Back to the World
This is not a thing that should be happening. I've been stuck in this quagmire since I was nineteen and not once have I ever had to deal with this mess. That fucking, lying bastard. Why do I always believe him? I've always thought of myself as a cool, rational human being, but around him I become this needy, desperate thing: a cock-hungry imbecile.
I line up the plastic test sticks on the counter, four different brands, and once again study each little window that tells me the same thing: I am with child. It is an incontrovertible, solid proof of my perfidy: my unfaithfulness to my husband.
Justin is unable to impregnate me and there's only one other candidate.
I retreat from the sink until my back hits the wall and slowly slide down until I'm sitting on the cold marble floor. I hug my knees to my chest and rest my forehead on my knees. What the hell am I going to do now?
The soft knocks on the door make everything in me clench up and I bite down on my lower lip to keep myself from yelling at my husband to go away.
"Honey, are you okay? Do you want me to run to CVS to get you some Pepto?"
I curl up into a tighter ball as I begin to cry. I need to send him away, so I can call Karen and freak out properly. "Yeah, J. I think so. The Indian food from that new place isn't sitting well with me."
"You getting a cold, honey? You sound stuffed up."
I hold in a sniffle and wipe away my tears with the sleeve of my pajama top. "Allergies. Record amount of pollen in the air. Not enough bees or something."
I hear him sigh through the door. "All right, babe. I'll be right back. Why don't you make yourself some tea and relax on the back porch while I'm gone?"
I clear my throat, so I can sound as normal as possible. "Sounds good. Thanks, J."
"I'll be back in a jiff. Love you, honey."
I don't answer, even though I know he gets antsy when I don't say I love him back. He's almost OCD about it. Thankfully, he doesn't bring it up and instead I hear the sound of his feet walking away on the hardwood floor. When the front door alarm goes "beep-beep" indicating it has been opened, I stick the pregnancy tests and their boxes in the pharmacy plastic bag I brought them home in and roll it up tightly. I don't leave the bathroom until I hear another short "beep" which tells me my husband has exited the house.
I grab my mobile phone from its charger and head for the den, which I use as my home office. I slide close the privacy doors that separates it from the family room and drag the throw blanket from the daybed. I go to my favorite chair in the back of the room, a big overstuffed armchair, and climb on, covering myself with the blanket.
It is only when I am settled and in the dark that I realize I am still tightly holding on to the rolled up plastic bag that contained the pregnancy tests. I stare at it for a moment, wondering what the hell I'm supposed to do with it. Unable to deal with it for now, I just shove the thing under me and sit on it.
I bring up Karen's number on my contact's list and press send. She picks up on the second ring.
"Don't tell me," she cries. "You did it, didn't you? Jamie is really dead. Oh, I can't bear it. How could you?"
I take my mobile away from my ear. Karen is being hysterical. "Stop it!" I yell back. "Jamie is alive, all right? I can't tell you how, but he survives the fall and it's all explained in the first episode of next season."
"Tell meeee... I'm your best friend. Next season is nine months away!"
I close my eyes and breathe deeply in and out through my nose a few times. "I can't tell you because I haven't written it yet. I'm still spitballing ideas with my crew. Listen, K, I didn't call about that."
"Oh, Andrew's fine, by the way. I haven't slept in two months, of course, and David's practically a zombie these days--"
"Karen, shut the fuck up for a second and listen to me. I'm pregnant."
There is a long pause on the other side followed by a high-pitched squealing that sounds like a tea kettle. "Ohhhhh... you brilliant cow. I'm so happy for you. We're going to have so much fun being mummies together." She squeals again. "But wait, I thought Justin couldn't because he had that accident in college and--"
I let that hang for a bit and allow it to speak for itself.
"You stupid bitch!" she gasps. "Are you serious? Did you really get knocked up by High and Mighty Lord Arsehole?"
Tears roll down my cheeks and for the first time in a long time, I miss the weight of headphones around my neck. I have quite a few in the house. If I see new, high-tech ones while I'm out and about, I can't ever resist buying them. I have fifteen-hundred dollar ones sitting inside the bottom drawer of my work desk, still in its original packaging.
