Gloria opened her eyes and the world was yellow and green and tilting from side to side.
She almost went right back to sleep, but something told her she'd worked very hard to wake up in the first place, and so with great effort she tried to make sense of whatever was going on.
She was in a room she didn't recognize, with stainless steel walls and concrete floors and nausea-inducing sodium lighting. She had been asleep on some kind of metal table, and nearby there was a stainless steel cylinder about the size and shape of a refrigerator lying on it side. She realized that she was naked.
She took a step and almost fell over. Her muscles screamed. She used the edge of the table to hold herself up, then lurched to the door in one stumbling stride, catching the knob and pushing as she leaned. She fell across the threshold, and then over the course of a few minutes managed to stand and take a few more steps.
Outside of the room, away from those awful lights, the dizziness diminished and she could think. What was going on? And why was she in -she looked around- Alan’s garage? She looked behind her. The door she had come out of was not one she remembered ever seeing before.
She wracked her brain to figure out how she got here. The last thing she remembered with any clarity was the day of Abbie’s funeral...
Three weeks ago:
The service was short, and that was about all that Gloria could say for it.
After, she sat on the couch in Abbie and Alan’s living room (which she supposed was just Alan’s living room now) and stared at nothing. Now and then she realized that someone was talking to her, and perhaps had been for some time, and she gave them a perfunctory nod or meaningless, three-word response. Or she just ignored them.
A portrait of Abbie was framed on the mantle, behind the urn. She couldn’t stop looking at it. Abbie’s smile didn’t quite seem like part of her face, she thought, and then she wondered what that meant, and then she realized she was probably just drunk. She’d been drinking since ten that morning.
How could you leave me like this, she thought. How could you leave me alone?
“You’re not alone,” said Michael. Gloria hadn't realized she'd said anything out loud, nor that Michael had joined her on the couch.
He took her hand and squeezed too hard, causing their wedding bands to rub together in that way she always hated. She faked a smile.
“I know,” she said. “But it’s different. I always had Abbie. Life without her doesn’t seem real.”
“It will, eventually,” Michael said.
You ass, she thought, how would you know? And then she scolded herself. He was doing the best he could. It wasn’t his fault that nothing he said could possibly make a difference.
“Do you want to leave?” he asked.
She nodded. “But we should say goodbye to Alan.”
Alan was near the door, talking to Abbie’s aunt and uncle. He looked like he hadn’t slept. Michael squeezed his shoulder and said something that Gloria couldn’t hear. She saw her face reflected in Alan's glasses and in the shiny white spot on his bald head. He was gritting his teeth that way that always creeped her out, but that Abbie always used to think was cute.
“I’m so sorry Alan,” she said, taking his hand, which was damp for some reason.
He nodded. “It must be even harder for you. Abbie always called you her sister.”
Gloria's eyes stung. “Since we were fourteen years old there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t see her. Not until-” and she stopped because she knew that if she said one more word that the tears would come. She let Michael lead her away.
She watched the house as they drove off. Goodbye Abbie, she thought, this is the end. Bye bye, bye bye, and it wasn’t until Michael looked at her that she realized she was giggling.
"It'll be all right," Michael said again. Gloria said nothing. He couldn't know how wrong he was. Nothing was right. Nothing had been for a long time. And now it was too late.
"Just hurry up and stick it in my ass," said Gloria, grabbing the headboard. She felt a slight chill as David spread the lube around her asshole. "Don't spill any of that," she said. "It can stain."
The closet door was slightly open, and she was in the middle of counting Michael's blue ties hanging inside when she felt the tip of David's cock push into her. She buried her face in the pillow and screamed. It always hurt a little at first. It was her favorite part.
Michael had wanted to cancel on the nurse's union meeting tonight to stay with her after the funeral, but Gloria had insisted that he go. He said she shouldn't be alone after everything that had happened, and she agreed, but it was on who she should be with that they differed.
She tried her best not to rip the sheets as she tugged at them, feeling David slide in one inch at a time, stretching her out. She felt his pulse through the penetrating shaft, pressed tight against her clenched hole. She gasped as he pushed all the way in, then held her breath, waiting for him to start.
He didn't do anything right away, just massaged her shoulders and neck and ran his hands down her naked back. She rolled her eyes, and muttered "Do it already." He paused, but finally pushed in hard, slamming his hips against her ass so that it bounced, and her eyes rolled back in her head as she groaned.
