A New Year, A New Beginning
A couple of people who appeared to be in their late fifties walked into the room, looked around, and immediately retreated. Cullen glanced at DJ with a wry grin. They had a side bet riding on how long it took for any outsiders to go into full retreat mode. DJ had figured at least some would hang in there for a good fifteen minutes; Cullen had bet very few would last longer than five minutes before looking for a less intimidating place to hang out.
So far, Cullen was ahead five to two. The jerk was already making plans for an evening out on the town at DJ’s expense. He couldn’t get mad, though. It should have been obvious that a room full of Paladin and Kalith warriors would scare off all but the most stouthearted visitors to the hospital waiting room.
Besides, the hours passed even more slowly without something to occupy his mind. Well, besides watching Reggie playing dolls with Cullen’s daughter. The weird thing was that he wasn’t seeing Shiri, but another little girl instead, one with his eyes and Reggie’s smile. The thought of him being a father scared him worse than a raging mob of Others, but maybe—just maybe—with Reggie at his side, he might be up to the job. As if sensing the direction his thoughts had taken, Reggie glanced in his direction with a smile that answered his own. Yeah, he was pretty sure he could man up if that’s what his woman wanted.
The door opened again. He and Cullen both got ready to start timing the latest entrants in their secret contest. They both relaxed when Lonzo and Larem walked in carrying several large bags with the logo of a local restaurant on the side. It was about time. All of them had been hanging out here at the hospital shortly after the middle of the day call had gone out that both Laurel and Brenna had gone into labor. It was now nearing midnight, and it had been a couple of hours since either Blake or Devlin had last checked in with an update on how things were progressing.
Lonzo opened the first bag and started distributing the food. He tossed a sandwich in DJ’s direction as he yelled “Catch!”
He was a little more civilized when it came to the women in the room, and especially with Shiri. The room was quiet except for the rustle of paper wrappers and the slurp of drinks. It wasn’t long before a second round of sandwiches went airborne.
DJ dragged himself up off the floor to walk around the room gathering up the trash and empty pop cans. He left the room long enough to find a garbage can and a recycling bin. Considering it was now about half an hour past midnight and the start of a whole new year, it felt damn good to stretch his legs a bit. As he turned the corner heading back to the waiting room, he spotted two familiar figures heading that way from the opposite direction. He ducked into the waiting room and stuck two fingers in his mouth to let loose a shrill whistle.
“Heads up, everybody! Bane and Trahern are on their way here!”
Cullen lurched to his feet. “Do you think it’s another progress report?”
DJ shook his head. “Not from the way they were grinning!”
The whole room fell silent as the two most fearsome Paladins in the region walked in. Both men looked as if they’d been to hell and back, but no one could have missed the relieved joy in their expressions.
Lusahn asked the questions they all wanted to ask. “How are the mothers? And are they boys, girls, or one of each?”
Bane answered first. As he spoke he fell back against the wall for support as if his legs had only been strong enough to get him that far. “Laurel came through it like a trooper. She’s given me a son.”
DJ wasn’t sure how it was possible for Blake Trahern to look even more shaken than Devlin, but his coloring had a definite tinge of gray. “Brenna is holding up better than I am.”
Then he looked around the room, a big grin spreading across his face. “We have a daughter, and she’s every bit as beautiful as her mother.”
The whole room erupted in whoops and hollers. When the nurse at the station just down the hall immediately headed their way, DJ whistled again. “Keep it down before they kick us all out of here.”
Devlin seemed to have caught his second wind. “The nurse said you can all file by to see the babies, and then you need to head home.”
Then he looked around the room, meeting the gaze of each man, woman, and child as he did. “Thank you all for being here for us. It means a lot.”
Blake spoke up. “We’ll go back to the nursery and stand by the window so you can see them. And before you ask, we’re going to name her Veronica, Ronnie for short after Brenna’s father.”
Barak joined the conversation. “Devlin, what is your son to be called?”
“Douglas Devlin Bane, after Laurel’s father and me.” He frowned. “I tried to talk her out of that last part, but you know Laurel once she’s made up her mind.”
Before the weary men could make their escape, everyone in the room lined up and either shook their hand or hugged them or both. DJ wasn’t much for public displays of emotion, but this time he didn’t care. If his eyes were leaking a bit, at least he wasn’t the only one in the room who knew this was a helluva start to the new year.
“Way to go, guys.” But then to lighten the moment, he added, “But you two look like hell. You’d think you were the ones who just went through labor.”
“If I could have, I would have taken Laurel’s place in a heartbeat.” Then Devlin gave him a second hug and whispered, “I think you should be the next one to go through this. It will be fun to see how well you handle it.”
DJ managed a passable sneer. “Afraid I’ll show you up, tough guy?”
Before Devlin could muster up another response, Reggie moved up beside DJ and slipped her hand in his. “In case you’re interested, you’ll both get your chance to find out. The doctor says I’m due in August. That was going to be my New Year’s surprise for DJ.”
DJ’s legs turned to jelly as the floor came rushing up. Trahern caught him before he hit bottom, but somehow DJ couldn’t figure out how to make his knees work. He ended up dangling between his two friends as he stared at the woman he loved with what had to be the biggest, dopiest smile ever.
“Seriously, Reggie? You and me? A kid of our own?”
The news rippled through the room, the excitement level once again rising fast. Before it got out of hand, a nurse pushed her way through the crowd. “Mr. Bane and Mr. Trahern, if you want your friends to get a peek at your babies, it has to be now. Your wives need their rest, and so do you.”
After she got the two of them moving in the right direction, she turned back to face the rest of them. “Keep your voices down as you file by the window. I know this is an occasion for celebrating, but try to contain yourselves.”
Then she patted DJ on the arm as she smiled at Reggie. “I came in just in time to hear your news. Congratulations. Looks like this will be a special year for you two as well. Follow me, and I’ll take you to your friends.”
Still feeling numb, DJ let his wife lead him down the hallway, his mind still reeling with her news. “I love you, Reggie, but you could have warned me. I would have never lived it down if I’d passed out in front of everybody.”
Her smile was totally unrepentant. “Okay, next time I’ll hold off until we’re somewhere more private.”
Next time? He hadn’t even come to terms with this time. Before he could point that out, they reached a large window. His two friends stood on the other side of the glass, each holding a tiny bundle in his arms. DJ’s heart lurched at the sight of Devlin and Trahern each staring down at the new life they held in their hands and their hearts. He wasn’t sure if they looked ecstatic or terrified. Most like, it was a combination of both. He felt the same way.
He squeezed Reggie’s hand. “I don’t know anything about how to be a good father, Reggie, but I promise our child will never doubt he or she is wanted and loved.”
She raised up and kissed him on the cheek. “I know, DJ. Now let’s head home and do a little celebrating of our own.”
“I love the way you think, woman.”
Then he waved at his friends one last time and headed out into the night with his wife at his side.