Sunday, November 25, 2012

Before the Always-Last Edition (Part 11)

3 months later

“Jimmy, wake up.  Jimmy!”  Lydia shook Jimmy who was laying beside her in bed.
“What?  What?”  He sat up straight as an arrow in the bed. He looked over at Lydia who was holding her stomach with a look of intense pain spreading across her face.
“Now?” Jimmy asked.
“Yes, now!” Lydia screamed.
“Breathe, baby.”
“Easy for you to say, mister.  You’re not the one who has an alien inside you trying to kick his way out!”
“Hey, you told me we were not having an alien baby,” Jimmy teased.
“No jokes, Jimmy.  Especially bad ones.  Let’s just go to the hospital.”  Lydia swung her legs over the side of the bed.  She had on a pair of pajama pants and one of Jimmy’s old jerseys.  Her hair was in a knot on top of her head and she had a headband holding back the fly away hairs.
“Aren’t you going to change?” Jimmy asked.
“Yes.  At the hospital.”
Jimmy stood up from the bed.  He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and stretched.  “I don’t know why I even asked,  baby.  Sorry.”  He grabbed a pair of jeans hanging on the chair next to the bed and slipped on a T-shirt.
Lydia looked over at his ensemble.  “It’s twelve degrees outside, Jimmy Brown!  Put some clothes on!”
“Lyddie, I’m fine.  I’ll wear a jacket.  Let’s go.”  He grabbed her hand and walked toward the door.  She stopped and grabbed onto the door jamb with one hand.  She squeezed Jimmy’s with the other.  The contraction was so intense she fell to her knees.
“I don’t think I can do this, Jimmy.”
“Yes, you can.  You spent three months of the worst part of your pregnancy by yourself.  This is the good part, baby.  Once he comes out, it’ll be all over.  You can do this.”  He framed her face in his hands.  “You have to do this. Failure is not an option.”
“Don’t you go all Army on me now, Private Brown!”
Jimmy smiled and helped Lydia to her feet.  He walked her out to the car and helped her inside the truck.  Once she was settled , he got in on the driver’s side and took a deep breath.  “We’re about to be parents, Lyddie.”  He turned the key and drove onto the road to the hospital.
Lydia grabbed Jimmy’s hand that rested beside him on the seat.  “Nothing like yours,” she assured him.

“Make it stop!”  Lydia looked at Jimmy with pleading eyes as she tried to breathe her way through another gut wrenching contraction.  “Please, Jimmy, make it stop!”
Jimmy stood by the bed holding her hand and smoothed back her hair.  “Baby, I wish I could.  I don’t like seeing you like this.”  The contraction was over and Jimmy kissed the top of her head.
Lydia flopped back onto the pillow and stared at the monitors beside her.  She saw the wave of the contraction she had just gone through.  “That was a big one.”
Jimmy sat down in a chair next to the bed and looked over to see the same lines she did.  “Biggest one, yet, I think.”
Lydia closed her eyes.  “How long have we been here, Jimmy?”
Jimmy gazed over at the clock.  “Five hours.”
Lydia covered her eyes and sighed.  “Why is it taking so long?  I thought I was ready to have this baby.”
“Doc said it might take a while for the first one, remember?”
Lydia parted her fingers open so she could stare at Jimmy with one eye.  “The first one?  You’re already assuming there is going to be a second one?”  Lydia propped herself up on her elbows.  “How dare you!”
“Lyddie, I just meant the first time.  The first time you were in labor.  Doc said it might be a while since you’re body has never gone through it before.  That’s all I meant.  I swear.  We’re not even going to talk about having any more babies until you have this one.  I promise.  Okay?”
“Good.  Because if I even think about having any more babies right now, my answer would be “not in this lifetime.”
“Boy, do I know it,” Jimmy sighed.
Lydia clenched her fists and closed her eyes.  “Jimmy?!” she screamed.
“Right here, baby, right here.”  Jimmy jumped up out of the chair like he had been prodded by an electric shock.
“It hurts, it hurts, it hurts!”
“Breathe, Lyddie.”
“I can’t.”
Jimmy got up in her face.  “Yes, you can.”  His words were measured.  “You look at me and you breathe, baby.  You don’t take your eyes off me.”
Lydia did the practiced breathing she had learned from her mom.  Jimmy was gone when the classes were held and she didn’t want to go without him, so she had her mom help her out.  After all, her mom was an RN.  She knew what she was doing.
Lydia’s eyes teared up and she sobbed.
“Don’t Lyddie-girl.  Don’t you do that right now.”
“I want it to stop!” she wailed.
Jimmy wiped away her tears and kissed her on the cheek.  “You’re tough.  Remember?”
Lydia breathed and nodded.
“Tough girls don’t quit.  Just breathe, baby.  Look at me and breathe.”
Lydia struggled through the contraction until it stopped.  She kept her eyes locked on Jimmy.  He held her hand and calmed her down just by looking at her and smiling.  When it was over, he sat down next to her and stared at her.  “Did I tell you how beautiful you are today?” Jimmy asked.
Lydia turned her head and pulled a face.  “Jimmy Brown, I think you may have lost your mind.”
Jimmy stood up and put his hands on his hips.  “I have not, Lydia Marie.  You’re the prettiest girl I’ve seen all day.”
“Jimmy, there’s no way I could look pretty right now.  I’m all sweaty, my hair is sticking to my forehead.  I don’t have any make up on and I’ve got left over tears streaking down my face.  If that’s beautiful to you, then I’m scared to know what ugly looks like.”
