Welcome back! Marita and Charli are on their way to visit Angel in the hospital.
Before Marita could rummage in her purse for the scrap of paper she'd scrawled Angel's room number on, Charli was pulling her down the hall. "5109! C'mon!"
Marita slipped her purse strap over her shoulder and ran her free hand through her hair. Could she do this? Watch her daughter slide effortlessly into the role of big sister in Jim's new family?
"Here it is!" Charli was practically vibrating.
"Ssh," Marita hissed more forcefully than she'd meant to.
Charli cocked her head to one side. "Mom?"
"Sorry," Marita said. "It's just that Angel might be resting. Having a baby takes a lot out of you."
"Literally." Charli pushed open the door and peeked into the room. "Angel?" she whispered.
Angel's face broke into a wide grin. "Charli!"
Charli made a beeline for the bed, then leaned down to hug her stepmother.
"I'm so glad you both could come," Angel said.
"Congratulations," Marita said. "He's beautiful."
"Yeah," Charli said. "And I can't wait to hold him. Are you doing better?"
Angel nodded, taking her stepdaughter's hand. "Much. I hope I didn't frighten you the other night."
Marita sat in the room's only seat, an olive green, institutional issue chair with a pillow on the seat and matching pillow on its back to cushion the pale wood frame that creaked when Marita sat down. Watching her daughter interact with Angel, Marita marveled at how naturally the maternal role came to Angel. There was no way Angel was as fine as she pretended to be. She wouldn't fully recover for another few days and, by then, she'd have sleepless nights at home to deal with. But despite all that, she put on a brave face so Charli wouldn't worry about her.
Marita blinked. "I'm sorry, honey, my mind was somewhere else. What did you say?"
Charli tilted her head to one side and fixed her mother with a stern look. "I said of course you're not upset with Angel."
"Why would I be?"
Angel's shoulders relaxed. "I felt so awful dragging Charli to the hospital with us. I had no intention of giving her a crash course in labor and delivery."
Marita shook her head. "Angel, you were in labor. You didn't exactly have time to start making phone calls."
Angel grinned. "No, I guess not." She turned to her stepdaughter. "So, you're really okay?"
"Fine. I'm not a little kid." Charli looked from Marita to Angel and back again. "What?" She sighed. "Okay, I was a little freaked out at first, but I"m fine now." She grinned and looked at Angel. "And you were a pretty good advertisement for how painful it is to have a baby. It did kind of gross me out."
"Good," Angel and Marita said together.
"Oh, nice," Charli sat on the bed. "And here I thought you were concerned about me."
"We were, Miss Drama Queen," Marita said. "But it's pretty obvious you haven't suffered any long-term damage."
"Can we see Adam?" Charli asked. "I mean, up close and personal?"
Angel reached for the call button. "I'll ring for the nurse."
As Marita listened to Angel tell Charli how she and Jim had decided on their son's name -- Adam, from God's first human creation, and James, after his father -- it struck her how far they'd come from that mediation ten months ago, when Marita had sworn that the joint custody recommendation would happen only over her dead body. Angel had won Charli's trust in the simplest of ways, by showing a genuine interest in her feelings and what was best for her, and Charli had convinced Marita to give Angel a chance. Together, the three of them had worked out an arrangement that was a good fit for everyone and, even more surprising, they'd convinced Charli's father to agree. Now, Charli was the happiest Marita had ever seen her. Marita only hoped that this new baby didn't displace Charli, sending Jim back to the quasi-absentee parent role that had been his default for most of Charli's life.
Nurse Ramona bustled into the room, shaking her head and carrying Adam in the crook of one arm. "You're lucky he wasn't sleeping," she said. "This little man isn't just a show-and-tell item, you know." She stopped inches from the bed and looked at Charli, then Angel. "Well, I beg your pardon," Ramona said. "Why didn't you tell me who was visiting? How are you doing, Miss Charlotte?"
Charli turned pink and smiled at the nurse. "I'm fine, thanks, Nurse Ramona."
"Well, it's good to see you again, child. I'm very happy you got here before my shift was over." She laid Adam in to Angel's arms, where he immediately began to wail. Tears filled Angel's eyes almost as quickly as they had filled her son's.
Nurse Ramona clicked her tongue. "Try to relax, honey" she said. "He feels your tension."
"Can I try?"
Angel looked at Nurse Ramona.
"Hold your arms like this," Nurse Ramona said to Charli, taking Charli's arms and forming a cradle with them. "Relax your shoulders, and don't forget to support his head."
Marita tiptoed from the chair to the bed as Angel passed Adam to Charli. Charli pulled Adam slowly toward her, looked down into his face and smiled. "Hi, Adam. I'm your big sister."