Don checked his watch for the umpteenth time. "Chuck isn't normally this late for dinner."
"No," Alan said, grinning. "You're usually the late one." His cell phone rang, and he glanced at the display. "This is him now. Hello?"
"Dad?" the voice was shaking so badly Alan could hardly recognize it.
"Charlie? Is that you? What's wrong?" He stood unsteadily. "Charlie?"
"Dad, it's … it's Amita. She's gone into labor."
Alan sank back into his chair. "She can't be. It's too early. She's not even five months along."
"I know it's too early!" Charlie yelled. A moment later he sighed and said, "I'm sorry, Dad."
"Are you sure it's labor?"
"We're sure. She's been bleeding. We're at the hospital now."
"No. Cedars-Sinai. Her OB/Gyn is there."
"I'll be right there."
"Aw, Dad. You don't need to come. I just wanted to … I mean, I thought I should call you."
Alan stood and turned off the TV. "I'm coming."
"Thanks," Charlie said with a sigh. "The doctor is with her now. They wouldn't let me stay in the room with her. I just needed to talk to someone."
"I understand, Son. You hang on, okay?"
"Yeah, I'll try."
Don had his jacket on and handed Alan his. "I'm driving," Don said. "I already turned off the stove." Twenty minutes later, they had found their way to the exam room in the ER. Charlie was still outside the room, pacing anxiously in the hallway.
"Charlie," Alan said softly, pulling his son into a hug. "Is there any news?"
"Nothing. They've taken her for some tests." His voice was muffled against his father's chest. He pulled back angrily wiping at his eyes. "I should be with her. They wouldn't let me go along."
"You'll be with her soon enough. Tell us what happened."
Charlie took a deep shaky breath. "She was in class and she started having cramps. She called me on her cell phone and I brought her here." He began to pace. "Why is this happening? She's young. She's healthy. There is no history of difficult pregnancies in her family or ours."
Don shook his head, stifling a grin. "You checked?"
"Of course I did," Charlie snapped. "I don't know what you find funny about this."
"I'm sorry, Buddy," Don said. "You're right. There's nothing funny about this. It was just something I could see you doing."
Charlie rubbed his face. "No. I'm sorry. I'm just at the end of my rope, you know? This shouldn't be happening."
Alan sighed and put his arm around Charlie's shoulders. "Sometimes these things just happen."
The elevator door opened, revealing Amita sitting in a wheelchair, with an elderly man in a pink smock standing behind her.
"Amita!" Charlie rushed forward to meet her. "What did they find out?"
Amita bit her lips and shook her head. "I don't know. The doctor is going to stop by in a few minutes to tell us." She took a deep breath and gave Charlie a shaky smile. "The contractions have stopped, and that's a good thing."
"That's a wonderful thing," Charlie grasped her hand. "Let's get you back in bed and wait for the doctor."
Once Amita was back in her bed, she, Charlie, Don and Alan found they couldn't keep their eyes off the door. After a few long moments, Charlie said, "How long are they going to keep us waiting?"
"I don't know. I'm sure they'll let us know as soon as they know something."
Charlie stood and began pacing. "They should have been able to see the baby right away. They should have told you then and there what's going on. I don't see what's taking so long."
"Charlie," Amita said, "Please come here and sit down."
Charlie sighed as he dropped into his chair. "Maybe we should call the nurse."
Amita shook her head. "No. Let's just wait." She squeezed Charlie's hand.
The door opened, and a young woman in scrubs entered the room. "Hi, Mrs. Eppes."
"Dr. Galster." Amita said, giving Charlie's hand a squeeze. "What did the tests show?"
"Well, we did an hCG test to determine the level of pregnancy hormones in your blood. We'll need to do a second test the day after tomorrow to determine if the levels are increasing normally."
"The day after tomorrow?" Charlie asked weakly. "We have to wait that long?"
"I'm sorry, but yes," Dr. Galster said. "At that time, we'll also need to repeat the ultrasound."
