AN: for everyone who was talking about it on twitter. And who then thought of me.
"There was this woman I knew."
"You have to get rid of it."
Gillian looked up startled, her cheeks tingling with a million layers of shed tears. Her fingers were already desperately clawing at themselves, scraping and raking, like she could rip herself out of her own skin. She wanted to escape this. She wanted nothing more than for this to have never happened. She didn't know another way out but... "I can't."
"You have to," he insisted gently, coming to kneel in front of her on the industrial green carpet of his dorm; abrasive. He was beautiful. So beautiful. Dirty blonde hair and bright blue eyes, straight nose, soft jaw, caressing mouth. He had wanted her. Made that clear. He didn't want her now.
Gillian shook her head, a tear flying free to splatter on her bare arm, surprisingly cold. Her light brown hair fell forward over her shoulder and he reached up with an endearing hand to tuck it back out of the way. "Yes, Gillian, you have to. We can't have a baby," his voice soothed.
She was a freshman. It was a miracle that she was even there, in college, after the childhood she'd had. After dropping out of school and partying and drinking and running around with a stupid crowd. It was a miracle this hadn't happened sooner.
"You're too young to be a Mom," he went on. His fingers caressed so lightly against her cheek as he moved his hand back to her lap, sliding in between her fretting fingers. Stilling her. Settling her. His eyes were kind on hers. Kind but... cold. Gillian felt a chill creep through her and she resisted the urge to shiver. He was right though, she was too young to be a mother.
"We could do it together," she murmured, the initial tears dried up. Now that they were talking, it was far less frightening than having to tell him in the first place. At least he didn't accuse her of being a slut.
He didn't get angry. He didn't raise his voice. He gave a very slight shake of his head. "No, we can't," he corrected as if she had merely misheard. "I'm too young to be a father. We're both still kids. We won't know how to do this right."
It got her thinking about her parents. They were young too. Not a shotgun wedding, she had been assured. But still. And the drinking. Times were tough. Oh god, he was right. She didn't want that for her baby, any baby. She couldn't... she had run away from all of that. Was doing it alone. Had student loans up to her eyeballs already and she had just started.
Gillian swallowed nervously. "But. I don't have to get rid of it. We could adopt."
He gave a slight sigh, dropped his head just a fraction of enough to break her gaze. To patronise. She felt his hand tighten against hers for a second, the only indication that he was losing patience. She felt herself canting towards him, wanting to make it right again. She couldn't do this if he was mad at her. She just couldn't.
When their eyes met again something had come over him. Gone was the charming young man she had admired across the room at a party. Gone was the sweet boy who had nervously romanced her, flowers, movies, hotdogs from carts, carrying her books after class. Gone was the man who had shown her how to love herself, how to love him. She did love him. He loved her too. Didn't he?
"Gillian," he spoke again and there was that hard edge in his voice she heard him use on his roommate when the guy was playing video games until 2am. Firm, unyielding, and determined. He was going to get his way. And she would cave. She knew she would cave. She just didn't know what else to do.
She nodded. "Ok," she said.
"Said she could take care of things."
It didn't hurt, it didn't hurt.
Not until the medication wore off. She had left it too late. No tidy pill popping to flush the baby out of her system like a virus. She had to have surgery. When she came to enough to realise she was no longer in a drug haze, he was there waiting. His face was drawn, lips thin and bloodless; he suddenly seemed so mature. He came to her side, took her hand, his fingers were cold. "It's over," he said. And then it hurt.
He was gone and they were over but it wasn't over. It wasn't over. Not for Gillian. She only realised later that it would never be over. They had warned her, tried to prepare her. She was going to be crampy, sore, relieved, depressed, she would think about it for a long time to come. She might even regret it. But that wasn't adequate, all that talking. They didn't know. How could they know? She hadn't even felt pregnant but now she felt so distinctly not. And she was alone, because he said he needed time to deal with what had happened. It had scared him and he really needed to focus on college, on his life. She was ok now, it was done and she would move on, get over it. She should call her mother or something.
