Pam stood at the end of the aisle and took a deep breath.  Only one book, she told herself.  Only one book.

“Excuse me,” a voice said from behind her.

“Oh, sorry,” she apologized, stepping to the side and pushing her hair behind her ear.  “I didn’t mean to create a log jam.”  Pam laughed nervously.

“No worries,” the girl behind her said.  She walked into the aisle and stopped about halfway down, slowly scanning the titles with her finger.

Pam couldn’t help but stare.  The girl was way too cool to be standing in the self-help section.  She had long, thick brown hair with just a few stripes of vibrant blue.  It was pulled half back from her face to reveal tiny star studs that sparkled even in the fluorescent store lighting.  They had to be Swarovski.  Even if they weren’t, the girl had enough energy to put on jewelry, something Pam hadn’t done in years.  

The girl noticed she was staring and looked over at her.  “Hi?”

“Sorry,” Pam apologized again, shaking out of her reverie.  She tucked her hair behind her ear again even though it hadn’t come loose and pulled on the end of her sweatshirt sleeve.  “I didn’t mean to stare.  Just giving myself a pep talk before I plunge into the deep end.”

“The deep end?” asked the girl with a raised eyebrow and a half smile.

“I have a tendency to over-purchase and under-read,” Pam admitted.

“Don’t we all,” agreed the girl before pulling a book from the shelf. Pam could see that it was Austin Kleon’s Keep Going.  The blue cover was burned into Pam’s brain.

“Ooh, I love that one,” she told the girl, quickly walking down the aisle to stand beside her.  “It has a fantastic cover, doesn’t it?”

“I guess,” the girl said with another smile before tucking it under her arm. 

She is very patient this girl, Pam thought to herself.  I know I am acting like a total stalker.

“What are you looking for?” the girl asked while continuing to browse.

“Not sure, really,” Pam admitted.  “I was thinking of Shonda Rhimes Year of Yes.  I think the title would really fit into what I need this year.”

“I’ve heard good things about that one,” the girl said nodding.  Then she reached down to a lower shelf.  “Here it is right here.”  She pulled one out and handed it to Pam.

“Thanks,” Pam said taking it.  The cover did look good.  Nice big, happy looking letters on the front.  “I’m Pam, by the way.”

“Lu,” the girl said turning to look directly at Pam and stop browsing.

“Cool name,” Pam said.  “And I love your hair.  So now.”

“Thanks,” Lu said before tucking a lose strand of hair behind her own ear. “I like your sweatshirt.  The Mandalorianis awesome.”

“Thanks,” Pam said.  “I actually just picked it up before I came here.  I couldn’t resist.  Baby Yoda is just so cool.”

“Totally,” Lu agreed.  “Have you seen that YouTube video with the lullaby?”

“Oh, my gosh, that is hysterical,” Pam said.  “My daughter and I were laughing so hard.”

“Oh, you have kids?” Lu asked as her smile faltered just a little.  

“Uh, yeah, one daughter,” Pam said.

“I’m surprised you aren’t in the parenting aisle then.  I hear that kids can be rough,” Lu said biting her lip.

“Not mine,” Pam said.  “At least, not really.  I mean, we have our bad days, everybody does, but the problem is really just me.”  Pam could not believe she had just admitted that to a total stranger.

“How so?” Lu asked.

Pam hemmed and hawed.  Did she really want to get into it here in the self-help aisle?  Although, that was its purpose.  “I’m a stay-at-home mom with no stay-at-home kids, so… you know… kind of need a new purpose.  Not sure how to find one.”

“I hear you,” Lu said nodding.  “I’m kind of in the same boat… well, a similar boat but headed the opposite direction, I guess.  I just found out I can’t have kids, so I’m trying to find a new purpose too.”

“Oh, gosh, Lu, I’m so sorry,” Pam stammered.  “I didn’t mean to…”

“No worries,” Lu said, dabbing at her eye.  “Just a new land mine I am learning to avoid.”

The two ladies stood in the aisle both unsure how to end the conversation. Pam looked at the books on the shelf to her right.  Lu looked at the opposite shelf.

“Well, I got my one book,” Pam said after a time, waving her book in the air. “That’s my limit.”

“Enjoy it,” Lu said with a smile a tad weaker than before.

