He held his tongue, not willing to go there again, but he looked down uncomfortably. Even if things never worked out with Vanni, which was what he feared, he didn’t have the kind of passion for Terri that was required to take on marriage—it would rob them both. Yet, he was going to end up committing most of a lifetime to her because of the child. “How about insurance benefits? Financial obligations?”
“I have a good job, Paul. My benefits will see me through the pregnancy, though I haven’t told my boss yet. I don’t think that’s the kind of help I’m going to need.”
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Good,” she said. “Excellent.”
A waiter came to their table, offered menus, took drink orders, disappeared again.
“Go ahead,” Paul said. “Take a look, see what you feel like for lunch.”
“I’m, ah, not real hungry right now,” she said.
“Well, you have to eat, Terri. You’re supporting more than one body. One of them’s growing.” And then he smiled kindly. “I know—I’m a little nervous, too. I think we’re going to have to try to get past the jitters if we’re going to make this work.”
“Sure,” she said, looking into her menu. She lifted it up so he couldn’t see her face and he noticed a movement behind the menu that suggested she wiped her eyes before lowering it again. “I’ll just have a salad,” she said. And then the waiter was beside them with water and iced tea.
“I’ll have lasagna,” Paul said. “And bread. And bring the lady a minestrone soup with her salad.” When the waiter had gone he said, “Don’t worry, Terri. This will get easier.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Have you told your parents yet?”
She looked down. “I told my mom. She and my dad are divorced and I haven’t had that much contact with him.” She looked up shyly. “She’d like to meet you sometime.”
“Sure,” he said, sitting back in his chair. “When we’ve had some time to sort things out a little, huh?” And she nodded. This woman was a far cry from the little pistol he’d met a year ago. She was subdued, self-conscious and submissive today. He didn’t know her well but, at the moment, it was as if he didn’t know her at all. As much as he wished this wasn’t happening, he couldn’t help but see it was harder for her than him. She’d been so good to him; he hated that he’d hurt her.
“Have you told your parents?”
He laughed a little. “No,” he said. “I think I might hold off on that a while.”
“Will they freak out?”
He chuckled again. “Oh, I think it’ll surprise them. In fact, maybe I should brush up on my CPR.”
“Ew,” she said, a hand going to her tummy.
Paul immediately reached for her other hand and held it supportively. “Terri, you don’t have to worry that they’d be a problem for you. My parents are real decent people. Even if they were thoroughly disappointed in me, they’d treat you and your child with kindness. Respect.”
“Our child,” she said softly after a moment of silence.
He was quiet, not responding to that. He might get there eventually, but he wasn’t there yet. He kept thinking of this as her baby or his baby but not their baby. “You’ve seen the doctor?”
“Just once, to confirm what I already knew. I’m not very far along, you know.”
He knew exactly how far along. Almost to the minute. “And you’re due…?”
“November. The twentieth.”
“Are you happy with the doctor?”
“She’s nice.” Terri shrugged. “She was recommended…”
To Paul’s great relief, the food arrived. He waited for Terri to take a couple of bites before he started on his; he found himself watching her to be sure she was eating. They sat in uncomfortable silence. After a few minutes, he pulled a card out of his shirt pocket, turned it over to be sure it was the right one and slid it across the table. “My home, work and cell phone numbers,” he said. “I have your home phone, but I don’t know where you work. Secretary, isn’t it?”
She nodded. “Legal secretary. I’m thinking about applying for a paralegal course.”
“Hey, that’s great,” he said.
“Well, I was thinking about that, before…”
He liked that she had goals for herself, something to look forward to, since he wasn’t giving her much in that department. And she would improve her earning potential, he thought. Because she was going to be a working mother. Or…Maybe she shouldn’t have to work. His head started to spin. “Listen, it’s hard to make long-term plans when you have a short-term complications, but if that’s something you really want to do, don’t give up on the idea. Not yet. Things always seem to work out the way they’re supposed to. You’d be surprised.”
“Right now it’s a little hard to figure things out. Things like that…”
“What other things have you concerned?” he asked.
“Well, I live in a one bedroom, upstairs apartment. It’s a nice apartment—you’ve been there. Single women like the upstairs—it’s safer. Fewer means of entry, for one thing. But single mothers probably have a hard time with things like that. Babies come with a lot of gear. You know?”
Stroller, diaper bag, car seat, swing, Port-a-Crib, etcetera. He’d spent years watching his brothers tromp into their parents’ house, hauling all the baby stuff. The stairs to her apartment were steep. She should live in a house, he thought. In a safe neighborhood. He thought he felt a migraine coming on. The first one of his life.
“I don’t have any savings,” she said. “I make a decent living, not a great one. My office has paid leave for six weeks and optional time off without pay up to six months. I already feel like six weeks isn’t enough. Not for a new baby. And then—what about child care? I haven’t even felt this baby move—and I’m already worried about leaving him with some stranger. Or her. Him or her.”
