There might have been things I missed, but don’t be unkind
It don’t mean I’m blind
Perhaps there’s a thing or two I think of lying in bed
I shouldn’t have said
But, there it is
You see, it’s all clear
You were meant to be here from the beginning
The lights blurred above her head as the gurney raced through the corridors. On any other day hers would be the eyes looking down with concern, issuing instructions, making assessments, calming and soothing the distressed patient. Right now she couldn’t even think about her other days. Right now this day was turning into hell on earth and she couldn’t quite fathom that this would be the fifth time to travel down a corridor like this one.
There was a brief moment where she thought about her children and wondered where they were right now. Lena. Lena had them, didn’t she? When the pain had started she had that awful moment of recognition and then once she had summoned help, her psyche had shut down. She wasn’t convinced that she wasn’t having an out of body experience right now.
In the treatment room she was hooked up to monitors in a vain last hope that they could stop what was happening. She already knew that they were beyond that point. This was all too familiar, her body sending her messages that she could not ignore. There was nothing that could be done except to continue the downward spiral into hell and hope that she would 180 before she hit rock bottom. She watched the hive of activity wanting desperately to tell them all to shut the hell up and get away from her body. The words wouldn’t come through the wall of tears behind her eyes. Better to be quiet than to open those flood gates.
Her mind flashed back. Four times. Four times she had already been in this space. During the first she had been devastated but hopeful. The second had come way too fast on the heels of the first and her body went into shock, taking six weeks of antibiotic treatments to heal. A year later she was back in the hospital again, having her system flushed, determined not to sink into depression. The doctors tried to warn her about taking care and taking time. Her husband had reprimanded her as well and as a doctor herself she should have known better but within 8 months the fourth trip to the hospital occurred for her this time under a shroud of secrecy. It didn’t remain a secret for long and his solution was to remove himself, his disappointment, his fear and his anger from her presence, making the move to Seattle ahead of her.
He said that he had to go, to start in the new position he had taken up. She understood that he was going away from her to stop her from taking risks again. She couldn’t follow straight away, the state wouldn’t let her. Not if she wanted to secure the boys’ futures. And she did, they both had wanted that more than anything. But the thought of two adopted children did not fill the void and she had stupidly tried to achieve what her body and God had told her was not to be. What’s more she had done it without his consent, taking from him without asking. That didn’t make him love her less, but he feared her single-mindedness when it came to having a child of her own. He had hoped that adopting the two little boys, with all of their problems would be enough to make them a family and take away her pain. So he moved, albeit temporarily, to take away the temptation, to allow her body to heal, to give them both time to consider what was important.
Loss had been hovering around them for the last two years it seemed. The suicide of his older brother, Derek; the death of her best friend, Michelle and her youngest son, Christopher; then the four souls whose lives had never been truly realized but were loved and mourned nonetheless. All of those absences created a massive chasm in both their lives but in her it was a trench rent deep and wide from which she couldn’t climb and even though she had taken little Elliot into her home and cared for him like he was her own after his mother and brother had died, there was always that fear that his Australian family would land on her doorstep at any moment and take him away. She was too scared to love the little boy too much. She knew that Carrick was too, his lawyerly warnings a constant reminder in her ear.
The day that Christian had been found was one that turned her life upside down. She recalled so vividly his haunted eyes, the fear in his body as he recoiled from her touch, the mass of scarring across his frail malnourished form. The police had brought him straight to the hospital without benefit of an ambulance or social services, the officers so terrified that he was about to go into arrest. His four year old heart was barely registering a beat, his body limp and rapidly cooling. The officer who held him was a mother, descended from Cuban immigrants. She crooned a lullaby to him as she held his almost unconscious body wrapped in a blanket. She said it was the only way that he would allow them to touch him. Grace had her work cut out for her to carry out any examination.
