ROCK BOTTOM Blog Tour Extras

posted in: Various Musings | 0

Old habits die hard.

In spite of the fact that I know Facebook is no longer a great way to get my message out there, it historically was the best way for me at one time.  It’s how Bullet got known and seen.  But those days are past, and I think that if I even paid to boost my posts to make them more visible, it wouldn’t work any better.  At any rate, I’m not going to sink my money into that venture.  It just feels like a losing proposition.  If I have to spend more money on my business (for advertising), I can think of better ways to do it, ones that will likely have a better return.

Ah…but I didn’t begin this post with the intention of bitching about Facebook.  I should be over that by now.  😉  No…instead, I wanted you to know I plan to move all the “freebies” and “extras” that I used to store over there to here.  This is where they belong and this is where they’ll always be available.  I have no idea what Facebook plans to do with everyone’s “stuff” over time, but I do know that they don’t keep it forever…so I’m taking fate into my own hands.

On that note, today I’m going to share Rock Bottom Blog Tour Extras.  Enjoy.  🙂

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Alt POV scene—first appeared on Becca the Bibliophile, http://beccathebibliophile.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2013-09-12T00:00:00-07:00&max-results=7, Sept. 10, 2013

Val had been pacing back and forth for the better part of an hour.  She knew Ethan cared about his son and his intentions were good…but Val hadn’t trusted her ex in a long time.  Yes, he wasn’t due back with Chris for another fifteen minutes, but she still couldn’t make the knot in her belly relax.

She’d gone to the medicine cabinet in the master bathroom and found a bottle of Maalox.  She shook it and held it up to her lips and then sucked down what she figured was the approximation of two tablespoons’worth, give or take, what she thought she remembered was the recommended dosage.  She hoped it would neutralize the acid building in her gut.  She just wanted to hold her baby in her arms and know he was okay.

She ran water in the sink and cupped her hand.  She held it under the water and brought several handfuls to her lips to wash the chalky taste out of her mouth.  Brad tapped on the half-open door and walked in.  He wrapped his arms around her waist and she turned around to look him in the eyes.  “It’ll be okay, Val.  Ethan’s his dad.  He wouldn’t do anything stupid with his son.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yeah, I do.  Stop stressing.  He still has a few minutes.”  She looked at him and felt her brow furrowing against her will.  He smiled and kissed her forehead.  “Why don’t you go make yourself a cup of hot tea?  He’ll be home before you know it.” She sucked in a deep breath.  “You’ll be holding him in your arms soon.”

She rested her head against his chest.  How was it Brad always knew the right thing to say?  “Okay.  I’ll go to the kitchen.  Would you keep an eye out for them?”

She could hear the smile in his voice.  “It won’t make them get here faster.”

She let out a slight laugh.  “Yeah…but it’ll make me feel better.”

He gave her a playful swat on the bottom.  “Go make that tea.  I’ll let you know when they get here.”

She kissed him and then walked out of the bathroom.  He followed her but stayed in the living room while she continued walking to the kitchen.  He was right.  Worrying about it wouldn’t change anything.  She knew Ethan loved his son and she had to believe Chris was in good hands.  Ethan had even called the night before so Chris and Val could talk to one another.  She hadn’t asked him to do that but had felt her heart warm a little toward her ex for doing something so cool after having been such an asshole the past couple of years.  Maybe he really was getting his act together.

The water in the kettle was simmering when she heard Brad’s voice from the other room.  “I think they’re here.”

Val stuck her head into the doorway.  “What do you mean you think they’re here?”

“A car just pulled up in front of the house.  But it’s getting dark out there.  I can’t tell for sure.  I’ll check.”

She returned to the stove and heard the front door open and close, and she took a deep breath.  She was eager to see her son but also knew she needed to keep her emotions in check.  If Ethan were truly on the road to recovery—something she’d always wished for—then it wouldn’t do him any good to see the worry etched in her face.  She turned off the heat under the kettle and walked to the sink, pouring a cool glass of water instead and drinking it down until she felt her breathing get under control.

She hadn’t heard Brad come back in the house, a sure sign that Ethan and Chris were definitely outside.  She smiled, happy to be reunited with her son.  They’d never been apart before, so she was ecstatic.  Again, though, she didn’t want all those emotions on her face.  She wanted to give Ethan the benefit of the doubt.  She just hoped Chris hadn’t hated his time with Ethan.  She was sure she’d be able to tell based on how he would be acting…and if he didn’t like spending time with his dad, she was going to have to—

She stopped that line of thought.  She didn’t want to dwell on the negative or assume that things hadn’t gone well.  Granted, Ethan had had moments where he was horrible, but overall he’d been a good father, and she had to hope that he would be ideal when he was off everything.

