"I won't be able to go to the doctor with you today, Theresa," Sandro informed Theresa while they were breakfasting in the dining room the following morning. She would never have admitted it but she had really been relying on having him there that day. She was in her sixteenth week of pregnancy and had been scheduled for a precautionary amniocentesis that day. Because of her previous miscarriage, her doctor wanted to take no chances. She was a nervous wreck about the procedure and even though she knew the risks of complications were very low, they were still there. Also even though her logical mind told her that her baby would be fine she was still dreading the possible outcome of the test. Sandro had been a rock during her first ultrasound the month before, holding her hand while he listened to the whooshing sound of their baby's heartbeat for the first time and squeezing it tightly when they had caught sight of the fragile fluttering on the black and white monitor. It had been too early to tell the baby's sex but Theresa was confident that it was a boy and had said so. Sandro had remained quiet during the entire procedure but he had been a comfort to her.
"Why not?" She asked casually.
"I have to go to Italy next week and I have a lot to finish at the office before I leave," he informed her tightly and she lowered her eyes back to her plate.
"Is your father okay?" She asked softly and he hesitated before responding.
"Yes. My visit is unrelated to any family business," she shut her eyes in pain, suddenly knowing that he was going because of that phone call last night.
"Okay," she nodded, battling to sound nonchalant about it. "It's just... I'm getting the amniocentesis today." He swore quietly beneath his breath.
"I'm sorry, Theresa," he murmured, seeming almost stricken by the news. "I completely forgot."
And that, of course, brought the major problem with their marriage into sharp relief. While she had been worrying about the procedure, stressing about possible complications, terrified of the slight risk of miscarriage it presented and suffering through sleepless nights thinking about the birth or genetic defects the results could reveal, her husband had simply forgotten about the test. And this just when she had started to rely on him to be there for her. Of course, she would never reveal just how much she had depended on having his solid, stoically silent presence there so she shrugged carelessly.
"I'm sure Lisa will go with me," she nodded firmly and his eyes shone with naked relief.
"That's a great idea..." he nodded enthusiastically. "I'll be at your next appointment. I'll only be gone for a week or so. I'll be back before you know it."
"I'll be fine," she dismissed airily, digging into her scrambled eggs like someone who didn't have a care in the world. There was an awkward silence, while he watched her eat but Theresa very determinedly kept her head down while she scooped the eggs into her mouth with as much gusto as she could manage without choking.
"I don't want you to be alone while I'm gone," he suddenly breached the uncomfortable silence and Theresa frowned at his words, looking up at him with her laden fork lifted halfway to her mouth.
"I won't be alone, Rick and Lisa are always around and the staff are ever present," as if to prove her words, the smiling housekeeper entered the room with a pile of pancakes which she placed in front of Theresa with a speaking look. Phumsile, who was in charge of all the domestic staff, made no secret of the fact that she thought Theresa was way too skinny for a pregnant woman and had taken it upon herself to ensure that Theresa ate healthily. Theresa secretly suspected the older woman of being in cahoots with Sandro and had even accused Sandro of such. He'd merely laughed and refused to comment. Phumsile disappeared back into the kitchen and Sandro sighed impatiently.
"That's not enough," he muttered. "I want you to stay with your cousin."
"No." She simply went back to her eggs, helping herself to a pancake, not wanting to incur Phumsile's wrath. The silence seethed from the other end of the table.
"No." She didn't even bother meeting his eyes this time.
"Theresa, you're being very difficult," he kept his voice level and patient.
"And you're being unreasonable," she suddenly snapped, glaring at him furiously. "Rick and Lisa have a new baby. I will visit them regularly and I have no doubt they will come around here but for me to stay there? That's just ridiculous. I won't intrude and I don't need a minder; I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself."
"What if something goes wrong? What if you need help in the middle of the night and no-one's around?"
"Why don't you just stay home if you're so concerned?" She retorted furiously and immediately wished the words back when his gaze turned speculative.
"Would you like me to stay home?" He asked quietly.
"It makes no difference what I want," came her mutinous response.
"Of course it does," he placated gently. "I'd stay if you wanted me to."
"What about your important business?" She asked sarcastically.