For a while he had sat still on the gurney, his body shaking, eyes staring into space. When she and a nurse had approached to examine his torso and take readings, all hell had broken loose. The little boy jumped on top of the gurney, into a defensive pose and all but snarled at them, his hands scratching a warning attack on her skin, the momentum sending the trolley scooting heavily into the wall. She was bleeding and shocked but not daunted until he howled with pain. The hollow sound hurt her like his tiny hands could never have done. Finally they had sedated him and she felt sickened at the thought that his first memories of her would be so confrontational. But instead of that dark and painful fear his eyes held hers throughout the rest of the examination, as if he was trying to tell her he understood. He didn’t want her to touch him, couldn’t bear her to touch him but he seemed to understand that she needed to. Once it was done she vowed never to touch him without his permission ever again.
Christian remained in her heart in a way she could never have predicted. She had seen her fair share of broken and damaged children relegated to state care. But the trust in those eyes had become a feature of her dreams and she begged Carrick, against his better judgment, to pursue his care. They fought about the boys. About the length of time it would take to secure Elliot’s adoption and sever the ties with his grandmother’s estate. About the move to Seattle and what she would be giving up so that he could pursue his partnership track. They fought about trying to have their own child one more time when they had been warned it might kill her. Mostly they fought about taking on a child who was half the size he should be and so horrifically traumatized by his early years that they might never have the expertise to reach him.
Grace was nothing if not persistent and within the year they had taken the young Christian, who screamed in his sleep with nightmares he couldn’t speak about, and who recoiled from everyone’s touch except Elliot, who was allowed to hold his hand, into their home. Two broken people who had suffered through years of heartache and disappointment suddenly became four broken people, trying to make the best of their lot. It was a recipe for disaster. So when she was admitted to the hospital the fourth time, the boys stayed with a friend while her husband half a nation away knew nothing. When he returned from his trip he nursed her back to health and as soon as she was coping on her own he removed himself from her presence taking the temptation of his body and his seed with him.
The adoption process stalled their progress as a family. Eleven long months after losing that fourth baby Grace finally packed up the children and their lives and got them ready to follow her husband to Seattle. In her care would be the ashes of four children who were never born and the shattered remains of two little boys who she feared would never be completely whole. When she told Carrick that they were almost on their way she missed the reserve in his voice, too absorbed in her own pain. Instead, she convinced herself that the new start was just what they all needed. She never questioned his desire to fly back to Detroit to escort them to their new home. Hope blossomed at his kindness.
Carrick stepped off the plane with an ominous sense of foreboding. There was a deep dark secret that he had to share with his wife who he had not seen in months. He never doubted that she would come to him. He had been active in pursuing the adoption of the young boys who had become part of her life, even though it terrified him to take them both on. He had never doubted that Grace would be the only person with whom he would share his life. He just hadn’t anticipated that loneliness would become a weakness that would lead to regret.
He had been living in a dingy apartment waiting for Grace; waiting for the state to approve the adoptions; waiting to make the necessary arrangements for her to follow him. Once they were together again they would look for a house and settle in their new home for good. But then weeks turned to months as the adoption was held up preventing Grace from traveling interstate. He had gone home twice in the months apart and Grace had welcomed him with open arms each time but he would not risk sleeping with her and each time he left, felt like another wedge between them. His new employer had insisted on him beginning his tenure at a particular date and while sympathetic to his situation, they had him locked into court dates for months in advance. If Grace was lonely, he didn’t blame her, he just hoped that wasn’t the case. Days and nights blended into a stream of nothingness and he barely knew that he had poured himself into bed each night.
There had been a series of muggings in and around his building and he had considered moving but just didn’t have the time or energy to look elsewhere. So when his young neighbours, a couple from the mid-West had encouraged his friendship he clung to it like a drowning man lost at sea. The young man was built like a prize-fighter. He worked in construction and moonlighted as a security guard. His timid and mousy wife smiled and laughed at his jokes. Her face lit up from within when she did and he found himself trying hard to wipe away the lost and haunted look that rested on her face at other times. Her husband dominated her existence as much as he dominated the small rooms of their apartment but for the most part they were relaxing and fun and they made him feel safe. Before too long Carrick found himself eating too much and drinking too much with them but when the nights were so lonely what else was he to do?
