Of all the things Sara could have asked her, this was the last thing Lilly had expected.
She was twenty-five. Starting a new job in less than forty-eight hours, and she wanted her to get pregnant. With Sara’s and Cole’s child?
She had said that she would do anything but she didn’t know if she could do this. This was too big of a decision for her to make in haste. She needed to talk to her parents, to Cole and then give it even more thought. Fortunately, she didn’t have to answer Sara, because she fell asleep.
When she walked out of Sara’s room, she couldn’t make eye contact with Cole. She didn’t know what to say. What if he was all for it? Or what if he thought it was the vilest thing in the world? She didn’t even know how she felt about it.
“What’s wrong, Lilly?” Cole asked bringing her to a seat in the waiting room.
“She’s asleep right now. She looks awful,” was all that Lilly could bring herself to say.
“Did you get to talk to her?” he asked. He was desperate for information. He was hurt that she didn’t want to see him, but realized that she probably needed her sister more right now.
“Just a little. She did most of the talking and then fell asleep,” Lilly said quickly, hoping that he wouldn’t pressure her for additional information.
Unfortunately that didn’t happen because he then asked, “What did she talk to you about? Does she want me to move out? Does she want a divorce?”
Lilly just sat there in silence. She knew that this wasn’t fair to Cole, because he was overcome with guilt, but she couldn’t say the words out loud.
“Lilly, does she? She does, doesn’t she? She wants a divorce.” Cole sounded so dejected.
“No, Cole, she wants a baby. Your baby.”
“But she knows about the hysterectomy; the doctor assured me that they told her.”
“She knows. She wants me to carry it for you two.” Lilly was in shock.
“So she wants to stay with me. She still wants to have my baby.” Cole sounded excited. Could he not see that Lilly was reeling from shock? Lilly just shook her head affirmatively.
It was the lack of speaking that initially caught Cole’s face. Then he realized that Sara had asked her sister to do the unimaginable. To sacrifice her own career and possibly her future to save their marriage.
Would Lilly be able to do that? Would she feel comfortable with having her sister and brother-in-law’s child? They had just reconnected less than twenty-four hours earlier. Until then, they were nearly strangers.
Cole felt selfish for how he reacted, and then he turned to his sister-in-law and took both her hands and asked if she had given an answer to Sara.
“No; she fell asleep before I could,” Lilly said in earnest. Even if Sara had stayed awake for hours, she didn’t know if she would have had an answer for her.
“Lilly, I can’t imagine what is going through your head right now. You are just starting your life. We are ten years ahead of you. It’s not your duty to do this. You need to start your job, find a boyfriend, and make a life for yourself. We will get by, We can find a surrogate,” Cole tried to reassure her, as much as he was trying to reassure himself.
Lilly asked if he would call her a cab. She needed to go home and didn’t want to ask him to leave. He offered to take her anyway, but she really needed to be alone with her own thoughts. When she got home, she took a long hot shower and threw her jeans and towels in the washer. She needed to talk to her parents.
Yes, that would help clear her thoughts.
When Jackie answered the phone, she knew instantly that something was wrong.
“Mom, can you and Dad both get on the phone? I need to talk to you both,” Lilly requested.
Within seconds both her parents were listening on the speakerphone as Lilly told them about Sara.
“First, let me just say that Sara is a worse off than any of us knew. She is taking fertility injections by the truckload, and it’s messing with her body and mind. She’s irrational and moody and then violent and mean. She has kicked Cole out of their bedroom because she had a tubal pregnancy and he insisted that she have it aborted or else she would have died. This made her so mad that she threw him out of the bedroom, and he sleeps upstairs. She never ventures out. She has no friends, and she has managed to isolate the person that loves her the most, Cole,” Lilly said without taking a breath but she knew that she had to tell them everything, so she continued.
“My heart breaks for him. He’s very sweet and super kind and is totally under-appreciated. So today, he took me to get a car and to find my way around, in preparation for Monday. When we returned, we found Sara lying in a pool of blood. She had another miscarriage, however because of the cysts on her ovaries, the doctors performed a hysterectomy.”
Lilly heard her mother say, “Oh, no!” but Lilly decided to not stop.
