The way I figure it, if I share the first chapter of Close To Me with you, then I am committed and responsible to finish this book in a timely manner. So, here you go. I hope you enjoy meeting Charlie, because I am just in love with her. And I hereby promise to vigorously attempt finishing a draft of her story by the new year. Cheers, friends! 🙂
A very pregnant Charlie Malone flopped back onto her left side in bed, yanking and contorting her body pillow until it twined supportively under her swollen abdomen and between her legs. The sheets, slightly dampened from the summer heat and from the rain, were bunched around her husband’s feet, and he stirred as she kicked them down further. It was a struggle to settle her weight into a comfortable position in their full-sized bed, and since it had been raining for days on top of days, Charlie felt like every part of her over-sized body stuck together upon contact. She was hot and distracted and she wanted her baby.
“Sleeping with you is like sleeping with a trout these days,” Gavin muttered from a state of semi-consciousness. He reached out and squeezed her shoulder.
Even in the dark, Charlie could see that her husband was smiling. What a good sport. “Beached whale is more like it,” she joked back.
She thought about the life inside of her – a daughter they had been told at their twenty week ultrasound – and what she would look like and be like. She and Gavin prayed for the baby almost every day, that their daughter would be healthy, and that she would come soon. Charlie was a week late now. Every little twinge, every tiny ache, she questioned. Is it time? Will I get to hold my daughter today? She was fully expectant that sleep would be hard to come by once little Emily was born, but it had to be better than this insomnia. At least she would have her baby.
Charlie listened to Gavin already snoring lightly beside her, watched the green numbers on the bedside table tick by the minutes. The baby, like a wave, rolled beneath the tight skin of her belly. Eventually, just before two a.m., the sounds of the rain pattering against the windows of their third-story apartment ceased. “Gavin?” she whispered. “Psssst, are you sleeping?”
“Hmm? Why would I do that?” he mumbled.
He jolted upright in bed and tousled his face as if to dislodge the exhaustion from his body. “Sorry, what? Is it the baby?”
“No, no, I’m sorry. I just can’t sleep. Will you take me for a drive?”
Gavin leaned onto one elbow and peered at the clock over the ever-expanding mass that was his wife. “It’s two o’clock, Charlie. We could go in the morning…” He slumped over and laid his head in what was left of her lap.
“Ya know,” Charlie began, running her fingers persuasively through her husband’s sandy hair, “Once the baby comes, we’re not going to have a lot of opportunity for spontaneous midnight joyrides.”
An acquiescent groan from somewhere deep inside her husband let her know that she had won, and ten minutes later her darling sleep-deprived husband was carefully maneuvering her down the rain-slicked back staircase of their building. She wore a soft pink maternity night gown and a pair of Crocs, the last shoe on the planet that would fit her puffy feet.
“I’m going to get you out of this apartment one of these days,” Gavin said, clutching her elbow.
Her fifth grade teacher’s salary and his non-existent grad student income didn’t make for much of a financial cushion, but Charlie didn’t mind as much as Gavin did. “I don’t care about that,” she said, as he lowered her into the passenger’s seat. “You know you’re my home.” Charlie knew this waiting couldn’t be much easier on him than it was on her, but there was no one she would rather have on this adventure with her. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Wife.” He gave her a kiss and closed the passenger’s side door.
The August pavement was still a shiny black from the evening’s storm as Gavin guided their little sedan away from town, towards the more rural towns outside Bangor. Fog gathered in pockets where the road dipped and cracked, evidence of the hard winter behind them, and great oaks and pines cut the moonlight where it fell in strange patches between the frost heaves. Every few yards, a frog attempted the transversal from one ditch to the other, and Gavin dutifully slowed to let them pass.
“Look out!” Charlie screeched suddenly as one such tiny amphibian narrowly escaped death-by-tire on the street in front of them.
Gavin stomped on the breaks in the middle of the deserted road and took a minute to release the over-intake of air that he’d inhaled at Charlie’s outburst. Once he’d caught his breath, he reached over and put a hand on her pregnant belly. “Wife?”
“Yes, Husband?” They’d been married almost a year and a half now, but she still found the silly nicknames that they’d started using on their honeymoon endearing. She could also tell by the look on his face that she’d startled him quite sufficiently. Oops.
“I understand that your maternal instincts have kicked in and that the little froggie-woggies are very cute and all, but I’m slightly more concerned with keeping us on the road at this point. ‘K?”
Charlie stuck out her bottom lip as far as she could muster and shifted her weight in the seat. “Sorry. We can turn around and go back whenever you want to.”
“Do you think you might be able to fall asleep now?”
“Okay.” He did a three-point turn and headed toward a town that was just beginning to glow with the first faint signs of morning. When they were safely back at their apartment, Gavin kissed her again. “Do you want to pray before we go back to sleep?”
Charlie nodded. He took her hand.
“Heavenly Father, You said it was not good for man to be alone, and I am so grateful that You saw fit to bless me with this amazing little family. Please wrap your loving arms around my Charlotte tonight. Give her rest. Draw up in her wells of energy and strength, with which she can bring our baby safely into this world. And please Lord, if it’s not too much to ask, make it soon!”
