UNTIL I REALLY DO CHAPTER 13

UNTIL I REALLY DO CHAPTER 13
Matthew was hurt. Buried underneath all of that fury was a man who was broken, and for the first time since Gretchen turned her back on his proposal, she truly felt remorseful. At first, she had been furious with Sharon for choosing to desert him on the day of their wedding, but she quickly admitted the truth to herself; she was as guilty as Sharon for the pain Matthew bore.1 Silently, she cursed herself for the part she played in ruining the man who sat on a chair across from her. She, like Sharon, had turned down his proposal and had chosen a separate path when he begged her to come to Ferndale with him. When he needed her the most, she hadn't been there. But it was different with Matthew, for when she was the one who desperately needed him, he had been present. He had shown up on that porch that evening as she sat in the darkness crying over the loss of her family's fortune, and his arms had kept her from falling apart. Even now, as she sat before him, she could still feel the warmth of his arms around her as the memory of the evening he found her on his porch crying, drifted back to her. “You're going to be just fine, Gretchen,” he had said, his words helping to ease the grief she felt over the inevitable shame that laid ahead in the exposure of her family’s lost fortune. She shook her head. “I'm being punished for what I did, Matthew... For walking away from you,” she spoke through trembling lips. “Now I have lost everything, including your love. You must despise me now! You must absolutely loathe me.” Barely able to contain her emotions she had buried her face in his chest and wept. They had sat silently for several seconds, his hold around her never waning. Then, after a few seconds, he had leaned down further and whispered, “I love you, Gretchen.”3 His words had washed over her, rendering her speechless as she considered them; he loved her. Rather than hate her for what she did or make mockery of the situation she was in, he sat before her, reassuring her of his friendship... For it was friendship he offered —she knew that much because she knew he loved his wife; she had come to the conclusion of it days before. Still, Gretchen had rejoiced in Matthew's friendship because she knew with it came his forgiveness for how she had treated him. He was her friend, and it was for that reason she remained after the disastrous wedding that never took place, while his family journeyed back to San Francisco. But her stay was quickly coming to an end, which was why she was seated before him. Letting out a soft sigh, she leaned across the desk that stood before him and took hold of his fingers, stopping its rhythm-less drumming on the tabletop. Visibly startled, he raised his gaze to her. “Matt,” She smiled, her fingers stroking his hand lightly. “Huh?” “Lost again?” She quirked a brow and he shrugged. “I'm leaving.” She finally said. She watched him, his eyelids growing several notches as the implications of her words began to sink in. Fear clouded his eyes, almost as if he was afraid of being left alone. “Gretchen,” he whispered, his fingers trapping hers. “Don't go, please,” his weary eyes pleaded with her.6 She glanced down, knowing the true reason for his request did not lie in his desire to be with her, but in his fear of being left alone with Sharon. Perhaps Gretchen was the distraction Matthew needed to keep his mind off of his wife's betrayal? Perhaps her presence helped to soothe the pain he felt?1 She wasn't certain, but she felt a small stab in her chest at the thought; he was simply using her to ease the pain brought to him by another woman.1 She swallowed and shook her head. “I applied for a job in London.” She said. In a conversation she had with Grace, she had mentioned a dress shop in London. When the devastating news of Gretchen's family's dwindled fortune reached her, she had been desperate to escape the shame of it all and London had been the first thing to come to mind. Because she knew she couldn't run off to London without any money to her name or a roof over her head, she had asked Grace for the address of the dress shop and had —in a moment of desperation— written a letter to the owner, begging for a job.1 Several weeks later, a letter offering her the job finally showed up. “I'm quite surprised I got it, but I did. It's at the dress shop Grace told me about. She said the dressmaker has made quite a name for herself. I can't return to San Francisco, what with the shame and all...” She sighed. “I have a month to pass across my decision to the shop owner. I was planning on leaving immediately but I'll stay until you are fine.” She said, and his eyes seemed to light up with that. She quirked a brow, tilting her head to the side as a small smile played on the corners of her lips. “Of course you would have to promise to stop giving me the silent treatment.” He smiled then, his hands still holding on to hers. “I promise.”2 ~*~ Sharon could hear her heartbeat slowing down as she listened in on Matthew's conversation with Gretchen. She told herself that it was all her fault; she had been the one