Back in 2003 I did a small holiday fundraiser thing for Reading is Fundamental, in which I wrote three pieces for people who donated money. One of them, “The Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time,” has become something of a Christmastime staple around here, but the other two are somewhat less known, so I thought it would be worth it to bring one of them back around on the site. So, behind the cut you’ll find my holiday story “Sarah’s Sister.”
A small word of, well, I guess “warning” is not the precise word for it, but: One, it’s not a science fiction story; two, it’s so very much a Christmas story; three, it’s almost certainly the least snarky thing I have ever written in my life; four, I wrote it with the expressed purpose of making my mother-in-law choke up on tears when she read it. If you’re not in the mood for a non-snarky, sob-inducing Christmas story, it’s best to walk away now. There, you have been sufficiently advised.
Of course, if you are in the mood for a non-snarky, sob-inducing Christmas story: Hey, I have one for you. Enjoy.
by John Scalzi
Sarah’s family had just sat down for dinner when mom said “uh-oh,” and the next thing everyone knew was there was a huge gush of water. Mom had been big as a horse for two months, but the fact was the water breaking was early; she wasn’t supposed to give birth until a couple of weeks into the new year. The family just wasn’t prepared for a Christmas Eve baby; mom hadn’t gotten her hospital bag together yet, and dad hadn’t made the arrangements to make sure Sarah had someone to watch over her while the baby was being born. Although that might have had something to do with the fact mom wanted her to be in the delivery room to watch it happen, a prospect that filled Sarah with queasy terror. She was ten, after all; she knew where babies came from. She wasn’t at all sure she actually wanted to watch one being born.
They were so unprepared, in fact, that mom and dad hadn’t even gotten around to giving the baby a name. Which boggled Sarah’s mind. They had months to come up with something, and they even knew the baby was another girl. And yet mom and dad were still talking about it. They were talking about it just as mom’s water broke. Dad had been offering up names, stopped while the family said grace and then started up again right after as if he hadn’t stopped at all. Even now, as he guided mom into the minivan for the trip to the hospital, he was still at it.
“‘Abagail,’” he said. “You like that name.”
“I never said I liked that name,” mom said, as she wedged herself into the seat.
“‘Cynthia,’ then,” dad said. “Don’t you have a cousin named ‘Cynthia’?”
“I do,” mom said. “And I never liked her. She used to hit me at family picnics. She’s awful.”
“Maybe she’s grown up to be a better person,” dad said, as he threw the quickly-assembled hospital bag into the back of the minivan.
“I don’t think I’m willing to take that chance,” mom said, and then kind of fazed out for a second. “Whoo. Contraction. Less talk, Bill. More driving.”
But dad didn’t stop throwing out names the entire trip to the hospital. He tried ‘Sandy,’ and ‘Cindy,’ ‘Jennifer,’ and ‘Martha,’ ‘Lesley’ and ‘Linda’ and ‘Liesel.’ The last one got mom’s attention.
“‘Liesel?’” she said. “Are we going to be raising a new generation of Von Trapp children?”
“It’s unusual,” dad reasoned.
“Yeah, and for a reason,” mom said, and then had another contraction. After it was done, she looked at Sarah in the rear-view mirror. “What do you think, Sarah?” she said. “Have any great ideas for a name for your sister?”
Sarah, in the second row of the minivan, shrugged. “I don’t know,” Sarah said. And she didn’t. She’d been studiously avoiding thinking of a name for months now and didn’t see a reason to start this minute. She looked away from her mom and out the window; from the corner of her eye she could see her mom still looking at her in the rear view mirror before dad piped up again and suggested the name ‘Courtney.’
When dad parked by the emergency room entrance and ran out to get a wheelchair, mom turned around as much as possible to look at Sarah directly. “Hey, sweets,” she said, using Sarah’s old nickname. “Are you okay? You don’t look so happy.”
Sarah shrugged again. “It’s all right,” she said. “It’s just –”
“It’s just that it’s Christmas Eve and tonight we’re supposed to be having fun with you, right?” Mom smiled. “I’m really sorry, sweets. You’re going to have to believe me that I wouldn’t have chosen Christmas Eve to have a baby, either. But she’s on her way. Sometimes we don’t get to decide these things.”
