“It was the right choice,” Julie said in a voice so low Isaac strained to hear her.
“It can be the right choice and still hurt like hell.”
“She’d be almost eighteen now,” she said with a rueful smile. “I think about her sometimes but it's best not to let my mind go down that road.”
“What would happen if you did?”
“I’d start to wonder how my life would be different if I'd kept her. If I'd been stronger.”
“You regret it?” Isaac watched as Julie’s brow crinkled and her eyes aimlessly skimmed over the rows of colorful books on his shelf.
“No,” she said finally, turning back to him and meeting his eyes. “I would have been a terrible mother.”
A shift, obvious discomfort, and an implacable sadness. Isaac knew physical changes could portend breakthroughs. He watched his patient take a deep breath and let it out in a rush.
“But I wonder if she was my only chance and I let her go without a fight.”
“I’m not usually so careless,” Bonnie said. Frank pulled her closer to him and she let her cheek rest on his bare chest. The motel room floor pressed hard against her hip as she curled into his side.
“Didn't think you would be,” he said. “I'm usually a little better at it too.”
Bonnie chuckled in disbelief.
“So you and Laurel used condoms every time you hooked up on Annalise’s desk?” she asked, skeptical.
“We never did it on the desk. In the basement, though. And maybe not every time,” Frank admitted sheepishly. “Mostly I’m good at wrapping it up.”
“Mostly means not always. So there could be a bunch of little Franks running around?”
“I guess. None I know of though.” Frank trailed his fingers down the center of Bonnie’s bare back, pleased when she shivered and clutched him tighter. “Look, I’ll go to the pharmacy in the morning and get you Plan B or whatever.”
“No, I can do it,” Bonnie said. She closed her eyes and remembered the cold porcelain under her hands and her foster mother banging on the bathroom door. She imagined how different it must be with someone there to share the burden, someone to listen to her worries when she woke up terrified in the middle of the night.
“Would it be so bad?” Frank asked later. “You and me having a kid?”
“I guess not,” Bonnie murmured. She kept her cheek pressed against Frank’s chest so she wouldn't see his face. “That's the second time you've brought it up. You want kids?”
“Yeah,” Frank said. “You?”
“I used to.”
“I'm thirty-eight and the threat of life in prison hangs over my head every day.”
“I know what it's like,” Bonnie murmured. She worried the sheer curtain with her fingers.
“You don't,” came the voice from under the blankets. “Your baby lived.”
“In someone else's arms.”
“It's different.” Annalise sat up in the bed and glared daggers at Bonnie, who gave no indication she noticed. “I wanted him, Bonnie. I wanted him with every fiber of my being.”
It was the first time she said it out loud, and it felt like the truth. Annalise rubbed her temples and wondered when the world would decide to stop spinning.
“So did I.”
Annalise stiffened. She glanced over to the chair by the window where the midday sun glowed around Bonnie’s profile. She didn't look at Annalise, just sat there still like a monument, haloed in light.
Annalise felt that sinking feeling in her gut again, a thrashing wave of shame and too much vodka.
“Thank you. For everything,” Bonnie said but Annalise waved it off.
“Working here will ruin you. You won't have time for a social life, and forget boyfriends. Girlfriends too,” Annalise added.
“I don't want either right now,” Bonnie admitted quietly. “I just want to concentrate on becoming the best lawyer I can be.”
Annalise wondered if women like them were doomed to slingshot between promiscuity and disinterest. She had, and the mousey woman in front of her looked nothing like the angry teenager she met five years ago. The dark lipstick and deliberate bedroom eyes were long gone, replaced by thick sweaters and a bare, pale face.
They’d both learned to survive on their wits rather than on their backs. Annalise smiled and grasped Bonnie’s arm and squeezed.
“Then you're in luck,” she said, hyper-aware of how her proximity made Bonnie’s breath come quick and shallow. “I'm going to teach you how to be me.”
“What's this check for?” Sam asked. A stack of papers was splayed out in front of him as he balanced their accounts.
“You know, we can afford to pay people to do that now,” Annalise said dismissively as she poured herself a drink.
“Then they'd be the ones asking why you wrote a check to “Cash” for four grand, and charging us for the privilege.”
