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Becky rocks a baby that rocked her world. Sixty years earlier, with her fiancé Drew in the middle of the Korean Conflict, Ivy throws herself into her work at a nursing home to keep her sanity and provide for the child Drew doesn’t know is coming. Ivy cares for Anna, an elderly patient who taxes Ivy’s listening ear until the day she suspects Anna’s tall tales are not just idle ramblings. They’re Anna’s disjointed memories of a remarkable life.
Finding a faint thread of hope she can’t resist tugging, Ivy records Anna’s memoir, scribbling furiously after hours to keep up with the woman’s emotion-packed, grace-hemmed stories. Is Ivy’s answer buried in Anna’s past? And what connects them to Becky?
Becky, Ivy, Anna—three women fight a tangled vine of deception in search of the blossoming simplicity of truth.
“Ruchti’s gorgeous novel follows three women in different eras, all dealing with pregnancy out of wedlock. The interrelated stories show that time may change some perceptions, but love and faith are needed to reach out to a hurting world. The writing is evocative and laced with heart.”—RT Book Reviews, 4½ stars, TOP PICK!
“Ruchti (They Almost Always Come Home) weaves a potentially confusing storyline involving different eras into an intricate tapestry. She keeps it real, not wrapping up every conflict with a pretty bow of resolution. She also displays superb comedic timing in breaking the tension of emotionally heavy scenes. Readers will enjoy her delightful sense of humor and the richly developed secondary characters.”—Publishers Weekly
“When the Morning Glory Blooms focuses on one of my passions—loving those who face unplanned pregnancy. Told through the lives of three women, this is a novel of hope, of truth, and of grace. I lost track of the number of times tears filled my eyes, both tears of heartache and joy. As someone who faced an unplanned pregnancy myself and mentors teen moms on a weekly basis, I was impressed! Cynthia Ruchti told the story beautifully. This novel has made the list of one of my all time favorite books!”—Tricia Goyer, bestselling author of 34 books, including The Promise Box.
The hand on her cheek weighed no more than a birthmark. It fluttered, stirred by the breeze of a dream, but remained tethered to Becky’s face.
Her neck stiffened. A neutral position was out of the question. She was trapped at an odd angle between the arm of the porch swing and the breath of the child.
With one foot planted on the porch’s floorboards, and the rest of her a cradle, Becky kept the swing in motion. A smooth backstroke. Hesitation. Then as she lifted her foot, the forward stroke was accompanied by a two-toned creak the baby must have thought white noise.
Becky guessed thirteen pounds. The bulk lying stomach-down across her torso like a seatbelt might have come into the world a wisp of six—less than a gallon of milk. But seven hundred bottles later, give or take, and he could hold his own against the Costco-sized bag of sugar.
A sweat bee did a fly-by. Becky waved it off. Baby drool puddled at the top of her breastbone. She let it be, let it be.
The rich, woody scent of the neighbor’s cottonwoods melded with the lingering aroma of her caramel latte, the one in her favorite pottery mug on the small table just out of reach. The mug, her book, sanity—so much seemed just out of reach.
The baby lifted his head. Feather lashes still closed, he nestled the opposite cheek into the hollow of her neck. She patted his diapered bottom with a rhythmic, unspoken “Shh. Back to sleep, little one.”
The buzz returned, but not above them. Underneath Becky’s right hip, her cell phone thrummed. She reached for it, motionless except for the espionage-worthy stealth of her retrieve arm and the unbroken choreography of her swing foot.
The phone buzzed again, against her ear. She held it away from her, saw the familiar caller ID, and hit the “talk” button with her thumb. “What’s up, Lauren?”
An opportunity, no doubt. Chance du jour.
A finals study group that included two brainiacs and a certified member of the National Honor Society had invited Lauren to a cram-fest.
“Please don’t stay out late.” Becky felt the vibrations of her words in her chest. The baby lifted his head and nestled facing the other direction again.
Not late, Lauren answered. No. But Becky did realize the group would have to go get something to eat after studying, didn’t she?
Becky disconnected the call. She may or may not have remembered to say goodbye.
