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Bits of Broken Glass

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Way back once upon a time
All our clouds were number nine
Every day was heaven sent
Wonder where the magic went?

Angel,
Angel,
What is happening?
What in the world's come over us?
What in the world's come over us?
What have we done?
What has come over us?
- Atlanta Rhythm Section
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Doug decided to stop by on his way home, before heading out to the airport. He wouldn't see her for a few days and, knowing she was under the weather, wanted to help in some way. He rang the doorbell and stifled a smile when Beth answered.

Her hair stuck out at about a million angles, her eyes were puffy, her nose was beet red. She stuffed her hands in the pockets of her tattered robe and rolled her eyes. "Oh, great."

"Thanks," he answered. "I'm glad to see you, too."

"No, no. I'm just a mess. Come on in." She stepped aside as he walked past. "Well, I guess now you've seen me at my worst."

"Uh, remember, I have seen you at the gym..." he gently teased.

"Very funny. What's that?" she asked, pointing to the bag he was carrying.

Doug lifted the bag, a trifle embarrassed at his token. "Soup."

"Soup? From Oriental Express?"

"Yeah, hot and sour soup. It'll either clear out your sinuses or put you out of your misery forever."

"I'll opt for the latter. Thanks, Doug." She took the bag from him.

"Sure. Somebody needs to look out for you, right?"

She smiled. "Right."

He walked past her into the kitchen, gesturing with his head for her to follow him. She did and sat down while he rummaged in a drawer. Finding a tablespoon, handed it to her. "Here, eat."

"I thought it was chicken soup that cures a cold."

He sighed. "Don't be so damned difficult. Just eat."

Beth opened the carton, avoiding the rush of steam. She dipped her spoon in and blew on it, taking a cautious sip. "Mmm, this is good. Get me a bowl, top left cabinet. Man, you weren't kidding about the sinuses."

"Well, it's the closest thing to a cure I can think of." He complied with her order and placed the bowl on the table.

"Going to Milwaukee today?"

"Yup."

"So, have you made up your mind yet?" Beth asked, carefully pouring half the soup into her bowl.

Doug looked away. "No," he answered honestly. "I'll see what happens, how I feel once I'm there."

"How close will you be?"

He cleared his throat. "Pretty close."

She nodded, taking another small sip. "Let me know, okay? You can call me if you need to."

"I know." He stood up abruptly. "Hey, I've gotta run, I'm gonna be late. Take care of yourself."

"I will. I'm just staying home and sleeping, don't worry."

"Good. Good." Doug went to leave, but turned around abruptly. "Uh, how was your weekend away?"

Beth looked down. "It was okay."

Doug bent his head to get her attention, trying to see her eyes. "Anything you want to...talk about?"

She looked at him. "Nothing to tell. I'll...I'll fill you in when you get back."

He wasn't convinced. "Everything okay with you and Stuart?"

"Doug, there is no Stuart anymore," she said resolutely.

He gestured helplessly. "I'm sorry, I didn't know."

"Go," she interrupted him, "before you miss your plane. I'll talk to you about it when you get back."

"Okay. I'll call you."

She watched as he let himself out and said a silent prayer that her friend would find what he so desperately needed.

*****

She spent about a half hour after work on the Internet, oblivious to the hubbub around her. Finally finding what she wanted, she printed it out and stuffed the pages into her backpack. As she walked away from the computer, she almost bumped into Elizabeth.

"You were certainly busy over there. Looking for anything good?" Elizabeth queried.

Carol smiled. "Not really, no. Well, I...I'm trying to find a bed and breakfast, somewhere I can go and unwind for a couple of days. I figure it's my last chance for...I don't know, years maybe."

Elizabeth nodded thoughtfully. "Going alone?"

"Yeah, I really need some time by myself, just, you know, to think. Plan."

"Did you find anything good?"

"Mmm, a couple of possibilities."

"Have fun, then," Elizabeth said, giving her a quick hug.

"I will. See you in a few days." With that, Carol turned and walked out.

As soon as she got home, she made a few phone calls and settled on a place to go. She arranged for a rental car and packed the few maternity clothes she had: a pair of overalls, some shorts, a few shirts, and a colorful sun dress. She added her toiletries, underwear, and a few long T-shirts and she settled into bed, falling asleep immediately after setting her alarm.

Carol awoke early, showered, tidied the house, put the trash out, and locked up, her bag slung over her shoulder. She took two separate trains and walked three blocks to the car rental company. Her back was aching when she got there. After she signed and paid for her sub-compact, she breathed a sigh of relief when they brought it around and she could finally get off her feet. Finally on her way, she headed east on the Skyway toward Michigan.

Traffic flowed smoothly entering Indiana and she rolled the windows down, breathing in the warmth of the day, smiling as she thought of what lay ahead: Two days by the lake, two days away from work, away from home, and from the responsibilities that awaited her in her future. Two days to help her get past the pain.

She stopped once in Indiana to use the bathroom, and to drink some juice and eat a bagel on a picnic bench under some pine trees. Once she entered Michigan, she paid close attention to her directions. By 1 o'clock, she pulled up in front of an old, stately house, with a small sign that read "Muriel's." It was a beautiful Victorian home, surrounded by oak trees. Behind it, Lake Michigan shimmered in the sun.

Carol walked up the broad wooden steps and opened the red, ornate door. She was greeted by an older woman who wore a dirt-smudged apron along with a warm smile. "Hi, welcome to Muriel's," she said, wiping her hands, dismayed that they were so dirty.

"Thank you," Carol beamed. "I'm Carol Hathaway. Are you Muriel?"

"That's me. We're glad to have you," she answered. "Pardon my appearance, I'm tending to the outside flowers. If you give me your keys, my husband Bill can park your car on the side, where it's shady, and bring your bags upstairs."

"That'd be great. I just have the one, it's in the back seat."

Muriel turned and called toward the back of the house for Bill and left the keys that Carol had handed her on the hall table.

"C'mon, I'll show you to your room." Carol followed her up the curved oak stairway, then down the hall, and waited as she unlocked room 5. "Here's your home away from home," Muriel said.

"It's beautiful," Carol offered quietly. And it was. The double bed had a hand-made quilt and was covered with matching plush pillows. The room was small, but boasted a window seat overlooking the lake. There was a small bureau with an old mirror hung above it and a tiny closet, most likely added after a renovation, Carol guessed.

"You have your own bath. Breakfast is from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Oh, here's Bill now!"

