Which End Is Up?

Which End Is Up?

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by Patricia Kay

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Grace Campisi had lived her whole life according to plan, but her sister Perry—aka "The Screwup"—was more of a live-for-the-moment kind of girl. Which could explain how she showed up nine months pregnant, sans husband, boyfriend or money. The question was, what was

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Grace Campisi had lived her whole life according to plan, but her sister Perry—aka "The Screwup"—was more of a live-for-the-moment kind of girl. Which could explain how she showed up nine months pregnant, sans husband, boyfriend or money. The question was, what was Grace, her type A attorney sister (on the partner track), going to do about it?

What, indeed, as it fast became clear to Grace that Perry was not cut out for motherhood—especially when she ran off, leaving a six-week-old baby girl behind. So in order to stick to her plan, Grace could either A) track down her wayward sister, or B) put her niece up for adoption.

Or C)…formulate a new plan?

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Fighting the wind and freezing rain, Grace Campisi rounded the corner of West Sixteenth Street and dug in her purse for the card key that would open the outer door to her apartment building. Damn, she hated this weather. When she'd left her office on this miserable January night, there hadn't been a vacant cab to be found, so she'd come home on the subway and had walked the three blocks to her building.

But even though she was exhausted from her twelve-hour day, most of which had been spent in court, as well as cold and wet, she smiled when she finally reached the shelter of the recessed doorway of her new apartment near Union Square.

She inserted the key, and the release on the lock clicked. Franklin, the building's security guard, was watching her. "Evenin', Grace," he said as she pushed open the door.

"Good evening, Franklin." Curious about the odd expression on his swarthy face, she almost said, Is something wrong? but then she saw the figure huddled on a chair in the corner of the small lobby.

Grace's mouth fell open. "Perry?"

"Hi, Grace." Her younger sister grinned sheepishly. "Surprised, huh?"

"That's an understatement." But she shouldn't be. Because showing up unannounced was typical Perry behavior and had been ever since Grace could remember.

Perry struggled to her feet, using the armrest to hoist herself up, and Grace got her second shock of the day. Perry was pregnant! Hugely pregnant—a fact that hadn't been apparent when she was sitting because of the duffel bag she'd held on her lap.

Oh, no, Grace thought.

Perry self-consciously laid her hand on her stomach. "I know. Another surprise."

Her brown eyes, dark and liquid, reminded Grace so much of their father. And even though it had been two years since Sal Campisi Sr. had died of a massive stroke, Grace felt a fresh stab of grief. She had adored her father, and she knew he'd felt the same way about her. If Perry had garnered the lion's share of their mother's attention and love, Grace had been the recipient of their father's.

Fully aware of Franklin's avid curiosity, Grace forced a smile to her face and said, "Let's go up where we can sit and be comfortable, and you can tell me everything."

Turning her smile to the security guard, she said, "Thanks for letting her in, Franklin."

Grabbing the duffel bag, Grace inclined her head toward the elevators behind the guard's station. "This way, Perry."

The sisters didn't talk as the elevator made its slow ascent to the fourth floor of the six-story, thirty-apartment building. Grace's mind was too busy wondering what this visit might mean, and she had no idea what Perry was thinking. She kept stealing glances at her sister, but Perry's face gave away nothing.

On the fourth floor, the elevator came to a jerky stop. Grace grimaced. The antiquated system was the biggest complaint Grace had about the building. Beckoning Perry to follow, Grace led the way to her corner apartment.

Inside, Grace dropped Perry's duffel bag in the living room. "I'm going to change my clothes, okay?"

"Okay," Perry said. She looked around. "This is nice. When did you move here?"

"In September." Which Perry would have known if she'd been in contact, Grace thought with a touch of anger. But the anger quickly dissipated. Perry was Perry. And Grace loved her, warts and all. Besides, Grace wasn't perfect, either, as her mother had reminded her more than once.

"Be right back," Grace said. "Then I'll get us a glass of wine and, if you're hungry, something to eat."

"I'm not supposed to drink."

"Oh. Of course not." Grace should have known that, but hell, she'd never been pregnant. And, at forty-two, there wasn't much chance she ever would be. Not that she cared. The only time she'd ever thought about having children had been when Brett... But she didn't want to go there. Brett was gone. That part of her life had been over a long time ago. "Well, a soft drink, then."

Perry nodded and sank onto the sofa. She looked exhausted, her beautiful face pale and showing signs of strain, her eyes clouded with fatigue, her dark, curly hair—God, how Grace had used to envy Perry that hair since her own black hair was stick straight—obviously in need of a good washing and, of course, that cumbersome body, so different from her normally lithe frame.

Grace hurriedly doffed her work clothes and pulled on soft, worn jeans, an old sweatshirt and thick socks. Padding from her bedroom to the kitchen, she set about pouring herself a glass of her favorite Australian Shiraz, then called in to Perry. "Coke okay, Perry?" Maybe pregnant women shouldn't drink Cokes, either.

"Sure," Perry called back.

