Six months progressed rather quickly. I decided to keep my child. Marigold was right. Bill had given me a gift… even if he remained a douche. He stayed in New Simoleans for most of my pregnancy. He came home at Christmas for a few days and brought me a gift of baby booties – in pearl white. I took this as a sign that we had hope of reconnecting and salvaging our relationship. But he left right after new year’s and I didn’t hear from him again until Simarch.
Silver wasn’t thrilled with the idea of another Racket in the household. As often as she could, she’d complain about me, whine about me, go out of her way to do things for spite like slamming a door in my face or stealing my towels when I took a shower. I tried my hardest not to retaliate.
I was busy with Dorthemeir’s latest campaign. The election wasn’t until fall but we were busy in the spring. I had talked to him about running myself someday and he had given me several books and websites to read in addition to normal workload. He was surprisingly supportive. He recommended running as a local politician before state, just to get some experience. I told him I would consider running in a few years after the baby. I lapped up all the literature hungrily, excited to get ahead in politics. I was determined not to let the baby crowd my ambitions.
Max tolerated me. I was grateful. I had seen what he could do and I didn’t want to cross him. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I called my parents in Simcago and they weren’t happy. Mom had lectured me on giving up on my dreams and about hooking up with a crime family. Dad didn’t say much, but he did manage to mumble a “Ihopeitgoeswell” before hanging up. He sent a check a week later. I think that was his way of accepting it.
Marigold was as… odd as ever. One minute she was happy for me and singing and dancing and humming around the house about a new grandbaby. She even helped me fix up a baby room in the living area of Bill’s suite. But the next minute she was chewing her hair and crying incoherently in the corner, mourning her lost life. Usually, the teens would roll their eyes or Silver would screech at her to shut up or Max would come over and smack her… if he was home and he heard her. I was more terrified of him than ever and went out of my way to avoid him or make sure someone was around me when he was home.
I got a gym membership and went religiously after work. It gave me a reason to get out of the nuthouse, plus I wanted to be healthy for the baby. Working out in the home gym didn’t appeal to me, mostly because Max liked to workout at the same time. Sometimes he’d ask me about the baby. Sometimes he’d ask me about Bill, making sure the “bastard” was treating me right. I always said yes, even though Bill seemed like he couldn’t care less about me or his baby. Sometimes Max would talk about setting up a trust fund for the “little peanut.” I didn’t particularly want his money. I didn’t appreciate his awkward stares. The gym was a much safer option.
“I didn’t know you went here,” Dennis surprised me one day.
I let out a little yelp. He had startled me. Immediately, I felt embarrassed and hoped he couldn’t see the heat rising in my cheeks. I stood up quickly to face him, and felt overwhelmed with a wave of nausea.
“Easy,” Dennis caught my arm and steadied me. “You want to sit down? You shouldn’t push yourself too hard. It’s not good for you or the baby.”
“I’m all right,” I said coolly. “It passed.”
“Still, you need to be careful,” Dennis replied. “I remember when Silver was pregnant with Shark. She went on diet after diet and pushed herself to exhaustion trying to stay thin. She nearly lost the baby because of her foolish obsession with her figure. I’d hate to see you do the same.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. To be honest, I still felt dizzy. I decided to take Dennis up on his offer for sitting down. We moved out of the gym area and settled on a nearby couch. Dennis brought me a bottled water. I gulped down the sweet, cool liquid.
“I’m not trying to keep my girlish figure,” I protested. “I just want this baby to be healthy. I want to be healthy. This baby has to be healthy. I want everything to be okay. I don’t want…” I was embarrassed when my voice cracked and a tear slid down my cheek.
Dennis surprised me again by putting his arm around me. I didn’t resist. It wasn’t an awkward embrace. Just a friend supporting a friend.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he said, his voice softening more than usual. “It’s the stress and hormones.”
When I looked at him with wide eyes, he chuckled softly. “This isn’t my first rodeo. I remember Silver all three times.”
“Three times?” I questioned.
“She lost a baby after Lolly,” he looked away. “Then she had her tubes tied.”
“I’m sorry?” I said, awkwardly.
