She hadn't had many close friends before the abduction, and the ones she might have considered 'close' didn't come around much any more. Apparently they'd learned to think of her as lost when she was gone, and they were hesitant to rekindle the friendships now that she was returned, now that she was so changed.
It was as well as not, she supposed. It wouldn't do to have someone around much who was really up on what had happened, someone who might feel compelled to report to the authorities anyone they saw coming around who might be considered 'suspicious'. Because Scribe was still waiting to get word about Jerry and the others.
She'd sit in her darkened living room at night, gently stroking her bulging belly, and talking to the baby about her father, her uncle and aunts, and her cousins. "I just hope we can settle near them. Then you'll always have someone to play with. Janelle will be close to your age, and Josh and Jakey are so sweet, they'll spoil you to death. That is, if your daddy doesn't do it first."
During these one sided conversations, a tiny, insidious voice would occasionally whisper to her. He's not coming back. Why are you fooling yourself like this? He's not going to risk his freedom, maybe even his life. He picked you up on the spur of the moment. You were a convenience. Sure, he told you he loved you. Why not? Made you hot, didn't it? Got him more of what he wanted. But sacrifice for you? That's a little unrealistic, don't you think? A little vain?
But every time, she resolutely squashed the voice, grinding it down. Because she recognized it as the same voice that had, all her life, told her she wasn't pretty enough, wasn't thin enough, wasn't smart enough, wasn't good enough to be loved by anyone who didn't HAVE to love her because they were family. Jerry had showed her that the voice was a liar.
She ate like she was supposed to. She walked countless laps at the mall for exercise. She attended a Lamaze class; though she had NO fucking intention of giving birth without drugs if it was at all possible. Her mama didn't raise a fool.
She'd been worried about this pregnancy, considering how late in life it was coming. These days, most women over forty didn't get pregnant unless they were starting a second family, and really trying. People spend thousands and thousands on artificial insemination and test tube pregnancies and fertility treatments trying to get pregnant, and nothing. That snotty FBI agent was right back in the hospital. I must've been caught the first or second time we had sex. I'll have to get on the pill, or something, if I don't want to be running around with a ten-month-old and a newborn next year.
Not that she disliked the idea of a second baby, especially if she could be with Jerry through the whole pregnancy. But she was beginning to wonder if she was going to see him again before this baby was born.
Oh, she was certain that he wanted to come for her, but it was just so risky. People were still too interested in her. Only the week before she'd noticed someone snapping pictures of her while she was at the library. What on earth are you thinking? A year from now it will just be a picture of some pregnant woman you don't know. She was tempted to do something, perhaps flip him the bird. But she'd learned by experience that it didn't keep them from publishing photos: they just put a black circle over the offending digit.
It's the damn hormones that have me so on edge. That was the only possible reason for the incident with the checkout clerk.
She'd been getting her groceries, dispiritedly examining the selection as it was bagged. She was being good: no junk food. But it pissed her off that she had to get the crappy store brand generic GrapeNuts substitute. If I must eat rocks, I 'd rather it was name brand rocks. But that was the only type available that was allowed on her WIC card and her limited budget.
Then when she had handed over her card and the food stamps, the guy ringing her up had informed her in a decidedly hostile tone that she was supposed to tell him she was using the government assistance before he rang her up, and he really wished you people would...
He never got a chance to finish the sentence. Scribe had a handful of his uniform, and had half dragged him across the counter, growling, "We people? And who, pray tell, would that be, sonny?" He tried to minimize the damage quickly, but she was having none of it. "I was working my butt off before your mama squirted you into this world, at jobs that were crappier than this one, believe me. Now I need a little help, and I'm getting back a small portion of what was taken out of my pay along the way, and I get this kind of attitude?"
The manager hurried over, making soothing noises, but she wasn't ready to be calmed down. "It's discrimination, and it's crappy service. I used to work checkout, and they told us we were to be DAMN sure that we didn't embarrass anyone who used food stamps or any kind of government assistance, because they might get pissed and raise a fuss like I am now!"
Another customer, a woman, touched her arm and said quietly, "You're going to make yourself sick."
"I am sick! I'm sick of all of this!"
"Scribe, would the baby's daddy want you to do this to yourself?"
Scribe deflated. "No," she mumbled. "But he'd understand why I did." Scribe had a feeling that there weren't a hell of a lot of Bellewoods on public assistance.
