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Action Reaction

Chapter 2

“Effing Alex Karev! Where does he get off telling me I’m sweaty?!” April mumbled to herself as she entered her new apartment. She banged the door shut, allowing her temper a small outlet while simultaneously removing the clothes she was wearing. In the privacy of her own physical and mind space, she conceded to the reality of clammy perspiration but not Alex’s hypothesis as to that being a glaringly noticeable symptom of her condition. Also, her damn bra was pinching like crazy and extremely uncomfortable and not only because of the added heft. At the culmination of a working day, what woman didn’t want to just throw off that constriction? Moments like these reinforced the correctness of her decision to rent her own place. Free the Nipple was a loud and proud resounding reality in the privacy of her own home.

Unhindered by physical restrictions she allowed her mind to return to her most recent predicament, her dilemma of the day. Did both Alex and his co-conspirator think that pregnancy killed off brain cells?! And that she, being a Medical Doctor herself, would fall for this outrageous and inquisitively intrusive ploy to get her to cave?! Of course he couldn’t tell just by seeing (and apparently smelling!) her and anyway he was so full of crap! How did working with the end result qualify him as an expert on the inception process of said product? Even incubation itself was outside of his realm of specialty. So he couldn’t know, sans the observance of a visible baby bump, that a woman was pregnant! Not even Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who were way more familiar with reading signs, could accurately predict pregnancy without tests. Somebody had cracked and it was obvious who…she’d only told one other person!

“Compartmentalize!” she instructed out loud, getting into the spirit of the order along with the breathing techniques of labour. Never too early to start practicing, she punted to herself.

“Deep breath in,” she complied and “Breathe out,” she tried, quickly figuring out that verbal coaching did not marry well with performing the exercise itself. The one needed to divorce itself from the other; both did not work well in tandem. At least she could appreciate the humour of her internal musings.

She had hardened her heart to the past, instead living for the moment. She did not allow the negative connotations of the word to permeate her hard won tranquility. It was a game she’d developed; removing the power that certain words had to invoke pain or distress. While some might deride her behaviour as ‘burying her head in the sand’ a Psychologist would correctly diagnose her actions, or lack thereof, as a coping mechanism.

“Effing Wilson! Really?! When did my life become gossip fodder, huh? And damn you too, Jackass Flirtery, you want nothing left undone, hey?” April fumed. She’d cased out the joint and after an embarrassing encounter (well for Deluca and Pierce, for herself… not so much) of on-call room shenanigans she discovered that the nearest supply closet was private and vent friendly. So she let rip. Not with thunder but with thought. Unprofessionalism aside and rumor mill notwithstanding, she consoled herself that her unintended eavesdropping seemed to indicate that it was a titbit that Jo had shared only with Alex, for the moment at least.

Well tomorrow was another day, she would cross that bridge when she got to it and ain’t no mountain high enough…Yeah, she needed to stop; Hashtag: Clichés Must Fall with one empowerment tune thrown in for good measure. Belting out the Diana Ross song that had burrowed its way into her brain, she realized that the lyrics were actually the antithesis of female liberation. While she’d been fighting for the survival of her marriage, it had seemed thematically appropriate that no mountain was too high for her to scale and no valley too low to traverse. Post-marriage, however, meant that mountain climbing and bungee jumping were not only no longer two-member team sports (literal comparison to the dual partnership and figuratively similar to the activities of ‘The Amazing Race’) but were inappropriate parallels to her altered circumstances. Ah well, she would persevere in the face of insurmountable odds and apply concentration and meaning to that one phrase: “Ain’t no mountain high enough!” Disregarding the other useless clichés, she adopted a paradigm shift in thought. One actionable word, which she fished out of her newly refurbished repertoire … “Compartmentalize!”

Pigeonholing her emotions and humourizing (not a word, she knew, but fundamentally viable) hurtful terminology into palatable witticisms, even if it wasn’t outright and out loud but within her own internal monologue, was, in her opinion, the key to a healthy state of mind. She looked forward to the time when the pretense became her everyday reality. Patience, serenity and the repetitiveness of interjecting wit into her thoughts and actions became her mantra. Time and the absence of judgement (or rather the suppressing of it) was yet another encouraging factor as she was extremely cognizant of the favourable payout. End result being, both the recipient to as well as the purveyor of unconditional love.

