Thank you all for the kind words last week on the first part. I'm so excited about this story. These will be the last two chapters I post as a sample (the book releases next week).
If you missed it, here are the first two chapters
Hush Darling chapters three and four
Chapter Three - Gia
The morning after the tub incident, I scheduled the doctor appointment I’d promised Angelo. Now, two days later, I sat on the examination table, naked from the waist down, paper blanket draped over my lap, and tried not to move my right arm too much. Angelo’s reminder that this appointment better yield a solution was still visible. The inside of my elbow was a mottled purple and yellow rimmed in a thin line of black. Before my mind started to play the attack over, however, the door mercifully opened and my one true friend met my eyes, frowning.
“Pregnancy test is positive.” My best friend, Hope Martin, looked me in the eye.
It was an act of God that my former roommate was an OB-Gyn. She and I had met back when I was in community college in the city. I saw her room for rent on a board in the coffee shop where I was waiting tables, took the number, and made the call. That’s how Hope and I became friends. Until I met Angelo, whom Hope had hated, got married, and moved out. She finished her PhD in the city while I moved to the burbs and slowly lost touch as the devil’s grip tightened. My new husband alienated me from all my friends. But when he started talking about babies, I gave her a call. Thankfully, she was living in Long Island as well, running her practice, and eager to reconnect. I’d made the original appointment to recruit her for help, but the camaraderie was just as strong today. We would always be close.
“Well, the stick one is.” The one I’d just taken on the sly before going through the official tests. She wanted to be certain of the result before putting me through tests that might prove me a liar. “We will still have to do an official urinalysis. It’s standard when you come in here.”
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” I hissed in a low whisper. “I was on the pill.”
She pulled my data up on the computer. “Your chart says you had a round of antibiotics last month, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I got a UTI.” From all the sex Angelo was forcing me have to conceive his heir.
“They can make the pill less effective.” She frowned. “Your PCP would have warned you about that if…”
My face fell. “If the birth control was listed on my chart.” Which it was not, because Hope had been secretly slipping them to me.
She placed a gentle hand on my knee. “Lie down.”
Patting the pillow behind me, I did as bid as she lifted up the stirrups. After about ten minutes, she finished checking everything, including the heartbeat. “I don’t hear anything.” Panic seized my chest. “He pushed me and I landed on my stomach two days ago.”
Her eyes widened as she cursed under her breath. “Any bleeding? Spotting?”
I shook my head.
“Is that how this happened?” She pointed to the scab underneath my eyebrow. It was a bit bruised, but healing. And it would definitely leave a scar. “And this?” She pointed to my arm.
“Yeah.” I cast my gaze to the floor.
“Fucking son of a bitch.” She wiped the goo from my belly. “I wouldn’t worry. It’s normal to not hear one. At about six weeks, it’s too soon. We could with a vaginal ultrasound, but I’m not going to order one.” I knew why. That would mean I’d have to see the tech, who couldn’t falsify the results. “You can get dressed now.”
Typically, the doc would leave the room, but not Hope. She knew we had some things to discuss.
“How much have you saved?” she asked.
“Not enough,” I said, zipping up my jeans.
She rubbed her brow. “Have you figured out if he’s looking at your medical data?”
I shrugged. “I still don’t know.” I chose not to set up online accounts to access my medical info, in hopes it could slow Angelo down, but it was likely he was privy anyway. Since he knew all my personal info, he could easily have set it up without my knowledge. Never mind that it was supposed to be my body and I’d never seen any of his medical reports.
She frowned. “I’ve got to run labs to keep things on the up and up. If I don’t, it will look suspicious if he’s watching. But I can’t hide the bloodwork in your chart. It will take a few days for the labs to come back, and when they do, they’re gonna show the elevated hormones.” She started typing. “I’m ordering a slew of extra labs…” Her hands flew across the keys. “That will hopefully slow things down and buy you time.”
“How much time?” I asked as I sat back down on the table, now fully dressed.
“Not much. A week, tops. If that.” She turned to me, her blue eyes so full of what I felt was undeserved kindness. She’d always been such a great friend, and I’d been so shitty by pulling away from her when I married Angelo. “The sooner you go, the better.”
“I’m sorry you have to do this,” I whispered. I didn’t know what kind of trouble she could get in, but I assumed there could be massive repercussions from her lies of omission. “If I would have listened to you years ago…” A tear rolled down my cheek. Hope had tried to warn me that I was moving too fast with Angelo. Lovesick and eager to be taken care of, I hadn’t listened.
