Alice felt the first painful tightening of her uterus after she laid down with the intent to sleep, and her heart skipped a beat. All of a sudden, the excitement that she had been building up over the last couple of months fled, and a stab of terror raced through her. She reminded herself to keep breathing, and assured herself that it was only one contraction.
She closed her eyes and hoped that she would be able to will herself to sleep, but another contraction caught hold of her.
“Alicia!” she said in her most authoritative mother voice. “You stay put! I’m not ready for you to be born yet.”
But the baby didn’t listen.
As the hours crawled by, Alice prayed that each contraction would be the last and it would all suddenly come to a stop with Alicia still safe and secure inside her. While she very much wanted her baby, she felt equally unprepared to give birth.
The little voice inside her head whispered, Call him. Call him before it’s too late. But Alice hesitated, frightened that the moment she told Hackett that she was in labor, it would become too real to be denied. She knew that the moment the baby arrived, her life in the tower would be over, and time would start moving forward again, pulling her farther and farther away from her sanctuary.
The contractions were becoming more intense, and the pillow that she clung to was increasingly inadequate for comfort. The pain won out, and with a shaking hand Alice picked up the phone from her nightstand. Another contraction overtook her as the phone rang on the other end, and Hackett answered as she cried out.
“Alice!” he exclaimed.
“Basil!” she gasped. “The baby’s … coming!”
“I’m on my way,” he replied. “Give me two minutes to call Dr. Westley, and I’ll call you right back. I promise.”
“Please hurry!” Another contraction came over her, and as she cried she thought she heard Hackett curse – though it seemed so out of character for him, she wondered if she had hallucinated it. The phone went silent, then rang again sixty seconds later.
“Alice,” Hackett said as soon as she answered. “How close are your contractions?”
“I don’t know … I haven’t been … timing.” She was exhausted, and wanted nothing more than to lie down and go to sleep. Every time she thought that she could doze off, another contraction would wash over her.
“It’s okay. Just hold on, and I’ll be there soon. Westley lives a bit farther away, so he’ll be a few minutes longer. Just hold on!”
Alice nodded, not caring that Hackett wouldn’t know about it over the phone. She didn’t want to talk, but she still wanted to hear his voice. “Basil …”
“Hey, I need to concentrate on driving,” he said. “I’m going way above the speed limit, and I don’t want to die right now.”
“Basil …” Alice was interrupted by another contraction, but it was somehow more manageable now. A funny thought came to her, so with a dry half-chuckle she said, “Too bad I can’t blame you for this, huh?”
“Yeah, too bad.”
Alice hesitated, then decided that if she couldn’t say something crazy in the middle of heavy labor, then she was never going to have the chance to say it: “I love you.”
“I know,” he replied. “I’m here now, Alice. I’ll be up in a few minutes.”
The phone went silent.
Alice let it fall from her hand and laughed slightly. She was half out of her head, and couldn’t tell how much time was passing in between the waves of contractions that were crashing over her. While hours before she had been terrified to give birth, now all she wanted was to get her baby out of her as quickly as possible. The second that Hackett came through that door, she vowed, she was going to put everything inside her into pushing.
He fumbled with the lock, then pushed the door open looking flushed and sweaty. He ran to her side and immediately caught hold of her hand. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, I waited too long to call you,” she replied.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m scared,” she said, squeezing him tightly. “I want this to be over.”
“Can you hold out until Dr. Westley arrives? I don’t know a thing about birth.”
She nodded. “I don’t want to, but I’ll try.”
They didn’t talk any further. With every contraction, Alice gripped Hackett’s hands and arms as tightly as she could as she cried out, grateful that he was there with her. She didn’t know how long it took for Dr. Westley to arrive, but suddenly there he was with him.
“Hi, Alice,” he said as he set his bag down. “Would it be all right with you if I checked dilation? We’ll see just how close this baby is to coming.”
There was a nurse with him too, who asked Alice if she wanted a sip of water or a cold washcloth. She felt slightly nauseated and didn’t want to think about drinking anything, but she agreed to the washcloth.
Dr. Westley went to work, and after a minute said, “Well, Alice, I’m afraid there’s no time to transfer you to the hospital. You are fully dilated, so with the next contraction I want you to start pushing.”
