Dear Diary, over the next couple months, I still occasionally got that creepy someone’s watching me feeling but I never saw anything out of the ordinary. Since there was nothing I could do about it, I tried to push thoughts regarding this in the back of my mind.
One evening, the weather was exceptionally hot, so Susan and I decided to take an evening swim in my small pool. As we dried off, she looked around as if she was noticing my backyard for the first time.
“Did you put in the swingset and other toys for your babies?” she asked.
Shaking my head, I said, “No. I’ll give you three guesses who had this installed before I even moved in.”
Suddenly, Susan laughed as it dawned on her. “Grandpa Leo!”
Cracking a smile, I nodded. “You know it.”
“You know, I think we couldn’t have gotten any luckier with grandpas.”
She was right, of course. I happened to feel pretty lucky to have the parents and siblings I do, too. Even so, I still hadn’t told any of them about my predicament. As far as they knew, I was finally ready to settle down in one place and lead a normal life – or what they might think was normal.
“You’ve been so quiet lately, Marty. Are you feeling scared?”
“Oh, no,” I said. “We’re not going there until you finally tell me what’s been going on with you and why you’re staying with me all of a sudden.”
The truth was, I wasn’t just scared, I was absolutely terrified. And why wouldn’t I be? I was having a baby by myself. Well, actually, two babies by myself, so twice the terror there. It seemed like every day, I woke up to some new horror happening with my body, too, and no one to tell. Susan was here and willing to listen, but I promised myself I wouldn’t burden her further with my problems until I knew what hers were. So far, she hadn’t shared.
“I’m ready to relax. Let’s watch a movie,” she said, changing the subject.
After we got cleaned up and settled in front of the only TV in the house, we had to argue for a full fifteen minutes before finally deciding to watch “Wives Without a Goal.” If you ignored the wife part, the title pretty much summed up how I felt about things.
After the main credits and few minutes of bad dialogue, I said, “This movie blows.”
“Maybe something good will happen.”
I doubted that but held my tongue because I didn’t think I could handle another discussion about movies.
“Your phone dinged.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed. I must have been into the movie more than I realized because I hadn’t noticed.
I grabbed my phone off the charger. My heart caught in my throat as I stared at it.
“Xalen sent me a text.”
“OMG! What does he want?”
I could barely answer her as my pulse quickened and little beads of sweat broke out on my forehead. I stared at the phone for what seemed like ages.
“Um… he wants to talk to me and he’s sending his request in a text so I can’t hang up on him.”
Susan could barely contain herself as she jumped up and stood next to me, peering over my shoulder and hopping from one foot to the other like a little bird. “Tell him yes! You have to!”
Biting my lip for a moment, I tried to measure the outcomes of either meeting with him or not. Yes, I was trying something new by not hastily answering with the first thing that came to mind.
“Go on! Tell him yes!”
“It isn’t easy as just saying yes.”
“It kind of is,” she insisted. “It’s three little letters… one short word. If you won’t type it, I will.” Then she added, “It’s your decision, though.”
If I wasn’t so rattled, I would have laughed at her. With shaking hands, I typed back to him, “I’m sorry. This isn’t a good time.” Before I could change my mind, I hit send.
“You’re killing me!” Susan yelled. “And I think you’re killing him and yourself, too!”
“I’m trying to do what’s right!”
“For who? Him? You? Because I don’t think what you’re doing is right for the babies!”
Turning my back to her, I placed my phone back on the charger and turned off the TV. My heart was so pained, my chest ached. If only I could run to Xalen right now. If only he would take me in his arms and tell me everything would be okay.
If only the babies were his for sure.
“You think you’re being selfless but you’re not. What you’re doing is so selfish, Marty, I can hardly believe you’re my big sister.”
“And I can hardly believe that my own sister would make such a judgment of me when you’ve never been in this position before. You’re not me – you only know second hand what I’m going through. And what’s more, you’ve never met Xalen or Beckett. You have no idea what either of them is like.”
Her shoulders slumped as if the wind was kicked out of her. “I know that’s not the first text or phone call he’s made to you. I know you’re depriving him – ”
” – Stop it, Susan! Please, I don’t want to fight about this.” Tears welled in my eyes regardless of the fact I thought I couldn’t cry about this anymore because I had so much already. “I’m really tired and I’m going to bed.”
She knew I meant she needed to leave my room and with the finality of my statement, shoulders still slumped forward, she left me alone.
Things between Susan and I were a little rocky for the next few days, neither of us wanted to admit we were wrong. Gradually, though, I began to realize that my list of friends and allies was pretty short. I needed Susan to be in my corner through this. Not to mention it was stupid to be at odds with her. She was the sweetest, kindest person and only said what she did because she cares for me.
After my morning run, which these days, was more like a fast penguin walk, I found her in the kitchen. It was early morning, but she was eating a leftover black bean burger from the night before.
“You make that look good,” I said in as friendly a voice as I could.
“It’s the avocado,” she said between bites, “that makes it so yummy.”
