Thanks to Hubby for the edit.
I pulled into my usual space in the uni car park to find Stacey’s car parked beside mine, and Stacey stood next to it waiting for me. She was clutching something in her hand, and chewing on her bottom lip. I hoped her and Josh hadn’t had a fight.
“Have you seen the paper this morning?” she said the instant I was out of the car.
“No, why?” My mind raced trying to figure out what had her hopping from one foot to the other. “Oh my god! Are you and Josh getting engaged?”
I snatched the paper from her, and began rifling through to the announcements section.
“Meg wait, I-”
We came to an abrupt halt at the same time and my eyes widened as they landed on the gossip column.
A burst of heat flashed across my chest, followed by dampness in the back of my eyes. I handed the paper back to Stacey, as my limbs went numb.
“Well, he could have told me instead of me finding out like this,” I said, as I linked Stacey’s arm and headed towards the canteen. “But whatever. It’s his life, he can do what he wants.”
Stacey stopped just outside the cafeteria, and turned to me with wide eyes and an open mouth.
“That’s it? You’re not going to say anything else?”
I shrugged. “What do you want me to say?”
“You’ve just seen a picture of the father of your baby hooking up with some random redhead, and all you can say is ‘whatever’?”
A retort about The Kian Murphy not being able to keep it in his pants entered my head, but then I remembered the look of disappointment in his eyes the last time we spoke. I was so not going there.
“Just because I’m having his baby doesn’t mean I have opinions on his love life. As long as this doesn’t interfere with his relationship-”
“Cut the crap, Megan. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be affected by this, and I know he’s more than just the father of your baby.”
I recalled the picture of Kian and that girl in my mind, and my chest tightened. Her hands all over my man … only he wasn’t really. Regardless of the baby, I had no claim over him. The question was, did I want a claim over him? With everything that had happened recently, I hadn’t allowed myself to ask that question. But Kian hooking up with someone made my feelings for him impossible to ignore. I just wasn’t sure what exactly those feeling were.
I checked the time on my phone and sighed. “Alright, let’s grab a drink, and talk about this.”
After buying a decaf tea and a slice of fruitcake, Stacey and I settled in a quiet corner.
I took a long swallow of tea, and prepared to lay it all out there. “I’m jealous.”
Stacey’s blue eyes sparkled at my admission. “I knew it!”
“All right, you don’t need to sound so happy about it.”
“I’m happy that you’re finally admitting you like him.”
“I said I was jealous. I didn’t say I liked him.”
“But you do, don’t you?”
I laughed and shook my head. Only Stacey could go straight for the jugular like that. “It’s more complicated than simply liking him.”
“You’re having a baby together, you’re going to be in each other’s lives for the next eighteen years at least. How is that complicated?”
“How isn’t that complicated? We’ve already established Kian isn’t a relationship type of guy, and I told you about the interview.”
“So what? You’re going to let a blow up on TV stop you? You say he’s not a relationship guy, but he’s committed to the baby and you’re an extension of that.”
I paused, fruitcake halfway to my mouth and thought about what Stacey said. She was right, raising a child was a huge commitment, and a kind of proof Kian was capable of lasting relationships. But that said nothing about how he felt for me. He wouldn’t even be in my life if I hadn’t got pregnant.
I said as much to Stacey.
“Yes, but he is in your life, and that changes things. You’ve been given this chance to get to know each other. You’ve probably spending almost as much time together as a couple who’re dating.”
“Yeah, only without the sex.”
Wait … where did that come from?
“Then make the sex happen. Tell Kian you want more.”
“I can’t just do that.”
“Well for starters, look at me then look at her. The last person Kian hooked up with was tall, slim and beautiful. Even on my best day I couldn’t compete with her, let alone when I’m the size of a beached whale, and have gas that could make a skunk blush.”
“Meg, you’re positively glowing.”
“Yeah, you’re meant to say that, you’re my best friend.”
