White Napkins and Surreal Dreams
Ed was sitting at the desk in his study, his fingers roaming through the papers on the table. The house was quiet. The only thing that could be heard was heavy rain hitting the windows behind him. He continued to scan the papers, his eyes moving fast between the words, but his mind couldn't make out any sentences. It felt like he was reading a foreign language. Ed tried to concentrate, but for some unknown reason the task was becoming incredibly difficult for him.
His eyes absently traveled in between sentences until he decided that it was of no use. He threw the papers aside, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes. Ed rolled back his shoulders, trying hard to release all the built up tension that was weighting him down.
His thoughts went to Lorraine and her bizarre behaviour again. Something happened between them yesterday when they arrived home from town that afternoon. They had lunch at the café, and from that moment on, she seemed emotionally detached from any conversation he attempted to begin. Lorraine seemed disinterested and far-off.
And it was something they hadn't done in a very long time, in fact Ed couldn't even remember the last time they argued so fiercely. Since yesterday evening the atmosphere between them was tense and strained. It felt to him that the tension could be cut with a knife.
Ed exhaled sharply as he put his face in his hands, remembering the ghastly conversation.
"I think we need to talk." Ed began, half in misery half in desperation. He looked worriedly at his wife who sat across from him, her complexion was dangerously beginning to match the white napkins on the table. She was very quiet and whenever Ed looked in her direction, he found her glaring at the table. Her thoughts were somewhere else, her mind far, far away.
When Ed saw that there wasn't an answer coming from her, he continued. "You're really pale hon, don't pass out on me again." Ed hinted, letting out a dry chuckle.
"I love you, but you have to stop worrying so much." Lorraine sighed heavily, rolling her eyes in annoyance. She hoped the conversation about this topic wouldn't continue or at least continue behind the privacy of their four walls.
"I worry about you. I'll always worry about you because I care." Ed gloomily added. "This isn't normal. I think it's about time you start taking your condition seriously." His gaze was full of concern and his voice tensed while he looked at her colourless face.
Lorraine flashed him a warning look, she was already fidgeting on her chair from nervousness. "There's no condition that needs to be addressed and I see no problem here. And I think you shouldn't either." Lorraine's eyebrows dangerously furrowed, her voice low like a whisper. "I promised you that I'll tell you the moment I feel something's wrong, so far nothing's wrong."
Ed's worried face carefully studied her, "For heavens sake, admit it to yourself. You feel worse each passing day. It's taking a toll on you." Ed's voice was low and shallow, his gaze cold and Lorraine's heart skipped a beat in fear of what he would say.
"You're never going to let it go, are you?" Lorraine looked away and fixed her eyes on something distant. Ed continued to glare at her. Immediately recognising her look and her feelings. Her gaze was hazy, almost dull and her hands nervously fiddled with her scarf.
There was a beat of silence as Ed absorbed this odd behaviour of hers.
Ed shook his head slightly before continuing, "Don't shut me out. Just... just talk to me. You can't keep pretending it's not happening and stop pretending you're okay." Ed said as he tried to dismiss the unpleasant thoughts.
"I'm serious Ed. Stop it. I'm fine... and if you finally stopped bringing that up so much perhaps I'd feel even better." Lorraine argued, her eyes flashed. Her body shivered from sudden outburst, feeling unexplainable anger building up inside of her. "These things may be consequences of our cases. Surely they'll disappear soon enough. Dear Lord..."
Ed felt both eyebrows shoot halfway up his forehead, eyeing her suspiciously.
"Stop lying to me Lorraine." Ed snapped back at her, feeling himself becoming more and more infuriated. "We should get you to hospital just to be sure everything's as it should be."
"Nonsense!" Lorraine blurted out. "I'm getting really annoyed right now. I don't understand why you're acting so bizarre. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself." She continued in the same tone as Ed.
"Your condition is bizarre. I don't feel safe letting you be alone when you're in that shape. You never know what can happen next." Ed raised his voice, his brows snapped together. He wasn't the one to lose his temper so easily, but things started getting challenging. "Do you think that this is easy on me? Seeing you like this?" Ed enunciated, swallowing hard.
