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Note: this chapter contains no sex.
Dear reader, feel free to dispense with what follows. For those of you patient (and forgiving) enough to have followed along, the characters are as much yours as mine. Feel free to supply your own ending if you care to. If not, join me as we finish this journey of loving souls together. In either case, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and them as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing them.
Another big thanks to LarryInSeattle. Any mistakes that remain I managed to sneak past him.
Mark and Owen ‘found’, with Muriel’s very discrete help, an above-the-garage studio apartment, smack dab in the middle of the island. It was as far from a beach as it was possible to be. It was small, just room for two twin beds and a very lumpy, sad looking love seat. The stove was a two-burner. The bathroom was cramped with a single sink and poor ventilation. But they could afford it. Bill was a frequent visitor. Mark gave them as much space as he could but, after those two weeks in the summer, privacy was not the problem it would have otherwise been. Besides, there was always Muriel’s place.
Word spread that there was a local Outer Banks marketing option, a quality option that didn’t require begging someone to come down from Norfolk or over from Charlotte. Their business grew rapidly, with no help from Muriel beyond her initial round of introductions. Mark and Owen found themselves busier than they could have hoped. From a business standpoint, they outgrew the studio before the fall was over. Muriel rented them space in the back of one of her spas. For housing, they kept the studio; it had grown on them. It felt like home. When Mark moved out, Owen stayed.
The rapid take off of their business was a good thing, not only providing a degree of financial security, but because it made the waiting bearable. Muriel refused to be rushed. She ticked off the days (in her head, afraid marks on a calendar would be a jinx). Her period, even allowing for her recent irregularity, was overdue. She waited, telling herself she wanted to leave enough time to be certain, but mostly fearing she’d see only a single pink line on the fashionably designed piss stick. Mark spent most evenings at her place during this time.
“I’m ready, love. Let’s do this,” she whispered as he stirred beside her. She’d been awake for hours. Her need to know was nearly as pressing as her need to void. Mark didn’t say a word. He simply rose, rounded the bed and offered her a hand. He perched on the edge of the tub, holding her hand as she struggled to pee on the stick and not her hand. He hit the start button on his phone’s timer app. They waited, heads bowed. Muriel yelped when the timer went off. It was chiming bells, the softest alert, in Mark’s opinion, available. She smiled at him by way of apology. He squeezed her hand by way of telling her none was needed.
The little plastic stick, which at the moment was the most important thing in the world, sat atop the tank behind her. She twisted and picked it up, making sure not to peek at the window that would, one way or the other, change her life, their lives. She closed her eyes.
“Close yours, too,” she instructed. “On the count of three we’ll open them, okay?”
“Sure,” Mark whispered. He pretended to close his eyes, feeling guilty at deceiving her but knowing he’d need time to prepare himself if the answer from the giant Magic 8 Ball in the sky was “no”.
“One, two, three,” Muriel whispered, each syllable softer, the last barely audible. She opened her eyes, looking, not at the window in the white plastic stick, but at Mark. He was smiling and nodding, tears running down his cheeks. She joined him.
Owen returned to school and helped Mark with their business as much as he could via the Internet. Bill visited as often as his own growing business and trips to Rhode Island would allow, usually with Jim and Jill in tow, assuming she could find time off from school. Jim was taking over more and more of the construction business, as Bill began to seriously considering relocating to either the Outer Banks or Rhode Island.
Jill wanted to move in with Jim. He put his foot down. He wanted her there but her first priority was school. If she could prove she could keep both her grades and his dick up at the same time, he’d consider it next year. Her parents backed him, not that he needed the help. Jill had learned that in his own way Jim was as stubborn as she. At their age, who considers the possibility there won’t be a next year?
Mark got a taste of what working and taking care of a family was going to mean. Abruptly, five months into her pregnancy, Muriel and he married. Her local OB, in light of her age, offering testing for Down’s syndrome and other genetic abnormalities. She declined. She was referred, due to her age and the fact she was carrying twins, to a high-risk OB in Norfolk.
At Şirintepe Escort the seven months, she and Mark moved in with his parent to be closer to her OB and the hospital. Ben and Meg moved to Jill’s small room with its full-size bed over Muriel’s objections. Jill, taking a semester off, moved into the boys’ old room.
