It’s ten o’clock and Alex hasn’t come home yet. I’ve cleaned almost every surface of the apartment and set up a meeting with Kathleen Perish, my mom’s lawyer friend, for after the holidays. She said she’d help me write up my will, which, unusual for a twenty one year old, is quite the list.
I have a house and property in my name- it’s in Indiana and I inherited it from my Grandmother on my mom’s side. Mom signed it over when my dad disowned me in case I ever needed somewhere to go if something happened to her. Then my life insurance and life savings- also impressive for a person my age- need to be addressed in my will.
I’d decided to talk to Alex and explain everything to him, but he’s not home yet and I’m worried. He’s been gone since two thirty and I haven’t gotten a phone call. I’ve called him multiple times since eight forty five came around and he hadn’t gotten in touch or come home. Wringing my hands together, I keep pacing. I don’t have Trey’s number so I can’t call him. I dial Alex’s number again. It goes straight to voicemail.
“Hey, this is Alex. I’m busy right now, leave a message or call back later.”
“Damn it!” I yell, then wince and pat my belly. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Mommy’s just upset.” I toss my phone onto the couch next to me and bring my hands to my face.
Please, God, let him be okay.
When one in the morning comes around I call him again and when he doesn’t answer I curl up on the couch with a blanket. But I can’t sleep. All I can think about is him dead in a ditch somewhere or something else just as awful. God, where is he? He never ignores my calls- he’s always worried something is wrong with me or the baby. It’s one of his annoyingly cute quirks. Fuck, I’m a mess right now. My husband has been MIA for almost twelve hours and-
My husband is missing and I don’t know what to do. Oh, my God. What if he is dead and I’m not just being paranoid? My heart skips a beat, but just as I think this the front door opens and Trey comes in with a seemingly very drunk, less-than-half conscious Alex. I stand up and rush over to them.
“Hey, Natalia. I’m sorry for just walking in-“ I cut him off with a wave of my hand.
“It’s fine. Is he okay, at least?” I ask, checking him out for fatal injuries. There doesn’t seem to be any, but that doesn’t mean I won’t inflict some if I find out he’s been ignoring my calls because he’s been drunk for God knows how long.
“He’s fine, just hammered,” Trey says, helping me lead him to the bedroom. I can smell the whiskey on him so strongly that I’m getting a headache. We deposit him on the bed and I motion for us to leave the room and lead Trey to the living room.
“Thank you for getting him home; I‘ve been really worried,” I say. Trey sighs.
“It’s no problem. He broke his phone. He- uh- threw it at a wall and it’s useless now. I’d have called, but I don’t have your number. I don’t know what happened between you two, but he’s upset about something. I recommend letting him cool down before you tear into his ass.” I lean against the wall and sigh.
“Thanks for the advice. Um, here, put your number in- for future reference.” He chuckles, but takes the phone from my outstretched hand.
“Cool. I’m going to go. His car is at my place, so he can come get it whenever.” I nod and follow him to the door, locking it when it closes behind him. When I get to the bedroom, I lean against the doorframe and stare at Alex’s now sleeping form. With a sigh, I move forwards and take off his shoes and socks; then lift his head a little to push his pillow more comfortably into place, and finally I grab the folded blanket from the bottom of the bed and cover him with it.
I head across the hall to the bathroom to grab the bottle of pain pills and a trip to the kitchen procures a bottle of water- both of which I place quietly on his bedside table before switching the light off and gently closing the door as I walk out. Taking my hair out of its ponytail, I toss the tie onto the coffee table, switch off the lamp, and curl up on the couch to try and sleep.
The sound of someone vomiting wakes me before seven and I sigh. I fell asleep around four. Slowly, I make my way to the bathroom and lean against the doorframe. My husband is sitting on the floor and leaning over the toilet. I shake my head. I want to be angry, but he just looks so pathetic I decide to be angry later.
“The tables have turned,” I joke halfheartedly, but the words come out as a whisper so I grab a wash cloth to run cold water on. “Here,” I say and hand the folded towel to him. “This one is for your head.” I proceed to grab a dry one for him to wipe his mouth.
“Natalia-” He starts, but I shake my head.