"Ohhh God," she said.
She felt herself open up a little as he worked in and out, pumping her slowly at first but, when she demanded that he go faster, increasing his pace, sliding the entire length of himself in and out of her hot, tight hole. He tried to reach under her and cup her breasts, but she laid as flat as she could while still keeping her ass arched into the air.
She was annoyed at how tentative he was being, so to get back at him she said, in her best throaty moan, "Stick your big black cock up my ass!"
He stopped for a second. He hated when she said that, and she knew he hated it. When he resumed fucking her, it was harder, and his hands gripped her thighs so tight she thought she might get bruised, and she moaned in satisfaction.
This was the time when she stopped thinking about Abbie, and Alan, and Michael, and the nights that she spent wide awake, staring at the wall, too terrified to sleep. She concentrated just on the feeling of something driving into her and then sliding back out, and the automatic reactions of her muscles and nerves; the clench, the quiver, the pain, the ache, the dull, throbbing satisfaction. She had no control over those things, and she was glad. She wished more of life was like that.
She grabbed the headboard and banged it against the wall over and over. It had already broken once before and she'd blamed it on an earthquake, which Michael had actually believed, so she didn't worry now about damaging it again. David's hand smacked her ass and she screamed, and gasped, and cried, and told him to do it again. She wanted to be raw and aching all over. Pain was good. Pain was something she didn't have to think about.
This went on until she saw white and lost her voice. She tried to stay still, to become inert, to be an object with no inertia while he pumped in and out of her. Only when she felt him start to shake in a way that she knew signaled his imminent ejaculation did she offer any kind of response, sitting up a little and saying "Not there. In my pussy."
He stopped, sweating, panting, shaking all over. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," she said, staring at the wall.
"But I'm not-"
"Please stop talking. Just do it."
She thought he might lose his temper, but instead he obeyed, pulling out of her (she relished the tight agony of the feeling) and sliding in lower, into the hot, wet confines of her sex, and then resuming his pace. It took him a while to get back to where he was, as there was less resistance now, but eventually she felt the gratifying surge of his cock spurting. She thought about how he was filling her, how when he pulled out there would still be something of him in her, and how he would walk away emptier, having left something behind and taken nothing. She sighed, content.
He dressed in silence. She watched him, bored.
"You okay?" David said, halfway through putting his pants on.
"Just thinking. Did I ever tell you my mother was a racist? She used to say that if I ever slept with a nigger I'd have to get a rabies shot after. That was the exact way she said it. If she saw us now she'd call the cops on you."
David stared, mouth open.
Gloria put her head in her hands. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I told you that. Although it's true. She also used to tell me that if I ever needed money I should lend myself out to a Jew to have his babies. She said that they pay gentile women to have their kids so that they could raise little half-and-halfs who didn't look Jewish. She drank a lot. She was a very sick woman."
David shook his head. "That is fucked up, baby."
"I know." She paused. "My best friend's funeral was this morning."
David dropped the shoe he was putting on. "Really?"
"Yes. She killed herself three days ago. Sleeping pills. She had just found out she was pregnant. Guess the news didn't go over well."
David was fully dressed now. He sat down and tried to hug her but she disentangled herself from him and stood, walking to the other side of the room for no reason.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know. You could have cancelled on me, I would have understood."
"Doesn't matter. She's not gonna be any less dead, you know?"
David was behind her, and he touched her arm. "Do you want to talk?"
"No," she said. She hung her head and thought that this would be an opportune moment to cry, but found no tears forthcoming. "Just get out," she said. "I want to be alone. And don't call me tomorrow."
Gloria heard David slam the door when he left and watched as his car peeled out of the driveway. She wondered what the neighbors would think. Then she realized that the neighbors must have noticed a strange car in her driveway two nights a week, always when her husband's was gone, and figured out a long time ago what the story was. Strange that she never thought about it before.
She'd never told Abbie either, but she expected that Abbie knew anyway. Abbie always knew everything.
But not anymore.
She looked at the pictures on the wall; there were lots of her and Abbie, and a few of her family, but none of Michael's family. He always said he didn't have any, and no friends but Alan. There were pictures from their wedding, and pictures of her and Michael from the first years of their marriage, looking happy, but none from the last few years. She hadn't wanted pictures with him in a long time. She didn't like to stand that close.