One last deep breath and she headed toward the front of the house.  By the time she opened the door, Brad and Ethan were standing just below the porch steps…and a striking redhead stood next to Ethan as well.  However, the object of her attention—her only child—was in Ethan’s arms, the boy she’d missed so much.  He spotted her too.  “Mama!”

The relief she felt at seeing her child smiling and in one piece was palpable.  “My baby!  How are you, baby boy?”  He put his arms out for her and she took him, holding him up to her body.  She closed her eyes, a silent prayer lingering in her mind, grateful that her child was okay.  Aside from the tenderness she felt for her child, the remainder of her wanted to go off on Ethan.  He’d barely been out of rehab and here he was, already back up to his old ways.  That he had the audacity to bring one of his groupie skanks to her house and have her son around this woman shouldn’t have surprised her…but it did.  What the hell was he thinking?  Scratch that.  He never thought.  It really shouldn’t have shocked her at all.  Still…she had to hold it together.  It wasn’t the girl’s fault Ethan couldn’t do anything appropriate.  God, what an ass.  Val breathed in the smell of her son, allowing herself to revel in the fact that he was home, intact and happy.  And she had to hold it together.  She and Ethan could talk about this in private.  Make no mistake—if he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants for a simple weekend visit, there was no way she was going to agree to regular visitations.  Now wasn’t the time to tell him that, though, even as pissed as she felt.  So she looked at her son, tousling his hair and kissing him on the cheek.  She asked, “Did you have fun with Daddy Ethan?”

Chris continued to grin.  “Yes.”

Ethan’s voice was low when he said, “Uh, I was wanting to ask about that…to see when I can have him again.  Could we maybe work something out before all the legal paperwork gets done?”

He just had to go there right now.  Well, if he insisted.  He needed to know the misgivings she had.  She doubted she’d ever trust him enough to take her son again.  As angry and irritated and infuriated as Val had ever gotten with Ethan, she’d tried to be as honest with him as possible since they’d split.  No more pussyfooting around the issues.  She’d partially blamed herself for how bad Ethan had become, because she’d kept her mouth shut a lot, feeling afraid of hurting his feelings or making him feel worse.  In hindsight, she knew that had probably been the worst tactic ever.  She had decided that all interactions from that point forward would be as honest and straightforward as possible, even if painful.  So…if he wanted to discuss future visitations now, she had to tell him why she thought that was a bad idea…but she didn’t want to say it in front of the strange girl Ethan had brought along.  Why she worried, she didn’t know; she’d likely never see the woman again and the gal was likely high as a kite.  She’d give Ethan credit for one thing—he usually found gorgeous girls to drape on his arm, and this young lady was no exception.  Still…she didn’t want her son around any of it.  She took a deep breath and looked at her ex.  “Uh, yeah.  Can I talk to you about that in private?”

Ethan’s voice was quiet and respectful, even though Val could tell from the look on his face that he thought her request was odd.  “Yeah, sure.”

She gave Brad a look, hoping that—as always—he’d understand what was on her mind.  She handed Chris to him and looked at the redhead next to Ethan.  “Please excuse us for a moment.”  Then, not wanting to waste any time, she pulled Ethan by his upper arm to lead him to the side of the house.  She didn’t want it to last long, but she needed to speak her mind.  She was surprised at the definition of his bicep she could feel in her hand.  The last time she’d touched him, he hadn’t been in good shape.  She was surprised.

But she couldn’t allow herself to be distracted.  Once they were out of earshot, she got straight to the point.  “Ethan, seriously.  Please tell me why.”

“Why what?”

She couldn’t help the angry look she knew had crossed her face.  She was ready to tear him apart.  “I can’t believe you had the gall to bring one of your heroin whores to my house…and you had her around my son.  You asshole.  You haven’t changed a bit.”

Ethan’s jaw slackened, but his eyes looked sharper.  “Whoa, Val.  You got it all wrong.”

She felt her eyebrows jump straight up.  “Do I?

“Yeah, Miss Perfect.  If you’d given me one fucking second to introduce you to her, you’d know that Jenna is my goddamned drug and alcohol counselor.  She’s not a fucking junkie.  Does she even look like a junkie to you?”

Ethan’s words felt like a punch in the gut.  It was true.  She’d been assuming the worst.  She let out a slow breath and tried to allow the muscles in her shoulders to relax.  And then she went from anger to understanding to feeling guilty.  Ethan might have had it coming; after all, he’d set the precedent years ago and had rarely disappointed, but maybe he really was changing…and she’d jumped to conclusions.  She felt like a real shit.  “Oh.  Oh, God, Ethan.  I’m really sorry.”

