The Black Balloon Contest
Title: Unravel Me
Your pen name: GemmaH
Characters: Edward, Tanya, James, Victoria
Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer
A/N – This story is rated M for some sexual content.
Relieved to be escaping from the biting cold, I pushed the front door closed behind me and gave an involuntary shudder. Throwing my car keys down onto the table in the hallway, I noticed that they had landed next to Tanya's black leather gloves. My heart skipped a beat excitedly as I realised that she was home. I was powerless to stop the shit-eating grin that spread across my face and reflected back at me from the large mirror, I shrugged out of my coat and hung it up quickly next to hers on the coat pegs.
"Tanya?" I called out, listening carefully for a reply. Silence. A quick glance into the kitchen and living room confirmed that she wasn't downstairs, so I made my way up the staircase to the second floor, still carrying the bag I'd brought in with me.
The door to our bedroom was ajar and I gently pushed it open, smiling as I saw her lying on her side on our bed, her back to me and her legs curled up toward her stomach. I smiled lovingly at the sight, then kicked my shoes off and climbed gently onto the bed behind her, trying not to jolt it and wake her. Pressing my body against hers, I mirrored her position and placed my arm around her. I nuzzled my nose into her neck, bare where she'd pulled her hair back into a ponytail, and inhaled her scent. She moaned quietly.
"Sorry, baby." My voice was low as I kissed her neck. "I didn't mean to wake you."
Suddenly, without speaking she pushed my arm off, sprang from the bed and ran into the bathroom, slamming the door with unintentional force behind her. I pushed myself back up the bed so that I was half sitting, my head leaning back against the hard wood of the headboard. Cringing, I felt helpless as I listened to her vomiting.
After a few minutes I heard the sound of the toilet flushing and the whoosh of the taps running. The door handle depressed and the door slowly opened. When she emerged she looked dreadful, her face a sickly gray color and her eyes still watering. She held her arms tight around herself, lifting one arm as she crossed the room to tuck some strands of hair that had come loose from her ponytail, behind her ears. She lay back down on the bed, her body facing me this time.
"You ok?" I asked her, reaching down to stroke her hair and watching as her eyes flickered closed. She groaned quietly. "I'll take that to be a no," I said, smiling gently. I leaned over the side of the bed and grabbed my bag from off the floor. Tanya opened one eye to see what I was doing, and watched as I pulled a packet of cookies and a bottle from the bag, and held them up. "These might help," I told her, watching her face as she grimaced.
"Are you trying to be funny, Edward?" she croaked, closing her eyes again and holding her breath for a moment as she obviously waited for another bout of nausea to pass.
"No, I'm serious!" I told her, becoming more animated as I spoke. "I Googled it and apparently ginger is supposed to be really good for morning sickness."
"Only I don't have morning sickness, I have all day sickness."
I unscrewed the cap on the bottle of ginger beer.
"Well, maybe the scent will help." I held the bottle under her nose, just as she took a breath in. Immediately her eyes shot open and she gagged violently before pushing herself off the bed and racing to the bathroom again. She didn't have time to push the door closed and the sound of her vomiting was loud enough to make me feel queasy myself. Casting an unsure glance at the bottle still in my hand, I put it to my mouth and tipped it slowly back, taking no more than a sip. Ugh! I screwed my face up as the liquid hit my tongue. Screwing the cap back on quickly, I set it down on the nightstand, vowing to empty it into a drain the first chance I got.
I looked up at her as she shuffled back into the bedroom, eyelids drooping.
"I have never felt so exhausted in my life," she told me with a yawn.
"Then get in bed," I replied, reaching across and pulling the covers back for her. A pained expression crossed her face.
"But your dinner…" she began as she sat down on the edge of the bed, her shoulders sagging. I scooted across the bed and onto the floor, and kneeled in front of her.
"Tanya, I'm old enough to look after myself. You concentrate on looking after yourself and our baby." I leaned forward and kissed her on the nose and noticed her flinch. "What is it?" I enquired, puzzled by her reaction. She shook her head.
"It's…nothing. I just…don't like being so useless."
I smiled. It was so typical of her.
"Well maybe I like you being a bit less independent for a change."
I reached forward and began to unbutton her shirt. She lifted her hands and placed them on mine to stop me.
"Really, Edward, I'm not—"
"Ssssh," I told her. "Relax, I'm just helping you get ready for bed."
She smiled and dropped her hands, too tired to do anything but be grateful for the help. I slid her shirt off and laid it on the bed, then crossed the room and grabbed one of my t-shirts from the dresser. She lifted her arms so I could slip it on her, and then lay back so I could remove her pants. Finally, I pulled the covers up and tucked her in, leaning to kiss her gently on the cheek.
"I love you," I told her, listening as she mumbled a sleepy reply.
I was dreaming that a butterfly kept landing on my cheek. Every time I waved my hand to stop it from tickling me, it flew away, only to return again. Eventually a soft giggling sound pulled me from my dream into semi-consciousness and I found that it wasn't a butterfly at all, but Tanya's lips. I smiled lazily, closing my eyes again as I opened my arms for her to roll into.
"Feeling better?" I asked, my voice still thick with sleep.
"Much," she replied, snuggling into my chest. We lay in silence for a minute or so before she spoke again. "I'm sorry I didn't thank you for your thoughtful gifts of cookies and soda when I was puking last night," she teased. I laughed softly.
