Clouds covered the sun, breaking the intense heat of the evening, as Sonia climbed the last of the steep steps, trudged across her porch, and, juggling her bag of groceries, swung open the kitchen door. “Lord, it’s too hot for June. Can’t we save this till July? I can’t take it.”
The front entryway didn’t respond. Though Delmar, her German Shepard, started barking from the backyard.
She plopped the shopping bag on the counter, shoved her personal-bag, which, if one looked closely, resembled her college backpack, off her shoulder, and stomped to the back door. She twisted the handle and yanked.
Delmar sped into the house like a red Mercedes in the right lane.
Falling backward on impact, she smashed her hand against the counter and swore at the devoted animal. “Dammit, Dog, you know better. Trying to kill me? The one who feeds you?”
Contrite, Delmar whined and attempted a sloppy make-up kiss.
Sonia wasn’t in the mood. Amazed at herself, she realized that she wanted to smack the dog. What’s wrong with me?
Not getting anywhere in the reconciliation department, Delma trotted to the metal dishes set beside the refrigerator and inhaled a bowl of tepid water. Next, he crunched the last remaining bits of breakfast, nosing the bowl across the room in the process.
Normally, the dog’s self-involved obsession would set her laughing. But not today.
Her stomach grumbled. The workplace café had undergone new management, and without a sane thought to their long-range business, they decided to hike the daily lunch prices to nearly twice their usual. In protest, and because she honestly couldn’t afford them, Sonia swore off their offerings until they came to their senses.
But that left her no reasonable options at noon. And it was after six now.
She filled a pot with water and set it to boil, then pulled the pasta box from her bag. She lined up all the ingredients for a healthy spaghetti supper: whole tomatoes, onions, peppers, lean ground beef, and a jar of spicy sauce. She even rooted through the highest shelf above the stove, the one where she hid the tempting stuff—chocolate chip cookies and red wine.
She’d make a night of it. Long, impossible days deserved a reward, right?
Something was off with her logic, but she shook her head and pulled the wrapping off the meat, then set it to sizzle in the frying pan. Next, she set chopping board on the counter, and she was on her way. Oh, the wine! She poured a healthy glass, lifted it to her lips, and—
The doorbell buzzed, sending her nerves into fits.
Delmar went into full-frenzy mode. As far as he was concerned, aliens might have landed their spaceship at the door.
A headache sprouting behind her eyes, Sonia took a sip and trotted to the front room. Yanking the dog back, she took a quick look out the window.
Awe, dang-it! Jim and Eva. Grinning like fools.
They saw her, and their hesitant smiles ballooned outlandishly.
Mumbling under her breath, she informed her dog of the real state of her mind. “I thought when I moved in this neighborhood, I’d finally be free of—”
Whining, Delmar looked scandalized. He scratched at the door. Company was waiting!
In defeat, she opened the door.
“Hi!” Twin voices, Jim’ baritone and Eva’s soprano, melded in perfect harmony.
What? They practice on the sly?
Her weak response didn’t hinder them from barging right in, their happiness bouncing along with them.
Eva gushed, “We saw you drive up and waited, but we couldn’t stand it any longer. We just had to stop by and share the news!”
Sonia forced a smile. They were already married, so what…?
Eva’s slim hand caressed her belly.
“We’re expecting!” The two voices harmonized like a well-practiced song.
Forcing a return smile, Sonia itched to slap someone. Instead, she gushed back. “Oh, how wonderful! So happy for you. Great news.” She swallowed the bile rising in her throat and waved toward the kitchen. I was just giving myself a littler reward after a hard day. Want to join me?”
No second invitations needed. The two lovebirds pranced into the kitchen, Eva leading and patting a remarkably sedate dog on the head.
Delmar let them pass like the gentleman he never was.
Sonia sneered. “He usually jumps all over people.”
Eva rubbed the dog under the chin. “Oh, we’re good friends. I see him out in the yard during the day; he seems lonely, so when I have a moment, I call him over, and we have a good chat.” She grinned at the canine. “You’re a great listener, aren’t you, Buddy.”
After mouthing “traitor” at the dog, Sonia pulled two glasses from the shelf and started to pour.
Eva backed off with a look of horror. “Oh, no, not me.” She rubbed her mid-section. “Can’t take a chance with the baby.”
Jim rubbed his wife’s back, his gaze dropping to the floor.
What’s he looking so sheepish about? Going to melt into a puddle all over my clean floor.
Holding herself together with superwoman grit and the better part of the wine and cookie supply, Sonia listened to their happy plans for as long as she could stand it. Then she yawned and exclaimed over the late hour. “I’ve got to get up early tomorrow…”
With a blushing retreat, the blessed couple found their way home.
