It was a beautiful day, perfect for a picnic, I realized, as I made my way over to Lara and Gustave's house. Gustave was out at one of the construction sites for a new building we had just finished designing, so Lara was alone and naturally, we decided to have lunch together. Gustave kept hinting that he didn't want Lara to be alone at the moment because she had been acting out of the ordinary as of late and I didn't like the worried look on his face when he asked, so I decided to double down and brought some of her favourite foods for lunch.
When I finally got there, I knocked and nobody answered. I checked my watch just to make sure I was on time and quickly started to get concerned. I knocked again and still received no answer, then started thinking that she might have been upstairs and hadn't heard me knock, so I decided to go through the back gate and let her know I was there. The latch on the gate was simple enough and within moments, I was making my way to the back door and I was about to go in when I heard the sound of someone crying. I turned to find Lara kneeling in the gazebo in the middle of the yard with her face in her hands. I put my basket down and practically ran over to her. "What happened?" I asked urgently as I knelt next to her, quickly noticing that her hands were dirty with topsoil.
"What's wrong with me?!" she cried out.
I couldn't help but be terribly confused. "What could you possibly mean? Nothing is wrong with you, Lara."
"It happened again. I lost a baby again." She spoke so softly I almost didn't understand her, but the words, when I processed them, hit like a freight train and I didn't know how to react, so I simply held her close to my chest.
When I finally collected my thoughts, the only thing I could think of saying was, "Does he know?" She didn't respond with words; she simply shook her head no, which made me sigh despite myself. "You shouldn't be going through this alone, Lara."
"But how can I tell him?!" she exclaimed, lifting her head from my chest in order to look me in the eyes. A piece of my heart broke when I saw her eyes; they were red and puffy from all the crying, but there was something more. There had always been such a stubborn resilience in her, but that seemed to be gone, and it hurt more than anything I can imagine. "Why should I keep getting his hopes up that I will finally give him a child only to disappoint him a month later when I lose it! I'm a failure of a wife; I am defective. He doesn't need more reason to believe that. If I tell him, he would leave me, and honestly, I wouldn't blame him. Look at these rose bushes. I plant one for each miscarriage. For every child that I couldn't keep. He'll never know, but I can never forget."*
"You are not a failure, my girl. You are strong. Not many people can hold the weight of what you've been through. You are a warrior in every sense of the word; I've never seen more resilience in my life. Gustave loves you more than anything in the world, and he wouldn't want you to do this alone." I was wiping the tears away with my handkerchief along with some of the dirt that had transferred from her hands to her face. As I did, I looked at the four rose bushes lined up in front of us and felt a sense of numbness wash over me; the poor girl was being put through the wringer for no reason whatsoever.
"Believe me, it would take the entirety of both the British and French armies to get him to leave you, and even then, there is still an incredibly low probability of success for them. You are worthy of this happiness, and once it has arrived, you will feel more joy than you have ever known. You just have to hold on, my girl. I speak to you as a father myself; while I never got to hold my son just after his birth, being able to see him grow up and hold him close when he needed me is the most beautiful thing I've ever experienced. You must hold on so you can experience that and so much more. It will be worth the wait; I waited for ten years, and I'm so glad I did."
"It's so hard not to feel broken though; being a mother has always been something that I wanted. But now to find out how hard it is for me to actually be able to have a baby is making me reconsider everything I ever thought I was going to have in life. It's just that feeling unprepared is a nightmare for me, and I've never felt so unprepared as I have when it comes to thinking about having a baby. It terrifies me, knowing that I would be going into it completely blind," Lara explained, taking a bit longer to say all that she wanted to thanks to her heavier breathing and stuttering that came with the crying she'd been doing.
"I know that this uncertainty can be a heavy burden on you, but you just have to trust your instincts. You have a good intuition, dear; have a little faith in yourself." I knew that look on her face; I had practically invented it. It was the look that screamed that you felt like you had lost all worth as a human being. I never thought I'd live to see the day when I saw it on the face of my wonderfully headstrong daughter-in-law.
"I'm trying, and Gustave tells me to do the same, but I...I don't want to do anything wrong. So far that's the only thing I seem to be doing." She looked down at her hands and I could swear that I saw them shake, telling me that she was scared out of her mind. "I want my baby to be happy and healthy, but how is that supposed to happen when I'm not even competent enough to keep myself from losing the baby?"
"For one, don't talk like you could have prevented this. The fact that you've lost a baby, while it is incredibly unfortunate, says nothing about how competent you are. And on another note, your baby will be incredibly happy and healthy. With people as amazing as you and Gustave for parents, it is practically a guarantee," I tried to reassure her, taking her hands in mine to keep them from shaking.
