After reading the convincing reviews from both BettyBoo and reesiedoo, I have decided to do an epilogue. I just couldn't leave Patrick and Audra like that. I needed to know if they made it. So, as a treat, I'm posting this in the middle of the week instead of waiting for the weekend. Thank you everyone for reading and reviewing. Hopefully, I'll be back with a new story next week. Take care!
He heard Audra get up for the second time that night and this time, he stayed awake. Lately she'd been moody and withdrawn, her face always anxious and eyes tired. They'd been living together for a year now and he'd thought that everything was going great. The decision had been made that Patrick would stay and teach in Minnesota until she got her degree and then they would move back to Alabama to be near her family. His family could have cared less where he went, as long as he stayed out of their hair.
With graduation only a few weeks away, the house was up for sale and they had found a nice three bedroom home a few blocks away from her mother. He was ready to start the next part of this relationship. Things had seemed to be cool. Only now, Audra appeared to be pulling away from him. He didn't know what was going on, but he was going to find out tonight.
When she came back to the bed, Patrick sat up, watching as she moved around boxes in the room. He noticed that she hadn't come from the bathroom in their room, but rather the one from in the hall.
"What's going on?" he asked when it looked that she still hadn't noticed that he was watching her.
Audra jumped, the whites of her eyes bright in the dark. "Patrick, I didn't know that you were up. Did I wake you?" she was out of breath, chest moving rapidly up and down with each minute.
"Yeah, you did. That's the second time tonight that you've gotten up. What's going on?" He frowned as she bit her lip and looked at one of the boxes at the foot of the bed. His gut twisted at the anxious look she cast one in particular.
"It's nothing. Just nerves I guess." Audra smiled hesitantly and climbed into the bed.
"Babe, you would tell me if something was wrong right?" Patrick didn't like the way he was feeling. He knew that she was hiding something, but there was no way to know what it was until she said something. It was eerily reminiscent of what had happened in New York, with Karen sneaking around in the middle of the night, gathering evidence and making plans.
Audra rolled onto her back, a hand coming up to rub the back of his head, scratching gently. He pushed into the touch, body melting with delight. He loved when she did that and even though he knew she was trying to distract him, he let her. God, even after a year, just one touch from her was enough to drive him crazy.
He'd almost forgotten that a question had been asked, until she started to speak. "Of course I would tell you if something was wrong. It's just nerves about graduation and the move. That's all." Audra let her hand fall away and she rolled onto her side, facing away from him.
He stared down at her a moment, watching, before he lay down beside her and slung an arm over her waist, pulling her into the curve of his body.
Patrick was sitting at the foot of the bed, the suspicious box and all its contents spilled across the bed. He hadn't meant to open it, but it kept mocking him, teasing him with the unknown and he'd just had to know. This was why he was now staring at a sheet of paper from the local hospital, his whole life changed with a few simple words. He wasn't sure how long he sat there, reading and rereading the words until they become one huge blur. Some time had passed, he was sure of that, but he couldn't tell how much. Everything was hanging in the air and he needed to figure out how to get it back down.
Patrick didn't hear the front door open, but he head Audra when she came into the bedroom, her feet stopping at the door. He looked up, something new coursing through his blood.
"When were you going to tell me?" He felt the edge of the paper biting into the space between his thumb and index finger, but there were other things going on now.
"I…don't know. I guess I was waiting for the right time." Audra glanced from the paper to his face, hand twisting around the strap of her purse.
He stared back at the paper in his hands, his eyes falling on the date. "In three months, there hasn't been a good time?" Patrick struggled to keep his voice neutral, but the betrayal and hurt shooting through him made it a difficult effort.
"With school and graduation and the move…I didn't know how to bring it up." She whispered, eyes downcast.
"You are three months pregnant and you think I give a damn about school or any of that shit?" Patrick shot off the bed, the paper falling from his hand, losing the fight with his self control as his voice tore through the half empty house.
Audra jumped and inched back, biting her lower lip. Instantly, Patrick's ire cooled and he reined in his temper. He wasn't angry, not really. Just stunned. He was going to be a daddy and she'd kept it from him. When had she started to feel that she couldn't tell him things? Was it something he'd done? He snorted mentally at the question. Of course it was. He was well aware that he was on probation with her, as he would be with any woman after the mess he'd made in the beginning of their relationship. He'd just thought that maybe, his time was up and they could move onto the real job of things. "I didn't mean…to yell. I'm…you know…"
He pushed a hand through his hair, trying to shake off some of whatever it was in his system.