She found herself staring at the picture of lake house. It belonged to Abbie's family, and she'd gotten it when her grandmother died, and they'd both spent summers there every year since high school. She wondered why they hadn't gone back this summer, and then she realized with a start that it was because it burned down last year. Nothing was left.
She fell asleep on the couch, hugging the lake house picture to her chest. She wanted sleep to be quiet and dreamless, and to go on for a long time. It didn't.
Gloria woke in the middle of the night. She was still on the couch. She ooked at the clock; almost midnight. Where was Michael?
She crept down the hall to the bedroom. For some reason she found herself trying to move quietly, as though she had to sneak through her own home. There was a noise coming from the bedroom. It sounded like someone tuning a radio, but it was much too loud, and it set her teeth on edge. What was that?
She put her ear up to the door. The noise was coming from the other side. It was like a nail file being dragged across a vinyl record. It made her sick to her stomach. She raised a hand to knock, then felt foolish and just pushed it open instead.
Michael was hunched in the corner of the room, facing the wall, naked and rocking back and forth. She blinked, certain that she was seeing things in the dim light. The horrible noise continued until the hinge creaked, and then it stopped, and Michael stood up and looked at her, and smiled as though nothing was wrong.
"Hi baby," he said.
"Michael?" She took a step backward. "What are you doing?"
"I thought I heard something over here," he said. "I wanted to make sure it wasn't a mouse or a rat. You know how these old houses are."
"What I heard didn't sound like a rat," she said. He was staring at her. His eyes were very wide, and he wasn't blinking. Is he on something, she thought.
"Did it wake you? You were sleeping so soundly on the couch that I didn't want to disturb you when I came in." He crossed the room and tried to put his arms around her. She only resisted a little.
"Michael, what was that noise?" she said.
"I don't know," he said. "Whatever it is, it's gone now. Come to bed darling."
She lay down, and he draped one arm over her body. When she closed her eyes she imagined that something horrible was crouched behind her, its arm outstretched to drag her in close. She opened her eyes and did not sleep for the rest of the night. She stared at the corner where Michael had been crouched down doing whatever it was. She shivered, and began to cry. He didn't wake.
Gloria concentrated on her breathing, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Her head cleared. She could stand. She was still naked and wandering around Alan's house, alone, with no idea how she got here, and she felt stiff, her movements jerky, but at least she wasn't sick anymore.
She went from the garage to the kitchen. The lights were off. Was Alan not home? She looked around for the phone and realized there wasn't one. Come to think of it, she'd never seen a phone in this house anywhere. She hadn't realized before.
In the living room, the photo of Abbie was gone, as was the urn with her ashes. Gloria stared the empty spot on the mantle. Had Alan taken them somewhere, was that why he was gone? But that still didn't explain why Gloria woke up in a strange room in the garage.
She had to find her clothes, and her phone. She had to call Michael.
The thought of Michael made her pause. There was something she knew was important, but she couldn't remember. She thought back. What happened after the funeral? What happened the last time she saw Michael? If she could just remember...
Two weeks ago:
Gloria woke up sick that morning, and refused to let Michael help her. She said she had a stomach virus and should be alone for the rest of the day so that he didn't catch it. He said nothing, just watched her with a pleading expression and then shrugged, walking away. She barricaded herself in the living room, wondering what the best excuse to get out of the house was.
Deciding she had put it off long enough, she drove to Alan's. There was one last box of Abbie's old things that Alan didn't know what to do with and he'd asked her to take it off his hands. Finding no one home, she let herself into the garage, and as she leaned over to heft the box the nausea came back. She crouched on her heels, taking deep breaths and hoping that it would pass. This was the third time that week.
It doesn’t mean anything, she told herself. You’re just a little sick some mornings. Some sickness in the mornings. Some morning sick-
She saw something in the corner. It was partially-hidden behind a stack of boxes, but the gleam of stainless steel caught her eye. She picked her way over to it. It looked like a refrigerator on its side. She'd never seen it before. She put a hand on it, and found that the metal was very warm.
She looked it over, but could find no latch or door. There was a seam of some kind, but it was sealed. As she ran a finger over it, she heard something knock, once. It sounded like it was coming from inside? She leaned in. Another knock. Like something tapping against the inside of the cylinder? She realized she was holding her breath and let it out all at once. Her heart beat faster. Cautiously, she put her hand out, and knocked twice on the side of the tank. And then she heard it: two knocks in answer. She put a hand to her mouth. What in the world?
