To catch up with the rest of this fiction story click HERE.
I will not have a post for Christmas Eve, partially because I don’t have the second part of the chapter finished.
The run had felt good. Had long had it been since she’d gone on a run?
Liz didn’t even know but now that she had this whole blood sugar and fluid intake while breastfeeding thing figured out, or mostly figured out, she felt like she could start exercising again. Thankfully she’d only run out of energy a small distance from the apartment and had been able to make it back without having to call Molly for a ride.
Now, standing in the shower, the water pouring down her, she tried to chase away of the chill autumn morning. She didn’t have long to do it, though. It was her first day back at work and her mom, unfortunately, was on her way over to watch Bella. Rubbing the shampoo into her hair, she thought about a show she’d watched the day before.
The woman being interviewed by a counselor was dealing with panic attacks, much like Liz still was from time to time.
“What’s one happy memory you’ve had in the last year or so?” the counselor had asked the woman. “A child being born? An event you attended maybe? I want you to focus on that memory when you start to panic. I want you to take yourself back to that moment, or one moment, and visually walk yourself through the moment that brings you joy, as if you are experiencing it again through your mind.”
Liz started to think about her own good memories, specifically those over the last year. Yes, Bella’s birth was one, but when she thought of one of the last times she could remember really laughing Liz had found herself mentally catapulted back to a night of bowling with Matt three months before her encounter with Gabe.
She’d only been bowling a couple of times before and it showed. Matt finally asked if she’d like the bumper rails up so the ball would stop going into the gutter.
“No! I’ll get it!”
She’d scolded him but she was laughing so hard tears were in her eyes.
On one try she almost flew with the ball across the slippery floor and Matt had had to catch her, holding her up against his side to keep her from going with the ball. They’d both been laughing so hard they’d almost fallen again and when she looked up at him, she’d been mesmerized by his smile and the sparkle in his eyes. She’d had a brief thought, which she’d pushed aside quickly. The thought that she wished she’d gotten to know Matt better, before she’d become involved with Gabe.
Gabe who she’d known wasn’t good for her but who paid her attention when others didn’t. A man who half the women in town thought was “hot, dangerous, and a total catch.” She’d thought the same at first and that’s probably why it had taken her so long to admit their relationship was on a fast track to nowhere. That and he was controlling, manipulative, and seemed to have only started dating her because he saw her as someone he could practice all those attributes on.
Worse than all of that was that she had let him control and manipulate her. He’d manipulated her through his words, his touch, the way he’d told her she turned him on the way no one else had before. If that was true then he shouldn’t have needed those other women, the ones who hung around him at parties and laughed at his jokes or the one she found him making out with in their friend’s bathroom during a party. He’d claimed she’d been kissing him, and he’d been trying to push her away.
Liz hadn’t believed him but, well, he’d been drinking. He’d messed up and he still cared about her so maybe he’d straighten up and stop drinking as much now. He’d promised he would and for a month he had. They’d spent their evenings at home watching movies, going to the gym together, and sometimes going for walks together.
Then she’d reached in the couch one night looking for the remote and there it had been. A pink bra with red flowers splattered all over it. A bra much less practical than what she usually wore, something he’d often commented on, in fact. She’d stared at it a few seconds before registering that one, it wasn’t her bra, and two, it had been shoved in her couch. The one she’d picked out at the local furniture store. She’d jumped up from the couch and stared at it in horror.
Could it had been left over from one of their parties? No. She’d never had enough to drink that she would have forgotten someone doing that on their couch.
She’d known for a long time.
What was she doing? Living this way? After all the talks she’d given Molly about being good enough, about being worth more than she thought. Now she needed to give herself the talk.
She didn’t even wait for Gabe to come home. She’d called Molly, packed her bags, and finally walked away, into a new future.
Or so she thought.
She shut off the shower and reached for a towel, thinking about how Matt had been with her each step of her pregnancy. Telling him she was pregnant in the first place had been beyond awkward. She’d told him when he’d called to ask her to the movies.
“McGee, listen. I don’t know if anyone told you, but,” she’d swallowed hard and taken a deep breath. She knew this would be the end of his phone calls. “I’m pregnant.”
“Oh. I didn’t think you and Gabe —”
“We aren’t together anymore. I —” she’d wanted to say she’d messed up, but she really didn’t want to hash all that out with the man she’d fallen for but knew was out of her league.
She’d thought that would be the end of it. He’d stop calling, stop coming over to hang out with her and Molly and Alex. He’d make himself scarce.
But he didn’t. Instead, he’d asked her if she needed a ride to the doctors the day her car had broken down. He had driven her to her next four appointments, but he wouldn’t have had to if Bert Tanner had worked a little quicker to fix her car.
After the doctor’s appointments, Matt had invited her to lunch, asked if she’d be at the apartment when they held movie nights, and asked if she would like to go to fishing with him.
They weren’t an actual couple, yet he’d been there for many important moments in the last year; a little too much there the day of Bella’s birth.
And now she knew he’d even been there at her apartment that night. Had he known then that she was pregnant?
She wrapped the towel around her hair and dressed in the t-shirt and shorts she’d worn to bed. Once again, she’d forgot to bring her new change of clothes with her.
Heading toward her bedroom to find the clothes she planned to wear to her first day back at work, a knock at the door stopped her, but she hesitated.
She was wearing a towel around her head and no bra. She bit her bottom lip and took a chance. She didn’t have to open the door all the way.
Matt smiled from the small space between the door and the door frame. Sunlight caught the glint of golden in his eyes
“Hey,” she said back.
“Can I come in?”
The man who had lied to her about knowing about her suicide attempt wanted to come in? The man she’d tried to call two days earlier but had been somewhere they couldn’t talk and then hadn’t even bothered to call her back? Not that a phone call was the best way to talk about it anyhow. “No. I just got out of the shower.”