"Why?" Charlie asked. "Weren't the results conclusive? You must have seen something."
Dr. Galster pursed her lips. "We didn't detect any movement."
"Oh, God," Amita sobbed.
"The fetus was not in a good position for us to detect his heartbeat, and the lack of movement may just mean he was sleeping. "
"Or it could mean he's …" Amita choked.
"Let's look at the positive side for now, Amita," Dr. Galster said softly. "A woman of your age and health has a very low probability of having a miscarriage. Some bleeding during the early stages of pregnancy is not uncommon."
"So what do we do now? Just wait?" Charlie asked.
"I'm afraid so. We get your wife admitted and settled into a room for the next couple of days. I'd like to see the bleeding and fluid discharge stop completely before we send her home. There is still a chance that this pregnancy will progress normally."
Charlie's voice broke as he asked, "How much of a chance?"
"Let's wait and see what the tests show, shall we? Once we have the results, we'll have a better idea of what we're dealing with."
"Should we look for a second opinion?" Charlie asked.
"Charlie," Amita touched his shoulder. "I don't think that's necessary."
"It is your right, Mrs. Eppes," Dr. Galster said.
"I'll keep that in mind," Amita said. "But I don't think we need to take that step just yet."
They sat in silence for a few long moments after Dr. Galster left. Amita dabbed at her eyes and Charlie moved to sit on the edge of her bed. "Honey," he murmured, "we'll get you the best doctors we can find. It'll be okay."
"I like Dr. Galster," she sniffed. "I shouldn't have kept working. I spend too much time on my feet. And with all the science labs at Cal Sci, who knows what I'm being exposed to."
Alan picked up the box of tissues from the night stand and handed it to Amita. "Don't blame yourself. You know there's very little you can do to cause these things."
"Yeah," Don said, "most of the time it's something wrong with the baby, right? Not something you do or don't do."
"That's what they say," Alan agreed.
Amita smiled shakily at Alan and Don. "Thanks. You're sweet." She blew her nose. "You don't have to stay. I'm sure you have something better to do …"
"There's nothing more important than this. Maybe when you get settled into your room, we could take Charlie home to pick up some things for you."
"I'd like that. I should make a list."
Charlie pulled a pen from his pocket. Don pulled a small notebook from his pocket and handed it to him. "Okay, you need a nightgown, right?" Charlie asked.
"Yes, and a couple of days worth of underwear. And my ipod. Oh, and I have a stack of tests on my desk. They need to be graded."
"We'll put the TAs to work on that," Charlie said.
"That's a little more job related than mowing our back yard," Alan chuckled.
"True," Amita said. "But I really do want you to bring my computer," she looked pleadingly at Charlie. "I'll go stir crazy without it."
"All right. We can do some research on the latest treatments."
Amita sighed. "I don't know if I want to do that."
"But the more I can find out, the better I'll feel about this," Charlie objected.
"It's more likely you'll find a bunch of conflicting advice from a range of questionable sources. Anybody can put anything on the internet," Amita said. "You should know that better than anyone."
"All right. Let's not worry about that for now. What else do you need?" Charlie picked up the list.
It took close to an hour before Amita was settled in her new room, a comfortable private room near the maternity wing. "Okay, I'm going to try to get some rest," she said. "Why don't you go home and get my things?"
"Are you sure you're going to be okay?" Charlie asked as he touched her cheek.
"I'll be fine," she murmured.
It was a long quiet drive back to the Craftsman. Charlie leaned his head against the SUV window, gazing unseeing at the passing scenery, thoughts spinning through his head. Don glanced back at him. "She'll be okay, Buddy."
"I hope you're right."
"I hope so too," Don said. "You know God is there for you, Buddy. No matter how this turns out, he can give you peace, you know?"
"Can he give the doctors the right answers?"
"I think the doctors are doing a great job. Don't you?" Don asked, turning again to look at Charlie.
