From PROMISE ME TOMORROW, by Leigh Michaels copyright 1991. All rights reserved.
There was a shadow on the lawn of the sorority house. A dog? A trick of the moonlight, perhaps? Or a prowler, stalking the house? One of the sororities up the street had reported a peeping Tom, a couple of weeks ago.
Cassidy watched the shadow for long minutes, until she was certain that no human being could have stayed still for so long.
Then, with a sigh, she turned away from the window. Don’t be a fool, she told herself. You know perfectly well there’s nothing out there. But you’d rather face the bogeyman in the dark than your own memories, tonight....
Reid had been as good as his word that night; it had been almost midnight when her work was done, and he had still been sitting patiently in the booth, drinking coffee, idly turning the pages of the morning’s newspaper. She had had a couple of hours to think it over, and so when she came back to the booth for the last time she was considerably calmer. Perhaps Kent’s family had a right to know what she had decided. In any case, it seemed, it was no longer her choice whether to tell them; the man in that booth was a force to be reckoned with.
“I’ve clocked out,” she said. “I’m finished for the night.”
He pushed the newspaper aside. “Would you prefer to talk here, or somewhere else?”
She must have looked a little surprised.
“You’re thinking that there isn’t all that much to talk about,” he speculated. “Is that it? You make your demands and I meekly agree to them –- is that what you expect to happen?” He waved a hand at the opposite side of the booth. “Sit down.”
She did, but only to avoid drawing the attention of the night waitress and the few other customers in the coffee shop.
“You might as well tell me what you want, Cassidy.”
She thought bitterly, You’ll never believe it – but why not tell you? “A good home for my baby,” she said. “That’s all. So I’m giving him up for adoption, and you can just run along and not worry about it any more.” She started to slide out of the booth.
He said, impassively, “That makes things much easier.”
Cassidy stopped. “What on earth do you mean?”
He didn’t answer. “When is the baby due?”
“Why do you care?” But she couldn’t hold out against that cool stare. “The middle of December.”
“December,” he repeated thoughtfully. “Have you talked to an agency yet?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. They told me there are hundreds of people who are desperate for babies –- people who will give him love, and security and a good education –-”
“And every toy and game and thing he fancies,” he agreed. “Some of those people are so desperate to have a child that they smother the babies they adopt, you know. They ruin them, turn them into selfish, spoiled brats by giving them more material possessions than any child should have.”
“It isn’t only adopted children that happens to.”
“True enough,” he said. Take Kent, for instance–-”
“Don’t talk to me about Kent!” It was sharp. She closed her eyes, tightly, and said quietly, “I’ve considered that. I’ll have to take my chances, won’t I?”
“But the idea bothers you, doesn’t it?” He was silent for a long moment. “And they’ll pay your expenses, of course.”
“Are you suggesting that’s wrong? Look, Mr. Cavanaugh, if I could afford to be noble I’d never have considered giving my baby up in the first place!”
“And you’ll never have to see him again, or be reminded-–”
She bit her tongue hard. “That is a filthy thing to say,” she said. “Do you think I came to this decision easily? I don’t see that I’ve got a choice –- it doesn’t seem to me to be very loving to condemn a child to the kind of life I could give him.”
“You could have come to me.”
“You?” It was shrill and unbelieving. “When you and your mother wouldn’t even allow me into the intensive care unit to see Kent, you expect that I would come begging you for help so I could keep his child?”
“Then what –- exactly –- do you have in mind?”
“First –-” He leaned across the table. “Do you want a cup of coffee or something?”
“No. Caffeine seems to make the morning sickness worse.”
“Milk, then.” He looked around for the night waitress and sent her off, over Cassidy’s protests.
When the tall glass of milk arrived, she stared at it for a long moment, and pushed it aside with a contemptuous hand. It almost tipped over. “You were saying?”
“First, you have to understand that I had no idea Kent had a little cupcake sitting outside his hospital room.”
“Right,” Cassidy said dryly. “Just where did you think I was, anyway –- out celebrating?”
