“Push! Push!” Anxiety was clear in Guiliana’s voice. “Please Lenora, I know you’re tired but you have to.”
The young midwife sat on the edge of the bed at Lenora’s feet, urging her to continue.
Carmine knelt beside his wife and whispered gently into her ear, “My love, please forgive me. If I had known, I never would have done this.” He dabbed her moist forehead.
Many hours had passed and Lenora still battled with the birth of their baby. It appeared that the child was far too strong-willed to want to come out anytime soon. When Lenora had first gone into labor, Guiliana had begged Carmine to call a doctor from the local hospital, but he had been adamant about no one seeing his wife.
“Argh!” Lenora threw her head back and cried in pain as yet another spasm waved over her body and up her spine.
She clutched her huge stomach that was covered in blackish-blue marks, unusual signs of how active her unborn baby was. She’d never imagined childbirth to be such a terrible thing and wished at that moment, for only the slightest instant, that she were not pregnant, hating herself for her thoughts. Lenora wrapped her fingers around the pendant at her neck, drawing on all of the power and serenity it possessed; feeling its sharp edges dig into her skin. And then, using as much of her strength as possible, she pushed again. Only she was far too weak. The child in her had sapped the very last energy she had.
“I…I can’t.” Tears poured down her cheeks and she looked over at the man she loved with her entire soul.
His face portrayed his fear and anguish. He looked old and tired; his eyes were like hollow pockets, deep and purple, not the usual bright, warm emeralds that had swept her off her feet all those years before. The flickering candlelight in the dimly lit room played over his features, casting more shadows over his face.
“I’m…sorry.” She hated disappointing him.
“No please, don’t be sorry for anything, my love. I am to blame for all of this. Please just say you forgive me. Your pardon of my sins is all I can ask for now.” Carmine couldn’t believe that she was the one pleading for his forgiveness.
Lenora reached up and laid her hand against his cheek, enjoying its coolness. The last few months of her pregnancy had been a trying time for them both and she didn’t want to stop now, she didn’t want to be the weak one. She’d been terrified when she’d found out she was pregnant, but when her belly started to swell, she was filled with such joy and elation at the thought of the tiny life growing inside her. It was only when she had felt her baby kick for the first time that she realized there was something wrong. The immense pain that had ripped through her abdomen was too much to bear and she declined quickly, becoming bedridden in the early stages of her second trimester. There were days when Guiliana had to hold Lenora’s head over a bowl as she vomited large amounts of thick blood, but no matter how much she suffered, Lenora wanted nothing more than to see her baby. Carmine did everything he could to get her through it all, always staying strong and positive, sitting up with her night after night, and to see him now, a broken man, was too much for her. If she could just hold on a little longer, it would all be worth it.
Guiliana had been brave too. She’d stayed on, even after Martha—her mother, and Lenora’s original nurse—had fled during the night without a word to anyone, only a letter stating she had left the country and would not be returning. The incident had happened shortly after Carmine had come home one evening and found a surgeon from the Gypsy Creek Medical Clinic at his wife’s bedside. He’d been outraged, and from that moment he had banned any strangers from ever setting foot on the eighteenth century estate he’d purchased for his wife as a wedding gift only months before. Carmine had argued with Martha all night, it had kept Guiliana up most of the night, until she’d finally cried herself to sleep. When she awoke the next morning, all she found was a note from her mother explaining she had to leave and that she felt the deepest regret at having to abandon Guiliana . Something about the note didn’t sit right with Guiliana though. Her mother would never have left like that. Guiliana was sure of it, and she was positive that Carmine had forced Martha to leave. What if she hadn’t left at all? What if Carmine was so angry he had seriously hurt Martha? Maybe even killed her. But Guiliana feared Carmine so much that she didn’t ever question the note. If he had killed her mother, he’d have no qualms about doing just the same to her if she ever stepped out of line, and she had to be realistic, she had no one to turn to. So she kept her mouth shut, stayed loyal and used every skill her mother had taught her, to help Lenora. Although the strange symptoms that had riddled Lenora’s pregnancy baffled her, from a bloody blister rash to a constant sensitivity to the smell of blood , she’d done everything possible to make sure both mum and baby stayed healthy.
Lenora stared hard at Carmine, forgetting the pain she felt. He looked so tortured and if a few simple words would ease his agony, she’d tell him, although she doubted she’d ever understand why.
“I forgive you.” The stress on his face did not ease, but his eyes looked less haunting and it brought a tiny smile of hope to her lips.
Lenora, still looking at her husband, let out another urgent cry and dug her fingers into the bed sheets. Carmine hung his head, unable to look at her, not wanting to see the pain writhing on her face, hating that he wasn’t able to help in any way. If only he’d accepted his feelings the second he knew he’d fallen in love with her, but he’d been too stubborn and even feared that it proved him to be weak. He should have stopped it months before, but it was too late now. He’d allowed things to continue, knowing full well that Lenora’s life was at risk . She wasn’t strong enough to survive her pregnancy.
