“Two days, just two days,” Deidra screamed as her coach encouraged her to push.
She blew out a breath, and started pushing again as her coach counted down.
“We have a hairy head crowning,” a voice hollered from somewhere down there.
The coach stood by her best friend, “One more push, you can do it.”
“You do it! This baby wasn’t supposed to get here until after Charlie came home.” Deidra scrunched up her face and pushed again.
“He’ll be home tomorrow, and look what a precious gift you have to give him.”
Deidra stopped pushing, and started panting blowing the bangs out of her face, and cut her eyes at her girl friend.
Sammie clamped her eyes shut. She was afraid that Deidra would find a way to throttle her very soon if she kept making comments about Charlie coming home tomorrow.
“Okay, take a deep breath, one more push and you’ll be a mommy,” said the voice on the other side of the sheet.
Deidra took a breath, while Christy helped her up into the final push.
Everything went silent for a second; then a healthy cry erupted from the other side of the sheet.
“She’s beautiful. Here you go Mommy,” Lt. Timmons stood cradling the newborn as the nurses fluttered about. As he laid the newborn in her mother’s arms he asked, “Your husband is on the Taylor, right? I’ll let him know he has a beautiful little girl while you’re getting to know your daughter.” He turned to leave the room.
“NO!” Deidra shouted, “Don’t you dare call him! It will just upset him that he wasn’t here.”
Christy looked at the doctor pleading her friend’s case, “Please don’t let the ship know. It will be a great surprise for her to meet the ship with the baby.”
“What time does the ship come in?”
“8:00 in the morning,” Christy replied.
Lt. Timmons looked at the head nurse questioningly, while she studied the pattern on the tile floor with a look of you already know there’s no way to make that happen on her face. “I’ll see what I can do, but I doubt that I’ll be able to get her checked out by then.”
Deidra looked up from her baby’s bright eyed face, “You’ll just have to.” As far as she was concerned that was that. She’d never missed a Homecoming Ceremony, and she wasn’t starting now. She’d be on that dock when Charlie came home, no matter what.
Charlie paced the bridge, back and forth rubbing his palms together nervously. The closer to port they got, the more he felt those ‘I’m going to be a daddy’ nerves.
Through Skype calls he’d watched his wife’s body changing during his six month deployment. He’d listened to her talk about the morning sickness, first movements, and the baby kicking so hard Deidra felt like she was going to fall out of bed. He felt so left out, missing all of those special moments. Their last Skype call included a peek at her huge belly. The baby was pushing its hand outward. He could see each finger as it wiggled against the tight skin. Deidra told him the baby was waving and telling him to hurry home. Charlie was surprised he even thought of snapping a picture to show off to his friends. His first baby picture, he smiled at the thought of it taped to his computer.
He couldn’t help but worry. Deidra’s due date was closing in. He’d have the chance to go to one birthing class before the big due day. His mind raced with all of the unknowns facing him. Would he panic? Would he faint? Would he be any help at all? Would she even talk to him? He started pacing a little faster.
The OD shook his head. An old hand at being a daddy, he clasped his hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “Son, I’d like to have a little bit of floor left at the end of this tour. Calm down, women do this every day. She’s on base,” he calmly paused letting his words sink in, “she’s close to the hospital. There’s nothing else to do but the waiting. You’ll be home tomorrow morning. You’re first off, and on first leave. Everything is going to be fine.” He paused again while he looked at his clip board, “Why don’t you go check and see if she emailed you today. And Charlie,” Charlie paused and looked back at the OD, “Breathe!” He shook his head, looked up at the navigator on duty and smiled, “He’ll never make it.”
That last call home seemed like ages ago. He logged on, and waited for the computer to come to life. No new emails, his heart sank. He sat and typed in a short message.
Hey Baby, how’s my baby doing? I’m so excited to be coming home tomorrow. I can’t wait for the baby to kick me out of bed. Any news? Boy or Girl? I know. I told you that it would be better a surprise if we didn’t know.
D, I love you with all my heart. I can’t wait to see you tomorrow. I’ll be on duty tonight. It’s going to be the hardest duty station knowing you’re just a few miles away. I can’t wait to see you on the dock.
