Coming Nov 1, 2022
Lacy Fields sipped her coffee and stared at her husband over the rim of her cup.
“We’ll be fine.” Cole’s brows rose over his dark brown eyes, and his trim beard followed the line of his lips as he smiled in amusement. “What?”
“You can’t wait to get me out of the house, can you?” The question was an accusation riding on a smile. Today was the big game. The Oklahoma versus Oklahoma State Bedlam matchup. The most anticipated day of the year in the Fields’s household. Anticipated by Cole and their daughter Olivia, that was.
Cole loved his football and his alma mater, OU. Olivia, an only child and a daddy’s girl, shared his passion, though OSU was her team. Lacy had never been able to figure out if her daughter truly preferred OSU or if the girl just liked the rivalry her choice engendered. Regardless, the Bedlam game was as close to a religious experience as you could get for those two outside the walls of Grace Community Church. In a couple of hours, Lacy’s living room would be an explosion of crimson and cream, black and orange, trash talk, and every snack food known to man.
Lacy would be long gone, praise Jesus, before that happened.
She didn’t get football as a whole or this game in particular. She was more than happy to leave the rivalry to the two people she loved most in the world while she enjoyed a spa day complete with a long soak in a hot tub, a sea salt scrub, a ninety-minute massage, a facial, a mani and pedi. Just the anticipation was enough to make her muscles weak.
To each their own version of heaven on earth.
“Now, why would you say that?” Cole extracted a large mixing bowl from the cabinet. After careful study, he replaced it. “Where’s that big bowl you bought for the trick-or-treat snacks last month? Olivia’s appetite is growing right along with her stomach these days. I don’t want to be refilling the bowl every fifteen minutes.
“I heard that.” Olivia waddled into the kitchen, hip-bumped her father out of the way, took her mother’s cup in both hands, and inhaled the aroma reverently. “Oh, that smells so good.” She rested the cup on top of her belly and patted the eight-month mound. “You need to hurry up in there. I need coffee.”
Lacy took her coffee back. “I have some decaf pods.”
Olivia shuddered. “That’s not coffee.”
“Orange juice?” Lacy offered.
“Heartburn,” Olivia put her hands on her hips and faced her father. “You ready to lose, old man?”
Cole huffed out a chuckle. “Lose? That’s big talk from someone who’s team hasn’t won a bedlam game in…” He paused and tilted his head. “How many years has it been?”
Olivia shrugged. “We’ve just been lulling you into a false sense of complacency.”
Lacy grinned at their sniping. These two were her heart and her world. It didn’t bother her a bit to give them their day. “No coffee, no orange juice…I can make hot cocoa.”
Olivia’s eyes rounded. “Your special, made from scratch, secret recipe?”
Lacy glanced at the clock on the stove and did a quick calculation. “If I start right now.”
“Sold,” Olivia said. “You’re the best mom ever.”
“Only because I have the best daughter.” Lacy patted the belly and addressed her granddaughter. “Miss Summer, this is your grandmother. I second the ‘hurry up’. I can’t wait to get my hands on you.” Her attention went back to Olivia. Her fair complexion was a little washed out, even for her. “You look a little peaked. You feeling OK?”
“Just achy and tired of being tired. That, and a healthy dose of jealousy.”
Lacy got the cocoa, vanilla, and milk and mixed the ingredients in a saucepan. Someday Olivia would realize that the secret formula she loved so much was just the recipe on the back of the cocoa tin, but probably not today. “Jealousy?”
“Yeah, I knew when I gave Tucker tickets to the game for his birthday that I probably wouldn’t be able to go, but the thought of watching it on TV while he’s in the bleachers is killing me.”
Cole put his arm around his daughter’s shoulders. “He’ll be sitting in the nosebleed section on a hard seat, freezing his tuchus off and paying eight dollars for a hot dog. You’ll have a cushy recliner, a fireplace, unlimited snacks, close-ups, and replays.”
Olivia made balancing motions with her hands. “Humm, at the game or here.” She shook her head. “Nice try, Daddy, but as much as I love you, I’d still rather be in the stands with my husband.”
Lacy ladled cocoa into a cup and handed it to Olivia. “Here, you go, I’ve got to get out of here or I’ll be late.” She looked at Cole. “Fix something healthy for breakfast before you dive into the junk food.”
