The mother-to-be excitedly called her husband, Doug, to feel their baby kick but he didn’t feel anything at first. She reassured him that the baby was probably just hiding and would soon start moving again.
Joan and Doug had been married for a year already, and the little one who decided to greet his parents that day was welcome and already deeply loved. Not long ago, the baby stopped tormenting his mum with manifestations of toxemia, and Joan finally began to enjoy her pregnancy.
Doug secretly dreamed that the baby would be a boy. From the moment they met at the cafe where Joan worked as a waitress, they knew they could easily find a common language. Later, when they started dating, they learned to negotiate in any difficult situation. But when it came to choosing a name for their future heir, they could not reach an understanding. “I want the boy to have a real masculine name, not some trendy nonsense,” Doug insisted. Jane was secretly sure that she would have a girl, but if a boy was born, she did not want to give in to her husband’s name choice. She suspected that all his ideas on this matter came from her mother-in-law.
Until the baby was born, the newlyweds lived separately with Doug’s parents. But with the arrival of the child, Joan had to move to Doug’s mother’s house, and this prospect did not please her at all. “Maybe I can handle the baby by myself,” Joan begged her husband. “You just don’t realize how hard it is with newborns yet. My mum told me, and your parents live far away. But even if your mother decides to drop everything and come to help, you know I won’t be able to handle it myself. You know my character, but your mother doesn’t seem too happy when I just come to visit, and now I’m going to live under her roof with a newborn.”
“Oh, don’t make things up, Joan. Mum is quite a difficult person, but she’s kind at heart, just a little grumpy. But that’s our family trait. Wait, I’ll become like that soon, apparently. Will you stop loving me then?” Joan laughed in response and had always agreed with her beloved. In her eyes, he was a great authority, a guy from a good family who graduated from a prestigious university in the capital.
He appeared in her life suddenly, serving another coffee to a customer; she caught his brown eyes staring at her and even blushed a little. In the evening, Joan was already waiting for his call, and the next weekend, she went on a date with him. Two months passed, Doug made her a proposal, and they started living together. His mother, Mrs. Poust, was not too happy with the outcome of their hasty affair, thinking that her son was still too young and that the experienced girl had simply seduced him. But her son just laughed in response to his mother’s concerns; he was happy with Joan. And since she got pregnant, he was ready to carry his beloved on his hands.
As a child, Doug had mumps and was afraid he wouldn’t be able to become a father, as his mother warned him several times. But all his worries were in vain, and the spouses eagerly awaited the arrival of their firstborn. The remaining months until the birth passed quickly, and soon, the new father was holding his son.
Doug named him Oliver, just as his mother had dreamed. After giving birth, Joan felt very weak, so she did not object to the baby’s name or moving to Mrs. Poust’s house. However, it was not very pleasant for her to live there. Mrs. Poust was practically dissatisfied with everything all the time, and the baby did not evoke warm and tender feelings from her, which could be expected from a grandmother. Rather, she just tolerated him. But the reason was that the first look at the newborn had convinced Mrs. Poust that the child did not look like her son. No assurances that he was just too young to look like anyone else convinced her.
“I’m sure he’s not your son,” she constantly whispered to Doug. “Look, he doesn’t look like you or her. He is so fair-skinned, and his eyes are nothing like yours. You were born with eyes as dark as a blueberry, and your skin was tanned, but this baby is so white.” “Mum, it happens that children look more like their grandmothers, grandfathers, and even great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers. Jane’s cousin is a blonde; she probably dyes her hair,” his mother retorted. “Mum, don’t be ridiculous, okay?” Doug replied. “Oliver is my son, and I love him.”
Time passed, and the young family still had to live in Mrs. Poust’s house. Joan begged Doug to move out and live separately, but he just shrugged it off. He had a new job with a good position and had to travel on business trips constantly, leaving his wife and son in his mother’s care. Then he started returning like a stranger, and Joan gradually began to suspect something was wrong. Doug’s mood swings, his indifference followed by increased attention, flowers, and gifts that no longer pleased her—all this made Joan afraid that Doug was cheating on her.
One evening, while picking up his shirts from his travel bag, Joan noticed a trace of lipstick on the collar. It was like an electric shock to her; her worst suspicions were confirmed. With trembling hands, Joan reached for her husband’s phone. “Why did Doug lock it? He had never done that before.
What is he hiding?” Joan wanted to understand whether she was becoming paranoid, trying to catch her husband cheating. Maybe it was just because she had been at home with the baby for so long and gained weight, losing her confidence. Perhaps she was not as attractive to him anymore. Joan, like many women, excused her husband, looking for the cause in herself. But she could not sleep peacefully until she finally confirmed her suspicions or denied them.
