MILKSHAKE, Chapter 1

“BREASTFEEDING,” the woman in the mumu said, “is every child’s birthright and every mother’s joy. So congratulations, ladies. You are the luckiest people in the world.”

From where Lauren Bruce sat—in a folding chair in a windowless room on the St. Bart’s-Pendergrass Hospital maternity floor—this seemed to be a massive overstatement. Lauren had only been at this breastfeeding business for 18 hours, but so far, the experience was not bringing her joy. If I’m so lucky, she thought to herself, then why do I feel like my boob just got caught in a vise?

She glanced around the room to try to catch somebody’s eye, share a telepathic moment of sneering disbelief. But the other women in the room didn’t seem to have the energy to sneer. Having given birth within the last day or so, they were perched uncomfortably in metal folding chairs, wearing sweaters over their hospital johnnies to ward off the air conditioning. A couple of them had dreamy expressions on their faces, but most of them stared ahead, glassy-eyed.

Lauren realized she would have to sort this out for herself. She raised her hand tentatively. “Is it supposed to hurt?” she asked.

The woman in the mumu, a certified lactation consultant, scrunched her forehead and looked confused, as if Lauren had just spoken in Swahili. “Sometimes,” she declared, “there is discomfort.”

On both sides? Like you just got bitten by a hyena, which is odd because you’re pretty sure your baby has no teeth? Lauren wished she had the nerve to yell and beat her burning chest, but the woman in the mumu seemed eager to move on. Lauren regretted that she’d come here at all, leaving her day-old baby in the care of her terrified husband, but the morning-shift nurse had insisted she report to a breastfeeding lesson, no babies allowed. Now the woman in the mumu was droning on about “lobules” and “blockages,” pointing to parts on an anatomically-correct stuffed breast. Lauren’s mind kept wandering back to the small room down the hall, to baby Rory’s fine and fuzzy hair, her tiny hands with perfect oval fingernails, her sweet pink lips that had been chomping with the fervor of someone who’d had nothing to eat for nine months.

“Can you repeat that?” The woman in the mumu sounded agitated: Someone had apparently asked another wrong question. Across the room, a pale brunette with sunken cheeks, wearing a pair of bunny slippers, leaned forward in her chair.

“I said, what kind of bottles do you recommend?” she asked.

“That’s what I thought you said,” the woman in the mumu growled. “Honestly, would you give your baby heroin?”

The new mothers looked at her blankly. The woman next to Lauren slowly shook her head.

“The bottle is just as addictive,” the woman in the mumu said. “I can’t tell you how many mothers I know who were pressured to give their babies bottles, and then found the child would not return to the breast.”

“Even if it’s pumped breastmilk?” said the bunny slipper woman.

“Bottles are bottles,” the woman in the mumu said dismissively.

“But for how long?” another woman piped up. “I got this free sample of formula—”

“FORMULA?” the woman in the mumu shouted. “WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR BABY CRACK?”

This required no response. The woman in the mumu put a hand over her chest and breathed deeply, trying to compose herself.

“I’d like to show you this movie,” she finally said. “It’s a Swedish instructional film from the 1960s, and it always brings tears to my eyes. Think about how magical it is to give our babies a part of ourselves. Breasts are just beautiful. Inside and out.”

She slipped a videotape into an aging machine connected to an even older TV. Strains of gentle instrumental music came from the speakers. On one side of the screen was an infant, his mouth open wide like a bird’s. On the other side was the biggest breast Lauren had ever seen. Perhaps it was the size of the lactation consultant’s breasts, which swelled bountifully beneath her mumu. But it seemed bigger, not quite human—a beach ball, the planet Jupiter. The nipple was bigger than the baby’s head.

Lauren stifled a giggle, then glanced around the room again, wondering again if anyone else felt like the bad kid in the back row of the junior-high sex education class. The other new mothers stayed expressionless. The infant in the video moved forward, entranced. The Swedish instrumental music twinkled on.