"You have a right to be angry. I wasn't keeping it from you on purpose, I promise." Audra finally walked into the room and set her purse down on the floor. She moved to where he stood at the foot of the bed and wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head on his chest.
Patrick enveloped her tight into his embrace, clutching her to him close and secure. There was something beating at him, pushing to get out and he had to do something before it choked him. "So, what do we do now?"
Audra shrugged, burrowing closer to him and his heat. "I didn't come up with anything."
"We can talk about it over some delivery Chinese food." Patrick had to think about his next move carefully and it was never good to think on an empty stomach.
"Sounds good." She pulled away and headed into the kitchen to get the menu. Alone, Patrick turned back to the document on the floor and bent to pick it up. He stared it again, his life flashing in mind as he thought of his next step. He didn't like what he saw if the wrong one was made.
After all the boxes were cleared and the remaining remnants of beef and broccoli were tossed, Patrick rested his head against the couch, pulling Audra up to straddle his lap. Sometimes, he just liked to look at her and the way her skin glowed from the inside. This time, he imagined what she would look like with a round belly, naked, on her hands and knees on a white bed sheet, the curve of her belly visible in the flickering light of a fire. He moaned at the thought.
Patrick let a hand wander up under her shirt, cupping one of her heavy breasts and squeezing tenderly. Since discovering that she was pregnant, he found himself unable to take his eyes off her, or keep his hands from touching. She sighed at the caress and arched his touch, her hips gyrating with slow dreaminess.
"I think I have solution." He whispered, lifting her shirt up and over her head, eager to get stared on at least part of his recent fantasy. Maybe in the new house, he could use the fireplace to finish it out.
"Really, what is that?" voice low, Audra started to work on the buttons of his shirt, pausing to whimper at each one as he flicked a thumb across a sensitive nipple.
Patrick sat up, tongue flicking a tortured nub, before drawing it into his mouth with a leisurely hunger that belied the building fire in his gut. He wanted to love her slow tonight, show her with his body everything that he was feeling and couldn't say. "Let's get married." He hadn't been sure before, just coming to terms with some of the emotions coursing through him, but saying the words out loud, he knew it was the right time.
"What did you say?" she whispered, her hands stilled on the fabric of his shirt.
Patrick drew back to look up at her, floored to find her face filled with trepidation. "I said let's get married. It's the right thing to do."
Audra started pushing at his chest, her face twisted as she tried to get out of his grip. He let her go, baffled at her reaction. "What's going on?"
She yanked her shirt back over her head, arms crossed over her chest. "Nothing. I'm just tired now." She turned to head down the hall, but he caught her arm before she could take a step.
"Wait a minute. What about what I said? Are you just going to ignore it now?" he would be damned if she just ran off, leaving him looking like a fool.
She huffed and swung back to face him. "It's not an option, so just drop it."
"Why the hell not?" he roared. What the hell? How was it not an option? He had to admit, he hadn't thought it all the way through, but it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. She was pregnant and he was responsible. What else was there? He could sense there was more to it, but right now, he didn't want to dig too deep.
"Look, I just don't think that marriage is the answer for us right now. So, you're off the hook." She tried to pull out of his grip, but he held fast, red swimming before his eyes.
"What, am I still being punished for last year? What do I have to do to make things alright with you?" he stood and towered over her, enraged and wounded at her dismissal of his suggestion and the rejection of how he was feeling.
She yanked her arm from him, something swimming her eyes before she blinked it away. He wondered at the fear he'd just read and the lingering emotion that was still dark in her gaze. "That is not what this is about. Why are you bringing up the past?"
"Because I just don't get it." That much should be obvious. He'd just put his pride on the line and she had snapped the wire, sending him hurtling into free space. He deserved a fucking answer. "I thought this would be what you wanted."
"I don't want to talk about this anymore." She started down the hallway, her stride quick. "I'm tired and I'm going to bed." He heard the door slam a moment later.
The plane ride to Alabama was excruciatingly quiet, Patrick keeping his whole body compact and away from Audra, not even resting his arm on the armrest that lay between them. It had been like this since the moment in the living room, the silence deepening with each heartbeat that passed. She'd tried on numerous occasions to get Patrick to talk to her, but every question had been met with stony silence or biting one word answers that made her retreat in apprehension. She sighed and rested her head on the chair cushion, her eyes on the clouds as they whisked by.
Audra missed him and his jaded humor and the way he always knew the right way to touch her. The morning sickness was getting worse and she desperately needed him to hold her and rock it away. But he wasn't budging and she didn't know what else do to. Maybe she should have said yes, and then perhaps things wouldn't be as bleak as they were now. She'd just wanted to be sure that it was for the right reason, and not just because it was the "right" thing to do. She'd always imagined that her one and only marriage proposal would be so romantic, with flowers and poetry and candlelight. Was she really so wrong to want that? How did she get him to see that?
