The Prequel, Chapter Fifty-Five

Walking aimlessly about the room, Alexander felt his body trembling greatly. He hadn't been this stressed in so long. 

Thankfully, Miriam's apartment wasn't far from the mercantile. It had taken only a short amount of time for the doctor to transfer Miriam from the mercantile to Miriam's bedroom. Now, Alexander waited in Miriam's sitting room. 

Miriam had told Alexander to go away, but Alexander had stayed. And from what little he knew about child-birthing, he could tell things weren't going so smoothly in the other room.

One of the doctor's assistants came into the sitting room. "Mr. Hale," she said, breathless. "Dr. Folkerts wants you to come."

Standing, Alexander was confused. "Whyever for?"

"Miriam is asking for you."

Without another moment's hesitation, Alexander fairly flew into the bedroom. There lay Miriam, her hair tangled and her face shining with thick layers of sweat. A terrible scream erupted from her mouth, and Alexander knelt beside her.

"You wanted me, sweetheart?"

Without responding verbally, Miriam reached over and took Alexander's hand. Alexander squeezed Miriam's hand and whispered, "I'm here, Miriam. I'm here. You can do this."

The next hours of labor were dreadful. Half the time, Alexander was convinced the baby was going to die. And the other half the time, he was convinced Miriam was going to die. Yet he tried his best to remain strong for Miriam's sake. He owed it to her.

Finally, at some evening hour - Alexander hadn't even looked at the clock, but he could tell it was evening by the darkness of the sky - Miriam gave one last effort, and the baby was born.

"You have a daughter," said Dr. Folkerts. He cleaned up the baby a bit before wrapping her in a small blanket and handing her to Miriam.

Thoroughly exhausted, Miriam did not have the presence of mind to calm her bawling child.

"She's beautiful," Alexander whispered, suddenly overcome with a blur of emotions. But this time, his joy and love and protectiveness for his daughter overrode the guilt he normally would have felt. Tears running down his face, Alexander leaned forward and kissed his baby girl.

"Her name is Shaliste," Miriam announced wearily. "Shaliste Ariana."

"Perfect."

But then, Miriam looked up, confusion and sadness and bitterness in her eyes. "Alexander," she said softly, "I want to let you hold her, but I'm afraid that if I do, you'll want to keep her."

"Maybe we can both keep her."

"She must be hungry," Miriam said, changing the subject. "Let me nurse her."

Alexander gave his baby girl one last kiss before leaving the two loves of his life behind.

The End

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