Two weeks earlier…
How did this happen? How? Well, actually I knew how it happened. I just didn’t know how it happened to me. Alright, I knew how it happened to me. I’d had the birds and the bees talk in high school so I knew exactly how a girl got pregnant. But me? That was never in my plan.
I rubbed my stomach feeling strange with the knowledge that there was another living thing inside me. According to the Google search I’d done, at the six weeks mark my baby was the size of a sweet pea. Or a lentil. But I liked the sweet pea metaphor so much better. The head was larger than the trunk, and the tongue and vocal cords were already forming.
This baby was taking after Grandma Mabel already.
I knew I shouldn’t worry, but fear had spiked when I read those words and until I had an ultrasound proving everything was okay and the baby’s head was normal size, I was stressing every single second about it.
I sighed. Really, the baby having a large head was the least of my worries. My biggest worry was telling the baby’s father about its existence. And my panic attack over family dinner wasn’t the best moment to blurt it out, but it was too late now.
“So, Molly,” my boyfriend Matt started. Matt was completely gorgeous. He had brown eyes, and sandy blonde hair that curled sexily at his collar. He was a reporter for the Westport Television Network and was an endearing mixture of intelligence and clumsiness that made my heart melt whenever I looked at him.
“Yes Matt,” I replied, stalling for time. My mind was scurrying for a suitable explanation to give him. Instead I gave him a large toothy smile, stuck my chest out just a little bit further, and batted my eyelashes.
His eyes lost focus for a second, which to be fair was what I expected. My chest was one of my more noteworthy assets. Not that I ever used them for evil, but it didn’t hurt to use the gifts God gave you once in a while, right?
“You mentioned something about, ummm…being a, ummm, a…mother?”
I picked at the skin around my thumbnail, wincing against the sting as I drew blood, my nerves jingling. Looking at Matt was like looking into the eyes of a Labrador, all trusting and good. I knew I had to tell him, and it was now or never. The problem was Matt and I had only been together for a few short months. I had no idea how he was going to react.
On the outside, I gave the impression that I’ve got my life together. I can be smart, sassy and downright sarcastic. I used whatever it took to get my long curls to fall in silky locks, I won’t open the front door in the morning until my make-up was perfect, and I had an addiction to designer clothes. And shoes. Let’s not forget shoes. But it was all a farce, a suit of armor I learned to hold up against the world. It was the only way I could cope with the fact that life wasn’t perfect, and I had no control over it.
It had been a long time since I’d let a man look behind the façade. But in fairness to Matt, I didn’t really let him look. His dark, soft and caring eyes could see straight through me, whether I liked it or not. And it scared the beejeezus out of me.
Drawing in a long calming breath, I blurted, “I’m pregnant. About six weeks to be exact. And it’s okay if you want nothing to do with me. I can raise this baby alone. Well, not alone, because my sister Lizzie told me that she would be there for me. And Grandma Mabel said that the women at bingo were already knitting booties. And mum, well, she was knitting booties but then she heard about the women at bingo so she’s going to crochet the baby a blanket instead. Oh! And dad, well after he got past the fact that he wanted to kill you, he got all excited and is now searching for some timber to make me a change table. He wanted to make a crib, but I think that’s a little bit above his ability. But who knows? Maybe after the change table, he’ll have figured it all out and can make the crib after all.” I stopped for a breath, realizing that I had been babbling. I’d had no idea pregnancy would do this to me. All the books tell you that you may get morning sickness (don’t even get me started on that one!), you will get fatter as the months progress, have heartburn, get swollen ankles and crave the most ridiculous combination of foods—all something to look forward to, I’m sure—but not one book, article or Google search told me that overnight I would change from being completely in control of my emotions, to being a lunatic. Not one.
Matt stood back on his heels and looked around the street, probably wondering which direction he could run. We were presently standing outside my parents’ house after Sunday family dinner, and I knew this wasn’t the place I had visualized us having this conversation, but he’d brought it up.