The queasiness in her stomach reared up, nausea making her eyes water. Eyes closed, she tried to will it away, but the roiling sensation in her stomach was not taking no for an answer. One hand over her mouth, she managed to stumble over Patrick's long legs and make a mad dash for the bathroom, praising the saints that there was an empty stall. Sure that some of the patrons thought she was crazy, she shrugged it off as she hung over the toilet, whole body heaving. A tear leaked out when she thought about how badly she wanted Patrick to be there for her. Well, not in the tiny space of the airplane bathroom, but at least outside the door, worried about how she was.
After freshening up, she opened the door, startled to find Patrick standing there with one arm braced against the side, eyes wary and full of concern. "The flight attendant gave me some crackers. She swears they will make your stomach better." He thrust a few small bags into her hand, swiveling on one foot and heading back to his chair.
Audra sighed with pleasure as she sat down at the table in her mother's kitchen, a steaming mug of tea in front her. She looked up at the sound of footsteps, pleased that it was her mother. A smile spread across her face at the kiss pressed to the top of her head, before her mother shuffled behind her chair to get herself a cup.
Audra waited until she sat down before she spoke. "Thank you momma for letting us stay here until the house is ready."
Beatrice waved the thanks away with a large hand, smiling as she peered at her over the rim of her cup. "You are my baby and there is no way I would let you throw away good money when you can stay here. Don't worry nothing about it."
Silence fell as Audra worked up the nerve to tell her mother what was on her mind. She opened her mouth to speak, but her mother beat her to the punch.
"Tell me what's eating you." Beatrice set her mug down and stared at her daughter knowingly. "Don't tell me it's nothin, since I can see it in the way you're clutching at the cup."
Audra quivered and took a long drink. A moment to work up her courage, then looked her mother in her eyes. "Patrick and I…we're pregnant."
Her mother broke into a wide smile as she leaned over to clasp Audra's face in her warm hands. "My first grandbaby. Oh, this is a good day indeed."
Relief so sweet flooded Audra and she let some of the tears she'd been holding back come out, dismayed to find that she couldn't stop them once they started. "I don't know what's wrong with me." She sniffled, grappling for the handkerchief that her mother pressed into her hand.
"Seems to me that there is more going on." Beatrice ran a hand over her daughter's smooth cheek, worry and love colliding as her oldest baby cried her tears. She wished that she could take it away, but there were some things a mother couldn't do. "Tell me while I fix dinner."
After blowing her nose, Audra stood by the sink and watched as her mother's capable hands trimmed green beans and snapped them in half, spilling her guts about everything that had happened.
"And you told him no?" Beatrice stopped everything she was doing to stare at her daughter, aghast that a child of hers could be so unkind and blind to the truth that was staring her in the face. "Why would you do that?"
"Mama, he said it was the right thing to do. I mean, who wants to hear that from the man that is supposed to be in love with you?" Audra went back to the table, picking up her mug. She'd expected her mother to be on her side or at least understand, but she was finding no allies in this kitchen.
Beatrice huffed and braced one hand on her hip. "Anyone can see by looking at that boy that he's wrapped up in you. He may not understand it fully himself, but he cares for you. It's in his eyes when he looks at you, when he thinks no one is looking. You're daddy used to look at me the same way, god rest his soul."
Audra shook her head and stared out the window, watching as Patrick strolled through the backyard, his back even stiffer than it had been on the plane. "I know. I just don't want him to think that I'm trapping him."
Her mother laughed at her words. "Looks to me like he wants to be trapped."
"Momma!" she turned to stare at her mother in astonishment.
"You know what I mean. You and I both know that nothin happens by chance. He'd already made the choice to move down here and be with you. Why do that if he wasn't committed to you?" Beatrice went back to snapping beans, watching her daughter out the corner of her eyes. She might have had a gift, but that child sure didn't know how to apply it to her own life.
That thought had never occurred to her and she was ashamed to admit that all this time, she hadn't really been sure that Patrick loved her. With all the baggage he'd been carrying, believing that he'd somehow managed to rid himself of past emotions was just too much. She could see now that he'd made an effort and she had brushed it off as obligation, regulating his feelings to nothing more than a passing fancy. But…
"It was nothing like I'd pictured." She hadn't realized she'd spoken aloud until she felt her mother come to stand behind her as they watched Patrick pace the backyard, shoulders hunched.