“You’re forgetting one thing, Lyddie.”  Jimmy grinned and leaned down so he was eye to eye with her again.  He took the matted hair from her forehead and brushed it behind her ear.  “You’re having our baby and that’s what makes you the most beautiful to me.”  He leaned in and kissed her on the mouth.  She kissed back with a smile on her face.
They heard someone clear their throat.  “Knock, knock.”
Jimmy jumped back.  “’Morning, Leiutenant,” Jimmy greeted.  He ran his fingers through his hair and gave a boyish grin.
“Hi, Daddy.”  Lydia blushed.
“Sweetheart, you really don’t need to blush every time I catch you and Jimmy kissing.  You’re married.  That’s what you’re supposed to do.”  Lt. Baker walked over to Lydia kissed her on the cheek.  “How are you, Lydia?”
“I’m fine, Daddy, but I think you should have Jimmy checked out.  He’s gone crazy.”
Lt. Baker raised an eyebrow.  “Is that so?”
“Look at me, Daddy.  He said I’m pretty.  I look like this and he says I’m pretty.  What do you think I look like?”
“My baby girl all grown up.”
Lydia covered her face with her hands.  “Where’s Mama?  Maybe she can be the voice of reason between you two.”
Lydia clenched the sheets on her bed.  Another contraction came.  Lt. Baker got out of the way, so Jimmy could coach his daughter through another awful contraction.  He stood at the window looking out cringing each time he heard his daughter cry out in pain. 
“Daddy, I’m okay,” Lydia said after the contraction was over.
Lt. Baker looked at her with watery eyes.  “I know, sweetheart.  Jimmy’s taking good care of you.”
“Then why do you look like you are about to cry.”
Lt. Baker shook his head.  “I’m not going to cry, Lydia.”  He cleared his throat.  “Marines don’t cry.”  He pointed over to Jimmy.  “But, soldiers do.  Just like babies.”
“Jimmy doesn’t cry, Daddy.”
“Then, maybe there’s hope for him, yet.”
“Gee, thanks,” Jimmy grumbled.  He crossed his arms and slid one leg up the wall for support.
The nurse’s came in and asked the men to leave.  They had to check Lydia.  The nurse pulled the curtain and checked Lydia.  She groaned in pain.  Jimmy and Lt. Baker looked at each other with helpless eyes.  When the nurse was finished, she opened the curtain back up and let the men back in.
“Nothin, not a darn centimeter.  I’m going to be sitting at 7 centimeters forever.  This baby is never going to make it out of the birth canal!” Lydia yelled.  She kicked her feet on the bed.
“Calm down, Lyddie.  Remember what the doctor said?”
Lydia brushed her hand under her nose.  “I don’t care what he said.  I want this baby out of me.  I want to go home!  I want to go home and have a baby and not have to keep having these awful contractions and making my daddy cry and you look so afraid and helpless.  It’s not fair.”  She pounded her fist on the bed.  “It’s not fair!”
“Lyddie, baby, what if you had an epidural?  Would that make you feel better?” Jimmy asked.
“Um, in case we haven’t met, my name’s Lydia Baker Brown.  I’m the one that took notes during biology class because I couldn’t stand blood and guts.  And I surely don’t want anyone shoving a needle the size of lightning rod in my back, just so I’ll feel better.  No way, Jimmy Brown.  I’ll stick with this little drip of pain meds I’m on.”
“Okay,” Jimmy sighed.
The room fell silent for a few seconds.  Lydia looked over at her dad.  He was staring out the window and rubbing his ear with his thumb.  Something was bothering him.
Lt. Baker flinched.  He looked over at Lydia and pasted a smile on his face.  “What, sweetheart?”
“Where’s Mama?  She hasn’t been here all morning.  I thought she’d be with you.”
“She’ll be here, sweetheart.  She got stuck in the ER with a heart attack victim.  They had to intubate.  He wasn’t doing very well.”
“She doesn’t want to be in here, does she?” Lydia asked.  A tear made its way down her cheek.
Lt. Baker crossed the room over to Lydia’s bedside.  “Of course she does, Lydia.  She just got tied up with work.”
“Don’t lie for her, Daddy.”
“Look at me, Lydia.  I’m not,” Lt. Baker snapped.  “I’ll go see if she can come up now.  I’ll be right back.”
“You’re fighting again, Daddy.  That’s why you’re so quiet.”
Lt. Baker shook his head.  “Lydia, we haven’t fought since Jimmy left for basic.  I don’t know why I’m so quiet this morning.  I guess, I’m just thinking about what could have been, that’s all.”
Lydia shook her head.  “Don’t do that.  It’s depressing.”
Another contraction came and Lydia squeezed her dad’s arm.  Jimmy didn’t get up in time to help her.  Lt. Baker went into “Marine” mode and told Lydia to fight through the pain.
The contraction made Lydia squeeze her dad’s arm harder.  He clenched his teeth at one point.  When it was over, Lydia let go and Lt. Baker rubbed his arm.
“Sorry, Daddy,” Lydia mumbled.
Lt. Baker smiled.  “Sweetheart, I’ve had worse things happen to me.”
Lydia’s face was paler than it had been.  “Good, because I think I need to-“
Jimmy slid the trash can over to Lt. Baker.  He picked it up and held it while Lydia wretched into the trash can.
“This is embarassing.  You guys shouldn’t have to watch this.”
