Note: This is a short, sad little drabble about Will’s mother and father, whom we never hear of in the canon.
Her hands looked so strange on the pink little body. The body that had come from her own. When she looked down at the angry, victorious baby clasping at her chest, she now saw her mother’s hands. She saw her grandmother’s, too. Hours ago they were her hands. With sweat and blood and tears, they were suddenly his. He’d made them maternal at the very first gasp and scream. These foreign maternal hands cupped the pasty, groping creature. He needed her with a determination that cut off the air in her throat. It made her heart pound hard. It was a love that hurt too intensely. It was a love that would ruin anything that stood in its wake. She was blindsided by what this little Will had already done in the few spare minutes he had graced the world.
“Babe?” William, Sr. asked, poking his head into the delivery room. “Nurses say they gotta take him upstairs for a few tests and whatnot. You doing okay?”
“Yeah,” she said.
She hesitated. “Could you get me a diet Coke?”
“‘Course. I’m on it, babe.”
The staff in scrubs shuffled around her with blankets and a plastic cart, rearranging her various monitor cords and shifting around file folders so that the baby could be identified in his rolling bassinet.
He had nearly cleared the door when she called out. “Don’t cut him!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am?”
“I said don’t cut him. I don’t want him circumcised.”
Understanding breezed across the nurse’s face – an argument she’d waged many times. “At New Orleans Children’s Hospital, we strongly recommend….”
Something, something, based on studies. Insistence on a practice that was more tradition than anything else. “Listen here, lady. You tell those doctors upstairs that if they so much as touch my baby, I’m gonna sue them, this hospital, and you for gross negligence, malpractice, and flagrant disregard of informed consent. I will own this wing if you so much as lay a finger on that child.”
“Ma’am…” the nurse said, not even attempting to put effort into the resistance.
Linda flipped back the rough white sheets of her stretcher and was on her feet in an instant, regardless that the sudden rip of gravity in her guts was nearly blinding.
“So help me God I will go up there myself if you think for one second – ”
“Mrs. Graham. I understand.”
Linda didn’t bother to correct the woman. Since she had checked into the ward the night before, everyone had assumed she was married to the quiet, unassuming mechanic who had upturned her world nearly a year ago. William loved her without restraint. He didn’t have an angle. He’d never even asked about her money. He gave her an unpolished passion that welled up from someplace true and good that she’d never known and hadn’t thought possible. His affection came in the form of handpicked daisies and Coleman coolers with icy beers and smoked trout. Now he had given her a child. He was the most beautiful thing in the world.
“I’ll just mark his chart here and talk to Dr. Rancek myself,” the nurse said. “It’ll all be fine. You just got a lot of hormones pumping through you right now that tell you to protect that little baby.”
“No, I have a law degree and a partnership downtown that tell me I need to protect that baby from your fucking incompetence.”
Streaks of blood and placental fluid chased down her legs as she held her ground. She resisted the urge to grab a hold of the cold metal side guard on the bed for balance. The nurse eyed her defiance with horror and awe.
“How about I have them come down here instead? They can do the labs right here, while you’re with him.”
“Thank you. I’d prefer that.” She grabbed the cart with the newborn and pulled it back to the bedside, not caring about the bloodied footprints she smeared on the terrazzo floor.
Little Will’s face screwed up in a near silent cry. “Shhh, baby boy. Mamma’s here.” He mewled for a minute more before catching her gaze through the clear plastic bin. His eyes grew wide and he stared intently. “That’s right. Mamma’s here. I love you, little boy.” She smiled through tears and he worked his mouth, trying to make the muscles imitate hers.
A cold dread shuddered through her. She knew at once. He had inherited it. The cruel gift she had tried her whole life to hide. The one that made intimacy so impossible. The one that made her a fantastic criminal attorney and a terrible girlfriend. The baby at her side picked up on her sudden distress and began crying again.
She would have to come clean with William. He deserved to know everything. It was not a conversation she had ever wanted to have.
The anxiety over how to break the news about little Will’s inherited empathic disorder gnawed at her insides for days after they were released home. When she tried to put on a brave face, the baby instinctively knew she was lying and he cried. When she let out her frustration, he cried. He was only two weeks old and already his life was filled with fear. Linda was distracted as she crossed the street with an armload of grocery bags. She planned on making William Sr. a big steak dinner with mashed potatoes before dropping the bombshell. She never saw the car peel around the corner and sail through the stop sign.
When William arrived with the baby strapped to his chest in his carrier, he saw the rumpled white sheet on the ground and he knew. The police had told him there had been an accident, nothing more. This wasn’t an accident. This was a catastrophe.
Potatoes and broccoli florets were strewn over the road and he thought someone ought to pick them up. A man talked with the police, slumped against his truck. The fender was a little dented, but that was all. The hole it had left in their lives, by contrast, was bottomless.
Little Will squirmed in his carrier and his Dad clutched him tight. The ring in his pocket – the one he was going to give the mother of his child that night – now felt like a brick.
Linda had wanted to talk that night. So had he. Now there no words to be shared and nothing to be done except care for the tiny bundle in his arms. In a daze, he left the mess for the police to straighten out and headed into the grocery store to buy baby formula.