The liquor got harder and harder as time went on and a few casual joints became a pill here and there for experiments’ sake. The young husband, Linc, confiscated them at the club where he worked and never quite knew what any of them were. The latest fun drug on the market, he said. Carrick, whose life was already spiralling downward, felt almost resigned to looking for fun in a pill or the bottom of a glass. He missed Grace with a deep soulful ache that penetrated his body and mind, making his work suffer and his mind an unhealthy place to live. Fun was probably too strong a word for what he was seeking. Solace would have been enough. And perhaps sleep.
Young Lena, still a teenager, would pour the drinks and listen to them talk with no opinion of her own. Linc, who became more aggressive and loud with each glass and pill, would pull her on to his knee and kiss her as the night wore on, sending shards of jealousy to Carrick’s heart. Not that he wanted Lena but he missed his Grace with all the aching silence of his body. Over the course of a few weeks whatever inhibitions Lena and Linc had were gone and their kissing became touching that gained in heat and intensity until Carrick’s discomfort became unbearable. He would remove himself when things got too hot and heavy, stumbling his way back to his apartment and jerking himself off in the dark. Linc’s laughter often echoed in his ears as he came all over his stomach.
One night he turned up and Linc had other friends in the apartment. Another security guard and two more girls from the club were already indulging heavily in Linc’s hospitality. Carrick’s breath caught in his throat when Lena appeared, dressed in a sheer nightie, her long brown hair braided and falling down her back. Her pert breasts were visible through the fabric and her panties were no more than a string around her waist. She looked so innocent, so beautiful but Linc treated her like chattel, ordering her to serve them all while they laughed at her. Carrick felt compassion and embarrassment for her. He wanted nothing more than to wrap his shirt around her and hide her away from the sick, perverted display that Linc and his friends seemed intent in putting on. The other girls were standing in the middle of the room while Linc and his friend fingered them. Lena kept her eyes downcast for which Carrick was grateful. He just needed to find a way to remove her.
Linc noticed him watching her, intently hovering over her for protection from the other man who insisted on touching her ass as she walked through the room. Carrick was oblivious to his scrutiny instead focused on Lena’s interactions with the rest of the group. Finally Linc ordered her to sit on the floor at his feet, offering up an unspoken challenge to Carrick.
Lena was ordered to stroke Linc and the other guard while the two other women sat on their laps smothering them with open mouth kisses. Carrick felt both sickened and drawn to the sight. The two women straddled the men’s thighs, grinding themselves against them as they kissed. Lena placed her hands between the legs of the two couples rubbing the men’s erections through the strained material of their trousers, bitter tears forming on her cheeks as she all but physically bit her tongue. Carrick could watch no more. He grabbed her hands and pulled her up into his arms, angrily shielding her body with his.
Unfortunately, the drugs were already doing their job and his inhibitions shifted as she pressed against him. Without thinking he kissed her and she responded, her body grinding against his hardening cock. In the back of his head he wanted to resist but in the drug induced haze his body was betraying him. He only became dimly aware of the girls leaving with the other man, perhaps to another room or outside the apartment, he couldn’t be sure.
Pulling away from her mouth took every ounce of his strength and when he looked down at the smirking Linc he saw the man was deeply aroused. For a moment he felt confused and then Lena pushed him down into a seat with a thud. A sudden rush of pure lust swept through his body causing him physical pain. He needed to come so badly.
Then her hand was there, with Linc’s voice coaching, encouraging, urging her on. He talked her through stripping him of his trousers and briefs, a deep rumble drawing them both into an act that neither particularly wanted. From behind the haze he tried to push down his need. The very thought of being watched should have given him a massive soft on but the drugs were working over time making him throb with longing. Then she was there naked in front of him, her youthful body poised over the top of him.
Linc’s deep voice instructed her to place her breasts at the level of his mouth. The pendulous motion was hypnotic and her hands pushed the tender flesh forward into his open mouth. Suckling was a reflex he could not control even though his mind was screaming at him to stop. He thought of Grace, of her beauty, her love, her trust and he wanted to sob.
At Linc’s instruction she stood taller, fingering herself while Carrick’s drunken head lolled to one side. The sight of her glistening fingers drawing moisture from between her legs was enough to entice his tongue across his lips. He wanted to taste, to lick, to suck and his hands went to her hips lifting the sweetness to his mouth. But when he tasted her he knew she wasn’t his. She wasn’t his Grace and he quickly pushed her away, his face twisted in revulsion. Still his stiff cock would not diminish or relax and against the constant mutterings of his brain to stop, his hands reached down and stroked his own length.
