Theo leaned against Dee’s hospital bed, his arms crossed, staring at his black Santa boots when she waddled out of the bathroom. He glanced her way and smiled. “I’ll make the first trek up and down the hall with you, just to make sure you handle it okay.”
What? A pregnant woman can’t walk?
“Sure.” It looked like he wasn't giving her a choice in the matter.
They exited the labor room and Dr. Theo Parker placed his hand at the small of her back to lead her to the left. After a few steps, he took her hand and squeezed it. “Dee, have I done something to offend you? Is that why you chose Dr. Witherspoon over me? I hope we’re still good enough friends, that if I said or did something to hurt your feelings, you’d tell me. Give me a chance to make things right between us.”
She squeezed his hand in return. “You could never do anything to upset me. Not on purpose, anyway. You don’t have it in your personality.”
His forehead wrinkled and his eyebrows dipped. “Then why Dr. Witherspoon and not me?” The man sounded as if his feelings were hurt. “I’d planned to ask you the night we went to the movies, but we were having such a good time laughing and catching up, I hated to ruin the mood. Then I was going to ask you at Mom’s birthday party, but there was too much commotion to hold a private conversation and you seemed tired afterward. I guess now that I’ve got you captive in the maternity ward, I can ask why you chose a doctor you didn’t know over me?”
They both shifted to the side of the hallway to allow a new patient in a wheelchair and her nervous husband to pass by. Dee exhaled a long sigh. “I was ashamed, I guess. As soon as the guy I was dating found out I was pregnant, he claimed he was sterile and it couldn’t be his. He called me all kinds of vile names and refused to see me again.” Besides, the thought of baring it all for Theo, in the cold setting of one of his examination rooms, was beyond humiliating.
Theo wrapped an arm around Dee’s shoulders and tucked her next to him. She noticed a couple nurses at the nurses’ station, decorated with potted poinsettias and garlands of silver tinsel raised their eyebrows.
“You’re creating gossip, Theo. Not everyone knows we were childhood friends.”
He waved at the nurses. “Happy Christmas Eve, Susannah and Julie.” Theo and Dee walked on. “As for the jerk you dated, it takes two people to make a baby. If he thought he was sterile, there are tests he could have had to determine the level of his sperm count. My guess is it’s a line he typically uses on women when he gets them pregnant. Irresponsible bastard.”
“Yeah, I was pretty naïve. This is more my fault than his.” A contraction hit; this time in her back. She reached her hands across her upper hips and rubbed. “The only reason I started dating him seriously was the man I really loved was already married.”
Oh, I can’t believe I said that. For heaven’s sake, shut up! Just shut up and pant!
Theo shifted behind her. “Back labor this time?” His large hands moved in a firm circular motion. “Breathe through it, Dee.”
His white beard tickled her cheek as he inclined his head to meet hers. “I said breathe, not groan, baby.”
Her head whipped around and their gazes locked. “Man, labor must alter your hearing too. Who knew?”
His vibrant blue eyes softened and a smile shifted his beard. “Yeah, who knew?”
They reached the gaily decorated tree and each pointed out ornaments they liked. Theo reached over her head and tipped one with two fingers. “Look! A Christmas Elf. They say babies born on Christmas Eve are little elves with the power to grant special wishes of the heart.”
She elbowed him. “Oh, they do not! I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Then you need to spend Christmas Eve with my family. We have two elves, each with an elf name. My nephew is Kendel and, as you know, I’m Theodas. What name do you have picked for your little girl?”
They turned and walked toward the other end of the hall. “Pretty name. I could bring you a list of girl elf names, if you like.” Oh, and he would, too, the man was a wealth of knowledge.
“I’m not naming my child after an elf. Don’t you have a family function to attend, Dr. Santa?”
“I do. You keep walking while I leave orders for your care at the nurses’ station. When you reach the other tree, that will be one trip. I want you to do three more, then ask a nurse to help you into bed.” He cupped her cheek and kissed her cheek. The nurses exchanged knowing looks. “Are we clear?”
“If you don’t stop touching and kissing me, word will spread through the hospital this is your child.”
He shrugged. “This place runs on hand sanitizer and gossip. Now keep walking. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
Dee walked and labored and panted. Her pains had definitely shifted to her back. If Theo paid this much attention to all his patients, she could understand why he was so popular. Everyone gushed about how caring he was—and no wonder! She was surprised a woman or a jealous husband hadn’t slapped him with an inappropriate conduct lawsuit.
