Susan Tate never saw it coming. She only knew that her daughter was different. The girl who had always been spontaneous and open had suddenly grown opaque.
Lily was seventeen. Maybe that said it. A senior in high school, she had a loaded course schedule, played field hockey and volleyball, and sang in an a cappella group. And, yes, Susan was spoiled by the close relationship she and Lily had always had. They were a family of two, fully comfortable with that and each other.
Inevitably, Lily had to test her wings. Susan knew that. But she also had a right to worry. Lily was the love of her life, the very best thing that had happened in all of her thirty- five years. As achievements in life went, being a good mother was the one she most prized.
That meant communicating, and with dinner too often interrupted by e-mail or texts, eating out was warranted. At a restaurant Susan would have Lily captive while they waited to order, waited for food, waited to pay --- all quality time.
She suggested the Steak Place, definitely a splurge, but lined with quiet oak booths. Lily vetoed it in favor of Carlino’s.
Carlino’s wasn’t even Susan’s second choice. Oh, she liked the owners, the menu, and the art, all of which were authentically Tuscan. But the prices were so reasonable for large plates of food that the whole town went there. Susan wanted privacy and quiet; Carlino’s was public and loud.
But she wanted to please Lily, so she gave in and, determined to be a good sport, smilingly hustled her daughter out of the November chill into a hive of warmth and sound. When they finally finished greeting friends and were seated, they shared hummus on toasted crostini, and though Lily only nibbled, she insisted it was good. More friends stopped by, and, in fairness, it wasn’t only Lily’s fault. As principal of the high school, Susan was well known in town. Another time, she would have enjoyed seeing everyone.
But she was on a mission this night. As soon as she was alone with Lily again, she leaned forward and quietly talked about her day at school. With next year’s budget due by Thanksgiving and town resources stagnant, there were hard decisions to be made. Most staff issues were too sensitive to be shared with her seventeen- year- old daughter, but when it came to new course offerings and technology, the girl was a worthy sounding board.
Susan’s motive actually went deeper, to the very heart of mothering. She believed that sharing adult issues encouraged Lily to think. She also believed that her daughter was insightful, and this night was no exception. Momentarily focused, Lily asked good questions.
No sooner had their entrées come, though --- chicken with cannellini beans for Lily, salmon with artichokes for Susan --- than a pair of Susan’s teachers interrupted to say hello. As soon as they left, Susan asked Lily about the AP chem test she’d had that morning. Though Lily replied volubly, her answers were heavy on irrelevant facts, and her brightness seemed forced. She picked at her food, eating little.
More worried than ever, Susan searched her daughter’s face. It was heart shaped, as sweet as always, and was framed by long, shiny sable hair. The hair was a gift from her father, while her eyes --- Susan’s eyes --- were hazel and clear, her skin creamy and smooth.
She didn’t look sick, Susan decided. Vulnerable, perhaps. Maybe haunted. But not sick.
Even when Lily crinkled her nose and complained about the restaurant’s heavy garlic smell, Susan didn’t guess. She was too busy assuring herself that those clear eyes ruled out drug use, and as for alcohol, she had never seen bottles, empty or otherwise, in Lily’s room. She didn’t actively search, as in checking behind clutter on the highest shelves. But when she returned clean laundry to drawers or hung jeans in the closet, she saw nothing amiss.
Alcohol wouldn’t be a lure. Susan drank wine with friends, but rarely stocked up, so it wasn’t like Lily had a bar to draw from. Same with prescription drugs, though Susan knew how easy it was for kids to get them online. Rarely did a month go by without a student apprehended for that.
Susan blinked. “Yes, sweetheart?”
“Look who’s distracted. What are you thinking about?”
“You. Are you feeling all right?”
There was a flash of annoyance. “You keep asking me that.”
“Because I worry,” Susan said and, reaching across, laced her fingers through Lily’s. “You haven’t been the same since summer. So here I am, loving you to bits, and because you won’t say anything, I’m left to wonder whether it’s just being seventeen and needing your own space. Do I crowd you?”
Lily sputtered. “No. You’re the best mom that way.”
“Is it school? You’re stressed.”
“Yes,” the girl said, but her tone implied there was more, and her fingers held Susan’s tightly.
“I’m okay with those.”
“Then calculus.” The calc teacher was the toughest in the math department, and Susan had worried Lily would be intimidated. But what choice was there? Raymond Dunbar was thirty years Susan’s senior and had vocally opposed her ascension to the principalship. If she asked him to ease up, he would accuse her of favoritism.
But Lily said, “Mr. Dunbar isn’t so bad.”
Susan jiggled Lily’s fingers. “If I were to pinpoint it, I’d say the change came this past summer. I’ve been racking my brain, but from everything you told me, you loved your job. I know, I know, you were at the beach, but watching ten kids under the age of eight is hard, and summer families can be the worst.”
Lily scooped back her hair. “I love kids. Besides, I was with Mary Kate, Abby, and Jess.” The girls were her three best friends, and the daughters of Susan’s best friends. All three girls were responsible. Abby occasionally lacked direction, like her mom, Pam, and Jessica had a touch of the rebel, though her mother, Sunny, did not. But Mary Kate was as steady as her mom, Kate, who was like a sister to Susan. With Mary Kate along, Lily couldn’t go wrong.
Not that Lily wasn’t steady herself, but Susan knew about peer pressure. If she had learned one thing as a teacher it was that the key to a child’s success lay in no small part with the friends she kept.
“And nothing’s up with them?” she asked.
Lily grew guarded. “Has Kate said anything?”
Susan gentled. “Nothing negative. She always asks about you, though. You’re her sixth child.”
“But has she said anything about Mary Kate? Is she worried about her like you’re worried about me?”
Susan thought for a minute, then answered honestly. “She’s more sad than worried. Mary Kate is her youngest. Kate feels like she’s growing away from her, too. But Mary Kate isn’t my concern. You are.” A burst of laughter came from several tables down. Annoyed by the intrusion, Susan shot the group a glance. When she turned back, Lily’s eyes held a frightened look.
