Karma
From Merriam Webster: Karma Function: noun
Etymology: Sanskrit karma fate, work
1 often capitalized: the force generated by a person's actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person's next existence

Heather

I pick up the phone.

"Ms Marazek, yes, thank goodness we've reached you. Doctor Phal needs to see you again as soon as it's convenient. What time is good for you?"

I freeze. The receptionist's tone is faintly stiff; she knows something she can't say over the phone, I can tell. The smug little hint of it in her voice gives it away and I take a breath to regain my composure. My last appointment was only a week ago. The tests are due back-

"This afternoon, at four if you have an opening," I reply, checking the clock in the kitchen. Thank goodness Jim's busy with a deposition today. If he were here he'd be looking at me with those worried eyes. I couldn't take that right now. Bad enough he was there when I started bleeding a few months ago, commiserating with me on what was probably the start of early menopause. But I haven't wanted to worry him about the rest of it.

The coughing and headaches

The sleeplessness.

The reflux of bile and continual afternoon fatigue.

"We have an opening at four ten. We'll see you then," the receptionist chirps, and hangs up, leaving me to stare off into the kitchen with the receiver in my hand, suddenly feeling very alone. I'm torn now, terribly torn. I want to know what's wrong with me so I can get on with facing it—and at the same time I don't want to know.

It isn't fair. I've handled the diabetes most of my teen and adult life, and that's been no picnic. I've had measles and shingles and broken ribs. Even though I took care of myself when I was carrying Zoë, I still ended up with preeclampsia and tied tubes. I watch my weight even though I don't really want to, I exercise, even though I don't really want to, I take my vitamins and don't drink or smoke—

I'm sure it's cancer. Doctor Phal won't sugarcoat it if it is, and I'll just have to deal with it.

As I step out of the shower I wonder what sort it is. One of my uncles died of stomach cancer, and according to my mother it was a terribly painful way to go. I rub my stomach ruefully. Yes medical science has made a lot of inroads, but still—

It could be something blood-related. Phal took several tubes, teasing me about being part vampire—do women my age get leukemia? I always associated it with children. And if I had leukemia wouldn't I feel more run down? I towel off and contemplate my body in the mirror of the bathroom, letting my gaze travel over myself.

It's been a good body. I do like parts of it, unlike Jim, who seems to think EVERY aspect of me is amazing. That sort of devoted blindness I don't mind, and if he's willing to overlook my overly pointy elbows or big feet or scars, then who am I to complain?

I lean forward and glare at myself, shaking my wet bangs out of my face. "You have Magyar blood in your veins, woman. Deal." I snap at my reflection.

In my only concession to vanity I admit: I so do not want to lose my hair to chemotherapy.

In the waiting room I listlessly glance at magazines, not reading, not remembering anything I've looked at. My cell phone rings and I open it, seeing a familiar number and feeling a stomachdrop of dread.

Time to put on a show.

"Hey hon. Wanted to see if you were still interested in pizza later."

"Ah, sure, sounds great."

Actually it sounds awful; when I'm upset I have no appetite for anything, but I can't let Jim sense anything.

"So I called the house but you weren't in—shopping? Did I catch you at a bad time?" he says in that ruthlessly loving way he has. Jim can't help being a detective, even when he's not aware of it, and I smile crookedly.

"No, never a bad time to talk to you my darling. I'll be home when my appointment's over."

"Appointment?" here it comes. Nothing gets by this man, and I regret my slip. I take in a deep breath.

"Yes. Doctor Phal's office called. They needed to see me."

"They called you." His words echo in my ear and we both sort of pause. We both know this isn't normal. We both know it means something serious.

"Jim—" I begin and stop. What can I say? I'm weak; I want him with me. His voice rolls out again before I can speak.

" Okay, I'll be there in about ten minutes." Now I can hear the change in his tone, shifting from playful to something a little steelier, and just hearing it gives me a sense of relief.

He'll be here when I hear it. Thank God. I fight the tears and let my eyes close, just waiting.

