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It Was The Worst of Times

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MacKenzie was sitting huddled with Reese in the hospital waiting room when she got the call from Rebecca. Charlie had been pronounced dead almost as soon as they arrived. No one had told her, but she thought they had lost him in the ambulance. She'd seen people die before. Too many of them. Stay calm, she told herself. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Keep the hounds of hell at bay.

"He was proud of you, Reese,” she had been saying, when her telephone vibrated. She had been telling him about a conversation she'd observed a few days before when Pruit had sent Charlie into a rage by making snide comments about Reese and Leona. “God,” she sobbed, burying her face in her hands as she'd finished, “everything’s been sending him into a rage these days.” She was oblivious to her use of the present tense.

“Your phone’s ringing,” Reese said softly. “Here let me,” he added, reaching into her bag and retrieving the phone. Looking at the screen, he said, “Rebecca,” and handed it to Mac.

Rebecca Halliday was standing in a hallway at the federal courthouse, fresh from the courtroom where the judge had agreed to convene a late evening hearing at which the contempt order against Will McAvoy, along with the subpoena for his testimony, had both been vacated. She gave MacKenzie the good news. Will’s wife's reaction was the furthest imaginable from what the lawyer had expected. A sob had torn from Mac’s throat at the news, followed by the words, “oh, God . . . oh, God . . . I can't,” spoken in a tearful voice.

“Mac! Mac! Are you alright? What’s the matter?” Rebecca asked hastily.

In response, Rebecca heard MacKenzie speaking to someone else, saying, “Will’s being released tonight. I’ve got to tell him. Oh, God, how can I tell him?”

“Tell him what?” Rebecca practically screamed into her cell phone, garnering more than a few strange looks from the law clerks and secretaries leaving the federal courthouse after a late night at their desks. “Tell him what, Mac?” she asked again, getting her voice under control.

She heard MacKenzie take a deep breath, and then her voice came back on the line. “Rebecca, I'm at Presbyterian Hospital with Reese and Leona and . . . some of the others . . . waiting for Nancy . . . Charlie . . . Charlie died . . . of a heart attack . . . about an hour ago.”

Rebecca felt herself go numb. How could this be true? She could think of nothing to say.

“Rebecca, where are you?” Mac asked.

The lawyer cleared her throat and found her voice. “I'm still at the courthouse. I was going to go over to the detention center and . . . .”

“No! Don't.” Mac interrupted more sharply than she'd intended. “Sorry,” she apologized immediately. “I . . . I just feel . . . that I need to be the one to tell Will. Come to the hospital, please. I'll leave now and be there when Will gets out.”

“I'm sorry, Mac.” This wasn't the homecoming that any of them had imagined. “I'm so sorry.”

 

Will’s face was frozen, expressionless. His eyes locked to hers seemed to be the only part of him that was still alive. MacKenzie waited. She would wait as long as he needed, do whatever he needed.

“Charlie’s dead.” He said the words flatly like a statement but his eyes held disbelief. She nodded her head. “He's dead . . . where? Where . . . did they . . . take him?”

“Presbyterian.”

“Can I see him?”

The question was not what she had expected, but she didn't really know why it should surprise her. “I don't know. They were keeping him . . . his body . . . in the Emergency Room until Nancy could get there. But that was a little while ago.” He nodded mechanically like a man in shock, she thought, which is what he was. “Reese and Leona were there when I left. Let's get into the car,” she said, gesturing toward the SUV, and then placing the hand she'd raised against his cheek. “I'll call Reese and see what's happening.”

The Emergency Department waiting room at Presbyterian Hospital was crowded with people from ACN. Mac assumed that somewhere there was a person waiting to be seen by the ER doctors, but primarily it looked like a vigil for Charlie Skinner. Don and Sloan, Tamara, Tess, Kendra, Gary, Martin and Jenna milled around talking in whispers. Milli stood alone, her eyes red and swollen. Reese, Rebecca and Leona stood off to one side with Katy Skinner. Everyone froze when Will entered. People looked confused and conflicted, not knowing what to do since the smiles, cheers and applause that would ordinarily have greeted his arrival after fifty-two days in a federal lock-up were now horribly out of place under the circumstances. So, mostly, everyone just stared at him, looking for signs of just how hard he was taking Charlie’s death.