"You're more important," he said softly.
"You mean the baby I'm carrying is more important?" she corrected and his jaw clenched.
"No, that's not what I meant," he maintained patiently and she blinked before shaking her head.
"You're trying to confuse me," she complained frowning at him and he grinned.
"Not at all, sweetheart," he murmured. "I'm just trying to be honest with you."
"Well, stop it, I don't believe anything you say anymore," she hissed, pushing herself away from the table and he sighed getting up as well.
"You didn't answer my question," he had the nerve to prompt and her glare deepened until she looked like a bad-tempered child.
"No, I want you to go off and take care of whatever business you have in Italy. I would hate to keep you from something important, only to have it thrown back into my face at a later date." His jaw clenched at her vitriolic words but he didn't respond. She got up abruptly, sick of the conversation and the company.
"Excuse me, I have to get ready for my appointment," she snapped, turning to leave the room.
"I still want you to stay with your cousin while I'm gone," he insisted, directing his words to her narrow back as she retreated from the room.
"And I still say no to that," she threw over her shoulder.
"This subject is far from closed, Theresa," he raised his voice slightly as she moved further away from him but she waved a dismissive hand as she turned a corner that she knew would take her out of his sight. Once she got to her bedroom, she sank down onto the bed and inhaled shakily, feeling drained.
Lisa was unable to join her for the amniocentesis, Rhys had a medical check up and naturally that took priority. So Theresa found herself waiting alone, a nervous wreck even though she knew that the odds of anything going wrong were slim. She fidgeted, flipped through magazines, chatted with other women in various stages of pregnancy but through it all she just wished that Sandro was there with her. The other women were all accompanied by their partners or friends and Theresa had never felt so achingly alone before. She was so deeply buried in her thoughts that she didn't even notice the person sitting down next to her until her husband's deep voice rumbled in her ear.
"Why is your cell phone off? I've been trying to reach you all morning," she jumped in fright before blinking up at him stupidly, not quite sure how he came to be there. He grinned down into her confused face and Theresa found herself responding helplessly to the open warmth of that smile, rewarding him with a blinding one of her own.
"What are you doing here?" She asked breathlessly and he shrugged.
"When I couldn't reach you, I tried Lisa and when she told me that she was at the clinic with Rhys, I realised that you were probably here all alone and thought you might need some moral support," he explained casually.
"B.but what about your work?"
"You didn't have to come, I was okay on my own," she felt obligated to protest.
"Theresa, you visibly paled every time the mention of this appointment came up. It's obvious that you find the thought of this procedure daunting. I couldn't let you face it on your own," so much for thinking she had kept her fear and reservations well hidden from him. He seemed able to read her like an open book.
"I'm not really scared," she said with more bravado than conviction and he determinedly bit back the smile that was curling up the sides of his mouth.
"You might not be but I am terrified, cara," he shuddered slightly. "Needles... big needles especially, are not my thing." She could tell by the way he paled at the thought that he was entirely sincere. She stared into his eyes for the longest time, getting lost in the melting chocolate depths before shaking herself slightly.
"Thank you for coming, Sandro," she finally whispered. "I was a bit intimidated by the thought of this procedure." The confession cost a lot but she was rewarded by the warm, intimate smile he directed at her.
"It'll be fine," he assured quietly, unexpectedly linking his fingers with hers. "You'll see." Even though there was no logical reason for it, her reservations melted like ice under the hot sun and she smiled gratefully.
In the end, Theresa sailed through the procedure, after some initial discomfort she was fine, it was Sandro who had difficulty with proceedings. Apparently he hadn't been lying when he said he didn't like big needles and when he saw the 7.5 centimetre needle he swayed enough for a nurse to hurriedly bring a stool over for him to sit on; he had thanked her but manfully chose to stand instead. That macho display of coolness lasted only long enough for them to insert the needle into her abdomen when he paled dramatically and practically collapsed onto the provided stool, keeping his eyes determinedly away from the needle and on Theresa's amused face.
"Once, when I was ten," she started talking to distract him. "I fell out of a tree..." that certainly caught his attention.
"What were you doing up a tree?" He sounded unflatteringly sceptical. "You don't strike me as the tomboy type."
