‘Is everything okay?’ She assesses us both, then looks to Jesse for an answer, but he just hands me my bag and nods towards the stairs. I look at him, silently begging for some words. He doesn’t indulge me. He nods again.
‘Boy?’ Cathy prompts warily.
‘Everything is fine. Ava’s not feeling too well.’ He lightly pushes into my back with his hand, urging me forward.
‘Are you coming?’ I ask.
‘I’ll be up in a minute. Go.’ He reinforces his words with a firmer push of his hand, and I leave him with Cathy.
As I’m passing Jesse’s sweet housekeeper, she reaches out and gently strokes my shoulder, giving me a small smile. ‘I’m glad you’re home, Ava.’
I return her smile. It’s a feeble smile. I feel uncertain and a little concerned by Jesse’s despondent state. ‘Thank you.’ I make my way upstairs, entering the master-suite and settling on the end of the bed.
Not knowing what to do, I kick my shoes off and shuffle myself up the bed a little more. My eyes are brimming with tears again as I clutch my knees to my chest and wait for him. I know that right now is when we’ll talk about this, now we have both acknowledged what is happening; but in order to have a talk, both of us need to be speaking, and Jesse doesn’t look like he plans on saying anything. I have no idea what is going through that crazy mind of his and the strained atmosphere is pushing doubts back into me. I need reassurance, not silence, not time to talk my way back out of this.
My head snaps up when he enters the bedroom, but he doesn’t look at me. Instead, he goes straight to the bathroom. I hear the waterfall tap of the bath start pouring and the faffing of his movements as he follows through on his usual bath time routine, collecting everything he’ll need and placing it within reach. We’re having a bath?
After way too long of me just sitting on the bed, listening to the water running and Jesse’s quiet activities, he eventually walks soundlessly into the bedroom and approaches me without a word. Taking my hand and pulling me up from the bed, he strips me down, removes my diamond and my Rolex, for which I haven’t even thanked him, before picking me up and carrying me into the bathroom.
He lowers me gently into the bath. ‘Is the water okay?’ he asks softly, releasing me and kneeling by the side of the tub.
‘It’s fine,’ I answer, watching as he removes his suit jacket and unbuttons the cuffs of his shirt before pushing them up his arms. He collects the sponge and dips, then squeezes some soap on it and turns me away from him. He starts gliding it across my back in gentle, steady strokes.
I’m a little confused. ‘Aren’t you getting in?’ I ask quietly. I want him to lay behind me so I can feel him, take comfort in him. I need that.
‘Let me look after you.’ His voice is low and unsure. I don’t like it.
I turn myself around to face him, finding glazed green eyes and a stoic expression. It pulls at my heart. I’ve really fucked with his mind this time. ‘I need you closer than this.’ I reach up with my wet hand and lay my palm on his cheek. ‘Please,’
He watches me carefully for a few moments, like he’s deciding whether he should, but he eventually sighs and drops the sponge, before he stands and slowly removes his clothes. Stepping in behind me, he lowers himself to cocoon me completely. I feel immediately better with his warm hardness cradling me, but I can’t see him, so I turn over and sit on his lap, encouraging his knees up so I can lean back and look at him. I take his hands and interlace our fingers, and we both watch in silence as we play with each other’s hands, our tangled fingers glimmering now and then when our rings catch the reflections of the water. It’s not a difficult silence anymore.
‘Why did you lie to me, Ava?’ he whispers, still watching our snaking fingers working together.
My movements falter for a few moments but don’t stop completely. It’s a question that I predicted and it’s one that needs answering. ‘I was scared. I’m still scared.’ It’s nothing but the truth, and he needs to hear it. He needs to know that this whole situation terrifies me.
‘Of me,’ he says simply. ‘You’re scared of me.’ He doesn’t elaborate, and he doesn’t need to. I know what he means, and he knows that, too.
‘I’m scared of how you’ll be.’
‘You mean more crazy.’ he confirms, keeping his eyes on out entwined fingers.
‘It wasn’t even definite and you were treating me like a priceless object.’
He exhales softly and takes both of our hands to his chest, resting them over his heart, but he still doesn’t look at me. ‘You also think that I might love our child more than you.’
The words make me go rigid. They’re the words I have refused to acknowledge every time they’ve whirled around in my head. I am worried that he’ll love our child more than me. Selfishly, yes, it frightens me to death. The unreasonable thought has been lingering there somewhere, I’ll admit it to myself now. I’ve not long had his love, and I’m blessed to have it. Who wouldn’t want to be loved so powerfully, so passionately? I’m not ready to share him, not with anyone, not even a part of us.
‘Would you?’ I ask quietly. I’m not sure how he’ll answer. All I’ve got to go on is how desperate he is for a baby.
His eyes lift slowly, revealing a sadness I’ve never seen before. Or it could be disappointment. I’m not sure. ‘Do you feel that?’ He flattens my palms on his chest and holds them there firmly. ‘It was made to love you, Ava. For too long it was useless, redundant, not required. Now it’s gone into overdrive. It swells with happiness when I look at you. It splinters with pain when we fight. And it beats wildly when I make love to you. Maybe I go overboard with my love, but that’s never going to change. I’ll love you this fiercely until the day I die, baby. Children or not.’
