Authors: Allyson Young
“How is she?”
Greg sipped at the hot beverage, wishing it was a beer, and answered. “Not great. She wasn’t talking for a while there, literally not speaking, but that’s passed, and she cried tonight. I think that’s a good thing.”
Mrs. Withers nodded gravely. “I lost two of my six babies, young man, and it’s a sad, difficult thing. And I had a good man to help me through it.”
Greg felt the implied reproach but didn’t rise to the bait. Instead he gave an equally grave nod and asked for advice. Mrs. Withers looked gratified and then shook her head.
“I don’t rightly know. Lacey had started out on a new path when she moved in here. She never said much to me, but I knew she was at the end of an unhappy love affair, and then I right away figured out she was expecting. Even in this day and age, it’s tough for a woman to take care of, raise a child all by her lonesome. But there’s no lack of backbone in that girl, and I thought she could do it. Why did she lose the child, do you know?”
Greg gave her the condensed version, a bit uncertain how Lacey would feel about her privacy being invaded, but mentally shrugged. Lacey needed as many understanding folks around her as possible, and it seemed she really hadn’t shared the news of her pregnancy with anyone. She must have felt so alone even as she’d hugged the news to herself. Edith and Gladys had guessed it, like he would have if he’d been paying attention and not drowning in guilt that didn’t belong to him. Mrs. Withers nodded again and reached out to pat his knee.
“Maybe when she conceives again, it will make things easier. You can never replace a child, but having your life full with another takes some of the sting away. I’ll leave you to it, then. You look like you can use some rest yourself. We’ll break bread together over the next while, and I want you to give me the laundry now. The machine is a wringer washer, and I doubt you’ll have a clue. Lacey shouldn’t be doing anything strenuous for the next few days.”
Greg looked at the elderly, diminutive figure incredulously. It was like having a mom again. He found himself nodding and heading to find the hamper. He bundled up his shirt and the clothing Lacey had thrown in and put it in a sack. Mrs. Withers took it and left, while Greg closed the door behind her and threw the lock. Now it was time to hit the hay, seeing as he hadn’t had more than a few hours of sleep over the past four days. He had already decided not to sleep with Lacey. It felt too soon. He opened the door of the second bedroom, and his heart seized in his chest. There wasn’t a lot to suggest that it was a nursery but the bassinet stood in the middle of the floor as if in mute accusation, and he could see a little multicolored blanket folded neatly inside. Greg sank down on his knees beside it and cried for the first time in forever, feeling his pain tear away from his gut and manifest in shuddering sobs and hot tears. He didn’t fight it, just let it come, and in a few minutes felt less conflicted, if drained and empty. A little hand touched his shoulder and he jumped, turning awkwardly to look up into Lacey’s worried face.
“Greg? Are you all right?”
Greg gathered her to him and pressed his face into the spill of her hair, letting the strands absorb the moisture still wetting his face. It was a queer sense of déjà vu, and he thought Lacey felt it, too. She pulled away first, and he saw her pain as she took in the surroundings. Greg wished she hadn’t awoken and realized he had made her do so, and reached out for her again. Lacey made a little negative motion with her head and whirled and nearly ran out of the room. Greg jumped up to follow her and found her curled atop of the covers of her double bed, her hands covering her face. He lifted her with one arm and yanked the covers back and set her between them, tucking them around her tightly, swaddling her. She wasn’t crying but was making little sounds of hurt, and he lay down behind her, spooning her, and rocked her until she drifted off. He told himself the couch was plenty big enough, and that he would get up and go put a sheet and pillow on it in a moment.
* * * *
When he woke up, Greg had no idea where he was. He felt pretty good, so he hadn’t been sleeping in a chair or on a miserable little cot. He suddenly realized he wasn’t on Lacey’s couch. His eyes adjusted to the dimness in the room, and he acknowledged he was in Lacey’s bed, and she wasn’t. He stretched and listened for a moment and then heard water running. A few minutes later, her curvy little form in the pale-pink nightshirt appeared in the bedroom door, and she visibly hesitated before turning toward the wardrobe. Greg forestalled her.
“I’ll get up if you want to sleep some more.”
Lacey made a startled sound and jumped. “Oh. You’re awake. No, that’s okay. You rest. I’m going to make some coffee.”
“C’mon, Lacey,” he urged. “You never get up this early. Come back to bed.”
Her face paled. He could see it even in the poor lighting. He had no memory of turning off any of the lights in the place the previous evening, so Lacey must have gotten up and done so at some point. He knew he had just pushed her too hard. Greg sighed inwardly and threw back the covers. He was naked, so he had pulled off his clothing in his sleep, by habit. Lacey turned her back, and Greg looked down at his morning wood. His little man was harder than it had been in months. No surprise. His cock knew who it had been sleeping beside, even if its owner had been oblivious. He shrugged and reached for his boxers, draped across his jeans on the floor. He needed to be a little more sensitive and patient, he told himself, even as his alpha encouraged him to get hold of her and put her back to bed.
“I’ll just go out and pick up some coffee from Dunkin’, b…Lacey, okay?” Greg corrected himself in what he hoped was in time. Lacey didn’t look at him but nodded her head. He kissed her cheek as he brushed past her and turned her toward the bed and gave a gentle push. “I’ll be back in about twenty minutes, so maybe lie down while I’m gone. There’s no rush.”
Greg hoped Lacey heard the unspoken implication, but she still wouldn’t look at him, and he couldn’t read her. He found the duffle bag and pulled out some clean socks, then picked up his jeans and the shirt he had worn when Mrs. Withers had come by. He’d need to get home to pack more clothes, but didn’t want to leave Lacey for a long period of time, and he somehow figured she wasn’t ready to come home with him, not even for a few minutes. He toed his shoes on and grabbed the truck keys. Time to get his woman her morning starter. He hoped to give her the other one in the not-so-distant future, to celebrate life, the need to move on. His cock flexed its agreement.
Greg had only just closed the door before Lacey went back to the wardrobe. She sorted through her casual clothes and picked out a loose cotton shirt in pale yellow with big pockets and a long tail, and a pair of black yoga pants. She pulled a sports bra on before buttoning the shirt right up to her neck and then stepped into the bottoms. They felt a bit loose and she went to weigh herself, fully aware that she was rubbing salt into her deserving wound. She was down nearly five pounds, and she felt sick. She had already washed up earlier, slipping out of bed when she had woken, curled against Greg’s chest, his radiated heat both comforting and upsetting. She wrestled with a spurt of anger. She was feeling again, the layers of self-protection peeling back under the onslaught of Greg’s empathy and concern. Damn him. She wasn’t ready. Well, there was something she had to do, and it was something that Greg wasn’t welcome to participate in.
Lacey went to the second bedroom door, once again firmly closed and grabbed the doorknob. It took considerable willpower to turn it and push the door open, but she did it, the hinges creaking ever so slightly. She had known that they should be oiled for later so as not to wake the…Lacey pulled her thoughts back to the present. The memory of Greg sitting on the floor, crying as men did when they finally managed it, in dry, painful rasps, then came back to her, and she felt bad for him, but only for a moment. The anger returned to cleanse the memory, scrub it from her frontal lobe. He hadn’t even known about the child. It had been an accident that he had even found out, and then he had assumed, with his well-remembered arrogance, that he had some rights in the whole thing. That his shoddy treatment of her could just be swept under the rug.
Lacey ignored the little voice that reminded her Greg had suffered a trauma, too, and wasn’t impervious to the loss of their child. She wasn’t sharing her grief with him. He needed to butt out and leave her be, now. Because once he had done his duty with her, made amends like that asshole doctor had said, done his penance, he’d move on, and she would have to pick up the pieces all over again. She didn’t think she could come back from that. Lacey gathered up the little bassinet and breathed through the slice of emotional pain, ignoring the drag in her abdomen. She carried it down the stairs and out the front door and set it on the porch while she got her breath. It hurt more than she had expected and allowed for, and she was still weak. She picked it up again and made it to the sidewalk when Mrs. Withers came out her door.
“Lacey? What are you doing, dear? Where is your young man?”
