After lunch in the garden, and after Jasper went to his voice lesson with Dorothy Hall, Ma asked Tara to clear the table. “And run the dishwasher, please. I need time with Brooke before we leave.”

In an hour, Ma, Chase, and Ivy, who had quit taking naps, were meeting Ma’s new friend, Deirdre. She was organizing the archives from Bearsville’s old Sound Studios—the ones that were still untouched.

Chase said, “Ex-Q-zee,” and led Dex and Ivy inside to learn the song he’d written.

Tara, hands full, complained it wasn’t fair.

“Nothing is,” Ma said and linked arms with Brooke. They walked through a grove of trees and into new landscaping bursting with hydrangeas. Ma sat on a bench and Brooke sat beside her.

“I shouldn’t have burdened you—”

“If you’re talking about Janie, I have a right to know about the family.”

Well, Ma had certainly burdened Chase. In a weak moment, she asked about his catastrophic tour. “Usually, the gaps in his memory don’t faze him. But the tour will always be this terrifying black hole.” Deirdre found out that Chase must have been playing in Tokyo about the same time Janie was there.

When Ma had asked him, Chase covered his face and moaned. She moved his hands and he’d forgotten where he was. “That’s my guess,” Ma said. “I’ve never seen him so upset.”

“Why not ask Tara to search for Janie?”

Because Ma wasn’t ready for concrete conclusions. Although anything would have been better than Chase pacing around in agitation. He had sounded so faraway and strained that Ma doubted he knew he was speaking. He had stared past her and seemed to grab someone. Then he’d slammed his fist into the wall. “Janie was with a bad guy.”

Brooke’s heart beat loud in her ears. She swallowed hard before saying, “You’ve gotta forgive her, Ma. It’s like me and Pop. I’ll love him no matter what.”

Suddenly, Ma smothered Brooke, trembling and weeping. Until, thank God, Chase appeared and held her. The blotches on Ma’s skin faded and Chase said, “Time to go, darling.”

Brooke followed them to the garage. Jasper and Dex were driving to soccer. The coach had invited Jasper and two other fathers who would miss the season to watch from new bleachers. Jasper lowered the window but Brooke stepped back. When the car descended, he honked the horn.

Ma fumbled for her car keys. Chase and Ivy were already strapped in. Ma lifted Brooke’s straw hat and whispered. Summer could feel like forever. But after the Benefit, Jasper would leave.

Obviously. In six weeks. But Brooke wasn’t even irritated. She hadn’t realized Ma blamed herself. Her mottled blush looked like hives. “Your father was always a drunk, but so brilliant and handsome, I didn’t care. Until it was too late.”

Brooke stared at the lane where the cars had disappeared.

Tara called, “Come on! It’s you and me for once.”

So Brooke sat in the empty deck chair. Tara knelt on hers, excited. “This morning, Ma opens The Gallery store. Chase goes to The Health Emporium. Julie, the cashier notices these super expensive pre-natal vitamins.

“Meanwhile, Ma’s phone is on fire.” Tara sat down and stared at Brooke. “She tells everyone, ‘No, no way, and everyone’s like, ‘Well, my lips are sealed.’ And Chase is like, ‘Ladies-only vitamins? Who’d a thunk it?’ And, whoa what confusion, because it’s vitamins galore over there. Then Ma empties the bag and—no prenatal vitamins. How’d you do that, Brooke?”

“Did Chase say that I asked for them?”

“Nope. He said he must have lost them.”

“I suggested the supply closet. I didn’t say, don’t tell anyone—’cause he never does.”

“He remembers when it’s you or Ivy,” Tara said. “Otherwise, he forgets. Even if it’s Ma.”

“Don’t say that again, Tara.”

“You want those vitamins in case, right? ’Cause it’s impossible to know yet.”

“Best to take them before you know.”

“Was Jasper mad that you fooled him?”

“He didn’t act like it. I promised, never again. But before that, you know that blouse you buttoned up the back for me? He slipped it over my head.”

Tara giggled. “You’re gonna be fatter than me.”

“He wants to talk about it. At length, if it’s yes. But I don’t know what to say. He can’t understand me. Why do I want this so much? I don’t have a clue why—only that I want it more than anything.”

“Well, I have a theory.” Tara knelt on her chair and Brooked nodded, go ahead. “You’re not gonna do well when Jasper leaves. You’re gonna go all out for adrenaline rushes. To escape feeling sad and lost. Except—if you’re pregnant, your only goal will be to stay safe and healthy.”

“That’s—uh, that’s a good theory.”

“So, can I tell it to him?”

Brooke set her sunglasses and hat on the table. She placed her heels on the seat and wrapped her arms around her knees. For a while, she shut her eyes. “Am I a monster? Someone who would use my unborn baby to avoid feeling bad?”

by Kathleen Maher