"I wasn't... but there was this poor little kitten stuck up there and I was a complete sucker for animals," she shrugged, wincing slightly when the needle pinched more, his hand tightened around hers, while the doctor cheerfully informed them that it was "nearly over".
"So what happened?" He asked softly.
"Well, Lisa was with me and she was desperately trying to reason with me but I wouldn't listen," she shook her head. "Sometimes I can be a bit stubborn." He snorted at that.
"No! Really?" She tilted her chin up and chose to ignore his sarcasm.
"Just as I was leaning out and reaching for that stupid cat, he hissed at me, scratched my hand and climbed back down," she felt the pinching sensation gradually decrease as the needle was withdrawn from her abdomen. "But the cat had scared me and I lost my balance before tumbling out of the tree."
"What happened after that?" He seemed riveted even though the doctor was stepping away from the table.
"I broke my arm and I've disliked cats since that day," she confessed sheepishly. He chuckled before unexpectedly leaning over her and dropping a quick kiss on her forehead. "I don't know why I just told you that story... you just looked in need of distraction."
"And how," he acknowledged shakily. "I'm still feeling a little queasy after seeing that needle..." he swallowed and paled again. "I don't know how you could do that without anaesthetic?"
The doctor had offered her a shot to numb the area but one huge needle was bad enough, Theresa hadn't been enamoured with the thought of having to deal with two.
"It was a little uncomfortable," she admitted as the nurse helped her sit up. "But not too bad."
After dressing she and Sandro anxiously faced her obstetrician across the wide expanse of his desk.
"Right... that went very well, Mr and Mrs De Lucci..." Doctor Shelbourne beamed over his desk at them. "Both you and your baby came through it with flying colours. Right... so no heavy lifting, no sex and no flying for the next couple of days. Try to relax and not overtax yourself. You may experience some cramping for a day or two, that's normal... but if the cramping carries on for too long or is too severe, if it's accompanied by spotting or bleeding, come in immediately." Both Sandro and Theresa paled at that dire warning and Theresa blindly and unthinkingly sought out his hand with hers.
"We should have your results in a couple of weeks," the older man continued cheerfully. "We'll contact you when they arrive."
"Do you think I'm at risk for another miscarriage?" Theresa suddenly asked and the doctor looked surprised by her question.
"Not at all..." he shook his head vehemently.
"But the last time..." she began shakily.
"...was just one of those tragic things that sometimes happen in life. You're healthy, your baby looks healthy, there's no reason you shouldn't carry to term and deliver a perfect baby. Now onto happier topics; would you like to know your baby's sex?"
"You could tell?" Theresa asked with a smile.
"The image was as clear as a bell today," he nodded indulgently.
"No," Sandro suddenly shook his head. "I'd rather not know."
"But Sandro..." she turned to him in surprise but he refused to meet her eyes. "Why don't you want to know?"
"It makes no difference..." nothing he could have said would have hurt her more and she immediately retreated back behind her shell, withdrawing her hand from his. Of course it didn't make a difference, if it was a boy he would leave without getting to know the child and if it was a girl he would be stuck in his unwanted marriage for even longer. He groaned when he saw her expression and immediately grabbed up her hand again. "I really didn't mean it the way you obviously think I did, Theresa."
"It's okay," she informed the doctor, who looked heartily uncomfortable to be witnessing their dispute. "I don't have to know." Not when she was one hundred per cent certain that it was a boy anyway. The doctor nodded and cleared his throat.
"Very well then, my lips are sealed," he nodded, trying to maintain his jovial manner, even though he was still uncomfortable. Sandro said nothing, keeping his eyes on Theresa's determinedly averted face. The doctor added a few more of his usual cautions that she not overtax herself before he dismissed them with a hearty goodbye.
"Just let me explain," Sandro said the moment they were outside the clinic. It was raining and Theresa hurriedly raised the hood of her coat over her head before scurrying for her car. He followed her even though she was still quite obviously ignoring him and keeping her back to him. She fumbled for her car keys in her large bag and he groaned in frustration before dropping his hands onto her narrow shoulders to turn her around. Her face was wet and he sighed deeply as he wiped at the moisture, which could have been tears or rain.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, lowering his head so that she could hear him over the clamour of cars driving by and the freezing rain. "Theresa, that didn't come out right. It didn't mean what you thought it did."
