She tightened her grasp on the wooden arms of the comfortable chair on which she was uncomfortably perched. If she sank down into its soft cushions, she’d be trapped. Her rounded belly wouldn’t let her get up quickly enough to vomit away from the luxurious carpet underneath the coffee table and chairs.
If she threw up—which she was not going to do, no, definitely not—she wanted it to be on the gorgeous hardwood floor. Easier to clean up. Not that she’d be doing the clean-up herself: one of the bellboys in tropical shirts would probably get stuck with that duty. Or maybe a janitor would mysteriously appear from the depths, towing along one of those buckets on wheels and a giant mop and one of those yellow Wet Floor warning signs.
The incongruous image brought a faint smile to her lips, but it only lasted for a moment as another wave of nausea roiled her stomach, reaching up into her throat as she gritted her teeth against it. Maybe she could reach one of those elegant vases? Puking on the branches of bright crimson and scarlet bougainvillea might be messy, but the imaginary janitor could simply whisk the vase away and clean it up behind the scenes. That would be better. Much better.
Except that she refused, absolutely, to start her honeymoon by throwing up in the lobby of the extremely expensive resort to which Zane had brought her.
“You don’t look well, dear.” Startled, Akira glanced at a neighboring chair. An elderly woman had slipped into the seat and was watching her, bright eyes set deep in a lined face. Her accent had been British, the words clipped and polished in a way that somehow matched the formality of her long-sleeved, lightweight cotton blouse and faded skirt. “Summon a steward and order a cup of tea,” the woman advised.
Reassured, Akira forced a smile. “I’ll be all right. My husband’s checking us in right now. As soon as I get to the room, I’ll lie down for a while.” That was a lie, but only a little white one. As soon as she got to the room, she’d head straight to the toilet and throw up in a nice flushable environment. The last few weeks of near constant nausea had left Akira almost grateful for the sweet relief of letting go.
Or rather the acidic relief. Reminded, she fumbled for her purse. She’d discovered that the strong taste of mint would push her immediately over the edge, but the chalky taste of a Tums, while doing absolutely nothing for the nausea, was easier on her throat on its way back up. Distracted, she didn’t notice the slight widening of the woman’s eyes, and only barely heard her murmured, “Oh, my, not doing well at all.”
As Akira pulled out a Tums, doing her best to ignore the rush of saliva in her mouth and the clammy sweat along her forehead, the woman said, voice kind, “Did you arrive in Belize recently, dear?”
Akira nodded as she began to chew the antacid. “Just a few hours ago.”
“By boat?” The Englishwoman’s voice sharpened slightly. She glanced in the direction of the front desk, a muted animosity in her gaze. Akira followed her look, wondering what she’d seen, but there was no one there but Zane, signing paperwork on the counter.
“No, we flew in,” Akira answered.
The woman’s eyebrows rose as she turned back to Akira. “And was your flight smooth?”
“Very.” Zane had gotten his pilot’s license a few weeks ago, but he’d decided not to fly them down to Belize. While Dave was at the controls, Zane had sat next to her, fingers interlaced with hers.
“Hmm. And do you remember getting on the plane, dear?” the woman asked gently. “Are the memories a bit confused? Not as clear as they should be, perhaps?”
“My memories are fine, thank you,” Akira said with a smile. She and Zane had spent the flight talking about their favorite moments from the wedding. Akira had loved pieces of it – laughing with her new sisters as she got ready, the feel of the heavy silk of her dress against her skin, the smell of the flowers in the air, the look in Zane’s eyes as she walked down the aisle toward him, the whirlwind of faces as people congratulated her and hugged her and welcomed her into their lives – but she suspected that twenty years from now, her most vivid memory would still be throwing up on the minister at the reception. Zane agreed, but he was a lot more amused by it than she was.
Her doctor had promised her that her nausea wasn’t a symptom of anything serious. Most women experienced first trimester morning sickness. Some few, however, suffered later in their pregnancies because of hormonal changes as the baby developed. A tiny minority of truly unlucky souls were miserable for the entire ten months. Akira supposed she should count her blessings that she’d gotten off easy early on, but she still resented discovering how misnamed “morning sickness” truly was. Shouldn’t it be called “all day and into the night” sickness?
Her doctor had also hinted that the stress of the wedding might be making it worse. She’d strongly encouraged Akira to go on her honeymoon, to relax and take it easy and enjoy herself. And most of all, to stop worrying. Akira wasn’t sure that was in her nature.
“Think back,” the woman prompted. “What do you remember from the last few days? Was there a headache perhaps? An accident of some sort? Any loud noises?”
Akira’s smile faded. She put a protective hand across her abdomen as Henry seemed to turn a somersault. What was this woman getting at?
“Akira, love,” Zane interrupted her thoughts. He leaned over her, reaching down to take her hand and help her up as he said, voice low, almost a whisper, “There’s no one here.” In a louder voice, he added, “Would you like a snack sent to the room? Maybe some juice or sparkling water?”
Akira looked past him. The woman who’d waited on him at the front desk was watching them, eyes curious. So was a man standing by the beautifully carved railing that separated the lobby from the open beach and palm trees beyond. Another man, one hand clasping the post of a cart with their luggage on it, was studiously not looking at her, his expression blank and his eyes lifted above Akira’s head.
“Oh, shit.” Akira exhaled the words on a breath, only loud enough for Zane to hear. He met her gaze with a reassuring shrug. Akira couldn’t literally read his mind but she knew he was thinking being caught talking to no one was nothing she should worry about. No one would be locking her up in a mental hospital with him around. She sighed.
Glancing back at the Englishwoman, she realized that the ghost was as surprised as anyone. Her jaw had dropped and as Akira watched, she pulled it close with an obvious effort, saying, “Perhaps you’d like to order room service for two, dear? I do love the scent of a freshly-brewed pot of Earl Gray.”
Akira smiled wryly.
“No need to answer me directly,” the woman said. She rose, dusting off the front of her shirtwaist. “Half an hour or so? Don’t worry, I’ll find the way.”