Summer 2008 – Washington D.C.
She carefully makes dinner: spaghetti with meatless sauce and beautiful dark green kale sautéed in olive oil. Plenty of it, enough for leftovers. She takes the time to set the table, silverware and glass as well as her plate, and eats in the small dining area instead of in the living room.
It's delicious. Every mouthful, especially the kale, which she decides she really should make again soon.
Every pot and pan and dish and fork is washed and dried and put away. She tries having her favorite jazz station on while she cleans up, but it's too emotionally charged. The quiet is better.
When she's set the last cup in the cupboard, Megan leans against the counter. Lets out a slow breath and allows herself to consider what she has to do next. Almost by reflex, she finds herself moving into the cool pantry, reaching for the half-empty bottle of Merlot sitting there.
No. She pulls her hand back, and wishes that she'd been able to finish the bottle. It's a very good year, from a tiny vineyard that takes its craft seriously.
Larry would have asked for Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, anyway. Unless she spent an hour convincing him otherwise. She realizes that she is smiling a little, and that she's made up her mind. She'll call Theresa later.
She settles on the couch, in the dim evening light that filters through her blinds. Takes out her smartphone and dials the number from memory. It's one more way to draw out something that she is terrified to do, but she allows herself that indulgence, as if enacting the memory could evoke old sympathies and draw the lines of the universe into sync around her.
The phone rings three times, and her heart sinks. He's not going to pick up. She's going to have to do this all over again.
“Hello, Doctor Fleinhardt speaking,” he says, and she's so relieved that for a moment she forgets to say anything back. “Hello? Who is this?”
“Hey, Larry, it's me.” It's been almost a month since she heard that voice live, and now she's grinning like a complete fool, and wishes he could see her.
“Megan!” His voice is like firelight and wool, enfolding her in warmth. “It's been some time. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Not just pleasure, I'm afraid,” she says, careful to keep her tone light. “Are you sitting down?”
He doesn't ask, just clears his throat and pauses (while he finds a seat, no doubt). “Yes. I am.”
She draws in a deep breath. “Do you remember our last night together in L.A.?”
“Oh, yes.” Hushed and pleased; well, until today she felt exactly the same when she thought about the passion and gentleness they had shared in farewell. “I doubt I shall ever forget it.”
“Me either.” She struggles to contain an urge to giggle. No kidding. “Larry, I'm pregnant.”
Autumn 1978 – New York (age 6)
The softball smacked into her glove, and she squealed. “I got it, Daddy!”
He threw his arms into the air. “That's my girl! I knew you could do it.” The setting sun painted gold stripes across his T-shirt, his short dark hair, and his sneakers, white like hers. He took a few steps backward across the huge lawn. “Let's see if you can get it this far.”
Without pausing, she hurled the ball at him, overhand. It spun high, and he jumped up to catch it. “Whoa! Watch the height, baby, your old man's losing some of his spring.” His dark eyes crinkled as he grinned at her and tossed the ball back.
This time the speed of it made her stumble backwards. But there it was, in her glove, just like last time.
“Good! Again!” He beckoned, and took a wider stance.
She was winding up to throw when the phone rang inside the house. Startled, she let go—and Dad didn't get his glove up quite in time. The ball smacked his face. He said a really bad word, and put his hand over his nose.
She froze, not even breathing. The phone kept ringing.
He straightened up. It had gotten darker, and she couldn't see if his nose was bleeding. “Nice pitch, Megs,” he said thickly. “We'll keep working on your aim.”
Mom appeared on the back porch. “Geoffrey, it's that new client. Shall I take a message?”
Dad made a noise--Megan thought it was probably another bad word--and rubbed a hand through his hair. “No, I'll take it. Tell him I'll be right with him.”
He picked up the softball and brought it to Megan. “Good game. Sorry I have to go in--maybe we can play again on the weekend, huh?”
She punched her fist into her glove. He laughed, and bent down to kiss her forehead.
Summer 2008 – Washington D.C.
“Oh, Megan....” Even through the phone she can hear wonder in his voice. Awe, and startled delight.
Suddenly she is forced to feel, to commit to an emotion, and what she feels is terror. Not what she wanted to feel, but there it is, choking off her air, souring the pasta and kale in her stomach.
She can't speak, and how is this going to work since at the moment they have only words between them?
Larry clears his throat. When she still doesn't speak, he asks mildly, “How certain are you that the embryo contains my genetic material?”
The panic shatters into a laugh. “Did you just--did you just ask if you're my baby daddy?”
“I believe so.” He sounds smug, which is aggravating.
She tells him the truth anyway. “You're the only man I've been with in the past three years. And the timing is perfect. Yes, it's yours.”
Another brief silence, and he asks, “Have you decided what you wish to do? Or would you like to talk about it?”
