Lanie walked into the pharmacy, wandering down the aisles in search of what she was looking for, too afraid to ask. ‘Pregnancy tests’, she thought, scanning through the merchandise on the shelves. ‘There.’ She reached out and pulled one off the shelf.
Walking up to the counter, she put the box onto the counter face down. Sliding it to the cashier, she paid for it without saying a word and then took the bag back to the bench outside.
“Nobody gets pregnant from just one time…right?” she whispered to no one in particular.
She walked home through the cold as fast as she could, wishing that she had thought to wear a heavier jacket. Imagining all of the different ways that she would tell Rich, should she have something to tell Rich. Lanie jogged the last couple of steps up the walkway and let herself into the house. Running up the stairs two at a time, she locked herself in the bathroom and threw her coat on the floor.
Lanie pulled the test out of the bag and ripped open the box. It seemed simple enough. Two pink lines equals pregnant. One pink line equals not. Definitely simple enough. Pee on the stick and look for lines. She could handle it.
Alex pulled his car back up to the garage, and I ran out to meet him. “Did you find her?”
He shook his head as he slipped out the door of the car. “I looked everywhere. She didn’t call?”
I put my face in my hands as I shook my head. “No. Not yet.”
“What do we do now?” he asked. “Should we call the police?”
“She doesn’t even know how to drive, Alex!” I snapped. “She doesn’t know how to drive!”
As I started to cry, he put an arm around my shoulders and steered me back into the house. “We’ll go inside and we’ll call,” he said gently. “We’ll call.”
I settled on the couch as he picked up the phone to dial, springing up when the there was a knock on the door. Yanking the door opened, I was faced with two uniformed police officers on the front stoop.
“Alex,” I gasped, the words barely coming out.
He came up behind me, and the phone fell to the floor as he opened his hand without thinking.
“Mr. and Mrs. Bradley?” the officer said again. “There’s been an accident.”
Jenna pushed through the halls of the hospital, searching frantically. As she moved forward without looking, she bumped right into Becca. “Hey,” Jenna said, coming to a halt.
“Hi,” Becca replied. “Have you seen her yet?”
Jenna shook her head. “Not yet. I just got here.” She stared down at the tile floor, unsure of how to meet her friend’s eyes.
“There,” Becca pointed down the hall.
Alex gave my hand a slight squeeze, and I looked up through my fingers as my friends came down the hall.
“Hi,” Jenna said, kneeling down in front of me. “How are you holding up?”
I shook my head. “What are you doing here?” I asked the both of them. “Don’t you guys have your own stuff to worry about?”
Becca hung back by the wall with her arms folded across her chest as Jenna answered, “Honestly, it’s nice to have something else to think about…if that makes sense.”
I nodded slightly, looking down the hall to check for the doctor.
“So what do you know?” Becca asked quietly, still hugging the wall.
“They won’t tell us anything,” Alex said, laying a hand on my knee. “They won’t tell us anything, and they won’t let us in.”
Becca looked down the hall and then back to me. “They’ll let me in. Let me go down and check things out.”
I nodded without answering, laying my head on Alex’s shoulder.
“What happened?” Jenna asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” I moaned, burying my head in Alex’s sweater briefly before looking back at Jenna. “I thought…I don’t know. I thought we were doing well. And then tonight, I went to talk to her in her room and she…she was hacking off her hair with a scissors. So I started to help her,” I rambled, “and then she wanted to talk about something…but she couldn’t. She…she wanted to leave. I let her go out the door, but then before either one of us realized it, she was in the car and peeling out the driveway.”
“She doesn’t drive yet, does she?”
I shook my head. “The police say she took a curve too quickly and flipped over. They say she rolled several times before coming to a stop. She had to be pried out of the vehicle. She wasn’t conscious when they arrived…” I started to cry again as I continued, “I don’t even know if she’s woken up yet.”
Jenna sat down on the floor in front of me, looking up into my eyes. “She’ll be okay,” she said. “She’ll be okay. She has to be.”
Becca came back out into the waiting area and crossed over to us. “She’s not awake,” Becca said. “She hasn’t woken up yet, and they are still examining her.”
“What else?” I pushed.
“Someone will be out in a minute to talk to you,” Becca answered evasively.
She shook her head as Dr. Thade came through the swinging doors.
“Hello, Michelle,” she said. “Alex.”
Becca and Jenna stepped back slightly to give us a small amount of privacy.
“Your daughter sustained some pretty seriously injuries, but she’s stable now. She has a broken leg, a few cracked ribs, and a concussion. If you’d like, I can take you down to see her, but there are some things that we should discuss first.”
