It was almost four fifteen in the morning, when the first one hit with the force of a sledge hammer, waking her. She gasped for breath as the second and third one quickly followed, and something wet and sticky oozed from low in her body.
By the time the fourth one struck, she knew she was in trouble. She bit her lip to keep from screaming, but found herself doing so anyway. Another pain so ferocious that it felt as though it was tearing her insides apart, ripped through her. Unable to stop herself, Mary let out one ear splitting scream after another.
“Mommy! Mommy! What’s wrong with my Mommy!” Sobbed Kimmey.
“Want my Mommy!” Screamed Billy.
As Michael rushed to Mary’s side, Angelia pulled the frightened children gently to her.
“What’s wrong, Mary?” Michael asked, as he knelt beside her.
“The baby,” she gasped, as another pain slammed into her.
“Stay with her!” Commanded Michael.
Grabbing his coat he rushed outside to pull the van up to the door. Minutes later, they were on their way to the hospital.
Michael had listened almost too calmly as Mary confessed to having twinges in her lower back and pelvic region for the past five days. “But,” she said warily, “The really bad pains didn’t start until late last night.” She then stated she would be just fine come morning, and that under no circumstance was she going to the hospital.
He bundled her up, put her in his ambulance and took her anyway. He didn’t care if she ever spoke to him again! She was going to have the best care he could give her, whether she liked it or not! Besides he’d grown too fond of her to do otherwise.
The staff was ready and waiting, the minute they arrived and Mary was quickly settled in an empty exam room.
The emergency room nurse, Nicole Clark had spent many, many hours working beside Doctor Paterson, and knew exactly what was expected of her.
Quickly preparing the IV line and drip containing the pain reliever Michael had ordered, she swiftly and expertly inserted the needle into Mary’s arm.
Michael upon ordering an immediate ultrasound, wasn’t too happy to learn that the ultrasound-x-ray technician Harriet Mitchem, had gone home, and wouldn’t be back until nine in the morning.
Furious at Harriet’s absence he ordered the desk nurse to call her. “Tell her that she had better be at the hospital emergency room within the next half hour, or else.” He said.
Hurrying to Mary’s bedside, he waited impatiently for Harriet. The minute she arrived Mary was wheeled into the ultrasound room.
Harriet Mitchem was a dull, needy sort of girl of whom Michael had always felt a little sorry. He had met her parents on two different occasions, and on both occasions they had bullied and tormented her every chance they got.
According to them, she was the stupidest, laziest, no account, human being on the face of the earth! It was their opinion that she’d never amount to anything.
“I’ll show them!” She’d scoffed, as she struggled to put herself through nursing school, then technical school to become an ultrasound x-ray technician.
Harriet’s parents had jeered and accused her of thinking she was better than them, when she had graduated with full honors at the top of her class!
To Michael they were the most disgustingly repulsive people he’d ever met.
On several occasions after seeing her crying over some utterly stupid, senseless or uncalled for remark her parents had made, he’d feel sorry for her. To cheer her he’d ask her out to dinner or a movie, but only as a friend and colleague. His only intentions had been to help her gain a sense of stability and self-worth.
His parents Deli, with its booths, jukebox, dance area, fast food, plate lunches and dinners, was a favorite family restaurant and a teen’s paradise until about nine thirty on weeknights and eleven on weekends, but after that it was a place where Michael and his friends could meet and relax after a hectic day.
Michael and the staff had an unspoken agreement that whenever they all got together Harriet was to be included in the group. He reasoned that because of her sad circumstances the hospital staff should rally around her in friendship.
After a long or trying day at the hospital, the staff would usually meet at the Deli to share late dinners and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. Eventually the dinners had become a sort of habit and they’d begun meeting at the Deli several times a month. Besides Michael enjoyed the groups company and he hated eating alone.
Unbeknownst to Michael, Harriet had somehow misconstrued his intentions. For years, she’d been living in a daydream fantasy. In this fantasy, Michael and she were so in love they were planning their wedding and naming their children!
Harriet wasn’t at all happy at seeing the tender, loving looks and caring attention being lavished on the beautiful very pregnant young woman she was doing the ultrasound on!
She had heard all the rumors, but had preferred to believe they were just that, rumors. Covertly she studied the woman receiving so much attention from the man she considered her private property.
