The voice startled Chet. He was getting sloppy in his old age, otherwise he’d never have been heard cutting through her side yard. Chet whirled around to find a thin man standing on the front lawn, dressed in a robe and slippers, holding a flashlight. It could only be Monica’s father.
Chet drew in his breath and waited.
“I’d like to know exactly what you’re doing on my property this time of night?” Lloyd Fisher demanded, aiming the flashlight into his eyes, blinding him.
It was happening, Leah thought. She woke to the buzzing of the alarm and even before she opened her eyes she realized how queasy her stomach was. Was it possible? Could she be pregnant?
Mentally she tried to calculate the dates of her last menstrual cycle, and couldn’t. Sometime the first part of November, she guessed. It would help if she hadn’t tossed her notebook in the garbage.
It was wishful thinking, she finally decided. Or the flu. Probably a nasty virus, she mused, yawning.
“Morning,” Andrew said, cuddling her. His hand automatically slipped over her abdomen as he scooted closer to her side. Leah savored his warmth. “Did you sleep well?”
Leah smiled. Their routine was the same every morning. It was these small things, these everyday habits that had become a part of the structure of their marriage.
After Andrew had gone to make the coffee, Leah decided to take her temperature for old times’ sake, not that it would tell her anything.
Two minutes later she was studying the normal reading and calling herself a silly goose, grateful Andrew hadn’t caught her with the thermometer in her mouth.
“I think I’ll just have yogurt this morning,” Leah said when she entered the kitchen.
Andrew studied her. “Are you feeling all right?”
“I’m fine,” she assured him, taking a carton of blueberry-flavored non-fat yogurt out of the refrigerator. The bread popped up from the toaster and Andrew spread a thin layer of butter over the warm surface.
“You look a little pale,” he commented, removing the lid from the strawberry jam. He smeared a thick coat over the toast and carried his plate and cup of coffee to the table.
“I do?” Her voice rose with a dash of excitement she couldn’t hide. She brought her yogurt with her and joined him.
The toast was poised in front of Andrew’s mouth and he slowly lowered it to his plate. He didn’t say anything for several moments. “How late are you?”
“I don’t know. I threw away my notebook, remember?”
“Surely you can figure it out.”
He shook his head. “I guess not. It doesn’t matter though, does it? If you’re pregnant we’ll both be happy.”
“And if I’m not?” she asked, watching him expectantly.
“Then you’re not,” he concluded, munching on the toast. He made it sound as if it didn’t matter to him one way or another. Leah knew that wasn’t true, not after having had Scotty with them for two days. Andrew was wonderful with children. He deserved to be a father. The familiar ache returned but the intensity wasn’t as strong as it had been. The pain that had been so much a part of her all these years seemed to peel away and disappear.
She’d experienced this sensation only once before—the night she’d met Andrew.
She remembered the first time she saw him. They were both college students attending the University of Washington. Some friends had introduced them and the minute they’d exchanged greetings Leah felt a powerful emotional punch. She wished there was a word to describe the feeling that came over her. It was as if fate had given her a swift kick where she’d feel it.
From that moment on she knew this man was going to be an important part of her life. Afterward she discounted the feeling, chalking it up to the beer she’d had earlier. Andrew was steadily dating someone else at the time and she’d heard rumors that he was close to becoming engaged.
They ran into each other soon after that at the library. Leah was struggling with a chemistry class, certain she was going to fail. The library was the only place she could study and so she made the nightly trek across campus to hit the books.
Andrew had been grappling over a term paper and they’d sat at the same table for nearly two hours without speaking a word. Leah had wanted to get to know him better, but hadn’t exchanged more than a preliminary hello, good-to-see-you-again sort of chitchat.
Andrew left first, whispered something about being glad to see her again, and was gone. But when she’d walked out of the library he was waiting for her. A couple of friends had delayed him, he explained, and besides he didn’t think it was a good idea for her to walk across the campus alone in the dark. So he escorted her back to her dorm.
They continued to meet nightly at the library long after his term paper had been turned in and graded. Later Andrew told her she was the only girl he’d ever dated who helped improve his GPA. He’d done more studying with her than any other woman he’d ever dated.
Leah didn’t know when she realized she was in love with him. The night they’d met seemed a good choice. She just knew.
Just as she knew now, in the deepest most sheltered part of her heart, that she was going to have a child.
Leah didn’t question where this knowledge came from. It wasn’t intuition, or instinct, or anything psychic, but a deep abiding belief that her time of waiting had come to an end.
