A/N: Some strong sexual content and language in this chapter. Reader discretion is advised. Otherwise, thanks for waiting so patiently and enjoy! 🙂
28 hours, 47 minutes, and 18 seconds.
28 hours, 47 minutes, and 18 seconds.
It’s how long my son, born at just 22 weeks, survived before his underdeveloped lungs collapsed and his struggling heart stopped, too weak to support his life.
28 hours. 47 minutes. 18 seconds.
They were the most stressful, nightmarish hours I had ever been through in my life. 28 hours, 47 minutes, and 18 seconds worth of hoping, praying, and begging, but no one had listened…and now I had nothing. I couldn’t bring myself to move. Could barely bring myself to breathe, but of course my brain took over that, which is good, because if breathing were entirely voluntary, I don’t think I would have survived that day. Just like my little boy.
28 hours. 47 minutes. 18 seconds.
And I have never before felt so unbelievably empty.
Catherine is awake. Catherine is fine. She’s home. Riley is thrilled- no longer angry with me. She’s doing so well, and I’m so glad, but my body doesn’t feel it. Is that even possible? To be “happy,” but to not experience the feeling at all? Could I even say I was happy then? I mean, I was…except my heart ached, and my stomach twisted, and my head hurt, and my eyes constantly burned with the pain of my loss.
I wish I could feel happy. I really do. I should be feeling that way. After all, Catherine is saved, thank god.
But my little boy is gone…and he always will be.
I’m having difficulty writing. There are just no words. No words at all.
I’m at home. Have been home. It’s been weeks. We had a small funeral of sorts. Every time I think I’m done crying, I find more tears to shed.
Jiang and I haven’t talked much. He keeps assuring me that he’s not mad at me. That it wasn’t my fault. That these things happen. That he just…needs time. But the more distant he becomes, the more angry I am convinced he is, and the more responsible I feel for the loss of our child. Our little boy.
I want to scream. I want to cry. And I do. I shriek and I sob and I pull at my hair, punch out my pillow, but, nothing, nothing will bring him back.
“It hurts,” I whispered into the quiet one night, facing Jiang as we lay on our bed,
“I know,” he whispered. “I feel it too.”
“All the time.”
“All the time,” he agreed miserably.
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. You were doing everything you were supposed to.”
“My body’s not good enough to have children,” I whispered hoarsely, my eyes burning once again. “It’s broken.”
“That’s not true,” Jiang murmured, reaching out to grasp my hand. “You know it isn’t. The doctor said we could try again…someday.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I want our baby boy. I don’t want another one. I want him! Why did he leave us, Jiang?” I shouted in despair. “Why did he go?! Why was he TAKEN from us?!”
Jiang looked straight at me, his own eyes brimming over with hot, bitter tears. “I don’t know,” he managed to whisper. “I just don’t know.” I met his eyes…and then we both started sobbing, holding each other tightly in the cold misery of the night until finally, exhausted, we fell into a fitful sleep.
“How are you?” I asked as I lay with Catherine on the beach, the warmth of the sun beating down upon our faces. I turned my head slightly, to where Chandler was playing in the sandbox. He looked so happy. Catherine glanced over at me, watching me watch Chandler with a sad look upon her face. Please don’t pity me.
“I’m good. What about you?” she asked seriously, her eyes seeming to bore into my soul. I could have lied, I suppose, but she would have known.
“Getting by,” I mumbled, turning away and trying to find shapes in the clouds above. Stop looking at me like that. I shifted myself so I wasn’t in her direct line of sight. “I mean…it’s been better,” I said lightly. A lie.If Catherine picked up on it though, she chose not to address it, simply nodding instead.
“I-…I wasn’t…well, I wasn’t sure how to tell you this, but…well…”
“You can say it, whatever it is,” I interrupted, looking over at her and clearing my throat. “Seriously, I’m fine. It’s just hard, you know?”
“Yeah,” she whispered. “It’s…” she sighed heavily, leaning back and gazing up at the sky. “I never thought it’d be possible after everything that happened, but…well….I’m pregnant, Tamara,” she rushed out at last, her worried eyes quickly darting to mine. I went rigid, my heart seeming to beat in slow motion. I don’t think the news would have had quite so strong an impact on me had she not been looking at me the way she was now. Had she not been so hesitant to share the news with me.
“That’s great,” I managed in a voice that was quite unlike my own. “Seriously. Gosh, it’s so incredible how fully you healed. Maybe…maybe there was something to be said about that Sphinx,” I said in a rush, trying to change the subject. Maybe if I stopped talking about it, the thought would leave my mind and stop sending signals to my heart to hurt.
