Heaven bent to take my hand
And lead me through the fire;
Be the long awaited answer
To a long and painful fight.
Truth be told I’ve tried my best,
But somewhere along the way…
I got caught up in all there was to offer,
And the cost was so much more than I could bear.
Though I’ve tried, I’ve fallen…
I have sunk so low.
I messed up,
Better I should know.
So, don’t come round here
And tell me I told you so…
We all begin with good intent,
Love was raw and young.
We believed that we could change ourselves,
The past could be undone.
But we carry on our backs the burden,
Time always reveals
In the lonely light of morning,
In the wound that would not heal.
It’s the bitter taste of losing everything
That I’ve held so dear.
I have sunk so low.
I messed up,
Better I should know.
So don’t come round here,
And tell me I told you so…
Heaven bent to take my hand,
Nowhere left to turn.
I’m lost to those I thought were friends,
To everyone I know.
Oh, they turn their heads, embarrassed,
Pretend that they don’t see.
But it’s one missed step,
One slip, before you know it.
And there doesn’t seem a way to be redeemed.
Though I’ve tried, I’ve fallen…
I have sunk so low,
I messed up,
Better I should know.
So don’t come round here,
And tell me I told you so…
Song by: Sarah McLachlan
Breathy moans and the rustling of bedsheets. The moonlight came through the window and landed on the two bodies entwined on the silk covers … with no space for air between the two. Wrapped so tightly around each other that the human eye could not discern where one ended and the other began.
She moaned once more, and then sighed in ecstasy.
“I love you. I love you so much,” she breathed into his ear. “Hold me, please. Never let me go.”
He growled lightly at the words and then kissed her, silencing her words. His hand moved down her body, caressing every inch of her naked skin.
To the couple sharing this moment, it was glorious … beautiful … it was love.
To the one watching them from the doorway, it was … heartbreaking.
Pace stared at the couple making love. She looked around the room, through eyes beginning to water with tears. It wasn’t her house … it wasn’t her bedroom … it wasn’t her bed, but … he was her fiancé. And she was her best friend.
“David?” she whispered softly, too softly to be heard.
“How can he do this to me? How could he betray me? And Maggie. Maggie’s my best friend.” She stepped back from the doorway, hiding the scene from her view. “Maggie’s been my friend for years … since kindergarten. Now … now I have nothing left.”
She stared down at the ring on her finger. She’d been alone for so long that when David had asked her to marry him, she’d cried tears of joy. She’d joyfully said goodbye to the loneliness that had plagued her for so long. And Maggie had encouraged her to accept the proposal. Maggie had been so happy for her. They’d made plans for the wedding together!
“What happened? What happened to change everything so much?” The shock was wearing off, and the tears were beginning to fall. Pace could feel her heartbreaking inside of her.
“How much longer will this charade have to go on?” Pace started when she heard Maggie’s voice coming from the other room. “I don’t want you getting so close to Pace. You know how much it hurts me to see you touch her … smile at her … pretend to love her.”
“We need her money,” David reminded her in a gentle voice. “I love you and only you. But we can’t live on love alone. You were the one who came up with this idea in the first place. I wouldn’t have looked at her twice if you hadn’t told me about her wealth. She hides it so well,” he stated maliciously, alluding to Pace’s sense of non-fashion. Pace stared down at her sweats and grimace in pain. “You said she was ripe for the picking … that no man had made the moves on her and that she was innocent.”
“But I didn’t think that this farce would go on for so long. It’s so annoying, seeing you with her.”
“You’re just an observer,” David replied lazily, twirling a golden curl around his finger. “Think about how hard it is for me. She’s so pale … so bland … a wallflower. And I have to pretend to be in love with her. Whenever I have to kiss her, I close my eyes and pretend that I’m kissing you,” David confided.
Maggie giggled, getting up and straddling his prone figure. Running her hands over his chest, she leaned down to plant a swift kiss on his open lips.
“Well, hurry up and get married,” she urged with a pout. “And then divorce her, so that we can get married. And promise me.”
“Promise me that you will never fall in love with her.”
“It would be impossible for me to ever fall in love with that woman,” he promised, pulling her down for another kiss. “She couldn’t pay me enough for that.”
The words were like knives to her heart. Pace scrubbed the tears away, no longer willing to shed anymore for that piece of scum lying on that bed. Pulling off the ring, she let it fall to the floor. Turning, she made her way to the door. Behind her, the couple continued their activities, unaware of their midnight visitor.
The man she had known and loved did not exist. The love she had believed in and valued above all was a farce. The friend she had blindly trusted had betrayed her without a second thought.
It was the end of everything … the end of the future she had dreamt of.
Pace quietly closed the apartment door behind her.
She walked away without a second glance. They didn’t deserve it.
Chapter 1: Walk of Shame
It was the softness beneath her that caught her attention first when she slipped out of sleep. She slept on a futon. And then the weight around her waist made itself known. Tentatively, her fingers ran over what she came to realize was an arm. She turned her head, not wanting to jar it and bring the pain she knew was just waiting to pounce. Slowly opening her eyes, she peeped through her lashes, and saw a male face on the pillow beside her.