Witch, she thought bitterly to herself. I haven’t made plans for a life with Michael only to have a hussy like you, appear out of nowhere and snatch him away. It’s just not fair! How dare he wake me in the middle of the night, she said to herself, then bring that woman in here and expect me to be happy about doing this procedure! How can he so brazenly fling his little plaything in my face! She was so furious she couldn’t even bear to put her thoughts into words. How could he do this to me? Just who does he think he is anyway! Though she was livid with anger, she knew better than to show it.
Pretending concern for someone she instantly hated, wasn’t easy but, somehow she managed to pull it off. Within minutes, several pictures had come up on the screen and Michael was shaking his head in amazement as he looked at Mary.
To Harriet, he looked stupid, idiotic and ridiculous, as a slow grin covered his whole face. To her the grin said proud papa, loud and clear. To top it all off, the woman was looking adoringly at Michael and clinging to his hand as if to a lifeline.
Dazed, Mary looked questioningly at Michael. “What did you say,” she asked, “I want to be sure I heard you right! Did you say twins? You did didn’t you, I can’t have twins, Michael! I already have two children. How will - - - .”
“Its twins all right,” said Michael interrupting her and grinning like a Cheshire cat. “Don’t worry about anything! I guarantee you, we’ll have plenty of help taking care of them! I can just see them now. Once Mom, Pop and Angelia, get their hands on them, we may never see them again!”
Suddenly the overwhelming urge to kiss her was just too great, and he gently brushed his lips across Mary’s forehead.
“Congratulations little Momma,” he said smiling down at her.
Turning, he saw Harriet watching them with narrowed eyes. Ignoring her menacing looks, he said, “I want these results on my desk within thirty minutes or less.”
Ten minutes later, he had installed Mary in the exclusive seven room, two bath, hospital suite reserved for the founders of the hospital, Cole and Caroline Gilfords, related family members, or those with explicit permission to be there.
With Michael’s permission, Nurse Clark had already called her sister, Wanda-Ann, who had been immediately hired as Mary’s private nurse.
Wanda-Ann had received specific orders that under no circumstances, was anyone to know who occupied the Gilfords suite. If asked about her comings and goings from there, she was to refer them to the administration’s office and if they persisted, she was to inform Dr. Michael immediately.
Michael had also given explicit orders that no one enter or leave the suite without his sole permission. All entrances and exits were to be locked and nothing eatable was to be allowed into the room, unless brought in or okayed by him, Wanda-Ann or the hospital’s head cook.
Michael, knowing Wanda-Ann was an excellent cook made plans to talk to her about cooking some meals in the suite, if he stocked it with all their favorite things.
Wanda-Ann thought Michael might be overdoing it just a tiny little bit, on the security. The woman didn’t look as if she had the plague or anything catching. Actually, all she knew about the girl was that she was young, very pretty, pregnant and sound asleep from the shot the Doctor had just ordered.
Myrtle and Henry hearing that Mary was on her way to the hospital, had for the first time in twelve years, put a sign in the Deli window that said, CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.
They had then hightailed it to Angelia’s house where they’d been waiting anxiously for Michael to call since five o’clock that morning.
Myrtle had grabbed the phone first, and had answered it on the first ring. “Hello, Michael,” said his mother. “We thought you’d never call! How’s Mary, when can we come for a visit or is she coming home?”
“No, no and no,” said Michael. “I called to let everyone know that Mary is resting comfortably and that her pains have stopped for now. I also wanted to let everyone know that she’s pregnant with not one, but two babies. I’ll tell you more, when I know more.”
“Two babies, did you say two? Oh my! Twins! Mary’s having twins!” Michael heard his mother exclaim excitedly to Henry and Angelia as they crowded around the phone.
“Listen mom,” said Michael, “I only have a few minutes before the test results get here and I’ll know more after I’ve had a chance to study them. I just called to see how the children were, and to let you know that I have installed Mary in Caroline’s suite.”
“I didn‘t want to take the chance that someone might recognize her. I doubt that Caroline would mind, but maybe someone should let her know anyway.”
