Thanks to Hubby for the edit, and additional thanks to those reading and enjoying the story. It's all greatly appreciated. <3
My argument with Kian kept swirling around in my head, as I rehashed all the things we’d said to each other.
I’d hardly slept since we’d last spoken. During the day it was okay as I had uni work and my final shift at the café to keep me busy. But alone at night, uncomfortable because of the increasing weight of Ella growing inside me, I tossed and turned; analysing everything me and Kian had said to each other from every possible angle.
I stared at the clock on my bedside table - 3:15.
I had to try and get some rest because my uni presentation and end of degree show was later that day, and I couldn’t afford to mess them up.
But my life felt like it was in freefall. I had no job, I was almost finished uni, and now things with me and Kian had become weird.
The only good thing in my life was Ella.
I rested my hand on my bump and rubbed my tummy.
“When you get here, everything will be good. I promise.” I let out a sigh.
I hated that even before she was born, I was falling apart and letting Ella down. I didn’t want her coming into the world with a mopey mum who had no job.
Screwing my eyes up against the tears threatening to fall, I vowed I was going to do better.
I wasn’t going to let myself get depressed over some guy … even if that guy was Kian. No man was worth it. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to screw up my chance at a better future for me and my daughter by being too tired to do well in my presentation.
I wiped away the tears with the heel of my hand, took a deep breath and tried to relax.
The sound of my phone ringing jolted me awake. My hands scrambled around on the bedside table until I found it, then I put it to my ear as I hit answer.
“Meg, where are you?” Stacey’s voice saw tight and breathless.
I looked at my clock.
“I must have slept through the alarm.” I pulled myself out of bed and raced for the bathroom. “Are the adjudicators here yet?”
“No, but Mr. Barnes just put up the presentation schedule. You’re down for eleven-thirty.”
God damn it.
“If you hadn’t called I’d be screwed. You saved my ass.”
“That’s what best friends are for.”
“I’ll see you in an hour.”
“Okay, text if you need anything.”
I hung up and jumped in the shower, then raced to get dressed. My head was all over the place, and I gulped down a cup of decaf tea in the hope it’d calm me down and help me focus.
Ella must have picked up on my mood, as she wriggled around in my belly.
As I got my uni things together for my presentation my vision blurred. The words on the page in front of me swam together. I closed my eyes and rubbed at my temple.
I do not have time for this.
I opened my eyes to find everything had returned to normal, so I scooped my presentation cue cards into my bag, and headed for the door.
I pulled into the carpark at 11:17, then raced through the hallways to my lecture room. I quietly slipped into class just as Ashely Bennett was midway through her presentation. She narrowed her eyes at me.
“Sorry for interrupting.”
The adjudicators glanced my way, and I swear one of them shook their head.
I sat down next to Stacey, who whispered “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Since getting out of the car my stomach had been swishing around like crazy. I hoped to god that it wasn’t the return of my morning sickness, and the nausea was just down to nerves.
Ashley prattled on about her design piece – some interactive advert for a cosmetics company – and I tried to block her out as I went over my own notes in my mind. When she’d finished speaking a round of applause broke out around the class. I clapped along with them so I didn’t seem like a bitch.
The adjudicators discussed Ashely’s presentation in hushed whispers, one of them making notes as they conferred.
“Thank you, Miss Bennett,” the head adjudicator said. “We look forward to seeing your display this afternoon. Can Miss Megan Green please come forward for her presentation?”
I stood up from my chair and the rows of tables in front of me muddled together. I blinked, and rested a hand on the table to steady myself.
“Are you okay?” Stacey whispered.
“I told you, I’m fine.”
Forcing my vision to focus, I stared at the head adjudicator and made my way forward.
I reached the front of the class, checked my cue cards were in order, and then began.
“Good morning. My name is Megan Green and today I’d like to speak with you about an exciting new bedroom design.”
I flicked on the projector which would play the video and image part of my presentation, and as I did, a wave of nausea crashed over me. I felt the vomit surge up my throat, and clamped a hand over my mouth.
Without another word, I ran from the class to the nearest cubicle, and promptly threw up in the toilet.
I was still puking my guts out when I heard someone enter the room, and then Stacey said, “Meg, are you in here? What’s going on?”
I grabbed some tissue to wipe my mouth, flushed the loo, and then left the stall. My legs wobbled as I walked across to the sink.
“I don’t know … I guess I was more nervous than I thought.”
“Are you sure this is just nerves? You look really pale and shaky. Maybe you should see the nurse.”
I took a deep breath, then gulped down a haldful of water from the tap.
