“Don’t b late home 2nite,” Sally smiles to herself as she hits send on her message to Jack.

“K, wasn’t gonna b, why?” Jack replies.

“MUCUS!” she sends, smiling to herself, imagining the look on Jack’s face when he reads the message.

“Hope y washed your hands b4 texting this, LOL!” he sends back.

“Hey, you want to grab a drink after work?” asks Ella popping her head over the partition dividing the workspace.

Sally looks up from her phone, eyes shining, “Sorry, not tonight my friend.”

“I know that look, please do not say that word, you know it grosses me out,” begs Ella.

“What, mucus?” laughs Sally. “It’s a perfectly normal part of the fertility cycle. Mucus, mucu…”

“Blah, blah blah, I can’t hear you,” laughs Ella with her hands over her ears. “Are you done now?”

Sally nods, “Cross my heart, sorry, with any luck you will never have to hear the ‘m’ word out of my mouth again after tonight.”

“Are you feeling lucky tonight?”

“I really hope so Ella, I don’t think I can handle the disappointment of not getting pregnant again. Every month the let down gets worse. Jack never talks about it, but I know it’s taking its toll on him emotionally too. The doctor says that if we don’t fall pregnant this time we’ll have to look at IVF, which we will have to take a loan out for, so fingers crossed.”

“Well if anyone deserves a baby it’s you, you’ll make a great mum. I’m sure tonight’s the night, just relax. I read somewhere that stress can have an affect on whether or not you fall pregnant, so think calming thoughts for the rest of the day. Are you planning a romantic night, or do you intend to just jump each other’s bones?”

“Romantic I think. I’m going to get champagne, light candles, I might even scatter some rose petals on the bed. We’ve become so focused on getting pregnant that the last few times have been perfunctory. Jack made a comment about feeling like a sperm bank. I want to make it up to him, show him how much I love him.”

“Sweet, I’m sure he will appreciate the extra effort. Okay, I’d better get back to work, I want to hear all about how tonight goes,” says Ella as she ducks back down leaving Sally to get on with her work.

Sally only works a short bus ride from home so is always the first one to get home. She had stopped on her way home to pick up a bottle of French champagne, which now sits in an ice bucket with two champagne flutes, gifts from their wedding. She has a quick shower and walks naked from the bathroom to the bedroom. She moisturises lavishly and dabs perfume behind her ears, onto her wrists and behind her knees. She brushes her hair and toys with pulling it up into a ponytail, but in the end, decides to leave it out. She looks through her lingerie drawer and debates whether to go with sultry seductress, or girl next door. Deciding on sultry seductress she pulls out a red silk negligee which Jack had bought her last year, but she has barely worn. She pulls it over her head, the soft fabric cool on her skin. She sends a text to Jack, “ETA?”

“40 mins an hour tops,” comes his reply. No rush then she thinks, she has plenty of time to get everything ready. She goes to the living room and chooses a playlist. Ed Sheerin’s “Thinking Out Loud” plays as she walks to the kitchen and pulls four of the red roses out of the bouquet she had bought on the way home. Starting at the front door she begins pulling off the petals and making a trail of them leading to the bedroom. With the remainder, she sprinkles the petals on the bed. She then stands back and admires the room, once the candles are lit it will look very romantic. Jack will definitely be surprised.

Sally goes to the front door and unlocks it and then grabs the champagne and glasses from the kitchen and takes them through to the bedroom. “Front door open xxx,” she messages to Jack. She walks back into the kitchen to grab a lighter to light the candles and is walking into the bedroom when she is grabbed roughly by the waist, her feet lifted off the ground. She tries to scream, but as she opens her mouth something is shoved inside her mouth making her gag, she can taste her vomit and smell motor oil.

She is flipped over onto her bed. Above her stands a man wearing worn denim jeans, a blue and black checked shirt and a clown mask, the mouth a permanent laugh. “Don’t move and you live,” he says, his voice low and gravelly. He begins to undo his belt and Sally whimpers, crawling backward up her bed, feeling with her fingers for anything on the night table to her right. “I said don’t move bitch!” The man, his belt undone now, comes towards her in two easy steps. He slaps her face, his big meaty hand making an audible noise as it connects with Sally’s tear-drenched cheek. He wrenches her up by her arms and using his belt, he ties her wrists to one of the bedposts.