The garage door opened and she screamed. Someone stood silhouetted against the light reflecting off of the driveway.
"Gloria?" he said.
"Oh God, Alan!" she said. "You scared me half to death."
"Sorry," he said. "I should be more careful about walking into my own house." He smiled a little as he said it. She actually laughed.
"I just came by for the last box," she said. She turned to the tank. "Alan, what is this?"
He paused. "Hot water heater," he said. "It's new. Been sitting in here since before the funeral. Keep meaning to call someone to hook it up."
He hefted the box and took it to her car. He shook her hand five or six times, squeezing too tightly. His palms were always wet. "Thanks for taking this. I really don't know what I'd do with it. Everything in the house is hers. Everything reminds me of her."
There was no real expression on his face as he said it, and his voice was flat, like an automatic recording. She never did understand what Abbie saw in Alan. Or what Michael did, for that matter; Alan and Michael had been best friends for years. It's how Alan and Abbie met.
She scolded herself. He's in mourning, she thought, of course he's acting strangely. But really, nothing was strange when it came to Alan. As she drove off she saw him closing the garage, and picked out the shape of the "water heater" against the clutter of boxes and shelves. She was sure he'd been lying about it, but what did it matter? It was his business, whatever it was. She had enough to worry about.
When she got home she sat in the driveway for a long time without getting out. Michael's car was gone. Where had he gone on a Saturday without telling her? Not to Alan's, she'd have passed him on the way. And where else did he even go? Where did he go ever? She wondered if he was having an affair. She wished he would. It would make life easier.
Only when she saw her phone on the foyer table did she realize that she'd forgotten it when she left. She had two messages, one from Michael saying that he was called into the hospital to cover someone's shift and one from David asking to talk to her. She looked at the phone for a while, thumbing between their two numbers, then called David. She left a message telling him she couldn't see him and not to call until she did.
She spent an hour cleaning, and then found a place for the box of Abbie's things in the garage. She wanted to go through them but when she thought about it she got an ache in her chest, so she put it off. She sat in the den, staring at the wall and thinking about Michael. She was relieved that he was gone. More than that, she realized that she was terrified of when he would return.
She was startled by how violent her feelings were. She thought back. When was the last time she'd really enjoyed being with Michael? She couldn't even remember. It went back much further than Abbie's death. Something had been wrong for years. It had been months since they'd had sex, and the last time she'd forced him to wear a condom because she couldn't bear the thought of there being nothing between her body and his.
But why? He hadn't done anything wrong; he was the perfect husband, just like always. But something had changed. It wasn't always like this, she remembered. She'd been crazy about Michael when they met. But then Abbie had married Alan, and watching their marriage had been like watching her own from the outside. That's when things had started to curdle.
She took a pen and a piece of paper and wrote down the first thing that came to mind:
"My husband is a monster."
She was startled again. She tore the paper up. What nonsense. Michael was the sweetest man she'd ever met. If anything, he was too endearing. She tried again:
"My husband has a secret."
That was more believable, but was it true? Michael acted strange at times, but was he hiding something? She just assumed that everyone must have secrets. That Michael didn't seem to have any only meant that he worked harder to hide them, as far as she was concerned. Which meant they must be really awful.
She wrote again:
"I love my husband."
But she couldn't finish the sentence.
Gloria put some music on, drank a glass of wine, and thought. She splayed her fingers on her bare stomach and looked at it, as though listening for something. Then she poured the rest of the wine down the sink, changed into an outfit she knew Michael liked, and called him, leaving a message saying that she couldn't wait to see him.
She sat on the couch, listening for the sound of his car, and when it came she began hyperventilating. It's all right, she told herself, you can do this. He's your husband for Christ's sake. Michael unlocked the door and came in looking exhausted. She stood up, forced herself to smile, and threw her arms around him. He looked surprised, but hugged her, kissing her cheek.
"Hi," he said.
"Hello darling," she said. She took him to the living room, sat him down, fixed him a drink, and asked how his day was. Bewildered, he talked a little about filling in for Jolstein, and how one of the other nurses fell down the stairs and ended up in the ER himself.
