Chapter 7

Scott pushed himself through the crowd of church goers and placed himself in the back corner of wooden pews in hopes of not being seen by her.

Seats began to fill and he spotted her walking past him, closer towards the front rows. The older woman she walked in with, greeted the people sitting around her, smiling and making small talk. He didn’t know her name, but he had eaten at her bakery a handful of times before. Both times she smiled at him warmly, like a mother to a son.

The worship team stepped onto the low stage and began welcoming the congregation to the service. Throughout worship, Scott kept his eyes on Schuyler, he watched as she swayed back in forth to the music and bow her head at seemingly appropriate times. When the music was finished, the congregation sat in their seats and proceeded with the service. The pastor began his message and Scott grabbed a leather worn bible in the wooden compartment in front of him and pretended to follow along as to not become too focused on the girl. When it was over, he made a mad dash to the exit and towards his truck. He quickly unlocked the door and slid into the seats just as saw people coming out to chat. Schuyler and the older lady appeared smiling with a group of ladies, one he had recognized from the doctors office in town. They laughed and chatted for a few minutes before departing to their vehicles. Schuyler and the woman were walking towards him. Frantic, he put the key in the ignition and turned, but it didn’t start. He looked up to see the women standing two cars over. The older woman had spotted him with a concerned look and began to walk over. He could see Schuyler’s eyes follow the woman but thankfully didn’t stop on him.

“Sugar, do you need some help?” the lady said. He noted the kindness in her eyes that she gave everyone when they entered the bakery.

“Just trying to get my truck to start ma’am.” He turned the key again and could hear it start to turn and then die. He mustered a smile to her and she smiled back in a funny way before turning behind her.

“I can call a tow truck and wait with you. My daughter and I are only heading to lunch with some friends, but they’ll understand.”

Scott’s head jerked up at the word ‘daughter’ but tried to make up for his sudden motion by looking around the empty parking lot.

“That’s not necessary, Ms-”

“Carey, my name is Carey. Yours?”

“Scott.” He turned the key one last time, praying inwardly for it to start this time, it did, and he sighed with relief giving Carey a big grin.

“Well, Praise Jesus!” Carey exclaimed smiling back at him.

“Yeah, Praise him.” he revved up the engine a bit before putting it in reverse and gave her a polite nod before pulling out of his spot. He could see Carey looking at him from his rear view, like a mother watching her kid drive away. He didn’t bother to look at Schuyler standing at the car, he just kept going.

At the stop light before getting on the street to his house, he checked his phone and saw that none of his phone calls had been returned from Thomas and it worried him. This girl had been here for several weeks and no one seemed to care to look for her. Thankfully, he hadn’t heard any word about her in town so maybe she had kept her mouth shut.

He pulled up into the driveway of his small one level home and turned off the ignition. He sat in the seat, no rush to get out and began thinking that maybe he should go by and talk to him in person. He looked at his phone for the time and mentally noted that it would probably be busy at the house with customers, so he probably won’t be able to talk to him long. But it was worth a shot. He started the ignition of his truck without any issues, thankfully and smoothly pulled put of the driveway and began the drive to Nashville.

Chapter 6

Three weeks later…

The October air rolled in all to quickly and although she loved the vibrant colors of the fall leaves where ever she walked, Schuyler hated how the cold reminded her of her past on the dirty cot with a thin blanket to keep her barely warm. When the weather grew colder, Carey had taken her shopping for some more clothes and a thick quilt for when she wanted to snuggle up on the couch. Schuyler had to remind herself to pay back Carey for all her generosity these past two months or so she had been living here.

Crawling into the sofa with the quilt, Schuyler watched as Cohen carried wood from Carey’s pourch to the fire place in front of her. He had spent most of his time at the house the women shared since the day she shared her story and she didn’t mind it at all. Although her guard was still up about him, he seemed to have finagled his way around it just to be a friend. He asked questions about her life before being handed off to dirty men and seemed to want to help dig up who she really was outside of her horrific past. And sometimes, he brought food to the conversation.

“So what exactly do you write about?” asked Schuyler snacking on chocolate covered pretzels that he had came with.

“Nothing big. I can write about mostly anything but sometimes I’m given assignments to write about. I haven’t been given any serious ones lately.” He fixed the wood in the fire place and lit a smaller piece of wood and placed it underneath the wood pile and waited for it to catch.

“What do you enjoy writing about then?” She tossed a pretzel in the air and caught it with her mouth.

“I’m more of a creative writer. I like making up my own stories. letting my mind go there with endless characters and scenarios.”

“Got anything I can read?”

“I don’t like sharing my work that isn’t for the job.”

“Why not? You seem pretty confident in what you do. Maybe you should try writing a book.” she tossed up another pretzel, catching it with ease and even let out a victorious whisper. Cohen shook his head at her and chuckled.

“Confidence doesn’t pay the bills, my friend.” He poked at the wood and closed the chain fence before joining her on the couch. He thought back to his childhood where he made up endless stories to distract him from his own struggles; not many poeple had read them because he was too shy to share and he wasn’t yet going to let her in on the things he had created in the recent months that he had hidden away in his room.

A smell of beefy stew filled their noses as hymns filled their ears from Carey in the kitchen. They watched the fire glow with brilliancy and it filled the room with its warmth in just mere minutes. Schuyler pulled her knews close enough to her chest to make herself comfortable enough with feeling the paranoia of hurting the baby.

The baby.

This child had her feeling sick to her stomach and more emotional than she ever thought she would be in her life. She often laughed at herself how easy it was to tear up at a cheesy commercial she’d catch in the living room when no one else was home. But most of all, she was hungry all the time. Whenever Carey worked, she learned to make simple meals with the ingridients left in the kitchen and when Carey was home, she would always bring something delicious from the bakery that didn’t make it to the trash at the end of the day. And sometimes, during his lunch breaks, Cohen called the house to see what she would be hungry for that day and bring it over and have lunch with her before heading back to the office.

