Felice had plenty of friends. One of her dearest friends, Rita Thornton, had two children, so Felice sought her out for advice about what to expect during childbirth, newborns and the things she may need to know.
For the next six months, she kept herself busy with her volunteering work and shopping with Rita. She bought maternity clothes and anything Rita suggested the baby would need for the first six months: car seat, diapers, cream for rashes, bottles, toys and clothes. The list seemed endless. She didn’t want to know if it was a boy or girl, so they chose the clothing neutrally. Rita also helped her decorate the baby’s room with the necessary furniture: baby changing station, rocking chair and a crib. She knew there would be things she would need to get once the baby was born, but for now she was as ready as she was going to be.
Not once in those six months did Pavel try to call her, nor did she call him. She knew it was over. The knowledge didn’t make it hurt any less. Even after all of this time, Felice cried herself to sleep every night. She remembered all the times they shared together; the time he flew her to
for dinner, the many times he brought
her flowers, and the love and laughter they enjoyed. She couldn’t believe he
was no longer a part of her life and that he would never know their baby. Their baby would never know his or her father.
It was that thought that made her heart ache even more, if that was even
She moved from her one bedroom house into a two bedroom, knowing she would need the room. Even though she missed Pavel terribly, she settled in to her new life.
She was with Rita more and more as the time grew nearer. She always considered Rita her dearest friend, but since becoming pregnant and sharing more with her, Felice now labeled Rita her best friend. Rita was there for her when she needed her and Felice could not have been more thankful. They began sharing everything, including very personal anecdotes and information. Rita told her the story of her first kiss with Darryl and Felice told her of the first night she and Pavel made love.
Rita provided a comfort to her, as she knew what Felice was going through. The only difference being, Rita was married to a wonderful man who didn’t desert her when he found out she was having his child.
The night her baby came was one she would never forget. Her water broke just like Rita warned her it would. She remembered her words.
“Usually, for your first, things may happen slow in the beginning then speed up. Everyone is different though. When your water breaks, you’ll know it and you should get right to the hospital. Then things will really start moving.”
Felice immediately called Rita at home. There was no answer. She tried Rita on her cellular phone, but didn’t get an answer there either. Not knowing what else to do, she called a cab company, who told her it would be about forty minutes before they could pick her up. When she said she didn’t have another way to the hospital and was having a baby, they promised to dispatch a cab in under fifteen minutes. She then called the hospital as she was instructed to do and warned them of her impending arrival.
As promised, the cab was at her door ten minutes later. Grabbing her bag she pre-packed, her house keys and a jacket, she moved as fast as she could in her condition out to the car.
The cab driver was told she was in labor and drove as fast as he could. He didn’t say a word to her the entire way. Even if he did, she doubted she would have heard him through her groans of pain.
Once in the delivery room, she begged the nurses to get in touch with Rita. Throughout the remainder of the night and even through her contractions, she kept asking if they reached her. They were unable to.
The next morning at four forty five a.m., she gave birth to a beautiful seven and a half pound baby girl. Since she didn’t want to know if she was having a boy or a girl, she didn’t yet have a name picked out for the baby. It should have been something she and Pavel did together.
Felice held her baby in her arms and was unable to stop crying as the beauty of her child overwhelmed her in ways her heart never understood before. She couldn’t believe she held such precious life in her hands. She cried harder when she realized what Pavel was missing and that her daughter could not look up and see the adoring eyes of a father.
Later that day, the nurse came in and told her they finally reached Rita’s husband, Darryl.
“He said he would come by in a while,” nurse Hickman told her.
“What? Is Rita coming with him?”
“He didn’t say. Now rest. I’ll be bringing your daughter by soon for a feeding.”
Felice felt as if she just dozed off when nurse Hickman came in with her daughter. Felice sat up in bed and smiled. She couldn’t get over how beautiful her daughter was.
“Here’s mommy,” the nurse cooed to her daughter.
“Hey, sweetheart,” she cooed. “Are you hungry?”
She carefully took her daughter from the nurse and held her to her breast. Even though she didn’t have a clue as to what to do, it seemed like the most natural thing. Her maternal instincts made up for the lack of knowledge and experience.