“Tell our little ones I’m sorry they didn’t get to see Santa. We’d planned to leave around noon, and spend the night with Celia and Donald Morgan. Did you know neither Mary nor the children had ever heard of Santa Clause! I really wanted them to meet him and maybe even do a little early Christmas shopping. It might be fun to see what kind of gifts they’d choose for everyone!”
Tell the kiddies I’ll give them a rain check. Maybe I could get one of you to call the Morgan’s and cancel the plans for me.”
“Thanks, got to go, I didn’t hear Harriet come in, but she’s standing right here with the reports. Give the kids hugs and kisses for me, talk to you later.”
The minute Michael hung up the phone, he noticed that Harriet was actually glaring furiously at him.
“I heard you talking to your mother on the phone. That woman, she was in the papers, wasn’t she Michael?” Harriet said, as she stomped her foot angrily on the floor.
“What put you in such an unpleasant mood, Harriet? You need to calm down.” said Michael, “I really don’t have time for your hysterics and I want you to leave. I have work to do and so do you.”
“Who is she?” Harriet screamed at him. “You tell me who she is and what business you have hanging around with her! Answer me, Michael! If you don’t you’ll all be sorry! Just you wait and see. I have ways of finding things out. I know for a fact that you’ve been seen everywhere with her and her brats.” She said shaking her paper-clutching fist under Michael’s nose in a threatening manner.
“Why, you’d think she was having your little brats the way the two of you were carrying on in there! I demand to know how long you’ve been cheating on me with this harlot, Michael. You owe me answers and I want them now!” Harriet hissed belligerently.
Shocked and angered at her rude insolence, he told her curtly, “I can only wish the lady’s babies were mine, maybe our next child will be! Now leave my office at once!” He ordered.
Still she insolently refused to leave, belligerently insisted that he owed her an explanation for cheating on her.
“I owe you nothing!” Michael told her bluntly, as he took her by the arm and practically dragged her to the door. Wresting the crumpled papers and film from her clenched fist, he opened the door and pushed her into the hallway. “Go home and stay there until further notice!” he ordered curtly, as he closed and locked the door behind her.
Returning to his desk Michael read the report, then tried to make some kind of sense of film that Harriet’s mishandling hadn’t made any easier to read. He’d finally concluded that Mary had severe internal scarring and that several of the scars had ruptured due to the weight of the twins.
Michael had gotten most of Mary’s medical and personal history over cups of coffee and pizza or cheeseburgers, while the children happily played on the toys, ramps, tunnels and swings at the newly opened Play and Eat Coffee Shop in Beasley. It had taken a whole lot of effort on his part before they’d warmed up to him, thought Michael.
Mary had told him little about their lives on their first few trips to the coffee shop and the other places they’d gone. She’d really only opened up to him just days before learning Zachariah was out on bail.
When he’d ask about her other pregnancies, she had blushed profusely, shuddered and hung her head at the hideous memories the innocent sounding question had evoked. Several seconds passed before she timidly and with much hesitation, explained that she’d had several problems carrying Billy and Kimmey.
When he had explained that he needed her information, in case of a medical emergency, she had explained in explicit detail one day of many filled with pain and terror, in her young life. It was his guess the scarring was from the abuse she’d suffered at the hands of Zachariah and several of his male subordinates, on the very day she’d described to him.
According to Mary, on this particular day of unimaginable pain and horror, she and nineteen other twelve year olds, had been dressed in delicately sheer, white, flowing gowns for their coming of age ceremony. It was two thirty in the afternoon.
Each of the girls had been positioned on a huge, fluffy, pillow.
They’d been told in explicit detail that what was about to happen was the fate of every girl at the commune upon either their twelfth birthday or the start of their menses, whichever came first.
Their mentor had repeatedly told them, they must bear the painful ceremony silently. They must endure and submit to their master’s every wish and whim. They were to show no fear at his or his chosen accomplices’ appearance. They had been instructed to extend their arms with their hands palm up, legs bent at the knees and opened wide in a gesture of welcome and intimacy, or face the consequences!
Mary had forgotten the advice the minute Zachariah appeared wearing nothing but a long trailing robe, opened in the front and a gold crown. She’d been so terrified that she had screamed and fought him with all of her twelve-year-old might.