“Effing Arizona and Karev! They’re double teaming me!” she muttered to herself as she swiftly re-entered the hospital from the ambulance bay. Did they think that she was an idiot?! Obviously, her baby’s health was of paramount importance and not something she would delude herself about. Contrary to their perceptions, her mind was crystal clear. She was operating on learned and researched knowledge along with the added benefit of faith. There was no delusion involved, no associated cognitive dissonance.

For all their liberal feminism, it amazed her too how roughshod they rode over the small matter of her personal choice. She’d been a bit harsh with Alex, but she’d learnt over time that snarky rebuttals were the only way to get his attention and validate his respect for her point of view. It also allowed her the platform of a voice. So if comparing them to the “Supreme Court telling a woman what she could or couldn’t do” was insensitive to Alex’s delicate sensibilities, well then, tough she thought. Pandering to his sensitive emotions, and yes well-intentioned concern coupled with inquisitiveness, was not her priority though.

Knowing the high cost of her previous experience and being the person she was, she would not permit ignorance to be the cause of a repetition of circumstance. Her baby would be fine. She had and would continue to research in-utero conditions and where necessary she would conduct tests. But never to the detriment of her child. What her friends failed to consider was that, during this delicate first trimester, genetic testing included a high risk of miscarriage and that was an unnecessary gamble she was not prepared to take. Especially if it was simply for her peace of mind.

Osteogenesis Imperfecta; the unacknowledged, non-verbalized elephant in the room during her interactions with Arizona. Obviously, the possibility of the existence of this condition, one that had robbed her and Jackson of their firstborn, was worrying but not debilitating. She’d done her research, then and now, and her faith backed by statistical evidence, strengthened her belief in a positive outcome.

Testing for the presence of this genetic mutation was not a game of chance for her. Naturally, both Jackson and herself had been tested when she’d been pregnant with Samuel and, while still in-utero, his condition had been discovered and identified. Although it was obvious that neither of them were symptomatic for type 2 OI, the possibility of either or both of them simply being carriers of the mutated gene had been miniscule and quickly discredited. The cause of Samuel’s Type 2 OI diagnosis was not the result of a dominant or even recessive defect inherited from either parent but simply a random, spontaneous, genetic anomaly. The mutation was so rare that the likelihood of re-occurrence in subsequent pregnancies was the same as for any other pregnant woman without a pre-existing or underlying condition, being within a range of manifestation of between 2 and 4 percent. These were odds that she could live with.

Ideally, a zero percent probability would be preferable. Granted, if this was a Utopian world then her Samuel would be toddling about, happy but clueless about his soon to be big brother status and she and Jackson would be in a blissful state of expectancy, being married to each other and growing their family. This was as far away from perfect circumstances as it was possible to get. As her mother always said (probably not anticipating how much to heart April took this advice and all be it involuntarily, as neither of her pregnancies had been planned), that if you waited for the perfect time to have a baby then you would die childless. She was extremely grateful though that the other bit of homespun hillbilly homily was not within her purview. Although she was a Kepner and built to have babies, unlike her country roots, this baby was not going to fall out of her and neither would she be dropping him/her in a field!

“Well that was unexpected!” she whispered and almost leapt a foot in the air at receiving a response. The comment had been private and rhetorical.

“What was unexpected?” asked Arizona, creeping up on her.

“Nothing really,” April responded. On the verge of appeasing Arizona’s curiosity and pulling her into her confidence once more she hesitated. Although well meaning, Arizona had proven to be not quite trustworthy. How else would Alex know everything he did? The Pede’s team (could she still call them this now that Arizona’s specialty had switched from children to expectant mother and unborn child?) had yet to convince her that the knowledge of her own pregnancy status had simply been a successful guess on Alex’s part! Either way though, blabbermouth or tight-lipped, she knew that Arizona would be the recipient of this information. It was simply a matter of whether sooner rather than later or vice versa. Before the moment of revelation could be defined, divine intervention in the form of technology beeped and an urgent page to trauma decided the matter.

“We need to talk, April,” Arizona called out to her swiftly disappearing BFF.

