Chapter 12: A new normal
Alex opened the door instantly, ready for Maria’s suffering to finally be over. Keeping this secret from her had been hard, and he felt guilty every time she would break down about Natalie, but it was for the best. Telling himself that, though that didn’t make it any easier.
“I thought you would never get here. I hated not being able to tell her,” Alex said, stepping outside and shutting the door behind him.
Adam rubbed Natalie’s back as he answered. “Well Michigan isn’t exactly close to Texas, and I wanted to be sure the little one’s father wasn’t going to come back around or follow us. Speaking of, we haven’t heard anything. No sightings, no new information, nothing. Hotel said he hasn’t come back. Tapes still don’t show him or her anywhere, and nobody knows how he was able to get there without being caught. Now I’m no cop, but my guess would be that someone forced him to go. Maybe to make a trade or something. But other than that, nothing.”
Alex folded his eyes across his chest. “Thanks again for doing this. I know it was probably hard the first few days.”
“Yeah, it was. She was pretty scared and wouldn’t talk until I let her have ice cream. She warmed up to me eventually though. But she definitely misses her mom. How is Maria by the way? Last time I saw her she looked...”
Alex pushed his hair back with his fingers. “Awful, I know. Her arms are still pretty beat up, so physically she isn’t doing much better, and emotionally well, you can only imagine. But once she gets Natalie back she’ll be fine. Oh, and the baby’s a boy by the way. Not that it really matters. My friends and I are planning a baby shower, even though I have no idea what I’m doing. You should stay in town for awhile.”
“I was planning on that actually. I want to see Rique. I’m going to go over there after I give her to you,” Adam said, shifting Natalie, who was sleeping soundly, to the other arm.
“Why don’t you stay for coffee or something. You’ve been driving all day,” Alex insisted.
“Thanks man, but I really should get going. It’s getting late. Plus, you got other people to take care of.”
Natalie eventually woke up to the sound of their voices, and her dark eyes identical to Maria’s opened. She rubbed them, and looked around curiously.
“Adam,” she said groggily, “where are we? Who is that?”
“That is your mommy’s friend, Alex. Remember I told you about him in the car.”
“Oh... I remember. Are we going to see, to see mommy now?”
“You are. So I’m going to say good bye and give you to Alex because your mommy is here, okay?”
She nodded and yawned at the same time. “Okay.”
Adam looked at her in awe for a brief moment before handing her over to Alex.
“Thanks again. We’ll be in touch.” He turned his attention to Natalie. “Can you say bye to Adam?”
She waved with one hand, and gripped onto Alex’s shirt with the other as Adam disappeared in his car and drove away.
“Alright Natalie,” he started, setting Natalie down after going back inside. She then ran over to the living room and to the pile of Dr. Seuss books Maria had set out on the coffee table a long time ago. This time, Alex watched the little girl in awe. He had excepted her to be to be more scared and jumpy like Maria, but she was the complete opposite, which gave him hope that Maria was actually like that too.
Disrupting his thoughts, was Maria when she opened the bedroom door, her eyes squinted.
“What’s going on? Who was that?” She asked, looking at Alex confused.
“Mommy!” Natalie dropped the book on the floor then ran to Maria with her arms wide open.
Maria stood there in shock as Natalie wrapped her arms tightly around her lower waist.
“Wait... she’s... she’s here?” Her hands were balled up together, scared that if she touched Natalie she would disappear, like sand being picked up and carried away in the wind.
“Yeah, she’s here. Adam brought her.”
Maria fell to her knees, and held Natalie against her against her chest, kissing the top of her head over and over again. Natalie wrapped her arms around Maria’s neck and nuzzled her head in the crook of her neck.
“It’s okay love, it’s okay. I love you so so so much,” Maria said, holding Natalie closer with every breath.
Alex looked at them, trying to hide his smile the best he could. This was the happiest he had ever seen Maria, and it showed because of the happy tears streaming down her face. If there was a moment he wanted to last forever, it was this one. This one, beautiful moment.
“I missed you love, I missed you so much.”
Natalie wrapped her hands around Maria’s chest and laid her head on her shoulder while Maria rested her hand on her face and held her tighter and tighter. She could feel Natalie’s little hums against her skin; she bit her lip trying to keep herself from crying too much.
