Jacob was awake before Grace opened her eyes. She could hear the shower running. A dull ache at her temples was a reminder of the red wine they shared at dinner. Christopher had only woken up once in the night. Grace fed him and changed him in the dark, a well-oiled machine of motherhood. He had fallen asleep while breastfeeding and Grace placed him back into the crib, staring for a long moment in the darkness. A bunny nightlight gave his perfect pink skin a warm shimmer. She tucked a thin blanket around his legs and crossed the hallway into the master bedroom where Jacob had wrapped himself around her and sleep came quickly.
Behind the bathroom door, the shower shut off. Grace savored the moment. She was ahead in her studies. No papers or assignments loomed. Grace’s ability to schedule and execute were the reason she could enjoy Saturday morning. She had breakfast on her mind. The slight hangover called for eggs and bacon. Parmesan eggs. Did they have bacon?
The door to the bathroom opened. Jacob stood framed in the light, naked and washed. He smiled at her.
Maybe breakfast could wait.
The smell of coffee filled the kitchen as Grace gathered the ingredients for their Saturday feast. The bacon question had been answered. With two busy adult schedules they had run out, and the supply was never replenished. It didn’t matter. Not much mattered for Grace this morning. Jacob had woken her up inch-by-inch, smelling like soap and toothpaste. She welcomed the morning with a toe-tingling orgasm. Since the baby turned their schedule upside down, there had been very little lovemaking. Jacob even started the shower for her afterward and headed across the hall to answer the morning cry of a dirty diaper. Grace’s headache receded, replaced by hot water and the luxury of time.
When Grace stepped from the shower, she could hear Jacob talking with Christopher. The baby monitor was on beside the bed and he was singing about five little monkeys jumping on the bed. Jacob was always the man in any room, strong and reserved, but from the moment Christopher emerged, Grace watched him discover the child in himself. The two of them were both competitive through the first years of college, even with each other. Jacob had set a goal to take the Bar Exam by the time he reached twenty-five. It left little time for a relationship. When Grace discovered she was pregnant, they took in the news with an unspoken certainty it would be a bump in the road, fixed by a visit to a free clinic to alleviate the “problem.”
Grace stared at the pregnancy indicator in the following days, studying it as deeply as any medical text she encountered in her classes. Her workload was intense, but she was excelling. She and Jacob shared an apartment mostly out of necessity. They had been going out for over a year and the time spent commuting between dorm rooms could be put to better use.
A baby was not in the syllabus.
But something stirred in Grace. Something much deeper than her practical nature which locked down a full ride scholarship and had her grade average surfing at the top of her class. They drove in silence toward the clinic. Jacob was sullen and angry. Suddenly, they were strangers to each other. Grace broke down on the way and Jacob stopped the car. It all poured out of her. She wanted this baby. She wanted to meet it and love it and raise it, giving it the attention her own parents always withheld in their quest for upward mobility and a bigger slice of the pie. Jacob held her and started the car up again. She knew it didn’t fit in with his plans. She knew it was the end of them.
Jacob then turned from the road leading toward the abortion clinic and a cold end to this sudden family. Like a psychic concierge, he drove to IHOP instead where they ate pancakes and anything else Grace was craving. They married three months later in a quick ceremony between semesters. Five months after that, Christopher arrived, early but perfect. School and a baby were exhausting. But they managed.
Grace stood in the downstairs kitchen of the small home they found. Jacob was singing to Christopher upstairs.
“…Momma called the doctor and the doctor said—“
The baby was laughing. It was the most beautiful sound Grace knew. Mr. Coffee was humming along, filling the kitchen with the promise of dark roast. The day outside the window was perfect. Grace stared out at it as she poured a coffee, watching the swirl of cream lighten the dark, rich cup.
A scream came from upstairs. It wasn’t the infant cry of hunger or wetness. It was Jacob.
He was calling Christopher and Grace was running up the stairs and into a sudden nightmare. Jacob was on his knees. On the floor before him was Christopher. The boy’s eyes were open, shining with a numb emptiness. Blood covered his small head, flowing from a deep gash over his eye. Jacob was screaming, his face shocked and mouth trailing spittle.
Above them, the newly installed ceiling fan turned. One of its blades listed off-kilter, broken and bloody. Grace stood in shock for a moment. It seemed like a lifetime.
Jacob turned to her. He was white, his face twisted and ugly. He spoke one word:
Grace picked up Christopher, holding him close as she hurried into the master bedroom. She laid him on their bed, dialing the phone. An operator answered and Grace babbled, asking for help. Christopher was looking up at her from the unmade bed. His mouth was wide, gasping. Grace dropped the phone and tried to stop the blood running from his head. She glanced back over her shoulder to the nursery across the hall. Jacob was still on his knees, weeping and lost.
Grace held Christopher close as she ran down the stairway. The sunlit day beyond the front door had transformed from golden to harsh and unforgiving.
Like the aborted car ride to the Planned Parenthood clinic two years ago, Grace and Jacob stood in silence. They were stained with blood as they stared down at the small figure in the hospital bed. Christopher wore a bandage around his cranium, framing his swollen and unrecognizable face. The Doctor spoke to them with the hushed whisper of terrible news. Christopher had suffered a serious brain injury. They would know more once the swelling went down but their perfect child would never gain the full use of his developing brain. Basic motor functions would continue allowing Christopher to grow and live, but he would be severely disabled. He would remain an infant in his ability even as his body grew. There would be questions that needed answers regarding the accident. Blame hung in the air, unspoken and bitter.
Jacob took it all in without speaking. Grace was on her own. She had lost them both in that terrible moment in the upstairs nursery. She kept staring up at the clock on the wall. Somehow, time continued to move forward even though the world ended hours ago—