"Bless you," I said matter-of-factly for the sixth time, trying to hide my concern as I handed Julie a tissue.
"Ugh, thank you," she said in between the loud noise of her blowing her nose. "Not sure why I suddenly sneezed so many times."
Six times, to be exact, I thought to myself. And I knew exactly why.
"So... are you serious? We're going to have a baby?" I asked Julie, my voice more of disbelief than joy. I would have felt joy, to be honest. After all, we have been trying for years to conceive. Being a father was something that I've looked forward to in years.
But I just cannot shake the feeling that Julie sneezed six times. Because from as far as my life went, I've come to learn that when someone sneezes six times immediately after saying something, it meant that they're lying. A significant one at that.
The time when mum told me that my dad was going to come back? She sneezed six times. Or when Aunt Mary told me that Santa exist? She sneezed six times as well. Not forgetting how Darla, my first ex, also exactly sneezed six times when she told me she was not cheating. And now, Julie, my wife, sneezed six times after she told me that I was going to be a daddy. I can't help but to be wary.
"Yes! We're going to have a baby!" Julie exclaimed. "And you're going to be a daddy-" she tried to continue, only to be interrupted by six sneezes again.
"Ugh, not sure what's going wrong with my nose," she declared, before disappearing into the toilet. I just sat there, knowing exactly what was wrong, my stomach tied in knots. Why would she lie to me about having a baby or me being a daddy?
Was it part of an elaborate prank? But Julie was not someone who enjoyed pranks. Or could the baby not be mine? But technically if the baby grows up in my house, I'm still counted as the baby's father, right? Sort of? Thousand questions ran in my mind.
As the weeks passed, it was obvious that Julie was not lying about having a baby. Her belly did grow bigger, and we were already making visits to the doctor to have tests, discussions, all the nitty gritty that comes with the new responsibility. There were talks about the baby's room, the baby's gender and future plans involving the baby.
There was definitely a baby in her tummy, which shifted then shifted the question of whether the baby was really mine. What started as a suspicion evolved into a full blown paranoia. I snooped around her phone and dug up her old texts to see if she was contacting anyone around the time she got pregnant. I began to grow suspicious of her, questioning her whenever she's on the phone or going out with friends.
I asked around, googled on the internet, trying to see if it's possible to have a paternity test before the baby was born. Something that doesn't involve Julie knowing. There was a method called the non-invasive paternity testing, though that still involved getting Julie's blood to be sent for testing. Luckily for me, the hospital was willing to send the blood sample for testing, provided that I pay a fee for it. I gladly signed the bill and waited for the result, more than certain that Julie cheated on me, and the baby wasn't mine.
When the result came back a few weeks later, it was not something that I expected. The lab determined that the baby was mine and Julie's, a perfect match, and that I was the biological father of the baby in her stomach. Despite the test results, I still felt uneasy. All my life six sneezes meant a lie, but everything so far proved that it was not.
Perhaps this time was different, I thought to myself. Perhaps I was mistaken.
Until our routine appointment at the hospital.
"I'm afraid that Julie is not strong enough to give birth to the baby," was the bomb that was dropped unto us that day, in that cold white office of a Dr Hampshire. "The best option now, for the mother's well-being, is to abort."
The news completely caught us off guard. Julie cried for the entire day, her hands refusing to leave her now bulging tummy. "How am I supposed to abandon our baby like that!" she screamed to me, her face soaked in tears. And I couldn't help but to feel an immense amount of guilt, having doubted her in the first place, letting my fear control me instead of being there for her during those first few months.
All I could say, as I embraced her in the brightly painted room in our house, was that we're going to make it out of this okay.
She looked at me teary eyed. "Are you sure that we'll be okay?"
"Yes," I assured her, bringing her closer into my arms. And then I sneezed six times.