Annalise put a second glass in front of Sam. She casually glanced down at the canceled check and shrugged.
“Petty cash for the practice, probably,” she said.
“Come on, Annie. I'm not mad I just…” Sam trailed off. “Are you seeing somebody else?”
“No! No, it's nothing like…” Annalise’s body sagged. She sat at the table next to Sam. “She was going to have to drop out.”
“Annie—” Sam began but Annalise waved her arm in surrender.
“I know, I know, that girl isn't my responsibility, but that four grand was the only thing stopping her from making a better life for herself.” Annalise took Sam’s hand and forced herself to meet his eyes. “I had my mother, teachers, my sister, they all believed in me. Bonnie has nothing.”
Sam felt himself soften. He knew this was an argument he wouldn't win, so he smiled gently at his wife.
“Bonnie?” Sam asked. “I thought it was Julie.”
“She changed it. Can you blame her, not wanting to keep the name that bastard gave her?”
“Bonnie Barden. It's nice.”
“Bonnie Winterbottom,” she corrected.
“Sounds like an elf. Winterbottom? Really?”
“She got it from some obscure filmmaker, I think. It's unique. I think it suits her.”
Sam nodded. He took both their empty glasses, refilling Annalise’s and placing his in the sink.
“What makes you think she won't just turn up here looking for money for god knows what?” Sam asked as he gathered the receipts and canceled checks and slid them into a folder.
“She doesn't know it was me. I paid the registration office directly, convinced the secretary to tell her it was a scholarship that came through.”
“You're a good person, Annie.”
Annalise rolled her eyes and took a drink.
“We both know I'm not,” she countered. “But sometimes I like to feel like one.”
“I'm going to file it under business expenses,” Sam said. “Who knows… maybe she’ll decide to go to law school and it will almost be true.”
“It was the right choice,” the pale girl in the hospital bed mumbled. Annalise nodded.
“You trying to convince me or yourself?”
The girl shrugged. Annalise took her hand and squeezed.
“She’ll never want for anything,” Annalise said. “The Walters are good people, Julie.”
“I know that. I just…” Julie's eyes closed for a long moment and when she opened them they shone with tears. “I didn't think I'd love her like that. And what if I never—”
“Don't think that way. You have plenty of time to have children, when you're settled and ready to give them an amazing life. This is what's best for everyone,” Annalise said firmly.
“You're right. Thank you,” Julie mumbled. She squeezed back and Annalise’s stomach flip-flopped with guilt.
“I told you, I've changed my mind.”
Annalise felt a flash of anger race through her as she looked at the sullen girl, all belly and spindly arms and legs.
“Of course I can.” Dark kohl-rimmed eyes glared up at her, defiant, and Annalise would have been impressed if she wasn't so pissed off.
“Legally, sure,” Annalise conceded. She stared and dropped her voice low and firm. “But the Walters have given you a lot of money for expenses these past few months. If you don't go through with the adoption, you’ll have to pay it all back.”
Julie looked sharply at Annalise. Annalise kept her face still, unsure if Julie would see through the bluff. Finally the tiny blonde nodded solemnly.
“Okay,” she said. Her hand absentmindedly stroked her swollen belly, then she pulled it away and let it dangle at her side.
“Thank you so much for doing this, Annalise,” Carrie Walters said, throwing her arms around her friend’s shoulders. “I know an adoption must be pretty boring compared to your criminal cases.”
“I'm happy to do it. You and Elliot are going to be fantastic parents. Even if it does mean we won't see you at our weekend cocktail brunches for a while,” she said with a broad smile. “So where did you find this girl?”
“An internet messageboard.”
“Why is she giving the baby up?”
“She's really young,” Carrie said. “I wouldn't have been ready for a baby at 19 either.”
“I couldn't take care of myself at 19,” Annalise agreed. She was about to ask another question when she heard a soft knock at the door.
The girl on the other side of it looked closer to 15 than 19. Annalise’s breath caught as she took in how the slight curve of the girl’s abdomen contrasted with the sharpness of her frame.
She flinched away from Annalise’s outstretched hand, the slight movement telegraphing years spent at the wrong end of someone’s fists, then returned the handshake resolutely.
“Hi. I'm Julie.”