AUTHOR: Lois Hudson
TITLE: “The Tenth Month”
GENRE: Adult Contemporary/Speculative Edge
PREMISE/SYNOPSIS: What if God closed the womb to get the world’s attention because of our cavalier attitudes toward life?
Epidemic spontaneous miscarriages lead world-renowned researcher to the center of media storm because of her premise that God, whom she’s not sure exists, has closed the womb. She discovers advocates and enemies on both sides of medical ethics and societal issues. She’s idolized, vilified, supported and attacked. The controversy threatens her reputation, career, marriage and even her life, as an unstable enemy manipulates secrets she thought were hidden.
The Tenth Month
by Lois Hudson
Kendall gripped the edges of the podium as the wave of applause swelled over her. For the moment the details were forgotten—the menu, the presentation of the award, even
her acceptance speech. She knew Jarrod Frawley must have recounted the history of the development of the WOMB, and the ground-breaking successes in the treatment of infertility.
At the end of his comments he’d nodded to an elevator alcove at the back of the ballroom and motioned for his assistant to bring little Jerry to the front. Hannah Frawley rose from her seat to welcome their son who had been in a private room feasting on macaroni and cheese with his nanny.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Jarrod said, lifting the boy high over his head, a trophy on display, “Jerry is the very personal and, I’ll admit, prejudicial reason for this year’s award.” The tiny head of black curls mirrored Jarrod’s own, both sets of obsidian eyes sparkling with delight. “However, my bias in no way diminishes the importance of the scientific work and the societal impact of tonight’s honored guest. In the last six years thousands of childless couples have been
blessed by this breakthrough, including my wife and me. Our son, Jarrod Hannaford Frawley—Jerry—is simply the firstfruits of the spectacular discovery and development of the Wallis Obstetric Metabolic Biosphere—popularly called the WOMB. It is my privilege and honor to bring to the podium, the person who has made this possible—this year’s recipient of the Frawley Award—please welcome Dr. Kendall Wallis!”
Kendall’s husband, Arran, brushed her cheek with his lips as he rose to back her chair away from the head table where they dined. She wished he could go to the podium with her, but knew he couldn’t. He simply smiled and gave her an uncharacteristic wink. Jarrod allowed little Jerry to hand her the award. He was serious and formal in his miniature tuxedo as he struggled to balance the exquisite crystal globe. His tiny hands gripped the back-to-back Fs, the logo of the Frawley Foundation, on which the globe rested encircled by sleek stainless steel wings. Hannah Frawley’s distinctive perfume caressed Kendall as they touched cheeks. Hannah and Jerry stepped back as Jarrod greeted her with a warm hug. Then she was alone at the podium, painfully conscious of her outfit—white silk trousers topped by a long silk coat, shot through with threads of gold and garnet, and jade that matched her eyes. Arran insisted on buying it for her when they discovered it in the window of an exotic boutique earlier in the day.
Kendall had balked at the entrance to the ballroom, suddenly aware of the sea of dark gowns and black tuxes. Arran gently urged her forward, whispering, “You’re like an exotic orchid in a dark forest. This is your night. You deserve to shine.”
His poetic language soothed her, as usual, but here she was, the object of attention of every eye in the crowded ballroom. She would have been more comfortable in her lab coat back at the hospital instead of in this elegant brocade-draperied room. She took a breath and managed to get through the remarks she had prepared.
Thunderous applause surrounded her as she turned from the podium and returned to her seat. Weary now that the evening was drawing to a close, she leaned toward Arran, wanting only to curl into the warmth of his arms. A string ensemble began to play in the background.
“Kendall. . .” Jarrod’s somber voice broke the spell. He crouched between her chair and Arran’s, unsmiling as he handed her his cell phone, a number glowing in the text screen. “Your service called the hotel when you didn’t answer your cell.”
“I left it in our room…”
“Yes. The concierge gave them my number when they said it was an emergency.” Arran and Jarrod both pulled back her chair and flanked her as they exited the noisy room.
“Use my cell,” Jarrod offered as they stepped into the private elevator that took them to the guest suite one floor below.