“Yeah,” he finally admitted after a few minutes of silence. “I would’ve liked to have been a dad again, but Silver…” he didn’t finish his thought.
He didn’t need to… we all knew what kind of marriage Dennis and Silver had. The entire household knew. Max suggested “divorcing the bitch” over the breakfast table one morning as if divorce was a light conversation topic over cereal and milk. I had caught Marigold patting her son’s cheek a few times and telling him she wanted him to be happy. Shark and Silver had screaming matches. There was no love lost there. Silver constantly complained about her son and how he robbed her of her youth and how she had fat thighs and hips because of him. Lolly ignored her mother… and her father… for the most part. She worked hard at school, represented student council, played tennis, and spent the weekend at friends’ houses. In a way, Lolly and I were both the same – both trying to keep busy to avoid the conflict at home. Silver bragged about her daughter, Lolly one minute and the next she seemed to resent her.
On a strange note, Shark had a newfound respect for me. Somehow he found out about how I had told his dad about the abusive boyfriend of his true love. Somehow he found out about what had transpired after, and he came down to the breakfast table with his normal wild bedhead, bare feet pattering across the floor, and he poured me a glass of orange juice, handed it to me wordlessly, and walked away. That was his weird way of accepting me. Now every morning, without fail, he brought me a glass of orange juice. Occasionally, he’d ask about his future cousin. Once he even rode his bike to the store in the pouring rain to get me some ginger ale and crackers for my nausea. He was a softie at heart. I was glad to have someone else in my corner in addition to Marigold… well, and Dennis.
He seemed happier… Shark, that is. Chase Bayless had broken up with Jeffery. She and Shark hung out at the house, mostly spending afternoons in the swimming pool and necking on the couch on occasion. Shark’s whole demeanor shifted. He started getting better grades at school, I heard Dennis say to Silver one night. Silver rolled her eyes and said she would see if it lasted. Even so, I knew Dennis was proud of his son. Whether it was his father’s pride or it was having a steady girlfriend, Shark’s self esteem soared. He tried out for basketball last fall and succeeded. He picked up some college applications and started talking about it excitedly at family meals. He finally passed his driver’s test two weeks ago. I drove him. Shark even came with me to the gym sometimes. He joined a yoga class with Chase.
Perhaps it was the family’s influence. Perhaps it was his newfound confidence. Regardless, Shark still acted a little crazy on occasion. In the middle of yoga one day, he raced out to chase down his old nemesis, Jeffery and corner him in the main gym.
Whatever he said or did scared the pee out of Jeffery… quite literally. Chase wasn’t all that impressed, but I knew Dennis was.
“He’s gonna be a man yet,” he boasted to me as we walked up the stairs, recalling the event.
I had to laugh a little. As I did, I felt my baby kick. She did that on occasion when I laughed as a way of sharing in my joy. I cupped my abdomen with my hands.
“Baby kickin’?” Dennis asked as he held open the outer door for me.
I nodded with a smile.
“May I?” he requested.
I let him lean close and listen for the baby’s heartbeat. Feeling his presence so close to my body made my own heart skip a beat. Whatever anyone said about Dennis, whatever his profession, he was a good guy. I only wished Bill had half the kind heart his brother did.
“You be good for your momma,” Dennis said to my stomach.
“She is,” I replied.
He stood up to his full height. “So it’s a girl?”
“Yeah I found out for sure last Wednesday,” I replied.
“Congratulations, Rae, you’re going to be a great mom. Bill’s gonna come around. He will.”
I smiled warmly. “Thank you. I hope so.”
“Well, know so,” he said, his eyes twinkling. “I’m glad you’re in my family.”
I felt my heart sink a little. I was glad I was in the family with Marigold and Shark and Dennis, but I wanted to be more than just a future sister-in-law to Dennis. I shook my head trying to knock such thoughts from my brain. Dennis walked me to my car and held the door open for me as I slid inside. I looked up at him expectantly as he lingered over the open door.
“Well…” he started.
“Rachel! There you are!” a familiar voice interjected.
Dennis smiled, and I could’ve sworn I saw a small twinge of sadness at the corners of his lips. “Goodnight, Rachel.”
With that, he walked away, passing the father of my baby on his way to his car.
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