William looked impatiently at his watch. Sophia was supposed to come very soon. He deliberately left work early to prepare a surprise for her; after all, 10 years of marriage is a round date. The oven clicked in the kitchen, so it means that the duck with apples is ready. William looked around at the beautifully served table and smiled contentedly. He did it. Sophia was almost an hour late.
“William, dear, I’m sorry. Well, it’s Marina’s birthday today, so it was inconvenient to leave. Well, honey, don’t pout. Oh, are you all on your own? Well, what are you like? Come on, let’s get to the table,” she said.
Then they watched a movie together, and William, fingering his wife’s curls, thought that Sophia had always been so eccentric, restless, and cheerful.
“Can you imagine, Sophia?” he said. “You and I have been together for 10 years, and I remember our first date as if it were yesterday.”
“You’ll forget,” Sophia laughed. “You and I got so wet in the rain that I caught a cold, and then you visited me for a week, bringing instead of bouquets and sweets, raspberry jam and oranges. Once he even brought mustard plasters.”
They both burst out laughing. Falling asleep, William hugged his wife tighter. It’s good that they have each other. Spring was early this year. In April, the city was already green and smart. William had just seen off Sophia on a business trip, and now he was slowly walking to his car, inhaling the tart aroma of spring. He did not want to go home without his wife; it always seemed to him boring and empty. The apartment was in complete chaos, getting ready and, as always, late.
Sophia just walked through all the rooms like a hurricane. William smiled and thought that she had forgotten something; anyway, it has always been so. He made himself some coffee, turned on the TV louder so that it could be heard in all the rooms, and set about cleaning. William never considered household chores shameful or unworthy; he could do everything – clean, wash, and cook food. Of course, the main household chores were on Sophia, but he always helped her. And something completely removed her from household chores. He liked to meet his wife with a bouquet of flowers; her favorite vase was never empty. Today there were tulips in it.
The phone vibrated in his pocket; a text message came from Sophia. “William, I think I forgot my shoes. Look in the hallway. Oh, and a phone charger.”
William laughed. “Well, here I told you.” High-heeled shoes indeed were on the shelf. William dialed his wife’s number. “Well, that’s a softy. And how are you now? You have to wear boots, okay, okay. Don’t be upset. When you get to the place, buy new ones. I think in such a city, it will not be difficult to find shoes, even for you. And don’t forget about charging. Come on, kiss. Bye.”
The next day William could not get through to his wife; the phone was turned off. Worried, he texted her to call him as soon as she charged her phone. Sophia called in the late afternoon. She turned on the video link, probably by accident, because she was holding the phone without looking at the screen. Sophia was in a bathrobe, probably about to take a shower.
“Shoes, but imagine, there is such a choice. I also took an umbrella for myself; they say it will rain in the region. It’s so beautiful. Too bad you can’t see.”
William saw and already wanted to tell her about it in order to laugh together at her confusion. But suddenly, next to Sophia, someone’s silhouette flashed. Then a hand held out a filled glass to Sophia, and in the next second, a man flashed before the astonished eyes of William. He too was in a hotel robe. William suddenly remembered that he had already seen this face in social networks on Sophia’s page. She then explained that they once grew up in the same yard, and after so many years, by chance, they met online. William shook.
“You… you, but there were no words.”
Sophia threw a frightened look at the phone and immediately understood everything. “Don’t you dare come home. You hear? Do not dare!” And she slammed the phone against the wall.
Then she rushed around the apartment, and after half an hour, he was driving there to her, so that too, but he himself did not know what would happen when he got to the place. Thoughts exploded in his head, his head ached, and then it began to rain, and soon it will be completely dark. William knew in which hotel Sophia was staying; he knew he couldn’t resist; he knew that he had better turn back. But he stubbornly pressed on the gas pedal, peering into the twilight that was descending on the city. He was driving through a populated area, and as he slowed down before the turn, William hit the brake pedal sharply. It was a miracle he didn’t hit a woman who almost threw herself under his wheels.
“Now, she was standing there, leaning heavily against the hood of his car. ‘Hit her, didn’t have time to break, hit,'” rushed through William’s mind. But a second later, he jumped out of the car and shouted, “Do you guys have enough to live for?”
And with difficulty, he helped the woman who had fallen into his arms. She whispered, “Help. I’m in labor,” and she fainted.
William was confused; he stood in the middle of a deserted road with a strange woman in his arms and did not know what to do now. But a short stupor gave way to an incomprehensible determination. William tried to bring the woman to her senses, patted her cheeks lightly, shook her by the shoulders, and saw that these simple actions helped. William somehow managed to put the new acquaintance on the back seat. “Hold on, now I will take you to the hospital. How could you do this?”
The wind picked up, the cold rain poured on the car. William realized it was better to go back to his town, especially since he was only 30 kilometers away. But within five minutes, he heard a heavy moan. In labor. What happened next, William only saw in the movies. Yes, that evening he helped a little boy to be born on a country road and even cut the umbilical cord himself. Strangely enough, William was no longer afraid of anything. He acted clearly and confidently. He did not know where he got it from, a city dweller, and he always wondered afterward. But not that night. William wrapped the baby in his shirt and then took them to the maternity hospital.
