This one started rattling around in my brain after a violent encounter with a large piece of lumber. The idea seemed to fit with the current writers' challenge from Melanie, so I took a break from my current project to tap this one out.
By Dreams Abandoned
By Breanna Ramsey
It was oppressively hot and humid, which is not surprising for Florida in August. Why Greg and Claire always insisted on waiting until the sun was high and hot to start their 'projects' was a mystery to me. I've never been a morning person, but when it comes to working outside I'd much rather get up at sunrise, work until it starts getting really hot and then relax until it starts to cool off in the evening.
Anyway, there we were, well after noon, the sun beating down brutally from on high as we struggled to align the sections of stockade fence we were putting up along the north side of the yard. Fortunately it was just a repair job; the storms over the last few years had taken their toll on the old fence and half of it was keeled over sharply, but at least we were only replacing about forty feet, less than half the total length.
As usual Claire was supervising while Greg and I did the grunt work. I love her to death but she can be a bit, um, how can I say this … a bit impatient at times. She knows how she wants the job done, but she doesn't always communicate her vision clearly and can get testy when things aren't done according to plan.
Greg and I were trying to force the last section of fence in place. It was a tight fit, trying to wedge the eight-foot long section into the space between the old fence and the new pieces we had already secured in place. There was a lot of shoving, pounding and a judicious amount of cursing involved, but we just about had it licked.
I never even saw it coming. Greg had leaned several of the old fence posts against the original fence and our jostling caused the one on the end to shift. The ten-foot 4x4 toppled over like a falling tree, smacking me squarely on the left side of the head. There was a blinding flash of pain and then the next thing I knew I was laying on the ground with a huge headache. I started to get up but a pair of gentle hands restrained me.
"Take it easy, Stephanie, you took a nasty whack on the head," Claire said.
"I'm okay, I think," I said, reaching up to touch the rapidly swelling bump on my head. There was no blood, which was a good sign, and other than the obvious pain from the bump I didn't feel any ill effects that would indicate a concussion.
"Okay, if you say so," Claire said. "Greg, help me get her up and out of the sun."
I took their hands and let them pull me to my feet, and after taking a moment to steady myself I let them walk me over to the carport. Claire pulled a plastic chair over for me to sit in while Greg disappeared into the house. By the time I was sitting he had returned with an ice pack and a cold drink. I pressed the ice pack gingerly to my head and took a big gulp of the cola.
"Gee, I think getting smacked in the head by a 4x4 at least rates a beer," I quipped.
"Not until we're sure you don't have a concussion," Claire said sternly.
"I don't think I do," I assured her. "I didn't black out, though I definitely saw some stars!"
I started to laugh but it quickly turned to tears and I squeezed my eyes tightly shut. They let me get that out of my system for a couple of minutes. I've always been kind of a big baby when it comes to pain. They sat with me for several minutes until the ice started having an effect. The pain didn't go away but it did lessen to a dull throb.
"I'm fine, really," I said. "We should get that last piece of fence up."
"Greg and I will take care of that, you rest, young lady," Claire insisted. "There's not much left to do and besides, you want to be recovered for your date tonight."
I giggled at the look she gave me. Craig and I had been dating for almost six months. After my divorce four years ago I'd never thought I could ever feel anything for another man, but I'd found out I was wrong. He was a teacher like Claire and Greg, in fact it was Claire that had introduced us in a none-to-subtle attempt at matchmaking, and he was a very kind, gentle man.
"Okay if you insist," I sighed as though I really wanted to get back out in that hot sun.
"Just make sure you tell Craig that Claire hit you with a 4x4," Greg said with a chuckle.
"I wasn't the one that leaned the posts against the fence, big boy!" Claire shot back. "Now come on, the sooner we get to it the sooner we'll be done."
It only took them about a half-hour to finish the last section and get the tools put away. When they returned Claire was carrying the broad-brimmed cowboy hat I'd been wearing. It wasn't exactly a helmet but I imagined its stiff crown had provided some protection. I was feeling much better and the bump on my head even seemed to be smaller thanks to the ice pack.
I was also badly in need of a shower and I only had about two hours before Craig would be arriving to pick me up. We went inside and Claire insisted I go ahead and shower so I did. The warm water flowing over my body felt wonderfully delicious, and I took my time and made sure I got rid of every bit of dirt and sweat. Once I was satisfied that I was clean I got out and dried off, patting my head carefully. It felt much better but that bump was still sore to the touch.
I took my time getting ready for my date; I wanted to look just right. A black lace push up bra and matching panties with nude, lace top stockings formed the foundation of my outfit. We were going out to dinner and then a club so I choose a ruby satin v-neck blouse with ruffles and a hip hugging, knee length black satin skirt for outerwear. A pair of black slingback sandals with three inch heels finished off the clothes, and then I set about applying my makeup.