Susan had seen that look a lot lately. It terrified her.
Desperate now, she held Lily’s hand even tighter and, in a low, frantic voice, said, “What is wrong? I’m supposed to know what girls your age are feeling and thinking, but lately with you, I just don’t. There are so many times when your mind is somewhere else --- somewhere you won’t allow me to be. Maybe that’s the way it should be at your age,” she acknowledged, “and it wouldn’t bother me if you were happy, but you don’t seem happy. You seem preoccupied. You seem afraid.”
Susan gasped. Freeing her hand, she sat straighter. She waited for a teasing smile, but there was none. And of course not. Lily wouldn’t joke about something like this.
Her thoughts raced. “But --- but that’s impossible. I mean, it’s not physically impossible, but it wouldn’t happen.” When Lily said nothing, Susan pressed a hand to her chest and whispered, “Would it?”
“I am,” Lily whispered back.
“What makes you think it?”
“Six home tests, all positive.”
“Not late. Missed. Three times.”
“Three? Omigod, why didn’t you tell me?” Susan cried, thinking of all the other things a missed period could mean. Being pregnant didn’t make sense, not with Lily. But the child didn’t lie. If she said she was pregnant, she believed it herself --- not that it was true. “Home tests can be totally misleading.”
“Nausea, tiredness, bloating?”
“I don’t see bloating,” Susan said defensively, because if her daughter was three months pregnant, she would have seen it.
“When was the last time you saw me naked?”
“In the hot tub at the spa,” she replied without missing a beat.
“That was in June, Mom.”
Susan did miss a beat then, but only one. “It must be something else. You don’t even have a boyfriend.” She caught her breath. “Do you?” Had she really missed something? “Who is he?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Doesn’t matter? Lily, if you are --- ” She couldn’t say the word aloud. The idea that her daughter was sexually active was totally new. Sure, she knew the statistics. How could she not, given her job? But this was her daughter, her daughter. They had agreed --- Lily had promised --- she would tell Susan if she wanted birth control. It was a conversation they’d had too many times to count. “Who is he?” she asked again.
Lily remained silent.
“But if he’s involved --- ”
“I’m not telling him.”
“Did he force you?”
“No,” Lily replied. Her eyes were steady not with fear, now, but something Susan couldn’t quite name. “It was the other way around,” she said. “I seduced him.”
Susan sat back. If she didn’t know better, she might have said Lily looked excited. And suddenly nothing about the discussion was right --- not the subject, not that look, certainly not the place. Setting her napkin beside the plate, she gestured for the server. The son of a local family, and once a student of Susan’s, he hurried over.
“You haven’t finished, Ms. Tate. Is something wrong?”
Something wrong? “No, uh, just time.”
“Should I box this up?”
“No, Aidan. If you could just bring the bill.”
He had barely left when Lily leaned forward. “I knew you’d be upset. That’s why I haven’t told you.”
“How long were you planning to wait?”
“Just a little longer --- maybe ’til the end of my first trimester.”
“Lily, I’m your mother.”
“But this is my baby,” the girl said softly, “so I get to make the decisions, and I wasn’t ready to tell you, not even tonight, which is why I chose this place. But even here, it’s like you can see inside me.”
Susan was beyond hurt. Getting pregnant was everything she had taught Lily not to do. She sat back, let out a breath. “I can’t grasp this. Are you sure?” Lily’s body didn’t look different, but what could be seen when she wore the same layered tops that her friends did, and the days when Susan bathed her each night were long gone. “Three missed periods?” she whispered. “Then this happened ...?”
“Eleven weeks ago.”
Susan was beside herself. “When did you do the tests?”
“As soon as I missed my first period.”
And not a word spoken? It was definitely a statement, but of what? Defiance? Independence? Stupidity? Lily might be gentle, often vulnerable --- but she also had a stubborn streak. When she started something, she rarely backed down. Properly channeled, that was a positive thing, like when she set out to win top prize at the science fair, which she did, but only after three false starts. Or when she set out to sing in the girls a cappella group, didn’t make the cut as a freshman and worked her tail off that year and the next as the group’s manager, until she finally landed a spot.
But this was different. Stubbornness was not a reason for silence when it came to pregnancy, certainly not when the prospective mother was seventeen.
Unable to order her thoughts, Susan grasped at loose threads. “Do the others know?” It went without saying that she meant Mary Kate, Abby, and Jess.
“Yes, but no moms.”
“And none of the girls told me?” More hurt there. “But I see them all the time!”
“I swore them to silence.”
“Does your dad know?”
Lily looked appalled. “I would never tell him before I told you.”
“Well, that’s something.”
“I love babies, Mom,” the girl said, excited again.
“And that makes this okay?” Susan asked hysterically, but stopped when the server returned. Glancing at the bill, she put down what might have been an appropriate amount, then pushed her chair back. The air in the room was suddenly too warm, the smells too pungent even for someone who wasn’t pregnant. As she walked to the door with Lily behind, she imagined that every eye in the room watched. It was a flash from her own past, followed by the echo of her mother’s words. You’ve shamed us, Susan.What were you thinking?
Times had changed. Single mothers were commonplace now.
The issue for Susan wasn’t shame, but the dreams she had for her daughter. Dreams couldn’t hold up against a baby. A baby changed everything.
The car offered privacy but little comfort, shutting Susan and Lily in too small a space with a huge chasm between them. Fighting panic as the minutes passed without a retraction, Susan fumbled for her keys and started the engine.
Carlino’s was in the center of town. Heading out, she passed the bookstore, the drugstore, two Realtors, and a bank. Passing Perry & Cass took longer. Even in the fifteen years Susan had lived in Zaganack, the store had expanded. It occupied three blocks now, two- story buildings with signature crimson- and- cream awnings, and that didn’t count the mail- order department and online call center two streets back, the manufacturing complex a mile down the road, or the shipping department farther out in the country.