A stranger. A man that she had never seen before.
She closed her eyes, groaning silently. Steeling herself, she gently nudged his arm out of the way and looked underneath the sheets. She let out a gasp when her worst fears were realized. She was naked. Horrified by what she had done, she glanced at the man, hoping that he had not awakened. She would die if … staring at him, she felt sick inside.
How could she have …? She thought back to what had happened last night. She remembered how she had moped all day, striving to understand and move past the pain that the closest people in her life had dealt her. She’d remembered how the pain and loneliness had gradually become too much to bear … and she remembered leaving the house and going to the nearest bar.
She remembered drinking. Drinking so much. The world had gotten blurry and she’d lost herself in the pain. Tears had begun to flow … it was then that he had spoken softly at her side. He’d offered a handkerchief … a shoulder to cry on … but then … She slowly got out of bed, not wanting to awaken him.
What would she say? How would she explain her behavior? Snatches of her memory were returning, and she was beginning to remember her tears … her attempts to attract him … and he hadn’t been in a position to deny her. During their conversation at the bar, she’d seen him drinking with the same desperation that she had been feeling inside of herself. Was that why she’d let her guard down with him?
Slipping into the bathroom, she swiftly began to put on her clothes. She did not want to be here when he awakened. God willing, they would never have to see each other again. She didn’t even know his name. Coming out, she looked back once more before making her way out of the room. She closed the door behind her and then sighed with relief.
She was almost free.
She didn’t want to think about the rest. She didn’t want to think about the fact that she had just spent the night with a man she didn’t know … she didn’t want to think about the fact that she had been so heartbroken that she had drunk herself into a stupor … she had lost her sanity. Leaning her head against the door, she sighed once more, steeling herself for the trek home.
She never wanted to come back to this place. She never wanted to come back to this moment. Thank God, no one had witnessed her humiliation.
“Good morning,” a male voice called out from behind her.
Pace jerked around in shock, her heart beating furiously. Her eyes moved over the face of the man standing across the room.
“Uh.” She didn’t know what to say. What could she say? She saw the surprise and shock in his eyes. “G-good morning,” she mumbled hesitantly. “I need to get out of here,” she muttered, rubbing a hand furiously over her eyes, wanting to eradicate the tears that had begun to flow. “Why am I so weak?” She berated herself silently. “Why did I do this? Why did I get caught? How will I explain this to anyone … to myself? I didn’t cry when I caught them in bed together. I didn’t cry when I woke up next to a stranger. Why am I crying now? Why am I finding it so hard to meet his eyes?”
“I have to go,” she said, moving toward the doorway. “I’m sorry for the intrusion.”
“Would you like some breakfast?” he asked from behind her.
Pace froze at the question, wondering why he would even offer. She continued to move toward the door, not even bothering to give an answer.
“Look, I know that you’re beating yourself up about this,” he said. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Pace turned back to look at him, incredulous. Did he really think that she would confide in him … a total stranger? But then again, why would he think any better of her … she’d slept with one. “The last time a stranger leant me a shoulder to cry on,” she uttered sardonically, “I ended up sleeping with him. I’m not sure that I want to risk repeating that mistake.”
“All I’m offering is breakfast and an ear. I have no nefarious plans,” he protested. “Look, I know my friend. Chances are that he is going to get up feeling just as bad as you, and it’s better if you were here to hash this out instead of just disappearing on him.”
Pace hesitated, wanting to leave but knowing that true escape was not a possibility. If she left now, she would regret this for the rest of her life. She needed to fix this … make it better somehow … understand it, so that she could move on. Otherwise, a part of her would die whenever she thought about this moment.
She moved over to the counter, and sat down. He quickly began to cook after asking her what kind of eggs she wanted. Setting her plate in front of her, he sat down across from her.
“My name is Vanness,” he introduced himself, “I’m Ken’s roommate.”
So, his name was Ken, huh? At least she knew that much now. “My name is Pace,” she said softly, staring at the food in front of her. Her head was pounding furiously. The pain was a good distracter. She rubbed at her temples, and then picked up a cup to take a quick gulp of coffee.
“My friend,” he said softly, after a moment of silence, “was supposed to meet the woman he loved two nights ago. She didn’t show up.”
“I … see,” she finally mumbled, not understanding why he was telling her this.
“He’s been waiting for her for five years,” he continued. “I’ve known him forever, and ever since she left, he’s had absolute faith that she would return. He waited. He put his life on hold. He hasn’t been in any relationships, he hasn’t dated, and he hasn’t even looked at any other women while waiting. But when she didn’t … I saw the heartbreak in his eyes.”
She stared at him mutely.
“I saw that exact same look in your eyes today,” he imparted gently. “I didn’t … I know it’s not any of my business, but I didn’t want you walking out of here with the same burden … which is probably even worse now because of what happened here.”
Pace stared at her clenched hands and tried to speak. “I … I don’t know what happened,” she finally admitted. She paused, trying to find the words to continue. She knew she didn’t have to talk to him, but a part of her wanted to confide in him. While it hurt to admit it, she had no one she could talk to. “I was hurting so much,” she whispered, “and I thought that drinking could help me to bury the pain. But it only lead me here,” she said in a voice filled with loathing. “I slept with him!” she suddenly said strickenly. “How could I do that? How could I debase myself in that way?”
