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Published by Ana Balen

Wishing for a star

Zagreb, 2018



ISBN: 978-953-48139-0-4

ISBN: 978-953-48139-1-1





Edited by: Hot Tree Editing

https://www.facebook.com/HotTreeEditing/

Cover design by: JM Walker with Just write. Creations

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Formatted by: JM Walker

ForŠimun

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

EPILOGUE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ABOUT

ONCE UPON A time, there was a little girl. Like all little girls, she was a treasure to her parents, their little princess. Her beauty was perfect—blonde hair with big ringlets, big curious blue eyes, and pink chubby cheeks. She was excited about the world, wanted to know everything had a million and one questions, and even more answers.

One night, while falling asleep in her mother’s loving arms, out of the blue, she asked, “Mommy, do you know where I was before you were my mommy?”

“No, baby, I don’t,” her mom answered, curious about where this was coming from. “Do you?”

“Of course I do,” the little girl scoffed, because how could anyone dare to ask her if she knew the answer to a question. “I was a little star in the sky, and I watched and looked, and I saw you. So I decided you would be my mommy. I climbed down from the sky and came to you. I wanted you to be my mommy and nobody else.”

“Thank you, baby,” said Mommy, her voice thick with tears and full of wonder for she didn’t expect such an answer. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Mommy,” said the little girl, already half asleep.

That night, the little girl stayed asleep all night long in her mother’s loving arms, while her mom cried tears of happiness, love, and, above all, gratitude for such a lovely and precious baby girl.

That was twenty years ago. The little girl grew up to be a lovely and precious young woman. She still has the beautiful blonde hair and the big, curious blue eyes. She’s still very excited about the world and is still inquisitive, with a million questions and even more answers. She is my sister.

And as the time has its doing, she doesn’t remember that night or the words she said. But our mom does. She’s told the story a million times over, and every time, there is a glint in her eye. And every night, right before bed, there is a smile on her face. No matter what’s going on in her life, she is always grateful—grateful there was a star in the sky she once wished upon, and as that wish came true, that star became hers.

YOU NEED TO understand something. Our children will not have usual names. They have to have something extraordinary, just like their mother,” he says with such conviction I almost believe I’m pregnant at that very moment, while I watch his warm green eyes.

What the hell are you talking about? Are you crazy?” I ask, trying to get up, but as he’s lying on top of me, his weight becomes heavier and his arms wrap around me like steel, preventing me from running.

His lips meet mine—not a kiss, just a touch. “Yeah, babe. Crazy,” he mumbles. “I’m crazy ’bout you. You should know that by now.” The truth of that statement shines brightly in his eyes.

We’ve been seeing each other for only two months, and you’re here babbling about kids? Yeah, no, I’m not going there.” But my heart is in my throat, drumming with excitement, and there is a goofy smile on my face.

And then I see it. The picture he painted. The dream I would give everything to come true. Even if we’ve been together for such a short time, in my soul I know. I know he’s the one for me. He’s going to be the very essence of me and the father of my children.

Have you ever had a moment when you just knew the life you had was going to change completely? That one moment in which you knew nothing would ever be the same again? I’ve had those moments three times in my short lifewell, if you consider twenty-nine years a short time.

First was when I met my husband, Sam.

Second, the day we got married.

And the third time?

Right now.

Only this time, there are no butterflies in my belly. My whole body isn’t shaking with barely controlled excitement, and I don’t have a smile on my face so big that if I didn’t have ears I would swallow my head.

Instead, this time, my stomach has decided to take a trip and explore my feet, but that’s not far enough, so it said, “Fuck it” and went right out of the building, leaving me hollow. My head is swimming, and the expression on my face is nowhere near a smile. Nothing in this moment is funny.

My name is Danielle Hunt, and this is the moment when my life will turn and take me on the ride through hell.

“I’m sorry, Danielle.” Hearing those words in that soft voice filled with regret, everything in me just stops. My eyes go from looking at the doctor sitting in front of me to his right side, where a picture is hanging on the wall.

I want to go to it, take it off the wall, and smash it into a million pieces until it’s destroyed.

For the last ten years, I’ve come to this office for regular checkups. It’s a nice office, a standard one with a desk and chair. There’s a big plant in the left corner and a couch on the right side of the room. On the walls hang the normal diplomas, some framed articles—probably written by the doctor—and generic art, the kind that’s mass-produced. You can find it in every office where the occupant has no interest or time to pick something unique.

But then there is that picture.

In it is a woman in her most magnificent state.

A pregnant woman.

She’s dressed in a pink T-shirt and is standing in front of a white background, caught in midcaress of her unborn child. But the most striking thing in the picture is the woman’s face, as she wears a look of serenity.

I want that.

I want to have that expression on my face, to have that big belly as I carry my child. But most of all, I want to give that to my husband.

And now I never will.

It’s during this thought I feel my nose start to tingle and tears pool at the bottom of my eyes. But I don’t let them fall. Taking a big breath and squashing the desire to destroy that picture, then curl up on the floor and cry, I move my eyes back to the doctor to give him a slight nod.

I fear if I do anything else, like, say, open my mouth to reply, I will somehow manage to introduce my face to the beige carpet on the floor, even though I’m currently sitting down.

“Do you have any questions?” the doctor asks, and I feel a hand on my thigh squeeze.

Looking to my left, as always, my breathing stops for a second. It stops without failure.

It’s because, after all my wandering, after all the assholes I met, and after buckets of tears spilled into wine and icecream while complaining to my friends, six years ago, I found him.