Maybe Stacey had a point? I didn’t feel quite right. My vision kept dimming, I was sure I was going to throw up again, and my feet had swollen so much my shoes had become uncomfortably tight.
But I couldn’t afford to mess up my presentation. My whole future depended on how it went.
I’d have to see the nurse later.
“I told you, I’m fine. I’m just nervous. Everything we’ve worked for rests on how today goes.”
Stacey frowned “You’re sure? Ella is still moving around and nothing else has happened?”
“Ella is fine, and no, nothing else has happened.”
“Okay. But you’ll see the nurse later, when the adjudicators have left?”
Satisfied with my answer, Stacey and I headed back to the classroom.
“Sorry about that,” I said as I took my place at the front of the class. From the corner of my eye, I saw Ashely snigger. I focused on Stacey, and resumed my presentation.
It went well enough. I didn’t feel sick or get blurry vision again, I covered all the points I needed to, and the adjudicators seemed interested in what I was saying.
When I reached the final screen and the last of my cue cards, I summarized my design concept, and my muscles loosened as all the tension left my body.
A small round of applause – led by Stacey – broke out.
The adjudicators put their heads together, discussing my presentation and then the leader said,
“Thank you, Miss Green. We look forward to seeing your display this afternoon.”
I returned to my seat, and Stacey high-fived me under the table. “You aced it.”
“I’m so embarrassed, I hope they weren’t put off by me having to run out and throw up.”
“Nah, as soon as they saw that decal, everything else was forgotten.”
Next up was Mark, who’d helped me with the heavy lifting for my display. I gave him the thumbs up as he walked to the front of the class. His presentation seemed well received, and there was the usual applause from our peers. Then it was time for Stacey’s presentation.
“Good luck,” I whispered, as she grabbed her cue cards and headed for the presentation area.
She tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder, winked at me, then strode confidently to front.
Her presentation was flawless, and I knew she’d been practicing it for weeks. The adjudicators seemed to listen with rapt attention. The applause that sounded at the end was louder than anyone’s had been that morning.
Grinning, Stacey returned to her seat beside me. “You nailed it, Stace.”
“We both did. We’re going to graduate with top marks, you’ll see.”
Stacey’s was the final presentation, so we broke for lunch, after which, the adjudicators would be visiting the design display hall, where all our pieces were set up for them to see, and we could answer any questions they had.
My stomach felt a little calmer with the presentations out of the way, and I managed to have some lunch, and a bottle of water to keep me hydrated.
It was going to be a long afternoon, of constantly being on our feet, as we just stood around our display areas ready to answer any questions visitors had.
As well as the adjudicators walking round, the degree show was open to the public. Families of those about to graduate could come along, as could local business people and prospective employers. It was our last chance before graduation to show off our work, and impress with our portfolios.
Even though I was unlikely to be hired by anyone this side of Ella’s birth, I hoped someone saw something they liked enough that they’d keep my details on file for when my maternity leave ended.
After heading to the bathroom - because Ella had developed a habit of pushing down really hard on my bladder, making me feel like I needed to pee every five minutes - Stacey and I made our way to the display hall, where each student had set up their booths.
The previously white walls were mostly filled with colour. Of course, there were some whose designs purposely put to use the negative space and stark contrast. There were graphics designs like mine, paintings, photography, sculptures and physical designs, like the wedding dress Stacey had had made.
Her booth was almost opposite mine, and we grinned at each other as we took our places, ready to wow the world with our work.
People milled about, drifting from booth to booth, looking at the various designs and pieces on display. I answered questions eagerly, showing as much enthusiasm as I could for my work, and handing out business cards to anyone who seemed interested.
After a couple of hours in the hall, my feet and back were starting to ache, and my stomach felt unsettled again, but I fought the discomfort. I didn’t want to put anyone off by appearing anything less than one-hundred percent.
My mood lifted when my parents came by. It was the first time they’d seen the design in the actual size it was intended, and I held my chin high as they walked over to me.
“Megan, this is brilliant,” Mum said, as she stepped closer to the decal and touched it.
Dad put his arm around me. “Looks like all those sleepless nights have paid off.”
I slipped my arm around his back, and rested my head on his shoulder. “Thanks. Now all I’ve got to do is get through night feeds and nappy changes.”
Mum joined us, wrapping her arm around me from the other side.
“I don’t know how you’ve managed to juggle everything, but you’ve pulled off being pregnant and graduating.”
Tears prickled my eyes. “Stop it, Mum. I don’t want to ruin my makeup when people are coming to talk to me about my work.”
