He moved woodenly forward, took the scissors, and snipped the cord. The nurse immediately moved in and took the baby.
Angie smiled down at Lauren through a blur of tears. "You did it." She wiped the damp hair from Lauren’s pale face.
"Is he okay?"
The doctor answered, "He’s perfect."
"You were a goddess," Angie said. "I am so proud of you."
Lauren looked up at Angie through sad, tired eyes. "You’ll tell him about me, right? About how I was a good girl who made a mistake. And that I loved him so much I gave him away."
It cut Angie to the quick, that question, hurt so much that for a heartbeat she couldn’t answer. When she did speak, her voice was strained. "He’ll know you, Lauren. We won’t just say good-bye."
The knowing look in Lauren’s eyes made Angie feel like the young one. "Yeah. Right. Well, I better get some sleep now. I’m beat." She turned her face into the pillow.
"Do you want to see your baby?" Angie asked gently.
"No," Lauren answered, and there was nothing gentle in her voice at all. "I don’t want to see him."
WHEN LAUREN WOKE UP, HER ROOM WAS FILLED WITH flowers. If she hadn’t felt so terrible, it would have made her smile. From her bed, she tried to match the arrangements to the person. The African violets were definitely from Livvy and Sal. The azalea plant was from Maria. The pink carnations were probably from Mira, and the lilies and forget-me-nots were from Angie and Conlan. The two dozen red roses were pure David. She wondered what the cards said. What did you say to a girl who’d given birth to a baby she couldn’t keep?
A knock at the door saved her from the direction her thoughts had taken.
The door opened. David and his mother stood there; both of them looked pale and uncertain.
As she looked at the boy she loved, all Lauren could think about was how flat her stomach was now, how empty. "Have you seen him?"
David swallowed hard, nodded. "He’s so small." He crossed the room and came up beside her bed.
She waited for his kiss. When it came, it was over too quickly. They stared at each other in a heavy silence.
"He has your hair," Mrs. Haynes said, walking to the bed. She stood by her son, touched his arm as if to steady him.
"Please … don’t tell me," Lauren said in a throaty voice.
That silence descended again. Lauren looked at David, and just now, she felt as if he were miles away.
We won’t make it.
The realization washed over her. It had been there all along like a shadow in the night, awaiting sunlight to give it form and substance.
They were kids, and now that the pregnancy was past, they would drift toward their separate lives. Oh, they’d try to stay together at their different schools, but in the end, it wouldn’t work. They would become what the poets wrote about: first love.
Already David was unsure of what to say to her, how to touch her. She was different now, fundamentally changed, and he sensed that.
"The flowers are beautiful," Lauren said, reaching for his hand. When he touched her, she noticed how cold his skin was.
Mrs. Haynes leaned forward. Very gently she eased the hair from Lauren’s eyes. "You’re a very brave girl. I know why my David loves you so much."
A year ago that would have meant the world to her. She gazed up at Mrs. Haynes, unable to think of anything to say.
"Well," his mother finally said, drawing back. "I’ll leave you two alone." She backed away from the bed and left the room. Her heels sounded like gun blasts on the linoleum. The door clicked shut.
David leaned down again and kissed Lauren. This second kiss was the real thing.
"I signed the papers," he said when he drew back.
"It felt weird … just signing him away like that. But we don’t have any choice, right?"
"What else could we do?"
He let out a relieved sigh and smiled. "Yeah."
It hurt too much to look at him, so she closed her eyes. "I think I’ll go to sleep."
"Oh. Okay. Mom and I are going school shopping anyway. Do you need anything?"
School. She’d forgotten all about that.
He kissed her cheek then, touched her face. "I’ll be back after dinner."
She finally looked at him. "Okay."
"I love you," he said.
It was that, after all of it, that made her cry.
IN ROOM 507, ANGIE SAT IN A THICK WOODEN ROCKING chair, waiting.
Conlan sat in the chair next to her. Every few minutes he looked at his watch, but he didn’t say anything.
"She’s changed her mind," Angie finally whispered. Someone had to say it.
"We don’t know that," he said, but she heard in his voice that he agreed.
The clock ticked again. And again.
The door opened suddenly. A nurse dressed in orange stepped into the room. She was holding a small blue-blanketed bundle. "Mr. and Mrs. Malone?"
"That’s us," Conlan said, rising. His voice was strained.
The nurse walked over to Angie and gently placed the tiny blue bundle in her arms, then she left them alone.
He was beautiful: tiny and pink, with his face all scrunched up like a fist. A few strands of red hair clung damply to his pointed head. His little lips looked for something to suck.
Angie felt as if she were falling headlong, tumbling. All the love she’d been trying to rein in came flooding out. She kissed his velvet-soft cheek, smelled the sweetness of his skin. "Oh, Con," she whispered, her eyes stinging. "He looks just like Lauren."
"I don’t know what to feel," Conlan said after a minute.