The love of my life.

My husband. Sam.

Dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt, and his boots on his feet, he sits beside me, his eyes looking firmly forward. And even though he’s sitting down, it’s plain to see he’s a huge man. Tall, broad-shouldered, his thigh is almost as wide as my torso. He’s my bear of a man, made completely out of muscle. Those eyes, the color of grass after the rain, are always full of love for me, and now, they don’t even spare me a glance.

He’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. He keeps his midnight black hair clipped short, since it’s curly. If he let it grow longer, he would sport something that resembles an afro on a head held high, since he’s secure in the knowledge he made all the right decisions in his life. The mistakes made have been corrected, and the lessons lurking in them have been learned. But now, that head comes down as he bows it.

Seeing that, something deep inside me cracks, sending pain so strong and so sharp it’s a miracle my heart keeps beating.

I always know what’s going on inside his head.

But now, I’m terrified, because, for the first time, that’s not the case. And I don’t know what to make of this. For some reason, fear starts creeping into my heart. Fear of what, I don’t know. But, as it’s inching deeper and deeper with each second, I make a silent promise I’ll do everything in my power to not let it break me, that I will make our dreams come true. On this thought, I move my eyes back to the doctor.

“When can we start?” I finally manage to push words out of my mouth.

“Since this is out of my area of expertise, I would like to recommend you go to Dr. Sanders,” he answers, reaching across the desk with a file in his hand. “These are all of your medical records. I took the liberty of contacting Dr. Sanders, and she is expecting your call. So, if you decide to take this step, you’re all set up from my end.” He nods like he’s congratulating himself on being so prepared.

Yeah, good job, Doctor. You prepared some papers.

Automatically, I lift my arms and take the file. Managing a small smile, I murmur, “Thank you.”

“C’mon, babe. Let’s go.” I hear the deep voice I love so much as I feel two strong arms come around me.

But I don’t move. I can’t. My eyes are once again drawn to that picture. I want that. I want it so much my insides hurt.

“Up, baby,” he whispers in my ear.

Still in a daze, I let him lead me out of the room, but that image is burned into my mind.

That freaking picture.

That beautiful image of a pregnant lady. And in my mind’s eye, seeing that picture, the tears finally come, making everything blurry as I let them fall silently down my cheeks.

“Would you please say something?” I beg as we drive to my parents’ house.

I don’t know why I do this to myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents. But I know once today’s news comes out of my mouth, my dad will get that faraway look in his eyes, like he’s contemplating the meaning of life. I think he’s really only remembering the last game he watched and is analyzing every play that was made, just so he doesn’t have to say anything. My mom will fall apart. Every time there’s even the smallest glitch in life, I end up being the one who has to console her.

I remember when I had to get my appendix removed. After the surgery, I was in so much pain, but my mom stood in the doorway and cried her eyes out, saying how sorry she was that she couldn’t be with me when I was in the OR—like she could have helped me more than the doctors did. Even if by some miracle she was allowed to come in, she would’ve probably done a face-plant in my open stomach—and that she couldn’t take the pain away. She was so brokenhearted that I forced myself to get out of bed to give her a hug, despite all the pain I was in. On my graduation day, she cried about how life goes by so fast, remembering how we were running around the house in diapers just yesterday. So, of course, I was the one who spent half an hour trying to convince her I wasn’t going to move halfway across the world—although at that moment I had been considering it. After an ugly breakup, I came to her for some love and for her to tell me I’m the prettiest girl in the whole wide world and that anyone who ended up with me would be the lucky one. You know, mom stuff. But somehow, she was the one who cried on my shoulder! My sister broke her leg doing something stupid. I really don’t remember what it was. Mom cried again—yep, you guessed it—in my arms.

Every single time, she sobbed, “Why, God? What did I ever do wrong?” You would think the world was ending with how much she cried.

After I would manage to calm her down, after all the pain she felt on our behalf would run its course through her, she would become the most dedicated and loving mom in the world. Often calling to checkup on us and see if we needed her in any way.

And somehow, I think this is going to be the worst of all. No, I’m sure, because in this moment, I feel like the world is ending. At least, life as we know it. So my mom’s reaction is anyone’s guess. Her responses are made out of love for us; the rational side of me knows that. But once… just once… I wish she would be the one holding me while I cry. And right this second, while we drive to their house, I am once again able to fool myself into thinking she won’t break apart.

“What’s there to say, Dani?” Sam asks, eyes firmly on the road.

“I don’t know. Something!” I press, trying to get some kind of reaction out of him. “You haven’t said a word since we left the office. I need to know what’s going on inside your head. What are you thinking? What do you have to say about all of this?”

“Babe, relax. Everything is going to be fine.”

“You can’t just tell me to relax!” I wave my hands around like there’s a bee inside the car. “We can’t get pregnant. Through the entire length of our relationship, we’ve talked about having kids. And now that I can’t give you one, all you’ve got to say to me is ‘relax.’ Are you crazy?”

“Crazy about you, babe. Always crazy about you.” He places his hand on my knee and squeezes. “Besides, no one said we can’t have kids. We’ll just have them the hard way. It’s our way. We do everything the hard way.” He finally looks at me and winks.

“Don’t be all cute and funny now. You haven’t said anything, and it’s starting to freak me out more than I already am.” But the smile on my face is a dead giveaway he’s succeeding in calming me just a little bit.

He doesn’t say anything, just takes my hand in his and places it on his thigh, squeezing. And even though his words and his seemingly easy acceptance of our new situation is managing to relax me, I take a page right out of my mom’s book and start chanting inside my head.