Lt. Baker bent down and kissed the top of Lydia’s head.  “I’ll go find your mama.”  Lt.  Baker left and Jimmy came over with a wet wash rag.  Lydia grabbed it from his hand.  She didn’t want him to clean her up.
“Lyddie, let me do something.”
“Why?  You want me to depend on you all the time.  Even when you’re gone?  I was doing just fine when you left for basic.  I can handle this by myself, too.”
Jimmy pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath.  “Lyddie, you can take help.  It’s okay.  Especially from me.  This is my baby, too.”
Lydia sat the wash rag down on the table in front of her.  “You shouldn’t have to see me like this, Jimmy.  Just leave, okay?  No one needs to see me like this.”
“I am not leaving.”
“You’ve never told me no before.  I don’t think I like it.”
“Get used to it, baby.  When it comes to something like this, I’m staying.  You can’t get rid of me.”
Michelle Baker walked in still in her scrubs.  She looked like she had aged a few years since the last time Lydia had seen her.  Michelle came up next to the bed and smiled.  “What’s this I hear these two guys can’t help you?  A couple of military men seem pretty capable to me.”
“Mama, make Jimmy leave.”
“You giving him walking orders, huh?  Probably not a good idea, sweetheart.  You need him.”
“He won’t leave the room.  He’s been with me for the past five hours, nothing’s happened, and he’s tired.  He’s tired of me, he’s tired of waiting.  He’s tired of seeing me in pain.  Make him leave, Mama.  You’re a nurse.  Throw some of your authority around.”
“Sweetheart, I can’t do that.  This isn’t my floor.”
Lydia clenched her fists and pounded on the bed.  More sweat dripped from her face.  She looked at her mom’s face and deep into her eyes.   Michelle grabbed her daughter’s hand and unclenched the fist.  She looked over at the monitor.
“You’re almost done, Lydia.  Just take deep breaths.”
“Don’t tell me what to do!  I’ve been doing this for five hours.  All you tell me to do is breathe.  I know!”
The contraction was over.  Michelle let go of Lydia’s hand.  “It’s a good thing I’m not an L and D nurse,” she mumbled.  She backed up so she was leaning against Lt. Baker.
“I’m sorry, Mama.”  Lydia covered her face with her hands.  “I’m just frustrated, that’s all.”
“I know, Lydia.  When is the last time you were checked?”
Lydia looked at the clock.“About 20 minutes ago.”
“How many contractions have you had since then?”
“Check the monitors.  I don’t know.”
“Three,” Jimmy offered.  “She’s had three.”
“You need to be checked again.”  Michelle shoved her thumb toward the door.  “Out, gentlemen.  That’s an order.”
Lt. Baker smiled.  “I’m retired.  I don’t take orders, anymore.”
Michelle cocked an eyebrow.  “Do you really want to stay for what happens next?  A nurse is going to shove her hand up your daughter’s-“
“Let’s go,  Lieutenant.”  Jimmy grabbed Lt. Baker’s shoulder.  “Where Lydia lacks in the gross department, you’re nurse of a wife doesn’t.”  Jimmy put his hand on Lt. Baker’s back and led him out of the room.
Michelle crossed her arms smiling and looked at her daughter.  “Was that what you needed?”
“I’d hug you right now if I wasn’t so sweaty.”
“You want to take your gown off?” Michelle asked.
“Are you kidding?  What if daddy comes back in here and I’m naked.”
“You’ll have the sheet on you.”
“No, Mama, I’m fine.”
Michelle sat in the chair Jimmy had put beside the bed. “Sweetheart, you need to let Jimmy help you.  That’s why he’s here.  Soon, he’s going to be gone.”
“Stop it.  Don’t say that.”
“It’s getting worse, Lydia.  They’re going to call him up soon.”
“Then, I should learn how to get along without him.”
Michelle stood up and grabbed her daughter’s face.  “Don’t do that to him.  He loves you, Lydia.  Don’t shut him out for the decisions he made.”
“You should talk.  You’re fighting again with Daddy.  He says you’re not, but I know it when I see it.”
“We’re not fighting.  We’re disagreeing.”
“What’s the difference.”
“I want to move, sweetheart.  South.”
“Mama, you can’t do that.  What if Jimmy gets deployed?  I need you guys to stay here.  I can’t take care of a baby by myself.”
Lydia’s nurse walked in.  “Hey, Michelle.  Didn’t know you changed floors.”
“I wouldn’t be on this floor if my life depended on it.  Lydia’s my daughter, Angie.”
“Well, hate to break up the mother daughter time, but  it’s time to check you, Lydia.  You’ve had a few contractions since the last time.  Maybe there’s hope.”
Michelle squeezed Lydia’s hand.  “I’ll be outside.  I’ll send Jimmy in when Angie’s finished.”
Michelle walked out.  Lydia prepared herself to be checked again.  She breathed deeply and squeezed the pillow behind her head.
“Good news, Lydia.  You’re at nine and a half centimeters.”
“Thank goodness,” Lydia sighed.
“The next time you have a contraction, you should be ready to push.”
Lydia’s eyes widened.  The sudden realization that she was about to bring a new life into the world terrified her.  Her hands started shaking and her face paled.
“Lydia?” Angie asked.
“Where’s Jimmy?” she asked.  “I need Jimmy, where’s Jimmy?”
“I’ll go get him.  Just relax.”
Angie left.  Before she could ask Jimmy to go back into the room, he was already inside the door.  He looked over at Lydia and saw her paled face and her trembling hands.