Once more Linc spoke and Lena whimpered in the distant fog of his brain. She didn’t want to do this. She tried to tell him no but then he was up out of his seat and slapping her so hard across the face that she fell into the wall. Carrick stood trying to ease between them but he felt so drunk, so fuzzy. Instead of a smooth, clear movement to protect her, he stumbled only just catching himself before he careened into the edge of the coffee table. Linc grabbed his arms, pushing him down into the wooden chair once more but this time tying his hands behind his back and securing his feet. The sensation of being tied should have angered him or scared him but instead he felt the excitement mounting in his body even further.
When he was sure that Carrick could not move Linc took his time moving back towards a cowering and tearful Lena. She kept her head bowed, not daring to look him in the eye. It did her no good. He backhanded her once more, the momentum throwing her into the corner of the door. In an out of body moment Carrick thought that she would have a black eye in the morning. Lena cried out in pain, her hand grasping the side of her face but this served to anger Linc further. He reached down and withdrew the belt from his pants, doubling it over in his hand before instructing her to turn around and hold the door frame.
Carrick impotently struggled against his bindings hoping for a moment that she would run, lock the door and wait for Linc to come down off his drug induced high but she didn’t. Her hands reached above her head and held the frame. She spread her feet and stood steady on the floor with her head down. He watched in horror as Linc drew his hand back and unleashed hell across her back, stripping the skin with each lashing. Was it 8? 12? 16? He couldn’t be sure. What he did know was that Lena did not utter a sound or move a muscle until it was over.
There was the vain hope that she would be excused now that Linc had had his pound of flesh. Instead, she turned defiantly and stared him in the eye. A look passed between them then she turned and walked over to Carrick and knelt between his spread legs. He watched the welts on her back oozing tiny tracts of blood as she gripped his still painful dick and sucked on it. She worked him with her mouth for minutes, hours, he could not tell. Just as suddenly she straddled him and sank her hot wet sheath down over his taut pained shaft. He muttered an expletive under his breath as she began to raise and lower herself slowly on him gradually increasing the pace until he was involuntarily thrusting up to meet her.
Glancing over her shoulder, wishing it would stop and knowing that there was only one possible way it would end, he saw Linc masturbating as he perched on the corner of the table. His cock was purple in his hand and Carrick was mesmerized, disgustingly turned on as he watched the man that he thought was his friend jerking himself off as his wife all but raped him. Squeezing his eyes shut he fought the urge to come for as long as he could, not wanting to be inside any other woman but Grace.
The grunting from Linc grew, the only sound louder than the slapping of his hand and Lena’s pussy. He could shut out the sight but he couldn’t block the sound that was making him build, the pressure becoming too much. His mind fought to gain control, to push down his orgasm but then Linc moved in behind Lena and instructed her to come. As the pulsing of her sheath tightened around him, he heard Linc’s own grunting release and watched the man’s come spurting from his cock into the partially open wounds on Lena’s back. The hot salty liquid was enough to make her scream out in pleasure and pain and Carrick’s eyes flew open to see a twisted smile on her face. No longer able to hold back, his ejaculation flooded through from the depth of his stomach and up into the tip of his cock finally spurting forth inside Lena’s hot cunt.
Linc leaned over the top of Lena, and Carrick, angry and mortified, tried to shunt him off her before he could hurt her again. But instead of the violence he expected what he saw was a tenderness in the man’s face; a gentleness in his hands as he cradled his young wife’s face and kissed her with something akin to longing. Carrick, still vague and out of it, could make no sense of any of this. Lena, smiling through her pain, Linc, looking at his wife with adoration and tender love. Once Lena had left the room and Linc had released him he rushed through dressing and getting back into the safety of his apartment where he threw up until he was left with nothing but dry heaves.