“Have you picked out a name for her yet?” the nurse asked.
“No, I can’t seem to make up my mind. I love the name Grace. It seems so eloquent and charming. She is a beautiful girl and that is one of the definitions of the name. Maybe it will be Grace, I’m not sure yet.”
“Well, there’s no big rush, but you will need a name to put on her birth certificate.”
“I promise I will have a name for her before we leave.”
“You get to go home tomorrow with her. Since both you and the baby are healthy, there’s no reason for you to stick around here.”
The nurse started to leave, then turned back and said, “Oh, I almost forgot. A man came by earlier asking about you and the baby.”
“Really? Who was it?”
“I didn’t get his name. As a matter of fact, he didn’t offer one. He just asked if you and the baby were okay and if you had a girl or a boy. When I said a girl and that, yes, you and the baby were doing just fine, he said, ‘thank you’ and left.”
“Huh. I wonder who…did he have an accent?”
“Yes, a rather sexy one I might add.” The nurse smiled and continued, “I’ll be back shortly.”
Could it be Pavel? Do I dare to hope he changed his mind? She thought to herself. Why would he leave without even seeing his daughter? Surely, he must at least be curious if nothing else.
All other thoughts of Pavel disappeared when Darryl walked in the door. He was unshaven, his clothes were rumpled and he looked like he had been crying.
Darryl just looked at her and didn’t say a word. He walked away from the bed and stood in front of the window.
“Felice…” he choked on his words.
“Darryl, you’re scaring me.”
Darryl quietly started to cry. Because his back was to her, Felice could see his shoulders shake with each sob.
“What? What do you mean, gone?”
“There was an accident last night, Felice. A car accident.”
Darryl rubbed his arms across his eyes to dry his tears, turned around and walked over to the bed.
Taking her hand in his, he said, “They couldn’t save her.”
“What? How? What happened?”
Felice started crying now. At that moment, the nurse came in.
“Is everything all right?”
“No. Please take my baby,” Felice told her.
She handed her baby to Nurse Hickman and asked, “May we have some privacy, please?”
After the nurse left with her daughter, Felice grabbed Darryl’s hand.
“Please,” she begged. “What happened?”
“Rita was on her way home. She went out to the store to pick up some milk. I should have gone. Why wasn’t it me?” Darryl sobbed. He continued, “I was home with the kids. A drunk driver was racing down the road just as Rita was coming out of the parking lot. He broadsided her. She didn’t have a chance.”
Felice’s tears were streaming down her face as she looked at Darryl. His face was twisted in torment. He was as pale as a ghost and looked like he hadn’t slept since he heard about his wife’s death.
Now she knew why she couldn’t get a hold of Rita or Darryl last night.
“This is my fault,” he interrupted her. “I should have gone to the store. She insisted, saying she needed to get some air anyway. I let her go. Damn it! Do you hear me!” he screamed in pain. “I let her go!”
His knees buckled and he collapsed to the floor. He leaned his forehead against the mattress and continued to cry. He was unable to stop the tears. The anguish was too much to bear. He began pounding the side of the bed with his fists like a child throwing a tantrum. He needed to let the agony out somehow and he didn’t know what else to do.
Felice grabbed his wrists. During the time she spent with Rita, she also befriended Darryl. They were part of her now and to see him in such pain was killing her.
“Look at me.”
When he didn’t, she repeated the request.
When he finally looked up at her, his eyes were red and swollen.
“Darryl, this isn’t your fault.”
“No, it is not. You didn’t know what would happen any more than she did.”
“Oh god, Felice, I can’t handle this.”
Darryl got off his knees and tried to stand. Because he was physically and emotionally drained, he was weak and almost fell into the chair next to her bed. He put his head in his hands and sobbed again.
“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”
She didn’t know if he was apologizing to her, or to Rita.
“Darryl, this is not your fault,” she repeated.
“It is, and no matter how many times you try and tell me it isn’t, I won’t believe you. I know it’s my fault. My Rita…my darling wife. She’s gone. I can’t believe it.”
