"But... But... You're pregnant!"
"You can't go on rollercoasters when you're pregnant."
I said it in the calmest and most convincing way I could, but even I could hear the tendency to panic in my suddenly very high-pitched voice.
"We don't have to take the biggest one. I'm sure it'll be safe," Martina said, obviously not planning on showing me some mercy.
Running away, screaming like a girl, will not look good on your macho resume, Aaron. Stay calm. You've got this. Yeah... No.
An eager Martina quickly found her desired way to end my living days, and pulled me after her to get in line. It didn't matter that I tried making up one excuse lousier than the other. Apparently she didn't understand my sudden urge to buy another ice-cream, even though she should feel guilty for eating mine. Nor did she buy my self-proclaimed allergy to the smell of a certain kind of popcorn from a pretend stand behind some bushes near where we were standing. When Martina asked me where those bushes were, I pointed in all directions at once. Maybe I should have remembered that she saw me eating popcorn on several occasions during movie nights at home. Dammit.
"Would you calm down?" she exclaimed exasperatedly.
"Nothing's gonna happen."
"But you don't know that! There might be... Oh! She can get nauseous! Babies can get nauseous, right? And then she's gonna puke... Like... Inside you? Ew. I prefer not to think about that, but anyway. It's not healthy. Period."
Martina just giggled, and it annoyed the crap out of me. So I poked the closest person's shoulder, to get some support.
"Hey, man. Isn't it true that all kinds of horrible things can happen if you're going on a rollercoaster while pregnant?"
"Yeah," he said, seemingly picking up on my desperation and decided to play along. Or, so I thought.
"You get three-headed, green alien babies that eat you after you give birth to them. What's the matter with you? Men can't get pregnant, dumbass!"
Oh, for fuck's sake!
"Not me! My girlfriend! She..."
But the man left, and Martina kept giggling her ass off.
Then my eyes spotted a sign that actually advised pregnant women to show caution, and pointed at it like if my life depended on it.
"See? Pregnant women - not allowed."
"That's not quite..." she started, but I cut her off with a rant of nonsense.
"You know... I almost think that you're scared," she said eventually, and gave me a squint that stated the obvious. But I just scoffed.
"Are you scared of rollercoasters, Aaron?"
"Me? Pfft! Of course not! I just don't want to risk anything."
"For me or for you?"
"For our baby."
I sniffed matter of factly, and watched her melt a little. Then the devil was back in her eyes.
"I don't have to go with you, then. I'll just watch."
"Uhm... Yeah, you do?! I-I mean, no! I don't need mental support, if that's what you mean. I just... There's no point in me going, if I can't do it with you. And you can't, obviously. So..."
She tried to keep herself from cracking up completely, and gave me a hug.
"Do you want to go on the children's ride instead?"
She patted my back and I felt somewhat comforted.
So that's what we did. And believe it or not, it was actually fun. Nauseating and dizzying, but according to Martina, a warm up to when we'd go together with our little offspring.
Which is gonna be fucking awesome!
"What do you want to do next?"
Martina and I were sitting on a bench in front of the Statue of Liberty, eating our hotdogs. We'd already spent several hours on Coney Island. But even though there was a lot both to see and do, we were mostly consumed by each other. We joked and laughed, but talked about more serious topics also, such as her moving to San Francisco and Rocco facing the hardest time of his life. I didn't mention her part in it, though. That could wait.
"It's up to you. You're the pregnant one, and you really shouldn't walk around in the city all day, just to make me happy. I already am."
"Don't be silly. I enjoy this just as much as you do. Now tell me; botanical garden or museum?"
"Hm. Can I choose neither?"
"Oh, thank God!" she breathed, and giggled.
"I mean, it's probably great if you're really interested in that kind of stuff or in a certain topic, but I think..."
"...it's boring as fuck," I finished, and she giggled even more.
"Yeah...that. Although, I wouldn't use such harsh words."
I swallowed the last piece of my hotdog and gulped down some of my soda.
"How about going to the Strand bookstore, then Rockefeller center, before we finish the day with dinner at this Mexican restaurant I discovered last year. I swear, their food is to die for."
"A bookstore?" I asked, curious.
"Do they have books about Kama Sutra?" I smirked.
"Because then we can go to the park and practice afterwards."
Martina choked on her hotdog, and I patted her back while I chuckled.
"Not the park! Are you crazy?" she croaked out.
"People have called me worse."
"No, Aaron. That's..."
She couldn't find the words, so she simply shook her head.
"Awe. Why not?" I pouted.
"If we put a top hat on the ground, we might even get paid."
She rested her head in her hand and hid her blushing face, and her body language told me exactly what she meant about that matter.
Better luck some other time, Aaron. And try to find alternatives that won't get you arrested.
"But you still love me," I beamed towards her, innocent as hell. Although, I guess 'innocent' could be debated widely.
"Lucky for you, I do."
"Good, because I adore you. No, I worship you and I want to lick the ground you walk on, and..."
"I think I'm gonna ask for a rain-check on that," she cut in, and she had that dark glow in her eyes that she knew would drive me crazy if she continued. She didn't, though.
"To lick other parts of you?" I grinned, returning that same gaze.
"Yes. But shh!"
"Oh, I like that. Talk dirty to me."
I leaned closer and squeezed her thigh, and hoped we could wind each other up to the point that we ended up back at the hotel before planned. Or simply found some kinky place to vent our desires. But...
"Bambi!" I whined.
