My bad luck got tangled up with my bad decisions, and I’m paying for it.Patrick Rothfuss
4 years later Blaine 53, Viktoria 52, Anastasia 27, Brendan 22, Chase 30, Natalie 22 Willow Creek Taste of Tuscany upscale dining
The background sounds were a vichyssoise of well-known Italian classics from hidden speakers, mixed with the clinking of silverware against dishes, and the dull roar of people talking underlined by the scent of food in the air promising a delectable experience. In the midst of it all a young man and woman, both attractive and obviously a couple, even though their somber facial expressions didn’t match the romantic and special atmosphere of their surroundings.
For a while they sat in silence, sipping on their wine, until suddenly both spoke at the same time.
“Ana, darling. The reason I have invited you out here today is because I have something to discuss with you …” the young man halted when he realized she was speaking as well.
“I have something important to talk to you about …” she did the same, resulting in neither speaking.
“Oh. Please, ladies first.” Chase now offered smiling.
“No, you go first, Chase.” she shook her head.
“Please, go ahead, I insist.”
“All right. I have been offered a year at one of our satellite offices abroad. It’s a great opportunity for me and would look favorable on my resume. It’s a once in a lifetime chance and while I realize it won’t be easy for us, I am very eager to do this.”
Chase’s facial expression hardened, he took a big sip of his wine to help process the card he had been dealt before he spoke.
“Where exactly is ‘abroad’?”
“Italy, ironically enough, since we are in an Italian restaurant right now. Milan to be exact.”
“And where do you see me fitting into all this? Sounds to me like I am being fired from your life. Or at the very least shelved to collect dust while you do ‘you’.”
“Chase, it’s not that bad. We can Skype and text and email and of course speak on the phone …”
“I don’t think that’s such a great idea, Ana.”
“Well, too late. I already accepted the offer, thinking you would be supportive and happy for me. Do you not understand what this means for my career? You take your career serious as well …”
“I do. And while I hate playing this card, my career actually occasionally saves lives, yet, I declined every single offer that would take me abroad for advanced studies for any amount of time, even a very lucrative job opportunity in a research facility in Switzerland, because I did not want us to be separated. I couldn’t bear it. Same reason I have thus far declined every time my parents try to reel me in to work at their small clinic in Brindleton Bay. Even if I didn’t move there, the commute alone would very much limit what little time you and I have already, hence it was unacceptable. Silly me thought the feeling was mutual.”
“Of course it is, I will miss you like crazy! It’s only for a year. Why haven’t I heard about any of what you just told me until now?”
“Because I did not want to hurt you, knowing you would feel guilty even though it was my decision. I would never have dreamt of just flinging a done deal at you like you just did with me. No, I am not okay with this. Not at all. I hate to do this to you Ana, but you leave me no choice anymore.”
“Are you breaking up with me?” she asked before he could finish, hoping that would stop him from saying the words she was not prepared to hear.
“That will be your decision, at least I am giving you a choice, unlike you did with me. If you want to do this stint in Italy and still want me to wait for you, I need something more than this, something to hold on to. In case you even wondered what it was that I wanted to talk to you about tonight, it was us moving in together, but guess that’s redundant now, as I see no point in paying more rent at a different address to look at your boxes for a year while you are elsewhere. However, I feel like I have been extremely patient with you, even after you declined my marriage proposal twice now. So I am going to ask you a very important question again, but before I do, know this: this will be the very last time I will ask. If the answer is no again, I think it would be best we both revisit our options.”
“If that’s what you want to call it, Ana. I didn’t want to do it like this either. Call me a fool, but I really love you so incredibly much, I had visions of how this would be, how it could be one of those moments in your life you will never forget, maybe like my very much failed sunset proposal on that romantic beach by the waterfall in Sulani during our last vacation there, or six months ago when I proposed to you on the outlook tower in Brindleton Bay like my father once did with my mother, which you also rejected, or really any other painfully romantic setting imaginable, yet, here we are like this. At the very least I always thought when I do ask you to share your life with me, you would be happy and excited, instead of put out because it interferes with your five year plan for your career. Still, I am having a hard time just walking away from all we have, but I feel like we have arrived at a crossroads where I need you to make a decision for us to be able to go on together – or part ways.”
Chase took another sip of the wine, then rose up and hit one knee right before Ana’s chair.
Instantly all the attention was on them, there was aww-ing and ooo-hing, the talking around them stopped and silence fell, as if there were spotlights on them.
“Anastasia Cameron, here’s to hoping that the third time will be a charm, as I ask you now sincerely and from the bottom of my heart: will you make me the happiest, luckiest man in the world and become my wife?”
There it was! His sweet words echoed like a death sentence in Ana’s head.
She quickly glanced at all the people now staring on, her heart had stopped, now it was racing. She looked into the captivating bright blue eyes expectantly looking up at her awaiting her answer, and her heart ached with the surge of love she felt lined with a strong fear of losing something very important to her.