to push him into Gretchen's arms, and she had been the one to walk out on him.2 Yet, here she stood, feeling betrayed. She had come here to apologize. It had taken her three days to work up the nerves to come to him but she had indeed come, only to be rendered motionless by the conversation she walked into where her husband was begging his former lover to stay.3 She knew she had been wrong about a lot of things but had she been wrong about Matthew's feelings for Gretchen? She didn't know. She wanted desperately to have been wrong but she couldn't help feeling she hadn't. Their marriage wasn't built on love; it was built on a bet. It didn't matter though —she mentally scolded— she had come here to apologize for running off. She had no right to feel anything but shame for the pain she cost him. Pushing the door open, she paused in her tracks as her gaze rested on Matthew's hand clasped around Gretchen's. As if hearing her, they turned sharply to her. Surprise filled Gretchen's eyes as she stared back at Sharon, but it was Matthew's guarded look that left her mouth feeling dry. “Sharon!” Gretchen smiled, rising to her feet. “I'll leave you two alone.” Sharon watched helplessly as Matthew grabbed Gretchen's wrist, stopping her. It was a blow below the belt but a blow she deserved. She tried to speak, but her words failed. Unable to look at them, she feared she would give in to her tears if she did. Her eyes searched the study instead —the wooden table with two chairs that stood across from each other. There was a brown sofa on the opposite side of the wall and a window that stood right behind Matthew's form.+ Frozen on the spot, she saw something move from the corners of her eyes and turned just in time to watch Matthew make his way past her without so much as a backward glance her way. Closing the barn doors behind her once her mission of gathering some eggs for Nana Lois was accomplished, Sharon turned with the basket in her hands and began making her way back to the house. She would hand the eggs to Nana Lois and help with the baking. Then she would throw herself into the tedious task of cleaning the kitchen. Once that was done, she would get to work stitching the newly acquired tear on her old gray dress. She would busy herself with all of those chores with no other reason but to rid herself of the torturous thoughts of Matthew, only to eventually retire to bed and be haunted by the same thoughts she spent all day trying to escape from. It was routine; her routine. And while she hated it, she didn't think she had a choice. She didn't think she could cope with the guilt or the pain and so she used chores to distract herself. She shook her head in yet another failed attempt to rid her mind of him and raised her eyes just in time to watch Matthew make his way out of the building. The mere sight of him rendered her motionless, her grip barely able to keep the basket from falling to the ground as she stared up at him standing on the front porch with his back to her. She watched him, her eyes trailing down the length of his body as her mind conjured images of it devoid of the green shirt and black pants he was now clad in. Suddenly, she desired to be in his arms; to go back to the days when their lives had some semblance of normalcy in it, to have him look at her with love and adoration just like he had done in the past. As if hearing her thoughts, he turned around, their eyes immediately locking. Barely able to breathe, she watched him, a thin frown creasing his handsome face as he stood still on the front porch. The part of her that was desperate to have him forgive her for what she did, longed to go to him. Yet, for some reason, her legs held her prisoner. Perhaps it was the part of her that was still very confused about him, and about how he felt? Perhaps she was more confused about how she felt —if she loved him. Did she dare give her heart away to him when she wasn't certain he would accept it? He had confessed to loving her once, but she didn't know if that was still the case; if he still loved her, and if his desires went beyond the child she was to bear. Would he get rid of her once she had had the baby? Wasn't that what he said he would do? She was suddenly afraid. She realized in that second that she did not want to be alone, neither did she want to be without love. Matthew moved then —or at least she thought he moved. Her thought was however immediately interrupted by the person who appeared behind him, gaining both their attention; Gretchen. Sharon watched helplessly as he turned from her and to Gretchen, his action feeling like a stab to her already wounded heart. Forcing her feet forward, she hurriedly made her way into the building through the back door, slamming the door shut just as her tears began slipping down her cheeks. 