Artie had always been prone to waking up way too freaking early. Often times he woke up half a dozen times in the night, just to roll over or get a glass of water. Or sometimes even for seemingly no reason at all other than the universe hating him probably. Today, however, Artie was woken up by something else: a blaring screech somewhere off to his left that was aggressively ripping him from his formerly peaceful sleep.
His eyes weren’t even open before he was stumbling around for his glasses, shrouded in a hazy mix of confusion and slight panic. Was this a fire alarm or something? Was his apartment about to be engulfed in searing flames from the fiery pits of Hell and turned to ash before he’d even rolled outta bed?
Or, you know… it could just be Tina’s alarm clock. Either or. Damn though, when was the last time he’d heard that thing go off? Her hand usually flew towards it like a magnet every morning to shut it off before the first beep had even finished sounding. But today she’d apparently slept right through it. And even more apparently, this little demon machinery got louder and louder the longer you ignored it. Someone down the street was probably filing a noise complain at this very moment.
“Baby,” he groaned, pushing on her shoulder. He’d squirmed onto his side and was now straining his eyes to look over at his wife. She’d cinched her arms around him in a death grip sometime over the course of the night, which is something she never did… This was just a morning of firsts all around, huh?
“Tina!” he said a little bit louder now. Nothing. Oy vey. He reached across her body and slammed his hand against the snooze button, the silence following ringing in his ears. Her arms stayed wrapped around his wife-beatered chest the whole time. What had started off as unusual was now turning into weird as hell. Who was laying in his bed right now and where was the real Tina?
He brushed his fingers over her forehead, pushing the hair out of her face so he could see her better as she stirred. She was hot, too. In more senses than just the usual ones. “Hey,” he said, a slight frown on his lips. “Are you getting up? It’s already quarter past. Nobody likes a lazy ass.”
The light brush of Artie’s fingers against her forehead jerked Tina out of her sound sleep. Well, not exactly sound. Not being able to breath through your nose made it pretty difficult to get to a point of wonderfully deep and refreshing sleep. This was more just-asleep-enough to sleep through her alarm, which was literally at the highest possible volume and the most irratating noise. It got her out of bed quickly ever morning. She was usually lightning fast in turning it off and halfway ready for work by the time her husband had even poked his head up. Clearly, today was not one of those days because Artie, the master of ignoring absolutely everything when half asleep no matter how annoying it was, had actually reached over and turned off the alarm for her.
Tina’s job consisted mostly of evenings these days, but going in the mornings was very important to her. All of the business things she did—the money managing and the like—were now handled by someone else since Hardley took over. Someone else dealt with all the supplies. These were still tasks that felt like hers, like she should be doing them. So she did whatever anyone needed her to do from seven-thirty in the morning until noon. She had to make it clear to this new management that she would not be pushed out. Which was why, sick or not, she absolutely had to go in today. It was just a few hours. She could handle it.
Plus, it could get her out of the house and away from Artie. She loved the man to death, but he would take any excuse to dote on her, which was something she hated. She liked when he made her coffee in the morning or brought her a blanket while she was watching TV, but the ability to tolerate bedside manner ended there. Who knows what he would do if he realized how sick she felt. The only other time she’d even been really sick while they were together was when they were still doing long distance and he had offered to fly out then to take care of her. It was possible he would use this opportunity to perform a small-scale grand gesture.
“Yeah, I’m getting up,” she said, rubbing her eyes as she sat up. She swung her legs over the side of the bed, hunching over. She felt around for something to cover herself up with, since she had to move away from her human heating pad, but found nothing except her thin robe that would literally do nothing to help her in this situation. After gathering up the strength to move, she got up with stiff muscles and headed toward their closet. she figured if she got in some comfortable clothes, put on a little make-up, she could go to work for an hour or two, then sneak home after Artie left for work and go back to sleep.
Her muscles were so sore she could barely raise them high enough to get herself a shirt. She sighed, which turned into a hacking cough, and she quickly tried to get that under control. “Honey?” she asked sweetly, leaning against her dresser tiredly, “Do you think you could make me some coffee?” She could hear the fact that her voice was a little raspy. And she didn’t even feel like coffee, but she just wanted him to get out of the room so she could lay face down on the bed and die.
Tina was not a person who got sick very often. She had a naturally strong immune system, so viruses that went around usually seemed to allude her. Over the past few weeks, a couple people at Cleo’s caught a nasty bug that had been making its way around the staff. She tried to interact with people as little as possible, use hand santizer every five minutes, and encourage employees to stay home if they were sick. But as she woke up at four in the morning with a completely stuffed up nose and a sore throat, she immediately knew all of that had been in vain.
She tried to convince herself that she was fine, at first. She sat up, thinking her sinuses might clear. She stole Artie’s glass of water from his bedside table, hoping that her throat was just dry from sleep. But this was definitely more serious than that. She’d only been awake for two minutes and she felt miserable. Tina wasn’t a baby about illness, she didn’t act like she was dying over every little sniffle and cough. She was a performer, after all. She got sore throats all the time and knew exactly how to deal with it. But this entirely different. She felt hot and cold at the same time, she could hardly breath from all the congestion, and she could barely keep her eyes open.