“I know, mom,” Sarah said. “It’s okay.”
“You know, Sarah,” mom said, “At my last appointment with Dr. Roth, I told her that I want you to be in delivery room for the birth, and she said it would be okay. In fact, if you want, you can help your dad cut the umbilical cord. Do you think you’d like to do that?”
“I have to think about it,” Sarah said, carefully.
“Okay, Sweets,” mom said, and then tensed up for another contraction. “Ow. Better hurry, girlie. These contractions are getting stronger. Your sister could be here any minute.”
But she wasn’t. Sarah’s sister hadn’t arrived at seven, eight or nine o’clock, and at ten o’clock Sarah noticed that her mom hadn’t been talking much for the last hour, and neither dad or Dr. Roth were talking much either, or smiling. In the last minutes before eleven, more doctors and nurses had come into the room to talk with Dr. Roth and dad. Finally, at eleven, orderlies came in to wheel mom out of the room. Dad whispered something to mom, kissed her, and then turned to Sarah.
“Sarah,” he said.
“Where are they taking mom?” Sarah said.
Dad took Sarah’s hand. “Sarah, the baby is having trouble coming out,” he said. “They have to take mom to an operating room.”
“Is she going to be all right?” Sarah asked.
“She’ll be fine,” dad said, rushing through the words. “She’ll be fine. The baby should be fine, too. But you can’t be in the room with her now. There are going to be too many doctors and nurses in the room with your mother. I’m going to call your grandparents to come and get you, okay?”
Sarah nodded. Without another word, dad took Sarah into the maternity waiting room, sat her down in a chair, and went over to the pay phone on the wall to call Sarah’s grandparents. Sarah watched her dad make the call; he was turned away from her and hunched over the phone receiver. He talked very quietly into the phone. Sarah couldn’t hear what he said. After a few minutes he put the phone back on the hook and came over to Sarah.
“They’ll be here in about an hour,” dad said. “Maybe a little longer depending on the weather. I’ll stay with you until then.”
Sarah looked up at her dad. “I think mom needs you, dad,” she said. “You should be with her.”
“I can’t leave you alone, honey,” dad said.
“I’m fine, dad,” Sarah said, and pointed at the reception desk. “There’s a nurse there. Nothing’s going to happen to me. I’ll be perfectly all right until grandma and grandpa get here.”
Dad looked down the hallway, to where mom was wheeled away. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?” he said.
“I’ll be, fine, dad, really,” Sarah said. “Go be with mom.”
Dad suddenly dropped to his knees and gave Sarah a fierce hug. “I love you, Sarah,” he said, and when he pulled back so Sarah could see his face, she could see that he was about to cry. “I love you very much. You don’t forget it.”
“I won’t,” Sarah said. Dad got up and started walking down the hall. Near the end of the hall, he began to jog.
Sarah looked around the maternity waiting room. It was utterly empty. From end to end, she was the only person in it. In one far corner, a TV sat, on mute, with A Christmas Story playing. On the other far side of the room was the reception desk. A nurse sat there, flipping through a magazine. She looked up at Sarah and gave her a small smile. Sarah smiled back and then looked away quickly, and then watched A Christmas Story, with the sound off, for she didn’t know how long.
Sarah eventually became thoroughly bored. She got up to get a drink from the water fountain by the pay phone. As she reached out to the water fountain, a small spark left from her finger to the fountain (or maybe the other way around, she wasn’t sure). Zap. Static electricity. It hurt, but it was interesting. Sarah began walking around the waiting room, scuffling her feet as she went. Every few seconds she’d reach out and touch something metal. A chair. Zap. The fire extinguisher container. Zap. The cord on the pay phone. Zap. After a couple minutes of this, she figured she’d built up an immunity to the pain. She made an entire circuit around the waiting area, scuffling her feet all the way, and then reached out to the water fountain.
Sarah snatched back her hand and waved it from the wrist, grimacing with her eyes closed and hopping on one foot. That really hurt. After a minute of this she opened her eyes again.
A boy was standing in the room with her. He looked to be her age, or maybe a little bit older. He was wearing a brown sweater and blue jeans, and had brown hair and eyes. His nose was really big for his face. He was looking at her curiously.
