There were twenty-two days to go before Christmas, but Lenny was doing his Christmas
shopping early this year. Secure in the knowledge that no one knew he was there, and
standing so still and quiet that he hardly could hear himself breathe, he watched from the
confessional as Monsignor Ferris went about the rounds of securing the church for the
night. With a contemptuous smile, Lenny waited impatiently as the side doors were checked
and the lights in the sanctuary extinguished. He shrank back when he saw the monsignor
turn to walk down the side aisle, which meant that he would pass directly by the
confessional. He cursed silently when a floorboard in the enclosure squeaked. Through a
slit in the curtain he could see the clergyman stop and tilt his head, as if listening for
But then, as if satisfied, Monsignor Ferris resumed his journey to the back of the church. A moment later, the light in the vestibule was extinguished, and a door opened and closed. Lenny allowed himself an audible sigh -- he was alone in St. Clement's church on West 103rd Street in Manhattan.
Sondra stood in the doorway of a townhouse across the street from the church. The building was under repair, and the temporary scaffolding around the street level shielded her from the view of passersby. She wanted to be sure that Monsignor had left the church and was in the rectory before she left the baby. She had been attending services at St. Clement's for the last couple of days and had become familiar with his routine. She also knew that during Advent he would now be conducting a seven o'clock recitation of the rosary service.
Weak from the strain and fatigue of the birth only hours earlier, her breasts swelling with the fluid that preceded her milk, she leaned against the door frame for support. A faint whimper from beneath her partially buttoned coat made her arms move in the rocking motion instinctive to mothers.
On a plain sheet of paper that she would leave with the baby she had written everything she could safely reveal: "Please give my little girl to a good and loving family to raise. Her father is of Italian descent; my grandparents were born in Ireland. Neither family has any hereditary diseases that I am aware of, so she should be healthy. I love her, but I cannot take care of her. If she asks about me someday, show her this note, please. Tell her that the happiest hours of my life will always be the ones when I held her in my arms after she was born. For those moments it was just the two of us, alone in the world."
Sondra felt her throat close as she spotted the tall, slightly stooped figure of the monsignor emerge from the church and walk directly to the adjacent rectory. It was time.
She had bought baby clothes and supplies, including a couple of shirts, a long nightgown, booties and a hooded jacket, bottles of formula and disposable diapers. She had wrapped the baby papoose-style, in two receiving blankets and a heavy woolen robe, but because the night was so cold, at the last minute she had brought along a brown paper shopping bag. She had read somewhere that paper was a good insulator against the cold. Not that the baby would be out in the frigid air for long, of course -- just until Sondra could get to a phone and call the rectory.
She unbuttoned her coat slowly, shifting the baby only as needed, remembering to be especially careful of her head. The faint glow from the streetlight made it possible for her to see her infant's face clearly. "I love you," Sondra whispered fiercely. "And I will always love you." The baby stared up at her, her eyes fully open for the first time. Brown eyes stared into blue eyes, long dark-blond hair brushed against sprigs of the blond hair curling on the little forehead; tiny lips puckered and turned, seeking Mother's breast.
Copyright © 1998 by Mary Higgins Clark
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