Looking back, all the red flags were there. I was just too young and naive to notice them. I made excuses in my head. Passed off his controlling behavior as my boyfriend just being overly jealous because he loved me so. Too smitten with his charm, wealth, and good looks to pay attention.
After growing up in foster care, where I was tossed from group home to group home, and spending my early twenties struggling to make ends meet, I was all too happy to not think about where my next hot meal would come from. Instead, I gladly took the black Amex card Angelo gave me and would spend until my heart was content. No questions.
“Stop.” She pulled me in for a big hug. “This is not your fault. Yeah, I never liked the bastard; but neither of us could have predicted what a monster he really was.”
After a few minutes of us hugging, she finally released her hold, turned, and opened a cabinet drawer, pulling out her purse. “I’ve got about five hundred cash here. I can get you more,” she said, digging into her wallet. Sure, she was a full-fledged doctor now making the big bucks, but she still had a mortgage, car payment, and massive student loans. Hope wasn’t wealthy by any means, not yet at least.
“I can’t take your money, Hope.” I shook my head. She’d already done so much for me, including risking her medical license. I couldn’t ask more of her.
“You can and you will.” She put the money in my hand. “We’ll do it just like we planned. Tonight, I’ll leave the bug-out bag buried for you under the marked rock on the trail. Keys to the car inside.”
“You got me a car?” My eyes widened, jaw dropping as relief flooded over me. Mentally, I checked off my biggest worry—transportation. How had she managed a vehicle?
“It’s not great. An o-five, black Chevy Cavalier with a shit-ton of miles, but it runs. It should get you where you need to go. Lay low, stay off the interstate, take the state highways and backroads.” She went over the plan we’d made a thousand times and told me where she’d be leaving the car and the documents. “Get in it and drive like a bat out of hell to Canada. When you get there, find a clinic and get yourself prenatal care. Email me when it’s safe. Keep it cryptic. Don’t ever call.”
It clicked then. Hope was scared. I could see the fear in her eyes, and it gutted me. Because other than the color, they mirrored my own. I hated bringing her into this, but I couldn’t escape without her. She wasn’t just risking her license, though; she was risking her life. Angelo was too wealthy, too powerful, with too many friends in high places.
I stood, grabbed my purse from the chair, and paused. My friend waited in her scrubs and white lab coat, her beautiful, auburn hair cascading over her shoulders. And I finally realized this was the last time I was ever going to see her. Tears slid down my cheeks.
“Come here,” she said, pulling me in for another bone-breaking hug.
“I won’t ever see you again,” I breathed through the sobs, my tears soaking her coat.
“Nonsense. We’ll figure out a way. He won’t come sniffing around here too long, and even so, I’m solid on this end. Once the heat dies down, we’ll be fine.” She pulled back and wiped my mascara. “I’ll take a vacation every summer in Quebec if I have to.” She waved her hand, dismissing my concern.
But still, I could see it in her eyes, the way her jaw tensed, and that slight tremor in her voice. Not just scared, no. She was terrified.
“Because I’m not gonna miss this little one growing up.” She placed a shaky hand on my belly.
“Thank you, for everything. I’ll never be able to repay you for this.”
“Just live. Be happy. That’s payment enough for me.”
“I love you, you know that, right?”
“I friggin’ love you back, Gia.” She winked as I headed out the door.
Chapter Four - Tanner
When I slammed through the front door, Archie greeted me with questioning eyes. No doubt he had heard me coming from miles away. “I’m fine,” I said as I dropped the grocery bag on the counter and removed my coat. “Miller.”
Archie sniffed me, snarled in solidarity, then plodded over to the sofa. In moments, I’d finished putting away my groceries, resigned to forget about that asshole and hunker down for God only knew how long as the storm rolled in.
The rest of the day passed with little to hold my attention, except the snow. Around dusk, I ate some leftover stew to fill my belly, and watched the trees shake. The wind had kicked up so much that I could feel the vibrations through my floorboards. I spent the evening in front of my television drinking whiskey. Sleep during this time of year did not come easy, so a liquid push sometimes did the trick. Praying it would help me doze off, I flipped through Netflix and settled on some reruns of Parks and Recreation.
Archie nudged me from my daze, and by the looks of my TV screen, I’d slept through several episodes. It took me another moment to realize my pup kept glancing between me and my cell phone vibrating across the coffee table.
My heart raced. Only life-altering news came at late hours of the night in my world.
Was it my sister? My niece?
All the worst-case scenarios ran through my head. They were getting up there in age. And accidents happened to kids all the time.
