“FUCK!” Sophie screamed, squeezing Ruger’s hands so hard his fingers went numb.
“All right. It’s unlikely the baby will be born before they arrive, but I want you to get ready, Ruger,” the operator said, her voice so calm she sounded stoned. How did she do that? He felt about thirty seconds away from a heart attack. “Sophie needs you now. The good news is that childbirth is natural and her body knows what to do. A baby born this fast usually means a very smooth delivery. Do you have a way to wash your hands?”
“Yeah,” Ruger muttered. “You gotta let go for a sec, Sophie.”
She shook her head, but he pried his hands free. He ripped into the first aid kit, pulling out a couple of ridiculously small sanitary wipe packets. Then he attacked his hands and tried to go after hers.
She screamed and punched his face.
Holy shit, girl had some power behind her. Ruger shook his head, then pulled it together, his cheekbone throbbing.
“It’s too early,” Sophie gasped. “I can’t stop it. I have to push now.”
“When is she due?” the operator asked as Sophie moaned long and low.
“About a month,” Ruger told her. “It’s too early.”
“All right. The most important thing is to make sure the baby is breathing. Don’t let it fall on the ground if it’s born before the EMTs arrive. You’ll have to catch it. Now don’t panic—it can take hours to push out a baby, especially the first one. But just as a precaution, I want you to find something warm to wrap around the child if Sophie delivers. You’ll check the baby’s breathing. If it’s good, you’ll lay him on the mother’s bare chest, facedown, skin to skin. Then put whatever you have over him. Don’t tug on the cord, cut it, tie it off, or anything. Keep your hands away from the birth canal. If the afterbirth comes out, wrap it with the child.”
That’s when it hit him.
Sophie was going to have her baby right here on the side of the road. His nephew.
Holy shit, she needed to get her pants off first.
She wore leggings and he tried to pull them down with her still inside the cab. It didn’t work, and she couldn’t seem to find a comfortable position, either.
“We have to get you out of here,” he said. She shook her head, teeth gritted, but he picked her up and set her feet on the ground anyway. Then he pulled down her sopping wet leggings and panties in one smooth move, lifting one foot and then the other to free her legs from the clinging fabric.
Sophie cried out again, face tight as she bore down next to him, falling into a squat beside the truck.
Fuck, he needed something to keep the baby warm.
Ruger glanced around frantically, finding exactly nothing, so he pulled off his cut and tossed it into the truck. Then he ripped his T-shirt over his head. It wasn’t the best, but it was relatively clean. He’d showered and put on a fresh one before meeting Mary Jo.
Sophie pushed for an eternity, crouched down and digging her fingers deep into his shoulders. He’d have bruises there in the morning. Probably cuts from her nails, too. Whatever. The 911 operator’s calm voice encouraged them, saying the ambulance was only five minutes out. Sophie ignored her, lost in her own world of pain and urgency, giving loud, low groans with every contraction.
“Can you see the baby’s head?” the operator asked. Ruger froze.
“You want me to look?”
He was pretty damned sure he didn’t want to look. Fuck. Sophie needed him, though. The kid needed him, too. Ruger dropped down to peer between her legs.
That’s when he saw it.
A tiny head, coming out of her body, covered with dark black hair. Holy crap.
Sophie sucked in a deep breath and gripped his shoulders even harder. She let out one loud, long moan as she pushed again.
Then it happened.
Ruger reached down—almost in a trance—as the world’s most perfect little human slid right out of her and into his hands. Sophie started crying with relief as blood streaked her thighs.
“What’s happening?” the operator asked. He heard a siren in the distance.
“The baby just came out,” Ruger muttered, awed. He’d seen a calf born, but that had nothing on this. “I’m holding it.”
“Is it breathing?”
He watched as the newborn opened its little eyes for the first time and looked right at him. They were blue and round and confused and f**king gorgeous. They closed again as the baby screwed up its tiny mouth, sucked in a deep breath and let out a piercing wail.
“Yeah. Fuck. The kid is fine.”
Ruger looked up at Sophie as he raised the baby between them. She smiled hesitantly and reached for her child. Her exhausted, tear-streaked yet radiant face was the second-most beautiful thing he’d ever seen in his life.
Right after those tiny blue eyes.
“You did good, babe,” he whispered to Sophie.
“Yeah,” she whispered back. “I did, didn’t I?”
She kissed the boy’s head softly.
“Hey, Noah … It’s Mommy,” she said. “I’m gonna take such good care of you. I promise. Always.”
SEVEN YEARS LATER
Our last night in Seattle didn’t go so great.
My babysitter, my emergency backup sitter, and my second emergency backup sitter all had the flu. I’d have been screwed if one of my new neighbors hadn’t volunteered to keep an eye on Noah. I didn’t really know her, but we’d been living next to each other for a month and no red flags. Not the best, I know.
You do what you have to when you’re a single mom.
Then Dick yelled at me for coming in late for my shift.
I didn’t tell him I’d nearly missed work altogether because of Noah. And no, I’m not just calling him Dick because he’s actually a dick (although he is). It’s his real name.
That night I truly understood why he was in such a bad mood, because of the six girls who were supposed to be on, only two showed. Two had the flu (genuine—half the city had it) and two had dates. Or I’m assuming they had dates. Their official stories were a dead grandmother (her fifth) and an infected tattoo.
Apparently none of the drug stores in her neighborhood carried Bacitracin.
Either way, things fell to shit fast. We had a band, which put the customers in a good mood, but the live music and drunken dancing made it even harder to keep up with my tables. Also made us busier than usual. We would’ve been stretched even with a full staff. To make things perfect, it was a local band and most of their fans were college students, which meant crappy tips.