Free Spirit

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Chapter 23

Alexis

“And then, as if the delay getting into our cabin wasn’t upsetting enough, we discovered they forgot the flower arrangement I ordered. I just couldn’t believe it.”

I tuned out the old bat in my chair, finishing up with her rollers. Mrs. Faharty was a regular customer. She came every Tuesday, and she always gave me a big tip. But some days, her first world, rich person problems, were unbearable to listen to.

“Where are you cruising to next, Fiona?” the woman in the chair next to her asked.

“We’re going to Japan.”

“Wow. I bet that will be lovely.”

“Oh yes, Lois,” she gushed. “Japan is absolutely to die for in the fall. We go every two years. They have stunning fall foliage.”

“Hopefully, they won’t forget anything in your stateroom.”

“I hope not. If they forget even one of our requests, it just puts a damper on the entire trip.”

“We haven’t cruised since the pandemic. Have they made a lot of changes?”

“Yes. Less people. Which suits me just fine. The increased prices, and the added cost of the Covid swabs has cut out a lot of the riffraff by making it unaffordable for them.”

“Oh, that’s good to hear. There’s nothing worse than being on a cruise with middle class people. They don’t know how to dress or behave appropriately.”

I resisted the urge to bang their heads together. What a pair of stuck up old bitties.

“Okay, Mrs. Faharty,” I said. “Time to go under the dryer.”

“Of course, dear.”

I sat down to take a break before my next customer arrived. My morning sickness was pretty much gone by that point. I was eleven weeks pregnant, and other than a bit of fatigue and sore boobs, I felt normal.

Paddy was driving me crazy. He came out to Horseshoe Bay once a week to check up on me and take me out to dinner. While I appreciated the free meals, I could’ve done without the nagging. He wanted to know everything I did in the day, including what I ate and how many times I took a fucking shit. He’d already read every pregnancy book he could get his hands on.

I was positive Hannah was reporting back to him. We weren’t speaking though, so she wasn’t privy to the little details of my days that Paddy wanted to know about. She was furious with me when I told her Paddy was going to raise the baby on his own. And she turned Cleo against me.

Daisy was the only person in my life who hadn’t judged me. At least not to my face. But she was in a difficult spot. Paddy was angry with me, and his mother was trying really hard to support him. But she was also like my mother. And she wanted to be there for both of us.

“How is your sister doing?”

I glanced up from my phone, surprised Mrs. Faharty wanted to talk to me. I was nothing more than a servant to her. But inquiries about Hannah from customers weren’t new to me. I had to be very careful what I revealed, because whatever I said would end up in the tabloids.

“She’s well,” I replied politely.

“I’m glad to hear that,” she said, her phony smile stretching across her withered old face. “The poor thing had a rough time when she first got together with that Reefer fellow.”

“She’s fine now, Mrs. Faharty.”

“I heard they got married recently. I bet that was a star-studded affair.”

“Not really. Just a small wedding with family and friends.”

She leaned her head out from under the dryer, glancing across the salon at the other customers. “Is she pregnant yet?”

“I think your time is up, Mrs. Faharty,” I said, flipping her dryer off.




“How are you feeling, Alexis?” Danielle asked as she locked the front door.

“Much better these days.” I grabbed the broom and went to work sweeping up the hair. “I have my twelve-week ultrasound next week.”

“That’s exciting.”

“I guess.”

“Alexis, is everything okay?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?

My boss had never shown any interest in my personal life in the fifteen months I’d worked for her. She was a snooty rich chick, like most of the customers who frequented her salon.

“You seem very sad for a girl who is expecting. A girl who used to come to work every day with a smile on her face, full of energy and life.”

“I’m sorry, Danielle,” I said, suddenly concerned for my job. Was I about to get fired? “I’ve been really exhausted, but my energy levels are starting to improve.”

“If you’d like to talk about it, I’m a great listener.”

You are?

“If I tell you, do you promise not to judge me?”

“Of course.”

“I don’t want to be a mother.”

“The pregnancy was unplanned?”

“Yes. My best friend went with me to Hannah’s wedding. Things got out of hand, and we slept together. He doesn’t believe in abortion. Paddy wants the baby. So, I told him he can raise it by himself.”

Tears streamed down my cheeks. I hated that part of pregnancy. My hormones had turned me into a cry baby.

“And he agreed to do that?”

“Yes,” I said, sniffling as I reached for a tissue. “But he hates me now. Everyone in my family is mad at me. Even Cleo.”

“I’m sure he doesn’t hate you, dear. You’re the mother of his child.”

“I’m pretty sure he does.”

“I don’t think anyone has the right to judge you. At least you’re honest about how you feel. You want what’s best for your child, and you recognize that isn’t you. Not everyone is cut out for motherhood. I had a terrible mother. One who reminded me every day that I was an accident, and a burden who ruined her life.”

