“So you’re really about to move in with this man without a ring?”
My face wrinkled into a confused scowl, even though I knew exactly what was happening.
My mother was happening.
“This man is Sean, who I’m pretty sure you like more than you like me, and we moved in a month ago. It’s already happened, and I’m not thinking about a ring.”
“You remember how well that worked out last time?”
“How well what worked out?” I stopped shredding cheese long enough to glance up at my mother, who was up to her elbows at the sink, carefully washing the pile of greens that would go with our dinner.
She snorted. “Girl, you know what I’m talking about.”
Shaking my head, I scooped the shredded cheddar into a measuring bowl, and picked up a paper-wrapped block of gouda. “No, I really don’t.”
“She’s talkin’ about that nigga Raymeo that you moved out here for in the first place. You remember, right? Packed up and left all your family, come to find out he was screwing around? And he hadn’t gave you a ring or nothing? You remember?”
I rolled my eyes at the back of my dad’s head, mentally cursing the decision to convert the kitchen and living room into an open concept. Conversation – private, at least – between my mother and I was virtually impossible, with him reclined in front of the TV, with a beer in his hand.
“His name was – never mind. Of course I remember,” I said, trying to keep any snippiness out of my tone. I was grown, and this was my house, but still… I wouldn’t put a swift backhand for disrespect past my mom.
“Well then you understand why this seems a little too similar to that situation.” My mother turned, giving me a pointed glare before she grabbed another handful of greens from the counter.
I shook my head. “This is nothing like that, at all. Sean and I aren’t like Ray and I were.”
I didn’t think it was possible for the dynamic to be more different. Where Ray and I were a relationship of two people who “made sense” together, Sean and I belonged together. He balanced me, challenged me, cared for and about me, made me feel secure – as in, protected me, and never gave me a reason to doubt who had his attention. He kissed me like I was the best thing he’d ever tasted, said goddamn whenever he saw me without my clothes, made love to me like he’d never get a chance to do it again.
And… he loved me. Without a doubt.
I really wasn’t concerned about a damned ring.
“Well baby, it sure looks like you’re moving in with another man who won’t even make an honest woman out of you. I can’t believe my Sean still has you out here shacking like some heathen.”
My eyes went wide. “Shacking? Wow.” I laughed a little as I started grating my second block of cheese. “Sean doesn’t have me “out here” doing anything, mama. I love my life with him, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about it.”
For the last year and a half, Sean and I had been growing together as a couple. Kind of slowly, kind of not. We’d bought a house together, and managed not to kill each other through a major renovation, but marriage was far from my thoughts – unless I was deflecting my mother.
“So you didn’t learn anything, is what you’re telling me?”
I chuckled. “I learned plenty, mama. Starting with how I can’t let that failure define my future, something about not letting those mistakes hold any power me… things like that. We haven’t even been together two years yet. I’d like to live with the man for real for real, make sure I can stomach sharing a home with him before I get married. Is that so strange?”
“Girl, don’t get me to lying.”
“Do you have to be so shady?”
My mother turned from the sink, mouth open in feigned shock. “Oh was that shade? I’m sorry.”
“Whatever,” I laughed, standing up from my seat at the counter to join her at the sink. From beside her, I looped an arm around her waist, pulling her close to plant a kiss against her cheek. “Don’t worry so much, mama. Sean is a good man, and you know that. Look at the house he’s rebuilt for me. Look at how good he’s been to me. Look at how happy he’s made me, since we’ve been together. Just relax.”
“That would be a lot easier if we knew he was planning on keeping you around,” my dad yelled from the living room, taking his eyes off the football game long enough to turn around and nod at me, tipping his beer in my direction.
“Oh my God,” I groaned, stepping away from my mother to grab my bowls of cheese to tuck back in the refrigerator. “I can’t deal with you two.”
“Where you going?” my mother asked, stopping me as I headed out of the kitchen.
I held up my cell phone. “To call Ayden. She was supposed to let me know when her flight landed, hours ago. I want to call and make sure she’s alright.”
That was true, kind of, but the wave of uneasiness that rolled through my stomach as my mother nodded reminded me that it wasn’t the whole truth. I quickly made my way to the back of the house, locking my bedroom door behind me before I stepped into my master bathroom, and locked that door too before I dialed Ayden’s number and put the phone on speaker.
