I dug through my cabinets, pretty sure that somewhere along the way I’d been given herbal tea at some holiday thing — probably back when I worked at the grocery store. I shoved aside all the other stuff I never opened, some jams Mom had sent, a box of stoned wheat crackers that came from who knows where. Sure enough, in a little cheap basket, I found a selection of tea packets tied together with a red bow.
Peppermint. Orange Spice. Blackberry. I snatched up the peppermint and filled a pot with water. Mom had a kettle or something, but I figured hot water was hot water.
As I waited for it to warm up, I stared out the window at the empty trees, bare limbed and bleak. I tried to picture Rosa and the boy, getting up in some other house somewhere in the city. She seemed so sure that her son was mine. Probably this was a happy morning for her.
I still didn’t know anything. If Manuel belonged to me, the test wouldn’t make a difference at first. There was a birth certificate to change. Legal stuff. Child support. She was from another country. That would make it complicated. We’d probably need a lawyer.
My head started clanging and I pressed the heel of my hand into my eye. Maybe I would just drop out of school for a while, get things to some sort of equilibrium. Get Rosa set up somewhere, get Corabelle with me. If she still wanted me.
I shook the bottle of pills, pulling one out. I didn’t even have health insurance for myself, much less the kid. I’d have to fix that.
Fix a lot of things.
I walked through the living room. I could sell the weights, maybe a few other things. Scrape enough together to get us started. The raise was going to help, once I got back to work. I had to do that, pronto. Bud had given me those insurance papers. I think he had some group policy I was eligible for now.
Time to fucking grow up.
I could hear the water bubbling in the kitchen, so I went back and dumped it in a mug with the tea bag. I didn’t even know the simplest thing, like if Corabelle would want sugar in it. I carried it back to the bedroom along with the pill, setting them on a rickety table beside the bed.
She was still asleep, her brows drawn together like she was dreaming fitfully, or in some pain. The tea needed to cool a bit, so I could let her sleep.
If there was ever a day that could change your life, this one was it.
Tina waited for us by the doors to the lab. “We’re actually going to move to one of the meeting rooms,” she said. “There’s some legal stuff involved here, so I asked one of the social workers to come along.”
I glanced at Gavin, to see if he also registered that this meant Tina knew what the results were.
Tina caught the look. “I haven’t peeked. I don’t know anything. So don’t try and read the results in my expression. Besides, I’ve got the poker face of a hard-core gambler.”
“I bet you do,” Gavin said.
“I could lie about your mother and you’d buy it,” she said.
“I believe that too,” he said.
Tina leaned against the wall. “Rosa’s not here yet. We’ll just wait.” She’d skipped the pigtails today, her blond hair sleek on her head. She looked like one of those waif models you might find in a magazine, tiny and strangely dressed, her yellow eye shadow almost otherworldly.
Today her striped stockings were green and blue, two shades so matched in tone that they almost blended together. I decided staring at them was easier than looking anywhere else.
Gavin took my hand. He’d been attentive all day, fussing over tea and then breakfast. We’d met my parents for lunch and then driven them to the airport. I could not have been more relieved to see them go, but the meal had gone easily enough. No arguments. No awkward talk. Gavin and my father hadn’t exactly come to any understandings, but at least they could tolerate being in the same room.
“She’s here,” Tina said, looking behind us.
Gavin turned around first, and I watched his face to see if it revealed anything about what he was feeling. He put on a grim smile and said, “Glad you made it.”
I forced myself to face her as well. She was alone today, wearing the same teal coat, this time with a gray sweater and jeans, much less dressy than yesterday. She seemed calmer too, far more than I felt myself.
“Manuelito is with my cousin,” she said. “I decide he should not come.”
Tina pushed away from the wall. “Probably a good choice. Let the adults work this out.” She pulled out her phone and tapped out a message. “Just letting the social worker know we’re heading her direction.”
We all walked together, Tina leading, Gavin and I behind her, and Rosa alone at the end. I lost track of the corridors we snaked through, through an administrative office, then into a small room tucked away from the bustle of the medical side of the hospital.
Another woman waited there, thankfully not Sabrina and her cat’s-eye glasses, but a grandmotherly one, an official-looking folder on the oval conference table in front of her. I could not take my eyes off it, knowing my future rested in those pages. All of ours did.
Gavin, Rosa, and I took the three vacant seats, and Tina stood against the wall near the door.
“Hello, I’m Abigail Jennings. I work in family services here,” the woman said. She reached for a pair of reading glasses hanging on a gold chain and put them on. Her silver hair was coiffed and elegant, much like my own mother’s, and this helped me calm down a little. She had undoubtedly seen pretty much everything that could happen. We were not going to be anything outside her norm.