“You don’t have to say anything,” I mumbled after an agonizing silence. “I don’t expect anything from you. I know this wasn’t planned and I know we did everything to prevent this—well, not everything obviously. I mean we did still have sex. But you know what I mean.”
Matt’s eyes were wide as he stood listening. He rubbed his face, and he opened his mouth a few times to say something, but obviously couldn’t find the words, as he quickly closed it again. After he did this five times, I snapped.
“You really should stop that,” I commented as anger bubbled up in me. “You look like a goldfish.” I’d heard that pregnancy made a lot of women feel serene and beautiful, but not me. It made me snappy and irritable. I sighed, instantly regretting my words.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “This is a shock. I know that. You need some time to process what’s happening.”
Now there’s the real me, calm and in control of her emotions.
Matt nodded. “I, I have to go.”
“Fine. Leave,” I huffed, crossing my arms over my chest. Even though I knew there was a possibility Matt wouldn’t hang around and be a dad, I’d really hoped for the fairy tale. In the short time I had known him I had completely and utterly fallen in love with him, and to hear that he had to leave hurt.
“No, not, ummm…I have to go back to New York.” He moved his fingers from his face and now they were clinging to fistfuls of his hair as if his life depended on it.
“Oh. New York!” I blurted. Before moving to Westport, Matt had lived in New York for a short while.
“Yes. Something’s come up. Something important. I was going to tell you but with everything over dinner and all, I, ummm, I didn’t. Tell you, that is. But I have to go.”
“Is this a reporter thing?”
“No. It’s a personal thing.” I guess I didn’t have the right to interrogate him further considering the news I’d been withholding for the last few weeks.
“Oh. Well, when do you leave?”
“My flight is at ten tonight.” It was already seven. “I have to go straight to the airport. But we’ll talk. When I get back. Okay?”
“You will come back, right?”
Matt nodded and for the first time since he’d heard the news gave me a small smile.
Well, at least that was encouraging.
I made my way home, a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. Matt had promised that he would contact me as soon as his flight landed, and he’d genuinely smiled, so I had no reason to feel so lost. He’d actually taken the news a hell of a lot better than I had expected him to.
Unlocking the door and making my way inside my apartment, I tried to imagine what was going through his mind when he’d heard he was going to be a father. Was he freaking out? Was he secretly happy and just couldn’t express it? Was he wondering how he could dump me and not look like a complete tosser?
Urgh! I had no idea what happened inside a man’s mind at the best of times. When this kind of bombshell had been dropped, I could only imagine he was making an exit plan.
Stop Molly! He gave you no reason to believe he was baling on you.
I threw my bag on the hall table and rubbed my face remembering the day Matt and I had met. I’d been repaying a favor I owed to the head of the Westport Television Network newsroom, as they needed some still photography of a wedding they were featuring on the news. Matt was the reporter who had landed the job. I wasn’t sure what he’d done wrong or why the head of the newsroom had a grudge against him and had given him the honour of covering such a hard-hitting story, but the bride was a Labrador and the groom was a thirty-year-old man. The groom did say that the marriage wasn’t sexual (or legal for that matter) but he apparently loved his dog so much he wanted to be joined by contract.
I looked down at my little Maltese crossed with who-the-heck-knew dog, Harper, and understood how the groom had felt. No matter what happened to me in life, Harper would never abandon me and would continue to love me unconditionally.
He’d trotted down the hall alongside me, and now stopped, his eyes bright and hopeful.
“You’re right,” I said to him. “I think it’s hunger. It’s the only explanation I can come up with as to why my stomach feels so empty. It needs a treat.”
He heard the T word and sprinted to the kitchen. By the time I caught up with him, he was sitting in front of the cupboard that held his jar of Smacko’s.
“You know the vet put you on a diet, right?” Harper didn’t seem to care about Mike the vet’s opinion of his waistline. Instead he licked the drool dribbling from his jowls and gave a little woof.