And waiting. The office is busy around me. Other people are talking to the receptionist, making further appointments and co-payments. I try to lose myself in an issue of Cosmo with no luck. I am not interested in the New Colors of the Month, and I don't need any more Tricks In Bed My Man Will Love. He wears me out as it IS, thank you, without resorting to tricks of any sort—unless you call the time we played around with the tub of Cool Whip—

Jim walks through the waiting room door, catching me in mid-blush. I rise to receive his gentle peck on the cheek and he looks at me carefully.

"You look flushed—" he observes. I give him my most mysterious smile.

"Memories."

"Good ones?"

"Cool Whip."

Now he's blushing. With aplomb he sits on the sofa beside me, shooting me one of his 'not now' looks and then glances around the room. Against my side, I'm feeling the bulge of his holster through his coat.

"When's your appointment?" he demands softly, looking at me once again, his expression more serious. I bite my lip and check my watch.

"Seven minutes ago. Phal must be running late," I reply softly. I feel his big hand steal into mine and I grip it tightly. We don't say anything. We don't have to.

The screening nurse comes over to me a few minutes later, nodding, a chart in her arms.

"This way, Ms. Marazek—"

We both rise; follow her down the hall to one of the little exam rooms. Jim moves to one corner, big and quiet. The nurse eyes him a moment, then turns to me. She takes my blood pressure, my temperature, noting it all down on the chart. I shift restlessly, because even though all this little normal processing is necessary, I just want to get ON with it.

"The doctor will be with you shortly." She assures me.

More waiting. Jim comes over and lays a hand on my shoulder. I draw in a deep breath. I say it.

"I'm frightened."

The hand tightens on my shoulder. A kiss lands on my temple and I feel the warm support flowing from him to me in that lovely wordless connection we have.

The door opens, and Doctor Phal walks in. He's a long lean Asian man with a thick mustache and round glasses, and I've been seeing him for almost six years. He blinks up at me, his eyes wide, kind.

"Heather. Thank you for coming in so promptly." He looks at Jim, and for a moment he pauses, sizing him up and then extends a hand. Jim shakes it.

"Jim Brass." No title, no explanation. Ooh, I can't help but grin at that little macho-ism. Jim is such a . . . presence at times. Doctor Phal nods politely and scoops up my chart from the counter.

"Pleased to meet you. Let's go into my office, shall we?"

This is unusual. I follow Doctor Phal down the hall to his corner office, Jim close behind me. We enter, and take the chairs in front of the desk while Phal slips into his seat behind it. I'm tense now, because he's closed the door. That's for privacy of course, but also a hint that things are—serious.

Phal lays open the chart. I can't help but notice he has several other charts out as well, and one of them is from Desert Palms. He clears his throat.

"Heather, I got the test results back from your physical last week. Most of them were just fine. You're doing well with your diabetes management, and your liver panel and white cell count is great. In fact, I wish more of my patients took care of themselves the way you do. It would certainly make my job easier," he begins. I sense a build up and grip the arms of my chair.

"Thank you."

"That being said, I needed to talk to you about your pelvic exam." He smiles a little ruefully and I wait.

"I know we've been trying to figure out why you were bleeding, so as you know we did put you through the battery. The Pap test came back negative, as did the screenings for any STDs of course. No bladder infections, we ruled out any kidney problems. Your hormone levels were within normal range—but, we did find an anomaly with your HCG levels."

I look at him. He blinks back at me. "Human chorionic gonadotropin."

Still clueless here. Jim is leaning forward though.

"Heather, there's no other way to put this. You're pregnant," Doctor Phal tells me gently.

Right.

Of course.

Makes sense except for the whole tied tubes issue.

"Pregnant?" Jim echoes in a deep, slow wondering voice, "Um Doc, are you sure you have the right test results?"

He nods, a small amazed smile, and flips a chart around so that Jim and I can look to where he points one finger. A line of numbers that mean nothing to me, personally.

"Absolutely. It's all here, run three times for verification. Of course, knowing Heather's physical history, I was highly skeptical myself, but we ran another test on the urine sample and came up with the same positive results. So I requested the files on your tubal ligation, Heather, and looked it over."

