Chapter o9. Made With Love
Legs wobbled and stars whirled unromantically in front of your eyes. Fatigued and nauseous, your knees buckled and your back slid against the wall as darkness enveloped you into its welcoming arms.
“Leave! Either you leave or I leave!” your birth mother cruelly slates as you kneel in front of her door.
Your father’s strained cries echo through your ear as she gathers her belongings and dramatically announces that she no longer gives a f*ck for this worthless family. The crestfallen man chases after her with apologies for crimes neither of you committed. Muddied puddles of water splatter against your white blouse as the mentally instable female runs past you.
Why are you kneeling anyway…?
Pass the metal gates and down the concrete streets, she shouts loudly, alerting the neighbors with her sob story of how she wasted her youth by marrying a crippled man, raised two useless daughters, and now would crash her head against the brick wall.
Over and over again…
Staring soullessly at a speckle of dust accumulated from years of storms and quakes, you ignore the fresh blood oozing from your knees. Always apologetically stuck in between useless feuds, your father hobbles along, in hopes of quieting down his hysterical wife. But she mercilessly flings his embrace away, sending the sickly man toppling onto the wet pavement.
“That five-winged, unfilial b*tch. If she doesn’t scram, then I’ll leave!” she continues to count your faults from the mere frown spread across your lips in the morning, to the fact that you forgot to wash the sheets, to how you wouldn’t drink her witch’s brew, or how you answered a call when she had been scolding you…or how you just weren’t…weren’t your sister…
“I’ll leave,” you lifelessly answer as God’s tears mix with the impurity of yours.
Your wet lashes parted as you reawakened sprawled defenselessly on your tiled bathroom floor. It had been the fifth consecutive day of collapse. As you lifted your sore arms, your abdomen muscles clenched together, expelling acid up your esophagus. Cupping your hand over your mouth, you crawled over to the toilet bowl to vomit.
“Leave or I’ll leave…” your mother’s voice haunted your mind.
The icy palms of your hands rested against your stomach. Three plastic sticks lay out on top of the sink, each showcasing two long lines of confirmation. Perhaps, you had known for a while now. Deep down, you knew. And yet, you didn’t want to admit that you couldn’t control your life, that God played tricks, that emergency contraceptives were effective 95% of the time, but you were part of the other 5.
Squeezing your eyes shut in agony, you repeatedly tapped the back of your head against the wall as if by doing so, you’d wake up from this “reality”. It wasn’t that you didn’t want a baby; in fact, your ultimate dream was to have a loving family of your own…but deep down, fear settled in like poisonous venom.
Not good enough.
Not good enough to be someone’s mother…when your own was…
And Tao…Tao and you had a contract. The marriage was but a sham. Cradling your legs within your arms, you hid yourself deep into your shell. Why now? Why now…when you had accepted the fact that Tao and you were just business partners?
But locked within the depths of your caged heart, sparked euphoria and gratefulness, like none other. To carry your lover’s child, wasn’t that the world’s greatest blessing? Because babies were made with love; proved that at least, once upon a time, Tao loved you.
As you laughed and cried at the same time, you heard the faint noise of keys jingling. Your mother-in-law’s giggles resonated down the hall as Tao cracked up a joke to cheer her up after another customer had claimed her salmon fillet during grocery shopping. With a gasp, you grabbed one of the pregnancy tests and rushed out.
“Mama,” you greeted your mother-in-law, who smiled and U-turned to prepare for dinner.
“ZiTao,” you called with your hands hidden behind your back.
“Hm?” your husband questioned as he untied his shoelaces and stacked his Oxfords neatly on the top shelf.
“Can we talk?” you gnawed your lower lip and asked, just as you did the morning after your first night together.
He turned from the coatrack to peer at you with a raised brow. When you didn’t blush nor turn from the intense gaze like you normally did, Tao nodded, took your hand, and headed toward the bedroom. But the abrupt cry from the kitchen sent the filial son fleetingly leaving your side. Once again…like déjà vu. Slipping the pregnancy test into your sleeve, you suppressed your aching heart and tailed behind.
“Ma, what happened?” he frantically asked.
The older female pointed to the leaking pipes under the sink. Drip. Drop. Drip. Each drop mocked the rhythm of your heartbeat. Chuckling, your husband rolled up his sleeves and knelt down to aid his mother. As the clock ticked away time, your heart grew heavier and heavier.