“They life-flighted her to The Women’s Hospital, and Cole and I followed the ambulance. In the end, the doctor felt they had no choice but to remove her ovaries because of the cysts and the high risk of cancer. When she recovered she asked to see me.”
“Not Cole?” her father asked.
“Not Cole...me. Dad, when I saw her it was like looking at a ghost. She was so white, like no blood was in her body, and so fragile. She asked me to carry hers and Cole’s child for her. I didn’t know what to say, and fortunately she fell asleep before she demanded an answer.”
“Did you talk with Cole?” Jackie asked Lilly, feeling really sorry that she was in this situation.
“I did, and at first he was over the moon. He saw that this was a way of saving his marriage. That it meant that she still wanted him, but Mom, honestly, I don’t think Sara is thinking that deep. She just wants a child. In her words, a Williams child. After I didn’t say much, then Cole realized what this would require.”
“I am starting a new job on Monday. I will be working with horses, miniature ponies and donkeys. It will be a busy job and by the time I would deliver, if I agreed, it would be near the Livestock Show. I would be putting my life on hold. Am I being selfish? I need advice. My heart goes out to Cole, and even to Sara. She’s not in her right mind. Honestly, I don’t know that I’d feel comfortable leaving her with an infant. She’s really in bad shape.”
Lilly finished saying what she needed to say, and then her father said, “We are flying out tomorrow. Do you think you can get us at the airport? We are going to talk through this as a family. Everyone will need to be honest and not withhold anything.”
“Thanks, Daddy. I don’t know what to do. I want to help, I really do, but have a baby? I’ve never even had sex, much less jump that part and go to giving birth.”
“Don’t worry, honey, we are coming out and we will talk with Sara. If she’s that bad, she may need to be institutionalized until she can recover and think rationally. There are other options, like finding another surrogate, or even adoption.”
“I’m glad you both are coming. I don’t know what to do,” Lilly admitted openly. This was well above her level of experience in life, and she didn’t want to make the wrong decision.
When Cole arrived home that night, he saw that Lilly was still up. He couldn’t believe that he had thought of only himself. He needed to go and apologize to her.
He knocked on her door and stepped in to see her in her tank top and PJ shorts. She was truly beautiful and young. He wished that they didn’t have to have such serious conversations. He enjoyed spending time with her, just being silly, like watching her play in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Got a minute?” he asked.
“Sure, it’s your house,” Lilly said in response. She didn’t really want to talk but she knew that she had to. She was a guest, after all.
“I’m sorry I got optimistic back at the hospital,” Cole said as he sat down on the edge of her bed, near the foot.
“It’s ok. It’s was a little overwhelming. I spoke with Mom and Dad, and they are flying out in the morning and we are going to have a family talk.”
“Lilly, I can’t imagine how torn you must feel. You have your whole life in front of you, and here Sara is asking you to put it on hold and have our child.”
“Can I be honest?” she asked Cole.
“Absolutely, I’d expect nothing but honesty from you.” He smiled as he said that. He really was a nice guy. Why couldn’t she meet nice guys? Maybe that’s what she was hoping to do in Houston.
“I honestly don’t know if Sara is physically, mentally or emotionally able to care for a child. I can’t imagine bringing a child into this world with such an unstable parent. I know that sounds cruel, but she’s my sister and I think she needs to be hospitalized and get some help,” Lilly said, trying to keep her emotions in check.
“I feel that way sometimes too, but I would love to be a father. I think I’d be a good one too, but I do worry about Sara. She’s not the same person she was when we met. She was so fun-loving and high-spirited. She told me once that she would never be tamed, and of course I took that as a challenge, but I never tried to beat the fight out of her. Ok, ‘beat’ was probably the wrong word. I promise I never hit your sister.”
“I know that. I know what kind of man you are. You remind me of my father a lot.”
“Geez, I’m not that old.” Cole laughed, and Lilly laughed as well.
“No, I mean your personality. My father doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He loves his wife, his family, and his community. You are like that. You love Sara and your family, but you also love your patients, and your staff loves you. I never thought that you hit her, but something is wrong with her. I took enough psych classes to know that she’s got some kind of imbalance. And where would that leave this poor baby? Being dragged to your job everyday or left in her care, under watchful eyes,” Lilly said honestly.
