“Okay, everything looks good,” Susan says as she hands Emma some paper towels to wipe the ultrasound gel from her belly. “Only about two more weeks to go. I bet you can’t wait for it to be over.”
I laugh as Emma groans. “Yes!” she exclaims. “I’m exhausted. And poor Jack can attest to my whiny mood almost all of the time.”
Susan gives her a sympathetic smile and sits down at the desk to look at Emma’s file. “The only thing we have to keep a closer eye on is your blood pressure. It’s still a little too high.”
Emma frowns. “Yeah, I know. I don’t want an emergency c-section because of pre-eclampsia.”
I give them both a worried look. “Pre-what?” I ask.
“It’s a pregnancy complication,” Susan explains. “It goes along with high blood pressure and signs of damage to usually the liver or the kidneys. If it’s left untreated, it can lead to more severe complications. But don’t worry,” she adds when she sees the troubled look on my face. “We’re monitoring Emma closely to avoid that.”
“Jack, it’s fine,” Emma says softly. She stands in front of me and puts her hands around my face. “Look at me.”
I direct my gaze from Susan to Emma, and I relax a little when I look into her eyes.
“Don’t worry, okay? I’m fine,” she whispers before she presses a soft kiss on my lips.
I take a deep breath and wrap Emma up in a hug. “Okay, but just so you know, I’ll keep a closer eye on you now.”
Emma chuckles. “Fine by me.”
After the appointment at the hospital, Emma and I take my car back to my apartment, where we’ve been spending most of our time lately. We still haven’t really talked about what we’re going to do once the baby is born, mostly because Emma is avoiding that conversation. She doesn’t want to push me into anything or pressure me with responsibility. She wants me to have the option to take a step back, so she’s planning on staying at her place with the baby. She has a crib next to her bed, a changing table, and other basics.
While I’m driving, I take Emma’s hand and intertwine our fingers. She smiles at me and lifts our joined hands to her mouth to brush her lips over the back of my hand before she places it on her huge belly—a gesture that makes me grin like a lunatic. I love these tender moments between us.
Unfortunately, those moments have become rare lately. Emma never says anything, but I know she’s stressed about the birth and taking care of the baby, and it never helps when I reassure her time and again that I’ll be there to help her, and that I want to live with her.
But one more try won’t hurt, right? “Em, move in with me,” I say without taking my eyes off the road.
“Jack...” she sighs. “We’ve talked about this. I don’t think I should.”
“Well, I think you should. I don’t see the point of having two separate apartments. If you think I’ll sleep even one night at my place without you two, you’re dead wrong. My apartment is bigger than yours, so the three of us will have plenty of room until we find a bigger place.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Emma study me. She doesn’t say anything for so long that I already think her silence is my answer. But then she whispers, “Okay.”
I give her a surprised glance before I turn my eyes back on the road. “Okay? Are you agreeing to move in with me?”
I laugh. “Really? That’s fantastic.”
I turn to Emma when we pull up in front of my building. I take my keys out of the ignition, remove the key to my front door from the set, and hand it to Emma. “There you go. Welcome to your new apartment.”
Emma takes the key with a smile on her sweet lips and gets out of the car. I walk behind her as she unlocks the door and we enter my – our – apartment.
Emma turns to me with a happy smile. “Come on. I’m starving. Let’s make some food in my new kitchen before I have to meet your sister in an hour.”
Once Emma is gone to meet Liv after we had a small lunch and discussed some details about her move, I stay home to tidy up a bit and rearrange the furniture to make room for the baby stuff.
While I do, this silly grin that’s been on my face ever since Emma finally agreed to move in with me grows wider and wider. With every scenario that’s playing in my head, where we’ll spend time here as a new family – with our baby – I feel happier than ever before.
I don’t know how much time has passed when there’s a knock on my door, and when I open it, I give my visitor a surprised look. “Kate! What are you doing here?”
I haven’t seen Kate for a couple of weeks, and communication between us has been scarce for a while now. Ever since I told her to stop the flirting, she has backed off and hasn’t made any more advances, and instead, we’ve been spending only a little time together here and there, meeting for a coffee, where she would tell me about how her dad was doing. But she’s never turned up unannounced, which is why I’m wondering why she’s here now.
“Hey, Jack!” Kate says with a smile. “Can I come in? Or am I disturbing you? Is Emma here?” She looks past me into the apartment.
“No, she’s not. Sure, come in.” I step aside, and she walks past me into the living room, where she takes a look around.
“Oh, what’s happening here?” she asks, pointing to the mess my rearranging caused.
“I’m just moving the furniture around a bit to make more room for the baby’s stuff.”
“The baby?” Kate turns to me with a sudden look of disapproval. “You mean Emma’s baby?”
I narrow my eyes at her, now wondering even more what she’s doing here. “No, I mean our baby.”
She snorts. “Come on. Jack, you can’t still be serious about this.”
I give her a questioning look. “What are you talking about?”
She wraps her arms around herself and turns away from me. With a deep sigh, she mutters, “This is ridiculous.” She turns back to me. “Why her, Jack? She’s having someone else’s baby. What if the baby daddy shows up again? Don’t you think Emma will choose him then?”
Wow, that burst out of her quickly. “What has gotten into you?” I ask her with a frown. “Why are you saying this? That won’t happen. I don’t care that I’m not the biological father. This baby is gonna be mine.”
She laughs humorlessly. “You? A dad? Are you sure you’re ready for that? And on top of that, with a woman you’ve just met? Be honest with yourself; you’re not the type to settle down just like that. Even when we were together, you would fuck other women.”
“We weren’t really together, Kate,” I grumble in response. “That was a fake relationship – an arrangement.” Her insinuation irritates me, and I give her a confused look. “Seriously, are you here to tell me that you think I’m making a mistake? Or what is it you want?” I ask her again.