“Lyddie, baby, what’s wrong?”
“We can’t-I can’t.  I don’t have any idea what I’m doing, Jimmy!”
“Calm down, baby.  Neither do I.”  Jimmy took her hand and kissed the back of it.
“That’s not very encouraging, Jimmy Brown.”
“It’s all I’ve got right now, Lyddie.  I just found out you’re about to push our kid out and I haven’t the slightest clue what I’m supposed to do when Doc tells me congratulations, it’s a boy.”
Lydia squeezed Jimmy’s hand again.  The contraction came and she looked into Jimmy’s eyes.  There, she saw fear, but she also saw hope.  She kept breathing and he kept telling her not to take her eyes off his.  He slipped another hand behind her and pressed the call button for the nurse.  Angie came back in with the doctor.
“You ready to push, Lydia?” Dr. Fletcher asked.
Lydia shook her head and the doctor smiled.  “It’s all right, Lydia.  Babies sense fear.  Just relax and let it happen.”
“Why does everyone keep telling me to relax?!”
“Because you need to and you’re not listening,” Jimmy mumbled.
Lydia shot daggers with her eyes at her husband. “Not helpful, Jimmy.”
“I didn’t say I was helpful, I’m just being honest,” Jimmy remarked.
Before Lydia could make a comeback, the contraction hit.  She grabbed Jimmy’s hand again.  She squeezed so hard this time, his knees almost buckled.  He bit his lip to keep from yelping in pain.
When it was over, Jimmy grabbed his hand and rubbed it.  The doctor checked her again and told her that she was dilated to ten and ready to push when the next wave came on.
Her eyes floated over to Jimmy.  She had the look of fear on her face.  Like the first time he told her he had joined up.  He pushed her bangs aside and looked into her eyes.
“It’s okay,” he whispered.  “I’m not going anywhere.”
“But, you will be.  There’s a war, Jimmy.  There’s a war and you’re a soldier and you’ll leave.  And my parents will move and I’ll be alone with a baby.  This was a bad idea.”  She shook her head and dropped it into her hands.  “This was a really bad idea.”
Jimmy looked at the monitor and saw that a contraction was on its way.  He leaned in close to Lydia, so only she could hear.  The most calming, sweet sounds came out of his mouth and into her ear.
“I’m falling even more in love with you, letting go of all I’ve held onto.”
Jimmy saw the smile spread across her face.  He grabbed her hand and rubbed circles with his thumb on the back of it.  “I’m standing here until you make me move, I’m hanging by a moment here with you.”
The contraction came on.
“I need you to push, Lydia,” the doctor ordered.
Jimmy squeezed her hand and braced her back with his hand.  “Push, Lyddie.  I’ll hold you up.  Just push.”
Lydia pushed and grunted.  When the contraction and the push was over, she fell back onto the bed.  “Is he here, yet?”
“Just another push, Lydia, but you have to wait.  It won’t be long.”
Lydia closed her eyes.  “I’m tired, Jimmy.”
“I know, baby.  I know.  Just one more push.”
“I don’t think I can.”
“Don’t you quit on my now, Lyddie.  Where’s that tough girl attitude at?  Did you leave it at the apartment.  I haven’t seen it all day.”
Lydia gritted her teeth.  “Don’t yell at me!”
“Don’t give up.  You can sleep when this is done.”
Lydia felt the contraction again.  “I need to push.”
“Hold on,” Dr. Fletcher said.
“I can’t.”
“Listen to Doc,” Jimmy pleaded.
“I have to push.”
Jimmy leaned into her ear again and sang some more. “Forgetting all I’m lacking, completely incomplete. I’ll take your invitation.  You take all of me.”
“Please, let me push!”
The doctor stared at the monitor.
“I’m falling even more in love with you.”
“Okay, Lydia.  One big push,” the doctor requested.
Jimmy held her up again.  She pushed so hard, she screamed and cried at the same time.
The doctor looked up at Jimmy and Lydia and grinned.  “He’s here.  Ten fingers, ten toes.  Do you want to hold him, Lydia?”
“Uh, Doc, can you clean him up first?  She’s not too good with blood.”
The doctor chuckled.  “Sure, Jimmy.  Give the nurse a sec.  Come cut the cord, so she can wash him up for you.”
“Sure, Doc.” 
Jimmy walked over and cut the cord.  The nurse took the baby over to the hospital bed he would have and cleaned him up.
“Jimmy?”  Lydia asked.  Her voice had grown weary.
“What, baby?”
“You didn’t finish your song.”
The doctor continued working on Lydia to make sure everything was okay.  Jimmy came over to her bedside and sang the rest of the song into her ear.  The nurse came over and smiled at the couple.
“I want to know what he’s saying that makes you smile that big.” Angie sat the baby in Lydia’s lap.
“I swore I wouldn’t tell.”  Lydia looked down at the baby in her arms.  He was wrapped up in a blue blanket.  His eyes were closed, but his tiny fists popped out of the blanket.  He yawned and Lydia smiled at him. “That was definitely a Jimmy face.”
“I don’t look like that when I yawn,” Jimmy protested.
“Yes, you do.  He looks exactly like you.”
Jimmy put his hands on her shoulders and peeked over at the infant.“Poor guy.”  He kissed Lydia on the cheek.  “I think I’m going to go get your parents and ask for a second opinion.”
Lydia rolled her eyes as he walked out the door.  It didn’t take him long to return.  Lt. Baker and Michelle walked in.
