Excerpt | Dark Harvest by Chris Patchell
A sharp pain jabbed Rebecca Kincaid’s side, and she sucked in a breath. Her hand fell to the hard swell of her belly, rubbing gently. Round ligament pain, she figured, just one of the many joys of being pregnant.
“Chillax, kiddo,” she said to the baby dancing inside her as the pain subsided.
Smiling to herself, she glanced around to see if anyone else was close enough to hear. Some people called you crazy for talking to yourself in public. She caught the eye of a redhead standing beside a stack of Diaper Genies. Dressed in blue jeans and a red flannel coat, the woman smiled. She looked to be in her mid-twenties, older than Becky, but not as old as some of the women in her prenatal classes. The woman’s gaze strayed to the strained buttons around Becky’s baby bump.
“When are you due?”
“Two more weeks and counting.” She grimaced. Being this big, nothing was comfortable. Her back ached, her hips hurt, and even sleeping was hard.
The woman smiled sympathetically. “I know, right? I felt the same way when I was pregnant, like I was Sigourney Weaver in that Alien movie with a little monster just dying to get out.”
“I know what you mean,” Becky said, breaking eye contact.
Truthfully, she hated that movie. Violent and gory. Comparing a baby to a bloodthirsty alien tearing its way out of its mother’s womb, well, that was kind of sick. She was much more of a romantic-comedy kind of girl.
“I have a toddler at home,” the woman said. “Seems like just yesterday I was in maternity clothes, though.”
Becky faked a laugh and turned down an aisle, away from the stranger.
She parked the cart and ran her hand over the Chicco car seat sitting center shelf. She didn’t need her mother to tell her it cost too much. Most of her baby stuff she’d picked up at the Salvation Army store or had gotten handed down from the women at work, but Becky knew that car seats were one of those things you had to buy new. On her waitressing salary, the best she could afford was the cheapest one on the rack. And even that was pricey.
The doctor said that most first babies came late, but in the last day or two, she’d had a few contractions. Fake contractions, the nurse said. Whatever they were, they freaked her out. She knew she wouldn’t be able to bring the baby home from the hospital without a car seat, so here she was, shopping in the middle of a freak snowstorm. If her mother knew that she was out on a night like tonight, she’d have a fit.
Becky fingered her necklace, grabbed the white-gold heart, and ran it along the chain as she searched the shelves for something more affordable. Of course, the one she wanted was up on the top shelf, well out of reach. She scanned the area looking for a box stowed a bit lower. There were none.
Becky sighed and glanced down the aisle. Didn’t anyone work in this store?
Where was Nathan when she needed him? All six foot three of him could have reached up and grabbed the box off the shelf with no problem at all, but at five foot two, almost as wide as she was tall these days, it was hopeless.
Frowning, she stepped on the bottom shelf and stretched high, wiggling her fingertips in a desperate bid to tip the box toward her. The metal shelf groaned under her weight. It shifted suddenly, and Becky’s stomach lurched. Thrown off balance, she careened backward, hands flailing wildly as she grasped for something—anything to stop her fall. Nothing but air.
Oh God. The baby.
Strong hands gripped her coat, catching her inches from the floor. Heart racing, Becky closed her eyes and regained her footing. Her hands flew to her belly. The baby kicked her hard, as if chastising her for being so careless.
“Careful, honey. You don’t want to fall in your condition,” a woman said. It was the redhead again. “Let me get that.”
Becky bit her lip and stared at the damned box. Why didn’t they put the boxes lower where pregnant moms could reach? It was probably some stupid marketing trick to get you to buy the most expensive ones. They were at eye level.
“Maybe we should find a clerk,” Becky said. “I’m not sure you should be climbing up there either.”
“If we wait for someone else to come along, we’ll both die of old age. Besides, we gals have got to help each other out.”
The redhead winked. Stepping onto the warped bottom shelf, she reached high overhead and slid the baby seat from its perch. Climbing back down, she turned and dropped the box safely into Becky’s cart.
“There,” she said, clapping the dust from her hands with a satisfied smile.
“Thanks,” Becky said. “If my boyfriend were here . . .” She trailed off, irritation rippling through her. Why was it that she was the only one responsible for all of this baby stuff? She hadn’t gotten pregnant by herself.
The redhead’s eyes narrowed.
“Where is the baby daddy? Shouldn’t he be helping you with this?”
“He’s out with his friends. He’ll be home soon, though.”
Becky blushed and turned away. Why was she lying to a perfect stranger? Nathan wouldn’t be home soon. In fact, she didn’t know when she would see him again. For her, home was a dreary little basement apartment that she could barely afford, while he lived in a sprawling frat house minutes away from the University of Washington campus. She had only been there once. The night she had gotten pregnant.
The last three dozen texts she sent him went unanswered. He ignored her baby updates. She’d even sent him images from the ultrasound.
But he’d never responded. He didn’t answer her calls. She might as well not exist. Pregnant and alone, she was an eighteen-year-old walking cliché. And what was worse, her mother had been totally right about Nathan, not that Becky had any intention of admitting it.
Becky’s shoulders slumped. A painful lump formed in her throat, and she rubbed her belly.
“Men are pigs, honey,” the redhead said, patting Becky’s shoulder. “The sooner you learn that lesson, the easier your life is going to be.”
Even though Nathan was ignoring her, Becky still held a sliver of hope deep in her heart that once the baby was born, he’d come around. Once he held his son, looked down into his beautiful face, everything would change.
Becky sniffed and dabbed her nose on her sleeve. She could hope.
“Do you have someone who can help you carry the baby seat to your car? It’s slippery out there. You almost fell once today; you don’t want to risk that baby again.”
