My name. That part of the information is blank.
I stare at that empty line on the pink It’s a girl crib card taped to the clear box containing the smallest baby I’ve ever laid eyes upon. Thin red skin… almost translucent. Bald head. Numerous tubes poking into her tiny body—two entering her mouth, one in her umbilical cord. Each doing a job to keep her alive in one way or another.
This is what a baby born three months early looks like. A growing preemie. That’s what the doctors and nurses call her.
My daughter. Another thing they call her. I haven’t been able to bring myself to call her that yet. Not even in my head where no one can hear my thoughts.
I found out about this baby two weeks ago—the result of a one-night stand that I had with a woman after a show in Austin, Texas. I couldn’t even recall her name. My manager is the one who informed me her name was Josie Burns. I’m sure she told me at the time, but so many come and go. There’s no way to remember them all.
Josie was a ready and willing groupie that security allowed onto my tour bus. Definitely one of the hottest women I’d ever seen. Cowgirl hat. Short cutoff denim shorts. Boots. I’ve always been a sucker for a girl in denim shorts and boots. I wasn’t strong enough to say no to what she was offering. And there was no reason to; I’m a single man who needs a good time with a woman every once in a while.
And she was a damn good time. That much I remember.
I still can’t believe she got pregnant. I was so very careful, used a condom as always, but the paternity test doesn’t lie. And now I get to break the news to my family: there’s a new addition to the Mathews family.
I’ve heard little of what the nurse has said since she began talking about the baby, her prognosis, and nursery policies for visitation. None of it seems real to me. And it isn’t going away.
The nurse opens one of the doors on the incubator. “Would you like to touch her?”
I look at this tiny being, unable to make myself reach through the hole to make any kind of physical contact with her. I don’t feel a connection to her. Not even a little.
I shove my hands into the pockets of my jeans and shake my head, taking a step away. “No.”
“You are her father, Mr. Mathews. Don’t be afraid; she needs to feel your touch. To hear your voice.”
Is this nurse shitting me? This kid doesn’t need a damn thing from me. I have no business pretending to be anyone’s father. I drink way too much whiskey and live on a tour bus, hitting a different city every night. I’d be doing this baby a kindness by walking away from her; I’d make the worst father ever.
“You’re the only person this little girl has, Mr. Mathews. She needs you.”
Her mother was admitted to the hospital for complications with the pregnancy, forcing her to be born twelve weeks early. After her birth, something went terribly wrong with Josie. The doctor called it an amniotic fluid embolism, the condition rare and deadly. She died shortly after the baby was born. But not before she named me the father of her baby.
None of Josie’s relatives want the baby. I’m it for her.
Unluckiest kid in the world.
The nurse peels the pink crib card off the incubator. “I’m tired of calling her Miss prissy pants. It’s time for her to have a real name.”
I don’t sit around thinking about names for a baby. That’s a girl thing. “I don’t have a clue.”
“You’re the only person who can give her a name.”
This nurse works around babies all the time. I bet she knows all kinds of names. “I’m open to suggestions.”
“Sawyer… Scarlett… Madeline… Abigail. Those are some of my favorites.”
“Scarlett Mathews. What do you think of that?”
She smiles. “I think that Scarlett is a beautiful name. And I think that she looks like a Scarlett. What about a middle name?”
I look at the hospital ID hanging around the nurse’s neck. “Scarlett Leighton Mathews.”
She looks at me, head tilted, and laughs. “You can’t name your daughter after me.”
“Why not? I like Leighton, and I think it sounds good with Scarlett.”
“Scarlett Leighton Mathews? That’s what you’re choosing?”
She smiles and writes the name on the empty line at the top of the pink crib card. “Well, Miss prissy pants, you finally have a name after being nameless for two weeks. I hope you like it.”
Scarlett Leighton Mathews. Only been in this world for two weeks and she’s spent every one of those fourteen days fighting for survival. And it’s not over yet. The road ahead of her is going to be a long one. And it’s my job to be here by her side.
I’m her father.
She’s my daughter.
Nothing in my life is ever going to be as it was.