Vanness reached out a hand, and placed it over her clenched hands. “Don’t,” he urged her. “Don’t do this. Everyone makes mistakes,” he said. A tear fell on his hand, and he stared at her bowed head. “Please, don’t.”
“I have to go,” she muttered, getting up. “I have to … I need to forget about this. If you can get away with not telling him anything about me …”
He nodded, getting up to move with her toward the door.
“Thank you for listening,” she murmured, staring at the floor.
Reaching out a hand, he tilted her chin up with gentle fingers. She was forced to meet his eyes. He stared into hers for a moment, and then said, “Forgive yourself.”
She stared at him, unblinking, and then shrugged helplessly.
“Don’t mind me saying this, Vanness,” she finally said unhappily.
He looked at her questioningly.
She stepped back, and opened the door.
“But I hope I never see you again.”
She shut the door quietly behind her.
Chapter 2: No Hope of a Future
Pace stared down at the pictures. She raised disbelieving eyes up to the sky, wondering silently what kind of joke God was playing on her now. Shaking her head, she reached out a trembling hand and touched one of the ultrasound pictures that was lying in her lap. Sighing, she thought back to the conversation she had had with the doctor.
“I’m really pregnant?” she had asked, wanting confirmation. “I don’t … how long … what …?” Her thoughts were scattered. She didn’t know what question to ask first. Not that she had any doubts about the answers. She would never forget that night … or rather, the morning after. The night itself was still a blur.
“Yes, Miss Wu. You are three months pregnant. I’m sorry, I get the feeling that you are not too happy about this development,” the doctor said delicately. “If you are thinking about aborting the fetus …”
Pace had looked up, startled. “No! Of course not,” she’d responded vehemently. “It’s my child … my only living relation,” she’d whispered to herself. “I would never … I could never do anything to hurt this child,” she’d concluded, putting a hand to her womb. It was as if she could almost feel the warmth of the life growing inside of her. “I will love you more than life,” she’d promised silently to the child.
“I’m glad,” the doctor had said. “I’d like you to come back in a month, so we can do another ultrasound. Until then get the nutrition sheet from my receptionist, and make sure to eat healthy.”
Pace had nodded blankly and left the office. That appointment had been three hours ago, and she still couldn’t make herself move. Nausea and fatigue had forced her to make an appointment with the doctor and instead of finding out that she had an iron deficiency, she had found out that another being was growing inside of her body.
A warm glow began to well up in her body. A child. She would no longer be alone in the world. She would have someone to love … someone to love her. She would give him or her everything in the world.
“Will you … can you give your child a father?”
Pace flinched as that thought intruded into her mind.
“Will you allow your child to be called a bastard? To be teased because it does not know who its father is?”
Her face crumpled when she faced that reality. Would her child be forced to suffer because he lacked a parent, as well? Her parents had died when she was a little child herself, leaving her in the charge of cold trustees. The trustees had done all in their power to protect her wealth, but could not provide the love and warmth she had so desperately needed as an emotionally-starved child.
“And what will you tell your baby? What can you tell it? You don’t know anything about its father. Will you tell your baby that it was a product of a one-night stand? Would you tell it that you got drunk and slept with a total stranger? Will you tell it that his father doesn’t even know about his conception?”
Each word was a blow to her heart. She clutched at the pictures, trying to forget the ugly reality of her child’s conception. But the truth was that she knew nothing about Ken. She had nothing to tell … nothing to relate to a child who would grow up one day to be curious about its father.
A tear fell from the corner of her eye and trailed down her cheek. She quickly wiped it away. She didn’t need this now … she would not let her fears and her disgust with herself ruin this moment for her. She was going to have a child. She would be happy about it. She just needed to find a solution to that other problem.
Sighing, she got up and started moving toward the parking lot. She shivered as the cold made itself finally known. She hoped that the cold wouldn’t have a detrimental effect on her health. Thoughts began to whirl through her mind. She would have to contact him. She would have to work something out. She needed to …
“Pace? Pace Wu?” she froze as she heard the voice behind her. “I thought it was you. I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Pace turned to see the man walking eagerly toward her. He was smiling. She cocked her head to the side, wondering why he would be so happy to see her. They’d only met for a brief moment … for the most humiliating moment in her life. She’d thought she would never want to see this man again. The warmth spreading inside of her … the joy in her heart … proved how much of a lie that sentiment had been.
“Vanness?” she whispered faintly. “What are you doing here?”
He came to stand next to her, and reached out and took her hand. She jumped as his skin made contact with hers. It was as if a current had run through his hand and into her body. His hands quickly warmed her cold fingers.
“I’m so glad to see you,” he said with another sweet smile. “I wanted to see you again,” he admitted ruefully.
“Why?” she asked, point blank.
“I know that we might not have met under the best of circumstances,” he said hesitantly, “But when I met you that morning, I wanted to know you better. My heart wanted the chance to …,” Vanness’ voice trailed off into an embarrassed silence.
“What?” she asked in confusion.
