Holly ran into the hall, dropping the pregnancy test as the fire alarm sounded. Scurrying through the lounge, she skidded across the laminate flooring in her socks as she went to snatch the tea towel off the side. Heart thumping, she placed a protective hand over her stomach. There was no bump, not yet. It would be weeks before it showed, which gave her time to get used to how her life would change, if that was possible. She opened the oven and spluttered as the smoke filled her lungs. Reaching in, she pulled the cannelloni out, almost dropping the brick of a baking tray onto the trivet. ‘Damn it,’ she yelled as the glass scorched the edge of her little finger. She was no domestic goddess and she knew it. She opened the window of her top floor apartment and coughed the smoke out of her lungs while the breeze circulated the fumes. The smell of herby garlic had been replaced by a nauseating acrid aroma. As the alarm hushed she placed her hand over her heart, willing the pounding to calm down. She’d only burnt dinner, no harm had been done – except to her finger. Without a doubt, there would be a blister there soon. Finally she had the answer as to why she’d felt so yuck lately.
At first she’d thought it was something she’d eaten. It started the night after she’d undercooked a chicken, around four weeks ago. Not realising it was still a little pink, she’d taken a bite. He’d spotted her failure much sooner, which is why he’d left her to clean up while he collected a pizza. Hours later they’d been laughing and rolling in her bed thinking nothing more of the chicken. She scrunched her nose as she recalled the next morning. That chicken had rendered her useless. She’d lain in bed, alone, clutching a bowl as the room swayed like a ship in a storm. It’s the chicken, she had thought. A day in bed will cure all.
She’d then dragged the covers over her head and thought nothing more of it. ‘All this time it was you, little one.’ She smiled as she picked the burnt cheesy topping from the soggy pasta. ‘Saved. It’s just cannelloni without the white sauce baked on top.’ She emptied a bag of salad into a bowl. At least she couldn’t mess up a bag of ready prepared salad. The intercom buzzed. As she hurried back through the apartment, she glanced in the mirror. Her red hair was still clipped up except for a few strands that had cutely escaped, just the way he liked it.
The steam from the oven hadn’t smudged her mascara; she was good to go. There was no way on earth the smell would go before he reached the top floor of the building. Her disastrous creation would be obvious. She glanced at the floor and the pregnancy test stared back. She had to hide that for now, at least until he’d settled in for the evening. A smile beamed across her face. This baby was a chance for him to show her what he was prepared to do for love. She wanted a future with him and she wasn’t going to hold back. He had made so many promises; it was now time for him to act on them. This was just the shove he needed.
He was finally going to be pushed over the edge, straight into his new life. ‘I see you burnt the dinner, Holly,’ he said as he entered holding a bunch of red carnations while locking the door behind him. Holly – he used her name like a full stop. She didn’t know whether his tone irritated her or turned her on. He sounded like a teacher who was about to go into detail about why she got a C instead of an A or a disgruntled boss who would follow with, here’s how you can improve your performance. Swiftly slotting the plastic test into her pocket as he jokingly waded through the smoke, she took the flowers and flung her arms around his shoulders, looking into his eyes before pressing her lips against his. His hand veered down, almost reaching the telltale wand that had poked out of her pocket. She threaded her fingers through his and drew his hand to her breast. ‘This is a nice surprise. Who needs dinner?’ She felt his other hand slot into the back of her tight jeans before turning her around and pushing her against the wall.
She swiftly pushed the test back down. ‘My God I’ve missed this.’ Laughing, she gently nudged him away. ‘Later, you. I need to get these flowers into a vase. Shall we have a drink?’ He followed her through to the kitchen where he took a bottle of wine from the rack next to the little table. ‘I think we’ll go for a Merlot. It should complement the burnt whatever it is you’ve been cooking up.’ ‘Shut up.’ She playfully slapped him as she popped the flowers into a vase.
‘It’s cannelloni and I’ve rescued it.’ She smiled and bit her bottom lip, then gazed at him through her long eyelashes as she grabbed two plates and began dishing up. ‘Sit at the table, I’ll bring it over.’ ‘Wine? Or would you prefer a beer?’ He knew she wasn’t keen on wine. ‘Nothing. I have a drink.’ She nodded towards the glass of lemonade she’d poured earlier. The blind fluttered as another gust of wind blasted through, bringing with it the smell of the chip shop on the high street. She pulled the window closed and swallowed. If anything would upset her stomach tonight, it would be the smell of battered cod mixed with burnt cannelloni.
‘You’re not joining me in a toast? One of my investments has,’ he paused, ‘well, I’ll just say that it’s been a good day in the hospitality sector. Can’t go into details as yet as I don’t want to jinx things.’ He picked up his fork, ready to eat. She placed the plates on the table and lit the candle, heart humming away. First the baby and now the news about his investment. Everything was going seamlessly. She couldn’t have planned it any better. A lot of people would be hurt but as he’d often promised, they were going to move away and start a new life. Her whole existence over this past year had led to this. ‘Does that mean what I think it means?’ His shoulders stiffened.
