The days of the week passed unnoticed, being crowded, and buried in files, which I had to archive and transcribe on my laptop in detailed reports.
The secretary had offered to lend me a hand, but I politely refused. She also had, in turn, quite a lot of work to do, and various commissions.
But every time I saw her, I could not get over the fact that John did not have one yet because he did not need a secretary yet. But I had in mind, I thought, and my stomach tightened just like an anti-stress ball - every time I passed his office. From that evening, I did not open the subject, but it was burning in the smoldering fire in my soul.
The only reason for joy was that little being growing in my womb. I had started talking to her, I caressed her every time I had the opportunity, and I was alone.
The rest of the time, when I was with John, he was the one who had monopolized my belly, giggling, and talking like a baby like I have never seen him before. I had started to like, maybe too much, to pamper myself, to caress me, but I vehemently refused whenever he tried to do small things for me that I could do, even if it required minimal effort.
“The doctor said it is really recommended that I move, John!” I called him outraged, his hands resting on his hips, when I wanted to get the dishes for Christmas dinner out of the top cupboard in the kitchen.
“The doctor can put somewhere what he said!” he said convincingly.
He had climbed the stairs to the vessels closet, rising only a little to the top to get to where the plates were, and this tense movement only highlighted the muscles in his thighs and broad back. The cut of the sleeves of the shirt he wore had stretched to the limit when he lowered the plates to hand them to me. Overflowing with masculinity and virility, the veins in his forearms stood out beautifully, among the black hairs, which made him even more attractive.
“Do you remember why I put these plates on top?”
It was clear that he was unaware of the view he was offering me. I could have sat on the couch all day, eating popcorn, and admiring him doing hard activities and work, only to enjoy that body full of tense muscles and cold sweat, which I would have been happy to wipe from his forehead. I was not sure, but ninety percent could swear that no matter what hard work he did and no matter how much he sweated, his skin would emit the same woody, sweet, masculine scent that would make any woman burn with desire.
“It was your idea! You said, and I quote "if this nonsense bothers me one more time, I'll put it in the attic." I giggled as I imitated him.
“Only we don't have an attic, so I thought of moving them as high as possible.”
As soon as he jumped off the ladder, he wrapped his palms around my waist, pulling me close to his abdomen as hard as an iron shield.
“I can't wait for next Christmas, then I'll be the one to admire you." He whispered to me with his sexiest stamp, resting his forehead on mine. He had noticed me winking at him when he was on the stairs, but he did not interrupt my pleasure on watching him. And if any price were set for this pleasure, I would be willing to pay it. Even after so long a relationship, I could not get enough of him. I always wanted him, I loved him immensely, and the feeling was mutual.
After a long separation from John, who had left for Dallas early in the morning, I went back to bed to steal a few more hours of sleep. But it was completely gone. I got out of bed, took a hot shower, taking advantage of the absence of John, who always controlled the water, not to be too hot as I like, always telling me - The doctor's instructions- apparently now respect them, and I set off for the kitchen, with a sudden, big craving for a hot latte. Having enough hours left, until it was time to meet Rebecca, and so I decided it was time to make a to-do list for the wedding.
I walked into John's office, which still smelled of tobacco and natural leather, sat down in the upholstered office chair, and began checking the Internet for the necessary information.
I had learned that first on the list are the wedding invitations, then the place for the post-wedding party, the church, clothes. All flowed from the pen to the paper, until entire pages filled. I had reached the flowers from the bride's bouquet, the flowers that will decorate the church and the party place as well, I even noticed the word cake leaves water in my mouth.
Could it have been a pregnant woman's craving? It was normal and it was time. I had been waiting for them so eagerly, that I was afraid that I would not be a classic pregnant woman with nausea, cravings, moods, and everything that makes a pregnant woman impossible to bear.
For now, it was just cravings.
“A good start, Katherine!” I praised myself. Immersed in detail and lost in the shades of colors that are in vogue for weddings this year, I had lost track of time, and I had little time until the meeting with Rebecca. I had to leave as soon as possible, and I decided that I would not waste any more time changing my clothes. I took my purse and keys and ran out the door. I was glad that I had chosen to wear clothes that could be wear outside too. A pair of jeans, a long sweater with a wide collar. They were perfect and warm, but I did not want to be unprepared for the cold weather outside, and I took the thin coat by the hand on my way to the door.