“Do you really think Kian doesn’t think that, too? It’s his baby you’re carrying. If anyone is going to understand, it’ll be him.”
I took a bite of cake, tilting my head to one side as I absorbed her words. Pins and needles spread through my arms and legs, and my stomach fluttered.
I hadn’t allowed myself to dwell on my feelings for Kian, let alone imagine they could be reciprocated, and the idea left me a little breathless.
“I know that look. You’re imagining what it’d be like if you were together, aren’t you?”
My cheeks flushed and I nodded sheepishly. “Is that bad?”
“Only if you don’t act on it. Don’t miss out on something that could be great because you’re too scared to take a chance.”
“This is more than just taking a chance on asking someone out, Stace. If I mess this up, I could ruin things for the baby. I don’t want Bubba to grow up without a dad.”
“But Bubba could grow up with Mum and Dad together.”
“I told you, it’s complicated. The last time I saw Kian was weird.”
“Yeah, Josh said something’s been going on. Was it because he quit Ferrum?”
I almost dropped by mug. “He’s quit MMA?”
“No, just the promotion he’s with. They wanted to take the Championship off him or something, so after his next fight, he’s done.”
I heaved out a long breath. “Jesus Christ. When did all this happen?”
“Last week. After that interview aired. Didn’t he tell you?”
I blinked. “No. He came around to talk, and, well, things didn’t go so well.”
I told Stacey what had happened between Kian and I, and what he’d said about me and the baby being better off without him.
“Shit, that’s crazy. You don’t think that’s why he hooked up with that girl, do you? Because he thought you don’t want him.”
“Thanks. I didn’t before, but now I do. What if I pushed him into her arms?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I just mean, well, he seems in kind of a bad place at the moment, and people do stupid things when they’re in a bad place.”
“God, this is so messed up. See, I told you it was complicated.”
“Actually, I think now more than ever you need to tell him how you feel.”
“Are you insane?”
“Think about it. He’s thinking he’s fucked everything up, that you don’t want him involved in the baby’s life, and you regret telling him about the pregnancy. What better way to reassure him than to tell him you want more?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think he’ll see it like that, Stace. Remember how he acted when he thought I was using him to be the baby’s dad because he’s famous? What if he thinks I’m only into him because of who is he, or ‘cos I feel bad for not going to him about the interview. I don’t want to make things worse.”
“Then make things better. Fight for him, Meg. Show him that you care about more than just his status. Show him you care for the person behind the name.”
Stacey ducked under the table and pulled the newspaper out of her bag.
“This,” she said, slamming it down on the table. “The last time something happened with Kian, you went to Emilia instead of asking him directly. Don’t make that mistake again. Ask him what’s going on, and tell him why it bothers you. Give him the chance to be more than what people expect of him.”
“I don’t know. That sounds like it could lead to a lot of trouble.”
“At least think about it, yeah? Before he slips away.”
I looked down at the picture of Kian and the redhead. My heart slowed, and body turned cold.
Stacey was right. I had to say something.
Trying to focus on uni for the rest of the day was almost unbearable, but luckily there was a lot going on to distract me. With the end of our degrees nearing, the university had set up a careers event, where various business and professionals visited, and students could show of their resumes and portfolios. The idea was to get advice from real hiring companies, and if you were lucky, one of them might be impressed enough to offer you a post-graduation position.
I was excited when I discovered one of the interior design companies I’d shortlisted to apply to was attending, and rumour had it, they were offering an internship beginning in the summer. If I played my cards right, I could bag a job with one of my dream employers.
As I went from booth to booth, handing out my resume and showing my portfolio, my hopeful mood slowly deflated. Although I was getting a lot of compliments on my design work, the questions quickly turned to what I’d do once the baby arrived. I insisted it wouldn’t be an issue, and that I’d take a short break for maternity leave, and then return to work as soon as possible. I could tell by the looks on the representatives’ faces that they weren’t convinced.
Feeling dejected, I took a small break and went to get some water.
Seeing me standing alone, Stacey bounded over, a huge grin on her face.