Oh, God.

Oh, God.

Oh my fucking God.

And the whole time, all I see is that damn picture.

I DON’T KNOW what, but there's something sad in her eyes,” he said, turning to look at her.“But I'll do everything I can to make her smile.”

Walking those four steps that are separating us, he comes to me and leans close, so close our noses are touching. “I'm going to change your life, you just wait and see.” Turning, he saunters off like he hasn’t just rocked the foundations of my perfectly organized universe.

I love coming to my parents’ house. Sure, Sam and I got married four years ago, and as I got older, I was my mom’s shoulder to cry on. But every time I set foot in their house, I become their little girl. Nothing can touch me here. I am safe from the world.

Through my teen years, I couldn’t wait to get out of the here and live my life by my own set of rules—since we all know parents just don’t get it and they cramp our style. And when the time came for me to leave the nest and spread my wings, I was out of here in a second. I love Sam and our life, but every once in a while, I just want to go back. Go back to when there was no job, no bills, no money issues, and no adult responsibilities to be had. Only for a brief moment, I just want to once again be my daddy’s princess and my mommy’s pride and joy.

No one told me that once you’re out, you’re out. There’s no coming back. Yeah, you can come to visit as much as you want, and maybe you’ll feel the same way I do, like you’re going back in time to that magical place. But if there are problems in your life, they’ll still follow you there.

Coming up their driveway, I know today is the day when no amount of their love can keep the monsters at bay. They are dead set on coming in.

As Sam shuts down the car, my hand in his tightens. “Let’s sit here a little bit.”

“Baby, we have to go in. They’ll see us sitting here.”

“Yeah, okay.” I turn to look him in the eye. “But if you abandon me once my mom starts ranting, I’ll kick your ass.” Finishing my statement, I give him a sweet smile.

“You’re crazy, Dani.” He chuckles.

“As you always say, my love, about you. I’m crazy about you,” I tell him, leaning in and giving him a kiss.

Getting out of the car, I look at my childhood home. A few years ago, Mom decided they should paint the house. “White is boring,” she said, and made my dad paint it light blue. Not my first choice of color for the house, but what do I know?

Coming to the door, I don’t knock, just go in. “Hey, we’re here!”

“Hey, guys.” I hear my dad’s voice coming from the family room to my right, and sure enough, when I look that way, I see him sitting in his chair watching TV. It’s a big room, with bookshelves my mom filled with family pictures, various knickknacks, and some of her books. Since I introduced her to the Kindle, she stopped buying actual books, declaring it gave her more space for her treasures. It drives my dad insane, since he can’t put a limit to her buying more stories. My entire life, she encouraged me to read, read everything and anything I could put my hands on, and that way I would always have something to talk about, no matter who I’m with.

There’s also a coffee table in front of dad’s chair and a huge sectional brown leather sofa that is so comfy if you lie down for a minute, it’s guaranteed you’ll fall asleep. Heaven.

“What are you doing home?” I ask, coming up to him. My dad has worked construction all his life, so it goes without saying he is solid. Getting up from his throne, he gives me a gentle smile, and then his arms close around me, for a brief moment giving me the illusion of a time long gone by, reducing me to five years old. As the top of my head comes up to his chin, it’s like a wall is hugging me. Sam’s hugs aside, the best hugs come from my dad. I’m a lucky girl.

“Your mom told me about today’s appointment,” he explains.

Three years ago, my mom put her foot down and demanded my dad retire. He was a busy man who always had to work on something. He claims, if he stops working, he’ll go crazy, so they made a compromise. My dad cut back his hours significantly, but he still goes to work most days. If he isn’t working on a job, he finds something to work on around the house or goes fishing. Drives my mom nuts. It isn’t the retirement she had planned for. But I think he’s doing it just so he can avoid going with my mom to all her various events, like an antique fair, or book clubs, or whatever is on the schedule for that month.

“And what’s the verdict? When am I becoming a grandpa?” he asks, and I can hear hope in his voice that my answer will be something along the lines of “eight to nine months.”

I knew I shouldn’t have told her anything. Knew it the second the words left my mouth, but as always, I needed somebody to talk to. It’s usually Marcy, my best friend since we met the first day of college and my partner in crime. Although those “crimes” were actually almost always at her initiative. My sister, Jules, is also part of my support system. That day, it was my mom, since I hadn’t told Marcy or Jules anything yet. I was so anxious I wasn’t thinking, and I told her today was our appointment with my OB. Thankfully, I hadn’t told her the reason why—that we’d been trying for some time to get pregnant and it wasn’t working. It was supposed to be just a regular checkup, since it hasn’t yet been a year since we started trying, but deep inside I knew something like this would happen. Month after month, when my period came, or when the test came up negative, my mind more frequently went to the possibility of how maybe we can’t get pregnant for some reason. But I pushed that thoughts away, telling myself it hasn’t been a year and to not make assumptions. After making the appointment for a checkup, my nerves got the better of me, and I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. The hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach was the main reason for seeking someone to talk to. As luck would have it, it was my mom. If I told her my fears, she would still be in tears, and it was three days ago.

“Where’s mom?” Seeing his hopeful look and knowing in a few minutes I’m going to squash it with one sentence is killing me inside.

Oh, God.

“Dani, what’s wrong?” he demands, his voice rising.

“Dad, let’s find—”I don’t have a chance to finish my sentence.

