Dr. St. Clair moved the Doppler across the warm gel on my lower belly. In the background, a tiny galloping sound could be heard in the otherwise quiet room.
Even Emma, sitting on a chair near the exam table, was holding her breath, her own little bundle of joy safe in her belly.
My eyes misted like the early morning San Francisco fog, obscuring my vision…the same reaction they always had each time I heard the beautiful sound.
What was it?
My baby’s heartbeat—the reason I had endured hormone shots so an anonymous donor could knock me up.
Yep, I know—that doesn’t sound very romantic.
But neither was the way Little Bean had become one with my uterus.
There was no candlelight dinner. No quickie against a brick wall.
No husband. No boyfriend. No one-night stand.
Little Bean’s start in the world was thanks to modern medicine.
I turned my head to see my best friend’s reaction. Emma was grinning at me, tears threatening to knock down the dam, her hand resting on her protruding stomach.
I was fifteen weeks pregnant; Emma was five months. Everything about her was glowing, including her curly red hair.
I grinned back at her, then returned my attention to Dr. St. Clair. “And everything is okay?”
“We’ll arrange the ultrasound once you’re finished here, but things are progressing nicely.” She wiped the gel off my still-flat belly with a towel.
The belly that was the result of years of karate as I trained to earn my black belt. A goal I had temporarily put aside to start my own family.
Why not go the more traditional route of meeting a man, falling in love, getting married, and then beginning a family a year or two later? The same path Emma had gone down when she and her now-husband, Travis, hooked up? Although in their case, their relationship had begun as nothing more than a ruse. A way to throw a wrench into his grandmother’s matchmaking schemes. She’d wanted to be a great-grandmother. And now, she was finally getting her wish.
Yes, the traditional route was the dream, but it wasn’t always the reality.
And my reality wasn’t so pretty. Or at least it hadn’t been while I was growing up.
Ready for a bedtime story?
Don’t worry, it’s short.
Once upon a time, a girl met a boy. He got her with child, then disappeared into the yonder, never to be heard from again.
The girl had the baby (me). And met another boy. Who didn’t last long.
She then met another boy.
None of these men stuck around for long. None were interested in being saddled with someone else’s child.
One day, when the child was six years old, her mother ran off to Vegas with the latest boyfriend, leaving the child on her own.
Neither the mother nor the boyfriend returned. Something to do with a drug deal gone wrong. They went RIP, and the authorities moved the little girl to foster care, where she bounced around from foster home to foster home. Eventually, she ended up with a loving family who wanted to adopt her.
But something changed before she was adopted, and she was tossed back into the system.
There, she met a girl who would one day become her best friend. A girl who’d had similar struggles but had the physical scars to show for it.
I smiled at Emma once more. The scar on her chin had faded over the years—but our friendship hadn’t.
Both of us had dreamed of one day finding someone who loved us as we deserved. Emma got lucky with Travis. Me?
Not so much. But I guess that was partly my fault. It’s hard to trust your heart to another when it’s been beaten down so many times. Before any guy had a chance to walk away, I was already sprinting out the door.
Most guys didn’t make it past the first date.
But I was hardly one-of-a-kind in that department. Some women with a background similar to mine married young, yearning for the loving family they hadn’t been part of growing up. Others, like myself, ran from those who professed their love to them.
Because we feared we’d be abandoned down the line—something with which we’d had lots of experience.
The only difference between me and the majority of those women? I never gave guys a chance to get close to the part where they believed they were in love with me.
But not a problem. Thanks to modern technology, single women didn’t need a man if they wanted to procreate.
Okay, you’re right. Modern technology hasn’t gotten to the point where it can create sperm without a man. But I’m sure that possibility is right around the corner.
In the meantime, thanks to a sperm donor’s generosity, Little Bean was cozy inside me. No complications. No messy relationship. And no having to worry about the father one day walking away from us—as my own parents did.
Once Dr. St. Clair had left the exam room, I climbed off the table and straightened my clothes.
“Does Travis know you’re here?” I asked Emma.
She shook her head. “I haven’t told him you’re pregnant, if that’s what you’re asking. But you do realize I hate lying to him?”
“Technically, you’re not lying. It’s not like he’s asked you if I’m pregnant.” I felt my eyebrows rise. “He hasn’t asked, right?”
