Maryellen phoned in their order and her sister trekked down to grab a picnic table. Several other people had the same idea, but she’d secured a table for them by the time Maryellen got there.
Sitting across from her sister, Maryellen opened her container of chicken rice soup and stirred it with a plastic spoon. Cantankerous seagulls circled overhead, squawking for a handout, but Maryellen and Kelly ignored them.
“I wanted to ask you a few things about being pregnant,” she told her sister. “If you don’t mind.”
“Fire away.” Kelly licked the back of her spoon, looking childlike and mature at the same time. She removed the plastic wrap from her oyster crackers and gave them one by one to her eager son, who instantly stuffed them in his mouth.
Maryellen didn’t know what to ask first. For years she’d watched her friends marry and raise children. They all seemed so relaxed about it. So natural. She felt none of that. While excited and exhilarated about the prospect of motherhood, she shared none of their confidence. Kelly had waited years for a baby; surely she understood.
“Were you…afraid?” Maryellen asked.
“Terrified,” Kelly admitted. “I read every book I could get my hands on.”
“Me, too.” Her mother had raided the library shelves and given Maryellen a constant supply of the most recent books regarding pregnancy and birth.
“What happened when you brought Tyler home from the hospital?”
Kelly laughed and shook her head. “Go on to the next question.”
“Because Paul and I couldn’t agree on anything.”
Maryellen reached for a small cracker and chewed it. “I won’t have that problem.”
“Exactly. How are you doing for clothes? I have the cutest maternity tops. Would you like to borrow some?”
“I’ll bring them over this weekend.”
“That would be great.” Maryellen’s heart warmed toward her sister.
“What about day care? You need to start thinking about that, especially with being single and all.”
That was, of course, another pressing concern. She had to think seriously about interviewing prospects and checking out centers.
“Listen,” Kelly said, leaning her elbow on the picnic table. “I could do it for the first couple of years.”
Maryellen was speechless. When she could talk again, she whispered, “You’d do that?”
“I need to check with Paul first, of course, but I don’t see why not. Another baby couldn’t possibly be that much extra work and I’m home, anyway. I’d like to help you, Maryellen. What are sisters for?”
Maryellen’s eyes filled with tears. This offer was completely unexpected. She looked away, not wanting her sister to know that she was fighting back emotion.
“You know what I realized the other day?” Maryellen asked when she was certain she could keep the tears out of her voice. “I was sitting in my kitchen, reading a magazine Mom recommended, and it dawned on me that…I was happy.”
Kelly reached for her hand. “I see it in you, too. I feel it.”
“I want this baby so much.” She pressed her palm against her midriff and closed her eyes. Lowering her head, she whispered, “I wanted my first baby, too.”
Her words were met with stunned silence.
“Your first baby?” Kelly asked, also in a whisper.
“I…I was pregnant when Clint and I got married. Oh, Kelly, I was young and incredibly stupid. It was an accident, but we should have known it would happen because we were so careless. Still—it was a shock.”
“What happened with the pregnancy?”
Maryellen looked out over the choppy blue waters of the Cove. “Clint wanted me to have an abortion. He swore he loved me, but he wasn’t ready to be a father.”
“How could he even suggest such a thing?”
Maryellen’s throat grew thick, making speech almost impossible. “I couldn’t believe he’d want to get rid of our baby, but at that time in our lives, he felt a baby was…a nuisance.”
“You still married him.”
Maryellen nodded, feeling sick with guilt and with regret for what she’d done. “I…I loved Clint, or I thought I did. I told him I couldn’t have an abortion and that it didn’t matter if we got married or not. I was going to have my baby. In retrospect, I think he was terrified of having to pay child support and so he…he suggested we get married.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He’d marry me if I agreed to terminate the pregnancy. That was his way of proving his love, of showing me he was serious about our relationship. He insisted there’d be other pregnancies, other children.” She didn’t add that Clint had forced her to decide between him and the pregnancy. Either she married him right then and had the abortion, or he’d break off the relationship completely. Even now, all these years later, Maryellen couldn’t bring herself to tell anyone how she’d allowed herself to be manipulated.
“So you agreed?”
Maryellen nodded, her long hair falling forward over her shoulder. “I didn’t want to do it, but I loved Clint and I believed he loved me. So we ran off and immediately after a justice of the peace performed the ceremony, we drove to an abortion clinic. The whole time, Clint kept telling me this was for the best and that we were making the right decision.”
“Oh, Maryellen, you must’ve been so torn.”