In no time he has his penis inside her, sliding in easily, her fertile body betraying her. Four violent thrusts and Sally feels him ejaculate, his body shudder. She lies still, tears seeping out of her closed eyes, not wanting to look at this man who has violated her. She feels him withdraw, senses him move beside her, feels the belt loosen then her arms drop. She listens to his footsteps retreating on the hardwood floor.

She counts to ten, then to twenty, then to one hundred. Tentatively she reaches across to her mouth and pulls out the cloth sodden with her snot and tears, a little bit of vomit and an essence of motor fuel. She curls up, her knees to her chest and lets the deep, racking sobs out.

After the rape Sally refuses to talk about it, making Jack promise to tell no-one. Jack calls the police when he arrives home a few minutes after the rapist has left and they go to the hospital where a rape kit is collected. Sally takes a week off work saying she has the flu, but other than that she pretends that everything is normal, until now. Sally’s period is late, it has been late before, but only three or four days late. Her period is now two weeks late. She tries not to think about it, to put it out of her mind, but every time she goes to the toilet and looks down to see her spotless underwear it was there as a reminder. Jack raised the subject the night before, but she shut him down, refusing to talk about it and then going to bed early.

Sally’s phone beeps, it’s a message from Jack, “Babe, want me to make a drs appt?” She ignores it and turns her phone to silent, putting it in her top drawer. She turns back to her computer and the design she was working on.

Ella pops up above the partition, Sally sighs involuntarily and sees the look of hurt cross Ella’s face. She has distanced herself from Ella since the rape. Where they used to have lunch together two or three times a week and chat daily, Sally has made excuses not to go to lunch each time Ella has asked and has cut short each conversation they have had. She knows it is just a matter of time before Ella asks how her romantic night was and she doesn’t want to have to lie about it.

“I’m grabbing a coffee, do you want to come with me Sally?”

“Nope, thanks though, I’m hoping to get this design finished today so I’m going to work through,” Sally answers forcing herself to look up, make eye contact and smile.

“Is, er, is everything alright Sally, have I offended you in some way, or has something happened between you and Jack? You haven’t seemed yourself lately. If I’ve done something I want to know or if you and Jack are having trouble, well, I’m your friend, you can talk to me.”

“No, really everything is great. Of course you haven’t offended me and Jack and I are great. I’m just not sleeping very well, that’s all and the Clarke job is trickier than it first looked. Each time I submit my plans to them, they want to make changes,” says Sally. “Now I really do have to get back to it.”

“Okay, but when the Clarke job is finished we are going out to lunch, no excuses, okay?”

“Sure,” smiles Sally. She’ll cross that bridge when she comes to it.

When Sally leaves work that day she has a screen full of text messages and missed calls from Jack. She doesn’t reply, just puts her phone in her bag and heads out without a goodbye to anyone.

When Sally gets off the bus, instead of turning right towards home, she turns left towards the small strip of shops. Here there is a chemist. Sally purchases a pregnancy test and then heads home. Two years ago when she and Jack had first started trying for a baby Sally would buy an early detection pregnancy test every time she was a few days late. She and Jack would sit in anticipation willing the blue line to appear as the minute ticked on, sometimes imagining that there was a faint trace of a line only for her to wake with her period the next day. After the sixth or seventh month, she had stopped buying them, the disappointment too great.

When she gets home she opens the test and goes to the toilet. By the time she has flushed, the second blue line that has always been so elusive is standing out brightly against the white background. Placing it on the table, she takes a picture of it and sends it to Jack with the message, “What now?” She doesn’t expect an answer and she doesn’t get one.  She keeps herself busy getting dinner ready.

“Is it your first baby?” the technician asks brightly as she smears Sally’s stomach with gel. “Sorry, bit cold, but it will warm up and it’s worth it when you see your bub.”

Jack squeezes Sally’s hand.

“Are you nervous?” asks the technician moving the transducer around in the gel.

“Not especially,” answers Sally.

