The screaming vibrated along Josh's spinal cord and not in a good way. Reaching for a cool towel off the tray, he wiped his sister Nicky's forehead, trying to cool her off. "Breathe, remember to breathe like they showed us in class." Josh tried to keep his voice calm, but his legs were twitching beneath him, and he was doing his best not to hyperventilate.
"Fuck the breathing! Get this out of me!" Josh barely understood the last part over the cry of pain that had Josh looking to the doctor. There had to be something they could do.
"The baby's not moving," the doctor said in a calm voice, and Josh knew that couldn't be good, not with all the pain Nicky was already in. "Bring over a surgical cart. We're going to need to do a Cesarean." His voice remained calm even as the activity in the delivery room sped up.
Josh watched as everyone moved with a hurried but practiced grace. Nicky was strapped down, injections were given. At least Nicky calmed down and stopped screaming. Josh also saw that her eyes drifted closed, and he looked up at the others in the room. The person monitoring Nicky didn't seem to notice anything wrong, but Josh still breathed a sigh of relief when her eyes slid open again. "Just sit where you are and stay with her," the doctor told him, and Josh nodded, wiping Nicky's brow once again.
Josh stayed behind the curtain, but kept looking up at the doctor as a feeling of complete dread settled in his stomach. What if Nicky wasn't all right? What if something happened to her?
"Everything is going to be fine," the doctor told them both, almost as if he'd been reading Josh's mind. "We'll be ready to begin in a few minutes. We've already given you something to stop the contractions, and you should see your baby soon."
Nicky mumbled something and closed her eyes again. The doctor began quietly asking for instruments, and Josh watched and waited. Under circumstances like this, not that he'd ever been in a circumstance like this before, but when they were kids, Josh had always held Nicky's hand. When they saw a scary movie, he'd held her hand, and when she'd fallen off her first bike, Josh had held her hand before helping her get back on. Nicky was his little sister, and he'd always been there to hold her hand. But now, at what seemed like such an important moment, he couldn't hold her hand because of the arm restraints. All he could do was sit by her head and wipe her brow. "It's going to be okay. You're going to see the baby soon," Josh encouraged her and stroked her cheek even as the activity around them continued. He hoped this would be over soon, because Nicky looked as weak and exhausted as Josh had ever seen her in his life.
"You're going to be a proud father very soon," one of the nurses said, and Josh didn't correct her. The father of Nicky's baby had taken off as soon as she'd told the lowlife that she was pregnant. Their other brother, Timothy, and his wife, Josh's bitch-in-law, had actually tried to convince her to have an abortion. Nicky had immediately told both of them to go screw themselves. She was having this baby. It hadn't mattered to her that she would be forty-one by the time the baby was born, she wanted this child. Josh had supported her then, just like he always had, and he was supporting her now, and he wasn't about to stop.
"I can feel things moving around," Nicky said.
"Does it hurt?" Josh asked.
"No. It just feels like pressure." Then Josh saw the doctor lift out the red blood-covered baby, which he handed to a nurse.
"Just another minute," the doctor said, and the baby began to cry. The doctor worked for a few more seconds, and then the nurse carried the baby to a table and they wrapped it in a blanket.
"You have a girl," the nurse said, and she motioned for Josh to come over. "She's beautiful and perfect."
"Her eyes are closed," Josh said as he looked down at the crying, openmouthed baby. The nurse turned down the light, and the tiniest baby Josh had ever seen opened her big blue eyes, and Josh felt his heart begin to melt. The nurse lifted the baby and handed her to Josh, who looked down into that beautiful little face, feeling a tear run down his cheek. Turning around, he showed Nicky her daughter. She couldn't hold her because they had to finish the surgery, but Josh let Nicky look. "She's gorgeous, Nicky."
"She is that, and her name is Vivian."
"Hello, Vivian," Josh said softly, greeting his niece with a smile. He knew she couldn't smile up at him, but she stopped crying and her eyes closed. "Is something wrong?" Josh asked.
"No," the nurse said indulgently. "She's falling asleep. She's had a hard time of it too."