Little Bean wasn’t noticeable yet. Definitely not to the extent where someone would be posting my photo on social media, a circle drawn around the small stomach bulge with the question “Baby bump?” in block print.
“No, not yet. But he will eventually start to wonder. People will eventually start to wonder.” Her gaze pointedly dropped to my breasts, which were fuller than they had been fifteen or so weeks ago. Her gaze then continued down to my stomach.
She was right—I wouldn’t be able to hide my condition for much longer.
“I just want to wait another week, and after that you can tell him.”
“But if he asks me before that if you’re pregnant…?”
I opened the exam-room door. “If that happens, you can tell him the truth. I don’t expect you to lie to your husband on my behalf.” I grinned at her, knowing she’d been practically busting at the pregnant seams to share my news with Travis and our other friends.
All of whom already had babies or little kids of their own.
Except for Wes Chiasson.
Confirmed bachelor and workaholic.
Whom I hadn’t seen in several months.
I booked my next doctor appointment; then Emma and I left the medical office and started walking the short distance to the elevators.
“I need to go to the ladies’ room first,” she said. “This baby is playing hockey with my bladder again.”
Did I mention her husband was a hockey player with the San Francisco Rock?
Yes, I had met a few guys on the team because of that.
No, I wasn’t interested in any of them. Hockey players weren’t my thing.
“Go ahead,” I told her since Little Bean was currently leaving my bladder alone. “I’ll wait for you here.”
She disappeared down the hallway leading to the ladies’ room. I retrieved my phone from my purse and checked if there were any messages.
The door behind me clicked open. Without looking to see who it was, I continued reading an email.
“What do you say we go get some ice cream, Everly?”
At the deep sound of Wes’s voice, my heart stumbled, and this time I did check over my shoulder. The stumbling heart was a new side effect I’d been experiencing whenever I’d seen him, but I didn’t know why.
While my heart’s reaction wasn’t unexpected, seeing Wes with a little girl hugging a floppy bunny was.
Heck, I hadn’t anticipated seeing him at all—especially not in this building.
His jeans and Henley top clung enticingly to his tall, athletic body. His short, light-brown hair beckoned for me to run my fingers through it. My lady bits released a dreamy sigh—and not just because I was dealing with pregnancy hormones.
Without meaning to, I let my gaze dart to the obstetrician’s office. It was clearly marked as that. Maybe he would think I was coming from the…
My gaze did another quick dart in the opposite direction to the…orthodontist’s office.
Great. Clearly, the building was trying to screw me over. All right, orthodontist’s office it was.
Wes looked in my direction, and his eyes widened. “Hannah, what are you doing here?” Non-surprisingly, he quickly surveyed the other two offices on the floor.
And just like that, my explanation vanished from my brain. All I was capable of doing was opening and closing my mouth like a pregnant fish out of water. “I’m…I’m…here to see a therapist.” Which was the third office located on this floor—the office that he had been coming from.
Face, meet palm.
But that was okay. I could work with that.
A confused frown crinkled on his brow. “You’re here to see a child therapist?”
“Yes…I…I have a date. With one…there.” I vaguely gestured in the direction he had come from. It was official. I had pregnancy brain.
That was a thing, right?
“You have a date with a therapist in that clinic?” He enunciated the words slowly as if I was an idiot. Which at that moment didn’t feel too far from the truth. “You mean like an appointment or a date-date?” His confusion had bailed, replaced by amusement if his voice was an indication.
“Well, not so much a date as an appointment.”
Nice save, Hannah.
The corners of his mouth turned up. He really did have a sexy mouth.
I meant a nice mouth.
Not a sexy mouth.
Just a regular old nice mouth.
“That’s good to know,” he said, “considering all the therapists in the clinic are females.”
“Right,” I said, “I knew that.”
“Is there any particular reason you’re seeing a pediatric psychologist?”
“Pediatric?” My gaze flicked to the sign by the office door. The one I hadn’t paid much attention to the first time. Oops.
Chuckling, he nodded. “Yeah, you know. A psychologist who specializes in kids. But as a pe-di-a-tric nurse, you probably already know that.”
“Hey, Wes,” Emma said from behind me, and coming to my rescue.
Okay, definitely not. Not unless she had suddenly developed the ability to read minds.