“Yes. Yes, I will. I love you, Chase.” she said, her eyes welling up.
The entire restaurant erupted in a deafening round of applause, while the newly engaged couple kissed. Nobody noticed the tear that escaped Anastasia and rolled down her cheek, or if they did, they just assumed it was because of the overwhelming joy she felt.
To say that Blaine and I were surprised at the news would be a crass understatement.
Not just to learn about the engagement we never thought would happen, but also to hear that Anastasia had revoked her application for the one-year job transfer to Italy.
Naturally we were supportive and celebrated with some wine for a moment before Blaine had to run out for a meeting with some clients of his he was producing an album for.
Once alone with Ana I couldn’t help but worry, something was off, I could just not put my finger on it. I had noticed she was unusually quiet and absent-minded, then – all of a sudden and without warning – she projectile puked onto the kitchen floor.
I stood by, mouth agape, when she was already frantically wiping it up, apologizing nervously, then ran off to the bathroom quickly.
I followed, watching her as she rinsed her mouth out.
“Sorry about that mom. I’ll mop and it will be as new. I am fine. Just stress at work.”
“Just getting over a stomach thing. Don’t worry, I am not contagious, I swear.”
“Please mom, don’t.” she sounded like someone near tears – or a nervous breakdown, further confirming my suspicion.
“We’re going to have a chat, Ana. First, there is a package of new toothbrushes in the drawer, and mouthwash in the cabinet, you clean up, I’ll make coffee and we will talk in the dining room.”
“Okay, fine.” she agreed resigned.
Once assembled at the table, we sat in silence for some moments, since she didn’t offer anything, I decided to get us going, as I had no idea how much time we would have till Brendan would come home from work and Blaine would return from his client meeting.
“How far along?”
“Mom … please don’t.” her voice was low.
“Cut the crap, Ana. You cannot run from this, ignoring it won’t make it go away. And we all will figure it out eventually anyway. Plus, if you are anything like me, you’ll end up puking all the time and everywhere till it’s impossible to gloss over. People aren’t that ignorant, Anastasia.”
“I know, mom. I don’t really have much to tell you, I guess I am around the 8 weeks mark plus minus a week or two. I had no clue about it until about two weeks ago when all the puking started. I got suspicious and took a test, just to put my mind at ease. Well, three tests came out positive. Obviously this wasn’t intentional. Remember when I was so sick some months ago and had to take antibiotics for 14 days? Do you also remember the part where those render birth control useless? I didn’t, not then. But now I do. Sadly, too late.”
“Assume Chase does not know yet?”
“No. Please let’s keep it that way for now. I need to figure a few things out first.”
“Then if you knew about it or at least suspected it two weeks ago already, why did you put in for that transfer last week. That makes absolutely no sense. And Chase has a right to know, it’s his child too, beyond me why you wanted to go abroad for a year, meaning none of us could be with you during your pregnancy, worst of all, the father of the child would be deprived of the entire experience.” I ranted, dumbfounded at my child’s seemingly irrational action.
The look Ana gave me, quick and sheepish, a look of guilt, made me cautious.
“Ana. There is more, isn’t there?” A suspicion rose within me.
“Maybe.” her answer was barely audible.
“ANA!” I exclaimed, as I had no more words, once the realization sunk in of what all this was about.
“Mom, please don’t. I fucked up and I know it. I screwed up so bad. I am afraid. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen! I love Chase, I don’t want to hurt him or lose him. Especially not if it were to turn out that there is no good reason for that after all.”
She started sobbing hard and I now realized she was a mess and at her wit’s end, while I wrestled with that terrible suspicion. I needed the answer.
“Anastasia … who?”
“Please don’t ask me, mom. I can’t …”
I was going to press the matter further, when something in my brain clicked and instantly it all made sense!
“Ana, no. Please tell me you didn’t! Not him.” I exclaimed, hoping she would relieve me of the terrible suspicion I now had, even though I already felt I had hit the bull’s eye.
“I wish I could.” she started sobbing, her head buried in her arms on the table.
“For heaven’s sake! Ana, girl, what were you thinking?! Were you even thinking?! You knew the risks, and Chase finding out and breaking up with you is the least of your worries now, you realize that, right?”
“I know! I was so sick and Ri came over to make me feel better, he was so sweet, tried to make me soup and it came out so terrible, we were laughing so hard, and … well .. things got romantic just like that and before we both realized it, THAT had happened. I felt so ashamed and guilty, when Chase came over the next morning I nearly raped him, thinking I could erase my misstep by sleeping with the guy I am supposed to be sleeping with exclusively. And now both … you know … and all that happened right inside my fertility window too! Oh mommy … what am I going to do?!” she sobbed hard.
I wanted to sob too while screaming at the top of my lungs. I was downright horrified.
This was terrible, with strong potential to turn into a disaster!