She can hear every word he is carefully not saying, every choice he is leaving up to her. “I don't know. With work and school, writing papers, I'm in the middle of changing my entire lifestyle already--”
“It's a really bad idea.” She spills out the words so fast she bites her tongue.
“Megan?” he says again, as if feeling his way. “Do you want to have a child?”
“The time's not right, I can't afford this, how could--”
“Megan.” That's not a tone she could ever argue with. “Do you want this child?”
She's been trying to avoid this, be rational, think straight. And yet this moment, when she really looks at what the decision would mean, she sees something unexpected: that it would fill a hole she'd never known was there, and open enormous, glorious vistas of life ahead of her. “Yes,” she says, the word choked with tears of relief. “Oh, yes.”
“I will help you any way that I can,” he promises. Then his voice sharpens, as it does when he comes to a realization. “Have you told your sisters yet? Your parents? Some of them live quite close to where you are now, do they not?”
His knack of finding the things she's shied away from has not diminished with distance. “Yeah, that's true. I’m just--what do I do, just sit down at breakfast and say ‘Oh, hey, Mom and Dad, I’m pregnant; would you pass the coffee’? And anyway, Larry... you're this child's family more than they'll ever be.”
“And you are mine. Always.”
Summer 1982 – New York (age 10)
The leather was cool and smooth against her hot forehead. Megan curled tighter into the heavy chair and tried to hold back more tears.
The door creaked open. Dad said, “Megs? Are you in here?”
She didn't answer, not sure how to explain. His footsteps moved closer, until his hand touched her hair. “There you are. Mom said you came home upset and she hadn't seen you since.”
She sniffled, unable to find words.
His hand slid to the back of her neck as he crouched beside the chair. “Megan, did someone hurt you?”
She almost started crying again, out of sheer frustration. “No.”
He lifted her chin with two fingers, looking into her face. “What happened, then?”
She sighed and scooted over, making room for Dad to sit next to her. “Nothing. Only, Lisa is having a birthday party, and she said she didn't want me to come.”
He frowned. “Your friend Lisa?”
Megan sniffed. She wanted to say something angry and clever and mean, but her throat hurt too much.
Dad made thinking noises. “I know what we'll do. We'll show her. I have some seats right behind home plate for next weekend. Expensive and fun. You can be my date, how's that sound?”
She caught her breath. “You're not busy?”
He laughed. “Work won't keep me away from that. What do you say?”
She nodded, grinning, even though her eyes were still wet.
Dad tapped her cheek. “Chin up, Megs. You're worth a hundred of a girl like that.”
She knew he believed it, and wondered why it didn't make her feel better.
Summer 2008 – Washington D.C.
“Hello?” The greeting sounds harried, and the image that winks into Megan's Skype window is almost nonsensical: a scattering of bright movement and color that wobbles around before Theresa's narrow face appears. “Megan! Hey, little sis!”
Megan can barely hear her above the background noise of yelling boys. “Am I interrupting anything?”
Theresa throws back her head in a laugh. “Just an Xbox Ultimate Warrior championship. Let me get out of the line of fire. What's up? Can you come for dinner this weekend? I can't believe we haven't had you over yet.”
The background is moving, shifting from the earthy reds of the family room to a paler blue that Megan remembers as the new shade of the main bedroom. “We should definitely compare schedules, since we're so close now. There's really no excuse.”
“Not even school, almost-Dr. Reeves.” The video settles as Theresa sits cross-legged on her bed and sets the laptop in front of her.
“Actually....” Megan takes a breath. “Exactly how close would you say our places are? I'm not good at estimating traffic here just yet.”
Theresa shrugs. “By bus, maybe forty minutes. By car, it depends on the weather and the time of day. Why? Planning a regular day to visit? I wouldn't recommend trying to study in this madhouse, but while they're at school....”
Megan shakes her head. “Not for studying, except from the master of a particular discipline. For starters: any tips on how to handle first-trimester morning sickness gracefully?”
It takes about five seconds for the penny to fully drop. “Oh my God,” Theresa breathes. “Are you pregnant?” And then, drawing even more conclusions, “And you're keeping it! Is Larry the father? What does he think? Are you getting married?”
Through her own laughter, Megan answers, “Yes, yes, yes, he's thrilled, and... not yet, as far as I know.”
“Good for him.” Theresa nods. “But you let me know if he doesn't propose. It may be the twenty-first century, but Larry strikes me as an attractively old-fashioned man.”
Megan spreads a stealthy hand across her still-flat abdomen. “That's--oh, Theresa, it's really good to talk to you. I'm still kind of in shock.”
“I may be in shock for the next nine months,” Theresa says, grinning. “Oh my God, tell me everything.”
Early Summer 1985 – New York (age 13)
“Here, try this one on!” Ellie tossed a blouse over the door to the changing room.