“It’s after eleven,” Kendall noted, punching in the number. She wondered which of her patients was in crisis. “Bruce Milliken is on call for me. The service would have called him first.”
Her service answered on the first ring. Without preamble the operator announced the stunning news. Three of Kendall’s patients had miscarried in the last two hours.
The deafening rhythm of the helicopter blades beat at Kendall’s nerves as Arran and Jarrod ran with her through the mini-tornado kicked up by the rotors. They climbed the steps into the powerful silver and black machine.
“Jarrod,” she said, tugging at his sleeve, “you should get back to your guests.”
“The main event is over,” he grinned. “Baldwin will close it out.”
She watched the blinking lights of the Frawley Foundation building fall away as the helicopter throbbed upward into the nighttime San Francisco sky. She shivered with the vibration. Arran slid his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.
“Thanks,” she whispered.
Jarrod cupped a hand over his cell phone as he gave orders for the company jet to be taxied to the private gate at the Frawley hangar, awaiting their arrival. At the airport, he boarded the luxurious jet with them to speak with the attendant and introduce her to Arran and Kendall.
“If you need anything, Miss Resnick is here to assist you.” He trotted to the front of the plane. Returning a few minutes later, he shook Arran’s hand and leaned down to kiss Kendall’s forehead. “Edwards is your pilot tonight. And Miss Resnick will take good care of you. I’m sorry our celebration had to end this way. Keep me posted. Be safe.” Then he disappeared down the stairway. The door settled into place and the jet taxied smoothly toward the runway.
Arran took her hand, linking her short fingers into his long ones in a comfortable grasp.
“Don’t worry, Sweetheart. Try to relax. Sleep if you can.”
She nodded, grateful for his ready understanding that she needed solitude.
As the jet streaked toward the south, Kendall tilted her seat back. Immediately a cashmere throw was spread across her. She nodded her thanks to the observant and solicitous Miss Resnick and closed her eyes.
Three spontaneous abortions—natural miscarriages. Natural pregnancies. Not the WOMB. There had never been a miscarriage of the implanted WOMB. Kendall’s thoughts drifted back to the first successful breakthrough in the development of the WOMB ten years earlier.
Kendall leaned back from the microscope, comprehension dawning. “Tony! Come look! Get in here. Now!”
Tony Caprietta’s rubber-soled shoes squeaked against the tile floor as he hurried into the lab from the adjacent room where he had been entering the latest data from the experiments.
“Whatcha got, Babe?” he asked, popping the gum he chewed incessantly.
“Something’s working!” She ignored the condescending nickname she’d asked him not to use, and rolled the stool back from the microscope so he could look.
“Really!” His tone changed as he peered into the microscope, his mane of black hair curling out from under a sterile green cap. In spite of his nonchalant manners and attitude, Kendall respected Tony’s brilliant, highly focused mind. They’d gone through college and med-school together. It had been a long haul: four years at State, three at medical school, and now well into the first year of internship with the blessings of the hospital on her experimental work with the fetal life-sustaining sac she’d dubbed with the working title, Baby Biosphere.
Six weeks later Kendall bent over the control panel in the lab and confirmed that the ovine fetus implanted in the Baby Biosphere was indeed growing and healthy. When Tony arrived a half-hour later, he found her huddled over the lab table, tears streaming down her face.
“Bombed?” he asked, nodding toward the steel and glass cocoon that housed the delicate biosphere. For a second her face lit in stormy denial of his assumption.
“No-no. Performing perfectly.” The tears started again.
“What is it, Babe?” For once she felt tenderness in the hated nickname.
She hesitated. Her eyes darted from the biosphere cocoon to the control board, from the tiny pulsing membranous sac to the pulse beneath Tony’s Adam’s apple, never meeting his eyes.
“I’m pregnant!” she blurted.
“Oh, wow.” Tony stared at the pulsing biosphere. “Interesting timing. So, what’s the problem?”
“That’s just it. I should be elated, but for some reason I’m not. It’s too soon. I thought I’d have more time. ”
“The work is just beginning to show results,” he murmured, echoing her unspoken thoughts.