It wasn’t until after midnight that the man returned home. Tired, devastated, but somehow happy. He took a shower and went to bed, making his bed on the couch in the living room. The situation with Sophia had completely slipped his mind, and the road trip now occupied all his thoughts. William had always wanted children; he was always kindly envious of his co-workers who told him how they went on picnics with their families, visited zoos with their children, just took walks John, who went fishing with his grandchildren, William listened when he told about his big family. But Sophia did not want to hear anything about the children.
“William,” she said, “well, what are our years? I’ll have time to give birth to you at least a dozen. But first, let’s live for ourselves. There, Lisa has three, and what? She can’t even get out. I met her at the mall once. I got myself a blouse; she got them toys. I got cosmetics; she got diapers. And what kind of life is that? She never bought anything for herself but the whole cartload of groceries. Of course, to feed such a crowd. No, come on, do you want me to be like that? A fat woman burdened with screaming babies?” And then she added in a conciliatory way, “Well, don’t sulk. I’ll have a baby for sure, just later. Later, okay?”
Years went by, but that “later” never came, and William put up with it. He loved Sophia for giving her every whim, interrogated, he thought gloatingly. And then he remembered again the newborn baby boy in his arms. The baby squirmed, somehow wheezed, and squeaked, and then screamed. He wiped the baby’s face with a piece of damp absorbent cotton and held it out to his mother, who held it to her breast. Strange, William thought, and I don’t even know his name. It’s a pity; I’d like to see her son again. With these thoughts, William fell asleep.
Around 11, he was awakened by a phone call. He picked up the phone and for a long time could not figure out who it was and what they wanted from him. Only a few minutes later, the picture became clear. It was the nurse from the maternity hospital who had written down his number yesterday just in case.
“You see,” she said excitedly, “your wife wants to leave and keep the baby.”
“Well, how can you do that? You’re adults,” he replied.
“She’s not my wife.”
“What’s the difference? What’s that got to do with it? What’s it got to do with the baby? He’s such a big baby. He’s so cute. He’s a son, you know, your son.”
“Alright, don’t shout. I’ll be right there.”
An hour later, William was looking at his fellow traveler from yesterday. Now he knew her name; her name was Olivia. Today, in the light of day, William saw that she was thin and short. Her face was not a model beauty, but he could not call her ugly either. Pretty enough, green-eyed. Just the shadows around her eyes and that pallor. Olivia caught his gaze on her and was embarrassed.
“Thank you, William,” she said. “If it weren’t for you, I don’t know what would have happened to us, to me.”
“Olivia, why do you want to keep your son?”
“I don’t want to, but I… I have nowhere to go with him. I don’t know how I will live now.”
Olivia cried. “He didn’t want a baby, but I did. And I got pregnant. Only the pregnancy was very difficult, and I was in the hospital for a long time. My husband, no, we weren’t married, still he accepted that we were going to have a real family. He even chose a house so the baby would be better off. Though he had to sell my apartment. When he came to the hospital with the documents and explained everything, I signed everything. I believed him. And now I had nowhere to go and nowhere to live. He didn’t come to see me for a long time. I asked the doctors to leave, and I went on my own. And he… he kicked me out. He wouldn’t even let me in. He had another woman; she was there with him. He took over the house, and I was left with nothing.”
“Olivia,” he said gently, “we will not leave the baby here.”
Olivia sobbed and nodded a little hesitantly. Spring was already in full swing; the city was in full bloom. Olivia strolled through the yard, quietly rocking the stroller in which the baby was sleeping peacefully. The woman smiled as she looked at him and thought how good it was that she had him and also that she had William. She had not yet admitted to herself that during this time, William had become the dearest and the best man in the world for her. He was the man she could only dream of. Olivia sighed, “Now she’s dreaming.”
But it was time to go home and heat up dinner. William would be home from work soon. Olivia knew that William had filed for divorce. She felt sorry for him, but at the same time, there was something so warm and light in her soul toward him that it became even a little scary. She did not want William to see these feelings in her eyes, but he knew everything himself and was very happy about it. He approached her so inconspicuously that Olivia flinched in surprise. They exchanged the usual meeting phrases, smiled at each other, and he helped her up the steps with the stroller.
Strangely enough, it was with Olivia that William felt like he had never felt before. They were very similar, even in everyday little things, and did not embarrass each other at all. One day, the doorbell rang. William opened it and saw Sophia.
“William, I want to go back. Forgive me, you hear? I forgave you a long time ago. Since I met Olivia. Goodbye, Sophia. Be happy.”
“William, what are you talking about? We were so happy together. And Daniel was just an infatuation, weak and meaningless, you know. I left him a long time ago. I realized I only wanted you, and I only need her now.”
William turned around and called out to Olivia, who timidly came out of the kitchen. “Here, William.”
He took Olivia’s hand. “See, nothing can be returned.”
“I love this woman,” Sophia turned and, lowering her head, walked out of the apartment.
Olivia looked up at William. “Is it true?”
William smiled. “Yes, it’s true. I’m sure you’re the best woman in the world.” He pulled her to him and then kissed her. “Marry me, Olivia.”
“I love you very much.”
“I love you too,” said the happy woman and raised her shining eyes on him. “I love you very much. Very much.”
“Let’s go, our son is calling us; he must be hungry.”
And they hugged each other and went to the baby who smiled at them sweetly when he saw their faces.
A year and a half later, William picked up Olivia from the maternity hospital again. He was carrying two blue packages in his arms, and the older son was laughingly jumping up and down to look at his new brothers.
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