I lost it in the bathroom.
Sitting on the toilet, my mouth hanging open in wordless shock, my eyes wide in wordless wonder (and also shock) I stared at the dipstick of plastic clutched between my index finger and thumb.
It displayed two pink lines. Two pink lines meant that human chorionic gonadotropin was present in my urine. And the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin meant that an embryo had implanted itself in my uterus.
A person was in my uterus… right this minute.
My hand holding the dipstick lowered to my bare thigh and I stared at the wall of the bathroom stall, thinking back to my last conversation with Quinn. Three days ago, before he left for his business trip to Los Angeles, we’d argued because he’d put the colander in the wrong cabinet.
I didn’t understand why it was so difficult for him to put the colander in the correct cabinet. Every time he emptied the dishwasher it was like a scavenger hunt for the week that followed. Meanwhile I had spaghetti noodles going limp and squishy because he couldn’t put the blasted colander in the correct cabinet.
Usually I’d shrug it off, or gently remind him of the colander’s proper placement. Not this time.
After a frantic five minute search for the colander, I lost my mind, dumped the ruined spaghetti in the trash, and started to cry. Quinn found me on the kitchen floor, sobbing. The ensuing conversation included a lot of screaming and accusations of purposeful pasta-sabotage (on my part) and a lot of stone-faced glares (on his part).
He left for the airport forty-five minutes later and we hadn’t spoken since. I’d been avoiding him. I sent his calls to voicemail and hadn’t responded to his text messages.
I was still furious about his (seemingly willful) inability to put the colander back where it belonged. As well, I’d made a list of research articles on efficient kitchen design, organization, and synergy. Prior to right this moment, I’d planned to assemble a power point presentation for his return wherein I would prove that the best place for the colander was the cabinet to the right of the oven.
My attention flickered to the positive pregnancy test. For the first time in three days I wondered if my initial volcanic (then lingering) anger had been a tad irrational. Perhaps it had been fueled by hormonal forces rather than my injured righteousness and strong feelings about intelligent kitchen-tool placement.
Two pink lines. A person in my uterus, our person, one we made together. And Quinn off in Los Angeles with the last words between us being heated and harsh.
The dipstick began to blur. I blinked and fat, hot tears rolled down my cheeks. But before I gave myself over to what I suspected would be more irrational emoting, I decided to pull it together. I mentally searched my brain closet for my big girl pants and demanded that I form a plan of action.
This wasn’t the end of the world. Quinn would return the day after tomorrow and I would explain about prenatal hormones. He would hopefully see that I had no choice but to throw slotted spoons at his head.
Then we would move forward, together, all three of us.
All three of us…
Stephen was following me. In fact, he’d been waiting for me outside of the women’s room when I emerged, his eyebrows arched over his gray eyes in meaningful suspension. He’d been the one to procure the pregnancy tests just after lunch, after I’d been unable to keep down a bowl of chicken soup and crackers, blaming the nausea on a persistent stomach flu for the sixth time in a week.
In retrospect, mentally tallying the events and data points from the last two weeks, I must’ve been in a state of severe delusion and/or denial.
Morning nausea? –Check
Irrational temper? –Check.
Afternoon nausea? –Check
Late menstrual cycle? –Check.
Evening nausea? –Check.
Crying at fabric softener commercials? –Check.
Midnight nausea? –Double check.
When I didn’t answer his, So…? Stephen fell into step next to me and wrapped his well-manicured fingers around my upper arm. He pulled me into his office, shut the door, faced me, and placed his hands on my shoulders.
“Janie, this white man wants to know what’s going on inside your uterus.”
I felt my face crumple as I shook my head.
I shook my head faster.
I expelled a sob, covering my face with my hands. I was a mess. Why was I a mess? Why was I crying about this?
“Are…” I heard his hesitation, likely born out of confusion more than anything else, before he asked, “Tell it to me straight, am I the father?”
My head whipped up at this ridiculous statement. “Stephen! How could you possibly be the father of this baby?”
“I couldn’t, of course. But you’re standing there like a hot mess covered in tabasco, saying nothing.” He tsked, giving me a sidelong glance as his hands fell away. He crossed his arms over his chest and sniffed. “So I take it you are with child, just as I suspected. But what I don’t understand is why you’re crying about it.”
I shook my head again. “I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m crying.”
“This wasn’t planned?”