“I love avocado.”
“Did you know it’s a fruit?”
“Yeah, but, uh, I don’t want to talk about avocados.” She didn’t look up at me at all as I spoke but I couldn’t really blame her, I guess. “I want to apologize for the other night. I hate it so much when we fight.”
She sighed, putting her burger down. “I hate it, too. And I’m sorry for the things I said. I don’t really think I’m wrong, but I am sorry I said it all.”
The corners of my mouth curled into a small smile. “I know you said what you did because you love me.”
“Yeah, and you can be so infuriating if you want to know the truth,” she grinned.
I laughed because I could only imagine what dealing with me was like.
After she finished eating, we sat in the living room. I desperately wanted a shower after my exercise, but she seemed in the mood to talk now, so I wasn’t going to spoil the moment if I could help it.
“I’ve been thinking a lot the past few days,” I began, “and I’ll tell you what. It pains me to no end and I’m nervous as all get out, but I’ll call Xalen if you will finally come clean about what’s going on with you.”
“It’s a deal!” she said with a huge smile. Suddenly, though, she was frowning. “Only…”
“I am so afraid you’ll be ashamed of me.”
“Look at me, Susan. I don’t have the right to judge you.”
She laughed a little bit at my joke and hopefully, it put her more at ease. Although, by this point, I was a little afraid of what she would say. What in the world could be so bad?
“I met a man who was so wonderful,” she began. “It was kind of a whirlwind thing. I was on a photo assignment in Twin Brook when we met. He was so handsome… and tall, too.” Her voice began to take on a dreamy quality as she spoke. “We had a few things in common – well, enough in common to have interesting conversations. After the assignment was over, I didn’t take another so that I could spend some time with him. The closer we got, the more I realized I was falling in love.”
When she didn’t continue, I quietly said, “What happened?”
She wiped stray tears from her eyes. “He found something out about me that gave him second thoughts about a relationship.”
“Oh, Susan, what was it?” I couldn’t imagine anything about Susan a guy might not like.
“He said I have an eating disorder and he couldn’t go through that with someone. Can you believe it? Of course, it’s not true. I know my weight fluctuates at times, but it’s just how I am.”
I looked into her indignant eyes and felt rage at a guy who would treat her that way. Yet, I also wondered if he was right. Looking back, a young teenage Susan was always concerned about her weight. She cried all the time because other girls called her fat. Then, when she’d visited me in Longview years ago, she was rail thin.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” she asked.
“Well, yes,” I reluctantly said. “The first thing I want to tell you is that if I ever see that guy in person, he’ll have me to deal with. What you need is someone that will fall so hopelessly in love with you, he’ll want to share your good times and bad. The guy you’re talking about doesn’t deserve you.” As the words flew out of my mouth, I began to turn them toward myself. Wouldn’t Xalen have shared the good times and the bad with me? Who was the first person by my side after Beckett attacked me? Who was the one that never left my side for even a minute after that ghastly incident?
While I felt like Susan’s guy, whoever he was, didn’t deserve her, I began to wonder if I deserved Xalen?
“You don’t understand, though. I don’t have an eating disorder. He was ridiculous to even think such a thing. I’m just fine. It’s not like I throw up after I eat or anything.”
“I’m glad you don’t, but I think there are other types of eating disorders, aren’t there?”
“Who knows?” she said. “The point is, he broke my heart and tried to humiliate me.”
“What did he do?”
“I brought him to Winchester to meet Momma and Daddy and he told them I’m ill with this eating thing! Can you believe it? Then he left me there and said he couldn’t deal with it all.”
“Oh, Susan, I’m so sorry. That must have been horrible.”
Susan wiped away more tears from her cheeks and nodded. Her face looked so devastated and sad, I cried a little, too. I knew what it was like to be without the person I loved.
But in my case, I’d done it to myself.
Since Susan opened up to me about what was going on with her, I felt like we’d grown even closer than we’d ever been. I tried hard not to make any rash judgments were the accusations of eating disorders were concerned because I didn’t know if she was in trouble with that kind of thing or not. All I could do was a little research to learn more about it and watch her closely without looking like I was watching her closely. It’s harder than it sounds.
Autumn is fully upon us even though temperatures are still nice and warm. Before living with Aunt Ruby in Longview and going to university there, I’d never experienced real changing seasons before. Winchester was always steadily the same, hot and tropical.
I think Autumn is one of my favorites but the best thing, in my opinion, is when the snow flies. This year promises to be extra fun because Grandpa Leo has asked everyone to visit for Christmas. While I’m sure this will prove to be a lot of fun and it will be great to see everyone together, I’m nervous, too, because no one but Grandpa Leo and Susan knows that I will be bringing two little babies with me.
While speaking with Grandpa Leo on the phone, he mentioned that it’s not too early to start bank accounts for the babies.
“The sooner, the better,” he said to me.
So, without delay, I went to the bank to open the accounts. I figured if I put some of my paycheck into the kids’ accounts every time I got paid, they might have a little nest egg when they got older.