“What are you looking at?” Sarah said.
“I was looking at you,” the boy said. “I was wondering what you were doing.”
“I wasn’t doing anything,” Sarah said. “Mind your own business.”
“I’m sorry,” the boy said. “I didn’t mean to make you angry.”
“I’m not angry,” Sarah said. “I just hurt myself. I got shocked really hard.”
“How did that happen?” The boy asked.
Sarah narrowed her eyes. “I did it on purpose, okay? Are you happy now?”
“I was just asking,” the boy said. “It gets kind of boring around here. You looked like you were having fun.”
Sarah blinked. She had been feeling herself rolling into a bad mood, and she was using this boy to get there; suddenly he’d derailed her. “Who are you?” she asked.
“I’m Josh,” he said, and stuck out his hand. After a minute Sarah took it.
Josh grinned. “Static electricity,” he said. He sat down in one of the chairs. His feet swayed back and forth, like pendulum.
“So why are you here?” Sarah asked him.
“I’m waiting for my dad,” Josh said. “I was in another part of the hospital but I decided to take a walk. Why are you here?”
“My mom’s having a baby,” Sarah said.
“On Christmas Eve?” Josh said. “Wow. That’s cool.”
Sarah shrugged. “I guess,” she said. She slumped into the seat next to him and began kicking her feet as well.
“I think it would neat to have a birthday on Christmas Eve,” Josh said.
“I wouldn’t,” Sarah said. “It’s too close to Christmas. Everybody would give you gifts and say ‘Happy birthday and merry Christmas’. What a rip-off.”
“Maybe,” Josh said. “But you’d also have your birthday when there were all those lights and people were happy and singing carols and stuff. That’s not so bad.”
“As long as you liked carols,” Sarah said. “Maybe if you heard carols being sung around your birthday for your whole life you’d get sick of them. Some of those carols are really bad, anyway.”
“Which ones?” Josh asked.
“‘Twelve Days of Christmas,’” Sarah said. “I hate it. And no one knows what comes after ‘five golden rings.’”
“Six geese a-laying,” Josh said.
“Okay, you know,” Sarah said, testily. “But no one else does. And just imagine having to hear it every single time your birthday comes around.”
“I never thought of it that way,” Josh said. “But you know, everyone hears that ‘Happy Birthday’ song on their birthday and no one ever gets sick of that.“
Sarah gave Josh a skeptical look.
“All right, maybe that’s a bad example,” Josh admitted.
“Ha!” Sarah said. She gave her feet an extra, triumphant swing.
Josh stood up. “There’s a cafeteria down the hall,” he said. “It’s closed, but there’s vending machines. Want to go get something?”
Sarah looked around. “I don’t think I should leave,” she said. “My grandparents are on their way.”
“It’s not far. We’ll be able to hear them,” Josh said.
“I don’t have any money,” Sarah said.
“My treat,” Josh said.
Sarah was about to say no, but then her stomach rumbled and she remembered that they didn’t actually have dinner that night. “Okay,” she said. “But we have to come right back.”
“Deal,” Josh said, and they took off down the hall. The vending machines were where they were promised. Sarah got a Snickers bar and an apple juice; Josh got powdered donuts and grape juice. They sat at a table in the cafeteria and ate. Sarah tore through her candy bar and gulped through her juice; she hadn’t realized just how hungry she’d been. Josh ate slowly. After she was finished with her candy bar, Sarah looked over to Josh.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” Sarah asked.
“No,” Josh said. “I’m an only child. What about you?”
“I’m an only child, too,” Sarah said. “Well. Was an only child. Now I’ll have a sister.”
“I’ve always wanted a sister,” Josh said. “Or a brother. I’d like to have either.”
“Why?” Sarah asked. “My friend Angela has a brother who is two years younger than her. They’re always fighting. Every time I go over to her house, her brother is always doing something rotten to her and picking fights with her. And then their mother comes in and yells at them both. None of them ever seem to get along.”
“Not every family does that,” Josh said.
“A lot of them do,” Sarah said.
“You’ll be a lot older than your sister,” Josh said. “Maybe you won’t have anything to fight about.”