He clears his throat. "You had your operation after the birth of your daughter nineteen years ago at Desert Palms, which meant the standard procedure at that time was a simple cut and suture. No cauterizing, no capping which is what we do NOW to further prevent what I see has happened here."

"Pregnant?" I finally mutter weakly. Doctor Phal nods again, and continues.

"Clearly one of your Fallopian tubes has managed fuse together again, with an unobstructed flow. Once that happened, your cycle started up again and THAT was your unexpected bleeding. You reported that you had what you thought was breakthrough bleeding three times, and then it stopped. So you had three cycles and then became . . ."

"—Pregnant," Jim finishes softly. For a moment the office is utterly silent. I can feel my pulse moving in fast throbs through me, circulating, nourishing a little life in me—

Oh.

Oh.

Jim's baby.

My baby.

Doctor Phal clears his throat and folds his hands on the desk. "Exactly. And although this sort of situation is rare, I'm afraid it does happen. Out of every ten thousand women with tubal ligations, one hundred and forty three a year DO become pregnant again. By our best estimation, you're about six weeks along at the moment."

I can't speak, I can't think, all I can do is sit and stare at the reports on the desk, the papers and clips and highlighted lines and try to breathe but it's hard to do.

Oh God. Zoë. What will my baby think?

My MOTHER!

Ababyababyababy-

"If you want to terminate the pregnancy we can arrange to do that too, Heather. I know this is all a shock to you, but I wanted you to know the facts as soon as possible," Phal tries to soothe me. Instead I turn blindly to Jim.

"Doc, if we could have a minute—" I hear him croak. Phal nods and slips out.

God the harbor of Jim's hug has never felt so good, so perfect. He's got his big arms around me and I feel myself let go of everything in one big sob. My cancer fears and annoyance and frustration and shock all come choking out in big noisy gulps as the tears flow fast and wet. I don't know what I'm feeling as the purge goes on, but I cling to Jim, grateful to have this rock in a wool suit with his arms around me.

"Shhhhhh, it's going to be all right, Heather, it is, trust me . . ." I finally hear part of his soothing litany and turn to look up at him. I know I'm a blotchy mess; some women can cry and look gorgeous, but I'm definitely not one of them. My eye look like boiled onions and my nose goes deep red when I'm in the throes of tears. He flashes me a crooked little smile as I wind down a little, fading into hiccups.

"You're beautiful, you know that, right?"

"Jim!" I laugh a little, impatiently wiping my face with the heel of my palm. I feel the tug of new tension between us now and I don't know what to say. A rush of fear washes through me as I look up at him.

"What . . . are we going to . . . DO?" I manage to choke out over my fear. His arms tighten around me, and his voice in my ear is low and slow.

"It's up to you, hon. But if I had MY way . . ." he hesitates, and I give him a squeeze to make him go on. Jim clears his throat noisily and continues in the same soft voice. " . . . If I had my way, I'd go get us registered at Babies R Us."

I sob anew, and Jim tenses, but between my little gulps I manage to blurt out, " LOVE . . . you!" and he hugs me again. I feel my hair getting wet where his cheek is pressing against it and for a long, long moment it's a perfect world right here.

Jim

Heather takes the night off. I take the night off. We never do this. Both of us are such creatures of habit and solid work ethics that although we've been tempted, we haven't actually played hooky to be with each other before.

Now seems the right time. Oh boy. We have things to discuss, and heaven knows neither of us would really be able to concentrate at our respective jobs anyway, so as she finishes giving Pauline instructions, I hang up my call to the office to find her nodding at me. We stand in the lobby of the doctor's office for a moment, and Heather finally sighs. I reach for her chin, tilt it and kiss her, then rumble, "I still vote for doing the pizza thing. I'll meet you at your place in about an hour, say, with a medium. Any requests?"

"No anchovies."

