Garrett: Figured you might want to know—we aren’t taking the kid in.
Hazel: What do you mean? Why not?
Garrett: Your mom decided to go with adoption.
No . . .
I read those words repeatedly, as if with enough willpower I could change them.
I rushed to Big Paw’s house, where he and Holly were drinking their morning cups of coffee and fighting over a crossword puzzle.
“Hey, um, I—there’s—my mom—” My gosh. I couldn’t push any words out of my mouth without them coming up jumbled and messy.
“Slow down, honey. What is it?” Holly asked.
“My mom had the baby, but it’s in the NICU. The hospital is three hours away, and I need to g-get there.” My fingernails dug into the palms of my hands. “And I think I’m too shaky to go by myself.”
Big Paw stood from the table and grumbled a little as he picked up his trucker hat and placed it on his head. “All right, let’s go.”
Holly stood up and moved to the refrigerator. “I’ll pack you some snacks, and we’ll get going.” She pulled out a few pieces of fruit and some breakfast sandwiches she’d meal-prepped the other day. Then she walked over to me and gave me a big grin. “Don’t worry, Hazel. Everything is going to be okay.”
“How do you know that? How can you say that everything will be okay? She’s in the NICU. I don’t know a lot about the NICU, but I know that means it’s not good. And . . . if Mama’s not able to be there with her . . . she’s all alone. She’s there alone, and that breaks my heart.”
“Yes. I know how that can all be a lot, but for the time being, I’m sure she has a lot of doctors caring for her. I’m sure there are nurses looking at her, monitoring her every movement. She’s not alone, and soon enough her sister will be there too. So everything will be all right. You have to have faith.”
I didn’t say anything else to Holly, because believing in her faith was hard when I hadn’t grown up in a world where faith really existed.
We drove in silence, with nothing but sports radio on. Every now and again Big Paw would mutter something to the talk show hosts as if they could hear his complaints about bad baseball plays the night before.
Holly sat in the front seat, knitting something she’d been working on for a while, and I sat quiet in the back, picking at my nails. Ian had texted me a few times, but I hadn’t found the strength to reply yet. My mind was too busy overthinking.
How could Mama think putting my sister up for adoption was the right answer? I knew my current life situation wasn’t perfect, but I couldn’t imagine knowing that I had a sister out there who wasn’t a part of my life. I needed to fight to keep her in my life somehow.
When we arrived at the hospital, by the grace of God, we were allowed to see my little sister. She hadn’t a name yet and was hooked up to a million and one machines. Tiny tubes ran into her body, and her small breaths wavered in and out as her chest moved up and down.
“She’s a fighter,” a nurse told us as we stood close by. “She’s been through some things, but she’s fighting like heck to come back and be strong.”
“She’s so small,” I whispered, staring at the newborn. She was beautiful. Even with all of the tubes and the distracting noise of the machines, I knew she was so beautiful.
I wondered if she started out with hazel eyes too. I wondered if she knew she wasn’t alone anymore.
“Nurse, is it all right if we step outside and have a talk?” Big Paw asked, his voice heavy and deep.
The two stepped out of the room, leaving Holly standing with me. She placed her hands on my shoulders, feeling the trembling of my body.
“She can’t be put up for adoption,” I told her. “She can’t. She’s the only thing I have left . . . she’s the only family connection I have, Holly. I’ve lost so much, and I can’t lose her too. I can’t lose my sister.”
“Shh . . . sweetheart. It’s going to be okay.”
I wished she’d stop saying that, because it was looking so far from being okay. Everything was a complete mess, and I didn’t see how any of these issues could’ve been cleared up with positive thinking.
We sat down in the room with the baby while Big Paw was off talking to the nurse. I couldn’t stop shaking as Holly kept her arms wrapped around my body. My phone dinged a few more times as we waited.
Ian: Everything okay?
Ian: It’s not like you to ghost.
I read his words over and over again before getting to my feet. “I’ll be right back, Holly.”
“Take your time, sweetheart. And tell him I love him,” she commented, knowing I was off to call Ian.
I found a stairwell and stood there with the cell phone in my hand. I tapped in Ian’s number, and a calmness settled over me when I heard his voice.
“Hey, Haze. What’s up?”
“The baby came, and she’s in the NICU. She’s not doing too well, but the nurses seem hopeful she’ll get a fighting chance at making a recovery,” Hazel said, her voice low and controlled.
“Are you okay?”
I could tell from the sound of her voice that she wasn’t. It all made sense that she’d gone radio silent that morning, because her world was taking a turn. She had a baby sister now who was busy fighting for her life.