“Okay,” Alex answered. “Let’s go.”
The three of us walked down the hall through the swinging doors. Dr. Thade led us to her doorway. I looked through the window at my sleeping daughter as Dr. Thade said, “There’s no really easy way to say this.”
“Just say it,” I whispered.
“I’m not sure if you knew this, but your daughter…She was pregnant.”
I didn’t realize I was falling until Alex and Dr. Thade both reached out and gently lowered me to the floor. “Put your head down between your knees,” Alex said.
“I’m fine,” I hissed, angrily brushing his hand away. “I’m fine.”
“Put your head down,” Dr. Thade ordered. She squatted down in front of me.
“She was pregnant?” I whispered. “Do you mean she’s not now?”
“No, she’s not anymore. She lost the baby.”
“What happened?” Alex asked, joining us on the floor.
“She was wearing a seatbelt. We think that the pressure from that on her abdomen combined with the stress of the crash caused her to miscarry,” Dr. Thade explained.
“Oh,” Alex said. “Okay.”
I lifted my head up from my knees slowly. “She hasn’t woken up yet?” I said softly. “She doesn’t know?”
Dr. Thade shook her head. “She hasn’t regained consciousness yet. She’s going up to the operating room shortly so we can put pins into her leg to mend the break.”
“I want to see her,” I said, putting my hand on the floor and struggling to swing myself upright.
“Let me help,” Alex offered, holding out a hand. I took his hand and let him draw me to my feet. We walked into Lanie’s room together.
“Hi, sweetheart,” I whispered, sitting down on the edge of her bed. I took her hand, my head flooding with memories of doing the very same thing the day of the shooting.
Lanie stirred slightly, her head turning slowly towards me as her eyes cracked open. “Mom?” she whispered.
“Hi,” I said, rubbing my hand gently on her forehead to push her hair out of her eyes. “How are you feeling?”
“Hurts,” she answered, her eyes drifting closed again. “Everything hurts.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“Hi, princess.” Alex came up on the other side of the bed.
“Hi, Daddy,” she answered.
We all sat silent for several minutes, unsure of what to say. Lanie finally broke the silence. “I’m really sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry.”
“For what, honey?”
“Everything,” she answered.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Don’t worry about it, sweetheart.”
Lanie looked at Alex. “Daddy, can I talk…just to Mom?”
“Okay,” he agreed. “I’ll be out in the hall if you need me.”
“What is it?” I asked gently as Alex disappeared.
“I have to tell you something,” she whispered.
“I…” After thinking for a second, she rephrased her thought. “Did…did they tell you?”
“Tell me?” I asked.
“About the baby?”
I nodded slightly. “It would have been…better to hear it from you though.”
“I know,” Lanie answered weakly. “I’m sorry, Mom.”
“It’s okay,” I answered. “Sweetie, look…” I turned away so she wouldn’t see me crying.
“What is it, Mom?” she asked, her voice trembling as if she as afraid to hear the answer.
“I don’t know how to tell you this.” I wiped the tears off my cheeks before turning back to her again.
“Just say it,” she said, her voice a little stronger. “Like you’re ripping off a band-aid. Just say it.”
“Lanie…you were hurt pretty badly in the accident.”
“Just say it,” she repeated, her eyes filling up with tears.
“You…you lost the baby,” I stuttered.
She nodded. “Okay,” she said quietly, a couple of tears trailing down her cheeks.
I folded her hand into mine. “I’m sorry,” I said sincerely.
“It’s okay,” she answered sadly. “I mean…maybe…I don’t know.”
“What?” I prodded gently.
“Maybe…maybe it’s better…?” Lanie’s voice trailed off and she stared off into space. “I mean…he’s gone, you know? And…I just…It’s sad, but…I’m sad…I…” She shook her head in frustration.
“Maybe this isn’t the best time to ask this but…it…It was Rich’s?”
She nodded silently.
“Did he know?”
“No,” she replied, shaking her head again. “I never…got a chance to tell him.”
“I’m sorry that you have to go through this,” I said.
“Me too. You…you have no idea.”
“You’re right,” I agreed. “I don’t know what you’re going through right now. But I do understand a little bit about pain.”
Lanie tried to roll over slightly, wincing at the pressure that it put on her injuries. “What…?”
“You broke your leg in the accident,” I supplied. “And a couple of ribs.”
She closed her eyes, trying to stop the flow of tears. “This is…a lot.” Opening her eyes again, she said, “I want to go home. Can I go home?” she asked hopefully.