Sarah thought about that. She would be a lot older than her sister. When the kid was in kindergarten, Sarah would already be in high school. They probably wouldn’t fight; in fact, she would probably be helping mom with things instead of getting into it with her sister.
“Hello?” Josh said. “You kind of zoned out there.”
“Huh?” Sarah said. “I was just thinking about my mom.”
“What about her?” Josh asked.
“I was just thinking about how my mom always wanted another baby,” Sarah said. “I remember, there were a couple of times where she thought she was going to have a baby, only she didn’t.”
“What happened?” Josh asked.
“She had miscarriages,” Sarah said. “You know what those are, right?” Josh nodded. “Well, anyway. I remember the first time she had one. She had to go to the hospital and then when she came home, she cried all night long. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and hearing her cry.”
“What did you do?” Josh asked.
“What do mean, what did I do?” Sarah said. “I wasn’t supposed to be awake. I just stayed in bed and then I went back to sleep. That was that time. Then she had another miscarriage about a year later. She didn’t cry when it happened that time. She was just sad.”
“It’s a sad thing,” Josh said.
“And when she got pregnant this time, she and dad didn’t tell anyone about it until she was showing,” Sarah said. “She didn’t even tell me.“
“Maybe she was worried about it,” Josh said.
“Taking about it isn’t going to make anything bad happen,” Sarah shot back.
“I know,” Josh said. “But maybe after two times, she didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. Maybe especially hers.”
“You don’t know anything,” Sarah said, hotly. “You’ve never even met my mom. You don’t know why she didn’t tell anyone.”
“We could go say hi,” Josh said, after a minute.
“What?” Sarah said.
“The delivery rooms are right down this hall,” Josh said. “We could go say hi. They’d let you in.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Sarah said. “She’s giving birth. I’m not just going to go in and say hello. She’s kind of busy. Besides, she’s not there. She’s in an operating room.”
“Oh,” Josh said.
“Oh,” Sarah mocked back. She looked down at her candy bar wrapper. She was still hungry.
“Here,” Josh said, and passed her the donut package. “Take these.” Sarah reached over to take them. A small spark shot from her hand to Josh’s as they touched. “Sorry,” Josh said.
“It’s all right,” Sarah said. “Thank you.” She took one of the little donuts and took a bite, but her mouth was too dry to swallow. She looked over to Josh again. He smiled and passed over his grape juice.
“I’m eating all your stuff,” Sarah said after she was able to swallow.
“It’s all right,” Josh said. “I don’t mind sharing. Is your mom going to be okay?”
“My dad said she was going to be fine,” Sarah said. “And the baby too. But…” Sarah trailed off.
“You think he lied to you,” Josh said. “To keep you from being worried.”
Sarah nodded. “He doesn’t lie very well. When I turned eight he was supposed to not tell me I was getting a surprise birthday party. He did such a bad job of it I finally told him that I could tell he was lying about it.”
“I bet he didn’t like that,” Josh said.
Sarah laughed. “No. But it was okay. I pretended to be surprised when we got home. I didn’t want him to get in trouble with mom.” At the mention of her mom, Sarah got silent again and stared down at the remaining donut in the package. She suddenly wasn’t very hungry at all.
“Hey,” Josh said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Sarah said.
Josh looked at her for a minute. Then he stood up. “Come on,” he said to her, holding out his hand. “I want to show you something.”
“What?” Sarah asked.
“It’s a surprise,” Josh said. “It’s not too far away. We’ll still be able to hear your grandparents when they come in. But I think it might cheer you up.”
Sarah looked up at him, then reached out to take his hand. Another spark zapped between them. “Sorry,” Josh said, and grinned. With her hand in his, Josh and Sarah left the cafeteria and walked down the hall, into the maternity ward.
“Here we are,” Josh said, and stopped in front of a large window. On the other side of the window were five newborn babies, three boys and two girls.
Sarah looked over at Josh. “Why did you bring me here?” she asked. “Why would I want to look at babies?”
“Because they’re babies,” Josh said, looking through the window. “They’re brand new to the world. Just look at them. Babies always cheer me up when I’m sad.”
“I never said I was sad,” Sarah said.
Josh looked over to Sarah.
She shrugged defensively. “I’m not sad. I’m worried,” she said.
