Authors: Rhonda Marks
A CHILD’S HEART
Rhonda A. Marks
For Linda. Thanks for all the encouragement and your friendship.
, I don’t feel good.” Little Tesia Walsh gripped her mother’s hand tighter and pinched her mouth closed.
“The medicine will make you feel better real soon, okay. The nurse just gave it to you.” Nitika Walsh gave her daughter another fake smile, all the while dying inside. This round of chemo was taking a toll on her baby, and there was nothing she could do to help, except hold onto her tiny hand and pray that the leukemia would be cured soon.
The oncologist said Tesia’s red blood count was not increasing as fast as he’d like. Which meant a stem cell transplant was needed as soon as humanly possible.
Nitika casually turned her head and wiped away another tear before Tesia saw it. She had to remain strong for both of them. Crying had to be done at night or those rare times she could step away from her daughter’s bedside.
“Mommy, I’m sleepy,” yawned Tesia.
Nitika let out a silent sigh of relief. The nurse had given Tesia the meds over half an hour ago. Why it took so long to take effect, she had
no idea, but right now she was happy her baby would be able to get some rest. Then maybe she’d have the opportunity to shut her eyes for a couple hours too.
Was it only a month ago that her adorable five year old ran roughshod over the other children in her daycare class?
So energetic and full of life. Now, she lay in a hospital bed, her body full of drugs. How could things have changed so quickly?
Thank God her best friend was
available to hold her hand and keep her partly sane. Having no relatives sucked big time, but especially now. No one to rely on. No one to break down with. No one to ask for help.
Her chest constricted
thinking back to that horrible day the pediatrician gave her the diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She had no idea Tesia’s recent fatigue and unexplained bruising were indications of such a serious disorder. It took several minutes for the words to sink in and for her to understand what she was saying. Next came the breakdown, with Nitika crumbling to the floor of the doctor’s office. Since that day, she vowed to keep herself together. Tesia needed her to be strong.
The nurse ducked her head inside the room and gave her a half smile.
she confirmed, watching her daughter’s chest rise and fall evenly.
“I’ll check back in an hour or so.” The nurse
exited as quietly as she arrived, leaving Nitika alone with Tesia again.
Other than one or two co-workers and her best friend, Elise Nivens, few people visited her daughter. This was one of the few times she wished for more family. Strike that, any family.
But what really drove her crazy was the fact that she was not a match for Tesia’s stem cell transplant. And since she had no relatives that she knew of, they had to rely upon the donor list. The problem with that was very few African Americans offered themselves as resources, and the best matches were between people of the same race.
a loud breath thinking about the oncologist’s latest suggestion. Tesia’s father would be a possibility, her best bet for a match. But Nitika had no idea who the man was since she was impregnated with sperm from an unknown donor.
At the time, she believed this was the best option for her. The best of both worlds: she’d have a beautiful child all her own, and no man with whom to butt heads. Now she seriously questioned that choice.
And was beginning to regret it.
With no other choices, she gave the oncologist permission to speak with the clinic director, to ask for the d
onor’s contact information. It had been three days, three whole days since he supposedly made contact with the man. Why was it taking so long for him to get an answer?
Javier Crespo stood outside Tesia’s room and stared through the window at the little girl in the middle of that great big bed. Was she his daughter? Feelings rose as he continued to gaze at her. No, until he had the results of the paternity test, he needed to temper his statement. It wouldn’t help anyone if he barged in there claiming her as his daughter, then find out she wasn’t. One step at a time.
He could have been knocked over with a small puff of breath when the clinic director gave him a call. The paperwork he signed prior to each donation clearly stated that his identity would not be disclosed to anyone nor would he ever be expected to provide support for any child resulting from an insemination.
He refused the call initially, legitimately busy with work, but after several voicemails, he finally relented and returned the man’s call. All it took was the information about the child contracting leukemia, and how he could possibly save her life, for him to agree to meet the oncologist.
Now, here he was, gazing at a little girl with tubes and needles sticking out of her tiny body. And next to her was a woman obviously distressed by the way she kept dabbing at the corners of her eyes. Was she her mother?
Although part of her face was hidden by a surgical mask, he could tell the woman was a looker.
Smooth mocha skin peeked out from under the sleeves of her rolled up shirt. Long, straight black hair fanned out around her shoulders. His hand itched to pull down the mask to see her whole face.
Lost in thought, he gasped when she lifted her head and turned her head in his direction. Large hazel eyes spit fire,
and something else toward him. What the hell?
Making sure Tesia was settled, Nitika rose from her bedside and headed for the door. How dare that man intrude upon her time with her daughter? She stepped into the hallway, lowered her mask and turned on him. “Who are you and why are you staring at my daughter?”
He continued to stare at her, making her Spidey sense kick into high gear. “I’m
. . . I’m . . .” He took a deep breath and continued. “I think I’m Tesia’s father.”
She stepped back and gave him what she hoped was a dirty look.
“What took you so long to get here,” she huffed. “The oncologist tried to contact you several days ago.” She placed her hands on her hips and pinned him with a hard stare. “My daughter’s life is at stake.”
He held up both hands in front of him. “I’m well aware of the
situation. But I needed time—”
“She doesn’t have time,” she sh
ot back. The back of her eyes began to burn and she immediately clamped down on her emotions. There was no time for this. Not now.
“You need to understand something, miss.”
“Nitika. My name is Nitika.”