Lauren looked down at her own breasts, significantly smaller, and thought about what breastfeeding was going to entail. She was dreading the moments when she had to provide love in a liquid form, but her fear was no match for the power of guilt. She had read the pamphlets listing the vast health benefits of breast milk. She had watched her friend Mia shake her head and murmur, “That poor child,” when she saw mothers bottle-feeding on the banks of Jamaica Pond. She had seen the government-sponsored pro-breastfeeding ads: a dirty factory labeled “INFANT FORMULA INC.”; a baby crying in a metal bassinet; the tagline, “Breastmilk. For mommies who care.”

Lauren cared. She cared enough to have fretted for nine months over ancillary stroller features, to have outfitted her nursery with organic cotton sheets and an allergen-free rug, to have bought a set of flashcards with numbers, letters, and brightly-colored fruit. She’d do what the lactation consultant told her to do. And if it turned out that breastfeeding didn’t nourish her own soul—well, that would be her small bad-mommy secret.

“ARE YOU SURE you don’t want me to give her a bottle at night?”

Rob was adjusting his tie in the kitchen, guided by his half-visible reflection in the microwave. It was 7:15 a.m., and he was headed to work. If you wanted to make partner, it was best to show up at the law firm before 8.

“It must be nice to wear real clothes,” Lauren murmured, glancing down at her polka-dotted pajama pants and her tank top, which was covered with splotches of spit-up and a long brown line of dripped coffee. Rory, wrapped in a soft pink blanket, was dozing on her shoulder. Lauren felt that she, too, would like an early-morning nap, possibly followed by a mid-morning nap, a late-morning nap, and an early-afternoon nap.

“You’re ignoring my question,” Rob said. “Seriously. If you’d just let me take one of the feedings, you could get more than two hours of sleep at a time. And I’d get to spend time with Rory. At this point, I don’t think she even knows who I am.”

“You have to work,” Lauren replied. “You have to be sharp. I don’t have to be awake for anything important. And the lactation consultants say—”

“I thought you said lactation consultants were evil Swedophiles in house dresses,” Rob said.

“I did,” Lauren said. “They are. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t right.”

Six weeks had passed since that breastfeeding lesson in the hospital, and Lauren had managed to maintain her promise to the woman in the mumu: No formula, no bottles, very little sleep, and a distinct sense that her conversation skills were slipping.

Rob poured himself another cup of coffee. “Well, you know what I think about them,” he said. “Hey, how did your doctor’s appointment go yesterday?”

“Um, fine, I guess,” Lauren said. She barely remembered the obstetrician’s check-up. Everything that happened these days felt vaguely unreal.

“You said at the six-week visit, you get the go-ahead, right?” Rob said.

“The go-ahead?” Lauren repeated.

Rob shot her a look. “For sex.”

“Oh. Yeah,” Lauren said. “You remembered. What a shock.”

“I try to keep on top of these things,” Rob said.
“Is that why you’re so big on bottles? Trying to reserve some boob time for yourself?” Lauren couldn’t help but feel annoyed. No matter what the doctor said about how “beautifully” she’d healed, it was hard to imagine anyone touching her still-delicate extremities.

“Trying to reclaim some of my territory,” Rob said, taking a final gulp and putting his coffee cup on the counter. “What are you doing today?”

“Mia’s coming over. I guess we’ll probably take another walk.”

“Her again?” Rob said. “With the baby T-shirts? And the natural-motherhood dogma?”

“It’s not dogma,” Lauren said. “It’s information.”

“Isn’t she the one who convinced you to send away for $50 worth of herbal supplements? And that tea that smelled like rabbit shit?”

“To boost my milk supply,” Lauren said. “And how do you know what rabbit shit smells like?”

“I know what bullshit smells like,” Rob said.

“She’s the only friend I have with a baby right now,” Lauren said, defensively. “She’s been my lifeline these past few weeks. I can talk to her about everything.”

“That used to be my job,” Rob said, kissing Rory’s cheek before he headed out the door.

“You’re still useful, don’t worry,” Lauren said, attempting a smile. “But sometimes, I need someone who has breasts.”

