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Excerpt for Love My Children First by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Published by EVERNIGHT PUBLISHING ® at Smashwords


www.evernightpublishing.com




Copyright© 2018 Kory Steed



ISBN: 978-1-77339-572-2


Cover Artist: Jay Aheer


Editor: Melissa Hosack



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.


This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.



DEDICATION



For Mark, who believed in me first.


I also dedicate this book

To all gay fathers who have found the strength to love again…

To their children … and

To the men who have dared to love them back.



LOVE MY CHILDREN FIRST


Family Men, 1


Kory Steed


Copyright © 2018


Section One

It’s Never Easy


Chapter One

April and Showers


Saturday, April 9, 2010

Under a clear, star-filled April sky, a crescent moon lent its thin, reflected beams to the silhouette of a well-appointed, three story Tudor mansion. 417 Spring Meadow Drive lay silent, its occupants left to their dreams.

****

“Toby! Toby, wake up! Wake up, Toby. It’s time! It’s time!”

“Huh? What? What?”

“Toby, my contractions … they’ve started.”

“Huh? What did you say? Contractions! What time is it?”

“It’s 2:44.”

“2:44? In the morning?”

“Of course in the morning.”

“Oh, Sydney! It’s time? Time! Time! It can’t be time. It’s not due for another ten days. Are you sure?”

“Hell yes, I’m sure. They’re regular now. We better hurry.”

“How far apart?”

“Three minutes.”

“Three minutes? Three minutes? But… But… But with the last one you said they were seven when we left.”

“That was baby number four. This is number five and she’s not waiting! Oh, God! Here comes another one!”

“Breathe, baby, breath like they told us!”

Sydney pursed her lips and began to blow, short, quick breaths.

“Pant, Sydney. Pant.”

“I’m panting I’m fucking panting!”

“What can I do?”

“Nothing. Nothing! Get my bag.”

“Oh, God,” Sydney screamed as she leaned into the contraction.

“Sydney, stop pushing!”

“I can’t help it!”

“Shit!” Toby ran to the closet. “I can’t find it! I can’t find it! Fuck! Fuck! Where the fuck is it?”

“Did you find it, Toby?”

“No! Where the fuck did you put it? Oh, here it is. Never mind.” He returned just as the contraction ended.

“That was a big one. Hurry, Toby! Hurry!”

“Don’t push, Sydney! Whatever you do, don’t push!”

****

As Toby helped Sydney out of the bedroom and into the hallway, their oldest, August, came out of his room, rubbing his eyes. “Mommy, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, August. Mommy’s just going to the hospital right now.”

“But, Mommy, I heard you scream.”

“That was just your new little sister. She’s making herself known.”

“You mean the baby’s coming, Mommy?”

“Yes, August, your new little sister will be here soon. You’ll get to meet her tomorrow.” Sydney stopped and buckled over. “Toby, here comes another one!”

“Pant, Sydney, pant. Don’t push! Don’t push!”

Sydney screamed again.

“Mommy! Daddy, what’s wrong with Mommy?”

“It’s the baby coming, August.”

“Is the baby hurting Mommy?”

“No, August… Well yes, it hurts Mommy, but this is what happens to a Mommy when the baby is ready to come out. The baby isn’t doing it on purpose. All babies do this.”

“You mean I hurt Mommy when I came out?”

“Yes, I mean no. No, you didn’t hurt Mommy. It just hurts when the baby comes out.”

“Mommy!” A cry sounded from the girls’ bedroom.

“Mommy!” This time it came from the boys’ bedroom. Then another voice yelled, “Mommy! Daddy!” From the girls’ bedroom, again.

“Oh, God, Toby, they’re all up. Go wake Aunt Vera.”

“I’m up. I’m up.” At five foot five and with curlers in her hair—a spry and wiry, sixty-seven-year-old—Aunt Vera came bouncing out of what would become the Nursery as she cinched the tie on her robe. “Now what’s all this ruckus?”

“Aunt Vera, it’s time.”

“I can see that, my dear. How far apart?”

“Three minutes.”

“Then what in world are you doing lollygagging around her. You better get a move on.”

“We’re trying, Aunt Vera,” Toby said. “She’s having a contraction. The kids…”

Two girls and another boy filed into the hall to join their brother. Together they surrounded their mother, all calling her name.

Vera nodded. “Now what’s all this ruckus you kids are making? Huh? Mommy’s fine. Mommy’s just fine. Daddy’s taking her to the hospital.” Vera spread her arms like a goalie and began to herd the four children back to their rooms.

“I want to say goodbye to Mommy.” August ducked under her arm and raced forward, followed by the other three.

“I love you, Mommy.”

“I love you, Mommy.”

“I wuv you, Mommy.”

Mom Mom Mommy!”

“August.”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“August, you’re my big boy. You’re my good boy. You watch out for your brother and sisters until I get home. Okay? You take care of them.”