“And mine is Javier Crespo.” He tentatively held his hand out for her to shake.
The last thing she wanted to do was touch the man, but since he could possibly hold the key to saving her baby’s life, she placed her hand in his. Tendrils of awareness shot up her arm and their gazes met. Definitely not now. She snatched it away and began to rub her hands together.
“Tell me about her.”
“Tesia?” She turned and lovingly looked at her daughter. Those damn tears pushed their way to the front of her eyes and she angrily swiped at them. “She’s, she’s my life.”
“How old is she?” He stepped closer to the window and placed his hand on the glass.
“Five. She turned five a couple months ago. We had a Dora the Explorer party. She had a blast.”
“When did you get the diagnosis?”
She took in a deep breath and looked at him. His hair! He and Tesia had the same silky black hair, except her baby’s was falling out because of the chemo. She almost reached out to run her hand through it, but stopped just in time. “One month ago, exactly. She’s spent most of time here, in this room for the past few weeks.”
Nitika turned to him and squared her shoulders. “Thanks for your concern, but I need to know when you’re going to submit to testing for the transplant.”
“Oh, about that.
I’ve been advised to have a paternity test first, to make sure, you know.”
“Make sure of what? You were the donor, right?”
“The paperwork says I may be the father, but for all involved, we need to make sure.” He paused and looked down at his hands. “I understand that you’re anxious to get things started—”
“Anxious is not the word. Desperate would be a better description. That child is my whole world.” She began to shake, but waved him off when he tried to touch her.
“I’m sorry, but again, I’ve been advised to do it this way. Please understand my position. The last thing I expected was to hear from the clinic where I donated sperm.” He peered down at her through long, dark lashes, so similar to her daughter’s.
She thinned her lips and lowered her head. Hating to admit it, but he was right. Why should she put herself through the agony of wondering if the man was a match, if he wasn’t Tesia’s father? “I understand. Don’t like it, but I understand.”
“The doc told me it won’t take long. He took swab of my cheek today and they’ll get one from Tesia tomorrow.”
“And the results?”
“He claimed they can have an answer one way or the other within three days. Rush job.”
“You don’t have to hurry off anywhere, do you?”
He smiled and shook his head. “I’m here for however long it takes.”
“Don’t you have a job?
Or a wife?” She clamped her hand over her mouth at that last question. What right did she have to ask that?
in marketing and I’m not married,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll be here as long as I need to be.”
“Thank you,” she said softly, followed by a sudden yawn. “Excuse me.”
“I see that you’re tired and so am I. I’m going to head out.” He dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out a business card. “My cell number is on here. Call me if, I don’t know, if you want to talk?”
She simply nodded and watched him as he turned to go. This had to work out, for Tesia’s sake.
Time was not on their side.
“I’m glad you could make it out here,” Nitika said after a sip of her coffee. Her nerves were beyond frayed and she had to slip out of Tesia’s room for a little break.
“Girlfriend, you know you can always call on me. And I hope that’s decaf you’re drinking. How much sleep did you get last night?”
Nitika shrugged her shoulders and avoided eye contact with Elise. If she told her the truth, that she only had two uninterrupted hours of sleep, Elise would haul her out of the hospital. “I get plenty of rest. I’m fine.”
“You need to stop lying. Those dark circles under your eyes look like they’ve been drawn by a football player.”
Nitika tried to smooth away the bags under her eyes, but knew it was a waste of time. She’d sleep when her baby recovered. Until then, she was determined to stay by her side, twenty-four seven.
“So, how’s work?”
“Same old. Everyone is chipping in to do your work and last I heard, another month of sick time has been donated.”
The tears she’d successfully kept at bay while Javier was present suddenly let loose, soaking the front of her shirt. Elise jumped up and snagged a handful of napkins, which she used to cover her face.
“Nitika, stop trying to be so strong,” her friend chided as she embraced and rocked her in her arms. “You have so many people available to help. And you know I will be by your side in a flash. All you have to do is ask, okay?”
Nitika gulped down a few
deep breaths of air and eventually reined in her emotions. “Thank you for everything, Elise. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“And you never will, you hear?”
“I hear.” She blew her nose and took another long draw of her coffee before she felt in control. “He came tonight.”
Do you mean Tesia’s father?”
“Yeah, except he won’t acknowledge her yet.
Said he wants to have a paternity test first before he gets tested for the transplant.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Elise muttered. “But the clinic said he was the donor, right?”
“Right.” And the fact that he and Tesia had the same color and type of hair made her believe he was the one. “But it’s better to certain than to get our hopes up.”
“So, how’s my pumpkin doing?”
“Better. She had a little pain tonight so they had to give her something for it. Hopefully she’ll sleep through the night.” And give me the chance to get some much needed rest too.
what’s-his-name for me.”
Nitika glared at her friend then allowed her face to soften thinking about Javier. “His name is Javier Crespo and he’s, um, he’s gorgeous. He has to be ab
out six-two, muscular, with long black hair that curls at the ends.”
Nitika wanted to take back that last observation, but it was out the bag now. “Exactly like Tesia’s.”
“So what’s your gut telling you?”
Her gut reactions hadn’t proven to be very reliable over the years for her, so she hesitated for a second. Her baby looked a lot like her, but come to think about it, it wasn’t just the hair they had in common. They had the same lips also. She shouldn’t have stared at his, but she couldn’t help herself.