This story is by Amanda McFadden and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sometimes when she’s lying in bed, she remembers that it takes seven years for skin cells to renew themselves. That means there’s still five more years until her skin hasn’t touched his. Five more years until the strands of (now blonde) hair haven’t been caressed by his rough and disgusting hands. So, she instead, buries her hands deeper underneath the covers, puts the idea of the double lines on the pregnancy test out of her mind, and rolls over awaiting sleep that won’t come.
He comes home shortly after. The one who’s sworn to help her forget the scars from lover’s past. He’s in the army, he’s superman. But he can’t speed up cell regrowth. He can’t erase the scars that aren’t visible. She can only dig her nails deeper into his back to try and forget. He smells like cinnamon and whiskey. He smells like home. She wraps her legs around him and lets him destress. Then, he’ll lay on his back, pull her naked body across his chest, and gently stroke her back as he asks about her day.
“The same but thank you.” After propping herself up to kiss him, she would ask about his day, feeling herself drift into a relaxed state as the vibrations of his vocal chords lulled her, the thought of hiding the test well in the bottom of the trash bin kept her from drifting completely.
His bed was comfier than hers, that’s why she always stayed there. She liked how soft his grey sheets were, and how she felt she could melt away in them. “Why don’t you just move in?” He’d asked her 6 months into their relationship. Now together almost two years, her answer was always the same. “I like having my own bed.” Even if she never slept in it. “Because I’ll get attached.” Was the real answer she wished she could tell him.
He never fussed or argued. He spent 12 hours a day training and working and would always come home to her in bed. A bed she spent majority of her time. Especially in the last month. Learning of his deployment to Syria a few weeks ago, she found it hard to do much of anything. He made no attempt to comfort her, knowing full well after 18 months, if he returned at all, he wouldn’t be the same.
She clutched her stomach as she laid on his. “You okay?” He turned to face her. She smiled. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just miss you.”
She couldn’t tell him. Not with him leaving in just a few days. She wanted the last of this relationship to be happy memories. Not fighting. Not worrying about why she lied about being on birth control. And why she never sucked it up and moved in with him when she had the chance. “Because I’ll get attached.” She would never tell him.
Her fear of attachment came from the first person she ever latched onto. It wasn’t all intentional. For the first year, their relationship was healthy and quite exciting. But nine years in, and he was finally threatening marriage, she feared for her life and dove off the deep end. She had the hand prints around her neck to prove it. But, only for a few days before they faded. She was always really good at makeup.
She spent the next year rediscovering herself, and realizing relationships were petty, unnecessary and made people disgustingly codependent. She decided to be fiercely and unapologetically independent. Until, while running from memories of her past, she quite literally bumped into her future. Spilling coffee all over both of them. And now, two years and month later, she was lying next to the same person, afraid to tell him she was carrying his child.
Hate and love stem from the same passion. She was afraid to admit that her hatred for the person who ruined her, was still warm and pulsing through her veins two years later. She needed to shower. Again, and again and again. She kissed his cheek and rolled over so her back was to him. He reached around and started to gently rub her stomach, something that often soothed her in her sleepless nights. Tonight, it did the opposite. “What’s the matter? Are you not feeling well?” She didn’t turn back around to face him. Her eyes welling up with tears. “Yeah.” She agreed. “Must have been something I ate today.” He grunted in response and fell instantly asleep.
She was a woman of secrets, and there were two types of secrets she kept. Ones she wanted found out, and ones that would never be found out. Unfortunately, this was a secret that would be hard to keep for much longer. But he would never know. It would mean attachment, and she couldn’t handle that. She would handle this on her own, as she so graciously learned to do after her last relationship.
She dreamt all night of being in the trenches. Soaked in the mud and whatever else was floating around. She lost sight of him almost as quickly as she saw him. Leaving her to fend for herself. For the first time, all she could think about was the baby she needed to protect. Her baby. For the first time since discovering that she was growing something inside her, and the confirmation of the third test that she was still worried she didn’t hide well, she felt attached to it – a little human being. As if it gave her life a purpose. But she still didn’t want it, and she still didn’t want him knowing. He didn’t deserve to know. He didn’t heal her fast enough, and now he was leaving.
Their last day was nothing short of the ordinary. He got up early and kissed her on the forehead. She grabbed at his arms and begged him to stay a little longer. He said he couldn’t. “Well, come home early for dinner. I was gonna make your favourite.” He was lacing up his boots. “Babe? Beef stroganoff and potato salad.” He sighed. “I heard you.” She sat up, wrapped her arms around his stomach. “But?” He turned to kiss her cheek. “But… I have a lot to do before tomorrow. So, I don’t know if I’ll…” He didn’t bother finishing his sentence, it was the same answer every time. Even on his last day.
He left, kissing her once more. And she stayed in bed until noon or later. She soaked her pillow with tears. Rubbing her stomach, begging the unborn child to fill the gigantic hole she suddenly felt in her chest. It didn’t offer her any comfort. Finally, she rolled out of bed, threw up in the toilet and rinsed herself off in the shower.
She made him dinner and sat at the table for two hours before she realized he wouldn’t be home early, or on time. He would be late. She cried into her potato salad, leaving his sitting on the table in the dark as she crawled in bed. “Don’t get attached.” She whispered to herself.
The next morning, she woke up and he was already gone. She didn’t remember hearing him come in, and being the light sleeper she is, he must have come in pretty late. His ruffled sheets were the only sign she had that he had actually come home. He’d left a note on his pillow.
“Till next time xo”
She’d cried many times, but never as hard as she did that morning. She sobbed so hard, the note he left disintegrated and ripped into small pieces. She cried so hard her jaw ached, her neck ached, her stomach, head and eyes ached. She never asked for much from him, and maybe that was her own fault, for fear of getting attached. But now she didn’t even get a proper goodbye. She rolled over and stared at the clock, realizing it was much earlier than she was usually awake. His plane wasn’t boarding for another hour and he probably hadn’t been through security yet.
She stayed put though, imagining what would have happened if she’d followed him there.
“Hey.” He would grab her face in his hands. “You’ve been crying.” It wasn’t so much a statement, as a question. “I have something to tell you.” She would whisper. He wouldn’t be mad at anything except she hadn’t told him sooner. “I promise, anything you need babygirl. I’m yours forever,” He would kiss her so hard she would be afraid her lips would split.
She rolled over again, her last time in his bed, and realized there was a significant amount of blood. It was time to head home for good. She tidied up the bloodied sheets and called a doctor to cancel all her next appointments, as there was no more baby to check out, and started her 20-block trek home.
But not before leaving a note on his pillow.
“There is no next time xo”.