The baby oozed awake and pushed against her chest until he’d raised himself enough to lock gazes with her. Those denim blue eyes looked so like his father’s, if her suspicions were correct about the child’s paternity. She brushed strands of corn silk hair off his cherub forehead.
“Your mommy called.” Becky kissed one barely-there eyebrow, then the other. “She says hi.”
Dodging scattered mounds of clothes—distinguishable as clean or dirty only by odor—Becky crossed Lauren’s room to the crib lodged between Lauren’s dresser and her shoe jungle. Well-practiced, Becky eased the baby from her shoulder to the mattress. She pulled a blanket from the corner of the crib, but its sour smell told her it belonged in one of the piles on the floor, not wrapped around her grandson. Stifling a groan, she bent to the plastic storage tub tucked under the crib. One clean blanket, too thick for an Indian summer afternoon.
Laying babies on their backs? The “let’s change everything we knew for sure” revised recommendation from the pediatric society or some other entity still disturbed her. Hard habit to break. Aren’t they all?
Her dentist wouldn’t appreciate her new habit of grinding her back teeth. She untensed her jaw, laid the blanket to Jackson’s waist, then exited the room with an armload of laundry she shouldn’t have to wash.
Mid-hallway, she leaned against the wall. Baby socks and a pair of skinny jeans drizzled to the floor as she searched for a way to readjust her load. Not the laundry. The pieces that stuck to the rough edges of her fractured hopes.
Monica’s well-intentioned voice thundered through the throbbing tunnels in her head. “Don’t do everything for Lauren, Becky. You’re enabling her. She’ll never take responsibility if she doesn’t have to.”
Great advice, Monica. And who suffers if I don’t bathe that child, if I don’t put diapers on my grocery list, if I don’t make sure he has something to wear that doesn’t smell like curdled milk? Lauren won’t even notice.
Drafting an apology for words her friend would never hear, Becky pushed off from the wall and aimed for the laundry room.
Jackson’s cry stopped her before she recapped the Tide.
Mamas don’t get to stay out past midnight.
How had pushing a baby through her woman parts given Lauren the right to abandon the house rules? And on a school night?
Becky steeled herself for a confrontation. She’d say, and then Lauren would say, and then she’d say…
No. That hadn’t worked the last four times they’d had a similar conversation.
She drowned another tea bag—fragrant, impossibly smooth white peach—and forced her gaze away from the clock on the kitchen wall. But the digital display on the stove and microwave mocked her attempts to forget what time it was, where her daughter should be, the lure of her pillow, and the fact that Lauren’s father was missing all the fun.
I hope you’re enjoying California, Bub. She should probably use his real name. It wasn’t Gil’s fault his job demanded the kind of travel she’d find more fulfilling than he did. Wait. It was only a little after ten, Pacific time. She could call.
One ring. Two.
“Hey, honey. How’s my angel?”
“She’s not home yet.”
“I meant you, Becky.”
The sincerity in his voice was like ointment for a scraped knee. “I—”
“Are you okay, my pugalicious?”
“Gil. Not in the mood for nose-related terms of endearment, okay?”
Of course he was. Good man. The kind she’d hoped Lauren would choose one day.
“Is Jackson sleeping?” He whispered as if he could wake the baby from six states away, as the stork flies.
She swirled her teabag through the steaming water. If it were her typical daytime choice—Black Pearl—it would by now be over-steeped, the deep molasses of Gil’s eyes. “Jackson? Sleeping obliviously. Like I should be.”
“I wish I were there.”
“What’s Lauren’s excuse this time?”
Gil’s exhale traveled through the fiber optic phone lines and tickled the hairs in Becky’s ear. “Is she still talking college?”
A slosh of tea left a mini-puddle on the white countertop. She swiped at it with her palm, which turned the small puddle into a smear. “We want her to further her education, don’t we? I mean, providing she gets through this last year of high school.” She ripped a paper towel from its holder. “That’s not a given.”
“We knew this would be hard.” Blistered. His voice sounded blistered, like life’s shoes had rubbed too long on a tender spot.
“He’s our grandson.”