Gloria smiled, and nodded, and when he was done she put her hand on his leg. "Honey, I wanted to apologize for the way I've been," she said.
He blinked, running a hand through his dark, curly hair. "Well you don't have to. I know how hard it's been on you, losing Abbie. It's hard on all of us."
"But you know it's more than that. Things haven't been right for a long time. You never complained, but I know you're unhappy too, and it's my fault."
"Gloria, no, I-"
She squeezed his hand. "It's all right. I really don't know what's wrong. I have no idea. But I'm going to try harder. I know we can make it through whatever this is. I promise I'm going to try. I promise I'll-"
He kissed her. She was surprised, and almost pulled away, but made herself kiss him back. She closed her eyes and thought back to the night they met, their first date, their wedding night, the times they'd stayed up all night talking about the future and the times she'd waited all day just for him to come home. She tried to make herself feel like that again.
They went to the bedroom, Michael pulling off his jacket and shirt on the way. Just let it happen naturally, she thought. They fell onto the bed, and so long as they only kissed Gloria kept it together. His hands on her body made her tense up, but he didn't notice, or maybe mistook it for excitement. When his hand slid between her legs she couldn't help pushing him away, and when he looked confused she reached down and grabbed hold of him to cover for it.
She unzipped his pants and took out his cock, rigid and pulsing. She closed her eyes and ran her hand up and down it, circling two fingers around it and jerking just underneath the head. With her eyes closed she could forget it was him and just imagine anyone there, and that made it easier. Just get through this, she thought. Everything will be okay if you can just do this. Remember that you love him.
Eyes still closed, she licked the head, then swallowed the tip into her mouth. He grunted and she heard the bed springs groan as he laid back. She pursed her lips, wetting them and the inside of her mouth. She moved it in and out, licking around the tip, vibrating her lips a little bit. It was easy to do, automatic even. She didn't have to think about it, which meant she could think about nothing at all. She went down further, sliding her tongue along the underside. Once or twice she thought about David, but pushed it away.
She opened wide and took him all in, all the way to her throat, and bobbed up and down. She slathered her tongue around Michael's cock, wetting it, sucking her lips over the shaft, feeling the head push against the back of her throat, its pulsing throb filling her. She felt detached, like her body was going to sleep. She pulled it out, leaving just the head in and sucking on it as hard as she could, her cheeks caving in slightly. Michael groaned and she tasted a warm, wet squirt on her tongue.
She would have liked to continue on like that all night, but he pulled away and pushed her down, his hands moving over her again. She shuddered, but tried to hide it, as he pulled her dress off, filling his hands with her breasts. His touch seemed cold somehow, but when he tweaked her nipples it sent electric jolts through her. His lips were rough on her soft skin, but when his tongue or teeth grazed the mark she trembled and felt herself go wet. A heady tingle crept up and down her body.
I can do this, she thought. There's no reason I can't do this.
He pulled her panties off. She took his face in her hands and kissed him, pulling him down, opening her legs around his body. She held her breath while he positioned himself. When he penetrated her with one hard thrust she dug her nails into his back. It's all right, she thought. Don't think about anything. Just feel.
Normally Michael was gentle, even tentative. This time he went in so hard and so fast she flinched, then as he continued she felt herself relax a little. Her body was responsive enough, growing hot and wet as Michael's cock slammed in and out. He held her down, hands pressing on her shoulders, and closed his eyes, thrusting in deep and hard. It was almost like having sex with, well, David.
When he put his hand over her mouth is when she really began to lose herself. She closed her eyes, not thinking about Michael or David or Abbie or anything not even herself, just the simple rubric of back and forth, in and out, touch and contact. The physical sensations of what was happening surrounded her and bottled her up. She felt safe and distant from the world. Nothing could get close enough to hurt her as long as they didn't stop.
After some time, Michael pulled out, leaving just the tip inside, and she felt a hot squirt. She gaped and moaned, thrashing her head from side to side. Then he plunged in, cumming some more with the stroke, and then back out, and the stream was still spurting. Each new thrust was punctuated by a quick, hot squirt, and Gloria's head swam. How much more could he have? It felt like a long time, though it was probably only a minute or two, before he relaxed, releasing his last. He kissed her and through the hazy, post-coitus fog, she kissed him back.
