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Just Janine

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He sat back in the shadows of the room, stretching his calves and releasing a soft sigh. It had been a long day already. He could feel the sleepless hours starting to catch up with him, exhaustion rising up and stretching against his senses, threatening to cloak him in the seductive veil of slumber.

He was way too wired to sleep, however.

He’d just witnessed a miracle.

The corners of his mouth quirked up in an incredulous smile. He thought he’d known what to expect; they’d watched countless videos in class, and had gone over their own personal preparations several times. All the way to the hospital, he’d reassured her – that he was ready, that she was ready, that they were ready for the monumental change just around the corner.

But really, he didn’t know what was going to happen. It was one of those experiences that could never be adequately described until it’s lived through.

Even now, having been through it – as an eyewitness, as a participant – he couldn’t find the words to explain it. Amazing, miraculous, incredible – such descriptors barely scratched the surface of the emotional rollercoaster he’d just ridden: the rush of adrenaline, the excitement, the fear, the burst of love and pride and awe that had sustained him for the last twenty-seven straight hours.

And, perhaps most astonishing of all, was the keen awareness that everything he’d gone through paled in comparison to what she’d just endured.

He stood and crossed the tiny room, closing the gap of space that had separated them for the last few hours. She lay in the hospital bed, sprawled across the mattress in a way she never would at home. She was so strict and orderly in her waking life, lining up the pens on her desk, situating her coffee cup just so, reading the newspaper, in order, from front to back. She wore the same nightgown and slept in the same sliver of their bed, settling into the same position night after night after night; if he wanted to curl up with her, she’d let him, but she didn’t move for the duration of the evening.

By contrast, she’d explored every inch of the hard plastic mattress of the hospital bed during her twenty-seven hours of labor: she’d been on her side, on her back, alternating between having her head up or her legs elevated; she’d leaned on him for a couple of the hardest hours, her tears and sweat soaking into his scrubs. She didn’t scream or yell or carry on, but there had been an abundance of tears – of pain, of frustration, of euphoria – and he’d done his best to soothe her.

He touched her hand now, picking it up gently, reverently, covering it with both of his. Her skin was still flushed from the heat and stress of giving birth, her hand warm and clammy in his, but the need to touch her was primal and urgent. He needed that connection with her – physically, emotionally – and it had been hard to let her go, to keep his hands to himself and let her recover.

He gazed at her, lovingly tracing her delicate features with his eyes as he stroked the back of her hand. He’d never seen her like this – so completely, totally, utterly spent, as if she didn’t have a drop of energy left, and wouldn’t for some time. Her hair was splayed across the pillow; the tubes from the nasal cannula sloped over her cheeks where her glasses usually sat. She was breathing softly, her eyelashes fluttering over her flushed alabaster skin.

To him, she’d never looked more beautiful – not on their wedding day, not when he’d proposed to her, not even on their first date. No doubt, if she could see herself lying there, she’d fiercely disagree with him, but what drew him to her was what he saw beyond her disheveled and exhausted appearance. She was such a strong person, so fiercely determined, stubborn yet efficient until the end. Every breath she'd taken, every movement she'd made was focused on giving birth to their daughter; she’d wasted no energy. Not until she fell back into the bed did any of them realize just how drained she was – not him, not her mother, not the doctor or nurse. She could barely lift her arms to swaddle her newborn daughter. Only once the baby was spirited away to the nursery did she allow her bone-rattling fatigue to surface.

It was why she’d been placed in a private room; why she was wearing supplemental oxygen; why they were monitoring her blood pressure and pulse. She’d given everything to bring their baby into this world, and he’d never loved her more than he did in that moment.

Even now, he could feel the heaviness of tears welling up behind his eyes. Witnessing this miracle of life and love, seeing for the first time the baby that was part of him and part of her…

He squeezed her hand and she stirred, opening her eyes and gazing up at him.

“Hey,” he murmured, his voice full of gravel.

The corners of her lips curved up into a smile. “Hello,” she replied, shifting towards him. He felt her returning his caress, her grip on his hand surprisingly strong.

For a long moment, they simply regarded at each other, communicating with their eyes and hands what they couldn’t convey with words. He loved that he could express with a simple stroke of skin how much he loved her, how in awe he was of her, how proud he was to have been part of this occasion, how excited he was about their future, the three of them, in their happy little family.

She tugged at his hand. “I love you,” she said softly, her eyes turning filmy a split second before tears slipped out.

He traced the crest of her cheek, the tubing a strange sensation against the back of his thumb. “I love you, too,” he returned, a lump rising in the back of his throat. He leaned over and kissed her, his lips gentle on hers. She held him there, raking her fingers through his hair, sending a shiver rolling down his spine.

He was reluctant to part from her, but did, squeezing the hand he still held. “We better stop before we get into trouble,” he teased, sketching the fullness of her lower lip.

“If you insist,” she sighed, her breath warm against his cheek. She let him go, curling up in the bed instead, pulling the thin hospital blanket all the way up to her chin. “How’s the baby?”

“Perfect,” he replied with a grin. “The doctor managed to pry her away from your mother’s arms long enough to pronounce her healthy and hale. She’s in the nursery now – do you want to see her?”

“Maybe in a little bit,” she hedged. “I’m still so tired.”

“I know,” he murmured, gently lowering himself to sit on the bed beside her, careful not to disturb the wires from the various monitors. “Can you believe it – twenty-seven hours?”

