Read Year One Online

Authors: Nora Roberts

Year One (9 page)

He hit a pair of double doors, stepped into an OR. A doctor—he hoped—gowned, gloved, holding a scalpel. A nurse, and a pregnant woman on the table, eyes closed.

“I've got a woman in labor with twins. I—”

“And I'm trying to save the life of this woman and fetus. Get out!”

“I need— She needs a doctor.”

“I said get out! I'm it. I'm what's left, and I'm fucking busy here. Nurse!”

“Go!” She ordered as the doctor made the incision.

“Page Dr. Hopman. Just do that. Page her.”

Jonah rushed out, grabbed two warming trays, pushed them back to the room where Katie panted through a contraction.

“Keep breathing, keep breathing. I'm going to set these up so they'll be ready.”

“Doctor,” she managed.

He turned on the trays, shed his coat, rolled up his sleeves. “It's going to be you, me, and the twins. We're going to be fine.”

“Oh God. Oh God. Have you ever delivered a baby?”

“Yeah, a few times.”

“Would you say that even if you hadn't?”

“No. I've even delivered a preemie. It's my first multiple, but hey, if you can do one, you can do two. I'm going to wash my hands, get gloved. Then we'll see where we're at, okay?”

“I'm out of choices.” She stared up at the ceiling, as she'd done when her mother had been dying. “If it goes wrong for me, promise me you'll take care of them. You'll take care of my babies.”

“It's not going to go wrong, and I'm going to take care of them. And you. Solemn oath.” He crossed his heart, stepped into the bath to scrub his hands.

“What are you naming them?” he called out.

“The girl's Antonia. My husband … he wanted a girl especially. Before we knew we were having twins, he hoped for a girl. The boy's Duncan for my father's father.”

“Nice. Good, strong names.” He pulled on gloves, took one deep, long breath. “One of each, huh? Best of the best.”

“He died here. My Tony. My parents, too, and my brother. Four people I loved died in this hospital, but I didn't know where else to go.”

“I'm sorry. But your babies aren't going to die, and neither are you. Ah, I gotta get your underwear off, and take a look at things.”

“Modesty isn't anywhere on my list.”

He rolled the panties away. “I need you to scoot up a little.”

“‘Scoot,' my ass.”

“Yeah, it's your ass I need you to scoot.”

He smiled when she laughed. “Funny guy.”

“You should hear my full stand-up routine. I gotta get personal, and I know it's uncomfortable. Breathe through.”

He inserted fingers to measure her while she blew at the ceiling.

“You're fully dilated, Katie. I'll apologize to Antonia when she gets here. I poked her head.”

“Duncan. He's first. His head?”

“Yeah.” And thank God it was his head, not
his
ass.

“One's coming.”

“Ride it out. You're really close. You—there she blows. Water broke.”

“It hurts. Oh, Christ Jesus, Mother of Mary, it hurts!”

“I know.”

“What do you know? You're a man.” She turned her head, closed her eyes, let out a long, cleansing breath. “We were going to have Adele playing during delivery. And Tony and I were going to have both our moms in with us. His mom's dead now, and his father. My brother, Tony's brother and sister. The babies only have me.”

“Duncan's crowning, Katie. I can see his head. He's got hair! It's dark. Do you want the mirror?”

She let out a sob, covered her eyes, and held up a hand for him to wait. “I loved him, so much. Tony. My parents, my brother, his family. My family. They're all gone. The babies. The babies are all I have left of my family. I'm all they'll have.” She wiped her eyes. “I want the mirror, please. I want to see them born.”

He adjusted it until she nodded. Coached her through the next contractions, then through the pushing.

She didn't speak of loss again, but bore down like a warrior in battle.

Duncan, with his dark hair and waving fists, came into the world yelling. His mother laughed, held out her arms.

“He's got good color, and damn good lungs.” Jonah wiped off the down, laid the baby in Katie's arms. “I'm clamping off the cord.”

“He's beautiful. He's perfect. Is he perfect? Please.”

“We're going to weigh him and get him in the warming tray. He sure looks perfect.”

“He … He's going for the breast!”

