I spotted her as soon as I entered the shop. I didn’t want to make my move too soon, it’s important to pick the right moment. So I kept my eye on her as I slowly placed items in my basket. A blue bunny rabbit with large floppy ears and a white belly which made a tinkly bell sound when I shook it. A pack of blue babygrows (0-6 months). A baby monitor, no need to examine the features of each of the various choices, just pick one.
She was starting to look stressed now, struggling with her overflowing basket. She must have been about seven months gone. I wondered why she had left herself with so much shopping to do this close to the event. Where was the father? Why wasn't he here to help?
‘Shit!’ I heard her exclaim. I rounded the corner to find her in a pose like a new-born giraffe as she tried to retrieve an item from the floor. This was my moment.
‘Let me get that for you,’ I said retrieving the pack of three pink hats (0-6 months).
‘Oh God thanks. I thought for a minute I was going to do the splits and never get up again.’
She looked close to tears with gratitude. ‘Sorry, it’s my hormones. I’m an emotional wreck. Maybe I should have ordered this stuff online and just stayed home stuffing my face with biscuits.’ She flushed with the embarrassment of saying too much to a stranger. Her hand went to her perfectly formed bump, smoothing out an imaginary crease from the straining fabric.
I started to tell her that Emma was the same, it was normal at this stage of the pregnancy.
‘Ooh, saved by the bell,’ she smiled as she retrieved the ringing phone from her handbag. I looked away to give her privacy but the call was brief and she was again visibly upset.
‘Husband,’ she said, nodding towards the phone. ‘Stuck at the bloody office again so can’t pick me up. I’ll have to put all this stuff back now, can’t manage it on the bus.’
So I did what any perfect gentleman would do and offered to give her a lift home.
‘God it’s hot in here,’ I whispered to myself. What the hell was I doing? I could have ordered this stuff from the comfort of the sofa. But Jack had said if I picked the things “in the flesh” it might help me start to feel excited. Up to now all I’d felt was anxiety, maybe even fear.
‘I'll pick you up outside at six,’ he’d assured me as he left for the office that morning. ‘Try and enjoy it, spend as much as you like.’
Well sorry Jack I’m not enjoying. I’m hot, I’m enormous, I’ve overloaded the basket and now I can hardly carry it.
‘Bugger!’ I exclaimed out loud as a pack of tiny socks (0-6 months) fell to the floor.
Then there he was, picking up the offending item and giving me a smile that made me feel something I hadn't felt for a while. I started babbling something about hormones and cake, blushing like a silly teenager. He was bloody gorgeous! He told me about his wife Gemma and how she was on the same emotional rollercoaster. “Lucky bitch,” was all I could think if she was sharing the ride with him.
Then Jack called to say he was stuck in a meeting, wouldn't get out until after seven probably so he'd see me at home. ‘Get a taxi,’ he said ‘don't struggle on the bus.’
Jack had given me an excuse to be angry with him so I laid it on thick about crowded buses, heavy bags, bad back….sure enough I got what I wanted.
He offered to drive me home, wouldn't hear otherwise. What a perfect gentleman.
It was harder than I thought to lift an unconscious woman out of the passenger seat of an Audi A8. Getting her into that state had been a breeze by comparison. She’d actually closed her eyes when I’d leaned towards her, I couldn’t believe it, I was expecting a struggle of some sort. Obviously I didn’t want to harm the baby so I’d only given her the minimum dose, just enough to get us home.
She started to come round just as I was getting her to the room, mumbling something about letting her drink too much again. I got her to the bed and removed her flip-flops, “It’s all I can walk in at this stage”, Emma had once said. She looked quite comfortable lying there with one arm raised, I hoped the restraint wasn't too painful, it was the softest I could find.
‘Just let me sleep Jack.’
I left her to sleep and went to check that everything else was in order.
I had to smile when I saw his car, Jack had always said only dicks drove Audis. Well he was wrong about that too. The handsome stranger had taken a while getting all the stuff into the boot but I didn’t mind, he’d already started the engine so I was enjoying the welcome cool breeze of the air conditioning. Smooth Radio was his station of choice, Peter Cetera complaining about “taking away the very heart of me”.
He climbed into the driving seat, checking I was comfortable and that I was safely strapped in.
‘That seatbelt can be a bit uncomfortable, let me just lower it for you,’ he said, reaching across me to adjust it.
As his face came close to mine, he turned and our eyes locked. “Oh God, this is it,” I thought. “Just be cool.” I closed my eyes and waited to feel his lips on mine.
“A love like ours is hard to find, how….let…slip away…….”
