Authors: Allyson Young
Greg actually flinched when she spoke to him. He managed to nod and entered the drive-through lane. He ordered her favorite coffee and added a cinnamon bun, with a black coffee for himself. They waited quietly while the cars ahead of them pulled through, one by one, and then Greg paid for their order. He opened Lacey’s coffee tab after handing her the bag with the bun, and set the container in the cup holder before tending to his own. Her little hand wrapped around the cardboard cup and she lifted it to her lips. Greg watched her take a tiny sip and heard her sigh with deep appreciation. She used to sigh for him in a similar manner when he held her after satisfying, if vanilla, sex, and he ground his teeth and willed his cock to behave. The tip of her tongue came out to snake across her plump bottom lip, gathering an errant drop of milky coffee, and Greg resolved not to watch her eat that damn cinnamon bun. Christ, she so did it for him. It was not the time or the place for those kind of thoughts. He was returning to normal, or at least the old Greg was back, maybe new and improved, whether that was normal or not. Shit, all it had taken was for Lacey to need him. Could it actually be so simple? Damn it.
He threw the truck into drive and headed for Lacey’s apartment, his sweet little package now devouring her treat, making happy little moaning sounds. Greg decided he didn’t need his coffee, because that might involve taking more of his attention from the road. His cock was back to imprinting itself on his zipper. There was still something very wrong with him, for his libido wasn’t paying attention to what was more important. He had a woman to heal and a relationship to repair. He shouldn’t be seeking sexual release.
Lacey wandered around her apartment. She moved a picture an infinitesimal fraction, brushed a little dust from atop the frame and then ran her hand over the back of her brocade couch. The area rug took her attention next, and she picked up a tiny piece of thread and deposited it in the wastebasket. She could hear Greg rummaging around in the kitchen and wished him luck. He was hardly domestic, but he’d taken this task on, so he would just have to find out how difficult it could be all by himself. She simply was not going to assist him when she hadn’t asked for his help. She tested the soil in the white African violet on the window sill and decided to leave it one more day before she watered it. From the bottom of course.
The door to the little second bedroom hovered just outside of her line of vision, nearly in her peripheral, and Lacey clamped down on any thoughts at all in that direction. Instead, she moved to touch the drapery at the closest window, letting the feel of the silky material sooth her fingers and her thoughts by extension. It was pleasant, this just drifting along, letting someone else cater to her every need. She didn’t feel guilty, at least not about that. She didn’t have the urge to pay attention to much of anything, just float. The medication she had taken before leaving the hospital, the little yellow pill that had accompanied the pain killer and the antibiotic, was obviously doing its job, although she had already begun to process the need not to rely on it. She hated to take any kind of drug, and was determined to deal with the aftereffects of what had happened as soon as she could allow herself to think about it.
She had started to come back to herself early in the morning, when she had sat straight upright in the narrow hospital bed. Greg had been snoring lightly, his bulk draped awkwardly across the cot crammed against the far wall. It had felt quite surreal, and Lacey accepted that a terrible thing had happened, and life wasn’t going to ever be the same. She would have to go on again. It was going to take some time, however. There were things, a certain thing she couldn’t allow herself to think about just yet, if ever. Greg seemed determined to insert himself back into her life, and it made her mildly annoyed, much as one would feel at the incessant buzzing of a fly, but it was too much trouble to swat it. She had really wanted to go home, leave the place of her… No, she wasn’t going to think about that. Suffice it to say she simply wanted out of the hospital. She had done everything that was expected of her, and Sheila had been kind, whispering to her to just focus on getting well and things would work out the way they should. Feeling much of anything just took too much effort. Her job kind of sat out there on the horizon, but Gladys had reassured her she had plenty of time off, so Lacey didn’t think about it. If only the second bedroom would just go away, the contents vanish.
“Baby?” Lacey winced a little. Greg shouldn’t call her that. She turned to face him and considered him dispassionately. He was such a good-looking guy, built, hot actually. Hard to believe he had once settled for the likes of her. She was a bit too top heavy, a lot too short, and wasn’t truly beautiful. Whatever. Maybe she should remind him what her name was.
“I can’t find anything to drain the vegetables with. Can you tell me where to look for the colander?”