“Oh, God! Why now?”
He studied her, his dark eyes probing. “You know there’s a way around that.” He stopped, as if assessing her reaction. She sat perched on the lab stool, eyes wide with disbelief.
“You mean…abortion?” She couldn’t look at him.
“It wouldn’t be difficult.” His voice was soothing, understanding.
“But I’m an obstetrician.” She jumped from the stool, but the lab began to swirl. She gripped the edge of the counter and sat again.
Tony steadied the stool. “That’s why it wouldn’t be difficult.”
“But my whole field is to enable life.” An ache started behind one eye.
“And you are, Babe. Your work is going to enable life where it’s been impossible before. That’s a great calling. You’re going to be world famous.”
She met his eyes for the first time. “You really think it’s that important?”
“If you don’t let it slide now, because of this…inconvenience.” He touched her shoulder. “There’ll be a better time. Down the road a few years, when the work is proven and your life settles down. When you get out of internship into private practice. There’ll be time then. The world needs your work now.”
She shook her head, pondering. Other than Arran, Tony was her best friend in spite of their differences. “But…how?”
“Oh, com’on Babe, we both know how. I could help you. We could do it here—after hours. How many times have we worked extra hours alone here? No one needs to know why.”
“But, Arran’s baby. . .”
“Baby! Doctor Wallis. Surely you can’t believe that’s anything more than a microscopic blob of tissue at this stage. You’ve handled dishes of the stuff with in vitro procedures.”
“Yes, but we were trying to make babies people desperately wanted.”
“And some of them took hold, and some of them didn’t. The rest went down the drain. Want is the operative word here. Do you desperately want to carry a pregnancy at this time?”
She noticed he didn’t say “this pregnancy” or “a baby.”
Arran’s baby! Yes, I desperately want Arran’s baby! But. . . “It is the worst time I could imagine.”
“My point exactly.”
“I haven’t even told Arran yet. I’d have to tell him…”
“No! What if he insists you keep it? What if he wants you to give up your work?”
“I know he’d love to have a child. He’d be such a good father.”
“Com’on, Babe, this is your life. Don’t let the rest of the world determine your future.”
“Arran’s not the rest of the world!” The pain behind her eye intensified.
“But it’s your body. You’ve got to be in control. This isn’t the dark ages.”
She stared at the cocoon containing the biosphere, the pulsing evidence of her life’s work. “When could we do it? I couldn’t stand knowing about it for long without telling Arran.”
“What about tomorrow night? It’s the weekend. There’s nothing to it. I’ll get the supplies. You can be home in a couple of hours.”
“We couldn’t tell a soul.”
“Of course not. You think I want trouble with Medical Review?”
It had been so easy. Too easy. Arran never knew. No one had. The work had gone on with amazing success. And now she’d been awarded the prestigious Frawley Award for her development of the WOMB which, implanted with a fertilized egg, then surgically implanted in the mother’s womb, would ensure scientifically perfect sustenance to the fetus. In cases of barrenness or repeated miscarriage, it allowed the mother to have the entire experience of carrying her baby, with none of the risks of rejection. The WOMB was globally renowned as a viable answer to infertility. Incredibly, with not one failure, thousands of babies had been delivered to childless couples. But with the growing success of the WOMB through the years, Kendall’s secret had ridden more heavily upon her. Not a day went by that she didn’t regret that decision made in a moment of weakness. The guilt had not lessened, but only increased, threatening to smother her. It was almost a physical presence now, like a cancerous tumor insinuating itself between her and the beloved husband she had deceived.
Cameron nosed the Mercedes Benz onto the freeway and shot into the fast lane heading toward Town Center. The blurring streaks of oncoming traffic in the early evening thrilled her. She laughed out loud as the sleek car roared past the trail of blood-red rear lights ahead. She fidgeted with the electric windows, opened them all to the onrush of air. Who cared what it did to her hair? Lethargic mood music filled the car. She leaned forward to change the radio dial to her favorite rock station.