Typical Ethan, though.  He couldn’t just accept her apology.  He had to rub it in that she was wrong.  She knew, in this instance, she probably had it coming.  “Well, it’s a little late.  I get it, Val.  I get it.  It’s not going to be easy to trust me.  I understand that.  But when I’m standing right in front of you and you can see the changes I’ve made, why can’t you accept them?  Can you just once give me the benefit of the doubt?”  His eyes glinted with an intensity she hadn’t seen in years.  That look had, in days gone by, turned her on, and later in their relationship it had even scared her once or twice.  She knew whatever came out of his mouth at this point was going to be passionate and emotional.  “Or do I just need to expect this kind of reaction from now on?  Do I need to give you a full report every fucking time I see you?”  It was growing dark outside, but it didn’t stop her from being able to see his eyes darken with anger.  That the two of them were close to screaming at each other just like they used to confirmed to Val that it was for the best that they weren’t together anymore.

Still…she knew that this one time she’d been in the wrong.  “Ethan…I said I was sorry, okay?”  She searched his eyes.  “Can you understand why I’d think that?”  He shrugged.  “I need to know my son is safe with you, okay?”

His voice was low.  “If you need to know, Val, Jenna is my girlfriend.  She’s not a heroin whore.  She’s a good person.”

Val nodded.  “Okay…sorry.  Just…try to understand where I’m coming from.”  One last thing and she’d drop it.  “You haven’t made it easy to trust you over the years.”

“Yeah…I get that.”  He scowled.  “We done here?”

She shook her head, angry that somehow, once again, Ethan had gotten under her skin.  “Yeah.”

When they got back to the front of the house, Ethan kissed Chris on the forehead.  “I’ll see you soon, bud, okay?”  He looked at Brad.  “See ya.”  Val expected him to completely ignore her at that point but he told her goodbye before walking toward his car.  She noted that the redhead was already in the car waiting for him.

“Bye,” she said and turned so she could see them drive off.  It wasn’t long before his car was blazing down the street and she was left standing in the yard with Chris and Brad.  “Mama,” Chris said and reached out to her.  She took him in her arms and Brad put his arm around her waist.  They started walking to the front door.  “I think I might have been a little hard on him.”

Brad didn’t say anything, confirming that Val was right.  He picked up the car seat off the front porch and then opened the door for Val and Chris.  Once they got inside, he said, “You did what you thought was best, right?”

“Well, yeah.”  She sat on the couch, holding Chris in another hug.  “I just think maybe I was a little hard on him…I assumed the worst.”

“And why’d you do that?”  He sat next to her.

She touched Chris’s cheek with her finger.  “I guess I was worried about Chris.”

“Then don’t let it bother you.  Your concerns were coming from the right place.”  She shook her head, ready to protest, but he pressed his finger against her lips.  “Your instincts are usually right, Val.  Don’t feel bad.  Ethan’s Chris’s dad, and a little time will help him realize you were right in your concern.  He loves him too, Val.”

She nodded.  That was the one thing she didn’t doubt.  “Yeah, he does.”

“So let it go.”  He kissed her forehead.  “Just let it go.  It’ll be all right.”

She trusted Brad more than she trusted anyone else on the planet.  “Okay.”  She leaned into his chest.  Chris turned his head and touched Val’s cheek with his hand.  He was the reason why she could take Brad’s advice, to just let go, and as he wiggled off her lap to get down, she smiled, feeling the worry start to slip away.

~ ~ ~

Alt POV scene, first appeared on The Book  Bella, http://www.thebookbella.com/2013/09/14/blog-tour-excerpt-and-deleted-scene-rock-bottom-by-jade-c-jamison/, Sept. 14, 2013

Brad had tried cheering up Val again earlier that afternoon, but there wasn’t much he could do about her mood.  She felt dejected whenever Chris would spend the weekend with Ethan.  By the same token, she would get angry when Ethan didn’t get Chris.  He understood.  They’d talked about it.  Val didn’t much care if Ethan was going to have visitation or not, but she wanted consistency in Chris’s life.  If Ethan was going to take Chris every other weekend, then she wanted him to do it faithfully.  Otherwise, she felt like Ethan was jerking on his son’s heartstrings.

Based on what Ethan had hinted at the last time, though, he was having a pretty bad time.  He’d explained that he didn’t think it would be good to have Chris around him.  Val had agreed but ragged him out and then ranted about it after they hung up.  She didn’t want her son to be heartbroken.  But she and Brad made sure Chris never noticed.  They baked cookies, watched movies, and read lots of books to him.  He didn’t remember that his real daddy wasn’t there as planned.  Truthfully, it bothered Val more than her son, so Brad tried to keep her mind off it too.

This afternoon, though…this was going to be the first time in over a month Ethan was going to see his son.  Val had already made a comment that morning in bed, though, saying she wondered what excuse Ethan was going to conjure up this time.

