I looked at the beautiful nursery that was once my garish bedroom, smiling at what a difference new wallpaper could make. Serene and Cedar were having a little girl and had tried to make the room as cheerful and feminine as possible. They had offered to set up the nursery in their bedroom, allowing me to continue to sleep in the guest room, but they had already done so much for me, I wasn’t going to let them make that sacrifice. A lesser person would have tossed me out on the street when I was at my worst, but they had given up their own peace of mind to make sure that I was safe and healthy. I could never fully repay them for that, but the nursery was a good start.
I had worked tirelessly over the past two weekends to help Cedar get the room perfect, and I couldn’t help but glow at the results. Just removing Gossamer’s terrible wallpaper choice was a feat, never mind the issue of putting up new wallpaper. But the satisfaction I got from tossing that grotesque nude over the bed into the dumpster was enough to make the effort worthwhile. Cedar and Serene’s little girl would have a great room to grow up in, and I felt really good about that. Even if my future wasn’t going as well as I would have hoped.
Fortunately for me, Cedar’s sofa had a pull-out bed, so I was sleeping on that for the time being. It wasn’t the most comfortable sleeping arrangement in the world, but it was better than nothing. Besides, I wasn’t getting much sleep these days anyway. The nightmares were ceaseless, so I spent many of my nights watching television into the early hours of the morning. It was nice to be able to roam around or watch TV in the middle of the night without disturbing Cedar or Serene upstairs in their bedroom. I mostly lay around watching infomercials and talk shows, but anything was better than seeing Pacifica’s bloodied face every night in my sleep. I had come to terms with the fact that anything that might happen to her was out of my hands, but there were still slivers of guilt deep down inside that manifested in my dreams. On the surface, I knew that Pacifica would have to lie in the bed she had made for herself, but I couldn’t quite get my subconscious to understand that it was not my fault.
The lack of sleep was proving to be a hindrance in my work with my father, but I think he was too relieved to see me up and moving to say anything. Given the option between heartbroken drunkenness and slow reflexes, the latter won out with no contest.
Two months after I’d lost Pacifica, I found myself digging through the fridge looking for a beer. It was only ten in the morning, but I’d slept just a few hours and the image of her face was fresh in my mind. I needed to numb the pain. Unfortunately, Cedar was on the ball as far as keeping any alcohol out of my reach, so there was nothing to be found. I was about to settle for a slice of key lime pie when the doorbell rang.
I jumped up, startled at the sudden noise. It was ten o’clock on a Thursday morning, and I didn’t think Serene and Cedar were expecting any visitors.
I opened the door to see a purple-haired woman standing shyly on the porch, her face and body obscured from my view. I couldn’t even see the color of her skin, as she was wearing a heavy coat and stockings. I found the choice in clothing a little odd. It was the middle of July and sweltering outside. I was sweating just standing at the door. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for this young woman, bundled up in a wool coat, especially with that heavy head of hair she had. I stood staring at her for a moment, trying to understand her strange appearance.
“Um,” I said after a few minutes, “Can I help you, miss?” She didn’t move.
She shifted uncomfortably, as if she hadn’t heard me. I raised an eyebrow before asking louder, “Did you need something, miss?”
She jumped at my voice, before turning around.
Pacifica. The wig and sunglasses hid her face, but I had no doubt that it was her. Here. In front of me after two months apart. She raised her hand tentatively in a half-wave. I couldn’t move, I was so stunned at her appearance. Why was she wearing a coat? Why was she so disguised? Why would she come back after everything that had happened? I felt bile rise in my throat, but I wasn’t sure if it was from anger or something else.
“What are you doing here, Pacifica?” I asked finally.
“I needed to see you, to talk to you,” she responded. She must have seen my look of confusion at her attire, because she touched the wig self-consciously. “I-I needed to come see you without Valentino finding out,” she said, dropping her eyes as she spoke.
“Valentino,” I repeated, a sick taste in my mouth.
“Edie, it’s not what you think,” she said quickly, a look of desperation in her eyes.
I felt my temper flare at the use of that nickname. After all this time, she thought she could come back and pretend like nothing bad had happened? That she hadn’t completely obliterated me? “Don’t call me Edie,” I said with venom in my voice.
Her eyes widened, hurt. “I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” her lip quivered for a moment, but she quickly hid the emotion. “Can I please come in, Eden? I need to explain…”
I didn’t give her the chance to finish her thought. “Get out of here, Pacifica,” I said, turning around to go back in the house. It took every ounce of will I had to turn away, but I wasn’t going to let her manipulate me again.
