The Darkest Hour (Chapter Five, page 1 of 1)

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The days drug into weeks and nothing changed between them. Each morning Alex left for work, and each evening he ate the supper she prepared. They retired to the living room and he read a book while she knitted until bedtime. They weren't fighting — they simply didn't talk. The lines of communication had been hacked in two. Anything would have been better than his silent disapproval. Once he had told her that there would be times in their marriage when they would regret giving up their freedom. Was he regretting their marriage? Was he trying to struggle through this — and would things ever be the same for them? Not with this unsolved issue hanging over their head. When the baby was born, they could do a DNA test, but would their relationship be destroyed by then? Had he been to see the doctor yet? And what if the doctor still insisted it was impossible? Then what?
Looking back, she could hardly blame him for being suspicious. How could Josh have been such a fool? It occurred to her suddenly that Josh knew exactly what Alex would think — that he was getting even with them both. He still blamed Alex for their failed romance — still thought she would have married him if Alex hadn't come along. Josh believed, as she did, that the man should be the ultimate decision-maker. But Josh was only interested in what served Josh best. He didn't care what the woman wanted.
Alex was different. Even now, when he suspected the worst, he was beside her. Josh wouldn't have done that. He'd have beaten her to ... a light came on.
He glanced up from his book and she tucked her knitting into the bag.
"Do you think Josh might be abusing Lori?"
At the mention of Josh's name, his eyes veiled over.
"I wouldn't know." His attention returned to the book, but she could tell he wasn't reading. Finally he glanced up again. "What made you think of that?"
She chose her words carefully. "The night you called, we were talking and I made him angry. I thought he was going to hit me."
His gaze sharpened. "Has he ever hit you — intentionally, I mean?"
Only once had Josh actually hit her, and Alex had been there. Josh had intended to hit Alex, but she had jumped between them. Alex had reason to know Josh could be rough unintentionally as well. He had stopped Josh from shaking the life out of her once. Josh simply didn't realize how strong he was — and he had a terrible temper. Apparently so did Alex.
"No," she hesitated. Was she violating a trust? At the moment, hiding anything from Alex would be folly.
"He never actually hit me, but ... The time my truck broke down, I said something that irritated him and he grabbed me by the front of the shirt and jerked me off the ground. For a minute, I thought he was going to strangle me to death."
Alex groaned. Was he remembering the way he had attacked her in the barn? Finally he put the book aside.
"Don't let him into this house when I'm not here — and if he ever so much as touches you in a way you don't like, tell me. I'll put a stop to it. “He hesitated. "Whether you like it or not."
She was actually feeling better until that last remark. Did he actually think she would like it if Josh touched her? Tears filled her eyes and she climbed out of the recliner, stretching and feigning a yawn.
"I'm going to bed."
He stayed up and she cried herself to sleep again. The next morning she woke facing his back. At least he came to bed. How could they sleep together like this and feel so lonely? Was he lonely? She reached out and touched his shoulder.
He wasn't asleep. He rolled over and propped his head up on one elbow, gazing down at her somberly. For a few electrified moments they exchanged hungry looks. She rolled over on her back, gazing up at him in silent invitation. It had been so long, and the absence of intimacy was ruining any chance of salvaging their relationship.
For an embarrassing moment she thought he would decline the offer, but slowly a smile touched the corners of his mouth. Gradually some of the warmth returned to his dark gaze. He reached out and pulled her to him. In that instant everything was behind them and they made love as though nothing had come between them.
Afterward, they lay in each other's arms in contented silence. She snuggled against his warm chest.
I love you," she whispered. "I'll always love you."
He kissed the top of her head. "I'll always love you — no matter what."
He still wasn't convinced. Had he been to see the doctor, then? Her face warmed as a thought occurred to her. Had he been abstaining so he could get an accurate test? Had she seduced him into ruining the test? In his eyes she had lost her innocence — or at least it was in strong suspect. Would things ever return to normal? Even now, as they made love, the electricity was there. But they didn't joke around with each other any more. For the first time, she wished she hadn't conceived. What a terrible thought!

If the nights were lonely, the days were filled with changes. Not all of them were good. She had to buy new bras as her breasts began to enlarge, and headaches were a daily thing now. Sometimes she was sad and then minutes later she was searching the internet for baby things. Finally she broke down and went to see Mums. They hadn’t told anyone she was pregnant yet and Mums was sure to be happy for them. She needed to tell someone or she was going to burst.
Mums greeted her with the usual warmth.
”It’s so good to see you out and around. I was beginning to think you were becoming a hermit.”
Carmen returned her hug — and then started to cry.
Mums put an arm around her shoulders and led her to the table.
”Here, sit down and tell me what the problem is. You’ve been so reserved lately.
”It’s alright. I’ve just been so emotional lately.
Mums lifted a brow. “Have you been sick?”
Of course Mums would immediately know the cause. But how could she when she knew Alex was sterile?
Carmen nodded, accepting the cup of coffee Mums offered.
”Have you told Alex yet?”
Carmen nodded. “I hate being this way. I feel so ... ugly.”
Mums sat down at the table and put a hand over hers. “Well, you’re beautiful. I’m sure Alex thinks so too. Now tell me, when is it due.”
Carmen smiled through her tears. This was what she needed — someone to talk to about the baby. Mums would understand, and Mums would keep it confidential.
”The doctor says late December.”
“Mums patted her hand and smiled. You must be excited.”
Carmen nodded again. “I hope it looks just like Alex.”
Mums chuckled. “That might not be so good if it’s a girl.”
They talked for over an hour, Mums gracefully avoiding the obvious. Mums probably suspected that Alex didn’t believe the baby was his. She always seemed to know what was going on inside people’s heads, and to anticipate how a person would react to a given circumstance. Mums wasn’t clairvoyant, but she was intuitive. Things would get better. Alex would eventually accept the baby as his. He was a good husband and he would be a good father. He simply needed time to adjust.
By the time she left, Carmen was feeling much better. Before going home, she made a trip to the market and bought prepared food for the first time. Alex looked surprised when he saw it on the table, but he ate without comment. He had once told her that any time she didn’t want to cook, they could go out to eat, but this hardly seemed the time. Things would get better. She simply had to be patient.

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