After some fifteen and a half hours of sleep Sherlock Holmes awakened, wandered out of his dank cave, and opened the refrigerator. He stood there blinking.
“Yeah, there’s nothing new in there.” John said.
“May I eat this pasta?”
“You’re asking now?”
“My mother’s in my head for some reason. She’s making me.” John glanced up, mostly because of the novelty of the admission. But it was clear that however much Sherlock’s mother might influence his asking, she couldn’t make him wait for an answer. He was already eating the pasta, cold, out of the container, fork to mouth over the sink like a starving man. Very likely he was starving, considering how little he’d eaten for the past fortnight. Still, it was mind-boggling the way the man could eat once a case was solved. Reminded John of that boa constrictor an old girlfriend of Harry’s had kept in her bath. Likely this pasta would keep him going for another month.
John had been around long enough now (six months) to note this behavior as an actual pattern. He wondered how to write about it, or if he should. “After solving a case, Sherlock Holmes eats like a teenaged boy with a hollow leg, sleeps 12 -15 hours at a stretch, takes long, very long showers—“
He probably shouldn’t mention about the showers on the blog. Probably.
Sherlock rinsed the plastic bowl and left it in the sink. He looked about then grabbed an apple almost as an afterthought -- his mother, perhaps, in his head again and on him about nutrition. The apple he ate in four great bites, seeds, core and all. Only the stem remained, like a sad little punctuation mark on the countertop that John would later deposit in the bin. Sustenance properly dealt with, Sherlock threw himself onto the sofa with his fully charged Blackberry and started doing whatever it was he did with it when he wasn’t solving crimes.
During the downtime, John had been keeping himself occupied here at home. This was made easier by his current lack of income. He read the papers (before things were cut out of them). He watched sports on telly (including figure skating, which arguably was not a sport but the skaters were all really fit, so…). He meandered through social media sites (clicking every link to cat macros and reposting anything that called upon him to repost as proof of his belief and/or commitment to the post’s particular cause, affiliation, or political stance). He looked at endless videos of people getting footballs to the groin and deftly avoided (most) porn sites.
God, he was bored.
His sister’s ex had wished him a belated birthday. Boyd Jessup still wanted to get together for a pint. There was something about meeting up with an old mate from uni who’d poked you on Facebook -- John felt very strongly that grown men ought not to poke each other on Facebook. It was just…awkward.
A job offer! Oh, in Sunderland. And –
Well. Okay. Yeah. This should be entertaining.
“Sherlock? Did someone named Amber Call get in touch with you by any chance?”
“Amber Call. C-a-l-l."
“I’m. Playing. Angry. Birds.”
“Oh right, sorry. Forgot. You’re fourteen now.”
“If I were a fourteen year old boy I’d be playing BattleMonsters.”
“Fourteen year old girl then.”
“It’s just this Amber is under the impression she spoke with you. Something about her employers disappearing.”
“Oh. Her. Yes. No. She sounds fat.”
“You did talk to her then?” It was entirely possible that Sherlock could tell the woman was fat from hearing her voice.
“She texted. Me. Die, pigs, die.”
“So…she sounds fat in a text message.”
“She’s American, from Alabama. Which, I believe has the third fattest population in the entire United States. Statistical likelihood she’s huge.”
“Well, apparently, you told her to come by around three-ish.”
“I— when did I? Three-ish? Ish? That doesn’t sound like me at all.” Sherlock sat upright suddenly, eyes wide. “It’s five after now.”
“Yes. She’s hijacked the comment thread on my blog to say she couldn’t get a hold of you to confirm, but assumes it’s still on. You might want to put on your dressing gown. Or clothes.”
“John. I did not tell that woman to come here--“
The buzzer sounded. “Too late.”
Sherlock had been correct about Amber Call being huge. She was hugely pregnant. John suspected twins -- at least. He showed her to a chair and then helped lower her into it. She thanked him warmly. She even called him “sir.” Definitely an accent from the southern US, although from Alabama or someplace else, he wouldn’t know the difference.