“My heart wanted the possibility of a relationship. I wanted to see if that spark of interest I felt that morning could turn into something more, whether it could turn into love.” A flush appeared on his face as he said the words, but she could see he was serious about his feelings.
Her face blanched at that revelation. Her heart broke a little at what her head told her she had to do next. “Do you even remember how we met?” Pace blurted out, staring into his clear gaze. She saw no blame … no recrimination there. She saw nothing that would make her feel ashamed, yet … “Don’t you remember you caught me leaving your best friend’s room? Don’t you know what that meant?” Her voice had sunk to a squeak.
Vanness shook his head impatiently. “Both of you were hurting. You both made a mistake,” he insisted. “Why should I deny myself the possibility of so much … just because of one mistake? It’s in the past now. We can forget it and move on.”
Pace gently pulled her hand out of his grasp. The smile on his lips fell away as she moved away from him. He made a sharp movement forward when he saw the tears begin to fall from her eyes.
“Don’t,” she said harshly. “Don’t come any closer. I can’t forget this mistake, Vanness,” she said plaintively.
“Why not?” he asked quietly.
His eyes followed the movement of her hand as it came to rest against her womb. His eyes widened, his gaze flying up to meet hers.
She nodded silently, answering the question in his eyes. But she needed to say the words. To speak the truth that would make any relationship between them impossible.
“I’m pregnant, Vanness. I’m going to have Ken’s baby.”
His eyes went blank. His lips firmed, as he tried to digest this new bit of information.
“How can I forget the past? I have this child inside of my body, as a reminder of that night. Could you forget the fact that I had been with your friend first?” she asked him suddenly, staring into his eyes. She wanted to know the truth. She wanted him to face the truth. “Could you forget that he had taken my virginity, even if it was in an alcohol-induced haze? When the reminder of that night will be walking around in front of you … will you be able to forget everything else … forget the past … and love that child as much as he would need to be loved?”
Vanness moved back. Staring at her for a moment, he silently shook his head.
“Vanness?” she asked hopelessly.
Turning, he walked away.
Chapter 3: No Diamond Rings, Please
When I get engaged, Maggie, I want a big proposal. Flowers everywhere. Candlelight. Maybe in a romantic restaurant … or under a starlit sky in the park … or under a full moon on the beach. I don’t care where, as long as it’s romantic.
“Let’s get married.”
Pace stared at him in shock. She sat frozen for a moment, trying to understand the words he had spoken. “I …” she began hesitantly. She wasn’t sure of what to say next.
“It’s what is best for the baby,” Ken implacably said. He stared at her with a stranger’s eyes. And why shouldn’t he? They’d barely been sober when they’d started talking at the bar.
She didn’t remember what had been said between them, but she did remember an incredible amount of sadness in the air. There had been actual grief between them, as the two had mourned their personal losses. While she could admit now that David had never been the love of her life, he had been someone she could build a life with … a life she had wanted for a long, long time. Losing her parents, growing up without love, and living in solitude had made her crave the support and steadiness of family. With David she could have made that family.
She had come to Ken two days after finding out the truth. Now, she sat in a boring, staid little office looking at a man propose to her. Her eyes flickered over the dusty bookshelves, the stack of papers waiting to be graded, and across the dead flowers on the corner of the desk. Under the fluorescent lights, she could see a hint of paleness under his tan.
He wasn’t any happier about this proposal.
A practiced proposal … not so that it’ll sound fake, of course. But just because I want the words to be perfect … so perfect. I want to know that the man in front of me cared enough about me to find the right words to express his love … and win my heart forever. I want him to say he loves me. That he can’t live without me. That I am as precious to him as he will be to me.
“I know that neither one of planned this, but now that it has occurred,” he said quietly, sighing almost soundlessly, “now that it has happened, we need to take responsibility. It’s our duty.”
“And we can’t take responsibility of our child without getting married?” Pace demanded incredulously. “It’s 2009, not 1899. We don’t have to do anything. We can take care of our child, and I do mean that, it is our child, without tying ourselves up in a bond that neither one of us wants.”
“Pace,” he said softly, “It may be 2009. But even so … do you want your child to carry the stigma of being a bastard? Do you want him to suffer the taunts of his schoolmates? And besides, what does it matter? Neither one of us has anybody else. So, why not try to make this work? Why not do this for our child?”
Pace stared at the flowers, unblinkingly. Duty. Responsibility. Why not? The thoughts whirled around inside of her head. Could she do what he wanted? It was true that she didn’t love anyone else, and that her dearest wish had been to make a family. She could make that family with Ken and her child. There would be more children. So what if they never fell in love? They would love their children together. And she knew enough about Ken, having had him investigated, that he would stick to his commitment and would do his best to provide for his family.
‘But … what about Vanness?’ Her heart clenched at the memory of his face. The hesitation … the determination … the shock. He had walked away, but her heart still ached at what could have been. She’d felt something when he had comforted her that morning; she’d been surprised at how easily he had been able to read her emotions. Most people labeled her an ice princess and never bothered looking beneath the surface. To Vanness, she had been as clear as glass.