“And she’s our daughter.”
“That’s been confirmed, hasn’t it?”
Gil chuckled. “You mean, how did two fully responsible, completely mature adults manage to raise a daughter who seems allergic to responsibility?”
“Something like that.”
“She’s not fully grown yet, Becky.”
“Oh, that’s comforting.” The baby monitor let Becky know her not-fully-grown-yet daughter’s infant son squirmed in his crib.
“Do you want me to call Lauren on her cell?”
“I tried that. It went to voice mail.”
Gil huffed. “That’ll be the last time.”
“It’s on my list.” Becky turned away from the glare of the microwave’s time keeper.
California said, “We’re in this together, hon.”
She should have replied instantly with something that meant, “We sure are.” But six states of separation and full-time versus part-time parenting left an awkward gap she didn’t have the energy or wisdom to fill.
Somewhere beyond the walls, a car door slammed. “Never mind. She just got home.”
“Five, six, seven, eight!”
Monica’s ever-present ebullience grated today like a hangnail on silk. So did the fact that nothing bulged over the lip of her yoga pants.
Becky retrieved Jackson’s pacifier from the floor of Monica’s lower level exercise room, squirted it with water from her sports bottle, and stuck it back in his pouty mouth before returning to the video segment Monica seemed to enjoy far more than a normal person should.
“We didn’t…use…pacifiers…with our…kids,” Monica puffed out, proving she was working hard enough to make conversation difficult.
Mimicking a scaled-back version of Monica’s arm and leg movements, Becky fought to catch the beat of the exercise video. “Yeah, well…”
“And none…of our…kids…needed braces…or had…”
“Cavities, either. Yes, I heard.”
Was she serious or teasing? “Two different schools of thought on it, Monica.”
“And…slow it on down.”
Oh. The exercising. No problem there.
“Beck, honestly, I don’t know how you do it.” Monica wiped a delicate dot of perspiration from her forehead with the back of her wrist. “You’re an amazing woman.”
“Even though I take full advantage of disposable diapers when cloth is more environmentally friendly and have been known to rock Jackson clear through his entire nap?”
Monica’s arms flapped to her side. “You don’t really— Oh. You were kidding.”
Perfect mothers sometimes can throw a pall on the best friend idea.
“No, I mean it,” Monica said, lunging forward just for the fun of it. “I don’t know that I could do what you’re doing.” She switched position and lunged again.
“Lauren needs to graduate.” As if that explained it all.
With the video segment complete and Jackson temporarily content, the two women rehydrated and sat cross-legged on the floor near Jackson’s bouncy chair. Becky knew her knees would give her grief for choosing that position, but she found herself drawn to eye-level with the cherub who didn’t know any better than to love her.
“Doesn’t it bother you that you had to quit work?”
“Bother me? Other than the loss of the paycheck and the fact that I loved what I did? No, not a bit.”
Monica tilted her head as if to say, “Oh, you poor thing.”
Thanks, Monica. That helps. Pity—every woman’s deepest need.
Attitude adjusted with a Lamaze technique, Becky pressed out a smile. “We do what we have to do.” With a Vanna White wave of her hand, she added, “This is all…temporary.”
“He’s gorgeous, Beck.”
The two friends watched him breathe, watched his fists bat the air, his feet engage in a dance to silent music.
Becky caught a whiff of something other than a wet or dirty diaper. Sweat. Her own. Had she remembered deodorant this morning? She ran her tongue over her teeth. Had she brushed them? These were things new moms were supposed to fret about, not new grandmothers. No doubt Lauren had time to straighten or curl her hair, depending on her mood, and do a complete makeup routine before leaving for school. Becky reached into the outside pocket of Jackson’s diaper bag, the area she claimed for herself, and grabbed a stick of gum. If Monica left the room for any reason, she’d dust a handful of Jackson’s baby powder under her armpits.
She wouldn’t, couldn’t let herself think about what she would be doing at work today. The magazine layout she’d be supervising. The interviews other editors craved but couldn’t secure. The adrenaline jolt from editing an article to its crispest, laser-sharp edge.
