And that wasn’t the worst of it. Her feet hurt. She went to the bathroom more often than a beer-drinking alcoholic, and gas seemed to be burning a permanent hole through the middle of her chest. She burped constantly.
By April she’d begun to face the question: What next?
She’d been bumping along for the last few months, looking only as far ahead as her next shift at the restaurant or her next date with David. But now–again– he’d asked her the Big Question, and she knew it was time to stop avoiding the obvious.
"Well?" David said, nudging her.
They were cuddled close on the sofa, their arms entwined. A fire crackled in the hearth.
"I don’t know," she said softly. The three words were beginning to wear out their welcome.
"My mom said she talked to the lawyer again last week. He has several couples who are dying to raise it."
"Not it, David. Our baby."
He made a heavy sound. "I know, Lo. Believe me, I know."
She lifted her face toward his. "Could you really do it? Just walk away from our baby, I mean?"
He untangled himself from her and got to his feet. "I don’t know what you want from me, Lauren." His voice cracked. She realized suddenly that he was near tears.
She went to him, stood behind him, and put her arms around his waist. She couldn’t get close enough; her belly was so big. The baby kicked her, a featherlight flutter.
"What kind of parents would we be?" David asked, not turning to look at her. "If we give up college, what will we do? How will we afford–"
She slipped around to face him. This was one answer she had. "You’re going to Stanford. No matter what."
"I’m supposed to just leave," he said dully.
Lauren looked up into his watery eyes. She wanted to tell him it would all work out, that their love would always see them through, but she felt too small right now to reach for the words, and the tiny tap-tap-tap in her stomach reminded her of how different this moment was for each of them.
She would lose him if she kept their child.
Hard choices, Angie had said to her once. How was it that Lauren hadn’t truly understood that until this moment?
She was going to say something–she wasn’t sure what–when the doorbell rang.
She sighed heavily, extricating herself from his embrace. "Coming."
She opened the door and saw Ernie, the mailman. He held several small packages and a bunch of letters.
"Here you go."
"Thanks." She put the packages on the table by the door and flipped through the letters. One was addressed to her.
"It’s from USC," she said, feeling her heart lurch. She’d forgotten about her applications in all the craziness of the past few weeks.
David moved toward her. He looked as scared and nervous as she felt. "You know you got in," he said, and she loved him for that confidence.
She opened the letter and read the words she’d dreamed of. "I did it," she whispered. "I didn’t think–"
He pulled her into his arms and held her. "Remember our first date? After the Aberdeen game. We sat down at the beach, by the huge bonfire. While everyone else was running around and dancing and drinking, we talked. You told me you were going to win a Pulitzer someday, and I believed you. You’re the only one who doesn’t see how great you are."
The Pulitzer. She couldn’t help touching her swollen belly. Give yourself a chance, her mother had said. Don’t end up like me.
"What should I do?" she whispered, looking up into David’s blue eyes.
"Take the scholarship," he said, and though his words were harsh, there was a softness to his voice.
It was the right thing to do; she knew that. At least, she knew it in her head. Her heart was a different matter. How could she raise a baby if she had no education, no prospects? Once again she thought of her mother, on her feet, cutting hair all day and drinking all night, looking for love in dark places. She sighed heavily. The truth poked through her defenses, sharp as a tack. She wanted to go to college. It was her chance to be different from her mother. Slowly, she looked up at David again. "The lawyer found good people to take the baby?"
"The very best."
"Can we meet them? Choose for ourselves?"
Joy transformed his face, turned him back into the boy she’d fallen in love with. He held her so tightly she couldn’t breathe, and kissed her until she was dizzy. When he drew back, he was grinning. "I love you, Lauren."
She couldn’t seem to smile. His enthusiasm chilled her somehow, made her angry. "You always get what you want, don’t you?"
His smile fell. "What do you mean?"
She didn’t even know. All she knew was that she wanted two things and couldn’t have them both. "I don’t know."
"Damn it, Lauren. What the hell is wrong with you? How am I supposed to say the right thing when you change your mind every ten seconds?"
"Like you’ve ever said the right thing. All you’ve ever wanted is for me to get rid of it."
"Am I supposed to lie? Do you think I want to blow off my whole future and be a dad?"
"And I do? You a**hole." She pushed him away.
He seemed to fade at that; it was almost as if he were losing weight before her eyes. "This whole thing blows."
They stood there, staring at each other. Finally, David moved toward her. "I’m sorry. Really."
"This is ruining us," she said.
He took her hand and led her back to the couch. They sat side by side. Still, it felt as if they were miles apart. "Let’s quit fighting and talk about it," he said quietly. "All of it."
ANGIE GOT OUT OF HER CAR AND CLOSED THE DOOR.
The storage compartment was in front of her.