“You mean I’m in charge, Mommy?”

“Yes, August, you’re in charge. You take care of your brother and sisters now.”

“Yes, Mommy, I will, and I’ll take care of my new baby sister when she comes home too.”

“That’s my good boy.”

“Now, Sydney, love. Don’t you worry about a thing,” Vera said as she waited for the children. “I’ve got it all under control. Toby, bring an umbrella. They were calling for showers throughout the night.

“Thanks, Aunt Vera.”

“Okay, August, July, May, and June, kiss Mommy goodbye. You’ll see her in the morning.”

Once the children had said their goodbyes, Vera announced, “Now who wants a cup of hot chocolate?”

“Me!”

“Me!”

“Me!”

“Me!”

****

3:17 AM, MST

Hinnen Valley Medical Center, Labor and Delivery, Room 7

“Boy oh boy, Sydney, this little girl means business.” Dr. Fricker looked over the top edge of her glasses. “I can see the head. Ready now? Push!”

Sydney grunted. Toby wiped her brow.

“You’re doing great, baby!” He blotted again.

“Toby, this isn’t like the other ones. I need ice. Give me ice!”

“Here, baby, here’s the ice.”

“Mmm, it’s so cool. More, more ice.”

“I love you, Sydney.”

“Fuck that, Toby! Oh! Sorry! I love you too. Now give me more fucking ice!”

“The head’s almost out, Sydney,” Dr. Fricker announced. “Oh, she’s coming fast. Push again, Sydney. Now give me one big push!”

Toby lifted Sydney up from behind as she grunted. In a rush of amniotic fluid that splashed to the floor and all down the front of Dr. Fricker’s gown, the baby made her entrance.

“Here she is!” Dr. Fricker laid the newborn on Sydney’s chest. “Your new baby girl! And she’s perfect.”

“My little April. April? Right, Toby?”

“Yes, Sydney, our little April.”

“Perfect,” the delivery nurse said as the sound of drumming rain hit the delivery room window. “April and showers. It’s sure pouring out there right now.”

****

Monday, April 12, 2010, 12:55 PM, MST

417 Spring Meadow Drive

“I wanna see her!”

“No, me first!

“No, me first. I’m her biggest sister!”

“Me! Me!”

“Kids! Kids! Simmer down.” Aunt Vera stepped between them and took baby April from Sydney’s arms. “Now let me have a look at you, my little precious.”

“Thanks, Aunt Vera. I don’t know what we’d do without you.”

“My pleasure, Toby, my pleasure. Now let’s get this little girl into her bassinet.”

“I wanna hold her!”

“No, I wanna hold her!”

“Me too!”

“Me! Me!”

“You’ll all have your chance, but your little sister just came into this world. She needs her rest.”

“Oh, Aunt Vera!” August planted his hands on his hips.

“Don’t Aunt Vera me, young master August, and don’t take that tone with me. Like I said, you’ll have your chance, but not without supervision you won’t. Now all of you, wipe those sour pusses off your faces. There’s chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen, right out of the oven.”

“I want one!”

“No, I want one!”

“Me! Me!”

The three youngest raced down the hall toward the kitchen.

“Humf, I’ll wait!” August folded his arms in front of himself.

“August, you go with your brother and sisters and see to it they don’t break anything.”

“Oh, Aunt Vera!” August planted himself where he stood.

“Go on now. Go watch your brother and sisters.”

When Vera turned around, August stuck his tongue out at her, then he turned in a huff and stomped his feet as he marched toward the kitchen.

Sydney and Toby broke out laughing.

“I’ll just put her down and then come right back and help get you settled.

“Thanks, Aunt Vera, but Toby can help me into a chair.”

“If that’s what you want, dear. I thought you’d want to go right upstairs and lie down.”

“I’ll be fine. I need to sit down here for a few minutes before I climb that staircase. You go ahead with April.”



Chapter Two

A Loss Beyond Comprehension


Tuesday, May 4, 2010, 12:14 PM

“How are you feeling, dear?”

“It’s just a little headache, Aunt Vera.”

“How’s your tummy?”

“I’m a little sore under my ribs on the right side.”

“Oh, I meant nausea. Were you lifting something that you shouldn’t have?”

“No, I promise I wasn’t. I can’t figure out what I did though.”

“Your face has been looking a little puffy, and your ankles are swollen again. Have you been into the dill pickles?”

“Only one or two. It’s funny how I’m still craving them.”

“Only one or two? Since you came home?”

Sydney looked away.

“Sydney?”

“Okay, okay, one or two a day.”

“Well, they’re certainly not helping your ankles, and they’ll sour your milk. You need to lay off them from now on. When’s you next checkup?”

“My one-month checkup is this coming Friday, the seventh. Dr. Fricker said I was doing just fine on my two-week visit, but I think I’ve actually put on some weight since then. I’ll ask her about it when I see her.”