Megan caught it and held it up critically. Pale pink, almost sheer, the neck cut in a deep V. “Won't it be too low?”
“Just try it, Megs.” Theresa, home from college for the summer, clearly agreed with El. Megan smiled; El could be a prankster, but Theresa always had her back. “You look amazing in that shade.”
She discarded the previous attempt and pulled the new top over her head. It was too low, the neck showing a line of white bra at the bottom of the V. But she'd never really worn something like this before, usually talking her mom into letting her buy comfortable stuff--skirts for school, simple tunics or buttoned shirts to wear with jeans every day.
This top was just the right width for her narrow shoulders, displaying her browned arms and the pale skin over her collarbones and chest. Just tight enough to show that she had a waist and some brand-new curves. She looked up at her reflection and surprised wide, wondering eyes and a softly open mouth. It did look good.
“How's it going in there?” Mom, trying to move the shopping trip along.
“Isn't this more something you would wear, El?” Megan asked, trying to shrug off her sudden liking for this new mirror self.
El laughed. “You're almost a woman, Megs. Don't you want to show it off a little?”
Megan stood straight, let her shoulders fall back. Took another look. Very different from her blue jeans and shirt, from her tidy school self. But somehow still Megan. “Something not so low, then. Or I need a different bra.”
“Let me see!” Theresa almost squealed.
Megan smiled at her reflection one more time, then opened the door for her sisters.
Summer 2008 – New York
Megan knocks on the door, fanning herself with her other hand and wishing she'd thought to wear a hat along with her cotton sundress and sandals. The last time she'd been here had been over six months ago; there had been snow on the ground and a freezing wind that cut through everything she'd been wearing. Now, the sweltering summer sun has her glowing with sweat.
A sign, perhaps. A thaw, the opposite of the freeze that has existed between herself and her father for the past several years.
Not that she needs it. He should be at the club today. Megan knocks again, waiting for either the housekeeper or her mother to answer.
The door swings open, and it's neither. Dad stares at her, eyebrows drawing down in puzzlement. “Megan. I--come in, it's too hot to be outside.”
She steps past him, into the cool, dark hallway. “Thanks. Is Mom here? I didn't expect to see you.”
“She's in the kitchen.” He starts down the passage, not looking back. “How are you? I know your mother has been hoping you would find the time to visit since you moved to D.C.”
Megan trails behind him, trying to breathe deeply. “Yeah, I know. I'm free today, and thought I'd come tell her all the news.”
Neither says anything more, until they enter the kitchen. Mom turns and kisses Megan, exclaiming delightedly over her presence. “Oh, Megan, it's been too long. How are you settling in?”
Megan sits at the small table, across from them both. “I'm fine, I'm good. Although a, uh, complication has come up. I wanted to tell you in person, so I'm glad you're both here. Dad...” She looks at him, and summons her best smile. “You're going to be a grandfather again.”
Mom gasps immediately, reaching over to take her hands. Dad stares at her. Opens his mouth, closes it again. Frowns. “You, my little Megs?” Despite the blank expression, his voice carries something of the same awe she heard in Larry's. “When?”
“February. Late in the month, probably.”
Mom's hand tightens on hers, and Megan returns the grip.
Dad clears his throat. “Do you know, yet, whether it will be a girl or a boy? Be nice for your mother to know what kind of clothing to start buying.”
“It's a little early for that, Dad.” Megan swallows. This isn't the reaction she hoped for. But it'd be a shame to waste the daring she's mustered up for this visit. “In fact, we're thinking about not finding out the gender at all until the baby's born. That way we don't have any preconceptions, and can let it be who it wants to be, instead of who we want it to be.”
“Megan....” Mom's protest is a mere whisper; whether Dad hears what she's saying or not, Mom has the message loud and clear.
“Mom, I can't stay, okay?” Megan pats her hand and stands. “I told Theresa I'd have dinner with them, and I think it'd be best if I showed up early enough to help with the cooking. I'll call you soon.”
She doesn't look back as she leaves, but neither does she run, like last time she was here.
Autumn 1987 – New York (age 16)
“Why not?!” It felt so good to raise her voice to him. Megan wasn't sure why she'd never tried it before. “Why the hell not?”
“Language, Megan!” Dad stood up, taller than she usually thought of him as being. “Because there is no possible use for random classes in ballet or theater or design in terms of your career. Every extra class you try to take steals from your grade point average and lowers your chances of doing well in a good school!” He was breathing as hard as she was.
“Dad.” Megan dropped her voice to a low pitch, an old trick she learned from him. “How will I even know what to study if I don't try new things now?”
“Theater is not a career. Medicine would be, or law, like Theresa.”
Megan stepped closer, looking up into his face. “Theresa hates her job. She's quitting as soon as the wedding plans are final, did you know that?”
