In the end, Sarah slept for two hours. After some experimentation, William had discovered that Dottie liked lying stomach-down on his forearm, arms and legs dangling either side, head cradled in his big hand. After a feed she fell asleep like that. William held her and looked out the window, not saying much, glancing down at the baby every now and then, while Emily got on with doing some more laundry.
Maybe if she had tried harder. Maybe if she had brought Adam over to England to see her family, years ago, when he had been a baby. Babies healed, babies helped. At the time she had been too afraid of rejection, too afraid she wouldn’t be able to bear it if they sent her away, but maybe she should have tried. Her mother and father had wanted grandchildren so badly.
It was too late now to do anything differently. All those choices had been made.
With the baby on his arm, William could rock her easily back and forth. She slept with her little lips pursed out.
‘You really are a natural,’ she said to him. ‘I was just saying it before, but now I really mean it.’
‘Have you ever thought about having children one day?’
‘I’d just fu—’ he glanced at the baby— ‘mess it up, like I mess up everything.’
‘You’d be surprised how much responsibility can change you. Responsibility and connection.’
He shrugged. There was a small noise from the doorway and they both looked up to see Sarah, her hair mussed from the pillow. ‘You got her to sleep,’ she said to William. ‘Thank you.’
William actually blushed. Emily watched it with wonder.
‘Your front porch step needs shoring up if it’s going to last the winter,’ he said to her. ‘I’ll do that for you before we go. I’ve got some wood in my truck.’
A little later, in William’s truck, Emily said, ‘You’re very like him, you know.’
‘I wouldn’t know.’
‘Maybe you’ll get the chance to find out.’
He grunted. She wondered, again, what he’d said to the baby.
‘So, are you going to Portsmouth?’ she asked.
He drove for a few minutes in silence. They passed the place where they had seen Sarah walking, where Emily had thought the young woman was Polly, a younger Polly, before all the bitterness and separation.
‘I might drop you off at home,’ he said, ‘and then go down to the boatyard for a while. Help Adam with that dinghy.’
Robbie was in the office, on the phone with a client, when he glanced across the workshop and saw William walk in. He went straight to the corner where Adam was working. Robbie saw the smile break on Adam’s face when William spoke to him.
He finished updating the client and put down the phone, watching his two sons together for a little while. He watched William pick up a piece of fine-grade sandpaper and kneel beside Adam at the little boat’s hull. The two of them, dark hair and light, a grown man and a boy on his way to being grown. They sanded with the same movement, the same rhythm, stroking their fingertips over the wood to check its finish.
He joined them. ‘Nice to see you, William.’
William looked up, and Robbie saw his expression change from calm to wary. And that was all right, maybe. William was here, at least. Sometimes being present was all that mattered.
‘I thought I’d better help,’ said William, ‘if Adam’s going to get this boat in the water before he turns thirty.’
What miracle had Emily wrought? He’d have to wait till he got home to find out.
‘I’ll help too,’ said Robbie. He picked up a piece of sandpaper and began to work beside them, rubbing down the rough wood into smoothness.
‘You’re doing so well, darling. So well. Everything’s going to be all right. You just need to push now.’
Jaquinda shook her head. ‘I can’t. I can’t push.’ She gasped it out with the strength of the contraction.
‘You need to,’ said Emily. ‘Your body is telling you to, for a good reason.’
‘I’m too scared.’
Emily took off her glove. She reached for Jaquinda’s hand and she held it. The other woman’s grip was crushing, desperate.
‘I understand why you’re frightened,’ Emily told her. ‘Anyone would be.’
‘Are you frightened?’ Jaquinda’s face was shiny and wet with the pain of labour and the effort of clenching her body tight.
‘A little tiny bit,’ said Emily. ‘But I know that everything is going to be all right this time, Jaquinda. I’m certain of it.’
‘How can you be certain?’ Jaquinda wailed.
Emily couldn’t. Every birth was a risk, and this one especially. Jaquinda had had two second-trimester miscarriages and a stillbirth. Everything with this pregnancy, so far, had been normal. But so had her last pregnancy – and the ones that had miscarried, too. They had all been fine. Both mother and baby were healthy. Right up until the moment they weren’t.
She’d been waiting for the call to say that Jaquinda was in labour for the past two weeks, both anticipating it and dreading it in equal measure. She could only imagine how Jaquinda and her husband Miguel felt.
‘I’m certain,’ she told Jaquinda, knowing that if anything went wrong, Jaquinda might never believe her again. Emily would have destroyed their patient/doctor trust with a single lie. And she and Jaquinda weren’t merely doctor and patient any more; she had gone through some of Jaquinda’s ordeals with her and, as a high-risk patient, Jaquinda had seen her for frequent antenatal appointments.
But sometimes it was better to tell a patient what they needed to hear, instead of the strict truth. Eight months ago, Jaquinda had told her, ‘This is the last chance. I can’t go through it any more. If this baby doesn’t survive, we’re going to stop trying.’ So perhaps, if this went wrong, she would never see Jaquinda again anyway. Emily wasn’t sure if she would have been strong enough to try for a fourth time herself, if she had lost three babies.
Jaquinda panted in between contractions, her belly heaving. Emily moved up so that she could look into her patient’s eyes. They were wide, the whites bloodshot, the irises almost as dark as the pupils. Jaquinda had refused pain relief. She was afraid of losing control.
‘This is going to be fine,’ she said. ‘You’re doing really well. And you are going to hold your healthy baby in your arms. You are, Jaquinda. You’re going to be a mum.’
Jaquinda shook her head. Her expression battled between hope and fear.
‘You are. I have faith. And you’re surrounded by the best people to help you. But you’ve got to trust, Jaquinda. I know you want to keep this baby inside you where it’s safe, but you have to push now. With the next contraction. All right?’
‘I don’t want to.’
‘You have to. Promise me, darling. Promise me, Jaquinda. It’s the best thing for your baby if you push.’
Jaquinda nodded, and her face immediately contorted into the pain from the latest contraction. Emily swiftly put on a fresh glove and moved into position.
She could see the baby’s head. She could see Jaquinda still clenched tight. She put her hands on Jaquinda’s legs, hoping the touch would comfort her. It must be such an effort for Jaquinda to resist every instinct in her body, to try to keep the baby in when everything wanted her to push it out. It must take an enormous effort, and enormous fear.