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Do You Know What I Know?

By Becky Melby

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Chapter One
“I can’t go to rehearsal. I can’t look at him.” Crumpled letter clutched to her chest, Bethany Schmidt paced from the bottlebrush Christmas tree in one corner of the church office to the door and back. Worn oak boards creaked beneath her striped-stockinged feet. Her pink-haired friend Misty sat on the floor, painting her toenails and doing a fairly good job of stifling laughter.
Bethany waved the letter. “How can I be Mary to his Joseph with this on my mind? He’ll see it in my eyes. My deceit, my betrayal. I feel like a prisoner.” Forearm pressed to forehead, she sighed. “A prisoner of the heart.”
“Wow.” Misty Kowalski stopped stifling. “This is rare, even for you. Forgive me if I’m not as empathetic as you’d like. You know I love you, but as a pathetically single midwife living at a maternity home with a leaky roof and linoleum floors, it’s hard for me to feel bad that you have to choose between the career of your dreams and a guy who’s crazy about you.” She picked at a smudge of purple. “If it’s advice you want, knock down those prison bars, girlfriend! Ditch the job and go with the guy. How many men are going to look twice at a thirty-something single mom church secretary? This might be your last chance.”
Bethany crumpled the letter and threw it at Misty. “But what if it’s not a chance at all? We’ve only had two dates.”
“Pastor Jay’s been swooning over you since the day you moved back. And I have never used swooning in a sentence before, I promise. That’s how sure I am he’s nuts over you.” Misty tightened the cap on the bottle of polish. “Why not just lay it all out? ‘Hey, dude, I’ve got this great job offer in the Show Me State, so show me you love me or I’m outa here.’ See? Easy peasy.”
“Are you kidding?” She pictured the man with the thick dark hair that curled above his ears, the brown eyes that made her melt like butter on pancakes. “You know him. He’ll say he wants me to chase my dreams, follow my calling. But what if he’s my calling?”
“Since you’re already doing the ‘what if’ thing, let’s go with it. What if you take the job and say good-bye to—” The ringing phone ended the what ifs.
“Bethlehem Community Church. This is Bethany speaking. How may I help you?”
“It’s me. Got a sec?”
“Of course.” Her skin turned clammy at the tone of her sister’s voice. She signaled her barefoot friend with a glance at the door. Misty was used to this. Confidentiality in the congregation and all that. But this wasn’t church business. Misty padded out, socks and boots in hand, and closed the door behind her.
“I have news.” Sarah’s voice was hoarse, as if she’d been crying.
Please, God. She’s been through enough. Endometriosis, three miscarriages, and a cancer scare. What now? “What kind of news?” Her voice squeaked.
“The best. We passed all our tests. We’ve got the green light to start the IVF in January.”
Bethany plopped onto her desk chair. IVF. In vitro fertilization. Good news. The best. She put one hand over her face and rubbed her forehead.
“Bethy? You’re not having—”
“No! Absolutely no second thoughts. Sarah, this is the best news ever! You and Dave are going to be parents!” As the news produced a latent smile, she stared at the framed picture on her desk. Ava, nine years ago, in a pink headband and onesie. Nine years and a lifetime ago.
“Well, we’re going to try, right?” Shaky hope blanketed Sarah’s words.
“Yes. We’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”
“You’re the best sister in the world. Even if this doesn’t work, I—”
“There will be none of that kind of talk.” Bethany shook her finger as if Sarah could see it. “By this time next year, you and Dave are going to be hanging three Christmas stockings.” She took a long slow breath and blew it out slowly and quietly.
As they said their good-byes, Bethany looked at the wadded letter in the corner of the office—a cover letter for a packet of I-9 and W-4 forms. A job in another city now seemed like a trivial obstacle to a budding relationship.
It paled considerably compared to the problem of telling Jay she might be only weeks away from being pregnant with her brother-in-law’s child.