Finally, Sloan pulled herself away from the crowd, and walked up to him. “Good to see you in something other than tan, Bro,” she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. Will closed his eyes and rested his head on her shoulder. “I'm so sorry, Will. So sorry.” Her voice cracked. “I . . . I . . . need to tell you . . . .”

“Sloan,” Mac interrupted, striding up to her friend and her husband, and giving Sloan a hand signal to indicate that this was not the time for a confession of the guilt that she knew Sloan was carrying. Mac was saved from having to say anything more by Nancy Skinner’s walking into the waiting room, seeing Will and starting toward him. Will squeezed Sloan’s hand and went to take Charlie’s widow into his arms.

After a moment of just standing together, she spoke. “He loved you so much, Will. The thought of you married to MacKenzie made his last weeks happier . . . .” Her voice broke and Nancy swallowed hard. “. . . and your going to prison rather than give up the source made him prouder of you than he'd ever been, and he's been pretty proud of you on many many occasions,” she added, a sad smile playing around her lips. Will said nothing. Nancy understood. “You want to see him,” she said. “I'll walk you down.” She took his hand and let him away. Like a child, Mac thought . . . he looks just like a lost little child.

Will and MacKenzie were among the last to leave the hospital. Will, assuming the role of Director of Morale, made sure that everyone got safely into cars and cabs, hugging and kissing Leona as he had Nancy. The thought that she was Charlie’s other widow flashed through Mac’s mind, along with snippets of the Saturday morning visit from Reese a few weeks before. Finally, they climbed back into the big black AWM SUV for the ride home. For a few blocks, they just sat side by side, hands locked together, lost in their own thoughts.

“Nancy told me,” Will broke the silence, clearing his throat, “that you . . . rode with him . . . Charlie . . . in the ambulance. . . that you were . . . with him . . . when he . . . at the . . . end. Was he . . . did he?”

“He wasn't conscious, Will,” she said hastily, feeling the emotions and terrors she'd being holding back beginning to overwhelm her. “I . . . I talked to him . . . the whole time . . . I don't . . . know . . . think . . . .” She had turned her face away while she spoke in the hope that watching the silent sleeping streets passing by would stabilize her. “He squeezed my hand . . . once . . . At least, I think he did.” Will shifted in his seat to bring her profile into view, and saw a tear illuminated by a passing street lamp hanging on the tip of her nose. Suddenly, his need to comfort her, to hold her became overwhelming.

“Come here,” he said, reaching for her shoulders and turning her into his arms. She shook her head, fearing that the contact would be too much, that she would shatter into a thousand pieces that would never be able to be reassembled. He either didn't see or didn't care, and so, as she always did, always would, she yielded to his insistent touch. “If it couldn't have been me . . . with him . . . I'm glad it was you.”

She broke just like a little girl. Sobs, soul deep, wracked her body, and left her gasping and wheezing for breath. Will lifted his wife onto his lap and cradled her as he would a child, planting kisses in her hair, drinking in the smell of it and of her, and murmuring words of comfort and love. Everything that MacKenzie had been holding in for fifty-two days, or perhaps for six years, came pouring out in her tears, her grief over Charlie’s death and over the way they had been at each other’s throats since Pruit bought ACN, her terror that the child she carried would soon be gone, the endless pain of losing Will, of missing Will, of being punished by Will, and the memories of so many other deaths, the deaths of people she hardly knew and the death of a man she had loved . . . been in love with . . . no, that had always been Will, but loved all the same. As Will rocked her in his arms, he knew that his own tears for Charlie would come, but for right now, he could be strong for MacKenzie.

