The Plot Thickens (4 of x)

Trigger warnings are bullshit, in my opinion, but this took me a while to write because it is an extremely painful subject. I tempered it with some flashback happiness, but even though it’s fictional, it gave me all the feels. I’m curious to know if it reads as overly dramatized, realistic, cliche etc. It’s a continuation of this, by the way.

Jeremy stared blankly at the line of code he’d been trying to write for the last half hour. This wasn’t like him. He wasn’t easily distracted from his work. At least not until recently. He took off his reading glasses and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. He pushed the chair away from the desk in his home office and spun around slowly, leaning back. Trailing his toe to the ground he came to a stop, pushed out of the chair, and plopped face-down on the small couch that sat opposite the front window. His tall frame was nearly two feet too long for it. He bent his knees up so that at least his stomach and chest were flat, his face buried in a throw pillow.

He stayed in the relatively uncomfortable position for a few breaths until he realized the pillow smelled like Hannah. The exotic floral scent of her shampoo lingered fresh on the fabric, and as he sat up, he pulled one of her long wheat-blonde hairs off the arm rest the pillow had been propped against. Had she slept down here? He fell asleep with her beside him in bed and woke up to her in the same place. Had she been up sometime in the night? Why would she come down here to sleep only to return to his side before he woke? Why didn’t he notice that she was gone?

Jeremy inhaled Hannah’s scent on the pillow. He craved that scent, the woman it was attached to, constantly. Her scent, her laughter, her mind. He wanted her around him all the time, even if  they were each doing their own thing. He wanted her near him; he wanted to be in her presence. It had been that way since the first time he met her. She was setting up a conference room for a research proposal presentation and something was wrong with the projector. Hannah was new to the university, so she didn’t know which IT department extension to call for assistance. Hardware malfunctions weren’t in Jeremy’s purview, but it was his extension she dialed. She was direct about her concern on the phone, and though it wasn’t his job, he knew how to fix the problem. He came up to the conference room to find her standing on the table, ballet flats kicked off, all five feet eleven inches of her stretching on tip toes to reach the ceiling-mounted projector to check that the cords were connected properly.

Hannah was satisfied that all the wired connections were secure, the projector was on, and the lens cap was removed. With her hands on her hips, she gave it a last look and sighed heavily. She still hadn’t noticed Jeremy in the room. As she attempted to get off the table, Jeremy cleared his throat before she did something immodest in her pencil skirt. She startled at the sound and turned her head to him. She tried to smile, but the expression was more of a grimace as she not-so-gracefully managed to get her feet back on the floor without splitting her skirt or her skull.

“It’s not the cords,” Hannah reported when she had her shoes back on and her blouse smoothed out. Jeremy was impressed that she’d taken it upon herself to check, so he knew he could skip the old engineer’s trick of turning it off and turning it on again.

“What laptop are you working from?” Jeremy looked toward the lectern near the screen in the conference room. Hannah nodded. He took a look at the laptop and discerned the problem immediately. “This is one of the new laptops, so it works with the projector’s Bluetooth. It may not be set up yet.” He went to the table to peer up at the projector, reading an ID number off of it, and returned to the laptop for some fiddling.

Hannah stood beside him, checking her watch. She was nervous not of presenting but of the possibility of having to present without the PowerPoint she had prepared. She made it a habit to show up early for these very reasons because technology hadn’t always come through for her. She’d done one presentation without visual aids in high school and learned the lesson for life. She wasn’t a dynamic enough speaker to be able to hold the attention of her audience without something for them to look at, and now that her  presentations always included data, it was a bitch to rattle that information off without a supporting chart, even if it wasn’t fancy.

Jeremy liked that she had tried to solve the problem herself, but she was hovering. He couldn’t tell if she was nervous or if she was trying to micromanage all aspects of the presentation. Either way, it made him nervous. She was beautiful and obviously intelligent if she was proposing research for the Brain Injury Institute; plus, her no-nonsense American attitude on the phone had him intrigued before he’d seen her long, curvy body stretched above the conference table.

