Hey everyone! So this is the last official chapter, but I'll follow it up with an epilogue in a few days, and tie up all the loose ends. I really appreciate everyone who has stuck with this story, and everyone who has reviewed.
Thanks to tadsgirl, who helped me with this chapter! You're such a great inspiration!
And what you've been up there searching for forever
Is in your hands
When you figure out love is all that matters after all
It sure makes everything else seem so small
"So Small"- Carrie Underwood
The pain started low in her abdomen, and it felt like a thousand knives ripping through her skin. It woke her with a start, and she cried out, the pitch of her voice high and shrill, as her fingers moved quickly to the place at the bottom of her belly, her fingers splaying almost protectively over the skin. She sat upright quickly, the blankets still resting over her legs before she kicked them away, pushing her back against the headboard and groaning loudly, fresh tears suddenly burning her eyes as a new wave of sharp pain hit her.
"Oh my God," she sobbed the words almost incoherently, sucking in a deep breath and gritting her teeth, clenching her fingers into tight fists and holding them protectively to her stomach. "Ow…" the word came out as a muffled whisper, and she squeezed her eyes shut, whimpering still.
This was not right. Not once in all the doctor appointments she'd been to in the last few months had she been told that sharp, stabbing pains in her abdomen were healthy or normal. She could not remember any moment in which the doctor had told her that the feeling of her abdomen being torn in half was a natural occurrence at any stage of pregnancy.
"Corny," her call for him began as a soft whine in the back of her throat, growing progressively louder as she shifted in the bed. She worked her legs off the side of the bed, her feet pressing against the carpet for only a moment before she realized that she could not stand up. The pain had began to move through her legs, down to her feet, and she cried out again softly, literally frozen in place by the discomfort.
"Corny!" She called for him again, her voice now loud and unapologetic, not caring if she woke him and Sophie up. She was beyond selflessness now and curled her fingers around the sheets of the bed, pulling them around her as hot tears began to penetrate the barriers of her eyes.
If she hadn't been so caught up in her own pain, she would have heard the commotion from Corny's room as he stumbled out of bed, managed to trip over the rest of the furniture in the room before he fumbled for the door handle. Because of her own cries, however, she didn't hear him until he was actually in the room with her, his sleep-filled but suddenly frantic voice calling for her, his hands reaching out for her.
"Amber! Amber, what's wrong?" It didn't, of course, take a scientist to diagnose the problem as the young blonde woman lay writhing on the bed, her arms encircling her stomach as she moaned helplessly. "Amber?" His voice broke suddenly, and he caught her by the arms, holding her gently, "Tell me what's happening."
"My stomach," she gasped the words, tears beginning to stain her cheeks in the darkness of the bedroom, "My, God, Corny, it hurts so bad."
He stood, panicked for a moment, before allowing his arms to slip under hers, lifting her out of the bed and helping her across the room hurriedly.
"Okay, Amber," she knew that tone of his voice; he was trying his best not to let her know that he had already begun to panic, but she knew him better than that. "Okay, listen. I'm gonna get you out to the car, and I'm going to drive you to the hospital, all right? It's going to be okay. We just need to get to the hospital."
She nodded, still whimpering, but forcing herself to move with him.
"Sophie!" He called for her as they entered the hallway, his hands still supporting Amber, "Sophie, baby, come on, get up! We have to go!"
The child emerged in the hallway a moment later, still in her nightgown, her dark hair disheveled, her eyes blinking in disorientation.
"Daddy? What's wrong?"
"Amber," he answered her quickly, "It's Amber, she's not feeling well and we need to get to the hospital. Come on, Soph, we need to hurry."
Sophie studied them with wide, confused eyes, but there was no more time to ask questions, and she rushed in front of them, barely taking the time to slip her tiny feet into a pair of sneakers before holding the front door open for them to hurry out.
She scurried into the backseat of the car and Corny helped Amber lower herself into the seat, the pains still shooting through her as he rushed to his side of the vehicle, slamming the door and peeling out of the driveway with such speed that the tires squealed against the ground.
There was silence between them for a moment, save the soft, quiet whimpering that came from Amber, and Sophie leaned up, hooking her arms around part of the front seat, looking worriedly at the woman.
"Amber, is the baby okay?" Her voice was tiny and soft, and Amber groaned suddenly, squeezing her eyes shut and pressing the back of her head against the seat.
"I don't know," she managed to choke out the words, and shuddered with the pain suddenly, her breaths coming in short, sudden gasps.
"Is it being born?" Sophie asked worriedly, glancing between her and Corny, "Is it being born right now?"
"No, Sophie, it's not ready to be born yet. Just sit back and be quiet, please," Corny interrupted their conversation, shooting her a nervous glance in the rearview mirror. Sophie slumped back against the seat, her eyes still watching Amber nervously.
By the time they arrived at the hospital and into the emergency room, they whisked Amber away, and Corny had no choice but to stay behind with Sophie. Meanwhile, Amber found herself in a blur of white; white rooms, white coats, white beds. She forced herself to close her eyes through it all, riding out the stabbing pains in her abdomen, but in her heart, knowing that this was it; something was seriously wrong with her baby.
After what felt like hours, the pains began to subside. Suddenly, and without warning, they had gone completely, and the frenzy of doctors and nurses began to trickle out of the room. At one point, when the pain had completely dissipated and there was only one doctor left in the room with her, she let herself begin to calm down; she began to listen to his words.
Braxton Hicks contractions, he told her, were what she had been experiencing. It was merely false labor, not the actual thing, and it wasn't extremely unusual for expectant mothers. They could be brought on by dehydration, activity, and a number of other factors, and she had nothing to be worried about.