Smiling, I patted him before opening the jar and handing him his much-loved doggie treat. He accepted with pleasure and trotted off to the couch where he would make himself comfortable on my favorite new cushions and then happily gnaw away. The life of a dog. Albeit a spoilt one. But he deserved it. When my siblings Lizzie and Danny had rescued him from the animal shelter, he hadn’t resembled the dog he was today. Nope, then he was several kilo’s underweight, his white fur was stained brown and the two teeth he’d had left were rotten. I liked to tell everyone we rescued him, but in all seriousness, he’d rescued me. He’d arrived at a time when I’d been close to depression. Harper had seamlessly slid into my life, taking up a massive share of my bed and leaving fluff balls in every corner of the room. And I loved it. In fact, I couldn’t imagine my life without him.
I moved to the pantry and pulled out the packet of Tim Tam’s. Maybe a bit of chocolate would help fill the void inside me. I’d just ripped the packet open, a biscuit halfway to my lips when my phone rang, the caller ID displayed my brother Danny.
“Hey bro,” I sang, a fake cheeriness in my tone.
“Hey you. I just wanted to check that you’re okay.”
“Of course, I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be?” I nibbled the end of the biscuit, figuring I should check if sugar was bad for the baby.
“Because I saw how pale you were when you and Matt left after dinner. I wanted to hang around, but Andrew told me I had to give you privacy.” Danny tutted. Andrew was Danny’s partner in both life and business. At seventeen years older than Danny he was the more sensible of the two of them.
“Thank him for me, will you?” The chocolate was melting so I hurriedly popped the entire biscuit in my mouth and licked my fingers clean.
Danny sighed. “What are you eating?”
“Tim Tam,” I managed, swallowing the evidence.
“Is that good for the baby?”
I shrugged. “I thought about looking that up, but then I kind of just ate it.”
“That’s not like you.”
“Nothing is like me anymore.” Unexpected tears brimmed my lashes. “I’m worried that I will never be the same again.”
“You won’t be. You’ll turn into mum.”
I rubbed my stomach as I leaned against the kitchen counter and allowed the tears to fall in big fat blobs.
“Oh Molly, don’t cry,” yelled Danny. “Mum’s fantastic. Most of the time.”
“Y…yes, b…but I’m not sure I can imagine being a mother. I don’t think I’m cut out for it. My anxiety is already through the roof worrying about the way this baby is forming. Every morning I check my pregnancy app, learning what foods I need to eat and what I need to avoid. I check to see the development of the baby, and what to expect over the coming weeks.”
“Then you’re doing amazingly well,” Danny encouraged.
“No, I’m not!” I wailed. “I’m concerned about the lack of love I’m feeling about it all. At first, I thought it was because I was more worried about telling Matt the truth, but what if I just never fall in love with the baby? What will I do then?”
I was building myself into a full-blown panic attack, one that Danny obviously couldn’t handle, as Andrew came online.
“Hello possum.” Andrew had a soft, kind voice that had an immediate calming effect on me. He could be reading me a shopping list and I would still feel instantly better.
“Hey.” I sniffed.
“Now I need you to listen to me,’ he continued. “What you’re feeling is hormones. You have absolutely nothing to worry about. You’re going to be an amazing mother.”
“How do you know that?” It wasn’t like me to feel this insecure, but I guessed he had the hormone part right.
“When my sisters had their children, they went through the same thing.”
“Ahuh. But what if the baby takes after Grandma Mabel?” I shuddered. As much as I loved her, I wasn’t sure I could cope with a child like that.
“Then you’ll have a daughter who will be a free spirit and full of life and will be a joy to everyone around her.”
“You did hear me when I said Grandma Mabel, right?”
Andrew chuckled. “Yes. And you and I both know how wonderful she is.”
I sighed. He was right. Grandma was a wild card but she was amazing and I secretly hoped that when I was her age, I would be just like her.
“Thanks Andrew. I feel better now.”
“Good. Now Danny’s annoying me to put him back on the phone. Take care gorgeous, and remember we love you.”
“Love you too,” I called as the phone was passed over.
“So how did it go with Matt?” Danny asked, getting straight to the point. “Did he sweep you up in his arms and declare his undying love?”
“No. He got on a plane and left the country.”