“Well, he's a guy.”

“The books say, especially with preemies … He's latched right on! He's hungry. And— Oh God, she's coming. She's coming.”

“Antonia doesn't want to get left behind. Let me put him in the tray.”

“No, no. I've got him. He's hungry. I need to push!”

“Okay, a good one now. You can do better.”

“I'm trying!”

“Okay, hold it. Relax, relax, breathe. I'm going to need one more. One good, strong one. She's ready. Look at the mirror, Katie. Push her out.”

She sucked in her breath, let it out in a low, keening wail. Jonah cupped the head, turned the shoulders, and Antonia slipped into his hands.

“There she is.”

“She's not crying, she's not crying. What's wrong?”

“Give her a second.” Jonah cleared out the baby's nose, mouth, rubbed the tiny chest. “Come on, Antonia. We know you're no crybaby, but your mom wants to hear from you. She's just taking her time. She's fine. The light's in her, not the dark. I see life, not death.”

“What—”

“And there.” Jonah grinned as the baby let out a high wail, an insulted, annoyed little sound. “She's pinking right up. Just wanted to take stock first, that's all. She's a beauty, Mom.”

Katie cuddled her. “Look at her sweet little head.”

“Yeah, her brother hogged all the hair. Give her some time, she'll outdo him there. Cutting the cords. If he's finished his snack, I want to clean him up, weigh him, check a couple of things. You've got another round with the placenta.”

“It's got to be easier than delivering twins.”

Jonah took Duncan, carefully cleaned him, checked his heart rate and reflexes, weighed him. “He comes in at six pounds, two ounces. That's a solid weight, even for a full-term single. Good job, Katie.”

“She's watching me. I know that's probably not true, but it's like she's looking at me. Like she knows me.”

“Sure she does.” Staring at the baby in his hands, Jonah felt … triumph, and a quiet, steady love.

“I want to put Duncan in the warmer for a bit. I need your girl, too. I'm going to hunt you up something cold to drink,” he told Katie as he cleaned Antonia. “Some food if I can find it. And your girl weighs in at five pounds, ten ounces. Good for her.”

“Contraction.”

“Okay, let's get it all out. Nice and clean. Got a pail here. Just shove it out, champ.”

When it was done, Katie lay back, said nothing while Jonah wiped the sweat from her face. Then she gripped his hand.

“You said you could see life, not death. Light, not dark. And when you did, when you said that … you were different. I could see something different.”

“I was a little caught up in the moment.” He started to step back, but she tightened her grip, looked at him.

“I've seen things in the last weeks. Things that don't make sense, things out of books and fantasy movies. Are you one of them? One of what they're calling the Uncanny?”

“Look, you're tired, and I've got to—”

“You brought my son and my daughter into the world. You
gave me a family again. You gave me…” Tears streamed out as her voice quavered. “You gave me a reason to go on living. I'll be grateful to you every day for the rest of my life. Grateful every time I look at my children. I have children. If part of the reason I have them is you having something, being something, I'm grateful for that, too.”

When his eyes teared, he found himself clinging to her hand like a lifeline. “I don't know what I am. I don't know. I can see death coming in someone, or injury. I can see how it'll happen, and I can't make it stop.”

“You saw life in my babies, and in me. You saw life. I know what you are. You're my personal miracle.”

He had to sit on the side of the bed, to gather himself. “I was going to kill myself.”

“No. No, Jonah.”

“If you'd driven up five minutes later, I'd be dead. I didn't think I could take seeing any more death. Then you drove up, and I saw all that life. I guess you're my personal miracle, too.”

Katie eased herself up. “Can you hold on to me a minute?”

“Sure. Sure, I can.”

She laid her head on his shoulder.

He heard footsteps coming fast and brisk—heard Rachel call his name.

“In here. Doctor,” he told Katie. “Better late than never.”

“Who needs a doctor?”

Rachel came to the door, looked in at him, over at the warming units. “Well, look here. Did you do this?”

“She helped a little,” Jonah said.

“It looks like excellent teamwork. I'm Dr. Hopman,” she began, then Katie turned her head. “Katie? It's Katie Parsoni, isn't it?”