“Hey Joseph, don’t freak out about asking Mary to marry you because that baby’s real daddy—”
“Cut!” Yolanda Holt, taker of liberties in script writing for Bethlehem Community Church, waved her red pen and fluffed her orange hair.
Misty, who did the off-stage narration, took a step back, feigning fear of red pen impalement.
“Hey, Pastor Jay.” Air jabs meted out each syllable. “Do you hear what I hear? Give the angel a little attention, okay?”
Jay Davidson blinked away thoughts of the brunette fidgeting stage left. Black skirt, red blouse, tennis shoes with yellow laces, eyes that drew him like an electromagnet and jumbled his brains, leaving him incapable of feeling the ground beneath his feet. Electrodynamic suspension. He’d read about it on a pop science blog.
“Jay?” Dante Estrada leaned down from the milk crate that somehow, at least for now, supported all three hundred-plus pounds of angel weight. “You need to take a break?”
Break. What she was going to do to his heart. Bethany Schmidt. Daughter of head elder Bernard Schmidt. Church secretary. Amazing mom. Breaker of hearts. “I’m good. Let’s push on.”
“Not quite the Christmas spirit, Jay.” Bethany smiled a heart-cracking smile and glided to her mark on the stage. “This good?” She looked up at the man on the ladder with his hands on a silver canister and waited for his nod. As if she needed a spotlight. Couldn’t they all see the glow that lit the room when she entered?
Yolanda’s pen slashed the air. “From the top.”
“Hey, Joseph, don’t be—”
“I’m supposed to be sleeping, you know. The angel shows up in a dream.” What was it about interrupting Yolanda he found so rewarding?
Hands weighted with gaudy rings and gold nail polish flew over her head as if they had a will of their own. “Nobody wants to watch you sleep, Jay. I saw it on the bus coming home from the rescue mission the other night and it ain’t pretty. Why don’t you lean back on that bench thingy and close your eyes then open them and look all trancy-like when Dante starts talking.”
Jay complied, an act that gave his subconscious permission to project images of Bethany on the black screen on the inside of his eyelids. Specifically, images of Bethany saying no when he asked her out on their third date. Would the specter of doubt never leave? Was he destined to stutter every time he spoke to her? She’d said yes to the second date and gave every indication she’d enjoy—
“Pastor Jay? I got some coffee in my lunch box. It’s from this morning, but it might help.”
“I’m fine, Dante. Really. Where were we?”
“I was saying you’re supposed to name him Jesus.”
“Sorry. Again.” This time he did it right. Right up until he was supposed to wake up, stand up, and take Mary home to be his wife. He made it to a stand just fine. It was the walking to her, taking her by the arm, and walking down the aisle part he messed up. Had there always been steps there?
“Jay!” Bethany dropped to her knees. Her hand caressed his forehead. “Are you okay? Don’t move.”
“I’m fine.”
“No you aren’t. I’m taking you to the clinic. What if you have a concussion?”
“I don’t have a concussion.” He grinned at her. “But just to be on the safe side, you should probably keep an eye on me for a few hours.”
A whoot! sounded from the platform followed by a raucous laugh.
“Can you stand up?”
He nodded. The room nodded with him.
Bethany stood, held out her hand. “Come with me.”
“Anywhere.” Jay smiled. His head swam. Had he really said it out loud?
“Just to my place for some ice and observation.”
The angel high-fived the lady with the red pen.
“No gossip, people. We’ll leave the door open.”
“But you’ll be together.” The floor shook as the angel jumped from his cloud, grabbed Yolanda, and began to waltz.

