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From Book 3: The Fatal Path From Now To Then. Nothing like getting the gang together to talk about your problems, even if they are a little unhinged.
Rowan, clearly shaken and frazzled, gave Lilah a worried glance, then clapped her hands. The oblivious children playing with toys in the middle of the circle looked up, then went back to playing. “Ladies! No more gossip. Lanie, we’re glad you’re back. Let’s…let’s begin.”
Beside her, Lilah took Lanie’s hand and squeezed it with a look of apology.
“Okay. It seems that we’ve already started with group share.” Rowan’s voice cracked, but she cleared her throat and soldiered on. “I don’t know about you all, but I’m really looking forward to an update from Lanie.” Rowan took a deep breath, and turned to Lanie. “How have you been feeling as a mom lately? How is Dre settling in to having a new stepdad?”
Lanie swallowed, Lilah’s words from a few moments ago still playing in her head. What’s the point of marriage? First, Ben abandoned me….
No. It would be fine. “Dre’s really excited to finally have Ben living with us. They have sleepovers in a tent in the attic or backyard. They cook together, and Ben is showing him all about skincare and cuticles. He’s like a mom and a dad. He’s…perfect.” She untied her hair and retied it again. “He’s a perfect parent, basically. And I still barely know what’s going on with Dre. And now I’m going to have to do it all again – ”
“Do what again?” Lilah cut in, her tears-stained eyes wide and obscured by strands of hair.
“Be…a parent.” Without meaning to, she pressed her hands over her stomach, and everyone gasped.
“Lanie!” Audrey screamed. “You’re pregnant?”
“Already?” Annalise marvelled, and Lilah elbowed her in the ribs.
Everyone held their breaths.
“Twins,” Lanie finally admitted.
The room erupted in excited chatter and congratulations, with even the children joining in with claps of their pudgy little hands. Then Lilah made everyone quiet down, and studied Lanie’s face. “Lanie. How do you feel about this?”
Lips pressed together, she shook her head. “Ben’s really excited. All of this is his dream come true. It’s all just working out so perfectly.”
Lilah gently touched Lanie’s arm. “How do you feel, Lanie?”
Finally, she met Lilah’s piercing blue eyes. “Just before Thanksgiving, I realized that I was late.”
“Oh no.” Lilah took Lanie’s hand, remarkably recovered from her own breakdown now that she had someone else to focus on. “What are you going to do?”
She flicked her gaze around the room as faces peered at her. Some in sympathy, some in curiosity, some in…suspicion. “Well, I’m not going to have an abortion, if that’s what you’re all thinking. I’ve had way too many of those.” It was out of her mouth before she could stop it, but a couple of the women gasped. Lilah just patted Lanie’s arm.
“What’s the most challenging thing for you right now?” Lilah asked gently. Lanie was amazed that the woman could be losing her mind one minute and switch into counsellor mode the next. Unbidden, an image came of Lilah and Ben in Mexico, with Lilah looking at Ben just like this, Ben having the audience he wanted to chatter nonstop.
Lanie shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“Okay. That’s perfectly okay.”
For some reason, Lilah’s unquestioning acceptance made Lanie’s fists clenched. “You know what? None of this is supposed to be happening. From the minute of that explosion, my whole life has been turned upside down. When my grandfather died, I promised myself I would never, ever let a man control me ever again. I wanted to focus on helping children. That’s it. And I did that.”
She looked at them again. These people were her friends. She could tell that a couple were judging her, just a bit, but not out of malice. She couldn’t keep this inside anymore, like she had been for ten years.
“Sure, I had a couple of close calls with some guys who were really special, but I remembered why I was doing this. To make sure no children in the world have to suffer. And I was great at it. Until Ben. Ben Murray Bloody Goldberg.”
Unable to sit still, Lanie began to pace around the room. Everyone’s heads swivelled as they watched her.
“He was just so annoying. When I first met him I thought he was sleeping with half the women on the team. He judged my hospital and wanted to make all these changes, beyond what he was hired to do. He couldn’t stay out of trouble for more than five minutes, and I spent most of my very precious time trying to save him. When I first saw him…when I first saw him…” Freezing, she blinked rapidly.