“You too,” Pam said, nodding, before heading back down the aisle.  At the end, she stopped to look back.  Lu was standing with her book clutched to her chest, eyes closed, breathing in and out.  Pam felt awful for distressing the poor girl but also at a loss how to help.

She looked down at her book again.  Definitely a good cover.  She started to walk toward the register but stopped at a Star Warsmerchandise table.  She picked up a Mandalorian poster book and flipped through the pages.  It was a fantastic combination of artwork and stills from the show.  She set it down and began to walk away.

I don’t know what I would do with that many pictures,she told herself, but waiting in line to pay, she could not stop thinking about the book.  Just one more book,she decided.

Getting out of line, she headed back towards the merchandise table.  As she approached, she recognized Lu’s blue streak.

“Great minds think alike,” Pam said, though after she said it she cringed a little, hoping she didn’t sound creepy.

“Ha,” Lu said turning around to smile at Pam.  “I guess so.”

“You going to buy it?” Pam asked.

Lu shook her head.  “Nah, I wouldn’t know what to do with that many posters.”

“Want to buy one with me and split it?” Pam asked impulsively.  What has gotten into me?  she thought.

Lu hesitated.  “Would we like… buy it and then…”

“We could get some coffee and break it up right now,” Pam said gesturing to the coffee area of the store.

Lu let out her breath, clearly relieved it wasn’t a joint-custody arrangement. “Sure,” Lu said.  “Why not.”

The two ladies walked up to the register and stood in line.  While they waited, Pam flipped through the pages of the book.  “Oooh, Daisy would love this one,” she said out loud.

“Your daughter?” Lu asked.

“Yes, she is just starting to decorate her room with more than just her own artwork.  Admittedly, she hasn’t seen the show, but she wants to.  I just wanted to watch it first to make sure the content was…”  Pam realized she was rambling, and Lu’s face was falling.  “Sorry, oh geez, I am so sorry.”

“Nope,” said Lu. “No apologizes.  It is just another land mine.  They are everywhere in our family-centered culture.”

Pam fell silent not knowing what to say.  She threw up a quick prayer.  God, give me the words this woman needs to hear.

“I know I am a stranger and everything, but if you want to talk about it,” Pam offered.  Where had that come from?  Really God?Pam thought.

Lu was silent.  Pam worried that she had upset her or finally creeped her out.

“Next,” the cashier called.  Pam rushed up to the register and paid for both books.  When she finished, she stood by the door unsure what to do next. Should she leave?  Go over to the coffee area?

“Here is my half of the money,” Lu said coming over with several bills outstretched in Pam’s direction.

“Do you still want to do that?” Pam asked.  “I realize I probably crossed a line back there.”

Lu didn’t say anything and just fidgeted with the money.

“Unless you do want to talk?” Pam asked again, surprised at her own persistence.

“Maybe?” Lu said with a shrug, holding the money out again.  Pam took the money and motioned with her bag over to the coffee counter.  Lu nodded. Pam started to walk, and Lu fell into step with her.

“What can I get you ladies?” the barista asked.

“Just a bottle of water,” Pam said at the same time as Lu said “Water.” They both looked at each other and smiled.  

“You don’t drink coffee?” Lu asked.

“No, you?”

“No,” Lu said.  “I am already naturally hyper without it.”  Both ladies laughed before paying for their waters and grabbing a table. Pam grabbed a few napkins and gave the table a swipe just to be sure it was clean.  She didn’t want any gook on her posters.  At the same time, Lu carefully started to undo the fasteners in the center of the book and try to pull out the posters without damaging them.

For a few moments Pam and Lu looked over the posters, taking turns picking which ones they wanted.  Lu perked up, and Pam decided not to bring up the delicate topic of children again. Then Lu held up a poster of baby Yoda sleeping in his pod and sniffed.

“I suppose it would be easier talking to you about my feelings than my family,” Lu admitted.

Pam held her breath and threw up another prayer.  Give me the words to say Lord.  You know so much more than I ever could what she needs to hear.

For the next half hour Lu talked and Pam listened.  Lu told her about how her and her husband wanted to have a whole house full of children.  He wanted boys.  She, of course, wanted girls.  They would settle for a mix of both.  Then they started trying.  Months of trying.  Months of waiting.  Her husband, Ben, took it all in stride.  He went to work, came home; they tried again.  She agonized all day, every day.  Finally, after the standard year, they had decided to get tested.  Ben was fine.  Lu was…

“Broken,” Lu told Pam, choking on the word.  