Tina got out of bed slowly, trying her best not to wake her sleeping husband as she walked to the bathroom. She turned on the light, squinting at the brightness. She studied her face in the mirror—it was so obvious that she was ill. Her nose was red, her eyes were puffy, and her skin had taken on a sickly pale color. She’d felt fine when she went to sleep! How could this develop in less than three hours? And she knew it was only going to get worse.
Tina grabbed a handful of tissues and stumbled back to bed, getting under the covers. She was freezing. She looked over at Artie. Part of her didn’t want to snuggle up against him because she was afraid he might hear her breathing funny or she could give him whatever she has, but he was so warm, and his skin was like an extra blanket against her chilled body.
Eventually, she was able to fall asleep. And she slept right through her alarm.
“You think so?” Artie raised both of his eyebrows now, letting out a nervous breath of laughter. Tina having a baby? Tina having his baby? Tina and him having a baby together? Say whaaat? Was this a real conversation that was happening right now? Damn. They were really pregnant. He couldn’t even really wrap his head around that idea. But having a baby did seem pretty dope. He squeezed her hands tight, a wide grin suddenly spreading over his face as he let out some sort of undefined squeak of excitement. Wow, that was manly.
“I love you the most out of anybody whose ever loved anybody.” He tugged on her hands and invited her into his lap, his smile still splitting his face in half. “Get yo ass over here,” he said through gritted teeth, right before he started peppering the side of her face with small kisses. Whoever said lips were only meant for lips was all sorts of messy and wrong. His pure elation could not be contained just just one tiny fraction of her body. She had a little person inside her and holy hell he just wanted to kiss her all over and start jumping up and down.
After five minutes, he pulled away and ran a hand backwards over his hair. Apparently his face was hot because his cheeks were burned pink and his bangs were sticking up, out, and around on about eight different levels of awkward. “I should call Puck,” he told her, almost seeming disoriented. It felt like his brain was a game of Play-Doh’s Barber Shop and had come out into several small strings of noodles out of the top of a little plastic monster’s head, then been tied together into knots that only very successful Marines could fathom to untie. “Or… we should call someone. A doctor, maybe. And we’re gonna need a crib. But where are we going to put it?”
Tina had always loved how sweet and affectionate Artie could get. She didn’t even hesitate as he pulled her into his lap, feeling his kisses all over her face, his lips barely touching her skin before moving on to someplace new. No place was ignored. This was definitely way closer to the reaction she had been expecting. Him being so happy now was making her more happy and relaxed. His happy and warm nature always put her mind at ease.
He looked more than a little disheveled when he finally pulled away. His air was going in fourteen different directions and his smile was so wide it looked like his face might actually split into two pieces. She pressed her hands against his chest the moment he started talking about telling one of their high school friends, Puck, who had two children of his own with his wife, Quinn. And that wasn’t including the one they had in high school and put up for adoption. “Artie, listen to me,” she said, her tone serious, “It’s really important to me that you don’t tell anyone for a few weeks. I want to go to the doctor and make sure this is actually happening and not just a defective pregnancy test, then we can talk about telling people.”
Tina didn’t even want to think about what would happen if this piece of information was heard by the wrong person. And by that, she meant someone at her work. Things were just starting to get better and things would definitely go downhill if this news was not presented in the best possible light, from a business perspective. Because, obviously, no one wants a pregnant woman at a nightclub.
“And we don’t need a crib yet. We don’t need to do anything right now besides finish dinner so I can get ready for work.”
Artie’s encasing grip tightened around her waist, holding her securely against his chest. He hated when she cried. He’d made jokes in the past about how her tears were starting to lose their impact once she started going right to the weepy place as soon as anybody got a paper cut, but it really hurt his heart every time he saw her sad. She was his baby girl and she wasn’t ever allowed to be sad. It was like something was missing from the world and turned everything into grey and cold. Not even an exaggeration.
It felt like he sat there holding her for the better half of an hour before she finally spoke up again. The hint of a tiny smirk crept its way onto Artie’s face, and he quirked an eyebrow before pulling back to meet the warm maple of her eyes. “You want me to tell you how to feel? I’m not the one with a near-sighted zygote hangin’ out in my abdomen.” He pouted his bottom lip out slightly, sympathetically. Did we already go over how much he hated seeing her sad? Cos that pain is seriously real, yo.
“Do you want me to be happy?” he asked then. If she wanted him to be happy, that kind of meant… she was a little happy about it too, right? Like, somewhere deep down in the many hidden crevices and trenches known as Valentina Marie Cohen-Chang Abrams. Even if the tears were a red flag that she was experiencing emotion at the moment, it really wasn’t that easy to tell what emotion that was. She was mysterious, this woman.
“I can be happy if you want me to be happy, but I don’t think I have a reason to be happy if you don’t want to have a baby. I’m here to support you in whatever you want to do. You know that.” He leaned forward and pressed a long kiss to her lips, his palm reaching up to gently cup the back of her neck. When he pulled back, he rested his forehead against hers and gave a very weak smile. “I love you no matter what. And I got yo’ back, tenderoni.”
