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And Maybe A Little Bit Wiser

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His life was a horrid cliché.

"I'm pregnant," Helen hissed at him as she stood in the door of his office. "And it has to be yours!"

"Wait! What?" Rodney was confused. "We -- wait, I -- used a condom. Every time."

"Well, something didn't work," she snapped. She awkwardly dropped down in the rickety guest chair in his office. It was his office hours, which was how she know how to find him, and he was eternally grateful that none of his students had shown up today.

"You're sure?" he demanded.

"You're the only one I've slept with in the past three months," she sighed, anger momentarily dissipated. "And I'm about six weeks along."

"Fuck." Rodney didn't look at her. This wasn't anything he had planned on.

In reality, Helen was only a convenient girlfriend and nothing more. She was reasonably intelligent, good looking and -- most important -- willing to put up with his work schedule. This was his first tenure-track job and he was working under the "publish or perish" cloud of doom.

Helen also wasn't the most reliable person. They had met at a department get together where she was the date of one of the grad students who had promptly dumped Helen to go home with someone else. Rodney had been drafted to drive her home that night, and they had been getting together on an irregular basis. She would occasionally stand him up or forget he was coming over. Helen also liked to party and routinely out-drank Rodney.

He was somewhat afraid to ask how her classes were going; she was taking classes toward a Master's degree in Art History while being a TA in the Art department. She had talked a couple of times about a concentration in Early American art but Rodney wasn't quite sure what she planned to do once she graduated.

He sat back in his chair and looked at a calendar. Seven and a half months from now was May.

"What do you want to do?" he asked, finally looked at her.

She put a hand on her stomach. "I... I'm not sure," she said. "But, yes, I'm going to keep it."

"Then we'll get married," Rodney heard the words come out of his mouth.

"You don't have to..." she started.

"Yes, I do," he said firmly. Once the words had been said, it was something he knew he was going to do.

"Thank you," she said softly.

Of course, it wasn't that simple.

Rodney insisted on telling Helen's parents as soon as possible, over her vehement objections. It took him several weeks to cajole her into a day trip to visit them.

The day started out well. Helen's parents – "Call us Emily and Walter" -- were friendly and looked pleased at the thought of being grandparents.

"Of course, we'll have the wedding here," Emily declared. "I know Bishop McHugh would love to perform the ceremony..."

"Umm... I'm not Catholic," Rodney admitted. "And I can't afford..."

"That won't be a problem," Walter said firmly.

Emily went on about wedding plans and who they would invite and baby showers and... Rodney thought she did ask about his family at one point but it got lost in picking colors for bridesmaids dresses.

Helen dragged him out of there as soon as she could, using the extended drive back as an excuse.

"Now you see?" she said tiredly.

"They mean well," Rodney replied warily. "I think."

"Let's just go to Vegas," Helen begged. "Just you and me." She looked at her baby bump. "And the kid."

Rodney considered the suggestion. "Maybe," he equivocated. "Let's get through the end of the semester and make a decision then."

It wasn't long before Rodney was more than willing to take Helen up on the idea of eloping. Evidently Helen wouldn't take phone calls from her parents so they went for the next option, him. He started ducking their phone calls, also.

Vegas was fun. They found a casino junket, so the cost of the trip was reasonable. It was just after New Year's, so the worst of the holiday crowds had already left the city. They debated amicably about whether they wanted the Star Trek wedding or the Elvis wedding but Star Trek won out in the end. Captain Picard performed the ceremony for them while Spock was one of the witnesses. They bought the photo package, and Rodney sent pictures to Emily and Walter with a gentle Thank you for thinking of us note.

At least the phone calls stopped.

Since Rodney had the full time job and Helen was technically a grad student, he moved her into his apartment. He found out it was true that you really didn't know anyone until you lived with them.

"Helen!" Rodney called from the door way. "Come and help me?"

Silence.

"Fuck," he swore. He had his arms full of groceries and there was another bag still in the car. Rodney had turned into the cook, Helen could barely boil water. They also couldn't afford to eat out as much as Helen seemed to think was necessary.

Rodney left the bags inside the door and dashed back to get the last bag of food and move the car from the entry way to their parking space. Helen's car was there, he wondered where she was.

Putting the groceries away, Rodney started dinner at the same time. He had papers to grade, and classes to prepare.

He finally had some good news from the department. He had finally gotten the tenure committee to approve that 'practical work' could be submitted in lieu of publishing an academic paper. He knew his strength was in building actual buildings, not just in writing about it. He had worked out a deal with a small architecture firm who would steer work his way in return for some consulting on projects they had. The beauty was that he would be able to develop his own portfolio while earning some extra income.