When they got out of the car, Mac was embarrassed by her outburst, but still weak and clinging to Will like a lifeline. The driver said simply, “Mr. Skinner . . . I knew him too. Not like you did, of course, Mrs. McAvoy, but I'll miss him all the same.”

 

She had pulled herself together by the time the elevator opened onto their tiny lobby, and she unlocked the door. The apartment had come a long way, he noticed, and he could feel her excitement at having him see it push away a little bit of the grief she was carrying. They had walls and lights and kitchen counters and bathroom tile. (He was too preoccupied to notice her gather up a stack of blankets and pillows and carry them out of the bathroom.) But they still had no bed, just the same box spring and mattress on the floor. Then it dawned on him what she'd done. She had completed every aspect of the apartment about which they had made a decision before he was incarcerated, but nothing more. Since they hadn't picked out bedroom furniture, they had no bed. Not that it mattered.

As he walked around the apartment he felt himself falling deeper and deeper into the sense that everything was wrong. This was not the way he was supposed to come home. Charlie Skinner was not supposed to be dead. He was supposed to be excited, relieved and happy. Instead he was filled with grief and dread. Alone in the bedroom, he sat down heavily on the mattress and tried to muster the strength or the will to remove his shoes. He was surprised to find the iPod in its speaker dock on the floor near the bed. He tapped it to the Recently Played playlist and turned it on, deciding he'd like to experience the songs Mac had been playing in his absence. He stared numbly at his hands which were clenched together between his knees, as the music of a James Taylor song that he used to sing to MacKenzie overwhelmed him. Charlie had known his pain . . . seen . . . his terrible loneliness, and had gone to find MacKenzie. That was amazing. Why had he never thought of it as an act of love this clearly before? Why had he never really thanked Charlie? Mac had when she'd leapt into Charlie’s arms in the bull pen after his bumbling announcement of their engagement, but he never had.

When he’d gone to find her, Will wondered, had Charlie been expecting the cold-hearted bitch that Will had been describing to him for three years? He’d never asked and now . . . oh, God . . . he never could. Will suppressed a sob that rose as far as his throat. How had Charlie characterized Kenz back then during their post-engagement drink? That’s right . . . that he'd found another broken child. If Charlie had been his father . . . the voice in his ear . . . Charlie certainly would have talked him down from his reaction to the Brian business. He and Kenz would have a couple kids by now. Instead, John McAvoy had been right in there feeding the flames.

Will shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. He shouldn’t be doing this. Alone in here. Cut off. He should be with MacKenzie. He picked up his phone and scrolled back through texts from Charlie to one sent shortly after Election Day. “Take good care of our girl,” it had said, “let her know how you feel about her. She has a lot of healing to do.”

His wife . . . the words brought a fresh lump to his throat . . . appeared in the doorway and stared at him. He sensed rather than saw her presence, and did not turn his head. Finally, she spoke. “Billy, are you hungry?” He couldn't decide. He didn't think that he was capable of feeling hunger, or capable of feeling anything. “When did you eat last?” Still no response. She walked to the side of the bed and knelt down in front of him. The love and compassion, grief and fear in her eyes nearly undid him. “Will, when did you last eat?”

“When did you?”

She paused and thought. “Between the last rundown and the start of the show,” she replied evenly.

“Really?” he asked surprised. MacKenzie never remembered to eat before a show.

“Really,” she replied. “I told you that I was taking good care of myself.” And she was. However much she was convinced that her punishment was not over and her pregnancy was doomed to failure, she was doing everything right for the baby. This was Billy’s baby and she wasn't giving up without a fight.

“I’ll fix you some scrambled eggs and slice an avocado. No bacon,” she smile wanly, “you need to sleep.” She stood up and started to turn away, when he reached for her.

"No. Wait," he said urgently. She stopped, turning back to him. He pulled her to him and rested his head against her body. She stood silently stroking his hair. “Don't go.” Those two little words. So simple. So hard for him to say to anyone.

