How long have they been here? It feels like they’ve always been here. The room is littered with empty coffee mugs, half eaten toast and discarded clothes. It doesn’t bother them in the least, because they created it, this mess. They created it together. It is theirs.
Josie is reading, her head in Peter’s lap. He watches the fire flicker in the grate and sips a glass of cheap red wine, stroking her hair away from her forehead slowly and rhythmically. For a moment, he wonders if he should get in touch with work and the thought almost makes him laugh, but instead it makes him panic and the peace has been broken.
“Do you want anything?” he asks her. She looks up at him, her face strange from this angle.
“No.” she replies and smiles. He leans down and kisses her, enjoying the new sensation of her lips upside down.
“I might have a shower. I think I stink.”
“You do.” she says and turns a page. He rolls away from her, letting her head fall onto the sofa.
In the bathroom, he sits on the toilet and takes out his blank, lifeless phone. This strange object was once the centre of his world, now he wants to flush it away and never have to deal with it again. His finger rests on the power button. He will have to tell people at some point, he will have to tell his family eventually. Not everything, of course, but if he tells them nothing, there will be more to deal with, things will get complicated.
He switches his phone on and watches as the notifications stack up: fifteen missed calls, seven new voicemails, ten unread text messages. He doesn’t bother to check his email.
He squeezes his eyes shut and gathers himself before hitting the text message icon. They are all from Claire.
- Really need to talk to you. Can you call me please? Hope you’re ok x
- Hi, did you get my last message? Give me a call x
- Hello. Me again. You ok? Are you deliberately not answering? Please pick up x
- I called your Mum and she said you were away? Still really need to talk to you. Could you call me asap? x
- Where are you? I know you’re probably really upset with me, and I know you need space, but this is really important. Please, please call me.
- Me again. I’m going to have to keep messaging you until you call me. So, please call me.
- Still waiting.
- Look, I need to tell you something and it can’t wait and I really don’t want to tell you via text.
- Pete. I have to speak to you. This is not a joke.
- I’m pregnant.
He reads the messages five times, then deletes them, one by one. He turns on the shower, undresses and steps in, letting the scalding hot water strip away reality.
Peter emerges from the shower fresh but sickly, a weighty guilt infecting him. She is in bed, reading, and puts her book down as he enters, smiling at him. A snake of truth rises in his throat and he swallows it down, back into the swirling acid of his stomach.
“Hello there.” she says and slips the duvet down, showing him her naked breasts. Desire stirs and momentarily nudges out his nausea.
“Hello.” he replies, lying down next to her, taking a breast in his hand and kissing it. She strokes his wet hair and he takes her pink nipple in his mouth, starting to get the buzz of want. Her hands fumble for his towel and it gets caught and they laugh as she untangles it and takes his dick in her hand and he sinks, smiling, into her touch.
“You smell much better.” she mumbles into his shoulder. “Positively peachy.”
“Glad you approve.”
“You can fuck me now. If you like.”
“Why thank you. I would very much like.”
He rolls onto her warm body, still so new to him, a heady mix of fantasy and reality that he can’t quite process. So many versions of this very scene have been played out in his head and now here he is, here she is. He pauses to stare at her face, brush the hair away, touch her lips with his fingertips.
She has the same mouth as Claire.
As soon as the thought appears, it explodes into a million others. They bleed into each other, into one huge wave of terrifying facts. He tries to catch his breath and it gets stuck somewhere in his gut.
Cells multiplying, growing, forming, pulsating, living. A baby. His baby. His stomach heaves.
“What’s wrong?” Josie asks, her hands on his face.
“I don’t know. I feel…weird.”
Her face seems to melt, blend, until it is Claire’s face, then Josie’s again, then a strange mix of the two, fuzzy and half formed. Peter gasps and rolls onto his back.
“Pete? What is it? Does something hurt?” He can’t speak, just fight for breath. “Sit up. Come on.” She helps him to sit upright and pats his back as he makes loud gulping noises, his hands on his chest. “Deep breaths. Just breathe. Breathe. In through your nose, out through your mouth.”
Huge stuttering breaths break from Pete’s mouth as he forces his body to obey him and pulls his shoulders down from around his ears. Slowly, he starts to breathe again. Then the nausea floods back and he bolts for the bathroom, where his bowels evacuate themselves in a liquid explosion. Josie hovers outside the door.
“Are you okay? Are you being sick?”
“I’m okay. Just give me a minute.”
“What was that, Pete? What happened?”
“I think I’m just really ill. Took me by surprise.”
Pete sits with his head in his hands while his body does whatever the hell it wants to and his brain fizzes and buzzes with terror.
What the fuck am I going to do?
Josie tries the handle.
“Josie, leave me alone for fuck’s sake!”
The handle is released. It is quiet. Eventually, Peter hears the familiar creak of the mattress.
Half an hour later and all the adrenalin has left him. He is still sitting on the toilet, naked and now shivering, as small waves of terror wash against him in a steady rhythm. Tentatively, he stands. His knees shake, but he manages to open the door of the bathroom and stumble across the room to the mattress, where she sits upright, the duvet now up to her neck.
“Are you okay?” she asks, concerned.
“I’m really ill. Think it’s a stomach flu or something. Maybe food poisoning. I don’t know.” He pulls on some pants from the floor and slides into bed. “Sorry about before.” he says. “I was just a bit freaked out. And embarrassed.”
“It’s okay, I get it.”
The lines on her face seem deeper somehow, her skin uneven and rough around the chin and nose. There are grey hairs at the nape of her neck.
He loves her.
He buries his face in her chest and pulls her close.
“You’ll make me ill, too.” she mumbles, but she wraps her arms and legs around him anyway and squeezes him until they both fell asleep.