She let herself be calmed down, accepting apologies from the clerk, the manager, the store, and basically the entire corporate chain. She thought cynically that it was probably because they were afraid she'd have a problem with the pregnancy, and try to sue them for the stress. The woman had disappeared before she could thank her.
More time passed. She began, reluctantly, to think of names for the baby. She wanted Jerry, of course, if it was a boy, but Jerry had said he didn't mind if it wasn't named after him. Then she thought of Jesse, since the Bellewoods seemed so fond of J names, and Jessie if it was a girl. Jennifer was just a tad yuppie, but Jennie was nice. Or I can always stay true to our red neck roots and name them Jolean, or maybe Justin, after Justine. Or if I really want to be red neck, I can name a girl Ronette or Ronelle for Ron.
Three weeks before the baby was due, and her mother was lobbying even harder to get her to return to the house. "I just got this place, Mom, c'mon."
"Scribe, if you won't be sensible… You know, there are such things as legal guardians for people who have shown that they aren't capable of acting in a sensible, safe manner."
Her voice was cold. "Oh, I know you didn't just threaten me, Mom."
"I wouldn't want to, dear. But you just haven't been yourself since the incident. It shouldn't be too hard to convince a judge to just have you put under observation for your own good."
"Are you really willing to risk having me never speak to or see you again? Because that is what it will come down to."
"Scribe, please. There's no need for any of that to happen if you'll just see reason. I'll give you another couple of days to think about it, but something has to change soon."
"I'm not moving back, Mom, and I'm not going into some sort of... of holding bin. They wouldn't let my baby stay with me if I was in a place like that, you know that, don't you?"
"They have people specially trained to look after infants in those situations and..." She saw the murderous stare her daughter was giving her, and said, "Or I could take it for a little while, just till you got some more counseling and decided what to do."
"I HAVE decided. Why can't you accept that?"
"We'll talk about it again tomorrow, dear."
Deaf. Selectively deaf. I'm going to have to leave, she thought wearily.
That did scare her, but she hardly felt she had any choice. She packed a couple of cases of maternity clothes, and some for after the baby was born. She'd just have to go to a city nearby and check in near a hospital, wait till the baby came, lie her ass off, then disappear for a couple of months. She had her check on direct deposit, so that should work, except she'd have to be careful about not drawing cash from the same area more than once. Jerry would be proud. I'm thinking like a Bellewood.
Her mother usually came over in the evenings, so she had decided to leave before noon. She really didn't like the idea of paying for a taxi cab, but she didn't have a car, and she wasn't going to be able to move her things by herself, so she ordered one for around lunch time, and tried to get some sleep.
She was up early the next morning, bundling her cat into its carrier so it could have time to settle down. She had decided to drop him off at the house of the old lady down the street: she had approximately thirty cats already, all of the fat and happy. One more would scarcely be noticed.
The knock on the door came at eleven. Early, but that was all right. She wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. There was always the chance that her mother would snap to what she was doing and try to head her off. She'd threatened some sort of custody thing. She wouldn't put it past her mother to just go ahead and have her committed, thinking that she could explain things later.
There was a big, rawboned man on the front steps, and a car idling in the drive. "Miz Scribe?"
"Yes. I just have a few things, if you'll bring them out for me."
"Happy to. These here?"
"Yes. Just the two boxes, and the two bags."
"No trouble at all. Why don't you go on out to the car and have a seat, and I'll get these in the trunk."
I pick up the cat carrier, murmuring reassuringly to the whining cat (he doesn't like traveling any more than I do) and start for the car. Halfway there I slow, then stop. Something is wrong.
It isn't a standard cab. Oh, I know they have a lot of small operations in the area that don't have a fleet of vehicles, but there's always some sort of sign on the roof or door. This is just an ordinary car, and it's in far too good a shape to be a gypsy cab. Besides that, there's already someone in it, in the passenger seat.
My heart starts to pound. Is that the sort of dark, anonymous car that might be used by some sort of agency, or are my hormones making me paranoid? The man in the passenger suit is wearing a dark suit and sunglasses. I can't see his eyes, and that bothers me. The driver walks past me, a box under each arm, and goes to open the trunk.
The passenger gets out of the car, sunlight gleaming on the gold of his blonde hair, and starts toward me. I take a step back. "I don't know what she told you, but it's wrong. I'm perfectly all right, perfectly fine."
He hasn't stopped moving toward me, and he's nodding, as if to calm me. I look around desperately. God, I can't run in my condition. It wouldn't be just ridiculous, it would be dangerous. I keep backing up.