"I'm sorry. Not the best timing I guess. I hate to see you suffering, that's all."
"I know. I hate to see me suffering too."
I smiled and wrapped my arms tightly around her.
"Big day today!"
"I wonder if he'll look like me?"
"Edward, if he or she even resembles anything human then I'll be amazed. I can never make a damn thing out on those sonogram pictures; they're like looking at a Rorschach ink blot or something."
I laughed at her and she giggled too. I wondered what I'd done right to get this lucky.
Sitting in the waiting room, I jiggled my leg impatiently up and down. I looked up at the clock on the wall yet again. It was now fifteen minutes past our appointment time. A firm hand clamped down on my leg.
"Edward, stop it. You're driving me insane," Tanya hissed at me.
"I'm sorry, but I hate waiting," I hissed back.
"Well, just be grateful you're not having to do it with a full bladder," she replied harshly, scowling at me and shifting in her chair.
A door opened and a nurse appeared.
"Tanya Denali?" she called to half full waiting room. We stood and made our way over to the smiling woman, who held the door open for us.
We were soon settled in a darkened room and I held Tanya's hand as the sonographer sat silently passing the scanner over her stomach, stopping and pressing keys on the machine every so often. The more time that passed, the jumpier I became until finally with a smile, the woman announced that everything was just fine and turned the monitor so that we could see. There, as clear as anything, was our baby, his tiny bean of a heart beating away and one arm waving at us. I squeezed Tanya's hand and she turned her head to look at me. Through the blur of my own unshed tears, I could see that Tanya too was overcome with emotion.
After she'd pointed everything out, the sonographer congratulated us on having a healthy sixteen week old fetus. Tanya laughed nervously.
"Uh, sorry, but I think you have that wrong, I'm only twelve weeks along," she said to the woman, casting a nervous glance at me. The sonographer smiled again.
"No, I'm absolutely sure. All of the measurements are consistent with those of a fetus of sixteen weeks gestation. You must have gotten your dates confused."
I looked closely at Tanya's face. She looked mortified.
"Hey," I said softly, squeezing her hand again. "This is good news, right? Less time to wait!" She looked up at me in the semi-darkness of the room and looked quickly away again. As soon as the sonographer had finished wiping the gel from Tanya's stomach, she quickly got off the bed. She was already backing out of the room, fastening her pants as she spoke.
"Excuse me, I really have to use the bathroom."
I sat, dazed by Tanya's strange reaction. After a moment I stood, gathering her jacket and bag and turning to leave.
"You know," the sonographer called out to me. "Pregnancy can have strange effects on a woman. This probably won't be the last time that her behaviour surprises you before the baby's born."
I gave her a grateful smile and left the room to try to find Tanya.
When we arrived home I'd followed Tanya upstairs, sinking down onto the bed while she changed her clothes for work.
"That damn gel stuff gets everywhere," she complained, her nose wrinkling in distaste. She unbuttoned her pants and pulled them down over her hips, letting them fall to the floor before she picked them up and dumped them in the dirty laundry bin. She pulled the closet door open, grabbed a new pair from their hanger and pulled them on.
"I've got a late meeting in Port Angeles tonight," she told me as she examined her reflection in the full length mirror and straightened her clothes. "I'm going to stay over at Irina's, I'm pretty sure I'll be too tired for the drive back later on."
"Oh." It was the first I'd heard of this meeting. She usually mentioned these things at least a couple of days in advance. "You didn't mention anything before." I was frowning at her now. I wasn't happy at her staying away when she'd been behaving so strangely.
"Didn't I? Oh, well they do say that forgetfulness is common in pregnancy." She crossed to her dressing table and sat down at the mirror.
"I'll come get you when you finish if you like? I'll drive you home."
She was still fussing over her appearance, reapplying make-up.
"Don't be ridiculous, Edward. You've got to work too, remember?"
I couldn't argue with her. As much as I was desperate to have her home tonight, the deadline was looming for the children's book that I was currently illustrating, and I still had a decent amount of work to do on it.
"Yeah, I guess you're right," I sighed. "Oh, I just remembered something." I leaned over and opened the cupboard in my nightstand. I lifted out a small bag and held it out to her.
"What's this?" she asked me impatiently as she crossed to the bed and took the bag from my hands.
"It's just something I saw yesterday that I couldn't resist." I was smiling now, excited to see her reaction to the gift.
She returned my smile and sat down, breaking the seal on the bag and reaching in. She pulled out a tissue wrapped package and turned it over, unwrapping it carefully. I smiled expectantly as she opened the tissue to find a tiny white cotton hat, mittens, socks and bib. The enthusiastic reaction I'd been hoping for was nowhere to be seen. Instead she remained expressionless as she wrapped the items back up and slid them into the bag that they'd come out of. She looked up at me and gave me a small smile that I noticed didn't reach her eyes.
"Thanks honey, they're…great."
With another tight smile, she stood again and headed for the bathroom. As I heard the lock click into place I reached across and picked the bag up from where she'd left it lying on the bed. I couldn't understand her reaction; we'd both been so excited about this whole pregnancy thing, why had she suddenly gone cold on me?
