Casey stood silently at her headstone, freshly placed into the ground. We were alone now, for everyone had left already. I stayed back, leaning against the car, watching him helplessly. I didn't know how to make it better and it was killing me. He was wearing his black suit, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets. He looked just like Paul then, with his head bowed slightly and his shoulders drooped in a saddened manner. His tie was undone, but still draped over his neck. Today, he looked about ten years older. But really, it should only be one. Today was his birthday, and the day we buried his mother.
I can't get that phone call out of my head. He was at work and I was at home, asleep. He was crying, I was crying and we've never been the same since. He won't let me touch him, and he hardly talks. If ever he does, it's only a few words, not even a complete sentence. I want to go over and hug him, to hold him tight in my arms, but I knew I wouldn't be able to do that for a while. Slowly, I climb into the driver's side of the car and adjusted my seat to fit my belly better. I smoothed my dress across my lap. I was so sure I wasn't going to cry. So sure. But when I looked back at him and saw him kneeling beside her grave, I just lost it. I started crying so hard; I had to lie down so I wouldn't get sick. I cried for Janet, I cried for Paul and the girls, I cried for every family whose ever had to be put through this hell. I cried a little for our baby, because he will never know his grandmother. But mostly I cried for Casey. His world was ripped apart and he lost one of the people dearest to his heart. He lost the only person who never gave up on him.
I must have been crying for a half an hour before I fell asleep.
And I had this dream that Casey was in the hospital. He was so sick, and I knew he was dying. I was standing outside of his room, trying to collect my thoughts before I went in to tell him how much he means to me and that he is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. Just as I started to step inside, the door slammed shut in my face and locked. I stood, a little confused and when I looked through the window, I saw the straight green line. And then the noise. It stung my ears so badly I had to press my palms against the side of my face. I started screaming for help, hoping maybe someone could restart his heart or give him CPR, but no one could hear me.
"Casey!" I screamed into the door. He was lying there, motionless, and he never looked so cold. The noise was getting louder and louder.
"Casey! No!" I started banging my fist against the window, screaming his name over and over again.
"No! Casey! Please, wake up! Wake up baby! Wake up!"
And soon my voice faded slowly, and now all I could hear was the sound of Casey's voice in my ear.
"Jenna. Jenna, honey, wake up. Wake up, love. Come on, it's okay. It's just a dream." I was so startled I sat up, gasping for air. He pressed his cool hand against my face and I clung to him before he could jerk away. I started to cry again and he held me close against his chest.
"I was locked out, Casey!" I screeched softly. "I couldn't get to you!"
He hushed me a little and pressed his hand against the back of my head. "It's okay. It's okay now."
"I want to go home," I sobbed. "Please, I want to go home."
He nodded. "Okay."
He sensed how shaken I was, so he gently slipped his arm beneath my back and legs so he could help me to the passenger side. I wasn't even halfway across the seat when I threw up. All over the floor and a little on Casey's suit. He didn't even flinch. He reached across me and opened the door so I could throw up outside. Gratefully I leaned over the seat and threw up again in the gravel. We were both silent. I could feel myself shaking against his arm, but I did not ask him to hold me and I didn't cry for his affection. I took it like a big girl and laid on the seat until I was sure I wouldn't throw up again. I felt Casey's hand on my stomach, his fingers gently touching my lower ribs.
"Are you okay?" he asked. I nodded and rolled over onto my back. He lifted his arm to make a little room for me and fixed my hair away from my lips with his thumb. I wanted to kiss him so bad, for everything to be okay again with us, but I knew it would be a long time before that happened.
"Take me home?" I asked. He nodded and backed out of the car a little. He turned longingly towards his mother's grave, but said nothing. He just stood there, thinking for a moment, and once he got himself together, he lifted my legs and sat down, laying them across his lap. Pulling the seatbelt across his chest, he looked out at the headstone one more time and started up the car.
I was so exhausted he had to carry me inside the house. I dozed off and on as he pulled off his jacket and helped undress me into more comfortable clothes. I sniffed as he slipped my shoes off.
"Case," I muttered. "Baby, I forgot to start the washer."
He nodded. "I can get it."
I started to sit up. "No, no! I'm not going to make you do everything. I can get it."
He pressed his hand to my side and shook his head, easing me back down against the pillow.
"No," he said. "You stay here."
"I'll be back."