“The kids…where are they? Are they all right?”
Rita and Darryl were blessed with twins, a boy and a girl. Glenn and Gabriella were eight years old. Felice’s heart went out to the children. What would they do without their mother? Darryl was a good father, but for children to grow up without their mother was hard.
Felice knew that. She lost her mother from a long battle with breast cancer when she was only eleven and her father passed away from a brain tumor when she was nineteen. Although she loved her father just as much, she remembered feeling a deep heart-wrenching loss when her mother died.
“The kids are with my parents. They flew in first thing this morning. The kids are too young to really know what’s going on. They certainly know they don’t have a mother anymore, no thanks to their dad.”
“Darryl! Stop it. You cannot think like this. Your children need you now more than ever.”
“I know, but oh god! How do I get through this? How do I live my life without Rita?”
“I don’t know,” Felice quietly answered.
He sat there and quietly cried as he remembered the first time he kissed Rita.
They just left the movies and it started to rain. At first it was a gentle fall of rain and she insisted on walking the two blocks to her apartment.
By the time they arrived, the rain became heavier and they were drenched. They stood outside the front door of her apartment. She, not wanting to go in and end the evening and he, not wanting to leave her. She looked incredibly sexy, soaked from the rain.
She looked up at him, smiled, and asked if he wanted to come in for a night cap. He barely heard her question as he couldn’t take his eyes off of her lips. They were so soft looking, so inviting. That night, as she stood there with rain dripping onto her face and sliding down her lips, all he could think of was he wanted to kiss her. Had to kiss her.
He took her in his arms and slowly brought his lips to hers. He tasted the rain and felt the softness he knew he would. He didn’t want to push it too far with her. As it was only their second date, he started to pull away, but she put her hand on the back of his head and leaned up to once again meet his lips. They tenderly kissed with tongues intertwining.
It was the hardest thing he ever did, but he pulled apart from her, took the key from her hand and opened the door. He promised to call the next day. He wanted her to know he was an honorable man, not one that was just after sex. He was smitten and her respect meant everything to him. It was a relationship he wanted to bloom slowly…and it did. He loved her beyond all measure. They became a family and had a nice life together.
Then one night, in one single moment out of time, it was all taken away; his Rita, his life, the mother of his children. He didn’t know what he was going to do without her. This memory of Rita would stay with him forever, and when the children were old enough, he would share it with them. He planned on sharing all of his memories of their mother with them. Each and every one of them was too precious to keep hidden. The children needed to know their mother as much as he needed to tell them.
Darryl stood, filed the memory deep in his mind, stifled his tears, and promised Felice he would pick her and the baby up from the hospital to take them home.
The next day she was discharged. Even though Darryl said he would take them home, she still planned on calling a cab. However, despite the many arrangements he had to make, Darryl called in the morning and insisted on following through with his offer. He needed to keep his word for Rita if nothing else.
He told Felice not to worry. After he brings Felice and the baby home, he would do all he could to make sure Rita will have a perfect funeral, as perfect as funerals could be, that is. He left the children with his parents again and was at the hospital at eleven a.m., as promised.
Felice didn’t know what to say to Darryl to comfort him. She wasn’t even able to deal with her own grief yet. She knew and loved Rita for more than ten years now and she was her dearest friend.
She couldn’t believe that the night she gave birth to her daughter, she lost her best friend. Despite the fact that Rita would have understood the bond between mother and child completely, she felt guilty for being happy with her daughter when she just lost such a wonderful friendship.
Neither of them spoke for the first few miles after he picked her and the baby up.
Felice felt the need to let Darryl know he could count on her.
“I really appreciate you bringing us home, Darryl. I know you have a lot to deal with right now and I want you to know I am here for you. Anything you need, please just ask. I want to be there for the children as well.”
Darryl tried to smile, “Thanks. That means a lot and I know Rita would love you for that, but right now you have a lot to deal with as well. You have a new baby…speaking of, do you have a name for her yet?”
“Yes, I have decided to name her Rita Grace. I hope you’re okay with it.”
For a few minutes, Darryl didn’t say anything. He just stared straight ahead as he drove.
