I hear my baby girl fussing on the monitor and see it’s two a.m., bright and early on a Monday morning. She slept for four hours straight. Getting up and down and functioning in a dreamlike state is becoming easier. I roll out of bed and make my way for the door, turning to see that Bette’s following me. I sigh. She’s been more open and a little less rigid in her fear of losing us, but she’s still struggling.
I stop and reach up to stroke her face and she sighs. She nods her head and walks back over to the bed dejectedly. I hate that it hurts her, but I love that she’s making progress. With Leo in jail, someone has to operate the gallery, and I just can’t bear to see her get more and more exhausted. I sigh as I go to Angie’s room and pull the string for the small lamp.
I approach the crib and pick her up. “Shh… it’s okay, Pookie.” I check her diaper and she’s clean. I take her over to the rocking chair and lift my tank. She latches on just fine and I gaze down on her adoringly as I stroke her now chubby cheek. She’s gotten so big. She’s still a little underweight for her actual age, but she goes into the doctor tomorrow to get the all-clear and I have no doubts about her health, due in large part to her Mama B. I’ve never seen someone so ferocious in her need to protect and I thank whatever power is listening for her.
I get her burped and switch sides just as I see Bette walks into the room hesitantly. I sigh as she sits next to us and says, “I’m sorry. I know I need to sleep, but I just couldn’t, T. I just couldn’t.”
I gaze deeply into her face and stroke the disheveled curls from her eyes. “Bette, will you consider seeing someone… just to talk about your feelings?”
She sighs and I think she realizes that she has to if she’s going to get through this in a reasonable timeframe. She nods her head. “I’ll call Dan and set an appointment in the morning.”
I smile at her. “Thank you…”
She smiles back and settles into my side, and I rest my head on her shoulder. She leans her cheek on my hair and asks, “T…?” I hum in question as my eyes close contentedly. “Do you think we should just sell the gallery?”
My eyes open and I gaze out into the muted light of the room as I consider this. We’re not hurting financially but that Gallery means so much to Bette. That’s why it meant so much to me when she gave it to me. It was her way of abandoning everything that mattered to her, surrendering all of herself to me. I’m not sure why, but I just have this image in my mind of her giving the gallery to Angie someday. It’s just too big a part of Bette to lose.
I lift my head to smile into her eyes. “I’d like to have you home if you can handle the monotony…” We both chuckle, even the baby gigles around my nipple. “But I think the gallery’s too big a piece of you, babe. Is there anyone we can trust to run it right?”
She smiles and furrows her brows in concentration. “I don’t know if I could trust anyone after what happened with Leo, well…” A knowing gleam settles in her eyes as she looks to me with a bright smile. “Malcolm…”
I grin at her. That would be perfect. “I’ll teach him, show him. This way I know our assests are safe, he’ll get a large pay increase, and I can work or leave as often as I want. He’s perfect…”
No, she’s perfect. I feel a twinge decidedly southward and snuff it out before it’s out of hand. It’s getting harder and harder to do the more I spend time with her uninterrupted. I swallow hard and force myself to meet her gaze with a soft smile. “So, you’ll work for a while to get Malcolm settled and just be on call if he’s unprepared for something. I like it.”
I reach up to stroke her face and she kisses the palm of my hand sweetly. I look down to see Angie drifting off again and hand her over to Bette who takes care of the excess air like the pro she’s become. We settle Angie back in her crib and I hold Bette’s hand as I take her back to our room where we curl up together and fall into a mostly contented sleep.
Doctor Wilson walks in with a beaming grin on her face and shuts the office door. “Well, that baby is as healthy as a horse, and growing like a weed. She weighed in at 8 pounds and she’s 17.4 inches long. Her blood-work showed her white blood cell count to be perfectly normal. Her heart and lungs are performing fantastically. All in all, you have a normal baby on your hands at this point. I wouldn’t suggest setting her down on the floor of a convenience store bathroom, but in normal conditions, she’ll do just fine.”
Bette gazes at me with utter joy and I feel like I can actually see another piece of her fear fall away. It’s still there, but this is good news for her worried soul. I stroke her arm and kiss Angie on her chubby cheek before turning to the doctor. “Thank you Doctor Wilson.”
She smiles and says, “If you’d like, we can go ahead and give her the first set of immunizations.”
I look to Bette and she sighs as she nods her head. It’s now or later. She knows this.
Doctor Wilson says, “I’ll get the nurse and she’ll be right in. I’ll have an immunization card at the front desk for when you leave and you can give her a few drops of baby Tylenol to help her with the pain when you get home. The tetanus shot tends to make them tender.”
Bette lifts her head to the ceiling and closes her eyes, and I put my arm around her back while we wait for the nurse. “Did you get a chance to call Dan this morning?”
She rolls her head to me and smiles sadly. “Yes, I have an appointment tomorrow at 3:15.”
I lean up and kiss her gratefully. “Thank you. I know you don’t want to do it, but I appreciate that you’re giving it a chance, babe.”
Her eyes are soft and serious as she says, “I’d do anything for you, T.”
I stroke her face and gaze back at her. “I know.” She smiles wondrously at me and I lift and incredulous eyebrow at her. “You’re so strong, Bette. But even strong people need to talk things through sometimes.”
She releases a deep sigh and nods her head just as the dreaded nurse of sharp objects enters the room. I meet Bette’s gaze and we both hate this, but we have to do it. I stroke Angie’s back and focus on my wife and my daughter. I don’t want to see what the nurse is doing to her. My baby starts to squirm and cry, and the sound of it is so heart wrenching that I have to cling to Bette’s waist while she crushes Angie to her. “Shh… it’s almost done, Pookie.”
Tears well in my eyes as she continues to cry out in pain and Bette glares at the nurse as she injects the final shot, two in each leg. “Are you done yet?” Her voice is cold and broken and the nurse finishes quickly, nearly running from the room. I almost feel sorry for her. Does her entire job encompass inflicting pain on the innocent? Angie starts to calm down a little bit and I stroke both hers and Bette’s back in soothing circles as Bette bounces her. As soon as she’s calmed down enough, we put her in her car seat and head out for home.
The ride is quiet and only takes about twenty minutes and Angie falls asleep. My poor baby had a terrible day. I’m glad she’s resting. Bette parks in the drive and we both get out. I unstrap Angie from her car seat and Bette closes the backdoor for me. “I have to get back to the office, but I’ll be home by about six.” She leans in and kisses Angie’s head and waves as she walks to her Saab, gets in, and pulls away. I stare at the retreating vehicle and sigh, feeling very much like a side of chopped liver.