He smiled at her. “Travis mentioned your obstetrician’s office is in the same building as Everly’s play therapist. I didn’t realize you had an appointment there today.”
Emma no doubt saw what had to be a panicked expression on my face and unfortunately misread it. “Yes, I did. But Travis was unable to join me, and Hannah came to give me moral support instead.”
I inwardly cringed, knowing I would have to make it up to her, big-time. Especially if Wes mentioned seeing us here to Travis. There was no way Emma’s amazing husband would miss out on a prenatal appointment. Not unless his team was on the road.
And they weren’t.
I knew that. Emma knew that. And Wes knew that.
“That’s me,” I said, smiling on the outside and cringing some more on the inside. “The supportive friend who would do anything for her best friend.”
Time for a change of topic.
I crouched in front of the cute little blonde girl, who had been paying more attention to her stuffed animal than us. She was wearing cream-colored tights under her velvet navy dress, the cable pattern twisted awkwardly around her legs. Whoever had put them on her hadn’t done a good job. She also had on an adorable red duffle coat.
“Hi, what’s your bunny’s name?” I asked.
She took a small step back, almost colliding with Wes’s legs, and hugged her animal tighter. “Snuggle Bunny.” She smiled, and an angelic dimple sprung to life.
Wes crouched next to her, and she threw her arms around his neck. He returned her hug and pushed himself to his feet.
“Everly, these are my friends, Emma and Hannah.” He pointed to each of us in turn. “And this is my niece.”
A small noise, almost a gasp, fell from Emma’s mouth and her eyes went wide. I had a feeling I was missing something, something Emma knew.
I looked back and forth between them, puzzling out what was going on.
“I’m so sorry about your brother and sister-in-law,” she said, her eyes tearing up like they had in the doctor’s office when we heard Little Bean’s heartbeat.
Wes smiled again, but this time it was twisted with the pain he was struggling to keep off his face. For Everly’s sake. I’d heard that his brother and sister-in-law had died five months ago. I sent him a condolence card as soon as Emma told me. But I hadn’t known that they had a daughter.
But that would explain why I hadn’t seen him in a while.
“I’m sorry, too.” The words emerged from my throat, thick and heavy, like peanut butter squeezed through a drinking straw.
How I kept from bursting into tears was a medical miracle in itself.
“Thanks. That’s why we’re here.” He nodded at the office he and Everly had come from. “They’re helping her deal with what happened.” He directed his smile at his niece; only this time he succeeded in keeping the pain out of it. The smile was lethal—designed to melt all hearts, young and old. “Did you have fun playing the games today, Everly?”
She nodded and grinned, flashing her dimple again. “We get ice cream now?”
“That’s right. Now we get to eat ice cream. Would it be okay if Hannah and Emma join us?” Wes looked at Emma. “Or do you have your appointment now?”
“No, we’re already done,” she said. “But unfortunately, I won’t be able to join you. My store called. They need me to return due to some fountain emergency.”
Emma’s store? No, it didn’t sell fountains. But it did have one in the center of it. People threw coins into the water and made wishes, mostly of the love variety, and Emma donated the money to a youth center for underprivileged kids.
So what did her store sell? Anything to do with love.
Don’t tell anyone I said this, but she’s also Dr. Lovejoy. Yes, the Dr. Lovejoy, who writes what is now a popular sex and relationship column for a local San Francisco indie newspaper.
“But why don’t you go with them?” Emma said to me. “I know you were getting hungry.” There was no missing the conspiring wink in her tone.
Except I had no idea what it meant.
I opened my mouth to tell her my stomach and I were fine, but my stomach betrayed me, making a noise rivaling that of a bear waking from a long winter nap.
“Is it okay with Snuggle Bunny if I join you and your uncle Wes?” I asked Everly.
The elevator door pinged open, and the four of us entered.
“The place is just around the corner,” Wes explained as the doors closed. “It has the best ice cream around.”
On the main floor, Wes, Everly, and I exited the elevator.
“I’ll talk to you later.” Emma nodded at him, and her eyebrows danced up her forehead.
Fortunately, Wes’s back was to her.
I’m not interested, I mouthed.
It wasn’t a complete lie. Lightning wasn’t going to strike me.
At least not while I was in the building.
© Stina Lindenblatt 2019