Brad didn’t say a word.  He knew Val had a lot of anger to work out when it came to her ex.  She’d stood by his side faithfully until the time he’d hurt her and scared her out of her mind.  She believed to this day that Ethan had almost killed her.  It might have been true, but Brad had known Ethan a lot longer than Val had and couldn’t imagine his friend trying to kill the woman he loved.  Ethan was good inside, but he didn’t know how to act like it.  Brad kept wishing, hoping…but it had finally been time to just walk away, let his brother sink or swim.

He’d sunk at first, but Brad thought maybe now Ethan was floating and finding his way to the surface.  Or at least he hoped.  He and Val were expecting Ethan around five o’clock, and his arrival would be a good sign.  Val had said, “I’m not even going to pack Chris’s stuff until I know he’s coming for sure.”

Brad had been sitting on the couch next to her.  He squeezed her knee.  “He’ll be here, Val.  He promised.  You’ll feel like an ass when he gets here and you’re not ready.  Then who’ll be the bad guy?”  Considering it was ten minutes to five, he hoped she’d decide to do it.

She sighed and gave him a dirty look which quickly melted into a smile.  “I hate when you’re right.”  She kissed him and then got up, walking out of the living room.

When the doorbell rang a few minutes later, Brad said, “Come here, kiddo,” and scooped Chris up off the floor where he was playing with plastic blocks.  “I think that’s your dad.”

“Daddy?”

Brad nodded.  “Uh-huh.”  He walked to the door, Chris in his arms.  When he opened it, Ethan and Jenna both stood outside.

Chris leaned forward.  “Daddy!”

Ethan looked a little worn down, not as good as he had last time.  He looked a lot like he had during certain periods in high school when he’d disappear for days at a time.  Brad wasn’t sure what to make of it, but Ethan started smiling when Chris reached for his father.  Ethan took him in his arms as his child held him close around the neck.

“Chris, my buddy.”

Brad stood back.  “Come on in.”  The cold air from outside was rushing in, and he wanted them to come inside where it was warm.  He shut the door and turned around to see Ethan and Jenna standing side by side.

Ethan kissed Chris on the cheek and looked at Brad.  “Can I talk to you about business sometime?”

Brad was silent for a moment.  This had been a moment for which he’d been waiting for quite some time.  The fate of Fully Automatic rested in Ethan’s hands, and it could go one of three ways:  the band could stay together and continue making music; Ethan could leave and they could make do without him (or hire another second guitarist if they felt they needed to); or (the option Brad dreaded but also expected the most) they could disband.  It told him, though, that Ethan had been able to find some clarity and knew now what he wanted.  As much as Brad selfishly wanted Ethan to stay (clean and sober, of course), he would support his friend if he walked away.  He didn’t want to give his thoughts away or put any undue pressure on Ethan, so he didn’t plan to give away what he was thinking.   “Have you thought about it?”

“Yeah.  I can’t walk away.  I’m in.”

Brad nodded.  He was grateful and happy to hear it.  His friend—and his band—would be whole again, and that was huge news.  Before he could say anything, though, Valerie walked in.  Either she was done packing or had heard them talking.  She said, “Ethan.  Glad you could make it.”

“Yeah.”

Brad loved his wife, but her timing at this particular moment had been shitty.  He needed to know for sure what Ethan had in mind.  He wanted to clarify a few things.  He needed to talk to his brother, man to man…and he needed his girlfriend to stop coiling up like a rattlesnake every damn time she got near her ex.  So he said, “Hey, Jenna, would you mind helping Val get some drinks for all of us?  Ethan has some business matters to discuss with me.”

Ethan looked surprised.  “Now?

“What better time than the present?”  They hadn’t done anything as a band in over a year.  He didn’t want to wait, so he motioned Ethan into the living room.  He could tell Val wasn’t too happy about what he’d done, but he’d explain it later.  She’d understand then.

Val smiled at Jenna and said, “Come with me to the kitchen.”  Oh, yeah.  He saw the look.  She wasn’t happy with him at all.  She’d understand, though.

The women left and Brad and Ethan went into the living room.  Both sat on the couch and Chris said, “Daddy, frain?”

Ethan furrowed his brows.  “What?”

“Frain.”

Brad smiled.  “He’s talking about his train.”

“Oh, you have a train?”

“Choo-choo frain, daddy.  See it?”

Ethan looked over at Brad but then said to his son, “Do you want to show it to me?”

Brad said, “Why don’t you bring it here so daddy can see it?”  He just couldn’t bring himself to call Ethan Daddy Ethan, even though that’s what Val had taught the child.  He had to admit he didn’t mind being called Daddy Brad, but Ethan was the kid’s real dad and deserved the original title.  Chris nodded and toddled off in the direction of his bedroom.

“So what’s your decision?”

Ethan nodded.  “I’m all in, man.  I can’t…I can’t not do it.  It’s just been hard…and I needed time.”

“I get that.  I know you’ve had it rough.”

“Yeah, but no excuse.  You guys have been carrying the load without me.”

