Here’s the way Eva sees it: if John is so concerned about her butting
into strangers’ lives, he shouldn’t leave her sitting at a table in
Bob Evans with nothing to occupy her time.
She has John down to three cigarettes a day now, one after each meal,
and he always smokes them outside. At restaurants, he walks around the
parking lot a few times, smoking, walking a bit more once he’s
finished. In all, she has about fifteen minutes to spend pretending she
does not mind being left at the table by herself. She sees John has left
two empty jelly packets and two empty butter packets on the table, all
the way over by the wall where the waitress can’t reach them, so Eva
moves them over to the edge, along with a crumpled napkin. This is the
kind of thing waitresses appreciate.
In the booth behind her are two teenage girls. They started talking and
laughing loudly as soon as they sat down. No, guffawing was more like
it. One girl would stage whisper something, and the other would bray a
loud, snorty laugh.
Before he left, John had given them his best stare-down and said,
“You’d think they’d know better than to act like that in a public
Eva hadn’t seen the girls’ reaction, but they hadn’t quieted any.
Eva enjoys restaurant meals, despite this kind of annoyance. Breakfast,
especially. At home, breakfast lasts only a few minutes, long enough for
her to eat a piece of toast with jelly, sometimes over the sink. When
they go out, there is the preparation to leave the house, the discussion
of which restaurant to go to, the drive, perusing the menu, chatting
with the waitress, eating, lingering over an extra cup of coffee. By the
time it’s all said and done, it’s nearly lunchtime.
The waitress (a new girl—the regular morning waitress, Lorraine, is
having knee surgery this week) brings the girls’ plates, which tempers
the noise a bit.
One of the girls says, “Yuck. Why did you tell me to get eggs? I
can’t look at food in the morning, and you order eggs for me. I should
have just had the French toast with strawberries.”
“Those look good,” the other girl says. “Eggs are better for the
baby than French toast. Here, take one of my pancakes.”
“French toast has eggs in it.”
“Yes, it does. It’s bread dipped in eggs. My grandma used to make
it. Anyway, quit talking about the baby. I can’t keep it.”
Eva accidentally bites her tongue. She turns in her booth, trying to
appear as if she’s just stretching her legs, to get a look at the
girl. Blonde hair, a definite plus; the same color that John’s hair
used to be, until it had thinned so much he’d started shaving his head
bald. Both of Eva’s children were towheaded, although their hair
darkened to Eva’s medium brown by adolescence. The girl has either a
bit of natural curl or a perm, Eva can’t tell which. Round face,
stretched out T-shirt. Eva is glad she’s wearing her simple
button-down shirt, her baggy blue shorts. Nothing that would intimidate
the girl, who is not pretty, exactly, but pleasant-looking. She is young
enough that she still has a few pimples on her forehead, and her cheeks
are oily. Her chin sticks out a bit. Eva’s tongue is bleeding. She
presses it against the roof of her mouth. The table is blocking her view
of the girl’s belly.
“I think you should keep it,” the girl’s friend says. “Think how
cool it would be. Have you ever seen those pictures of babies they do at
that place in the mall? They have all these costumes—football player,
fireman, ballerina, ladybug—so you can dress your baby up. They’re
so cute! It’s that place right next to MaggieMoo’s. You should do
“How am I supposed to get money for pictures like that? I keep trying
to tell you, and you’re not listening. Where would we even live? Mom
kicked Marion out. I’m sure she’ll kick me out, too.” She thumps
the bottom of a ketchup bottle over her scrambled eggs.
“How about you move in with Marion? She would understand.”
“She might understand, but she’s not going to let me move in.
She’s got herself and all three of those kids and what’s-his-name in
that two-bedroom apartment.”
“You should have just gotten an abortion.”
“Maybe.” The girl’s voice is doubtful. “Anyway, it’s too late
for that now. I have to find out how you put a baby up for adoption.”
Eva has heard enough. She turns all the way around in her booth.
“Oh, a baby! When are you due?” Her voice seems too loud and
unexpected, echoing for a moment across the table. John would definitely
think this is butting in. But Eva knows she’s been given a sign. From
God or Fate or whatever, but opportunities like this do not come along
every day, and she’s not about to let this one slip away. The girls
both look startled.
Eva smiles because she knows her sharp features—her narrow face and
high cheekbones, her nose a little pointed—tend to make her look
severe if she’s not smiling. Sometimes she wishes for a face that
better matched her personality, one that is round and soft and invites
confidences. Most all the other women she knows plumped up a bit when
they hit their forties, but here she is, halfway into her fifties, still
angular. Finally, the pregnant girl curves her lips upward a little.
“In the winter,” she says. “I don’t know exactly when, probably
“My first, Scott, was a February baby,” Eva says. She can still
taste blood on her tongue. “It’s perfect timing. The whole last part
of the pregnancy is in winter, so you don’t get so hot. Of course,
he’s thirty-three now. With a stepson. My step-grand-son, I
She glances toward the door. If John comes back before she’s finished
talking, he’ll hover next to their table, jingling his keys, until she
cuts her conversation short and leaves with him. Then she’ll have
missed her chance. “And then there’s my daughter, Shelly. She and
her husband have been trying for years, but nothing yet. We just keep
hoping. They want a baby so badly. My name’s Eva.” She smiles,
expectantly now, at the pregnant girl.
“Um . . . CeeCee,” the girl says. She glances at her friend, looking
for guidance. Eva can’t see the friend’s face, but she can see the
back of her head shake slightly.
“That’s an unusual name.”