They filed away every passing day, superstitiously eschewing calendars. Every day made it more likely the twins would be viable, should she give birth prematurely. Seven days, another week checked off. Four weeks to a month. Check. Muriel grew more and more anxious. The pregnancy had been blessed. She’d had very little morning sickness. Her blood pressure and blood sugars had been textbook perfect. The ultrasounds had looked fine, a boy and a girl. Hell, she only had couple of faint stretch marks, a little ankle swelling and no hemorrhoids. She felt, as Bill had with Owen, that this was too easy. Something had to go wrong. Something had gone horribly wrong but not to her. That didn’t count.
“One more big push,” a voice orders from between her legs. Muriel has grown to love Dr. Ted, as she calls him, but at the moment the sound of his voice makes her want to pull one foot from the stirrup and kick him in the middle of the face. One more, who the fuck is he kidding? She’s been giving him one more push for an hour now. The first few hours of labor had been easier than she’d expected, the last few worse than she had imagined.
“Bullshit,” she snaps.
“Save your breath and push, Muriel. The head is almost out. Come on. You can do it.”
She draws a deep breath and vows to herself that she’ll push so hard the damn baby will knock him off that goddamn stupid stool and its goddamn fucking irritating squeaky wheel. She pushes. The pain reaches a new high water mark and then crests. She feel something give and the pain subsides.
“There’s the head!” Mark murmurs in awe, standing at her side. “Oh my God, she’s so beautiful.”
Meg smiles through her tears. Technically speaking, at least in her experience, nothing squeezed out of vagina and covered with waxy cottage cheese and blood is beautiful, but she knows the feeling. Besides, all her son can see is the head. How can he know it’s his daughter and not his son? She tries to process the fact that she has just become a grandmother.
“Another push, Muriel, and this little one will be free. Come on.”
Mark watches as the doctor cradles the baby’s head. He moves it down. Muriel’s face grows red. A shoulder comes into view. The doc moves the baby up. The other shoulder is there and then, whoosh, a baby lies in the doctor’s hands.
The doc hands the baby to the neonatologist hovering at his side. Mark’s smile fades. He doesn’t hear any crying. Mark was right, Meg notes. It’s his daughter.
“Is she alright?” Muriel asks, twisting to where her baby lies. Doctors and nurses block her view. No one answers. “Is my baby alright?!” she demands, growing agitated.
“Muriel, let them do their job,” Dr. Ted advises. “She looks perfect. She needs a little time to realize she’s not snuggled up inside your womb anymore.”
A loud “aww wann” cry fills the room and grows in volume.
Muriel starts to cry and Mark, along with the rest of his family, begin to breathe again.
“Is that my baby?” Muriel asks, sounding utterly surprised, as if it’s news to her that she’s pregnant. “Can I hold her?”
The neonatologist, Mark struggles and fails to recall the woman’s name, walks toward his wife, smiling behind her mask.
“Just for a few minutes. We need to get her back under the warmer and check a few things. Besides,” she says, pulling back the sheet and gown to lay the still squalling red-faced infant on Muriel’s chest, “you still have work to do. Her brother’s waiting.”
Behind him, Mark hears his mother gasp, or maybe it’s his father, or maybe it’s both. He knows why. The demanding, scrunched up face is Jill’s. He could be looking at one of his sister’s baby pictures. He wishes Jill would come over and look. She sits against the wall, elbows on knees, face in her hands. Bill and Owen stand beside her; Bill has his hand on her shoulder. Dr. Ted had been surprisingly open to Muriel having not only her husband but her husband’s family present for the delivery. The OB nurses? Not so much. They’re a conservative lot by nature. Ben and Meg stand on either side of Muriel’s head. Mark is by her side.
Mark wishes she would come over and look at the baby, wishes he has time to encourage her, but he doesn’t. Muriel’s hand tightens on his. He hears her start to pant.
“Okay, Muriel. You’re doing great, champ. One more. I know you’re tired but this one should be a little easier.” Dr. Ted’s voice flows over Muriel. It’s smooth as cream and carries not a hint of concern, just encouragement and confidence. “You got this, Muriel,” he continues as the next contraction builds, Escort Şirintepe her uterus waking to the fact there remains yet another intruder lurking inside it.
If the second one is easier, it’s not by much. Muriel pushes for a half-an-hour before the baby crowns. Her daughter has been whisked away, still complaining to high heaven, to the neonatal intensive care unit, for monitoring. The NICU nurses smile at the fussy baby, knowing she won’t be here long. This little one is doing just fine and in a couple of hours the little darling will be all mom and dad’s problem.
