“Do you, Alex Prize, take this woman to be your wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for rich, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do you part,” the priest asks and Alex looks to me, his hands holding my own.
“I do,” he whispers. The priest turns to me.
“Do you, Natalia Deveaux, take this man to be your husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for rich, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do you part?”
A slight pain in my abdomen arises, but I ignore it. “I do,” the slight pain turns to a searing burning sensation and my white gown turns crimson with blood. I scream, suddenly on my knees and bleeding and Alex just stands there, staring at me, then walks away. All I can do is watch helplessly as his legs get farther and farther away.
Suddenly, I’m not in the church anymore, I’m sitting in the pouring rain next to a river and a figure in a white gown with blonde hair is walking towards me. The figure turns out to be Sara and she is looking at me with pity.
“Help me,” I beg and she reaches a hand down to me and helps me up, but rather than hugging me like I expected, like I’d hoped, she pushes me into the river. When I surface, the brown water turning pinkish with the blood and my dress splaying outwards, Sara is on her knees on the shore, looking at me with disgust.
“In the name of the Lord, I cleanse you of your sins,” she shouts and pushes me down, holding me under the water her hands on my shoulders, keeping me under until my life fades away from me.
I wake up soaked with sweat and gasping. I bring a hand to my stomach, flat, but knowing it won’t be for much longer. It’s been a month since the tests and I’ve got a small bump, nothing drastic, but Aunt Emily says I’ll be obvious by the end of month two.
“We’re okay,” I whisper to my baby, soothing my hand across the skin of my stomach.
“Nat? Are you okay?” Cassie’s sleepy voice asks and I sigh, feeling bad for waking her.
“I’m okay, go back to sleep.” A glance at my alarm clock tells me it’s only six in the morning. I throw back my blankets and stand up, knowing that I’m not falling back to sleep. Quickly, I pull on a hoodie and grab my phone before leaving the apartment for a walk.
There is a park a few blocks away from the apartment building, so I go there and sit on the bench to think.
Alex and I have been talking every day; we go out to lunch and walk around the city just getting to know each other. He’s 22 and in his fourth year of college, he took a year off to take care of his grandfather after his high school graduation. His adoptive parents, Kelly and Jonathon are high school sweethearts and live in Illinois. Alex is majoring in accounting; he loves math.
The little details though, those are what I crave. Like, he’s allergic to raspberries; he hates cherries, but loves strawberries and watermelon; he prefers cookies over cake and his favorite is chocolate chip. He’s smart and if he’s talking about something he is passionate about he is animated. Alex is not OCD as I’d thought, he just doesn’t like messes. He’s a family person. He adores his little cousins and wishes he had a younger sister, but his mom and dad weren’t able to adopt another child.
I’m snapped out of my thoughts when someone sits next to me on the bench. Ironically, it’s Alex. He’s sweaty and I realize he’s been running.
“Hey, are you okay?” he asks me, looking concerned and I smile at him.
“Yeah, just thinking,” I tell him, angling my body towards his.
“What about?” He asks and I indulge in a smile.
“You, actually. And the baby,” I sigh and look at his brown eyes, so full of commitment. My dream was just that: A dream. “I had a nightmare,” I tell him and he stays silent, just watches my face and listens. “God, Alex, it was awful. We were getting married,” He laughs and I push his shoulder.
“Let me finish,” He’s still grinning but he stops laughing. “We were getting married and I-I had a miscarriage, and you left and Sarah killed me because of my sins,” He raises an eyebrow, smile gone.
“That’s not going to happen. None of it. The baby is fine, your aunt said so. I’m not leaving you. And Sarah? Sarah loves you, she may not agree with the circumstances in which you got pregnant, but she is proud of your strength. She wouldn’t kill you. Give the poor girl some credit,” He lays a hand on my stomach. “I’m not leaving my girls,” He tells me earnestly. I nod.
“I’m hormonal, I’m sorry,” his smile returns and he takes his hand away.
“I’ve heard it only gets worse,” He tells me conversationally and I laugh.
“I hope you know what you’re in for,” I tell him and he grabs my hand.
“Marry me,” He says.
“Not yet,” I tell him.
“Nat,” He says. “Marry me,” He repeats. I stare into his eyes, his beautiful, earnest brown eyes.
“What? Now?” I question with a disbelieving laugh.
“Tomorrow,” He says.
“Give me a month,” I say. “I want the best for our baby, and I like you, but I want a wedding. Nothing big or fancy, but I want more than a courthouse paper signing. Is that okay?” I ask, anxious.
“One month?” He asks and I nod.
“I want a wedding,” I say and he nods.
“Okay,” He glances at his watch. “I have to go get ready for a class, but I’ll pick you up for your appointment with Dr. Jones at twelve thirty outside of your main building,” He lays his hand on my stomach. “Be careful,” He tells me and I smile faintly.
