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The nurse made it sound as if they were so close, but the last couple of hours felt like an eternity. Abel wasn’t sure if it was because he had to see Nellie in so much pain or if it was because there were so many moments when she really looked like she wanted him dead, even when he was trying really hard to console her. His reassuring her that they were really close and that it would soon be over didn’t seem to help at all.

Noah had warned him about how things could get ugly once it was down to the wire. But he really didn’t think his sweet little Nellie was capable of turning on him. She’d been a perfect sweetheart, and she was as nervously excited as he was on their first two trips to the maternity ward earlier that week. Then he went to turn on the video camera like he’d done the first two times they’d been there.

“I swear to all that is holy, Abel Ayala,” she said through her teeth as she panted through another contraction, “if you turn that thing on, you will lose a hand.”

“But, babe, I thought you wanted me to record you in labor?”

Aside from his mother’s when he and Hector had been bad as a youngsters, he never thought a woman’s glare like the one Nellie gave him just then could be so dangerously vicious. He immediately put the camera down very cautiously and promised it wouldn’t get turned back on until the baby was born.

Remembering what his mother had warned him earlier that week on their first false alarm trip to the hospital, he bit his tongue and didn’t remind that Nellie recording this whole thing had been her idea in the first place. She’d been the one who asked him to go buy a camera, a camera that had cost him a small fortune, but he figured it was worth every penny if he was going to film the birth of his baby with it. Before he was tempted to say something about it again, Nellie was hit with another contraction that had her crying out in pain.

Feeling completely helpless to do anything for her, he leaned in and let her fist his sweatshirt as hard as she wanted. “Breathe, baby. Do the breathing exercises,” he reminded her then demonstrated for her very animatedly as if his own deep breathing might help her.

“I don’t wanna do the f**king breathing exercises!” she spat out suddenly, stunning Abel. “I just want this baby out!”

As the contractions passed and she seemed to calm but still whimpered looking so completely spent, his mom’s words from earlier that week came to him.

“Nellie has a free pass in that labor room. She can say or do whatever makes her feel better, Mijo. Don’t take it personally.”

Abel wasn’t taking it personally, and so far, aside from that last outburst and when she threatened he’d lose a hand, she hadn’t said a whole lot. Mostly, she’d groaned, cried, and panted through the contractions. All Abel could do was pray that it would soon be over. She looked and sounded so tortured that he could almost feel her pain, though he knew better than to say that to her at the time.

He was only glad now that he’d been paying such close attention during Lamaze classes, because he at least had a clue what to do. The nurse even said he was a very good coach. He’d started to smile about it, until he took one look at Nellie. Apparently, she wasn’t as impressed by his coaching skills as the nurse was.

Roni, Nellie’s parents, and Courtney had arrived about an hour into the whole ordeal. Her parents and Courtney stayed out in the waiting room with Gus for the most part, coming in for a few minutes at a time. But Abel was once again eternally grateful for Roni. She was so much better than he was about saying the right things to Nellie.

Through it all, even with her most lethal glares, Nellie never once let go of Abel’s hand. If she were any stronger and if his hands weren’t so much bigger than hers, she might’ve crushed his a few times. But Abel figured what little pain he’d endured when she’d buried her nails almost through his skin was nothing compared to what she was going through.

By the time she was ready to push, Abel was feeling almost as tormented as he had when she’d been in a coma. Seeing her in so much pain was crushing his heart. As anxious as he was to meet his baby, he was more anxious to see Nellie out of pain.

The doctors announced that she could start to push as soon as the next contraction came.

“Almost, baby. You got this,” he whispered, wiping her forehead with a towel then kissing it.

Nellie squeezed his hand tighter and tighter, grunting with all her might as the contraction came. Just as the nurse had predicted, Nellie got through it like a champ, and in a matter of a few pushes, his baby girl was born.

The relief of seeing Nellie fall back completely worn-out but finally out of the massive pain she’d just been through, mixed with the reality that he was now a father, was too overwhelming. Abel buried his face into Nellie’s neck and let out the emotion. “You did it, Nellie. I’m so proud of you, baby.”

“Why isn’t she crying?” Nellie asked, anxiously.

“She will in a second,” One of the nurses said in an assuring tone.

A few moments passed, and there was still no sound from the baby. Nellie squeezed Abel’s hand as his heart once again began to speed up. He glanced over to see the doctor suctioning the baby’s nose and mouth and still nothing. Just as he started to feel dread, the squeaky almost meowing sounds came out of his baby’s mouth, overwhelming Abel all over again.

For as tiny as she was, the meowing-like noises coming from her sweet little mouth were loud. “How does she look?” Nellie asked, stretching her head to see over the towels below her.

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