“Yeah…yeah. You enjoy your day, and we’ll enjoy ours.” He pulled her into his arms for a goodbye kiss. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Lacy returned his kiss, stepped out of his embrace, and gave Olivia a kiss on the cheek and a belly pat. Her husband and her daughter were arguing about what constituted a healthy breakfast as she walked out the door.
Cole’s eyes were glued to the fifty-two-inch screen as his hand reached into the bowl on the table between him and Olivia. It was empty again, but that fact was quickly eclipsed by the action on the field. The Sooners were setting up for a field goal that would put them two touch downs and three points ahead of the Cowboys at the half. He leaped to his feet when the ball sailed through the uprights and pumped his fist in victory as the clock ticked down to zero. “And that’s the half.” He schooled his face into an expression of sympathy and looked down at his daughter.
“You know where you go for lying, right?” Olivia stretched and winced.
“Kink?” Cole asked.
“I just can’t get comfortable.” She lowered the footrest of the recliner. “I need a bathroom break. The baby is so big right now that there’s no place where she isn’t sitting on my bladder.”
Cole held out a hand and pulled Olivia out of the deep leather cushions. He felt a little helpless, but he remembered those feelings from when Lacy had carried Olivia. There were just some things men were never meant to understand.
Once Olivia gained her feet, she rolled her shoulders and arched her back. She put both hands on her belly and spoke to the baby inside. “I love you, monkey, but you’re killing me.”
Cole put a hand on the small of his daughter’s back and nudged her towards the bathroom in the hall. “Just four more weeks,” he reminded her. “We’ll have a baby by Christmas. Think about how much fun that’ll be.”
“I’m so ready.”
Cole picked up the empty chip bowl. “You go take care of you. I’ll refill this.”
“Did Mom get the guacamole?”
“Then make it tortilla chips this time and bring on the green stuff. Your granddaughter and I have a craving.”
Cole shook his head as he headed for the kitchen. They’d already emptied a bag of corn chips and a bag of regular chips. Not quite a refill every fifteen minutes, but close. That baby had turned Olivia’s appetite from watch-your-figure dainty to starving-truck-driver hearty.” He dumped fresh chips into the bowl, dug the tub of guacamole out of the fridge, and was reaching for a couple of small bowls when Olivia came to the doorway.
“Go sit down, I’m fixing us both a bowl of dip so we don’t fight over it.”
“I don’t think you need to bother.”
“I disagree.” He grinned at his daughter. “You’re greedy.”
“No, really, I don’t think…” Her words faded as she blew out a breath and leaned forward with a tiny gasp.
She straightened. “You know that baby-by-Christmas thing?”
Cole took in the mixture of fear and excitement in his daughter’s expression. “Yeah.”
“Would today suit you? My water broke while I was in the bathroom.”
The dip jar clattered to the counter, and Cole’s heart rate doubled at her words. He hurried across the room, took her by the arm, and led her to a chair. “You’re sure?”
Olivia sent him a withering glance.
“OK.” He rubbed his hands together.
The baby was coming…now?
He was at a loss.
He wasn’t prepared. This wasn’t supposed to be his job this time around.
Think man. This isn’t your first rodeo.
Cole took two steps away but came right back to Olivia’s side as another small moan filled the air. “What do you need me to do?”
“Call Tucker, call Mom, then I think we need the hospital.”
“Gotcha.” Cole patted his pockets for his phone, then pointed to the living room. “I think it’s on the charger. I’ll be right back.” He was babbling but couldn’t seem to stop.
Olivia grabbed his hand before he could step away, her breathing harsh as she doubled over.
Cole automatically counted the seconds and tried to gauge the strength of the contraction by the pressure on his hand. He looked at his bare wrist and wished for the watch he hadn’t worn in years. When Olivia released him, he patted her shoulder. “Hang in there. I’ll be right back.”
Olivia nodded at the same time her eyes widened. “You should probably hurry. I don’t think she’s going to waste any time.”
Ten minutes later they were backing out of the drive. Tucker was on his way, but with game day traffic it would take longer than the normal forty-minutes. He’d reached Lacy halfway through her massage. The girls had talked for a minute, and Olivia seemed calmer after her conversation with her mom. Once Olivia gave the phone back to Cole, Lacy did her best to soothe his nerves.
“OK, Grandpa, don’t panic, you’re fifteen minutes from the hospital, and you have plenty of time. I’m covered in gunk. I’m going to grab a shower and head that way.” Her voice took on a definite note of excitement. “I’m gonna be a grandma. I love you. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
Cole sped around the road that circled Garfield’s lake. The light at the intersection turned green a half a block before he reached it. He patted Olivia’s leg. “See that? God’s clearing the way.”