“Yeah, I agree, but it will have to be later,” April called out as she headed away from the upstairs lab towards the ER.

Arriving home that evening, after a long shift and a late admission but severe mind-numbing trauma, she immediately performed her new routine of removing the constrictions from her person. She’d deliberately cleared her mind of any thought (mental high-five for compartmentalizing!); concentrating instead on the young woman they’d attempted to save, instead of the bombshell she’d finally dropped onto Jackson. He’d taken it surprisingly well. She knew though that tough follow-up conversation was imminent, but even she was surprised at the immediacy and location.

Still in her ‘Compartmentalize Bubble’ the unexpected voice and presence, although soft toned and quiet, was the pinprick that burst her metaphorical balloon. The analogy accompanied symptomatic repercussions, so the initial non-recognition of his voice and words seemed to come as if from a distance, like the effervescence escaping a burst inflatable object, conversely and temporarily trapping sound as if it existed in a vacuum.

“Jackson…what…?” she sputtered out, finally recovering her auditory faculties but still slow and confused on verbal. “How…and…how?!” she managed to vocalize, meaning of course, how did he know where she lived and how had he gotten in? The what was equally predictable; what was he doing there? With arms akimbo she pursed her lips and cocked one eyebrow as she pantomimed a waiting pose, knowing that something felt very off (aside from his obvious presence, of course) but unable to successfully put her finger on the pulse of the problem. Also, she was distracted by his roving eyes, which seemed to land everywhere but on her. He didn’t come across as prevaricating; it was simply shifty. From someone who prided himself on his in your face honesty, the lack of eye contact in itself set-off alarm bells. What was he hiding?!

To make matters worse, her body had taken to heart her mind reversion of compartmentalizing and all she could concentrate on in the moment was how attractive he looked. The beginning stages of facial scruff plus head hair had always been aesthetically pleasing as well as a definite tactile delight and appealed to her even more so today. Pheromones or hormones, she wondered? Either way she would not be averse to being a booty call if that was his intention. He would have to make the first move though, then she could be amenable. Was the fact that he was here at all a sign of his interest?

Snapping out of the sexual haze that clouded her vision she retreated to logical thought. Of course, he was here to talk about their impending parenthood, she realized. Although usually stoic in expression, she could read him like a book, especially when his intense gaze was pinned on her. Today, even with his wandering indirect scrutiny of everything around him, his countenance did not suggest divorce remorse to her. In addition, she was being delusional in her assumption that he still wanted her physically. After all she’d heard via the Jo Wilson grapevine about how on their away assist at the Naval Base, Jackson had been the recipient of high intensity focused fawning flattery from a Dr. Fiona Flirty. Not her name, obviously, but the moniker her mind sought, picturing the obsequiousness of what she assumed was Marine Barbie, or excuse her, Dr. Marine Barbie. Damn…err Gosh Darn it! (Language! she chastised herself, very unbecoming for little Avery ears and yes despite the divorce her baby would bear the Avery name). When had she attained the epitome of sarcasm, she wondered? When had she become so snide in her own headspace? She greatly feared though that this new meanness was merely a measure of her own loneliness.

While Jackson never liked to concede to the comparison, he was as much of a control freak as she was, maybe even a degree worse. He was a surgeon whose specialty demanded perfection and he encapsulated that meticulousness in all aspects of his life. Information and control were empowerment tools in his arsenal. Now while he ensured that he was never controlled by his own libido (he’d always been faithful to her too) he was a very sexual being, and currently there was nothing holding him back. No marriage certificate, no wedding band and no binding ties. He could give his body free reign to sleep with whoever took his fancy, flirty doctors or not. The jerk.

“So look, Robbins was under the impression that I didn’t know about the baby and while she was spilling the beans to me I kinda just kept quiet about already knowing. It was just after you left, so possibly my non-reaction made her think that she had to break this news to me. Why do you think that is, huh April?” he questioned.

“She’s been here for me Jackson, while I figured out how to tell you. But for the life of me I can’t even comprehend her going behind my back…” she responded, hesitating at the last bit as disappointment flooded her emotions and physically manifested in the drooping of her shoulders. “I guess it’s got to do with the testing, but that’s something...”