Charlie shrugged miserably. "I don't know. I mean, Amita seems to trust them, but there's always something more they could learn."
"Charlie," Alan said softly, "if Amita trusts them, shouldn't it be her decision?"
"I'm involved in this too, you know. He is my son." Charlie was quiet for a few moments. Finally, he said, "The sad thing is I've been wondering if this might be my fault."
"How could it be your fault? You think you jinxed it or something? That's crazy," Don scoffed.
"I don't believe in jinxes," Charlie snapped. "We had sex last night, okay? She was tired, and I … well, I don't want to go into details, but we ended up having sex. What if I caused some damage? I mean, the OB/Gyn told us it was safe, but they don't know everything."
"Son," Alan said, "you had nothing to do with the miscarriage. Get that silly notion out of your head and concentrate on being there to support your wife."
"I can't help what I'm thinking."
"You can occupy your mind with something else," Alan suggested.
"Yeah. How about P vs NP?" Charlie leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. "That worked really well for me when Mom was sick."
"That's enough." Alan snapped, beginning to lose patience. "Don't dwell on what might happen, or what caused it, or how you somehow feel guilty about it. Think about what you can do to help Amita. Figure out who you can get to cover her classes. Come up with a name for the baby. Anything. Just stop focusing on yourself for once."
Charlie's eyes flew open. "What? Is that what you think? Really? I'm focusing on myself?"
"I didn't mean to say that, Charlie," Alan said. "I don't know what I was thinking."
"No, Dad," Don said. "Don't apologize. Charlie, maybe that was a little harsh, but you really do need to get out of yourself and make this about Amita and the baby."
"It is about them. It's all about them. I just feel like I should be doing something to help. I'm a damned genius. I should be able to figure something out," Charlie's voice shook with emotion. He closed his eyes and leaned against the window. "Forget it." When Don pulled into the driveway and turned off the engine, Charlie got out without a word.
Alan started to follow Charlie as he ran up the stairs, but Don grabbed his father's arm. "I think he needs to be alone for now."
Alan nodded sadly and headed toward the kitchen.
Upstairs, Charlie stood in the bedroom he shared with Amita. The bed looked so large, so empty. They had moved things around to make room for a crib. A crib they might not need now. He picked up a backpack, went through her lingerie drawer and selected a nightgown. He wasn't sure what underwear she'd want, so he grabbed a couple of bras and panties. He found her slippers, and hesitated. He finally tossed them into the backpack. There was a journal on her nightstand that she had been reading the night before. He tossed that into the backpack as well.
He looked for her laptop and realized she had left it in the garage before they had come up to bed last night. He took one last look around the bedroom and headed down the stairs. He heard the TV in the living room. Good. He wouldn't have to face Don or Dad. He wasn't in the mood for their criticism. He slipped through the garage door.
The garage. His sanctuary. His hiding place when the world got to be too much for him. The place he had gone when his mother was dying. The place he had hidden the first time Don had been shot. He gazed at the boards scattered around the garage, full of his scrawls. One board caught his attention. He saw an error in something he had written last night, and picked up a marker to change it. No. This was all just meaningless now. His wife was in the hospital. His son … his SON might be dying. Might be dead already. The marker dropped from his fingers, and he shoved the board. Who cares if there's a mistake in an expression? What does it mean compared to a human life? The board crashed to the floor, and he stomped on it. The loud crack was satisfying somehow.
The blackboard next to it had the calculations he and Amita had done trying to predict her due date more accurately. With a stifled cry, he punched the board, driving his fist through it. It crashed to the floor.
He caught sight of the desk, covered in case files and reference books. So much crap. Angrily, he shoved the files to the floor. He picked up his mug, half full of cold coffee and flung it at the wall.
Don looked up at the sounds coming from the garage, and stood. When he pushed the garage door open, he saw Charlie on his knees on the floor, sobbing. "Oh, Charlie," he said softly, kneeling beside his brother. He wrapped his arms around Charlie. "It's gonna be okay, Buddy. I've got you."