Other people’s compartments were on either side. The long, low building was one of dozens. A-1 Storage, the sign at the front gate read. Keep it safe. Keep it locked.
Angie swallowed hard. The key felt cold and foreign in her hand. She almost turned around then, almost decided she wasn’t strong enough to do this after all.
It was that, the fear that she hadn’t come far enough to be here, that finally made her move. She put one foot in front of the other, and the next thing she knew she was at the lock. She fit her key in place and clicked it open. The garage-style door clattered up and snaked into place along the ceiling.
She flicked on the light switch.
A lone bulb in the ceiling came on, illuminating a stack of boxes and furniture wrapped in blankets and bedding.
The leftovers from her marriage were all here. The bed she and Conlan had purchased in Pioneer Square and slept on for so many years. The desk he’d used in graduate school and finally given up on. The sectional sofa that had been bought because a whole family could lie on it and watch television.
But she hadn’t come here for those things, the reminders of who she’d been.
She’d come for Lauren.
She worked through the boxes, moving first one and then another as she made her way deeper into the storage unit. Finally, she found what she was looking for; it was tucked in the back corner. A trio of boxes marked Nursery.
She should simply take the boxes and put them in her car, but she couldn’t. Instead, she knelt on the cold cement floor and opened the box. The Winnie-the-Pooh lamp lay on a stack of pink flannel bedding.
She’d known how it would feel to look at these items, each so carefully chosen, none of them ever used. They were like bits and pieces of her heart, lost along the way but never forgotten.
She picked up a tiny white onesie that was rolled into a ball and held it to her nose. There was no smell except that of cardboard. No baby powder or Johnson’s shampoo.
Of course there wasn’t. No baby had ever worn this, or wakened to the light that shone from Winnie-thePooh’s honey bucket.
She closed her eyes, remembering every nuance of her nursery. Remembering the night she’d packed it all away.
In her mind, she saw a tiny dark-haired girl with her daddy’s flashing blue eyes.
"Take care of our Sophia, Papa," she whispered, getting to her feet again.
It was time for all these things to come out of the bleak darkness of this storage unit. They were meant to be used, held, played with. They were meant for a baby’s room.
One by one, she carried the boxes to her car. By the time she locked up the storage unit again, it was raining.
ANGIE COULDN’T BELIEVE HOW GOOD SHE FELT. THIS day had shadowed her horizon for years, blocking out the light.
The nursery. The baby clothes and toys. She’d known that as long as she kept those things, she was somehow stuck.
Now, finally, she was free.
She wished Conlan were here to see her now, after all the times he’d found her sitting on the nursery floor, holding some rattle or blanket or knickknack and crying. There wasn’t an item in all those boxes that hadn’t been watered by her tears.
In fact …
She hit the speed dial on her mounted cell phone.
"Hey, Kathy," Angie said into the speaker on her visor. "It’s Angie. Is Conlan in?"
A minute later Conlan answered. "Hey, there. Are you in town?"
"No. I’m on my way back to West End."
"You’re going the wrong direction."
She laughed. "Guess what’s in my trunk."
"That’s a new line."
She felt like an alcoholic who’d finally admitted to having a problem. Her AA meeting was in cardboard boxes in the trunk of her car. "The baby stuff."
There was a pause. Then, "What do you mean?"
"The crib. The clothes. Everything. I cleaned out the storage unit."
A pause crackled through the tiny black speaker. "For Lauren?"
"She’ll need it."
Angie knew Conlan heard the distant echo of the other side of those words. And we don’t.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"That’s the amazing thing, Con. I feel better than okay. Remember that time we went helicopter skiing in Whistler?"
"And you didn’t sleep for three nights before?"
"Exactly. I worried myself sick, but once that chopper dropped us off, I flew down the mountain and couldn’t wait to go again. That’s how this feels. I’m flying down the mountain again."
"I know. I can’t wait to give her this stuff. She’s going to be so excited."
"I’m proud of you, Ange."
There it was: the reason she’d called him, though she hadn’t realized it until just this second.
"We’ll celebrate tomorrow night."
"I’ll hold you to that."
She was smiling when she hung up. An old Billy Joel song came on the radio. "It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me." She cranked up the volume and sang along. By the time she drove into West End and turned onto the beach road, she was singing as loud as she could and thumping the steering wheel in time to the music.
She felt like a kid again, driving home from a football game after a home team win.
She parked close to the house, grabbed her purse, and ran inside.
The house was quiet. A fire crackled in the hearth.
There was a pause that seemed to last forever, then a rustle of sound. "We’re here."
Lauren sat up on the sofa. Her pale cheeks glistened with tears. Her eyes were swollen and red. David was beside her, holding her hand. He looked as if he’d been crying, too.