“I absolutely will NOT go out on New Year’s Eve,” Calla said, stirring a big pot of black-eyed peas. “We’ve got everything we need right here.”
“Look, I love eating the peas for good luck on New Year’s Day, but couldn’t we just go out for dinner on New Year’s Eve?” Jeff wheedled. “We wouldn’t have to go to a big party or anything. But couldn’t we just do a little something special to mark the new year?”
Jeff loved people. A happy extrovert, he could spend convivial hours telling stories and laughing with whoever happened to be around. It was one of the few areas in which he and Calla differed. Calla’s career was a demanding one, and her idea of heaven was a quiet evening at home. She sighed. Jeff could be such a pain sometimes.
But he could make puppy-dog eyes that got to her every time. Her shoulders relaxed as she smiled at him. “Oh, you’re good! Okay, okay. Just dinner, though, and not some big glitzy restaurant, either.”
He promised. They’d been married eight years, and he’d bumped up against her boundaries often enough to respect them. He made reservations at a little neighborhood bistro where they went often. It wouldn’t be very lively, but he intended to talk her into wearing that little black dress he liked. He’d gotten her a necklace for Christmas that would be perfect with it. Jeff loved to see his wife all decked out instead of in her usual surgical scrubs.
They went early. Calla didn’t want to be on the streets once the heavy drinking started. As an Emergency Department physician, she’d seen enough road carnage to last her a lifetime.
The little restaurant was brave with candles and sparkly garlands draped from every available surface. There were few diners at such an early hour. Their waitress, whom they knew by name, waddled to the table with the menus.
“Wow, Conchita, look at you!” Calla said, casting a professional eye over Conchita’s enormous baby bump. “When’s the big day?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” Conchita said, pressing a hand to her back. “I guess I’ll know when it’s time, just like with the other four.”
The food she eventually brought them was delicious. They ate in silent appreciation, their conversation momentarily stilled. So they plainly heard the commotion in the kitchen.
A busboy ran to the front of house where the manager stood near the door. Both Calla and Jeff could speak Spanish, but they couldn’t comprehend it at the speed with which it was pouring forth. The manager grabbed her phone and they heard she was calling 911. The busboy was hopping from one foot to the other.
“Ahora! No hay tiempo! Is now! Is now!”
Calla and Jeff exchanged a look. They stood and walked through the swinging doors into the kitchen. There was Conchita with her forehead pressed to the wall, back arched with the convulsive pain of imminent birth. Calla took her hand, ignoring the torrent of panicky Spanish around them.
“Estarás bien. You will be all right,” she said steadily. “Babies that come so fast are always healthy. We’re going to get you up on the prep table where the light is better. Your baby is almost here.”
Calla signaled to the cook to clear the prep surface, which he did with a sweep of his arm. The busboy darted forward with a cloth and a spray bottle of disinfectant. Supported on both sides, Conchita gingerly transferred herself to the stainless steel table. Jeff stood behind her and supported her back while Calla caught the baby and wrapped him in a clean dishtowel. In a remarkably short time, the wail of a healthy newborn transfixed everyone within earshot, echoed by the siren of an approaching ambulance.
“You have to admit that was a unique New Year’s Eve celebration,” Jeff said as Calla stripped off her ruined black dress at home.
“We did well, didn’t we?” Calla’s voice was high with leftover adrenalin. “That was real teamwork.”
“Did you see the baby looking at you when you wrapped him? His eyes were full of…something so mysterious; I don’t know how to describe it.”
“I felt as though he saw directly into my soul. I guess that clarity will fade as he gets used to being in the world. I’ll never forget it, though.”
“So, do you suppose we’ll ever…?”
“I can’t think why we’ve waited so long.”
“I don’t want to leave Bella with a sitter, not when she’s still so tiny. I know you love to celebrate, though,” Calla said the following New Year’s Eve.
There’d been no time to cook a big pot of black-eyed peas, but it didn’t matter. She’d never felt luckier as she sat in the rocking chair with their three-month-old daughter clasped in her arms, a sleep-deprived, radiant Madonna. Jeff smiled from across the room.
“You must have me mixed up with somebody else,” he said. “I absolutely will NOT go out on New Year’s Eve. I’ve got everything I need right here.”