WHEN THE DOORBELL rang at 10 a.m. precisely, Lauren was still in her pajamas, sitting on the couch, struggling to pull up a nursing bra with one arm and balance Rory on her shoulder with the other. Rory had just finished her mid-morning feeding. A half-eaten bowl of cereal sat on the coffee table. The newspaper was spread out on the cushions, open to the gossip page. With her free hand, Lauren started to flip it to world news, then decided the effort was pointless. It was impossible to keep up with Mia Hastings Hoberman, who managed to read the paper from cover to cover every day while taking care of a five-month-old and starting her own small business, a line of all-cotton onesies with slogans like “I need my beauty rest!” and “Get me a womb with a view!” Mia didn’t struggle, like Lauren did, to get out of the house with every disparate piece of baby paraphernalia, always in danger of forgetting some critical item. Mia always arranged her designer diaper bag neatly the night before.

In short, Mia wasn’t the sort of person Lauren would have naturally sought out for companionship. But they had sat beside each other for three years as account managers at Pinnacle Events, planning bloated corporate picnics on pumpkin farms and grand-opening parties at urban hair salons. And over the weeks and months, the late nights and commiseration, their battlefield camaraderie evolved into a tentative friendship.

Before long, they found themselves in sync, the way college roommates share mood swings and menstrual cycles. They got married in the same year, were promoted from junior to senior level the next, shared common enemies: incompetent bosses, sullen interns, the passage of time. When Mia announced her pregnancy one day, in faux-hushed tones that didn’t mask her obvious pride, Lauren felt a jolt from her biological clock. She and Rob had already been trying in a haphazard way, but now Lauren started looking at the calendar. She visited online fertility sites, read reports of other women’s vaginal secretions, encountered old-wives’ tales involving sexual positions and phases of the moon. Before she got desperate enough to try any of them, Lauren was expecting, too.

But if she and Mia were equals at work, Mia quickly surpassed her on the pregnancy proving ground; she seemed to be a senior vice president of maternity, while Lauren was stuck as a junior trainee. When Lauren, racked with a ravenous mid-day hunger, was slinking to the vending machine for Ho-Hos, Mia was bringing in home-packed baggies of carrots and bottles of low-fat ranch dressing. When Lauren was discovering the trompe l’oeil powers of maternity jeans—How could her rear look like the back of a truck when her stomach barely registered a bump?—Mia was arriving at work each day in a flattering Lycra dress. Lyle was born precisely on his due date, and within days of giving birth, Mia was wearing couture sweatsuits and walking around her house in full makeup.

Mia left her job for good after Lyle was born, and her onesie line was more a vanity project than a moneymaking scheme. Her new job was motherhood, and she approached it in the highly-organized way she had handled her event-planning career. She attended weekly meetings of the Moo Coalition, a breastfeeding-support circle. She took Lyle to regular classes of The Smallest Spirits, which promoted a daily routine of infant yoga—baby limbs manipulated gently to the strains of Eastern music. She bought books and paraphernalia stamped with the label “Baby Mensa.” She set her alarm for 5:25 every morning to pump milk at the time when her body had its greatest natural supply. Her freezer was filled with bottles of milk, neatly labeled and color-coded according to date.

She was also more than happy to serve as a motherhood resource, and Lauren found that she didn’t need to read her pile of infant-development books when she could simply seek Mia’s advice about sleep, swaddling, and the ever-changing colors and consistencies of infant poop. She let Mia get close—close enough, even, to peer at the sore, battered breasts that might have made Rob cringe—and it was Mia who helped her discover that if she adjusted Rory’s chin the tiniest smidge, the sharp stabbing pain of nursing subsided, replaced by a bearable dull ache. For this, if nothing else, Lauren would be eternally grateful. Also, she was never sure what she was going to learn next.

This morning, in addition to Lyle, Mia was carrying a blue plastic bowl the size of a dog’s water dish. When Lauren opened the door, Mia lifted the bowl and held it aloft in a victory pose. “Elimination communication,” she announced, marching past Lauren to the living room, where she placed Lyle’s car seat beside the couch and set the bowl down in the center of the floor.

“What’s ‘elimination communication’?” Lauren asked.