Tanya's night away came and went. The next morning I was just finishing off one of my illustrations when the phone rang. I leaned over to pick the handset from the cradle on my desk.
"Hi, it's me."
"Hey, how was it?"
"How was what?"
I laughed gently and rolled my eyes.
"Well I guess that pregnancy forgetfulness thing was right after all! The meeting. You know, the reason you're not here and that I missed you so much last night?"
"Oh, right. Yeah, it was ok but we didn't get everything sorted, it's carrying on into today so I'm going to stay over again tonight."
"Oh, ok," I said quietly, even able to hear the disappointment in my voice with my own ears. She sounded distant and I didn't know why, which worried me. She'd worked away a lot before, but hadn't done so for a few months now, which had suited me fine when we'd found out she was pregnant. The travelling, long days and nights away were far from ideal for a pregnant woman as far as I was concerned. It was when she gave the working away up that we'd grown closer again, then we'd found out about the baby, which had brought us closer still. For once she seemed to be trying to put the focus in her life back onto our relationship and the baby we were expecting, which made a big change from the often-cold woman that she'd become as she'd climbed the career ladder. It was nice to have the girl that I'd fallen in love with back.
Or it had been.
"What are your plans tomorrow?" she asked quietly. I huffed my breath out and ran my free hand through my hair as I consulted my calendar for the following day.
"I'm going to be out most of the day. I've got a meeting with Shelley in the morning about a couple of new jobs she wants me to send samples for, then I've got to run into town and pick some more supplies up from the art store. Emmett called and asked if I'd collect Grace from school too, the childminder let them down again."
"Honestly, Edward. You should just tell him no, they rely on you far too much, just because you work from home. They do know that you actually work, don't they?"
My heart sank at the coldness in her voice. The ice queen was definitely back.
"Tanya, he's my brother and Grace is my niece. Family first, you know that," I told her, unable to keep my annoyance from my voice.
Tanya's relationship with her family had been a difficult one for a long time. Her father had left when Tanya was fourteen after discovering that her mother had been having an affair for the past ten years. The whole family had been torn apart by the revelation, but Tanya had stuck by her mother resolutely. She then proceeded to swerve spectacularly off the rails in a haze of alcohol, marijuana and boys. Her mother couldn't cope; whether with Tanya's behaviour or her guilt at the path her daughter was taking as a result of a situation of her own doing I was unsure, but she packed her off to live with her father and brother. Her father was a much steadier influence and stricter disciplinarian, and Tanya's behaviour became more appropriate for a girl of her age, but all of her respect and ideals of what a family should be had been irrevocably damaged. Even when welcomed unconditionally into my own close family she was unconvinced. My parents, Carlisle and Esme were as much in love as when they first met. My brother Emmett, his wife Rosalie and their nine year old daughter Grace, were a rock-steady family unit. My sister Alice, no matter how far away she happened to be living, always seemed to know what was going on at home. And of course my own devotion to her, the girl from the screwed up background that didn't feel she deserved love and family. None of it was enough to fix her blighted attitude.
"Ok, I guess I'll just see you whenever then," she answered shortly, then ended the call before I could respond. I sighed as I pressed the button on the handset and tossed it onto the desk, where it landed on the end of a brush that was resting on my palette. The brush flicked back and spattered my near-completed drawing with red paint.
"Fuck!" I exclaimed, scraping my chair back on the wooden floor as I jumped up, grabbing a cloth and hovering with it over the paper for a moment before I realised that there was nothing I could do to save it. I balled the cloth up and threw it down onto the paper in exasperation. I needed a smoke. I'd given up eight weeks earlier when Tanya had first announced her pregnancy, but fuck it. She wasn't here now. I sat back down in the chair and bent down to the bottom drawer of the cabinet that was tucked beneath the desk, pulling on the handle and feeling it slide open smoothly beneath my hand. I rummaged around in the chaos within, amongst papers, discarded sketches that I'd intended to return to, old pencils, brushes, empty paint tubes. Finally my hand managed to clear a path to the back of the drawer and found the smooth, familiar shape of the pack of cigarettes that I'd stashed there. I straightened, and flicking the top open I found it was only half-filled, with a lighter stashed in the empty other half. Perfect.
I nudged the drawer with my hand, as I stood and it slid closed with a satisfying bang.
The freezing air harshly stung every piece of bare skin that was exposed, as I stood outside the patio door. My stance was rigid from the cold, my arms straight down by my sides and pressed tight into my body, as I moved from one foot to the other in an attempt to stop the cold from the concrete creeping upward, through the soles of my sneakers and claiming my feet. Every few seconds I'd raise my right hand to my mouth and suck greedily on the cigarette I held between my fingers, lifting my head gingerly as the movement allowed the cold air to circulate around my neck, and blowing the smoke out in a combined cloud of smoke and steam from my warm breath. Despite the bitter cold, I was enjoying every second of the experience.
As soon as I'd ground the cigarette out beneath my foot, I felt a sharp pang of guilt. Stopping smoking had been the only change I was supposed to make, and I couldn't even do that. Compared to what Tanya was going through physically, it was nothing. I felt disgusted at my selfishness and lack of self-control. As I pulled open the door to go back inside the house, I decided that I was going to cancel as many of my plans for the following day as I could, and spoil Tanya for the day instead. I smiled as the plans began to form in my head, and by the time I was sitting back at my desk I was so wrapped up in ideas for trying to nudge her ice queen persona back inside, that I didn't even remember to be annoyed at having to start over with my paint spattered drawing.
