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The Midwife's Confession Part 19

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I sat back in my chair and stared at the screen again, and that's when I noticed the tiny green letters at the bottom of the page: site search. I clicked on them and the search box appeared. Finally! I typed Anna Knightly into the box, and suddenly, there she was-her photograph and a short bio. I wanted to turn away from her picture, but it was too late. I stared at her. She had a round face. Not overweight, but soft and sweet. Her light brown hair was chin length and wavy. Her eyes were large and very green. Green, like Denise Abernathy's children. It was her smile that got to me, though. Not a broad smile, but the sort you'd wear for an executive portrait. Warm, confident, yet sober. I am all about serious business, her smile said. I'm all about finding your children.

I read the few lines of text below her picture.

Missing Children's Bureau director, Anna Chester Knightly, 44, has worked for MCB for ten years. Her infant daughter, Lily, disappeared from a Wilmington, North Carolina, hospital in 1994. She has one other daughter, Haley.

Oh! She had another daughter. I was so glad.

But 1994? That long ago? We'd definitely been off on our dates. I went back to the search form for missing children and changed my thirteen years to seventeen and up popped Lily Ann Knightly.



There was no picture-just one simple line.

Lily Ann Knightly was born August 29, 1994, and disappeared from a Wilmington, NC, hospital shortly after her birth.

My heart gave a sudden thud in my chest. August 29, 1994. I rolled my chair back from the computer and walked to the long table by the windows where I'd stacked Noelle's record books. I picked up the one labeled March 1994November 1994. I opened it slowly, holding my breath as I turned the pages.

"No," I said out loud when I came to the page I'd been looking for, although I'd known perfectly well what would be written there. At the top of the page was the patient's name: Tara Vincent. The date was August 31, 1994-the date Jenny was born by C-section and Tara went into labor with Grace. For the first time, I thanked God that I hadn't been able to have a home birth and Noelle had been nowhere near my daughter. I reread Noelle's notes about Tara's long and terrifying labor, ending with the perilous delivery early in the morning of September 1. I flipped the pages quickly, hoping Noelle might have made another delivery close to that date, but the next record was for a child born September 15 and that had been a boy. I turned back to Tara's delivery and the pages upon pages of Noelle's notes. I read the last few lines, searching for the place where Noelle's handwriting would change from that of the careful, confident midwife to that of a frightened woman who'd accidentally dropped her friend's child. A woman about to race to the hospital to find a replacement. I studied her notes, but she'd covered her tracks well. I saw her final sentence again-"She's a beauty! They're naming her Grace"-and I wondered if at that point she was referring to the Grace Tara had given birth to, or the Grace I'd known and loved all these years.

The Grace who belonged to none of us.

PART THREE.

GRACE.

33.

Grace.

I woke up at six and didn't bother trying to go back to sleep. Cleve would be home for his mom's party in just a few hours! In his email last night, he said a friend was giving him a ride and he thought he'd be home in time for lunch, though he didn't say I should come over and have lunch with him. But he'd been emailing and texting me more over the past few days, like I was on his mind a lot now that he was coming home. He said, See you soon! in his text to me yesterday and I'd been dissecting those three words ever since. The exclamation point was my favorite part.

I had our day all planned out. If the weather was good we could go hang out by the Riverwalk and talk. Really talk for a change, like we used to. I was hoping, of course, that we'd get back together. It was a three-day weekend, so even if he wasn't convinced by the end of today that we belonged together, I had two more days to work on him.

I was on Facebook around eight when my mother poked her head in my door. "You're up?" She sounded surprised.

"I guess that's a rhetorical question," I said.

"Smarty pants." She smiled at me. She'd been weird the past few days, and her smile wasn't a real one. "Want to help me run errands?" she asked. "I have a million things to do to get ready for the party tonight."

"I can't, sorry. I have to write a paper. And Cleve's coming home in a little while." Why did I add that? I just couldn't help myself. But now she was going to ask me all kinds of questions.

"You're going to see him?" She didn't think that was a great idea. I could tell. "Besides tonight at the party, I mean?" she added.

I shrugged like I didn't care. "I guess," I said.

"You can ask him about his classes and what he likes about Chapel Hill."

I looked at her like she'd just been dropped on the planet from outer space. "I know how to talk to him, Mom," I said.

"Well, what are you going to wear tonight?" She was in one of her twenty questions moods, and usually I'd just find a way to put an end to it, but I was so psyched about my dress that I decided to show it to her. Jenny and I went shopping Monday after school and I was in love with the dress I found. I pulled the hanger out of the closet and lifted the white plastic bag from the dress and she took in a breath, which was exactly what I did when I saw it in the store.

"Oh, Gracie, that's so cute!"