She was not calling her mother.
There was no one else to call either. So Gillian went it alone. She went numb. Because that seemed the easiest way to deal. She went back to class. She sat her finals. She avoided all the places that reminded her of him. Thank god they weren't taking the same courses, walking the same buildings. She moved out of the dorms. Found a tiny closet. Got a job. Tried to get on with it. It was over and there was nothing she could do, no way to take it back. It hurt but it was meant to. Hurting was good. She was meant to. At least she could feel something.
She was drowning in it, her life. She wanted out. Out of it all. She couldn't stop thinking, couldn't turn her brain off. It seemed everywhere she turned it was there, somehow, to remind her. She could have done it. She could have kept the baby. If he'd just... If he'd just been more then she wouldn't have had to. If she had been more... more of a person. How could she have done it?
"Rose died having a... An..."
It had been too easy to say yes, a simple fix, a band-aid over a gaping flesh wound. She hadn't thought it through though. It wasn't simple. No thing ever was. He paid and walked away, but Gillian was left with the debt. She owed it. Over and over. A million times could never make up for this, for what she had done.
A routine check up afterwards showed inflammation. No symptoms. She had never known. But the scans showed it. Right there. All over her insides, a disease, reaching wide, encompassing all, like a terrible embrace. It was common. It was known. It was treatable. She hadn't done anything to exacerbate. But there was damage. She was scarred. Marked forever by this now. It was a heavy burden breaking her back, a voice in her ear that told her she was deserving.
And then she met him. A chance encounter. She was absolutely not searching. They were both looking at the room to rent. He got the room but she got him. He was so intentional, precise and he ploughed through her walls by letting her within his. He had scars too, problems he needed help with. He needed her. He wanted her.
Maybe it was a chance to make it right. Somehow even up her debt. She had unique skills that would help him stay away from the drugs. And he had a unique way of making her feel that maybe she wasn't completely abhorrent. She told him. She had never told anyone. Never, ever made that phone call to her mother. Never, ever would. He took it in his stride. He didn't ask her questions. He held her hand, told her it would be all right. They didn't have to have kids if she didn't want to. He was ok with that.
But she wanted to. And she wanted his name. Wanted his ring on her finger. She let herself fall in love. And when the time came, when she did get pregnant, she let herself hope a little that she had been redeemed and she had made up for it. She would make up for it. But she was wrong. The baby grew in the wrong place, caused her pain. Made her bleed. Reminding her. Punished again. She had a failing pregnancy. Another common side effect.
He was there with her. The whole ordeal. This time she got the pills. No surgery. And he took her home. Tried to make her feel better about it. She let him try. But it happened again the next time too and after the third she knew. She wasn't allowed. She had had her chance and she had thrown it back. She had said she didn't want it then, so now she wasn't allowed it at all. He was optimistic in ways she couldn't be. Couldn't even try to be. He made so much effort. They tried adoption.
But that failed too.
"I was a nurse. I knew better."
Gillian felt the heat of him at her back. She tried not to tense her shoulders too much. That would give her away. She was never more grateful for the fact that he couldn't see her face. The confession caught her off guard and she felt her mask slip. Of course, the poor woman sitting opposite her wouldn't know what she was seeing, would never call her on it. She didn't even remember who she was talking to. But he would have known, if he had seen, that something was there, that she was hiding something. That she was guilty. That she carried that sadness with her. He saw her. He saw things he had no right to know. Things she would be ashamed for him to know.
Twenty years went by and she had reached that point of acceptance. Still sad sometimes. Certainly guilty. But mostly, well, it was not that she was at peace, but there was a sense of resolution. Something. It didn't hurt as much as it did. Time faded memories, but she would never forget. It was possible to learn to deal with pain, but scars never truly disappeared. Some days, most days, she didn't even think about it. But it was part of her now, testimony to a life she had once lived. Her life now served in repentance.
She wondered, if one day, she would be sitting where Victoria was, grasping on to a life lived once upon a time, but forever haunted by what had happened when she was nineteen.