She had pushed the thought to the back of her mind, and refused to let it surface again. But when she had first seen him, playing on the ground with the kids, she had wished her father had been like that. That Dre’s father had been like that. She’d wondered what it would be like if he had been the father of her child. And then he was nearly crushed by a wall.
“Anyway, I have no idea what happened, but suddenly we almost blew up together, and I’m nearly killing myself and spending half of my chequing account trying to rescue him, and then I stay for him because he has no one else to visit him in the hospital. And then suddenly I get the opportunity to get Dre back, and how could I say no? But then they start bonding instantly. And suddenly I can’t get rid of Ben even after he’s out of the hospital, because he wants to spend all this time with Dre. Because it’s always been his dream to be a father. And then suddenly he wants the total package, and wants me as his wife, and to move into my house. Oh, and let’s not forget about his dream, to be a father ‘from scratch.’ Especially because he wasn’t around when Dre was born. Because I was seventeen when Dre was born, and Ben would have been twenty-five, and that would have been so weird and gross. So now, I’m a vessel for his two ‘little dreams.’ ”
She realized she was having trouble catching her breath. She stopped again, hands on her knees, and Murphy crawled toward her at lightning speed. Lilah reached for him, but Lanie waved her off and picked him up, bouncing him slightly as she started pacing again. “So yeah. Once again, my life is spinning out of control, and I don’t even recognize it. I should be putting out fires in Argentina. Rescuing abandoned babies in Korea. Guarding orphanages in Haiti.” She clenched a fist. “I should be snapping a bandit’s neck right now!”
Everyone gaped at her. At last, Audrey spoke. “Lanie, you make it sound like you didn’t have any choice in all of this. Didn’t you choose Ben? Don’t you love him?”
“It’s not the point,” Lilah quickly interjected at the murderous darkness that entered Lanie’s eyes. “It sounds like Lanie feels that she wants to do the right thing, like saving Ben’s life or giving Dre a father or trying to make her husband happy, but she doesn’t like that it’s costing her own dreams. Is that right?”
Lanie started to say yes, then stopped, and considered. “No. That’s not it. It’s that…back before everything with Dre…This was my dream too. I just never, ever believed it could happen for me. I never thought I’d be the girl with the devoted husband, a great kid, and a beautiful wedding. The yard, and the school run, and helping with homework.” She raised her eyes and gazed desperately at them. “I thought I was ruined and cursed, and I gave up on believing that I would ever have that. And now that I do, now that I’m living the simple, white-picket fence life…I like it. But I know it shouldn’t, because it won’t last, and there’s so many kids who need my help. And I just know how it’s going to feel when it all goes bad.” Like it did for you, Lilah.
Lanie cradled the toddler to herself and twisted slowly back and forth, continuing to bounce.
Slowly, Lilah rose and came to Lanie. Touching her son’s back, she looked into Lanie’s face. “You’re scared, Lanie. All of this is terrifying. I know I’d be scared if I were you. And I’ve been scared too. I didn’t really want to have this kiddo, if I’m being honest. I think if we’re all being honest, we could admit that there was a time or two that we wondered what our lives would have been like without the kids. Without the husbands.”
There were some confessing smiles and small nods.
“I mean, I thought I’d have my own counselling centre by now! But Lanie, it sounds to me like you got to have both of your dreams. You got to travel the world for ten years, saving babies and kicking butts. And then you got to have your son back. And now you get that white-picket fence life. If you do want to have these babies, and if you do love your life with Ben, that’s okay. If this is the dream right now, that’s okay. You’re not betraying your other dreams. And you’re not abandoning them, either. Sure, if you decide to have these babies, you’ll probably have to at least wait a few hours after giving birth before skipping off to a third world country. And I’d really suggest at least mentioning it to Ben first. But while you’re enjoying this dream, just remember that all the others will be waiting for you, and they might need to be adjusted, but they will be there when you’re ready.”
Pressing her lips to the baby’s soft golden hair, Lanie nodded after a moment.
“And we’ll all support you, no matter what you decide. Right, girls?” Annalise looked pointedly around the room, and they all nodded. Some more reluctantly than others. “Dre is still an honorary tot, no matter what. And you know what that makes you.”
With a watery grin, Lanie shook her head. “You really need to change the name of this group.”
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~ Romans 15:13