Chandler watched with horror as the idiot in the black Corvette spun toward him, out of control. There was nowhere to go. Nothing Chandler could do. He slammed on his brakes and reached over to protect the most valuable thing in his life. As if his arm could somehow save his wife from certain death had she not been strapped in with a seatbelt and passenger-side airbags.
The Corvette spun one more half turn as the automatic braking system on his Subaru Outback kicked into gear, bringing them to a complete stop faster than his reflexes would have provided. The laws of physics were called into question at how quickly the Subaru seemed to stop. The pickup truck in the next lane wasn’t quite so lucky. That Corvette’s one more half turn, and the Subaru’s otherworldly braking mechanism meant the pickup truck hit the Corvette, slamming it further up the road and out of their way.
Chandler glanced in the rearview mirror, hoping the cars behind them had decent brakes as well. The danger was far from over. They were on a curve and on a bridge and stuck between several cars piled up in front of them and speeding cars flying around a blind corner to their rear. A few other cars crashed into each other but somehow the Subaru’s shiny blue paint never received a dent or a scratch.
“Are you okay?” Chandler asked, breathless and heart racing.
“I think so.” Janette’s voice wavered with unshed tears. “I’m scared.” She also glanced behind them. The crunching of metal and breaking of glass had silenced as any cars still barreling toward them were far behind, around the bend where they’d see the pileup before it was too late.
“Stay here, I’m going to see if anyone around us needs assistance.” Chandler unbuckled his seatbelt and reached for the door handle.
“I’m coming with you,” Janette said, unbuckling her seatbelt as well.
He grabbed for her wrist to stop her. “Please just stay in the car! If anything were to happen to you… I would… oh my gosh. Please just stay here and be safe.”
“I am a mother, Chandler,” she said with annoyance in her voice. “I know how to do basic triage. There are probably people in these other cars who need help and I’m going to provide help as best as I can.”
Chandler couldn’t argue with that. “Please be careful.” He met her eyes with concerned resolution.
“You as well.” Without another word she was out of the passenger door, and he let himself out the driver’s side.
Janette headed for the nearest crashed car to check on the people there and Chandler hurried toward the front of the pileup to inquire about the drivers of the pickup truck and Corvette who had been the first to crash.
He could hear sirens in the distance but realized no emergency vehicle was going to get close unless some of the untouched vehicles got out of the way. Another man who was not injured approached from the other side and Chandler called out to him. “Can you head up to the front of the line of cars and see if you can get them to move out of the way?”
“I’m a doctor,” the man said. “Let me check on the injuries and you go tell the people in the cars to move.”
“Good idea, thanks.” Chandler shifted trajectory and headed for the frontmost vehicles, where people were starting to emerge with dazed expressions and wide eyes. He called out to them, “Can you help me move all these cars out of the way so emergency vehicles can get through?”
Together with several others they managed to direct traffic up and around and away from the crash site. Within a few minutes they had enough cars moved that Chandler hurried to move his own car. Janette was nowhere in sight, but he was confident she was helping someone, and they’d find each other later.
He had to drive quite far to get his car out of the way, but he was glad for having helped clear a path when a police car and ambulance came racing up the bridge from the opposite direction. Because of the cleared path, the ambulance was able to pull right up where they could be of greatest assistance.
Chandler wandered back through the crashed cars to see if there was anyone who still needed help. Mostly people were in shock from the trauma. Some had cuts and scrapes and injuries from inflated airbags, but otherwise were okay.
The driver of the Corvette wasn’t so lucky. Hearing the guy had been drinking alcohol wasn’t a shock. Learning he had life threatening injuries was sad. Finding out the man in the pickup truck was also seriously injured made Chandler angry.
None of this needed to happen. None of this would have happened if that jerk had been sober. Chandler looked around at the dozens of crashed cars, the dozens of injured and shocked people attempting to clean up the mess created by one reckless idiot who got behind the wheel of a Corvette after drinking alcohol.
After helping move more cars out of the way and assessing any other injuries that required attention, Chandler finally found Janette amidst all the chaos. They met each other’s gaze from a distance of about forty yards and Chandler sighed with relief. They strode toward one another, and Chandler tucked Janette into his arms and just held her. They didn’t speak; they just held each other.
Finally, Chandler pulled away and looked down into his wife’s tired face and said quietly, “We were lucky.”
“Can we get out of here?” Janette asked in a shaky voice. “I just want to find our hotel and go to bed.”
“Let’s go give a statement to the police along with our contact information and then we can leave.” Chandler kept his arm around his wife as he led her in the direction where multiple squad cars sat with lights still flashing. He would probably still be seeing flashing lights in his sleep that night. If he was able to fall asleep at all.
“It’s only sixty-five through here, people,” Chandler called out in his typical road rage fashion. “I’m going seventy and these guys are passing me like we’re standing still. Idiot!” He yelled at the guy in a Corvette who had zipped past, dangerously close. As if the guy could hear him. The only person affected by his tirade was Janette and she had already given up trying to convince him not to shout at other drivers.
She knew to just shut up and wait for Chandler to calm down. Yelling at him for yelling at them would just anger him more. He had enough stress dealing with the jerks drag racing through the complicated maze of crisscrossing expressways over downtown St. Louis.
Janette glanced fondly up at the Gateway Arch gracing the St. Louis skyline remembering with fondness that afternoon during their senior trip when she and Chandler had lain on their backs in the grass gazing up at the blue sky and dreaming of their future. Their final summer before the end of childhood and the beginning of college. Before the real world intruded on their idyllic life. Before careers and babies and mortgage payments and responsibilities. Back when life was as wide open as the blue sky above the Gateway Arch. Right there in the grass Chandler had looked at Janette like she was the only woman in the world and the only thing that mattered in his life.
He sat up halfway and propped himself on his elbow then leaned down and kissed her. He kissed her much more passionately than he should have in front of the hundreds of pedestrians moseying through the Gateway Park beneath the Arch.
Maybe the open aired freedom of knowing they couldn’t be tempted to go too far allowed him to shed the inhibitions usually holding him back. His commitment to purity before their marriage was admirable but restricting. She remembered wishing they were all grown up and married and could let that kiss continue long into the night. Now twenty-five years later she longed for that feeling to return. She wanted to experience that youthful passion and abandon.
As they passed through downtown St. Louis, the Arch disappeared in her rearview mirror and Janette realized Chandler was no longer grumbling at other drivers and seemed at peace. Maybe he was remembering that afternoon as well. Maybe he missed that blissful innocence also. She pulled her gaze and attention back to the road in front of them.
Just in time for the black Corvette that had zipped past them to careen into the guardrail, then overcompensate in the opposite direction, spinning into the lane directly ahead of them. Chandler’s arm reached across the front of her as if that alone could protect Janette from the oncoming crash.
“Hold on!” Chandler called out as he slammed on the brakes and Janette braced herself for impact.
“Would you please hoist this up into the car?” Janette asked Chandler with more disdain than he’d heard in a long time. Great. What’d he do this time? “Or do I have to do everything myself?” Janette was struggling to lift their heavy suitcase into the hatch of her Subaru Outback.
Chandler couldn’t understand why she hadn’t waited two more minutes for him to come help her. She was so impatient. Without answering her obviously rhetorical question, he calmly lifted the bulging suitcase up and shoved it further back so they could fit the cooler in.
“Don’t scratch my car,” she snapped.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes then spoke through gritted teeth. “I did not scratch your car. Nor would I.”
“You did the other day when we went to the post office,” she reminded him. “You slammed the door against the curb and scratched the door frame.”
“The day I helped you carry that giant box of books you shipped to one of your little friends on the opposite side of the world? What did that cost you? Like, eighty bucks? Did you take that out of your business account? Or did you borrow money from our home checking account?”
“I used my business account.” Her words were laced with hurt. He needed to rein himself in. Again. “And Lana is not one of my little friends. She is a professional author and one of my co-writers. She deserves to have copies of our co-written book.”
“And she couldn’t just order them from Australia herself?” Chandler didn’t wait for Janette to ask for his help before lifting the heavy cooler and shoving it into the spot barely large enough remaining in the back of the trunk.
“I needed to sign them for her.” Janette’s vulnerability showed in the wavering of her voice. “You may not think my autograph is valuable but other people do.”
“I’m sure they do,” Chandler said dismissively. Looking around the car for anything else that needed to be loaded and seeing nothing, Chandler reached up and pulled the hatch down to close the trunk. “Did you use the bathroom? I don’t want to have to stop an hour from now.”
He pulled the car keys from his pocket and headed for the driver’s side door before waiting for her to answer. It didn’t matter. If she needed to stop, he would stop. He always did. His wife had a bladder the size of a grape and drank too much Diet Coke. Not that he complained since she never batted an eye when he snuck sips of her pop every so often.
Janette spent several minutes digging through her recently organized backpack while Chandler sat in the driver’s seat, adjusting the seat back so his legs would fit better in her tiny car.
If only they could take his Mustang convertible on their cross-country trip. He looked longingly across the driveway at his Mustang’s sparkling blue paint job shimmering in the morning sun, knowing that was a forgone conclusion. Janette hated having wind in her face and refused to ride in his prized possession with the top down. What was the point of having a convertible if he couldn’t lower the top? Plus, the little beast had manual transmission and Janette couldn’t drive a stick shift. Not that he’d give up the wheel long enough for her to drive, but still. If something happened and he was unable to drive, better to be riding in a car she knew how to operate.
“What’s the holdup?” he grumbled when she still hadn’t joined him a minute later.
“I can’t find my computer charger.” She kept digging in her backpack.
“You already plugged the stupid thing in,” Chandler said, reaching across the console to lift the converter from where it rested beside her seat, having already been plugged into the car’s auxiliary charger. “Are you really going to be on the computer long enough to need the charger?”
“I’m going to be writing the whole time you’re driving.” She slipped into the passenger seat and adjusted the lap desk so that it rested across her knees with the laptop already open and ready to go.
“All seventy hours?” He met he gaze and lifted his eyebrows.
“Unless you’re tired and need me to take over.” She snapped her seatbelt into place.
“Not a chance.” Chandler glanced in the rearview mirror and watched the screen with the backup camera to ensure nothing was behind them, then backed out of their driveway. “What are you writing?”
“I’m taking your advice.” Janette was already typing before they’d left the neighborhood.
“About what?” He was nervous that he couldn’t remember what advice he’d given her that involved writing.