"Coulda guessed that one. You going to be okay to drive?" that slips out before I can stop myself, but she nods, clutching her purse, her eyes still a little red. I debate with myself on letting her go, but kiss her again, and watch her cross the parking lot to get into her Miata. It pulls out into traffic and I make my way to my own car, climbing in, moving on autopilot as I work hard at not thinking for the moment.

Tuscany Pizza is open, and I put in my order, nodding at Vinnie while I stare at the posters on the wall: Venice, Rome, Naples—places I've never been and probably never will. Not that I ever wanted to go to Italy per se, but I can tell finances are going to have to change pretty quick. I'll need to start a college fund, and redo my beneficiaries on my insurance and pension and . . .

"Here ya go, fifteen twenty," Vinnie rumbles at me, breaking into my thoughts. I pick up the box and head out, finally giving in to my inner musings because it's the only way I'm going to be able to keep my sanity.

Heather's pregnant and I got her that way.

That sounds so . . . weird. And good, actually. I won't lie and say I've been a saint in the sexual responsibility department all my life, but I've been pretty careful. Karen and I were careful—well, up to a point. After Ellie it was emotionally moot, but I kept up the belief that I had accountability in the marriage—

My stomach hurts and I feel a heat rising up in me. I need to pull over, so I do, into the parking lot of a tax return place. Just as I park I can feel my hands trembling as the hot truth hits me and let it wash over me. It's hitting hard, and I'm so glad Heather isn't seeing this right now, not when she's got enough of her own to cope with.

Oh jeez, this one's MY baby.

Not that Ellie wasn't, but—damn it. I'm losing it, feeling my face get wet, feeling torn between the pain of the one who's no longer here and the one yet to come.

Both mine, but differently. I'm facing fatherhood again, and the reality of it is broadsiding me right now; all the memories tangling up with hopes and fears. So DAMN much to think about. To consider. Heather's health. My age. The big changes this is going to make in our lives. And intersprinkled in that little bubbles of amazingly good things too—Two PM feedings, and first steps and piggyback rides, and somewhere in the middle of all THAT a little face I hope to God gets Heather's looks instead of mine . . .

Yeah, yeah grown man crying his eyes out here—move along, nothing to see-

After a while I rub one big hand over my face and check my watch, annoyed that I've been sitting here almost half an hour, so I start the car and head over to Heather's trying to pull it together. I'm not usually this strung out, but most guys would have to admit that hearing you're going to be a father at 52 with a woman fifteen years younger and supposedly infertile to boot—

I pull up, park and carry the box up to the porch. The door swings open and Heather stands there. She's been crying again, and when she sees me with my own reddened eyes she manages one of those little wet chuckles that makes me feel suddenly that much more connected to her. She steps back and I come in, moving to set the pizza down on the kitchen table then turn to take her in my arms again.

She's a good fit. Perfect. This hug is all about reconciling ourselves beyond the separate crying jags we've both just gone through. I don't cry often; like a lotta guys it takes a helluva lot of emotion for me to do it, but I feel better for it when it happens. Karen saw me do it maybe twice in our whole marriage. Heather's seen it three times in less than a year, and that right there says it all in terms of truth and trust, I guess.

Suddenly I don't want to sit at the kitchen table, so I look at Heather and herd her into the living room.

"We're camping out right here. I'll get the pillows and blankets and you get the pizza," I tell her, getting that arch look I've come to love so much. Heather glances around and softens a little; she nods, and we start getting it set up.

A nest of pillows, a fluff of blankets, and within a few minutes we're settled in. I have my back against the sofa, Heather in my lap, a blanket over us and a slice of pizza in my spare hand. Talk about all your creature comforts in one compact bundle, eh? She reaches for her own slice, munching it delicately, and the feel of her against me is very soothing. For a while in mutual unspoken consent, we simply dine.

I like to watch Heather eat—she has got to be one of the daintiest eaters I've ever seen. My mother would have adored her for that alone: little even mouthfuls, slow chews, graceful sips—all those table manners I fought against during my formative years. It's like watching a doe graze, and I suppose part of it is all the work she puts in controlling her diabetes.

