Settling into the rocking chair, Howie held Olivia close to his chest. "It's alright," he murmured softly, rubbing her back as he rested her against his shoulder. Her soft cries of distress tore through his heart, and despite the nurse's initial reluctance to hand her over, he had persevered. Glancing up, he saw her coming back with a bottle in her hand. Adjusting Olivia in the crook of his arm, he accepted the bottle with murmured thanks. "Daddy's got you," he whispered, his face breaking into a grin when her mouth latched onto the rubber nipple.
“Daddy?” the nurse questioned in honest confusion, watching over the infant to assure herself that she had no problems swallowing. Initially, they had given Olivia sterile water to drink to test her swallowing reflex, but she obviously wanted to be overly cautious, considering Olivia was the smallest infant in the nursery. “You’re the father?”
Howie glanced from Olivia for only a second, still grinning. "I'm her Daddy," he affirmed softly, leaning down to rub his nose against her cheek. He only hoped Cheyanne would still want him in her life.
“But the blond fellow…”
"He's just a friend… He, um… He was filling in for me 'till I could get here."
“Oh…” the nurse trailed, reaching for Olivia’s chart once more when she was satisfied with the child’s sucking. “I have the birth certificate waiting. A few things need to be filled out still since the mother is still upstairs. And I’ll need to get you an ID bracelet…”
"Well… After she finishes eating, I can do the birth certificate? And I think I can fill out most of her paperwork…" Howie trailed softly as Olivia's sucking slowed. Pulling the bottle away, he placed it between his knees as he easily moved her to his shoulder, rubbing her back with slight pressure. The move came so natural to him, having cared for his nieces too many times to mention, and when he caught the nurse staring at him with wide-eyed wonder.
“Whatever you can’t do, we’ll have Ms. Lorde finish when she’s transferred to the maternity wing… Hopefully we won’t have to feed Olivia by bottle much longer… I’ve always believed that breast milk is healthier, not that I’m supposed to stress my opinion…” the nurse blushed when she realized she was rambling, unable to hide her amazement at Howie’s nurturing appearance. “…I’ll go get the bracelet and paper work…”
"We'll be right here," Howie promised as she headed from the room. Almost instantly the other door swung open, and he glanced up, certain the surprise on Austin's face was mirrored in his own. As she stared at him, mouth gaped, Olivia released the tiniest of burps, causing them both to smile. "…Hey…"
“Hey…” Austin trailed, keeping herself a few steps away from Howie, just watching him continue to rub Olivia’s back. The infant looked content against his shoulder after releasing the burp, turning her face to suckle on her small hand. Cooing softly, Austin relaxed as she stepped forward to fix Olivia’s pink cap, knowing Cheyanne would surely have a fit if she saw it. “I didn’t think you’d… How’s my goddaughter?”
"She's fine… How's my… How's Honey?" Howie murmured.
“She’s finally awake, though that’s a vast overstatement, considering how groggy she is,” Austin answered with a soft sigh of obvious relief, suddenly wishing she had brought the knitted purple cap she had made earlier. She had hoped that she could bring Olivia upstairs to see Cheyanne, even if it were for only a few moments. But seeing Howie with Olivia had curbed that thought for a moment. She wanted to be furious with him, because he had been the root of all this distress. But Nick was the one that would be breaking Cheyanne’s heart. To believe all the hurtful words that Kevin had told her… The bastard… “The bleeding with the DIC… It made her bruise all over… And she’s really pale and exhausted… Not to mention she’s in a lot of pain from the surgery… But she just wants Ollie and to make sure she didn’t scare Baylee too bad. Wants to see everyone and insists she’s perfectly fine. Typical, Chey-Chey… Thinking of everyone but herself…”
Howie smiled slightly, his heart flooded with relief that Cheyanne was okay. "If she's worried about everyone else, that's a good sign," he mused softly as Austin continued fussing with the pink cap. "Do you want to take it off? I've got a purple one in my bag… I know how much Honey hates pink…"
“You brought a purple cap?” Austin questioned with surprise, reaching to peel the pink knit hat away from her goddaughter’s head. She instantly cooed as the friction caused Olivia’s light blonde curls to fuzz. Trying not to laugh, she reached to smooth the curls, utterly thankful that Olivia was a beautiful recreation of her mother.
