The call came while Stephen was in a meeting. He felt his phone vibrate against his leg but didn’t dare sneak it out of his pocket to see. The meeting was droning to a close. Stephen looked daggers at everyone around the table – Don’t you dare ask any questions! Don’t you dare make any comments! The boring bastard from the next office looked most likely to raise his hand and ask for clarification on the most obvious and most long-winded of points. Stephen prepared his foot to send a swift kick to the boring bastard’s shinbone if need be.
Amazingly, the boring bastard didn’t utter a peep. Perhaps things were working in Stephen’s favour at last!
Stephen was already gathering his papers and pushing back his chair while they were being thanked for attending. He snatched his coat from the hook and walked along the corridor like it was a competitive event. Trying to thrust his arm into a sleeve, he fished his phone out and looked at the screen: Missed call and a number that he recognised as the hospital’s.
Stephen launched himself down the stairs two, sometimes three, at a time, rushing for the car park.
The ignition didn’t respond at the first twist of the key. Nor the second. Stephen forced himself to calm down. He would flood the engine if he wasn’t careful.
At last he pulled away, taking the speed bumps a little too quickly. Wouldn’t you know it: every traffic light was a stubborn red? Stephen swore and grumbled at each delay. He caught sight of himself in the rear-view mirror. His eyes were underlined by the dark smudges of sleeplessness. His skin was pale and he was sweating. Over his shoulder, he caught sight of the holdall on the back seat. The bag had been prepared well in advance, containing everything he needed to take to the delivery room. He had been nagged by Rosemary often enough. Yes, love, it’s all there. I’ve checked it a thousand times.
He abandoned the car haphazardly across two parking spaces and ran through Reception. He stabbed the entry code he’d been given into the lock and shoved his way through the door to the Maternity department. He ignored the antibacterial gel he was supposed to apply and headed directly to Delivery.
In the worst case scenario, they would need more than antibacterial gel to save them.
He was intercepted by a cheerful young nurse.
“Your wife’s still in labour,” she smiled as though it was an everyday occurrence and not the potential end of the world.
“I’m here now; I’m ready,” Stephen showed her the holdall. It was too late for regrets. Too late to wish they hadn’t approached the Satanists for help with the IVF. “I just need to know if it has a special birthmark.”