The next morning, things had worked out better than I'd hoped. Before I'd even had a chance to call my agent's office to reschedule our meeting, her secretary called me to say that Shelley was sick with the stomach flu and wouldn't be able to make it. A text from Rosalie to say that Grace was going to be going home with a friend after school and I was no longer needed, cemented the idea in my head that my plans to devote the day to Tanya were meant to be. The art supply shopping wasn't quite as easily solved. I simply couldn't put that off because there were a couple of things I needed to be able to finish my current project and meet the deadline. I'd decided that if I set off early and combined it with shopping for a few of Tanya's favourite foods for when she got home, then I could get away with it.
As I turned into the driveway when I got home, I was surprised to see that Tanya was already back. I was looking forward to seeing her and excited about my plans for the day, but also annoyed that I hadn't had chance to have it all set up for her when she'd arrived.
I entered the house quietly, gently holding onto the latch and turning it, letting it slide back into place, rather than let it click loudly, as it normally would. I was eager to hide some of the things I'd bought, to give to her later.
As I moved silently around the kitchen, putting the groceries away in the cupboards and refrigerator, I could hear Tanya walking around upstairs. I glanced at the clock as I picked up the box of expensive chocolates I'd bought for her and smiled as I moved toward the stairs, knowing full well that she'd protest it was too early for chocolate.
As I climbed I looked up. At the top of the stairs stood Tanya's small, battered suitcase that she'd had since she was a child. I knew for a fact that it was stuffed full of keepsakes and that it was one of her most treasured possessions. Frowning and tilting my head slightly, I was unable to understand what it was doing here instead of the top shelf of the closet where it had always sat.
Suddenly the sound of a cell phone ringing pierced the silence. I climbed up another step and peered through the balustrade and into our bedroom. Tanya had her back to me as she reached into her closet, pulling clothes from hangers then disappearing from my view.
"Hey," she said fondly as she answered the call. She obviously knew the caller well. I'd never deliberately eavesdropped on one of her conversations before, but then again I'd never come home to find such a confusing scene being played out either. "No, I'm fine. He's not here, thank God. He did say he'd be out most of the day."
My heart was beating heavily in my chest now as I listened to Tanya speaking to the unknown person about me. I climbed a couple of steps further and sank down onto the thick, cream carpet that covered the staircase, a precaution against the unsteadiness that threatened to overcome my whole body. The caller said something and she giggled softly. "Stop it!" she chided, playfully. "Yeah…Ok…Give me around twenty minutes and I should be good…Ok, see you soon."
I heard a beep as she ended the call, then she came back into view. She was wearing a sweater that fitted snugly to her body, and for the first time I noticed the gentle swell of her belly pushing against it. I should have been thrilled at this first real physical sign that she was carrying our baby, so why instead did I feel sick to my stomach?
Shaking slightly, I held onto the handrail and pulled myself to my feet. I climbed the last few steps, turning left at the top and following the landing back to the open bedroom door. I stood silently in the doorway, taking in the scene before me. Tanya's clothes rails were almost empty, the bare clothes hangers swaying gently in unison. The top drawer of the dresser was standing open and there were shoe boxes stacked up on the floor. It felt as though I were seeing the scene through someone else's eyes and in slow motion. It was the last thing I'd expected and was completely fucking surreal. My eyes trailed reluctantly across to the bed where two suitcases lay, lids open and half-filled with clothes. That's the moment it really hit me. My whole posture slumped as my heart cracked open, it was as though someone had cut the power supply to my body. I hadn't even realised that I was still holding it until the chocolate box slipped from my hand and hit the carpet with a soft thud.
Tanya turned her head in the direction of the noise, her hand still outstretched to the dress she'd been about to remove from its hanger. Her eyes widened as she saw me standing in the doorway, and she froze. I stared back at her, unable to move, speak or even form a coherent thought. How I was still upright I had no fucking idea. She moved before I did, turning slowly in the way that you might if you'd just spotted an animal that you didn't want to frighten away with any sudden movements.
"Edward. I didn't expect…" she trailed off. Her words gave my brain and mouth the jolt they needed to reconnect.
"I'd say that was pretty damn obvious, Tanya." She shifted uncomfortably. "Uh…." I screwed my eyes shut and tilted my head to the side. "Help me out a little here because I'm more than a little fucking confused." I opened my eyes and looked at her. She was flinching.
"Edward, please don't curse, you know I don't like it."
I glared at her as I felt adrenaline starting to pump around my body and I leaned forward.
"Well, you know what I don't fucking like? Huh?" My voice grew louder with each word I spoke. "I don't fucking like it when I come home to find that my pregnant fiancée appears to be packing all her fucking belongings into a fucking suitcase without fucking telling me anything about it! That's what I don't fucking like, Tanya!"
She gaped at me open-mouthed for a moment, watching as I stood there, breathing heavily after my outburst. Gradually her lower lip began to tremble and her eyes glistened with the tears that were starting to build up. Her shoulders sagged slightly and she put her head on one side as she took a slight step toward me. Her voice was quiet when she spoke.
"I didn't want this. I didn't want to see that look on your face."
