Excerpt

Read the opening pages of Rules for Giving and see why this novel will catapult to the top of your "must-read" list. 

Chapter 1

May 1971

 

The abortion clinic was a half-truth and a shock.

       A half-truth because of the name—Valley Women’s Medical Center. As if a waiting area and a couple of examination rooms qualified it as a “center.” The reality was that it was an abortion clinic.

 

       The shock was that the place was packed, crammed with more people than I thought could fit into that small room. They were almost all women. There were even a handful waiting outside the door. Every chair was occupied. Someone sat on the corner of every end table. They hunkered in the shadows and stood in the open. Women alone, women standing with other women, crying, clutching hands. Others were stoic. A few were even casual. Smiling and almost laughing.

       Years later I looked back at our experience—I was one of the few men there—and I understood. I understood why they crowded us into that stuffy reception room, why they made us wait, and why the women at the front desk didn’t make eye contact as they handed out paperwork and gave directions.

       They needed to desensitize everyone, numb them to what was about to happen. When they called names they wanted everyone to get up and follow the nurse like cattle.

       If they couldn’t do that, they wanted to vet you, to scare the shit out of you, so that if you had any doubt about what you were doing, you were out the door. The last thing anybody wanted was a woman getting hysterical while waiting for her name to be called to get a baby scraped out of her, and there was plenty of potential for that.

       This understanding came only years later, though. When we walked in that day and I felt Tilda’s hand stiffen, my only thought was: This is hell.

       Tilda had told me the previous week that she was pregnant. I was not surprised. I tracked her cycles almost as well as she did, and I knew she was late.

       So there we were, a couple of nineteen-year-old Catholic school kids who had shed our faith a year out of high school. The nuns and priests had assured us we would burn in hell for what we were about to do. We loved each other, but marriage was not an option, and neither was a baby. I was still having trouble forming a plan for my life. Tilda, however, had been accepted at UCLA in the fall, and nothing was going to interfere with that. She would have her way.

       Roe v. Wade was two years away, but abortions were legal in California. We had visited a week before—there was no crowd then, I guess the afternoons are quiet—and the nurse confirmed that she was eight weeks along. Tilda made the appointment and I got the money out of savings.

       We checked in at the front desk, Tilda signing in with one hand, and gripping mine with her other. Names were called and two chairs opened up in front of us. No one moved to take the empty seats. After an awkward moment Tilda and I sat down. I considered offering my chair to one of the women standing, but the look on Tilda’s face—Don’t leave me!—made me decide not to.

       We’d met five months earlier, right after the first of the year, and lost our virginity to each other six weeks later. It took me a while to get used to her, this beauty with almond-shaped eyes who looked like either Cher or Marlo Thomas, depending on her mood. Her hair was so black it was blue, falling down her back in thick tresses. I could not believe we were a couple.

       I was a geek—six-foot-two with all of one hundred and fifty-two pounds packed onto my rawboned frame—an Adam’s apple with size thirteen shoes.

       The chair I was sitting on in the waiting room—small and hard—caught me across the kidneys. A dull ache set in. It served as a message: You aren’t supposed to be comfortable in this place, doing this thing.

       Many of the women were the same age as Tilda and I, but others were well into their thirties. A few had brought friends for support. A girl sitting directly across from us was clutching the hand of a lady who looked old enough to be her grandmother. None of the couples had the body language or age difference that told you they were a mother and daughter. Three or four men sat among the women, all looking as if they wished they could be anyplace else. Me, too. No one made eye contact.

       The tension in the room gripped my windpipe, making breathing difficult. We were all too close, invading one another’s space. I wanted out. The only thing that kept me from fleeing was Tilda’s lock on my hand.

       A few women came in and presented slips of paper at the counter. Each received a small, flat bag and they left. Birth control pills, I suspected. On two occasions women came in dragging small children. The receptionists were ready. They ushered them right back out, and they were not too courteous about it.

       “I can’t believe people bring their kids in here,” one of them said. “We tell them not to do that. Most of these women are in here on a fingernail. We don’t need someone falling apart in this room.”

