This has to be the worst feeling in the world. A crushing blend of embarrassment and regret. For a moment, I'm hopeful that the muddled images in my 'morning after' head will be unable to seep through the lingering effects of the tequila. But then I am aware of a tingling soreness between my legs and I can remember exactly what we did. And where.
He's still here. I had hoped that the memory of the mistake would be enough punishment for one day and I lie still in the bed, hoping he'll just go. I can hear him in the bathroom and hold my breath as he wanders back into the bedroom.
I want to cover my face and simply ignore him. Maybe he'll just go. I close my eyes, feeling like a two year old as I hope that if I can't see him then –
The mattress dips beside me and my heart is racing. He's sitting there, waiting. God, he wants to talk. Please, no. Just go.
What sort of a fucking stupid question is that? "Sure." My voice sounds dry as I try and waive off the sinking feeling in my stomach.
"I guess I'll see you at work, then."
Oh god. Now I can taste the regret on my furred tongue and it's making me nauseous. Can we not just rewind time? Can we go back to a point before the party, before his advances and the margueritas started to cloud my better judgement.
I finally open my eyes and look up into his smug face. I'm sure he's just trying to make this easier – for both of us – but his warm smile just looks too conceited right now.
"We're not going to have a problem, are we?"
Now he's giving me a 'we're not speaking of this ever again' look and I can feel the fury building inside me. This is my apartment, my bed. I invited him here. So how come he gets to decide the rules? I watch him in stunned, angry silence as he stands and collects his jacket from the chair by the bed. He's cool and calm and showing none of the emotion that is now racing around my aching head.
Without another word, having showered and dressed and brushed all memory of me aside, he leaves. Expertly. Practiced.
It takes me a long time to roll out of the bed and stumble into the shower. My hangover is just beginning to take hold and I'm trembling as I climb into the warm water. The heat is soothing but somehow I know it can't wash away all trace of what I have done.
Fuck. What I've done is slept with the boss.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
I'll have to leave. There's nothing for me here, anyway. It's why I got in this mess. It's because I have nothing but loneliness in this place that I was able to sink so low.
It won't be a surprise when I give him my resignation. He knows I'm not happy. It was the opening line in his move on me last night. He saw how sad I have become and he used that to his advantage.
How I hate him.
Or is he just the focus for everything that I am feeling right now? I don't know. I'm confused and my head hurts. I finish my shower and sit dripping on the edge of the bath.
How did it get to this?
This is promising. I've been in the city for less than two days and already I've found a job. A good job.
The move from Boston was easy. As expected, my resignation was smooth and unhindered. He tried to sound disappointed but I could see the relief in his eyes when I had told him the news one morning. I was leaving and his marriage was safe.
There was no party. No tearful farewell. Hell, I can't say that I really knew the people in that office. I just packed my things, settled the lease on the apartment and left.
Another bridge goes up in flames.
But this is looking good. I make my way out through the expensively decorated lobby of the tall office building and there's a spring in my step. They really liked me and I start tomorrow. It's almost too good to be true. Of course, my resume is something that I have always been proud of. After 3 years at Harvard, I'm no fool. And my experience in PR is impressive. I can talk anyone into anything.
The sad thing is that I've got no one to celebrate with. I go back to the studio apartment on the Upper East Side and sink into one of the soft leather couches, taking a long gulp of the beer I grabbed from the fridge. The high ceiling and light tones of the lounge brighten my mood further and I'm in a good place right now. A place funded yet again by my inheritance.
It had been strange to be receiving an inheritance at 19. It was something people talked about well after their forties and I was ill prepared. I had known for some time that the day would come when daddy lost his fight against the cancer but it was no less of a shock.
That was six years ago and, despite promising myself that I would save the trust fund for some point in the future, I had dipped into the money each year. The fund had seen me through college and helped me find my feet after graduation. Now it had bought me a luxurious one bedroom in New York and I had never been so grateful.
"Here's to you, daddy." I raised my beer towards the impressive view out over the city and let out a contented sigh. I think things are really looking up.
I'm sitting in the plainly decorated office in silence, reminding myself to breathe. This isn't happening. The man across the desk from me is repeating the words he spoke a few moments ago. He thinks I didn't hear him. The truth is, I just can't believe him.
I'm the PA for the assistant director of one of the biggest banks in the city. I'm talented, I'm successful. This can't be happening.
But it is happening. If I'm honest with myself, I've known it for a few weeks now. Felt the changes. A woman knows her own body and mine wasn't behaving as it should. I knew deep down what was causing the fatigue, the nausea. I just didn't want to face it. It wasn't real.
I look up from my hands and tears obscure my view of the kind doctor.
"I take it, this wasn't planned."
Despite the heavy feeling in my chest and the bile in my throat, I manage a smile. "No." My voice sounds shaky. Not like me. I'm confident and assured.
The doctor has stood and is walking round his desk to offer me a Kleenex. Now I feel vulnerable. Pitied.
"There are options."
My heart begins to race as I wipe at my tears and look up into his still smiling face. He has lines around his eyes from wearing that same professional grin for hours on end but right now it seems genuine. He wants me to think that he cares and at this point it's good to believe.
"Let me give you the number of a friend of mine."
I take the card from him with a trembling hand and nod silently. God, he's using my devastation to tout business. It all seems too bizarre to be real.
My boss believed my story about a dental appointment and suggested I take the whole day off. He joked about me not being able to take calls with a frozen mouth and patted my shoulder sympathetically. We've become something almost close to friends over the past months and I have his home number on my speed dial. Things have really started to look promising of late.