“Give it to me straight. I can take it.” Elizabeth Schmidt gripped the side of the exam table in one hand and a handful of paper gown in the other. “It’s Whipple Disease, isn’t it?” She leaned forward, daring Dr. Mae to tell her anything but the truth. “I watch Weird Diagnoses. I have all the symptoms. Hot flashes, nausea, bloating, fatigue. Or is it schistosomiasis? James and I went to Jamaica in February and I was so careful not to drink the—”
“I’m sorry. I know, I always jump to the worst case scenario. Maybe it’s just celiac. My mom has it. One time she ate a donut and all of a sudden she started hiccupping and then she, well you don’t want to—”
“It’s not celiac.”
“Okay. Good. Can’t imagine life without Cinnabon. So it’s just stress? Managing a garden center the week before Christmas is like being in charge of the monkey cage at the—”
“You’re pregnant.”
“I’m what?”
“With child. In the family way. Bun in the oven.” Dr. Mae winked. “Want some more medical terminology?”
“I’m forty-one! That’s impossible.”
“Clearly, it’s not.”
“But how? How did that happen?”
Dr. Mae perched on her stool. “Well”—her tongue made a tiny bump in her right cheek—“when an egg from your—”
“No! I mean. How . . . We thought we couldn’t. Dr. M, you said we couldn’t.” A snort that was half cry, half laugh shook her shoulders. Her mouth gaped like a gasping fish, but she couldn’t think how to close it. “Pregnant? A baby?”
“That’s generally how it works.”
“I’m going to be a mom?”
“That’s also generally how it works.”
“But I don’t know how. And we don’t have a nursery. The spare room is James’s office and all of his trophies are on the shelves and jerseys on the walls and I haven’t changed a diaper since my niece was born and she’s almost twenty and what if—”
“What if you have the next seven months to figure it all out?” Dr. Mae pulled a pamphlet from a rack. “You’re not due until June or July. We’ll know more after the sonogram.”
“Summer. Of course. It’s not coming right away.”
“I want to see you in two weeks. I’m sure everything is going to be fine, but at your age we’re going to be a little extra vigilant. Make an appointment for an ultrasound sometime this week. That’ll convince you it’s real.” Dr. Mae winked. “And call me if you have any problems or concerns. Okay?”
“Uh-huh.” Dr. Mae left and Elizabeth watched her hands fold the paper gown, pick up her clothes, put them on, in a strange robotic way. As if one word had severed the connection between mind and body. Pregnant. She walked out to the reception area feeling like she’d taken a double dose of allergy medication. Fuzzy, dream-like.
I’m going to be a mother. Somebody’s mom. Mommy.
Linda, a middle-aged woman Elizabeth had come to know years ago from frequent hopeful visits, stretched across the front desk and hugged her. “I’m so happy for you, Beth. I knew it would happen someday.”
That makes one of us. “Thank you. I can’t wrap my brain around this.”
“Nice little Christmas miracle, huh? Let’s get you scheduled for those appointments. I’ve got an 8:30 on Friday morning the 23rd for your ultrasound.”
“That works.” They set a January check-up appointment and Elizabeth put the dates in her phone. “Can I bring James for the ultrasound?”
“Absolutely. How are you going to tell him?”
“I have no idea. He doesn’t even know I had an appointment. I didn’t want him to worry if it was . . . Wait.” The idea was delightfully wicked. In 1996, James had won a pass to the Green Bay Packer locker room. He’d asked one of the players to call Elizabeth for him. Four little words—the most important question of her life—and it had been asked by Reggie White.
Elizabeth suppressed a grin. “Would you mind calling him? Then I can record his reaction. Or give him CPR.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to tell him yourself?”
“I’m sure. It’s kind of an inside joke thing.”
“Then I’d be honored.” Linda slid a paper onto the counter. “Just to make sure we’re following HIPAA rules.”
There were two sides to the Privacy Authorization Form, but Elizabeth didn’t mind taking the extra time.
Linda would call at five o’clock and Elizabeth, camera ready, would be waiting—for sweet revenge and happy tears.
Mama. Ma. Mommy. She slid into the driver’s seat and stared at the empty inches between the steering wheel and a belly she’d thought was just bloated. She placed both trembling hands against the space between her hipbones. “Hi there.”

Elizabeth checked the pot roast and potatoes that had been cooking all day. She stuck a fork in the meat, then quickly pulled it out. She’d eat the potatoes. James could have the meat. At least it looked a little better cooked than it had when she’d taken it out of the fridge this morning.
At eight o’clock this morning she’d thought it might be her last non-Jell-O meal before a series of enemas and barium drinks preparing for endoscopic and colonoscopic tests and pokes and prods and biopsies. At eight o’clock this morning she’d started mentally prepping for Christmas in the hospital and losing her hair. Or her life.
Not gaining a life. Not once had that thought crossed her mind.
She chopped peppers for a salad. Red and green. She whipped up a chocolate mousse. Her stomach could handle cold and sweet.
Still half an hour until James would be home. What next? China. And her grandmother’s silver. She opened the buffet and pulled out a table cloth. And the phone rang.
The breath rushed from her lungs. It was all a mistake. They’d switched her test with someone else’s. Someone young and fertile. With a trembling hand she picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Elizabeth Schmidt?”
“This is Columbia St. Mary’s Emergency Room. Your mother asked us to call you.”