Tina accepted Artie’s kiss, breathing in deeply as his hand cupped the back of her neck. She ran her fingertips lightly over his jaw, just tickling his skin as their lips moved together slowly. It was times like these, kisses like this, that she could see just how in love with her he was. He would give his right arm for a child, but if that wasn’t what she wanted, he would go along with whatever she needed to do. She smiled at him when he pulled away, reaching over for his hands as their foreheads fell together. “It could be nice, having a baby. Let’s face it, I would never let you get me pregnant on purpose.”
She laughed a little at the admission, but it was true nonetheless. There was a time when she saw herself as being this cynical, unmarried thirty-eight year old that got pregnant during a one night stand with a twenty-one year old guy. Wait…wasn’t that the plot of a shortlived CBS sitcom?
Here was the thing about her life with Artie: she had done so many things that she never thought she would do. At first, she saw him as nothing more than an old friend that she wanted to have unattached sex with. But then she started dating him. And soon she wanted him to move in with her and start a life with him. She married him without hesitation. In their relationship, it was like she had taken on a role of anti-domesticity, but she actually had grown to be kind of…into it. And that was because she had never regretted a single decision she’d made with him. Their relationship wasn’t perfect or anything, but it was a happy one. She hoped that having a baby with him so early on in their marriage would go into the same category of non-regretful decisions.
Obviously, there were still a lot of things that needed to be worked out. She needed to get an official pregnancy test done at a doctor’s office and not just one that was sold in between the condoms and the diapers at Walgreens. The irony of their placement was not lost on her. She wanted to make sure she wasn’t getting them worked up because of a defective home pregnancy test. She was pretty sure she wanted to keep it. It was comforting to know she had to option to go in a different direction, but her thoughts about having children had always been flooded with the circumstances of her own upbringing. She was raised by two people that tried to have children for years on their own and couldn’t. Plus, she was married to someone with only fifty-fifty for sensation down there. Basically, it came down to: what if this was her only chance?
The thing about Tina was that if she didn’t want a child right now, she would definitely not want one and she would’ve known immediately. She expected to feel that way, but she wasn’t at the moment.
“I love you,” she told Artie. She kissed him again, her fingers gripping the front of his shirt. She looked up at him when they parted and smiled. “Okay, you can do your thing now. Get excited.”
He nodded, and waited for her to come back with that little tissue-wrapped pee stick. His glasses were pushed up the bridge of his nose as she held it out in front of his face, and he squinted. Even with his eighteen inch lenses, he was still blind as hell. But that was definitely a plus sign. Companies must make them so obnoxiously blatant on purpose. This was something that really needed to slap you in the face. They were pregnant.
Artie looked up at Tina again, watched her fall back into her chair across from him, and took a deep breath. Honestly, he was surprised at himself by his mellow reaction, but it didn’t exactly feel like they were having a baby. Just that they were… pregnant. Which, yea, he knew were the same thing… But they were completely different at the same time. If anything, he was pretty sure she would want to get an abortion anyway.
He always knew Tina wasn’t very keen on the idea of having his paraplegic babies anytime soon. And even though he did want kids, he could live with her choices— he loved her. But now he couldn’t help but think he’d thrown her into the deep end of a swimming pool without a life preserver. This wasn’t what she wanted. This was his fault. Damn his strong swimmers.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Artie said, unlocking his brakes and wheeling around the table. Both of his arms tucked themselves around her waist and he ducked his head against the back of her shoulder, pressing his lips against the fabric of her shirt. He wasn’t really sure what else he was supposed to do. Did they sell “Sorry I got you pregnant” cards at Hallmark?
Tina started crying about the same time Artie told her that it was okay. She wasn’t sobbing or anything, but she could feel her eyes burning with tears as she pressed her cheek against his shoulder. She wasn’t sure why she was crying. She just wanted to feel happier about this whole thing. It was suppose to be exciting. Sometimes she felt like she’d backed herself into a corner by being so against the normal domestic life. She was sure that her husband was thinking she didn’t want to keep it or that she thought this was all a huge mistake and she didn’t necessary feel that way. She was sort of lacking emotions at the moment, but she didn’t feel like getting an abortion or anything was something she would want to do.
She felt like a huge drama queen. She’d only found out about this an hour ago, she should’ve just left it alone for a while. She should’ve waited to tell him. Tina used to be so good at keeping secret—fuck, she literally kept the validity of her stutter a secret for like four years, and she couldn’t even keep this a secret for forty-five minutes. She should’ve given herself some time to process all of this on her own. She had no idea how her mouth just totally bypassed all the plans she’d been making in her head.
“Could you just say that you’re happy or something?” she asked. “I just need you to tell me how to feel.” She picked her head up, meeting his eyes. “I don’t know how I’m suppose to react to any of this. I feel like we should be on opposite sides, but I don’t know where I stand at all.”
