I sit my keys down in the clear ceramic bowl on the shelf in our entry way, the sound vibrating through my head. I’ve felt off since my strange encounter with a man at the preschool. He was there to pick up his child, and yet I could have sworn I knew him. The throbbing in my head didn’t cease, and once I got home, it only increased. I took my jacket off, hanging it on the coat rack near the door as I heard the kids screaming and playing in the living room. I rubbed my temple and headed into the kitchen, searching for a glass of water.
I jerked my head up, not even seeing Emmet standing behind the island in the kitchen. He flipped a page from the paper in front of him as he regarded me.
His image goes grainy at first and then changes to a man taller than him. His size is different, too. He is more filled out, muscular, and has tanned skin. The dark waves atop his head are brushed to the side and slick as if he had just gotten out of the shower. I cock my head to the side as the kitchen itself changes. No more the white and black tile style but a large spacious version decorated with marble and stone.
I shake my head, thinking I am stuck in a dream. This isn’t my husband. My hair moves from side-to-side, and I notice the blonde tresses are jet black. I stop and look down at my clothes. The white loose-fitted top and jeans shimmer before changing into a short tight red silk number. My feet are bare and my toes painted, my legs toned and as bronze as my stomach. No, my stomach was flat. No, no, no, no, no.
My hands grapple at the front of me. Where is my child? My baby?
My hands run frantically over my shirt, but only soft muscles greet me. My head jerks upwards, glaring at the man in front of me as realization hits.
My head rings as the scene changes. My kitchen is once again normal. Plain. Boring. Children’s voices fill my ears again, and I look down, seeing my baby bump one more time.
“Hope, are you okay?” Emmet asks, coming over and lightly touching my arm.
I jerk away from his touch as a look of confusion crosses his features.
“It’s not real.”
“What?” His brows furrow as I back further away.
I shake my head, turning toward the living room. The TV blasts the kids’ show, playing a melody on repeat. The boys stand, their toys held in mid-air as they stop and look at me. My hand runs over my stomach once more as tears form in my eyes. Life is growing there, a life I know I will never get to hold.
“It’s not real.” The words come out clipped, angry.
Emmet’s face straightens, no longer the glimmer of confusion but a smug expression instead. “Damn. I was really hoping I would have more time with you. What changed? How did you know?”
The TV in the living room stops as if someone hit pause. Silverware and plates vibrate in the cabinets behind us as the toys in the rooms upstairs go off by themselves.
“The man at school today. I knew him. I would know Erebus in this realm or the next.”
Emmet bites his bottom lip and nods as if he knows. His hands grip his hips, and he chuckles. “Well, fuck.”
“You gave me a pretend life with things I would never have. You and whoever you work for will pay for that.”
“You forget who I am.”
My hand rises, and the materials in the room start to melt away, the fabrication, the ruse lifting. I sweep my hand through the house as every bit of wood, cloth, and metal it took to make it shakes and bends to my will.
“I am the Goddess of Ruin.”
The glass windows burst as the world around me falls. I jolt awake in the abandoned warehouse. My mind reels as the images play back. I had a family, the one thing I had wanted more than anything, and it wasn’t real. Tears threaten to stain my cheeks as I reach forward, grabbing at the empty space where my pregnant belly had been. I am a fool. A fool to think it could ever be real.
I move to the side, scanning the room until I see that dark head lift. He, too, is waking up from that cursed world. I want so badly to be what he needs, what he deserves, but I’m not. After experiencing what I did, I know I can never give him the one thing another could—a child. I fight back the swelling emotions, the one secret above all else that I keep. I watch as several other gods begin to wake and turn to see Hekate. She looks at me dazed and asks to leave. I don’t hesitate as I take her hand and port us away from the warehouse. Away from that place. Away from the one thing I want and love more than anything. I don’t know what or who is behind that, but they will pay with their life. But first, I have to get this blasted heart out of me.