“Tony Caprietta! Leave my radio station alone! Leave my life alone!” She turned the volume as high as it would go, flinching with the assault of sound. She deliberately inhaled the incoherent battering words, and tightened her grip as the metal rhythm stabbed at her, vibrating through the steering wheel, the floor board, even the headrest. A bubble of nausea flirted at her stomach.
“You lied to me!” Expletives rode on the volume. Searing pain knifed through her abdomen. Her vision blurred as she recoiled, swerved, and narrowly missed the car in the next lane. Horns blared and brakes screeched as she spun out. The car careened to the shoulder and over the edge and came to a thudding halt at the foot of the embankment.
“I don’t want to be pregnant,” she moaned as memories jeered at her through the blackness, driving her back to the first meeting with the man she now cursed.
“Come on, Sis,” Arran called from the kitchen. “Please set the table. Kendall and Tony will be here soon.”
“Why are we having company all of a sudden?” Cameron whined, slouching into the kitchen. “We never have company. Who are these people anyway?”
“Kendall Quimby is taking my woodworking class, and I want her to see the armoire I’m working on in the shop.”
“You’ve never had students come to the house before,” Cam pouted. She jerked place mats from a drawer. “You’re an English professor, not a shop teacher. What’s the big deal?”
“I guess you’re right.” Arran crushed garlic into the pot of sauce on the stove. “Use the red plaid tablecloth. I think it will better set the mood.”
“And what mood is that, brother dear,” she wheedled, sidling up to him. “You’re surely not flirting with a student! I’d think that would be against somebody’s rules.”
“Not funny. Kendall’s a very nice young woman. Brilliant, too. She’s doing her post graduate work at the University Medical School.”
“Oh, yeah, like woodworking is required for med-school.” Cam shoved the placemats back in the drawer and pulled out the tablecloth Arran preferred.
“She’s auditing the class—a hobby, you might say.”
“Auditing you, more likely.”
“That’s unfair. She’s not like that at all. Couldn’t we just have a nice dinner tonight with Kendall and Tony?”
“Who’s Tony?” Cam called from the dining room.
“He’s Kendall’s friend—Tony Caprietta. They went through college and med-school together. He’s working with her on a current research project.”
Cam smiled. So there’s a man in this person’s life. Good! Maybe he’ll keep her out of my brother’s life. Tony Caprietta—wonder what he’s like. Maybe this won’t be such a bad evening after all. She straightened the silverware she’d carelessly laid at the places.
“Table’s ready, bro. I’m going to freshen up.”
“That’s my girl.”
“You’d better believe it.” She slammed the bedroom door. Arran’s mine, and nobody’s taking him away from me! With feline stretches she pulled off her T-shirt and dropped the jeans from slim hips. She left the cast off clothes in a pile where they fell. At the vanity table Arran built for her, she pulled the rubber band from her ponytail and brushed the honey-blonde mane till it glowed on her shoulders. Satisfied, she leaned back on the bed and tugged on black tights, admiring the long legs they enhanced. She pulled a man-sized clean white T-shirt from the bureau and let it fall loosely around her body, then stood before the mirror as she knotted a black necktie for a belt, cinching the mass of white at her waist.
The mirror verified the dramatic image. Hmm…not quite.
She lifted the lid of the polished oak jewelry box Grandpa Wallis had made for her fifteenth birthday, and pulled out a tangled black cord from which hung a huge antique brass key. She picked at the knots with long red fingernails, muttering curses, till finally the key hung free. She drew the cord over her head and let the key fall heavily between her breasts. She didn’t suppress a sly smile as she turned to rejoin Arran in the kitchen.
She went down the hall but the kitchen was dark. She reached for the light switch, but it wasn’t there….What…?
“Ma’am, can you hear me? Talk to me. Stay with me here.”
The blackness melted into pulsing red, awakening the pain.
“She’s coming back. I need more light here. That’s it, Ma’am…. Hey, somebody kill that radio!”
Pain burned into the sudden silence. Cam groaned in a voice not her own.
“Can you talk to me? What’s your name? Com’on, stay with me. You’ve been in an accident.”
“Her license IDs her as Cameron Caprietta,” a voice called.
