Peach - *Book Four*

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Twenty-Six

Emma

It’s been two months since my parents showed up for a surprise visit. My mom and I have been doing a lot of talking since then. I know she’s still disappointed I didn’t follow the traditional rules and, instead, got pregnant before I got married.

After Jack asked me again and again, I finally decided to tell my parents the truth about the baby’s father. Because when Jack introduced me to the rest of his family, we told them right away that I wasn’t pregnant with his child, but Jack reassured them that he would treat it like it was. But I think Jack could have told them anything. They were over the moon, welcoming me into the family with open arms. His mom, particularly, made sure I knew how happy she was that Jack finally found a sweet girl and that she would love this grandchild like it was her own.

That made me wish, once more, that my relationship with my mother were a little better. While my dad thought even better of Jack when we told them it was someone else’s baby, my mom just said I was lucky to have found a man like him.

But my mom’s talk bothers me less and less. Mostly because Jack and I grew even closer over the past two months. The first few days after our first sex were pure bliss. It was like we were making up for lost time. But then, life got in the way. Work was crazy for both of us, and Jack received news from his dad, who had trouble recovering from minor surgery. He flew out to Boston for a couple of days until his father was feeling better, but it left Jack on edge, and he started having trouble with physical closeness again. And it hasn’t changed until now. Whenever he’s stressed, he can’t bear my touch, which is hard on me. I want to make him feel better, help him get his mind off things, but he won’t let me - he can’t. Not yet at least. But he lets me know what’s going on with him. No more running off and leaving me in the dark.

And now it’s the middle of August already, which means I only have a little more than two months to go. It’s been unbearably hot for a few weeks now, and I’ve been having a little trouble with water retention and my blood pressure, which is a little too high.

Today, Liv and I arranged to meet at a playground where Lucy is playing with her friends so Liv and I can catch up. She’s been just as miserable as I’ve been - her due date is only a couple of weeks after mine.

“Damn, the heat is bugging the shit out of me,” Liv groans as we sit down on a bench.

“Yeah, I hate summer as of now,” I agree as I take off my sandals, lift my feet, and wiggle my toes. “Look at that. My feet are getting bigger and bigger.”

“Ugh, yes. Mine too.” Liv looks at her feet and sighs. “At least Ethan massages them every night. I hope my brother does the same for you?” She looks at me expectantly.

I chuckle. Oh yes, Jack has been nothing but great, doing everything in his might to make me feel better whenever he can. He’s with me every step of the way, enduring my whining, providing me with great food, and giving the best massages - amongst other things.

“Oh wow, what’s that silly grin on your face?” Liv laughs. “I’d love to hear more about how Jack is responsible for that dreamy expression, but he is my brother after all, so I don’t want to know any details.”

I just smile. Yes, being with Jack is better than anything I’ve ever experienced, and my love for him grows every day.

“Lucy is looking forward to her little sister,” Liv says. “And her cousin. I love my brother even more now for bringing you two into our lives. I’m glad he has you. He’s changed so much since you met.”

I look at her with genuine surprise. “Really?”

"Of course! When I see the two of you together - when I see how affectionate he is with you... I thought he’d never get over his past, but you’ve given him a reason to, and everyone can see that.”

“Wow, thanks.” To hear that makes me feel indescribably happy. I know how Jack has changed, but knowing that others see the change in him as well, makes this so much better than it already is.

With a happy smile, I look over to Lucy, who is playing in the sandbox with another girl. A woman stands next to them - probably the girl’s mother. She has another baby girl strapped to her chest in a baby carrier. The girls are giggling happily, and my smile widens. I think about how I’m going to be here this time next year with my son.

But suddenly, my smile falters. I feel sick to the stomach when someone turns up behind them - someone who I can only guess is the father and husband. He places a soft kiss on the woman’s cheek and gently strokes the baby’s head.

I recognize him immediately. Those eyes, that smile - it’s Dylan, my drunken mistake and father of my baby.

Cold sweat breaks out on my forehead, and my heart is beating wildly in my chest. My insides churn and churn, and I feel like I’m going to be sick. No, this can’t be. What the fuck is he doing here? With his family? Are you fucking kidding me? He cheated on his wife with me?

I try to breathe calmly so that Liv doesn’t pick up on my internal crisis, or even worse, asks what’s wrong.

“Oh, hey, look!” she says and points to Lucy. “Come on. Let’s go say hi.”

Oh no! Liv gets up from the bench and takes my hand to drag me behind her. I wonder how I even manage to walk, or how I even keep breathing. And before I know it, we join Lucy’s new friend and her parents.

