Read an Excerpt
Always In Our Hearts
November 12, 1996
Huddled under his winter comforter, Brian Peterson just stared at the ceiling as his clock passed midnight. He should have been sleeping, like most of his classmates. He knew it. He was exhausted. But none of them had his problems, his fears, his nightmares haunting them. The piercing ring from his telephone was so unexpected, it startled not only Brian, but also Mark Pollak, his roommate at Gettysburg College, a small, coed Lutheran school along the southern edge of Pennsylvania.
Outside, a biting wind whipped through the pretty tree-lined campus and the empty, well-lit streets. The classroom buildings, each of them cut from the same red brick and white trim mold, were all dark. The Safety and Security Office was open, but the radios of the officers on patrol were silent. Inside one dormitory, Hanson Hall, a few lights were still on, but most of the room windows were dark, the students asleep, gearing up for their Tuesday classes. A light frost was forming on the huge lawn between the dormitory and the towering Christ Chapel on North Washington Street.
Sleeping, thinking, even eating, had been difficult for Brian lately. He didn't know what tomorrow would bring. Every day, every night, was filled with cold sweats and thoughts of what might have been. And what might be. He looked at the clock. 12:23 A.M. He knew who had to becalling. No one else would dial him at this hour tonight. He had just seen her over the weekend at the University of Delaware, and although she was nauseated and had vomited on Sunday, she had told him on Monday that she felt fine other than being a little tired and sick. But the voice Brian heard on the telephone was not fine. Amy Grossberg was in a panic.
"I think my water broke." She sounded close to crying.
"What happened? Tell me what happened." Brian tried to soothe her, but he could tell it was useless.
"It feels like I peed in my pants," she said softly. She was whispering, almost embarrassed to say the crude words, but she didn't know how else to describe what she was feeling.
Brian had class in a few hours. And soccer practice. He was tired. He was terrified. He was good-looking and eighteen, away at college for the first time, surrounded by cute new girls, and his girlfriend from high school was a hundred miles away. Everything about this phone call told him to stay in bed. Tell her to relax, it was probably nothing. Call her first thing in the morning and continue to visit her on weekends and be her support system. Brian's split-second decision on this night, and the series of choices he would make in the next five hours, would say as much about his good heart and his devout loyalty to Amy as it would about his immaturity and his unwillingness to take charge.
"Okay, just wait there," Brian said. "I'll come down and get you. I'll be right there."
"No, don't come. I don't think you should drive all the way here now. Maybe it's nothing. I don't know what's going on."
"I want to come. Just to make sure everything is okay. I won't stay. If it's nothing, I'll just drive back."
They talked for twenty minutes. It was 12:45 A.M. when they hung up. Brian dressed quickly. His roommate stirred but said nothing. Brian grabbed his wallet and keys and dialed Amy back.
"Okay, I'm leaving now. I'll be there by three."
Those who knew Amy and Brian knew them as a couple. He loved her and would do anything to make her happy. She loved him, she needed him. He was her rock, her most loyal friend who, she was absolutely certain, would never walk away from her. They were a somewhat odd pairing, but they didn't care what others thought, including their parents. They were in love, they had been since high school.
After hustling downstairs, Brian ran across North Washington Street toward his black two-door Toyota Celica, a gift from his parents. He ran with the quick feet he usually reserved for the soccer field, where his slick moves and slight frame allowed him to dart between defenders like a waterbug among lily pads. At every level he played, Brian had never been the best, but he had always been fearlessly competitive. Aside from his family and Amy, he loved nothing as much as sports, from the intense sweat he worked up playing soccer to the steely nerves he needed on the golf course.
His car was a mess. On the floor of the passenger front seat was a loose-leaf binder filled with papers, diagrams of the plays he had to learn for the Gettysburg freshman soccer team. Gum, Chap Stick, his cellular telephone, and a pack of Tums all littered the front seat. Amy's stomach wasn't the only one rumbling these days. Also on the front seat was a map of the Pennsylvania and Delaware region, with the route he usually took from Gettysburg to Newark, Delaware, highlighted in yellow.
As Brian pulled out of the parking lot to the four-way intersection next to his dormitory, the glow was gone from the red neon sign of the tiny Pizza House where he and his friends grabbed many of their lunches and dinners and played video games endlessly. His steering wheel was freezing, but he couldn't wait for the heat to kick in. Amy needed him. He could see each puff of his breath in the dark of the car as he tore out for the drive east he'd taken more than a dozen times this fall. It was 1:01 A.M. when hestopped for gas at the Sunoco Mart on Route 30 just outside Gettysburg.