“I’m serious,” I added.
“What? Is he an idiot? How could he leave you at a time like this? Does he not know that he’s just as responsible for this child as you are?”
I loved my brother in more ways than one. He could be as sarcastic as me, loved a bit of harmless gossip, and took his appearance very seriously. But he was kind, considerate and above all else, my best friend. Next to Harper of course.
“Calm down,” I quickly added. “You’re starting to sound like I did a few moments ago. And besides, Matt is coming back.” I hoped.
“Well why didn’t you say that?”
“I just did.”
“Yeah, after I got all hot under the collar.”
I smiled for the first time since Matt had left.
“Don’t get too carried away. I’m not entirely sure how he feels about the whole pregnancy thing.” I picked the skin around my thumb and winced against the sting as blood trickled.
“Give him time,” Danny added. “He’ll come around. It’s probably just the shock. I know I’d be shocked if I found out that I was a father.”
“You’re not the only one.” I smirked.
“What’s he doing overseas anyway?” Danny asked.
I shrugged despite the fact that Danny couldn’t see me. “I don’t really know. He said it’s personal, so I figure it has something to do with the family tree thing he’s been doing.”
“Maybe he’s found some secret relative.” I could hear the smile in Danny’s tone.
“So long as it’s not a secret love child,” I mused, sucking my bleeding finger.
“Do you think he’s racking them up?”
“That’s not funny.”
Danny laughed. “Have you heard from Lizzie?” he asked, changing the subject. “I wouldn’t mind being followed around by that cute policeman who’s shadowing her.”
“Yeah, but that’s pretty scary stuff. I thought her stalker was behind bars.”
“Apparently parole came early.”
“But he’s only been behind bars a few months! And he’s killed people.” A chill danced down my spine and mixed with the anxiety that was swirling in my stomach.
“The police are taking it seriously though, which is why she has a constant escort for the time being.”
“I just hope they catch him soon.”
“Me too,” finished Danny. “Anyway, I’ve gotta go. Ring me once Matt has called. I want all the details.”
“Sure,” I reluctantly agreed, wishing I was as enthusiastic about it as Danny was. But then this was a real-life soap opera to him. For me, it was my life.
I said my goodbyes and dropped my phone into the pocket of my jeans, grateful that for the time being they still fitted me. Actually, shopping for a new wardrobe could be fun and was something I was looking forward to. Cheered by this last thought, I grabbed the packet of Tim Tams, and made my way towards the lounge room.
My apartment was on the small side. It was sleek, modern and had an amazing view out over the aqua blue river that made its way to the ocean. At night the lights of Westport twinkled into my lounge room and if it was quiet enough, I could hear the waves crashing the beach. It was an older building that had been modernized, but it meant my kitchen wasn’t open plan. Which was fine by me as I was a messy cook. The downside was that it only had one bedroom, which meant that in the near future I was going to have to move. Or buy my neighbor Valerie out and smash through some walls. But two things would have to happen first. One: I needed to convince Valerie to sell. At sixty-six she’d told me that the only way she would leave was in a box, so I didn’t like my chances of purchasing it. And two: I needed to win the lottery as I’d had barely enough money to pay the mortgage on this property, let alone two of them. Plus, the cost of renovations. But a girl could dream, right?
Reaching the lounge room, I didn’t worry about flipping the light switch on, instead I plonked my tush next to Harper and turned the television on. Resting my head on a cushion, I closed my eyes and relaxed into my comfy couch. I was just about to drift off to sleep, when the deep sexy sound of Matt’s voice echoed through the airwaves. I snapped my eyes open and sat up straight.
“Yes Rob,” he said to the newsreader. I didn’t know when he’d recorded the piece but as daylight lit the hospital behind him, I figured it was sometime this afternoon. “Late last week I was contacted by Paul Pritchard. He worked at the Westport General Hospital in the late 1960’s. He said that he had a story that needed to be told, a lie that needed to be uncovered. However, as you know, Pritchard was found dead in his home early this morning. The police are yet to determine the cause of death.”