As Mom started showing, my strange feelings about her pregnancy didn’t go away. I knew I should’ve been happy for her and Dad, but something just wasn’t letting me.
This was why I found myself at Millie’s house one day. My sister always got me. If anyone could help me figure things out, it was her.
“Hey, brother! What brings you here?” Millie asked, letting me in.
“Stuff,” I shrugged.
“Well, come in, come in,” she urged me into her kitchen, where she took stock of everything in the fridge. “Quiang and I are usually busy at work, and between our crazy shifts and taking care of Terrence, we keep forgetting to go grocery shopping.”
“So this is what being married is like, eh?” I tried joking.
“Pretty much,” Millie laughed. “Well, except you get to come home to see the people you love every day, which is really priceless. Sometimes, I still can’t believe Quiang and I are really married. And then I look at Terrence and wonder how I deserved to be this perfect little boy’s mother. I can’t wait until we are in a good enough place to have another little one. It would have to wait until Terrence is older though. I can’t imagine taking care of two kids under 3 at once.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk about, actually,” I admitted. “I mean, Mom being pregnant? This is so crazy, isn’t it?”
“If you mean her age, then yes, it is quite crazy,” Millie agreed. “But I bet she is so happy right now, isn’t she? That’s how she always sounds when we talk.”
“So, you’re completely on board with this?” I was incredulous.
“Of course I’m on board, Phoenix. She had my back completely when I was pregnant. Besides, what do you suggest she do? Get rid of the baby? You know there is no way in hell she’d ever do that, right? Even if her health was at stake, which it isn’t,” Millie looked at me sternly.
“The doctors said she’ll have to be on bed rest for the last part of this trimester and the next,” I informed her and she nodded. She knew.
“I still can’t believe she got pregnant again, and so late too,” she mused as we sat down in her living room. “You know, we never thought she’d have you either.”
“Seriously? Why?” This was the first I was hearing of this.
“Mom had a lot of trouble conceiving. I remember at one point I even thought she and Dad couldn’t have a baby of their own because I was with them,” Millie laughed. “She and Dad had five failed IVF attempts when they were younger. Then there was this big fire – our house was nearly burned down because of this crazy woman who had a vendetta against the family.”
“Mom and Dad mentioned it once or twice. When I asked why there were still those old char marks in the living room,” I remembered being confused when I was younger. “They never mentioned their fertility problems, though.”
“They don’t really like to talk about that time,” Millie nodded. “Well, anyways, our house had to be completely repaired after the fire, so instead of staying at a hotel, we all went to China because Mom and Dad had to find out something for work.”
“And you met Quiang there…” I realized.
“I did. Who knew how things would turn out?” she smiled happily. “Well, to our surprise, when we came back, Mom was pregnant with you. She still maintains there was something supernatural about that, although I’m not sure I believe that. I mean, there has to be a logical explanation for why her fertility problems went away in China. Although, who knows? There are lots of unexplained things in the world…” she drifted off.
“So, how is she pregnant now?” I asked.
“That is the billion dollar question, isn’t it?” Millie shrugged. “I say, it doesn’t matter. What matters is, the pregnancy is going well, Mom and Dad are happy, and we’ll have a new sibling soon. Let’s be happy about it.”
“I’ll try, Mills. I guess I’m kind of excited to have another sibling. It’s been kind of empty without you in the house,” I admitted.
“Sorry, little brother. We just really wanted to have our own place. You’ll understand someday. But I miss having you around too,” she smiled. “So, what else is bothering you?”
“Nothing,” I replied, to which she snorted.
“I’m your big sister, I know something’s up.”
“Ok, well, it’s Rashida,” I admitted. I took a deep breath and let it out “I really like her, I think she’s gorgeous, we have so many things in common, and we’ve been great friends since we were little. But sometimes, I feel like dating her is a little too much.”
“Let me guess,” Millie pursed her lips. “She is overly affectionate. I mean, I’ve noticed it when I saw you two together, but I didn’t want to say anything and you weren’t bothered by it. Or maybe it just seemed that way?”
“I don’t know. It didn’t bother me at first. But it kind of does now. I mean, she texts me cute messages at 2 am at night, she constantly tries to be near me… I like her, but this kind of thing is making me want more distance. I don’t want to break up with her, I just…”
“…need more space? I understand, Phoenix,” Millie nodded. “Perhaps you two need to talk this over with one another? Have you tried bringing it up to her?”
“No! The other day, I didn’t kiss her before class and it looked like she was about to cry,” I explained the problem. “I can’t even imagine how she’ll react if I tell her this.”
“Well, you’re in a tough spot, then. But you do need to address this issue before it wreaks your relationship,” she concluded.
