Authors: Carmen Faye
Saying goodbye to Rip was hard. Harder than when he’d just left. We stood on my porch, and he kissed me and hugged me as if he didn’t want to let go.
“I’m going to contact you as soon as I’m clean, and you do the same, okay?”
I nodded. I didn’t want him to go.
“What if we don’t see each other again? What if something goes wrong?”
He kissed me again. “We’ll make it work.”
He broke free from my arms and walked to his car. He looked back at me just before driving off, and then he left. I watched his car until I saw the taillights disappear around a turn, and just like that, he was out of my life. I took a deep breath and walked back inside. I picked up the phone and dialed the number I knew by heart.
“Cass?” I asked when she picked up. “I need your help.”
She picked me up from the airport the next day. She’d bought me a ticket and I’d gotten on with just a suitcase. My whole life had been reduced to one little bag.
She looked so much like Mom when I saw her that I was transported in time for a moment. Her long, brown hair was cut in a stylish asymmetric bob, and she wore a dress that Mom would have loved.
“You look great, Cassie,” I said and hugged her.
“You look good too, little sis.”
I knew that she was being nice. I looked terrible. I had dark circles under my eyes from lack of sleep, and I felt like I’d been beaten up even though no one had really touched me. I was willing to guess it was still whatever John had put in that drink of mine.
“Come on, let’s get you home and get you some sleep. Dennis is dying to see you.”
Cass’s place was bigger than I remembered it. I hadn’t been to her place in years, and it seemed like there were so many extra rooms.
“You can stay in the guest room,” she said. “You’ll have your own bathroom and entrance and a bit of privacy in case… you know.”
I smiled and shook my head. “I’m not going to… you know,” I said. “Besides, if I’m at rehab, I’m not going to need a place to stay.”
We walked up to the front door. It swung open before we reached it, and a boy with dark brown hair and big soulful eyes stood in the opening.
“Aunt Alex!” he shouted and ran to me, grabbing my legs so hard I nearly lost my balance.
“Who are you?” I asked. “You can’t be Dennis, he was just a little boy when I saw him last. Who is this big man grabbing my legs?”
He laughed and held on tighter. I tickled him until he let go.
“I missed you,” I said to him when he got up, as he rubbed his hands over his hair. “Your mom has told me so much about you.”
“We’re going to have so much fun together. I’ll tell Dad you’re here.”
He turned and ran into the house.
“He’s beautiful, Cass,” I said. “He’s grown into a replica of Collin.”
Cass smiled and let me walk in first. Every room we passed through was elegantly decorated, with expensive things that were placed in the right places to maximize flow. Collin was in the kitchen, making coffee.
“Hi,” I said. Collin always scared me a little. He was even more accomplished and intimidating than my sister. But that was what Cass’s whole life was like… something I could never reach.
“Come on, let me show you to your room,” Cass said after we’d said hello. When we were in the room together, her face became serious.
“I called the rehabilitation center and confirmed your stay. I’ll drop you off in the morning. Are you sure you want to do this?”
I nodded. I was surer now than ever. She smiled when I did and looked like she wanted to cry.
“I’m so proud of you.”
Rehab was a bitch. I knew it was going to be bad, but it turned out that gambling really was an addiction that was harder to cut than I thought it would be. I had to see therapists and get in touch with myself and do a lot of things that had seemed stupid at first.
After twelve weeks, I was finally ready to go home. And not ready in the least, all at the same time. During my stay, I had realized three things. One, my life had been a mess more than I’d realized. Two, I wanted to be with Rip more than anything. Three, I was pregnant with his child. The third had been a hell of a scare, and I’d needed more therapy for that than the gambling.
I wasn’t going to be a good mother. I was a mess, and I knew what a gambling mother was like. Who said that I wouldn’t be like that, too?
And what would Rip think? That scared me the most. How would he accept me now that I was expecting a baby? I knew when it had happened. The night after the mess had been cleared up. The doctor at the rehab center had said that whatever they’d given me must have messed with my birth control pills.
Anything was possible.
One thing I knew…I wasn’t having an abortion or giving the baby up. I knew all too well what it meant to suffer when it wasn’t my fault, and I wasn’t going to do that to a baby.
When I came home, I was just starting to show a tiny baby bump. Not enough to show I was pregnant, but enough to know that I had to tell someone before they found out for themselves.
When Cass took me to the guest room I took her hand.
“Would it be okay if I stayed here a little bit longer?” I asked.
“Of course, Alex. You can stay here as long as you need.”
I looked down at my hands.
“What is it?”