There was a long pause before Lorraine's demure voice broke the uncomfortable silence around them. "Well, not everyone is always going to do what you say, Ed." She inhaled sharply before continuing, "I don't want to talk about it anymore. I'm exhausted. This... this is tiring for me. All of this. You should put it to rest." Lorraine paused again. She was out of words, but she swiftly avoided Ed's intense gaze. "For my sake Ed. It's really not that complicated."
"Honey... you're not alright." Ed persisted through clenched teeth, his gaze getting heavier each passing second.
"For heavens sake, stop looking at me like that." Lorraine said under her breath, feeling heated. "Like... like something is wrong with me."
"Sometimes I just can't believe you're so stubborn." Ed's voice ripped through the air again, cold sweat forming onto his forehead. "Something's wrong and both of us know it. You haven't been yourself lately."
"It isn't up for debate. I'm so done discussing this." Lorraine snapped at him, throwing the napkin onto the table and rose up.
Ed opened his mouth to speak, but Lorraine immediately cut him off.
Ed leaned back into his chair, inhaling sharply.
He didn't want to come off as annoying and put even more pressure on her, knowing very well how difficult things already were for her. But sometimes his feelings got the worst of him. Both of them weren't reasonable and this was the pitiful aftermath. The consequences of their own actions were clearly showing. He surely was puzzled with her reaction, but he also hated himself for raising his voice at her. He was never the type to do that.
And now Lorraine wasn't speaking to him. The strangest part was that their arguments were usually something matter of a moment, however this time it was lasting more than expected. Moreover, she wasn't showing any enthusiasm for the lecture at the university either when a week ago she was extremely excited about it, planning everything to the tiniest detail.
Ed was abruptly pulled from his thoughts as he heard a loud knock on the wooden door of his study. The door slowly opened ajar and the most breathtaking girl peeked her head in the room. Judy was holding her notebook in her tiny hands, her big blue eyes gleaming with curiosity. She just finished writing her assignment and going to her father with her homework seemed like a perfect excuse to talk to him. Judy eyed her notebook proudly, there were two thousand handwritten words. She did it all herself.
She wrote about Roman Empire and the fall of Constantinople. She was much more advanced that children her age. Judy loved history so she decided she would write an assignment about that. Most children her age would write about their pets, or what they wanted to be when they grow up, but Judy was unique in her own way; a talented child far more interested in the history of the old world.
Judy was a wonder. Indeed, she was their tiny miracle.
She stood at the doorway of her parents study when the soothing voice that belonged to her father invited her to come closer. Judy smiled from ear to ear and sprinted into the wooden paneled room with a bright smile.
"Done!" She happily exclaimed.
Ed smiled too, putting back the papers he unsuccessfully tried to read into the drawer. "No misspellings?" He asked gently, removing the rest of old photographs that were scattered around the wooden desk. There were various photos of their previous cases and Judy wasn't allowed to see such things; for now anyways.
"No." Judy proudly stated, giving him her homework.
Ed raised his eyebrows questioningly, a light crease appearing between his brows.
Judy giggled. "Maybe one or two, but I wrote it myself and tried to be as specific as possible." She pointed at the greyish letters, proof of her hard work. "Just like you and momma said."
"Very good." Ed smiled satisfyingly and leaned back in his leather chair. He adored how she took interest in history and science.
"Are you ready for your lecture tonight? Are you nervous?" Judy hopped onto her father's lap, putting her little palms on the large mahogany desk.
"Uhm... yes and no." Ed's tone was doubtful. Judy noticed it. He was far more concerned and nervous about Lorraine than the presentation.
Judy just sat there onto Ed's lap, thinking, trying to put two and two together. It was easy though. Judy was an intelligent kid indeed. She tilted her head around to look at Ed before speaking, two sets of blue eyes meeting, "Is momma still angry at you?" She looked up at the ceiling, hearing her mother walking upstairs; Lorraine's soft steps caught her attention.
"Yeah, I think so." Ed said truthfully, sighing sadly. He knew that Lorraine was still upset, though he couldn't understand why. He couldn't understand anything.
Judy leaned against his chair. "Don't worry daddy, she loves you. She can't be mad forever. It happens even in the best of families." Judy smiled weakly. "Just hug her and tell her pretty things... or get her some flowers she loves those."
Ed chuckled and kissed her forehead. Things sounded so simple when they came from Judy's lips.
