Authors: Kaylee Ryan
“Her name is Melissa. Melissa Knox.”
My mind races.
Melissa Knox. Do I know a Melissa Knox? Could it be Melissa from a few months ago? The one who ran out on me in the middle of the night?
She’s the only Melissa I can think of. “I know a Melissa, met her several months ago. I don’t know her last name, though. It doesn’t make any sense. There has to be some kind of mistake.”
“It’s all here in her records. She has you listed: Ridge Beckett, Beckett Construction.”
Holy fucking shit! Is this real?
There are so many emotions rolling through me right now. Relief that it’s not my family or friends, confusion as to why Melissa—if she is even the same Melissa—would list me as her next of kin, fear that she’s not going to be okay. Regardless of that fact that I now could have a connection with her, I still have this strong urge, a feeling deep in the pit of my gut, that I need her to be okay.
“What does that mean? Is she going to be okay? Can I see her? See if it’s the same person?” I fire off questions one after the other.
“Yes, you can see her, but just for a few minutes. She’s still in critical condition. And being her next of kin means you’ll be the one making medical decisions for her until she wakes up.”
No fucking way. “I need to see her, see if I know her. This has to be a mistake.”
“Sure, but like I said, it can only be a few minutes. We’re monitoring her closely.”
“That’s fine, I just need . . .” I swallow hard. “I need to see if it’s her, if it’s the same Melissa.”
“Of course, right this way.”
“I’ll wait here for you,” Sheriff Simpson says. “Anyone you want me to call for you?”
“Not yet. I don’t know if . . . Not yet.” I stand and follow Alice out of the room.
The hallways are bustling with activity—doctors, nurses, even patients walking around. Alice leads us to the end of the hall and through a set of double doors marked Critical Care Unit. There are patient rooms surrounded by glass and doors, unlike the other that are only separated by curtains.
Stopping in front of Room 3, Alice turns to me. “She hasn’t woken up yet. I’ll leave you, but just a few minutes.” I watch her walk to the small nurses’ station, seemingly to give me a sense of privacy.
Squeezing my eyes closed, I take in a deep breath and hold it. Slowly, I release the air from my lungs, willing my heart to slow its pace. I repeat this at least three times, probably more before I grip the door handle and walk into her room. The privacy curtain is pulled around the bed. When I slowly walk around it, I freeze.
Melissa from the bar all those months ago, who left me in her bed in her motel room after our night of hot sex. The Melissa I’ve thought about often and wondered what made her slip away in the middle of the night. What would’ve happened if I had woken up with her lying beside me? Would she be here now? Lying in the hospital bed fighting for her life? I think back to that night—she said she was just passing through. What is she doing here now, so close to me and my company? Why would she list me as her next of kin?
Her face is bruised and she’s bandaged over one eye. Her eyes are closed, and she appears to be sleeping peacefully. Except that’s not the case at all. She has yet to wake up.
Will she ever?
“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t know she had company. I’m Dr. Ellis. I just came by to check the baby’s vitals.”
Wait? What did he just say?
“Umm, the baby?”
“Yes, it appears as though Miss Knox is eight months along.” He gives me a look like I must be crazy. Why wouldn’t I be? Who lists someone they met briefly, had hot sex with and runs out on them as their next of kin?
That’s when it hits me. Eight months ago. I count back in my head.
No. It can’t be.
I try to breathe, but I can’t seem to suck in any air.
“Sir, you okay?”
Bending over, I place my hands on my knees and fight like hell to catch my breath.
Is this really happening?
“Sir?” the doctor tries again.
“Why don’t you sit down?” a soft, feminine voice says from beside me.
I don’t know who she is or where she came from, but when she and the doctor each take an arm and lead me to a chair beside the bed, I don’t fight it.
“Slow, deep, even breaths. That’s it, in and out,” she coaches me.
I focus on her voice, blocking out the white noise bouncing around in my head. Another slow, deep breath and I feel some of the pressure release from my chest.
