September 28, 1998
“I don’t know how to tie a tie. I don’t even know if I should go to this thing. Should I go?”
“Of course you should go. He’s your best friend.”
“I want you to go.”
“Oh, no way. I can’t go. I would be the last person that she would want to see at her…”
I trail off. I can’t say the word.
Leighanne Wallace was one of the ten people on board the small plane that went down about ten minutes from Orlando. There were no survivors. It had taken several days even to identify which body was hers.
Just thinking about it makes me sick.
“Do you want me to drop you off at the hospital?”
“Absolutely,” I say standing before him making a nice windsor knot in his tie. “Where else would I go?”
Nick gives me a small smile. It feels wrong to smile today. “I know. Hey, did you like the double bassinet?”
“I loved it. Great surprise”
“I snuck it in yesterday when you were with the kiddos.”
While Brian’s world fell apart, Nick had taken to slowly building mine in the apartment. The day I was released from the hospital, Nick was the one to pick me up. I was just grateful to be out of the confines of a hospital room even though I hated leaving the babies. My babies.
I walked into an apartment with a living room with two nice looking used couches, a large bedroom with a double bassinet placed right beside it, and a fully decorated nursery next door. The paint job was horrible, a light yellow with bright blue trim. Nick told me he had done it himself. There was no way I’d change one drip or streak.
I had only been in the apartment for three days, but I already loved it. I could walk to the hospital. I knew even after I brought Ben home and then Winnie that we’d be just a minute away from help.
“I’ll come get you after...after…” Nick says, scratching his chin.
“Tell Brian,” I pause. “Tell him I’m thinking about him.”
Nick nods. “I can’t imagine…” he trails off and I think I see tears in his eyes.
I swallow a lump in my throat. Leighanne. Dead. Neither Nick nor I had mentioned the future as we remembered it since it happened. It seemed like her death was the final reminder that this future was not going to be the same. Not by a long shot.
“Ben’s doing fantastic,” the nurse smiles. “Dr. Boone would like to talk to you about scheduling his release.”
Ben’s hand wraps around my finger as I look up. “Really?”
The nurse smiles. “His jaundice has really cleared up.”
“I can take him home?”
She laughs. “Give me a second to find the doctor.”
I look down at Ben. Winnie’s in the next room, the room for more serious cases. I’ve ping-ponged between them for two hours. I imagine a time when I’ll finally see them side by side. It’s all I yearn for.
Dr. Boone appears about fifteen minutes later. He smiles down at Ben. “Handsome boy.”
I beam. “The most.”
“Want to take him home?”
“Tomorrow morning? I know Brian…” Dr. Boone clears his throat. “I know tomorrow would work better for him.”
“Yeah, it would,” I think, stroking Ben’s hand with my finger. He has a strong grip. “I think it would help distract him. A good distraction.”
“Babies will do that to a person,” Dr. Boone agrees. “Dr. Humphrey would like to get Winnie’s surgery scheduled for October 15. I’m hoping we can have the two of you sign the papers tomorrow.”
“The 15th?” I repeat. “She won’t be a month old.”
Dr. Boone nods. Understanding. Calm. “She’s holding her own, but we want to see her thrive, not fight. Now that we’ve had more detailed scans of her heart, we’re confident that it will be a routine procedure. Well, as routine as infantile heart surgery goes.”
“Then how long after that?”
“Until she’s home?”
“Two weeks minimum. Four weeks max.”
A month. That meant that in six weeks I could have them both home. I wished I could speed up time. I lean over and kiss Ben’s forehead.
“You’re coming home, buddy. And your sister, too. Soon.”
“He’s big enough?”
“He’s big enough.”
“And they’re sure? About Winnie? About the chances at success?”
“They’re done all the tests.”
Brian stares past me at a spot on the wall. He looks horrible. His face is gray, the light in his eyes dim.
“Brian, I understand if you’re not up for this,” I press my hand into his arm. “I can--”
“He’s my son. I’m helping you bring him home. I…” he wipes his face with his free hand and exhales. “This sucks. I just wanted to jump in after her yesterday. Everybody was looking at me like it’s all my fault. Damnit, it is my fault.”
“What’s your fault?”
He doesn’t answer. I stare at him incredulously.
“You’re not going to take the blame for a plane crashing,” I said softly.
“Of course not,” he shoots back, a hard edge to his voice. “But she wouldn’t have been on that plane if--”
He trails off and I get it. I don’t want to get it. I want to take back the act of ‘getting’ it. “What? If the babies hadn’t been born when they did? If she hadn’t decided to come see you? You can’t blame our children. You can’t blame me. You can’t blame her. There’s too many variables.”
“I can blame whoever the damn hell I want to blame.”
He turns from me, his hands balled into fists.
“Let’s go get Ben.”
“Not like this,” I argue. “I don’t want this hanging over our heads, invading my first memory of our son leaving the hospital.”
Brian’s shoulders sag. “I’m sorry. I,” he moans, his body shaking. “I can’t do this. I can’t…”
I creep towards him slowly. “Brian,” I press my hand against his back. “You need time. I get it.”
His tears fall off his cheeks and go airborne they fall so fast. “Take Nick. Just take Nick.”
My hand makes slow circles on his back. “What?”
“Take Nick. Nick will bring Ben home with you. I saw him sitting in his car around the corner. I know he wants to. I know…” he sighs. “I know that’s the better choice.”
“You’re Ben’s dad. You should--”
“But I can’t,” he shakes his head. When he looks at me, I see how tired his eyes are. How red. “I’ll go later and sign the papers for Winnie. I just need a few days. I need to separate the thought of my children from Leighanne dying. I just don’t know how…”
He tugs at his hair. “I just don’t know how.”
“If you came in today and you were acting like you were already over her, already over IT, then there’d be something wrong with you,” I said reasonably. “I’d rather we have this talk today than it fester in you for years.”
“I’m already letting my children down,” he says. I can almost see the tightness in his chest. The panic. I shake my head.
“No you’re not. It’s okay. It’s okay.”
Somehow fifty more it’s okay’s got him out the door and into a cab. Five minutes later, I was at the hospital with Nick.
“He should be here,” Nick mutters. “It’s going to be like last time. He’s going to just withdraw, just for a different reason. Well, not even a different reason. It will still be her. Just in a different way.”
“Nick, that’s horrible.”
I don’t answer. Nick and I walk silently down the corridor. I struggle to refocus. Nick’s holding Ben’s car seat. The car seat makes it real.
He’s coming home.