“But … what about the woman you love?” She uttered the words that had been roiling around in her mind. “You were just grieving over this woman three months ago. How can you so easily give up hope?”
For the first time since their conversation had begun, Pace saw a spark flash in his eyes. She was able to glimpse the emotions that where exploding inside of him. Up until now, he had kept everything under control, but no more. She could see the anger … the despair … the determination in his gaze now.
“I lost hope of Rainie’s return the moment she missed our appointment,” he said coldly. “She was never going to return. I realize that now. I was the foolish one, holding on to a few words that a child had spoken before she left. Pace, she’s not coming back. And I’m not going to be foolish enough to wait for an event that will never happen.”
I want him to put a ring on my finger … one that perfectly expresses our love. It doesn’t have to be a big diamond … that’s just silly. Who wants a ring like one that everyone else has? It’s not about what others will say when they see the diamond … it’s all about the feelings and warmth I’ll feel when I look at that ring on my finger. I want my ring to be unique. I want it to be special. He would know.
Ken came out from behind his desk, and sat down on the corner of it, before reaching out to grab hold of her hand. Her fingers were cold, almost like ice. He could even feel the faint tremors in those fingers that bespoke the intensity of her emotions. He gently rubbed her hand between his two, trying to warm it up.
“Marry me, Pace,” he urged her. “This isn’t about you or me. This isn’t about ceremony or plans that we might have made. This is about a life. It is about our child,” he whispered almost contemplatively.
His hands were succeeding in warming up her fingers. She stared down at his hand, wrapped around her own. It looked so alien … so foreign. But … her fingers were warm. The tremors had gone away.
“We need to do this for our child. We need to give it everything that we weren’t given ourselves. I know a little bit about you. I know that your parents died when you were merely a child. I know that you’ve never known the warmth of family. My single mother raised me, when my deadbeat of a father walked away from us. She loved me. She adored me and took care of me in the best way she could. But she could never afford to be sick. She could never take time off of work to take care of herself. The worry ate at her … that someday she might leave me alone in this world … because besides the two of us, there was no one else. And it worried me. I don’t want you or our child to go through those experiences.”
She stared at his fingers. She didn’t love him. But did that really matter?
“We can be a family together.”
And I’ll be so happy, so, so happy that I’ve finally found someone. And that person will completely be mine. And we’ll share a life … a life that might take work, but it’ll be ours. We’ll work hard at our happiness. And every hardship, every heartbreak we have to face, we’ll face together, and it will all be made easier, because I’ll love him. And he’ll love me.
Vanness. She flinched as a picture of him flashed through her mind. His smile. His words. His warmth. She felt that tug again inside of her, urging her to ignore duty and to follow something that could be so much more.
She shook her head, trying to silence the voices inside of her. Looking up, she stared at Ken. At this kind, hurting man, who was offering to become her family. He was offering her child everything he could give it. And with him around, she knew that she would never be alone. Her child would never be unloved.
It was another thing that he would never love her with the intensity he had reserved for this Rainie. It was another thing that she might never find the love meant for her, and that maybe … maybe she was turning her back on that love voluntarily.
Love didn’t matter so much. Not as much as building a family.
She wrapped her fingers around Ken’s hands, stilling his motions. She smiled up at him, and then took a deep breath.
“Yes, I will marry you.”
I”m not asking for too much, right Maggie? I’m not asking for the moon. I just want to know … that my future husband will think about me, cherish me, and will never betray me. And all that is possible only if he loves me. I’m trying not to be selfish … or too greedy. But I need to know that the man I marry will care enough to do it right. And then, we’ll get married and have our family. I hope … I hope my dream comes true …
Chapter 4: The Wrong One Loves You Right
Pace moved from one corner of the room to the other, like a small whirlwind., putting things in their right places. She wanted everything settled as soon as possible. She wanted her baby to come into a space that had been made especially for him or her. Was it a him? Or was it a her? She didn’t know. And neither did Ken. They’d agreed on that.
She placed the lamp next to the crib. Walking to the changing table, she moved it once again, dissatisfied with the location she had decided upon only moments before.
Nerves were eating away at her. She wanted to do so much, but there was nothing more to do. “How much longer do I have to wait for you to come out?” she demanded silently of her baby.
She stared around the nursery, surprised by the work that had already been put in.
“When did you start doing all this?” she asked in a surprised voice. “I thought you said that we would be going shopping today? I didn’t think that you would have gotten so much done without me.”
“Well, we needed a place set up to put all the furniture, right? We couldn’t just bring in all the baby stuff and then pile it in a corner until we set up the room. I thought that we should paint the place before bringing the stuff. That way you could take your time in finding the right place for everything without worrying about the room itself.”
“But how did you decide on the colors and the pattern? It’s so soothing, yet cheerful at the same time. Our baby is going to love this. I’m sure of it. And the patterns, they’re just engaging enough that he or she will enjoy them for years to come. What are these animals?” she asked, pointing to the figures jumping over the multiple hills painted around the room.
Ken flashed a quick smile. “These are Vanness Wu originals,” he answered, the pride evident in his tone. “Vanness is an artist.” He flashed a look at Pace, and then turned back to the patterns. “He insisted on choosing just the right colors. He did the research on what colors are the most soothing for babies. And then he went all over the city, searching for just the right mixture. And these animals … they come straight from his imagination. He spent all of last week doing this.”
