A/N: I had to punch my game in the face again because it started up its old habit of crashing every few minutes, but I think I’ve fixed it for good this time because it’s running beautifully now. Wahoo! So with further ado, here’s chapter 4.5. If you can, let me know what you think so far, but most of all, just enjoy!
Calm, soothing breaths. Calm, soothing breaths.
I closed my eyes for a moment before reopening them and adding another careful stroke to my painting. Just relax. Just relax and figure this out.
Jumping about five feet into the air, I let out a shout before turning around and seeing my little sister looking at me curiously.
“Uh, are you okay?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at me.
“Peachy,” I responded breathlessly, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath before refocusing my attention on my painting. Just relax….
“You don’t look okay,” Amelia stated matter-of-factly.
“Well I am, see?” I responded with a smile, but I could see the doubt on her face without even turning around.
It was pretty obvious, after all—I wasn’t okay. Not even a little. It’d been a week since I found out that Maddie, my girlfriend, was pregnant, and I’d still been too terrified to tell my parents. I kept looking for opportune moments, but whenever a good moment came, I’d freeze up, having a minor panic attack and needing to excuse myself before I completely lost it.
How could I tell them that their “little boy” had royally fucked up and knocked up his girlfriend at age 16?
My stomach turned, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if my face had taken on a slight shade of green.
“Will you play with me? I’m bored out of my mind,” Amelia said, clearly having no intention of leaving me alone, despite my less than warm responses.
“I’m not really in the mood,” I answered carefully as I added another brush stroke to my painting.
“You only ever wanted to play with Kira! Never with me! You don’t like me!” Amelia suddenly cried, her eyes filling up quickly with tears.
“What?” I asked, finally turning around. “Of course I like you! Why would you think that?” I put down the paints and sighed. “Come here,” I mumbled, and then pulled Amelia into a hug.
“You never want to play with me,” she whined into my shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” I said quietly. “Look, what would you like to do?” I asked, pulling away from my little sister and giving her what I hoped was a friendly smile.
Amelia looked up at me for a moment, sniffling, but then broke out into a huge grin and yelled, “PLAYGROUND!”
Before I could respond, Amelia raced out the door, giggling madly. I followed her reluctantly, already seeing her race up the tree house.
“I don’t think I can fit up there, Amelia!” I called, looking up at her. I heard no response though.
“Gotcha!” Amelia suddenly shouted, a pail of cold water splashing down onto my head and soaking me through.
“AMELIA!” I cried angrily, but the only response I got from her was a cascade of laughter.
Unable to help it, I found myself bursting out into laughter. Boy had she gotten me good. I hadn’t even suspected her motives!
It was at that moment, while hearing Amelia giggle and my shouts of laughter that I realized—this was my family for goodness’ sake. Why was I so afraid of talking to them? My worries seemed so silly now.
All I had to do was just sit them down, tell them, and they’d lovingly accept me, and help me, and…..
“WHAT?!” my dad shouted so loudly that I jumped in place, my senses kicked into overdrive as panic coursed through my body like hot ice.
So much for loving acceptance.
I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out as my eyes burned and my dad started screaming at me in Chinese. I held up my hands, bracing myself to be beaten by this man for the first time in my life, but he just continued to yell, sounding more furious that I had ever heard him before. I was expecting this kind of reaction from my mom maybe, who was a lot more outgoing and assertive than Dad, but she was strangely quiet, looking more pale and sad than anything else.
“I’m sorry!” I cried out, not knowing what else to say. After all, there was nothing I could say that would make this moment any better.
“Sorry?!” my dad roared, anger wrought in every line of his face. “Sorry? You’re sorry for shaming this family? For messing up your life? For FAILING as a son!? You’re SORRY!?” he spat out, and then renewed his shouting in Chinese.
His words cut into me, more than I realized even at first until I felt the hot tears on my cheeks. I really had failed my family.
