Hey, it’s a writing challenge piece! This one is for Chuck Wendig’s current writing challenge: 10 chapters in 1,000 words.
Feedback always appreciated.
Wes sees the sliver of light cut through the dark hallway. Caitlin is there. Her tears drip into the sink. Her face twists in a mix of shame and surprise, and she looks down at the plastic object in her hands. The symbol is a stark revelation. How could something so small change so much? Wes turns around and her sobs grow louder, primal. He fishes the box out from the sock drawer and returns.
“I kept trying to figure out the right time,” Wes says as he opens the box and gets down on one knee. “Will you marry me?”
Wes stiffens when she starts, but his grip stays tight. There’s a little kiss behind her ear, and Caitlin knows he’s close to getting sick himself. Wes can’t stand vomit or bodily functions. Christ, how will they be parents?
“Hey,” he says, another kiss on the top of her head this time, “happy wedding day, beautiful.”
Wes looks back. Caitlin stands in the doorway, barefoot and pregnant. A fucking cliche.
He smiles, because Caitlin is his fucking cliche.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” Wes says as he sets the glass of water down.
“You didn’t,” Caitlin smiles. “Come here.”
Caitlin puts his hand on her swollen stomach and he feels a slight movement, a little kick. And then another.
“They’re already playing together,” Caitlin laughs.
“Or fighting,” Wes laughs. “Is it too early for sibling rivalry?”
They’re under the covers, just like in grad school, but the conversation is more serious. Wes still has the same dopey grin, which Caitlin finds both irritating and irresistible.
“We could still find out, you know. It’s not too late,” Wes says.
“I want it to be a surprise,” Caitlin counters.
“Do you think you know?” Wes asks.
“Not really,” she replies, “but I think I have a preference.”
“Yeah?” Wes says. “At the same time.”
“At the same time,” she agrees. She closes her eyes, like saying it out loud will be a wish the universe can grant or deny.
“Both,” they say together.
I thought she would be hungrier. When are the weird cravings going to start? Wes wonders. Caitlin’s unhealthiest treat is a slice of toast with peanut butter and honey. She goes to prenatal yoga twice a week. Wes cuts up carrot sticks and cucumber slices every morning before work. He never sees Caitlin eat them, but they disappear, the only evidence an empty glass Pyrex container in the dishwasher.
Caitlin can’t remember if she painted her toenails. She holds a mirror up and tries to find the right angle. The yoga helps, and Caitlin glimpses chipped peacock blue varnish. There is still a dull shimmer. When will I be able to paint my nails again? When will I even have time? Caitlin thinks. She sighs and slides the shower door open, twisting the knob until a stream of water shoots forth and splashes against the tile.
Wes can’t sleep. Again. When he closes his eyes, he sees numbers. Calculations. How much he’ll need to save every year to cover the family’s expenses. How much will be deducted by the government, by insurance. How much college will cost by the time the twins are eighteen. How much Wes has already added to their joint savings account. How much the company will match to his 401(k). How many hours Wes has to work. How many hours he can get away with working.
Wes turns. Caitlin stands behind him, a duffel bag by her feet. She looks tired and scared. Her dark hair hangs down, still sleep-matted on one side. Caitlin did put on lipstick, but hurriedly – there is the faintest hint of pigment blurred at the corner of her mouth.
Wes sees the whole picture, the whole Caitlin and not the fragmented parts of her. Adrenaline hits him, punches him straight in the gut.
It’s time. Her eyes water with each painful contraction, coming closer and closer. Why did she decide on a natural birth? Why didn’t she listen to her yoga instructor’s advice about hypnobirthing?
“Christ on a cracker!” Caitlin exhales.
“Hey, beautiful,” Wes holds her hand. Pain rolls through her like a storm, each nerve ending feeling the downpour. Wes winces in pain, his brown eyes widening as her grip tightens.
“Shouldn’t someone tell me to push?” Caitlin stares at the nurse, with her too-big smile and her too-calm demeanor.
“When it’s time, dear,” the nurse says calmly. “You’re not quite ready yet.”
Caitlin’s jaw drops. She wants to reply but the nurse turns to Wes and addresses him instead.
“Did you make any calls on your way over?” Wes shakes his head. He’s been next to Caitlin this whole time.
“Shit!” Caitlin says. Her parents. His parents. They don’t know yet.
“Go make your calls. She’s not going anywhere, and neither is that kid of yours.”
10:28 AM. Five pounds, five ounces. Nineteen inches. Emma Lillian Wright.
10:30 AM. Five pounds, five ounces. Nineteen inches. Mason Samuel Wright.
“Both,” Caitlin smiles. She does not think about rejection or painted toenails.
“Both,” Wes replies. He does not worry about the numbers.