“Let me hold my grandbaby,” Michelle asked.  She scooped him up out of Lydia’s arms and held him.  Tears pooled in her eyes.  “What’s his name?”
“He doesn’t have one,” Lydia said.
“Why not?”
“We were hoping you two would name him.”
Michelle’s smile dropped from her face.  She looked over at her husband.  His face showed no emotion.  “Lydia, I don’t think-“
“Please, Mama.  What would you have named my brother?”
Michelle looked at Lt. Baker’s face for any signs of emotion out of him.  There wasn’t anything she could see.  “Danny, do you remember?”
“You wanted to call him Jack,” Lt. Baker mumbled.
“My dad’s middle name was Jackson.  We can call him Jack,” Jimmy remarked.
“Is he going to have a middle name?” Michelle asked.
“If you give him one, he will.”
“That’s a horrible middle name,” Lt. Baker groaned.
“It is not.  It is the middle name of the kindest,bravest, most loving man I know,” Michelle said.  She walked over and put the baby in her husband’s arms.  “It deserves to be used again.”
“Daddy, I like your middle name.  His middle name is Aaron.”
“Jackson Aaron Brown.”  Jimmy said it out loud so he could get used to it.
“First rule of parenting.  Don’t use the full name unless he’s in trouble,” Lt. Baker advised.
Michelle shook her head.  “Not my grandbaby.  He’s not going to be in trouble.”
Lt. Baker looked down at the baby.  He held out his finger, so the tiny baby could grab it.  “Did you hear that, Jack?  Your grandma is going to let you get away with anything you want.”
“Why not?  You let Lydia get away with anything she wanted.”  She crossed her arms and glared at Lt. Baker. “And don’t call me grandma.  That makes me sound old.”
“Honey, you’re not old.  This could be your baby, not your grandson for all we know.”
Michelle blinked.  “It could never be my baby,” she whispered.
Lt. Baker handed off Jack to Jimmy.  He put his hand on his wife’s shoulder.  “I’m sorry, Shelly.  I didn’t mean it that way.”
Michelle didn’t say anything.  She tugged on her ear and flashed a weak smile.  The silence was broken by the cries of the new baby.  Jimmy tried to comfort him by swaying him back and forth.
“I think he’s hungry,” Michelle said.
“Well, then, guess I’m going to have to hand him over to the prettiest new mom I know.”  Jimmy winked and handed Jack back to Lydia.
“Um, could you guys give me some privacy, please.”
“Sure, sweetheart.”  Lt. Baker said.  He took Michelle’s hand and led her out the door.  Jimmy walked behind them.
“You can stay, Jimmy.”
“Lyddie, I’ve been in this room for over five hours.”  He bent down close to her.  “I need to find the head.”
“The what?”
“Bathroom.  I’m going to have to get you an Army dictionary.”
Lydia chuckled.  “Fine, you can go.  But, come back.”
“Of course I will.”  He kissed her on the mouth and slowly pulled away.  “Mmm.  I think that kiss just got better since you became the mother of my son.”
“So, now you’re working on number two?”
He winked and backed away.  “Gotta start somewhere.”
Jimmy stepped into the hallway and saw his mother coming toward him.  He stopped in his tracks and stared.  He hadn’t seen or talked to his mom since the day of his dad’s funeral.  He didn’t go.  He just called her to tell her he wasn’t going to be there.  She hadn’t picked up the phone or made any attempt to contact him otherwise.  Jimmy crossed his arms and the smile he had on his face seconds before faded into a scowl.
“What are you doing here?” he grumbled.
Michelle walked up to them.  “I called her, Jimmy. I thought she should know.”
“Why?”  Jimmy crossed his arms.  “Why would you care anything about me?  You don’t even like Lydia.  You shouldn’t be here.”
Anita put a hand on his crossed arms.  “I want to see my grandson.”
Anita put her hand on her forehead and looked down at the tiles on the floor.  “Jimmy, please, don’t do this.”
“Do what?  Cut you out of my life like you cut me out of yours.”
Anita looked at her son’s green eyes.  She saw the trouble brewing in them.  They looked like her dead husband’s eyes.  “Jimmy, I didn’t cut you out.”
Jimmy took her hand and threw it off his arm.  “You cut me out when you called Lydia names and wouldn’t let me marry her.  Why?  She’s a good person, Mom.  She didn’t want to get married unless you said yes.”
“But you did it anyway, Jimmy.  How could I put up with that?”
“I don’t know.  You put up with a lot of the crap dad pulled.  How am I any different?”
“Jimmy, don’t say that.  I tried.  I tried to get him to come to your games.  I tried to get him to stop harping on you about the Army.  He wouldn’t do it.  I kept you close, because I couldn’t keep him. Don’t be like him.”
Jimmy glared at his mom and gnashed his teeth.  He pointed his finger and wagged it at his mom sharply. “I am never going to be like him!” he bellowed.
“Jimmy, calm down,” Lt. Baker said.  He had come over to the confrontation when he heard the bellowing.
“Sorry, Lieutenant.  But, I can’t take the blame for something my father did.”
“I just want to see my grandson, Jimmy,”  Anita pleaded.  “Don’t I get at least that?”
“Let her see him,” Michelle whispered.
“Lydia wouldn’t want that.”
“Jimmy, it’s not about what Lydia wants.  It’s about what I want.  I want to see my grandson!”