“Not really.  We’ve been thinking of it as an extended vacation.  It’s all good.  I’ve been writing some.  You?”

“I just started.”  Ethan ran his hand through his hair.  “It feels pretty good.”

“Yeah…it does.  So…are you ready now?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“So…why don’t we plan on getting together after Christmas?  I’ll call up Nick and Zane, and we can start writing together, sharing what we’ve got, practicing…maybe record in the spring.  Dean’ll be glad to hear that.”  No way was Brad going to tell Ethan that their manager Dean had initially tried to talk the other band members into dropping Ethan like a fashion designer drops last season’s creations.  His friend didn’t need to hear that.

“Yeah.  Dean’s been chewing my ass a little too, but I haven’t heard too much from him in a while.”

“Well, there’s no pressure.  We have a little bit of time.  There’s no hurry.  But…January sound good?”

“Sounds great.”

Chris came out of his room, a chunky-looking plastic train engine in his hands.  It was mostly red, but it was trimmed in white and yellow.  The smokestack was red and the wheels blue.  Chris was grinning from ear to ear walking toward his dad.  “Frain, daddy.”

“Very cool, buddy.”  Chris stopped at the coffee table and started pushing the train around on its wheels, showing off his toy.

Brad said, “He’s a good kid.”

Ethan nodded.  “I miss him.”  Ethan tousled his hair and the men sat in silence watching Chris push the train around.  The only sound in the living room was the noise of the plastic train’s wheels gliding across the wood of the coffee table.

That is, until they heard Valerie’s voice coming from the kitchen.  “Look…I know you’re feeling some sympathy for Ethan.  I get it.  I’ve been there.  But I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t warn you.  He’s poison.  He’s charming and irresistible.  He makes you feel like you’re the only woman on the planet…until he makes you feel like shit because he’s off screwing someone else.  Or he’ll tell you he’s clean but the next thing you know, he’s high as a kite.  Ethan is good looking and he’s charming and he knows it.  It took me years to realize that Ethan’s only concern is himself.”

Oh, shit.  Brad couldn’t believe Val had actually said that.  Okay, that wasn’t true.  He could believe it.  He knew how badly she’d been hurt.  Her timing again sucked, though.  He wanted to disappear but that wasn’t an option.  He and Ethan looked at each other at the same time.  He could hear Jenna saying something back to Val, but he couldn’t tell what she was saying.  What the hell could he say?  Not much.  “Sorry, man.”

“No.  It’s fine.”

Chris walked over to the other side of the coffee table and got up on Brad’s lap.  He grabbed the plastic blocks on the table and started pushing them together.  He looked at Ethan again and said, “Blocks, daddy.”

Brad was grateful for the distraction because he hadn’t felt this awkward in a long time.  Ethan smiled again at his son and said, “We have some like that at my house too, remember?”

Chris held a yellow block out to Ethan.  His father opened his hand and let Chris place the block on his palm.  A few seconds later, Val and Jenna came in the room with lemonade and glasses.  Val started pouring lemonade in a cup for Chris and Brad was trying to think of a way to break the ice.  Before he could, though, Ethan leaned forward.  “Val, I overheard part of your conversation in the kitchen with Jenna…purely by accident.”  Brad nodded at Val to confirm, in case she had any doubts.  Ethan continued.  “I know you’re probably never gonna trust me, but I’d appreciate it if, from now on, you could keep that to yourself.  I am better and I have changed.  I know it’s not easy for you to understand that, but it’s true.  You’re still clinging to your old beliefs about me, and if that works for you, great.  But my son is getting old enough that he’ll start listening to you and believing every word you say.  I start using again…you take him away from me.  Get full custody.  Get a restraining order.  Move and don’t give me your forwarding address.  I don’t give a rat’s ass.  But for now—when I’ve actually made those changes—give me a chance, would you?”

Val didn’t miss a beat.  “Why now, Ethan?”

Ethan was looking at his son but made eye contact with his ex before speaking again.  “I guess it’s because I finally hit rock bottom.  There was no hope, no future, and I was being swallowed by my addictions…and more.  I have a lot of mental shit going on that fueled a lot of it, and I’m just now becoming aware of it.”

“Depression?”

He closed his eyes for a moment in confirmation before continuing.  “Jenna’s helped me see how it feeds into the destructive behavior I tend to lean toward, and I’m learning new ways of coping with it.”  Ethan made a gesture with his index finger and thumb to indicate a tiny space.  “I’m this close to happiness, Val, something I’ve never been…ever.  And, whether she wants to admit it or not, Jenna is a big part of it.  I’m not a slave to the shit I took anymore.  I’m free, and now I just want to try to live a normal life.”  He smiled at Jenna.  “I know that doesn’t mean I’m on easy street now, but it does mean that I want to live, and I want to live a good life.”