“Hey, honey.” My mom’s melodic voice comes from behind me. I always liked her voice, thought it was beautiful. She’s constantly singing while cooking and cleaning.

“Mom,” I breathe, rushing to her, tears already falling down my face.

She’s melodramatic and nosy, always asking where I’ve been, who I saw, and what we talked about. When she doesn’t get answers, she gets angry, claiming she only wants to know because she worries about me. She drives me up the wall, and we fight every other day, but she’s my mom. She is the person I ask for advice. She’s the one who always cleaned and kissed my boo-boos, the one who cried and laughed with me, no matter what life threw at us, and now I need her. I need my mom.

Finally finding some comfort in her arms, I let the morning’s events go through my mind, once again that picture coming into focus. I’ll never have that. How am I going to tell my parents that, essentially, Sam and I can’t have kids? How am I going to see my friends get pregnant, have their babies, and get everything I always wanted?

My tears have become body-rocking sobs. It’s like all the pain and anguish is trying to come out in one fell swoop.

“Come on, baby. Sit down,” Sam whispers in my ear, taking me from my mom’s arms and transferring me into his. I vaguely hear their murmurs as Sam deposits me on the sofa, but he positions me so close to him I’m basically sitting on his lap.

“Will somebody tell us what the hell is going on?” my dad growls.

Swallowing my tears, I look at him and then my mom. Her posture is rigid, and her brown eyes hold pain. She knows. I don’t understand how; maybe it’s that mother’s instinct or just seeing her child crying her heart out. But she knows what I’m going to say will change us all forever.

“I… I can’t… I can’t get pr-pregnant,” I finish on a wail.

My declaration is met with complete and utter silence. It’s like time has stopped. My dad is half seated, half standing, his muscles twitching like they want to move but he’s restraining them. The look on his face is one of utter devastation.

He was hopeful not even five minutes ago, and now there’s no trace of that hope left. I’m almost scared to look at my mom.

Her eyes are wide open, and her mouth is opening and closing like a fish, moving her lips so quickly they actually make a sound. Looking back at my dad, I can see he’s now seated himself and his trademark faraway look has set in. Oh, God, I can’t stand this. Even though Sam’s arms are around me, trying to give me strength, I feel like I’ve disappointed my parents beyond repair. They’ve been begging for a grandkid since practically the moment we said our vows. So, I cast my eyes downward like a little girl who got caught doing something she wasn’t supposed to.

“Oh, God,” my mom whispers. “Oh, my poor baby.”

The statement sends a jolt of surprise through me, since it was the last thing I expected. I was sure she would start asking God and the universe “Why? What the hell did I do wrong in my previous life?” You know, the usual.

For the next couple of minutes, time stands still as I watch my mom’s tears fall down her face, quickly gaining momentum. First, there are just a few of them, but after five seconds, it’s like a dam in her broke and they’re coming so fast all I can see are two wet lines on her cheeks, the tears dripping from her chin.

I knew it would come as a shock. Hell, it came as one for me too, and I knew something was wrong, since we’ve been trying for a baby for almost eight months and nothing happened. Not even a maybe. I was sure it was some kind of hormonal imbalance and I would get some medication and we’d be off on our merry way. After the initial shock and pain seared its path through me, the fear of how to tell my parents set in. They were going to be disappointed, and I hated disappointing them. How could they not be, since they had grandchild fever for four straight years?

When we were driving to the house, on some basic level, I had tried to prepare myself for their reaction. I figured Dad wouldn’t say a word and Mom would rant to everybody and nobody in particular about how life isn’t fair, how she’s probably paying for her mistakes from her previous life, and how somebody most likely put a curse on her—her norm. And after I managed to calm my mom down, Dad would say some wise words and then life would go on. Albeit, slightly changed, but it would go on.

Did that happen?

Nope.

I got complete and utter silence for fifteen minutes straight.

Fifteen minutes.

If Sam weren’t running his hand up and down my side, I would think time indeed stopped, leaving us frozen for all eternity. Turns out, we’re trying to imitate our family photograph.

After clearing his throat, my dad asks, “What did the doctor say?”

“That it’s highly unlikely I will get pregnant, and if it somehow did happen, it would be dangerous and the pregnancy wouldn’t survive, since it can’t go to my uterus and would be stuck in one of the tubes. Also, I have some cysts on my ovaries, so there’s a big possibility that I don’t have ovulation every month, if at all.” I try to explain it as simply as possible, not wanting to confuse him with medical terms. I’m confused by them enough.

“And how does he know that? Should we get a second opinion?”

“He did an ultrasound and put some dye in me to see if the fluid will go as it’s supposed to. It didn’t,” I reply. “And no, Dad, no second opinion is needed. I’ve been going to Dr. White for ten years. I trust him.” My voice is firm. “Besides, he already referred us to another doctor. He said that IVF procedures are out of his field of expertise.”

“IVF?” my mom whispers. As I said, my mom is loud; her opinion is always heard, so this whispering business has me on edge.

“Invitro fertilization, Mom,” I clarify.

“I don’t understand. You said you can’t get pregnant.”

“I can’t. At least not the normal way,” I tell her, my fingers making quotation marks when I say the word normal. “As I explained to Dad, there are some cysts on my ovaries, and Dr. White isn’t sure if I have regular ovulation. Even if I did, my tubes aren’t road-friendly, which means, if I get pregnant on my own, the embryo most likely wouldn’t make it through the tube and into the uterus, and they would have to terminate the pregnancy before the tube burst. It’s dangerous since the woman can develop sepsis when that happens and the pregnancy is never carried out to term.It would be very dangerous for me to conceive without some help.”

