“It is not glamorous, but until I can find the right people, this will have to do.” Andrei looked over at Rebecca.
“It’s perfect, and I don’t need much.” Rebecca tried to reassure him. It, in fact, was not perfect. She had lost her husband, her family and her home all at once and now had to depend on the kindness of this stranger; a man who had never shown an ounce of kindness to her before Connor’s death. She was just glad to be off the road. As her pregnancy had become more visible, their ability to travel swiftly had dwindled. It had taken much longer than Andrei had hoped to get them to Sunset Valley.
Andrei smiled at her. “Good, but I will get us a bigger place and I will protect you and the baby. I promise you this.”
She smiled back. “It is good not to have to do this alone.”
Andrei took their bags in one hand and helped her into the small two-bedroom house.
The moment they were settled in, and had spoken to the owner of the house, Rebecca turned to Andrei. “Could we perhaps bury Connor in the local cemetery, so I may visit from time to time?”
“I had the same thought, it has already been done. We could go now if you would like?”
“Yes please. And thank you for thinking of that.”
“I know he was your husband, but he was also my brother. I would do anything for him – for you.”
Not having anything to say to that, Rebecca turned away and walked out the door.
When they reached the plot of ground where the remains of her husband rested, all the effort to stay strong in the last three months of travel just fell away. And as if he knew, Andrei was there, holding her, comforting her. She was beyond grateful to him.
“Connor told me you liked the ocean and I chose Sunset Valley because it has a beautiful view of the Pacific. Perhaps we can take a stroll before supper?”
He looked so earnest and he had been so wonderful throughout that she said yes. But she was so tired. She looked and felt much more than three months pregnant.
They walked out of the cemetery and down toward the beach. It really was gorgeous, with a lighthouse on an outcrop of land a ways out into the sea.
“This place is beautiful. Thank you for bringing me here. It has been too long since I’ve felt the ocean breeze.”
“I’m glad you like it. Are you originally from someplace by the sea?”
“Yes. My family is from a small island, not too far out in the Pacific. It is where I met Connor. He didn’t know the language and he had such pretty eyes; it was as if a piece of the sun lived in them.” She smiled wistfully, remembering the day she met him. How lost he looked, how handsome.
When she felt Andrei take her hand, she looked at him and realized he was on his knees. “What are you doing? What’s wrong?”
“Rebecca, I am not a man of many words. But I have watched you these last few months and I can see what my brother must have seen when he looked at you. I do not want to betray his memory and I do not want you to think that I am taking advantage of you. But I would be honored to make you my wife. To give you a husband and to give this baby you are carrying a father that would love him like his own. Perhaps in time, we might develop a closeness and a fondness for each other, and I must confess, I already have such feelings stirring within my heart.”
He took the ring from his right ring finger and held it out to her. She was speechless for a moment. Her mind told her this was the best she could have hoped for, to have someone who would want to be with her and her baby, to be able to give her child the life she dreamed of him having. And she would not deny that on the journey to this new place, she had wondered what would happen to her once the townspeople discovered she was a pregnant woman without a husband. Had she thought of a moment like this, when Andrei would rescue her yet again? Of course she had. But was she ready to replace her husband with his brother?
“I am not asking you to forget Connor and I do not expect you to love me the way you loved him. I simply hope that you will give me the opportunity to provide for you and to care for you.”
“You have the same eyes as your brother,” she said, before holding her hand out for him to slip on the ring. He could never replace Connor in her heart, but maybe they could try to be happy together.
They were married the following week at a temple by the ocean. It was a simple ceremony, with just the two of them and a justice of the peace as a witness, but it was beautiful nonetheless. The sound of the crashing waves reminded her of a happier time and she let it lull her into a peacefulness she hadn’t felt in a very long time.
Afterward, Rebecca cooked a small supper and shared it with her new husband. Looking across the table at Andrei she smiled, “You have nicer table manners than Connor did.”
He laughed, “Connor had no table manners, so that doesn’t say much about me, does it?” He looked up at her. “You looked beautiful today. Thank you.”
“For what?” She felt herself flushing, he was constantly complimenting her. It was…nice.
“For being such an amazing woman; for being you,” he said, continuing to look at her. She felt drawn to him in moments like this, as if nothing else existed. It was funny how a person seemed different the more you got to know them – even if they hadn’t changed at all.
That night, as Rebecca prepared for bed, the door opened and Andrei stood there, looking slightly inebriated. “Is everything alright?” She asked.
“Everything is fine. I wanted to ask you something.” His words were slightly slurred and he swayed on his feet. A chill of apprehension shot down her back.
“Have you been drinking, Andrei?”
“I needed some courage,” he said simply.
She put a smile on her face, even if she was feeling anything but happy. “Okay, what is it? What did you want to ask?”
He didn’t say anything for a long while, and just when she thought to repeat her question, he turned as if to go.
“Andrei, wait. Would you like to stay here…with me, tonight?” When he turned back, she thought she saw his eyes flash – for just a moment. “You could even move your things in here with mine. It is the expected thing to do, now that we are married.”
Whatever he’d been about to say, whatever he’d been thinking, was gone. Had she said the wrong thing? Isn’t that what he was here for? Now that he was legally her husband, she could deny him nothing. Rebecca briefly closed her eyes; this is what her life now meant. Sharing a bed with a man she didn’t love because he could protect her and her baby.
“Rebecca, I – I don’t want this. I don’t know why I’m even standing here. Forgive me.”
