Slaves to the Spirits
This story contains violence and coarse language, and may be distressing to some readers.
Envy flared beneath her skin. What had started as the tiniest of pricks was slowly becoming something consuming, a fire burning beneath tawny beige skin. Ignited a mere half hour ago in the doctor's office, it burst into something violent and hateful as the car rolled past what appeared to be a suburban dream.
The home was cozy, decorated festively for the Christmas season with flashing coloured LED lights and childish attempts at snowmen lining the front yard. Through the yellow glowing square of the front sitting room window, Emily could see the family gathered in that cramped space. Kim was nursing her baby daughter while Jared played with his three-year-old son. Smiling. Everyone of them grinning so wide she thought their faces might crack in half. It was a picturesque family, a scene that could have easily been some excerpt from a Christmas movie, only two blocks away from her own cold and spiritless home.
She looked away and gritted her teeth. Her husband reached over to pat her knee.
"I know it's hard," he said. Emily was sure that if she glimpsed over at him, he would be wearing that pained smile he had been wearing all night whenever he looked at her. "We still have each other."
She nodded and pretended to find comfort in his words. Sam allowed himself to be reassured by the slight movement of her head.
Gravel crunched beneath tyres as the car pulled up at the house. Emily flung the door open before her husband had even brought it to a stop, jumped out of the truck as he put on the handbrake. He called out for her to wait but she refused to allow him the time to come around and collect her, sickened by the actions she had once thought of as sweet. He thought she was weak, fragile, about to break down any second now.
She wouldn't. She refused.
The house was dark and empty. Hours of vacancy had left the space cold, the air biting her skin as Emily stepped across the threshold. Sam flicked the lights on quickly, illuminating the dark rooms with a false warmth. It did little to mask the loneliness that reeked from the floorboards, the lifelessness of the place.
Emily closed and locked the door behind her, hesitated for a moment in the entrance. She could lean a little to the left and see into the dining room, see the seats around the dining table to be empty. The highchair they had bought months ago, back when they had been so sure, was still unused. The dips and planes of white plastic, the navy blue seat. She wanted to throw it away. She wanted to, because she paused in the doorway and, for a moment, could see him. She imagined her baby - their baby - sat there, with his chubby cheeks and wide smile, gurgling when he saw his Mama. He'd have had Sam's nose and Emily's eyes, straight black hair, fat little legs. He was going to be perfect.
It was meant to be perfect.
She inhaled sharply, an involuntary reaction, the kind of response caused by physical pain as she stumbled over something unwelcome, a memory she'd never encountered. Emily shook her head, dumped her leather bag on the table by the entrance and continued into the kitchen where Sam was watching her closely.
"Do you mind?"
Sam winced at the clipped tone, straightened up and shifted his weight. He looked at her for a long moment. "Are you okay?'
She laughed, not because it was funny but because she didn't know what else to do. She could laugh or she could cry.
She'd decided to save the latter for another time.
"You okay?" he repeated after a moment. There was something in his face she didn't like. Pity, maybe. She felt her gut wrench at the thought.
She clamped her mouth shut then, narrowed her eyes at him. How could he understand? How could he even ask her something like that? She shouldered past him as she stalked towards the fridge, yanking the door open to stare moodily into the cold depths.
"Em," he sighed.
"I need a drink."
He ran a hand down his face as he shook his head. "Babe, I don't think-"
"I said I need a damn drink."
Sam hesitated, but crossed the kitchen to stand beside her. He leaned into the fridge, seizing a cold bottle of beer. His eyes were some odd blend of emotion when Emily took it from him, something she couldn't work out. Dark and frustrated and empathetic and pained all at once.
She cracked open the bottle and took a long swig. Eager to forget.
He frowned, focusing on the bottle as she pulled it away from her mouth. "Maybe that's not a good idea."
Swiping the back of her hand over her lips, Emily turned her angered eyes towards her husband. "To hell with your stupid theories, Sam."
The look of confusion on his face lit a fire within her that could not be extinguished, different from before, born out of rage. The flames flickered in her belly, licked their way up her throat to escape her mouth as scorching hot anger. Her blood boiled as he gaped, mouth hanging open. In that moment, she couldn't stand him. She couldn't stand the look on his face, the judgement in his eyes, the way he was watching her like she was about to crash to the floor crying.
"Do you really think," she asked him, "that the pack imprints on women who have the best chance to reproduce?"
Sinking his teeth into his bottom lip, Sam looked away from her. "I won't argue with you about this."
"No, you never want to argue, do you? You just want to be right," she sneered. "That's all you ever care about."
Maybe she would have gotten away with it any other night, if it was about anything else. But tonight, Sam gave in more easily than usual, more easily than he would have liked. He would have liked to wrap her up in his arms and reassure her that it wasn't an ending, that it couldn't be an ending. He didn't though. He flared up, let anger consume him, puffed his chest out. "You know I couldn't have known," he told her. "The elders and the legends-"
"I lost my son, Sam!" she screamed. "Do you really think your stupid theories matter? My son will never even see his first birthday. Who cares about the stupid legends?"
There was something in her face that melted his resolve, something in the brittleness of her voice that had his anger dissipating instantly. The furrow between his brows was now the result of something else entirely, some heavier feeling deep within his chest. He stepped closer to her, pried the beer from her grasp and set it on the counter. "He was my son, too." Thumbing away the tears running down her cheeks, he tried his best to bite back the ones that threatened to escape his own tear ducts. "I'm sorry this happened to us."
"I am too."
Sam pulled her into his chest. She couldn't see the tears that way, but felt them pattering onto her hair. It was the first time he'd cried in front of her since it happened, the first time he'd allowed himself to be anything but the emotionless anchor he thought she needed him to be.
Emily knew he would deny it later.
She felt his lips against her hair, his deep sigh stirring black strands. "I know this isn't what we were hoping for," he said slowly, "but there are always other ways."
"Other options," Emily scoffed. "Didn't you hear him? He said it was impossible."
"He didn't say that."
"He might as well have." Emily broke away from his arms to retrieve her beer from the counter.
"If we really want this, we could adopt. Or we could find a surrogate."
Emily paused, her beer floating in air as she slowly lowered it from her lips. Her eyes bored into his face for a long moment.
"I know it's not what-"
"Why are you with me?"
It had been a long time since Emily had seen that look on her husband's face, months even. Pure terror. His eyes were wide and his jaw was slack. He stood motionlessly, a statue, silent.
Maybe she'd broken him.
"I can't give you children," she said, turning her stare to the white tiles beneath her feet. "I'm-"
"No," he said sternly. She looked up to see him approaching her quickly, placing his warm hands on her shoulders. "I love you, Emily Uley. I'm in love with you." His dark eyes were serious, pleading. He wanted her to believe him. He was desperate to convince her of this truth. "And whatever makes you happy we can do. I want you to be happy."
Emily's vision was going blurry again as tears welled up in her eyes. She wasted no time in stepping into his arms and burying herself in his chest. "Okay," she breathed.
After a moment he began to chuckle lightly, that quiet airy laugh. "Emily Uley," he sighed, giggling like a lovesick schoolboy. "I don't think I'll ever get over the fact that I'm married to you."
"Well, I'd hope not."
Sam peered down at his chest, saw her smirk up at him. He laughed, kissed her lips. "God, I love you."