I was ten minutes late, and that was because of the traffic in New York. I loved the city, I loved people, as they were, they offered you a range of emotional states and I loved to see them walking hurriedly or leisurely on the streets, I loved the parks and restaurants that had brought the culinary culture of the world to one city. Thus, I could be wherever I wanted and indulge in international delicacies by just putting my finger on the map.
But I hate heavy, crowded, and noisy traffic.
Rebecca was waiting for me agitated in front of the mall and she was not alone. I was surprised to see Jake next to her. I still did not know if I was pleasantly surprised or indignant.
The closer I got to them, the more I realized that the balance tilted towards the pleasant one. I had noticed that he had changed his elegant clothes with more comfortable ones. He had replaced his elegant jacket with a thin quilted jacket that fit perfectly on his torso, shoulders, even his chest, and he wore a pair of jeans that came poured on his well-worked thighs.
“Good, Kate! Finally! We had started to worry!” I had heard Rebecca’s voice, and she breathed a sigh of relief that I had arrived and so the shopping session could begin, like a pirate going to sea in search of treasure. Before I could take my eyes off Jake, who greeted me briefly by nodding, letting the smile on his lips say more than any word could, I was awakened to the realization of Rebecca’s interruption.
“Jake offered to come with us. He had to bring the files with photos and...”
I had abruptly interrupted her, without realizing it as she tried to explain Jake's presence.
“Of course! It is no problem. I would have arrived even earlier than the set time, only the main road was blocked by a repair car and I had to take it on the side streets. Plus, my phone battery drained on the way and I could not let you know about that.”
After a few seconds of silence, in which it was clear that Jake was feeling the same as me, embarrassed, I urged him not to waste time and to go and spend some money. Rebecca was the first to enter the revolving door, then Jake and I followed. I could not see his face, but I could feel his gaze staring at me, like a hawk chasing its prey.
“Are you feeling alright?” his whisper close to my ear startled me.
“Sure!” I smiled and swallowed hard.
“OK, friends! Let us go shopping”. Rebecca had said it, delighted and ready like a time trial, rubbing her hands frantically. “I'll head to the toy store; I have Santa's list that Noah "sent" in the mail. And then I will be at the sporting goods store. I do not want to drag you after me, so you go and do your shopping, and then we talk through the messages to determine where we meet. Shopping spree!”
Without being able to remind her that I no longer had a phone available, Rebecca had disappeared through the crowd. I was left with the words in the air, looking long behind her.
“She probably wasn't listening, but if you don't mind, I could keep you company.”
Boasting, I kept explaining that this company was just so I would not get lost in Rebecca. I could have gone home, without saying goodbye, after I had checked everything off my shopping list. But we had a tradition. We always stayed with a glass of mulled wine with cinnamon and orange, and fluffy and soft donuts, with vanilla and almond flavor, where we told each other the latest adventures. So, having nowhere to go, I nodded in agreement. And I started, without a specific goal.
"Where to, Miss Ferguson?" His wide smile revealed his perfect teeth.
“We could start with this side, I pointed to the left, I have a few things to take.”
“Let's start then!” He urged me impatiently.
“Miss Ferguson?” I asked him curiously.
“Isn't that your name?”
“Of course! It just seems to me that you uttered it as a kind of insult.”
“Why do you say that?” he asked, frowning theatrically, as if it were perfectly normal for him to address me like that. He and I knew he was referring to the fact that I was going to marry John, and I will take his name.
“Forget it!” I try to avoid it, looking through the shop windows.
“Why would I forget it? Probably because I still hope ...” and he had left room for interpretations. I had suddenly become irritated, now I understood why he had offered his company, only to try his luck again. This man really had no qualms. Indeed, if the situation had been different, I probably would have been in his arms now. But I was not. I had John and he had to stay that way. Undoubtedly.
“No! Do not expect anything! Listen, Jake! And listen well. You hope for absolutely nothing because it will not happen. You are gone, and now it is too late. That is, it! You arrived too late!” I said the syllabic words to him, as if he understood their meaning better. “I am pregnant with another man, for God's sake! I do not hope that you will stop, because a man like you cannot be stopped. Now, go do your business and leave me alone!”