Maria then cupped her pink little cheeks and kissed her face over and over again, in apprehension that she would lose the chance to kiss her daughter again.
Natalie rested her head on Maria’s hand and smiled while closing her eyes. Her face looked just like Maria’s, as well as her lips and eyes. She was just like a clone of her. The only difference was the hair color.
“I just love you so so so much,” Maria held her again, only not as tight.
“I love you too mommy.”
Alex continued looking at them as they giggled and rubbed there noses together. Maria had told him earlier that eskimo kisses were their little thing.
He could only stand there. He had never seen Maria this happy, and he prayed that it would stay that way. Now, suddenly, everything seemed like it was falling into place. Maria was going to a have a baby in a couple months, Natalie was back, there was going to be a baby shower, and Elena seemed to be coming out of her shell a little bit more, although she was still hiding stuff.
“Why do you have colors on you?”
Maria’s stomach turned and she turned to look at Alex. He shrugged, unsure of what to say. Or if he should say anything.
Maria sighed then shifted her eyes back to Natalie. “... Those are bruises, honey.”
“Oh.” Natalie took a step closer to her face and touched the discolored skin under her eye. “How did they get there?” She asked, taking Maria’s arm and touching the bruises that were fading away slowly.
“... Daddy... put them there.”
“You know how sometimes daddy gets mad and he yells?”
“Well sometimes when he gets mad... he does this. He... uh... hurts me.”
Natalie pushed her eyebrows together. “That’s not very nice. Do they hurt?”
The blond little girl examined Maria’s bruises and scars more, then started kissing every one of them she could see. Maria looked up, trying to prevent her tears from streaming down her face. After she was finished, her wide brown eyes that were identical to her mothers, gazed into Maria’s.
“Does it feel better now?”
Maria nodded then pulled her in for a hug again and once Natalie was close enough she whispered, “Don’t let anyone hurt you okay, baby? Don’t let anyone touch you unless you say it’s okay.” She paused for a brief moment, letting out a long breath that held all of that anxiety she was holding for years. “Alright, come on love. It’s time to brush your teeth and go to bed. Go in that room and I’ll be right there,” Maria told her, and watched as she ran off into the bedroom. She then walked over to Alex and rested her head on his chest.
Alex hummed and enclosed his arms around her body, rocking her back and fourth.
There was something more meaningful about having their arms around each other that anything else. Maria had been so used to the only physical contact being a hit or a kick, not something warm or compassionate that meant something real, and authentic. To everyone else, something as simple as a hug is always taken for granted. But to Maria, having someone touch her with love as their only intention was something she would always be grateful for.
Alex kissed her temple and rubbed her back lightly, for her bruises were still there.
“She’s okay, Maria. She’s okay. And your okay, and I’m okay, we’re all okay.” He stroked her hair.
Maria wasn’t sure how long hugs usually lasted, but this was certainly the longest one she had ever had. Yet at the same time, it wasn’t long enough. She tried to memorize it. Alex’s touch. The feeling of his body against hers. She tried to stand there as long as possible, trying to make it so that once she let go, she would still be able to feel his hands. Sure, kisses were meaningful to some people, but gentle, warm, expressive, protective contact meant so much more to Maria.
Eventually, they found themselves in the bed again, but with a little blonde haired girl between them. Maria’s arm protectively held Natalie, while Alex’s was wrapped around Maria. It felt complete. And though Alex didn’t exactly know what it was, he knew it was complete.
Five years ago...
She peered over at the counter top, her stomach swirling, and not just because she had been throwing up all the time for the past few weeks. This was the moment that could change her life forever.
When she had finally gathered enough courage, she grabbed the white stick and held it in her unsteady hand. She inhaled then quickly turned it over.
Even though she had expected that answer, it still surprised her. Suddenly the butterflies in her stomach started flying in unison. She smiled down at the stick and continued holding it in her hand when she opened the bathroom door and ran downstairs.
“Matt!” She called out, running into the kitchen that smelled of Clorox wipes.
Matthew was wiping the counter off when she entered.
“Matt,” she started again, now that they were standing in the same room. When he didn’t look up, she said his name a third time. “Matthew.”
“What, Ria, what? Can’t you see I’m busy cleaning the counter that you threw up on?”
“I know, I’m sorry, but... I have amazing news,” she said, gripping the stick tightly in her hand. She walked over to him, knowing that she would have to continue speaking and practically yell to keep his attention on her.
