For the baby.
Lauren wasn’t sure why it made her want to cry. She only knew that when she hugged Angie and whispered, "Oh, thank you," she tasted the salty moisture of her own tears. Finally, she drew back, wiping her eyes. It was embarrassing to cry so easily, and over a necklace. She went to the porch rail and looked out over the ocean. Surprisingly, it was hard to talk past the lump in her throat. "I love it here," she said softly, leaning forward into the breeze. "The baby will love growing up here. I wish …"
"What do you wish?"
Slowly, Lauren turned around. "If I’d grown up in a place like this, with a mother like you … I don’t know. Maybe I wouldn’t be shopping for clothes that could double as parachutes."
"Everyone makes mistakes, honey. Growing up loved doesn’t shield you from that."
"You don’t know what it’s like," Lauren said, "not being loved … to want so much from someone."
Angie got to her feet and went to Lauren. "I’m sure your mother loves you, Lauren. She’s just confused right now."
"The weird thing is, I miss her sometimes. I wake up crying and realize I was dreaming about her. Do you think those dreams will go away?"
Angie touched Lauren’s cheek gently. "I think a girl needs her mother forever. But maybe it will stop hurting so much. And maybe someday she’ll come back."
"Needing something from my mother is like waiting to win the lottery. You can buy a ticket every week and pray, but the odds aren’t good."
"I’m here for you," Angie said. "And I love you."
Lauren felt the sting of tears. "I love you, too." She threw her arms around Angie and clung to her. She wished she never had to let go.
WITH EACH PASSING DAY, ANGIE FELT HERSELF TIGHTENING. One twist of the spine at a time, until by early June she had a constant headache and it hurt to get out of bed. Conlan kept telling her that she needed to see a chiropractor. She’d nod and say, "You know, you’re right," and sometimes she even went so far as to make an appointment.
But she knew the source of her problem didn’t reside in her bones. It was a heart thing. Every sunrise brought her closer to the baby she’d always wanted … and closer to the day Lauren would leave.
The truth was, it was chewing Angie up inside; these two needs of hers couldn’t coexist.
Conlan knew this, of course. His recommendation of a chiropractor was purely out of form, a man’s need to find solutions. When they lie in bed at night, as fitted together as long lost puzzle pieces, he asked the questions that mattered. She answered each one, no matter how it hurt.
"She’ll be leaving soon," he said tonight, drawing Angie closer, stroking her upper arm with his thumb. "She wants to go to Los Angeles early to find a job. The counselor thinks arrangements can be made for her to housesit a sorority for the summer."
"It’s the way it has to be," Conlan said.
Angie closed her eyes, but it didn’t help. The images were carved into her mind: Lauren packing up, kissing them good-bye, moving out. "I know," she said. "I just hate to think of her being all alone."
Conlan’s voice was gentle when he said, "I think she’ll need to get away."
"She doesn’t know how hard it’s going to be. I’ve tried to tell her."
"She’s eighteen years old. We’re lucky she listens to us about anything." He tightened his hold. "There’s no way you can prepare her for this."
"There’s a chance …" Angie marshaled her strength to finish. "She won’t be able to do it."
"Are you ready for that? Last time–"
"This isn’t last time. With Sarah, I thought about the baby all the time. I used to go sit in the nursery and imagine how it would be. I’d call her Boo; she’d call me Mommy. I dreamed every night about rocking her to sleep, holding her in my arms."
She looked at him. "Now I dream about Lauren. I see us at her college graduation … her wedding … then I see us waving good-bye and she’s always crying."
"But you’re the one who wakes up with wet cheeks."
"I don’t know if I can take her baby from her," Angie said, finally daring to voice her deepest fear. "And I don’t know how I could possibly refuse. All I know is either way, our hearts get sliced open."
"You’re stronger now. We are." He leaned over to kiss her.
"Am I?" she said as soon as he drew back. "Then why am I afraid to get Papa’s cradle from the boxes?"
Conlan sighed, and for a moment she saw the fear in his blue eyes. She wasn’t sure if it belonged to him or if it were a reflection of hers. "The Field of Dreams bed," he said quietly, as if he’d just remembered it.
Her father had built it by hand, polishing each bit of wood to a satin finish. He’d said he got the idea from the Kevin Costner movie.
There had been tears in Papa’s eyes when he presented the cradle to his Angelina. I build it, he said. Now she will come.
"Just hold on to me," Conlan said at last. "I’ll keep us steady no matter what."
"Yeah," she answered. "But who will hold on to Lauren?"
IT RAINED ON THE SECOND SATURDAY IN JUNE. ALL THE prayers for sunshine had been ignored.
Lauren couldn’t have cared less about the weather. It was the mirror image that depressed her.
She stared at herself. The good news was her hair. Pregnancy had given her coppery hair, always her best feature anyway, a new shine.
The bad news was everything else. Her face had begun in the last week to gain weight, and her always apple-round cheeks were edging toward plate size. And forget about her stomach.