She pressed her lips together and screwed her eyes shut, lowering her head and her shoulders shook silently. I was aghast and still confused as hell.
"What the hell's going on, Tanya? What's happened to make you decide to leave me when you're pregnant with our baby?" My brow furrowed with confusion and I shook my head as I voiced just a couple of the many questions that were currently racing around inside my head.
She straightened up and looked me straight in the eye, folding her arms around her belly protectively.
"My baby," she whispered. I couldn't believe it. As I registered her words, the confusion turned to anger. It began to simmer within me, building as I watched her standing there, effectively telling me that I could have nothing to do with my own child. I took a deep breath and a couple of long steps forward until I was standing in front of her, looking down into her blotchy, tear-stained face. I raised a finger and pointed it at her face.
"You can't do this," I told her, my voice and my head both shaking as I spoke the words, and my volume increasing. "You can't keep me away from my baby, I have rights, there are laws—"
She put her hand on mine that was pointing right in her face and gently pushed it down slightly, interrupting me. She closed her eyes for a moment and swallowed deeply before she opened them again and looked directly into my own.
"It's not your baby, Edward."
All of the old clichés that I'd ever heard about moments like these and wondered what the fuck they were supposed to mean, seemed to sum up perfectly how I felt in the instant that her words hit home. Like time had stood still. Like the bottom had fallen out of my world. Like someone had punched a hole in my chest.
"No," I said, simply, unsure whether it was a denial of her claim or a reaction to it. She nodded her head, tears streaming down her cheeks now.
"How the fuck can it not be my baby?" I yelled suddenly, knocking her hand out of the way as I threw my arms up and grabbed a fistful of my hair in each hand. Without letting go, I pulled my elbows together in front of my face and twisted my shoulders round and then back again in agitation. I stopped and she was standing looking at me silently, her expression pained, although I suspected it was more for herself then for what she'd done to me. "Well?" I demanded. She cringed and half-shrugged her shoulders, which increased my anger to 'about to blow' proportions. I reached forward and grabbed her shoulders, shaking her with more force than I'd intended, as I yelled into her face. "I said, how the fuck can it not be my baby?"
She was sobbing loudly now, her whole body shaking with the force of it and both arms were protectively wrapped around the swell of her belly.
"Please, Edward! The baby!" she pleaded. I let her go and turned abruptly, striding back and forth across the small space, unable to keep still. When I turned, she was in a heap on the floor, rocking herself.
"How could you let me think that I was going to be a father, when all along you were carrying someone else's child?" I spat at her. She looked up at me through the tangle of hair that had fallen in front of her face. She pushed it back to show more tears running from her eyes in a river of black mascara. She sniffed loudly and wiped her hand across her nose.
"I thought it was yours," she howled. "I thought I had my dates right, if they'd been right there'd have been no chance….it was only when they did the sonogram…" She broke off as another sob racked her body, and hung her head again.
"So, if it's not mine, then whose is it?"
She wrapped her arms more tightly around herself as she cried, but didn't answer me.
I looked at her sitting there pathetically, and didn't know how I felt. I loved her. I hated her. I hated her for making me love her in the first place. I hated her for not loving me enough to stick with me; for feeling that she had to go to somebody else in the first place. But getting pregnant by them?
"For crying out loud, Tanya! Who's fucking baby is it?!" I yelled, kicking out at the chocolate box that was near the doorway. It broke open as my foot came into contact with it, sending chocolates and packaging flying across the room.
"James," she told me, her voice hitching.
"James?" I asked in disbelief. James was her research partner, but although they worked closely together I could honestly say that I'd never suspected it went any deeper than being a professional relationship. Hell, he'd even been round for dinner with his wife, Victoria in the last couple of months. That must have been after he'd gotten her pregnant. Shit, I felt sick. I gagged slightly but somehow managed not to vomit.
Tanya was watching me closely, her hand clasped over her mouth in distress and her face crumpled. I could tell that this was painful for her, but I knew it could be nowhere near what it was like for me.
"So, was this thing with James a one-off?" I asked, even hearing the note of desperate hope in my voice myself. With an apologetic look, Tanya shook her head slowly.
"I see." My anger had subsided slightly and I felt myself beginning to crumble. I sank down onto the edge of the bed and leant forward, holding my head in my hands. Slowly my tears began to flow, as I played through how I could have been stupid enough not to know about her and James, and what I'd ever done to make her crave somebody else. By the time I got around to mourning the child that I'd effectively lost, my sobs were every bit as loud and racking as Tanya's had been.
The familiar sound of Tanya's cell ringing suddenly filled the room. I lifted my head to look at her, and as her eyes slid from the clock to me, they widened in fear. I rose from the bed and snatched her cell from where she'd left it on the dresser. The display was flashing 'James'. I pressed the answer key and he was speaking before I'd even had a chance to say anything.
"Hey baby, you nearly ready? I'm just outside."
With those words, every trace of sadness evaporated from my body and was replaced with a rising, bubbling, red hot fury and a surge of adrenaline. I dropped the phone and bolted from the room, the sound of Tanya's pleas echoing behind me. I raced down the stairs two at a time, across the hallway and yanked the front door open. James was already standing there at the door, an expectant smile on his face; although with the way it disappeared with my punch, it had obviously not been my fist in his face that he was expecting.