His arms tightened around her and he had to remind himself that he was stronger than he used to be and mustn't squeeze so tight that he hurt her. Charlie Skinner was dead but Charlie’s gift to him was MacKenzie. And MacKenzie was here, in his arms, telling him that she would always be there for him, that she would never leave. He buried his face in her softness and hot tears prickled and then spilled from his eyes. He felt his wife's hands tighten on his shoulders and then move to cradle his head, as he began to shake from the effort of stifling his sobs.

“It's okay, Billy. You’re safe. You’re home. Let it go.” He did. He cried for Charlie, for his not being there to say good-bye, for not being there to take on some of the burden of dealing with Pruit. He cried for himself, now truly an orphan, and for the time he'd squandered not being with Mac, for all of the times he'd hurt her and failed her and disappointed her. He cried for the wonder of her love and forgiveness, and Charlie’s faith in him, Charlie’s never giving up on him. He cried with grief that he would never speak to Charlie Skinner again, and he cried with joy for MacKenzie making him somebody’s husband, vowing to be his until the day she died.

She didn't make eggs. Well, not then. Instead, she gave him something that he needed more than food. She gave him comfort and love. She drove all thought from his mind with passion, all grief from his heart with sensation. And he did the same for her. His fingers (strange, she noticed that fifty-two days away from his guitar was enough to cause the little calluses on his finger tips that she loved so much to soften a bit) . . . those delicate, skilled fingers took her away, far away. His lips made her senses explode so that she forgot the ride to the hospital, the look on Reese’s and Leona’s faces when she told them that Charlie was gone, and the pain in Will’s eyes as she delivered the same news. For a glorious time, it all receded, and nothing was real except the two of them and the pleasure they shared.

When he finally withdrew from inside her, he moved down her body and lay between her legs. He wrapped his arms around her hips, and cushioned his head on her lower abdomen. She had one hand on his shoulder while the other played with his hair. They were quiet for a long long time. He’s hugging his child, Mac thought. She needed to tell him that she was pregnant. She should do it tonight, right now. She had spent a great deal of time ordering the reasons that she would give him when he asked, as she assumed he invariably would, why she had not told him sooner. She'd decided that she would start with the reason that was the most selfish and the most true. She would tell him that she couldn't give up on the idea that she would be able to speak those words in his arms, in their home, and not across a table in a sterile visitor’s room that she had come to despise.

Then, dread overwhelmed her and she shivered. No, not tonight . . . not before she knew the results of the blood test. She wanted to be able to tell him all of it at one time . . . “I'm pregnant but there are some early indications that the fetus isn't developing so we shouldn't get excited”. . . she would not get his hopes up only to dash them, not make him go through what she had been . . . waiting for the other shoe to fall. Catherine said that the results should be back in a few days. She could wait . . . she had waited this long. Yes, she could wait a little longer.

MacKenzie was so lost in her thoughts that she startled when he spoke. “Somehow I didn't think I'd be the only one to drop 10 pounds since the last time we made love,” he said. “I know you told me that you were taking care of yourself, but I still thought I'd come home and you’d be skin and bones.” She wasn't, he marveled silently. She looked tired and drained, but it was late and how did he expect her to look after Charlie’s death. She had been working out, no doubt about it. Her muscles were firm and well defined, but, if anything, she was softer and rounder than he remembered, her breasts fuller and heavier. The décolletage that she had displayed at the White House Correspondents Dinner (which had landed her photo in People Magazine and sent her trending on Twitter) had been given, he knew, more than a little assistance from Agent Provocateur, but this, the breasts that had filled his hands and his mouth tonight had been only MacKenzie. “You actually seem to . . . . “ He stopped himself abruptly. Will McAvoy knew better than to tell any woman that she’d gained weight, even one as slim as Mac. A sound came from deep in his wife’s throat. A moan? No, he thought again, more of a laugh.