I heard my Mom’s voice then, softly, but I couldn’t quite make out what she saying. That’s when I realized, however, that she had said something in Chinese. I looked at her, startled. How had I not known that Mom knew some Chinese?
Whatever she said, it made Dad stop and take a breath, pressing his lips together and looking like it was taking him every effort to not hit me right then and there. I wiped my eyes, feeling too terrified to do or say anything else. Mom glanced my way and all I could do was stand there, staring and trembling.
“Oh, James,” she whispered sadly, slowly shaking her head—and somehow, that reaction hurt even more than the screaming. I could feel fresh, hot tears in my eyes, but I forced myself to stand tall and not run away from this, no matter how much I wanted to. Sooner or later they would have found out anyway.
“Are you at least planning to marry her?” my dad finally cut in, letting go of his head and shooting a sharp look in my direction.
“Wh-what?” I stammered, my heart hammering as I took a step back. “I-I don’t know, I-”
“I will not have my son disgrace this family,” Dad said through gritted teeth, his fists clenched at his sides. “You will marry her and make this right.”
“I don’t- I mean- I don’t know if she’d agree. I-I-….we’re so young, I-”
“If you are old enough to have a child of your own, then you are old enough to marry, James. It was your decision to start this so young—now you are going to have to live with it!” Dad snapped.
I wanted to argue his point, but again could think of nothing to say. I felt so stupid, so low just standing here like a moron, but I also felt too paralyzed to do anything else. Maybe I shouldn’t have told them. Maybe I should have just run far, far away. I took another step back, wanting nothing more than to escape this moment—to escape everything.
Mom mumbled something else to Dad and he gave her an angry look, opening his mouth to retort, but then he closed it, pressing his lips together again angrily. He may have been okay with yelling at me in that moment, but he would never yell at Mom. Mom looked at me, and then back to Dad once more, who suddenly made a sound of frustration and stormed off.
“How…how far along is she?” Mom finally asked quietly, wincing as she heard Dad yell something in Chinese (probably an obscenity) and slam one of the doors upstairs. I paled, feeling sick to my stomach before trying to focus my attention on my mom instead.
“Th-three months,” I mumbled.
She took in a sharp intake of breath, then closed her eyes and let it out slowly. She looked like she wanted to tear off my head like Dad, but was trying hard to exercise restraint. It didn’t make this any better.
“Okay, James. Okay,” she finally said. My mom turned to go, but then stopped for a moment to look at me. “Thank you for telling us,” she added quietly, and then walked off after Dad.
This left me standing there, alone and feeling worse than ever. Even the fact that it could have been worse did nothing to soothe me.
As moody and disagreeable as I could often be with my family, I loved them more than anything and would do anything to make them happy, and now I was nothing but a major disappointment and that was the worst feeling of all.
Or at least I thought it was the worst feeling possible, until Maddie showed up at our house late one night sobbing.
“What happened?” I asked in a hushed tone, glancing back over my shoulder to make sure my parents hadn’t seen that I’d just walked outside even though I was “grounded for life”.
“I-I-I t-t-t-told my dad and he kicked me out,” she wailed, and then became nearly incoherent as she starting sobbing about homelessness and being just like her cheating mother who walked out on them when she became pregnant with another man’s baby and so on until my parents finally came to the door to see what was wrong.
“She has no place to go.”
Those were the words that finally convinced my parents to let Maddie stay. Or maybe it was just because they figured at this point I couldn’t really screw up any worse anyway.
Either way, Maddie stayed that night…and then continued to stay with our family after her father proved impossible to deal with. Mom said he’d probably come around eventually, but “probably” and “eventually” were not encouraging words, and Maddie knew it.
As such, since that day Maddie changed. She stayed in my room with me, refusing to sleep anywhere else. Even though she’d been given Kira’s old room, she’d always sneak down to mine anyway until my parents gave up, but despite wanting to be near me, she hardly ever said a word. In fact, Maddie said little to nothing to anyone at all.