Josh tapped the glass, lightly, and looked back in. “They’re not worried,” he said. “It’s too early for them to be worried, or sad, or upset. The worst thing that happens to a baby is being hungry.”
“You could have a wet diaper,” Sarah said.
“I suppose,” Josh said. “But no matter what, it doesn’t last long. Your mom or dad come in to feed you or change you and help you get back to sleep. It’s easier to be happy when you’re a baby.”
Sarah looked at the baby closest to her. Baby Baker, the small sign on her bed read. Six pounds, four ounces. 18 inches. It’s a girl!
“They’re so small,” Sarah said.
“They have to be,” Josh said. “You know, to come out…” Josh shut up quickly.
“I know where babies come from,” Sarah said. “My parents had that talk with me.”
“It’s weird to think that one day all these babies will be as big as we are,” Josh said. “Can you remember being that small?”
“No,” Sarah said. “The first thing I remember was when I was two and petting the cat. What’s the first thing you remember?”
“My mother,” Josh said. “I remember waking up from a nap and seeing her smiling down at me. And I remember being happy to see her. It’s nice to be a baby, and know how much you’re loved.”
“It’s nice to be a baby,” Sarah said. She turned back to look at the little girl in front of her. It was only after the first tear fell that she noticed she was crying.
There was a muffled click. Josh looked up at the clock above the window. “Midnight,” he said. “It’s Christmas now.”
Sarah sobbed loudly, and sat down hard on the floor underneath the window. She pulled in her knees tight and covered her face with her hands. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, oh God, I’m so sorry.”
Josh came over to her. “Hey,” he said. “Hey. Why are you sorry? What did you do?”
“I didn’t want my mom to get pregnant,” Sarah said, gulping the words from between her palms. “I never wanted her to become pregnant. And each time she miscarried I knew she was sad, but I wasn’t. And this time, when they found out it was a girl, they kept thinking up names and asking me to think up names and I wouldn’t. I didn’t want a sister. And I wished…” Sarah started crying again.
Josh gently reached up and took one of Sarah’s hands. “What did you wish for, Sarah?” he asked.
Sarah looked at Josh. “I wished she would go away. My sister. I didn’t know how. I didn’t want my mom to be sad. But I just wished she would go. And now my mother’s in an operating room and I don’t know what’s going to happen to her and I don’t know what’s going to happen to the baby and the only thing I can think about is how sorry I am for wishing she’d go away. I don’t want her to go. I don’t want this to happen. I don’t want this.” She took her hand back from Josh and covered her face again. “I’m so sorry I ever wanted this. I’m so sorry.”
Josh put her arm around Sarah, there on the floor, and let her cry. Then after Sarah mostly stopped crying, Josh said. “You never asked for this to happen.”
“I wished for her to go away,” Sarah said.
“But you never asked for it to happen this way,” Josh said. “You never asked for harm to come to your mom or to your sister. You just wished she wouldn’t happen. But she’d already happened. You said your mom didn’t tell you about your sister until she was sure as she could be that she was on her way. And you couldn’t have changed that, Sarah. No matter how hard you wished. This isn’t your fault.”
“I still feel bad, though,” Sarah said. “I still hurt.“
“I know,” Josh said. “I can see that. But I think I know a way to make it stop hurting.”
“How?” Sarah asked.
“Come on,” Josh said, and stood up. “Stand up.” He held out his hand to her, she took it. There was a little electric shock between them but this time neither of them said anything about it. Josh helped Sarah get to her feet and then turned her around to look at the babies.
“Look at them,” Josh said. “Soon they’re going to go back to their mothers. And their mothers are going to see them and hold them and love them. But you know what I think. I think the mothers loved them already. From the instant they knew they were there, they loved them, and they loved them more than anything else in the world. And it’s not just the mother who loved them. It’s the father, the sisters and brothers, the whole family. A baby comes into the world already loved by those who are waiting for it to be born. You know?”
“Yes,” Sarah whispered, as she looked at the babies. “Yes. It’s true.”
“You’ve been holding back, Sarah,” Josh said. “All the love that you have for your sister. Because I think it’s there. I know it. I can see it by looking at you. You’ve never not loved her, Sarah. You’ve just been trying to keep it locked away, to hide it from her, and to keep it from yourself. And it hurts not to give her that love. It hurts not to let it out.”
