The Third Season
Parental Advisory Rating: L, N, AC
Break out those V-Chips, everyone!
Created, Produced, Directed and Written:
Fanatic and TNovan
Episode Fifteen: Planes, Trains & Automobiles
The phone is ringing.
I reach out from under the comforter and snag the phone from its base. I drag it over to me. "Yes?" Kels groans behind me and hooks her arm around my waist, snuggling as close as her stomach will allow.
"Kingsley," its Langston, "I need you."
Smart ass retorts roll through my brain. I ignore them all. "Whats up, boss?"
"Theres a prison riot just outside Memphis. Youre my closest resource, and the only one available -"
"Im not available. Im out on family medical," I protest, knowing it will do me little good.
"I need you there. This fits in the piece you and Stanton did earlier this year on the death penalty. The riots are over jail conditions with inmates claiming theyre inhumane. Theyve taken over the majority of the prison, holding guards hostage, and threatening to kill them if their demands arent met. Im sending Kendra down there, and I need you to produce. I doubt if it will last long, youll be back home in a day or two."
I roll onto my back and stretch. "You realize Kels is due at any moment? That I am on leave? That I should tell you theres no way in hell Ill do it?"
"I wouldnt call you if I didnt need you, Kingsley. Besides, you have your damn private jet. You can go home at any moment if Stanton goes into labor."
I groan and rub Kels belly, feeling the twins waking up. "Fine, fine. I expect a good bonus for this, though."
Langston grunts. "Meet Kendra at the airport. Shes flying in at noon."
I glance at the bedside clock. I have a couple hours to get a pilot and get up there. Itll be a short flight, under two hours. "Fine. Give me the info."
I sit up and write down all the pertinent items and say good-bye. Now I get to break the bad news to Kels.
* * *
I am packing lightly. Langston said a day or two. Im giving him exactly forty-eight hours. No more. And possibly less. Im going to hold the pilot in Memphis, so were ready to go at a moments notice.
Why the hell am I doing this?
I slam a change of clothing into my duffle bag. "This is so not right," I mutter.
"Harper, honey, calm down. Everything is fine."
"Everything is not fine," I growl back. Quickly, I rein in my anger. Its not Kels fault, thats for damn sure. "I am supposed to be on leave with you. Its too close to the due date for me to go traipsing off. This I dont have anyone else is only so much bullshit." I make a mental note to drop by Robies and have a chat with him before leaving. Brian may be here, but Robie is blood. I expect him to look after Kelsey in my absence. Id do the same for Rene.
Kelsey sighs. "Okay, how about he doesnt have anyone else he can trust to do the job right? He called you because its a huge story, Tabloid, and he needs it handled properly."
"You trying to make me feel better, Little Roo?"
"You know I am." Kelsey slides her arms around me, knowing I cant stay angry when I feel her touch. "But I am also telling you the truth. Face it. You and Kendra are the best team hes got. He knows it. You dont see him sending Bruce and Jac down there, do you? Bruce is single, and theres an off change he might catch Jac sober. But hes not sending them, is he?"
It helps my ego, but not my heart. "No." I bend down and speak to my children. "Listen up, you two. Absolutely under no circumstances are you to be born while I am gone. Youve been very happy there for eight months, theres no need to rush to come into the world. Do you understand?"
Kels laughs and combs her fingers through my hair. "Im sure theyll be good for you, Tabloid. I feel fine. Im not feeling anything unusual. I think we can wait until you get back."
"Oh, thats a trick question. I cant and wont promise, but we will do our very best. I promise you that. Okay?"
I stand up straight and shake my head. "No, thats not good enough. But I suppose it will have to do. I will have my beeper and my cell phone. You are to have yours on you at all times, understand? If you get a twinge, a pang, a tiny little inkling of a contraction, we are to call me immediately. I will come home. I dont care how big the story is. You are the most important thing in my life, understand?"
"Is this the part where I play the part of the good little wifey and say Yes, dear?"
I smile and consider the offer. "That would be very nice." I cant imagine my wife saying that, it would be fun to hear.
I double over laughing. "Can I get you to agree to anything else?"
"Dont push it, Tabloid."
"That goes double for you, sweetheart." I lean down and kiss her.
* * *
I glance out the window of the kitchen. Oh, that looks like a nasty storm blowing
in. "Brian!" I retrieve a flashlight from the kitchen drawer, trying to
remember where we put that box of storm supplies.