All my love,
The nurses seemed to be moving in slow motion. Deidra signed and processed all of the paperwork. The baby was somewhere in the nursery instead of being in her arms. She checked her watch again. It’s a conspiracy to make me miss the Homecoming. Deidra’s frustration level was hitting a new high as she paced the floor of her room.
“Here she is, Mrs. Dawkins. Now, you get her changed, I’ll see if I can find an aide to get a wheel chair to get you out of here. Is the person picking you up here?”
Deidra’s face went blank. She’d driven herself to the hospital in labor. How was she going to get to the dock? She burst into tears. Christy had to be at work today. Everybody else would already be at the dock. She couldn’t ask one of them to leave and probably miss all of the festivities. She sat down on the bed. Bewildered and hopeless she looked up at the nurse, “I don’t know. Everybody I know is down waiting on the ship.”
Alexis sat down on the bed beside Deidra and patted her leg. “Honey, it will be alright. After all didn’t Brad Paisley sing about ‘waitin’ on a woman’ this little girl is just getting a head start?”
Tears flowed down Deidra’s face. Hormones, the stress of delivering less than 13 hours ago, and her husband being so close finally took its toll. Alexis hugged the new mother. “I’ve got an idea. Let me call my husband and see what he can do. You get this little lady dressed, and be ready to leave, toot sweet ya’ hear?” She stood up, pulling her phone out of her pocket and punching in the number as she walked out the door.
“Sam, honey get your bony butt over here right away. I’ve got a brand new mom ready to check out.” She looked at the ceiling while her MP hubby protested that he didn’t take new mom’s home.
“Sam, hush, I don’t have time for this. Get over here in something with a siren. I want this little momma there when her husband’s ship gets in. The Taylor docks in 30 minutes. Now, tell me this, why are you still on the phone, buster? I still out rank you. Move it!”
Alexis stuck her head back in the door smiling, “I think everything is going to be alright. Are you ready?”
Deidra nodded. She cradled little Charlotte in her arms all dressed up in a little Navy dress with a red hair bow to meet her Daddy for the first time. Alexis smiled at the pair, “We’d better get moving. Now, you take your purse and the diaper bag. You can pick up everything else later. I’ll hold it for you up here.” She quickly wheeled Deidra to the discharge door where her ride was waiting with red lights flashing.
Sam was waiting with the car door open. He smartly saluted his wife. “You know, you don’t out rank me by that much.”
She smirked, “It got you here, didn’t it? I promise not to pull rank, at home again,” she winked and chuckled. “Now, the Taylor will be docking in less than 20 minutes. Can you make it in time?”
“I think so.” He held the door and helped Deidra into the car. “Car seat?”
Deidra replied, “Yes, that’s my blue car, right over there,” scrambling to get the keys one handed. He grabbed them and had the car seat fastened in before she could get comfortably seated in the car.
He gently laid little Charlotte into the seat strapping her in for her first ride in a Military Police car. Sam closed the door, waved to Alexis. She crossed both fingers as they drove out of the hospital parking lot.
Standing on the bridge, Charlie scoured the dock looking for his wife. She’d always been as close to the line as she could get before. Maybe this was just too much for her, in her condition and all.
He looked up and down the crowd again, no sign of her. Maybe she’s sitting under the USO canopy. They always had chairs there.
Minutes felt like hours to Charlie as the ship moved closer to the dock. Everyone in their dress whites, the ship immaculate and decked out for the Homecoming Ceremonies. The band played and Charlie continued to look for Deidra.
Sam sped through the base housing into the office area of the base. He hoped nobody saw him with his lights going and speeding without a call. He turned left into the docks.
Deidra saw the Taylor first. “She’s almost docked.”
Sam turned on the siren for two short blasts. People quickly moved out of his way. He drove right to the gate. He watched the sailors scurrying around on the deck for their final mooring of this tour. Just made it.
Orders were called and sailors started their final duties attaching the ship to the dock before First Kiss was called. Charlie didn’t see Deidra, but he watched the speeding MP heading right for the docks. “What the heck is going on?” The MP dashed around the car opening the front and back door at the same time.
Charlie kept an eye on the MP while making sure his staff was on top of everything. He saw her head pop out from behind the front door of the MP car. There she is, with the MPs? His heart started pounding out of his chest. She was moving so slowly, around the door and toward the back seat of the car. The MP stood beside the door. Time stood still, everything on the dock was happening in slow motion.
