Unspoken Vows, Book 1 of the Heartbeat Series

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Chapter 36. Reality Check

With the takeover halted, I put my daughter and Brandon back on the jet to New York. Brandon had promised that if I wasn’t back by this week he would go to Vermont and check on Megan for me. I drove back to the condo that Sunday afternoon dejected and deflated. Missing Megan, I wanted to kiss her and tell her that I loved her in person. She needed to know that I was excited about the baby, and that I couldn’t wait to do all the pregnancy things with her that I missed out on when Janice was pregnant with Angie.

As luck would have it, neither Megan nor I got to New York as quickly as we would have liked. Maggie held on, and Meg wouldn’t leave her side. With a great deal in the works for AC Records, I couldn’t move fast but had to move smart for the sake of my employees. Certain that their jobs would be secure for at least a year after being bought out, the contractual agreement regarding competitive hiring would be disregarded so that, if the new owners were disagreeable to my staff, they could find work with a competitor and not become displaced.

I talked to Megan on the phone every night, and I felt the strain on our relationship. Brandon had taken Angie up to Vermont to check on Megan, but she would hardly leave the hospital to visit with them. He reported that he saw a baby bump on Megan and that she glowed. Her hair was longer and seemed unkempt, which was not like Megan. She had been sleeping at a nearby convent of the parish she grew up in and the nuns thought that Megan was married. To fill the part so they weren’t suspicious, I had Anna send with Brandon a wedding band from my jewel box for her. I didn’t tell her where I got it, she assumed that it was my Mom’s, but it was Janice’s ring, the one she threw in my face the night she caught me with a roadie. I don’t think it mattered to Megan where it came from. No, all that mattered to her was that she knew my intent and that I loved her.

The sight of that wedding band would lessen any doubt in her mind, even if it weren’t originally purchased for her. The hospital finally sent Maggie back to the nursing home, but Maggie was a literal vegetable now. Meg remained in Vermont for a couple days after Maggie returned to the home and was prepared to leave for New York. The night I called, Meg told me that she’d return to New York within the week. I was thrilled.

“When can you come home?”

“I can’t. Why don’t you come to L.A.?”

“The foundation—”

“Will last another few days until you return.”

“I can’t be going off and leaving it and you this way.”

“The foundation will survive. I, on the other hand, well, I don’t think I can stand being away from you for this long again.

“How long has it been?”

“A month now.” Meg sighed.

“You sound tired.”

“I am. Tell you what, I’ll rent a car and drive down to White Plains tomorrow. You finish up what you need to and meet me at home this weekend. I miss you, and I know that Angie misses you too.”

“I can’t. I have that gala to go to, so why don’t I just fly you here, and you be my date for the evening?”

“Nothing will fit me.”

“You’re not that far along yet.”

“I can’t, Alex. We’re not even officially married,” she whispered.

One of the nuns came into the kitchen where Megan was talking on the phone.

“I mean, in the church, of course,” she said rather emphatically.

“Oh, company?”

“I should go, you know?”

“Not until I know what you’re going to do about returning home.”

“I don’t know Alex, I’m thinking that I should just drive down to White Plains.”

“I think that I ought to send the jet for you.”

“I can fly commercial, you know.”

“Let me call Tom, and I’ll call you with the arrangements.”

“Fine, I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Meg hung up the phone and between the times she hung up and I called back about fifteen minutes later, Meg’s voice sounded shaken.

“What’s wrong?”

“They know we’re not married. Sister Marguerite says that Father Ralph’s always wanted to see me happy and would love to marry us here at the parish before I return.”

I laughed. “You’re kidding.”

“I’m not kidding. I mean, you haven’t even proposed even, and here I am wearing your wedding ring. We’ve been living a ruse, and I don’t know what you want to do because I haven’t even asked you or is it that you haven’t even asked me?”

“Is that all you’re waiting for? For me to pop the question before you’ll know that I want to spend the rest of my life with you?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Meg, will you marry me?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Good, I’ll fly out of here tomorrow morning. Meet me at the airstrip, and we’ll drive over to the parish and do it.”

“We need a marriage license.”

“So we’ll stop at the courthouse and get one when I arrive.”

“Are you sure about this?

“Completely.”

“I’ll call Brandon and Angie.”

“What about Sean and Ryan?”

“I’ll email them now. Sean always checks his email over his first cup of tea in the morning.”

“Alex, on second thought—”

“Don’t back out on me now.”

“Let’s just fly Father Ralph home to do it there. I want to leave here sooner rather than later.”