“I’m fine, Bethany, really.” Though a guy could get used to this pampering.
Jay rested on Bethany’s floral couch, feet propped, ice pack on his forehead, a mess of pillows behind his head. She’d been waiting on him for two hours. Waiting on him and picking her fingernails. Something was wrong.
“Let me check your pupils again.”
She knelt beside him, and once again a wave of heavenly dizziness swept over him at the smell of her perfume. If he closed his eyes, he could imagine the couch had turned into a field of fragrant wildflowers on a hot summer day. But the heat wasn’t coming from the sun. And he couldn’t close his eyes because Bethany hovered inches away with a flashlight aimed at his right eye.
“Is one pupil supposed to be the size of a dime and the other like a mustard seed?”
“Gotcha. It’s all good. Equal and reactive, like they say on TV.” Her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. Was she worried about him?
“Am I discharged, nurse?” Not that he wanted to leave. A frozen dinner awaited him upstairs in his apartment. But he didn’t want to take advantage of her kindness. Or rather, he shouldn’t take advantage.
“The teens will be here in fifteen minutes. They’d love it if you stayed. We can talk after they leave.”
“About anything specific? You seem a little edgy.” Was she concerned about her daughter spending the week with the people who never had the chance to become Bethany’s in-laws? “Worried about Ava?”
“No. She’s having a blast. Her grandma’s spoiling her rotten. But she’ll be home on Thursday and I’ve got a lot to do. Parental Christmas stress, you know? So, yeah, stay. I need some adult company.”
He was powerless. She’d said “need.” What could a guy do but flop back in the field of flowers and enjoy the sunshine? “How can I help?”
“By doing absolutely nothing while I run over to the church to get some cups for hot chocolate. Do you have your phone?”
“Keep mine. Call the church if you need anything. And be my secretary if it rings.”
“How long will you be gone?” He teased her with a raised eyebrow.
“A lot can happen in ten minutes, mister.” She set her phone next to him and darted out the door.
Jay sat up. No dizziness. Maybe that was just because the source of his head spinning had walked out the door. He looked around, soaking up the feel of her. Decades earlier, the two-story apartment building they called the Enterprise had been the Sunday school wing of the church. His apartment, directly above hers, was a mirror image, but much less welcoming.
Jelly bean colors. Everything in the room, including the second hand couch, looked like it had spilled out of an Easter basket. Pillows the exact yellow of Peeps chicks, a purple blanket, pink pillows, blue walls. Nothing red or green on the white Christmas tree. Pastel lights and pink tinsel. Resurrection and new birth all jumbled together.
Out on the street a car horn blared and someone yelled words Jay wished he could edit with a string of bleeps. Seven years ago, when he’d come to Bethlehem as an associate pastor, most Friday nights started with a string of bleeps. Things were quieter now.
He opened the front cover of a magazine, but Bethany’s phone rang before he read the first word. He answered it. “Bethany’s phone.”
“Hi. This is Dr. M’s office. Calling to report that Beth’s pregnancy test was positive.”
“Her . . . what?”
“Pregnancy test.”
Jay laughed. “I’m sorry, miss, I’m afraid you have the wrong number.”
“Beth Schmidt?”
“Yes, but—” Sarah called her Beth. So did Misty. Had to be a prank. “Very funny. Who is this?”
“A bit of a shock?” The girl’s high-pitched voice fired his synapses like squeaking Styrofoam.
Shock? If this weren’t some crazy mix-up he’d be struck dumb or catatonic. “Wait. No.” Had to be a mistake. The doctor’s office wouldn’t call Bethany’s phone and give test results to just anyone who answered. “You’d better figure out who you’re supposed to be calling, miss. You’re breaking HIPAA laws.”
“She signed a release. She’s there, right?”
“No she’s not.”
“Oh no. I’m sorry. This is James, right?”
Jay slammed back against the couch. He’d been named for the man who disowned him. Bethany was one of the few who knew that. “Y-yes. It is.”
“No mistake, sir. Beth Schmidt is pregnant.”

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