"Calvin! I can't. Can't do it."
His arm was firm behind her back and it made every nerve ending twitch. She swatted at his fingers as he smoothed her hair back from her sweaty forehead. All he'd done was smear her glasses.
"You're doing great, Meg. Just great."
"Just...just..." she tried to tell him to be quiet, but her gasp turned to a scream as the next contraction turned her inside out. "Calvin! Cal...Charles! Charles! Help me!"
"You know, you only needed to ask," a calm voice said in the back of her mind.
Meg felt the horrible, antiseptic hospital room recede, and the pain grew a bit distant, like it was on the other side of a filter. Even the nurses, who'd exchanged one of those knowing looks she remembered so well from when Father had been missing when she'd called Charles' name, seemed far away, unimportant.
"You're picking now to wait for an invitation?"
The Charles Wallace in her head shrugged. "This is a special time. Private. I was right here in the waiting room. I knew you'd let me know if you wanted me closer."
"Yeah, but you didn't have to wait so long. I've been in here for fourteen hours!"
"Well, I didn't think you'd want me to intrude or accidentally pull you so far away that you missed your daughter's arrival."
"Meg?" Calvin was shaking her shoulder, but the pressure felt good now.
"Mrs. O'Keefe? Are you all right?"
"All right?" Meg asked.
The nurse was inflating a blood pressure cuff. "Talk to us, Mrs. O'Keefe. Tell us where you are."
"I'm having a baby. At the hospital." Meg smiled at Calvin. "Charles is here now."
Calvin let out a loud breath. "You were screaming, then your head just rolled to the side. Is it better now?"
Meg just kept grinning, and knew she sounded dreamy or drunk. "Better. Yes." The nurses were still flurrying around, checking statistics, and Meg giggled. "They're so worried."
"Stop it, Meg. I'll have to leave."
"Stop it, Meg. You'll scare them."
Meg made a face at them. "Fine." She tugged at Calvin's hand. "Come with us?"
He looked so worried for a moment, and Meg bit back a giggle. "Come where?"
"You know," she whispered.
"You mean with you and Charles?"
Meg nodded and kissed his hand. He leaned in and kissed her back.
"Mr. O'Keefe." The nurse cleared her throat. "I think she's almost ready. Eunice has called the obstetrician and we're going to need you to help her stay focused to push."
Meg giggled again. "You're so cute when you're so polite--" She gasped. "Here we go."
Calvin turned her face to him and looked her straight in the eyes. "I love you, Megatron. You are amazing." He repositioned his hold behind her back and looped an arm under her knee. In her head he said, "Are you ready to do this, darling?"
"I am. I really am."
They followed the instructions of the distant sounds of the nurses' words and even managed to hear that the doctor had turned out for his brief appearance.
As she finished pushing with the pain that now seemed to dissipate out across the fabric of space/time with the kythe, Meg could feel an uneasiness, a vibration that was like a question.
"What is it, Charles Wallace?" Meg asked.
There was a hesitation before Charles-in-her-head admitted, "There are some voices I can hear, some presences. Would you like them here, or is this enough?"
Calvin's presence felt as soothing as when he spooned up against her body on a cold night. "If it's who I think it is, it's just fine."
A shudder rippled through the kythe and Meg, in the midst of pushing, pulled away for a moment, ignoring the doctor's complaint.
A tentative presence joined them and the personality Meg had always found so prickly had fewer sharp edges now. Calvin seemed soft and rigid, afraid and vulnerable and glad.
"I'm here, boy."
A vibration of loss and sadness echoed across them all, centering from Calvin. "I've missed you."
"I know. Chuck...Charles here, he said I could reach you through this here...whatever, to see you get to meet this girl."
For once Meg didn't feel that she was being ignored with attention spread around and, even as she started pushing again with her body, she reached with her mind. Her body and mind were bringing family together and although both hurt, both felt right and joyful. Even so, she trilled a near-scream through the push as they heard the doctor proclaim that the baby was crowning.
"Oh, don't be such a whiner, girl. I birthed eleven children."
"You didn't birth this one!" Meg shouted.
"Well, I birthed your husband, and he was big-headed, smart boy that he is."
There was affection Meg had never felt twined amongst her mother-in-law's coarse words. She felt Calvin's heart swell and break, felt time stretch and contract, felt love reach back and forward in time as the souls of little girl who was Beezie and little girl moving out of her body into the world touched, bound together by her husband through her, connected through that whatever-it-was that Charles Wallace had.
The kythe opened up and there were notes, familiar, alien, and foreign, sounds that reminded Meg of the music from Uriel, that she knew were from the stars, the universe, a gift from the Ladies and their friends, from Beyond and Within.
"We have to separate," Charles whispered.
"I love you," came from them all in perfect unison.
The rest of the baby slipped out of her body and the sound of indignant squalling filled the air.
"It's a girl!" the doctor proclaimed as he laid the little girl with her shock of bright red curls onto Meg's stomach. "Dad, would you like to cut the cord?"
"Dad," Calvin breathed. "I'm a dad. That's my daughter. I'm a dad." In a daze, he took the scissors from the doctor, snipping the infant free.
