The Marriage Contract(5)

By: Kat Cantrell

“Yes, but once we find an alternative, you can walk away. Until then, our agreement means you have a commitment to his medical needs.” He crossed his arms. “There is literally nothing I would not do to help my child. He needs you. Three months, at least. You can live with me, have your own room. Use a breast pump if you like. You want extra compensation added to the settlement? Name your price.”

As if she could put a price on the maternal instincts that warred with her conviction that whatever decision she made here would have lasting impacts that neither of them could foresee. “I don’t want extra compensation! I want—”

Nothing except what he’d already promised her. A divorce settlement that would pay for medical school and the knowledge that she’d helped him create the family he wanted. It felt so cold all at once. But what was she supposed to do instead? She rarely dated, not after three years with a ho-hum high school boyfriend and a pregnancy scare at nineteen, which was why she refused to go out with one of the men her parents were constantly throwing at her. Dating wasn’t worth the possibility of an accidental pregnancy.

She couldn’t be a mom and a doctor. Both required commitment, an exhaustive number of hours. So she’d chosen long ago which path worked for her. Because she was selfish, according to her mother, throwing away her parents’ teaching about natural remedies as if their beliefs didn’t matter.

So here was her chance to be unselfish for once. She could breast-feed for three months, wean the baby as he grew out of his formula allergy and go back to Portland for the spring semester. It was only a small addition to what had already been a year-long delay.

She’d wanted to experience pregnancy to better empathize with her patients. Why not experience breast-feeding for the same reason? She could use a pump if the baby had trouble latching on, just like any new mother. No one had to know that it was going to kill her to give up the baby a second time after she’d fallen the rest of the way in love with him.

She glanced up at Desmond, who was watching her hold the baby with an expression she couldn’t interpret. “I’ll do it. But you can’t stay in the room.”

His expression didn’t change. “I beg to differ. He’s my son.”

Great, so now he was going to watch. But she could still dictate her own terms. “Can you at least call the nurse back so I can make sure I’m doing it right?”

Instead of forcing her to push the call button, he nodded and disappeared into the hall, giving her a blessed few moments alone. The hospital gown had slits for exactly this purpose so it was easy to maneuver the baby’s face to her aching breast. His cries had quieted to heartbreaking mewls, and his eyes were closed, but his mouth worked the closer she guided him toward her nipple. And then all at once, he popped on like a champ and started sucking.

She was doing it. He was doing it.

Entranced, she watched her son take his first meal on this planet and it was almost holy. Her body flooded with a sense of rightness and awe. An eternity passed and a small sound caused her to glance up. Desmond had returned with the nurse, but he was just watching her quietly with far more tenderness than she would have expected.

“Looks like you’re a natural, hon,” the nurse said encouragingly and smiled. “In a few minutes, you can switch sides. Do you want me to stay?”

“I think I’m okay.”

Really, fetching the nurse had been an excuse to get Desmond out of the room. Women had been doing this for centuries, including those of her parents’ community who were strong advocates for removing the stigma of public breast-feeding. She wasn’t a frail fraidy-cat.

The nurse left. Now that the baby was quiet, she felt Desmond’s presence a whole lot more than she had before, like an extra weight had settled around her shoulders. He was so...everything. Intense. Focused. Gorgeous. Unsettling. Every time she glanced at him, it did something funny to her stomach and she’d had enough new sensations for the day, thanks.

Instead she watched the baby eat in silence until she couldn’t stand it any longer.

“What did you name him?” Her voice was husky and drew Desmond’s attention.

He cocked his head, his gaze traveling over her in a way that made her twitchy. “Conner. His middle name is Clark, after your father.”

That speared her right through the heart. She’d had no idea he’d do something to honor his son’s maternal heritage, and it struck her as personal in a way that dug under her skin. If all had gone according to plan, she’d never have met Desmond, never have known what he’d called the baby. She wouldn’t have looked them up or contacted either of them. Also according to their agreement.

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