“Yes,” Sarah said again. “It does hurt.”
“So let it out, Sarah,” Josh said. “All that love you’ve been hiding. Let it out. All of it. Right now. Let her know you’ve loved her from the minute you knew she was coming. And never stop. Never stop loving her for as long as you live.”
Sarah sobbed again, and held a hand to the glass. “My sister,” she said. “I do. I do love her. I do. I love her so much. I do.”
“I know,” Josh said. “She knows.”
Sarah turned to Josh and hugged him fiercely and cried into his shoulder. Josh held her back and stroked her hair. They stayed that way for a while.
Eventually Sarah broke her hug and stepped back from Josh. He was smiling. “How do you feel?” he asked.
Sarah gave a small, surprised laugh. “Better,” she said, and then looked into his face. “Better. A lot better.”
“Come on,” Josh said. “You should get back to the waiting room.”
They walked down the hall and back into the waiting room. Sarah went to the bathroom to wash off her face. When she came back out, she looked at Josh. “My grandparents should be here soon,” she said. “Let’s sit until they get here.”
“I have to go,” Josh said. “My father’s been calling to me, I’m sure.”
“But I want you to meet my sister,” Sarah said. “You can’t go now.”
“I have to,” Josh said. “I’m sorry. But I was wondering if you could give her something from me.”
“Okay,” Sarah said. “What is it?”
Josh came over the Sarah, and with an awkward little smile, gave her a kiss on the cheek. As he did so, a little spark went from his lips to her cheek. Sarah held her cheek, as much in surprise of the kiss as to register the shock.
“Static electricity,” Sarah said, and smiled. She felt giddy and a little embarrassed.
“Goodbye, Sarah,” Josh said. “I’m glad we met. Don’t forget to give that to your sister.”
“I won’t,” Sarah said “Goodbye, Josh. Thank you.”
Josh waved. Then he wandered down the hall and out of sight. As he did, Sarah saw her grandparents emerge from the outside, looking around the waiting room for her. She waved to them and began walking over to them. About halfway to them, though she noticed their attention was suddenly somewhere else. She turned around and saw her father.
“Dad!” she said and ran to him. She stopped when she saw his face. For the very first time in her life, she saw her father as old.
“Hey, dad,” Sarah said.
Dad looked down at Sarah, reached out to her, hugged her hard enough to squeeze air out of her, and kissed the top of her head. “Hello, baby,” he said, finally.
“Is everything okay?” Sarah asked.
Dad broke his hug and looked down at Sarah. “Sarah, could you do something for me? I need to talk to your grandparents for a minute. Would you sit down while I talk to them?”
“Sure, dad,” Sarah said.
“Thank you, Sarah,” dad said. Sarah went and sat while dad went up to Sarah’s grandparents. Sarah could see dad, grandma and grandpa huddle in close. Then grandma put her hand to her mouth; grandpa quickly walked her over to a seat. Dad looked at them for a few moments, then turned around to Sarah. He came over and sat down next to her.
“How are you doing, baby?” Dad asked.
“I’m okay,” Sarah said.
“Sarah,” dad said. “I have to tell you something. Your mother had some problems with the birth.”
“Is mom okay?” Sarah asked.
“Mom is fine, baby,” dad said. “She’s fine. She’s all right. But–” Dad’s face suddenly tightened. He took in air in a gasp.
“But the baby’s not all right,” Sarah said.
Dad shook his head, looked away, and took another deep breath. “No,” he said. “No. The doctors tried to help her. But they couldn’t. I’m sorry, Sarah. I’m sorry.”
Sarah thought for a minute, silent. “Where is she now?” Sarah finally asked.
“The doctors are letting your mother have a few minutes with her,” dad said.
“I want to see her,” Sarah said.
“Oh, honey,” dad said. “Honey. I don’t know.”
“I want to see her,” Sarah said, insistent. “She’s my sister. I’ll never get to see her again. Please, dad. Please. She’s my sister. Let me see my sister.”
Dad’s face twisted up again, and he put his hands over his eyes and cried for a few seconds. Then he stood up and without a word held out his hand for Sarah to take. And then he took her to the room her mother was in.