“Sweetheart, let’s wait outside. It’s dirty in here,” his mother suggested when Tao plunged a river of black.
“I want to stay and keep ZiTao company,” you answered.
She nodded in awe while Tao paused his arm work to study your anxious expression. Pale white with beads of sweat gathered at your temples, not the slightest blush tinted your cheeks. Even as his onyx eyes locked with your more inferior ones, your complexion remained unsaturated.
“You two are so lovey dovey,” your mother-in-law admired. “But Honey, the nasty sewage water will stain your white blouse. Come out to the diner table and help Mama wrap the dumplings,” she suggested.
Still, you gripped onto the plastic stick in your hands and refused to remove your gaze from Tao.
His mellow voice soothingly murmured your name. “Go help Ma, I’ll be done really soon,” your husband encouraged. Though reluctant, if it was what he desired, you’d willingly comply. Slowly, you scooted out the kitchen and followed your mother-in-law to the dining hall.
“Sighh,” the older woman emphasized a dragged out sigh at your downcasted expression while kneading the dough. You raised your head to look at her quizzically. “I feel like those antagonists, in dramas, who forcefully separate love birds,” she teased. You smiled weakly and shook your head in denial. “No?” she grinned and pointed to the plates of dumplings, “Look. Someone has only been filling ZiTao’s bowl. Mama will starve.”
Gasping, you apologetically collected half of the pastries and placed it into the bowl reserved for her.
“What about you, Sweetheart?” she shook her head and giggled. “Sighh, what did my son do to trick you into marrying him? He’s such a lucky fool.”
As the preparation for dinner commenced, you followed her back into the kitchen to boil and steam the food. Tao was still hard at work wrestling with the metal pipes. Splashes of opium gray stained his button-down shirt. As he unscrewed another pipe, a blast of liquid leaked, some speckled onto his handsome face.
“Can you hand me the spatula?” Your mother-in-law held her hand out in anticipation but withdrew it empty-handed. She turned around to find you knelt down beside Tao, wiping his forehead and cheeks with a handkerchief. “Sighh, lovebirds,” she giggled to herself.
“I’ll get your clothes dirty,” your husband warned.
That’s the last thing I am worried about right now.
But you nodded and obliged to his request for you to go back to helping his mother with the cooking. In all honesty, you caused more of a mess than actually helping her because firstly, you forgot to turn the fire on and then you almost flipped the dish of raw dumplings. The steam and heavy savory smell only clouded your mind and made your tummy tumble and turn. You pressed your chest to suppress your urge to vomit.
“Dinner’s ready!” Tao’s mom happily announced as she scooped up the dimsum into separate bowls. “ZiTao-ah, if it’s too complicated, let’s call the plumber in the morning,” she frowned at the not-yet-fixed pipes.
“No, I think I’m almost done,” he stubbornly answered as he fished out a string of decomposed seaweed. You wanted to vomit.
“Oh…kay then. Sweetheart, let’s go eat first,” your mother-in-law tugged you away, “You look so fragile lately. You need to eat more…”
At the dinner table, she cheerfully chowed away while you took five minutes to nibble through a single piece due to your constant focus on the attractive one-day plumber. Half an hour later, when your mother-in-law trudged off to the bathroom, she returned to your empty chair. Scanning around, it doesn’t take her long to discover you squatted down beside her son with a plate of food in one hand and chopsticks in the other.
“Did you eat yet?” Tao asked as he chewed.
You nodded and offered him another one. As he tilted his chin to accommodate with the angle of the chopsticks, his hold around the pipes loosened. Water gushed out from the centimeter gap, soaking up the floor and splashing onto your shirt.
With an exasperated grunt, he turned to you and suggested, “I’ll eat later, okay?”
Your heart dropped.
Am I getting too attached?
Chewing on your inner cheek, you straightened out and walked over to the living room to join your mother-in-law in her daily drama marathon.
“What drama is on tonight?” you forced on a chirpy tone and plopped down on the sofa.
“Nothing as sweet as the romance story going on in our house,” she gleefully asserted.
“Hm?” you questioned, oblivious to her context.
