Chapter 19

Dawson and I spent the afternoon at the NICU, helping out the mom of triplets. The babies had been born a few weeks early, and were relatively healthy, other than needing some medical support to help build their lungs, and to increase their weight. They were all over 4 pounds each, but had to be at least 5 pounds to leave the hospital, and had to be able to sustain gaining weight on their own, meaning they had to be able to intake all their own food without IV or NG supplements.

The babies' mom, Joanie, was a sweet, soft-spoken woman. She introduced us to the two girls, Rachel and Hannah, and the one boy, Jackson. The hospital had color-coded the babies – Rachel had a pink blanket to match the pink nametag on her crib, Hannah had a green blanket and a green nametag, and Jackson had the obligatory blue. I thought it was a fairly ingenious way to tell them apart… however, we quickly learned that the triplets were as fraternal as they could be. Rachel had a thick swatch of long, dark hair and eyebrows to match; Hannah was a typical ginger with fair skin and a fine patch of curly light-red fluff on top of her head; Jackson had little, if any hair, and what he did have appeared to be a fair blonde-brown.

We settled in to rocking chairs – the NICU already had the space arranged with three – and Gabby brought me the baby boy, who was ready for a bottle. We were a little more careful with the babies, who each had a variety of IV access points. They smallest of the three – little Hannah – still had an NG tube, but Joanie said they were hoping to remove it soon, as Hannah was taking more from the bottle now than she had been in the past few weeks. As Joanie was tending to Hannah in her crib, Gabby sat down with little Rachel in the rocker next to me.

Gabby asked Joanie about the babies, and their different colorings. Joanie smiled, happily sharing about their family traits. Rachel had Joanie's dark hair, and Jackson probably took after his dad, who had light brown hair. She said that Hannah was following a family tradition of red-heads on her husband's side of the family. Their three-year-old, Laura, had a full head of long red curly ringlets.

Gabby and I must have looked shocked when the mother referenced having other children, because Joanie laughed, and shared that Laura was three, and their son Nolan was six (with dark hair like his mom's). She went on to tell us that she and her husband thought they had wanted three children, but then they ran into difficulties, and needed fertility help. They went through several years of heartache before finally conceiving, and when they had Nolan and Laura, they felt they had "one of each", and decided to be done. However, never being able to conceive on their own, they had never thought they needed any type of contraception. When Joanie was pregnant for a third time, they figured it was a blessing, and that God really *did* want them to have three. "Well, we had THREE, alright!" Joanie laughed. She said they were surprised, elated, and a little overwhelmed, but saw every one of their children as blessings.

After spending a relaxing few hours with the babies, we said farewell to Joanie, and told her we would come back, if the babies were still here. We stopped by to see the babies on Elyse's unit, even though Elyse had gone home for the day by the time we were there. Seven of the eight that were there last time were still there, and I secretly felt happy that my little Squeaker was still there – although she was sound asleep when we peeked in the room.

It was evening by the time we left, and the wind was chilly and blowing the snowflakes in swirls all over the sidewalk as we exited the hospital's main entrance. We caught a cab back to my place, since Severide had dropped us off earlier. Gabby had texted him earlier to check on Shay, who was still in the hospital, but awake and alert, seemingly "all there" in terms of her mental status. Gabby seemed relieved upon receiving that news, and had appeared more relaxed the rest of the afternoon.

As the cab left the curb, Gabby slid over next to me, curling into my side, trying to shake off the chill from outside. I thought it was kind of funny, because she felt warmer than I did. But I accepted her closeness all the same.

"Wow, what a story that family has!" Gabby reflected, remembering our time with Joanie today.

"No kidding. How crazy is that? You think of people having multiples from using fertility drugs, and their first two kids *with* fertility drugs were singles… then they stop using them, and have triplets!" I pondered aloud.

"Just goes to show… you just never know, do you?" Gabby mused.

"Nope…" I paused thoughtfully, then continued. "I mean, who would have thought that you guys would be in an accident – in an ambulance – while tending to an accident? I mean, how bizarre is that?"

"Or being taken out by the guy you were trying to help out…" Gabby nodded toward my ankle.

I chuckled, and she smiled back. "I'd say we've been extremely lucky, with some close calls."

"Extremely blessed," Gabby re-stated. I nodded slowly, pondering the words. I reached over to brush aside a strand of mahogany, then slid my fingers into her hair, pulling her lips to mine.

By the time we returned to my place, we were both hungry. Gabby was incredibly fast at whipping up something that resembled stir-fry, only with a Mexican twist to it. Whatever it was, it was great.

After we ate, I changed into a pair of basketball shorts, and Gabby helped me through the exercises and stretches they had given me in PT today. She stood, helping me balance when I needed a spotter, and reminding me to breathe when I felt straining or pain. When I had rotated through the exercises, she helped me take off the boot, and take a few tentative steps around the living room. I could tell there was a lot of muscle rebuilding that would have to take place, but it was indescribable how good it felt to know I would be walking full-time again soon.