Mum chuckled and handed me a tissue. “Aww look at you, you’re not my little baby anymore. You’re a professional designer, and soon-to-be mother yourself.”
I laughed and dabbed at my eyes.
“We’ll let you get on now,” Dad said, slipping out of my embrace and taking Mum’s hand. “Don’t want to be embarrassing you when any potential employers come by.”
“Enjoy the rest of the show. And don’t forget to visit Stace.”
“How could we miss that gorgeous wedding dress? You’re lucky she’s your best friend, she can give you a discount when she makes yours.”
I rolled my eyes, and chose not to respond to her not-so-subtle hint.
As she and dad headed off to visit Stacey, my thoughts drifted to weddings … and of course, Kian.
Before I could even register the thought, my hand slipped in to my pocket, and I’d pulled out my phone when I realised what I was doing.
I was originally going to invite Kian to my degree show. He’d been so enthusiastic about the decal, and I wanted him to see it in person. But after how things had ended when we last saw each other, I thought it best we had some space.
But god damn it, I missed him.
I missed our daily messaging sessions. I missed calling him up to tell him Ella had kicked me in the ribs, or about some cute baby thing I’d seen in the shops. I missed hanging out, and watching crap movies together, as he tried to get me into action films, and I tried to educate him in the way of chick-flicks.
I still felt certain if I gave him some time, with the help of his therapy sessions, Kian would eventually be ready for a relationship. But until then, I had to back away. I didn’t want to push too hard, and cause him to turn in on himself, blocking off his emotions. Plus, what I’d said the last time we’d been together was true, it did hurt acting like a couple but not really being one. That emotional upheaval was something I could do without as I prepared for the end of my degree, and then Ella’s birth. Perhaps after she was born, things would be different.
My thoughts were pulled back to the present when I saw Amanda Healey, head of HR for Honeycomb Designs, approaching my booth.
After her rejection at the career fair, I didn’t think I’d see Amanda again, but it made sense she’d be scouting the soon-to-graduate students for anyone who stood out.
“Hey Megan,” she said. “How are things?”
My feet ached, and the nausea I’d been experiencing on-and-off all day had increased, but I smiled and tried to put on a brave face.
“Good thanks. And you?”
Amanda smiled as her eyes swept over my booth. “I’m good, thank you. I know I said this at the career fair, but this work really is special. We’d love for you to come by the Honeycomb offices once you’ve had the baby and returned to work.”
She reached into her bag for a business card and handed it to me.
I stared down at the familiar logo, and the words began to mesh together, as dark spots danced in my vision. My head felt light, and the floor swayed beneath me.
An instant later, everything went black.
When I came to, I was in the back of an ambulance, Mum, Dad and Stacey gathered around me, concern etched on their faces.
“What happened?” My throat was dry and scratchy, and my lips clung together as I forced out the words.
“We’re not sure, exactly. We came over when we heard the commotion at your booth. That Amanda Healey woman said you were talking and just passed out.”
I tried to sit up, but my head span, and Mum gently pushed me back.
“How are you feeling?”
“Like I’m nursing the world’s worst hangover. Everything keeps spinning.”
“Are you eating and drinking enough?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“And getting enough rest?”
“Well, as much as I can while preparing for the show and graduation.”
Mum and Dad exchanged a look, and Stacey averted her gaze.
“What? What is it? Has something happened to Ella?”
“No. The paramedics checked her heartrate, and she seems to be doing fine, an ultrasound will confirm that. We’re just worried you’re putting too much pressure on yourself.”
“I graduate soon, I can hardly just stop coming to classes and stuff or I’ll lose everything I worked so hard for.”
“Yes, we understand that. But perhaps when things started getting too much, you should have asked for a leave of absence. You can complete your degree after Ella is born.”
I forced myself into a sitting position, my jaw clenching with the effort to stop myself from yelling at them.
“I am not struggling.”
“No one would blame you if you were, honey. Being pregnant is a lot, without heaping a degree on top of it, and losing your job.”
“Plus things with Kian haven’t been easy recently,” Stacey said.
My head snapped towards her and my eyes narrowed.
“What the hell does Kian have to do with this?”
“Well, you two had that falling out, and since then, you’ve been really down. I’m worried it’s affecting you … I mean, you almost missed the presentation this morning, then threw up.”
Mum gasped. “You were sick? Why didn’t you tell us?”
My head pounded, and the black spots returned to my vision. Suddenly I was seeing double of everyone.
I winced and closed my eyes. “Guys, give it a rest.”
“We’re just worried about you, Love.” Dad laid his hands over mine.