The woman reached out and patted her baby bump. Becky recoiled, startled by the presumption of the stranger’s touch.
“Sorry,” the woman said, curling her fingers into a fist. “Force of habit.”
Becky grasped the handle of the shopping cart and steered it down the narrow aisle.
“Thanks for your help but I can manage,” she called over her shoulder. In her haste to escape the awkward situation, the front wheels slammed into a shelf. The cart shuddered, and Becky’s belly ran up against the handle. She gasped, pain shooting through her.
The bright flash of pain subsided. Cheeks burning, Becky waved her hand and kept going, wanting to distance herself from the woman. She’d already embarrassed herself enough for one night. Besides, it was late, and her back was killing her. All she wanted to do was go home and stretch out on the couch, maybe catch an episode of The New Girl before she fell asleep.
Waiting at the register, she looked at all the baby things crammed on the shelves. They were so sweet. Stuffed bunnies with long, floppy ears; burp cloths; and pacifiers.
Her belly tensed. The baby kicked like he knew he was going to be born into a life of hand-me-downs. A fake contraction rippled through her, and she released a short breath. At least she thought it was fake. She wasn’t ready for the real kind yet.
Unable to stop herself, Becky picked a stuffed bunny off the shelf. Raising it to her face, she ran its baby-soft fur across the bridge of her nose. It smelled powdery fresh and reminded her of her favorite stuffed animal from when she was a kid. A potbellied bear with a matted brown coat and a large blue nose. She’d loved that bear. Took it with her on every trip. Slept with it every night for far longer than she cared to admit. Her mom had restuffed that bear at least three times that she could recall.
She felt a pang thinking about her mom. They hadn’t spoken for five months now, ever since that terrible fight they’d had about Nathan. And the abortion her mother thought Becky should have.
She couldn’t kill her baby.
“Ma’am?” the clerk called to her. She looked up. The couple in front of her was gone, and the line had cleared. She was next.
“The bunny?” The clerk held out her hand for the stuffed animal. Becky shook her head and forced a smile. The bunny was a luxury she couldn’t afford. Squeezing the downy soft tummy one last time, she set the stuffed animal back on the shelf.
“Just the car seat,” she said, digging for her wallet. Paying cash for her purchase, she left the store.
Thick flakes of snow shone under the streetlights and swirled around her in the frigid wind. A blanket of white covered the icy parking lot.
Becky pressed the trunk button on the remote. Some asshole had parked his black van right next to her. With the whole empty parking lot to choose from, why would he park so close?
Shit luck, she supposed, the only kind she seemed to have these days.
The wheels on Becky’s cart rattled on the chunky snow and ice. She slipped. Catching herself, she kept going. On a grim night like this, most smart people stayed home.
Snowflakes caught in her eyelashes, and others brushed her cheeks like icy angel kisses. Becky stowed the car seat in the trunk. The nearest cart caddy was a football field away. Okay. She probably shouldn’t abandon the cart, but screw it. She was tired, pregnant, and it was damned cold out here. No one would blame her. She launched her cart through the empty parking lot. It ground to a halt the next row over.
Shivering as the damp night air wrapped around her and the snowflakes melted in her hair, Becky rounded the side of the car and glared at the van. He’d left her eighteen inches of space. How the hell was she supposed to open her door wide enough to crawl into the driver’s seat? It would have been difficult even if she had been her normal size, but in her current condition, it was impossible.
But what choice did she have? Wait out here until the asshole showed up and moved his ratty van? With the way her luck was going, it probably belonged to some kid who worked in the store and wouldn’t be off for hours yet. She could try the passenger’s side, but crawling over the gearshift and the console between the seats in her condition . . .
Becky sighed. Feeling dumb and desperate, she dialed Nathan’s number. His picture flashed on her phone. He had a handsome face with blue eyes and a smattering of light-brown freckles. She waited. One ring. Two. Five. The call went through to voicemail the way it always did. Becky’s stomach heaved, and she pocketed the phone.
Glancing up, she eyed the van and set her jaw.
She could do this.
Easing her way between the two vehicles, her swollen belly smearing the dirty side of the van, she waddled toward the driver’s door. The side mirrors of the vehicles almost touched.
Behind her, she heard the crunch of shoes on snow. Becky’s breath caught.
She spun, her belly scraping the passenger’s door as she looked behind her.
The redhead from the store smiled.
“God, you scared me.” Becky slapped a hand over her racing heart as adrenaline shot through her system at warp speed. The baby must have felt it too. He twisted and squirmed inside her.
“Sorry. I would have called out, but I didn’t know your name.”
“Becky,” she said, still gripping the keys tight in her hand. She drew in a couple of cleansing breaths.
“I think you dropped this.”
The woman held something out in front of her. It was the stuffed animal from the store—the snow-white bunny with floppy ears. Becky frowned and shook her head.
“It’s not mine. I . . .”
She was so focused on the rabbit that she didn’t hear the grinding sound of the van’s door open until it was too late. Large gloved hands clamped onto her shoulders and heaved her inside. She landed on her belly. A bright bolt of pain ripped through her. The air rushed from her lungs.
The front door slammed closed. The engine roared to life. Becky screamed. A stabbing pain, like the sharp pinch of broken glass, burned at the base of her neck. She tried to push the man away, but he pinned her hands.
“Let’s go,” he said.
The van rumbled out of the parking lot. A right turn, then a left.
Becky screamed again. Her vision narrowed, a black tunnel growing wide around the edges. Her eyelids drooped, heavy as lead, until they fluttered closed.
Excerpt from Dark Harvest by Chris Patchell. Copyright © 2017 by Chris Patchell. Reproduced with permission from Chris Patchell. All rights reserved.