Penelope Featherington was a nervous wreck. She felt the thunder of her beating heart echoing over the noise that was the Bridgerton family, and loud was an understatement when the enormous clan got together. And almost everyone was present tonight for the usual Saturday dinner. The only ones missing were Francesca and Michael--both will be coming the day after. It was highly irregular that everyone will be home and together, if not for Eloise’s upcoming nuptials and Violet’s birthday. Although, Penelope still could not believe that she was invited for their family dinner. She was only Eloise’s best friend from childhood, after all. But everyone had affirmed that she was, and will always be, an honorary Bridgerton, much to her delight.
She sighed as she played with the food on Violet’s good china. The familiar pangs of anxiety had started again, and they were still on the appetizer course.
“Penelope, you’re terribly quiet,” Colin Bridgerton remarked as he took a swig of wine. He looked curiously at her.
Her clammy hand almost lost its grip on her fork.
“Yeah, Pen. You look really pale,” Eloise said, concerned.
She almost winced. “Just tired from an all-nighter last night. New boss,” she lied fluidly.
“Oh, has Cowper been sacked?” Hyacinth exclaimed in delight.
“She’s moved on to a different company,” Penelope answered demurely. Although, she had a small smile fixed on her face.
“Good riddance!” Eloise said as she clinked her wine glass with her sister’s.
“You haven’t touched your wine,” Eloise said after drinking hers.
“I, ah, just took a headache medicine earlier. Not good mixing them with alcohol,” Penelope fibbed expertly.
“Oh, then I won’t keep you after dinner tonight. I’ll just call you tomorrow about the bridesmaid dresses,” her friend said as she set a reminder on her phone.
Penelope just nodded to her. She spied a glance to Colin’s side. He seemed preoccupied too, the way he glanced at his phone very telling.
Honestly, as much as she loved basking in the warm chaos of this family, she was here on a mission. One that involved Colin Bridgerton. She needed to tell him something important.
A life or death kind of thing.
She felt a surge of nausea, and a lead-like lump stuck in her throat. Her hands shook slightly from the nerves. She really should not be this stressed out. It’s not good for the baby.
Her baby. And Colin’s. The one he didn't know about.
The one he didn't even remember making.
It was just her luck to be knocked up after drunkenly having sex with man she was in love with since childhood. And he was equally hammered as she was.
It was about ten weeks ago. Colin just came back from Cyprus for his successful travel documentary show. Everyone went out for drinks. She came in late because of a tight deadline for work. By the time she showed up, almost everyone had gone home. Only the celebrant remained and he was already happily buzzed. Truthfully, she was happy to monopolize him for the evening. She remembered buying tequila shots to catch up to him.
She remembered laughing at his corny jokes and genuinely having fun after a long time. After the tenth shot, she blanked out. She didn’t remember them catching an Uber to his hotel, nor how they got entangled in bed. What she remembered was the feeling of his skin against his, how delicious his heavy weight felt above hers, and how extremely talented his tongue was. She even remembered how her throat felt hoarse after repeatedly screaming out his name.
As soon as she awoke the next day, she panicked and hurriedly left his room. Because how the hell can she face him after that? He had never looked in her direction like that, like a woman. And what would happen when he woke up? Would he look at her in disgust and regret? Would they be awkward with each other? Would she have to avoid him and his family altogether? Was she going to lose everything?
So she ran. The cowardly Penelope ran, and she’ll find that this will be her single biggest regret.
She avoided him like the plague. She even victoriously dodged Eloise’ with her work as an excuse. After a week of no contact, she hesitantly accepted Violet’s insistent invitation for Saturday dinner. Colin greeted her with his usual charming smile and politeness. Like nothing was amiss.
She didn’t know if she should laugh or cry.
It was after she inquired about his celebratory dinner did she find out that he did not remember even meeting her that night.
“He drank the entire bar that night,” Benedict hooted out with a laugh.
Colin winced. He confided to Penelope that his hangover lasted two days and that he had no recollection of how he got home at all.
She laughed out loud bitterly. The sad irony of events, how the only time Colin Bridgerton would get together with her was when he was drunk out of his damn mind and then he conveniently forgot the next day.
So she carried on with only the memory of that night forever imprinted in her heart. Only, she forgot about taking an after-morning pill. With worrying about Colin and her new boss, it completely slipped her mind. She was not on any birth control since she was not sexually active, nor did she plan on getting some at that time. She really was busy at work.
It wasn’t until five days ago that she felt something different with her body. Her favorite chippy shop just smelled absolutely foul, and she puked all over her new shoes. Then she started noticing that she constantly felt fatigue, or that dizziness would chase her throughout the day. When she was looking for some over-the-counter medication for her supposed headaches, she happened upon the pregnancy tests. And everything clicked.
She bought a dozen of them, and five liters of water.
All positive. She’s completely fucked.
So now, she was trying to tell the father of her child that not only did he had sex with her, they also have a bun in her oven.
Penelope’s mind drifted throughout dinner. When she finally had a chance, she subtly cornered Colin privately.
“What is it Penelope? You look...upset,” he asked in a gentle voice.
She drew her breath heavily. “Right, I don’t know how to break this to you, exactly,” she stalled, searching for the right words. Any words, in fact. Panic was setting in quickly.
“Take your time,” he said intently. “And breathe, Pen.”
“Do you remember about-” she was cut off by a different voice calling out Colin’s name.
“Marina!” Colin’s delighted cry rang out.
Marina Thompson, beauty and grace personified, ambled slowly towards them. She kissed Colin tenderly. On the lips, like passionate lovers do.
Penelope felt something break within her. Her heart? Her sanity?