As they lay quietly wrapped around each other and wrapped up in their own meanderings, the song, “Behind Blue Eyes,” by The Who began to play. Will listened in silence, trying decide whether to speak aloud some of what was going through his mind. Following the words, “my love is vengeance,” he cleared his throat and began.

“I think I have a better grasp on what I was doing . . . with Nina. I don't claim to be able to explain it yet, or even understand it completely . . . maybe I never will, but I know now . . . .” Will’s voice tightened and became bitter. “. . . under which rock to look for that answer.” When Mac said nothing, only coiled herself more securely around him, he went on. “I think that . . . I was being my father’s son . . . being someone he could relate to instead of an effete East Coast, Jew- worshiper, with a upper class, brilliant girlfriend . . . .”

Mac’s giggle interrupted him. She twisted around until she was up on her elbows, looking straight at him.

“Whoa, there, big fella. Could you please repeat that last part? What did you just call yourself?

“An effete, East Coast, Jew-worshiper, with a hoity-toity, upper class, brilliant girlfriend.”

"Yeah, well, Don and Elliott will be happy to know that you worship them. But, excuse me, ‘hoity-toity’ . . . Did I just hear you call me hoity-toity?” She smiled at him. “I am brilliant, of course, and you did marry well above your station, but where did hoity-toity come in? And just what does hoity-toity mean?”

Now, it was Will’s turn to chuckle. “My father called you that. He found you threatening. You talk like you went to Cambridge. He didn't care much for you.”

“Yes, I was aware of that, but as the feeling was mutual, I hardly set out to charm him.” The night before Mac had met John McAvoy, she had wheedled out of Will, lying next to her in a bedroom in his sister’s house, just how violent and constant his father's abuse of him had been. But the final straw had been his disclosure that the beatings . . . or “whippings,” as his father called them, had started when he was not yet three. After that, she'd wept for him and held his father in great distain.

"My father was always waiting for you to dump me. He was almost gleeful when you did.” Will held up a hand in the universal stop gesture when her eyes grew big with indignation. “When he thought you did,” he corrected. “When we were together before, I was constantly frightened that he would be right . . . that I wasn't good enough for you . . . that you would leave me for someone younger . . . sexier . . . smarter.” Will made a gesture like he was shooing a fly away from his ear. “He was constantly in my head, tearing me down.”

Mac had lain back while he talked and begun to trace lazy little circles with her fingertips in his chest hair. “I think that with Nina,” he continued, “I was trying to just give up the fight . . . not risk anything . . . not risk being hurt again like I would have to . . . to be with you. I could pander to the lowest common denominator with her . . . be a person my father might relate to . . . might approve of . . . I don't know . . . I need to do some more thinking about it . . . .”

“So, what happened with Nina?”

“I hated the person I was becoming with her. And I hated hurting you.” He turned to her and tilted her chin up so that he could look into her eyes. “I hate myself for what I did to you.”

“Billy, don't . . . .”

“Tell me what happened when you found out about Nina. Sloan won't . . . I asked her after the time we went to my apartment, and you couldn't stay. She said I need to ask you, so I'm asking you.”

Mac sighed deeply. She sat up in bed and pulled the comforter up around her neck, clasping her knees. She wasn't sure what he was going for here or what she should say. Would hearing that she’d collapsed unable to process the concept that she had lost him play to his ego or his guilt? “I found out reading Page Six. It's wasn't really the words . . . I know they exaggerate everything . . . It was the picture of the two of you. You looked so happy. You were holding her hand and looking into her eyes . . . .” Suddenly, Mac was overwhelmed by emotion, tears filled her eyes and poured over, she clasped her hand over her mouth fearing that she would actually cry out in pain. Will started to reach for her, but she waived him off, a gesture that punished him more effectively than anything else she could have done.

