Authors: Kathleen McCleary
To my mother, Ann McCleary,
and my agent, Ann Rittenberg.
Thanks for the encouragement, the inspiration,
and for being such brave role models. Keep blooming.
very book is a multitude of layers, and I owe a multitude of thanks to those who helped me along the way. Thanks to my readers and friends Sarah Flanagan, Mona Johnston, Sarita Gopal, Stacy Hennessey, Laura Merrill, Lori Kositch, and Julia Loughran. Thanks to David Roop, who advised me on the many legal issues in my story, and to Michelle Rhodes and Susan Friedlander Earman. Thanks to Kendall Truitt Barrett, whose ginger scones still haunt my dreams, and who provided invaluable input on everything baking-related in the book. Her wedding cakes are the best in the world. Thanks to my agent, Ann Rittenberg, who gave me the original idea for the book, and the encouragement I needed to finish it. I feel very fortunate to work with Tessa Woodward, the most insightful editor I know, who has elevated every story I have sent her, and to the terrific folks at HarperCollins: Pam Spengler-Jaffee, Laurie Connors, Mary Sasso, Molly Birckhead, and Jennifer Hart. Thanks to the members of the Fiction Writers Co-opâwhat great company, and what sanity savers.
Finally, I'm lucky to have the support of an imperfect, impossible, incredibly loving family. Paul, Grace, and Emma Benninghoff have lived with deadlines, despair, elation, take-out food, repeated threats to switch careers, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And yet they soldier on. Thank you.
eorgia sat up in her hospital bed, holding her baby. She studied his little faceâjust visible beneath the striped blue-and-pink knit cap the nurse had pulled over his head after cleaning him off. She tried to remember how Liza had looked as a newborn, all those years ago. But this baby didn't look like Liza, maybe because there was nothing of her, Georgia, in this baby. Instead John's features bloomed on this tiny boyâthe ears that stuck out just slightly, the dark hair, the full lips.
Outside the window the sun broke through the clouds and streamed into the room. Georgia noticed the shift in the light, but didn't take her eyes off the baby in her arms. She picked up one of his hands, rubbed his palm with her thumb. His fingers were longâshe could see that even in such new, tiny handsânothing at all like Georgia's own hands. The baby opened his eyes.
Georgia gazed at him. “Hi?” she said. “Who are you?”
At the sound of her voice he began to cry, loud wails that pierced the quiet of the room. Georgia felt her breasts tingle and then the dampness on the front of her nightgown as her milk let down.
“That's great,” she said to the baby. “Just great.” She fumbled with the buttons on her nightgown and pulled him close, one hand cradling the back of his head. “I'm not sure I remember how to do this,” Georgia warned. But he latched on right away and began to suck. Georgia looked down at him and began to cry, the tears rolling down her cheeks, dripping from her chin, splashing onto the baby's cap.
After a few minutes the baby closed his eyes, his head heavy against Georgia's breast. She lifted him and held him over her shoulder and patted his back until he burped. Then she sat up with her knees propped in front of her and laid the baby on her thighs, facing her, his head cradled by her knees and his bottom resting against her soft postpartum belly.
“So, little man,” she said. “This is it, I guess.”
She tried to memorize his gray eyes, the lovely weight of him in her lap, his warmth against her skin. She leaned forward and sniffed, inhaling the milky baby scent of him and something else, something that smelled almost sweet, like cinnamon.
“I love you,” she whispered. “I didn't think I would, but I do.”
The baby yawned, revealing pink gums and a milky tongue. Georgia picked him up and laid him down gently on his back in the bassinet next to her bed. She covered him with the silk rainbow blanket Alice had given her at the baby shower. Georgia straightened up and slipped her nightgown over her head. She opened the drawer in the nightstand and put on her bra and the flowing blue maternity top she had worn to the hospital two days ago. She pulled on the black maternity capris she'd worn that day, too. She couldn't find her comb so she ran her fingers through the tangled waves of her hair. She couldn't bear to look in the mirror right now, to see the face of a woman who wouldâ
oh, don't think about it. Keep moving
. Her purse was in the bottom drawer, and she picked it up and rooted around until she found her nail scissors. She snipped the hospital bracelet from her wrist.
“Georgia Bing,” it said, in black letters. “Baby boy Bing. June 18, 2012.” She put the bracelet inside her purse.
The baby slept. Georgia slid her feet into her sandals and opened the door to her hospital room. To her right, a nurse was engrossed in the computer at the nurses' station, and to her left the hallway was empty. Georgia walked on quiet feet down the hall, opened the door to the stairwell, and walked downstairs. Her body still ached from giving birth, and her breasts, overfull with new milk, hurt with every step. She slowed her pace. At the bottom she took a deep breath and opened the door into the lobby. She smiled at the guard by the front door, hoping he wouldn't ask any questions. He nodded.
Then new mother Georgia Bing walked out into the sunlight without a single backward glance at the baby she left behind.