“Nothing~” she laughed and changed the topic, “Jeez. This drama though. The male and female lead obviously are in love with one another but neither of them have the guts to admit it. So many misunderstandings…a contracted marriage too…so cliché…”
“Oh…” you nodded, though, your attention veered back to the kitchen.
The clock lethargically ticked away time. With the help of food coma and the ever sappiness of Korean dramas, your eyelids grew heavy. Swaying. Swaying. Swaying. You don’t know when you drifted off to slumber but when you woke up, a pillow cradled the back of your head and a blanket covered your small body. Rummaging through your pockets, you gripped the pregnancy test and jolted upright.
“Oh, Sweetheart, did I wake you up?” your mother-in-law guiltily asked as she walked pass to fetch a glass of water. The clock read 11:11pm.
“ZiTao? Where is he?” you winced at your splitting headache.
With a sympathetic frown, she regretfully informed, “He got a call from a client and drove down to the company.”
Your heart dropped as your nails scratched at the stick underneath your covers.
“ZiTao wanted to carry you to the bed but I told him not to wake you up,” she spoke as she placed her mug on the coffee table and took a seat on an empty spot beside you, on the sofa. “They’ve been rushing to complete a big project,” she sighed.
The palm of your hand naturally molded against your stomach.
Stroking your hair, she observed, “ZiTao must be neglecting you…”
Your tensed brows loosened. With a feigned a smile, you unpersuasively shook your head. She continued to apologetically pat your hand. “Should I have woken you up earlier?” Again, you spared her from her guilt. There was no point in putting fault on others anyway. With a heavy sigh, you settled on telling Tao tomorrow.
Soon, a week flew by without a proper opportunity for your talk. Tao was either at the company, in his study room, or slumped against his makeshift bed. Exhausted from his debilitating amount of work, your husband was not only sluggish but also easily irritated.
But what can I do?
Patting your slightly protruding belly, you arrived to your hospital appointment alone. The front desk took your name and requested for you to take a seat at the waiting area to get called in. Women of different ages and sizes, some parading large bellies, a few still experiencing their first trimesters, filled the lounge room. However, you stood out due to your lack of a male companion. Rubbing your cold arms, you tried your best to shrug off the feeling of loneliness.
“Here you go,” a nurse handed you a form attached to a clipboard.
Thinking it was just the usual hospital health questionnaires, you thanked her and took it without question. Your pen froze in place as soon as you read the title, “Abortion Consent Form”. Immediately, you sprung up to the front desk.
“A nurse handed this to me but I am not here to terminate my pregnancy,” you apprehensively explained.
“Oh, woops. Sorry, Ma’am. She must have mistaken you for another patient because you came to the appointment alone,” she apologized, which only made your heart grow heavier.
Your lips opened to defend yourself but the sudden height of emotions and close call, disrupted your flow of oxygen. Clutching your chest, you began to heave for air. In. Out. In. Out. Just breathe. Breath! Even babies know how to breathe, what is wrong with you?! Alerted by your asthma attack, the receptionist scurried a nurse over but you shook your head, dug in your purse, and retrieved your inhaler.
Back in your seat, you calm down and naturally began to comfort yourself by stroking your stomach. “I won’t let anyone hurt you, don’t worry,” you whispered.
“Mmhmm. Mhmm…” the doctor nodded her head as she read through your exam results. Clapping her hands together, she informed, “Congratulations, Mrs. Huang. You’re around 11 weeks pregnant!”
Of course, you already knew. Nonetheless, your eyes grew watery with the official confirmation.
“Your baby is roughly two inches long and weighs about 1/3 of an ounce. Still very tiny but he or she has already developed many features, such as fingers and toes!” she educated as she pointed to an image on the overhead screen.
You happily nodded and absorbed every small detail about your little baby.
“Since you’ve gone through most of your first trimester, the chance of a miscarriage significantly decreases but still, try to be careful and take good care of your health. The mother’s physical and emotional health affect the fetus after all,” she instructed.
With the new information, you excitedly plopped down onto the living room sofa. Perhaps, Tao and you could work a way out…perhaps, for the baby, he’d…see you as more than a mere business partner…It was a cowardly and hopeful way to analyze the situation, but you just couldn’t help it.
“Not going to sleep yet?” your mother-in-law inquired as she yawned.
“No, I want to wait for ZiTao to return home,” you smiled.