“I’ve thought about that for years now. But this isn’t your problem, Lilly. We can find a surrogate, if that’s what she wants. This is the first time, she even considered it. I guess it’s because up until this time, she thought she could still carry a child.”
“What kind of sister would I be if I rejected her? Wouldn’t she withdraw even more?” Lilly questioned herself out loud.
“You are a good sister. Please don’t feel obligated to me or to Sara. We have our own lives to live, and so do you,” Cole said as he reached for her hand. “I’m glad you called Jake and Jackie. They can reach her in ways that neither of us will ever be able to. Good thinking,” he said, and withdrew his hand, leaving her feeling all tingly inside. She didn’t know why his touch did that to her. It wasn’t right. He was her brother-in-law, even if their marriage was a sham, in her opinion. She had more feelings for Ricky than Sara had for Cole, which was pretty bad.
“Did you ever get to see her?” Lilly asked.
“No. She was asleep the rest of the night, or pretended to be, but either way, I decided to go back tomorrow. What time do your parents come in?”
“I’ll check my email. They were going to email me their itinerary. Can you give me driving directions to the airport?” Lilly asked.
“I’ll drive us. That way we can talk openly,” Cole said as he was pulling the door closed. “Goodnight, Lilly.”
But a good night was not what she had. Her dreams were like mini-nightmares. Each one continued to tell the story. She heard herself scream at one point, and it must have awoken Cole because he came busting through her door and flipped on the light.
“Are you ok?” he asked. He hadn’t realized that he was in a tank top and his boxers when he ran in there.
Lilly couldn’t take her eyes off of him. He was so put-together. He was a hard worker, he was gorgeous, kind and sweet, and yet her sister rejected him. Was there something that she couldn’t see?
“I’m fine. It was a nightmare,” she said, shifting her glance. “Do you want to talk?” he offered.
The last thing she needed was to tell him about her dreams. “No, I think I’ll get some water and try to relax.”
“Stay put; I’ll get you some water,” he said as he walked out into the mini-kitchen and opened up the refrigerator and brought her a bottle of water.
Initially, she placed the water on her forehead to try to calm her nerves, and then opened it.
Mistaking her initial reaction, Cole went into the bathroom and got her a cool washcloth and brought it back to her.
Instructing her to lie down, he placed the cool cloth over her forehead.
“Better?” he asked in a husky tone.
“Yes,” she said breathy. “Thanks. Goodnight,” she quickly replied.
“Goodnight, Lilly. Sweet dreams,” Cole said as he closed her door and walked back into the game room/kitchenette.
“What are you thinking? She’s your sister-in-law, you monster,” he said to himself, hoping that she couldn’t hear him.
Just a few hours later, they got into his car and drove to the airport. Since 9/11, one could no longer wait at the baggage claim or drop-off area, so their choice was to drive around or park and go find them. They opted for the latter. “Who knows how much luggage Mom will bring,” Lilly said under her breath.
Cole, having heard it, just laughed and said, “Probably a lot, knowing your mother”. Lilly smiled, picturing her packing last night and throwing everything in her suitcase.
They walked into the terminal and scanned the board, looking for the expected flight. It had just landed, so they waited in the alcove where people would watch to see their loved ones arrive, and when they saw Jake and Jackie, Lilly ran into her father’s opens arms. Jackie went and hugged Cole. It was apparent from the redness around Jackie’s eyes that she had spent the better part of three hours crying. Jake and Cole shook hands, and then Jake pulled him in for a hug, and Jackie and Lilly exchanged hugs and offered to take their luggage.
Jackie spent the time commuting from the airport to find out the state of her daughter.
“Mom, we’ve not seen her since last night. We are assuming it’s the same as when I talked to you both,” Lilly answered, trying to give Cole some time to collect his thoughts.
Jake finally spoke up and said that he didn’t think it was wise for Lilly to take on such a huge burden, and that surely they could find a suitable surrogate.
“That’s what I told Lilly last night,” Cole replied to his father- in-law.
“Honestly, I don’t know that any surrogate would do it, knowing Sara’s physical and mental state. A surrogate might be afraid that she would end up having to care for the child, and that’s not what surrogates are meant for,” Lilly stated.
She had really been giving it a lot of thought and realized that no person in their right mind, minus family, would want to be their surrogate. Sara was too unstable and Cole was too busy.
