XIX

The computer in Colin’s study had a twenty-five-inch monitor-a good size, even these days. All the same, he had trouble taking in the scale of the photoshe flash drive Kelly stuck into one of his USB ports. “I see red and black. Could be just about anything. Maybe a volcano, or maybe a bunch of shots from somebody’s colonoscopy.”

Kelly gave him a severe look. “Back when we first met in Yellowstone, you said the country didn’t get its enemas there. It got’em in Providence.”

He kissed her. “Migawd-you were listening to me! I’m not used to that any more. Nobody who’s raised children is.”

She laughed. He only wished he were joking. One of these days, she might find out for herself. That was part of the reason he’d asked her down to L.A. Not all of it, but part. She said, “You’re looking down at Yellowstone-for all I know, the part of it where the West Thumb used to be-from about forty thousand feet. No telephoto, no zoom. This is pretty much what I saw when I looked out the Learjet’s window.”

“You were dumb to go.”

“I knew you’d say that.” Her look got more severe. She was an adult. She expected to be treated as one. Colin only sighed. He couldn’t do anything about it, especially after the fact.

He studied the picture again. “So it’s… miles from one side here to the other?” He thought about it for a little while and whistled softly. “That’s-something, isn’t it? Reminds me of the spaceprobe photos from… which moon of Jupiter is it that looks like a sausage-and-anchovy pizza?”

“Io.” Kelly dropped severity and laughed again. “It does look like a pizza, doesn’t it? You come out with the strangest stuff sometimes, but you’re right about that.”

“Wish I could take credit for it, but I read it somewhere,” Colin replied. “And speaking of coming out with strange stuff-” He stopped, muttering to himself. This wasn’t how he’d wanted to do things, dammit. Open mouth, jam in foot. The story of my life, he thought.

“Why? What other strange stuff was on your mind?” Kelly asked.

He sent her a sharp look, but couldn’t read the one she gave back. That he couldn’t read it threw gasoline on his ever-active suspicions. Did she already know, or at least have suspicions of her own? They’d been going together for two and a half years now. Probably something wrong with her if she didn’t have suspicions by now. Or maybe something was wrong with him for not getting to this point a hell of a lot sooner.

Only one way to find out. He took a deep breath. Even so, it was a good thing they were sitting side by side, because when he asked, “D’you want to marry me, Kelly?” she couldn’t have heard him if she’d been on the far side of the room.

“Sure,” she said. He blinked. He’d been expecting and hoping for yes and braced against no. Anything but one of those or the other screwed up his mental IFF for a few seconds.

Then he processed the meaning in the unexpected response. “Is that anything like yes?” he said, wanting to leave no possible doubt.

“Sure,” she said again, this time with mischief in her voice.

“You!” He pulled a small velvet box out of the trouser pocket where his keys usually lived. “Well, since it is kind of like yes, you may want to have a look at this, too.”

Kelly opened the box; the spring hinge clicked when she did. Even the compact fluorescent in the ceiling fixture was plenty to make the diamonds in the ring sparkle. Her eidened. “Ooh!” she said softly. “Pretty!”

“Try it on,” Colin urged.

“Okay.” She slipped it onto her finger. Then she smiled. “I like the way it looks. And it fits, too. I won’t need to get it sized or anything. How did you do that?”

“I hired a guy who used to work for the KGB, back when there was a KGB and a USSR and a bunch of other initials running around loose. These days, he smuggles blintzes and borscht in from Brooklyn. He went through your credit-card records and your cell-phone bills till he found your ring size in there. And he only needed to start working on it a year and a half before I met you.”

He spoke with such assurance, he might have been convincing a jury that no one else could possibly have pulled off this home-invasion robbery. “When you talk like that, I start believing you, no matter how much BS you come out with,” Kelly said. “It’s a good thing I love you, or you’d really be in trouble.”

“It’s a good thing you love me, or I’d really be in trouble,” Colin echoed. By his tone, he meant something different with the same words. He went on, “Good thing I love you, too. Darn good thing-best thing that’s happened to me since I don’t know when.”

