A/N – Hey everyone! Thanks for being patient with me.I know it's been a while since I updated this. My apologies for the long wait! I'm working on Chapter 38 now, so hopefully I'll be able to post it in a more timely manner. Also, I apologize for any editing problems, if you find any. I have no beta.
Thirty-Seven – Wednesday's Child
I awaken suddenly from a deep sleep. It's the kind of awakening that makes my heart race and my insides feel fluttery and hollow. For one horrible moment, I can't catch my breath, and I gasp for air, desperate to keep my sense of panic from escalating. I'd been dreaming. In my dream I was giving birth to my child but, for some unknown reason, I was completely alone; no nurses or doctors, no friends, no partner. The scene in my dream was frighteningly believable. I even dreamed of a cramp in my belly so intense that now I'm worried about whether it might have been real. Perhaps that was the catalyst which had pulled me so abruptly from slumber.
It takes me several seconds to remember where I am. I'm still in Dylan's hospital room, and I'd fallen asleep sitting in the chair beside his bed. My neck is stiff. I want to massage it, but an inexplicable reflex makes my hand go to my midsection instead of my neck. A mental inventory of my body tells me that I do have an ache in my stomach, but it's only mild, and I conclude that it's nothing serious. I rub my belly gently and take a few deep, calming breaths.
It's probably late. I should go home and go to bed.
The voice startles me. I'd been absorbed in my own thoughts and I hadn't expected anyone else to be in the room. When I glance up, I see Richard standing beside the bed. He's holding something in his hand, which I recognize as the lined notebook paper Sophie had given me earlier in the day. My brain must still be a little foggy, because instead of greeting Richard, I say, "That's Dylan's letter."
"Are you okay?" Richard asks me.
"I'm fine. I just fell asleep."
"I could see that. You don't look very comfortable. Are you sure you're all right?"
"I'll be okay," I say. "You shouldn't be reading that letter, you know. It's private."
"You read it," Richard says. It isn't a question, but there's no trace of either defensiveness or judgement in his tone.
"Yeah, but Sophie asked me to," I say. "She thought Dylan might not be able to read it for himself, so she asked if I'd read it to him."
"You've been out there to see her?"
"Yeah. A few times."
Richard gazes at me for what feels like a very long time. At last, he says. "Why would you do that?"
"She's alone out there," I say. "Besides, someone had to tell her what happened."
"It's been in the news," Richard says. "We tried to keep the journalists away as long as we could, but once those crash reconstruction experts got involved, it was impossible. They must get newspapers in jail, and I know they're allowed to watch TV."
"It'd be cruel to let her find out that way," I say. "If something happened to Whitney, would you want the news to be how you found out about it?"
"Of course not," Richard says. "What I meant to ask was why you thought that you needed to talk to Sophie."
"Because I didn't think anyone else was going to do it," I say.
To my surprise, Richard looks contrite. "I thought about it."
"Why didn't you go?"
"I didn't trust myself not to say something I'd regret."
"There's been a lot of bad feelings between Sophie and me. I know I should let it go, and I've honestly tried, but with everything that's happened, I just..." Richard turns his attention to Dylan. When he continues speaking, it's in a quiet, unsteady voice. "I just keep asking myself if this would've happened if it hadn't been for her."
I shift my gaze to Dylan too, and notice that he's sleeping. There's no sign of his earlier distress, and I'm glad that he seems to be resting comfortably now.
"You can't blame this on Sophie," I say. "She would never have wanted this."
"I know. Not this." Richard rests his palm tenderly on his son's forehead. The gesture is reminiscent of someone touching the feverish brow of a sick child. "She wouldn't wish for this, but—"
"It's not her fault. It isn't anyone's fault."
"Whitney says the same thing. In my head, I know she's right. The problem is, I can't get my heart to believe what my head says."
"I think I know that feeling."
"It's hard, seeing him like this. Sometimes, I almost convince myself that it's no one's fault, that there's nothing anyone could've done, but then I come back to this place. I see my boy lying here, and I start doubting all over again." Richard sighs and lowers his hand. "I think this is one of the worst experiences any parent could ever have."
At the absence of his father's touch, Dylan stirs and makes a low moaning noise. I wonder if he's about to wake up. Richard must be thinking something similar because he watches his son with a decidedly worried expression. Despite our concern, however, Dylan doesn't show any further indication of waking.
I offer Richard what I hope is an encouraging smile. "I guess he's a sound sleeper like his brother."
"He never used to be," he says. He's still gazing at his son. "When the boys were little, Whitney and I always had to be quiet after they went to bed because the slightest thing would disturb Dylan and he'd wake up crying. Sensitive. That's what Whitney's brother used to say. Sensitive, like it was something to be ashamed of." Richard's face takes on a lost look, and I recognize the same kind of inward-turning aspect that I've seen so many times with Derek. When Richard speaks again, he no longer seems to be addressing me. "My boys didn't grow up perfect, but they turned out to be good men. I'm proud of that."
