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The death of a friendship was usually slow and insidious, like the wearing away of a hillside after years of too much rain. A handful of misunderstandings, a season of miscommunication, the passing of time, and where once stood two women with a dozen years of memories and tears and conversation and laughter — where once stood two women closer than sisters — now stood two strangers.
But Angela Anderson had no time to consider those things, no warning that such a death was about to occur. Because her friendship with Sheila Galanter died a sudden death the afternoon of March 12, 1988, in the time it took Angela to say a single sentence:
"Lauren wants to keep the baby."
That was it. The look on Sheila's face said it all.
Angela's teenage daughter, Lauren, had been in love with Sheila's son, Shane, since the kids were ten years old. Both families were Chicago upper crust with healthy six-figure incomes, known in all the right circles across the city, prominent members at the most elite clubs. Their husbands owned a bank together, and by all estimates the kids' futures were figured out.
On afternoons when Angela and Sheila bared their hearts, snickering about the pompous women they knew, planning trips to London, and complaining about the five pounds they'd gained over the holidays, they sometimes dreamed about their children's future. The engagement that would likely come after college, the ring, and, of course, the wedding.
Then, to leave room for the kids to make up their own minds, they'd laugh about how silly they were and let the dreams pass. But as the years wore on, Shane grew smitten with Lauren, and there seemed more truth than silliness to the possibility. When the kids started their junior year in high school, Shane had — between baseball games — started referring to the impending wedding.
"After I marry your daughter," he'd tell Angela and her husband, Bill, "the four of us can vacation in Mexico." Or he'd look at his own parents and say, "Where should we have the reception?"
Shane's pretentious statements made Lauren blush and kept the adults amused, but secretly every one of them believed it would happen. That one day, sometime after the kids finished university — probably at Wheaton College — after Shane found his place at the family-owned First Chicago Trust, he and Lauren would marry. And the four of them — Angela and Bill, and Sheila and Samuel — would finish their years not only the best of friends and business partners, but family. Family in every sense of the word.
The bombshell came the day before Christmas.
Lauren and Shane called a meeting after dinner. The talk was held at the Galanter house, and Sheila slipped a frozen pie in the oven for the occasion. Whatever the occasion might be.
Lauren looked thin and pale, her light blonde hair almost white against her black cable-knit sweater. "Shane and I ..." Her mouth hung open and she stared at her tennis shoes. "We have something to tell you."
Shane sat next to her, holding her hand. Their knuckles were tight, their posture tense. Only then did Angela sense that whatever was coming couldn't possibly be good. Shane slipped his arm around Lauren, shielding her. He was tall and dark and rugged looking, a product of his Greek heritage. Lauren seemed even more fair than usual next to him.
"What Lauren's trying to say is — " Shane ran his tongue along his lower lip; his voice trembled — "she's pregnant. It was an accident, but it ..." He looked straight at his father. "It was an accident."
Angela would never forget the silence that cloaked the room. She wanted to reach for Bill's hand, but she didn't dare move, couldn't consider drawing a breath or trying to process the news. It was impossible. Shane and Lauren were good kids, kids who spent less time together than they did practicing their sports — Lauren her sprinting and Shane his pitching and throwing and hitting. They were raised in the church! Maybe they weren't regular churchgoers, but the kids went to youth group every Wednesday, right? Wasn't that supposed to count for something?
Across from the adults, Shane pulled Lauren close and whispered something near her ear. Their faces were masked in fear and shame.
As the first bit of air seeped through Angela's teeth, she glanced at her friend. Sheila sat at an unnatural tilt, frozen. Next to her, Samuel dug his elbows into his knees and hung his head. But it was the look on Sheila's face that caused a ripple of offense in Angela's heart. Sheila was staring at Lauren, her eyes angry and intense, like two lasers drilling into Lauren's being.
It wasn't a look of shock or horror or sorrow. Rather it was a look of blame.
Sheila was the first to speak. "Well — " she stood and smoothed the wrinkles in her dress slacks — "when is the ... baby due?"
Shane blinked. "Uh ..." He looked at Lauren. "Mid-July, right?"
"Yes." She tried to sit a little straighter, but she looked sick to her stomach. She crossed her arms over her midsection and leaned into Shane once more.
Angela wanted to go to her, take her in her arms, and rock away the hurt, like she used to when Lauren was little and came home sad after a hard day. But this was so much bigger. And with everyone watching, going to Lauren would only look like she approved of the situation somehow. Honey. Angela gripped the seat of the chair and stayed put, her eyes on Lauren. Honey, I'm so sorry.