“It’s probably fluid from those pickles. For the next three days, no more pickles, not until you see her again and she says yes. Agreed?”

“Yes, agreed.”

“And don’t you worry about the weight. With some women it takes time and this is your fifth. Why don’t you rest for a while? Take a nap. I’ll thaw some of your milk and give little April a bottle if she starts to fuss.”

“Thanks, Aunt Vera. I’ve been pumping up a storm. I think there’s more than a months’ worth in the freezer right now. Would you mind pulling the drapes? The light’s been bothering my eyes. It’s probably my allergies.”

“Sure, dear. Now you have yourself a good nap.”

“Thanks, Aunt Vera.”

****

There was a crash.

“What in the world?” As Vera rushed up the stairs, she heard a thumping sound coming from the master bedroom. She opened the door…

****

1:06 PM

Jaron Enterprises. Fiona speaking. How may I direct your call?”

“This is Vera Jacobson. I need to speak with Toby. I’m his aunt. It’s an emergency.”

Yes, ma’am. I’ll put you right through to the conference room.”

****

Aunt Vera?”

“Toby, you’ve got to come home. Right away!”

What is it, Aunt Vera? What’s happened?”

“It’s Sydney. She’s had a seizure! She was taking a nap. I heard a crash. I found her on your bedroom floor.”

What? She was fine when I left the house this morning.”

“I know, Toby. I know. It just happened.

I’m coming, Aunt Vera. Did you call 911?”

“Yes. They’re on their way.”

Is she conscious?”

“She’s delirious. The kids are in a panic. She keeps saying her head hurts.”

The kids? What are the kids doing home?”

“Remember, they had a half day at school today.

Oh, right. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’ll meet you at the hospital.”

“Toby, remember, I don’t drive. And what about the children?”

Sorry, Aunt Vera, sorry. I’m not thinking straight. I’ll call you from the hospital.”

“Okay, Toby. Hurry!”

****

1:08 PM

Headquarters, Jaron Enterprises, L.L.C., Executive Office

“Jason, I have to leave right now!”

Jason Ackerman, the CEO of Jaron Enterprises and a former army medic, looked up from the blueprints he was studying with Aaron Jaeger, the former starting quarterback for the Nevada Bighorns football team, and now president of Jaron Rehabilitative Services. “What’s wrong, Toby?”

“It’s Sydney. She’s had a seizure.”

Eugene!”

“Yes, Jason?”

“Find Royce. Tell him to get Gypsy warmed up.”

“Right away, Jason.”

Jason pressed the intercom. “Fiona, get me Simone Jones on the phone.”

Right away, Jason.”

“It’s gonna be all right, Toby. We’ll get you down there as fast as we can.”

“Thanks, Jason.”

“We’re coming with you. Aaron?”

Aaron stood up. “Absolutely!”

Jason, I have Miss Jones on the phone.”

“Thank you, Fiona.” Jason picked up the handset. “Simone? Jason. I need a favor.”

Anything, Jason,” Simone, the CEO of Hinnen Valley Medical Center and an Air Force Reserve, Registered Nurse said.

“You remember, Toby Jacobson.”

Yes. Why?”

“His wife’s about a month postpartum. She’s had a seizure. She’ll probably be rolling through your doors in less than a half hour.”

Hmm. Does she have pitting edema? Any right costal margin tenderness? Photophobia?

“I’m not with her, she’s at her home. The ambulance is due to arrive any minute.”

If she does, it could be late postpartum eclampsia. I’ll see that they’re ready for her.”

“Thanks, Simone. We’ll be flying down in Gypsy. All right if we use the hospital’s auxiliary helipad?”

Yes, of course. I’ll meet you there personally.”

“Thanks, Simone. Bye.”

Jason hung up and hurried around from behind his desk.

“Wow, Jason. Just like that?”

“Just like that, Toby.”

“Thank you, Jason. Thank you.”

****

1:47 PM

Hinnen Valley Medical Center, Emergency Department, Room 1

“I feel funny.”

Dr. Sylvia Gladstone, Director of Emergency Medicine walked to the bedside. “What is it, Mrs. Jacobson?”

“I feel like I’m not all here, and my head. The pain is incredible.”

“We’re giving you something for that right now, Mrs. Jacobson.” Dr. Gladstone turned the IV bag and checked the dosage of magnesium sulfate while Bryce, the ER nurse, pushed 4 mg of morphine sulfate into her second IV line.

“Thank you, doctor.”

A clerk stepped behind the curtain. “Dr. Gladstone. Mr. Jacobson just arrived.”