“Thank you for this. They didn’t tell me anything about the equipment, just that I was presenting in here.” Hannah was genuinely grateful, and she sensed that she’d maybe given this IT guy more than he bargained for by having her butt at eye level when he walked in.

“Sure, no problem. It’s just about ready now.” Jeremy saw that the laptop had found the projector. He turned to look at the big screen as the monitor’s image popped up. “There you are.”

The relief on Hannah’s face made Jeremy smile. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was worried I’d have to talk through all the data and that would put everyone to sleep instead of getting them interested in supporting this research.” She looked at the ID badge hanging around his neck before going on, “Seriously, Jeremy, you’ve saved me from boring a lot of people to death.”

Jeremy wasn’t used to people being so thankful. Most of the time the best he got for thanks was a nod and grunt when he’d fixed a software problem. Hannah was unlike anyone he’d ever met. He couldn’t imagine her presentation would be boring with or without the PowerPoint. He wanted to stay to hear it even though brain injuries had never interested him before. Brain to computer interaction, maybe, but injuries and recovery and all that, no thanks. He realized then that he hadn’t said anything in response to Hannah’s praise. She was looking at him and the laptop not impatiently but with a question in her eyes.

“Oh, yeah. Yes. You’ll want to get back to setting up. Right. Glad I could help,” he fumbled for words that made sense. Once he stepped aside, Hannah was back behind the lectern doing some fiddling of her own, viewing the slideshow from the beginning and checking that all her citations were accurate. Jeremy watched as the information flashed on the projection screen, catching her name on the opening slide. “Well, I’ll leave you to it, Hannah,” he said as he stepped toward the door.

Without looking up, Hannah said, “I owe you, IT Jeremy” as she continued to work.

The next day at lunchtime Hannah was wandering around the basement where the online directory had told her she could find Jeremy’s office. He spotted her before she found the right door and was surprised to see her. When people say they owe you, they don’t usually mean it, and if they do, they don’t follow up on it quickly. “Hannah, hi! How did the presentation go?” he called to her.

“I think it went well. Thank you for your help. I’m embarrassed that I asked the lead software guy to do such a menial task. I just dialed the first IT number I saw. I’m sorry it wasted your time. You have much more important things to work on than troubleshooting for me,” Hannah rambled a bit. “I owe you either way, and I’m going to get lunch and wondered if I could bring you something? A coffee, anything.”

The woman amazed Jeremy. She was brilliant, beautiful, solution-oriented, grateful, and, from what he could tell, reliable. He didn’t know what he wanted for lunch, but he knew that he wanted to be around Hannah as much as possible, to get to know her.

Still enjoying her scent on the pillow, Jeremy remembered how hard it had been to talk her into moving in with him when the lease on her flat expired. Like everything in their relationship, Hannah didn’t make it easy. One of the qualities he failed to infer from their meeting in the conference room was her independence and her obstinacy. To Jeremy, living together was more than logical, it was what he wanted since the first time she’d slept in his arms. Hannah thought it was just another way Jeremy was being annoyingly reasonable. Hannah knew him well. When he saw a problem, his engineering brain went to work on several possible solutions, evaluating them to choose the most effective one and acting upon it. They were spending at least three nights a week together anyway; he already owned his place; she needed to save money wherever she moved next. Hannah moving in made sense in every way. Jeremy had to give voice to all his emotions to convince her it wasn’t about cold hard logic. He desired her. He wasn’t the emotionless scientist she sometimes thought he was. He wasn’t the emotionless scientist he sometimes acted like.

Wasn’t that the problem now? He’d acted like a robotic ass when Hannah needed to see his heart and feel his support. He’d been caught up in medical explanations, trying to make sense of something that was too crushing to confront with his heart. Jeremy had to use his head from the moment he was left alone in the A&E waiting area. Hannah wasn’t his wife, so he wasn’t allowed to go with her for treatment. All Jeremy knew was that when he let go of her clammy, trembling hand, Hannah was crumpled in pain and bleeding in ways a pregnant woman should not be. His head was the only thing keeping his heart from shattering.

