Authors: Allyson Young
“You the father?”
Yet another female voice intruded on his thoughts and had him jerking up to face it. This time it belonged to a large, mannish frame dressed in a no-nonsense suit jacket and A-line skirt over support hose and laced-up walking shoes. The short gray hair above the older, lined face didn’t detract from the sharp, assessing gaze the woman bent on him. Greg straightened and offered his hand and his name to Gladys. Surely she remembered him. It hadn’t been that long.
“Greg Jackson. How are you, Gladys?”
“Are you the father?” Gladys ignored his outstretched hand, and Greg let it fall to his side.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Lacey didn’t say anything about being pregnant when she…when she left. Do you know how far along she was?” Each word in the last part of his question felt like individual knives being pushed out of his throat. They were talking about a baby, a baby that hadn’t been meant to be, but a child nevertheless.
“It was yours.” Past tense. Gladys spoke with such finality that Greg simply accepted it. He wanted to sit down again.
“She was maybe five months gone,” Gladys continued. “She never told anybody, but I knew. Lacey’s a wonderful person, and if you’re going to hang around here and mess with her, I won’t have it.”
Greg ignored the grinding pain in his chest, right about where his heart would be located, and looked back at Lacey, lying so still and looking so helpless. “I’m not going to mess with her, but I’m not letting her go again.”
Gladys harrumphed. “Well, Lacey might have something to say about that, boy. If you gave her reason to leave in the first place, then she’s not likely to take you back so easily.”
Greg considered Gladys’s edict. It rang true, and while he had previously been man enough for the task, man enough to woo and win Lacey Munroe, teach her how to submit to him, surrender her sexuality into his more-than-capable hands, he believed that it was going to be far more difficult this time around. And he was just getting his own shit together. Well, Lacey could come to therapy with him. She was going to need a lot of support now, maybe more than he could provide. But they would weather this particular storm together. He welcomed that dominant surge once again as it grounded him and clarified his thoughts. Lacey hadn’t been convinced that she needed to be dominated sexually, and her surrender, her submission to him, had been a battle of wills, but ultimately he had prevailed. And he would again, even if he was fighting this battle on a different front.
“I’m going to leave for an hour or so to tie up some loose ends, Ms. Simpson,” he advised. “Will you stay with her until I return?”
“Of course I will, young man,” Gladys replied, a gleam in her eye.
Greg knew he’d been played. Chances were Gladys knew all about the fiasco of the stabbings and the subsequent deterioration of his and Lacey’s relationship, although he’d bet good money that Lacey hadn’t whined about it or even confided very much. Kind, compassionate women like Gladys just intuitively knew some of these things and could add two and two. He was glad that Lacey had had her. He couldn’t change what happened, but he could start out now as he meant to finish. He gave Gladys his best smile, the one that used to have women looking around for a flat place to lay themselves down on, and was rewarded with a pink tinge that spread across the older woman’s cheeks. Greg was back.
Lacey drifted into a state of semiconsciousness, vaguely aware of a myriad of sounds, smells, and textures surrounding her, and more aware of a dull ache in her lower abdomen, the thickness of material between her thighs, and a tightness in her hand. A bell dinged in the distance, and rubber-soled shoes squeaked quietly and bright light weighed heavily upon her eyelids. There was a kind of a medicinal, sour smell that felt like it was inside of her nostrils, and she huffed a little, trying to replace it with something more palatable.
“She’s coming around.” Lacey heard a woman’s voice, and then the world moved, and she felt herself swaying as if at a great height. She clenched her hands and realized she was in bed, not her bed, but a hard, uncomfortable bed with scratchy linens. She struggled to open her eyes but couldn’t do so.
“Let’s get her off the gurney onto the bed. You’ll have to step outside, sir.”
Lacey heard a male voice accept the direction, and her heart stuttered. She knew that voice like she knew her own. Greg was here, unless it was a dream. She was in the hospital. She had come here because she had lost the baby and needed surgery. Oh, God. She quit fighting and slid back into the drug-imposed sleep.
* * * *
“Lacey? Lacey?” She felt someone patting her cheek and then her hand. Not her sore hand, the other one. She whined petulantly and slapped ineffectually at whoever it was.