“I like that.” Kelly nodded. “And if we both say it the same way thirty years from now, we’ll have done something right.”

“Here’s hoping,” Colin said. He’d thought the same thing, or close enough, when he said I do with Louise. And they did, and then they didn’t: not thirty years’ worth, anyhow. “I would drink to that here, but I’d rather go out to dinner and do it there. How does Miyamoto sound?”

“Too funky for words,” Kelly answered; he’d taken her there before. “Let’s go,” she added, pulling the flash drive out of the computer. Then she spread her fingers, the way women do when they flash a new ring. The diamonds did some more flashing of their own.

Miyamoto was a San Atanasio institution of sorts. Despite the Japanese name, it was a Polynesian place, one of the last survivors of what had been a common breed of restaurant in Southern California around the time Colin was born. It had Easter Island heads and tiki torches out front. The appetizers featured things like rumaki and foil-wrapped chicken, things you just didn’t see in other places any more. The surf-and-turf was lobster and teriyaki steak. The waitresses wore leis. The bartender made rum drinks you normally wouldn’t find anywhere this side of Honolulu.

“Two scorpions,” Colin told the waitress as they sat down in their bamboo-framed booth.

“Hey! What am I gonna drink?” Kelly said. Colin probably gaped. The waitress cracked up-she hadn’t heard that one before, and it caught her by surprise.

“One scorpion for each of us,” Colin said carefully. Still chuckling, the gal in the lei went back to pass along the order.

Colin wondered how many times he’d come here with Louise over the years. A lot, but he liked the place too much to cede it to her after they broke up. He’d never seen her here since. That might have been coincidence. Or maybe Teo was too organic to want to pollute his system with the high-cholesterol goodies Miyamoto dished out. More for me if he is, Coin thought. Less happily, he’d also come back once since the split to investigate a robbery.

The waitress brought back a couple of scorpions, each almost big enough to swim in. They spelled er k with a u here. Even they wouldn’t serve you more than two zombies. That made sense, because you weren’t just drunk after two of those. You were fucking embalmed.

“Are you ready to order yet?” she asked. She scribbled what they wanted and went away again.

Before the food came, the owner wandered over to say hello. Stan Miyamoto was short and stocky. He was about Colin’s age; his son had graduated from San Atanasio High in Vanessa’s class. “I want to say one more time what a good cop you are.” He was talking more to Kelly than to Colin. “The way you caught those guys who held us up, the way you sent them to prison-”

“Part of the job.” Colin didn’t want to tell Miyamoto the only way the crooks could have been dumber was to wear BUST ME! signs. To change the subject, he went on, “Stan, this is my fi-ancee, Kelly Birnbaum.”

The owner, of course, had come over to say hello when Colin visited with Louise, too. You never would have guessed by his smile. “Congratulations! You are a lucky lady, Ms. Birnbaum.”

“I think so. I hope so,” Kelly said.

Miyamoto turned back to Colin. “So you celebrate tonight, do you?”

“We sure do,” he agreed.

“And you choose to do it here? Dinner on the house!”

It was kindly meant. Colin knew that. Back when he was starting out, he would have thanked Stan and enjoyed it. But the world had changed. For better? For worse? For different, anyhow.

“Stan, I can’t,” he said. “I’d like to, but I just can’t. Too darn many regulations about police officers and gratuities. You’re gonna have to take my money whether you like it or not.” Now there was a sentence you didn’t get to trot out every day.

“I am not doing this for Lieutenant Ferguson,” the owner said stiffly. “I am doing this for Colin Ferguson, who is my friend. I hope he is my friend.”

“I hope so, too. But if you want to put your friend’s behind in a sling, you’ll feed him a free dinner. The city council and the accountants would land on me like a ton of bricks.”

“They should get in an uproar about things that need uproar. Heaven knows there are enough of them in this town.” By the way Stan Miyamoto said it, he could think of three or four himself. But he didn’t try to insist any more. Shaking his head, he went back to the kitchens.

Quietly, Kelly said, “I bet a lot of cops would have taken him up on that. I bet they would have got away with it, too.”