"Oh, I know! Diaper. A really dirty baby diaper that you'll have to change."
I huffed and dragged my feet as I followed her in the direction of the bus stop.
"Not fair," I complained.
"Yes, it is."
"No, it isn't."
"Yes, it is. But don't worry. You'll be a pro in no time."
"Way to comfort a man."
"Better get used to it once and for all, you big baby."
Our eyes met and we smiled, and both of us knew that it would be a new era for us. A really, really great one.
Aaron was visiting Rocco again to make sure he was okay. Or, as close to it as it was possible to get after having your life shattered around you. I was relieved that he didn't disown him as his son in addition to everything else. That would have broken Rocco completely. Instead they seemed closer than ever.
I pulled my phone out of my purse when I realized that I hadn't checked it all day. Time sure flies when you're having fun. My cheeks literally hurt after smiling and laughing so much. Especially when Aaron managed to steal a Sombrero and talked with a Spanish accent. That was hilarious in more ways than one.
Firstly because he didn't manage very well, and second, because the guy he stole it from started arguing with the man who owned the place. He accused them of taking it, because there was a similar one on one of the decorations they had at the entrance. In the meantime, Aaron was hiding in the most ridiculous places, such as under the table and in the ladies room. Just the fact that he thought he would manage to get away with a giant hat like that, was reason enough to die with laughter. And a man going into the ladies room?
Not surprisingly, we were kicked out. Of course we were. I wasn't even mad, even though it probably meant that we'd only be allowed to order takeaway from them in the future. We'd be living in San Francisco anyway.
"Twenty nine?" I exclaimed, when I saw the many missed calls from my mom. The battery was almost dead, so while I searched for my charger, my mind went raging about possible scenarios as to why she had called so many times. Did something happen to them? Maybe my dad got a stroke, and ended up at the hospital? Oh, my gosh! Maybe he's dead? Or maybe their house burned down?
"Mom? Are you alright?" I blurted out the second she picked up, but I quickly learned that my doomsday predictions were totally unnecessary.
"Martina! Sweetie. I'm so sorry about how we reacted. We've been trying to reach you all day. Rocco didn't know where you were, and neither did your boss. Or... Ex-boss."
Her voice got a melancholic sound to it, and I pictured the sad frown on her forehead. I hated it.
"I took Aaron sightseeing. We just got back to the hotel."
I heard her sigh.
"I wish you didn't feel like you had to stay at a hotel."
"But you know why I..."
But she stopped me.
"Yes, but hear me out. It was a lot to swallow in one go..."
"Yeah, I know. It has been that for all of us."
She didn't hear me. Her motherly lecture tone was there, and I knew I'd better listen and not talk. Only, she wasn't lecturing me like she normally did when she spoke that way. She was apologizing.
"...and it was quite a shock. I feel so bad that you felt like you had to hide everything, especially your pregnancy. Oh, sweetie. Why didn't you say anything? I would have been there for you. We both would. Your dad is so happy to become a grandfather, that he cried for a whole hour after you left. Not only because you're pregnant, of course, but because he feels terrible for punching your... Well, boyfriend."
She paused only to breathe enough to continue.
"I can't believe how you've managed to hide it from us all this time. But it makes so much sense now. You've been so tired and pale, and you've barely eaten... I guess because of morning sickness?"
"And all this time we thought it was because of the divorce. The baggy clothes should have given us a hint, though. Well, not your father perhaps, but at least me. Did you know I hid it from my parents as well?"
"Yeah," she giggled.
"I didn't dare to tell them that we had sex before marriage, so I was already three months pregnant when we got married. Which was done in a hurry. Kind of like when you married Rocco. We honestly thought that was the reason for you as well."
There was a moment of silence, and I could hear that she wanted to say something. And I was right.
"Martina? I have to ask you something, and please don't get mad again."
Another pause, and I braced myself for the worst.
"Did you say his last name was Cooper?"
There it was. The link I hoped they'd never find.
"Is he related to Rocco?"
I smiled to myself. I might as well be honest. Partially, at least.
"No, he's not. But they're really close friends and just happen to share the surname."
That was as close to the truth as I dared to go.
"Oh, thank heavens!" she exclaimed in relief, and I almost giggled.
"I thought maybe... But that would have been... Gosh, I don't even want to think about it. But anyway. I want us to start over. Right from scratch. And I promise there will be no fistfights or yelling this time."
She chuckled in embarrassment.
"We wanna invite you both to dinner tomorrow, and we'll all get to know each other properly. But... How old did you say he was again?"
"Forty-two. Forty-three in August."
"So eighteen years, then?" she asked thoughtfully, meaning the age gap.
"Okay. I just have to get used to it, that's all. It's not quite..."
"I know, mom. You don't have to say anything more. Just be nice to him. That's all I'm asking. He's an amazing man in so many ways, and you'll see once you get to know him."
She was silent for a moment, and somehow I knew that she was smiling.
"He better be, when he's taking my daughter to the opposite side of the country."
"Yeah..." I mumbled, and felt a bit sad again.
"We'll get used to that, sweetie. It's just a flight away, right? And I guess your father and I finally have to learn that facing time thing."
"FaceTime, mom. And yes, I'll teach you."
"I love you, Marty. Don't ever doubt that."
"I know. I love you too, and I'm sorry..."
"Don't apologize. I understand... I think. Just be here tomorrow at 6 pm. Or earlier if you can. Okay?"
"Great. See you then."