“I saw her again, on a street corner, later. She needed the money.”
“That was a long time ago.”
He looked up again. “Yes. Yes it was.” His voice caught. “But she’s here right now.”
“In San Diego?”
“Yes. She wants me to do a test, and I’m going to have to do it.”
“A test? For what?” The fear reached a zenith, and I didn’t think my chest could contain the intense thrumming of my heart anymore.
“For her son.”
I washed cold. If she wanted a test with her son and with Gavin, then she — I couldn’t even let my mind think it. I had to shut it off.
“See, this is too much. Let me kill the lights. You need rest.”
“No. Let’s get this out. Is he yours?”
“I don’t think so. Her family asked me to go away, said she was using me to save her, get her to the US. I don’t know. I just want to do the test and get it over.”
I wanted to throw up, to cry. And I really, really wanted to hold my breath, to disappear into the black. But that had been a disaster last time. I had to stop it. I had to face things without escaping. The held-back tears flowed into my throat, making it sticky and thick. I barely got out my next question. “How old is he?”
His eyes went back to the floor. “He’s three. Coming up on four. In February.”
Oh, God. I counted back the months. He would have to have been conceived in May, within weeks of Finn’s funeral.
I couldn’t take it. I threw back the covers and turned my legs to the side to stand up.
“No, don’t get up. Please, go back to bed. You’re not ready.” Gavin stood over me, hands on my shoulders.
“Don’t touch me. Don’t ever touch me.” I didn’t intend to say it, or to growl, but it just came, like an involuntary response.
“I know it looks bad. It was bad. Shit.” He dropped back in his chair. “If you want me to leave right now, I will. But if it turns out okay—”
I leaned over the side rail, hanging on, grateful for the support. Of all the things that I could have imagined, Gavin having a child with another woman was the biggest nightmare. The worst. Irrevocable. Unfixable. Life-altering.
How could he make such a mistake? How could he have a son with some other woman and take away the chance to ever have one with me?
I pressed a hand against my throat, willing the cough away, trying to breathe. I wanted to scream, and if we had been anywhere else, I might have. Instead I clutched the rail as though I were back out at sea, and this was the lifeline that would take me to some other shore.
Gavin didn’t move near me, didn’t try to touch me again. He just waited, head down. I tried to put myself in his position. Angry. Confused. He had to have so many questions. Now that the initial shock was wearing off, I had them too. I sat back on the bed, still holding the rail. “I thought you said you had the surgery checked. That it worked.”
“Nobody told me how long it took. It’s not immediate.” His skin was ashen, and his eyes so haunted. My heart broke for him then. He thought I would walk away. And I wanted to, but I wouldn’t. I’d be here. I’d see him through this.
I shifted back on the bed and tucked my legs beneath the sheets again. This was it. I had to get well. I needed out of this hospital, back in the real world. I wanted to help him through this.
“How trustworthy is this woman?” My voice came out stronger than I thought it would.
His hands were clasped together so tight that his knuckles were white. “I have no idea. I don’t really know her much at all.”
That was good. I began to breathe easier. So he had done the surgery, felt indebted to this woman for helping him. They’d ended up together. I just had to accept these things. She meant nothing to him. He only wanted to clear his name. “Well, then let’s get the test done and send her packing.”
“I just need to figure out where to go. There’s drugstore tests but I don’t trust them.”
“We’re right here in a hospital.”
He glanced at the call button. “You want to ask one of the nurses?”
“No, I have a better idea. We’ll talk to Tina, let her ask.”
“You mean that girl with the stockings?”
“Yes. She came by earlier.”
His face relaxed into relief. “Okay, ask her. Then we can get this done.”
Gavin needed someone to push him through this. I might feel blindsided, but he had to be completely knocked backwards. Everyone else seemed to be telling him this woman was manipulating him, but he couldn’t see it. We’d have to show him the way.
“You need to get your life back to normal,” I said. “Go home. Shower. Study. Go to work. Talk to your friends.”
He shook his head. “My life is right here.”
“No, this is a strange place, these small rooms, this caustic atmosphere with my parents. You need to be out, to think clearly, to assess what’s going on.” I hesitated. “Is she trying to see you? Is she pushing this boy on you?”
He shook his head. “No. My friend Mario scared the crap out of her. I’m just supposed to call her when we have a place to do the test.”
I breathed a little easier. “Good.” I held out my hand to him, and when he took it, I pulled him forward to sit on the bed. “It’s going to be okay,” I told him. “Just another bump in the road.”