God, what I'd give to have gone to the dentist's instead. I'd have root fillings and teeth removed. Anything would be better than the way I feel right now.
It would be so easy to cry and pour all of my fear and disappointment into the warm leather of my sofa. But the tears won't come. I feel empty. Ironic that my problem is just the opposite.
I can't do this. I'm too young and too ambitious. I've really begun to feel that I've found my place at the bank. I have a purpose, prospects. I can't have a child now. I don't know if I wanted to ever start a family. It never occurred to me. Not even when I was engaged to Henry at my last year at Harvard did I ever think about a future that involved reproducing. I'm just not like that. It's not me.
I'm a loner. Always have been. Sometimes I feel that perhaps I might be missing out on something but I've never been one for attachment, companionship. I don't like getting close to people. I've been let down too many times to let myself get hurt again.
Even the friends that I did make in college have become numbers in a book that sits at the bottom of a drawer somewhere. It's not that I don't like people. I just trust my own company better.
I have my books and my music. A love of opera that was passed on to me from my dad. Even now I have the powerful melody of an aria playing low on the stereo. The gentle rhythm of the Italian lyrics echoes around the immense lounge/diner and is almost soothing.
Sometimes I play the recordings at full volume and those that did manage to get close to me at college would know not to come knocking. Only Henry was allowed to disturb me when I was in that mood and even he did not appreciate what an honour that was. I think I was more a trophy than a fiancé. His family knew my family. He wanted to impress everyone with his a-grade bride to be. And of course, her trust fund. The only thing that impressed them was how fast he had slept with my roommate. And how long it had taken me to figure it out.
Mom had been good to me back then. My world had tumbled down around me and she had been there. No reproachful remarks, none of her usual sharp criticisms. Just a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. We had become friends for a time. She had helped me through that summer and I had discovered that my usually disapproving mother was actually a nice person. After dad died, the illusion faded and she became once again the bitter, harsh woman that I remembered from my childhood.
It wasn't her fault. And it was nothing that I had done – as daddy would remind me after one of our weekly screaming rows. Mom had suffered in her lifetime and the only way she coped was by being stern. I think it was after my older brother was killed in a car accident that she simply shut down. There was a lot of pain there and it had scarred her forever. She seemed cold when she was simply surviving; she came over as unemotional when the truth was that she loved too much to allow herself to get close.
I never realised before how alike we are. Suddenly I'm smiling. Despite how much this already hurts and the knowledge that she will be so openly disappointed in me, I find myself reaching for the phone.
The ringing tone seems to be droning on for an age. I begin to wonder where she might be. My mother never goes out – she has no need to. Never one for coffee mornings or girlie lunches, she has the housekeeper to do the shopping and would spend hours in the garden, fussing over her precious roses. Suddenly I'm wondering if something has happened. I waited too long to call and now I'll never speak to her.
"Hello. Morgan Bryce-Walker speaking."
God, she sounded so formal. Even her phone manner was frosty.
"Hey, Mom." I waited for the sigh, the 'what do you need now' groan. But it never came. Instead, I heard something that I never thought I would and now I can feel the tears beginning to fall.
"Annie? My little Annie?"
"Mom." My throat was tight and all I could do was clutch the receiver as I tried not to break down.
"What is it, honey?"
God, she was concerned. I could hear the fear building in her voice and now I feel terrible for not having kept in contact with her.
"Is it your job? Are you not happy in New York?"
"No. Well …" I found my voice but didn't know how to tell her. This wasn't something that you said over the phone. And then it was as though she could read my mind. The woman that I barely understood seemed to know me and it made me feel humble.
"I can be there tonight, Annie." She paused for a moment. "That's if you want me to?"
"Yeah. Please, Mom."
"Okay. I'll call you from the train."
The train? She could have William drive her here. Who was this person that sounded like my mother? And since when did she call me 'Annie'? I ended the call in shock and checked my watch. In just over 5 hours, I'd find out.
What I discovered was that being alone in the immense colonial house had softened my mother. She missed my father terribly and had slowly come to realise how much she was lacking without company in the 6-bedroom monstrosity. She held neighbourhood committee meetings and had joined the local quilting bee. She was busy, involved. And she looked fantastic for it. There was a sparkle in her eye and a brightness in her face that I had never seen before and she looked younger than I remembered her.
"Hey, baby." She had said softly and then stepped in from the hallway to hug me so tightly that for a moment I couldn't breathe.
"Mom!" I managed after a minute and promptly began to sob loudly. Aware of her kicking the door closed as I fell against her and howled.
"Oh. I see."
She is now watching me quietly, nodding her head as she takes in all that I have blurted out to her. I can't interpret the frown that creases her brow but I begin to worry that she is about to launch into a cascade of reprimands.
"What do you want to do?"
"What?" I ask in wonder, surprised at how well she is dealing with this. Better than me, at least.
"Do you want to have this baby?"
I stare at her in confusion. After years of catholic indoctrination and being marched to church every Sunday by her and my father, I can't believe she is even considering this. "I don't know." I answer honestly. "I … it hasn't really sunk in yet, I guess."
"Oh, Annie … I didn't adjust to having you and Bryan until you were at kindergarten!" She smiles.
She said his name. Who are these people that she has been spending time with? What have they done to my mother? I look into her soft face and cannot believe that I honestly don't know who she is any more. She watches me silently and somehow I get the feeling that she's thinking the exact same thing.