“I learned about it last week from the Moos,” Mia said. “It’s the best way to form an unbreakable bond with your baby.”

“I thought breastfeeding was the best way to form an unbreakable bond with your baby,” Lauren said.

“Breastfeeding is the foundation,” Mia said. “EC helps you understand your baby’s needs.”

“I understand Rory’s needs,” Lauren said hopefully. “She needs to eat, sleep, and poop.”

“You understand that she needs to poop,” Mia said. “But do you understand when she needs to poop?”

Suddenly, Lauren realized what the bowl was for.

Mia lifted a blanket covered with blue and green dump trucks out of her diaper bag, laid it neatly on the floor, and gently extricated Lyle from his car seat. She laid him on the blanket, pulled off his shorts, and removed his diaper. Lyle cooed. Mia kissed his head, then turned him onto his tummy.

“Does Mommy’s little sugar bear need to make a pee-pee?” she said.

Lyle gave his mother a broad, toothless smile. He was cute in a baby way, but Lauren secretly thought there was something odd about his face. His eyes were buggy, his cheeks misshapen. Rob said Lyle looked like a gnome.

“I don’t think he’s going to tell you,” Lauren said, too tired to worry about sounding rude.

If Mia registered the sarcasm, she didn’t let on. “A dog doesn’t talk,” she said, “but you know when a dog has to pee.”

“Because he claws at the back door.”

“Because he gives nonverbal clues,” Mia said. “And so do babies. They grunt. They turn red. Sometimes they just glaze off, you know? Stare into the distance in just the right way.”

Lauren looked down at Rory, who was lying on her back on a plush mat shaped like a fish. She seemed to be looking at the ceiling fan, but she could have been staring in the distance, too. Lauren wondered: Was she peeing, at that very moment?

“May I?” Mia said as she took a pair of throw pillows from Lauren’s couch. She lifted Lyle from his prone position, propped him up with the pillows, and gave him a toy octopus whose legs made crinkling sounds. Lyle put one of the legs in his mouth. “Uhhh,” he said.

“That’s right!” Mia said. “Mollusk!”  She kissed the top of his head again. “Don’t you worry about the rug,” she told Lauren. “We’ve been doing this at home, and he hasn’t made an accident once. And he already had a poo-poo this morning, didn’t you, bear?” She rubbed her hand over the top of his bald head. “He’s been very regular lately. We’ve started a new yoga routine that’s good for the bowels.”

Lauren sighed. “How’s Tom?” she said, changing the subject. Tom was Mia’s husband, a financial planner who worked long hours, like Rob.

“I left him alone with Lyle for three hours last weekend when I got my hair highlighted,” Mia said. “When I got home, they were watching HBO. I told him, ‘You know, if you do this too much, your child’s first word is going to be ‘fuck.’” She uttered the swear word in muted tones, as if she hated to say it, but Lauren knew better. In moments of high stress, foul language coursed out of Mia like water breaking a dam.

“When are we supposed to stop swearing in front of the kids?” Lauren asked. So far, she and Rob hadn’t censored their conversations a bit. Lauren was less concerned that Rory would start swearing than that she would enter full consciousness with the knowledge—direct from her parents’ mouths—that her Uncle Tim was a deadbeat and her cousin Hank, at three, was already annoying.

“Oh, it’s never too early,” Mia said. “Babies recognize your voice in utero. Baby Mensa sells CDs for teaching Spanish in the womb.” Her voice trailed off for a second, and Lauren wasn’t sure which emotion she detected: sarcasm or regret.

“Education!” Mia said suddenly. “I almost forgot. I’ve decided we should be ambitious today. I think we should skip the park and go to the Stonewall Museum instead.”

“The Stonewall?” Lauren said. “You’ve got to be kidding.” The Stonewall was a mansion north of Boston that had been converted to an art museum, stocked with several Brahmin families’ worth of magisterial collections.

“I’m a member,” Mia continued. “I can get you in for free. We’ll take the Bjorns. We’ll walk through the galleries, we’ll have lunch. We’re mommies now. We get to spend our weekdays exposing our children to culture.”

Lauren pictured a string of quiet rooms, a stern security guard, a wailing infant.

