Em gripped David’s hand and looked up at him with a wavering smile. In response, he brushed a kiss against her temple.
“It’ll be okay, Em.”
She nodded. “I hope so.”
“Hey now,” David said. “All the tests you’ve had previously have come back fine, and so will these. Like Dr Abbott said at our last appointment, there’s no medical reason stopping you from conceiving. She’s being thorough, that’s all. We’ll get this final all clear, and then keep trying.” He grinned. “It’s not like it’s a chore.”
Em laughed. David always seemed to know exactly the right thing to say. They’d been trying for a baby for so long though, it was hard to keep her spirits up at times. So far, the doctors hadn’t found any medical reason why she couldn’t get pregnant, she just… hadn’t. This final round of tests had to give them the answers they’d been looking for.
They entered the surgery and Em registered her arrival on the self-serve computer screen just inside the entrance. They took a seat and waited. Her leg bounced up and down until David put his hand on her knee.
“Sorry, babe,” she said. “Annoying, isn’t it?”
He touched his head to hers. “You could never annoy me.”
She laughed. “Liar.”
The TV screen on the far side of the surgery buzzed. She looked up. Mrs Emmalee Harper. Room 9. She swallowed past a lump in her throat. “This is it.”
David stood, took her hand, and together they walked down the corridor. Em inhaled a deep, cleansing breath, then blew it out slowly through pursed lips. She knocked then opened the door.
Ten minutes later, she staggered onto the street in a daze. If a passing stranger reached into her chest and literally ripped out her heart, it couldn’t be more painful than what she was feeling in that moment. Her vision blurred, like it did on the odd occasion when she stabbed herself in the eye with a mascara wand, yet no matter how many times she wiped her eyes, she still couldn’t see properly.
On trembling legs, Em made her way over to where she’d parked her car a mere twenty minutes earlier. She’d dared to hope, to fill her mind with optimism and positive thoughts. And she’d headed straight into an ambush—one she hadn’t been prepared for—despite all evidence to the contrary.
She raised her hand in the air. David only wanted to take care of her, but he couldn’t fix this. No one could. He’d have to deal with his own pain without her help right now. She didn’t have the strength to manage his agony as well as her own – not yet – she needed time to absorb the cruel direction her life had taken.
God, the arrogance she’d shown. For years she’d put off trying for a baby. There was plenty of time to get pregnant, right?
David held out his hand for the car key. “Let me drive.”
Em shook her head and climbed in the driver’s side. She gripped the steering wheel and resolutely stared ahead, then started the engine. Pulling onto the main road Em didn’t give the busy oncoming London traffic enough space. The man behind her honked his horn and when she glanced in her rear-view mirror, she was treated to his middle finger thrust up against his windscreen.
She ignored him. On any other day, she’d have wound down her window and returned the favour with a one-fingered salute of her own. But every ounce of energy had been sucked out of her body. She could barely lift an arm, let alone engage in a fierce exchange of road rage. Maybe she should have let David drive.
With no memory of the journey home, Em turned into her road and found a space on the left. On autopilot, she parallel parked the car, something that usually would have taken her several attempts, much to David’s amusement. But today, she manoeuvred it straight in. It was as if a presence greater than herself had thought, “Give the poor bitch a break. She’s had enough for one day.”
How about enough for a lifetime?
She checked her blind spot in case some idiotic boy racer came barrelling down the street, then got out of the car. David appeared beside her and together—yet so very far apart—they headed into the house.
“Heating hasn’t come on,” Em said as she stomped into the kitchen to check the boiler.
“I don’t think I reset the timer after the clocks went back last weekend.”
“Can’t you get anything right?” she muttered under her breath, and then immediately cursed herself for the uncharitable, and wholly untrue thought. There wasn’t a kinder man than David on the whole planet, and he idolised the very ground she walked upon. But pain had such a grip on her heart, she wanted to rail against the world, to dole out cruel and unusual punishment, to make others suffer as she was suffering.
