Get up! How could I possibly move? Get up! I clenched my teeth and swallowed hard. One last rough wipe across my eyes and I struggled to my feet. Hat. Sunglasses. Don’t run, act casual. I meandered down the stairs and pretended to look at the displays. Fake it until you make it. Finally, I made it to the car, to my parents’ house, to the front door closed and locked behind me. I leaned back against my bedroom door as I shut it behind me.
I changed into some comfy pajamas and sat down at my desk to make a list of my options. I had barely written anything when the door opened and my father stuck his head in the room.
“Hey, Peanut, how did it go at the doctor’s?” he asked.
“Dad,” I said hesitantly, “I… I don’t want to talk about it.”
He paled and stepped all the way in the room, still in his suit. He leaned against the desk with his arms crossed. “You know, I’ve always said that when you don’t want to talk about it that’s probably a sign that you need to talk about it.”
I sighed and stood up, only to flop onto one of the chairs in front of the TV. He followed and sat in the opposite chair, leaning toward me with his elbows on his knees.
“Let’s hear it,” he ordered with fatherly authority.
“I’m grounded, I didn’t get clearance,” I stalled.
He saw through my ploy. “I figured that out already. Question is: why? You know we’ll be here for you for all the…” he paused to look for the word that would upset me the least, “treatments.”
“No, it’s, it’s not that. I’m…”
He let out a loud sigh of relief I hadn’t realized he’d been holding in and relaxed into the chair. He interrupted me to say “Thank goodness! God, I don’t think I could go through that again.” He rubbed his hand across his brow. “What is it then?”
I stared up at the ceiling, suddenly nervous and embarrassed. I couldn’t look him in the eye. What would he think of me? The demands of his political career had kept us from being close, but ever since my illness he had treated me like a porcelain doll that could easily break, not like a person. I felt like his idea of his daughter differed greatly from the rebellious reality, and the truth would shatter all his illusions. It is what it is.
I took a deep breath, “Dad, I’m pregnant.” I closed my eyes to hold in sudden tears. I didn’t want to see the disappointment written on his face.
He laughed nervously and I sat straight up to stare at him. “Wow, I never thought I’d hear you say that! I thought… I mean, I didn’t know you were… Who’s the…” He couldn’t seem to finish a sentence before jumping to another idea and I could feel my eyes growing wider and wider. He patted my knee. “You know what, it’s okay, it’s not something that going to kill you. We’ll deal with it.”
I burst into tears. Again. I wondered, how do I get off this emotional roller coaster? My father patted my shoulder awkwardly.
“There, there,” he said. “It’ll be okay, you know what? I’ll get Mom, she’ll know what to do.” He stood up to leave the room, but I grabbed his hand as he passed.
“Daddy, what do you think I should do?” I asked tearfully.
He sighed and ran his other hand through his greying hair. “You’re going to have to make your own decision, Peanut, and I’ll support you in it as best as I can.”
So much for fatherly advice, I thought as he flat out ran to get my mother.
I heard her heels pounding up the stairs, even knowing she came, I couldn’t help but jump when she burst into the room. I didn’t so much fear her response as dread the inevitable criticism and harsh words that I knew would follow.
“Is it true?” she demanded as she came to an abrupt halt just inside the room.
I froze and stared at her wide eyed for a moment before stammering, “Mother! I… well… you see…”
“It’s a simple yes or no question, Ruth,” she said as she advanced across the room. “Is what your father told me true?” She finally stopped a foot from me, her hands gripped my shoulders firmly and her intent gaze bored into me.
I broke the look by dropping my head to examine my toes. “Yes,” I whispered, “I… I’m sorry. I know I’m ruining all your plans.” The persistent lump re-appeared in my throat and brought a knot in my stomach with it this time.
“Damn it! If you had just done what I’d asked you’d have it made! But, no, you had to go screwing around with some nobody!” she shouted.
As usual, my mother managed to bring out the worst in me. I brushed her hands off my shoulders and pointed a finger at her. “You should be happy for me! All this time, I thought I would never have a baby, that no one in their right mind would want a wife who couldn’t give him a family! This changes everything for me!”
“Oh, God! Please tell me you aren’t planning on doing something even more stupid and running off with that son of a bitch!”
