Any anxiety I had disappeared the moment I saw Caroline’s face. She looked beautiful—her blond hair up in a clip, her lips bright red with a fresh coat of lipstick. She flashed a wide smile, which prompted me to lean in for a kiss.
“Un-uh. You’ll mess ’em all up. I just reapplied,” she chided as she double-checked her lips in the rearview.
“You’re killing me.”
“You’re killing me,” she said playfully as she put her car in reverse and pulled out from the parking space. Caroline stopped at the mailbox so I could see if the mail had come. It had, and luckily there were a few checks.
“Do you mind if we swing by the bank?” I asked as I got back in the car.
“Not at all,” she answered. “But don’t forget—there’s more to life than just Stone Creek Surfaces.” Caroline opened up her center console and pulled out a manila envelope and waved it before my eyes as a hypnotist might a watch.
“What are those?” I asked.
“What do you think they are?”
“The first images ever captured of our son?”
“Oh, so you think it’s a boy, huh?”
I did have a hunch we were having a boy. But I would have been thrilled either way. Before Caroline and I started dating, I spent my twenties and half my thirties bouncing around from one dysfunctional relationship to the next. I was beginning to think that fatherhood wasn’t part of the plan for me. Even after Caroline and I fell in love and got married, becoming a biological father wasn’t a given. She had needed the help of hormone shots to conceive Alli with her first husband. Though we both wanted to have a child, and though we were trying the same hormone shots from the same fertility specialist, there was no guarantee that the shots would work as well as they had the first time.
Regardless of what was to happen, at least I would always be a step dad. Alli and I have an extremely strong bond, and getting to be a father to her is an incredible blessing that I have never taken for granted. But as fate would have it, after only the first round of shots, Caroline was pregnant.
“Give me those,” I said as I reached for the envelope.
“Ah, ah, ah,” she said as she moved it away from me. “Hold tight, there, mister. I’ll get them out. The last thing we want is a bunch of grimy fingerprints on them.” Caroline reached into the envelope and pulled out four images and fanned them before me. “Pick a card, any card,” she said. I chose the top one.
I’m not sure what I thought the ultrasound images would look like, but the first one I viewed wasn’t what I was expecting. All I saw were a few white blobs, three more pronounced than the others, contrasting starkly against a black background. It certainly didn’t look like a baby to me. It looked more like an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
“What are the blurry white things?”
“Those blurry white things would be babies.”
Babies? Plural? I must have misheard.
“Are these blobs his eyes and this blob his nose or something?”
“Um, no. Maybe one of the other pictures will make more sense to you.”
I went on to the second one, but it looked just like the first—three fuzzy blobs with a hazy black background. The third image was a little different. This time each blob was circled and had a corresponding letter assigned to it. “What do they do,” I asked, “assign a different letter to the various parts of the body? Like maybe this is his head, this is his torso, and this one is the start of his little legs?”
“No honey, it doesn’t work that way,” she answered casually.
“Then what do the letters stand for? Different parts of his brain? Or maybe genitals? Like A is his winky, and B and C are his, you know, his…”
“Honey, a baby at five weeks is half the size of a lima bean. Do you really think that his genitals would be that far along? And if they were, do you really think they’d circle them like they were some kind of medical breakthrough? You can’t even determine the sex of a baby until twenty weeks. I think you need to refocus.”
“I’m sorry, honey,” I said. “I just don’t get it.”
“Well then let me help you. Each letter stands for a baby.”
More silence. More wonder. Much more wonder. I looked into Caroline’s steel-blue eyes for the answer and they looked right back, beaming an emotion through me that I had never felt before—a genuine, thick emotion that could not be diluted, not even by the big tears that began to well in both of them. A pit developed in my stomach and I began to feel dizzy. I thought I might faint.
Can one faint while sitting down?
“I have a question,” I said. “If each letter stands for a baby, why are there three letters? We’re just having one.” Caroline didn’t say a word—at least her mouth didn’t. Her eyes were still trying to explain it to me, but I wasn’t listening. Her eyes didn’t know what they were talking about. We hadn’t signed up for three of them. It simply couldn’t be.
I looked at the fourth picture, but it was pretty much the same thing. Fuzzy circled blobs with one notable distinction from the last one. Instead of just “A,” “B,” and “C,” this picture read “Baby A,” “Baby B,” and “Baby C.” There was no more denying it—the situation was clear. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the one I held in my hand left me with just two.