4 ~*~ Sharon stood there, her lovely blue dress dancing to the wind as the sunlight lighted up her hair until it nearly appeared golden. He stared at her, her hands clutching tightly to the basket before her as she stared back at him, and against his better judgment, Matthew felt his heartbeat gradually begin to slow down. Her eyes seemed to beckon to him, urging him to cover the distance between them and pull her into his arms... Or perhaps it was his own silly heart that urged him to go to her, to pull her close, to kiss her and to beg her to return his love. Walk away, Matthew —he scolded his silly heart, but he knew he couldn't. So he stood there, staring into the eyes of the woman who tore his heart into millions of pieces that could never be fixed. Still, it didn't change his feelings, or his desires. And the longer he stood there, the more apparent it became to him that he could fight neither of them. He stepped forward, desiring nothing but to go to her, when the voice behind him stopped him. “Ready! Sorry it took so long!” Gretchen called, forcing him to turn around sharply, breathless. “Well, we should get going if we're going to get this letter delivered.” She said, stepping forward and tucking her hand in the crook of his arm. He heaved a breath, her presence reminding him of his purpose for coming out here in the first place; he had agreed to take Gretchen to town so she could deliver a letter to London, accepting the job. He nodded numbly, knowing full well that he could not pull out of his plans with Gretchen. But it didn't change his desires to be with Sharon in that moment. Perhaps he could ask Gretchen to wait for a few more hours while he went to Sharon? He turned back around, a frown immediately settling on his face at the sight before him; Sharon was gone. “Shall we?” Gretchen asked. Confused, finally he nodded his head, thinking that she most likey wasn't as eager to talk to spend time with him as he was, to spend time with her. Perhaps he had been anxious for nothing? “Matt?” Turning to Gretchen who was seated next to him as they made their way to town that morning, he raised a brow. “Huh?” “I know it's none of my business,” she shrugged. “And perhaps I haven't exactly gotten along with Sharon, but I do believe you're in love with her and I don't think it's wise to keep torturing yourself like this.” Tightening his grip on the reins, he kept his gaze straight ahead. It was true that he loved Sharon, but he couldn't say the same thing about her. Not only did her actions prove otherwise, Matthew realized then that she hadn't even confessed to loving him in the past. Was there truly a point in loving someone who didn't return his feelings? “Maybe I'm wrong,” he murmured. “Maybe I'm wrong for falling in love with her... for ever falling in love. Maybe it is I who does not deserve love, Gretchen. Wasn't that why you turned down my proposal? And now I have a woman who I practically forced to marry me, running off on me while I stood on that altar, hoping she had somehow managed to fall in love with me. But I was a fool.” “Matt—” He shook his head, silencing her. “Do you know why she married me, Gretchen? Her own father lost her in a bet to my former farm hand. When I found out, I took advantage of the situation and got the farm hand to hand her over to me in exchange for something else. She didn't marry me willingly. Now I'm beginning to think no woman ever will.” Swallowing, he fought to keep his tears from falling as he urged the horses forward. “I regret it every day, Matt,” Gretchen finally spoke, breaching the silence between them. “You're probably the best thing I ever truly had and I walked away from you and now I must live with my decision.” Barely able to look at her, Matthew simply nodded in acknowledgement of her words. He wasn't sure he believed them, but he couldn't speak for he was exhausted —physically from lack of sleep since the day of the wedding, and emotionally from his inability to forget Sharon. “But you're wrong about Sharon,” Gretchen said. “I do not claim to know whether or not she's in love with you, but I believe she feels something.” He turned to her then and raised a brow in question; was she defending Sharon? The last time he checked, the two women did not get along. She scoffed. “She slapped me, Matt,” “What?!” She shrugged. “She was defending you and I probably deserved it.” His lips fell open then, his eyes scanning Gretchen's face for any signs of deceit. But he found none. And in that second, as Matthew threw his head back and gave in to his laughter for the first time in what felt like an eternity, he wasn't certain whether it was the slight look of annoyance on Gretchen's face that had him laughing, or the idea —the ridiculous, persistent idea somewhere in his head— of Sharon feeling something for him, that filled him with great joy. Matthew listened intently to Stanley as he gave him the monthly report on the farm, a smile claiming his face for the first time in days. He could hardly believe it but against all odds, his farm was finally coming back to life. “Thank you, Stanley.” He smiled, dismissing the farm hand with a nod of his head. He made his way into the house and up the stairs, his mind replaying the event of earlier that day with Sharon. It had been all he could think about as he went about his assignments in town. He found himself getting lost in his head through the task of delivering Gretchen's letter to London, helping her