She was young, twenty-five at most, with pale grey-blue eyes and dark wavy hair spilling over the shoulders of her coat from beneath a Peruvian hat – one of those with the strings hanging down and the poms on top. Only the top button of her coat was buttoned, mostly because it wouldn’t close around the rest of her. Except for the cherry red of her coat and the beige of her hat, she was dressed in black. A black tunic was stretched to capacity over her belly, the navel distended and clearly visible. Black leggings couldn’t hide the swollen ankles either, and her feet puffed a bit around black ballet flats (with entirely inadequate arch support he noted). Probably the only shoes she could put on without bending over.
“Is he here?” she asked, placing her gigantic backpack on the floor near her feet. She took a sip from her travel mug. “I’m not too late, am I?”
“No, he’s uh – he’ll be here shortly. Can I get you something, water, or crackers or ….milk?“ There wasn’t much else they had in that he could offer a pregnant woman. He wasn’t sure if the milk was still good.
“Oh, aren’t you sweet, thanks, but I’ve got my herbal tea.” She didn’t say the “h” in herbal. What with the Dixie-drawl and the dimples and the uncomfortable glow of impending motherhood she was, quite frankly, adorable.
“When are you due, if you don’t mind me asking?”
The dimples in her smile stayed fixed, but the tone of the voice cooled considerably. “Soon.”
Sherlock wandered back into the sitting room, fully dressed, though barefoot. Phone in hand, he navigated the space without ever looking up. He was like a smartphone ninja.
“I’ve just checked the messages from Amber Call over the past two days and, surprise, not a single response—“ He paused, a mere fraction of a second. John was probably the only person (besides Sherlock’s own brother) that would have noticed it - the tiny stumble, the micro-twitch of alarm, the slight pause between one breath and another as Sherlock reassessed and readjusted whatever assumption he’d made re: Amber Call. Then, “-- from me.”
Equanimity restored, his gaze swept over her with practiced precision before settling on her face and then staying there uncomfortably long. “Of course, I slept through most of these.”
Her eyes darted predictably away from his scrutiny, and she laid a hand on her stomach before looking back up at him. “Yes sir, I did stretch the truth a teeny tiny bit—“
“Uh, no. You lied.”
She took a deep breath and sighed miserably. “Yes, um, yeah I did. I’m real sorry about that, Mr. Holmes, I really am, but I’m in a desperate bind here and you wouldn’t answer my calls. I thought maybe if I – well, if y’all saw me in person—“ She looked at John, appealing to his kinder nature.
“You’re pregnant,” Sherlock said, “not ‘differently-abled.’” He used air quotes. Air quotes were never a good sign. “Your condition obliges me to surrender my seat on public transport, but it hardly makes your other problems more interesting. I certainly don’t chase after –“ His finger drew a lazy circle in the air indicating the area occupied by her belly-- “baby-daddies. You’ve got no money or you would have gone to a solicitor, hired a private investigator at the very least.”
“But I thought—I mean, I was told you didn’t always charge.”
“At my discretion! Who told you that, anyway?”
“Um, Sherlock,” John interjected quietly. “It may have been mentioned on my blog.”
“Take it down.”
“I’ve been to the police,” she offered breathlessly, trying to reach into the backpack at her feet. “One of them gave me your number. I’ve—I’ve got it here—“
She huffed and wheezed and grunted and flailed in an attempt to bend over just the little bit she needed to reach what she was looking for. Sherlock seemed transfixed by the Herculean effort it was taking her to perform such a rudimentary task. Unable to bear it any longer, John stepped in. The pack was astonishingly heavy as he deposited it onto the narrow ledge of her knees. She handed him the mug to hold, which he did, pointedly ignoring the look Sherlock aimed his direction. The smell wafting up from the mug was certainly … herbal. Woody and bitter and slightly astringent. Something about it--
She gave a little squeal of triumph, dropped the pack back onto the floor, and held the card aloft. “He wrote your cell number on the back. See?”