“Maybe,” she admitted, picking up on my reluctance to linger on the topic. “I’m…I’m really happy about it.” A smile appeared on her face, lighting up her features. I always thought she was the prettier of the two of us. The kindest. The better one. I guess she was more deserving of happiness. My eyes burned suddenly and I took a shuddering breath, staring up at the sky. I tried to ignore Catherine’s eyes on me. I wish she’d just stop looking at me. I looked anywhere but her direction. “It’s okay to admit that you’re not okay,” Catherine finally said quietly, brushing her hair out of her face. It was nearly back to its previous length again.
Her persistence annoyed me. “Alright, I’m not okay then,” I snapped, twisting my head toward her. “No, in fact, I’m really fucking not okay, alright? Is that what you wanted me to say? Is that better? Because you know FUNNY ENOUGH I don’t feel the least bit better. In fact, I kind of feel even shittier, so yeah, thanks for that. So fucking glad I admitted that. Totally beneficial!” I spat, sarcasm oozing from every syllable that passed my lips.
“I was just saying,” Catherine responded in distress, adjusting herself on the ground. “Jeez. And stop cursing, Chandler will hear you!”
“At least your son can fucking hear!” I screamed, getting up from the ground so fast that my head spun. I stumbled for a second and then turned on her, frustration blinding me. “No, wait, AT LEAST YOU FUCKING HAVE A SON!” I shrieked, gesturing at her perfect boy who looked back at me with wide eyes and lips set in a perfect “O.” I looked away from him and stormed off without a look back.
I wish I could say I just left with what little dignity I had, but instead as I walked away ragged sobs escaped my being.
Would this ever get easier?
I don’t know if it did get any easier, but I did find ways to distract myself. I tinkered with and upgraded appliances around the house, applying my penchant for fixing things, for solving puzzles, as it were. I read books. I continued to go to work, putting everything I had into perfecting my body and improving at the sport, desperate to rise in the ranks. I’d never really had much interest in officially joining The Llamas soccer team, just because I was always traveling or distracted, but now nothing meant more to me. I felt alive when my muscles ached, when they trembled as I kicked that ball with all my might, watching as it soared above the heads of talented goalies, proclaiming victory. I had always been fit, but now it was an obsession—I needed to condition myself into the perfect player, and that’s exactly what I did.
It wasn’t long before I was promoted to being an official starter for The Llamas, playing the part of forward. Instead of feeling proud and joyous though, I just felt numb. Grim almost. I’d achieved my goal, but drew no happiness from it.
Was I actually broken at this point? There was only so much a person could take and I had to wonder…had I reached that breaking point? Regardless, I had to keep on, had to keep living, had to keep going, and maybe, maybe, I’d feel like myself again someday. But today was not the day, and neither, it seemed, was tomorrow.
As time went by I decided to adopt another cat—a playmate for Cleo. I named him Marc and even though I still felt numb, his silliness would actually manage to draw the rare smile out of me.
I think Cleo liked him too, as they got along surprisingly well. Caring for them was yet another thing on my list of distractions. They may not have been the cure for this endless gray abyss I seemed to be trapped in, but at least they got me not to think about it, and that was enough for me.
For now at least.
“Don’t you think you’re overdoing it?” Jiang asked one day after he’d come home from work and showered, finding me on the treadmill. I looked up in surprise, having not heard him come home yet. He looked tired. Just as I’d been throwing myself into being the best player this team had seen in awhile, he’d been throwing himself into his own work. He’d gotten a job at the local hospital, training and practicing to be a paramedic. He often came home exhausted, but I knew he liked the work. There was no better cure for a busy mind.
“I have to keep in shape,” I responded, looking out the window again and putting on an extra burst of strength to get through my last mile. My muscles were screaming, but the pain felt good. It was better than feeling numb at least.
“You are. You could easily beat me up,” Jiang remarked, a small smile appearing on his drawn features.
“I always could have beaten you up,” I replied with a small smile of my own.
“I’ve missed that.”
“You, smiling. Hell I-…I miss you in general, Tamara,” Jiang said quietly, no trace of a smile remaining in his tone. “We’ve barely spoken.”
“We’ve been busy,” I supplied, trying to ignore the guilty feeling that began to grow in my gut.
