The nurse lifted the infant from its bassinet. She gave it to the nun.

Cradling the baby, the nun turned with it to Celestina, folding back a thin blanket to present her with a good look at the tiny girl.

Breath held, Celestina confirmed what she had suspected about the child since the quick glimpse she'd had in the surgery. Its skin was cafe au lait with a warming touch of caramel.

Over many proud generations and at least to the extent of second cousins, no one on either side of Celestina's family had skin of this light color. They were without exception medium to dark mahogany, many shades darker than this infant.

Phimie's rap**t must have been a white man.

Someone she had known. Someone Celestina, too, might know. He lived in or around Spruce Hills, because Phimie had considered him still to be a threat.

Celestina had no illusions about playing detective. She would never be able to track down the bastard, and she had no stomach for confronting him.

Anyway, the thing that scared her was not the monstrous father of this child. The fearsome thing was the decision that she had made a few minutes ago, in the unused hospital room on the seventh floor.

Her entire future was at stake if she acted as she had decided to act.

Here, in the presence of the baby, within the next minute or two, she must either change her mind or commit herself to a more difficult and challenging life than any she had envisioned only this morning.

“May l?” she asked, holding out her arms.

Without hesitation, the nun transferred the infant to Celestina.

The baby felt too light to be real. She weighed five pounds fourteen ounces, but she seemed lighter than air, as though she might float up and out of her aunt's arms.

Celestina stared at the small, brown face, opening herself to the anger and hatred with which she had regarded this child in the operating room.

If the nun and the nurse could know the loathing that Celestina had felt earlier, they would never allow her here in the creche, never trust her with this newborn.

This spawn of violence. This killer of her sister.

She searched the child's unfocused eyes for some sign of the hateful father's wickedness.

The little hands, so weak now but someday strong: Would they eventually be capable of savagery, as were the father's hands? Misbegotten offspring. This seed of a demonic man whom Phimie herself had called sick and evil. However innocent-looking now, what pain might she eventually in— on others? What outrages might she commit in years to come? Although Celestina searched intently, she could not glimpse the father's evil in the child.

Instead, she saw Phimie reborn. She saw, as well, a child endangered. Somewhere out there was a rap**t capable of extreme cruelty and violence, a man who would—if Phimie was correct—react unpredictably if ever he learned of his daughter's existence. Angel, if that's what she were eventually to be named, lived under a threat as surely as had all the children of Bethlehem, who'd been slain according to the decree of King Herod. The baby curled one small hand around her aunt's index finger. So tiny, fragile, she nonetheless gripped with surprising tenacity.

Do what must he done.

Returning the newborn to the nun, Celestina asked for the use of a phone, and for privacy.

The social worker's office once more. Rain tapping lightly at the window where Dr. Lipscomb had stared intently into the fog as he tried to avoid confronting the life-changing revelation that Phimie, speaking with the special knowledge of the once-dead, had shown him.

Sitting at the desk, Celestina phoned her parents again. She shook uncontrollably, but her voice was steady.

Her mother and father used different extensions, both on the line with her.

“I want you to adopt the baby.” Before they could react, she hurried on: “I won't be twenty-one for four months yet, and even then they might give me trouble about adopting, even though I'm her aunt, because I'm single. But if you adopt her, I'll raise her. I promise I will. I'll take full responsibility. You don't have to worry that I'll regret it or that I'll ever want to drop her in your laps and escape the responsibility. She'll have to be the center of my life from here on. I understand that. I accept it. I embrace it."

She worried that they would argue with her, and though she knew that she was committed to her decision, she was afraid to have that commitment tested just yet.

Instead, her father asked, “Is this emotion talking, Celie, or is this brain as much as heart?"

“Both. Brain and heart. But I've thought it through, Daddy. More than anything in my life, I've thought this through."

“What aren't you telling us?” her mother pressed, intuiting the existence of a larger story, if not the amazing nature of it.

Celestina told them about Nella Lombardi and about the message Phimie delivered to Dr. Lipscomb after being resuscitated. “Phimie was, . . so special. There's something special about her baby, too."