“Yes. Dr. Hopman.” Tears spilled faster now. Katie held out a hand even as she clung to Jonah. “You're alive.”

“Yes, and so are you and your babies. I'm just going to take a look at them, and you.”

“Duncan—six pounds, two ounces,” Jonah told her. “Antonia—five, ten. I forgot to get their lengths.”

“You did the important work. How are you feeling, Mom?” she asked as she went over to examine Duncan.

“Tired, hungry, grateful, sad, happy. I feel everything. Dr. Hopman was with me when my mother died. She took care of my mother. My father, too.”

“Jonah brought them to the hospital,” Rachel said, glancing back at him. “Ross and Angela MacLeod.”

“MacLeod.” Chicken soup on the stove. The first. Patient Zero. “It's like a circle,” he murmured.

“We're looking at two healthy babies.” Rachel crouched down, examining the placentas, the umbilical cords. “Good. Good.”

“How soon can they travel?” Jonah demanded.

“I need to have a look at Katie, and I'm going to try to find somebody in Peeds to examine the babies.”

“She's fine, and so are they. I can see it, just like I could see her mother wasn't fine while you were working on her dad. Like I could see you were immune. I had sort of a sense before … before all this. But it's more now. I don't expect you to believe me, but—”

“I do,” Rachel corrected. She rubbed her eyes. “I've seen things. Things I didn't believe at first, but you see enough and you're an idiot if you don't believe. I'd also be a lousy doctor if I didn't examine a woman who just gave birth to twins.”

“Once you do, I need to know when they can travel. And when you can be ready to go.”

“Where am I going?”

“I don't know yet, but I know you're immune. So are Katie and those babies. You said they're doing sweeps, taking immunes into quarantined areas, testing them.”

“What?” Katie gripped his shoulder. “‘They'? Like the government? They're detaining people who aren't sick?”

Rachel let out a sigh. “Jonah.”

No more bullshit, he thought. No more despair. “She has a right to know. She has babies to think of. You're a doctor. There are people who don't have the virus who need doctors. Who need goddamn smart, adaptable doctors. They're going to try rounding up people like me, too, and I'm damned if I'm going to end up somebody's experiment.

“It's a circle,” he repeated. “Her parents to me, me to you, you to Katie, Katie to me. And now the babies. It means something. When can they travel, when can you leave?”

Tired to the bone, Rachel looked at the babies, at the woman weeping silently, at the man who so suddenly looked hard as steel.

“Maybe tomorrow depending on what kind of travel you mean. They have roads blocked.”

“I can get a boat.”

“A boat?”

“Patti—she was my partner,” he told Katie. “She had a boat. It's not much of one, but it'll do. We get to the boat, we get in the boat, we use it to get across the river. And we start heading … whatever direction looks best. Stick to rural areas where we can. I'm not sure until we get out. Nobody's putting those kids in some testing ground.”

“Nobody's touching my babies.” Like a tap wrenched off, tears stopped. “Nobody. We can go now.”

Rachel held up a hand. “Tomorrow. I'm going to examine you, and we're going to keep an eye on your babies for twenty-four hours. If there are no complications, we can leave tomorrow. We need supplies. We need diapers and clothes, blankets. We may need formula for the twins.”

“Duncan already breastfed.”

“Seriously?” Rachel let out a laugh. “More good news. We still need supplies. I can get some of what we need here. I'll go, and clear them to go—if they check out medically—because a woman and her day-old infants could use a doctor. Though Jonah could probably handle most anything. I'll go because you're right. This?” She gestured to include the five of them. “This means something. And because maybe, out there, I can start feeling like a doctor again.”

She moved to the bed. “Go hunt up something for the new mother to eat. Maybe a cold drink, definitely some water. And find her something clean to change into. Find us some caps and preemie diapers for the babies. We'll see how resourceful you are, Jonah.”

“Consider it done.” He rose. “I'll be back,” he told Katie.

“I know you will.”

“All right, Katie, let's have a look.”

“Dr. Hopman?”

“Rachel. It's Rachel, since we appear to have formed an alliance.”

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