The girl ducks her head, revealing dark roots. Not blonde after all.
“It’s really Cecelia. But everybody calls me CeeCee.” She drags
her fork over her breakfast plate, drawing in her eggs.
“Oh, but why? Cecelia’s such a pretty name.”
The girl shrugs, takes a bite of hash browns. “These aren’t too
bad,” she says to her friend. “Want a bite?”
Eva cuts off the friend’s answer. “So, Cecelia, you’re considering
Cecelia grudgingly meets Eva’s eyes again. “Well . . . yeah. I mean,
I can’t pay for day care and a place to live. My mom won’t want to
help. Babies are a lot of work.”
“Well, that’s for sure. I remember falling asleep at the dinner
table, I was so tired after Shelly was born. I fell right into my plate!
I had made a hamburger noodle casserole and I had cheese sauce all over
my face. John—he’s my husband—about laughed himself silly, he
thought it was so funny. Of course, easy for him to say. He wasn’t the
one getting up three times a night with a baby and taking care of a
toddler at the same time.” Cecelia smiles, which Eva takes as a good
sign. “Back then, the men didn’t help out with taking care of the
kids or the house. Not like today. What about the baby’s father?
Won’t he help?”
“He doesn’t want a baby. I don’t know whatever made me like him in
the first place.” Cecelia frowns at her plate.
“Cee. Did you want some of my pancakes?” her friend asks. She turns
her head to shoot Eva a look, which Eva ignores.
“That’s a shame,” Eva says. “It must be really hard for you to
handle this all by yourself. Have you had morning sickness?”
“More like all-day sickness.” Cecelia’s face is friendlier now.
Her voice picks up speed and takes on a questioning tone, which Eva is
familiar with, from back when Shelly and her friends were in high
school. “I work at Kroger?” she says. “Back in the deli? And
yesterday, I had to leave right in the middle of slicing some lady’s
honey ham and go throw up. My boss was pissed.”
Eva gives Cecelia a sympathetic look. Back when Shelly was a teenager,
all her girlfriends had loved Eva. They came over after cheerleading
practice, sat at her table, ate the cinnamon rolls she’d made.
They’d talk about boys or their teachers, things they wouldn’t tell
their own mothers. Eva would listen to everything they had to say, then
offer her advice. Which they were happy to have, unlike her own
children. Eva is sure that Cecelia, too, senses that Eva really wants to
listen. Also, any pregnant woman, pregnant on purpose or not, wants to
talk about the bizarre thing that has taken over her body. The
experience is so strange, she can barely help but talk about it. “You
poor thing,” she says. “You know what helped me? Hard candies. I’d
suck on them and wouldn’t feel quite so sick. Bad for your teeth, but
anything to get you through.”
“I’ll have to try that.”
Cecelia’s friend is holding her fork in her hand, glaring at Eva.
“Cee. Did you want to switch places with me?” she says.
Eva supposes the girl knows where Eva is going with this and is trying
to get rid of her, but Eva doesn’t care. Cecelia glances between the
two of them, apparently torn between going along with her friend and
being polite to Eva.
Eva decides to pretend the girl is not there. “It’s too bad you
can’t tell your mom. I’ll bet she knows some tricks, too. It’s
nice to have another woman to rely on, someone who’s been through
“Well, there is my sister. But if I tell her, she’ll probably tell
“And then what would happen?”
“Mom kicked Marion out the first time she got pregnant. Same
thing’ll happen to me, I guess. I really didn’t mean to. Get
pregnant, I mean.”
Eva sees her chance to be the cool mom again. Even if she didn’t have
a personal interest in an unwanted baby, she would still think it a
shame that this poor girl has no one to turn to. “Everyone makes
mistakes,” she says. “Are you sure she wouldn’t let you live with
her? Since you’re giving the baby up for adoption?” She wonders if
John would let Cecelia stay in the guest room.
“I don’t know. I don’t even know how to put a baby up for
adoption. I guess I should call Planned Parenthood or something. I think
they might have doctors, too.”
Eva needs to force the conversation ahead a bit faster than she would
like, but she’s on a deadline. John will be back any minute.
“Cecelia, I can tell you’re a good kid, you just got in over your
head. I’m thinking maybe we could help each other out. You need help
with this pregnancy and your mom, and you need a doctor—you definitely
need to see a doctor—and I happen to have someone I love who very much
wants a baby. The baby would have a good home, be part of a loving
Cecelia’s face is puzzled for a moment, then clears. “You mean your
“Yes, Shelly. And her husband, Brad. Brad is a schoolteacher.”
Then John is behind her. Eva senses him before she can see him, before
she smells the cigarette smoke clinging to his shirt. She can also sense
the moment when he catches on to the topic of discussion, when his
indifference changes to disapproval.
“Well . . . maybe.”
“You think about it. I’ll give you my number, and you think about
it, and when you’re ready, you can give me a call. We can talk some
more. You don’t have to commit to anything.”
John is key-jingling. He has already placed the tip for the waitress
smack in the middle of the table, folded the newspaper neatly beneath
his arm, and now is rocking back on his heels, his chest puffed out. Eva
does her best to ignore him. She hopes Cecelia doesn’t notice his
impatience; after all, he’ll be the baby’s grandfather. Eva pulls a
napkin from the dispenser, writes her name and phone number on it, and
hands it to Cecelia. “I’ll talk to you soon!”
She hears Cecelia’s friend snort as she walks away.
Excerpted from "Almost Always: A Novel of Adoption" by Bobbi Reed. Copyright © 2012 by Bobbi Reed. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.