She grabbed my arm tight, pulling me back. Her voice broke as she said, “Please, Eden.” I stopped in my tracks and crossed my arms over my chest defensively. She stepped back, looking up at me reluctantly. She tried to muster a smile, but couldn’t quite get it to her cheeks.
“You have to know that I never meant to hurt you,” she said. She started to open her mouth again to speak, but I stopped her.
“Why are you back, Pacifica? Didn’t you do enough damage to me? I’m doing fine without you, so whatever guilt you’re trying to assuage, you don’t need to. You can go back to Valentino and live happily ever after in the life of luxury you’ve always wanted.” I started to walk away again.
“You don’t understand, I…I missed you, Eden.”
I swung on her, my rage boiling over. “You missed me?! No, you don’t get to miss me, Pacifica!” My chest was so tight I could barely breathe, but it didn’t stop me. “Do you have any idea what it’s been like for me the past two months? I gave you everything I had, Pacifica, and you threw me away for a monster!” I was shaking at this point, my eyes clouded with red anger. “I don’t want you, Pacifica,” I lied through my teeth. “I don’t need you. I don’t…” I started to tell her that I didn’t love her, but that was one lie I couldn’t quite force through my lips. Because I did love her. And I hated every second of it.
Her eyes widened and I could see tears forming in the corners. She stood motionless, staring at me for a moment. It felt like an eternity.
“Are you going to say anything?” I asked finally, making no attempt at patience.
“Eden, I…” she began to speak. She shook her head, her arms in front of her defensively. “I didn’t have a choice. I had to say those things. He didn’t give me a choice.” Her voice sounded strained, the words coming out of her with great difficulty.
“He made you choose an acting career over me?” I asked, scoffing. “Don’t lay the blame at his feet, Pacifica. You made your own choice.”
“I had to protect you, Eden.” Her voice sounded so small; broken.
“What does that even mean?” I asked, the last traces of my patience wearing away.
She turned away.
“He was going to kill you, Eden. He had already come so close and he…” she stopped, a sob escaping her throat.
“You’re not making any sense, Pacifica,” I said quietly.
“He told me that if I didn’t come back to him that he would kill you, Eden. And he would have done it, too. You don’t know what he’s capable of. I couldn’t-I couldn’t risk losing you.”
“Why didn’t you trust me to protect you?” I asked, feeling wounded by her lack of faith.
“He wasn’t going to do anything to me, Eden, and I knew that. There was nothing he could do to hurt me more than taking you away. If I hadn’t gone with him, he would have hunted you down. I could live without you if I knew you were safe. But if anything had happened to you, I…” her voice broke. “I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself.”
“Why?” I asked dumbly. “Why does it matter so much?”
She paused. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if she would answer. “Because I love you, Eden.”
I should have felt elated. I had waited so long to hear those words, wanted them with every fiber of my being. But as she said them, I felt a pain in my chest. She didn’t even trust me to keep us safe from Valentino; to fight for her. I was a loser, pathetic. Even the girl claiming to love me didn’t believe in me. What did I have to offer?
“Why, Pacifica?” I asked finally. “No one could love a loser like me.” Tears stung my eyes and I quickly whisked them away, ashamed at their presence. Just another reminder of how pitiful I truly was.
“Oh, Edie,” she said, turning around suddenly.
She grabbed hold of my hands, looking into my eyes with a smile on her face. “When I first met you, I thought you were the most awkward guy I’d ever encountered. You could barely speak to me without getting flustered. You were so serious and uptight,” she laughed as she spoke. “You were everything in this world I was sure I never wanted.”
I bristled. “Is there a point to all this?”
She took my hands. “But you are also the kindest, gentlest, most wonderful guy I’ve ever known. I know when I look into your eyes that you mean everything you say. I know you wouldn’t hurt me, or hurt…” she cut herself off, her cheeks flushing. “I thought when I lost my parents that fame and fortune would give me everything I didn’t have in the world. I wanted the big city, my name in lights, for everyone to sing my songs!” She frowned. “But with you…I want to be unknown, to live in the suburbs away from all the glitz and glamour. Being with you…I know the love that my parents had and I would give up everything else to spend the rest of my life with you.” She smiled expectantly.
I tried to absorb everything she was saying: her declaration of love, her desire to be with me. It was so much to take at once. I wanted so badly to give in, to tell her that I loved her more than words could describe…but something stopped me. Fear, apprehension…maybe just plain old cowardice. I couldn’t give myself over to her after everything that had happened. I couldn’t risk losing her again. It had nearly broken me the first time, and I knew it would kill me if it ever happened again.