I purposely came to the bank at an odd hour so I wouldn’t have to wait in line. Lately, I looked like I was ready to pop. I was so front heavy, it always felt like I might fall forward and land right on my face. What else? I couldn’t sleep at night because I couldn’t find a comfortable position. If I laid one way, I couldn’t breathe, if I laid another way, I had to pee every five minutes. There was no winning. My ankles had started swelling up and my back hurt All. The. Time.
“Dr. Larochette, would you please accompany me to the vault?”
I stared at the clerk with the most irritated look I could muster (which wasn’t hard while in this condition!) and said, “The vault? What on earth for?”
Under my harsh gaze, he seemed to shrink in height and I could see his confidence melting away. “Well, uh, umm, you see, your grandfather has something there he wants you to see.”
Grandpa Leo? I had to fight to keep from rolling my eyes. He’s the best grandpa in the world, it’s true, but I had a feeling these kids would be spoiled rotten if he kept giving them things.
Realizing this poor clerk was waiting for me to follow him, I softened my attitude. “I’m sorry I was so impatient. I’m not very comfortable right now. Going home and putting my feet up sounds like heaven at the moment.”
He smiled and we began down a flight of stairs. “Oh, I understand. I have three children myself and remember what my wife went through.”
At the bottom of the stairs was a locked gate which the clerk opened. He stepped aside so I could pass through.
I’d never been to the bank safe before. The intimidating vault doors were straight ahead and the clerk smiled and left me.
After a few minutes, a guard came in and pushed the vault door open. I guess it wasn’t locked during business hours. He turned to me and motioned for me to go inside.
Where I was suddenly face to face with Xalen.
As I stared at him, my mind slowly began to register what was happening. I wanted to be angry for the ruse, yet I could have cried with how badly I missed him.
I think Xalen might have felt the same way. In a voice barely above a whisper, he said, “Hello, Marty.”
With great effort, I pulled my eyes away and cleared my throat. The safe was full of all kinds of artifacts.
“Are all of these yours?” I asked.
Slowly shaking his head, he said, “No, everything belongs to a museum. The Neptune Foundation is busy researching the items.” With tears welling in his eyes, he stepped forward. “Marty.”
As if he couldn’t help himself, he gently cupped my pregnant belly in his hands like he was witnessing the most amazing thing on the planet. I couldn’t help but smile a little at the wonder in his expression. If anything, it was the moment I knew for sure I’d misjudged everything about him.
Shaking my head, I asked, “Just a minute, how did you happen to be down here?”
“Your grandfather is a wonderful man.”
My jaw went slack and my eyes widened. “You talked to my grandpa?”
“I’d always wanted to meet him,” he softly said. “I was hoping, though, you would reach out to me yourself instead of Leo arranging this with the bank.”
“I’m going to murder him,” I said.
“Why did you push me away? Why didn’t you trust me?”
When he put it like that, I felt desperately ashamed of myself. “I did – I do trust you. It has nothing to do with trust. It has to do with the fact that this was unplanned and I don’t even know who the father is. It could be you or Beckett. Just the thought of Beckett being the father sickens me.”
He reached for me with his hand but stopped himself before he actually touched me. Thinking better, he let his hand fall to his side. It broke my heart to see him so hesitant to show me affection when all I wanted to do was fall into his arms now that we were face to face.
“You did not trust me to stay by your side. Something difficult happened and you pushed me away. I never said it in words but didn’t you know how I felt?”
Felt? I let the tears flow freely now, not even bothering to wipe them aside or try to hide them. “Love is the reason I pushed you away. I thought it was the right thing to do for you.”
His mouth was a thin, grim line. “I do not require you to make decisions for me.”
Isn’t that basically what Susan had said months ago? That Xalen deserved the choice rather than to be in the dark?
I absently rested my hand on my swollen stomach. It felt like a tight band had been wrapped around it and was squeezing. Then it let go.
“That day in the hotel garden, I didn’t think of it like that.”
“I learned that soon after we parted.”
“Because you’ve been following me!” I exclaimed as it all became clear.
“Did you think I would really walk away without understanding why? I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to.”
My stomach was tightening and letting go more and more but now it was beginning to hurt.
“What is the matter?” he asked, moving closer to me.
As if in answer, my water broke, splashing on the concrete floor and I was doubled over in agonizing pain. At the same time, ear-splitting alarms began going off in the building and I heard a loud click.
“Let’s get you to the hospital,” Xalen shouted over the noise, taking my elbow.
But the vault door was locked! We both pounded furiously on the door and shouted as loudly as we could for someone to let us out.
Another pain gripped me, nearly dropping me to the floor. Through gritted teeth, I said, “They can’t hear us above the alarms.”
With panicked eyes but steady hands, he said, “Do not worry! They will remember we are here and let us out.”
“Well, that’s terrific!” I gasped through another labor pain. “Because I’m not having my babies in here!”