From across the table, I took the first sip of my coffee. The calming bitter liquid was so hot it burned my tongue. I knew better than to taste it so soon, but my focus was on Lauren. I stared at her, but only saw myself. She hid behind large Ann Taylor sunglasses, but it was a cold, cloudy morning and the sun wasn’t quite out yet. I sensed the people around us probably figured out what happened to her, but when I looked around, no one was looking at us. My face was a bit sunken in lately, and I looked a bit feeble, so even if they were staring, I knew they wouldn’t think it was me.
I swallowed the coffee despite it ripping the top layer of taste buds from my tongue and scalding my throat on the way down. I didn’t really care. I wanted her to finally confirm what I was suspicious about for over a year. She refused to talk about it. I kept trying to bring it up by asking about Luther, but each time, all she did was change the subject. Selfishly, I was worried that maybe Luther found out that we had slept together, but I’d seen her with bruises on her back before we were ever intimate.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m waiting for a phone call. I can’t be long.”
A heavyset woman had opened the door and a gust of wind blew toward our table, blowing the napkins out of place. I quickly set the napkins back to a more symmetrical and neat formation before trying once more to get Lauren to tell me what I thought I would hear. She instead went on to tell me something completely irrelevant.
“I was at the library two weeks ago,” she said.
“With technology as rampant as it is, why? Aren’t libraries obsolete now?” I asked.
“I was doing some research the old fashioned way, and I needed to get out of the house anyway. I was looking at survival rates.”
“Okay, so what happened besides that?”
“I was looking for new publications when a guy approached me. Cute I guess. He looked to be a bit younger than me and was eager to talk. He said hello and I looked at him. He asked me my name, and instead of telling him my real name, I told him it was Daphne. He introduced himself and told me I was pretty. I thanked him for the compliment and he continued to be quite forward and told me he was a writer.”
“Yeah, a writer. So I asked him what he wrote. He told me he wrote a book once, but it was never published. He then kept correcting himself. He said it wasn’t really a book, but more a collection of thoughts and essays and it was very complicated. I asked what kind and he corrected himself yet again, saying it was more along the lines of notes then something that was actually coherent.”
“So, what was he after?”
“I guess a date. We never really got to that point. He told me that he worked at the library and shouldn’t really be talking to me so much, but he felt obligated to do so because I was so beautiful. I didn’t even blush because he was getting creepy. Instead, I asked how long he had worked at the library and he said it was more on a volunteer basis and he was out of work at the moment. At this point I knew he was quite strange, so I felt compelled to tell him something equally as awkward in the hopes he would go away.”
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him that I was pregnant. Just like that, out of the blue. He scoffed and said he knew there was something wrong with me, and then he walked away. So, I suppose it worked. But, the thing is…”
She lingered, expecting me to say something, so I did. “What?”
“Does Luther know?”
“It’s not his.”
She looked at me and I waited for her to smile. Her expression never changed. I knew she was lying, but I wanted it to be true. We stared at each other for several moments, and a few tears emerged from behind her sunglasses. I reluctantly handed her a napkin. I excused myself a moment to grab a new one and place it on the table, replacing the one I handed her.
“So, it’s mine?”
We both knew it wasn’t, but she nodded her head. Our eyes locked for several moments and tears slowly continued to run down her cheek. I wanted to wipe them off her face, but that was her job.
The heavyset woman had already ordered a coffee and a pastry and was sitting down, pretending not to look at us as she eavesdropped. I looked over at her and she looked away. I then looked back to Lauren.
“Do you want to go? Can I give you a ride home?”
Her face was dry already and she nodded her head. We got up and left. The cold air had a faint whistle that was white noise over the crushing sounds of the city. We closed the doors and it was too quiet. We were almost to her house when I finally spoke again.
“What do you want to do about it?”
“What do you want me to do?” She didn’t answer me. I looked over at her, but she was staring out the window. I wondered what was going in her head.
“Lauren…” She finally looked at me but remained quiet. I think she was so lost in her own thoughts, she really didn’t hear me. She looked at me as if she wanted to say something, but her mouth quivered. She removed her sunglasses for the first time and I saw the swollen purple mayhem that Luther left on her eye.
I could see Luther’s car from down the block, so I pulled over a few houses early.
“Let me pack my things and we can go away together. I’m ready to do what you asked me so long ago.”
“I… I can’t. You know that.”
“Why not? We can go somewhere far and you can get a new Doctor.”
“Lauren… I’m losing this battle. Don’t you see?”
She put her sunglasses back on.
“I thought you were a way out.”
“I wish I was.”
She got out of my car and that was the last I saw of her.
I went home and longed to hold her again. I wished that baby was mine, but we both knew that I was sterile. I considered calling the police for her, but I knew she didn’t want to be alone and she’d deny it. Or if she didn’t, Luther would do something. I lied in bed listening to David Bowie while fighting back tears. I waited for that phone call.
When it rang, I was hoping it would be Lauren, although I couldn’t manage to comprehend what I thought she could say that she hadn’t already. Even though she couldn’t be with me, I wanted her to leave him. Instead it was the expected call with the news I already assumed. The doctor said I should come in, but I made him tell me over the phone. It metastasized and I had four months if I was lucky.
I didn’t cry like I thought I would. Instead, I stared at the ceiling all night imagining what it would have been like to drive off with Lauren and raise that baby. I almost had the one thing I always wanted – my own family. I eventually drifted to sleep, hoping I could see the day that Lauren would leave Luther.
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