“Cameron Caprietta! Wake up. Open your eyes.”
Cam tried to open her eyes but gave up. She shook her head with enormous effort. Fingers worked at her neck and arms, hands dug at her ankles.
“Hold on there. We’ve just about got you out. On my count: one, two, three!”
Cam’s body wrenched free of the vise that had gripped her. She screamed.
The red went black again and she found the kitchen. . .
The smell of Arran’s pasta sauce was warm and welcoming. More welcoming than he was.
“Must you always wear those tights?” At the counter Arran tossed tomatoes and avocados into a salad. “You’re such a pretty girl. Why not pretty colors?”
“Do you really think I’m pretty?” She pirouetted across the kitchen, and thrust herself against her brother.
“Stop it!” Arran took her by the shoulders and set her away from him. “Cameron! You’re not wearing anything under that shirt!”
“Oh, grow up, big brother! Haven’t you noticed that I have?”
“But that’s not appropriate.”
“What’s not appropriate? You think I’m still a child, so what’s the harm? A child doesn’t wear a bra. You can’t even say ‘bra’ can you. For your information I’m nineteen years old! I’m a woman, and you’re not my father. If I choose to go without a bra, what are you going to do about it?”
Arran turned away abruptly. Sensing she’d gone too far, Cam went to him and rested her head on his shoulder as she had when she was a little girl.
“You say you’re all grown up. Why can’t you act like it?” His tone was gentle again. She’d always been able to defuse his frustration with her.
“I’m sorry, truly I am. I’ll be good. I don’t want you angry with me. I want you to be happy. I just don’t see why we need anyone else coming around.” Her bottom lip quivered as she worked to squeeze big tears from her eyes. “I guess I’m just jealous. I thought we were happy as we were.”
“Oh, Sis.” Arran planted a kiss on her forehead. “I’ll always take care of you. Nobody will ever change that, honey. You’ve got to know that.”
The wail of sirens parted the sea of red swirling around her. The faceless voice wouldn’t stop.
“Cameron Caprietta, com’on girl, don’t give up on me.”
“You lied to me,” she muttered. “She lied to me. Everybody lied to me.”
“That’s the girl. Keep talking. We’re almost to the hospital.”
Cam forced her eyes open but could not focus on the face swimming in the red sea above her. She knew she was drowning. She found the familiar dark eyes.
“Tony? You lied, too.”
“Not Tony. Name’s Nick. Is Tony your guy?”
Cam struggled to sit up. “You know me? You a liar too?” She winced and fell back under the firm hands.
“We’re going to help you. The doctors are waiting.”
“Doctors…liars too. He’s a doc…”
“I won’t lie to you. Hold on.”
A doorbell broke through the siren.
Where’s Arran? Let him answer it. It’s his party. When the doorbell rang a second time, Cam shrugged and strode to the door, and jerked it wide, purposely letting her exasperation show. At the sight of the pair on the front porch she tried to cover her surprise. She’d expected a sophisticated woman, but this was nobody! Just a girl, really, hardly older than Cam, herself. And certainly no threat. Short, a good six inches shorter than Cam, and way too short for Arran. Sandy hair, almost drab. Cam shook her own golden mane. Khaki pants—you’d think she’d dress to come to dinner—pale green shirt. Cam looked away from the striking green eyes, unwilling to admit their beauty.
“Hello. You must be Cameron. I’m Kendall Quimby.”
“Com’on in. I don’t know where Arran’s gone to.”
“This is Tony Caprietta.”
Hello, this is interesting. Cam eyed the young man. As Kendall entered the house ahead of them, Cam took Tony by the arm, and drew him closer as she pulled him through the door into the living room.
“Tony Caprietta,” she purred. It didn’t bother her that the coffee-colored eyes, sparkling responsively, were an inch below her own. The animal magnetism of the man more than compensated for his stature. She straightened to her full height, lifted her chin, and let her upthrust breast brush his muscled upper arm. She smiled at his sudden intake of breath.
