THE LAWYER’S OFFICE WAS CROWDED WITH PEOPLE. ON the left side of the room, their chairs pushed close together, were the Haynes family. On the right side, Angie sat in a chair beside Conlan. Lauren’s chair was in the middle, and though there wasn’t much space between her and the others, she seemed vaguely alone, separate.
Angie got up to go to her.
Just then the lawyer strode into the room. A tall, portly man in an expensive black suit, he commanded attention when he said, "Good day, all."
Angie sat back down.
"I’m Stu Phillips," the lawyer said, extending his hand to Conlan, who stood instantly.
"Conlan Malone. This is my … Angie Malone."
Angie shook the lawyer’s hand, then sat back down. She sat very still, trying not to remember the last time they’d been in a meeting like this.
I have a baby for you, Mr. and Mrs. Malone.
"So, young lady," Stu said, looking gently at Lauren, "you’ve made up your mind?"
"Yes, sir." Her voice was barely audible.
"Okay, then. First, let’s begin with the technicalities. I need to advise you all that it is sometimes problematic to share representation in an adoption. It’s legal in this state, but not always advisable. If something came up– a disagreement–I wouldn’t be able to represent either party."
"Nothing will come up," Lauren said. Her voice was stronger now. "I’ve made up my mind."
Stu looked to Conlan. "Are you two prepared for the risks of dual representation?"
"That’s the least of our risk here, Stu," Conlan answered.
Stu pulled some paperwork from a manila folder and slid them across the desk. "Sign these documents and we’ll proceed. They merely state that you knowingly accept the risks inherent in dual representation."
When the documents were signed, he put them away. For the next hour, he talked about the process. Who could pay for what, what needed to be signed and by whom, the ins and outs of Washington law, the home study that would need to be done, the termination of the birth parents’ rights, the guardian ad litems that would be assigned, the time and expense of all of it.
Angie had heard it all before, and she knew that, in the end, the technicalities didn’t add up to squat. It was emotions that mattered. Feelings. You could sign all the papers in the world and make a delivery truck full of promises, but you couldn’t know how it would feel when you got there. That was why the adoption couldn’t be legally finalized before the birth. Lauren would have to hold her baby and then sign her rights away.
Angie’s heart ached at the very thought of it. She glanced to her left.
Lauren sat very quietly in the chair, with her hands clasped in her lap. Even with her rounded stomach, she looked young and innocent. The girl who’d swallowed a watermelon. She was nodding earnestly at something the lawyer asked her.
Angie wanted to go to her, kneel down beside her and hold her hand, say You’re not alone in this, but the sad truth was that soon Lauren would be alone. What could be more solitary than giving your baby away?
And nothing Angie could do could protect Lauren from that moment.
Angie closed her eyes. How could they get through all of this with their hearts intact? How–
She felt a tug on her sleeve. She blinked, glanced sideways.
Conlan was staring at her. So was the attorney, Lauren, and everyone in the room.
"Did you ask me something?" she said, feeling her cheeks heat up.
"As I was saying," Stu said, "I like to make an adoption plan. It makes everything go much smoother. Shall we begin?"
"Certainly," Angie said.
Stu looked from Angie to Lauren. "What kind of communication do you want to have, after the adoption?"
Lauren frowned. "What do you mean?"
"After the Malones adopt your child, you’ll want some kind of communication, I imagine. Phone calls on the baby’s birthday and perhaps Christmas. Letters and photographs at least once a year."
Lauren drew in a sharp breath. It sounded like a gasp. She obviously hadn’t thought this far ahead, hadn’t realized that this adoption would change who they all were. She turned to look at Angie, who suddenly felt as fragile as a winter leaf.
"We’ll be in touch all the time," Angie said to the attorney, hearing the catch in her voice. "We’re … Lauren is like family."
"I’m not sure that kind of openness is in the best interest of the child," the lawyer said. "Clearly delineated boundaries are most effective. We find that–"
"Oh," Lauren said, biting down on her lip. She wasn’t listening to the lawyer. She was looking at Conlan and Angie. "I hadn’t thought about that. A baby needs one mother."
David leaned over and took Lauren’s hand in his.
"We don’t have to have an adoption like everyone else’s," Angie said. She would have said more but her voice softened, cracked, and she couldn’t think of anything. She couldn’t imagine letting Lauren just walk out of their lives … but what other end was there to all of this?
Lauren looked at her. The sadness in the girl’s dark eyes was almost unbearable. For once she looked old, ancient even. "I didn’t realize … I should have." She tried to smile. "You’re going to be the perfect mom, Angie. My baby is lucky."
"Our baby," David said softly. Lauren gave him a heartbreakingly sad smile.
Angie sat there a moment longer, unsure of what to say.
Finally, Lauren looked at the lawyer again. "Tell me how it works best?"
The meeting went on and on; words were batted back and forth and committed to paper, black marks that delineated how each of them could behave.
All the while Angie wanted to go to Lauren and take the girl in her arms and whisper that it would be all right.