“Remember the father,” Grace cautioned.

And the reverend added, “Yes, remember. If blood tells-"

“We don't believe it does, do we, Daddy? We don't believe blood tells. We believe we're born to hope, under a mantle of mercy, don't we?"

“Yes,” he said softly. “We do.

A siren in the city wailed toward St. Mary's. An ambulance. Through streets bustling with hope, always this lament for the dying.

Celestina looked up from the scarred top of the desk toward the fog-white sky beyond the window, from reality to the promise.

She told them of Phimie's request that the baby be named Angel. “At the time, I assumed she wasn't able to think clearly because of the stroke.

If the baby was going to be adopted out, the adoptive parents  would name it. But I think she understood—or somehow knew-that I  would want to do this. That I would have to do this."

“Celie,” her mother said, “I'm so proud of you. I love you so much  for wanting this. But how is it possible to carry on with your studies, your work, and take care of a baby?"

Celestina's parents weren't well-off. Her father's church was small  and humble. They managed to worry up tuition for art school, but Celestina worked as a waitress to pay for her studio apartment and other needs.

“I don't have to graduate in the spring of next year. I can take fewer classes, graduate the spring after. That's no big deal."

“Oh, Celie—"

She rushed on: “I'm one of the best waitresses they have, so if I ask for dinner shifts only, I'll get them. Tips are better at dinner. And working the one shift, four and a half to five hours, I'll have a regular schedule."

“Then who'll be with the baby?"

“Sitters. Friends, relatives of friends. People I can trust. I can afford sitters if I'm getting only dinner tips."

“Better we should raise her, your father and me."

“No, Mom. That won't work. You know it won't."

The reverend said, “I'm sure you underestimate my parishioners, Celestina. They won't be scandalized. They'll open their hearts."

“It isn't that, Daddy. You remember, when we were all together the day before yesterday, how afraid Phimie was of this man. Not just for herself ... for the baby."

I won't have the baby here. If he realizes he made a baby with me, it'll

make him crazier I know it will.

“He won't harm a little child,” her mother said. “He wouldn't have  any reason."

“If he's crazy and evil, then he doesn't need a reason. I think Phimie  was convinced he'd kill the baby. And since we don't know who this  man is, we have to trust her instincts."

“If he's such a monster, then if he ever learns about the baby,” her  mother worried, “maybe you won't be safe even in San Francisco."

“He'll never know. We have to make sure he never knows."

Her parents were silent, contemplating.

From the corner of the desk, Celestina picked up a framed photo of the social worker and her family. Husband, wife, daughter, son. The little girl smiled shyly through braces. The boy was impish.

In this portrait, she saw a bravery beyond words. Creating a family in this turbulent world is an act of faith, a wager that against all odds there will be a future, that love can last, that the heart can triumph against all adversities and even against the grinding wheel of time.

“Grace,” the reverend said, “what do you want to do?"

“This is a hard thing you're putting on yourself, Celie,” her mother warned.

“I know."

“Honey, it's one thing to be a loving sister, but there's a world of difference between that and being a martyr."

“I held Phimie's baby, Mom. I held her in my arms. What I felt wasn't just sentimental gush."

“You sound so sure."

great  “When hasn't she, since the age of three?” her father said with affection.

“I'm meant to be this baby's guardian,” Celestina said, “to keep her safe. She's special. But I'm no selfless martyr. There's joy in this for me, already at just the thought of it. I'm scared, sure. Oh, Lord, am I scared.

But there's joy, too."

“Brain and heart?” her father asked again.

“All of both,” she confirmed.

“What I insist upon,” said her mother, “is coming down there for a few months at the beginning, to help out until you get organized, until you figure out the rhythm of it."

And thus it was agreed. Although sitting in a chair, Celestina felt herself crossing a deep divide between her old life and her new, between the future that might have been and the future that would be.

She was not prepared to raise a baby, but she would learn what she needed to know.

