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The forbidden, p.30
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       The Forbidden, p.30

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  Because something as hideous as an abortion couldn’t possibly happen in such a lovely place.

  “Miss Ryan?” I look up to find another smiling member of the staff standing over me. “We’re ready for you. If you’d like to come with me.” She gestures the way.

  Like? Would I like to? I get to my feet with Lizzy’s help and slowly start to follow, my legs heavy, my heart heavier.

  We’re shown into a room. More luxury. I’m directed to a chair. More comfort. I’m spoken to by a nurse. More friendliness. I blindly sign more forms with the nurse’s lovely silver pen. I feel like I’ve stepped out of my body. I’m standing to the side, watching people talk at me as I sit in the chair like a zombie, someone holding my hand comfortingly. Lizzy is next to me, answering questions, helping things along.

  It’s a blur. Everything is a blur. I’m surrounded by activity in slow motion and a fuzz of white noise. I nod when I think I should be nodding and I stand to let Lizzy help me into a gown. Then I’m being guided through another door, Lizzy holding my hand until she’s forced to drop it when I’m out of reach. I hear her supressed sob as I enter a room that’s clinical and white. There’s a bed and medical equipment at every turn—medical equipment that’s going to kill my baby. My breaths start to come shallow and fast, my body chilling to the bone but sweating. I don’t want to do this. I can’t talk as my hand is taken, can’t speak to tell them that I’ve changed my mind. I’m helped onto the hard bed. A friendly face appears, floating over me, his mouth moving but I’m not hearing his words. My stomach swirls, my head spins.

  All I can hear is Stop!

  Stop them!

  I feel tapping on the back of my hand. I see a needle coming closer. “No,” I mumble. “I ca…” My words fade to a slur.

  Then everything goes black.

  * * *

  I feel groggy, exhausted, and sick. The heat that my body is kicking off is unbearable, yet I’m shivering uncontrollably. I move a little, feeling a thin sheet shift across my body. Then I open my eyes. And I remember where I am. And intense pain steams forward and makes my stomach convulse. I roll onto my side and throw up in long, painful heaves. But nothing comes up. Just bile.

  A flurry of activity breaks out, nurses appearing from every direction. “Annie!” Lizzy’s stricken voice hurts my ears and I moan, dropping to my back. “Annie, can you hear me?” I blink, waiting for my vision to clear, and when it does, I see her suspended over the bed with pure dread distorting her pretty face. But she only holds my bleary attention for a few seconds, because someone standing behind her steals it.

  Jack.

  He looks like he’s in shock, standing still and silent in the background while people fuss around me, asking how I feel. Numb. I’m numb.

  Approaching slowly, his haunted eyes fixed on mine, he comes to a stop at the side of the bed. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  I look away, tearful and ashamed. It’s too late now.

  His hand rests on mine and he sits on the edge of the bed. “Annie, look at me,” he demands with a harsh edge. I refuse, so remorseful.

  “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to move,” a nurse says, gesturing curtly for Jack to move to the side.

  “One minute!” Jack snaps, standing firm. “Just give me one minute.” He takes my face and turns me to him, forcing me to look at him. To face what I’ve done. His eyes are watery. “What were you thinking?”

  “Sir, please. I need to check Annie’s blood pressure.”

  Jack’s jaw begins to pulse, the pressure of his fingertips firmer on my cheeks. He flinches and looks up when Lizzy takes his arm, encouraging him to move and give the nurse the space she needs. Jack shifts to the side under duress and watches the nurse move in.

  “How are you feeling, Annie?” she asks as she presses a button on a machine to the side of me and slips a small gadget on the end of my finger.

  “Okay,” I mumble, feeling the band around my arm begin to inflate.

  “That’s good.” She makes a note of my blood pressure on a mobile device in her hand before removing the band from my arm. “Let’s get you sitting up, shall we?” She helps me up a little, and I manage with surprising ease. “What a pickle you’ve gotten into,” she chuckles. “Patients usually pass out on their way to the OR, not on the table.”

  I look at her in a daze. “Sorry?”