“I can barely make it to the supermarket,” she said. “When I took Rory there last week, I left the car door open in the parking lot. When I got back, there was a bird in the front seat.”

“I’ll drive,” Mia said.

“I don’t know if I can handle art.”

“You need art,” Mia said, glancing at Lauren’s newspaper. “Your brain is going to atrophy if all you think about is celebrities and poop.”

“I read world news,” Lauren said defensively. “And you think about poop a lot, too.”

“I think about poop and art,” Mia said.

“And what about when Rory needs to eat?”

“This is a cultured city,” Mia said. “The Athens of America. People know what breastfeeding is. You stop on a bench, you feed her. You cover yourself with a blanket. If anybody minds, that’s not your problem.”

That’s what the woman in the mumu would have said, too, but Lauren wasn’t sure. “I don’t know if Rory’s ready for action yet,” she said. “Lately, she’s been having trouble latching. And I don’t think anyone wants to see—”

Mia, who seemed to be listening at first, was suddenly in motion. She bolted off the couch, grabbed the plastic bowl and kneeled beside Lyle on the floor. “He’s glazing! Lyle! Wait a minute, honey! Here comes Mama!”

Lauren hadn’t noticed a change in Lyle’s expression, but Mia seemed certain. She put her hand on Lyle’s stomach and pulled him forward, slipping the bowl beneath his backside. Then she closed her eyes and waited. A few moments later, Lauren heard the sound of a robust stream of liquid on hard plastic.

“Great job, honey!” Mia said presently, picking up the bowl and holding it out for Lauren to observe. Inside, sure enough, was a sizable yellow puddle. And Mia was right. Not a drop had gotten on the rug.

TWO HOURS LATER, Mia’s Volvo was parked in the Stonewall Museum lot, and Lauren was lugging her diaper bag onto the metal detectors. Rory was sound asleep in her Bjorn, her head resting against Lauren’s chest, her legs dangling out limply like tiny pink sausages, capped with miniscule sneakers. The security guard looked suspiciously at one leg, then the other. “Hope she stays asleep,” she said.

“Don’t count on it,” Lauren said with a weak smile.

The museum was hushed on a weekday morning. Mia and Rory began on the top floor, in a gallery full of Impressionist work, where skylights left the room awash in soft October light. A few retirees moved slowly across the floor. An art student sat with her easel beside a small Monet, working intently on a passable copy. A Japanese couple walked silently in lockstep, each holding an audio guide to one ear. A guard stood in one corner, looking blankly at the floor. From a distance, Lauren heard traces of a minor commotion: a sharp shout, a stifled laugh. She glanced down a corridor and saw a couple of teenage boys knocking elbows, pretending to fight. Someone made a loud sssssssh. Lauren could make out the faint sound of a docent, giving a lecture in monotone.

Mia moved at a faster pace than Lauren, five or six paintings ahead. Lyle was awake and facing forward in his Bjorn. Mia was holding his hand in hers and pointing at the walls. “Van Gogh. Van Gogh,” she said, pronouncing the Dutch correctly, as if she were choking. Lauren stared back into the corridor and saw a group of high school students, the boys dressed in worn T-shirts and khakis, the girls in skinny jeans and tight-fitting sweaters. As they crossed the hallway from one gallery into the next, they parried and jostled, divided themselves by gender, then drew together again, attracted and repelled by the same hormonal forces.

Lauren stared at them, remembering a stage of life that felt impossibly distant. They were led by a heavyset docent with graying hair and trailed by a couple more adults: a tired-looking middle-aged woman, presumably their teacher, and a thin, sallow man with reddish hair, who wore black jeans and a rumpled plaid shirt and carrying a slender notebook. The man’s cellphone rang. He stepped away from the group and lingered in the hallway, a few steps from Lauren, whom he didn’t seem to notice.

“McFeeney,” he said into the phone. “Yeah. Yeah. I’m at the Stonewall Museum. Yes. Linda sent me on this idiot assignment…No. A feature. Suburban high school teaches kindness through the power of art, or some bullshit like that. Doesn’t seem to be working. They’re a bunch of fucking delinquents…What? No, I don’t know when I’ll be done. Just send a fucking intern to the press conference.” He hung up the phone and headed back to the group, muttering to himself.