Artie looked up at Tina from across the table and crinkled his eyebrows together, fork frozen in midair. “What test?” he asked, as if he hadn’t even heard the first half of the conversation leading up to this moment. Tina? Pregnant? Yea, okay. Wake up, Artie. That was the kind of thing that only happened in fantasy land. Like all the times he’d elaborately hallucinated standing up out of his wheelchair like he hadn’t been confined to it for fifteen years. Or the many cameos the cast of Star Wars have made in his dreams to offer him advice on life. AKA not real.
But this one seemed pretty vivid. Even for his standards.
“You took a pregnancy test?” he said. He closed his eyes and shook his head slightly, his forehead wrinkling even further. This was some Finn Hudson level of confusion right now. He took a breath, fork placed back down on his napkin, and traced a thoughtful finger along the underside of his lip — a definite sign that he was thinking hard about something. He usually only did it when he was directing. “Can I see it?”
After studying her face for a moment, Artie wondered if she was actually being serious. Logically speaking, he knew she had absolutely nothing to gain from lying to him, unless she was just trying to pull some lame prank. And while Tina wasn’t much of a hi-jinxer, this one would be below the belt no matter who was pulling it. He wanted to see that she was for real.
“You want to see a stick that I peed on?” Tina asked, raising an eyebrow. She understood why he would want to see it, but she also found the idea of showing someone a pregnancy test that had been urinated on to be a little disgusting. Like, passing it from hand to hand just seemed unsanitary. But he looked serious, so she held up her hands as she scooted her chair out from the table and retrieved the test from the bathroom. She’d wrapped it up in a Kleenex and put it back in the box. She handed it to him. “Honestly, I was expecting a more enthusiastic reaction from you.”
The fact that he was being more chill than he expected was kind of comforting. She’d been expecting him to do something more cliché, but putting his hands against her stomach even though there was nothing there, and talking to the baby or whatever. She watched him examine the stick. “Artie,” she started, pausing for a few seconds, “I really don’t want to make a big deal out of this right now…this test might not even be accurate, it’s just…I wanted some kind of confirmation. I really don’t even know how this happened. Things are so good right now.” She looked down and realized she’d torn her napkin into a bunch of small pieces.
Tina was trying to keep herself from becoming emotional over this. It was just information. Just information. But the thought hadn’t occurred to her until now: their lives were in a really good place right now. Artie’s play with Jeff was on the fast track, Cleo’s had reopened and her job, although in a totally new and unfamiliar incarnation, was going well, and they were settling into married life way better than she expected. They had more than enough money to pay their bills and they had a great group of friends to spend time with and their DVR was filled with at least ten mutually acceptable shows and their sex life was amazing. A baby could—would change all of that.
With her elbow balanced on the table, she rested her forehead against her palm. She hated feeling this way, not knowing how to feel at all. It was terrifying and unnerving. She felt like she should be happy. She’d known people in her life, her own mother, even, that dreamed and wished for children of their own and never got to have one. She felt like she wasn’t being joyous enough. There was no moment of joy or awe. There was no jumping up and down with excitement. All there was was numbness and fear. And maybe she did want Artie to be showing more immediate excitement because maybe it would guide her to the right away to act.
Artie opened the door to his apartment in a good mood. He never really stopped to think about it, but he was really living out all of his dreams here in New York. He was directing, he was married to his first love, they lived in a nice apartment that left them comfortable in funds… He couldn’t pinpoint on exact thing that had him on such high happiness, but he wasn’t complaining. He’d even bought flowers off a vendor on the sidewalk to take home.
“Hey, sweetness,” he said, returning her greeting. His smile lit up as she leaned down to meet his lips, a chaste but affectionate press. “That’s great. Do you need any help?” He pulled his jacket off his shoulders and hung it up behind the door before pushing up to the counter. He picked the bouquet up from his lap and set it on the counter. “Didn’t my mom buy us a vase? I think it’s up in the cabinet.” Of course about ninety-eight percent of their whole kitchen was his mother’s work, but you know how it is.
He poured each of them a glass of water and set them on the table at their places, followed by taking the butter out of the fridge. Nothing really seemed out of the ordinary to him as they started to serve and eat dinner. Though, that’s coming from him. His social skills were still… underdeveloped, you could say. He didn’t usually pick up on small cues until the conversation or event in question had already completely played out.
When she mentioned being pregnant, Artie didn’t even blink. “Mmm, yeah,” he said, distaste in his voice. “I heard that was going around this time of year. Also tiger attacks. I ran into a few of them as I was heading into work, but…” He paused, licked his lips thoughtfully, and then smirked. “Well… I’m not at liberty to say.”
Tina put down the tongs. She definitely hadn’t been expecting that reaction. And by that reaction, she meant no reaction at all. It seemed like every time they left the apartment, he got distracted by a baby. They’d be sitting in a restaurant and he’d be waving at a toddler in a high chair across the dining area. He always picked up dropped toys and socks, flagging down the parents and gingerly handing a child whatever they’d dropped. Artie loved kids. He wanted them. And he didn’t even seem to hear her. “Artie, I’m serious. I took the test like an hour ago.”