“Thanks, Rhonda, send him in.” Dr. Gladstone walked around the curtain and waited at the doorway. Standing next to three men, two who she immediately recognized as Jason Ackerman and Aaron Jaeger, former patients of hers, was Simone Jones, CEO of Hinnen Valley Medical Center, a tall, statuesque, African-American woman, dressed in a navy-blue woman’s business suit. Dr. Gladstone exchanged glances with her. “Whatever they need,” Simone mouthed. Dr. Gladstone nodded.

Dr. Gladstone addressed the third man. “Hello. You must be Mr. Jacobson. I’m Dr. Gladstone.”

“Hello, doctor. I’m here to see my wife.”

“Of course. She’s right in here.”

Toby rushed into the room. “Sydney! Baby! Are you okay?”

“I don’t know what happened, Toby. I laid down for a nap and the next thing I knew I was on the floor and there were paramedics over me.

“How are you feeling?”

“My head is killing me.”

“We’ve giving her medication for that, Mr. Jacobson.”

“Thank you, doctor. What’s wrong with her?”

“Everything is pointing to late postpartum eclampsia.”

“What’s that?”

“No one knows the cause for sure, but her blood pressure is very high and she’s been retaining fluid. She has protein in her urine and her urine output is down, which means her kidneys aren’t functioning normally. Her liver is enlarged, and she has photophobia, or a sensitivity to light. She’s had a severe headache since she arrived, and she’s already had one seizure that we know of. We’re treating her for all these things right now.”

“Excuse me.” Toby turned around and walked to the doorway. “Jason, I need you in here with me.”

Dr. Gladstone smiled as he walked in. “Hello, Jason.”

“Hey, Jason,” Bryce said. “How you doing?”

“Hello, Dr. Gladstone, Bryce. I’m fine, but I’m here for Toby and Sydney right now.”

Dr. Gladstone nodded. “Understood.”

“Sure. Sure.” Bryce patted him on the shoulder.

“Doctor,” Toby said, “please tell Jason what you told me.”

“Of course, Mr. Jacobson.”

Jason stood at the foot of the stretcher and listened intently until Dr. Gladstone finished. “I see.”

“What’s it mean, Jason?”

“Let me talk to both of you.” Jason walked to one side of the stretcher and took Sydney’s hand and kissed it as Toby walked to the other. “Hello there, love. How are you feeling?”

“Not too good right now, Jason. My head is killing me and these lights are so bright.”

Dr. Gladstone snapped her fingers. “Let’s lower the lights.”

“Got it.” Bryce hit one of the two light switches, effectively cutting the light by two-thirds.

“Sydney, you had a seizure because your blood pressure is very high and because of the changes in the chemistry of your body. Those things happen with something called postpartum eclampsia. It’s rare for it to happen so long after delivery. They’re treating you for all of those things right now.”

Sydney looked at her husband. “I’m scared. Toby, I’m scared.”

“I know, love. I’m scared too.”

She looked back at Jason. “Jason, if anything happens to me, you take care of my Toby, you hear me? I know how close you two once were, and I’m so happy you’ve become friends again. Promise me, Jason. Promise me you’ll look after my Toby. Promise me now.”

“I promise, Sydney.”

“Thank you, Jason.”

After Jason answered, he glanced at Toby with a questioning look on his face.

“Yes, Jason. I told her about how close we grew that summer.” Then he whispered, “I left out nothing. She knows everything.” Then he began to cry.

Jason reached across the ER stretcher and rested his hand on Toby’s shoulder. “They’re doing everything they can for her, Toby.”

Toby pulled away and leaned over the side rail. He kissed Sydney’s forehead.

“Oh, baby,” he said through his tears. “Nothing’s going to happen to you. It can’t. You can’t let it. We need you, Sydney. The kids and I need you.”

“Toby.” Tears poured down Sydney’s cheeks.

“Bryce, a milligram of Lorazepam for Mrs. Jacobson. Right now, please.”

“Right away, doctor.”

“Mr. Jacobson, try to keep calm. I understand how difficult this is for you, but emotional upset isn’t good for your wife right now.”

Just as Bryce connected the syringe to the IV, Sydney cried out. “Oh, my God, my head! My head! It’s exploding!” Her eyes rolled back. She began to convulse.

“Push that Lorazepam right now.”

“Yes, doctor, pushing.”

“Do you still have the other milligram?”

“Yes, doctor, it’s right here.”

“Give that too. Stat!”

Toby screamed. “What’s happening?”

Jason moved around to Toby and pulled him back. “She’s having another seizure, Toby. Step back and let them work.”

“Doctor, her sat’s dropped!”

“I see that, Bryce. Turn her oxygen up to eight liters.”

Thirty seconds passed. “The seizure isn’t breaking. Damn!” Dr. Gladstone slapped the wall.

“Set me up for a crash intubation. Two milligrams of Etomidate, now!”

Bryce punched the red button on the wall above Sydney’s head. Ten seconds later the operator paged overhead. “Code Blue, Emergency Department, Room One. Code Blue, Emergency Department, Room One. Code Blue, Emergency Department, Room One.”