I closed my eyes and shook my head. "Uh, uh! You'll go out and start the washer and then you'll end up sitting on the couch in the dark for hours.
"I'll be back," he repeated. He started to get up, but I grabbed his wrist gently.
"Stay with me until I fall asleep."
He looked very frustrated, like he just wanted to be alone right, but he didn't yell.
"I can't," he muttered, jerking his wrist away. I watched him stand up and walk out of the room like I had slapped him in the face or something. The front door slammed and a moment later, I heard his truck pulling away. I didn't know what to do. So I just cried a little more until I was too tired to even breathe. So I just waited in our dark room until sleep consumed me.
Day Three Hundred and Ninety-Seven
"So how's Casey doing?" Frank asked, turning to me. I looked over at him and blinked. We were sitting at a table outside of the Cool Beanz Coffee Pub, munching on fries and milkshakes. Casey was working today, and at the moment he was on the first of his two shifts. People passed quietly, chatting amongst themselves and I pretended to be watching them instead of thinking of the answer I should give. Frank saw right through it.
"Jenny. How is he?" he asked a little more firmly.
I looked at him again and took a breath.
"Not too good. It's almost been two months. Two months and he still can't get over it."
"Do you think you should go to a counselor with him?" He dipped a fry into his milkshake. I shook my head.
"No, no. I've tried that. He won't even talk to me, you know? Let alone a complete stranger."
He nodded soberly and chewed on his food. Carrie was still at work and we were waiting for her to meet us for lunch. She called a few minutes ago to tell us she would be late because she had to drop off a report to her boss at the conference building. So it was just Frank and me for the time being. And that was okay.
"I don't know," I muttered. "I just don't know."
"I don't either," he sniffed. "I've never seen him like this. It's like he's a completely different person."
"I know! He won't even let me kiss him or hug him or anything. We haven't actually been intimate since we got married."
"Oh, ouch," he muttered, clicking his tongue.
"He'll snap out of it, right?"
He was quiet for a very long time, stirring his drink with the straw. "I don't know."
And then my phone rang. I was so startled that I jumped and scrambled for my purse. It was Casey.
"Hey honey!" I said.
"I'm going home. I'm not feeling very good." He sounded so tired.
"Okay. I'll be home in a few."
"You don't have to."
"No, I'll be there in a few, I promise."
He was quiet. "Okay."
I started to say, "I love you," but he hung up before I could get out the first syllable.
"I gotta go," I told Frank, getting to my feet. "I'm sorry. Casey's not feeling too good and I don't want to leave him at home."
He smiled and nodded. "I understand. Just be careful. We can't have you getting sick, too!"
I chuckled. "I'll be okay. I have an appointment tomorrow so I'll let you and Carrie know what the doctor says."
"Why do you have an appointment?"
"I haven't felt the baby move very much in the past few days and I want to make sure he's okay."
"Better safe than sorry."
I smiled. "This is true. I'll give you guys a call tomorrow. I'm sorry I can't stay."
"It's okay. Carrie should be here any minute."
I pulled my purse over my shoulder and kissed his cheek. "Talk to you tomorrow."
Casey was already in bed when I got home. He was stripped to his boxers and laying under about five blankets on my side of the bed. I slipped off my shoes and walked gently across the floor, swishing the door closed. He looked up at me and blinked frantically.
"Hey," I whispered, climbing onto the bed. He turned his head away and remained silent. "What's wrong?"
He shook his head. "I'm just having a bad day, that's all."
I chuckled playfully, running my hand on his chest. "Well, since you have the rest of the day off, I know how to make it better…"
I had sort of expected him to keep turned away, but I didn't expect him to push my hand back. "Not now, Jen."
I paused, sort of offended and sat up silently. "Casey, what is going on with you?"
"Nothing, I just don't feel like messing around right now."
"No, it's not about that. I know you're upset about your mother, but you have to accept the fact that no matter what you do, she is not coming back. You have to accept that!"
He rolled over onto his stomach and covered his head with the pillow.
"I miss you, Casey. I miss the way you'd hold me and kiss me and talk to me. But you don't do that anymore because you're too busy sulking over this thing with your mom. It's been two months."
"You don't understand."
"Yes I do. At least your mother left you with good memories. At least your mother stayed by your side since the moment you were born. She loved you so much Casey and she was one of the greatest women I have ever met. But I'm sure she would be so disappointed in you to see you acting this way, especially when your wife is pregnant with your son. She wouldn't want you to me miserable like this. She'd want you to get on with your life."