“Really? Because right now, it feels like you’re ganging up on me.”
The rest of the journey passed in silence. I kept my eyes closed and turned away from Stacey and my parents. Well, as best I could with a growing baby bump and while on a hospital gurney.
Once I was admitted to hospital, I was swept up in ultrasounds, blood tests, urine samples and blood pressure checks, while my parents and Stacey sat in the waiting room.
When I saw Ella moving around on the ultrasound monitor, and heard her strong heartbeat, all the tension left my muscles and tears welled behind my eyelids.
My little girl was okay.
As I waited for the various test results to come back, I gently stroked my tummy.
“It’s okay, little one. Mamma’s here, and everything will be okay.”
“Megan…” I looked up at someone softly calling my name, and saw Kian standing in the doorway. His lips had formed a tight line and there were dark circles under his eyes. “Can I come in?”
While I’d felt smothered by the presence of Stacey and my parents in the ambulance, seeing Kian made my heart light. I wanted to jump out of bed and rush into his arms. Instead, as I was confined to my bed and hooked up to an IV, I patted the space beside me and nodded my head.
He was sitting next to me in an instant, his arms wrapped around me as he gathered me close.
“Thank god you’re okay,” he said, kissing the top of my head. “If anything had happened to you or Ella … well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.”
“We’re fine.” I looked up into his blue eyes, and my bottom lip wobbled. The tears I’d been fighting to hold at bay leaked down my cheeks.
“What is it? Have they told you what’s wrong?”
“No, they’re still waiting for the results to come back. It’s just … it’s good to see you. I missed you.”
Kian’s grip on me tightened, and he kissed my head again. “I missed you too. And I’m sorry, you know, about the other day.”
“That doesn’t matter right now.”
“It does. This is all my fault. If I hadn’t been giving you mixed messages, you wouldn’t have gotten so upset.”
I wriggled out of Kian’s embrace, and shuffled back to face him. “This isn’t all about you. I think I’ve just been working myself too hard, what with the presentation, and graduation looming, then trying to find a job too.”
“All that stops now. I don’t want you lifting another finger until Ella is born.”
Despite the situation, I laughed. “Are you forbidding me from working? Really? I appreciate you looking out for me, but I can’t just do nothing until she’s born. I still have to graduate and find work.”
“Let me look after you until Ella is born. I’ve got enough saved to support you, and I’ve spoken to my solicitor about buying into the gym.”
“I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You’re not asking, I’m offering. And I know you said before you’d be okay, but this time I insist. I don’t want anything happening to you and Ella. If I can help in some way, please, for the love of God, let me.”
Kian stared at me, his eyes wide and focused.
“Okay. Thank you.”
“Anything you need, just ask.” He kissed my head again, then hopped down off the bed, and sat in the chair beside it.
Both our attention went to the door, as my obstetrician Doctor Stone entered.
“Megan … Kian,” she said, as she crossed the room and stood at the foot of my bed. “The good news is, it isn’t preeclampsia, which we were worried it could have been. But, based on your symptoms and results, it’s likely you have gestational hypertension. We’d like to keep you in overnight to monitor your condition, and then depending on how things are tomorrow, discuss a plan for your pre-natal care after your release.”
“What’s gestational hypertension?” Kian asked.
“It’s high blood pressure, but without the symptoms of preeclampsia, like protein in the urine. But due to the risk of it becoming preeclampsia, we’d like to monitor Megan regularly, and make sure the baby continues to grow as she should. If your blood pressure is still high as the pregnancy progresses, we may have to induce you for an early birth.”
“Won’t that be even more of a risk for Ella?” I asked.
“Premature birth can cause some risks, which is why we’ll be monitoring you closely, and will only induce you when we’re certain the baby is sufficiently developed.”
“What can I do to lower my blood pressure?”
“There are a number of things you can do, like monitoring your weight, reducing stress, and gentle exercising. I’ll go over everything that will be beneficial to you tomorrow, when we see about your release.” She looked over my notes, then added. “I’ll leave you to get some rest, and see you in the morning.”
“Yeah, see you tomorrow.”
As Doctor Stone was leaving, my parents and Stacey entered the room.
Mum’s eyes narrowed slightly when she saw Kian sitting beside me, but she didn’t say anything.
Dad was the first to speak. “What did the doctor say then, Love?”
I filled them in about gestational hypertension, and Doctor Stone’s suggestions on how to lower my blood pressure.
When I’d finished, Mum said, “That’s it, you’re moving in with us until Ella is born, and once you’ve graduated, I don’t want you doing anything. Job hunting can wait.”