“As soon as she’s under give her forty milligrams of succinylcholine.”

“Yes, doctor.”

“Bryce, give me a number 7 ET tube with a 10 cc syringe!”

“Done and ready. They’re right here, doctor.”

“Call respiratory and tell them to set up a ventilator. Call CT and tell them we’ll be heading over there in five minutes.”

****

4:35 PM

Neuro Intensive Care Unit, Room N-644

With the ventilator quietly whooshing in the background, Dr. Ewé, the Intensivist, met with Toby.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Jacobson. Your wife has had a cerebral bleed. It means a blood vessel has ruptured in her brain. The bleeding has been extensive. It’s compressed her brain almost completely to one side.

“What does that mean?”

“It means that the blood vessels that feed the part of her brain that allows her to function as a person have been pressed closed, and her brain tissue can’t get the blood and oxygen it needs.” Dr. Ewé rested her hand on Toby’s shoulder. “When that happens, the brain tissue dies.”

“Dies? You mean like it’s dead? Part of her brain is dead? Like a stroke? Is that why she had another seizure?”

“We can’t say for certain whether it has died, not yet, but yes, I believe she had the seizure because of the bleed. I’m sorry. Her brain has been without oxygen for an extended period of time.”

“So what do we do about it?”

“We’re doing everything we can for her, Mr. Jacobson.”

A female nurse pulled back the curtain. “Excuse me, doctor. Is it okay if I give Mrs. Jacobson her meds?”

“Yes, Sonya. Absolutely. Mr. Jacobson, this is your wife’s nurse, Sonya. She’ll be taking care of her tonight.”

“Hello, Sonya. Thank you for what you’re doing for her.”

“Of course, Mr. Jacobson.”

“What are those drugs, doctor?”

“Mr. Jacobson, we’re providing her with supportive care. We’re giving her drugs to try to reduce the swelling on her brain. That’s what Sonya is giving her right now. We’re breathing for her. We’re giving her fluids and other medications to prevent further seizures.”

“So when will she be able to come home?”

“Mr. Jacobson, sir … it doesn’t look good.”

“But what about the baby? What about my children?”

“I don’t have an answer for you about them. I wish I did. I’m very sorry. If you think it’s appropriate, you might want to consider bringing them in to see her. That is if you think they can handle it.”

“They’re all so young. My oldest is only eight.”

“I can’t say how the next few days are going to go, Mr. Jacobson. I can’t even predict the next few hours, but they might want to see her. Time is of the essence. What about her parents? Brothers? Sisters?”

“Sydney was an only child, like me. Her parents died before we were married. I don’t understand, doctor. Why isn’t she awake? Why isn’t the other half of her brain working?

“Mr. Jacobson, her entire brain has been compressed in half. It has been without oxygen for a very long time. The part that makes her her isn’t functioning anymore.”

“You mean she’s brain dead!”

“I didn’t say that, Mr. Jacobson.”

“But that’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it?”

“It’s too early to tell, Mr. Jacobson, but as I said, it doesn’t look good.”

“Are you giving up on her? You can’t give up on her. She’s only thirty-four.”

“We’re not giving up, Mr. Jacobson, not at all, but I have to be straight with you. It doesn’t look good.”

“No! No! This can’t be happening! No!” Toby rushed to Sydney’s side and took her hand. “Sydney! Sydney! Wake up, baby!” He kissed her hand.

“She’s so cold, doctor. Why is she so cold? Why won’t she wake up?”

“Mr. Jacobson.”

“Sydney! Sydney! Wake up, baby! You have to wake up!” Toby began to wobble. “Help her, please! Do something! Anything!” As Toby’s legs buckled, Sonya pushed a chair behind him just as he went down. He fell back into it. He began to sob.

****

4:50 PM

Aaron waited at the door as Jason entered Sydney’s room. “Toby, buddy, I’m here.”

“Where were you, Jason? I needed you.”

“I’m sorry, Toby. I was making the calls you asked me to make.”

“Oh, sorry. I’m sorry, Jason.”

“Toby, it’s okay.”

“She’s gone,” Toby said as he stood up. “My Sydney is gone. Her brain. It’s … it’s squashed.”

Jason wrapped his arms around Toby. “I’ve got you, buddy. I’ve got you, Toby.”

Quaking sobs escaped from Toby. His body shook and shook as he held onto Jason for support. “My kids, Jason, my kids. They need to see her.”

Tears began to fall from Jason’s eyes.

Aaron walked in and placed his hand on Jason’s back, rubbing it gently.

Jason turned his head toward Aaron.

“What can I do, Jason?” Aaron mouthed.

“Make the call,” Jason whispered. “Make the call.”

****

“Mrs. Jacobson? Mrs. Vera Jacobson?”