Charlie chuckled and squeezed Gavin’s hand.
“In Jesus’ name, we pray…”
“Amen,” Charlie finished.
“Amen.” He brushed a red tendril of hair from his wife’s eyes, a familiar gesture that still made Charlie’s heart flutter. “Now you get some rest, hear? That beautiful little boy or girl could decide he or she is ready any minute.”
“He?!” Charlie exclaimed.
“Sure, the ultrasound technician said those things aren’t 100%, remember?”
“Oh, it’s a girl.”
“You’re so sure, huh?”
“Yup. If it’s a boy, I’ll let you name him anything you want. Wolverine, Sherman, Michael Jordan, whatever you want.”
“I like Andrew.”
“That’s fine. It’s a girl,” Charlie murmured, feeling herself sinking towards sleep.
“Well, if you are right, I hope she looks just like you.”
“Now you’re just sucking up.” She closed her eyes.
“Am not.” He kissed her. “Rest now, beautiful.”
Charlie slept soundly for the next couple hours, dreaming of summer rains and the smell of the damp earth, of her husband’s loving arms and the child that would soon come to nestle between them in their little bed. Sometime after dawn, she felt Gavin leave, sensed the cool absence beside her on the other side of the mattress. The shower ran for a minute before the sound of the water and the growing warmth of the sun filtering through the gauze curtains lulled her back to sleep.
When Charlie opened her eyes again, the room was bright and hot, the sun having matured from its earlier feeble rays to a full-fledged summer scorcher. For a minute she laid there attempting to orient herself to the day. She’d started her maternity leave at the camp where she worked summer vacations from teaching almost two weeks ago, on account of Dr. Pare’s concerns about her blood pressure, and since decreasing her responsibilities to minor household chores and sorting baby clothes, she’d had the hardest time keeping track of what day of the week it was. The house was quiet; had Gavin gone to work already? No, last night was Friday, and today they were going to Gavin’s parents’ anniversary dinner.
Lynne and Gregory had been married for twenty-five years, Charlie mused, using one arm to support her massive belly while she shifted and heaved to a sitting position. She hoped she and Gavin would be like that one day – madly in love, a little feisty, eagerly anticipating the arrival of their first grandbaby. Where was Gavin anyway?
“Gavin?” she hollered into the empty apartment. She swung her puffy feet around to the floor and made her way to the kitchen, rubbing her back which had begun to ache.
On the island was a cup of coffee and a note.
Gone for bagels. Start with this, and I’ll toast you and Babykins an everything with extra cream cheese when I get back. Thanks for the spontaneous midnight joyride. Love you.
Charlie looked at the clock. How long had she been asleep? When did Gavin leave this note? A tiny pit of worry rose up in Charlie’s throat as she pressed a palm against the side of the coffee mug. It was cold.
The phone rang, and Charlie snatched it from the receiver before it could ring twice. “Gavin?”
“No sweetie, it’s Lynne. I was just calling to see if you were still coming to dinner tonight. Is everything okay?”
“I’m not sure. I just woke up and Gavin’s not here but there’s this note and my coffee is cold.” She pinned the phone between her ear and shoulder and used both hands to rub the remnants of grogginess from her face. She knew she wasn’t making any sense.
“Oh. You don’t know where he went?”
“The note says he went for bagels, but I think he’s been gone for a while, and something doesn’t feel right.” That subtle ache that had started in her lower back was dull, but persistent. She massaged it while she rehashed the last few hours to her mother-in-law, ending with the most recent development of her physical discomforts.
“Do you think labor is starting?” Lynne Malone was calm, but Charlie could hear the concern creeping into her voice as they tried to figure out how long ago Gavin had left the house.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I felt kind of crampy last night—”
Lynne had started to ask her something else, but Charlie’s attention was divided now, honing in on the sound of footsteps thumping up the back stairwell.
“Hang on a minute, Mom. I think he might be back!” Charlie set the phone on the kitchen counter and hobbled as quickly as she could through the screen door and out onto the back porch. Peering over the third floor balcony, she spotted a uniformed officer ascending the steps, and her heart caught in her throat. She held her breath as she watched him pass the first floor landing, and then the second. There were only two apartments per floor and there was a separate staircase for 3B. He was coming to their apartment.
Like a bad dream, Charlie’s fear made her want to both laugh and cry in the same instant. Another wave of achiness throbbed in her lower back, stronger this time, hot and nauseating. If she was in labor, this was not what Charlie had expected it to feel like. Wasn’t her stomach supposed to hurt? Where was Gavin? What was happening? As if in response to her plea for answers, a warm rush of clear fluid suddenly began flowing down Charlie’s legs and pooling around her feet. “What do I do?!” she cried out to the officer, who had seen what was happening and was taking the last flight of steps by twos.
“Mrs. Malone? I’m Officer Stuart with the Bangor P.D. I’m going to help you. How far apart are your contractions?”
“I don’t know! Where is Gavin? Please, where’s my husband?”