‘You know I can’t make any promises just yet. Can we drop it, Holly?’ ‘But—’ ‘I said drop it!’ He slammed his fork onto the table knocking his wine over. ‘Look what you made me do.’ What was meant to be a special moment had just been ruined. The stick in her pocket that had only recently told her that she was carrying the muchwanted little life inside her was threatening to snap under the pressure as she tried to remain rigid and still. He looked through her with clenched knuckles. He stomped across the floor in his brown leather brogues and began wiping the wine from his crisp fitted shirt. It must have been a big day for him as she was used to him wearing more casual shirts over jeans. Something out of the ordinary had happened but that didn’t excuse him talking to her the way he had. With quivering fingers, she dropped the stick onto the table.
This wasn’t the way she planned to tell him but he had to know. ‘Something has to change. I love you, but you can’t shout at me like that again.’ A tear spilled into her salad; the little droplet on the butterhead lettuce leaf twinkled in the candlelight. She wouldn’t look at him – she didn’t want to see his face as the realisation dawned on him. She was going to have a baby and that was a fact. The news was meant to be good but here she was crying into her dinner while he huffed and puffed over spilled wine. ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have shouted. What’s this? Is this all a joke? Just tell me it’s a joke.’ He kneeled in front of her.
As she burst into loud sobs, she shook her head. Why couldn’t he be as happy as she was? It wasn’t as if they hadn’t spoken about their future and the fact that she wanted children someday. The only difference in the plan was it was happening sooner than expected and she needed him. She couldn’t do it all alone. One of his investments had obviously paid off. He could get rid of his business interests in Cleevesford and, that way, they’d never have to come back. All he had to do was take the plunge. All would be fine. He’d promised her that everything would work out. She glanced up.
There was no joy in his grimace and she knew she was going to have to go it alone. Why had she been such a fool? Everyone would laugh at her now. ‘Stop it, come on.’ He placed his arms across her shoulders and pulled her into him as she sobbed louder. ‘I said stop it.’ ‘I’m having a baby, I can’t just stop it. Look at you. I’ve given up everything to be here all the time, lapping up your empty promises. This is your moment to show me what I mean to you and I get it. I finally see you for what you are.
You only love yourself. Get out.’ She grabbed the salad bowl and flung the lettuce across his chest. She’d have her baby alone just like her mother had. It wasn’t how she’d imagined her future to be. ‘My only regret is wasting a year on someone like you.’ ‘You can’t have this baby, you do know that.’ He flicked the lettuce away and stood. Veins pulsed on his temples as his stare bored through her. He didn’t scare her, he wasn’t the first or last man in her life who thought it was his way or no way.
She was a little older now, wiser, and she was going to stand her ground. He could stare all he liked. She was having the baby whether he was in her life or not. Bad decision? Maybe. What she wanted? Definitely –bad decision or not. ‘I can and I will. My body, my choice.’ She stood and walked towards the hall as he hurried behind her. ‘Get out.’ She pointed to the door.
Seeing him react so unreasonably had been a first and it was going to be a last. He would never speak to her in that tone again. ‘I’m going. Don’t expect anything off me if you’re not prepared to listen to what I want. I’ll be in touch about everything we need to finalise.’ ‘Blah, blah, blah. It’s always been about you. I don’t know why I expected it would be any different. Just go.’ She wiped her nose on the back of her hand and watched him through the reflection in the hall mirror.
The same mirror that had reflected her red curls bouncing as she’d excitedly answered the door to him only half an hour earlier. Her blue eyes were now rimmed with angry swollen red lids. She flinched as he caught her looking. ‘I said go or I’ll call the police.’ Her heart began to hammer against her ribs. Why wasn’t he going? ‘You think it’s that easy.’ He pinned her to the wall and gripped her throat, applying enough pressure to take her breath away. His fingernails drove into the back of her neck. Gasping, she gripped his wrists but his strength had her locked in place. Every beat of her heart thumped through her head, louder and louder until her vision prickled.
She could make out his grin, she could smell the wine on his breath and she shuddered as she felt his erection. She had been in a relationship with him for a year and it was at this point that she realised she knew nothing at all about him. He let go and she flopped to the ground, only having enough energy to protectively stroke her stomach. He’d spared her. She’d messed her life up the moment she’d waved at him across the bar in the Angel Arms all those months ago. She should have listened to her instincts telling her to stay away, that he’d be bad for her but he’d been her secret pleasure since. It’s not like she’d only just met him, she knew him well. From that moment on, she’d got to know him a lot better, in ways she’d never imagined possible. ‘You say a word and I’ll kill you next time. Did you get that?’ She stroked her neck, hoping that he’d leave so she could cry her heart out.
She was about to lose everything and he knew it. She hugged her body, not daring to catch his eye before he left. That moment had told her all she needed to know. I’m a survivor. I’ll get through this. His final words filled her head. I’ll kill you next time. A few more seconds and he would have killed her. She understood the warning, loud and clear as she coughed and gasped. Talk and you die