I groaned as I slid into the chair at the bistro. My lower back was aching and everything south of there was hurting too. It had been over two months since I shared the news with Bill, meaning I was three months along. I wasn’t fully showing yet, but everything inside me confirmed the pregnancy, and if that wasn’t enough, my OB-GYN had kindly congratulated me after running the tests. I hadn’t been thrilled at the idea of wasting my money on a doctor’s visit, but Bill wanted confirmation, as if he didn’t believe me. Then he asked me if I’d been faithful… right after he slapped me hard across the face in the hallway outside the office. I couldn’t believe he was asking me that… he had no right… not with all of his escapading… and I was pretty sure I wasn’t the only one he’d been with, even after moving into the Rackets.
I groaned again as I pulled my chair closer to the table. I had noticed Max and Marigold over at the festival across the street. I hoped they hadn’t seen me. It seemed odd to see the two out and about together. Marigold was paranoid about going out, worried others would see the results of Max’s abuse. I could hear them laughing together. Maybe they were working things out, but I highly doubted my own attempted optimism. You could put on a smile and fake it. You could act like nothing was wrong. You could cover the scars. But I knew. Once an abuser… always. My father had been a piece of work.
I should’ve recognized the signs. I had learned the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Bill hadn’t been happy, and that was the understatement of the year. I took a bite of my entire bowl of peaches’n’cream oatmeal. The waiter had looked at me oddly when I ordered the breakfast dish for dinner (with a side of vanilla ice cream, no doubt). I had smiled through my teeth and repeated my order. Pregnancy cravings! I wasn’t about to tell him that. Everyone was a critic.
He’d brought the dish with the ice cream floating on top. I had a feeling no one ordered this dish at the bistro, but I didn’t care. The combination of hot-and-cold soothed my parched throat. I had spent many a night crying myself to sleep alone, so much so that my voice was hoarse. I’d called in sick the last few days to work, which wasn’t far from the truth. I woke up nauseous four or five times a night now. I thought morning sickness only happened in the… uh… morning. I guess not.
I coughed and gagged as a chunk of peaches went down the wrong tube. I pressed my wrist into my chest, feeling the burn. I hoped I hadn’t drawn the attention of my baby daddy’s parents across the road, but a quick peek over my shoulder confirmed Max was still staring off into space and Marigold was fixated on the park fountain. I resisted the urge to look and see what Max was staring at, and instead returned my attention to my food. I hoped no one from work saw me.
I knew I pretty much sunk my career when I realized I was pregnant. Now everyone would know I was the girl that bumbling Bill Racket knocked up, and I’d never be governor. Hell, I’d never be mayor. No one would vote for me now.
Even if by some miracle, Bill would do right by me, and marry me before the bump began to protrude, I’d still forever be labeled by my mistake. Everyone knew not to get in bed with the Rackets… and I had quite literally… with at least, one of them. I had to remind myself that I wouldn’t have even gotten this far in politics if it weren’t for Bill’s recommendation though.
It was a fact Bill himself reminded me of in between tossing pillows and blankets in my face as we had argued loudly in the bedroom the night of my unexpected announcement. He’d even flipped the mattress off the bed at me. I still had a scar on my wrist from where my hand hit the nightstand as I fell backwards attempting to avoid the flying bed. Bill had grunted an apology, one I hadn’t really believed, and then stomped out of the room.
I remember crying and nursing my throbbing wrist, wondering why I was in such a mess. It’s not like Bill didn’t have his part to play either.
To make matters worse, he had yelled so loudly I think the whole house heard. I could hear Lolly whispering and Silver hissing behind my back in the kitchen in the morning. Shark flat-out asked me who the father was as if everyone believed I was a prostitute or something. Max quietly handed me a check and told me to go take care of it as it was for everyone’s good. I ripped it up.