I had walked away from him, speaking loudly. “You hear!”I turned abruptly, because I wanted to say something more, and I came face to face with Jake, who was following me closely. His whole face shone. His charming smile was settled on his face, looking at me with those glassy eyes.
Annoyed by the feelings I was carrying, I would have wanted him to hug me, to kiss me. But that would have been impossible. Not because he did not want to or could not. I could not, my thoughts immediately flew to John and I felt guilty.
“I wanted to tell you that I still hope you think about my offer. Remember? When have I asked you to be friends? But, for a second, to be damn if not, I could swear you love me as much as I want you. I will not hide from you what I feel for you, what I have always felt.”
He had grabbed me by the elbow and pulled me up so that I was closer to his face. “But I promise I will stop putting pressure on you. And just because you are pregnant, as you said, with someone else!”
Suddenly letting go of my hand, he walked away from me. Sneaking through the crowd, he made his way to a more secluded bench. He sat on it, and with desperate movements, propped his elbows on his knees, braiding his fingers to pass them behind his neck.
I was speechless with astonishment, and I scolded myself for going out. If I had said more, it would have been possible for me to give up, to realize that most of my feelings for him had not yet disappeared, and a complicated situation would probably have arisen from which no I could see nothing good. I approached the bench he was sitting on and joined him. We were not looking at each other. The world moves around us, but for us time stopped for a few seconds, leaving us in silence, enjoying only our presence.
“I am sorry!” I had struggled to break the silence, which made my voice sound almost strangled.
“It’s okay, Kate! I just must bear the consequences, and I am aware of that. You have no idea how hard it is for me. In the first days since I found out about the child, you probably would not believe me if I told you.”
“What happened then?”
I was curious to find out what he had been through, but at the same time I felt sorry for him. And I would have liked to do something to remove his suffering - because it was clear that he was suffering - as easily as I would remove the petals of a flower.
“It doesn't matter, Kate! That is just my problem.” He stood up, as if he had charged his batteries to the maximum level, he held out his hand confidently, displaying the same winning smile, only that his eyes this time were not as bright. I could see the sadness and anger in them. I wanted to find out more, to finish the sentence. But the attitude he had approached does not allow me to discover this.
We wandered through the shops, bought various gifts, and talked only about what was around us, commenting on each object, which we intended to take, with difficulty avoiding the subject opened earlier.
“You don’t but anything?”
“No!” He answered me dryly.
“It's a pretty definite answer! Have you already done your shopping?” I asked him, trying to relax the atmosphere.
“No, Kate! I do not celebrate Christmas!”
Surprised by what she said, I thought I had not heard well.
“It's a pretty good joke, if you follow what I know about you.” I told him in the same amused tone, refusing to believe he was telling the truth
“What do you know about me, Kate?” his serious tone made my state of amusement fall to the ground, just as the bowling ball causes the bowling to lose its balance and fall.
“I only know that you are celebrating this holiday, and you are now lying to me.”
I had confronted him bravely.
“I was celebrating, in the past.” He answered me with the same indifferent attitude as before.
Throwing a smile into the corner of my mouth, it took on a resigned look.
“Listen! I do not want you to feel sorry for me. I do not need it. And in addition, it saves me an expense. I prefer to do something else with money than to throw away useless things, giving them gifts, so that later people do not even use them. And what is the point of celebrating when you are alone? Celebrating means being with someone, and I am not!”
Watching him closely, he was not too convinced by what he was saying either. Now, I was the one who wanted to hug him, caress his hair, and tell him that everything would be fine. But how is that possible? Was I falling in love with Jake again? I loved John, no matter what. I was sure of that! With a child or not. I had loved John before he was mine. I had seen, besides that attractive and virile man, that in the depths of his soul hid a good man, sweet and attentive, eager to offer love and receive it. And I could not betray her confidence in me, despite her jealous crises, which were just a screen for her worries about external factors, like other men who want to try their charms on me. And I will not betray her! I loved John. But why every time I was next to Jake, my stomach tightened, my lips dried like arable land in a dry summer. I wanted to touch him, as I used to touch him, I wanted to be in his arms and make sure that everything that happened did not happen. The dilemmas had begun with Jake's return, and they did not give me peace. I felt haunted now by his presence, not only by the nightmares I had had for a long time after breaking up with him.
