I stared out the car window at the bright lights of the city, shimmering under the moonlit sky, with the dark mountains in the distance. It was four in the morning, but there were lots of cars on the Upper Levels Highway.
Where were all the people going? To work? Home after a late night at the bar?
I used to stay out until dawn. Last call was four am before the pandemic. I’d seen many sunrises while I heaved in the bushes, or made out in the back of a cab with the guy I picked up at the bar.
The only thing I cared about was having fun. I didn’t want any responsibilities. Hannah was Cleo’s primary caretaker. But I still bitched about babysitting while Hannah was at work, taking her clothes off for a living to keep a roof over our heads.
My days of bar hopping were over. At least for the foreseeable future. I was having a baby. My friends from the city called every weekend. They didn’t understand why I didn’t want to go out. I hadn’t told any of them about the baby yet.
“Are you feeling okay?” Paddy asked. “If you’re not, I have no problem turning this car around and taking you back. I can’t believe they didn’t admit you after your panic attack.”
“I’m fine,” I assured him, reaching for his hand in the dark.
He linked his fingers with mine, caressing my thumb until we took the exit for Horseshoe Bay.
“I can’t sleep on that couch,” Paddy declared, staring at my pink loveseat.
“You don’t have to stay,” I said. “I’m fine. Hannah and the girls will be in at six.”
“I’m not leaving you alone, Alexis.” He loosened his tie, pulling it over his head before he shed his suit jacket. “End of discussion.”
“Where are you planning to sleep?”
“In your bed.”
“That’s awfully presumptuous,” I teased.
“I’m sleeping in your bed,” he clarified. “That’s it.”
“Suit yourself,” I said, shrugging before I headed into the bathroom.
When I came out a few minutes later, Paddy was in my bed. “What the hell are you doing?” he snapped.
“I sleep naked. You know that.”
“You didn’t sleep naked in Alaska.”
“I did that as a courtesy to my virginal best friend. That ship has sailed now.” I crawled under the covers, making sure to brush my body against his.
“You need your rest, Alexis,” he warned.
“I need a good fucking, Paddy. My pregnancy hormones are making me horny.”
“Not gonna happen,” he grumbled.
“I guess I’ll have to get out my purple plunger,” I sighed, reaching for the drawer of my nightstand.
“Not while I’m in your bed, you’re not.”
“My house, my rules.”
“Then I guess I’ll head home. But I’ll call Hannah and tell her you’re alone.”
“You’re evil, Paddington Wallingford-Yargey.”
“Good night, Alexis.”
“Good night,” I huffed.
My nose twitched, my brain clawing its way out of a deep sleep to analyze the strange smell in my apartment.
Was that toast?
Did I have bread? I hadn’t been to the grocery store lately, so my fridge and cupboards were kind of empty.
I definitely didn’t have bacon.
And my sniffer could discern the difference between the peameal shit and real bacon.
Somebody was cooking breakfast in my kitchen. A certain man who liked to nag me about my eating habits. One who called real bacon fatty, salty cancer strips.
I grabbed my phone from the nightstand, surprised to see it was almost noon. Paddy actually let me sleep in. Maybe there were some perks to being pregnant after all. I grabbed my pink satin robe, not bothering to put anything on underneath.
Paddy was at the stove, his back to me as he stirred something that smelled an awful lot like oatmeal.
He turned around, his eyes roaming hungrily over my body. I’d make him forget all about the healthy shit he was gonna try and get me to eat.
I sauntered over to him, unbuttoning his wrinkled dress shirt. He responded with a low growl when I ran my hands over his chest, rubbing his nipples before I reached for his belt buckle.
“Nice try,” he chuckled, removing my hand before I could get a hold of the beast pressing against his zipper. “You need to eat.”
“I know,” I murmured, reaching between his legs. “I’ve got a hankering for a giant, cream-filled eclair.”
“If you’re a good girl, and you eat all of your breakfast, maybe I’ll go downstairs and get you one.”
I loosened the tie on my robe enough so my breasts spilled out. “The one I want is in your pants,” I whispered.
“We all want things we can’t have, Alexis,” he said sternly.
“Whatever,” I muttered, pulling my robe closed.
“Sit down. Your breakfast is almost ready.”
