Chapter 15 – I have been kind and courteous. I have never forgotten my place.

~~**~~**~~

I have watched the others come and go. Some have stayed longer than others, some mere months.

I have been kind and courteous. I have never forgotten my place.

~~**~~**~~

Landon paced back and forth in the living room. “This is crazy,” he muttered. “Absolutely crazy.”

Maya walked in, carrying the bundle in her arms. She had been smiling all night.

“I just got off the phone with Chandler,” Landon said. “You aren’t going to believe this. It’s really, truly crazy. I feel like the biggest jerk of all time.”

Maya gave him a quizzical look. “Is everything okay?” She paused and then her eyes got wide. “Oh! Did Ella go into labor?”

Landon laughed mirthlessly. “Yeah,” he said breathlessly. “She did.”

“And?”

Landon sat down and ran a hand through his hair, looking around their apartment. He felt like he was looking for a way out.

“They lost the baby.”

Maya stared at him, then down at the bundle. It moved and a hand reached for her face. She smiled and stroked the baby’s face, then looked back to him, shaking her head.

“That’s… horrible. What can we do?”

Landon was up and pacing again. “Not tell them about this, for starters,” he said.

“How can we not?” Maya came right to him, sticking her face just inches from him. “We can’t hole him up inside and never tell anyone about him. It’s not his fault he was abandoned.”

He sighed. “Then can we just… wait a few days? Until it’s not so fresh?”

She thought for a moment, then she leaned into his chest, looking at the baby. “Fine,” she said quietly. “You’re right.”

Landon nodded. He could still hardly believe that this baby was in their house at all, and now this. He had been in shock all night as they stared at this little thing—this person—who they had all but stumbled into in an alley by the Bund. It had been a crazy coincidence, he thought. Maya was certain it was fate.

It was their normal monthly date night. They decided to be tourists, since they’d been in Shanghai for almost six months now and had spent most of their time working while Chandler and Ella toured the city. So they went down to the Bund and walked around. At the last minute they noticed a river boat cruise worker calling for the last cruise of the day and just figured they’d try it out. Landon shook his head just thinking about it. They just figured. And it might have changed their lives forever.

They got off the cruise at a boat dock and were a bit disorientated in the dark. There were seagulls everywhere—they would get so close to people that Maya was scared she’d get her nose bitten off. So Landon did the gallant thing and gave her his coat to cover her face. He had been so proud of himself for his sacrifice, thinking he was such a gentleman. He hadn’t even noticed Maya running off until she was at least ten steps ahead of him.

“What’s up?” he asked, following her.

She turned back to him with concern on her face. “I think those birds are fighting over there,” she said, and she took the coat and swatted a group of birds in the alley between two buildings. They scattered, and she gasped. Landon was worried she had found a homeless man or a puddle of toxic goo or something, but when he reached her side he couldn’t believe what he saw.

This little bundle of light green blankets, moving just a little. They got closer and pulled away the top blanket. It was a baby. They stared at it for a moment. Then it opened its eyes and stared back at them. Landon had to admit, it was a pretty cool moment. But Maya wasted no time at all. She scooped the baby up and started walking down the alley, yelling, “Hello? Hello? Whose baby is this? You left your baby!”

Landon was completely overwhelmed. Of course nobody answered. He had read about this kind of thing happening. There were rules here about how many babies a family could have, or at least there had been at some point. And so abandoning babies happened more than anyone wanted to think.  There were thousands of orphanages in China, full of abandoned children. Just another statistic.

Maya came back to his side, looking suddenly exhausted. She had tears in her eyes. “No one,” she said. “It’s”—she opened the blanket for a second to check. “He’s all alone.” She looked up at Landon with wide eyes. “What should we do?”

Landon looked around, bewildered, and shrugged. “Take him to an orphanage?”

She pulled back, holding the baby tight. “We can’t do that. What if no one adopts him? Can you imagine living in an orphanage your whole life? No family, no education, not even proper nutrition. I can’t do that to him.”

