Growing Up

Thomas casually threw his keys at the coffee table. His unstable form rocked from side to side as he mustered the effort to stay upright.

He stared at the spot where he assumed his keys had landed. Obviously he had missed the desired target and realized how exasperating it would be the next day to look for them. A tedious endeavor he scoffed.

He quickly dismissed that train of thought because tonight it didn’t matter. He had just come back from the clubs and being intoxicated, all he wanted was his bed.

Thomas looked out at the Friday morning sky as he sluggishly unbuckled his pants ready to dive into the welcoming folds of his blanket.

Dawn was approaching he thought as he could make out the soft hues of amber and purple splashed across the brightening sky. For Thomas, it was bedtime and work the next day be damned.

He trudged off into the bathroom to wash up. Looking into the mirror he stared blankly at the face that looked back at him.

Thomas was fairly attractive by any standards. Easy on the eyes some would say. But short. Not extremely short, but as time passed by, he realized how painfully short he could be standing next the to mature Caucasian women he so desperately wanted to bed.

His reflection pondered back at him. Obviously he’d seen better days.

‘Alcohol and lack of sleep can do that to a man,’ he thought smirking. The very excuse he needed to keep his ego high.

As he rolls himself onto his bed, covers wrapping themselves around him, Thomas feels a slicing pain to his temple. The pain triggered by the sharp ring tone of his cell phone causes Thomas to double over in pain. A slew of curses escape his lips the likes of which would make a sailor proud and a nun blush.

Collecting himself, Thomas grabs his phone and prays that the person on the other end of the line is prepared to hear obscenities usually reserved for bad drivers and bedroom antics.

However, he catches himself before he could do anything further. The words splashed across the screen immediately gave him butterflies. “Anna” it read.

He contemplates the decision and leaves the phone to ring a little while longer. Plucking his courage, he answers.

“Hello?” he asks slurring his greeting on purpose. He thought that if he sounded drunk, She would think that he was having more fun than her. At least he hoped she did.

There was silence on the returning end of the line as Thomas could only make out shallow intakes of breath, like sobbing. All selfish strategies flew out the window as he became concerned with the condition of the caller.

“Hello?!” he asks again, this time with a little more urgency laced with concern all the while pushing aside the numbing intoxication that had draped itself over his brain.

“Hey… sniff,” Anna replied back, the sobbing more noticeable. “I’m sorry… sniff… for disturbing you this early in the morning… sniff… but, can we talk?”

“Err… sure.” Thomas was hesitant, he really needed the sleep. But this was Anna, his precious Anna, his best friend of 20 years. They had fallen out for the past two months and neither one of them had mustered enough courage to seek out the other. It wasn’t his fault, he maintained, but he knew it wasn’t her fault either.

Anna was dating a new guy, Marcus. Being the best friend that he was, Thomas was always resentful when it came to the men Anna dated. They were either too shallow or too self-centered. They never fit well with her humble and down-to-earth manner. Deep down inside though, Thomas knew, deep down inside he wanted her for himself. Thus it became a chore for him, an inconvenience if you will, every time he had to meet her new boyfriends. And each time he did, he played nice. Just like Anna would’ve wanted him to.

However, this time it was different. The guy Anna had chosen to date was a tool, a loudmouth pretty boy with the intellectual capacity of a sea urchin. Thomas hated him with all the fibers of his jealousy riddled self.

“So what’s up?” His heart was pounding and his legs felt week.

“I need to talk to you. But I think it’s best if I came over.”

“Ok sure,” Thomas slapped his forehead. He had agreed to that a little too fast.

“Great,” she said. “I’ll be there in 10.”

‘Well this is great,’ Thomas thought. ‘She’s coming over here with me smelling like booze and the apartment a mess’. But that was the last thing on his mind. She was coming over for a reason and in his self-interest he hoped it’s because she and that Neanderthal broke up.

Thomas cleaned up the place as best he could which included chucking socks, shirts and all other dirty pieces of laundry he found on the floor under his bed and waited. The sky outside had already turned bright and before Thomas could slink back into bed to take advantage of Anna’s tardiness, the doorbell rang.

Thomas opened the door and saw Anna standing there, mascara smudged and hair a chaotic confusion of tangles. The first thought that entered his mind was if Anna had been raped. He quickly moved towards her in an attempt to hug her.

Anna stood in front of Thomas’ door as he opened it, her small frame blocking out the light shining from the corridor attempting to seep its way past her slight form and into the apartment.