“Yes? It’s Andrews, Vera Andrews. Who’s this?”

“My name is Aaron Jaeger. I’m Jason Ackerman’s partner. Jason is a friend of Toby’s. He asked me to call.”

Yes, I’ve met Jason, and he’s spoken of you.”

“Toby has asked that his children be brought to the hospital.”

I understand. I’ll have to call a cab. I don’t drive anymore.”

“No, ma’am, we’re sending a car. It should be there in fifteen minutes, but it will wait as long as you need it to.”

How much time do I have, does she have?”

“I don’t know, ma'am, but you should get here as quickly as you can.”

Thank you, Mr. Jaeger. We’ll be there a soon as we can.”

“Thank you, ma'am. Goodbye.”



Chapter Three

An Impossible Decision


5:30 PM

SICU staff lounge

Jason sat at a table. “Braden, Penelope, thank you for coming.”

“Of course,” they said together.

“Whatever you need, Jason,” Penelope Whitley, the Administrative Director of Nathan’s Promise, the new LGBTQ rehabilitation center under construction by Jaron Rehabilitative Services, said. With her was Braden Darby, RN, the Managing Director of Physical Therapy for Nathan’s Promise. Both were formerly employed by Hinnen Valley Medical Center and still had close ties with all the staff there.

Jason shook his head. “Where are the children?”

Penelope patted his back. “They’re in the waiting room with their aunt.”

“Thanks, Penelope.” Jason’s body shook with chills. “Sorry, but I had to collect myself for a minute. They let me come back here to their lounge, but this room isn’t helping much.”

“I know, Jason.” Penelope rested her hand on his shoulder. “Sorry, this is where you learned the man who attacked you was still alive. Are you okay?”

Jason shook his head to clear away the images that returned of the man who had tried to take his life only four months earlier. “Yes, I’m fine. How’s Toby doing?”

“As well as can be expected, I suppose, and don’t worry about needing a few minutes. I’m sure all of this is very difficult for you.”

“I’m not important right now. Is there someone you can recommend to help them?”

“Yes, there’s a child psychiatrist and two child psychologists on staff. I’ve already spoken with Simone. She’s setting it up.”

“Good. Thanks. What about help for them at home?”

“I’ve contacted a nanny agency. They’re putting a list of candidates together.”

Jason nodded. “Thank you. Well, I guess we better get this done.”

“Where’s Aaron?” Braden asked.

“He’s in with Toby right now.”

“What do you need? What can I do for you?”

“Stay close, Braden. Just stay close.”

****

5:32 PM

Room N-644

“Well, my dear,” Sonya said as she applied rouge to Sydney’s cheeks, “you have some important visitors coming, and I’m not going to let you look anything but your very best for them.”

Toby burst into tears. “Thank you, Sonya,” he choked out.

Aaron braced him from behind.

“It’s my pleasure, Mr. Jacobson,” Sonya said. “Now, Sydney, which color lipstick should we use. I think … coral, yes coral looks just right for your skin tone.”

****

5:36 PM

SICU waiting room

“Hi, Uncle Jason.”

“Hey, little man. How’s my August?”

“I don’t know, Uncle Jason. Mommy’s sick.”

“I know, August.”

“Where’s Daddy?” June held a crayon drawing in front of her.

“He’s in with Mommy. We’re going to take you in to see her right now, if that’s okay.”

“Yes, it’s okay.”

“I want Mommy. I want Mommy.”

“Mom. Mom. Mommy.”

“Yes, July. Yes May,” Aunt Vera, said, her eyes brimming with tears. “We’re going to see Mommy now.”

“Are you okay with the baby, Aunt Vera?”

“Yes, I’ll be okay, Jason. Thank you.”

“Okay, kids,” Jason said as he squatted down in front of them. “Mommy was so tired that she fell into a deep, deep sleep,” Jason said.

“Just like a fairy princess?” June asked.

“Yes, June, just like a fairy princess.”

Jason could see the wheels turning in her head. “What is it, June?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“Okay, kids, you’re going to see some machines and hear some whooshing sounds in her room, and there’s a tube in her mouth. That’s part of the medicine the doctors are giving her. They also gave her some medicine that made her very sleepy so she won’t wake up when you talk to her. Do you understand?”

After they all nodded, Jason and Aunt Vera, with April in her arms, walked them into the SICU, followed by Penelope and Braden.

****

Room N-644

“Daddy!”

“Hello there, Munchkin.”

“Why is Mommy asleep?”

“Because she’s tired, June.”

“Can you wake her up, please? I want to talk to her.”

“Not right now, Munchkin. She needs to rest.”

“I drew her a picture, Daddy.”

“Oh, how pretty.”

“It’s all of us, Daddy, even baby April.”

“I see that. It’s very pretty. How about I lift you up so you can put it next to Mommy so she can look at it later?”

