I glanced up to see Stephanie open the door to the shop and look around. After knowing her for over ten years, I could tell by the way she was scanning the room that something was up. Her red hair falling about her face and shoulders like a river of fire, and her cheeks flamed with the deep redness of roses flecked with tan freckles. Her nose flared as she seemed to almost scent out her prey. She caught my gaze and dismissed me quickly. Her hazel eyes only afforded a flare of quick recognition and then continued their search over the 14 women in the room, all in the various stages of painting still life. I was startled by the murderous rage those eyes beheld.
I got to my feet, just as Stephanie, finding who she had been looking for, made her way across the room; the home of her unborn child leading the way.
“How can you even show your face?” Stephanie asked the back of Laura’s head. She then took a handful of Laura’s blond locks and spun her around in her chair to face her.
“What the hell?” Laura asked in shock of the sudden pain and confusion. Then as Laura recognized who was speaking to her, shame began to blossom over her features, which was overcome by righteous jubilation. “So he told you then?”
“Yes he told me! He thinks you two are running off together. I wonder who put a fool idea like that into his head.” Stephanie was shrieking her anger into the air and it could be felt physically around her. The other women in the room stood and watched the confrontation, unable to turn away. “How could you do this to me when you know it is his child I harbor?”
Laura looked down at Stephanie’s protruding belly. “I had to prove to you that he is just a man. Like any man. That he would not turn from the opportunity of free love and the open arms of another woman. You thought you were high and lofty and your relationship was above such things. You were a fool in the first place to get involved with him, all the more so by letting his seed take root in your belly, forever tying you to the imbecile.” Laura turned back to the painting before her as though the matter and her dealings with it were over.
“Don’t you turn your back on me you witch. That is all you are going to say? That we had this coming and that if it had not been you to turn his head that it would have been some other woman and I would have had the same pain down the road? You have the audacity to sit before me and my unborn child and tell me that you lay with the man that I love in order to protect me?!”
I came forward and grabbed Stephanie just before she grabbed Laura’s hair again with both hands. The sound that emanated from her was wild and carnal. It came from a place down deep within the very core of her being and threatened to swallow Laura whole. I had no doubt that Stephanie would have torn the woman in two, before us all, with her own two hands had I not come forward. Her strength was formidable; with the extra weight she was carrying I almost lost the fight to rein her in. Somehow I got her out of the room and out the door onto the sidewalk. Whilst all the time Laura just looked at us with her liquid blue eyes through impossibly long eyelashes, and a light smirk upon her lips. I could have throttled her myself.
“I’ll deal with you later.” I promised her. Joy leaped in me when my words wiped the egocentric look of confidence off of her face, and she turned back to the painting, unable to meet my stare.
On the sidewalk, amongst the glass windows and compassionate glances from strangers, I dealt with Stephanie’s onslaught of tears. Fueled by despair, anger, adrenaline and pregnancy, wave after wave of tears were accompanied by words that were lost and incomprehensible. It didn’t matter, they were redundant and their meanings were for the winds ears alone. I held her as we walked off some of her energy, heading home to quilts, tea, and warm wet facecloths, perhaps I could even find some chocolate ice cream in the ice box. Anything and everything to starve off the sharp pain of the thrust blade, how could a woman do such a thing to another? How could anyone inflict such suffering? I shook my head unable to comprehend such an act.
“Come on Stephanie, up the stairs, we are almost there.” I guided her to the first step because her eyes were so puffy and swollen; they had all but closed on their own accord. My heart went out to her. She was in a fine mess. With no end in sight that I could see, either 18 years with a child on her hip, raising him alone, or with a man who had betrayed her. Which was no choice at all; or giving up the child when it was born to a family who would never let her see it.
I lay her down on the sofa, tears of my own forming at the corners of my eyes, and went to the kitchen to light the stove for some hot water for tea.
This was not over. I would have to deal with the repercussions of Laura’s actions. As the Den Mother of the twelve girls in my Dorm there would be no other way of things. I could almost hear the Dean and the disappointment in his voice again at the thought of my losing control of the situation. I was lucky that I had not been fired when Stephanie’s pregnancy had been revealed. An unwed pregnancy at that, and with another student from the university no less! What utter nonsense, that is what I think. You get young men and women together in the same environment, in close proximity of each other and such things are bound to happen.
I came back to the living room and Stephanie’s soft snores with a steaming hot cup of tea. Smiling I shrugged, guess the two lumps were for me then. I looked out the window over the campus. Over the green of the grass and in between the reaching arms of the bare wooden bones of the trees, fat snowflakes began to fall. How befitting I thought, a brand new shroud for a fallen princess.