Back at the house, Carmen crossed the living room floor barefoot; her shoes in one hand and socks in the other. She had a feeling of being watched and glanced up to find Alex lounging on the window seat, watching her reflectively.
"Come here," he said gently.
She put her shoes and socks on the floor next to the couch and walked over to him hesitantly. What now?
He dropped a leg off the window seat to make room for her and she sat down in front of him. He gently drew her shoulders back until her back rested against his chest. He slipped his arms around her waist. She rested her hands on his arms and they gazed out the window, watching the shadows darken on the farmstead. The ducks flapped their wings and splashed across the pond, finally becoming airborne. The old farmstead was empty.
Alex cleared his throat. "I don't want to hear any more of this nonsense about magic." His hand slipped down and caressed her stomach. "God is ultimately responsible for the creation of this child, not magic."
She sighed. "Maybe they're one and the same."
"Maybe for a child, but not for a parent. Magic is a child's interpretation of a miracle, or anything they can't understand."
Was that the problem? He thought she wasn't mature enough to be a mother? Was she?
He continued. "We'll get through this - with faith and determination, not magic."
He must have been watching - must have known why she went to the house. She snuggled deeper into his arms, her voice forlorn.
"It wasn't there this time."
He hugged her gently. "It never was, sweetheart. I told you. It wasn't the room. It was the love we feel for each other."
"And when I was a child? What was it then?"
"The imagination of a lonely girl reaching out for someone - something."
He leaned down and kissed her temple. "You don't have to go to that room any more, Carmen. Come to me. I'm the one you should turn to now - and God. Not a fantasy room or...." His voice trailed off.
He wanted to say Josh. She glanced up at his face. "You've been pushing me away."
His arms relaxed and he gazed down at her somberly. "Do you think this has been easy for me? This is a baby, Carmen. Not a little doll to change and bathe. It's a lifelong responsibility."
"I know that," she responded tersely. "Do you think I have no sense of responsibility?" She wasn't the only one having this child. That was when it hit her. Of course he thought her sense of responsibility was lacking. He still thought the baby belonged to Josh.
"Did you ever go to the doctor?"
He shifted his attention to the darkness outside the window. "Yes. The test was negative."
"This time." Her hopes were dashed. It was going to take a DNA test.
He glanced down at her with a despairing expression. "I'm bushed. Let's go to bed."
Maybe it was his rejection, or maybe hormones. Whatever the case, she started to cry again. How could having a baby cause so much sadness for two people who wanted one so badly?
She moved away from him and he reached for her, but she dodged his hand. He had used the term sweetheart for the first time since this all began. He had actually talked about the baby as if it were theirs. Still, she didn’t want his pity.
A restless night made her a morning grouch. She showered and slipped into some jeans, but couldn't get them zipped over her stomach. It should have been a happy moment. This was a time she had always looked forward to - so why did it have to be so difficult? Why did everything have to be so difficult? Without warning, she started to cry.
Alex stepped to the door of the bathroom, a toothbrush in one hand, and stared at her.
"What's the matter?"
Of all the stupid questions. What did he think was the matter? There was no point getting into it, so she focused on the immediate problem.
"I can't get my pants zipped up," she blubbered.
He shook his head in dismay. "I don't think it's going to do any good to cry. Wear a dress for once." He ducked back into the bathroom.
She wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand and went to the closet, selecting a sundress with no waistline. It was silly to cry, but didn't he have any sensitivity? What did he mean, for once? Why did he have to wait until her figure started to fall apart before he complained about seldom seeing her in a dress?
She dressed and went to the kitchen to start breakfast. She had biscuits in the oven and was heating up a pan to fry some eggs when Alex walked in. He glanced at the dress and dropped into a chair at the table.
"It doesn't look like you've given any of this much thought. Didn't you realize you would have to buy some maternity clothes? Was this a spur of the moment thing? Grab the opportunity when it came along? Honestly, Carmen. You need to grow up."
She jerked her head around and stared at him. "Spur of the moment? You tell me. Frankly, I would have called it a spontaneous event - unless you took me for a ride that day with the intent of ending up in that bedroom."
His gaze sharpened. "Knock it off, Carmen. I know how much you wanted a baby. You were desperate and you made a mistake. Admit it. I'm ready to forgive you, but we're never going to put this in the past if you keep up this farce."
She whirled around, gripping an egg in one hand. "Farce? That does it. I'm going to get a DNA test made on this baby."
"No you're not!" His eyes flashed a warning. "It doesn't matter who planted the seed. I'm going to be the father, and you're not going to risk the baby with another stupid test. I've been in twice now, and the results were the same. I can live with that. I can live with the idea that the baby belongs to Josh. I can even live with the idea that he made love to my wife. What I can't live with is your deceit."
