Matt slouched down in the stiff waiting room chair, his hands shoved deep in the long stomach pocket of the sweatshirt that was far too warm for the early Chicago summer, even if it had dipped to 69 degrees today. Still, the sweatshirt gave him something to do with his hands. Behind the row of chairs across from him, Julie put her hands down on the head of a chair and leaned over. "I feel weird," she said. "I think maybe I'm really in labor."
Julie had been scheduled for an induction today, because Baby Boy Saracen (they still hadn't agreed on a name yet) was a bit late in coming. They'd come a half hour before their appointed time—as they were *told* to do—only to be informed that no beds were yet available. They'd now waited an hour and a half.
"I mean, I totally think I could really be going into labor," Julie said.
"Trust me, if you were in labor, you'd know it," Coach Taylor said as he flipped a page of a Sports Illustrated magazine, which he was now reading for the second time.
From beside him, Mrs. Coach turned and raised an eyebrow. "And you know this because…"
Coach Taylor looked at her incredulously. "You think she's in labor?" He turned to look at Julie, who was touching her side and looking puzzled.
"Well, hon," Mrs. Taylor told Julie, "it may just be discomfort. You've been uncomfortable for a while now. But, if not, you'll know for sure soon enough."
The Taylors—or more likely Mrs. Taylor—had insisted on joining them for the big event. Matt doubted his father-in-law had suggested that one, although he did currently have two cigars tucked in the front pocket of his button-down shirt. Matt wondered when Coach thought they were going to smoke those and if he could pretend to like the experience. That cigar he'd shared with Julie's Aunt Shelley over Thanksgiving had made his stomach a little queasy.
Gracie was now with her aunt in some Chicago museum somewhere. Shelley had been given an all-expenses paid Chicago vacation by the Taylors in exchange for her babysitting services.
Julie bent forward again. "I don't know, I think I might really be in labor. Matt, can you go check on the bed?"
"I'm sure they'll tell us when it's ready."
"Just check," Julie said.
"They'll let us know."
"Dad, can you go check?" Julie asked.
Coach Taylor stood up. "Son," he said, "Come here a minute."
Matt followed his father-in-law out of earshot of the women.
"Matt, your wife needs you to be more aggressive in this situation. I know you don't like to make waves, but you've got to be aggressive here, son. Because that's what Julie needs right now. She wants to be able to rely on you here. I'm not going to do it for you."
"Strut up to that front desk and demand they get your wife a room!"
"Walk firmly," Coach Taylor said.
"But, I mean, they have what they have available. I can't make them make a bed be available if—"
"-Son, pretend you're on the football field." He gestured with a hand toward the front desk. "Pretend that's the end zone, and just do it."
"Yes…Yes, sir," Matt said. He dug his hands a little deeper into his sweatshirt pockets, until his knuckles touched.
Coach Taylor clamped a hand down on his shoulder. "And here's somewhere else you need to be assertive. With my grandson's name. You can't be agreeing to any of those ridiculous names Julie came up with. Your list is much more reasonable. You've got to put your foot down on that one. You can't let your son become an object of ridicule on the playground."
Matt nodded numbly. He didn't really want his son to be named Atticus (after the To Kill a Mockingbird character) or Ishmael (after the narrator of Moby Dick, which Julie had hated in high school but which had perversely become one of her favorite novels in college), or Sydney (after the moping, self-pitying Mr. Carton of A Tale of Two Cities), or, Darcy (which was too much a girl's name these days, Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy aside), or God forbid, Heathcliff. Matt didn't care about Emily Bronte. As far as he was concerned, Heathcliff was a cat in those old 80's cartoons he caught on Netflix when they couldn't afford cable. He wasn't religious, but he wanted his son to be named straight from the New Testament, because those were good, solid – above all NORMAL – names – you know, names like Stephen and Mark and John and Paul and…well…Matthew. What was wrong with Matthew, Junior anyway? Why was Julie so dead sent against having a junior?
Coach Taylor took his hand off Matt, who started walking. As Matt passed Julie, he said, as decisively as he could, "I'll take care of it." He thought he saw a bemused smile toying at the corner of Mrs. Taylor's lips as Coach sat back down next to her.
Matt swallowed as he neared the front desk. He could be aggressive. He'd been a quarterback, right?
As his feet drew closer to the desk, he thought – what would Coach Taylor do?
The truth was, he had no idea what Coach Taylor would do in this situation. Coach had said to be aggressive, but this wasn't actually the football field. Matt knew what his father-in-law would do on the field. There'd be some yelling. A speech of some kind. But Matt kind of imagined that if Coach Taylor was walking to this particular desk, he would turn on the southern gentleman charm rather than be aggressive to get what he wanted. Of course, Matt didn't know how to do that either, because the southern gentleman charm wasn't all simply "yes, ma'am" and "no, sir." He was good enough at that. Unfortunately, though, there was also a certain self-confidence to that charm, which Coach Taylor seemed to have, but Matt didn't.
Aggressive, he told himself when he was three steps away. Aggressive.
How would the boyfriend of Julie's Aunt Shelley handle this situation? Now that guy was aggressive. He'd come to Chicago with Shelley, to the chagrin of Coach Taylor, who wasn't sure about his Gracie Belle traipsing around with her aunt to begin with, but add her aunt's boyfriend to the mix… ("I bet my dad went ballistic when that guy met them at the airport," Julie had told Matt.)
Shelley's boyfriend was named Ralph, but he insisted that everyone pronounce it "Ray-f," which Coach Taylor absolutely refused to do. Last night they'd all gone out to dinner and started with a drink order, except poor Julie, and of course Gracie, who had asked for Shirley Temples. When the drinks were slow in coming, Ralph had gotten up, literally vaulted over the bar, and started pulling the beers himself. When the bartender accosted him, Ralph said loudly, "Oh, I assumed this must be a self-serve joint, you were so damn slow." Now that was aggressive.
Matt now stood with his toes at the front desk. He steadied his nerves.
"May I help you?" the woman asked.
Matt slumped back into the waiting room chair across from his wife, who was still bent over the opposite row. However, now Mrs. Taylor was standing behind her and rubbing her back. Coach Taylor turned to Matt with eyes that said, "Welllll, son?"
"They said fifteen minutes," Matt mumbled, "It'll only be another fifteen minutes."
Julie looked up and glared at him. Mrs. Taylor shook her head. Then she looked down at the floor. "Eric, sugar," she said. "Go get Julie a bed. Her water just broke."