His fists clenched at his sides. “Choose your future, or choose the present and waste your future on it. You can't do both.”
“You'd let me do whatever I wanted if I were a boy, wouldn't you?” Shocked at her daring, not wanting to believe her own words, Megan froze.
“If you were a boy...” Dad ground out the words between clenched teeth. “You'd be able to pull it off.”
Megan stumbled back, tripping over her high heels. She'd never thought that he really thought that, really did see her as a mistake, a....
“Megan,” he said, reaching out a hand. “For God's sake, be reasonable.”
“Reason has apparently left the building, Dad.” Megan turned and walked outside as steadily as she could, ignoring his shouts behind.
Summer 2008 – Ronald Regan Washington National Airport, Washington D.C.
“Over here!” Megan waves frantically, stopping short of jumping up and down. It's been far too long, these weeks since her move, and she can't stop the smile that's making her face ache.
Larry, once he spots her, smiles too. It crinkles his eyes, and Megan feels warmed to her core, even before he manages to squirm through the crowd and wrap her in a tight hug. “Megan. You look well.”
“You, too.” She touches his face, blinking away tears.
He rests his fingers against her abdomen, sending a small shiver through her. “Hello, little one.”
Larry tucks her arm into his, and they walk out to the car together. “Have you called your parents since you saw them?”
She shakes her head, guilty. “No.” Larry doesn't say anything, and after a minute she finds herself stumbling on. “I just--I don't ever want to hear him say to my child what he said to me. That I wasn't what he--wasn't his dream child.”
Larry wraps his free hand around hers. “This child will be our dream child, and we will be the voice of love to him or her. Not your father. No matter what happens.” He looks at her, and sighs. “Would you try one more time, if I came with you?”
She has to swallow hard, and the words still come thickly. “It'll be the last time I try.”
He nods, and kisses her fingers.
Winter 1988 – Las Vegas (age 16)
The desert air stuck hot and thin in Megan's lungs as she climbed off the Greyhound bus. Early evening still left a skin of ruddy sunlight draped over the buildings around her, over the buses, the people. There were the buildings of the Strip, several blocks away; and there, in the wavering distance, yellow-brown hills defining an uncertain horizon.
Even the bus stop was a little more Spartan than the New York stop where she'd embarked almost a week before.
She closed her eyes against the dry breeze, seeing again her parents' silhouettes through the lighted window of her father's study. Upset, nearly shouting at each other, but unaware as yet that she had slipped out of the house, suitcase in one hand, purse in the other.
She'd stood and watched them for a long few minutes, until they embraced, no longer shouting. Well. If Mom could put up with Dad's demands, then good for her. Megan wouldn't. Not anymore.
Megan took a deep breath, feeling tension ease out of her shoulders, her spine straighten. There was no one here in Vegas who would put demands on her. No one to belittle her desire to be free, to do what she wanted. Nothing to stop her being beautiful, and talented, and her own honest self.
When she opened her eyes, most of the passengers had gone into the building. A boy not much older than her still stood by the door, staring at her. Megan tossed her hair back, and smiled at him as brightly as she could.
He started, and then smiled back.
The rest of her sixteenth year was going to be great.
Summer 2008 – Washington D.C.
The food in the upscale cafe is as good as she's been told; it provides a never-ending stream of conversational topics, which Larry handles with surprising deftness. Until now, Megan hasn't realized that he is as well-versed in culinary trivia as he is in the minutia of classic cars.
He's aware of her surprise; when her father turns to deal with their waiter, Larry winks at her.
By the time they're eating dessert, the silences have grown longer. Megan finds herself fidgeting with her napkin, her water glass, her silverware, and wishing that something--anything--would happen. Even if it ends in her stomping out yet again.
Mom reaches over to pat her hand. “Dear, you still haven't told us if you have plans for your schooling with the baby coming. Will you hire a nanny? Or does the university have childcare options?”
That hand, wrinkled but soft, with impeccable nails, had stroked her hair after many a childhood nightmare. No nannies for the Reeves girls, not while Mom was there. Megan took that hand in both of her own. “I'm not sure. I'd like to try doing most of it myself, with you and Theresa to help out.”
Dad cleared his throat. Megan stiffened, and waited. “We would love to help, Megan. What are grandparents for, if not to give a child everything he or she longs for when their parents' backs are turned?” His smile was hesitant, small, but Megan suddenly breathed in a memory of sun-baked grass and the smell of a leather mitt.
His gaze held hers for a long moment. Something old and sharp-edged inside her began to ease. “I think you might be right,” she told him. “You sure you're up for it?”
“I'm sure,” he said. “Very sure, Megs.”
Under the table, Larry's hand found her knee and squeezed. Megan grinned at him, and turned back to her parents. “We've got a lot to talk about, then. You can't properly spoil a child until you know what the parents won't allow.”