Zaganack was Perry & Cass. Fully three- fourths of the townsfolk worked for the retail icon. The rest provided services for those who did, as well as for the tens of thousands of visitors who came each year to shop.
But Perry & Cass wasn’t what had drawn Susan here when she’d been looking for a place to raise her child. Having come from the Great Plains, she had wanted something coastal and green. Zaganack overlooked Maine’s Casco Bay, and, with its hemlocks and pines, was green year- round. Its shore was a breathtaking tumble of sea- bound granite; its harbor, home port to a handful of local fishermen, was quaint. With a population that ebbed and flowed, swelling from 18,000 to 28,000 in summer, the town was small enough to be a community, yet large enough to allow for heterogeneity.
Besides, Susan loved the name Zaganack. A derivative of the Penobscot tongue, it was loosely interpreted to mean “people from the place of eternal spring,” and though local lore cited Native Americans’ reference to the relatively mild weather of coastal towns, Susan took a broader view. Spring meant new beginnings. She had found one in Zaganack.
And now this? History repeating itself ?
Unable to think, she drove in silence. Leaving the main road, she passed the grand brick homes of Perrys and Casses, followed by the elegant, if smaller, ones of the families’ younger generations. The homes of locals fanned out from there, Colonials yielding to Victorians and, in turn, to homes that were simpler in design and built closer together.
Susan lived in one of the latter. It was a small frame house with six rooms equally spaced over two floors and an open attic on the third. By night, with its tiny front yard and ribbon of driveway, it looked like the rest. By day, painted a cerulean blue, with sea green shutters and an attic gable trimmed in teal, it stood out.
Color was Susan’s thing. Growing up, she had loved reds, though her mother said they clashed with her freckles. Dark green would be better, Ellen Tate advised. Or brown. But Susan’s hair was the color of dark sand, so she still adored the pepper of red, orange, and pink.
Then came Lily, and Susan’s mother latched onto those colors. You have a fuchsia heart, she charged despairingly when she learned of the pregnancy, and though Susan discarded most else of what her mother had said, those words survived. Loath to attract attention, she had worn black through much of those nine months, then a lighter but still- bland beige after Lily was born. Even when she started to teach, neutrals served her well, offsetting the freckles that made her look too young.
But a fuchsia heart doesn’t die. It simply bides its time, taking a backseat to pragmatism while leaking helpless drops of color here and there. Hence teal gables, turquoise earrings, and chartreuse or saffron scarves. In the yarns she dyed as a hobby, the colors were even wilder.
Turning into her driveway, Susan parked and climbed from the car. Once up the side steps, she let herself into the kitchen. In the soft light coming from under the cherry cabinets for which she had painstaking saved for three years and had largely installed herself, she looked back at Lily.
The girl was Susan’s height, if slimmer and more fragile, but she stood her ground, hands tucked in her jacket pockets. Pregnant?
Susan still didn’t believe it was true. Yes, there was picky eating, moodiness, and the morning muzzies, all out of character and new in the last few months, but other ailments had similar symptoms. Like mono.
“It may be just a matter of taking antibiotics,” she said sensibly.
Lily looked baffled. “Antibiotics?”
“If you have mono --- ”
“Mom, I’m pregnant. Six tests, all positive.”
“Maybe you read them wrong.”
“Mary Kate saw two of them and agreed.”
“Mary Kate is no expert, either.” Susan felt a stab. “How many times have I seen Mary Kate since then? Thirty? Sixty?”
“Don’t be mad at Mary Kate. It wasn’t her place to tell you.”
“I am mad at Mary Kate. I’m closer to her than I am to the others, and this is your health, Lily. What if something else is going on with your body? Shouldn’t Mary Kate be concerned about that?”
Lily pushed her fingers through her hair. “This is beyond bizarre. All this time I’ve been afraid to tell you because I didn’t know how you’d react, but I never thought you wouldn’t believe me.”
Susan didn’t want to argue. There was one way to find out for sure. “Whatever it is, we’ll deal. I’ll call Dr. Brant first thing tomorrow. She’ll squeeze you in.”
Never a good sleeper, Susan spent the night running through all of the reasons why her daughter couldn’t be pregnant. Most had to do with being responsible, because if Susan had taught Lily one thing, it was that.
Lily was responsible when it came to school. She studied hard and got good grades. She was responsible when it came to her friends, loyal to a fault. Hadn’t she gone out on a limb to campaign for Abby, who had set her heart on being senior class president? When the girl lost the election, Lily had slept at her house for three straight nights.
Lily was responsible when it came to the car, rarely missing a curfew, leaving the gas tank empty, or being late when she had to pick up Susan.
Hardworking. Loyal. Dependable. Responsible. And ...pregnant? Susan might have bought into it if Lily had a steady boyfriend. Accidents happened.
But there was no boyfriend, and no reason at all to believe that Lily would sleep with someone she barely knew. Was sweet Lily Tate --- who wore little makeup, slept in flannel pajamas, and layered camis over camis to keep her tiny cleavage from view --- even capable of seduction?
Susan thought not. It had to be something else, but the possibilities were frightening. By two in the morning, her imagination was so out of control that she gave up trying to sleep and, crossing the hall, quietly opened Lily’s door. In the faint glow of a butterfly night-light, Lily was a blip under the quilt, only the top of her head showing, dark hair splayed on the pillow. Her jeans and sweaters were on the cushioned chair, her Sherpa boots --- one standing, one not --- on the floor nearby. Her dresser was strewn with hairbrushes and clips, beaded bracelets, a sock she was knitting. Her cell phone lay on the nightstand, along with several books and a half- full bottle of water.
In the faintest whisper, Susan called her name, but there was no response, no movement in this still life. Girl with Butterfly Nightlight she might have named it. Girl. So young. So vulnerable.
