“Breathe . . . breathe,” her friend urged, as she knelt alongside her chair, rubbing and patting her back. “Come on . . . deep breaths. You can do it. Get some air into your lungs . . . there you go . . . you’ll be all right.”

Upon hearing that he was planning to marry the woman with the dark heart — and the betrothal had been publicly announced — she had been unable to catch her breath. Her eyes filled with tears, she was rendered mute, and she thought she would suffocate. Her friend immediately came to her aid, soothing and consoling her as she struggled to maintain her composure and avoid the stares of the cafe’s other patrons.


“Drink some water,” her friend urged. Without protesting, she gulped some ice water but her stomach lurched so she pushed the glass away, shaking her head vigorously and covering her mouth with her napkin just in case.

Finally, she caught her breath and found her voice, although it was barely audible. “I’ll be fine. You can sit down now,” she said in a near-whisper.

“Are you sure?” her friend said, studying her face for any sign of false courage.

“Yes. Uh-huh,” she assured her.

“I knew you were going to take the news badly, but I wasn’t ready for that,” her friend observed as she reclaimed her seat across the table. “I thought that since you haven’t been in touch with him for such a long time and have been seeing Dennis . . . ” her friend’s voice trailed off.

She stared at her plate, unable to meet her friend’s eyes.

“Oh, god,” her friend said resolutely. “I see. You have had contact with him, haven’t you? You just didn’t tell me. Does Dennis know about him?”

“No!” she said quickly. “I have never told Dennis about him because Dennis doesn’t believe in sharing details about past relationships. He said I could ask him any questions and reveal as much information as I wanted him to know, but I didn’t see anything to be gained from telling Dennis about him.” She paused for a few moments before adding, “Besides, there’s nothing to tell, is there? He’s marrying her and that’s that. That’s the end of it — for sure this time.”

Her friend studied her expression carefully. “Just when was the last time you saw him?” she demanded.

“You know what? It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter now. He’s made his choice. She’s going to be his wife,” she rationalized, nearly choking on the word, “and they will spend their lives together. I have my own life and, luckily for me, it includes Dennis. I have very deep feelings for him and, in case I haven’t told you before now, thank you for introducing us.” She raised her glass in tribute to her friend, trying to smile.

Still unconvinced, her friend continued scouring her face in an effort to discern the truth — that she was resolved never to reveal. She continued holding her glass in the air, asking, “You won’t toast to Dennis and how happy he makes me?” Her friend relented and they clinked their glasses together lightly.

“I will toast because you know how much I adore Dennis and want things to work out between you,” her friend explained. “But . . . ”

“But what?” she asked.

“Don’t hurt Dennis,” her friend cautioned sternly. “We’ve been friends for nearly our whole lives, but Dennis is also my friend. I want my two friends to both find happiness, whether together or not. So promise me that you won’t hurt him.”

“I promise,” her serious tone matching that of her friend. “I would never hurt Dennis deliberately. He’s wonderful and I love being with him. I hope things work out between us. He deserves only the best of everything.”

“All right. Then a toast to the doctor who is going to figure out what is going on with you and cure you quickly so that you and Dennis can get on with seeing each other,” her friend raised her glass again. “Maybe before too long it will be your engagement announcement in the newspaper that my mother will call me about!”

“You never know,” she said, forcing herself to smile as she touched her glass to her friend’s. “I would consider myself a very lucky woman if that were to happen,” she added sincerely. “A very lucky woman indeed.”

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“Well, I don’t have all of the lab results yet, but I do have some of them,” the doctor explained as he studied the reports in his hand. “You’ve been experiencing nausea, light-headedness, and dizziness. Some headaches, too, huh? Tell me about your symptoms.”

“The symptoms seem to come and go,” she explained. “They are the worst first thing in the morning and sometimes improve as the day goes on, although on some days they have intensified again in the evening. I just can’t seem to shake them completely. I’m exhausted all the time.”

“They’re all consistent with your condition,” the doctor replied. “Let’s see . . . ” he said, flipping the pages in the file he was holding until he came to the graph he was seeking. “Yes, looks like about six to eight weeks. So you might not see much relief for at least another four to five weeks, but there are some things I can suggest.”

