Married in Haste
Angie Dellazola gritted her teeth and bit back a groan of pain. Her sister Glory was clutching her hand so hard, the bones ground together. "Easy, Glory," Angie pleaded in a soothing tone. "Easy…"
Glory wasn’t about to be soothed. Beyond mangling Angie’s hand, she was screaming. And swearing: really, really bad words, words a nice Catholic girl probably shouldn’t even know. Words that caused Aunt Stella, in the corner by the door to the hallway, to gasp, glance heavenward and frantically finger her rosary.
It was Angie’s first day on the job at the New Bethlehem Flat Clinic—and also the day that Glory’s baby had decided to be born.
Glory’s water had broken forty-five minute ago. She was fully dilated and ninety percent effaced, in active labor, swiftly approaching transition. Dr. Brett Bravo, Angie’s childhood friend and now her boss, had decided that the baby was coming too fast to chance heading for the hospital fifty miles away along a tortuous mountain road. He’d opted for a home delivery in an upstairs bedroom of the Dellazola house.
"You’re doing great, honey," Angie encouraged when Glory stopped screaming long enough to suck in a breath. "Try not to push quite yet. Just breathe, the way they taught you in that childbirth class—light, panting breaths and—"
"Angela Marie," Glory cut in with a guttural groan. "Don’t you tell me to breathe. I can’t breathe. It hurts too damn much…" With that, she clamped down all the harder on Angie’s hand and let out another blood-curdling shriek.
Rose—Angie and Glory’s mother—who hovered close on the other side of the plastic-sheeted bed, chided, "Now, Glory, honey… Angie’s right. You got to go with it. Don’t tense up."
Glory grunted. "I guess you didn’t hear me. I said it hurts. It hurts really, really, really bad…"
"I know it hurts," said their mamma. "I’ve been there and you know I have." Rose wasn’t exaggerating. She’d given birth to nine children—seven girls and two boys. "So I want you to listen, I want you to—"
"Listen?" Glory blew sweat-soaked hair out of her eyes. "You want me to listen…"
"Honey, you got to stop fighting it."
"Oh, God…" Glory shook her head wildly. "Oh, sweet Lord, here comes another one…"
From the doorway to the hall, Trista, the oldest Dellazola sister, chirped brightly, "How about some ice chips?" Trista had left her three daughters with their second sister, Clarice, and rushed over to help out. "Hel-lo?" Tris warbled again, when no one answered her the first time. "Ice chips?" Again, she got no reply—well, except for another long shriek from Glory. Trista winced. "Ice chips. Definitely. Dani will have them all ready." Danielle, downstairs in the kitchen, was the fourth sister in the family—Angie being the third. "I’ll just need that bowl," Tris announced, as if anybody cared. She darted into the room long enough to grab the empty plastic bowl from the nightstand. "Be right back…" She whirled and sprinted for the stairs.
More screaming ensued. Angie submitted her hand to continued bone-grinding. Mamma Rose wiped her laboring daughter’s brow with a cool cloth as Aunt Stella sent up more prayers to the virgin. Finally, the contraction peaked and faded off.
About then, Trista reappeared with the crushed ice and a spoon. She edged in between Rose and the headboard and offered the ice to Glory. Glory groaned, opened her mouth and let Trista feed it to her.
"Umm," moaned Glory. "Good…"
"You’re welcome." Trista said with a tight little smile, and offered another spoonful.
Glory started to take it—and then blinked, tossed her head to get the clammy hair out of her eyes and shot a sharp glance around the room. "Where’s Doctor Brett?"
"He’s here," Angie promised.
"Where? I don’t see him."
"Honey. Settle down," Angie soothed. "He only went in the other room to make a couple of calls."
"I need him," moaned Glory. "I need my doctor. I need him now…"
"Glory. He’ll be back in a minute. He’s on with another patient. You’re fine, honey. Relax."
"Stop calling me honey—and don’t you tell me I’m fine. I’m not fine. I’m dyin’ here."
"You are not dying," said their mother sharply. "You are doing just fine. If you were having any problems, Dr. Brett would have you airlifted to the hospital and you know that very well."
"Drugs!" shouted Glory, "I need ‘em! I need ‘em now!"
