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The forbidden, p.29
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       The Forbidden, p.29

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  peanut from the bowl and chuck it at his head, and he shifts, catching it in his mouth around a grin. “Tough day at work?”

  “Draining,” I answer tiredly. “But it’ll be worth it in the end.”

  “I hope so,” Lizzy chimes in, giving me a look as she joins us.

  “I have exciting news,” Micky announces, looking blasé and very unexcited.

  “You sure?” I ask.

  “Yes.” He straightens and clears his throat. “I’m going on a date.”

  Silence falls and we all look at each other like the weirdest thing could have just happened. I’d think I didn’t hear him right but everyone else is looking as blank as I am.

  “Come again?” Nat pipes up, her chin dropping to her chest.

  “A date,” he repeats, starting to swivel his bottle of beer on the table while he watches it, pouting to himself.

  Nat bursts into laughter, followed by me and Lizzy. This is priceless! “Give me a fucking break, Micky,” Nat chuckles.

  “What?” he asks, offended.

  “You?” I laugh.

  “A date?” Lizzy is holding on to the table for support.

  “The girl you’re training!” I jump up from the table. “Charlie! She isn’t putting out so you’ve resorted to asking her out!”

  “Fuck off!” Micky snipes seriously. “I could have her like that!” He snaps his fingers.

  “Oh my God!” Nat puts her drink on the table to avoid spilling it because she’s laughing so hard. “I can’t…it’s the…you won’t…shit, this is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard!”

  The kitchen is alive with laughter, all of us slayed by Micky’s “date.” Does he think we don’t know him? For Christ’s sake! “Micky, you’re killing me!” I howl, grappling for my fake wine and laughing into my glass as I take a sip. “Where are you taking her?”

  “Ah, now.” He leans forward. “This is what I need to talk to you guys about.” His motives for having to share news of his date are suddenly all too clear, and it also spikes another bout of laughter. “Come on, girls,” he whines. “Help me out.”

  “We don’t know her,” I point out. “Does she like art, culture, food?”

  “She loves it when I play with my hair.” He looks at me hopefully. God, I could cuddle him.

  “She likes it when you play with your hair?” Nat asks seriously. “Great. Take her with you for your next haircut.”

  I stifle my laugh this time, feeling for my lifelong friend. He can’t help being an idiot when it comes to dating women. “Hakkasan is always a winner,” I offer.

  “Really?” Micky asks. “It’s quite pricey, though, right?” He backs up, hands raised in defense when we all gape at him.

  “Burger King,” Nat sighs. “Take her to Burger King. But I know for a fact that they don’t do a good fuck for dessert. You’ll get a fuck for dessert if you take her to Hakkasan.” She raises her glass in cheers.

  I chuckle, as does Lizzy, but Micky rolls his eyes. I love this. I forgot how much. It doesn’t matter that my glass is full of pretend wine. I have my friends around me, and it’s exactly what I need right now. I look at them all in turn, spending some time thinking about how lucky I am to have them.

  Lizzy orders Indian, and we all pile into the lounge to watch Titanic. There are no objections, even from Micky. “Watch carefully.” Nat kicks him in the back when he sits on the floor in front of her. “Might get some tips on how to woo.”

  He turns and gives her tired eyes. “Put a sock in it, ice queen.”

  “Ouch!”

  “Shhhh!” Lizzy hushes, pointing the remote control at the TV and cranking up the volume. “Watch it or piss off.”

  Nat throws her an indignant look but pipes down with the assistance of my calming palm placed on her thigh. All of us barely move, and only the odd sigh or hum permeates the air as we settle down and watch Kate and Leonardo fall in love. I make it to the point when he sketches her. After that, the movie is just a fuzz of words, and Jack’s words are clear as day, filling my head.

  We’ll be okay. Trust me.

  * * *

  “Annie?” Lizzy shakes me gently, stirring me. “Annie, Jack’s called.”