"Ready for a break?" Gabby asked, after I had taken a few more steps.

"Yeah… I suppose I can't just keep walking around and expect it to miraculously get better in one night, can I?" I said with a resigned smile on my face.

"Oh, we're not done yet… I just mean you get to sit down for the rest of your… therapy…" she said, waving her fingers before me.

"Ah… how could I forget? This is the best part of the therapy!" I smiled, remembering the massage techniques that Jerry had encouraged Gabby to use to enhance my recovery.

I made my way over to the couch, but she pulled at my hand. "Would it be okay if I ask you to sit on the floor?" she asked. My eyes connected in curiosity with hers.

"Sure, would that be better?"

"I think it'll help if I have a little more resistance… your couch is just too comfortable, and has too much give to it."

"Well," I said, lowering myself to the floor and sitting with my back against the couch, "let's not let luxury get in the way of progress!" I smiled at her, teasing just a bit. I reached down and pulled my socks off.

She grabbed the massage lotion from where she had left it on the table by the couch, and began warming some in her hands.

Gabby began with long strokes down my leg, distributing the oil evenly. She started with broad, moderate pressure, and then gradually moved to a deeper pressure with the heel of her hand, up and down my shin and calf muscles. I sighed, appreciating the sensation, and realizing how much less painful my leg was with this massage session. I hadn't been having all the muscle spasms, and surely, that made a difference.

She continued moving down my leg, and used her thumb for some deep, circular pressure around my ankle, but carefully avoiding the incisions and their sutures. She would then move to my foot, finding all the tiny little muscles in the top of my foot. I was surprised how attention-starved those little guys seemed. But they were some of the muscles most closely connected with the tendons and ligaments that had needed repair in surgery. There were some small spikes of pain, but mostly it felt like all the slow, achey sluggishness needed to be squeezed out of all its hiding spaces.

If I didn't know better, I would think Gabby had been doing this her entire life. Her hands felt very skilled with their task at the moment. And to watch her face, you would think it was the most fascinating thing she had ever done as well. I decided to ask her about something that had been running around in my head.

"Hey Gabby? I'm just wondering about something."

"Yeah, what is it?"

"Well… I want to start by saying, I can't believe how great this – relationship? Is that what we're calling us? – how great it's going. I feel like… like maybe this has been in the making for a long time. I'm glad we figured it out." We grinned at each other, while she continued working the muscles in my leg. "That being said, I want to say two things: One is, I'm totally happy with where we're at, and what we're doing. I mean… our make-out sessions? Those are the BEST." I grinned, and she shyly met my eyes, returning the smile. "The other thing is, I just want you to know that, as a guy, as a man… I could totally get carried away and take this thing right to the bedroom." I paused, to catch my breath, and noticed she breathed with me. "Here's my philosophy on the whole thing. I really like the idea of taking our time – of enjoying our make-out stage, and when we get to the next stage, whatever that is, enjoying that stage, too. I don't think we need to rush. But at the same time, I know some women think if you're not bedding them, you're not interested. I just want you to know, I'M INTERESTED. And if that's important to you, we can move faster. But I just wanted to clarify where I'm at." I waited a few moments, watching the slow, intentional movements of her hands on my ankle. "Umm, so… where are… *you* at, if you don't mind sharing?"

Gabriella sighed, and shifted her position on the floor, placing my ankle in her lap, and putting a small couch pillow under my knee for support. She then used her whole hands to apply broad, general pressure to the top and bottom around my ankle, allowing the heat to permeate. "Ummm, well, I guess I would say, I'm right with you. I love what we're doing, and I'm enjoying it. I love taking our time, and being good with where we're at, but I also have moments that make me feel like… I'm going to surge ahead, start taking your clothes off… yada-yada-yada!" She laughed at her colloquialism, and I laughed with her.

"Can't wait to find out what yada yada is all about…" I murmured.

"So, let's just keep going," she continued. "I'm working on the 'hands all over you' stage, apparently, so..." She gave me a look, and I knew she was joking about her massage therapy duties. I, however, couldn't tolerate the combination of her touch plus the teasing one moment longer. I grabbed her wrist, and pulled her up to me, and began kissing her. Our passionate embrace eventually found us lying on the floor next to each other, our hands doing all kinds of exploring. It was wonderful to find out every little part of Gabby's anatomy that garnered a response. I knew what tickled her, what turned her on, and what gave her comfort. And she was discovering the same with me. I remembered considering our current situation as if from a third-party observer, and was quite impressed at our restraint.

By the time we… how might I say… calmed down… I lay on the floor next to her, and gave her another hand massage. I felt it was the least I could do, with all the therapy she was providing my leg. She said, once again, that it wasn't necessary, but she appreciated it nonetheless. We both giggled about how much longer we were going to be able to "hold out", but then reiterated our desire to just enjoy the stage we were at. We mutually agreed to call our relationship "dating", and both of us said it was okay to refer to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend. I was glad to clear that up, that could sometimes be a sticky mess for people in our position. I was loving where we were at… there was so much for us to learn about each other.