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Love & Marriage (The Pregnancy Test | Chapter One)


Biological clocks are tricky. You never know when it’ll start ticking, or if it'll ever start, for that matter. I first noticed mine when I was thirty-one. On the verge of getting married, a faint ticking followed me, but only some of the time. As the years passed, the ticking grew louder and louder. By the time I was thirty-four and married, the urge to be a mother overwhelmed every second of my life.

In fact, it had become difficult to separate my own feelings about motherhood from those of my patients, especially as I listened to Matt and Lisa gripe about how their infant son had complicated their already problematic life.

Matt barked at his wife sitting next to him on the three-year-old tan sofa. “You're home all day hanging out with the baby. Why can't you just change the diapers?”

I’d heard that before.

“Hanging out?” Lisa narrowed her eyes like she was ready to shove a shitty diaper in his face. “You think I'm hanging out? Did you know that I get up at two a.m. every morning to feed your crying son, then again at five a.m. so that you can sleep undisturbed?”

“You can sleep during the day when I'm at work. Working.” His eyes bulged and rolled with his condescending tone.

“I get pockets of sleep during the day, in between breastfeeding and cleaning spit-up and pee and shit. It might not be your typical day at the office, but it sure as hell ain't a walk in the park!” Lisa turned from Matt, recoiling her arms into her chest. Sounded like Lisa needed a break. And a nap.

“What's the big deal if I relax for a while when I get home?” Matt looked to me for solidarity or sympathy, as many of my patients do. I showed him neither.

“When do I get to relax, huh? I'm on twenty-four hours a day and you can't change one stinking diaper! What kind of father are you?”

Matt froze, completely iced by her words.

“Okay, time out,” I said, making a T-shape with my hands. “Lisa, when did you last eat?”

She took a deep breath, shaking her head. “I don’t know. I had a cup of coffee this morning.” From the shadows under her eyes, I knew she hadn't gotten much sleep either.

I pulled off my glasses, leaned on my elbows, and used my argument-soothing voice, which was half guided meditation and half patronizing. But it’d been known to work. “A new baby can challenge a marriage. And often times can make things worse because one or both of the spouses are sleep deprived . . . and malnourished. Both of you need time to take care of yourselves so that you can best care for your son and each other.” Lisa glanced at Matt, but he just sat with his eyes down, arms folded, and a sideways frown.

“You know, Matt, tomorrow’s Saturday,” I said and his eyes finally met mine. “Look at your wife. Clearly, she's exhausted. Can you give her a couple hours for herself tonight when you get home? It's a great opportunity to bond with your son.”

He shrugged and dropped his head. “Yeah . . . sure.”

I scribbled a quick note on my yellow pad. “I want you two to come back next week, so you can start the New Year off in a better place, okay?”

They stood up, nodding without a word. “And, Lisa, please eat something.” I sent a silent prayer for them as they headed out of my office. They were going to have a long weekend.

Later that evening, it was five o’clock and the sky had already turned black. My mini-space heater breezed warm air on my feet as I wrapped up my notes for the day. The sounds of footsteps along the carpet outside my door were quickly followed by a whiff of fresh cologne.

Andy, one of the three partners in our counseling practice, wandered into my office. “What are you doin’ tonight, Marin?” he asked, not glancing up from his phone.

I stuffed my day planner and cell in my oversized purse. “Going home to pack.”

“Home? It's Friday night. Why don't you and James come out with me?” He looked up from his device.

“James has plans with the guys tonight. Besides, don’t you have a date?” I asked.

He sighed, tucking the phone in his pocket. “Nah, no date.”

I tilted my head then smirked. “Your date cancelled.”

Andy made a dismissive sound.

“Wow.” I leaned back in my chair, folding my arms and giving him a haughty grin. “Maybe you are losing your touch with the ladies.” He was on the verge of forty-five and growing sensitive toward the subject. Perhaps Andy had his own biological clock to reconcile.

He rolled his dark eyes. “Please, I can get any girl I want. Come out with me and I'll show you.” Admittedly, Andy had aged well. His bits of salt-and-pepper hair only made him more handsome, like Richard Gere.

I shook my head. “I'm not gonna sit at a bar with you while you pick up women. You're always flirting with the cute blonde bartenders. It’s annoying.”

“Jealous?” he asked.

I popped forward in my chair. “It's rude, Andy. I'm not drinking right now anyway.”

His eyes shot open. “Why? Are you pregnant?”

“Maybe,” I said, and his curious expression quickly deflated.