       Before entering the inner offices, women were processed once more at the front desk. When their names were called they would walk up, wooden with apprehension. More papers were passed back and forth, signatures scribbled and money changed hands. Tilda sat—unmoving—not looking at me. We didn’t talk. There was nothing to say and, besides, I don’t think either of us had the power of speech. After an hour I calculated she was two groups away from getting her name called when she whispered that she had to go to the bathroom. Minutes later she was back. She took my hand and pulled me up. I was confused, but I followed her out the door and into the sunlight—anything to get out.

       In the parking lot I could breathe again. I sucked oxygen into my lungs and it kept going down to my fingertips and toes. I was still basking in the sensation when Tilda grabbed my wrists, desperation in her touch and on her face.

       “Gavin,” she said. “I got my period.”

       “How can that be? Last week the nurse said you were pregnant.”

       “I don’t know.” Her reply was half answer and half whine. “Let’s go home and see what happens. We still have a few weeks.” We left without telling the women at the front desk. I’m sure we weren’t the first ones who went out for air and never returned.

       Halfway to Tilda’s house, blood started seeping through her pants. I pulled over and got a sweatshirt from my trunk for her to sit on. She was doubled over in pain by the time I got to her home. Bad cramps often accompanied her periods. I’d been with her once or twice when they came, but this was worse. Heavy bleeding was not unusual, either. She kept telling me it was normal. Once inside, she changed and then curled up on the sofa with a towel between her legs. I got the electric blanket from her bed, plugged it in and rolled it up, and she held it against her stomach and fell asleep. In the service porch I filled the utility sink with cold water and soaked her bloody clothes and my sweatshirt.

       Tilda spent the rest of the morning and the entire afternoon on the sofa, drifting in and out of sleep. She groaned when the cramps worsened. I sat on the floor, held her hand, and obsessed. I dozed, too, exhausted by the stress.

       At 4:00 p.m. she awoke and convinced me I should leave. She feared her mother would come home and suspect something. I wrung out the clothes, took my sweatshirt, put Tilda’s things in the dryer, and left.

       On the way home I stopped by the bar that served as the watering hole for the guys at the furniture store where I worked. I was two years away from legal drinking age, but this place didn’t care. Several of my co-workers from the warehouse were there. The pitchers of beer kept coming.

       I called Tilda at 8:30 that night, my voice thick with alcohol. She wasn’t feeling much better—maybe a little worse. She’d told her mother that her period had come and felt as if she had the flu at the same time.

       She either couldn’t tell I’d been drinking, or she was in too much pain to care.

       A little after 8:00 the next morning I was home, getting ready to head out for class. I intended to stop and call Tilda at the first phone booth, but the phone rang and my mother answered it. She gave me a look that told me Tilda was on the line. My mother didn’t approve of girls calling boys, even if they were nineteen. She had been waiting up for me when I came home drunk the night before, and I’m sure she was still angry about that, too. We had only one phone–no extensions–right in the middle of the dining room, with a five-foot cord. Everybody knew everybody’s business.

       Tilda, who grew up with just her mother, had a difficult time understanding my predicament and my need to often talk in code. This time, however, she went straight to the issue.

       “I think I had a miscarriage this morning.”

       A shudder passed through my chest, as if something visceral had been taken away and I was never getting it back. She wasn’t pregnant. I should be relieved, but that’s not the way I felt. I was concerned for Tilda, too. Emotions blurred.

       “Are you sure?” I asked, keeping my voice low. My mother was in the kitchen, the water running in the sink, but her auditory skills were unmatched.

       “I woke up in the middle of the night with stomach cramps again–really bad ones.” She started crying. “I went to the bathroom and it fell out. It was the size of an egg. I’m sure it’s a fetus.”

 

       Her cry turned into a wail.

       “I need you,” she said.

       Twenty minutes later I was on her doorstep.

What happens to Tilda and Gavin? How does this secret haunt them? Don't wait! You can find out when you purchase this electrifying novel! Click here