and placate her ego by lobbying against him. Maybe with a Petition to UnAvery him.

He could change his name to Kepner, he supposed. At least that way he would get to share it with the family of his creation. It mattered not that he and April were divorced, their children ensured that they would always be a family. Out of the norm and anything but average; an unorthodox unit of measurement. Still family though.

Not that he had expectations of excommunication from Averydom. For even though a grandiose intellectual, white, male and elite, had, by means of his privilege, pioneered amazing medical breakthroughs, his inheritance and perpetuation of the legacy were via a revolutionary African American Woman. She was the current Avery Matriarch, daughter-in-law to the great Harper Avery himself! And mother to the even greater Jackson Kepner? Nah, he was just messing. So good luck to any redneck frailty masquerading as righteous outrage.

Since Ben had inadvertently escorted Bigoted Barbie out of the room, he had been a witness too to Jackson’s brushoff. Ben non-verbally acknowledged this gesture of brotherhood with a nod and in turn pantomimed the Black Power Salute. Accepting this affirmation of his action, or rather non-action, he returned the motion and made a move towards entering April’s temporary abode. Understanding that Jackson didn’t want to cause a ruckus but that he did want to remove Catherine from the vicinity before the commotion became inevitable, Ben stayed him and signalled an “I got this” movement. Nodding a reciprocal appreciation and acceptance, he simply went back to his eavesdropping while Ben continued inward to enable Catherine’s exit.

“She looks just like Jackson did when he was born,” he heard his mother proclaim, smirking at the confirmation while mentally high-fiving himself. Not that she was biased or anything, right? He was grateful for the fact that all that had seemed to happen in the interim, since the two nurses, Sharon and Ben had left the room, was oohing and aahing over the baby.

“She does resemble Jackson, but her face is much rounder,” April laughed and he grinned goofily at her response, pleased with her cordiality towards Catherine.

Having re-entered the room Ben butted into the convo…and totally imploded the tête-à-tête. It started off innocently enough and he assumed that Ben had no idea the shitstorm he was unleashing with his statements. Perhaps it was simply his presence that Catherine took offense to.

“She looks a lot like you too, April. Those gorgeous dimples were apparent from the get-go. And her cool calmness in the face of the uproar she caused…all you!” Ben alleged and although he couldn’t witness it, he’d bet his bottom dollar that it was accompanied by a wink.

“What uproar Ben?” April replied with a smile in her voice. “This was Trauma Certification 101 and you aced it Intern Warren!”

This time he couldn’t resist and took a peek around the doorway entrance. Just in time to witness the Kepner/Warren high five. His second, uttered under the breath, WTF expletive in the space of an hour! That was their thing! The unrequited high five of love. Why was she sharing their kind of moment, of praise and acknowledgement, of course, but with hidden undertones, with Ben Warren?!

What kind of Sirens magical hold over him did this diminutive redhead possess, he wondered? To a degree that sane thought escaped him and his own mind played tricks of unreasonableness.

Wanting to intervene, he watched and listened as his mom picked up the conversational lure. Unfortunately (or was it fortunately in this instance?) not addressing his jealous insecurities. Or did it?

“What do you mean dear? Why was Dr. Warren there? And where was Jackson? Did you not let him know about the delivery? Or is the restraining order still in effect?” his mother demanded of April.

“Oh, didn’t you know Catherine? Jordan was born by C-section at Meredith Grey’s home and Ben here performed the procedure,” April replied.

“Jordan? What kind of gender neutral name is that for an Avery girl? Enough of your biblical references April! Did you arrange for that ridiculous home birth situation? You are a doctor aren’t you? Why at Dr. Grey’s house? Didn’t Jackson give you his apartment? And that doesn’t explain why Jackson wasn’t notified and why you had a suspended surgical intern perform the surgery? Do you hate us that much that you were willing to lose your ticket to the Avery fortune?” his mother acerbically questioned, going full-on gang busters.

It was way past time for him to intercede, he realized but before he could interrupt, April responded. The occupants of the room were so immersed in the drama unfolding that none were the wiser to his presence. Well, except for Ben, who believed he was outside the room.