"He told me he had a vasectomy," I wail, feeling like the biggest idiot in the world.
My best friend makes a sound of disgust on her end. "And you believed him? What am I talking about-- of course you believed him! D, why would he get a vasectomy? He has two daughters and no son. His younger brother is gay and has no interest in reproducing. Oh, and he's always in danger of frostbite every time he sticks his dick inside that tight-faced wife of his. "
My heart sinks to the hollowest part of me and for a brief moment, I'm unable to find any words to say out loud. "He has children?"
"Ugh, you thick bint, yes! It's been ten years, D. Their names are Deirdre and Deandra." She sighs. "Yeah, he gave his girls D-names. Sick bastard."
I was looking down a deep, dark well and someone has shoved me over and I'm falling and falling and I don't know if it'll ever stop, but for sure I'll land on my head. My tongue has become an unwieldy slab of meat. Getting words past my lips is like pushing a boulder uphill. "Who did he marry?"
"Girl, I shouldn't tell you. You did the right thing by avoiding reading anything about him at all these past ten years. It's best for you not to know, lest you torture yourself."
"Karen, tell me or our friendship ends now."
"Don't you threaten me with that rubbish, you skinny--"
She heaves a long-suffering sigh. "I haven't slept in two months, got a colicky baby, a husband who is an even bigger baby, and my best friend has Aspergers. Lawd, why have you abandoned your most devoted child?"
It takes a truckload of garbage for me to lose my patience, but with my entire life about to be turned upside-down and my husband only minutes away from walking through the door while I confess my perfidy to my best friend, I predict a riot. Of my very own. We're talking Godzilla-scale destruction, the likes of which I haven't bestowed upon my own property since the age of thirteen.
"Karen," I say through gritted teeth.
Having known me for thirteen years, she recognizes my limits. "You know those damn toffs, sista, always marrying their relatives and whatnot. He got hitched to that twatwaffle cousin of his that used to follow him around and was real nasty to you? Remember that gold-digging slag? Lady Amanda Blizzardcunt."
I've never wondered what it would be like to have my entire body hollowed out with a trowel and filled with sewage and now I don't have to.
Why did it have to be her? People tell me I write stories with satisfying resolutions because the assholes always get their comeuppance in the end. She's the biggest asshole of them all! A great, big dam inside me breaks and I'm suddenly crying and sobbing ten years worth of tears.
"D, this just proves what I've been telling you all along: CCT, Earl of Prickville, is the biggest tosser of the upper set and he needed a countess who would be just as shitty, if not three times shittier, than him. That's not you, darling girl. You are a gift to this world, one of the best humans I know. "
I'm crying so much that I can barely talk because I've gotten the hiccups. "K, he cheated on her twice to be with me."
My best friend scoffs. "That means nothing. He probably cheats on her every day because he's awful and she's awful."
I take a deep breath and slowly release it through my mouth. "K, I cheated on Justin to be with him. Eggy, too. I think that makes me awful as well."
There's silence on the other end for a few seconds, then I hear a baby crying and Karen's singing voice. She comes back after what seems like an hour. "Sorry about that, sis. David's making dinner right now, which is good because he's clueless with the baby, and Andy's been impossible these last few days. Oh, just you wait. That reminds me, are you going to keep the... thing?"
Even through my tears, I burst out laughing. I'm rolling down a mountain and out of control. "Oh God, I don't know. It'll probably end my marriage. How many cuckolds would be willing to raise their wives' bastards?"
"Well, if Justin leaves you, you can always move here," says Karen. "You're married to an English subject and carrying the child of an English peer. Hmm... wait a minute, Englisher and Englisher. Have you got some kind of fetish?"
"Don't be a twat, Karen. This is serious. I'm a married woman who is pregnant with the child of a man who is not my husband."
"How exciting would it be if you're carrying the heir to the earldom? The Grand Dame would lose her mind."
I freeze when I hear the "beep-beep" alarm of the front door being opened. Justin is back from the pharmacy. I tighten my grip on the mobile. "K, I gotta go. Justin is home. Let's talk later."
"Hell yeah, we will. Are you going to tell him?"
"Are you mad? Of course not. I haven't even been to the doctor."