"Yes, maam." He gives me a silly grin as he comes into to kitchen.
"Look." I gesture out the window.
"What in the hell is that?" He gulps a little, taking in the sight of the ugly, gray clouds swirling around.
"That is a fall storm about to break loose on us. Is Kam in?"
"Yeah, last time I saw him he was laying in the hallway chewing on a rawhide."
"Okay. We need to find the storm supplies. I dont suppose you know where the box is?"
"Of course, I do." He grins at me again and moves to the storage closet off the kitchen. "Jonathan explained to me, several times in fact, to keep this handy." He pulls the box down and removes the lid. "Weve got everything we need if it gets bad."
"The only thing Im really worried about it losing power. I really dont want to be stumbling around in the dark."
"You think its going to be bad?"
I glance out the window again. "I think it has the potential."
* * *
I meet up with Kendra at the airport without any trouble, a little before noon. We pile our overnight bags into the rental car, a sea mist Ford Taurus, and head for the Broward County Prison. As Kendra fills me in on the details she knows, I flip on the radio, to see what the local coverage is saying.
I filter out what the announcer is saying until it comes to the weather. "In the Gulf, it appears that Tropical Storm Oliver is picking up momentum. Oliver has sustained winds of fifty miles per hour. It is currently on route to an expected landfall in Lafayette, Louisiana."
"Holy shit!" I exclaim.
Kendra looks over at me, alarmed. "Whats wrong, Harper?"
"Thats just a little over a hundred miles from home. Shit! Damn!"
I got a bad feeling about this.
I pick up my cell phone and punch in the speed dial for our home phone. After two rings, Kels picks up. "Hello, Harper, I was expecting your call." Gotta love caller ID.
"How are you?"
"Im fine. And you?"
Shes using her teasing tone with me. She knows Im about to turn around and get on the plane back home. "The storm supplies are in the storage closet near the kitchen. Id prefer it, though, if you went over and stayed with Robie and Rene."
"Weve already gotten them out. Kam has been walked. Wood has been brought in for the fireplace and Im not going to impose myself on Robie and Rene because its going to rain."
I count to ten.
Then I count again.
"Chér, this is a tropical storm and it could get worse. It is not a little rain. You are pregnant. I dont like you being home alone."
"Im not alone. Brian is here with me." I fight to keep from rolling my eyes, despite the fact she cant see me. Brian is great, but hes not me. "And its a tropical storm in Layette. Here, its rain."
"I hate like hell not being there, baby."
"Sweetheart, I promise you, everything is fine. I feel great. Were all set for the storm, just in case it does get bad. Brian and I are going to settle down in the living room, watch an old movie and drink some cocoa. You go get the story, Tabloid, and try to relax."
I snort. Like that is going to happen. "Have Brian close the storm windows around the house. You two stay inside, okay? We have plenty of supplies, right?"
"The windows are closed. We have plenty of supplies and I have no desire to go play in the rain."
I can hear a hint of reproach in my wifes voice. "Am I being overbearing?" From beside me, Kendra chuckles.
"No. Youre being sweet and youre being overprotective, but not overbearing. I know you hate being away from home. But trust me, darling, we have everything in hand here."
"Ill call back later. You call me if the storm picks up, all right?" Its not like I can do anything about it, but at least Ill know why I am totally stressed.
Kels begins laughing. "Yes, dear." Imagine that, twice in one day. "I love you."
"I love you too."
* * *
I sit in the truck and drink coffee by the gallon. Its midnight. The crisis is still going on, but looks like it might end before the morning. Kendra and I have been doing a number of interviews with prison officials, former inmates, Tennessee legislators over the conditions inside Broward County prison. Apparently, a small minority of prisoners had begun world wrestling style matches in recent months, coercing other inmates to participate. Despite a multitude of complaints, the authorities did not intervene. The riot was caused by those unwilling to continue suffering the abuse. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that this method was the best choice for their cause.
So far, no one has been killed. There are only minimal injuries. Property destruction is high, however, and the voters wont like that. Several of the legislators were happy for this development, believing it will help their special ballot initiatives for stripping yet more privileges from inmates.
Kendra is in the truck with me, working on the piece, rewriting her script.
"Hows Frankie?" I ask.
She smiles. "Hes doing great. Thanks for taking him under your wing, Harper. It means a lot to me."
