Cole started with the hall closet. Frantic, he shoved aside hangers full of coats just taking up space now, in August. Bethany’s mom had marked every box, labeling each one in her careful, looping handwriting. books, movies, etc., family photos. Cole tore open the box labeled mementos and found . . . a bunch of Duane’s old comics. Why anyone would want to hold on to those things was way beyond Cole, but Bethany’s family was weirdly sentimental about stuff. He didn’t bother closing up the box. He didn’t even shut the closet door.
Where the hell is it?
Cole headed out to the garage, but he was walking too fast and stubbed his toe on an old chest of drawers. The thing was solid cherrywood and weighed a ton, the kind of furniture that would stay with the house long after Bethany’s family had moved on.
On a whim, Cole opened the chest of drawers. He’d seen Bethany messing around in there last week. . . .
And there it was. Cole let out a huge sigh of relief. Jesus, all this fuss just for a stupid . . .
A terrible scream came from the upstairs bedroom. It was unlike anything he’d heard before. Deep, full of pain, but strength, too. And it sent Cole running like hell.
He should have sent someone else to search. What was he thinking, leaving at a time like that? But who would he have sent? Duane? Bethany’s brother was about as useless as they came in a crisis. Couldn’t be trusted with the simplest of . . .
Another scream set Cole’s feet to climbing the steps two at a time. Three. He stumbled halfway up, and nearly lost his balance altogether. Wouldn’t that have been a thing—breaking a leg at a time like this? But he grabbed the railing to steady himself and kept moving. At the top of the landing he spotted Duane and his girlfriend, Missy, waiting anxiously outside the door. Hell, Duane looked green enough to puke.
Cole’s own stomach gave a lurch as he paused outside the bedroom door. Shit, what if he dropped him?
“Cole,” said Missy. “She’s waiting for you.”
Right. He worked up a smile and pushed open the door.
The first thing that struck him was the mix of smells. Coppery blood and sour sweat. Bethany’s long blond hair was plastered across her forehead, and her cheeks had a chalky look.
“Cole,” she murmured.
He hurried to her side. Bethany’s mom held a wet towel to her daughter’s head. She offered Cole a cool look, but he ignored it. “I’m here, baby,” said Cole.
Marci, their doula, lifted the sheet. “She’s close. We’re almost there.”
Bethany let out another scream as contractions racked her body. Cole held her hand. He showed her the sky-blue baby blanket he’d brought, stained and yellowed at the edges with the years. It smelled like mothballs. “I found it. It was in that old chest of drawers.”
Bethany nodded, but she couldn’t talk. The veins in her neck looked like ropes drawn taut as she bore down for another push. It hurt so much to watch her in pain like this. He cursed the moment Bethany had ever heard of a “doula.” He hated Bethany’s new hippie friends at the birthing classes and he hated himself for agreeing to do this the natural way. He should have fought for the drugs, goddammit. He should have fought for a hospital instead of a bedroom.
A cry ripped out of her like a bleating lamb at the slaughter. She squeezed his hand until it hurt.
Cole snapped at Marci. “Do something, damn it!”
“Cole!” warned Bethany’s mom.
But the doula calmly replied, “It’s time. Come here.”
They’d piled the floor around the bed high with blankets, which were stained now with blood and amniotic fluid. Cole felt dizzy. Marci worked between Bethany’s legs. “One more push, Bethany! Now!”
Another cry. A splash of water hitting the floor. Then a different cry altogether.
“Cole,” said Marci. “The scissors, please.”
Scissors? Shit, where’d he put them?
“On the dresser.”
There they were, a pair of big black-handled scissors, the kind a schoolteacher would keep in her desk.
Quickly, he handed them to Marci, handle first.
“No,” she said. “They’re for you. Cut right here.”
He couldn’t quite comprehend the scene. The baby squirming in Marci’s hands looked like a purple doll covered in lard. Dumbly, Cole opened the scissors and cut the umbilical cord about an inch from the baby’s belly. It was tougher than he’d expected, like a garden hose.
“Good,” Marci was saying. “Now the blanket.”
Cole held out the blanket, suddenly worried about the mothball smell. He shouldn’t have forgotten it. He should’ve found it sooner, let it have a chance to air out.
Gently, Marci placed the baby in Cole’s...