They hadn’t even known she was pregnant very long. Hannah took the home test when she realized she was six days late. They’d run out of condoms on their hiking trip in the Scottish Highlands. Hannah wasn’t on birth control, so they knew it was a risk, but in the tent, tangled together in one sleeping bag, celebrating that she had moved in with him, neither of them had cared. Jeremy wanted to spend the rest of his life with Hannah even before he asked her to live with him, so pregnancy was a step in the right direction as far as he was concerned. He was delighted to be fathering a child with her. He went with her to the first appointment, a simple blood test to confirm what they already knew. The doctor said her hormone levels were good and that this early in the pregnancy, an ultrasound wasn’t necessary. Even though Hannah was 37, therefore at a higher risk for complications by American standards, the doctor assured the couple that she didn’t need to do anything differently than any other pregnant woman. Hannah started taking prenatal vitamins even before the appointment, and the doctor said besides that and continuing to eat well and exercise, there wasn’t anything she should worry about. Hannah and Jeremy scheduled an appointment for three weeks later when they might be able to hear their baby’s heartbeat and see its shape on the ultrasound.

Jeremy knew Hannah was feeling a million things, not just because of hormones. He constantly asked Hannah to talk to him. He had been asking her to talk to him since the beginning of their relationship. For all her work getting stroke survivors to re-learn how to speak, Hannah was guarded with her feelings when it came to Jeremy. He knew and loved that about her. She was reserved in her affections not because they weren’t deep but because she had trouble trusting people as much as she trusted herself. He figured out pretty quickly that she was independent almost to a fault, but it made her more attractive to Jeremy. Hannah didn’t need him; she wanted him. While it was nice that he could sometimes make her life easier, like the day they met, she didn’t expect him to be her hero or savior, and that somehow relieved him. As the oldest child of five, he grew up with expectations coming from every direction. His parents expected him to take care of his younger brothers and sisters; his younger brothers and sisters expected him to be their protector and leader; he expected himself to set a good example for his siblings and make his parents proud. Hannah’s expectations of him were as annoyingly reasonable as she accused him of being. He could live up to them; he could manage to not let her down.

Except he had this time. This time when it was more important than ever, Jeremy let her down because he protected himself from the pain of the doctor’s words instead of thinking about how Hannah was going to be able to do the same. Jeremy knew Hannah was worried that it was too soon for them to have a baby. They’d only been living together for a few months, were still trying to figure out how to negotiate sharing space full time. Adding a baby made her wary. Hannah’s family history loomed large, Jeremy knew, but he also knew he was nothing like her father. While Hannah’s father was a “my way or the highway” kind of guy, and her mother had chosen the highway, Jeremy, though he thought methodically, was emotionally intelligent. If talking through feelings was the best solution to a problem, he had no qualms about doing so. If trying to understand a perspective that wasn’t his own would lead to a better solution than he could think of alone, he knew how to be a team player.

But he hadn’t looked at another perspective when he heard that Hannah was recovering from emergency surgery to remove her right ovary and fallopian tube because the fetus implanted there instead of her uterus. The baby was gone, and Hannah herself had been in danger had they not performed the surgery. She still faced a lot of physical recovery time though her prognosis was good. Without two ovaries, however, the chance of conceiving another child was reduced. Jeremy took it all into his head because he couldn’t allow it into his heart. Without Hannah near him to give him the strength he needed, he couldn’t find a way to his heart. So he used his head, grilling the doctor with questions about what had gone wrong, why the baby had implanted in the wrong place, why Hannah’s body hadn’t alerted her to the problem earlier, why the doctors hadn’t known sooner, why there wasn’t a medical procedure that could detach the living fetus from the dangerous fallopian tube wall and reattach it the safe uterine lining. Why. Why. Why he hammered.