Her tone seemed to get his attention. She twirled some pasta onto her fork. “I think it happened that night we got drunk at Jeff’s. I’m sure you’ve noticed I haven’t been in the greatest mood this week and that’s because my period is almost two weeks late. And I fell asleep at work last week even though I slept twelve hours the night before. So unless I’m a narcoleptic going into early menopause, I’m pretty fucking sure I’m pregnant.”
She and Artie had always had really different opinions on…well, everything. They were good at compromising and seeing each other’s sides of things, but starting a family was one thing they’d never been able to see eye to eye on. Her husband had been dropping hints about having kids pretty much since the first week they got together. But she liked the idea of having children later in life. Not like when they were forty or anything, like that weird redhead from Desperate Housewives, but like…early thirties. Getting married at twenty-three was a huge stretch for her to begin with.
“So, yeah. Most likely pregnant. I just wanted to tell you.”
Tina had no hesitation in her thoughts: she was pretty sure she was pregnant. Her suspicions came from a variety of sources, like the fact that her period was almost two weeks late, as well as being more tired than usual and her breasts kind of hurting too. Sure, there could be other explanations for all of those things, but the internet was telling her she might be pregnant, and she was sort of inclined to believe it at the moment because otherwise, she had some sort of incurable form of cancer.
She totally knew when this must’ve happened. A few weeks ago, Jeff threw a huge party at his apartment when an investor donated a large sum of money to his and Artie’s project. Everyone got a little drunk. She and Artie snuck into the front bedroom designated for everyone’s coats and had a hurried, tipsy quickie while everyone was playing charades. It was actually one of the hottest things they’d ever done, so of course that would be the encounter that got her pregnant. And she was on birth control! It was fucking great to take a pill everyday that was suppose to be 99.9% effective when it came to preventing pregnancy and it didn’t even work! She definitely had some angry letters to write.
She knew she had about an hour before Artie would arrive home from work. She figured she might as well get the most nerve wracking part out of the way while she was alone and take one of the tests she’d bought now. She put a pot of water on the stove so she could make some spaghetti for dinner, then took the bag from Walgreens containing the pregnancy tests into the bathroom. She carefully followed the instructions on the first box. While she’d bought three, she didn’t think she’d need to take more than one.
She went back to the kitchen and put the pasta into the boiling water while she waited for the test. The results were suppose to take three to five minutes. When she returned to the bathroom, she picked up the test, looking up at the ceiling for a moment before looking down. A little pink plus sign. Fuck.
Don’t get her wrong, Tina wanted to start a family with Artie at some point. But she was only twenty-three years old and they’d only been married a handful of months. It was way too soon for her to be holding a positive pregnancy test in her hands! Babies were literally the last thing she was thinking about. She knew Artie would be ecstatic to learn the news, but she didn’t know how to feel. An unplanned pregnancy was definitely not what she needed right now. She decided she just needed to teach it like a piece of abstract information. Not like there would be a actual live baby nine months from now. She walked out of the bathroom like she’d just been checking her hair or something. She went back to preparing dinner for her and her husband, the couple that was definitely not having a baby.
She was opening a bag of lettuce for a salad when the front door opened. She smiled at Artie, leaning down to accept a small kiss on the lips from him. “Hey, baby,” she said, “Dinner’s almost ready.” They used to almost exclusively eat take-out, but now whoever was home made dinner because they both had gained about fifteen pounds since moving in together. He might’ve needed the weight, but she definitely didn’t. And now none of her clothes were going to fit. Oh Jesus. And the domestic nature of her sentence mildly weirded her out, given the situation. She needed a cigarette. But pregnant women can’t have cigarettes.
Tina acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary as they set the table and laid the food out. She wasn’t going to tell him right now. Home pregnancy tests aren’t that reliable, right? She should see a doctor before she told him anything. With that thought in mind, she started to put some salad on her plate, using a pair of tongs. They started talking about their days.
Then, in a moment where it seemed as though her brain and her mouth were no longer working in sync, she said casually, “So I’m pregnant.” She literally could’ve been telling him they were out of milk.
All the ladies in the building came rushing towards Artie and Tina at the same time shortly after he’d hung up his scarf, in a way not too unsimilar from the dog’s greeting. It was apparent how excited all three of them (his mom, his sister, and his niece) were to see them.
His mother reached Artie first, throwing her arms around his shoulders and squeezing him as tight as she possibly could. You would have assumed by her reaction that it had been decades since she’d seen her son. But in reality, they’d just talked on the phone less than an hour ago. She immediately started listing off eight-hundred questions as she hugged him, not even waiting for an answer before asking the next one. ”Mom, why are you crying?” he asked between a slight pause in her words, when she’d pulled back enough to see his face, bracing her hands on his shoulders. She just shook her head and, after seeing Tina standing right next to them, launched into another emotional greeting for her.
This house was always very loud. It was definitely full of life, to say the least. Not even just because of the fact that Catherine seemed to be in a constant state of panic and franticity, but the dog barking, the sound of timers going off from somewhere in the kitchen, and his five-year-old niece also contributed a lot. Josie had already climbed into his lap and told Artie virtually every thing that had happened to her in the past few months in the time it took for his mother’s attention to transfer over to his wife.