The line was still ringing when I knelt down, rummaging under the counter for the box I’d tucked way, way at the back after a surreptitious trip to the drug store across town. I didn’t need anybody recognizing me, didn’t need rumors started, didn’t need annoying, invasive questions about the current occupancy of my womb.
Especially when it was supposed to be zero.
“It’s about damned time!”
Ayden’s voice rang through the bathroom as my hand closed around the box. I pulled it out, and tore it open, greedily yanking out one of the little foil packets inside.
“I called back as soon as I could, damn. I was trying not to look suspicious, but the smell of the cranberry sauce almost made me lose my breakfast, so I don’t know how good of a job I’m doing with that.”
“Lord, Fal. So you are pregnant?”
I had to catch my breath a little at the sound of that word.
As in having a baby.
As in having Sean’s baby.
As in having Sean’s unplanned baby, when I was on – and diligent about – my birth control. I took my pill every day, used my morning tea to wash it down. So there was no way I was pregnant, I was just… nervous, or something.
“What!? I haven’t… I haven’t taken it yet. I don’t know. But this is stupid. Birth control is 99.9% effective.”
“When taken correctly.”
“I take them correctly!”
“Yeah, so you say.”
I rolled my eyes as I pulled the little plastic stick out of the package, and hiked up my dress, pulled down my leggings and panties, and plopped down on the toilet. “I’m serious. I take them the way you’re supposed to.”
“Okay, and so do other women, and yet, 99.9%. Not one hundred. Welcome to the .1%.”
“You’re not helping.”
“I’m not trying to. Pee on the stick girl, I’ve got shit to do.”
I sucked my teeth. “Like what? Phone banging Officer Big Dick?”
On the other end of the line, Ayden gasped. “Absolutely not. I’m at my mama’s house, girl. I need to put my little ingredients together and make the hell out of this recipe so these folks can stop hating on my culinary skills. I need focus for that. Pee on the stick.”
I groaned and did as she asked, folding a few squares of tissue afterwards to rest the test on the counter. I flushed the toilet and washed my hands while Ayden babbled about the prep work she needed to do for her recipe.
I called myself waiting.
I wouldn’t look at the test until the full two minutes had passed, to make sure I got the right result – whatever that was. I looked at myself in the mirror, looked at Sean’s toothbrush, looked at the slightly crooked tile in the shower, the one I’d laid myself, and then, a minute too early, my eyes landed on the test.
What the hell?!
Right there, sixty seconds after I’d peed on the damn thing, was a plus sign in deep, vibrant pink.
“I… I… p—plus means positive, right?”
The other end of the line went silent. “What?”
“A plus sign, Ayden. A plus sign, on the pregnancy test. That’s positive?”
“Well, it would be pretty confusing for the customers if the plus meant negative.”
“Okay! But seriously, Fal… is the test positive?”
“I—yes. Yes, the test is positive.”
“So you’re pregnant?!”
My eyes went wide, as I stared at the test, and the reality of what that plus really meant.
I flinched, nearly jumping out of my skin as a muffled knock sounded at my bedroom door. “I’ll call you back,” I said, and hit the button to end the call, despite her protests. I quickly wrapped the test in tissue and tossed it in the trash before I washed my hands again, then darted out of the bathroom and to my door.
I smoothed my dress down and unlocked the door with shaking hands, praying that my face wouldn’t give me away. My shoulders sank in relief when I saw Sean, not my mother, on the other side. His brow was furrowed in concern over the locked door, but I grabbed his hands and dragged him in, closing and locking the door behind him.
Just his presence was a huge comfort. I teased him often about being a “teddy bear”, but as I sank into his arms, and he wrapped around me, those words never felt more true. Sean was a big guy – tall and stocky, with strong arms that were like home, especially in this moment.
“What’s wrong, baby?” he mumbled in my ear, and placed a soft kiss to the side of my head. When I didn’t answer, he drew back, grabbing my chin to tilt my face up toward his. Tears stung my eyes as I met his gaze, and swallowed hard.
“I’m pregnant,” I whispered, and Sean’s eyes went wide before he froze.
When I’d woken up this morning, with my stomach feeling like it might flip inside out, I’d been half joking when I suggested the possibility of pregnancy to Charlie and Ayden, during a three-way call where Charlie was supposed to be relaying the recipe for her macaroni and cheese. By the time I got off that phone call, I was running to the store for gouda and a pregnancy test, still not really believing that I might need it.