Anna was small and pretty and carried herself with a confidence the likes of which would normally have her towering over others in status and appeal. But tonight she was a cowering mess of a girl. A frail, frightened shell of her former self.

She opened her mouth to say something but before any words could be formed in her head, she felt Thomas’ strong arms envelop her in a hug. The warmth and affection that came from it was enough to drown her in her self-pity.

“It’s ok,” he cooed. “Whatever that’s happened to you, whatever that’s made you a mess, it’s over now.”

Thomas hugged her as best he could imagining a ray of warmth gathered from the deepest darkest crevices of his heart and forcing it through to her like a ray of radiation or a cloud of fart he always sees in those television shows.

“It’s ok,” he kept repeating. “It’s over.”

Anna’s face was buried in his shoulders. She lifted her tear streaked face and her swollen eyes fell upon his. The sobbing had died long enough for her to unload the guilt and shame she had been carrying with her for the past several hours.

“I doubt it’s over, Tom. I’m pregnant.”

***

Thomas flipped the turning indicator and slowly inched his car left to merge into the next lane before making a left turn into a township with rows upon rows of white-picket fenced houses.

It had been seven months since that eventful day outside his apartment and looking back at the memory of that night, it still scared him.

At that time Anna was a junior partner in a highly regarded law firm in the city and Thomas was an up-and-coming marketing executive at a local ad agency. But today, six and a half months into Anna’s pregnancy, they were merely two ill-prepared youngsters trying to deal with this situation as best they could.

Thomas scanned the row of houses keeping his eyes peeled at the numbers on their gates.

Then he saw it. The large number 10 emblazoned on a red letter box that stood outside the home was a clear reminder that they were in Connecticut where suburban homes like these littered almost hundreds of similar looking streets all across the state.

Thomas parked his car in the driveway and looked questioningly at the house. The two that lived here were to be the baby’s new foster parents and Thomas had a right to know if they were good enough candidates as he initially thought them to be. Armed with a video camera and a folder of the applicants, Thomas had snuck out and made his way to see them in order to gather enough evidence to persuade Anna that these two were the perfect couple to adopt the baby.

Anna and Thomas knew full well that they weren’t ready to raise a child. Her parents had already disowned her and she was living with Thomas. What’s worse is that Marcus, the father of the child, refused to involve himself in the matter even going so far as to deny it was his.

They were living in a 600 square foot apartment and Thomas had made a fairly good point about how they weren’t living in a good enough environment to raise a child. After much persuasion from him, Anna finally relented and decided that a foster family was the best thing for the baby.

Thomas turned the ignition off and walked solemnly up to the house. They were desperate for a foster family and after rejecting countless applicants, they were almost out of options.

However, by luck, their agent received a last minute applicant and to Thomas, this was a godsend, but he still needed to convince Anna that this was the right family for the baby.

Thomas stood in front of the house. He gradually raised his index finger up to the doorbell and pressed.

***

Anna was massaging her growing tummy alone in the apartment waiting for Thomas to return. Crooning the tunes of Melody Gardot, Anna hoped that when the baby grew up, it would adopt its mother’s love of blues and jazz and when it finally turns 18, would go off and travel and spend time in smoky lounges listening to vaguely known jazz musicians while sipping on tisane. And who knew, maybe it would get married to one.

Anna still referred to the baby as ‘it’ after they decided that they would keep the baby’s gender a mystery. This was after they had gone for an ultrasound during the twentieth week of her pregnancy and till today, both remained steadfast in that decision.

The front door clicked open and Thomas walked in.

At the sight of her growing belly, Thomas couldn’t help but stifle a laugh. He gave Anna a wide smile and made his way to her.

It was always customary for him to kiss her on her forehead and belly but this time he kissed her on the cheeks.

Anna felt his warm lips and reached out her hand to pull him closer to her so she could return the gesture.

“How was it,” she asked knowing full well that he had gone to meet the foster couple.

“How was what?” he asked feigning ignorance.

“Don’t you pull that with me Tom. I know that you went snooping around at their house. Call it a pregnant woman’s intuition,” she said.

“Plus, they left a message on the answering machine saying how they couldn’t wait to meet you today.” Anna smirked.

“I had to be certain they were the right candidates for the baby.”

“Well you could have told me,” she said. “I would’ve liked to meet them in person myself,” she pouted

“How were they?”Anna threw Thomas a concerned look.

“Why don’t you see for yourself,” Thomas smiled reassuringly as he took out the video camera. “They’re good people I reckon, especially the husband. He strikes me as the fatherly type. Nothing at all like me.”

