Bridgeport & Derby, CT – October 2020
Reading the message on his phone, Dylan isn’t sure what to do. Anna-Marie has gone into labor almost a month early. Standing in the center of the campaign office, he doesn’t realize he’s not even breathing until he hears Ryan’s voice in his ear. “Breath, Dylan,” she says, her voice unusually gentle and lacking in the honey-dripping quality that he pretends to ignore. In this moment, he barely acknowledges her presence. Instead, he takes a deep breath and slowly lowers himself into a chair.
Several people around the office ask if he needs anything: a cup of water, fresh air, the schedule of trains and buses from Bridgeport to Derby, a ride directly to Griffin Hospital. Dylan ignores them all, holding his head in his hands. Half of him doesn’t believe this moment is happening, and that all he needs to do is pinch himself and he’ll wake.
His phone vibrates again, and he absent-mindedly checks the message. This one is from Dante, saying he’s in the waiting room and asking where Dylan is. “I should be there,” he mumbles.
Ryan is beside him, sitting far too close, her hand resting on his shoulder. “Sweetie, you need to be wherever you’re most comfortable.”
He shakes his head and finally looks at her.
“If you go there and pass out, what good will you be?”
After a moment, he shrugs. “I won’t pass out in the waiting room.”
She grabs his hand. “Will you pass out on the train or bus?” When he doesn’t answer, she laughs softly, patting his hand gently. “Do you want me to come with you?”
Dylan thinks this over, and even in this state of shock, he knows how horrible an idea it would be to bring Ryan to what should be an intimate moment between him and his girlfriend, the mother of his unborn child. He also knows how Anna-Marie feels about taller, curvier, older Ryan.
“I’ve never seen you act so kind,” a supporter comments as he walks by. “Usually you’re all over him,” he says.
Ryan winks then turn her focus back to Dylan. “You need to take care of yourself right now.”
Once more, his phone goes off. He doesn’t know if he wishes it were an announcement that the baby is born, or if it’s another plea from Dante. The message reads: Don’t do this to Anna. Not when she needs you the most. I’ll borrow someone’s car and come get you. I don’t care. Just be here.
Dylan shakes his head. Dante is right; he should be there for Anna-Marie. It is, after all, half his fault she’s there. If she has to go through this, he does as well. He gets up and heads to a tablet, and as he begins searching for train schedules, someone beside him offers to drive him directly to Derby.
Usually, Dylan would reject the offer, wanting to support himself, but right now he doesn’t care. The traffic at ten in the morning is minimal, and he is at the hospital within twenty silent minutes. As he enters the waiting room, Dante rushes to his side. “I thought for sure you bailed,” he says, grabbing his arm and leading him to the room.
As they get closer, Dylan can hear Anna-Marie’s screams of pre-maternal agony. Dante lets him enter alone, and he does so timidly. Once at her side, she immediately takes his hand, smiling between contractions at his presence. The only thing he can focus on as she threatens to crush his hand is the overpowering scent of isopropyl alcohol that gives the room a sickeningly clean scent.
“This is it, Anna! One more push!” the doctor finally calls from below, the area Dylan wants no part of. He saw the video in health class, but tries as best as he can to forget the image. With one final effort from Anna-Marie, Dylan hears the first cries of a tiny human he helped create. “It’s a girl!”
The past thirty-six long, strenuous weeks haven’t felt real to him as he focused on getting through each night and weekend with his step-father without the help of alcohol and marijuana. It’s been Dante helping him stay away from his demons, Ryan and her campaign giving him the outlet, and Anna-Marie giving him the reason.
It isn’t until this moment as the baby’s cries fill his ears that reality hits him. The newborn is handed off to her mother. Anna-Marie glows, and Dylan wishes he felt the same. She hands the baby to him, and he gently cradles the wailing infant in his arms.
The excited voices of the others around him fade away. The overbearingly-clean scent of the room fades away. Ryan and Anna-Marie fade. He only sees this little human, and for a moment, nothing else matters. Her pink body is warm, and she stares at him with squinted blue eyes. Her cries have calmed as if comforted by being in his arms. In this moment, he feels comfortable with her. As he cradles this little girl, he knows he and Anna-Marie made the right decision. He will give anything he can to protect her, give her everything she deserves.
Dylan gives the infant his finger, and she suckles it gently. Her gums are soft and her mouth is warmer than her body. He wonders if her eyes will stay blue like his, or shift to an enchanting shade of green like her mother’s; if the girl’s hair will be dark like his, or light like her mother’s; if she’ll grow up good, loving and mature, or a lost, addicted deadbeat.
Her father. He is her father, and this infant human is his own flesh and blood, his daughter.
