She knew what she had to do — and that she needed to do it now. Procrastinating would only make the task ahead more difficult — for both of them.
Her circumstances — and the future of her unborn child — required that she be fearless now. Decisive. Determined. Protective.
As she showered and dressed in anticipation of Dennis’ visit, she vacillated between being extremely angry with herself for not being more responsible — the thought of using birth control had never even entered her mind on that fateful New Year’s Eve — and worry about what her future held. She knew that her discussion with Dennis this evening would only be the first of many conversations she would be having in the coming weeks and months with the people she loved. She wondered how she would tell her parents, knowing that they would be disappointed, but fiercely protective. Although she had not had time to fully evaluate her financial circumstances, she presumed that she would need to move back into her parents’ home and secure employment back in her home town, dependent upon her parents to assist with child care and other responsibilities.
The days ahead would be difficult, but she was resolved. She was going to have his child and raise it on her own without any assistance from him. If her plan succeeded, he would never know.
“I’ve been worried about you,” Dennis said as he entered the apartment, kissed her lightly, and held her for several long moments. Stepping back, he put both hands on her shoulders and studied her face, softly assuring her, “Whatever it is you want to talk to me about we’ll deal with together, o.k?”
“Why don’t we sit down and get comfortable?” she responded, gently pulling away from him out of fear that she would lose the courage to follow through.
“All right,” he said, reaching for her hand and pulling her toward the couch. “Come on. I’m all ears.”
As they sat down, he put one arm around her shoulders, taking both of her hands into his strong other hand and squeezing her tightly. “I’m right here,” he reminded her encouragingly.
“Dennis, before I tell you what’s going on, you have to make me a promise,” she began.
“I’ll give it my best shot,” he replied seriously. “Lay your request on me.”
“You have to promise me that you will not tell anyone what I am about to share with you. No one.“
She continued quickly, anxious to say everything she needed to before she lost her nerve. “I’m going to tell you the whole story because you deserve to know the truth. I care very much about you, as you know, and I’ve enjoyed the time we’ve spent together, so it is important to me that you understand why I can’t see you any more. But you can’t tell another living soul because I have to handle things my own way and in my own time.”
Dennis sat quietly, studying her face as she stared down at their entwined hands, unable to bring herself to meet his gaze.
After a few moments, he said plainly, “I promise.”
“You and I were supposed to meet on New Year’s Eve, remember?” she began.
“Yes, I do. I was disappointed when you didn’t come to the party,” he acknowledged.
“I didn’t make it to the party that night because, while I was getting dressed, someone from my past showed up here unannounced,” she explained, still avoiding eye contact.
“The guy in the picture,” Dennis said softly and matter-of-factly. She looked up at him in surprise. “So you’re leaving me for that guy you met back in high school?” he asked.
“How . . . ” she stared at him, unable to form the words.
“I saw the picture lying on the table and read the inscription on the back. ‘Better late than never.’ We agreed that the past didn’t matter, remember?” he explained gently, trying to mask his disappointment. “So I didn’t ask you about him. I figured that if it wasn’t just an old picture and there was something I needed to know, you would be straight with him.”
“No, I’m not leaving you for him, but he is the person I spent New Year’s Eve with,” she continued. “He just showed up here, completely unannounced, with that photograph and a bottle of wine and . . . ” her voice broke.
He pulled his hand away and removed his arm from around her shoulders, leaning forward on his elbows and not looking at her. “It’s o.k. You have nothing to feel badly about. These things happen. If he’s the guy you’ve wanted for so many years, I’m happy that you are going to be with him. I want only the best for you.” He turned his face to hers. “You know that.”
She sighed deeply. “No, Dennis, that’s not it at all. He doesn’t want me. He’s marrying the woman that he has been in love with since high school. Their engagement announcement just ran in our local newspaper.”
“Then I don’t understand.” Dennis studied her face again, his brow furrowed in confusion. “Why can’t we continue seeing each other?”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before finally whispering, “I’m pregnant.”
