Out of Ashes
Hillary awoke to a thumping sound reverberating off the walls. It was like a thundering repetitive boom and the more awake she became the louder it got. She blinked her eyes a few times and realized she was in the medical unit. Dr. Mariano stood over her in a white coat, a device in her hand. The feel of something warm and wet glided across her lower abdomen and suddenly her mind was on edge.
“My baby?” she asked, hoarsely.
“Baby sounds great.” the doctor announced, looking down at the numbers on the screen. “Nice steady heartbeat of 167.”
Tears that she didn’t even know were swimming in her eyes slipped down into her hair. “Oh, thank God!” She calmly and happily took in the thumping of the baby’s heart. It comforted her, gave her reassurance that she did the right thing continuing the pregnancy.
“Do you want me to continue?” she asked, after a few long moments. “I’m happy to let you listen for as long as you like.”
Hillary smiled up at her. “I feel much better, thank you, Connie.”
She turned off the machine and reached for a small cloth, wiping the gel off the first lady and pulling her shirt back down. “You gave everyone quite a scare, ma’am.”
“I’m not even sure what happened.” Hillary admitted.
Connie glanced over to the other side of the room. “You passed out in the middle of a meeting and Senator Kerry rushed you down here.”
Hillary’s eyes followed the doctors over to where John was leaning up against the wall. She gave him a nervous smile. “Thank you, John.”
“I’m just relieved that you’re okay,” he took a few steps closer to where she laid on the exam table. “And that the baby is okay.”
“I apologize, ma’am.” Dr. Mariano began. “Everything happened so quickly, and I had the doppler turned on before I realized the Senator was still in the room.”
She looked up at the doctor. “It’s alright, Connie,” she assured her. “Everything is okay and that’s all that matters.”
“Your vitals checked out just fine. I would like you to lay here for just a little while longer though. I want to make sure you don’t get dizzy again. I am going to sit you up though.” she reached for the button and elevated her head. “Can I get you anything?”
“No thank you,” she replied. “You’ve already given me peace of mind and that’s priceless.”
Connie smiled, the tension between the First Lady and the Senator was palpable. She thought it would be best if she cleared the room as quickly as possible. “I’ll be in my office if you need me. I’ll come back to check on you in about ten minutes.”
Hillary nodded. “Thank you.”
The door to the room was closed and John and Hillary were left alone. He brushed her hair back away from her face. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes,” she assured him. “My mind is still a little fuzzy, but I’m feeling much better.”
“I didn’t mean to invade your privacy.”
“It’s okay, John, you don’t have to apologize,” she told him. “We’re friends.”
“Are we?” he asked, pulling up a chair next to her. “Are we still friends? Because our friendship has seemingly fallen apart, Hillary.”
“Of course, we are. I’ve just had a lot going on. We’re struggling to find a Vice President. The Holidays were so busy. Bill and I have been working on our marriage and now….”
“And now the baby.”
“Yeah, and now the baby.”
John nodded. “Hey, I get it. You’re the First Lady, things are busy for you. With the addition of a new child things are going to get even busier. When is the baby coming?”
“Summer.” she answered, vaguely.
“Congratulations,” he said, sincerely. “I must say, I’m shocked though. I didn’t know having another baby at this point was in your plans.”
Hillary could feel the heat rising in her neck. “It wasn’t exactly planned, John. It just happened. I’ve only known for a few weeks. I found out kind of late.”
“How far along are you?”
God, she couldn’t bear to look him in the eye, instead she looked past him. “I’m in my fourteenth week. Officially second trimester.”
“Fourteen weeks,” he repeated. “That was rather quick, Hillary. You and Bill certainly didn’t waste any time reconciling.”
“Watch it, John, you’re starting to sound jealous. And friends don’t get jealous.” she meant it was a tease but wasn’t sure it came off that way.
“I’m happy for you Hillary, I really am. I know how much you love children. You’re a wonderful mother to Chelsea and I know you will be to this baby as well,” he told her. “I’m just pointing out that this whole thing has played out so quickly and…”
“What are you trying to say?”
He took a deep breath. “I hope that this baby isn’t some sort of Band-Aid in order to help fix your marriage, that’s all.”
If there was any time for complete honestly this was it. This was her opportunity to open the discussion she had been dreading since the pregnancy test turned up positive. “This baby is the furthest thing from a Band-Aid,” she assured him. “This baby may just end my marriage.”
He grew concerned. Maybe things weren’t all sunshine and rainbows with the First Couple. “What do you mean? This should be a happy time. You and Bill should be thrilled after everything that’s happened.”
Hillary pushed herself up into a sitting position. “John, this baby was conceived the week that Al was assassinated.”
The realization spread across is face slowly. “But you were on the pill,” he said, sure he was right. “When we were together, right?”
“No, I wasn’t on the pill.”
He immediately stood up and started pacing. “What you mean you weren’t? Why not?”
Hillary was taken aback by his response. “Because I’m forty- three years old, John. I’ve only ever been pregnant once before and it was a struggle, both getting pregnant and staying pregnant. As I’ve aged, I thought that door was permanently closed.”
John ran a hand through his salt and peppered hair. “Obviously not!”
“I can assure you that I did not do this on purpose, John.”
He took a deep breath and ran his hands over his face. “I know,” he exhaled. “I know you didn’t. I’m sorry.” He apologized. “I’m sorry. It’s just…wow!”
“It’s a lot, I know.”
He came back over to the chair and sat down. “So, I’m the father,” he concluded, taking it all in. “Of your baby. The baby whose heartbeat I just heard a few minutes ago?”
