I left everyone on a bit of a cliffhanger last week. And I think I shocked a few people. Now, readers, don’t freak out, but today’s post won’t tell you what happened to Tom. You’ll have to read the Special Fiction Saturday tomorrow to find that out. *wink*
To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE, or find the link at the top of the page.
“Thank you, Mrs. Jenkins.” Ellie shoved her mother’s prescription in her purse. “I’ll be sure to tell Mom hello for you.”
The short woman with gray speckled brown hair smiled and slid her glasses back on before turning to disappear between rows of shelving stacked with pharmaceuticals. At times Ellie hated living in a small town where everyone knew everyone. Even a trip to the pharmacy was a trip down memory lane, elongating a short trip into a much longer one.
Sunlight poured in from 20 foot high windows lining the hospitals atrium. The smell of antiseptic and bleach was faint but noticeable. If Ellie hadn’t known the building was a hospital, she would have referred to the interior as eye-catching architecture.
She hated the place, but this was where her mother’s doctor had called in the prescription. So here she was standing in the building that made her tense up every time she visited.
This building, on the fifth floor to be exact, was simply where she had first learned she may not have the future she’d hoped for. It wasn’t the staff’s fault her body had revolted on her. Every time a nurse or doctor walked by, though, she watched them with aversion, fighting visions of ultrasounds and X-rays that played across her mind.
Walking out of the pharmacy she stopped short when she saw Molly, Alex, and Liz walking toward her from the hallway to her right. Liz wasn’t so much as walking as she was waddling at this point. She’d pulled her dark hair back into a ponytail. Red flushed along her cheekbones, the only color against her pail skin.
Molly, on the other hand, looked amazing with her hair piled on her head in a messy bun and wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a comfortable T-shirt. She’d lost weight since Ellie had seen her last, but it wasn’t the weight loss that caught Ellie’s attention. Molly’s face glowed and her eyes sparkled as she looked at Alex, chatting and laughing.
Ellie’s gaze shifted to Alex. He was wearing his familiar beat up black cowboy hat pulled down low, a pair of dark blue jeans and a clean gray t-shirt. He slid his hand close to Molly’s as they walked, and their fingers intertwined. Being in love looked good on Molly, even if Ellie thought Alex wasn’t right for her.
She looked over her shoulder, thought about darting inside the pharmacy to avoid interacting with them, but it was too late. She’d never get through the doorway and behind the rack of cards before they saw her.
Yep. Spotted already.
She simultaneously loved and hated the way Molly greeted her as if nothing had happened, as if she and Jason were still engaged and Ellie was still about to be part of the Tanner family.
“Hey, guys.” She glanced at Liz. “Everything okay?”
Alex shrugged a shoulder, jerking his head toward Liz. “False alarm.” His expression was a mix of acceptance and apathy.
Ellie winced sympathetically, her eyes on Liz. “I’m sorry. I’m sure you’re ready for that baby to come already.”
Liz nodded, her face etched with exhaustion. “That’s an understatement.”
Molly’s eyes focused on Ellie with concern. “Is everything okay with you?” She then quickly waved her hand dismissively. “Gosh, sorry. That was rude of me. It’s none of my business.”
“It’s totally fine.” Ellie patted the bag of medicine sticking out of her purse. “My mom’s allergy doctor called in a prescription strength alternative for her. The over the counter one hasn’t been working. He thought this was her regular pharmacy, so he called it in here and since I live in town — well, it just made more sense for me to grab it for her.”
Of course, Judi could have grabbed it for her, but Judi was out with friends. Again. She didn’t bother to tell Molly that, however. Judi’s repeated avoidance of responsibility wasn’t a topic Ellie wanted to focus on at the moment, if ever.
Alex’s phone blared a George Straight song. He slid it out of his pocket. “It’s your dad,” he told Molly. “I’d better take it.”
He wandered toward the exit and stood next to the door, leaving Ellie feeling awkward and desperate for a way to excuse herself. A conversation with either of these women could easily wander into unsettling territory.
Conversation ending questions rolled through her mind and she dismissed them one by one.
“So, Mol, how’s it going at the farm store since I quit my job there after I broke up with your brother?’
Or how about, “How much of the conversation did you hear that day in the church parking lot anyhow?”
Or maybe, ‘Do you hate me for breaking up with Jason?’
Even worse would be asking Liz, “So who is the father of your baby anyhow?”
Luckily, she didn’t have to figure out what to say next. Alex walked back to them at the same time she opened her mouth to ask if any of their cows had given birth yet.
“The fence is down in the upper pasture and Bart’s running down French Creek Road again. Jason’s on it but your wants to check on him on our way back.”
Molly groaned. “Not again. We’d better head out. We’ll drop Liz off at the apartment first.”
“I can take Liz back to the apartment.”
Ellie blurted the offer out before thinking it through. The words startled even herself.
Liz smiled wearily. “You don’t have to do that, Ellie.”
Molly agreed. “We can drop her off. I’m sure you have to get back to work or —”
“I’m actually going that way. It’s no problem.” She’d been given an out and she hadn’t taken it. What was she thinking? Stuck in her car with a pregnant Liz while struggling with her own lack of children wasn’t an idea she relished. “Really. I was on my way back to my place for lunch and, as you know, your apartment is on the way.”