  She may as well have thrown a firebomb at me. I’m up from the chair like lightning. “Where’s everyone gone?” The living room is empty.

  “The film finished an hour ago. I didn’t want to wake you. Thought you could do with the rest.”

  What she means is, she thought I could do without the opportunity to think. I can’t thank her enough, but now I’m awake and my mind is careening into panic. “Where’s my phone?” I shoot past her in search of it.

  “On the table!” she calls after me as I land in the kitchen.

  I spot it and swipe it up, dialing Jack, but it’s taken from my hand before I can connect the call. “What are you doing?” I ask, trying to win it back.

  “He’s on his way,” she soothes, holding it out of my reach. “I gave him my address. He should be here any minute.”

  What she’s telling me doesn’t even sink in before there’s a gentle knock on the door. I gasp and rush from the kitchen like a speed demon, throwing the door open, out of breath. The vision of him, no matter how wiped out he looks—totally shattered, weary, and drained of life, still centers my off-kilter world. He steps forward and I dive into his arms, pushing my face into his neck. I’m holding him so tightly; I may squeeze what life he has left in him right out.

  “Annie,” he breathes. My feet leave the ground and he walks in, holding me to him with one arm while shutting the door with the other. I refuse to let go of him. Ever.

  “I’ll leave you to it,” I hear Lizzy say. “I’ll be in my room if you need anything. Help yourself to the kitchen.”

  “Thank you,” Jack says quietly, continuing on his way with me wrapped around him like ivy. I know when we’re in the kitchen because the sounds of his footsteps change when hitting the floor, but I still cling onto him. “Baby, sit down.” I shake my head into him, hearing him sigh as he squeezes me before he forces me away gently, pulling a chair out and pushing me down into it. He leaves me looking blankly at him as he rounds the table, obviously struggling to keep himself upright.

  “Jack, what’s the matter?” I don’t like his despondency. It’s overshadowing my relief that he’s here.

  He pulls his own chair out, and I watch in silence as he lowers his arse to the seat, his elbow going straight to the table, his head resting on his palm. “I need to tell you something.”

  My entire body locks up in response. I don’t want to ask, because I’m sure as hell going to hate whatever he’s going to tell me. I don’t like the space he’s purposely put between us either. My head is screaming the question that I refuse to ask out loud. What could possibly have him so flattened? Has she hurt herself again? Has she got into his conscience, churned up guilt?

  “She’s pregnant, Annie.”

  I jolt in my chair, as if something has come from nowhere and physically taken me out. My heart starts to pump painfully.

  “She’s been throwing up,” Jack says quietly. “She did a test.” His eyes close. “It was positive.” He doesn’t want to believe it either.

  “No,” I whisper, pushing myself back in the chair, the room starting to spin. The beats of my heart slow with each painful second that passes, and my limbs are beginning to lose all sensation. She’s pregnant. He’s tied to her forever. She’ll be in the background of our lives forever. Our lives? I look across the table at Jack’s beaten form. Our lives. “You’re not going to leave her, are you.”

  Jack’s heavy head gradually lifts until gray eyes meet with mine. The life in them has completely gone. They’re empty. “I can’t leave my child, Annie.”

  My throat closes up on me. I feel like I’m slowly dying. Desperation is telling me to scream my confession, to tell him that I am pregnant, too. But Jack goes on before I can straighten out my head and release the words. “I can’t believe this is happenin
g. She knows I don’t want a baby.”

  My announcement falls to the pit of my stomach and rots. He doesn’t want a baby. I’m becoming more numb by the second.

  “This is fucked up.” He slams his fist on the table. Fucked up. He’s right; it is. All of it. I don’t want him to be with me out of pity like he will be with Stephanie. I don’t want to stoop to her level and manipulate his decision to be with me. She’s manipulating him. This is just another form of her fucked-up manipulation. Another symptom of her screwed-up way of thinking. I refuse to force him to be with me. I can’t do it to Jack and I can’t do it to myself. I’m not begging. I’m not falling to my knees. I’ve lost enough integrity already. I can’t ask him to abandon his child—the child Stephanie is carrying—any more than I could ask him to leave his wife for me.