“No,” Pam told her.  “Not broken. Perfect just the way God made you.”

“Broken, just the way God made me,” Lu countered.  “I feel guilty, sad, then guilty again.  Why can’t I do what every other woman can?”

“Lu,” Pam said, scooting her chair closer and reaching out to touch Lu’s shoulder. “I know I shouldn’t say I know how you feel because no one can truly know how you feel, but I can sympathize with the guilt part.  You see, my daughter was born premature at thirty-two weeks.”

“That sounds really early,” Lu said, wiping her nose.

“It is.  Very early. She was in fetal distress and was delivered by emergency c-section.  She was only four pounds, nine ounces.  She had to go to the NICU for two and a half weeks.  Two and a half weeks of my baby not going home with me.  Two and a half weeks of visiting hours and pumping breast milk to be delivered through a tube.  Two and a half weeks of jaundice treatments and breathing monitors.  Then when I brought her home it was six months of isolation for the two of us so that her under-developed lungs did not get an infection that would send her back to the hospital.  Telling all my family that they could not hold her in case they made her sick.”

“Pam,” Lu said.  “I can’t imagine.”

“I tell you this not to take your mind off your problems, but to convince you that I know what you mean by guilt.  I felt like I had let my husband down.  I had let my newborn daughter down.  I had failed.”  Pam took a deep breath.  The feelings, although long resolved, could still feel pretty raw when she drew them up to the surface this way.  “I have a daughter, but she was delivered early.  I have a daughter, but I have never felt a single contraction.  My body couldn’t do what every other woman’s body can do either.  What I want to communicate to you is that God has many methods of making us parents.  My road to motherhood was anything but smooth.  It sounds like your road could be even harder than mine.”

“Maybe,” Lu said sighing.  “Or maybe I don’t get a road to motherhood at all.”

“Lu, you can’t give up.”  Pam took her hands and squeezed them.  “I fully believe that if you really want a child.  If you feel in your heart the desire to be a mother, you will be. Somewhere out there is or will be a child.  A child who only you can mother.  A child that God created especially for you.  This child may come to you through your own body, through a surrogate, by adoption or by foster, but in the end, that child will be your child and you will be their mother.”

“It is just so hard to let go of the dream of having my own child,” Lu said, growing frustrated.

“Yes,” Pam agreed.  “You have to grieve the loss of your dream.”

Pam was silent for a moment.  “Besides, your own child, smownchild.”

Lu looked up surprised.

“I thought for sure all our kids would look just like me,” Pam said with a laugh.  “I have the dominant traits: brown hair, brown eyes.  Yet, my daughter doesn’t look at all like me!  She has blond hair and blue eyes.  I mean, come on!”

Lu couldn’t help but laugh.  Pam laughed too.

“I’m not sure I have helped you,” Pam said.

“No, you did,” Lu assured her.  “It is hard to talk to my family.  This is actually the first time I have admitted that I feel guilty out loud.  I guess I feared if I said I was to blame then everyone else would agree with me.”

“You shouldn’t,” Pam told her.

“I know,” Lu agreed.  “It is just nice to hear someone else say the words.”

“Your husband might surprise you,” Pam said.

“He might,” Lu agreed.  “Now that we have talked, I just might give it a try.  Thanks.”

Pam looked at the Baby Yoda poster, forgotten on the table.  “You take this one,” she said.  “As a reminder to have hope.  Children can come from the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times.”

“Are you saying, I should accept a bounty in the hopes of rescuing an orphan?” Lu said and they both laughed.

Pam and Lu gathered up their belongings, and then Lu leaned in and gave Pam a hug. Both ladies smiled and, without exchanging numbers or information, went home.

When Pam arrived home, she walked over to a small shelf she had hung on the wall. The shelf held up only a few books, covers facing into the room.  Keep Goinglooked out; its cover pristine though a little dusty.  Pam removed the book next to it and placed Year of Yesin its place.

Pam stood back and admired the shelf.  “One of these days I am going to find the time to read you,” she told the books.  Then muttering Keep Going,she turned and headed for the laundry room.

January 24, 2020 15:16

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