Doug was still affectionate with her, but he became somewhat distant. He practically did not leave his phone unattended, and if there was a sudden call, he immediately left the room. And then one day, Joan got lucky. Her husband had just finished a phone call when his mother caught him and he left, forgetting his mobile on the nightstand next to the bed. Joan grabbed it as if a hungry person used to grab a piece of bread. She wanted to know the truth, whatever it was.
There was nothing suspicious among the calls, except that the name of someone named Andrew appeared too often. Joan decided to take a risk; she pressed the call button. But instead of a male voice, she heard a woman’s voice. “Yes, Doug? You forgot to say something, darling. Did you change your mind about coming?” Joan silently pressed the reset button on her phone and carefully placed it back in its place. She felt like she had fallen into a stupor; her life seemed to have instantly shattered into a million tiny shards. “What will happen to us now?” she thought. “How could this be happening, and what should I do now?”
Doug did not notice the change in his wife; he was sharing some plans with her. But Joan could not understand their meaning. She simply could not hear anything; her husband suddenly seemed completely unfamiliar to her, and her entire life with him ended abruptly, like a dream. “I want to go visit Heidi tomorrow. Oliver and I will stay with her for a couple of days. She misses me,” said Joan to her husband. Joan’s sister lived on the other side of the city and had indeed invited her to come and visit. It was convenient to leave now and not have to look her husband in the eye, listening to his babbling or enduring his touch. Joan had to stop and figure out what to do next, and so she left.
Her sister happily welcomed her with the baby, and after hearing Joan’s story, she began to convince her that everything happening in her life was fixable. Joan simply needed to distract herself and focus on herself, not just her family first. Heidi decided that Joan needed to be among people again and show everyone that she was still a “wow.”
A party at a friend’s house seemed to her to be the best option for a triumphant return to the scene. And after calling a nanny for three-year-old Oliver, the girls went to drink champagne and impress men. Heidi’s friend, the host of the party, introduced Joan to his friend Harry. He looked too mature and serious, but at the same time, he turned out to be a very interesting conversationalist. It was a new experience for Joan. Besides, it was so important for her to understand if she still attracted men or if something was irreparably broken in her.
Harry spent the whole evening charming the girl. Her anger at her husband and the abundance of not-so-childish drinks did the job. Joan, quite drunk, woke up the next morning in the arms of an almost stranger. While she was gathering her things in panic, realizing that something even more terrible had happened in her life than her husband’s hypothetical infidelity, Harry caught her a taxi and bought her coffee.
Heidi just laughed at her sister’s fears. She was glad that Joan had distracted herself and taken revenge on her husband for his infidelity. She even offered Joan to stay with Oliver at her place and take a break from her years of bondage. “You have suffered enough with this family. No problem, have a good time. Then it won’t hurt if that dog keeps running away,” she persuaded Joan. But she was adamant; she took Oliver and decided to return home to her husband.
At home, she was greeted by a dissatisfied mother-in-law who immediately began to scold Joan for her irresponsibility and for missing the pediatrician’s visit. They were about to take Oliver to daycare, and they were gathering the necessary documents. Joan hoped to find a job and firmly decided to leave her mother-in-law’s house, with or without her husband. “Where have you been, and why are you dragging your child around with you?” Mrs. Poust began to reproach her. “I was with Heidi; she needed my support,” Joan lied, blushing. “And I don’t need support here, do I? I can’t ask for my son; he’s always on the road. You’re not much better. You’d better help me around the house, not comfort anyone you see.” Her mother-in-law persisted.
Joan didn’t argue; she was ashamed of her mistake, so she kept quiet. She hoped that her random affair would remain in the past and eventually stop gnawing at her conscience with guilt. But things happened differently. Harry got Joan’s phone number with Heidi’s help, and Joan didn’t understand why she agreed to meet him. The new acquaintance was a well-known artist and a creative person. In life, Joan found him incredibly interesting. However, he had once experienced a tragedy shortly before his wedding. He and his bride crashed their car; the bride died on the way to the hospital, and doctors fought for Harry’s life for a long time. He survived and spent long months in a hospital bed, where he started to draw.
That’s what happens to people sometimes. They study or work somewhere and don’t even suspect what talents lie within them until their lives turn around or circumstances arise that give them the opportunity and time to listen to themselves and show their previously dormant abilities. And Harry had both. Joan was very similar to his dead bride, Bonnie, and he was ashamed that he had treated her like that.
That evening, he literally used her family problems and drunkenness. To him, it was as if he had not been with Joan that night, but his dead bride had come to him to console him. But over time, he realized that he thought more and more about Joan herself, not as a girl who reminded him of Bonnie. The former pain of loss and guilt, like a black thundercloud pouring rain, was going further and further beyond the horizon, and a light sadness and incipient trepidation appeared in his soul. And it was reflected in his paintings. And all this was reflected in his paintings occasionally.
