Chapter Eight

    Alex never said anything about seeing the doctor and she was reluctant to ask him. Why revive the issue? If the news had been good, surely he would have said something by now. His silence indicated he hadn't taken the test...or it was negative? By his actions, she was betting it was negative. Then how had she conceived? Was it magic?
    Things were uncomfortable between them, but they hadn't given up. He was courteous to her instead of affectionate, but they were talking – if simple questions and answers could be called conversation. She thought when she asked him if he wanted to go with her for the twelve week ultrasound that he would say no, but he didn’t.
    He watched as the tiny hands wiggled on the monitor, and even moved closer to examine the fetus. Was it medical interest that drew him closer, or an interest in the baby? Was he beginning to adjust to the idea?
    When they returned to the house, she warmed up some leftover spaghetti and sat down at the table to eat with him. Finally she dragged up the courage to broach the subject.
    "Alex, do you think you will ever look forward to having a baby in the house?"
    He glanced up sharply from his food. His gaze fell to her stomach and lifted back to her face.
    "I want children, Carmen. Remember? I'm the one who's been pushing to adopt a baby. You're the one who wouldn't settle for less than your own blood. I would want this baby no matter who was having it, but especially so because it's a part of you."
    "It's a part of us," she corrected gently. "And the issue wasn't genetics. It was the idea that the mother could come back later and reclaim her child - after we had learned to love it."
    He twirled his fork in the spaghetti and glanced out the window. He wasn't buying any of it. If only she could convince him. If they could only bring back the joy they once shared - the trust. He was trying to make the best of a situation most men would have considered grounds for divorce. Did he want a child this much, or was he afraid of what people would think if he walked out on her when she was pregnant?     She gnawed on her lower lip.
    "Do you want me to leave?"
    His gaze was back on her, intent and stern. "We promised to take each other for better or worse,     Carmen. You don't trash a marriage the first time an obstacle comes along."
    It was commitment, then. He was going to stick by her because he made a vow. Honorable, even admirable, but what kind of a marriage would that be? What kind of atmosphere for their child? She sighed.
    "But you seem so unhappy."
    He shrugged, returning his attention to the food. "I'm disappointed. I'll get over it."
    Her stomach recoiled with the bite of his words. He was disappointed in her? She had done nothing wrong. Her voice was caustic.
    "Because you think I've been unfaithful?"
    He pushed his plate aside, avoiding her eyes. "I don't want to discuss it right now."
    No, he didn't want to consider the possibility that he might be wrong. He could simply turn the subject off, like a radio, leaving her in shamed silence.
    "But you said we should always keep the lines of communication open."
    He stood and gulped the last of his coffee. "I've got to go down to the buffalo shed." He turned at the door. "And by the way, I don't want you lifting anything."
    "The doctor said if I'm use to it, I can...."
    "I don't care what the doctor said about it. I said no lifting." He pushed the patio door back and left the house.
    She stared after him. It was hard to tell what he was feeling. He obviously took his role as head of the house seriously. As always, he was protective and decisive. Those two traits had been important factors in her decision to marry him. In many ways he was the perfect husband, but trust in a woman had never been his strong point. Was that why he had remained a bachelor until he was thirty? He had finally found a woman he could trust, and now he believed she had betrayed him. By turns she was furious and felt sorry for him. This wasn’t easy for him – or her.

    The cold wet days of May had thawed into the warmth of June, yet their marriage remained cold and lifeless. It was time to plan the nursery and shop for clothes, but that could wait. Eventually Alex would come around, and working on the room together would be joy shared. Maternity clothes would only serve to remind him that she was pregnant, rather than underline the fact that they were sharing a miracle. It could all wait, but the waiting was lonely. She had spent her life alone; she had plenty of practice. If it had not been for Mums, she didn’t know how she would have survived.
    She fed Princess and watched the foal nurse. Princess lifted her head and uttered a soft whinny to her baby. When she received no response, she swung her head to Carmen and nickered.
    Carmen touched the velvety muzzle. "I know. I wish I could talk to Alex about my baby." She caught her breath. "My baby. That's the way it this baby is mine alone." She sighed. "Will she look like me? Will he look like Alex? I hope the baby has his beautiful brown eyes." She patted Princess on the neck. "He couldn't deny it was his then, could he?"
    She started to cry again and Princess nuzzled her.
    "I miss him so much. I love him so much. How could this wonderful thing tear us apart this way? I wish I could hear him laugh, see that adoring look in his eyes again."
    Was it lost forever? What if the baby didn't look anything like him? She caught her breath. What if the baby had red hair? Grandpa Pulock had red hair! She had inherited violet eyes from her mother, but what if the baby had blue eyes like Dad? But a DNA test would prove it was his...if he would agree to one. And if he wouldn't?
    She shook her head. All this wasn't doing anyone a bit of good. Faith and courage were the only things that would get them through these dark times. Speculation and suspicion had done enough harm already. They each had their weaknesses, and with Alex, it was trust. She knew that when she married him. It was something she would have to deal with now. Alex would come around when the baby was born.