“I know. Well thanks for helping me figure some things out. You’re the best,” I hugged my sister before heading towards the exit, where I ran into my brother-in-kaw.
“Hey, Phoenix! How’s life?” Quiang waved at me. “Congratulations on your soon-to-arrive new sibling.”
“Thanks. It’s been nice seeing you two. Take care of yourself and of my sister,” I told him, to which he replied, “I always do.”
I didn’t want to go home just yet. Because of the pregnancy, Mom was constantly feeling too hot, and therefore our thermostat was set to nearly freezing temperatures, making me consider putting on a parka just to be at home.
However, it might have been preferable to the weather we’ve been having lately.
It was scorching hot. I had no idea why – Hidden Springs was usually supposed to be cooler than this, but this summer was taking its toll on all of us.
Luckily, there was an ice cream truck in town center when I got there. A refreshing strawberry cone was most welcome.
After buying my ice cream, I found a spot in the shade of a nearby building. I wondered how to spend my time. It was summer vacation, and having no part-time job, I mostly had nothing to do. Frankly, I was bored, to the point of actually missing school. At least there, I had my friends.
Lost in my thoughts, I didn’t notice a familiar face approach me.
“Phoenix? Hey, long time, no see,” Morgan rounded the corner, smiling when she saw me. “How’s life been treating you?
“It’s good. I have a delicious ice cream, I’m in the shade, and I’m going to be a big brother soon. Life’s good,” I finished the ice cream and, scrunching it up, threw away the paper cone holder into the nearest trash can, scoring a perfect hit.
“Nice shot,” Morgan complimented, joining me on the bench. “You should try the chocolate one next time though, it’s even better.”
“Would you like one? My treat,” I offered.
“Thanks, but I don’t like to eat before swimming. What about you? Want to go for a swim? The pool’s open right now and we’re here already,” she pointed out the fact that we were sitting right next to the public pool building.
“Seriously? Actually, that sounds great, sure,” I agreed.
Inside, I quickly stripped down to my trunks, regretting not taking Quiang’s offer to help me start working out, and jumped into the pool. The water was refreshing and nice and I quickly felt better. Feeling refreshed, I got out of the pool and took up one of the loungers.
By this time, Morgan finished getting ready for her own swim, and approached the pool, where she did a nearly perfect somersault into the water.
“Oh goodness, yes!” she exclaimed. “What would we do without the pool? We’ll just prune up.”
“Yeah, sure,” I agreed, unable to keep my eyes off of her. She had a good body and I was glad that my shorts were loose. Otherwise, this situation would’ve been somewhat awkward.
Finally, she climbed out of the water, the water still dripping from her smooth skin, and made her way to the lounger right next to mine.
“This is fun, we should hang out more often,” she smiled at me, only a meter or so away from me. “You seem like a fun person to spend time with.”
“Thanks, so are you,” I responded, feeling guilty, so very guilty about being here right now. Perhaps I was an idiot, perhaps it was only hindsight, but I was realizing how awfully stupid and wrong it was for me to be here with Morgan, to be checking her out in that swimsuit, when only a couple of hours ago, I was having a discussion on how to fix the shortcomings of my existing relationship.
Morgan and I chatted about a few more trivial things, with me doing my best not to notice any of her attempts to flirt with me until it began to get dark, at which time I made the excuse that I still needed to buy something at the store, before I took my leave, heading out of the pool center as fast as my legs could carry me.
I didn’t walk far when my phone beeped with another message from Rashida. This time, it was a cute picture of two fluffy kittens hugging each other, with a caption that said “You+Me=Purrfection.” Alright, even I had to admit, this was pretty adorable.
Before I could reply back, I nearly walked into someone – my uncle Gerald.
“Oh, hello there, Phoenix, I seriously didn’t realize it was you. Did you grow more?” he greeted.
“Hi, Uncle Gerald. I think I may have had another growth spurt, yes. How are you?”
“I’m good, I’m good. How’s your mom? How’s her pregnancy going?” he asked with concern.
“Pretty decent, I think, all things considered. Lots of back pain, but the food aversions are over, though,” I let him know.
“At least, it’s more than halfway done,” he nodded in sympathy. “The back pain is always too much, I know. I remember Katie could barely sleep at night when she was expecting the girls. I know Irene is happy though. So, what about you? You’re going to be a junior now, aren’t you? Thinking of schools to apply to? Or perhaps, something more hand-on?” he asked, bringing up something that kind of bothered me lately.
