An epic tale of beauty born out of misery, of love rewriting destiny, Black Box is one of the most sensitively and candidly told stories I have ever read and today, I am so honoured to be able to share with you a very special deleted scene from this beautiful book that has so far only been available to UK readers. We find Mikki and Crush three months after we said goodbye to them at the end of Black Box, and personally, this is exactly what my heart needed to complete their happy ending. But be warned, this scene should be read after Black Box and if you have not finished reading it yet, I suggest you do not read further as this scene contains several spoilers for the novel.
Three months later
‘I can’t believe I’m sitting here in an airport terminal with you.’ I squeeze Crush’s hand and he smiles coolly as he stares out the windows to where the airport employees are getting the plane ready for takeoff. ‘It’s almost as if you have a weird way of making me do things I’ve never done before.’
It actually took a bit of convincing on Crush’s part. My reluctance had nothing to do with being afraid to get on a plane after the emergency landing we endured three months ago. It had everything to do with what happens after we step off the plane. We’re going to meet Crush’s sister Harlow, her husband Isaiah, and their newborn baby.
I’ve met a few babies since the attack, but I’ve never actually held one. I know Crush won’t make me hold Baby Egan, but I have to. Doing something just because it’s expected of you is not something I advocate. But when you’re doing it for someone you love, the rules change. I will endure the inevitable ache that will come from holding Egan so I can see the look on Crush’s face.
‘I seem to remember you offering to edit my 120-page thesis in exchange for not having to go to California.’
He turns to me, his green eyes locking on mine, and my breath stutters in my chest. Those eyes do weird things to me. I reach up and brush my thumb across his eyebrow and he turns his face to kiss my palm.
‘I’d rather go down in a plane crash than spend this Friday with Rina.’
Rina’s cousin Whitley is getting married this weekend at Alden Castle in Brookline. That kind of extravagance is so not my scene, which is a bit hypocritical considering I met Crush’s parents a few weeks ago at their enormous estate in Cambridge. I think it was that visit that made me feel so strongly about not going to Whitley’s wedding. When I told Crush about the wedding venue, he laughed and told me he’d attended three weddings there. I didn’t laugh.
I know Crush is not the type to like lavish weddings and clichéd expressions of love, but I keep wondering what our wedding would be like. The obvious venue would be the Boston Public Library. Because it’s so obvious it must be scratched off the list. But I really don’t want to think of getting married anywhere else. I guess I’ll know the right place when I find it. I should probably also wait for Crush to propose before I start planning our wedding. I wonder what he’d think if he knew I think about these kinds of things.
‘It’s not too late to back out. I can call a driver.’ Crush is wearing that concerned expression as he says this. You’d think I’d be sick of that expression by now, but there is a small part of me that revels in his need to take care of me.
‘I’m not backing out.’
I want to say something about him being stuck with me, but I’m trying to change the way I speak about myself. I’ve been going to a new cognitive behavioral therapist every other Saturday. Crush drives me there after we spend the night in his apartment and we go out to eat after my CBT appointments. Every. Saturday. A big part of CBT is the importance of establishing and following a routine. This is supposed to establish positive thought patterns, which makes managing the highs and lows easier. I’m also seeing a nutritionist once a month who has me eating more vegetables in a week than I used to eat in six months. It’s all in an effort to keep me off meds.
I pull my phone out of my purse and make a note of the date and time and the words I almost said. Later tonight or tomorrow night, I’ll look at all my notes and write a short journal entry about how I’m feeling. It’s all part of changing my behavior, which changes my thoughts, which changes my feelings. It’s actually working pretty well. I’ve only had one bad manic episode since the last time I freaked the f*ck out on the flight to L.A.
After we board the airplane, we endure the most uneventful flight ever and we land in San Francisco International Airport at nine-thirty in the evening. The car takes us to the Four Seasons Hotel on Market Street and I spend the night avoiding the topic of babies and sisters. Both of our sisters are our best friends and both of them will probably give us lots of nieces and nephews. Tonight, I don’t want to think about the fact that my bipolar disorder will prevent me from adopting children in the distant future. Tonight, I want to lie in Crush’s arms and believe that his fate is much sweeter than that.
* * *
‘You have to eat something.’
I shake my head at the plate of scrambled egg whites and fruit and accompanying bowl of steel-cut oats Crush ordered for me from room service. ‘I can’t. I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t apologize. At least drink some juice so we can head out of here.’