“No, you have to guess. It’s more fun that way.”
“I’m not really in the mood for games, Stace, so just tell me.”
Her smile dropped. “What’s up?”
“Nothing. I’m sorry. Don’t let me ruin your good mood. Go on, what was it you wanted to tell me?”
“I’ve been offered an internship with a bridal company in town.”
I threw my arms around her and squealed with delight. “Oh my god, that’s awesome. Congratulations. I’m so happy for you, babe.”
“Right? Isn’t this great? They saw my portfolio and fell in love. They want me to start as soon as we graduate. They don’t even want me to wait for my results to come in.”
“Oh wow. This is huge. You’re going to kill it there.”
“I hope so, this is exactly what I wanted. Plus it’s close enough that I won’t have to move or anything.”
“Perfect. We should go out soon and celebrate.”
“You bet your ass we should.” Stacey’s beaming smile was back, but she eyed me cautiously. “So now are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?”
I sighed and took a gulp of water. “It’s nothing, really. I just didn’t realise getting a job while pregnant would be so hard.”
“Has someone said something? They can’t discriminate just because you’re having a baby.”
“No one has outright said they won’t hire me, but you can tell by the questions they’re asking, and the looks they’re giving me that they’re concerned.”
“That’s bullshit. You’re one of the most talented, hardworking people here.”
“They’ve got a point. It’s just over four months until Bubba arrives, then what? I haven’t got any childcare plans in place or anything. And do I really want to leave my baby as soon as they’re born to return to work?”
“You’ll figure something out. Kian will help, and your parents. And I’ll do what I can.”
“Thank you. I love you, you know?”
“I love you too. Now go on, and get back out there. Dazzle them so much that they won’t care if you’re pregnant; they’ll just want you to work for them.”
I eyed the booth for the interior design company, where a friendly faced woman sat.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained…
Picking up my portfolio, I strode over with renewed confidence.
“Hey, I’m Megan Green, nice to meet you,” I said, taking the seat opposite the woman.
“Hey Megan, great to meet you. I’m Amanda Healey, head of HR for Honeycomb Designs. Let’s see what you’ve got there.”
I handed over my portfolio, and Amanda flicked through it, lingering on certain pieces, before finally pausing on the nursery decal.
“This is exactly the type of thing we look for,” she said. “And I see you’re drawing inspiration from your life. How far along are you?”
“Almost five months.”
“Aww, lovely. Do you know what you’re having yet?”
“No, my next scan is in a few weeks, so hopefully I’ll find out then. But honestly, as long as the baby is healthy, I’ll be happy.”
“I know what you mean. Being pregnant can be such a worry, can’t it? Every little twinge makes you wonder if the baby is okay. But then when you’re holding them in your arms, nothing else matters.”
Amanda’s eyes glazed over for a minute, as her thoughts drifted away from our interview.
“Sorry, what was I saying? Oh yes, I like your designs a lot Megan, you’ve got a real talent, but I’ll be straight with you. I don’t know if we could offer you an internship ahead of someone else who wouldn’t be leaving in a few months. The best I can do is keep you details on record, and ask you to contact us about vacancies when you’re back to work full-time.”
“Thanks for the honesty,” I said. It was hard to be disappointed, when Amanda sounded so genuine.
“Good luck with everything, Megan.”
I picked up my portfolio and headed back to Stacey.
“How did it go?” she asked.
I shook my head, and filled her in on what Amanda had said.
“Well that’s totally unfair. Can’t she see you’d be amazing?” Stacey said, linking my arm and steering me out of the conference room. “But at least she was nice about it. Come on, let’s get a drink and go home early.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
We headed to the canteen, and Stacey bought me a commiserative doughnut to lift my spirits.
“It could be worse,” she said as she sat down, and slid the doughnut to me. “I mean, you’ve still got your job at the café.”
“Right. And I always intended to take a year out after graduating. I just hope my savings last.”
“Maybe you can get some extra shifts in before Bubba arrives?”
