© Copyright 2006 by Kendra Cornell
Tom felt like the walking dead. He hadn’t slept the night before, torturing himself with the vision of his utter failure. And there was the matter of Ellen’s absence. Tom had been surprised that being without her was more disturbing than he had anticipated. The bed felt so… big and cold.
Nevertheless, there were things to be done- he was already at the luncheon after visiting two groups who had rallied to support him. The rallies had been scheduled weeks ago, and the turnout was not near what any of his team had anticipated. Of course, yesterday had been a colossal fiasco. Jack was right. Tom needed to find Karen. And the clock was ticking.
Excusing himself from the luncheon to take Ellen’s call had been important. He wasn’t so absent as a husband that he missed that realization. But he found himself unwilling to go back in that room- with the starched white tablecloths and crystal vases. His head throbbed and all he wanted to do was sleep. He laid his back against the wall, intending to close his eyes for just a moment.
He was twenty-three years old again, and Ellen was eight months pregnant. He was supposed to get down to the radio station… but was reluctant to leave the beautiful creature with whom he was so in love.
“Honey, you have to go. It’s your job,” she laughed after collapsing on their new sofa.
“I could call in- I have a feeling that tonight’s the night. Ellen, I don’t want to leave.”
Ellen took his face in her hands, laughing good-naturedly. She had been so tired recently but today, mercifully, had experienced a second wind. She had cleaned the entire apartment, and even made an elaborate dinner, ‘to celebrate’ she had said.
She jumped, her eyes widening.
“What is it? Is it the baby?” he asked.
“No- it’s too early for that. I still have three weeks left. Oh!” Ellen placed a hand along her enormous belly. This was one big baby.
Tom covered her fingers gently with his own, and felt the tightening of her abdomen.
“Ellen! Is that… I mean- Are you?” He was unable to complete a sentence.
“Tom, maybe it’d be better if you stayed home, just for a little while,” but a hardening took her breath away again. A silk scarf held her long, dark hair away from her face, which was turning red.
“Oh no! Okay. We need to get to the hospital. Honey, can you stand? I need you to stand. We can do this,” Tom had begun to rush around the room as if looking for something.
“Tom?” Ellen’s voice was so soft. “I need you to relax. Women have babies all the time. Help me up, and let’s get to the car.”
Tom responded to the calmness in her voice. Carefully, he helped her up and out the door. Two orderlies took her away as soon as he got to the emergency room. He kissed her quickly, their fingers pulling apart as she was wheeled into an elevator.
Tom spent the next agonizing night alone, in a cold white room with other expecting fathers. Tom paced, looking at the clock every fifteen seconds. A gruff voice from behind him spoke up.
“This is your first, right?”
Tom turned and stared for a moment at the grizzled older man sitting in a metal chair.
“Yes. Does it show?”
“You look like you’re about ready to tear through that wall, son. Relax. Take a seat.”
Tom sat down. “Thanks. I just… she’s early.”
“It happens. If there was anything really wrong, someone would have been along by now.”
Tom nodded. “Okay. So… uh- is this your second?”
“Sixth. My Edna keeps wantin’ ‘em, so we keep havin’ ‘em.”
“Yeah… uh…” Tom had no idea as to the proper response to that. “So what do you do?”
“Whatever I can do to keep this family afloat. Eh… it works out. Somehow, we always seem to make ends meet. Havin’ a family is a big responsibility.” He looked as though a thought had just occurred to him. “Don’t you go and be one of those floppy-haired no account losers. Take care of that woman, and take care of that baby. That’s what God put us on this earth for, son.”
“Yes, sir. I hear you,” and Tom had too. He’d have done anything on earth to make Ellen happy.
“Mr. Delaney?” A nurse had appeared in the doorway. Tom shot up like a rocket, and his grizzled companion just chuckled, “Good luck son. And remember what I said.”
“I will, sir. Thank you!” and Tom rushed out into the hallway after the nurse.
“Well? What’d I have? A boy or a girl?” Tom asked excitedly.
“Yes,” replied a smiling nurse.
Tom’s smile faded. “I don’t understand.”
“Mr. Delaney, your wife just gave birth to twins. You are the proud father of a boy and a girl.”
Shock slackened his features. “Twins? I have twins? Oh, my goodness… I have twins! Wait… How’s Ellen? Is she okay?”
The nurse smiled reassuringly. “She did wonderfully. She’s resting right now, but you may see her if you’d like.”
“Yes. Oh yes- does she know?”
“Not yet, but she’ll be awake soon.”
Tom walked by the large plate glass window of the nursery, looking in at the rows of sleeping babies. Looking carefully, he located two bassinettes, side-by-side.
