Tense, taut, and as brutally real as this morning's headlines, Keeper marks the debut of a talented young writer of tough, unflinching prose—and the beginning of an electrifying new series.
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Much as I wanted to, I didn't break the guy's nose.
Instead, I kept both hands on Alison's shoulders, using my body as a shield to get us through the crowd. At six feet and over one hundred and ninety pounds, I'm big enough to be intimidating, even wearing glasses. People normally get out of my way when I want them to.
But the guy stuck with us, even going so far as to lean his face closer to mine. His teeth were the product of either good genes or expensive orthodontia, and the fire was hot in his eyes. He yelled, "Don't let her murder your son!"
Another man pushed a camera at us and snapped a quick photograph, reflecting us in the lens. Over the prayers of several people who pleaded with Jesus to save the soul of our unborn child, I could hear the photographer say, "We won't forget you." Whether that was directed at us or the fetus wasn't clear.
Alison said nothing, her head low and near my chest, one hand around my back, one on my arm. I'd never felt her hold me like that. It almost hurt.
A young black man wearing a safety-orange vest over his T-shirt opened the glass door for us. As we went past he said, "Damn. We don't usually get this." He closed the door behind us, then turned and gave a nod to the uniformed security guard, who buzzed us through a second door, letting us into the ground-floor reception room.
For a disorienting moment we stood there, on the neat checkers of linoleum, still clinging to one another. New faces all around looked back, some embarrassed, some sad, some carefully blank. Eight women, waiting on chairs and couches, and only two of them looked obviously pregnant. One had a baby in her arms. Somehow the child could sleep through all the noise from outside.
A nurse behind the desk said, "Your name?"
Alison let go of me. "Alison Wallace."
The nurse checked a printout on the counter, then nodded. "You want the second floor. Through that door, down the hall, take the elevator or the stairs." She smiled at Alison. "Check in at the counter there." Then the nurse looked at me and asked, "You'll be going up with her?"
"It's Atticus," Alison told her. "Atticus Kodiak."
I took Alison's hand. We went through the door and down a long hall, past a lounge and several examination rooms and offices. We passed a doctor in the hall and he gave us the same smile the nurse had.
Alison wanted to take the stairs. "I'll get to see the elevator after," she said. She let go of my hand when we reached the second floor, stepping into another waiting room, almost identical to the one on the ground floor but with nicer furnishings. More couches and chairs, magazine racks, coffee tables, a coffeemaker, a television. The walls were painted light blue, with white detailing at the trim. At the opposite side of the room from the stairway was a glass partition where more nurses were controlling intake. There was a door beside the partition, and I figured it led to the procedure and recovery rooms. Another door on the wall to the right of that had a sign on it reading "Education and Services."
Alison told me to sit down, then went to the partition and checked in. We filled out her paperwork together, and I had to sign a waiver and a release form, not unlike the forms you fill out before getting your wisdom teeth pulled. Alison returned the completed paperwork, and we sat together for another forty-five minutes before the nurse called her name. I gave her a kiss on the cheek before she rose.
"This is the right thing," Alison said.
She returned my kiss with dry lips, then went with the nurse. She didn't look back.