Heart catching, she carefully backed out, crept down the hall to the attic door, and quietly climbed the stairs. There, at an oak table in the small arc of a craft lamp, she turned to a fresh page of her notebook, opened a tin of pastels, and made her first bold stroke. A fuchsia heart? Definitely. If anything could distract her, it was this. She made another stroke, smudged the ends, added yellow to soften a green, then navy to deepen a red.
Typically, she produced her best work when she was stressed --- pure sublimation --- and this night was no exception. By the time she was done, she had five pages, each with a unique swath of anywhere from two to five hues, undulating from shade to shade. These would be the spring colorways for PC yarns. She even named them: March Madness, Vernal Tide, Spring Eclipse, Robin At Dawn, and, natur ally, Creation.
The last was particularly vibrant. Violent? No, she decided. Well, maybe. But wasn’t creation an explosive thing? Didn’t creation have profound consequences? And what if Lily wasn’t growing a child but something darker?
Susan returned to bed, but each time she dozed, she woke up to new fears. By five in the morning, when she finally despaired of sleep and got up, she was convinced that her daughter had a uterine cyst that had been overlooked long enough to jeopardize her chances of ever having a baby. Either that or it was a tumor. Uterine cancer, warranting a hysterectomy, perhaps chemotherapy. Terrifying. No child, ever?
Keeping her fears to herself, she got Lily up as usual, dropped her at Mary Kate’s, and went on to school. The girls would follow later, but this morning, Susan had two early parent meetings, both difficult, before she appeared on the front steps to greet students. It wasn’t until eight- thirty that she finally reached the doctor’s office.
The only appointment she could get for Lily was in the late afternoon, which gave Susan the rest of the day to worry. That meant she answered e-mail with half a heart, was distracted during a teacher observation, and what little work she put into next year’s budget, which was due to the superintendent by Thanksgiving, was a waste.
She could only think of one thing, and any way she looked at it, it wasn’t good.
The doctor confirmed it. Lily was definitely pregnant. Learning that her daughter didn’t have a fatal disease, Susan was actually relieved --- but only briefly. The reality of being pregnant at seventeen was something she knew all too well.
Susan had become pregnant in high school herself. Richard McKay was the son of her parents’ best friends. That summer, when he was fresh out of college with a journalism degree and a job offer for fall that he couldn’t refuse, something sparked between them. Pure lust, her father decided. And the chemistry was certainly right. But Susan and Rick had spent too many hours that summer only talking for it to be just sex. They saw eye to eye on so many things, not the least being their desire to leave Oklahoma, that when Rick dutifully offered to marry Susan, she flat- out refused.
She never regretted her decision. To this day, she recalled the look of palpable relief on his face when she had firmly shaken her head. He had dreams; she admired them. Had there been times when she missed having him there? Sure. But she couldn’t compete with the excitement of his career, and refused to tie him down.
His success reinforced her conviction. Starting out, he had been the assistant to the assistant producer of a national news show. Currently, he was the star, following stories to the ends of the earth as one of the show’s leading commentators. He had never married, had never had other children. Only after he became the face in front of the camera rather than the one behind was he able to send money for Lily’s support, but his check arrived every month now without fail. He never missed a birthday, and had been known to surprise Lily by showing up for a field hockey tournament. He kept in close touch with her by phone, a good, if physically absent, father.
Rick had always trusted Susan. Rather than micromanage from afar, he left the day- to- day parenting to her. Now, under her watchful gaze, Lily was pregnant.
Stunned, Susan listened quietly while Lily answered the doctor’s questions. Yes, she wanted the baby, and yes, she understood what that meant. No, she hadn’t discussed it with her mother, because she would do this on her own if she had to. No, she did not want the father involved. No, she did not drink. Yes, she knew not to eat swordfish.
She had questions of her own --- like whether she would be able to finish out the field hockey season (yes), whether winter volleyball was possible (maybe), and whether she could take Tylenol for a headache (only as directed) --- and she sounded so like the mature, responsible, intelligent child Susan had raised that, if Susan hadn’t been numb, she might have laughed.
Silent still when they left the doctor’s office, she handed Lily the keys to the car. “I need to walk home.” Lily protested, but she insisted, “You go on. I need the air.”
It was true, though she did little productive thinking as she walked through the November chill. No longer numb, she was boiling mad. She knew it was wrong --- definitely not the way a mother should feel and everything she had resented in her own mother --- but how to get a grip?
The cold air helped. She was a little calmer as she neared the house. Then she saw Lily. The girl was sitting on the front steps, a knitted scarf wound around her neck, her quilted jacket --- very Perry & Cass --- pulled tight round her. When Susan approached, she sat straighter and said in a timid voice, “Don’t be angry.”
But Susan was. Furious, she stuck her hands in her pockets.
Susan took a deep breath. She looked off, past neighborhood houses, all the way on down the street until the cordon of old maples seemed to merge. “This isn’t what I wanted for you,” she finally managed to say.
“But I love children. I was born to have children.”
Looking back, Susan pressed her aching heart. “I couldn’t agree with you more. My problem’s with the timing. You’re seventeen. You’re a senior in high school --- and expecting a baby at the end of May, right before exams? Do you have any idea what being nine months pregnant is like? How are you going to study?”
“I’ll already have been accepted into college.”
“Well, that’s another thing. How can you go to college? Dorm rooms don’t have room for cribs.”
“I’m going to Percy State.”
“Oh, honey, you can do better.”
“You went there, and look where you are.”
“I had to go there. But times have changed. Getting a job is hard enough now, even with a degree from a top school.”
“Exactly. So it won’t matter. Anything is doable, Mom. Haven’t you taught me that?”
“Sure. I just never thought it would apply to a baby.”