“Baby Boy and Baby Girl Delaney. Oh wait ‘til she finds out.”
Tom walked into a room where Ellen lay in a white bed. Her dark hair was spread all across the pillow, and she lay in a pale hospital gown. Slowly, she opened her eyes and smiled.
“Hey there, my love. What do we have?” she asked sleepily.
Tom sat on the edge of the bed and took her hand, smoothing her soft skin under his fingers.
“Ellen, we have twins. A boy and a girl-“
She stared at him for a long moment and a gentle smile lifted the corners of her mouth.
“Do you mean it? We have two babies to take home with us?”
“Two babies. And I promise you, I am going to take care of you every day for the rest of my life,” he said, smoothing her hair back from her beautiful face.
Ellen raised her arms and Tom gently gathered her to himself, silently vowing never to let her go…
“Tom! Wake up, man!”
Jack shook Tom’s shoulder. Tom sat upright with a start, feeling disoriented and off-balance.
“What are you doing? You have a speech to give in two minutes.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened.”
“I do- you didn’t sleep last night, it’s the day before an election, and let’s be honest. You probably haven’t a decent night’s sleep in months. But, for your information, this is not the time to catch up.” Jack hauled Tom to his feet.
“Alright. I’m going. Do we have any news on the… other issue yet?”
“No- and we have about four hours before it’s not going to matter anymore. But for now, let’s focus on the issue at hand. Get in there and make that speech. I’m calling a meeting after you’re done.”
Tom nodded, getting the gist of what Jack implied. Tom went through the motions of the banquet speech, the audience nodding and applauding in all the right places. But for the first time ever, it felt empty. He felt empty.
After the speech, Tom returned to the small room where he had spent his time earlier. Jack walked in, gesturing that they needed to go, but Tom waved him off.
“I just need a minute, Jack.”
Jack scowled, but nodded, thinking, At least this election will be over one way or the other tomorrow, and then he’s someone else’s problem.
Tom took out his cell phone and stared at it a moment. Slowly, he dialed Ellen’s personal number. When he had called his daughter earlier that day, he knew it was less an attempt to connect with Ellen than just glean information. And for some reason, at this moment, avoiding his wife was no longer good enough.
“Ellen? It’s Tom,” he said when she answered. The only response he got was silence, although he knew the line was open.
After a moment, he tried again. “Ellen? Please answer me. I know you’re furious, but at least tell me if you’re there.”
“I’m here.” Her voice was frozen.
“I don’t know why I called you, Ellen. I just… Ellen, I miss you.”
“Please, is there somewhere we could meet? I’ll schedule it in whenever you want.”
“Well, something must have spooked you, Tom Delaney. It’s the day before the election and you’re offering to give up your precious time for me?”
“Ellen, please. I don’t want to play games. Would you…” But the words stuck in his throat.
“Would I what, Tom?”
“Never mind. I’m sorry for bothering you. If you’d like to meet, I’m sure I can arrange something.”
“I didn’t call you, Tom. You called me, remember?”
Oh yes. I did, didn’t I… Tom’s momentary lapse closed and the arrogance returned.
“Well, Ellen, I’m sure at this time tomorrow, you’ll be begging to come back.”
Her reply was soft and ambiguous. “Tom, I wouldn’t be sure of anything if I was you… Good-bye.”
Jack returned a moment later.
“Tom? We have to go. I made those arrangements, and as you can imagine, things are a bit dicey. We have a fifteen minute window to get this taken care of, and we have to go now.”
Wearily, Tom stood and nodded his assent.
“Alright, Jack. Whatever you say.”
As the two men got into Jack’s car, Jack asked him, “So what was that all about?”
“What? Oh, nothing. I needed to talk to Ellen.”
“The reporters went after her too, you know.”
Tom’s head snapped in Jack’s direction. “And what’d she tell them?”
Jack’s eyes narrowed at Tom as he pulled out of the parking space.
“What do you think she said, Tom? Nothing. She declined to comment, but your daughter did call to say that she is getting ready to change phone numbers if the calls don’t stop immediately.”
Wearily, Tom shook his head. “Okay, I guess I’ll take care of that too.”
“No, you won’t. Right now, you need to refocus your energy. I don’t need to remind you that you’re the glue holding this entire operation together. And there will be a lot of angry people if this election goes south.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do? Go knocking on doors to find that employee of yours?”
“That’s what this meeting is about. Keep your cool. This could get ugly.”
HEY! and don't forget to e-mail Kendra Cornell if you have a comment! She would really like to hear from you.
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