"Hes a super kid. We want him to come down and visit once the twins arrive."
"Hed love that." She looks over at me and correctly reads my tension. "Kelsey is fine, Harper. You would have heard otherwise."
I let out a deep breath and stretch out my legs as best I can. "Thanks." I reach over and turn on the weather station. "I dont like having a tropical storm blowing in right now."
That is, of course, the biggest understatement of my life.
I like even less when I hear that Tropical Storm Oliver has been upgraded to Hurricane Oliver, although it is barely a level one storm at seventy-four miles per hour winds. Its still on course for Lafayette. And I am out of here. No damn way my wife and kids are facing that without me, should it veer toward New Orleans, that is.
I call my pilot, waking him at the Sheraton where I left him earlier today. "I want the airplane ready to go in an hour. I need to get home."
I hear him turn on the light. "All right. I have to check the weather, though, there was a big blow happening down there earlier today."
I wince. "Its been upgraded to a hurricane. Still headed for Lafayette."
"Uh, Ms. Kingsley, we wont be flying out tonight then. There are strict regulations for private aircraft in that type of weather. I understand your desire to get home, but you do want to make it, right?"
Son of a bitch. Son of a fucking bitch. "Yes."
"As soon as the storm clears, Ill get you home, Ms. Kingsley."
I hang up. Langston so owes me for this one.
* * *
Im not sure what woke me. It must have been the thunder from the storm. It started a couple of hours ago. Then I notice that the temperature seems to have dropped considerably.
I roll away from Harpers pillow, which I had clutched to my chest to retrieve the quilt at the bottom of the bed. As Im about to pull it up, theres a knock on the door. "Yeah?"
"Kels." Brian pops his head in, lighting up his face with a flashlight. He looks totally silly. "Listen, the power went out about an hour ago and the temperature is really dropping. Ive started a fire in the fireplace and made you a bed on the sofa hide away. I dont suppose youd consider using it?"
I shake my head and fling Harpers pillow at Brian. Hes as bad as she is. "Yeah, come help me here and well go downstairs."
He gives me his hand and I pull myself up, feeling a slight pain when I do. "Whoa." I take a deep breath and rub my stomach.
"Nothing. Just a little pain."
"No, no, no, no. You cant do that. Pain is bad."
I chuckle. I would offer him my personal ending for that statement, but hes already stressed. "Brian, its okay. Ive been having miscellaneous pains for weeks."
"So its not labor?"
"Not yet," I tease him and we head downstairs.
* * *
After moving downstairs, I find that Im a little too uncomfortable to go back to
sleep. Somehow this pain is different. So now Im wide awake in the
middle of the night in a house with no power. Outside there is a raging storm that
the weather service has said has the potential to go hurricane status at any moment.
Harper isnt home.
And I think Im going into labor.
Somehow I get the feeling its going to be a very long night. I reach for the flashlight and check my watch.
Yeah, new and interesting pains fifteen minutes apart.
Aww, hell. Could things get any worse? I decide not to tell Brian yet. Hell go crackers and this could very well stop.
* * *
The hurricane is still moving toward Lafayette, expected to hit in a couple hours. This means that the rainstorm will be picking up in New Orleans. Somehow, I get the feeling that I need to phone home. Me and ET.
The phone rings and rings and rings.
The damn answering machine doesnt even pick up.
Shit. I bet the powers out. I try Kels cell phone. It rings a couple times and I am about to go insane when Kels answers. "Hello. Harper, is that you?"
I frown. My girl sounds worried. "Yes, chér, its me. How are things down there?"
"Wet, windy and dark." Her voice crackles along with thunder in the background.
"Dark because its the middle of the night? Or dark for some other reason?"
Kelsey lets out a very deep sigh. "Dark because its the middle of the night and the power is out." For a moment, she cuts out. "Otherwise, Id have a damn light on."
Ooo, my girl is a little grumpy. Thats not a good sign. She only gets that way when Ive done something incredibly stupid and Im not home so that cant be it or when shes sick or in pain. Oh shit. "Whats wrong, sweetheart? Besides the obvious?"
Shes answering me, but I cant understand her.
"Chér, can you repeat that?"
More static, but then I hear her voice. "Nothing is wrong, Harper. Im just a little uncomfortable and weve got a really nasty storm down here."
I dont think Im being told the whole story here. "What do you mean by uncomfortable?"
"You dont want to know." She takes a deep breath.
