She flinched, the woman in the doorway; shrank back, as if I'd hit her. Then she swayed a little and clutched at the door jamb for support, and for a moment I thought she was about to pass out. That was when I absently reached out with my hand, and then she flinched again, as if she feared I was going to actually hit her. But the moment passed and she steadied herself and stood up straight, putting a hand to her bump.
This drew my eyes downward, and I said, just for something to say, "When are you due?"
She looked at me, and she frowned again, but instead of answering my question, she studied my face.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know you were coming, I'm not dressed." As if I couldn't see what she was wearing. She looked out past my shoulder to the street, her eyes darting about as though she was looking for someone to rescue her. "Jamie didn't tell me he had a sister."
Jamie. A babyish name. It did not fit the man I knew, and renewed my hopes that we were not talking about the same person. But deep down, I knew. I was at an advantage, here. I'd had a full two days to go over all the possibilities. And my mind kept back to the same one. I looked at the woman's left hand, and did not miss the shiny gold band. Plain, like mine, but a little narrower. A wide one like mine would have looked all wrong on her tiny hand.
I knew the doorstep was the wrong place to conduct this. Despite my fear, my heart went out to this delicate looking little woman in her fluffy pink robe.
"Do you mind if I come in?" I asked, keeping my voice low. Something told me this girl was an innocent party in this. After all, why did she immediately assume I was his sister?
"Oh. Oh, yes of course. You must think me very rude." She stood aside, and I crossed the threshold, and stood in the hall while she closed the door. I followed her into a feminine looking living room, and she gestured to a sofa, covered in a pastel floral print which matched the curtains exactly. She still looked a little shaky, and I was relieved when she perched on the edge of an armchair which had a footstool in front of it. I sat, too.
"I didn't answer your question, did I? I'm thirty-seven weeks along. Not far to go. It can't be soon enough for me." She looked at my tummy. "How about you?"
"Thirty-six. A week behind you." I forced a smile onto my face. She wasn't asking the question, and I knew I'd have to do it soon. But this pregnancy small talk would do while I gathered my courage.
She was looking at my feet. "You're so lucky - your ankles aren't swollen at all, are they? She reached down and prodded one of hers. Her finger left a dent, which took a few moments to disappear. "It's called pitting oedema. Can be a sign of pre-eclampsia. So I have to keep my feet up. That's why I sometimes don't bother getting dressed these days." Her dark eyes were too bright, as if tears were not far away. She looked terrified, and she was talking quickly, sounding as nervous as I felt.
"I don't know your name." I said.
"Oh." A cloud of dismay passed her face, and I knew it was dawning on her that if I were James's sister, I would know her name. She looked down at the envelope, which she was still holding. "I'm Nicky."
"I'm not his sister, Nicky," I said, as kindly as I could manage, watching her face. "I think you know who I am."
She looked down, then, not meeting my eyes. Her long hair, very dark, and glossy brown, fell, shielding her expression as she peered at the envelope again, looking for something to contradict what I was getting at. She stood, suddenly, and ran out of the room.
I resisted the urge to follow her, and sat, waiting. Then I heard a low moan from the hallway, and a muffled thump. I ran out of the room. There, on the floor, was Nicky. Pale as a ghost, her eyes rolled up in her head.