“We could always get married at Anna’s parish.”

“Yeah, I know. Let’s wait, okay?”

“Fine, but I’m still coming to get you, and take a couple of days off.”

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon?”

“Will you be ready to leave?”

“I’ll have my bags ready to go.”

“We could eat dinner at home with Anna, you know, it’s not even an hour flight to White Plains.”

“I know.”

“I’ll call Anna and Brandon.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Meg. I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.”

When the jet taxied on the tarmac the following afternoon, I saw a white-haired priest in a black wool overcoat standing with Megan, who seemed buried beneath the large down coat she wore. Glad that I had layered myself with a shirt and cashmere sweater beneath a suit coat and overcoat, I descended the jet steps and walked to them, realizing it was about forty degrees colder in Vermont than it was in California.

As a blast of wind brushed through us, Meg hurried to introduce me to Father Ralph. She had in her hand a basket that was covered with a red checked tea towel. I kissed her there in front of the priest, thanked him for taking care of her and then was about to pick up her suitcase when the old priest reached for my arm.

“Mr. Corwynn, before you leave, I need a promise from you.”

“What’s that?”

“I want you to promise me that you will marry Megan before this baby is born.”

“I will, I promise,” I replied.

“Good, very good. Megan, call me if you need a priest to officiate the wedding or to baptize the baby.”

“Thank you, Father Ralph, for everything.”

“You’re welcome, my dear, keep in touch. The sisters will be praying until we hear about the birth of your baby.”

With another gust of Arctic air that blew past us, Meg hugged Father Ralph, then I shook the father’s hand and took her bag and escorted her out to the jet.

We were finally on our way home.

“What’s in the basket?” I asked as she took off the down coat inside the warm jet. She sat down on the couch while I stowed away her bags.

“A snack, when I get real low blood sugared, I get motion sickness.”

“Ah, no barf bags on this flight, miss, you’ll have to use the head if you feel squeamish.”

I bent down over her and kissed her lips, but she responded with only a peck. “What’s wrong, Meg?”

“I’m really tired,” she said, reaching for my face and kissing me again.

“Haven’t you slept? Your eyes are all red.”

Before Meg could reply, the attendant, who had exited the cabin for the cockpit upon our entry, returned with a grave expression on her face.

“Tom says something is not reading right.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked, standing up and leaving Megan to sit.

“A gauge is off, and he wants to check it out.”

“That’s fine. We can sit here and visit for a while. Tell him to take his time. I only care about thorough work that has safe results.”

“Alex,” said Tom, coming into the cabin, “May I have a word, please?” I got up and joined him near the cockpit.

“I have to ground her until I have this checked out. I don’t like it a bit.”

“Okay, can you call someone?”

“Yeah, I know a mechanic who specializes in Lear vacuum systems. He’s in Connecticut. I’m going to do the reading and call him.”

“Where can we stay?” asked the attendant.

“There’s an inn about a mile from here,” replied Megan.

“I’ll take care of it, Serena. Get your bag, I’ll call us a taxi,” I said, relieving her.

“Hand me your cell, I know the number by heart after this trip.”

While Meg dialed, I got out our bags and Tom did another reading. Meg wrote down the taxi company phone number for Tom in case he needed it. When Tom returned to the cabin, he had a daybook in his hand and was dialing his cell phone.

“Eddie, hey, it’s Tom. Look, I’m outside Montpelier with a Lear. We just flew in from L.A., not even a half an hour ago. I did my pre-flight readings and got a warning light and a code. It’s a vacuum issue, isn’t it? No, she purrs like a kitten. This is what I got from the reading.”

Meg and I sat and waited with Serena for Tom’s report.

“Damn, I was afraid of that. How long before you can get the part and over here to fix it? Four days? You’re booked eh?” Meg sank her head back into the seat. Tom asked me what we should do.

“When he gets here, he gets here,” I replied, “There’s nothing we can do.”

The taxi honked its horn outside the gate and Serena went out to meet it. I carried out the bags and Tom said that he’d meet us at the inn.

“I really wanted to go home,” Meg whined as we got settled in our Victorian suite, while I checked it out. Nice. It had all hardwoods in it, a Jacuzzi in the bathroom which Meg would appreciate, and a king-sized bed for me.

“This is nice, though, isn’t it?” Meg shrugged her shoulders and stood in front of the window staring out at the mountain view.

“It’s awfully cold out though,” I replied, coming behind her to gaze out the window at the snow. Meg leaned into me and I just held her in silence, kissing her neck and making her swat me away.

