‘Don’t lie to me, Ward. I look like shit.’
‘Ava,’ he scorns me gently. I don’t apologise, mainly because I can barely muster up the energy to speak. ‘You need to eat.’
I retch at the very thought of trying to get food into my stomach and shake my head pleadingly. I know that I’m fighting a losing battle. He won’t leave me alone until I’ve had some breakfast.
I hear the front door open and close, and then the chirpy sounds of Cathy singing. All I have on is Jesse’s shirt, but I can’t even find the strength to be concerned by that, so I remain exactly where I am, unconcerned, unbothered and very unwell.
‘Morning!’ she sings at us as she places her huge carpet bag on the worktop. ‘Oh dear. Whatever is the matter?’
Jesse answers for me, which is a good job because I’m incapable of speech. ‘Ava’s not feeling too good.’
I scoff at his understatement and direct my forehead straight to his chest. I feel positively dull—dead, even.
‘Oh, the dreaded morning sickness? It’ll pass.’ Cathy declares, like I don’t look like I’m ready to keel over. She knows, too, then.
‘Will it?’ I garble into Jesse’s chest. ‘When?’ I feel his hand stroking my back and his mouth in my hair, kissing me dotingly, but he remains silent. It’s a good indication that he would love to know the answer, too.
‘It depends. Boy, girl, mum, dad.’ she says, and I hear her flick the kettle on. ‘Some women have a few weeks of it, some struggle throughout the whole of their pregnancy.’
‘Oh God.’ I howl. ‘Don’t say that.’
‘Shhh,’ Jesse hushes me and increases the rubs of my back. I’m not even being a baby. It really is that bad.
That one random word drags my splattered face from Jesse’s wet torso. ‘What?’
‘Ginger!’ she repeats, rootling through her bag. I look at Jesse, but he looks as equally confused. ‘You need ginger, dear.’ She pulls out a pack of ginger biscuits. ‘I came prepared.’ She pushes Jesse from in front of me and opens the packet, presenting me with a biscuit. ‘Have one every morning when you wake up. Works wonders! Eat.’
I wisely note that with Jesse hovering in the background and with Cathy behaving all motherly, there’s little point in refusing, so I take the biscuit and have a little nibble.
‘It’ll settle your stomach.’ She gives me one of her warm smiles and cups my cheek with her hand. ‘I’m so excited.’
I can’t match her enthusiasm, not when I’m feeling like this, so I smile weakly and let Jesse place me gently on a barstool.
‘The new boy gave me these,’ She hands Jesse a pile of post. ‘Cute little bugger, isn’t he?’
That makes me laugh, especially when Jesse lets out a disgusted snort and snatches the envelopes from her wrinkles fingers. ‘He’s very sweet.’ I confirm, suddenly finding the energy to form a whole sentence. ‘But won’t you miss Clive, Cathy?’
‘Oh, not at all,’ She gets the bagels out and holds them up, Jesse and I both nodding our acceptance. ‘He’s taking me out this evening.’
I nudge Jesse with my elbow as I nibble away at the edges of my biscuit, but I’m ignored. Instead of indulging my curious mind, he starts opening his post. ‘That’ll be nice.’ I chirp.
‘It will.’ she agrees, loading the toaster and fetching the eggs.
I’m happily chatting away to Cathy, eating my breakfast, listening to where Clive is taking her and filling her in on my recent bouts of sickness, when it strikes me that Jesse has been silent for an eternity. He also hasn’t moved. And his bagel is sitting untouched in front of him. I push his plate towards him. ‘Eat your breakfast.’
He doesn’t move, nor does he acknowledge me.
‘Jesse?’ He looks like he’s in a trance. ‘Jesse, are you okay?’
He flips an envelope over and runs his eyes across it. So do I.
Private and Confidential
‘What is that?’ I ask.
He turns his eyes to mine. They are glazed and wary. I don’t like it. ‘Go upstairs.’
I frown. ‘Why?’
‘Don’t make me ask you again, Ava.’
I withdraw and try to assess him, but the only thing that I can determine is he’s not happy with me. Despite that, though, I know I need to get my arse upstairs before he asks me again. This is one of those times when I know not to argue. He’s starting to shake and though I have no idea what about, I’m certain it’s not for Cathy’s ears. I drop myself from the stool and excuse myself, leaving the kitchen and walking quietly up the stairs to the master suite, all of the time wondering what on earth is wrong with him. I don’t get long to ponder it. It strides into the room, still holding the paper and envelope.
He’s bubbling with anger. I can see it in the slight shaking of his hands and in the flash of black in his eyes. He pins me in place with an incensed stare. ‘What the fuck is this?’
My eyes fall naturally to the paper that he’s holding up, but I have no idea what it is. ‘What is it?’ I ask nervously.
He chucks the papers into the space between us. ‘You were going to kill our baby?’ He says it so calmly.
The ground falls away from under me, and I feel like I’m free-falling into a black hole of nothing. I can’t face him. My eyes are burning up with hot tears as they trace every square inch of the bedroom floor at his feet. My brain has failed me, but even if it did give some inspiration and load my mouth with the right words, I would be lying and he would know.