Amy was pregnant. There was no use pretending she wasn't. They had done that for months, and nothing had changed. But Brian was anything but an excited, expectant father. This was a baby he didn't want to see, to hold, to hear, to smell, or to feed. This was a baby that could, in a heartbeat, forever rewrite the scenario their parents, their friends, their neighbors, and most of the people in their small New Jersey hometown had come to expect children like them to follow. This was a baby he and Amy had been wishing and wishing and wishing for months would just disappear. Poof. Amy had told no one she was pregnant. At her insistence, neither had he.
The drive between Gettysburg and Newark is frustratingly slow and boring. The closest highway to Gettysburg is Route 83, but it runs north and south, connecting Baltimore with Harrisburg. No highways come close to linking the two small college towns, so Brian had to improvise his own route every time he visited Amy, which was most weekends. Winding his way south and east on a variety of narrow, one- and two-lane country roads, never going too far without encountering a stoplight or small town, he crossed the Susquehanna River into Maryland around 2:15A.M.
The trees along the roads were all bare. And the roads were dark. At just about every intersection, Brian's headlights were alone. He passed the occasional truck or car, but he drove in a daze, oblivious of his surroundings. The heat blasting in his face and the music blaring from the radio could not take his attention away from Amy. His mind was racing as he drove. He just wanted her to be okay, to be the cute, spunky girl he had grown to love and not the scared, panicked, and maybe even suicidal girl she had become. If only ...
It was late October when Amy dropped Brian a note. She sent him at least one a week, sometimes two or three. There's a greeting card for every occasion and Amy hadbeen sending them all to Brian in the last few months. The cards were a reflection of Amy. On the outside, cheerful, happy, no sign of any trouble. On the inside, pain, tears, fear.
What's going on cute boy? Nothing much here. Just a little Halloween card to tell you how sad I am when you're not around. I know I've been stressing lately ... . I just don't know what to do ... . Every part of my body is swollen and aching. I can't handle the pressure. This has ruined my life, it's making me miserable & therefore I'm making you miserable & and I'm sorry for that. But seriously I'm going out of my mind. I've never been so scared in my entire life. I don't know what to do. I don't even know what's going on in my own body.
His dorm room was filled with her cards, many of them signed the same way.
Let's hope and pray we get through this. Sorry. I love you lots. LoveMe.
Speeding toward Delaware, Brian focused solely on the girl he loved and all they had been through in the last year.
I'm late. The words every teenage girl dreads uttering and every teenage boy dreads hearing.
Just make it go away. In letter after letter Amy begged him to help her, to make the pregnancy, the whole situation, disappear, as if he had some mysterious power. Didn't she understand that he was as petrified as she was, and that if he could have snapped his fingers and turned back the clock, he would have?
We can't tell my mother. It had become Amy's mantra. Brian had agreed never to betray his girlfriend, never to abandon her. So many times he had wanted to tell her parentswhat she could not. But Amy's wishes came first. Her mother never did find out, but this was not the plan either of them had envisioned unfolding as the alternative.
From the day they'd both accepted she was pregnant, way back in the late spring, Brian had always assumed it would never reach this point. First, they both had hoped it would pass, maybe the pregnancy would just terminate on its own, a miscarriage. Then he'd thought Amy would get an abortion. He had the money and certainly was more than willing to pay for it. It just had never happened. As time passed, he'd finally assumed they would go home for Thanksgiving, her family would take one look at her, and she would have to confess. Then he would tell his family, everyone would help her through the delivery, and the baby would either be given up for adoption or whatever. He'd never really got that far in his mind.
Not once during Amy's pregnancy had either of them actually envisioned holding a screaming and crying newborn, their child. They'd never looked into the future beyond the events of a single day. "Just make it go away," Amy had begged of Brian so many times. Their plan, if you could call it that, was to get through each hour, each day, each week, pretending everything was normal.
It was 2:30 A.M. when Brian reached Route 95 North. He pushed toward seventy miles per hour, and in twenty minutes he came to the green sign on 95 for the University of Delaware and exited on to South College Avenue.
Maybe Amy's water hadn't broken. Maybe nothing was wrong. Maybe the Thanksgiving plan was still a possibility.
Amy wasn't positive that Brian really was driving to her, but she was praying that he was. She needed him. He was her Bri-Babes, her Sweetness, her Baby Dumps. No one else could help her now. No one else would understand. She didn't want anyone to think less of her and was sure they would if she had a baby. She couldn't doze off. Her head throbbed. Her stomach churned. Every limb wassore. She lay on her bed in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, tears welling in her eyes, listening to the silence and watching her roommate sleep. Every few minutes a sharp pain jabbed below her stomach, a new pain in addition to all her other aches. The glowing numbers on her bedside digital clock seemed to take forever to change: 2:34 ... 2:35 ... 2:36 ...