"What does it matter what I think?" She finally asked bitterly.
"It matters," his large hands cupped her face and his forehead lowered to hers. "It matters very much, Theresa."
"No," she shook her head slightly. "It doesn't." She put her hands to his broad chest wanting to push him away but the rain had soaked through his white shirt plastering it to his skin and turning it so transparent that he may as well have been naked, so instead of pushing her hands stroked and petted and he moaned hungrily before touching his lips to hers. Theresa didn't even pretend to fight, she simply melted into him and wrapped her arms around him, digging her fingers into his back as she arched up against him and opened her mouth to his hot, demanding tongue. His hands were wrapped in the wet hair and he tugged her head back to gain better access to her mouth as his tongue hungrily probed at hers, leaving not one inch of her mouth unexplored. The sound of a car horn close by brought them to their senses and they jumped apart guiltily both flushed and breathing rapidly, both shaking uncontrollably. Theresa stared up into Sandro's dazed eyes and blinked at the vulnerability that she thought she saw there.
"I'm sorry that I hurt you," he suddenly murmured hoarsely and she stared back at him uncomprehendingly.
"You were just being honest," she finally whispered and his brows slammed together in a formidable frown.
"No! I mean... yes I was but... you misunderstood me," he sounded completely muddled and Theresa stared up into his harsh face in wonder, not entirely sure what to make of this overly-emotional man in front of her.
"So make me understand," she finally invited, after a long and uncomfortable pause. He seemed shocked by the invitation and for a moment looked unable to respond.
"I meant that the baby's sex made no difference to me either way because I would love it regardless of what it was," he said in a rush and she gaped up at him incredulously for a moment before placing both hands on his chest and pushing him away violently. He was taken by surprise and staggered back, nearly sprawling to the wet tarmac before catching himself and finding his balance.
"Why would you say that? Why would you lie like that? I don't deserve it, Sandro... I haven't done anything to deserve any of this but you keep finding new and creative ways to hurt me." She went back to fumbling in her bag and finally found her keys.
"Don't try to pretend that you care," she hissed at him. "I know you don't. Five more months of this and you'll be free to go back to your Francesca and start your real life with a real wife and babies that you will really love!" He seemed stunned by her attack but her mention of Francesca brought his eyes sharply up to hers.
"What? Did you think I didn't know about your precious Francesca? The woman you love, the woman you wanted to marry before my father forced you into this sham? I know you see her every time you go back to Italy, just like I know you'll be going to her when you go back this week!" She was practically screaming now, frustrated by the way he simply stood there. Like someone who'd been caught in a bomb blast, he looked dazed and shocked.
She was starting to feel strange, light-headed and nauseous. She braced her hands on the roof of her car and tried to steady herself, aware that Sandro was moving toward her. His hands reached for her and she weakly tried to evade his grasp but the movement made her even dizzier and she swayed slightly. Sandro's arms wrapped around her and she was too faint to really care.
"Theresa, cara. I'm here. You're okay..." were the last desperate words she heard from her husband before everything went black.
"When I said she shouldn't overtax herself, I meant both physically and emotionally Mr de Lucci," Theresa heard the sharp admonishment in the slightly familiar voice and frowned as she tried to hear over the weird buzzing sound in her head. "What on earth were you thinking, upsetting her like this less than half an hour after the procedure she'd just been through?"
"Will she be okay?" Theresa heard Sandro's unusually subdued voice over the rapidly subsiding buzz and she wondered at the strange panicky edge in it.
"She bled a little, which is never a good sign and I'm not willing to take any chances, not after this, I want her to remain in bed for at least a week. Complete bed rest."
"I can't stay in bed all week," Theresa suddenly protested, opening her eyes and Sandro surged forward to grab up one of her limp hands.
"Theresa, thank God! How are you feeling?"
."Like I was hit by a bus," she admitted shakily, lifting her eyes to the doctor who stood on the other side of the cot. "My baby? Is he alright?"