Lily’s eyes lit up. “But there is a baby,” she cried, sounding so like a buoyant child that Susan could have wept. Lily didn’t have a clue what being a mother entailed. Spending the summer as a mother’s helper was a picnic compared to the day- in, day- out demands of motherhood.
“Oh, sweetheart,” she said and, suddenly exhausted, sank down on the steps. “Forget doable. What about sensible? What about responsible? We’ve talked about birth control. You could have used it.”
“You’re missing the point, Mom,” Lily said, moving close to hug Susan’s arm. “I want this baby. I know I can be a good mother --- even better than the moms we worked for this summer, and I have the best role model in you. You always said being a mother was wonderful. You said you loved me from the start. You said I was the best thing that ever happened to you.”
Susan wasn’t mollified. “I also said that being a single mom was hard and that I never wanted you to have to struggle the way I did. So --- So think beyond college. You say you want to be a biologist, but that means grad school. If you want a good research position ---”
“I want a baby.”
“A baby isn’t only for the summer, and it doesn’t stay a baby for long. He or she walks and talks and becomes a real person. And what about the father then?”
“I told you. He doesn’t know.”
“He has a right to.”
“Why? He had no say in this.”
“And that’s fair, Lily?” Susan asked. “What if the baby looks exactly like him? Don’t you think people will talk?”
A hint of stubbornness crossed Lily’s face. “I don’t care if people talk.”
“Maybe the father will. What if he comes up to you and asks why this child who was born nine months after the time you had sex has his hair and eyes? And what happens when your child wants to know about his father? You were asking by the time you were two. Some kids do still have daddies, y’know. So now it’s your turn to be the mommy. What’ll you say?”
Lily frowned. “I’ll go there when I have to. Mom, you’re making this harder than it needs to be. Right now, the baby’s father does not have to know.”
“But it’s his baby, too,” Susan argued. Desperate for someone to blame, she sorted through the possibilities. “Is it Evan?”
“I’m not telling who it is.”
Susan wondered if Lily was stonewalling for a reason. “Was he the one who wanted the baby?”
Lily pulled her arm free. “Mom,” she cried, hazel eyes flashing, “listen to me! He doesn’t know. We never talked about a baby. He thought I was on the pill. I did this. Me.”
Which, of course, was one of the things Susan found so hard to swallow. It was like a slap in the face, a repudiation of everything she had tried to teach her daughter.
Desperate to understand, she said, “Are you sure it wasn’t an accident? I mean, it’s okay if it was. Accidents happen.” Lily shook her head. “You just decided you wanted a baby.”
“I’ve always wanted a baby.”
“A sibling,” Susan said, because when she was little, Lily had begged for one.
“Now I’m old enough to have my own, and I know you might not have chosen to be pregnant seventeen years ago, but I did. It’s my body, my life.”
Susan had raised Lily to be independent and strong, but cavalier? No. Especially not when there were realities to face. “Who’ll pay the medical bills?”
“We have insurance.”
“With premiums to which I contribute every month,” Susan pointed out, “so the answer is me. I’ll pay the medical bills. What about diapers? And formula?”
“Which is wonderful if it works, but sometimes it doesn’t, in which case you’ll need formula. And what about solid food and clothes. And equipment. They won’t let you leave the hospital without an approved car seat, and do you know what a good stroller costs? No, I don’t still have your old one, because I sold it years ago to buy you a bike. And what about day care while you’re finishing school? I’d love to stay home with the baby myself, but one of us has to work.”
“Dad will help,” Lily said in a small voice.
Yes. Rick would. But was Susan looking forward to asking? Absolutely not.
Lily’s eyes filled with tears. “I really want this baby.”
“You can have a baby, but there’s a better time!” Susan cried.
“I am not having an abortion.”
“No one’s suggesting one.”
“I already heard my baby’s heartbeat. You should have listened to it, Mom. It was amazing.”
Susan was having trouble accepting that her daughter was pregnant, much less that there was an actual baby alive inside.
“It has legs and elbows. It has ears, and this week it’s developing vocal cords. I know all this, Mom. I’m doing my homework.”
“Then I take it,” Susan said in a voice she couldn’t control, “that you read how pregnant teens are at greater risk for complications.” It was partly her mother’s voice. The rest was that of the failed educator whose crusade had been keeping young girls from doing what she had done. The educator had failed on her own doorstep.
“I stopped on the way home for the vitamins,” Lily said meekly. “Do you think the baby’s okay?”
As annoyed as she was --- as disappointed as she was --- a frightened Lily could always reach her. “Yes, it’s okay,” she said. “I was just making a point.”
That easily reassured, Lily smiled. “Think I’ll have a girl like you did?” She didn’t seem to need an answer, which was good, since Susan didn’t have one. “If it’s a girl, she’s already forming ovaries. And she’s this big.” She spread her thumb and forefinger several inches apart. “My baby can think. Its brain can give signals to its limbs to move. If I could put my finger exactly where it is, it would react to my touch. It’s a real human being. There is no way I could have an abortion.”
“Please, Lily. Have I asked you to get one?”
“No, but maybe when you start thinking about it, you will.”
“Did I abort you?”
“No, but you’re angry.”
Susan shot a pleading glance at the near- naked tops of the trees. “Oh, Lily, I’m so many things besides angry that I can’t begin to explain. We’re at a good place now, but it hasn’t come easy. I’ve had to work twice as hard as most mothers. You, of all people, should know that.”
“Because I’m a good daughter? Does my being pregnant make me a bad one?”
“No, sweetheart. No.” It had nothing to do with good and bad. Susan had argued this with her own mother.
“But you’re disappointed.”
Try heartbroken. “Lily, you’re seventeen.”
“But this is a baby,” Lily pleaded.
“You are a baby,” Susan cried.
Lily drew herself up and said quietly, “No, Mom. I’m not.”
Susan was actually thinking the same thing. No, Lily wasn’t a baby. She would never be a baby again.
