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By Debbie Fuller Thomas, Pam Pugh
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2009 Debbie Fuller Thomas
All rights reserved.
When Bebe heard that Jude Rasmussen didn't have long to live, she felt a curious mixture of sadness, guilt, and relief. Not exactly normal feelings for a friend of over thirty-five years, though you couldn't exactly describe their relationship as "normal"—more like a thinly veiled hostage situation.
"Her cancer is back," Rain said, gently swirling her coffee. "She didn't want sympathy, so she kept it to herself. I haven't connected with Mom in a while, so it wasn't hard to keep it a secret. William finally made her tell me."
Bebe put her hand on Rain's arm. "I'm sorry, honey. I guess the hysterectomy didn't help much. What can we do?"
Rain glanced up at the line of people snaking around their small table and leaned in toward Bebe. "Well, actually, she had her reasons for giving in to William and agreeing to tell me. I'm here on a mission." She winced.
Bebe leaned in as well. "Go ahead. What is it?"
"She wants to have a Celebration of Life before she dies. Not a memorial—a send-off, she calls it. One last chance to do something significant and she wants us all to help plan it. You, me, the old college roommates. You know Mom. It's got to be something big. I'm not exactly sure what she has in mind, but it sounds ... complicated."
Bebe blew out a breath and sat back in her chair. "That's putting it mildly." Then she added, "Oh, I'm sorry, Rain."
"Don't worry. I know what she's like. I've been her daughter for thirty-seven years." Rain glanced at the time on her cell phone and gathered her wallet and sunglasses. "I've got to go. I can't be late again. Loren's just looking for an excuse to replace me as the lead on this Murrieta project."
Bebe gathered her purse and dug for her keys as they headed out the door into the heat of the morning. The blast of dry air baked her skin, absorbing the layer of SPF 30 she'd slathered on to prevent more freckles. They crossed the parking lot to where their cars sat side by side like a pair of mismatched shoes.
Bebe paused to give Rain a hug before she got in, and caught the unexpected scent of baby powder. "I'll call you later to see how you're doing. And of course I'll call Toni and Mare."
They got into their cars and Bebe cranked up the air conditioning. Immediately, her cell phone rang, and Rain's number displayed.
"You forget something?" Bebe asked, looking through her window into Rain's car. Rain looked back from the driver's seat, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses.
"Mom's timing couldn't have been more perfect." There was a long pause. Bebe could hear the insistent warning of an unfastened seatbelt. "Hayden and I split up."
"It doesn't matter. I don't need him. I can have a baby by myself. Love you." Bebe heard Rain's cell phone snap shut and watched her glance over her shoulder and back her car into the street. Then she was gone.
* * *
Bebe raced home brooding on what Rain had told her and pulled her lavender scrubs with the black pawprints from the dryer. She'd been on-call the night before, and Mr. Woofles had suffered a severe asthma attack at 1:00 a.m. She needed to get in early and work him into her packed appointment calendar.
Bebe drove across town, parked in one of the clinic's few employee-parking stalls and slipped into the staff entrance. A whiff of betadyne and the whine of pups from the kennels greeted her, and she sat down at her desk to check her email. She pushed back a pile of mail from pharmaceutical companies that threatened to slide onto the floor when she jiggled her mouse. She checked the charts of two patients who'd undergone procedures the day before, but nothing demanded her immediate attention. She listened to her voice mail, deleting old reminders to pick up hair color and her prescription at the pharmacy. Leaving herself messages had become a necessity of late.
"Hey," Neil said, coming up behind her. She tilted her head back and he kissed her forehead. "I think I heard Mr. Woofles complaining in room five."
Bebe closed her e-mail, and a picture of her boys, Scott and Dylan, smiled at her from her computer desktop. Their white teeth flashed in their tanned faces against a backdrop of snow, sugar pines, and blue sky. She felt Neil's hands resting on her shoulders, and they shared a moment of appreciation for their handsome family.
"They'll be fine," he said.
She reached up and touched his hand. "I know. It's just hard that they're both leaving within a few weeks of each other."
He gave her shoulders a light squeeze and sat down behind her at his desk.
"Oh, I had coffee with Rain this morning." Bebe twisted around to face Neil, who was leafing through a file on his desk. "She had two pieces of bad news. Unfortunately, she and Hayden have called it quits, and Jude's cancer is back. I guess her prognosis isn't good."
Neil looked up. "That's too bad. Any idea what happened between her and Hayden?"
"It must have something to do with having a baby. She's determined to have one by herself." She reached behind her head with a ponytail band around her wrist, and in smooth strokes, wove her hair into a French braid. "I thought they would be moving toward marriage by this time."
Neil whistled. "I always pictured Hayden as a family guy."
"So did I. I suspect there's more to it."
"How's she taking the news about her mom?"
"She seemed to be fine, but Jude wants some kind of last hurrah before she dies, and she wants me, Mare, and Toni to help plan it. And of course, Rain."
Neil shook his head. "Always in control, right up to the end. Do you think Mare and Toni will cooperate?"
Bebe stood and draped her stethoscope around her neck. "They'll do it for Rain, if for no other reason."
Bebe stopped outside the door to room five and removed the chart from the holder, taking a quick overview of the tech's notes. She briefly knocked and opened the door, breezing in to take the small rolling seat with a greeting to Mr. Woofles's owner.
"So, Mr. Woofles, I heard you had a bad night." She let Mr. Woofles sniff her hand and reached out to scratch behind his soft, floppy ears. He moaned low in his throat. She pulled back the skin from his eyes, and then from his mouth to examine his teeth. "Looks like you're due for a cleaning. When you're feeling better."
He stood long enough for her to listen to his heart and lungs, and then sank down onto the cool linoleum with a humpf and the jingle of his tags hitting the floor. His lungs were free of the cackles and wheezes typically associated with asthma.
"Okay, this morning we'll do a chest X-ray to rule out the possibility of pneumonia or heart failure. If it's clear, we'll try some antihistamines. But call me if he has another severe attack because you may have to bring him in for a shot of steroids. I'd keep him inside out of the heat as much as possible. It would also help if you had a cold-mist humidifier running at night. I would remove any cleansers from his area, and make sure no one smokes around him until we determine what triggers these attacks." His big eyes rolled up to keep an eye on her. "Don't worry, Mr. Woofles," Bebe assured him. "We'll get this figured out."
* * *
Rain pulled into the parking lot at Steele, VonTrapp, and Evers and squeezed her Hyundai into a narrow compact space near the front of the building. She shimmied out the door, barely grazing the Honda Civic parked beside her, and hurried into the air-conditioned lobby.
She slid into her cubicle and shoved her purse beneath her desk with her foot. Then, she quickly logged on to her computer and spread her papers around to give the impression she'd been in the middle of a project instead of arriving twelve minutes late to work. She glanced down the row and saw Lisa shaking her head in playful disbelief over the top of her cubicle.
Her morning consisted of reviewing new legislation and forwarding updated information regarding mortgage lending and foreclosures to the attorneys. She drafted letters to clients whose contracts were pending and set appointments to review the contracts of others. Twice, she visited an Internet site for discounted baby furniture.
Rain stayed inside out of the heat at lunch and bought a deli sandwich from the food cart to eat at her desk. She tilted her computer screen just enough so that passersby wouldn't get a full view as she Googled "donor catalog search." She pulled up a blank questionnaire for a sperm donor and played around at filling in the blanks. A tall Caucasian with brown hair and eyes and medium skin tone who was an athletic Stanford grad with an engineering degree would cost her just $15,000. Fifteen thousand dollars. Rain slowly chewed her sandwich. Wow. A mental calculation revealed she was two thousand dollars short in her savings. And that didn't include any fertility procedures.
She'd had no idea how much a sperm donor could cost. But until Hayden left, she'd had no reason to know. She could settle for less than the perfect donor, but would she regret it? If she spent all her savings, how would she pay for child care?
What was the perfect baby worth in terms of dollars and cents?
By rights, it shouldn't be costing her more than a room remodel to transform their extra bedroom into a nursery. Her empty bedroom now.
She should have seen it coming with Hayden. Over the past year she'd dropped subtle hints about wanting a baby. She dragged him to their friends' baby showers, and finally, when they were the last couple in their group to be childless, she came right out and announced that it was time. He disagreed. The more she pushed, the harder he dug in his heels and grew distant, and when she more or less gave him an ultimatum, he left. Just like that.
She couldn't understand his problem with having a baby. He'd had a normal, happy childhood, and even his mother had mentioned that she looked forward to being a grandmother. Maybe that was it. Maybe his mother's interference had tipped the scale.
Rain never would have brought up the subject of grandchildren to her own mother. Jude wasn't the maternal type. Rain had been a mistake, herself.
A baby planned and wanted isn't a mistake. Rain picked up her cell phone, scrolled down her list of contacts to the number of her ob-gyn and hit send.
* * *
Bebe heated her leftover pizza in the staff kitchen microwave and sat down at her desk to leave Rain a voice mail. She was surprised when Rain answered on the first ring.
"What's up, Bebe? I can't talk long. I'm waiting for a call-back from Dr. Lazenby's office," Rain said.
"Why, are you sick?"
"No, that's my gynecologist."
Bebe took a moment to dab pizza sauce from her mouth. "Your yearly checkup?"
"Not exactly." Rain paused, and her voice level dropped dramatically. "I've been checking out this sperm donor site and I want to get things rolling."
Bebe sat back in her chair and sighed imperceptibly at Rain's doggedness.
"Maybe you could give me some advice," Rain said. "You know a lot about assisted reproduction."
"For animals, not humans. You'd better stick to your gynecologist," Bebe said. "I called to remind you about Scotty's going-away barbeque at Mom's a week from Saturday before he leaves for boot camp."
"Sure, I'll be there. But I need to go. I don't want to miss the callback from the doctor's office."
"Rain, aren't you jumping the gun a little here? How long has Hayden been gone?"
Rain was silent for a moment—a clear sign of annoyance. "Three weeks. And, no, I'm not jumping the gun. He's not interested in having kids. Period. He made that very clear. And I'm not interested in having kids with him, anyway. He's out of my life."
"But you two were together for a long time. Six—seven years? Maybe in time this will work itself out."
"He's coming by to pick up the rest of his stuff when he gets back from his vacation in Mexico." Rain paused. "He's practically allergic to tropical sunshine. I don't think it will work itself out."
Bebe hung up and sat for a moment processing everything Rain had said, and the things she had not. Clearly, Rain was not addressing the real issue. It was just like her to become immersed in something to avoid facing the truth that she loved and missed Hayden, and that there could possibly be other reasons for his leaving. Maybe even that she needed him more than she cared to admit. She remembered Rain telling her sometime in the past year that Hayden had actually brought up the idea of marriage, and that Rain had flatly told him no. When it came to marriage, she was more like her mother than she knew.
They had known Hayden for a long time. Maybe she could talk Neil into meeting him for coffee and working a little magic.
* * *
Bebe woke up the next morning to an orange glow and the acrid smell of smoke. She reached over her head and slid the window shut, then rolled over and turned off the alarm before it rang. She'd caught the late news about the fires on the coast and hoped their clients would be smart enough to keep their pets inside on days like these when the smoke from the coast bumped up against the foothills and settled into the cracks.
She fed and watered Jimbo and Suzie, the two retrievers they had acquired five years before when a desperate owner tied their leashes to a light pole in front of the clinic in the dead of night and bolted. The incident had prompted Neil to install a surveillance camera on the front of their clinic. They'd tried to find someone to adopt the dogs, but ended up keeping the gentle pair after Scott and Dylan grew attached. Now the dogs were showing signs of age and she hoped that nothing would happen while Scott was away at boot camp. She let them out to do their business and put them back inside for the day. She or Neil would have to slip away at lunchtime to give them a potty break.
Her Toyota sat in the driveway lightly dusted with ash like an unexpected snowfall. She resisted the urge to look up at the vibrant sun colored neon orange by a veil of smoke and haze. She dug out her sunglasses and slipped them on.
It was her day in surgery, but she took time to check in with Mr. Woofles's owner as soon as she got to her desk. He was keeping the dog inside out of the smoke and things were going well.
After two castrations and the removal of an abdominal tumor, Bebe took a break at her desk. She called her mother to firm up the menu for the going-away barbeque and to remind her mother of her offer to contact all the family in the area, which was a task Bebe didn't have the time to do. Besides, it would give her mother the opportunity to brag on Scotty for joining the Marine Reserves. Bebe also told her about Jude's illness.
Neil had to work late again—a consequence of being one of the few large animal doctors in the area. Bebe left work and swung by the Colonel's for chicken on the way home.
Standing outside her front door with her arms full, she could hear music pounding inside and feel the door vibrating. She rang the doorbell several times with no response, and after juggling her bags, finally managed to open the door for herself. She came in, irritated, and found the boys in the family room engrossed in Rock Band. They didn't even hear her come in.
"Guys, turn it down please," she shouted, setting down a tub of fried chicken on the kitchen counter.
Dylan grabbed the remote and quickly lowered the volume. "Sorry! We didn't hear you."
Scotty's fingers flew to match the frenetic pace of the notes scrolling down on the TV screen. The guitar rested against his stomach and connected him to the TV by an umbilical cord of cable. Dylan wailed on a drum set. As the song ended, the virtual crowd cheered and their scores appeared on the screen. The room buzzed with silence.
"Why aren't you playing this downstairs in your room?" she asked, pulling cans from her grocery bag.
"This screen's bigger. The sound's better, too."
Another song began, which Bebe recognized as "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival. She frowned. Turning away, she popped the lid on two cans of green beans and dumped them into a pot on the stove, splashing juice onto the burner. The words of the song were haunting and familiar, and she watched the liquid sizzle until it evaporated. She set the oven for broil and wrestled with a stubborn baking rack to position it closer to the flame. She chipped a mug unloading the dishwasher and mixed up the forks with the spoons in the drawer. By the end of the song, she found she was gritting her teeth and forced herself to relax her jaw. "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who started up. She pulled out a loaf of French bread and messily slathered more garlic butter onto the soft middles than was necessary. Midway through the song, Bebe turned to the boys with her hand on her hip, pointing the buttered knife at the TV.
Excerpted from Raising Rain by Debbie Fuller Thomas, Pam Pugh. Copyright © 2009 Debbie Fuller Thomas. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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