For weeks he avoided the two of them, hoping beyond hope that their paths would never cross again. After four weeks the guilt became too much and when Grace called to say she was almost ready to move to be with him, he flew back to Detroit to confess to her all of his sins leading up to that night. They discussed, through their tears, the recriminations that she didn’t want to make, the guilt that he couldn’t bare to live with. He offered divorce, she would hear none of it but she did ask for more time and space to consider her next move. She wanted to press charges, he knew that it would ruin both their careers. Instead, they held each other into the night, promising that this episode would not define their relationship. The next day she ran tests to ensure that he was still safe and sent him back to Seattle to wait until she moved with the boys.
For a week he waited and worried that she would change her mind and that he would lose the one thing in life he loved the most. He worked longer hours, desperate for news from her but resisting the urge to call. Finally the day came when she phoned and said that she was on her way. She would be with him by the end of the month. Somehow, their lives would move on but she wanted to relocate as soon as possible to ensure that they would never see the Lincoln’s again. He only too readily agreed.
Just when they thought that the worst was behind them and that they might forgive the sins that had led them here, fate threw them another curve ball. Carrick arrived home from a long day to find a broken and beaten Lena curled up in a ball on his front doorstep. Linc was gone, having beaten her severely and left her with nothing. Against his better judgment Carrick took her inside his apartment and after cleaning up the worst of the damage Lena confessed that she was pregnant and it could only be Carrick’s child. Thinking it was a horrible joke Carrick immediately phoned Grace with this latest twist. Stoic as ever, Grace listened and evaluated deciding for him that he could not push Lena out the door. If the girl had nowhere else to go, even if the child wasn’t his, they could not turn their back on her.
Grace arrived two weeks later to find Lena still staying in the apartment her spirit and heart completely broken. She barely spoke and she could not look Grace in the eye. It seemed that she was in a constant state of shock from Linc’s betrayal. The most that they got beyond a muttered thanks for their generosity was that Linc had simply vanished, with no note or warning. Something about her story didn’t ring true but they had no recourse other than to believe what she said.
In her usual efficient style Grace set about finding a house and relocating her little family. No sooner were they settled then the social engagements started to flood in and as a potential new partner’s wife she took her role as social hostess seriously. Engaging Lena to assist, she began to throw regular soirées for the partners and their wives. She was immediately a hit and she and Carrick found themselves suddenly on all the right lists. Within four months the social world around them had unofficially labeled them the uber-couple and Grace was turning down job offers at the local hospital claiming that her family should come first.
To her credit Lena made every effort to help Grace around the house. She was a satisfactory cook, a good house cleaner and a quiet house guest. After a fashion, she and Grace became friends, although Grace hardly trusted the girl. She wasn’t stupid enough to believe that Carrick was without fault in what happened but from what he had described it seemed that Lena was as willing as she was manipulated. However, for weeks now, the girl had not put a foot out of place and Grace found that she was coming to rely on her in this new city.
It soon became clear that women, specifically the wives of her husband’s colleagues, were as interested in Carrick as they were in Grace. In this regard, Lena became most useful and Grace’s biggest ally, often running interference at social gatherings to ensure that temptation wasn’t thrown in his way. While these other women became resentful of Lena’s constant vigilance, Grace found herself relying on Lena more and more. She also found herself confiding and joking with the young girl who responded under her benevolence. Over time Grace helped Lena re-enter the world of education. The girl was incredibly smart and quick to learn, earning her high school diploma within months. Beauty school came next and once more Lena exceeded all expectations, showing an aptitude that surprised everyone, her tutors included. Grace was only too happy to help Lena where she could.
The subject of the baby came up often and Lena expressed her regret at not terminating the pregnancy when she could. Her belly was swelling, the fetus healthy and active, and Grace struggled to swallow down her jealousy. In spite of this their friendship continued to blossom and grow out of need. Grace was lonely for her best friend, Elliot’s mother, who had so tragically died trying to save his younger brother from drowning. For Grace, Lena was a lifeline in a sea of catty and poisonous women who she could not trust. Lena filled the fathomless void left by Michelle’s passing. For Lena, Grace was a mother figure that she had never had. A woman of great intelligence and warmth. She was successful in her own right and popular in a world where such popularity was often fleeting. Grace was smart, refined, beautiful, honest and kind. Lena had never known a woman like her and Grace became confidante, older sister and role model.
