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Goodbye, Laura

I circled the block around the hospital twice, slowly, checking to be sure I didn't recognize any of the cars parked there. I also cruised the parking lot. Neither Sara's parents' Monte Carlo nor any of the older cars our friends drove were there.

I parked and walked to the hospital door. My heart was pounding. What if I met someone I knew? What if I ran into Sara or her parents? What could I do? What could I say?

"No one expects Dean Portman to come to see his baby," I assured myself. "No one even knows it's mine."

Until a few days ago I'd never really thought about having a baby. I just sort of assumed that after a couple years of being married there would be children, but it wasn't something I thought about much.

I ducked my head a little as I crossed the hospital lobby, but no one stopped me as I got onto the elevator. I didn't know what floor the nursery was on, so I punched all the buttons. When the doors opened on the third floor, I saw the sign I wanted.

I looked both ways and took a deep breath. No one was in the corridor. I could smell milk and baby powder as I followed the arrow to the nursery.

The curtains at the big glass window were open. I swallowed hard as I looked at the six little baskets, each holding a tiny form.

"What baby do you want to see?" The nurse's voice came through a speaker.

"Barrett," I managed through my dry mouth.

The nurse nodded. I'd been afraid she's ask if I was the father, but she didn't. I guess she's learned not to do that.

The name on the basket was just "Barrett", but the baby was wrapped in a pink blanket and she had a pink knit cap on her head. I looked down at her. Her eyes were open - blue, like I'd heard all babies' were. She moved her head, straining to lift it. It came up just a little before flopping back down.

This is my daughter, I thought. I'm her father!

In my mind I saw that night nine months ago. Sara and I had been on the verge of breaking up because I was going to school in Minnesota, and neither of us wanted to be tied down. In fact, we both suspected we wouldn't have been dating much longer anyway.

We'd gone to a lonely spot to talk, and one thing led to another. We had always managed to stop before we went all the way, but not this night. After that, we had two more dates, both ending the same way. It was a lot easier after that first time.

"It wasn't really 'making love'," I whispered to my daughter. "More like 'making out' for both of us. We both felt guilty, and we knew we were doing something wrong. It was against everything we'd been taught at home and church. And we blamed each other for letting it happen. That made things worse, and we broke up before I left. I didn't know about you til last week."

I remembered the letter from one of the guys from my old school. "Sara's having a baby in a couple weeks," he'd written. "Bet you don't know anything about that! Ha Ha! Don't worry man, she hasn't told anyone who the father is - some of us just figured it out!"

I watched as the baby curled her tiny fingers, each topped with an even tinier fingernail. Suddenly I wanted desperately to reach through the glass and touch one of those little fingers. I wanted to hold her and tell her I was sorry. I wanted to make her understand.

The nurse was back. "Time for her feeding," she mouthed to me. I nodded. I'd stayed pretty long already; if I hung around much longer I might meet someone I knew. Besides, they'd take the baby to Sara now.

Instead, the nurse took her, cuddling her a minute, then sat down in a rocking chair with a bottle half full of white liquid. I watched the baby who was half me suck hungrily. I wondered why Sara wasn't feeding her. When the baby burped, I was sure I could hear it through the glass. Then the nurse laid her gently back in the basket. The blue eyes were closed now, and I saw long lashes that are like mine.

"When does she go home?" I mouthed to the nurse. She switched on the speaker so I could talk. I repeated my question. I had to know how long I had to decide what to do. I hadn't even told my parents yet.

"Her parents will be here tomorrow. We want to be sure the babies are all right and that the mother understands the adoption procedure."

"Adoption?" For a second I was stunned, then relief hit me. If the baby was being adopted, I didn't have to make a choice between marrying Sara, or at least helping support the baby. Sara had made the decision for both of us.

"The birth mother's an unmarried teen," the nurse was saying. "She hasn't seen the baby since it was born. We don't know who the father is." She eyed me closely, and I felt my face get warm.

"She can't take care of the baby," the nurse went on, "and there's a wonderful couple who want her very much. They'll give her a good home; a Christian home," she added as though to reassure me.

"Does she... does she have a name?" My voice was hoarse.

"They're going to call her Laura."

"Laura," I repeated. The nurse moved the basket closer, as though reading my mind. She switched off the speaker and went to get another baby for a couple who were holding hands in front of the window. They smiled at each other as they looked at their baby. I felt sick knowing they'd be taking their baby home with them, while Laura - my daughter - would go home with strangers.

"Sara couldn't do anything else," I told myself. "She knew we're too young and probably not right for each other. And she'd never think about an abortion. But we made such a big mistake!

I looked down at my daughter. "Laura," I whispered, "I'm so sorry. I'll pray for you, and for the parents who will take care of you. I'll pray you'll be happy and love them. And that they'll teach you everything. Especially to wait for some things until you find and marry the right man and are ready for them."

I fought back tears as I walked to the elevator. I could never forget Laura, but she would always be a tiny baby to me. I would never see her first steps, visit her school, or meet her first date. All I would ever see was a tiny baby wrapped in a pink blanket.

I turned to look one more time, but the curtains were closed.

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