I must have looked like a wreck because he dropped everything and came over to me. “What’s wrong?”
“This is my fault. I should have checked her crib before I left the room.”
“It was an accident. That damn bulb fell off your sweater. You didn’t see it happen.”
“I know, but I can’t help feeling like if I’d just done something differently…”
“What are you talking about? You saved her life.”
“Yes. But only because I was lucky enough to wake up when I did. I can’t even imagine what today would be like if I hadn’t.”
“Don’t think about that. God was with her. She’s okay. She’ll be okay. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I just can’t help feeling like a horrible mother.”
“Listen to me. Remember that night we stayed up the whole night talking at the beach house that first summer? You told me you felt like teaching wasn’t what you were meant to do, that there was something else out there you’d be better at?”
“I’ll never forget this past summer when I came home unexpectedly to find you and Bea there. You were in that fucked-up state of disarray. I’d never witnessed anyone give of themselves so fully for the good of another human being like that. There isn’t one moment of any day where you don’t put her first. You don’t think about yourself, your own mental well-being, getting a break. I’d watch you feeding her sometimes and wish that I’d had a mother like you. Not so I could suck on your tits.” He winked. “But because of how nurturing you are. When we were growing up, I always thought you were pretty amazing, but it doesn’t even come close to how I see you now. So, don’t you dare. Don’t you dare call yourself a horrible mother, Amelia Payne. That thing you were meant to do that you couldn’t figure out? It was to be a mother to that little girl. That’s your calling. And you’re doing a damn good job.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, so thankful for his reassurance, which just basically talked me off of a mental ledge. “Thank you.”
He walked over to the bags and handed me a Dunkin Donuts iced coffee along with a Chipotle burrito bowl. “Now, eat…before she wakes up.”
After we finished our food, Justin plugged the small tree into an outlet in the corner of the room. This was as good as Christmas Eve was going to get under the circumstances.
When Bea finally woke up, we got a little Christmas miracle. Justin was looking down at her when she finally smiled for the first time since the choking incident. It was the best gift we could have ever asked for.
“Merry Christmas, Bumblebee,” Justin said. You could feel the sense of relief in the air. It may have been one smile out of many, but it was an important one. To us, it meant she was going to be okay.
Justin pulled up Pandora on his phone and streamed Christmas music until it got late. The hospital brought in two cots that we set up on each side of Bea’s bed.
It was past 11PM. Justin was exhausted from his trip and dozed off along with Bea. I still wasn’t able to relax enough to shut my eyes. I wouldn’t be happy until we were home.
With both of them asleep, I played on my phone for a bit, going back to the text message chain between Justin and me to see exactly what I’d written him from the ambulance. I was so stressed, I had no recollection of what I’d typed in those horrific moments. That was when I noticed a message that had come in from him earlier that night, a text I hadn’t noticed due to everything that happened with Bea.
I don’t like fighting with you. I love you. In case there was any doubt.
The time of the message was shortly before 4AM. That was almost exactly the time I had woken up right before Bea’s wheezing started. I had figured that my waking up out of the blue was random, but it must have been the text that interrupted my slumber.
As I looked over at Justin sleeping peacefully, my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. Not because he’d finally said those three words I’d longed to hear. It was the other realization. If it weren’t for that text, I wouldn’t have woken up.
I didn’t save Bea’s life.
Bea was released from the hospital on Christmas Day. We were overjoyed to take her home after the doctors officially ruled out any brain injury. It had even started snowing on the ride back from Providence to Newport, making it truly a white Christmas.
Justin would be staying with us for a couple of days before meeting up with the tour in London for the start of the European leg. I wouldn’t allow myself to get sad over his leaving yet, since this was stolen time anyway.
Christmas night, we sat around the tree with Bea and helped her open her presents. I saved the small box that Justin had previously mailed to open last. When we finally got to it, Justin watched anxiously as I ripped open the tape and removed the generous amount of bubble-wrap.
Inside was a small wooden guitar that sat vertically atop a cylinder base. The bottom also opened, and you could store small items inside of it. On top of the guitar was a hand-painted black and yellow bumblebee. It was made to look like the bee had just landed on the instrument. Justin took it from me and wound the bottom. The guitar began to slowly spin around to a song I didn’t recognize.
“I have a friend back in New York who designs custom music boxes,” he said. “I asked him to make me one for her. The bee represents the fact that she’s always with me no matter where I am.”
So extremely touched, I paid special attention to the song but after several seconds of listening, still didn’t recognize it. “What song is that? It’s beautiful.”
“It’s the melody of something I’m writing. This guy was able to program it into the box. I’m still working on the lyrics, though.”
“That’s so amazing. This is the most thoughtful gift you could have given her.”
“It’s just something to make me feel like I’m with her when I can’t be.” He looked down at Bea as she hypnotically watched the guitar spin round and round. He stared at her for a while before he said, “What do you get for someone you can never repay…for all she’s taught you, all she’s given you?”
“I think you taking on the responsibility of being her father is a pretty big gift.”
He kissed Bea on the head. “That gift is all mine.”
Smiling at the both of them, I asked a question I’d been wondering ever since he came home. “What changed?”
“What do you mean?”
“Before you left, it seemed like you were still unsure about what your role in her life was going to be. What changed?”
He stared down at the music box for a while then up at me. “My doubts were never about her, just whether I was worthy of her love. I didn’t want to be a disappointment to someone that meant so much to me. But being away from her made me realize that she’d already become a part of me. My fear of inadequacy aside, she was already my daughter in every way that mattered. Stepping away helped me see that even more clearly.”
Earlier, I’d explained to Justin my realization about the timing of his text. He refused to take responsibility for saving Bea’s life, insisting I deserved all of the credit for that. I hadn’t addressed the actual subject of his text until now.
I leaned my head against his shoulder, so grateful to have him home with us, even if just for a couple of days. “I love you, Justin. You know, I’d been so fixated on the fact that you hadn’t used those three words toward me yet. I’d placed so much importance on hearing you tell me you loved me. By the time you finally did—in that text—it came as no surprise, because deep down, I already knew. You’ve taught me that love isn’t about words. It’s a series of actions. You’ve shown your love for me in how you look at me, how you treat me and most of all, in how much you love my daughter as your own.”