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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
368 pages
Sep 2004

River's Edge

by Terri Blackstock

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

The cramps woke Morgan at 3:30 a.m., startling her out of a deep slumber. She’d been immersed in a dream about a little girl on a swing set, her long brown hair flowing on the breeze. She knew without a doubt that the child was the baby she was carrying.

The cramps offered a stark warning, as if her anxiety had shaped into a blunt instrument that bludgeoned her hope.

She sat up, her hand pressed over her flat stomach, and looked at Jonathan, who slept peacefully next to her. Should she wake him to tell him she was cramping, or just be still and wait for it to pass?

She had taken the home pregnancy test yesterday morning, then followed up with a blood test at her doctor’s office that afternoon. Jonathan sat in the examining room with her, fidgeting and chattering to pass the time. When the nurse came back with the verdict, he sprang to his feet, muscles all tense, like a tiger tracking a gazelle.

“Before I tell you the results, I need to know if I’m bearing good or bad news.”

Jonathan glanced at Morgan, and she knew he was way too close to calling the woman a smart aleck and warning her not to toy with them. “Come on, just tell us.”

“But do you want to be pregnant? Is good news a yes or a no?”

Before he could grab the nurse by the shoulders and shake the playfulness out of her, Morgan blurted out, “Yes! More than anything!”

“Are we going to have a baby or not?” Jonathan asked.

“Congratulations!” The word burst out of the nurse’s mouth, and Morgan came off the table, flinging herself into his arms, and they yelled like kids as he swung her around.

They agreed not to announce it until today, so they could share that first night of giddy excitement, crushing the secret between them.

They waited until Caleb, their eighteen-month-old foster child, was sound asleep, then went across the street to Hanover House’s private stretch of beach. They giggled and danced under the May moonlight, to the music of the waves whooshing and frothing against the shore. When they’d finally gone to bed, they lay awake until close to midnight, wondering if it would be a girl or a boy, and how soon they would be able to see their child on a sonogram. Jonathan held Morgan and whispered about soccer games and ballet, piano lessons and PTA.

Finally, they had both fallen asleep, and now she didn’t want to wake him. It was probably nothing. Just something she ate last night. She would have to be more careful now.

But as the moments dragged on the cramping grew worse, and she couldn’t ignore it. She folded her arms across her stomach and slid her feet out of bed. She sat up and realized it was worse, even, than she thought. There was blood.

“Oh, no.” The words came out loud and unbidden, and Jonathan turned over and looked up at her in the night.

“Baby, what is it?”

She turned on the lamp. “Oh, Jonathan ...”

He looked at her with an innocent, terrible dread, expecting something, though not clear what. Slowly, he sat up. “What?”

A sob rose in her throat as she pointed to the mattress.

For a moment they both just stared at it, the blood-spot of a dream dying.

Their unformed, barely real, secret baby dying.

Then he jolted out of his stunned stupor and sprang out of bed. “Are you okay?”

“I’m losing it.” The words bubbled up in her throat. “Jonathan, I’m losing the baby!”

“We’re going to the hospital. Maybe it’s not what you think. Maybe they can stop it.” He pulled on the jeans hanging over a chair by the bed.

Maybe he was right. Maybe the baby was still there, nestled in its little sac, unscathed by whatever thing had broken loose in her. Or if not, maybe the medical staff could ward off danger, stop the impending doom, give her some magic pill to make it hang on.

She quickly got dressed while Jonathan woke Sadie—their seventeen-year-old foster daughter and Caleb’s sister—to tell her of the emergency and ask her to listen for her little brother in case they weren’t back when he awoke.

Then Jonathan helped Morgan out to the car as though she were a sick woman who couldn’t walk on her own. She tried not to make sudden moves, not to walk too hard, not to cramp so tightly.

But it all seemed out of her control.

“It’s okay, baby,” Jonathan said as he drove at breakneck speed across the island. “We’ll be in Savannah in no time.”

Was it already too late? The drive from Cape Refuge to the closest hospital was too far. She cried quietly, staring out the windshield, praying that God would intervene.

“God’s going to save her,” he muttered as he drove. “He has to.”

Morgan’s face twisted. “Her ... you said her.” She looked over at him and saw the tears on his face. “You think it’s a girl?”

He didn’t answer. “God, please ...”