But still, i could not remain indifferent to his suffering, we had had a past together, we had lived together, we had taken care of each other when we were sick. We had fed each other, we had been one and the same being, until the thread suddenly broke.
“Jake?” He had turned instinctively to me at the sound of his name.
“What would you say if you were with us for Christmas dinner? I know it will not be easy for you, but at least you will enjoy my company as a friend.” I smiled at him implicitly, that I tacitly accepted to be friends, and he had answered me in the same way, with a subtle smile.
“Thanks! But no, thank you!” A polite refusal that surprised me. I expected him to accept right away, without thinking. He had already entered a store full of Christmas decorations. The atmosphere inside seems to teleport you directly to the North Pole, where Santa's little elves were constantly working on making toys. Self-propelled wooden trains roamed the store walls and bells of various sizes resounded harmoniously, miniature houses that perfectly mimicked the winter landscape, with fir trees and lots of snow, and thousands of light bulbs were lit. It was a pleasure to admire them, but my eyes were drawn to a musical glass globe, in which a couple of lovers were on the rink and kissing. Our hands touched that globe. I was startled, amazed.
“You take it!” I told him instinctively
“No, you touched it first. You will buy it if you want.” He told me calmly and took a few steps back.
“Jake, it would be fair to leave it to you. You have not bought anything yet, and I have my arms full.” I show him the full bags in his hand.
“And anyway, I can take anything else from here. They are all wonderful!”
Just then Rebecca calls him to tell him that she has finished the tour and is ready for the famous cup of mulled wine and fluffy donuts.
We both bought a globe, he the one with the two lovers, and I chose one at random from the table on which they were placed. I was afraid he would change his mind, so I did not spend too much time studying them.
After paying for our globes, we headed to the central part of the mall, where Rebecca was waiting for us with full arms.
She had bought so many that she probably needed a stroller to carry them. But in the end, with Jake's help, we managed to get them to her car, which looks more like Santa's sleigh, with lots of presents inside.
“I can't wait to see the expression on Noah's face. I took absolutely the entire list he wrote, and Mike ... they will be super excited about what I chose. I am so excited about this Christmas. By the way, what time do we come tomorrow?”
Rebecca was referring to the Christmas Eve dinner at my house, which Jake refused to attend...
Hearing her question, he seemed uncomfortable, probably hoping I would not say a word to Rebecca about my invitation, and then sit on it until he gave in and agreed to come.
“It would be perfect at seven. Dinner will be ready then. Or so John told me. He will cook tomorrow.” I said it proud because I knew he cooked wonderfully. His qualities as a chef have never disappointed me.
I wanted to tell him how John forbids me a lot of things, such as cooking Christmas dinner, but I stopped in time, knowing that Rebeca would not only be satisfied with this information, but also want details. Why? How? and I was not ready to give it to them yet
“Do you know something?” She stretched her neck looking behind me. “I think I am going to get some more lollipops from Noah. He loves the stick-shaped ones. Be right back!”
And just as she left the first time, so she left now. Stormy, and unseen. Usually, I do not mind the smell of mulled wine, I even adore it. But this time, I had refused Rebecca, on the grounds that I was being treated with antibiotics, which forbade me to drink alcohol. She turned up his nose but agreed with me that I should not stop the treatment. Now, we notice that not only does drinking wine hurt, but also its smell. And suddenly my stomach tightened painfully, causing me nausea.
“Kate, are you okay?” Jake asked me subtly
“Not really, I think I'll be heading home soon.”
“Morning sickness?” I nodded.
“Jake, I wanted to thank you for keeping my secret.”
“You have nothing to thank me for. It is none of my business.”
“I don't understand why you're so grumpy, I tried to be nice to you, and you behave like a…”
I could not find a suitable adjective, which made me stutter.
“Like what Kate? “I turned my gaze to Rebecca to follow her. I did not want to surprise her by telling us something for which I would have no explanation.
“A man in love?? That is how I am.”
I was right. And I recognized that too. He was in love with me.
“Then why don't you give me a chance? You asked me to accept to be friends, and when I behave like that, you reject. Why? I want to know. “
“Because I love you! That is why! You are satisfied? Now, please excuse me.” He got up and simply left. Without any extra words.