orrie lay beneath the delicately flowered sheet, her eyes squeezed shut, hands flat on her belly, listening to her husband’s regular snores. The cramping increased, signaling another period, another failure. No pregnancy, no baby, just another month of wasted time.
She rose quietly and went into the bathroom for a tampon and some ibuprofen. Staring at herself in the mirror, she let the tears drip down her face and into the sink.
It wasn’t fair. Everyone else could get pregnant. Little girls who were too young and didn’t want babies got pregnant. Older women with grown kids got pregnant.
Why, God? Why not me?
But she knew. Somewhere deep inside she knew why. She didn’t deserve a baby.
She walked down the hall and opened the door to the nursery, sat down in the padded rocker, and stared around the room. Jemima Puddle-Duck, Tom Kitten, and Peter Rabbit gazed back at her from their frames on the walls.
She shouldn’t have decorated a nursery before she even got pregnant. Everyone had told her so. And everyone had been right. But, God, she and Mark had loved picking out the crib and changing table, the wallpaper border, and the framed prints. Of course they’d get pregnant right away. Why shouldn’t they? They were happily married, had a nice home and good jobs. Their friends were having babies. It was time, after all.
Instead, they’d endured two long, emotional, roller-coaster years of trying and hoping and despair.
Dropping her head into her hands, Corrie cried softly.
Mark stood in the doorway, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She shook her head, not meeting his eyes.
“Oh, Corrie,” he said softly. “It’s okay, honey.”
She rose and walked into his arms.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t say that.” He stroked her hair. “It’s not your fault. It’s just . . . well, it’s just not our time yet. But we’ll get there.”
He raised her chin to look into her eyes.
“I promise, Corrie, we’ll have a baby. One way or another, we’ll have a baby.”
She nodded, willing herself to believe him.
“Come back to bed,” he said, leading her out of the nursery by the hand. “Get some sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
He kissed her forehead and pulled the sheet over them both.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too.”
A few minutes later, Mark was snoring again. Corrie stared at the ceiling fan spinning slowly above the bed, wondering how he could go back to sleep so easily. Didn’t he even care? Or was he just tired of the baby quest, the doctor’s visits and hormones and endless disappointment?
But it had been his idea to have a baby in the first place. Mark wanted children; he’d said so from the start. He loved his nephew and niece. He was so good with kids. He would be a great dad.
Only she couldn’t give him that. She couldn’t give him the one thing he wanted most in the world.
She curled herself around his sleeping back, felt his heart beating beneath her hand.
Why, God? Why can’t I get pregnant? I’m so sorry for before. Please don’t punish Mark because of something I did.
She held her breath and waited, as she always did, for some kind of reply, but the only sound in the room was Mark’s breathing. After a long time, she rose again, went downstairs to the kitchen, and made a cup of peppermint tea.
“Oh, honey, you worry too much.” Patrice sank into the faded red recliner, balancing a coffee mug in one hand, the TV remote in the other. “You’ve always worried too much, ever since you were a little girl.” She sighed. “Just like your father.”
Corrie’s spine stiffened, her jaw clenched as she shoved the dust rag furiously across the coffee table. Why did she bother telling her mother anything? Why did she always expect that Patrice would suddenly be different? She sighed and walked to the kitchen, swiping the rag across a countertop.
“Mom?” she called, glancing at the empty coffeepot. “Where’s the coffee?”
“Oh, I haven’t made any today,” Patrice called back. “I’m having tea.”
Corrie held her hand over the stove’s cool burners, then looked into the sink and the trash can for a teabag. She sighed again and walked back to the living room.
“For God’s sake, Mom,” she said, eyeing the mug Patrice held to her lips. “It’s not even noon.”
Now Patrice sighed loudly. She sipped from the cup and set it on the coffee table. “It’s five o’clock somewhere,” she said flatly.
Corrie stood a minute, waiting for her to say something else. But Patrice simply dabbed at her lips with a napkin, picked up the mug, and sipped again.
After a long minute of heavy silence, Patrice said, “I don’t know why you come over here, if all you’re going to do is lecture me.”
“I came to help,” Corrie said, waving her hand around the cluttered living room. Stacks of magazines covered the end table. Unopened mail, some stained with coffee, lay on the desk. A plate with something dried on it peeked from under the couch. “If I didn’t come, you’d drown in filth.”