“You said I should write a romance novel about our trip.” She kept typing without glancing his way.
“I said that?” He tried to reach back into his mind to dig up that conversation.
“And I told you that no one would want to read a romance about an elderly couple, and you hurt my feelings by telling me no one would want to read any of my romance novels.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” Would he?
“I guess you and I remember the conversation differently,” Janette said.
“I don’t remember the conversation at all, so I’ll take your word for it.” Chandler pulled onto the interstate and merged into rush hour traffic, cursing his brother for asking them to embark on this venture. “Do I get to have any contribution to the story?”
“Sure. I’ll even put your name on the cover if you’d like.” She kept typing. “Under mine and in smaller font size of course.”
“Will you autograph a copy of the paperback for me also?” Chandler chuckled and glanced over at his wife, still adorable in all her youthful endeavors.
“Of course… although the copy will be worth more if you sign the book also.”
“I wouldn’t want to undervalue our joint project by refusing to include my autograph.”
“Excellent. Now be quiet so I can write.”
“Yes, dear.” Their age-old joke from when his brother had given him the best marriage advice ever back on his wedding day. The only two words he needed for a happy marriage: Yes, dear. Worked to this day. And every day from now until eternity. Provided they make it through a seventy-hour cross-country car ride together. That remained to be determined. He glanced at the GPS. Only sixty-nine hours and forty-five minutes left to go.
“Jerk,” Janette grumbled, walking away from the slammed door of Chandler’s home office. “Who would want to read your stupid romance novels? All my fans, that’s who. And I am perfectly capable of transferring money from our savings to our checking account. Thank you very much.”
She strode down the hall to her home office, which was more of a converted parlor in their elegant Victorian. This room was probably used to receive formal guests in the eighteen-hundreds. They had attempted to maintain as much of the original charm when upgrading the electrical wiring and installing high speed internet and video equipment for vlogging. She was proud of what Chandler had accomplished in the remodel.
Settling into her large executive chair, Janette tucked her feet up under her legs and spun the chair to face her desk, jiggling the mouse to wake up her computer. However much she wanted to fight her husband on this, the reality was they were running out of time and needed to book some hotel rooms for their trip.
“Hot tubs,” she grumbled. “I’m insisting on hot tubs. I don’t care how much it costs.” She was tempted to find the most expensive hotels in each city just out of spite but recognized that she and her husband weren’t rich. Her fledgling career as a romance author had yet to pay out. Janette knew success was a possibility. Her friends were proof of that. Angelina in particular.
Angelina Michaels seemed to own a magic wand. Every book she wrote rocketed to the top of the clean & wholesome romance charts. Every time she wrote a blog post or produced a video, the world sat up and listened or read her words. She was also one of the nicest people Janette had ever met. Well, technically they’d never met in person. They’d only met by video chat. But Angelina was generous and patient, and always seemed to have time to answer Janette’s many questions. She was the epitome of a mentor.
She had also invited Janette and Chandler to stay at her house in Las Vegas when they were there to visit their daughter, Blayke. For that they were eternally grateful. The idea of finding an affordable hotel in Vegas was even more daunting than trying to space out their days of driving across the country. And there was no way they were staying with Blayke and her twenty-something aged roommates. College-age kids were notorious for partying and staying up too late. Janette needed her beauty sleep. Plus, she was excited to have Angelina’s undivided attention for two whole days. This would be a dream vacation.
If Janette could manage to get along with her husband.
She and Chandler had been married for twenty-four years. Long enough to know everything about each other and stay married in spite of their idiosyncrasies. They were also a couple of opinionated hotheads who both wanted the last word in every argument. And there were many, many arguments. Not fights. Just spats. Annoyances. Jabs. Digs.
Chandler just didn’t understand Janette. He thought she lived in fantasy land writing romantic stories about imaginary people. He never read anything she published so he didn’t appreciate her talent. She kept thinking that if she could make a boatload of money, he’d recognize her success. In spite of their differences, Chandler was the person from whom Janette craved acceptance.
He was her romantic inspiration. Even with his receding hairline and expanding waistline, he was still smoking hot. He probably didn’t even realize how much she was still attracted to him after all these years. If only he’d give her a second glance.
Janette understood why he wasn’t interested anymore. She’d gained weight over the years. Her hair was turning grey and thinning. Her favorite hairdresser had moved out to Las Vegas to pursue her career as a make-up artist to the stars. Although proud of their daughter, Janette missed the way Blayke always touched up her mom’s roots and kept her stylishly trimmed. Now she just looked shaggy and unkept.
Instead of searching for the most expensive hotel rooms, Janette erred on the side of average price with hotels that included a pool and hot tub. They would need one hotel halfway between their home in Michigan and their son in Oklahoma. She chose a hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, feeling proud of herself for a job well done, and moved on to the next city. Stillwater, Oklahoma, as close to her son’s apartment near the campus of Oklahoma State University as possible. Done. On to city number three. Albuquerque, New Mexico. Halfway between Stillwater and Las Vegas. She didn’t need a hotel in Vegas, thankfully. And they’d be heading from there to Chandler’s brother’s house in Mesa, Arizona.
Feeling a sense of accomplishment, Janette sent all the confirmation emails to her phone to be linked up to her car’s GPS and then opened a new Word document. She named the new file “Road Trip” and started typing chapter one. This was going to be fun. A road trip across the country with the man of her dreams. She wondered if her husband wanted to come along…
Before I share Chapter One, I just want to remind my readers that Clayton (my husband) and I joke that we’re still on our honeymoon. We are having a fantastic time on our seventy-hour journey across the country and have mostly concluded the research gathering portion of our trip. Although a lot of things about our characters are similar to us, this story (Silver Threads Series Book One: Road Trip) is NOT autobiographical. We also do not argue the way the characters seem to. They have to argue at the beginning of the story or they wouldn’t have any growth and maturity. Because this is a romance novel, there will be a happy ending. I promise. This is meant to be a romantic comedy. When I read this first chapter out loud to Clayton, he laughed at all the right parts. That’s a good sign. I hope you laugh too. -Julie
Chapter One: One week before leaving…
“I won’t have time to think about that until after school gets out,” Chandler said, frustrated that Janette had interrupted him again. Couldn’t she see the stack of tests he still needed to grade and get into the computer? “You are perfectly capable of setting up hotel rooms for our trip.”
“Broyce is your brother, not mine,” Janette snapped at him. “This should be your responsibility.” She glared at him from where she stood in front of his desk with her arms folded across her chest. In the amount of time she’d argued with him about this over the past two weeks she could have had the project done by now.
“He needs both of our help. One person to drive the U-Haul, one person to drive his Solstice, and then you can drive our car back.” Chandler tossed his red pen onto the pile of tests and sat back in his chair, using her intrusion as an excuse to stretch.
“Why can’t we just fly to Arizona and drive back?” Janette should already know the answer to that question and her whining was grating on his last nerves. “There is no way we can spend seventy hours together in a car.”
“We won’t be in the car together on the way back because I’ll be driving the U-Haul,” Chandler said. “Besides this way we can go see Asher and Blayke.”
They hadn’t seen their son, Asher since he’d left for college at Oklahoma State University, and hadn’t seen their daughter, Blayke since she moved out to Las Vegas for an apprenticeship with a make-up artist who caters to high-end clients and celebrities. Their kids were all grown up, and this was Chandler and Janette’s only chance to drive out west. They’d never had an excuse before now.
“Plus, didn’t you have some internet friend you wanted to meet in person? We can stop by so you can fangirl and meet your idol.”
“I do not idolize Angelina,” Janette said. “And she is way more than just an internet friend. She is my mentor.”
“Your mentor for your nonexistent career as an author?” Chandler was tempted to hold up air quotes but already sounded insensitive to his own ears. She’d probably spent more money than she’d made selling her little romance novels. Money she refers to as investing in her business. “Is she also, what did you call it? A midlist author?”
“No, she is a bestselling author and makes a lot of money.” Janette’s voice cracked. Now he’d offended her. Again. Oops. Maybe he needed to soften his tone, but he was still aggravated.
“Good, maybe spending time with her, some of her success will rub off onto you.” Chandler picked up his red pen and sat forward again, hoping to convey the message that he was done with this discussion and ready to get back to work.
“Let’s hope so,” Janette said. “I need all the help I can get.” She turned on her heel and walked out of his home office.
“Let me know how much these hotels are going to cost us so I can transfer enough money from the savings account,” Chandler called after her.
She spun back around, vitriol in her eyes. “Maybe you should have your brother pay for our hotel rooms. Since this is his family we’re helping move across the country.”
“That’s pretty insensitive,” Chandler said, feeling like she’d slapped him across the face. “His wife died less than a year ago. This is really hard for him to uproot his kids just so he can be closer to his parents and siblings. He needs our help.”
“Who’s the one being insensitive?” Janette didn’t move from her position of leaning against the doorframe of his office. “You’re the one forcing me from my work and making me come with you on this trip.”
“Don’t you want to see our kids? They’re spread out across the country now. When else are we going to see them?”
“If they wanted to see me they’d come home to visit,” Janette said. “They don’t even like me anymore or they wouldn’t have hightailed it out of town the minute they were old enough. I’m the witch who made them eat broccoli and get up for school.”
“They love your broccoli, school was their only chance to socialize with their friends, and the only thing they didn’t like about you was that you enforced their curfew. They left because they didn’t like our rules, not because they didn’t like us.”
“Whatever.” She chuckle-snorted and Chandler would have laughed if he wasn’t still annoyed that she’d interrupted his work.
“Just think of this as a grand adventure,” he said. “You could write a romance novel about our trip.” He leaned over his stack of tests and purposely rustled the top paper, trying once again to give her the hint to leave him alone.
“Who would want to read a romance novel about an elderly couple who can’t stand to be in the same room together much less stuck in a car together for seventy hours?”
“Forty-nine is not elderly,” he grumbled. “And who would want to read any of your stupid romance novels?”
“What was that?”
“Nothing.” He looked up at her sheepishly. “Could you close the door to my office on your way out?”
“Gladly.” Instead of closing the door like a sane person, Janette slammed the door, shaking the glass panes in the window. One of these days he would have to replace the windows. That or stop offending his wife.
Hello, this is Aubrey. I am one of many Julie's nieces. I am currently 13 turning 14 next month. I love my aunt's books! She is going to put me in one of her new books. Not only that, I'm helping her write the book myself with her. I LOVE MY AUNT! To all who read this post you must read her books they will blow your mind and away. Things about me - I love nature, I love anything water based, Love familia, I love movies, trying to collect the books of the movies, Harry Potter. Roses are Red Violets are Blue hope you enjoy reading this post. Adios fellow followers... Signed by Julie's niece, Aubrey Spencer
(posted with permission from her father!)
Greetings my friends, the past few days have been so busy that I haven’t had time to write at all. Thank you for your patience. I’ve shared a bunch of pictures but I’ve never really had time to myself where I could gather my thoughts. I’m now in my car again with my hubby and we have about four hours left until we reach the Grand Canyon.
We’ll be stopping at the South Rim and we’re basically staying long enough to take a few pictures and just to say we’ve been there.
We just passed by Hoover Dam again as we’re travelling back east from Las Vegas. Other than spending time with my daughter, Chelsea, and my friend Trina, the Hoover Dam was the highlight of our trip so far. I wish we had time to stop again. I wish we had time to spend a couple of days at the Hoover Dam. I had no idea its majesty would affect me the way it did.
Other than that, the trip has been rather peaceful. We’ve slept well notwithstanding the need to switch hotels from our original reservations two times so far, and we’ll have switched two more times on the way home.
The mountains here are breathtaking, but brown and desolate. I’m used to green. Even the mountains out east are green and lush with rock outcroppings. These are basically just rocks. Not much lives out here in this desolate and dry climate. I’m sure the people who have chosen to live here enjoy living here but I can’t imagine wanting to live here. I’m ready to go home to my beautiful green Michigan with thousands of lakes and water in every direction.
But first, we will spend a few days at my brother-in-law’s house in Mesa, Arizona. Another place we’ve never been. This is the trip of a lifetime and I’m pretty sure this is the only time we’ll drive all the way out here and back.
Clayton and I travel well together and are very compatible in most aspects of life but I think we’re happiest at home. I wish I could gather all my friends and family around me so we could all visit each other and still go home and sleep in our own beds.
We just stopped at a Shell gas station because I drink too much water and Diet Coke and they had the cleanest bathroom I’ve seen so far on this whole trip, other than our hotels and Trina’s house. I can’t even express how much I appreciate that. Silly thing to be happy about maybe, but sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference in the enjoyment of your experience. Thank you, Shell station on 93 South an hour & a half south of Las Vegas. You are to be commended.
Backtracking to what we’ve done so far on our trip, in a previous blog post I told you about our nightmare hotel in St. Charles, Missouri, so I won’t talk more about that. The following day we arrived in Tulsa, Oklahoma to hang out with our son, C.J. and I’m pretty sure I haven’t shared those pictures with you. I’ll include that picture at the bottom of this blog post. We also had a relatively uneventful stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico just stopping through on our way from Tulsa to Las Vegas. We’ll be doing the same thing on our way through from Mesa to Oklahoma City on our way home.
Okay, I’m going to pause my commentary for now until after we go to the Grand Canyon. I’ll get some other work done for now. See you on the other side.
Greetings from the other side. The Grand Canyon was incredible but I still think the Hoover Dam was the highlight of the trip so far, and probably will remain since we don’t have much else that we’re going to be doing for the rest of the trip.
I was just telling Clayton that I’ll probably lock myself in a room at his brother’s house and let him hang out with his brother while I get some writing done. I’d like to actually get this book outlined and maybe be able to actually start sharing real chapters instead of just research and pre-writing. I’m sure you’ll appreciate that.
On that note, I’ll start working on that now while I’m driving. Goodbye for now. -Julie
Another busy day, this time on the strip in Las Vegas with our daughter! Tomorrow we're going to the Grand Canyon and on to Mesa, Arizona to visit my husband's brother. In a couple days I'll have time to actually start writing this book! -Julie
Four time zones in five days. I'm too tired to think and am having trouble fully processing everything I saw today. The Hoover Dam is indescribable. I'll have to take some time to write down some thoughts soon but for now I'll just share some pictures and collapse for the night. It's 11:30 here in Nevada which means it's 3:30 in Michigan. Goodnight for now. Or good morning. Whenever you see this. -Julie
As a way of conducting research, Jeanette and Chandler spent some time in the car discussing everything they loved about each other and about the two of them as a couple!
Here’s the list they came up with:
Things we love about each other:
We’re both easy to travel with.
Even the things that annoy us are still endearing.
She likes his short hair.
He likes her long hair.
He likes to hold her hand when they’re walking.
He’s a great singer.
Sometimes she takes charge and sometimes steps back to let him take charge.
We’re both flexible.
We’re both confident.
We give each other space and don’t have to do everything together.
We support each other’s hobbies and have independent hobbies.
We rarely use passive-aggressive influence.
She’s good at navigating.
He’s willing to drive all day so she can write in the car.
We’re physically compatible.
We’re polite to each other.
We rarely fight or even raise our voices at each other.
We’ve never even considered separating or gotten so angry that the subject would even present itself.
We don’t talk down to each other.
We both love God and church.
We both love nature and the environment. We were both into recycling before we even met.
She likes that he is devoted to his church callings and priesthood commitments.
Our eyes have never strayed from one another. We never have had to question our commitment to each other.
She like that he comes home to her every evening and sleeps in her bed every night. He never goes to bars or stays out late with friends.
She like it that he doesn’t drink alcohol, like, ever.
He loved her daughter right away and saw her as a wonderful addition to his life rather than baggage that came along with the woman he fell in love with.
He loved our children and rarely yelled at them or criticized them.
He provided for us.
He would have rather worked two jobs than to have her leave our home to work and hire a day care or babysitter.
We love to sing along to music together while driving in the car.
As a way of conducting research, Jeanette and Chandler spent some time in the car discussing everything they found annoying about each other!
Here’s the list they came up with:
He falls asleep while watching television with all the lights on and the television too loud for her to work in the next room then complains if she wants to read in bed with the tiny little light from her Kindle.
That little bit of light penetrates the dark like a spotlight.
He can’t sleep without the fan on.
He snores too but she’s the only one who has gone to the doctor about her snoring.
She’s a hypochondriac and goes to the doctor about everything.
He refuses to go to the doctor, even when it’s something serious. Something that could negatively affect their marriage.
She’s too needy.
She takes way too many bathroom breaks.
He likes to change the subject.
She’s addicted to her cat as if he’s a child. She takes more pictures of her cat than anything else.
He keeps the television volume too low while she’s watching with him but too high when she’s trying to work in the next room.
She has to wear headphones to block out everything in order to get anything done.
He interrupts her when she’s trying to write to tell her trivial things like what vegetables are on sale at Kroger.
She’s constantly writing.
He has to have the television on constantly whenever he’s home and he watches some of the most annoying television shows of all time, and we’re talking all time, as in from the nineteen sixties. Reruns of black and white sitcoms.
She can’t watch television unless she’s riding that loud exercise bike.
He changes the channel on the commercials and doesn’t go back to the original channel in time, or he’ll even leave the room to go get a snack and leaves it on the wrong channel.
She leaves the lights on when she leaves the room.
He turns off the lights in the kitchen and dining room whenever she steps out of the room and she has to walk to the other side of the room in order to turn it back on.
She can’t hear very well and doesn’t hear things he tells her.
He won’t listen to her and walks away in the middle of a conversation.
She won’t stop talking and goes on and on.
He has to have the bathmat always facing the same way so it doesn’t get his feet dirty.
She paints her nails all the time.
He hates the smell of nail polish remover.
She sings all the time and gets obsessed with one or two kinds of music and won’t change CDs for months or years at a time.
He itches his nose all the time.
She uses too many Kleenexes.
He wipes his hands on his pants after eating.
She brushes her teeth constantly, like seven times a day.
He gardens constantly.
She won’t can the food he grows.
He wants her to spend seven hours canning to provide the equivalent of $10 worth of canned green beans. Her time is worth more than that.
But you don’t get fresh vegetables that way.
If he wants them canned, he should can them himself.
She obsessively has to have her car spotless.
He drives too slow.
She drives too fast.
He won’t look at the map and takes wrong turns.
She has to take her glasses off in order to look closely at the map.
He needs reading glasses but won’t go to the eye doctor.
She won’t drink water out of the faucet, won’t eat meat or anything that’s been sitting out for any length of time.
He leaves food just sitting out on the counter and then thinks it’s safe to eat.
She drinks too much Diet Coke and has to drink fountain Diet Coke while travelling.
He throws her cup away before she’s had a chance to refill the cup.
She flips out about that.
She doesn’t pack light.
He… let’s see… I can’t think of anything else.
I could go on.
And he says I’m the one who goes on and on…
Maybe tomorrow we could come up with a list of all the things we love about each other.
Do you think the list will be as long?
Our main characters, Jeanette and Chandler, have already had exciting adventures. On Day One they got to switch hotels because someone had already been using their hotel room. Someone's been sitting on their bed.
Someone's been using their toilet!
The hotel staff must have thought two people staying in a hotel room would only need one disheveled towel.
There was a bare footprint on the bedside table.
Yes, an actual footprint!
The floors were filthy and had holes in the carpeting.
The floors were filthy and had holes in the carpeting.
The whirlpool tub was cracked and filthy.
Many things were held together by tape, including a table.
Electric tape covered one outlet.
The door jam had been broken.
Thankfully, Jeanette and Chandler found another hotel nearby and drove there. Theu got their money back for this one!
Today I struggle to write fiction. My sweet dog, Sasha has taken her last breath and has gone to live with her daughter, Sophie, who passed at the age of eleven weeks. Rather than attempt to write a chapter, I’ll just take a moment to share with you the most adorable dog to ever grace my life.
Sasha was born on my son’s tenth birthday so we could always remember her birthday. Since he is now twenty-two, she was twelve, and will be forevermore.
She was a princess to the end. When she walked down the street (blind as a bat and no idea where she was going), she lifted her head with dignity and held her fluffy tail high. People asked us all the time, “How old is your puppy?” and we would tell them her age and they would be surprised. She was so youthful.
In a way, she chose the time in her life when she was ready to leave this world because she stopped eating about six days ago. Two days ago, she stopped drinking water also. Dogs aren’t supposed to live more than three to five days without food, and way less than that without water so we have no idea how she stayed alive.
We felt kind of silly bringing an otherwise healthy dog into a veterinary hospital with her tail wagging and her held lifted, almost a smile on her little muzzle. I would have loved for her to take her last breath lying in her bed here in our home but we just couldn’t watch her starve to death. We gave her permission to join her baby and said a tearful goodbye.
Love you forever Sasha.
Love, Clayton, Julie, Virginia, C.J. and Chelsea
Names of Characters – Main male and female characters (empty nesters) Chandler and Janette Morgan
Adult son: Asher Morgan
Adult daughter: Blayke Morgan
Adult son’s college roommates (three guys): Dmitri, Luca, and Joey
Adult daughter’s boyfriend: Vincent
Best friend who lives in Vegas and her husband (also empty nesters): Glenn and Angeline
Brother of main male character: Broyce Morgan
Pre-teen son and daughter of brother: Ryan and Cecelia Morgan
Thank you to Morgan Elizabeth Coldwell for her excellent insight into my characters' names!
Tomorrow is Day One of Chandler and Janette's road trip! Tonight they are packing and exhausted! How do you like the names?
Over the next few weeks, Chapter-A-Day posts will feature all the background information going into writing Book One in the Silver Threads Series, appropriately titled Road Trip. You, my dear readers, will have a hand in writing the book!
Here are some of the things we need:
Names of Characters – Main male and female characters (empty nesters), one adult son, one adult daughter, adult son’s college roommates (three guys), adult daughter’s boyfriend, best friend who lives in Vegas and her husband (also empty nesters), brother-in-law of main male character, pre-teen son and daughter of brother-in-law.
Places of Interest and Fun Things to Do – Along the planned route, fun places for them to stop, either touristy, historical, sentimental, haunted house, old friend from high school, cool little city that they simply must drive an hour out of their way to go see, etc.
Happy Things that Happen – If you have any suggestions of things you’d like me to include in the story, let me know.
Tragic Things that Happen – If you have any suggestions of things you’d like me to include in the story, let me know.
Hilarious Things that Happen – If you have any suggestions of things you’d like me to include in the story, let me know.
If you contribute to the story in any way, your name will be featured in the acknowledgements section of the book! Heck, I might even name a character after you.
Here’s the basic itinerary for their car trip. If you’ve been to any of these places or along the route, or have suggestions or ideas, let me know!
They will leave Michigan and travel to Saint Charles, Missouri, a total of 8 hours, 13 minutes’ drive time.
Saint Charles, Missouri at a hotel
They will drive from Saint Charles, Missouri to Tulsa, Oklahoma—5 hours, 48 minutes’ drive time—where they will visit with their son and stay two nights.
Night Two & Night Three
At a hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma
They will go to church with their son and enjoy a day of rest hanging out with him.
They will travel from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Albuquerque, New Mexico, a total of 9 hours, 25 minutes’ drive time.
At a hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico
They will drive 8 hours, 39 minutes from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Las Vegas, Nevada where they will stay for two nights with their friend, and hang out with their daughter.
At their friend’s house in Las Vegas, Nevada
They will spend the day hanging out with their friend, her family and their daughter in Las Vegas, Nevada.
At their friend’s house in Las Vegas, Nevada
They will drive from Las Vegas to Mesa, Arizona, stopping briefly to gaze upon the Grand Canyon just so they can say they’ve been there and to take photos. That day they will have a total of 8 hours, 23 minutes’ drive time.
They will stay with his brother in Mesa, Arizona.
They will stay with his brother in Mesa, Arizona.
They will stay with his brother in Mesa, Arizona.
They will drive 6 hours, 53 minutes from Mesa, Arizona to Albuquerque, New Mexico where we will stay for the night, just passing through.
At a hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico
They will drive 7 hours, 55 minutes from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma where we will stay for the night, just passing through.
At a hotel in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
They will drive 7 hours, 30 minutes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Saint Charles, Missouri where we will stay for the night, just passing through.
They will stay at a hotel in Saint Charles, Missouri
They will drive 8 hours, 18 minutes from Saint Charles, Missouri to their home in Michigan.
Here’s a map of their itinerary. What should our hypothetical couple do as they’re travelling along this route?
Dennis stepped off the curb and almost crushed the late model cellphone with a pink, sparkly case. He bent down to pick it off the pavement. There wasn’t a scratch on the thing. “Thank goodness for Otterbox!”
“Whatchu got, buddy?” Kurt leaned over Dennis’s shoulder.
“Some chick lost her phone.” Dennis turned it over, trying to find some identification or clue to the owner.
The phone pinged a notification and Dennis pushed the button on the side. Part of a text from “Mom” popped up on the screen, then was hidden behind a request for a password.
“How am I supposed to know the password?” Dennis mumbled.
“Try one, two, three, four,” Kurt said. “That’s my girlfriend’s password.”
“Why would you tell me your girlfriend’s password?” Dennis shook his head and crinkled his forehead. “Not only that, but who would be stupid enough to… never mind.” Dennis punched in the four-digit code suggested by the second stupidest person he knew. He was kind of glad it didn’t work. The girl with the expensive, sparkly phone wouldn’t be that stupid.
“What do we do with it?” Kurt asked.
“I dunno. Try to find the owner, I guess.” Dennis raised his head and scanned the busy sidewalks and cars coming and going. “It’s going to be impossible.”
The phone pinged again. Another text from the girl’s mom, then a request for the password.
“Maybe someone will call the number. We can answer and ask them whose phone they’re calling,” Kurt said.
“Nobody calls each other anymore,” Dennis said. “They text and Tweet and Snap and Insta-photo-thingy.”
“You mean Instagram?” Kurt asked.
“Yeah, whatever it’s called.” Dennis turned in a circle. “Guess we could start by inquiring at these local businesses.”
“Let’s start with the donut shop,” Kurt suggested.
“No way, man. If I go in there, I’m going to want a donut. I didn’t spend an hour in the gym to waste my daily allotment of calories on empty carbs. The Army won’t want me if I get fat.”
“How about the hardware store across the street?”
Dennis turned and gaped at his friend. “Do you honestly think that pink-sparkly-phone girl spent the morning at the hardware store?”
“Yeah, yer probably right.” Kurt took a deep breath and looked around again.
“We could try the Verizon store,” Dennis said, walking in that direction. “It’s only a mile down the road.”
“A mile? We can’t walk that far.” Kurt hurried to catch up. “There’s no way we’ll make it to get your haircut, then back to the recruiting office in time.”
“We’ll make it.” Two more texts came through as they walked.
Linda, the smiling clerk at the Verizon store couldn’t give out any information about the owner of the phone.
“I just need a cord so I can plug it into my computer.”
“You’re still trying to access her information.” Linda shook her head, still smiling sweetly as if trained to never stop smiling, no matter how angry the customer.
“Look, lady, I’m trying to find the girl who owns this phone so I can return it to her.”
“How do you know it’s owned by a girl?” Linda was still smiling.
“It’s pink,” Dennis spoke through clenched teeth. “And sparkly.”
“Lots of guys buy pink, sparkly phone cases.” Still smiling.
Dennis reached into his wallet, pulled out a fifty-dollar bill, and slapped it onto the countertop. “Sell me a cord and you can keep the change.”
It was amazing how quickly Linda located the correct phone charger. She handed it to Dennis with an even bigger smile. “Thank you for choosing Verizon. Have a nice day.”
Dennis rushed from the store and sat on a nearby bench. He opened his laptop, plugged the USB port into his computer and the charging end into the phone. A little screen popped up that read “Brooklyn’s iPhone.” There was also a prompt for a password. Kurt started laughing.
“What is so funny?” Dennis wanted to scream.
“You just spent fifty bucks to learn that pink-sparkly-phone-girl’s name is Brooklyn.”
Dennis’s shoulders fell and his lower lip jutted out. Another text popped up.
“Come on, man, let’s go get those locks chopped off so you can enlist.”
“The Army’s not going to want a depressed guy pining after a girl named Brooklyn who once owned a pink, sparkly phone.” Dennis unplugged the cord, shoved it and his laptop into his backpack, and trudged after his friend.
Walking into the salon Dennis’s nose was assaulted by acetone and neutralizers mixed with something sweet. The smell reminded him of donuts. The lady at the counter asked for his name and he sat on a chair next to Kurt.
A young stylist with an unnatural blondish-green hair came rushing up to the counter, whispering frantically.
“So distraught… crying… she says her life is over.”
“Well, she has a client waiting. Tell her to suck it up and get out here.”
“She can’t remember his name. The appointment was on her Google calendar.”
“His name is Dennis.” She pointed and Dennis waved. “Now tell her to get her pretty little self out here and cut his hair or she’ll be looking for a new job and a new phone.”
A new phone? Dennis’s ears perked up. The green-haired stylist left and a minute later a young lady with natural-colored hair and designer clothes came out. Her eyes were red, and she sniffed. Dennis felt compassion for her.
“Hi, Dennis,” she whispered. “I can take you back now.”
He followed her to her station and sat in the swivel chair, watching her sad eyes as she draped the black cape around his shoulders and snapped it into place. “Are you okay?”
She shook her head. Another lady came up behind her and spoke softly. “Brooklyn, your mom just called. Said she’s been texting all morning but you’re not answering.”
“I can’t find my phone.” A single tear fell down Brooklyn’s cheek.
“Did it have a pink, sparkly case?” Dennis asked, holding up his lucky find.
“Hey Google, what time is it?”
“The time is five-thirty-four a.m.”
Ugh, my alarm is scheduled to ring in twenty-six minutes. Brooklyn rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. It was no use. A million tasks ran through her head. Might as well get up.
Brooklyn felt around in the dark to turn off her alarm clock, knocking her glasses to the floor. She grabbed her phone to use it as a flashlight and fumbled through the carpet hoping she didn’t crush them.
There was nothing in Brooklyn’s life more important than those glasses. If she ever lost them, she wouldn’t be able to see to find them. She’d put her contact lenses in after her workout. The cold frames pinched her finger when she grabbed them backward. She slid them onto her face and stretched.
Early workout. A soft pair of socks and her sturdy running shoes. She checked the workout app on her phone and clipped it to her belt. Plugging in the earbuds and raising the volume, she started her favorite playlist and pulled her hoodie close over her head.
The frosty morning air awakened her senses and Brooklyn set the starting timer on her Track-My-Run app, letting technology assist her in counting the number of miles so she could just enjoy the pull of her muscles and the pounding of the pavement.
The steam from the shower was a welcome break from the chill and sweat. Brooklyn changed her playlist to enjoy hymns while she showered. She always read scriptures with breakfast and listening to hymns put her in the right mindset.
What was that smoothie recipe my sister made when I was visiting last week? Brooklyn sent a quick text to her sister to ask what her special ingredient was while she gathered milk and bananas and yogurt and strawberries next to the blender. A text notification pinged, and she picked up her phone. Frozen yogurt? Okay.
She slid the regular yogurt back into the fridge and opened the freezer. Pushing aside that bag of frozen peas she’d been avoiding for months, Brooklyn grabbed the tub of frozen yogurt, spooning as much into her mouth as she did into the blender.
No time to sit at the table, Brooklyn opened her Kindle app and read from the Old Testament. She’d uploaded the scriptures for days like these when she didn’t want to haul out her big leather-bound book full of red marks where she’d highlighted her favorite passages.
Brooklyn sucked the last of her smoothie through the straw as she trudged up the stairs to her bedroom closet. Too much to choose from, and yet not enough.
“Hey Google, what will the weather be like today?”
“Today’s forecast for Lansing is 79 degrees with a thunderstorm.”
“Ugh, how do I even dress for that?” She shoved aside her favorite silk blouse knowing it would be too hot and could get ruined if she were caught out in the rain. She pulled a nice poly-cotton blend off a hanger and made a mental note to grab her raincoat on the way out of the house.
While straightening her hair, Brooklyn watched YouTube videos of makeup tutorials, justifying they would help with her long-term career plans.
As she was slipping on her shoes a video chat rang into her phone and her mom’s face popped up. “How’s the new job?”
“Mom, you’re too cheery this early in the morning.” Brooklyn picked her purse up off the floor and dug for her keys. “The salon is great. The girls are really nice and I’m starting to get some regular clients. I had this really cute college guy come in for a haircut, and he’s coming back today. He requested me as his stylist. Everybody’s been teasing me about him ever since.”
“Ooh, I wanna hear all about him.”
“Later, mom. I gotta go.” As Brooklyn was inserting her key into the house door, she remembered her raincoat and opened it back up. Her phone vibrated. “Mom, I have a call coming in. Talk to you this evening.”
She didn’t even give her mom a chance to say goodbye before she had the cell phone to her ear and the high-pitched voice of her co-worker came ringing through the line.
“Can you pick up donuts on your way into the salon?” her friend asked.
“Sure…” Brooklyn asked for a general order of what everyone wanted as she opened her car door and slid into the seat.
Pulling up Google Maps, she found the nearest donut shop and hit ‘start’ for the annoying recorded voice to tell her to turn left out of her driveway.
Following the navigation perfectly, Brooklyn made it to the donut shop and purchased a big box of assorted donuts. It was so big she couldn’t open the car door with it in her arms. She set it on top of her car along with her purse and phone as she fumbled with her keys. She carefully lifted the box and placed it onto the passenger seat. Grabbing her purse from on top of her car, she slid into the driver’s seat and clicked her seatbelt on.
“Okay, just one donut on the drive. No one will know.” She licked the icing off her finger and shoved a bite into her mouth as she put the car in gear.
Brooklyn carefully checked for traffic before pulling out into the lane. Her radio was cranked so loud she didn’t even hear her phone slide off the top of her car, bounce along the trunk, and crash to the pavement.
Click here to read the sequel to Something Lost, appropriately named Something Found.
The first time Winnie saw baby Isabella was about two days later. She could barely move enough to get into a wheelchair and all she could do was put her gloved hand in and touch Bella’s hand. She was so tiny. Winnie didn’t think anything that small could live.
After just a moment, Winnie thought she was going to pass out and Joel lifted her from her wheelchair and cradled her in his arms to take her back to her room. The nurses weren’t happy about that, but Winnie didn’t care. Snuggling into the arms of Football Player Number Two was a much better way to get from point A to point B than to ride in a wheelchair, attempting to hold her head up and keep from getting dizzy.
The next time she saw her baby, she was a little more steady and not so light headed. She was still in pain but didn’t need her husband to carry her back to bed.
On her third visit to the NICU, Winnie was able to connect with her baby and when they told her it was time to get back to bed, Winnie begged for just a little more time. They gave her an extra few minutes and Winnie was hooked. This little life was her new reason for staying on this earth. This little life was her new motivation to get healthy.
Nothing else mattered. Of course, she still wanted to lead a normal and independent life, and of course she wanted to dance again someday, but this baby, and the man who had created this baby, were the most important things in the world.
Days turned to weeks and eventually Winnie got healthy enough to move upstairs to the psych ward at the hospital. A few days there and she was transported back to the inpatient eating disorder clinic. A few months later and Winnie moved home to the Anderson’s house in Santa Barbara and continued treatment as an outpatient.
Just over a year after Isabella was born, her little family moved to Michigan where they lived with Winnie’s parents for several months so Joel could return to medical school. Eventually Winnie was healthy enough that they got their own apartment close to her parents so she and Joel could have some privacy to readjust to life as a married couple.
Bella thought it was a grand adventure to have her very own bedroom at Mommy and Daddy’s house but still go to Gamma and Gampa’s house a few times a week when Winnie had doctor’s appointments and dance classes.
Gradually, amidst all the chaos of her life in and out of treatment, Winnie danced whenever she could. At first, she just stretched in the yoga room at the center, and then on day passes to the local ballet studio in Santa Barbara, and several times a week after she moved into the Anderson’s home.
Once in Michigan, Winnie began working to find a dance company in Detroit where she could grow and perform without having to move back to New York City. The Fox Theatre was just as prestigious as Lincoln Center and close to home.
Home for now. Until Joel finished medical school and then home would be wherever life took them next…
“Is my baby okay?” Winnie’s throat was scratchy and dry, but she knew she was awake and that someone was holding her hand. She’d woken up in too many hospitals over the past year, but this was the first time she was excited to smell antiseptic and hear the beeping of machines.
“It speaks volumes that your first words were to inquire about Isabella,” Joel said in a soft voice. “Here, open your mouth, I’ll help you with some water.”
Winnie opened her eyes along with her mouth and saw her very haggard husband holding a Styrofoam cup with a straw close to her face. She drank just a sip and then lay her head back on the pillow. “Where’s our baby?”
“She’s in the NICU,” Joel said. “She’s doing really well considering how stressed your body was during your pregnancy. She’ll need to be there for a few weeks.”
“I’m in a lot of pain.” Winnie groaned. “Did they do a c-section?”
“Yeah, and you pulled through the surgery just fine. You did great. Let me call for a nurse and see about getting you some pain medicine.”
Joel must have pushed a nurse button because a voice came over a speaker, “Can I help you?”
“Edwina’s awake and in pain,” Joel said. “Can we do anything for her?”
“I’ll be right in,” the nurse said. She had a pleasant voice and was at Winnie’s side within a few minutes. “Hi Edwina, I’m Shae, You’re stuck with me all day today but I promise not to torture you too much.”
“I appreciate that,” Winnie joked back but cringed when she tried to laugh.
“Here, sweetie, you push this button right here and a shot of pain killer will go right up through your IV and into your blood stream.” The nurse handed her a little device with a button to self-administer her own medication.
“Is it gonna put me to sleep?” Winnie hesitated and held her thumb over the button.
“Do you want it to put you to sleep?” The nurse seemed ready to answer in whichever direction necessary to keep Winnie comfortable.
“I want to see my baby.”
“You’ll have to wait a day or two,” Shae said. “Baby can’t leave the NICU yet, and you’re not healthy enough to get out of bed. As soon as you are, we’ll get you down there. You might as well take a little nap while you’re both recovering.”
“Okay.” Winnie was disappointed that she couldn’t see Bella yet, but didn’t let it bother her for long as she pushed her pain medicine button about a hundred times until she fell asleep. She woke a million hours later to a different nurse and Joel had changed his clothes and showered. She was in even more pain and didn’t bother asking permission before putting herself back to sleep. The next time she awoke, Shae was there again and Winnie didn’t see Joel in the room.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Shae said, removing a blood pressure cuff from her arm. That must have been what woke her.
“Is it?” Winnie asked. She was still in extreme pain but didn’t want to go back to sleep. Shae being there again meant at least twenty-four hours had passed. “Can I see my baby yet? You said a day or two.”
“Better make it two, sweetheart.”
“Okay.” Back to sleep.
Joel was there when Winnie woke back up and he squeezed her hand gently. “Hey, babe, good to see your eyes. How you feeling?”
“Is that a trick question?” Winnie mumbled. “How would you feel if someone ripped your body open and took out a person?”
“I’d probably feel just as much pain as you feel.” Joel chuckled. “But I have some good news. I got to hold Isabella today. Well, she held my finger anyway. I didn’t actually get to pick her up.”
“When can I see her?” Winnie asked for what felt like the hundredth time.
“As soon as you’re able to walk, probably.”
“Can’t you just wheel me down there in a wheelchair?” Winnie was getting frustrated.
“Can you even sit up yet?” Joel raised his eyebrows.
“There’s your answer.”
“My boobs hurt,” Winnie said.
“Your milk’s probably coming in. You want me to call for Shae?”
“They’re not going to let me nurse, are they?” Winnie realized there were a lot of things a normal mother would do that she wouldn’t get to do. Sucking vital nutrients from her already ravaged body wouldn’t help with recovery from anorexia.
“Not likely. But they might be able to pump a little. That will relieve the pressure and they’ll probably be able to feed the milk to little Bella through her feeding tube.”
“That sounds like a good plan.”
Joel called for Shae and then stepped out to make a phone call while Shae helped her pump. Not that she’d be embarrassed to pump in front of her own husband but this was sort of a girl thing.
A few hours later Joel’s mom and Winnie’s mom came into her hospital room together with soft, apprehensive smiles. Winnie almost cried she was so happy to see them.
“Every time we’ve come here you’ve been sleeping,” Lynnette said, taking Winnie’s right hand. Her own mom took her left hand carefully so as not to jar the IV sticking out.
“I haven’t been much fun to be around lately, huh?”
“You’re the only one not having fun,” Winnie’s mom said. “We’ve been playing Grandma the past three days.”
“Three days? I thought it had only been two days?”
“You must have slept through one of those days. You were in pretty bad shape for a while there.” Lynnette gave her hand a little squeeze.
“Kinda still am in bad shape,” Winnie observed.
“Yeah, they’re going to keep you here at the hospital for quite a while, I think,” Lynnette said. “Once they get you medically stable, they’ll probably transfer you up to the psych ward to get you healthy enough to go back to inpatient treatment at the center.”
“I have to go back there again.” Winnie wrinkled her nose in distaste but knew that was the best place for her right now.
“Only if you want to get healthy and live independently again,” her mom said. “And dancing again… eventually.”
“I would really like that.”
“I have faith in you.” Lynnette leaned down and kissed Winnie’s forehead.
“Will you both help Joel take care of Bella?” Winnie asked, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m not going to be a very good mom for a while.”
“The love you have in your heart for your baby is what makes you a good mom,” Lynnette said, her words choking off through her own tears.
“And your willingness to keep getting healthy,” Winnie’s mom said. “You sacrificed nine months of your treatment to bring that little sweetie into the world, but that’s only going to set you back a little. You can do this, Edwina. And we’ll help.”
“Your mom and I will work together to get you and Joel through the next couple years,” Lynnette said.
“And I’ll even move to New York City for a couple of months once you head home,” her mom said. “I love the City. That will be a fun adventure for me.”
“And your parents have offered for you and Joel to stay at their house in Michigan for a few months so Joel can get his in-person medical school classes finished. For now, he’s going to take as many classes online as he can while you’re in treatment and I’m here to help with the baby.”
“You guys are too much,” Winnie said through her tears. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
The pressure of the emotions wracking her body brought pain again to the point of needing relief. She pushed the button on her pain meds but mumbled a goodbye before pushing the button again and again into oblivion.
“It’s so cold in here.” Joel wrapped his arms around himself, trying not to shiver. The thin scrubs they made him change into did little to ward off the chill.
Maybe just because this was his baby that he panicked, but Joel was glad he wouldn’t be delivering many babies as a sports medicine doctor. Being in a hospital delivery room made him question his desire to be a doctor at all. Still, if he could handle the trauma of this magnitude, he could handle anything else his career sent his way. Hopefully.
The team of doctors and nurses helping Winnie didn’t need Joel, or his mother-in-law, and they were just in the way. He and Teri huddled in a corner of the room and in a strange role-reversal Joel held his wife’s mother in his arms while she quietly cried.
He couldn’t offer any comforting words assuring her that everything would be okay because he didn’t know anything for certain. All he knew was that his wife was in distress, his baby was in distress, and there was nothing he could do to help.
It wasn’t like Winnie was awake, so he could coach her through contractions. He just stood there, smelling the sterile room, goose bumps rising on his bare arms, his stomach tight, his heart pounding.
The nurses and doctors rushing around didn’t interact with him and Teri at all. If anything, they brushed them further into the corner to get them out of their way.
Suddenly Joel was assaulted by the smell of burning flesh. What are they doing to her? He watched from across the room as a doctor used a laser to cut through layers of fat. He didn’t think Winnie had an ounce of fat on her, but there was the proof. Oh my gosh! Can skin stretch that far?
Almost as soon as the delivery had begun, a tiny baby was in the hands of the doctor, who barely did an assessment before speaking softly, “It’s a girl.”
“Isabella,” Joel whispered. “She’s beautiful.”
“She’s so small,” Teri squeaked out. “Can she survive being born that small?”
“Modern medicine’s pretty extraordinary.” Was Joel trying to convince his mother-in-law or himself? His lips quaked, and his voice caught in his throat. He’d never seen anything more beautiful and terrifying in his life. Skilled hands cradled baby Isabella as the doctor cut the umbilical cord, then Bella was carried over to another station and the team from the NICU worked their magic.
A tiny oxygen mask was placed over Bella’s face and they readied a tube to be pushed gently down her throat. Another tube was inserted into her belly button, which still protruded with a piece of the umbilical cord.
“Apgar score of two!” a nurse called out.
That’s not good, Joel thought. Bella’s skin was grey. She barely looked alive. Joel felt his chest tightening. The NICU team began gathering their things and wheeling Bella toward the door.
“Wait,” Teri said. “Where are you taking my granddaughter? Don’t I get to hold her? Give her a bottle? Anything?” A nurse turned to her with sympathetic eyes.
“I’m sorry,” the nurse said. “We’ll be taking her down to the NICU to get stabilized. Someone will let you know when she’s allowed visitors. Does your granddaughter have a name yet?”
“They’re naming her Isabella,” Teri said with wonder in her voice.
“We’re going to take good care of baby Isabella,” the nurse whispered. “I promise.”
“Joel,” Winnie called across the room to where her husband was sitting at the wet bar talking to her older brother, Marshall. “My water just broke. And I think I just ruined your mother’s sofa. Crap!” She’d been laughing at a funny movie with her younger brother, Gage, and Joel’s sister, Emilie, when she felt a gush.
Joel was up and across the room in near comical speed, but his excited smile fell to a mask of horror when he tried to help her to her feet. He yelled up the stairs, “Dad! Call for an ambulance! She’s hemorrhaging!”
“What does that mean, Joel?” Winnie’s heart raced in terror as her family raced around her. Both sets of parents came running down the stairs to the rec room where the adult kids had been babysitting Winnie under the pretense of hanging out and watching movies.
“You’re bleeding, sweetheart.” Joel lifted her from the couch and hurried to their adjoining bedroom suite where he climbed into the large empty bathtub. “We’ll wait here for the ambulance. The blood will be easier to clean up.”
Joel’s mom, Lynnette, hurried in after them. “What can I do to help?”
“Find me my wallet and phone, and pack me some clean clothes. I’ll want to change when we get to the hospital.” He looked down at Winnie, who was now dizzy from him talking so fast. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay,” she answered in a small voice. “Scared.”
“I’m scared too.” He met her gaze. “Are you lightheaded or anything?”
“No, not really. Just scared. Am I going to die?”
“Not likely, but I have a feeling we’re going to meet Bella tonight.”
“I think so too.”
“What color hair do you think she’s going to have?” Joel asked, brushing Winnie’s back from her face. He was obviously trying to distract her.
“Brown most likely, since you and I both have brown hair.”
“Speaking of hair”—Winnie’s mom came up beside her—“Let’s get yours pulled up into a bun so it’s out of your way.” She started finger-combing Winnie’s hair and twisted it up into a loose but secure bun and wrapped a scrunchie around it.
“Mommy, will you come into the delivery room with us?” Winnie shocked herself by asking but the words just popped out.
“Really?” her mom asked.
“Really?” Joel seemed disgusted by the idea.
“Yeah, I feel like having my mom with us is the right thing.” Winnie was confused why she would want her mom instead of Lynnette, who had been helping Winnie for months and had always supported her. Maybe this was a part of repairing her relationship with her mom. For whatever reason, it felt right.
“Of course, I’ll be there with you, honey,” her mom said.
In the distance, Winnie heard the sirens of the ambulance and knew this was it. She was about to go have a baby.
“I’ll drive you to the hospital,” Lynnette told Winnie’s mom. There was no animosity in her voice even though she must have been disappointed. “We’ll follow the ambulance.”
“Good idea. Thank you.” Winnie’s mom nodded.
“Joel, here’s your phone and wallet,” Lynnette said, handing them to him. “We’ll bring your clothes with us. They’re probably just going to put you in scrubs when you get there anyway. I’m guessing a c-section within the hour.”
“You’re probably right.” Joel stood as the ambulance sirens got louder and walked with Winnie in his arms out to the driveway. As Joel helped her onto the gurney, Winnie grabbed his hand.
“Don’t leave me!” Panic filled her heart as she gripped with what little strength she had.
“I’m coming with you in the ambulance,” Joel said, squeezing her hand back. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
“You don’t know that for certain,” Winnie said. It was a miracle they’d gotten this far. She shouldn’t have even been able to get pregnant at all since she hadn’t had a period in two years. Her body wasn’t healthy enough to carry a baby to term.
“No, but I’ll be right here holding your hand no matter what happens.”
“Okay.” She had to halt the conversation as the paramedics hoisted her into the ambulance. As the lights and sirens swirled around her, thoughts and feelings swirled around in her head.
What was going to happen now? Would she go back to New York City? Bring a baby with her? Would she ever be able to dance again? Would she go back into treatment for her anorexia? Would she ever be able to live like a normal person? What if little Bella died? What if she lived? What if Winnie didn’t like being a mom? What if Joel didn’t like being a dad? Maybe Winnie needed to be in a mental institution? Maybe she already was and just didn’t know it.
“Her heart rate is dropping,” she heard a paramedic say. Her world got fuzzy and dark.
“How far along is she?” someone else asked.
“Thirty-two weeks,” Joel said.
“Has she had a difficult pregnancy? Has she been on bedrest? Gestational diabetes?”
“She has anorexia,” Joel told the paramedic. “She had been in inpatient treatment prior to getting pregnant.”
“She’s still dangerously thin.”
“I’m aware of that,” Joel said through gritted teeth. “We’ve done the best we can to keep her fed as an outpatient.”
“Nobody’s upset with you, man. Calm down. Just trying to get a medical history so I can help your wife.”
“Joel?” Winnie tried to get his attention.
“I’m here, babe. I’m right here.” His face came into her view.
“I’m scared too, honey.”
“My brain’s not working right. Too many circles. Too many colors. Too many thoughts.”
“Get an IV started,” one of the paramedics said. “Hang some electrolytes.”
“They’re going to get you feeling better, okay? Only a few more minutes and we’ll be at the hospital and soon we’ll be holding little Bella in our arms.”
“I won’t be a good mother,” Winnie said, tears pricking her eyes. “My head’s confused.”
“Your potassium is probably off or something. You’ll be okay soon. And you’re going to be a wonderful mother.”
“I need help,” she pleaded.
“You have lots of family to help you, honey. You’ll never be alone.”
Winnie gripped his hand as hard as she could. “No, you don’t understand! I need help!”
His brows crinkled with shock and worry. “We’ll get you help. I promise.” Joel leaned forward and kissed Winnie’s lips just before she drifted off into blackness.
“Joel, this is not your fault,” his mom insisted. They were sitting together in the corner of Winnie’s hospital room as she slept, monitors hooked up, vital signs completely normal, nothing out of the ordinary for a healthy woman at twenty-five weeks gestation. “She’s not having any cramping. She’s not in labor. The baby’s not in distress. The only person in distress is you.”