I looked at her. She looked like Mom but somehow it was harder to disappoint her than it had been to disappoint Mom.
“I’m pregnant,” I said. “And before you say anything,” I added when she opened her mouth, a shocked expression on her face, “I’m keeping him.”
“It’s a boy. I had a scan before I came back.”
Cass shook her head, fingertips to her lips.
“I can’t do this now,” she said. She walked around the room, pacing from the door to the bed and back. “How could this have happened? I can’t do this.”
I walked to her and put my hands on her shoulders.
“You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to be Mom anymore, Cass. I’m old enough, and I can take care of myself now.”
Cass’s eyes shimmered with tears, but I shook my head and hugged her.
“Do you know who the father is?” she asked when I let her go at last.
I rolled my eyes. “That’s not fair.”
She shook her head. “I didn’t mean… sorry. I just wanted know.”
I nodded. “I do know, and I want to be with him. If he’ll have me… otherwise I’ll raise him myself.”
“How are you going to manage?”
I shrugged. I didn’t know, but I could figure it out. If I’d made it through all the shit I’d been through the past couple of years and come out on the other end alive, I could do this. Was it going to be hard? Yes. But it wasn’t impossible. Look at everything we’d accomplished.
I didn’t contact Rip. I was too scared to call him. I didn’t know where he was, or if he’d changed his mind in the time we’d been apart. We hadn’t spoken at all, and it made me doubt myself…especially now that I was pregnant.
Three days passed, and then he phoned me.
“Where are you?” he asked. “I want to see you.”
I didn’t know if I had to say yes. I didn’t know if it was going to hurt.
“I miss you,” he said. I didn’t know if it was the words or the tone in his voice that made me agree, but I gave him Cass’s address. He promised to fly in and come to see me in a week’s time.
I was starting to show. I was terrified. If he rejected me, I knew it would hurt. But I couldn’t hide from this, from him. And I didn’t want to hide.
“What if he doesn’t want me?” I asked Cass the night before he arrived.
“If he doesn’t want you, he’s an idiot who doesn’t deserve you,” she said. And I guessed she was right. It still scared the shit out of me.
The doorbell rang at eight in the morning. Cass got it. A moment later she knocked on my door.
“He’s here. I sent him around to your door so you two can talk in private,” she said. She closed the door again, and a moment later, a knock sounded on the door to the outside. I swallowed hard and opened it.
Rip looked amazing. His hair was cut shorter, his clothes were clean, and he didn’t have the general look of danger to him. His eyes were as blue as ever—and when he smiled my stomach flipped.
“Hi,” he said
“Hi,” I answered and smiled, too. Rip stepped closer and pulled me to him. I hugged him, aware of my tummy pressing against him. He didn’t seem to notice. He leaned down and hovered close to my face, giving me the option of kissing him or pulling away.
I pulled away.
It made everything darker. His smile faded, and the nerves that had disappeared for a moment when I’d seen his smile were back. I turned and walked into my room.
“How have you been?” I asked.
“Good,” he said. The conversation was strained. “You?”
“Yeah, good. I’ve sorted everything out.”
Rip nodded. “Me too.”
I sat down on the bed. Rip stood a couple of feet away from me. The distance between us was so obvious, it made me cringe.
“What’s going on?” he asked after a moment of silence. “Somehow I’d imagined this meeting to be different. Have you changed your mind about me?”
I shook my head.
“I was just scared you would change your mind about me,” I said.
“Why would I? I fought for you. I don’t want to lose you. I did all of this for you.”
He gestured to his own clothes. I nodded and studied my nails intently.
“You look really good.”
“Please tell me what’s wrong,” Rip said, stepping closer. “What’s going on?”
I took a deep breath. “I’m pregnant.”
He looked shocked. It was what I’d expected. His eyes slid to my stomach, and I saw him trace the outlines of the small bump, seeing what I said to him as truth.
“Mine?” he asked. I wanted to get angry that he was even asking, but we hadn’t seen each other for over three months.
I nodded. “A boy.”
He didn’t come closer. His face showed no emotion, a poker face that would do any gambler proud. When he looked me in the eye again, I didn’t know what he was thinking at all.
“I don’t expect you to take part in this if you don’t want to. I know that your life…”
He shook his head continuously so that I stopped talking.
“I don’t want you to do it alone,” he said. His face was still closed off, and he felt more distant than ever.
“Are you sure?” I asked. He nodded and finally stepped closer to me. He sat down next to me on the bed and pulled me against his body. In an instant, all the distance and tension was gone, and it was as if the last three months had never happened. It felt like it had just been yesterday we’d been together.