“Still trying, huh?” he asked with a half smile.

“Yeah. I have a good feeling though, and my boobs hurt a little.” I pressed my forearm against each breast, confirming the tenderness was not in my head.

“Marin, I told you. You can't talk to me about your boobs. I'm not one of your girlfriends.”

I stood and swung my tote over my shoulder. “Sure you are,” I said, pinching his cheek as I passed him on the way out of my office.

He followed close behind. “Does that mean you'll come drink at the bar with me for an hour?”

I dropped my shoulders, letting out a long sigh. “Fine, I'll go. But I'm not drinking.”

“Okay, well, I'm not not going to flirt with the bartender if she's cute.”

I let a small chuckle escape. “I wouldn't expect any less from you.”

We agreed to meet at a bar in my neighborhood called Alembic. I pulled my knitted scarf a little tighter around my neck as I trekked the sidewalk. The sky was a dark umbrella over the streetlights, café lights, and twinkle Christmas lights that adorned the city. The sidewalks bustled with other professionals headed home for the big New Year’s Eve weekend. I slipped in my ear buds and resumed my place in the latest positive psychology audiobook.

Halfway to the bar, the familiar ringtone of my iPhone blared through the headphones. It was Telly. These days, with her law practice and baby—both not even two years old—I rarely heard from her on my walk home. Instead, we'd catch up during Saturday shopping trips or Sunday brunch when she was free.

“Hey, stranger,” I answered.

“Hey, Marin. What are you up to?” Telly asked, the sound of her car engine humming in the background.

“On my way to have a drink with Andy.”

“Oh, my God. Leo's sick. I had to pick him up from daycare and keep him with me at the office all freakin’ day.”

Telly seldom registered Andy's name. And if she had, she’d use an uncomfortable high-pitched tone. I still didn't know what had happened between those two. “Is he okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, just a snotty cold I guess. I think I might just hire a full-time nanny so he's not around all those other germy babies who have older siblings in elementary school. I can't afford to get sick or bring his germy ass to work all the time during flu-season.”

“Didn't Will's mom offer to take him during the day? For cheap?”

“Yes,” she said with a bit of a growl, as if she didn’t want to be reminded. “But there's no way I can deal with seeing her five days a week, twice a day. She's always giving me those why-don't-you-let-my-son-make-an-honest-woman-out-of-you-so-my-grandson-isn't-a-bastard-child eyes. I won't do it.”

“Well, good luck with the nanny hunt.” I wanted to ask her why she didn't just marry Will. He'd proved to be a loving and involved father. But as their continuous love story went, Telly and Will called things off about three months after Leo was born. I'd never forget the night it happened. I went to her place with some consoling ice cream. Leo seemed to be ingesting a mix of breast milk and fallen tears. She, of course, explained that she was still hormonal and overwhelmed by the whole thing and that I should never mention her emotional state again. To anyone.

Personally, I had gone from Team Anyone Else to Team Will, but every time I hinted at it, Telly simply changed the subject.

“Anyway,” she said. “Don't worry. I'll still be at the wedding tomorrow.”

Yes, Holly and Noom, my childhood best friend and her Thai fiancé, were finally getting married. The bride-to-be hated planning her wedding. Even though her little sister, Rachel, offered to do it for her a million times, Holly didn't want to risk ending up with a wedding that was fairytale princess instead of Mother Earth warrior. The date was originally set for last April but then got pushed back to October and pushed back again. Holly said that she and Noom didn't care about a wedding, but they didn't want to ring in another New Year without being husband and wife. So we were all going up to Sonoma for their intimate vineyard nuptials.

“You're bringing your sick baby to the wedding?” I asked, wishing I hadn’t sounded so judgmental.

“Hell no! Will's taking him.”

“On New Year’s Eve? You're gonna let him sit home alone?”

“Not alone, with Leo.” Her voice was soft and convincing and I knew she used the same tone on Will when he agreed to take the baby for the holiday weekend. But he probably would’ve done it anyway. The man loved his kid.

“Who’s sick . . .” I added.

“I'm okay with it. Will's okay with it. I'm sure Holly's okay with it, and if you want me there, you better be okay with it.”

A chilly breeze prickled my cheeks, and I cupped my gloved hand over my uncovered ear. “I'm okay with it.”

“Good. Listen, I just got home and I gotta get him inside. See you tomorrow.”

“Bye.”

The moment she hung up, my audiobook began right where it left off. I shook my head at my funny friend who at times I understood perfectly and other times, well, she just didn't make sense.