But mostly it's just her— unselfconsciously feminine and graceful. Brings out the protective side of me more than I admit, and makes me feel very—strong, which is something I definitely need at the moment. So I nuzzle her and breathe in her scent, now supplemented by pizza and sigh.

"Ready for some serious talk?" I rumble. She nods, finishing a little section of crust and turning her face up to me. I look at her for a long moment while she decides.

"Almost. Blood sugar's about right and I'm feeling much better being RIGHT here—" her cheek drops to the hollow of my throat, and I like that and I sigh a little.

"Okay. We have a timeline before us, Heather, of approximately thirty two weeks, give or take the odd fortnight, before the arrival of the world's most cunningly conceived child. I have a few thoughts on what constitutes a priority."

"Cunningly conceived child?" she murmurs in a soft tone half of wonder, half of barely repressed amusement, and I nod.

"Come on, honey, think about it—what did that doctor of yours say—only 194 women out of 10,000? Sounds pretty miraculous to me."

"Agreed," she nods after a moment, her hair brushing my shirt. "And yes, I can think of a few priorities myself. Obviously I need to find an obstetrician, preferably one who specializes in diabetic pregnancies. Phal can probably recommend someone."

"Good first main concern," I tell her, glad she and I are on the same wavelength there. I heard about her pregnancy with Zoë and their complications back in the early days of our relationship, and how lucky Heather was that time. Nevertheless, I don't intend on being foolish and assuming everything will be okay. She snuggles into me and I let a hand slide down from around her shoulder to gently stroke her waist; she laughs a little at my unsubtle attempt to feel her tummy.

"Jim, you know I'm not going to start showing for about three months."

"So I need a baseline for comparison—" I tell her, gently sliding my hand until it rests just under her navel. The warm skin there; I remember kissing it only a day ago.

"This sort of pushes a timetable I had in mind for a while, Heather, and I need you to start thinking about what the two of us are going to do before the tadpole gets here. We have two households . . . " I trail off, feeling her stiffen a little. She cautiously makes a little affirmation sound then blurts out,

"Darling, you don't HAVE to marry me you know."

God I love this woman! I frown a little, feeling a compassionate rush at her nobility, her independent nature.

"Not unless your mother takes a shotgun to me, and given her height that might mean our baby will be an only child."

"James Brass!" she tries to look angry, but giggles instead. I shake my head and take her hand, kissing the ring finger. Corny, but I feel a little emotional today, what the hell.

"Heather, I WANT to marry you. I have for a pretty long time now. This should not be news to you."

Now it's her turn to blink hard. She dips her dark head, resting it on my collarbone and the weight of it feels just right.

"I've had . . . suspicions," she admits.

"You detective you—a regular Agatha Christie in leather." I tease. She snorts a little.

"All I'm saying is we don't have to rush, Jim."

"That's right. We have a whole nine months for me to wear you down and drag you off to the nearest chapel. I have this coupon Nick gave me—how do you feel about intergalactic love, Heather?"

I feel her laugh against me again, and my arms around her feel so good. The universe is unfolding just the way it's supposed to right now. I have the woman I love, I have a child from our love, and suddenly I duck my head, sending a prayer of thanks up for this particular moment.

"I have this urge to get married by Elvis, Jim. And I'll wear my work gear, how about that?" Heather teases. I just kiss her temple.

"Keep that up and I'll book us into the Liberace Museum—" I threaten. Heather glares up at me, her beautiful mouth twitching and I kiss her again, this time right on those enticing lips.

Perfection.

"First things first—and that means a long nap. Then, we have a doctor to find, and nuptials to consider and I'll start getting my paperwork redone." I list. Heather nods.

"Fair enough. And you're right about that first one, dear heart—nap time."

We clean up, drag the blanket and pillows back, and tumble into bed, curling ourselves into the cuddle of sleep that's so familiar, so needed to me now. I wrap around Heather as we settle in, feeling the warmth of sleep stealing over us. So many changes coming our way. But one thing I'm absolutely certain of, come hell or high water.

This kid's going to be a hockey fan.