“Dammit, don’t you understand? I never knew you existed. It wasn’t till they carried you out of the memorial service that it occurred to me that Kent’s love-life had been awfully quiet lately, and when I started asking around -–”
“Do you expect me to believe that? Your mother was furious at the idea that he wanted to marry me.”
The cynical glint in his eyes had sharpened. “If she was, she certainly didn’t tell me.”
“You don’t believe me, do you?’ Cassidy said quietly. “That Kent was going to marry me.”
He shrugged. “What difference does it make now?”
She looked down at her hands, nails cut short, skin reddened by the strong disinfectants she used every day, fingers bare. Kent had said he intended to buy her a diamond, as soon as his next allowance came... “None, I suppose,” she whispered.
He toyed with his coffee cup, and when he finally looked up he said, “I want the baby, Cassidy.”
“You?” Her voice was heavy with disbelief.
“Think about it. You want a safe, secure home for him –- an education, the love of a family. So do I -– but I want it to be his own family.”
“What about your mother?”
“I haven’t discussed it with her. It’s none of my mother’s business.” It was uncompromising.
Cassidy’s eyebrows raised. It had been her impression, from what Kent had said, that Jenna Cavanaugh considered everything to be her business.
“I promise you the child will be cherished, and not spoiled or over-indulged. I swear to you that he will grow up to be a decent human being.”
She found her voice again. “What -– ?”
“And that he will know about the loving sacrifice that his mother made when she gave him up.”
“You want me to just hand him over to you?”
He traced a pattern on the paper place mat with the handle of his spoon. “You’re going to hand him over to someone,” he reminded quietly. “Why shouldn’t he have his proper heritage, Cassidy? His real name?”
She put her elbows on the table and buried her face in her hands. A faint smell of bleach clung to her fingers, from the cloths she had used tonight to wipe the tables. It seemed to mingle with the scent of Reid Cavanaugh’s cologne, and the combination stung her nose with the harsh contrast the two aromas represented for her baby. Reid’s words echoed through her mind.
You’re going to hand him over to someone. Why shouldn’t he have his proper heritage? His real name?
She might not exactly like Reid Cavanaugh, but could she blame him for what he wanted to do? This was his brother’s child. And what about the baby? An agency would be very careful to place him in a good home, but might he be better off with his blood uncle?
It isn’t like Aunt Sandra, she told herself. Aunt Sandra never wanted you –- but Reid Cavanaugh wants this child.
This way, a little voice at the back of her brain reminded, you will know what happens to him. You’ll know where he is, and who he is. The agencies won’t allow that...
That’s selfish, she thought. I have to decide what’s best for the baby.
If it were my brother’s child, she thought, and he were dead, what would I want to happen? What if I had been this child, and someday I was told that my mother had had a choice, and she had chosen to send me away from all my family, forever?
She didn’t look up. “Very well,” she whispered. “I agree.”
“I think that’s a very wise decision.” But he didn’t sound in the least triumphant. “You can give your notice tomorrow. I don’t like the idea of you working at this kind of job.”
The proprietary tone set the hair at the back of her neck on end. “And what business is it of yours? What do you expect me to live on?”
“I’m planning to pay your expenses, of course.” He stared at her, his eyes narrowed. “Don’t be foolish. It can’t be good for the baby when you’re on your feet for ten hours at a time.”
Cassidy’s eyes dropped. He was right, after all.
He took her silence for consent. “Then there’s just one problem left,” he said. “That’s the adoption routine itself. You said you’ve already contacted an agency?”
“I haven’t signed anything. It’s far too early.”
“That’s good. But I’m sure you understand that even private adoption has its hazards in a case like this. I’ll be a single parent, you see, and that still isn’t the most popular arrangement with some judges.”
“I’m sure you’ll work it out.”
He didn’t pause. “Even more important, as I’m sure the people at the agency have already told you, you have certain parental rights that can’t be terminated until after the baby is born. If you were to change your mind in the meantime -–”
She shook her head. She was extraordinarily tired, all of a sudden, and she didn’t even have the strength to ask just where he expected her to run with a newborn.
“I'd like some sort of guarantee that you can’t just walk out on our agreement, Cassidy.”
She shrugged. “Whatever you think you need,” she mumbled. “Though I assure you it isn’t necessary.”