“That’s terrible, Danielle.”

“It was. And when I got pregnant at seventeen, I gave my baby up for adoption and never looked back. I know that sounds harsh, but my child was raised by parents who wanted her. Sometimes, it’s not just about money. I was born into a wealthy family. My child would’ve had all the material comforts and education. But she got something better by being adopted into a middle class family.”

“You never regretted giving your baby up?”

“I had some rough days in the beginning, but I blame some of that on hormones.” She smiled sadly. “I’m not going to lie to you, Alexis. While I never regretted my decision, I still have days when I wonder about her. She’s thirty-eight. I always think about her on her birthday. I have no idea if I have grandchildren. I don’t even know my daughter’s name, or where she lives, or if she’s even still alive. But that’s part of the deal. It was the choice I made, and I have to live with it.”

“It will be different for me,” I said quietly. “I’ll know where my baby is.”

“I think that will make it much harder, honey,” she said, rubbing my shoulder. “Are you absolutely sure you want to give up your baby?”

“Do you smell smoke?” I asked, wrinkling my nose.

Danielle ran to the back of the salon, smoke billowing out when she opened the laundry room door.

“The dryer is on fire!” she cried, grabbing the fire extinguisher from the wall.

“It’s too bad to put out with that!” I yelled, coughing when I got a mouthful of smoke. “We need to get out of here!”

“You go! Get out, Alexis! Call 911!”

I bolted for the front door, pulling my shirt over my mouth and nose as I ran outside.




“Really, Hannah?” I moaned when I heard Paddy’s voice in the hall.

“Alexis, you’re carrying his baby. He has a right to know you’re at the hospital.”

“I’m fine.”

“Then why are you at the hospital?”

“It’s just a precaution because I’m pregnant.”

“You inhaled some smoke. That’s not good for you or the baby.”

“Really?” I snorted. “I thought it was a good thing.”

“I’m going to rescue Paddy.”

“Why? Your bodyguard is coming in pretty handy right now. Can I borrow him for the next six months?”

She shook her head, muttering under her breath as she walked out into the hall.

Paddy burst into the room a minute later, his curly hair all wild from running his hands through it. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Paddy. You didn’t need to come all the way out here.”

“Alexis, you were in a fire.”

“I am aware of that.”

“You could’ve been killed.”

“It’s all good.”

“Hannah said you suffered a bit of smoke inhalation.”

“Not much. The doctor said my lungs are clear, but they’re going to do an ultrasound just to make sure the baby isn’t in any distress.”

“They haven’t done that yet?!”

“No. They’re waiting for the OB on call to finish delivering a baby. Then he’ll come down to see me.”

He dragged a chair up next to my stretcher and plunked down. I guess he was staying then.

Wonderful.

“Do you have any idea what went through my mind when I got the call that you’d been in a fire?”

“I’m sorry that Hannah got you all worried for nothing. She’s a bit of a drama queen at times.”

“This is not nothing, Alexis.”

“I’m fine, Paddy. I got out. If you wanna worry about someone, go fawn over Danielle. She’s the one that got burned and lost her business.”

“I’m sure she has good insurance,” he muttered. “Why didn’t she get out when you did?”

“She tried to put it out with the fire extinguisher. I told her that wasn’t gonna work, but she didn’t listen.”

“What caused the fire?”

“A dryer.”

“I don’t want you going back to work, Alexis. It’s too dangerous.”

“Oh my God, Paddy,” I groaned with an exasperated sigh. “You’re talking like I’m a cop or something. I’m a hairdresser. The occupational risks are pretty low. Although, sometimes the old birds get pretty wild with their walkers. And we get the odd pair of possessed scissors that come to life and stab us.”

“I’m being serious, Alexis.”

“The salon burned to the ground, Paddy. I’m pretty sure it will be awhile before it’s open again.”

“You don’t need to work. I’ll take care of you.”

“I can take care of myself.”

He closed his eyes, inhaling a deep breath while he mumbled to himself.

“Are you going to bring her home?” Hannah asked from the doorway.

“Yes,” Paddy said.

“Okay then. I’m going to head home.” She crossed the room and reached down to hug me. “I’m glad you’re okay, Lex.”

“Thanks, Hannah.”

“We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“I guess you’re speaking to me now?”

“Lex, stop being like that.”

“Like what, Hannah?”

“Like a pouty child.”

A thin elderly man in a lab coat appeared in the doorway. “Good evening,” he said, smiling kindly beneath his white seventies moustache. “I’m Dr. Ketcheson. I’m the OBGYN on call tonight.”

“Text me, Lex,” Hannah said. “Let me know about your ultrasound. Please?”

“I will. Bye Hannah.”