She sighed and nodded understandingly. “Don’t stay up too late, okay? Good night, Sweetheart,” she patted the back of your hand and headed up the stairs to sleep.
Tik tok. Tik tok. The minute hand circled around the clock, once, twice, three times. Despite your eyelids threatening to close, you forced yourself to sit upright and discovered blissful entertainment in examining the black and white print-outs of Tao and your little baby.
“I may not be the best mother in the world, but Mommy won’t let anyone hurt you,” you promised.
At around 1am, the front door squeaked open. Gasping, you hid the photos in the pockets of your nightgown and hopped onto your two feet.
“ZiTao!” you beamed but instantly slapped your hand over your mouth when you realized he was on a phone call. His index finger lifted up to his lip as he tried to undress with one hand. Bending over, you helped him untie his shoes and hang his jacket onto the coatrack.
“Didn’t I tell you to call Chairman Zhao earlier? You still haven’t? It’s 1am right now, why would you call her now?!” your husband impatiently drilled his assistant while you tailed him up the stairs. Today, you would tell him. You wouldn’t let him get away or else your stomach would pop before he knew.
“No, that’s not correct! The files are in a blue folder in the second drawer. No. I said blue not black. I just said that! Are you even listening to me?!” he scolded as he ripped off his tie and lazily tossed it onto the floor. You picked it and folded it up neatly. “Tomorrow is the deadline. What do you mean you don’t have the reports?!” His brows knitted together in utter disgust; his fists clenched so tightly that olive veins protruded out.
Forty minutes passed by with him shouting angrily into the phone. You began to fidget around, spreading out his blankets on the floor, picking out his pajamas…
Finally, at the fifty-two minute mark, he slumped down on a chair and hung up. Flashing him a wide smile, you reached into your pocket for the sonograms and stepped forward to show him. “ZiTao-ah,” you called.
His tired eyes grimaced up at you. “Hm? Why are you still awake? Go to sleep,” he urged.
“Hm…have you been really stressed at work?” you tried to ease into the conversation.
Knocking his throbbing head, Tao continued, “Don’t worry about me. Just a lot of deadlines coming up. Go to sleep, okay?” Without waiting for your response, he got up and headed for the showers. You chased after him.
“ZiTao, can we talk? I have something to tel–”
Groaning, Tao whipped his head around and cut you off, “I have a lot to think about already! Can’t this wait?!” He slammed the door in your face, though, the strongest impact smacked against your heart. Lips rippled and dreams shattered but you tilted your head up to blink away the tears. Timing. It was the bad timing…wasn’t it? Kneeling to the ground, you picked up the sonogram that fell from your hands during Tao’s abrupt closing of the door.
Stroking it, you whispered, “It’s okay. Daddy’s not upset with you.”
Bare feet trudged along the carpeted floor; you climbed under the bed covers to gather heat around your icy body. Twenty minutes later, Tao exited the bathroom and carefully closed the door so that it wouldn’t squeak and wake you up. He’d apologize to you, in the morning, for throwing his misdirected tantrum – he was sure of it. As tired as ever, his brain had already shut off; he almost crawled his way over to his makeshift bed. Immediately thereafter, he surrendered to the sleep gods.
With a heavy heart, you rolled over in bed to commence your daily, guilty admiration of Tao’s angelic sleeping form. Sadly, today, his back greeted you. His arm heaved up and down from his wearied breathing.
“ZiTao…ZiTao-ah…” you don’t know why you quietly called.
He doesn’t answer but neither did you expect him to.
“I-I’m…pregnant with your baby…” you whispered. And finally, the heavy burden, accumulated within your chest, for the past two and a half months, began to dissipate. Softly but surely, you finally allowed the tears to cascade down the corners of your eyes, soaking the pillow beneath you.
Unknown to you, your confession fleetingly yanked Tao from his partial slumber back to reality. His eyes snapped open as his brows caved in, in five parts bewilderment, three parts guilt, and two parts pain.
A/N: (༎ຶ⌑༎ຶ) ~hands you a pack of glittery tissues~
DO NOT MISS TOMORROW’S CHAPTER. IF YOU MISS TOMORROW’S CHAPTER PANDA IS GOING TO RETURN BACK INTO HER CAVE AND NOT COME OUT FOR A MONTH ૮( ꒦ິ࿄꒦ີ)ა
LOL these two messages from last night: