The day after the funeral, Lori was in the hospital again - this time to give birth. Mums was her constant companion throughout labor, and all three Reynolds girls made an appearance, cheering Lori on. Not surprisingly, Lori alternated between tears and indifference. The doctors said it was because she was depressed. No surprise there. Who wouldn’t be? This had to be Lori’s darkest hour – and yet, she would have a part of Josh forever. For someone who didn’t want children in the first place, maybe that wasn’t much consolation.
When the baby girl was finally born, Lori shocked them all. She didn’t even want to see it. The doctor said it might be caused by post-partum depression.
Carmen stood at the nursery window, watching the baby for a long time before Alex came to get her.
“Come on sweetheart. There’s nothing we can do right now. They’ll feed her with a bottle.”
“The poor thing,” Carmen said in a trembling voice. “She didn’t do anything to be treated like this. She didn’t have a choice.”
“I’m sure Lori will come around,” he said, putting an arm around her shoulders. “Lori wants to talk to you.”
Alex left her with Lori and went to talk to Mr. Reynolds.
Lori waited until his quick step faded down the hall before she turned to Carmen.
“I want you to take his baby,” she said.
Carmen stared at her, shocked and horrified. Finally she found her voice. “You’re depressed. Things will get better. We’ll help you....”
“No. I was going to leave after the baby was born anyway. Josh and I talked about it. I never wanted a baby – he did.” She started to cry. “When you and Alex were having problems, I think he hoped you would split up. I know I did.”
Carmen felt the blood drain from her face. “Why?”
Lori rolled her head away. “I always wanted Alex. Josh always wanted you. We both settled for second best. You got the best and you didn’t seem to want it.”
All Carmen could do was stare at her. So that was what all the fighting was about. Again Katie’s words about other women wanting Alex came to mind. Did Katie know what Lori and Josh were fighting about? More important, did Alex know? Another thought crossed her mind before she banished it. Was Alex the father? She pushed the thought from her mind.
“Lori, you don’t know what you’re saying. You’ll love the baby if you give yourself a chance.”
She shook her head. “No. If you don’t want it, I’ll give it up for adoption.”
Surely she wouldn’t be able to give the baby up if the Reynolds family wanted it. On the other hand, they were all through raising their own children. Taking on an infant would mean a massive lifestyle change. If they knew Lori wanted to adopt the baby out, they would surely step in and take the baby, though. What kind of life would it be, alone and lonely? Worse yet, when Lori finally came to her senses, they wouldn’t be willing to let her have the baby. She spoke impulsively.
“I’ll take the baby for now, but when you get well, I won’t keep her from you.”
Lori looked relieved. “I won’t change my mind. I want you to adopt her. Give her a name and love her. That’s what Josh would want. That’s why he put you in his will. Could you have Alex get the adoption paperwork started?”
Carmen left the room in a state of shock. When she rejoined Alex in the waiting room, he looked startled.
“What’s wrong Carmen?”
Carmen dropped into a seat. “She doesn’t want the baby.”
“What?” He stared at her and shook his head. “She’s just depressed. Let me talk to her.” He started to rise from his chair.
“I already did. She said Josh knew she was going to leave and that she was going to leave the baby with him.”
He sat back down, his expression distant. More than likely his mind was going a mile a minute like hers was. He shook his head again, as if trying to shake himself out of a nightmare.
“But why?” He stood and started to pace. “Why would she want to give up her own child?”
“She said she never wanted a baby – that Josh was the one who wanted it.”
He stopped pacing and his gaze met hers. “So what does she intend to do?”
“She wants us to take the baby. She said Josh would have wanted it that way.”
He frowned. “And what did you say?”
“I said I would take the baby for now, but when she got well, I wouldn’t keep it from her.”
His jaw dropped. “What? You’ve been avoiding that situation all along. You didn’t want to get attached and then have to give the baby up. What were you thinking?”
She gazed up at him. “I was thinking about a friend who was depressed and ready to give up her baby to anyone. I was thinking that when she got better, she wouldn’t be able to get it back unless I had it.”
He sat down beside her and held his head in his hands for a few minutes. Finally he lifted his head and met her gaze.
“I’m hearing a lot of I’s here. Does it matter what I think?”
Her face went hot and cold by turns. “I thought...but you were always the one who wanted to adopt a baby.”
“And you didn’t.” He was watching her intently.
“I’m sorry, Alex. If you don’t want the baby, I know someone will want to adopt it. I don’t want it to come between us. I don’t want anything to come between us.”
He smiled. “I want the baby, Carmen. I want you to have the baby. But if Lori was going to leave the baby before Josh died, she isn’t going to want it back later. If we’re going to accept this baby, let’s do it right. Let’s adopt it legally.”
“But...I feel so bad for her.”
“I know you do, and I love you all the more for the sacrifice you’re willing to make. But don’t think only with your heart on this one. There is another person to consider - the baby. She needs stability. She will learn to love you and think of you as her mother. How do you think she would feel if she was three years old and someone she didn’t know could take her away from everything she loved? Think of the things she would miss and the instability of having no parents. You have to protect her against that, and the only way you can do that is by legal adoption.”
It was true – all of it. Leave it to Alex to think so logically on the spur of the moment, and in such an emotional situation. She had thought of the stress on an adopted baby before, but in this instance, her entire focus had been on Lori. She sighed.
He placed his hand over hers. “Think about it before you make a decision – and then I’m with you one hundred percent.”
That night she did a lot of thinking about the baby, Lori and Alex. It didn’t take long to come to a decision about the baby. She wanted it. The situation with Alex and Lori was another story. She kept telling herself that there had never been anything between Alex and Lori, but there were too many coincidences. Not the least of which was Katie’s comment about someone else wanting Alex. Lori became pregnant when Alex still believed he couldn’t father a child. But then, he had also believed Josh was the father of the child Carmen carried. Lori admitted to wishing Alex would leave her. She could have seduced him. He would have been vulnerable – especially so if he wanted to get even with Josh. He had no reason, but he thought he did. So, what would she do if she found out he had fathered Lori’s child? Given the circumstances, she could forgive him. And knowing it was his child they were adopting wouldn’t hurt her decision.
Finally she sat up in the bed and turned on the light. Alex rolled over and gave her a questioning look. It was hard to tell if he had been asleep. He was one of those people who came instantly wide awake and fell asleep with equal speed.
“What is it?” he asked.
She drew her knees up against her chest and studied his face.
“I can’t sleep.”
His eyes twinkled and he smiled. “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”
“Talk to me.”
He groaned and sat up. “Talk?” Noting her somber expression, the smile faded from his lips and the twinkle left his eyes. “Is it the baby?”
She shook her head. It was difficult to start a subject that might result in a fight, but she had to know for sure – slay the dragon, so to speak. Finally she let out a long sigh.
“I feel terrible asking you this, but it keeps nagging at me.”
His expression became wary. “Then let’s get it out in the open.”
She struggled with the decision a little longer before blurting out her concern. “Is there any chance that Lori’s baby is yours?”
He looked shocked at first, and then he frowned. “Whatever happened to trust me?”
Her face felt hot. “I thought that at first.” She hesitated. “But things Lori and Katie said made me wonder...I’m sorry. I tried to convince myself it didn’t matter, but it does.”
He watched her for a moment, an unreadable expression on his face. “And if it is?”
Her stomach contracted into a tiny ball. “How could you think of having someone else adopt it?”
He pulled up his knees and encircled them with his arms as he stared at her, his expression somewhere between anger and perplexed. “That’s a good question, and I hope you came to the right conclusion.”
“Because you think it’s not yours. But you thought Alexia wasn’t yours.”
It was the first time she used the name and her voice broke with emotion when she said it.
His tormented gaze met hers. “I was wrong about Alexia. We’ve already established that. I’m not wrong about Lori’s baby. We were never intimate – not before or after our marriage.”
“I was willing to forgive you, just like you were willing to forgive me. I guess I know how you felt – kind of.”
“Except you were willing to ask and believe. I wasn’t.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“Yes you should have. If you ever want to know something like that, ask me. Don’t lose sleep and fester on it. The mind can imagine far more than life actually produces.”
She hugged her knees, ready to launch the next question.
“Did you know Lori was in love with you?”
He eyed her thoughtfully. “Is that what she said?”
Carmen watched him in tense silence.
“She never said anything like that to me,” he finally said.
She continued to watch him until he shifted uncomfortably.
Finally he sighed. “All right. I’m a flirt, but it’s all innocent. She flirted back. I didn’t know she was taking it seriously.”
A smile came from her heart and spread across her mouth. “I know you flirt, and it’s so cute.” It was part of his charm. It was definitely something that attracted her to him. Why wouldn’t it attract Lori?
“Cute!” he snorted. “I’m getting roasted and you tell me it’s cute when I flirt.”
“I’m not roasting you. Anyway, it’s something we should both consider before we adopt the baby. Lori will have ties, and maybe make another try for you.”
“She didn’t make a try for me, and I’m not interested in her anyway. I never was. I’m surprised Josh married her.”
“She said they both accepted second best.”
He shook his head. “So why get married at all?”
Carmen stretched out her legs and sighed. “I don’t know. I understand Josh, but not Lori. She always had a crush on Josh and then you came along....”
He smiled. “It has a familiar ring, doesn’t it?”
She nodded. “Except I was ready to break up with Josh before you came along.”
“But you didn’t – not really. He still thought you were interested. Didn’t you notice how quickly he made the switch to Lori when he finally realized you were no longer available?”
It struck her suddenly – how much disappointment he had endured. No wonder he started drinking. Especially after he realized his wife was in love with someone else. And now he was gone. She covered her face with her hands and started to cry.
Alex was instantly beside her, drawing her into his arms. “Go ahead and cry sweetheart. I wondered if you ever would.”
“It’s all my fault,” she said, clinging to him.
“No. It isn’t anyone’s fault. Things simply happen. Adversity happens to everyone. It’s how you respond to it that makes the difference. You’ve always been so strong – so courageous.”
She leaned back and looked up into his face, blinking tears from her eyes. “How can you say that after the way I treated you?”
“Carmen,” he groaned. “The way you treated me? Look at how I treated you. You had every reason to leave me, but you didn’t. You never gave up on me. I’ve never had anyone believe in me the way you do.”
“I thought...we never joke any more. I was so afraid I would lose you.”
He sighed heavily. “There hasn’t been much to joke about, has there? We’ve been through some hard times. Things will get better. I’ll never go away again. That trip wasn’t worth the money. You tried to tell me and I wouldn’t listen. You knew. I don’t know how, but you knew. I treated you like a spoiled child.”
She placed her fingers over his mouth. “Stop,” she whispered. Removing her hand, she kissed his mouth softly. “I don’t want to think about all that. I just want us to be happy together for the rest of our lives.” She punctuated it with another kiss. “We’re going to be parents and I want to enjoy every minute of it.” She sighed softly. “Two children, Alex. God has truly blessed us.”
He lowered her gently to the bed and stroked her face. “Yes, we have so much to be thankful for – so much to look forward to.”
She gazed up into his eyes, but the giddy feeling wasn’t there. Instead, she felt wonderfully content. Their marriage had finally blossomed into mature love. Maybe things would never be the same again. Maybe that was a good thing. Looking up into his sweet chocolate gaze, feeling the stroke of his hands on her face and neck, even the quickening of pulse – it was as if they had met all over again. They had another chance to build a relationship, and this time they’d do it right.