It was the last straw. She threw the egg at him and it landed square in the middle of his forehead. "You bull headed, suspicious...."
"Carmen!" He shot out of the chair, clawing egg from his face as he lunged toward her.
Her heart skipped a beat and she dodged out of his way. "Don't you hit me!"
But he was headed for the sink and the sprayer. He washed the egg from his face and grabbed the towel.
"I've had about enough of your childish pranks."
"I've had enough of it all, too," she snarled. "As far as I'm concerned you can take your filthy minded accusations and get out of here."
He pulled the towel from his face and stared down at her, but she didn't give him time to verbally attack her again. She clamped a lid on her temper and turned the fire down to simmer. What she had to say required a clear mind and a calm approach.
"I never cheated on you. I never will. Ruling out divine intervention, this baby is yours. I don't know how it happened. I only know there's never been anyone but you. I know it looks suspicious, but you've got to learn to trust me. If you didn't think you could trust me, then why did you leave? I haven't done anything to be forgiven for and you're making my life miserable. It's our baby, Alex. We should be enjoying this miracle, not fighting and accusing."
The dark eyes softened, even reflected shame - and then they hardened. He threw the towel on the counter. "Nice try, but tests don't lie - people do."
He spun on one heel and marched out of the house.
Carmen stared after him, tears burning her eyes and her stomach twisting in knots. Enough of this cold war. She marched to the bedroom and jerked the set of suitcases from the closet. Anything was better than this constant conflict. She would move her things down to the old house and stay there until he could get his head together. She threw her cell phone on the bed. It wasn’t as if they used it to communicate anyway.
How could they have come to this point? More important, how could they get out? Surely their marriage could never survive this kind of abuse. Marriage was based on mutual respect. At the moment they had little for each other. The way he talked to her today, she wasn't even sure if she liked him any more. How could he believe she had done such a thing? She choked back a sob. Crying wasn't going to help. Nothing was going to help. Her self-esteem was slowly sinking into a bottomless pit. That was when she remembered something her mother had said. The darkest hour is just before the dawn. Dawn must be getting close, because she had never seen things darker than they were right now.
She heaved the heavy luggage up to the bed. A sharp pain ripped through her body and she gasped. What was that?
The pain abated and she waited a few minutes. When it didn't return, she opened the suitcase and began tossing clothes into it. When she had cast aside all the jeans she couldn't wear, there was room for everything else. She closed the lid and jerked the suitcase off the bed, hefting it down the hall, across the living room and out the door. She paused on the porch. Hefting the suitcase again, she marched down to the car. That was when she noticed that his truck was still in the garage. Alex was still at home.
She shrugged and unlocked the trunk. Then he would know she left. She was lifting the suitcase into the trunk when the second pain hit. It doubled her over, and she leaned over the back of the car, retching.
When the pain finally subsided, she headed for the house to get her purse. She'd better go to the doctor. She had barely made it to the porch steps when the third pain hit. She fell to her knees, groaning. She glanced around the farm.
"Alex!" She screamed.
No answer. She had to get to the phone. If she hadn’t thrown her cell phone on the bed, she could have called him. She climbed the next stair and grabbed the porch rail as another pain wracked her body. Again she screamed for Alex, but there was no response. Where was he? A strange sensation made her glance down and she saw the drop of blood hit the porch. Something was very wrong. She took a few more steps and made it to the door. Another pain and more blood. She felt weak. Getting through the door wasn’t easy. Black spots clouded her vision as she grabbed the receiver. That was when she fell and blackness pushed the pain away.
Vaguely, she heard someone on the porch and recognized the quick steps.
"Alex," she called in a weak voice. He paused on the porch. Apparently he saw the blood, because his step quickened.
"Carmen?" His voice was anxious as he burst through the door. In his hand was a bouquet of wild flowers. When he saw her on the floor, he threw the flowers aside.
"Oh my God, Carmen. What happened?"
"I don't know," she moaned. "It hurts so badly, and I'm bleeding something awful."
He grabbed the phone off the floor and dialed a number. "Lie still," he directed, and put a gentle hand on her stomach.
He made two calls; one for an ambulance and the other to Josh, who was instructed to direct the ambulance in to their house. He replaced the receiver and turned back to her.
"How long ago did this start?"
"I don't know. Maybe thirty minutes. I passed out."
He pressed down on her stomach. "You're hemorrhaging."
She gasped as another pain started. "Alex, please don't let me lose our baby."
He stared down at her, his eyes full of pain. It was too late and he knew it.
"Hang in there sweetheart. The ambulance is on the way."
The pain was subsiding as darkness surrounded her again.