Zachariah had laughed at her feeble attempts to fight his unwanted invasion of her body and upon brutally finishing with her, had contemptuously laughed in her face before yanking her from the pillows and throwing her onto the cold hard cement floor where she lay bruised, bleeding and trembling from fright. She had no way of knowing that her ordeal had just begun.
Laughing cruelly, Zachariah had ordered her hands and feet chained to the rings hidden under the pillows. He had then taken great pleasure in gagging her. Then choosing twelve men from the audience, he had forced them to do the same unspeakable things that he had done. The men had fearfully complied knowing to refuse meant their families would also suffer. When she’d thought she could endure no more, she’d been whipped for having the audacity to fight back. Within three months she’d been forced to become Zachariah’s wife and a month later she was pregnant!
The relentless ringing of the phone brought Michael abruptly back to the present.
“Mary’s awake and asking for you,” said Wanda-Ann. “She’s also asking for her clothes so she can leave as soon as you get here.
“How’s she doing?” he asked.
“Right now, she’s mumbling something about knowing she couldn’t trust you and that she should have known that all men were alike.”
“Tell her I’m on my way, and Wanda, don’t let her out of that bed even if you have to sit on her to keep her there. Do you understand me? The lives of her babies depend on her staying in bed and staying calm. That means no getting up for anything, period.”
Five minutes later, he was knocking on the door.
“Who is it?” Wanda-Ann asked, giving Mary a wink and a smile.
“You know perfectly well who it is,” said Michael.
“Then you won’t mind telling me will you Doctor?”
“Very funny, you’ve had your fun, now let me in,” said Michael sternly.
“No, not until you give me the code and your name,” Wanda-Ann replied.
“You know perfectly well who I am,” said Michael. The code is Mary and you have to the count of three to open - - - ,”
He hurried to Mary’s bedside and carefully looking her over, he asked. “How are you feeling,”
“I hope you’re hungry. I took the liberty of ordering breakfast. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry enough to eat a cow, so I ordered our favorite breakfast pizza instead. It should be here in about twenty minutes. Would you mind waiting for it, Wanda-Ann? I’m sure you would enjoy a cup of coffee about now,” said Michael, handing her several bills as payment for the pizza, coffee and a big tip.
“I love that pizza,” said Mary, “but I can eat when we get home.”
“I’m sorry Mary, but you’re not going home, not for a while anyways. You’re going to be stuck right here until further notice. I won’t chance something happening to you or the babies.”
“But what about Kimmey and Billy? Your mom and Angelia are busy at the estate. How can I be here and take care of them at the same time? We’re such a burden to everyone. I don’t want to be a burden, Michael! What should I do?” she asked.
“You, a burden? Never,” said Michael softly. Subconsciously reaching out, he gently brushed a stray strand of dark auburn hair from her cheek.
“Michael it’s me, Wanda-Ann, the code word is Mary and I’ve got your pizza.”
Michael quickly opened the door, thankful for the interruption that had kept him from acting on his confusing impulses.
Deftly Wanda-Ann put a tray on the bed and placed the box of piping hot pizza on it. “I’ll be right outside if you need me for anything doctor,” she said, bringing his thoughts back to the present as she handed him the money he’d given her.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“The man said your money wasn’t any good, that the pizza was for little momma and on the House. He also sent along a thermos of Mary’s favorite beverage.”
“Oh! Wow!” said Mary surprised at the man’s thoughtfulness. “I’ll call and thank him as soon as we eat, she said, hungrily eying the pizza.”
Mary, knowing Wanda-Ann was about to leave, asked, “Did you have a chance to get some coffee and maybe some breakfast while you were in the cafeteria.”
“No, I’m afraid not,” she said, smiling at Mary, whom she liked immensely. “But that’s okay. I’ll get something when Juliana relieves me.”
“When will that be?” Mary asked curiously.
“In about five hours or so, why?”
“Because, there’s more than enough pizza here for everyone and I’d love for you to join us,” said Mary.
“Oh no, I couldn’t,” said Wanda-Ann, “that’s your breakfast.”
“There’s plenty for everyone,” said Michael, “please say you’ll join us.”
“Well, I am hungry and that pizza sure looks and smells delicious. Okay, you’ve twisted my arm enough. I’d love to,” she said smiling at Mary, “thank you for inviting me to join you.”