Michael lay at her side, stroking her, whispering to her. Gloria was looking at the wall again. She felt cold inside. Michael was talking and holding her, and she felt like she was freezing to death. She buried her face in the bed and tried not to let Michael see her cry.
She couldn't pretend that nothing was wrong. Something was very wrong. Now that the moment was over, she felt infected, like something awful was moving under her skin, or in her blood. The air smelled toxic. She wanted to talk to Abbie, but of course, she couldn't. She was alone.
She thought she would never fall asleep, but eventually she did. An hour later she woke up and heard the noise again; the horrible unidentifiable screeching sound. She saw that Michael's side of the bed was empty. She knew the sound was coming from the living room, and she knew he'd be there if she went and looked, but she didn't look. She couldn't.
Please God, she thought, let me fall asleep and not wake up. Just let me sleep forever. She covered her ears, and put the pillow over her head, and tried to pretend that the rest of the world wasn't there.
The bedroom. If she got the bedroom she might find a cell phone, or at least some clothes. She willed her legs to work. They were still sluggish, but she was moving.
She realized as she stumbled down the hall that the house was not empty. There were voices coming from the bedroom. No, not voices really, just noises? What was that sound? She realized that it was like the sound she'd heard in her own home, a sound like violin strings being stretched out. What the hell was it?
She stopped just outside the door. It was a little open, and she saw a light that might have been a television. The noise was getting louder, a horrible, grinding, screeching sound. Her heart beat so fast she had to stop walking for fear that it might burst. She leaned against the wall and bit her lip and listened to the noise.
I can't go in there, she thought. But what else was she going to do? Something was moving on the other side of the door. Something was coming out. Something was-
She felt a hand on her shoulder. Arms wrapped around her and she beat at her assailant, and then she heard his voice. "Hey, it's okay, it's me," said Michael.
She sagged in his arms.
"It's okay, it's okay," he said, holding her up. He stroked her hair. "You shouldn't be up and out."
"Michael!" she said, "Michael, what's going on? What's in there? Why am I here? What was that room? Michael-"
Suddenly she was seized with the urge to run. Something about Michael's eyes filled her with a sense of panic, but her body was still not responding at all now, and rather than flee she felt herself losing consciousness again.
"It's all right," said Michael. "I'm here now. I'm here."
Two days ago:
Gloria sat on the bathroom floor and thought about the many ways she might kill herself.
She looked at the pregnancy test again. It was her third. They all said the same thing. This can't be happening, she thought. Not now. Not ever.
She stood, knees wobbling. She looked in the mirror and saw herself pale and wan. She splashed water on her face, gripping the edge of the sink. What was she going to do? The baby couldn't be Michael's, the morning sickness had started before the last time they slept together. It had to be David's.
Abbie, she thought, where are you now? I need you.
She looked her reflection in the eye. There were only two options; get rid of the baby, or come clean with everyone. A bout of morning sickness accompanied the thought of both possibilities.
She looked around the house. Michael had been called in for another Saturday shift. It was probably a good thing. She dressed and started the car, dialing David's number on the way. He picked up right away.
"I was about to call you," he said.
"Good," she said.
"I think I've put up with the silent treatment long enough. I know you're going through a lot right now, but I still deserve some consideration."
"I agree," she said. "None of this has been fair to you. I'm on my way to your place right now, are you home?"
He said he was. She hung up. She put the top down as she drove. Everything felt lighter now. She realized that no matter what happened, the hard part was about to be over. No more lies, no more sneaking around. If the truth ruined her marriage, well, maybe it was a lucky break. If not, then at least she could be honest now.
She spent an hour at David's. She told him it was over, and he didn't take it well. She listened to his abuse without comment. He was, of course, right about everything, and she said so after, which made him angrier. She did not tell him about the baby. When he was done, she went home.
She left a message for Michael telling him she had something important to talk about. She waited until he got home, feeling again like the wife in an old sitcom, and sat him down.
"I have news," she said.
He looked anxious. She took his hand.
"I'm pregnant," she said.
She waited until comprehension dawned on him. At first he looked shocked, and then he broke into a grin, and then he was hugging her and laughing.
It's not yours, she thought. The baby is someone else's, Michael. Michael, I've been having an affair. Michael, I don't love you. Michael, I'm afraid of you. She thought these things, but didn't say them. She opened her mouth but all that came out was "We're going to have a baby." What was she doing? Tell him, she thought, tell him everything! But she didn't.
