Jenna heaved herself out of the cab and tipped onto the sidewalk. Placing a hand on her bulbous belly, she caught her balance on the awning’s copper pole despite it wavering like a dangled noodle in the afternoon heat. She closed her eyes, clutched the thin cotton sundress straining over her middle, and willed the world to cease its spin.
Through the darkness, a hand cupped her elbow. “Doing okay Ms. Parker?”
Jenna nodded and gave Martin’s weathered face a lean smile. “Just a little dizzy.”
He released her elbow and cocked his head, the line on his doorman’s cap parallel with the now deeper wrinkles on his forehead. “Should you be out on a day like this in your condition?”
Shrugging, Jenna swung around her purse and dug her wallet from the mammoth leather sack. “Who else is going to run my errands?”
His snowy mustache twitched and the sweat on his face glistened, but Martin swallowed whatever answer he had. Instead, he shuffled to the cab’s flung open trunk and began extracting crinkling shopping bags. Meanwhile, Jenna found the fare and offered the bills through the passenger window.
“Keep the change,” she said, her breath catching with her crunching tilt.
The cabbie fingered through the ones, then raised a hand in farewell. “Have a good one.”
Backpedaling, Jenna grasped the awning’s post again while the cab pulled away and merged into the afternoon slog. Martin plodded to her side, the bulky bags lengthening his arms.
“Let me take these up for you.”
“If you can put them in the elevator I can take it from there.”
“But Ms. Parker¬“
“I’m pregnant Martin, not an invalid.”
He recoiled at her tone and she immediately regretted the blow.
“I’m sorry.” Wobbling around, Jenna laid a plump hand on his forearm. “The weather’s getting to me.”
“I understand Ms.” Martin stuck out his elbow and she slipped her arm through his as they turned toward the front doors. “My Madeline was a dragon with each of our little ones. Not that she was sweet the rest of the time.”
Jenna chuckled and extracted one bag from his grasp, leaving Martin enough fingers free pull the door open. A wall of chilled air welcomed her and she waddled inside, the skin on her arms and bared legs pebbling. Within her belly, the baby stirred, evidently enjoying the relief as well. Reaching the lone elevator, she pressed the up button while Martin set the bags onto the floor where they wilted against one another in snaps and crunches.
“Are you sure you can take all of these?”
“I am.” Straightening her shoulders, Jenna disentangled herself from his arm. “I’m going to have my hands full soon enough so I better get used to it.”
“You know you’ve got a few of us around here looking out for you.”
His care brought on a swell of tears, the flood misting the lobby. Brushing them away, Jenna cursed the emotional rollercoaster tossing her at its will. She forced calm into her thoughts and gratitude into her voice.
The elevator dinged. Holding the doors, Jenna dragged across the nearest bags while Martin dealt with the rest, then swiveled herself next to the panel of dimmed buttons.
Tipping his cap, Martin shuffled back, allowing the doors free reign. “Anytime, Ms.”
The doors began to close when the lobby entrance burst open and a stifling gust entered along with a rushing set of feet. “Hold the elevator!”
Martin stuck out his hand and the elevator’s twin panels sprang back.
“Afternoon, Mr. Thompson.”
At the name, Jenna’s knees watered and her palms grew sweaty.
“Hey, Martin. Are you still on this shift? Must be why I keep missing you.”
“Thanks for catching the elevator.”
Wondering how the day had managed to throw one last jab, Jenna dropped her eyes to her shopping bags. Martin stepped aside, making way for Gavin, his mint polo complimenting the bouquet in his hands. The cellophane wrapping shimmered in his tightened grip.
Riding a well-timed spike of irritation, Jenna lifted her chin, a forced grin burning her cheeks. “Gavin.”
“I can catch the next one.”
“Why?” Jenna swept her hand at the remaining space. “There’s room.”
His gaze darted to her belly and back, his eyes two blue marbles on strings. “Less than there has been.”