“Fine. But only because I’m starving.” I wrinkled my nose when he sat a small bowl of oatmeal on the table. “I don’t really like oatmeal, Paddy.”
“I put some brown sugar on it.”
I managed to choke it down without barfing. After I finished the oatmeal, he set a plate in front of me with an omelette and some slices of fruit on the side, and a tall glass of milk.
“What’s in this omelette?”
“Peameal bacon,” he replied, sitting across from me with his own breakfast and a steaming cup of coffee.
“Where’s my coffee?”
“It’s not good for the baby.”
“Don’t you have to go to work or something?” I mumbled, picking at my omelette. “What’s the green shit?”
I pushed the plate across the table, shaking my head. “Broccoli doesn’t belong in omelettes.”
“Just try it,” he sighed, pushing the plate back.
I cut a small piece, faking a gag as I swallowed it.
“Seriously, Alexis? When are you going to grow up?”
“When are you going home?”
“I took the day off.”
“To take care of you.”
“I don’t need a babysitter, Paddy.”
“Are we ever going to discuss why you had a panic attack when you saw our baby?”
“Your baby,” I corrected.
“No, Alexis. Our baby.”
“You agreed to raise it on your own.”
“I saw the look on your face when you laid eyes on him.”
“Stop calling it a him. You don’t know if it’s a boy.”
“Can you honestly tell me that you felt nothing when you saw your baby for the first time on that monitor?”
“Of course, I felt something! I’m not a heartless monster! But that doesn’t mean I changed my mind about wanting to be a mother.”
“I want you to see a therapist, Alexis.”
“Because you’re suffering from pregnancy ambivalence, and I think it would help if you talked to someone.”
“Are you paying for it?”
“Why do you seem surprised?”
“Because you’re a very stubborn woman, Alexis Taylor.”
“Boy, isn’t that the truth,” Hannah laughed from the doorway.
“Do you ever knock?” I grumbled.
“Do you pay rent?”
“Being my landlord doesn’t give you the right to barge in unannounced.”
“Calling me the landlord implies that you’re paying to live here.”
“Do you want me to leave, Hannah?”
She glanced at Paddy, exchanging a conspiratorial look with him.
“What are you two up to?”
Paddy took a sip of coffee and cleared his throat, eyeing me cautiously.
“Spill it,” I demanded.
“Since you’re not working now, I’d like you to consider coming to stay with me.”
“Will you at least think about it, Alexis?”
“For several reasons.”
“Would you care to elaborate?” he asked.
I glanced up at my sister. “Is there something you need, Hannah?”
“Why are you being rude, Lex?”
“Because it feels like you and Paddy are ganging up on me, and I don’t like it. Stop trying to run my life, Hannah. I’m twenty-five-years old.”
“I actually came up here to tell you some news,” she informed me, the hurt in her voice triggering a tidal wave of guilt through my fragile emotional state.
I had no idea why I was such a cunt sometimes. My sister didn’t deserve to be treated like that. And neither did Paddy.
I burst into tears, unable to control the pregnancy hormones that were wreaking havoc on my emotions.
Hannah blinked before launching a waterfall of her own.
I jumped up and pulled her into my arms, sobbing uncontrollably. “I’m sorry for being such a selfish, stubborn bitch!”
“I’m sorry for being an uptight nag!”
“It’s okay. I know it’s cause you love me.”
“I’m pregnant!” she cried. “And my hormones have turned me into a crazy person!”
“You’re pregnant?” I gasped, pulling back from our hug.
She nodded through her tears.
“Congratulations! How long have you known?”
“A couple weeks.”
“When are you due?”
“May 4th.” She smiled sadly. “Our babies will be very close in age. Less than a month apart.”
“May the fourth be with you,” I laughed, the joke doing nothing to ease the tension after her last statement.
“Lex, will you please reconsider giving up your baby? You’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”
“I’m not having this conversation again, Hannah.”
“What about Paddy? How is this even going to work? Are you going to cut all ties with him? Do you think you can still be best friends, and pretend his kid isn’t yours? What about me and Cleo? Don’t we have the right to know our niece or nephew?”
“I’m going to lay down,” I said quietly. “Congratulations on your baby.”