“It wasn’t the right decision for me, and even while I was at the clinic, I knew that, but I went through with it, anyway. I kept telling myself I wouldn’t have the baby, but I’d have Clint.” Not much later she’d realized what a poor choice she’d made. Clint was controlling and manipulative, and before her marriage was a year old, Maryellen knew she had to get out.
“I never liked Clint and now I know why,” Kelly said, still holding tight to Maryellen’s hand.
“That’s the reason I’ve avoided being around children. That’s why I was the first one in any group to make disparaging remarks about kids. I pretended I was too sophisticated and mature to want anything to do with them when my heart ached the whole time for what I’d done. What I’d missed…”
“I’m so sorry.”
“I’ve carried this guilt and shame all these years.” No one else knew, not her mother, not anyone. Maryellen had successfully hidden her ugly secret.
The child she carried now was as unplanned as her first, but this time she wasn’t going to repeat her mistakes. She wasn’t going to involve the baby’s father. Jon didn’t want the child. He’d made that plain before Christmas, when he’d asked her about the possibility of a pregnancy. She’d seen the relief in his eyes when she assured him everything was all right. This time she was protecting her unborn child.
Jack sat at his desk late Thursday afternoon, reviewing an article submitted by Charlotte Jefferson for the Seniors’ Page. It seemed to him that her opinions were becoming more and more political. Ever since her surgery, Charlotte had been on a mission to get a free health clinic in Cedar Cove. He had to hand it to her; she found a way to mention the need for such a clinic in every issue.
With his pencil in hand he started making the changes, cutting words, rearranging phrases for clarity and adding polish to the piece. Charlotte wasn’t a natural writer but her skills had improved dramatically in the last year.
His phone buzzed and Jack absently reached for it. “Griffin,” he said.
“Dad, I want you to sing into the phone.”
“You want me to what?” His son had made some unusual requests over the past few months, but this was one of the strangest.
“Sing. Remember how you used to sing to me when I was a kid?”
As though Jack could forget. He’d sung to Eric when the boy was strapped to a hospital bed, incredibly weak from the devastation of his disease. The drugs had been experimental at the time, but they were Eric’s only chance to beat leukemia.
“Just sing! We’re desperate.”
Jack could hear the two baby boys wailing in the background and grinned. Glancing around to make sure no one was listening, he started humming a little ditty he’d learned as a boy. “Two Irishmen, two Irishmen…”
The cries increased and Eric got back on the line. “You’re no help.”
“What are you doing in town?” Jack demanded.
“Shelly needed me.” Tedd and Todd, too, from the sound of it. “You have no idea how much work two babies can be.”
“Shouldn’t you be in Reno?” His son had agonized over the decision about following through with the transfer to Nevada. As soon as his twin sons were born, Eric wanted to be with them and Shelly. He used some of his vacation time, and for two weeks he’d stayed at the apartment with Shelly and the babies, but he couldn’t delay starting work any longer. Now he flew back each weekend for two days. At Shelly’s insistence, the twins had gone through DNA testing, and what had been obvious to Jack the minute they were born was now official. Eric was the father.
“Dad!” He shouted to be heard above the crying twins. “Are you still there?”
“I’m here,” Jack assured him.
“Do you think you could get Olivia to marry me?”
“Just a minute, son. If anyone’s marrying Olivia, it’ll be me.”
He smiled at Eric’s laughter. “So, you and Shelly have decided to get married?” he said.
“Yeah,” Eric replied. “It’s about time, don’t you think?”
“About ten months later than it should’ve been, but you didn’t ask my opinion.”
“Shelly’s getting ready to move to Reno with me.”
Jack hated the thought of being separated from his son yet again, hated the thought of missing out on his grandchildren, but he very much approved of Shelly. “So you’re going to take my grandsons away from me.”
“You can visit anytime you want.”
“Count on it,” Jack told him.
They ended the conversation a few minutes later, after Jack agreed to ask Olivia about performing the ceremony for Eric and Shelly. Actually, he was grateful for such a good reason to see his favorite judge. They’d been spending a lot of time together lately, and that was a trend he wanted to continue.
As soon as he could leave the office, he headed for Olivia’s house. He found her working in her rose garden in the backyard. She’d recently planted a row of bushes, which she pampered to a ludicrous degree—in his opinion, anyway. But then, he believed in plants that looked after themselves. “Like weeds?” she’d asked scornfully when he’d shared his gardening philosophy. Today she wore a large straw hat that shaded her eyes, a pair of faded jeans and a worn man’s shirt. Jack stopped to admire the view of her bent over the rose bushes.
“I wish you’d spoil me as much as you do those roses of yours.”
“Hush,” she chastised. “I’ve just planted these and they need my attention.”