"Are you going to tell milord?"
"Darling? Darling, I'm home! Where are you?" my husband calls out from somewhere in the foyer.
"Just a minute. Finishing a conversation with Karen!" I look at the den's closed doors. "I'm not going to tell CC, Kar, and neither should you. You can't tell Vivi, either, because you know she'll go running to the Daily Mail."
"My sister should be muzzled," Karen mutters. "Update me as soon as you can, okay? Don't do anything rash, not that you ever have... I take that back. This whole thing with Lord Thumperdick is--"
I terminate the call before she can finish that remark. Stashing the pregnancy kits under the mattress of the daybed, I tell myself that everything's going to be fine and do my best to wipe away my tears with the sleeves of my pajama top.
The doors slide open just as I'd gotten on top of the daybed and pulled the throw blanket over myself. I don't have to try and make myself look infirm. I feel like death warmed over in the microwave a minute too long.
"Darling." My husband makes room by my waist on the mattress and sits down, brushing my hair out of my face. "You look terrible. Your face is puffy and your nose is swollen like a tomato. Have you been crying?"
He is understandably concerned because I never cry. Well, except over Disney movies. And TV adverts featuring dogs, babies, and old people. Oh, and sad songs, specifically "Send in the Clowns." My therapists over the years should be blamed for this. In an attempt to teach me about empathy and sympathy, they would show me sad movies and programs and make me listen to sad songs. The result? I'll cry over any pappy Hallmark crap you put in front of me, but I still have difficulty processing situation-triggered emotions and may sometimes come off as robotic to those who don't know me.
When I first came home from England after five years with Chris-- I didn't cry. I didn't talk about him. I just did a little mental reformatting and removed all the bad sectors from my hard drive. I was completely and totally fine. I didn't walk around with a broken heart. I survived just fine. I got on with my life.
I open my mouth to tell Justin that it's just my allergies, but then I thought, what's the point of lying? The truth will out itself eventually since I'm not getting an abortion. I'm keeping the baby.
"Yes," I tell him. "I've been crying. I've been crying because I messed up really badly."
"Surely it's not as bad as all that?"
"You're going to hate me," I wail, rubbing my eyes with the bottom of my palms.
My husband gives me a warm smile and reaches for my hand to give it a squeeze. "What did I promise you on our wedding day? That I'll love you for life. That I'll take care of you for the rest of my life. Why would I hate you?"
Justin has the kindest eyes I've ever seen on a human being. They're dark brown, earnest, and truthful. He's a handsome man, just a little under six feet tall, with a charming, dimpled smile. He has a light beard, which is just a shade darker than the hair on his head, that he maintains meticulously and is quite sartorially aware. He keeps himself fit by running five miles a day, before going to work every morning, and eating a strict vegetarian diet. He's thirty-four, just a day older than me.
"You will," I insist, pulling up the blankets to my neck just as I start to cry again. What is happening to me? I never cry. "I've betrayed you in the worst way, Justin. I'm so sorry."
The understanding smile on his face slowly transforms into an expression of concern. He releases my hand and starts rubbing my back. "D, I've never seen you like this. You're scaring me. What's going on?"
Shame was something I rarely felt because I never took other people's considerations into account while I made decisions on how to live my life. I was slow to realize that to live in society, one must sign a social contract that says "Do unto others what you want others to do unto you." It's one of the things that I have to consciously remind myself about because it doesn't occur to me naturally.
I sit up in the daybed, but rise a little too quickly that it upsets my equilibrium. My vision becomes wriggly and I have to slap my hand over my mouth in case I might vomit. I almost fall sideways, but Justin catches me and sets me to rights, fluffing up some pillows behind me. I cry a little more because he's being so nice and I'm about to figuratively stab him in the heart.
"Tell me what's wrong, honey," he says, stroking my cheek.
In a small voice, I ask him, "Will you fetch me my red Bose headphones please? They're in my desk, second drawer from the top. I need them."
Justin frowns in bemusement, but knows how attached I am to my headphones and the security they give me. He goes to my desk and brings them to me, wrapping them around my neck like a scarf.