“C’mon, Meg, I was just playing with you.”

“How about a nap first and then we’ll play some more?”

“Okay, I can do that.”

Glad that I had always kept two days’ worth of clothes in a carry-on bag on the jet, I undressed and slipped on a pair of shaving pants and a tank t-shirt. Meg still stood at the window.

“What’s bothering you?”

“Everything.”

“Meg, tell me what is going on.”

She just shook her head. “It’s exhaustion and hormones, Alex. Please don’t take offense.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m fine, just exhausted.” She finally left the window for her suitcase and pulled out a flannel nightgown. I was not pleased and frowned.

“You’re too young and beautiful for grandma pajamas.”

“Stop teasing me, I lived with nuns for the last month, and I don’t think they would have been pleased with something from Victoria’s Secret. Besides, I’m cold.”

“I’ll warm you up,” I replied, turning down the bed and climbing beneath the covers.

“Please do.”

We slept through the afternoon and Meg woke me with kisses on my bare shoulder, just tiny wet kisses to alert me that she was there and interested in frolicking until dinner.

I wiped the sleep out of my eyes and focused on Meg smiling down at me.

“Hey,” I said, reaching for her.

“Hey yourself,” she replied pressing me against the mattress and kissing me deep in the mouth.

“I missed you,” she said, as I pulled her down upon me so that her breasts were against my shirt. Then I realized that the flannel nightgown was off. After I moved her down onto the mattress, I examined the beautiful symmetrical bulge her flat belly had become. I kissed it, making her giggle, as I teased the little belly ring with my tongue and she squealed with delight.

“So this is my baby?”

“That’s your baby.”

“Can it hear yet?” I asked as I caressed the soft smooth skin of her stomach.

“I don’t know. I got a book in my suitcase. They gave it to me when I was in the hospital.”

“Did you read it?”

“Cover to cover.”

“Then you should know.”

“I think it’s within this month sometime. I’ll get the book if you want,” she said, about to get up from the bed.

“What I want doesn’t require a book,” I teased with her, and tickled her belly with the scruff of my beard. Megan was so ticklish, and I loved hearing her squeal and kick her feet against the mattress as she begged me to stop.

“I’ve really missed you,” she said, her hand combing through my graying curls.

“How come so cold earlier?” I asked.

“I didn’t mean to be, I’m sorry, I just wanted out of Vermont.”

“Such a lovely place. Good for skiing.”

“Yeah, that’s about it. I’ve been dealing with demons here.”

“I wondered about that.”

“It’s been bad.”

“Tell me about it.”

“I don’t want to wreck the mood.”

“I doubt if that’s possible today,” I replied, kissing her shoulder and working my way up to her neck.

“I saw people from high school. They gawked and asked me personal questions that I couldn’t answer.”

“What did you do?” I asked, as I rose up to look her in the eye. Whatever happened had affected her and I needed to know what before I went any further.

“I walked away.”

“The only solution, you know?”

“To them, I’m just a whore.”

Meg turned her head as tears fell, her eyes still looked off to the side out of embarrassment.

“You could never be a whore, Megan. Whoever said that was damn lucky that I wasn’t within hearing distance.”

Meg reached for me. I held her. “That’s not all, is it?

“I need to go back to the house.”

“What house?”

“My old house. Well, it’s not a house anymore, it’s just a burned out condemned pile of brick.”

“Who owns it?”

“I do.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I didn’t do anything with it. Let’s get a car and go out tomorrow.”

“Do you really think that’s wise?”

“I need to rid myself of the demons, Alex. That and I wanted to show you something if it’s still there.”

“What?”

“I’ll show you when we get there.”

Gladly I spent the afternoon horizontal with Megan. We made up for the month we were apart. I think I kissed every square inch of her that afternoon, especially that beautiful little baby bump. When we’d doze off, my hand was cupped about it, and I heard Meg sigh with contentment as I did.

“Do you want to dress and do dinner in the restaurant?” I asked her when we had woken from our nap.

“I think that would be lovely, thanks,” she replied.

“For what?”

“For wanting to be seen in public with me.”

“I think you’ve been too isolated while you were here,” I replied, as she put the flannel nightgown back on and sat on the edge of a chair while bent over her suitcase.

“I know every square inch of that hospital.”

“I’m sure you do.”

Meg picked up the book from the suitcase and moved onto the bed with it. I came over to see what she was reading. She pulled an ultrasound picture from the book and showed it to me. I was in awe at the impression of the tiny feet and hands. So beautiful, so tiny--I was in love already.