“Stop yelling.  You are definitely not seeing him if you yell at me like that.”  He ran his fingers through his short hair.  “I need a minute.  I’ll be back.” 
He walked off.  Anita looked at Michelle and Lt. Baker.
“Thanks for calling.  I’m sorry my son is acting this way.”
“I think he’s acting normal for what’s happened with you.”
“Shelly, don’t start anything,” Lt. Baker mumbled. 
“What’s happened to me?” Anita asked.
“You’re cold, Anita.  Your cold and your bitter and you haven’t come out of hiding from the fact that your husband committed suicide.”
“Shelly, stop.”
“You don’t know what its like, Michelle.  You have your husband, I lost mine the day he went to Vietnam.  He may be dead to everyone now, but he was dead to me in 1969.”
“You don’t think I know what it’s like?  You don’t think I don’t know how it is that you have to carry the burden of raising a family alone?  You don’t think I don’t know what it’s like to wonder if I was going to get a letter every week?  You don’t think I know what it’s like to get that phone call that your husband is MIA?  Look at him, Anita.”  She turned Anita toward Lt. Baker.  He had his arms crossed against his chest and his eyes stared off in the distance.  “I know you know that look.  He was beaten, tortured, and left for dead!  He crawled out of a prison the size of a cage for animals and made it back.  I know what you went through!  Don’t you dare accuse a military wife that she has no idea what you’re going through!  Don’t you dare!”
Anita bit her lip and fell against the wall.  “I’m sorry.  Okay, I’m sorry, Michelle.  I didn’t know.  But there is one thing you don’t know.  You don’t know what it is like to lose a son.  A son you’ve cared for since he was a baby.  A son that tried to fill a void his father left me.  A son that never knew how a real father was supposed to act with his son.  A son that used to smile.  A son that would do anything for his mama.  I lost him, too, Michelle.  Where did he go?”
Michelle snapped.  “The same place mine went!”  She pushed Lt. Baker aside and ran toward the front door.
Anita looked at Lt. Baker.  She crinkled her face in confusion.  “You don’t have a son,” she stated.
“Three miscarriages-all boys.  I was gone.”  He uncrossed his arms and went after Michelle.
Anita stood alone in the middle of the hallway.  Jimmy came back and grabbed her arm.
“Fine.  C’mon. I hope she doesn’t care,” Jimmy said through gritted teeth.
He walked in with his mom behind him.  He stopped short of seeing Lydia in the bed.  “Lyddie?”  he whispered quietly.  “Lyddie, someone wants to see the baby.”  He walked in closer and saw her.  She was fast asleep with Jackson laying across her chest.  He smiled at her.  She was beautiful when she slept.  He could see the lines of her cheekbones and the peacefulness she felt when her eyes were closed.  He walked over, smoothed her hair back and kissed her on the forehead.  She rustled under the hospital sheet.
“What?”  she kept her eyes closed.
“Shh, baby.  Go back to sleep.  I’ll take care of him.”  He slipped Jackson out of her arms and turned to his mom.
“Who’s here?” Lydia asked.  Her words were barely intelligible.
“Somebody.  Don’t worry about it.”  He nodded for his mom to meet him out in the hallway with the baby.
She walked out and looked down at the baby cuddled down in the blanket.  “He looks like you, Jimmy.” 
“I was hoping you wouldn’t say that.”
“Why?  You’re a handsome young man.”
“That’s a biased opinion.”
“It’s the truth, Jimmy.  What’s his name?”  She reached into the blanket and stroked his cheek with her finger.
Anita stopped and looked up at her son’s eyes.  “As in-“
“Yeah, Mom.”
“Deep down you don’t hate him, do you?”
Jimmy blew out a long breath.  “I’m not talking about this now.  His name is Jackson, because Lyddie’s mom wanted her son’s name to be Jack.  I just thought it would fit.  Okay?  I’m calling him Jack.  You can call him whatever you want.”
“Jimmy, if you keep acting like this, your son is going to pick up on it.  He’s going to act exactly like you.  He may even end up with the same relationship you and your father had.”
“I think you should go,” Jimmy grumbled.  He picked up Jackson out of his mother’s hands and turned back toward the hospital room.
“Your father loved you, Jimmy.  Even if he didn’t tell you or seem like he showed you, he loved you.  If you would read his letter, you’d know how he felt about you.”
Jimmy clenched his teeth together. He was trying not to yell.  He knew exactly how his dad felt about him.  His dad thought he wasn’t good enough, wasn’t smart enough.  His dad thought if he just pulled the trigger he could get rid of the son he never wanted.  Jimmy looked down at his son.
“I love you, Jack.  My dad never told me that, so I’m going to say it to you first.”
“He did love you, Jimmy.”
“He hated me, Mom.  He hated everything I was about.  Everything I did. He hated it because I did it.  He only came to football games because you made him.  He told me to back out of the Army because it was something he loved. We couldn’t love the same things.  You know that.  He was stubborn and self absorbed.  I’m never going to be like that with Jack. And if I am, so help me, I’ll end it right there.”
“Jimmy, don’t say things like that.  I can’t lose you, too.”
“You lost me the day you bad mouthed Lyddie.”  He pivoted on his heel and turned toward the hospital room where Lydia was sleeping.  He stopped when he saw Lydia standing in the doorway of the room.  She had her hand pressed against the door frame for support and a pained look on her face.
“Lyddie, you’re not supposed to be up,” Jimmy remarked.
“I heard yelling and the baby was gone.”