“Lex!” she called. “Come back!”
I slammed my bedroom door and crawled back into bed. Hannah didn’t understand me. She never had. She wasn’t capable of seeing things from my viewpoint. We were two very different people.
My eyes landed on the brown envelope on the dresser. The one that contained the ultrasound picture of the baby.
I wasn’t stupid. I knew why Paddy put the envelope there. He wanted me to look at the picture, so I’d change my mind about being a mother.
I glanced at the door before creeping across my bedroom. My heart thumped against my rib cage, my belly a nervous bundle of twisted knots when I reached inside the envelope and pulled out the ultrasound photo.
There was a human being growing inside me. A person who was half Paddy and half me.
What would he be like?
Would our baby have Paddy’s curls?
Would they be tall and lean like him, or short like me?
Would our baby be smart like his dad, or struggle with school like his mom?
All those things had already been determined the moment Paddy’s sperm fertilized my egg.
A lone tear rolled down my cheek, my hands trembling to hold onto the photo. I was going to be a mother.
How would my child feel, knowing that I didn’t want him?
What kind of horrible excuse for a human being abandons their child?
Strong arms wrapped around my waist. I leaned my head back against Paddy’s chest, my tears an unstoppable flood of self-pity.
“It’s okay,” he whispered.
“No, it’s not,” I sobbed. “Our baby deserves to have a mother who loves him and wants him. You should find a woman to marry. He needs a mommy.”
“He has a mommy. And there’s only one woman in the world I want to marry.”
“You don’t want to marry me, Paddy.”
“Yes, I do.” He turned me around gently, his mouth covering mine with a soft kiss. “I love you, Alexis.”
“What kind of question is that?”
“I thought you hated me because I didn’t want this baby.”
“I was angry and disappointed,” he admitted, tucking my hair behind my ear. “But I never stopped loving you. I’ve loved you for as long as I can remember. And I knew you’d come around.”
“I’m so confused right now, Paddy,” I whispered. “So much has changed between us. And it happened so fast. How did we get here?”
“I think we were always meant to be together.”
“I’m scared, Paddy.”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re in this together.”
“I don’t want to hurt you.” I combed my fingers through his hair while we gazed into each other’s eyes. “And I don’t want to jump into a relationship with you without my head screwed on straight. Which is impossible right now, with my hormones going crazy.”
“I can understand that,” he said. “Let’s just focus on the baby for now. He needs both of his parents in his life.”
“I’m so sorry, Paddy!”
“It’s okay,” he whispered, pulling me into his arms.
“I want my baby!” I howled. “Don’t take him!”
“I would never do that.”
I pulled back so I could see his face. “Are you laughing?”
“No. Of course not.”
“You are so! You’re laughing at me!”
“I’m sorry. I’m just not used to you being so emotional.”
“I can’t control it. And I hate it. It’s awful. I’m a mess, Paddy. An emotional basket case.”
“I don’t want to miss out on all this,” he said, his expression turning serious. “I want to be with you for all the pregnancy experiences, good and bad. Will you please consider coming to live with me?”
“I don’t want to live above a funeral home.”
“I bought a house.”
“You did?” I gasped.
“Yep,” he said proudly. “I take possession next week.”
“Where is it?”
“It’s actually right next door to my parents’ house.”
“In Shaughnessy Heights?!”
“Did you buy the haunted house?”
“It’s not haunted.”
“We thought it was when we were kids. All that moss covered brick, and the balcony on the third floor. And those weeping willow trees. And the old lady who lived there looked like a witch.”
“Mrs. Grady died years ago. The house has been completely renovated. It even has an inground swimming pool. You always said you wanted to have a pool when you grew up. If you move in with me, you can spend all day out there in the water, just like you used to when you came to stay at our house.”
“It’s the end of September!”
“It will be there next summer.”
“You want me to live with you after the baby comes?”
“Well, yeah,” he chuckled. “I was serious when I said I wanted to marry you. I’ve waited this long for you, Alexis. I can wait a little longer. Take all the time you need.”
“I don’t deserve you, Paddy.”
“Yes, you do,” he whispered, his lips brushing over mine. “Will you at least think about moving in with me? You can have your own room.”
“I’ll think about it, Paddy.”