"Annie." She takes a deep breath and her slender fingers close tightly around the cup of tea that she has been clutching. It must be cold by now. "Annie, I'm sorry."
My heart is racing as I see the pain that flashes across her face and I think I'm going to start crying again. It must be my hormones.
"I'm sorry that I haven't always been there for you. We've never been close and I have always regretted that." Her smile returns and she shrugs her shoulders. "But we can put that behind us, can't we? I mean … I'm here for you now." She relaxes her grip on the cup and places one hand on my arm for emphasis. "I'll support you, Annie … whatever you decide to do."
I lie awake on the sofa bed and listen to the sounds of the still busy city outside my window. My eyes are sore from crying and yet there are still tears forming and I let them roll down the sides of my face. We talked for hours and it felt so good. The similarities between us are still there to be found, in our appearance and our mannerisms. But she no longer resembles the isolated widow that I was beginning to impersonate. She has seen to that. It took the death of her beloved husband to make her take a good look at herself and she didn't like what she saw. So she changed.
For a moment, I thought she was going to preach to me about how I should do the same. But then she told me that she is proud of the success I have made of myself and how she brags about me to her new friends. It makes my current failure all the more difficult to accept.
It must have been that hideous night that I had spent with my former boss. The dates tie in and the fact that I hadn't slept with any other man except him since Henry kind of makes it obvious. Typical. It would have to happen this way. I'm not going to tell him, I've decided that much. Even if I could wangle some money out of him towards expenses, I don't want to even contemplate the idea of contacting him.
I think I've decided what to do. Mom seems to think I have – she said as much before she gave in to her weariness and climbed in to bed. She can stay for as long as I need her. What she meant was that she'll come with me. She'll go through it with me. And I realised then how much I need her.
I've heard this before. That a baby can bring mother and daughter together in a way that nothing else can. I'm glad that she's here. But it's not a baby that did it.
I can't think of it as a baby. It's too real. No. It's a thing, a growth. Something to be removed before it grows too big and starts to take over. It's already started to make its presence known on my figure. Okay, so there's no telltale bulge in my abdomen but I've gone up two bra sizes and my hips ache. But not for much longer.
I take a deep breath and run my fingers through my hair. Tomorrow we'll go together to the clinic and I'll have it removed. The growth will be gone and I can have my life back.
The decision has been made and that feels good. The sinking feeling in my stomach is not so good. I was glad to be able to skip breakfast this morning; I don't think I could have kept anything down anyway. But now my stomach is churning and I've needed to stop for a pee three times since we left the apartment. The taxi driver wasn't best pleased.
It doesn't look like an abortion clinic. The new red brick building seems more like a health spa and it feels odd as we climb out of the taxi and stare at the welcoming front porch.
Suddenly the reality of the situation hits me and my legs turn to jelly. Maybe it's the lack of food or even the pleasant effects of the hormones that are still currently playing havoc with me.
Mom grabs my arm and I lean on her for support. I can see in her eyes that she knows what is going through my head and I'm glad – I don't think I could explain this feeling if I tried.
I'm going to kill someone. As much as I try to explain it away, it's the truth. I've heard all the arguments before but they never made me feel so ill. So guilty.
"D'you need more time, honey?" Mom asks softly as she steadies me outside the palm-guarded entrance.
Time? What is she thinking? In time, it'll grow bigger. It will invade every part of my being. I'll be able to feel it, sense it. Time will make it worse. It has to be today.
I shake my head and take a step further towards the front door. Then suddenly they are upon me. Hands are securing my arms, wrenching mom's hand from mine. I'm dragged back from the clinic and bundled into the back of a dark van. I try to scream and fight against them but something sharp has scratched my shoulder and suddenly the world goes black.
The first thing that I realise as I drift into consciousness is that I'm not alone. I can hear them talking on the other side of the room but their words make no sense and I let their mumblings wash through my mind. Then I discover that I'm still dressed and my hands and feet are free. I don't know why I even considered that but I've seen enough news reports to know what could have happened. Now I am aware of an ache in my shoulder and I remember the feeling of the needle piercing my skin. Soon the reality of having been abducted comes to me in crystal clarity and I cannot stop the frightened sob that escapes my lips.
"Ah. Look who's awake!"
The voice is obviously addressing me and I open my eyes, blinking at the sudden brightness.
I turn my head and see that the voice belongs to a greying man. He is smiling warmly down at me. Too warmly.
"That was a stupid thing you almost did." The man continues, shoving his hands into the pockets of his white coat. A doctor?
"I …" My throat is dry and I cough hoarsely. Slowly I become aware of my surroundings and it appears to be some sort of laboratory. The equipment and monitors that are scattered around the room look ominous and I decide that it's definitely not the warm looking clinic. "Where am I?"
"That is not important." The man dismisses bluntly. "What is important is that you did not achieve what you intended to do. We have stopped you making a terrible mistake."
Now I'm confused. I had thought that pro-life activists were a little shabbier and a little less clinical. And what was I doing in a lab? I watch in wonder as the man approaches the bed that I'm lying on and his smile grows. I don't like him much. I like the sombre suit behind him even less. "What do you mean?" I ask carefully.
"You were going to destroy our creation." He answers matter-of-factly. "We can't allow that."
"What?" My heart is pounding in my head and dizziness washes over me but in a flash I have swung my legs over the side of the bed and leapt to my feet. Suddenly the suit is flying towards me and I gasp as he steps in front of the doctor and I am staring at the barrel of a gun.