“Because I caused her to start bleeding.” Joel leaned forward in his chair and gripped his hands into his hair.
“Eh, you might have nudged things down there a little but she’s not in any pain. She’s going to be fine. The ultrasound showed everything was still intact. They’ll probably send her home in the morning after some observation.”
Thank goodness for ultrasounds, Joel thought. All it had taken was one listen to the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of a faint but distinct heartbeat and Winnie was just as smitten as he was. There was proof right there on that grey image. Peanut sized proof with a spinal column, and a heartbeat. Her gameplan had shifted and she had been more than willing to move home and continue treatment for her eating disorder as an outpatient.
Now six months later they were back in the hospital, and it was all Joel’s fault.
He had done everything in his power to help Winnie through those first few months. If he thought his marriage vows to care for her in sickness and in health had been tested before, he’d been mistaken.
The care and feeding of a pregnant woman struggling through the very real mental illness of anorexia nervosa was a near constant battle. At any time, Winnie could miscarry, her heartrate could plummet or become irregular, she could pass out or throw up. But most of the time she was fine and told Joel he was being overly cautious.
Terrified was more like it. He started seeing a counselor to deal with his own stress. But he couldn’t tell Winnie that. She needed to live her life in a sweet, happy cloud of love and affection. His mother and father, along with his sister, helped him keep Winnie under constant observation at their home in Santa Barbara.
They paid Ulysses extra to make house calls every couple of days to help with meal planning, Celeste came by nearly every day for at least a little while since she was still in charge of making sure Winnie had everything she needed. She even brought her daughter to come meet Winnie a few times. Anything to keep Winnie from going stir crazy while on bed rest.
A physical therapist was commissioned to work with Winnie to help her do simple exercises designed to keep her muscles, joints, and internal organs moving in a safe and controlled manner. Medical conditions aside, Winnie was still a professional athlete and intended to return to her job as soon as her body was healthy enough.
But first everyone was focused on bringing a baby into the world safely. They discussed baby names but mostly just called the little guy peanut. Until they learned the little guy was a little girl and they named her Isabella in honor of the character from Breaking Dawn who had been so fragile after marrying a vampire.
By the middle of the second trimester everyone had become comfortable with the established routines and complacent. Once into the seventh month, they’d all let down their guard because statistically a baby at that age would likely survive if born early. They all still considered Winnie to be on full bedrest, but the constant terror no longer filled Joel’s heart.
He even allowed a little bit of intimacy. Winnie insisted that people had sex during pregnancy all the time. Joel insisted that no one at this high risk of complications should even attempt it.
But he welcomed her touch, and she welcomed his, and they spent their nights snuggling and kissing, and holding one another.
That night they went a little too far, and Joel let his guard down a little too much, and somehow, something they did in that moment of weakness caused Winnie to start bleeding.
“Do you know how embarrassing it is to scramble to help your wife get dressed as quickly as possible knowing the ambulance was almost to your house?”
“Bleeding after sex is actually quite common and is not a sign the baby is in distress or that she’s going to miscarry.” His mom reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze. “Her cervix could just be shedding cells and that caused the bleeding.”
“Joel?” Winnie’s quiet voice called out from her hospital bed.
“I’m here, babe. I’m right here.” Joel rushed to her side and lifted her hand into his.
“I had a dream.” She laid her other hand onto her pregnant belly. “Oh, it must not have been a real dream.”
“What was your dream, sweetheart?”
“I was holding Bella in my arms, and she was so beautiful.”
“If she looks anything like her mother, she’s definitely going to be beautiful.”
“Joel! She’s kicking! Put your hand right here!” Winnie guided his hand to the correct place and Joel felt like a little foot was trying to push its way out.
Tears fell from Joel’s eyes, and he leaned forward to kiss the spot where the little foot was pushing against Winnie’s skin. “Hi, Bella, it’s your daddy. I’m right here. I can’t wait to meet you.”
“Can she hear you?” Winnie asked. “Babies have ears at this age, right?”
“Absolutely. She can hear everything we say. She probably can’t understand English or anything. But I’m sure she hears the love in our voices.”
“Speaking of love”—Winnie bit her lower lip—“You’re never going to make love to me again, are you?”
“Yes, I will. Six weeks after Bella is sleeping in her crib and no longer sleeping in your belly.”
“Yer no fun.” Winnie pouted.
“Is that my cue to leave?” Joel’s mom said, standing and stretching. “You guys start talking smutty to each other, I’m out of here.”
“Hey, Mom,” Winnie called out and reached for her mother-in-law’s hand. “Can you maybe call my parents and tell them to come to California? I think I’m going to have Bella pretty soon.”
“Soon as in… today?” His mom raised her eyebrows. “Or, soon as in within the next few weeks?”
“Next few wee… uh, days?”
“Days?” Joel’s stomach dropped with excitement and anticipation mixed with a healthy dose of fear.
“Just a feeling,” Winnie said. “A hunch?” She shrugged.
“Hey, either way, you’ll get to hang out with your parents, right?” Joel’s mom said.
“Right.” Winnie nodded definitively.
Joel was thankful for her positive outlook and smile. A little bit of hope made a big difference. He was ready to be a dad and looked forward to Bella joining their family.
You traitor! Winnie’s jaw dropped. Joel wasn’t playing fair. How could she make a rational decision with Lynnette squealing with excitement?
Joel’s answering smirk spoke volumes. He’d won this argument. Hand’s down, no contest, award the first-place ribbon. He’d won.
“Oh my gosh! This is so exciting! When’s your due date? Dean! Guess what! We’re going to be grandparents! Winnie’s pregnant!”
“That’s terrific!” Joel’s dad’s voice rang into the room. “How far along is she?”
“We don’t know yet, Dad,” Joel said. “No more than six weeks, obviously. We haven’t had an ultrasound yet. We’ll probably be going to a doctor today or tomorrow. Oh, and Winnie’s probably moving home with me. She can’t stay here while she’s pregnant. So, we’re going to have to take care of her. Do you think you can handle that, Mom?”
“Can I ever? Oh, my goodness, this is so exciting! Do you want me to come with you to the ultrasound? Do you need some help moving her home? Winnie, how are you feeling?”
“Nauseous,” she said. And betrayed, she thought. “I puked up my breakfast. That’s how they figured out something was wrong. Then they did a blood test and sure enough. I’m pregnant.”
“You don’t sound excited,” Lynnette said. She was so perceptive. “Is everything okay?”
“No, Mom, it’s not.” Winnie choked back sobs and finally just let it all come out. “I shouldn’t be pregnant. I shouldn’t have even been able to get pregnant. I haven’t had a period in two years. My body’s not strong enough to carry a baby and I’ll likely miscarry. And the doctor here wants me to get an abortion.”
“An abortion? That’s terrible. I’m so sorry they’re putting that kind of pressure on you.”
Winnie wanted to shout that the only person putting pressure on her was her own husband, but instead she just sobbed. Joel knelt by her side and pulled her into his arms.
“Oh, sweetie, are you crying?” Lynnette asked. “I’ll be there in five minutes!”
Winnie could hear Lynnette’s keys in her hand and knew she was halfway to the car already. When the line disconnected, Winnie laid her head down on Joel’s shoulder and sobbed. “That… was… playing dirty.”
“I’m not playing, Edwina,” Joel whispered. “This isn’t a game. And it isn’t a choice. We have a baby growing inside you. A baby we created. Together. Do you remember that day? Because I remember it. I remember the exact moment when we created that life because it was the most spiritual moment I’ve ever experienced. You experienced it too, admit it.”
“I do admit it, but Joel—”
“There are no buts,” Joel interrupted her. “There’s just love. Love between you and me and now we have one more little peanut of love. We are parents, Edwina. You and me. We are a mom and a dad. We have a baby.”
“You’re jumping pretty far ahead, don’t you think?” she asked. “We’re not parents until the baby is born.”
“Not true. We’re parents the minute my little sperm fertilized your little egg and started multiplying. Part of me and part of you joined together to form a whole new life. I couldn’t have done it without you, and you couldn’t have done it without me. But by some miracle when my body joined with your body, we created a new body. We created that little body. We are parents.”
“I’m scared, Joel.” She pulled away and looked him in the eye. “What if my body can’t handle being pregnant? What if my heartrate drops again? What if the baby dies? What if I die?”
“There are no guarantees in life,” Joel told her, smoothing the hair back away from her face and attempting to dry her tears. “Any one of us could die tomorrow. Heck, we could die on the drive home tonight. If the past year has taught us anything it’s that life is precious and fleeting and tumultuous and frightening. And not everything is going to work out the way we think it should.”
“But there’s a difference between knowing you could die or stepping in front of a bus. If we continue this pregnancy, we are stepping in front of a bus.”
“How are things going in here?” Denise peeked her head in the door. “Are you up for some company? Lynnette just arrived.” Joel’s mom had become a daily visitor as she learned how to help Winnie with refeeding.
Without waiting for further permission, Joel’s mom hurried in the door and knelt on the floor in front of Winnie, practically pushing her son out of the way. If Winnie was willing to take on the challenge of attempting this pregnancy, at least she wouldn’t be alone. “Oh, sweetheart, are you okay?”
“Not really, Mom,” she admitted. “My body’s not healthy enough for this. I could die.”
“This must be frightening for you.” Lynnette nodded. “I was frightened when I got pregnant, and I was healthy at the time. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling right now.”
“Life was just starting to get better. Why did this have to happen?”
“I have an idea,” Joel interrupted. “Let’s go get an ultrasound and see what the little peanut looks like, see if there’s a heartbeat yet or not.”
“Don’t you think it’s too early for a heartbeat?” Lynnette sat back on her heels and looked over at her son.
“Our baby is almost six weeks gestation,” Joel said. “A baby that young can have a heartbeat.”
“He keeps calling it a baby, Mom.” Winnie tried to convey with her pleading tone that she needed advice. “It’s just an embryo right now… right?”
“I mean, technically, that’s the medical term,” Lynnette said.
“Are you going to preach to me for the next twenty minutes trying to convince me to keep this thing inside me like Joel did?” Winnie asked her mother-in-law.
Lynnette glared over at her son. “Have you been putting pressure on her?” Disappointment laced her tone even as Winnie knew in her heart that Lynnette agreed with Joel.
“Mom, this is our baby, that we created. Together. This isn’t just some illness that needs to be treated. This is a baby.”