She fixed an awkward smile on her face as she greeted the other woman. Colin introduced Marina to her as his girlfriend.
Marina politely greeted her back. “Penelope Featherington, right? From Whistledown Post? Love your articles, by the way.”
“Oh, thanks. I’m flattered.”
“Penelope deserves all the praise. She’s the only reason that paper is thriving,” Colin proudly exclaimed.
She laughed tightly, pretending to be modest. Penelope felt the beginnings of dizziness overtake her. She needed to get out of here.
“What was it you were saying?” Colin inquired curiously.
“You know, I don’t even remember,” she mumbled with a laugh. “Must be the wine.”
“But you didn’t drink.”
“What, are you keeping tabs on me?” Her voice is close to being shrill. “You must be tipsy. Keep an eye out for this one, drinks too much,” she quickly rambled to Marina. She swiftly excused herself and found refuge in the bathroom.
Okay, so her baby daddy is with another woman. Not just another woman. It’s THE woman. Just as long as she was head over heels with Colin, he felt the same for Marina. And now, they were together.
So, what now?
Would he even believe her? Would he even believe that they had sex together in a night that he didn't have any recollection at all? Would he even believe that he’s the father of her unborn child? Would he leave Marina for her?
Deep within her heart, Penelope knew the answer. Because if she were Colin, she knew she’d pick Marina too. Because who was Penelope, compared to Marina?
A wave of nausea interrupted her melancholic thoughts. The dizziness that she tried to ignore earlier came back in full force. There was an odd ringing in her ear. She tried to focus on her breathing to soothe herself.
“Pen?” Colin’s voice rang out through the door. “You were being kinda weird earlier. And I just wanted to know if you’re okay.”
Oh, he’s so sweet. If her child grew up to be half as sweet as him…
“I’m fine,” she choked out loud. She opened the door and was met with Colin’s concerned form. The buzzing in her ear grew louder and anything Colin said was a distant echo. Her vision doubled or dimmed, or both, she can't distinguish the difference at this point. Somewhere in the background, she heard a voice ask if she's alright. Her head couldn't string a coherent thought and she just mumbled a few words
Her head felt heavy and light at the same time. The incessant ringing grew louder still. Her body instantly felt beleaguered. The last thing that she saw was Colin’s distressed face as he held onto her before she fainted altogether.
She awoke shortly after on the settee surrounded by everyone. Apparently, she caused a commotion. So much for escaping silently.
Violet, a fountain of sensibility, ushered everyone away from crowding her space and out of the room. Only Simon and Daphne remained. Simon, a licensed medical practitioner, immediately inspected her eyes after counting her pulse.
“Alright Pen? Anything hurt?” he asked as he assessed her.
“‘M'alright,” she slightly slurred.
He held up three fingers. “How many fingers do I have up?”
“Good,” he said. Daphne gave him his sphygmomanometer. “May I take your blood pressure? Just to check.”
“You don’t have to. I’m pretty sure it’s low,” she said with a sigh. She unconsciously palmed her stomach.
Simon’s eyes caught the movement and his eyebrow arched. “Should I send you to A&E?”
“No, you don’t have to,” she mumbled quietly. “We’re- I mean, I’m fine.”
Daphne sent a loaded look to her husband. Simon nodded in understanding, a small part of him was proud of how quickly his wife caught on.
“Would you like some tea?” Daphne kindly asked her.
“You don’t have to.”
“We have non-caffeinated ones.”
Penelope’s whole body tensed. Her eyes grew large, and she looked ready to bolt.
“Let me prepare you some,” Daphne said gently before adding, ”mum’s the word, of course.”
The other girl nodded gratefully. She seemed to curl into herself, making her body look even smaller. All the while, she placed both arms protectively across her stomach.
“Have you seen an OB yet?”
“When did you find out?” he asked tactfully.
“A few days ago,” she tightly answered.
Simon hesitated for a beat before asking, “And the father?”
The poor girl just shook her head.
“Why don’t you come to the clinic on Monday for a blood test? I can make an opening for you. And my mate’s the best OB in the area. I’ll send you to him with a referral.”
“I’m not in your network,” she rejected his offer with a thankful smile.
“Please, Penelope,” Simon said as he patted her shoulder, “we’re family. Monday morning. I’ll be expecting you.”
Penelope was overcome with emotions, only nodded.
In the end, the news came out from a more expected source.
Penelope knew without a doubt that she was keeping it. So she steeled herself. She needed to tell her mother, after all.
It goes as well as she predicted, which is to say, not well at all. Her mother accused her of being a scarlet woman, a harlot who didn’t know who the father was. She knew. She just won’t name him.
The accusation stung, but it was indeed her fault. Her visit culminated to her mother refusing to talk to her any further. Of course, her sisters (excluding Felicity) sided with her mother.
It hurt so bad. To be cast out by one’s own family.
The silver lining to this was that her stress levels might actually decrease after not dealing with her mother anymore.
Soon after, her phone started ringing with Eloise’s and Colin’s incessant calls. Then Hyacinth’s. And Kate’s. Even Sophie called once or twice. Daphne chose to timidly send her text messages. But she couldn’t ignore Violet’s call.
“Are you alright, dear?” Violet’s worried voice soothed her.
Why does this woman, who never bore her, give her more compassion than her own mother?
It felt like a dam broke. She started sobbing inconsolably. She couldn't quite make out if she was crying about her circumstance, her mother or about the absent father. Violet just whispered all the right words a mother is supposed to say. That in itself only made her cry more. In the end, Violet assured her that all the Bridgertons have Penelope’s back, that she can expect no judgement from them. That she was family.
She still had a family.