The thought brought a sense of loss --- loss of childhood? Of innocence? Had her own mother felt that? Susan had no way of knowing. Even in the best of times, they hadn’t talked, certainly not the way Susan and Lily did.
“Don’t be like Grandma,” Lily begged, sensing her thoughts.
“I have never been like Grandma.”
“I would die if you disowned me.”
“I would never do that.”
Turning to face her, Lily grabbed her hand and held it to her throat. “I need you with me, Mom,” she said fiercely, then softened. “This is our family, and we’re making it bigger. You wanted that, too, I know you did. If things had been different, you’d have had five kids like Kate.”
“Not five. Three.”
“Three, then. But see?” she coaxed. “A baby isn’t a bad thing.”
No. Not a bad thing, Susan knew. A baby was never bad. Just life changing.
“This is your grandchild,” Lily tried.
“ Um-hm,” Susan hummed. “I’ll be a grandmother at thirty- six. That is embarrassing.”
“I think it’s great.”
“That’s because you’re seventeen and starry-eyed --- which is good, sweetheart, because if you aren’t smiling now, you’ll be in trouble down the road. You’ll be alone, Lily. In the past, we’ve had two other pregnant seniors and one pregnant junior. None of them wanted to go to college. Your friends will go to college. They want careers. They won’t be able to relate to being pregnant.”
Lily’s eyes widened with excitement. “But see, Mom, that’s not true. That’s the beauty of this.”
Susan made a face. “What does that mean?”
“Cute,” Kate Mello told her youngest and proceeded to pour dry macaroni into a pot of boiling water. “Lissie?” she yelled upstairs to her second youngest, “when are you going? I need that milk.” She stirred the macaroni and said more to herself than to Mary Kate, who stood beside her at the stove, “Why is it that I’m always out of milk lately?”
“I’m serious, Mom. I’m pregnant.”
Holding the lid in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other, Kate simply touched her forehead to Mary Kate’s and smiled. “We agreed that you had the flu.”
“It’s not going away.”
“Then it’s lactose intolerance,” Kate said, setting the lid on the pot. “You’re the one who’s drinking me out of milk. Lissie? Soon, please?”
“I’m drinking milk,” said Mary Kate, “because that’s what pregnant women do.”
“You are not a pregnant woman,” Kate informed her daughter and reached for her wallet when Lissie appeared. There wasn’t much in it; money disappeared even faster than milk. She found a twenty among the singles and handed it over. “A gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, and two loaves of multigrain bread, please.”
“Alex hates multigrain,” Lissie reminded her as she pulled on her jacket.
Kate put the car keys in her hand. “Alex is twenty- one. If he hates what I buy, he can get his own apartment and buy what he likes. Oh, and if there’s money left over, will you get some apples?” As Lissie left, she handed Mary Kate a stack of plates. “Eight tonight. Mike is bringing a friend.”
“I conceived eight weeks ago,” Mary Kate said, taking the plates.
Kate studied her daughter. She was pale, but she was always pale. Same with looking frail. The poor thing had the delicate features of an unnamed forebear, but her hair was all Kate --- sandy and thick, wild in a way that the child never was. Kate tacked hers up with bamboo knitting needles. Mary Kate tied hers in a ponytail that exploded behind her, making her face look even smaller.
“You’re not pregnant, honey,” Kate assured her. “You’re only seventeen, you’re on the pill, and Jacob wants to be a doctor. That’s a lot of years before you two can even get married.”
“I know,” Mary Kate said with a spurt of enthusiasm, “but by then I’ll be older and getting pregnant will be harder. Now’s the time for me to have a baby.”
Kate felt the girl’s forehead. “No fever. You can’t be delirious.”
“Mom --- ”
“Mom, did Lissie leave?” This from Kate’s third daughter, who, not seeing her twin, snatched a cell phone from the clutter on the kitchen table.
“That’s mine, Sara,” Kate protested. “I’m low on minutes.”
“This isn’t a social call, Mom. I need tampons.”
“I don’t,” Mary Kate said in a small voice, but with Sara calling Lissie and Mike choosing that minute to duck in and ask if he could have two friends for dinner, Kate barely heard her.
“It’s only mac ’n’ cheese,” she cautioned him.
“Only?” her twenty-year-old son echoed. “You said it was lobster mac ’n’ cheese.”
“Is that why they’re coming?”
“Definitely. Your lobster mac is famous. The guys hit me up every Wednesday morning for an invitation.”
“And if your uncle decides to pull his traps on Friday?”
“They’ll switch to Friday. So two is okay?”
“Two’s okay,” Kate said and remarked to Mary Kate when Mike and Sara were both gone, “Lucky the catch is up and the price is down.”
“I’m trying to tell you something, Mom. This is important. I stopped taking the pill.”
Hearing that, Kate turned. Her daughter looked serious. “Are you and Jacob cooling it?”
“No. I just decided I wanted a baby. Did you know that a woman is more fertile right after she goes off the pill? I haven’t even told Jacob yet. I wanted you to be the first to know.”
Something about her serious look gave Kate pause. “Mary Kate? You’re not joking?”
“I keep doing tests, and they’re all positive.”
“For how long?”
“A while. I mean, I would have told you sooner, only I wanted to make sure. But I’m really on top of this, Mom. I bought books, and I’m getting more info online. They have a support group for teens, but I don’t really need that. I already have a support group.”
Kate frowned. “Who?”
“Well --- Well, for starters, my family. I mean, we normally have seven for dinner. Tonight it was eight, and now nine. What’s one more?”
Kate would have sent Mary Kate to the back porch for another folding chair, because that was what one more meant in their cramped dining room, if she hadn’t been struggling to process what
the girl had said. “Is this true?”
“Yes. Anyway, you love kids. Didn’t you have five in five years?”
“Not by design,” Kate said weakly. “They just started to come and didn’t stop.” Not until Will had had a vasectomy, though that wasn’t something they often discussed with the kids. They would have discussed abstinence, if they believed there was a chance the kids would listen. More realistically, they talked up responsibility. “But wait, back up, I was twenty-one when I had my first child, and I was married.”