That took a little longer than usual as I went for a more dramatic look than I normally would. Fortunately I'd had the foresight to paint my artificial nails ahead of time; I'd found it was a lot easier to paint them when they aren't already attached. All I had to do was apply the glue and press them into place and once they were set I dropped a few items I might need from my vanity into a zippered bag and slipped that into the black leather purse I'd be using. I included extra nails and glue; you could never tell when one of the suckers might decide to pop off.
I gave my appearance a final check, fluffing out my chestnut hair a bit. I was proud of my body and put a lot of effort into keeping it in shape. My breasts weren't large but they weren't small either, a nice round C-cup that displayed a pleasing amount of cleavage thanks to the push-up. Satisfied that Craig would be properly impressed, I collected my cell phone and dropped it into my purse and went out to the living room to wait. Claire and Greg were watching television, having taken their showers while I was getting ready, and I presented myself for review.
"You look beautiful, Steph," Claire told me and I preened. I loved being told I was pretty!
"How's your head?" Greg asked.
"It still hurts a little, but not enough to bother me," I said.
"Well you have a good time tonight," he said. "We promise we won't wait up."
"Just try to give us a call if you're going to be out really late," Claire said with raised eyebrows. I smiled, understanding what she was really saying, and I very much hoped I'd be making that phone call.
They were my dearest friends and almost like my second parents. When my husband had left me, they'd taken me in and made it plain that this was my home and I was part of their family, and I really don't know what I would have done without them. I didn't have much contact with my own parents; they'd always been disappointed that I hadn't become the doctor or lawyer they wanted me to be. They'd never forgiven me for getting married right out of high school either; they just couldn't accept that I'd been happy being a simple housewife for twelve years, at least until it all fell apart.
"I know I've said this before, but I really appreciate all you've done for me," I told them.
"It's no more than you've done for us, Steph," Claire said. "If you hadn't been here to help with Mom we would have never been able to cope."
"Miss Alice was a very sweet lady," I said.
Claire's mother had died four months earlier after a long battle with Alzheimer's. When I came to live with them, she was still active and living on her own, even driving down to visit her younger daughter regularly. In the end, she had to be fed and changed like a baby; the way that horrible disease had ravaged her still brought tears to my eyes and probably always would. As terrible as it was for her, though, the stress it placed on her family was even worse, and I feel ashamed to say that amidst the grief over her passing there was also a very real sense of relief.
The doorbell rang and I think I exercised great restraint in not running to answer it. I opened the door and there was Craig. His eyes settled on my and his mouth sort of dropped open, forcing a giggle from me.
"So, do I look good?" I asked innocently.
He shook his head. "Good is far too mild a word. Stephanie, you look stunning."
I blushed and stood on my tip toes to give him a quick kiss before saying, "You pass."
I ushered him inside and after a few minutes of pleasantries with Greg and Claire. Craig turned to me, looking uncharacteristically hesitant. One of the things I loved about him was his decisiveness; he wasn't the kind of guy that imposed himself on a girl or anything like that, but he did have a strong air of confidence, so his obvious discomfort sent a stab of worry through me.
"Could I speak to you alone for a minute?" he asked. I nodded and we moved into the kitchen for some privacy.
"Is something wrong?" I asked.
"No, not really," he said, "at least I hope not. I was just thinking before I left that we're driving to Orlando and all, and we're planning to go out to a club and having some drinks and well …."
My heart started racing but I fought to keep my voice even as I said, "So maybe we shouldn't plan on driving back tonight." I couldn't keep myself from grinning as I added, "Did you book us a room with one bed or two?"
"Um, well, one."
"I guess I should throw some things in a bag then," I said before giving him another kiss to let him know I approved completely.
I packed an overnight bag in record time. I'd been sending him signals for weeks to let him know I was ready to move to the next level in our relationship and now he'd finally made his move! I slung the bag over my left shoulder and practically raced back to him, where he immediately took the bag from me like the gentleman he was. Then I grabbed his hand and literally dragged him towards the front door.
"That call you wanted, Claire?" I said as we past through the living room. "Consider it made!"
We checked into the hotel as soon as we got to Orlando and only paused in our room long enough to drop off our bags and for me to touch up my makeup before heading out to dinner. Honestly, if he'd suggested we skip the whole night out I would have been more than enthusiastic about the idea, but we'd been planning this for a week and I knew he wanted to show me a night on the town. I received a big surprise when we didn't go to his car; instead he led me to the front of the hotel, where a long, black limousine was waiting.
On the way to the restaurant we had a little champagne and sat very close together. I felt as giddy as a school girl on prom night, and I knew without a doubt that I was madly in love with Craig.
I don't even remember dinner. We ate at a stylish Italian place and the food was excellent, but I couldn't tell you what I had to save my life. The club was almost the same, though I was a little more aware of my surroundings there. I've always really loved dancing, and I was pleased to discover that Craig was really good on the floor. Of course it was loud and crowded but that goes with the territory, and the driving beat of the music matched the rhythm of me heart perfectly.
Back at the hotel we didn't waste much time on preliminaries. We were both a little tipsy but we weren't really drunk. We made love several times, and each one was better than the last as we became accustomed to each other. Craig was as kind and gentle in bed as he was any other time, which is not to say he didn't show me his passionate side!