“I don’t want to talk about it right now- especially since you’re hungover. Did you take the medicine I set out for you?” I ask him, grabbing the mouth wash and pouring some in the cap for him. “Rinse.” He rinses. I squeeze toothpaste onto his toothbrush and pour another cap of mouth wash.
“No, I woke up and came straight to the bathroom,” he tells me and I nod then hand him his toothbrush.
“Do you think you’re going to be sick again?” I ask and he looks up to me. He’s got bags under his eyes and he’s super pale. I have to stop myself from cupping his face in my hands.
“No, I think it’s all out.” He admits and I offer him my hand as a sign of peace. Good, because this all would have been pointless.
I don’t speak again until he is done brushing and has rinsed out his mouth again. “Go lay back down. We’re going to talk later, but we both need sleep,” I say and he frowns.
“How much did you sleep last night?” He asks, standing now, and by the look on his face, he knows he isn’t going to like the answer.
“Two or three hours. I was worried about you,” I wasn’t saying it to blame him, but he winces and when he goes to speak again I stop him. “Don’t- we’ll talk after we sleep. I’m going to go take my medicine and drink a Nutri-Juice really quick. You go take those pills- they’re on your bedside table- and I’ll join you in the bed. Our couch isn’t very comfortable.” He raises his hand, like he wants to soothe some part of me, but drops it and walks away.
When I get to the bedroom he’s sitting on the edge of the bed in his boxers like he doesn’t know what to do. I crawl under the covers and face away from him. “Sleep,” I say softly. He lies down and I listen to his breaths until I fall asleep.
I wake again at noon and force myself to get up and eat a chicken salad and some fruit. I intended to go back to sleep, but Alex joins me in the kitchen when I’m almost done eating.
“Hi,” He says, hesitating. I look up at him from my seat at the island.
“Hi,” I respond. He’s still in his boxers and still looks hungover, but he isn’t as pale and his eyes aren’t as bloodshot. When he doesn’t say anything, just continues standing there, I go back to eating my salad.
“Look- I’m sorry,” he says eventually and I look back up at him and set my fork down.
“I’m not mad,” I say, shrugging. He goes silent again.
“You’re not… mad?” He asks and I shrug once more.
“No. I’m not. I get that you needed a break and I understand that I’ve been a bit much to handle.” I say and take a sip of my Nutri-Juice.
“But-“ He prompts and I shake my head.
“But nothing. You’re twenty three years old. You shouldn’t have to be in this situation. We’re doing the best we can under the circumstances and that’s the best we can do. I don’t care that you needed to walk away for a while, in fact, I encourage you to do that if you need to because I don’t want either of us to resent each other or harbor negative feelings along the road.” I sigh and twist the cap back onto my Nutri-Juice bottle. “I only wish you could have texted or called just to tell me that you were okay.” And then the flood gates open.
“I was scared, Alex. I was so scared that something had happened to you. I was sitting on the couch wondering if I was about to get a call where someone on the other end was going to tell me that you were hurt or dead. And it scared me.” I stop, to breathe for a moment then continue, my shoulders sagging and the tension leaving my body for now. “So, no, I’m not mad. I’m a lot of other things but I’m not mad.”
He sighs and sits on the other bar stool.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call. I wasn’t upset with you, not really. I was overwhelmed. You said it- I’m twenty three and married. This is unknown territory. You were giving me the cold shoulder while I was only trying to help you and I didn’t know how to react- so I went to Treys and got shitfaced.”
“Language,” I admonish then grab his hand in mine.
“We need to talk, now.” I say and his lips lift into a small smile.
“I thought we were,” he jokes and I squeeze his hand.
“It’s serious and I want to apologize first for not being completely honest with you.” He frowns and leans closer a few inches.
“What’s wrong?” Where to start? I sigh.
“Well, I guess I should start with the beginning,” I answer my question aloud, then take a breath before I begin. “When I was seven, I went to the doctors for a physical and they found that I had an unusually slow heartbeat. They did some tests and found that I had cancerous cells preventing my heart from beating properly. Don’t worry, I’m fine, you just need a little backstory to understand,” I squeeze his hand to comfort him.
“They did a round of Chemotherapy and it worked. At the end of the chemo I was cancer free, but my body had become used to the slower heart rate that my heart just didn’t change. What this means is, my heart rate is slow and any extensive stress on my heart is dangerous.
