“Get. It. Out!”
The scream started in Rachel’s gut and felt like it traveled up her lungs and out her mouth, piercing the whole room.
“It hurts so bad!” Rachel yelled. Granted, this was her third child, but the pain was like nothing she’d ever experienced. She’d had an epidural on her other two kids. This baby had come too fast for a spinal, and Rachel needed something, because the pain was unbearable.
“Breathe, baby, breathe,” Lester—her husband of seven years—said as he leaned over and kissed her forehead.
“Lester, I am breathing,” Rachel snapped, pushing him away.
“You can do this,” he said soothingly.
“Shut up and get this baby out of me!” she yelled again. He was the reason she was in this position. She’d had her first child at fifteen. Her second at seventeen. But now, eleven years later, her body wasn’t cut out to deliver a baby with the same ease.
Another scream filled the room. Rachel narrowed her eyes in suspicion. That one hadn’t come from her. “Lester,” she said, reaching for her husband’s hand. But he had vanished. She looked over to the other bed in the hospital room.
“Breathe, baby, breathe,” Lester said sweetly.
Rachel peered closer. This time Lester wasn’t talking to her.
“Come on, Mary, you can do this.” He was gently coaxing the woman in the bed next to hers. Unlike Rachel, Mary didn’t shoo him away.
“Lester?” Rachel cried. She couldn’t believe she was delivering this baby in the bed next to her, of all people. Suddenly, Rachel forgot all about the pain shooting through her body. She jumped up and lunged at her husband.
“Hey, let me go! Rachel, what are you doing?”
That was coming from somewhere else, someplace more real. Rachel’s eyes shot open. She was in their king-size bed, big belly and all, sitting on top of her husband, her hands gripped firmly around his neck.
Lester scooted back against the headboard, his hands grabbing her wrists. “Why are you trying to choke me?” he panted.
Rachel shook her head, trying to come out of the daze she was in. She looked around. She wasn’t in a hospital room. She was in her oversize, Africa-themed bedroom. And she wasn’t anywhere near labor.
“Oh, wow,” Rachel said, pulling herself up off Lester and leaning back against the headboard. “I was having a nightmare.”
“Again?” Lester said, his voice softening. “Was it the …” He stopped, knowing he didn’t dare utter the name of the woman that Rachel hated most in the world.
“Yes, it was,” Rachel snapped. This was becoming a regular occurrence. It was bad enough that home-wrecking tramp had invaded her marriage. Now Mary Richardson was invading her dreams as well.
“I’m going to make me some hot tea,” Rachel said, throwing the covers back.
“Rachel,” Lester said, trying to stop her. “Can we talk about this?”
“What is there to talk about?” she said, stepping out of the bed. “It is what it is.” She grabbed her robe and wrapped it around her protruding belly. “I’m sure I’m not the only woman in America having nightmares that she’s delivering her baby in the same room as her husband’s mistress.”
Lester groaned. Rachel knew he didn’t want to have that argument again, but there was no statute of limitations on her pain. And Lester and that tramp Mary had given her enough pain to last a lifetime.
“Well, at least let me make your tea,” he said, climbing out of the bed.
“I got it,” she replied, heading toward the door.
“Are you mad at me?” he gently asked.
She gritted her teeth as she stopped in the doorway with her back to him. After seven years of marriage, Lester should have known when to leave well enough alone. She’d needed a whole lot of praying not to revert to her old cut-a-fool ways after Mary had made her stunning announcement—in church, no less—that after a brief affair with Lester, she was pregnant with his child.
That had been the absolute worst, humiliating moment of Rachel’s life. Mary, looking like Kim from The Real Housewives of Atlanta, standing up in front of the Zion Hill congregation and telling everyone that not only had Pastor Adams been unfaithful but he’d also knocked her up at the same time he’d gotten his wife pregnant. This was the same man who had pursued Rachel relentlessly in high school, who had professed his love for her on a daily basis. She’d finally broken down and given him a chance. She’d cleaned him up, putting him on Proactiv to clear up that horrible acne problem, cutting off that red mop on top of his head, and changing his whole wardrobe from nerdish to stylish. He had shocked her by announcing he’d been called to preach, but then he’d gotten really full of himself and gotten a mistress! The only reason she’d taken him back was that she had some dirt of her own.
Rachel grimaced as she thought back to that horrible day at church. The old Rachel would have snatched Mary’s blond wig off, then made her way over to start in on Lester. She’d become a stronger woman, a better First Lady, grown in her walk with God. But Mary seemed determined to make her take a detour with the devil.
It had taken the support of her father, Rev. Simon Jackson, and her brothers, David and Jonathan—who both had drama of their own—to help her get through this ordeal.
At first she’d told Lester to get out, but her father had asked her to pray about it, which she had. And some voice kept telling her to stay with Lester—at least until Mary’s baby came and they could have a DNA test. Rachel’s pregnancy had been complicated because she had high blood pressure, and Lester had kept wearing her down until she’d finally given in.
“Babe, I can’t say it enough. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.” Lester came up behind her and placed his hands on her waist. She cringed as she felt his fingers. Some days were better than others; she could feel things were as they had been before Mary had come crashing into their worlds. But other days—most days—were like today, when she couldn’t stand Lester touching her.
“I know you are,” she said without turning around. “Look, I’m going down. I need to be by myself.”
She held up her hand to cut him off. “Not now, Lester.”
Rachel walked out of the room before he could say another word. She had to go spend some time by herself, some time in prayer, because as hard as she prayed for God to remove the hate from her heart, He just didn’t seem to be working fast enough for her.
© 2011 ReShonda Tate Billingsley