Deidra gingerly moved around the car door and unstrapped Charlotte from her car seat. She turned to get up. Sam’s gentle touch helped her ease out of the back seat. He grabbed her purse and diaper bag and offered his arm to Deidra. She looked so tired, but he knew she really wanted to be here. He was determined to make sure they had a wonderful reunion. He knew he’d have to report every detail to his wife tonight.
Charlie stood dazed, staring at Deidra. Commander Smythe shook Charlie by the shoulder. “Charlie, look its Deidra, and she’s carrying a baby! What are you standing here for? Go on, man! I’ll cover for you! Get down there.”
Charlie turned to Smythe. A broad smile crossed his face, “I’m a daddy!” He briskly shook his hand looking up at the bridge and yelled, “Hey, I’m a daddy!” He flew down to the main deck, toward the gangplank. He could see the MP helping Deidra through the crowd. His eyes never left her. He stopped and started patting himself down. Flowers, I bought flowers. Where are the flowers?
A hand flew up beside him, “Looking for these, sir?”
“Thanks Tom, I’m a daddy!”
“So I see, sir. Congratulations.” the sailor saluted and returned back to his duties.
Sam put his stern MP face on and walked Deidra and Charlotte through the gate and straight to the gangplank. Sam tapped the young lady waiting for permission to go aboard for First Kiss. “Ma’am, I think you’ve just been bumped.”
“What?” The young woman turned and saw Deidra, the baby and a huge MP. “Oh. I see. I guess I can wait for second kiss.” She smiled at Deidra and Charlotte gently touching the baby’s soft hair. “How old is she?” she smiled and whispered to Deidra.
Sam replied, “Hours old, ma’am. I think the little one deserves Daddy’s First Kiss.”
“I totally agree.” She nodded and stepped back letting Deidra and Charlotte take the first walk up the gangplank.
Sam made sure Deidra was steady and careful on the trip up the plank. He knew her eyes wouldn’t be watching for anything but her husband. Once aboard, Sam turned to the Officer of the Deck. “Permission to come aboard Sir, I’ve been charged to escort the youngest member of the USS Taylor’s Family to see her father,” as he saluted.
“Welcome aboard.” The officer turned and looked around. “I think he’s just made it to the deck in record time. Congratulations, ma’am, and welcome aboard miss.” He peeked at Charlotte, and quietly said to her, “I know your Daddy is going to be glad to see you.”
Out of breath, and tightly gripping the flowers Charlie stood opposite the gangplank and watched Deidra carrying his baby slowly up the gangplank. Countless emotions flooded him: love, pride, joy, fear. Tears flowed down his cheeks as Deidra stepped down on to the deck. He stood staring at them while the MP talked. His feet wouldn’t move. Why is she with an MP? What has Deidra done?
Deidra stood and waited for her instructions, it had been a long time since she was given the honor to board first. She watched her husband’s hands shake with the flowers, just like it had the day he proposed at their First Kiss. She smiled, and slowly walked over to Charlie with her MP escort in tow. Charlie's eyes never left her.
Sam saluted Charlie, "Sir, I'd like to present your daughter, Miss Charlotte Dawkins, born thirteen hours ago. Your wife wouldn't let her miss watching her Daddy come home," he laughed, "and my wife would have killed me if she was late."
Deidra nodded as she smile broadly and gently passed Charlotte to her father.
Charlie looked up at Deidra through tear filled eyes, “She’s so beautiful. She's so tiny. Look at all of that hair.”
“Honey, everyone is waiting. You’d better kiss her soon, because the lady I bumped out of First Kiss is waiting for her ring!” She grinned and winked at him. He was home and they were a family, all the pieces were finally in place.
Charlie gently pressed the First Kiss upon Charlotte’s head to the quietest ‘Ooo- rahs’ for baby Charlotte.
Sam smiled at Charlie and Deidra, “Picture time. Who’s got the camera? You know my wife will be bummed if I don’t bring home some pictures.”
Charlie and Deidra laughed. The ship’s photographer, Sam, the news media all snapped their pictures while the Homecoming Festivities continued around them.
Headline of the Base Gazette the morning after the Taylor's return read “Sirens and MPs Welcome the USS Taylor Home” with a picture of Charlie, Deidra and Charlotte smiling and the caption “Youngest First Kiss in Naval History”.