Cycling

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Chapter Thirty-Four

I had Julianne drop me off at the university, hoping that taking Ben by surprise with this news while he was at work would mean that he couldn’t react as much as he could if we were at home. It was the same logic behind breaking up with someone at a restaurant. They can’t throw a fit, because people are around. I hoped that the threat that his boss could walk in at any moment would keep Ben calm. I was so unsure of how he would react. The idea of this pregnancy was so terrifying to me still, and I didn’t want him to face that as well.

I tapped on Ben’s office door, and entered when instructed to do so. He looked surprised to see me. It wasn’t often I dropped in on him at work. I knew that he was often in the lab, and had spent many years worrying that the chemicals that he worked with could be harmful if we were trying to get pregnant, and so it was best to avoid them. Here in Ben’s office it was safe. All that was here were some books and papers.

“Hello, sugar pie,” Ben said, rising to embrace me. “What brings you here?”

I still hadn’t figured out what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I handed him the photo of the baby. He regarded the photo for a moment, and then looked up at me again, then back down at the photo. He sat down hard in his chair, and continued to stare at the photo.

“Well, that explains the weight.”

I rolled my eyes. Apparently everyone thought I was fat. “Thanks.”

“Did you know? That you’re pregnant?”

“I don’t think I did,” I said honestly. “I mean, I hadn’t had my period since, you know, before I was pregnant with Anna, and of course I didn’t think I could get pregnant. So I hadn’t really considered it.”

He paused again, still looking at the photo. “When are you due?”

“The doctor is guessing February ninth.”

“How did it go on this long without us knowing?”

“I’ve been in denial for so long. I don’t know how to face this. If I didn’t know I was pregnant, then nothing bad could happen. As long as it wasn’t real, nothing could go wrong.”

“Obviously, you’ve been to the doctor.”

“Julianne made me go. She was so sure I was pregnant. I still wouldn’t know if it weren’t for her.”

“I would have never thought of it either. Probably for the same reasons you wouldn’t have.”

“I don’t know if I can do this, Ben.”

He looked up at me. “I don’t think we really have a choice at this point, Elise.”

“If something goes wrong, I’ll end up in a hole so deep, I won’t be able to pull myself out.”

Ben paused for a moment. “Well, then I suppose we should have been more careful.”

“Ben!”

He smiled softly. “Seriously, Elise. I think I’m happy about this. I’m happy that we’ll be able to use the nursery. I’m happy that we’re going to get a chance at this whole parenthood thing. It’s what we’ve always wanted, after all.”

I paused. “So you aren’t scared?”

“I’m scared shitless. I don’t know that I’ve ever been this scared before, not even when Anna was born. Now I know everything that could go wrong, and what’s at stake if it does. You and I are always going to be scared when confronted with pregnancy. That’s going to be the way it is. That doesn’t keep me from hoping for the best.”

“So you’re really okay with this?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“We lost our daughter.”

“And now we’re getting a second chance, one we thought we would never get. Of course I’m okay with that. Are you expecting me to be terrified, or unhappy, or what?”

“Both, I guess. Yeah, I was expecting you to be upset. We’ve gone through so much, and now we’re going to have to do it all over again.”

“We might go through all that again. Or we might have a healthy baby at the end, one we can bring home, and hold, and feed. You know, a normal baby.”

“Did Anna mean nothing to you?”

“Anna meant everything to me. Now this baby does too.”

“How are you doing this? How are you moving on as if nothing happened?”

“Because I have to, Elise. This baby is going to happen, whether we’re happy about it, or whether we’re miserable. So we might as well be happy. For our sakes, and for the baby.” Ben stood again, and pulled me into his arms. “I know this won’t be easy, El, but it will be okay.”

I nodded. His words made sense, as usual. “Okay.”

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

“I told him not to tell me. I’m afraid to find out.”

“How will we get things ready for the baby?”

“That’s the thing. I don’t think that I can do that. I don’t think that I can prepare for a child. I’m too paranoid. We already have everything we could need sitting in that room we pretend doesn’t exist. There isn’t much to prepare.”

Ben nodded. “Okay. That certainly makes sense.”

“You want to know what it is.”

He shrugged. “I think it would make things easier. I absolutely get where you’re coming from, though. We can wait to be surprised.”

I smiled. “Thank you.”

“Can we celebrate? I really would like to celebrate this child.”

“How do you want to celebrate?”

He shrugged. “Dinner?”

“I suppose that would be okay.”

“I’ll make reservations somewhere nice. You go buy something nice that will fit over that now-quite-obvious baby bump.”