Behind her, a pile of clothes covered her carefully made bed. In the past hour she’d tried on every conceivable maternity-wear combination. No matter what she wore, she looked like a soccer mom blow-up doll.
There was a knock at the door. Angie’s voice said, "Come on, Lauren. It’s time to go."
"I’ll be right down."
Lauren sighed. This was it. She went to the mirror and checked her makeup for the fourth time, fighting the nervous urge to layer more color on her face. Instead, she grabbed her purse, slung it over her shoulder, and left the bedroom.
Downstairs, Angie and Conlan were waiting for her. They looked absurdly gorgeous, both of them. Conlan, dressed in a black suit with a steel blue shirt, looked like the new James Bond, and Angie, in a rose-colored wool dress, was every bit his match.
"Are you sure about this?" Angie asked.
"I’m fine," Lauren said. "Let’s go."
The drive to Fircrest Academy seemed to take half its usual time. Before Lauren was quite ready, they were there, parking in the school lot.
In an awkward silence, the three of them walked across campus. All around them people were laughing and talking and snapping photographs.
The auditorium was a hive of activity.
At the door, she paused.
She couldn’t go in there, couldn’t lumber up those bleachers and sit down with all the parents and grandparents.
"You can do it," Conlan said, taking her arm.
His touch steadied her. She looked up at the crowd, then at the decorations strung across the walls.
Class of 2004.
Boldly into the Future.
In what now felt like her other life, she would have been in charge of those decorations.
The gym was full of kids in scarlet satin gowns, their faces scrubbed and shiny, their eyes bright with promise. Lauren wanted to be down there with her friends, a laughing, teasing girl again. The longing was so sharp she almost stumbled. Tonight would be the grad night party; she’d waited years to attend.
Angie took her arm, led her up the bleachers to a seat in the middle. The three of them sat close together, tucked in amid all the other friends and family of the graduating class.
Lauren found David. He stood out from the crowd and melted into it at the same time. He wasn’t even looking up here. He was living the moment, loving it.
It pissed Lauren off that he should be down there, a boy with his whole life ahead of him, while she was here, stuck in the audience, a pregnant girl-woman who’d lost so much.
As quickly as the anger blossomed, it faded, leaving her with the sad longing she’d felt all day.
The noise blurred into one loud, pulsating roar. Lauren balled her hands, hung on to her composure by the thinnest thread.
She couldn’t help looking for her mother. Even though she knew Mom wouldn’t be here. Hell, she would have missed it if Lauren were graduating.
Still … she had this tiny, aching hope that her mother would come back, that Lauren would look up one day and see her.
Angie put an arm around Lauren, pulled her close.
The music started.
Lauren leaned forward. Below, the kids ran for their seats.
One by one the graduates of Fircrest Academy walked across the stage, took their diplomas from the principal, and moved their tassel from one side to the other.
"David Ryerson Haynes," the principal said.
The applause was thunderous. The kids cheered for him, screamed his name. Lauren’s voice was lost in the crowd.
He walked across the stage as if he owned it.
When he was back in his seat, Lauren relaxed. She didn’t tense up again until they reached the Rs.
"Dan Ransberg … Michael Elliot Relker … Sarah Jane Rhenquist …"
Lauren leaned forward.
"Thomas Adams Robards."
She sat back, trying not to be disappointed. She’d known they wouldn’t call her name. After all, she’d graduated last semester, but still …
She’d hoped. She’d worked so hard for so many years. It didn’t seem right that now she sat up here while her friends were down there.
"It’s just a ceremony," Angie whispered, leaning close. "You’re a high school graduate, too."
Lauren couldn’t help feeling sorry for herself. "I wanted it so much," she said. "The cap and gown … the applause. I used to dream I’d be class speaker." She laughed bitterly. "Instead I’m the class joke."
Angie looked at her. There was a heavy sadness in her eyes. "I wish I could make everything okay. But some dreams just pass us by. It’s the way life is."
"I know. I just …"
Lauren nodded. That was as good an answer as any. She leaned against Angie and held her hand as the names droned on.
The ceremony lasted another forty-five minutes and then it was over. The three of them melted into the laughing, talking crowd and moved to the football field, where huge tents had been set up to hold off the rain. So many cameras flashed that it looked like the paparazzi had arrived.
Dozens of friends came up to Lauren, waving at her, welcoming her back.
But she saw the way they wouldn’t look at her stomach and the poor Lauren in their eyes, and it made her feel stupid all over again.
"There he is," Angie said at last.
Lauren stood on her toes.
There he was, standing with his parents. She let go of Angie’s hand and hurried through the crowd.
When David saw her, his smile faded for a split second. Only that, and then he was smiling again, but she’d seen it, and she knew.
He wanted to be with his friends tonight, wanted to do what the Fircrest grads always did on this night–go down to the beach, sit around a bonfire and drink beer and laugh about their years together.
He didn’t want to sit quietly with his whale of a girlfriend and listen to her litany of aches and pains.