His throat ripples as he swallows. Then he looks away and his voice is hushed, like he’s afraid to say the words too loudly. “Did you know, the number one cause of death for pregnant women is murder?”
I do know that. Just one of the fun fucking facts criminal defense attorneys get to know. A woman is never more vulnerable—in every conceivable way—than when she’s carrying a child.
Raymond doesn’t wait for me to answer. “But one thousand ninety-five women died last year—in childbirth. Healthy women. And that’s not counting the thousands who died from pregnancy-related complications.”
“Diabetes, hypertension, blood clots—all kinds of things can go wrong.”
“Placenta abruption, infection, hemorrhaging—a human being can bleed out in under one hundred and twenty seconds. Sometimes—”
“Raymond, stop.” My voice snaps the air, like the crack of a whip.
He blinks at me, his pale lips going still. I put my hand on his shoulder and squeeze. “None of those things are going to happen to your aunt.”
“I’m not going to let them happen.”
He shakes his head slowly. “You can’t protect her from it.”
Raymond shoots to his feet. “No, you can’t! If you want to lie to the other kids so they’re not scared, go ahead—but don’t lie to me. I know better. And so do you.”
He breathes hard, looking at me like he can read my thoughts, see my deepest fears. I scrub my hand down my face, glance to the spot beside me, and say, “Sit.”
After he’s settled back on the bench, I force confidence into my voice. Because optimism isn’t one of my better traits. But I have to say something.
“There are dangers in pregnancy—yes—but obsessing over statistics and every freak possibility isn’t going to help anything. You have to think positively.”
He stares down at the blacktop between his feet, and his voice falls even softer. Monotone.
“The night my parents got into the accident, we were with a babysitter. She was in college, I think—one of my dad’s interns. She didn’t tell us they were . . . gone. Only that they’d been in a car accident, that Aunt Chelsea was on her way. She said we should think good thoughts, and pray.” He looks up at me with shiny eyes, drowning with remembered grief. “So I did. I prayed really hard, Jake.” His voice breaks, choking on the words. “It didn’t help.”
Raymond turns away as his face crumples. Because he’s thirteen years old—and boys aren’t supposed to cry. But I wrap my arm around him, pull him tight against me.
Because as far as I’m concerned, he can cry all he fucking wants.
His shoulders shudder and his face presses against my shirt. I rest my lips on his dark hair—which smells like grass and still-childish sweat. And my heart breaks for him, because there’s nothing I can say. No words to make this better. It’s just something he has to feel. Go through.
All I can do is hold on to him.
When the worst of it seems to pass, when his shaking turns to sniffling, I crouch down in front of him, my hands on his bony knees. “Raymond, sometimes, in life, brutal, unfair things happen to us. You don’t need me to tell you that. But there’s a lot of good, too. Unexpected, beautiful good. And if you spend all your time worrying about the bad stuff, you might miss out on enjoying all the amazing things. I don’t want that for you—your parents wouldn’t want that for you, either.”
He wipes his nose with the back of his hand. “Are you scared? For Aunt Chelsea?”
I tilt my head. “Well, I am now. Thanks for that.”
He snorts—a wet, clogged sound—because he knows I’m teasing.
But, then, I realize I’m not.
“What do you do when that happens?”
I blow out a breath. “I focus on the things I can change, on the things I can do to make a difference. I mean, you have to know that your aunt is young and she has the best doctors—so the odds that this will happen without a single problem are really good.”
I squeeze his leg. “Then here’s what we’re going to do—you and me together. We’ll take care of her, make sure she rests and eats right, and we’ll think about how nuts and awesome it’s going to be to have a baby in the house again.”
“And when you get scared, when those dark worries creep up on you, you don’t look at your computer in the middle of the night. You bring those worries to me, okay? Because you’re not alone, Raymond. We’ll talk about it and figure things out together. Can you do that for me?”
Raymond takes his glasses off, dries them on his T-shirt, then slides them back on.
I give his head another hug as I stand—smacking him on the back.
Raymond peers out into the backyard. “I’m gonna stay out here for a few minutes if that’s okay?”
I walk back toward the house but only make it a few steps before Raymond calls my name. When I turn around, he says, “You know, Jake, my dad was a really great dad.”
I smile. “I know. I can tell by how you guys are turning out.”