"They have a good father."
"I've always tried to do my best," Richard says. He's quiet for several seconds and then he turns to me suddenly. "I need to get out of here for a while. Will you take a walk with me?"
"Sure," I say. I get up from my seat and pick up my coat from where I'd draped it over the chair's back. "Where do you want to go?"
"Okay." I lean down to collect my satchel from the floor. As I do this, I notice Richard is still holding the lined paper on which Sophie had written her note. "Richard?"
"What's the matter?"
"Oh," he says, and glances down at the letter as if he'd completely forgotten he had it.
He folds the paper carefully. I watch as he lifts Dylan's right hand, places the letter on the bed beside him, and then very gently lowers his hand again to cover it. "Do you think it's okay there?"
"I'm sure that's exactly where Dylan would want it," I say. I reach out and touch Richard's forearm. "Come on. We should let him rest."
We walk through the corridors of the hospital without saying anything to each other. Outside, the air is cold but not uncomfortably so. It's a clear night and there's no breeze. It's a nice evening for a walk, and I find that I'm glad to be free of the drab, disinfectant-scented building. Richard offers me his arm, like an old-fashioned gentleman, and I readily accept his chivalrous gesture. We continue in silence for several blocks.
When I realize where we're going, I can't help but smile. We've ended up at the same park Derek and I visited several weeks ago. Like last time, the park is deserted. I've never been here at night before, and I find it interesting to discover how well-lighted it is. The little footpaths are relatively free of ice, and the stone benches have been cleared of snow. Richard and I meander our way along the path for a while, but then he leads me in the direction of one of the benches. We settle next to each other. The stone is cold, but I don't mind.
"I like this place," Richard says. "I like to come here when I've got something on my mind."
"Is there something on your mind now?" I ask.
He doesn't answer me right away. He seems to be studying his surroundings, taking in the bare trees, the playground equipment, the lights along the path, and the snow-covered ground. Finally, he says, "Derek came to see his mother and me yesterday."
"Did he come to see you about anything in particular?" I ask, even though I already know Derek must have talked to his parents about something important. No one starts a line of conversation the way Richard has just done unless they want to bring up a serious subject.
"I think you need to talk to him," says Richard. "He's got some big decisions to make, and we told him that he shouldn't do anything without discussing it with you first."
"Thanks," I say. "What's he trying to decide?"
"It'd be best if he tells you about it himself. Most of it, anyway, but I suppose I can tell you about the social worker," Richard says. "Derek said he got a call from someone at the Department of Community Services the other day. Director of Child Protection, I think he said. It was about Sophie's baby, of course."
"I wondered when they'd call."
"You knew they were going to call him?"
"They always call the spouse first," I say.
"Did you know they'll put the baby in foster care if a family member doesn't agree to take care of him?"
"Derek didn't explain it very well," Richard says.
"What did he say?"
"He said that he wasn't going to take any responsibility, and the social workers could do whatever they thought was necessary. He didn't tell them that we might want to look after the baby, or that maybe one of his sisters could do it."
"Is that a possibility?" I ask.
"For Whitney and me to take care of the baby, you mean? We discussed it. There might not be any love lost between us and Sophie, but we decided that we wouldn't be doing it for her. It'd be for our grandchild, and for Dylan." Richard sighs. "I just wish Derek would've talked to us before he told the social worker none of us were interested."
"Do you know the worker's name?"
"No, but Derek would know it," Richard says. "Why?"
"If you and Whitney are really serious about looking after Michael, you can still talk to the worker," I say. "It's definitely not too late."
"Do you think the Community Services people would have a problem with us looking after him?"
"I don't think so. You're both healthy and you've got a good home and a steady income, and you are his grandparents. Anyway, it's not like you're going to be his permanent guardians, right? You'd just be fostering him."
"We never thought about it being a permanent arrangement. It'd just be until..." he lets the sentence hang unfinished for a moment, but eventually he says, "Until things improve."
"I think the best thing to do is to get in touch with the social worker."
"I'll ask Derek for her name and number."
"When you get things sorted out with Community Services, maybe you could go and visit Sophie," I say. "They'll send a worker out to see her, but she'd probably appreciate a chance to talk to you, too. She's really worried about what's going to happen to Michael."
"We'll think about it," Richard says. "Michael. I'll have to try getting used to that."
"Maybe you shouldn't get too comfortable with it yet. She might turn out to be River."
"But, I thought they knew. The letter—"
"They haven't found out for certain. They're both pretty confident it's a boy, though."