Winnie interjected again. “But Joel, as far as my body is concerned, this is an illness. My body is sick. My mind is sick. I’m not even healthy enough to leave this clinic and live at home. You said it yourself on our anniversary. You asked me to promise that I would see this treatment through to completion no matter how long we’re apart.”
“That was before I knew we’d created life,” Joel said. “If this clinic would let you stay here for a few more months while you were pregnant, then I’d encourage you to stay. But they won’t. Unless you kill our baby.” Joel looked across the office and glared at Denise.
“Aren’t you being a little melodramatic?” Denise asked. “This should be a nonissue. The embryo is early enough in gestation that removal is quick and simple.”
“Mom, who’s your OBGYN?” Joel asked, circumventing Denise’s lackadaisical attitude. “Call him and get Winnie in for an appointment today. I want an ultrasound and I want Winnie to see what our baby looks like. Maybe then she’ll understand my position.”
“Nonsense,” Denise said. “We have a gynecologist on staff. I’ll call and tell them you’re on your way. If you’re serious about continuing this pregnancy, we’ll work with you as best we can. No one’s going to try to kill your baby, if that’s what you want to call the embryo. If this is what you’ve decided—”
“I haven’t decided anything,” Winnie interrupted, standing and pushing everyone out of her way. “This is my body you’re all talking about. I want to see an ultrasound before I decide anything.”
“Dr. Fuller, can we have a minute, please?” Joel asked. “This is a big choice that we need to make, and I think my wife and I need to talk about this alone.”
Joel fought the desire to emphasize the words we, and alone. He didn’t want Winnie to think he was trying to take away her freedom of choice, but this was kind of a big deal to him. They had miraculously created life inside her body and that wasn’t something to dismiss as merely a medical choice.
“Take as much time as you need,” Barbara said with a curt tone. She pursed her lips and snapped her laptop shut, rose from her desk and pulled the door closed on her way out.
“Winnie, I want us to give this baby a chance to live.” Joel dropped to his knees beside her chair and gently reached his hand out to place it on her flat stomach. There was no outward sign of life, and she wouldn’t have felt any maternal fluttering yet. If anything, she probably felt horrible. Her already ravaged body was now nauseated and tired. Her mind racing with all possible scenarios. Her hormones and emotions were likely on a roller coaster ride.
“It’s not really a baby, yet Joel.” Winnie placed her hand over his. “It’s probably the size of a peanut.”
“A peanut with a spinal column and possibly a heartbeat,” Joel said. “And maybe even a little soul, or spirit, or whatever it’s called. That little spirit chose your body as a place to live for nine months.”
“If it stays in there nine months,” Winnie said, pulling his hand away from her abdomen but not letting go. “I might not even be able to carry a baby.”
“Don’t we owe nature a chance to work?” Joel asked. “If the baby is not meant to live, then you’ll have a miscarriage. But I find it hard to believe that a baby would go to so much trouble to form inside you if that baby was not meant to live.”
“People have miscarriages all the time, Joel. Not all babies that are created are meant to live.”
“I just think that it’s not our choice to decide if the baby should live or not live.”
“This wasn’t exactly a planned pregnancy,” Winnie said.
“No such thing as an accidental pregnancy,” Joel said. “You either have sex, or you don’t. And if you have sex, there’s always the chance you could get pregnant.”
“When did you become so philosophical?” Winnie brushed Joel’s hair off his forehead and met his gaze. “Do you really want to have a baby?”
“Doesn’t matter what I want. We’re pregnant. We have a baby. There is a baby inside of your body, created using my body. We have created a baby.”
“But do you want a baby?” Winnie asked more pointedly. “Like if I had asked you yesterday, ‘Hey, sweetie, do you want to have a baby?’ what would you have said?”
“I would have said, ‘Yes, whenever you’re ready.’”
“Joel… I’m not ready.”
Joel’s heart sunk into his stomach, and he sat back on his heels, shocked. He didn’t know what to say, what to think. He stared at his wife’s midsection, where his baby was growing and developing, cells splitting and dividing and specializing and becoming tissues and organs, a little heart was in there somewhere, maybe even beating a tiny little rhythmic flutter. Maybe if they did an ultrasound, they’d be able to hear a heartbeat.
“Joel, talk to me.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say. Do you want me to beg? To try to change your mind?”
“I don’t know…”
“Do you want me to give you some sort of permission, or my blessing? To sit back and say, ‘It’s your body. You can do what you want with it?’ Because I’m never going to say that. That baby is half mine. He or she may be growing inside your body, but our baby was created using my body too. I love you. And I already love that little peanut sized baby we created.”
“It’s not a baby yet, Joel. It’s an embryo.”
Joel was tired of arguing. He was going to need to haul out the big guns. He didn’t want to have to take this drastic of a step, but she was leaving him no choice. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket, dialed his mom’s phone number and put it on speaker phone.
When she answered, Joel used his most excited voice to tell her, “Guess what, Mom! Winnie’s pregnant! You’re going to be a grandma!”
Winnie had never thrown up after a meal. Purging was a concept she found revolting. Even with a full-blown eating disorder as severe as anorexia nervosa, she had never considered puking as an option. Which is why that morning took her by surprise.
The day hadn’t started out well. Celeste never took, “I’m tired” as an excuse. “I don’t feel good,” “That food doesn’t look good to me,” “This doesn’t smell right.” No excuses. When Winnie described Celeste as her drill sergeant, she wasn’t being facetious. Celeste was militant.
But there was a difference between defiance and illness, and Winnie was sick.
For weeks, things had been going well. Because she’d had a taste of freedom, she’d been diligent with increasing her caloric intake, and reintroducing new foods and new experiences. Instead of taking each day pass as an excuse to waste away the afternoon like honeymooners, Winnie and Joel had walked the thousand steps down to the beach, played frisbee, found a dance studio, driven up the coast and back, and visited the Santa Barbara Zoo. One thing they had yet to do was visit any restaurants.
Winnie was gradually learning how to prepare and cook food in the correct quantities for a healthy professional athlete and learning how her body should feel when properly nourished.
When she visited the Anderson’s home she helped Lynnette in the kitchen, discussing how much food would be prepared for the whole family compared to just her and Joel and compared to feeding just herself. Once they returned to New York City, they would have to live in an apartment on the nineth floor of their building in Manhattan. There wouldn’t be a fruit stand down the street with fresh strawberries. Come fall, Joel intended to resume classes full time in Michigan. There were so many things to take into consideration in planning for their new future.
That all came crashing down with one startling revelation that began with nausea so severe that breakfast wound up in the trash can halfway down the hall on the way back to her bedroom and culminated when a blood test revealed the worst news a devastated anorexic body could ever receive. Winnie was pregnant.
“How is that even possible?” Winnie asked. “I haven’t had a period in almost two years. Ever since I developed anorexia.” That still seemed strange to say out loud, but she’d been practicing embracing her illness and acknowledging her involvement for many years. Through therapy she had come to recognize how long she’d been limiting her caloric intake. She’d likely been clinically anorexic since early college.
“When your body started healing after being so sick, you must have ovulated and not known about it and then gotten pregnant before ever having a period.” Dr. Denise Fuller, director of the eating disorders treatment clinic, the woman who had first evaluated Winnie the day she entered the treatment center, had been called in to decide how best to handle the situation.
“You can get rid of it, right?” Winnie asked, panicking at the thought of getting fat enough to carry a baby inside her.
“We don’t recommend that necessarily,” Denise said. “I mean, it’s your body. The procedure to remove the embryo is usually noninvasive but because of your condition, we’ll probably have you spend one night in the hospital, just for precaution.”
“Procedure?” Joel asked, taking Winnie’s hand. “Are you suggesting we abort our child?” They sat together in the director’s stately office discussing the available options.
“Joel, the embryo is less than six weeks gestation.” Denise sounded as if she were speaking to a child rather than an adult in his first year of medical school. “There’s not even a heartbeat this early in a pregnancy.”
“Heartbeats have been detected in children as young as five and a half weeks gestation,” Joel said. “You’re not talking about removing a tumor. You’re talking about killing a baby.”
Winnie folded her arms and pursed her lips then sighed. “Joel, my body is not physically strong enough to carry a baby to term. Either the fetus will miscarry, or my life could be in danger. Are you more concerned about killing a sack of cells that has barely developed or keeping me alive?”
“I will do anything in my power to keep you both alive,” Joel said definitively.
“The embryo is inside Edwina’s body,” Denise said, turning to her. “Ultimately the choice is hers.”
“I… um…” Winnie glanced over at Joel then back at Denise, confused about what was going on. She and Joel had never really discussed having children, and they’d certainly never discussed opinions about abortions.
“Fathers have rights,” Joel interjected. “I believe I have a say in this.”
“Do you want to have a baby?” Winnie asked, incredulous that he thought she was strong enough.
“Of course, I want to have a baby,” Joel said. “I mean, I figured you were on birth control pills or something because we never got pregnant before. I thought all college girls were on birth control.”
“That’s a pretty big assumption, Mr. Anderson,” Denise said.
“This isn’t about me,” Joel said. “It’s about our baby. A child created in love by a husband and wife who love each other and love the life we created.”
“A life you’ve known about for fifteen minutes?” Winnie raised her eyebrows.
“Time is irrelevant in this case,” Joel said. “A baby is a baby.”
“She won’t be allowed to stay in this facility while pregnant,” Denise said. “We’ll need to find a treatment center more equipped to deal with high-risk pregnancies.”
“Then she’ll come home.” Joel raised his chin with defiance in his eyes.
“She has not been fully trained to care for herself,” Denise pointed out. “How is she going to maintain her health while attempting to keep a fetus alive?”
“I’ll take care of her,” Joel said. “She’s learned a lot in the eight weeks she’s lived here, and I’ve learned a lot, and my mother has learned a lot. We can handle this. And if we have to, we’ll admit her to a hospital for constant monitoring.”
“Edwina, what’s your opinion on this?” Denise said, turning to her again.
“I’m not sure what to think right now,” Winnie admitted. “I don’t feel ready to leave the center, and I could die trying to bring a fetus to term. My body’s not healthy enough to support a pregnancy.”
“We have to at least try,” Joel said, his words laced with devastation and his eyes pleading with her.
“I need some time to think about this,” Winnie said. “One way or the other, I want to be sure I’m making the right choice.”