“I told you I was taking care of him.  Let’s get you back to the bed.”  He turned to his mom and handed Jack to her.  He grabbed her arm and turned her around, but not before Lydia saw who was holding Jack.
“What are you doing here, Mrs. Baker?” Lydia asked.  She took Jimmy’s hand away from her arm.
“I wanted to see my grandson.”  Mrs. Baker looked down at the blanketed bundle in her arms.  She didn’t have the look of a new grandmother.  She had the look of a scared woman.  A woman that didn’t know what to do with something so tiny.  Lydia thought she looked like she didn’t want any part of being a grandmother.
“I told her to leave, Lyddie.  She’ll be gone as soon as I get you back to bed.”
Lydia blew out a deep breath. “I’m not an invalid, Jimmy Brown!  I can get in and out of bed by myself just fine.  I got this far didn’t I?”  Lydia’s voice could be heard throughout the hallways.
“Here, Jimmy.”  Anita handed the baby back to Jimmy.  “I wouldn’t take that from her if I were you.  She just had a baby.  Her mood swings should be over with by now.”  Anita glared at Lydia.  “I hope you don’t yell at my grandson like that.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that.  Then, I’d be like you.”
“Lyddie,” Jimmy mumbled.  “Stop it.”
Lydia looked at Jimmy and exhaled.  “She wouldn’t even talk to me when you were gone, Jimmy.  I tried inviting her over a few times and she flat out refused.  I tried to be nice to her.  I promise.  She just wouldn’t accept me.  If  she doesn’t want me around, then there is no reason for her to be around Jack.  It’s the whole package or no package.”
Jimmy raised an eyebrow and stared at his mom.  He was waiting for a rebuttal, but never got one.  He knew that she probably had something to say by the way her lips pursed together and her eyes narrowed.
“Don’t you say it, Mom.  Don’t you dare lay into her.  She doesn’t deserve it.”  He turned to Lydia and grabbed her elbow.  “Get back in bed, Lyddie.  Doc’ll string me up if he sees you out of bed.” He tried to guide her back to the bed, but she wouldn’t have it.
“Let go, Jimmy.  I think your mom and I need to have a talk about what’s happened the past few months.  She hasn’t said a word to me and when she does decide to say something to me it’s not the nicest thing in the world.”  Lydia looked over at Anita.  “I didn’t do it, Mrs. Baker.  I didn’t make him sign those papers.  I didn’t tell him to join the Army.  Why won’t you believe me?  It was his daddy.  Okay?  And Stokes.  I never wanted him to go.  We broke up because he was leaving and I couldn’t take it.  So, listen to me, please.  I didn’t do it and I didn’t get pregnant to trap him.  I couldn’t stand it when he was gone.  I thought maybe you’d understand and that’s why I tried to invite you over, but you said no.  You even hung up on me a few times.  I’m not a bad person.”  Lydia sat down on the bed and dangled her feet over the edge.  She felt light headed.  Her face paled and Jimmy looked concerned.
“Baby, that’s enough.  Calm down.  Give my mom a chance to say something.”
“Why?  She doesn’t have anything to say to me unless it’s mean.”
Jimmy laid Jackson down in the hospital issued bassinet. He sat next to Lydia on the bed and interlaced his fingers with hers.  “Because sometimes my mom doesn’t mean what she says.  She’s had a rough few months.”
“She didn’t need to take it out on me.  I didn’t do anything!”
“I’m still in the room, children.”  Anita ran her fingers through her hair.  “Lydia, you just fell for Jimmy at the wrong time in my life.  I just can’t accept that.”
Lydia looked over at Jimmy.  Her big Audrey Hepburn eyes glistened with tears.  “Make her go away, Jimmy.  I can’t take this.  Please.”
“Okay, baby, okay.”  He smoothed back her hair and kissed the top of her head.
“You heard her, Mom.  Leave.”
“Jimmy, you can bring Jack over anytime, but don’t bring her with you.”
Jimmy looked down at his hands.  Lydia’s grip tightened.  Even though she had been through hours of labor, she still had the energy to hold a vice grip on his hand.  Her face turned from pale to red.  He knew that if he wasn’t careful and didn’t hold held her back, she was going to find the nearest thing to lob at his mom.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t too worried, because Lydia’s aim was terrible.
“Goodbye, Mother.”  He never talked with such formality to his mom.
“Goodbye, son.”   She walked out.
Jimmy peeled his hand out of his wife’s.  “It’s going to take years of therapy to cure that.”  His smile teased her.  “What were you planning on throwing at her?”
“Nothing,” she lied.  Her hand went up to her nose and scratched it.
“Lyddie, I know what that means.  I listened when your dad caught you in a lie the last time.”
“The remote.  I was hoping I could mute her.”
“Baby, if that worked, I would’ve done it years ago.”
“Better late than never,” Lydia said throwing the remote at the door.  “I hope she gets signal.”

Epilogue: 3 years later

Jimmy stood at the terminal for the bus to North Carolina.  Lydia held three year old Jackson on her hip.  She bounced him up and down to try to get him to smile, but he refused.
“Daddy!” he screamed.  “Daddy!”
Jimmy held out his hands and Jackson practically leaped into his dad’s strong arms.  “It’s okay, Jack.  I’ll be back.”
“No!  Stay!”
“I have to go, son. “
“I go with you.”