When I got home, Sean had left for an emergency call, assuring me that afterwards he was going to pick up my brother Donnie from the airport. I got started with last-minute cleaning touch-ups in the house, and after that my parents arrived, and I’d raced to snatch the pregnancy test off the counter where I’d left it, hiding it away from my mother’s prying eyes.
We’d talked often about having a child. As a unit, we were sold on the possibility, and even had a loose time frame: After we get married. But we weren’t married. Weren’t even thinking about getting married, so this was… out of order, to say the least.
Individually, I was pretty sure Sean wanted it more than I did. We’d babysat for all of his friends, Carter, Nixon, Roman, and I watched the way Sean interacted with those babies. He doted on them, talked baby talk, changed diapers, had let Roman’s older daughter, Zahra, put a purple wig on him and paint his nails and call him “Princess Keahi”. He was into kids, and the more I saw him with them, the more I wanted to give him that.
I just needed time to prepare.
I liked kids well enough, and was sure that I would love my own, without a doubt. But the prospect of getting the baby here… I was terrified of the pregnancy process.
What if the surgery I’d had to remove that fibroid had made my uterus an inhospitable place? What if I lost the pregnancy because of that, or had it way too early, and had to bring him or her into the world only to need immediate life-saving procedures, or get shoved onto monitors and machines? Would I even be allowed to attempt a vaginal birth, or was a c-section my only future?
All of those questions, plus about a million more, ran through my mind as the reality sank further in. Just last night, I’d had two… three drinks at a get together with friends, and in the weeks before that… God, so many glasses of wine! Was I poisoning my baby? The caffeine in my tea… and how much fish had I been eating lately? Was that even really a thing? I would have to start taking a prenatal vitamin, and more drinking, and… what about sex? Was there a special protocol?
This was why I needed preparation – to wrap my head around the idea before we moved forward. I needed to think about it, and I needed to pray, and I needed my mama to pray, and I needed to talk to Porsha, and then we could about going off the birth control.
That hadn’t really mattered anyway.
But… oh, shit… I’d already taken today’s pill, with my morning tea, before I talked to Ayden and Charlie… would that hurt the baby?!
“Fal…” Sean’s voice brought me out of my silent internal freak out, grounding me firmly in the moment as his big hands cradled my chin. His warm brown eyes roved over my face as one thumb absently stroked my cheek. “Are you sure?”
I nodded. “I mean… just a test from the drug store, but they’re accurate.”
I shifted a little on my feet in the seconds of silence that followed, waiting for his response. First, I noticed that one second his eyes were dry, and in the next blink, they were glossed. Then, a corner of his mouth twitched, like he desperately wanted to break into a smile. Finally, one of his hands moved down to my belly, and he sort of sighed. A deep, blissful sigh, kind of like the one he gave a few minutes after sex, or a good meal, just… better.
So, so much better.
“Baby…,” he whispered, and I pulled my lip between my teeth as I nuzzled my face against his hand. “A baby?”
I nodded again, and a second later he covered my mouth with his, wrapping his arm around my waist to pull me further into the kiss. A squeal left my throat as he easily picked me up, hiking my legs around his body. I draped my arms over his shoulders, resting them at the back of his head as an anchor when I slipped my tongue into his mouth.
All of a sudden, those little — and big – worries and fears drifted away. Well, not away, not completely, they got buried underneath the joy I couldn’t help feeling in response to Sean’s reaction. His quiet excitement seemed to unlock mine, and even though I knew my concerns were valid, and would have to be addressed, this moment belonged to happiness.
“How do you feel?” he asked, when he’d finally put my feet back on the floor. “How… how did this happen?”
I lifted an eyebrow, and bit back a smile. “Well, when a man and a woman like each other, they sometimes—” I giggled as Sean swatted me on the butt. “Okay. I… I’m not sure. I take my birth control religiously—”
“Except when you were in Chicago last month.”
My eyebrow crept higher. “What?”
“Last month… remember? You forgot them here, while you were gone to help the Chicago store with the inventory overhaul. You were there for four days…”
“Yeah,” I said, putting my hand to my forehead. I did remember. I didn’t the days would be a big deal since I was away from Sean anyway, and my period was supposed to be coming. I only had two days left before the four placebo pills, but then – “I came back and you were all over me.”
