What Was it All For

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She could barely make it up the stairs, but Ben did his best to both help her and touch her as little as possible. Finally, finally they got to the bedroom, and Ben used one hand to pull back the tightly tucked sheets for her. Flashbacks of the million times he had done that, all the way back to their honeymoon, barraged her. Gratefully, she sank into the clean, soft sheets.

“Thank you,” she murmured.

His lips tightened. “Can I get you anything? Do you have pain pills?”

She shook her head. “No pills.”

Exasperated, he left the room. But he was back a moment later with a glass of water and a cold pack from the freezer. He put them beside her on the night table, then continued to stare at her.

A million thoughts raced through her head. Where was Lilah? What was he thinking? What had happened to him? What was he going to do?

Slowly, he sank onto the edge of the bed, staring at the wall.

Usually, she was never the first to break the silence, but she couldn’t take it anymore. “The house looks really nice, Ben.” She had to get him to speak. He was angry, she knew. She wanted to get it over with. Whatever it was he had to say. She needed to know where they stood, so she could decide what to do.

His derisive snort gave her a clue as to how he felt about her. “I thought you might want to come back to a clean house when it was time to have the babies. Five weeks ago.”

She winced. “Yes, it is nice.”

His hands gripped the blankets in a death-like vice. Did he wish he was holding her neck? “Lanie. No more games. Tell me where you’ve been. Where did you take my son? What’s been going on with my daughters?”

Licking her lips, she looked away. She wanted to scream out that Dre wasn’t his son, he was hers. But she couldn’t really deny that the girls were his. She had expected this, though. Of course, he would be angry.

“We needed some time. I needed to think about what I was going to do. And I didn’t want to watch you leave me for Lilah just because I was pregnant.”

He seemed stunned. “Lanie, I told you, Lilah came onto me. She kissed me, and I was trying to get her off me. I told you, and I told you, and I told you. I tried to find you. How could you possibly believe that I would cheat on you?”

“Men do crazy things when their wives are pregnant,” she bit out. She was getting a headache.

“Apparently wives do crazy things when they’re pregnant!” he shot back.

She shrugged. “I wasn’t going to stand in your way. If you want to be with Lilah, that’s none of my business.” Apparently exasperated, he threw up his hands. Well, good. She was exasperated, too. “But I wasn’t going to just stand by and watch.”

“So, you took my children?” he yelled. A cry sounded from the other room, and he lowered his voice. “In what universe is that okay?”

 Okay, now she had to say it. “Dre isn’t really yours, Ben. And I wasn’t even sure if you wanted the babies anymore.”

Looking as though he had been stabbed, he dropped his head into his hands. His thinned shoulders shook. “You made me miss the birth of my daughters. For weeks I was tortured, wondering if anything had happened to you. Then I thought, surely you would at least come back to have the babies. There was no way you would take that away from me, not after how excited and happy I was. Not after I typed up our birth plan and made sure every doctor and nurse and the midwife and you and Dre and practically half the neighbourhood had a copy. Not after I told you about…about the special song I wanted to sing to them on their first night.” She could tell he was struggling to stay strong and not cry, but was quickly losing. Furiously, he wiped his eyes and glowered. “No matter how you were trying to punish me, I didn’t think you were cold and heartless enough to take that away from me, too.”

“Ben – ”

You made me miss the birth of my daughters!” he snarled. “And their first, what, month of life? How old are they, anyway?”

“Six weeks,” she muttered.

He gasped, dropping his head in his hands again and grabbing handfuls of his too-long hair. “How could you, Lanie? How could you do this to me? You can’t possibly believe I would cheat on you. What did I do to you to make you do this to me? Didn’t you love me even the smallest bit?”

She looked down, the pain in her head growing. She had forgotten about the song. All that time, she had tried not to think about all the conversations they’d had about their pending new additions.

“Right. You didn’t love me. I forgot. You couldn’t even say it.”

She felt the slap. “Ben, that’s not true. I wasn’t trying to punish you. I…I was afraid.”

He turned on her again. “You do not get to talk to me about being afraid. You took my whole family from me. I didn’t know if you were dead or alive. After the police told me you refused to talk to me or tell me where you were, I waited for weeks for you. I tried to be patient. I was angry, but I tried to wait. I thought you might need a few days to cool off. I figured you would come to your senses and realize I have never even been interested in another woman since I met you. Not one. I knew that one misunderstanding wouldn’t undo everything we’ve shared together. But you were gone for over two months, Lanie! Do you realize how insane this all is? Why? Why did you do this? For the past few weeks I’ve been preparing for the worst and wondering if I would even get word about when and where you all would be buried!”

She started to cry for real. “We’re not dead, Ben!”