“But, why? Why work so hard?” Pace asked, almost soundlessly, the tears gathering in her eyes.
“He said he wanted to do this for our baby, because it was special. It was a part of us, and he loved both of us. He said he would love our child just as if it was his own. He would cherish it, just as if it was his own.”
Pace’s heart clenched at the words.
Pace put the diapers and the clothes in the corner. She then put the diaper bin next to the changing table. All the books said that she shouldn’t leave the baby unattended under any circumstances, and it wouldn’t be a good idea to put the diaper bin across the room.
Setting it down, she smoothed a loving hand over the bump. This was her baby. A part of her family. A family that she would be forming with … Ken. The smile slipped away for a moment, and then quickly came back. She was happy, dammit. She was beginning her family. How could she not be happy? Her only wish was finally coming true.
Turning, she stared at the pictures on the table. Pictures of her with Ken. At an amusement park. At a restaurant. Under a starry sky. At the beach. So many pictures, telling a story that had never happened. This was her family now. And this is what her baby needed to see.
“What are we doing here?” she asked hesitantly. “I thought you said that we were going somewhere very important. When you said that, I thought it must at least be a faculty event.”
Ken smiled, and then reached out and patted her hand companionably. “I thought that we should start making memories,” he replied. “When our baby asks how we met, when we fell in love and where I proposed, what will we tell it? Do we tell it that it was a mistake?”
Pace quickly shook her head in denial.
“You’re right,” he said softly. “That’s why we need to make new memories. Beautiful memories.”
Pace smiled tremulously, nodding her head in agreement.
The night air was cool. The outdoor seating comfortable. And the starry sky formed a beautiful canopy above their heads. She had fallen a little bit in love with the romantic location, wanting to pretend for a little while. The food was delicious, suiting her taste. She ate until she was full, all the while apologizing to Ken for being so interested in the food that she was ignoring him instead.
He waved his hand at the apologies. “Don’t worry about it,” he assured her. “You’re pregnant.”
She’d blushed and asked if they could order dessert.
“How did you hear about this restaurant?” she’d asked, sipping from her water glass.
“It’s Vanness’s favorite restaurant.”
She choked slightly at the words.
“Are you okay?” he asked in concern.
She quickly nodded.
“He found it a couple of years ago,” Ken continued. “He always told me that when he met the woman of his dreams, he would propose to her here. He was right,” he said softly. “It is a beautiful place. ”
Pace looked down, staring at the flame of the candle set in the middle of the table.
“Good food. Candlelight. Flowers. And a starry sky. What more do you need?”
Pace started when she turned to see Ken kneeling in front of her.
“Ken?” she asked in confusion.
“Let’s make a new memory, Pace,” he urged softly.
“I don’t …” she began hesitantly.
“Will you marry me?”
“Oh,” she murmured softly, surprised by the flutter she felt in her womb. A small flurry of movement was happening inside of her. She blinked as she felt the flutters once more. Resting a hand on her stomach, she thought in wonder of the miracle taking place inside of her. There was a life growing inside of her. A being that would love her almost as much as she already loved it.
The smile slipped away from her face. She firmed her mouth against the trembling she felt inside of herself. Why couldn’t she stop thinking about him? Why did she care so much? She’d tried her hardest to stay away from him. She’d tried her best to avoid him, but he still held a piece of her heart. And it hurt to admit that he had a bigger hold on her heart than Ken did.
Vanness had a greater place in her heart than her baby’s father. Than her fiancé … her future husband.
Pace stared down at the ring on her finger. She brought her startled gaze up to meet Ken’s eyes in question.
“You didn’t have to do this,” she finally said in a shaky whisper. “It’s not like we lov—.” She bit off the words. Blushing, she looked away. Her heart squeezed with emotion. It was a beautiful ring … so simple, yet beautiful. It tugged at her heart. But her heart also insisted there was something wrong about this situation. Tears gathered in her eyes. She bit her lip, trying to push down the emotions It wasn’t Ken’s fault that he wasn’t the man she wanted him to be.
“We may not love each other,” he said calmly, acknowledging her feelings, and letting her know silently that she didn’t have to feel guilty for wanting things to be otherwise, “but we are engaged. I wanted to get you an engagement ring. I wanted to make this marriage as normal as I can from the beginning. We have to make these loving memories for our child,” he reminded her.
“How … how did you know what ring to choose?” Pace asked, forcing a smile on her face. “It’s perfect. It suits me down to the T, don’t you think? Most people have a really hard time understanding my taste. Mag—.” She cleared her throat, and then started again. “Maggie used to call my taste weird. She said no one normal would like the things I did.”
He flashed a quick smile, and then ducked his head bashfully.
“I have to admit that I had no idea what to get you,” he finally admitted.
“Then, how …?” she pressed him uncertainly.
“Vanness went ring shopping with me.”
Pace’s eyes widened in surprise.
“He kept on asking me when I would get you the ring, and then insisted on going along. He said …,” Ken’s voice trailed off with a quizzical glance her way.