“I bet you’re right.” Colin shrugged. “If it doesn’t bother them, it doesn’t, that’s all. It bothers me. If I keep my nose clean all the time, I never need to worry about remembering which lies I told to which people. And if I don’t give an inch, I don’t have to worry about giving a mile, either.”

“Makes sense to me.” She quirked an eyebrow at him, though. “If I get a ticket, I guess you won’t fix it for me.”

“Good guess.” Colin had never fixed any for Louise or the kids. Nobody in his family was a bad driver, so he hadn’t had to worry about it much. Once or twice, a cop might have decided not to write them up when he realized who they were, but that was something he didn’t officially have to know about. He found a more interesting topic: “Here comes dinner.” s all. It was enough food for at least half a dozen people. Leftovers in styrofoam boxes would make lunches and dinners for days. Stan Miyamoto had his own kind of stubbornness. He was going to be generous, by God, whether Colin liked it or not. Sensibly, Colin decided he might as well like it.

Louise Ferguson yawned. She’d been doing that all morning, and she couldn’t figure out why. She’d had a good night’s sleep the night before, but she kept wanting to nod off anyhow.

Mr. Nobashi started to yawn, too. It wasn’t the first time he’d done it today, either. Yawns were as contagious as the common cold. This time, he caught himself in the middle, and almost dislocated his jaw trying to stop. He frowned at Louise as if that were her fault.

“You okay, Mrs. Ferguson?” he asked in his heavily accented English. What he did to her last name was a caution, but she’d been deciphering Japanese accents for as long as she’d lived in San Atanasio-the town had always had a sizable Asian population. The ramen company hadn’t put its American headquarters here by accident.

“I’m fine, Mr. Nobashi, thanks. I really am,” Louise answered, and then made a liar of herself by yawning again.

“You need more coffee,” he declared. He ran on the stuff the way a car ran on gasoline. If Louise guzzled it the way he did, she didn’t think she’d ever go to bed. He poured himself a fresh cup now. He also poured one for her, and set it on her desk.

“Thank you very much, Mr. Nobashi,” she said in amazement. Subordinates took care of small things for superiors here. It rarely worked the other way around.

With him watching her, she took a sip. She smiled and nodded and thanked him again. She didn’t yawn, even if she wanted to. He nodded back and took his own refill into his sanctum. He got on the phone there and started barking at someone in Japanese laced with English profanity.

Louise… yawned yet again. She started to drink some more coffee, but set the cup down. It didn’t taste right somehow; it seemed harsh and metallic. The trouble wasn’t in the brew. She was sure of that. She’d made it herself. Neither Mr. Nobashi nor anyone else noticed anything out of the ordinary.

If it wasn’t the coffee, it was her. She wondered if she needed to go to the doctor. She hoped like hell she didn’t. She had medical coverage because she worked here, but it wasn’t nearly as good as what she’d got through Colin. You didn’t think about such things when you’d just fallen in love. Unfortunately, they didn’t go away just because you weren’t thinking about them. Deductibles, copays… Seeing Dr. DiVicenzo would cost her more than it had in the old days, dammit.

What could make her sleepy all the time-and tired, too, because she had been the past few days-and make coffee taste lousy, too? Whatever it was, it seemed unfair. Coffee was the best legal weapon when you got worn out.

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt like this. And then, all of a sudden, she could. She let out a startled squawk of laughter. She hadn’t even thought about that in twenty-odd years. Yes, her period was a few days late, but so what? Her cycle was getting erratic anyway. Pretty soon, it would stop. She wouldn’t miss tampons and pads and cramps, not even a little bit.

“It’s nutso,” she said out loud. Had she worn her diaphragm every single time she’d gone to bed with Teo? She knew damn well she hadn’t. When you started making love, pausing to go into the john and smear the contraption (Colin had called it a manhole cover-the kind of thing he thought was funny) with contraceptive goop was a great way to break the mood. She hadn’t thought she was taking a chance, or much of one.