shop for her journey the next morning and finally returning to the farm to go over the inventory with Stanley. He was exhausted, but he found it impossible to want to do anything but be with Sharon. Then there was nagging thought that she felt something for him, the thought that she cared enough to engage in a fight with Gretchen. Groaning, he settled into bed and kicked his boots off. He could talk to her, he thought, lying flat on his back. Perhaps they could have a conversation in the morning? He didn't know if she would be willing to talk to him, but he decided he was going to try. There was after all no point in staying away from her, especially because they were having a child together. They were stuck, even if she did not seem pleased about being stuck with him.+ ~*~ A smile played at the corners of Sharon's lips as her gaze followed the upward and downward movement of her hands that traveled around her belly. Other than the sudden outburst of emotions and the overwhelming urge to puke half the time, her small figure was beginning to announce the life that was growing on her inside. Of course, it was hardly noticeable but for the one whose eyes were keen enough to take note, it was. She reached up and pulled her hair into the best bun she could muster at the moment, her stomach growling for food. Or was it the child? She couldn't tell. Pulling the door open, she made her way to the staircase, and made to go down the stairs, pausing in her tracks as her eyes caught sight of the two people who stood at the foot of the stairs. Completely unaware of her presence, Matthew and Gretchen stood trapped in an embrace. It was painful to admit, but Sharon thought they looked perfect together —Gretchen with her lovely black dress and red hair that was pulled into an elegant French braid, and Matthew, looking cleaner than she had ever see him in a freshly starched white shirt and grey pants. Sharon was the outsider, the unwelcome intrusion upon what was supposed to be the perfect love story. She was depriving Matthew of the woman he truly loved; it was a painful thought, but it was the truth. It was part of the reason she had run off in the first place; because she knew she could never possess Matthew's heart when it was already in possession of another woman. Sighing, she straightened and held her night coat tightly against herself, deciding not to allow the sight before her bother her. There was after all no real point in crying over the truth, as painful as it was. She had come here for breakfast, and while her own ego urged her to go back to her room, she put it aside for the sake of the child rapidly growing within her. Forcing one foot after the other down the stairs, she found it impossible to tear her gaze off of the couple as they released their hold on each other and stepped back, giving her a full view of the bright smile on Matthew's face. It was refreshing to see; his smile. It almost felt like she hadn't seen it in ages, like every time he looked at her, all he managed was a frown. Unlike Gretchen who gave him joy, all Sharon seemed to evoke in him was sadnes— Her thoughts were instantly cut short as her body tumbled forward, her grip loosening its hold on the rails. Pain shot up her sides, knocking the air out of her lungs until she was nearly passing out from it. Horrified, she tried to catch herself, her hands flailing aimlessly in search of something to grab on to, but her spinning vision made it impossible to do so as her body continued to tumble down the stairs, its sharp edges scrapping painfully against her sides until her head was slamming hard against the wooden floor. “Sharon!”She heard her name amidst the sharp ringing in her ears and the pain that clouded her mind. Tearing her lips apart, she tried to speak, but her tongue remained stubbornly glued to the bridge of her mouth. “Sharon! Oh God!” Something pulled her ragged form forward, forcing a pained whimper from her lips. “Matthew, what can I do?!” She heard another frantic voice somewhere in the distance of her mind. “Gretchen, get a doctor, now! Get Stanley, Nana, get anybody...” His voice seemed to be fading around her, her eyelids fighting desperately to fall shut. But she fought against them, realizing for the first time that she was in Matthew's arms. She hadn't been in his arms in ages. She missed being in his arms. She wanted to snuggle close against him and revel in his presence but the pain made it impossible to do so. “Blondie? Sweetheart, stay with me.” She focused her gaze on him, the black spots in her vision clearing up a little to give way to his weary face, sad eyes staring back at her. The sight of him seemed to tug on the strings of her heart, momentarily numbing her to the pain she felt. She instead wanted to take his own pain away. She wanted to reach out and wipe away his sadness. It was her fault that he was sad, wasn't it? How could she have hurt the man she loved? Tears filled her eyes then as realization settled in; she loved him. She had always loved him, which was the exact reason she had run away in the first place; she was afraid of how she felt. She was afraid