He furrowed his eyebrows and folded his arms across his chest. He was in uniform, apparently on his way to the office. “Um, Liz. You do know that I delivered your baby so I —”
He grinned. “I’m just saying that there is no need to be modest at this point.”
She rolled her eyes as she flung the door open and walked into the living room area.
“I wish you wouldn’t bring that up. It’s really embarrassing for me.”
His tone had softened but she still didn’t turn to look at him as she tipped her head forward and tightened the towel on her head. “Liz, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t keep picking on you about that. Listen, for what it’s worth, I wasn’t actually focused on anything other than Bella that day. I really didn’t see anything. I mean, you know, I just caught her and didn’t —we covered you with my coat so I really only reached in and caught her.”
Liz sighed. “I know. You’ve said this before. It’s still just awkward for me.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” He paused as she dropped a couple pieces of bread in the toaster. “Anyhow, I brought you something.”
She turned and he was holding a small bottle toward her. “What’s this?”
“It’s for your anxiety.”
Her eyes narrowed. “My what?”
“Your postpartum anxiety. It might help some and it should be safe to take while nursing. It’s CBD oil.”
“What makes you think —”
“You get the same look my sister used to get when she was battling panic attacks after she had her second. They came out of nowhere, most of the time for no reason. It was a physical reaction too, not in her head. She tried to hide them, but she had one at church one day and couldn’t slow her breathing. She almost passed out. All the ladies at church meant well and kept reciting Philippians 4:7, telling her to be anxious for nothing. They didn’t seem to understand her hormones were trying to regulate and triggering the attacks. That might be what’s happening with you. I don’t know but it can’t hurt to try and see if it helps.”
How did he do it? How did he see through her so easily?
Could he see inside her now? Did he know how upset she was that he didn’t tell her he’d been there that night?
She took the bottle slowly. “Thank you.”
She set the bottle on the counter and buttered her toast, her back to him. “Is something wrong?” he asked. “You seem tense this morning.”
“I’m fine. Just nervous about my first day back.”
“Your mom is watching Bella?”
He stepped in front of her as she reached for the refrigerator door. “You’ll do fine, you know.”
She looked up at him and his green eyes met hers. They swam with concern and she knew she should tell him what she was really upset about, but she couldn’t. She had to get dressed and go to work. She didn’t have time to hash out what he’d witnessed that night in her apartment.
She swallowed hard. “Thank you for the CBD oil.”
He nodded, breaking his gaze with her. “You’re welcome. You can ask Linda more about it at the store. I’m sure she knows all about it.” Pink flushed across his cheeks as he stepped back to the other side of the table. “Or, well, you probably already know about it after working there for the last three years.”
She wanted to giggle at how shy he suddenly seemed, but she was also still angry at him. The waring emotions in her made her want to run away but luckily a knock on the door interrupted them and she stepped out of the kitchen to answer it.
Marge swept past her as soon as she opened the door. “Sorry I’m late. I had to stop at the church and pick up some books for the ladies group tonight. We’re starting a new series.” She pulled her jacket off and turned to hang it on one of the pegs next to the door, pausing when she saw Matt.
“Oh.” She smiled, looking over her shoulder at him as she hung her coat up. “Hello, Matt.”
He nodded. “Hello, Mrs. — I mean, Marge.”
Liz didn’t even want to know what her mother was thinking at that moment. This was the first time they’d all been in the same room since her mom and her had had their blow up about the birth announcement.
Marge and Matt looked at each other for a few moments and Liz silently prayed neither of them would broach the elephant in the room. Finally Matt broke the stand off by clearing his throat.
“Welp, have to get to work, so you ladies have a good day.”
“You too,” Liz said. Please hurry and leave.
Marge drew in a breath and Liz tensed. “Matt, wait, I—” She let out a slow breath and looked at the floor. “Matt, I think, I mean I’m wondering if you told the people at the hospital you were Bella’s father to protect Liz and Bella.”
Matt stood with his hand on the doorknob and nodded, looking directly at Marge as she raised her gaze again. “Yes, ma’am, that’s what I was doing. It wasn’t really well thought out, I realize that, but the nurse already thought I was the father, so it wasn’t much of a jump. I did ask her to keep it out of the paper, but she must have forgotten. I apologize if this has caused any difficulties for your family.”
Marge sighed. “It hasn’t caused anything difficult for us, it’s you I’m worried about Matt. What others might think of you. What the people at church are thinking.”
Matt laughed. “I’m not worried about that Marge.” His expression became serious again and his gaze drifted to Liz. “Liz and Bella are more important to me than all of that.”
Liz swallowed hard and she felt like instead of only being braless she was standing naked in her kitchen with Matt and her mom both looking at her, as if waiting for a response. She couldn’t respond, though. She didn’t know what to say. He’d never said anything so blunt to her before and she was having a hard time wrapping her mind around it.
“Anyhow,” he said before she had a chance to respond. “Off to work. You ladies have a good day.”
Liz turned toward her bedroom as soon as he closed the door behind him. She was not having a conversation with her mom about this right now. “I’m going to go get dressed.”
She filled her time before walking out the door filling her mom in on where the bottles of breastmilk were, how to warm them, and where the extra diapers were, not giving her a chance to broach the topic of Matt.
“Bye, Mom.” She rushed for the door. “Thanks again.”
“Good luck, honey!” her mom called after her.
In the car Liz gripped the steering wheel and took a deep breath. She needed to focus on her first day back at work, not on Matt McGee.
Why had he said it that way? That she and Bella were more important to him than what people thought of him? And in front of her mom.
She growled in frustration as she turned the car toward the health food store, anxious to get her first day out of the way.