Prologue from ONE FINE DAY
Five years earlier
My first impulse is to run. To jump up from the leather chair in a room that smells faintly of disinfectant and take off. I have no idea where I’d go. Anywhere has to be better than this office in the physicians’ wing of Springfield’s Arborview hospital.
I remain seated. Unlike my dad, I’m not a runner. I face the difficult stuff with my head held high. Whether it’s a father walking out the door or a doctor telling me the baby I felt move for the first time only yesterday, might be—would likely be—born with severe abnormalities.
Jonah and Veronica are seated to my right. The child I’m carrying is theirs. This is the baby they tried to have for years. Out of money and nearly out of hope, they came to me, their good friend.
“A meningocele is rare, but if it’s that type of spina bifada, especially located in the lower spine, well, that would be best case scenario.”
Rare. Which would mean we hit the jackpot as far as birth defects go.
I didn’t feel particularly lucky about our odds right now. From the looks on Veronica and Jonah’s faces, they weren’t ready to head out and buy a lottery ticket, either.
“What’s the more likely scenario?” Jonah spoke quietly, his voice deep with only the slightest hint of a quiver.
This tall, broad-shouldered man with wavy blond hair and kind blue eyes has been my best friend for as far back as I can remember. Of course, once he married, Veronica became his bestie.
She’s blonde, too, but instead of hair the color of sun-ripened wheat, hers is a silvery shade that looks like it came straight from a bottle. I think it’s natural. At least, I’ve never seen dark roots. But then, the advertising exec always looks picture perfect.
The silence lengthens until it begins to pulsate off the moss green walls. The air grows heavy. I force myself to breathe. In and out. In and out.
Veronica and Jonah’s fingers remain tightly intertwined.
I grip the highly polished wood arms of the chair.
“Depending on severity, the child may have very little feeling, if any, in her legs and arms. She may not be able to move those parts of—”
“She’ll be paralyzed.” The color drains from Veronica’s face, leaving it ghostly white.
“That’s a possibility.” The doctor answers in an easy manner but the twitch by his left eye tells me he doesn’t like being interrupted.
“What else?” Veronica demands in a tone I’m sure she never uses with her advertising clients.
“Let the doctor say—” Jonah pauses when his wife jerks her hand from his.
Veronica’s chest rises and falls as if she’s coming to the end of a long and difficult race. “I want the truth, not pie-in-the sky hopes.”
“Mrs. Rollins.” Even as the doctor began, the tilt to Veronica’s jaw tells me the man doesn’t stand a chance.
The emotion rising inside me settles in my throat. I say nothing. I’m not sure I could force out any words, even if I had something important to say.
My hand rests on the belly that had begun to swell low in my abdomen. The gesture is meant to reassure the tiny one growing inside me that I won’t let anyone hurt her.
“My cousin Tiffany’s doctor told her that her baby’s head was smaller than normal, but said everything would likely be okay. Well, it wasn’t okay. That baby was horribly malformed and never left the hospital. I was with her when he died.” Veronica blinks rapidly. “Forgive me if I’m not interested in best case scenarios.”
“What other problems do these children usually have?” Jonah clears his throat. “Other than, ah, other than paralysis.”
“Bowel and bladder problems. Hydrocephalus, which is fluid build-up in the brain. Even when treated with a shunt, it may cause seizures.” The doctor pauses. This time it’s his turn to clear his throat. “As well as learning or vision problems.”
“Well.” Veronica huffs out the word then turns and skewers me with her pale blue eyes. “It seems the baby you’re carrying will be paralyzed and unable to control her bowels and bladder. If that isn’t enough she could have seizures, be blind and mentally retarded. Oh, and let’s not forget the clubfoot. That’s a definite.”
“Yes. The baby has a clubfoot.” The doctor pauses, then turns silent.
“How are you feeling about all this, Abs?” Jonah shifts his gaze to me, his eyes dark with concern.
I saw the foot on the ultrasound, once the doctor pointed it out. The spine defect wasn’t as clear. I’d also seen her heart, beating strong and fast.
I loosen my death grip on the chair. “It isn’t the best news, but it seems there’s room for hope.”
“Hope?” Veronica screeches the word and lunges up from her seat. She might have gone for me but Jonah places a hand on her arm and pulls her back down.
“Haven’t you been listening?” She’s yelling and crying at the same time. “My baby is a freak, destined for a life of pain and suffering.”
“We don’t know that. You heard the doctor. Not for sure.” I clamp my mouth shut before I remind Veronica that no part of this baby is genetically hers. Jonah’s sperm and an egg donor formed this child. I agreed to let it nest inside me, to nourish and protect it while it grew.
“What I know, is I can’t take any more. The miscarriages, the failed adoption and now this. It’s too much.” Veronica clasps her hands together in an obvious attempt to still their trembling.
My heart aches for Veronica. She’s endured so much in her quest to become a mother. Before I can reach over and give her arm a comforting squeeze, her gaze returns to the doctor.
“How soon can you schedule an abortion?” Veronica’s tone might sound matter-o-fact but the strain edging her mouth and the fact that her knuckles are now as white as her face, give her away. “I’d like this done and over with as soon as possible.”
“Vee. We should take time to think about this.” Jonah’s low tone, obviously intended to soothe, has the opposite effect.
Like a rabid wolf, Veronica bares her teeth. “What is there to think about?”
The question is greeted by frozen silence.
The doctor opens his mouth then closes it.
Jonah expels a heavy breath. “Today’s news isn’t what any of us were hoping to hear.”
The abject misery on his face reminds me of how he looked the day his beloved dog, Ranger, died.
“I’m sorry, Jonah. I was wrong to snap at you.” Veronica’s eyes fill with tears once again but she blinks them back before they can fall. “When the AFP test came back high last week, we knew spina bifada was a concern. We agreed that quality of life is important. It’s obvious this child’s prognosis is grim.”
Butterfly wings flutter low in my belly.
After several erratic heartbeats, I find my voice. “There will be no abortion.”
Caught off guard, Veronica turns to me, her eyes wide.
Jonah regards me thoughtfully, his expression inscrutable.
“Perhaps you’d all like to take some time to think about this.” The doctor’s gaze slides to Jonah. “Right now, we’re at sixteen weeks’ gestation. There is still time. Not a lot, but still time to consider.”
I lift my chin. “I will not terminate this pregnancy.”
“You don’t have a vote.” Veronica appears more puzzled than angry by my vehement assertion. “It’s in the contract you signed.”
“I don’t think there’s a court in the state of Illinois that would order a woman to have an abortion she doesn’t want.” Veronica isn’t the only one who did her research. Once the test for genetic anomalies came back with the AFP elevated, I did some digging of my own. I like being prepared.
Veronica’s nostrils flare. Though her face remains bone white; two high red blotches now color her cheeks. “If you refuse, you’ll be in breach of the contract. The payments will stop. Is that what you want?”
None of this is what I want. But I learned long ago we don’t always get what we want.
Before Veronica can say more, Jonah wraps an arm around her shoulders and murmurs something in her ear. Whatever he says has her sagging against him.
I look at Jonah, hoping for…well, for what I wasn’t sure. Perhaps, confirmation that I’m not in this alone. Maybe a sign that he’ll be there for me as he was when that bully in fourth grade knocked me to the ground.
Can’t he see I’m on the ground and bleeding?
When we began this journey, he promised the three of us would be in this together, all the way through. But instead of reaching out and pulling me into the fold, he consoles his now sobbing wife.
As his gentle hand strokes her hair, his gaze meets mine. I see sorrow and regret in the blue depths.
My heart sinks. Without any words being said, I understand.
This time, I’m on my own.