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When the room was set up, he checked the batteries in the baby monitor, and made sure that there was one receiver in his room, and one in hers. He checked the electronic mobiles above both of his babies’ beds. He made sure that the bottles were unpackaged and ready, and that the breast pump they had bought a few weeks before turned on properly. He made sure the changing station was freshly stocked, and that the pillow on the rocking chair was plumped.
Was he missing anything? He tried to remember everything from the times he had looked after his baby foster siblings. There had only been a couple under six months old, and he had never helped with a newborn before. Should he call Ruth from the parenting group? Lilah sprang to mind, but he quickly rejected the thought. Nervously, he paced, wracking his brain, trying to make sure he hadn’t missed anything for his kids. Then he realized he was forgetting about Dre.
He had to make sure that Dre didn’t feel pushed aside, or replaced, by the babies. It would already be a hard enough transition dealing with the stress of Lanie and Ben separating. Dre needed something that would help him feel special and wanted – still part of the family. But what could it be?
Ah, yes! Dre had been begging for a new laptop for months. He wanted to write, and do his “research.” Ben couldn’t help but smile and shake his head at the thought of his precocious son. Trying to squash the ache of missing him, he double-checked that his phone was on him as he went out to the electronics store.
He bought a basic, low-priced computer with anti-virus and a word processing program. Just in case Dre might want to get his nose out of a book, he bought a couple of sciencey computer games, too. He couldn’t wait to see the look on Dre’s face when he saw it. But he tried not to think about the look on Lanie’s face. Distantly, he also thought maybe it would win himself some brownie points with the boy, not to turn him against his mother, but to maybe start to undue whatever Lanie had told him about Ben.
The familiar sense of anger, confoundment, and betrayal rose up in him again, but he forced himself to focus on his goal.
Make things as smooth as possible for her return home. Make sure she didn’t feel the need to keep Dre from him again, so that they could still see each other after the divorce. Make things as easy on the kids as possible.
Pulling into the drive at home, he noticed the state of the yard for the first time. Lanie’s flowers and other plants were all overgrown and underwatered. He hadn’t done the lawn in weeks, and there were probably mosquitoes breeding like crazy after all the rain. That wouldn’t do. After dumping his haul from the electronics store on Dre’s bed for later, he set to work on the yard.
It took him the rest of the morning and afternoon, but finally, as the sun was getting low, he had done everything he knew how to do. Coming in from working in the dirt and weeds all day made him want to take a shower, and then he realized he hadn’t shaved at all since they had left, so he spent some time doing that. He did his fingernails, too, because they were long and rough. He really hadn’t taken care of himself at all, and was surprised at how good it felt to be clean, and groomed, and to have ventured outside of the house. He felt sorry for the sales people at the computer store – he had changed clothes and thrown on some deodorant before he left, but he still must have smelled. Had he even been brushing his teeth, all this time? He couldn’t remember.
In the mirror, he saw for the first time how wasted he had become, after mostly subsisting on a diet of alcohol, smokes and occasional takeout. Trying to put on his jeans for the first time, he realized they didn’t fit anymore. He would have to keep wearing sweats, he supposed. Maybe she would appreciate that he wasn’t so fat anymore.
He put on the light grey sweater he knew she liked, and it hung off of him in an annoying way, but he didn’t have the energy to root around and try a million shirts until one fit. He had done way too much today, after basically being in a comatose state, and he was spent. But as one last measure, he made sure that she had her hospital bag by the door, in case she hadn’t packed a new one while she was away.
Then, as he had done every night for the past six weeks, he sat at the table with some tea, gazed at the window, and waited.
Everything was ready. The babies were due any day now. For the first time in what felt like forever, he dared a smile. No matter what happened between him and Lanie, he found himself growing uncontrollably excited at the thought of meeting his newborns. Maybe she would even let him stay for some of the labour. Obviously, she probably didn’t want him observing the more intimate delivery, and he grieved for a moment that he would probably miss the actual birth of his children, but surely, he could come in right after. Maybe he could even stand outside the door and hear their first cry. He would discreetly peek in and catch a glimpse of their disgusting, beautiful little bodies fresh out of the womb. He would get to hold them.
Would they look like him, just a little? Would it be two boys? Two girls? One of each? He and Lanie hadn’t even settled on names, yet. She seemed determined to know as little about them as possible until they were born.
For a moment, he grew sad for her. She was so determined not to get too attached to anything. Not even her food. She was so scared of loss that she would rather feel nothing than risk a little optimism, or happiness, or even just enjoyment. She was always on the alert, ready to be disappointed and feel nothing. He found himself starting to understand why she had reacted so badly when she had seen him with Lilah. He didn’t hold with the fact that she took his children from him, but he could feel a little compassion for how hurt she must have been as she assumed he was cheating on her. After everything they had shared, all the promises, the hope and light he had seen starting to enter her eyes, it must have been a blow to her heart.
He was starting to understand, just a little. Maybe, when she came back, after the babies were born, and she saw how dedicated and present of a father he was, she would see that he was committed to this family.
He began to entertain the possibility that if she wanted to work on things, he might try too. Maybe. If nothing else, he would consider it for the sake of the children. Maybe what they had could be salvaged if they at least agreed to hold off on any talk of ending their brand-new marriage. Maybe that stay of execution, while they got through the first chaotic months of newborn parenthood, would lead to a small step, like counselling, where they could slowly start to work out everything that had happened. To her. To him. Between them.
He had promised, after all. For better, or for worse. There was no possible way it could get worse than this. Maybe, if he could get himself through this, there would be something better on the other side. Maybe he could get his wife back.
He would know soon. The babies were due any day now. As soon as she pulled into that driveway, walked through that door, he would be one step closer to knowing what the future held for them.
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~ Romans 15:13