“Anyway,” Mac continued when she could trust herself to speak, “sometimes when I have a strong emotional reaction to something . . . something bad, my body kind of takes over, and it did that time.” She tried to make her voice as unemotional as she possibly could. “Sloan found me in the ladies’ room, and I treated her to the whole gamut . . . tachycardia, hyperventilation, chills, sweating, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting.” She ignored Will’s horror struck expression and plowed on. “It was clear that I was in no condition to EP the show, so she got Charlie. He sat with me for a while.” She said this last sentence with tenderness and gratitude in her voice that tore his heart. “Jim got involved . . . I really don't remember how . . . I guess Sloan called him since he was going to have to take over for me. None of them would let me get into a cab by myself, so Sloan went home with me. I had two more attacks . . . one in the cab and the other after we got home. Luckily Sloan was with me because the cab driver wanted to go to a hospital, but she got him to just take us to my apartment.” She wasn't looking at Will anymore. “After the third one, Sloan made me take Xanax and that broke the pattern. I took it and Effexor for a little while so I'd be able to work with . . . do the show, but they are nasty stuff when you use them for too long so I quit and started using meditation and yoga to cope.” She paused. “And that's it.”

At first, Will couldn't speak, and so he just stared at her, as she slowly turned to face him. The shock on his face surprised and angered MacKenzie. “Good God, Billy, what did you expect my reaction to be? I thought I'd lost you. This wasn't the parade of bimbos . . . some one night stand. You looked like you were in love with her. Charlie . . . Charlie told me that that wasn't true, but . . . I don't know . . . you gave one hell of a convincing performance.” She curled on her side facing away from him, but she didn't stop him when he wrapped his body around hers.

“Kenz,” he whispered, “you must believe me. I have never loved another woman in my life. There was . . . is . . . only you. I'm so sorry. For Nina, for all of it, for everything. Please . . . please, forgive me. I will never hurt you again. Never . . . .” And then his tears drowned out his words.

 

The day they were laying Charlie Skinner to rest dawned clear and bright. It was Will’s third day home from prison, and the day on which he intended to resume the anchor desk for the evening’s broadcast of News Night. Will’s incarceration had moved News Night back into the number two spot in the ratings, and his return to the airways was expected to be one of the most watched newscasts in the history of cable news. The morning sickness, which mercifully had given MacKenzie a break the previous two mornings, was back with a vengeance and harder to hide that day. Luckily, Will was so preoccupied trying to decide what he would say about Charlie if called upon to speak, she was able to sneak off unnoticed and retch privately in the bathroom.

They were silent on the drive to Connecticut. Will played absently with his wife's fingers. MacKenzie stared out the car window. At some point along the way, Mac silenced her cell phone to prevent it from interrupting Will’s solitude. No one was likely to call her anyway since almost everyone she knew was also making his or her way to the little church where they would reaffirm the belief . . . hope . . . that Charlie’s soul was peacefully existing on some higher plane unreachable by the likes of Lucas Pruit. Mac bristled at the thought that he would undoubtedly be there and that Nancy had actually invited him back to the house for the wake. But it was good manners and Nancy was the widow of the President of ACN, and if there was anything that MacKenzie McHale had been raised to understand, it was the value of duty and manners.

Just as the car was pulling into the driveway of the church, Mac felt her phone vibrate with an incoming call. She had both of her hands wrapped around one of Will’s and he had just begun to speak about how he didn't know if he could get through this, how he didn't know if he could talk about Charlie without breaking down, and she wasn’t about to pull away to check her phone, or do anything but keep him as the complete focus of her attention. So she didn't look at the caller ID and let it go to voicemail.

It wasn't until they were walking into the church with the rest of the News Night staff that MacKenzie chanced a glance at the screen of her phone. Her heart leapt into her throat and stopped beating. The call had been from Catherine Barrington. The test results must have come back. She tried to tell herself that it could wait . . . that she could wait . . . until after the service. She had waited this long. She could wait a little longer. But she couldn't, and she knew it. In the vestibule, she whispered to Will that she needed to find the bathroom and she'd be right back. He should go on in without her. He looked confused, but nodded. She squeezed his hand and headed back out of the door.

