“I like it,” I said.
I stared down at the baby’s face, her little nose, the tiny nails on her tiny fingers, and suddenly it all came back to me: getting here, the walk across the lobby, how scared I’d been remembering everything about being with my dad. I could feel it rushing over me and I wanted to block it out, but I steeled myself, tightening my fingers into my palms. Avery’s eyes were open now, and they were dark and clear. As she looked at me, I wondered what it was like for the world to be so new, everything a first. Today I hadn’t had that luxury: each thing that happened since the moment we pulled up was an echo of something else.
Now I watched Delia study her daughter, smiling and slightly teary, and I had a flash of my own mother, all those months ago, walking out of the waiting room downstairs toward me. More than anything I’d wanted to see something in her expression that gave me hope, but there was nothing. Just the same overwhelming sadness and shock, reflected back at me. That had been when this all began, the shift between us, everything changing.
I felt something ache in my chest, and suddenly I knew I was going to cry. For me, for my mother. For what we’d had taken from us, but also for what we’d given up willingly. So much of a life. And so much of each other.
I swallowed, hard, then backed away from the bed. “I, um,” I said, and I could feel Wes watching me, “I need to go try my mom again.”
“Tell her I couldn’t have done it without you,” Delia said. “You were a real pro.”
I nodded, barely hearing this, as Delia bent her head back over the baby, smoothing the blanket around her head.
“Macy,” Wes said as I moved past him, out into the hallway.
“It’s just,” I said, swallowing again. “I . . . need to talk to my mom. I mean, she’s worried probably, and she’s wondering where I am.”
“Okay,” he said. “Sure.”
Suddenly I just missed my mother—who once stared at the ocean, who laughed huge belly laughs—so much it was like a pain, something throbbing. I gulped down some air. “So I’ll just do that,” I said to Wes. “Call my mom. And I’ll be back.”
He nodded. “All right.”
I crossed my arms over my chest as I started toward the elevators, walking quickly, struggling to stay calm, even as tears began to sting my eyes. I could feel my heart beating as I ducked around the next corner to an empty alcove. I barely made it before I was sobbing, hands pressed to my face as the tears just flowed, tumbling over my fingers.
I don’t know how long I was there before Wes came. It could have been seconds, or minutes, or hours. He said my name and I wanted to collect myself, but I just couldn’t.
When he first put his arms around me, it was tentative, like maybe he expected I’d pull away. When I didn’t, he moved in closer, his hands smoothing over my shoulders, and in my mind I saw myself retreating a million times when people tried to do this same thing: my sister or my mother, pulling back and into myself, tucking everything out of sight, where only I knew where to find it. This time, though, I gave in. I let Wes pull me against him, pressing my head against his chest, where I could feel his heart beating, steady and true. I felt someone pass by, looking at us, but to them I was just another person crying in a hospital. I couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to finally understand. Delia was right: it was fine, okay, expected. This was what you were supposed to do. And it happened all the time.
We caught the last of the fireworks, the biggest and best, as we walked to the Wish van in the hospital parking deck. As they burst overhead, Wes and Bert and I all stopped to look up at them, the whiz and pop as they shot upwards, and the trailing, winding sparks that fell afterwards. Avery was lucky, I thought. She’d always have a party on her birthday.
After everything that had happened, I’d thought that maybe things would be weird between Wes and me when I finally emerged from the ladies room, having splashed my face with cold water in an attempt to compose myself somehow. But as usual, he surprised me, walking me back to Delia’s room to say our good-byes as if nothing really out of the ordinary had happened. And maybe it hadn’t.
When we turned into Wildflower Ridge, he pulled up at the far edge of the Commons, a decent distance from the picnic and fireworks area, as if he knew I’d need a little bit of a walk to get my head together and prepare myself for the next challenge. In the backseat, Bert was asleep, snoring with his mouth open. Before I opened my door and hopped out, I eased my purse from under his elbow, careful not to wake him.
Wes got out too, stretching his arms over his head as he came to meet me in front of the van. Looking more closely, I could see the party was breaking up, people gathering their blankets and strollers and dogs, chatting with each other as they rounded up the children who weren’t already sleeping in arms or over shoulders.
“So,” Wes said, “what are you doing tomorrow?”
I smiled, shaking my head. “No idea. You?”
“Not much. Got a few errands to take care of in the afternoon. I’m thinking about running in the morning, maybe trying that loop in this neighborhood.”
“Really,” I said. “Are you going to ask me the question? Maybe shout it from the street?”
“Maybe,” he said, smiling. “You never know. So you’d better be ready. I’ll probably pass by around nine or so. I’ll be the one moving really slowly.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll keep an eye out.”
He started back to the driver’s side. “Have a good night.”
“You too,” I said. “And thanks.”
Once he was gone, I took a deep breath, then started across the Commons to find my mother. There was so much I wanted to say to her, and for once I wouldn’t overthink, instead just letting the words come. Delia had convinced me that my mother only wanted me to be happy. It was up to me to show her that I was now, and why.
After picking my way through the crowd, dodging little kids and various dogs, I spotted my mother talking to Mrs. Burcock, the president of the homeowner’s association. I watched her as she listened, waving now and then at people passing by. The night had clearly been a success, and she seemed relaxed as I walked up to stand beside her. She turned and glanced at me, smiling, then redirected her attention back to what Mrs. Burcock was saying.
“. . . and bring it up at the meeting next week. I just really think a pooper-scoop rule would improve things for everyone, especially out here on the Commons.”