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Page 40

testpreptraining

I was ready to answer with my standard as-of-late reply of fine when I stopped myself.

“I’m scared shitless,” I said, flashing her an apologetic smile.

Amy laughed. “At least you’re honest,” she said, motioning me toward the vinyl-covered bed. “I think that might qualify as the best answer I’ve heard all week.” She sat down on a rolling chair beside the bed and began tapping on a computer. “Go ahead and get comfortable and we’ll get started.”

I inhaled and tried to make myself comfortable as I reclined. Nothing was really comfortable about it, though. The room was too cold, the pillow was stiff, the paper covering the bed crackled loudly as I moved against it, and there was something so final about finding out if I was having a boy or a girl. I also knew I couldn’t get comfortable because Jude wasn’t here with me.

“Go ahead and roll up your shirt,” she said, grabbing a tube from her cart. “And you’ll be happy to know that some genius invented a warmer for this belly lube gunk, so you won’t hit the ceiling when I squirt some on your tummy.”

I almost smiled as I pulled my shirt up. “Belly lube gunk? Is that the technical term for it?”

Amy shook the tube and squeezed a good-size blob just above my belly button. “As technical as I’ll ever get,” she said, grabbing the ultrasound reader and lowering it to my stomach. “I’m going to take a quick look at your baby’s lungs, heart, and spine, and then we can determine the gender if you like.”

“I want to know,” I said, as she distributed the blob around.

Amy pressed a button on a remote and the TV in front of me clicked on. It was nothing but a bunch of darkish static, until all of a sudden a white little bean-shaped thing with arms and legs showed up on the screen.

“There’s your little peanut,” she said, rolling the instrument to give a different view.

I choked on a sob that came out of nowhere. It was primal—everything about my reaction to watching the baby inside me on a TV. Amy handed me a couple of tissues right before my first tears fell. She was an old pro.

These tears had nothing to do with hormones or me being one giant hot mess for the better part of a month. These tears were the kind that came from deep within your soul. They were the tears when life was created or taken away, and I wasn’t sure if they’d ever let up.

“This is one healthy little baby you’ve got cooking in here, Lucy,” Amy said after a while. “Everything looks great.”

Another assault of tears.

“You ready to find out if it’s a boy or girl?” she asked, shifting the view yet again. I nodded, because I was past words.

The door creaked open, filling the room with a ray of sharp white light as a body slid inside.

“Am I too late?” Jude asked, closing the door.

“No,” Amy answered, “you’re just in time.”

“Luce?” he said, coming toward me. “Am I too late?” he repeated with a whole lot of meaning between his words.

It took a moment for my eyes to readjust, but when they did and I saw the expression on his face, my heart kind of broke and burst at the same instant. He’d made it. He hadn’t let me down. He was here for me when I needed him most, looking tortured and anxious and as scared shitless as I was.

It was the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen.

“No, Jude,” I said, extending my hand toward him. “You’re not too late.”

He took my hand and knelt down beside me. “I’m so sorry, Luce,” he said, wrapping his other hand around mine. “I love you so damn much. And I love that baby in your belly so damn much.” He paused, biting the inside of his cheek. Seeming at a loss for words, he leaned his forehead into our entwined hands and closed his eyes. “I had so much else I wanted to say, but I’m sorry, and I love you . . . both pretty much sums it all up.”

I was convinced that this past month my tear ducts had taken it upon themselves to revolt and catch up on eight years of trying not to cry. “I’m sorry, and I love you, too,” I said. He was right: Those two sentences really did say it all.

“I take it you’re the father?” Amy said, fighting a smile as she watched us.

Jude’s eyes opened. He lifted his shoulders. “Yeah. I’m the father.”

“Well, then, Daddy,” Amy said, glancing at her computer screen. “You ready to know what you’re having?”

Jude’s gaze shifted to the TV and his face went blank. Blank with awe. He’d been too caught up in our sorry-love makeup that he hadn’t noticed the baby on the screen. But he did now. And he couldn’t look away.

He could barely blink.

“Look at that,” Amy said, shaking her head. “Baby’s awake now. She must like her daddy’s voice.”

My head whipped to the side. “She?”

“You’re having a little girl,” Amy said, winking at me before glancing at Jude.

He was still transfixed, totally enamored as he watched our baby girl’s arms and legs move. Then a tear bubbled in the corner of his eye, before it fell down his cheek.

It was the first tear I’d seen Jude shed.

“How are you?” I asked softly.

“Speechless,” he breathed, studying the screen like it wasn’t real.

“That’s the first tear I’ve seen you cry,” I said, skimming my thumb down the moist trail it had left down his face.