But now, sitting here in this room of laws and rules, surrounded by hearts that didn’t quite know what to feel, she wondered.
Would it be all right?
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ANYONE’S MEMORY, IT DIDN’T rain on Easter Sunday. Instead, the sun rose high in a clear blue sky. The sidewalks were full of people, most of them dressed in their Sunday best as they walked in all different directions to their churches.
Angie walked between Conlan and Lauren. Up ahead, the church bells started to peal. Her friends and family started toward the church, funneling inside.
Just outside the doors, Angie paused. Conlan and Lauren had no choice but to pause, too.
"We’ll tell them everything later. At the Easter egg hunt, right?"
They both nodded.
Angie felt for her wedding ring, twisted it around to hide the diamond. Such a trick wouldn’t fool the De-Saria women for long, but hopefully, they’d be too busy with the mass to notice. She took a step forward.
Lauren stopped her with a touch.
"What is it, honey?" There was a look in Lauren’s eyes that Angie couldn’t read. A kind of awe, perhaps, as if going to church with the family was a rare gift. Or maybe it was anxiety. They were all nervous about what would come next. "Here, take my hand."
"Thanks," Lauren said, looking away quickly, but not before Angie saw the girl’s sudden tears. Hand in hand, they walked up the concrete steps and into the beautiful old church.
The service seemed to take forever and still not last long enough. Angie concentrated on helping Lauren rise and kneel and rise again.
When Angie got her chance to pray, she knelt on the padded riser, bowed her head, and thought: Dear God, please show us the right way through all of this. Keep us safe. Protect and watch over Lauren. In this I pray, Amen.
After services were over, they all went downstairs to the basement of the church, where dozens of cakes and cookies were set out on the tables. Angie kept her left hand in her pocket as she talked to family and friends.
Finally the kids streamed into the hall, all talking at once, carrying the egg-carton-and-macaroni jewelry boxes they’d made.
The congregation began moving to the doors. They walked out into the cold, bright morning, a crowd of well-dressed people with something in common. They crossed the street and went into the park.
Angie started at the empty merry-go-round. Sunlight made it glisten like sterling silver.
Conlan came up beside her, slipped an arm around her waist. She knew he was thinking of Sophie, too. How many times had they stood here together, watching other children play and dreaming of their own? Saying quietly to each other: Someday.
Kids jumped onto the merry-go-round, set it spinning.
"Okay, kids," said Father O’Houlihan in his lilting Irish brogue, "there are eggs hidden all ’round here. Go!"
The kids shrieked and set off in search of the hidden eggs.
Lauren went to little Dani, who stood close to Mira.
"Come on," Lauren said, attempting to kneel and then giving up. "I’ll help you look." She took Dani’s hand and off they went.
Within moments the whole DeSaria clan was standing together. They were like geese, Angie thought. Somehow they just floated into formation. Their conversations sounded vaguely birdlike, too, with so many voices going at once.
Angie cleared her throat.
Conlan squeezed her hand, threw her a go-for-it smile.
"I have two things to say," she said. When no one listened, she said it louder.
Mama whopped Uncle Francis in the back of the head. "Be quiet. Our Angela has something to say."
"Someday, Maria, I’m going to hit you back," Uncle Francis said, rubbing the back of his head.
Mira and Livvy moved in closer.
Angie showed off her ring.
The screams probably shattered windows all through town. The family surged forward like a wave, crashing around Angie and Conlan.
Everyone was talking at once, congratulating them and asking questions and saying they knew it all along.
When the wave receded and they were all on the shore again, it was Mama who remembered.
"What is the second thing?" she asked.
"What?" Angie said, edging toward Conlan.
"You said you had two things to tell us. What is next? You are quitting the restaurant?"
"No. Actually I think–we think–we’re going to stay in West End this time. Conlan has a contract to write a book, and he’s been given a weekly column for the newspaper. He can work from here."
"That’s great news," Mama said.
Livvy moved closer. "So what gives, baby sis?"
Angie reached back for Conlan’s hand. She held on to him, let him be her port. "We’re going to adopt Lauren’s baby."
This time the silence could have broken glass. Angie felt it clear to her bones.
"This is not a good idea," Mama said at last.
Angie clung to Conlan’s hand. "What am I supposed to do? Say no? Watch her give the baby to strangers?"
As one, the family turned, looked at Lauren. The teenager was by the swing set, down on her hands and knees, searching through the tall grass. Little Dani was beside her, giggling and pointing. From this distance, they looked like any young mother and her daughter.
"Lauren has a big heart," Mama said, "and a sad past. It is a dangerous combination, Angela."
Livvy stepped forward. "Can you handle it?" she asked gently. The only question that really mattered. "If she changes her mind?"
Angie looked up at Conlan, who smiled down at her and nodded. Together, that look said, we can handle anything.
"Yes," she said, finding a pretty decent smile. "I can handle it. The hardest part will be saying good-bye to Lauren."