“Twenty weeks, then the baby will have ears,” she said, finding it in the book.

“Where are we now?”

“Almost 18 weeks,” she said, flipping through the pregnancy book to find a picture of an 18-week-old fetus.

“That far along already?” I asked, comparing the ultrasound photo to the picture in the book.

“Yeah. I don’t want to be away from you like that again.”

“Same here. I’ve been begged by the ACR board to move to L.A. and continue both foundation and ACR from there.”

“How do you feel about that?” she asked, reclining back on the bed and motioning for me to join her, so I did, caressing that little bulge that my hand seemed magnetized to whenever she was close enough to touch.

“I could never leave Anna.”

“She might move with you. Her own sons hardly see her, her husband died last year, and to her, you are one of her kids.”

“I know, it’s a weird relationship we share.”

“You could always ask her,” suggested Megan, with her fingertip trailing the outline of my short trimmed beard.

“I don’t want the label anymore though,” I replied, catching her fingertips with my lips and kissing them.

“Alex, you’re good at it.”

“I know. It would destroy Brandon if we moved out there.”

“He and Angie are so tight.”

“What about having a family meeting just to discuss it? You know, Brandon loves Daniel.”

“Daniel said if I left ACR, he was moving to New York. We both know that Brandon couldn’t live without New York. It’s a part of his being.”

“It wouldn’t hurt you to ask. What do you think about moving out there?”

“Well, we’d need a house.”

“I have a house out there.”

“You what?”

“I don’t use it, but I have a house.”

“Why don’t you use it?”

“It costs more to heat and cool it compared to the condo. Besides, it would only be me bantering around it and how often would that have been this year with you and me down?”

“Where’s the house?”

“In the hills.”

“Oh, I didn’t know.”

“Is that a problem?”

“No, I just thought you didn’t have a house out there because of the earthquakes.”

“I’m not a fan of them, that’s true, but the house is a good real estate investment. I’ll take you to see it sometime. It’s very nice.”

“Is it huge?”

“About three times bigger than my one in New York.” Meg’s eyes widened, and I couldn’t help but smirk at her. My house in White Plains was apparently the largest house she had ever been in and the most elaborate from what Brandon had told me.

“Is it furnished?”

“Not much of it, I think I got one wing done upstairs before I decided on the condo.”

“How many other houses do you have?”

“Well, Mom’s in Naples, I paid for that and the taxes every year, because she wanted out of Philly and to move to Florida but not Sarasota or Orlando.”

“Okay, so that makes three houses. Where else?”

“I have one in the south of France that I’ve been trying to sell.”

“Why?”

“I don’t ever use it. It’s in a prime location, but I don’t want to sell it at market value.”

“So you’ve had offers.”

“I’ve turned down many offers.”

“Ah, is that all?”

“Houses, as in my residences, yes.”

Meg raised her head and cocked an eyebrow at me.

“What?” I asked, waiting for something sarcastic to slip from her lips.

“You should have a prenup,” she replied, shocking me.

“Hush about that.”

“I’m not hushing.”

“You’re birthing my baby. I’m not going to force you into a prenup.”

“Now that’s just plain stupid, Alex.”

I laughed and knew that she was right, I just didn’t want to admit it, so I tried to avoid the discussion altogether and began to cover the little bulge with kisses until she pushed herself up and supported herself on her elbows, demanding an explanation.

“I don’t want it to turn ugly.”

“Okay, so we agree not to let it get ugly. What do I need to do?”

“You’ll need legal counsel not affiliated with mine.”

“Okay, then what?”

“Then he’ll nose around and tell you the bottom line what not to accept as far as a prenup is concerned.”

“Nose around how?”

“My finances.”

“Interesting, go on.”

“Then we have a meeting, my counsel and yours, you and me and a recorder, and we hash it out there. Sometimes, from what I’ve heard, that turns ugly and the couple ends up splitting.”

“So that’s what you’re afraid of?”

“Right.”

“How badly did Janice take you for?” Meg asked, as she reached for my hand and intertwined my fingers with her own.

“Over the years, probably five million, with child support and alimony.”

“What are you going to do about that?”

“Daniel’s been dealing with her attorney in Connecticut. We want full custody and an end to the child support and alimony payments with it. We’re willing to make a deal.”

“What kind of deal?”

“Money, Janice’s favorite obsession. I financed her life with her various gigolos all these years.”

“Why?”

“I didn’t know otherwise. Meg, I’d do it again.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked, now sitting up all the way.

“If we divorced, I’d take care of you and the baby. I don’t shirk my responsibilities like some.”