Sometime during that wonderful night a miracle happened. I'm absolutely certain it was on that night that our child was conceived; in fact I believe it was when we made love right after Craig proposed to me. His proposal was so sweet; we were both a bit out of breath after making love and he poured us some champagne. When he handed me my glass, there was a diamond engagement ring in the bottom of it.
"I know it's kind of sudden," he said to my stunned look, "but will you marry me, Stephanie?"
Somehow I managed to squeak out the word yes as he fished the ring out of my glass; okay honestly I said it about a dozen times in a row. He silenced me with a kiss and then slipped the ring on my finger.
We initially planned to marry in June, but when I found out I was pregnant we moved the wedding up to November; I didn't want to walk down the aisle looking like a blimp in a wedding dress! After our honeymoon I of course moved in to Craig's condo; it was a bittersweet moment as I moved the last of my things out of Greg and Claire's house, but I knew they felt the same joy I did.
I settled back into the life I had missed so much; cooking and cleaning and just being a wife to Craig. I didn't even mind in the least as my body slowly changed, my belly seeming to swell like magic as our child grew within me. We started looking for a house almost immediately, and by Christmas we had moved in to a nice little two bedroom house on the lake not too far from Claire and Greg.
Babies always seem to pick the most inconvenient times to signal their arrival, and ours was no different. After a couple of false labors I awoke just after three on a May morning and I knew it was the real thing this time. Craig was so sweet in his frenzy; I barely touched him on the arm and he was out of bed, rushing about to enact his carefully laid preparations.
We made it to the hospital and they had just wheeled me to the reception desk when my water broke. That removed all doubt, and the contractions were coming pretty frequently by then. Craig held my hand and coached me through my breathing exercises, the look of love in his eyes better than any painkiller they could have given me.
Until I felt a terrible, tearing pain in my abdomen and I screamed, squeezing Craig's hand like a vice. The doctor started giving orders in an urgent voice and I felt more hands on me, holding me down as the pain through me into a fit a thrashing. It wasn't just in my belly either, it felt like my head was about to explode.
I lost my grip on Craig's hand as someone pulled him away, but through the pain I could hear his voice calling me, encouraging me. Someone said something about bleeding but I couldn't make it out clearly.
It seemed to be an eternity before I heard the doctor say, "I've got the baby." There was a wet smacking noise which was immediately followed by the beautiful sound of a baby, my baby, crying.
"Doctor, her pressure's dropping," I heard a woman's voice say. "We're losing her."
"I can't get the bleeder," the doctor said in frustration.
Somehow Craig was there at my side again after fighting his way through the room now filled with people. He grabbed my hand and squeezed, and I looked at him, reaching up with a shaky hand to touch his cheek.
"Is the baby okay?" I whispered.
He nodded, tears streaming from his eyes. "It's a girl, Steph, she's beautiful."
"I … I want to name her Alice … for Claire."
"We will, baby, you just hold on," Craig told me. "Don't you give, Stephanie! You hear me, don't you leave me!"
"I wish I didn't have to," I told him, my voice sounding weak even to me. "I love you both so much … I … I'm sorry."
The last thing I heard was Craig's voice screaming my name as I faded into blackness.
When the light returned my heart soared with joy. I could feel people around me and hear voices, gradually coming into focus. I was alive! Then I heard a familiar female voice that brought it all crashing down.
"Take it easy, Stephen, you took a nasty whack on the head."
I opened my eyes and saw Claire and Greg standing a short distance away while a pair of paramedics knelt over me. I tried to rise despite Claire's warning, but the crushing pain in my skull stopped me.
"What happened … where's Craig … where's the baby?" I asked in confusion.
The paramedics exchanged looks and then one of them said. "You were hit in the head by a fence post. You were unconscious for about a half-hour."
"No," I groaned, "It couldn't …."
"We're going to get you to the hospital and they'll probably keep you over night," the other paramedic said. "You should be just fine though."
"I don't want to go to the hospital!" I cried. "I wanna go back to my husband and my baby!"
I'm sure they must have thought I'd suffered a really serious head trauma, but the truth was the trauma was far deeper and older than that. As they loaded me onto a gurney I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. If only they knew, if only they could guess. I had been just fine; in fact I'd been perfect in that other place, where I got to live the life I always wanted, at least for a little while. As they loaded me into the ambulance I winced, the jostling bringing on a new wave of pain.
"We'll be right behind you, Steve," Greg assured me as the doors closed.
The paramedic in the back smiled at me as the ambulance started off. "Once they get you checked out they'll give you something to help you sleep," he assured me.
I didn't nod, it would have hurt too much, but sleep was exactly what I wanted. Maybe if I slept I could go back, I could be that person again. Tears started trailing down my face and I'm sure the paramedic thought it was because of the pain. He was right of course, it was just an entirely different pain that caused my tears, one no drug could ease.
"I'd like to sleep," I mumbled. "I just want this horrible day to be over."
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