“Tamara…” he murmured, and then paused. He placed his hand on mine and then looked at me so seriously that I couldn’t help but stop, slowing down the treadmill to a still. “I…I feel like we’ve drifted.” I stepped off the treadmill and looked at Jiang, my heart suddenly beating hard. “I miss you,” he whispered, taking my hands in his. I didn’t know why, but my eyes began to burn with hot tears at that point. I guess it didn’t take a lot these days though. Not while I lived in my gray oblivion.
“I miss you too,” I managed, meeting his gaze. “I’m….I’m sorry,” I said in a strained voice, suddenly feeling scared. Scared that I would lose him. Scared that he was going to leave me. My throat tightened and I stood stock still, willing myself not to fall to my knees and beg.
“Hey,” he said then, gently lifting my chin. I met his eyes, my vision blurring with my tears. To my surprise, Jiang smiled at me. “I just meant that I want to spend more time with you. …and…to be honest, I’m the one who wanted to apologize,” he said now, his gaze serious. “For not being there for you through all of this…all of this shit.”
“You have been. I mean—I don’t blame you. I haven’t either,” I wiped my eyes, trying to calm myself now that it was clear my husband wasn’t leaving me. “It’s just been so hard,” I whispered. Jiang nodded in response, his face paling some as he looked down at our joined hands. We were both so broken.
“I know,” he agreed quietly. “I thought…I thought maybe we could go out. Together. Get our minds off things.”
“Tonight?” I asked, perplexed. I couldn’t picture us going out at all. What would we do? It felt too inappropriate to go out dancing…to laugh…to have fun. Not after….
But it’s been months since that day. Several months.
Maybe it was time to laugh once again?
“Sometime,” he answered. “It doesn’t have to be tonight.” I thought hard for a moment and then finally nodded slightly, surprised that I was even agreeing.
I just hoped I wouldn’t regret it.
It was a couple weeks after that when we both had a free night (and no work in the morning!) to spend with each other. I felt weird as I got ready, dolling myself up for the first time in who knows how long. Really weird. But there was another feeling too I felt as I looked in that mirror, smoothing out my dress and putting the last touches on my eye makeup, and that was a hint of excitement.
Maybe, just maybe, this wouldn’t be so bad.
To my surprise, Jiang took us to a Karaoke bar. Apparently it was something he’d like to do back in China, and when one opened in town awhile back he’d been really happy about it. For obvious reasons though, this would be the first time we actually went.
We felt awkward at first. Or at least I did. I felt like somehow, over the past year or so, I’d forgotten how to have fun. We took our seats at the bar and Jiang decided to order a round of drinks.
We must have looked kind of weird then, just sitting in silence and watching the bartender prepare some mystery concoction for us. She glanced at us as she poured and then I could have sworn added a bit more liquor to our drinks. Not that I was surprised. She was probably feeling pretty bad for the sorry, silent couple sitting at her bar.
I have to say though…once I had a couple drinks in my system, I was feeling a lot less awkward, talking and giggling with Jiang as we downed our drinks probably much faster than we should have. It was just…as soon as I’d begun to feel that light-headed, carefree feeling floating through my being, I knew that I had to have more of it. I hadn’t felt so un-weighed down by the bullshit in my life in a long while, and finally having that feeling was addicting.
I was pretty convinced too that Jiang felt the same way and pretty soon we were in a mini-race to see who could finish off the most drinks the fastest. This resulted in us bursting out in uninhibited laughter when I stumbled sideways into Jiang, spilling his drink as he clumsily caught me.
“I think that means I win. You didn’t finish that drink!” I declared proudly as I tried to squirm out of Jiang’s arms, failing because I wasn’t exactly on my feet yet.
“I think I’m holding it better though,” Jiang argued, falling forward as he attempted to set me on my feet. Our legs tangled together and then we both fell onto the floor in a tangled mess, laughing indecently loud.
It felt incredible.
“I don’t think I’ve told you yet, but you look amazing tonight,” Jiang announced once we had both gotten off the floor and steadied ourselves once more.
“Oh, you have. Just a few times…or seven,” I said with a grin. “But that’s okay. I’ve pretty much been wanting to jump you all night.” Jiang raised his eyebrows at me in a bemused expression that sent me giggling all over again. “HEY! We should sing!” I finally suggested through my laughter.
“I CHOOSE THE SONG!” Jiang cried, already running toward the karaoke machine and stage the bar had set up.
“No fair!” I yelled, chasing after him as fast as I could on heels.
I ended up beating Jiang to the stage as he struggled to step onto it, tripping and nearly falling over.
“Holding it better, huh?” I jeered playfully as I hopped onto the stage and began flipping wildly through the music options.