Sighing in relief, Sonia toddled off to bed. The ingredients of her spaghetti dinner all but forgotten on the counter.
Grateful for the respite on a cloudy, low 80s, August day, Sonia lugged her latest dinner ingredients into the house and onto her counter.
A tecno-snafu had shut the office down early, so she made it home before the clock struck noon. She hummed in the quiet kitchen, enjoying the peaceful opportunity. Then she looked up and frowned Not a sound from Delmar. Where is that dog?
She unlocked the back door and swept her gaze across the backyard. Nothing. Fear clutched her chest.
Then a flash of red caught her eye. There in the back corner, Delmar sat on his haunches while a woman crouched on the other side of the chain-link fence and reached through, patting his smooth fur. Who the—? Sonia squinted and recognition settled her heart to a normal rhythm.
She sauntered over. In a joking tone, she called out, “He’s spoiled enough. He’ll want his meals on golden dishes next.”
Eva glanced up; her face blotched, almost as red as her shirt. She snatched her hand back.
Sonia stumbled. “Oh—hey, just joking. Go ahead and pet him. He’s alone a lot. Loves company.”
With a nod, Eva reached out and stroked the dog’s ears.
Delmar grinned in doggy ecstasy.
Tiny alarm bells ringing, Sonia dragged her memory back to the last time she’d seen Eva. Months ago. When she and Jim came by with the great news. Her stomach clenched at the memory. She steeled herself. Oh, what the heck. “So, how’re you doing?” She titled her head, trying to see. No baby bump yet, that’s for sure.
Swallowing convulsively, Eva’s hand shook even as it went limp.
Delmar seemed to understand. He pushed his face against the mesh and tried to lick his neighbor’s face.
A tiny bubble of laughter (or was it despair?) burbled to the surface. Eva choked.
The alarm bells went from tinkles to gongs, pealing their warning. Sonia crouched closer. “Sorry. I didn’t mean—”
Eva pulled her hands onto her lap. “I’m not so good. We lost the baby.”
Sonia sucked in a pain-filled breath. “I-I’m sorry.” What else could she say?
“So are we. Can’t always get what you want.”
Best foot forward, Sonia chose the encouraging, supportive path. “You can always try again.”
The woman’s convulsive swallow turned into a sob. “We did. Lost ‘em both.”
A meek nod. Eva climbed wearily to her feet. She stared at Delmar. “He’s a good listener.”
Eva finally met her gaze. “I really wanted this baby.” Pain shared. She turned and slogged to her house.
Sonia stood stunned as realization hit her. Their pain was much the same.
Delmar whined and nudged her hand with his wet nose.
Sonia peered down.
The clouds parted, and the hot August son baked her shoulders. All hope of dinner evaporated.
When the doorbell buzzed at sundown, Sonia wasn’t surprised to see Jim’s face staring back at her from the porch window. She let him in without comment.
He paced to the far side of the living room and turned.
Delmar plopped down in the corner with a decided harumph. Clearly, he knew he was not the center of attention.
Sonia pointed to the kitchen. “Can I get you something?”
His face drawn and lined with grief, Jim shook his head. “Thanks. We ate earlier. I just came by to thank you.”
Startled, Sonia narrowed her gaze. Was he joking? A passive aggressive thing?
Jim stepped closer, inviting a moment of intimate conversation. “No one understands. Just because the baby was so young, some people think that it didn’t matter. It wasn’t real. My aunt even teased us about having a burial. Said it was like burying a foot after an amputation. Or a lost tooth.”
Rage writhed inside Sonia, a beast she corralled almost every day of her adult life. “That’s stupid.”
Jim nodded. “Cold really. But you understand. And Eva needed to be heard. So, I just wanted to thank you.”
Flummoxed, Sonia fought impending tears. “I didn’t do anything.” Slashing against scars that had nearly ruined her life, she snipped her words into tiny pieces. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Jim’s eyes widened, clearly shocked. “Oh, sorry, Eva thought that you’d lost a baby too. That you understood her pain.”
“I never told her that!” Sonia was surprised by her scream. Guttural, ripping her insides out.
Wordlessly, Jim shook his head. His expression spoke for him. You never lost a baby?
“I can’t lose something I never wanted—never admitted!”
Crushed, Jim’s face fell into a chasm of grief. “Oh, yes. You can.” He strode across the room, swung open the door, glanced from Delmar to Sonia’s face, then plunged outside and plummeted down the steps.
Sonia fell to her knees, a sob taking her places she had refused to go for years.
Delmar inched closer and nudged his head under her arm. At some point, she would stop crying, and he’d be there, waiting for her.
Books by A. K. Frailey
Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels
OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN
OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF
OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ
OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI
OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)
Science Fiction Novels
Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg
Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN
It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz
Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l
My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll
The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S
The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5
Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8