“Did you say something?” she whispered, in case she’d imagined the sound. He turned to look at her. The bruise was taking on a livid, purplish hue, and his eye was swollen almost shut.
“Stay,” he said gruffly, and she wavered before admitting to herself that she didn’t want to leave him anyway.
“Just for a while,” she conceded. She took off her jacket and pulled one of the decorative chairs over to the bed. She curled up in it, pulling her bare feet up and tucking them beneath her butt.
With only his bedside lamp providing light, the room felt cozier than it actually was. She could see him clearly in the warm, yellow glow but knew that she was sitting just outside the little circle of light and was not as easily visible to him, which allowed her to study his features hungrily. Even with the swelling, the gauzy patch above his eye, and the bruises, he was still a remarkably good-looking man. But that wasn’t what riveted her—instead, it was the naked vulnerability she could see on his face that held her captive. She doubted that he was even aware of the expression; he was on the verge of falling asleep, every muscle in his body and face going limp as his exhaustion overtook him.
Cleo stayed awhile longer, watching him, enjoying the silence and knowing that despite the closeness they’d experienced tonight, tomorrow would see them back in their respective corners, facing off in the endless battlefield that was their relationship.
She waited until she was certain he was asleep, then stumbled to her own room and crawled into bed after taking off the least amount of clothes necessary for her to be comfortable. And then she fell into a thankfully dreamless slumber.
“You look awful,” Cleo said with a wince when Dante joined her for breakfast the following morning. “Jeez, does that hurt?”
“Like a sonofabitch,” he grunted, gingerly probing at his swollen eye with his fingers.
“Don’t touch it,” she admonished. “You’ll make it worse.”
“How are you this morning?” he asked, peering at her through his one good eye.
“Fine. I have a huge bruise on my chest from the airbag, and the entire area is a bit tender, but it’s nothing serious.” It actually hurt more than she was letting on because of her already sensitive breasts, but there was no point in complaining since there wasn’t any pain medication she’d feel comfortable taking anyway.
Dante poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table opposite Cleo, who was having a bowl of cereal.
“You’re not eating?” she asked, and he made a face and shook his head.
“Do you want to do something today?”
“Something like what?” Cleo asked in confusion, and Dante shrugged, looking a little discomfited.
“I was thinking we’re heading into week twenty, and Baby’s about the length of a banana, so we should probably call her Nan this week.” The baby had been Tom last week because he’d been about the size of an heirloom tomato. It was a silly game that had evolved between them when they’d discovered a fruit-and-vegetable-comparative-size chart to go along with their weekly growth updates. She’d been Pepper at week eighteen, when they’d first started this game. “I thought we could go do some shopping for her room.”
“But we don’t even know how big the room will be,” Cleo said, and Dante’s face became an expressionless mask.
“Cleo, you can’t mean to move out as soon as she’s born? You’ll need help during those first few months.”
“Months?” she squeaked. “You expect me to stay here for months after she’s born? Dante, no. You said you’d help us find a place to stay; it’s in the contract, and that’s what I’m expecting from you.”
“I’ll get Mrs. Clarke started on the search for a place first thing in the morning,” he said after a long silence, and her shoulders slumped in relief. She shoved her half-eaten cereal aside.
“It’s Mrs. Whitman now,” she reminded him.
“Yes. I’d forgotten.” He stared down into his cup of coffee as if it held the key to unlocking all the secrets in the universe.
“We could go window shopping,” he suggested. “And maybe get a basic idea of the stuff you’d need for Nan’s nursery.”
“Why are you so keen on doing this?” she asked, and he lifted and dropped his shoulders again.
“Maybe I want to feel involved,” he said. “Or maybe I’m just bored and want to get out of here today. This seems to be the most productive thing to do, and it is an activity that would interest both of us.”
His answer surprised her.
“You would find shopping for baby stuff interesting?”
“I’ve never bought baby things before. It would be educational, at the very least.”
Cleo considered his words; she did need some new clothes, since her skirts and trousers were getting too tight in the waist. She’d been thinking of getting a few maternity dresses. But she didn’t want them to be obviously maternity dresses. She always imagined awful, frumpy, tentlike frocks whenever she thought of maternity wear, and those were so not her style. She was hoping to find some fun, loose tops and dresses and drawstring trousers and skirts, which her changing body could grow into.
“Okay,” she said. “If you’re sure you’re up to it, I wouldn’t mind going out. I need some stuff anyway.”
Their first stop was a large high-end baby store in Green Point, and the moment she set foot inside, Cleo was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of tastefully displayed products. This wasn’t at all what she’d expected from a baby shop. Discreet and soothing tunes played in the background, and the place smelled like expensive wood. There were no price tags in sight, which made Cleo nervous. They were approached by several salespersons, all of whom homed in on Cleo and Dante like sharks smelling fresh blood, and Cleo felt a little intimidated by the predatory gleam in their eyes. A woman about two years younger than Cleo reached them first, and her colleagues backed off and disappeared into the woodwork, like wraiths. The saleswoman turned a hundred-watt smile onto her potential new clients.