He looked at her for a long moment. “I'll make the arrangements, then.”
Something in his tone warned her, and she looked up, suddenly alert again. “Just what do you have in mind?”
“It’s very simple, really. My attorney worked it out. It avoids the entire problem of adoption, by creating a more regular family unit.”
She stared at him for a long time, silently.
Finally he sighed and said, “I mean a marriage of convenience, Cassidy. As your husband, in the eyes of the legal system I’ll be the father of your child -– ” He obviously saw the shock in her face, and went on hastily, “For heaven’s sake, girl, I’m not suggesting that we share a bed! I don’t intend that we even live under the same roof. I just want to ensure that this child ends up in my custody, and that it’s done as smoothly as possible and with as little damage to him...” He paused for a moment, and added, softly, “It would mean that he wouldn’t be illegitimate, you know.”
“What does that matter, any more?” she said bitterly. “These days–”
“But I think it does matter to you. You were very anxious to convince me that Kent wanted to marry you.”
She stared at her hands, knuckles white, clenched on the edge of the table.
“You’ve already agreed to all the difficult things, Cassidy,” that relentless voice went on. “Why stop at this? It’s only a formality, for the baby’s sake. A few months–-”
“No,” she said. “No.”
But he didn’t seem to hear her. “It’s for the best; you’ll see. Drink your milk,” he ordered. “And then I’ll take you home. You need all the sleep you can get.”
In the end, Cassidy married Reid, for the baby’s sake, and -– if she was completely honest about it – for her own peace of mind as well. She had known all along, of course, in some detached corner of her brain, how very difficult it was going to be to give up her child completely, to sever all ties, to not even know his name or whether he was healthy and well-adjusted. She had put that knowledge aside, however, and told herself that she would get used to the idea as the months passed, and that when the moment of truth came she would be all right, because she was acting in the best interests of the child.
But when she was offered a chance for something else-–
It wasn’t much, of course. Reid wanted his brother’s child, and perhaps he felt a small obligation to the mother of that child. But he had been very honest about what he was offering her, and what he would not give. He would send her a photograph and a summary of the child’s progress each year, along with a check for ten thousand dollars, in return for her continued cooperation...
That was when she had said something about blood money and the way in which babies were bought and sold on the black market. It was the first hint she had ever had that Reid Cavanaugh was capable of fury. The angry glitter in his eyes, the stern set of his jaw, the taut white line of his mouth, shocked her; he was totally unlike Kent, who exploded and swore and threw things. Reid’s controlled anger was, she thought, more frightening.
Then abruptly, the emotion was gone. Reid reached for her hand and said, very reasonably, “I understand that you’re scared, Cassidy, and worried about whether you’re doing the right thing. But I’m not buying the baby! We’d made our agreement before the money ever came into it.” He brushed her trembling lower lip with his thumb, adding gently, “It’s not all that much, you know -– money doesn’t go as far as it used to. And lord knows you’re going to need it.”
That was true enough. So she bit her tongue and let him set up a special bank account and make the first deposit on the day the dry words of a judge made them husband and wife. Or perhaps it was more fitting to refer to the arrangement as Reid had, that night at the coffee shop –- they were now “a more regular family unit.”
She swore to herself that she would take his help only as long as she must, that she would regard it as a loan, and that someday she would pay every penny back, because to do anything else was to put a price-tag on her baby.
She did it, too, as far as she was able. Last May, she had finally finished at the university, and on the first day of June, when the annual check was deposited, she closed the account. She took every remaining cent of Reid Cavanaugh’s money to Chicago with her when she went to a news reporters’ convention, and she bought the first of that series of money orders. And every month thereafter she would send a little more, until she had paid back the part of his money she had spent...
The moon was high now, in the wee hours of the morning, and the shadow out on the lawn of the sorority house stayed solidly in place.
From Promise Me Tomorrow, copyright 1991 by Leigh Michaels. All rights reserved.
This exercise is copyrighted material and is offered for the individual's own use. Further distribution or sale is not permitted without permission of the copyright holder. Copyright 2012 Leigh Michaels.
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