Patrice leaned back in the recliner and rubbed her temples. Finally, she sighed deeply.
“I know you come to help, honey,” she said. “And I appreciate the help, I do. But can’t you keep your negative comments to yourself, just for once? Can’t we have a nice visit without you nagging, nagging, nagging me? Can’t you ever just . . . relax?”
Corrie bit her lip hard, feeling the bile rise in her throat. Her mother’s mantra, ever since Corrie’s father had died, had been the same.
Why are you persecuting me? I’m just a poor widow. Don’t judge me. Stop worrying so much. Everything will work out . . . it always does
What Patrice never acknowledged was that things worked out because Corrie worked them out. She always had, even as a child. When the electric bill went unpaid, it was Corrie who called to plead for more time, before they turned the electricity off. When her little brother needed cleats for soccer, Corrie spent her babysitting money to get them. When her mother fell asleep on the couch after dinner, Corrie made sure her brother and sister finished their homework and brushed their teeth before bed.
And Patrice always smiled and said, “There, you see! It all worked out just fine.”
“Sure, Mom,” Corrie said softly in reply. “Whatever.”
hy do you let her get to you?” Bryn sat at Corrie’s kitchen table, a glass of merlot in her hand, watching as Corrie shredded a paper napkin. “You know how she is. Patrice is just . . . Patrice.”
“I know,” Corrie said, rolling the last of the napkin into a small ball. “I just worry about her. I mean, it wasn’t even noon and she was already into the gin.”
“She’s a drunk, honey. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it. Probably even Patrice knows it. She’s an alcoholic, and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.”
Corrie rubbed her hand across her eyes. “She wasn’t always this way,” she said quietly.
“I know she wasn’t,” Bryn agreed. “But she has been for a long time. God, Corrie, she’s been drinking for as long as I’ve known you.”
Bryn and Corrie had met their first day of college, assigned roommates at first, then friends, now more like sisters.
“At least she’s a fun drunk,” Bryn continued. “I mean, at least she doesn’t get mean or anything.”
Corrie simply nodded. That was the consensus among her friends. Her mother was a fun drunk, the life of the party. She was always ready with a joke, always flirting with her daughters’ boyfriends, always dancing around the house in her short red kimono robe, swaying to music that no one else could hear.
But even Bryn didn’t know the whole truth—that Patrice was fun until she hit a wall, and then the fun could suddenly turn to mean. Corrie had a long scar running down her thigh to prove it, evidence of the time Patrice had thrown a pan of scalding water at her because Corrie had refused to drive her to the liquor store when she ran out of gin.
“Before my dad died—” Corrie began.
“I know,” Bryn interrupted her. “Before your dad died, everything was perfect. He was perfect, your mom was perfect, Maya was perfect, and Caerl . . . well, at least Caerl wasn’t a complete asshole, like he is now.”
Corrie’s initial impulse to defend her little brother passed as quickly as it had risen. Caerl
an asshole. There was no denying it. Even as a kid, he’d been mean, stealing money from Corrie’s drawer, teasing Maya mercilessly, lying to get what he wanted. Yet Patrice continually made excuses for Caerl, even as she neglected her daughters.
Poor Maya was only six when their father died and their mother retreated into an alcoholic haze. Corrie could still picture her small face, eyes wide and trusting, trying hard not to cry as Corrie bandaged her knee when she fell off her bike the first time.
“But your dad did die.” Bryn’s voice brought Corrie back to the present. “It sucks, but it happened. And your mom didn’t have to . . . She could have made different choices back then. Hell, she could still make different choices. But she doesn’t. And that’s not your fault, Corrie. That’s on her, not on you.”
She reached across the table and took Corrie’s hand. “You are not responsible for your mom or your siblings,” she said firmly. “You just concentrate on taking care of yourself for now. Maybe you should take a break from going over there for a while.”
Corrie smiled at her friend, staring so intently at her from across the table. Bryn’s dark eyes never wavered from Corrie’s, those eyes so big in her pale, heart-shaped face.
“I can’t do that,” Corrie said, pulling her hand from Bryn’s. “She needs me.”
“Honey, she’s always going to need you,” Bryn said. “She’s going to need you until she realizes she has to take care of herself.”
Corrie rose and carried her wineglass to the sink. “Do you want another glass?”
“Better not,” Bryn said, rising as well. “I’ve still got work to do tonight. But thanks for dinner.”