"She's been acting differently these days." Judy stretched her hand to grab the photo that was on Ed's desk. It was a new one from their recent trip to California. Lorraine was on the left side, her eyes tightly shut as she kissed Judy cheek and Ed was on the right side, smiling widely as he cradled Judy into his arms.
She placed the photo in the middle of the table, looking directly at it. "She's not feeling very well, I've seen it." Judy added, "It feels like she's hiding from us."
Ed didn't say a word. It was true. Lorraine was completely out of character. They needed to have good talk, but then again he was afraid to even start a conversation in such direction. It would probably end up the same way like the one they had yesterday. Lorraine wasn't willing to listen.
"I heard her in the kitchen yesterday," Judy began, "and she was..."
The doors of the study unexpectedly opened in the moment. Lorraine walked into the study. She was still wearing her robe, and her beautiful waves of silky caramel colored hair were deliberately covering the skin of her neck.
"Judy, shouldn't you be getting ready? Grandma is almost here. Come on." Lorraine asked her daughter, arching an eyebrow in her direction.
Sensing an unsettling mood coming from his wife, Ed stood up from his chair, lowering Judy onto the floor. "It's time to go, kiddo." He smiled lightly at Judy, trying to reassure her.
"You should tell him." Judy told Lorraine as she walked past her, out of the study.
Lorraine stood still, trying to understand Judy's words.
Ed stood in the middle of their bedroom. He was examining his white formal shirt before he wrapped it around his shoulders. He decided that he would put on an exquisite grey suit tonight. The clean, silky fabric slid down his upper body as he made his way to the large mirror across the room. Ed looked at his wife through the mirror as he was slowly buttoning the buttons on his shirt.
Lorraine looked beautiful, but restless. Her mind was occupied by things Ed could never even guess. She was impatiently searching through her drawers, trying to find the perfect shirt that would go with the shirt she picked to wear today.
And Ed matched her, of course he did. He chose silky, deep blue tie for tonight because it would perfectly match the skirt Lorraine had chosen to wear. He always did that. It somehow was their soft and silent way of showing intimacy.
Ed pulled his sleeves down a little bit so his shirt fitted more snugly on his body. His gaze was still fixated on his gorgeous wife. Lorraine was one of the most attractive women Ed had ever seen in his life. Scratch that - she was the most attractive. Any sane man would want to go out with her. And she was so kind and loving. She was a bit teasing, too. Lorraine was one of the few people that could make Ed blush or laugh, or lose his sane mind for that matter.
Ed fixed his collar and wrapped the tie around it that perfectly matched their outfit. Ed was now trying to tie it. Somehow, the task was becoming incredibly difficult for him. He had been trying to tie it for the past fifteen minutes - still no success.
"Do you need help with that tie?" The silence that reigned in the room was broken by Lorraine's soft voice. She had suddenly stopped her work to look at him. The amused look on her face revealed the horrible double knot he had made out of the expensive tie Lorraine bought him a while ago.
Ed looked at Lorraine through the mirror, his eyebrows narrowed and eyes flashing an irritated look. He inhaled and paused for effect before speaking, "I got it."
He began to untie it but Lorraine was already standing before him; her delicate hands taking over it. It felt nice to have her close again. They still weren't on the speaking terms. She was avoiding him and Ed didn't know how to approach her. He didn't want to press some hidden nerve again.
But Ed had to agree that he crossed the line. As soon as they got into their car that evening, he didn't stop complaining to her and he continued to pursue her to go see a doctor. Lorraine naturally refused and he insisted and insisted on it anyway, and by the time they had arrived home, Lorraine was even more distressed than at the dinner.
He was doing it with good intentions. But still that didn't justify his constant attacks on her.
"There." Lorraine timidly smiled, looking at his perfectly tied necktie. "You look decent now." She brushed the chest of his elegant shirt with both hands and just as she was doing it, his colossal hands went to cup hers onto his chest.
He took one moment to look at her closely. Taking a closer look, Ed could see that she didn't look entirely right either; her face was pale with a faint greenish tingle around the edges, dark circles under her beautiful bright eyes called his attention. She looked exhausted, much more than she did earlier that afternoon.
"I was unfeeling and harsh to you yesterday and I'm really sorry." Ed said sincerely. He tried to look into her eyes, but they seemed to avoid him. And that wasn't a good sign.