Molly thanked Ellie and hugged her again. While Ellie felt the sincerity and love in her embrace, it left her with the same heavy sense of loss she’d experienced at church. This time her soul not only mourned her separation from Jason but the entire Tanner family. As she watched Alex and Molly walk toward the parking lot, she pulled her lower lip between teeth, her thoughts drifting to Jason.
She knew how vicious that bull could be. She remembered running across the field with Jason one hot July day two years ago, first panicking as Bart barreled at them, then laughing until their sides hurt when they jumped the fence and fell into the high grass on the other side, safe from his sharp horns.
“I can’t believe I was only having Braxton Hicks,” Liz huffed as she sat in the passenger side. “I mean, why didn’t the midwife tell me there was such a thing as pre-emptive contractions? And that they could hurt almost as much as the real thing?”
Ellie tried to ignore Liz rubbing her swollen belly. She swallowed hard. There was that resentment toward Liz again. No, that wasn’t true. Her feelings of resentment were toward God, not Liz.
Shame burned her cheeks and she tried to think of something to talk about on the short drive to the apartment to distract herself from her feelings. She slid a pair of dark sunglasses on to block out the glare of sunlight bouncing off passing cars, but also to attempt to hide tears stinging her eyes.
When she spoke she made sure her tone sounded upbeat. “Do you have everything you need for the baby?”
Liz sighed, leaning her elbow against the window and her cheek against her hand. “I think so. We have a crib, a rocking chair, and a car seat. My mom also suggested a baby carrier in addition to the stroller. She said my sister wears her baby while she cleans, and grocery shops and it makes being mobile easier. So, we have the physical items we need at least.” Ellie glanced at her, saw her chewing at the inside of her cheek before she spoke again. “Honestly, though, I’m scared. What if I don’t have what I need emotionally to be a mom?”
Ellie’s knuckles faded to white as her grip tightened on the steering wheel. She drew in a slow, deep breath. It was time to push aside her personal discomfort and don the detached personality of a Bible study leader. She’d done it before. She could do it again.
“I think any mother-to-be feels that way at first.” She turned on to the street leading to Liz’s apartment. A few more moments and this tricky exchange would be over. “I’m sure once you’re holding that baby, you’ll feel different. Molly and your parents will be there to help. And of course, God. You won’t be alone in this, Liz.”
Liz let out a shaky breath. “I know. I do. I guess, it’s just — well, I look at someone like you and you’re so put together. You’re great with kids and adults and you’re — I don’t know. You’re actually a real adult. I feel like I still have the mentality of a teenager. I mean look at me. I’m having a baby and I’m not even married yet. I’m doing it all out of order.”
Ellie pulled her car into a parking space in front of the insurance business Molly and Liz’s apartment was located over. Shifting it into park she turned toward Liz, her chest tight. If only Liz knew what her life was really like. She might act put together but inside she was a mess of contradictions. She told other women to trust God, but she didn’t do it herself. Organizing her closet and books came easy. Organizing her life was another thing. There were many days she was smiling on the outside but screaming on the inside.
She had no one, but herself to blame for Liz or anyone else thinking she had it all together. It’s what she’d always did her best to portray. What would the ladies in her Bible study think if they knew the conflicting feelings swirling inside her — how she wanted to hug Liz and run away from her at the same time? How she wanted to thank Jesus for all she had but also scream at him for all she felt he’d with held from her? How she wanted to clutch Jason’s hair and kiss him hard, tell him she loved him despite the hurt he’d caused her as much as she wanted to beat her fists on his chest for not being open with her?
“I’m not as put together as you think, Liz. And as for doing things in the wrong order, I don’t even know what order life is supposed to go in anymore. I had a plan of how my life would go and that plan has been destroyed and rearranged so many times it isn’t even recognizable anymore.” She shook her head, tears stinging her eyes. Looking out the driver side window, she hoped Liz wouldn’t see the tears. She took a deep breath and let it out again, swallowing hard to regain her composure. “Listen, once you get some rest, your thoughts will clear, and you’ll feel a lot calmer about it all.” She reached over and took Liz’s hand. Their gazes locked. “You’re going to be a great mom. I really believe that. God chose you to be this baby’s mama. He will give you what you need when you need it. All you have to do is ask.”
Liz’s eyes glistened before a tear escaped the corner of her eye and trailed down the edge of her face. “Thank you, El.” She accepted the tissue Ellie pulled from her purse and handed her, dabbing the corner of her eye and laughing. “I’m sorry I dumped that on you. I clearly need a nap.”
Ellie smiled and squeezed her hand. “Do you need any help getting in?”
Liz shook her head. “No. I’ve taken up too much of your time already. I’ll be fine.” She crumpled the soggy tissue in her hand and reached for the door handle. “Thanks again.”
Watching Liz walk slowly toward her apartment, Ellie wondered where those encouraging words had even come from. A few moments before she spoke them she’d been feeling the crushing pain of her own possible infertility. Through the haze of jealousy, though, she still admired Liz for continuing her pregnancy without a father in the picture and for having the humility to admit she was worried about what kind of mother she would be.
She hadn’t lied when she said Liz would make a good mother. She whole heartedly believed the trials Liz had faced would help her parenting journey more than harm it. Maybe it would be the same for Ellie one day.
Maybe she would see beauty from ashes. For now, though, the ashes seemed to only pile up as her future plans burned down around her.