“Good,” the woman says. Looking up, I see that it’s Alice. “I take it you didn’t know she was expecting?” she asks.
No shit, Sherlock.
“No. I met her once, briefly.” I’m barely able to croak the words out around the lump in my throat.
Confusion crosses her face.
“Is the baby . . . okay?” I can hear myself speak, but it doesn’t even sound like me.
“I’ve been monitoring the baby closely and everything is fine,” Dr. Ellis replies.
Slumping back in the chair, I stare at Melissa, trying to make sense of all this. Why me? Unless . . . Is this baby mine? Is that why she was here, to tell me that I’m going to be a father? My mind races with different scenarios, and that’s the only thing that makes sense.
“I found this in her personal belongings.” Alice keeps her tone soft and soothing.
Looking up, I see her holding an envelope with my name scrawled across the front.
“We’ll give you a few minutes,” Dr. Ellis says.
I grasp the letter in my hands, staring at my name. I want to open it, see what it says, but then again I don’t. I just want to wake up from this nightmare. I want a do-over on today. Squeezing my eyes closed, I lean my head back against the chair. I feel it deep in my soul that these words, this day, are going to change the rest of my life.
Expect the unexpected, isn’t that what they say?
Steeling my resolve, I rip open the envelope and begin to read.
If you’re reading this, that means I chickened out. That’s the coward’s way, I know. I have a tendency to run, but you already know that. First, let me start by saying how sorry I am about leaving you that night. No excuse is a good one, but here’s mine.
A few weeks before I met you, I lost my parents.’ My adoptive parents. Growing up, I was in and out of foster homes until I met Mr. and Mrs. Knox. They adopted me and gave me my first real home. I wanted to show them how grateful I was, so I studied hard, kept my nose buried in a book, and didn’t cause problems. They missed me graduating from college. I chose to be a paralegal to work in their law firm. Needless to say, the day I lost them, I lost my entire world.
The night I met you, I just wanted to forget. I’m not a drinker, but I was willing to do anything to numb the pain. Then I met you and the guys. It was nice to be included in the conversation, to feel like I was a part of something more. I was instantly attracted to you and have no regrets about our night together. You were the first real thing I ever did for myself. I wanted to know what it would feel like to be spontaneous and feel wanted. You gave me both. When I woke up, I was ashamed. Not because of you, but because of the feelings you brought out in me. I still replay every minute of that night in my head. Even through my drunken haze, I remember everything like it was just yesterday. For many reasons, that is, to date, the best night of my life. I finally lived for me, with no regrets.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. Not only did you give me the greatest night of my life, but you gave me my own little miracle. Not even a month later, I started to feel ill. It just wouldn’t go away, so naturally I broke down and went to the doctor. Turns out, I wasn’t sick at all—I was pregnant. I am pregnant. I know we used protection, but you were still able to give me my little miracle. I refuse to call him an accident. I believe in fate, Ridge, and I believe our night together was supposed to happen. In just a little under a month, I will give birth to a little boy, who I already love more than words could ever express. You gave me a real family, something I had for a small time before it was taken away from me. I was lost in the world, until the minute I heard those two words: ‘You’re pregnant.’
Since you’re reading this, you know that I am again taking the easy way out. I know that you have a right to know about your son, but I’m scared to death that you will reject him, or worse, take him from me. You seem like a great guy, but honestly, I don’t really know you. I know it’s still possible, but then again, will I chicken out and not send this letter? I hope not. You deserve to know. I want you to know that I do not expect anything from you. My parents’ left me set for life, so money is not an issue. I don’t expect you to play a role in his life, unless you want to. All I ask is that if you do, make sure it’s what you want. I don’t ever want my son to know the rejection of a parent like I did. At least that is my hope.
I do plan to list you as his father because, should something ever happen to me, you will be all he has. It will then be your choice to make. I pray that you would not reject our son. I have a trust set up for him as well—like I said, my parents’ left me financially stable, I’ve tried to prepare for every scenario. I had to put an emergency contact in my medical records. After discussing it with my OB/GYN, he suggested that since I was listing you on the birth certificate that I put you for the contact as well. That way, if something were to go wrong in the delivery, they would know how to reach you. So I did that. I don’t anticipate that you will ever be called, but I felt obligated to tell you.