Lauren watched him go, then turned and followed Mia into another gallery. As she walked, Rory, nestled close to Lauren’s chest, began to stir. Lauren knew that if the baby woke up, she’d want to eat. Sure enough, by the time Lauren caught up with Mia in a room full of Renaissance art, Rory was starting to whimper.

“Mia,” Lauren stage-whispered.

Mia was standing in front of a painting of St. John the Baptist’s head on a platter. She patted Lyle on the head and smiled at Lauren.

“Rory’s hungry,” Lauren whispered again, a little louder.

Mia cocked her head, indicating a bench at the far end of the gallery.

“In the middle of the room?” Lauren said out loud. Another woman in the gallery shot her a nasty look.

Mia gave an audible sigh and walked over to Lauren. “Drape this blanket over you,” she said under her breath. “No one will notice.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a small bundle. It was Lyle’s dump truck blanket, rolled into a compact cylinder and tied together with a small blue ribbon.

Lauren hesitated. These days, feedings were unpredictable; sometimes Rory would refuse to eat, shaking her head with inexplicable fury. A voice inside Lauren’s head urged her to bail, abandon the museum and head to the car, where she could breastfeed in peace to the strains of one of Mia’s Baby Mensa CDs. But that, she told herself, would be demonstrating weakness, caving to social pressure. Mia and the woman in the mumu were right: Her breasts had a noble mission.

So Lauren walked over to the bench and gingerly lifted Rory out of her Baby Bjorn. “Be good for me, sweetheart,” she whispered. Then she sat on the bench, unfurled the blanket, and draped it over her shoulder. She lay Rory’s head on her lap and, beneath the blanket, unbuttoned her blouse and unhooked her nursing bra. She moved Rory’s head into place so that she could nurse, hidden from view.

Beneath the blanket, Rory clamped, let go, and started to jerk and fidget. Through the corridors, Lauren could hear the high school tour group, the drone of the docent, stifled giggles drawing closer. She watched Mia round the corner into the next gallery. She reached under the blanket and tried to pat Rory’s head. The baby whimpered, flailing her hands back and forth. Lauren tried to adjust her blindly, then gave up and pulled the blanket up so that it covered her head, too. As she did, she could hear the high school group enter the gallery. One boy shouted, “Loser!” A chorus of guffaws followed. Then came a sharp adult voice: “Gentlemen! You are supposed to be learning to be nice!”

Lauren wondered if the kids noticed her, a shifting, shrouded figure on a bench across the room. Beneath the blanket, she couldn’t see anything but Rory’s angry face, in shadows. “Come on, sweetie. Don’t do this to me,” she whispered to the baby through clenched teeth. She put her hands on Rory’s cheeks and tried to pull her into place. Rory did not cooperate. Instead, she wriggled so violently that the blanket slipped and dropped to the floor. Lauren gasped. Her blouse was shifted to one side. The flap of her nursing bra had fallen to her belly. Her left breast was completely exposed.

And she was surrounded by teenagers.

“Whoa,” one of them said, in a scratchy pubescent voice.

“Ho-lee crap,” said another.

Several of the girls started to giggle uncontrollably.

Lauren knew she should cover up, grab the blanket and push down her shirt, but somehow, she was frozen in place. She felt as if someone had turned a cosmic knob, lowered the volume in the room, slowed down time. Even Rory seemed to melt into weightlessness. In her peripheral vision, Lauren spotted cellphones in the air, saw the reporter, McFeeney, scribbling furiously in his notebook. But all she really noticed was one of the boys. He had disheveled brown hair, pimply cheeks, a faint brush of stubble above his upper lip. He wore a T-shirt that said “Mountain Dew” and a pair of sagging jeans. His eyes were brown and opened wide, his gaze shifting between Lauren’s eyes and her chest, the look on his face slowly changing from thrill to thoughtfulness. With a shudder, Lauren realized that she was going to play a starring role in some future sexual hang-up of his. This wasn’t going to be the day his hormonal fantasies were fulfilled. This was going to be the day, for him, when breasts lost their magic completely.