Again Sheila took the initiative. "Certainly you're much too young to have a baby." She looked at her husband, Samuel, but his eyes were still aimed at the floor. Sheila turned her attention back to Lauren. "You'll be giving the baby up for adoption, is that right?"
Angela wanted to cut in. Why was Sheila acting so harsh? She didn't need to presume anything at this point. Angela held her breath. Shock must be having its way with her friend. That had to be it. Shock was having its way with all of them. How could anyone discuss adoption when they were still absorbing the idea of a baby?
Bill cleared his throat. "Let's not be hasty, Sheila." His tone was gentle, though Angela heard the weight of disappointment in his words. "This is hard for all of us. We need to hear the kids out."
"Actually — " Shane looked from Bill back to his parents — "Lauren and I ... well, we want to keep the baby. We'll still finish high school, and I'll go to college the way I'd planned." He licked his lips, but his words sounded like they were stuck to the roof of his mouth. "It won't be easy." He looked at Lauren and smoothed his hand over her hair. "But we know we can make it. We're sure."
The anger that sparked in Sheila's eyes next was something new, something Angela had never seen before. Her friend paced to the window, stopped and spun around, all her focus on Shane. "That's the most insane thing I've ever heard."
Angela's head was spinning. All around her people were making sweeping statements, statements that would change the course of their lives forever. Lauren was pregnant halfway through her junior year in high school? She was about to become a mother at just seventeen? How irresponsible and sneaky the kids had been, and how little Shane had cared for Lauren's virtue. As if that wasn't enough shock, Sheila already had the baby signed off and sent to another family. What about Shane's desire to raise the baby and still attend college in a year?
None of it made sense, and in the end — after very little discussion — they could only agree on one thing: any decision on the matter would have to wait. Finally as the group stood, and an uncomfortable silence fell around them, Angela took Bill's hand and went to Lauren. This was her little girl, her only child.
Angela searched her daughter's face. All her dreams for Lauren were gone now, too far gone to salvage. Angela wanted to shake Lauren, scold her for compromising everything she held to be true, scream at her for being a party to the disaster at hand. The news was the worst Angela had ever dreamed possible.
But as bad as it was, it had to be worse for Lauren.
Surrounded by a silence that had gone from uncomfortable to awkward, Angela finally held out her arms and let Lauren come to her. It was Lauren's life that would change the most now, so what option was there but to embrace her and give her the love and support she needed? After a few seconds, Bill put his arms around both of them and joined their tight circle. Angela wasn't sure how long they stayed close like that, but finally they parted and the three of them left.
It took less than a week for Angela and Bill to reluctantly agree that Sheila — though hasty — was probably right. The best choice was for the kids to give up the baby. That way some of high school could be salvaged, and college would still lie ahead. They pulled Lauren aside on New Year's Eve and shared their thoughts.
"We'd like to help you find an adoption agency." Angela put her hand on her daughter's shoulder. "It'd be the best thing for everyone, especially the baby."
Lauren jerked away. "It isn't up to you." Her wide eyes darted from Angela to Bill. "It's not up to Shane's parents, either." Her hand was on her abdomen, as if she were protecting her unborn baby from a life she had little control over. "Shane has a plan. He'll still go to college."
"It won't work, Lauren." Bill crossed his arms, the lines on his forehead deeper than before. He'd spent a lifetime adoring their daughter. Now his eyes made it clear he was hurting, buried beneath the burden of the trouble she was in. "You're too young to raise a child. Where would you live?"
Angela forced herself to remain calm. "Besides, you're a bright girl. You're cheating yourself and your baby if you decide to raise a child now. You should be thinking of college, not how to change diapers."
"I'm a writer, Mother." She strained with every word, her cheeks red. "I don't need school for that."
"Yes, you do." Angela looked at Bill. "Tell her."
"Your mom's right." He put his arm around Lauren's shoulder. "Honey, the timing is wrong. Think of the baby."
Lauren pulled away from him and ran to her room. Her crying filled the house all that week, bringing a somber end to Christmas break. On Sunday, Lauren called Shane and the two talked for hours. When she came out of her room, her eyes were swollen from crying. Angela and Bill tried to talk to her, but she had only a few words for them. "We won't do it." She sniffed and ran her fingers beneath her eyes. "We won't give up our baby."
The discussion wore on every day for weeks after that, though Angela and Bill avoided telling Sheila and Samuel about the kids' decision. School started again, and Lauren and Shane managed to keep their news a secret from their peers. At least three times a week, Sheila Galanter called and gave what felt like an ultimatum: "Talk some sense into her, Angela. I don't want these kids to lose everything over one mistake."
Angela should've seen the signs those first few months of the new year, should've realized what was coming. Sheila's clipped tone whenever she called, the absence of dinner invitations and shared weekend evenings. Most of all, the way things changed between the men. For a decade, investors had come to Bill and Samuel with offers to buy their bank. Once in a while the men would talk about selling and investing the profits in something new, maybe moving their families to the suburbs. But they never seriously considered the idea.
Not until after Lauren and Shane's announcement.
When an offer on the bank came in late January, the four of them decided to sell and move on. Though they talked about heading to the Chicago suburbs, by March the Galanters had a different plan.
"We're moving to Los Angeles."
Angela stared from her friend to Samuel, speechless. They'd stopped by unexpectedly, saying they had something to tell Angela and Bill. Just Angela and Bill.
Not the kids.
"We have other investments there. I know it's a long ways away, but we'll still see each other." Sheila's smile looked forced. "And this way the kids can have a break from each other."
Angela and Bill agonized long hours about telling Lauren, but in the end they kept the news to themselves. The move was still months off, and there was no point fueling the intensity of the kids' feelings for each other. As the Galanters' secret plans quickly came together, Sheila continued her phone calls to Angela. "She's your daughter. Talk some sense into her. These kids don't need that sort of responsibility. Not yet." On another phone call she pushed it further. "Maybe you should tell Lauren we're thinking of moving. Maybe that would change her mind."
Angela was appalled. "You mean blackmail her? Tell her you'll stay if she gives up the baby?"
"I'm just saying it might make a difference. We need an answer, Angela. Tell us what she's going to do."
The entire situation felt like it was attached to one of those odd-shaped bouncy balls, ricocheting out of control. Twice more Angela talked with Lauren about her intentions, but her daughter never wavered.
She and Shane wanted to keep their baby. As soon as they were out of high school, they would marry and start their lives together.
Finally Angela couldn't put Sheila off another day. On March 12, Angela asked her friend over so she could break the news. She served coffee and cream, and they took their places in the Andersons' familiar sunroom.
Angela wasted no time getting to the point. "Lauren wants to keep the baby." She folded her hands in her lap. They were sitting on white wicker furniture, the sun streaming through the window. Bill was at the new bank in Wheaton, an hour out of Chicago, getting things set up. Lauren was at school.
"That's ridiculous." Sheila brushed her hand through the air, erasing Angela's statement. "She's too young to know what she wants."
"Sheila, listen — " Angela searched her friend's eyes — "I can't change her mind. I won't."
At that, Sheila's expression hardened, and her cheeks grew red. "Of course you can, Angela. You're her mother. She's a minor. She'll do whatever you tell her to do."
"You're serious, aren't you?"
"Dead serious." Sheila's voice raised a notch.
"You think I can force my daughter to give away her baby?" Angela squinted at the woman sitting next to her. When had Sheila become so heartless? "She may be a minor, but the baby is hers. I can't make this decision for her."
"Of course you can." Sheila set her coffee cup down and slid to the edge of the sofa. Even as her voice fell, her sharp tone sliced through the growing tension. "My son has a future. He isn't going to stay here while his pregnant girlfriend has a baby." A fine layer of perspiration broke out across her brow. "Absolutely not."
"His pregnant girlfriend?" Angela laughed, but without a trace of humor. "Is that all Lauren is now? Shane's pregnant girlfriend? Shane had a little something to do with it too."
"Shane's a teenage boy." Sheila spat the words. "If a girl makes herself available, what teenage boy wouldn't take advantage of her?"
A chill passed over Angela. "Listen to you." She stood and looked down at the woman she'd considered her friend. Had she ever really known her? "This is Lauren you're talking about."
"No." Sheila raised her hand. Her fingers were shaking. "This is my son's future we're talking about." She sat back a few inches and the lines in her forehead eased. "Be sensible, Angela. The last thing these kids need is more time together. We're both moving the first week of June. Shane's coming with us. That's final." Her hesitation was cool, indifferent.
Angela felt like she'd been kicked in the gut. How had Angela been so wrong about the woman, trusting her all these years? "We've been friends for a long time, Sheila."
"And my son's future will go on far longer." Sheila's tone lightened some. "I'm sorry, Angela. This isn't your fault, it's just —" she narrowed her eyes, intent — "the kids need to be apart."
Her words put their friendship on the firing line. Angela was angry at Sheila's tone and her accusation that Lauren's pregnancy made Shane a victim and Lauren the villain. But suddenly there was more, and Angela was able to look ahead.
Excerpted from Even Now/Ever After by Karen Kingsbury Copyright © 2007 by Karen Kingsbury . Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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