I take a few sips of orange juice as I watch him pull a baby-blue gift box out of our suitcase. He turns to me with a warm smile and, for a moment, I allow myself to imagine that he’s holding a gift for our son. I smile back at him, but he can see that I’m operating on auto-pilot.
‘Are you sure you want to do this? I can tell them you got food poisoning or something. You don’t have to put yourself through this.’
I’m doing it as much for me as I am for him. I want to see the look on his face when both of us hold Egan, but I also want to do it for myself. I have to continue to face reality. And my reality is that I will never be able to give birth to a child of my own. I have to accept this instead of thinking that this means life isn’t worth living.
I set down the glass of orange juice and pull my phone out of my pocket to jot down the time and date and my inability to eat. It’s a tedious process, recording all my setbacks. But I’m beginning to learn that, sometimes, in order to move forward, you have to look behind you to make sure you’re still moving.
I tuck my phone into my pocket as Crush holds his hand out to me. I allow him to pull me up from the chair, laughing as he twirls me around like we’re about to start ballroom dancing.
‘I hope we have a daughter so I can teach her to dance.’
I grab the front of his shirt to stop the twirling motion. ‘Why would you say that?’
He looks confused by my question. ‘What do mean?’
‘You know I can’t have kids. And I may never be approved to adopt a child, and that’s probably for good reason.’
‘Mikki, there are more alternatives than adoption. We can get a surrogate.’
I grit my teeth to try to keep from breaking down. ‘I think we should talk about this in a couple of years. Let’s just get going.’
He grabs my hand before I can walk away. ‘I don’t mind talking about this now. In fact, I think it’s important that we know each other’s expectations.’
‘What does that mean? If I don’t agree to your expectations we’re going to break up?’
‘You’re shaking. Come here.’
He pulls me into his arms and I take a few deep breaths to calm myself. He’s not trying to break up with you. I repeat these words a few times inside my head since I can’t jot this down in my notes. When I tilt my head back to look at his face, he’s not smiling and all I can think is that I need to find a way to fix that.
‘I’m sorry. I know that it’s important for us to talk about these kinds of things.’
He kisses the tip of my nose then looks me in the eyes. ‘I think it’s important for you to know, before we go to the hospital, that we’re not doomed. We’re not going to break up, even if we can’t agree on the issue of children. And we’re not going to go through the rest of our lives without the option of having our own kids. The future is here and we can have a designer baby, if you want. How do you want your baby? With blue eyes? Brown hair? Well-done?’
Normally I would laugh at this. Instead, I burst into tears. ‘I don’t want to have a bipolar child. I don’t want my child to go through this.’
He cradles my face in his hands and forces me to look at him through the tears. ‘Baby, that’s a risk every parent takes when they bring a child into this world; not just you. You deserve everything you want. And you know I’ll stop at nothing to give it to you, right?’ I nod and he kisses my forehead. ‘Then please don’t let the fear get you again. Do you need a spoiler alert?’ I smile at this and he kisses the corner of my mouth. ‘I love that smile. But only when it’s real.’
* * *
We arrive at the El Camino Women’s Hospital a few minutes past noon. Crush spends most of the forty-five-minute-drive trying to convince me that I should transfer to Harvard after this semester. The many ways he unconsciously flaunts his money and status are just mind-boggling. He doesn’t realize how ridiculously impossible it would be for me to get into any decent university in Boston, let alone Harvard, with a 2.8 GPA. To him, everything has always been possible. This is one of his qualities that I find both adorable and infuriating.
I have been doing a lot better in my classes ever since I established a routine of actually going to class. But I still have the usual anxieties about school, which mostly consist of my nervousness about being around large groups of strangers and my fear that I’ll never be good enough or healthy enough to keep up with everyone else. The anxiety has lessened, but the thought of going to Harvard just makes me want to puke. There’s no way I could handle that kind of pressure.
The car drops us off at the entrance to the Women’s Hospital, a brick-red building with windows and doors framed in a mint-green that reminds me of a mental hospital. We pass through the sliding entrance doors and immediately run into a woman in burgundy scrubs with a stethoscope draped over her neck. She graciously takes us into an elevator up to the first floor then leads us to the ‘Mother Baby Unit.’
My heart is pounding so hard my bones are rattling. I have to keep reminding myself to breathe. Crush squeezes my hand and I know if I turn my head I’ll find him looking at me, trying to transmit some strength through his steely gaze. But I don’t need his strength. I need my own. I can do this. I just have to remember that today is not about me or Crush or all the things we will or won’t have in the future. Today is about Harlow, Isaiah, and Egan.
‘Here you go,’ the nurse says as we approach a room where the door stands wide open.