Anna-Marie is talking, but Dylan doesn’t hear it; his head is swooning. Something about names. Before he loses control of himself and collapses, he hands the baby to Mrs. Thomas beside him. He mutters something apologetic about having to go, but the words don’t register in his brain as he speaks. The only thing on his mind as he rushes out of the room, barely able to take each step, is being only a couple months away from sixteen and the father of a newborn baby girl.
Dylan lets himself fall into a chair in a waiting room in some other part of the hospital, head in his hands. The moment feels less and less real the more he tries to process it. When he looks up, he notices a banner above a check-in station reads Trick-or-Treat. He wonders which of the two this moment would be.
He stares at the man behind the desk. In the back of his mind, he knows he’ll have to get a job to help support this child. He imagines himself sitting behind a desk, moving papers around, drinking coffee; chatting idly at the water cooler, pretending to care about some guy’s kid’s soccer game; getting a meager paycheck that hardly covers the bills; sitting through hours of traffic before finally coming home to Anna-Marie and a crying poop-machine.
The thought of this mundane routine nearly makes Dylan nauseous, and he leans forward in his chair. He knows that’s not the life for him, but with a child, he’ll have no time for Graham’s campaign, for Ryan. Resting his head in his hands, he looks around and forces himself to focus on something else, anything other than Ryan and her bright blue eyes.
A man walks in, a child in his arms. She’s probably no more than two years old, but she has a full head of caramel-brown hair. Both father and daughter wear identical smiles as his hand transforms into a claw that attacks her with tickles, causing her to burst into a fit of giggles.
Dylan leaves. He can’t stand to look at the scene for another minute. That will never be him and his own daughter; they will never be that happy together. He hears Dante’s deep voice behind him, but pays little attention to it as he walks out the main entrance of Griffin Hospital.
The air outside is chilly, but Dylan doesn’t feel it on his bare arms. He just walks with no set destination, his mind blocking out the scenery decorated with cobwebs and pumpkins and ghostly figures. The leaves crunch under his feet as he makes his way around the block, and a church bell rings noon a few streets over, but these sounds don’t settle in Dylan’s mind. The wailing cry of his newborn is the only thing he hears.
About an hour later, he’s at a space more welcoming than his own, a space that has become more familiar than Dante’s house, his previous safe haven. He barely remembers boarding and exiting the bus, paying the fare, taking a seat, or watching the various buildings and houses as he traveled from Derby to downtown Bridgeport. As he enters the campaign office, Ryan is immediately at his side. She says something to him, but he doesn’t hear it. Instead, he lets her lead him to her office, to her couch where she sits beside him and rests his head on her chest. The beating of her heart finally dulls the infantile cries in his head.
“It’s a girl,” he states solemnly after a long while of staring at the white-painted brick wall. Catching his breath, he quietly adds, “I can’t be a father.” His voice is strained, as if he’d been crying for hours, though his eyes remain dry. He wants to give that little girl everything, but he knows he has nothing to give. A hand runs through his hair, and he looks up at Ryan, his head still on her chest. The look in her eyes both comforts and unsettles him.
“You don’t have to be,” she murmurs back, then looks away. “If you don’t think you can do it, you shouldn’t.” There’s the slightest hint of pain in her voice, something Dylan doesn’t quite understand. “Let someone who can step in, someone trust-worthy, someone who wants the best for the baby.”
Dylan scoffs, looking away. “Someone like Dante.” He’s the kind of person Dylan wishes he could be. He may be into a few bad things, but Dylan knows Dante has the heart and emotional capacity to be that kind of man. “Maybe he’ll stick around, be the father figure she needs.”
“Let her believe he is the father,” she quietly suggests, her voice timid as if testing how he’d react.
His brows furrow as he slowly sits up. “And how—”
“If his name is on the certificate…” she starts, her voice trailing off at the end. Dylan gives her a confused look, and she continues, her voice taking on its usual bold edge. “With a newborn, Mommy and Daddy will need money.” Ryan pauses, an eyebrow raised.
Dylan shifts away from her. “You want to pay Anna-Marie and Dante off?” he asks, his voice high with disbelief. He just stares at Ryan, the idea settling into his mind. He knows what growing up without a real father does to a child. He refuses to even humor the thought of his little girl becoming screwed up like him. Looking away, he sighs.
“The baby was born, what, an hour or two ago? We need to hurry,” she urges. Silently, Dylan nods, and almost instantly, Ryan stands and is at her desk. Staring at her, watching her at her computer, Dylan processes what he just agreed to. The little girl will never know him, not even by name. She’ll grow up believing Dante helped to put her on this earth, that she’s half him, that she has the genes of two respectable humans. She’ll be raised by two people who can and will love her and give her the all the support she’ll both want and need. He knows this is the best for her, that if there’s anything he can give her as her biological sperm donor, it’s a real father. As he closes his eyes and leans his back against the couch, he hopes Anna-Marie and Dante will see that, and he hopes he’s not letting Ryan talk him into making a mistake he’ll regret for life.
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