Everything was ready, I’d checked and double checked. She had started going into labour late last night so we’d both been up all night giving me plenty of opportunities to make sure it was all in order. I couldn't let anything go wrong now, not after all the effort of the last few weeks and all the preparation leading up to the point we met.
She had actually been really easy to care for. It was quite strange really, she didn’t seem to mind being here. She had been so amiable that I had taken off the restraint after a few days. When I’d asked her if everything was ok with the room she’d replied.
‘Oh it’s a lovely room thank you. My only complaint is my arms are getting quite sore. I’m ever so grateful that you regularly swap my arms but I promise you I won’t give you any trouble.’
There wasn’t anywhere she could go or anything she could damage so I agreed and she was true to her word she didn’t give me any trouble.
I had been wrong in my initial assessment of how far into her pregnancy she was. She was actually almost eight months gone, which was a relief as the less time she was here the better. I only had to wait a few weeks and then I could get Emma back and we could be a family. Things would finally be how they were meant to be.
The room was actually very nice, tastefully decorated if minimal and he was always checking that I was comfortable, that the temperature was okay. He continued to be as charming as when we first met. He had told me the whole story, saying he didn’t want me to worry and that he would let me go once the baby was born.
He showed me photos of his wife when she had been pregnant and brought in a box full of all the things they'd bought for the baby. I wept when he told me how their little boy, Jacob had been born with severe brain damage and had never been able to breathe without assistance. They had let him go after five heartbreaking days.
Their grief had torn them apart and his wife had finally left to go and live with her sister.
When he told me his plan I almost laughed at the absurdity of it. Instead I decided to be as nice as possible and not to give him any trouble. Obviously his plan wouldn't work, as soon as he turned up at his sister-in-laws with my baby they would surely call the police. All I had to do was play along and to get out of here alive.
When my labour began I started to panic. How could we deliver my baby here, what if something went wrong and we needed a doctor? He reassured me that he had done hours of research on home births and he was fully prepared for any eventuality.
‘Great,’ I said ‘I’m going to have a bloody YouTube baby!’
I immediately apologised for raising my voice and quickly told him how grateful I was that he was here and that he had been so thorough in his research.
The labour lasted for forty-seven hours, I don’t know which of us was more exhausted in the end. She did really well, a textbook delivery you might say, and then little Ava arrived. Emma had always said that’s what she would call our daughter when we had one, a little sister for Jacob.
I felt bad that I hadn't gone back in the room to check on her after that but I thought it was for the best. She would have wanted to see Ava and got upset, maybe even hysterical when I’d told her that wasn't a good idea. She would be ok, someone would find her in a few days.
I took a couple of days to make sure that Ava took the formula and that I didn't have to revert to plan B. She guzzled it greedily from the bottle from the first time of offering, what a little gem!
So now we are in the car, Ava safely in her seat next to me and all that she might need in a suitcase in the boot, driving on the M6 towards Manchester. Everything was going exactly to plan. I’d already left Emma a voicemail saying I was on my way and that I had a surprise for her. I followed up with a text saying to meet me at the Holiday Inn Express, Manchester Airport and to bring her passport and a carry on case. We had all we needed right here on the passenger seat, anything else could be bought when we got there.
Little Ava gurgled next to me, I reached out to touch her tiny fingers.
‘We are going to get mummy, my little darling. She is going to love you so much.’
I don't know how much time has passed, I keep falling asleep, exhausted from the long labour. I’ve no idea how long it lasted, it felt like days. He took her away without even letting me see her, I just hope she’s okay.
Where is he? When is he going to let me go like he promised? I kept up my end of the bargain. I’m starting to panic. What if he’s left me here?
I don’t feel well, something is wrong.
I struggle against the restraints keeping my arms tied to bed, this time he has tied both arms.
Sharp pains in my stomach and my legs feel numb.
I manage to wriggle enough to free myself from the bedclothes. I can feel something wet. Then I see it. Blood everywhere. It is pumping out of me, from where my little girl arrived.
I start to retch from fear and the shock of seeing so much blood, my blood.
Then I muster all the strength I can and scream for as long and as loud as I can.
I’ll catch my breath and keep screaming until someone comes.
It is a warm Sunday evening in a quiet south London suburb. A man is taking his dog for a stroll around the block before his wife and he settle down to watch Downton Abbey.
The dog suddenly stops, pricks his ears and lets out a small whimper.
‘I know boy, I heard it too, sounded like a scream. Probably just high jinks. Come on there’s a treat waiting for you at home.’
This is a good neighbourhood so can’t be anything to worry about he thought.