He wouldn't stop smiling. Doesn't he realize, she thought, doesn't he know that it couldn't possibly be his? How can he not? But he kept smiling and kissing her and talking about how lucky they were, and she smiled back, though she felt sick to her stomach.
After a while Michael's expression clouded, and she braced herself. Here it comes, she thought, he's put it all together. She thought he would scream and lose his temper, but instead all he said was, "I have something to tell you too."
She tensed. "Yes?"
"Gloria...I've been keeping a secret from you," he said, standing.
She looked at him. Her pulse doubled. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know quite how to tell you this," he said. "I knew I'd always have to someday, but now that it's here, well...just know that I love you, all right? I've always loved you, and I always will. Okay?"
She tried to talk, but was suddenly speechless. She managed to nod.
"All right," he said. "Here goes."
The instinct to run came a second too late. By the time she willed her legs to stand, it was happening. There was a noise like tearing velcro, and kind of seam appeared down the center of Michael’s body, and then he split open. He tore himself in half, and something came out, a flopping, segmented thing, with skittering limbs and blind white eyes and a mouth full of round teeth. The thing kicked the shredded, bloodless remains of Michael’s body aside.
I’m losing my mind, thought Gloria. It’s finally happened.
And then the thing opened its mouth, and she heard the noise, that awful screeching noise she'd heard so many times now; it was the thing's voice. And then she blacked out.
When Gloria came to, Michael was standing over her, looking perfectly normal again. She tried to scream, but nothing happened. She tried to sit up but she couldn't move at all.
"Careful, don't hurt yourself," said Michael. "You're partially sedated. I know how you must be feeling right now. If you'll just let me explain, you'll see that everything really is okay."
He touched her forehead, brushing her hair back like he used to. "The first thing you need to know is that you're not in any danger. I wouldn't ever hurt you. I love you more than life itself."
He looked up for a moment, and he nodded to someone outside her range of vision.
"We came here because we couldn't survive on our own world anymore. But we're not dangerous; we just want to live like anyone else. I wanted to tell you all along but, well, you see how I couldn‘t?"
She tried to speak. It didn't work. A second shape blocked out the light, a misshapen lump of a head with an oozing hole for a mouth. Gloria felt another scream push against the inside of her chest, but she had no way to let it out.
"Don't be frightened,” Michael said. “It's just Alan."
The thing nodded its flabby, tumor-like head, in confirmation.
"He's been taking care of you. He's a doctor, you know. Not here, but back home. I'm helping him learn human anatomy.“
Another nod from the thing. It made a few screeching noises. Michael put his hand on Gloria's stomach.
"This is all I ever wanted; a woman I love, and a child to call our own. You've made me the happiest man in two worlds, Gloria. And thanks to what Alan's done, the baby will grow up never knowing that it's any different from a human child.”
I want to wake up, thought Gloria.
"But there is something we have to talk about. Something that might not be easy for you to hear,” said Michael. “If both you and the baby are going to live, there are going to have to be some...adjustments made."
He looked her in the eye.
The table rose up, putting her into a sitting position and allowing her to see the rest of the room.
"As you can see," Michael said, "we've started already."
Gloria felt dizzy. My legs, she thought, where are-
"It's just part of the way these things work," Michael said. "The arms will have to go too, in a minute. You wouldn't be able to fit otherwise." And he pointed to the other side of the room, where she saw the metal cylinder with the hatch open, the interior a nest of snaking cables.
"You won't be able to survive outside of the tank when we're done," Michael explained. "But it'll make sure that the baby survives to term, and remains human in appearance."
She saw tears in the corners of his eyes.
"We're not doing this because we want to. I'm not trying to hurt you Gloria. I wish there were some other way. I wish it could be me instead. But that's not how nature works. It won’t be so bad. Abbie says she’s never been happier.”
He squeezed her unfeeling hand.
"We're going to get started now. You don't have to worry. You're completely safe.“ He kissed her. "I love you so much."
The table dropped back down. This can't be happening, she thought, this can't be happening. She tried to scream, tried to scream as loud as she could:
"Michael, stop! The baby isn't yours, the baby isn't yours!"
But she couldn't.
She heard Michael say, "Okay. Let's get started."
Oh God, she thought, please let me wake up, please let me wake up, please, please, please-