Jimmy bit his lip.  His little boy was ripping his heart in two.  They had bonded over the past three years.  When Jimmy would get home from work, Jackson would run in from wherever he was and jump on him.  While Lydia made dinner, Jimmy got down on the floor with Jackson and played for hours at a time.  Jackson loved cars and had tons of little matchbox cars all over the place.  Jimmy built roads and ramps for Jackson to play on.  Despite Lydia’s blantant disapproval, Jimmy brought home the little green army men and a couple of army tanks one day.  Jackson had taken one of the little Army guys and found some play tools and told Jimmy that “Daddy work on tanks.  See.”  Jimmy never let his smile fade from that no matter how many times Jackson said it.
  The best thing was that Jackson loved football.  Saturday game days were the best.  Jimmy sat on the couch watching the OU games and Jackson crawled up on his lap every afternoon.  He’d sit with his thumb in his mouth and when OU would get a touchdown, he’d pop it out of his mouth and say “Boomer Sooner.”  The boy even knew how to throw the football.  He wasn’t quite old enough to catch it, but his throwing was great.  Jimmy just knew he’d be a quarterback one day.  He’d practice with him everyday if he could.
How was he going to leave him here?  He’d got his orders two weeks before.  The war was still waging and he was ordered to go to Iraq.  He had the worst time telling Lydia.  She didn’t sleep for days.  She couldn’t accept it.  Her mind was going through so many emotions that he didn’t know whether she needed to be held or just needed  distance for awhile.  She didn’t know what she wanted either.  She just kept talking about being empty all over again.  If his heart was  being ripped by Jackson, Lydia tore it into tiny shreds each day that got closer to deployment.
Jimmy looked at Lydia.  She hadn’t said more than two words while they waited at the bus station.  “Lyddie, baby, are you  going to tell me goodbye?”
Lydia shook her head.  “I can’t.  No goodbyes, Jimmy. Goodbyes are permanent.”
“You’re going to kill me, Lyddie-girl.”
Lydia jabbed her finger into Jimmy’s chest.  “Don’t you dare say that.  Don’t you ever say you’re going to get killed when you get orders to deploy.  That’ll give me nightmares.”
Jimmy put Jackson down beside him.  Jackson wrapped himself around his dad’s muscular leg.  He sat on his foot, so he couldn’t move.  Jimmy reached over and put a hand on Lydia’s cheek.  “It was an expression, baby, I’m sorry.”
“I can’t do this, Jimmy.  I can’t be the model Army wife.  I’m going to hate it when you leave.  I’m going to be alone and restless and I won’t be able to take not seeing you for months at a time.”
“Lyddie, baby, I’ll call every chance I get.  I’ll write letters.  I promise.”  He leaned down and kissed her mouth.  His hand slid down her front until it rested on her stomach.  He whispered in her ear.  “You just promise me that I’m not leaving anyone else behind.”
Lydia’s eyes twinkled.  “I can’t make any promises after last night.”  Her smile turned seductive.
“Don’t you do that, Lyddie. I’m not leaving you like that again.  Ever.  I swear on my father’s grave.”
“Well, there’s an empty promise if I ever heard one.”
“Lyddie, I mean it.  There better not be any chance-“
“Cool it, Jimmy Brown.  There’s no chance.  I took care of that.”  Lydia took a step back from Jimmy.  “And don’t you swear in front of  Jack.”  She bent down and tried to lift Jackson up, but he clung to Jimmy’s leg with all his might.
“Jack, let go, son.”  Jimmy saw the bus in the distance.  “Daddy needs to go to work.”
“No, no, no.”  Jackson squeezed Jimmy’s leg harder.  Crocodile tears ran down his cheeks.
Jimmy looked at Lydia with helplessness in his eyes.  He peeled Jackson off his leg and handed him to Lydia.  The bus came to a screeching halt in front of the station.
“I gotta go, buddy.”  He kissed the top of Jackson’s head.  “You take care of your momma, okay?”
“Nuh-uh!  Daddy stay!”
“Daddy needs to do his job.  I’ll be back.  I need you to take care of momma, buddy.  Make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble, okay?”
“No! No! No!”  Jackson wiggled around in Lydia’s grip.  It took everything she had to keep him in her arms and not let him leap across to Jimmy.
“Go, Jimmy.  He’ll be fine.”
The bus driver honked the horn.  Jimmy brushed back the loose hair that fell and covered Lydia’s eyes.  His hand rested on her cheek.  “Will you be okay?”
“I don’t have a choice,” Lydia grumbled.
“I love you, baby.”  He took her mouth in his and kissed her like he’d never see her again.  Lydia’s legs went wobbly.  She put Jackson on the ground and Jimmy pulled her close to him.
He wanted to drink in everything about Lydia.  The feel of her skin, the taste of her kiss, the way her heart raced when he kissed her.  He wasn’t holding back anything.  He wanted a moment he could remember when he was alone in the desert.
The horn honked again. Lydia pulled away.  “You better go,” she whispered.
“One of these days, Lyddie.”  Now, Jimmy’s eyes were twinkling.  “One of these days, I’m going to get you in that closet.”
“In your dreams, QB1.”  Lydia grinned.
“That’s where I’m planning you’ll be when I’m away.”
Lydia shook her head and smiled.
“Always and forever, baby.”  He backpedaled toward the bus.  “I love you always and forever.”

 *****To read more of Lydia and Jimmy's story, check out Always & Forever available at, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and several other eBook retailers.******
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****Hearts for Rent fans:  The second book in the series will be published soon.  Some technical difficulties have set back the publishing date.  Look for the book in the next few weeks*****