“Is she in pain?” I asked the nurse quietly.

She shook her head. “So far, so good. We gave her a little something to help with the pain and it made her sleepy. She came over because the doctor sent her, but by time we got her in here, she’d already started dilating and was past the point of no return.”

“Isn’t she too early?” I asked anxiously.

Looking back at Michelle, she nodded. “She’s thirty-five weeks, so she is early, but the baby’s survival rate is very high at this point. Sometimes they don’t even need time in the NICU.”

“NICU? Holy shit.” I ran my hand through my hair and sat in a daze on the chair next to Michelle’s bed. The word NICU was so intimidating . . . and terrifying.

The nurse lifted up a strip of paper and read a graph on it. I opened my mouth to ask her what she was doing, but before I could speak, Michelle rolled over and groggily opened her eyes. As soon as she focused on me, a lazy smile crossed her lips.

“Hey,” I said as I crept over and kissed her forehead. “Looks like we’re gonna have our boy today, huh?”

She blinked for a long time and nodded.

“Are you in any pain?” I rubbed her cheek with the backs of my fingers. She looked so beautiful and so happy and I couldn’t believe she was about to have my baby. My son.

“Nope. I feel good.” She rolled her head toward the nurse. “Am I even having contractions?”

“You are. Pretty strong ones, actually.” She crinkled her brow and looked down at Michelle. “The contractions aren’t too bad?”

Michelle shook her head. “I definitely feel them, but they’re nothing I can’t handle right now.”

“Okay. Dr. Avery is going to be over soon and she wants to check on you, so just sit tight for a little bit.”

“Mmhmm,” Michelle answered, and the nurse left the room. She turned back toward me. “Come here. Come sit by me.”

“I am sitting by you.” I scooted my chair closer to her.

“No . . . like on my bed with me.”

“What?” I asked incredulously. “No way. I don’t want to hurt you, or unhook anything—”

“Stop it, you big bonehead. Get up here.” She moved all the way over against the far rail and I undid the one closest to me, lowering it quietly.

I lifted one leg onto the bed and sat down as gently as I possibly could, careful not to bump her. “Does this hurt?”

“No. Stop treating me like glass and get over here.” She wrapped her hands around my bicep and pulled me tight against her. We both got comfortable and she rested her head on my shoulder. “Are you ready for this?”

“I am,” I answered without hesitation. “I really am. I’m excited. As long as he’s okay, and you’re okay, I don’t care about anything else.”

I felt her smile against my arm. “I can’t believe he’s coming today. And what a weird morning. I went to the doctor, but now I’m in labor—even though I don’t feel like I’m in labor. So strange.”

“I hope I do okay.”

She lifted her head and stared at me. “What do you mean?”

I shrugged. “For both of you. I hope I do everything I’m supposed to today and don’t screw up. And then when he gets here . . . I just want him to be proud of me. I was never proud of my dad—not one single time in my life—and I don’t want that with my son. I want him to be proud of me.”

“He will be. That’s the great thing about babies. All you have to do is love them and they love you right back. You got this, Finkle.” She raised her fist and I bumped it, then rested my hand on her stomach.

We sat there in silence and stared at her stomach move and roll. It was hard to believe that in just a short while, that little bump would be on the outside of her, moving and breathing and crying. After several minutes, Michelle let out a soft groan and I jumped off the bed. “Did I hurt you?”

“No.” She grimaced as she tried to sit up. I held my hand out for her to pull herself against. “My back feels like it’s on fire.”

“Uh . . .” I moved left then right then left again. “I’ll get someone.” I rushed out to the nurse’s station and let them know she was in pain.

The nurse followed me back to the room and took a pair of gloves out of the box on the wall. “Dr. Avery should be here soon, but I’m gonna check you real quick, okay?”

“Okay,” Michelle said as she lay down on her back.

The nurse moved to the end of the bed and pulled the blanket up, placing it on Michelle’s stomach, where she rested her left hand while dipping her right hand under the blanket.

Michelle let out a soft moan and cringed as the nurse looked up at the ceiling and felt around. She pulled the glove back and there was blood all over the end of it. I felt woozy and had to sit.

“Okay, well . . . I’m gonna go page Dr. Avery and tell her to move a little bit faster. You’re already at nine centimeters, which is why it’s starting to hurt and you’re pretty uncomfortable.”

“Will I be at ten soon?” She grimaced.

The nurse raised her eyebrows. “Probably by the time Dr. Avery gets my text. I’m going to go send it now, then I’m gonna come back and start prepping the room. Get ready, guys. We’re gonna have a baby soon!” She gave Michelle a big, tight smile and hurried from the room.

Michelle groaned again.

“Is it your back still?” I stood and walked up to the bed.

She nodded.

“Want me to rub it? Roll over.”

She immediately rolled a way from me and I started massaging large circles into her lower back, right above her two cute dimples. “Does that feel okay? Is it helping at all?”

“Mmhmm,” she answered. “It’s starting to hurt though. Not my back, but my contractions. I think it’s getting close.”

With that the door swung open and in walked Dr. Avery.

“Whoa. You got here fast,” I said.

“I was already in the elevator on the way up when I got Cathy’s page.” She walked over and pulled gloves from the box, too. “Guess this anxious little boy just didn’t want to wait any longer, huh? Can you roll on your back for me, Michelle? I need to check you also.”

Michelle pinched her eyes shut tight and bit her bottom lip as she rolled over.

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