“Another four to five weeks? I was hoping there might be an antibiotic you could give me that would make me feel better quickly,” she said disappointedly.

“No, we try not to use any antibiotics or other medications because of the potential side effects,” the doctor said matter-of-factly. “The only medicine I can recommend is Tylenol, regular strength. And only when absolutely necessary.”

“Oh,” she sighed.

“Saltine crackers usually help. A lot of women keep them at their bedside and eat a couple first thing in the morning before they get up and start moving around. They’re pretty effective for settling the stomach and keeping the butterflies from flying too high,” he smiled. “I’ll have the rest of the lab results in a few days and call you if there is anything we need to discuss in person. If not, I’ll want to see you again in another four weeks for a sonogram. The nurse has some information to go over with you and will give you the paperwork for another visit to the lab. There is some additional blood work that I need to run. We didn’t order it this morning because we weren’t sure of your condition then. Sorry for making you go back to the lab.”

“My condition?” she looked at the doctor quizzically. “That’s what I came in to find out about. Just what is wrong with me, doctor? Is it a long-lasting flu bug or . . . ”

The doctor had been jotting notes in the chart, but stopped suddenly and exchanged a glance with the nurse whose eyebrows shot up in shock. He put down the file, pulled up the stool, sat right in front of her with both of his hands on her knees to steady her. He looked her directly in the eyes and said, “Your pregnancy, dear. You did come in today for a prenatal appointment, didn’t you?”

“Pre . . . pre . . . ” she was so stunned she could not even form the word. Tears welled up in her eyes and she slowly shook her head “no” as she struggled to comprehend what the doctor was saying.

“I’m very sorry,” the doctor said gently. “I thought you knew, prior to coming in today, that you are pregnant. I see now that you did not. I’m terribly sorry. I would never inform a patient in this manner. My mistake. I misunderstood the purpose of your visit.”

He continued, “You are about six to eight weeks pregnant and all of the symptoms you have been experiencing are perfectly normal.” He paused to consider her expression. “Judging from your reaction, I presume that this was not a planned pregnancy.”

She continued silently shaking her head from side to side. The nurse handed her a box of tissue as she came to stand next to her and began gently rubbing her shoulders.

“The nurse is going to give you some very important information about the services available to you. You’re going to need to meet with a counselor right away and make some critical decisions.”

“You don’t understand, doctor,” she said finally. “I can’t be pregnant. It’s impossible!”

“The tests are conclusive, dear,” the doctor said, continuing to look directly in her eyes. “You’ve been intimate with someone in recent weeks, right?”

She nodded her head “yes.”

“But doctor,” she said, “I just had my period a couple of weeks ago. I have been completely regular. So there must be some mistake.”

“Ah, I see,” the doctor replied. “Well, that’s easily explained. A small percentage of women continue menstruating during the early stages of pregnancy. You are probably one of them. Have your cycles been normal?”

“Yes. Completely normal, although the past two months, the flow was a little lighter than usual. I didn’t think anything about it,” she said.

“That would explain it then. I suspect that you may have one more menstrual cycle, but you shouldn’t have any more as you complete the first trimester and head into the second,” the doctor reassured her. “If you head into the second, that is,” he added softly. “Obviously, the father will be as surprised as you are?” the doctor asked.

Oh, god, she thought to herself suddenly. The father?

After a long pause, she nodded. “He has no idea, either,” she whispered.

The doctor rose and put his hand on her shoulder. “You get dressed now. The nurse will provide you with a great deal of information. You need to read it carefully and meet with a counselor. And whatever you decide, I will be here to care for you and help you get through the days ahead. O.K.?” he smiled at her kindly.

“O.K.,” she said after a long, deep breath.

“You call me if you have any questions,” he added as he left the examination room.

“All right, dear, I’m going to leave you to get dressed,” the nurse said as she followed him. “I’ll be back in a few minutes to talk with you.”

“Thank you,” she said softly.

The door shut, leaving her alone in the silent examination room.

“The father,” she whispered to herself. “The father. The father is marrying someone else.” She buried her face in her hands and sobbed.

Click here to read Chapter Twenty

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