"Your baby's just fine. In fact the baby is doing a hell of a lot better than you are right now, Mrs de Lucci. I want you to stay in bed for a week, you are to do nothing, is that understood?"
"I take it that I am allowed bathroom breaks?" She asked sarcastically.
"You can get as snippy as you like with me, young lady but if you want a healthy, full-term baby, you will do what I say! Or I will be forced to hospitalize you to ensure that you get the prescribed bed rest."
"She'll do what you've ordered, doctor," Sandro assured grimly and Theresa bit her lip and nodded. She wouldn't risk her baby's life out of sheer perversity.
"Right," the doctor seemed satisfied. "I'd like to keep her here for tonight. Tomorrow, you may take her home... and try to get beyond the parking lot this time." With that final admonishment, he turned and left the room, grumbling under his breath as he did so. Theresa and Sandro watched as the door swung shut behind him before turning to face each other awkwardly.
"I'm sorry," they both blurted out simultaneously after a long pause.
"Why are you sorry?" Sandro asked in confusion, dragging up a chair and sitting down beside the bed, still clutching her hand like it was a life preserver and he a drowning man.
"I shouldn't have brought up your private life like that. What you do after we split up is none of my business and after... after everything my father has done to you, I honestly believe that you deserve the happiness you'll find with the woman you love. So I'm sorry for overreacting like a hysterical fishwife, I just... I got so angry after what you said. I don't need empty platitudes... you don't have to say anything to make me feel better about our situation. You really don't have to pretend to care about me or about the baby." He swore shakily, lifting her hand and resting his forehead on the back of it.
"What an unholy mess I've made of things," he half-laughed, his voice sounding strained. "Nothing I say now will ever make a difference to how you feel, will it? Everything I try to say or do will come across as desperate and insincere."
"What I don't get is why you're still trying?" She whispered in confusion, watching his bowed head intently. "You've won. You have everything you want within your grasp, the vineyard, freedom and yet you keep trying, coming to me with all of these demands to be involved in my life. Why?"
"Why don't we just let it go for now?" He lifted his head to meet her eyes, his own brown gaze liquid with regret. She nodded slightly and he smiled half-heartedly.
"I've called Elisa and ask her to bring you a change of clothes. Are you thirsty?" She nodded shyly and he smiled. "I'll go and get you something to drink, okay?" He stood up and brushed a gentle, slightly shaky, hand over her hair. "You scared the hell out of me, Theresa... so from now on you are to remain calm and not let your idiot of a husband upset you again. Okay?"
"Okay," she smiled up into his gentle gaze.
"Good," he leaned over to brush his lips over her forehead. "That's good, Theresa." She watched him leave and sighed softly; wishing that her life could be different and that they were a normal couple, excited about having their first baby. She ran a hand over the slight bump of her stomach, gently communing with her baby, apologizing for the recklessness that could have cost his life. She was lost in thought, humming a gentle lullaby while she continued to stroke the small baby bump when she gradually became aware of a presence in the open door. She gasped in surprise, not sure how long he'd been standing there. He stepped forward almost reluctantly, his harsh face more grim than usual. For a man who usually had his emotions sealed up tight he looked like someone who was struggling mightily to keep his expression absolutely neutral, even though the muscles were jumping in his jaw, cords tightening in his neck and his lips were thinned almost to the point of non-existence. Wondering at the incredibly bad job he was doing of pretending to appear completely detached, she was still absently running a hand over her stomach when she gasped and jumped for a completely different reason.
All pretence of detachment tossed aside, Sandro's face paled and his eyes darkened in alarm as he surged toward the cot in the luxurious private room, thumping the bottle of fresh juice down on the cabinet beside the bed.
"What's wrong, Theresa? Are you in pain?" She shook her head, before lifting her beaming face up to his. He stopped short, inhaling sharply at her radiant expression. Her eyes were alight with tears and absolute joy while her lips were parted in the most serene, stunning smile he had ever seen.
"He moved," she breathed in awe. "I just felt him move, Sandro! For the first time..."
"You... he... The baby?" He asked incoherently, moving even closer to the bed and leaning over her small figure.