Angie heard the confusion in his voice, the inchoate pain of a loss he feared was coming, and for once, she was the strong one. She looked at him. "Feel me," she said, touching his hand. "I’m steady. I’m here. And no matter what, we’re going to be okay."
LAUREN MADE IT A WHOLE TWENTY-FOUR HOURS without seeing her son. She took no chances at all. Whenever a nurse came into her room, she said, I’m the birth mother; talk to the Malones about the baby, before the nurse could say a thing.
By the end of the next day, she was feeling good enough to hate being here. The food was terrible, the view sucked, the television hardly got any channels, and worst of all, she could hear the nursery. Every time a baby cried, Lauren had to blink away tears. She tried rereading the USC catalog over and over, but it didn’t help.
She kept hearing the high-pitched, stuttering newborn wail. Somewhere along the way she’d started thinking of her baby as Johnny, and she’d sit there, eyes squeezed shut, fists clenched, saying Someone take care of Johnny….
She was having a hard time of it, to be sure, but she would have been okay if Angie hadn’t visited her last night.
Lauren had been asleep, but barely. She’d heard the highway noise outside and tried to pretend it was the ocean, lulling her to sleep.
She’d expected a night nurse, someone checking on her one last time before lights out. But it was Angie.
She’d looked terrible, ravaged almost. Her eyes had been swollen and red and her attempts at smiling were miserable failures. She’d talked to Lauren for a long time, brushing her hair and bringing her drinks of water, until she finally said what she’d come to say.
"You need to see him."
Lauren had looked up into Angie’s eyes and thought: There it is. The love Lauren had looked for all of her life.
Angie had touched her then, so gently. "I know, honey. That’s why you need to do it."
Long after Angie had left, Lauren thought about it. In her heart, she knew Angie was right. She needed to hold her son, to kiss his tiny cheek and tell him she loved him. She needed to say good-bye.
But she was afraid. It hurt so much to think about leaving him. How would it feel to actually hold him?
It was nearing dawn when she made her decision. She leaned sideways and rang the nurse’s bell. When the nurse showed up, Lauren said, "Bring me my baby, please."
The next ten minutes seemed to last forever.
Finally, the nurse returned, and Lauren saw her tiny, pink-faced son for the first time. He had David’s eyes, and her mother’s pointed chin. And her own red hair. Here was her whole life in one small face.
"Do you know how to hold him?" the nurse asked.
Lauren shook her head. Her throat was too tight for words. The nurse gently positioned the baby in Lauren’s arms.
She barely noticed when the nurse left.
She stared down at this baby of hers, this miracle in her arms, and even though he was so tiny, he seemed like the whole world. Her heart swelled at the sight of him until it actually hurt to breathe.
He was her family.
All her life she’d been looking for someone who was related to her, and here he was, snuggled in her arms. She’d never known a grandparent, a cousin, an aunt or uncle, or a sibling, but she had a son. "Johnny," she whispered, touching his tiny fist.
He held her finger.
She gasped. How could she ever leave him? The thought made her cry.
But she hadn’t known, hadn’t understood. How could she have known how it would feel to love your own child?
I’m not Sarah Dekker, she’d said to Angie only a few weeks ago. I’d never hurt you like that.
Lauren squeezed her eyes shut. How could she betray Angie now?
Angie. The woman who was waiting and ready to be the best mom Johnny could have. The woman who had shown Lauren what love was, what a family could be.
Slowly, she opened her eyes and gazed down at her son through a stinging blur of tears. "But I’m your mommy," she whispered.
Some choices, no matter how smart and right, just couldn’t be made.
DAVID WAS AT HER BEDSIDE THAT AFTERNOON. HE looked ragged, tired; his smile was faded around the edges.
"My mom thinks he looks like her dad," he said after another of their long, awkward silences.
Lauren looked up at him. "You’re sure about all this, right?"
"I’m sure. It’s too soon for us."
He was right. It was too soon for them. And suddenly she was thinking of all their time together, all the years of loving him. She thought of their years together; the way he always rambled on about car capabilities and talked nonstop through movies, how he sang off-key and never seemed to know the words; mostly, she thought about the way he always seemed to know when she felt scared or lost and how he held her hand then, tightly, as if he could keep her steady. She’d always love him. "I love you, David," she murmured, hearing the thickness of her voice.
"I love you, too." He leaned forward, pulled her into his arms.
She was the first to pull back. He took her hand, squeezed it.
"This is the end for us." She said it softly. Each word hurt to say out loud. She wanted him to laugh, to take her in his arms and say, No way.
Instead, he started to cry.
She felt the burning in her own eyes. She longed to take it back, tell him she hadn’t meant it, but she’d grown up now and she knew better. Some dreams simply slipped out of your hands. The worst part was that they might have made it, might have loved each other forever, if she hadn’t gotten pregnant.
She wondered how long it would hurt to love him. She hoped it was a wound that one day healed itself, leaving only the palest silver mark behind. "I want you to go to Stanford and forget about all of this."