Technically, Artie was Josie’s godfather — which apparently meant he was in charge of her religious education. That was pretty much a huge joke, since he could count all the times he’d ever entered a church on his fingers. Instead, he took more of the fairy-tale type godparent approach, with honest intentions of turning her into (or at least feel like) a princess… Which is why he never showed up to visit her empty-handed. Everyone always said he was spoiling her, and that she’d eventually turn into a brat because of it, but they weren’t massive, elaborate gifts or anything like that. He’d never drape her in gold jewelry or slide over the keys to a fancy loft in Manhattan. He mostly just brought movies, crayons, candy bars… Maybe even a funky pair of shoelaces he found lying around the house one day.
“What’s this?” she asked, pulling out his gift du jour from the bag in his lap she’d been sifting through this whole time. It was a disposable camera — something he found when they were moving into their new apartment, and had forgotten about until recently. It had yet to take a single photo. The front of it was made out of clear, pink plastic, which made him think she would appreciate it. She loved pink.
“It’s a camera,” he told her. “You can take photos with it, and then go get the film developed. Then you can hang all the pictures in your room or put them in an album. But there are only twenty-four film slots on this camera so make sure you use the pictures—” She held the camera up to his face and pressed the button, the flash going off, “—wisely.”
Her face lit up as she wound the film back, setting up for another photo. “So now I get to work with cameras just like you!” she said excitedly. Almost all she ever chose to accept about Artie being a director was that he ‘worked with cameras and told people what to do’. In her eyes, he basically had the best job in the world. “Did you know that the first color photograph was taken in 1861 by James Maxwell?” She took another picture of Artie.
“Really? That’s very cool,” he said, and she climbed off his lap again as Catherine ran back into the kitchen. He angled his chair slightly towards T and his sister, bringing Josie’s attention towards them. “Have you met Tina yet? She’s your new aunt.”
Josie said hello and took a picture of Tina with her camera. “Is she going to buy me cameras, too?”
“I didn’t buy that,” Artie answered, for Ashley’s sake. She was one of the most strenuously opposed to his doting on her so much. “And probably not if you’re going to use up all the film within the hour.”
That was enough for her to put the camera down.
Ashley finally got the chance to reach down and hug Artie, now that the other two were past their initial freak-outs over his arrival. His sister was the exact opposite of their mother — rarely freaked out over anything. She always kept a level-head, especially in crisis. Her and Artie shared that commonality. If anyone could wait their turn to scream and squeeze him, it’d be her — such a team player. “Congratulations!” she said, in obvious regards to his and Tina’s recent nuptials as she rubbed her hand over his hair. She pulled back just far enough to place both of her hands on his cheeks. “The baby is all grown up. I’m so old… Josie is probably going to be getting her driver’s license next week.”
Even though he wasn’t the youngest, Artie was often referred to as the baby of the family. He was much smaller than Timmy, to begin with, and (supposedly) the least self-sufficient out of the three of them (chalk that up to his family’s dramatic response to disability, please). Plus, Ashley had already moved out by the time Timmy was born. But when she was a teenager and he was the newest member of the family, she absolutely adored Artie. She was the first person he ever smiled at. She’d never gotten as emotionally connected to Timmy as she had with “the baby”.
“Thank you,” Artie said through a laugh. His eyes flicked over to his side, catching Tina’s gaze. This was actually going pretty well, if he did say so himself. Nobody hated her… yet. Though they still haven’t experienced the pleasure of his brother’s company.
“Is she going to buy me cameras, too?” It hadn’t occurred to Tina at all to bring Artie’s niece some kind of gift. Or to bring something for his family in general. Her mother spent years teaching Tina the etiquette of various social situations and now she was completely blanking on all of it. The only thing she could remember is that you were suppose to bring red wine if steak was being served and white wine with chicken. She vaguely recalled something about bringing brownies to a lunch…but none of the things she was remembering had anything to do with a breakfast with your new in-laws. “I-I might have something in my purse for you…” Tina said, fumbling with the zipper of her bag. It was possible she had a piece of costume jewelry from her act or maybe a candy bar of Artie’s he’d stashed in one of the pockets.
She felt Ashley’s hand on hers after a moment, stilling her. “She’s been spoiled enough already this week,” she said as she re-zipped Tina’s bag before turning to her daughter, “Josie, that was not a nice question. But I’m sure if you asked nicely, Tina would love to open up that new box of crayons Nana got you.”
“I would love to,” Tina told the little girl, smiling before Ashley took her daughter to wash her hands before breakfast. She didn’t know why she’d been so nervous. Making a good impression was literally what she did for a living and she felt like it was one of her strong suits in life. Trying to show everyone that he was perfect wife for the pseudo “baby” of the family was a task within itself, but she felt like she was holding her own. Catherine was interested in speaking with her, Ashley was being really nice, and she wasn’t sure how children usually reacted when they didn’t like someone, but Josie hadn’t bitten her or anything for stealing her uncle away—so things were going smoothly. She didn’t see any major debacles happening in the future.