“Okay.” She’s still whispering.

“What I want to know is will you give us a grandchild?” my dad asks.

At that question, I freeze. I don’t know what to tell him. I want to shout “Yes!” but at this point, there’s a possibility the answer in no.

“Absolutely,” Sam states. To my surprise, there’s zero doubt in his voice.

“All right then,” Dad says as he stands and goes out of the room in the direction of his office.

As I watch his retreating back, I’m not prepared for my mom’s loud “Oh my God!” and it startles me so much I jump a little. “Why is this happening to me? What did I ever do wrong?”

Here we go. Right back on track. This is the mom I love and know how to handle.

“Mom, calm down. Nobody is doing anything to you. And you definitely haven’t done anything wrong.” I dive right in to the calming-my-mom routine. Truthfully, it’s a relief she’s behaving this way, because it means she will get it out of her system and then go back to being my supportive mom.

“Haven’t done anything wrong? Then why is it you have this problem? Because I know down to my bones you haven’t done a single thing to deserve this. And neither did Sam.”

It’s my turn to act like a fish.

“Okay, kids, here’s the deal.” Dad comes back and, thankfully, interrupts the moment, so I’m not required to reply to my mom’s statement. I have no idea what to say. Those words warmed me so much I started to sweat. “These are all our worldly possessions. You tell that new doctor of yours that we want the best. Best of the best. And if he isn’t what we require, then you leave that office and we’ll find what we’re looking for. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, will stand in my way of being a grandpa. I’ll sell every last damn thing I own if I have to. Did you hear me?” he asks, as he throws a bunch of papers on the coffee table.

Sam grunts like someone punched him in the stomach. “That won’t be necessary, Tim. But thank you, nonetheless.”

Dad looks at Sam like he just told him the sun is blue and the sky is yellow. After a moment, though, he nods in his direction and says, “You’re a good man, Sam. And I know she’s your wife now, but for the last twenty-nine years, she’s been my little girl, and nothing will ever change that. So, if it’s needed, the money’s yours.”

All I can do is stare at my parents wide-eyed with my mouth hanging open. Everybody loves their parents—unless they’re truly awful people—and think the world of them. But at this precise moment, I come to realize how awesome mine are. God, but I love them.

“Now, enough of this conversation. It’s time for lunch.” Dad tries to close down the topic. In his mind, it’s simple. If you have a problem, find a solution. No exceptions. He’s found one for now, and if the circumstances change, so will the solution.

“I need to call your sister,” Mom says to me.

Before I even utter a word, Dad looks at Mom and tells her, “For the love of God, please don’t call that girl of mine. I’ve got no patience for her love problems.”

Uh-oh.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Besides, she’s waiting to hear about Dani’s appointment.” Mom tries to act innocent.

“Please stop acting like you don’t know. Why do you think I’m blind is beyond me.” Dad is having none of it. “You think I don’t know about her hotshot lawyer? It’s like history’s repeating itself. Dani used to tell me that she and Sam were just friends. When every time someone mentioned his name, she had stars in her eyes. When did people start to call it being friends? Thought you could fool me!” He ends his lecture, muttering the last part with his chin tilted down.

I look at Sam, only to see he has a smug look on his face. Bastard. I’ll kick him first thing when we get home. He deserves it.

“We were just friends at the beginning, Dad,” I defend, leaving the part with benefits out. No one’s dad should know that piece of information.

“Yeah, right.”

“Mom, don’t call Jules. I’ll talk to her later. And where are you going?” I ask Sam’s back.

“I’m hungry!” he calls as he goes into the kitchen, his voice vibrating from holding the laughter in.

It’s after lunch, and we are having coffee. My mom made cake, preparing for the celebration of my nonexistent pregnancy. They were sure that was the reason for my checkup. Every time I go to the doctor, even for a cold, they somehow convince themselves I’m expecting. Dad is back on his throne, and Sam’s arms are back around me, holding me close like he’s afraid I’ll shatter if he lets me go. I look up from my cup and to the right, finding my mom seated next to me. She looks deep into my eyes, the pain there still fresh and the wound still bleeding. “It’s going to be okay,” she says. Leaning toward me, her eyes go gentle, made that way by the memory of a night long ago. “You’re going to get your star.” Her hand lands on my cheek, and her thumb collects the tears that had started to roll down. “It’s going to be okay, baby,” she whispers. All I can do is nod. I don’t feel as confident as the people in this room, but I drink in all their love, in it finding the strength to hope.

We’re on our way home when my phone starts ringing.“Damn, not even fifteen minutes out the door and she already called her,” I mutter, reaching into my bag and fishing for my phone. “Hey, Jules.”

“Honey,” my sister breathes into my ear. “How are you feeling?”

“I honestly don’t know. But from your question, I gather you’re all up to speed.”

“Yeah, you know Cathy Steward. As soon as the door closed, she called me, and for the first time, I’m glad she did, since you would tell me next week. And that’s the earliest estimation.”

That’s true. Every time I have a problem, I go inside my head and run the worst-case scenario over and over. Only then am I ready to talk about what is bugging me and do something about it. She knows me all too well. Funny thing is, I’m glad Mom called her too.

“Yeah” is all I say.

“What happened?”

“I don’t want to talk about it right now.” I close the subject down. I’m drained physically and emotionally for the day. “FYI, Dad knows about your lawyer.”

“Which one?” she immediately asks.