“It was an EMERGENCY Caesarean, Catherine, and I trust Ben implicitly. You know I never wanted your money! Are you simply upset that you didn’t get to my doctor first huh? Ben could have so easily made sure that I never woke up from the operation right? It’s what you wanted, me out of the picture and you with your precious Avery heir to mould in your image? I heard you, you know, on that day when you tried to con me with fake kindness and interest. I heard you tell the chief…the old chief, that it was the Avery plan to get full custody of MY baby! I can’t believe I thought your concern was real. But I learnt. From the very best actually. Only next time don’t discuss your nefarious schemes where anyone can overhear. And her name is Jordan KEPNER!” April angrily but softly defended, emphasizing words but keeping it on the DL, the down low. Discrete but also quiet, so as not to awaken the baby.

And mystery solved. Remembering that day and how he couldn’t reconcile the change in behaviour from April’s “Let’s talk about it” to the Process Server’s “Dr. Avery, you’ve been served.” From any other woman he would have viewed it as retaliation for the divorce but April had been fine with the damn divorce and the conduct itself had been unbecoming of April Kepner.

Here was confirmation of how right he was about April’s character and how his interfering mother was to blame for the almost custody battle, which he never should have allowed to get that far in the first place. He was appalled at himself. He’d have used the Avery wealth and its connotations to ensure that April lost yet another child. His self-disgust multiplied when he recalled hearing her instruction just before Ben sliced into her abdomen. “You save the baby, Ben,” she’d begged.

She put their daughter’s life above her own while all he’d done was leave her with memories of middle of the hospital hallway arguments, chastisements for not getting an abortion to avoid a repetition of their past experience and finally the fear of looming custody battles. Not to mention the vitriol of those arguments. Accusing her of playing the martyr and how he was done with her and his child. And his own cowardice when he said how they were not worth fighting for.

He was deeply ashamed of himself. Not the least of his abhorrent actions was when he grabbed her arm and the violence he displayed on the day of her pregnancy reveal. The fear on her face…it was something he would never forget and behaviour he promised himself he would never, ever repeat.

Although advised not to move because of her stitches and obviously still in pain, that did not stop April’s defensive instincts. It seemed that she was not falling for that again. Hovering over the crib, body hunched in a protective posture, she soothed the baby while simultaneously side-eyeing her ex-mother in law. Who was not letting up either.

“Oh don’t give me that BS April! You are the most selfish person I know. You didn’t even call your husband on the anniversary of your son’s death! How do you think he handled that?! He’s so much better off without you in his life!”

“I did call Catherine! Or at least I tried to…all throughout that horrible day. I couldn’t get through…” April finished on a whisper. “But you’re right about one thing,” she continued, “I was selfish.”

“Pfft, and admitting to that does what for us Dr. Kepner?”

His mother would not let up, give an inch or the benefit of the doubt. But this was something he needed to hear.

“Strangely I thought that was what marriage was. One person carrying another through a difficult time. He never said he wasn’t okay. While I couldn’t function he was back at work within days. He got over it so easily…so quickly, and I couldn’t move. I was selfish and I expected him to let me be selfish in my grief. I would have reciprocated in his grief. I actually thought that I would be there for him when you died, allow him to be as selfish as he needed, to lash out at me even…I would have taken it all. But that’s not what marriage is to you Averys right? And well, to spite me I’m sure you’ll outlive us all.”

While he reflected on the truth of April’s words, he stood there in a stunned stupor. His mother, on the other hand, recognising the veracity and emotional honesty that April always spoke with, jumped onto another topic.

“Jordan Kepner! I won’t allow it! And neither will my son!”

“Well the other option is giving a nod to Dr. Warren over here. He is a part of Jackson’s Plastics Posse. Although…I’m hoping to convince him to abdicate and come over to Badass Team Trauma?” April glanced over her shoulder, addressing Ben. “So Benedicta Cumberbatch Kepner…dash Avery? What do you think little one?” she turned back to consult with their daughter. It was so ridiculous that she had to be messing with them. Right?! Of course Ben was his friend but no way was he naming his daughter after him, or that ridiculous English Sherlock Holmes character. No way José.

“So Grandma Avery, would you very much like to be excluded from this narrative, huh?” April questioned clearly not giving a damn but enjoying his mother’s apoplectic expressions. He did mention, did he not, that Avery Women knock-out, drag down fights were immensely entertaining and April had developed a special knack for winning. Ironically, from the moment she stopped being an Avery.

