This pleased Zach, or rather he was pleased with himself for choosing twin pearls for their mother’s rose-colored sapphire ring. But he waited until the jet reached cruising speed before retrieving it from his carry-on. The jewels mesmerized him; they were perfect.
After he presented his ID and logged in, the nurse at the desk said, “Wash your hands thoroughly in the restroom while I get you sterilized.” She meant an enormous decontaminated suit to cover his clothes and a mask, cap, and foot-coverings made of papery blue material: an antiseptic precaution for Vida’s private room where the babies slept instead of the general ward.
He crept in quietly while Vida was nursing baby Alice. Samantha, also covered in sterilized blue, was cuddling Corrine. On the windowsill, he noticed two terrariums filled with green moss and minuscule ferns.
The moment she saw him, Vida’s full, radiant face lit up even brighter. “Hi, Dad.”
Then she dabbed Alice’s tiny pink mouth and handed her to Zach, causing love and protective instincts to flood his body. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he said to himself, but still out loud.
Samantha put Corrine in a bassinet long enough to help Vida shift onto her opposite side. “Are you comfortable? Do you feel secure like that?” Vida nodded. Once Corrine was nursing hungrily, Samantha turned to Zach. “All of us were beautiful once. All of us, believe it or not, were once little miracles. Even you.”
“That’s true.” Zach stroked Alice’s tiny fingers. He touched the tip of her nose. Samantha sidled next to him, to whisk the baby into her bassinet.
“Alice needs to nap after nursing. The routine is important.”
“Samantha. What’s the harm if her father holds her a few minutes?”
Alice had emerged first. The doctor pulled her up, and before anyone had spanked her to initiate her first breath, she had cried as if in triumph. “Her eyes are the darkest blue right now,” Vida said. “But they will probably turn brown like her hair.”
“C-section babies are always pretty,” Samantha said.
Zach loved holding baby Alice; he had forgotten how peaceful, how hopeful, and happy holding his newborn child felt.
But not even a minute later, Samantha took Alice from him and laid her in a tiny crib. Then Vida handed Corinne to him, but again only for a minute, while Samantha helped her shift into position for Corinne to suck the other nipple.
He held Corinne so briefly—Samantha being so efficient—yet he brimmed with joy. Corrine’s eyes appeared slightly bigger than Alice’s and not quite as dark. Her hair was longer and curlier. He stared at the infant, wondering what she saw and what she heard. Not much—had been the consensus last time around. But Zach’s little Alice and Corrine refuted all that Piaget nonsense. Anyone watching his newborn daughters could see they were intently communicating: Here I am! Be prepared!
Vida’s doctor, a sprightly young woman with short, reddish hair, knocked lightly on the door frame. She wanted to examine Vida’s incision and talk to her privately. After which, Vida should rest. Could Zach and Samantha return in a few hours? Before leaving, Zach set the box containing the ring on Vida’s bed stand.
Sharp-featured Samantha resembled Vida only, if and where, opposites converged. Where Vida curved, her sister bristled. Vida brightened her surroundings, while Samantha, leading Zach to her car, exuded futility and gloom. Unlocking her car, she asked, “Are you checked into a hotel? If not, Vida asked me to invite you to stay in her room. It’ll be cheaper.”
“No, thank you, Samantha. I’m set—just need to call a cab.”
“How do you know about that?”
“Dorothy Zimmerman called to see if the terrariums had arrived. So we know you have an interview the day after tomorrow, which is when Vida and the babies come home. Vida was conscious for the whole procedure, thanks to an epidural .”
“That’s my girl.”
“She’s not your girl. At one point, I almost had her convinced to keep your name off their birth certificates.”
“Can she do that? After all, I am their father. Doesn’t that give me rights?”
“Not as many as you think. Vida doesn’t want or need child support. And while you’re in the hinterlands playing academic, she and the babies will live here or possibly Potomac, Maryland.”
“But I’m their father. Alice and Corrine Severins.”
“Well, Vida’s much too kind. You’re married to someone else. So the hospital will present you and Vida with an affidavit. If I were you, Fatty, I’d make sure to get all the paperwork signed and notarized before you go to Omaha. Because when you get back,Vida will have regained her senses.”
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