She had nearly laughed when he'd said those words; nothing to worry about. Tell that to her rapidly spasming uterus, or the deep, shooting pains that had kept her paralyzed in bed. The doctor allowed her to rest for a few moments, and explained to her that he would let her "husband and daughter in the waiting room" know that she was going to be just fine.
She found herself walking out to meet them not long after, and Corny and Sophie rushed to her side. Even without thinking, he caught her in a hug, holding her as close to him as her swollen belly would allow, and stroking his fingers through her tangled blonde hair, his mouth next to her ear, whispering sweet, soft prayers.
"Oh, thank God," he said when he finally pulled away, much to a stricken Amber's chagrin. "You're fine, then?" His fingers traced up her arm, instinctively over her stomach, "Everything's okay?"
She couldn't stop turning his words over in her head on the way home. Was everything okay? Sure, she and the baby were fine, but something was not. A part of her was still missing, even with the baby still safe inside of her.
He helped her into the house and into her bed, giving her gentle instructions for a nap before closing the door quietly behind him. She let herself rest against the pillows for what seemed like hours, then sat up slowly and consciously in bed. She glanced around her, taking in her rumpled sheets, her clothes in the closet, her vanity, her make-up, her perfumes, and realized suddenly, and for the first time in her life, that she didn't want her things. She wanted their things. She wanted their sheets on their bed, their clothes in their closet, their records, their dishes, their shoes all lined up beside each other on the floor.
And at that moment, she knew she could wait no longer to take her chances with it. She had been alone for so long, before Corny, and now since their break-up. She needed to know right now if he ever planned on taking her back, because if not, she needed to get away.
She made her way out of the bedroom and into the living room, but neither Corny nor Sophie were on the couch. She checked his bedroom, followed by the kitchen, then the dining room, but there was no sign of either of them. Suddenly, she heard voices from the backyard and pushed her way through the house, and then through the back door and to the porch overlooking the small, green, fenced-in area behind the house. Sophie was running in the grass, giggling against the backdrop of the setting sun. Corny sat watching her from his place in a chair on the porch, his silhouette outlined perfectly in the shadows.
For a moment, he didn't hear her join them, but as she allowed the screen door to shut, he turned, looking at her and smiling unexpectedly.
"Hey. Is everything all right? Are you feeling okay?"
She could do little more than nod as she lowered herself into a chair beside him, her fingers curling into her lap as they watched Sophie silently for a moment.
"I should hate Link," she said the words quietly and honestly, and she felt him tense beside her at the mention of the other man's name. Still, it needed to be said. "You know? I mean, I really should. He came in here, and he ruined everything we had."
Corny made no reply beside her, and she shifted suddenly, blinking against the sunset.
"But I don't hate him."
Corny turned to look at her finally, with these words, his jaw clenched.
"Amber," he cleared his throat, "I don't-"
"I don't hate him because, yes, he did all of those things, but he also did something else." She interrupted him before he had the chance to finish his thought, and she allowed her hand to creep into the space between them, slipping over Corny's hand without warning, "He made me realize how much I love everything that you and I had, Corny."
He blinked twice, then, and she knew that she had taken him by surprise. Good. That was what she'd been going for. He was silent for a moment, and then turned his palm over, his fingertips brushing against hers without ever turning to look at her.
Amber sat silently, reeling in the words she had just said, and then let out a deep sigh of longing.
"I love you, still," she told him quietly, finally letting her blue eyes rise to meet his. "I always have, Corny. I always will."
She watched him for a moment, then cleared her throat again.
"But I need you to tell me," she confessed to him quietly, in the shadows of the evening, "I need you to tell me if you can love me again."
"I couldn't love her any more than I already do," he said suddenly, his voice soft and low. Amber glanced at him curiously, her lips parting slightly, her eyes brushing over the sight of their hands resting together.
"What?" She genuinely hadn't heard him, and her eyes went across the yard. Sophie had stopped playing, and was watching them silently from a few yards away, her dark hair blowing in the breeze of late summer.
"I know you heard her question. That day, after Link left for the last time. You told me I had my job back, and you went into your room to nap." He smiled reminiscently, "Sophie asked me if I loved you more, since I had my job back. She was being so loud, and I just assumed you had heard her. Anyway, she asked, and that was what I told her. I said, 'I couldn't love her any more than I already do'."
Amber bit on her lip, watching his face.
"I want to marry you," she told him quickly, her face flushing, and he moved to look at her, his eyes watching her. "I always have, I was just horribly confused, Corny. I was an idiot, and I didn't realize that the entire time we were together, I was searching for what I already had, with you." She watched him nervously. "I'm ready," she nodded after a moment, "I am ready to be with you forever, if you'll have me. Will you?"
Corny sat quietly beside her, and Sophie began to approach them on the porch, her hand tracing up the railing as she climbed the stairs. Corny patted his lap and she neared him, slipping effortlessly onto his leg. His arms went around her stomach and he cuddled her.
"I don't know," he said after a moment, and Sophie looked curiously at him. "See, Amber, the problem is…" he hesitated, and Amber's heart began to pound. She felt the corners of her mouth turning into a frown, and he sighed. "The problem is, I can't really have you again, because you've never really left me. You've always been right here," he worked a hand over his heart, patted it twice, then slipped Sophie's hand up to her own heart, "and right here."
Amber felt her face flush, and he leaned up a little to look at Sophie.
"Right?" He asked gently, and the child nodded in response.
"Right." She gave him a crooked smile, then looked at Amber, her fingers hesitantly reaching out to stroke her swollen belly softly. "And right here, remember? This is my family."
"That's right, it is," Corny agreed softly, resting his chin against the top of her head for a moment before looking at Amber.
"My family," Amber nodded, knowing at that moment that she had made yet another mistake. She smiled slightly, then shook her head.
"No, not my family. Our family."