Seriously, everyone kept talking about what they were going to do when they were older. It was interesting at first, but as time went on, it got kind of stressful. I still had no idea about what I was going to do after high school was done and I felt like the black sheep out of my group of friends because of that. After all, I was supposed to have at least an inkling about my future career choice, right?
“Still haven’t decided, huh?” Uncle Gerald noticed my confusion. “It’s alright, kid. Not many people know right of the bat.”
“You did though, didn’t you?” I referred to his choice to go into investigative journalism from an early age.
“Well, in my case, the circumstances helped me along. But before that, I changed my mind plenty. I even thought of becoming a pro soccer player at one point,” he laughed.
“Seriously? I had no idea!” the idea of my sophisticated uncle running after a ball was quite something.
“Most people are surprised to hear that,” he smiled. “You’ll figure things out, don’t worry. And if you ever need a friendly ear outside of the family, I’m only a phone call away.”
After we parted ways, I felt much lighter. My uncle’s advice was solid, as usual. Not to say that my parents didn’t give good advice, but they were parents and there were some things I wasn’t going to ask them about.
Coming home, I found Mom in the kitchen, having dinner. I didn’t realize I’ve been out of the house for that long but it was already almost 9 in the evening.
“Hey Mom! How are you feeling?” I felt bad for being so negative over her pregnancy. Millie was right – it was a happy thing.
“I’m pretty good, mostly. Your sister’s been kicking a lot, though. I can already tell she’ll be a feisty one,” Mom smiled.
“How do you know it’s a girl?” I asked. They haven’t been told so by the doctor, yet.
“I just have a feeling. I had a feeling you were going to be a boy and this one feels like a girl,” she smiled. “Would you like some pasta?”
“Thanks, I’m good though,” the ice cream from earlier was pretty filling.
As soon as I thought about the ice cream, I thought about the pool, about Morgan, about Rashida! And I totally forgot to text her back.
“Hey,” I wrote, “What’s up? Cute kittens.”
“Hey!!!” she texted back. “Glad you liked them!”
“What are you doing?” I hesitated before adding, “Want to come over?”
The fact of the matter was, while she and I certainly kissed and made out plenty of times, we haven’t gone any further. I was somewhat afraid of getting hit with the same luck as Millie in terms of contraception failure. But I knew she wanted to take the next step and tonight, I felt just about ready to do the deed. I knew Mom was going to go to sleep soon, and Dad was always near her these days, so he won’t stray out of the bedroom at night…
“Sorry, can’t 😦 😦 😦 , my folks are on a date and I’m supposed to help Clara with her homework :(” her response came back. Of course she had to help her younger sister first, that was understandable.
“No problem, see you soon <3” I hit send, still frustrated and annoyed at the situation. I guess, there won’t be any sex happening in this household tonight.
At least, cold showers were a very real and effective method for killing the mood.
Time passed, Mom was in her last trimester. She was officially on bed rest now, and when she wasn’t, she could barely deal with the exhaustion and the back pain.
Luckily, her due date wasn’t too far away now. I knew she wanted the baby to be born sooner rather than later.
In other news, school started again, which meant I got to see all of my friends all the time again. Well, all except one – I made the conscious decision to avoid Morgan around the school. I couldn’t deny the fact that I was attracted to her and if I wanted my relationship to survive, it was for the best for me not to be around her too much.
Also, I decided that Rashida and I were going to take our relationship a step further, after all. We were going to be responsible about it though, that much was for sure. Of course, finding a good time and place was going to be an issue, but I was sure it won’t be a problem for long.
An opportunity seemingly presented itself one day, when on a weekend, our schedules were empty enough for her to come over to my place, so I invited her over.
“Hey,” she smiled, coming into the house. “It smells good. Is your mom cooking something?”
“Not Mom,” I smiled. “Me. It’s just a salad though, and I might have gone overboard with the spices.”
“Can I try it?” she asked, excited.
“Eh, it really doesn’t taste that great,” I admitted. My cooking was definitely not worthy of any praise.
“I won’t judge, promise,” she winked.
Before I could respond anything, Mom and Dad came down in a hurry.
“Rashida, hi sweetie, how are you? Make yourself at home, don’t mind us,” Mom breathed out shakily.
“Mom, are you ok?” she looked really stressed out, which worried me.
“I’m as good as can be, considering that I’m in labor. Looks like your sister wants out and she wants out now!” she explained, on her way to the car, as Dad followed with all the essentials necessary for the hospital.
“Watcher, your Mom is in labor!” Rashida exclaimed.
“Yes, finally!” According to Mom, the baby was overdue, so this was good.
All thoughts of food pretty much went out the window.
“Are you ok?” Rashida asked, hugging me from behind. “You look worried.”