The rest of the ride was in silence until Cole asked if Lilly her parents about her new position.
“Briefly. I will be working with equine, all breeds,” Lilly responded.
Cole interjected, “That’s a huge position considering the amount of horses and trail riders that are at the livestock show each year. There’s probably three to five hundred horses, and I’m not talking about those being sold; these are ones which are currently owned and will need assistance during the month long ordeal.” He smiled at Lilly. He was really proud of her. It was such a huge position for someone right out of college, which meant that she had left quite an impression on the recruiters.
Lilly couldn’t remember the last time someone had bragged about her, in her presence. She knew her parents did, but usually they waited until she had left, but Cole didn’t hold back his praise. It was nice and made her feel flushed inside.
When they finally arrived at the hospital, Jackie and Jake entered the hospital room, leaving Cole and Lilly alone in the waiting room.
“That was really nice of you to say about my new job.”
“I meant it. It’s obvious that you left a good impression on the recruiters, and I’m sure your instructors gave you high recommendations. You should be proud of your new opportunity. That’s why I think you should tell your sister no. If you don’t want to, I will. I don’t want to see you throw your career away for us.”
“Is there an ‘us?’ I mean, you and Sara? Do you think you have a future together?” Lilly asked Cole honestly.
“I wish I knew. She runs hot and cold, and I never know where I stand.”
“Is that how you want your children to feel too? Not knowing where they stand with Sara? Don’t get me wrong, I love my sister, but she’s not the person I remember growing up with.”
“I know. She’s so different. I stay awake at night wondering what I did to cause her to become like this.”
“Cole, you didn’t do this. Sara has always been a go-getter, and when she couldn’t achieve something, for whatever reason, it drove her mad...like crazy. I think not getting pregnant, or losing the babies, has done that. I honestly believe she should be hospitalized until she can get the right meds to help her.”
“I can’t do that,” Cole said sadly.
“I know, that’s why Mom and Dad are here. If they believe she needs help, they will be the first ones to admit her. Let’s just see what they say,” Lilly said as she placed her hand on her brother- in-law’s shoulder. She felt so sorry for him, but didn’t want to hurt him or Sara.
He put his arm around his young sister-in-law and just let her rest her head on his shoulder while she looked up information on equine care, maintenance, and then pulled up stats from previous years to learn about the different species, breeds and sizes.
She would tell him what she was reading. Cole was having fun learning as well. He obviously didn’t know much about the care of animals, but to see the light in Lilly’s eyes when she spoke of it was something special. He hadn’t seen that light in Sara’s eyes in some time, or perhaps never - he couldn’t remember.
When her parents came out the two separated and looked at them for advice.
They all gathered in the waiting room. Jackie was crying. Lilly got up and tried to comfort her mother.
Jake was the first one to speak. “Lilly, you are correct. Sara is far worse than we had expected. We have asked the doctor to call in a psychologist and see if we can get her diagnosed. Our guess is bipolar, or some sort of mood-altering disorder. We also believe that it would be unfair to bring a child into this world with Sara struggling as it is. We are sorry, Cole, but that’s our opinion.” Jake held his arm around his grieving wife. Jackie was hurting, seeing her daughter in such a horrible place. Jackie knew that Sara wasn’t well.
“I understand, Jake. I worry about Sara and her ability to be a mother. Right now, I don’t see that being in her interest or that of our child. Perhaps if she improves, then we can hire a surrogate. In the interim, I’ll speak to Dr. Winters and see about having her eggs frozen.”
“That’s a good idea,” Lilly said, never even thinking about that. “Did she ask to see me?” Cole asked, hopeful.
“No, son, she didn’t. All she asked was if Lilly had an answer,
and we told her not yet. There were a lot of things to consider,” Jake said looking distracted.
“How did she take that?” Lilly asked her father, who seemed to be greying over the last hour.
“Not well, but that’s not for you to worry about.”
The four of them returned to Cole and Sara’s home. He offered Sara’s master bedroom to his in-laws. He didn’t know how long they would be staying but he welcomed the distraction.
He was finding it more and more difficult to be around Lilly without touching her, just briefly, to feel her pulse race. She was like a wild stallion, he decided after he learned a little about each equine.