I close my palms over the earcups and lower my head. Just the weight of the noise-cancelling headphones resting on my shoulders provide me comfort and I'm able to breathe more easily. My headphones have always been a means of escape for me. At any time, I can just put them on, close my eyes, and the whole world disappears.
"Sweetheart." My husband puts his hand on my knee. "Whatever it is, you can tell me."
There really is no other way around it. He might as well find out now, instead of later. "Justin... I'm pregnant."
The hand on my knee tightens. "How?"
I squeeze my eyes shut and tears roll down my face. "When I went to England to see Karen almost three months ago, I came across a former..."
I stop. I never knew what CC was to me. My lover? Guide? Master? Father-figure? My one true love and whatever that may entail?
"Was it the professor?" he asks in a quiet voice, his grip on my knee loosening. He tilts my chin up so I'm looking at him and searches my eyes for answers. "Was it?"
I turn my head away and bury my face in my hands. Inside of me, my sense of self is being pureed in a blender and I don't know how much more I can take before I shut down and become unable to talk about this.
Justin puts a hand on my shoulder and gives me a light shake. His voice, when he speaks, trembles, and is heavy with tears. "For God's sake, D, tell me."
I slide my hands down my face, but keep them wrapped around my mouth to stifle a sob. "Yes," I say into my palms. "Yes, it was. Forgive me, Justin, it was."
His touch slides down my arm before he pulls away and gets back on his feet. "I don't blame you, D. You've never been equipped to deal with a man like him. I knew I should have gone with you to England." He runs his hand through his thick hair. "I need to get out of here for a bit and think. We'll talk when I return."
I avoid his scrutinizing gaze, cupping my hands over my headphones. "All right," is all I say.
"We'll get through this, my darling." He grabs my head and kisses my temple. "We'll work it out, I promise."
I nod and say nothing else. I don't move again until he opens the doors to the den and once again exits to the living room. I don't know how I stayed in that position, with my hands cupped over my headphones and my legs stretched out in front of me, but when I raise my neck later, I feel a little twinge of pain. I lie back down on the daybed and rest my hands on my still flat stomach.
I think of calling Sister or Mother, but don't want to burden them. Sister has a new baby who is sickly and Mother has finally started dating and I don't want to intrude on any of that. The two of them have coddled and taken care of me for years. I needn't bother them again.
I pull up my headphones to my ears and scroll through my mobile for an Al Green playlist. As the funky riff of "Love and Happiness" starts to play, my entire body unclenches and the perpetual boulder on my chest is temporarily lifted off of me.
There are times when I wish I smoked cigarettes and drank gin or some other hard liquor so that I could really feel the grittiness of some song lyrics. Especially ones by Otis Redding. One can't exactly bemoan the heartache of living while drinking silly, pink concoctions decorated with candied cherries and tiny umbrellas, and munching on ranch-flavored potato crisps.
Not that I can drink alcohol anymore, anyway, if I'm aspiring to have a healthy, normal child. This baby already has some odds stacked against it, since I am an older mother, and a carrier of the autism gene. Hopefully, CC doesn't have it in his lineage as well, but as he was a young savant, I fear my offspring will be born autistic like me.
"Love and Happiness" fades to the next song, which is "Overjoyed" by Stevie Wonder. It has never failed to make me cry and I'm especially vulnerable these days due to the surge of hormones. I've always likened the song to my situation with CC:
Over time, I've been building
My castle of love
Just for two
Though you never knew
You were my reason
I've gone much too far
For you now to say
That I've got to throw my castle away
I grab a throw pillow, bury my face in it, and sob.
I'm cold. I'm wearing a hospital gown three sizes too big and it's impossible to secure the back, so it's gaping open. Why don't they ever provide people with gowns that fit, anyway? It's not really a One Size Fits All situation. Americans come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. Myself, I'm quite petite, though I've gleaned from pregnancy books that I might gain anywhere from twenty to forty pounds during the gestation of my offspring.
My feet dangle from under me and I watch the clock while I wait for the doctor to come back into the room to apprise me of the results of the official pregnancy test. I've taken ten more since then and they've all confirmed what I already know. I have gotten impregnated by CCT. Idiot.
