‘Would you like to touch her?’ the nurse beside him asked. ‘Yes.’
She lifted the lid of the humidicrib. He reached out and gently stroked the super-soft skin of a tiny hand. It startled and delighted him when it curled tightly around one of his fingers. Her eyes opened—dark chocolate eyes—and seemed to lock onto his.
‘I’m your Papa,’ he told her.
Her little chest lifted and a sigh whispered from her lips as though the bond she needed was in place. She closed her eyes. The grip on his finger slowly eased.
‘Be at peace, little one. I’m here for you,’ Ari murmured.
But she would need her mother, too.
He needed Christina, though he wasn’t sure how much that would mean to her. She had accepted him as her husband. He saw the love she openly showered on their son, but whatever was in her heart for him had always been closely guarded.
So he willed her to live for their children.
That was the stronger pull on her.
Her son and her daughter.
SIX weeks … They’d been the longest six weeks of Ari’s life. The doctors had explained it was best that Christina remain in a coma until the swelling of her brain had gone down and her injuries had healed. They had also warned him she would initially feel lost and confused when they brought her out of it and would need constant reassurance of where she was, why, and what had happened to her.
Most probably any dreams she may have had during this time would be more real to her than reality and it would require patient understanding from him to deal with her responses to the situation. Ari didn’t care how much patient understanding he had to give as long as Christina came back to him. Yet as mentally prepared as he was to deal with anything, it hit him hard when she woke and stared at him without any sign of recognition.
Tears welled into her eyes.
He squeezed her hand gently and quickly said, ‘It’s okay, Christina. Everything’s okay.’ ‘I lost the baby.’ ‘No, you didn’t,’ he vehemently assured her. ‘We have a beautiful little baby girl. She’s healthy and happy and Theo adores her. We’ve named her Maria—your favourite name for a girl—and she looks very like you.’
The tears didn’t stop. They trickled down her cheeks.
Ari told her about the accident and the need for a Caesarian birth and how their daughter was thriving now. She kept staring at him but he didn’t think she was registering anything he said. The look of heart-breaking sadness didn’t leave her face. After a while she closed her eyes and slid back into sleep.
He took Theo and Maria with him on his next visit, determined to set Christina’s mind at rest.
Again she woke and murmured the mournful words, ‘I lost the baby.’
‘No, you didn’t,’ he assured her. ‘Look, here she is.’
He laid Maria in her arms and she stared at the baby wonderingly as he explained again about the accident and their daughter’s birth. Then Theo, super-excited at having his mother finally awake from her long sleep, chattered non-stop, telling her everything about his new sister. She smiled at him and was actually smiling at the baby as her eyes closed. Ari hoped her sleep would be less fretful now.
Yet from day to day she seemed to forget what had been said and he would have to remind her. He started to worry that she might never fully recover from her head injuries. The doctors explained that it could take a while for the drugs to wash out of her system. Until she completely emerged from her dream-state, it was impossible to gauge if there was some negative side-effect that would have to be treated.
Mostly he just sat by her side and prayed for her to be whole again.
It felt like a miracle when one day she woke up and looked at him with instant recognition. ‘Ari,’ she said in a pleased tone.
His heart kicked with excitement, then dropped like a stone when her expression changed to the darkly grieving one that had accompanied her other awakenings. But her words were slightly different.
‘I’m sorry. I lost the baby.’
Encouraged by the certainty that she was actually talking to him this time, he explained the situation again. There was an alertness in her eyes that hadn’t been there before. He was sure she was listening, taking in all the information he gave, sifting through it, understanding. A smile started to tug at her mouth.
‘A daughter,’ she said in a tone of pleasure. ‘How lovely!’
Elation soared through him. ‘She’s beautiful. Just like you, Christina,’ he said, smiling back.
A frown of concern puckered her brow. ‘And Theo? I’ve been here … how long?’
‘Two months. Theo is fine. Missing his Mama but happily distracted by having a baby sister. I’ll bring both of them in for you to see as soon as I can.’
‘Maria …’ She smiled again, a look of blissful relief on her face. ‘Oh, I’m so glad I didn’t lose her, Ari.’
‘And I’m so glad I didn’t lose you,’ he said fervently. Her eyes focussed sharply on him for several moments before her gaze slid away to where her fingers started plucking at the bed-sheet. ‘I guess that would have been … inconvenient for you.’
Shock rattled Ari’s mind. It took him several moments to realise she had no idea how much she meant to him. He’d never told her. He reached out and enclosed the plucking fingers with his, holding them still.
‘Look at me, Christina,’ he quietly commanded.
She did so, but not with open windows to her soul. Her guard was up, as it had been from the day she had agreed to marry him. He had never worn it down. He should have felt grateful for this return to normality, but the need to break through it was too strong for patience in laying out what was very real to him—had been real for a long time although he hadn’t recognised it until faced with losing her from his life.
‘Do you remember asking me about falling in love and I told you about the American woman I’d met when I was eighteen?’ he asked.
She slowly nodded.
‘It was nothing but blind infatuation, Christina,’ he said vehemently, his eyes burning into hers to make her believe he spoke the truth. ‘I didn’t love her. I didn’t know her enough to love the person she was. Being with you this past year … I’ve learnt what it is to really love a woman. I love you.’
Her eyes widened but still they searched his warily.
‘If you’d died from this accident, it would have left a hole in my life that no one else could ever fill. It wouldn’t have been an inconvenience. Christina. It would have been …’ He shook his head, unable to express the terrible emptiness that had loomed while he’d waited for the miracle of her return to him. ‘I love you,’ he repeated helplessly. ‘And please, please, don’t ever leave me again.’