Pennies From Heaven

For the Fault in Our Stars competition. Not, strictly speaking, a romance, but a tale of falling in love "slowly and then all at once." Leah unexpectedly struggles with, then succumbs to, new love.

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1. Pennies From Heaven

           Brittany bounded down the long hospital corridor, skittering to a stop a few feet from the maternity room whose doorjamb seemed to be propping up her best friend’s husband. After stopping for a moment to take in the sight before her  –  Greg Donovan, dress shirt untucked, tie hanging limply around his shoulders, head lolling forward as he nodded in and out of sleep while leaning against the drab hospital wall  –  she grinned, then lightly smacked him in the arm.

            “You’re a daddy!” Brittany chirped as Greg startled awake. “Congratulations!” She wrapped him in a one-armed hug, and he leaned forward just enough to return it without relinquishing the support of the wall.

            “Thanks, Britt,” he yawned.

            “You know, this court-room casual is really working for you. I’m especially a fan of the tie-as-scarf look going on here. Really, it’s a nice update to your usual stuffy lawyer ensemble. I hope you keep it,” she winked.

            Greg just rolled his eyes. “Thanks, Britt,” he repeated, a note of impatience coloring his voice this time.

            “Long night, eh?”

            “Yeah, you could say that.” A shadow flashed across his features, but it was gone as quickly as it came.

            Brittany opened her mouth, then paused for a moment. “…Everything okay, Greg?”

            He closed his eyes, then nodded. “Yeah,” he said slowly, squinting at the floor.

            “Greg?” Brittany raised her eyebrows.

            “It was a long labor,” he said, not quite meeting Brittany’s gaze. “I’ve been awake for a damn long time. But, the baby is healthy, Leah is fine… It’s just…” his voice trailed off, but Brittany continued looking at him expectantly. “Just not what we were expecting,” he continued cryptically. “Leah’s just having a hard time, and… I think it’s better if she tells you the rest,” he shrugged.

            “Okay…” Brittany replied, nodding slowly. The silence hung thick in the air between them like a heavy curtain. Brittany chewed at the corner of her lip, waiting for Greg to say more. He didn’t.

            “Okay,” Brittany said again. “Well, listen, I don’t want to intrude—”

            “No, no, Leah will want to see you. I have to head out for a few hours anyway. So you guys can do your whole giggly girly thing without me for awhile,” he teased. “But… yeah…” his voice trailed off and he offered up a wan smile. “…Leah’s awake, she’ll be happy you’re here. I think it’ll do her good to talk to you.”

            Brittany nodded, furrowing her brow in confused contemplation. “Okay. I guess… I’ll see you later, Greg. Congratulations again, man.”

            He blushed. “Thanks, Brittany,” he mumbled, then pushed himself off the wall and headed down the corridor with a wave.  

 

 

           “Hey, babe,” Brittany forced the cheer she’d felt before talking to Greg back into her voice as she stepped through the hospital room door and greeted her friend. Leah reclined in the hospital bed, arms draped around her knees as she stared vacantly at the television, flipping channels.

            Leah glanced over her shoulder, and her heart lurched when she saw Brittany standing in the doorframe. “Hey,” she mumbled before her gaze fell back to the television. Brittany frowned, her eyes narrowing as she scrutinized her friend. Leah’s hair was pulled back into a ragged ponytail, and her too-large hospital gown, loosely tied, just barely stayed on her shoulders. There were dark circles under her eyes, Brittany noticed, and her fingers thrummed nervously in time with the slow drip of the IV beside her. Well, she thought to herself, not we were expecting at all.

            Taking a breath, Brittany strode confidently into the room and slung her purse onto the ugly orange chair beside the bed. She flopped into the chair and leisurely stretched out her legs, resting them on the bed next to Leah’s. “So,” she said, looking up expectantly. “What’s a girl got to do around here to get a look at her beautiful new niece?”

            Leah lay her head down on her knees, turning toward Brittany. She forced a short-lived smile onto her face, then motioned with her head toward the hospital bassinet a few feet away. “She’s sleeping,” she explained.

            Brittany’s eyes widened, and she couldn’t stop the grin that was spreading across her face. “I don’t want to wake her, but… Can I...?”

            Leah nodded. “Sure,” she said quietly.

 

 

            Brittany tiptoed across the room; Leah’s eyes followed her as she peered into the bassinet. “Oh, Leah…” she breathed, gazing at the sleeping baby. “She’s beautiful,” she cooed, delicately stroking the baby’s tiny fingers. But even from that moment, Brittany could see why Leah was so distant, so upset, so not the brand-new-mama that Brittany had expected to find. The little girl was gorgeous: ten fingers, ten toes, and the delicate features that Brittany saw every day in her special-ed classroom full of children with Down Syndrome. “Can I hold her?” she asked.