He shook his head at the question but ignored the Taylor Swift trending hashtag turned into meme. April was social media savvy but he doubted that his mother got the reference. But the title, Grandmother Avery, that she didn’t like, he noted. It immediately aged her. Conversely, not as much as April directly referencing her death. While the notion of becoming a grandmother had been appealing the direct confrontation of her advancing years and hence her own mortality was bittersweet.

Enough was enough, he decided. His brain was on information overload and while he’d observed April’s proverbial mic drop, she obviously got her own back in the verbal skirmish with the superior Catherine Avery, so he concluded that it was time for his mother to make like a tree and leaf. He escorted her out, surprising both her and April by suddenly appearing. He was like the genie in the bottle…or was it a lamp? He’d have to bone up on both popular culture and cartoon network, he realized, but he had some time. He could tell that neither his mom nor April, could hazard a guess as to how much, if at all, of their conversation he’d been privy to. His mother was unexpectedly docile and left without another word to any of them.

He’d tried to talk to her but apparently his mother was as tuckered out as his daughter. Nobody had stamina like his April…ehrm, he meant his ex-wife. So he turned around and found himself once more outside April’s room. Once again an unintentional spying, prying observer. Ben noticed his hesitation but motioned him away. April noticed him not at all, her attention solely settled on their tiny bundle of joy.

“So, Jordan Kepner huh?” he heard Ben ask and figured that his bro was trying to get him some answers to counter the name equation.

“What, no Benita Warren Cumberpatch Kepner Avery?” April laughingly countered. “Sorry Ben, I really like you but no way in he..ck am I gonna do that to my daughter. Sorry…have to watch the language with little ears around. Although, I doubt there’ll be much control once she watches the NBA with her dad!”

“Yeah, I figured that was a massive put on,” Ben laughed along with April. “And hey I understand. I wouldn’t name my own daughter after me! How the hel…err heck do you feminize Ben? But…Jordan Kepner? Why?”

“She chose it herself, Ben!”

“Come on, now you’re really pulling a fast one April!” Ben exclaimed.

“No, no, no. You don’t understand. When I was reading the baby name book, every time I said Jordan, she would kick. Once she even knocked the book off my belly. And you should have seen the party going on in my tummy when we watched Space Jam the other night. She loves Michael Jordan, I tell you.”

“So…it’s for Michael Jordan? Not Jordan, the country near Syria? Where you ran off too?” he blatantly came out and asked.

“Firstly, I didn’t run off. It was effective Trauma training that happened to be in Jordan. And secondly, it’s always been about Michael Jordan. He’s Jackson’s hero, you know. Of course you do. Last week I overheard you and Jackson discussing basketball statistics in the passage when I passed and the moment Jordan’s name came up, there she went into hyper-drive. It could be that it was a combination though. Anytime we heard Jackson’s voice, there would be a dance party too. So both combined got her pretty riled up. And anyway, I don’t really like last names as first names, but this little one wants to be just like her daddy, so there you go.”

Ben smiled, but threw in one final question. “But why Kepner?”

“Oh, that was just to put off that nosy Lamaze Teacher, Sharon. She loves digging dirt and I didn’t want her gossiping about the Avery name and well Catherine just pushed my buttons so I reciprocated. See here Ben,” she stopped and in his mind’s eye he saw her grabbing Ben’s hand and pulling him over to the crib, “officially meet the baby you delivered…Jordan Kepner-Avery.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, tiny Avery. Jordan Kepner-Avery is a fine name,” he acknowledged and Jackson had to admit, knowing the reasons, that it had a nice ring to it.

“Thank you, Ben. Thank you for saving my baby.”

Yeah, he totally agreed with the sentiment. Thank you Ben for saving them both.

He decided that he needed to do something he’d ignored doing. When he had the time, he’d been too worked up to get to it. So now was the perfect opportunity. He wanted, no, he needed, to buy the mother of Jordan Kepner-Avery the biggest bouquet of Tulips he could find.

Approaching the hospital room with flowers in tow, he heard the melody that was his baby crying. He was just in time to see Arizona pull the privacy curtains closed so he rightly assumed that April was gonna give breast-feeding a shot. Being the unhusband, his company was unwelcome. Damn Divorce. So he set the Tulip Bouquet down and settled comfortably into a visitor’s chair to await his official meeting with his daughter. April had converted his No way José to a Right on Jordan.

Jordan Kepner-Avery. He loved it.

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