"But what if I can't seem to do anything right? What if I can't ever figure out how to get this right?"
"You truly need to give yourself more credit. You are a smart person who is more than capable of doing this," I said as I brushed a lock of hair from her face. As I did, I noticed that the light had begun to come back in her eyes and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Her curiosity had come back as well given that, instead of self-doubt and deprecating comments, she was asking questions again: "How did you manage it, Erik? I know that Gustave wasn't a baby when he came into your care, but you were doing it all on your own. How did you do it?"
"In all honesty, I had no idea what I was doing." We both let out a small laugh at that, but the statement was true nonetheless. "But I did learn something - the only thing you can do when you don't know what to do is the next right thing."
"I suppose so. Any other words of wisdom that you might have? You always seem to have plenty of those." I was grateful that inquisitive Lara was back; I would take a million questions over seeing her in the state she was in moments ago.
"Well, for one, you never truly know if you're making the right decisions. You're going to think you're doing everything wrong, but you aren't, believe me. I've had those exact thoughts and they're awful in the moment, but it always works out because most of the time, you're doing just fine. There are going to be moments where they're crying and you don't know how to fix it, or they're mad at you and you have no idea what you did. All you can do is take it in stride. Oh, and other than that, you think you're going to be able to say no to them, but they'll give you those eyes and you'll have a much harder time than you think." Her laughter came a little easier the more we went on and it seemed that she was starting to feel better, so I decided to test my luck and continue.
"Still, I think the most valuable thing that I learned that you can take to heart, Lara, is that you don't need to question yourself. I know that it is something you've become so accustomed to doing, but you really don't need to. You're smarter than me and I have no doubt that you are going to be an amazing mother."
"I hope so. I suppose it's just difficult to avoid feeling like I'm a bit of a failure after I've miscarried more than once," Lara admitted as she ran her hands along her stomach.
"You are nowhere near failure. This can only make you stronger. Being a failure would be to give up, which is something that I know you will never do. These hard moments will make the good ones even more special. You've just got to hold on for a little longer and remember to be strong, my warrior."
Once I had finished speaking she didn't even respond; she simply threw her arms around me and held on tight. I didn't realize she was crying again until I felt the slight wetness through my shirt.
"Now, I just wiped those tears!" I scolded her mockingly. The wet shirt didn't bother me; it was the fact that she was hurting that pained me more, but when I heard a somewhat stifled laugh from her, I felt a little better.
"Thank you, Erik. You can't know how much it means to hear that," Lara whispered with her head still firmly pressed against my chest.
"Anything for you, dear. You know that," I said, smoothing down her hair as I spoke. "Now, I brought your favourites and they're of no use to us in that basket. What do you say we go inside?"
"That would be nice," she said.
A thought occurred to me as we were walking in; Gustave still didn't know. "Lara, before we go in, I want you to promise me that you will tell Gustave. He wouldn't want you to be taking this on yourself and it would break his heart to find out through someone else."
"I promise I will," she said softly.
My talk with Erik had helped, but hadn't taken away the fear surrounding what I had to tell Gustave. I had avoided it throughout dinner, but I had promised Erik that I would tell him and I couldn't back out. He was sitting in bed reading and I was so nervous that I couldn't sit next to him, so I sat at my vanity table, pretending to brush my hair even though it was already done.
"How were things at the construction site Gustave? I almost forgot to ask," I said in a desperate attempt to get a conversation going.
"You know, I'll never understand how Papa did all this over the phone all these years. When I was there, I was directing everything because those fools had no idea how to read the design. I don't see any other way to do that but to be in person explaining things. Yet somehow he always managed to get things done from the office over the phone," Gustave said with a chuckle. I could only imagine that he was right; from the sounds of things, I didn't think even I could give instructions like that over the phone.
"I suppose it comes with experience; he has been doing this his whole life." I tried to make sense of it, not only for Gustave, but for myself too. "Your father is also very gifted at getting his point across."
"You're right about that. By the way, how was your lunch with him today?" He was truly making the inevitable topic harder for me to avoid.
I took a deep breath before answering: "It went well. We had a good talk and I made a promise that I have come very close to breaking."
"What do you mean?" The confusion in his voice was unmistakable as he set his book down. I didn't want to be beating around the bush but I couldn't stop myself.
"I promised Erik I would tell you something that I have been keeping to myself as of late." I was internally screaming at myself to just come out and say it, but my mouth simply wouldn't comply.