“Okay, Daddy.” As Toby lifted his daughter next to her mother, June reached out and stroked Sydney’s face. “You look very pretty, Mommy. I brought you a picture. You can look at it later. I can’t wait to talk to you, Mommy.” Then she leaned forward, cupping her hand to Sydney’s ear, and whispered, “August didn’t eat his peas again. He hid them in his napkin.”

Toby began to lower her back down. “No, Daddy. I want to give Mommy a kiss. Here, Mommy, this is my kiss to wake you up. That’s what the prince did for the princess when she was in a deep, deep, deep, deep sleep.”

Toby began to shake. “That’s very nice, Munchkin,” he choked out and then lowered her to the floor.

“Me next! Me next.”

“Jason, I can’t.”

“It’s okay, Toby. I’ve got this.”

“Here you go, July. I’ve got you.”

“Thank you, Uncle Jason.”

“Toby, come sit down next to Aunt Vera.” Aaron guided him to the chair.

July leaned down and kissed his mother. “I love you, Mommy.”

“Me! Me!”

Jason lowered July to the floor. “Go sit with your Daddy now, July.”

“Okay.”

“Your turn, May.” As Jason lifted her up, May scrambled out of his grasp and laid across her mother’s chest. “Mommy.” She closed her eyes and began to suck her thumb. In a moment, she was fast asleep.

August began to cry, making soft, high pitched squeaks in-between each breath. “No… No … Mommy, Mommy,” he whispered. He ran to his father. “Daddy!”

“I’ve got you, August. I’ve got you.” Toby shifted July to his right thigh and then lifted August onto his left. He pulled August close as he buried his head into his neck.

July looked at his brother, then to June.

Aunt Vera hurried from the room with April in her arms. Penelope followed her.

Seeing her brother, June began to cry, then July did too, but May slept soundly on her mother’s chest.

****

11:30 PM

In the quiet of the SICU there was a particular stillness that had settled into room N-644. Only the soft, rhythmic whoosh of the ventilator disturbed the peace. Toby sat holding Sydney’s hand while he spoke of their life together.

“I remember that summer, by the lake. Do you remember it, honey, before the children? We were so young then. When I told you I was going to build you a mansion, you told me you didn’t need one, but I built it anyway, and you filled it up. You’re in every room, honey. Your touch is on every piece of furniture and every painting.

“The children were here, Sydney. May even slept on your chest. I don’t know how she managed to do it, but she did. June has drawn you another one of her masterpieces. It’s of our family. There’s a tree with red leaves and purple grass covers a hillside, but the sun shines yellow in a blue sky.

“The house is like ours with the Tudor half-timbering in brown and multiple paned windows. In front of the house is our family with you holding April. We’re all holding hands with June next to you then May, then July, then August, and then me at the other end. There’s a butterfly on a flower as tall as the house and a dog jumping in the air in front of all of us. Funny how she added the dog since we don’t have one.”

“I’m sorry to disturb you, Mr. Jacobson,” Sonya said as she pulled the curtain aside. “I have Sydney’s medications. I’ll only be a minute.”

“No, of course, please do what you need to do.”

“I’ll only be a minute.”

“Take all the time you need.”

“Thank you.”

“How long have you been a nurse, Sonya?”

“Twenty years, fifteen in critical care.”

“That’s a long time. Have you taken care of a lot of patients like Sydney?”

“Yes, too many.”

“Have they been as sick as Sydney?”

“Some.”

“And how did they do? Did any of them wake up?”

Sonya closed her eyes for a moment. “Mr. Jacobson…”

“No, please call me Toby.”

“Toby, every patient is different. We can never know how someone will respond to the medications or how they will heal.”

“You’re evading my question, Sonya.”

“Yes, I’m afraid I am. Sorry.”

“Please, Sonya, tell me the truth.”

“No, Toby, I’ve never seen anyone as sick as your wife wake up. I’ve never known anyone as sick as your wife, with as much damage as she has, survive this long.”

“So she’s a fighter then. So if she’s lasted this long, maybe she’ll pull through.”

“I didn’t say that, Toby, and I didn’t mean that. I’ve seen a lot and like I said, every patient is different. Some hold out longer than others. It might be because she’s young, but with the damage she’s suffered…”

“Go on.”

“When people get old, their bodies don’t have many reserves to call upon. For example, an older person can go into cardiac arrest immediately after some kind of incident, like trauma, because they’re more fragile, but if we can get to them in time, we can often get them back.

“When a younger person suffers a trauma, their bodies call upon all their reserves to keep them going, sometimes for hours, but when their hearts finally give out it’s because they’ve depleted every last ounce of those reserves. There’s nothing left for them to come back with and they don’t make it.

“Sydney is young. She’s been using her reserves to keep her going, along with the supportive care we’ve been giving her.”

“Do you believe in miracles, Sonya?”