"Now, now." The doctor laughs softly and places his hand on the suit's shoulder. "There's no need for all that." He gently pulls the man back from me and sighs loudly. "Calm down, Anna, and I'll explain."
He knows my name? Now I'm really scared and I'm wishing that – "Mom!" I suddenly realise in horror. "Where's my mom?"
"She's fine!" The doctor raises his hands in a gesture of calm and slowly shakes his head. "Calm down, Anna."
"Fuck off!" The words have left my mouth before I have time to think and the guard is glaring a warning at me. "Don't tell me to fucking calm down! Who the fuck are you? And where the hell am I?"
The doctor nods in understanding and indicates the bed behind me. I stay standing in defiance and watch his smile fade a little.
"You would be wise to not fuck with me, Anna."
I like his tone less than his fake smile and I perch on the edge of the bed obediently.
"You are part of a very important, very expensive project." The doctor begins, "You were carefully chosen to take part and you should be honoured. Our criteria were very specific."
Great. My shoulder's drop and I close my eyes. What the hell have I got messed up in? Have I filled in some competition entry without knowing? What consumer database have these guys got my details from? Then suddenly it hits me. For a moment I can't catch my breath and I stare at the doctor in horror as he smiles and nods in confirmation. My hand instinctively goes to my abdomen and for some reason I'm stroking the bulge that isn't yet there.
They say that something good always comes from a bad situation. I think that maybe, at some point in the future, I'll look back at this moment and realise this is one of the good things.
I'm curled up on the sofa in my apartment. Puccini is ringing out loudly through the speakers. Mom chose it – she remembered. I'm lying across her lap and she is gently stroking her fingers through my hair. If I was capable of processing any emotions right now, I think I'd come close to happy.
But I'm numb. And weak. Even crying is beyond me now. The tears still fall and soak into mom's trousers but I don't feel sad. I don't feel anything.
Mom cried. We sobbed together for a long while. From the moment we were dumped out of the van at the front entrance to the apartment block and during the elevator ride up to my floor. Empty, painful sobs of fear and anger. That soon faded as exhaustion kicked in and now I just lie here.
But mum is still crying. I can feel her gently trembling as she tries to sob quietly. She had freaked. Not that I blame her. I don't know what they said to her while we were separated but it was enough. She seems to know what has happened and is just as scared. She said that they kept her quite comfortable while they spoke with me. Gave her cups of tea and reassuring smiles. I don't know if she's just saying that to make me feel better but I can't deal with the possibility of mom being mistreated as well.
They treated me like a laboratory rat. I wasn't a person in their eyes. I was a project. An experiment. But a very precious one. No expense has been spared and I've yet to confirm the surveillance equipment that they claim has been spread through my apartment but I don't dare doubt them. I've already seen the car that sits across the street from my apartment block. The one that has been trailing me for almost a month now.
It still doesn't seem real. The fear and hurt is real enough but somehow it still feels like a nightmare from which I'm bound to wake up from soon. He told me details of the capture and the commencement of the project. The implantation.
I can't remember the day that he said I was taken there. But then they had made very sure that I wouldn't remember. He wouldn't say how, but my memory has been altered and that feels like even more of an invasion than what they have done to me physically.
I can't think about that. If I come even close to contemplating how they did what they have done to me I feel like my insides will implode. It's too much. Whether I'll ever be able to face it, I don't know. Right now, it's buried deep and that is where it will stay.
There is something there, though. A haze of images and sounds. And the strong smell of what I guess must have been sterilizing solution. I only know this because of the déjà-vu that tears through me when I catch even a trace of cleaning fluid. The first time was when I left the office late one night and they were cleaning the floors in the lobby. I had been struck with the sudden image of being held down and the feeling of being completely helpless. And terrified.
I stand slowly and am aware of mom watching me in concern as I stumble towards the bathroom. I need to go pee yet again. God knows where all this fluid is coming from; I've hardly drunk anything at all for days. Only when I'm at work do I sip at the iced water from the cooler, partly because the air conditioning makes my mouth dry but also to stop the shakes that dehydration brings on.
I sit there in the bathroom and realise that it is not only the nausea that prevents me from eating and drinking. Deep down I am trying to starve it out. Perhaps if I become too ill, this thing inside of me will just die. But that won't happen. I read the pamphlets that the gynaecologist gave me and some of it sank in. The growing baby will adapt and use whatever resources it can to survive. That's why pregnant women have to eat well. Not to fuel the pregnancy but to replace what the thing inside them is stealing. Even the glossy booklet with the glowing, smiling woman on the front agrees that it's a parasite.
"Annie? You okay?" Mom calls through the door.
"Yeah." I husk, for want of a better reply. I flush the toilet and wash my hands, catching sight of my reflection in the mirrored doors of the cabinet above the sink. God, I look awful. My dark eyes are bloodshot and surrounded by grey patches of tiredness. Even my hair, which had taken on a bouncy, glossy look of late, now hangs limply around my pale face and I stare at myself in wonder.
Mom is waiting for me outside the bathroom as I emerge and she holds up a small notepad. We should call the police, she has scribbled.
I look up into her wet, fear-filled eyes and shake my head. They made it perfectly clear what they would do to me if I tried to tell anyone what they had done to me. It involved being chained up for the remainder of the pregnancy and included threats towards my mom. I can't risk it.
Mom is scribbling something more on the paper and her jaw is clenched as she shows it to me. We have to tell someone! There must be someone that can help you!
I take the pen from her trembling hand and scratch an answer on the pad. They'll kill you. I look back up at her face and can see the fresh tears that are welling in her eyes. We have to pretend everything is ok.