“You’re a good man, Alex.”

“My dad, now he was a good man.”

“You don’t talk much about him.”

“My dad was incredible. The things he could make with his hands, Meg, give him some wood, some tools, hardware, and stain and he’d build whatever your heart desired. Mom’s bedroom set, Dad made it.”

“Really?”

“It’s oak, priceless to the rest of us.”

“I’m sure it is. So he was a craftsman?”

“It was his hobby. Dad owned a little bodega in South Philly when I was growing up.”

“When did he have time to do all that?”

“Whenever he could. He had some clerks plus Lilly and me when we were teenagers. We spent a lot of time at the store, but it was good for us. It taught us business sense and instinct.”

“Why was it so hard on you when your dad died?”

I was beginning to feel like this was the Megan inquisition. All of a sudden, she had questions and wanted answers. For the last few months that we had been intimate, she’d never ask, but then again, for half of that time, we were across the country connected only by the telephone.

“We disagreed when it came to Angie. Mom and Dad wanted to see her, but Janice refused. I paid for an attorney to do something, but essentially, nothing could be done because Janice, being both a French citizen and an American, moved to France and took Angie with her.”

“So that’s why Angie spoke French well enough to test out of it in high school here?”

“Yes, and why I have a house in France. Mom and Dad lived there and searched for her for a couple of years.”

“Did they find her?”

“Yes, then Janice just moved her back to the States. She had an unfair advantage of language when it came to living in France.”

“Do you speak French?”

“Mais oui.”

“I took Spanish in high school and college.”

“Why?”

“It’s more marketable, they said.”

“And what do you say?”

“It was only useful when I was lost in Miami. So, you and your dad fought over Angie, they went to France, then they came back?” asked Megan, summarizing and reminding me where I was in the story so I could finish it.

“Right, and meanwhile, I was up to my ears in revenue at the label. I had signed a few great acts and business was so good I wanted to stay in L.A. and micromanage it all. Dad wanted me to put it down and come fight for Angie.”

“And you said no?”

“I said no for Angie’s sake. Every time that child got settled, we’d find her and Janice would uproot her again. That was no way to live. I saw my daughter for an equivalent of a weekend visitation for her whole life before this summer.”

“So for her sake, you said no, and your dad was mad at you?”

“Right. Dad said I didn’t love her. If I did, I would have fought for her. The truth is, Megan, I didn’t know her. I had loved her from afar, and hoped she was well. While my accountant had set up a trust, I paid whatever bills were sent without question and tuition was never an issue. Whatever bill she sent, I paid. That was the only way Janice would let me love Angie. Dad wanted me to fight. He wanted to know his granddaughter.”

“You didn’t stand in his way of that.”

“I know, but I could have helped. Once I had her back in the States, she could have been served papers, and we could have had a hearing. I didn’t want to go there because I was afraid that Angie would ask me where I had been all those years when she needed a daddy.”

“To my recollection, she did, and you told her the truth. She hadn’t turned her back on you yet, has she?”

“Nah, she’s my girl. Going to Disneyland was one of the best days of my life.”

“So California?” asked Meg, bringing me back to the original subject. I shrugged my shoulders. I wasn’t that crazy about California since I couldn’t go skiing anywhere but Tahoe, whereas I had a resort an hour north of me near Utica. Skiing is what I missed most this winter while dealing with Megan. She got up and pulled an outfit from her suitcase, while I did the same.

Meg went into the bathroom to shower and soon I followed her, but not until the bathroom was full of steam. She was in the shower with her head covered in shampoo lather. I remembered fantasizing about being in my shower with her and all that long hair before any of this ever happened. I shut the door and stepped into the shower behind her, and then my fingers massaged her soapy skull. Her hair was a bit longer than it was when we were last together. She needed her bangs trimmed, but Meg had let them get long.

“At this rate, we’ll never get to dinner.”

“Sure we will.” Picking up a bath puff and squeezing some of her perfumed soap onto it, I washed her back and then her curvaceous bottom, enjoying her giggling as I tickled her skin with the bath puff. Meg spun around and pressed herself against me, distracting me with a kiss while she reached for a washcloth and the bar soap, knowing better than even touching me with that flowery stuff. We hardly got soaped up and were at it again because I couldn’t resist her there in the shower. We stayed in until the water grew cold. Meg reached for a towel that I chucked away, finishing her over the vanity in the bathroom. After it was over, I held her in my arms although she wanted to wash us clean again. Why was it was so pertinent to her when it came to making love? While I knew it was necessary, hygiene-wise, Megan wouldn’t just enjoy the afterglow until it was done. Then I wondered if she really enjoyed sex at all.