She put the stick on the counter and waited for a reaction. “Matt, I’m pregnant,” she finally said when he just continued to stare at his blankly. But Maria let it slide, knowing that he was just at a low point. He would have known what it meant and been sharper if he hadn’t been drinking. And he wouldn’t have been drinking if his mother hadn’t gotten sick.
“Oh... oh!” He finally said in realization. “You’re... pregnant. Oh my god, Ria, you’re pregnant! We are going to have a baby!” Dropping the cleaning supplies, he lifted her up and kissed her over and over again.
She kissed him back, only thinking about how excited he was. One of her worries from the very beginning would be how he would react, and she found herself relieved when his reaction was this.
As his soft lips pressed against her, she suddenly felt them stiffen and go cold. His grip around her tightened, and she squirmed trying to get loose.
“You said we are having baby,” he repeated, setting her back down on the floor.
“Yeah, I did.”
His crystal blue eyes sent shivers down her spine. “You... said we are having a baby.”
Maria backed away slowly, bringing her hands to cover her flat stomach. She supposed it was a mothering instinct to do that, because she didn’t even realize she was doing it.
“You said we, but it’s not we. It’s not my kid is it, Maria!” He yelled, slamming his fist down on the counter top. “It’s that one guy at the school you’ve been talking to! You lied to me!”
“You’re a liar! How could you lie to me about this! That isn’t my kid! You’ve been sleeping with that guy! How could you do this to me!”
“Matt, I didn’t sleep with him! It’s your baby! I love you!” She felt her back hit the cabinet against the wall.
He spited and pointed his finger in her face at the same time. “Don’t raise your voice at me! You lied to me!”
There was no time to think before he grabbed her. With his hands, he grabbed her arms and pushed her against the cabinet door, making it crack. He kicked her shin and she yelped out. The pain hadn’t subsided before he pulled her away and threw her on the tile floor. Her back slammed against her, and she squeezed her eyes shut, wincing, making sure she didn’t start crying.
“Don’t you lie to me! Don’t you lie to me ever again! That isn’t my kid! It’s that other guy at your work! When I’m done teaching you to not lie to me, I want you to call your boss and resign. You are never going back there again. I want to know where you are at all times.”
Her leg hurt so bad she could barely breath, so she didn’t say anything.
“Okay... okay...” She muttered, resting her head on the cold ground.
“Good. Now I want you to pay attention, and feel everything so you know not to lie to me again.” With all his force, he got on top of her and slapped her across the face, punching her in the arm right after. “Get up. I’m not done yet.”
That night had been the cruelest she had experienced, and the morning after was even worse. Not pain wise, but emotionally.
Matthew was gone when she woke up, he always left early in the morning either for work or to leave before he had to face her.
Everything hurt. Her back, her ribs, her arm, the left side of her face, and her eye was numb. She used her good arm to sit up in the bed and then stand up. Her head was spinning in circles, and she grabbed onto the nightstand to regain her balance.
Running her fingers through her hair, she slowly walked over to the bathroom and buried her face into the toilet, heaving of what ever was left of last night’s dinner.
When the morning sickness finally diminished, she brushed her teeth, not baring to look up, but it was too hard. She backed up against the wall, her eyes getting lost in the maze of bruises on her skin. Was this really happening? Had he really done this? To her, this was the best news she had ever received in her life, and he had to react like he did. She certainly never saw this coming. It was impossible that the baby was her friend at work because he was married... to a guy. And she had never had feelings for him. She knew that Matthew was just so consumed by the thought of losing his mom that he was taking it out on everyone else. But always had to take things so far. She never in a million years thought that this was the way that the man she was going to spend the rest of her life with would react to such wonderful news. She always pictured jumping up and down, hugging and kissing and possible tears. But here she was. Standing in the bathroom looking at the mirror, looking at her reflection that wasn’t her. She had never seen herself look like this before, and she didn’t want to.
Using all that anger and sadness and every other emotion flowing through her veins, she ripped the towel holder of the wall, and smashed it into the mirror. All the pieces shattered, but she didn’t stay to watch them fall. Instead she went into the next room, and did the same thing. She slammed the towel rack into every mirror in the house except for a few so every once in a while she could look at herself to apply makeup to cover the bruises because she knew that this was not the end, but the beginning.