Cute was not what I was after. I wanted sexy and sophisticated, but I knew what she meant. The dress was red, short and strapless. It was made out of a satiny material and had a silver belt at the waist. It might have looked cute on the hanger, but it was hot on me. Jenny swore up and down that it was.

"Thanks," I said.

"What shoes will you wear?"

I pulled out the strappy red shoes. They'd just about killed my savings.

"Perfect," she said. "Not too high. You're smart. I haven't even thought about what I'm wearing." She glanced at her watch. "Have you eaten?"

"Not yet."

"Want me to make-"

"No, thanks. I'm good." I sat down at my computer again.

"You sure you don't want to come with me? I'll drop you off back here by noon."

"I really have to do this paper, Mom." I was glad she couldn't see the Facebook page on my monitor from where she stood.

"Okay," she said. "Have a good day."

I didn't write the paper, of course. I didn't even try. I did some math homework, ate a banana, washed my hair, looked at my phone a million times to make sure it was turned on and exchanged comments with a bunch of Facebook friends I'd never met in person. At noon, I couldn't take it any longer and I sent him a text message.

R u home yet?

In less than a minute, he wrote back. Got here hour ago. C u at party?

My heart dropped to my toes. Seriously. C u at party? Was he kidding? Why not now? We had all afternoon we could be together. We could be on the Riverwalk. Talking. Laughing.

I pounded the keys on my phone with my thumbs. Can u get together now? Im not working.

Helping Mom with something. Later.

I sat down on my bed and started to cry. I didn't get it. I felt almost as bad as when he broke up with me. I tried to call Jenny, but she wasn't picking up. Twitter started whimpering and I let him on the bed. He knew I was upset and he tried to squeeze his entire body onto my lap. I buried my face in his neck and sobbed.

Almost an hour later, I got up and looked at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Everything was red-my nose, my eyes, my cheeks. I had to pull it together or my face would be the same color as my dress at the party tonight. I straightened up, wet a washcloth and pressed it over my eyes.

I wasn't hungry at all, but I was dying for coffee. I went downstairs to the kitchen and saw that there was still coffee in the pot, but of course it was cold. I'd nuke it. I opened the cupboard to look for a mug. Something was different. My favorite black mug was there and I took it out, but I knew that something was missing. Mom was always rearranging things and it was incredibly annoying. Then I got it. The purple travel mug I'd given my father! I loved that mug. I loved seeing that reminder of him every day. I opened the other cabinets one by one looking for it, but it was gone.

I would not cry. Would not. I'd just gotten my face to look okay again. Instead of crying, I grabbed the phone and dialed my mother's number.

34.

Tara My van was full of balloons. The overly pierced young girl in the store asked me what colors I wanted and I told her to surprise me. Usually I would care, but my mind was going a thousand miles a minute between the preparations for Suzanne's party and the discovery that Noelle had been a surrogate and that Sam had known about it all along-it was overwhelming. All those years, he'd known! My God. I knew he'd been dying to tell me. I was in awe of his ethics. I don't know if I could have kept it to myself if I'd been in his place. I was glad that Noelle had turned to Sam to help her, though. I was glad that she'd trusted him that much.

All I could see in my rearview mirror was a sea of balloons, and I drove slowly toward the bakery where I was to pick up Suzanne's birthday cake. Driving with a van full of balloons was no less dangerous than driving while texting, I thought to myself as I found a parking place a half block from the bakery. I put my van in Reverse and inched my way into the spot with only my side view mirrors to guide me.

My phone rang as I turned off the ignition and I figured Emerson had thought of something she needed me to pick up. I didn't even glance at the caller ID.

"Hi, Em," I said.

"How could you do it?" Grace shouted so loudly that I jerked the phone away from my ear. I didn't know what I'd done, but I felt instant guilt, anyway.

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"Couldn't you have left one single thing of Daddy's in the house?" There was so much rage in her voice that she sounded like someone I didn't know. What had I done now? I thought of Sam's side of our closet, still so empty it echoed. Where his night table drawer had once been full of his books and pens and reading light, it now contained only a flashlight and some spare batteries. I'd donated his file cabinet. His desk drawers now held my stationery and school supplies.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"The mug," she said. "The purple travel mug I gave him."

I pictured the mug. I saw myself reaching for it, an unattractive, no longer needed item taking up space in my cupboard. Why keep something we'd never use? I saw myself tucking it into the box for Goodwill. "Oh," I said. "Oh, no. I...wasn't thinking, honey. I saw it and you know how I can't stand clutter and I forgot that-"

"It's always all about you, isn't it?" she shouted. "You can't stand clutter so the mug has to go. You don't even ask me what I think. If you hated it so much, you could have given it to me and I could have kept it in my room, because I don't have a fucking problem with clutter, Mom! I don't give a shit about clutter!"

