I should have died.
Jordan lay on her bloody sheets, her newborn daughter in her arms, and longed for one more hit. She had never hated herself more. Her baby had come two weeks early, and she hadn’t been sober enough to get to the hospital. Giving birth at home had never been part of the plan, but there was no one in her house whose mind was clear enough to care.
What kind of mother traded prenatal vitamins for crystal meth? Her age was no excuse. At fifteen, Jordan knew better than to get high while she was pregnant. Now she had this beautiful little girl with big eyes and curly brown hair, innocence radiating like comfort from her warm skin. That innocence, so rare and short-lived in her family, made the birth all the more tragic. Worse, the baby seemed weak and hadn’t cried much, and sometimes her little body went stiff and trembled.
Was she dying? Had Jordan tied off the umbilical cord wrong? Her mother, who had once worked as a nurse’s aide, had told her to use a shoestring. What if that was wrong? What if she’d waited too long to cut the cord? It wasn’t like she could trust her mother. It was clear she didn’t have Jordan’s or the baby’s best interests in mind.
Jordan had made up her mind to give the baby up for adoption, even though she’d felt so close to her in the last few weeks as her daughter had kicked and squirmed inside her. While she was sober, she’d come to love the baby and dream of a future for her . . . one that bore no resemblance to her own. But once Jordan went back into the arms of her lover — that drug that gave her a stronger high than the love
of a boy — the baby stopped kicking. For the last week of her pregnancy, Jordan believed she was dead. So she’d smothered her fear, guilt, and grief in more drugs.
Then last night her water broke, and cramps seized her. She had responded to her fear as she did every emotion — by taking more drugs. By the time she felt the need to push, it was too late to get to the hospital, even if there had been someone who would drive her. She craved another hit, but she was out of ice. Her mother and brother claimed to be out too. They’d already burned through Zeke’s casino win, so one of them would have to find a way to score. Maybe it was better if they didn’t, though. Her baby needed her.
She wrapped the child in a dirty towel, swaddling it like she’d seen on one of those baby shows. She hadn’t expected to love it so fiercely. The baby had big eyes, and now and then she would open them and look up at Jordan, as if to say, “So you’re the one who’s supposed to protect me?”
The door to her bedroom burst open, and Jordan’s mother, eyes dancing with drug-induced wildness, swooped in with sheets in her hand. She must have been holding out on Jordan. She had a secret stash of dope somewhere that she didn’t want to share.
“Up, up, up,” she said with trembling energy. “Come on, baby, you’ve made a mess. Now let’s clean it up.”
Since when did her mother care about neatness? Rotten dishes festered in every room, and garbage spilled over on the floors. “Mom, I have to get the baby to the hospital. She’s not acting right, and I don’t know about the cord.”
Her mother leaned over the baby, stared down at her with hard, steel-gray eyes. “Looks fine to me. I’ve called the Nelsons. They’ll be here soon. They’re anxious to get their baby.”
The Nelsons? No, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go.
Her mother released the fitted sheet from the corners of one side of the mattress and pulled it up, clearly trying to roll them both out. Jordan braced herself. “Stop! Mom, I can’t.”
“Get up,” her mother said, clapping. “Come on. We’ve got to get the little thing cleaned up before its mommy and daddy come. If they come back here I don’t want them to see these sheets.”
“Mom — you don’t get to pick her parents!” Jordan got up, clutching the baby. Blood rushed from her head, blotches blurring her vision. “I’ve worked it all out with the adoption agency. I’ll call them and tell them — ”
Her mother’s face hardened even more, all her wrinkles from hard living starkly visible now. “It’s a done deal, darlin’. Baby, we have to do this. It’s great for our family! This is the whole reason we let you leave rehab early.”
“It’s not the reason you gave me, Mom. You said you missed me, that I needed my mama while I was pregnant. But it was all a lie.”
Her mother snapped the sheets. “Forty thousand dollars, baby. Do you know how much ice that’ll buy?”
“Just take her to the hospital to make sure she’s all right. Then we can talk about who — ”
“No!” her mother bellowed, and the baby jerked and started to cry.
Jordan pulled the baby’s head up to her shoulder and rubbed her back. She was so tiny, just a little ball. Her arms and legs thrashed, as if she protested her birth into the wrong family.
“Its new parents can take it to the hospital,” her mother said.
“Not it — her!” How could her mother talk about her as if she were an object? “And they’re not her parents. I don’t know them. They’re not on the list the agency gave me.”
Her mother flung the soiled sheets into a corner. The blood had seeped through and stained the mattress. “Look what you did, you piece of trash! Bleeding all over the mattress.”
“If you’d taken me to the hospital — ”
“To do what? Let them arrest you because you were high as a kite while you were giving birth to that kid? Let them arrest me? I’m on probation. You know they can’t see me like this. And you’re fifteen. They might have taken you away from me, put you into foster care. Then where would you be? Or they could take the baby away and put it into foster care. Then we got nothing to show for it. I ain’t gonna
let that happen.”
Jordan squeezed her eyes shut. If she’d only stayed in rehab, under the protective wings of New Day.
She felt dizzy, weak, but as she held the baby, her mother threw the clean sheets at her. “Put these on the bed. But first get that stain out of the mattress.”
“Mom . . . I need some things.” She kept her voice low. “Something to dress her in. Some diapers. Bottles.”
“You can nurse her until they take her. I’m not putting one penny into this. They’re paying me!” She yanked the baby out of Jordan’s arms. “I’ll hold it while you change the bed.”
Jordan hesitated, uneasy about the fragile baby in the hands of a wild woman who didn’t know her own drug induced strength.
“Do it!” her mother screamed.
Again, the baby let out a terrified howl. Jordan took her back. “I will, Mom,” she said softly. “Just let me put the baby down.”
Breathing hard, her mother watched as Jordan laid the baby on the floor and tried to make her comfortable. Then Jordan got a towel and blotted at the blood stain on the mattress, watching the baby from the corner of her eye.
She couldn’t get the stain out, so she grabbed the new sheets and tossed them over the mattress. Out of sight, out of mind, she hoped. As she worked, she panted, fighting dizziness. Her bones ached, and she shivered with chills, though her skin was damp with perspiration.
“Now clean the kid up. I want it to make a good impression. Wish she was a blonde. They pay more for blondes.”
Jordan tried one last time. “Don’t you think she’ll look better to that couple if she’s dressed? They’re not gonna want to take her without a diaper or outfit. Get Zeke to go and get her some things.”
Her mother hesitated, then walked out. A few minutes later, Jordan heard her shrieking at her brother. After a loud exchange, the front door slammed.
Jordan’s hands trembled as she picked up the baby and wrapped her in the towel again. These people her mother had found to take the baby — how did they even know Jordan’s mother and brother, who only hung out with losers and convicts? Forty thousand dollars was a lot of money. Maybe it meant they were desperate for a child and would be good parents.
But something about this whole scheme stank. She couldn’t let it happen.
The baby’s crying grew louder then silenced as her little body arched and jerked. Was this a seizure? Panic drove Jordan to the window. She’d have to climb out with the baby and get to the car. But Zeke had taken it.
Jordan dragged a chair to the window. When Zeke came back, maybe she could make her escape. Her child’s whole life hung on the frayed cord of a lot of maybes. And she knew from past experience that maybes never worked out in her favor.