"It probably will be. She’s so young." He came up behind Angie, but didn’t touch her.
"She said, Take my baby. Just like that." She sighed, felt him stiffen. "It was like being in a car wreck. That’s how hard and fast it hit me."
"You said yes."
She heard the dullness in his voice. She turned to face him, thankful at least that he hadn’t pulled away. "What choice did I have? I love Lauren. Maybe I never should have let her into my heart–no. No, I won’t say that. I’m glad I did. She’s how I came back to myself. And to you." She put her arms around his neck, held him close so that he had to look at her. "What if Sophia had asked this of us?"
"She’s not Sophia," he said, and she saw how much it hurt him to say that.
"She’s somebody’s Sophia. She’s a scared seventeenyear-old who needs someone to love her, to take care of her. How can I say no to her? Do I tell her to give her baby to strangers when I’m right here? When we’re right here?"
"Damn you, Angie." He pushed past her, went into the other room.
She knew she shouldn’t go to him, should give him time, but the thought of losing him again made her desperate. "How can we say no to this?" She crossed the room, came up beside him. "You could be his Little League coach–"
"Don’t." His voice was barely recognizable.
"How can we say no?" she said again, softer this time, forcing him to face her. As she asked the question, she couldn’t help thinking about the day she’d gone to his workplace, when Diane had said: Twice I came into his office and found him crying.
He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "I don’t think I can go through this again. I’m sorry."
She closed her eyes; those two words hurt all the way to the bone. "I know," she said, bowing her head forward. He was right. How could they–she–risk everything again? Tears burned her eyes. There was no good answer. She couldn’t lose Conlan again … but how could she say no to Lauren? "I love you so much, Con," she whispered.
"And I love you." The way he said the words they sounded like a curse.
"This could be our chance," she said.
"We’ve thought that before," he reminded her dully. "Do you know what it was like for me, always picking you up, drying your tears, listening to you cry? Worrying that it was somehow my fault?"
She touched his face. "You had tears of your own."
"Yes." His voice was harsh.
"I never dried them. How could I when I never saw you cry?"
"Your pain was so big…."
"It’s different this time, Con. We’re different. We could be a team. Maybe she’ll be able to go through with it, and we’ll be the parents we always wanted to be. Or maybe she’ll back out, and it’ll be just us. Either way, we’ll be okay. I swear it." She dropped down to one knee, whispered, "Marry me, Conlan."
He stared down at her, his eyes bright. "Damn you," he said, sinking slowly to his knees. "I can’t live without you anymore."
"Then don’t. Please …" She kissed him. "Trust me, Conlan. This time we’ll last forever."
LAUREN HEARD DAVID’S CAR DRIVE UP. SHE RAN TO THE front door and opened it, waiting for him.
For the first time in months, he was smiling.
"Are you ready for this?" he asked, taking her hand in his.
"As ready as I’ll ever be."
They walked across the yard and got into his car. All the way to Mountainaire, he talked about the Porsche. Gear ratios and speed off the line and custom paint colors. She could tell how nervous he was, and strangely, his anxiety calmed her. When they reached his house, he parked the car, then let out a deep sigh and looked at her. "You’re sure?"
They walked up the stone path to the Hayneses’ huge front door. David opened the door and led her into the cool, beige elegance of his home. "Mom? Dad?"
"Are you sure they’re home?" Lauren whispered, taking his hand.
"They’re home. I told them we needed to talk."
Mr. and Mrs. Haynes came into the room fast, as if they’d been waiting just around the corner.
Mrs. Haynes stared at Lauren’s rounded belly.
Mr. Haynes studiously avoided looking at her. He led them into the sunken living room, where everything was the color of heavy cream and nothing was out of place.
Unless, of course, you counted the pregnant girl.
"Well," Mr. Haynes said when they’d all sat down.
"How are you feeling?" Mrs. Haynes asked. Her voice sounded strained, and she seemed unable to meet Lauren’s gaze.
"Fat but great. My doctor says everything is perfect."
"She got a full ride to USC," David said to his parents.
"That’s fabulous," Mrs. Haynes said. She glanced at her husband, who leaned forward in his seat.
Lauren reached for David’s hand, held it. She felt surprisingly calm. "We’ve decided to give the baby up for adoption."
"Thank God," Mr. Haynes said, sighing harshly. For the first time, Lauren noticed the tenseness in his jawline, the worry in his eyes. Relief changed his face. He finally smiled.
Mrs. Haynes moved to sit beside Lauren. "That couldn’t have been an easy decision for you."
Lauren was grateful for that. "It wasn’t."
Mrs. Haynes started to reach for her, then withdrew her hand at the last second. Lauren had the strange impression that David’s mother was afraid to touch her. "I think it’s for the best. You two are so young. We’ll call the lawyer and–"
"We’ve already chosen the parents," Lauren said. "My … boss. Angie Malone."