Sitting on the couch, his nose buried in the pillow that smelled of Hannah, Jeremy was still hammering why, why, why. He was not questioning the doctor or Hannah though. Why had he been so weak, so selfish?  Why had he let his grief wind its way inside him and turn into finger pointing? Why couldn’t he be silent and supportive? Why, the ONE time Hannah needed him, could he not deliver? Sure, he’d taken care of her after surgery, making sure she had everything she needed to recover physically. When she was able to come home from hospital, he carried her up the two flights of stairs to their bedroom and got her comfortable. After she’d rested, he helped her shower and wash her hair, making sure to re-dress the healing incision on her lower abdomen. He’d brought her the ice cream she asked for and anything else she’d wanted. But he said nothing about the baby. Nothing about his grief. He didn’t ask her about her grief.  For the first time in their relationship, he didn’t ask her to talk to him. He got updates on how she was doing physically, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask about her feelings. He couldn’t bring himself to talk about his feelings.

It went on that way for weeks. Hannah’s body slowly healed, but they both lived behind walls to hide their emotions. Jeremy knew it was no good; he knew Hannah well enough to know she was suffering because of it too. One night about four weeks after the emergency surgery, he broke down. He didn’t give Hannah any warning that he wanted to talk, he just started in over dinner. He approached it from the medical side, presenting reasons he’d found from internet searches about why some women have ectopic pregnancies. Throughout the verbal explosion, Jeremy was exactly the cold, hard logician Hannah accused him of being. He was all head and no heart, except that he was bleeding from his own heart, unable to deal with the loss they were mutually ignoring. A loss that he couldn’t come to terms with in a reasonable way. A loss that hurt him deeply because it also seemed to crush his hopes of being with Hannah for the rest of his life. And in his pain, he’d said the worst possible thing before he could stop himself.

“I’m not saying it’s your fault. I’m saying you neglected to do something you were supposed to do. Or you neglected to avoid something you were supposed to avoid,” Jeremy blamed Hannah for losing their child.

Hannah looked like he’d punched her in the gut. She remained motionless for several moments before putting down her fork when her hands began to shake. She’d tried very hard not to cry in front of Jeremy because she thought he wouldn’t understand, that he would want her to explain her tears, to talk about what she felt. She didn’t know that he wanted to cry too, that holding her while they both cried was probably what they both needed. At the dinner table, blamed for something that was out of her control but she felt was her fault anyway, Hannah couldn’t hold back the tears until she was away from Jeremy. She sat with her trembling hands in her lap, her head bowed, and cried.

Jeremy was immediately disgusted with himself. He hated that he’d given voice to his most venomous thoughts. He didn’t even believe Hannah could have done something differently, not in his heart. He knew she was hurting just as badly as he was, but he couldn’t see past his own suffering until that moment. He looked at her sitting there defeated, her shoulders slumped, sobs convulsing her body. Not for the first time in the last few weeks, she needed him. Genuinely needed him like she’d never needed him before. Strong, independent Hannah who never let the power balance between them teeter too far to one side or another had been needing Jeremy for the last month and he’d been too grief stricken to even see it. Now it was plain as day that he’d only added to Hannah’s suffering by ignoring the loss that weighed on both of them.

His harsh words remained suspended in the air as Hannah continued to weep at their dinner table. Before he was paralyzed by grief, now he was paralyzed by guilt. What would he possibly say after something so vicious? How could he even begin to make amends for the wound he inflicted with his words on top of the wounds he’d inflicted by being an emotionless ass over the last month? An apology, of course, but he couldn’t erase the things he’d just said. Jeremy had never felt like such a terrible human being as he did in that moment.

Hannah made no attempt to leave the table. She remained in her seat, crying, her whole body shaking with her sobs. Jeremy knelt beside her, wrapping his arms around her waist and putting his head in her lap. He felt the waves of her tears as they rolled through her, her sadness passing into him. He tried to breathe deep and evenly to slow her jagged breaths, but he found himself short of air as his own cheeks dampened. Tears rolling slowly down his face, he looked up at her. “I’m sorry. I don’t believe any of what I said. I’m so sorry, Hannah. I’m lost in my grief without you. Tell me how to do this with you. Tell me what I can do so we’re together in this instead of being alone and apart. I’m so sorry I’ve been selfish in my sadness.”

Hannah ran her hands through his thick brown hair and held his head in her lap without saying anything. They stayed like that, both crying, as their dinner got cold.


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