Josh nodded and watched the precious child as he held her, waiting for the doctors and nurses to finish with Nicky. Josh sat on the stool he'd occupied earlier and let Nicky gaze at her daughter. "You did good, Nicky, really good." Beyond that Josh didn't know what to say, and his throat closed around his words. He was holding a new life in his hands. Josh had held babies before, but never like this, and the entire experience sent ripples up his spine when he thought about it. This was his niece, Nicky's daughter, and as close to a child of his own as he was ever going to come. "Happy Thanksgiving," Josh said to Nicky with a grin. "I can't think of anything anyone could possibly be more thankful for than this little one." Nicky didn't answer, she simply smiled and stared at her baby.
The nurse took Vivian from Josh and carefully cleaned her up before placing her in a fresh blanket and handing her back to Josh. It was a good thing his partner, Sammy, wasn't there; he hated the sight of blood. Eventually, once the incisions were closed, they checked Nicky over thoroughly before wheeling her to recovery and then into a room, where Josh was finally able to let his sister hold her baby. Once she was, Josh left them alone to get acquainted, and so Nicky could nurse Vivian.
In the hallway outside the room, Josh pulled his phone out of his pocket. "Sammy, it's me."
"Is everything okay? You've been gone such a long time. Nicky and the baby are okay, aren't they?" The questions flew off Sammy's nervously excited tongue.
"Yes. They're both fine. She gave birth by Cesarean, but they're both fine now. Nicky's feeding the baby, and I wanted to take a few minutes to let you know what was happening. Both mother and baby are fine and healthy. It's going to take Nicky some time before she's 100 percent, but Mom is coming to stay with her."
"She called a few minutes ago," Sammy told him. "She said she's on her way and she should be there in a few hours."
Relief flowed through Josh. He knew Nicky was exhausted, but so was he. He had stayed up with Nicky through the long hours of her labor, and he hadn't slept in over twenty-four hours. He hadn't felt it until now, but with the adrenaline wearing off, he could barely keep his eyes open. After yawning, Josh told Sammy that he'd be home as soon as he could before hanging up the phone. Next, he called some friends of Nicky's and gave them the good news. He had a whole list of people that he'd been given to call and dutifully made all the calls before pushing open the hospital-room door and peering inside. Nicky was resting back on the bed with Vivian in her arms, and both of them looked as though they were asleep. Josh motioned to one of the nurses, and she came inside and took Vivian to the nursery so Nicky could sleep.
Josh went in as well and leaned over the bed to kiss Nicky on the forehead.
"Are you leaving?" she asked.
"Yes. I'm going to try to get some sleep, and I'll be back tomorrow morning. You get some sleep and take care of that beautiful niece of mine."
"I will," Nicky said with a smile. "You get some rest too." Nicky took Josh's hand and squeezed it. "Thank you so much for being here. It meant the world to me." Nicky began to cry, and Josh handed her a tissue from the bedside table.
"You know I wouldn't have missed this for anything. I'm never going to have a child of my own, so I intend to spoil yours rotten." Josh gave her his best grin, and Nicky smiled behind her tissue.
"You're too good to me," Nicky said, dabbing her eyes.
"No, I'm not. The world's just too hard on you," Josh said before kissing her again. She released his hand, and Josh walked toward the door. "Call if you need anything, and I'll see you tomorrow."
"I will," she promised, and as Josh left the room with a wave, he saw Nicky flash him a smile. Josh made it to his car and began to drive home. He stopped along the way for coffee more than once before pulling in front of his and Sammy's home, a little more than an hour north from where his sister lived in Baltimore. Josh hadn't been sure if Sammy would be home from visiting his family yet, and he smiled when he saw Sammy's car parked in its usual spot. Getting out, Josh walked toward the front door, and it opened as soon as he stepped onto the porch. Once he stepped inside the house, Sammy closed the door and then pulled Josh into a hug. "I have soup for you, and Mom sent some Thanksgiving dinner home along with some of her fresh bread." Sammy refused to let him go even while he talked, and Josh rested his head on his partner's shoulder, already feeling the urge to sleep beginning to take over. "Come into the kitchen and eat, then we'll get you up to bed."