Val’s eyes filled with tears as she said, “Sorry.”

Ethan stood and stepped close to Val…and then he said something Brad had thought he would never hear from his best friend.  “You don’t need to be sorry, Val.  I’m sorry…I’m sorry for the hell I put you through.  I know I don’t even know half of what you went through, but I know you did it because you believed in me, and I let you down.  I don’t do all the twelve step stuff, but I do think it’s a good thing to apologize for what I did when I was consumed by all that shit.”  He looked over at Brad for a moment.  “That goes for you too, Brad.  I don’t expect you guys to forgive me or trust me, but I hope I can prove myself over time.  I just ask that you let me see my son.  He’s the world to me.”

Val started crying in earnest as she closed the gap between herself and Ethan.  She hugged him and said, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t realize how hard it had been for you.  I was just feeling my own pain.”

And now, finally, Brad thought, Val could begin healing as well, something she’d needed to do for a long time.  He let out a slow breath and hugged the child in his arms.  It might not have started out that way, but today was winding up to be the best day he’d had in a long time.

~ ~ ~

Letting the World In

Rock Bottom after story written exclusively for Shh Mom’s Reading

Appeared on Shh Mom’s Reading Sept. 14, 2013

Blog Tour Giveaway and EXCLUSIVE SCENE: Rock Bottom (Bullet #2) by Jade C. Jamison

“Push, babe.  You can do it.”  Jenna grunted and bore down, her face turning as red as a strawberry.  Ethan wanted to be the supportive boyfriend, the man who could handle just about anything, but seeing his girl in pain was killing him.  After all he’d been through in his life, he never would have thought watching the mother of his next child give birth would be the thing that would do him in for good.

A few years earlier, he’d been in the hospital room with Valerie when Chris was born, but he could barely remember it.  He’d been chemically numb, and that had been his strategy going in; at the time, he’d known being under the influence would be the best way to handle it.  He would have preferred alcohol that day, but Val would have been able to smell it on him and would have been pissed.

Now, though, he was as sober as could be…and he felt helpless.

The day before had started out perfectly.  They’d gone to the hospital just like the doctor had ordered.  Jenna was excited though nervous, and on the ride there, she’d rubbed her swollen belly and talked to it.  “Sweet little baby,” she’d said, “I can’t wait to see your darling little face.  I can’t wait to kiss you on that smooth forehead of yours and let you know happy your mother is to hold you in her arms.”

Ethan had smiled.  Before they’d known what sex their child was, they’d chosen both boy and girl names.  They’d settled on Bradley Allen for a boy.  Deciding to name a second son after his best friend had been a cinch, but he and Jenna had struggled with the middle name until she told Ethan they should give their child his middle name. Ethan had never much cared for his middle name, but—if a boy—Jenna wanted her firstborn to have part of Ethan’s name…and so he relented.  He’d do anything for that woman, and so he couldn’t deny her sweet request.  They’d struggled trying to choose a girl’s name, though, and Jenna at first figured that meant she was having a boy.

When the doctor had informed them earlier that week during her regular OB/GYN appointment that he wanted to induce her labor, she asked, “Why?  Is something wrong?”

“No…but you’re a week overdue, and I don’t want you to go much longer.”

So they’d packed her bag Wednesday night and made sure the baby’s room was ready to go.  Ethan had also called Val to let her know, because even though he wanted Chris to see his baby sibling, Ethan thought he’d rather have him visit the next weekend.  Val was okay with it but did ask if she, Brad, and the kids could come by the hospital after the baby was born to make an introduction.  That was huge.  Val was mellowing out, and Ethan figured it was because he’d been clean well over two years now.  She was starting to believe he’d changed.

When they’d arrived early Thursday morning, the nurse had gone over pages and pages of information with Jenna and had done lots of things with her to prep her.  One of the things she’d done was to wrap some Velcro belts around Jenna’s belly to monitor the baby’s heartbeat.  So Ethan had enjoyed hearing the steady beep-beep noise coming out of the machine.  That sound represented his child preparing to exit Jenna’s womb that had been its home for the past nine months.  The nurse had also inserted an IV in Jenna’s arm.  She’d explained to them both that the IV had something called Pitocin in it, something that would induce labor and, therefore, bring their child into the world.

She’d smiled all morning and even half the afternoon.  Her friend Sophie showed up late in the afternoon and chatted with Jenna, trying to keep her mind off the growing discomfort she felt.  By that night, though, Jenna said she was hurting.  Ethan asked, “Don’t you want some of that pain medicine they said they could give you?”

He could tell she was feeling weak.  “No…bad for the baby.”