I sniffled, pulled a folded tissue from my pocket and wiped at my nose. “No—well, not exactly. I mean, we’ve talked about having children—more as a theoretical, future construct than a tangible here and now life choice. I mean, I talked to my doctor and she said it might take a while for us to get pregnant, for the ethinyl estradiol and synthetic progesterone to leave my system—up to a year or more—once I stopped taking birth control. I did some online research and, based on my age and years taking the pill, it seemed implausible that I would become pregnant so soon. So, I stopped taking birth control last month, thinking we had another year… or so…”
“Does The Boss know?”
“No. I didn’t tell him… that I decided to stop the pill.”
“But he knows now.”
“How could he know?”
“I mean, he knows you’re pregnant.”
“I just found out fifteen minutes ago. I haven’t told him yet.”
“Oh. I thought maybe you called him from the bathroom and that’s why it took you so long. People do that, use the restroom like an office. I once walked into a bathroom and overheard a man breaking up with his girlfriend. There I am, trying to pee in the urinal while attempting to ignore her sobs echoing all around me. I couldn’t do it. I’m a shy pee-er as it is, and why he thought it was a good idea to put her on speaker phone…”
I was only half listening to Stephen’s rambling story—to be more precise, I was only 10% listening to Stephen’s rambling story—because fearful thoughts were erupting like a cinder cone volcano. I was… overwhelmed.
Therefore, I interrupted his story as they spewed forth, my brain-panic having reached critical mass. “I don’t know how to mother. I’ve never mothered before. Is there a place where I can borrow children of different ages? Test them out? Maybe they could complete a post-care survey, evaluate my strengths and weaknesses so I’ll know where to focus my energy.”
“You can’t rent children, Janie.”
“Not rent. Borrow. I don’t mind being supervised. In fact, parental input would be welcome. They could observe, take notes.”
“No…” Now he was looking at me like I was crazy.
I wasn’t crazy. This idea had merit. I was a genius!
I couldn’t be the only woman who wanted to try motherhood and receive constructive feedback before taking the plunge. My mother didn’t teach me how to mother, I had no map, no experience or example from which to draw. Surly there were other scientifically minded females out there. We test drove cars, didn’t we? What was so strange about test driving children?
Stephen’s expression softened and he took my hand, squeezed it. “Being a parent is one of those things where the less you know ahead of time the better. Kind of like transcontinental air travel, or a colonoscopy.”
“That’s madness. Information is power.”
“No. In this case information breeds only fear. There is no good that can come from educating yourself about having children. Everything you read will depress you—kind of like transcontinental air travel, or a colonoscopy.”
I gave him a flat scowl, though I returned his hand squeeze. “I disagree. I think arming myself with the knowledge of what to expect will help me relax.”
“There is no arming yourself about kids, there is only alarming yourself about kids.”
I ignored him. “I just… I just need to start preparing.”
“Don’t do it…” He sing-songed the warning and shook his head.
Again ignoring him, I pulled my hand free and took a deep breath, feeling more centered. I had a plan. I would research pregnancy and childrearing. I would make lists of different methods of childbirth and draft a pro-con list for each. I would evaluate peer-reviewed journals on child psychology, development, and potential childhood disorders.
I would prepare for all contingencies.
This was my plan.
It was good plan.
I felt good about this plan.
I flew back to Chicago early.
Carlos stayed for the last day of negotiations, which were really just a cursory finalization of terms. I boarded the jet around 10:00 P.M. This put me at O’Hare well after midnight. I didn’t care. I’d had the deafening sound of Janie’s silence making the last several days unbearable.
Prolonged silence over a colander.
At first I took her at her word. She was pissed about the colander. Fine. Okay. Whatever. So I ordered fifty colanders, scheduled to arrive on Friday. We would have one for every closet and cabinet in the apartment. She’d never have to search for another spaghetti strainer ever again. Problem solved.
But as the days passed and she continued to refuse my calls, I grew concerned.
Her rage hadn’t manifested itself as the fact-spewing I was used to when she was trying to avoid dealing. No… she’d just completely lost it, accused me hiding it on purpose, and wouldn’t calm down. And it had been building for a few days. All week she was losing her temper about stupid stuff.
Yeah… This was different.
Janie wasn’t an angry person. Moreso, she wasn’t an irrational person.
Something was wrong.
Since my late night flight meant I wouldn’t get to the penthouse until early morning, I decided not to wake her up. My plan was to take a shower, remain up until she awoke, and keep her in bed with me until she told me what was really going on—and until I was forgiven. Maybe in writing.