“Catherine, hello,” MacKenzie began as soon as she heard the call connect, her voice strained and soft. She knew that she should be inside the church, standing beside Will and singing along with with everyone else, singing the Navy Hymn, also played for Marines, like Charlie. She remembered it from videos she'd watched as a little girl of Jack Kennedy’s funeral. She should be inside. But she couldn't be. Not yet. She would go mad if she had to spend one more moment not knowing one way or the other. “I had a missed call from you . . . .”

“Yes, Mac,” the doctor replied. “The test results are back.” She could almost feel MacKenzie stop breathing. “Your hGC levels are off the chart. They're above 220,000 . . . 220,926 to be exact. If they were any higher, I'd be thinking twins, and I'm not ruling that out, but my guess is it’s just one. A big strong one.” Catherine Barrington waited but Mac didn't speak. At least the doctor could hear that the younger woman was breathing. “So stop all thoughts of miscarriage right now, MacKenzie. This kid’s not coming out until it's good and ready. If you want something to keep you up at night, start thinking about how you’re going to juggle your professional career for the next 18 years with the demands of raising a child . . . or two . . . ‘cause with your other blood work numbers, my guess is that even if it's not twins, you’ve got time for one or two more after this, if you want them.” Mac couldn't bring herself to speak just yet, but her mind went to the pictures of Catherine’s three children, now grown, that decorated the bookshelves in her office.

When Mac still didn't respond after another few seconds, Dr. Barrington went on. “MacKenzie, you . . . are . . . fine . . . Couldn't be better,” she said, emphasizing every word. “Can you hear me? Do you understand me?”

Finally, Mac spoke. “Yes, I definitely understood you.”

“Are you alright? You sound very strange for someone who just got great news.”

“I'm at a funeral service . . . .”

“Oh, I'm terribly sorry . . . .”

“Thank you . . . .”

“I wouldn't have intruded . . . .”

“No . . . No . . . I called you . . . I just meant that’s why . . . that’s . . . that’s why . . . that’s why my voice sounds like this . . . that’s why I'm being quiet,” Mac sputtered, trying to process the news and the relief that was beginning to unknot her stomach and loosen the constriction in her throat, sensations that she only now realized she had been living with for the last seven weeks.

“Mac, go now . . . don't let anything stop you . . . right now . . . in the next sixty seconds and tell Will that he’s going to be a father,” Dr. Barrington commanded in her most authoritative voice.

“Yes, ah . . . yes, sir . . . yes, Catherine, I'm sorry . . . .”

The doctor chuckled. “Call when you get a chance and schedule an appointment for you and Will. Now go . . . Good-bye.”

“Okay.” Mac disconnected and tried to breathe. This was, she realized, the first instant that she believed, truly believed, that she and Will would be parents. As strains of “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” enveloped her, tears sprang into her eyes, a smile fought its way to her lips, her hand came up to her mouth and her knees buckled slightly. Oh, God! Thank you, God, she prayed. Billy’s baby. Billy’s baby was alive, growing and healthy.

MacKenzie hurriedly walked down the aisle (which seemed endless) to the second row of pews, where Will stood singing and waiting for her. “I need to talk to you,” she whispered. Here and now seemed as good as any time. Besides, she was following orders from her doctor.

“Everything alright?”

“Remember the night before you went to prison?” He stared at her wondering how she could ask that question. If he lived to be a hundred, he'd never forget that night. The memory of their lovemaking had comforted him and tormented him for fifty-two days. Misconstruing his silence as calling for a memory jog, Mac continued, “the power was out in the apartment . . . .”

“Yeah . . . definitely,” Will responded, hoping to convey that he remembered every second and every touch.

She looked into his eyes in a way that he thought he'd never seen before. He’d seen love in her eyes, he'd seen compassion and sympathy, he'd seen lust and desire, but this was different . . . this was something more that he couldn't define. Then, she leaned against him and whispered in his ear, “we made a baby, Billy.”