A broad-shouldered, bald man carrying her keys and bag grinned his hello. "Welcome. I'm Bill, the brawn of the operation."

Carol greeted him, saying, "Hi, Bill, I'm Carol."

"Anything you don't see, if I can get it for you, I will."

"Thanks," she said gratefully.

"Did you drive up here all by yourself in your .... uh, condition?" Bill asked.

Carol automatically held her ever-expanding belly. "Oh, I'm only at the end of my fifth month," she explained. "I'm having twins."

"Twins! How lucky for you!" Muriel exclaimed. "So, due in, what, November?"

"Uh huh." Carol avoided their eyes, hoping she wouldn't have to answer many more questions. She was uncomfortable at the hospital, at home, when people started asking about the babies. Asking how she and her husband felt about having twins.

They immediately realized that she didn't want to discuss it further, and the room became momentarily silent. "Well, if I can do anything to make your stay more comfortable, you be sure to let me know," Bill repeated.

"I'll be fine, this is wonderful," she assured him.

"We'll leave you to settle in, make yourself at home. Help yourself to the lemonade on the back porch, look around."

Bill and Muriel closed the door behind them and Carol walked over to the window, raising the sash, feeling the lake breeze fill the room. Taking a deep breath, she felt satisfied. She needed to come back, she knew she did. It was, to her way of thinking, one of a series of steps she needed to take to reestablish her strength, her focus. She'd learned to live alone again, learned to live her life without him. Now Carol felt she had to face her memories, acknowledge them as being part of her past so she could move on and face her future; her future as a single, working mother.

Gently, so as not to upset the pretty quilt, Carol laid her small, soft suitcase on the bed and unzipped it. She carefully began unpacking. Her underwear and nightgown in the top drawer, her tops and shorts in the bottom. She hung up her sun dress and tucked her sandals under the bed, the toes peeking out. "There." Looking around, she wondered where to stash her bag. She decided to squash it together so it would fit into the tiny closet. As she rolled it upon itself, she felt something inside. Frowning, she unzipped the side compartment and drew out a small box.

Oh. She remembered that she had used her overnight bag last during Christmas, to stay over at her mother's house on Christmas Eve. Immediately, she knew what was in the box. She shook it anyway, hearing it bang away on the inside. Sighing, she removed the lid and picked it up carefully. Walking over to the window, she lifted it, letting the sun shine through it.

"Aw, Doug," she said aloud.

Replacing the lid, she stuffed the empty box into her top drawer, tucking its contents into her pocket.

*****

Doug ended up having to run through the airport terminal. He almost missed his plane and was hot and sweaty as he settled into his seat. He felt uncharacteristically jumpy and was happy when they were airborne and the flight attendant offered a cocktail. He downed it quickly, then tried concentrating on his work. The guy next to him kept slumping over, crowding Doug, and there were two young girls behind him arguing about trading Pokemon cards. He turned down the offered snack and refused another drink. Realizing that he'd get no work done, he sighed and put his paperwork away. As they approached Milwaukee, he looked out, vainly seeking the lake and the skyline to the south of Milwaukee, to the place where his heart resided.

After the plane landed and Doug got his bags, he picked up the rental car and headed to the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Once he checked in, he went up to his room, hung up his suit carrier, and walked over to the desk. He'd been in dozens of hotel rooms over the past five months, made dozens of hospital visits evaluating the need for pediatric ERs. The routine was familiar by now. This time was different, though. Never had he felt this unsettled, this nervous. He knew it was more than the work that lay ahead.

Making himself comfortable, he plugged in his laptop computer and checked his e-mail. The meeting schedule had changed slightly for the next day, and the chief of pediatrics wanted to meet him for dinner that evening. Doug sighed. If he spent tonight wining and dining, that would mean that tomorrow night would be the only time he could drive down to Chicago.

Chicago.

He absolutely didn't know what to do. If he just showed up, she might be furious with him for violating her wishes. If he called, she could refuse to see him. Yet, being so close, he felt he might never forgive himself if he didn't stop by to see her, find out how she was feeling. He just wanted to see her again. See what she looked like now, pregnant with his child.

Doug imagined how it might be, walking up the porch steps, seeing her sitting there. Would she speak to him, would she turn him away?

If he could sit there for just a little while, would she let him explain how hurt he was that she refused to come with him, that she didn't support him during the most trying time of his career? Could he tell her that he'd felt humiliated at the hospital, knowing no one supported him? That he felt that his career was shattered in Chicago? Explain why he left, how he never intended to leave her behind?

Could he listen to her, hear what she wanted to share?

If she let him in, could they talk about things, set things right? Would things be better in person, better than trying to hash things out on the phone?

After a while, would they confess how much they'd missed each other, how there had to be a solution to the lunacy they'd created? And then, if by some miracle they set things right, would she bring him to her bed and let him kiss her and make love to her, let him hold her in his arms all night long? Surround her with his hands, feel their baby move?

All he wanted to do was hold Carol again.

*****

Carol decided to explore. She walked down the steps and around the house, finding a large, well-stocked library and, across from it, a beautiful dining room with several small tables. She was drawn outside to the back of the house, to the large, welcoming covered porch and the rocking chairs that faced the lake. A small table held a pitcher of lemonade, some sparkling glasses, and an ice bucket. After she filled a glass, she sat back in a chair and closed her eyes, thinking about last Christmas. About her reluctance to discuss marriage once again, and her eagerness to let him unburden his heart.

Doug had steadfastly refused all of her attempts to convince him that he should come to church with her on Christmas. It was a tradition her family had adhered to since before her father passed away, and he knew how important it was to her. They'd discussed it since Thanksgiving, since Carol's mother asked them to spend Christmas Eve at her place.

She brought it up again after dinner one night, when they were sitting on the living room sofa in front of a fire she'd built, drinking hot cocoa.

"Carol, I don't mind spending Christmas with your mother, with your family. I'm just not going to church with you. I don't want to."

"Doug, it's an hour, tops. Just an hour."

"Fine," he said curtly, "you spend that hour with your family, and then I'll join you at Helen's."

"It means a lot to me."

"I understand, but I can't."

"What is this? I mean, I know you don't believe in God, but what is this new-found hatred for anything religious?"

"Hatred is a strong word, isn't it?"

Thinking a moment, she wondered why he was so steadfast in his refusal. "Just what is it, Doug? What's your beef? Is it that difficult for you to sit somewhere with me, to do what's important to me, for one hour? I mean, one hour while I worship God on Christmas Eve?"