“Well, I thought you surely must be! Surely, surely that was the only explanation. Surely, my wife had died, and not ripped my heart out at the roots without a second thought. Surely our marriage had meant something to you, and you had been on your way back when something horrible had happened.”

Somehow, looking into his eyes, once bright and sparkling, now cold, hard, and flat as granite, she thought she heard something beneath those words: he rather she had died.

“I was confused, and scared, Ben! You don’t know what happened the last time I – ” she bit off the words, and his eyes snapped to hers.

“The last time you what?” he demanded.

She gazed at her hands. She replayed the conversation with Jake. Would Ben even care? “The last time I was pregnant,” she whispered.

He was quiet for a moment, wrestling with his thoughts. At last, he asked, inflectionless, “What happened the last time you were pregnant?”

Swallowing, she briefly glanced at him, but couldn’t stand the look in his eyes. It was like looking at a corpse. But it was now or never.

“Dre’s dad. Sean. He, um…he changed. When I really started to show, he started making comments about me getting fat and ugly. About how I was going to love the baby more than him. Started sleeping with other women because he said he couldn’t stand to look at me anymore. He…slapped me around a bit when I talked too much about baby stuff.” Tensed, she waited.

He regarded her, keeping his expression closed off. It was hard to tell what he was thinking, now that his face was completely covered in bushy dark hair, and his bangs hung in his eyes. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?” he asked cautiously. Not sympathetic, but no longer murderously angry.

“I don’t like to talk about it.” She rubbed the scar on her forearm as she had been doing for weeks, ever since the baby shower.

“Lanie.” She risked a glance at him. His expression was guarded, but he lightly touched the mark on her arm. “What is this?”

She shuddered. “Just a scar. He broke my arm once. When I asked if he would take me to pick out a crib. I…I thought we…could…bond…that he could…do something manly and put it together for me. I thought…” Her hiccupping sobs chopped her words to pieces.

Lips tight, he left his fingers on her arm, staring hard at the wall.

“It was…the first time I caught him cheating. He beat me so bad. Kept kicking my stomach. I thought he would kill both of us.” She didn’t know why she was admitting all of this. She didn’t want his sympathy. And, she didn’t want to give him anymore ammunition against her. But if it would stop him from hating her…

“Did you go back to him?” His voice was like velvet over steel. 

She sniffed. “He said he was sorry. I had nowhere else to go. I couldn’t make him leave the house. But I wish I had left. And never come back.” Her voice turned savage as she remembered the last time. When he had come after four-week-old Dre. The blood. The sirens. His threats as he ran away before the police could get there. Knowing she was putting her baby in danger again.

Ben gazed at her with a tortured expression. “Did you think I was going to be like that?” It sounded like he didn’t want to know the answer.

“I don’t know, Ben! I never in a million years thought Sean would be like that either. I thought he was my soulmate, and that things would be so much better once he could see the baby, and I could prove to him that I could care about both of them, and he would love me again, and…” Crying once more, she brought her arm over her eyes. “I thought you were different. I was starting to believe that. But then I saw you kissing Lilah, and – and it all just came rushing back. I was scared for my life, Ben. For the lives of all my children.”

“You thought I was going to kill you all.” His tone was flat.

He wasn’t getting it. “No, Ben. It wasn’t about you. All I was thinking about was Sean, and all the times he put me in the hospital and I convinced myself over and over that he would change, that if I just did something different, I could fix things for us. I was thinking about my father – ” This time, she almost broke her teeth as she snapped her mouth shut.

“What about your father?”

She shook her head violently, struggling to catch her breath as the panic rose. “No.”

He sighed, and took his hand away, leaving a cold patch on her skin. “Lanie, I wish you would let me in. I don’t know what I ever did to make you mistrust me so much. I thought I was being patient, and showing you that you could tell me anything.”

“I’m sorry,” she finally said, knowing the apology was long overdue, completely inadequate, and probably unwelcome.

He rose from the bed shakily, then glanced down at her. “I don’t know if I can ever forgive you, Lanie. I have literally been worried sick over the four of you. Whatever your reasons, you had no right to do this to me. To the kids.” He started to leave, but then turned back, weary but determined. “Oh, I need to know. How did the birth go? Why did you need a C-section? Are the girls okay?”

She wilted. “They were born a little early, as twins often are, but we all caught an infection in the hospital, and it was touch and go for a few weeks. We just got released today, and then we came straight here. They seem okay now. But I just need to rest for a few more days.”

Grimly, he rested his forehead on the doorframe. “They were sick, and you still didn’t call me.”

She said nothing.

“Would you at least have called me if they had died?” he growled quietly, keeping a stranglehold on the door.

She still said nothing. She didn’t think she could have lived with herself if they had died, because in the back of her mind she knew what that would have done to Ben.

Banging a fist against the doorframe in disgust, he stormed out of the room.

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~ Romans 15:13


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