He scooped a couple of ice chips into a spoon from the large cup the nurse had filled for her and held it to her lips.  She pulled the chips into her mouth and sucked on them.  He took the damp washcloth off her head and dipped it in the tub of water next to the bed.  After wringing it out, he laid it on her forehead again to help cool her off.  “What about one of those epidural things?”  She’d already told him no twice…once nicely and the second time with a snap (“Absolutely not!”).  Midnight came and went and still no baby.

So he just tried to be the good boyfriend, tending to her every need and trying not to let the worry show on his face.  Jenna was one of the strongest women he’d ever known…and she looked like she was going to break.  She was his bedrock.  He couldn’t imagine her cracking or how he could handle it if she did.

He’d had no idea, though, because around two that next morning, the doctor came in and, unsatisfied with Jenna’s results, broke her water with a long hook.  Jenna, the fiery redhead who’d been fighting the contractions before, was now too tired to struggle.  Ethan could see the pain etched in her face, and the nurse kept pushing the button on the IV to drive more of the medicine into Jenna’s veins to keep her contractions just a minute apart.

About half an hour after the doctor had sped up the proceedings, Jenna finally relented to letting the nurse put some pain medication in her IV.  The only difference Ethan noticed afterward was that she started sleeping between contractions.  Again, what worried him wasn’t the pain he could tell she was experiencing but the fact that she looked like she wasn’t fighting anymore.  She was doing the breathing patterns they’d taught her in the childbirth classes they’d attended, but the unnatural panting she was doing didn’t seem to be helping at all.  Ethan resisted the urge to yell at the nurses to do something.

Finally, the nurse who seemed to be in charge checked Jenna again.  She said Jenna was at a ten and fully effaced and was ready to start pushing.  Ethan felt a huge weight lifting, because they’d watched the videos.  If she started pushing, the baby should be with them soon.

Except it wasn’t.  Jenna pushed and pushed and pushed.  One hour passed.  Then another.  The nurses kept checking her, saying they could see the baby’s head.  Ethan looked once and saw it too, but he also saw something else.  She looked mangled inside, and he didn’t think it looked right.  When he saw the two nurses whispering by the door, he knew something had to be wrong.  He didn’t want to leave Jenna, but he needed answers.  She’d just finished another contraction filled with futile pushing, and so he knew he could leave her for a few seconds.  She wouldn’t even notice because she would be sleeping.

Both nurses looked like deer caught in headlights as he approached.  His voice was low.  “What the hell’s going on?  Why isn’t the baby here?”

The nurse in charge examined his eyes and the other nurse looked ready to bolt or at least tell a lie.  The nurse in charge took a deep breath.  “The baby’s stuck.”

“What do you mean stuck?”

“Not moving.”

“So why aren’t you doing something?”

The nurse’s voice got snippy.  “That’s what we’re discussing.”

“Discussion’s over.  Get the goddamned doctor here now.”

She looked a little angry but relieved at the same time.  Both women seemed intimidated by the doctor, but maybe it would be easier for them to ask him to come back if the father of the child demanded it.  Goddammit.  Jenna had begged him not to throw his weight around, use his fame to get favors, but he was about ready to.  This whole thing was bullshit.  She was suffering, and while the baby’s heart monitor tried to assure him that the baby was doing fine, he was no longer convinced.  He had no faith in the idiots here.

He was back at Jenna’s side for her next contraction, and after she pushed again to no avail, he wiped her brow and fed her another ice chip.  Her face was flushed and she looked like she wasn’t fully with him anymore.  Ethan was ready to kill someone.  He heard the nurses whispering again, but this time, when they were done, the mousy quiet one told him the doctor would be there shortly.  Apparently, after breaking Jenna’s water, he’d gone to the doctor’s lounge to sleep and had given the nurses instructions to wake him when Jenna was ready.  What?  Pushing wasn’t ready?

When the doctor arrived five minutes later, it took everything Ethan had to not go off on the guy.  He respected that the guy had plenty of education and experience, but he had two lives at stake here…and Ethan knew he wasn’t even exaggerating in this instance.  The doctor examined Jenna and then started barking instructions at the nurses.  Before Ethan could even register it, there were lots more people in the room.  A long silver table full of instruments that looked like they could have been used during the Spanish Inquisition (except that they were stainless steel) and something that looked reminiscent of a movie theater popcorn machine were wheeled in.

Ethan couldn’t hold it in anymore.  “What’s going on, doc?”  He knew he didn’t sound happy, and he didn’t give a fuck.

The doctor looked pissed but Ethan didn’t care.  When the guy talked, though, he was calm.  “Your child is stuck.  I’m going to use forceps to get the baby out.”

Forceps?  Ethan could barely process the thought as the room started to spin out of control.  Add to that, the feel of the room was like a sidewalk on Denver’s 16th Street, bustling with life and frenetic energy.  Ethan, on the other hand, felt like vomiting.  Two years ago, he would have had a cure for that feeling, but today he had to find a way to cope with it…here, now, and completely alive and aware.

