[June 12th, 2015, 2:20 p.m., just outside Hyattsville, Maryland, USA]
"Like how long are we talk'n? An hour? Two? Or like right now right now?"
"I mean like if you aren't already on your way, I will drop this baby, find you, and burn down that damn building with you and everyone else in it."
Derick formed a mental image of this then immediately shook it away.
"I'm on my way."
Derick dropped the phone in his blazer pocket and exited the bathroom. He made a quick left then stopped abruptly in front of two large glass doors with the words "Homeland Security Investigations Conference Room 2" on each side. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before pushing on the shiny brass handles.
A man standing by a smart board in a black suit and bright blue tie spoke.
"Derick, we thought you got lost. Hurry up and sit. I need to hear the breakdown of the data from the Delaware op so we can move on."
"I need to go," Derick said as he began organizing the papers on the desk in front of his chair.
"Go? We need those numbers! Why do you need to go?"
He shut his laptop and grabbed his briefcase in one motion. "It's Carolyn. It's time."
The man stared at him for a second then became wide-eyed. "Ohh, you mean you need to go!" He smiled. "Well what the hell are you still doing here? It'll take you forever to get up to Bethesda this time of day. Tell Carolyn I said good luck!"
As Derick gathered his things and began making his way toward the door, his brain began analyzing all of the possible routes to the hospital in order to choose the optimal one. He was vaguely aware of the pats on the back and well-wishes from the other meeting members as he passed them. He made a bee line for his desk down the hall then shoved the laptop in the top right drawer. He unlocked his desk computer and stared at the programs running on the screen. Shutting them all down properly was going to take some time.
He looked over at Chad's desk but he was nowhere to be found. He spun around and found a young woman sitting in the cubicle behind him staring with a smile. Derick motioned behind him. "Kara, do you mind?"
"Not at all," she laughed, "Aaron just emailed me from the meeting. I'll take care of it. Go!" she waved.
"Thanks," Derick said, grabbing his jacket from the back of his chair. He patted his pockets for his keys and wallet then shot toward the exit. As he stepped onto the elevator, an email notification popped onto the bottom right corner of his computer:
FROM: Deputy Director Landers
SUBJECT: Pennsylvania case files PRIORITY ALPHA
A pair of hazel eyes followed the faded seconds hand on the shabby clock hanging high on the wall opposite the bed. Small beads of sweat flowed down the woman's temples and around her jaw before being absorbed by the collar of her hospital gown. Taking short breaths, she glanced around the room at the masked faces ready to pounce at the next contraction. But not yet. This was her time, the calm between the storms.
"Let us know when you feel the next one."
Carolyn had no idea who had spoken and she didn't care. He wasn't here. Why isn't he here? She glanced back up at the clock. The last two had been fairly close. If he wasn't on the elevator or on the floor by now, she figured chances were slim that he would make it in time. She looked up at her father.
"Ice chips!" she commanded.
Her father retrieved the cup and appeased her. "Try to remain calm Sweetie," he said. "He'll be here as soon as he can."
Carolyn rolled her eyes. "He'll be here when they allow him to be here."
"Carolyn, you know what you married."
"I know, I know," she whined. She looked at the clock. The next one would be arriving soon.
"Anything yet?" the doctor asked.
Carolyn glared at him. "I'm sorry, do you have someplace to be?"
"Carolyn," her father warned.
"He's not gonna make it," she whispered. She had just begun fantasizing about burning down a federal building when she felt the twisting pressure in her abdomen.
"Ooooow!" She squeezed her father's hand.
"OK," the doctor ordered, "here we go, on three. One...two..."
A young blonde in a lab code pressed the button marked "3" and the elevator doors slid shut. She smiled at Derick briefly before returning her attention to the clipboard in her hand.
"Thanks," Derick said. He wiped the nape of his neck with a napkin he had found in his back pocket.
"Gonna be a bad one this year," the blonde said without looking up.
Derick wiped his forehead. "These Maryland summers are the worst."
Derick looked confused. "Summer?"
She pointed to the elevator button console. "Maternity Ward. Is this your first?"
She grinned and put her clipboard at her side. "A word of advice?"
Derick looked on, intrigued. "Sure."
"Pay attention to everything, no matter how insignificant you may think it is. Letting them know they matter is half the battle."
Derick smiled politely as she said this. He could have said many things in response. He could have explained that his affliction caused him to be hyper attentive to everything - that he was one of the top analysts in Homeland Security, and that the very thing which made him so good at his job was also his greatest struggle. He could have described his detailed mental checklist of milestones he had already created for his daughter - his discipline plan - his responses to the difficult teen-aged questions. He could have mentioned all of this, but had learned long ago that this was bad social form.
"I'll try to remember that," he said.
The doors swooshed open and Derick headed straight for the nurses' desk. A heavy-set woman in blue scrubs and a matching hair net smiled like she was expecting him.
"I'm here for Carolyn Anderson. She's having a baby. Our baby."
The nurse produced a lanyard with an attached badge marked 'Visitor' and handed it to him.
"She's been asking for you for the last thirty minutes. Through the doors, down the hall, fifth room on the right."
"Thanks," Derick said.
The nurse smacked a square button on the wall and a large metal door creaked open in front of him. When he reached Birthing Suite 10, he took his second deep breath of the day in front of a door, then entered.
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