Right then, Old Tony, the Dellazola sisters’ great-grandfather, stuck his shiny almost-bald head in the door. He swore in Italian, of which he knew very little. No one in the family did. They were several generations removed from the Old Country, after all. And Old Tony had grown up in a time when folks chose fitting in over honoring their roots. He demanded, "Can you tone it down a little in here? Man can’t hear his own self think—and Dani’s down in the kitchen bawlin’ her eyes out. What’s she cryin’ about?"
Not one of the five women in the room answered him. Instead, they all turned in unison and pinned the family patriarch with a look. That look was too much for any man—even Old Tony, who as rule never let anyone, especially a woman, get the better of him.
"Humph," he said, pivoting on his heel and stumping off toward his room, shaking his head as he went.
As soon as he was out of sight, Rose sent Trista a questioning glance.
Tris rolled her eyes. "Oh, Mamma. You know how Dani gets. She wants a baby herself so bad…" Danielle and her husband, Ike, had been trying for five years to have a baby—so far without success. "It hurts her, bad, to see everyone else just popping them out when she hasn’t even managed to get pregnant yet."
"Popping them out?" repeated Glory, brown eyes bugging.
"Oh, you know what I mean."
"I do—and I don’t like it. And what the hell? It hurts her? She doesn’t know what hurting is!"
Trista, unwisely, rushed to Dani’s defense. "Oh, yes, she does. She’s a married woman with a nice husband who only wants a little one to—"
Glory let out a shriek—of outrage that time, rather than agony. "Oh, right. Since I’m not married, I don’t deserve this baby. Is that what you’re saying, Tris?"
Trista was suddenly looking very noble. "I’m saying, there’s pain. And there’s pain…"
"Oh. Oh, really? Well, you know what? You can take your bowl of ice chips and you can stick it where the—"
"Shh, now," Rose cut in, patting Glory’s shoulder, sending Trista a reproachful look. "Enough."
Tris shut her mouth. But Glory didn’t. Another contraction took her and she started screaming again. Aunt Stella prayed and Angie soothed. Rose stroked Glory’s shoulder and Trista, gravely insulted but determined to be helpful anyway, stood ready with her plastic bowl of crushed ice.
When that contraction finally eased off, a slurred male voice demanded from the doorway, "Glory. Damn you, woman." Angie glanced toward the sound.
Wouldn’t you know? Bowie Bravo.
Dani, who should have stopped him at the door, was hard on his heels. Tears coursing down her cheeks, she grabbed for his arm. "Bowie. I told you, you can’t come in here now."
He jerked free of her grip, his bleary gaze pinned on Glory. "Listen. Glory. Is’ okay. I forgive you for all the times you said no. Jus’ tell me now. Jus’ say tha’ you’ll marry me."
Glory told him what she’d been telling him for months. "No. I won’t. Now, get out."
Bowie didn’t move—well, except to weave from side to side and squint as if he were seeing two Glories instead of just one. "Aw. C’mon. Jus’ say it. Jus’ gimme one li’l ole yes."
Glory didn’t say yes. She did make a low, growling sound. "I mean it, Bowie. I’m very busy and I can’t—" She paused long enough to let out a moan. "—deal with you now. So go on. Get out."
Dani swiped at her running nose, dashed fat tears from her cheeks—and grabbed Bowie’s arm again. "Come on. You heard what she said."
"Hell, no." Bowie shook Dani off again—hard enough that time that she staggered and almost fell. "I ain’t leavin’." He lurched into the room. "Glory. Glory, please…"
Like his three brothers—one of whom was still on the phone in the other room—Bowie was a ruggedly handsome man. Or he had been, until he started drinking so much. Nowadays, to appreciate his natural good looks, you had to get past the lurching walk, the slurred speech, the gray complexion and the constantly squinting bloodshot eyes. The drinking, folks in town claimed, had begun when Glory started telling him no; the more Glory told him no, the more he drank.
Bowie took another reeling step toward the bed. "Glory. Say yes…"
"Now, honey…" Rose patted Glory’s shoulder. "He is your baby’s father. Maybe if you would just—"
"Mamma. Don’t you start." Sweat flew as Glory whipped her head around to glare at Angie. "Get. Him. Out. Of. Here." Glory panted each word. Then the next contraction tightened her belly. She threw back her head and let loose with more shrieking.
While Glory shrieked, the rest of the women finally got mobilized. Rose and Tris stepped to the foot of the bed and directly into Bowie’s path. Angie joined them a few seconds later—once she succeeded in prying Glory’s fingers loose of their death-grip on her hand. Aunt Stella scooted around Bowie and fell in beside Angie. Even Dani, still sobbing softly, managed to dodge past the drunken father-to-be and take her place in the row of women.
