Shadows of Yesterday(5)

By: Sandra Brown

“Chad, could you please hand me my bag? I think I should wrap her in something.”

“Sure,” he said, glancing down at the naked newborn. He braked long enough to haul the small suitcase onto the front seat. “All set? Are you okay?”

She smiled across the interior of the car at him. “I’m fine.”

Her smile was returned. He seemed about to speak, but changed his mind and steered the small car onto the narrow highway. It bounced over the bumpy shoulder until it gained the pavement. Leigh bit her lip against the discomfort.

“I’m sorry. I know you’re sore, but you didn’t seem to have much bleeding or anything. I don’t think you’ll suffer too much once you get treatment.”

Leigh rummaged through the overnight bag on the seat. In it she found an old comfortable T-shirt and wrapped the baby in its softness. “Lucky I had this along,” she said absently.

“Where had you been or where were you going as the case might be?”

“I had been to Abilene. A sorority sister of mine got married last night. I had taken my one good maternity dress to wear to the wedding,” she said, indicating the garment bag hanging on the hook beside the back seat. “But I knew when some of us got together, it would be like a slumber party. So I packed some other clothes for comfort.”

He grinned down at the orange University of Texas T-shirt she had covered the baby with. “It was Providence.” His brows lowered over his eyes, and he shifted them off the road long enough to look at her seriously. “You had no business driving alone like that. When were you due?”

“Not for two more weeks. But you’re right. I was asking for trouble. I wanted to go to that wedding so badly, and there was no one to go with me, so…” She let the end of the sentence trail off.

“Why didn’t you stay on I-twenty? It goes straight from Abilene into Midland.”

“I was driving a friend home from the wedding. She lives in Tarzan. I had to see a town named Tarzan, Texas. My pains didn’t start until I’d left there.”

He cursed on a soft laugh.

She looked down at her fretful daughter. “I only hope my baby’s all right.”

“Her lungs are okay,” Chad said, grinning.

The baby girl wailed. Her face became mottled as small limbs thrashed against her mother. Worried the baby’s crying would irritate him, Leigh looked nervously at Chad. He was concentrating on his driving, which wasn’t difficult since there wasn’t another car on the highway. What would have happened to me if Chad hadn’t come by when he did? Leigh thought as she shifted the baby from one arm to another.

They were still twenty miles from Midland when the baby’s cries became even more strenuous. Leigh looked at Chad, who met her worried gaze across the seat. He slowed the car, stopping in the middle of the highway. On this stretch of road there was nothing between Leigh’s car and the horizon in any direction.

“What should I do?” Leigh asked in consternation. What would this man know about babies? He wasn’t even married. Yet she found herself turning to him and not even examining why it seemed so natural to do so.

He ran a weary hand around the back of his neck and pushed away a loose strand of sun-bleached hair from his forehead. “I don’t know. Maybe if you… uh… fed her…”

Leigh was grateful that the violet light of dusk covered her confusion. “I won’t have any… any milk for a few days.”

“I know, but maybe just… you know… an instinctive need for… comfort.” He shrugged.

The baby screamed louder. The tiny blue veins on her head stood out alarmingly as her flailing fists pummeled her mother. Making the decision for her, Chad slid his hand across the back of the seat and pulled at the tied shoulder strap of Leigh’s sundress. Not able to look at him, she shook her shoulder, easing the dress down until her breast was free. Cupping it, she nudged it toward her daughter’s angry face. With a surprising accuracy, the baby’s mouth found and greedily fastened onto her mother’s nipple.

Spontaneously Leigh and Chad started laughing. For long moments they chuckled over the baby’s avid, noisy sucking. When Leigh raised her eyes to Chad’s, he was no longer looking at the baby, but at her. And his look halted her laughter abruptly.

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