He sucked his teeth. “Yeah, cause you were gone for four days.”
“Right. But… my cycle didn’t happen until like two weeks later, while I was taking the regular pills in a new pack.”
Maybe that’s why it was so light… I was probably already pregnant by then.
“Tell me how you’re feeling,” Sean insisted, wrapping his arms around me again. “I didn’t really care how,” he chuckled.
I scowled. “I care how. But anyway… I feel okay. My stomach is a little uneasy, and my boobs have been sore, but I thought I was nervous about dinner, and getting close to my period… until I talked to Ayden and Charlie this morning.”
“They look bigger.”
“What looks bigger?”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh my God, Sean. I’m like, two seconds pregnant, my boobs are not bigger.”
“I know my friends.”
“I…,” I took a deep breath, trying not to laugh. “Your friends, Sean?”
“Yes,” he nodded, chuckling. “My friends.”
I tensed a little as he reached for them, but his hands were gentle, and the pressure of them was actually soothing. I even moaned a little and closed my eyes, grateful for the bit of reprieve from the nagging ache that had been plaguing me all morning.
When I opened them again, Sean was staring at me, with unmistakable love in his eyes.
“A baby,” he said in a low voice, almost like he was testing how the words fit.
I reached for his hands, entwining his fingers with mine. “Yeah. A baby.”
“… And please look over my son, Father, with all the traveling and debauchery, and un-Christlike nonsense he involves himself in. You said you’d look after babies and fools, and well…”
I had my eyes open through my mom’s shady-ass grace over the food. We didn’t have a huge gathering for Thanksgiving, just my family – mom, dad, brother, brother’s date – and Sean’s – his uncle and his wife and child.
The food looked amazing, but I wasn’t really hungry. I was excited, and a little nauseous from the smells, but I was holding it together. Had to hold it together, because we’d made the decision before we left our bedroom to not tell anyone else – obviously Ayden already knew – about the pregnancy.
We still needed time to process it on our own, and I wanted to see my doctor first. Get my fears calmed, get some information, etc. I wanted to feel good about my chances of this pregnancy being viable before I shared the news with my family.
But I was happy. So, so quietly happy that I randomly squeezed Sean’s hand again. His eyes were closed, head bowed for the prayer, but he grinned, and squeezed my hand back.
“… And Father God, this oldest child of mine, please guide her thought and actions. Please make your lessons for her more clear—”
“I thought this was blessing the food, not an intercession.” I mumbled under my breath, which earned me a hard squeeze on my other hand, which was clasped in my mothers. With a heavy sigh, I closed my eyes.
“… And lay a new spirit of respect on her heart, since she obviously forgot it this morning. Watch over and keep her, Lord. And her beau, Sean. Father, please offer him the gift of unrest in his spirit, and conviction for having my baby living in sin. Move in him God, that he understands that a man that finds a wife has found a good thing, and –”
Sean pulled his hand away from mine, and I rolled my eyes, wondering if this “helpful” prayer was about to cause an issue between me and my man. I felt him shift beside me, and a moment later, his hand came back to mine.
My mother’s prayer moved on to her wishes for my father – something about a spirit of cleanliness being next to Godliness – and Sean squeezed my hand again. I squeezed back, but then he squeezed a little harder, and I opened my eyes to glance at him. He was looking right at me, with a smirk on his face as he inclined his head toward the table.
I looked down, first at the food, and then at the plate in front of me. I had to press my hand to my mouth to stifle a gasp. In the middle of the plate was an open box, with a gorgeous engagement ring nestled inside.
My eyes shot back to Sean’s which were twinkling with happiness. He gave me a little half shrug, waiting on me to respond, and with tears stinging my eyes, I nodded, then mouthed “yes.”
“I love you,” he mouthed back.
“I love you too.”
He gave me one last triumphant smile, and bowed his head again and closed his eyes.
“… And please, God, bless this food for the nourishment of our bodies. In the mighty name of Jesus I pray… amen.”
Those words had barely left everyone’s mouths when I let my mother’s hand go to throw my arms around Sean’s neck.
I heard from behind me, and knew my mother had probably spotted the ring, but I was absorbed with kissing my man.
“Happy Thanksgiving baby,” he whispered in my ear, pulling me into a warm hug when we finally drew away from the kiss.
I cupped his face in my hands, planting one more kiss on his lips.