‘Thank you,’ Crush and I both say and she nods as she sets off back in the direction we came.
I squeeze Crush’s hand as we stop just outside the door and he smiles. ‘Can I give them the gift?’
He hands me the blue box and kisses my cheek. ‘Of course.’
Harlow is sitting in her hospital bed with at least three pillows propping her up. She doesn’t look that much like Crush, but she is just as beautiful. They both have the same brown hair and green eyes, but her nose is a bit shorter and the angles of her face are softer. Her eyes widen at the sight of us and I instantly feel that I’m going to like her. Not just because she’s so important to Crush, but because she exudes easy-going enthusiasm.
‘Hey, look who’s here,’ she says in a singsong voice so we know she’s talking to the baby in her arms. ‘It’s your Uncle Crush and Mikki.’
‘Aunt Mikki,’ Crush corrects her. I smack his arm and he laughs. ‘Aunt Mikki brought him a gift.’
I shake my head and turn to Isaiah, who’s standing at Harlow’s bedside. He’s what I would call geek chic. His well-groomed curly brown hair and stylish glasses complement his hipster Tetris T-shirt and jeans. One of his eyebrows is raised as he smiles at me, but he has a kind face.
I hold out the blue box to him and he takes it gently in one hand as he holds out his other hand for me to shake. ‘Thank you. It’s nice to meet you, Mikki.’
His hand is soft and it puts me at ease. Soft hands, soft heart. I think I read that in a book.
‘Nice to meet you, too.’ I turn to Harlow and she smiles. ‘Nice to finally meet you.’
‘I’d shake your hand, but mine are a little full. Would you like to hold him so I can open your gift?’
Her eyebrows are raised as she awaits my reply. I thought Crush would be the first one to hold him, but I should have seen this coming when I asked Crush if I could be the one to hand them the box.
‘Of course,’ I reply cheerily.
I sidle up next to the bed and she nods at me, which I take as a signal that I need to come a bit closer. Of course I do. She’s probably in pain from giving birth.
I reach out for the baby and she carefully pulls him away from her chest. I bend over to lean in closer and she gently places him in my arms. He’s so warm and soft.
‘He’s tiny,’ I whisper. ‘I hope I don’t break him.’
‘You break him, you keep him,’ Harlow replies, taking the blue box from Isaiah. ‘What on earth did you guys get us?’
‘Can I touch his cheeks?’ I ask.
They both chuckle. ‘Of course,’ Isaiah replies.
I delicately brush the pad of my index finger over Egan’s cheek and the softness of his skin makes me want to cry. His face is a little puffy, making him look a little like a squashed soda can. I run my fingertip over his wispy eyebrow and I get a chill.
‘Oh, my goodness. This is how people get baby fever.’ Crush’s hand lands on the small of my back and I look up. He winks at me and I shake my head. ‘Nope. You have to wait your turn.’
‘Holy crap. This is adorable.’ Harlow holds up the knitted baby cap with the bunny ears Crush and I found last week. ‘Where did you find this?’
‘A boutique in Beacon Hill,’ Crush replies. ‘Mikki was looking for a new sweater.’
I shoot him a nasty glare and he laughs. ‘Very funny. He keeps making fun of me because I can’t put on weight. If you look inside the cap there’s a custom nametag.’
She looks inside the cap and smiles. ‘Precious Egan.’ She huffs as she places the knit cap back in the box and replaces the lid. ‘He’s precious now that he’s asleep. You should have heard him an hour ago when he had his first bowel movement.’
‘Um… Are we discussing bowel movements?’
Harlow narrows her eyes at Crush. ‘Yes, and you’d better get used to it if you plan on staying for the week. Diaper duty is a requirement.’
‘We’re staying at the Four Seasons, so you’re on your own.’
Her mouth drops. ‘I thought you were staying with us during Spring Break? I haven’t seen you in so long.’
Crush looks at me and I know what he’s thinking. He booked the hotel because he wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle an entire week at Harlow’s house.
I nod at him then I turn to Harlow and Isaiah. ‘Of course we’re staying with you guys.’
She pumps her fist. ‘Yes! I’ll get some sleep this week.’
I chuckle as I lay a gentle kiss on Egan’s forehead then hand him over to Crush. His face lights up as he takes Egan into his arms and I just about melt into the floor.
‘Hey, little guy.’
Egan’s eyes flutter at the sound of Crush’s voice and I sigh heavily at the sight of them. I cover my mouth and blink back tears. And that’s when I get a major spoiler alert.
Crush and I are going to be parents someday.