    Sunday the sermon was about trust, and she could feel Alex watching her. She glanced up and met his gaze. For a moment they looked into each other's eyes. The bond was there again...briefly. When his attention returned to the preacher she felt alone again. Was he coming around?
    After church, he rode out alone on Ed and she cried some more. Maybe he needed the time to himself to hash this out in his mind. She wandered into the living room and stared out the bay window. The old house beckoned - a friend in an uncertain world...home. She left the house and walked down the hill to the creek. It gurgled an invitation as it raced by on its way from the old swimming hole to infinity. She followed, eager to leave the present behind and reminisce a few happy moments in her past.
    The rope swing still hung from the tree, faded and frayed. On the other side of the pool was the fallen sycamore tree where Alex had made his decision to buy the land adjoining hers. She stared into the pool, remembering a lonely childhood. Of course, there had been good times. Like when Lori and Josh would come over and they would all go swimming. Josh was different then - loving and protective. Lori had loved him then, but his heart had belonged to Carmen. Did it still? Was that why he and Lori fought so much? Was that why he always ended up at their house, looking for Lori? Was he looking for Lori, or a lost friend? No wonder Alex had his doubts. Yet they were baseless. Even if she were still interested in Josh, she would never cheat on Alex - nor was it likely that Josh would cheat on Lori.
    She wandered down stream to the place where they had dragged huge slabs of stone to make a walkway across the creek. The stones were sunk in the sand now, covered by a couple inches of water.     She sat down on a rock and removed her shoes and socks. She could pick them up on the way back. Rolling up her pants legs, she waded across the creek. The icy water tickled her toes as it leaped over her feet and danced around the rocks. It gurgled contentedly as it slowed to round the bend.
Once across the creek, she pushed her way up the overgrown trail and across the field, pausing to watch a couple of ducks on the pond. The old Apple tree leaned from its perch on a mound of earth to throw shadows on the pond. Sometime she would have to get out the old cane pole and fish like she used to. She sighed heavily and trudged on to the old farmhouse.
    The wooden planks on the old porch cracked a smart welcome and the screen door squealed with delight when she opened it. The room was quiet - lonely. She climbed the stairs and paused in the little bedroom. Her gaze was drawn instantly to the bed. She blushed and straightened the covers. Glancing around the room, she searched for that feeling of peace. From the window a flower box was visible, overgrown with weeds. A bird's nest was built on one end and cobwebs covered the window. The room smelled of stale air and mold. Where was the magic?
    She wandered down stairs and into the kitchen. How many pints of fruits and vegetables had been processed in this kitchen over the years? The old oak table stood where they had left it, the chairs covered with dust. In her mind's eye, she could see Mom, gray-haired, wrinkled and tired - but still taking joy in putting food on the table for Dad. And Dad, worn out from working the farm all day; disgruntled by years of fighting a losing battle with nature - of never having enough money to take care of his family properly. And yet, they had been happy with each other. They disagreed, and sometimes they even spent a few days not talking to each other, but they always worked things out.
    Suddenly tired, she sat at the table and held her head in her hands. Tears flowed freely. If only Mom and Dad were alive. Maybe if she visited their graves – but no. The last thing she needed right now was to be reminded of their loss. If only she could talk to Josh. Maybe he could explain why Alex was acting this way. Yet she dared not talk to him. If he knew Alex was making her unhappy, he’d be upset. He had enough to worry about with Lori.
    Wiping the tears from her eyes, she stood. It was getting late and Alex would be worried. She left the house and wandered across the field, taking in the beauty of the country. The farm was still in her name - eighty acres. Alex had insisted on keeping it that way in case something happened to him. He was always looking out for her – at least he used to.

Continue to Chapter 9

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The Darkest Hour
Linda Louise Rigsbee