Cohen could see Schuyler from the corner of his eye. He smiled in a way that she wouldn’t be able to spot if she turned to face him. For a week or so, he tried to push down the attraction he was having towards her. There was a new sense of awe for the woman who took a risk on running from dangerous men, a type of strenght and fight that made him want to be around her all the time. Slowly but surely, he watched her come out of her shell. There were times when all three of them would be out and about together and he could see her pay careful attention to her surroundings. If he had a gun, he’d carry it on himself all the time just to make her feel safe. But he didn’t want to chance it if she was not yet used to that kind of thing, so he always stayed close beside her just instead and kept an eye out as well.

He could see her wrapping thick ebony curls around her chocolate index finger and then letting it unwind and spring back up. He could feel his cheeks burning underneath his scruffy beard, thankfuly it was too dim in the room for her to even notice. He had learned to embrace the way his body reacted to her being around. And to his surprise, she never crossed his mind in a sexual way like all the other woman he encountered. He even chilled out with the random women in his bed and mostly went straight home from work instead of the Nashville city bar he used to occupy.

“Supper is ready!” Carey sang from the dining room. Like teenagers, Schuyler and Cohen moved from the couch quickly, shoving each other out of the way to get to the table first.

“Calm down you two, there is plenty for everyone,” Carey said as she placed a basket of homemade biscuits on the table and began pouring lemonade from a glass pitcher.

“But I’m eating for two, so I’m extra hungry,” Schuyler said grabbing for the ladel that was placed in the the serving bowl for the stew. Carey playfully smacked her hand away from it and gestured for them to say grace before digging in. Schuyler gave a sheepish look as she grabbed Carey’s hand, then Cohen’s. He hesistated before taking it but did reluctantly. Carey spoke the blessing and they all ladeled thick beef stew in there deep bowls and grabbed big southern biscuits. Schuyler enjoyed Carey’s cooking more than anything in the world. All the flavors seemed to sink into her soul and rest her weary heart from all her heavy thinking. Every bite tasted like home and the silence from Cohen seemed to give her the indication that he felt the same way as his eyes opened and shut slowly as he chewed. Carey watched them with amusement as they spooned the savory goodness.

“Glad yall are enjoying it,” she chuckled while spreading butter on her biscuit. The rest of the meal was filled in comfortable silence until Schuyler offered to do the dishes. She collected bowls and glasses from the table and walked them to the sink and began filling it with hot sudsy water. Cohen, walked in shortly after with the left over stew and empty basket and started putting the food up before he joined her at the sink. In rythmic fashion, Schuyler scrubbed at the dirty dishes, rinsed them and handed them to Cohen to towel dry before placing them back on the shelves. Ever so often, their hands and arms brushed up against each other and Cohen tried his best not to be moved by it. If he leaned closer, he would get a faint whiff of her floral body wash which turned his stomach his stomach into butterfly clouds.

Carey’s entrance broke Cohen away from his attention off Schuyler, “Would you two mind grabbing the ice cream and toppings? I have to take care of something upstairs.” Schuyler and Cohen nodded and watched her exit as quickly as she entered.

In her room, Carey quietly closed the door behind her and grabbed the manilla envelope that came in the mail earlier that day. She sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, heart racing as she opened it slowly and pulled out the white sheets of paper that held information she had been waiting on.

Her eyes read through each sentence carefully before being filled with tears. Her emotions ran deep as her now glassy blue eyes scanned the birth certificate, foster and adoption information and lists of accomplishments all the way from elementary school to college. Her heart filled with pride and sadness as she realized she missed every achievement of the son she believed she had lost forever.

When she was finished, she glanced at her face in the mirror and began wiping away any evidence of her tears before meeting Schuyler and Cohen down stairs.

At some point, she knew the truth would need to be revealed but for now, she would have to believe God would have a designated time for such a moment. Until then she would enjoy the blessings that were Schuyler and Cohen and pray.

Chapter 5

The gynocologist smiled warmly as Schuyler settled herself down on the table. She pulled up her shirt showing off her stomach and watched as she put cold gel on it.

“Is this your first child?” the doctor asked, grabbing a device and taking her spot at the chair besides the examining table.

“Yes, ma’am”.

“Oh please, just call me Charlotte.” She smiled at her before fidgeting with the screen. Schuyler smiled back before glancing at the door.

“Did you want the father to come in and see the baby?”

Schuyler gave her a bewildered look and forgot that Charlotte had spotted Cohen walking into the office as she was walking out with another patient.

“Oh, he’s just a friend. Not the father.” she responded bitting her bottom lip.

“Oh, of course. Well, he is welcome in here if you’d like me to go get him for you. You know, support?” Charlotte’s hazel eyes met with Schuyler and they exchanged a silent conversation before Schuyler nodded approval to go retrieve Cohen. A few seconds later, he was standing by her side when the baby appeared on the screen.

Charlotte spoke, but Schuyler wasn’t paying a bit of attention while her eyes were glued to the screen. Her heart swelled ten times bigger than she expected and a weird experince of love overtook her.

Soon enough Charlotte left Schuyler to get situated as she retrieved ultra sound pictures. Cohen handed her napkins to wipe the goo off her stomach.

“So, that was pretty cool,” Cohen spoke breaking the silence. Schuyler lifted her head and noticed how impressed he seemed to be.

“Yeah,” she said voice catching in her throat. She tried clearing it, but the feeling came back, this time followed with hot heavy tears. Trying to not let her face show, she turned her back to Cohen and wiped her eyes quickly.

“Here you go!” Charlotte entered in a sing songy voice holding the picture in her hand. Schuyler tried paying attention as she gave her some last minute details and instructions while she escorted them out of the office and at the desk to schedule her next appointment.

The sun shined beautifully as they walked out the building, Cohen quickly walked over to his car and opended the door for her. With a raised brow, she sat in the passenger’s seat and waited for him to get in.