"I'm sorry," Charlie's voice broke as he sobbed. "Oh, God. I am so sorry."
"Shhhh," Don soothed. "Hang on. She's gonna be okay. It's not your fault."
"It's got to be somebody's fault! There's got to be someone to blame. Somebody I can …" he shook his bloodied fist helplessly. "Someone who can make it all stop."
"God can make it stop," Don said softly. "Maybe we could pray."
Stunned, Charlie opened his mouth to object.
"It can't hurt," Don said.
Charlie studied Don's face for a moment, then nodded. "Okay. I guess you're right. I don't know if I remember how. Would you?"
Don closed his eyes, gnawing his lower lip for a moment, then said, "May the One who blessed our ancestors, Sarah and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, Leah, Rachel and Jacob bless Amita and the new life in her. Give insight and wisdom to her doctors. Let your spirit rest on her and comfort her. Give her a complete healing and bring this child to full and healthy term. Amen." He opened his eyes and looked at Charlie. "Was that okay? I'm kind of new at this."
Charlie wiped his eyes and hugged Don. "It was perfect. Thank you." He stood shakily. "I've got to get this stuff picked up and go and see Amita."
"You grab what she needs and get going. Hey, where's your car?"
Charlie grinned sheepishly. "At the hospital."
"I'll take you. Leave this. I'll take care of it when they kick me out of the hospital tonight." Don stood and surveyed the damage. "You did a good job on that board. I hope it wasn't anything important."
"None of this stuff is important. Not now."
Don put his arm around Charlie's shoulders and led him from the garage. "Dad? Where you at?"
"There's a note," Charlie pointed at a piece of paper leaning against the green bowl next to Don's keys. Charlie picked up the note. "He's gone to temple. He says he'll see us later if the roof doesn't cave in on him."
"You got everything?" Don asked.
"Yeah. I think so. Her nightgowns and undies, slippers, and her computer."
"Don't forget her ipod."
"I didn't see it," Charlie said. "I'll bring her mine."
"Nah. She likes better stuff than you like. Come on. We'll find it."
A few minutes later, they found the ipod in Amita's night stand. When Charlie opened the backpack to put the ipod in it, Don glanced at the contents. "Here, let's straighten this stuff up a little. You pack like a guy."
"I am a guy." When the backpack contents were arranged to Don's satisfaction, Charlie said, "Thanks. I don't know what I would do without your help."
"You'd be walking to the hospital with a backpack full of wrinkled stuff. Let's go."
As they walked in silence to Amita's room, Don noticed a sign. He put a hand on Charlie's shoulder. "I'll meet you in a few minutes." He nodded at the sign.
"Chapel, huh? Gonna get in some more praying?"
Don stopped suddenly. "You don't mind, do you?"
Charlie suddenly remembered how excited Don had been when he learned he was going to be an uncle. He rested a hand on his brother's shoulder and said, "Take your time."
Don nodded and walked to the chapel. Charlie watched, noticing for the first time the slump in his brother's shoulders. It struck him that this wasn't just affecting him and Amita. It was already affecting his father and brother.
Amita was asleep. Her beautiful face was blotchy and puffy from crying, but she looked so calm and serene. Charlie quietly set the bags down on the floor and carefully pulled a chair over to the bedside. He wanted to touch her, but he didn't want to wake her, so he settled for watching her sleep. He was amazed that somehow, out of all the men she could have had, she had chosen him. He was amazed that their child now lived inside of her. He scooched down in the chair so he could rest his head on the bed next to her and closed his eyes.
Amita woke. It took her a moment to realize where she was and what was happening. She glanced around and noticed Charlie beside her. He didn't look very comfortable, slumped in the chair, and twisted so he could rest his head next to her. She bent to kiss the top of his head. "Wake up, sleepyhead. You're going to get a stiff neck."