Anna gently stroked his face and pinched his chin. “No one would’ve made a better father to this baby than you Tom.” She kissed him on the cheek.

Thomas and Anna sat on the couch as Thomas wrapped his arm across Anna’s shoulders. They looked like the perfect family, dad, mom and baby all gathered around the small hand held device peering at the tiny screen as the little pictures smiled and waved at them.

‘Happiness was just a click of a button and a signed sheet of paper away,’ he thought. ‘But why was it so difficult to choose a foster family for the baby?’ the pressure was mounting on them both to find a suitable family.

As he looked down at the smiling face of a man moving his lips, Thomas’ mind was too far gone to take notice of what the person was saying.

It had been two months before he could persuade Anna they weren’t financially stable to support a child. So it came to the decision that this was the right course of action for the baby and for themselves. And they would even make a childless couple very happy. This moral decision made it easier for him to sleep at night knowing that they had made the right choice. But why, thought Thomas, did he not feel happy?

Thomas turned away from the screen and looked at Anna. She laughed and smiled and cried as she watched the video of the candidates talk and confess their desperation to adopt a child as Thomas’ voice was heard off-screen asking questions.

Anna had already set her heart on this couple. The fact that Thomas was adamant with these applicants and also that they had promised that she could witness the baby growing up was proof enough that she had made a positive choice in the matter allowing the guilt of giving away her own child to be less of a burden on her frail shoulders.

She knew she was making the right decision and they were making this couple very happy, but why wasn’t she herself sharing the happiness this couple exhibited?

***

The months ahead were bittersweet for the two of them. As Anna’s pregnancy went its course, so too did their lives.

Thomas had become a regular at their local take-out restaurant, making enough chicken chow mein runs to last a life time.

The apartment constantly had several fans oscillating as the flu season of Spring was pouncing on the weak sinuses of the occupants in the apartment.

Anna was well and far into her third trimester and Thomas had started sleeping with a pair of jeans on and a t-shirt complete with car keys in hand and cell phone in his pocket ready for the moment when Anna would wake up in the middle of the night and exclaim, “the baby’s coming!”

This had occurred several times in the past few weeks and Thomas had grown increasingly patient each time.

He knew that as Anna became ever more agitated with the upcoming birth, he would become much calmer and more relaxed.

Just the other day while they were taking a drive around town, a car had swerved in front of them cutting Thomas off.

Anna looked at him waiting for something to happen. When she saw him casually maneuver out of the path of that car, she threw a skeptical look his way.

“That’s a surprise, normally you’d be screaming at the guy ready to get out and start a fist fight,” she said with a raised eyebrow.

“Well I’m driving for three people now,” is all he said.

Suddenly, the memory was cut short as Thomas was jolted awake to the sound of Anna’s ragged breathing and gasping.

“The baby’s coming!”

Thomas launched himself into hero mode. He bundled Anna up in a blanket, grabbed the black duffel bag which had been packed earlier today with Anna’s clothes and documents and ushered her out the door to the car.

The drive to the hospital felt longer as Thomas habitually counted each breath Anna took and prayed that she could bear the pain a while longer. Anna was huffing in a feeble attempt to keep the pain of the contractions at bay. For her, it felt like forever being in that car and steadying herself as Thomas made sharp turn after sharp turn in an effort to get all three of them to the hospital on time.

Thomas swerved into the emergency unit entrance. To him, this truly was an emergency much like the other half a dozen times they had made this exact same trip. But this time, Thomas thought, this time was unlike all the other nights. He could see the beads of sweat on Anna’s forehead as she did the breathing exercise she was instructed to do in her Lamaze classes.

Thomas couldn’t help but think back at all those times they had gone to those classes.

He remembered the sea of faces looking back at him from the large hall where the Lamaze class took place.

Such disheartened souls, he thought while standing at the entrance.

‘This truly was a clusterfuck of failed pullouts.’

These thoughts of his were way back when he was still coming to terms with his new responsibilities.

Thomas had been forced to give up late night drinking sessions and parties and was grudgingly making it obvious to Anna.

Anna had constantly reminded him it wasn’t his responsibility to take care of her, but Thomas repeatedly told her that she was his best friend and he would be there for her no matter what.

“Then grow up!” Anna had screamed.

‘Working on that,’ was all Thomas could think of saying. But silence was the only response from him that night.

After that fight, Thomas became increasingly more committed. He made friends with the dads he met at their Lamaze class and cut ties with his other friends constantly reminding him how his life was heading down the shitter because he had a ‘baby momma’ to take care of now.

“What are you doing tonight? Breast feeding?” they would taunt. He didn’t miss them.