Schuyler looked out the window as they drove through the historic downtown area, passing Carey’s bakery and the little shops surrounding it. She began to dream of raising the child growing inside her, in this small town with seemingly sweet people that could one day be her friends. She glanced over at Cohen and for the first time felt grateful for his presence. He chose to be there with her, even with the known tension between them, and didn’t even argue about it.

Cohen stopped to let some kids cross the street from the town park, a red pick up paused beside them as well. When Schuyler looked over into the truck, a familiar face looked back at her, quickening the beats of her heart.

The Beater stared back at her and she felt his hands on her again though there was too much distance between them. He tilted his head forward and looked above dark sunglasses, revealing those piercing eyes. Before Schuyler could make a move or sound, Cohen moved forward, making his way back to Carey’s home. Mouth agape, she looked ahead with thoughts racing in her head. They reached the driveway of the house, but Schuyler didn’t dare make a move to get out. She felt her mouth getting dry and palms becoming sweaty with fear at the very thought of her last moments with the man in the truck.

“You good?” Cohen asked breaking the silence as he parked his car. He pulled off his seat belt and made a move to get out but Schuyler stopped him, “I can let myself out, thank you. And no, I’m not fine. But can you stay with me until Carey gets home.” A puzzled look appeared across his face but he nodded before opening his door.

As they entered the house, Schuyler made her way into the half bathroom, let the toilet lid down and sat, head in her hands. Those familiar eyes came to her mind and she began to cry. It was the first time in a while that she really let herself release all the pain and hurt and confusion she had been bottling up inside. She tried to cover her mouth to silence the sobs so that Cohen couldn’t hear her but they seemed to continue getting louder. She could feel tears and snot running down her face but she didn’t even care. Feeling herself become hot from the sobbing, she stood up and took a step towards the sink to splash cold water on her face before taking her seet on the toilet again. Her heavy sobs slowed down, chest hurting and an occasional hiccup escaped her lips. She knew at some point she had to get out of the bathroom but being alone felt better than having to face Cohen wherever he was in the house.

A door slammed and Schuyler wondered if he had decided to leave her in the house alone after all. She grabbed some tissues and pulled herself together as best as she could. Her chocolate skin was red and blotchy but she could care less. Wiping the last of her tears she gave herself one last look in the mirror before walking out and into the living room where Carey and Cohen sat whispering quietly. They hushed when they noticed her presence and gave her concerned looks.

Schuyler sheepishly smiled at them, “Hey Carey,”

“Oh sugar!” Carey said raising from the couch to embrace her. In her shoulders Schuyler released her tears and stayed there for what seemed like forever. When she had finally calmed down, she wiped her face with a paper towel that Cohen retrieved for her. She thanked him before sitting between them on the couch.

“I need to tell you guys something,” Schuyler said between heavy sobs. Fidling with her tissue, she told her story leaving Cohen and Carey sitting in stunned silence until she was finished. “So now,” she said “I can’t keep this kid. I have nothing to offer it and even if I did, I wouldn’t know how to. I’ve never had to take care of kids before and I’m too afraid to try. And I’d be putting it in danger living out here if he’s here.”

Cohen cleared his throat, “Maybe we can go to the police, give him a discription of the man that has been coming to you all these years and find him.” At his very words, Schuyler noticed his fists clinching.

“The guy who owned me, if he gets word of where I am, he’d come after me to cover himself. I’ve seen what he does to women that go against him…” Her voice trailed off as she she remmebered the time that she watched his friend carry a bleeding girl out after not bring him the type of business he wanted and she shuttered.

“First of all, sweet pea,” Carey interjected, “no one owns you. You aren’t a piece of meat for sale or something you can easily pick up off a shelf. You are a human being and should be treated with respect and love. So we won’t speak of such ownership. You are hear, with us and you belong here. You are free. And as for this child of yours, I can help you raise them. You stay long enough, there may be some other ladies at church that would love to help. We can be your family and your friends. And you can stay here as long as you want. Don’t stress about feelin’ like you have to leave or not be a burden to me. You aren’t causing me any set backs. And even if you were, you still belong here.” That motherly look appeared on her face and Schuyler could’nt help but smile at her as she pushed back her curly hair and nodded.

You belong here

The voice echoed in her very being as Schuyler let the words sink in.

“I belong here,” she declared in a whispered tone.

Chapter 4

**If you are new to my blog, I started writing a book and posting it on here. This story started 3 years ago and hasn’t been worked on much since due to certain issues. But the Lord is good and has given me the words to write again. Thank you for your patience for those that have followed along. God bless and happy reading**

There was nothing but everything special about him that was earthly attractive. His facial features were plain but held a sense of kindness and warmth that drew her in. His eyes and hands carefully focused on the piece of wood before him, sculpting with his hands, eyes full of vision for the piece he was diligently creating. Schuyler watched him with awe and wonder as the wood came to life and in mere seconds, the chair came to be, her name engraved on the back with such beautiful intricacy.

She watched as the man fashioned together a table long enough for the kind of feasts you see in movies. Moments later the table was draped in white cloth topped with wild flowers and tea lights. Gold and silver plates held food fit for royalty and at the end of the table the mysterious man sat, clothes changed from simple linen to a king-like robe and a crown on his head. He looked at her and smiled, extended his hand as if to invite her to the seat he crafted for her. Suddenly, Schuyler could feel herself feel unfit for such a feast and she stepped away from the table and walked away. A voice cried out from behind her but she couldn’t bare to look back and see the hurt that dressed the kind mans face at her departure. Darkness seemed to over take her vision, a sudden death like grip held her throat…

Schuyler awoke startled and became erect from her sleeping position. Eyeing the clock, she knew it was morning but the sun had not yet broken through. The smell of bacon and coffee filled her nose telling her that Carey was up and getting ready to open up shop. She dared not to leave the comforting darkness of the room and stayed in the bed, eyes looking out the window. Her mind went back to the dream, the man’s kind face greeting her and she felt her heart skip. The feeling of warmth covered her like a blanket straight from the dryer and she closed her eyes for a brief moment.