“Lestrade. Arse.” Sherlock blew out a noisy sigh. “Here’s the thing, Amber. I’ve just eaten a pound of pasta. I’m sluggish and likely to be of little help to anyone for oh, at least a week. Even so I might have been persuaded to listen to your sad tale if not for the manner in which you clumsily wheedled and manipulated your way into our home.”
Our home now. John thought. That was new. And suspicious.
“So, I’ve seen you, right? We can agree on that? And having done so, you can now waddle back down the stairs and out the door.” He turned from her, already engrossed in his Blackberry, one hand in the air -- bye bye, dismissed. “Back to Tuscaloosa or Talladega or wherever the hell it is you’re from. Oh, and don’t forget the luggage you’ve stashed in the stairwell. Wouldn’t want our landlady tripping over it. Thanks.”
With that he went into his bedroom and shut the door.
Amber sat in stunned silence for a moment before she sucked in a ragged breath. Her head dropped into her hands and a low moan escaped her. Then, to John’s horror, she began to sob -- deep, gasping sobs of hopeless, helpless despair that shook her whole body.
“Oh shit,” he whispered. “Damn, I am so sorry. He’s an ass. Maybe I can—what do you need—can I get you—“
She waved him off, trying to gain control of herself, dragging the palms of her hands over her face while little gasping breaths puffed out of her, desperate prayers to Jesus. It was the kind of weeping and praying that could break your heart. If you had one.
The bedroom door opened. “That doesn’t work on me.” The door closed again.
“Is your name Jesus?” Amber shouted at the door, “I don’t need spiritual guidance from you. Hell, I don’t even need your sympathy. I need your goddamned expertise!” She broke off, trying to sniffle in the snot running down. Her bag seemed a universe away there at her feet and the frustration of that brought her right back to outrage. “God! The last thing I wanna be doing right now is bawling my eyes out in your living room, but I can’t help it. I’ve had a very bad year. And, oh that’s right, I’m also pregnant!”
John had fetched a box of tissues and at the sight of it she started crying again, as if this were the greatest kindness anyone had ever shown her. She plucked one out of the box, then another. “Sorry, sorry. I don’t normally-- I’m just so frustrated. I don’t think I’ve cried this much in my entire life.”
“It goes with the territory I understand.”
She blew her nose. “Crying over every little thing is bad enough, but it’s the stupidity I can’t handle. Two years ago I was playing with DNA microarrays, and today I swear I couldn’t hold a thought together with a glue gun and a roll of electrical tape. Pregnancy has shrunk my brain. My brain is like eight percent smaller. I have a smaller brain.”
“That must certainly be…distressing,” John said. “It’ll return to normal size in a few months, I promise. And I’m a doctor so I know what I’m talking about.”
Sherlock’s door opened again, more slowly this time, and he stepped out with a look very close to chagrin. “You might have led with DNA microarrays, you know.” He stabbed at his chest with his fingers. “Chemist.”
She clutched the crumpled tissues in her fist and then glanced at him, sizing him up now instead of the other way around. “You’d never be able to cope with these chemical changes, I’m real sure of that. In fact, you should thank your lucky stars that this can never ever happen to you, Mr. Holmes, because you’d probably just eat the gun.”
John had to admit she had Sherlock pegged. But he only laughed. “Maybe. But it didn’t exactly happen to you, either, did it? It’s not as if you were assaulted by a test tube and forced to bear its children.” He gazed at her with a mixture of pseudo-awe and mock-horror. “How many have you got in there anyway?”
“I’m sorry, what?” John said.
“She’s having twins. Really John, do keep up.”
“I did make note of the possible twins.” He copied Sherlock’s gesture from earlier, hand like a blade aimed at his chest. “Doctor. I’m just not following th--“ and then it dawned. “Oh.”
“Right. Amber here is a commercial surrogate. And these employers that have disappeared would be the couple that hired her to gestate their offspring.”