Charlie jumped, and straightened slowly. "Ouch. You're right." He kissed her forehead. "How are you feeling? Can I get you anything?"
"I'm okay. I just wish we knew what was going on." She rested her hand on her slightly rounded belly. "He's going to be okay, isn't he?"
Charlie placed his hand gently on top of hers. "I hope so."
She glanced around the room. "Alan and Don decided to stay home?"
"No. Dad went to temple, believe it or not. And Don stopped by the chapel on the way here. How long was I sleeping?"
"I don't know," Amita toyed with Charlie's curls. "I was asleep when you got here, remember?"
"How are you feeling?"
"Okay. The bleeding has finally stopped. I'm just worried. I can't believe we have to wait so long."
"I know. That's the hardest part. Hey, I brought your stuff. Let me get …"
"Stay here for a moment," Amita whispered, tears springing to her eyes again.
"I'm not going anywhere."
She took his right hand and touched the bandaids across his knuckles. "What happened here?"
"You're not going to believe it."
"I punched a hole in a blackboard."
"Ouch," Amita said, running her fingers down his stubbly jaw. "You idiot."
"That's what I thought right after I did it."
"I love you."
"I love you more."
"Did you bring my computer?"
"Yeah. Let me get it for you. What are you going to do?"
"Well, we've got lots of time on our hands. I thought we could check out baby names. Unless you have an FBI case we can work on."
"Baby names it is." Charlie picked up the computer bag and arranged the computer on Amita's tray table.
Don walked into the room, and smiled at the sight of Charlie and Amita lying side by side on the hospital bed, entranced by the laptop on the tray table.
"Hey, you two," he said. "Playing Freecell?"
"Hi, Don," Amita said. "We're picking out baby names."
"Yeah," Charlie said, "I think we've settled on Daniel Arun."
"Two Jewish names?"
"No," Amita said. "A-r-u-n. It's a Hindu name. It was my grandpa's name."
"Cool," Don said, pulling a chair over. "Any word from Dad yet?"
"Not yet. He probably got stuck in traffic."
"Probably. How are you feeling Amita? Can I get you anything?"
"I'm doing okay. A little hungry, actually."
"All right," Don said. "Why don't we call Dad, leave a voice mail on his cell phone and ask him to stop and pick up supper?"
An hour later, Alan arrived with takeout from Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles. Amita was delighted and ate heartily. "We've decided on a name for the baby," she said after they finished eating.
"That's wonderful," Alan said. "What is it?"
"Daniel Arun – A-r-u-n," Charlie said. "Daniel for Mom's dad and Arun for Amita's grandpa. What do you think?"
"I like it," Alan said. "Poor kid is going to have to go through life with his middle name misspelled, though."
"I'm sure he'll be fine with it," Amita said. "Do you think I should call my parents and let them know what's going on?"
"Where are they now?" Alan asked.
"I think they're in New Delhi. But knowing them they could be just about anywhere."
"You think you're up to talking to them about this?" Charlie asked gently.
"I think so. I don't think it's fair to not tell them. Maybe they'll be able to come and spend some time with us."
Charlie handed Amita his cell phone.
Amita dialed. A moment later, she said, "Hi! Dad!... How are you and Mom doing?... Oh wow, that's great…. Um … not too well actually. I'm in the hospital…. I started having cramps and some bleeding… No, they don't know yet…. I have to have more tests in two days… I was wondering if you'd be able to come … Oh, of course. I understand…. Of course…. I'll let you know how everything goes…. "
"Wait!" Charlie said, "They're not coming?"
"They're on their way to a conference. They couldn't possibly leave now."
"Give me that," Charlie took the phone from Amita's hand. "Sanjay? This is Charlie. What do you mean you're not coming? Your daughter is in the hospital. She is having a miscarriage, and you think some damned conference is more important than that?"
"Charlie," Sanjay's voice was plaintive. "You have to understand. This conference is very important to us. It's very important to our country."