Olivia grabbed his hand. “He needs to slow this baby down. Oh…”
He glanced over as she squeezed his hand. Her beautiful face was the last thing he saw as a car burst through the red light and plowed into the passenger side of the car.
Lacy paced the floor of the emergency room. Where were they? It had taken her an hour to get here, but she’d still managed to beat them. Cole’s car wasn’t in the lot, and he wasn’t answering his phone. She was getting ready to dial again when her son-in-law rushed through the doors and skidded to a stop beside her.
“What room are they in?” Tucker’s question was breathless.
“They aren’t even here yet.”
“I know,” Lacy said, “I was just about to try Cole’s phone again.”
“I’ll try Olivia’s.” Tucker punched in numbers.
Lacy’s call went straight to Cole’s voice mail, and she had to put her free hand over her other ear to hear his message over the wail of an arriving ambulance. “Cole, I’m at the hospital. You need to call me.” She hung up and looked at Tucker.
“Voice mail,” he said.
Lacy gathered her long black hair into a tail at the back of her head and took a few steps away before letting it fall to cascade down her back. “This doesn’t make any sense. It’s been over an hour since they called.” Lacy left her son-in-law to his pacing and went back to the admissions desk. When the nurse looked up with a patient smile, Lacy spread her hands. “I’m sorry to keep bothering you, but are you sure my daughter hasn’t checked in? Olivia Masters. Could you please look again?”
The nurse turned to her computer. Her hands froze over her keyboard, but instead of typing, she placed a finger on her ear bud and listened for a few seconds. Her eyes cut in Lacy’s direction, but her expression remained professionally neutral. She stood and cleared her throat.
In that brief hesitation, Lacy’s heart relaxed. They were here. Their whole wait had just been a miscommunication. That was all well and good, but she needed to be with her daughter.
“Mrs. Fields?” the nurse asked.
Lacy nodded as she motioned for Tucker to join her. “They found them.”
The nurse’s veneer of calm cracked ever so slightly as Tucker came to Lacy’s side. Something ugly crawled up Lacy’s back, some premonition or sixth sense that had her reaching out to take Tucker’s hand.
The nurse started over. “I’m going to buzz you both through now. A nurse will meet you inside the door.”
A dozen questions formed in Lacy’s mind, but that unspoken dread pushed them to the background. She had just enough time for a prayer before the large double doors to the treatment area swung open.
Jesus, go with us.
I am with you always.
For the first time in her adult life, the nearness of her Heavenly Father failed to bring her peace.
Two nurses waited on the other side of the door. The older took the lead. “Mrs. Fields, I need you to come with me.”
The younger nurse motioned to Tucker. “Follow me, Mr. Masters.”
Lacy took one look at the younger nurse’s sympathetic expression, crossed her arms, and stood her ground. “I need to see my daughter.”
The older nurse, Nancy, according to her badge, stepped between Lacy and Tucker. “I understand, and I promise I’ll arrange that for you just as soon as I can.” She put a firm hand on Lacy’s arm and propelled her down the short corridor lined with treatment rooms. “For now, I need you to come with me. Your husband is asking for you.”
“Why isn’t Cole with Olivia?”
Nancy didn’t answer Lacy’s question. She opened a door and motioned her inside.
Lacy made an impatient little noise and entered the room. She drew up short when she saw Cole lying on a gurney, a sling on one arm, and a bandage wrapped around his forehead.
“Cole!” Lacy rushed to his side and took his free hand. “Sweetheart, what happened?”
Cole’s eyes fluttered open, but he was silent for so long that Lacy wasn’t sure he could see or hear her.
Finally, his lips moved in words Lacy couldn’t hear.
Lacy leaned closer. “What did you say, sweetheart?”
Cole licked dry lips and tried again.
“I’m sorry.” The words were ragged and hoarse.
Lacy squeezed his hand. “Sorry for what?” Her question was automatic, but she bit her lip and braced herself. She knew. God help her, she knew. Suddenly she didn’t want to hear his answer. If she didn’t hear the words, it wouldn’t be true. She tried to pull her hand free, but Cole hung on tighter.
God, please don’t let him…
Cole’s red-rimmed eyes finally focused on her face. Tears streaked down his cheeks. “They’re gone, Lacy. They’re both gone.”