The doctor is a beautiful, young black woman with an accent I place from Georgia. She has a kind, honest face and a ready smile. "Mrs. L, congratulations, you are between twelve and thirteen weeks along."
She must have seen something on my face because her smile wavers and the light in her brown eyes dims a little. I bet she really likes telling hopeful women that they're soon going to be mummies. "Is there something wrong, Mrs. L? Is this baby not expected?"
I force a smile to cross my lips. "Are they ever? It's all right, Dr. Ramsey," I tell her, just so she would stop looking so worried. "I want to have the baby. I'm just a little overwhelmed, that's all."
That part is beyond true. I had a bout of sickness this morning. I spent half an hour in front of the toilet, clinging to the bowl, without even considering the microbes and germs surrounding me, ready to blanket me. I struggled to get to my feet and was embarrassed to find Justin behind me with a hot, wet hand towel and a cup of Listerine. He put these things down on the edge of the tub and helped me up, since I seemed to have lost the ability to stand on my own.
He assisted me onto the spa chair next to the tub and cleaned my face up with the wet towel before handing me the cup of mouthwash. It was only after I'd gargled three times that he asked me how I was doing.
"I think I'm dying," I told him.
"No." He brushed my hair out of my face and kissed the top of my head. "You're just pregnant. I'll make an appointment for you at the Women's Clinic in Burbank, shall I? It's where Linny has been going for years."
I cry now, thinking about how kind and understanding he's been about all of this. I can't even imagine what he must have told his older sister Linny, since she was well aware of our situation. She knew damn well that if I were indeed pregnant, her brother couldn't be the biological father.
"Would you like some water, D?" Dr. Ramsey asks gently. "I could also call in your... partner from the waiting room."
Justin had wanted to take me into the clinic himself, but I vehemently refused and told him to go to work. He looked a little hurt by this, but I just pushed through that guilty feeling that I should be doing everything in my power to soothe the pain I've caused him. I didn't want him hanging around while a medical professional confirmed that his wife was pregnant with another man's baby.
I couldn't go by myself, however. There are days when I cannot go outside on my own, unable to step even onto the foyer. When I was a girl, I was terrified that a piece of the space station would break and fall to earth to smash me like a pancake, particularly a toilet. While we were together and I would have bad days, the Professor would swoop me into his arms and say things like, "Statistically speaking, my treasure, you have a better chance of getting hit by a red car being driven by a one-eyed Bulgarian borne to a woman called Irma than squashed by rogue space toilets."
Keiko is the one waiting for me out there. Normally, I would have taken Portia because she is the closest person I have to a best mate after Karen, but she's a little upset with me right now. Apparently, she thought I took Keiko's side in the Beth-Doug-Keiko debacle, even though I decided to stay out of it and refused to condemn Keiko out right. Beth and Doug had already been broken up for months when Doug and Keiko got together. I really don't get the hubbub of the whole thing.
Keiko comes into the examination room behind an older Filipina nurse wearing yellow scrubs with tiny red hearts all over them and gives me a wide-eyed smile and a small wave. A lot of people say she and I look alike, but I don't think so. She is easily a stone lighter than me, has paler complexion and bigger breasts. She's also a few inches taller than me. I think people just like to say that because we're both Asian-American and have black hair and brown eyes.
She must have seen a look in my eyes that worried her because she rushes over to my side and holds both of my hands. She goes with me to talk to the doctor afterward in her office and carries the big paperbag of prenatal vitamins for me to her car.
She doesn't really say anything until we're both buckled into our seats. "You haven't told me how this happened. I didn't even know that you and Justin were actively trying to have a baby. Was it IVF? My sister Janice--"
"Keiko." I put a hand on her arm. I don't really want everybody to know that Justin is not the father of the child I'm carrying, but I don't want to deceive my friends, either. I haven't really told anyone, except Karen and Justin. I haven't been able to tell Sister or Mother.
"Your hand is ice, boo!" She takes my hand between hers and rubs it with the intention of warming it up. "Hey, D, what's going on? You look like you're about to throw up."
I don't answer her. Instead, I promptly open the passenger door and vomit my breakfast on the parking lot pavement of my doctor's office.