“Stop,” I said, holding her. “Just let me hold you.”

“But—”

“Hush, Meg.”

Her lips kissed the wetness from my shoulder, and I reached for a towel to cover her back when I saw goose bumps appear.

I never asked her about the abuse from her father. I knew that it had something to do with how she reacted sexually, and I was afraid to ask, not certain that I could handle her reaction. Maybe Ruby was right. Now that we’re officially a couple, and about to become parents, Meg and I needed to start couples counseling with her.

When it came to sex, I didn’t understand Meg. She wasn’t like my other sexual partners. Meg didn’t act like a woman orgasming, and I don’t think she orgasms frequently, although she says she does. Sex is satisfying to her when she’s in control when she’s got me on the bed and she’s making me crazy--then she’s satisfied. When she wakes me from sleep and initiates it, she’s happy, but once I take over, once I touch her, she loses interest.

It’s hard to make love a woman who’s been sexually abused. She’s an incredible woman to love, but a difficult lover. I wanted to taste her nectar, I craved it, but she’d have nothing to do with it. Realizing that I was only agitating her by resisting her action, I let her wash us clean.

Although I wish she’d wait, when she washes me, I can only think of one thing, and that’s getting it messed so she’d bathe it again. While I dressed for dinner, I decided that tonight, I’d talk to her about sex. If we didn’t clear this up now, I would only feel more separated from her and that was the last thing I wanted from Megan. I wanted her close to me. Joined to me. Attached. This separated us. I had to ask.

As I sat on the bed, I watched her apply her make-up. Meg took such attention to it with her face not even a foot from the mirror as she lined her eye with the black eye pencil.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked, as her eyes met mine through the reflection of the mirror.

“Sex,” I replied when she opened her mascara.

“I thought so,” she replied with a giggle, as she applied it to her eyelashes. “I’ve missed you, Alex.”

“Same here, but we need to talk about sex.”

“Is something wrong?” she asked as her voice shook. She closed her mascara and put it back into the cosmetic bag.

“I don’t know, is there? I don’t think you always enjoy sex.”

“I do,” she replied, opening the lipstick then putting it to her mouth and spreading the crème on her lips.

“No, I don’t think so. You’ll say that you do so you won’t upset me. I don’t want a lover who goes through the motions. Meg, I wanted you to be a full participant.”

Meg put the cover back on her lipstick and put it in the cosmetic case that she zipped shut and turned from me to put in her suitcase. She said nothing in return, but stood there with her back to me as her shoulders fell forward. As much as I hated to admit it, maybe Ruby was right, maybe this would always separate us.

“You don’t want to talk about this?”

“I don’t know what to say. Whatever I do say could hurt you, and I don’t want to do that.”

“Meg, you can’t hurt me as badly as you think you can. I need you to be willing to discuss this with me.”

“Discuss what?” she asked, as I stepped behind her and put my hands on her shoulders.

“Why receiving oral sex is off limits for you, why you don’t orgasm, why you resist cuddling with me after sex, just to jump up and wash it all away. Why Meg? Why do you do that?”

Meg sidestepped out of my grasp and sat on the edge of the bed as if an anvil fell upon her. She stared blankly at the wall in front of her. I sat with her. She didn’t respond.

“No, don’t you even go there,” I said, “You’re avoiding me again. I want you here, Megan. I don’t care what the answers are, I want you here.”

“And you want the answers also?” she asked in a low whisper.

“Yeah.”

“It’s really hard to talk about,” she replied, biting her lip and wringing her hands.

“Well, I have a working theory on this one.”

“Really? Go on then.”

“You had to get up and clean the two of you off so your mother wouldn’t smell the remnants of sex on you both because you felt responsible for it all.”

Meg nodded. “Did Ruby tell you?”

“Ruby will not break privilege no matter how hard I coerce her. I think our age difference is the problem. My age, anyway.”

“You’re not like him,” she replied, reaching for my hand and holding it.

“I’m older than you, like Howie was.”

“Ruby says that I yearn for a father figure, so I’ve given you too many hats to wear. There are times when I can’t distinguish who you are to me. Father, lover, boss, friend—my psyche is too confused.”

“I know. Who am I to you?”

“To me, you’re one and the same. According to Ruby, you can be all but a father to me. This baby and Angie, you are their father. To me, you can’t be that person.”

Meg let out a deep sigh.

“That felt better, didn’t it?”

“What?”