Over the next few weeks, Jackie and Jake went to all of Sara’s doctor’s appointments. Of course, Cole was there too, but she wouldn’t see him.
Lilly busied herself with her new job. She came home every day, excited to share with her family how much she loved it, but she couldn’t miss the hurt in Cole’s eyes.
Sara wouldn’t even make eye contact with him, much less talk to him.
Surely she couldn’t still blame him for her miscarriage. He had saved her life but she wouldn’t hear of it.
Lilly avoided Sara because ever time she saw her, she asked for a decision, which Lilly had yet to commit to.
Finally, after a month, the doctors agreed that Sara needed to be hospitalized. She was bitter, and told her parents to leave and that she never wanted to see them again. She finally agreed to see Cole, only he probably wished he hadn’t gone in. Sara was full of hatred and venom when she spoke to him: “I hate you. I hate the ground you walk on and the air that you breathe. Why couldn’t you just let me die, along with my child?”
“Our child, Sara. It was my child too, and I couldn’t let you die because I love you. You are my wife.”
“It wasn’t your child. You couldn’t get me pregnant, so I had sex with Brandon down the street. It was his child,” she said hatefully.
“Brandon? He’s like twenty. You had sex with a kid,” Cole said in disbelief, but it wasn’t Cole’s fault that Sara couldn’t get pregnant, and he made sure to tell her: “Sara it’s not my sperm. I can have children, but for whatever reason, your body keeps rejecting them. It happens to some women, but it doesn’t make you less of a woman because you can’t carry a child.” He tried to reason, but she just threw a vase at him and told him to leave and never come back to see her.
Jackie and Jake tried to comfort their son-in-law, but there was nothing they could say. Cole couldn’t believe that Sara had been unfaithful to him after all that he had put up with.
When Lilly heard about it she was angry. She wanted to go and tell Sara how stupid she was, but she knew that Sara wouldn’t hear her. So, like Cole, Lilly avoided visiting Sara at the hospital.
Lilly was thankful that her parents stayed for another two months. Jackie needed to ensure that Sara was getting the care she needed. She wanted to take Sara home with her to recover, but at that point Sara hated everyone, even her dear parents.
On the other hand, Lilly used their visit as a time to get fully involved in her new job. She was loving it. It was tiring but so rewarding. One night she told the family over dinner how she delivered her first colt.
Lilly didn’t even realize that the mention of the newborn caused Cole pain. Instead, he praised her for all her hard work and reminded her that most likely, the mare did all the hard work, and that she was just there to sign the birth certificate.
“Funny, but very true. The mare was beautiful. I’ve never seen something so loving and breathtaking as watching this life-size colt come from her mother and begin to walk immediately. I felt like I was watching a Bambi movie.” Lilly laughed, and again Cole noticed how her laughter reached her eyes. She was genuinely happy.
No one had mentioned the need for Lilly to move out. Jackie felt good knowing that she was there, safe, and Jake felt that she probably was helping Cole by distracting him. Lilly felt that with Cole running two businesses, it was probably helpful that she was there to cook and clean up. Cole didn’t know how he felt about it anymore. He was unsure if they should keep her distance, but after Jackie and Jake left, Lilly recommended that he move back downstairs. He didn’t know why he was reluctant to leave the upstairs. He knew that he had grown accustomed to her scent; her lavender shampoo in the shower and the ginger body soap. But he agreed to the move, knowing that distance was what he needed more than anything.
This would give Lilly some privacy as well. And with an outside entrance, she could leave in the event she got called out for an emergency.
It was strange coming ‘home’ to a house without her parents or Sara there. Cole kept his distance, and Lilly began to enjoy living upstairs.
She was shocked one night when her cell phone rang and it was Cole. She had been working late and she figured that he was worried about her safety.
“Hey, Cole, sorry I forgot to text you that I was working late. We have a very angry horse right now,” she said cheerily.
But before she could tell him why the horse was in a bad mood, Cole interrupted her and said, “It’s your sister. Lilly, she’s....dead,” he said before he broke down in tears.
“What do you mean she’s dead? I saw her last weekend; she seemed better. She even understood why I wasn’t able to surrogate for her.” Lilly assumed that he had misunderstood the doctor.
