There simply wasn’t enough grace to survive saying good-bye. Claire O’Reilly knotted her hands on her lap as the plane lifted off, leaving her heart, her stomach, even her resolve, behind her on the St. Louis tarmac.
She couldn’t do this. She wasn’t finished being Deidre’s mother.
Claire leaned her head on the seat rest, drew in a long breath.
Three-plus hours to reconsider the decision she’d already made.
Three hours to let the regrets gnaw at her. Three hours until she had to live with her decision for the rest of her life.
How did they expect her to let go, to never know the woman her daughter would become?
“Why are you going to Portland?”
The woman next to her, a blonde dressed in a business suit, had pulled out a notepad from the seat pocket and was lowering thetray to work. She looked about thirty, old enough to have children,but not yet so old that she’d have to watch them make the decisionsthat would scar the rest of their lives.
“I’m going to Portland . . .” To say good-bye. She’d already made the decision. Why could she not push the words out? “To see my daughter.”
“How old is she?”
Eighteen and just finding herself, just breaking free of the chaos years. Just becoming the woman Claire knew she could be.
No, she couldn’t talk about this. “Do you have children?”
The woman flipped the pages of her notepad. “Yes, four. All in grade school.”
Claire smiled. “I remember those days. When you wonder if anything you say to them will take.”
“Oh, I hear you. I keep thinking that if I do the hard work now, I’ll reap the rewards when they become adults.”
Claire kept her smile, but the words found tender soil. She’d never see those rewards, would she?
She would never hold her daughter’s precious babies, never smell their skin, never delight at their lopsided smiles. She’d neversee them grow to become teenagers, maybe a replica of her daughter,smartand beautiful and strong.
This wasn’t the ending she had planned.
Claire looked out the tiny window, watching the earth slip away, turn into precise boxed squares of farmland. If only peoplecould have this vision, the order of it all, before they decided tofall in love, to run away from home, to throw away their futures.Why was it that Deidre thought only until her next pocket of fun instead of looking ahead to the ending God would give her?
What had Claire done wrong to make her child so reckless?
“How many children do you have?” the woman asked.
“Three,” Claire said. But she’d have to get used to a different answer, wouldn’t she? Two. A boy and a girl.
She’d have to forget her oldest child, the one who had broken her heart, the one she hardly recognized last time she saw her.
“Your daughter is very brave,” a man named Frank Harrison had told her while she paced outside Deidre’s hospital room.
Brave.Bravery was three broken ribs, a collapsed lung, her daughter’s beautiful face turned purple and grotesque. Claire probablywouldn’thaverecognizedDeidreanyway,with the short,midnightblackhair,her wan face, bones protruding from the form under the sheets.Once upon a time, Deidre plowed through college brochures, fielded calls from volleyball coaches.
Then she met Blake Hayes.
Claire swallowed the acid pooling in her throat as they announced the beverage service over the speaker system. Her seat-mate began to write on her notepad.
Claire closed her eyes. Oh, God, I can’t do this. I don’t know how I’m going to do this.
No, not nearly enough grace to say good-bye.