Beatrice reached up and laid a gentle hand on her daughters shoulder. "Sweetheart, flowers and poetry are nice, but when it comes down to it, it's the words and the meanings behind them that matter. Do you love him?"
"Of course. I never would have…" Audra paused as she thought about what she would have done if she hadn't loved him, deciding to state the truth simply, without reservation. "Yes, I love him."
"Then why can't you give him flowers and poetry? Maybe he just needs to see what they mean to you." Beatrice shuffled back to the sink, leaving her daughter to stare out the window.
After dinner, Patrick went back outside, his frame silhouetted by the setting sun. Audra watched him a long moment, before she stepped out after him. Without the sun to warm the air, a chill was starting to set in and she rubbed her arms to gain some warmth. Patrick cast a glance at her over his shoulder, before he shrugged out of his jacket and handed it to her. "Put it on. I don't want either one of you to get sick."
Staggered at his words, she took the jacket and he turned back to stare at the horizon. She inhaled the dark, almost licorice scent of him deep into her lungs as she thrust her arms into the sleeves, loving all the mysterious notes and nuances of the aroma. "Patrick, I'm sorry…about earlier. My reaction wasn't fair and I didn't mean to hurt you. I do love you." There, she'd put herself out in the open and she hoped that he understood.
The moment of quiet stretched out between them and just when she thought that she wasn't going to get a response, she heard his voice, hoarse and restrained. "So why don't you want to marry me?"
She heard all the pain and anguish in every syllable of his question and the underlying wonder of why he wasn't good enough. How could she have been so foolish? How had she not seen how much she'd hurt him with her words? "It's not that I don't, I just don't want you to think I did this on purpose.
Patrick turned to stare at her, mouth hanging open and disbelief written across his face. "Why would I think that?"
Audra shrugged and glanced away, attention riveted on a leaf hanging from the huge tree in her mother's backyard. "I don't know. I guess I'm scared. We've been through a lot and I didn't want to add."
He took a step toward her, arms spread wide. "Babe, I know that I fucked up when we first started this thing. I can admit that. But it's been a year. You should know by now that I'm not going to do something that I don't want to."
"I know, but…" to her horror, tears started to trickle down her cheeks, spilling onto the labels of the blazer Patrick had just given her.
Patrick rushed forward, folding her in his arms and rocking her softly. He brushed away a tear with his mouth "Don't cry. You know I don't know what to do when you cry." He whispered, placing a soft kiss to her lips.
Audra laughed quietly, relieved to back in his arms again, after what seemed like forever. Even the nausea was gone. "I can't help it. It's the hormones." She rested her head over his heart, the steady beating a wondrous thing.
Patrick made a strangled noise. "God, I hope not. Does that mean I'm going to have to go on midnight food runs for you?"
Pulling back, she swatted him on his shoulder "And what if you have to?"
"I'd better get something good when I get home." He looked at her quietly, his eyes roaming her face. "I never thought…"
She looked up at him, confused. "Never thought what?"
He took a deep breath, "That I would want all this. That it could be this good."
She stared at him intently, sensing that there was more to his statement and waited for him to finish.
"My parents always made it seem like such an imposition, such a drain on their time to have a family. I used to think that, even started to believe it." He shrugged and Audra's heart went out to the little boy that he was, longing for someone to love him, show him that he was worthy of being cared about. "With you, seeing you with your family, I don't think that's the case at all."
Something lightened in her heart and the cloud hanging over her began to drift off. "Really?"
He rested his forehead against hers, his hands rubbing over her back in lazy circles. "I'm going to ask one more time and then, I'm going to have to get the bug guns out. Let's get married and do this right, okay?"
Audra sighed and closed her eyes. He was never going to be poetry and flowers and down on one bended knee, but that was fine with her. She knew that she would always be able to count on him and his hard won love. "Okay, let's do it."
Audra opened her eyes in time to see his face break into a huge grin, eyes glittering with happiness. He hugged her tight, face burrowed deep into her neck.
"Ah babe, I love you so much." He whispered hoarsely, his voice thick with emotion. Maybe he did know something about poetry and flowers after all.
They were walking back into the house when something occurred to her. "And what were these big guns you were going to pull out?"
His eyes crinkled around the corners as he grinned and squeezed her hand, his eyes still forward. "I was going to tell your mother. I remember how much you said you feared that."
Audra doubled over with laughter, tears leaking out the corners of her eyes as she tried to catch her breath. She was still laughing when Patrick pulled her into his arms and smothered her mouth with his, moving over them with a delicious carnality that had her whimpering for more, laughter fading away as she opened her body and heart to him. Oh yes, he knew something about romance.