For any normal person, that would be a weird question, but not for my sister. She’s a magnet for trouble. Problem is her troubles always end up in a broken heart. Hers, to be precise. She lives in Denver and works as a legal secretary. Her newest trouble is she’s in love with her boss but dating a guy who is his archnemesis, or something like that. She could have any guy she wants. At five foot three, curves in all the right places, blonde hair down to the middle of her back, and big blue eyes, she’s a knockout. Why she constantly puts herself in these situations is a mystery.

“Don’t know.” I’m looking through the side window, seeing nothing and focusing on my sister’s voice. I miss her so much.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m thinking about breaking up with James.”

Uh-oh.

“What? Why?”

“We’ll talk soon, honey. I have to go. Say hi to Sam for me. Bye.” And she hangs up, not waiting for me to reply.

“Shit.” I hiss as I shove my phone back into my bag.

“What?” Sam asks from beside me.

“Shit’s about to hit the fan with Jules. She’s thinking about breaking up with James.”

“When are you needed in Denver?” He chuckles, knowing how this goes. She’ll get her heart broken, I’ll go and cuss the ass out with her, and then she’ll leave him and the circle will once again begin. She deserves to be happy, to find her Sam. She has to stop pining for her boss, as it’s never going to happen, and finally go out with her heart as open as her eyes, and not find the morons of the world, but a guy who will love her for her.

“Don’t know yet.” I sigh.

“Babe, when were you gonna tell me about the stars in your eyes?”

“Never. You weren’t supposed to know that,” I reply, feeling the heat in my cheeks. Why I’m embarrassed, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because of the way our relationship started.

Sam’s answer is to laugh. And hearing his laugh gives me a brief reprieve from the sadness and fear that had taken up residence in me this morning. I’m looking to the side, hiding my face from him because I know the melancholy awaits and my face shows it.


Past


For being the day that celebrates your birth, I wasn’t having much fun at my birthday party. Sure, the whole gang was there, and we were in a bar. There wasn’t a single seat available, the dance floor was full, and alcohol was running like a stream into people’s mouths. The air was humid from all the sweating, and after five minutes in, my skin was sticky. The meticulously straightened hair started to curl at the edges, and the makeup started to run down girls’ faces. But it was plain to see everybody was having a blast. And still, all I wanted was to go home, take a bath, and curl up in my bed with my newest book boyfriend. Standing in a corner in a crowded bar was not how I envisioned a good time. Not anymore, at least.

Maybe Marcy was right. Maybe I was feeling down because of my most recent breakup, even though I broke up with him. It wasn’t that Chris wasn’t a good guy or that we didn’t have fun together. It was that he wanted to have too much of it. At twenty-two, I worked my ass off during the day at my job and didn’t have much desire to go out every single night to bars and drink myself into oblivion hanging out with his buds. Sure, an occasional drink sounded just fine, desirable even, but during the week, I tended to be in bed at 10:30 p.m. I mean c’mon. I get up at 6:00 a.m. Give me a break. And shame on me, wanting to spend some alone time with my boyfriend, or, God forbid, go out on a date. Who did I think I was, demanding such things?

“We’re too young to settle into a routine,” Chris had said. “Now is the time to go out and do stupid shit. Get drunk every night, or go out of town on a whim and have an adventure just because you want to. There will be a time to shrink our worlds to such mundane tasks as jobs, paying the bills, marriage, and kids. I mean, babe, we still have a little bit of time before we have to get serious and do the adult thing. And it’ll go away before you know it” was Chris’s way of explaining his desire to go out and party every night. The sad part was… he was twenty-six. His time had come. So, a year after our relationship started, and six months of living together, it was time to cut him loose. The sad-slash-funny thing was… I missed the kick-ass apartment more than I did him. Go figure.

I was so far inside my head and managed to tune everything out that when “Hey!” was shouted in my ear, I nearly jumped out of my skin. Mentally preparing to rip the head off the person who dared to come near me and scare the bejesus out of me, I turned my head to the right and froze.

Staring back at me were the greenest eyes I’d ever seen. They were meadow green, and for a moment, I could actually smell the fragrance of the fresh cut grass and picture a hot summer day. Tearing my eyes from his, I ran them over the person who frightened me.

He was tall. Like, really tall. Maybe six-two. He was towering over me, and if there hadn’t been a smile on his face lighting our dark corner, I would’ve been scared shitless right about now. But because of that smile, those eyes, and something that was entirely him, I wasn’t scared, but excited. He was wearing a black T-shirt that molded to his chest, revealing a perfect pair of pecks. His jeans were faded so much they could pass as white, and they were so tight around his powerful thighs that saliva pooled in my mouth. On his feet, he had a black pair of boots.

Running my eyes upward, I could see he had big hands. A little bit of grease caught at the edges of his fingernails. Normally, that would gross me out, but on him, for some reason, it was perfect. It said he worked with his hands, and I imagined he knew how to work well. Big biceps and solid shoulders. Throughout the length of his arms, he had hills and valleys indicating the beginning and the end of each muscle. Yum!

“Uh… hey,” I said, finally looking at his face. He had black hair, clipped short at the sides, longish at the top, revealing his hair was curly, because it stood up like there was a ton of product in it. Yet it didn’t have that extravagant and artificial shine that resembled glass. Flat nose, and a strong jaw on which there was a five o’clock shadow gracing its perfection. Seeing all that was him, my belly hollowed out and my knees started to feel like jelly. I had to distractedly lean against the wall.