A soft knock forced Schuyler’s eyes open and the door opened. Carey stood in the door way, the hallway lamp showing her motherly figure.

“I didn’t wake you did I?” She whispered softly in the darkness.

Schuyler shook her head as if Carey could see her response, “No. I just woke from a dream. Do you need me?”

“Well, I just wanted to let you know that I made an appointment for you at my doctor’s office for later on this afternoon. Just so we can get you looked at and make sure that you are in good health for the baby. And of course make sure the baby is doing fine and all. Can you meet me at 3 o’clock?” Carey’s country twang had notes of excitement, making Schuyler’s heart hurt with the thought that her decision may kill the joy rising in her sweet friend.

“Yeah, sure.” Schuyler responded,  “Thank you for being so helpful, Carey.”

“It’s my pleasure, hun.” And she quietly closed the door. Schuyler looked back out the window, this time spotting a streak of orange and pink like behind distant trees.

Trust me

The voice spoke to the fear and worry that had risen in her chest and it died at the gentle command.

“What other choice do I have?” She spoke back into the darkness.


The bakery was busy with customers when Schuyler walked in to meet Carey. She could see her frazzled face from the front door as she delivered baked goodies to tables or packing them in simple paper bags. She made eye contact with Schuyler from the register and gave a quick smile before assisting another customer. Looking around the room, she spotted an empty chair in the back of the bakery and waited.

“Hey,” spoke a male voice beside her. There stood Cohen with his boyish ruffled hair and sharp green eyes. Schuyler wondered how many women this one man could charm his way with looking like that but congratulated herself for not being one of them. Cohen had been sweet to bring her chocolate covered fruit in her time of need, but she wasn’t swooning for him. He’d stayed with her at Carey’s for a good hour or so, not bothering her in their comfortable silence and then he left before Carey came home from the shop. She surprisingly enjoyed his company. But not enough to be buddies with him. If it weren’t for Carey’s generosity and her apparent love for Cohen, she probably would not feel compelled to respond back.

“Hi,” she said with a half grin. Her response seemed to have been an invitation for him to pull up an empty chair and sit across from her. Obviously there was no escaping him now.

“Feeling any better?” His seemed to look at her with genuine concern, or maybe it was the way the sunlight danced in his eyes.

“For the most part, yes,” she pushed back a curl before resting her chin in one hand and playing with the napkin holder between them. “On lunch break?”

“No, Carey said she needed a favor from me. So I left my office to help her out.” He watched people enter and exit the door which let in the crisp fall air. “What about you?”

“Doctor’s appointment,” she mumbled.

“Have you decided one what you are going to do with it?”

“Not really. I guess I’ll take it day by day,” she said shrugging the thought away.

Carey made her way to their table, flustered, “Hey, you two. “She said resting her palms on the table as if standing to catch her breath ‘It has been an absolute madhouse today. I may need to hire an extra hand or two.”

“Yeah that’s not a bad idea,” Cohen looked at the last of the customers walking out, paper bags in hand. “I’m sure I can’t place an ad in the paper for you before the week is out.”

Carey rested her hand on Cohen’s shoulder and gave him a motherly look, “You are my hero, that would be wonderful.” She turned her attention to Schuyler, “How are you feeling today?”

“Pretty good. I made sure to eat what you made this morning. Thank you again for that.”

“My pleasure, hun. But I have to tell you, I don’t think I’ll be able to leave this place if it keeps getting busy like this. So I called Cohen to help me out by taking you to your appointment.” Her last sentence forced both Schuyler and Cohen to look at each in utter shock and back at her.

“Are you sure, Ms. Carey? I mean I can wait for another time to go-”

“No sugar, you need to go so we can figure what the next move will be for you. I promise, I’ll be there for the next appointment, but right now, I can’t leave and Cohen will be more than happy to take.” She said, patting Cohen on the shoulder. Cohen glanced at her from across the table and can see the mix of emotions in his eyes. Schuyler could see there was no getting out of this. Sighing in defeat and stood from the table.

“Let’s go then.”

 

 

Chapter 3

Chapter 3
Cohen lost track of the time staring at the blank document on his laptop screen. The office of the newspaper was now only occupied with his existence, and he was fine with that. His cell phone had been ringing off and on all morning of one night stand encounters making him annoyed with his self.
Cohen reached for the stress ball on his desk and squeezed it though it did nothing to make the flashing on his phone stop notifying him. He remembered back in the days where women didn’t flock to him for attention, not really noticing him at all. It wasn’t until he graduated high school that the opposite sex began to notice him. He took it as a sign that the shells of awkwardness had invisibly fallen off of his person and he was what women found attractive. He began to see women more than he was used to, first starting with a soft heart until it was broken by someone who he had fallen for. After her, he didn’t care anymore and started playing the game that most men did. There wasn’t a month that had gone by that he wasn’t having someone in his living space to roll around with for the night, only to kick them out in the early morning sun light. It was easy not to care after having experienced a heart-break and it made it easier to not care when a women showed her feelings. He had become a man of so few emotions over the course of time, until he was introduced to Schuyler.
Turning the ball in his hands, tossing it up in the air he came to the realization that he was attracted to her. But she obviously didn’t feel the same way; how her dark eyes dared Cohen to pay any type of attention to her made it perfectly clear that her guard was sky-high. The only time that her wall began to shift was when she threw up with him present. Cohen began to wonder how Schuyler was doing since he left Carey’s house that night. He was surprised at himself for the concern he was experiencing for her, but he experienced a vulnerable moment when he mentioned a potential pregnancy for her horizon.
Cohen turned to his laptop and moved his finger on the mouse pad to wake up the screen, typed up the website he was looking for and made a few choice clicks before he could change his mind. He was sure he was going to regret this later but it was the least he could do. Quickly he grabbed his things and walked out the empty office, bouncing the ball as he went.