I recognize that type of breath. From our Lamaze classes. "Youre in labor?!"
"Well, Im having pain that could lead one to believe Im headed in that direction, yes. But," shes quick to add, and I can barely hear her over the thunder, "its first stage labor and it could stop. So dont get excited, Harper."
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.
That didnt work.
Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
Nope, not any better that way.
"How many minutes apart?"
"About fifteen, Tabloid. You know we shouldnt worry until Im having more than four in an hour."
"Im coming home."
"Harper " Then silence.
I stare at my cell phone. It says in use. But its not any use to me right now. "Kels?" I ask even though I know the signal is gone.
I hit redial, but only get voice mail. I bet Kels cell battery died.
New Orleans is only four hundred miles from here. Thats what? A four hour drive. Yeah, right, Harper. In your dreams. Maybe I can be home before the twins arrive.
Im gonna kill Langston.
* * *
I say goodbye to Kendra and climb into the rental car. A quick check with the airport confirms that there are no flights going into New Orleans right now. I suppose thats for the best. I dont even want to think about how many nights Id be sleeping on the couch if Kels found out I flew into a hurricane.
That brings a smile to my lips. Be okay, Little Roo, and dont give birth yet.
I put the car in gear and head for the highway. I didnt bring any CDs, which is annoying, now that I am taking a road trip. A quick flip of the radio yields me country, country and more country music. So many choices in Tennessee. Fortunately, the Mississippi border isnt all that far away.
Of course, then Ill be down to two country stations.
I need coffee. Its nearly one in the morning and I have four hundred miles to drive. I pull off the highway and stop at a gas station for a cup of coffee. What I buy, of course, cant really be called one. It is a gallon. Easily. I doubt if itll fit in the cup holder. This should help.
My fear and concern for my family, though, is more than sufficient to keep me awake. I wish I could talk to Kels. That would make me feel better.
Robie. Robie has a cell phone. Robie lives next door. Robie can get his ass over to check on my wife. I punch in the speed dial for his number.
"Hello?" Robie sounds more awake than I expected. The reception, however, sounds worse.
"Its Harper," I yell, trying to be heard over the noise.
"I know who it is," he laughs. "Calling for a weather report?"
"How bad is it?"
"Hold on one second," he says, barely discernable over the crack of thunder. "Its all right, Clark. Theres nothing to be upset about. Papas here." My nephew sniffles a bit more, sounding distraught.
The connection appears to cut out. "Robie!"
After a moment, I hear him again. "Its blowing bad. Electricity and phones are down, but, hell, that happens here with a good rainfall."
"What are the forecasters saying?"
"Hurricane is expected to touch down in Lafayette." This is followed by so much garble. "That always slows them down; in fact, theyre already predicting it will just be a tropical storm when it hits Lafayette It can go any direction from there, you know. They dont expect it here, but " he trails off. We both know that no one can dictate to Mother Nature.
While I still have a connection, I ask, "Can you go over and check on Kelsey?"
"Sure. Is she up?"
"Shes up and having contractions."
"Mon Dieu! Harper! How many minutes apart?"
"Fifteen. Im heading home. Can you go over and check on her? And can you call me from your cell phone there? I think her battery died."
"Robie?" I can hear him, but only in the distance. "Robie, come again."
"No problem," he says when I can finally hear him. "Let me get over there right now."
We hang up. And I wait.
* * *
I dont have to wait too long before my cell phone is ringing. I snatch it up off the seat beside me. I am glad the road is clear and I can speed without worry. I really need a teleport machine. Beam me up, Scotty. Or little red slippers. Not that I can picture myself wearing them. But Kels would look very hot in them. God, Harper dont go there. Focus. Drive. And speak. "Hello?"
"Harper, are you out of your mind?" These are the first beautiful words my wife chooses to speak to me. "Sending your brother out in this storm!" My God, she is becoming a mother.
"Uh " I stammer, the connection cuts out momentarily. "Hes all right. How are you, chér?"
"Im okay considering. Brian is here. Were being careful keeping track " Kels takes a deep breath.
I can tell my girl is a bit scared. I wish I was home with her. "How far apart are the contractions?" I shout over the static.
"Still almost fifteen minutes."
Thank God. I wish I had a free hand to cross myself. "Are the twins okay?"
Theres a crack of thunder in the background. I think I hear Brian give a startled yelp. "Im on my way home. I should be there by the morning. Keep your legs crossed until then, chér."