This was my baby. My baby. No one could tell me to just toss the precious life inside me aside as if it were the baby’s fault. Max’s laughter floated across the street, jarring me from my thoughts. I still couldn’t believe the man had coldly suggested killing the unborn was an option. I narrowed my eyes and glowered before taking another bite. But it wasn’t that simple, was it? I had always thought I had my principles, but now I questioned everything.
I smiled sadly as a teardrop splashed into the peaches’n’cream. Silver had taken to reminding me everyday that I’d never be family. Today I’d heard Silver screaming at Dennis. It had been super early as he was getting back from his work at the warehouse. I hadn’t been able to sleep mostly due to the nausea, and was downstairs using the teens’ bathroom since my own toilet needed repair. That’s when I heard the argument.
Silver had cornered him and was yelling about the “whore” whom I could only presume was me still having the gall to live in the house. Dennis had surprisingly defended me, at least it sounded like a defense.
“She’s my brother’s girlfriend. We shouldn’t worry ourselves about the details.”
“She’s a social climber, Dennis! She’s a brown-nosing suck-up who’s just using Bill and this family to gain something big for herself. She’s trading up so she can get some of that Racket inheritance someday.”
“Sil, if I recall, you were a night club dancer before I married you. I’d say you traded up.”
This was met by unintelligible ranting until I finally heard the other shoe drop, quite literally as Dennis had probably been sitting on the bed, untying his shoes.
“The little weasel is pregnant with another man’s baby. He should be putting her out on her ass on the curb.”
I flushed the toilet, washed my hands, and stepped out into the hallway. I was met by the younger brother of Bill, in his stocking feet, leaning his hulking frame against the wall.
“Is it true?” he asked softly.
I remember frowning because it wasn’t like the whole house hadn’t heard Silver’s ranting and raving so he had no reason to be quiet.
“About the baby… yes…” I replied in a low tone. “About another man… no…”
Dennis had stood there for a few moments, silently straightening to full height. I was worried he was going to do what Silver said and put me out on the street or smack me or flip his lid like Bill had. I was worried he was going to scream at me, or lecture me like everyone else had, or recommend I go rid myself of the problem. I was surprised he hadn’t already known about the pregnancy. True, I wasn’t showing, but everyone was gossiping about me in the house. Instead, he looked at the floor, and twisted his toe in the carpet.
“Are you okay?”
It was the first words of kindness regarding the whole enchilada I had heard from anyone in this household. I nearly fell over from shock.
“Yes?” my voice barely whispered.
It was more of a question than a response. Truth was, I didn’t know. I’m pretty sure Dennis could tell I was lying. He nodded, turned around, and walked away. As he opened the bedroom door, I could hear Silver snoring. She had already fallen asleep in those brief moments. Not surprising either given she probably wore herself out with her tantrum. I waited until I heard the door close before I dragged myself back up the stairs to cry some more.
That had been this morning.
Marigold had approached me this afternoon while I was doing laundry. She sat on top of the dryer dangling her legs like a teenager, rambling about how Pop-tarts were the best break-up food and how she had swiped Lolly’s Taylor Simwift CD and had been listening to it all day. I couldn’t figure out what the old bat was trying to say, and I was semi-concerned she would ask me to move out. I had to ask her to move her legs when I switched my load from washer to dryer. That’s when she had hopped off and exclaimed, “I had a baby once!”
I grimaced. Of course, she had babies – Bill and Dennis lived at home, and she had another son, Dudley, who had chosen a better path and got far away from the Rackets. Something told me this could be my ticket out of here. Perhaps I should follow in Dudley’s footsteps and run far away from the Racket family.
“With another man…” Marigold had added as I was measuring the soap for my next load.
I dropped the box. “I’ve been faithful,” I moaned, though it sounded more like a whine. “It’s Bill’s kid,” I included, feeling the need to defend myself.
Marigold smiled and patted me on the head. “She would be about your age now.”
“Wha?” I looked bewildered.
