As the spring continued on, it seemed like I was spending less and less time with my family and Hal. Hal was still living with Zari and Julie though with the upcoming wedding, I knew he was planning on getting his own place. He invited me to go out house-shopping with him and I gladly agreed.
“Seems like we haven’t talked much lately,” he said as we took a break to get some ice cream. “You’ve been busy with work, or…?”
“Mostly Doug,” I mumbled.
Hal was quiet for a moment. “You’ve changed…”
“I have?” I asked, looking up at him. “How so?”
“You’ve hardly spent any time with anyone other than Doug lately. I mean,” he put in quickly, “there’s nothing wrong with spending time with the person you… love… but Vi told me last night it’s been two weeks since she last saw you.”
I no longer had any appetite. He was right, unfortunately. “I guess I’ve been caught up in things.”
“And your new clothes don’t really seem like… you.” Hal gave me a sheepish smile. “Did you pick them out?”
I looked down at the clothes that Doug had bought me not long ago. He insisted they’d look good and since I didn’t care about clothes, I decided I might as well. “What’s wrong with them?” I asked, avoiding the question.
“Doug chose them for you?” he asked and I began eating my ice cream again. “I’ll take that as a yes, then.”
“So what if he did?” I demanded, blushing. “They don’t look hideous, they–“
Hal grabbed my shoulder, pulling me rather close. I dropped my ice cream and he let me go. I muttered an apology as I quickly stooped over to clean up the mess. “They don’t look hideous,” he agreed quietly. “I’m just worried about you.”
I tossed the messed up cone into the trash then wiped my hands off on a napkin, throwing that out as well. “No need to worry,” I said, avoiding looking at him. He tossed his own ice cream treat.
“Why didn’t you come to the party Vi threw last week?” he asked then didn’t wait for me to answer. “Because he didn’t want to go. Ditto for the New Year’s party.”
“What are you getting at?” I demanded, not liking where he was going with this. Was he really going to say that Doug was–that Doug…
“I’m just worried,” he said and there was a stretch of awkward silence. “Doug…”
“Cares about me,” I finished for him.”And he’s been working more because we’re saving up in case we take a big step in our lives.”
Hal winced at that like I had physically hit him. “I see,” he said, looking quite deflated. “I didn’t realize… I guess.. it’s not what…I…” His words were getting jumbled up so he stopped talking and just stared.
“Kids,” I said and he looked sideways at me. “We’re talking about maybe having a kid.”
“Not… marriage…?” he asked and I shrugged. “Either way, it’s a big step. I’m sorry I just butted in. I just… Vi’s been missing you, I know, and… we’ve been worried.”
“I understand,” I replied. “I’m sorry I’ve been so busy…” I rubbed the back of my neck, sighing loudly. “You’re right, I need to stop staying at home all the time. I miss you guys too.” Why had I been staying at home all the time? Doug wanted to spend time together… But, I thought quickly, there is NOTHING wrong with that. It’s great he still likes spending so much time together after so long.
So when Vi threw a dinner party that weekend, I begged Doug to go. At first he seemed to like the idea but on Friday he came home a bit late and said he was too tired to go. “Why don’t we just cuddle up and watch Casablanca?” he asked, looking rather tired.
“I promised Viola…” I said and Doug frowned. “I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“You’re right. You should go.” He sounded slightly put-off but merely shrugged when I asked if he was sure he didn’t mind me going. I could tell he did mind, but I got ready nonetheless.
After my quick shower, I blow-dried my hair, got dressed, then went into the living room to say bye to Doug. He was curled up on the couch, looking even worse than he did before. I went to his side, kneeling down on the floor. “You okay?” I whispered.
“No,” he said, his voice low. “Work was crap today. There’s rumors of downsizing.”
“City Hall can’t… downsize. Can they?” I asked and he shrugged. “I’m sorry, sweetie.”
“What if I get fired?!” His eyes widened and he sat up, looking at me. “I’d need to find a new job and that won’t be paying as much as this one is. The medical procedure for us to have kids is pretty expensive, plus raising a kid is expensive.”
“You won’t get fired,” I assured him, sliding up to sit next to him. “You’re a hard, dedicated worker. The best they could find. Why would they fire you?”
“They told me yesterday that I–” He stopped and then smacked his forehead. “I’m sorry, baby! You need to go.”
I looked over at the clock. “What did they say?” I asked, standing up.