She felt a trivial hint of supercilious amusement and was shocked at the nasty thought she had next, that he was really quite useless, once you got behind the strong, manly façade. Who needed strong, handsome, sexually satisfying men anyhow? She nodded and slipped behind him, stepping into the kitchen and pointed to one of the upper cupboards. She usually just held a plate over the pan with an oven mitt, because getting the colander would require that she drag out the step stool. Greg of course just reached up and yanked it down. That, too, was annoying in a distant kind of way. Lacey went back into the living room before he wanted anything else. The smell of frying chicken soon permeated the air. Lacey lay back on the couch, even though she was stiff from so much bed rest, and contemplated the ceiling tiles. They were made of tin, and highly embossed and held her attention for some time. She wasn’t hungry, although the coffee and the cinnamon bun had been consumed some time earlier.
One of the cogs of avoidance in her head suddenly slipped, and Lacey curled in on herself, gasping at the sudden stab of emotional pain in her chest. She breathed through it, and pushed the thought away, tracing the pattern of the couch fabric with her eyes, counting the whorls. She was back under control again when Greg came to announce dinner.
She allowed him to seat her at the table and pushed what she supposed was stir fry around on her plate, pretending to take little bites of the underdone chicken and limp greens, counting each effort under her breath, waiting for a good time to push the meal away and be seen as full. If only he would leave. Maybe then she could give voice to this thing inside of her, this animal screaming to be let loose. But if he stayed, then maybe she wouldn’t lose her mind.
“Are you finished, baby?” Greg’s kind tone felt like a little lash. Baby. Fitting reminder of her failure. She swallowed and nodded. He cleared the table, and she heard the dishes clanking in the sink. It seemed that macho man was going to wash dishes. He came back with a cup of tea and she accepted it mutely. When she tasted the honey, her defenses crumbled, and her heart shattered, and her mind imploded.
“Oh, Lacey.” Greg grabbed the cup before it fell from her grip and then his arms were around her. He lifted her and carried her over to her couch, and sat with her, rocking and cuddling her as she cried. She cried as though her very being was being torn from her, great gulping sobs coupled with streams of tears. Her nose ran, and her throat hurt with the effort of pushing out the tearing, searing grief.
“I don’t even know if it was a boy or a girl,” she wailed when she could make a coherent thought pattern. “I didn’t even think to ask.”
Greg just rocked her and rubbed her back, pressing little kisses on her hair, murmuring things she couldn’t make out. When she had emptied the reservoir for the time being and could breathe without hiccupping, he pulled his shirttail from his jeans and wiped her face with it, the hem being the only part of the fabric in the front that she hadn’t already soaked. Greg thumbed back the hair from her eyes and said, “We lost a little girl, Lacey. I’m so sorry. So sorry for so many things.”
Lacey doubled over again and literally gasped at the pain in her chest. A baby girl. She hadn’t even thought about girls’ names. She had been so certain she was having a boy. Another betrayal of the child. Greg was rubbing her back and talking again.
“The placenta pulled away from the wall of your uterus, Lacey. It apparently happens sometimes, and there’s no real reason for it. It was nothing that you did. It doesn’t mean you can’t have another child. More children.”
Lacey sucked in air. How could he even talk about another child? Like having another baby would make this go away. She struggled to get off of his lap, but he held her tightly and read her mind.
“I’m not suggesting, not for one minute, that having another baby will change the loss of this one. I just wanted you to know it doesn’t have to happen again. It’s not your fault.”
Lacey subsided and considered the information. It didn’t make much of an impact on her guilt, and it didn’t lessen her grief. She pushed against Greg’s chest, and this time he released her. “I have to go to the bathroom.”
She shut the door tightly and carefully hooked the old-fashioned eyebolt before starting to run a bath in the big claw-foot tub, making sure the water was hot, steaming, and tipped in a good portion of her bath salts. Greg tapped on the door, and she froze in the act of pulling her borrowed shirt over her head. “What?”
“The water shouldn’t be too hot, baby. Remember what the nurse said.”