“She’s coming up again,” said the same voice. “Lacey? Honey, you’re in the hospital, and we’ve taken out the catheter. You’ll be more comfortable now, and just let us know if you want to use the bathroom.”
Lacey forced one eye open and a woman dressed in green smiled at her. “There you are. How are you feeling?”
She tried to form words, but her throat was scratchy and dry.
“Here, honey, take a sip of this.” She sipped at the proffered straw, and the room-temperature water tasted like nirvana.
“I’m okay,” she croaked. Whatever the hell “okay” was. She wasn’t dead.
“I’m going to bring the head of the bed up a little. You’ve been asleep quite some time and while you need rest, I want you to wake up and think about having something to eat in a little while.”
Lacey thought she’d puke. She shook her head. “Something to drink,” she managed.
“It’ll just be some soup and Jell-O, honey,” the nurse told her. “And for now I’ll get you some tea. Do you take sweetener?”
The green uniform vanished from sight, and Lacey promptly closed her eyes again and tried not to think. About anything. She had dreamt that Greg was here. She knew her baby wasn’t. She felt a presence and carefully cracked one eye open again. Greg was standing by the bed, looking at her with an expression she didn’t have the strength or inclination to interpret. She chose the coward’s way out and pretended she didn’t know he was there. She heard the sound of a chair being dragged across the tile floor and realized he was going to sit by her bedside. Hysterical laughter began to form in her empty belly, threatening to erupt. She was too weak to fight it, and it escaped as a sob. Greg was at her side instantly, taking her free hand, stroking her hair back from her face with his other, murmuring nonsensical things at her temple, just like he used to do after he’d driven her to the height of sexual ecstasy and didn’t want her to crash. Lacey wished for the ground to open up and swallow her, right after a bolt of lightning fried Greg to a crisp. She hated him in that moment, understood how fine the line was between love and hate. He could go fuck himself. She had been working hard at not swearing in preparation for setting a good example for her baby, but now it didn’t matter anymore. She resolutely kept her eyes closed and controlled her breathing, the anger giving her a brief burst of strength to be able to do so, and as she relaxed, Greg pulled back. She heard the chair creak as he sat down again. He didn’t release her hand.
“Here’s her tea.” Lacey cursed Sheila’s bad timing and ignored her.
“She made a sound like she was in pain, but she’s still sleeping.”
“She’s awake, Mr. Jackson. She probably just doesn’t want to talk to anyone just now. Perhaps you could go and have a meal or a coffee or something while I check her vitals and help her to the bathroom.”
Lacey listened to the silence and felt Greg’s dominance fill it and was very nearly transported back in time. She somehow kept a tight rein on her conditioned response, undermined further by the after effects of the anesthetic, and was relieved when she heard him acquiesce again. When she was sure he had left the room, she opened her eyes and looked at the nurse.
“Do you want me to keep him out of your room for a while, Lacey?” The nurse’s tone and inflection said she’d heard and seen it all before. Bless her.
“I need a little time until I can face him myself, thanks,” Lacey said faintly. “But the sooner, the better, I think. He didn’t used to be easily dissuaded.”
The nurse nodded and busied herself folding bedclothes back and supporting Lacey as she struggled to sit on the side of the bed. The trip to the bathroom took an eternity, and the necessary change of the padding brought tears that wouldn’t stop. They flowed as if from a tap, dripping off the end of her chin, soaking the front of the hospital gown. The nurse comforted her as she would a child, blotting the moisture up with a cool cloth that felt wonderful on her scalded cheeks, and by the time Lacey was tucked back into bed in a clean gown, all thoughts of tea or anything else were lost, and she fell back into slumber.
She awoke again to the sound of raised voices in the hall. She could make out Greg’s and the nurse’s. Her name was Sheila, according to the little tag pinned on the front of her uniform. Go team Sheila. Lacey managed to figure out the controls on the arm of the bed and raised it a little. She could see the tea on the little table, and her parched mouth longed for it. She awkwardly maneuvered herself and was able to snag the corner and pull it to her while the little battle raged in the hall. Ah, success. It wasn’t hot any longer, but she pried open the little packet of honey and glopped it into the cup, and then poured the well steeped tea over it. She stirred it, wincing at the pull of the IV needle, and took a big draught. Tannin and honey. Double nirvana. She drank it down and had just set the cup back on the table when Greg came in, followed by the red-faced nurse, her ally, Sheila.