She had also developed a strange habit of “checking” the appliances before she went to bed. It was a ritual she had to undertake every night, unable to sleep until the ritual was completed. I tried asking her about it, but she just mumbled something about “weak pipes” and “gas leaks,” even though my Mom had, uneasy about Maddie’s mutterings, checked everything herself and discovered nothing.
It was more like a shell of Maddie had moved in instead of the vibrant, bold Maddie she was before. I had no idea where that Maddie was. I only knew that this was what I had now, and I had no idea how to fix it.
No amount of coaxing or bribing could bring Maddie back it seemed. Even when we threw Amelia’s birthday party and invited all our friends and family to celebrate, Maddie slipped away, hiding out upstairs while everyone else celebrated.
Nearly everyone else did attend Amelia’s party though. Even our step-siblings, who spent most of their time in China, had been in town and made it for the celebration, which was pretty awesome.
Our Aunt Catherine and her husband came as well, a fact that my mom had been thrilled about, as the two hadn’t seen each other for quite some time.
It still took me aback that they were twins, but then again, they were really close, especially after Mom nearly lost Catherine to cancer. My Aunt Catherine told me once that Mom was the one who saved her, and had paid the ultimate sacrifice to do so, but I had never heard Mom say anything about that.
“DAY-UM! If I were straight!”
“Shut your pie hole, Mitch! That’s my sister! Jeez.”
Yeah…so even Mitch and Chris finally tore themselves away from each other and ventured a visit as well. I almost hadn’t recognized Mitch without all his facial hair, but Chris looked as
comatose chilled as ever.
“Oh come on, you can’t tell me she isn’t adorable.”
“I’m going to ignore those comments just because I haven’t seen you in ages. How are you, anyway?” I asked.
“Doing great, Jamesy. But hey, I mean, I’m thrilled to see you, but where’s our shining mother to be?” Mitch asked, glancing around the party as if he might have missed her.
“Upstairs. She er…isn’t feeling well,” I said.
“Is she okay?”
“Yeah. It’s nothing. She’s just tired,” I lied.
Mitch raised an eyebrow at me, clearly onto my lie, but thankfully, he took the hint and didn’t say anything else. “Well how about you, James? How are you?”
“I dunno,” I mumbled, glancing down at my shoes. “A little scared, I guess.”
“A little scared? Damn I’d be shitting myself on a regular basis!”
“Well thank god Chris doesn’t have a uterus then, Mitch. Jesus.”
Mitch cracked up laughing then and despite my worries, I couldn’t help but laugh too. Man. I hadn’t been with my friends in far too long.
“Hey, where’s Candice?”
This time it was Mitch who looked awkward, opening his mouth and then closing it again as he clearly thought twice before saying his answer.
“She had some stuff to do,” he finally said.
My heart gave a funny jolt at this obvious lie, but Mitch hadn’t pushed my lie, so I made sure not to push his much either.
“Is she okay?” I settled on saying, hoping it wasn’t pushing.
Mitch looked away and scratched his head. “Yeah.”
“Goddamn it, Mitch, could you just tell it to me straight?” I found myself snapping, even though I’d promised myself not to push it. I just couldn’t help it. There was obviously something going on that I wasn’t aware of.
“It’s nothing, dude,” Mitch said calmly, looking much more composed now. “She’s just–,” his composure broke for a moment and he looked me in the eye for a long moment before he finally sighed. “Look, she’s just…kind of upset about the pregnancy, you know?”
“She’s upset?” I asked incredulously. “Why in the hell should SHE be upset?”
“That I really don’t know, and I’m being straight with you now. I think she thinks it was irresponsible or something, I dunno.”
“Candice talk about irresponsibility?”
“I told you, I don’t know. If I did, I’d tell you. Bros before hoes, right?” he asked with a cheesy grin.
