Of Malls and Minivans, Tic-Tacs and Telephones

When Juno is at the mall with Leah, shopping for Bleek's birthday present, she thinks she sees Vanessa. She tells Leah she needs to pee, then follows the brown-haired, cardigan-wearing woman pushing a stroller. The woman turns a corner, and Juno can see that it is not Vanessa. But it could have been.

A month later, Leah calls and says that she is sure she saw Vanessa at the mall, walking with a friend and pushing a stroller. Leah couldn't see the baby's face, but she says he was asleep and holding a stuffed frog.

The next week, Juno drives by their house. The lights are on, and she slows down and maybe sees, maybe imagines that she sees them in the kitchen. The lights go off and she drives away.

She comes back when she feels sad, or lonely, or when she's driving home from school or to Leah's house and she makes wrong turn after wrong turn until finally she sees where she's going.

In October they are in the yard, playing with leaves. Vanessa looks up and Juno speeds by, too scared to stop. Closed, she thinks. Kicking it Old Testament. Five minutes later, she stops the minivan and cries.

After that, she doesn't go back in the daytime when they might see her. But sometimes at night she drives by as slowly and smoothly as she an, and sometimes she parks the minivan on the opposite side of the street and imagines the baby asleep, is tiny hands curled into fists as he dreams of whatever babies dream of.

When she's shopping for something to wear under her graduation robe she looks up and Vanessa is staring straight at her. She is holding in her arms the most perfect human being Juno has ever seen. But before she can get a good look, Vanessa turns away and walks out of the store. The baby looks over Vanessa's shoulder, watching Juno as he moves further and further away.

After that, Juno doesn't drive past their house, until the Christmas of her sophomore year at the U. She and Bleeker broke up the month before, and it feels like there are two holes in her heart, like a double ear piercing, like a broken pair of glasses.

Two years later, Juno starts calling their house, waiting for the right voice to answer. But it is only Vanessa, Vanessa, Vanessa. Sixteen "Hellos" and answering hang-ups. The seventeenth time, Vanessa says, "Juno, if you don't stop calling, I'm going to have to press charges. I'm sorry, but we agreed." Juno hangs up without saying anything.

Juno calls back a month later, but an unfamiliar voice answers. She drives past the house, and it's a new color, a sort of blue-gray. They are gone.

When Juno is thirty-four and pregnant with her third child, the second she gets to keep, the phone rings and a trembling voice says, "Hi. My name is Gavin Loring, and I think you're my birth mom."

When he comes to meet her three weeks later, he shows her a framed yellow legal agreement on which a note is scrawled in red marker. He has her round brown eyes and Bleeker's wavy hair. He is a foot taller than her, and when Juno hugs him she feels the weight of everything she has missed. He has grown too big to fill the hole in her heart. She cries and scares him, and he leaves quickly.

He calls her six months later and apologizes, and they write letters, and talk on the phone, and they meet again in winter. Some things can't be fixed, Juno knows as she holds him in her arms for the second time, but most things can be mended. She tells him the story of the chair, the ad in the Pennysaver, the blue slushees, and he laughs and cries. He tells her about his life – he is going to the U next year to become a teacher. He is kind, smart, and full of ideas. Vanessa has done a good job.

Next winter Juno sends Vanessa a Christmas card that says, "I'm sorry," and "Thank you." She sends one to Gavin that says, "Merry Christmas," and "I love you." She looks up Paul Bleeker on the Internet, at first confused when "Paulie" produces no results, and finds he is living in Minneapolis. She sends him one container of orange tic-tacs and a note that says "Call me."

Five years later, Juno is a grandmother at the age of forty-one and pregnant with her fourth child, the third she gets to keep, her second with Paulie Bleeker. Gavin and Vanessa come to the wedding with Gavin's wife, Julia, and their baby girl, Madison. Juno guesses it's not such a bad name after all. Gavin passes Madison to Bleeker and hugs Juno, and the baby kicks his stomach through the wedding dress, and Juno feels as if she's come full circle.