Grabbing the phone, I checked the display. FaceTime call from Tyler it read as my sister’s image flashed on screen. I chuckled softly. Sis always hated her name. But Mom was told to expect two boys and got used to our names way before baby number one surprised everyone. Thus, it stuck. Ever since Mom told us the story, I loved to joke that my cock must have been so big that they thought there were two boys. And every time I did, Tyler would groan out, “ew, Tanner.”
I flipped out the small kickstand attached to my phone case and propped it on my coffee table, then took the call.
“A little late for you, isn’t it?” I asked her before she could even raise her hands to say hello. My sister lived in Texas, specifically Dallas. So, it was probably a little after eleven her time.
“I have a toddler. I only sleep when she does, and apparently she’s nocturnal.”
I laughed as my racing heart steadied. All was fine. “I could have been sleeping.”
“Knew you were up,” she added with a dismissive flair.
“Twin thing.” She shrugged. “You know.” Sis gave me a pointed look.
I chuckled again.
Yeah. The whole it’s a twin thing was true for us. We could always sense when something was going on with the other. Felt it in our bones. Didn’t matter how many miles separated us. If she was ill, I’d get nauseated. Tyler depressed? Me too. When she broke her arm in third grade, mine began to ache even though I was on the other side of town.
She’d been my best friend since birth, my partner in crime. And when sis went to public school and I went to Deaf school, I hated every minute we were apart. It didn’t matter that I finally had friends that spoke ASL and I was around my own community. I needed my sister more than I needed air to breathe.
When we moved from Trenton to Sussex for my dad’s job, I grabbed my chance. At nearly two hours away from my Deaf school, Mom either had to homeschool me, or let me go mainstream like Tyler. Naturally, I begged for mainstream. Mom pitched a fit, but eventually agreed as long as I stayed immersed in extracurricular activities and social events within the Deaf community. I gladly agreed, because at least sis and I would be together at school.
She was my ‘in’ to the hearing community, and always interpreted for me. Hell, I even followed her to college in the city when both of us got accepted into Columbia. Few classes together though, since Tyler went to med school while I was a business major.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, tucking her waves behind her ears. It was a little darker than mine. She’d colored it again. Sis always hated the ash-colored, or “dishwater blond” as she called it, hair passed down from our Irish ancestors. It never bothered me, but then again, I was a dude. She’d been dyeing hers since we were like thirteen.
“You tell me.”
“Can’t sleep. Drinking too much. Only leave the cabin for supply runs. Sound about right?”
I rubbed my tired eyes and nodded. When I looked back at the screen, my sister started moving her hands to speak again.
“I know you’re hurting, but at some point you need to live.” She sighed heavily. “You need to get out, make friends, meet people.”
During that first year at Columbia, my sister forced me to meet people too. She dragged me to a party with her and her roommate, Alexis, or Alex as I chose to call her. A lively, little thing with long, brown hair and big blue eyes. And she didn’t shun me for signing. My miracle. I fell hard and fast, but as much as I loved her, I hated the city. Too much noise. Too many vibrations kept me up at night. Too many people. The wilderness had always called to me. So, I stayed in the city long enough to finish my business degree, get my real estate license, and flip a few properties. Earned a nice little nest egg I used as collateral. Then my girl followed me to this small town so I could build my dream.
And now she was gone, and it was all my fault.
“I know.” I nodded. We sat, staring at one another.
Tyler blinked back the moisture in her eyes, and I wanted to slap myself. My wife had been one of her closest friends and I tended to forget she was hurting as well.
“Come to Texas,” she finally said.
“You still trying to hook me up with Brock’s younger sister?” I frowned. It was hard to forget that about a year after Alex disappeared, Tyler started flooding my phone with pictures of my brother-in-law’s very hot, very available younger sister. She was an ESE teacher who happened to know ASL, so perfect fit right? Wrong. Twin radar way off there, sis.
“Brandi’s engaged now. You missed your friggin’ shot, buddy.”
“Oh, darn,” I said with a sarcastic fake-pout to drive home just how many fucks I didn’t give.
“Seriously. Come visit.”
“Why in the hell would I want to go to Texas?” I smirked, toying with her. Born and bred on the East Coast, I always busted her chops for moving to the south. But she’d met Brock, a geologist major of all things, in college and marriage followed. So, when he landed a job in oil and gas they moved to Dallas.
My sister's face fell. “You haven’t even met Emma yet.”
“I’ve met her,” I protested.
My niece would be turning two very soon and I’d yet to hold her in my arms and lavish the affection on her that she deserved from her uncle. But I couldn’t. It was too hard. She was too much of a reminder of what could have been.