She closes her eyes as she reads that last scribble and turns away from me. Her shoulders sink as she makes her way back into the lounge and I hurry after her to throw my arms around her. We fall to our knees together on the laminate flooring and hold each other tightly as we cry.
For the past few days, I've managed a convincing merriment at work and I'm sure that some of the staff are starting to see me in a new light. Despite the amazing opportunity that this job is and how much I enjoy my work, I had still kept a low profile around the office and I know now that this is probably why the doctor picked me.
With few friends and an estranged mother, the loner from Boston must have seemed too good to be true. I would be easy to neutralise if necessary and there would be no one to notice.
So now I'm making myself heard. I've been invited out for drinks tomorrow night and people have not needed to look at my security pass to know my name. I'm real. I belong. I'm noticed. That'll fuck their plans.
"Anna? Can I see you for a moment?"
I look up from the presentation I've been planning on my laptop and smile a reply at my boss. Closing the file, I follow him back into his office and slide into the chair across the desk from him.
Wade. He's young for an assistant manager but he's well qualified, despite the rumours of moving up due to daddy's influence that the tongues in the coffee lounge wag.
"How do you feel you've been doing with us here?"
Shit. Please don't tell me this is happening. "I … well. I hope." I manage and clutch the arms of the chair.
Wade nods thoughtfully and then smiles warmly. "Very well, most of us would agree."
Somehow I manage to hold back a sigh of relief behind my teeth and return his smile. "Thanks."
"In fact, there's been an opening recently and I wondered if you would be interested."
"The marketing division has need for a new director and …" His smile fades a little and he shrugs his shoulders. "Larry approached me and asked if you might be interested. I don't want to lose you, Anna – you've been invaluable since you started here – but it's a good opportunity. I guess it's my own stupid fault for speaking so highly of you at the last appraisal."
"Marketing division?" I repeat, hardly able to believe the good news that he is telling me.
"Yeah. They make the commercials and advertisements. It's somewhat different to what you're used to. You'd still be based here, though."
I think I see a flash of something in his eyes at that last part and his cheeks flush momentarily. Oh god, no. I can't add him being attracted to me to my list of worries right now. Even if I was interested in him, there is no way that I'd let him get even close to the dangerous situation I'm in. And there's the small matter of never wanting to be touched by a man again. Ever.
"Well? What do you think?"
"I don't think I'm ready for it." Where that response came from, I'm not sure. But it's true. I can't take that on. Not now.
"Fair enough." He shrugs, trying to conceal his relief. "But think it over. Give it a few days, maybe – or Larry will be accusing me of hogging you all to myself."
Please, don't. Don't flirt with me. Don't think of me that way. Suddenly I consider telling him. He'll have to know at some point – there's the small matter of maternity leave to arrange. But I'm not ready to face it yet. The congratulatory hugs. The baby shower. Not yet.
"Okay. That was all, Anna." Wade concludes merrily.
I stand slowly and make my way out of his office. I can sense that he wants to say something more. I can guess what that might be and pray that he doesn't speak the words. He quietly goes back to his work and I slip from his office to return to my desk.
Mom has noticed that I'm not eating well. If at all. I get home to the smell of her cooking in my kitchen and for a moment it smells so good. Then I remember my mission to destroy the thing within me and decline the bowl of pasta she offers me.
"Anna, you have to eat something."
"No, I don't." My reply comes out a little harsher than I had planned and I see her slight recoil. "Sorry." I add quickly.
Mom puts the food in the oven to keep warm and follows me into the bedroom. Her eyes follow me around the room as I change out of my suit and pull on my pyjamas.
"I know what you're trying to do but it won't work."
I untie my hair from its neat style and comb my fingers through the dark curls. "Maybe."
"It doesn't matter what you do – babies are very resilient."
"It's not a baby!" I shout suddenly and turn to face her. "It's a thing! A monster! And I want it out of me!" I cry into the room and look around for the cameras and the microphones that I know are recording my every move. "Do you hear me? I want it out!"
"Anna, don't!" Mom whispers in fear.
I look back at her worried face and sink down heavily on the edge of the bed. I'm beyond crying now and I just sit there in silence. She's right. It's foolish to make threats like that. All it will achieve is a padded room in a laboratory somewhere. And god knows what they would do to mom.
I follow mom into the kitchen and my heart is racing as I sit next to her at the table and lift a spoonful of pasta to my mouth. God, it tastes good. As much as I want to hate the food, it is wonderful and I can't remember when I tasted anything like this. Resisting the urge to quickly bolt down the entire bowlful, I eat slowly; my stomach has been empty for so long that I don't want to be ill. Or do I? Wasn't that the plan? I curse my body for betraying me and continue to munch on mom's pasta.
The pleasant feeling of having a full stomach soon makes me feel impossibly tired and I curl up on the sofa bed in front of the TV. I've not watched anything for a while and I'm not really watching it now. The images blur into a jumbled mess as I gaze at the screen and think.
Thinking is not a good plan. Thinking makes me panic and fills me with dread. But I can't stop myself and let my mind wander back to that day in the lab. The doctor was so very pleased with his experiment. The implantation had not been expected to succeed and they had been pleasantly surprised when this subject continued to maintain the pregnancy. So, I wasn't the first. And probably wouldn't be the last. I shuddered as I imagined how many women had already endured this. And how many still yet might.
I wish I could prevent it. I wish I had the power to stop what they were doing and save more women from this torment. If I were a braver person I might have gone to the press. Done something other than surrender.