“Yes,” she noted dryly. “And perhaps one day I will once again have feeling in the lower vestiges of my body.” She smiled when she saw the alarm in his eyes, adding hastily, “I am, of course, merely joking. The epidural has worn off, but the painkillers are yet to kick in quite to my satisfaction.”

“I wish I could make it go away,” he said mournfully, curving his hand over her hip, cupping the blankets around her.

“Me, too,” she agreed, sounding a little wistful. “I wish I could pull you down into this bed beside me and curl up in your arms, the way I did, at the end…”

He nodded. He’d spent most of the last week of the pregnancy lying beside her in their bed, holding her in some way – sometimes it was just her hand; sometimes it was his arm around her shoulders; sometimes it was full-body spooning, supporting her knees and hips and lower back with his own. He’d done everything in his power to make her comfortable, to make those last, agonizing days bearable.

Even now, as his adrenaline crashed and burned after twenty-seven straight hours awake, his body ached for hers – her warmth, her nearness, her softness, her fragrance tingling against his senses. He hadn’t left her side, happy to let their families fuss and fawn over the baby, for the moment.

“Are our parents still here?” she asked.

He nodded. “Your mother wouldn’t let the baby out of her sight, and Watson is still probably passing out cigars,” he laughed, drawing back to his mind’s eye the moment their relatives were notified of the successful birth. Their entire families had filled the maternity ward's waiting room for most of the day, and his siblings, at least, were happy to finally be able to leave and catch some sleep. He was grateful that they’d come, converging first on Stoneybrook, and then convoying to Massachusetts with the Kishis.

Remembering the raucous celebrations that had broken out with the happy news, he had an inkling that the staff were happy for his family to leave, too.

“Has my mother thanked you yet?” she asked wryly, breaking into his reverie.

His expression turned curious. “Thanked me? For what?”

“For convincing me to give her grandbabies – one grandbaby, at least,” she responded. “Ever since my graduation from MIT, she’d been harping on me to settle down and start a family.”

“Really?” That was hard for him to believe. Rioko Kishi was many things, but a traditional housewife was not among them. She’d been surprised when they announced their engagement – he got the feeling that she was rather hoping that Janine would marry a Japanese man – but she’d always been warm and kind towards him. She’d never said anything to him, one way or the other, about their starting a family.

“Oh, she’d never come straight out and say it, but she’d let me know in other ways,” she told him. “She’d constantly ask about keeping Lynn for Russ and Peaches. She’d wax poetic about missing the ‘pitter-patter of little feet’ around the house. She threatened to throw out the Childcraft encyclopedia set, musing about how they’d be of no use if she never had any grandchildren.” She frowned. “I think that’s the one that hurt me the most. Those books weren’t important enough to keep because of what they’d meant for my childhood, how they had been instrumental in nurturing my natural curiosity and appreciation for knowledge and science. Suddenly they were just junk, because no other child would ever use them.”

“Wow,” he breathed. He’d had no idea this rift had existed between her and her mother – so far as he knew, she’d always gotten along with her parents.

Her features softened. “You should’ve seen the look in her eyes when I told her I was pregnant,” she continued. “She was happy and proud, but also relieved.” Her lips quirked into a smile. “She was nesting far before I ever was.”

He nodded, remembering the very keen interest his mother-in-law had taken in preparing their modest apartment for the arrival of their baby. She’d practically planned, designed, and outfitted their nursery by herself. He’d been grateful for her interest and help at the time, never really noticing the frequency with which she was visiting them, or bringing in new baby items, due to his heavy caseload at work, and all of the pregnancy-related doctor’s appointments, which quickly had started stacking on top of one another.

Another thought suddenly occurred to him. “So, has Claudia thanked you yet?” he mused. “For taking the pressure off of her to contribute to the next generation?”

She laughed, nodding at a colorful array of flowers prominently displayed near the head of her bed. “Yes,” she replied. “She’s even offered her baby-sitting services, should our paths ever cross.”

“She’ll have some stiff competition from Kristy, let me tell you,” he joked. “I’m pretty sure she’s staked out her baby-sitting territory, laying claim to any and all time spent in the entirety of Stoneybrook.”

She smiled. “At least we’ll be able to get out, if we ever go back home. We can have hot chocolate at Renwick’s.”

“Just like we used to,” he agreed. He kissed the back of her hand. “It’s a date, Dr. Kishi.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Please, I only ever want to hear that from my students.” She curled her hand in his, bringing him close. “When it’s the two of us, it’s just ‘Janine.’”

“The three of us, you mean,” he chided gently. He rested his forehead on hers. “Three is a magic number.”

She hummed in response, stirring the memory of the old Schoolhouse Rock tune to the front of his mind. They simultaneously opened their eyes and, sharing a knowing look, they began to sing: “A man and a woman had a little baby / yes they did / they had three in the family / that’s a magic number.

She hugged him close as they dissolved into silly giggles, their heads hitting the pillow at the same time. It felt so good to hold her, even awkwardly, and he savored the moment, even as their chuckles grew into breathless guffaws, drawing the concern of passing staff. He was swiftly admonished for waking her up and was subsequently banished from her room, but as he left, they continued to laugh, still reciting the ‘3 times’ table to the tune of the song to each other.

He continued to hum the old familiar melody as he strode down the hall to the nursery, stopping in front of the glass, his eyes immediately honing in on baby Kishi-Thomas, sleeping peacefully in her bassinet.

He smiled as he gazed at her. “Three is a magic number,” he repeated softly. “And your mama is the most magical person of all.”