"You hungry? Want some crackers and cheese?"

"That's okay. I stopped at Angelo's before I came here and had some pizza." Angelo's was their favorite place to go in Little Italy.

So at least Perry wasn't flat broke if she could afford pizza, Grace thought.

A few minutes later, carrying a laden tray into the living room, Grace set it on the distressed-pine coffee table in front of Perry. Then, with a sigh of relief, she sank onto the other end of the sofa and lifted her glass of wine in a toast. "To surprises," she said with a wry smile, "big and small."

Perry smiled back, but Grace could see the wariness in her eyes.

"Okay, spill," Grace said after taking a fortifying swallow of the smooth wine. She reached for a wheat cracker and a slab of cheddar. She hadn't had time for lunch, making do with a Snickers bar and Diet Coke from one of the courthouse vending machines. "What's the story on the pregnancy? And why haven't you said a word about it?"

Perry shrugged. "I was going to."


"But I knew you'd be mad and—"

"Christ, Perry, I'm not mad, I'm just frustrated that your family is the last to know where you are or what's going on in your life. I mean, hell, we love you. For all we know, when we don't hear from you for months and we try to call your last phone number and find it disconnected, you could be dead. Why don't you get a damned cell phone, anyway? I'll pay for one if you can't afford it."

Perry swallowed, her eyes tearing up. "You are mad."

"Maybe I am," Grace said more calmly. Of course, she was mad. In fact, she'd like to shake Perry sometimes. What did the silly girl think? Did she not realize that Grace and her mother worried about her? Maybe their two brothers worried about her, too, although you couldn't prove it by Grace.

What was it Sal had said the last time Grace had talked to him? Quit obsessing about her, Grace. She's made her choices and she's living the way she wants to live. Besides, she's twenty-six, a big girl now. Time to stop mothering her.

Well, obviously somebody needed to mother her in terms of trying to steer her in the right direction, Grace thought wearily. Their own mother never said a negative word to Perry or tried to put her on a different path. Although, to be fair, Perry rarely told their mother the truth about anything.

Grace looked at her beautiful sister, at all the unfulfilled promise. "So who's the father?"

Perry shrugged. "It doesn't matter who he is. He's long gone." She avoided Grace's eyes.

As always, Grace was torn between love and exasperation. Why did Perry continue to do things like this? Every single man she'd ever hooked up with—and there had been many—had been a total loser. They'd either used her as a punching bag, freeloaded off her when she'd had a job or left her. This was the second time Perry had gotten pregnant by a man who'd taken off. The last time, she had miscarried in her fourth month, but obviously, this time she seemed to be okay.

"When are you due?" Grace asked.

Another shrug. "In a week or so, I think."

"You think? Perry, have you seen a doctor?"

"I've gone a couple of times."

Oh, God. "Have you been taking prenatal vitamins? Watching what you eat? Taking care of yourself?"

The miserable look on Perry's face was enough to tell Grace everything she needed to know. She stifled a sigh. "I don't suppose you have any health insurance."

Perry shook her head. Her gaze finally met Grace's, and Grace could see the fear in her eyes.

"What are you planning to do?" Grace said more gently. Perry swallowed. "I—I was hoping I could stay with you until I have the baby and...can get on my feet again."

"How'd you even know how to find me?" Grace asked, stalling for time.

"I called Mom."

"Does she know about the pregnancy?"

Perry shook her head again. When a few long moments of silence went by, she drained her glass of Coke, then said,

"I know it's a lot to ask, Grace, but I—I'm broke, and I don't have anywhere else to go."

Grace wanted to say no. She loved Perry, but how could she have her here, probably for months? And not just her. A baby, too. Where will I put them? she thought wildly, her mind spinning. Her apartment did have two bedrooms, but the second one was very small and Grace had her exercise equipment in it.

And then there was Doug. Doug Frasier, her lover. He spent a lot of time at her place. They would have no privacy at all if Perry was there.

I can't. I just can't have her here.

And yet, how could she turn her sister away? Their brothers certainly wouldn't take her in, even if Perry would consider going to them, and Grace knew she wouldn't.

And their mother couldn't. She lived in a retirement community in Florida, in an apartment she shared with her sister. Even if they'd had the room, the community didn't allow children except for limited visits. Grace would have to do it. "All right," she finally said, "you can stay here."

Perry leaned forward and threw her arms around Grace. "Oh, thank you, Grace. Thank you. I—I promise it won't be for long."

Grace closed her eyes. She could feel the tremors in Perry's body. She was scared. Love constricted Grace's throat. "Don't worry, honey. Everything will be okay." But even as she said the words, she knew they weren't true.

In fact, Perry's life was a mess, and from past experience, Grace was afraid it would stay a mess.

She hoped she was wrong.

She hoped that somehow, this time, Perry would be able to cope. That she'd have her baby, find a job and child care and get her act together.

Because if she didn't...

But Grace couldn't go there. Right now, all she had the strength to do was hold her sister and keep telling her everything would work out just fine.

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