“Yeah, I’ll ask Peter about it the next time I’m in.”
“Oh look, it’s Preggo and her wannabe mate.” The sound of Ashley Bennett’s voice drew mine and Stacey’s attention, and we looked up to see the trio of girls who’d harassed me in the library the previous week, sneering at us.
“And look at the size of her. Anyone would think she’s eating for five, not two,” the brunette of the group said.
Stacey’s eyes narrowed, and her knuckles turned white. I knew she was seconds away from pouncing.
“Stace, leave it, they’re not worth it,” I said, turning away from Ashely and her friends.
“You’re the one who isn’t worth it,” Ashely said, not taking the hint. “I saw you in the conference room. No one wants to employ a girl who’s stupid enough to get herself knocked up. You’ll be lucky if the local chippy takes you on.”
I span back around to face her. “You know what, I’ve just about had it with you and your bullshit. What I do with my life is none of your damn business. Yeah, I got pregnant by accident, but I’ve never regretted my decision to keep the baby. If that means missing out on a few job opportunities, so be it. My child is much more important, and if you can’t get that into your thick head, then maybe you’re the one with the problem. Not me.”
From behind us a round of applause broke out, and it was then I realized the whole canteen had stopped to listen to mine and Ashley’s fight.
“Woo! You go girl,” Stacey said.
Ashley gave me one final poisonous look before she and her friends stalked off.
“Well that told her.” My whole body was shaking, but I couldn’t stop the grin forming on my lips.
“Hell yeah it did. I’m so proud of you, Meg.”
“It felt so good. I’m sick of people judging me,” I said, riding the wave of euphoria coursing through my veins. “And having no control over my own life. Well you know what? It’s time I took charge. Who cares if I don’t have a job when I graduate? In a few months I’ll have a baby, and I want to make the most of every minute with them. I’ll find work when they’re a little older. And I’m sick of pretending I don’t have feelings for Kian. I do. You’re right, I want more, and I’m going to go to his place right now, and tell him that.”
“Whoa, what? Damn, that sugar has gone to your head.”
“I’m being serious. I hated seeing him with that girl, and you’re right, I can’t let him slip away.”
“But everything you said earlier?”
I imagined telling Kian I wanted more from our relationship, and him saying he didn’t. I swallowed hard as time slowed down, and dizziness swept over me.
Then I pictured him saying he wanted more too, and remembered the sensation of his lips on mine. My heart soured, and heat flashed through my body.
“Everything I said earlier still stands, and this could go horribly, but I want to take the chance.”
“Well in that case, go get him tiger. And make sure you call me later to give me all the details.”
I stood up from the table and grabbed my bag, giggling at Stacey’s comment. “I will.”
Not giving myself a chance to calm down and change my mind, I got into my car, and headed in the direction of Kian’s. I’d never been there before, but he’d given me the address for my medical records, just in case.
By the time I’d reached his flat on the other side of town, the adrenaline was wearing off a little, but I was there, it was too late.
Besides, I still wanted to talk to him about the girl from the paper, and to smooth things over from our fight the other night. Plus, if what Stacey had said about him leaving Ferrum was true, maybe he needed someone to talk to.
My heart hammered as I rang the bell, and waited for him to answer.
Inside his flat, I heard a thump, followed by swearing, and then the door swung open.
“Meg!” Kian said, his voice high and his eyes wide. He had a can of beer in his hand, which he waved about wildly. “Come on in, join the party.”
His breath reeked of alcohol, and as I stepped through the front door, I saw the empty cans and bottles lined up.
The thought of confessing my feelings to him instantly left my mind.
“Kian, what’s going on?” I asked softly.
He flung his arm around my shoulder, sloshing beer at my feet. “I’m celebrating.”
“Celebrating what?” I asked, sitting gingerly on his leather couch.
“The fact my sponsors have dropped me, and the promotion in Ireland I’ve been thinking of joining said they’re not interested. Ain’t my life fucking grand?”