Working to this end, I slipped off my shoes as soon as I entered the penthouse, and left my luggage by the front door. In the living room I took off my jacket, tie, belt, and shirt; I left these on the couch, and dragged a hand across my face. I was tired. More than that, I was irritated.
Irritated and tired, I silently walked to our bedroom.
On the way I noticed the pale blue glow of a computer screen coming from her home office. This gave me pause. I waited and soon heard a mouse clicking. And a keyboard typing. I walked to the open office door. She was up, sitting cross-legged in sweatpants and a T-shirt, glasses on, hair in a bun, staring intently at her screen. I glanced at my watch. It was just after 3:00 A.M.
She started, sucking in a breath as her hands flew to her chest, and blinked several times. I saw the moment she recognized me, and I saw the moment she realized I wasn’t wearing a shirt.
“Where’s your shirt?”
“What’s going on?”
“Why are you up?”
She blinked at me some more, and sagged in her seat, breathing out a loud huff before saying, “I didn’t expect you. I thought you would be back tomorrow night. And now you’re standing there, with no shirt on, and I’m not prepared to have this conversation with you and your abdominal muscles.”
My eyes moved over her. Her words were concerning. I saw she was exhausted. I took a step into the office.
She took another deep breath, but this time she appeared to be gathering courage. “There are eight major categories of childhood cancer.”
It took a full minute for me to decode her words. They were not in the universe of words I’d expected.
“And that’s assuming we make it past gestation. According to the March of Dimes, as many as fifty percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, usually before a woman knows she’s pregnant or a menstrual cycle has been missed. Furthermore, approximately fifteen percent of diagnosed pregnancies end in a miscarriage.”
I stared at her silently because decrypting Janie-speak often took me several seconds. However, given the fact that I was operating on less than four hours of sleep over the last forty-eight hours, deciphering her meaning at present might take hours.
“You should also know that autism runs in my family and prepare yourself for a child with neurocognitive diversity. I have two male cousins who were diagnosed around four years old. In retrospect I realize we should have discussed our genetic predispositions prior to marriage. Based on my research, there may be a correlative link between wheat consumption, celiac, and-”
“Janie… Are you telling me that you’re ready to try? You’re ready for us to have kids?” This was only explanation that made sense.
Her chin wobbled. I watched as she attempted to swallow. The pale glow from the computer screen highlighted her unshed tears and my chest tightened, an answer to the tangible—but mysterious—proof of her sadness.
This was madness. I wasn’t going to be able to translate her meaning, not until I got some sleep. Unable and unwilling to spend another moment not touching her, I crossed to where she was perched and swiftly lifted her in my arms.
“Oh, Quinn…” her voice was small, “I’m so afraid.”
“Don’t be afraid, Janie. Be fearless.” I squeezed her, placed a kiss on her forehead, and turned for the hall leading to our bedroom. She heaved a watery sigh and buried her face in my neck. Her glasses were digging into my collarbone.
I hurriedly made a list of tactical actions.
First, I would remove her glasses and dispense with the bun.
Second, all barriers separating my skin from hers would be obliterated.
Third, I would kiss and touch all my favorite places on her body—which happened to be her favorites as well—until she stopped crying. This always made her feel better and I couldn’t handle her crying. That needed to stop. Now.
I placed her gently on the bed and had made it to number three on my list when I noted her tears ceased. She was actively participating, touching all her favorite paces on my body—which happened to be my favorites as well. Pleased with our progress, I relaxed into her. I took what I wanted, giving her what she needed in return.
I missed this. It had only been days, but I missed the feel of her, the shape, how she fit in my hands, against my body. I missed her taste, how she moved, sighed, the sounds she made.
I thought we were making headway, that things were progressing to a satisfactory conclusion. But then I heard her sob and her hands stopped exploring. I was pulled into an iron tight hold. Her arms wrapped around my shoulders, her legs around my hips, and she embraced me like I might disappear.
Typically I preferred action to discussion, but she wasn’t moving. And her hold on me meant that I couldn’t move. And if I wasn’t convinced before, I was certainly convinced now—something was terribly wrong. I held my concern at bay, knowing worry was counterproductive, but worry without a reason was stupidity.
So, reluctantly, I deferred to words.
“All right, Kitten. Tell me what’s going on.” I kissed her shoulder because it was the only place my lips could reach without wrenching her arms away.