"Before Derek and Dylan were born, Whitney and I were sure we were having a boy," he says. "Imagine our surprise."
"At least Sophie knows she's only having one baby."
"How about you?"
The question catches me off guard. "I...I don't know. I hope it's just one. Derek thinks we're having a girl."
"He wants to call her Sunshine," I say.
"Hmm..." says Richard. He falls silent for a moment, apparently lost in thought. After some time, he says. "How do you feel about it?"
"Naming her Sunshine? It isn't something I would've thought of, but Derek told me this story about giving his mother flowers, and...well, it'd take a while to explain."
Richard smiles. "I meant, how do you feel about having a child?"
This is the first time anyone has asked me this question directly. I want to think about my answer but, seemingly without volition, I say, "I'm scared."
"That's natural," Richard says. "We were scared at first, too. I think all new parents are."
"I can't imagine you being scared," I say.
"Whitney was eighteen and I was twenty when we found out we were going to be parents," he says. "We were terrified. It was even worse after the boys were born. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing, and the only people we had around to ask for advice were other young people like us who had no clue what they were doing, either."
"But, you turned out to be good parents," I say.
"We've made our share of mistakes."
"Maybe, but you stand by your kids no matter what, and I can tell they all love you. That's got to mean something."
"Whitney and I both got off to a bad start in life," Richard says. "The way she tells it, I rescued her from her father. She says running away with me was the best thing she ever did. We promised each other that we'd figure out how to be better parents to our children than Whitney's parents were to her."
"What about your parents?"
"I never knew my parents," he says.
"My father was killed at Dieppe, in France, during the war," he tells me. "He and my mother got married just a few months before he went overseas, and she was already expecting by the time he left. Brennie and I were born in June. Our father died in August."
"You and your sister are twins?"
"Yes," he says.
"Don't tell Mitchell and Megan," I say. "They think they're the only boy and girl twins in the family."
"As far back as anyone could remember, there weren't any twins in our family before Brennie and me."
"Your mother must have been surprised."
"Almost as shocked as Whitney and I were when our twins came along, I'll bet," he says.
"What happened to her?"
"Mother, you mean?"
"She was sick," he says. "The same way Derek is, I think, only no one realized it was an illness back then. People thought it was shameful to have a family member who was sick like that, and they thought mentally ill people were crazy or dangerous. There weren't any drugs to treat people or therapy to help them get better. They just locked them in asylums, like prisoners."
"Is that what they did to your mother?"
"I didn't find out what really happened until years later, but my grandfather said that our neighbours across the road started to get worried when they hadn't seen anyone coming and going from our house for two whole days. When they came over to see what was going on, they found Brennie and me crying in the crib and our mother nowhere in sight. Eventually they found her hiding in the closet with her arms over her head, crying even harder than us. The neighbours thought she'd gone insane. They phoned the police."
"Brennie and I went to a foster home. That's how my sister ended up being called Brennie, incidentally. Mother named her Eleanor, but our foster parents didn't like that name, so they decided to call her Brenda. We were too little to talk properly, and all I could manage was Brennie. It just sort of stuck."
"You grew up in care?" I ask, surprised that Richard and I have this in common.
"We didn't grow up there," he says. "We were only there for a couple of years. When our father's parents finally found out where we were, they came to fetch us. We were five when we went to live with Gran and Jem. They raised us."
"I was four when I went to live with my foster family," I say. "Almost five. I went there a few months before my fifth birthday."
"Derek told me that you're adopted."
"Yeah," I say. "My foster parents adopted me."
"Do you know what happened to your birth parents?"
"I'm like you. I never knew my real father," I tell him. "I'm not sure if he was around when I was born. He might not even know I exist."
"I'm sorry," Richard says.
"It's okay," I say. "I don't think about him much. I don't miss someone I never had in my life in the first place."
"What about your mother?"
"Julia," Richard echoes. "That's your mother's name?"
"Julia Reid," I say. "I...always called her Julia. I don't think I ever called her Mommy."
"Do you remember much about her?"
"Not really." I suddenly find that I'm overwhelmed by the emotion this conversation is awakening in me, and I look away from Richard, afraid that if I try to maintain eye contact, I might start to cry. I say, "I have all these images in my mind of her, but that's all. Just random things that don't make a lot of sense."
Richard takes my hand. He says, "Tell me what you remember."
"I remember Julia singing. I don't remember any of the songs, but Julia was always singing," I say. "And I remember she had a green raincoat."
"You remember her raincoat?"
"I told you it wouldn't make sense."
"It's all right," he says. "It doesn't have to make sense."