The deliciousness of Carey’s homemade muffins had done nothing to ease Schuyler’s worries. In between bites, she looked at the tiny window of the pregnancy test that had already decided her fate and her heart began to twist in knots. The familiarity of fear brought back those same tears that came when the two lines appeared.
The choices that invisibly lay before her consumed her thoughts. She refused abortion, even though she didn’t want the child, but ending a life seemed cruel when someone ruined hers. There was always adoption; plenty of adults aspired to become parents, she could easily give up the child and wipe her hands of the situation.
Or she could keep it.
Though she had little to no experience with kids, she occasionally dreamed of having a family of her own; the husband, the kids, the white picket fence and maybe an animal or two. But not like this. This wasn’t supposed to happen to her. Keeping the baby meant supporting it and she could now barely take care of herself.
“I’m only good at one thing and one thing only,” she mumbled to herself. She nibbled on the last of the muffins, glanced at the test and ran her fingers through her now straightened hair in frustration.
Trust me
The small comforting voice rested her weary thoughts for a moment, not scaring her like it did before. After escaping, she convinced herself that the voice was her sign that she was crazy and it was okay by her. She took deep breaths and was on the verge of closing her eyes until the bell rang. Thinking that is was a salesman; Schuyler didn’t get up from her seat. The doorbell sounded again forcing Schuyler to get off the couch and make her way to the door. In the side window of the door she spotted the familiar face of Cohen and he saw her too, waving.
“What do you want?” she shouted, not opening the door. A look of bewilderment shown on his face and she saw he held a rectangular box in his hand.
“Wanna open the door to find out?” he shouted back.
“Carey is at the bakery, come back later.”
“I’m not here to see Carey. I’m here to see you.”
Schuyler rolled her eyes and opens the door just enough to fit her head through.
“Occasion?”
“You were sick, so..”
“You though that I needed sympathy from you?” she asks coolly.
“What? No, I was hoping it would make you feel better.”
“I’ll be fine, thank you.” She quickly retreated into the house and tried closing the door, but Cohen stuck his foot out.
“Take them,” he said.
“I don’t want them.”
Cohen sighed heavily and shaking his head, “Are you always this stubborn?”
Schuyler glared at him before opening the door and stepping out, “I don’t take things from people who I know want something in return.”
“Oh really? Well maybe it’s time you take something with no strings attached. Take the damn fruit, please.”
She shoved it back with a little more force than intended, making it fall to the ground. They both went to reach for it only for Schuyler to get the brut of Cohen’s head against hers.
“Ah!” she yelped in pain, trying to stand up quickly. Seeing she was going to lose balance, Cohen grabbed her arm and pushed her through the door, and guides her to the couch in the living room. Making sure she was lying down, Cohen walked into the kitchen and found a bag of frozen peas in the freezer.
“Here,” he said placing the bag on her head, “you’re going to have an ugly bump for a day or so, but it shouldn’t be too bad.”
“You don’t need a bag?” she mumbled.
“Thick skull, barely felt a thing,” he jokingly knocked on the back of his head and leaned back against the couch.
“Lucky.”
He watched her close her eyes, holding the bag still on her head. His eyes trailed from the top her straightened hair to the sweats she wore until something caught his eyes. Slowly he pinched the object between his index and thumb and brought it to his eye level. The little window on the stick showed two vibrant lines.
“What do two lines mean?” he asked waving the stick like a flag. Schuyler shot up quickly and snatched it out of his hands.
“No one told you to look!”
“No one said I couldn’t, you left it here on the couch for the world to see.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to look,” she slapped the bag and the test on the coffee table in disgust.
“You still didn’t answer my question.”
“I don’t have to.”
“True.”
“You don’t seem like the type of guy who cares about a stupid pregnancy test.”
“That doesn’t make me the kind of guy that doesn’t care at all. I’m not completely heartless,” he said with a smirked at his little lie.
“You’re a man, men don’t care at all.”
Cohen could hear a bit of anger and pain in her voice but it didn’t stop the anger that was beginning to creep through his being.
“And bringing you a gift means that I don’t care?” Cohen looked at her in amazement.
Schuyler turned to look back at him, hesitating before saying the next few words, “What do you want from me?”
“I don’t want anything,” He couldn’t help but shake his head in frustration, “You can’t possibly believe that every guy has different motives when they give you something. Not all guys are like your last.”
“In my experience, that’s all I know.” Her voice caught in her throat, forcing her to look away before he could see a tear fall. Cohen held back a response this time and reached for the box lying on the table. Opening it, he revealed chocolate covered strawberries and cherries and slid it across the table for her to grab one. She looked at the treats suspiciously without making a move to pick one. Cohen plucked a strawberry and bit into it in swift movement, hoping that his actions would prompt her to do the same.
After a long moment of silence, Schuyler turned to him. Her eyes spoke of pain that he never witnessed with women and like a dam breaking, all of the past weekend adventures flooded his thoughts. Something in him shifted to something somewhat familiar.
“It means positive,” she spoke just above a whisper as her hands picked up the test off the table, holding it gingerly in one hand and grabbing for a cherry with the next. Cohen simply nodded in response and they ate in silence until it was empty. After the last chocolate cherry treat, he came to the conclusion that maybe he could be just friends with this reserved women. In his mind, he created a new game to play.

Don’t fall for her, he thought to himself.

Chapter 2

Please stop looking at me, Schuyler thought to herself as she scooped gumbo with her spoon. It didn’t take her long to noticed Cohen giving her these admiring looks from across the table, but she didn’t hesitate to give him a cold one back. He played along though, with his playful green eyes and great smile he and Carey had conversations about anything and everything and would send a wink when the host wasn’t paying attention.