“Yesterday, when you were in the hall, Aunt Emily told me that my chance of surviving giving birth went from eighty seven percent to sixty percent. The reason I’m scared is not for the baby’s life- but for mine. The baby will be fine so long as there are no unforeseen complications. I’ve got a forty percent chance that I might die while giving birth to our baby.”
“You- You could die?” He asks shakily and I laugh humorlessly.
“The odds aren’t in my favor. But Emily is putting me on a new diet and we’re going to try to strengthen my heartbeat. I don’t know how she plans to do that, but hey, she’s the doctor right?” I try for a joke, but it’s only halfhearted.
“What happened?” He asks and I frown.
“What do you mean?”
“You said you’re chances went from eighty seven to sixty. How? Why?” He asks and I bring his hand up to my lips to kiss his knuckles.
“You were there yesterday in the beginning. You know that the baby is taking more nutrients than she needs. She’s taking nutrients away from me and I need them. With just my low heart rate as an obstacle, I’d be fine. They’d monitor my heart throughout the birth, but I’d be healthy and strong enough to get through it. Well, now it seems, I’m going to be weak and malnourished, along with my slow heart rate, which raises my chances of dying by twenty seven percent. These are only numbers, Alex, I’m not for sure going to die; it’s just a possibility, a very real possibility, which is why I’m telling you. We need to be prepared for me to not make it.” I have to force that last sentence form my mouth.
“I-“ He’s staring at me helplessly and I slide off of my stool and step between his legs wrapping my arm around him. He buries his face in my hair at my neck and returns the embrace.
“I don’t want to lose you,” He mumbles and only when I feel a tear drip on my neck do I realize he’s crying.
“It’s okay. I’m going to be okay. I just need to know that our baby will have a good life even if I’m not here. But I fully intend to be here. With you. We’re going to get Parent of the Year awards, remember?” I run one hand up and down his bare back and cradle his head with the other, playing with his hair.
He pulls away, cups my face in both hands, and kisses me full on the lips. Not one to deny myself of this particular pleasure in life, I kiss back and nearly whimper when he pulls away after a few moments. He leans his forehead against mine and I close my eyes and enjoy his warmth.
“I love you, Natalia,” He says, and my eyes fly open.
“What?” I ask, dumbfounded.
“I love you,” He repeats.
“You do?” I ask, confused. He laughs.
“Yes, I do.” I feel my face split into a smile matching his and I lean forwards and capture his lips with my own again.
He pulls me closer and holds me tightly to his body as he explores my mouth with his skillful tongue and I feel the familiar burning desire to fuck him flood my entire body.
He moves his kisses to my jaw and neck to allow me to breathe and I moan quietly when he gets to that one spot on my neck.
“Alex,” I gasp out, breathless and drag his head up so I can continue to kiss him. He slides off of his stool and pushes me back into the counter, one hand at my hip and the other sliding up my- his- shirt to my breast. I press myself into his warm hand and keep my own hands at his cheeks, holding him steady as I take control of the kiss.
He breaks away first. “Natalia- Nat- we should stop,” I shake my head and try to kiss him again, he stops me once more. “Nat, your heart-“
“Is fine. How many times have we had sex? I believe we told Emily it was twenty times a week at the least?” I caress his face. “I’m fine. Now shut up and kiss me, Alex,” I say and he grins.
“You’re insatiable,” He says, moving closer.
“You love it,” I say and lean up into him, wrapping my arms around his shoulders and neck whilst pressing my chest flush against his.
“Mmm, I do,” he admits and captures my lips yet again. When my entire body feels flushed and hot, I pull back and remove his shirt, leaving me in a pair of pink cotton shorts. Tossing it to the side somewhere, I let Alex look at me.
“You’re so beautiful,” He says and skimming his hands over my breasts and down to my hips. Resting his fingers briefly on my baby bump. “Let’s go to the bedroom,” He says and I smirk up at him.
“What’s wrong with the counter?” I ask and he shakes his head, grinning.
After, we’re lying in bed cuddling and I have the sudden realization that:
A.) We’ve done absolutely nothing but talk and stay in bed today and it is three forty five in the afternoon.
B.) I haven’t gone Christmas shopping yet and Christmas is in two weeks…