Small Great Things(11)

Written By: Jodi Picoult

Many years later, I realized that the first time I went to Invisible Empire camp—the first time I heard Francis Mitchum speak—Brit must have been there, too, traveling with her father. I liked to think that maybe she was standing on the other side of that stage, listening to him hypnotize the crowd. That maybe we had bumped into each other at the cotton candy stand, or stood side by side when sparks from the cross lighting shot into the night sky.

That we were meant to be.

FOR AN HOUR, Brit and I toss out names like baseball pitches: Robert, Ajax, Will. Garth, Erik, Odin. Every time I think I’ve come up with something strong and Aryan, Brit remembers a kid in her class with that name who ate paste or who threw up in his tuba. Every time she suggests a name she likes, it reminds me of some * I’ve crossed paths with.

When it finally comes to me, with the subtlety of a lightning strike, I look down into my son’s sleeping face and whisper it: Davis. The last name of the president of the Confederacy.

Brit turns the word over in her mouth. “It’s different.”

“Different is good.”

“Davis, but not Jefferson,” she clarifies.

“No, because then he’ll be Jeff.”

“And Jeff’s a guy who smokes dope and lives in his mother’s basement,” Brit adds.

“But Davis,” I say, “well, Davis is the kid other kids look up to.”

“Not Dave. Or Davy or David.”

“He’ll beat up anyone who calls him that by mistake,” I promise.

I touch the edge of the baby’s blanket, because I don’t want to wake him. “Davis,” I say, testing it. His tiny hands flare, like he already knows his name.

“We should celebrate,” Brit whispers.

I smile down at her. “You think they sell champagne in the cafeteria?”

“You know what I really want? A chocolate milkshake.”

“I thought the cravings were supposed to happen before the birth…”

She laughs. “I’m pretty sure I get to play the hormone card for at least another three months…”

I get to my feet, wondering if the cafeteria is even open at 4:00 A.M. But I don’t really want to leave. I mean, Davis just got here. “What if I miss something?” I ask. “You know, like a milestone.”

“It’s not like he’s going to get up and walk or say his first word,” Brit answers. “If you miss anything it’s going to be his first poop, and actually, that’s something you want to avoid.” She looks up at me with those blue eyes that are sometimes as dark as the sea, and sometimes as pale as glass, and that always can get me to do anything. “It’s just five minutes,” she says.

“Five minutes.” I look at the baby one more time, feeling like my boots are stuck in pitch. I want to stay here and count his fingers again, and those impossibly tiny nails. I want to watch his shoulders rise and fall as he breathes. I want to see his lips purse up, like he’s kissing someone in his dreams. It’s crazy to look at him, flesh and blood, and know that Brit and I were able to build something real and solid out of a material as blurry and intangible as love.

“Whipped cream and a cherry,” Brit adds, breaking my reverie. “If they’ve got it.”

Reluctantly I slip into the hallway, past the nurses’ station, down an elevator. The cafeteria is open, staffed by a woman in a hairnet who is doing a word-search puzzle. “Do you sell milkshakes?” I ask.

She glances up. “Nope.”

“How about ice cream?”

“Yeah, but we’re out. Delivery truck comes in the morning.”

She doesn’t seem inclined to help me, and focuses her attention on her puzzle again. “I just had a baby,” I blurt out.

“Wow,” she says flatly. “A medical miracle, in my very own checkout line.”

“Well, my wife had a baby,” I correct. “And she wants a milkshake.”

“I want a winning lottery ticket and Benedict Cumberbatch’s undying love, but I had to settle for this glamorous life instead.” She looks at me as if I’m wasting her time, as if there are a hundred people waiting in line behind me. “You want my advice? Get her candy. Everyone likes chocolate.” She reaches blindly behind her and pulls down a box of Ghirardelli squares. I flip it over, scanning the label.

“Is that all you have?”

“The Ghirardelli’s on sale.”

I flip it over and see the OU symbol—the mark that proves it’s kosher, that you’re paying the Jewish mafia a tax. I put it back on the shelf and set a pack of Skittles down on the counter instead, with two bucks. “You can keep the change,” I tell her.

JUST AFTER SEVEN, the door opens, and just like that I’m on full alert.

Since Davis arrived, Lucille’s been in twice—to check on Brit and the baby, and to see how he was nursing. But this—this isn’t Lucille.

“I’m Ruth,” she announces. “I’m going to be your nurse today.”

All I can think is: Over my dead body.

It takes every ounce of willpower for me to not shove her away from my wife, my son. But security is only a buzzer away, and if they throw me out of the hospital, what good does that do us? If I can’t be here to protect my family, then I’ve already lost.

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