  “You fainted, dear,” she says matter-of-factly. “We didn’t even get a chance to knock you out. You went white as a sheet! But don’t worry. There’s still time for the procedure if the doctor thinks you’re well enough.”

  My mouth goes a little lax, and I look to Jack. “She won’t be having the procedure,” he practically snarls.

  “I’m still pregnant?” I mumble mindlessly.

  “Yes, dear. Do you think you can stand?” She gives me raised eyebrows. I don’t know. My legs still feel useless, but there’s definitely some tingles of life now. I’m still pregnant? I look to Jack, confused and shocked. What’s he doing here?

  His shoulders drop a little and he makes his way over to me, insisting on taking over from the nurse. “I’ve got her.” He sounds pissed off.

  The nurse gives me up to him willingly and leaves the room. “I’ll give you some privacy,” she calls, sensing the thick atmosphere.

  “And me.” Lizzy heads for the door, too. “I’ll wait in reception.” The door closes and we’re alone; just Jack and me and a whole load of unanswered questions.

  I hear Jack’s light sigh as he holds me. “Sit down,” he orders quietly, moving me over to the chair in the corner.

  “I’m fine.” I gently shrug him off and head back to the bed, finding my bag, needing to get out of this gown and out of here. I pull my jeans and T-shirt on and slip my feet into my flip-flops. “Why are you here?”

  “Why d’you think, Annie?”

  “I don’t know, Jack. That’s why I’m asking you.” I pull my hair into a ponytail and reach for my slouchy bag.

  Jack snatches it away and throws it to the ground. “Will you fucking stop?” he snaps impatiently, taking the tops of my arms and shaking me. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “You said that you didn’t want a baby.” I sound like a machine.

  He looks at me in utter disgust. “With Stephanie!” he yells, but winces at the volume of his voice, breathing in to find some calm. “I don’t want a baby with Stephanie, Annie.” He drops my arms and drops his head back, clenching his eyes shut.

  “You never said that,” I murmur, letting my gaze plummet to my feet.

  “I didn’t think I needed to.”

  “I didn’t want you to feel trapped.” I grit my teeth, forcing myself to make eye contact with him. His gray eyes have not one spark of life in them. “I didn’t want you to pick me because you felt you had to.”

  “Fuck the pity party, Annie.” He releases me and stalks away. “I’ve just walked out on my wife. Again! Except this time I’ve walked out on my pregnant wife.” He falls back against a wall, looking up at the ceiling. “I didn’t know you were pregnant when I made that decision. Lizzy called me as I was walking out of my house with Stephanie hanging off my fucking back.”

  I scan Jack’s body over his clothes, seeing a few rips in his white T-shirt. “Lizzy called you?” I mumble mindlessly.

  “Yes, she called me. Angry. Tearful. I can’t fucking blame her. An abortion, Annie?”

  My jaw quivers—I’m mad, sad, relieved. “I wanted you out of my life completely.”

  He flinches, swallowing down the hurt my statement has spiked. Then he starts to gently knock the back of his head against the wall, the hollows of his cheeks pulsing. “I’ve spent the past week trying to make sense of this fucked-up situation. Stephanie’s flounced around with such a satisfied grin on her fucking face, ordering baby equipment like it’s going out of fucking fashion.” He stops with the head bumps and clenches his fists. “And not once did it feel right. Not once did I feel happy, and she hasn’t even questioned it. She
s quite content with my misery. Because a baby is going to solve everything. It’ll make me love her.”

  He laughs sardonically, thumping his forehead with the flat of his fist. “I found her contraceptive pills,” he breathes. “Unopened. Not one of them gone. She hasn’t missed a few. She hasn’t been taking them at all. Not for months. I confronted her, and she denied it. She lied to my fucking face. I realized in that moment that I hated her. I couldn’t stay in that madness. Not even for a baby, and now I’m wondering what kind of fucking arsehole I really am.”

  He rubs his eyes, and I can tell it’s to hold back the tears. He’s reached his breaking point. The big, strong man I love has finally cracked.