The elevator bleated in discomfort and Jenna shifted her weight, her swollen feet aching to be put up.
“Are you coming in or not?”
“Sure.” Gavin darted to the opposite corner, his flowers held over his khaki’s like a protective fig leaf. “Later, Martin.”
Martin tipped his cap, and his frown remained until the doors shut, leaving Jenna staring at her own reflection. The bouquet’s perfume mingled with sweat, giving the purified air a salt-and-floral edge nearly as sharp as the seconds of silence. Gavin’s rapid breathing provided an accompaniment to Jenna’s accelerating pulse and the elevator’s straight lines wavered to the tempo. Jenna shut her eyes before the undulations magnified or her gaze drifted to Gavin’s mirrored figure.
“I think you have to press a button, Jen.”
The world continued to spin behind her lids, however, and Jenna wilted against the wall.
“You’re still on seven?”
She nodded once, and the bags crunched as Gavin neared and thumped one button and then another. Curiosity made her squint and revealed the illuminated circle for floor eleven. A quick tally of resident names and faces raced through her mind until a leggy blonde appeared.
“Yeah.” Gavin inched back to the corner while the elevator rattled, then surged upwards.
Gravity pushed on Jenna’s shoulders and pulled on her heart. Her tongue, though, flapped freely. “How did you meet her?”
“At the marina.” Gavin gestured with the bouquet. “Looks like you’ve been busy too.”
“Not really.” Jenna draped her hand on her belly where kicking feet stirred the roiling in her stomach.
“Let me guess, Darren Mitchell?”
“Darren?” She leveled her stare at Gavin, freezing the wry grin on his mouth. “Not in a million years.”
“He couldn’t get enough of you when we were….”
Trailing off, Gavin rubbed the back of his neck, his gaze intent on the ceiling’s lamp. The faux-crystals clinked when the elevator shuddered. Gears strained, the whole cabin quivered, and then their ascent resumed.
Her tongue, apparently inspired, rolled on. “Nothing ever happened with Darren.”
“Then who’s the father?”
“What? I’m trying to be civil.”
“Why do you even care?”
The elevator bucked again, knocking over a shopping bag and spilling a canary yellow set of crib sheets across the floor. Jenna bent for the handle, but the elevator rocked and she clasped onto the inner rail to keep from tumbling. With a whine, the gears ground to a halt and they hung suspended.
“What the hell?” Gavin stabbed the button for floor seven.
His final smack matched a sudden wave of punches traveling along Jenna’s lower back. Grimacing, she clasped her stomach and slumped. The fists ceased, leaving the crunch of packaging as Gavin stuffed the sheets back into the bag.
Jenna wiggled her fingers in a lame attempt to shoo him off. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m just trying to help.”
“You gave that up months ago.”
Gavin looked up from the bag. “I thought we’d agreed it was over, that we were heading in different directions.”
“But you forgot a few things when you left.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing.” Jenna winced as another undulation rolled up from her tailbone. She motioned at the buttons. “If you want to help, get me out of here before I burst.”
“Are you okay?”
“I just pushed myself too far today.”
She shifted her weight, but the movement from one foot to another pressed upon her bladder and brought her powder-blue bathroom to mind. She could nearly smell the lilac and ginger soaps, and feel the terrycloth mat on her feet.
Jenna opened her eyes and discovered she had drifted to the elevator floor. A trickle of sweat coursed down her legs while the rest of her body had gone icy cold. Setting a hand on her belly, she stilled, waiting for a nudge of elbow or knee, the kick of a foot, but the world within her had gone silent.
Gavin squatted beside her, the bouquet abandoned, his gaze concerned.
Her abdomen hardened like a rigid shell before Jenna could reply and the wave of aches resumed at her lower back. They lasted longer than she thought possible, but beneath her hand her belly softened and the cramp subsided.
The signs she had read about in her preparation for the inevitable, however, began tumbling through her mind.
“No,” she whispered, “not now, not here.”