“Let’s get you back inside, Ma’am.” His voice was too kind, remorseful almost.
Charlie let him take her inside and lower her into a chair at the kitchen table. She kept her eyes trained on the officer’s face as he fussed about the kitchen looking for a towel to put under her legs. “Please,” she said again, with more force.
The man took a deep breath and shook his head. “Your husband was in an accident about two hours ago. I’m sorry. He’s not—he didn’t survive the crash.”
The man was still talking, but Charlie was hearing none of the explanation that followed. The words were garbled, soft, as if she were hearing them from underwater, and the pain of another contraction was making her head feel fuzzy and unable to focus.
“Is there someone I can call for you?”
Charlie pointed to the phone on the counter where presumably her mother-in-law was still waiting for news. Then she bent over and threw up on the floor.
The officer had stepped back outside and was pacing the length of the porch while he talked to someone else on his cell phone. Charlie heard, Victim’s wife… dispatch an ambulance… baby’s coming… Charlie wasn’t sure if he had spoken to Lynne or not; she was still having trouble focusing, though the nausea and backache had subsided. She couldn’t go to the hospital without Gavin. They had a plan. Gavin was supposed to bring the suitcase down to the car while she called ahead to let Dr. Pare know they were coming. Then Gavin would come back and help her down the stairs. None of this was in the plan. She needed to wait. Yes, water’s broke… maybe five? Six minutes?… Back pain… Right… No, he didn’t make it. I don’t know. I don’t know.
Lynne Malone flew into Charlie’s hospital room not half an hour after the nurse had wheeled her in there. Bleary-eyed, she sat down immediately on the side of the bed and, wrapping her arms protectively around her daughter-in-law, began to pray.
“Lord Jesus, we know there is a season for all things, and there will be a time to weep and to mourn, but right now, Lord, we need for You to grant us Your peace and Your strength. You’ve taken our Gavin to sit at Your feet—” Lynne sniffled and drew away from Charlie long enough to blow her nose. “Now, please, deliver his child to us swiftly and safely, to bring joy and comfort to Charlie and the rest of our family. Amen.”
Charlie didn’t say “Amen.” As the hours passed and strangers wafted in and out of Charlie’s room, checking various machines and body parts, Lynne—Gavin’s own mother for goodness’ sake—somehow managed to continue in prayer. Charlie didn’t say “Amen” to any of the prayers. She didn’t want to talk to God. She didn’t want to talk to anybody. Within herself, Charlie tried to focus on whatever she could to get her through the progressing stages of her labor, but her thoughts kept returning to one thing, one question. How could she reconcile the God she thought she knew with this God, a being who was either less powerful than she had been led to believe, or far, far less benevolent? She didn’t see a way. Without parents of her own, without Gavin, without a God, Charlie felt suddenly and desperately alone. Homesick, but without a way home.
Medical personnel whispered to each other in the hall just outside her room, looking at Charlie from the corners of their eyes. When the nursing staff changed over, Charlie saw one of the women put a hand over her mouth and shake her head. They were being informed of Charlie’s “special circumstances,” and all she wanted to do was go back to her home, to her bed. Maybe Gavin would be there. At least the back pains had stopped. Dr. Pare said her baby girl had been facing backward, causing the pressure in her lower back, but now she had turned and Charlie could feel the pain acutely in her swollen belly.
“Would you like to go ahead with an epidural?” someone asked her.
Charlie shook her head. The pain reminded her of her reality, that she wasn’t just dreaming a strange, terrible dream.
Deftly, another contraction—almost on top of the last—gripped her, slithered down her abdomen until she felt she couldn’t endure it any longer, and then ended as swiftly as it had arrived. She took a deep breath. She didn’t want to do this anymore. She didn’t even know if she was capable.
“It’s a boy!”
Someone laid a naked little bundle of child on Charlie’s chest, and with him came the sudden understanding that her life was completely and irrevocably altered. The tears she had been holding back were threatening to erupt, but the tightening in her chest that always came before she cried did not feel completely because of the loss she had just suffered. There was joy in it, too, and it was powerful.
He was beautiful. He.
Charlie felt as though she had just birthed an entire planet. The squirming, red little person that she had just brought into the world was looking at her with bottomless blue eyes, Gavin’s eyes. This baby that had been part of her for so long was, all at once, a world of his own, separate from her and complete. It seemed to Charlie that he had his own moons, his own mountains and valleys and oceans, his own atmosphere. A nurse put the baby to Charlie’s breast, covering them both with a warm blanket so that, for a minute, it seemed as if they were back folded one inside the other. Something swelled in Charlie’s heart, stopping for a moment in her throat and then tumbling out over her cheeks as the tears she had been swallowing all through her labor. She let them flow now, unable to believe how fiercely she could love such a sudden and beautiful mystery. A son. Her son.
“His name is Andrew,” Charlie told the nurses, who were weeping themselves. “Andrew Gavin Malone.”
Thanks for stopping by! Feel free to leave me feedback on this beginning. I’d love to hear your thoughts.