I arrived at Alembic. Even though the place was picking up, Andy sat quietly at the end of the bar with a fresh rum and Coke, and a seat reserved just for me. I stuffed my gloves in my oversized purse but kept my scarf tied around my neck as I made myself comfortable on the barstool. As expected, the bartender was blond, but he was also a man. Cute too. Maybe I should flirt with him, give Andy a taste of his own medicine.

“It's about time,” he said, taking a swig from his glass. “I don't know why you didn't just ride with me.”

I shrugged. “I like the walk. It's a beautiful night.”

“Suit yourself.”

Mr. Blondie Bartender leaned over and shot me a sexy, but friendly, look with his whiskey-colored eyes. “What can I get for you?”

“Hot tea, please. With lemon and honey.” I flashed a big smile.

He smirked. “Would you rather make that a hot toddy?”

“No, thanks. I'm not drinking tonight.”

The bartender raised his brow. “That's too bad,” he said and headed off to get my virgin drink.

I slipped off my coat and tucked my tote on the bar hook. Andy gave me a strange look.

“What?” I asked.

He nodded in the direction of Mr. Blondie Bartender. “He thinks you're cute.”

“So?” I said, but secretly loved the idea. It was weird; when James and I were dating it was awkward when guys flirted with me. After we were married it made me feel like a young woman of twenty-eight again. But I'd never admit that to Andy.

“So, why don't you flirt with him a little? Have some fun.”

I shot him a caustic stare. “I didn't come here for fun. I came to have a drink with you.”

“Okay . . .”

“Not to mention I'm married and I might be . . .” My eyes bounced from him to my stomach a few times.

“Knocked up,” he said.

“Whatever. Besides, it would be hypocritical to flirt with him even if I wanted to.”

“You mean the cute blond bartender.” The moment the words came out of his mouth, my drink arrived. Mr. Blondie Bartender seemed to have the wrong impression of my friend because twenty minutes later, when Andy was ready for a refill, the guy was nowhere to be found.

“So you think you might really be pregnant, huh?” Andy asked.

“We have been trying for a year so we could be. Don't tell anyone though. I only mentioned it to you because you're relentless when you want something.”

The corners of his mouth turned up in a sort of proud grin. “That's true. But aren't you afraid things will change?”

“What do you mean?” I knew that having a baby would definitely change things, but more than anything, I was excited to encounter those changes. James and I could expand our family, contribute to society by adding another capable, compassionate human being. At least, if we did our jobs right.

“The women I know that have had babies are basically different people now. It's kinda scary.”

I shrugged. “Telly's not that different and the few ways she is different make her better. I'm sure motherhood will only make me better and more fulfilled.”

“Fulfilled? You know you can't expect a baby to validate your life, right?" He cringed. And even though I knew Andy was an eternal pessimist, I felt like he had the impression I wanted a baby for the wrong reasons. And I didn’t. I’d always, always, always wanted to be a mother.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“C’mon, Mar. I was your therapist, remember? You've got White-Picket-Fence Syndrome. It goes without saying, but I bet you'll end up quitting your career too.”

Why do all men assume that all women will quit their jobs after giving birth? Has he not heard of having it all? “No, I won’t. Lots of women work and have kids. Look at Katie.” Katie was the third partner in our counseling practice and the one who held the entire business together.

“Exactly, Katie was a lot of fun before she had those little rug rats. We used to go out all the time.”

I arched my eyebrow. Was their relationship different before I was hired? “You did? Did you guys sleep together?”

“No, she was married.” He waved his hand as if to say, get-outta-here! “And she's too old for me.”

I barreled a you’re-ridiculous laugh. “She's a couple years younger than you.”

“Yeah, and?” He widened his eyes and I rolled mine. “What? You think I'm too old for you?”

“I think you're too absurd for me. Besides, age is just a number.” A number that had fertility percentages attached to it. After trying so long, I had almost about a seventy-five percent chance of conceiving a baby at my age. But if it didn’t happen soon, that percentage would drop on my thirty-fifth birthday.

“Cheers to that!” he said, and clinked his glass against mine.

A woman appeared behind the bar, also blonde, tall, with her hair tied back in a sleek ponytail. She wasn't nearly as young as the last one, maybe in her mid-late thirties. “You guys okay on drinks?” she asked.

Andy stared at her for a while, seeming to size her up. “I'll have another rum and Coke, please.”

She smiled, then shifted her eyes toward me. I gestured that I was fine and she walked off to the other side of the bar. Andy didn't take his eyes off her.