“Schuyler what do you do?” Cohen asked breaking into her thoughts. His words threw her mind into a loop and she desperately scraped for answers that may be believable. It had been a few years since anyone asked her about herself.

“Schuyler just moved into town. Remember? I told you that yesterday at my bakery. She’s still getting adjusted, maybe you can show her around” Carey said quickly as if giving Schuyler time to think.

“Yeah, I can show you around,” Cohen said leaning back into his chair. There he was giving her those looks again. Schuyler scooped the last of the rice and seafood goodness into her mouth without a word. She wasn’t going to take him up on his offer of ‘showing her around’, not now, not ever. All she wanted and needed was to figure her life out. Before she can give a cool, annoyed delivery, she felt the nausea in her stomach again; forehead breaking out in a cold sweat and hands becoming clammy. Carey could see the panic on her face and immediately jumped to her aid, pulling her up from her seat and into the kitchen towards the sink.

“What’s wrong?” Cohen followed behind them throwing the napkin down on the table. Carey removed the few remaining dishes quickly from the larger side of the sink just before Schuyler threw up inside of it. She turned on the faucet to rinse it down the drain and damped a clean dish towel to press again Schuyler’s forehead when she finished.

“She’s got some type of stomach virus,” she replied “she’s been doing it all afternoon. Can’t seem to hold anything down.” Her forehead was now creased with worry as she fanned Schuyler and rubbed her back.

“She should probably lay on the couch,” Cohen now standing beside Schuyler and offered his arm. He watched as she took it hesitantly and let him guide her to the living room sofa. When she became comfortable he sat down on the floor beside her.

“Let me see if I have something in my bathroom that could help you with your stomach,” Carey yelled over her shoulder.

Schuyler laid still with the towel on her forehead, eyes closed. “Can this get any worse?” she mumbled.

“You could be pregnant. That could be kind of worse,” Cohen spoke picking at a stranded piece of string, “but then again it is that time of the year that everyone gets sick. You probably just need to rest. Drink lots of fluids and sleep.”

“Yeah, I haven’t been very sick lately, and when I finally get out–” she stopped herself quickly realizing what she was about to inform this stranger about herself.

“Get out?”

“Never mind, it’s not important”

“You can talk to me you know?”

“I barely know you to tell you anything, actually.”

“Just thought I’d try.” The room settled back into silence. Carey walked back in the room, empty-handed and shrugged.

“Thought I had something for you, but I guess I don’t. We can go to the store and find something to settle that nauseous feeling in a minute. Maybe grab you some popsicles?”

 


You could be pregnant 

Cohen’s words rang in her ears since the car ride to the store and rang louder as she stood in the family planning aisle alone.

It was a possibility, she knew, but it could be stomach bug as well.

“Please be a stomach bug,” she mumbled grabbing a pregnancy test and walked to where she left Carey.

“Find what you were looking for?”

Schuyler placed the box in the shopping cart, keeping eye contact with Carey. Carey looked at the box briefly and then looked again at Schuyler.

“Well alright then,” and continued looking through the aisle.

Schuyler walked behind her, picking through the shelves trying to not to look at the box.

You could be pregnant

They echoed into walls of her body and brought a new type of fear, greater than being beaten by a man or being someone’s sexual object.

The job of loving another human being when she couldn’t even find love for herself brought hot tears to the surface. It already seemed too heavy to bear and she didn’t even know for sure yet. Carey’s soft fingers wiped away the tears that had already spilled over on Schuyler’s cheeks. She looked up and saw more warmth and love than she had in her whole life.

” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

“You made that up?” Schuyler asked

“No. God did. It’s something that I have to say to myself when things don’t work out the way that I planned, good or bad. I can’t fathom what you’re feeling right now, but know that nothing in life is too big for us to handle, even when it feels like it is, it’s not. You are here, with me and you are safe. Everything will be fine, whether stomach virus or pregnancy.”

Breath

Schuyler did as the still small voice commanded. It had spoken to her on few occasions and she found it reassuring some.

“We should go home now,” Carey linked her arm through Schuyler’s while pushing the cart with the free hand, “we have junk food to eat and a test to take.”


He recognized her from the very moment that she stepped into the church doors to when she entered the grocery store with the baker lady. Panic rushed through his veins all throughout. He had heard through the grapevine down in Nashville that one of his girls broke out a couple of weeks ago but he didn’t think he meant her or that she’d be in the town he resided in.

She seemed distant and sad, not like he usually saw her when he paid to use her, but then again he was drunk most of the time and never remembered much. He appreciated the fact that she never really looked up as she walked throughout the store. He watched as she spoke with the old lady, to her helping pick out certain things and then walk alone down the family planning aisle where she picked up a pregnancy test. After that, he went in the other direction but came across her again at check out. Her eyes seemed puffy then and he figured she had been crying. He couldn’t risk her spotting and recognize him, so he dumped the grape jelly by the snacks and walked out the store before she started unloading the shopping cart onto the belt.

Hopping into his rusty truck, he pulled out his cell phone and scrolled through the contacts until he found the number he was looking for. The call connected and he waited for the person to pick up, but no answer. Planning in his mind to try again later, Scott fiddled with the peeling leather on his seat while he figured out his next move. He couldn’t very much turn her in without being found out that he was very much apart of why she left in the first place, but he could bring her back to where she belonged.

As he started the ignition, he spotted her exiting the store, bags in hand, and the lady not too far behind. He hair swirled in her face from the wind and she gave a slight smile as she tried whipping it away. He watched them load the car up, get in and drive away before he followed suit, going in the opposite direction from them.

On the drive home to his apartment, he knew that waiting for the man to call back would better suit him instead of taking matters into his own hands.

For now, he’d sit, wait and keep an even lower profile until he heard back. Thank goodness the Beater was a patient man.