"Dont be a smart ass, Harper. Im so very not in the mood. But, please, please, be careful. If you cant make it because of the weather, dont come home. This all may be a false alarm."
"Im sorry -" I say, even as the signal begins to cut in and out. "Ill be home soon. I love you all."
"We love you too. Be careful."
And before I can even hang up, the line goes dead.
* * *
I look at Robie. Hes soaked. All in the one minute it took him to get from his house to our house. Brian hands him several towels.
"Im sorry your sister is crazy," I offer, trying to get comfortable. Well as comfortable as I can expect to get.
He laughs, even as he takes a seat on the sofa bed next to me and runs a towel over his head. "This is something new to me?" Once his hair is sufficiently dry, he looks to me, taking my hand. "How are you, sweetheart?"
I give his hand a squeeze. "Im okay, Robie. Nervous, scared, but okay."
"Youre very calm. Is that a woman thing? Rene was so calm when she went into labor for Christian. Its amazing."
I laugh a bit. I hadnt thought about it. "It just seems like the natural thing to do. Wont do a bit of good for me to get all upset, now will it?"
He laughs again. "Thats exactly what Rene said. It must be universal."
"Mother Nature taking her course, Robie."
"Im so glad we have women like you to share our lives with." He leans in and gives my forehead a kiss.
I grimace as another pain starts. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, rubbing my side. I can feel the babies shifting and moving.
Robie looks to his watch. "Still fifteen minutes?"
"Pretty close." I nod.
"Okay. Tell you what," he hands me his cell phone. "You keep this here and keep it on. Ill go home and get Renes. Shes programmed in on number one. If you need us, you call."
"Robie, weve got Brians "
He raises his hand. "Save it and the battery, in case the storm doesnt let up. We may need it."
"If things get that bad, we can use the car adapter "
"Kels, youve obviously never been here during a real storm. If things get that bad, you may not be able to make it to the car."
"Well, I know I wont." I joke with him.
"You may need Brians phone to call for an ambulance."
"Nah," I shake my head. "This is going to stop. Brennan and Collin wouldnt do that to Harper."
My brother in law eyes me warily. "Just keep the phone."
* * *
The miles are melting away as I zip down the highway. Its been nearly an hour since I spoke to Kels. Everything in me wants to call her again, just to listen to her breathing. Kels breath and associated other body parts are on my mind when I hear the siren and see the flashing lights in my rear view mirror.
I slow down and pull over, off the side of the highway. I needed this like I need a hole in the head.
I pull out the registration for the rental car and fish my drivers license. Sitting in the car, I wait for the cop to come to my window. Hes not in any rush, though. He talks on the radio for a moment, then directs a spotlight attached to his side view mirror at my rear view mirror. I squint and glance away. Thats bright.
I hear him approach. I roll down the window and wait for him to arrive. Hes about medium height and build, with the standard police haircut and look. He stands just behind my left shoulder. "Good morning, maam. Im Trooper Wilson. The reason I stopped you is because I clocked you doing ninety-two miles per hour. Is there an emergency I should be aware of?"
"My wife is " I stop. I dont have a wife to Officer Wilson. "My brothers wife," I start over, hoping he wont notice it too much, "is in labor."
"Hmm," he clears his throat and tries not to meet my eyes. Guess he picked up on that little slip. Wonder how big my fine is going to be? Or, God forbid, he be some homophobic guy who decides that now is a good time for a strip search. "License and registration, please."
I hand him the documents and wait. I make a conscious effort to not drum my fingers on the steering wheel. I dont want to piss this guy off in the least. Last thing I need is to be put in jail for any reason whatsoever.
He looks over everything carefully, comparing my picture on the license with me, live and in person. He also glances into the back seat. "Have you had anything to drink tonight, Ms. Kingsley?"
"Nothing other than coffee, officer."
"Ms. Kingsley, do you know how fast you were going?"
I frown. "I believe you just said ninety-two."
He nods and hands back my paperwork. He retrieves his pen from his shirt pocket. Next thing I know hes shining the light in my face, not blinding me, but its definitely annoying. "Can you see the tip of my pen?"
"Okay, I want you to follow the tip of my pen with your eyes without moving your head. Do you understand?"
"Yes, officer." Best to play by the rules. If I start to complain, as every living cell within my body wants to, Ill be here until the twins are five.
