Then, still lying in their bed, she’d watched him pull an already packed suitcase from the cupboard and head for the door. He’d had it packed even before they’d started to make love? In stunned disbelief, she’d put the question to him. ‘Why did you even bother? If you’d already made up your mind to leave, why even bother?’
‘Hey. I’m a red-blooded male and you were fantastic, sweetheart, but… I’ve had better.’ He’d started out of the room.
‘Wait.’ CJ had grabbed her dressing gown and followed him as he’d walked to the front door. ‘So this is it? We’re done? Just like that?’
Quinten’s answer had been to sigh tiredly. ‘CJ, we’ve been over for years now. You know it. I know it.’ He’d picked up his car keys, then turned to give her a once-over. ‘Let’s not pretend any more. You and I, we don’t…fit.’
With that, he’d walked out the door, walked to his car and driven away, the tyres squealing on the bitumen road. She’d wanted to shout at him, to slam the door, to release the hurt and pain he’d inflicted on her with his horrible words, but that wasn’t what she’d done.
Now, as she sat at the kitchen table, pickles, chocolate spread and bananas in front of her, CJ spoke softly to her baby. ‘I came inside, little one. I pulled the sheets off the bed and I washed them. I wanted to wash every aspect of him out of my life that night.’
‘Who…are you talking about?’ Ethan’s deep voice sounded behind her and it was only then that CJ realised she’d been sitting at the table for quite some time. He walked into the kitchen, smiling softly when he saw the food in front of her, and sat down nearby. ‘Is everything all right?’
CJ sighed slowly. ‘I was just thinking about how Margaret’s pregnancy was planned, and look how it’s turned out. Yet my pregnancy wasn’t planned, and I just can’t wait for this baby to come and complete my life.’ She picked up a chocolate-smothered pickle and chewed thoughtfully. ‘It’s sad how things work out, never as you thought they might. I really hope Margaret is able to stop drinking, to see that the baby isn’t her enemy. It just so sad,’ she repeated.
Ethan was quiet for a moment before picking up one of the slices of banana and eating it. CJ was more than happy to share her food with him and a small thread of happiness made its way through her melancholy aura. ‘Were you talking about your husband?’
She nodded. ‘I was thinking about the night he left. I thought we were reconciling, that we were going to be able to fix the problems he’d already raised, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, he used me and discarded me. I just needed to wash him out of my life, to pack up everything he’d left behind that reminded me of him and get rid of it, but after washing the sheets, exhaustion set in. I slept that night in my dad’s room, the room that’s now yours, wrapped up in blankets and curled into a tight little ball, feeling so small and so little.’
‘You didn’t pack everything away?’
‘Four hours after Quinten drove off, the police knocked on my door to tell me he’d been killed. He’d driven from here, picked up the woman he’d been having an affair with, who lived in Whitecorn, and then taken a turn too fast on the road and ploughed his car into a tree, killing them both outright. After that, I felt… I don’t know what I felt, except numb. Packing his things away felt too much like erasing him from existence and… I thought I owed him… I don’t know… I owed him something but…’ CJ shook her head.
Ethan reached over and took her hand in his. ‘You owe him nothing.’
‘Don’t I owe the baby at least some memory of who their father was? Sure, Quinten didn’t know about the baby—neither did I—but—’
‘All you owe this baby is love and you’re already providing that. You’re looking after yourself, you’re asking for help, you’re eating strange foods but you’re resting.’ He smiled as he spoke. ‘You’re doing all the right things and that’s what counts.’
CJ looked at their hands, their fingers seeming to intertwine so naturally. His touch made her feel wonderful, reassured, confident about the tasks that awaited her. Still, she noted the sadness behind his eyes, a sadness that shielded repressed pain.
‘Ethan,’ she began softly, ‘when your wife died…’ At her words she felt his hand go limp and he tried to pull back but she held on for a moment longer. ‘How did she die?’