“It’s okay. I understand.” She walked towards the bed and sat down on the far side, and waited for him to join her. When he didn’t move, she pushed down the covers and climbed in; turning so she was facing him. “I don’t bite Andrei, that’s your area of expertise.”
He smiled then and walked towards the bed, unbuttoning his shirt and pulling it off, until he stood at the foot of the bed, looking down at her. He said nothing and started to undo his pants. She closed her eyes, unable and unwilling to watch him get ready to join her in bed. It was too much, too fast, too soon.
When the bed dipped, so did her stomach. He wasn’t even sober!
Rebecca opened her eyes and found him under the covers, staring at the ceiling. She looked at his profile – so much like his brother, such beautiful lines. Was his hair as soft as Connor’s? Would he expect her to wash it for him, like she used to do for her husband? She almost reached out a hand to touch it, but then he shifted and she closed her eyes again.
“Rebecca, I…” He sighed and she felt him moving, pulling at the sheets, pulling away from her. She opened her eyes again and saw that he’d turned away from her. “Goodnight Rebecca.”
She didn’t know whether she was disappointed or relieved. “Goodnight Andrei.”
They fell into a routine and it was a good one. While Andrei went to work, Rebecca took care of the home. On this particular day, she’d woken up feeling cranky. Andrei had been beyond great and wanted to stay and help her, but she couldn’t even look at him, let alone see him all day.
By the afternoon, however, she was ready to send someone to go get him; she was feeling achy and didn’t want to be alone. As she walked to the door, she felt a sudden sharp pain. As the pain increased, Rebecca began to panic, the baby was coming. She wasn’t ready, it wasn’t time. Where the hell was Andrei!?
As if her panic summoned him, Andrei walked through the door. “What’s wrong?”
“How did you know I – ahh!” She doubled up in pain. “The baby’s coming, but it’s too early, Andrei. It’s too – oohh!”
“You’ll be fine. I’ll get you through this. Can you make it into the bedroom without help?” When she swayed on her feet, he picked her up and carried her to the bed. “Listen to me, I’m going to find some towels and some supplies. I – I will be right back; I need you to breathe through the pain. And then I’ll be back and I won’t leave you again until it’s over. I promise you. Can you do that for me Becca? Just breathe through this and I’ll be right back.”
He waited until she nodded before leaving. She watched him walk away, trying to breathe. The panic was making it very hard to focus. But he wasn’t gone long.
After four hours, Andrei said, “It’s time to push Becca. Is it okay if I – you know?” He motioned towards the lower half of her body.
She had to laugh, “You’re my husband. At this point, you could see me naked and it wouldn’t matter. Just get this baby out of me. Now! If Connor was alive I’d kill him.”
He smiled, “Becca, we’re going to push on three, okay? One, two, three…push!”
Two hours of pushing and cursing later, Rebecca heard a small cry. She closed her eyes and lay back, trying to breathe. She was so tired, but she wanted to see her baby. When Andrei moved away from the bed with the baby, she thought he was coming to give it to her, but he walked out the door. Sitting up she said, “Andrei, what’s wrong? Where are you going with the baby? Andrei!”
“I’ll be right back, I promise.”
She lay back down and watched the door, straining to hear anything in the other room. When it remained quiet – too quiet – she got up to go find them.
“Andrei?” She reached the main room and stood there. “Andrei, please. Please let me hold my baby.”
He came out of the second bedroom, holding a small bundle in his arms. “What are you doing out of bed? You should not be walking yet!”
“I’m fine, I just want to hold my baby, please. Is there something wrong?”
“No, nothing. I was just cleaning him up.”
“Yeah, it’s a boy. Rebecca, I need you to get back in bed. Please.” Andrei walked towards her, holding the baby out to her. She took him and stood there, and felt herself start to cry.
Looking down at her son, she said, “Hi baby. My beautiful baby boy. Your father would be so proud.” She looked up at Andrei, who just stood there, lines of stress around his eyes, waiting for her to get back in bed. She looked back at her newborn son. “But your new papa did a great job today, didn’t he?”
She tucked her son in her arms and walked over to Andrei. “I think we should name him David.” She smiled at him and walked back to bed.
“Your papa made this rocking chair. Isn’t it beautiful?” Rebecca sat with David, talking and cooing to him, when Andrei walked in.
“Is he asleep yet?”
“Almost, did you want to hold him?” Andrei had yet to pick up the child since the night he delivered him. She was starting to worry that he was having second thoughts about her, about raising another man’s son.
“No. No, it’s fine. When he falls asleep can we talk?”
“Of course, Andrei.”
It took her only a few minutes more to coax David to sleep and she placed him in the crib and walked out into the kitchen area. “What is it, what happened?” She asked.
“I wanted to see how you were doing. Do you need extra help around the house or perhaps something for the baby? Are you feeling better?” She watched as he paced nervously.
“Andrei, it’s been two months since I gave birth. I am quite alright. How are you?” She sat down. “Did I do something wrong?”
That stopped his pacing and he turned quickly around to face her. “No, nothing. It’s the exact opposite, actually. I realize that I’ve asked a lot of you recently and I just want to make sure your needs were being met. I never saw myself as a married man; I find I am not prepared to be a husband.”
Rebecca leaned forward and smiled. “You are a great husband and, if you would allow it, you could be a great father.”
“Rebecca, I want you to be happy, in this new place, with your son…with me.”
“I am happy here, with our son, with you,” she said and realized she meant it.