I'm posting this chapter to admit and apologize for a fairly epic screwup: Long story short, if you tried reading this story in the last few days and were badly confused because one chapter seemed to have nothing to do with the others, it's because I accidentally replaced one with a chapter from a different story. This has been remedied. The moral is, use preview when you update, and clean up "document manager". I'm NOT going to admit to being at all unhappy with the ending I wrote for this story, but as long as I'm doing this, I decided to go ahead and post one more thing, strictly as one more "what if"...
A baby's cry filled the room, soft but persistent. Two masked med techs were waiting with an incubator cart, but they consented to let Pat and then Tiffany's mother hold her, briefly. "It's a girl," Pat said, clasping Tiffany's hand. "Her name's Mary... I remembered you said you liked that name... and her middle name's Jasmine, after Donnie's aunt." He squeezed, but her hand stayed limp.
Veronica withdrew, weeping, and most of the family followed. But Tiffany's parents stayed by her side, her mother weeping on her knees, and Patricio moved to Pat's side. Pat only gazed into Tiffany's eyes, his face jarringly composed, even blank. At last, Patricio put a gentle arm around his son and said, "It's time." Pat nodded, but did not let go of Tiffany's hand.
Two more med techs came in, and Tiffany's father escorted her mother away. "Tiffany, I'm sorry I didn't stay with you on Christmas day," Pat said, leaning forward. "And I'm sorry I didn't let you hear this a lot sooner, but I'm going to say it now... I love you. I loved you the moment I met you, I just needed to catch up." He kissed her, just as the sound of the big machine stopped. There was only the sound of the monitor, a long steady "beeee-"
Pat straightened and started to withdraw, when he met with a sudden, unaccountable resistance. He looked to see Tiffany's hand gripping his wrist. The monitor started to beep, and at virtually the same instant, Tiffany said, "You love me?" Her voice was like a frog with laryngitis, but to Pat it was like a chorus of angels.
Patricio bolted from the room, shouting praises and profanity in the same breath. There was a veritable stampede through the door, which became a pileup as the foremost froze in their tracks. Tiffany was lying still, her eyes closed.
Pat looked up, with tears in his eyes. "What," he said, "she just had a baby. Can't she get some rest?"
On the third day, Tiffany got up to see Mary Jasmine. The months had not been kind. She was pale, and weak, with visible scars under her nose from a breathing tube. Pat had to support her all the way, and still, she almost fell. But her face lit up when Pat pointed, and when Dolores tried to sneak up and take a picture, she pointed to the camera and said, "Take one picture of me like this, and I'm coming for you!"
After a week, Tiffany was nursing MJ, and in six weeks, she was back home. She trained with Pat in the studio, using the rails along the walls for support as she relearned how to walk, and "sitting in the crazy" on the floor, only Tiffany broke the silence to talk about her thoughts and memories. "I feel like I'm reading a book with the pages out of order, and no table of contents," she said after a week. "I can remember all these things, but I'm not sure how they go together... except with you. I can even remember the day we first met, you know, back at Von's wedding, when I was with Tommy and you were dating Nikki. Do you remember that? What I remember is... after... Tommy said there was someone better for you."
The weeks passed, long and grueling. The baby cried a lot, Tiffany fell a lot, and she cursed at Pat a lot. They also made love a lot, more often than not at Tiffany's insistence, and she was especially foul with him after. "I feel like I should hate you," she told him in one of her less unpleasant moments. "You did this to me. You did all of this to me. And the worst part is... without you and MJ... I would have been gone a long time before any of this. I was ready to go, Pat, I was going to do it after I had you. The first time I got you in bed was supposed to be my last fling. But then I woke up feeling different, and I had to wait just to be sure... You fuckin saved my life, Pat, and sometimes, I could fuckin hate you just for that."
At last, it was their anniversary, not of their marriage but of that dinner at Von's. They held a dinner for the extended family, without saying why. They set up a dining table right in the studio, and the affair was as happy as could be hoped for under the circumatances. Pat retired early to put MJ to bed, and Tiffany excused herself to follow him. She listened at the door, and heard him reciting his fairy tale. She listened right up to the last line, "not happily ever after, but doing their best to make each other happy, one day at a time."
Pat stepped out of the baby's room, and Tiffany could tell he knew she had been listening. "Pat, you read that to me before, didn't you?" she said. "When I was asleep, right? I... I actually remembered the ending, before you got to it." They embraced.
"You make me happy," Pat said.
"You make me happy, too."
The next morning, Pat woke up alone in bed. He arose, carefully and quietly, following a faint sound from the baby's room. He was right to the door before he was sure of what he was really hearing: "One two three, one two three... duh dah dah dah..."
Then he peered through the slightly open door, and beheled Tiffany, holding MJ in her arms and occasionally freeing a hand to steady herself against the crib as she slowly went through the steps of a waltz.
"One day at a time," Pat murmured as he returned to bed. "One day at a time..."