She still couldn’t believe it. The rabbit died-laughing. That was what the gal on the ’70s TV show said when she found out she was going to have a change-of-life baby. She hadn’t wanted her life to change that way, so she got an abortion instead.

“Ridiculous,” Louise said. This had to be something, anything, else. Dr. DiVicenzo would tell her she’d come down with a virus. Or he’d tell her it was all her imagination. His fee would be real, though.

Not long before the lunch break, Louise did nod off. It was only for a couple of minutes, and she was sure she woke up again before anybody saw her, but even so… Sometimes you felt refreshed after a little nap. Louise felt she needed another little nap. A big one would be even better.

In lieu of coffee, she went into the ladies’ room and splashed cold water on her face. That did help, some. She had to repair her makeup afterwards. No one walked in on her. Sometimes lucky was better than good: one more notion she’d heard from her ex. You could wash a man right out of your hair, but washing him out of your brain was a hell of a lot harder.

She gulped her brown-bag sandwich (Swiss and turkey ham on rye) and apple at her desk. Then she drove to the Walgreens a few blocks from the ramen works. Half a dozen brands to choose from. The supervolcano hadn’t kept them from getting here, or maybe they were made locally. When she went to the register, she started to pull out her Visa, then thought better of it and paid cash instead.

You didn’t have to kill a rabbit nowadays, or mess around with frogs, or anything icky like that. Louise went back into the ladies’ room. In the privacy of a stall, she peed on the Clearblue test strip. She supposed she’d bought that one because this whole thing came out of the Clearblue sky.

She didn’t wear a watch any more. She used the clock in her cell phone to count off the minutes till the result that showed was reliable. She didn’t, she wouldn’t, she flat-out refused to, look at the strip till then.

Time. “Ready or not, here I come,” she muttered, as if at hide-and-seek. She looked.

PREGNANT. The letters were bright red. It didn’t feel like a red-letter day. It felt like… She didn’t know what it felt like. The end of the world as we know it. She heard the bouncy song in her head. She didn’t feel fine, though. She felt-sleepy, dammit.

No one else had come in while she sat on the pot waiting out the test. No one was in there when she chucked the Clearblue box and the test strip. She covered them with paper towels even so. Afterwards, she scrubbed her hands like Lady Macbeth. Germs wouldn’t trouble her. Like exes, other things were harder to wash away.

“You better now?” Mr. Nobashi asked her in his telegraphic English as she tried to settle herself at her desk.

“I think so,” she lied. The rabbit might have died laughing. What would Teo say? She didn’t suppose he’d be so amused. She didn’t think things were very funny herself, for that matter. What am I going to do? she wondered. Have it? Get rid of it? Both prospects seemed equally appalling.

She checked some inventories for Mr. Nobashi. He waed to figure out why shrimp ramen was selling better in Seattle than anywhere else in the USA. They hated beef ramen there, but it outsold shrimp two-to-one in Chattanooga. Again, he wanted to know why. Louise couldn’t have cared less, but she could scare up numbers for him to plug into his spreadsheets.

Her cell rang. She fished it out of her purse. “Hello?”

Colin growled in her ear: “Hi, Louise.”

“ What is it?” she snapped. Of all the people in the world she wanted to hear from right this minute, he couldn’t have rated higher than next to last.

He paused for a moment, then said, “Thought for a second there I called Vanessa by mistake.”

“Sorry.” Again, Louise lied. “Look, whatever it is, make it snappy, will you? I’m pretty busy here.” One more fib.

“Well”-he breathed out hard, a sure sign she’d pissed him off-“all I wanted to tell you was that I asked Kelly to marry me, and she said yes. If you don’t care about that, I’ll go off and eat worms, I guess.”

“Sorry.” This time, Louise sounded more like someone who meant it. “Congratulations! Or do I say good luck to the groom? I never remember.”

“You congratulate me and wish her luck. Sounds about right.” Colin still sounded very much like Colin. He went on, “How are things with you?”

Not bad. I’m going to have a baby. Louise didn’t say it. The only thing she was sure of was that Colin hadn’t had thing one to do with it. Sooner or later, if she decided to keep it, she’d have to let him know. Later. Not sooner. “I’m tired,” she answered: a tiny fragment of the truth, with none of the reason behind it.