  My heart breaks for him. He’s a mess, but rather than rushing over there to comfort him, my legs give and I have to lower myself into the chair. “She did that to you,” I say, looking at his shredded T-shirt, knowing there’ll be angry claw marks beneath.

  “She didn’t want me to leave.” He pushes away from the wall and comes to me, kneeling between my legs. “My head has been everywhere, Annie. When Stephanie told me she was pregnant I felt like someone had snatched away the rest of my life. And then the guilt that came because of that ate me alive.” He takes my hands, his gray eyes begging me to understand. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was lost.”

  He pulls me forward until our foreheads meet.

  “All I could think of was you,” he says. “How I would carry on without you. How I’d survive without ever touching you or holding you in my arms again.” His hands move to my face and smooth down my wet cheek. “Every day became darker until my world was black. I can’t live like that.” His voice breaks, and one stray tear rolls down his face. “I can’t live without you.”

  Despite my own tears, a small piece of my heart clicks back together as I listen to him pouring his soul out, trying to make me understand. “I’m pregnant,” I whimper pitifully, like that news might have escaped him. My body starts to tremble as I crumple in the chair, feeling fraught and weak. But I’m relieved, too. So relieved. My mind might have failed me in that room, but my body didn’t, choosing to shut down into protective mode and bring everything to a stop when my mouth failed to voice my demand to halt the doctors.

  Jack smiles. It’s a huge smile, full of genuine elation, and it’s truly a sight to behold. It makes his eyes sparkle crazily as they fall to my tummy. I see life in him again. He dips and kisses my T-shirt, then rests his head in my lap, slipping his hands around my back.

  We’re sitting in an abortion clinic. I suddenly feel like a monster, dirty and immoral. My senses have been clouded by grief, my thought process purposely stemmed in an attempt to curb my hurt.

  “I need to get out of here,” I murmur. “Please, get me out of here.” Jack helps me to my feet and collects my bag from the floor before holding a firm arm around my waist as he walks me out of the room, constantly looking down at me as if checking that I’m okay. I’m so okay. I have my Jack.

  We meet Lizzy in the waiting area and walk out to the carpark together, saying our good-byes with hugs and promises to speak later. Jack thanks her, which she accepts with an affectionate rub of his arm. Her gesture is small, but it means the world to me.

  Jack helps me into his car, gets me comfy, fussing and faffing around me until I resort to batting him away. “Jack, I’m good,” I assure him, and he scowls at me in response. “I’m good,” I breathe, resting my head back, my hand involuntarily resting on my stomach.

  The whole drive home, he holds my hand while I let my mind run away with me, wondering exactly what happens now. I have Jack back. My happiness should be complete. Yet I can’t ignore my apprehension, and I don’t think I should. We’re going to have to think carefully about how we approach this, decide together and be strong. This isn’t going to be easy. But my reward is Jack. Whether I deserve him or not is something I’m past agonizing over.

  Once we’ve reached my apartment, Jack gets out of the car, rounding to meet me on the pavement. “Okay?”

  “Okay,” I assure him as he relieves me of my bag. I head straight for the kitchen and flick the kettle on while Jack throws my bags to the floor next to the sofa.

  “I’ll do that.” He muscles in, confiscating the teaspoon from me. “You go get on the couch.”

  “Jack, I’m fine.”

  “You look a little pale.” He scans my face, pouting. “How d’you feel?” His palm meets my forehead, feeling for my temperature.

  Oh my God! “Perfect!” I laugh, reclaiming my spoon and loading my mug with sugar. “You’re not going to be irritating and smother me, are you? Because, just so you know, that’s going to drive me mad.”

  “I can’t make any promises.” Jack seizes me from behind and whirls me around, pushing me up onto the worktop.

  I drop my spoon on a tiny gasp of surprise. Given the circumstances, is it wrong that I’m reduced to a pool of lust? I’m not sure. I can’t think. He nuzzles into my cheek and breathes me into him.