“Then what do you propose we do?”

She paused and looked at the baby. His eyes were closed and he was sucking his thumb. He was so new his skin still sagged and wrinkled, like a little old man. But Landon had to admit he was cute. At least for a squishy newborn.

Maya looked up at him with a sober look on her face. She held his eye contact for a long time. “We can’t leave him here.”

Landon paused. “No,” he said quickly. “No, no, no… come on.”

She held the baby up so that Landon could look right at his little helpless face. “People adopt babies from China all the time. Think of the difference we could make in his life. We can give him a real home.”

“We can get arrested for stealing babies off the street. And this is nuts. We haven’t even talked about starting a family.”

“We’re talking about it now.”

“Ha,” Landon said. “That’s nice. You’re really going to put me in this position?”

Maya shook her head. “No, I didn’t put you in this position. We’re in this together. This kind of thing doesn’t just happen out of the blue. Maybe it’s… fate.”

Now you believe in fate?”

“Well did you see the way those birds were huddling around him? Almost protective.”

Landon laughed mirthlessly. “Looked more like vultures attacking a dead animal to me.”

“They led us to him.”

“They wanted him for dinner.”

“Then aren’t you glad we saved him?”

Landon paused and looked her in the eyes. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” he said.

She held his gaze. “I am. I think it’s the right thing to do. I mean, we can at least take him home and make sure he’s okay and then decide what to do long term.”

He looked at the little baby, sound asleep in Maya’s arms. She was a strong person—it was one of the things he loved about her. But this wasn’t cute, like when she insisted on doing a background check on Chandler when he went through four toasters in a day. This was a little scary. This was a huge decision that he wasn’t ready to make at the drop of a hat. He sighed.

“Okay,” he said. “But we’re not deciding anything tonight. We’re going to take him home and make sure that’s he’s all right. And then we’ll figure out what to do. Is that enough?”

She smiled. “That’s plenty,” she said. She looked down at the baby and cooed softly. “It’s okay, baby,” she said. “You’re safe now. You’ve got a new home. Daddy just needs to get on board.” She glanced at him slyly and he threw his hands in the air.

“That was just mean.”

She smiled. “Welcome to your new family, little baby,” she said, still looking at Landon. She handed the swaddle of blankets slowly to him, placing one of his hands under the baby’s head.

Landon looked down at the baby, feeling his warmth in his hands. The baby opened his eyes and looked at him for a moment, then closed them again and went back to thumb sucking. His eyes were blue. Landon looked at Maya.

“He has my eyes,” he said, realizing in an instant how stupid he must sound.

She grinned. “Most babies are born with blue eyes, and they go away after a couple months,” she said. “Don’t get too excited.”

He frowned and looked at the baby, who was now opening his tiny fingers and moving them around jerkily, like a bird. Or like someone who was so new to this planet that he hadn’t figured out how to use his hands yet. He held the baby to his chest. The baby relaxed into him, sleeping. He smiled.

Maya looked at him with a suppressed smile. “What do you think about orphanages now?”

“Fine,” he said. “You’re right. Let’s just… let’s just take him home and see.”

And now it had been a long night of talking, arguing, and even, when all else failed, praying. Maya had absolutely won the fight. This baby would never leave their lives. And Landon felt suddenly selfish as he realized that they were starting their family all at once, when Chandler and Ella had waited the longest nine months of their lives to end up with nothing.

But even the thought of offering their baby to Chandler and Ella filled him with a sick feeling, like offering his own foot to feed to a piranha. It shamed him that the thought even occurred to him, even for an instant. Besides, he was certain it would be insulting. Like adopting a new puppy the moment your old dog dies—except infinitely more painful.

No, they would wait. They would let Chandler and Ella heal, offer their support, and break the news once things had settled down a little. Losing a baby would be hard, he was sure, but Chandler and Ella were resilient. They were like a movie star couple. Ella was so sunshiney. They would be okay.

He was sure of it.

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