Mary Kate didn’t seem to hear. “So now this is the next generation. I like being the first one of us to have kids. I’m always last in everything else.”
“The decision to have a child should involve both parents,” Kate said. “You need to ask Jacob before you do anything rash.”
“Oh, Jacob is just so serious sometimes. He would have said no, and he’d have given lots of reasons that made sense, but sometimes you have to just go with your gut. Remember Disney World five years ago? You piled Dad and us in the car and drove us to Florida in the middle of winter, and we didn’t have hotel reservations or anything, but your gut told you the trip would be good.”
“That was a trip, Mary Kate. This is a baby. A baby is for life.”
“But I’ll be a good mother,” Mary Kate insisted. “Last summer was such an eye-opener --- seeing what those moms did? Like, no patience with their kids, wanting to pawn them off on us while they sat way off at the other end of the beach. I’ll never do that with my baby. If it’s a boy, it’ll be a little Jacob. That would be awesome.”
Kate was speechless. The quietest of her five, the most passive and deferential, Mary Kate was rarely this effusive. And what had she just said? “A little Jacob?”
Mary Kate nodded. “I won’t know the sex for a little while, and I know it could be a girl…” Her voice trailed off.
Bewildered, Kate looked around. The kitchen was small. The whole house was small. “Where would we keep a baby?”
“In my room. Co-sleeping is big right now. By the time my baby outgrows that, Alex will probably be out of the house and maybe Mike, too, so there’ll be more room. And then once Jacob graduates from medical school ---”
“Jacob hasn’t graduated from high school,” Kate yelped, struck again by the absurdity of the discussion. “Mary Kate, are you telling me the truth?”
“About being pregnant?” The girl quieted. “I wouldn’t lie about something like that.”
No, she wouldn’t. She was an honest girl, a bright girl, perhaps the most gifted of Kate’s five kids, and she had a future. She was planning to marry a doctor and be a college professor herself.
“I mean,” Mary Kate went on, speaking faster now, clearly sensing her mother’s horror, “you always said ‘the more the merrier,’ that a noisy home makes you happy, that you’d have had more children if we’d been richer.”
“Right, but we’re not,” Kate stated bluntly. “Your father and I barely finished paying off our own college loans in time for your brothers to start college, and now with the twins there and you next year --- but you won’t be going to college if you have a baby, will you? How can you be an English professor without a college degree --- without a graduate degree?”
“I’ll get one. It just may take a little longer.”
Kate couldn’t believe what her smart daughter was saying. “May just take a little longer?”
“And in the meantime I’ll have Jacob’s baby.”
“Where? How? Jacob’s dad drives a PC truck, and his mom teaches first grade. They’re as strapped as we are. If Jacob loves you like he says, he’s going to want to be with you and the baby, but his parents can’t support the three of you.”
“I’d never ask them to,” Mary Kate said. “Besides, I don’t want to marry Jacob yet. I want to stay here.”
“So we can support you and the baby?”
“Fine,” the girl said. “Then I’ll move out.”
Kate grabbed her daughter’s shoulders. “You will not move out, Mary Kate. That isn’t an option.”
“Neither is abortion.”
“I agree, but there are other choices.”
“Like adoption? I’m not giving my baby to someone else.” She plucked at her sweater. “See this? It was Sara’s, and these jeans were Lissie’s, but this baby is mine.” The hand on her middle was pale but protective.
Yes, Kate acknowledged. Mary Kate often got clothes from the twins --- okay, usually got clothes from the twins --- but didn’t large families do that? She was a hand-me-down child in everything but love. Kate had always thought that would make it okay. “Your sisters outgrew those things,” she argued. “They were good clothes.”
“That’s not the point, Mom. This baby’s mine.”
“Just like you and your brothers and sisters are mine,” said Kate. “When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a vet. I love animals. But I loved your father more, and then you kids came along really fast, and I loved you all so much that I wanted to be a full- time mom, which was lucky, because there was so much to do for the five of you that our house was chaotic even without my having an outside job. And by the time you all were in school, we didn’t have the money for me to train to be a vet. Do you think I work just for kicks?”
Mary Kate was subdued. “You love your work.”
“Yes, but I couldn’t do it if it didn’t pay. We need every extra cent.”
“My baby won’t cost much,” the girl said meekly.
Kate took her daughter’s shoulders again, holding on to a dream that was fading fast. “It isn’t the money,” she pleaded softly. “I want things to be easier for you when you have kids. I want your children to have rooms of their own. I don’t want you to have to choose between music lessons or ballet because you can’t pay for both.”
The door opened and Kate looked up, fully expecting it to be Lissie. But it was Will. Will, who had worked his way from the PC shipping dock to foreman of the department, losing hair and gaining girth, but remaining Kate’s rock.
She always felt a weight lift from her shoulders when Will came home, but her relief had never been greater than it was now. “Here’s your dad. Will, we have something to discuss.”
Five blocks away, Sunny Barros was nowhere near as relieved when her husband came home from work.
"She's what?" Dan asked her.
Their daughter stood nearby, but he was looking at Sunny, who was absolutely beside herself.
“Who’s the boy?”
“You don’t know him, Dad.”
Dan looked at his wife. “Who is he?”
Sunny shook her head and pressed her mouth shut. It was either or scream.
“Mom’s angry,” Jessica said calmly. “I’ve been telling her that it’s fine. People have been having babies since Adam and Eve. She’s convinced it’s the end of the world.”
“Excuse me, Jessica,” Sunny cried, but stopped when her ten-year-old daughter skipped into the room. “Darcy.” She pointed upstairs. “Violin practice. Ten more minutes.”
The child looked wounded. “I’m just saying hi to Daddy. Hi, Dad.”