It would also give him more flexibility with his time after the baby was born. He had figured by now that he would need it. Sadly, he had learned that couldn't count on Helen stepping up for anything, and a baby wouldn't make that any better.

A simple dinner was ready, and there was no sign of Helen. He ate, made a plate for Helen, and put the rest away for his lunch tomorrow. He went into the second bedroom they had turned into a study and started grading the stack of papers that needed grading. The only good news with most of the architecture courses was the small class size. Having only twelve to eighteen students in a section was a godsend.

He heard the door to the apartment open. Helen dropped her keys into the bowl near the door with a small clang. He went out to greet her.

"Where have you been?" Rodney tried to be casual but, from the frown on Helen's face, suspected he hadn't succeeded. "I could have held dinner for you."

"Sorry," she said -- but it was more automatic than true. "Met up with Jenny from the Colonial Art study group to work on our presentation and we lost track of time. We grabbed something to eat while we were at it."

Helen was about six months pregnant at this point, and they spent less and less time together. Rodney had classes to teach and new preps for classes he was teaching for the first time. After one extended fight about money, sex, and life in general, they had settled into a strategy of avoidance.

"There was a message about a doctor's appointment tomorrow on the machine," Rodney reported. "I can come with you, if you want."

She looked startled for a moment but shrugged. "Sure, if you want," she allowed.

"I'd like to," Rodney said gently. "Glad to do that."

"Okay," she said. "I'm going to bed, I'll see you in the morning."

"Would you like tea in the morning?" he asked, knowing he'd be up before she would.

"Yeah," Helen agreed absently. "Toast, maybe."

"That's easy," Rodney said.

She went to bed without saying anything else. She was asleep -- or at least pretended to be asleep -- by the time Rodney came to bed.

Helen played the part of the loving wife at the doctor's office. Helen was all "Honey" this and "Sweetie" that in front of the nurse and the doctor.

The best news was that the pregnancy was going well. Rodney was glad that Helen had cut out the partying and the drinking, following the doctor's guidelines for eating, at least, although her only real 'exercise' was walking from the car to classes.

The doctor had been reasonably perceptive to much of what they didn't say, and had recommended a C-section for the birth. Helen had looked relieved at the option.

Rodney scrambled to finish up his classes a week early, so that everything would be done before the baby would be born. They knew it was a girl, they had found that from one of the early sonograms, but hadn't settled on a name.

The C-section was scheduled for a civilized 1 pm on a Thursday. They arrived at the hospital early and checked in.

The delivery was anti-climatic. Everything went as planned and by 1:30 pm, Rodney was the proud father of an eight pound, 3 ounce baby girl who had ten precious fingers and ten perfect toes.

Rodney waited until Helen came home from the hospital to call her parents. They swooped down, trying their best to take over. Fortunately, the lack of space in their apartment discouraged any lengthy stays.

Almost as soon as Helen recovered from the C-section, Rodney was essentially a single father. Fortunately, it was the summer and he had no classes to teach and -- being realistic -- he had set aside money to get through the summer. He knew Helen's parents would help, but that would come with a price he wasn't sure he wanted to – or could -- pay.

By early August, Helen was home less and less. When Rodney tried to ask where she was going, she refused to answer and then Norah cried and by the time he settled her down, Helen had left.

"Aren't you the pretty baby?" Rodney cooed to Norah, getting her dressed in the morning.

"Now, what will you wear? It's important to make good impressions, you know," he said to Norah who burbled happily at him.

"The pink it is," he said. Well, most of what Norah had was pink, thanks to Emily and Walter. Deliveries kept coming and because Rodney hadn't been able to work as much this summer as he had hoped, in the end he had to accept 'gifts for Norah' or seem totally ungrateful. Anything that was valuable got returned, anything that was bankable went into Norah's already healthy college savings account.

"You need to learn to play well with the other kids," Rodney went on, taking Norah with him to the kitchen. His morning coffee was already waiting; he had invested in a system that would have coffee ready rather than having to juggle Norah and making coffee at the same time.

It was the first day of the Fall semester. Rodney's department chair had agreed to tinker with his teaching schedule this semester so that his schedule worked within the campus day care hours. That let Rodney take Norah with him, and she'd be nearby.

