This Is Not the End – a short story

This is not the end.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

The wipers beat a slow tempo in the October downpour. He stared through the windshield. The sky was dead. He sighed, rubbed his neck and closed his eyes. “Tara.”

She rested her forehead on the passenger window, her breath fogging the glass. An orange neon light in the adjacent lot fizzled throwing her face into high relief. She traced a tiny heart on the window, smudged it, drew another. A dark curl of hair lay across her cheek, she tucked it behind her ear. 

“So we’re not talking now?”

Her finger outlined the second heart.

Another sigh, more feeling than sound. He turned off the wipers. The dark outline of the building in front of them warped in the falling water. He started to speak, hesitated, stopped.

“You don’t have to be here.” She was still looking out the window.

“What?”

“You don’t have to be here.”

He unbuckled his seat belt, turned, faced her. “Well tough, I’m here. Deal with it.”

He saw her eyes squint. She was trying not to smile. That line the same one he’d used the first time he had sat down across from her at the coffee shop. Across from the girl he’d never seen before, the girl he had to speak to, the girl he couldn’t walk away from. She’d looked up, that moment of surprise, her little bubble of privacy popped by this quiet stranger with the steely eyes, the only response she could come up with—a white lie—, “I was saving that for someone.” She had smiled then too.

He watched her; the smile was gone. “I didn’t think this would be so hard.” He waited, watched a tear form in her dark lashes, hang there. She shuffled the papers on her lap, looking down as though surprised by them. He saw her finger pick absently at the pink tagged arrows poking out randomly. Ironic, she hated the color.

“I was pregnant once before—” she paused.

He didn’t move.

“Babe?”

He coughed, rubbed his neck again. “I heard you.”

She didn’t turn her head, reaching a hand instead, interlacing fingers with his. “I was twenty-two. Miscarriage.” His hand was stone.

“Why’d you never tell me?”

“I don’t know.” Her voice was small. “I wasn’t sure if—”

She thought she heard him groan. She felt her hand lifted, felt his lips on her fingers, then his scruff as he pressed the back of her hand to his cheek.

“Look at me.” He had to try twice to get the words out, thick and husky in his throat. She turned, mascara streaks trailing her face. “Let me in, Tara. Tell me. We can change this.”

“I thought this was best for us, but I can’t do it. I can’t.”

The file folder spilled onto the floor. She curled into a ball, pulled his arm around her. If she had looked up, she would have seen the smile before she heard it.

“What are you saying, babe?”

“I can’t lose another one.”

“You really want to keep her?”

She was sobbing. He held her, rocked her as he ran his fingers through her hair. She nodded.

“Okay.” He breathed deeply. “Okay.” He gathered the adoption paperwork and slid it behind his seat.

“Really?”

He smiled, kissed her forehead, whispered, “Yes.”

The sleeping baby in the back seat squirmed in her carrier and squeaked a tiny yawn.

He turned on the wipers. “C’mon. Let’s go home.”

 

 

 

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