Her mother lay on a bed, pale. In her arms was a small and almost indistinct bundle of blankets. Sarah and dad stood in the doorway, silent, until mom looked over and saw them there.
“Hey, sweets,” mom said, in the smallest voice Sarah had ever heard her use. She took one arm and held it out to Sarah. “Come here, baby.”
Sarah went to her mother and took her hand. Mom gripped Sarah’s hand, hard.
“Is this her?” Sarah asked.
“Yes, sweets,” mom said. “It’s her. It’s your sister.”
“I’m sorry, mom,” Sarah said. “I really am.”
“So am I, baby,” Mom said, and cried a little. “But it’s all right. I have you. I have your father. We have each other. We have all the love we need,” she said, and then held Sarah’s hand to her cheek and cried a little bit more. “I’m all right,” she finally said.
“Mom,” Sarah said. “Mom, I’d like to hold her.”
Mom looked at Sarah, concerned. “Baby,” she said. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Sarah said. “I’d like to hold her. Please, mother.”
Mom looked at dad; Sarah looked over just in time to see him nod. Mom propped herself up a little, and carefully brought the bundle to Sarah’s arms. Sarah took it and peered down and for the first time saw her sister, small and silent.
Oh, Sarah thought, and felt the love she’d held back so long come flooding out of her in a wild release. Oh, my sister. Here you are, and all I can think about now are all the things I want to do for you. To hold you. To help you grow. To share the world with you. To share your joys and ease your pains. To do what I can to make the world worth having you in it. So many things I want to do. I wish I could. I wish.
“I wish,” Sarah said, and with those words smiled down at her sister.
“I love you, little sister,” Sarah said. “I’ve loved you since the moment I knew you were coming to us. I love you, here in my arms. I will love you all my life. I love you, little sister. I give you my love.”
Sarah bent, and gently kissed her sister’s cheek. A little spark went from Sarah’s lips to her sister’s cheek. Static electricity, perhaps.
Sarah looked over at her mother, who was watching her with tears in her eyes. “I love you, mom,” Sarah said. She turned to her father. “I love you, dad,” she said.
Dad came over to Sarah, lifted her gently so as not to disturb the bundle she held, and placed her gently on her mother’s bed. And then the family came together, all of them: Mother, father, Sarah and Sarah’s sister. One family, one whole family, for the first time.
And it was there that Sarah felt the tiny breath on the tips of her fingers, curled in as they were near her sister’s head. Then another and another, each breath only a little more forceful than the next until finally a cry came, and another and another, and then dad was bursting off the bed to get a doctor and mom was laughing and crying at the same time as she took her youngest daughter back into her arms and Sarah, well, all Sarah could do was take her mother’s free hand, hold it to her and cry, cry into her mother’s hand.
The week passed faster than anyone expected. There were tests, of course, but Sarah’s sister was fine. There wasn’t a thing wrong with her, Dr. Roth told Sarah’s mom, and that was just fine with her. Now it was time for the whole family to go home and start being a family. And so Sarah and dad brought the tiny new car seat, and while dad placed the wriggling baby in it, Sarah helped her mom pack up her toiletries into her bag. Then down to the minivan and home, with dad suggesting names all the way.
“Diana,” he said. “Goddess of the moon. That’s not a bad one.”
“She’s not a moon person,” mom said.
“Oh, and you can tell that,” dad said.
“Of course I can,” mom said. “I’m her mother.”
“Well, we have to name her something,” dad said. ” A whole week without a name is too long. And we’ve got a house packed with relatives right now. They’re going to want to call her something.“
Mom turned back to look at Sarah, riding in the seat next to her sister. “How about you, sweets?” Mom said. “What do you think?”
Sarah looked over at her sister. She smiled. “Grace,” Sarah said. “She’s Grace.”
Mom turned to dad. “Well?” she said.
“Oh, I like that,” dad said. “I like it a lot.”
“Grace,” mom said. “It’s perfect, Sarah. It really is. What made you choose that?”
Sarah looked at her mom, and then back at her sister and held out a finger. Grace grabbed with her tiny hand. Sarah smiled.
“I didn’t choose Grace,” Sarah said. “It just came to me.”