As he recovered his footing, James reached instinctively up to his jaw, where I'd struck him. He was too stunned to speak, which was fine by me, because I really didn't want to hear what he had to say.
"Edward! No!" Tanya yelled at me, grabbing hold of the back of my shirt to try and yank me back, away from James. I ignored her and took another step forward, clenching and unclenching my fists as I went. Tanya pushed past me and planted herself right in front of me, one hand on my chest. I pushed her gently but firmly to one side, never breaking eye contact with James, who was eyeing me back aggressively too.
"I think you better fucking leave, asshole," I told him. I continued to hold his stare as I addressed Tanya. "Tanya, go back in the house, we need to discuss things some more."
She stepped in front of me again.
"Edward," she said. I was still eyeing James threateningly, daring him to make a move. "Edward," she repeated with a little more force in her voice this time. She reached up and placed her hand on my cheek, sliding it down until it cupped my jaw, then she gently drew my face down to look at her. "I'm sorry, really I am, but there's nothing more to discuss. I'm going to stay with Irina until I've got somewhere more permanent organised." Her voice dropped to a whisper that only I'd be able to hear as she continued. "Please, don't make this harder than it already is," she begged.
"If it's so goddamn hard to leave, then don't. Stay, we'll talk things through, maybe—" I pleaded back.
"Edward. It's not. Your. Baby. It's not fair to you after what I've done, and it's not fair to the baby to not at least try to give things a go with his or her father. Besides…" her eyes filled with tears again and her voice dropped so low that I barely heard her. "I don't deserve you. Not after how I've treated you. Please let me go."
I genuinely had no idea how I was feeling at that moment, my head was so scrambled. A large part of me wanted to kick her ass off my property right now and hope I never laid eyes on her again. Another part of me was so acutely terrified of losing her, that I'd agree to almost anything to keep her there. But if she didn't want to be with me, what was the point?
I looked into her eyes as the tears spilled down her cheeks still, feeling a little numb now.
"I can't watch you go," I told her, my voice cracking. I pushed past her and set off down the path, my shoulder banging into James's as I went by, my eyes never lifting from the ground. I had no idea where I was heading; my legs just automatically led me onto the street and away. I shoved my hands deep into the pockets of my jeans as I realised that I didn't have my jacket and it was bitterly cold. There was no way I was going back now; I'd freeze to death first, a fate that I'd actually welcome at this exact moment.
I didn't know how long it had been. I'd walked, I'd sat, I'd attracted countless stares from passers by swaddled in thick coats, hats, scarves and gloves, and at some point I'd found my way into a bar, glad that I carried my wallet in my jeans and not my jacket. It was empty, so I settled myself on a stool in a corner at the end of the bar. I ordered one beer after another, drinking them slowly as I thought through the whole situation. How could I not have known about Tanya and James? I'd thought that I knew her so well; that I knew everything about her, how she would react in any situation, and what she was thinking. I scoffed out loud at myself, and the bartender cast me a strange look. I ignored him. Well, one thing was for sure, from this point in I'd never trust my judgement again, and I certainly wouldn't trust another woman. If Tanya could do something like this then there was no hope for the rest of womankind. And they said men were bastards.
I didn't know how long, or how many beers, I'd sat there for, but when I looked up everything in the bar lurched slightly. The place had filled up, loud music was blaring and as somebody pushed the door open to leave, I noticed that it had grown dark outside. I looked across to the other side of the room, squinting until I managed to focus my blurry eyes. My gaze fell on a couple embracing. They never looked away from each other as they laughed and exchanged small kisses. I felt a sudden stabbing pain in my chest and I grimaced, tearing my eyes away. I lifted my bottle and drained the last of the beer from it, before turning on my stool and climbing unsteadily to my feet. I pushed my way through the bodies that now filled the place until I reached the door, pushing it open and stepping out into the night. The freezing air hit me, but thanks to the alcohol I didn't really feel it as I turned to head for home. Just four blocks from the bar I reached a familiar street and made a snap decision, turning sharply and walking faster and with more purpose. I stopped at the end of the driveway to the house that I'd been looking for. It was in darkness downstairs, but a light glowed from an upstairs window. I headed for the front door, pausing as I raised my hand before banging loudly on the wood. Three seconds later nobody had answered so I banged again. Then again.
Suddenly the door flew open.
"I thought I told you—" An angry voice half-yelled.
I stepped quickly inside before she could slam it again, eyes fixed on the staircase.
"Where is he?" I demanded angrily.
"Edward?" I turned to look at Victoria and flinched. She was dressed in a white tank top and pale blue pajama pants, her feet bare. Her eyes were red and swollen, her face was blotchy and she had an angry looking graze on her cheek.
"Fuck, Victoria, did he do that to you?" I was aghast, not only that James would hit his wife, but also that my fiancée had just decided to leave me for him, and may have put herself and the baby at risk.
"This?" She laughed softly as she touched her face gingerly. "No, not directly. I stood in his way as he tried to leave. He pushed me aside and I fell." She moved her hand down and wrapped her arms tightly around herself.
"He left?" I asked. I thought back, but even through the haze of alcohol I was still positive that Tanya had given the impression that she was going to Irina's alone. Another lie. I had no idea why this even surprised me.
"Do you mind if I..?" she asked, gesturing to the open front door.
