Leah felt wonderful. Her workday had been full and rewarding. She hurried into the parking lot and started her car, driving past the nativity scene on the hospital side yard. A sense of expectancy filled her. The way she felt, she didn’t need Dr. Benoit to confirm what she already knew. There wasn’t a doubt in her mind what he would tell her.

The housekeeper had instructions to place a bottle of fine champagne on ice, and there were two thick steaks in the refrigerator. This evening she and Andrew would celebrate. She’d call her parents and if possible wait until the following evening to let Andrew’s mother know when they got together for Christmas Eve.

This would be the best Christmas ever, Leah was convinced of that.

Dr. Benoit was a kind, older physician with a quick wit and a gentle heart. He’d been a comfort to her in those bleak years, reassuring and confident when Leah felt having a child was hopeless. It was only fitting that he be the one to tell her she was pregnant.

“Leah,” he said, coming into the cubicle. His smile was warm and tender. “It’s so good to see you again.”

“You were right,” she said, holding onto his hand with both of hers. “It’s happened. Andrew and I are pregnant.”

He said nothing, but then Leah gave him no opportunity.

“Kathy is thrilled for me.” Kathy was the nurse who’d collected the urine sample from her.

“Let’s sit down and talk,” he said, directing her to the chair. “Leah, you don’t know how deeply this pains me.”

“Pains you?” she asked. “I’m going to have a baby. How could such wonderful news pain you?”

The doctor’s eyes softened. He took her hand in his. “Leah, the test is negative.”

“There must be some mistake,” she said, leaping to her feet.

“I’d give anything to tell you otherwise.”

“But I’m late and experienced all the symptoms,” she argued. “It isn’t possible for me not to be pregnant.”

“The mind is very powerful. I don’t believe science has a clue of its potential. When a woman wants a child as fervently as you do, she’s sometimes able to convince her body she’s pregnant. That’s what I believe happened in your case.”

It wasn’t true. Leah refused to believe it, and yet she had no choice. Reaching for her purse, she walked toward the door.

“Are you all right?”

“Sure,” she said, but she wasn’t and she doubted that she ever would be again.

Chapter 18

“You’re back early,” Helen Chandler commented when Jody walked into the house after leaving the office party. She took off her coat and hung it in the hall closet.

“Jody, whatever is the matter?” her mother pressed. “You look as if you’ve been crying.” Helen followed her into the kitchen where Jody poured herself a cup of coffee. She wasn’t the least bit thirsty, but she needed something to hold onto while she steadied her nerves.

“Where’s Timmy?” she asked, surprised not to find her son in front of the television screen, battling it out with alien warlords.

“In his room,” Helen answered with a slight frown. “He’s wrapping his gift for you. He wouldn’t even show me what it is. Now tell me what’s wrong. I can’t remember seeing you like this in a good long while. You’re as pale as a ghost.”

“I broke off the engagement with Glen,” Jody whispered, not wanting Timmy to hear. Not yet. She’d tell her son as soon as she’d composed herself and could do so without emotion. Her heart wasn’t entangled with Glen’s and yet she ached for all the might-have-beens.

“But why?” her mother asked, sinking into the chair.

“I don’t love Glen.”

“Love,” her mother cried. “How could you not love someone like Glen? He’s perfect for you and Timmy. Why, that man walks on water. You couldn’t ask for a better husband.”

“I’m not going to argue with you, Mom. Everything you say is true, but it was more than not loving him. I know what it’s like to be deeply in love, but when it came right down to it, I realized I couldn’t accept second best.”

Her mother’s shoulders sagged with defeat. “You might have grown to feel that way about him. Jody, for the love of heaven, you’ve got to let go of the past.”

“There was one other minor complication with Glen,” she said, holding the coffee mug tightly. “He’s in love with someone else and I learned that she’s still in love with him too.”

Helen braced her elbows against the tabletop and hung her head. “And so you did the noble thing and stepped aside. Oh, Jody, what am I going to do with you?”

Jody laughed and impulsively squeezed her mother’s arm. “This entire experience has been a valuable lesson to me. In my heart, I know I did the right thing. I just didn’t expect it to hurt so much.”

“Life’s lessons aren’t cheap.”

Jody nodded. “Ever since Jeff disappeared, I’ve clung to the misty memories of our years together. The circumstances surrounding his death and all that followed caused me to build a cocoon around Timmy and me. I was so terribly frightened of being hurt again. Jeff was a good husband and I loved him more than I thought it was possible to love another human, but I’ve built up those years in my mind into a picture of paradise.”

Her mother’s head came up. “I’ve waited a good long while for you to realize this. It sounds like you’ve done some heavy-duty thinking these last few weeks.”