His thoughts trailed off just as he heard his name being yelled from behind.

“Sir, you can’t run in…,” but the nurse was cut short as Thomas grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her towards where Anna was waiting.

Thomas and the nurse reached Anna as her face was perpetually contorted in a grimace, tears streaking down her cheeks. She was in pain. Horrible, crippling pain. She knew the baby was on its way.

The nurse spent a few minutes examining Anna and immediately summoned for a gurney. She turned to Thomas and told him to get her signed and she’ll be back immediately to inform him where she was and what condition she was in.

“But is the baby coming?” he asked.

“Yes,” was her only reply as she raced off to get Anna prepped for delivery.

***

The wait for Thomas was excruciating. As each second ticked by, he could feel himself slipping into a deeper sense of dread. Soon enough he would be facing two outcomes; a panic attack or curling up in a fetal position on the cold hard floors of the hospital out of fatigue coupled with anxiety.

What if the delivery goes awry? What if Anna doesn’t survive? The countless episodes of Scrubs and Grey’s Anatomy flood his imagination. The failed deliveries, the maternal deaths. This is the reason why you shouldn’t watch hospital drama while your best friend is nervously pregnant.

Thomas checks his phone. It’s already seven in the morning.

Just then a lady walked up to him, her black hair that fell past her shoulders bounced with each step accentuating her slim physique. She handed Thomas a cup of coffee and sipped on her own.

“Thanks for calling,” she said.

“As soon as the baby is born, you’re her rightful parents. It’s only fitting you be here for the delivery,” Thomas said, eyes never leaving the black liquid, occasionally swirling the plastic cup, looking for simple movement to keep his mind awake from the heavy monotony of the atmosphere that was weighing down his idle brain.

“I’m sorry my husband couldn’t be here,” she said. “He’s away on business.”

“Ah well, it’s perfectly understandable. But do you think you can manage the baby alone?”he asked.

“I’m positive I can,” she replied half smiling.

Just then, a doctor briskly walked out the room and made a beeline towards Thomas.

“Before you say anything, both Anna and the baby are fine,” he said.

Countless deliveries over the years have taught him that nervous husbands tend to bombard doctors with questions regarding the condition of their wives and newborn child. It was best to assure them first before anything else.

“… and yes, you can see them.” He smiled warmly, keeping any remarks that might lead to further questions at bay.

As Thomas entered the delivery room, Anna’s weathered and flushed face greeted them warmly.

He quickly ran towards her and gently hugged and kissed her.

Looking down, he saw it. Such a tiny thing he thought. So fragile, like dough falling through your fingers. Initially he was scared to hold it. But with Anna’s loving kiss on his cheek and a squeeze to his hand, she managed to hand the baby over into Thomas’ cradled arms.

“Is it a boy or a girl?” he asked.

“Girl,” Anna replied . Her exhaustion still evident as a bead of sweat hung from the tip of her nose.

“Oh my god. She’s beautiful,” the lady that came in behind Thomas quietly whispered to her.

“Oh, sweety, this is Monica. The baby’s new foster mother.” Thomas introduced.

Behind them came a cough. “Excuse me,” one of the nurses announced.

“You still have to name the child,” she said, waving a clipboard and pen.

Thomas and Anna looked at each other. They didn’t know what to name her and frankly speaking, had never sat down to discuss the possibility of the baby coming out a girl.

Suddenly, without thinking Anna said, “April! Her name is April.”

The nurse proceeded to scribble down on the clipboard.

“And her surname?”

Anna smiled. “Thomas. April Thomas.”

Thomas didn’t realize it, but tears were streaming down his face. Never had he felt so much pride than this moment right here.

He leaned in to kiss Anna on her forehead, but before he got anywhere close, Anna grabbed his collar and drew him in. She proceeded to kiss him full on the lips.

“I love you, you know, “she purred.

“I love you too.”

April wriggled and Thomas was instantly drawn to the small form he held in his hands. So tiny and precious he thought.

“I’ll leave you two alone now and get started on the paperwork,” Monica quietly said as she proceeded out the door.

Thomas rocked April who then yawned in his arms. Pride, happiness and a sense of accomplishment washed over him as he continued to hold her. I guess, he thought, this is what it feels like to be a grown up. And in that instance, with the baby in his arms and Anna resting her head on his shoulder, he felt like he was needed and relied upon. He knew he had succeeded in doing what he did all those months back.

He didn’t regret paying off Marcus to poke the condom. Not one bit. After all, he got what he wanted all these years.

 

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