A Question of Pride(8)

By: Michelle Reid


He wouldn't like her all blown up and looking like a balloon; she wasn't that sure that she fancied it much herself, wearing clothes that resembled tents, and trying to keep cool during those hot summer months and the final stage of her pregnancy.

October.

He—she—it— he, it was easier to think of the baby as a he. He would have to be dark-haired—how else could it be with two such dark-haired parents? If her mother couldn't manage to inject any of her fairness into Clea, then this poor soul had little chance of receiving any of his grandmother's fairer beauty.

She had her mother's eyes, though, Clea mused. Big lavender-blue eyes on a baby boy with Max's strong, sturdy build ...

On a muffled sob, Clea grabbed up her coat and bag and rushed for the door.



The phone began ringing as she was preparing herself something to eat. Clea clutched at the sink, closing her eyes tightly and willing the jangling noise to stop. It would be her mother, calling for their weekly chat, as was her habit.

She didn't want to speak to Amy just now. She didn't want to speak to anyone—but her mother even less. She would have to sound happy, normal, and she felt neither. She would have to lie; she was finding herself doing that a lot recently. Amy would ask how she was, and she would have to say she was feeling fine, when in fact she felt lousy—absolutely lousy.

It was reaction, she told herself, as the telephone went on ringing and her nerve-ends began jangling along with the harsh noise. She was experiencing the reaction she had tried to hold at bay all day. She was aching with it, her heart pumping at a pounding pace.

'Shut up!' she gritted between clenched teeth. Her knuckles were white where she was gripping the sink.

She was shivering, icy cold with it, a clammy sweat breaking out on her brow before springing out to drench her whole body. 'I'm not in!' she moaned achingly. 'I'm not in, Mother!'

Trust.

The word leaped like some leering apparition in front of her closed eyelids. Her mother trusted her daughter to behave morally. Clea didn't trust Max to be faithful—even to a lover. Max trusted her to guard against an unwanted pregnancy. She had failed her mother, she had failed Max. He had failed no one—because he had never requested her trust.

The telephone stopped.

Clea wilted heavily against the sink, her legs like jelly beneath her. The silence was a relief—sheer, utter relief—and she stayed as she was for a few moments, absorbing the peace, allowing her nerves time to settle again.

The half-prepared meal was thrown away in favour of a bath. Clea soaked herself for ages, not thinking, not feeling, just making her mind a complete blank and allowing the silence to enfold her like a blanket of empty comfort.

White-faced, despite the bath, Clea wrapped herself in her old red dressing-gown and padded through to her sitting-room. She had changed little in here since her mother had left. The room still held all the old knickknacks that made it home. A framed photograph of her with her parents, all looking at each other with love. The Axminster carpet that had been there for as long as she could remember. The Dralon three-piece suite, with its chunky loose cushions filled with soft swansdown. She should have gained some sort of comfort from the room, but she didn't, because the Clea of the times this room projected would not have got herself into this mess. She would never have risked hurting her parents in this way.

Damn Max!

She curled up in a chair, huddling into the warm robe as though the winter night had penetrated the room, when in fact the flat was centrally heated and quite warm. Her hair fell around her face and shoulders in a cloud of midnight-blue, enhancing her oval face and the paleness of her skin—an unnatural paleness for the usually vibrant Clea. Her mouth, too, was showing the signs of immense strain. Gone was the natural red fullness that gave away her deep, sensual nature. Instead, her lips were drawn tight and colourless. If Max saw her now he would be shocked by the change in her in just a few short hours.

Max ... She had a whole weekend to get through with Max before she could begin to do anything about her situation. She could put him off, of course, but she didn't want to. She wanted this last weekend with him—needed it, in fact.

The telephone began ringing again, and she dived out of the chair to snatch up the receiver because she couldn't stand to listen to it ringing out a second time.

'Yes?' she snapped.

'Clea? Where have you been? I rang earlier but there was no reply ...'

So, it was Max, not her mother who had rung. 'I was in the bath,' she lied, gripping tightly at the receiver.

'Oh.' Silence, an awkward silence that puzzled her.

Then, 'Are you alone?'

Clea leaned wearily against the wall behind her, wondering dully what he was getting at. He didn't usually call her up when they had their arrangements already made, and for some reason this diversion from his norm rankled her.

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