The House on the Shore by Jill Waters

Spring

Josie

I sense her eyes, a hawk with me in her sights, making sure I'm 'getting off her property’. Bitch.

I should've known she'd take his side: in her flashy house, with her designer dresses and shoes. Massachusetts monarchy. Why did I come? I’d seen her before, meeting with friends at the hotel where I work. Planning fundraisers, smiling their New England smiles, laughing their New England laughs… It must've been a shock, not what she expected to hear, but there's no call for the things she said. The 'n' word is not cool. What do I do next? I could threaten to tell his work. Big shot finance manager wouldn't want everyone knowing.

He seemed so nice when we met, quiet, kind. Thought I'd found a keeper. That changed pretty quickly when I fell pregnant.

‘Are you sure it's mine?’ he'd said. ‘I guess you’ll be getting rid of it,’ he’d said. Didn’t he know me at all? I’d thought we were in a relationship. Turned out he was married. Of course he was. But I will have this baby, despite him telling me to wipe the slate clean, as if it was no more than marks on a chalkboard. Thing is, my pay check will only go so far, so I can’t tell him to get screwed, the baby deserves better. This tiny collection of cells is blameless in this.

Faith

There she goes. She thinks I don't believe her, thinks I hate her. Well, that may be true, but not because of what she said, because of what she has. This was always going to happen. For years I've ignored the rumours, the stifled conversations when I've entered a room. Meeting my friends for lunch, plastering on my smile, knowing they knew. But this is too much. I’m blushing thinking about what I said. I react with rage when my heart is broken. A child. His child. The only thing I've ever craved. I'd give this all up in an instant, just to hold his baby in my arms. All those false starts - eight miscarriages. I'm an empty shell, scoured out by years of trying, and now this. Apparently Harry's denied all responsibility and she needs my ‘help’ No doubt Harry charmed her. He’d have told her I’m miserable a bitch who makes his life hell. That part is true, but a child. His child. I have to be part of its life, even if he isn’t. Maybe I’ll shame him at work. If he leaves me, I couldn't be any more miserable, and I wouldn't have to pretend that I'm happy.

Yes, maybe I'll call his boss...

Harry

Shit, shit. I’ve only myself to blame, but…shit. Greg was not happy. Said he values what I do, but it’s a family company and mud sticks. Said I need to take ‘responsibility’, ‘do the right thing’, blah, blah. What exactly is that? I can’t even acknowledge that I have a baby. I knew that Josie was getting serious, but I never told her I wasn’t married…she just assumed. Not my fault. And what about Faith? If she finds out, she’ll make my life a living hell. I need her support if I’m going to make partner, and I’d certainly come off worse in any divorce. I need to make this right, make it go away. Just wish Josie hadn’t called Greg.

Josie

Interesting. Harry thinks I called his boss. Rang me, shouting, calling me all sorts. Wants to meet. Don’t think that’s a good idea…

Faith

Harry looked quite shaken when he got back from the club. Didn’t say much, just poured himself a whisky and went to bed.

Greg was very sympathetic. I’ve always had a lot of time for him. His father was good to Daddy when he was ill. I’m not sure what I wanted him to say or do, but he needed to know what Harry is really like.

Josie

Another day, another call. This time his wife, asking to meet for coffee. What could she possibly have to say?

Faith

I called Josie. I need to explain. Tell her my idea. Am I mad? I think I must be mad.

Josie

I sat in that diner, my stomach a butter churn, expecting to be offered money to disappear. Had Harry sent her to clean up after him like a good little wife?

Nope. Faith doesn’t do anyone’s bidding. Seems Harry has had lots of dalliances - so many that she got used to it - but I’m the first one to show up at her house, pregnant.

She told me why she had reacted so badly, about her miscarriages, her longing for a child and her eventual acceptance that she would never have one.

Faith has a plan. She wants me to move in with her. She’s getting an attorney, throwing Harry out and moving me in. I’ll have my own suite of rooms, and she would care for the baby if I wanted to return to work. I mean, it’s a generous offer, but a bad idea, right?

And she’d called Harry’s boss! Said she wanted them to know what kind of man he was, said he’d only got his post there because of her family connections.

I wished I’d met Harry instead. He might try to buy me off, but I get the impression Faith is trying to buy my baby. She told me to think about it, gave me her card, a fragrant air-kiss and was gone. Now what do I do?

Faith

Josie may need more work. I thought the stupid girl would jump at my offer, but I underestimated her pride and independence. I’m sure I can do something to bring her round. Hmm, maybe I’ll call her boss…

Josie

Faith called my freaking boss. Said I’d been acting as an escort for convention delegates and was blackmailing her and her husband. She’s seriously unhinged.

Harry

It was Faith that rang Greg. I should have known it wasn’t Josie’s style. I thought things were better: she’s seemed happier since the move to the house on the shore. I shouldn’t have dropped my guard with Josie, recognised when it stopped being casual.

Josie

I’ve lost my job. Brought the name of the hotel into ‘disrepute’. I told them it hadn’t been like that. Said I was in a relationship with Harry Sumner. Even if they believed it, they couldn’t risk 'Mrs Sumner’ going to the press. I’m out. Collateral damage. What now? I’ll never accept her offer. Hell will freeze over first.

Harry

Faith, what have you done? Your upbringing as New England royalty, indulged in every possible way, robbed you of the resilience to deal with life’s disappointments. Everyone has some darkness now and then, but you’ve never accepted that you couldn’t have a child. By the time you came round to the idea of adoption, your mental health was so frail that it wasn’t possible. And now you want Josie’s baby. You must see that’s impossible.

Faith

Harry is furious. Says I got that girl fired. Well, it's no more than she deserves. Now she’ll have to come and live here. I’ll have Harry’s baby in my arms in a few months, then he’ll see it was worth it.

Josie

I turned down Faith’s offer. She’s not happy…still threatening me as I hung up.

Faith

I’ll get lawyers onto that girl. No court will let her keep that baby… black, no job, no prospects. I have a great many friends in this County. No way will she keep it.

Harry

I’ve had enough. I explained things to Greg and my job is secure, family connections or not. I need to get away. Faith is toxic, poisons everything she touches. I’ll check into a hotel, then look for an apartment. Maybe get back in touch with Josie when the dust settles. I’ll try to get Faith some help, but she doesn’t make it easy…

Fall

Faith

Josie had the baby. A girl. Harry says she’s beautiful and that they’re working things out. My therapist would say I should be happy for him and move on. It’s not that easy.

So only me here now, in the house on the shore… the perfect place to raise a family. From my window, I can see the ocean. I can smell it, taste it. I can hear the sounds of children playing.

Although I can’t swim, it calls to me, telling me it can wash away the past and finally free me from feeling this way.

Winter

Harry

I sold the house on the shore. With Faith gone it seemed wrong to keep it. Josie says we need a fresh start, somewhere new…

Selected: 24th Short Story
Published in Issue #30

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