Lacey wanted to scream. He’d charmed her landlady, too. Even Gladys hadn’t been impervious, talking to her about letting Greg help if he could. She gritted her teeth, cleared her head, and carried her burden to the curb where she set it down gently. From her shirt pocket, she pulled out the sheet of paper she had tucked under the newspaper on the coffee table after writing the message that morning and laid it inside, on top of the little blanket. It read
Free. Please take me home.
Lacey touched her fingers to her lips and pressed the kiss on the edge of the baby basket. There. It was the best she could do, and someone would take it home and put a baby or maybe a dolly inside. She joined Mrs. Withers on the porch and followed her into the house for coffee. She didn’t give Greg another thought.
* * * *
Greg pulled up to the curb and turned off the ignition. He picked up the tray holding the coffee and another cinnamon bun from where it rested on the passenger seat and swiveled out of the truck, hitting the lock button as he did so. He walked around the front of the vehicle, actually pursing his lips to whistle. He had hopes that today would be a better day for Lacey and that they might talk a little about what had happened between them. His feet stumbled to a sudden halt as his brain processed the fact that the baby bassinet, the one that had made it all real, made him actually weep with grief and loss, sat on the curb. He cautiously approached it and peered inside. He had a strange premonition that there would be something there, something that he didn’t want to lay eyes on. Instead there was a piece of white paper, printed neatly in dark-blue ink. Lacey was trying to give their child’s bassinet away to someone who might have a use for it.
The symbolism unmanned him, and Greg’s vision blurred with sudden tears and then cleared at the realization that she had carried the piece of furniture down two flights of stairs and to the curb, fresh out of surgery. His hand itched to correct her little fanny once he ensured she was okay. He ran up the walk and took the steps two at a time, balancing the coffee tray automatically. The apartment door stood open, and Lacey didn’t answer his call. Greg slammed the tray down on the table and checked through the apartment. She wasn’t there, and his heart iced up before he got a hold of himself. She couldn’t have gone far. Her nightshirt lay across the foot of the bed, and she would have had to have taken a few minutes to dress, to write the note and carry out the bassinet. Greg made an educated guess and ran downstairs to knock on Mrs. Withers’s door. Mrs. Withers pulled it open in fairly short order in response to his imperative summons.
“Is she here?” he asked.
Mrs. Withers nodded. “I made her a cup of tea, and we’ve been sitting just awhile. Come in, boy. I’ll put the kettle back on.”
Greg followed the little stooped figure inside, noting that the classic Victorian architecture was reflected in the suite, much as it was in Lacey’s. The hall branched off to two big formal rooms, and onto one with a closed door that he guessed would be the elderly lady’s bedroom and bath, and then ended at the kitchen. Lacey sat at the small bistro-style table, the metal and tile furniture at odds with the rest of the decor, her little feet tucked up on the bottom rung of her chair, both hands wrapped around a tea cup. She looked up at his entry, and Greg tried to tell her how he felt just by looking at her, trying to reestablish their connection, something that had been tantamount to reading one another’s minds, until he had locked her out, pushed her away. Lacey’s face didn’t change and her eyes told him nothing. It broke his heart that she was able to hide from him so effectively. He pushed away the hint of despair and went to her.
“I would have carried the bassinet down for you, Lacey. You need to let others help you.”
“I didn’t hurt myself,” she said quietly, her eyes shifting from his. “It wasn’t heavy.”
Greg heard Mrs. Withers make a little sound that seemed suspiciously like a sob. Shit. He wanted to take Lacey upstairs where they could continue this discussion in private. As if she had read his mind, Mrs. Withers said cheerily, “Well, I hate to shoo you home, dearie, but I have my ladies’ club this afternoon and need to get busy with my baking.”
Lacy stood so quickly that the metal chair clattered across the old linoleum floor and Greg instinctively reached for her. She backed away and apologized to her landlady. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Withers. I didn’t stop to think what day it was.”
“No, no, Lacey. I enjoyed our little chat. But your young man probably wants to have you to himself for awhile.”
Greg watched Lacey’s face tighten and her lips flatten into a thin line. He hadn’t made any progress with her, or if he had, it had diminished overnight. He took her elbow and ushered her out of the kitchen and toward the front door, nodding to Mrs. Withers, who watched anxiously. Lacey was rigid in his grasp and didn’t speak again until they were behind the closed door of her apartment.