“You haven’t had the tests done yet?! Are you freaking kidding me!” she was rudely interrupted and finally became the brunt to and recipient of his direct regard.

Admittedly, not the expression she wanted to see and not the conversation she wanted to have. Effing Avery and Robbins, putting a severe dent in her peace of mind and compartmentalization implementation.

“If you can’t be civil Jackson, then leave! I’m prepared to have a calm, adult conversation with you, but not when you’re like this and not today!” Dissimilar to her words, her emotions emulated her tone and rising pitch. “How in freaking hell did you get in here anyway?!” she all but screamed it to him.

Contrary to their post-Jordan method of conflict resolution that they’d gotten into the habit of employing, this time Jackson’s confrontational attitude seemed to fizzle as her ire rose. Perhaps divorce was the therapy they’d needed all along, she silently but derisively mocked their previous childish one-upmanship. Who knew that they could behave so maturely? Perhaps millions of jaws were dropping at this unprecedented event!

“Robbins…your spare key in case of emergency. Look, you’re right, I’m sorry, and I know I shouldn’t have invaded your privacy like this. It’s just…” he hesitated, seeming as confused by their new dynamic as she was and yet knowing the value of the importance of being earnest. This was unfamiliar territory for both of them but she’d had more time to acclimatize, so she cut him some slack.

“I’m sorry too, Jackson and I don’t mean to exclude you. This baby will have both of us and we’ll figure it all out. Good people raising their baby right, right?” she brazenly sought reassurance by revisiting a past platitude that had brought her solace.

“Wait, is that still a thing?” he laughingly returned, taking his cue from her and lightening the tension.

Unbidden both of them were transported to that moment of Déjà vu, reminded of how that conversation had ended the first time. Reflected in his eyes was a very clear attraction and this was confirmed as the darkening orbs strayed slightly away to land on the curls framing her face. She knew his hands itched to run them through her hair. She was well aware of the fetish he had for her red curly locks. She extended an invitation by biting the corner of her lip and watched his gaze flicker towards the movement. Intent on the seduction routine she watched a reciprocal lip bite followed by the bobbing of his Adam’s apple as he gulped. She heard the loud breath he exhaled as his excitement mounted. Surprised, she observed his attempt to control himself as his scrutiny shifted away from her. Hedging, once again. Even knowing that sex between them could get very messy (pun intended! this was a mess she never minded!), she was nevertheless extremely disappointed at the ease with which he managed to resist her.

“Err, April…” he started.

“It’s okay Jackson, I know this would be a very bad idea and you’ve moved on and I don’t want you to be obligated to me or pretend or even pander to my cravings or hormones or…”

“April! Stop okay. It’s not that!” he interrupted gently grasping her upper arms. Following the direction of his gaze and experiencing the smooth coolness of his fingers on the nakedness of her shoulders, the proverbial lightbulb went on.

“Jackson!” she shrieked, “why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Wait, what? Seriously? How do you not know this?” he playfully replied.

She blushed and tried to cover herself but somehow Jackson’s hands had made their way down her arms, his fingers entwined with her own. The reason for his earlier evasive eye movements were an apparent double barrel; her milkshake had brought him to the yard many times before. She couldn’t believe that she’d been standing there topless during their whole interaction! He would not let her cover up though but he did let go of her fingers to cover her up himself.

“I’m not with anyone else and I do want you too. It’s your decision though,” he whispered, all up in her personal space.

“Just sex,” she sighed. “Compartmentalizing,” she groaned. “And it’s not like I can get pregnant!” she laughed.

“What was that about compartments?” he asked

“Nothing,” she swiftly responded, wanting to preserve the moment.

“How about we take this somewhere more comfortable, more conducive to hanky panky?” he murmured as he tried to lift her into his arms.

“Only if it’s hanky spanky,” she said, instead leading him away. “And since I’m pregnant you get to be the spankee!” she grinned at his one lifted eyebrow.

This compartmentalizing theory seemed like a good plan. They would go through the motions and besides she could live with the seconds of pure happiness interspersed with instances of pure terror. Moment to moment.

“As you were soldier,” she purred into his ear, leading him back to the yard.

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