Jo followed the nurse out, gently pulling the door closed so she wouldn’t wake her sleeping daughter. Twenty-one or not, when Ava lay sick in the hospital she was still her baby.
Leaning against the door, she closed her eyes and hung her head, thoughts racing. Hadn’t she always feared it might come to this? From her first kidney infection at age two, she’d thought about what would happen if she was ever faced with this situation.
Mac, her husband of 25 years, would be back soon with his parents, whom he was collecting from the airport. Jo hadn’t wanted them to come. It seemed like inviting relatives from far away to stand vigil only reinforced the fact that Ava’s life was in danger, and Jo was doing her best to avoid thoughts like that altogether, even though deep down she knew they needed thinking about.
What was her mother-in-law going to say when she found out? Would there be any way to avoid telling her? She supposed she should worry what her husband would think, but she had assumed long ago that he already knew and had made his peace with it. That’s not to say it wouldn’t still hurt him, especially if he had to tell his mother.
A hand on her arm jolted her from her thoughts.
“Hey Joey,” her friend Shelly said quietly, “thought maybe you could use some company since your text said Mac was gone.”
They began walking towards the family waiting room, a place they had spent enough time in during the last few weeks that the volunteer attendants knew them by name.
“Any news?” Shelly asked, heading for the coffee.
“Nothing new, no matches. I’m going to have to do it. How could I not?”
Shelly has been her friend for longer than she’s been married to Mac. Shelly had been there when Mac wasn’t.
“Do you even know where to start?”
“I have no idea, but I think Mac might know. He mentioned something once that made me think he may have looked for him online.”
“Kind of weird…don’t you think?”
Shelly led the way to a bank of chairs, they sat side by side.
“Well they were best friends, they grew up together,” Jo paused and took a tentative sip of her coffee, “it’s like I am going to have to ruin everything Ava knows in her life in order to save her life.”
“Different doesn’t always have to be worse,” Shelly said quickly.
Jo sipped her coffee again and thought about how this could possibly make life better for Ava. Well, aside from the saving her life part. There would be no undoing it once it was done. There would be no going back to the way things were or pretending that he was some stranger that happened to be a DNA match. She couldn’t see him going for that, not after the way he had begged her to go with him, to let him be the father, whether it was his baby or not.
“There is no way it can possibly be yours,” she had told him, and at the time she had thought it the truth.
She’d mapped out the dates, there was no way. The entire direction of her life had been determined by those dates.
She had finished, “I feel like I owe it to this baby to give my marriage another chance.”
He had offered everything he could offer to her, but she held firm. She and her husband were having a baby, and she didn’t need him complicating things. She didn’t need him at all. His last words were angry ones as he stormed out the door. She had never seen him again.
She and Mac had reunited. He hadn’t blinked an eye when she told him she was pregnant, just picked her up and twirled her around, grinning like a fool.
It was only after, once they had settled back into life together and she was very pregnant, that Mac asked her if she had dated anyone while they were separated. In the interest of building a trusting and honest marriage, she had felt it best to be transparent, and told him the truth.
He had severed ties with his best friend immediately. They had relocated to Virginia shortly after, when Mac was offered a substantial, but still somewhat suspect, promotion.
“I can’t imagine being in the same room with him again. He was so angry, and kind of mean, the last time we talked.”
“But he wanted to hang the moon for you, Joey. He might have been mad when you parted ways, but he will probably love the idea of saving the day for you.”
“For Ava,” Jo corrected, “he’s probably a totally different person now.”
Jo’s phone buzzed in the pocket of her cardigan and she reached for it quickly, always on call these days.
“Mac says they’ve just arrived. Want to walk to the elevators with me?”
They strolled out, tossing their cups into the trash bin, circling the wing towards the elevators.
“Please don’t say anything to my in-laws about this,” Jo said, watching the elevator stop at a lower floor.
“Joey, I haven’t said anything in over twenty years, why would I now?”
“I know, sorry.”
“Also, I still think you should have married him.”
The elevator dinged, the doors set to open. Jo was avoiding the moment, studying the toe of her shoe, when Shelly whacked her on the arm. She looked up and then looked at her husband, whose slight nod said a million things, and then looked back again. At James.
He didn’t say anything, just walked up to her and hugged her, and then held her at arms-length, his dark brown eyes studying her face.
“Looks like you were wrong, Jolene,” he said, “it turns out you do need me.”