“You sound like it,” he said. Was that a dig, something on the order of You sound like an old lady? Louise wouldn’t have been surprised. You always had to look twice-sometimes three times-at things that came out of Colin’s mouth. You’d be sorry if you didn’t.

Well, he could dig and jab as much as he pleased. She wasn’t an old lady by the most fundamental way to judge that. Her biological clock wasn’t just ticking. The alarm on the damn thing had gone off. She was alarmed, all right.

“You there, Louise?” Colin asked when she didn’t say anything right away.

“I’m here,” she replied.

“Are you okay? Is Teo treating you the way he ought to? Anything like that, you let me know, you hear? I’ll take care of it.”

“Teo is treating me fine. Don’t do anything dumb because you’ve got a case of the imaginaries-do you hear me?” she said sharply. He treats me better than you ever did. Louise didn’t come out with it. Vanessa would have. She knew that. But living most of her adult life with Colin left her convinced he’d done his best, at least when he thought of it. Trouble was, his best didn’t come close to being good enough.

“Okay,” he said. “So long, Louise. Take care.” He hung up.

Teo was treating her so fine, he’d gone and knocked her up. And what would he say when she told him that? Whatever it was, she expected she could take it at face value. Unlike Colin, he didn’t think sarcasm was a spectator sport.

At about half past three, Mr. Nobashi came over to her and said, “You want to go home early? Not much going on, and you maybe could use some rest, neh? ” He was, she supposed, doing his best to be tactful in a language not his own. What could that mean but You look like something the cat dragged in?

“It’s okay, Mr. Nobashi. I’ll make it till quitting time. Thank you, though.” Louise got paid by the hour. She didn’t want her check docked-and it wasn’t as if she were actually sick. She managed a smile, adding “Arigato” so he’d know she was picking things up on the job.

He grinned in surprise and bobbed his head in what was almost a bow. “You go,” he said. “We not worry about clock, okay?”

The thanks in Japanese must have done it. That wasn’t a corporate thing for him to say, but maybe a nice guy lurked under the salaryman after all. Louise wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. “Thank you very much, Mr. Nobashi!” she said, and then “Arigato!” one more time.

She was out of there before he had the chance to change his mind. When she got back to the condo, she lay down on the couch for a little while and closed her eyes. Just to rest them, she told herself. Next thing she knew, Teo was unlocking the door.

He laughed when he saw her confusion. “Hello, sleepyhead!” he said, hurrying over to kiss her. “You must have had a tough day if you sacked out as soon as you came in.”

“Mr. Nobashi let me off a couple of hours early,” she said. “On the company’s dime, if you can believe it.”

The way he blinked said it wasn’t easy. “Why’d he do that?” he asked. Louise explained about arigato. Teo was still puzzled when she finished, wondering, “Okay, but why did he want to let you off early to begin with?”

“I was all tired, and I guess I looked kind of green around the gills, too,” Louise said. She hoped the morning sickness wouldn’t be too awful this time around. Colin had dubbed her the Duchess of York for the way she kept tossing her cookies when she was pregnant with Rob. She’d hardly been sick at all with Vanessa, and kind of in-between carrying Marshall.

“You look fine now,” Teo said. “You always look good to me, love.”

That made her smile. Teo had a knack for making her smile. She wasn’t surprised to hear she looked all right now. She’d been asleep for-what? — close to two and a half hours. She wondered if she’d be able to sleep later on tonight. From what she remembered, she wouldn’t have any trouble at all.

Teo went on, “But what made you so out of it at work? It must’ve been bad, or he wouldn’t’ve turned you loose like that. You need to go to the doc or something?”

She would need to see her gynecologist soon. Frank Russell, who’d delivered her babies, had long since retired. Last she’d heard, he was living in Palm Springs, painting watercolors of the desert, and selling some of them for pretty good money. She didn’t like Dr. Suzuki so much, but she thought he knew his business.