“Damn it,” Jiang laughed, finally getting up onto the stage just as I’d made a selection. “What did you choo-” Jiang started to ask, but then didn’t have to finish his question as the introduction to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” began blaring throughout the entire establishment. “You didn’t!” he said with a shocked look on his face, but I was already belting out the first note (totally out of tune, but OH WELL) with all of my heart.
“CAUGHT IN A BAD ROMANCEEE!”
To my surprise, Jiang then joined in enthusiastically on the “ra ra ra ah ahs,” although with his slight accent it sounded a little bit more like “La la la ah ah ah.” I burst out into laughter as he launched into the first verse, barely even looking at the screen.
“How do you know this song so well!?” I asked as I got off track and had to hastily scan the screen and figure out where we were.
“They play American music like this ALL the time in Shang Simla,” he said during a short interlude. It was then that I figured out where we were, the two of us belting out, “I’m a free bitch, baby!” and then losing ourselves to our laughter. We could barely even finish the song and I’m pretty sure some people out in the audience even started booing us, but who cared!?
We were having the time of our lives and nothing else really mattered.
After we finished singing we went upstairs to see what they had and were immediately delighted to find a photo booth.
“Pictures!” we cried, both racing toward the booth. Jiang beat me this time, but I quickly followed after, sitting down on the bench with him as he got the machine started.
We took all kinds of silly pictures, making faces, dancing in place, and who knows what else really? We took some nice pictures too though, smiling and holding each other, exchanging kisses and just overall enjoying each other’s presence. I crawled into Jiang’s lap at some point, our lips never breaking apart. His hands were on my thighs and I suddenly felt so hot, as if the temperature had risen several degrees in that tiny booth. It might have been that moment when I forgot what we’d been doing and where we were as I pulled myself closer to Jiang, pressing against him and slipping my tongue into his mouth. It had been too long.
He let out a soft groan, his grip tightening upon my thighs and my senses became entirely clouded by the feel and the taste of the man pressed against me. Feeling particularly emboldened by his reaction, I reached down between us and began unbuttoning his pants. His hips lifted slightly to make my mission easier and it was all I could do not to just tear off his clothes now and take him right then and there. One of Jiang’s hands moved up to my breast in that moment, the other sliding between my legs and soon making me stifle a moan as I buried my face in his neck, my fingernails digging into his back.
A moment later and I shuddered, letting out a soft cry as he slowly moved his hand away. We fumbled clumsily for a moment then as Jiang retrieved something from his pocket…and then soon replaced his hand with something muchbetter.
It was fast and maybe even overly rough, but I didn’t think either of us cared in that moment. All we wanted was each other, and this feeling, this break in the numbness that we’d been feeling for so, so long. We smashed our lips together to muffle our shouts and I felt for the first time that instead of being lost in this gray expanse, a bright beam of sunlight, hot and glowing was bursting its way through—and all that was left was its brilliant, burning light. And as Jiang’s grip on me tightened, his hips jerking once and a shuddering breath escaping his lips, I knew he felt the same way too.
And it was perfect.
After tidying ourselves up and leaving the booth one-by-one (barely necessary anyway since no one seemed to be up here), we tried to enjoy the rest of our night as usual, but we had a difficult time keeping our hands off of each other.
After the third time during our game of skee ball when this happened, we finally gave up, deciding to call it a night and go home. My nerves thrummed with excitement as we hurriedly made our way downstairs, averting everyone’s gaze. We didn’t really have to worry though. There were only a few stragglers left at this point as the bar was starting to close up for the night.
We took a taxi home and then quietly, but hurriedly made it upstairs and into our bedroom, where we immediately fell onto our bed.
“Jiang?” I whispered as he was gently pushing me onto my back.
“Hmm?” he asked, reluctantly stopping to meet my gaze.
“I want to try again,” I said, and then, noticing the confused look on his face, clarified. “I want to try again…to have a baby with you.” He looked at me for a long moment, and for a second I thought he might try to argue it and convince me to wait longer, but then a small smile appeared on his face and he gave the slightest nod.
“Okay,” he murmured, kissing me softly on the lips. “I…I want to too,” he admitted quietly. I smiled back radiantly and he smiled too before meeting my lips in a passionate kiss.
I put my arms around him and pulled him down upon me as I laid down, pressing myself and my lips against him.
Even though part of me was scared about the idea, I also knew that I wanted it more than I wanted anything before.
And besides…trying, was beautiful. Trying was thrilling. Trying, and trying, and trying…until the first rays of the new day peeked over the horizon….
…and with our last shuddering breaths, officially chased away the gray of the night.