Paul smiled kindly. “Try not to worry about things like that yet, Terri. You’re not going to have to make those decisions alone. Don’t let it keep you up nights. I’ll be pitching in.”
“Pitching in? How?”
“Well, financially and, hopefully, with child care.”
“Helping me pay for childcare? Is that it?”
“And with actual child care,” he said, smiling.
“You thinking of sticking your mother with a baby?”
“I’m pretty good with babies,” he said. “I was thinking of having my time with him. Or her.”
“Oh,” she said. “Thanks. That’s nice of you.”
Nice of me, he thought shamefully. She was talking like she expected to go it alone if he wouldn’t marry her, and that almost made his cheeks flame. He had at least as much responsibility here as she did. She might’ve been lazy about those pills, but he’d used a condom he’d been carrying around for months, rubbing it thinner every time he slid into a chair. “I told you—you’re not in this all alone. Can you think of anything I can do to help right now?”
“To tell the truth, just having you show a little interest helps a lot. Moral support, you know.” And then for the first time since they sat down, she smiled.
“Ah,” he said. “There it is. I know you don’t think you have that much to smile about right now, especially where I’m concerned. I’ll do whatever I can. It’ll help if you tell me what you need.”
“Right now? I want my baby to have a father. A good father. I just need someone to care.”
“I care about what’s happening with you and the baby. I’m kind of clumsy with words, Terri. I might’ve been a little too shocked to give you the kind of comfort you needed when I first found out, I’m sorry about that. Here’s how I feel—I think it would be a mistake for us to try to make a marriage out of a very nice friendship, but if I’m having a child, I’m committed to the child. For life. I’ll do my part because I want to. You can rest easy about that.”
“How will your parents feel about that?” she asked.
“They’ll feel the same way,” he said. “Terri—I’m thirty-six. I’m past asking my parents for approval. What we’re going to have to do here is find a way to work together.” He swallowed. “We have to put the needs of the child first.”
She sighed. “God,” she said, tears sparkling in her eyes. “I never expected you to act like this. I thought you’d take off or deny it. But you’re a good man, Paul. A real good man…”
If I was worth a damn, you wouldn’t be unmarried and pregnant, he thought. “I’m sure I’ll fall short a lot, but I’m going to do my best.”
“Thanks,” she said. “You have no idea how much that means to me.”
When their lunch was over, he walked her to her car and she hugged him. “Just having you nearby—that’s very reassuring,” she said. “I thought I’d never hear from you again. Sometimes this feels so lonely.” Then she looked up at him and said, “Although I might not have a husband—I feel like I have a partner. Thank you, Paul.”
“Um…Yeah. We’ll work together on this, make sure everything is covered…”
Her arms still around his waist, looking up at him with those large, sad eyes, she said, “Maybe I could make you dinner this weekend…”
He was shaking his head before she even finished. “We have to keep this in perspective, Terri. We’re going to be parents together, I guess. But that relationship we had, such as it was? We’re not going to have that relationship anymore. We can’t. It’ll only complicate a situation that’s already complicated.”
Her face fell. She looked down. “I see,” she said.
He put a finger under her chin, lifting her face so their eyes met. “We’re in this together, but we’re not a couple. We never were.”
She took a breath. “If I’m going to carry the baby, it would be nice if I also had some affection.”
He put a small kiss on her brow. “You have that. As the mother of my child.”
“You’re absolutely sure nothing could grow between us? As we have this baby together?”
“Terri, my intention is to be good to you and be a good father. But if there was something more between us, we both would have known before this, before now. I think what we can be is good friends, good parents. Let’s shoot for that, huh?”
“Sure,” she said with a sad smile. “Sure. That’s something, I guess.”
“I’m sorry, Terri. That’s all I have. And until that night I called, I think that’s all you had. Think about it—we never even had phone calls. We just weren’t that connected. Let’s move ahead. Let’s see if we can make this work for the child.”
“Then I guess it’ll have to be enough,” she said, pulling her arms from around him.
For the first time he thought, what if she takes this child away from me? What if she finds someone else, some guy, willing to be that husband and father? And it puts me in the way? I have to know more about this kind of thing, he thought. I have to know what I can do about this.
“That’s all I can ask.” He gave her shoulders a brief, friendly squeeze. “I’ll be in touch.”
Vanessa had almost every piece of clothing she owned spread out across the bed. She was trying to pack for a trip to Grants Pass to visit Matt’s parents and she wanted to look her best. She had asked her mother-in-law, Carol, if she would please invite Paul to dinner. She hadn’t seen him since the baby was born and she’d so like to get his attention. But when Vanessa looked in the mirror, she saw a waist that was still too thick, breasts too heavy for her tops and thighs that felt like tree trunks. She couldn’t get into any of her old clothes and she’d be damned if she’d wear maternity clothes. The baby was almost two months old.