When her laps were completed, she stopped at the nurses’ station as Theo had instructed. Julie walked Dee into her room. “Dr. Parker wants you hooked up to the monitors again and then I’m to take a quick look to see how you’re progressing. He also wants an ultrasound done. We’ll bring a portable machine into your room. Would you like some ginger ale to drink or ice water?”
Julie hooked up the connectors to the sensors on her abdomen. “Dr. Parker said you were neighbors growing up.”
The nurse was on a fishing expedition for gossip. “Yeah, I was a shy, awkward kid and he was a geek. He showed me almost everything I know about computers.” Dee watched the blips start up, checking their range on the monitors like Theo had explained. So far, everything looked good.
“That handsome doctor a geek?” Julie laughed as she snapped on latex gloves. “I don’t believe that for a minute. The female staff flirts, but he never seems too interested. He’s a very skilled obstetrician.” She took a look at all the pertinent parts involved in the process at hand. “You’re still at six centimeters, hon.”
Dee flung her arm over her eyes to hide the tears. “All that walking for nothing?”
“Don’t be discouraged. This is typical. The main thing is your baby’s vitals look good. Let me call for the ultrasound technician. Then I’ll show you how to do the turning, if it remains necessary.”
Later, she made another four lap trip up and down the hall. Her water broke on her last pass by the nurses’ station. Julie cleaned her up and put her to bed. Dee was finally at seven centimeters and was told to roll between contractions. She was so tired, she wanted to take a nap and finish this birthing business another day.
The door to her room opened and Theo strode in, a delicious sight in a pair of jeans and burgundy t-shirt to accentuate his Santa whiskers and hat. He carried a large bag of what smelled like food.
Dee laughed and pointed at the jeans. “Let me guess. Crystal’s little boy?”
He placed the bag on her stand and planted his hands at his waist. “I’m telling you, his skinny little behind no sooner hit my leg than the warmth spread.” Both laughed. “Thank goodness I’d brought along a change of clothes, just in case, but I’d only made it as far as jeans and shirt when Julie called. I grabbed the food Mom had thrown together for me and rushed out the door.”
“I’m sorry. I feel bad for taking you away from your family.”
“It goes with the territory. They know that. Besides, they thought it was cute beyond belief I was delivering your baby.” He jammed his fingers in the front pocket of his jeans, pulled out a folded piece of paper and extended it to her. She stared at it. “Take it, Dee. It’s a list of girl elf names. You can look over them while I examine you. Mom, Crystal and I worked on it.”
Snapping on gloves, Santa’s hat and beard dived under the sheet. He popped back up. “A word of warning, some of them are a tad weird. Warning number two, this will be a long examination.” He disappeared again.
Dee read over the list. She made it halfway down when one thought slammed into her mind: No way in hell. Most she couldn’t even pronounce. Her daughter would not go through life tied to a moniker like any of these. “What are you doing, Theo? It hurts! Ah…are those your bony elbows I feel?”
He laughed. “I’m doing cave drawings.”
“You get your face up here, so I can punch you in the jaw.” His blue eyes twinkled when he lifted his head. With one hand still hidden, he rubbed her abdomen with his other and laid his face against her stomach. He whispered things to the baby. “What are you saying to my child?”
“I’m promising if she listens to me, I’ll take care of her forever. She’ll be my little Christmas elf. My princess.”
My God, the man has turned into a whack job.
The baby moved and Theo’s face beamed. “I think we have success, Dee.” He kissed her abdomen and dove under the sheets again. A few minutes later, he reappeared. She’s now in the proper position for delivery. We are good to go.” He threw away the gloves and washed his hands and arms. Then he pried off his fake beard and mustache and washed his face.
He made some hand towels wet and wiped the sweat off Dee’s face. “You look beat, but we’re in good shape now. No more turning.”
“Thank God. I am tired. Really tired.”
He glanced at the closed door. “If you won’t tell, I brought you a slice of my pecan pie. You could use the sugar for energy for the delivery ahead.”
“Your…the pecan pie you used to make me instead of a birthday cake?” This man could make a seriously delicious pecan pie.
“Here, let me feed you.” Theo unwrapped the foil from the piece of pie and reached in the big bag for a fork. “Open wide.” He gave her a bite. “We do need to talk.”
“Talk? You’re feeding me your fabulous pecan pie and you want to talk?” She opened her mouth again. “You’re a doctor, a computer whiz and an expert baker. Have you ever done anything bad in your life?”
He stared at her with his blue eyes. “Yes, I married the wrong woman.”
~~* COME BACK TOMORROW FOR THE FINAL CHAPTER *~~