I shook my head, pulling my hands away. “I want to believe you, Pacifica, I do, but…I can’t.” I stepped back.
She dropped her eyes, disappointed. “I understand,” she said, her voice sorrowful. “But there’s something you need to know.”
She pressed her finger to her mouth, biting it nervously as she thought about what to say next. I watched her, not pushing her. I was curious, of course, because I had no idea what to expect, but the look of fear in her eyes was stark.
“What is it?” I asked her in a gently coaxing voice.
“You have to know that I wouldn’t have come here…wouldn’t have disturbed you, but,” she stopped suddenly, and I could see the wheels moving in her head. “I’m pregnant, Eden,” she finally blurted out.
In that moment, the whole world disappeared. She was pregnant. With Valentino’s baby. The image of his child growing inside her…of him making love to her…it sickened me. Violent thoughts flooded my brain. I wanted to find him, to tear him apart. I felt nauseous at the realization. She said she loved me, but all the time I was falling apart, she was in his arms. They had made a baby. A baby.
“What?” I asked angrily. “So you thought that you would come to me now? All those words of love…I almost believed it.”
Her eyes widened with hurt and confusion. “Eden…what?”
“Did Valentino not want the baby? Of course, you figured I was the perfect sap to take you in when he discarded you. Berry, I’m so stupid!”
Her eyes widened when she realized what I was saying. “Oh, Eden, no!”
She bit her lip, her eyes filled with anguish at my accusations. “You think I would let him touch me? After everything he did, what he put us through? Do you really not think better of me, Eden?” Tears began to spill onto her cheeks and I could hear her struggling to breathe normally.
“Whose then?” I asked with irritation. Berry only knew what she had done these past two months; who she had been with.
She shook her head, looking at me like I was the dumbest man on the planet. It occurred to me later that perhaps I was. “It’s your baby, Eden. Yours.”
I thought that at any moment the earth would collapse beneath me. She was having my baby. I had never thought that we could…a baby. Everything I had ever learned in health classes taught me that making love to a woman could have consequences, but they had never even crossed my mind all those times that we…how did this happen? No, I knew how it happened. It was recklessness, carelessness. We were so caught up in the whirlwind of emotion that we never thought to use protection. She was having a baby. My baby. These months of missing her, of wishing we could have a future together, like Serene and Cedar. And here she was…having my baby. It was what I had prayed for, if not in so many words. But now it was real and I…
“Eden,” she said, rubbing at her coat, “can I come in now?”
“Oh!” I said, stepping back to let her enter. A baby.
She brushed off her coat and wig and I caught sight of it. A bruise over her eye. And another on her arm. The daze of confusion I had been in only moments before faded away, replaced by protective anger.
“Did he do this to you?” I asked, my voice booming with rage. “I swear I’ll kill him!”
“No,” she said suddenly. “He’s not worth it, Eden. I’m alright, I promise.” She tried to smile, but I could see how she winced as she tried.
“What happened?” I asked, resisting every instinct that told me to grab my keys and track Valentino down: to kill him.
She turned away again. “He found the test in the trash. I was so stupid for leaving it there, but I was so surprised, I just…I didn’t think. But he knew the baby wasn’t his because we hadn’t…you know.” She sniffed. “He became so angry. He told me to get rid of the baby, that he wasn’t going to let me carry some other man’s child. I told me him no and he…” she broke off. “He grabbed me by the arm and tried to throw me down the stairs. I fell into the wall instead and hit my eye.”
“Oh, Cici,” I said, my heart breaking for what she had suffered. The fear she must have felt.
She turned back to me. “He wanted to hurt our baby, Edie.” Our baby. “But I didn’t let him. I hit him as hard as I could with a lamp and he fell down. I took off running as fast I could. I ran to Cotton Candy’s and she got me the disguise and the coat and she paid for the cab to get here.” Tears began running down her face. “I couldn’t let him hurt the baby,” she said in a whisper before breaking down sobbing.
I took her in my arms, pressing my lips against her forehead. “Shh,” I said. “He’s not going to hurt you or the baby. I promise you.” She pressed her body against mine as she continued to cry, unable to hold it back any longer. I felt her flat belly as it came against mine and I was flooded with images. Soon she would be swollen with pregnancy, her tiny belly multiplied in size. And then there would be a child. A little boy or girl that was uniquely ours…a little piece of each of us. It was surreal.
We were going to have a baby.