“Do you know her or something?” I asked.

“I don’t recognize her ass, but she is beautiful.” He sucked down what was left of his icy cocktail.

I leaned away, shooting him a strange glare. “You mean she's not too old for you?”

He shrugged. “Age is just a number, right?”

The bartender returned with his drink and he quickly took a sip. His eyes shot open. “Man, that's strong.”

She looked alarmed. “Oh, is it too strong?”

Andy tried to swallow his cough. What a tough-guy. “No, it's good. This is a real drink. Thanks.”

“Sure thing.” She smiled, batting her eyelashes just a little.

“Hey, you look familiar, where are you from?” Andy leaned his elbows on the bar, pointing at her like she was a direction to move toward.

“Maryland,” she said.

“Nice, an East Coaster, like me.” He sent me a ridiculous wink.

“Oh, yeah?” She tilted her head, seeming pleased that they had this in common. He smiled, and I was pretty sure that even though she wasn't in her twenties, he was going to try to take her home. I let them flirt—I mean talk—while I finished the last of my now lukewarm tea.

“Well, I'm going to get out of here,” I said, hopping off the barstool and grabbing my things.

“You're leaving already?” Andy asked, the first time he'd said a word to me in the last ten minutes.

I glanced at my watch, the one James gave me for my birthday a couple years ago. “Yep, it's been exactly one hour. As promised. And I still have to pack for Sonoma tomorrow.” The bar was picking up and the bartender had other patrons to serve. “Enjoy the rest of the night. Good luck with a . . .” I bounced my eyebrows a few times and nodded at her.

“Okay,” he said. “Have fun at that hippie wedding.”

“Goodnight, Andy!” I called as I walked away.

Maybe it was because I was on my way to a cozy fire and my favorite pair of leggings, but the fifteen-minute walk home was even better than the walk to the bar. Rows of Edwardian houses were lit like quaint Christmas trees; people dressed in puffy coats and hats walked little dogs in their own outerwear as I passed the park at Alamo Square. The only thing that would’ve made it more picturesque would’ve been snow.

Just as my nose was getting uncomfortably frozen, I arrived at our house on Fell Street. It wasn’t any different from the other Edwardian houses, adorned with white twinkle lights, plastic green garlands, and faux-velvet red bows. The moment I stepped inside, Marvin trotted forward like a small horse.

“Wanna go outside?” I asked him in a motherly tone, patting his colossal Great Dane head, which was well above my waist. Over the last year and a half that James and I had lived in the house together, Marvin had become my surrogate son. Or my adult son, as he had grown very protective of me.

“C’mon!” I said and he followed me over to the back door in the kitchen. I filled his bowls with food and fresh water and turned on my stove kettle while I waited for him to return to the back door. He went right for the fresh kibbles, chowing down like a teenaged boy. I left him to enjoy his feast and returned to the living room. The pine smell of the Christmas tree near the front window was as crisp as the day we brought it home. I flipped on the lights and stood back, admiring the tree once more. I imagined a future Christmas morning with a slew of gifts and two little ones with smiling faces tearing through the pretty wrapping. I placed my hand on my belly and hoped, believed, that there was a little Christmas miracle growing inside it.

The sound of keys jingled at the front door. Marvin let out a loud, but tame bark and raced over. James appeared from behind the door and when he saw my face, he smiled in that sweet way that told me I was the best part of his day.

“Hey, beautiful,” he said and wrapped his strong arms around me. The scent of cold air lingered on his jacket, his chilled hands pressed against my back.

“Hey, you’re home early.” I kissed his lips and began unzipping his jacket, slipping it off his shoulders.

He pushed his coat off the rest of the way, keeping his sky-blue eyes fixed on me. “Yeah, I was feeling a little tired and thought I should come home since we’re leaving town tomorrow.”

My teapot screamed from the kitchen. “Good idea. So should we light a fire upstairs and watch a show in bed?” I said, pulling away.

James took my hand and reeled me back in, burying his cold nose in the crook of my neck. “I was thinking we could do something else.” His hands wandered below my waistline and he squeezed my tush.

“I thought you were tired,” I said, pushing my body into his and smelling what was left of his morning cologne spritz.

“Yeah, but I’m never too tired to get naked with you,” he said in his low sexy voice, then lifted me up in one swoop. I wrapped my legs around his waist and he pressed me against the wall, kissing me like it was our first date. It wasn’t long before I was screaming louder than my teakettle.

Want more Marin? Get your copy of The Pregnancy Test!




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© 2020 Amanda Aksel

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