“Please forgive me.” He repeated over and over.
His whispers became more urgent with each passing second. “Please forgive me, please forgive me.”
His penance was now reserved for a higher power, one he hadn’t believed in before. One he now turned to for solace.
“A head! I see a head.” Guiliana danced nervously at the bottom of the bed.
Carmine looked up and stared at Lenora. He saw the relief brighten her face and knew she would not have been able to hold on for much longer. She’d fought a courageous battle and it was about to be won. He sighed, allowing some of the tension to leave his shoulders.
“Oh, there’s an arm!” Guiliana announced with more excitement, reaching between Lenora’s legs to give some assistance to the child that had finally chosen to enter the world. “Okay, this is it, Lenora. Just one last push.”
The tired woman clenched her muscles and pushed with all her might and when a strangled cry escaped her baby, she relaxed back into the pillows piled up behind her. Carmine let go of her hand and raced over to look at his child. Guiliana allowed him to make the careful snip of the umbilical cord and, after she’d wiped her clean, handed the baby to him. He cradled her in his arms.
“It’s a girl!” He moved back to Lenora’s side, allowing her to have a look at their daughter.
She had a thick mass of black hair. Lenora’s heart grew with the love she felt for the little being.
“Amberlyn.” She wiped at the tear that had slipped down her cheek, one of complete happiness.
“Amberlyn.” Carmine echoed the name.
Lenora wanted to hold her little girl in her arms for the first time, knowing it would be a moment she’d never forget, proof that all the suffering had not been in vain. The perfect little angel that she now saw before her was far more precious than any comfort she had lacked in the last few months.
Carmine waited for Guiliana to remove the bloodied sheets from the bed, making it more comfortable for Lenora, before reaching over to place Amberlyn in his wife’s arms. But as he lay their little girl down, Lenora let out another agonizing scream, its resonance causing the blood in his veins to run cold.
Guiliana came rushing from the bathroom and all the blood drained from her face. Carmine whisked Amberlyn away from the bedside and placed her in the tiny crib he’d spent months building . He rushed back to his wife’s side. Her lips had turned a light shade of purple, almost grey. Her face was pale and clammy and he couldn’t help but be terrified, forgetting everything he was in that moment. Guiliana grabbed several towels from a nearby closet and laid them on the bed around Lenora’s lower half. She wasn’t sure what to do. She’d never been prepared for something like this and there was so much blood, she didn’t know how to stop it. Its dark stickiness left a metallic scent in the air. Lenora kept gasping with pain and clutching the bed sheets. Her body convulsed as more blood gushed from her.
“How do I stop it? There’s so much. Too much!” Guiliana yelled. “We have to get a doctor. We have to call 911!”
She backed away from the bed. The white towels had already turned a deep crimson. Carmine had his hands on Lenora’s shoulders, trying to keep her from shuddering. He looked over at Guiliana, who was now huddled in the corner of the bedroom, shaking her head, her own body quivering as she sobbed. Her bloodied arms crossed over her chest, staining the white cardigan she wore. The latex gloves on her hands that had once been a bright yellow had changed to a sickly dark beige color.
Carmine ran over to her.
“Do something!” His voice was fierce and his face showed a menace that panicked Guiliana into a calm state of shock.
“Get over there and help her.” He lashed out in anger and slapped her across the face, but she didn’t even flinch.
She sat, still huddled in the corner, deliriously rocking back and forth. She was only sixteen, what was she expected to do? Carmine held his head in his hands trying to think of something he could do.
Amberlyn’s shrieks reached out to him from across the room. It was like she knew there was something wrong. Lenora’s body still jerked with fits, but they were not as violent as before. The blood flow had stopped, but there was so much of it soaking into the bed, blending with the rich burgundy of the delicate linen, that it had begun to drip onto the cream rug below. Carmine thought of the only thing possible to save Lenora, to give her life again, because she was losing hers fast. He paced back and forth, wishing he knew if it were the right thing to do. He’d already caused so much damage.
He listened to Amberlyn again, still wailing in her crib. He’d have to do it. There was really no other choice, if not for Lenora, then for their baby girl.
The air in the room suddenly changed. It became thick and stale, like all the oxygen had been sucked from it, disappearing as death stepped in. Carmine ran back over to the bed. Lenora’s skin was transparent now. Hers eyes were open and staring straight past him. It was too late, he’d deliberated too long; he was a fool and a coward. Lenora’s soul had slipped from her lifeless body. Her eyes were nothing more than a glassy image of death.
Carmine hugged her tightly to his chest. He had to change things. He had to bring her back. But his powers were limited and there really was nothing more he could do. Instead, he wept; for the first time ever, he shed tears.
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