“Letting that out, filling me in.”

“I guess. It’s more embarrassing than it’s freeing.”

“Fill me in some more, Meg. Tell me about orgasm.”

Meg shook her head. “I need to eat,” she said, clutching her belly.

“I’ve brought up too much at once, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but I need to eat. I feel like I have low blood sugar right now.” I stood up and got the room key and my wallet from the dresser.

“Let’s go eat.”

We walked down to the restaurant and got a table. We ordered and Meg ate a piece of the buttered roll while I handed the waiter the menus. A few minutes later, the waiter brought me a Scotch and Meg a glass of iced tea.

“So have you felt the baby yet?”

“Not yet. I keep waiting for it. It should be any day now.”

“I’m glad I haven’t missed that. I didn’t get to experience any of this with Angie. I was on tour with Heartbeat and didn’t know Janice was joining us in New York. Her plane was delayed, so when she got to the hotel, it was after a concert—”

“I know the rest,” she said.

“You do?”

“Yep, I think I had every article about you when I was a teenager.”

“Me or Heartbeat?”

“Both, but you were my favorite of the group.”

“Is that why you had this star-struck expression on your face when we met for your interview? I knew you recognized me, but I had no idea until all of this happened with Randy that you were even a fan way back when. Then, Anna told me about the CD’s in your dresser drawer.”

Meg blushed and her eyes lowered to the table.

“What are you embarrassed about?” I asked her in a teasing tone. “I was flattered by it all.”

“You were? I thought you were just saying that.”

“I hardly have fans who recognize me from back then anymore. Most young people know me as a music mogul and those our age have forgotten my past musical experience altogether.”

“Meeting Paul Lenci, Andy Blake, and Mitch Miller last year was huge for me. You were all there, well Nick in spirit, but it was incredible being with you all right there in your living room. They are all lovely people.”

“Yeah, they’re like brothers to me.”

“Paulie especially?” she asked, using my nickname for Paul.

“Yeah, you want to talk about someone taking risks and being scared to reveal something, Paulie was scared to death that he’d lose us all when he came out to us, but it only made us closer.”

“I want you there for everything with the baby.”

“I want to be there too.”

“I’ll need you, you know? Pain brings on flashbacks, especially pain like this.”

“I’ll be there. We’ll work this out. The anti-depressants that you take, will they hurt the baby?”

“Ruby switched me back to Prozac just to be safe. It’s probably why I’m not interested in sex right now. Orgasm is pretty much obsolete on it.”

“Right, that makes sense.”

She reached into her purse, took out a bottle of pills, and unscrewed its lid, shaking out a large white pill from the bottle and before she could shut the bottle again, I reached for the bottle to see what the pills were.

“What are these for?” I asked peering at the label for a clue. Tilting it, I looked inside to see the large pills in the half-empty bottle.

“Baby vitamins.”

“Oh, the prenatal ones. Damn, they’re big,” I replied, handing them back to her.

“If I take it in the morning, I get sick, so if I take it with dinner, then they don’t bother me on a full stomach.”

She shut the bottle and returned it to her purse. I reached for her hand after she set the purse at her feet again, and Meg gave me a little smile.

“You seem sad.”

She nodded.

“Why?”

Meg shook her head. “Hormones, probably. My mood swings more than the pendulum at the science museum in D.C. One minute I’m happy, the next I’m crying, one minute I’m content, the next, I’m agitated.”

“That must be miserable.”

“It is, but I’m better now that you’re here.”

After the waiter put our salads in front of us, Meg devoured hers in record time. She never had a problem finishing salad. We’d see how much of dinner I could con her into eating tonight. The moment the waiter put the plates in front of us, Meg went right to work, shocking me that she wasn’t playing with her food as she typically did.

Throughout dinner, I noticed that she was still at it, and not dawdling as she typically did at my table. She’d stop, drink some iced tea, converse with me, but her fork was in her hand and not on her plate. Let’s just say that I was shocked when she finished all but the garnish on her plate. I was amazed. Meg ate all her dinner. When the waiter came to clear the plates, Meg asked about dessert.

“What do you have that’s purely chocolate?” When she asked that, I thought I would choke on the final sip of my Scotch. Meg wanted dessert? And right away?

“I’ll bring the dessert cart over,” he said. When he returned, Meg chose the five layer chocolate torte. I ordered the cheesecake.

“You cleaned your plate.”

“I’m always hungry now.”

“How much weight have you gained?”

“Two pounds.”

“That’s it?”

“Do you want me to gain more?”

“Janice gained like fifty when she was pregnant with Angie.”

