On her knees on the bathroom floor, Hannah Raymond viewed parts of the toilet that were never meant to be seen at such short range. Her stomach rolled and heaved like a tiny canoe being swept down a raging river. The tile felt icy against her knees, yet beads of perspiration moistened her brow. Closing her eyes in an effort to hold back the waves of nausea, Hannah drew in several deep, even breaths. That seemed to help a little, but not enough.
"Oh, God," she prayed silently, "please, oh, please, don’t let me be pregnant." No sooner had the words crossed her lips when she lost what little breakfast she’d managed to down that morning.
Her monthly period was late. Over two months late. But that could be attributed to the stress she’d been under these past several weeks. The stress and the grief. It had been nearly four months since Jerry’s death. She ached to the bottom of her soul for him, and would, she was convinced, until the end of her life. She’d loved Jerry for six years, had planned her entire life around him. They were to have married soon after the first of the year.
Now there would be no wedding because there was no Jerry. Grief caught her once more in a stranglehold of pain and she squeezed her eyes closed, battling the tears, as well as the nausea. Adding to her torment was the knowledge that if she was pregnant, the child she carried wouldn’t be Jerry’s.
The face of the sailor had imprinted itself onto her mind, bold as could be. He was tall, powerfully built and strong featured. With a sense of dismay she pushed his image away, refusing to think about that July night or dwell on her folly.
Once again her stomach heaved, and Hannah brushed the thick folds of shiny brown hair away from her face and leaned over the porcelain toilet.
"Hannah?" Her father knocked politely against the bathroom door. "Honey, you’d best hurry or you’ll be late for Sunday school."
"I… I’m not feeling very well this morning, Dad." Her words were immediately followed by another bout of vomiting.
"It sounds like you’ve got the flu."
Bless his heart for offering her an excuse. "Yes, I think I must." She prayed with everything in her being that this was some intestinal virus. If living a good life, following the Golden Rule and being the best preacher’s kid she knew how to be were ever to work on her behalf, the time was now.
"Go back to bed and if you feel up to it later, come over for the service. I’m preaching from the Epistle to the Romans this morning and I’d like your opinion."
"Sure, Dad." But from the way she was feeling now, she wouldn’t be out of bed any time within the next week.
"You’ll be all right here by yourself?" Her father’s voice echoed with concern.
"I’ll be fine. Don’t worry." Once again she felt her stomach pitch. She gripped the sides of the toilet and her head fell forward, the effort of holding it up too much for her.
Her father hesitated. "You’re sure?"
"I’ll be all right in a little bit," she managed in a reed-thin voice.
"If you need me," George Raymond insisted, "just call the church."
"Dad, please, don’t worry about me. I’ll be much better soon. I’m sure of it."
Her father’s retreating footsteps echoed in the hallway, and Hannah sighed with relief. She didn’t know what she was going to do if she was pregnant. Briefly she toyed with the idea of disappearing until after the baby was born. Going into hiding was preferable to facing her father with the truth.
George Raymond had dedicated his life to serving God and others, and having to confess what she’d done didn’t bear contemplating. Hannah loved her father deeply, and the thought of disgracing him, the thought of hurting him, brought a pain so strong and so sharp that tears instantly pooled in her eyes.
"Please God," she prayed once more, "don’t let me be pregnant." Slowly rising from the floor, she swayed and placed her hand against the wall as an attack of dizziness sent the room spinning.
She staggered into her bedroom and fell on top of the mattress. Kicking off her shoes, she sat up long enough to reach for the afghan neatly folded at the foot of the bed. Spreading it over her shivering shoulders, she gratefully closed her eyes.
Sleep came over her in swells as though the ocean tide had shifted, lapping warm, assuring waves over her distraught soul. She welcomed each one, eager for something, anything that would help her escape the reality of her situation.
It had happened in mid-July, only three short weeks after the tragic accident that had claimed her fiance’s life. Her father had been out of town, officiating at a wedding in Yakima. He was staying over and wasn’t scheduled to arrive back in Seattle until late Saturday afternoon. Hannah had been invited, too, but she couldn’t have borne sitting through the happy event when her own life was filled with such anguish. How grateful she’d been that her father hadn’t asked her to travel with him, although she knew he would have welcomed her company.
Before he left, George Raymond had asked if she’d take a load of boxes to the Mission House in downtown Seattle. He’d done it, Hannah knew, in an effort to draw her out of the lethargy that had claimed her in the weeks following Jerry’s funeral.
She waited until late in the afternoon, putting off the errand as long as she could, then loaded up the back of her father’s old Ford station wagon without much enthusiasm.