"It's not that I'm being difficult, I just don't want to be hypocritical." Doug shook his head. "For me, there is no God. If there is, He's not all-powerful."

Tossing him a puzzled look, she said, "What do you mean?"

For a few moments, she wasn't sure if he would answer her. Finally, he looked directly at her. "When I was a kid, I used to go to church with my mother on Sundays. The two of us would sit there, and I would pray. I'd pray to God, to Jesus...the Virgin Mary, hell, to the damned janitor: I'd...I'd say, 'Please bring my daddy home and I'll be good.' Even, you know, after all the-the...abuse...after all the pain, I knew we had no money. I...I wanted to have shoes that fit me, I wanted...not to have to watch my mother skip dinner so I would have something decent to eat. I wanted a dad like the other kids had, a dad who would teach me how to...ride a bike, who'd take me fishing on a Saturday morning. Who-who'd tuck me in at night when I was little and give me shit about curfew and college when I was older. Who wouldn't hurt me. A man who'd love me."

Carol moved next to him, saddened at his words. "Doug, I know the abuse was terrible, but how can you blame God for something Ray did?"

"It was one thing, not having Ray around. But, then, when I was older...." He took a deep breath and began talking quietly again. "I had a broken jaw when I was eight, a broken eye socket at 11. My shoulder was separated twice because he'd wrench my arm behind my back. I was kept in the hospital overnight once for observation because they thought my spleen had been damaged. Where was God? Where was He when I was beaten up, when my father beat my mother, when I had to huddle in the corner and close my eyes, plug my ears because I couldn't stand seeing him hit her, hearing her plead with him to leave her alone?"

Carol stroked his arm, but he wasn't looking for sympathy. He was reflective, angry, and bitter. She waited to see tears, but they never came. Instead, he turned to her and she saw the most remote look in his eyes. What could she say to him? "Doug, why didn't your mother do anything?

He scoffed. "It was a different time back then. People would turn away, they'd believe her when she said I'd fallen down the stairs or I hurt myself playing football outside."

Shaking her head in disbelief, she pressed him further. "Why did she lie, though? She could have told the truth, protected you."

He moved away from her just enough so she noticed, and it hurt her a little that he'd done so.

Doug's voice sounded slightly edgy. "The last thing I'd ever do is second-guess my mother, and I don't want you to, either. She lied because I begged her to. Because once they threatened to take me away from her and I was terrified. I was afraid that I would end up with strangers, in foster care, with no one loving me. Without my mother, who I loved more than anyone in the world. Carol, every Sunday, every night, I prayed, but the prayers weren't answered. What kind of God doesn't answer a kid's prayers, allows a little boy to be...beaten like that?"

Carol trod lightly as she spoke. "Did you ever think that maybe God kept Ray away from you and your mother? Protected you, made sure you had enough food and the warmth of your mom? Maybe He heard your prayers, but knew the best thing for you was a home without Ray in it?"

Shaking his head, he sighed. "I don't know, Carol. I don't know."

*****

Carol opened her eyes and looked out over the beach. Doug was so difficult sometimes. There was so much buried in his heart, so much to wade through. It had hurt her that he would not join her for Christmas services. She understood his underlying reluctance, but part of her was waiting for him to change his mind. When he apologized to her for blowing up after a priest had come to see a young, pregnant patient, she was hoping he'd finally agree to come, but no. It didn't happen until the last minute.

She played idly with the remnant she'd put in her pocket while she thought about that night.

*****

After checking her charts, she had breezed by him Christmas Eve, kissing him quickly on the cheek. "See you at Mom's."

"Hey, hey, wait." Doug followed her into the lounge.

"What?" Carol asked, getting her coat out of her locker.

"When, uh, what time is Mass, when should I be at Helen's?" Doug worked his lock and took his coat out as well.

"It's at 8 tonight, so, uh, maybe 9:15 or so by the time we get home?" she guessed, putting her arms in the sleeves of her coat.

"Okay. You take the car, I'll take a train and I'll see you there," he said.

"Okay." She began walking out, but stopped, turning toward him. Their earlier disagreement was still bothering her. "Today -- that girl. What was so terrible about the priest talking to her?"

He raised his eyebrows and sighed. "It was exactly what she didn't want happening. I gave her options, and she told me she didn't want her parents to know, and that under no circumstances did she want to have the baby. She wanted an abortion. Did you think the priest was going to support her decision?"

Carol shook her head. "Doug, she was 13. She's not even old enough to watch R-rated movies, and yet you think she can make a decision like that on her own?"

"No. Any place you'd go for an abortion would have counseling available. I knew she'd have responsible adults helping her every step of the way."

"And a priest is a responsible adult."

"Yeah, one who won't respect her decision. All they care about is heaven, Carol. What about here? What happens on earth? What happens to 13-year-old girls who go through a pregnancy when they're not even done growing themselves? I didn't like the priest getting involved today, that's all."

Shaking her head, she spun to walk out again.

"Hey, Carol, hang on." Doug took her arm, holding her back. She turned her eyes on him and waited. "You...you know, it's just me. It's just my...I guess my own problem. I don't want to argue about this, I don't want too make a-a mockery of your beliefs, I don't. Part of me, I don't know, I guess was just...sad that a 13- year-old girl would be dealing with pregnancy when she should be trying on make-up with her friends." He sighed. "I'm sorry, Carol, don't let me...screw up your Christmas."

Drawing him closer, she gave him a conciliatory hug. "This is the first Christmas we'll be together the whole time, with my family. You aren't screwing it up. I'm sorry, too. I should just...honor your wishes, and look forward to later. So, that's what I'm going to do."

Doug bent down to kiss her. "I love you, you know."

"Um hmm. I love you, too. I'll see you later."

He watched as she walked out, pulling her hat over her head, turning back once to flash a brilliant smile in his direction. The door closed, and he crumbled.

God, he loved her.

Instantly, unbelievably, he decided, he had to do this for her. Doug tossed his coat on, pulled his hat over his head, and ran out the lounge door.

"Hey, Doug...." Mark began.

"Gotta run, Merry Christmas," Doug yelled.

Running through the ER doors, he saw her about 15 feet in front of him. He ran to her, twirling her around, surprising her.

"Hey," she grinned.

"Hey, beautiful."

He put his arm around her. "Carol, I...I love you. I want to be with you all night, tonight."

"Even church?"

He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "Well, yeah, you know...."

So, they walked along together in the snow, and Carol cuddled up to him for warmth. As they arrived home, the snow was coming down hard. Doug showered after Carol, giving her the extra time to fix her hair and her make-up. He dressed in a maroon sweater and gray slacks. "Carol, this is okay for church, right, if I don't wear a tie?"

