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43 Forty-Three

    "Do you want me to come with you?" Will asked.

    We had talked all through a day and a night. Now, he leaned against my front door, staring at me as though waiting to see if I would lie. He was on his way home to shower and change clothes and return a few of the hundreds of messages that waited in his voicemail.

    I had a few hours left with Humphrey, no more. I was holding him as he napped, and Will tucked his blanket around him more tightly.

    "Thanks, but no," I said. "You've been around for all my nervous breakdowns. I think I'll try this one on my own."

    He raised his eyebrows, I knew he was thinking that my appointments with Dr. Parrish had been a good investment.

    I wanted to push him or stick my tongue out at him, give him some sign that he was a pig-faced know-it-all, but I couldn't. I just gripped Humphrey close and leaned against Will for a second. Then I straightened, made myself as tall and strong as I could, and told Will to go home.

    I packed as many of Humphrey's things into the diaper bag as I could, crushing clothes and toys and Señor Elephant as flat as I could, then maneuvering the zipper closed. I talked to Humphrey about the great family he was going to meet, a family with regular sleeping patterns, a family who would never harm him, a family who wouldn't kill his babysitter.

    I tried not to think words like "abandonment" and "forever," though I knew they were both true. Never mind that Humphrey would be better off without me; I was abandoning him. Never mind that he wouldn't remember me long enough to hate me for leaving him; I was abandoning him forever.

    "You'll need someone to cheer from the sidelines," I told him, "not someone who's imagining how good a cheerleader would taste."

    My tongue licked my upper lip without my permission.

    "Besides," I told him, "you'll want to bring a date home someday, you know. And you can't bring anyone here." I gestured to the hideous couch and the otherwise empty room, empty except for Humphrey, who watched me from his blanket, listening as though he believed me, believed that I believed my encouraging nonsense.

    I could keep him. I could take him away-we could run away, buy wigs, acquire black market passports, and hide in a small town in Italy. I could pretend that I'd always been his mother.

    I hung the diaper bag strap on my shoulder and bent to pick up Humphrey. He was heavy, squirming, and I was small, standing there. Small and powerless.

    I wanted someone to see our last hours together. I wanted a grizzled old painter to take down the details so we could remember, so we could keep on standing here while his paintbrush slipped and he swore and had to go out for a new canvas and vodka.

    I stood holding my warm Humphrey, my only baby, until he was quiet in sleep.

    Then we left together, not because I'd promised the judge or Dr. Parrish or Will that I would find him a better home, but because it was best for Humphrey. And because for the first time, I wasn't powerless to help the one I loved.
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