“I’m glad you could come,” Corrie said, hugging her friend lightly. “I hate eating alone.”
“Well, make that husband of yours come home for dinner sometime,” Bryn said, grinning.
“He’s really busy right now,” Corrie began. “It’s a huge project and . . .”
“It always is, right?” Bryn said. “But hey, I’m not complaining. I got a free meal out of it.”
After Bryn left, Corrie poured herself a second glass of wine. At least she could have wine now, knowing she wasn’t pregnant . . . again. She sat in the dark living room, her bare feet curled under her on the white leather couch. Maybe Bryn was right. Maybe she should take a break from her mother, just concentrate on herself and Mark and . . . She leaned her head back and let the tears come, the ones she’d been fighting all day.
If they had a baby, maybe Mark would stop traveling so much. Maybe he’d come home for dinner sometimes. Maybe Patrice would fall in love with being a grandma and cut back on her drinking. Maybe . . .
She shook her head sharply and swiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
No maybes. It is what it is.
She switched on the lamp, reached for the TV remote, and saw the invitation on the coffee table. Picking it up, she read it for the hundredth time.
Please join Middlebrook University’s Class of 2001 for our ten-year reunion!
Could it really be ten years since she’d graduated? It felt like so much longer, like a whole lifetime ago.
She leaned back and closed her eyes, remembering her first day at the university, the day she met Bryn, the day she met Daniel . . . the day everything changed.
“Hey, I’m Bryn!”
Corrie had stared at the girl with short, dark, spiky hair standing in the middle of the dorm room, holding a curtain rod in one hand and a hammer in the other. She didn’t look old enough to be in college. She hardly looked old enough to be in high school.
“Well hello, Bryn!” Patrice said, smiling widely. “I’m Patrice, and this is Coriander Bliss.” She waved at Corrie. “It looks like you two are going to be roommates.”
“Coriander Bliss?” Bryn repeated, staring at Corrie.
Corrie felt her cheeks redden. “It’s just Corrie,” she said, staring steadily at the floor.
“Oh all right, just Corrie,” Patrice said, laughing. “If that’s what you really want.”
She turned to Bryn and smiled again. “I don’t know why she doesn’t love her name. I think Coriander Bliss is beautiful, don’t you?”
“Um, sure,” Bryn mumbled. “I guess so.”
“And Bryn is an unusual name, too,” Patrice said. “Is it short for Brenda?”
“No, just Bryn.”
“Well then, just Bryn, you and just Corrie should get along fabulously.”
After Patrice finally left, Corrie sat on her bed, watching Bryn hang dark purple curtains that matched her black-and-purple bedspread.
“Hope you don’t mind it dark,” Bryn said, stepping back from the window to admire the curtains. “I like to sleep late.”
“It’s okay,” Corrie said. The black and purple contrasted oddly with her cream-colored quilt, delicately embroidered with tiny pink rosebuds. Corrie had made the quilt herself. She had embroidered sheer curtains to match, but they were still folded neatly in the sweater box now stowed under the bed.
“Is your name really Coriander Bliss?” Bryn asked.
“Yeah,” Corrie said, blushing again. “My mom was on an Indian cooking spree.”
“Could be worse,” Bryn said, grinning. “She could have named you Galangal.”
Corrie laughed. “I guess.”
“So, where are you from?” Bryn asked, flopping onto her own bed.
“Here,” Corrie said. “I mean, Middlebrook. I grew up here.”
“So how come you’re living on campus?”
“I had to get out,” Corrie began. “That is, I . . .”
“Oh, I get it,” Bryn reassured her. “I wanted out, too. That’s why I came here instead of going to Butler or IUPUI.”
“So you’re from Indianapolis?” Corrie asked.
“Just north of there. My folks live in Carmel.” Bryn glanced at Corrie to see if she had registered the name of the expensive Indianapolis suburb. She was relieved that Corrie didn’t react.
“So, will you be going home much?” Bryn continued.
Corrie hesitated, then nodded. “Probably,” she said. “My mom needs help with my brother and sister.”
“What about your dad?”
“He died,” Corrie said softly, “when I was twelve. He had a heart attack.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. That’s tough.”
Corrie nodded. “He was a professor here,” she said. “That’s why I can afford to be here.”
“What did he teach?” Bryn asked.
“History,” Corrie said. “Mostly he focused on East Asian history.”