Becky rubbed her left elbow. Infant Seat Elbow, Gil called it. He joked about inventing collapsible legs with wheels for the infant carrier. Becky teased back that a little thing called a stroller had been invented long ago but the two items couldn’t swap duties. Days ago, she’d dreamed he’d engineered the ideal answer. When she woke, the dream dissipated without leaving a blueprint. Dreams do that.
“Vitamin water?” Monica held one toward her.
Eww. She tipped her sports bottle Monica’s direction to signal she was good. The bottle’s stainless steel sides kept its contents—unvitamized, uninteresting, electrolyte-deficient tap water…with a hint of lemon juice—a secret. Becky didn’t need another reminder about the proper way to do things. And hadn’t she seen a segment on Good Morning America about vitamin water? Yay or nay? She couldn’t remember the point. More than a few things lost their crisp edge with midnight feedings when Lauren had a test the next day. She rubbed her forehead. Brain fog could lift any time now without her objection.
“Beck, do you—” Monica hesitated, as if sifting her words through a tightly woven screen. “Do you regret not making Lauren go to youth group?”
Patience, get out of my way. I’m putting you on Time Out. “Monica, come on. You really think Gil and I could have prevented Lauren from getting pregnant if we had forced her to go to youth group?” Blood pressure? Rapidly approaching nuclear meltdown.
“Brianne can’t stop talking about all she’s learning under Pastor Jon’s leadership. Did you know she’s serving on the youth worship team now? We’ve always had an intentional family devotional time—we call it God Circle—at home, but the church is offering our young people tools to help them navigate the dangerous waters of—”
Is this the same church that didn’t know how to react, where to look, what to say when Lauren came to the morning service in a skin-tight maternity top? The same church people who scheduled, then quietly canceled a baby shower?
Becky didn’t know she had the oomph to go from cross-legged to fully upright with lightning speed. “Monica, we’re done here.”
The sitting one looked like she’d never been interrupted before. “This is only the first round cool down. We have four more tracks to complete the exercise series.”
Becky took mental note of her internal temperature. She could boil pasta. Cool down? “I mean, we are done. You were the one person I thought I could count on for support.”
Monica jumped to her feet. “You always have my support, Beck.”
Her fingers fumbling with the safety belts, Becky unlatched Jackson from the bouncy chair, then propped him on her left hip, slung the diaper bag over her right shoulder, grabbed the front lip of the chair, which slammed against her shin, and headed for the door.
“Becky, don’t go.”
“I’ll call you later.”
Becky had no hands left to turn the doorknob. The burning sensation rose from her stomach to her throat to her jaw to her ears. Forehead to the door, her voice squeezed out, “A little…help…here?”
Jackson’s pacifier hit the floor. The scream that came from his mouth is the one Becky thought she had dibs on for that moment.
Monica’s hand on Becky’s back felt like a branding iron. Apparently when an animal is branded, it reacts with tears.
“Please, hon, let’s talk about this. That was insensitive of me. I’m sorry. Please stay.”
Becky managed to grab the doorknob with the fingertips of her left hand. “Not now, Monica. I need a God moment. A God circle. God.”
The contents of Jackson’s diaper bag left a Hansel-and-Gretel trail from Monica’s front door to Becky’s Honda Civic. The contents of his diaper left a wet spot on her hip. She strapped him into the—to hear him tell the story—strait jacket car seat and dug a spare pacifier from the glove compartment to quiet the noise while she retrieved the crumbs of their morning’s adventure.
Hot tears splatted the concrete paver sidewalk and driveway as she bent over the strewn baby paraphernalia. Lauren. You should be doing this. You should be the one with urine on your hip. You should be holding that child to your breast, making room for car seats and high chairs and losing sleep and shreds of sanity.
She was probably in Biology II right now. Biology class. A little late for that.
Becky slid into the driver’s seat and glanced at the rear view mirror’s reflection of the back window’s baby mirror. Jackson’s eyelids drifted shut over flushed cheeks.
Why am I doing this? Why am I doing any of this? Because I love that child.
She sighed as she turned the key in the ignition. Jackson, too.