Moreover, Lena loved the little boys and could see the bond forming between Grace and her adopted sons. Elliot loved so easily and was as open and honest as Christian was closed and defiant. Lena saw herself in Christian. A child pummelled by circumstances, born to a mother who did not have the skills or social capital to aspire beyond her lot in life. The child of drunken and abusive parents, Ella had become an addict to both drugs and violent men. Lena recognized the damage and waited for the fall out often disguising Christian’s more aggressive outbursts so that his adoptive parents would not see. She wanted him very much to be loved and was frightened that he would continue to find subtle ways to sabotage any chance that Grace and Carrick would continue to offer that love.
When he screamed out his fears in the night it was Lena who was first on the scene, singing him awake and soothing away tears. Elliot would join her, rising from the bed in the room that the boys shared and holding Christian’s hand until he fell back to sleep. Lena would whisper to Elliot, helping him to find ways to reach his new brother and sooth the savage beast. And it was Lena who would hide the broken and mutilated toys, mend the ripped clothes and clean the wounds of Christian’s rage.
For their part, Grace and Carrick tried their best. Carrick would play backyard games when his work permitted. Grace would read stories and take them on excursions to see symphonies and view art. They were attentive, present in the boys lives and eternally kind. They arranged for therapy thinking it would help Christian to settle in and for Elliot to grieve. Lena knew better but kept her mouth shut, hoping that Grace would not turn on her and kick her out of the house. Lena would allow the boys to draw their pain in pictures that the three would take to the end of the garden and ceremoniously burn in silence. She didn’t ask them endless questions, they just seemed to know a kindred spirit in each other and connected on a level that Grace and Carrick simply could not understand.
After a few months, Grace and Carrick mended their fractured relationship. Lena had watched with guilt as they stepped around each other, sparing feelings and hiding smiles. She saw the longing in their eyes as they stood at opposite sides of the room, unable to cross the distance. The guilt ate away at her for her part in their current predicament and she hated her child and her estranged husband more and more each day for the splinters that had become festering wounds in Grace and Carrick’s relationship.
In an effort to make amends she would find ways to rekindle their love. Grace would find single blooms picked from the garden, lying on her pillow when she woke. Carrick would find a note tucked into his shirt pocket with a single love heart. Lena would ensure that the boys were bathed and ready for bed early in the evening so the couple could share a romantic meal. And she became very good at making herself scarce while still being useful. Eventually Grace allowed Carrick back into her bed and Lena felt satisfied that some god somewhere would forgive her for what she had done.
As Lena’s time drew near she broached the topic of adoption. None of them knew for certain if the child was really Carrick’s yet. A paternity test would be done and if the child was his, Lena knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would not let her simply leave with the baby. And as much as she was sympathetically fond of the boys, she still felt a degree of ambivalence about her own child. She felt sure that leaving the baby with Grace would be the right thing to do but when she brought it up with her Grace would not allow any decisions to be made.
For Grace, the decision to abandon a child, even to the father, was not to be taken lightly. She felt confident that despite Lena’s words, she would bond with the baby once it was born and then they would work out the dynamics of the relationship. She would not allow Lena to gift her child without having first held it in her arms. Too many times she had seen young girls forced into adopting out their children by parents who claimed it was for their own good. She had seen the pained and distraught looks as the girls handed over their babies to strangers under the guise of ‘it will best for everyone’ and had her doubts. Lena was her friend and if the three of them could find a way to live with this situation then the outside world could go to hell. They would all love this baby and raise it together.
When baby Mia was born late one Sunday evening and handed into the arms of her loving mother, Grace knew that she was right. Lena loved this baby and somehow they would make this work. The baby looked so much like her father that a paternity test seemed ridiculous so Grace and Carrick were both happy to have his name on the birth certificate. To their minds the child was his, his and Lena’s and she would grow up with three parents and two brothers who loved her very much. And if Grace was correct, there would be another sibling before the year was finished. There were a few sideways looks at the trio as they left the hospital but nothing was said. How could anyone comment on a family that seemed to be so functional and it was an enthusiastic midwife who offered to take a photograph of them out the front of the maternity ward.