Now I'm thinking again of ways to destroy the thing that is inside me. I knew that one possible method would be to do the abortion myself. Of course, without the right drugs and equipment, it wasn't easy but the idea was much the same. One day I had even got as far as sliding a long skewer inside myself. If I could only poke at it and maybe dislodge it. At least break the sac that protected it. But it had been too painful and I had accepted defeat.
Then I had decided that an overdose of alcohol or hard drugs might do the trick. I had heard somewhere that smoking cannabis could cause a bleed and this had seemed a real possibility. But just the smell of alcohol made me want to vomit and the scent of the smokers at work was too nauseating for my oversensitive sense of smell. It was the hormones. Mom said that she had gone off all of her favourite foods while she was carrying me. Great. My own body is trying to defend this thing that has been forced inside me.
I don't even know what it will be. Human, of course, I presume. I recall the doctor talking about gene splicing and the creation of the ultimate being. He spoke of alpha-groups and something about heightened physical abilities. I had just listened in stunned silence. He presumed I didn't understand but it was just the opposite. I could understand all too well the theories that he spoke of. I just didn't want to hear any more. It was too frightening. Too disturbing.
God, what is this doing to my psyche? There is a very real possibility that this whole thing might make me go mad. Not just crazy in an amusing, eccentric way. No, I could really lose it. I can already feel myself losing control of my emotions and I spend far too much of my day in a stunned stupor than can't be healthy. How long can I cope until I flip out?
The next day I got my answer. I don't know why I hadn't thought of this option before but it suddenly came to me in the taxi on the way home. My faithful tail was behind us all the way from the office and I glared at the two faceless people that watched me enter the apartment. They don't even try to be covert any more. They're just there. Wherever I go.
Mom was out and there was a note on the lounge table to say she had gone shopping. My newly discovered appetite had restored her hope and she had made it her mission to cook me healthy food. It gave her something productive to do and made her feel useful. And even when I was genuinely not hungry, I would eat something of her creation just to see the relief in her eyes.
I think she said something about making a cake tonight and it amuses me to think that my mother, the ultimate rich man's wife, knows how to bake. But, of course, I'm forgetting that she's not that person any longer. It makes what I have to do that much harder but there is no other choice.
At first I am surprised by how little pain there is. I watch in fascination as the sharp blade of the vegetable knife slices through my skin. A small bead of blood has already begun to form in the centre of the neat cut but it's nowhere near enough. I move the tip of the knife back to the far edge of the gash and slice it through again. Now it hurts. I must have brushed by a nerve because pain is shooting up my arm and for a moment my whole body seizes up.
It has to be this way. Overdosing is too risky – they might find me in time and pump my stomach. A gun – if I even had one – would be too messy and too loud. Others would hear and come to investigate. Then they would be caught up in this mess. I'm not brave enough to try and strangle myself and I don't have a car to suffocate on fumes with.
This was the winner. I had sat at my desk at the office and considered the alternatives. My mind is really that far gone.
Now there is a steady trickle of blood emerging from the deepened wound in my wrist and I watch in fascination as it drips off my skin and onto the white porcelain of the hand basin.
It's still not fast enough and I want it to be quick. Final. I don't want to be rescued. I try to insert the knife in the cut again but it hurts so much that I almost piss myself. I look around the bathroom for inspiration and then turn on the bath taps.
Ice-cold water numbs my skin and I reach into the flow to slice at the open wound. Now the blood is gushing and I smile in delight as I realise I must have gone deep enough to rupture a vessel. A bright pink puddle is swirling around the plug and I rest against the edge of the bath to watch the display.
I should do the other wrist as well, really, but this gash seems to be effective enough. It doesn't feel like long before dizzy lights are dancing in front of my eyes and I wonder for a moment if it's just the sight of the blood that is congealing on the bottom of the bath that is making me feel faint. I let my head fall onto the edge of the bath and close my eyes, a smile dancing on my mouth as I realise that I've won.
That's when mom found me. Her screams of horror still ring in my ears and I can remember begging her to just let me be. But she panicked. She couldn't see the bigger picture. All she knew was that her only remaining child lay bleeding on the bathroom floor. And she called 911.
The scariest thing was that the paramedics were actually quite convincing. They sounded real and seemed genuinely concerned. But I could smell their deception. That and the familiar chemical scent of the laboratory.
Of course, they had been monitoring the calls. I expected nothing less. But I had hoped for greater understanding from my mother.
I open my eyes and peer around at the bright, warm colours of the single room. A stark contrast to the laboratory that I was expecting to see, the décor is almost friendly and that makes me mad.
I turn towards her voice and watch as she stands from her chair and smiles down at me. I should really hate her for this betrayal but there is such genuine affection in her tired eyes and I smile back at her.
"The doctor says you'll be fine."
That's not what I want to hear, Mom! I want to scream at her. I want to make her understand. I don't want to be alive.
"They're replacing the blood that you lost and you might be released tomorrow."
What? I look down at the IV line that runs into the back of my right hand and see the blood that flows in under my skin. "No!" I want to tear the line from me but my left arm is fixed in an elevated sling. I can't believe this! Haven't they done enough? I've already got their creature in my belly. I don't want someone else's life in my veins.
"Anna, stop." Mom pleads softly. "Calm down. Please."
Calm down? I stare at her in horror and then turn my face away from her tear-filled eyes. "Leave me alone."
"Just go!" I regret the words as soon as they leave my mouth but I'm too tired to fight my own emotions and I listen to her light footfalls as she slowly leaves the room.