She rolls her eyes. “Yes, Jack. You are making a mistake. And I’m here because I want to talk about us,” she says with another deep sigh.
I furrow my brows. “About us? You and me?”
“Jack, I–” She clears her throat and averts her gaze. She squeezes her eyes shut before she looks at me again. “I can’t stop thinking about you and what we had. I thought I was over it, but these past months that I’ve been back have shown me that isn’t the case.”
I shake my head. “Kate, don’t–”
She holds up her hand to interrupt me. “Let me finish. I thought I could see this thing we had as what it was – an arrangement, as you called it. But then–” She takes a deep breath. “Then you slept with me, and things changed. I thought you finally saw more in me. But once I realized you didn’t, I couldn’t take it anymore. It hurt so bad that you couldn’t see how madly in love with you I was.” She stands right in front of me now, looking at me with a desperate expression on her face. “That’s when I asked for a transfer – to get away from you; to forget you.”
With every word she’s saying, my unease grows. What the fuck am I supposed to tell her that I haven’t already told her? She knows I don’t feel that way about her. And now she’s here, telling me she’s not over me yet, right after she let me know how stupid she thinks I am. “Kate,” I say with a deep sigh. “We’ve talked about this.”
She comes even closer to me, so we’re almost toe-to-toe. “Don’t I mean anything to you anymore?” she whispers.
I clench my jaw and close my eyes. Damn, this is killing me. “If I didn’t care about you,” I say with a deep sigh, “I’d tell you to get lost. But I do, Kate. I do care about you. I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me, but I’m sorry – I can’t give you what you ask of me.”
She takes another step closer to me and rests her hand on my chest. Eyes still closed, I lower my head. “Are you telling me you feel nothing?” she whispers, and I feel her face coming closer.
“Don’t do that, Kate,” I murmur. I know that I should push her back and tell her to leave, but for some reason, I can’t. I can’t push away the person that helped me get through that dark time in my life.
“Jack, I love you,” she says before she presses her lips on mine. I don’t know why this kiss takes me by surprise, and I know even less why guilt is rushing through me now. But I don’t feel guilty because I let Kate kiss me, but because I can’t give her anything in return for what she did for me. What the fuck is wrong with me? Because while Kate helped me through my despair, it’s Emma who helped me out of it. It’s Emma who’s responsible for my happiness. This is why I need to stop this.
I put my hands on Kate’s waist and push her off me. She takes a couple of steps back and shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.”
I glare at her, wondering what exactly she means. Because as I see it, she shouldn’t have done any of the things she did, starting with showing up here. And just like that, anger replaces the guilt I felt a moment ago. Anger at Kate, who claims to be my friend but sows confusion inside my head and tries to make me betray Emma.
Kate lets out a shaky breath. “I should go.” She turns and walks towards the door, but before she’s out of sight, she turns back to me. “I still believe that whole baby thing is bound to fail.” And with that, she’s gone.
I squeeze my eyes shut and run my hand over my face. Again, I ask myself what’s wrong with me. Someone needs to talk some sense into me. So I grab my keys and my phone and leave my apartment as well.
A couple of hours later, I sit at Paul’s kitchen table, where we finish the remains of the Chinese take-out we ordered. While we ate, I told him about Kate’s visit and how she totally messed with my head when she so strongly doubted my ability to be in a committed relationship and what’s more, a father.
Paul stares at me intently. “Jack, seriously. Why would you listen to a woman who’s been secretly in love with you for such a long time and is bitter now that you have fallen in love with someone else? I mean bless her for what she’s done for you, but what she’s doing now is just wrong.”
I frown. “I guess. But still – what if I’m rushing into this and it turns out to be a rash decision?”
Paul chuckles. “Well with the baby coming pretty soon, there’s not too much time to ponder. You were so determined from the beginning to accept that child as your own. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Don’t doubt this. You and Emma will work it out, I’m sure.”
I sigh. “Oh, Emma doubts enough for the both of us. Speaking of which–” I check the time. “Oh shit! I should probably let her know where I am.” I pull my phone out of my pocket and realize that it’s turned off. I frown. “Can I use your charger?” I ask Paul. “My phone died.”
“Sure. Right over there.” He points to the socket next to the fridge.
When I plug in my phone and start it again, I’m immediately met with a massive load of text messages, notifications about missed calls, and a few voice messages. My heart beats faster, and a sense of dread washes through me.
“Shit,” I mutter. “Something’s wrong. Has anyone tried to call you?”
Paul gets his phone from the living room while I don’t even bother to read all the messages, but call Emma right away, but she doesn’t answer.
“I have a missed call from Emma,” Paul says as he reenters the kitchen.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck. Can you try to call her?” I ask him when I hang up. “I’ll look through the messages to find out what’s up.”
While he dials Emma’s number, I skim over my messages. They’re all from Emma, starting out rather harmless, asking me where I am. But my heart beats faster the more I read. Something is wrong, and she isn’t feeling well.
Her last text says: “Jack, please!! Call me ASAP.”
“Finally! Hey!” Paul says next to me. I turn to him, and when I see the expression on his face, I feel like I’m about to throw up. “Ethan?” Paul asks. “Why are you answering Emma’s phone?”
My breath hitches in my throat, and I finally listen to Emma’s last voice message. I have to hold onto the kitchen counter when I hear her sobbing and panting. “Jack!” she yells. “Fuck, where the hell are you? I need you. Something’s wrong, Jack. Really wrong. There’s too much blood–”
Then she groans as if she was in great pain, but what follows is worse. After one last whimper, there’s only complete and disturbing silence.