“Not today,” I answered. “You might have to stay here for a couple days.”
Lanie began to sob openly. “No matter how hard I try, Mom, I can’t run away from him…everything keeps coming back.”
“It hasn’t been that long, sweetheart,” I tried to console her. “It’s like anything else, it takes time.”
“What if I…Mom, I…”
“What?” I asked.
“What if it never gets easier?”
“It does,” I insisted.
“You don’t know that,” she pointed out. “I loved him so much, Mom. I’ve tried so much…I’ve tried…to push it out, and I can’t.”
“You don’t have to,” I told her. “You just…some day…You will be able to accept it.”
Her eyelids drooped with sleep. “Not today, though.”
“Not today,” I agreed as she drifted off to sleep.
Jenna and Becca were sitting on opposite ends of the line of chairs when I came back out into the waiting area. “She’s asleep,” I said to Alex.
“That’s good,” he answered.
I sat down next to Alex.
“How’d she take it?” he asked.
I shrugged silently. “She was okay, I guess. As good as I could have expected.”
Becca got up from the chair she was sitting in, shrugging into her coat. “I’m going to go.”
I felt my eyes flash, and the words were tumbling out of my mouth before I knew it. “You’re leaving? Just like that, you’re leaving? As if it’s all better now? Well, it’s not all better. And you know as well as I do that it’s never going to be all better!”
“I think I better go too,” Jenna said.
“You are supposed to be my friends. My friends,” I repeated, the second time with more emphasis. “We were all friends. And something happens, and suddenly you throw it all away? Here’s a news flash—friendship doesn’t work that way.”
I picked up my own coat and stomped through the doors and out into the hallway. “Michelle, wait!” Alex called, running after me.
Whirling on him, I cried, “I can not be the glue that holds everybody together anymore. I just can’t. I need some support of my own!”
Alex drew me in to his chest as my tears became the size of gumdrops and trailed down my cheeks at random. They stood that way for a long time, and it took some time for it to click in my head that Lanie had been taken for her surgery. I pulled away from Alex and began to pace up and down the hallway.
Reaching out for me, Alex placed his hands on my shoulders to stop my constant motion. “Michelle,” he breathed in my ear. “Let’s just sit down now, okay?”
“I’d rather not,” I answered sullenly.
“No,” I answered, shaking my head back and forth before he could say anything more. “Could you…could you go up to the gallery and watch the surgery?”
“Michelle,” he protested. “She’ll be okay. It’s only a broken leg; it’s nothing major. I don’t think that I’m comfortable leaving you alone.”
“I’ll be fine. There are plenty of people here that I know, Alex, I’d just…I want to know that someone is watching over her.”
He looked at me strangely. “You don’t want to come, then?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I just need a little space.”
“Okay,” he agreed hesitantly, before turning around and taking the stairs up towards the operating room two at a time.
I sank down into one of the chairs, and Jenna materialized and planted herself beside me. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I didn’t mean to make you upset. We didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just…”
“I know,” I interrupted her. I just can’t think about that right now.”
Jenna put her feet up on the coffee table, leaning her head back against the edge of the couch. Her fingers folded comfortably over her very round pregnant belly. “Do you think our babies will be friends?” she asked.
Becca shrugged, her hands caressing her own very pregnant belly. “Maybe.”
“We could make them,” Jenna laughed. “ I mean, if they spend every minute of every day together, they have to be friendly, right?”
“You don’t even know yet if yours is a boy or a girl,” Becca pointed out.
“And I don’t want to,” Jenna rebutted. “It would ruin the surprise.”
“You aren’t even curious? I’d be going crazy if I didn’t know he was a boy,” she said, gesturing to her stomach. “Gabriel and I are buying everything boy right now, trying to get ready. I don’t know how you do it not knowing.”
“Neutral colors,” Jenna insisted. “A godsend.”
“Seriously…can you imagine if both of us have boys? We grew up together…they could grow up together. They’ll be built in friends, just like we were. It’ll be amazing.”
“If I have a girl, they could get married.”
Becca reached out and hit her lightly on the arm. “Thinking ahead much?”
“No,” Jenna laughed, “not at all.”
There was a knock on the door as Becca sat on the sofa, watching television. She pulled it open slowly to find Jenna standing on the front stoop. “Hi,” she said, too surprised to remember to open the door further.
“Hi,” Jenna said quietly. “Can I…Can I come in?”
“Sure,” Becca answered hastily, pulling the door open further and then closing it as her friend entered.