I looked down at my mid-section. It had certainly had its share of attention today. “It’s not that big.”

“It’s only going to get bigger.”

I put my hands on what I’d been so sure was simply a few extra pounds. Was this is? Was this finally our baby?

A few nights later, I took Julianne and Paige out to dinner to formally announce my pregnancy. Julianne played dumb, acting as if this was the first she’d heard, which thrilled me. She knew that it would be awkward if Paige knew how intimate Julianne was with my pregnancy, and so she behaved as though I had thought up taking a pregnancy test all on my own. There were cheers and congratulations all around the table. Everyone else was so strong and happy about this pregnancy, and I knew I should be too. It was, after all, something of a miracle. It was so hard to believe that things could be okay after so many heartbreaks. I was still trying to trust that, and finding it impossible. Thankfully, I had other people who believed in my good news.

“So,” Julianne said. “Speaking of good news.”

She bent down to her purse, and pulled something out. She laid it on the table. It was a photograph of a small girl. She couldn’t have been more than a year old or so. She had big blue eyes and a shock of dark hair that was pulled into a ponytail on top of her head, like Pebbles Flintstone.

“This is Sadie,” Julianne said. “We’ll be taking custody of her as early as next week.”

“Seriously?”

“It’s gone really fast. Like, one day her social worker brought Sadie to our house to meet us, and the next day the paperwork was in progress. We must have made a killer impression.”

“Oh, my God.”

“I know. It’s been kind of crazy. We’re in a spin trying to get things ready for her.”

“How old is she?”

“Sixteen months. She’s so wonderful, guys. I can’t put it into words. I met her, and I knew, this is our baby.”

“Is your house ready for a baby?”

Julianne laughed. “Not even close. We need a crib, a stroller, diapers, clothes… Nothing is ready for her. Except for us.”

Julianne glowed with happiness. This was supposed to be what I looked like, how I was supposed to be acting. Maybe I could learn a lesson from watching her. Julianne beamed with pride when she spoke of this little girl who had materialized in her world a few days earlier. It was amazing how quickly she had assumed the role of mother.

“We should go shopping,” I said. “I suppose I have things I need to pick up too.”

I did have some shopping to do to prepare for the new baby. There was an elephant in the house that Ben and I weren’t talking about: the nursery. Because I didn’t want to know what the baby would be, we were at a standstill as far as baby purchases went. If it was a girl, we were set, from nursery to clothes to toys. But if the baby turned out to be a boy, we would be lost. The furniture would be fine, but what would we do with all the frilly pink dresses, and what would our son wear? When would we find time to repaint the walls and replace the bedding? I knew that it wouldn’t matter for the first few weeks, but I also knew that I wouldn’t have the time or energy to pick things up then.

Of course, Paige would help us out to a point, sending along the things that Nate had outgrown. Assuming this baby stayed put until its due date, by the time our child was born, Nate would be over seven months old. He wouldn’t need his newborn clothes anymore. Still I felt that we were cheating our potential son. Yes, it would have been easier if I asked Dr. Smith to tell me what we were having, but I wasn’t ready to take that step.

“Yeah, shopping together would be fun,” Julianne replied. “If you’re sure you can take it. I would appreciate some company from someone who knows what I need to get.”

I smiled. “I’m getting better. I’ll gladly help where I can.”

“I feel left out,” Paige said.

“How do you think we feel?” I replied, looking pointedly at her son, who was sleeping in his car seat on the chair next to her.

“Touché.”

“You know, in less than six months, we’ll all have our children,” Julianne said. “We’ll finally be done.”

I was stilled by her comment. Six months. How had we gotten here, when everything had seemed lost?

“It almost seems impossible,” I replied.

It had taken so much, and the idea that we were almost there was hard to wrap my brain around. I was only halfway through a very scary high-risk pregnancy. I would be put on bed rest in a few weeks, sooner if I showed any sign of a premature labor. I couldn’t even picture six months in the future yet, but I couldn’t wait to get there. I knew it was still a long road to get to a baby, but we were getting so close.

I began to believe in the future, a future where Paige, Julianne, and I had our children, children we had worked so hard for. A future I was sure would never come. We wanted this so much, and surely we deserved to get there. First Paige had given birth to her amazing son. Now Julianne had her child in her reach, this bright little toddler. All that was left was for me to make it to February, to make it to the birth of the child that I held inside me. Then we’d finally be done.

The cost had been so great: Paige’s marriage, our daughter, all the time and money and losses along the way.

And we were almost done.

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