"If you touch me, you'll have such a lawsuit on your hands! I'm not crazy, I'm just pregnant, and I'm going to have this baby, and I'm going to keep it, and I'm a grown woman, and I'm perfectly capable of making my own decisions."
"You sure as hell are."
I freeze. That voice... I think, I'm hearing things now. I guess it was bound to happen, as badly as I want...
I'm shaking my head, and I've started to cry. Tears are streaking my face as I say, "Maybe I am crazy, thinking what I'm thinking. But that doesn't change anything."
The driver is passing me again, on his way back to the house for the suitcases. He says softly, "It's all right, Scribe. Why don't you go sit?"
The blonde man has reached me now. He stands before me, and reaches out, laying his hand on the mound of my belly. I am tempted to knock his hand away, but I say, "You don't have any right to do that."
He smiles, and takes off the shades. His eyes are navy blue. "Woman, I think I have a right, since I planted it there."
I don't faint, but I come close.. The cat case drops from my numb fingers, landing with a thump and an indignant yowl. Before my knees can buckle, Jerry has taken me in his arms, pulling me into a tight embrace, and I dissolve into tears against his shoulder.
I don't know how long we stand there, holding each other, but there is a gentle touch on my arm. "Jer, we got to go. People are gonna notice you hanging onto her if we don't."
"C'mon, baby." He reaches down and picks up the cat carrier. The two men guide me to the waiting car, and I'm urged into the back seat. Jerry climbs in after me, the driver gets behind the wheel, and we pull out.
I bury my face against him again, and he rocks me, murmuring. "Sh, honey. Sh. It's all right now. I'm here. You ain't going anywhere but with me."
There's so much I have to tell him, so much I need to ask. But the first thing I do when I can sit up and act in a coherent manner is thread my fingers through the bright mass of his hair and give him a questioning look.
He smiles, and shrugs. "I have the blackest roots you ever saw, darlin'. This is such a pain, I don't know why you womenfolk bother with it. I had to, seeing as they're looking for a brunette instead of a blonde."
"God, Jerry, I was so worried. I mean, I knew you were coming, I never doubted it. But I was so afraid you'd get caught at the border, or something."
"Don't you know by now that the Bellewoods have their ways?"
"I'm beginning to understand. I've run into a few more since you had to leave."
"More than you know, darlin'. They've been watching over you since I left. After all, I couldn't leave you two," he caressed my belly, "all alone, could I?" He pulled out his wallet, and opened it to the picture section, offering it to me.
I took it, curious, and began to flip through the snapshots. They were of me, all of them. I was in various stages of my pregnancy, from barely showing up to my current waddle. I recognized one. It had to be the one taken by the photographer at the library.
"I have a whole damn album at home." Jerry took the wallet and put it away.
"Home?" The longing throbs in my voice.
He kisses my hand. "South America. Paraguay, technically. Lally promised to have the place fixed up nice by the time we got back. No mountains this time, Scribe. Not for awhile, anyway. Not till the baby is older."
"I knew you'd make it."
"I had to, baby. I had to have a place to bring my family." He rubbed my belly. "I couldn't have my little girl with no roof for her head."
"Or your little boy." He grins at me. "Jerry, do you know something I don't?"
"We have Bellewoods that work at clinics, too, Scribe. I'm kind of partial to the name June myself, but I'm ready to discuss options."
I sigh, shaking my head. "But Jerry, how am I going to get to our home? They don't let women fly on commercial airliners past their seventh month. Some sort of safety regulation."
"What makes you think we need the commercial airliners, darlin'?"
"Oh." There is a plaintive meow. "Can we bring my cat?"
"Why do you think I grabbed it? You think I want you miserable, pining for your kitty-cat? I know how attached you can get to things."
"Some things more than others."
I kiss him for a long, long time. I don't want to stop, but eventually we both have to come up for air. He leans his forehead against mine, reaching into his pocket. "I have something for you."
I feel him press something into my hand, and look down. It's a ring: a small, plain gold circle. I look up into his eyes, and they are grave. "I never asked you, Scribe. I just told you. I'm asking you now. Will you marry me? The proper way, the way society will accept, with the paper and a preacher."
I can hardly speak. "You don't have to do this, Jerry. I belong to you."
He nods. "And I belong to you. And I want to show it to the whole world. I love you, Scribe, enough to want to stake my claim every way I can. I only hope you want that, too."
I slip the ring on the third finger of my left hand, and lean over our first child to kiss him softly. "I do."