After adjusting the heating, she flicked on the kettle and reached into the top cupboard for the coffee. The jar slipped through her fingers and smashed all over the kitchen floor. Shards of glass and coffee granules scattered everywhere.
“Goddammit,” Em yelled.
And then she burst into tears.
David’s arms came around her, his hands soothing as they rubbed in circles against her back. He didn’t say a word, just let her cry it out. He’d never been particularly verbose, but that was just as well, because he was married to Em – she chattered enough for the both of them.
“I’ve got snot all over your shirt,” she said, wiping the back of her hand across her nose.
David smiled. His dimples that had so captivated her years earlier made an appearance. One adoring glance from her husband still had her going weak at the knees despite the fact they’d been married for eight years. Maybe they’d skipped the seven-year-itch and this was their “difficult patch”, a situation not of their making, where they were completely blameless, and yet it could drive a wedge through the centre of their marriage.
David reached behind her, tugged a tissue from the box sitting on the kitchen windowsill, and wiped her face. “You’ve done worse over the years.”
Despite the heavy weight that had settled deep in her abdomen since leaving the doctor’s office, she laughed. “We agreed never to mention that. And I still reckon it was food poisoning.”
“Of course it was. Gin’s a food group, right?”
She playfully dug him in the ribs. “You’re lucky I love you.”
He twisted his lips to one side. “Still?”
Her face fell. “Nothing’s changed.” Everything’s changed.
His hands curved around the back of her neck and he bent down to kiss her. “You’re my life, Em. Please don’t shut me out. We’ll find a way through this. There are options for couples like us.”
Sorrow and loss for something she’d never had—and now never would—rolled through her. Needing comfort, she wrapped her arms around him, holding him close, drawing on the strength and support he so willingly provided.
The doctor had said “Extremely unlikely to ever fall pregnant”. After two years of trying, and a year of tests, they’d finally discovered the reason—some weird shit going on with her uterus. She hadn’t understood all the medical mumbo jumbo, only that she had a stupid fucking uterus. The one thing that should come naturally to every woman, and her body had decided to play the cruellest of jokes on her.
The doctor had regurgitated the usual platitudes. Nothing wrong with continuing to try, it couldn’t do any harm blah blah blah, but she’d stopped listening at that point. She had to face facts. She’d never know what it was like to feel a baby move inside her, or to go through the agony of childbirth – David’s ball sac metaphorically in her hand as she cursed him through the pain.
A sob caught in her throat, and more tears fell.
* * *
“Shall I call Tally and put her off?” David asked later that day. “Tell her you’re not feeling well.”
“Oh shit. I forgot we’d invited them over.” Em shook her head. “Let them come. It might do me good.”
“Are you going to tell her?”
Tally was Em’s best friend, the girl she’d grown up with. They shared everything, and although talking about her useless woman bits was the last thing she wanted to do, there was no way she’d be able to keep something so huge from Tally. She knew Em too well, and would figure out with one look at her face that something was terribly wrong. It was Tally who’d encouraged Em to investigate further after her damned period kept arriving.
“Eventually. Not today though.”
The tips of David’s fingers connected with hers, his gentle touch bringing hot tears to her eyes once more. Never having been the teary sort, she blinked them back – stiff upper lip and all that. Now that she had been told definitively that she’d never have the child they’d been trying for, that the last two years of hoping and praying, only to feel the onset of monthly stomach cramps and know she’d been unsuccessful once more… well, she was allowed a little self-pity, right?
“Thank you,” she murmured, curling her hand around his.
“For not blaming me.”
David’s eyes widened, and the following shake of his head was loaded with disappointment. “I can’t believe you’d think for one second that I would. It’s you I want, you I married. A child would simply have been the icing on the best tasting cake in the world.”
She smiled and checked her watch. “We’ve got a couple of hours before Tal and Cash are due. Fancy a taste of that cake?”
David’s answering grin defrosted the icicles that had formed around her heart. He got to his feet and held out his hand. “A taste is never enough. I need at least a whole slice.”