Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Chapter 7-3: Don't Let Me Go

                Though she’d purchased the pregnancy test earlier that day, Hanley still hadn't taken it yet. Shortly after arriving back home, she’d heard Ben pull into the driveway. With the pressure of the upcoming deployment and their still tenuous financial situation, she didn't want to give him another thing to worry about. If the test came back positive, well, they could cross that bridge together.

                Through dinner, Ben asked more than once if she was okay. She kept trying to focus on the conversation but her mind kept slipping back to that pink box hidden under the counter in the bathroom.

                “Hanley,” Ben’s voice pulled her away from her thoughts. “Did you hear me?”
                “No, I’m sorry. What did you say?”
                “I asked if you wanted help clearing the dishes and putting away the leftovers. It’s been a really long day and I just want to crash.”
                She leaned over, giving him a kiss before shooing him upstairs. “There’s not much. I’ll be up there in a few minutes”.

                After safely storing the leftovers in some tupperware, Hanley started up the stairs. She found the lights off and heard faint snoring from Ben's side of the bed. Training had prepared her husband for sleeping anywhere at any time so it usually took him just long enough for his head to hit the pillow before he fell asleep. She slipped into the bathroom and reached behind the cleaning supplies to remove the test.

                Two minutes later, she had her answer. She and Ben were expecting a baby. Although the timing was incredibly inconvenient, Hanley couldn't help the grin that stretched across her face. She stroked her hand over her stomach though she didn't have even a hint of a swell yet.

                She sat on the edge of the bed, debating whether she should wake Ben to tell him now or wait. Once he fell asleep, it took plenty of shaking and shouting to rouse him. Sometimes, even then, he didn't remember the conversation the next morning. In the end, she decided her news could wait until morning.

                When she opened her eyes the next morning, sun was streaming in the bedroom window. Hanley rubbed sleep from her eyes and grabbed her phone from the charger next to the bed. As her eyes focused on the clock, Hanley shook her head to clear it and sprang out from under the covers. Nine in the morning? She never slept that late! Ben must not have woken her when he left for work, or if he tried she slept right through his good morning kisses. Already feeling like she’d wasted the day, she hurriedly gathered their dirty clothes to take to the laundromat.

                After putting the clothes in the washer which, thanks to the sub-par machines, would take at least an hour, she walked across the street to the bookstore. She wanted to get a copy of Baby Incoming to prepare herself for motherhood. When she saw the price though, Hanley balked and quickly replaced the book on the shelf. How can a baby book be so expensive? She wandered the small shop floor, looking for a used copy or perhaps a less expensive version. Babies for Dummies maybe. The only other book she could find was Totally Preggers which, when she flipped through it, looked mostly like anecdotal tales from one mother to another. It didn't seem to offer any researched options or medically sound advice on diets, cribs, or car seats. Sighing, Hanley went back to Baby Incoming and took it to the counter to be rung up. If the upcoming deployment went as scheduled, Ben would not be home until just before this baby was born. Hanley would need all the help she could get.

                She crossed back to the laundromat and sat in one of the bright plastic chairs to read while she waited on the machine to finish. Someone else had arrived in her absence and they had the corner television blaring. In spite of her best efforts to get fully involved with the book immediately, Hanley found herself reading the same sentence over and over again. She hoped that she’d be able to focus better once she got home.

                The dryer finally beeped, signaling that the clothes were ready to be folded and taken home. Hanley piled the clothes in her laundry basket and started the trek back to the house. Once the laundry had been put in the cardboard boxes that served as a temporary home, she settled on the couch, curling her feet beneath her. Just as before though, she found herself unable to focus on the words before her. This time, absent worries kept her preoccupied with Ben’s return from home. How would he react? Will he be upset that we’re having a baby so early in our marriage? I know he’ll be stressed since we can’t even afford a crib right now. What if he’s mad? There’s nothing to be mad about, right? It’s not like I intentionally got pregnant. And we’re married. It doesn't matter. Does it? Surely he won’t be angry about it?

                She heard the rumbling from his truck exhaust as soon as Ben pulled on to the street. Her hands suddenly felt clammy and nausea that had nothing to do with morning sickness burned the back of her throat. She fidgeted on the coach, wondering if she should meet him at the door or stay seated. Maybe she should go greet in him the driveway? Before she could decide, the doorknob turned and he strode over the threshold, a smile on his handsome face. He still took her breath away. I’m going to have a baby with this man. Suddenly, all her panic washed away leaving only the joy behind.
                “Ben, I have something to tell you,” she announced as she stood. “We’re having a baby!”

                His eyes widened, eyebrows shooting up his forehead. He hadn't been expecting this news. If he had paid a little more attention to the signs, his wife’s pregnancy shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. Hanley watched him, waiting for him to say something.

                “Hello little one,” he reached for her belly, leaning in to whisper to it. “It’s your daddy. I know it’ll be awhile yet, but I can’t wait to meet you”. Hanley gulped at the lump in her throat and swiped her fingers at the sudden tears pooling in the corners of her eyes. Damn these hormones!

