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Susan Tate never saw it coming. She only knew that her daughter was different. The girl who had always been spontaneous and open had suddenly grown opaque.
Lily was seventeen. Maybe that said it. A senior in high school, she had a loaded course schedule, played field hockey and volleyball, and sang in an a cappella group. And, yes, Susan was spoiled by the close relationship she and Lily had always had. Theywere a family of two, fully comfortable with that and each other.
Inevitably, Lily had to test her wings. Susan knew that. But she also had a right to worry. Lily was the love of her life, the very best thing that had happened in all of her thirty-five years. As achievements in life went, being a good mother was theone she most prized.
That meant communicating, and with dinner too often interrupted by e-mail or texts, eating out was warranted. At a restaurant Susan would have Lily captive while they waited to order, waited for food, waited to payall quality time.
She suggested the Steak Place, definitely a splurge, but lined with quiet oak booths. Lily vetoed it in favor of Carlino's.
Carlino's wasn't even Susan's second choice. Oh, she liked the owners, the menu, and the art, all of which were authentically Tuscan. But the prices were so reasonable for large plates of food that the whole town went there. Susan wanted privacy and quiet;Carlino's was public and loud.
But she wanted to please Lily, so she gave in and, determined to be a good sport, smilingly hustled her daughter out of the November chill into a hive of warmth and sound. When they finally finished greeting friends and were seated, they shared hummuson toasted crostini, and though Lily only nibbled, she insisted it was good. More friends stopped by, and, in fairness, it wasn't only Lily's fault. As principal of the high school, Susan was well known in town. Another time, she would have enjoyed seeing everyone.
But she was on a mission this night. As soon as she was alone with Lily again, she leaned forward and quietly talked about her day at school. With next year's budget due by Thanksgiving and town resources stagnant, there were hard decisions to be made.Most staff issues were too sensitive to be shared with her seventeen-year-old daughter, but when it came to new course offerings and technology, the girl was a worthy sounding board.
Susan's motive actually went deeper, to the very heart of mothering. She believed that sharing adult issues encouraged Lily to think. She also believed that her daughter was insightful, and this night was no exception. Momentarily focused, Lily asked goodquestions.
No sooner had their entrees come, thoughchicken with cannellini beans for Lily, salmon with artichokes for Susanthan a pair of Susan's teachers interrupted to say hello. As soon as they left, Susan asked Lily about the AP chem test she'd had that morning. Though Lily repliedvolubly, her answers were heavy on irrelevant facts, and her brightness seemed forced. She picked at her food, eating little.
More worried than ever, Susan searched her daughter's face. It was heart shaped, as sweet as always, and was framed by long, shiny sable hair. The hair was a gift from her father, while her eyesSusan's eyeswere hazel and clear, her skin creamy andsmooth.
She didn't look sick, Susan decided. Vulnerable, perhaps. Maybe haunted. But not sick.
Even when Lily crinkled her nose and complained about the restaurant's heavy garlic smell, Susan didn't guess. She was too busy assuring herself that those clear eyes ruled out drug use, and as for alcohol, she had never seen bottles, empty or otherwise,in Lily's room. She didn't actively search, as in checking behind clutter on the highest shelves. But when she returned clean laundry to drawers or hung jeans in the closet, she saw nothing amiss.
Alcohol wouldn't be a lure. Susan drank wine with friends, but rarely stocked up, so it wasn't like Lily had a bar to draw from. Same with prescription drugs, though Susan knew how easy it was for kids to get them online. Rarely did a month go by withouta student apprehended for that.
Susan blinked. "Yes, sweetheart?"
"Look who's distracted. What are you thinking about?"
"You. Are you feeling all right?"
There was a flash of annoyance. "You keep asking me that."
"Because I worry," Susan said and, reaching across, laced her fingers through Lily's. "You haven't been the same since summer. So here I am, loving you to bits, and because you won't say anything, I'm left to wonder whether it's just being seventeen andneeding your own space. Do I crowd you?"
Lily sputtered. "No. You're the best mom that way."
"Is it school? You're stressed."
"Yes," the girl said, but her tone implied there was more, and her fingers held Susan's tightly.
"I'm okay with those."