"Here, you want to take her?" Howie murmured, already handing Olivia over. "From what I've heard Kevin say lately, you need practice…" Getting out of the rocking chair, he scrambled for his backpack as Austin took his place. "And, yeah… I was with Momma, and when I got the call, she pulled out this bag full of stuff she'd made for Cinnamon… There's some blankets, little booties, all the baby things…" Pulling out the cap, he turned and watched Austin interact with her goddaughter for a moment before stepping forward. "Do you think Honey would mind if I brought Cinnamon up?"
“My God,” Austin breathed softly as she settled the pink squirming wrap into her arms. Olivia fussed for a moment at being taken from Howie’s arms, but settled when she heard the familiar voice of her godmother. Craning to take another peek at the child, Austin pulled the blanket back, still amazed to find a miniature version of Cheyanne laying in her arms. She was the picture of perfection as the tiny slits of her eyes parted slightly to reveal a small glimpse of her sapphire eyes. Glancing at the other bassinets, Austin prided that she was holding the most gorgeous newborn of them all. Though, the thoughts sidetracked when Howie offered her a soft lilac cap crocheted to what seemed like perfection. “Wow… Your mother is fantastic… My stuff is going to seem… Maybe we should dress her up before she sees her Momma… But, what do you mean? Mind if you were the one that brought Ollie up? Or mind if she was brought up at all?”
"The first one… And I'm sure the things you've made for her are beautiful," Howie informed her as he watched her adjust the cap on Olivia's head.
“I don’t know how she’d react to seeing you,” Austin admitted with blatant honesty, gesturing toward the soft green and purple checked blanket poking slightly out of Howie’s backpack. They had to get rid of all this pink before taking Olivia up to Cheyanne. The young mother had been through enough without having to see her daughter as the perfect picture of a stereotype. She was far too exhausted for that. “She had been asking for Boobah, but that bastard just… Left without a word… Told Pretty Boy he was done fu—playing with my Chey-Chey…”
"He left?" Howie questioned softly with surprise as Austin stood. Taking the blanket from his backpack, he watched her carefully unwrap Olivia from the pink blanket concealing her. "After all the bullsh--worry he caused he just left?" Typical Nick, he thought bitterly, smiling slightly when Olivia's tiny feet kicked in the air. "Maybe I shouldn't have come… She doesn't want to see me." She'd been asking for Nick, not him…
“Why did you come?” Austin questioned, attempting to wrap Olivia snuggly within the blanket almost as if she were a human burrito. Like Cheyanne had taught her.
"Because I love her… You've got the blanket too tight. Here, let me." Stepping forward, Howie adjusted the blanket slightly, tucking the loose end underneath Olivia. "Her hands have to have a little room to move, and her legs shouldn't be pushed so tightly to her chest…" Glancing up he saw Austin's look of shock, and shrugged. "I have a million nieces, remember?"
“Or you’re her Daddy…” Austin trailed, glancing down to see Olivia watching Howie quite closely, seeming to follow the sound of his voice as her tiny hand jutted from the blanket to find him. “…Why did you tell Chey that you didn’t love her?”
"I never said I didn't love her, Austin…"
“Then what the Hell happened?” Austin breathed softly as Howie reached to scoop Olivia from her bassinet. He gestured as if he would offer Austin another opportunity to hold Olivia, but she shook her head. As much as she loved Olivia, Howie knew what he was doing. She’d feel better interacting with Olivia when Cheyanne was around.