He moves the pen back and forth a few times. "So who is having this baby?"
"Kelsey." There, thats a nice safe answer.
"And youre headed where? Your drivers license says youre from New York."
Shit. I hadnt thought of that. "New Orleans, sir."
"New Orleans?" He takes a deep breath and shifts his weight from one foot to another. "Your sister in law is in New Orleans? You rented the car in Tennessee."
I also take a deep breath. Every moment I am here is another moment I am not heading toward home. "Yes, I am aware of that. I was on business in Memphis. I had flown up here. I received a call from home and am now headed there. None of the airports are open because of the weather. Thats why Im driving."
"Ah, okay. Well, Ms. Kingsley, Im going to go back and write you a citation for speeding. I could write you for a couple of other offenses as well but Im not going to. But I want a promise from you that youre going to slow down. It wont do your family any good if you get killed going home and we have lots of construction going on."
I am duly chastised. I can hear Kels voice in his with the lecture. "Yes, officer. Thank you and I will."
"This will take about five minutes. You think you can wait that long?"
I smile my most charming smile. "Ill do my best, officer."
So, now I wait for my ticket.
Hope the fine isnt too much. And how can I avoid telling Kels about this?
* * *
Brian brings me a nice cup of tea, which Im careful just to sip as needed. I wish I could sleep, but Im just uncomfortable enough that it isnt going to happen anytime soon.
We have a few candles and hurricane lamps lit. With the glow of the fireplace, its actually quite peaceful looking. If it werent for the storm and the labor pains this could almost be nice.
Kam is pacing back and forth now. The storm has him wound up and he can tell Im not feeling well. He settles down for a few minutes but very soon is back to pacing. Im sure if Harper were here, theyd be pacing back and forth together.
Brian settles down on the foot of the bed, sipping his tea.
"So how would you feel about delivering the babies?" I tease, giving him a little shove with my foot.
On cue, he does a perfect Butterfly McQueen from Gone With The Wind. "I dont know nothing about birtin no babies, Miss Scarlett."
I cant help but laugh. "Okay, okay. I get it. Im on my own here."
He rubs my leg. "Never. Im right here with you."
"Ooo, I know. Lets play six degrees of separation. Ill name a person and you have to link yourself to them by six different people or less."
"You dont want to play that game with me Brain." I warn him.
"Oh come on, Kels."
"Okay, you asked for it. Go ahead."
He thinks for a moment and then looks to me. "Brad Pitt."
"Know him. Interviewed him two years ago. Went to dinner with him twice."
"I hate you," he grumbles. He takes a deep breath and narrows his gaze. "George Clooney."
I shake my head. "Brian, you really dont "
"Come on!" he chides, pushing on my foot.
"Okay. Know him. Met him right after he started working on ER." I take a deep breath as I think about old George. Yeah, I almost went back over to the other side for him. "Nearly slept with him."
Brian falls over with a groan.
"I told you that you didnt want to play this game with me."
* * *
At four-thirty in the morning, I pull over at a highway rest stop to stretch my legs and use the rest room. Im exhausted, worried, hyper and achy. Im sure the Taurus is a perfectly lovely car, but not for long drives. I roll my shoulders and hear the satisfying pop. Next is my neck and I let out a moan. God, thats wonderful.
Its raining lightly here in Jackson, Mississippi. Home of John Grisham, or at least it was. I suppose after getting a lot of money, he got the hell out of Mississippi. Im about halfway home. I want to get the hell out of Mississippi as well.
The rest area has a Dennys and I am grateful they are Always Open. The waitress behind the counter eyes me warily since the restaurant is otherwise empty. I give her a reassuring smile and wander into the bathroom. After splashing water on my face, I get a good look at my reflection. Great, Harper, youll scare your kids to death when they get here.
My kids. Here. Please, God, keep them safe. And, if possible, Id love to be there for their birth. But safe is most important.
I use the bathroom, wash my hands and go back out into the restaurant. The waitress is a bleached blonde who looks older when I get closer to the counter. "I need caffeine."
She nods. "Everyone needs caffeine at this hour. Whats your poison?"
"You have Dr. Pepper?" If I have more coffee, Ill have a hole eaten in my stomach, but Dr. Pepper cures all problems.
The waitress frowns as if I have insulted her. "Of course. Extra large?"
Now its my turn to give her that look. "Of course."
She wanders over to the fountain, scoops ice into a cup and fills it. "Anything to eat?"