“Are you the father?” Dr. Ketcheson asked.

“Yes,” Paddy replied.

“I understand you were in a fire earlier this evening, Alexis.”

“Yes. I work at a hair salon. A dryer caught on fire.”

“I saw that on the news. It was out in Horseshoe Bay. Burned to the ground. The owner sustained burns and smoke inhalation trying to put it out with a fire extinguisher.”

“Yes.”

“Hopefully, she’ll be okay.”

“I hope so.”

“I spoke with the ER doctor who examined you when they brought you in. You were very lucky, young lady. Smoke inhalation can be fatal, even in small doses. It’s the number one cause of death in house fires.”

“I ran outside as soon as I saw the smoke,” I said.

“I’m sure you were very concerned about your baby.”

“I was.” I glanced at Paddy, but his expression was unreadable. He was skilled at hiding his thoughts and emotions.

“Have you experienced any cramping or bleeding tonight?”

“No.”

“Have you had any issues with your pregnancy so far?”

“No. It’s been pretty normal. I had some morning sickness, but it seems to be going away. And I’m not feeling as tired as I was.”

He nodded. “You’re eleven weeks?”

“Yes.”

“You’ll find you feel much better as you get into your second trimester.”

A nurse with fiery red curly hair arrived, pushing an ultrasound machine on wheels. Her tight fuchsia scrubs looked like she painted them on her body, leaving nothing to the imagination. I could see her huge nipples poking through the thin fabric, not to mention her gross camel toe.

She glanced over at Paddy, her overpainted face lighting up. “Paddy Wallingford-Yargey! Oh my God!”

“Hello, Heather,” he said politely, without an ounce of enthusiasm.

“Wow! How long has it been?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Paddy and I went to university together,” she explained as she set up the machine. “We lived across the hall from each other in the dorm the first year.”

I wasn’t interested in listening to her babble. Nor was Paddy. He wanted to know that his baby was healthy. Heather wasn’t very good at reading the room.

“I guess congratulations are in order,” she continued. “I didn’t know you were married, Paddy.”

“I’m not,” Paddy clarified without looking up at the nosy twat.

I so wanted to wipe the smug grin off her face.

He said he wasn’t married, bitch. That doesn’t mean he’s not taken.

“I can take it from here,” Dr. Ketcheson grumbled.

“Okay, Dr. Ketcheson,” she gushed, completely oblivious to the fact that she was pissing him off, and he wanted her to leave. “It was really great seeing you, Paddy. Are you on Instagram?”

“No.”

“Oh, too bad. You should get it. We could catch up. Maybe go out for a drink sometime.”

Seriously?

“Thank you, Heather,” Dr. Ketcheson said sternly. “Close the door on your way out.”

I was glad I left my panties on. Dr. Ketcheson pulled down the sheet and pushed my hospital gown up to my boobs.

“This is going to be a little cold,” he warned before he squirted the ultrasound gel on my belly.

I had already decided I wasn’t going to look at the screen. This was Paddy’s baby. I was just the vessel carrying it. I wasn’t a heartless bitch. It just didn’t make sense to form an emotional attachment to a baby I wasn’t going to keep.

I never claimed to be a smart person. And I hadn’t read any books, or researched anything about pregnancy on the internet. If I had, I would’ve been prepared to hear the baby’s heartbeat.

It filled the small room, beating away at a steady clip. I glanced at Paddy. He was staring at the monitor, completely mesmerized.

“Your baby doesn’t appear to be under any stress,” Dr. Ketcheson informed us.

“Don’t you want to see him, Alexis?” Paddy asked, taking my hand in his and squeezing gently.

“You can’t tell the sex,” I scoffed. I wasn’t that stupid about pregnancy.

“It’s a gut feeling,” he said. “C’mon, Alexis. Look at him. For me. Please?”

I stared at my best friend, sinking my teeth into my lower lip while he silently begged me with his eyes. It was just an ultrasound. And I was only eleven weeks. All I would see was a blurry blob. I could do this.

I turned my head slowly, my eyes landing on the monitor.

There was an actual baby on the screen.

With a head and torso, and arms and legs.

It even had ears.

I swallowed past the massive lump forming in my throat.

My blood pounded in my ears, my heart racing like a runaway stallion while I fought to get air into my lungs.

“Alexis!” Paddy cried.

Two nurses and another doctor burst into the room. One of them put a mask over my face while Paddy stood helplessly at the end of my bed.

I closed my eyes, focusing all of my energy on breathing. I wasn’t ready to die. My baby deserved to live. He would have a great life. It would be nothing like mine. Paddy would give him everything. The Wallingford-Yargeys would welcome their grandchild with open arms. He drew the short draw in the mother department, but his life would still be great. He’d be loved and cared for.

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