I'm not alone for long. The door opens and I can well imagine who has decided to stop by.
"You really don't get it, do you."
My heart is racing as I turn and watch him saunter across the room. There is that conceited smile and a look in his eyes that I cannot place but I know I don't much like.
"Anna. Anna. Anna." He sighs and stops at the side of the bed. "This was not a good plan."
He reaches out and places a hand firmly on my wrist, the unbound one. With his other hand he begins to stroke my cheek and I'm sure that I'm going to vomit right then and there. That might feel good actually. I would love to see it dripping down his face. See him gag at the stench.
"You cannot beat this." He moves his hand down to my neck and slowly his fingers spread and he is holding my throat tight. "If we wanted you dead, Anna …"
Just enough pressure on my windpipe to make me see stars and I can feel the heat of blood collecting in my face. I stare up at him defiantly but then I see the coldness in his eyes and I realise that he has done this before.
"There is nothing you can do but surrender." He continues in a whisper. "You are helpless against us."
The weight on my throat lifts and then his hand moves further down. I squirm beneath his touch as his fingers brush over the thin gown and linger for a moment on one of my swollen breasts. My discomfort brings a smile to his mouth and I freeze. He wants me to struggle. He gets off on it. I could kick out and could probably plant my foot hard between his legs but I can't risk missing. The bastard will probably enjoy hitting me back.
"Just accept it, Anna. You are ours to do with as we please."
Something in his words drags a long buried memory from the deepest part of my mind and I close my eyes. The image is clear in my head and I can feel angry tears welling. I've been here before. I was tied down. Held down. He was performing some sort of exam and I was held open before him. Maybe it was the day of the implantation. I can't remember. All I can remember is his fingers inside me. His hands touching me. The burning in my thighs as I tensed against the restraints and tried to close my legs.
A sob escapes my lips and I bite my tongue to hold back the rest. It was enough for him though. His smile grows as he senses my distress and he laughs softly.
"I like your mother, Anna." He stands up straight and removes his hands from me. "It would be a great shame to have to kill her."
"No!" I try to sound calm but what's the point. He already knows that he's succeeded. He has control. "Please. I'll do as you ask!"
"Well, now." He nods in approval and begins to wander from the room. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"
The tears began to fall the moment he left the room and soon I am sobbing into the back of my free hand. Where once there would have been anger, despair, and hatred. Now there is just nothing. I am nothing. Just the vessel for him to grow his experiment in.
I must have cried myself to sleep and I wake to find that mom has returned. She is sitting further from me this time and is watching me in apprehension.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I didn't mean what I said."
She stands quickly at my words and hurries over to gather me in her arms. I can hear that she is trying not to cry and I hug her against me with my free arm. She holds me for a long while and then steps back from me to take a deep breath and shake the emotion from her head.
"They said I can take you home later tonight, if you like."
I nod a reply and rest back against the pillows.
"The coffee here is surprisingly good. I guess that's one of the perks of the excellent medical cover your job gives you."
God, she thinks this is a real hospital. She believes the illusion. I decide to go along with it. Maybe it's her way of coping. And I know they'll be listening.
"I called your boss. I told him you had a bad fall and hurt your wrist." She nods towards my heavily bandaged left arm and smiles thinly. "No one has to know."
But they will know. Eventually. Soon I'll be poor little Anna who got knocked up by her old boss and then tried to kill herself. Tried. She didn't even succeed.
"The nurses said that these things are always kept confidential. They said lots of people are seen here under similar circumstances. It's rather sad, isn't it?"
I stare at her in wonder. There was small talk and then there was this nonsense. Had she wiped the past few weeks completely from her mind?
"All the same. Maybe you should speak to someone. A psychologist."
The look in her eyes then told me that she was perfectly aware of the danger we were both in and had not forgotten what it was that had driven me to slice my wrist open. I watched her for a moment and realised that there was more that she so wanted to say. She knew very well where we were and who these people were. She was playing their sick game. And she was suggesting that I risk telling someone. She was putting her own life on the line. I don't think I have ever loved her more than in that moment.
"Okay, mom." I say softly.
A small smile and a slight sigh of relief. "Good." She nods and reaches into the pocket of her trousers. "One of the nurses gave me this."
I take the card and read the name that is embossed in blue print. "He certainly has a lot of letters after his name." I mumble abstractly.
"He is very good, apparently."
I look back up at mom and see the fear that flashes briefly across her face. "But, mom -"
"No, Anna." She smiles in determination. Her mind is made up. "You need help."
The office is a comfortable room with dark furnishings and a pleasant aroma fills my lungs as I step inside. The car tailed me all the way here and I know that they're waiting outside with their listening devices. No threats have been made and no one has told me I can't come here. They must think that it is a good sign. I'm trying to adjust. I'm taking steps to adapt to their plan. It's a good thing their surveillance equipment can't read my mind.
I've only been waiting a few moments but already the receptionist has twice offered me refreshments. She seems worried that I have to wait at all. This must be a very exclusive practice. She's probably accustomed to people that think they are important getting unnecessarily impatient.
Mom's picking up the tab on this one. She insisted. This way we can keep it private. And she again feels useful. Needed. She has no idea how much.
I find myself gazing around the waiting room and a smile crosses my mouth. The room screams 'psychotherapy' at you. From the aesthetically pleasing colour scheme to the carefully placed plants and paintings. But it works. I find myself concentrating on my breathing and trying to relax. I don't want to make the job too easy for this guy. I want him to talk to me for at least a few minutes before he diagnoses me as a serious nutcase.