“Just quiet then,” states the technician. It isn’t a question. “Look there’s the baby’s heartbeat, nice and strong. Here’s the head, here’s one arm, the other one looks like it’s tucked up behind, we might get a better look at that a bit later, legs. Baby’s head is pointing downwards, only a few months to go and you’ll get to meet him or her. I bet you’ve started getting all clucky?”

“Ah, no, not really, I guess we should start to think about buying some things for it, a cot and whatnot,” comments Jack.

“Well yes, a cot comes in pretty handy, they’d have given you a list at the pre-natal classes, I can get you another one if you’ve lost it.”

“We haven’t signed up for classes, the list would be helpful,” says Sally in clipped tones.

The technician pauses and looks from Sally to Jack giving a little shake of her head. “Do you want to find out what sex your baby is?” her voice all business now.

Jack says nothing looking to Sally, “No thank-you,” Sally replies.

“Right, always nice to keep it a surprise I think,” comments the technician. “I’ll just take some photos and then you can hop down. There you go, all done.”

“Thanks, bye,” calls Jack an arm around Sally as they leave the room.

“Wait!” calls out the technician. “You forgot your photos, that’s usually the first thing people ask for,” she says, a scowl on her face. “And here’s that list I mentioned, these are just the basics, most people buy more than what’s on the list, but this is a good starting point.”

“Ah, thanks,” smiles Sally. “Pregnancy brain.”

Back at work, Ella jumps up as soon as she hears Sally arrive back, “Well, where are they?”

“Where are what?” Sally asks.

“The ultrasound photos of course, I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything all morning thinking about them.”

“Oh, sorry, I think I left them in Jack’s car,” shrugs Sally.

“Are you for real Sally? Photos of your baby and you left them in Jack’s car,” Ella says incredulously. “You are so vague and forgetful these days, make sure you bring them tomorrow, I want to see them, okay?”

“Sure, sorry.”

“Remind me 2 bring photos 2morrow, Ella clucky,” texts Sally to Jack.

“I had the strangest couple in this morning for their final ultrasound,” comments Jenny the technician, dusting the sandwich crumbs from her uniform.

“Strange how?” asks Roxy sitting down to join Jenny at the break table.

“Well the mum-to-be barely looked at the ultrasound, I think the dad only looked out of politeness, then when they were leaving they forgot to take the photos with them. That’s a first! When I think of my sister who’s just had her second miscarriage and is so desperate for a baby and then these two come in and don’t seem to give a damn. It makes my blood boil, where’s the justice?”

“Maybe they were having an argument or something,” comments Roxy.

“Oh no, they were very loving towards each other, it was just the baby that seemed to be an inconvenience. Some people just don’t deserve the gift of parenthood.”

Sally heaves herself out of her chair, feels like a beached whale, there is nothing glamorous about the last month of pregnancy where every movement is a gargantuan effort. She has been having contractions for just over an hour, but they are still twenty minutes apart and she has read that they need to be minutes apart before going to the hospital. She wants the pregnancy to be over so she can get her body back, but that also means meeting the product of her rape and having to look into the eyes of a baby who will be a daily reminder of that violent act. For the last few weeks she has been having vivid dreams where he is back in the room, on top of her, she can smell his sweat and feel the gag in her throat. He has never been caught, she fears her dreams could come true.

She calls Jack at work and tells him it’s time to come home, she has no idea how quickly the contractions will move from twenty minutes apart to minutes apart, best to play it safe she thinks. She moves around, finds it’s easier to deal with the pain this way. When Jack gets home forty minutes later the contractions are ten minutes apart. Despite her protestations he insists on taking her straight to the hospital. Her bag is packed, has been ready for the last two weeks in anticipation. Each time she sees it when she opens the hall cupboard she is filled with a sense of dread. She knows that dread is not the predominant feeling a mother to-be should be feeling.

Her biggest fear is a baby that does not look like her. Loving this child will be hard enough, but if it bears a physical resemblance to her rapist she does not know how she will cope.

“And last push, big push now Sally, you’re doing great,” says the midwife. “Here we are, a little boy. Here you go dad, you can cut the cord. Now we’ll just get him cleaned up and then you can have a proper look at him Sally.”

“Here you go, looks like this little one might take after Grandma, or Grandpa,” says the midwife laying the swaddled baby in Sally’s arms. “Are you alright Sally, you look like you’ve seen a ghost?”

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