On cue, my stomach begins rumbling. "What do you have thats fast?" I look over at the prep station and see bread and peanut butter there. "Ooh, can you make a fluffer nutter?"
"Coming right up, sugar."
As she prepares my sandwich, I go over to the payphone and call Robies cell phone. I listen as it rings three times and then Brian answers the phone. "Stud?"
I gotta get him to stop calling me that. "Hows Kels?"
"Shes doing pretty good." I am surprised, the connection isnt too terrible. "Scared though."
"God, I wish I was there."
"So does she. Let me put her on." I hear a shuffling and the sound of heavy rain. The phone is handed off.
"Youre crazy, you know that?"
Hearing her voice makes me feel immediately better. "Only about you, chér. How are you?"
"Im good. A little cranky, but good. You know what, Harper?"
"This is gonna hurt like a son of a -" my wife catches herself before she owes the jar a dollar. "This is going to hurt. A lot."
I wish I was home holding her, going through this together. "I guess saying to look forward to the outcome wont help much?"
Fortunately, I get my girl to laugh. I was worried. I cant quite navigate my way through this. My comment earlier to keep her legs crossed was not perceived as funny as I intended it to be. "Its the only thing that does help." She does another deep Lamaze breath. "Harper, the contractions are still about thirteen minutes apart. Why dont you get a room and get some sleep before you come on home? Im sure this is nothing."
"Nah, Im halfway home. Ill be fine. Id rather get home to you three. Hows the storm?" Im loving this clear connection. Theres something to be said for not having cell phone to cell phone communication.
"Theres a storm?" she teases.
"I see." I glance over at the counter and see that my sandwich is ready for me. Id love to stay and talk to Kels all night, but Id rather do it face to face. "Ill be there soon, sweetheart. Im gonna get back on the road so I can get home. I love you so much. Tout mon coeur pour toute ma vie."
"Love you too, Tabloid. Be careful."
We both linger, neither one of us being willing the one to hang up. The need we have for each other is palpable, despite distance, storms, too much caffeine and labor pains. "You going to hang up?"
"I will if you will."
I laugh. "Nah, you first."
"Quit being hardheaded, Harper Lee. Hang up and come home."
She called me hardheaded. I am in love. "Yes, maam." Thats an order I can happily obey. "See you soon." Without further pause, I put the handset on the receiver, lest I am tempted to continue lingering.
I pay the waitress and I am on my way once more.
* * *
I am standing in the rain. Literally, drenched to the bone. If there is a dry spot on my body, I dont know where it is. The wind whips the rain around so that it feels like it is coming from all directions. Its cold and stinging like a thousand tiny needles.
The only good thing is that Hurricane Oliver was only a tropical storm again when it hit Lafayette. Its now bounced back out to sea and appears to be headed toward Houston. Much better. What we have left is a son of a bitch storm, but Ill take that any day.
I am about forty miles from home. The reason I am standing out in the rain is because the goddamn tire blew out. And, surprise, surprise, the fucking spare is missing. How can it be missing? How can the rental car people forget a tiny little item like that? I look forward to Robie suing their asses off for me.
I call the toll free reservation number for the agency and let them know where they can find their car. The agent isnt thrilled Im leaving it on the side of the highway, but she can bite me. I dont say that to her, however.
I sling my duffle bag over my shoulder, lock up the car and begin walking.
Im coming, sweetheart.
* * *
The pain is picking up and Im far more uncomfortable. I take a deep breath
and let it out with a painful cry. "Brian!"
He bolts into the living room, nearly tripping over Kam in the process. "Kels?"
"Call Robie. The pains are getting worse and are about ten minutes apart. Its hard telling how long itll take to get to the hospital "
"I got it. You just relax."
"You have the labor pains and Ill relax!"
He dashes back into the kitchen to get his phone.
I lay back now and try to keep calm. God, I wish Harper were here. I need her. The babies need her.
How am I gonna do this alone?
Ive got a great back up team in Brian, Rene and Robie, but without Harper I am alone. We should be sharing this together, like weve shared everything else.
Another pain starts and Im afraid theres no turning back. I hear the back door slam with the storm. I know its Robie.
I wish it were Harper.
Im sorry, Tabloid.
* * *
Its an unfortunate fact of life. Farms are beautiful. Mama grew up on one, and Nonny still lives there, along with Uncle Ambroise and his clan. They grow mostly sugar cane, but they do have the requisite chicken, hogs and such. While I love nature, I prefer to be upwind of it.