Gazing at him, at his handsome figure, her face was full of love for him. "You look great. That's perfect, Doug."

When she was finished dressing, she stood in front of him, waiting for his approval. She wore a winter white sweater dress that clung to her body, and a pair of new, cream-colored boots. Her hair was swept up, piled on top of her head. A few curls escaped, framing her face and neck.

He gave a low whistle and an appreciative pat on the behind. "My, my. Are you my Christmas present?"

Carol grinned. "Part of it.

"Good, I'll hold you to that." He held her briefly. "We gotta go, you ready?"

Carol paused. "Hey, speaking of presents, I hope you didn't...."

"No, no, I was good," Doug insisted. They'd decided not to spend much money on individual presents, concentrating most of their finances on the house instead.

"Well, okay," she responded. Carol wasn't so sure. The day before she had checked out the packages under the tree and all that was there for her was a small box. When she'd shaken it, she'd heard a rattle inside. Jewelry, she had surmised. Dammit, could he never play by the rules?

They put the shopping bags full of gifts into his car and Doug drove carefully to Helen's, mindful of the slick roads and increased Christmas traffic. They arrived in time to meet up with all the relatives, most of whom Doug had already met. Helen greeted them warmly at the door, registering only brief surprise at seeing Doug there.

"Coming to church with us tonight?" she asked.

"Yes, I am," he replied, grinning shyly.

Helen directed everyone toward the door. "We're ready, let's go."

Since the church was so close, they all walked. Doug reached for Carol's hand and gave it a squeeze. "The snow...beautiful, isn't it?"

"It really is," she answered, squeezing back. She looked up at him and he had an odd expression on his face. "What's up?"

"Nothing. Just enjoying the night."

They piled into two pews, with Carol sitting between Doug and Helen. The church was packed and as the organ music began, Carol snuck a peak at Doug. His face was impassive, and he looked down at his hands, sitting totally still.

The choir burst into song, and the congregation rose as the priest and processional walked down the long aisle. Doug stood respectfully with Carol, and sat again on cue. She took his hand and held it, but he scarcely acknowledged it.

The service passed quickly, and after communion, which everyone took but Doug, there was the opportunity to pray. Helen's head, then Carol's, dipped as they prayed. Doug's didn't move, but when Carol looked at him, his eyes were shut tightly, his brow knit in concentration.

The "Hallelujah Chorus" filled the church and Mass was over. The family made their way out into the cold air, their breath visible as they laughed and chatted while walking home, finally singing a Russian song that everyone but Doug knew the words to.

When they got back, after everyone ate the spread Helen had prepared, they sang more Christmas carols. Doug joined in on the ones he knew, his rich voice making Carol feel warm inside. He had fun, too, watching her enjoy herself among the family members he'd grown fond of.

When everyone else had left, Carol, Helen, and Doug decided to stay up late and open presents. Carol got perfume and a nice pair of earrings from her mother, a sweater, a CD, and other small things.

Carol came across a gift, and her eyebrow raised slightly in surprise. "This is from Doug, to Helen."

"But, I got a present from the both of you already!" Helen protested.

"It's just a little thing, really," Doug assured her.

When Helen unwrapped it, she was delighted. It was a book on Ellis Island, on the immigrants who passed through New York on their way into America.

Helen's face shone. "Doug, this is very nice, thank you."

"Well," he began, ducking his head, "I saw it and I thought maybe you'd like it."

"I do. Thank you."

Carol happily watched this interplay between the two of them, then reached for another present under the tree.

"Here's one for Doug, from Helen," Carol announced. "It's heavier than I expected," she grunted as she passed it over to him.

"It is heavy, not something to eat, I guess," Doug said.

"No, sorry, I know how you like my cooking," Helen replied, smiling.

Doug grinned in return. He did like her cooking, but that wasn't the reason for his smile. They'd come a long way in the past year, he knew.

Ripping the paper off, he revealed a plain, brown box, taped shut. He ran his thumbnail over the tape and broke it, opening it up.

It was filled with tissue paper, and he dug through it until he felt something hard and heavy. Doug lifted it out, unwrapped it and was rendered speechless.

Helen sat quietly, a satisfied expression on her face, knowing his reaction was exactly as she'd planned.

Carol craned her neck, trying to see. "Doug, what is it?"

He shook his head in wonder and then lifted it up for her to see. It was a statue, no more than a foot high, of a man, a doctor with a stethoscope around his neck, holding a baby. The baby had both chubby hands wrapped around the stethoscope as the doctor gazed down at him.

"It's...it's a pediatrician," Doug said softly. Looking up at Helen, he smiled, and Carol saw the gratitude in his eyes. "Helen, thank you, for this. It's...this is great. I love it."

Helen beamed. "You're welcome. I am glad you like it. I saw it and I thought of you."

"Just a few more. Hey, Doug, one to you from me," Carol called out.

He took the box from her and ripped into it. "Look at this!" It was a hand-made sweater, navy blue with rust and brown flecks in it. "Where'd you find this? It's beautiful, Carol."

"I was at a craft show with Tracy and I saw it. I fell in love with it, but they only had size small. The woman gave me her card and I had her make this one for you."

"Carol, it's great. Thanks." He chuckled and leaned over to kiss her.

"One more, from you to me," she said. Taking the box in her hand, she eyed him suspiciously. "Doug...?"

"No, really, open it. Open it."

Carol did. It was a small black box, just the size for jewelry. She lifted the lid and removed the cotton. Her face revealed her puzzlement. Laying on the bottom layer of cotton was a small piece of glass, a beautiful blue piece, surrounded by lead piping. She looked up to him for an explanation.

"Doug?"

He smiled. "The whole thing was...I was scared I'd break it if I brought it. I met a woman in the ER, the mother of a kid who came in to be treated. Her hands were all cut, and I was afraid, you know, that she was being abused somehow. Anyway, we got to talking. She makes stained glass windows. I...I was thinking, you know, about the bathroom upstairs. About the window, how you always worry people can see in. I went to her house after work one day, and saw what she did. I gave her the dimensions, and she made a window. Here," he said, reaching into his pocket for an envelope, "here's a picture."

She took it from him and almost gasped audibly. It was gorgeous, an art deco design.

"I didn't want to bring it, Carol, so I asked her to just take a small piece and, you know, put the lead around it so it wouldn't cut you."

Carol's eyes filled. "This looks beautiful."