"I… I was upset, okay? There was all this stress over everything, and…" Sighing, Howie adjusted Olivia against his shoulder, rubbing her back softly as she sighed against him. "I was just a pissfuck," he whispered. "And then Nick showed up and started bragging about how she wanted him and not me, and… When you guys showed up in Atlanta and I found out Nick had been the one to bring you it just… It was like I knew she wanted him instead of me. Everyone always wants Nick--"
“She wanted you from the very beginning,” Austin reprimanded as she sat in the rocking chair, rooting through Howie’s backpack to see what he had brought for Olivia. “I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times she tried to call you, but ended up feeling guilty because you sounded so angry. And Nick showing up… That wasn’t expected… He gave her love when you weren’t there. When you abandoned her. Even when you broke it off with her and she had Nick, she cried over you. She was absolutely miserable without you. Why do you think Ollie came so early?”
"I…" Howie shook his head, glancing at the door. "Maybe you should take Ollie up… And let her know I'm here… I'll just hang around--"
“Figures,” Austin snorted, dropping Howie’s backpack to stand. “Chey-Chey can’t ever depend on a man. Noah rapes her. Nick packs it up and hits the road when he’s tired of fucking her. And you? …Don’t even get me started. Why even come, Howie? To stand outside so your mother doesn’t get upset?”
"Austin, I didn't come here to get fussed at by you, okay? I came here to make sure that Honey was going to be okay, and that Cinnamon…"
“That Cinnamon what?”
"Would at least see my face…"
“Why? You don’t want to be part of their lives--”
"If I didn't, I wouldn't be here."
“Then go see Chey, she needs someone besides me and Kevin.”
“Angel, I’ll be right back with the ice and Pepsi, okay? You just keep resting,” Kevin called softly as he slipped from the critical care room where Cheyanne had been moved, waiting until he was out in the hallway to heave a dejected sigh. Cheyanne looked to be in such pain, though she insisted otherwise. Nurses consistently flittering inside to draw more blood from her arms as packs of blood were transferred into her system. It was painful to watch the bruises immediately form as the needle barely touched her skin, the nurses having to press hard with gauze just to get the bleeding to stop afterwards. She flinched with raw pain, but wouldn’t say a word, just wanting to see her child. Kevin had half a mind to lash out at them, but knew it’d only startle his daughter. So, he kept quiet, simply holding her hand, hoping Austin would return soon with Olivia. Though, that seemed impossible when Kevin glanced up to find Howie in the hallway with a small purple bundle. “…What are you doing here? And how did you get her?”
"I've got every right to have her if I want," Howie stated defensively, holding Olivia closer, allowing Kevin to see the plastic band on his wrist. "Austin said Honey wanted to see Cinnamon… And she insisted I be the one to bring her up." Howie glanced at the door leading into Cheyanne's room. "How is she?"
“I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to…” Kevin released a hard sigh as he rubbed his face, stepping closer to peer over Howie’s shoulder, smiling when he noticed Olivia was alert. “I’m just sincerely pissed at Nick for… Do you want the truth about Angel?”
"If I know Honey, she'll tell me she's fine even though she's in pain, so… Yeah, the truth would be good," Howie murmured as Olivia's eyes flickered to Kevin.
“Whatever surgery they had to do inside to stop the bleeding is causing a lot of pain, not to mention the incision she’s got on her lower tummy from when La-La was delivered. But… She’s full of bruises… The nurses keep rushing in to take more and more blood, fiddling with her IV’s, and that’s hurting her even worse. She’s exhausted and she just wants to see Olivia. She’s miserable… Absolutely miserable…” Kevin sighed softly, making faces toward Olivia.
"Kevin… Maybe you should take her in to Honey… If she's in pain and exhausted, I'm certain she doesn't want to see me…" Howie trailed softly, closing his eyes for a moment as he thought of Cheyanne lying in the bed in immense pain and misery.