“Anything over twenty is not healthy.”

“Really?”

“Really. Besides, do you want a fat cow for a wife?”

“I’m not going to answer that in fear of recrimination.”

“Smart man.”

Meg ate all of the torte that was twice the size of my cheesecake. I couldn’t finish my own and left almost half of it on my plate. She eyed it, so I pushed it over to her and smirked as she finished it off.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat like that. You ate as if you hadn’t eaten for three days.”

“Wait until I get a craving, I’ll make you both poor and crazy.”

“What?”

“The other night, I had to have fried chicken. I was just starving for it. So I went and bought one of those three-piece dinners and ate it up. Well, I was still craving the chicken, so I ordered four more breasts and picked them clean.”

“Wait, you ate 7 pieces of chicken? In one sitting? You?”

“Yep, me.”

“I don’t believe you. This I got to see.”

“The cravings, they’re awful, but you must feed them. The body needs it, that’s why the craving’s there. One night, Father Ralph caught me in the kitchen with chocolate chips. We shared a whole pound of them and a pot of tea. The sisters were ready to kill us in the morning, so after Father Ralph dropped me off at the hospital, he went to get them some more. I had to have chocolate. It was terrible. I’ve never had cravings like that. Not even the typical PMS things, chocolate, salt, sugar, caffeine. Now it’s at a vengeance.”

After we returned to our suite and got comfortable, Meg held up my yacht club sweatshirt that she had in her suitcase.

“Save that for me for tomorrow,” I said to her.

She put on another sweatshirt with some running shorts.

“You’re not going running at this hour.”

“What do I need to work out for when I’ve had enough exercise for a week this afternoon?”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, it was great.”

“Was it?”

“Alex, you need to understand something. That I have sex at all and find it a lovely experience is huge for me. I can’t feel orgasm as intensely as you do right now, and I won’t get there for a while. Please don’t feel that it’s any reflection upon you as a lover. Besides, you have to take into account the chemical issues from the Prozac and the lack of energy that I feel from the pregnancy. This hasn’t been the easiest situation being here. Emotionally, I mean. I think I’d be different if we were in New York.”

“What difference does it make where we are, as long as we’re together?”

“The demons, Alex.”

“Why do you want to go back there?”

“I need to say good-bye so I can live a happy life without being bogged down by the past. I’m tired of it, Alex. I’m tired of it weighing me down, but I’m afraid to go there by myself.”

“We’ll go, I promise.”

“If I can put that away--put it all away--then I can put the land up for sale and never return here again.”

“And Maggie?”

“She said her peace to me long before I arrived. I was an embarrassment.”

“So if she dies, you won’t come back for the funeral?”

“We’ll see. I doubt it. Let the home bury her. Two days ago, I took out my checkbook and paid for the plot, the stone, the funeral flowers and the service. Let them do the rest. I’m tired of her. Alex, I spent so much these years supporting her, I had so much guilt and did whatever she wanted me to do for her because of our parents’ neglect of her. Maggie never wanted to see them again. She only wanted me at a distance. She liked my money, what little I had, and begged me not to let Medicaid move her into a state funded home because she wanted to stay there with her friends. I paid for her room, well, half of it. Medicaid paid the rest. It set me back in the worst way, but I did it for her.”

“We’re two peas in a pod, aren’t we? I let Bianca and Janice use me, and your sister used you.”

“Exactly. I hate being here, Alex. I want to call a rental car company and drive home before tomorrow, but I can’t. I have to do this. You can’t let me out of it. I know I’m going to be anxious over it until I actually do it.”

“Okay, so we’re going out to see what?”

“There’s nothing left of the house. Anything I had back then is in the woods hidden in my cave, in a box that I had stowed away in the wall of it. We’ll see if it’s still there.”

“You sure you want to do this?”

“I’m sure.”

“Do you want me to get Ruby up here?”

“God no. I need her psychoanalyzing everything like I need a hole in the head.”

“Fine, if you’re sure we can do this without me having to take you home in paper bag, then we’ll do it.”

Meg laughed. “Sure I’m sure,” she said and climbed into bed.

I watched a Knicks game while she cuddled against me and fell asleep. Finally, I shut off the TV and the lights. After I kissed her good night, I molded my form around her, my hand on the special little bulge in her belly. Concerned about tomorrow, I laid awake thinking about it. She needed this. I had to help her through it, regardless of what we found or didn’t find. For our future, she had to shut the door on this, every bit of it. It would be years probably before she could do the same with Randy, but this was a start for her.

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