of the pain she thought would accompany loving him. Her hand felt like steel but she managed to raise it up to his face, her fingers brushing his cheek. “Blondie,” he whispered softly, taking her hand in his. She felt his warm lips brush her knuckles. “Ma...th...ew...” She tried to speak, a bitter taste filling her mouth as darkness began to shroud her vision. She thought she saw his lips move, but the intensified ringing in her ears made it impossible to hear him. I love you! I love you more than anything in this world —her mind screamed, even if her lips remained adamantly glued together. Unable to fight the darkness any longer, she let out a soft sob as her eyelids flickered shut and her body gave in to the darkness. Running his trembling fingers through his hair, Matthew moved from one part of the hall to the other, his heart pounding dangerously until it threatened to leap out of his chest. The nauseating feeling of dizziness that he felt was a constant reminder of his need to let oxygen into his protesting lungs, his mind seemingly unable to bear the burden of breathing and worrying all at once. But Matthew couldn't stop worrying, his limbs trembling with fear as his gaze remained planted on the closed door before him. Sharon was in there, wounded and most battling for her life, while he was stuck out here, unable to do anything about it. He let out a shaky breath, unable to push the feeling of guilt aside; it was his fault Sharon was hurt. She wouldn't have fallen down that stairs if he had been there to help her —if he hadn't been so arrogantly angry that he let his stupid anger come between them. He should have protected her. For goodness sake, why didn't he protect her?! And their baby —what was going to happen to the child now?! Matthew didn't dare consider the possibility of Sharon losing the child. He didn't want to think of it or the guilt he would have to live with if it happened. "Matt, you need to sit down." Cold fingers settled on his sweaty forearm, gaining his attention. He turned to Gretchen, her brown eyes willing him to stop pacing. "You have been pacing for over an hour and if you don't stop, you might need a doctor yourself." She scolded. He scanned her weary features, suddenly remembering her need to be on her way to London in that minutes. It was bad enough that Sharon was in a critical condition because of him, he did not want Gretchen to miss out on a great opportunity because of him. "You should get going." He managed to speak past the lump in his throat. She shook her head and he frowned. "That is not a request, Gretchen, get going immediately. I'll be fine and hopefully, Sharon will be too, soon as that doctor gets out of there!" He half growled. She stood unmoving. “I can't leave you like this.” For a second, he watched her, surprised by her willingness to stay behind and miss out on an opportunity like the one she was offered. It wasn't within Gretchen's character to put other people before herself, but Matthew realized then that it was exactly what she had been doing in the last few days; putting others before herself. Not only had she remained in Ferndale because he asked, she had tried to get him to reconcile with Sharon. She was changing, and he had to admit that they were good changes. The thought brought a small smile to his face. “Yes, you can and you will or I'll carry you out here myself.” She sighed. Raising her hand to rest on his cheek, her gaze held his for several seconds. "You'll be fine,” she whispered softly. “And so will Sharon. Oh Matthew!" Leaning forward, she wrapped her arms around him. "I guess the time to say good bye for real, has finally come." She whispered against his shoulder, and for a few seconds, he held her close before pulling away. She sniffed and dabbed her tears with a handkerchief. "Write!" She frowned. "Write to tell me everything and how it all turns out and how you're getting yourself a lovely baby." "I will." Nodding, she stepped back. "Goodbye, Matt." "Goodbye, Gretchen." A thin smile curved her lips as she turned from him and began making her way down the stairs. He listened to her footsteps fade down the stairs, a slight feeling of loss settling over him —the part of him that was sorry they had to say goodbye and the part of him that was worried she wasn't going to be okay in London, was quickly eased by the thought that she was indeed going to be okay. She might have suffered with the loss of everything she ever owned, but he knew she'd be fine because she was though. He however didn't know what was going on with Sharon! Groaning, he turned sharply around to face to locked bedroom door, hoping desperately that she would be just fine. He must have been standing there for several hours before Nana Lois showed up from the kitchen with a glass of orange juice. He shook his head to her offer and was surprised when she didn't push the issue. She instead stood with him, both their eyes planted on the locked door. It was another several hours, Nana Lois had gone down the stairs to make dinner and Matthew could hardly feel his legs beneath him, before the door cracked open and the aged doctor