“FaceTime doesn’t count, and you know it.” My sister’s mouth twisted. “You didn’t even come for her surgery.” Her green eyes welled up with tears.
Guilt washed over me. My sister had begged me to fly out six months ago when Emma went under for her cochlear implants. I used my cabin rentals as my excuse, but it was a crock of shit.
“Even Mom and Dad came here for it.” Her lips clamped tightly. “And you know how Mom can be.”
Yes; I knew. Our folks had mixed feelings about cochlear implants when the FDA first approved them in the late nineties. Dad was a lot more understanding than Mom, because he’d lost most of his hearing in Vietnam. So, he remembered what it was like to hear. But still, he understood Mom’s position.
Deaf was our culture, not a disability that needed to be cured, and by giving her the implant my folks feared she’d be shunned by the Deaf community and not a full-fledged member of the hearing one. A difficult line I’d toed my entire life. ASL was all we spoke at home. At my Deaf school in Trenton, it was total communication. They used what hearing I had at the time with a mix of ASL, lipreading, and speech, but mostly ASL since my hearing loss was progressive and profound.
I never felt disabled until we moved out to Sussex and I went to mainstream school. It was like I was a dropped into a foreign country and could barely speak the language. Not to mention, they forced me to go at their pace. But I’d asked for it, so I bucked up. They made me wear auditory trainers on top of my hearing aids, which I hated with a burning passion. Because I could speak, they sent me to more intense speech therapy. And as my hearing worsened, the hearing aids became useless. Like static on the radio. Would you rather listen to annoying garbage, or just turn the damn thing off? Luckily, I’d always been a top student, so when my grades slipped to Ds in middle school my parents raised hell with the school district, and I was able to ditch the aids and get an ASL interpreter. Once that happened, I got into all the AP classes and went back to straight As.
Ultimately, I made it through, and Emma would too. She’d be fine. My sister had always advocated like my lawyer when the teachers got shitty with me. Safe bet she’d be relentless making sure Emma had what she needed. Brock and Tyler had good heads on their shoulders. Not to mention, my sister was a surgeon, so she knew all the risks and weighed them out. They’d already begun teaching Emma ASL; so if someday my niece decided the CI wasn’t for her, they’d have no problem supporting that decision. There wasn’t one way to be Deaf. My niece wouldn’t lose her Deaf identity.
“How’s she doing?” Whatever Tyler believed; I was curious. And I did care. Alex and I had gone round and round about what we’d do, since the probability was high we’d have a child with a hearing impairment.
But we never…
“See for yourself.” Her head turned and she motioned off-camera. Suddenly, my little niece was climbing up on her mom’s lap. My sister's lips moved, saying something to Emma, but with her head turned I couldn’t catch it. “Show Uncle Tanner,” she then signed for my benefit.
Emma’s lips started moving but I couldn’t decipher her words. Lip reading with kids was next to impossible. My niece turned her little head and right there, tucked between her blonde curls, was the round transmitter plugged into her skull. The chord extended down to the processor tucked behind her ear. God, she’d grown so much in the last six months. I’d been a terrible uncle because I hadn’t been there. Sure, I’d seen the photos online and the texts my sis would constantly send me. But seeing Emma live like this always made my heart ache.
“Very pretty,” I signed to her. Her little nose wrinkled in confusion. So, for her, I did what I rarely would do. “Pretty,” I repeated, using my voice along with the swooping circle gesture around my face. From the way she giggled, grinned, and swayed her little shoulders, I could tell she understood the compliment.
Her lips moved along as her tiny, adorable hands repeated my movement. “Pretty?”
I cleared my throat. “Yes, very pretty,” I said, nodding. The way her eyes lit up when she heard my voice made me want to say all the words, all the time.
I saw my sister say something to her and caught the word goodbye. Emma turned to the camera, waved, kissed the screen, then skittered off.
“She’s beautiful.” And she was. Her little heart-shaped face, pouty lips, and upturned nose were just like my sister’s. But those big, brown eyes and bright, blonde curls were all her daddy. Little Emma merged the best of both of them.
“She loves her uncle.” Her green eyes bore into mine. “And he needs to not destroy his liver so he can come see her.” Her face said it all: worry, sadness, disappointment.
Yeah. I looked like shit.
“Soon as the snow clears, I’ll book a flight,” I said, and I meant it. It was time.
“And the drinking?” Her and that damn eyebrow.
“I’ll back it down.”
I placed my right index finger to my lips and moved it down to the thumb of my fisted left hand, repeating the sign. “Promise.”