“He said that you were special,” Ken finally said. “And that you deserved something special. Not that I disagree with him,” he was quick to assure her, “But when he saw this ring, he was adamant that we get it …”
Pace stared at the hand lying over her child. It was wearing the ring that Vanness had chosen. A part of her wanted to pull that ring off … to throw it away … to separate herself from everything that had to do with Vanness. But then … what would she say to Ken? How would she explain the maelstrom of emotions inside of herself? Another part of her wanted to cherish the ring as a symbol of the depth of knowledge this man had of her. Their contact had been so brief, and yet he knew her so well. It was as if he was a part of her; how else would he know her every desire?
She heard a sound behind her, the sound of someone entering the room.
“Come, feel,” she urged him, with a hand still on her womb. “He or she’s moving; he’s being very energetic today. Come,” she said again.
He moved across the expanse of the room, and came to stand beside her. Reaching out a tentative hand, he placed it over hers. Pace jumped at the current that ran through her from that simple touch. Looking up, she met his gaze.
“Vanness,” she breathed the name, unable to believe that a simple touch could turn her into mush.
“Pace,” he murmured, reaching up to smooth her hair away from her face.
“Don’t,” she pleaded softly. “Please, don’t.”
She stared at him with questions in her eyes. “What?” she finally got out, past the lump in her throat.
“You asked me if I could forget the past … forget how that child was conceived.” Vanness uttered the words softly.
“But that was before. That was just said to prove a point,” Pace interjected in a panic.
“You asked me if I could love your child like it was my own.”
“Vanness, stop it. It’s too late. I’m engaged to Ken,” Pace interrupted him once more, overriding his words.
“It’s not too late. I’m saying it now. Yes. I can love you and your child. I’ll cherish it, just as I cherish you. Yes,” he breathed thickly, brushing his lips over her forehead.
“What’s going on here?”
Chapter 5: Love. Cherish. Honor. And Obey.
The weatherman had predicted rain for today. Thunder and lightning, and dark, dreary skies. But, despite all odds, the sun was out. The sky was clear, with nary a cloud in sight.
Birds were chirping in the trees around the garden, their chorus making this occasion even more special.
The flowers were blooming, early for this time of year, but it was as if they wanted to join the celebration. Their heady scent bespoke of the heady days of joy to come.
It was the perfect day for a wedding.
“Let me do this for he—for your baby,” Vanness insisted. “Your baby deserves the best of the best, right? Let me pick out the colors.”
“I had some ideas about the figures that we should paint … they’re only fanciful creations, Ken. It’s not like I spent much time on them. Let me donate them to the cause. From now on, they’ll always be known as your baby’s.”
“She would love that restaurant. Ken, you said that you didn’t like the way your relationship had begun with Pace. Shouldn’t you start making new memories? This way, not only will you have another, better story to tell your child, but this will help Pace see your relationship in a different light. I know that both of you are getting married because you feel you need to, but don’t make this more awkward than it has to be.”
“And this ring,” Vanness stared down at the ring in his hand. “My grandmother gave me this ring to give to the woman I would marry one day.”
“But, Vanness …”
“I don’t think I’ll be marrying … anyone. I want you to have it. I want you to give it to Pace. Make her happy. Please.”
The groom stood at the altar, with the priest beside him. His hands shook slightly, as he pushed his hair back.
Fixing his tie, he wondered why the collar had to be this tight. It wasn’t like he didn’t want to be here; it seemed that he’d been waiting for this day for years. But this damn collar felt like a noose around his neck.
He just wanted this moment to be over. He wanted to be married. He wanted to be dancing his first dance with her. He wanted to love her. He never wanted to let her go.
“Why don’t you say it?” Ken asked abruptly. “You have feelings for her, don’t you? Don’t you, Vanness?’
There was a moment of silence.
“Vanness,” he finally said with a sigh. “What were you thinking? Wasn’t this situation difficult enough as it is, without you falling for her?”
“I love her, Ken. I love her. I think, no, I know, it’s like the love you’ve felt for years. The love that made you wait for her … for Rainie, even when she’d made no promises.” His voice broke a little in the middle of the sentence, as he struggled to control his emotions.
Ken stared at him silently, lost for words.
“My heart felt something for her before I knew that she was pregnant, and it couldn’t stop, could it? I tried to stay away. I tried to not interfere. But … you still love Rainie. And Pace … Pace deserves more than you could give her. You don’t mean her harm. I know that. How could I not know that? You’re my best friend,” he finally said in a broken voice. “I love you as much as I love her. I would never have said anything … done anything … but you, you don’t love her. And she deserves to be loved.”
Ken turned away from the entreaty he saw in Vanness’ face.
“Tell me that you can love her as much as you loved … still love Rainie. If you can do that, I’ll back off.”
“You know, I can’t do that,” Ken replied heavily. “Pace and I are marrying because of our child.”
“You were afraid that your child would be left alone, if there was only one parent involved, right? But where does it say that you have to be married to be a parent? And if you’re worried about your child being a bastard, then I’m here. I’ll marry her, and be a father, too.”