Of course. Lacey shouldn’t risk another bleed. Whatever. But she ran some cold water into the tub, and muttered under her breath about her name being Lacey. She threw the clothes at the hamper and slipped into the tub. The water closed over her, and for a moment it felt like she was reborn. She held her breath to duck beneath the surface and had a brief fantasy about just breathing the scented liquid in and giving up. But she surfaced and floated for a while until the water cooled significantly. She was beginning to flow again, so she got out, grimacing at how weak she felt and wrapped up in a bath sheet. She found a box of sanitary napkins at the back of the little closet that served as her medicine cabinet, covered in dust, but as utilitarian as ever. She hadn’t thought to pick any up and didn’t know where the ones Sheila had sent home with her had gotten to. By the time she had protected herself and located and pulled the panties back up, absently noticing Alex’s exquisite taste in underwear, she was exhausted and just managed to brush her teeth. Greg was waiting for her outside the bathroom door, and looked at her with concern. He took the hand towel from her and pulled her against him, bracing her back against his front while he rubbed the moisture from her hair.
“You need to get to bed.” Lacey didn’t argue, even when he divested her of the towel and pulled a nightshirt over her head and settled it down around her hips. She didn’t miss the way his eyes lingered on her breasts, breasts that had grown and changed in preparation for the child. Breasts she had restrained in good support bras to hide her pregnancy as long as she had been able, denying it to the world even as she held her secret close to her heart. Maybe if she had been proud of it, flaunted it, her little girl wouldn’t have died. She told herself that Greg’s touch left her cold. She told herself that she didn’t feel even the slightest bit of affection for him. She was simply done in and crawled between the cool sheets and pushed her face into the pillow, hoping he wouldn’t kiss her, hoping he would find somewhere else to sleep because she didn’t need him lying beside her to further remind her of what had happened. She didn’t want to share the blame. And she didn’t want him to slip further past her defenses.
* * * *
Greg stood by the bed for a couple of minutes and watched Lacey sink into sleep. The medication she had taken with her dinner was working, and he hoped she would get a good rest. It had broken his heart when she had let go of some of her grief, and he’d hovered outside the bathroom door, forcing himself not to intrude on her, yet worried that she might not be sensible. He’d heard her mutter that she wanted to be called Lacey and resolved not to call her baby again. It clearly made her think about what had happened, and he needed to be sensitive. He was concerned about the water being too hot, concerned that she would pass out and drown or start bleeding again. The little sounds of her flesh slipping against the sides of the tub didn’t reassure him until they became more constant, and then he could envision her washing her beautiful skin. He longed to be in there with her, helping her and showing her how much he cared.
She had looked like a lost waif when she’d come out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel yet the maple and brown sugar smells of the bath salts had triggered his libido. He had dried her hair to distract himself, and recognized her exhaustion, which in turn cooled his jets. His heart instead had swelled with love, and he had noticed the changes in her breasts only with the most clinical eye, or so he told himself. Firmly. Satisfied that Lacey was deeply asleep, he wearily went back into the kitchen to clean up. Cooking was not his interest and clearly not his forte, but he would get it done, just as he would now finish washing the damn dishes. A tap on the door interrupted his grim task. Greg grabbed a dish towel to dry his hands and went to answer it. A small, gray-haired woman stood there, dressed in a flowered house dress, wearing bootie-style slippers. She fixed him with a glare.
“Are you the father?”
Shit, this must be Mrs. Withers, and he was getting tired of being accused.
Greg nodded. “I’m Greg Jackson. You must be Lacey’s landlady, Edith Withers. Please come in. Lacey is asleep, but I can make coffee. Or tea.”
Greg had the satisfaction of seeing Mrs. Withers settle down a notch or two in the face of his noncontentious behavior and courtesy. She gave a little shake and jerked her head in acceptance. “Tea, please. Nothing in it.”
When Greg came out of the kitchen bearing two teacups, Mrs. Withers was perched on the edge of the couch in the same place where he had held Lacey. Greg was glad he’d changed his shirt. He set the cups down with some difficulty, seeing as his fingers were jammed in the small handles, but he knew that women often preferred fine china cups for their tea and so had made the effort. Mrs. Withers actually smiled at him, showing a fine pair of shockingly white dentures. Greg belatedly realized there were saucers to go with the cups.