I’m crippled more than ever before. It really isn’t possible for me to love this man more. ‘I never want to be without your fierce love.’
He reaches up and slides his hand around the base of my neck, pulling me down so our foreheads meet. ‘You won’t be. I’ll never stop loving you hard. It’ll only get harder because every day that passes we create more memories. Memories I’ll treasure, not memories I want to forget. My mind is being filled with beautiful images of us, and they are replacing a history that lingers. They’re chasing away my past, Ava. I need them. I need you.’
‘You have me.’ I breathe, shifting my hands up to his shoulders.
‘Don’t ever leave me again.’ He kisses me gently. ‘It hurt so badly.’
I sit up on his lap and pull him up with me, wrapping my arms so tightly around him and pushing my mouth to his ear. ‘I’m crazy in love with you.’ I whisper. ‘Fiercely, too. That’s never going to stop, not ever.’ I kiss his ear. ‘End of.’
His head turns into me, catching my lips. ‘Good. My heart is swelling.’
I smile a little as he reinforces his happiness with his kiss, drifting back down in the tub until I’m sprawled across his chest. We just kiss, for a long, long time. It’s gentle and sweet, but it’s what we both need right now. Pure, unapologetic, powerful love. It’s potent. It overpowers us both.
He pulls back and encases my face with his hands. ‘Let me bathe you.’
‘But I’m comfy.’ I just want to lie on his chest and stay until the water cools and I’m forced to vacate the giant tub.
‘We can be comfy in bed and you can fall asleep in my arms where you’re supposed to be.’
I frown. ‘It’s not even mid-afte…’ I halt. ‘I’ve not gone back to work!’ I start to scramble off him to call Patrick, but I’m swiftly restrained and pulled back down to his chest.
‘I took care of it. Unravel your knickers, lady’
‘When I brought you home.’ He turns me around in his lap and retrieves the sponge from the water.
‘What did you tell him?’
‘That you’re ill.’
‘He’ll be sacking me soon.’ I sigh and lean forward, dropping my heavy head between my propped up knees and letting Jesse soak me all over with lazy rubs and squeezes of the sponge. The silence is comfortable, my mind serene. I close my eyes and absorb the love that’s flowing into me from our contact through the sponge. That’s how powerful it is. It can battle through any obstacle that’s placed between us, be it an inanimate object, such as a simple sponge, or a living, breathing person, such as a Coral or a Sarah… or a Mikael. Nothing can or ever will tear us apart… only us.
When he’s looked after me for a while, he wraps me in a towel and sits me on the vanity unit. ‘Stay there.’ he orders gently before dropping a chaste kiss on my lips and leaving me with a furrowed brow.
‘Where are you going?’ I call after him.
I hear him rummaging and the crumpling of a paper bag, and he’s soon standing in front of me again, holding it up with slightly raised brows. ‘What’s that?’ I ask, pulling my towel in a little more.
He takes a deep breath and opens it up, thrusting it towards me so I can take a peek. I throw him inquisitive eyes and lean forward to look in the bag. As soon as I register the contents, I bolt upright on a shocked gasp. ‘You don’t believe me?’ I’m hurt and it’s obvious.
He rolls his eyes and reaches in, pulling out a pregnancy test. ‘Of course I do.’
‘Then why do you have a paper bag with…’ I grab it and tip it upside down, emptying the little boxes into the sink next to me. I start picking them up and chucking them on the counter. ‘One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Why do you have eight pregnancy tests?’ I turn my eyes back to my mad-cap husband and wave one of the boxes under his nose.
He shrugs sheepishly and bats the box away. ‘There are two in a box.’
‘Sixteen?’ I blurt.
He starts opening one of the boxes. ‘Sometimes they don’t work properly. They’re just back-ups.’ He slides a stick out and takes it to his mouth, ripping off the plastic packaging before he thrusts it at me. ‘You have to pee on this bit here, look.’
I watch him pull the cap off the end and point to the only non-plastic part of the stick. ‘I did one at the Doctor’s, Jesse. I know how they work. Why won’t you take my word for it?’
His lip slides straight between his teeth and starts to receive a nervous chew. ‘I do take your word for it, but I need to see it for myself.’
I feel a little offended, although I have no right to be. I’ve already mislead him and played with that crazy mind. I can’t blame him for wanting official confirmation. ‘How long have you had these?’
He pouts and shrugs guiltily, dropping his eyes. He doesn’t need to say. I put my hand out and his eyes lift. They are sparkling again.
‘Give,’ I nod at the stick and watch as his lip slips through his bite, and he smiles. He really really smiles. I think this smile even tops his one reserved only for me. I quickly bat away the silly pang of jealousy that stabs at me because of it. I’m being ridiculous. I jump down from the unit. ‘Some privacy please.’
He recoils, a look of disbelief on his face. ‘I’m staying.’ he says incredulously.
‘I’m not peeing on a stick in front of you!’ I shake my head. ‘No way, Ward.’
He sits down on the floor in front of me, his towel gaping open and revealing… everything. ‘Move me.’ He’s fighting a smug grin from his lush lips.
‘I’ll use another bathroom.’ I retort haughtily as I sidestep him to exit the bathroom.