 

Chapter 1

Late morning sun rays stung the back of his eye lids, making his hangover worse than it should be. Rolling over to the other side he felt another body laying beside him, forcing him to open his blood-shot eyes.

A red head, freckled faced girl laid sound asleep and Cohen couldn’t hold back the explicit word that slipped through his lips. Another night a blur, too many shots, flirting and a lay in the sheets under his belt with girl he could care less about. Cohen nudged her until she awoke and she looked at him with tired blue eyes. Any other morning he would go another round with whoever laid beside him, but not this time.

“Good Morning,” she spoke with the sound of sleep and the smell of liquor on her breath.
Cohen gave a smug grin and rolled out of the bed.

“We should go have breakfast. Or I could make you something. What do you want?” the girl pulled her knees up to her chest and tilted her head in a way that probably made many men before him leap for joy. But not him.

Who did this chick think she was? Cohen thought to himself before faking a polite smile and pointed to the bedroom door.

“I want you to get out,” he said before shuffling into his bathroom without another word.
He could hear Red’s angry words through his door and could feel nothing from them.

He turned to his mirror and took in the usual morning after blood shot green eyes and ruffled brown hair. Scruff was beginning to coat his face and neck, making him want to reach for the razor and can of shaving cream. He looked a complete mess and wondered how in the world did he end up with this habit or drinking and hooking up with women. It was a lifestyle that he became accustomed to but one that he didn’t want to let go of just yet. At the age of 25, he was still acting like he was a college student, if he had ever attended.

He turned the hot water on to start a shower and went back to grab some clothes. Although he didn’t have to work today at the office for the local newspaper, he needed to stay out of the apartment for his own sanity.

Within a half hour, Cohen was showered, dressed and ready to go. Aspirin and sunglasses in hand. The small town outside of Nashville, Tennessee catered to his need for silence and not knowing a soul. Carey an older women and the owner of the bakery that he frequently visited, greeted him with a smile as he stepped into the line to order. She always smiled and it was infectious. He smiled back, throwing in a wink that made her pale cheeks rose with color before glancing at the chalkboard menu above her head. As he approached the counter, Carey slid the paper sack with the bakeries logo on the front, black coffee right beside it.

“I know you always attempt at trying something new, but I figured I’d beat you to it since you never do. Ham and swiss on a toasted croissant and a medium coffee. Black,” she cocked her eyebrow and dusted her shoulder off. Cohen couldn’t help but chuckle at her observance of his routines.

“You’re the best,” he said grabbing for his worn brown wallet. She winked back at him and took his money.

“So when are you coming to church with this old lady?” she asked. He noticed a bit of hope in her voice and Cohen almost hated that he had to once again turn her down.

“Ms. Carey, you know good and well that I don’t do church,” he stepped to the side for the next guest to order and took a sip of his coffee to keep from saying nothing more.

“I know, just thought I’d try and ask…again,” but he could see that this women wasn’t going to give up. Ever since he moved into this small town of Clarks, Carey was the first and only person that was persistent with inviting him to come to a place that he hated most in the world. Growing up in and out of foster care families that were anal on attending every church service there was available, made him tired of ever going back. Those years of having a book shoved down his throat had built up his resistance to a god that he had never seen, nor heard. And the beatings that he took from past foster parents for not being as spiritual as they were convinced him enough that the god they served cared nothing for him either.

Carey’s loud sigh broke the thoughts of yesteryear and grinned, “So what are your plans for tomorrow then? I have guest at my house and I’m pretty sure she could use a friend.”

“A girl, eh? Must need a handsome man to keep her warm at night,” he smiled in a playful way, making Carey reach for a coin in the tip jar and throw it at him.

“Must you be so crude? She’s not like that! She’s just staying with me for a while till she gets on her feet.”

“So you picked up a stray?” he wished he could take back the words that had haphazardly escaped. After all these years, he had yet to tame his tongue and he felt bad now because Carey’s face changed.

“Are you always this vocal?” she looked at him with look of slight bewilderment.

Cohen sighed and shook his head, “I didn’t mean for that to come out. Word vomit I guess.”

Carey grabbed out a napkin from the stack beside her and scribbled something down, “Well, here is my address. If you come by tomorrow at 7pm, sharp, I may have some soap to wash that out real good for ya.”  She slid it across the counter and pushed her way through the double doors to the kitchen without another word.

Cohen picked up the napkin, shoved it in his pocket and exited, letting the autumn sun greet him. He walked  casually across the street to the park that he regularly jogged through, found a bench and began to eat. He liked this small town. Aside from the casual night-time company and a few co-worker acquaintances, he kept to himself. He was never a fan of having close friends and he wasn’t trying to start now. Going to Carey’s house was taking it a step too far.

Maybe I should just go back and tell her I can’t make it, Cohen thought to himself as he sipped the last of his coffee. He would feel bad about it for a minute or two but that feeling would go away quickly. Cohen suddenly imagined the look of disappointment that she’d have on her face if he called the bakery to break the news to her. He’d have to go back in at some point and it might as well not be because he chickened out on meeting her new friend, whoever she was.

Checking his watch, he gave a heavy sigh and rose from the bench.

It’s only dinner, Cohen thought to himself before taking a path through the park.

Only dinner.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sunday

The sound of her vomit hitting the toilet water filled her ears for the third time that day. Carey was kneeling beside her holding Schuyler’s hair and rubbing her back gently while her head was inside the porcelain bowl. When she felt sickness subside, she lifted her head up and Carey handed her a paper towel for her mouth.

“I’ll go get you some ginger ale, sweet pea” Carey said softly. Schuyler used the paper towel to wipe the sweat that had formed on her forehead and tossed it in the toilet. Carey was back with a cold can of ginger ale and Schuyler pressed it against her face to cool her down before taking a sip. The taste washed away the foulness in her mouth and its carbonation settled her stomach in no time.