“What’s going on Jen?”
“I think—” She bared her teeth in a snarl at the timing, at the circumstances, at the twist of fate. “I think my water just broke.”
Gavin flinched back. “Um….what….what can I do?”
“Get someone on the telephone.”
Jolting upright, Gavin fetched his smartphone from his pocket. He stared at the screen and scowled. “No reception.”
“Try that one.”
Following her shaky finger, Gavin lurched toward the emergency panel beneath the row of buttons. He pressed one marked CALL and then stared at her, wide-eyed, while the tones sounded.
The adjacent speaker crackled, the “Hello?” worried, but familiar.
“Martin?” Gavin knelt so he could speak directly into where Martin’s voice seemed to emerge from across town. “The elevator’s stuck.”
“Yes, I know. I’ve got Mr. Reams on the way.”
“We don’t need the Super, we need a doctor.”
“Yeah.” Gavin raked a trembling hand through his hair. “She thinks she’s in labor.”
“I’ll get someone right away.”
The speaker hissed and the elevator went quiet. Jenna bit back a growl when another contraction seized her back and after a count of 37 seconds, eased. She forced her breath into a steady rhythm, recalling what she could from weeks of Lamas classes.
“What time is it, Gavin?”
“Your watch,” she said, eyeing the Rolex circling his wrist.
“4:18. We’re going to keep track of these okay?”
Shoving the shopping bags out of the way, Gavin sat beside her, his gaze glued to the watch’s face. Jenna leaned her head against the wall, but the anticipation and ticking hands ate at her calm.
“Talk to me, Gavin.”
“Anything?” He rubbed the back of his neck as he sought some point of conversation. Lowering his hand, he chuckled. “You remember the last time we did this?”
“Got stuck in an elevator?”
She frowned at the ceiling lamp’s crystals, allowing the question to divert her thoughts. “Vegas?”
“That was pretty good wasn’t it?”
A flush swept over her body mixing the memory of glittering lights spinning from too much champagne, pounding dance music, and silken sheets with her present day shock.
“I can’t believe you’re thinking about that right now.”
“Sorry.” Gavin shrugged. “It’s the best I could do.”
“No.” After waving off his apology, her hand fell limp. He gathered it up with a gentle squeeze and she laughed at the old embrace. “It’s kind of perfect actually.”
“It was the perfect last fling.”
“And we really hit the jackpot.”
Gavin stiffened and Jenna cursed her tongue while his mind seemed to churn. His eyes glanced to her belly and back, dates and calculations flickering behind his eyes.
“What do you mean by jackpot?”
The speaker crackled. “Hello?”
Jenna tilted her gaze back to the panel. “We hear you Martin.”
“I’ve called 911. They’re sending an ambulance for you Ms.”
Gavin shifted his frown to Martin’s ethereal voice. “An ambulance won’t do much good if we’re still stuck.”
“Mr. Reams is working on it now.” The receiver clunked against something Jenna imagined might be Martin’s chin and a muffled but heated conversation transpired on the other end of the line. He returned, breathless. “He’s going to try some things that might jostle the cabin, so you should probably sit down.”
Resuming her stare at the ceiling, Jenna braced herself for whatever might come next. “We already are.”
“Good good. Is there anything else I can do?”
“Could you call Ms. Anderson in 11A and let her know what’s going on?”
“Of course, Mr. Thompson.” Scratching, like a pencil on paper, undercut Martin’s murmuring. “And you, Ms. Parker? Should I call the father?”
Jenna cinched her clasp on Gavin’s hand while another contraction gripped her body.
“No,” she said between the aches. “It’s alright.”
Gavin squeezed her hand, his voice slung low. “The father should know about this.”
Jenna met his eyes as the pain eased. For once, her tongue stayed quiet, but seconds ticked away and realization dawned on Gavin’s blanched face.
Jenna managed a lean smile. “It’s okay, Martin, he just found out.”