  That’s it.

  Done.

  I’m on my own.

  And I’m suddenly mad. I’m mad with him for being so fucking careless, for giving her the opportunity to trap him like this. “You were sleeping with her.” I look up at him.

  His face falls. “Not for months, Annie. And she was on the pill.”

  “Then how?”

  His head drops, ashamed, confused, sorry. “She forgot to take a pill here and there. That’s all it takes. She must be over four months now, because that’s how long it’s been since we were—”

  “I don’t need to hear it, Jack.” It doesn’t matter how far gone she is or how it happened. It’s happened. Nothing can change that. “Go.”

  I’m fighting to keep my world together. I feel let down, and I have no fucking right to. And I’m now damning myself to hell for being so careless, too. “Just go, Jack.” I speak levelly. It’s a far cry from how I’m feeling on the inside, yet my objective now is to bat the devastation down. I feel like all the life has been sucked out of me. I feel empty.

  Jack’s head shakes mildly. “Annie…” He reaches across the table for my hand but I pull it back, placing it with the other in my lap, keeping my gaze low.

  “Don’t make this any harder than it needs to be.” Keeping my breath steady is taking everything I have. “Please,” I add, closing my eyes on a swallow. This is going to be the challenge of my life. But at least I don’t have to spend the rest of my days with someone I don’t love. At least guilt isn’t dictating my future. It is for Jack.

  I push myself up from my chair, being sure not to look at him. Detachment. Close down, shut off. It’s done. “You should go.”

  “Annie, please, lis—”

  “Is it going to change anything?” I ask, and despite myself, I look at him. I find a face invaded with pure misery and hopelessness. I flinch and glance away. “If I listen, will it change anything?”

  “I have to be there for my child.” He grates the words on broken air. “I can’t abandon my baby.”

  The irony of the situation doesn’t escape me. This is what I deserve. This is karma. There’s another baby, one he doesn’t know about. And one that he won’t know about. I hate him right now. But I hate myself more. “Go,” I demand.

  “Annie…”

  “Just go!” I scream, losing it. “Get out!”

  There’s a brief silence before I hear his chair scrape the floor. “I’ll always love you, Annie.”

  “Don’t say that,” I whisper, unable to be near him any longer. “I don’t need to hear that.” I get up and walk away from him in a blur of ruin and pain, my eyes furiously welling with tears. He watches me go. I feel his eyes trained on my back every step of the way. But I don’t look back. Not now. Not ever again.

  Chapter 26

  I’ve dragged myself through my working week, staggering blindly from meeting to meeting, fighting to keep it together. It’s been the fight of my life, constantly batting away the quiver in my voice and the tears that threaten to break free. When I’ve been home, my apartment has been drenched in darkness while I’ve hidden from the world and fought to find the determination I need to take the next steps in my life.

  Aside from my meetings and work commitments, I’ve only ventured outside twice this past week. To go to the doctor, and then to the private clinic. Lizzy came with me, supportive of my decision.

  I’d hoped another test would spring up negative. I hoped in vain. A scan told me I’m six weeks pregnant. A discussion with a nice lady who works at the surgery helped me make my decision. It’s the right decision. I can’t do this alone, but more significantly, I can’t be reminded of Jack every day for the rest of my life. No child deserves a single mother riddled with bitterness and regrets.

  Lizzy has been a constant support. She hasn’t thrown any I-told-you-so’s in my face. She’s just been here for me, cuddled me when she’s seen my mind drift and made sure I’ve eaten. She has been here all morning helping me prepare for today. By tomorrow, I will no longer be pregnant. If I give too much time to processing the magnitude of that, I’ll undoubtedly fall to the deepest depths of the black pit I’m balancing on the edge of and never claw my way out. Numbing myself to it all is easier. It’s the only way I can be sure to get through this horrific stage in my life. And I asked for it all. I deserve it all.