            Leah frowned, surprise crossing her face. “…If you want to,” she said slowly.

            Gently, Brittany eased the baby into her arms, cradling her close to her body. The little girl stirred and woke up, her face scrunching up as she prepared to cry. “Hello, you,” she whispered to her quietly; she slipped her pinky finger into the baby’s mouth, and the instinct to suck took over before any fussy crying could begin. “Shall we go see Mama? Let’s go see if we can get Mama to smile.” She walked the few feet over to the hospital bed and sat beside her friend; Leah scooted over, making space on the bed for Brittany and the baby to recline beside her.

            They sat in silence for a few minutes, Brittany stroking the baby’s tiny face and hands, Leah watching her best friend and her daughter closely. “You didn’t know,” Brittany said quietly without looking up, more statement than question. Leah shook her head silently, but even from the periphery of her vision, Brittany could see the tiny tears gathering at the corners of her best friend’s eyes. “Your parents?” she asked.

            “Greg called them this morning… he told them it’s a girl, and that we’re fine, but… They’re flying in tomorrow, so… that’s all we’ve told anyone, so until then, I guess you’re the only one who knows?” Leah whispered, her voice shaky as she strove to keep from crying.

            Another minute passed in silence. “What’s her name?” Brittany asked, eyes still trained on the baby as Leah tried to remain composed beside her.

            A sniffle, and then, voice wavering, “She doesn’t have one yet.”

            Brittany nodded. “Do you guys have a list?”

            Leah nodded, chewing at her thumbnail. “We like Penelope. But…” her voice trailed off into silence. Brittany glanced over briefly, just in time to see Leah wiping a fat tear off her cheek; knowing how much Leah hated to cry in front of people, she tore her gaze away quickly, looking back at the baby sleeping in her arms. “But…” Leah continued suddenly. “What if it’s too hard for her to spell?”

            Surprised, Brittany looked back at Leah. Her eyes were wide with fear and uncertainty, her face pale, stained wet where a few tears had escaped and run down her cheeks, and she picked nervously at the bed sheets. Brittany’s heart broke at the sight of her friend in such despair and she silently shifted the baby to the crook of her right arm, then slung her left around Leah and pulled her close. Leah nestled her head into Brittany’s neck, sniffling all the while, and allowed herself to just be held.

            “It’s okay to be sad,” Brittany said finally, sensing that Leah needed more comfort than just a hug could provide. “It’s okay to be devastated, and pissed off, and scared. None of those things make you a bad mom.”

            “No…” Leah agreed softly, her eyes trained on her daughter, who was beginning to quietly wake. “But they don’t hardly make me a good mom, either,” she pointed out. Silence descended around the two women once more; they both watched as the baby scrunched up her eyes, made smacking sounds with her lips, and wriggled herself to her own quiet state of wakefulness; her big blue eyes searched the scene in front of her, shifting back and forth between Leah and Brittany.

            “What if I’m not a good enough person? What if I can’t love her?” Leah asked, her voice hollow and quiet.

            Brittany opened her mouth, then paused for a moment. “I’ve known you a long time, Leah,” she said, squeezing her friend’s arm. “And I don’t think that’s going to happen. Here,” she added, easing Leah out of her embrace. “You hold her.”

            Leah looked wary, but complied, and as she held her daughter, the baby let out a short string of contended sounds. “She knows you’re her mama,” Brittany winked. She lay back then, and watched for a few minutes as Leah stared, wide-eyed, at the baby.

           “You’ll learn what she needs from you,” Brittany murmured finally. “Just like you would with any baby you brought home. And you’ll love her… because you have such a big heart, and you won’t be able to help yourself. And one day, when she’s old enough, you’ll teach her to write her name, and Greg will teach her to ride a bike, and you will never be able to imagine your life without her.”

           “I know,” Leah sighed. “It just… right now, it doesn’t… I don’t know.”

           “I know,” Brittany confirmed. “But right now? You are a brand new mama… and you have a baby who is pretty much healthy in all the ways that matter… And, Leah… look at her. She’s beautiful. She is rocking that extra chromosome.”

           A few tears slid down her face, but Leah cracked a real smile as she lightly traced her daughter’s tiny features. “Yeah,” she smiled. “I guess she is… aren’t you, Penelope?”

 

 

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