The sun filters in through the blinds and wakes me up. After I stood in my underwear and cried in Michelangelo’s arms for what seemed like hours, he carried me back upstairs and tucked me into bed. This was after I explained why I avoid the lower levels of my apartment like the plague. They feel like cold and empty shells, haunted by ghosts. I hate ghosts.
Although my blankets are warm and comforting, I still have an agenda for the day, which includes painting, cleaning half of my “studio” for Michelangelo to sleep in, painting, and adjusting to the idea that there’s an extremely good chance that I’m pregnant with my best friend’s sister’s child. Not strange at all. Keep telling yourself that, Brynne.
I slip out of bed and walk to my bathroom. A hot shower is in order. And then maybe a long bubble bath. And then maybe another shower. On my way to the bathroom, I see Michelangelo through the crack in my doorway, asleep on the couch in the living room. The sunlight is streaming through the green curtains and dancing across his face. I silently push my bedroom door open and walk closer toward him. I’d heard him pacing for a good hour or so after he tucked me in. Instead of lying out on the couch, he’d fallen asleep sitting up, with his head leaning back on the top of the couch. When he’s asleep, that is one of the few times that he ever seems truly peaceful. Even when we were younger, and would play outside, or even play vintage games on his grandfather’s old Wii system, Michelangelo would always be on alert, constantly checking for threats. That’s why he’s such a phenomenal soldier. But this peaceful and relaxed Michelangelo, this is the Michelangelo that I became friends with forever ago.
I turn to go back into my room, when the black velvet ring box on the coffee table catches my eye. With Michelangelo snoring in the background, I grab the box and slowly open it. Even though the engagement is fake, the ring is still the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a very simple single silver band, with one large, princess-cut diamond mounted in the center. On either side of the diamond, two tiny aquamarine stones are nestled into the silver band. Hesitantly, and almost reverently, I remove the ring from its velvet nest and set the box back down. After contemplating the ring for a few more moments, and reminding myself that the only thing this ring means is that none of us are executed for me being an illegal surrogate mother, I sigh and set in back down in the box.
“You know that you’re supposed to wear engagement rings, right?”
I jump in surprise. “I didn’t think you were awake yet.”
I hear him stretch against the leather couch and lean closer to the table. “I’ve been awake long enough to see that your face looks like a kaleidoscope when you look at that ring.” He leans across the table and grabs the ring, leaving the box on the old wooden table.
I turn around and watch him turn the ring over between his fingers. “You snore,” I tell him, trying to change the subject.
Michelangelo shrugs. “I know. A lot of people do. It’s a fairly common thing. So is wearing engagement rings to show you’re engaged.”
I look down at the plush rug beneath my feet and develop a sudden interest in the swirling ombre colors.
“Brynne. You know this doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a piece of jewelry to help keep us and Ashely and Abel from getting killed. I’m wearing mine.” He offers his left hand for examination, and I look back up. Sure enough, there’s a thick silver band on his left ring finger, with matching aquamarine stones across the band.
“You didn’t properly ask me to wear it, yet,” I say, then mentally slap myself. Why on earth did I just tell my best friend that he has to propose to me?
He smiles and rolls his eyes, then slips down to one knee in front of me. “Brynne Ross Matthews, will you please do me the honor of wearing this ring so that we can continue our fake engagement to carry my sister’s child and no one gets executed for treason?”
The strangeness and illegality of our situation hits me, and I start laughing hysterically. After I’ve had a second to calm down, I hold out my left hand.