  Karma isn’t just a bitch. She’s a barbaric psychopath.

  Lizzy hands me my bag packed with everything I need for the clinic, along with my leather slouchy bag. “How about we decorate your bedroom?” she says, steering me away from thinking about where we’re heading. “When you’re on your feet again after…” Her words fade to a wisp of air.

  “After I’ve had an abortion,” I finish for her. “You can say it, Lizzy.”

  She glances away, thinking, but she doesn’t say what she’s thinking. I know exactly what that is. Am I sure? She’s asked me the question without judgment or any sense of disapproval a dozen times. My answer has been consistent and automatic. Yes. Every time, yes.

  “Ready?” she asks.

  I nod and we head for her car. Our drive is quiet but not uncomfortably so. The private clinic in North London looks welcoming as we roll up. It’s been overdecorated on the outside with shrubs, pots of flowers, and plants, making it seem like a happy place. I smile at the irony of it. The receptionist is over-friendly and the interior over-cozy. Everything is overdone. Lizzy checks me in while I take a seat, glancing around the waiting room at the other women I’m sharing a room with—all younger than me, some obviously with their mothers, too. Young girls who have gotten themselves into trouble. Young girls who have come here to have their problem sucked out of them. I flinch at my agonizing thoughts, looking up at Lizzy when she hands me a clipboard.

  “You need to fill this out,” she says, taking a seat next to me and handing me a pen.

  Resting the form on my lap, I begin the task of completing my details—name, address, date of birth. It’s all straightforward, but every time the point of the pen meets the paper, I start to shake terribly, unable to write down the simple answers.

  “Here,” Lizzy prompts gently, relieving me of the task. “I’ll do it.”

  “Thanks.” I go back to studying the women surrounding me, finding a few of them also watching me. I bet they’re wondering what my story is, just as I’m wondering what theirs is. But we’re all here for the same reason, to fix the shit situation we’ve gotten ourselves into, no matter how it happened for each of us. I wonder if any of them imagined themselves here. I wonder if their sins are as deep as mine. We all have one thing in common, but are their reasons for being here valid? Are mine? I look down at my stomach, reminding myself that this is the best decision for me.

  “Annie,” Lizzy says quietly, pointing the pen at the form and looking at me apologetically. “What do you want me to put here?”

  I lean in and read the question. My reason for undergoing the procedure? I don’t know what comes over me. I start laughing, drawing the curiosity of everyone in the room, yet the attention doesn’t embarrass me, nor does it make me stop. I take the clipboard from Lizzy, ignoring her alarmed face as I continue chuckling.
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  Then I write the most inappropriate response I guess has ever been written on one of these forms. I fill the box with a shortened version of my life these past few months. I note the wife, her pregnancy, and I finish it off with, “I bet she won’t be here to have her baby sucked from her womb.” I sign where indicated, slam the pen down, and shove the form back into Lizzy’s lap. Then my laughter abruptly transforms into body-jerking sobs. I cover my face with my hands and let my tears pour into them.

  “Oh shit, Annie.” Lizzy sighs, placing the clipboard at her feet and throwing her arms around me, hushing me gently. “It’s not too late,” she soothes, rubbing at my back. “You can’t do this unless you’re one hundred percent sure. I won’t let you.”

  It’s way past too late. “I’m sure,” I weep, lying, breaking away from Lizzy and wiping at my eyes.

  All the thoughts I’ve safely pushed to the deepest parts of my mind have come thundering forward as I sit here in the waiting room, waiting to be called so they can rid my body of my final reminder of Jack. Unexpected anger starts to bubble in my tummy. I focus on the perfection of my surroundings, the relaxed atmosphere, the friendliness of the staff, and the luxury environment. They’re trying to make everyone who walks through that door as comfortable as possible about what they’re going to do. Make them forget.
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JODI ELLEN MALPAS SERIES:

One Night
This Man

 

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