When Dylan’s gaze meets mine, his eyes widen slightly, but only for a second. He’s hiding it very well that we know each other, which is making this all the worse. I lower my gaze and rub my sweaty palms on my clothes. Breathe, Emma, breathe!

“So I see Lucy’s made a new friend,” Liv says happily.

The woman laughs. “Oh, so it’s Lucy? That’s Natalie.” She points to her daughter. “Hi, I’m Jessica,” she stretches out her hand that we both shake. “And that’s my husband, Dylan.”

Fortunately, he just nods, and he smiles. That bastard actually smiles!

“Nice to meet you. I’m Liv. Oh, and this is my friend Emma. And who’s this little girl?” Liv points to the baby in the carrier.

Jessica smiles while Dylan and I stand there impassively. “That’s Chloe.”

"Aw, she’s precious! How old is she?” Liv asks.

“Six months.”

Six months? That fucking scumbag cheated on his heavily pregnant wife. I’m desperately trying to remember if he was wearing a wedding band, and maybe I was too drunk to notice. No, it can’t be. He wasn’t.

Now I’m surer than ever. Never in a million years would I want someone like him to be the father of my child.

“Mommy, I need to pee!” Natalie suddenly yells.

“Oh,” Jessica says with a frown. “Liv, would you know where the closest bathroom is? We’re not from here.”

Yeah, I know. You’re from Washington. Or was that a lie as well?

"Of course,” Liv says. “Come on. I’ll show you. Emma,” she turns to me, “you’ll be fine watching Lucy while I’m gone?”

“Sure,” I tell her. I look after them, and my heart beats faster and faster, and my hands start shaking because now I’m alone with Dylan. I turn to look at him, and unsurprisingly, the smile and the friendly expression are gone.

He looks at me with narrow eyes. “Is that mine?” he says through gritted teeth and points to my baby belly.

Wow, cutting right to the chase of the matter. I glare back at him. “No, it’s someone else’s,” I tell him through equally gritted teeth.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. And even if I weren’t - I wouldn’t want you to have anything to do with it, you - you - I don’t even have words for what you are. You disgust me,” I say as quietly as possible, so Lucy doesn’t overhear any parts of our conversation.

Dylan sighs. “Fine, I get it. I made a mistake. But - please - don’t tell my wife.”

I take in a deep breath through my nose. I really want to punch his face. “I’m no homewrecker,” I snarl. “I just hope you got your shit together and are faithful to your wife now.”

I’m still breathing heavily, and I’m slowly starting to feel a little dizzy. Luckily, Liv and Jessica are back a minute later.

“Okay, guys,” Dylan says with a smile, and you could never tell what kind of conversation we just had. “It’s time to go. It was nice meeting you all.”

I’m hardly aware of my surroundings, or how everyone says goodbye, and how a moment later, they’re gone. I’m trying hard to keep up appearances and not let my uneasiness show. But once Liv and I sit back down on the bench, she turns to me with a worried expression. “Emma, are you okay? You are awfully pale. And you’re shaking!”

I take a deep breath. “No, I’m not okay, to be honest. I - I knew that guy.”

“Seriously? How? His wife told me they’re from Washington and only in New York because her husband is meeting some clients here.”

I shake my head. Well, at least the Washington part wasn’t a lie. “I can’t talk about that now. Sorry, Liv,” I say as I get up. “I need to go. I need to see Jack. Is that okay?”

Liv gets up too. “Of course it is. Are you sure I can’t do anything for you? Accompany you over to Jack’s?”

“No, Liv. Thanks for the offer, but I need to be alone for a moment.” I hug her. “Sorry. I’ll call you later, okay?”

She nods. “Okay.”

And before I burst into tears, I hurry down the street where I hail a cab that takes me to the man who I need more than ever right now. And sure enough, once I’m sitting in the car, I can’t hold back the tears anymore. The cab driver gives me a compassionate look and asks me if everything is all right. I tell him that I’ll be fine once he’s dropped me off.

When the cab stops across the street from Jack’s apartment building, I feel relief wash through me.

Unfortunately, that feeling is short-lived because what I see when I look over to the other side, shreds my heart to pieces. Jack walks out of the building, and right behind him is Kate. He turns to her with a smile on his face, and she puts her hand on his one cheek while she places a soft kiss on his other. And then they hug; not a hug that you share with a friend, no, this is much more intimate.

“Excuse me, Miss? Are you getting out?” the cab driver’s voice brings my attention back to him.

I force my gaze away from the painful scene and blink away the new tears that formed in my eyes. “No, I’m not.”

And I give him another address to take me to. A place where I’ll hopefully find comfort.

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