“I have,” Jody admitted, and a good deal of it had been enlightening. “More than anything I realize I’ve clung to a half-filled glass, afraid to let go of that small bit of happiness I’d found and reach for the quart jar that was sitting right in front of me.”

Helen’s frown deepened. “I’m afraid you’ve lost me with all this talk of glasses and quart jars. I thought we were talking about you and Jeff.”

“I’m ready to get back to my life now,” Jody said pensively, “ready to reach out in faith and trust God for Timmy’s and my future. I’m going to squeeze every bit of joy I can out of what’s left of my life. For the first time since Jeff’s death I feel like I have one.

“I don’t want to spend the rest of it alone, either. There’s a man for me out there—someone who’ll be a good father to Timmy, and a good husband for me. A man who’ll be a friend, a partner, and a lover.”

Helen bit into her lower lip. “I’ve waited years for you to tell me this. I don’t know what happened to open your eyes to the truth, but I’m eternally grateful.” She stood and hugged Jody. “I’ll leave you to talk to Timmy now.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

“Any time,” her mother said. “I love watching Timmy. He’s a delight.”

“For that, yes,” Jody said with tears in her eyes. “But for everything else too, for being there when I needed you, for listening to me, and most of all for standing with me, loving me, giving me the emotional support I needed. You’re the best mom in the world.”

“You were like this as a little girl,” her mother said with a smile, “buttering me up before Christmas.”

Jody laughed and the two hugged.

“Mom,” Timmy said, standing in the doorway. “Why are you and Grandma crying?”

They both started laughing then, which was sure to confuse him all the more.

“Where’s Glen?” Timmy wanted to know next.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Helen said, reaching for her coat and purse.

Timmy watched his grandmother leave. “What’s going on around here?”

Jody smiled and patted the top of his head. “I need to talk to you.”

“Did I do something wrong?” His eyes grew round with concern, or perhaps guilt, Jody didn’t know which.

“No,” she assured him, placing her hand on his shoulder and bringing him close to her side. “This isn’t about anything you did, I need to tell you something important about Glen and me.”

“Mom,” Timmy muttered dejectedly, leaning against the doorway in the bathroom as if his weight were too heavy to support, “are you sure we have to go to church? It isn’t even Sunday.”

“We’ve been through this before,” Jody said, adding the finishing touches to her makeup. “It’s Christmas Eve. After church we’ll go to Grandma’s house and open our gifts with her.”

“Will she have hot chocolate and goodies like she did last year?”

“I’m sure she will. Is the car loaded?” Jody asked.

“I did that a long time ago. I wish you’d hurry.”

“We have plenty of time.” She knew what Timmy really wanted was for the minutes to go by fast so he could get to the gift-opening part of the evening. The Christmas Eve church service was just unnecessary nonsense as far as he was concerned.

“I’ll only take a little bit longer,” Jody promised. “Don’t let me forget the cheese roll and the crackers. They’re in the refrigerator.”

“Ah . . .”

There was something in Timmy’s voice that clued her in to the fact that there was a problem with the cheese roll.

“What?” she said, lowering the mascara brush and turning her head away from the mirror to study her son.

“About the cheese roll.”

“What about it?” Jody returned the brush to the holder and tightened the top. Setting the cosmetic bag aside, she faced her son.

“I had a little party with my friends the day Grandma was watching me.”

“Yes?” Jody prompted.

“Everyone had something yummy to bring and you took almost all the gingerbread cookies and, besides, I like the cheese roll better than cookies anyway.”

“In other words there isn’t any left.”

Timmy nodded and hung his head. “I have the feeling this isn’t going to be a very good Christmas anyway.”

“Because of Glen?”

Timmy lifted one shoulder halfheartedly. “I understand why you aren’t going to marry him and everything. But I was kinda thinking maybe he wouldn’t mind coming by and seeing me every once in a while.”

“We’ll wait until after Christmas and ask, okay?” The real attraction for Glen had always been Timmy and she sincerely hoped the attorney would maintain contact with her son.

The doorbell chimed.

“Who could that be on Christmas Eve?” Jody wondered out loud.

“I’ll see,” Timmy said, running toward the front door.

“Timmy,” Jody called out after him. “Let me answer that.”

She was too late. Her son enthusiastically threw open the door as if he expected Santa Claus to be on the other side.

“Hi,” he was saying cheerfully by the time Jody reached the door.

“Hello,” Jody said automatically, then gasped as she recognized the man standing on the other side of the screen door. In that moment, she swore her heart stopped dead. She flattened her palm over it and the room started to sway. Staggering two steps, she reached for the door to keep herself from collapsing.