“I’ve seen some things that defy scientific explanation. The only thing that’s left is a miracle, so yes, I do believe in miracles.”

“Thank you, Sonya. Thank you for being honest with me.”

“Of course, Toby. Can I get you anything? A cup of tea, coffee, hot cocoa?”

“No, thanks. I’m just going to sit here with Sydney and tell her how much I love her.”

“Have you eaten today?”

“I can’t remember.”

“When did you last sleep?”

“I don’t remember that either. I’m sure I’ve fallen asleep in the chair at some time.”

“Tell you what. I’m going to bring you a sandwich and a cup of hot cocoa, just in case you get hungry. I’m also going to bring in one of the fold-away beds we have so that if you feel like you want to lie down for a few minutes, you can.”

“Thanks, Sonya, that would be great.”

****

May 5, 2010, 2:45 AM

When Sonya pulled the curtain aside, Toby was asleep on the fold-away. There were a few crumbs on an otherwise empty plate and an empty mug sitting on a tray on the parson’s table along the wall. She returned with another blanket and covered him. Then she began to document Sydney’s neurological assessment.

****

3:00 PM

SICU Waiting Room

“Jason, I can’t do it. I can’t tell them to turn off the ventilator.”

“What have the doctors told you?”

“They shake their heads and say they’re sorry. They say, ‘It doesn’t look good.’ They say that her brain was without oxygen for a long time. They say that her brain is half its size because it’s been squeezed by the blood from the burst blood vessel.”

“Have they talked to you about stopping life-support?”

“No, but I can tell that that’s coming. They’re doing an EEG on her right now. I think they should be done soon.”

“What would Sydney want? Did the two of you ever discuss this?”

“Yes, and she’s signed a donor card, but I can’t do it.”

“What did Sydney want, Toby?”

“She didn’t want to be hooked up to any machines or receive any treatment that would keep her alive if she was brain dead. She said she wanted her organs to be donated. Oh, Sydney, Sydney, why did this happen to us?”

“Toby, you don’t have to make this decision right now.” Jason reached for Aaron’s hand for support and squeezed it. Aaron squeezed back. Jason went on. “I’ve never had to do this, Toby, so I don’t know what it’s like to go through what you’re going through, but my parents had to, back when my brother and sister were in a car wreck. They agonized for days, but in the end, they realized Kail and Zoie weren’t coming back and they made the decision to donate their organs.”

“But that’s it, Jason. What if she’s not dead? What if I say yes and they take them and give them to other people? Where would she be then?”

“They would never take her organs unless they knew without a doubt that she was gone, and only with your consent.”

“Jason, she’s starting to smell. Not just like she hasn’t bathed. There’s another smell in the room. I’ve never smelled it before, but it makes me afraid. It’s like death.”

Jason looked up as the door to the waiting room opened. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Mr. Jacobson, but we need you to come in right now.”

“What is it, Sonya?”

“It’s your wife, Mr. Jacobson. Her pulse is dropping.”

****

3:12 PM

Room N-644

“Mr. Jacobson?” Dr. Ewé said. “Your wife’s heart is failing. We need to know whether you want us to treat her.”

“What’s happened? What’s that cart?”

“Sir, that’s the crash cart. It’s used to resuscitate patients when his or her heart stops beating. The swelling on her brain hasn’t improved. In fact, it’s gotten worse and it’s pushing on the lower part of the brain that controls her heart, just like it did on the part of her brain that made her her.”

Sonya focused on the cardiac monitor. “Doctor, her rate is down forty.”

“One amp of Atropine, Sonya.”

“Yes, doctor. Right away.”

“Mr. Jacobson, I need to know right now. Do you want us to start CPR on your wife?”

“Oh, God!” Toby’s body stiffened. His face and neck turned beet red as he reached toward the ceiling and then folded his arms over his head. “God, help me! Oh, God!” Then he turned to Jason. “Jason, what do I do? What should I do?”

“Trust your heart, Toby.”

Aaron moved in from behind Toby and placed his hands on each side of his arms to steady him.

“Mr. Jacobson?” Dr. Ewé said. “We’re out of time. I need an answer right now.”

“Jason, what do I do?”

“Sonya,” Dr. Ewé ordered, “prepare for CPR.”

Sonya climbed onto the bed and placed her palms over Sydney’s breastbone.

A high-pitched tone filled Toby’s ears as a stillness fell over the room. Everyone else faded away. The high-intensity spotlight over Sydney’s bed turned blindingly bright, and her ethereal image appeared to him, as it hovered over the bed. “Toby, my love. Let me go. Let me go. It’s time. Let me go, my love.”

Toby reached out to her. “Sydney, don’t leave me.”

I’m okay, Toby. I’m with Mom and Dad and Granny and Pops. Take care of our children and be happy, Toby. Be happy for me, my love, and let me go.”


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