by Lisa Phipps
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
The next day, Keri picked Mandy up at 7:00 a.m. sharp. The girls had made plans to drive to Billings to buy a guitar and some beginning song books for Mandy. Keri insisted on paying for everything despite Mandy’s protests.
Before leaving town, they went to a department store for a few essentials. As they passed the baby section, the excitement of the day dissipated.
“Can’t we just buy her a little outfit or a teddy bear or something?” Keri asked. “Baby clothes are the absolute cutest.” She reached for a pair of impossibly tiny, fuzzy pink pajamas with an adorable rocking horse on the front. Then she noticed the words: “I love my Mommy!” Keri quickly put them back, but not before Mandy read it.
“It’ll just make it harder,” she said, fighting back tears, and the two girls walked to the checkout line in silence.
On the way home Keri asked, “Are your parents making you give her up?”
“No,” Mandy said, “it’s my decision. What kind of life could I give her? I’m seventeen. I don’t even have a high school diploma. I want to go to college, hopefully get married someday. Then I’ll have a baby, but it will be for the right reasons. Besides, the couple who is getting her has been on a waiting list for almost seven years. This baby is an answer to their prayers. That’s more than you can say for me.”
“I’m glad you didn’t have an abortion.”
“Believe me, I thought about it. It would have been easier than telling my dad. But I knew it would haunt me forever.”
“I think you’re very brave,” Keri said. After a long pause, she continued, “You know, I’ve been thinking about that song, and you’re right: I shouldn’t have written it. My next album is going to be different. Maybe someday someone will tell me I had a positive influence on her life instead of what happened with you.”
“I think you’re very brave, too.” A newfound respect for her friend was reflected in her eyes.
“Put your hand right here,” Mandy said as she began her guitar lesson the next day. She guided Keri’s hand toward her stomach. “Can you feel that?”
“Oh, my gosh!” Keri exclaimed as the baby kicked sharply against her hand. “Does she do that a lot?”
“All the time. Sometimes she wakes me up at night. It’s funny: in the beginning I was desperately hoping for a miscarriage; but now if she goes too long without moving, I panic, thinking something’s wrong.”
The baby gave another great kick, and the girls smiled.
From then on, Keri and Mandy found an excuse to get together or at least talk on the phone every single day. Their friendship flourished. They played guitar, cooked, and went on long walks through the serene pine forests surrounding the cabins. They taught each other their favorite card games, watched movies, and ate popcorn. They even drove all the way to Billings one day because Mandy was craving the Three-Cheese Chicken Cavatappi at Applebee’s.
One afternoon Mandy just couldn’t get the A chord Keri was demonstrating. She seemed distracted and distant. Finally, she gave up and set her guitar aside. “Would you go with me when she’s born?” she asked.
Keri was momentarily speechless.
“Say you will,” Mandy pleaded. “I’m scared, Keri. I don’t want to do this alone.”
“But I don’t know anything about it. Do I have to help you breathe and all that?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never done this before either. But the doctor recommended some YouTube videos on labor and delivery. We can watch them together. I’ve got some books you can read, too. My parents will be so relieved if you go with me. Dad called last night. He said he’s sorry about everything. He wants me to come home so he and Mom can take care of me. I’m glad they called, but I’m not going back. Not now. I don’t want the whole town staring at me, gossiping behind my back. I’ve made it this far; I only have a week left. And I’ve got you, right?” She looked at Keri, the question in her eyes.
“You’ve got me,” Keri answered, hugging her friend. “Of course I’ll go with you.”
On Sunday, the girls took their usual spot in the last pew. The opening song was “Lord of the Dance,” Keri’s favorite. She just couldn’t keep quiet this time. She began the first verse quite softly, but each verse got a little louder until her clear, distinct voice filled the church. A few people were actually turning to look when Mandy’s urgent whisper abruptly halted Keri’s singing.
“I think my water just broke!”
Keri dropped her song book and sprinted out the door. Mandy grabbed her friend’s purse along with her own and slowly waddled after her.
Keri drove to Billings as fast as she dared, her eyes darting back and forth between Mandy and the road. Mandy remained amazingly calm, explaining that the contractions were pretty mild. But by the time the nurse helped her into the hospital bed and hooked her up to various monitors, the pain had intensified. She bravely faced contraction after contraction. Finally, the anesthesiologist arrived to administer an epidural. Keri shuddered and turned away when the long needle plunged deep into her friend’s spine, but Mandy relaxed visibly as the shot took effect.
The afternoon wore on, agonizingly slow. At last the nurse said, “You’re dilated to ten centimeters. Are you ready to push?”
Mandy nodded. The doctor was summoned, and the nurse gently coached the laboring teen, cuing her again and again to strain as the contractions escalated. The effort was exhausting Mandy, who lay sweaty and pale as she clung to Keri’s hand.
“You can do it!” Keri encouraged her. “You got this, girl.”
After what seemed an eternity, the doctor said, “Here she comes! A beautiful baby girl!” She was perfect, all red and slimy, with an awfully loud cry for someone so small.
“Can I hold her?” Mandy’s voice trembled. “Just one time, can I hold her?”
The doctor placed the tiny infant in the teenager’s arms. Tears streamed down Mandy’s cheeks; for a fleeting moment, she experienced the miracle of a mother’s love.
* * *
Keri knocked softly before stepping into Mandy’s hospital room the next morning. “Hey,” she said. “These are for you.” She set a vase of pink carnations on the bedside table. “How are you feeling?”
Mandy looked so frail. “I can’t stop crying, but I guess I’m okay. The doctor said I can be released this afternoon. They named her Amanda, after me.” She handed Keri a notepad. “I’m writing a song for your next album. I’m done with the first verse already.”
I held you just for a moment,
When you were so tiny and new.
That moment will live with me always,
For it is all I have of you.
You won’t remember me at all,
But each day that I go through,
I’ll hope somehow you’ll understand
Why I gave them precious you.
Keri’s tears mingled with Mandy’s as the girls clung to the comfort of each other, the comfort of a friendship so real it would never falter.
* * *
Like most college freshman, Mandy had the radio on just a little too loud when she was driving home for Christmas break.
“It’s time once again for our Music Match Race,” the DJ’s voice blared. “You all know how it works. We play two songs. You call in and vote for your favorite. The winning song stays to meet a new challenger tomorrow. Our current champion has been undefeated four days in a row. The challenger today is Keri Sheraton. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from this young lady, but she’s just put together a brand-new album. This is the title track. It’s kind of sad. It’s called ‘Mandy’s Song’.”
Mandy listened breathlessly as the familiar words came to her in Keri’s clear, melodic voice: I held you just for a moment when you were so tiny and new...” Mandy had never heard her friend sound more beautiful.
Yes, she thought, her eyes brimming with tears, it is kind of sad. But it’s about real life, and real life is sometimes sad. She pulled to the side of the road, and with trembling fingers she reached for her iPhone to vote for “Mandy’s Song.”
Copyright © 2018 by Lisa Phipps