“Ken?” he asked softly, staring at his friend’s impassive face. There was no break … no emotion. In speaking, in taking the risk, Vanness has lost not only Pace, but he had also lost his best friend. He felt that loss deeply. He turned away, his heart breaking. He didn’t have anything more to say … he couldn’t think of what to say that would convince Ken of letting go … of realizing that there might be another recourse.
And then, there came a voice from behind him.
The bride stood at the end of the aisle, a floral bouquet clutched nervously in her hands. Her lips formed into a tremulous smile, revealing the joy she felt inside of her heart. Her heart literally danced with joy. When she had decided on this marriage, she had never thought that she would be so happy when the day came.
She stared down at her dress. Even though her stomach had begun to show, and there was no way to hide the fact that she was pregnant, they had insisted that she wear white.
Her hand came up to touch the wedding gift that Ken had given her. He’d insisted on giving her the necklace to match her wedding gown. It was her something new. She would cherish it always. It was a gift from a new friend … an understanding friend … a friend that would always want the best for her. Her lips curved into a bigger smile.
The wedding march began to play, pulling her out of her reverie.
Taking a deep breath, she began her trek down the aisle.
“I have loved, and waited for Rainie for so long, that I’ve forgotten how it feels to let a day go by without thinking about her.” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled at Vanness. “A part of me is still waiting for her. My heart is telling me that something must have gone incredibly wrong; that Rainie would not have let me down. It’s telling me that I need to wait.” He looked at Vanness, begging silently for him to understand.
Vanness walked over, and patted his friend on the shoulder in comfort.
“A very small and petty part of me resents Pace. None of this is her fault,” he interjected, before the fire in Vanness’ eyes erupted into defensive words. “What we did, we did together. So, if there is fault to be spread around, then both of us deserve to be blamed.” He nodded at Vanness. “You have known her as long as I have, but in that time, you’ve paid more attention to her needs and desires. You’ve taken the trouble to figure out what she might want … and you’ve worked hard to give her that. I can’t believe that I didn’t see it before.”
Ken turned away, to look out the window. “She’s the mother of my child, but I know deep down, that she can never be anything more. I want to be a father to my child, but I can’t be the kind of husband that Pace wants. I can’t be someone who will love her.”
Vanness hands clenched and then loosened, as he forced himself to relax. “She deserves to be loved. Just as you love Rainie, she deserves to have someone love her in that way.”
Ken nodded in agreement.
“Do you think that she loves you?”
“I … I don’t know,” Vanness admitted roughly. “But I want the chance to find out.”
“Then … you have my blessing.”
“What’s going on here?” Ken’s voice was quiet, as he asked the question.
Pace abruptly pulled away from Vanness, the shock leaving her cheeks pale. She began to shake, her mouth trembling, when she met Ken’s eyes in the doorway.
“I have to … I have to leave,” she gasped, making a beeline for the door. Ken stepped in her path, blocking her exit.
She stared at the floor, refusing to meet his gaze. Putting out a hand, he gently tilted her face up, forcing her to look into his eyes. Tears began to fill her eyes, wanting to spill over. She firmed her mouth, and stared at him, almost defiantly, and then dropped her eyes once more. How could she … what could she say that would explain her behavior? She’d rested in Vanness’ arms. She’d nestled into his warmth, wanting to stay there forever. She’d breathed in his scent, and clutched at him with her own arms. And Ken had witnessed all of that.
“Pace,” he uttered softly, his voice compelling her to look up. “Do you love Vanness?” he finally asked.
She shook her head in misery, not knowing what to say. Her hand crept onto her stomach, seeking the comfort of her child.
His hands came down to rest on her shoulders, and he could feel her trembling.
“You’re the father of my baby,” she finally whispered, her throat tight with emotion. “How could I … take that away from you?” She looked away once more. She could feel Vanness at her back. She could feel his gaze on her, but what could she do? She had to forget him … she had to forget that he was there.
“A very close friend pointed out,” Ken said ruefully, “that I didn’t have to be married to you to be a good father.”
Pace’s gaze flew up to meet his.
“I love our child, but, unfortunately, I don’t love you the way you deserve to be loved,” he confessed hoarsely.
“I never asked to be loved,” she finally protested, her lips trembling. “I just … want a family.”
“Why settle when you can have so much more?” he asked.
“So much more?” she asked, her heart beginning to hammer, as her brain processed the meaning behind his words.
“My best friend loves you,” he said with a gentle smile. Pace’s gaze flew up to meet his. “I want my best friend to be happy. Do you think, you could …?”
Pace whirled around to stare at Vanness. A joyous smile spread across her face, as she reached her hands out to him. Reaching out, he clasped her hands.
Everything else … everyone else was forgotten.
She finally reached her prince … her Vanness. The man who would marry her today. The man who had made private promises to marry her and to love and cherish her child. She had no doubt that he meant every word.
Vanness reverently raised her veil, pushing it back. Leaning down, he stole a quick kiss, making her blush.
And together, they turned to look at the priest.
They might not have met under the most auspicious of circumstances, but they were here today … together … and making promises that would last for all of eternity. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. The birds were chirping and the flowers blooming. She was with the man she loved and the man who loved her.
What more could one ask for?
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony …”