Back at home, I lay on the couch in a position oddly reminiscent of the night that I told Michelangelo about Dean. But there’s no fire this time. Instead, I’m just staring into an empty fireplace, absentmindedly twirling my ring around my finger, pressing the sides of my fingers into the edges of the gemstone. As a girl, I used to imagine what this would be like, engaged and pregnant with my first child. For some reason, in all of those fantasies, I would always be madly in love with the person I was engaged to, and I would get to keep the baby after nine months. Oh, yeah, and it wouldn’t be illegal for me to be pregnant. I sigh loudly and lean my head against the back of the couch.
“You’re thinking too loudly,” Michelangelo calls from the kitchen. “I’m telling Ashely and Abel the good news.”
“Hooray,” I say, unable to even force the proper enthusiasm. What is the proper level of enthusiasm for this? I start thinking about baby showers and groan. How on earth am I ever going to survive this?
“Ashely is going to come over after she gets done at work,” Michelangelo says, peering around the doorway. “She wants to know if you need her to pick anything up for you.”
I open one eye and look at him. “Cheesecake,” I blurt out quickly. “And those really good shrimp spring rolls from that Chinese restaurant by the library next to the university lab.”
He rolls his eyes and relays my strange food cravings to his sister, then hangs up his iPhone 6s. According to my great-grandmother, technology was supposed to have come a lot farther than is has in the past hundred years. In 2011 there were supposed to be hover-cars. But it’s 2171, and the closest thing we have to a hover-car is a fan boat for swamps. If anything, technology and education seem to have fallen backward, like during the Middle Ages in ancient history. Apparently, the governments back then thought it was better to rule a bunch of ignorant, mindless sheep than intelligent human beings. Didn’t that cause revolts? But hey, who am I to question to government? Who is the government to question history?
“Earth to Brynne,” Michelangelo calls, waving his hand in front of my face. “I was asking you if you wanted to go take a shower and change.”
I look down at my sweats and tank top, then think to my thick red-brown hair piled on top of my head. “Nah, I’m pregnant, not a model. If she wanted a surrogate mother that looks pretty all the time, she can go ask Gwen Oceana,” I tell him, referring to a famous actress known for her drop-dead good looks.
“I heard she wore heels during her entire pregnancy,” he replies.
I raise an eyebrow. “I hardly wear heels as is. What makes you think I’m going to wear them while I’m pregnant? Are you stupid or something?”
He smiles. “I’m going to have to go back to work tomorrow, but I won’t have as many shifts because you’re pregnant. They’ll want me home with you as much as possible to help take care of you.”
I nod. “That’s fine. Not that you need my approval or anything.”
“Someone’s acting hormonal.” He sticks out his tongue and starts picking up his clothes off the floor.
“I’m paid to be organized on base, at work, and at drill. Not at home.”
“Well in case you hadn’t noticed, this is my house, not yours. And I don’t like having your underwear on top of my living room lamps,” I retort.
He walks to a lamp and removes the underwear in question. “It wouldn’t be playing lampshade if you hadn’t thrown a temper-tantrum yesterday and thrown my stuff all over the house.”
I hide my head in the blanket. “I wouldn’t have thrown a temper-tantrum if you hadn’t made me mad!”
He stops walking and looks at me. “Brynne, you got mad at me because I paired your socks together with matches, and threw out the single ones. You don’t need one sock, you have more than one foot.”
“My socks are sacred!” I inform him, slightly exasperated. “There is a method to every form of madness that is in this house. Just because you’re my fake fiancée doesn’t mean you can waltz in here and mess everything up!”
“You’re acting like a child.”
“I’m entitled to!” I yell at him. “Have you ever thought that maybe this whole situation is just a little stressful on me?”
“Oh, and it’s not stressful on me?” he asks, dirty clothes now at an abandoned pile at his feet.
“I never said it wasn’t,” I reply, “but you have less to deal with than I do! You’re just dealing with me, like you’ve always done. I’m the one that has to change everything. I can’t lift my arms above my head, because the umbilical cord could strangle the baby. I can’t drink because that could cause birth defects. I can’t even eat a freaking Caesar salad, because anchovies have high levels of mercury, and that can harm the baby!”
“What do you mean, ‘like I’ve always done?’ You’ve never needed me to take care of you. Even when your parents died, you were so strong. I never even saw you cry. It’s unnatural, Brynne. When your great-grandmother died, and you were put into foster care, you didn’t act like anything had changed. The only time you’ve ever fully opened up to me was that night when you told me about Dean. That is the only time since we’ve met that I’ve ever seen you be vulnerable with anyone,” he says, now standing a few inches away from me. “You don’t need to keep everything all bottled up. That’s not healthy.”
I look up and blink away tears. “I’ve always had to stay strong for everyone else,” I tell him after a few moments of tense silence. “Nana had Alzheimer’s, and she barely remembered me. I didn’t have anyone else to turn to. If I’d have told anyone what was really going on, then they would’ve put me into foster care when I was twelve.” My voice is soft, defeated. Something he’s never heard before.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me this?” he asks gently, crouching in front of me so that we’re on the same level.
“Because I was scared. I was just a kid, I didn’t know who else to turn to.” I sniff and blink again. “I thought I was on my own. Nana couldn’t take care of herself, much less me. Since I was twelve, I’ve been budgeting, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, and doing everything else it takes to keep this house going.”
Michelangelo wipes away a stray tear with the pad of his thumb. His hands are rough and callused against my smooth skin. “I’m sorry. I never knew. This is just another time when I should’ve been there for you and I wasn’t. I’m a sorry excuse for a best friend.”
I crack a small smile. “Michelangelo, you were only twelve, too. What could you have done?”
He shakes his head. “I don’t know, but I would’ve thought of something.” He leans down and brushes his lips across my forehead. “Now lay down and get some rest, I’ll wake you up when Ashely gets here.”