“I suppose you’re going to buy one of those home pregnancy test kits,” Andrew said, frowning, as he carried his empty plate to the sink. He rinsed it off and stuck it in the dishwasher.
They’d been through this procedure no less than a dozen times over the years. The minute she was a day late, Leah typically ran to the drugstore, needing to know the answer as soon as possible. For all the test kits she’d purchased over the years, she should be entitled to a discount.
“Not this time,” she said.
“Like you said, if I’m pregnant, great, and if not, well, then I’m not.” She looped her arms around his neck and kissed him. “I love you.”
He didn’t answer her right away. Instead he carefully studied her upturned face. “Something’s different.”
“It is?” she asked, beaming him a smile.
“I don’t know what, but it’s there in your eyes.”
Leah knew what it was. She was pregnant. Oh, heaven help her, she was diving into the deep end again and she hadn’t meant for that to happen.
She knew she was pregnant. Felt it to the very marrow of her bones, but she’d believed the same thing a hundred times before.
Now was different. The feeling she had now was as powerful as the night she met Andrew, but she couldn’t allow her sanity to rest on something as immeasurable as a feeling.
“You’re sure you’re all right?” he asked, looking concerned.
“I feel wonderful,” she said, tightly hugging her husband’s waist. She closed her eyes, praying with all her heart that this wasn’t a sick joke her mind was playing on her.
From the moment she’d received the call claiming Jeff was alive, Jody had dreaded contacting her mother-in-law. She carefully bided her time and waited until Timmy was down for the night. Even then it had taken Jody another half hour to fortify her courage enough to reach for the phone. She didn’t know where she’d find the grit to face Jeff’s mother when she was in one of these moods.
“Hello, Gloria,” Jody said calmly, knowing she’d probably woken her mother-in-law from a sound sleep.
“Jody,” she said groggily, “is that you?” Not giving her time to answer, she immediately continued. “I’m so pleased you called me back. I know this news is as much of a shock to you as it is me, but—”
“Gloria,” Jody cut in calmly, unwilling to listen to any more. Her only chance of reaching Jeff’s mother was when she sounded composed and confident. “Jeff is dead.”
Someone had played the cruelest of hoaxes on them. “Who phoned you?” Jody demanded, and a telltale wobble came into her voice, betraying her slipping poise.
“I didn’t get his name,” Gloria explained. “You see, I was so excited that I wasn’t thinking clearly, but he sounded very professional. He gave me details.”
“What sort of details?” It was clear this line of questioning was flustering Jeff’s mother all the more, but for the sake of them all Jody had to get to the bottom of this.
“I can’t really tell you right this minute.”
“Did he say where he was calling from?” Jody asked more calmly this time.
“Oh, yes, he was in Germany. Such a nice young man. You see, the call woke me in the middle of the night. I didn’t believe him at first and then the more he talked the more I realized he was telling the truth. Jeff is alive. In my heart I always knew he was and now it’s coming to pass.”
“But wouldn’t the authorities have contacted me?” Jody asked.
“I . . . don’t know, dear. Maybe it has something to do with the divorce.”
“But surely they’d want me to know. After all, Timmy is Jeff’s son.”
“I can’t answer your questions, Jody. All I know is what they said.”
“And what was that?”
“I should have written everything down, but I was too excited, and I’m on this new heart medication that makes my mind go all fuzzy at times.”
Jody’s grip on the phone relaxed. “Was this one of those times, Mom?” she asked softly.
“Oh, no, this was all very real. I thought to call you right away, but—”
“But you didn’t,” Jody concluded when the older woman hesitated.
“No,” she admitted reluctantly.
“And why didn’t you?”
“Because,” Gloria said, following a heartfelt sigh, “I knew you wouldn’t believe me, and I was afraid we would end up arguing and I do so hate the thought of us disagreeing. You and Timmy are the only family I have left.”
Left. The details were quickly tallying in Jody’s mind. Her mother-in-law was taking a new heart medication, one that, at times, confused her and she’d been woken abruptly from a sound sleep. The episode was probably a very lifelike dream. Not entirely sure the phone call had happened herself, Gloria had delayed contacting Jody until the following evening.
Because she’d been so desperate to believe her son was alive, Jeff’s mother had clung to the dream, building it in her mind, until she’d convinced herself it was authentic.
“Have you heard from anyone since?” Jody asked softly.
“No. You think I should have, don’t you?”
“It doesn’t matter what I think. What do you believe?”
Speaking on the phone had always been an inadequate means of communication as far as Jody was concerned. She heard the faint intake of breath that came from her mother-in-law and knew Gloria was weeping softly. How Jody wished she could be there to wrap her arms around her and comfort her.