By: Penelope Ward

It was mid-morning now, and I hadn’t moved from my spot at Bea’s side. I was afraid to even go to the bathroom so as not to miss the doctor coming in with information. A nice nurse finally forced me to go get something to drink and to use the bathroom. She promised to watch Bea and assured me that nothing would happen while I was gone.

In the bathroom just off of the nurse’s station, tears began to pour out of my eyes. Riddled with guilt, I was finally losing it. If it weren’t for that stupid sweater and my carelessness, none of this would have ever happened. How could I not have checked her crib before I put her down? Forcing myself to get it together, I needed to put on a strong front before returning to my daughter. She was intuitive; I couldn’t let her sense my fear.

The doctor came in shortly after I returned to my spot at Bea’s bedside.

“Ms. Payne…”

I stood up, feeling the weight of my heavy, terrified heart. “Yes?”

“We just received the results of the tests on her internal condition. There are no internal injuries aside from a slight fracturing of the ribs, which will heal on its own. Her neurological assessment seems okay, too, but that’s what I want to watch over the next day before we can consider releasing her. I no longer think she needs to be in the intensive care unit, so we’re going to move her to a regular room on one of the main floors.”

A massive sense of relief washed over me. “Doctor, thank you. Thank you. I could hug you. Can I hug you?” When he nodded uncomfortably, I embraced him. “Thank you so much.”

“It could have been very serious. We see this very same scenario end differently all too often. Babies or toddlers choking on grapes, hot dogs, small toys. You’re very lucky.”

After the doctor left, I typed out a text to Justin.

Thank God! The doctor thinks she’s going to be okay. They want to watch her for at least the next twenty-four hours, though. I’m so happy right now!

There was no response.

Soon after, they moved us to a new room on the third floor. Lying in her new bed, Bea had her eyes open and looked confused as she gazed up at the panels of fluorescent lights on the ceiling. She seemed alert, but not her typical happy self. She was probably wondering what the hell she was doing here.

They told me I could hold her again. Even though she’d been getting vitamins and fluids through an IV, they suggested I feed her. I’d been giving her more formula than breastmilk lately, but I chose to nurse her because I knew it would comfort her. I was relieved that she was eating with no problem. With every minute that passed, I became more confident that my baby was going to be okay.

She had to be.

After I returned Bea to her bed, Shelly, the nurse, came in to check her vitals. So focused on everything Shelly was doing, I almost didn’t notice him standing there.

Justin was in the doorway, his chest rising and falling as he took in the sight of Bea lying in the hospital bed. Even though he’d said he was getting on a plane, I hadn’t heard anything from him for the past several hours and wasn’t sure if he’d been able to get a flight. His hair was a mess, and his eyes were red. Despite looking ragged and almost strung out, he was still stunningly handsome.

My heart leapt. “Justin.”

He said nothing and hadn’t taken his eyes off Bea as he walked slowly toward the bed. He looked like he was in shock to see her lying there, looking so weak. “She’s okay?”

“We think so, yes. You didn’t get my texts?”

His eyes still glued to Bea, he shook his head. “No. No, I was on the plane, and my phone died. I took the first flight I could get out of LAX and came straight here.”

Shelly looked at him. “Are you her father?”

Justin reached his hand out to Bea’s cheek and gently rubbed it as he said, “Yes.” His answer was a shock. Chills ran through me when he looked at me and repeated, “Yes, I am.”

When he turned his attention back to her, his red eyes became filled with moisture. In all the years I’d known him, I had never seen Justin shed a single tear. He sat down in the seat on the other side of Bea.

Shelly noticed that Justin had started to cry, and said, “I’ll give you some privacy.”

When the door clicked behind her, Justin lowered his face into the bed and kissed Bea lightly on the cheek. Still equal-parts stunned and touched at his proclaiming himself her father, I waited for him to speak. It took a while for the words to come. He just stared at her, a look of awe and relief ever so slowly replacing the shock from earlier. I knew he noticed that she wasn’t her normal self. It was hard not to see it. Bea would have been smiling or giggling at him by now. Instead, she was merely awake but quiet. I hoped it was just because she hadn’t seen him in a while and not a sign of something more serious.

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