I hadn’t really meant to imply that I would elope with Lance, but I felt so angry and desperate to deny her the control over me she wanted. “Maybe I will! That would make some fantastic headlines! Governor’s daughter goes on the lam with scoundrel! Maybe we’ll escape to some exotic island and you’ll never have to worry about me messing up your plots again!”
“God damnit, Ruth! I forbid it! You’re clearly not ready to be a mother! What kind of life would that be for my grandchild?”
“Just fine! Being a bum would be preferable to being your pawn!”
“Would you listen to yourself? What would you do for money? For food? Have you lost your mind?”
Of course, she was right, and I didn’t intend to do any of that anyway, but I also had no clue what I should do. I didn’t trust her advice either. I sighed heavily. I pressed my hands to my temples, all the screaming had taken its toll and my head started to pound.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” I almost chanted, struggling to suppress the urge to cry again.
She put her hand on my shoulder again, gently this time. “Why don’t you go stay with grandma until the baby comes? Then your dad and I will adopt it and you won’t have to worry about how to take care of it. You can just get on with your life.”
I looked at her, confused. “You want to take my baby away from me?”
“I just want what’s best for you both.”
I turned away and shook my head. “I’m so tired, and my head hurts. Can I just sleep now?”
“Sure, honey, we’ll talk about it again in the morning.” She gave me one last awkward pat before she left the room.
I didn’t know what to do, but I sure as hell knew there was no way I would let my mother take my innocent baby to manipulate and to replace me in her intrigues.
I woke, nauseated, early the next morning. I decided to visit Fancisca to get some support and advice from my best friend. She seemed to take forever to respond. Just when I lost patience and started to sadly walk away, she answered the door in her bathrobe.
“Ruth!” she said, surprised. “Hey, come in. Do you want coffee? I’ll make some.”
We exchanged pleasantries and eventually sat down to talk in her living room.
“I guess you’re here about Lance,” she ventured.
I looked at her askance, “Yeah, but how do you know about that?” I questioned.
She stared at the coffee table guiltily. “Well, your pictures were in the paper, and I was so upset because I had met him at the Spring Festival and you snatched him out from under me. But you didn’t know, so it’s okay, and then he came by here last night and told me all about how you rejected him. He was so sad, and I just wanted to help him feel better and…” she trailed off, a flush rising on her cheeks.
I leapt to a quick conclusion. “Oh my God, Franny! You slept with him!” I shouted.
“Hey, you broke it off, you have no grounds to be upset!”
I stood up and started pacing. “Damnit, I only did that so he wouldn’t stick around town! Didn’t he tell you about the trouble with Jewel?”
Her eyes widened. “No. What trouble?” She looked a little pale, as if she would be sick. She didn’t need unwanted attention to reveal her identity.
“It’s complicated! I was only trying to keep him safe. And me. And…” I flopped back down on the couch. “That’s what I really came here to talk about, Francisca, he knocked me up.” I shook my head and stared into space.
“What?! How? I thought…”
“I thought so, too, so I didn’t even think I had to take any precautions, but the doctor said she ran the test twice.”
“Oh God, what a mess! What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“What did your mother say?”
“She wants to take my baby! You know, they tried and tried and never had another, so it’s like some kind of warped dream come true for her.”
“Isn’t that what they did in the old days? To hide the scandal?”
“Yes, but I can’t let that happen! What if I never have another one, either? I can’t let her take it! I just don’t know what to do.” I sighed. “It’s just too much for me to handle alone, Franny. Trying to protect Lance and me from Jewel, and now from my own mother, too. I don’t know where to turn.” Tears ran silently down my cheeks again.
She came to sit next to me on the couch and hugged me. “We’ll figure something out.” We didn’t talk for a few minutes while I cried on her shoulder. Finally, she spoke. “Ruth, I think I have a plan, but you’re going to hate it.”
“What is it?” I asked.
She stood up and went to look out the window, toward town. “Jewel, really, can’t touch you. Your parents have too much money and power for her to take on. But to fight your mom, that’s a different story. You have only one way to go over her head.”
I knew in which direction her thoughts pointed, and I didn’t like it one bit. I didn’t have any other ideas though. Lance couldn’t afford to waste time helping me, and probably no interest in doing so. Evidence suggested I had meant less to him than I had thought. I pushed that painful thought away to deal with later. I needed to focus on taking care of my little one by any means necessary, even distasteful ones.
