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FIVE YEARS LATER…
I touched the handled of the duffel bag at my feet as Bennett slid his hand over my thigh. It was packed full of things I would need at the hospital for at least a few days. I had no idea how long I’d be there once this was all over.
Christian glanced over at me as we drove toward the hospital. I sucked air in long, slow breaths as my other hand massaged my huge belly.
“You doing okay?”
“Define ‘okay’,” I answered between breaths. Even though I had nine months to prepare for this moment, I still wasn’t ready. The thought of childbirth was terrifying and exciting, but right now all I could focus on was breathing in and out. The weight of Christian’s hand on my leg was comforting, but it wasn’t enough. I squeezed my eyes shut, the motion of the car making me feel vaguely ill.
I just wanted it to be over. “Get this baby out of me.”
“We will, babe. We will. Just keep breathing.” I could hear the stress in his voice, but I couldn’t process it.
It took an eternity to get to the hospital. Every red light was torture. Every other car on the road was in the way. But Bennett’s hand stayed on my lap, and I kept breathing.
“We’re here. Let me get you a wheelchair.”
“You can’t park here,” I said, pointing to the multitude of signs. “This is for the ambulance.”
Bennett glanced at me and I could tell he wanted to disagree, but the look on my face must have been scarier than I realized. He nodded and pulled the car around to the next entrance. Jumping out, he ran through the sliding glass doors as I did my best to open my side of the car.
I had one leg out the door when he appeared with a nurse and a wheelchair. She had a round, friendly face and told me her name, which I immediately forgot.
It took both of them to maneuver me into the wheelchair, and then I was rushed through being hallways and up to the maternity ward. The nurse with the friendly face kept saying things to me. Bennett had disappeared—probably to go park the car.
I couldn’t do anything except breathe. My whole head was red, I could feel it. Beads of sweat dribbled down the sides of my face and my hair was plastered to my forehead.
Breathe in, and out.
I counted to five with each inhalation, and again with each exhalation. Finally, we made it to the maternity ward and I was transferred to a bed. It wouldn’t be long now. I was about to be a mother.
I GOT LOST ON MY WAY up to the maternity ward. With Cat’s bag slung over my shoulder, I tried to concentrate on the signs pointing me in the right direction but I ended up doing a full loop of the wrong floor before I made it. My heart was hammering harder than it ever had.
It was almost time.
I was more nervous that Cat, it seemed. I was going to be a father to a little boy. I would teach him how to throw a ball and help him with his homework.
Well, maybe Cat would do that. She was smarter than I was.
But still—soon, I would be fully responsible for a tiny human. His survival would rest on my shoulders. I wasn’t ready for it.
All my training, all my missions, all the adrenaline-fueled operations…
None of it had prepared me for fatherhood.
Finally, I found the maternity ward and was pointed to Cat’s room. Even from the far end of the hallway, I could tell there was a flurry of activity going on. Nurses rushed in and out and my heart started to thump.
“Is everything okay?”
“Everything is fine,” one of the nurses said. “Come on.”
She led me into the room and my mouth went dry. Cat was having a contraction, her face contorted in pain as she cried out. I went to her side, and I slipped my hand into hers.
Well, ‘slipped’ is probably the wrong word. She squeezed my hand so hard it felt like she was breaking every single bone at once. She unleashed a slurry of curse words as a nurse put a cold towel to her head.
And then, she quieted down. With deep, panting breaths, she blinked and looked at me.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey.” I tried to smile at her, and then nodded to my hand. It was still being crushed by her vice-like grip.
“Sorry,” she said, releasing me.
I tried to smile, but I was pretty sure it looked like a grimace. A nurse checked her blood pressure on the other side and patted Cat’s arm.
“How long?” Cat asked.
“You’re not dilated enough, Senator,” she said. “We’ll have to wait until the contractions are closer together.”
“How long, though?”
“Not long.” The nurse smiled, but it did nothing to soothe Cat’s and my nerves. Cat closed her eyes and exhaled.
Not long turned out to be almost six hours. I tried to stay calm. I mostly managed, until it was time for the main event. Cat squeezed my hand so hard it actually went numb. I lost all feeling from the wrist down, but it didn’t matter.
The instant our son let out his first bellowing scream, a flood of happiness went through me. The baby was placed directly on Cat’s chest and the two of us looked at him. Cat touched our son gently on the head, tears streaming down her face.
It felt like my chest exploded. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, I just looked at the ten tiny fingers and toes that belonged to our son.
“Congratulations,” a nurse said. I barely heard her. I slipped my hand into Cat’s and she swung her eyes up to mine. They were shining with exhausted, happy tears. I leaned down and kissed my wife, my love, the mother of my child, and my heart had never felt so full.
CAT AND I HAD JUST CELEBRATED our one year anniversary a couple weeks ago, and now we were celebrating the birth of our son. Ever since she’d come into my life, I hadn’t been the same man. I didn’t have that burning need to be out in the field, putting my life in danger.
I still worked for the Agency, but as an analyst now. Strictly behind a desk, at Cat’s orders. I didn’t mind. As I watched her sleep off the exhaustion of labor, I would trade any field mission for the ability to be here beside her. I hadn’t realized how much I was missing out on, and how much fuller my life was with her in it. And as our son cooed in the hospital bassinet, I didn’t know what I’d done to deserve this kind of happiness.
“He’s beautiful, isn’t he?” Cat said.
I turned to look at her and brushed as strand of hair off her face. “I didn’t know you were awake.”
“Just woke up a second ago.”
“What should we call him?”
“I feel like most parents have this figured out before the baby gets here,” she laughed.
“Well, most parents aren’t Senators and intelligence analysts.”
“No,” she chuckled. “They aren’t.” She bit her lip, swinging her eyes up to me. “I think his middle name should be Arthur.”
“After your grandfather?”
She nodded. “He would have loved to meet his first grandson.”
Arthur ‘Shorty’ Nowak had died not long after the altercation at the docks. I’d never seen Cat so sad, but she’d squared her shoulders and gone on to win the General Election to serve as Maryland’s Senator for six years. She had just become the second U.S. Senator to give birth while in office, and I was the proudest husband in the country.
I smiled. “Of course. Okay, so we have Arthur Anders… what about the first name?”
“Let’s call him Christian, after the man who stole my heart.”
I wasn’t expecting that. My eyebrows shot up and my heart instantly melted into a puddle of goo in my chest. Tears brimmed in my eyes and I cleared my throat. I didn’t think I would care about something like that, or be as flattered as I was, but the emotion didn’t lie.
“Christian Arthur Anders,” I said slowly. “It’s got a nice ring to it.” I leaned down and kissed Cat, resting my forehead against hers. “When we have a daughter, we can name her Catherine.”
“Whoa, whoa,” she laughed. “Slow down. One is enough for now. You’re not going anywhere near the danger zone.” She pointed to herself above the covers and I grinned, kissing her again.
“You make me want to have a big family.”
“You’re not the one who has to push them out of your vagina,” she laughed, hooking her arms around my neck. We kissed again, slowly, and I sighed against her. Christian Jr. babbled beside us. “Let’s see how we do with one baby first,” Cat grinned, kissing the tip of my nose.
“I think we’ll be fine,” I answered. And I believed it. Cat was the strongest, most amazing woman I’d ever known. I was proud to call her my wife and the mother of my son. I was proud to be by her side and loved seeing her serve this country with integrity. She made me a better person, and I would do anything for her.
And if that meant staying away from the danger zone, so be it. If it meant only having one kid, that was fine, too. All that mattered was that we were together, and we were happy.