This is impossible in my current situation. A farmer took pity on me as I walked along I-55 and offered me a seat up in the cab of his truck. I am seated next to his dog that smells like a wet blanket and every now and then a whiff of pig shit assails me. Apparently, the little porkers hes hauling are being taken to a place Babe would not approve of.
At least Im not in the rain.
"Yup, Fords break down all the time. Gotta buy Chevys," the farmer tells me. "I have a Caprice Classic that I still drive and the odometer has turned over twice." He looks me over. "You look like you dont normally drive a Ford."
I laugh. "Nope. Have a Range Rover at home. This was a rental."
He shakes his head. "I dont know whats wrong with people today. No pride in their work. Just slap things together and say its done." He picks up an empty tin can from the floor of the cab, brings it up to his mouth, spits tobacco juice into it and sets it back down. "What do you do for a living?"
"I do television news."
He rolls his eyes, unimpressed. "All a bunch of poppycock. Tell things in thirty second segments that deserve longer. Always talking about how bad things are. Howd a nice girl like you get into that?"
I cant remember the last time Ive been described as a nice girl. "Just kinda fell into it."
"Well, fall out. Before it warps you. Look at all those Hollywood types. Screwed up the whole lot of them. Sleeping with everyone. Leaving their kids. So high on all that crap they cant see straight. You dont take drugs, do you?" He turns sharp eyes on me. For a moment I believe that he could see it if I did.
"Good. Dont start. They mess you up but good. My nephew got himself killed on that crap. The stuff you shoot up. Whats it called?"
I wince. "Heroin?"
"Thats it. Good looking kid before he got messed up in it. Barely recognized him at his funeral."
He nods, accepting my condolences. "So what were you doing out there? Just getting home from a late night out?" He gives me a disapproving look.
"No, sir. Trying to get home. My family needs me."
"Good. Glad to hear youre taking care of family." He glances down at my left hand and sees my wedding ring. "You and your husband have any children?"
I figure my kind rescuer isnt really into alternative relationships. I let any explanation pass. "Two. A boy and girl."
This meets with his approval. We drive along in silence, the dog deciding that my thigh is the perfect resting place for his muzzle. I find myself petting him, the rhythm soothing.
At the I-10 interchange, he pulls off the highway and drives over to a gas station. "Sorry, Im headed the other way."
"No, sir, thank you. You were a life saver. I appreciate the ride this far."
He shakes my hand and I slide out of the cab and back into the rain.
* * *
Im not far now. I pull out my cell phone, noting that the battery is almost exhausted, and punch in the number. Its still early for a Saturday morning, but I know my Papa will be awake. He rises every day at the same time, weekday, weekend, holiday, doesnt matter.
"Bon jour, Papa."
"Good morning, Harper. What has you up so early?" He knows I dont share his trait on weekends.
"I was wondering if you could come pick me up," and I give him my location.
"Sure. Ill head right out. What are you doing there?"
"Its a long story, Papa. Ill tell you when you get here."
* * *
I am sitting on garbage bags. When Papa saw me, and smelled me, he immediately went into the convenience store and bought a bag of Hefty trash bags. These he spread over the passenger seat of the Beemer before letting me in.
He also cracked all the windows, letting in a few stray drops of the rain. Although its considerably slowed down and I can see the pink of a clearing sky on the horizon. I made it home.
Papa finds my tale of woe quite funny. "Im proud of you, Harper Lee. You made it back in one piece." He chuckles. "Of course, you dont have your plane. Or your rental car. And you stink. But otherwise you did a damn fine job."
All the retorts I think of, I cant say to my father. I settle for a sarcastic, "Thanks, Papa."
He starts to reach over to pat my knee, but stops himself. "Ah, dont be grumpy. Were only two blocks from your home."
This perks me up.
We drive quickly and pull into the driveway beside the house. Before Papa puts the car in park, I am leaping out of the car and running for the door. I find it unlocked and burst into the house, calling for Kels.
I am met by Rene, Christian and Clark. "Harper, glad you made it!" she exclaims.
"Hows Kels?" I start to move around her for the stairs to go up to our bedroom.
"Shes good, but," Rene reaches out and grabs hold of my wrist, "Robie just drove her and Brian to the hospital."
<to be continued>
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