“I am, sort of. I mean, Mom’s doctor is very good, but I can’t help but wonder if everything will go well,” I admitted. I regretted not coming to the hospital with them, but we all knew I’d be pretty useless there.
“It’s ok,” she reassured me, “She’ll be fine. I mean, look at Jeanine’s family – they have, what, five kids? And their younger brother was born pretty late too, but Mrs. Blakely is doing alright. I’m sure your mom will be fine.”
“Thanks for being so positive,” I pulled her in for a kiss. I was glad I invested myself into this relationship harder. Really, my attitude was what caused all of my discontent. Rashida, despite being too affectionate, always meant well. “Let’s just chill while we wait for the news, cool?”
So, we ended up in my room, listening to the radio without really paying attention to any of the songs, and chatting.
“So, what’s up with the foreign pictures? You have a bunch in your locker too. They look cool,” she pointed to one of the posters in the room.
I shrugged, “Foreign things fascinate me. To be honest, I kind of want to travel someday. Imagine going to another country, eating the local food, meeting the locals, leaning their customs and traditions… it’s all so new and real. But it would have to wait until I’m older, I guess.”
“Where would you want to go?” she asked.
“I think I’d like to see China,” I admitted, “According to Millie, I was conceived there…and Mom always says she felt the most tranquility in her life in China. I wonder if I can experience that too.”
“That’s cool,” Rashida sighed wistfully. “I’ve always liked their architecture – it looks so different from everything here.”
“I suppose it does. Hey, did you know pagoda roofs were often built with the purpose of making ghosts and spirits unable to come in?” I smiled.
“No way!” she laughed. “I suppose it was their built in equivalent of spilling rice or sand on the floor.”
“True. Although, I really have no idea why people think becoming a ghost makes someone terrible at math,” I chuckled. “But who knows, maybe only those who are averse to arithmetic can become ghosts?”
“Ha!” she laughed again, sobering up quickly. “Hey, what about me? Can I come along when you go exploring the world? Or am I going to stay home and wait for you?”
“You should come along,” I offered, pulling her close to me. “Imagine, seeing the world together, making new foreign friends, maybe even staying abroad for a while…”
“I’d like that,” she nodded. “It can be a great experience. And imagine all the foreign music I can learn. Maybe I can learn to play the lute while we’re there? It isn’t that different from a guitar, after all.”
“I think you’d be good at it,” I agreed. She already played the guitar as well or better than many famous musicians. Of course, she’d do well with a new instrument.
“You think so?” she looked at me softly, her amber eyes bright with excitement.
She leaned in, kissing me, to which I responded with the same fervor. We were home alone, in my room, and I knew Rashida was not averse to taking the next step…
Our kisses became deeper, and soon she was on top of me, with me making more space for us to both be comfortable as we got closer to the goal. Also, my mind reminded me to use the condoms I had stored in the drawer of my bed.
“Wait,” I gently stopped her. The thought about contraception reminded me of the fact that my mother was currently in the hospital, giving birth to a baby. And there is no way I could actually be having sex with someone at that time, not with a clear conscience. “This is a bad time.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she whispered, also remembering about my Mom. We both got a little too carried away with our foreign fantasies.
“No, I am. We should do it another time though, if you want to,” I offered.
“That… sounds pretty good, yes,” she blushed slightly.
After that, we decided it would be best to spend our time downstairs, in the company of the TV. We didn’t have to wait long – to our surprise my folks opted to come home after the baby’s arrival, foregoing the longer hospital stay.
They were both exhausted when they came home, with Dad looking relieved that this crazy day was over. Mom was really pale, but she had a small smile on her face.
“Well, kids. Say hi to Felicity. She took her time getting here, but the doctors say she is healthy and weighs a good 7.5 pounds,” Mom announced. “Welcome home, baby girl.”
After Felicity’s birth, things moved into a more or less familiar routine. Mom was still not feeling as energetic as before the pregnancy, but the doctors said it was normal – the older you were, the more time it took to completely recover from pregnancy and childbirth.
Felicity was, surprisingly, ok. I didn’t think I’d be as fond of the little girl as I was, but she was very cute and always smiled when anyone interacted with her. It was early to tell, but I thought she already looked a lot like Mom, which was really sweet. On the downside, she was a very fussy baby and always wanted someone to be near. But no one really minded.
Back at school, things were going smoothly. I took my uncle’s advice in regards to my future – I’d figure out what I wanted eventually. I knew I wanted to travel, yes, but how many jobs would be ok with that? That was the big question.