“That’s the first tear I have ever cried,” he said, clearing his throat. “I can’t imagine a better time to let one fall than finding out I’m going to have a little girl with you, Luce.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I can’t either.”

“Well, we’re all done here,” Amy said. “But I’ll print you out some photos to put on your fridge and show off to all your friends, that kind of thing. So, say bye-bye, Mommy and Daddy.”

“Bye, baby,” I whispered, watching the screen. She was still moving around, almost dancing. She really was my daughter.

“Bye, baby girl,” Jude said, before the screen went black.

“You two can have a few moments in here,” Amy said, wiping my belly off with some tissues before standing up. “And here are your first baby pictures.” She handed me a strand of six photos taken from different angles. All of them brought a smile to my face.

This was our baby. Our baby girl. Surreal was the word of the day.

“Do you have some scissors in here?” Jude said, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “I want to put one in my wallet.”

Amy smiled at him and pulled a pair from her cart. Cutting the top one free, she handed it to him. “I don’t need long to know when a baby’s going to be well loved and cared for,” she said, handing the picture to Jude before heading for the door. “I didn’t need more than a few seconds with the two of you to know your little girl is one lucky baby.” She smiled and started closing the door. “Take your time.”

Jude carefully folded his photo before sliding it into his wallet, his expression peaceful.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you right away, Jude,” I said, swinging my legs around as I sat up. “I never wanted to—”

“Luce, you don’t have anything to apologize for,” he said, staring at my stomach before meeting my eyes. “But I do. I behaved like an a**hole. I was an a**hole.”

I held up my hand, because I wasn’t going to let him take all the blame like he always did. “Lord knows I love you for saying that, but I’ve plenty to apologize for. So please let me. Okay?”

He took a seat next to me on the edge of the bed and nodded.

“I should have told you the minute after I found out I was pregnant,” I began, running my hands down my legs. “But I was scared. Terrified. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I was pregnant, and I assured myself I’d tell you as soon as I’d gotten used to the idea. I think I’ve figured out that you don’t get ‘used’ to the idea of being pregnant when you’re an unmarried twenty-one-year-old trying to finish school.”

Maybe no one, no matter what their age or place in life, got used to the idea, because it was something so beyond comprehension. Something epic. Creating life. Sustaining life. Giving life. It wasn’t a concept that was easy to wrap any mind around.

“After a week passed and I wasn’t feeling any better, I knew I needed to tell you, but I didn’t want it to be on the phone, and I didn’t want it to be something I had to rush when I flew in for your first game. I wanted there to be a perfect time and place to tell you, so we could figure this curveball out together, but I should have remembered I’m a walking experiment in imperfect timing.”

Jude reached for my hand and weaved his fingers through mine.

“I should have told you sooner. I’m sorry I didn’t. And I’m really sorry you found out the way you did.” I squeezed his hand. “But I’m so, so happy you’re here with me now.”

“Me too,” he said, lifting my hand to his lips. “Are you done now? With your apology?” His lips grazed along my knuckles, heating the skin along the way. “Because I’ve got something of a monumental apology to make, too.”

“You’ve got the floor, Mr. Ryder,” I said ceremoniously.

Pressing one final kiss to my knuckles, he lowered our hands to his lap. “I walked out on you Saturday night because I was scared, too, Luce,” he said. “I was scared of the reasons you’d kept it from me in the first place. I was scared that you would forever resent me for getting you pregnant. I was scared that I didn’t have what it takes to be a father. I was scared of so much, but what I was mostly scared of was losing you.” His voice was tight as his eyes lowered to my stomach. “And losing our baby.

“I ran that night because I was scared, and the fact that I ran away when you needed me most made me even more scared. So that’s what I’ve been thinking about nonstop, all day, every day, since Saturday night. And you want to know what I came up with?” he asked, leaning his forehead into mine. At this proximity, his eyes took up my whole field of vision.

“What?” I said, almost kissing him because our mouths were that close.

“That it doesn’t matter why I ran,” he said, staring at me without blinking, “because I came back. I’ll always come back, Luce. No matter how many rip-roaring fights we have and no matter how many miscommunications we have. I’ll always come back because you’re where I belong.”

“That’s quite the revelation there, Ryder,” I said. “You have a lot of those, don’t you?”

“I didn’t get this far with you without having a good epiphany knock me over the head once in a while.”

“So,” I said, “anything else or can we just kiss and make up now?”

His forehead left mine. “One more thing,” he said, as his face wrinkled. “Are you worried I’m going to be the kind of dad mine was?” I could tell he was trying not to show how hard these words were to get out, but I’d seen this man through four years of life’s highs and lows.

***

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