                Hanley’s morning sickness seemed to persist through the day, leaving her worn out and exhausted most of the time. Though he wished he could do something for her, Ben enjoyed the days that she curled against him, fast asleep while he poured over the baby book she’d purchased. Hanley would lie with her head in his lap, her breath escaping in little puffs as she slept soundly. Those moments may have been completely mundane and unmemorable to most everyone but, to Ben, they were the moments that he felt the most content.

                Without warning, Ben and Hanley found themselves in the final two weeks before his flight was scheduled to depart. Though all the soldiers had been granted a pre-deployment leave, Ben had opted out of his, hoping to save the vacation days for when he returned home. With the baby scheduled to arrive shortly after his arrival back home, Ben wanted those days kept in reserve so he could spend plenty of time with both Hanley and their new child. 

                “Let’s go for a ride,” Ben led Hanley to his truck. No matter how long they had been married or how many times he did it, Hanley still appreciated every time Ben opened her car door for her.
                “Where are we going?”
                “If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise.”
                Before long, they pulled in front of one of the historical Victorian homes of Wickery Glen. Hanley shot her husband a suspicious look. She knew he hadn't bought her a house; there was no way that they could afford something like this. She had passed the building on some of her walks through the town but had never paid much attention to it before, other than to admire the architecture in passing. As the couple walked hand in hand up the front path, she finally took notice of the weathered sign: Alestair’s Consignment Specialties.

                “Wow, look at this place!” The room they entered contained treasures of all sorts; gadgets and gizmos, who’s-its and what’s-its, and even some thing-a-ma-bobs. Hanley’s eyes couldn't focus on any one point since there were so many things to see.  She began to weave her way through the items but before she made it too deep, Ben strode confidently to the counter.

                “Welcome to Alestair’s Consignment Specialties! What treasure can I help you procure today?”
                “I noticed on your website that you also sell secondhand electronic items. I was wondering if you have a laptop for sale?”
                “We sure do! Would you like to take a look up close?” Ben nodded and the lady darted to the small office behind her before returning with their prize. Hanley hung back quietly while Ben asked questions.
                The answers must have satisfied his requirements. “We’ll take it,” he pronounced after he had checked the parts and booted the machine up.

                For the first time, Hanley spoke up. “Really?”
                “Consider it me being selfish. I've heard from other guys that the phone lines are really long. Todd has a laptop so he’s willing to let me borrow it so we can chat. It’s easier to get in to the MWR to connect to the wifi than it is to get access to a phone.”
                “Morale Welfare and Recreation. I want to be able to talk to you as much as possible. If we have a computer at home, it’ll be a lot easier for me to get in touch with you.”

                Ben had been honest when he had called this purchase selfish. He knew, from the time they had dated long distance, that they could handle the pressure as a couple. That didn't stop Ben from wanting to be able to talk to and see Hanley as much as possible while he was gone. Despite his motives, she beamed at him as though he’d just roped the moon for her.

                “I’m so glad you could make it,” Josephine welcomed Ben and Hanley into her home. Ben was leaving the next morning but the Spencers had wanted to have a small going away dinner for him before he left. Hanley and Ben settled on the small sofa, Josephine taking a seat in Jesse’s lap across the room.

                “Are you ready to leave,” Jesse asked Ben. “This is your first deployment, right?”
                “I’m not sure you can ever be ‘ready’. But yeah, there’s only so much preparation and talk you can do before it’s time to go.”
                Josephine glanced at Hanley. “How are you holding up? It must be hard, knowing he’s getting ready to leave.”

                “I’m doing okay. I have a lot to stay focused on,” she shared a glance with Ben, who nodded slightly. “We’re having a baby!”

                Josephine squealed as she hurried across the room to wrap Hanley and Ben in a hug. “That’s so exciting!” She glanced back at Jesse with a smile of her own. “We just found out that we’re having a baby too. I was going to announce it over dinner.”
                “Oh no! I feel so bad for ruining your moment,” Hanley blushed, looking away from her friend.
                “Don’t be. I’m thrilled to have someone to share the experience with!”

                As they shared their news, the front door opened and a blonde man entered without knocking. “Hanley, Ben, this is my cousin Noah,” Josephine introduced everyone. “We’re just waiting on one more and then dinner should be ready shortly.”
                Noah groaned. “Jo, please don’t tell me you’re trying to set me up again. It never works.”
                “Because you don’t give any of them the time of day,” Josephine chided. Her lecture was cut short as the doorbell rang. “That must be her, excuse me.”

                “Scarlet, I’m glad you could make it.” The woman at the door was a knockout with a picture perfect body, tan skin with green eyes, and curly, chocolate colored hair. Josephine led the woman to the room, making the introductions as she went. “This is Scarlet, she teaches yoga at the spa. Scarlet, this is Ben and Hanley who are good friends of mine. And this is Noah, my cousin I was telling you about. I’m going to go get dinner ready if the rest of you would like to mingle. Hanley, would you mind giving me a hand?”

                Hanley followed Josephine to the kitchen. “What can I help with?”
                “Oh, nothing. I just wanted to throw Scarlet and Noah together. Jesse is under strict orders to keep Ben occupied so she and Noah will have to talk amongst themselves.”
                Hanley laughed. “Do you always play matchmaker?”

