The waiting room was full. Maizy and Roar stood against the wall, looking around from a defensive corner position, so as not to step on any purses, coats, or babies.
“What about that one?” Roar whispered—no, breathed—into her ear.
She followed his gaze, but the guy looked like he’d just walked off the shoot of the Lumberjacks of the Great White North calendar. “Ew, Roar. Facial hair.”
“Not the guy, the baby.”
Maizy studied the baby, but babies all looked the same. “He looks…healthy?”
“Are you calling that baby fat?” Roar whispered. One of the nearest moms glanced up at them and Roar lifted up the magazine he was holding in front of their faces. They giggled, trying not to laugh out loud, or choke.
Here goes nothing. Hello? If you’re really in there, get ready to do a jig or something.
The home test was unequivocal, but she wanted outside confirmation. Okay, home tests. She may have used the whole box. And D had screamed and hooted and danced around: “Ah ha ha, you’re fuckin’ pregnant, ah ha ha ha, Geo’s gonna be a daddy!”
“You okay?” Roar asked.
She didn’t have time to answer.
“You’re Maizy? Come on in. This must be Dad. Hi, Dad.”
“Hi. I’m Rory.”
“Good to meet you. This way. I’m gonna put you guys in exam three.”
They followed and the nurse (was she a nurse?) asked more questions before telling them the doctor would be in soon.
“I’m nervous. Are you nervous, Maiz?”
Poor Roar. Roar was really nervous. His hands were all twisted up together. She reached out to hold one of them, and it was weird, holding Roar’s hand. She grinned at him.
“How can you not be nervous? You have a baby, an actual human baby, like living inside your body. I mean, oh my god, Maiz.”
“Yeah. I don’t know, I guess I’d be more nervous if I was the one who had to raise it for the next forever many years. But this is a temp job.”
“Still.” His hand twitched in hers. “I’m really nervous. I’m sick I’m so nervous.”
“Let’s read more parenting magazines.”
She peed into a cup, as directed, and left it at the nurse’s station. Roar was pacing around the little room liked he was the one with a little human being dividing cells in his guts. Thankfully, the door opened up right away and she didn’t have to actually try to calm him down.
The doctor was short, Maizy’s height probably, though it was hard to tell when she was sitting on the table. He shook her hand, then Roar’s, and said, “I’m Dr Denis. How are we today?”
“Pretty good,” Maizy said. “Also, pregnant. I think that qualifies as an answer.”
Dr Denis smiled and flipped open her chart. “It certainly does. I take it, you were trying?”
“You could say that.” She gestured to Roar. “I’m surrogating the baby for my friends.”
That got the doctor’s full attention. “Ah. Really? And how―how did that work?”
“We did a lot of research,” Roar said. “Maizy tracked her cycles, we ordered needle-less syringes, and after four cycles―it worked.”
“Needle-less syringes. Four cycles, you say?”
The doctor looked back at Maizy. “And you haven’t been pregnant before?”
Only she was starting to think he didn’t see so much. “I don’t actually want to have kids. Plus, Roar’s like my big brother. I’ll be around the kid all the time without having to actually, um, be a mom.”
Roar elbowed her.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with being a mom. For people who want to do that.” She widened her eyes at him: What?
“Is this a problem?” Roar asked the doctor, who was still flipping through her chart like it was going to tell him something.
“Not at all. I’m more accustomed to people pursuing these methods in-office. You say you inseminated at home?”
Maizy giggled. She couldn’t help it. The word “inseminate” was funny.
“We used sterilized jars and did the insemination directly after, um, I―pretty soon after I ejaculated. Into the jar. I mean, Maizy did the insemination with a friend of ours. I wasn’t actually there.”
Thank god for Teddy. “Anyway, can we just make sure I’m pregnant? Because it doesn’t really feel real.”
“I’m sure it doesn’t. Let me go check on the test.” The doctor stepped out, closing the door behind him.
“What do you think that meant?” Roar murmured.
“I don’t know, but I’m vaguely offended by it. He’s sure it doesn’t feel real because you didn’t stick your penis in me?” Both of them shuddered at the same time. “Ew.”
“Yeah, ew. God, don’t even say the word ‘penis’ when I’m in the room, Maiz.”
“Penis, penis, penis. Hey, speaking of penises, are they gonna tell us if the kid has a penis today?”