Suddenly, Lauren felt a warm hand on her elbow, gently lifting her from her seat. She broke away from the boy’s gaze and looked up to see a matronly woman with glasses and sandy brown hair. She had been leading the high school tour. Now, she spoke to Lauren in a gentle voice. “Let’s get out of here, shall we?” she said. “There’s a ladies’ room this way.”

Lauren rose, pulling Rory away from her breast and buttoning the first few buttons of her blouse. The woman moved her hand to Lauren’s upper arm and grabbed the diaper bag and Baby Bjorn, which had fallen to the floor. Lauren leaned Rory against her shoulder and allowed herself to be steered.

Up ahead, indeed, was a ladies’ room, its wide open doorway revealing an anteroom with a small sofa and two armchairs. One of the chairs, upholstered and blue, was directly in Lauren’s line of sight. It seemed an attainable goal. But behind her, she could hear a new commotion.

“Hey!” Mia was shouting. “Hey! Stop! Where do you think you’re going?”

The woman at Lauren’s shoulder didn’t respond.

“You’re not going in there!” Mia yelled. “She is not going to feed her baby in a dirty place!”

The woman stopped and turned around. “It’s not dirty,” she said. “It’s the ladies’ lounge.”

“It’s not a lounge!” Mia spat back. “It’s a bathroom!”

She had just run across several galleries, so her cheeks were flushed and her breath was short. Lyle was peering out from his Bjorn with wide, curious eyes. Mia pointed a finger in the air. “This is not appropriate,” she said. “Who do you think you are?”

“I’m a volunteer,” the woman said, and Lauren noticed, for the first time, that a pin on one side of her chest read, “JEAN.” “I was leading a tour group from Woburn High. Believe me, you didn’t want to rendezvous with those boys.”

“Those boys are not her problem,” Mia growled, indicating Lauren with her hand. “You are her problem. Her baby needs to eat in a sanitary place.”

“Mia,” Lauren piped up. “It’s OK.”

“It is not OK,” Mia said, with a passion in her voice that Lauren hadn’t heard since before Lyle was born. “It’s bullshit. It’s a fucking violation. It’s a—”

“Mia,” Lauren said. “We’re in a museum.”

“I understand your concerns. But this ladies’ lounge is perfectly clean,” Jean said, her voice steady and calm.

Rory, meanwhile, was still whimpering. Lauren gently broke free of Jean’s grasp and headed toward the bathroom.

“Lauren Bruce!” Mia shouted. “Do not take another step further!”

Lauren ignored Mia and headed to her destination. She sat in the chair, unbuttoned her blouse, and lifted Rory to her chest again. She leaned back into the upholstery and placed the blanket across the baby’s head. Now, miraculously, Rory latched, her tiny mouth working rapidly. Mia and Jean continued their argument as a few women hurried past them, out of the restroom and into the galleries.

“What about the fumes?” Mia was saying.

“I don’t smell any fumes. Do you?” Jean replied.

“Excuse me? Ladies?” It was a male voice, and it belonged to McFeeney, the reporter Lauren had seen with the high school group. He was standing in the doorway, casting a shadow across the floor.

Jean and Mia stopped talking and stared at him.

“You are in the ladies’ room,” Mia said with a gasp. “You have to go away!”

“I’m in the doorway of the ladies’ room,” McFeeney corrected her. “I don’t need to come inside. We can talk from here.”

“Scott,” Jean said. “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be writing about my tour.”

“I am,” McFeeney said. “Your tour just got a lot more interesting.” He turned to Lauren. “Scott McFeeney. Boston Herald. Do you spell ‘Bruce’ the regular way?”

Lauren looked up, alarmed. “Look, there’s no news here,” she said. “Just a bunch of boring ladies in a museum.”

“That’s not what those high school kids saw a few minutes ago,” McFeeney said, smiling and raising his pen to his notebook. “This might just be the most exciting thing that ever happened in this godforsaken place.”