“Ah, you’re here. Welcome!” Arran smiled broadly as he entered the living room carrying a large tray. “Sit down. I see you’ve met my little sister. Cameron, why don’t you serve the antipasto while I bring the wine?” Cam bristled at the little sister remark, but didn’t miss the look that passed between Tony and Kendall.
“Let me guess,” she addressed Kendall boldly. “You hate antipasto. You have some deadly allergy to mushrooms. Your diet won’t let you have prosciutto. You hate all things Italian.” She stared into Tony’s eyes, trying to gauge his reaction.
“Not at all,” Kendall laughed. She helped herself to anchovies, sardines, salami and marinated eggplant. “In fact, I love most things Italian.”
“Oh, I’m glad,” Arran said, returning with a tray of stocky amber glasses into which he poured Chianti. “I didn’t think to ask if Italian food would be acceptable. The cannelloni will be out of the oven in thirty minutes. Here’s to new friendships.” He raised his glass, with a salute to each one in turn.
The dinner was a success. The cannelloni, Arran’s specialty, was perfect and certainly chosen with Tony in mind although Cam noticed he ate sparingly. Kendall, on the other hand, ate heartily. Cam was on her best behavior, amusing Tony with her dry witticisms. She played with the thought that it might be fun to take Tony away from Kendall, just because she could. His obvious attraction to her was a heady stimulus.
After dinner Arran showed Kendall the unfinished armoire in the workshop adjacent to the garage. Cameron took Tony on a tour of the little Craftsman bungalow that Arran had bought after their parents died four years earlier. In her bedroom the photographic displays caught his attention.
“Wow!” He stared at the black and white poster-sized enlargements of construction sites, gigantic equipment and hard-hat workers. The bold cinnamon-colored bedroom walls were a perfect backdrop. “You did these? They’re outstanding! What made you choose this subject?”
“It was for my class at City College. We had to photograph people in their work
environments. I seem to have an eye for good composition.” She smiled at her own pun, appreciating the art of Tony Caprietta’s physical composition, but he hadn’t taken his eyes off the first picture: a leathery faced, hard-hat construction worker squinting past a giant crane to the unfinished top floor of a project where the miniature image of another worker motioned down to him.
“Is all your work this good? Is there more?”
She didn’t apologize for the pile of clothing she had shed while dressing for dinner— suggestive in its messy intimacy. She leaned past Tony to pull several portfolios out from under the window seat and tossed them on the bed. She patted the bedspread for him to sit by her and opened a portfolio between their laps. They were still there, poring over the collection when Arran and Kendall came back from the workshop.
“An artistic family, indeed,” Kendall said from the doorway. Her eyes swept across the array of loose photos fanned out on the bed. “Dramatic photos.”
Later as they said goodbye, Cam forced an uncharacteristic shyness into her voice, and spoke directly to Tony. “Maybe I could photograph you in your lab some time.”
“I’d like to see what you’d do with a laboratory environment,” Tony murmured, as if from a great distance. His intense eyes faded into the red whirlpool.
“Get this to the lab for a cross match, stat,” an unseen voice said as the red became blinding white. “She’s lost a lot of blood. Anyone able to reach Tony Caprietta yet?”
“No, Doctor. I’ve left an emergency call with his service. Mrs. Caprietta’s physician is Kendall Wallis. Her service says she’s in San Francisco, but Dr. Milliken is on call for her. He’s on his way.”
“Wallis and Milliken! They’re OB. Is she pregnant? ”
“I wouldn’t know, Doctor.”
“We could do without that complication right now. Cam, can you hear me? It’s Dr. Lockman. Dave Lockman. Cam, wake up for me.”
She flinched as the cold compress touched the side of her temple. The fingers were back, swabbing at her hairline.
“There you are. Welcome back. Can you see me, Cam? Can you hear me? It’s Dave Lockman.”
Of course it is, you idiot. Nausea swept over her.
“You’ve got to help me out here, Cam. Are you pregnant?”
With a guttural heave she vomited, splattering Dave Lockman’s immaculate white coat. She choked on the residue that drained back down her throat.
“Whoa! Suction! She’s aspirating!”
“S’mbody,” she gagged as the suction tube assaulted her throat, thrusting her back into the red nightmare.