Meg stroked her daughter's perfect--if a bit cone-shaped--head, wiping tears from Calvin's cheek with the other hand. "And I'm a mom. Look what we made, Calvin, isn't she perfect?"
The newborn had stopped crying almost the second she touched Meg's stomach. Her eyes had opened wide and she'd looked up at Meg, at Calvin, and all around her. She moved her arm, a bit jerkily, then stared at the hand that came into view. Meg and Calvin touched her fingers, her toes, her ears, her curls, her flattened little nose, completely in wonder that she was this utterly perfect.
Calvin kissed the baby and Meg, going back and forth so many times that Meg laughed again. "We'll both still be here. It's all right. I love you. I love her. I love us. Go tell everyone."
"Can I show her--"
"No," the nurse who had been dabbing at the baby with a towel said. "We need to bathe her and--"
Meg put an arm around her daughter, then pushed herself up until she felt like she might slip off the edge of the birthing bed. "This is our baby and my husband is going to introduce her to our families. There will be plenty of time for baths and whatever else you have to do in five minutes." The nurses backed down and she wondered if her stare bore any resemblance (finally) to her mother's. Maybe all those years she'd longed for that kind of presence she hadn't known the real secret: the only way to get that stare was having a child of her own.
"We'll be a couple of minutes with the afterbirth here, and if that waiting room I came past with about twenty people was all for you, you'd better get out there before they stampede," the doctor said.
Calvin gathered the baby in blankets, bundling her and holding her against the ridiculous hospital scrubs he'd had to wear. Meg thouogh there'd never been a more beautiful thing than his face, full of utter love, leaned in close to his daughter.
Calvin stopped outside the door and touched his nose to his daughter's, looking into her wide blue eyes. A rhyme from somewhere in the past came to him and he murmured, "Lords of melody and song, Lords of roses burning bright, Though the way is dark and long, Blue will shine with loving light. Your mother and grandmother would tell me your eyes might or even will change color, but I love you and will think you're beautiful no matter what." He cradled her against him, her tininess and perfection rousing feelings of protectiveness and adoration he'd never felt before. Maybe parenting did come to you like so many had tried to assure him.
After so many hours in the delivery room with Meg, he felt turned around, but he discovered he only needed follow the low rumble of conversation to find the waiting room that housed the entire extended clan of family and friends. As he stood next to the door, he chucked his baby under her little chin and she frowned a bit. "Are you ready to meet your family?"
He stepped into the doorway, unable to keep the huge grin off his face. "Everyone, this is my daughter. Meg's doing great."
A dozen people sprang to their feet and there was a chorus of, "It's a girl!" as people hugged each other and took turns peering into the bundle of blankets and kissing Calvin on the cheek and the baby on the forehead. Mr. and Mrs. Murry were beaming and couldn't stop touching the carrot-colored curls and the shell of their first grandchild's ears. Dennys freed a hand so that the fingers would wrap around his.
"Ten fingers, ten toes?" Sandy asked.
"Absolutely perfect in every way," Calvin replied.
"And you're sure Meg's all right?" her mother asked.
"She had a rough time near the end, but she held out like a trooper." Calvin scanned the room for the source of that last bit of help. Across the room Charles was his typical self: small, calm, and quiet. "I'm going to introduce her to one more uncle before I get her back to her mom." He sat on the edge of the ugly hospital chair by Charles and held her near him. "Thank you. For everything."
Charles nodded solemnly, his smile warm and mysterious, as usual. He cupped his niece's head in his palm, his eyes intense behind his glasses.
"So," Calvin said, "you knew she was a girl. Do you know what her name is?"
Pointing to Father Tom, who was slapping Mr. Murry on the back, Charles just said, "Ask him."
"Father Tom is here?" Meg asked, while the baby was cleaned and checked to the nurse's approval and Meg herself was settled into her actual room.
"He was. I think the mob is starting to disperse, probably much to the relief of the hospital staff." He chuckled at the memory of the crowded waiting room and the impromptu games a few tables had sported.
"And Charles told you to ask him what our baby's name was." Meg's eyebrows were raised.
"Yes." Calvin nodded.
"And...what did he say?"
"He said that he'd been praying for you every day, and that as he was praying and studying and teaching and singing, it came to him that her name should be Polyhymnia."
"The many sacred hymns, poetry, and eloquence," Meg recited. "That is beautiful. And after the music that she was born to, it's perfect. But only if we can name her Polyhymnia Branwen...and call her Poly."
"After my mother." Calvin kissed her on the forehead. "Have I told you how amazing you are?"
She slung a hand around his neck, kissing him back, then shoved gently at his chest as the nurse approached with Poly. In minutes she was settled back against the pillows, snuggling their baby. Calvin watched his wife and daughter begin learning the rhythms of each other's bodies as Poly nursed--or tried--for the first time, and Meg gasped in surprise at the sensations.
Calvin looked at the bed that held everything in the universe that he loved most, and he climbed in next to his wife and daughter, peering down at the wide eyes that gazed up adoringly.
Being a father suddenly seemed like the best thing in the world.