I love this baby, Ridge. I will give him a life full of love and happiness. I am leaving the ball in your court as to how much or how little you would like to be involved. Below, you will find my contact information. I hope to hear from you soon.
My hands are shaking. I’m going to be a father. I cast my gaze on Melissa, who still looks as though she’s just sleeping soundly. I take her in until I reach her swollen belly.
I have a son.
Fear like I’ve never known before races through my veins.
Is he okay? What does Melissa’s condition mean for him? What if she never wakes up? Can I raise him?
Slowly, I stand and walk to the side of the bed. I rest one shaking hand on the bed to hold me up and gently place the other over her swollen belly. Tears prick my eyes.
This situation is ten kinds of fucked. I want to be mad at her, but she was coming to tell me. At least, I hope she would have made it; she was close, a few miles from the shop.
I’m lost in my thoughts when I feel a bump against my hand. I pull it back quickly, just as Alice and Dr. Ellis walk back into the room.
“It’s okay,” Alice says in her calm, soothing voice. “The baby kicked.” She gives me a soft smile.
“Are you her nurse?”
“Yes, I’ve been with her since they brought her in.”
“And you?” I point to Dr. Ellis. “Are you her doctor?”
“I’m the obstetrician on call. The baby is my patient, and Ms. Knox is being treated from the staff physician on call. He and I are working together for the best possible outcome for both.”
“Is the baby . . . Is he okay? I mean, what happens if she doesn’t wake up? Are you sure he’s fine?”
“I’m sure. I’m watching his vitals, and I performed an ultrasound as soon as they were brought in. I think you should speak to her physician about her condition.”
“I’m the father.” I point to the letter that I set on the end of her bed. “That’s what the letter says, that I’m the baby’s father.”
“How about I do another ultrasound? That way, you can see your baby, see for yourself that he’s okay,” Dr. Ellis suggests.
That lump is back. “Please,” I croak out. “I would also like to speak to her doctor and you, if possible. I just . . . need to know what to expect.”
“I can page him while you’re performing the ultrasound,” Alice offers.
“Thank you, Alice,” Dr. Ellis says.
I watch as she leaves the room and comes right back in, pushing a machine. She sets it next to the bed, gives me a soft smile, and scurries back out the door.
I watch with rapt attention as Dr. Ellis carefully pulls back the blanket covering Melissa’s body and lifts up her gown.
“Wait, what are you doing?” I ask.
“I need to have her belly bare. I place this gel on her abdomen and then this—” he holds up a small piece of equipment that appears to be hooked to a screen “—will let us see your baby.”
I’ve see this done on TV, so I get the concept. But she’s just lying there, unable to speak for herself. I need to protect her—that’s my job, right? As her emergency contact, it’s my job to look out for her, and as the . . . father. I swallow hard.
I’m going to be a father.
Dr. Ellis continues, placing the gel on her swollen belly and the small handle. “Watch the screen,” he tells me.
Stepping as close to the bed as I can get, my eyes lock onto the little black screen. I’m just about to ask what I’m looking for when the screen turns to black and white. And there, in a tight little ball, is my son.
I have a son.
“Ten fingers.” The doctor points to the screen. “Ten toes.” He points again. “This is his heartbeat, steady and strong. He’s a fighter.”
I grip the side of the bed to keep from falling over. It’s all too much to take in. There he is—a part of me, on that tiny, little black and white screen. I have so many emotions running through me I can’t even identify them all.
Without thinking, I lean down and whisper in her ear. “Hey, Melissa. You need to stay strong, fight. He needs you.”
Dr. Ellis, takes some measurements and points out different things. The baby starts to suck on his thumb, so he zooms in on that. I’m enthralled with watching him. All too soon, the screen goes black and Dr. Ellis is wiping off her belly.