Excerpt From 'Softly & Tenderly' by Sara Evans

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"Why don't you hear her out first?" Jade slipped onto one of the island chairs and watched June fill a kettle with water and drop it onto the stove with a clank.

It was nearing five. Jade would have to leave after this cup of tea to get Mama's dinner. The latest round of chemo had zapped her energy more than the previous treatments. She slept most of the day, eating only when Jade urged her. Leukemia was a cruel taskmaster.

June set two mugs in front of Jade. "So what's new with you in the three days I've been gone? Have you and Max made any decisions?"

June never hesitated to dig around in Jade's life, prying open internal windows. Didn't Honey empty June of all her idle words? Didn't the woman just want to relax in a hot bath, order a Mario's pizza, and curl up with Rebel and a good TMC movie?

"A decision? In three days? I've hardly seen him." Her sorrow over the plethora of pregnant shoppers at the Blue Two this afternoon surfaced, gasping for air.

Perhaps June had a right to know if she would ever be a grandmother. Or not. Jade's private life with Max was private. And if Jade was...barren...then she needed to deal with that first, on her own, without her mother-in-law peering into her heart.

"What about a surrogate? The Bidwells had great success"

Or without offering myriad unwanted solutions.

"June, please, Max and I have talked ad nauseam about the options." Jade pressed her fingers into the taut muscles along her shoulders and propped her elbows on the light-kissed granite countertop. "I can get pregnant; I just can't stay pregnant. And I'm sorry, but I'm not open to using another woman's womb. It would be like . . . like having an affair, inviting another woman into our marriage. Either Max and I make a baby together, or we don't have a biological child."

"Then you'll adopt." June set tea bags and sweeteners on the island.

Jade exhaled. "If and when we decide. You can't just pick up a child like a Jiffy Mart stop for a gallon of milk and loaf of bread." Didn't she just have this conversation with Max the other night? His response and tone had been almost identical to June's. Matter-of-fact, devoid of an emotional response or commitment. But the Bensons made things happen. There was a fix for everything. "Why can't a family just be a man and his wife? Do children validate us? Prove we make love? Make us more complete? What if we're happy . . . just Max and me?"

"Are you?" The kettle rumbled from its perch on the gas flame. June reached for it and filled the cups. "If you're happy, then I'm happy." She smiled. "But every time we talk about children, I can see the pain in your eyes, hear the longing in your words. You want what you never really had growing up. A family."

"I have a family. You and Reb, Mama, Aiden and Willow." Jade tore open a packet of sweetener and dumped the white powder into her tea.

"Is that good enough? Max wants children, Jade. He doesn't care if they're biological or not."

"June." Jade fired her name with a caustic edge. "We'll have children if we are meant to have children. Maybe Max and I aren't meant to be parents. What if God doesn't find me trustworthy? Why would He give a child to a woman who -- "

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