“I think I know what’s cooking with me,” she said.

“Yeah? Tell, love, tell.”

You couldn’t be a little bit pregnant. You couldn’t break the news by easy stages, either. Louise wished you could. Her life was about to get more complicated. No. Her life had already got more complicated. Now she had to announce the fact. She wanted a drink-but that wouldn’t be good for her passenger. She took a deep breath instead: as inadequate a substitute as you could find. “I’m going to have a baby, Teo.”

He giggled. “That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in I don’t know when! I didn’t know you could do a straight face like that, either. Oh, my God!” He was practically holding his sides.

“I’m not kidding,” Louise said. “I’m pregnant. I’m sleepy like you wouldn’t believe, my coffee tastes weird-tastes lousy-”

“That stuff doesn’t mean squat,” Teo broke in. He didn’t want to believe it. Well, how could she blame him when she didn’t want to believe it herself?

“I wasn’t done,” she said. “My period’s late. I know it’s getting erratic”- I know I’m getting old lay behind that-“but still. And today at lunch I got a pregnancy test at the drugstore, and I peed on it in the head at work. I’m pregnant, all right.”

He stared at her. For the very first time since they’d been together, his dark eyes seemed opaque. She couldn’t tell what was going on behind them. “You mean it,” he said slowly, and his voice was as guarded as his expression.

“I sure do.” Louise nodded. “You’re going to be a daddy, Teo.”

“Well…” If he was pleased, he did a mighty good job of not showing it. He licked his lips. He’d never been a father before, and he hadn’t looked to be a father now. She’d already been through pregnancy three times. Not out of wedlock, though, she thought. Maybe this would make him do something about that. Louise hadn’t worried about a piece of paper, but it mattered when a child was involved. He pulled in a deep breath of his own, then expelled it in a sigh. “It’s still real early, right? You could, um, dispose of it, like?”

“Yes. I could.” Louise didn’t know why she was so disappointed. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t had the same thought. But she hadn’t looked for it to be the first thing she heard from him. “I don’t know that I want to, though. It’s something we made together, after all, something wonderful.”

“It’s an oops. We didn’t intend to do it,” Teo said.

“No, we didn’t,” she agreed. And if that didn’t win next year’s Oscar for Best Understatement, whoever did take the statuette home was bound to have cheated. “But it happened, and we’ve got to deal with it.”

“Getting rid of it is dealing with it,” Teo said. “Then we don’t have to worry about it any more.”

“I’m not sure I want to do that,” Louise repeated. “You shouldn’t make up your mind right away, either. We don’t have to decide anything tonight. We’ve got some time to think about it.”

“What’s to think about? It just messes everything up. You ought to know that better than I do,” Teo said.

Kids did mess up your life. Louise sometimes thought that was their sole function in life. They didn’t stop when they got to be self-winding, either, the way you thought they would. Even so… “They give back more than they take away,” Louise said. “Ask your folks.”

“What do they know?” Teo said. His father was a carpenter, his mother a housewife. They weren’t educated people, but they were plenty nice enough. “They went crazy trying to keep us all fed and in shoes and like that. Who needs the hassle if you don’t have to put up with it?”

“Let’s talk about it later.” Louise had never seen Teo like this. Plainly, he needed some time to get used to the idea. He didn’t want to look at it yet, much less to like it. She could see him outside jogging with a little boy who looked just like him. She could see the little boy staring up proudly at the great big man who was his daddy. How sad Teo couldn’t picture it, too.

Later didn’t happen the rest of the evening. They slept together, the way they always did, but it didn’t feel as warm and loving as usual to Louise. Teo might have been on the far side of the country, or on the far side of the moon. Louise tried to tell herself she was having the vapors, but she had trouble convincing herself. She also didn’t have long to do the telling; she fell asleep as if someone had slipped a Mickey Finn into the water she drank after she brushed her teeth.

Next morning was no better. She staggered around like a zombie, awake but not alive. She made coffee, but she couldn’t get more than a third of the cup down. It tasted nasty, so nasty she wondered if she’d give it back.

