Carmen opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. The tiles were different. Half awake, she slowly glanced around the room. This wasn't their bedroom. It was a hospital room. Why was she here? Alex was dozing in a recliner. He looked terrible. He needed a shave and his clothes were stained with something. Blood? What was he doing in the chair? He should be in bed if he was hurt. She tried to sit up, but her body wouldn't move. Something was under her nose. Oh yes, she had pneumonia. No, that was a long time ago. Alex would know. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
Alex rolled his head to the side and opened his eyes. He was looking straight at her. He jumped out of the chair and came to the side of her bed.
"You're awake, sweetheart. How are you feeling?"
She tried her voice again, and this time something weak and strangled came out.
He brushed her forehead with a trembling hand. "You had a little accident. You're going to be all right."
"Accident?" She frowned. She didn't remember any accident. "In the car?"
"It doesn't matter, honey." He squeezed her hand. "You're still under the anesthetic. Just try to rest. I'll be right here beside you."
She closed her eyes. The lids felt like they were four inches thick and her tongue felt swollen. It must have been a bad accident.
When she opened her eyes again, the room was dark. She turned her head to look at the chair, but Alex wasn't there. He said he would be there. Her mouth felt dry. She needed a drink. Beside her hand was a button, and she pushed it.
In a few minutes, a nurse came in and flipped a switch on the wall. "Well, you're awake again. You're husband went home to clean up. He'll be back in a little while. Can I get you something? Do you need something for pain?"
"No, I need a drink."
The nurse nodded and poured some water into a cup. Bending the straw, she held the cup to Carmen's lips while she drank. It tasted good.
"Thanks. How bad am I hurt?"
The nurse stared at her. "How bad?"
"Alex said I had an accident."
"You don't remember?" The nurse became pensive.
"I don't remember having an accident. I was putting something in the car..." Little snatches of memories prickled her mind. Gradually they all came together.
"I remember now. I was bleeding." She tried to sit up. "The baby...did I lose it?"
"Now, take it easy," the nurse said, gently pushing Carmen back on the pillows. "The doctor will be in to talk to you in a little while."
Suddenly Alex was beside her. "I'll take care of her."
The nurse left the room and Carmen stared up at him.
"I lost the baby, didn't I?"
His hand closed over hers. It was cold and clammy and it trembled slightly.
"I'm sorry. They did everything they could." His voice broke. "It's my fault. I shouldn't have left you alone. You were right. I had no reason to distrust you."
It was little consolation now. She stared up at him, dry-eyed. He believed her now that the baby was gone. She should feel something for the baby, something for Alex as he gazed down at her with tears coursing down his cheeks. But there was nothing - only a feeling of numbness. Was it the anesthesia? Why did she need anesthesia? Her stomach hurt and she felt nauseous.
He glanced around and grabbed a small tray. "Here. I'll see if they can get you something." He wiped the tears from his face with his shirtsleeve as he pressed the button.
This wasn't the Alex she married. Where was the calm and collected man who always knew what to do? Where was he when the pain started, and why couldn't he do anything to save the baby? After all, a veterinarian was a doctor.
The doctor walked into the room and Alex looked relieved. "She's feeling sick to her stomach."
The doctor nodded and stepped into the hallway for a moment. When he returned, Alex moved over to the window with his back to her. She shifted her attention to the doctor.
"I lost the baby." Her voice sounded emotionless.
He nodded. "I'm sorry. You were hemorrhaging pretty badly and evidently it had gone on for a long time before your husband found you. As it was, we nearly lost you." He hesitated, as if there were more. What more could there be?
"It wasn't your fault." She watched him expectantly.
Apparently her calm acceptance encouraged him to continue. "We had to remove the uterus - but you still have your ovaries."
She stared at him. "My uterus? You removed it? Who gave you permission?" She glanced at Alex.
He kept his back to her, his arms across his chest and his face in one hand. How could he do such a thing? His shoulders were shaking. He was crying again. She should be the one crying. He wasn't going to be much help, falling apart like this.
The doctor's voice droned on. "We didn't have a choice. If it hadn't been for your husband, you wouldn't have lived until the ambulance arrived. You were unconscious and it was an emergency. It wasn't a choice you're husband made easily. As I told him, either way, you wouldn't have been able to have any more children."