Hackett, who had looked away awkwardly, then got up and took a step away. Alice panicked.
“No! Don’t leave me!” she screamed, surprising herself with the strength of her reaction. “Don’t leave me! Don’t! Don’t!” She started sobbing, and in the back of her mind she chastised herself for acting hysterical, but she was terrified that if he went out the door, she would never see him again.
Just like with Damon.
Hackett’s and Dr. Westley’s eyes met, and with a teasing smile Dr. Westley nodded. “You’re as committed as she is,” he said with a wink, and Hackett rolled his eyes.
He took Alice’s hand again, then leaned down close to whisper, “I’ll stay for as long as you need me.”
She wanted to thank him, but another contraction began and Dr. Westley instructed her to push, so she pushed.
After a seemingly long time, she was certain that nothing was happening. Alice felt completely drained, and protested weakly, “I can’t. I can’t do it. I’m not strong enough.”
Hackett wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her against his chest, murmuring into her hair, “You are strong, Alice, and you can do it. You can do it.”
She gathered up every last ounce of willpower that she had left inside her, and with a great big push she felt the baby crown. Heartened by the progress, it wasn’t much longer before the baby was out and placed up on her stomach.
“I did it, Basil,” she whispered, resting against him with her hands firmly on her baby. The infant squirmed and coughed while Dr. Westley cut the umbilical cord, then he moved the baby up to Alice’s chest where she could snuggle it in her arms.
“She’s beautiful, Alice.” Hackett rested his cheek against the top of Alice’s head. “She looks exactly like you.”
“You really think so? Oh good!” Alice gushed. “I was so scared that she’d come out looking like Damon … but I don’t see any of him in her at all. Look! She’s opening her eyes.” Alice giggled and cooed, “Hello, little Alicia! Hello!”
“Warden, may I have a word,” Dr. Westley said, standing up. Hackett excused himself, and followed Dr. Westley to the door. “She’s bleeding heavier than I’m comfortable with,” Dr. Westley spoke in a low voice. “She needs to be transferred to the hospital.”
Hackett nodded. “Go call the ambulance. I’ll tell her.”
He returned to Alice’s bed and sat beside her, reaching over to stroke her hair. “Alice … he said slowly, “Dr. Westley thinks it would be best if you and Alicia went to the hospital now.”
“Is something wrong?” she asked, alarmed.
“Medical personnel like to keep a close eye on everything, that’s all,” he answered soothingly.
“But … you can’t be with me in the hospital.”
“No. I have to stay here.”
Alice looked down at Alicia and protectively clutched her baby closer to her chest. “What if they try to take her?”
“They won’t. I won’t allow it.”
“I really don’t want to be away from you. What if I never see you again?” Alice asked, tears filling her eyes.
Hackett leaned over to tenderly kiss her forehead. “I’ll do whatever it takes to drag you back here, if it comes to it. You’re my prisoner, and I’m your warden, after all.”
Dr. Westley loudly cleared his throat, then said, “Let’s get going. The ambulance will be here once we get down all of those stairs.”
Alice needed some persuasion to hand her baby over to the nurse to carry, then Hackett picked her up and kept her cradled in his arms all the way down to the entrance. Dawn started to break as mother and infant were loaded into the back of the ambulance, and with a loud bang the door shut and the engine revved as it pulled away. Hackett stood, staring after it.
Dr. Westley clapped his hand on Hackett’s shoulder and said, “You sure picked an odd one.”
“I know,” Hackett replied.
“Phew, let’s go find some strong coffee. We’ve still got an entire day ahead of us.” Dr. Westley looked up at the sky, then pulled out his phone to double-check the time. “It’s definitely too late to go back to bed.”
“She’ll be fine, right?” Hackett asked quietly.
“More than likely. She might need a transfusion, but anything more serious than that would be an act of God.” Dr. Westley gave Hackett a devilish grin. “Looks like I got up in them guts before you did.”
“I ought to knock you out cold for that,” Hackett replied, laughing despite himself. “Consider yourself fired.”
“Yeah, yeah, tomorrow. I’ve got too many appointments to be fired today.” Dr. Westley turned and motioned to Hackett. “C’mon, let’s get to work.”