"Then calculus." The calc teacher was the toughest in the math department, and Susan had worried Lily would be intimidated. But what choice was there? Raymond Dunbar was thirty years Susan's senior and had vocally opposed her ascension to the principalship.If she asked him to ease up, he would accuse her of favoritism.
But Lily said, "Mr. Dunbar isn't so bad."
Susan jiggled Lily's fingers. "If I were to pinpoint it, I'd say the change came this past summer. I've been racking my brain, but from everything you told me, you loved your job. I know, I know, you were at the beach, but watching ten kids under the ageof eight is hard, and summer families can be the worst."
Lily scooped back her hair. "I love kids. Besides, I was with Mary Kate, Abby, and Jess." The girls were her three best friends, and the daughters of Susan's best friends. All three girls were responsible. Abby occasionally lacked direction, like her mom,Pam, and Jessica had a touch of the rebel, though her mother, Sunny, did not. But Mary Kate was as steady as her mom, Kate, who was like a sister to Susan. With Mary Kate along, Lily couldn't go wrong.
Not that Lily wasn't steady herself, but Susan knew about peer pressure. If she had learned one thing as a teacher it was that the key to a child's success lay in no small part with the friends she kept.
"And nothing's up with them?" she asked.
Lily grew guarded. "Has Kate said anything?"
Susan gentled. "Nothing negative. She always asks about you, though. You're her sixth child."
"But has she said anything about Mary Kate? Is she worried about her like you're worried about me?"
Susan thought for a minute, then answered honestly. "She's more sad than worried. Mary Kate is her youngest. Kate feels like she's growing away from her, too. But Mary Kate isn't my concern. You are." A burst of laughter came from several tables down.Annoyed by the intrusion, Susan shot the group a glance. When she turned back, Lily's eyes held a frightened look.
Susan had seen that look a lot lately. It terrified her.
Desperate now, she held Lily's hand even tighter and, in a low, frantic voice, said, "What is wrong? I'm supposed to know what girls your age are feeling and thinking, but lately with you, I just don't. There are so many times when your mind is somewhereelsesomewhere you won't allow me to be. Maybe that's the way it should be at your age," she acknowledged, "and it wouldn't bother me if you were happy, but you don't seem happy. You seem preoccupied. You seem afraid."
Susan gasped. Freeing her hand, she sat straighter. She waited for a teasing smile, but there was none. And of course not. Lily wouldn't joke about something like this.
Her thoughts raced. "Butbut that's impossible. I mean, it's not physically impossible, but it wouldn't happen." When Lily said nothing, Susan pressed a hand to her chest and whispered, "Would it?"
"I am," Lily whispered back.
"What makes you think it?"
"Six home tests, all positive."
"Not late. Missed. Three times."
"Three? Omigod, why didn't you tell me?" Susan cried, thinking of all the other things a missed period could mean. Being pregnant didn't make sense, not with Lily. But the child didn't lie. If she said she was pregnant, she believed it herselfnot that it was true. "Home tests can be totally misleading."
"Nausea, tiredness, bloating?"
"I don't see bloating," Susan said defensively, because if her daughter was three months pregnant, she would have seen it.
"When was the last time you saw me naked?"
"In the hot tub at the spa," she replied without missing a beat.
"That was in June, Mom."
Susan did miss a beat then, but only one. "It must be something else. You don't even have a boyfriend." She caught her breath. "Do you?" Had she really missed something? "Who is he?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Doesn't matter? Lily, if you are" She couldn't say the word aloud. The idea that her daughter was sexually active was totally new. Sure, she knew the statistics. How could she not, given her job? But this was her daughter, her daughter. They had agreedLilyhad promisedshe would tell Susan if she wanted birth control. It was a conversation they'd had too many times to count. "Who is he?" she asked again.
Lily remained silent.
"But if he's involved"
"I'm not telling him."
"Did he force you?"
"No," Lily replied. Her eyes were steady not with fear, now, but something Susan couldn't quite name. "It was the other way around," she said. "I seduced him."
Susan sat back. If she didn't know better, she might have said Lily looked excited. And suddenly nothing about the discussion was rightnot the subject, not that look, certainly not the place. Setting her napkin beside the plate, she gestured for theserver. The son of a local family, and once a student of Susan's, he hurried over.
"You haven't finished, Ms. Tate. Is something wrong?"
Something wrong? "No, uh, just time."
"Should I box this up?"
"No, Aidan. If you could just bring the bill."
He had barely left when Lily leaned forward. "I knew you'd be upset. That's why I haven't told you."
"How long were you planning to wait?"
"Just a little longermaybe 'til the end of my first trimester."
"Lily, I'm your mother."
"But this is my baby," the girl said softly, "so I get to make the decisions, and I wasn't ready to tell you, not even tonight, which is why I chose this place. But even here, it's like you can see inside me."
Susan was beyond hurt. Getting pregnant was everything she had taught Lily not to do. She sat back, let out a breath. "I can't grasp this. Are you sure?" Lily's body didn't look different, but what could be seen when she wore the same layered tops thather friends did, and the days when Susan bathed her each night were long gone. "Three missed periods?" she whispered. "Then this happened . . .?"
"Eleven weeks ago."
Susan was beside herself. "When did you do the tests?"
"As soon as I missed my first period."
And not a word spoken? It was definitely a statement, but of what? Defiance? Independence? Stupidity? Lily might be gentle, often vulnerablebut she also had a stubborn streak. When she started something, she rarely backed down. Properly channeled, thatwas a positive thing, like when she set out to win top prize at the science fair, which she did, but only after three false starts. Or when she set out to sing in the girls a cappella group, didn't make the cut as a freshman and worked her tail off that yearand the next as the group's manager, until she finally landed a spot.
But this was different. Stubbornness was not a reason for silence when it came to pregnancy, certainly not when the prospective mother was seventeen.
Unable to order her thoughts, Susan grasped at loose threads. "Do the others know?" It went without saying that she meant Mary Kate, Abby, and Jess.
"Yes, but no moms."
"And none of the girls told me?" More hurt there. "But I see them all the time!"
"I swore them to silence."
"Does your dad know?"
Lily looked appalled. "I would never tell him before I told you."
"Well, that's something."
"I love babies, Mom," the girl said, excited again.
"And that makes this okay?" Susan asked hysterically, but stopped when the server returned. Glancing at the bill, she put down what might have been an appropriate amount, then pushed her chair back. The air in the room was suddenly too warm, the smellstoo pungent even for someone who wasn't pregnant. As she walked to the door with Lily behind, she imagined that every eye in the room watched. It was a flash from her own past, followed by the echo of her mother's words. You've shamed us, Susan. What were youthinking?
Times had changed. Single mothers were commonplace now. The issue for Susan wasn't shame, but the dreams she had for her daughter. Dreams couldn't hold up against a baby. A baby changed everything.
The car offered privacy but little comfort, shutting Susan and Lily in too small a space with a huge chasm between them. Fighting panic as the minutes passed without a retraction, Susan fumbled for her keys and started the engine.
Carlino's was in the center of town. Heading out, she passed the bookstore, the drugstore, two Realtors, and a bank. Passing Perry & Cass took longer. Even in the fifteen years Susan had lived in Zaganack, the store had expanded. It occupied three blocksnow, two-story buildings with signature crimson-and-cream awnings, and that didn't count the mail-order department and online call center two streets back, the manufacturing complex a mile down the road, or the shipping department farther out in the country.
Zaganack was Perry & Cass. Fully three-fourths of the townsfolk worked for the retail icon. The rest provided services for those who did, as well as for the tens of thousands of visitors who came each year to shop.
But Perry & Cass wasn't what had drawn Susan here when she'd been looking for a place to raise her child. Having come from the Great Plains, she had wanted something coastal and green. Zaganack overlooked Maine's Casco Bay, and, with its hemlocks and pines,was green year-round. Its shore was a breathtaking tumble of sea-bound granite; its harbor, home port to a handful of local fishermen, was quaint. With a population that ebbed and flowed, swelling from 18,000 to 28,000 in summer, the town was small enough tobe a community, yet large enough to allow for heterogeneity.
Besides, Susan loved the name Zaganack. A derivative of the Penobscot tongue, it was loosely interpreted to mean "people from the place of eternal spring," and though local lore cited Native Americans' reference to the relatively mild weather of coastaltowns, Susan took a broader view. Spring meant new beginnings. She had found one in Zaganack.
And now this? History repeating itself?