Mrs. Haynes nodded. Even though she was obviously relieved, she looked sad somehow. She bent forward, picked up her purse, and pulled it onto her lap. She pulled out a checkbook, wrote a check, and ripped it out, then stood up. She handed the check to Lauren.
It was for five thousand dollars.
Lauren looked up. "I can’t take this."
Mrs. Haynes gazed down at her. Lauren saw the wrinkles through her makeup for the first time. "It’s for your college fund. Los Angeles is an expensive city. A scholarship won’t handle everything."
"Let me do this," she said softly. "You’re a good girl, Lauren. On your way to becoming a good woman."
Lauren swallowed hard, surprised by how moved she was by that simple compliment. "Thank you."
Mrs. Haynes started to move away, then stopped and turned back. "Maybe you could give me a photograph of my–of the baby when he’s born."
It was the first time Lauren had thought of the baby as their grandchild. "Sure," she said.
Mrs. Haynes looked down at her. "Do you really think you can do this?"
"I have to. It’s the right thing to do."
After that, there was nothing left to say.
IT WAS ALMOST MIDNIGHT WHEN LAUREN GOT HOME. Closing the door behind her, she leaned against it, letting out a ragged sigh. She couldn’t wait to climb into bed and close her eyes. This day had left her wounded.
She touched her stomach, felt a flutter-soft kick. "Hey," she murmured to the baby as she headed for the living room.
She was at the dining room table when she noticed the fire in the fireplace and the music coming through the speakers. It was something soft, Hawaiian-sounding. "Somewhere over the Rainbow" played on a ukulele.
Angie and Conlan were sitting in front of the fire.
"Oh," Lauren said in surprise. "I thought you were off on a romantic getaway."
Angie rose, walked toward Lauren. When she got closer, she held out her left hand. A huge diamond glittered. "We’re getting married again."
Lauren squealed and threw herself into Angie’s arms. "That’s great," she said, holding Angie tightly. She hadn’t realized until just then how alone she’d felt all day, how much she’d missed Angie. She had trouble letting go. "Now my baby will have a daddy, too."
"Sorry," she said, finally drawing back. She felt foolish; a girl who should be a woman.
She’d said "my" baby.
"Actually, Lauren, that’s what we came home to talk to you about."
It was Conlan who’d spoken.
Lauren closed her eyes for just a moment as a wave of exhaustion moved through her. She didn’t know if she could talk about the baby anymore.
But she had no choice.
Angie took her hand, squeezed it. The touch helped. Together, hand in hand, they went to the couch and sat down.
Conlan remained sitting on the hearth. He was tilted forward, with his forearms rested on his thighs. Long black hair fell across part of his face. In the firelight, his eyes looked impossibly blue.
She felt impaled by those eyes. She shifted uncomfortably on the sofa.
"You’re just a child," Conlan said, his voice surprisingly soft, "so I’m sorry about all this."
Lauren smiled. "I quit being a kid a few months ago."
"No. You had to face a grown-up thing. That’s not the same thing as being a grown-up." He sighed. "The thing is … Angie and I are scared."
Lauren hadn’t expected that. "I thought you wanted a baby."
"We do," Angie said in a tight voice. "Too much, maybe."
"So you should be happy." Lauren looked from Conlan to Angie. "I’m giving you–Oh." It came to her all at once. "The other girl. The one who changed her mind."
"Yes," Angie said.
"I wouldn’t do that to you guys. I promise. I mean … I love you. And I love my baby. Your baby. I want to do the right thing."
Angie touched Lauren’s face. "We know that, Lauren. We just want–"
"Need," Conlan interrupted.
"–to know that you’ve thought about this. That you’re sure. It will not be an easy thing to do."
"Will it be harder than parenting at seventeen?"
Angie’s smile was as gentle as her touch had been. "That’s an answer from your head. I asked a question of the heart."
"None of this is easy," Lauren said, wiping her eyes. "But I’ve thought and thought. This is the best answer. You can trust me."
A silence followed that statement. It was broken only by a log falling in the fireplace and a shower of hissing sparks.
"We think you should see a counselor," Conlan said at last.
Angie was trying to smile, as if she wanted to show that this was nothing, just another late night chat. The sadness in her eyes betrayed her. "Because I love you, Lauren, and as much as I’d love your baby to be mine, I know about where we’re headed. Where you’re headed. It’s one thing to decide to give up a baby. It’s another thing to do it. I want you to be sure."
Lauren hardly heard anything after I love you. Only David had ever said those words to her before. She leaned forward and pulled Angie into a fierce hug. "I’d never hurt you," she whispered throatily. "Never."
Angie drew back. "I know that."
"So you’ll see the counselor?" Conlan said, sounding more than a little afraid.
"Of course." Lauren found her first genuine smile of the day. "I’d do anything for you."
Angie hugged her again. In the distance, very softly, Lauren heard Conlan say, "Then don’t break her heart."