Francisca laid out her plan and told me exactly what to do. “I always liked the idea of us being sisters,” she finished. I sighed. What other choice did I have?
“I was surprised to get your call,” Sebastian said as he slid onto the barstool next to me. I had already ordered myself a drink before he arrived, he wouldn’t know I hadn’t had any alcohol.
I turned my head toward him with a smile. “But you came,” I put my hand on his. “I wasn’t sure you would.”
“How could I stay away? Nobody else can understand how much I miss my sister, but you’re her best friend. You’re right here in the trenches with me.”
I looked away and guzzled my pretend drink, signalling the bartender to get me another of the same. “I miss her like crazy. I thought, wherever she is, that it might make her happy if I forgave you.”
He ordered a beer and played with the bottle while we talked. “I never planned to run out and cheat on you that way. I was just a kid, too, you know. It was too hard to say no when they’re all so determined. It took me a long time to realize that it had nothing to do with me, really.”
“I understand. All those girls hope for a Cinderella story and think throwing themselves at you is the way to get it.” I stared at my drink in hopes it could keep me from rolling my eyes at his sense of entitlement and my own hypocrisy. I couldn’t decide which I found more revolting.
“Yeah,” he agreed.
I exhaled in relief, he seemed to be buying it. “Have you learned how let them down yet?”
He laughed. “Sometimes,” he shrugged. “I can be a little more discriminating. But I don’t really have any reason to.”
I sighed loudly for effect and downed my drink again. “Oh, Bash, how long do I have to wait for you to grow up?”
He looked at me side eyed. “I seem to remember you enjoying your freedom, too, Roo.”
“Yeah, as it turns out, I feel differently when I find out I’m nothing more than yet another notch on someone’s belt. I’d like, just once, to mean something to someone. You know what I mean?”
He shook his head, “Are you losing touch with your independent streak? Turning into a girly girl?” He laughed at his own joke.
“Whatever.” I pushed my glass away. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let’s just dance and let it all go.”
He loved to dance, and I knew it. We moved together, closer and closer, as the night went on and I pretended to get progressively more drunk. Closing time finally came and the proprietor threw us out.
I wrapped an arm around his neck and faked a stagger and a slur. “My mother’s gonna kill me, she’s still pissed off at me.”
“Come home with me,” Sebastian wrapped an arm around my waist. “You can sleep in Francisca’s room, she wouldn’t mind.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yeah, it will be fine. I’ll be a gentleman.” He lied, but I pretended to let him play me. I walked a fine line, neither too hard nor too easy to get.
He drove me back to where he still lived with his parents. I clung to him on the stairs as if afraid to fall. We giggled and he hushed me. Just like old times, only he didn’t have to connive to get me alone. He showed me into Francisca’s old room.
“Help me get this,” I said, raising my hair with one hand and pretending to flounder at reaching the back of my dress with the other.
He breathed loudly and heavily on my neck as he pulled down the zipper. Only the chain kept the dress from sliding to the floor. Predictably, his mouth closed on my neck and his hands slipped across my bare skin, around to the front to paw at me.
“Bash, no, I can’t…” I feigned resistance. My heart pounded and I suddenly had misgivings. Years ago, the first time around, he would have had me thrilled and melting, but I this time anxiety gripped me. I wondered what was wrong with me.
“Baby, it’s been too long since I had you.” His lips moved up my neck to suck on my earlobe. One of his hands drifted down as he ground his hips against me. I could feel how badly he wanted it. “It used to be so good. I always took care of you, didn’t I?”
I turned around to face him, letting my dress fall, and wrapped my arms around his neck. “You’ll break my heart again.” I said softly.
“I won’t,” he promised before kissing me hungrily. That, at least, held true. He couldn’t break what I couldn’t give him.
I didn’t feel at all the way I thought I would. I got no relief from finally doing what everyone seemed to think I should, no familiar longing, no sense of homecoming. His hands and lips should have had me quivering, but my heart pounded from nerves, not lust. I told myself, It’s only a few minutes. I closed my eyes and pretended to be somewhere else.
Chapter 1.7 – Out of Time — Chapter 1.9 – Cold as Ice