“She killed herself, Lilly. She sliced her arm and bled out and she is dead,” Cole said through his tears.
“Where are you?” Lilly asked immediately.
“At home. About to go to the hospital.”
“Wait on me. I’m on my way. Have you called Mom and Dad?” she asked.
“No, Lilly, you were the first person I called. I just couldn’t see her alone.”
“Ok, Cole, I’m leaving now. I will be there in twenty minutes.
Please call my dad and talk to him and not my mom. I don’t know if she can handle it. If you can’t, I will do it,” she offered in earnest.
“No, I can do it. I feel better just knowing that I’m not alone. See you soon,” he said, and hung up and called his in-laws to give them the dreadful news.
When Jackie answered the phone she knew something was wrong, but Cole insisted on speaking to Jake.
“Ok,” he said. “I’ll shift around some city business and we will fly out the day after tomorrow,” Jake said wiping the tears from his eyes.
Jake didn’t know how he was going to tell his wife. They had been getting updates from the doctors nearly daily, so this would come as a total surprise.
“Jackie, honey, have a seat,” he said to his wife, who already knew it was bad news.
“She’s dead, isn’t she?” she asked, not wanting to hear the answers.
“Yes, my love. We need to go to Houston,” he said as he wrapped his loving arms around his wife and let her cry until he led her up the stairs and laid her down on the bed, where she continued to cry until she drifted off to sleep.
When Lilly got to the house, she ran up the path, and Cole opened the door and she hugged him so tight that it was hard to see where one began and the other ended. They were both hurting but in different ways.
Lilly felt guilty. If she hadn’t said no to her sister, she might still be alive. She thought Sara understood that she couldn’t do what she asked of her. She seemed better on the medication, otherwise Lilly would have kept avoiding the question.
Cole felt guilty as well. He realized he was no longer in love with Sara. He was glad that she was in the hospital because he couldn’t imagine going back to the horrible life they shared before.
Both cried in each others arm’s and then Lilly grabbed her brother-in-law’s hand and pulled him into her jeep.
They rode in silence, trying to contain the voices in their heads. Finally Cole said that her parents would be here on Wednesday.
“Did he say anything else?” Lilly asked.
“No, not really. Actually, he didn’t seem surprised. How is it that everyone could see something but I couldn’t? Do I live with blinders on?” He really wasn’t wanting an answer; he just threw it out there to see if the cosmos could make sense of his life.
“Cole, I feel responsible,” Lilly finally admitted.
“This past weekend, I saw Sara and she asked me again about being a surrogate. I thought she was doing better, so I told her the truth...that I couldn’t, at least not right now. I’m crazy busy at work and I just couldn’t see taking time off to have a baby. She said she understood, but now looking back, I’m not sure she did. She was quiet after that, and now two days later she kills herself. She must have thought I closed the door on it forever, but I didn’t. I just didn’t want to give her false hope,” she said, blinking away the tears.
“Lilly, this wasn’t your fault. I feel I’m to blame,” Cole admitted.
“Because Sunday I came and saw her and told her that I wasn’t sure if I could continue living our lives the way we had been for the past five years. So until she was better, I felt that it was best if I kept my distance and let her recover, and if there was a chance for reconciliation, we would see after she had been helped emotionally. Basically, I told her we were done, and less than twenty-four hours later she killed herself,” Cole uttered softly.
“Oh, Cole, this isn’t your fault. You were just being honest with her.” Lilly couldn’t believe that they both delivered ‘bad news’ to Sara back-to-back. Talking more to herself than to Cole she lamented, “I guess to Sara it seemed like we had thrown in the towels and given up on her.”
“We both are really thoughtless,” Cole said with remorse in his voice but she knew he didn’t mean that.
“Hey, speak for yourself. I’m not thoughtless. I am a realist,” she said, trying to make light of the situation, and then realized there was no way she could ever make light of what happened today. In part, Cole was right: each of them, on their own, without the others knowledge, pushed Sara over the edge. Once she realized that, she asked Cole for a favor.
“Sure, Lilly, what is it?”
“Can we never tell anyone, not even my parents, about what happened this weekend? It’s one thing for me to have to live with the guilt. It’s something else to be held accountable for it.”
“Agree. It will be our secret,” he said, realizing that he didn’t have anyone else to confide in anyway.