“I am not moving back in with you guys.” Mum opened her mouth to argue, but I forestalled her. “But after graduation, I will take it easy until Ella is born. Kian’s offered to use some of his savings to make sure I’m okay for money until after the birth, so I’ll spend the next few months resting. I promise.”
Dad approached Kian and clasped him on the back. “You’re a good lad, son. Thanks for taking care of my girls.”
“It’s nothing, Sir. They’re my girls, too, and I’d give anything to protect them.”
‘OH.MY.GOD’ Stacey mouthed to me and gave me the thumbs up from behind Mum, where only I could see.
In the moment of silence that followed, it dawned on me that this was Kian’s first time meeting my parents. The realisation made my fingertips and toes tingle. This was SO not how I’d imagined introducing Kian to my parents. I was in hospital and hooked up to an IV for starters.
Noticing that everyone was awkwardly avoiding eye contact, I cleared my throat and said, “Mum, Dad, this is Kian. Kian, this is my parents.”
Kian stood from the chair and extended his hand to Dad. “Pleased to meet you.”
“And you.” Dad said, returning the handshake.
Kian then turned to Mum, who was still carrying some of her earlier hostility, as she regarded him cautiously. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Green.”
“Yes, you too.” She shook his hand awkwardly, smiling through thin lips.
The room crackled with tension, as my parents stared at Kian, and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, unsure if he should sit down or not.
Unable to stand it, I faked a yawn. “I think I’m going to turn in for the night. I’ll call you tomorrow after I’ve seen the doctor.”
“Yes, make sure you’re getting plenty of rest,” Mum said, stepping past Kian and pulling me into an embrace.
When she released me, Dad wrapped his arms around me. “You take care, Love.”
“I will, Dad.” I kissed his cheek and gave his hand a squeeze.
“Stacey, do you need a lift home?” Mum asked, as she moved towards the door.
Stacey glanced at me, and using BFF ESP I let her know it was okay for her to leave, and I’d text her in a little bit.
“Back to the campus would be good thanks.”
“Oh my god, our displays. What’s going to happen to them?”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Barnes excused us both for the rest of the day. He asked for you to give him a call once you’ve been discharged.”
“Okay, I’ll ring him tomorrow to let him know what’s going on. Could you pick up my bag and stuff, and drop it off at my place?”
“Sure. Want me to get you some clothes and toiletries while I’m there?”
“That’d be great.”
Stacey approached the bed and pulled me into a massive bear hug. “Not a problem. Just don’t scare me like that again, okay?”
“Believe me, I have no intention of coming back to hospital until I go into labour.”
Once Stacey and my parents had gone, Kian climbed back onto the bed and wrapped his arms around me.
“See, even more reason for you to take it easy and let me look after you. Doctor’s orders, and I pretty much promised your parents.”
“Yeah, sorry about Mum. We had a bit of an argument in the ambulance, and I think she’s still pissed off with me.”
“She’s just worried about you. We all are.”
“I know … I just …” I couldn’t find the words to explain to Kian the suffocating feeling having my parents fussing around me caused.
“A little too much at times? And you’d rather they left you alone unless you directly asked for their help?”
“Yes! That’s exactly it. I love them, I really do, but when Mum and Dad get all overprotective like that, I can hardly breathe.”
“I know what it’s like. My parents were just as bad when I was in the ICU. You know my mum suggested I move back in with them for a while too?”
“It’s insane. You’d think by the way they went on when we lived with them they’d be glad to see the back of us, but suddenly, the moment we move out, they want to treat us like babies again. Promise me we’ll never be that overprotective with Ella?”
“Are you kidding me? Our little girl isn’t leaving the house alone until she’s at least twenty-five.”
I laughed. “Oh yeah, I forgot, tough guy Daddy doesn’t want our daughter having a boyfriend or anything.”
“Damn right. What if she meets someone like me?”
“She could do a lot worse.”
Kian’s hands stilled where they were rubbing my shoulders and he pulled away slightly. “I should be getting off too.”
Me and my big mouth.
I tried not to let the disappointment show in my voice when I said, “Yeah, I should probably try and get some sleep. I’ll call you in the morning after I’ve spoken with Doctor Stone.”
“Okay, I’ll speak to you tomorrow.” Kian climbed off the bed and pulled on his leather jacket.
When he’d gone, I lay back in the hospital bed and closed my eyes, trying not to read too much into how protective Kian had been of me, or that he’d referred to me and Ella as his girls in front of my dad. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the feeling of his arms around me, or his lips pressed to my head when he kissed me.