"Outta my way," Bowie commanded, squinting harder than ever and weaving from side to side. The women held their ground.
"Come on, now, Bowie, give it up." Angie had to shout to be heard over Glory’s screams.
Bowie muttered something unpleasant. He took another step toward them, sucked in a big breath and shouted, "Stan’ aside, all you women. Stan’ aside, now, or I won’ be responsible."
"Bowie," said a deep, sure voice from the doorway.
Brett. Sweet relief poured through Angie. Her new boss had finally gotten off the damn phone. Brett would know what to do. He would handle his brother…
"Huh?" Reeling, Bowie turned. "Brett?"
"You have to go now, Bowie." Brett spoke so gently, yet even over Glory’s wails of pain, every word was clear. It was one of the things Angie most admired about him. He rarely raised his voice. He might have been born a Bravo, but Brett wasn’t like Bowie. Brett was level-headed. A truly rational man.
Bowie shook his wild blond head. "I can’t leave, Brett. I jus’ can’t…"
"You have to. For the baby’s sake. For Glory’s, too."
"No…" A shudder went through Bowie. In spite of all the trouble the damn idiot was making, Angie’s heart ached for him.
Brett stepped forward. He took his brother by the shoulders. "You’re drunk. You’re only in the way here. Time to go, now and I think you know it."
There was one of those moments, the kind that always happened when two Bravos stood toe-to-toe—even if one of them was Dr. Brett, who was known to be reasonable and not prone to brawling. The row of women at the foot of the bed held their collective breaths. Glory even stopped screaming.
Bowie stiffened—causing Trista to gasp and Aunt Stella to send up a fervent, "Sweet Mother Mary…"
They all just knew that Bowie was going to do what Bowie always did lately—haul back his big fist and send it flying toward Brett’s square jaw. One entire second passed. Two. Time drew out and hung suspended on the slender thread of Bowie’s drunken indecision.
And then, from the bed, Glory let out a whimper.
The pitiful sound seemed to strike Bowie like a blow. His big body jerked like a puppet on a string—and then he crumpled forward into his brother’s arms. Brett caught him. He whispered something in Bowie’s ear.
Bowie gathered himself, swaying until he achieved a shaky balance on unsteady feet. "Okay. I’m gone," he mumbled bleakly.
Brett clapped him on the shoulder, a gesture that seemed to speak of understanding and support. Without another word, head hung low, Bowie lurched around Brett and out into the hall.
No one in the room moved or made a sound—except for Glory, who held her giant belly and whimpered softly to herself. The rest of them waited, listening to Bowie’s heavy footsteps moving along the upper hall, down the stairs and on through the front hall. Clump, clump, clump. They heard the front door open. Clump, clump. Bowie slammed the door behind him.
A moment of silence, then Dani sniffled. "He’s gone. Thank God."
"For now, at least," Brett said with a weary shrug as Aunt Stella crossed herself. He told Dani, "Go down and lock up—the side and back doors, too. Shut and latch any windows that might be open. I don’t think he’ll be coming back, but there’s no reason to make it easy for him if he does."
With a nod and another sniffle, Dani left the room.
Glory’s whimper turned to a wail.
Brett caught Angie’s eye. He grinned the grin she’d known since childhood. She grinned back, thinking how, in spite of the never ending family drama, she was glad to be home again. "I’d better scrub up," he said. "I’m guessing it’s about time for this girl to start pushing."
Twenty minutes later, the baby’s head crowned. It was not a quiet moment.
Glory alternately strained and screamed. Aunt Stella loudly prayed. Dani stared out the window and sobbed uncontrollably for the child she’d yet to conceive.
It got worse. Great-Grandpa Tony beat his fist on the wall of his bedroom and shouted, "Quiet!" and Rose yelled back, "You be quiet yourself!" and downstairs, Bowie had returned to pound on the front door and holler, "Le’ me in! S’my baby, too! I don’ care wha’ you say. I got a righ’ to be there!"
And then, smack in the middle of all the insanity, Brett looked up from between Glory’s legs and straight at Angie.
Their gazes locked and Angie felt….
Peace. A beautiful moment of glowing stillness and perfect understanding.
No doubt about it. She and Brett were the only sane people in a madhouse of screaming, pounding, shouting, begging, praying, ranting fools.
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