She could feel Artie watching her so she leaned down and gave him a quick kiss on the side of his face. “You’ve got that feral hungry look in your eye,” she teased, squeezing his shoulder, smiling before wheeling him into the kitchen.
Tina didn’t know which sight to take in first as they entered the obvious hub of the Abrams home. At the sink, Ashley was wrestling with Josie to get her to use soap on her hands. Meanwhile, Timmy attempted to balance a sharp knife on his index finger at the empty kitchen table in the corner closest to the entryway. Catherine set down a tray of eggs on the counter, snatching away the knife, “Timmy, I told you to set the table, not kill yourself with my good knives!” And, all while this was going on, Artie’s father read the paper as if all of this was one hundred percent normal. It was only then that Tina realized that, fuck, she had lived the sheltered life of an only child.
Artie pulled out a chair for her, kissing her cheek as she slid into the seat. The table place cards for each person, hand-made by Josie, and Tina was placed between Artie and Ashley. She was thankful not to be next to Timmy but it looked like he was going to have a parental buffer around him. She remembered Artie’s little brother as being sort of a trouble maker, like trying to put action figures in the toaster, but from what she had been told, he was now a downright delinquent.
It was only a few more minutes before everything started to come together. Artie took the reins on setting the table, giving everyone a plate and a set of silverware. He gave his brother nothing but a bowl and a plastic spoon, which earned him a hard punch in the arm. Catherine scurried around, setting trays upon trays of food on the table. Artie’s father lifted Josie up into the seat between himself and Artie, while Ashley handed her a glass full of orange liquid. “Don’t go too crazy, Mom thinks it’s just orange juice and Sierra Mist.”
Tina took a sip as everyone started attacking the food like a pack of wild animals. Artie filled his plate with so much food it was literally spilling off the sides and she knew he would eat every last drop. Between all the hands on the table, she didn’t know how she was even going to get anything. This meal was nothing like the meals she had with her parents or the meals she had with Artie at home.
Catherine took mercy on her, swatting hands away to put a few scoops of eggs on a plate, along with pancakes and hash browns and sausage. “Thank you, Catherine,” Tina said in the same way she used to say “thank you, Mrs. Abrams,” when she’d give her and Artie cookies while they did their homework in high school. It was so weird how things came full circle.
Artie was not very nervous about Tina formally meeting his family for the first time as his wife. They all knew and liked her well enough when they were dating in high school; she was over almost all the time, in fact. A lot of time has past and a lot of things have changed since then, but the idea that anyone in his family could actively hate Tina seemed like a stretch. Even his brother, who seemingly hated everyone. Artie was more excited than anything to finally visit his family with her.
Since he’d been ready so much sooner than his wife (why she insisted on waking him up so early when he only took a fraction of the time to get ready was beyond him), the rest of his morning leading up to driving to his parents’ house was mostly spent just following her around, telling her he liked every outfit she tried on. They really did all look nice. And it’s not like they were going to meet the president for it to matter so much anyway.
He was pulling his car seat forward to haul his chair out of the back, once they’d parked in the driveway of his old home, when he let out a small laugh. “A pep talk?” he asked, amused. He opened up his car door and threw his wheelchair out onto the driveway. If it was Spring time, his niece would have completely covered the pavement with chalk by now, not leaving a single speck of gray to be seen. But since it was freezing and wet outside, it was just a dismal charcoal. “Do you want to do a show-circle, so to speak?”
Before transferring out of the car, he turned back to T and smiled genuinely. “I honestly would not have brought you here if I thought it was going to be a catastrophe. We’ve already gotten over the hill with your parents… Not that they’re not lovely people when I’m not around, or anything, I’m sure…” he said, stumbling to find the right words. Putting his foot in his mouth was one of his, unfortunately, strong qualities. He didn’t want her to mistake him and get offended. “But this isn’t going to be so bad… At least I hope not.”
He moved his seat back to its original spot and, after getting himself situated in his chair, closed the car door behind him. He waited until Tina crossed over to his side before unlocking his brakes. “Timmy is kind of a douchebag though, so if you don’t absolutely need to talk to him… Don’t.”
His brother was only here in Ohio today because he’d recently gotten suspended from school — the military school he’d been court-ordered to attend all the way down in Texas two years ago. Apparently he took a baseball bat to every window in the building last week, and currently wasn’t allowed within two-hundred feet of the place until he paid for the damages. Naturally, he had absolutely no rush to do so at all. Artie was not excited.
Tina stayed behind Artie as they went up the small ramp leading to the front door, leaving their things in the car for now save for one bag in his lap. Before he touched the door handle, he tilted his head back to look at Tina again. “I love you,” he told her, conviction and assurance laced through gentle tenor. He tilted his chin up the tiniest bit to invite her down for a kiss, and beamed at her when she pulled away. “Just relax. They smell fear.”
What happened after he opened the door was so fast, he didn’t even realize what was going on for a full ten seconds. As soon as both of his wheels had rolled inside on the wood floors of the foyer, a huge, white dog that looked almost like the absorbent end of a mop came barreling towards him at full speed and jumped at his chest in apparent and eager excitement. She was easily the same size as Artie, if not bigger, and the force of her greeting sent his chair flying backwards nearly a full foot before he hit the wall at his back — the left handle of his chair going right through and getting stuck in the plaster.
