It was a sound unlike anything Alfredo had ever heard before. It made itself clear above all other noises, blocking out even Alfredo's own thoughts. It pierced through every wall and cut straight into his heart, causing it to leap and flood over with an overwhelming sense of awe and relief.
It wasn't simply an infant's first cry – it was the cry of Alfredo's own child, announcing that it had finally been brought into the world.
The anxious father-to-be hadn't been allowed in the delivery room almost the entire time, upon Colette's insistence that he stayed away from her while she had the baby. Meanwhile, Alfredo had been worrying himself almost to the point of nausea, and had been standing anxiously outside the room, cringing and clenching his fists every time he heard her scream in anguish. At times he felt like passing out; he couldn't help but try and imagine the kind of pain that would cause someone to scream like that. Of course, Colette had always been overly-dramatic about everything, so maybe it really wasn't as bad as she had been making it sound.
But it was all over now, and Alfredo ran for the door the moment he heard that sweet wail shatter the air. He gave a few quick raps on the door to make sure they knew he was coming, then opened it cautiously and quickly scanned the room in hopes of catching a glimpse of the baby. His eyes moved toward the bed where Colette lay still panting and gripping her sheets, and bit his lip as a strange wave of shame tumbled through his body. His heart broke to see her that way, and he was only reminded of what she had said to him sometime during the birth as it got more intense, moments before he was ordered to leave… "YOU put me through this! I'll NEVER forgive you…!"
Alfredo took in a deep breath and entered the room, pushing his troubling thoughts aside for a moment. He could hear the baby's cries slowly subsiding as it was cleaned off, dressed, and wrapped up in warm blankets. One of the nurses had heard Alfredo knock on the door and saw him walk in, and she smiled at him as he awkwardly and nervously stood there.
"You must be the baby's father," she presumed. Still smiling, she took a small, bundled object from the doctor and held it towards Alfredo. "You have a healthy baby boy. Come on. It's okay. You can hold him."
Alfredo's face broke into a grin, and he timidly stepped forward and held his arms out. They trembled as the nurse gently set the tiny bundle into them, and Alfredo's eyes grew wide with wonder as he looked down, for the very first time, into his baby boy's face.
"He's… he's perfect." A choke hung in his throat. The words seemed to have impulsively tumbled from his mouth.
There was a warm, living, moving newborn child in his hands, with soft and delicately curled red tresses adorning his head like a homemade cap crocheted with scarlet cashmere, and little fingers and palms gently waving involuntarily. Little baby Gusteau faithfully reflected his father in his looks, as he carried over his ears, nose, and, of course, his hair. But Alfredo could see hints and teases of Colette in the baby's mouth every so often, as his expression changed and his mouth opened and closed.
Alfredo looked up, catching Colette's eye. She was carefully eyeing him, as if critiquing his every move. He gave a light smile and took in a staggering breath.
"C-Colette," he exhaled, "look at him."
Never mind that it had been months since the ex-couple had physically seen each other; Alfredo walked straight over to Colette and sat in the chair beside her bed, holding their baby boy up for both of them to admire. Colette inched away slightly, hesitating, her teeth digging into her lip and her head tilted tenderly to one side. She hadn't actually been able to get a good look at the infant since his birth just minutes ago.
No words were said. Both didn't have any words to describe what they were feeling.
Colette had tried so hard over the course of her pregnancy to deny attachment to the child, since she knew that as soon as he was born he'd be handed over to his father and she'd have nothing to do with him. Unfortunately, she could never shake it entirely, and her heart flooded with love upon finally seeing her baby face to face.
Tears slipped from her eyes as she attempted to reach down and take him from his father. Alfredo didn't flinch at the gesture and helped her ease the newborn into her arms. He continued to smile as he listened to her whisper French words in the baby's ear, though memories and feelings began to tug at his heart. He didn't think he'd ever forget the way she used to breathe similar words into his ear, or the feel of her warm touch on his chest or on his neck. Nor would he ever forget the feeling of her lips upon his, or breathing deeply into the sultry scent of her skin, an intoxicating mix of musk and Coco Chanel…
He caught his breath slightly, though not loud enough for Colette to hear. He inhaled quietly and heavily, trying to calm his now rapidly beating heart.
Things weren't like that anymore. He couldn't go back – he knew that.
He noticed that Colette was clutching the newborn tightly and closely to her body, planting kisses on his head as tears carved paths down her flushed cheeks, as if he were to vanish within a moment's notice. Alfredo sensed fear in the way her hands gripped the blankets the baby was bundled in. She even trembled. He sat forward and softly cleared his throat.
"Colette," he whispered. She didn't look up. "Colette, Nolan's gonna be okay. I'm going to take care of him the best I can. I promise I won't let anything happen to him."
This time she turned her head. It was all Alfredo could do to keep himself from reaching forward and wiping the tears from her face.
"Nolan?" she tentatively repeated. "You… already named him?"
Alfredo's face fell. "Well, I… if you don't like it, we can pick something different." He almost choked on the words. "B-but… I really think we should name him Nolan."
To his surprise, Colette revealed a soft smile in response. It was enough to say that she felt the same way.
A while later, Colette finally became tired enough to give Nolan back to Alfredo, and as she slept Alfredo gently walked around the room with Nolan sleeping soundly on his shoulder. Now alone with his thoughts, he stood in front of the window and gazed out at the glistening Paris skyline, brightly lit and magically sparkling even though the sun had set hours ago.
His mind shuffled through thousands of new worries, new concerns and fears – none he had ever felt or thought about until this moment. Suddenly the light, 3.18 kilogram bundle in his arms felt like it weighed a tonne as the weight of the responsibility of parenthood finally settled into his entire being. Besides Colette, he was literally the only person on earth responsible for this one child, and, for the most part, he was going to be on his own throughout the duration of Nolan's life.
He closed his eyes tightly and gripped the baby in his arms - the tiny, curled creature that tenderly fingered his father's clothes with his small, fragile hand; and breathed in softly, deliberately; and was warm with new life. Despite how confused or overwhelmed Alfredo felt, this strange new feeling that welled up inside of him as he cradled his child began to saturate him, overpowering every other thought, every other emotion, every other fear or concern.
He loved this child. His child.
And he purposed in his mind, at that moment in time, that he'd give up anything in the world - even his life, if it had to come to that - to keep Nolan Tamil Gusteau safe, and to give him a sound, secure life filled with the assurance that his father loved him, something Alfredo himself had never had the assurance of.
"It's just gonna be you and me for a while, and… it might be hard, but that's okay," he told Nolan, still rocking him back and forth. He left a small kiss on his warm, curly head. "I love you, Nolan. Everything's gonna be fine."