I start to tell Richard everything I remember about my mother. I tell him about Julia's long ginger hair, and how I liked to run my fingers through it. We had a tiny attic bedroom with blue walls and a slanted ceiling and a bed that Julia and I shared. One of my earliest memories of Julia and me is of the two of us walking home from somewhere. It was raining. I was wearing a pair of yellow rain boots and I jumped in every puddle. Instead of scolding me, Julia jumped in some of the puddles too, the tail of her bright green raincoat billowing out behind her.
All of my recollections of Julia aren't as happy and carefree as our walk in the rain. Once, she left me with the lady downstairs. In retrospect, I realize she probably asked the neighbour to babysit me fairly often, but it's only this particular occasion I actually remember. I don't know how long Julia was gone, but it was well after dark when she came back, and there'd been a man with her. I remember being terrified of him, even though he never spoke to me and barely even looked at me. I'm sure Julia and the man must have talked, but I don't know what it was about. The man left in a car, and then Julia took me upstairs. Later that night, I woke to the sound of my mother crying. I don't know if I asked her why she was crying or even if we said anything at all. The only thing I recall clearly is Julia hugging me so tightly that it hurt.
My most crystalline memory from back then is of the day Julia and I were separated. That was the day my life changed forever. One morning I opened my eyes to find our room full of people in uniforms. Julia wasn't there, but the neighbour from downstairs was. Some lady I didn't know got me out of bed and told me that I had to get dressed and come with her. She let me take my toy rabbit, but even Mopsy had been small comfort in the place I'd been in. I know now that the lady was a social worker and the place she took me was a youth centre but, at the time, all I knew was that a stranger had taken me to a strange place, and that I was lonely and scared and wanted my mother. I don't know how long I was there before my new parents came along. It was probably only days or weeks at most, but at the age of four I had no sense of time.
"That's all I remember," I say, when I finally bring my disjointed story to a close. "Sometimes I wish I didn't have those memories. Maybe things would've been easier if I didn't know my mother abandoned me."
"Do you really think she abandoned you?"
"I've always believed she did," I say. "It was the only explanation that made sense to me. I mean, one day she was there and the next day she was gone. Maybe she couldn't handle the stress of being a mother. Maybe it was just too much for her."
Richard's voice is gentle. "That's what worries you, isn't it?"
"I don't know," I say.
When I think about it, though, I have to acknowledge that Richard is right. It's easy to say that I'd never do what Julia did, that nothing could ever make me walk away from my child, but it's really impossible to predict what a person might do in a situation of extreme stress. I'm not the least bit equipped to be a parent, and the idea that I'm going to be responsible for a child utterly intimidates me. I wonder if Julia was gripped by this same horrible sense of inadequacy, this fear that the burden of raising a child was more than she was capable of handling.
"It sounds like your mother was probably all alone in the world."
"Yeah," I say.
"You know it's not going to be that way for you," Richard says. "You've got Derek and your friends, and you have us. We'll help you however we can."
"You and Whitney?"
"The two of us and our girls," says Richard. "Dylan too, when he gets better."
"But, Whitney doesn't even—"
"I know. You think Whitney doesn't like you," he says. "She likes you well enough. She's just afraid."
"Of what?" I ask. "Me?"
"Not of you," he says. "She's afraid of the future. She doesn't like change and she doesn't deal with stress very well. So much has changed in the past couple of months that she's having a hard time coping with it."
"I think we're all having a hard time coping with it. That's no excuse to treat each other badly."
"I agree," Richard says. "It isn't."
"No one else is treating anyone the way Whitney treats me."
"Are you sure about that?"
Richard's question takes me by surprise. It's rhetorical, naturally. I'm sure he doesn't expect an answer but, even if he did, I'm not sure I could give him one without thinking about it. It occurs to me, this is exactly what Richard intended. Without saying anything about it directly, he's managed to provoke me into considering my own behaviour instead of trying to decode the actions and motives of everyone else. This particular skill of Richard's is one of the many things I appreciate about him. He knows how to lead people into making their own decisions.
"Richard, do you think I'm selfish?"
"We're all selfish sometimes," Richard says. "Why do you want to know what I think?"
Richard smiles. "That's hardly an adequate answer."
"I had all these great plans," I say. "Everything's changed, now. I feel like my whole life is being flipped upside-down, and I don't like it. I...I think I actually resent it, but I feel kind of guilty because I'm worried that I'm being unfair to Derek."
"Why do you think you're being unfair to him?"
"He wants us to be parents, but he also says he wants me to be happy. I'm not sure he can have both, because I don't know if I can be happy as a parent."
"Have you talked to him about this?"
"He tried to start a conversation about it, but..." I let the rest of my sentence fade, ashamed to admit how I'd behaved when Derek said he wanted to talk about our future. "We haven't talked about much of anything, lately."
"I don't think you need my advice, Kenzie," Richard says. "I think you already know what you need to do."