The Darkest Hour
Linda Louise Rigsbee
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    Josh and Lori somehow managed to keep their marriage together, but Carmen was having less luck with her problem. With each day, the fear was growing. When she finally found the courage to talk to Alex about the chair, she was surprised to find him unyielding in his decision to keep the chair. In fact, he seemed disappointed that she had asked.
    In spite of her resolve to purge the fear from the living room, it increased until it threatened to take over the entire house. It was as if everything was coming to a head, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. Jonathan was supposed to go back to his foster family next week. Alex had a birthday coming up Friday...his thirty-third.
    They were both going to miss Jonathan, but especially Alex. The two of them played soccer almost every night. They invited Carmen to join, but it was obvious that their skills were far better and she would only hold them back. Father and son couldn't have been closer than Alex and Jonathan.
It was Jonathan who finally named the foal. He dubbed it "Dawn" because the foal had everyone up at dawn with her frolicking in the barn. For Carmen, the name seemed perfect, as the new foal came at the beginning of a new life for her.
    It came as no surprise when Alex approached her about adopting Jonathan. They were feeding the horses and Jonathan was out exercising Dawn. Alex glanced around the barn door to make sure they wouldn't be overheard and then turned to Carmen.
    "Jonathan has to go back day after tomorrow."
    "I know." She knew what he was going to say.
    "We could adopt him. Then he wouldn’t have to stay there."
    "I know." She took the currycomb from the wall and began grooming Princess.
    "How do you feel about that - adopting him?"
    They couldn't. Not while the situation with the chair was unresolved. But he would be upset again if she said anything about the chair. Anyway, there was the matter of being able to keep Jonathan. They would have to be approved, and nobody was going to release a child to someone as messed up as she was right now.
    "What if they want to take him back?"
    "They won't," Alex responded in a confident tone.
    "But you don't know that. He's a sweet boy. Somebody is bound to object."
    "Nobody wants him but me, Carmen - and I had hoped, you. I guess I was wrong. Is it because he isn't flesh and blood, or because he is less than perfect?"
    His voice held a note of disdain.
    She glanced up at him sharply. "You know neither is true. I told you before. I don't want to adopt only to have the child taken away."
    "But you already love him." Alex was watching her intently. "What more can you lose?"
    She swung on him. "You did this deliberately, didn't you? You knew I would love him. Well it isn't going to work. I don't want any part of it."
    He was taken aback momentarily, but he recovered swiftly.
    "I talked to them about how you felt. I made arrangements. No one is going to take him away."
    He was deluding himself. "You can't stop them, Alex. Not any more than you could stop our baby from being taken away."
    He winced visibly and his face paled.
    "No, Carmen. I couldn't stop that. I'm not God. I'm your husband - worthless as I may be."
    He turned and trudged across the corral, his shoulders were slumped and his walk lacked its usual spring. He stopped at the end of the corral and leaned on the fence, staring off toward the tree.
    How could she have said such a cruel thing? Of course, she hadn't meant it to be cruel. She was only trying to point out that nothing came with a guarantee. Now she had hurt him - badly. She stared after him, searching for something to retract the pain she had inflicted - some gesture.
As if feeling her intense gaze, he turned and met her gaze. For a full minute they exchanged emotions across the corral. She slowly lifted her hand and touched her fingers to her lips. Tipping her palm outward, she blew him a kiss.
    For a moment he continued to stare at her, and then a smile slowly worked its way across the tortured features. He took one step away from the fence. One step in her direction, and that was all she needed. She raced across the corral and threw herself into his open arms.
    "I'm sorry Alex. I didn't mean it that way. I didn't want to hurt you. It's just that I'm so...I'm such a coward. I want to adopt Jonathan, but I'm afraid of losing him. We've lost one child already and I don't think I could stand losing Jonathan as well."
    He frowned down at her. "Hello? Are you listening to what you're saying? You don't want to lose him, so you're going to send him away?"
    She met his puzzled gaze. "If he goes back now, I haven't betrayed him."
    Comprehension ironed out the wrinkles in his forehead. "I see. But don't you think you betray him by not giving him a chance? It's better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all," he quipped.
    His logic was sound, but there was still the situation with the chair. She snuggled close in his arms, where everything was secure.
    "I'm afraid. I'm terrified, and I don't know what to do."
    He was quiet and she lifted her face to search his eyes for strength, but all she found was compassion. He felt sorry for her.
    "You think I'm a regular clinging vine, don't you?"
    He hesitated. "It isn't like you, Carmen. What's got into you lately? You use to meet a challenge head on. We used to be a team. That's what marriage is about, you know. It's a partnership, not a dictatorship...a successful marriage, anyway."
    He was disappointed in her. He wasn't the only one. She wasn't feeling too good about herself right now, either. What was the matter? For some reason, she wanted him to make all the decisions - even the simple ones. Was Katie right? Was she merely looking for someone to blame if the decision was wrong? Or was it that she had more faith in Alex's judgment than her own? In his arms, nothing bad could reach her. He could whisk her away from the pain - take her to a place of ecstasy. Right now she wanted to go there - to get away from this fear.
    Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled his head down to hers. She whispered against his lips. "Make love to me, Alex."
    It was the only thing she seemed to be able to do right, lately. The one way she could be sure of pleasing him.