“No, we’ll talk… later…” He stood as well, giving me a little push. “You go, have fun, okay? I’ll just… watch a movie or something…”
He sounded so despondent that my heart ached. He needed me right now. How could I just leave him by himself after he went through a day like this? I knew Vi would understand, so I sent her a text, kicked off my shoes, and settled down on the couch to talk with Doug.
Vi was angry. Angrier than I had seen her in quite some time. “You promised to be there last night,” she hissed. “I was banking on you being there! Everyone else was there and I just–I couldn’t just pretend nothing was going on since half of them suspected!”
“I’m sorry!” I said, feeling horrible. “Doug had a bad day–he needed me.”
“I needed you too,” she said, more sad than angry. “Last night was important to me. You’re my brother. My triplet. You and Zari were the ones I needed there last night the most, other than Claude, and you weren’t there.”
“I’m sorry. What more can I say?” I asked and she just stared at me. “What was so important about last night anyway?” I tried to think. It wasn’t an anniversary, or any other special d…
“Yeah,” she said as I stared at her stomach. “I announced my pregnancy. To Zari and Julie, Mom and Dad, Claude’s family, Hal, Uncle Rion and Aunt Milla and Uncle Kyle and Uncle George and all our cousins but not YOU! Because of that–that–jerk!”
She burst into tears and my arms went around her, rubbing her back. “I w-wanted you there, Seb! I miss you and you’re n-never around and I wanted t-t-to tellll yooou!” she wailed into my shoulder. “Every t-time I invite you over th-there’s always a r-reason you c-can’t be there, and it’s always him!”
I remained silent, just hugging her tightly. I felt like scum. I should have gone last night, I thought as I rubbed her back. But Doug needed me. But Vi needed me. But how was I to know Vi needed me? I should have known… but I haven’t seen her in ages…
“I need to go,” Vi said, pulling back and leaving my house.
“Vi!” I called but she shook her head, slamming the door shut. What a mess, I thought miserably, slinking into the living room, wishing I could change what happened.
The next day Vi called to apologize for her outburst. “Hormones,” she sighed, then told me everything. She was about five weeks in so she was due in early January. I was really excited for her and felt better since she forgave me.
I thought about discussing the whole ordeal with Doug but he was worried about work for several weeks so it just sort of faded into the background. I tried to spend as much time as I could with everyone but it was really putting a strain on things, so when Doug brought up the issue about my job I was too tired to argue.
He came in from work one day and found me half-asleep on the couch. “Hey babe,” he said, standing over me as I rubbed my eyes. “You okay?”
“Work was tiring,” I said, sitting up so he could join me on the sofa.
“You say that a lot lately…” He reached over, rubbing my shoulder. “It seems like it’s really been stressing you out a lot lately. Maybe it’s time for a change.”
“You mean like a promotion?” I asked wearily. “That would be worse.”
“No. Like, quitting your job,” he said and I blinked. “I was thinking about this the other day. Your job stresses you out and I don’t like that. Stress is not good for you, right?”
“Right,” I mumbled, rubbing my eyes again.
“I’m worried about you.” Those words rang in my ears. Where had I heard them recently…? “I was thinking… if I get the promotion–“
“Promotion?” I interrupted. “I thought those rumors about layoffs were still flying around.”
He shook his head. “I think they’re just rumors. I was given some extra work last week, that’s why I’ve been so busy. I thought I told you…? No?” He laughed, running his fingers through his hair. “Sorry. I thought I told you. Anyway, I’m up for a promotion after the summer. And it will really bring in some good money so I was thinking you should quit your job.”
“But what about saving…” The words were weak since the idea of quitting was tempting.
“We can use my money, and what you’ve saved up already,” he whispered in my ear. “I think it’s time we have a joint bank account anyway, and surely we’ll be able to afford the procedure next fall. This way… you can have more time at home. You can relax, hang with your, um, friends, and I know you said cleaning helps you relax too.”
I looked around the room, at the dust collecting on everything, at the dirty carpet. “This place is filthy,” I said.
“But if you don’t want to clean, I mean, that’s not why I’m suggesting this,” he said, his lips tickling my neck. I giggled and pushed him away. “Think about it, okay? I want you to be happy.” He stroked my hair then went fishing for the TV remove in the couch cushion.
Maybe I should quit work, I thought, very tempted by the idea. I settled against him as one of our favorite shows started, but I was hardly watching. His fingers traced a design on the back of my hand and I began to drift off from the motion of his chest, up and down, with his breathing.
“I just want us to be happy,” was whispered very quietly in my ear right before I fell asleep.