“What if it’s his?”
“Then she’ll get help.”
I kept walking. Tina opened her classroom, and I breathed in the lingering scent of clay, paint, and cleaners. I had gotten so accustomed to the antiseptic medicinal smell of my room that only when I went somewhere else did I remember that the rest of the world was still out there with its variety of sights, sounds, and smells.
I sat in a small chair, bracing my elbows on the table. I felt fine, actually, no cough, just the lingering heaviness in my chest and the pressure in my head. Nothing I couldn’t manage. I should probably go back to the room just to make sure I wasn’t being told to go home.
Maybe in a minute. I needed to figure this out.
“Tina, what was your worst moment? Rock bottom? I keep thinking that it was when Finn died, or when Gavin left, or when I got kicked out of school, but then these things keep happening. And I think there is still something worse. I don’t want things to keep getting worse.”
She unlocked a drawer and began pulling out boxes of markers. “Peanut dying actually wasn’t the worst. That was peaceful. And the hospital after I cut my wrists was bad, but the crap was all spread out then. No one part stood out. I had some bad times going back to the high school.” She held the boxes against her chest. “I got called ‘Baby Killer’ because no one knew what had happened.”
“Oh my God, Tina!”
She spread the boxes across the surface of the table. “Not a fab time of my life, for sure.” She sat in the chair opposite me. “I guess if I had to pick a moment, it was when I got home from the hospital, after they stitched me up, and I realized I had no one. My boyfriend had ditched me. My parents were totally freaked and couldn’t even look at me. I’d had to leave the school for pregnant teens since, you know, my baby was dead.”
She drew lazy circles across the table with her fingers. “So yeah, it was walking into my place and realizing I was completely on my own.”
“I’ve had that moment,” I said. “Twice.” My head felt heavy and I rested it in my palm. “After the funeral, when I realized Gavin was gone. Then when I had to pack up my dorm room and get in my car with no idea where I’d settle down again. When I got to San Diego, I didn’t even have a reservation at a hotel.”
“Starting over is hard. But it’s sort of freeing too, isn’t it? No ties. No history. You can be whoever you want to be.”
“But you’re still the same old you, underneath.”
“True.” Tina reached to one end of the table for a stack of construction-paper packages. She dragged the top one in front of her and tore open the plastic wrap. “I never could manage to get away from myself.”
“Whatever happened to that boy, the baby’s father?”
“Beats me. He got some other girlfriend before I had the bandages off.”
“So you didn’t feel any connection to him?”
Tina laid out pieces of paper in front of each chair. “Sure. I actually tried to get him back. Didn’t realize he was poking some other hole.”
“None. It’s like Peanut was an immaculate conception. Mine and only mine.”
“Maybe that would be easier.”
“Maybe. It’s hard to let go of that feeling that you were the only two who ever really knew the baby. I guess when it comes right down to it, maybe only the mother really gets it. We carried them all that time, after all.”
I idly turned the page in front of me in circles. “Gavin was connected. He was always very into the pregnancy, and feeling Finn kick, and decorating the room. I took it for granted.”
“You were lucky then.”
“Really? Because when he left, it all felt like a lie.”
“I think the people who feel the most also blow the hardest.”
“Well, he feels something toward that boy.”
Tina reached across the table to still my paper. “Let’s see how tomorrow goes. If he’s not the father, I really think Rosa is going to disappear completely, looking for another way out.”
I hoped she was right.
The door swung open, startling us both. A head popped in, dark haired, immaculate, and masculine in a way you normally see on a movie screen. “Oh, sorry, I was looking for—” he consulted a piece of paper. “Tina? The art teacher?”
Tina stood up. “That’s me.”
The rest of him came through the door, traditional in a white coat, striding in with a confident air. He definitely noticed Tina. She stood a little on the defiant side, arms crossed, pigtails straight out on either side of her head. She couldn’t have been more different from him in striped stockings, a little knit skirt, and a knotted-up sweater adorned with splatters of paint.
He paused a moment, taking her in, and the spark that flew out of him couldn’t have been more obvious if it had lit up the room. Tina saw it, one eyebrow going up, her mouth quirked in amusement. She was going to chew him up and spit him out.
“I — uh, well, hello.” He extended a hand. I had a feeling he wasn’t often at a loss for words. “I’m Dr. Marks — uh, Darion. Call me Darion.”
“Okay, Dr. Darion. Nice to meet you.” Tina shook his hand exceedingly briefly, dropping it like it was foul. “Can I help you with something?”
This seemed to snap him out of his confusion. “Yes, I have a patient, a girl, Cynthia.” He passed a paper to her. “She’ll be coming in to see you. She’s, well, maybe we should talk about her.” He glanced at me. “When you have a chance.”