“Maybe you’re just what she needs… Unless you plan on just high tailing it again?” Kevin questioned, reaching for Olivia. He didn’t have time to play these games with Nick and Howie, not when Cheyanne’s delicate heart was at expense.
"I won't leave unless Honey tells me to," Howie answered. "Look, I know my place is beside her… Even if I haven't always acted like it, I know she's where I belong. She completes me," he whispered, keeping his hand on Olivia's back as Kevin cradled her close. "I need her…"
“Then what’s stopping you from going into that room? Why are you fighting it with all you have in you?” Kevin murmured turning his head to kiss Olivia’s cheek, chuckling when she made some kind of small grunting noise.
"Give me my daughter," Howie muttered with a smile, reaching to take Olivia back. "At least if I have her, maybe Honey will be a little more receptive… C'mon Cinnamon, let's go see Momma," he whispered before stepping into Cheyanne's room.
The sound of Howie’s soft tapping on the door sounded like a gunshot in Cheyanne’s fuzzy mind. She immediately jerked in surprise, figuring another nurse was coming to torture her. Though the quick movement caused a rip of pain to race through her body. Clasping the pillow to her abdomen for stability, she squeezed her eyes shut to keep the tears from raining down. The pain medicine wasn’t helping. Nothing was helping. She just wanted to cuddle with Austin and hold Olivia. “No more blood, please… I can’t take anymore…”
Howie paused at the foot of the bed, holding his breath at how pale and weak Cheyanne looked. "I'm not after your blood, Honey," he whispered softly, stepping up beside the bed. "But I have someone who wants to meet you…"
The soft breath of Howie’s voice caused a wave of shock to wash over Cheyanne’s body. It had been weeks since she had heard his voice and never before had it sounded so sweet. At first she thought she was hallucinating. An ill affect of the anesthesia they had given her after she passed out. She was fully prepared to open her eyes only to find another nurse with a larger needle. But, there was Howie, cuddling a soft purple bundle within his arms. Cheyanne stared at him with shock, unable to even process what he was doing much less what he was holding. “Howie… You’re… What are you doing here?”
"I… Kevin called me and told me you'd gone into labor," Howie murmured, easing onto the edge of the bed, careful to avoid the IV tub leading to her arm. "I took the first flight out of Orlando. And… I was downstairs looking at Cinnamon when Austin told me you wanted to see her…"
“Cinnamon?” Cheyanne questioned, her dark sapphire eyes sparking with curiosity as she splinted her abdomen to sit up. For a moment, she forgot that Nick hadn’t been in to visit and that Howie had broken her heart. Instead, she focused completely on the small bundle in Howie’s arms, feeling her heart rate accelerate. She hadn’t been able to see Olivia since her operation. “My little Ollie?”
"Here…" Holding Olivia in one arm, Howie reached to adjust the bed slightly so Cheyanne was sitting up. She winced at the motion, but gave him a brave smile as he shifted the pillow behind her. Shifting closer, he carefully placed Olivia in her arms, keeping one hand on her until he was sure Cheyanne had a good hold. "She's beautiful, Honey," he whispered.
“She’s so tiny,” Cheyanne whispered, not wanting to stir Olivia’s light slumber as she shifted to make sure they would both be comfortable. Balancing her within the crook of her arm, Cheyanne tentatively brushed her fingers down Olivia’s cheek. She wanted to say that there was a reflection of herself within Olivia’s peaceful face, but couldn’t make the judgment. Tenderly, she brushed a finger down the small rounding of her button nose, over her forehead, even peeking under the purple cap to see the fine honey curls. She had to make sure she was perfect, gently undoing the blanket in order to view her daughter’s fingers. Ten tiny fingers all together. And her toes. Her ten tiny toes. Hot tears immediately rushed to Cheyanne’s dark sapphire eyes as she bent down to kiss Olivia’s face, not caring about the pain in her body. “You’re so beautiful, Olivia. I love you so much. So very, very, very much. You’re my entire life, Baby Doll…”
Howie felt a lump form in his throat as he watched mother and daughter interact. Cheyanne looked so complete, holding Olivia. Her face lit up as never before as she stared at her, her fingers running lightly over the tiny curled toes. Standing, he backed away, longing to stay by her side and gaze at Olivia's beauty together. But he felt as though he were intruding on what should be a private moment. "I'll go wait outside…"
“Outside?” Cheyanne questioned softly, tearing her gaze away from Olivia to see Howie inching away. She furrowed her honey brows in confusion at his eagerness to flee, which seemed to knot her stomach with cramps. She had seen him leave one too many times. Not that she wanted to be hurt again, but she didn’t want to see him leave. He had come so far, just to turn around again? It hurt. She couldn’t help but feel the pain. She still loved him. “You’re leaving?”