"Yes... Oh my God! There he goes again..." She laughed in delight and without thinking grabbed up his large hand and placed it over the gentle flutter, low in her abdomen. His hand was so big; it covered nearly the entire little mound of her stomach. He sucked in a ragged breath when the baby fluttered again as if on cue and uttered a harsh, disbelieving laugh.
"Dio..." he breathed, sounding as awed as she had, keeping his eyes glued on their hands, his on her stomach and her smaller, paler hand resting over his. "Does that hurt, bella mia?"
"No," she giggled. "It kind of tickles..."
"Yes, well, give it a couple of months and it's going to be hellishly uncomfortable," a dry voice interjected from the doorway. Theresa squeaked in surprise, lifting her hand from Sandro's while he, keeping his warm hand on her stomach, turned leisurely to face her cousin, Rick and Rhys who were all framed in the doorway, the portrait of a perfect family.
"That was fast," he observed neutrally before, reluctantly, moving aside and removing his hand from her belly. Theresa felt the loss keenly and tried to hide it by smiling brightly at her cousin.
"Thank you for coming," Theresa murmured, her eyes filling up and her cousin moved further into the room, leaning over the bed to hug Theresa warmly.
"Oh darling, I'm always here for you," Lisa whispered into her ear and Theresa, without any warning whatsoever, surprising even herself, burst into tears. "No... oh no, sweetheart, don't..." her cousin was crooning. "Don't upset yourself like this; it's not good for you or the baby."
Theresa made a concerted effort to pull herself together, embarrassed by her mini breakdown. Rick was on the other side of the bed; he had Rhys cradled to his chest in a baby sling and was holding one of her hands with both of his, adding his silent support to her obvious distress.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that," she choked out slightly and Rick grinned down into her distraught face.
"Hormones. You know what you-know-who was like. The cost of tissues was bankrupting me," he said in a stage-whisper, jerking his jaw in Lisa's direction and Theresa half-giggled, half-sobbed in reaction before looking around the room in confusion.
"Where's Sandro?" She asked warily.
"Never thought I'd ever feel sorry for the guy," Rick told her half-seriously. "But when you turned on the waterworks, the poor dude looked like someone who'd just been told that both his best friend and dog had died in the same freak accident. He hovered for a few seconds before hot-footing it out of here like the hounds of hell were on his tail."
"Well..." Theresa shrugged bravely. "This is more than he signed up for."
"Oh please," Lisa rolled her eyes disdainfully. "This is exactly what he signed up for. He wanted you pregnant, remember?"
"I remember," Theresa nodded forlornly.
"Look, far be it from me to defend the guy..." Rick intervened reasonably. "I mean you know I can't stand him after the way he treated you and I would have cleaned his clock ages ago if you hadn't called me off, Terri... but quite honestly the man looked downright pitiful just now. Not your typical ruthless Sandro."
"I've been seeing a change in him lately, too, Theresa," Lisa said.
"Please," Theresa shook her head. "He's the same as he's always been. He wants out of this marriage and so do I."
"Theresa..." Lisa murmured in her most reasonable voice.
"Lisa, don't defend him... you don't know what he's done..." and suddenly it all came out, how he'd blackmailed her to prevent her from divorcing him, using Lisa's loan as his leverage. "He probably gave you that loan so that he would have some kind of future hold over me if I ever stepped out of line!" Rick and Lisa exchanged a meaningful look before Rick shrugged, seeming to answer some unspoken question from Lisa.
"Theresa," her cousin still clasped one of her hands tightly. "I know about that."
"You do?" She was shocked by that. "How? How long have you known?"
"Sandro confessed all the last time you two came by. Remember? He wanted to talk to me alone?" Theresa nodded dazedly. "For whatever reasons, he doesn't want or need that leverage anymore, he offered to write off my debt entirely. I refused... but I get the feeling that he's going to do it anyway."
"That's what he wanted to talk about that day?" Theresa gasped incredulously.
"Yes and he made me swear not to tell you about it... but I suppose these are extenuating circumstances," Lisa nodded and Theresa frowned in concentration.
"But I don't understand any of this... why would he do that?" She asked in confusion before her face cleared up and she laughed at her own stupidity. "Well, he doesn't really need the leverage anymore, does he? Not when I'm doing exactly what he wants? But to clear the debt before the baby's born still doesn't make sense... unless..."