“Cool. Is that what you’re majoring in?”
“I don’t know,” Corrie said. “I haven’t decided. How about you?”
“Art,” Bryn said firmly. “I want to be a graphic artist.”
“Wow,” Corrie said. “I wish I knew what I wanted to do.”
“Oh, you’ll figure it out,” Bryn said. “Meantime, are you hungry?”
They walked into the crowded, noisy dorm cafeteria, filled their trays, and looked for a place to sit.
“There,” Bryn said, pointing to two seats at the end of a long table.
“Oh, hey,” she said, smiling at a redheaded guy who took the seat opposite them. He was tall and lanky in an Atlanta Braves T-shirt and jeans.
“Hey,” he said, setting his tray on the table.
“I’m Bryn and this is Corrie. We’re freshman. How about you?”
“Yeah, me too,” he said. “I’m Daniel.”
He smiled briefly at the girls, then began eating his hamburger.
“Where are you from?” Bryn asked.
“Atlanta,” Daniel said, pointing to the T-shirt. “You?”
“Indianapolis,” Bryn said. “Corrie’s from Middlebrook.”
Daniel kept eating, so Bryn turned her attention back to Corrie. “So, what’s fun here in Middlebrook?”
Corrie thought for a minute. “Well, Kendle Street is fun, lots of shops and restaurants from all over the world. And there’s a movie theater on Fourth, and the mall is on Second.”
“How about clubs?” Bryn asked. “Any good clubs?”
“Well, I’ve heard Ike’s is good,” Corrie said. “But I haven’t actually been there. You have to be twenty-one.”
“Or,” Bryn said, grinning, “you have to look twenty-one and have a good fake ID.”
Corrie stared at her, and Bryn laughed.
“Oh, come on,” she said. “You don’t have a fake ID?”
Corrie shook her head.
“Well, we’ll have to get you one,” Bryn said. “How about you?” She nodded in Daniel’s direction. “Does Mr. Atlanta have a fake ID?”
Daniel stopped chewing and looked at Bryn for a moment before answering. “Nope,” he said. “No club-hopping for me. I came to learn, not to get drunk.”
“Well, excuse me,” Bryn said, her eyes widening as she turned to Corrie. “Heaven forbid anything should get in the way of your
“What are you studying?” Corrie asked.
“Political science and sociology,” Daniel said.
“Very marketable,” Bryn said, laughing.
“The goal isn’t to make money,” Daniel said, smiling now. “It’s to make a difference.”
Bryn laughed again and began talking about where to find a fake ID for Corrie. Corrie sat half listening, watching Daniel tackle his salad.
“What do you mean, make a difference?” she asked when Bryn paused for a breath.
Daniel set his fork down and leaned his elbows on the table. “I want to make a difference in the world,” he said. “Not just earn a paycheck, but make a real difference in people’s lives.”
“You mean, like a social worker?” Corrie asked.
“Maybe,” he agreed. “But I’d rather work on a larger scale, maybe lobbying in Washington for a higher minimum wage or for workers’ rights . . . stuff like that, you know?”
“Oh,” Corrie said. “That’s . . . impressive.”
Bryn laughed, watching Corrie with raised eyebrows.
“It is,” Corrie insisted. “It’s impressive to know what you want to do, and to want to help people. That’s . . . impressive.”
“Thanks.” Daniel sounded skeptical. “How about you? What are you majoring in?”
“Graphic design,” Bryn said. “For me, the point
to earn a big, fat paycheck.”
“What a surprise,” Daniel said, laughing. “And you?”
“Oh, I’m not sure yet,” Corrie said. “Maybe history or literature or . . . I just don’t know.”
“Well,” Daniel said, pushing his chair back from the table and rising, “you’ve got some time to figure it out. See you later.” With that, he picked up his tray and walked away.
“Well,” Bryn said, watching him. “He’s pretty much full of himself.”
“Maybe,” Corrie said. “But it’s nice he wants to help people.”
Corrie smiled, remembering that day fourteen years ago, at how naïve she had been, how naïve they’d all been. She’d been awed by Daniel, right from the start. How could he know at eighteen what he wanted to do with his life?
She stared at the invitation in her hand. Would Daniel come to the reunion? Would she still feel for him the way she had all those years ago?
Headlights swept through the picture window. Mark was home, and he’d be hungry.