Two hours after Rachel delivers her third baby — another boy — she doesn’t lie when people attempt to gauge her disappointment.
“You can try again next time,” her mom says over the phone. Rachel takes a deep breath, fighting back tears. Her mother knows there will be no next time. There wasn’t even supposed to be a this time. But when Rachel speaks to her mom, it’s as if her lips move without any sound. Her mother has never been a good listener, was never the type to relish in her daughter’s confidence the way Rachel planned to do when she had a daughter of her own.
“Tell that sweet baby Nana will be there in a week. And call me when you choose a name.”
“Okay,” Rachel says softly.
“Honey, you there?”
“I’m not sure.”
Her mom says goodbye as if Rachel hasn’t uttered anything strange. Rachel’s husband ignores her, too. She looks over at Brett sitting in the one chair for visitors, busy uploading pictures of their private family moments to his Facebook page. She turns her head in the other direction and closes her eyes as she thinks of the way Brett had openly wept when the doctor made the pronouncement. “Another son!” He’d immediately called his brother, father of three girls, and made some jabs about an impending baseball team. “Girls can play baseball,” Rachel had muttered from the bed. Brett shushed her. He was talking to his brother, for goodness sake. His brother. Couldn’t she see that?
Rachel opens her eyes when the nurse enters the room holding the extra pillow Rachel requested to make breast feeding easier on her back. “A family down the hall just had their third boy, too!” the nurse reports. “Named him Jacob.”
“I like that,” Rachel says, smiling for the first time in an hour.
“Boring,” Brett says. When Rachel doesn’t smile, doesn’t laugh or appear amused in any way, the nurse adds, “There’s always next time.”
Brett looks up from his phone, a mischievous smile on his face. “What if we had four boys? What do you think, honey? You up for another go?”
Rachel wants to slap the smile off his face. She isn’t convinced she’ll stay married to Brett let alone conceive another child with him.
“Brothers,” Brett says for about the fifth time in two hours. “They’ll be just like me and Jason only better because they’ll have one more.”
“Great. Three ingrates who never call their mother.”
He doesn’t seem to hear her, but with Brett it’s hard to tell. He dismisses any trait in Rachel that strikes him as unpleasant. And the harder she tries to get under his skin, the more impenetrable he becomes. She imagines his brain encased in rubber. Her words, her angry glares — they bounce off him and return to her so that she shoulders the disappointment of their marriage for the both of them. For the past ten years she has managed to stomach it, but now, with this newest surge of resentment, the regret is more than she can take.
Brett grabs the remote control attached to the bed and scans through the channels. “You think Dylan and Carson will be jealous? I’m less worried about Dylan because . . . ”
“I don’t want your brother visiting the hospital,” she says.
“Carson might feel more replaced, don’t you think?”
She closes her eyes for a moment. “And so help me God if your brother comes to the hospital without offering to pick up dinner. Remember last time when he ate everything on my tray?”
Brett settles on a Bears game despite Rachel’s disdain for sports and her previous appeal to keep the room quiet. “I’ll ask Jason and Jenny how they handled it with the girls,” he says. “It doesn’t seem like they have too many issues there.”
Rachel gives up. She wishes she possessed the same filtering abilities as her husband, but when Brett annoys her she snaps at him. She often feels a specific desire to strangle him, and she worries that the only thing holding her back is the knowledge that he’d lie there and let it happen. Then she’d go to jail. Dylan, Carson, and the baby not-yet-named would have to live with Uncle Jason and Aunt Jenny and their three spoiled daughters. And she can’t do that to her innocent children. She’ll sit on her hands if she has to, if that’s what it takes to keep her impulses under control.
The nurse returns, wheeling in the baby this time. Rachel sits up and adjusts the extra pillow on her lap. “He got a cut on his foot from a toenail rubbing against it,” the nurse reports. She hands the swaddled baby to Rachel and then holds up a small tube of ointment. “The doctor prescribed an antibiotic cream. Twice a day for ten days.”
Brett intercepts the cream and takes off his glasses to read the ingredients. Rachel looks towards the window rather than at Brett. She knows it’s not his fault, but she can’t stand it when he takes off his glasses like he’s 72 instead of 41. His sweater vests, his propensity to say “jeepers,” and his insistence on going to sleep at 9:00 sharp — it all makes him seem like a very old man.
“I don’t know,” Brett says.
Rachel rolls her eyes. “It’s from the pediatrician, Brett. Come on.”
He glares at the nurse, suspicious. “I’m calling my brother. He’s a doctor.”
Rachel smirks. Jason is a chiropractor although he bills himself as an alternative healer. He doesn’t believe in antibiotics or anything else that makes life easier. A few weeks before Rachel’s due date, Brett had forced Dylan to suffer through an ear infection for an entire week before he’d deferred to the doctor’s diagnosis of a bacterial infection. And of course Brett wasn’t the one up at night comforting his son. You’re always up anyway, he said to Rachel, whose heartburn in the last month of pregnancy had made it impossible to sleep. She hadn’t suffered with heartburn the previous two times — more proof, in her mind, that she was carrying a girl.
The nurse shrugs and slips out the door. Brett hangs up the phone, frowning. “Jason didn’t answer.” He removes a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his upper lip. Rachel winces as she watches him. Will her sons be this way too? Will they grow up with bad vision and sweaty upper lips?
“I think we should agree on a name before I call him again,” Brett adds. “My vote’s still for Paxton. You think Jason and Jenny will care if we use it? They’re done, right?”
“I don’t care what they think.” She looks down at her baby, hoping a name will present itself. She cannot let go of Abigail and Hannah — her final two choices for a girl. She wanted something feminine and classic. Too religious, Brett had complained. She would’ve been willing to meet him in the middle with Elizabeth or Olivia, not that she’d told him that ahead of time. If you think you’ll be disappointed, let them tell you the gender at the ultrasound, her mother had warned her. “I won’t be disappointed,” Rachel had insisted. And she’d meant it. She isn’t a monster. At 40 years old, she knew — once she’d accepted the reality of another pregnancy — that she wanted a healthy child more than a little girl. And now that the healthy child has arrived, she’s not going to let Brett call him something preposterous like Cayden, Hayden, or, his newest pick, Paxton. She hadn’t liked the names Dylan or Carson either, but she’d let Brett get his way so that when they had a girl, she’d get to choose the name. It’s her turn, she reasons.
“Jayden?” Brett suggests. “Harrison? Tyson?”
Rachel bends her knees, pulling her son’s face closer. She gazes into his steel-gray eyes and then without looking at Brett, she says, “David.”
“David or nothing.”
“Or nothing, Rachel? I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.”
She nearly says, it’s David or I’m leaving. It’s David or I’ll wrap my fingers around your neck. She’s certain that both are possibilities, but she suppresses the urge to shout the words in his face.
“I don’t like it,” he says. “What’s with all this biblical stuff?”
“You don’t care about what?”
“If you like it.”
“You don’t care? This is the level of our discourse?”
She shrugs. “It’s my turn, Brett. His name is David.”
She bends her knees in closer than before and inhales her son’s newborn baby scent. “David,” she whispers, trying it out. He will be her last baby. She wants to remember the thrill of these first hours, the sacred sliver of time before she has to share him with the world. She straightens her knees to see all of him at once. Tracing his lips with her finger, she says his name again, louder this time. “David.” It feels definitive, fated, and unquestionably right.