“It’s okay, Sheila,” she said, avoiding even a glance at Greg. “Maybe I’ll have some soup after all.”
The nurse hesitated and locked eyes with her, and Lacey felt something pass between them, an age-old message that women had been sharing since the beginning of time, she was certain. Sheila would be there for her after Lacey had done what she needed to do. The other woman nodded and gave Greg one last glare, then exited, closing the door quietly behind her.
Greg stepped into her line of vision and advanced on the bed. Lacey watched him approach and girded herself with her hurt and anger, her pain.
“Lacey, baby, are you okay?” Greg looked the picture of abject grief and concern.
“I just lost my baby, Greg, so I’m not doing particularly well.” Lacey managed to reply with asperity, trying to keep him at arm’s length.
“Our baby, Lacey. I wish I had known. I would have been there for you.”
Lacey closed her eyes and mustered her defenses again, her anger washing away any hint of pity for him. “Well, you weren’t. You weren’t there for months, Greg, so I’m not sure what you’re doing here now. I thought I had made it clear. I’m done.”
“We need to talk, baby. Please.”
“If you want to have a conversation about this, then come back tomorrow. I’m tired and not interested in talking right now.” Lacey planned to be elsewhere by tomorrow.
Greg stared at her with a familiar assessing look. Lacey steeled herself. He was looking at her in the same way he used to when deciding what he would do next to enhance her sexual pleasure, looking deep inside her soul. This was so wrong. So twisted. Her emotions were rioting, and the only thing she could hang onto was her anger. Her face must have reflected it, because Greg nodded his head once.
“I’ll wait until you’re feeling up to it. If you need anything, I’ll be here. I’ll do whatever needs to be done.” He pushed the chair back into the corner and settled into it, and Lacey realized that he didn’t intend to leave, intended to simply wait her out. This was the Greg she remembered, too little, too late. Fuck him.
“I’d like you to leave, Greg.” She was too tired to fight, and being civil took a lot of energy.
“I’m not leaving you alone, Lacey. You’ve been through a terrible experience.”
The tears surfaced again and she tried not to sob out loud, but Greg rushed to try and hold her. She flailed at him ineffectually and then speared him with words, words that literally sucked her dry and felt too long in coming. “You left me alone five months ago. You abandoned me emotionally. You rejected me and forgot who I was and what we were to one another. So now leave me alone and get out of my sight. If you have any feelings left for me at all, get the fuck away from me. Go. I’m begging you.”
Greg backed away, visibly flinching at each word. His handsome face became even more strained, and his eyes were hot, blue flames. As he got close to the door, it opened and Sheila came in with a tray. She took in the situation with one glance and had Greg maneuvered and out into the hall, using the tray like a chair against a lion, and the door shut behind him. Lacey was so grateful to Sheila even as her heart longed for him. She let the other woman wash her face and hands with a warm cloth and accepted a pain killer to go along with the little bowl of broth and the cherry Jell-O cubes. She resisted sleep as long as she could, knowing it would be filled with dark and disturbing dreams.
Greg sat outside Lacey’s hospital room. He had grabbed a little sleep sitting up, his head resting back against the wall, used to doing so in uncomfortable situations because of long practice on stakeouts over the years. The rest of the time he thought about what Lacey had said with such dark rage and pain coloring her voice. He didn’t doubt that everything she had said was true. He had truly fucked up with her. How could he have done those things to his beautiful, vibrant little Lacey?
He had met her while trolling with his friends, looking for a warm body to take home and use. He took pride in never being unkind to women, letting them know the score upfront, but he knew now that what he did was tantamount to using them for sexual relief. He hadn’t been able to take or use Lacey, although he initially hoped he might have been able to, before he came to know her. She had been one of a large group of women out celebrating someone’s birthday in the restaurant that adjoined the bar he and the guys had been spending time in.