Author:Emma Chase

“Baby’s crownin’,” Higgens announces. He pats her knee. “A nice big push on the next one should do it.”


I stand up and glance over Jenny’s leg, and I see the top of the head, pushing against my favorite place in the whole world. It’s bizarre and disgusting, but . . . but kind of incredible too.


Jenny falls back, pale and drained. Her sobs make my throat want to close. “I can’t. I thought I could do it, but I can’t. Please, no more. I’m so tired.”


Her momma wanted to be here in the delivery room—they argued about it. Because Jenny said she only wanted it to be us. Her and me—together.


Gently, I lift Jenn’s shoulders and slide behind her onto the bed, bracing my legs on either side of her. My arms encircle her stomach, my chest supports her back, and her head rests against my collarbone. I brush my lips against her temple, her cheek, murmuring soft nonsensical words, the same way I’d whisper to a skittish horse.


“Shh, don’t cry, darlin’. You’re doin’ so good. We’re almost there. Just one more push. I know you’re tired, and I’m sorry it hurts. One more and you can rest. I’m right here with you—we’ll do it together.”


Her head turns to me wearily. “One more?”


I give her a smile. “You’re the toughest girl I know. You always have been.” I wink. “You got this.”


She takes a few deep breaths, psyching herself up. “Okay.” She breathes. “Okay.” She sits up straighter, bending toward her raised knees. Her fingers clamp down on my hands when the next contraction comes. The room fills with long, guttural groans for a dozen seconds and then . . . a sharp cry pierces the air. A baby’s cry.


Our baby.


Jenny pants and gasps with sudden relief. And Dr. Higgens holds up our squirming, cheesy child and pronounces, “It’s a girl.”


My vision blurs and Jenny laughs. With her own tears streaming down her face she turns to me. “We have a baby girl, Stanton.”


“Ho-ly shit.”


And we laugh and cry and hold on to each other all at the same time. A few minutes later, Happy Nurse Lynn carries the pink bundle over and places her in Jenny’s arms.


“Oh my God, she’s perfect,” Jenny sighs. My awed silence must worry her, because she asks, “You’re not disappointed she’s not a boy, are you?”


“Nah . . . boys are useless . . . nothin’ but trouble. She’s . . . she’s everything I wanted.”


I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know it would feel like this. A tiny nose, two perfect lips, long lashes, a wisp of blond hair, and hands that I can already tell are miniature versions of my own. In an instant, my world shifts and I’m at her mercy. From this moment on, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for this beautiful little creature.


I brush my fingertip against her soft cheek, and even though men aren’t supposed to coo, I do. “Hey, baby girl.”


“Y’all got a name for her?” Nurse Lynn asks.


Jenny’s smiling eyes meet mine before turning back to Nurse Lynn. “Presley. Presley Evelynn Shaw.”


Evelynn is after Jenny’s nana. We figured it might go a long way if she ever finds those shotgun shells. She’s been searching particularly hard since Jenny and I announced we weren’t getting married—yet.


Too soon Nurse Lynn takes the baby back so she can get printed and poked. I climb off the bed while Dr. Higgens busies himself between Jenn’s legs. Then he suggests, “Why don’t you go outside and give your family the good news, son? They’ve been out there waitin’ all night.”


I look to Jenny, who nods her approval. I pick up her hand and kiss the back of it. “I love you.”


She grins, weary but joyous. “I love you too.”


I walk down the hallway, through the security doors to the waiting area. There, I find a dozen of the closest people in our lives wearing varying masks of anticipation and impatience.


Before I can get a word out, my little brother, Marshall—the nonidiot one—demands, “Well? What is it?”


I crouch down eye level with him and I smile. “It . . . is a she.”


? ? ?


Two days later, I strapped the car seat into my pickup—checking it four times, to make sure it was in right—and I brought Jenny and Presley home.


Home to her parents’ house.


And just two months after that, I left them. Traveling twelve hundred miles away to Columbia University, New York.








One year later


She was too precious, Stanton,” Jenny laughs. “She didn’t want to touch the icing at all, didn’t like it stickin’ to her fingers, so she just planted her whole face right in the cake! And she was so mad when I took it back to cut it. I wish you could’ve seen her—this child’s got attitude that puts Nana’s to shame!” She dissolves in a fit of giggles.


Could’ve seen.