I sigh, leaning against the door frame, watching her in the dim light of the room. The window panes cast shadows across her face, like prison bars...but I can't decide if they are keeping her safe or safely locked away.
I can tell from the color of her cheeks that she has been crying, and the strain in her neck tells me that she is hurting, even in sleep.
My eyes trace the bed, landing on the small bundle that has been secured by an avalanche of pillows and blankets, tucked safely into the center of the queen bed. My daughter's body curls around the tiny thing, protecting him even in sleep.
Her baby boy.
My knuckles turn white as I clench the frame of the door, forcing my breathing to slow. Can I do this? Can I watch her in this much pain and say nothing? Can we survive this?
A gurgle sounds from the room, something between contentment and hunger, but the child goes silent again a moment later.
I close my eyes. I never imagined it would come to this. How could I?
The door slams shut, shaking the small apartment. I come around the corner from the kitchen, watching wearily as Ella dumps her backpack and jacket unceremoniously onto the floor.
She stops mid-turn, her body slowly angling towards me, her face still hidden in her hair until it isn't. The pain and anguish that I see there is enough to make me catch my breath.
"El?" I whisper, throwing the dish towel onto the counter and quickly walking to her side. I brace her shoulders with my hands, forcing her to look at me as she tries again to turn away. "What's happened? What's wrong?"
She shakes her head, and I can see this will end in a fight. But I can't let it go, not with that look in her eyes. Her cheeks are blotchy, her bottom lip bleeding from worrying at it.
"It's nothing," she whispers.
"Tell me," I demand, leading her into the light of the kitchen and sitting her down on the bench. She collapses like she has no strength left in her. My mind is whirling. Illness. Death. A car crash. A break-up. A bad grade. I talk myself down from the dramatic and try to keep my mind focused.
She looks up at me then, and her composure breaks, her entire being crumpling into my arms. "I couldn't do it," she whispers savagely through the choking tears. "He hates me, but I couldn't do it."
I exhale. "Do what, hon?"
She shakes her head, letting out a sob.
"Please," I whisper, tightening my grip. "Let me help."
Silence but for her sobs consumes the kitchen while she clutches to my arms, tighter and tighter as the minute's pass.
"At the clinic. The abortion," she finally says. "I couldn't do it."
A single mother who, apparently, didn't teach her hard-earned lessons well enough to her daughter. It was me - I failed her. She could have gotten into anything else and I would have been able to help. Drugs, jail, debt, a bad crowd... but pregnant. Even in that moment, I hadn't known how much it would hurt. To watch your child live our your past. The shame. The isolation. The pain. The fact that I knew it all too well only alienated her from me. Because while she lived my story, her ending was different from mine. I got to keep my child. She had to give hers away.
"You don't have a say in this! It's my decision. I signed the papers. It's done. It's over."
I paced the kitchen, the heat of my anger surprising me at her stupidity! At her ability to make such a decision without consulting me first.
"Ella, you will never see him again. It's a closed adoption, do you understand what that means? His whole life, all of it, you will be barred from ever knowing anything about him."
"I don't want to know anything about him. He has destroyed my life. Jake won't even look at me, let alone speak to me. Did you know- he made his mom come to the school to drop the papers off to me." Her look was cold enough to kill, and without another word, she stomped down the hall and slammed her door shut. To shut me out. To shut the pain out.
It was going to get so much worse, and she had no idea.
The baby lets out another half-hearted cry, and I watch Ella stir. She will wake up and fall apart again.
I dare myself into the room, memories haunting me as I approach the bed and slowly, softly, pick him up. He is incredibly small. Incredibly precious. He stops his noises at my touch, and I think I might break- but I force my composure.
This one night is what she had asked the agent for. One night at home. The agency would come by in the morning to pick him up. They had been so afraid she was changing her mind. That they would have to tell the couple adopting him that he was no longer going to be theirs.
I walk over to the window, the cramped room too small to allow for a chair, and stare out at the city lights.
The birth had been messy and exhausting and long. But everything had seemed to go so fast, and then suddenly he was here and she was crying and I didn't know how to tell her it was going to be okay.
Because I can't say that it will be.
We make choices, all of us, and we pay with our own pain and tears for the outcome.
I take a deep breath and then stare down at him. His perfect cheeks, the paleness of his skin, the smallness of his fingernails, the way his nose is scrunched up. Grandmother, but not. Our child, but not. I'll never see him again, and neither will she. But maybe we can share the pain and loss together. Maybe she will come to understand that it doesn't just destroy her, giving him up.
Maybe we will heal and move on and become close like we used to be before all this. Maybe he will have a big house with a swing set in the backyard. Maybe they will name him something foreign and exciting, and his hair will fall across his face in a shy sort of way. Maybe they will tell him that there is someone out there who loved him but gave him away so that he could have it all.
I turn and place him back within the folds of his handmade fortress of blankets. She is the fiery dragon, fierce and willing, and he the delicate prince, destined to disappear with the rising sun.
I lean over and pull the blanket up to Ella's chin, watching her stir and then settle again. I don't dare kiss her, even though I want to. I don't dare touch her more than a small trace of my hand over her hair before I turn and leave the room. I close the door behind me and let out a heavy breath.
Maybe we will be okay.
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So touching and evocative. I loved this one. Nothing else can do justice to it. Just marvelous. I look forward to reading more of your work.