She returned her gaze back to the doctor.
"Maybe. According to you doctors, I shouldn't have even been pregnant in the first place."
The doctor turned red at her acidic tone and glanced at his chart.
"Medicine isn't an exact science."
She glanced back at Alex. "I want a DNA test on the baby."
Alex swung around, his eyes red rimmed. "That isn't necessary," he croaked.
She stared at him coldly. "I want the test."
Alex glanced at the doctor and then nodded.
"Give her what she wants. It's the least we can do."
The doctor shrugged. "We'll take care of that. Now, how are you feeling?"
She turned her head back and glared at the doctor.
"I'm sick and I hurt. What do you expect?"
He wrote something on her chart. "It might be a good idea to get some counseling."
"I don't need counseling from the people who caused this nightmare. You people have lost your credence with me. I just want to go home."
He nodded again and glanced at Alex. "She needs to stay for a few more days at least, but if she is doing well, we can release her Friday – as long as you have someone to take care of her.”
"I'll be there," Alex responded instantly. "For as long as she needs me."
A nurse walked in with a needle and after that she fell asleep again.
The next day the nurse got her up to walk. She was weak and the pain was excruciating, but she was determined to go home. Friday Alex brought her home. It was a cool day for the end of June, and when he opened the car door, it sent a chill up her back. When he reached in to lift her out, she pushed his hands away.
"I can do it myself."
He hovered over her all the way to the door and then opened it for her. Her stomach hurt and she felt weak, but she wasn't about to let him carry her around like an invalid. The more she did for herself, the faster she would heal. What lay beyond that, she didn't want to think about - not right now.
Every few days a nurse came out to see her, but other than that, Alex took care of her for the next two weeks. He did the cooking and cleaning until she felt better. Then she insisted on doing it by herself. It took a while, but she finally convinced him she would be fine staying alone. Even after he went to work, he called her several times a day to see if she needed anything.
Weeks slipped by and her body gradually healed. The warm month of June melted into the scalding month of July. She resumed the chores, in spite of Alex's protests. Those chores kept the dark side from moving in. Everybody said she needed counseling, but what she really needed was time...and to be left alone. Even Mums couldn’t bring a smile to her lips.
The magic was gone from their marriage. All her feelings for Alex had departed with the baby. But those were things she pushed to the back of her mind. Princess had her new foal, the buffalo had her calves, and even the Longhorns had a baby. Everybody had a baby - even Lori was expecting now - Lori, who didn’t want a baby. But there were lots of chores, so she didn't have much time to think about it.
July passed into August without any defining moments. One day she was walking back to the house from the chicken coup when Katie drove into the yard. The twins came barreling up to her, nearly knocking her down. When had they started running so well?
She smiled down at them. "You boys are growing like weeds."
Katie frowned. "Tim, Jim, don't be so rough. Aunt Carmen isn't feeling well."
Carmen reached down and lifted Tim into her arms. "I'm fine now."
Katie eyed her skeptically. "Physically, maybe."
Carmen gave her a warning look. "Don't go there."
Katie shrugged. "All right. Let's talk about Alex."
Carmen reached down to Jim. "What do you have in your hand, there?"
He lifted a large piece of gravel to show her. “It wock.”
"Alex looks terrible," Katie persisted.
Carmen enthused over the rock. "My goodness. It sure is a big one. Where did you get it?"
Jim pointed at the ground. “In woad.”
"He won't talk about it," Katie continued, "but I know something is wrong. He loves children and he's really taking the loss of the baby hard."
"Did you want me to watch the boys for you?" Carmen asked, without looking at Katie.
Katie's tone was exasperated. "I used to be able to talk to you, but you've changed. You're cold as ice. Is that what's wrong with Alex? Are you blaming him for what happened? He's only human, you know. He did all he could." She paused, but when Carmen didn't reply, she continued. "You think he let you down, don't you? You wanted a man who would wear the pants - so if anything went wrong the blame would be on him, not you. It isn't fair, Carmen. You're having a pity party at his expense."
Carmen glanced up. "You don't know anything about it, Katie." Alex hadn't been wearing the pants lately. In fact, he seemed lost in a sea of uncertainty.