It's not a pretty strip, South College Avenue. It's an assortment of the quick and cheap, where travelers rest to break up a long drive, maybe to New York or Florida, and where truckers pull off Route 95 to pass the night in one of the $50-a-night motels. Late at night, the Boston Market, Friendly's ice-cream shop, Dunkin' Donuts, Discount Liquor Store, McDonald's, Ground Round, Pepper's Pizza, and the car wash are all closed on the strip. The roar of the cars and trucks from the highway is steady. Of the drivers that do exit, most don't even stop, taking the back roads to detour around a toll on Route 95. Except for the occasional car cruising back to campus, weary traveler heading for a room, or garbage truck on its route to empty trash bins before the next business day begins, the strip is dark at night, the road quiet, the traffic lights changing pointlessly over the empty intersections.
But just a mile past all the neon lights and congestion, a small rise in the road near a huge Chrysler Corporation parts distribution plant leads to a bridge about three hundred yards long. On the opposite side lies another world. The streets are lined with trees and colonial homes and the red-brick, white-trimmed, ivy-covered buildings of what's known in town simply as UD.
The students, more than fifteen thousand of them, and most of them white, upper middle class, hail from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. They stroll the sidewalks and paths with backpacks over their shoulders, their worries limited largely to their studies and whether to party at a fraternity house or in drab Newark, where the bars are sparse.
Brian zipped through South College Avenue and drove on to the UD campus at three A.M., parking in front of Thompson Hall on Academy Street across from the tennis and basketball courts and next to the university bookstore. Thompson looked like every other building on campus, red brick with white trim around the windows. A quad area behind the dorm attracted students during the daytime for reading, Frisbee, basketball, and football. A bulletin board there is constantly covered with flyers advertising local bands playing nearby and health and pregnancy services provided by the university. Thompson, like most UD dorms, was coed. Not by floor. By alternating room. Boys, girls, boys, girls.
Like his own campus, which Brian had left two hours earlier, UD was eerily still. Amy, who had been watching for the headlights from his car from a hallway window, met him in bare feet, standing on the stairway inside the side door. She was leaning against the wall, shivering. Brian walked up to her and hugged her tight, kissing her lightly on her cold right cheek. Together they walked to his car. It was freezing outside, but her shaking was as much from the fear coursing through her as it was from the cold.
"I don't know what's going on," she said softly.
"Do you want to go back to your room?" he asked.
"No, we can't. Holly's there."
Holly was Holly Shooman, Amy's roommate and, like her, a freshman from New Jersey. They got along in their first two months together but were hardly best friends. Shooman resented how much time Amy spent on the telephone, most of it with Brian. Like most of her floormates, Shooman suspected, was positive, that Amy was pregnant. It was a taboo subject, though. Don't ask, don't tell. Her body, her business. Amy's silence prevented any real intimacy between her and Shooman.
Amy and Brian were about to leave when he saw that she had nothing on her feet. He ran up to her room for her shoes, tiptoeing around so as not to wake Shooman. Theroom was a cluttered mess. A footlocker and two pieces of luggage lay under Amy's bed, a pile of clothes and a beanbag chair covered the floor near her desk. At the foot of her bed was a plastic toolbox filled with the art supplies she would use late at night. Next to the minirefrigerator was a trash can overflowing with garbage. With a bottle of water, her slip-on sandals, and a blanket in his arms, Brian scurried back to his car, pulled a U-turn on Academy Street, and sped off.
He drove slowly along Academy Street, then turned right at the light at East Park Place and left onto South College Avenue, heading back toward town and Route 95, opposite the way he had arrived a few minutes earlier.
"Where are we going?" Amy asked him.
"I don't know. Somewhere."
"I just need a place to lie down. I'm so tired."
She was shaking, her teeth chattering as she wrapped her arms around herself in the passenger seat and pulled her knees toward her chest, curling up into a little ball.
Contractions? Brian wondered. Was this baby really going to be born tonight?
Inside, he knew the answer.
He held her left hand gently as he drove slowly along South College Avenue. Every few minutes Amy's hand tensed and squeezed his even tighter until it almost hurt. Her face muscles clenched each time she squeezed. Crossing the bridge back toward town, Brian drove past the football stadium on the left. As he approached the intersection of Route 4, a left turn and a five minute drive north would take them to the driveway of Christiana Hospital. To doctors who would know what to do. How to help them. Amy said nothing. Brian went straight. They were a couple.
Copyright © 1999 by Record Books.