“You’re an idiot,” I responded with a roll of my eyes.
“I love you too, man.”
“Are you ever coming back in?” I suddenly heard from behind me. I turned around to see Maddie standing there, looking none too happy.
It was probably the longest sentence she’d said to me in a while, so at first I just stared at her with my mouth open. Her angry look slowly melted away, and she looked around, as if suddenly afraid how many more people might still be out here.
“Hi Maddie,” Mitch said with a huge grin.
She stared at him for another long moment, and then said a quiet, “hey” before heading back inside.
After a quick goodbye to Mitch, I followed her, only to find her standing in my bedroom, looking lost somehow.
I sighed, suddenly feeling bad about leaving her inside all alone. Even though she never said much to me, only thing was certain—she preferred to be in my company rather than not, and I’d been “gone” the whole day.
“Come here,” I said quietly, taking her hands.
She gave me a shy look, maybe even nervous, but she allowed me to take her hands. Her fingers felt cold on my skin.
“Why didn’t you join us?” I asked. I watched as Maddie held onto my hands, but she didn’t say anything for an uncomfortably long time.
“I-…I feel like I’m failing you,” I suddenly found myself saying, my throat getting a little tight. I cleared my throat, wanting to say more, but no words came out. I hadn’t even known where those words came from, honestly. They just spilled out, the naked truth out in the open, and now I was left hanging onto Maddie’s hands and waiting for who knows what.
“You’re not failing me,” Maddie murmured, reaching up to pull me toward her in a gentle hug.
My heart beat faster, and for a moment I was afraid to hug her back, for fear she’d feel like it was too much and pull away, but she continued to hold onto me, so I wrapped her closely in my arms. She smelled like bubble bath soap.
“I love you, Maddie,” I murmured.
“Do you really?” Maddie asked, pulling back some and giving me a look of surprise.
I couldn’t help it—I laughed a little. “Of course I do. We used to say it all the time, remember? I meant it then and I mean it now too.”
“You’re so nice,” Maddie said with a soft smile.
“Er, not really,” I admitted with another small laugh. “I mean I’m frequently called an asshole, and though I know it’s usually said in jest when I hear it, it’s said so much that I’m beginning to suspect there might be something to it, you know?”
“I just need to hope that our baby doesn’t have that particular trait of mine, right?” I asked with a smile, placing a hand on Maddie’s ever growing belly. I felt a sudden kick against my hand and my heart beat quickened. It was the first time that I’d ever felt the baby move and that little action made it all that much more real to me.
I looked up to meet Maddie’s eyes with a smile, but was startled to see that they were filled with tears.
“Maddie?” I asked, but instead of answering, she brushed away my hands, and hurried out the door.
I was too confused to follow her, and even more confused when, at 3 AM, I woke up momentarily…only to find that for the first time since she’d moved in, Maddie was not in my bed.
I rolled over, pulled the covers up to my chin, and let the darkness enclose me.
I was painting when I heard it—a shrill cry of pain unlike any I’d ever heard before. Before I could even register what it was, I heard my name shouted, and then the words that would officially change my life forever.
“The baby is coming!”
Maddie’s labor was awful. Long and painful, it felt like it would never end. Through every contraction, every scream, there was also likely to be crash of thunder or a flash of lightning, and throughout it all was the ever persistent sound of rain pouring down from the skies and splattering onto the landscape below.
It was a nightmare, but storms don’t last forever, and neither, of course, did this one.
So it was with a last scream and a push, and the final relenting of the rain outside, that our new baby girl was born to a couple of teenagers that had no idea what they were doing.
“You name her. I don’t want to.”
“Are you sure?”
“Just leave me alone, James.”
Welcome home, Joanne “Jo” Winters.
“Even though you’ve got a couple of fuck ups for parents, I’m going to make sure you’ll still get to write an amazing story of your own with a perfect, happy ending… just like the person you were named after.”