"It is," he agreed. "We can have it installed whenever you want."

Carol went to him and hugged him, and he kissed her. "Merry Christmas," he murmured.

"To you, too," she whispered.

They'd decided to stay the night at Helen's so she wouldn't be alone on Christmas morning, and Doug brought their bags in. The guest room was across from Helen's bedroom, which made Carol uncomfortable. As she sat down on it to get undressed, the old bed squeaked just as she'd remembered it would.

"Doug...the bed is noisy. I'm...I"m a little worried, my mom is right across the hall. I don't want her hearing anything," Carol said quietly.

"So, when you come tonight, should I put my hand over your mouth?" he whispered wickedly.

"Shh, stop it," she giggled. Carol started putting her nightgown on, but he stopped her.

"Don't put that on tonight. C'mere, I'll keep you warm."

She laughed and dropped it on the floor, scooting into bed and under the covers. "The window is beautiful, Doug. Perfect."

"I wanted it to be. I wanted you to be happy with it."

"I am," she said sweetly.

He settled back on his pillow, bringing her close to him. "It's been a year, you know."

Carol looked up, confused. "What's been a year?"

"Since I asked you to marry me in front of everyone in the ER."

"Oh." She smiled. "My how time flies."

"You always avoid this," he began quietly.

"I'm not avoiding it," Carol insisted.

"Well, you have a ring, we're trying to have a baby...."

"Yeah, and I'm not pregnant. We have lots of time, Doug."

"Mmm. If I didn't know better...."

"What?" she asked defensively.

He paused, then forged ahead. "I'd think you didn't ever want to marry me."

"That's not true. I do. I'm just not in any rush, I don't feel like we have to do things on anyone else's timetable but ours."

Doug exhaled, laughing. "Well, when you've figured out our timetable, you let me know."

Carol kissed him playfully. "I will."

"You looked pretty tonight." Doug traced a slow finger over her lips.

"Thanks."

"You look pretty now." He pulled her next to him and began kissing her softly.

"Not here, this bed is noisy."

"So? What's a little noise among family members?"

"No. No way, Doug."

He smiled, releasing himself from her embrace and standing up. "There's always a way." Leaning in, he took her hands and helped her up, then reached for a pillow, tossing it on the floor. He gently guided her to the plush rug.

"Doug, what do you think you're doing?" she whispered.

Doug grinned, looking at her sideways.

Carol shook her head. "No, Doug. She'll hear. Not tonight."

"Yes." Bending over, he kissed up her neck, surrounding her lips with his warm ones. His hands delicately stroked her back, and she raised her body up to meet him, waiting for his mouth to work downward. He did, slowly, kissing her chest, around the swell of her breast, skirting her nipples, watching with delight as they tightened before he even reached them.

"Beautiful," he hushed.

Thrusting herself at him, she urged him toward her waiting nipple. Her hand on his head, his hand on her back, both pulled inward, both of them wanting the same thing. When he sucked it into his mouth, she moaned softly, stifling herself quickly, pushing him away.

"Doug, we really can't do this here," she hissed, trying to keep her voice down.

"Sure we can," Doug said, dismissing her immediately. Her hair was loose by then, worked free by his hands. "Look at you, your nipples standing up like that," he said quietly, brushing his fingertips against them. "I bet you're all wet already, aren't you?" He kissed down her stomach, his chin brushing against her dark hair.

"We can't..." she said weakly.

"But we can. " He never stopped kissing her, touching her. "We can't stop now, Carol. You don't want to stop me, really," he reasoned softly. And he was so right. One glance up told him this. Her face was covered in pleasure, her eyes were heavy, lips parted. She wanted this as much as he did. She sighed, returning his tender kisses.

Doug parted her thighs with his hands and brushed her mound with his lips. His fingers separated her folds, and he smiled to himself. Was there no end to her arousal, to her willingness, to how quickly she responded to his lovemaking? He eased his tongue between her legs and she pressed against his mouth, waiting for the relief he'd provide.

"Oh, Doug, eat me, please," she whispered.

"I will, sweetheart." Doug pressed his mouth against the slick, pink skin, tonguing the softness there, watching her legs tense, her hips involuntarily shift up toward him. He sucked her clit into his mouth, drawing his tongue over it.

"Unnnh..." she crooned.

She stiffened her legs and he cupped her buttocks in his hands, separating them slightly, giving him greater access to her center. Doug's mouth pulled on her again, and she convulsed, then, bucking and moaning, trying in vain to stay quiet. Inside, he was thrilled, so happy that she'd allowed him to continue, that she didn't say no. He loved making love to her, making her come. He loved it.

Her arms reached up for his embrace, and he went to her, kissing her shoulders, her neck, her cheek. Her mouth. Her lips devoured his.

"Can you taste yourself, Carol? On my mouth? Taste how luscious you are?"

She moaned again, kissing him deeply, loving him with all her being. Doug pressed his erection against her, seeking relief. He shifted until he was on his knees, moving her legs, draping her thighs over his. Pushing them back, spreading them. His thumb found her stiff clitoris. "Wanna come again?"

Exhausted, she shook her head no, but he smiled and fondled her smoothly. "We'll see." Doug shifted his body so his shaft slid up and down, stimulating her slowly.

Quietly, Carol breathed, "Oh, god, Doug, please." She looked up at him, overwhelmed.

His eyes were dark and sensual. "Please what? Please stop, or please make you come again?"

"Just...please..." she whispered, her head lolling back.

Moving his hips faster, he glided against her, her wetness making the length of him slick, and she buried her face sideways in her pillow as her body stiffened again. Her quiet cries were akin to cries of distress, of pain, but he knew her, he knew her intimately, and in her voice he heard the unmistakable sound of passion, of sexual pleasure.

Doug pulled back slightly, then immersed himself within her, relishing her gasp as she thrashed about. "Do I make you come, Carol, do I make you want me? Do I?" he asked softly.

She reached for him again, but he was too into it, now, holding her thighs, pulling them apart, thrusting in and out, needing his own climax. His face was intense.

"I love to watch this, watch me disappear into you. I love you, Carol." His voice was quiet, yet unwavering. "I want you to belong to me."

"I do belong to you," she insisted, her hands on his chest, bracing against his passionate onslaught.

"I want you...you, your body, your heart, your soul. Belong to me, marry me...so I never lose you." With that, he grimaced and pushed deeply into her as he came. "Ummm...I love you, Carol, I love you."