“Oh, sweetie,” Mark whispers. “This one has a lot more hair than his sister.” He’s gazing at the mat of curls plastered to what little of his son’s head he can see. He doesn’t notice the delivery room nurse scowl at him. Mark doesn’t notice. He’s father does. He sees the look hiding behind the mask and his own eyes tighten.
“Okay, the heads out.” Dr. Ted’s voice changes ever so subtly. Mark stares at the baby’s face, confused. He watches as history repeats itself: shoulder, shoulder, whoosh, baby.
Ben’s eyes haven’t left the nurse’s face. He sees the scowl deepen, grow to a look of disgust. Her eyes flick to Muriel’s face and are filled with contempt. Muriel doesn’t see it. Ben does. He holds onto his anger.
“Get out,” he tells the nurse, not shouting, not even raising his voice. In the doctor’s hands, the little boy begins to cry. Dr. Ted looks up confused. The nurse looks at Ben. “I said get out,” he repeats. “I don’t want you near my grandson or any member of my family.”
She’s already holding the infant. Dr. Ted quickly clamps the cord and cuts it. The baby is passed off to the NICU team, who wisely keep silent.
“What’s going on?” Dr. Ted demands. His sing-song voice a thing of the past.
“I don’t take orders from you,” the nurse snaps. Her name is hidden by her gown.
“No?” Ben replies in a soft tone. “I’ve watched you the past few hours. You’ve barely been civil to Muriel. You look at my son like he smells bad. And I just saw the look on your face as you held my grandson. I have no idea what your technical skills are as a nurse but it’s clear to me, as clear as the looks on your face, that you are a cruel, hateful human being. And I don’t want you touching my grandson. If you’ll be working on the post-delivery unit, I don’t want you near any of my family. I intend to file a formal complaint as soon as I know my grandchildren are okay.”
The nurse yanks her face mask off and drops it to the floor.
“Your grandchildren?” She sneers. Her face as twisted as what passes for her soul. “Unless you’re an awfully light-skinned nigger they aren’t your grandchildren.” She swivels to look at Mark, who simply stares at her. “The old slut you married is fucking a nigger behind your back. I don’t suppose you care about that, huh? You’re all a bunch of degenerates. Nigger lovers,” She turned to glare at Bill and Owen, standing quietly beside Jill. “And faggots. Disgusting.”
“Behind my back?” Mark laughs and the nurse looks surprised.
Dr. Ted doesn’t know what to do. He knows what the nurse is saying is true, about the baby boy anyway, not the rest of the foolishness she’s spouting, but about the baby she’s correct. The baby is clearly black and neither Muriel or Mark are.
“Heteropaternal superfecundation. I’ll be damned,” he whispers to himself. Mark’s voice brings him back to the situation.
“It wasn’t behind my back. I held her hand, praying, that if I couldn’t give my wife a child that one of the best men I know in this world would. The sight of that hair, that nose, those dark little balls, fills me joy. Joy is something beyond your ability to understand. That’s sad but I’m not as polite as my father. Get out of this room! Now!” He turns to Dr. Ted. “Doc, do you still need her?”
“I need a nurse.” Dr. Ted replies. His voice hardens. “But I don’t need Mildred.” He turns to the nurse. “Mildred, get out. Send in whoever is free to help me finish.” She stands there. “Now, goddamn it.” Enraged, she looks as if she wants to spit at all of them but finally she turns and storms from the room. “Sue?” he calls as he turns his attention back to Muriel.
Sue, that’s the baby doc’s name, Mark remembers. She turns.
“How’s the little one?”
“Just fine. He’s as laid back as is his sister is wound up,” she chuckles. “They’re both fine, Ted. No worries that I can see.”
“Beautiful. Thanks, Sue.” He concentrates on delivering the placentae but has one more request. “Better find out who the administrator on call is, and the nursing supervisor, and get them down here. You might have to give them a statement. You, too, Heather.” The last is directed at the NICU nurse, now holding Muriel’s son. “I hope you’ll both back me on what the hell just happened. Unbelievable.”
“Of course, Ted,” Sue replies. “I’m just glad no one called her a cunt. That would’ve made Şirintepe Escort Bayan it harder to get her fired. Besides, that would be an insult to vaginas everywhere.”