"Just outside… You two need to be alone. Cinnamon needs to bond with her Momma," he explained softly, tears filling his eyes when Olivia's head turned in the direction of his voice. "Besides… I need to run down and get the most beautiful mother some flowers."
“Howie…” Cheyanne whispered, her voice catching when Olivia grasped her finger to suckle. Breaking her gaze with Howie as she looked down into her daughter’s large sapphire eyes, she felt a sob catch in her throat. She had never expected him to be so sweet to her. After he had made it clear there was no love left between them. He had all but condemned her when he saw her with Nick. Yet, there he stood, calling her beautiful, when she looked atrocious and Nick had long since disappeared.
"I do love you, Honey… More than anything."
“You don’t have to leave,” she told him, cooing softly toward her daughter to elicit a soft smile from the newborn.
Smiling with relief, Howie returned to his spot on the edge of the bed, reaching to pull off Olivia's cap. "She looks just like you, Honey…"
“You think?” Cheyanne questioned curiously, smiling ruefully at the static reaction in her daughter’s curls. Reaching, she gently smoothed the curls on her daughter’s forehead. It seemed surreal to even think the word. Daughter. Cheyanne had a daughter.
"Well… She's not as tall as you, and her hair has a ways to grow--"
“Howie,” Cheyanne groaned softly as to not upset the tenderness of her body. She playfully rolled her eyes at his attempts to be funny, though a small smile hinted at the corners of her lips. Olivia even seemed to react to her mother’s pleasure, cooing softly as she thrust her tiny hands into the air. Surprised, Cheyanne glanced down at her daughter’s wide sapphire eyes, exchanging a coo as she leaned to kiss Olivia’s forehead. She felt a shiver of contentment race through her body at the feeling of her daughter’s hands on her face. She didn’t want to remember the fear she felt when Austin whispered she had almost died. When Kevin had murmured something about Nick needing to leave the hospital for some unknown reason. She just wanted her daughter to know how happy she was. How much she loved her. “You’re so precious to me, Olivia Austin.”
"Wait… Stay just like that," Howie whispered, sliding off the bed to retrieve his backpack. Digging inside, he pulled out his camera. "First picture of Momma and baby…"
“Howie, don’t,” Cheyanne attempted to dissuade as her daughter’s hands rested against her mouth, muffling her words slightly. “I’m bruised and ugly…”
Shaking his head, Howie took a picture of mother and daughter. "You're beautiful, Honey…"
“Why do you say stuff like that?” Cheyanne whispered, the pain evident in her voice as she shifted Olivia to rest on her chest, easing herself back amongst the pillows. Rubbing her daughter’s back gently, she heard the soft yawn followed by a familiar yip, causing a blush to accentuate Cheyanne’s pale cheeks.
Howie grinned as he took another picture. "Because it's true?" he countered softly, looking at the photo he'd just taken. Deciding it was perfect, he set the camera on the table by the bed and watched as Olivia's eyes fluttered shut, one hand sliding up. His grin widened when he saw her suckle her fingers into her mouth, releasing a pleased sigh. Her Momma was holding her. She was warm, safe, happy. All was right with the world.
