‘You’ve got more chance of having tea with the Queen,’ I snarl. My fury is building by the second, and I absolutely cannot control it. ‘What do you want?’ I feel Jesse’s hand rest lightly on the small of my shirt covered back. It’s a silent demand to calm myself down. It’ll never work. The more I look at this impudent hussy, the angrier I’m getting, if that’s possible. I feel like a pressure cooker, set to explode. ‘I asked you a question.’
‘Ava,’ Jesse’s calming voice just infuriates me further. ‘Calm yourself down, baby.’ His palm slides around to my front to hold my tummy. He’s worried about my blood pressure, the anxious fool. My blood pressure should be the least of his worries. Blood spilt, that’s what he should be concerned about.
‘I’m calm,’ I’m clearly not. ‘I won’t ask you again.’ I push Jesse’s hand away from my stomach, but he doesn’t let me get away with it. He pulls me back so I’m slightly behind him, and then holds his arm out to the side in silent warning. It won’t work, but he starts speaking before I can wrestle his arm out of my way.
‘Coral, I’ve told you before. It’s never going to happen.’ His tone is tinged with anger, but after my little performance, I can’t be sure if it’s for my benefit or Coral’s. ‘You need to fuck off and find someone else to stalk.’
I’m mentally cheering him on, even though I’m sure that I’m in for it when she concedes and clears off. I must look ridiculous in Jesse’s shirt, my hair a wild mass of chocolate waves, yesterday’s make-up on and being held back by my virtually naked husband.
Coral’s eyes cross from Jesse’s to mine a few times before she settles her smug stare on my God again. I don’t like that look. It’s bold, and I’m sure her next words will be, too. She’s going nowhere until she’s said what she came to say, and I’m annoyingly curious of what that is exactly. ‘Have it your way.’ She shrugs nonchalantly and holds a piece of paper out to Jesse.
‘What the fuck is that?’ he barks intolerantly.
‘Take a look for yourself.’ She flaps the paper, encouraging Jesse to take it. I can’t help it; my neck is craning to try and see for myself, but his arm pushes me back again.
He snatches it, and I watch as his head drops to look, then I look at Coral, who is performing the best sly smirk I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. What’s her game? My eyes are on Jesse’s back, which is stiff as a board, his muscles protruding, indicating his tension.
I want to know what he’s holding, and I want to know what has put that slap worthy sneer on Coral’s face, but at the same time, I really don’t. ‘What is it?’ The question I don’t want to ask just slips right out. But he doesn’t answer.
Coral does, though. ‘That is a scan picture of his baby.’
I know I stagger back, and I know he has turned to steady me, but everything is a blur. ‘Fucking hell.’ His worried voice is nothing but a drowned out rush of noise, and I know it’s because all of the blood is draining from my head. I feel dizzy. ‘Shit, Ava.’ My feet disappear from under me, but I don’t hit the floor. I’ve not passed out. I’ve been scooped up, and in a split second, I’m sitting on the couch with my head being pushed between my legs. ‘Breathe, baby. Just breathe.’ His palm is on my head, rubbing soothing, fast, anxious circles. ‘What the fuck are you playing at?’ he yells away from me. ‘You stupid fucking woman! I’ve not slept with you for months!’
‘Four months, and I’m four months gone.’ She answers quickly and proudly. ‘Do the math.’
I know that cunning face will be there, but I can’t look at her because I’ll want to dive right on her. I need to get my breathing under control because the rush is still whirring and the black is starting to set in. I’ll fall flat on my face if I stand.
‘You can’t be. Jesse snaps anxiously, sounding far too unsure. ‘Fuck!’
This is it. That baby will be born before either of mine and knowing Jesse’s desperation for a child, he’ll take the first one he can lay his hands on. He’ll leave me. I’ll be alone with two screaming babies and no help. My babies with me father-less. Who’s going to rub my feet when they’re swollen? Who’s going to love me in lace when I’m covered in stretch marks? Who’s going to make me eat when I’m not hungry and feed me folic acid and lick peanut butter from my breasts and paint my toenails when I can’t reach them? I start to choke on panic, but then my eyes fall onto the little piece of paper that Jesse has dropped to the floor in favour of tending to me. He didn’t look at that picture like he did of our babies’ picture. He didn’t drop to his knees or grab Coral to hug her. What it wrong with me? I feel like a mixed bag of over exaggerated emotions. I’m everywhere. I stoop and pick up the black and white scan picture. I’m being watched, by both of them, but I take my time, firstly noting Coral’s name. This is definitely hers. But what isn’t on this scan picture is a date. Neither is there an estimated gestation. I study the picture more closely.
‘Ava, what are you doing?’ Jesse asks, trying to get me in his field of vision, but I ignore him.
‘Yes, what are you doing?’ Coral hisses.
I point at the picture. ‘I’m just trying to figure out whether you’re four or five weeks pregnant.’ I muse, keeping my eyes on the picture. ‘I’m guessing just four.’
‘I’m four months. Not weeks.’
‘No you’re not.’ I look up at Jesse. He’s holding his breath. ‘When was the last time you slept with her?’