"All right. Have it your way. I won't say anything more about it, but you'd better think about one thing. He's a good looking man with money, and there are a lot of women out there who would jump at the chance to take him away from you."
Carmen lowered Jim to the ground and took both boys by the hand. "Do you want to see the buffalo? Uncle Alex has them penned up by the house right now."
What made Katie think she was blaming Alex for the loss of the baby? It wasn't Alex who was to blame. He had warned her not to lift anything - ordered her not to, in fact. She alone was responsible for the miscarriage. Sure, she had blamed him for taking away the opportunity to have another - at first. She had even been guilty of rubbing the DNA test in his face - solid proof that the baby girl was his. But for the last month she had said nothing. She wasn't angry with him. She didn't feel anything at all. He was simply there. She fixed his meals, took care of the house and chores. They weren't fighting. They weren't doing anything. They slept together - literally, and he never offered to do anything else. It was just as well, because she was no longer interested.
Jim pointed at the old Oak tree. "Fwowers", he exclaimed. Carmen gently tugged on his hand.
"Let's go see the buffalo." For some reason, the flowers under that tree made her feel uneasy. Maybe it was because Alex seemed to have more affection for them than he did anything else lately. It was an irrational thing, and pointless to allow her mind to linger on the reason for his preoccupation.
Katie gave her a strange look and shook her head. "Alex pampers you because he feels sorry for you. He needs to lay down the law. You're not the first person to...." her voice trailed off as Carmen frowned at her. She shrugged. "I know. It's none of my business."
It was a wicked thing to say. Why would Alex feel sorry for her? The idea invoked the first true emotion she had felt since.... It didn't matter. She pushed away the faceless fear. Alex wasn't going to say or do anything. He barely knew she lived in the same house.
"Come on Tim," Carmen said, lifting him. "I'll carry you down to see the buffalo."
"Buflo?" he mimicked, and laughed.
Jim grabbed her hand, walking beside her. “Me walk. Me big boy.”
Katie didn't stay long and she took the boys with her when she left. She probably only wanted to voice her concerns over Alex. Yet her words lingered long after she left. Did Alex feel sorry for her? Was she taking him for granted? A strange feeling swept over her. It was as if Alex had been gone for a long time. When was the last time they had an actual conversation? She went to the window seat and stared past the old tree at the Farmstead, but it no longer beckoned. She hadn't given it much thought until now, but Katie was right. Something was wrong. She no longer felt anything - for anything. She was stumbling through life in a fog. The idea of seeing a counselor was the only thing that stirred any emotion at all...unreasonable fear. But why? Wasn't there something she was supposed to remember? Something she was supposed to do?
When Alex arrived, she had supper on the table. He was always punctual. He held the chair for her and then took a seat at the table. Routine. She had the strange feeling that she had been watching life for the last month, not participating in it. As if she had been in a dream and was now waking up to reality.
"Katie came by today," she told him as she dished up some mashed potatoes.
"Did she?" he responded conversationally.
"I took the boys down to see the buffalo."
"Did you?" He dumped a spoon full of green beans in his plate.Was he even listening? Katie was right. He didn't look well. He had lost weight and his skin had a sallow look. When did that happen? She passed him the roast.
"Alex, do you think I take you for granted?"
He nearly dropped the plate of roast beef. Slowly he shook his head, eyeing her intently. "Did Katie tell you that?"
"No. It just occurred to me today." She twisted her fork in her mashed potatoes. "I had the strangest feeling today."
He was still watching her intently, his meal forgotten. "What was that?"
She stared at her plate. How could she describe it without sounding like she had lost her mind? She gnawed at her lower lip.
"I don't know. It was like...." She glanced up at him. "Like you've been gone for a while." She made a face. "Silly, isn't it?"
He slowly picked up his fork, never taking his eyes off of her. "No."
She had forgotten how delicious those chocolate eyes could be. How warm and gentle. Katie's warning suddenly came to mind. Did he look at other women that way? She took a drink of her tea and carefully set the glass back on the table.
"Well...I don't want to take you for granted, anyway."
He said nothing more, but several times during the meal she caught him watching her in a strange way. He probably thought she had gone over the edge. She shouldn't have said anything. Now he would be after her to get help.