"Nevermind." Lorraine's voice was soft, gentle; her words almost a whisper. Lorraine wasn't feeling herself; she wasn't feeling very well at all; naturally she would never confess such a thing to Ed. Changes were happening in her body, she could feel them, she could see them but she just couldn't tell Ed, at least not tonight.
Ed fought hard not to ask her this, but it was stronger than him. "Is everything alright hon?" His eyes searching for an answer. "Any visions troubling you?"
"Huh no... Everything's fine." She smiled a little, gently releasing her hands from his touch. What a terrible liar she was. "Why wouldn't it be?" She went back to her skirt.
It hadn't been their argument what sunk her into silence but what happened later that night after Ed fell asleep.
Lorraine remembered the scene. She couldn't sleep. She was endlessly tossing and turning around the mattress so at one point she decided to get up and go to their study to pick up her book - perhaps that would ease her mind a bit.
Lorraine felt unusually sensitive yesterday, to the border of tears. She picked up her book and headed towards the living room. She sat down on the leather sofa and suddenly felt her stomach crunch. A sudden uneasy, burning sensation began to rapidly spread through her body. To her horror, Lorraine knew there was no way she would reach the bathroom in time. She hurriedly jumped to her feet, tossing the book aside. Lorraine rushed to the sink in their kitchen. Lorraine's concern grew as she hastened over the sink, feeling her stomach uncomfortably twisting, her hands gripping the counter for additional support.
She inhaled deeply, trying to regulate her breathing. She desperately wanted to steady herself in hopes of not getting even more sick.
Lorraine turned on the cool water and grabbed the cloth that hung nearby and put it under the water. She leaned her head against the cold fabric desperately trying to find some relief after a particularly vicious bout of dry heaving.
Lorraine put her palm to her forehead, deeply breathing. At the end of it all, Ed was right. She was not fine and this was getting out of control.
Lorraine slowly made her way to one of the chairs on the other side of the counter. She needed to stay close to the sink in case she gets nauseous again. While steadily walking down the kitchen, trying hard to keep her balance, Lorraine noticed a calendar hanging on the wall. She checked the date, and after seeing it, froze. Her blue eyes wide open. She took a sharp intake of breath and looked at it again, counting and recounting until the numbers no longer made any sense. She made her way to the chair and easily sat down, completely stunned.
Lorraine's vision was blurry and she felt like someone kicked her right in the gut. Fear washed through her body, she was terrified. It felt as if she was watching everything from a distance. Like she was some lonely soul watching the movie that was her life from the comfort of a cozy home. It all began to kick in her head, all culminating to the possibility of a word she couldn't even bring herself to say out loud.
"Lorraine... hon? What are you thinking about?" Ed's voice broke her from her reminiscing, bringing her back to dreadful reality that was indeed her life. "You look distant." Ed interrupted her absorption. He tried to sound casual, not wanting to start another argument.
"Don't start." Lorraine turned around to face him, her defensive attitude was startling, even to her. "Don't, please." She tried to sound less strained.
Ed remained silent and began to button his suit, trying hard not to say anything else.
But how not to?
Lorraine was looking terribly distressed, the most difficult part to him was that he couldn't help her. Each one of his attempts ended in rejection.
"Let me know when you're ready." He said in a very stern tone of voice, before leaving the room. "I'll be in the living room."
Maybe going out to do that presentation today wasn't a good idea at all.
Lorraine stood motionless, watching her husband walk away. She knew that she was too harsh on him and Ed only wanted to help.
How on earth did they end the day this way?
She picked up the skirt and rushed in front to the mirror Ed previously abandoned, feeling extremely emotional again.
She breathed heavily as she slowly allowed the silky robe she was wearing to fall from her shoulders to the floor. She put on her deep blue skirt and ruffled white shirt. Lorraine stood before the mirror admiring and smoothing out the fabric, it looked sublime subtle. She was satisfied.
Lorraine brought her hands down and buckled the leather belt around her waist. One sole thing caught her attention. The belt felt a little tight around her waist and even more when she tried to rearrange it. Her hands ran over it a few times and until that moment she hadn't noticed how swollen her lower abdomen seemed to be. Immediately Lorraine adjusted her hands, putting them on her waist. Her figure had always been slender, but rounded and soft. Nevertheless, her abdomen felt distended.