He pulled back after a few minutes, taking her into his arms, then helped her up to the bed and tucked the covers around her. Carol was tired, but still wanted to hold him, to rest in his embrace.

A long while passed until she broke the tender silence between them. "Doug, what is all this tonight? What you said?"

Now, afterward, he was almost embarrassed. "Oh, I don't know...it's...it's nothing, really."

"Please...talk to me," she nudged gently.

"Well, after all that psychoanalysis, after the thousands of dollars I spent shrinking my head," he began, looking down at her, "I guess I found out that I grew up afraid of letting people matter, afraid of getting close to anyone, or of letting myself get close to them." Pausing, he collected his thoughts a moment. "Through the years that we dated, you know, the first time, when I would lie to you and I would...cheat on you, I kept telling myself that it was because I didn't need you, I could...replace you with anyone else. But after Mary, after therapy, I knew what it was."

His hand was toying with her hair, then, his voice was low and quiet.

"I was afraid of needing you. I was afraid of needing you and wanting you and depending on you and then having someone else come and take you away. Afraid of the...depth of my love for you. I was...scared I'd lose you. So, I made sure I didn't lose you by pushing you away. That way, I'd be the one in control, I could tell myself that it was my doing. My decision. No woman would make her way into my heart, I'd swear. Because once she's there...you never want to lose her. You can't stand the thought of...."

Doug turned to her, seeing the tears that had formed in her eyes. "I don't want to ever lose you, Carol. I don't want you to belong to anyone else. Ever."

"Doug," she said in a tear-strangled voice, "do you really think I could belong to anyone else?"

He took her to his chest and surrounded her tightly. "The thought of losing you, of you belonging to...another man makes me crazy. I don't want to live through that again."

"You won't." Carol kissed his arms, and snuggled to him. "Doug...you prayed tonight, didn't you? At church."

"No, I didn't. I was...just staying quiet, you know?"

Not for one second did she believe him. For his part, Doug wouldn't admit it to her in any event. In fact, he scarcely wanted to admit to himself that he'd prayed for the first time since Carol's suicide attempt. This prayer, like the last, was for her. And for him. He'd prayed that Carol would become pregnant soon, that she would be granted that happiness. That they'd have happiness together.

*****

The sun was beating down on the porch, and she stretched, opening her eyes against the glare. Carol realized with some surprise that an hour had passed. She must have fallen asleep; her legs were aching and stiff. She decided to walk down the beach along the shore, to find what she'd really come for. It had been no accident that she'd ended up on this stretch of beach, on this road. Once she started walking, she recognized the familiar landmarks, the places they had sought refuge in last summer. Carol eyed the house for a long while until she got up the confidence to approach the woman on the porch.

"Hi. Isn't this home wonderful?"

"The older woman smiled. "It certainly is."

"We...I rented it last year for a few days. We loved it."

"I'm glad to hear it. I'm the owner." The woman offered her hand. "Eloise Lewis."

Carol smiled as she grasped the woman's hand in return. "Carol Hathaway."

"Hathaway," she repeated, shaking her head. "Doesn't sound familiar. I usually remember the renters' names."

"Oh, well, we took it over for a colleague, Maggie Doyle."

"Oh, yes. Margaret and her family have rented from us for years. Do you have some time? Care to sit a while? I've got some iced tea all made in the kitchen."

Carol considered this quickly. "I'd love to, thanks." She settled comfortably into the same chair she'd sat in last year, overlooking the lake. Eloise went into the house and came out moments later, offering her a tall glass of tea.

"Thanks," Carol said. She took a sip and closed her eyes. "This is delicious. Thank you."

"You're welcome, dear."

"How long have you owned this house?" Carol asked.

"It was originally in my husband's family. He was the only child and we've owned it since we were married in 1954."

"Wow, I'll bet you've seen lots of changes around here since then. Do you and your husband get to use it as much as you'd like?"

"We generally would come to spend the month of September. He'd commute into Chicago when he needed to, I'd stay with our daughter. But, Ernie died last winter, so this is my first summer alone."

"I'm sorry."

"Thank you. I didn't rent it out this year. I decided to enjoy one more summer before I sell it."

Carol looked truly sad. "Why would you sell it? It's a beautiful house, the bedroom upstairs overlooking the lake is perfect, and that cedar shower...." Biting her tongue, she realize how insensitive she was being just then. Of course Eloise knew how wonderful the house was.

The older woman looked past the sand to the lake. "I know, dear. I know. I can see you enjoyed it, last year, and I'm glad you did. We did, too, for years. It's too much for me to keep up by myself. I just don't have the heart to stay here without him." Eloise smiled the smile of the wise. "Nothing is the same without him."

Carol nodded knowingly.

"The house had suffered from years of neglect, during a time when his family had no money to spend on it. It was fairly run-down. We worked on it for years. I sanded and refinished the floors myself, and we added the cedar shower by hand. Replaced all the windows three years ago, finally. The plumbing, electric wiring, everything." She smiled sadly. "I can feel his presence in this house, still, hear his laugh. He was a wonderful man. But, I'm sorry, I've invited you to spend some time with me and I'm jabbering away."

Carol moved to reassure her. "No, its okay. I like hearing it."

"Tell me about you," Eloise insisted.

"I'm an emergency room nurse in Chicago. I decided to take a few days for myself, just to relax and...think about things."

"We all need time away from life's pressures, that's true. Do you have supper plans?"

Carol looked at her, surprised. "Well...no. I mean, I thought I'd drive into town, go to a restaurant."

"Would you consider eating with me tonight?"

"Oh. Oh, no, I couldn't. I couldn't intrude."

Eloise looked at her warmly. "Not an intrusion. Just some company for me."

Touched, Carol grinned. "That would be wonderful. But only if you let me help you."

"That's a deal."

*****

The dinner meeting did not go well. Doug, expecting to meet only the chief of pediatrics, was taken aback when three very defensive attendings showed up as well. He remained non-committal, and just said he'd look forward to seeing them tomorrow. By the end of the evening, he was wiped out and still had mounds of paperwork to look over when he went back to the hotel. Driving back, he thought their meeting was a preemptive strike, that they were bucking against having a pediatric emergency room at all. It wasn't an uncommon reaction, but Doug would be ready tomorrow with facts, figures, and journal articles on the importance of separating the pediatric population from the general one.

The following day was more of the same. After enduring a restless sleep, Doug awoke, got showered and dressed, and set out to win over yet another staff. They remained resistant and he had little energy to expend battling with them. Once he was back in his hotel room, he checked his messages. Just one, from Beth. He chuckled. Mother hen, probably wondering what was going on. He kicked his loafers off and dialed her number.