Jenna wandered into the living room, almost bee lining to the fireplace and lifting a picture off of the mantle. “You still have this,” she whispered, tracing over the photo with her fingertips.
“It was a long time ago,” Becca answered awkwardly.
“There aren’t too many pictures of the three kids together.” Jenna’s finger came to a stop on her son’s face, and she held it there for several seconds before putting the frame back down on the mantle. “It’s nice,” she said, trying to force a smile and failing.
“Why are you here?” Becca asked quietly. “Not that I’m not happy to see you and everything, but…”
“Because it’s been a long time. Because there were a lot of things that I’d forgotten.”
“Oh,” Becca answered, confused. “Do you…Do you want to sit down?”
Jenna crossed to the couch and sat down without being led. “I’ve missed you,” she started. “I’ve missed you, but it’s been…”
“Hard?” Becca prodded gently.
Jenna nodded. “A little. I mean, I know that…”
“It’s okay, Jenna,” Becca interrupted. “I understand…it’s been hard for me too.”
Shaking her head quickly, Jenna spit out, “No, I didn’t mean that it was harder for me than it was for you, I just…”
“I understand, Jenna,” Becca said again.
“Okay,” Jenna said, sinking back against the couch. “Look…I…”
Becca perched on the edge of one of the armchairs, afraid to say anything at all.
Looking around the room, Jenna asked, “What happened to your walls? What is…”
Shrugging slightly, Becca gestured at the wall. “People hate me for what my son did. Some days, even I hate me. Like you.”
“I don’t hate you, Becca,” Jenna said quietly as tears sprang to her eyes. “I could never hate you. I just…I think that I needed someone to be angry at, and you were there.”
“I don’t condone what he did, and I never could. But he was my son, and no matter how much I may hate what he did, no matter how much I might not like him, I do love him, and I always will.”
“I know,” Jenna agreed. “I loved my son with all of my heart.”
I knocked on Becca’s door, truly surprised to find Jenna inside as well when I entered. “Hi,” I said, not bother to rub the surprise from my features.
“Hey,” they both answered at the same time.
My eyes tracked back and forth between the two of them. “This is…good,” I said, referring to the fact that the two of them were together.
Jenna shrugged as we all moved back into the living room. “We’re working through some stuff,” she explained.
I nodded. “That’s a good thing. Look, I came to…I came to apologize.”
Shaking her head, Jenna disappeared into the kitchen without a word and returned seconds later with a bucket and a sponge. “It goes without…….you…..you don’t have to say anything.” She lifted a hand to the wall and began to scrub.
“If I could say anything to you right now…there are a million things that I would say. I don’t even know where to begin.” Jenna wrapped her jacket tightly around her shoulders, sitting down on the ground. “There are a million wishes. I have a million wishes for you.”
A chill whipped around me, damp rainy air leaking up the sleeves of my jacket. Lanie and I waited a short distance away, our hands filled with keeping a handle on Jenna’s gift.
“I have a million wishes for you,” she whispered again, letting the phrase carry off into the wind. “I hope you’re happy, where you are. I hope you aren’t cold. I hope you have a lot of friends, a lot of kids your age you can play with. Maybe you even have a puppy. Or a kitten. It would be nice if you had that.”
I put an arm around Lanie, holding her close as we jostled the strings.
“I wish that you could have grown up…gotten to go to school…have a girlfriend…drive a car…get married, someday, but you won’t, and I’m sorry. It wasn’t meant to be. There are so many things that I wish I could give you, so many things that I wish I could say. I don’t have enough time to say them all, Richie. There’s never enough time, you and I, we didn’t have enough time.”
Lanie and I walked forward so that we were directly behind Jenna, and I squeezed her shoulder slightly to let her know that we were there.
“If I could give you one last hug, one last kiss…I would. But I can’t reach you where you are right now, not until we’re together again…and I don’t plan on that happening for a long, long time.”
Jenna stood up and turned around to face us, reaching out and taking the fistful of balloons from our hands. “You always liked balloons, you liked to see the different colors. We were at the fair once, and you accidentally let your balloon go. You started to cry,” she continued, “and I told you that when a balloon flies up into the sky, it represents a wish that someone wants answered. I brought you balloons,” she said, holding them up to the sky while still clutching them tightly in her hands. “They are all my wishes for you, Richie. All my wishes, and I wish for you to have everything you ever wanted. I wish for you to be happy. I wish you peace.”
Jenna opened her hands and let the balloons fly gracefully up into the sky in a flock of rainbow colors. “I wish you peace.”