What on earth was happening? She thought, knowing very well that all of her clothes always fitted her perfectly. There wasn't one piece of clothing in her closet that ever failed her expectations.
Without warning, looking almost panicked, Lorraine began fumbling at her clothes. She ruffled her hair, scattering pins around the room and then she unbuckled her belt. She tossed it on a nearby armchair and now she had to remove the rest of her clothes.
She was in such a state that it took several attempts to get all of the buttons of her shirt unbuttoned. Carelessly dumping the shirt and skirt on the floor - without any of the care she would usually have shown to such an essential and expensive garments - Lorraine pulled in a breath and everything around her dawdled to a stop; she brazenly lifted her eyes and saw herself in her underwear, just standing there, staring hard at her reflection. Usually when she stood like this, she was mostly interested in how her face looked - but now it wasn't her face she was interested in looking at.
Taking deep breaths and trying to calm herself down, Lorraine ran her hands up and down her sides. She then held her arms out stiffly and closely inspected the narrow line of her waist.
She looked entirely normal. She turned from side to side, span around and checked her back.
Swallowing hard, Lorraine turned so that her profile was framed exactly in the mirror. She stared at her reflection, looking for anything, anything that might confirm her fears. She stared until her eyes hurt for staring and her back started to ache from standing so rigidly. But even then, even knowing what to look for, Lorraine could see no outward sign that she was different from any other woman. There was no way, no possible way that anyone could figure out what was wrong just by looking at her.
For a long moment Lorraine stood there like that, convincing herself that all this was just a figment of her imagination; that perhaps, yes, this was just a dream she had hoped she was having. Letting out a sigh of relief, Lorraine finally reached behind her back and grabbed a fistful of her skirt. She pulled the skirt taut so that the silky material lay flush with the lines of her body, instead of flaring out from her waist as it normally did.
There it was - the damning evidence. The proof that she was not at all what she seemed. Lorraine dropped the handful of cloth as though it had scalded her. Immediately the skirt fell back into position, covering up her secret from the world.
Unable to look any longer, Lorraine stepped as far as she could from the mirror. She tossed the skirt away and collapsed on the end of the bed. Her hands were shaking and a cold sweat was breaking out on her forehead, but she was all right, she was still fine. No one would know. But Lorraine. Lorraine knew. And she was terrified.
Was it really true?
She pressed her open palms to her middle, feeling the slight swell of her abdomen, so faint that only Lorraine would have any idea that it wasn't her body's normal shape. Lorraine took a deep breath, held it and then let it out slowly.
It is, it really is.
She pressed her hands against her forehead, closing her eyes and enjoying the darkness that comforted her. She couldn't tell anyone before she confirmed her thoughts completely with someone professional. Until then, all this would remain a secret. But she knew what was happening, and she was still clinging onto the little hope she was allowed, that all this could not be true.
A knock on the door made Lorraine jump from her bed. She started looking around the room in search of her clothes. She stared at the door in alarm, then decided that she didn't have enough time to dress herself; so she grabbed her silky robe.
"Can I come in?" Ed's voice was coming from the other side of the door.
Straightening up, Lorraine tied a knot on the robe and pined up her hair. "Of course you can." She said lightly as though nothing was amiss.
The wooden door opened and Ed walked into the room, slightly shocked by all the scattered clothes lying around the floor.
"Hon, are you coming?" Ed asked, his keen eyes taking in Lorraine's slightly dishevelled appearance. "We really have to go now."
Lorraine made a vain attempt to smooth her hair back from her face. "Coming where?" She asked, trying to remember if they had agreed to do something in particular.
"To the university?" Ed explained with an inquisitive tilt of his head, thinking she was messing with him on purpose. "Or have you forgotten?"
"I... no, I haven't. I suppose I'm coming." Lorraine said, brushing a palm against her sweaty forehead, her mind racing.
"Well, shall we go?" Ed arched an eyebrow.
"Give me a minute to change." Lorraine said quietly, and with that she vanished behind the bathroom doors.
A/N: This was fun to write. I hope you like it too. I know this chapter left some unanswered questions and I want to hear what you think in the feedback. I gave you a very long chapter so please be equally nice to me and let me know what you thought by leaving a review. :)