"Is this a private conversation or can anyone join in?" Rick interrupted her musing drily and she blinked up at him. "I think you're over-analyzing. From what Lisa tells me he was desperate to cancel that debt. She thinks, and I'm inclined to agree after what I just saw, that he wants a clean slate with you but doesn't really know how to go about it."
"Well, I live with him and I know you're both wrong," she maintained stubbornly, shoving all those Scrabble and chess nights to the back of her mind, determinedly trying not to think about the companionable meals and the silent support he lent her at every doctor's appointment. "He's in love with someone else! I'd say another woman, only in this case, I think I'm probably the other woman."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Rick asked furiously.
"He was in love with her before my father forced him into this marriage. She's the woman he wants to have a family with. I'm the one who screwed up his life, Rick... not vice versa. Once I have this baby we'll go our separate ways and both be happier for it."
"This is so messed up," Rick shook his head in disgust. "What about you and the baby? Don't you count for anything?"
"I would hate it if he stayed out of some outdated sense of duty... I'm worth more than that, don't you think?"
"Absolutely," Lisa whispered, squeezing Theresa's narrow shoulders reassuringly before sitting down on the chair beside the bed and leaning toward Theresa. "So you felt the baby move?"
Theresa's eyes lit up with remembered joy.
"It was amazing," she nodded and both Rick and Lisa went misty as they verbally recalled Rhys's first movements. "After the fright I got, it was such a relief to feel him moving around in there."
"Is he doing any wriggling now? His Auntie Lisa wants to meet him," Theresa shook her head with a slight laugh.
"He's all quiet right now," she rested her hand on her stomach. "I can't believe I have to stay in bed for a week."
"Yeah that's a bit crap," Lisa nodded sympathetically. "So glad I wasn't confined to bed at any time during my pregnancy."
"God, if only... she was like a little dynamo, I had to force her to slow down," Rick recalled with a shudder.
"Do you think I could stay with you for the next week or so?" Theresa asked hesitantly and Rick and Lisa both frowned before nodding.
"Of course," Lisa said. "But why?"
"Sandro's going to Italy for a week and before this happened I had every intention of staying in my own home but..."
"If you think I'm going to Italy with you confined to bed, you can damned well think again," Sandro's gruff voice suddenly interrupted from the doorway and three heads swiveled towards him. He looked... strange. His hair was disheveled, his suit wrinkled and his tie loosened. He was also clutching a wilted bunch of flowers in one hand and gaily wrapped square box in the other. Added to that he had an incongruous bunch of foil helium balloons trailing behind him and it was the latter that caught and held everybody's attention. They were colourful, some were downright garish and most of them either read Happy Birthday or Happy Anniversary and one woefully out of place dolphin had the legend "Yippee for SUMMER" emblazoned across its side, a very optimistic sentiment considering it was July and the middle of winter.
"Sandro, bro..." Rick managed in a voice that barely trembled with laughter. "Did you go raiding all the wards in the hospital for those?"
"These were all the seriously under-stocked gift shop had," Sandro grumbled, obviously sensitive to Rick's mockery, which raised Theresa's brows because she had never heard her self-assured husband sound so defensive before.
"Thank you, Sandro," she said before Rick could come back with anything else. "I love helium balloons."
"I know you do," he said fiercely... surging forward until he elbowed Rick aside and stood staring down at her intently. "I know that you like helium balloons and pink gerbera daisies. I know that you like truffles," he shoved the gift-wrapped box, which probably contained truffles, and wilted pink daisies into her arms. "I do know things about you, Theresa. I've been learning."
"Uhm..." okay? Right, so he remembered the conversation they'd had months ago when she'd accused him of knowing nothing about her and he'd obviously been paying attention during their evenings together but what on earth was he trying to prove with this? "Thank you."
It was all she could think of to say and she saw both Rick and Lisa wince and watched Sandro's shoulders droop slightly before he nodded.
"You're welcome," he muttered in a devastatingly unemotional voice, as he took a step back from the bed. "I've postponed my trip to Italy. I want to make sure that you get the rest you're supposed to."
"Okay," she nodded.
