I nodded without thought, but then I said, “No.”
She started forward and pulled out the chair next to me. “What’s wrong?” When she sat, she grasped my limp fingers that’d been resting in my lap and sucked in a shocked breath. “Your hands are freezing.”
“Are they?” I looked down at them. I didn’t really feel them, but they looked pale and rubbery in Aspen’s grip. She tried to rub some life into them, but that only made me want to yank them away.
So I did pull them back to me. I cradled them to my chest, wanting them to remain cold. Lifeless. Dead. Exactly how I felt, how I deserved to feel.
Aspen lifted her face in shock. She opened her mouth and then wisely shut it.
I couldn’t handle hurting her and I knew pulling away had, so I cleared my throat. “I...” Then I shook my head. I just couldn’t say it. “I...I went to the doctor today, to get set up on birth control. And—”
“Oh!” Her eyes grew wide as she pressed a hand to her chest. “I...I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were...seeing anyone.”
I blinked. Crap. Had I just blurted that out? Face flaming red, I began to shake my head but Aspen lifted her hands. “Ignore me. I’m sorry. It’s none of my business. What were you saying...about the doctor’s visit?”
I continued to gape at her. “Are you going to tell Noel?” I held my breath for the answer.
“Um...” She glanced away, her expression giving away all her uncertainties. Loyalty to her husband battled with loyalty to me. “I don’t—That is...no, if you’d prefer I not...I’m sure it’s no more his business than it is mine what you do in your...private time, but...as a friend, and new sister, I know I’d very much like to meet your...young man.” Then her eyes flashed wide as if a new thought had just struck her. Leaning closer, she lowered her voice. “There is just one young man, right?”
I smiled. Actually, I blurted out a short laugh. She was just so cute when she was attempting to be appropriate and not cross any of my boundaries all while trying to tell me what she thought. “Yes,” I told her. “There’s just one...” I smiled wider as I stole her term, “young man.”
She flushed and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “Sorry, I didn’t know what to call him.”
My shoulders slumped, and suddenly everything awful flooded back to the surface. Feeling like shit, I confessed, “Yeah. Neither do I.”
Aspen reached for my hands again, but stopped herself as if remembering how I’d just pulled away from her. “You know,” she started slowly. “If you ever need to talk about anything, I’m here. I’ll even promise not to report every detail back to Noel. But sometimes, people just...they need someone to talk to.”
I smiled softly and took one of the hands she was wringing in her lap. The muscles in her face immediately loosened, and she squeezed back on my fingers. I was about to tell her I had Zoey to confide in, but then I wondered if she wanted a friend as much as she seemed to want me to have one. So I blurted, “The doctor doesn’t think I’ll ever be able to have children.”
Her eyes immediately filled with horror as her hands clamped around mine. “Oh my God, Caroline.”
I stared down at our connected fingers. “I...this was the first time I’d been back to a gynecologist since last year. I had no idea I’d messed so much up when I—” I lifted my face and tears filled my eyes. “I’ve completely ruined my future, haven’t I?”
“No! No, sweetheart. You can still have a full, happy life. You—”
“If I’d known that would’ve been my one and only chance to ever have a baby—”
“Please don’t think about that. I don’t want this to distress you.”
I shook my head. “What else am I supposed to think about, Aspen? I may never be able to hold my own child in my arms. Never watch him or her grow up. Never...” I shook my head when my voice wavered. “How can I not think about that? How can I not regret falling for some stupid, rich boy whose stupid rich parents talked me into doing something I didn’t want to do?”
Tears filled Aspen’s eyes as well. “You’re right,” she admitted. “It would devastate me too.” When she leaned in to hug me, I hugged her back hard and buried my face in her shoulder. She was petting my hair and murmuring soothing words of comfort when a fist banged against the back screen door.
“Yoo hoo.” The door came open. “Damn handsome hunk calling.”