                “Only sometimes. Noah’s always putting work first. He deserves someone who'll respect that but be there for him and get him to enjoy life outside of work.”
                “I know it’s none of my business, but I thought you didn't have any family?”
                “You though…” she looked perplexed. “Oh, the Bachelor. That’s true, technically. My sisters and I were in foster care for a while. My father and Noah’s father didn't get along and when my parents were arrested Uncle Arthur distanced his family from ours.” She rested one hand on her stomach as she continued. “Back then, I was angry that he turned his back on us. We lost everything. Now though, I can sympathize a little more. He didn't want to put his family in the same position, especially when he had nothing to do with the, er, activities my parents engaged in.”
                Before she could think of an appropriate response, Josephine switched gears. “Okay everyone, dinner’s ready!” She bustled around, setting plates out while everyone lined up behind her for their meals.

                “Wow that was delicious.”
                “If you call burgers not cooked on a grill delicious,” Noah winked at his cousin.
                “Well, I’d have let you cook them on the grill but you didn't want to mess up your pretty suit. Scarlet, was everything okay?” Scarlet had barely touched her food, mostly picking at the lettuce and tomato Josephine had set out as condiments.
                “I’m sorry; I thought you knew I was a vegetarian. And that I don’t eat gluten. Or anything with preservatives. With a baby on the way, I’d be more careful what you put in your body. You don’t want to poison your child before it’s even born.” Though she had apologized, Hanley noticed that her sentence sounded more like an accusation and bristled, considering she too was expecting and had enjoyed the food.

                “Grill or no grill, it was pretty damn good. Scarlet, can I show you out,” Noah pulled out her chair and led the guest to the door before anyone else could respond.
                “Well, that didn't go quite as expected. She seemed so lovely at the spa.” Josephine shrugged as she began clearing the dishes from the table. “No, don’t help. Get home. I know you want to make the most of the rest of tonight. Be safe Ben, we’ll all be reminding the Watcher to keep you safe.”

                Despite their intentions to stay awake until dawn, Ben was soon sound asleep with Hanley drifting on the edge of consciousness herself. As she lay nestled in the crook of his arm, she became aware of the steady rhythm of his heartbeat beneath her fingers. She had promised herself that she would stay positive throughout the deployment but that didn't stop her from imagining the worst. What if this is the last time I feel his heart beat, the last morning I have to wake up with him? What if our child never gets to meet his daddy? Her breath caught raggedly in her throat as she tried to backpedal from her fears.

                “Good morning,” she felt Ben stir under her hand before he shifted to kiss her forehead. She swallowed the lump in her throat before responding. Preoccupied, Ben didn't notice her distress and trudged towards the bathroom to shower and finish packing his toiletries. As she listened to the water run, Hanley closed her eyes as tears rolled down her cheeks. She wished she could freeze time but moving forward remained her only option. She took a deep, calming breath and stood, stronger and resolved before getting herself ready to say goodbye.

                The parade deck was already full of families when they arrived and the buses had pulled in. Each company did a quick formation before releasing the soldiers to say their final goodbyes before boarding. Hanley saw Emme and her two girls, hugging Todd. Her heart felt sadness for the soldiers that quickly boarded the bus; they were the ones that had no family here to see them off, no one to hug and kiss and promise to come home to.

                “I love you Han. I’ll be home before you know it.” Not wanting to prolong their goodbye, Ben put his hands around her waist and pulled her close. He tilted her chin back, looking for tears, she knew, but he would find none. She had already cried the only tears she would cry today. Leaving would be hard enough; she refused to let Ben’s last image of her before he left be one of tears. One more kiss and he turned, climbing the steps onto the bus.

                She stood alone, watching, waiting for the buses to pull away. She supposed she could have joined Emme but this moment felt like one she needed to do alone. Then, suddenly, she heard her name. Ben’s head was poking out of the window and he was beckoning her to come over.

                “Did you forget something,” she wondered if she had time to make it back to the house before the buses would pull away.
                “Just one thing,” he leaned down, entwining his fingers with hers before reaching for her. “I needed one more kiss.”

Chapter 7.2                                                                                                                           Deployment Interlude: Part 1

Author's Notes:

* Mmkay, first things first. Title = song = emotional

* This chapter was really hard to write. At first it was too blah and every day that I couldn't get into it (I don't do mundane writing well I guess). Then I got to the end and it felt really personal. Most of you, I think, know that my husband is in the Marine Corps. So, while Hanley is not me and Ben is not my husband, I have lived through that goodbye scene four times now. I know, very intimately, just how Hanley may be feeling (except for the pregnant part).

* How do y'all feel about the tall pictures? They worked better rotated for some of those pictures but I'm really not liking how they look on the blog. I don't know that I'll rotate pictures in further chapters if it's jarring to my readers.

* Poses! This was the chapter I really started working on poses. The pose with Ben reading and Hanley napping in his lap is an edited pose I did but the last picture are my poses from start to finish. There was another I did for a set of extras but they didn't make it into the chapter.

* The next update/s will not exactly be chapter/s. I'm still working out how it's going to come together but they'll most likely be written from Hanley's POV.