“Given up a child, yes. It’s not something that ever goes away. Just … I guess I’m hoping that you make sure it’s truly what you want before you decide.”

She blinked, for the first time seeing both of us, and then she trained her eyes on Taylor. “I’m leaving it up to you. If you choose to also relinquish your rights, I’ll begin the process of looking for candidates for the adoption. A few agencies in San Diego have been recommended to me.”

“If you want to keep the baby,” I said, “I know Taylor will help you.”

He nodded. He seemed a million miles away.

“I don’t need anyone’s help,” Alyssa said, “but I appreciate the offer.”

Taylor reached for me. “Where are you going?” he asked.

My next words caught in my throat. “You should stay. You two have a lot to talk about.”

Taylor began to stand, but I touched his shoulder.

“This decision has nothing to do with me, Taylor. And it’s important.”

Taylor stared at me, taking deep breaths. “What do you mean, it has nothing to do with you?”

“I mean, it’s your decision to make.”

He shifted in his seat. “Just remember what you said to me not ten minutes ago.”

“I remember. I remember a lot of things. Stay here. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

I set down the phone he’d given me on the table and then left Taylor and Alyssa behind.

“Falyn!” he called after me.

But I ignored him.

Out of the lounge, I walked across the lobby, passing Dalton on the way.

I smiled politely and continued through the doors, beginning my trek to downtown. I expected a long walk, but every step I took became more difficult as I fought the urge to sob.

But I would not cry. So many times I’d said—to myself and to Taylor—that we had met for a reason. I’d thought it was so that I could have closure with my past, but sad stories had a funny way of ending the way they’d begun, and the irony of our situation wasn’t lost on me. I had given up my child and couldn’t have more. Taylor was going to stay with me anyway, and by a snowball of events that had started with me, Taylor would have a child of his own after all.

The streetlights were buzzing, flickering as they reacted to the dim light. Stars were beginning to poke through the twilight sky, and I still had a long way to go. The cars whizzed by, a few full of kids, blaring music and honking as they passed, and I walked alone with the reality of what Alyssa’s pregnancy meant sinking in with every step.

Summer was in full swing, and it hadn’t rained in weeks. The world was still green but dry. The intermittent wildfires had brought Taylor’s crew to the area.

The walk to downtown took longer than I’d thought, and I was out of shape. A dark Mercedes G-Wagon slowed next to me, and the tinted passenger window rolled down, revealing Blaire behind the wheel and no one else in the car. I began to walk again, but she honked.

“Falyn?” she called. “Where are you headed, dear?”

“Please let me drive you. We don’t have to talk.”

I looked down the road and then back at Blaire. “Not a word?”

As much as I didn’t want to get in that SUV, my feet were already hurting, and all I wanted was to crawl into my bed and cry. I opened the door and got in.

A victorious smile lit Blaire’s face, and she pulled away from the curb.

After just a quarter of a mile, Blaire sighed. “Your father hasn’t been well. I don’t think this campaign is good for him.”

She pressed her lips together. “The car is still parked in the garage at the house. Your father drives it sometimes to keep everything in order. Still changes the oil. We would like you to have it back.”

“It’s dangerous to walk around alone in the dark.”

“But on the off chance that you do …”

“You said we didn’t have to talk.”

Blaire parked in one of the many empty spots in front of the Bucksaw. “You have to come home, Falyn—or at least let us move you into an apartment and your father can get you a decent job.”

“It’s always about appearances, isn’t it? You couldn’t care less about me.”

“That’s not true. I’m appalled that you live up there in that filth,” she said, looking up at the café’s second floor.

“Don’t you see where keeping up appearances has gotten our family? Your husband is sick. Your daughter wants nothing to do with you. And for what?”

“Because it’s important!” she hissed, her hair swaying when she moved her head.

“To you. It’s only important to you. I’m not obligated to live a life I hate so that you can feel important.”

She narrowed her eyes. “What is wrong with our way of life? Because I want you to go to school? Because I want you to live somewhere that doesn’t need to be condemned?”

“When you say it that way, it sounds wonderful. But you can’t keep omitting the ugly parts. You can’t just erase a pregnancy. You can’t hide a baby. You can’t pretend your daughter isn’t a waitress who doesn’t want to be a doctor. Our life is not a highlight reel. It’s time you stopped pretending it was.”

She inhaled through her nose. “You have always been supremely selfish. I don’t know why I expected tonight to be any different.”

“Don’t come back,” I said before getting out of the car.

I leaned down as the passenger window lowered.

“This is the last slap in the face. If your father loses this campaign because of you, we won’t offer to help you again.”

I thanked her for the ride and then left her alone, ignoring the sound of my name.

By the time I pushed open the glass door, it was night, and I was exhausted—physically, emotionally, and mentally.

The headlights of the G-Wagon poured through the glass wall as Blaire backed out and then disappeared as she pulled away.

The dining area was dark, and I was alone. I sat on the orange-and-white tiles, lay on my side, and then curled up into a ball before crying myself to sleep.

Someone stabbed a finger into my shoulder, and I winced. The person did it again, and I opened my eyes, raising my hand to protect me from another jab.

My vision sharpened, and I saw Pete standing over me, concern in his eyes.

I wiped my face, sitting up. “What time is it?” I asked, not really expecting an answer.

I twisted the narrow leather band on my wrist to see the face of my watch. It was five a.m. on Saturday morning. Chuck and Phaedra would be arriving at any moment.

“Shit,” I said, scrambling to my feet.

Before I could make a dash for the stairs, Pete grabbed my wrist.

I relaxed my shoulders, covering his hand with mine. “I’m okay.”