Amanda Gleason gently rocked her infant son in her arms.
A new baby was truly the reaffirmation of life. If she didn’t know that before this moment, she knew it now. He was her child, her miracle.
She hadn’t planned on facing motherhood alone. In fact, when Paul had disappeared from the picture, she hadn’t even known she was pregnant. Maybe if she had, maybe if she could have told him, things would have turned out differently.
But they hadn’t.
And now the weight of the world was on her shoulders. Decisions had to be made. Pressure she’d never even imagined. And a bittersweet pain that came every time she held Justin in her arms.
She touched his downy head with one finger, stroked the peach fuzz of his hair. As she whispered softly to him, his eyes opened wide and he stared at her intently, visibly fascinated by the sound of her voice. She gazed into those eyes—Paul’s eyes—and her chest tightened. They were a lighter brown than Paul’s, probably because they had yet to mature to their true color. But the shape, the lids, even the thick fringe of lashes—those were all Paul’s. As was his nose, a tiny version of Paul’s bold, straight nose with the slender nostrils. He even had the dimple in his cheek that was Paul’s. Other than his golden-brown hair color and small, pursed mouth—both of which he’d inherited from her—he was very much Paul’s son. And even at three weeks old, he was developing a personality—easygoing like Paul, inquisitive like her. He spent hours staring at his fingers, opening and closing them with a fascinated expression. And he was always looking around, seemingly transfixed by the world.
Thank God he didn’t know how much of a battlefield his world really was.
“Ms. Gleason?” A young nurse touched her gently on the shoulder. “Why don’t you get something to eat? Maybe take a walk? You haven’t done either all day.” She reached for the baby. “Justin will be in good hands. You’ve got to take care of yourself or you won’t be able to take care of him.”
Numbly, Amanda nodded. She held Justin for one more brief, desperate moment, then kissed his soft cheek and handed him over to the nurse. How many times had she done that in the past few days? How many more times would she have to do it?
Tears dampening her lashes, she rose, retracing her steps through the reverse isolation unit and out of Sloane Kettering’s Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. She stripped off her mask, gloves and gown, and tossed them into the discard bin, knowing she’d have to repeat the same sterilization process when she returned. She stood there for a moment, head bent, taking deep, calming breaths to bring herself under control. The nurse was right. She’d be of no use to Justin if she fell to pieces. And she’d done enough of that already.
Walking down the corridor, stepping into the elevator, and descending to the main level, Amanda felt the physical pain tearing inside her that always accompanied a separation from Justin. She hated leaving him. She dreaded coming back.
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