Heather shakes her head. “It’s not the first complaint I’ve heard about her. Rumor is that admin has been biding its time, building up a case. This will do it. I don’t relish dishing up dirt on a fellow nurse but I’m not about to lie for her.”
Jill has made her way from the wall where she’s been sitting to Muriel’s side. Heather puts the baby on Muriel’s chest. He settles right in, giving a yawn and pulls his little arms and legs up.
“Jim?” she whispers to Muriel.
Muriel cries a little harder.
“Say hello to James Watson Casey, sweet one,” Muriel manages to say through her sobs.
Jill kneels beside the bed, rests her chin on Muriel’s shoulder and stares with wide eyes, missing Jim more than ever.
She had known something was wrong when Bill had called to say he was in the dorm’s lobby. Since Virginia Tech, visitors don’t just wander up to a dorm room, coed dorm or not. Bill had never visited her at school. She saw him several times a month. There was no need for him to visit. Or, rather, there hadn’t been a need up until then.
He’s pale and his hands shake. Her first thought is of her parents. She feels guilty about that for years. Why her parents? They were older, that’s all, her older self will offer as an explanation. That makes sense but Jill will never be able to shake the nagging worry that thinking of her parents first meant she cared more for them than she had for Jim.
“Mom? Dad? What’s wrong?”
She will always remember the way he shook his head, once to the right, once to the left, back to the center, eyes on the floor. She will always remember the shirt, dark green, stained here and there, one edge of the patch that read, “CaWa Construction & Welding” was coming loose. CaWa, for CAsey and WAtson, their company, Bill’s and Jim’s.
“Jill.” His voice cracks and she see his shoulders hunch. She goes to him, sits on the sofa beside him and takes him into her arms. She wonders if it’s Owen. She can’t imagine anything else that would upset him so much, can’t or won’t imagine. She comforts him until he manages to rasp out, “Jim’s dead.” After that they comfort each other.
Bill had been pissed. He was alone in the shop. He was finishing a wrought iron gate for a very wealthy, and very demanding, woman for her garden in Virginia Beach. He’d tried to explain to her a steel gate would look the same and be both easier to weld and more durable. He tried to explain that wrought iron refers to the smelting process not the look. He might as well have been talking to his dead grandmother. The woman wanted wrought iron and wrought iron was what she had to have. The goddamn phone had kept ringing. He let it go to voicemail. There had been the usual calls with questions about this or that. He couldn’t hear all of the messages, not over the sputter of the torch. The welder was off when the last call came. He caught something about police and calling back if he knew a Mr. James Watson.
His hands had been shaking when he picked up the phone. It had taken him three times to punch in the number he’d jotted down.
He answered a few questions. The cops got the number off a business card in Jim’s wallet. He listened, trying to process what he was hearing but really only understanding that Jim, his best friend, his first love, was dead. He wasn’t sure what to do when he hung up. He should call his parents. He should call Jill. He hadn’t realized he was sitting on the corner of the desk and crying until one of the workers got back from lunch.
Jim’s mother, during a moment of near sobriety, had called her eldest son. His sister’s latest boyfriend was pimping her for drugs. The man was pimping her daughter out of her own house. Had she called the cops? Course not, they’d just take her baby to jail, then the motherfucker pimping her baby would make bail and come back and shoot her ass. He had to come home. Had to fix it.
He’d been helping his sister pack a bag when the pimp shot him in the back of the head. The part of him that loved welding, loved Bill, loved Bill’s sister sprayed from his nose and the crater that open above his left eye. What happened to the love? Could it be found in the red and white mess on the bed and running down the walls?
Jim was dead before he had a chance to hear his sister’s screams. He’d only been dead a bit longer, when enraged that the bitch wouldn’t shut the fuck up, his sister’s brains decorated the opposite wall. They’re were both dead when their momma, struggling to make her pickled brain function, brought the first thing she laid hand to, her own momma’s cast iron skillet, down on the back of the murder’s head. The back quarter of his head flattened with a muffled crack. He dropped without a sound. The skillet hitting the bare wood floor made more noise than the body.
Jim’s mother returned to the kitchen table. She didn’t bother with calling the police. She just picked up the bottle of cheap wine that sat there, drinking but not tasting. She didn’t bother with a glass, last she’d heard Obama wasn’t planning on stopping in to say ‘hi’ this afternoon, no need to put on airs.
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