In the middle of the night, the bedside phone began to ring. Lein awoke immediately and glanced at the lighted dial on his wristwatch. Since Perion’s accident, Lein always hated receiving calls late in the night. He came to associate late night calls with bad news.
Sleepily, he swooped up the phone. “What has happened to Perion,” he blurt, only half aware of his own words.
“Lein,” Marilinn’s voice questioned.
His heart began to hammer in his chest. Bad vibes, he felt very bad vibes. “Yeah, Marilinn. What...what is it?”
“Perion’s in the hospital. She’s had the baby, but-”
He cut her off. ”What? She’s not due for three months.”
“No,” she said quietly, guiltily. “She carried the baby to term, Lein. She never told you.”
"She carried the baby to term,” he repeated stupidly, emphatically. “Oh my God,” he moaned, “it’s me? The baby is mine?”
“Lein, please,” she begged. ”Listen to me. There were complications; the baby is not doing well. They need you, Lein. You must come quickly.”
Lein was already up and out of bed, moving around, making plans. “Which hospital? I’m on my way.”
He was in for two flights that night. The first, a commercial airline, would take him only as far as Little Rock. Once there, he would be forced to take a small commuter flight to a municipal airport in the town where the hospital was located. It didn’t matter; the flights would give him some time to think.
He gazed out the window at the darkened sky. Dazedly, he thought, the whole time, she was carrying my baby, but I didn’t see it. He had suspected it, of course, but he hadn’t quite believed. He simply thought it was wishful thinking. Then he remembered when he saw Perion at Ronnie’s and Debi’s wedding. She had almost told him, but Blaine interrupted her. He should have pressed on, should have demanded that Perion complete her thoughts. He hadn’t, because he had basically accepted that Blaine was the father. Lein didn’t understand how he could believe that Perion would ever sleep with Blaine again, even under the influence of cocaine. The night before he had asked Perion to leave, he had made love to her. Not quite three months later, she showed up at the wedding and announced she was pregnant. She had probably mentioned it on purpose, but he had been too stubborn and ignorant to really listen to her. She had reach out to him, but he had stepped back. Stupid, stupid, he thought, why was I so blind?
He wanted to feel angry, wanted to hate her, but he couldn’t. He was simply too consumed by his love for her. He also thought of the baby who clung desperately to life. Lein didn’t even know if he had a son or a daughter.
When the commuter flight landed, Lein wasted no time getting off the plane. He grabbed his carry-on and searched for a pay phone. He called a local taxi service and was taken to the hospital nearby. The birthing center was a small detached building adjacent to the hospital. From the outside, it seemed comfortable and inviting. He vaguely wondered how many distressed patients had passed through its hallways. His wife and child were in the center, and he was damn far from comfortable, despite the homey look.
Lein saw Marilinn as soon as he walked through the front door. He tried to bypass her so he could be taken to see the baby, but she held him at bay.
“What is it,” he asked, aggravated.
“Lein, sit down for a minute. There are a few things I need to tell you first.”
“Marilinn, I don’t have time for this. I want to see the baby, then I want to see Perion.” He once again attempted to walk past her.
She gripped his arm even tighter. “Lein, I have to insist. I didn’t tell Perion you were coming, she asked me not to, but I did anyway.”
“What happened, how are they?”
“Perion was in labor and everything seemed to be okay at first, but the baby’s heart and respiration were in distress. She was taken in for an immediate C-section. The umbilical cord was strangling the baby, and now...”
Lein couldn’t hear another word, he felt dizzy, detached. “I want to see the baby, Marilinn, now.”
Marilinn led him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Neither of them was allowed inside. A class partition separated him from his baby. Lein’s eyes focused on his child lying quietly in the incubating bassinet. There was a ventilator tube and heart monitor attached to the tiny infant. His heart began to ache, and he felt his eyes beginning to tear. He glanced at the identification tag attached to the bassinet. The card simply read: Baby Girl Blake. His daughter lay a few feet from where he stood, unaware of the man who was her father. He touched the glass briefly. He couldn’t hold her, couldn’t yet touch her. He had never felt so helpless or defeated.
“Perion has already been down here five or six times. The nurses keep sending her back to bed. They finally had to sedate her,” Marilinn said.
At the mention of Perion’s name, Lein glanced at Marilinn. “Take me to her.”
After Marilinn led Lein to Perion’s room, she excused herself and left him.
He opened the door quietly and stepped inside. The room was darkened and the shades drawn. Perion’s bed was raised in a half sitting position and he could see that her eyes were closed. There were a few tears shining on her cheeks. She was draped in a hospital gown and one of her robes. Her hair was braided into a solid rope that lay over one shoulder. She looked vulnerable, child-like. He had never loved her as much as he did at that moment. However, he had been cut, and the pain was immense.
As Lein stood and gazed at her, a million things ran through his head. He didn’t immediately know how to feel, what to say, or even what to do. “Perion,” he called out softly, his voice tinged with heavy emotion.
She was surprised to hear his voice, but she didn’t open her eyes or acknowledge his existence. “Do you understand now, Lein? Do you,” she asked through tears.
“Perion, your cocaine addiction didn’t have anything to do with how she was born. It was a normal complication,” he said quietly.
“I suppose my mother sent for you,” she said, avoiding his comment, not wanting to actually hear it.
Lein decided to be patient. “She said you needed me, and you do. I should have been notified the instant you were brought here. I should have known sooner, Perion. I don’t even know how I feel about that right now.”
She finally opened her eyes. “I know you’re angry and hurt, but-”
“You’re damn right I am,” he said, cutting off her explanation. “Why couldn’t you tell me? I know you wanted to. When I approached you after Ronnie’s and Debi’s wedding, you tried to tell me then, didn’t you? I almost knew what you were going to say, but Blaine showed up, and I let it go. I believed he did it. Can you tell me why you didn’t tell him to fuck off? Can you explain why you hid behind this lie? Can you?”
“I was almost certain I had done something to the baby,” she said through her tears. “I didn’t want you to have to face the prospect of losing your child because of my addictions.”
“Perion, that doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. Your irrationality is stunning. I’m facing it right now, aren’t I? What if the baby had been born with no problems?”
“But she was,” she cried, deaf to this words.
“You can’t keep blaming yourself for events beyond your control. You’ve done that far too long. Look what it has done to you, to us. You should have let me be there for you. Do you realize how much it killed me to see you hurt? You pushed me away, babe, and I lost, too. The first baby we made was part of me, and I died a little, just like you. All that time, we needed each other, but you held onto your guilt, and let it keep you away from me.”
Angered a bit by his own words, Lein approached the bed and cupped her face into his hands. He turned her face toward his own, and wouldn’t allow her to look away.
“Our daughter is in trouble, Perion,” he said, “and I absolutely refuse to let you push me away again. I don’t intend to lose you or her. Let it go, Perion, she needs us, she needs us both.”
She placed her hands over his and brought her lips to his. She kissed him very softly. After a brief moment, she pulled away. “Lein,” she whispered in tears, “I love you. I can’t live without you, not anymore.”
He closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. He then removed his hands from her face and cradled her to his chest. “It’s okay,” he said softly. “We can do this.”