‘Four, five months.’ He shakes his head, his frown line doing a worried dance across his forehead. ‘Ava, I can’t think that far back. I didn’t exist before you.’ His hands rest on the tops of my thighs and squeeze. ‘I always used a condom, you know that.’
‘I know.’ I agree, but there is one other possibility and it kills me to ask, especially in front of this interloper. I clench my eyes shut. ‘Was she one of the…’ I swallow around my words. ‘Did you…’
He stops me from my struggling. ‘No,’ He says the word softly and secures the nape of my neck in his palm. ‘Look at me.’ he demands, just as softly, and I do. I lock eyes with him and he shakes his head, only very faintly. ‘No.’ he repeats.
I nod on a quiet exhale and offer a small smile of trust. There is no need for a confession because he has nothing to confess. Our quiet exchange of understanding almost makes me forget that Coral is standing nearby.
‘You’re going to stay with him when he’s having a baby with another woman?’ she asks on a laugh. ‘Where’s your self-respect?’
‘I’m going to trample now.’ I tell him quietly, looking for his permission this time.
He smiles and drops an accepting kiss on my cheek. ‘Knock yourself out, baby. But please, let’s just make this one a verbal trample.’ He nods at my tummy, and then turns a contemptuous look onto the brazen slut, but he doesn’t say anything. He’s leaving this one to me.
‘What are you two talking about?’ Her smugness is disintegrating by the second. She has no idea what to make of this.
I join Jesse in his standing position and look up to him. ‘Get me your picture.’
My question pulls his condemning eyes from Coral, down to me. He’s looks at me all gone out. ‘What picture?’
I roll my eyes. ‘The one that you carry everywhere. I’m not stupid. Where is it?’
‘In my suit jacket.’ he admits sheepishly.
‘Go and get it.’
‘No, I’m not leaving you with her.’ He doesn’t even grace her with a look this time.
‘Her?’ Coral blurts incredulously. ‘Is that the way you’re going to speak to the mother of your child?’
He swings around violently. ‘You are not the fucking mother of my child, you deluded freak!’ His anger is building again. I need to remedy this once and for all.
I leave them and head straight to Jesse’s office, finding his suit jacket where he discarded it last night. I root quickly through his pockets, finding a neatly folded wedge of notes and his phone before locating the picture from his inside pocket. It’s a little worn; no doubt from being transferred from pocket to pocket. I exit hastily armed with exhibit B and find the distance between Jesse and Coral has closed. Jesse is still in the same location, but Coral is moving forward.
‘We had something special, Jesse.’ She goes to touch him, but he yanks his arms away.
‘Special?’ he laughs. ‘I screwed you for a while. I fucked you and then kicked you out. How the fuck is that special?’
‘You came back for more. That has to mean something.’ Her tone is hopeful. She really is deluded. ‘You made me need you.’
Those words prickle at my skin. I want to interrupt, but I want to hear how he responds to that.
‘No, you made yourself need me. I barely even spoke to you when I was screwing you. You were a piece of meat that was handy to have on call.’ He moves in and leans down, making her pull back slightly. Jesse’s tone is full of venom, and intended to be. He’s doing a damn good job at trampling all over her himself. ‘You’re just like the rest of them, but even more desperate. Get a good seeing to and you think your life depends on it.’
I almost laugh. My life really does depend on it, even more now I’m a raging bag of pregnant hormones.
Jesse looks her up and down, and I get the glimpse of the conceited man who treated women like objects for so long - the man who drank, fucked and threw them out.
‘What the hell makes you think that I’d leave my wife for you?’
‘Because I’m having your baby.’ The smugness has fallen away completely now. She knows she’s losing the battle.
‘You’re lying.’ he retorts, but there is definitely an element of uncertainty in his tone.
‘She is lying.’ I interject, uncomfortable with seeing Jesse so close to her, even if he is snarling in her face, and I’m really not comfortable with him being so concerned by something he should have no concern for.
‘I’m not. You have the proof there.’ She points at the picture in my hand.
‘Yes, I do.’ I turn it around and push it in her face. ‘This is a six week scan picture.’
She frowns ‘No, it’s a four month scan picture.’
‘This isn’t your baby, Coral.’
‘Whose is it then?’ she asks slowly. She’s beginning to catch my drift.
‘This is my baby.’ I look at the tatty piece of paper fondly. ‘And Jesse’s.’
‘Well, I say baby. What I actually meant was babies. You see, we’re having twins, and I know you’re trying to pull a fast one because this really is a six week scan picture. And there are two peanuts here, smaller than your one blob, I know, but I can get a feel for it. I don’t know. Maybe it’s motherly instinct.’ I shrug. ‘Is that all?’
Her mouth is slightly agape and whilst I’m still reeling on the inside, I am beyond proud of myself for maintaining my composure. Jesse is right. I can’t go rolling around on the floor, as much as I’d love to rip her hair out.
‘Unless you can miraculously produce this missing strip that’ll confirm your dates, I think we’re done?’ I give her an expectant look, but she’s saying nothing. I throw her picture into the space between us. ‘Now fuck off and go find the real father of your spawn.’ I don’t remove my eyes from her and I won’t until that door is shut and she is firmly behind it. ‘Are you leaving, or do I have to drag you out?’ I ask, stepping forward.