“Max had a younger brother,” Marigold said with the stupid grin still on her face, still patting my head. “Sam Hill… but everyone called him Windle… I don’t know why.”
“Okaaaay,” I said with exaggerated emphasis on the a’s as I banged the dryer door shut.
“He called me Marí and he smelled like diesel fuel and potato chips,” she smiled up at the ceiling as if reminiscing.
I grimaced. If she was about to tell me a story about a lover, this already sounded unappealing.
“He was learning Simarojan and I swooned. I couldn’t help myself. Ever met a truck driver who speaks Simarojan?” she leaned in closely and sniffed my hair. “It’s like smelling a honeybee on a orange blossom.”
I smirked. Marigold and her analogies.
“Sometimes he’d let me ride along on his truck hauls across the SimNation and we’d listen to soul. My favorite.”
I leaned against the washer, settling in as Marigold continued with her story. Perhaps it wasn’t so bad, I had surmised.
“Max and I were doing badly in those days. Hell, we were always doin’ badly, but he had gone up north to handle some of the operations in Massimchusetts. Windle invited me to come along on his ride to Lucky Palms. You know truck stops and cheap motels aren’t great for that sort of thing, but we were in love.”
I blinked rapidly. Had Marigold said in love? I tried to picture her with another man.
“When I found out I was pregnant, I told Windle and he wanted to run away. We could go to Mexsimco or even Simaroja. I told him everything would be fine. I’d be with Max…”
I grimaced at the thought of what she was suggesting.
“…and he’d never be the wiser. And if that didn’t work, I’d go stay with my sister, Magnolia, up in Tree Hill. After the baby was born, Mags would take the child and raise her as her own. Windle didn’t like the idea. Said it was too risky. Said he wanted to be a father. We could still be together. I should’ve listened to him.”
“I always thought Max popped him because Windle wanted to take over the family biz… but now that I think about it, he might’ve known about Sandy.”
I stopped cold, all the muscles in my body freezing. I knew Max was evil, but to kill his own brother? I couldn’t imagine why Marigold was telling me this story. Was it a warning? Would Bill or Max try something? Should I leave? Was it an attempt at bonding? Or was it just another one of Marigold’s crazy stories?
“Sandra… that was Windle’s mother’s name. She was Max’s step-mom. We were gonna name the baby Sandy after Windle’s mamma.”
I felt numb. I rubbed my arms, trying to erase the chilling feeling creeping up my hairs.
“After Windle’s death, I knew it was Max, but I could never prove it. I got rid of the baby. I couldn’t go through with my plans now.”
So she had an abortion. Was she trying to tell me to do the same?
Marigold had leaned in closely, and grabbed the collar of my shirt. Her breath smelled like whiskey, but it always did.
“You keep that baby,” she said resolutely. “You hear? You keep him…or her… That baby in there is my grandbaby. Bill might be a douche but he’s a good boy. You may not like him but he’s given you a gift, and you and him both gonna have to live with his wild oats. I support ya if no one else. I do. I do. I do. Cuz I had what was left of Windle in me and I killed it. Like a fool. I killed it. I killed a chance at the good life. A chance to start over. You keep that baby. Don’tcha get rid of it, you hear?”
She had sounded so sincere and then she started batting at imaginary flies in the garage. As she had walked away, she was humming Taylor Simwift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.
The crazy bird!
I stared into the candle flickering on the bistro table as I returned from my thoughts to reality. Marigold had a lover. She had a love child. And if I was understanding her, she seriously regretted her abortion. Bill didn’t want the baby. I wasn’t sure I was ready to be a mother, but there was life in me. I could feel it. Soon I’d be showing and Bill would have to make a decision. He had left for New Simoleans and hadn’t been back since our argument that first night. He had sent me some roses and a check for the same amount Max did. Did all Racket men know how much it cost to “take care of it?”
I focused on the flame, watching the fire dance back and forth in the gentle breeze.
It was decision time.
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