Margaret smiled out at the crowd and waved as she walked across the stage in her graduation gown to accept her diploma. She won the award for Biggest Success Story of the year and had graduated with a B average. Morgan was in front row on her grandpa’s lap. She giggled and waved as her mom accepted her diploma and came down to meet them.

“We’re so proud of you, Honey,” Thaddeus smiled. “Now, about your birthday party…” Margaret shook her head.

“Sorry, Dad, but after the last unwelcome guest at one of our parties, I just want to chill out at home by myself with Morgan,” she told them. “Besides, Morgan’s doctor appointment’s scheduled for that day.”

Margaret walked into her daughter’s room, now officially eighteen and the head of the Charm estate. She didn’t feel any different, really, but she did love the makeover her mother had taken her out to get as her birthday present. She leaned into Morgan’s crib and picked her up, getting her dressed and ready to go. “We’re going to go see the doctor today, Morgan. Be good for her.” Morgan just stared blankly at her mother.

Margaret strapped her daughter in the back of her car in her carseat and then drove to the hospital. Miraj was there, cleaning bedpans. She waved and he gave her a polite nod. She walked over with Morgan to chat while she waited for the doctor to finish up with another patient. “Hey. How’re you and Marina?” she asked him. Miraj gave her a dark look.

“I left her,” he mumbled, not looking Margaret in the eye. Margaret blinked in surprise. She thought things were going well between them.

“Uh, mind me asking why?”

“She just won’t get herself cleaned up,” he sighed. “She promised she’d turn her life around like you did when we started dating four years ago, and at first, I forgave her every time she slipped up, thinking that it was probably hard for her to quit just like that, but it didn’t stop. She kept ‘slipping up’ over and over again and I realized that she’s never really been clean. I told her I’d had enough. I can’t deal with her drama anymore.”

“I’m sorry, Miraj. I really thought she would clean herself up, too,” Margaret sighed. “How’d she handled it?” Miraj gave a derisive snort.

“Quite well, considering she ran right back to my brother the same day we split up,” he snapped. Margaret was furious. How could she have anything to do with him after he nearly killed her cousin and little Morgan? She quickly said goodbye to Miraj and headed into the doctor’s office with Morgan.

Margaret explained to her how her daughter wasn’t responding to sounds and was having a hard time learning how to talk. The doctor leaned down to Morgan and smiled. “Hey there, Cutie. Can you hear me?” Morgan just stared blankly. She took out a little light and peered into her ears with a slight frown. She stood behind Morgan so she couldn’t see her and clapped her hands together loudly. Any other small child would have jumped, startled by the harsh sound, but Morgan didn’t even register that she had heard it. She just sucked her thumb and looked straight ahead. The doctor leaned down and handed Morgan a lollipop. “That’s for being such a good girl, Morgan,” she cooed. It was plain Morgan’s pediatrician was in her profession because she loved kids. She stood up to talk to Margaret.

“So what’s wrong with my baby?” Margaret asked, stroking Morgan’s jet black locks lovingly. The doctor frowned.

“She seems to be healthy, if not on the small side, but I wouldn’t worry about her being a bit underdeveloped. She’ll catch up in time. She’s a beautiful little girl,” the doctor smiled. “What I am worried about is her hearing. Ms. Charm, your daughter is deaf. She’s having trouble learning to talk because she can’t hear the words you’re trying to teach her,” she explained. Margaret said nothing for a good minute, too stunned to speak at first, then finally cleared her throat.

“Is this my fault?” she asked softly. “Did I do this to her?” The doctor flipped through her records and scanned over the records of Margaret’s pregnancy.

“It says here you were using narcotics and consuming large amounts of alcohol during the first trimester of your pregnancy. You also had an STD during that time, is that correct?” she asked. Margaret looked down at the floor, ashamed.

“I didn’t know I was pregnant…” she muttered.  “I stopped all of that and treated the STD when I found out,” The doctor smiled kindly.

“I’m not judging you,” she assured her. “Is there anyone with a hearing disability in your family?” she asked.

“No. No one,” Margaret answered. “We all have perfect hearing.”

“Then it’s very likely that the drugs and alcohol you consumed while you were pregnant damaged the development of her hearing in the womb,” the doctor answered. “We can give Morgan a hearing aid to help her with learning to talk, but it won’t be perfect and it may agitate her. Most children who are born deaf get overwhelmed by all the noise they hear when they start using a hearing aid. It’s best to use it sparingly, at least while she’s young.”

Margaret drove Morgan home in silence, the little plastic hearing aid the pediatrician gave her in its box in her purse. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she drove. I made my baby deaf. I’m a terrible mother… she thought miserably. She walked in the house with Morgan and put her in her crib for a nap, kissing her goodnight. “I love you, Baby,” she whispered.

“How did everything go at the doctor’s?” Matilda asked when Margaret came downstairs. Margaret tried to reply, but couldn’t. She burst into sobs of guilt, instead. Matilda put her arms around her daughter, startled. “What’s wrong? Is there something wrong with Morgan? Sweetie, tell me,” she encouraged gently.

“She’s deaf, Mom, and it’s my fault,” Margaret choked out. She explained everything the doctor told her that day and Matilda squeezed Margaret tight.

“Listen to me,” she said sternly, forcing Margaret to look her in the eye. “You are not a bad mother. You’ve done everything for that little girl and more. Your mistake when you were young left permanent damage, but you can make it better for her. You can help her through what’s no doubt going to be a difficult life, living with her disability. You can teach her to communicate with sign language, you can dry her tears when she gets picked on at school, you can be there for her when she needs her mother to hold her and tell her she’s the most beautiful person in the world when she doesn’t believe it herself.”

Margaret nodded. Her mother was right. She needed to dry her tears and be a mom to her baby, regardless of who was to blame for her disability. Besides, she had a big birthday party to plan for her parents, who were turning sixty soon.

Margaret invited the whole family, but was confused as to why her Uncle Parker and his family hadn’t shown up. She would have thought he’d want to be at his little sister’s big sixtieth for sure. Maybe he’s embarrassed to be seen because he’s old now, too, Margaret thought to herself with an amused chuckle.

Matilda and Thaddeus held hands, smiling over their cakes. “Are you ready to grow old with me, Dear?” Thaddeus asked his wife with a wink.

“Only if you’re willing to grow old with me,” Matilda replied with a laugh, and together they blew out their candles and transformed. Thaddeus transformed first. He didn’t look too happy about being old, but Matilda walked up to him and gave him the kiss of a lifetime that made the family whoop and cheer and Thaddeus cheered up considerably after that. Margaret gave a small sigh, her eyes going gooey at the love her parents shared. How romantic… she thought to herself. Matilda grew old next. Margaret thought both her parents still looked lovely even in their senior years. I hope I find someone who loves me when I’m wrinkled and grey, like my parents, Margaret sighed to herself, knowing it was unlikely. An eighteen year old with a history of STDs, drugs and violence with a three year old daughter who has no known father was certainly not appealing to any decent guy.