Chapter 23 - Zoe
Jesper and I moved in together after a month of dating. We were virtually inseparable, except when I was working at the coffee shop and he was at the office.
Jesper worked as an architect. One of my favourite things to do with him was to saunter around the city admiring buildings and listening to him pour over every intimate detail. Each curve or line had a specific purpose I never knew. The way he spoke about design was like a poet rejoicing their muse.
He was like no man that I’d ever met. With Jesper, I could be myself. Well, my new and improved self. He knew my mother had died of cancer some time ago and that I didn’t like to talk about it. When the subject of the father arose, I simply said we’d lost touch - which we had. He just didn’t know I was the reason we stayed apart. I didn’t even know where to begin with Vivienne.
Then I got the news, and all I wanted to do was call Viv up and tell her, “I’m pregnant!”
“What?” Jesper gasped, almost dropping his coffee cup. He settled it down on the kitchen countertop and looked at me startled.
“I said, I’m pregnant!” I was practically jumping around with glee. Jesper and I had been trying unsuccessfully for a couple of months. Even though we hadn’t been together for very long, age wasn’t on our side, and we were madly and insanely in love.
Jesper staggered towards me, arms open wide, “That’s wonderful,” he proclaimed as his arms embraced my body, “are you sure?”
“Yes, very sure. We’re going to have a baby.” I dangled the pregnancy test in front of him for proof. “Look, two lines. That means it’s positive. Also, I’ve missed my period. I didn’t want to say anything too soon, so I waited until I took the test. Ta-da!”
Jesper squeezed me tight and whispered, “We’re going to have a baby.”
We stayed like that, cocooned in blissful wonderment, for some time. Simply swaying together to a silent song only we could hear. Then, out of nowhere, tears descended. Suddenly, I felt overwhelmed with sadness. Before more tears could fall, I retracted backwards from Jesper and sheltered myself in the bathroom.
“Is everything okay?”
The concern in Jesper’s voice made me cry even harder.
“I…I… just need a minute.” I sat, crumpled over my knees on the toilet seat. In this sheer moment of joy, I was paralysed by grief. This was something I envisioned telling my mother about. I imagined her beautiful face beaming with delight. It would have been her arms cradling me. I didn’t even have my best friend here to confide in or a father. I had no one.
“Let me in, Zoe, I want to help.”
I sat up and stared at myself in the mirror, fixing my makeup and flattening my clothes. I’d seen that look in my eyes before on the day that I went to the police station with Viv to incriminate my father. Conviction. I knew it was time. Now or never. I just hoped Jesper could handle the truth. All of it.
I emerged from the bathroom and hugged him longingly. It gave me a brief moment of respite. I could just forgo the trouble and blame my mood swing on early pregnancy hormones. What if Jesper looked at me differently after he knew the same killer blood of my father flowed through my veins? Blood that would be passed on to our child. Would he want to take on such a burden? There was only one way to find out.
“Jesper, we need to talk,” I said as we transitioned to the couch. I took both his firm hands in mine, and began, fixed on the floor as I spoke, “There are some things…things about my life I think you should know. There is a reason I’m so closed off when it comes to talking about my father.”
“You can tell me anything, Zoe. You know that.”
Still averting direct eye contact, I continued, reassured by Jesper’s gentle squeeze. “I’m afraid, when I tell you, you won’t want me anymore.”
Jesper clutched my hands tighter, forcing me to look him in the eye, “I will always want you.”
I truly believed him. Jesper was the kindest soul I’d ever known. The past months had been the best of my entire life. How could I expect this man to allow me to carry his child, when I haven’t even allowed him to hear my entire story? I owe him everything, and nothing I do can ever repay what he has given me, a new beginning. The least I can do is be sincere.
The words blurted out, “My father… he’s a murderer.” Seconds passed without either of us speaking. This was something nobody knew how to talk about. Nobody prepared for such a conversation. Nobody expects such a conversation to even occur.
“Is he in jail?” Jesper finally responded.
“No, he isn’t. He was never even prosecuted for the murders. You see, what I should have said was I think my father is a murderer.”
“Wait…I’m confused, what would make you think that?”
“My mother. She left me a letter saying as much… before she died. I still have it if you’d like to take a look?”
Upon Jesper nodding his head, I collected the letter from my jewellery box. I kept it tucked neatly under an internal tray. Safe. My hand trembled as I gave it to him. I sat and watched as his eyes scanned left to right along the page. I had to keep my palms against my thighs to stop them from shaking. After reading the letter, he passed it back to me without a single comment.
“Your mother gave you this letter?”
“…Not exactly, I found it. She’d left it in a jacket she’d promised I could have when she died.” Jesper’s face made me feel like I was insane. “Listen, I know my mother’s handwriting okay? This is her, and why would she lie about such things? Then there are the cases that we found.”
“I had a best friend back then, called Vivienne. She helped me research unsolved murders – to see if any fit. There were women who lived near where I lived. Women that died on the same nights my father was unaccounted for.”
Jesper frowned. Was it in confusion or disappointment?
“Where is Vivienne now?”
“That’s another thing. She went missing after we went to the police with everything we’d discovered…Stop looking at me like that!”
“I’m not! This is an awful lot to take in.”
I stood up, pacing the room defiantly.
“You don’t know, Jesper. You don’t understand. My best friend went missing just after the police questioned my father! What does that tell you?”
“I don’t know. Your right, I don’t know. A moment ago I was the happiest guy on the planet. Now, I’m just finding out about all this.” Jesper was hunched over, rubbing his temples profusely.
I grabbed my handbag and house keys and angled for the front door.“Well, why don’t I give you some time to think.” With that, I marched out onto the street, my face wet with tears.
The sky was uncharacteristically grey overhead. I had no destination in mind. I just kept moving forward. Away. How must have all that sounded to someone on the outside? For so long, this was my secret to keep. All that kept me from sharing my past was the hurt it could cause. I never even considered whether Jesper would believe me. Now it’s out in the open, it cannot be undone. I was stupid to not tell Jesper all this before I was pregnant. How could I be so inconsiderate?
My breathing steadied and my walk slowed to a stop. I can’t allow my father to come between us. Whether Jesper understands or not, he makes me happy. That’s all I want. To be happy. Resolved, I turned back home with my tail between my legs. At the bottom of the street, I could see Jesper wandering about. He came after me. I stroked my belly. He came after us.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to storm out like that.”
“Come here,” Jesper said as he nuzzled my hair with kisses. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“I guess I wasn’t ready. Moving here was my escape. That’s why I came. Then I met you, and I’ve been swept up in…well in you! I didn’t want to push you away.”
Jesper’s fingers threaded through mine, “Let’s go back inside, and this time, start from the top.”