"Good..." he seemed to be at a loss for a moment looking unsure of his next move, before he reached out to stroke one soft cheek. "Are you feeling better?"
"Fine," she whispered. "A little tired."
"Righty-o..." Rick sing-songed. "That's our cue to vamoose..."
"Oh but I didn't mean..." Theresa was appalled that they thought she was hinting that she wanted them to leave.
"No, you didn't," Lisa smiled don't at her. "But you are tired and you do need your rest. I'll leave the clothes right here," she dropped a small canvas bag onto the visitor's chair. "Call if you need anything."
After a flurry of hugs and kisses they were gone, leaving her grim-faced silent husband behind. Theresa sneaked a glance up at said grim-faced, silent husband and was suddenly attacked by a fit of irreverent giggles. Now that nobody was around to witness it she felt free to laugh at the image he presented. He looked like an underdressed, forlorn clown with those balloons clutched in his hand.
"What?" He asked, the grim façade melting away in the face of her amusement.
"It's just... those balloons, Sandro..." she snorted, trying to control the giggles and his own, devastating grin lit up his face.
"I know, right?" He shook his head sadly as he tied the balloons to her bedpost. "A hospital without a single 'get-well-soon' balloon in sight. Craziness."
"Thank you for them anyway. They always brighten up a room."
"I remember you saying that when you talked about a friend's tenth birthday party. You wanted some for your own..." but she hadn't even had a party that year, much less balloons. She didn't even know why she'd confessed that sorry tale to him. There was an awkward silence while he stood hovering at her bedside.
"You don't have to stay, Sandro..." she whispered. "Why don't you go into the office and get some work done? I am sure you have better things to do than hang around here."
"I'm exactly where I want to be," he gritted implacably. He reached over and took the truffles and flowers from her arms. Dumping the box on her bedside table and sticking the flowers into the half full plastic water canister that a nurse had left on the over bed table. He dragged up the chair that Lisa had recently abandoned, moving the bag to the floor and sitting down almost defiantly.
"Okay," she was too tired to argue and truth be told, rather relieved to have him there. For a long time neither of them said anything, he leaned back in the uncomfortable looking chair and stared off into space, while Theresa lowered her lashes and watched him surreptitiously, marveling at his absolute stillness. He was usually filled with so much restless energy, always on the move, typing away at his laptop or fiddling with his BlackBerry or barking orders into the telephone and when he wasn't doing anything work-related, he would swim endless laps or work out in their home gym. She had never seen him simply sitting down and staring off into the distance and it disturbed her in a way that she could not quite define.
"Do you think my father will come to see me?" Theresa broke the silence nearly half an hour later, having half-dozed in the interim. Sandro's eyes met hers and he shook his head grimly.
"Highly unlikely, since he doesn't know you're here," he shrugged and she gasped, struggling to sit up.
"But how could you not tell him?" She asked, rather offended on her father's behalf. The man was a bully and a tyrant but he was her father.
"The doctor said you shouldn't be upset and I can't quite envision a visit from your father being anything other than stressful for you," he said sarcastically. He was right, her father would antagonize Sandro, which would upset her and they would all wind up arguing. It was always the same. She sank back feeling depressed and sad and Sandro's gaze gentled.
"I'll call him if you want me to, Theresa," he offered quietly and she shook her head, suddenly feeling an overwhelming urge to quite simply burst into tears again.
"You're right, a visit from him wouldn't be very pleasant," she said in an alarmingly wobbly voice. "But I keep hoping..." She left the rest unspoken but he seemed to understand.
"I know," he hesitantly reached for one of the limp hands resting on her stomach, engulfing it in both of his.
"I don't know why he's like that," she kept her eyes averted. "All of my life, I tried so hard to make him love me but he never could. For a short while I thought I found what I was looking for, someone who could love me..." she was barely aware of what she was saying, her blurred gaze remained fixed on their joined hands. There was a long silence, while they both contemplated their entwined fingers and Sandro finally sighed heavily.
"Why don't you take a little nap?" He suggested gently. "I'll be here to keep an eye on things." What things he thought he had to keep an eye on, she had no idea but just having him there made her feel better and she lay back with a contented sigh and was asleep almost immediately.