Her ancestors had endured slavery, and on their shoulders, on the shoulders of generations, she now stood free. What sacrifices she made for this child could not rightly be called sacrifices at all, not in the harsh light of history. Compared to what others had undergone, this was easy duty-, generations had not struggled so that she could shirk it. This was honor and family. This was life, and everyone lived his life in the shadow of one solemn obligation or another.

Likewise, she wasn't prepared to deal with a monster like the father, if one day he came for Angel. And he would come. She knew. In these events as in all things, Celestina White glimpsed a pattern, complex and mysterious, and to the eye of an artist, the symmetry of the design required that one day the father would come. She wasn't prepared to deal with the creep now, but by the time that he arrived, she would be ready for him.

Chapter 26

AFTER UNDERGOING TESTS for brain tumors or lesions, to ascertain whether his seizure of violent emesis might, in fact, have a physical cause, Junior was returned to his hospital room shortly before noon.

No sooner was he abed once more than he cringed at the sight of Thomas Vanadium in the doorway.

The detective entered, carrying a lunch tray. He put it on the adjustable  bed stand, which he swung over Junior's lap.

“Apple juice, lime Jell-O, and four soda crackers,” said the detective. “If you don't have enough of a conscience to make you confess, then this diet ought to break your will. I assure you, Enoch, the fare is far better in any Oregon prison."

“What's wrong with you?” Junior demanded.

As though he'd not understood that the question required a reply and had not heard the implied rebuke, Vanadium went to the window and raised the venetian blind, admitting such powerful sunlight that the glare seemed to crash into the room.

“It's a sunshine-cake sort of day,” Vanadium announced. “Do you know that old song, 'Sunshine Cake,' Enoch? By James Van Heusen, a great songwriter. Not his most famous tune. He also wrote 'All the Way' and 'Call Me Irresponsible.' 'Come Fly with Me'—that was one of his, too. 'Sunshine Cake' is a minor tune, but a nice one."

This patter poured out in the detective's patented drone. His flat face was as expressionless as his voice was uninflected.

“Please close that,” Junior said. “It's too bright."

Turning from the window, approaching the bed, Vanadium said, “I'm sure you'd prefer darkness, but I need to get some light under that rock of yours to see your expression when I give you the news."

Although he knew it was dangerous to play along with Vanadium, Junior couldn't stop himself from asking, “What news?"

“Aren't you going to drink your apple juice?"

“What news?"

“The lab didn't find any ipecac in your spew.

Any what?” Junior asked, because he had pretended to be asleep  when Vanadium and Dr. Parkhurst had discussed ipecac the previous  night.

“No ipecac, no other emetic, and no poison of any kind."

Naomi had been cleared of suspicion. Junior was pleased that their  brief and beautiful time together would not forever be clouded by the  possibility that she was a treacherous bitch who had tainted his food.

“I know you induced vomiting somehow,” the detective said, “but it  looks like I'm not going to be able to prove it."

“Listen here, Detective, these sick insinuations that somehow I had something to do with my wife's—"

Vanadium held up a hand as though to halt him and spoke over his  complaint: “Spare me the outrage. Besides, I'm not insinuating any  thing. I'm flat-out accusing you of murder. Were you humping another  woman, Enoch? Is that where your motivation lies?"

“This is disgusting."

“To be honest—and I'm always honest with you—I can't find any  hint of another woman. I've talked to a lot of people already, and every  one thinks you and Naomi were faithful to each other."

“I loved her."

“Yeah, you said, and I already conceded that might even be true.

Your apple juice is getting warm."

According to Caesar Zedd, one cannot be strong until one first  learns how always to be calm. Strength and power come from perfect  self-control, and perfect self-control arises only from inner peace. Inner  peace, Zedd teaches, is largely a matter of deep, slow, and rhythmic  breathing combined with a determined focus not on the past, or even  on the present, but on the future.

In his bed, Junior closed his eyes and breathed slowly, deeply. He  focused on thoughts of Victoria Bressler, the nurse who waited anxiously  to please him in the days ahead.