‘Answer me!’ he roars, and I jump, but I still can’t bring myself to face him. I’m completely ashamed of myself, and having spent the last few days with Jesse and seeing how truly blissful he is, how caring and attentive he’s being, the guilt couldn’t get any worse. I thought about terminating this pregnancy. I thought about ridding my body of this baby. His baby. Our baby. I’m inexcusable. ‘Ava, for fuck sake!’ Before I can even think to try and form any words, he’s grasping the tops of my arms and bending to get his face in my line of sight. But I still evade his greens, not being able to bare facing what I know will be there. Contempt… disgust… disbelief. ‘Damn it, look at me.’
I shake my head faintly, like the pathetic coward I am. He deserves an explanation, but I don’t know where to begin. My mind has completely shut down, like I’m protecting myself from the inevitable that will be Jesse flying off the handle. He’s pretty much there already.
My jaw is grasped harshly and pulled up so I’m forced to acknowledge him. My eyes are glassy with red-hot tears, but I can see with one hundred per cent clarity the hurt on his face. ‘I’m sorry.’ I sob. It’s the only thing I can think to say. It’s the only thing I should say. I am sorry for having such horrid thoughts.
His face crumbles before me, enflaming the guilt further. ‘You’ve broken my fucking heart, Ava.’ He drops me and stalks into the wardrobe, leaving me a pathetic form of shaking body parts. Sickness has moved aside and made way for crippling shame. I suddenly feel disgusted with myself, so I have a very good idea of what Jesse thinks of me.
He appears again with a handful of clothes, but he doesn’t stuff them in a bag or go to the bathroom to get anything else. He just walks out, still only wearing his running shorts. My throat has closed off on me, so I can’t even scream for him to stay. I’m paralysed on the spot, nothing working, except my eyes, which are releasing a relentless flow of tears. Then I hear the front door slam, and I find myself in a heap on the floor, silently sobbing to myself.
‘Ava, dear?’ Cathy’s soft, warm voice is only just detectable through my heaving. ‘Ava, my goodness, whatever is the matter?’ It must be glaringly obvious that I’m not suffering with morning sickness, and she must have heard Jesse bellowing at me.
I feel her squidgy body against me, and I instinctively turn into her apron coated body, wrapping my arms around her back.
‘Oh dear, oh no.’ She starts rocking me gently, shushing me and whispering quiet words in my ears. ‘Oh Ava, come on, dear. Tell me what’s happened.’
I try to form some words, but it just results in me crying even harder. My compulsion to spill my guilt, to share my remorse, is just emphasising how incredibly selfishly I was thinking.
‘Come on. Let me make you a cup of tea.’ Cathy soothes, hauling her round body up from the bedroom floor before tugging on my arm, encouraging me to stand. I just about manage it, and then I’m cradled under her arm and guided down to the kitchen.
She hands me a hanky from the front of her apron, then sets about making a pot of tea. I watch her in silence, except for the odd judder of breath that escapes as I try to gain control of my shaky body and erratic breathing. I’m trying my very hardest, but it’s inevitable for me to think about all of the other times I’ve sent him crazy mad, except this time he really looked unhinged. This time I’ve really sent him over the edge.
Cathy sets a pot of tea down on the island and pours two cups, putting a few sugars in mine, even though she didn’t ask and neither did I. ‘You need the energy.’ she says as she stirs, then picks it up and places it between both of my palms. ‘Drink up, dear. There’s nothing tea can’t cure.’ She takes her own, blows across the top, and a wave of steam streams through mid-air and disintegrates in front of me. I stare at it until it’s gone, and I’m left gazing blankly at nothing. ‘Now, tell me what’s got my boy in such a pickle and you in this state?’
‘I was thinking about having an abortion.’ I say to thin air. I don’t want to see the look of horror that will have undoubtedly jumped onto the face of Jesse’s sweet, innocent, wholesome housekeeper.
Her silence and the mug of tea that I can see in my peripheral vision, hovering at her lips, only confirms my thoughts. She’s shocked, and having heard the words aloud, so am I. And embarrassed. ‘Oh,’ she says simply. What else can she say?
I know what I should be saying. I should be explaining myself and the reasons, but not only do I feel like I’ve let Jesse down and trampled all over his happiness, I feel protective of him. I don’t want Cathy to judge him if I tell her how I ended up pregnant, which is ludicrous. It’s the only reason I considered a termination, and the fact that I didn’t think I was ready, but the last few days have proved me wrong. Jesse has unearthed a deep feeling of hope, happiness, and love for this baby growing inside of me. A piece of me and a piece of him mixed together to form a life. Our baby. Now the thought of ridding it from my body is absolutely abhorrent. I’m disgusted with myself.
I turn towards Cathy. ‘I would never have seen it through. I soon realised I was being stupid. I was just so shocked. I don’t know how he’s found out.’ Now I’ve calmed slightly, I’m wondering how he does actually know.
That paper. The envelope.
‘Ava, he’s obviously shocked. Give him time to come round. You’re still pregnant and that’s all that matters. He’ll see soon enough.’
I smile, but Cathy’s words haven’t made me feel any better. She doesn’t know what happened the last time he walked out on me. ‘Thank you for the tea, Cathy.’ I say, getting down from the stool. ‘I’d better get ready for work.’
Her wrinkled brow furrows, and she looks at my mug. ‘But you’ve hardly touched it.’
‘Oh,’ I quickly scoop it up and take a few hot sips, probably burning the roof of my mouth in the process, but there’s a piece of paper lying on the floor of the master suite, and it’s screaming for me to read it. I give Cathy a quick peck in the cheek, and she rubs my arm affectionately before I escape the kitchen.