"Oh…no, sorry." I stepped further into the hall to give her room to close the door. She turned and headed toward a doorway, speaking as she went, so I trailed behind her, assuming that was what was expected of me.
"He'd told me months ago that he'd ended it," she told me, her voice matter of fact as she flicked a light switch, illuminating the large, living room. "He promised me that it was over and so I said I'd give the marriage another try."
"You knew about them?" I asked in a strangled voice, suddenly wondering exactly how many people had known before me. I was even more naïve than I'd thought possible.
Victoria crossed the room and pushed open one of a set of double doors, passing through it. The dining room was lit up by the time I reached it and I looked across to the open plan kitchen on the other side, where Victoria was putting some coffee on.
"No, I knew he was seeing someone, but I had no idea it was Tanya. He'd been working away a lot, I was getting the laundry from his bag after one trip, and I found a pair of women's panties."
I felt sick at this information, knowing they belonged to the woman that I'd hugged and kissed as I waved her off on each trip, and missed like crazy while she was gone. I swallowed back the bile that I felt rising in my throat and grimaced. Victoria was still composed as she continued. "I confronted him and he confessed everything. It had been going on for a few months, but he promised to end it if I'd give him another chance. He begged me, and like the idiot that I obviously am, I listened to him. The working away stopped just like that, then two nights ago he announced out of the blue that he had a meeting he'd never mentioned and would need to stay overnight. He only came back this morning, grabbed some things and left, for good apparently."
Two days ago. The day of the sonogram and Tanya's supposed meeting too.
She was leaning back against the counter now, her hands gripping the edge of it either side of her body. Her red hair fell around her shoulders, the colour glowing brightly under the intense halogen lights. "Do you know what hurts the most?" she asked me, her voice beginning to shake. I'd crossed over to the kitchen now, and stood leaning on the counter opposite her. I shook my head minutely in answer to her question. "He told me he never wanted kids," she blurted out, tears suddenly flowing from her eyes. "I'd been trying to persuade him for the past five years, but he wouldn't budge!" She bowed her head as her shoulders shook with the force of her fitful breaths from crying. I paused for a moment as I watched her, then pushed off from the counter and took four steps forward; pulling her into an embrace that I hoped was comforting. She put her arms around my waist and sobbed freely into my chest. I made shushing noises and held her, until gradually the sobs subsided, her breathing slowed and she became still in my arms. Eventually she moved back slightly and I moved my arms from her back so that I was holding gently onto the tops of her arms.
"Thank you," she whispered, and I smiled a tight-lipped, empathetic smile at her.
"Are you ok?" I asked her
"No. You?" she asked, raising her eyebrows at me.
"Me either," I replied with a small smile. She smiled back at me and a single, cynical laugh escaped her lips. A strand of her striking red hair was sticking to the wet skin of her left cheek. I reached forward to smooth it away, but as I did so I suddenly became aware of how close we were standing and how the gesture may appear to her. I withdrew my hand quickly, swallowing as I did so and looking away.
"Sorry," I muttered.
"Don't be," she whispered. "It's fine."
I looked at her and she was gazing intently at me. I knew instantly, exactly what was going on. I knew that it was a bad idea and I knew that we'd both regret any urges that we gave in to tonight when we were both so emotionally vulnerable, and in my case, drunk. Despite all of the confusion spinning around inside my head I was absolutely certain on these points. So when Victoria slowly began to tilt her head up towards mine, looking at my lips and slowly licking her own as she moved closer, I did what any self-respecting drunk man who'd just had his heart trampled all over would do. I leaned in and let my lips meet hers.
In just moments the kiss had become urgent and clumsy, as two painfully rejected souls tried desperately to prove their worth to each other. I buried my hand in her hair, holding her head to mine as our tongues moved hungrily together, and Victoria hand slid down my side, and under my shirt, hooking her fingers into the top of my jeans. We were both breathing heavily, and then she pushed her body close to mine, her stomach pressing against my hardness as it strained against the denim of my jeans, causing me to moan loudly at the sensation. I untangled my hand from her hair and slid it down, over her shoulder and further, onto her breast which was braless beneath her tank top. I placed my hand over it, stroking my thumb back and forth across her hard nipple. She threw her head back and groaned as I continued the action, kissing, licking and sucking noisily on her neck at the same time. Her hands were under my shirt now, all over my stomach and chest as we became increasingly greedy for each other. We kissed again and her hands worked the buttons on my jeans open before sliding inside and freeing me from the confines of the thick fabric. In response I yanked on her pajama pants, pulling them down over her ass, before I lifted her onto the counter where I pulled them off completely and threw them to the side. I stood between her knees, and she bent them upwards, placing her feet on my hips and using them to push my jeans down to my thighs, then moving forward and wrapping her legs around my waist.
Victoria reached down between us and took me in her hand, causing me to gasp. Watching my face, she guided me inside her folds. We both closed our eyes and groaned in unison at the sensation before I began thrusting more forcefully into her. She held me tight, anchoring me to her with her arms and legs as we moved rhythmically together, her moaning and me grunting unattractively. After only a couple of minutes of this, I reached a noisy climax, bucking my hips sporadically as I came inside her. And as I did, all of the emotions that had seemed to vanish briefly came rushing back to me, as the dam that the animalistic behaviour that I had allowed to rule me, crumbled.
