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It's my fault that it got in me.

This is my punishment for being so damn weak. So damn selfish. So incredibly stupid. I lay in a pool of regret-tainted sweat, struggling to catch my breath, sharp pains shooting up and down my spine. My stomach rolls. A wave of nausea flows through me, propelling me upright.

I lurch from my sister's bed, out of the arms of my sister's husband, empty the contents of my stomach into my sister's toilet. I use her toothbrush, violently scrubbing the vomit from my mouth. I spit bloody pink froth into her clear glass sink. Yes, I deserve this. I deserve everything that's coming to me.

While wiping my lips on my sister's towel, I reluctantly look at myself in the mirror. A good fifty pounds has clung to my already wide frame since the affair started. Fifty pounds of sin across my hips, belly and ass. Fifty pounds of guilt that Angelo seems not to notice. Not when he's packed on his own guilty pounds. His formerly chiseled chest is now round and soft and pliant. I'm ashamed to admit that I prefer him this way. The more he gains the more this makes sense to me. We're starting to look like we belong together.

He comes up behind me, fully clothed, and slips his arms around my ample frame. He leaves a trail of kisses against my temple, my cheek, and neck with a reverence I don't deserve. Sweet words of love float in my ear. I melt into him and almost forget about the fiery stabs of pain that attack me from within. Almost. He tells me to get dressed, swatting me playfully on the behind and leaves the bathroom.

Like an idiot, I ask him where we're going. I can't mistake the flash of pain that flood his eyes as he says, "The hospital, mi amour." He looks away from me quickly and checks his phone.

Of course. The hospital. This thing inside of me is making me forgetful and stupid. It's eating away at me, robbing me of common sense. I dress quickly, as simply as I can in a black maxi dress and flip flops. I'm bloated and puffy all over. Even my feet are swollen. My hair must look a mess but there's no time. I can tell from the look on his face. No, not much time at all.

Angelo hails a cab with an ease I will never feel in this city. He and the driver engage in a quick exchange of words that I can't comprehend. We whiz down narrow alleys and twist through cobbled streets, a now-familiar route that I have to learn to grow unaccustomed to. In a matter of minutes Angelo is yanking me from the cab and pulling me through alcohol-scented hallways. My stomach is in knots and I need to vomit again but Angelo is a man possessed, on a mission. He finds a nurse and rattles of words that I again don't understand.

I'm not familiar with this part of the hospital. Sure that Angelo has made a wrong turn, I pull my arm from his as he engages in verbal gymnastics with a weary nurse. He doesn't seem to notice as I slip away and climb onto an elevator. I need to find my sister. I need to apologize. I need to make this pain go away. Maybe she'll forgive me. Maybe I can make this right.

I find Nikki where we left her. Flat on her back with half a dozen tubes shoved into her body, a noisy machine beside her to keep her breathing, to keep her fed, to keep her alive. As I sit beside her and reach for her hand another wave of guilt-ridden pain reverberates through me. It's as though Nikki has stepped out of her body and kicked me in the back. I cry out in pain and squeeze her hand just a bit too tightly.

Please forgive me, Nikki.

The machine beside her starts to beep rapidly. "Nikki?" Does she know I'm here? Does she know I'm sorry? Does she accept my apology? The room is suddenly flooded with medical personnel. They push me out of the room into Angelo's waiting arms in the hallway. I struggle against him, needing to get back inside. Nikki needs me. What good will it do if she wakes up and sees me in his arms?

He's stronger than me, but I put up a fight. He lets me tire myself out and I eventually slump against him, exhausted from crying, my throat raw from screaming Nikki's name. The door opens to her room and only somber faces emerge. It doesn't matter that I don't speak their language. Nikki didn't forgive me. She chose to die on me instead.

This is the ultimate punishment.

I scream. I can't help it. The pain is too much. My back spasms, forcing me to bend over. That's when I notice the blood trickling down my legs. I try to call out to Angelo, but he's already let me go. He's bent over a chair, wailing my sister's name, going through his own personal hell.

I take a step forward and slip on the small puddle of my own blood. I know I hit the linoleum hard, but I barely feel it. The hard hospital tiles are no match for the demons ripping away at my insides.

Rough arms grab at my limbs, pulling me onto a gurney. I try to protest but no one wants to listen to me. They don't understand my language. This isn't the kind of help I need. I need salvation. I need prayer. I need forgiveness. I need Nikki's forgiveness.

A masked man grabs my ankles, forcing my legs apart. Is he trying to violate me? At a time like this? He roughly shoves a hand between my legs and his eyes widen. The man exchanges more terse foreign words with Angelo then turns back to me. "Spingere," he commands.

What? I don't bother telling him I don't understand. It doesn't matter. This is my punishment. This is what I deserve. I don't get to bitch or whine or moan. This is what I get for being a "faithless little slut". That's what Nikki called me when she found me in Angelo's arms. Those are the last words she said to me before blindly running into the street. Those are the words that I hear over and over again in my head as I see Nikki's lithe body bounce off the hood of a Mercedes and fly through the air.

The pain is constant now. Every part of my body is on fire and I am so weak that I scream again and again. I cry out like the pathetic "faithless little slut" that I am and accept my punishment. This is my penance. Guilt is a hell of a thing. It's taken over me. It's taken on a life of its own.

My legs are spread even further apart. I can't stem the wave of humiliation that rushes over me. Embarrassed and ashamed, I cry out even louder, my yells vibrating off the walls. "Singerere!" the masked man shouts again. I scream again and again, my body feeling as though I'm being ripped in half. Screams rip from my very being until my throat is raw and there's nothing left inside of me. The room starts to darken as I hear another wail.

Seconds bleed into minutes as muted whispers float around my head. I don't feel so heavy anymore. Strangely enough, I feel a little less guilty. Like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I know something isn't right. The masked man is still between my legs, his scrub top so red with my blood it looks black. But I feel okay. At peace. Like maybe Nikki has forgiven me. I search around and my eyes meet Angelo's. I know now that we have to stop the affair. It isn't fair to Nikki. It isn't fair to him. It isn't fair to any of us.

He rushes over to me, lifting my hand to his lips, his chubby cheeks smiling at me. I try to pull away. I don't need him tainting me with any more of his guilt. I want to tell him that this is over. I don't want anything to do with him. I don't want any reminder of him. I want to take my sister and leave Angelo and leave this country and leave this guilt behind.

"Mi amour," he whispers, tears glistening in his eyes. "Look." A nurse is next to me, holding my screams, my guilt, my pain in a soft pink blanket.

"It's a girl."

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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