Hannah had driven into the city, surprised by the heavy flow of traffic. It wasn’t until she’d found a parking spot in the alley in back of the Mission House that she remembered that Seafair, the Seattle summertime festival celebrating ethnic heritages and community, was being held that weekend. The whole town was festive. Enthusiasm and good cheer rang through the streets like bells from a church steeple. Several Navy ships were docked in Elliott Bay and the famed torchlight parade was scheduled for that evening. The city sidewalks and streets were crammed.
None of the excitement rubbed off on Hannah, however. The sooner she delivered the goods, the faster she could return to the safe haven of home. She’d been on her way out the door when she was waylaid by the mission director. Reverend Parker seemed genuinely concerned about how she was doing and insisted she sit and have a cup of coffee with him. Hannah had chatted politely, trying not to be impatient, and when he pressed her, she adamantly claimed she was doing well. It was a lie, but a small one. She didn’t want to talk about how angry she was. How bitterly disillusioned. Others had borne even greater losses. In time she’d heal. In time she’d forget. But not for a while; the pain was too fresh, too sharp.
Hannah knew her friends were worried about her, but she’d managed to put on a facade that fooled most everyone. Everyone, that was, except her father, who knew her so well.
"God works in mysterious ways," Reverend Parker had told her on her way out the door. He’d paused and gently patted her back in a gesture of love.
Until Jerry’s death, Hannah had never questioned her role in life. When others grieved, she’d sat at their sides, comforted them with the knowledge that whatever had befallen them was part of God’s will. The words came back to haunt her now, slapping a cold hand of reality across her face. Several had issued the trite platitude to her, and Hannah had quickly grown to hate such meaningless cliches.
God’s will. Hannah had given up believing all the religious jargon she’d been raised to embrace. If God was so loving and so good, then why had He allowed Jerry to die? It made no sense to her. Jerry was a rare man, good and godly. They’d been so much in love and even though they were engaged to marry, they’d never gone beyond kissing and a little petting. They’d hungered for each other the way all couples deeply in love do, and yet Jerry had always managed to keep them from succumbing to temptation. Now, with everything in her, Hannah wished that once, just once, she could have lain in his arms. She’d give everything she would ever have in this life to have known his touch, to have surrendered her virginity to him.
But it was never meant to be.
Stirring, Hannah woke, rolled over and stared blankly at the wall. Her hands rested on her stomach, which seemed to have quieted. A glance at her watch told her that even if she rushed and dressed she’d still be late for the church service. She didn’t feel like listening to her father’s sermon. It wouldn’t do her any good now. Huge tears brimmed in her eyes and slipped unheeded down her cheeks, soaking into her pillow.
Sleep beckoned her once more, and she closed her eyes. Once again the sailor’s face returned, his dark eyes glaring down on her as they had the night he’d taken her to the hotel room. She’d never forget his shocked, distressed look when he’d realized she was a virgin. The torment she’d read in his gaze would haunt her all the way to the grave. His eyes had rounded with incredulity and disbelief. For one wild second Hannah had feared he would push himself away from her, but she’d reached up and brushed his mouth with her own and then…
She groaned and with a determined effort banished him from her mind once more. She didn’t want to think about Riley Murdock. Didn’t want to remember anything about him. Certainly not the gentle way he’d comforted her afterward or the stark questions in his eyes as he’d pulled her close and held her until she’d slept.
Go away, she cried silently. Leave me in peace. Her strength was depleted, and without effort she drifted into a restless slumber.
Riley was there waiting for her.
Following her conversation with Reverend Parker, Hannah had gone out to the alley where she’d parked the station wagon. To her dismay she discovered that while she’d been inside the Mission House, several cars had blocked her way out of the alley. By all rights, she should have contacted the police and had the vehicles towed away at the owners’ expense, but it would have been uncharacteristically mean.
Since the parade was scheduled to begin within the next hour, Hannah decided to stay in the downtown area and view it herself. There wasn’t any reason to hurry home.
The waterfront was teeming with tourists. Sailors were everywhere, their white uniforms standing out in the crowd, their bucket hats bobbing up and down in the multitude.
Sea gulls lazily circled overhead, casting giant shadows along the piers. The fresh scent of the sea, carried on the warm wind off Elliott Bay, mingled with the aroma of fried fish and simmering pots of clam chowder. The smell of food reminded Hannah that she hadn’t eaten since early that morning. Buying a cup of chowder was tempting, but the lines were long and it was simply too much bother.
Life was too much of a bother. How different all this would be if only Jerry were at her side. She recalled the many good times they’d spent with each other. A year earlier, Jerry had run in the Seafair race and they’d stayed for the parade, laughing and joking, their arms wrapped around each other. What a difference a year could make.
The climb up the steep flight of steps that led from the waterfront to the Pike Place Market exhausted Hannah. Soon, however, she found herself standing along the parade route, where people were crowded against the curbs. Several had brought lawn chairs and blankets, and it looked as if they’d been camped there a good long while.