with a balding grey hair and a suitcase, appeared. "How's she?" He stepped forward, dreading the bad news. Several terrifying scenarios drifted through his mind as he waited impatiently for the doctor's response to his question. The doctor pulled out a notepad from his coat and began to read. "Your wife suffered a broken ankle, broken wrist and lacerations to her face and legs" Matthew could feel his shoulders droop further down. "Spent so much time in there making sure nothing else was broken. We couldn't afford a broken rib or anything." He shut the notepad and stared at Matthew. "Especially with her being pregnant," “Pregnant?” Matthew repeated the words, uncertain he had been hearing correctly. Did it mean the baby was fine?! The doctor nodded, as if hearing his thoughts. "The young'un is fine. But Mama's not out of the woods yet." He was saying when Nana Lois appeared once more. Ignoring her, Matthew focused his attention on the doctor. "I can't administer pain relievers for the child's sake. As a result, she'll be in a lot of pains in the months leading to its birth so I'm putting her on bed rest. Try to keep her rested and away from emotional stress and we should be fine. Of course I'll have to come over tomorrow and a lot of days leading to the birth of the child... And Matthew?" "Huh?" “You can stop nodding your head so dangerously now and go in there and see her.” He grinned; he hadn't even realized he was nodding. "And you doctor, will be joining us for dinner..." Nana Lois was saying when Matthew walked past the doctor and made his way into the room.+ ~*~ Darkness gave way to a blinding streak of light as her eyelids flickered open. Wincing as pain shot through her skull, Sharon tried to move but found it impossible to do so. Every part of her body hurt, the pain confining her to a spot as she fought to familiarize herself with her environment. It was a few more minutes, but she finally recognized her room, the return of her memory bringing with it the memory of the events of that day; she had fallen down the stairs. It certainly explained the pain she was experiencing. Just then, something moved beside her, forcing her to turn her neck to the side and try to see who it was. Pain rewarded her movement, but it was quickly eased when her eyes rested on the man beside her bed. Matthew? She tried to speak, a low groan forming in her throat instead. But it seemed enough for he quickly rose to his feet, his handsome face leaning down over her. "Blondie," His voice trembled as he touched her hair. “Are you okay?” A weary frown creased his face. She tried to shake her head but stopped, pain silencing her. Tears filled her eyes. “I'm so sorry,” Leaning down, his warm lips grazed her forehead and she closed her eyes, taking solace in his presence. It had been so long since he was this close to her; so terribly long since his gaze did not hold anger when he looked at her. He instead seemed to genuinely care about her, and not just about the bab— Her baby! Gasping, she touched her stomach, terrified by the thought of losing the child in the accident. She couldn't lose her child! She couldn't live with the guilt and pain that would come with the knowledge of the fact that it was her own carelessness that had caused her baby its life. “Ba... by...” She tore her lips apart, ignoring the pain. She had to know what happened to the child. "Fine, Blondie, the baby is just fine." Relief flooded her weary body but the guilt remained —she should have been more careful. What was wrong with her?! Exhausted, she closed her eyes. "Sharon?" She felt him touch her hair. "Uhm..." She groaned, barely able to fight the urge to sleep. "I love you, sweetheart..." Her brain fought tirelessly to comprehend those words, but she couldn't. She could do nothing but fall asleep. Elle Steiner couldn't say that she was shocked by what it was she was looking at simply because she knew the man she was married to —the greedy bastard that was her husband. Letting out a loud sigh, she shoved her anger aside long enough to fold the pieces of paper in her hands and stick them in an envelope. Turning to face the door, she stormed out into the buzzing streets. “Conniving liar!” She growled under her breath as she marched through the streets —and to think that he had managed to ruin her relationship with her son, Matthew! She thought she knew the extent of her husband's deceit but she had been completely wrong. He would do anything and everything to keep everybody under his manipulative grip. If she had been less selfish herself, perhaps all of this mess could have been avoided and perhaps Matthew would still be talking to her? She had been wrong, absolutely and completely wrong about everything. She had thought that Matthew deserved to be with Gretchen but then, they had returned from California, after Matthew kicked them out, only to find out that Gretchen was as broke as the next street urchin. It had all been of no use. She had done nothing but ruin her son's life and her over ambitious husband had been the one holding the reins all these while. Well, she was going to change that! She thought as she marched down the street and into the post office. She was going to change everything.