Last Chapter—Transcending The Physical
Jude went from driving to Desiree’s apartment after work on Fridays to carting her to doctor appointments. She and Lex didn’t have a car. Lex couldn’t drive. Pretty hard when your legs are paralyzed. Actually, impossible. And their budget was too tight.
“How do you get groceries? Shop?”
“One of our neighbors is in her eighties,” Desiree told him. “Uses a walker. I help her through the store, carry her groceries to her apartment for her. I get our stuff at the same time. It works for both of us.”
Desiree was the queen of generosity as long as she got what she wanted. Jude took her to buy maternity clothes, paid for them. Her stomach bump was his baby. He wanted her to look good.
Jude drove both Lex and Desiree to the ultrasound. Found out she was carrying a girl. A little girl! A daughter. Didn’t girls dote on their fathers? He’d heard that somewhere.
His schedule was tight. He was behind the bar six days a week, usually hit the gym before that. Thirteen-hour days were nothing to him. Part of the job. But if Desiree needed something, he was there. She still wanted him. He no longer wanted her. She was a mother. No one should violate a mother.
He didn’t see her as often, only every other week. The thing was, though, he got as much pleasure out of helping her as he had from sex.
A little girl. He drove her to a baby store and they bought a crib and mattress. Pink sheets and blankets. Little pink bodysuits and elastic headbands with flowers.
He was at the bar, serving drinks at two in the morning, when Lex called.
“Something’s wrong. Desiree’s in trouble.”
The sins of the fathers. His sins. Not fair!
Jude waved for a waiter to take his place. He left in a rush, loaded Desiree and Lex in his car, and sped to the hospital. There was blood. Lots of blood. He gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white. No, no, no. The words reverberated in his mind. When he reached the emergency room, he raced in. “I need help! A pregnant woman’s bleeding in my backseat.”
Medics raced to her. They rushed her inside. He parked and wheeled Lex into the building. An aide took them to the floor Desiree was on.
They sat in a waiting room, looking at each other. More people sat there, too, all looking weary and wary. It felt like they were there for hours. Jude lost track of time, bogged down with fear. Finally, a doctor came to see them.
“Let’s go to the conference room down the hall.”
What did that mean? Had Desiree lost the baby? His baby? Jude pushed Lex’s wheelchair. The doctor took a chair on one side of the table. They sat on the other.
The doctor looked at his hands. Oh, shit. This was going to be bad. He cleared his throat. “We lost them both.”
Jude stared. Did women still die in childbirth? In this day and age? Couldn’t doctors fix almost anything? His voice sounded hoarse, not his own, when he managed, “Excuse me?”
“She hemorrhaged out. We couldn’t stop it in time. Both mother and child died.”
He felt cold. Numb. This couldn’t be real. He looked at Lex, ready for him to disagree, to say that this couldn’t happen. It was a lie, a mistake.
Lex had his head in his hands. Sobs broke from him. His body shook.
And then Jude knew. Extenuating circumstances didn’t matter. Sleeping with a married woman was still adultery, and he was being punished. His heart was being ripped out of him, shredded, destroyed. His mother was right. He should have never given in to temptation.
He and Lex had no words. Silent, he pushed him out of the hospital, to his car.
On the drive home, he asked, “Do you have life insurance?”
“The military will help me. I’m not sure it’s enough.”
“I’ll make up the rest.” Jude had money. More than enough.
Lex looked at him. “What will you do now?”
“What I always do. Work.” And he’d never, ever get involved with another woman. “You?”
“My family’s been wanting me to move back to Georgia for years. This might be a good time.”
Lex had family, loved ones. They’d help him heal. “Sounds good.”
“You?” Lex asked.
“I always manage.”
A week after Desiree was buried, Jude drove to Damian’s tattoo parlor.
When he walked through the door, Damian let out a long sigh. “I heard about what happened.”
“I want my whole leg covered in the Major Arcana.”
“Look, man, you didn’t kill her. She died.”
“My fault. I don’t want to forget and make the same mistake. One card a week until it’s done.”
“Man, it wasn’t your fault.”
Jude locked gazes with him. “Will you do the tattoos or not?”
Damian motioned him to the chair.
Jude knew what he’d choose next, the tattoos that would climb his left leg. Thou shalt not, Thou shalt not… until he ran out of flesh.
The needle went in and out, in and out above his knee. Then Damian moved to his calf, just over the Magician. Odd. How was Damian going to connect the two? The needle was close to the bone. More pain than usual. Thank goodness. The pain helped ground him. When Damian finished, Jude bent to see how the Tarot had come out.
The Lovers. His heart stopped. Him and Desiree. But the card wasn’t reversed. It implied good outcomes—of some kind. But then he frowned at the tiny symbol above his knee. “An angel?”
Damian nodded. “It’s free. My gift to you. All you think about is retribution, man. I’m pretty sure there’s more to life than that.”
Jude stared. The symbol was in his flesh. In ink. A part of him. And somehow, that small angel called to him.