I felt her chest rise and fall beneath mine, and her grip tighten before she said, “We’re going to have a baby.”
“I’m pregnant. I’m pregnant and we’re going to have a baby.”
I think, though I can’t be certain, time stopped.
I know I stopped breathing.
This news felt suspiciously like getting into a fist fight, having the shit beaten out of me, all the while knowing I would reign victorious… except without the pain. It was the opposite of pain. It was adrenaline, euphoria, violence, and apocalyptic shock and awe. These sensations paired with a Neanderthal-like surge of fierce protectiveness for this woman.
All of it combined into an uncontainable screaming between my ears, an uncontrollable FUCK YEAH!
And I was suddenly very much awake.
“Oh my God…” The words arrived and time pitched forward only after I reminded myself to breathe, my lungs having protested and burned from lack of oxygen.
I pulled her hands away and lifted them over her head, untangling myself from her limbs so I could see her face, her eyes. She was nervous. Upset. Hopeful. And, yes, afraid.
Janie was pregnant with my child. Our child.
“Oh my God!” I repeated, because during a moment like this, it seemed rational and necessary to reference a higher power.
“You should know my emotions are not my own.” The words tumbled from her lips, an avalanche; her eyes darting between mine. “I feel like I’ve been taken over by an alien with too many feelings.”
I didn’t need to think about how to respond, I just told her the truth. “You’re wonderful.”
“I cry every time that fabric softener commercial comes on.”
“I throw up all the time. I mean, all the time. I’m basically a vomit machine.”
“You’re so strong and brave.”
“I feel myself getting dumber, like I have sand and molasses in my brain, and a tiny leprechaun singing pirate shanties in my ear.”
“My body feels weird and gross.”
“I’m going to get big, really big. And I’ll have stretchmarks, and my vagina will never be the same.”
“I can’t wait. I’ll kiss your stretch marks and make love to your new vagina.”
She shook her head and I saw she was fighting laughter. “I’ve been totally crazy, I threw spoons at your head—not your face though, I made sure not to maim your face. I like your face.”
“I like you.” I bent to kiss her, taste her skin.
“Quinn…” she stiffened, waited until I met her eyes again before continuing, “There is so much that can go wrong. So many things. And the pregnancy is only nine months. After that, if we make it, we’ll have a person. A person! A little person who is going to need us. I don’t know if I’m ready to be needed.”
“I need you.”
She stared at me, her eyes wide and watchful. “No, you don’t.”
“No, you don’t. Not like this new person will.”
“Maybe not just like this new person, but I do need you. And you take care of me beautifully. And I take care of you. And we’ll take care of our person. We will love her, and we will cherish him, and he or she will love us in return.”
The first glimmer of a real smile broke through her features as she stared at me. I saw apprehension give way to hope and maybe a little bit of excitement. “It’s going to difficult. Children are hard work.”
“Yes.” I nodded once. I was undeterred.
Her eyes dropped to my mouth and her grin widened, all traces of fear gone as she said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile so big.”
Fuck. I was so happy. That’s all I was. I was happy.
So I laughed and I kissed her. I spread her legs and I touched her. I waited until she was mindless and ready and absorbed in the love and passion between us before I said, “I am happy, Janie. Our family makes me happy.”
If you enjoyed this exclusive content, sign-up for Penny’s newsletter where you will receive more exclusive shorts! Don’t miss the release of the next book in the Knitting in the City series, Marriage of Inconvenience:
There are three things you need to know about Kat Tanner (aka Kathleen Tyson. . . and yes, she is *that* Kathleen Tyson): 1) She’s determined to make good decisions, 2) She must get married ASAP, and 3) She knows how to knit.
Being a billionaire heiress isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it sucks. Determined to live a quiet life, Kat Tanner changed her identity years ago and eschewed her family’s legacy. But now, Kat’s silver spoon past has finally caught up with her, and so have her youthful mistakes. To avoid imminent disaster, she must marry immediately; it is essential that the person she chooses have no romantic feelings for her whatsoever and be completely trustworthy.
Fortunately, she knows exactly who to ask. Dan O’Malley checks all the boxes: single, romantically indifferent to her, completely trustworthy. Sure, she might have a wee little crush on Dan the Security Man, but with clear rules, expectations, and a legally binding contract, Kat is certain she can make it through this debacle with her sanity—and heart—all in one piece.
Except, what happens when Dan O’Malley isn’t as indifferent—or as trustworthy—as she thought?