Just pretend like nothing’s happened, Dani.

“Like what you see?” He smirked.

Busted!

His voice was rich and decadent, like the most expensive chocolate, but at that precise moment, he had a hint of amusement in it. Okay, not just a hint. There was a lot of it, but I decided to ignore it.

“Huh?” I played dumb. That was always the best course of action in my experience.

“I asked, do you like what you see? Oh, and I’m Sam,” he introduced himself, tilting his head upward, like it was some great accomplishment. But, then again, what did I know? Maybe it was. I didn’t know the guy. Even though, with every second, I wanted to more and more.

Heat hit my cheeks for some unfathomable reason—I stopped blushing when I was eighteen, right around the time I punched my V-card. Must’ve been the alcohol! I averted my eyes, but they got caught on the big purple bow adorning his neck. A bow that in my perusal of his body, and almost trance-like fixation on his muscles, I completely missed.

“Um… Sam?” I started, once again being drawn to his green eyes. “Why is there a bow on your neck?”

Just as his smirk turned into a smile, gracing me with the sight of his white teeth, Marcy came our way. “Good, you two already met!”

I averted my eyes as quickly as a virgin turned her eyes from a sex scene in a movie, causing Sam’s smile to grow to impossible levels and my blush to rise to the temperature of lava.

Seeing Marcy’s blonde curls bouncing around her head like we were at a rave, her whole body vibrating like a Maltese on crack, and the twinkle in her brown eyes shining told me she said bye-bye to sobriety and was firmly in All is Merry and Pink La-La Land. Soon, she would be talking to unicorns. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen. The most fun we had together, she was walking her pet unicorn with us. I’d never seen it, but for her, it was there. That girl was one ball of sunshine. Nothing could bring her down, not even the final phase in her drunkenness, which was soon to come—worshiping the great white porcelain god. Even puking her guts out, she’d reminisce the great time she had with her unicorn. Makes me wonder where they live when she doesn’t see or need them.

“Yeah,” Sam said.

“Sooo… happy birthday, Dani!” Marcy exclaimed, pointing her arms Sam’s way like he was something on display and she was the girl whose only purpose in life was to showcase prizes.

“You’ve already congratulated me, honey, but thank you,” I replied, a small, indulgent smile playing at my mouth.

“No, I know I have, but I didn’t give your present. As I said, it will come later, and now he did.” She squealed, clapping her hands.

“Who did?”

“Your present, silly.”

“Huh?” Now I was confused, which happened a lot in Marcy’s company.

“Ta-daaa!” she singsonged, once again pointing her hands Sam’s way. This time, they were jazzhands, so I knew she meant business.

Oh shit!

What had she done now? What bright idea came to her?

I didn’t have to wait long for an explanation.

“Don’t freak out! But remember that hot guy I was telling you about, Jen’s boyfriend’s brother, and that we all hung out sometimes? Well, that’s Sam. And a week ago, I was freaking out over what to give you for your birthday, and also how I was concerned you dove into your work and went all serious on us—like, no fun in your life… at all. Also, I kind of told them you needed a good tumble in bed. Through all that, an idea came to me, so I asked Sam if he would give you the sex. And like the good friend he is, he said yes!” Again, she squealed.

“What?” I was completely horrified. “And what do you mean you ‘kind of told them’? It sounds to me like you broadcasted my personal life to everyone in hearing distance.”

“Babe, it’s been six months since you dumped the douche.” She tried to calm me down. But what she didn’t realize was that wasn’t possible. “I know you. It’ll take at least a year to get you going again. You yourself told me that for the last four months of the relationship, there hadn’t been any sex, and now you’ve been single for six. And still, nothing. Do I want that for my girl? No! No way! So, I took matters into my own hands and secured you some.” If the smile on her face was any indication, she was pretty pleased with herself.

“Marcy!” I was appalled. Sam, the guy, completely stopped existing. I refused to acknowledge him. “You’re very sweet in some weird way, but—” I didn’t get the chance to finish.

“No buts. You’re young, Dani. You just turned twenty-three. Not fifty, for God’s sake. Live a little and have fun.” She turned to Sam. “As for you, make sure my girl has a fun, wild night. And keep her safe. If something happens to her, you’ll answer to me.” She tried to make it a threat, but remember: Maltese on crack. “Now off you go.” She shooed us, but it was she who turned to leave. I was sure I would never, ever move from this spot. I was actively trying to make myself one with the wall.

“Oh, and Dani?” She called me like my attention was elsewhere, a sneaky smile forming on her lips. “I want all the details.” And with that, she was gone.

“You ready?” Sam asked.

“For what?” I yelled. Oh, God. First, I was checking him out and got called on it, and then I was blushing like I was sitting on a furnace. Now, I thought all the color drained from my face and I resembled a girl from that movie where she came out of the TV and killed people. And the cherry on top? I just yelled in the guy’s face. Could I embarrass myself anymore? And why I was concerned about embarrassing myself after what Marcy pulled was beyond me. I knew I should have stayed home. But did I listen to me? Nooo! I listened to Marcy, and as always, she put me in an impossible situation.

“For whatever you want to do to with me.” He chuckled.

“What if I told you I want a long, hot bubble bath?”

“Works for me,” he answered, taking my hand in his. His was big and strong, and immediately, I pictured it all over my body, causing a delicious shiver to run through me.

I tried to break his hold, but it only became stronger. “Alone!”