I remember mom's idea and wonder if this is the right person to tell the truth to. Sure, it'll be good for my psychological well being if I speak to this guy but if he simply shrugs and says he can't help then it'll be a waste of tears.
Crying is a given. I have no control of my emotions at the moment and I'm not looking forward to breaking down in front of some stranger. He might be well used to it. I'm not. Hence the steady, focused breathing.
A low buzzing then emanates from the receptionist's intercom and she presses a few buttons before looking over at me. "Miss Walker, the doctor will see you now."
I'm considering that cliché and smile in thanks as I stand and stride over to the door. What I see as I step into the office makes my heart rate suddenly step up a gear. So much for the relaxation exercises.
"Hello there. Miss Walker?" The doctor smiles in greeting and walks round the immense desk to shake my hand.
It's a woman. For a second, I'm not sure how to react. I was certain that the doctor was a man. I'm not sure what to think of this discovery. I was uncertain how I would feel talking about what had happened to me with a man and so I'm part relieved. But she looks no older than me and, as much as I hate myself for it, I am starting to doubt her experience.
"I … I was expecting someone else." I begin quickly, feeling that I ought to explain the shock that must be etched on my face.
She nods in understanding. "I'm afraid the professor was called away unexpectedly. If you would rather come back tomorrow …?"
Oh crap. I've offended her now. "No." I answer quickly. "I'm sorry." I sit down in the generous leather armchair she indicates and smile nervously. "It was a surprise, that's all."
She sits down on a matching chair opposite me and picks up a small file from her desk. While she glosses over the brief details that I had to provide when I arrived at the office, I take the chance to look around the room. I'm somewhat disappointed to find no couch in the room but notice that the same attention to detail has continued through from the reception area.
"Why did you try to kill yourself?"
The question startles me and I look back at her quickly. Where's the small talk? What happened to introducing me to this experience gently? She hasn't even told me her name. I can feel panic rising within me and I'm starting to think this was a bad idea. She is watching me thoughtfully, a gentle frown distorting the perfect eyebrows above the delicately framed glasses.
Suddenly I can feel anger building inside me as she continues to hold me in her gaze. Who does she think she is? She's probably just a student and thought she'd get a thrill from playing in the professor's chair for an afternoon.
Fine. She wants something to write her latest paper on? She thinks she can handle this? Fine.
"I've been impregnated with the genetically created embryo of some fucked up scheme to create a super-human. My life has been torn away from me for the sake of being their incubator. I have this thing growing inside me and I can't get it out of me. I can't destroy it in any way known to man and if I tell anyone about it, they'll murder my mother."
There. I glared at her in defiance. Get stuck on that one.
What? Now I'm panicking. She's in on it. She's one of them. Oh god. They know I've tried to betray them. They'll kill my mom.
"We have long suspected that this was what was happening but we could find no proof."
Okay. So she's not one of them. My pulse settles a little. It's still twice the normal speed, but it's settled.
"How far pregnant are you?"
"Fifteen weeks." Give or take. I won't tell her I know the exact gestation in hours.
"Do you know who they are?"
"No." I laugh despite myself. "I don't even know who you are!"
"Oh god, I'm sorry!" She leans forward and places her hand on my knee.
I've got a thing about being touched at the moment. Especially there. I flinch away from her and frown as I see the pain that suddenly crosses her face as she removes her hand.
"My name is Jean. Dr. Jean Grey. The professor and I work for an organisation that is trying to combat things like this …" she pauses for a moment, "Things such as what you're going through now."
I hear the empathy in her voice and can feel the tears starting to form. I don't want to cry. Not here. Not like this. I'm still not sure whether to trust her and I don't want to let my guard down.
"We can help you, Anna."
Don't talk to me like I'm your friend, I want to shout. I've only just met you and I still don't know who you are.
"I'm serious, Anna." She frowns in earnest, "We can help you. You don't need to be frightened any longer."
God, do you know how hard it is to keep control right now? Don't force me to cry! "Mom!" I gasp suddenly and leap up from my seat. "Oh fuck! They will have heard me! They'll punish me!"
"No. It's okay, Anna." Jean has stood from her chair also and steps close to me. She slowly reaches out and gently places her hands on my shoulders. I shrug her off a little too roughly and she takes a step back, almost losing her balance.
"You don't understand! They can hear me! They'll know!"
"No." She repeats again. "Their equipment doesn't work in here."
I stare at her in amazement and begin to wonder who the hell she is working for. I start to believe that she really might be able to help me and a glimmer of hope fills my mind.
"I need to call some people, Anna." She smiles thinly. "We need to get you to safety."
"Is there such a place?" I ask in wonder and watch as her smile grows and she simply nods a reply. "What about my mom?"
"Her, too. I'll get someone on it right away." Jean agrees and picks up the phone to hit one of the speed dial buttons.
I sit back down in the chair and close my eyes. The possibility that I am moments away from being somewhere safe is too much to comprehend and I hang my head as the tears fall. I'm aware of her moving back towards me and I brace myself for her touch. I want to be soothed. I want to believe that this is real. She places her hand on my shoulder and I instinctively lean my head to rest my forehead against her arm.
"Hey, Scott. It's me." Jean finally speaks into the receiver. "I need an extraction."
I listen to the instructions she lists quickly and realise that she is absolutely serious. She sounds official, important. I don't know what branch of which organisation she is working for and I realise that I don't care. This could all soon be over.