“I think I need to call Cohen and tell him dinner may have to be rescheduled,” Carey sat beside Schuyler on the floor and covered her hand with hers. Schuyler couldn’t be more grateful of the women who took her off the streets after she escaped a few days ago. According to Carey, she was in the city of Nashville to do a little window shopping before she spotted her behind a restaurant kitchen door, stained in blood. Schuyler made up a story about how she had tried to rescue a helpless animal after it was hit by a car to explain the blood. Thankfully Carey believed her and didn’t bat an eye when she opened her home to her far from anyone that may recognize her from the brothel. To have her cancel her dinner with this man would mean she was making someone’s change their lives to accommodate her. Again.

“You don’t have to do that Ms. Carey, not for me. I don’t wanna ruin your date and-“

“Date?” Carey’s eyes widened with shock, “Oh sweetie, this young man is old enough to be my son. Maybe even grandson!” She giggled in a girlish like manner, “but he is a handsome fella, you’ll see.” She glanced at her quickly and Schuyler knew exactly what she was thinking.

The last thing she needed right now was someone to be a matchmaker to her, especially when she wasn’t sure how she felt towards the opposite sex.

“Let’s just get you ready, dear. Cohen should be here any minute,” Carey pulled herself off the floor and held out her hand to help Schuyler up. The nausea and vomiting had made her light headed, so she took her time walking out the door and into the room Carey let her sleep in.

“I think I may have a nice pair of jeans that should fit you nicely. You need to get out of that church dress and into something comfortable,” Carey, in her continuous burst of energy began rummaging through the closet for the said jeans.

Church. A place that Schuyler once enjoyed before today, but now made her feel nothing but uncomfortable. From the moment that she stepped in, she felt that all eyes were on her, as if they knew how dirty she was. And the message, delivered with such fire that she was sure God was going to strike her dead in the old wooden pew.

“Here ya go sweet pea,” Carey held the jeans against Schuyler, “yeah, they may be a bit snug on you, but they should do for now. Might have to take you shopping soon,” she said in her sweet southern twang. Schuyler had never felt such love in her life, that she couldn’t help but hug her. Carey hugged her back and looked at her softly. “I know I don’t know what you went through before I brought you here, and I sure as hell don’t care. But I like you and you can stay as long as you want.” Her wrinkled hands were soft on Schuyler’s shoulder as she patted it gently with reassurance. Before another word could be spoken, the doorbell rang.

“That must be him! You go on and change, sweet pea, I’ll keep him occupied. There should be a few shirts in the drawers over there,” and quickly walked out the room closing the door behind her.

Schuyler slipped the cotton dress off over her head and into the jeans that were picked out for her. Carey was right about them being snug, but it wasn’t something that would make her feel too awkward in them. She spotted herself in the mirror and saw how her hips filled them out nicely, usually she’d be excited about it, but not anymore. Her body is what got her too much attention the last time. She quickly looked in the small drawers and found a nice red button up shirt that covered her hips perfectly. Although it was also snug in the chest area, she knew it would have to do for now. She glanced at herself in the mirror and ruffled her clean curly locks. The scar on her lip was healing up nicely now, a barely visible scar. When she was okay with her appearance, she stepped out of the room, down the hallway and the stairs and into the living room.

“Schuyler, we’re in here!” Carey yelled from the other side of the house until Schuyler appeared in the dining room. “Sweet heart, this is one of my favorite customers, Cohen. And Cohen, this is my new friend, Schuyler.”

Cohen turned to face her and paused before putting his hand out to shake hers, she shook it abruptly and dropped it with missing a beat. He felt a bit hurt at her action, like she didn’t care if he was there or wasn’t.

Carey cleared her throat and elbowed him,”Cohen, I made my special gumbo just for tonight. Hope you like it, the youth at the church seem to think it’s pretty great.” Cohen peeled his eyes off of Schuyler, not realizing that he had been starting at her longer than he needed to.

“That’s great, I’ve never had gumbo,” he replied, placing the bottle of wine that he brought with him.

“Well then, you’re in for a treat! Schuyler, sugar, please take the wine from Cohen and place it in fridge. I need to start settin’ the table.”

Schuyler didn’t make any eye contact as she grabbed the bottle from his hand and Cohen noticed how she avoided touching his hand. As she walked away, he couldn’t help but watch her walk away, her hips swaying in a rhythmic motion that made him cock an eye brow.

“Hey!” Carey whispered as she began setting up the table behind her for three, “do I need to wash your eyes too? I see you staring at her.” Cohen could feel his cheeks get hot quickly underneath the five o’clock shadow.

“Yeah…sorry.” he looked at her boyishly and smiled, “she’s cute I guess.”

“You guess?” Carey gave a deep chuckle and shook her head, “Cohen you couldn’t even stop looking at her. Nice try though.”

Cohen shrugged it off, even though his reaction surprised him himself. Schuyler walked back to the dining room and barely glanced in his direction before speaking to Carey. “You need me to help you with anything?” she asked gently. Her voice was soft and sort of raspy and he found that he liked it a lot.

“No sweetie, why don’t you take Cohen to the living room and talk until dinner is on the table.”

Schuyler’s face changed and seemed to have wanted to object to the very idea of talking with him alone, but Carey gave her no opportunity to speak before walking into the kitchen.

Schuyler stood still without so much of a word and Cohen could tell that she’d rather endure the Black Plague than to be with him right now.

“So how do you like Carey’s house?” he said trying to fill the silence.

“It’s nice,” she answered.

“Good, good. Have you been to her bakery yet? It’s the best in town.”

“No.”

“Well maybe she’ll take you there soon.”

Schuyler shrugged one shoulder and looked at her hands rather than looking at him. He could sense that she was already done with his attempt at having a conversation.

But he wasn’t. And as much as he hated to admit, it bothered him deeply that he hadn’t swooned her like he did all the others. But there was time to win her over.

Challenge accepted.