Inside the door to the daycare, Rodney met Katie, who was the lead in the infant room and who had given them a tour the previous week. Katie was cheerful in a way only people who worked with small children that weren't their own seem to be.

"Norah!" she greeted them. "Welcome!"

Rodney dropped off the bag with diapers, changes of clothes and a couple of small toys to stay there. It was supposed to help Norah adjust to the new place.

"Come on, dad, we'll be fine!" Katie soothed. "Go to your classes."

"But..." Rodney didn't want to leave. This would be the longest he had been away from Norah since she was born.

"I have your office phone, your cell phone, your schedule, the department secretary and the security department phone on your list," Katie said sternly but with a twinkle in her eye. "We will be fine. You can come at lunchtime to check on her."

Rodney leaned in and placed a kiss on Norah's forehead. "You be good," he said softly.

Norah, of course, took to the daycare faster than Rodney. She was an easy going baby and popular with the women who worked there. After a couple of weeks, Rodney relaxed enough to not stop in during every free moment he had.

By Halloween, Helen was moving out completely. He knew she had dropped out of school, but he knew nothing about what else she was doing.

"Where will you go?" Rodney asked, holding a sleeping Norah against his shoulder.

She shrugged. "I have some friends who will let me stay there for a while," she said evasively.

"You're welcome to keep in touch," he offered. "Or, I know it isn't the best, use your parents as a residence."

She gave a small laugh. "I've been trying to get out of there for years," she said sadly.

"Good luck and take care of yourself," was all Rodney had to offer.

By Christmas time, Emily and Walter had made an effort to take Norah away from him but he knew that was half-hearted. He was employed, taking good care of Norah and, most importantly, he was the father. He didn't -- quite -- begrudge them the effort to do what they thought best for their granddaughter.

When Norah was one, he went to their home for a birthday party. It was over done -- at what point does a one-year-old really need a pony ride -- but they were glad to see both him and Norah.

One spring day, Rodney realized he hadn't heard from Helen in over a year. Norah had just turned four and he decided maybe he should talk to a lawyer.

"I'm filing for divorce," he told Emily and Walter. He thought it would be kinder if he told them in person.

"Rodney, I'm honestly surprised you haven't done that before now," Walter said. "We love our daughter, but, well… you have to do what's best for you."

Emily looked at him closely and asked, somewhat delicately, "I'm also not surprised. Is there... someone else in your life?"

Rodney puzzled over that for a moment, then realized what she was asking. "No, no one else," he said, blushing slightly. "Between work and Norah, I'm plenty busy," he said. "Outside of work things, this is the only social visiting we seem to do."

"We'd be glad to take Norah, if you need help," Emily put in.

"Thanks, I'm managing," he replied.

It was after Norah had turned eight that Rodney received a visit by two policemen in foul weather gear. There had been a wet, cold rain for a couple of days that had turned to sleet in the afternoon.

"Rodney McKay?" the officer asked politely, showing his badge. "May we come in?"

"Yes?" he replied, cautiously. They stood in the living room.

"Is Helen McKay your wife?" the officer asked.

"We're divorced," Rodney answered warily. "I didn't even know she was still using the name."

"Her driver's license lists this address," the officer said.

"Is she all right?" Rodney had to ask.

"I'm sorry, sir, to have to inform you that Helen McKay died in an automobile accident earlier this evening," the officer said gently.

It had been a single car accident, Helen was alone in the vehicle. There may or may not have been alcohol involved, that was open to further investigation. The car had skidded out of control, at the very least going too fast for the weather, and had crashed into a tree. Helen had died instantly.

"I'll call her parents," Rodney said.

He let Emily and Walter take care of the funeral. In the end, Helen was their daughter and they were devastated. Sadly, Norah was more upset for her grandparents, rather than for the mother she never knew.

After the funeral, Norah came and sat in Rodney's lap.

"I think I'd like to stay with Nona and Papa for a few days," she said. "I think they need me."

"You're probably right," he replied.

Norah had never stayed with Emily and Walter. Rodney knew that once it started, it would never end but, by eight, Norah was sensible enough to understand some of what her grandparents were offering. She was human enough to want some of the advantages but, even very young, understood what some of that really cost.

"I'll always come home to you," she promised with a hug.

Norah spent more time at her grandparents from then on. Sometimes just to hang out, more often there was a vacation involved. It was also helpful so that Rodney could take on some summer work that he had refused before, traveling to job sites to oversee work being done on projects he had designed.

Rodney and Norah had good lives, friends, and challenging work. It wasn't until much later that they found they might be a tad lonely.