The Only Solution

By: Leigh Michaels

CHAPTER ONE




Moments after the first tiny whimper, Wendy was already on her feet and reaching for her lightweight terry robe. She hadn’t been asleep, of course – how could anyone sleep after the sort of day she’d had? – but her limbs felt heavy nevertheless, and she blinked irritably at the night light in the baby’s room. Dim though it was, it seemed to assault her tired eyes like a lighthouse beacon.

Rory’s whimpers had rapidly escalated into wails, but when she saw Wendy in the doorway, she began to wave her arms and babble, eager baby noises which almost made sense.

“I thought you were going to start sleeping through the night,” Wendy said as she lowered the crib rail and picked up the child. She flicked a fingertip gently against Rory’s soft cheek. “I gave you definite instructions about that just yesterday, didn’t I?”

Rory giggled and put her fist in her mouth. Wendy laughed, cuddled her close, and carried her to the tiny kitchenette to get a bottle.

Rory’s fist didn’t satisfy her appetite for long, and before her bottle was warmed she was starting to wail again.

Wendy popped the nipple into Rory’s mouth and settled into the rocking chair in the small living room. The baby nestled in her arms, sucking contentedly, and Wendy put her head down on the padded back of the chair and stared at the small Christmas tree in the corner. She hadn’t bothered to plug in the lights, but as the air stirred, strands of tinsel turned silently and gleamed in the dim glow which spilled in from the kitchen.

How many nights had they sat there like this, sharing warmth and nourishment, comfort and hope? Rory was almost five months old now. She had been just six weeks when Marissa put her completely into Wendy’s care.

“It seems like forever,” Wendy said.

She heard the despairing note in her own voice, and looked down at the baby with a sudden urge to explain that she didn’t mean “forever” in a negative sense. She meant that it seemed Rory had always been part of her life, and the thought of giving up this precious child was enough to twist her heart like a soggy dishrag.

To tell the truth, Wendy could hardly remember what her life had been like before Rory came into it. It hadn’t been bad, of course – she loved her job and she had her friends and plenty of interesting things to do – but she hadn’t realized how much everything changed when there was a child involved. Everything was so much more important, now that Rory was intertwined into her future.

Giving up this child would be like tearing the center from her life. It would be every bit as self-destructive as driving her car off a cliff.

And yet, what other choice did she have? She had gone over and over the options. In the last two days, she hadn’t thought of anything else. The problem was, there really was only one thing she could do – the one thing which would rip Wendy apart, but which would be best for Rory.

On the coffee table by the rocking chair lay the pink slip she’d gotten in inter-office mail two days ago. It was not literally pink, of course; it was a letter, on ordinary company stationery, briefly informing her that in two weeks her services would no longer be required.

For an instant, anger boiled up in her. Five years she’d worked for that company, and her boss hadn’t even had the decency to break the news personally.

Rory stopped eating and grunted in protest at being held too tightly. Wendy took a deep breath and forced herself to relax. She really had nothing to complain of; the lack of notice hadn’t been personal. Nearly every other employee had gotten the same news, in exactly the same way. There had been no warning – just a rumor here and there in the last few months that the company wasn’t doing well, but nothing more definite. Not till two days ago, and then there had been only the curt announcement that the bankruptcy papers had been filed and the business would be liquidated, and therefore the employees would be dismissed.

Two weeks before Christmas, Wendy thought bitterly. What a way to celebrate the holidays!

The timing wasn’t quite as heartbreaking for her as for some others, of course. Wendy hadn’t gone overboard on her Christmas shopping, so January’s bills would be no worse than usual. Rory was too tiny to know the difference, and she would rather play with spoons and boxes than toys, anyway. But in some other homes around Phoenix tonight, things were different.

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