And Teo was out the door in nothing flat. He did remember to kiss her good-bye. She didn’t think he’d missed a day since they got together. But if ever anyone was going through the motions, he was then. Again, Louise tried to think she was seeing things that weren’t there, or it was nothing but her hormones running wild (which they were, and would be), or-anything. Again, she had trouble believing it.

Mr. Nobashi greeted her at Ramen Central with, “You better today?”

“I sure hope so,” Louise answered. “Thanks again for giving me some time off yesterday. It helped a lot.”

“Good,” he said gruffly, and went back into his inner office. Which was a good thing, because not thirty seconds later Louise yawned almost wide enough to make the top of her head fall off.

Wondering how she’d ever make it till half past five, she sat down and started messing around with the inventory spreadsheets. She wondered what would happen if she just entered numbers at random. Would ramen-scarfers all over the country start pining for their favorite flavors, or else find themselves swamped with them? Would she get fired and find herself unemployed as well as knocked up? Or would nobody notice or care?

Mr. Nobashi bawled for coffee. Then he bawled for sweet rolls. Then he hollered for sweet rolls and coffee. Hopping up to bring him goodies every so often kept Louise from sacking out at her desk. Nice to think Mr. Nobashi was good for something.

When she carried in the sweet rolls and coffee, he was just getting off the phone after a conversation with headquarters in Hiroshima. “Weather very bad in Japan,” he said. “Very cold. Hiroshima is warm. Like Los Angeles warm, only sticky. They have snow there, thirty centimeters snow.” He paused. “A foot, you say.”

“Wow! That’s a lot of snow,” she said. It hadn’t snowed here, but it was the rainiest winter she remembered.

“Only get worse, too. Supervolcano number-one bad,” Mr. Nobashi said. She couldn’t very well argue with that.

Patty came by her desk to yak for a bit. After a little while, she asked, “You feelin’ okay, sweetie?”

“I’ll live,” Louise said, as dryly as if she were Colin.

“Well, okay. You seem a little peaked, that’s all.” Patty was gossip-hungry. She’d have something to gab about when Louise’s belly started swelling. For now, though, Louise didn’t feel like sharing the news. Patty eventuay went away.

Somehow, Louise staggered through the day. She was fixing dinner when Teo came in. He was bright and cheerful-in a superficial way. He talked about how his day at the exercise studio had gone. He told a dumb joke he’d heard. He didn’t say word one about the elephant in the room.

After dinner, Louise tried to bring it up. Teo changed the subject. He hardly even seemed to have heard her. If he kept on doing that, Louise knew she would get mad at him. If she’d had a little more energy, she might have got mad then and there. Or she might not have. He’d built up a lot of capital with her. A couple of days of acting like a jerk-even if it was about something important-didn’t come close to burning through it.

She wondered if making love would help. But, even though she did everything except send up a flare, he didn’t take the hint. He just went to sleep, earlier than usual. Disappointed, so did she. Disappointed or not, she zoned out as if knocked over the head. She’d always thought you slept a lot while you were pregnant because you sure as hell wouldn’t afterwards.

He was gone the next morning before she got up. That was funny; they usually woke up together. Maybe he’d told her why the night before, but she was too sleepy to recall. The condo felt strange with her fixing breakfast alone.

Another day at the ramen mill. She survived it. She didn’t doze off or do anything to give Patty more ideas than she had already. It was raining again when she went out at half past five. On the way home, somebody rear-ended the VW in the lane next to hers. No one got hurt, but neither car would be going anywhere without making a body shop happy.

When she walked into the condo, her first thought was that a burglar had hit it. Then she realized the only stuff missing was Teo’s. Favorite chair. Clothes. DVDs. CDs. Computer. TV. Gone.

A note lay on the bed. I am sorry, Louise read, but I am not made to be a father. If you can make the payments, keep the place. I won’t give you no trouble about it. It was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it? But nothing lasts forever.

He’d scribbled a signature under the last four words. No forwarding address. She could try his cell, but what were the odds he’d answer? She tore the note into little pieces before she started to cry.

Contents