She sobbed as he drove, her hand pressed against her stomach. What kind of mother am I? I couldn’t keep it safe for a day? Her tears were cold against her face in the breeze of the air-conditioner.

Jonathan’s lips moved in some silent monologue—a desperate preacher’s prayer of faith and hope—or the angry railing of a seaman who saw terror coming and believed he could head it off with enough threats. His hands clutched the steering wheel, and occasionally he reached over to touch her with fearful reassurance.

Finally, they reached St. Joseph’s, and Jonathan pulled up to the emergency room door. He got out and ran to Morgan’s side, helped her out. There was blood all over the back of her robe, and some of it had soaked into the seat.

“I need help here!” Jonathan helped her through the sliding glass door. “Please, someone help!”

But Morgan knew there was no help for her baby. It was already too late.

@1BM_FIRST = Two hours later, they rode home in silence, each mired in their own despair. As she’d known he would, the doctor confirmed her fears. She had miscarried her child.

Guilt and anguish ached through her body.

How would Jonathan ever forgive her?

They both wept quietly as the sun rose over the Atlantic, heralding a day that others would find beautiful and welcome. But she would do anything to turn the clock back to this time yesterday.

Jonathan pulled their car into the shade of the red cedars at the end of the gravel driveway. Their house loomed big in the morning light, the yellow paint glowing like the sun, the Victorian trim clean and white. Gus—one of the home’s residents—had done some repairs on the house and coated it with fresh paint a couple of weeks ago. The full ferns on the porch overflowed their urns in bright, life-filled green. Impatiens in yellow, red, and purple lined the front of the house, well cared for by the home’s other residents. It was one of those chores that helped their charges integrate back into the world after time on the streets or in jail. Cause-and-effect lessons about working hard, taking care, cultivating and nurturing, and reaping good results. The testimony of a job well done.

She spoke that lesson to them so many times, reminding them that obedience to God, self-discipline, and love all added up to blessings too numerous to count.

Yet here she was, a poster child that the opposite was true.

The front door to the big yellow house was still closed. Maybe that meant that no one was up yet. If they were, the door would have been open, letting in light, along with the ocean sounds from just across the street, through the glass storm door.

Morgan hoped no one knew where she’d been. She didn’t want to explain this to anyone but Sadie.

Jonathan helped her out of the car and walked her up the porch steps.

Sadie met them at the door, her eyes red-rimmed and worried. “I’m so glad to see you, Morgan!” She threw her arms around her. “I thought you were dying or something.”

“I’m sorry we worried you, honey.” Morgan held her in a tight, reassuring embrace.

“Jonathan didn’t say what was wrong. I saw the blood on your bed ...”

“I’m fine, really.”

“But what’s wrong? What happened?”

Her effort not to cry twisted her face. “Honey, I found out yesterday that I was pregnant. And this morning ... I miscarried.”

At seventeen Sadie had seen the dark side of life, and she knew what it meant to grieve. Her expression bore the weight of Morgan’s news, and she pulled her back into a hug. “Oh, Morgan. I’m so sorry.”

Morgan didn’t want the girl to suffer with her, so she tried to hold herself together. “I want you to keep this to yourself. I haven’t even told Blair yet. And there’s no need for anyone else to know, okay?”

Sadie wiped a tear. “Okay.”

Jonathan stroked Morgan’s hair. “Why don’t you go get changed and lie down? I’ll clean up the car.”

She nodded and started toward the stairs.

“I changed the sheets,” Sadie said. “The bed is clean.”

“Thank you, sweetie.”

Morgan went in, trudged up the stairs, and took a quick shower to clean up. She got dressed, and with her long, curly dark hair still wet, slipped into Caleb’s room. He slept soundly in his crib, his thumb shoved into his mouth. Within the next hour, the eighteen-month-old would wake up and cry out for her. She wished she didn’t have to wait.

She wanted to pick him up and hold him, crush him to herself, assuage those maternal hormones that hadn’t gotten the news.

She didn’t think she could have loved him more if he’d been her own son. But he wasn’t.

Caleb Seth Caruso had a mother who was serving time in prison on drug charges. Morgan was merely a temporary caretaker until his mother was set free. She started to weep again, and left the room so she wouldn’t wake him. He didn’t deserve to see her like this.