There was no build up, one minute I was emptying my dick into this woman that I barely knew, the next I was sobbing as I collapsed into her arms, lost in my own misery and grief. I was only slightly aware of the horrified voice that sounded as though it were way off in the distance as it apologized repeatedly to me.
Gradually the intensity of my emotions faded and I came back to my senses enough to roughly pull my pants back up. I slid to the floor without fastening them and shuffled so my back was pressed against a cupboard. I bent my knees up in front of me, folding my arms across each other and resting them on my knees before putting my head on my arms. As if I hadn't felt bad enough with the whole situation as it stood, I now felt even worse, self-loathing for what I'd just done, joining the complicated mix of emotions that consumed me.
Lucidity slowly returned, and with it my individual thoughts each burned that much hotter, branding me painfully as they stamped themselves onto my consciousness. The past, the present, the future; it was all so painful and I had no idea how I'd get through this.
"Edward," a voice interrupted my mental self-torture. I raised my head, grateful for the distraction. Victoria was leaning over me, putting her hands around my upper arm. "Come on," she said, tugging gently to encourage me to get up.
"You're throwing me out," I stated, my voice croaky. She smiled.
"No honey, I'm trying to get you somewhere more comfortable than this floor, to drink your coffee."
"Oh." I clambered clumsily to my feet, feeling my jeans start to slip and fastening the top button to secure them. Victoria pushed a steaming mug of coffee into my hand, lifted her own from the counter, and steered me back toward the living room with one hand gently on my back.
I sank down gratefully onto the soft cream leather of the sofa, careful not to jolt and spill my coffee. I sipped gratefully at the hot liquid, closing my eyes and leaning my head back against the seat as I savoured the burning sensation in my throat, grateful for the respite of physical discomfort from the emotional pain.
"Congratulations, again," the doctor said kindly, as he turned and left the room. I thanked him as I turned and smiled happily at Tanya. She lay back, exhausted. Her hair was still damp with sweat which also glistened on her brow, but she was glowing. Her face was lit up with a smile that I'd never seen before, one of pride and exultant joy, and it was directed at us. Us. Myself and our daughter.
I looked down again at the little pink face below the white cotton hat. Two pink fists poked out through a gap in the blanket that she was bundled in, and as I watched the fingers on one hand stirred. We made her, I told myself. We made her and she's perfect. Beautifully perfect. Tears welled up in my eyes again as I was overcome by the extreme emotions that I was feeling. My eyes raised and locked with Tanya's again.
"Thank you," I whispered.
Without warning the baby suddenly began to cry, a shrill and piercing sound. Before I could react, my conscious mind was tugging at me. Confusion clouded my head for a moment before I realised that the sound wasn't in fact the baby crying at all, but the alarm on my cell phone. I fumbled blindly in my pocket and managed to silence it without opening my eyes.
I lay still for a moment, still basking in the glow of joy from cradling my newborn daughter. Thinking back I gently probed my memory for the details, but there was something nagging at me. Tanya…there was something about Tanya. And then it came rushing out of the recesses of my mind and smacked into my consciousness with the force of an express train. No. Please let it have been a horrific nightmare, I begged silently.
Slowly my heart cracked for the second time in twenty four hours. Having felt the depth of emotion of what would never be when I dreamt that my baby was in my arms, it was even more painful as the wound reopened. I began to silently weep. As my emotions found a physical outlet, more screaming engulfed my brain. This time it was no longer the sound of a baby's cries or an alarm, but the pain as I became acutely aware of my hangover. The pounding head, the over-sensitive eyes when I tried to open them against the light so that I gave in and closed them again, and the bruised knuckles from the punch I'd thrown at James.
Tears spilled gently down my cheeks as I slowly forced my eyes open and I flinched as they tried painfully to adjust to the light. Slowly I pushed myself up to a sitting position, casting aside the blanket that covered me. I rubbed my face with both hands, smearing the salty wetness across my skin before running my damp hand through my hair. Pull yourself together, Edward, I told myself, taking a deep breath and regaining control over the tears.
There was a side-table next to the sofa and on it stood an almost full mug of stone-cold coffee, a bottle of water and a blister pack of Tylenol. A ghost of a smile played on my lips momentarily as I regarded Victoria's thoughtfulness, then suddenly I was mortified as I remembered what had happened here last night. I reached for the pack of painkillers, put two in my mouth, uncapped the water and washed them down, grimacing. Standing quickly, I staggered unsteadily for a moment before I headed for the door, letting myself out as quietly as I could.
The walk home blew every last cobweb from my head, leaving the bare bones of what was waiting for me at home. Or not waiting I thought. Everything had turned upside down, all the things I thought I was sure of had been cruel illusions, vanishing in a puff of reality. I wondered how I could ever recover from such a mental assault. Would I ever be the same man again? Could I ever bring myself to love and trust again?
I walked past a car that was parked at the curb, the drivers' side door standing open as the driver lifted the lid of the trunk. The haunting strains of Radiohead filled the air as I passed by.
It's the best thing that you ever had
The best thing that you ever, ever had
It's the best thing that you ever had
The best thing you have had has gone away
I didn't doubt the truth of the words. The music faded behind me and a lone tear slid silently down my cheek as I made my way toward a new chapter in my life.