“Maybe you don’t get it, sweetheart, but you’re not gonna spend this night alone. Tonight, I’m all yours, for whatever you want to do with me. But, bottom line, you most definitely won’t be alone,” he said as he pulled me closer to him.

His scent invaded my nostrils, causing my stomach to bottom out, and my knees lost the ability to hold me up when he pulled me off my new friend, the wall. What did he use? Pheromones?

Jesus!

Clearing my throat, I tried to sound as firm as I was. “Yes, I will. Spend the night alone, that is.”

Chuckling, he said, “We’ll see.” With that, he turned and, using the hold he had on me, he dragged me out of the bar. And for some reason, I didn’t protest much.

WHAT DO YOU want to be when you grow up?” I ask while playing with his fingers.

We’re lying on a blanket in a park, watching clouds sail through the sky. Everyone left after the football game was over, going home for a shower or lazing in front of a TV. But it’s such a beautiful Sunday afternoon that we decided to have a little picnic.

I am all grown up.” He sounds offended. “I can show you if you’d like.” He winks and starts to roll onto my body, determined to show me.

You know what I mean,” I say, pushing at his shoulder. “What is your life’s dream?”

You’re gonna laugh,” he responds, and starts looking at the field like he’s trying to watch the grass grow.

Now I’m curious. He won’t meet my eyes. “Tell me, please,” I push.

I want to be a grandfather,” he answers, still not looking in my direction.

What?” I laugh. That’s such a strange answer.

Told you you were gonna laugh,” he grumbles and finally meets my eyes. There’s raw honesty in his, and eagerness for me to understand and, above all, accept. What he doesn’t know yet is there’s nothing I won’t understand or try to accept from him. “Hear me out. See, everyone wants something materialistic: a beautiful house, an awesome car, or a glorious career that makes them a lot of money. And there is nothing wrong with that. I just…” He sighs. “I dream to be old. To be a man who’s an awesome husband and lived a full life. To know I was good enough father that, one day, my kids will come and see me, bringing their own children regularly, and not just on holidays. I want to spoil my grandkids. Sneak them candy. You know? I’m aware I ask for a lot, but I want a beautiful life. And I’m prepared to work for it until that day comes.” He looks at me shyly.

Yeah, that sounds wonderful,” I breathe, falling for him just a little bit more.

Since I was a little girl, I liked to live in my imagination. I used to play with my toys and make up their world. Around the time I turned twelve, my mom came to me and gave me a book. I don’t remember which one it was, but I still remember her words.

Read, Dani. It will expand your vocabulary and you’ll always have something to talk about with anybody. Books are a universal language.”

From that moment on, my imagination took on a life on its own. Then life itself happened, and I stopped imagining and started planning. I actively envisioned every step I would make, but every night when I was tucked in my bed, just before sleep took me over, my imagination would come back, showing me a life I didn’t dare to dream. A life full of love and laughter and, above all, someone to share it with.

On the night of my twenty-third birthday, I met Sam. My imagination came back almost instantly. I daydreamed about what our lives would look like. How Sam would look as he got older. Where we would live, how our house would be set up. Our vacations, anniversaries, birthdays, and plain old boring days. As the time went by, my daydreams became plans. Not set in stone, but they were there.

One thing that was constantly present was the fact we were going to have children. We would sit in the yard when we would be old and gray, and we’d watch our grandchildren play, sneaking them candies and spoiling them rotten, making Sam’s wish come true.

That was why, when I first stepped into the spare bedroom of our house, I immediately could see what it was meant for. With dark hardwood floors, big windows—from it you could gaze at the clouds sailing by or, at night, count the stars in the sky—and cream walls, it was perfect for a nursery. I could just imagine what our life would look like, and most of all, I could envision a rocking chair in the corner and a crib in the middle of the room.

For the last six years, I never once lost sight of my dream.

And for the last three, every time I set foot in the room, for which I hoped would turn into a nursery, I could see it all.

Until now.

In its place stands the image from the doctor’s office. That picture. Only now, it doesn’t have any color, since that will never be me.

Standing in the spare bedroom, for the life of me, I can’t pull up that dream. It’s gone. Every time I try to call it back to me, the image comes, and with it a pain so stark it’s like someone is pulling all my insides out.

A week has passed since we heard that terrible news, and for the last week, every night, I find myself standing in this room and trying to bring my dream back to me. It’s useless. Something broke inside me that day, and it killed my vision of a blissful future.

“There you are.” Turning around, I see Sam leaning against the doorway. He hasn’t come in since. I know why. I told him about my plans for this room, about what our future will look like. We spent countless hours daydreaming and planning together. And when I described the crib I envisioned in the middle of the room, he said the moment that plus sign appears on that white stick, he’s going to build me one. Just as I want it, until the last detail. And now, all that is gone. “What are you doing?”

Ignoring his question, I turn back and once again look at the sky. “Have I ever told you the story about the stars?” I know I have. I just want him to open up about what’s going on inside his head. He hasn’t said a word about it.

Sighing, he finally comes inside. Hearing his footsteps echoing on the floor, coming my way, brings me such relief my whole body sags. “Yeah,” he says, as he puts his arms around me and his chin on top of my head. I love when he holds me like this. It almost never fails to make me feel loved and safe, and it always bring to the forefront of my mind all the reasons why I love him more and more as the days go by. By taking my weight against his body, I know he is trying to take all my troubles away. My problems are his, and vice versa. He’s declaring we’re a team. Just the two of us against the world. Tonight, I can still feel his love. It’s so strong it actually causes goose bumps to rise on my arms and a delicate little shiver to go through my body.


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