Finally, he told her, “I’m more than okay with it and I know Rita would love it. She would be honored. Rita Grace Bellicini, I like it. It has a certain ring to it.”
“Thank you,” she said, “I was hoping you wouldn’t mind.”
Darryl took one hand off the steering wheel, took her hand in his and squeezed it.
“Thank you, Felice. You have no idea what this means to me. Think about it. The night I lost the love of my life, you gave birth to a new Rita. It is reassuring to know she will live on, and it means everything to me. When I see little Rita, I will always think of my Rita. What’s more, I know she’ll grow up to honor her namesake. She is after all, your daughter and you are my Rita’s best friend. If I believed in reincarnation, and I’m not sure if I do, then I’d say my wife isn’t dead, but reborn to start a new life, to touch another’s life like she touched mine and everyone she knew. God doesn’t make mistakes and he took her for a reason. Maybe Rita Grace is that reason.”
When he finished speaking, Felice just stared at him for several minutes. She hoped he would be happy about her choice in names, but she never dreamed he would be so touched. Knowing she gave him a reason to believe and a reason to smile, she was quite happy with the name she gave her baby. Darryl just confirmed what she already knew in her own heart, that her daughter’s name was a perfect fit. Somehow, Felice felt deep in her soul Rita was smiling down at them at that very moment.
She smiled at Darryl, squeezed his hand in return and said, “Darryl, Rita will always be with us. She’s in our hearts and that will keep her alive for us and for your children,” she turned and looked in the back seat, smiled at her baby, and continued, “and for Rita Grace.”
* * * * *
The services were difficult. She grieved for her best friend, while Darryl cried for his lost wife. She wept openly, as did nearly all the people in attendance. Rita was well loved and would be greatly missed by many people, but none more so than her precious children.
Contrary to what she was feeling inside, the day was glorious. The sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze blowing. It was a gravesite service. The entire area was bathed in flowers and it was beautiful. If they were inside, the scent would have been overpowering. The flowers signified the love everyone felt for Rita. Darryl had an arrangement of Rita’s favorite flowers created. The day lilies and white and lavender roses draped over the casket were exquisitely displayed.
During the service, many people stood and shared their memories of Rita, as did Felice. Darryl tried to, but failed. He rose, walked up to the pulpit and stood there just looking at everyone. Tears began to spill down his cheeks and he was unable to speak. Instead, he turned and walked to the casket. He laid his hand upon it and quietly cried.
Gabriella was inconsolable. She kept crying out for her mother. Glenn tried to act grown up by taking care of his sister. He held her hand and told her that mommy was okay. Darryl tried to reassure Gabriella the only way he knew how. He told her that mommy loves them and didn’t want to leave them, but God told her it was time to go. They were hollow words, even to his adult ears and Gabriella didn’t understand. Felice tried to help, but her words fell on deaf ears. Gabriella only wanted her mother.
Later, everyone went to the church’s banquet hall Darryl rented since their house was not big enough to hold everyone. Felice arranged to have the reception catered. She didn’t want Darryl to have to worry about what kind of food to serve or any other facet of the minute details. He had enough to deal with.
It was an emotional day and by the time it was over, the children were cranky. Felice offered to drive them and Darryl home, but he refused to allow her to. He reminded her she had her own daughter to tend to and told her he remembered how it was to have newborns that didn’t sleep through the night.
Felice took her baby home, tucked her in and wearily lay down on her bed. She never felt this alone before. She lost her beloved friend and there was no one to comfort her. It was times like this where her thoughts turned to Pavel, what they shared and what they could have shared had he not been the coward he was. She ached to be held and consoled. Instead, she cried herself to sleep.
She wanted to be there for Darryl and the children. She didn’t question what that meant. She just wanted to do what she could for her best friend’s family. The next few weeks were the hardest ones Felice ever endured. Even though she was a single parent, which was difficult in itself, she did everything she could to help Darryl with the twins.
It was trying and each night she fell asleep the minute her head hit the pillow, only to awaken a few hours later to feed the baby, but she didn’t mind. Rita would have done the same for her and she knew it.