He rolled over again and looked like he was about ready to cry. He pressed his lips together and muttered. "I know. Don't you think I know? This…without my mom, this doesn't feel real."
I blinked. Unbelievable. "Give me your hand."
He watched me skeptically but did as I told. I took his hand and pressed it against my chest so he could feel my heart beating. "This is real, Casey. My heart beats for you and it's been beating all along for you. Only you." I pressed his hand to my stomach. "This baby is real. This little boy is our child. He is alive because of us. And that is real. And this…" I leaned forward and kissed his lips softly. "We are real. And you can't let this all just slip away."
He was speechless. It was like the taste of my lips had knocked him off his feet because he was stunned and breathless.
"What can I do to make it better?" I asked gently. "Because I really need you right now."
"You make me feel bad."
"I don't mean to."
I laid down beside him and for once he didn't pull away. I was just starting to get settled in when the phone rang. I let out an impatient breath as he got up to answer it.
"Hello," he muttered, pressing his hand against the wall. He drew little circles with his forefinger against the texturing as he listened to the person on the other end. "I'm okay. You? How's college life?"
Ah, Brooke. Sure I loved his sisters in all but they called at the most awkward times.
"No, no baby yet. How's Tanner?" And then he chuckled slightly. "Ah, well don't get into too much trouble. So what's up? Blender? Yeah I think we've got one you could have. It's old though. An art project? Really now? How do you use a blender for an art project?"
Oh, that was it. I had had it up to here. I slid off the bed and just left. I grabbed a duffle bag from the bureau and began shoving my hairbrush and make-ups into it. Halfway to the closet, Casey looked at me in horror and told Brooke he'd have to call her back. He pleaded with me, literally got down on his knees and begged, but I just stepped around him. I don't know what I was thinking because if I were in my right mind I wouldn't be doing this.
"Jenna, please. I'm trying. I love you, I really do," he said. "Please don't do this."
"Get up," I told him. "Just please. Stop, okay? I can't stay here if you're going to brush me aside like this."
"Jenny…" A tear drizzled softly down his cheek. "I don't mean to, all right? We'll go to a councilor if you want. Just please, baby…"
"Don't you get it?" I screamed. "What don't you get about us? If I wasn't pregnant I would have so kicked your ass already. But it's impossible to kick some sense into someone like you, isn't it? I'll be at Carrie's."
I started to walk away but three and a half steps away, it happened. I wasn't sure if I had peed myself or what, but as I looked down at the little puddle in the floor I almost fainted. My water had broken.
We had our baby that night. Not because he was ready, and not because I was ready. No, it was nothing like that. Our baby never really was.
We both started to cry when the doctor told us. We had been there for hours as they ran test after test on our little boy. They must have checked a dozen times, but there was no heartbeat. There hadn't been any heartbeat in a long time. I knew this was it; my life was over. We had been looking forward to this baby for a long time and now he was gone. Forever. I wouldn't have believed them, I would have thought I was dreaming, but as soon as I saw my husband crying, I knew this was as real as it got.
I panicked and begged them to check again, but the doctor took my hand.
"Jennifer. Jenny look at me, honey," he said. "We have checked over and over again and it kills me to say this, but your baby isn't alive."
"He has to be!" I screamed, grabbing his collar. "He has to be! My baby is not dead."
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I really am."
I looked to Casey in horror. "Casey, Casey, make him stop lying."
That just made him break down completely. "Jenna, I need you to look at me."
I shook my head and started to sit up, but was gently pushed back down by the nurse.
"Hun, I know this is hard on you but if you don't keep still you might trigger labor again."
"What does it matter now?" I yelled in her face. "If my baby's dead who gives a shit if I go into labor now?"
And everyone was silent. I started to cry hysterically now. I knew. Deep down I knew all along.
Labor was the worst pain I have ever experienced. I squeezed Casey's hand so hard; his fingers were purple and shaking. But he did not pull away and he didn't yell at me like he should have. He just whispered encouraging words in my ear and kept kissing my face in between pushes. It comforted me a little, but I couldn't even think anymore.
We named him Ryan. Ryan David Lankford. He was so little. When I held him in my arms it was like holding a little doll. He was so beautiful and I never wanted to let him go. But I knew I had to. And part of me died when I watched them take him from my arms.