Third Strand of the Cord
The motor rumbled beneath the floor of the Brookline townhouse, opening the garage door and doubling Caroline’s heart rate.
“Daddy’s home!” A quaver tainted her forced cheerfulness. She crossed the living room floor and knelt beside her baby. Her hair fell in a dark brown curtain around him. If only I could hide you with my body, keep you safe like those first nine months. She dried his chin with a corner of the quilt. “Ready? Time to do your stuff.”
The purr of the engine filled the garage for a moment, then cut off. The car door shut with a solid thunk. An electric prickle laced Caroline’s skin. She kissed the baby, then rolled him onto his round belly, facing him toward the stairs. “Show time!”
Orienting to the echo of footsteps, the baby’s eyes widened. His head rolled from cheek to chin, and bobbed up once. Eyebrows leading, his face raised an inch off the blanket.
“You can do it,” Caroline whispered. Palms damp, she sat back on her heels.
The baby lifted his arms, then corrected himself, pushing his forearms beneath his shoulders. His head bobbed up to the grand elevation of two inches.
The door at the top of the stairs opened. Despite the two-hour flight from Chicago, Bryan Ashcroft remained impeccably dressed, his navy blue Armani suit unwrinkled, every dark hair molded in place. Ice blue eyes narrowed at his son. “Caroline, that rug was a gift to my family from the Shah of Iran. I do not want it ruined.”
Tears will only make it worse. “Bryan, look! He can hold his head up.”
“No doubt that qualifies him for Harvard.” Bryan set his leather suitcase on the hardwood floor. “I was looking forward to a quiet evening, just the two of us. You’ve disappointed me. Again.” Frowning, he circled her. “I see you missed your salon appointment.”
Caroline ran her fingers through her hair. When they were dating, she found Bryan’s attention to her appearance flattering. Now his observations seemed petty. “Did you read the articles I forwarded to you?”
“I’m busy.” He crossed to the liquor cabinet where he lifted the Waterford decanter, measuring the level of Glenlivet, then poured two fingers of Scotch whiskey into a crystal shot glass. “Nothing you read is going to change him. His chromosomes are defective; he’s defective. You need to take him up to that school and leave him, so we can get on with our lives. You haven’t even asked about the deal I closed.”
The baby’s head dropped back to the blanket, but his eyes continued to follow the man in front of him.
“I’m not ready to leave him with a sitter, and I’m certainly not ready to leave him at some boarding school way up in New Hampshire. I’m still breast feeding.”
“It’s the best way to feed a baby. With good care, he can be healthy, attend a regular school with special help, even hold down a job.”
“Job? What sort of job could a retard do?”
Caroline flinched. “Assembly, restaurant work, clean up.” She bit her tongue. No Ashcroft ever cleaned his own house, much less did janitor work. “There’s even an actor with Down syndrome on TV.”
“Television is full of idiots.” Bryan drained the glass with a silent swallow. The wind shifted over Boston Harbor. Sleet ticked on the mullioned windows. “If good care’s so important, then I fail to see your objection to this boarding school. They’re the experts.”
“He’s only two months old.” She cupped the baby’s silky head in her palm.
“Caroline, stop being sentimental. He doesn’t know you. He won’t miss you.”
“I’d rather raise him at home.” She couldn’t keep her words steady. “Look how much progress he’s made.”
“Call your obstetrician and get something for this postpartum depression. Pull yourself together. Mother’s flying in from Belgium Tuesday, and I want this settled.”
“Won’t she want to see her grandson?”
“Her grandson?” Bryan thumped the glass on the marble-topped cabinet. “No one in my family, and I have seen portraits of six generations, looks like that.” He dismissed the drooling baby with a wave of his hand.
Patience… “The geneticist in the hospital explained all people with Down syndrome have eyes like this.”
“That quack? Where did he go to school? Wisconsin? Probably trained on cattle.”
“Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.”
“I called a real genetics specialist over at Harvard.” Bryan loomed over her and the baby. “It didn’t come from my side of the family. Much as I’d like to continue the Ashcroft family line, I’m willing to overlook your problem on the basis of our past relationship.” His fingertips touched the crown of her head. His voice dropped to a whisper. “He will be better off at school. This house wasn’t designed for a sickly child. He might fall down the stairs.” Bryan’s cold hand moved to her neck.
“Bryan!” Caroline tried to move away, but his hand encircled her throat. “You’re scaring me.”
He continued in the same low tone of voice, as if he hadn’t heard her. “His heart might give out. He might quit breathing. Sudden Infant Death.”
Caroline pulled his wrist. His grip tightened, cutting off her air. Her vision dimmed. Consciousness slipped.
The door to the study slammed.
Caroline gasped and slumped to the floor. Gathering the baby in her arms, she let her tears overflow. I will keep you safe.