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1998, Arizona, U.S.A.

She lay on the well-worn couch with her shirt hitched up, her swollen belly exposed to the hot, dry air. It was July and storm season. The swamp cooler gave little relief from the one hundred degree weather. Sweat gathered beneath her plump breasts, heavy now with milk. She felt like a stuffed turkey roasting in an oven.

Though she was hot and uncomfortable, her every need was met. Meals delivered to her door. The best medical care. Even massages once per week. But instead of feeling like a pampered princess, she felt more like a girl locked in a tower.

The offer had been too good to be true. For nine months she’d waited for the catch, but there hadn’t been one. At least not yet.

It had proven to be easy money. Soon she’d have her payday and be able to get off of the streets that had been her home since she was a little girl.

Was I ever a little girl?

Her hand went to her belly and rubbed. The being inside of her kicked as if it sensed her touch. She’d never be a part of its childhood. I hope you have a better one than I did. It kicked again, hard enough that she winced and pulled her hand away.

She wanted to believe that the being growing inside her would live the kind of television-perfect life that she never had. The kind where there’s a mom and a dad and they are happy and didn’t scream at each other or throw things at one another. She hoped it lived in a neighborhood where it didn’t hear gunshots at night and have to go to sleep scared of getting shot dead. But more than anything she hoped the little tyke always had enough to eat. She’d had so many hungry nights.

I haven’t been hungry for nearly nine months.

She hoped for the being to have a normal life, but she knew it was only a dream. She didn’t know what was in store for the baby, but she was pretty sure it wasn’t going to live an idyllic life. This wasn’t a typical surrogacy for an almost middle-aged couple that found themselves infertile. She didn’t know how she knew it, but she did.

The whole strange surrogacy started one day when she’d come out of the food bank. Two men driving a black Olds stopped in the street beside her, rolled down the passenger side window and asked her, “Do you need money?”

They were clean-cut and drove a nice car, but she’d learned early not to trust strangers. Every nerve in her body told her to run. But the man in the passenger seat reached down and grabbed a briefcase. He punched numbers into a lock, opened it up and flashed a pile of hundreds at her.

It was more money than she’d ever see in her life. More money than she’d make working any job she was likely to get without a high school education.

“Look, I ain’t no streetwalker if that’s what ya got in mind. Not even for that kind of dough.”

“We’re not looking for such a woman.”

“You ain’t? Well then what’r doing flashing that kind of money around in this neighborhood? No legit work pays that kind of dough.”

“Our organization is looking for women for a very special job. If you qualify for the position, you will be paid a quarter million plus a government pension. Are you interested?”

Was she interested? Of course she was interested. But the question remained.

“What do I have to do?”

“Carry a baby to term. Surrogacy.”

“A baby? Me?” She laughed so hard tears came to her eyes. “Dude, you trippin’. I’m not exactly Mother-of-the-Year material.” They found her coming out of a food pantry. Her well-worn clothes had been hand-me-downs when she’d gotten them. She hadn’t showered in a week and they could probably smell her even though they were several feet away. Surrogacy?

“Get in. We’ll take you to a meeting where the doctors will explain everything.”

She’d been on the street since she was twelve. Every ounce of street-sense she had told her to turn and run away from that car. But her eyes remained glued to the pile of cash in the briefcase. She couldn’t remember making a decision to get into the car, but she found herself sliding into the backseat.

She’d gone to the meeting and by the end of it agreed to have an embryo implanted in her uterus and to carry their cargo for nine months. No, she never smoked she told them. No, she didn’t use drugs or drink either. After answering their questions, she spent a week in the hospital getting tested for this and scanned for that. At the end of the week, they pronounced her fit for the job. A week later they announced the implantation was a success.

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