"Hello?" she answered in a groggy voice.

"Don't you do anything these days besides sleep?" he asked, immediately provoking her.

"I have a wicked sinus infection, and yes, I'm sleeping. You of all people should know the body needs to heal itself. So much for hot and sour soup being the cure."

"Oh, you needed a little help from antibiotics, then?"

She sniffled and then said, "Yeah, erythromycin, I think. It's killing my stomach."

"Allergic to penicillin?"

"Yeah."

Doug nodded. "Next time, ask for E-mycin. It's easier on the stomach."

"Thanks, Doc. So, how was the meeting in Milwaukee?"

"Shitty, thanks for asking."

"Sorry. What else is new?" she asked, baiting him.

"Nothing at all."

"Did you go?"

"No."

"Are you going to?"

"I don't know."

Silence, then. Beth didn't want to push him.

"Hey," Doug interjected, "what's the deal with Stuart?"

"Oh...not now."

"Oh. Okay. I just thought you might want to talk...."

"Doug...I do. I'm...oh, man."

In his mind's eye, he could see her pushing her bangs back, rolling her eyes. Doug countered, "That's okay, you don't have to."

"No, I want to, I do. We talked before we went to his cabin, we did, and I told him that I wanted to take things slow, you know, just slow. Wait a while before...having a physical relationship. He understood, said okay. I mean, Doug, you probably think I'm...I'm some kind of freak...."

"No, no. Not at all. I understand," Doug assured her.

Beth's voice sounded a bit shaky. "I was a virgin on my wedding day, my morals were...are...strong. I was taught that sex was wonderful, but reserved for marriage. Before we were married, Glenn, he'd had a zillion partners, but yet he never pressured me, always understood that for me, sex without marriage was...impossible."

Doug sat back in his chair, shifting the phone from one ear to the other, listening intently.

"So," she continued, "I had told all this to Stuart, explained how I felt. We got there, to his place, and then we were relaxing on the couch, and one thing led to another and...and I just said no. He got angry, then, said I was playing with him, that I was a grown woman and I was ridiculous for refusing him. Then, he asked about you, if I were seeing you."

Doug was dismayed. "Beth, I'm...I'm sorry."

"Well, I was truthful, I mean, we aren't seeing each other. I told him we were friends, that you've been kind to me and that's all. He nodded, said good night, and stalked into one of the bedrooms. I didn't sleep at all, I felt awful. It wasn't like he was...was acting like he wanted me to, you know -- God, I sound like I'm in high school -- *put out*," she laughed bitterly, "he was more hurt, I think, that my feelings hadn't progressed to the point of wanting intimacy."

Absorbing all this, he stayed quiet, as did she. Finally, Doug asked, "How did you guys leave it?"

"The next day, we had breakfast, and things were quiet, light, you know, and then we drove home early. That was it, I haven't heard from him and I'm not calling."

"I'm sorry, Beth."

"Me, too, I guess. I liked him, but if he couldn't accept my wishes, better to find out now than later."

Doug agreed with her. "Yeah, you're right.

He heard a yawn. "Hey, Doug, I'm sorry, I'm wiped out...." Beth said wearily.

"That's okay, I...I need dinner anyway. I'll see you when I get back. We'll go out for more Chinese, hot and sour soup, okay?" He smiled into the phone.

"Okay. Doug, thanks. And, hey...go see her."

"Yeah. Good night, Beth."

"Bye, Doug."

He hung up the phone and looked at the clock. If he rushed, he'd have time for a shower and a shave.

*****

The two women made themselves comfortable in the kitchen. Carol cut tomatoes and onions, drizzling them with oil, vinegar, and finally, crushed basil and oregano over the dish. Eloise shucked two perfect ears of corn and submerged them into boiling water, and then took some cold chicken out of the refrigerator. She took a loaf of bread out of a grocery bag and plopped it on a cutting board. "Almost ready," Eloise sang out.

As the corn cooked, Eloise walked around with Carol, showing off her late husband's pictures, talking about their early years together.

"I painted the upstairs bedroom this spring, do you want to see?" Eloise offered.

Carol clutched. She could feel Doug's hands leading her up the stairs last year, remembered his quiet chuckle deep into the night in that room. "No. I...you know, my legs are about giving out right now, thanks, Eloise," she replied.

"Oh, sure, of course. I can smell that corn anyway."

The women ate, enjoying the freshness of the vegetables, the aroma of the bread. Finally, Carol pushed herself away, groaning. "That was as delicious a meal as I've had in a while. Thank you so much."

"Thanks for staying with me," Eloise said warmly.

They chatted for a while longer, Carol warily answering questions about her pregnancy. Eloise, sensing Carol's reluctance to share details, backed off and then Carol yawned. "Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I should be getting back."

"Of course. Let me drive you, it's dark."

"That'd be nice, thanks." Carol walked toward the door, and turned around. "You know, Eloise. I may be out of line here, but I think...." Carol took a deep breath and looked into the older woman's eyes. "I think this house is his gift to you. It's a way of always remembering him, and the love he brought to you here. Sometimes...I think sometimes the most beautiful things come into your life because you're willing to take the broken pieces and recreate them. You know, like this house. You said it was run-down. But what you did was you took something that was a mess and made it beautiful."

Carol pushed her hair out of her face and looked out at the dark lake. She reached into her pocket and took the glass in her hand, lifting it up to show Eloise.

"See this? This is a piece of stained glass. I got...I got a present this past Christmas. It was a stained glass window. The...man who gave it to me told me a lot about it. How the artist starts with glass, and how they have to etch it, then break it, to form the pieces. The design, the beauty, wouldn't be possible unless it was first broken, then pieced back together carefully. The artist took all those bits of broken glass and...soothed them under her hands to become more beautiful than before." Wistfully, she took Eloise's hand into hers. "Be sure you're willing to give that up. Before it's too late to turn back." Carol gave her a hug. "Thanks for supper. I'm glad I came here today."

Eloise returned the embrace and then pulled back to see Carol's face. "You're alone, too, aren't you? Dealing with this alone?"

Carol's eyes filled and she collapsed into tears then, into the woman's strong arms.

