Flower in the Wind
Chapter 18

Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay

As we worked our way through the crowd after the service several people asked when the baby was due. Between the fact that no one cared, or even seemed to know, that she'd been a prostitute, and the questions about her baby, Al relaxed and was able to even smile. It wasn't, of course, that they didn't know, for as I'd told her they did, but that they truly didn't care. Or perhaps that's not even correct. It wasn't so much that they didn't care what she'd been through, as that they loved her no matter what she'd done.

When we were back in the car with our belts fastened she turned to me and seized my hand. "That was almost fun, Alan."

I smiled. "I like it."

"You were right, you know."

I laughed now. "It does happen occasionally."

"Oh hush, Alan. You're right more often than that. I'm learning that the hard way. But ... Alan, if I'd known church was like that I might have gone sooner."

"Not every church is going to be like this one. You remember in Marlow how everyone was dignified and a little distant. First Churches of whatever flavor can be that way. Generally you'll find that smaller churches are more relaxed. But whatever the size or the age, churches do differ."

"I guess so. But I like this one."

I decided to be bold. "So will you come with me next week?"

"I might. I don't know, but I just might."

I decided to leave it at that for now. I gently freed my hand and put it on Al's swelling stomach. "So how is the baby?"

I could feel and hear her taking in a breath. "Alan, do you realize that's the first time you've done that?"

"Done what?"

"Put your hand on my belly."

"I didn't realize that..." I felt sudden shame at having had Al home for three months and not once taking thought for her side of the pregnancy. "I'm sorry, Alison." The full name still came with a bit of difficulty. "I haven't meant to hurt you."

"But you have, Alan. I haven't said anything, because I know you're hurting too – worse than I've been. But to be pregnant and have my husband never inquire about the baby..."

I raised my hand from her stomach and brushed away the tears. "I'm so sorry, Al. I don't suppose I've been a very good husband to you since you came back..."

"I don't know what a good husband is, Alan. I know you've been showing me love for four years now, and that has touched me more than I can say. Maybe that is all that being a good husband is."

I realized that we were still in the parking lot, and needed to move. I started the car and pulled out onto Menaul, and on impulse headed east toward Tramway. I knew a place where we could talk without having to worry about privacy, and I had a feeling that this discussion was important.

I turned south on Tramway, which is nearly a highway and takes its name from the Sandia Tramway, though to get to that we'd have had to go north. I pulled into the parking lot of the little shopping center at Tramway and Cloudview. I parked away from the building so as not to hamper customers, and we crossed Tramway with the signal. There's a walking trail that parallels Tramway all the way from Central to Tramway Road, which is where you turn off to go to the tram. We turned south on the trail, walking slowly. Al was definitely bigger, and slower, and couldn't walk as far as she'd been able to before.

I held her hand and asked, "What would you have done if Darvin hadn't found you?"

She didn't need to ask what I meant. "I'd have gotten an abortion. You can't hook if you're big that way, and I had no one to take care of me."

"You haven't said anything about an abortion, though."

"I don't want one. I'd have gotten one in order to keep working, but I want a baby. And I've known girls who got abortions, and I don't want to go through that."

I wasn't sure what she was talking about, but it wasn't where I was going so I let it be. "I'm glad you want a baby, Al. So do I."

"But?"

"But I want my baby."

Al was quiet for a few yards. "Are you still having trouble forgiving me, Alan?" she finally asked.

"Yeah." We had come to a place in the trail where the city had set 4x4s lengthwise to form a retaining wall, and planted upright 4x4s in front to hold the wall in place. Al sat down on a level spot on the wall, on the greenish treated wood. "I'm out of practice walking, and this person's heavy."

I remained on my feet, looking back north at what I could see of the Sandia Mountains. Down where we were, the foothills were just a quarter mile or so away and they blocked much of the view.

"Alan?"

I turned back to her. "Yes?"

"What's giving you so much trouble with forgiveness?"

"I don't feel very forgiving."

"What you feel is ... betrayal? I suppose so. I left your bed, and went to bed with all those other men." She began to describe what she'd done with all those other men.

"Al, please, don't." I couldn't bear a recital of what she'd done, and the pain in her voice just made it worse.

"But it's what I did, Alan. And one of them got me pregnant. And I know it's hurt you very badly."

"Sometimes it hurts so much that I can hardly breathe." And I told her something I'd never admitted to anyone. "And sometimes I get so angry at you, Al, that I want to destroy you."

"I understand."

"Do you?"

"Alan, I've tried to put myself in your shoes. You know the old saying ... anyway, if you disappeared, and I found you and learned that you'd been with every woman who came along..."

She was crying now, but talking about it had brought the emotions to the surface and I couldn't bring myself to do anything. I stood a few feet away, looking down at her, feeling like someone had kicked me in the groin. And part of me was happy that she was hurting, because she'd hurt me. It wasn't right, but it was how I felt.

Finally Al looked up at me. "Right now you hate me, don't you?"

I wanted to deny it, but I couldn't.

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