“You too,” I remind and he walks away, slowly going into a jog. A glance at my phone says it’s just after seven thirty. I’ve got class in an hour. Standing, I make my way back to my apartment where Sarah is already at work, Cassie is sleeping and Avery is sitting on the couch flipping pages through a textbook. I slip off my shoes and make my way to the kitchen, grab a granola bar and flop onto the couch next to Avery.
“If Sarah sees you she’ll kill you,” Avery says, a smile on her face as she highlights something in the book.
“It’s a good thing she’s at work then, isn’t it?” I ask, emphasizing this with another bite. Avery sets her pink highlighter down and looks up at me.
“Where were you?” She asks lightly, raising an eyebrow.
“At the park with Alex,” I say and she nods and we’re quiet for a moment.
“Do you trust him?” She inquires and I sigh.
“I don’t think I have a choice, Avery. He’s the father of my baby. I trust him to keep this baby safe and to keep me safe,” I say and she speaks up immediately.
“Do you trust him with your heart?”
“No, I don’t think I do. But again, I don’t have a choice. Our baby comes first. My heart doesn’t matter,” Avery shakes her head.
“That’s bullshit and you know it. Tell me the truth; do you trust him with your heart?” I place a hand on my stomach.
“Avery, no cursing,” I admonish her and she sighs.
“I’m sorry,” she gives and I lean my head back on the couch and roll it to look at her.
“The truth is I don’t know,” I tell her. “I have no idea what this is we’re doing. I’m marrying him, Avery, and I don’t love him. I’m marrying him for the sake of our baby and I’m not sure if my heart can handle that.”
“You trust him, trust that and take it day by day,” she tells me.
“Thanks Avery,” I look at the clock on the wall. “I need to get ready for classes,” she nods and I go to my room to take a shower.
When I make it to my building, class is due to start in five minutes and people are rushing to get to their proper rooms, but when I get into mine the usual lavender candle the professor has lit makes my stomach churn and I am so grateful for the restroom ten feet to the left and across the hall. Unfortunately, I only make it to a sink before the granola bar comes back up.
Groaning, I cup my hand under the motion sensor faucet to rinse my mouth out and then the sink. Movement in the mirror catches my eye and I see Amber standing there.
“Could you get me a paper towel, please?” I ask her and she nods.
“I-“ She starts to say as she hands it to me but I shake my head.
“No, don’t,” I say and wipe my mouth before walking out. To my utmost mortification, the professor is standing by the door to the bathroom with a pack of gum in hand. He takes a piece from the paper and hands it to me.
“When my wife was pregnant the gum helped calm her stomach,” He says and I smile shakily. Of course he knows. Everyone knows.
“Thanks,” He nods.
“Do you need anything else?” He asks and I glance at the classroom.
“The candle, I-” He nods.
“Go home. I’ll air out the classroom tonight and fill you in on what you miss tomorrow,” he orders.
“Thanks Professor Adrian,” I say and he smiles and hands me a piece of paper.
“If you have questions or if you need anything, call this number, my wife has been through this three times,” he says and I thank him again before he goes into his classroom.
Avery drove me today, so I can’t go anywhere until she gets out of class. Looking around the empty hallway, I walk to the main floor and sit on a bench by the door. Alex is getting out of class right now so I decide to send him a text.
How was Complex Analysis? Anything interesting happen?
I got a response almost immediately.
Not really. Why aren’t you in class? Are you okay?
It seems morning sickness is not a myth. Apparently our baby doesn’t like lavender.
Are you okay? Do you need anything?
No, I’m fine. Don’t worry.
I’m coming to get you.
No, it’s okay, I’ve got some work to do.
That is a lie, I’m caught up on everything, but I don’t want to inconvenience him. Instead of texting back, he calls me.
With an exasperated laugh, I answer. “Yes, Alex?”
“You’re sick, which means the baby is sick, so I’m coming to get you.”
“Alex, you have class in twenty minutes, I can deal with a little discomfort,” I say and he groans.
“Natalia, I’m already here, so either come outside or I’ll come in and get you myself,” I stare at the door and sure enough, his Prius pulls up outside. I hang up, slip the phone into my purse, and start making my way towards his car. He’s standing outside by the passenger door.
“You know, you play an unfair game, Mr. Prize,” I say and he shrugs.
“Your health is of importance to me,” He tells me and I shake my head.
“Morning sickness is normal. Not only that, it’s expected, Alex. Our baby is fine.” He sighs.
“I’m sorry, Nat. I’m just- I’ve never done this before and I don’t want us to mess up,” I move closer to him and wrap my arms around his torso, pressing my face into the crook of his neck.
“We’re going to get through this with a beautiful baby and parents of the year awards,” my voice is a whisper in his ear and his arms wrap around me.
“I’m scared, Nat,” He admits and I want to take his fears away, but I can’t and it hurts.
“Me too,” I say and hold him tighter. “Me too.”
“Okay, let’s get you home,” he says, leading me to the passenger seat and helping me in.