She went back into the bedroom. Jonathan was sitting on the bed, his face white, expressionless. “I want you to lie down,” he said. “When Caleb wakes up, I’ll get him.”


“Are you feeling all right? Physically, I mean?”

“Yeah, the cramping is getting better.” She hated what that meant.

He sat down and looked at the wall, and she knew that he felt the loss as keenly as she. “We are going to be parents, sweetheart,” he said. “I know it doesn’t seem like it, but we are.”

She nodded. They had been trying for over a year. In the scheme of things, she supposed it wasn’t as bad as other couples who’d tried for seven, nine, twelve years. She thought of Ben Jackson—Jonathan’s opponent in the mayoral race—and his wife, Lisa. They’d been trying for thirteen.

“Do you want to call Blair?” Jonathan’s words cut into her thoughts.

Morgan thought of waking her sister up to tell her this news. It hardly seemed fair. Ever since Blair had bought the newspaper, she hadn’t been getting adequate rest. “I’ll tell her later.”

She got into the bed, and Jonathan pulled the covers up over her and tucked her in. He bent over and kissed her cheek.

When he’d left her alone, she let her control slip away, and wept into her pillow.

Later that morning, the cramping stopped, and Morgan forced herself to get out of bed. She went downstairs, and saw that the kitchen was spotless. Gus and Felicia had gone to work, and Sadie was at school. She saw Karen on the back porch feeding her own baby. There was no sign of Jonathan or Caleb. Maybe Jonathan had taken him with him to do some campaigning today.

His big debate with his two opponents in the mayoral race—Sam Sullivan and Ben Jackson—was tomorrow. Jonathan—who worked as a fishing tour guide, pastor of their small church, and director of Hanover House—had only come into the race a month ago, so he was way behind. The special election was scheduled for three weeks away, and he didn’t have a moment to waste. If he won, he’d take office almost immediately, since the town had been without a mayor since the last one had been dethroned by scandal.

She went through the kitchen into the small office where she and Jonathan took care of the business of Hanover House. She sat down at the desk and moved a stack of donations out of her way. The home, a halfway house for people trying to change their lives, was supported by monthly contributions. She had yet to log them all this month, so much had been going on.

She picked up the telephone and dialed her sister’s number. When there was no answer, she checked the clock. Ten o’clock. Of course Blair wasn’t home. She dialed the newspaper office and got her voicemail. She was probably out tracking down a story, trying to find an interesting angle to the mundane events of the island.

Discouraged, she hung up. She would try Blair again later. But would her sister understand her grief over a baby that she had only known for one day? How could she? No one could understand unless they had been there.

Then she remembered. Someone had.

She thought of the wife of Jonathan’s fiercest opponent in the race. Lisa Jackson had been in Morgan’s shoes four different times.

One would never have known of her struggle with infertility. It was a secret, closely held. Morgan wouldn’t have known it herself, except that she had seen it on Lisa’s face when they’d both wound up in the bathroom at a mutual friend’s baby shower.

She had recognized those tears, and Lisa had recognized hers. Without saying a word, the two women, whose husbands were political archenemies, had embraced. They’d sneaked out for coffee to comfort each other, and had poured out their hearts about their infertility and their desperate desire for children.

Maybe it would help to talk to her now.

You call me if you need to talk, honey. Day or night, I don’t care. And if you don’t mind, I’ll do the same. These husbands of ours will just have to get used to it.

Morgan knew she’d meant it.

She knew Lisa probably wasn’t home, since her real estate business kept her hopping. But she called and left a message on Lisa’s voicemail, then tried her at her office. When her taped recording kicked in, Morgan decided to leave a message there too.

“Hey, Lisa,” she said in a soft voice, “this is Morgan. Could you give me a call when you have a chance to talk? I really need to share something with you.” She paused and tried to control the emotion wavering in her voice. “Something happened this morning. You’re the only one I know who’ll understand.” She hung up and stared down at the phone. She hoped Lisa would return the call soon.

But hours later, Lisa had not called back, and neither had Blair. Jonathan came home with Caleb—he had only taken him for a walk on the beach—and she busied herself with his care and the affairs of the house.

She longed for night and the sleep that would numb her pain, but when it finally came, she lay awake, thinking about the dream she’d had last night about the little girl on the swing.

She prayed that God would let her dream it again.