"Are you sure?" She asked nervously, fidgeting with her hands in her lap.

"Oh, I'm sure," Dr. Gracie said, her mouth forming a gentle smile. "You're definitely pregnant."

She frowned, her mind racing with a million different ways she could put it to Ed, but the imagined outcome was always the same. She placed a hand to her stomach, feeling as if she might vomit again. It was the first time she'd ever been afraid of what he would do to her.

XXXXX

As it turned out, Ed was thrilled with the news. "Are you serious?" He'd asked emotionally.

She nodded, watching him carefully.

"Honey, that's great!" He said, actually reaching out and lifting her up into the air. "We're gonna be parents!"

She smiled slowly as the reality completely sank in for the first time.

XXXXX

Ed spent the weekends painting the extra bedroom for a nursery. He made the walls a pale yellow, her favorite. Carol would watch curiously from the hallway until the smell of the fresh paint was too much for her.

She watched with raised eyebrows as his whole personality changed. He'd tell her every so often how she'd make a great mother and he couldn't wait for their little one to arrive.

He started coming straight home after work. Sometimes he'd compliment her cooking. He still smelled like beer every now and then, but she couldn't help noticing that he was drinking much less.

He also smiled more, and not the sick, drunken grins that she'd grown accustomed to seeing on his lips. These were real, genuine smiles, the kind that reached his eyes and made him look ten years younger. She soon found herself smiling back.

XXXXX

After twelve and half hours of labor, Ed swore that Carol was the toughest woman he'd ever met. He sat beside her on the hospital bed as they held their daughter for the first time.

They named her Sophia, after his favorite aunt. They'd fought several times over what to name their child. Carol wasn't too keen on naming the baby after someone. She'd preferred to use an original name and hope that her daughter would grow into her own person, but it really was a beautiful name and after the first time she'd spoken it aloud, she couldn't think of anything else she'd rather call their child.

"Things are gonna be different," he murmured into her hair as she clutched at the baby. "I'm gonna be a better husband, and a great dad to this little princess, you'll see," he promised.

She really wished that he never promised her anything.

XXXXX

One of Sophia's favorite things to do as she got older was run her hands through her mother's curls, pretending to play beauty salon.

"How long do you think it'll take my hair to grow as long as yours?" She asked curiously as they played on the floor.

"Oh, about two hundred years!" Carol answered, laughing at Sophia's dubious expression.

"When I grow up, I wanna be as pretty as you, Mama," Sophia said, throwing her arms around her mother's neck.

"Pfft," Ed snorted from the couch. He raised the remote to change the channel on the tv, not looking at either one of them. "You already are much prettier, darlin.'"

XXXXX

"Don't you think them jeans are too tight?" Ed asked with a snort. "'Specially for someone's ma to be wearin?'"

Carol shrugged.

"I don't like the way Mr. Jacobsen next door was lookin' at ya. It's your fault, you know. Dressin' like a slut. That what you want, tempting other men?"

Carol laughed. "Mr. Jacobsen is eighty years old, Ed! I hardly think he's interested in me."

The blow came unexpectedly hard from the left. She was still rubbing her jaw when he yanked her hair back, wrapping her long curls around his wrist and tugging hard.

The next day, she was trembling angrily as she chopped onions on a cutting board. Without thinking, she raised the knife and hacked off a large chunk of chestnut brown curls.

She immediately covered her mouth with her hands, checking the clock on the wall through teary eyes to make sure there was enough time to get to the salon before she had to pick Sophia up from school.

Sophia cried when she saw her mother's new 'do, and Carol cried too.

"That looks hideous, you know," Ed grunted when he got home from work.

"I know," she whispered.

XXXXX

Most days, she decided that as long as it didn't affect Sophia, that everything was okay. After all, he was generally nice to her and she didn't want her daughter growing up without a father like she had to.

Some days were worse than others.

After a particularly bad night, she decided that she could leave. She would talk to her mother, see about moving back in temporarily until she started working again. She would be okay on her own with their daughter, as long as Sophia was okay. No matter what she had to do, she would make it work.

Carol was on her way to their bedroom to tell him that she was leaving, that she already had a bag packed. She stopped in the hall when she heard Sophia's voice and peered in through the open door.

Sophia was giggling loudly, bouncing up and down on her daddy's shoulders as he twirled in front of the mirror. "I love you, daddy!" She squealed happily.

Ed looked up, catching Carol's gaze in the mirror. "I love you too, princess," He said with a wink.

She fled from the room, pressing her back against the wall and sinking slowly to the floor as she buried her face in her folded arms.