Take My Dare

By: J. Kenner


He couldn’t tell if she was convinced or not, but as he started to ask her another question he saw the nurse hurrying toward him. He leaped to his feet, clutching Ronnie’s hand as he did. “Syl,” he demanded. “The baby.”

His chest was too tight to get out any other words. All he could do in the infinity that stretched out before she answered was wait and hope.

“It’s okay. They’re fine. Your wife and your baby are fine.”

He’d never felt such a palpable relief. The way it swept through him, taking every bit of strength with it, as if he’d used it all up fighting to stay steady. He reached out, grabbing the wall with his free hand so that he wouldn’t tumble to the ground, and by sheer will alone he managed to right himself.

“They’re okay? Really?”

The nurse’s expression lit up. “I promise, Mr. Steele. They’re fine.” She swept her hand toward the door, and then reached down for Ronnie. “What do you say we go first? Show your daddy that your mommy and baby brother are doing just fine.”

Brother.

“I have a son?” Jackson asked, as the nurse looked up at him, beaming, her smile just about lighting the hallway.

“Yes, Mr. Steele. You have a son.”


“Mommy!”

I’m exhausted and sore and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier as I hold my son while my daughter skips toward my bed, Jackson behind her looking as tired and as happy as I feel. As if he’s been through a battle zone, and come out victorious on the other side.

But then again, he has. And it would have been worse for him. I was occupied by the pain and the doctors. And now, all the manipulations they did to my body, are fading thanks to the lingering effects of the drugs, leaving me with a happy afterglow and a baby in my arms.

But Jackson had been out in that hall all alone without a clue as to what was happening even though I had begged for him to be with me.

They’d refused, pissing me off in the process. But now that the baby is here and he’s safe, I have to admit I’m pretty much willing to forgive anything.

Now, Ronnie scrambles up onto the bed, and I do my best not to wince. She leans over me and peers at the tiny boy in the blue blanket. Jackson stands at the bed, too, and though I expect him to say something, all he does is look at me and our baby with an expression that is as close to rapture as I’ve ever seen.

“Is that my brother?”

“That’s him,” I say. “All six pounds four ounces of him.”

“I’m sorry, Mommy.”

I use my free hand to push her hair off her face. “You don’t have a thing to be sorry about. You were absolutely perfect, and I love you desperately. In fact,” I add with a sly grin, “you’re my very favorite daughter.”

She giggles. “I love you, Mommy.”

“I know you do, sweetie.”

“Can I still help with the baby?”

“You better,” I say. “I need your help, just like I told you. I have a feeling this little guy is going to keep us busy.” I glance up at Jackson. “He’s a fighter,” I say. “A survivor.”

He nods, and I watch as his face comes alive and his smile breaks free. “He takes after his mom,” he says softly, his voice breaking only at the end. “Oh, god, Syl. I thought—”

I shake my head and reach for his hand. “No. Please. Everything’s good.” I glance at the baby. “Perfect, even.”

“Perfect,” Jackson repeats.

“Do you want to hold him?” I ask, and Jackson reaches down very gently to pick up the precious bundle. He peers at our son’s tiny face, then inspects the little fingers. When he looks back at me, his expression is full of awe.

“Do you know how much I love you?”

“Of course I do,” I say. “I always have.”

We stay that way for what feels like forever, lost in each other’s eyes, our newborn son between us. Then Ronnie bounces on the bed, breaking the spell and making me laugh.

“What’s his name, Daddy? What’s his name?”

Jackson looks at me, for confirmation before saying, “Jeffery Michael Steele.” And he says it with such firm authority that I wonder how we could have ever debated any others. Because that is so very clearly our little boy’s name.

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