“It’s not that simple, John.”
“How is it not that simple? Am I the baby’s father or not?”
Hillary hung her head in something akin to shame. “I don’t know,” she whispered., honestly. “I don’t know who the father is,” she admitted, looking up at him. “I really want this baby to be Bill’s, but I’m just not sure. The more time that passes the more I question it.”
“Does Bill know?”
She simply nodded. “He talked me out of an abortion a few days ago,” she confessed. “I’ve been so conflicted about everything. Bill wanted me to tell you when I found out, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have the guts. I’m so sorry, John.”
John blanched, there was so much information to take in at once. “When did you find out you were pregnant?”
“About three weeks ago. I was exhausted all the time and I started having these awful headaches.” she started to explain. “Peter thought they might be hormonal headaches and brought me a test. When it came up positive, I went to visit a friend in California to have it confirmed. The dates are too close together to determine who the father is.”
He was quiet for several long moments, and she knew he was taking it all in. “When can we find out?”
“I can have an amniocentesis at sixteen weeks, but it carries some risk…”
“No.” he replied, immediately. “I’m not okay with risk. I don’t want to put you at risk. Not after everything’s that happened, not now.”
“If I don’t have an amino then we have to wait until birth to determine the baby’s paternity. That won’t be until the beginning of July.”
“I’m okay with that.”
Hillary shook her head. “I’m not sure that I am.”
“Does Bill want you to have the procedure?”
“Bill’s not exactly been supportive. After everything that’s happened, he’s not interested in participating in this pregnancy. At least not right now.”
John scoffed. “And if the baby is his? He’s just going to automatically step up and be involved all of the sudden?”
“I don’t know,” she replied, honestly. “Bill feels very betrayed right now and he’s entitled to feel however he would like. I’m not going to push him into anything he doesn’t want to be a part of.”
“He doesn’t believe this baby is his,” he concluded. “Why? It’s a 50/50 chance it seems.”
“We struggled for years to have a baby before I got pregnant with Chelsea. We tried again once he rewon the governorship and never conceived. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and gave up and went back to the pill.”
“For a few years now,” she admitted. “I should have told you; it honestly just never crossed my mind. I always assumed that I was the problem. This is a huge shock, John. For everyone involved.”
There was a soft knock at the door and Dr. Mariano reappeared. “Feeling okay?”
“Yes, much better,” Hillary sat up straighter, turning her attention away from John. “Do you mind if I listen to the baby’s heartbeat again?”
The doctor smiled. “No, of course not. I thought you might ask again.” she reached for the doppler and the squirted some gel on the top of the wand. “Lay back and relax for me.”
Hillary pulled her shirt up to expose her stomach and within moments a loud thumping was feeling the examination room just as it did before. But this time it was different. It felt different. John was standing next to her. The truth was out. Everything felt lighter. Easier.
And then the door opened, and Bill appeared. “Hillary?” he called out. “What happened?” he made long strides over to where she was. John immediately moved out of the way, Bill not even really registering his presence. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she tried to assure him. “I was running behind this morning, and I skipped breakfast.”
He took her hand and pressed a kiss to her temple. “Is she alright, Dr. Mariano?”
“Everything’s fine, Mr. President,” the doctor assured him.
The loud thumping suddenly registered in Bill’s mind. “Is that….” he couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence.
Dr. Mariano nodded. “Yes, nice steady heartbeat,” she confirmed, moving the doppler around a bit. “Mother and baby are perfectly healthy.”
The thumping of the baby’s heartbeat and Hillary’s slightly protruding abdomen were the only things he could focus on. Everything seemed so real now. Bill smiled down at her, but she was so focused on the baby she didn’t see the tears in his eyes. “Hey,” he said softly, getting her attention. “I’m sorry.”
Hillary looked up at him, surprised to see such emotion on his face. She returned his smile, “It’s okay, Bill.” Her eyes moved over to John who had taken his early position in the room. “We need to talk.”
Bill followed her line of vision, now taking notice of the Senator in the room. He looked back at Hillary, his heart thudding in his chest. He wasn’t even sure what he wanted but Kerry in the room with them suddenly made him possessive and territorial.
Dr. Mariano minded her own business, monitoring the baby, and Hillary. Finally, she turned off the machine and reached for a towel. “It’s very important that Mrs. Clinton’s stress level remain neutral,” she said, wiping off the first lady’s abdomen and pulling down her shirt. “I would like to meet with her obstetrician and work together so we can be assured that happens.”
“Yes, of course.” Bill nodded. “Thank you so much, doctor.”
“Hillary you’re free to go but no more skipping meals, okay? Take your vitamins and get plenty of rest. Don’t forget to drink your water.”
She nodded, sheepishly. “Yes, ma’am.”
The older woman patted Hillary’s leg. “I’ll leave you to it then.”
Once again, the doctor left the room, and everything suddenly felt heavier. Hillary swung her legs over the side of the exam table. “Careful.” Bill instructed. “Don’t get up too fast.”
“I’m okay, Bill, really I am,” she assured him.
Bill looked between Hillary and John. He was suddenly incredibly uncomfortable. More uncomfortable than he had ever been in his entire life. “How much does he know?”
“I told him everything.”
The words just hung in the air for several long moments. John took a step forward, closer to the couple. “How do you want to handle this?”
“Hillary’s handling things just fine.” Bill answered for her.
“She cannot do it on her own.” John pointed out. “Hillary, you need support right now, you do not have to do this alone. If you want, I will be here with you every step of the way,” he looked over at Bill. “No matter who the baby’s father is.”