Joan visited her sister’s home occasionally; her mother-in-law still grumbled. Her husband was just as indifferent, and he had distanced himself from her even more over the year. At some point, Joan stopped being afraid that her affair would be discovered in the family. And deep down in her heart, she wanted her deception to be exposed, and everything to eventually end. That’s why when someone, perhaps even Doug’s next passion, decided to enlighten Mrs. Poust about her daughter-in-law, Joan was very happy about it. “Why do you pretend that you don’t know that your son and I have long been strangers and just live under the same roof? He is not a saint, just like me!” Joan shouted at her mother-in-law in response to the insults.
“Oh, you promiscuous woman! I suspected from the very beginning that your son was also born out of wedlock. You won’t get anything from us, neither you nor your blonde-haired brat. Get out of my house! I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, and I’ll do it with pleasure. Just don’t expect Doug to easily give up his son. This is his child, and it can be easily proven. I even insist on a DNA test,” Mrs. Poust declared angrily.
“You’re completely crazy. Are we going to waste money on tests? Just get out of our lives and leave my son alone!” Joan retorted. “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, and I’ll do it with pleasure. Just don’t expect Doug to easily give up his son. This is his child, and it can be easily proven. I even insist on a DNA test,” Mrs. Poust declared angrily. “You’re completely crazy. Are we going to waste money on tests? Just get out of our lives and leave my son alone!”
But the test was still done because Doug’s mother was very reluctant to support someone else’s child after the divorce, and recently, she was sure that the child was not his. Joan was surprised when her triumphant mother-in-law thrust a document in her face, clearly indicating that the degree of relationship between Oliver and Doug was zero percent.
“This copy only Doug could be the father of my son,” she cried on the phone while talking to Harry. “Then you need to do another test,” Harry suggested. “They won’t agree, and we don’t need their consent. If you’re sure he’s the father, there’s only one option left. We need to check your relationship with the child.”
At first, Joan didn’t want to hear about it, but Harry managed to convince her, and it turned out to be worth it. The DNA test did not confirm her relationship to the baby. “How is that possible?” Joan couldn’t believe the numbers clearly printed on the paper. “This is not my baby.” “Then where is the child I gave birth to? That was the main question that Harry began to work on right away. First, they went to the maternity hospital where Oliver was born and found out that there were three other mothers there that day. Two had girls, and only one, like Joan, gave birth to a boy. That’s when they began to search for this woman, putting all their efforts into it.
Turned out that finding her was not that easy, as the address listed in the documents was no longer her residence. They didn’t know where she had gone. The neighbors told them that the family was disadvantaged and that no one took care of the children. “She’s a drinker,” said a former neighbor. “And her husband was an alcoholic too.
They seem to have gone somewhere to earn money. And the youngest boy was with them, while the older one was taken away by Child Protective Services.” It took months of searching. Harry had taken Joan and Oliver to live with him, sure of success. Even when Joan was almost desperate, they also looked for Oliver’s biological father, whose information Harry was able to obtain through a friend who served with the authorities.
Soon, they found out that the family moved in with the husband’s sister, where they drank together and repeatedly got into trouble with the police. The child’s mother had recently died, and the father was caught stealing again. So Joan’s own child was left, in essence, an orphan, and probably lived with his aunt. This was such a horrifying thought; Joan didn’t want to wait a second. She was afraid that something bad could happen to her own son at any moment, or he could be taken away by strangers like his older brother. She and Harry went to the specified address on the same day.
The door was not locked. Joan crossed the threshold and recoiled, struck by the stench that hit her nose. The apartment was filled with the stench of unwashed bodies, alcohol, and garbage. Among all this nightmare, there was nowhere to see the child, Tommy. “Joan, please respond. What the hell are you doing here?” A disheveled, drunk woman appeared in the doorway.
Her jacket was greasy, and her hair hadn’t seen a comb in a long time. “Want Tommy? What are you talking about? Did you come for your man? Which one is yours, huh?” And she kicked the unconscious man lying on the floor. “This one, maybe? No, I need a boy named Tommy, your nephew.” Joan said, looking at the child with tears in her eyes.
The boy looked at Joan’s kind, tearful face with disbelief. And somewhere deep down in his soul, he wanted her words to be true. He had suffered so much in this life that he wanted to believe with all his heart that his mother would not run away from him now. He would finally be loved and taken care of.
Joan hugged his fragile body and pressed him to herself. Their hearts beat loudly in unison, and they both felt that nothing would separate them now. Joan took the little boy away, and she and Harry achieved recognition of their relationship through the court. Tommy never met the angry aunt again; he met Oliver, and Joan was happy, both of her boys, the most beloved and dear little people in the world.
Quickly, they became friends. They felt like real brothers, boys born on the same day, even though they had different parents. They found true maternal love and care in Joan, and Harry was always there, becoming not only a husband to Joan but also the best father to these different but so dear boys to his heart.
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