"More important than your daughter and grandson?" Charlie demanded.
"I'm sorry," Sanjay said and hung up.
Charlie stared at the phone in disbelief. He felt Amita take the phone from his hand. "Charlie," she said softly, "you know how they are."
Charlie pushed the tray table away, sat on the bed, and pulled Amita into a hug. "I'm so sorry," he said.
"I should have known better," Amita said, her voice muffled against Charlie's chest. "They've never been available when I've needed them. Not like you guys."
"Amita," Don said gently, "you're family, and we'll always be here for you."
"I know," Amita said tearfully, "and I really do appreciate it."
When the nurse came around to announce that visiting hours were over, Charlie asked if there was some way he could stay in Amita's room with her. "Of course," the nurse said. "I'll bring you a sleeper chair. It's not the most comfortable thing in the world, but it's better than these chairs."
Alan and Don stood and hugged Amita. Alan said, "You call us if you need anything? Day or night, understand?"
"I understand. Thank you for everything. The waffles were great."
"How about some nice bagels for breakfast?"
"I'd love that."
Don laughed. "Maybe the hospital will give you a discount if you don't eat their food."
"I doubt it," Amita said with a smile. "But we can try."
Two days later, Charlie had only left Amita's side to use the bathroom. He even cajoled the nurses into letting him use the patient shower. When the nurse arrived with the needles to draw Amita's blood, he sat on the bed next to her, and watched the blood flow into the tube, willing it to be good news. A while later, she was taken away for another ultrasound test. He begged to be allowed to go with her, but was firmly told to stay and wait. "There's really no room for visitors down there. We'll be back in a few minutes."
He stood when they wheeled Amita back into the room. "Any word?"
"They wouldn't say anything. They turned the monitor so I couldn't see it," She said, tears running down her cheeks. "I'm afraid."
Charlie climbed into bed with her and held her until Dr. Galster came into the room. They sat up, fear and hope washing over them.
"I'm afraid it's bad news," Dr. Galster said gently. "The hCG levels should be increasing, but they're decreasing, and the ultrsound detected no movement and no growth."
"No," Amita sobbed. "He can't be…" she clasped her hands protectively over her belly. "Can you do the tests again tomorrow?"
"We could, but I'm afraid your baby has passed away. I am so sorry."
"How did it happen?" Charlie said, wiping tears from his eyes. "What killed him?"
"We really don't know. It's usually some defect in the fetus. Something that wouldn't allow it to live."
"Him," Charlie corrected. "Allow him to live. He has a name. He's Daniel Arun Eppes."
"I am so sorry for your loss," Dr. Galster said. "I don't think little Daniel had a chance from the beginning. That doesn't mean you'll have any trouble with future pregnancies. These things just happen sometimes."
"What do we do now?" Amita asked, her voice unsteady.
"The best thing would be to do a procedure to remove your baby. If we don't, there's a risk of infection."
"But what if he's still alive?" Charlie asked.
"We'll make sure before we do the procedure. But with the hormones decreasing, there is no way he could be alive at this point." Dr. Galster looked sadly at the grieving couple. "I'll leave you alone for a while. A counselor will be in to see you in a little while. She'll explain the procedure, and she'll answer any questions you have."
"Thank you," Amita said softly. She burst into sobs and clung helplessly to her husband.
Three days later, they held a memorial service for Daniel Arun Eppes. It seemed like half the Cal Sci community attended, along with Don's team and Charlie's relatives. When they returned home, they saw the floral arrangement on the front step. Charlie read the card, "I wish we could be with you at this time of loss," he wrapped his arm around Amita's shoulder. "It's from your parents. What do you want me to do with it?"
"Bring it inside. We'll use it as a centerpiece when everyone else gets here for dinner. Everyone can say, 'how thoughtful!' and I'll tell them that the thoughtful ones are the ones who are really here for us when we need them."