Jack’s stomach flip-flopped and his throat felt like it was two sizes too small. He didn’t really want to talk, because he felt tears welling up. He knew if he said anything, out they’d come.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t know what else to do!” Tears came with the words. Jack didn’t know if they were scared-tears or sad-tears. Were there confused-tears?
Jack’s father crouched down, set his hands on Jack’s shoulders.
“Hey, Champ, easy there.”
“And there were people shouting, and pushing at us, and the man at the store—“
He stopped, blinking at the tears, but they kept coming. He wiped at them, but more followed.
“She’s doing fine, Jack.”
“Are we going to see her?”
“Not just yet. Now come on, dry out those eyes.”
He sniffled some more, wiped again at his eyes. They decided to stay dry this time.
The elevator chimed, and the doors rolled open. Jack glanced at the sign as they passed.
“It says ‘no children.’”
Jack’s father nodded. They walked down a hallway, towards a long row of windows. The room on the other side was full of clear plastic cribs, most of which were filled with little pink heads capped in either pink or blue.
“Count three from the end, and up two,” his father said.
Jack counted, and was looking into one of the cribs. The little pink head wore a little pink cap.
“Now wave at your new little sister. She probably wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t made that phone call.”
* * * * *
“But… you said the baby wasn’t coming until after Christmas.”
Jack’s mother smiled, and patted Jack’s hand. She looked pale, he thought.
“I guess your little sister had other plans. Your dad says you were the one who made the call.”
“You and Hannah… the pay phones were upstairs.”
Jack pulled the ring out from under his shirt and sweater. His mother smiled. “I should have known. Next time you see her, you be sure to thank her,” Jack’s mother murmured.
Jack nodded again. “I will.”
* * * * *
“That’s not fair! How come Jack got to see the blob, but we didn’t?”
“It’s a baby, not a blob,” Hannah said, pinching Charlotte’s arm.
“Enough, you two,” their father said. “I think you both know why Jack got to see his new baby sister.”
“We should name her after his imaginary friend,” Charlotte muttered. “Oh, that’s right, he doesn’t even know her name!”
“Shut up!” Jack shouted.
“I bet Mr. Whatsit could beat your ghost girlfriend up any day!”
“All of you, be quiet right now or I’m turning this truck around and driving all night to drop you off with Granna Nellis.”
The cab grew silent, except for the sound of the road and the heater.
* * * * *
Jack wore the ring that night, but there were no dreams, good or bad. He wore it every night, double-checked mirrors whenever he walked by them, either at home or school, but there was no sign of the girl.
Christmas came and went, and Jack’s little sister came home just before New Year’s. Granna Nellis made another trip down. She fussed more over the fact that the baby wasn’t going to be baptized than the circumstances behind the birth.
Jack’s dad had to do all the shouting, because his mother was still recovering from the operation.
Jack had only half-listened when his mother explained the procedure. He knew what he needed to know: his mom was safe, and would recover. His new sister — Eleanor Margaret, named after his great-great grandmas on both sides — was healthy. She spent most of the time her eyes were open staring at Jack’s ring. It was either that, or she was hungry. She slept a lot, too.
When school resumed, Hannah took over making breakfast, and Jack sometimes helped. Charlotte complained about having to do dishes.
February rolled around, and Jack had to endure teasing from his sisters about Patty and Catty’s Double-Trouble-Valentine-Kiss.
Hannah began putting the camera she’d gotten for Christmas to good use, and the PTA featured some of her pictures of school events in the newsletter.
Charlotte had to get a haircut when her attempt at blue backfired. And again, when she tried red.
Still, at night, Jack wore the ring. He waited, at times, in his dreams, by the stairs beside the cliff. Or walked the edge of the woods. The trees muttered and hissed, but did not warn him away. The girl was nowhere to be found.