Sunny pointed again, waiting only until the child left before eyeing Jessica. “Tell him what else you told me.” She looked at Dan. “Jessica planned this.”
“Planned to get pregnant?”
“Decided she wanted a baby,” Sunny specified. If the girl had gone looking for the one thing that would dismantle the tidy life Sunny had so carefully crafted, she had found it.
“Is this true, Jessica?” Dan asked.
Jessica eyed him levelly. A tall girl with long brown hair and Dan’s verbal skill, she spoke with confidence. “Bringing a child into the world is the most important thing a person can do. I want to leave my mark.”
“Age doesn’t matter. It’s what’s inside. I’ll be the best mom ever.”
“At seventeen,” Dan repeated. Looking at Sunny, he scratched his head. “Where did this come from?”
Sunny didn’t answer. Folding her arms against the coming storm, she waited. Dan was smart, well beyond the contracts he negotiated for Perry & Cass. He saw cause and effect, and was eminently predictable. Sunny had always loved that about him, but it was about to work against her.
To his credit, he considered other options first. Looking at Jessica again, he said, “Is it school pressure? Fear of college?”
Jessica smiled smugly. “My grades are great. That’s one of the reasons I knew I could do this.”
She had her father’s brains --- tenth in her class without much effort --- but this had nothing to do with grades, or apparently with brains, Sunny decided. “Do you have any idea ---” she began, but stopped when Darcy whipped back in.
“My lamp just blew out. It needs a new bulb.”
“I’ll replace it in a minute,” Sunny said and turned her around. “Until then, use the overhead light.”
“I don’t like the overhead light.”
“Use it,” Sunny ordered and turned back to the others. “And there’s another problem. What do we tell Darcy so that she doesn’t do this herself in seven more years? This is the worst kind of example to set.”
Dan held up a hand and returned to Jessica. “You talked about going to Georgetown.”
“Percy State will do.”
“Will do?” He lowered his voice. “Is it Adam?”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“Jessica!” Sunny shouted.
Dan lifted his hand for quiet. “You are dating Adam, are you not?”
“I have been, but he isn’t the love of my life.”
“He has to marry you if he’s the father of this baby,” Sunny argued.
“I haven’t said he’s the father,” the girl insisted. “Anyway, the donation of sperm doesn’t make a man a father. Involvement does, and the father of this baby won’t be involved. I’m raising it myself.”
“Raising it yourself ?” Dan asked. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe not to you and Mom. When everything in your world is as neat as this kitchen --- ”
“What’s wrong with this kitchen?” Sunny asked in alarm. Their kitchen --- their house --- was larger than many in town, reflecting Dan’s position as head of the PC legal department and Sunny’s as manager of Home Goods. She had decorated every inch of the place herself and took pride in seasonal additions from the store, like the handblown glass bowl of pine cones on the table. Their kitchen reflected everything they had worked so hard to achieve. She hadn’t expected an attack on this front.
“Nothing’s wrong with the kitchen, Mom,” Jessica replied serenely. “That’s the problem. Nothing is out of place. Nothing clashes. Our lives are very, very organized.” She looked at Dan, who looked at Sunny.
“Where is she getting this?” he asked, sounding mystified.
“Not from me,” Sunny vowed, but she knew what was coming.
“From your mother?”
It was the only possible explanation. Sunny didn’t have to study Jessica’s cell tab to know that she talked with her grandmother often. The girl made no secret of it. She and Delilah had always gotten along, and no warning from Sunny could change that.
Delilah Maranthe was the embodiment of all Sunny had tried to escape. Her parents had been the eccentrics of the neighborhood, bent on doing their own thing. Born Stan and Donna, they went to court to become Samson and Delilah. They bought a house in suburbia and, under the guise of returning the property to its natural state, refused to mow the lawn. Ever. They spent weeks before Halloween baking cookies and rigging up elaborate electronics, though the local children were forbidden to visit. To Sunny’s utter mortification, they appeared at her high school graduation dressed as graduates from the century before.
To this day they remained odd, and though some people found a benign charm in their behavior, Sunny did not. Had her parents ever been benign --- had they had an ounce of caring or foresight --- they wouldn’t have saddled their children with silly names. What kind of mother named her child Sunshine? Sunny would have gone to court to change it herself if she hadn’t been adamant against following in a single one of her parents’ footsteps. And Buttercup? That was her older sister, who had simply shrugged it off and gone through life as Jane.
Sunny had been more vulnerable, suffering the taunts of schoolmates, and though no one in Zaganack knew her as Sunshine, the fear of discovery haunted her. She had raised Jessica and her sister to be Normal with a capital N.
Now Jessica was pregnant, saying that sperm didn’t make a man a father and that their lives were too ordinary --- and Dan was looking at Sunny like it was her fault. But how could she control Delilah Maranthe? “It’s not enough that I had to escape my mother when I was a child, but now she’s corrupted my daughter!”
“This has nothing to do with Delilah,” Jessica insisted, which irritated Sunny all the more.
“See, Dan? Not Grandma. Delilah.” She turned on her daughter. “A grandmother shouldn’t be called by her first name. Why can’t you call her Grandma?”
“Because she forbids me to. She just isn’t a grandma.”
“There’s our problem,” Sunny told Dan.
“Why are you always so down on her?” Jessica argued. “Delilah happens to be one of the most exciting people I know. Face it, Mom.
We are totally predictable.”
“I have a job other people would die for,” Sunny reasoned. “We follow every rule to the letter.” “I’m respected in this town.” Jessica raised her voice. “I want to stand
out!”“Well,you’ve done it now. What are people going to think?” “They’ll think it’s fine, Mom, because it isn’t just me. It’s Lily and Mary Kate, too.”
Sunny gasped. “What?”
Excerpted from NOT MY DAUGHTER © Copyright 2011 by Barbara Delinsky. Reprinted with permission by Anchor. All rights reserved.
Not My Daughter