The confusion in his voice was now replaced with fear. "Love, you're starting to scare me. What is it?"
"I've lost more than you think I have. Two to be precise." My heart was going faster than a runaway train, almost to the point that I thought I might pass out.
For some reason, he still looked confused. "Lara, I don't understand. What have you lost?"
"Children, Gustave! I didn't know how to tell you but I can't hold it in anymore." I was standing now even though I don't remember leaving my stool. "One of them was earlier this week. I'm so sorry."
I couldn't decide which was worse - the reaction I expected or the reaction I got which, in short, was nothing. He simply sat there, staring at me without saying so much as a word. I didn't know what to do as tears started to roll down my face and I still didn't get any form of response from him. This was worse than torture and I knew I had to put an end to it. "Gustave please, say something, do something."
"I really don't know what you want me to say." His voice was unchanging and it made me want to jump out of my skin.
"I don't know, but I just need something because you're terrifying me by doing nothing," I said through the tears and tightness in my throat.
He still didn't say anything; he sat there still as a statue, twisting his wedding band on his finger. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was afraid."
"Afraid of what?" He didn't even look me in the eyes as he spoke. "Whatever happened to the 'you can't make decisions for the both of us' attitude from before I left for deployment? Are you still afraid that I'm going to leave? Please tell me what I have done to give you the impression that I would even consider taking my ring off, slamming it on the table and walking out the front door of our home, never to return?"
"Absolutely nothing, it's ju-"
"Just what, Lara? I love you more than anything in this world and I've tried to prove that to you every minute of every single day since the moment we said 'I do', but you still think that I'm going to leave you over something that you and I have no control over." I'd never seen him like this before. I had heard stories from Nadir about how Erik used to be years ago, before he met all of us. He had painted a vivid picture of the look Erik would get when he had been pushed past a certain point; an unchanging seriousness to the point that even his eyes held no emotion. In that moment, I truly saw the resemblance between Gustave and his father.
"I must have done something, please enlighten me. I don't know what else I could do in all honesty. I'm just a little rattled so forgive me for being confused over how you didn't come to me when I've always tried my best to be there."
"Gustave, I wanted to, I really did." I knew there was a shake in my voice; he was starting to scare me. The sound of that very shakiness must have sparked something in him; the serious expression on his face remained, but there was a light growing in the back of his eyes.
"I think I see it now," he said as he stood up and made his way towards me. We were inches away from each other and my breath seemed to get caught in my lungs as he looked down at me.
"Are you afraid of me? Afraid of how I will react? Afraid that I will fly off the handles like he used to?" His voice caught on his last question and he swallowed hard when he finished it. He kept his hands glued to his sides but his eyes were telling me that he wanted to reach out. At that, I was brought back to the night he met my parents for the first time; the first time he said that he loved me was while he was panicking at the thought of being similar to my uncle. I looked into his eyes again and saw the same scared teenager who had nearly had a panic attack because he squeezed my arms too tight.
"Gustave, you are not him. You never have been and you never will be. I could never be afraid of you." I gently ran my hand down his bare arm, as he had decided to forego his nightshirt for that night because of the hot days London had been having. He flinched hard in response and pulled away almost immediately.
"Gustave, if I was afraid of you would I do this?" I closed the gap between us then and kissed him. He was shocked at first - I could tell by the way he stiffened and didn't reciprocate the kiss even as my lips gently moved over his - but then, almost instinctively, he melted and flung his arms around me tightly.
When we broke apart, tears finally started to fall down his face. "I'm so sorry. I scared you, I know I did. I don't know what came over me."
"You were upset, you had every right to be. It's my fault for not saying anything." I looked down at my feet in embarrassment; the entire interaction all could have been avoided if I hadn't let my fear and shame get in the way.
Instead of responding, he put his index finger under my chin and lifted my head so I could look him in the eyes. "I think we are both equally at fault here. I shouldn't have snapped at you the way that I did. That was wrong in more ways than I can count. It just shocked me that this happened and I had no idea. I thought I was losing you."
"What do you mean?"
"I thought that this was tearing you away from me. That maybe if I couldn't give you the baby you want that you would find someone who can."
When he finished explaining I laughed, unable to hold it in. "Why are you laughing?" he asked with a slight frown.
"Because we are so similar it's insufferable! Gustave, I think we both need to stop being so worried about one of us leaving the other for someone else and just be together. Don't you realize that we are afraid of the exact same thing?" I asked. Once I had explained myself, he started laughing too and kissed me firmly with a smile on his lips.
"No more secrets. Promise?" he asked when we parted.