+ ~*~ Sharon still had nightmares of herself falling down the stairs, tumbling uncontrollably until she was lying at the feet of Matthew and his mistress while they kissed before her. It was a nightmare that plagued her every night since the morning she fell down the stairs four months ago. It didn't seem to matter how often she told herself she had nothing to fear or how much she tried to take solace in Gretchen's absence and Matthew's presence, she was as afraid as ever. She could barely dismiss the feeling of loneliness, or the disturbing thought that Matthew was only with her because she was pregnant with his child. “I will have you under locks and keys and bloody chains if I have to!” His words from weeks ago stayed with her, haunting her every second of every day. “And when that child is born, I will escort you off of my property.” Like every other night, she laid in bed having the same nightmare. It would always begin with Matthew dragging her down the stairs by her hair. He would drag her through the house and to the front door, ignoring her cries of protests. Once they were outside, he would let go of her hair, stepping back just as Gretchen appeared by his side, holding her child and laughing. She would stand there on the front porch, admitting to herself that they made a perfect couple and that her marriage was over because of her, and not Gretchen. Still, she would always be unable to turn away. She would instead stand there, crying and yelling her love for him. But it wouldn't matter; no matter how much she yelled in his face, telling him constantly that she loved him, and that she couldn't live without him, he would always be adamant about decision to kick her out. “Sharon,” “I love you, Matthew! Please believe me! I love you!” The words poured from her lips as she wept into her hands. “Blondie,” “Please!” Something brushed her forehead.“Wake up, sweetheart, it's only a dream.”He urged, causing her to tear her eyelids apart. Her nightmare gave way to her dimly lit room. She tried to move, realizing then the strong arms that held her in place; Matthew. He was here, in her room! When was the last time they were on a bed together? She couldn't remember. His decision to maintain separate rooms was another thing that helped to heighten her fears that her nightmare might eventually become a reality. “Blondie, are you alright?” Shaking her head, she failed in her attempt to keep her tears at bay. She didn't want to lose Matthew, or their baby, or her home. She didn't want their marriage to end. “Blondie,” he touched her hair, pulling her further against his chest. “Blondie, look at me,” he urged, nudging her shoulders slightly. But Sharon didn't want to look at him! She couldn't bear the sight of him when she knew she would eventually lose him. “Blondie,” he urged once more. Heaving a soft sigh, she turned then, her heart skipping a beat at the sight of him. She was reminded afresh of her love for him; of how much she wanted to stay here with him forever, to be in his arms, to kiss him... She stared at his lips, desiring its warmth. He reached out then, touching her cheek as a slight frown creased his face. “It was only a nightmare,” Sharon wasn't certain whether it was the words he spoke or the way he said it —as if he heard her thoughts and wanted to reassure her that she was never going to have to live without him— that made her close the gap between their bodies and capture his lips. She kissed him for several seconds, his body stiff as he stood unresponsive to her kiss. Still, she didn't stop —she couldn't stop. She didn't want to stop. Placing both her hands against the sides of his neck, her lips explored his face. Something touched her face then, urging her down until he was claiming her lips. She moaned, tearing her lips apart as his tongue explored her mouth. His arms circled her form, drawing her forward until she was pressed against his firm chest. The action sent a sharp pain through her abdomen, evoking a small gasp from her lips that was quickly silenced by his kiss. They must have been kissing for only a short while when she felt the pain again, only this time, it succeeded in forcing her to withdraw from his arms, gasping. “Sharon?” Concern laced his voice. She opened her mouth to say she was fine but a yell escaped instead as the full force of the pain shot through her stomach. Gritting her teeth, her fingers curled around the bed-sheet as she fought to keep from howling. “Are you okay?!” She shook her head, deciding she couldn't speak. “The baby?!” He asked, and she realized that he was most likely right. She nodded. “Okay, I'll get Nana to sit with you while I get a doctor.” Fear laced every word, and when he leaned down to kiss her head, she felt his hands trembling. “I'll be right back.” He announced, rising to his feet and hurrying to the door. She listened to him hurry through the house, and leaned back against her pillow, fear clouding her mind at the possibility of birthing a baby prematurely.

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