In case you couldn’t make sense of our code talk, let me spell it out for you:
My daughter apparently was pregnant, had slept with two men around the time of conception, one of them being her now fiancé Chase, the other her childhood friend and vampire Riordan. Now we were looking at a 50:50 chance of who would be the daddy, as well as another 50:50 chance the child could be immortal – in other words, a vampire – if it turned out to be Riordan’s … in that case heaven help us.
I was worried.
At her and at Riordan. Even though I understood why he would take whatever she was willing to throw his way, he was lonely and borderline obsessed with my daughter, that I was sure of. So many facets to it all, everyone equally perpetrator and victim. And so hard not to tell her that I told her so. But I had, yes, I had warned them both, so many times and I had told them so. And now this.
Absolutely devastating, unless we just got incredibly lucky. Six months or so were an incredibly long time to wait for an answer when the stakes were this high.
But now it all started to make sense to me. The reason Ana wanted to do the year abroad was to keep her pregnancy secret, or maybe even have an abortion or give the child up for adoption. She was too distraught for me to analyze whatever her foolish plan may have been. Obviously she withdrew from the year abroad now.
The new plan tasted just as bitter to me, obviously she wanted to pass the child off as Chase’s on the 50% chance it would turn out it wasn’t, and make him the daddy no matter what by marrying him. It was risky and wrong. I felt so sorry for Chase. Especially when the time came that she could no longer hide her pregnancy, as I predicted she puked all the time and couldn’t fool a doctor fiancé for long.
He was ecstatic and packed her in his car the minute she told him to make the rounds to both sets of soon-to-be grandparents and uncle-to-be Brendan, naturally he was unaware that I already was in on that secret, and I played my part of happy and surprised.
I wanted to right that wrong so many times, but couldn’t break that young man’s heart. It wasn’t my place. Naturally, that very night they came over to share the baby ‘news’ Riordan was visiting so that poor kid got his heart torn out as well.
Riordan was kept in the dark about the chance this baby could be his, and once more, I felt it wasn’t my place. That young man was troubled enough when he heard about the engagement and later about the pregnancy as well, he was best left to assume as the rest of us that the baby was Chase’s. Which, who could say for sure that wasn’t the case? If Riordan even suspected he could be the father, that young man would have probably gone with another attempt on his own life, just in case he accidentally fathered a vampire, knowing it would end with a baby separated from the mother, break-ups, heartaches and another kid for Caleb to raise strictly, denied a normal childhood, because that was the way it had to be in a world unaccepting of things that could not be because they simply were inexplicable and hence must not be, like vampires. Ergo, if Ana gave birth to a vampire, the child would be off the records and never exist, nor be able to grow up in society, never go to school. A grey zone and a giant mess. Watching Riordan grow up like that and still today I would vouch that it was worst case scenario. Life in the shadows is not for everyone. Not to mention Caleb would be extremely upset. He and Ana were still not on the best terms, their relationship still tense after his interference with her and Riordan. Now we all knew how easily things can go wrong, and all have to admit, Caleb knew that he was doing and why.
Ana had managed to push the wedding date discussions out until several months after the calculated birth date of the child even though Chase’s parents pressed to have the baby born into a marriage. Her excuse was that she didn’t want to look fat in her wedding photos. You and I know that wasn’t it. What she was really doing was waiting to see if the child was born a vampire, in which case she wanted to be able to run from it all without having to deal with a divorce.
All this caused me many sleepless nights. I was restless, spent many a balmy night sitting near the water’s edge listening to the calming ripple of the lake by our house. Every time Blaine would join me, silently.
Blaine knew something was wrong, but eventually gave up asking. I just couldn’t bear to tell him, at least not yet. That man surprised all of us with his reaction to hearing he would be a grandfather. He cried.
Not a single little tear, no, he cried, happy tears as if this had been the one thing that made his life complete.
My guess would be that when he was young, he thought he would live and die in the gutter like his parents. Never would he have expected to have a wife, a career, a happy home, two great kids who made something of themselves … and most definitely not a grandchild.
Until I was ready to rain on his happiness he would come and sit with me, waiting for me to let him in on my terrible secret, knowing I would as that was how well we knew each other. And eventually I did. Much to my surprise he didn’t lose his temper, nor did anything rash, just kissed me and told me whatever would happen, we’d deal with it, just like Camerons always did.
With every call I got from Anastasia I expected the charades to have blown up in her face, but it didn’t. It really looked like Blaine and I would be grandparents soon and have a married daughter who always claimed she would never get married let alone have a child. Question that remained was, could she end up being happy like this or would she do one of those typical, knee-jerk Anastasia things and blow it all up herself after all? The one thing that did give me hope was that she had not just chosen to terminate her pregnancy and just not tell anyone, which sounded a lot more like something my daughter would pull off.
So here we were now, at the verge of what would either be a serious bullet – make that cannonball – dodged, or the beginning of what would probably resemble the eruption that swallowed Pompeii.