She hung up and I sat there clutching the phone. She'd never spoken to me that way before, with that fury and certainly not with that language. I didn't know she was even capable of speaking that way. I looked past the sting of her words and saw that she was right. I'd been selfish. And stupid. She'd bought that cup for Sam. I saw a painful reminder of him each time I looked at it, but she saw a treasured connection to someone she'd loved. I felt my throat tighten as I called her back, but she didn't pick up. She'd said everything she had to say to me.

I pulled out of the parking lot. The cake would have to wait. I drove to Goodwill and got out of my helium-filled van and ran up to the front door. In the small drop-off room, a woman was handing a kitchen stool to the lanky, somber young guy who gave out the receipts.

"Excuse me," I said. "I brought something here the other day and I need to get it back. Is that possible?"

"No, ma'am," he said, taking the stool from the woman and setting it sideways on a pile of cartons. "No way."

I looked through the open doorway behind him to the huge room where women wearing gloves were sorting through bags and boxes and all sorts of detritus. I tried to spot my lone small carton but knew it was a lost cause. Needle in a haystack.

I walked to my van and drove slowly and carefully back to the bakery, thinking all the while about what it had been like for Grace to open that cupboard and see that her last physical link to her father was gone. I felt myself inside my daughter's skin. I could hardly stand how much it hurt.

I practically floated to Emerson's house from my van as I held on to the cloud of balloons above my head. Her door was unlocked and I let myself in, freeing the balloons in her spacious living room.

"Em?" I called.

"In the kitchen."

"I'm here. Just need to get some more stuff from the car."

I made another trip to the van for the cake, which I carried to the side door that led into the kitchen. Shadow and Blue sniffed the air around me as I set the box on the granite counter. Emerson was washing a mixing bowl in the sink. "Hey." She glanced up at me absently. "I made room in the fridge for the cake. Thanks for getting it."

I moved the cake to the empty bottom shelf of her refrigerator. The other shelves were crammed with who knew what. Emerson's refrigerator was never a pretty sight.

"I left the balloons in the living room," I said. "I'll spread them around a little later."

"We have one small problem." Emerson was scrubbing the daylights out of the mixing bowl and I knew she was stressing out. "Suzanne's sister sent us a bunch of pictures and Jenny was working on making a collage out of them but she's not feeling well and went up to bed. Do you have time to work on it? I had her put it in my office."

"Sure." I said. "Anything to keep my mind off...everything." I smiled at Emerson, but she was too frazzled to smile back. "What's wrong with Jenny?" I asked.

"She thinks she's getting a cold." She gave the bowl a final rinse and put it in the drainer. "She said she woke up with a sore throat. She helped me set out the plates and things on the table in the dining room and then crashed. I think she just doesn't feel like helping. She'll probably be fine for the party."

I saw there was still some coffee in the pot and reached for it. "Okay if I help myself?" I asked.

"If you don't mind heating it up." She dried her hands on a dish towel, then walked past me to the pantry without so much as a glance in my direction.

"Are you all right?" I asked as I reached into the cupboard for a mug. I couldn't help picturing my own cupboard, nice and orderly now without the purple travel mug towering above the others.

"I'm fine," she said, pulling a package of napkins from the pantry. "I just-" she shook her head "-you know."

"Yeah." I put my arm around her shoulders. I knew about her conversation with the woman whose baby Noelle had carried. As strange as the revelations felt to me, they had to feel so much stranger to Emerson. We'd had little time to process everything and it was getting to both of us. Once the party was over, we'd be able to catch our breath. It was almost as though we needed to have another memorial service for Noelle. The first one was for a woman we didn't really know.

"Well," I said as I poured coffee into the mug, "I think I just screwed up big-time."

She'd reached into a drawer for scissors and now held them above the napkins' plastic wrapper. "What do you mean?" For the first time since my arrival, she was looking at me.

"I threw away Sam's travel mug." I put my cup into the microwave and hit the timer. "I forgot that Grace gave it to him. Or rather, I didn't think about the fact that Grace gave it to him. She called me while I was getting the cake and chewed me out royally. I've never heard her so angry at me."

Emerson cut the plastic film, then slipped the scissors back in the drawer. "It'll blow over," she said. "She'll be fine."

"Are you fine?" I asked. "You seem really upset."

"I just..." She pulled the plastic from the napkins and appeared to be counting them.

"There's twenty-four, I think," I said. It would say right on the plastic sleeve, but I didn't have the heart to tell her.

"I just want it to go well tonight," she said.

"It will, sweetie." The microwave dinged, and I took out my cup. "I'm a little worried about Grace and Cleve, though."

"Do you think you could work on the collage?" she asked as though I hadn't spoken.

"On my way," I said. She was acting more like me than herself, worrying about the details, wanting perfection. I'd take care of the collage and get that out of the way and then see what else needed to be done.

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The Midwife's Confession Part 19 summary

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