“Someone found Arthur,” his dad said casually, making a brief appearance to pull the dog off him and bring her to her ‘room’ — which was really just a small gate near the door that led to the garage. Artie had to push himself off the wall with both hands, a round hole marking the spot once he was free. That wasn’t the first time that’s ever happened. And it wouldn’t be the last, either.
“See? Not so bad,” he said to Tina with a small laugh, wiping the dog kisses off his face with the sleeve of his coat. He pulled off his hat and jacket and hung them on a coat handle near the door, before taking Tina’s and giving her wear the same treatment. Everyone was probably in the kitchen now, given the strong scent of food coming their way. They were all vultures when it came to breakfast.
Artie’s words did make her feel better about spending time with his family because he really had no reason to lie. He had never been the type to make shit up just to make things easier for himself. Also, her husband was not that great of a liar. If he thought all of this was going to go terribly, she would be able to see it on his face. It was very easy to tell what he was thinking just by whatever face he was pulling. And at the moment, his expression was calm—easy and light, with a smile on his face. He was not worried at all and in turn, she shouldn’t be either. Like with her an her parents, he was going to be the one with a better gage on how this family was going to act around her.
It was just a matter of not being exactly sure if they were going to hold old grudges or not. She knew how she treated Artie and the problems in their high school relationship was not right. She handled the whole situation immaturely and she was one hundred percent willing to admit that. She owned up to her mistakes there. But she and Artie had been able to move past it, but who knows how much his mother or his sister still resented her. Tina was sure that those two were who she was going to have to try to impress the most. Catherine seemed to like her, but who was to say she didn’t secretly resent her. And Artie was close with his sister and she had no idea what he’d said to Ashley about her when he was angry all those years ago. She hoped it wouldn’t be an issue because it was no longer one for her and Artie. But sometimes it’s hardest to forgive a person that is on the outskirts on your life. Tina held grudges with people she hardly knew far longer than ones with the people she was close to.
She smiled as Artie lifted his chin up for a kiss. She leaned down and gave him a quick kiss on the lips, cupping his face for a moment after they’d parted. He opened the door once after another moment, rolling inside as she followed behind him.
Tina saw the huge white animal coming at Artie before he had even registered that they were through the doorway. She jumped out of the way, kind of terrified at what that thing might do. She couldn’t recall the Abrams’ family having a dog when they were in high school and she felt like if they were going to have one, Catherine was more of a yappy dog type. This beast was the last pet she would expect them to have. She figured his mother would never let them have an animal that could literally knock her wheelchair bound son into a wall. Tina covered her mouth with both her hands as he crashed backwards, leaving a hole in the plaster. She relaxed slightly when it seemed like he was okay, accepting the dog’s wet kisses as it crawled at his coat. But there was the matter that his wheelchair was stuck in the wall.
Artie’s father only appeared for a second, guiding the dog away. And almost immediately thereafter, the rest of his family came running out from the kitchen. Being in Artie’s childhood home was kind of like walking onto the set of a sitcom. They followed each other out to the foyer, in height order, like this was an episode of the fucking Brady Bunch. Her parents were not like that at all—they were the types where her mother was the one to open the door, immediately offering drinks and appetizers before her father came down the sweeping staircase after getting off a client phone call from Timbuktu or someplace. This house didn’t even have a staircase.
Catherine was immediately hugging and kissing Artie all over and asking him how the flight was and if he needed his clothes ironed after being in the suitcase and so many other questions that Tina couldn’t even keep up. She was obviously excited to see her oldest son. Their relationship was beyond close and she was sure it had been hard on both of them to be so far away from each other. It seemed like the type of situation where his mother thought that Artie would just always be within arms reach and it was shocking when he wanted to move hundreds of miles away.
“Tina!” Catherine exclaimed, pulling her into a hug, “You look great! How was the flight? Let me see your ring!” Being in the house was literally like being in a circus. Everything was so fast paced. Her mother-in-law immediately found her left hand, examining the ring Artie had proposed with, and the matching wedding band. “It’s gorgeous, my son has good taste. David, come look at this!” She pulled Tina’s hand closer to her husband and he gave a nod and said it was nice.
“Yeah, he picked out a really good one,” Tina agreed, nodding. She loved her ring. It wasn’t too heavy or gaudy, but the diamond was large enough to attract a little bit of attention. The silver band matched her skin tone beautifully and it was just the perfect ring. For someone who insisted that she didn’t want a ring at all, Tina now appreciated what it symbolized.
After a few minutes, Catherine realized that she had food in the oven that was going to burn—and added something as she walked away about making sure Timmy, who had not yet made an appearance, hadn’t broken anything in the kitchen—and the dog had started barking to be released from its holding pen, causing her new father-in-law to go handle that situation. Artie had been pulled into a very in-depth conversation with his niece, leaving only his sister to interact with. Tina was actually a little afraid.
They stared at each other for a moment before Ashley said, “I think you need a mimosa.”