    He instantly responded, pulling her hard against him and kissing her hungrily. He lifted her into his arms and took a few steps before setting her down again. He untangled her arms from his neck and groaned.
    "I think I finally found a down side to having children."
    She drew back and met his amused gaze questioningly.
    He gripped her shoulders and stepped back. "You can't be as spontaneous. Who's going to watch Jonathan?"
    Warmth shot up her neck with a sharp pain. She hadn't even thought about it. Was there no end to her selfish actions? How could she use Alex that way? She had reduced him to nothing more than a fix for her troubles. If she didn't face that nagging fear, she was going to lose the two people she cared about most - Alex and Jonathan. She had to face that chair - tonight. Alex needed to give Social Services an answer tomorrow.

    After supper, Alex and Jonathan were sitting on the couch reading a book while she washed the dishes. She finished and wiped her hands on the towel. It was time. She walked into the living room and stared at the chair. It was the two of them now. She was going to sit in that chair and chase away that feeling - banish it from the house forever. Slowly she made her way across the room. Behind her, Alex's voice faltered and then stopped, but she didn't have time to look.
    With each step, the fear grew, until when she lowered herself into the chair, her heart was pounding in her ears. Stay calm. She leaned back in the chair, surrounded by a mixture of emotions. Gradually the fear began to abate. It was going to work. Why hadn't she done this before? She opened her eyes to find Alex watching her anxiously. Jonathan didn't know what to think, but he was picking up on Alex's concern.
    She smiled. “It's okay. I did it.”
    Alex was still watching her, as if he knew something she didn't. But he couldn't know that the fear was retreating further with each minute. She leaned over and picked up the knitting bag. She'd show that haunt a thing or two. She opened the bag and grabbed the needles, pulling them out with some yarn. The yarn tumbled onto her lap, a wadded up ball of....
    Her breath came out in a strangled cry as the tiny sweater fell open on her lap. Pain such as she had never known ripped through her body. She grasped the sweater to her lips with both hands and moaned.
    "My baby."
    In that moment she faced the agonizing truth. Her baby didn't go away. Nobody took it from her. It had died. Her baby was dead.
    Uncontrollable sobs wracked her body as she clung to the tiny sweater. Vaguely, she was aware when Alex lay the book aside and left Jonathan. She rocked in the chair, consumed by grief and breath-robbing sobs. Gone was the fear. Only grief and agonizing pain remained.
    Strong warm arms lifted her gently from the chair and she clung to Alex as he carried her to the window seat. There he sat, holding her in his arms as if she were a child. He stroked her hair while he rocked and crooned to her.
    "That's right, sweetheart. Cry. Get it out of your system."
    How could she cry more? Didn't he know how badly it hurt? Did the baby mean nothing to him? She leaned against his chest, staring out the window with bleary eyes. Through her tears the old Oak tree stood tall, the flowers at its base waving softly in the breeze. Something white glistened in the flowers. She mopped her eyes and squinted. There was something she was supposed to remember - something so terrible that she couldn't bring herself to think of it. Memory returned with a vengeance.
A headstone! A sob caught in her throat, escaping in a strangled cry.
    "Oh, Alex! NO!" She buried her face in his chest. "NO!" I couldn't have!
    He cradled her in silence, holding her close. She leaned her head back and searched his face through tear-filled eyes. How could I do such a terrible thing?"
    He stared at her, the dark eyes mirroring her agony. "Carmen," he groaned in a singular expression of comprehension and grief. "You didn't know what you were doing."
    She turned her face from him in shame. "I wouldn't go to her funeral." The words came out in a gasping sob. "I wouldn't say good-bye to my own baby! What kind of a mother...."
    "Stop it." Alex shook her. "You couldn't go. You were too sick."
    She sank to his chest, consumed by agonizing sobs. She could have gone. They asked her to go, but she wouldn't. She wouldn't stand under that tree and say good-by to the only child she would ever have.     She was still angry with Alex, and she was punishing him. How could she have done something so despicable? He had placed the little box containing the tiny body in the grave and planted the flowers.     He alone had watered and weeded the flowers. He alone had grieved over the grave. In his darkest hour, she had left the grieving to him and crawled into the safe world of denial.
    "I'm so sorry. I....”
    “Shhh. It's all right. I understand. It's over now.” His voice was strained, but the arms that held her were gentle and warm. “Now it's time to put it behind us.”
    They clung to each other desperately and cried. A warm hand touched her arm. Large blue eyes gazed up at her compassionately. In his hand were the two booties, with their tassels hanging.     Jonathan reached out and handed her the tiny booties.
    “I'm sorry about your baby.” A tear escaped one eye and coursed down his cheek unchecked.
    She reached out and took the booties from his hand and sniffed. Somehow his voice gave her strength. She gazed up at Alex. “Let's not lose two children. Let's not let them take Jonathan away.”
    He pulled her close. “We won't.”
Jonathan climbed onto the window seat with them and wrapped his arms around them.
    “Please don't cry. I love you both so much.”
    Carmen and Alex each put an arm around him. They shouldn't be doing this to him. It was their grief, not his. She kissed his little fingers.
    “We love you too, Jonathan.”

Continue to Chapter 16