*****

He cursed the traffic the whole while he was driving, from Wisconsin through Illinois. Things on the road surely hadn't improved since he'd left during the winter. He was going to call first, but decided against it, in case she got angry or refused to see him. It would be better just to do this face-to-face. By the time he arrived, it was dark, which was how he wanted it. The neighbors would be outside while it was light and the last thing he needed was someone recognizing him, asking lots of questions. He parked his car a block away from her house, for some reason that was unclear even to him. The tightening in his chest got worse. How would she look, how would she react to him? How could he not take her into his arms and bury his face in her neck, in her hair?

How could he ever go back to Seattle once he saw her again?

He walked through the quiet neighborhood, past the familiar stores. Funny to see everything so green. It had been snowing when he left in February. He walked under the El track and stopped. Her house came into view and he was immediately disappointed. It was totally dark, save the porch light. The timer he'd installed last fall had undoubtedly switched it on. He made his way down the sidewalk, then up the walkway that led to the porch. Carol hadn't planted anything this year, the flower garden was overrun with thistle, probably spilled seed from a bird feeder she'd put in front.

The porch steps were sound, he noticed, as he walked up. He'd nailed them securely before painting them last summer. Looking toward the street, he noticed the trash was out. What day was it? No, she was early, trash wasn't picked up for two more days.

Carol isn't home, he thought, there are no signs of life in the house.

Turning back, he took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. Nothing. He walked to the back of the house. Empty. Back to the front. No movement inside. Holding her house key in his pocket, his fingers were itchy. He could just go in, look around. See if she....

No. No. He couldn't do that.

Crushed, so sad, he walked back, his hands in his pockets. Getting in his car, he slammed his fist against the steering wheel, and then started to drive. He had to get out of Chicago tonight, he didn't want to wait any longer. Stopping at a pay phone, he called United Airlines. "Hi, yeah, I had, uh, changed my flight. I was originally departing from Milwaukee to Seattle, and then, I changed it again, to depart from O'Hare...um, tomorrow. Can I get a flight tonight?"

Doug waited while she checked. Thinking of last summer, of the happiness he'd had in her house. The love they'd shared underneath that roof.

*****

It took her forever to answer the phone.

"Hey, I'm sorry, I woke you up, didn't I?" His voice was tense and hoarse.

"Yeah, you did...." Beth stretched. "Time difference, remember? That's okay. I need to get up, to take some more of the dreaded drugs anyway. Where are you?"

"O'Hare."

"What's up?"

"Nothing, you know, I just...I wanted to see how you were feeling."

She heard right through his words. "Did you see her, Doug?"

"No. I stopped by, last night but she wasn't home."

"Was she at work?"

"I don't think so, the house was pretty buttoned up, she had the trash out early. I think she's gone away somewhere."

"Did you...do you have your key, still?"

"I wouldn't go in, no, I didn't. I...couldn't do that."

"I'm sorry."

"Well, you know, I didn't really expect to see her anyway." He swallowed hard, and she could sense that he was lying, that he'd had his heart set on it.

"Yeah. When are you coming home?"

Home. He thought about that briefly. This was home, here in Chicago. Here where Carol was. "Well, I stayed in Chicago last night, I couldn't get a flight. Uh, I'll be home this afternoon."

"Okay. I'll stop by."

"Um, no, that's okay, I'm...I'm...."

"I'll call you, okay?"

"Okay."

He boarded his flight and rather quickly fell into a deep sleep. The flight attendant had to wake him up, nudging him while she reminded him to put his seat upright for landing. Doug rubbed his eyes and looked out over Seattle. It dawned on him that this was going to be his life. Seattle, his job, this was his life now. Carol had slipped further away in the span of just a few hours.

The plane landed and Doug waited until most of the passengers exited. He got up and walked down the aisle, the feeling of emptiness enveloping him. He went out into the terminal and looked up, trying to figure out where he was in relation to baggage claim. Then he saw her there. Her eyes were red-rimmed, her nose raw, her face colorless. Her smile grew and she extended her hand to him as he walked toward her.

"Hey," he said, amazed that she was there.

"Hi. I...I hope you don't think I'm an idiot for coming here. I mean, I think I'm an idiot. I just wanted to be here when you got home."

Doug ignored her hand, and pulled Beth to him slowly, hugging her fiercely, one arm around her waist, the other cradling her head as he reflexively buried his face in her shoulder. "You're not an idiot. This is...." He stopped and let go of her, putting distance between them again, and his eyes were warm. "This is the nicest thing anyone's done for me in a...a long time. Thanks, Beth."

She smiled in return, gave his arm a slight squeeze and there was nothing else either one could say. He turned, took her elbow in his hand briefly as he guided her though the pedestrian traffic, and they walked together toward the baggage claim.

*****

She unlocked the doors, one after the other, and recoiled from the intense heat the house had retained from being closed up for the few days she was away. Carol threw open some windows and decided to turn on the whole house fan upstairs. Pulling herself up the staircase, she yanked the pull-chain and the fan whirred to life, drawing the hot air out of her house, and cool air in through the windows. She checked the bedrooms. The guest room first, then what would be the babies' room. Go look, she told herself, look at its beauty again. Crossing the hall, she walked into the bathroom. The sunlight splashed through the window, highlighting the greens, blues, and mauves Doug had chosen as the dominating colors. His window shined as brightly today as it had when he called Jay to install it. She'd argued that it could wait until spring, until it was warmer, but Doug ignored her protests.

"Carol," he'd countered, "you always said you worried that people on the El could look straight into this bathroom. The sooner we put it in, the better. And, we can enjoy it now instead of waiting."

He was right, of course. So Jay came on a freezing day during the beginning of January and installed it in record time, and they'd made more than their usual trips upstairs during the following week, just to look at it.

Doug's gift, still there, his thoughtfulness lingering.

She kicked off her sandals and walked back into the room that Doug had planned to be the nursery. Sitting down on the wood floor, she leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes, stroking her belly with her hands.

"Hey, guys, we're home. Did you have a good time? In a few years, you'll have fun. I'll take you to Lake Michigan and I'll show you how to build sand castles and skip rocks. We can walk along the shore and get our feet cool. I'll teach you to swim, and we'll make corn on the cob with butter so melted that it'll drip down our chins."

Taking a deep breath, feeling the babies move, she continued. "You know, I should tell you about someone. Someone wonderful, who I love, who is more special to me than anyone in the world." Tears began streaming down her face, but she didn't care. She needed to do this.

"Let me tell you about your daddy."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
How'd we get so out of touch?
How did we fall apart this much?
Why does everything seem wrong?
Tell me where the thrill has gone.

Angel,
Angel,
What is happening?
What in the world's come over us?
What in the world's come over us?
What have we done?
What has come over us?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The end