Dennis nodded his head slowly as he leaned back on the couch. He rested his head on the top of the seat cushion, staring at the ceiling blankly for what seemed like an eternity, during which they sat in silence.
She was paralyzed, unable to move, anticipating that he would simply get up and leave her apartment — and her life — without saying another word.
Finally, he straightened and turned toward her. “O.K., I want to make sure that I understand this. He showed up here on New Year’s Eve and you slept with him. I presume that you just confirmed your pregnancy today when you saw the doctor. Do I have this right so far?” he asked.
“Yes.” Her voice was barely audible. Still, she could neither move nor look at him.
“He is marrying some other woman, so I also presume that you have not told him about this,” Dennis continued matter-of-factly. “I take it you haven’t seen him since New Year’s Eve?”
“Only once. He came over again just a few evenings ago, and we went to dinner, but I was feeling so poorly . . . nothing happened,” she explained. “I think he intended to tell me about his engagement, but I thought I had the flu, so we ended up watching television for a little while and then I must have fallen asleep. I woke up here on the couch in the morning and he was gone. I haven’t seen or spoken to him since.”
“Do you intend to?” Dennis asked directly.
“No,” she said, her voice threatening to break. “No, I don’t.”
“And what about the baby?” Dennis inquired gently. “Are you planning to have the child?”
“Yes,” she said resolutely, nodding her head affirmatively. “Definitely. So that’s why we can’t see each other any more. I have to figure out my future — and the baby’s — and I’m probably going to need my parents’ help. I haven’t told them yet, but I’m going to have to and I’m certain they’ll want me to move back into their house so that they can help me.”
He reached out and put his arm back around her shoulder, pulling her close to him as, unable to control her emotions any longer, she began to sob quietly.
“Ssshhh,” he consoled her, stroking her hair and holding her tightly to his chest. “It’s all going to be all right. I promise you that. You’re going to get through this.”
He held her for several minutes until she regained her composure. As her tears subsided, he took her face in his hands and looked deeply into her eyes, tenderly kissing her swollen eyelids, red nose, puffy cheeks, and, finally, her lips. After several more minutes, he got up, went into the bathroom and returned with a cold washcloth which with he dabbed away her tears.
“All right,” he sighed at last. “Will you be o.k. here tonight by yourself?”
She nodded as she held the washcloth over her eyes.
“Then here’s what I’d like to do. I need a little time. Can you give me that?” he asked.
“Dennis, you don’t owe me anything. I’m sorry that this has happened and we won’t be able to see each other any more. I’m going to miss you, but please . . . ” her voice trailed off. “You can go now. I’ll be fine. I have a lot to think about and plans to make . . . I’ll be fine. Thank you for coming over so that I could tell you this in person. And . . . ” she hesitated.
He looked into her eyes expectantly.
“I want you to know how much I care for you,” she began crying softly again. “I wish I had never opened the door on New Year’s Eve. Or left earlier for the party. If I had, you and I would have met that night, as we were supposed to, and things might have turned out differently for us . . . ” She could not continue.
“You need to get some sleep,” he said, pulling her to her feet along with him as he stood to leave. “I’m going home now. Fortunately, tomorrow is Saturday, so we will get together before the weekend is over, all right?”
“No, Dennis,” she protested. “That will just make this harder. I really think that we should just say ‘good-bye’ now and not drag things out. I have to take care of this on my own. And you need to get on with your life.”
“We will see each other this weekend,” Dennis said firmly. “I told you . . . I just need a little time to think about things. Surely you can give me that?”
She was too exhausted to argue any more.
“Good,” he said. “Now you must get some rest. You have to take care of yourself,” he reminded her before kissing her deeply and with such tenderness that she began crying yet again.
“We’ll speak tomorrow. Good night, sweetheart,” he said, shutting the door and leaving her alone again.
Click here to read Chapter Twenty-Two