As though he were watching a movie, he saw his hand take Jenna’s in his, and he heard a silent prayer repeating in his head, one asking for both his wife and child to be okay.  That they weren’t really married didn’t matter to Ethan.  Today, she was his wife…and, goddammit, she’d better see this thing through.

Still as though he weren’t a part of the action, he saw two silver instruments in the doctor’s hands.  They looked almost like salad tongs.  The doctor was talking, telling Jenna what to do during the next contraction.  Ethan looked at her and her eyes were open—barely, but they were.  She seemed more alert now than he was.  Her next contraction began and she did as before, bending her knees and holding her legs up to her chest and pushing as hard as she could.  The doctor used the forceps inside Jenna’s birth canal, and Ethan could envision what the man was doing—using them to pull the baby out.  The second time she pushed, she groaned aloud and the doctor pulled again, this time lifting her hips off the bed.  Jesus Christ.  That couldn’t be good.  Jenna’s eyes fluttered closed, but she still held her legs up to her chest.

At last, though, the doctor’s arms started moving and Ethan knew then the baby was coming out.  “You can do it, babe.  You got this.”

Jenna seemed to sense what he was saying, pushing a little harder, a little longer, and then Ethan saw the doctor’s arms moving more.  The man said, “Okay…stop pushing.”  Jenna started doing the breathing again, a kind of panting, one of the techniques they’d learned in one of the classes, designated to stop her from following her natural urge to force the baby out of her womb.  Ethan wanted to go to the end of the bed to watch the baby’s entrance into the world from that vantage point, but Jenna’s fingers touched his, urging him to stay.  He could see enough from where he was, though, and just as the doctor announced that Jenna had given birth to a baby girl, Ethan saw it for himself.  It wasn’t a surprise but a confirmation.

It wasn’t long before the doctor had a pair of scissors in Ethan’s hand so he could cut the cord.  He looked up at Jenna and held back a couple of stupid tears threatening to make their way out of his eyes, but then looked back at the infant.  God…even newborn, the baby looked just like Jenna.  Red hair, not long, but in tiny corkscrew curls all over her head, deep blue eyes, and heart-shaped lips.  Once the cord was cut, the doctor rested the baby on Jenna’s belly just below her breasts for a few moments until the nurses whisked the infant over to the weird popcorn machine, where they could clean her up, check her vitals, and get her ready for the world.

Ethan hadn’t remembered much from Chris’s birth.  He’d been surrounded by a soft, echoey cocoon that protected him from the harshness of it all.  Yeah, when the shit hit the fan with Val, he’d excused himself long enough to take the pressure off.  Unfortunately, his memories of that evening were hazy.  He remembered feeling awe at seeing his son, but it hadn’t been as clear as this child’s.

While the nurses tended to the baby and the doctor coaxed Jenna’s placenta out, Ethan held her hand and brushed her hair back with his other hand.  He could see tiny capillaries broken in the skin under her eyes, and he figured it was because she’d been pushing so hard.  They looked like tiny red freckles.  He noticed she was looking over at the baby, a small tear forming in the corner of her eye.  “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”

Jenna just nodded, her eyes still on the infant.  Ethan felt relief that Jenna wasn’t dozing off like she had been with the medicine coursing through her veins.  He knew that they had more painkiller going through her IV but the other bag was almost empty, the bag that had been causing her to contract.

The doctor started sewing Jenna up, explaining to her that she’d ripped inside because the baby had gotten stuck.  Jenna just smiled and Ethan kissed her on the forehead and squeezed her hand.  Then he stood.  He had to go see the little one.  And, just like Jenna, he felt his eyes flood with liquid, thinking about this beautiful life in front of him.  He couldn’t wait to see what Chris thought.  Yeah, Chris already had another sister named Hayley Marie, but that was Val and Brad’s child.  And Hayley was over a year old now.  Chris was finally at an age where he’d really be able to understand…at least that was what Ethan thought.

The nurses wrapped the baby in a receiving blanket, seeming to be done fussing with her for a little bit.  The head nurse looked at Ethan.  “Do you want to hold her?”

He smiled.  “Hell, yeah.”  The nurse handed Ethan his newborn daughter and he cradled her in his arms. It turned out they’d chosen the perfect name.  He and Jenna had settled on Scarlet Rae, and her hair certainly fit the moniker.  Ethan started walking over to the bed so her mama could hold her as well, but before that, he stopped, trying to make that goddamned tear back off.  He whispered to his daughter, “I’m gonna do you proud, kid.  I love you.”  He took another few steps toward the bed and saw Jenna’s tired smile.  She’d overheard…and that was okay.  Ethan smiled back.  He knew he had to call his mom, Jenna’s best friend and her sister, and Chris…but he wanted to savor just a few moments alone before letting the world in.

~ ~ ~

ROCK BOTTOM

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