  “I’ve got you back,” he says quietly. “Thank God I’ve got you back.” Pulling away, he holds my hips and gazes at me like he can’t quite believe it’s me. “I’m going to make it up to you,” he vows. “For everything I’ve put you through.”

  “Jack—”

  “No.” His finger meets my lips, silencing me. “It’s not up for discussion. Now”—he drops a light peck on my cheek—“go get in some comfy clothes so we can slob out. I’ll finish the tea.” He leads me by the backs of my shoulders to the door. “Go.”

  I submit, looking over my shoulder as I leave. “Jack,” I say as he goes to turn, hindering his return to the kitchen.

  He looks at me questioningly. “What?”

  “What are you going to do about Stephanie?” I don’t actually mean her; I mean more about her condition, and he knows it.

  “I haven’t figured it all out yet,” he admits. “I honestly don’t know where to start.”

  “And what about me?”

  “I’ll have to tell her about you eventually.” He nods to my stomach with a small smile. “Not yet, but soon. Once the dust settles.”

  “Okay.” But I wonder if the dust will ever settle.

  “But maybe first I’ll move you to another country.”

  I smile, despite it not being a laughing matter. He’s worried. I’m worried. “I think I’ll like you fussing over me,” I tell him, loving the elation that springs onto his face. I have to let him do his thing. And I want to. I want to let him fuss over me. Who would have thought?

  “And I’m going to love doing it.” He winks and continues on his way. “Brace yourself, baby.”

  I chuckle and go to the bathroom to freshen up and find some cozy clothes. Once I’ve brushed my teeth, washed my face, and dragged on some sweatpants and a tank top, I find my slouchy bag by the couch where Jack dumped it and grab my phone before making my way to join him in the kitchen, colliding with him as I enter. “Oh!” I drop my mobile and it hits my bare foot. “Fuck!” I yell, bringing it up and hopping around with a screwed-up face.

  “Ouch!” Jack says on my behalf. “Come here, clumsy.” He picks me up and carries me into the lounge, putting me on the couch. “Let’s see.” He claims my foot, crouching by the sofa.

  “It hurts,” I complain, feeling a throb begin to set in, peeking down to my foot as Jack rubs the sharp pain away.

  “Let me get some ice.” Setting my foot on the cushion, he hands me the remote and disappears, returning seconds later with my phone and the ice. After he’s fussed over my foot, he hovers over me, bracing his arm on the chair and lowering his face close to mine. “Don’t move until I’m back.”

  “Where are you going?” I ask, sounding affronted. We just got here.

  “Shop. My sweet tooth is raging. I want to curl up on this couch with you and stuff myself stupid with Giant Strawbs. Then I’ll cook that meal I owe you.”

  He’s going to cook for me. In my kitchen. “Get extra Strawbs,” I order, gig
gling when he dips, crowding me and smothering my face with wet kisses. “Stop!”

  “I love you.”

  “I love you, too!” I laugh, pushing him away. “Hurry up.” The sooner he goes, the sooner he’ll be back. I need to stick myself to him and I don’t plan on unsticking myself for a while.

  Jack laughs as he leaves, and I flick through the channels…and flick…and flick, searching for anything decent to watch. “Rubbish,” I grunt, tossing the remote control aside and scooping up my phone when it rings. It’s Lizzy.

  “Everything okay?” she asks in greeting.

  At this particular moment in time, yes. Everything is perfect. I just have to have faith that this all works itself out. “For now, yes. Thank you for being there today.”

  “I’d say I wouldn’t have had it any other way, but that would be a lie.” I smile, fully aware of the trauma I’ve put my friend through.

  “I’m sorry. For lying to you, for putting you through today.”

  “And I’m sorry for judging you,” she replies, bringing fresh tears to my eyes. “Now, don’t make a fuss, but Jason’s taking me to some posh place in Oxford. I need to borrow a cocktail dress.”

  I smile at my phone. “Come over when you’re ready.”

  “On my way!” She hangs up, and I go back to pointlessly flicking, snuggling down and flexing my foot back to life.

 
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JODI ELLEN MALPAS SERIES:

One Night
This Man

 

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