“Howie… The last thing you said to me…” Cheyanne couldn’t even find the proper words to elaborate all the questions in her mind. Instead, she turned her face toward Olivia, inhaling the sweet scent of her child. Smiling at the feeling of soft puffs of breath against her neck, she hummed softly to the infant before kissing her several times. Satisfied that her daughter was asleep, she glanced back toward Howie, unable to help her next question, “When are you leaving?”
"The last thing I said to you…" Howie trailed, shaking his head in shame. He had been so angry, so damn jealous of the thought of her and Nick… "I shouldn't have said those things, Honey… And I'm not leaving anytime soon."
“But the tour--”
"AJ's already taking care of that. We're taking at least two weeks off. I want to be here with you." Howie met her eyes, unable to mask the hopefulness in his own. "…If you'll have me."
“If I’ll have you stay?” Cheyanne questioned in confusion.
"If you want me here," Howie whispered.
“We always have extra room at the house,” Cheyanne answered, not knowing what he was asking. What he meant by inquiring as to if she wanted him there. Almost as if he were asking to come back into her life – romantically. As if he knew something that she didn’t, which put an unsettled knot into the pit of her stomach. What had come up that Nick had to leave?
"You're sure? I don't want to… Intrude… But I would like to get to know Cinnamon…"
“I’m sure… I’d like you to get to know her, too…”
Smiling with relief, Howie sank onto the edge of the bed once more. "You want me to get you anything?"
“…You could be honest and tell me what really happened with Nicky…” Cheyanne implored softly, not wanting to hurt Howie’s feelings, but needing to know.
Howie blanked at her words, suddenly finding his watchband extremely interesting as he cleared his throat. "Um… What did Kevin tell you?" he questioned carefully.
“He lied. I can tell ‘cause his eyes turn this light hazel-green and he chews on the inside of his cheek.
"He… He just left, Honey. Said something to me about wanting me to take care of you… That he just couldn't handle it," Howie murmured, knowing he was stretching the truth. But he was certain she didn't want to know the words that had passed between Kevin and Nick. The ones neither of them knew he'd overheard.
“Oh,” Cheyanne whispered, not knowing what else to really say as she just rested her hand against Olivia’s back. She wanted to cry out with anger and hurt, but she was numb. The honesty of Howie’s dark eyes told her that Nick had indeed left. Why had she even thought he would stay? Men never seemed to keep their word. Ever. “Guess we really do have extra room at the house then, huh?”
"It's okay," Cheyanne insisted, her voice strained as she pressed her thumb against her bare left digit. The ring Nick had given her was tucked safely away in her bag of clothing that had been removed before surgery. Seemed like that finger would always remain bare. "I don't need taken care of."
"But… I'm so good at it," he teased lightly, covering her hand with his.
Cheyanne glanced at him wearily, not sure she could offer her broken heart once more. Not when the pain of Nick’s desertion was so fresh. Not when her body ached from a near-death experience. When her daughter need the most significant portion of her attention. “What are you asking for, Howie?”
Not wanting to scare her, he pulled his hand back, fiddling with the corner of the white sheet. "I… Can we be friends again? Is that a good start?" he murmured.
"I guess I'm asking for another chance?"
“Do you really want that? When you… When I was just a nuisance in your life?”
"You were never a nuisance… I was just… A pissfuck."
“I can’t get hurt again… I can’t let my Ollie get hurt…”
"I know… That's why maybe… We should try to be friends?" he suggested softly, twisting the sheet in his fingers as he held his breath. "I want to be a part of her life, Honey. Of both your lives…"
Cheyanne nodded meekly as she leaned her head back amongst the pillows, her body practically screaming for sleep. She tired so easily with the lack of blood, pain medication, and overall pain. “Friends… We can be friends…”
"Okay… Get some rest, Honey… I'll be here when you wake up," Howie promised softly.