Things with Rashida were alright. After that evening in my room, we didn’t really get another chance to do the deed, but I was starting to think that, maybe it was for the best. For some reason, when it was just the two of us, things were going great between me and her, but whenever we ended up in a social environment, like the school or an outing with friends, that was when she became super clingy. I wasn’t sure what the deal was. Perhaps I should’ve brought up this conversation when Millie advised me to.
And… as it turned out, I didn’t even need to, in the long run. Life can be funny that way.
Rashida and I were walking to the cafeteria for our free period. She’s been kind of quiet all day, but I assumed she was just tired as her music practice was very intense again at this time of year. Apparently, I was wrong.
“So,” she finally broke the silence, “you were hanging out with Dianna over the weekend.”
“Oh yeah. She needed to write an essay for this scholarship she wants to apply to and she asked me to make sure it looked ok,” I explained. Dianna was one of Quiang’s younger sisters and she was currently a freshman at our school. “I’m pretty good at literature and creative writing, so it wasn’t a big deal.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked frowning.
“I didn’t think it was very interesting,” I shrugged. “I mean, the essay requirements were kind of asinine, so we had to spend some three hours making sure it didn’t look like crap and we were bored out of our heads by the end of the day – I didn’t think you’d enjoy hearing about it.”
“It sounds more like you didn’t want to tell me you were hanging out with another girl,” her frown deepened.
I stood still in my tracks. Was she serious? Was she really jealous of me and the little sister of my brother-in-law?!
“Are you kidding?” I snorted. “You do realize she is practically family, right?”
“That’s nothing. You aren’t related by blood, you’re good looking, and she is an impressionable freshman, who knows what’s going through her head?” Rashida justified her thinking.
“This is ridiculous,” I felt my blood boiling, “Well, you know, my older sister and I are only related through one parent and we’re pretty close, maybe you’re jealous of me and her as well?”
“Now you sound like an idiot,” she flinched. “You make it sound like I’m being completely irrational.”
“Because you are being completely irrational,” I pointed out, my voice rising. “And really, I didn’t realize I was required to give you an hour-by-hour report of my daily activities. You already check in with me 24/7!”
“Is that how you feel?!” she raised her voice right back. “Well, maybe I wish you would ‘check in’ with me at least half as often as I do with you! Honestly, sometimes I feel like you’re only dating me out of some obligation because we were friends as kids!”
“I date you because I like you, Rashida! I wouldn’t have asked you out if I didn’t. You know me, I don’t care if stuff sounds wrong or inappropriate – I still say it. If I didn’t think we had any chemistry, I would’ve told you so right of the bat when I found out you liked me! But for fuck’s sake, when you want us to be together every minute possible, I feel like it’s too much. And now, you’re jealous of me too?”
“Let it all out, Phoenix, let it all out,” she was yelling now. “You know, I’m glad this is all coming out of you now. I didn’t realize you were so tired of me. But perhaps I should’ve seen it earlier.”
“Why do you make it sound like I’m the only one in the wrong here?” I exploded. “You’re the one who started this conversation by implying I was cheating on you with Dianna. And when I pointed out how ridiculous that was, you’re the one who got offended. Well, you know what, you’re right. I am tired. Tired of constantly having to make sure you’re getting enough attention, of the text messages at night, when I’m trying to sleep… I’m tired of feeling like I’m your property! This is not how healthy relationships work!”
“Well, why didn’t you tell me any of this before today? Why didn’t you tell me those things annoy you?” she blew up right back. “I was just trying to be a good girlfriend!”
“I wanted to tell you!” I wanted to rip my hair out, by this point. “But I didn’t know how to bring any of it up without you getting upset, the way you are now!”
“I’m a little past upset now,” she whispered, still seething. “I thought we really had something, Phoenix.”
“Rashida, wait,” I turned away, knowing that at least one of us had to deescalate this conversation. “I’m not trying to break up with you. I don’t know how we even ended up fighting like this, fuck it.”
“Yeah, well, however it happened, it happened,” her voice sounded chocked, like she was about to cry. This really was the opposite of what I wanted. So much for trying to make the relationship work…
“What now?” I whispered.
“I don’t know… but perhaps we should take a break? Neither of us is thinking straight right now,” she proposed.
“I don’t want to break up,” I admitted. “I do care about you, Rashi.”
“Don’t ‘Rashi’ me right now, please Phoenix,” she whispered. “And I care about you, but clearly we need to think everything through before making any decision regarding ‘us’. Because clearly, the current state of our relationship isn’t working out.”
“Ok,” I nodded, “I understand. So, I guess I’ll see you later? Sort of?”
When there was no response, I turned around to see that she was already gone from the hallway.
What started out as a completely normal day has turned into a total nightmare. And I couldn’t help but feel like it was all my fault.