“Maizy, did you even read that book I gave you?”
That book was three inches thick and had weirdly impersonal black and white diagrams that were supposed to represent the kid at different stages of development.
“Well, I read what you wrote, which was very sweet.”
Roar rolled his eyes, even though he kept saying he had to stop doing that because fathers weren’t supposed to roll their eyes. “They won’t know the sex of the baby until later. I’m not sure I want to know. Geo doesn’t care, and I kind of think I want to hold off on all the assumptions until the kid’s actually here. Not that I’d buy a thousand pink dresses for a girl, or anything, just—”
The door opened again. Since Dr Denis was smiling, Maizy figured she was probably officially knocked up.
“Congratulations. Both of you.” He pulled up his stool kind of between them, so they were a triangular mountain range with Maizy as the highest peak. “So generally at this point we’d do a pelvic exam, a basic physical check, and an ultrasound.”
“External or internal?” Roar asked.
Internal? What, like they stick an x-ray machine in my cooch?
“External, if possible. It looks like you should be right around twelve weeks—”
“Twelve weeks and three days. Maiz conceived on day seventeen of her cycle.”
She bit her lip to stop grinning. Too bad Geo wasn’t here Geo got really uncomfortable when Roar started talking about her cycle. If it wouldn’t be rude―since she was probably supposed to be paying attention―she’d text D.
“If we can’t get an image externally, we’ll attempt to get one transvaginally, as long as you’re okay with that, Maizy. Just to make certain everything is okay.”
She shot a look at Roar. What did that mean?
“I think they look for a heartbeat,” he offered.
A heartbeat? Like the kid could be there, but without a heartbeat? She could have a dead baby inside her? Maizy’s own heart stuttered for a second. She didn’t want to be a mom, but now that this little kid had apparently moved in, she was kind of looking forward to the whole weird process.
“You mean it could be dead?” She touched her stomach. Hello? You in there? Please don’t be dead.
“Let’s complete the exam first before we start discussing any outcomes.” Dr Denis glanced at Roar. “Are you planning to—”
“I can wait outside.”
That probably made sense. Even though it felt a little lousy. Buck up, baby. “Sure, okay.”
Dr Denis smiled (approvingly?) and stood up. “All right, then. Undress, paper gown, and I’ll see you in a few minutes.” He excused himself and Maizy almost asked Roar to stay. But he really wasn’t going to be comfortable sitting there while the doctor felt around at her cervix, or whatever.
“Um. So. Thanks, again, for doing this, Maiz.” He touched the crappy gown. “I mean, there’s pretty much nothing I can say that really covers all the times you’re gonna have to—you know. Do this.”
“It’s cool, Roar. I’ll see you in a few minutes. You’ll come in for the ultrasound, though, right?”
“Of course. I mean, of course, Maiz, whatever you want me here for, I’m here for. Plus, we kinda made a baby. Well, us and Teddy.” He smiled and kissed her cheek. “Give me a shout if Dr Denis gets fresh with you.”
“I’ll tell you if he tries to steal my lunch money.”
Roar’s face did that thing it did, when he didn’t quite get the joke but could figure out what his expression was supposed to look like from context. “Uh huh. Whatever you say, Maiz.”
Then he went outside and it was just her alone in a room, taking off her clothes. Great.
You better be alive in there, kiddo. I may only be your mom biologically, but I’m gonna be really annoyed if you already gave up on me.
She caught sight of the table again and sighed. Stirrups. She’d given this whole surrogacy thing a hell of a lot of thought before offering. Like a lot of thought. Like she made Teddy and D stay up late talking it out with her for weeks when they were trying to plan their wedding, and D didn’t even throttle her when she talked about the same stuff over and over again. (Though she did occasionally mime shooting herself in the head, which always made Maizy laugh.)
But there was, evidently, one thing she’d forgotten in all that obsession: stirrups.
Tap, tap, tap.
“Come in,” she called. Let’s get this party started.
* * *
“Oh my god, it was amazing. Incredible. The heart was beating so fast! You could just watch it!”
“Maybe I should have come with you,” Geo said. “I’m sorry I missed the heartbeat. I didn’t know there was anything like that.”
“And the sound!” Roar mimicked the sound of the heartbeat, which had been kind of cool.
Maizy opened her mouth to say so when Geo leaned over and kissed him and oh, right, they were having a moment, like a fatherhood moment. She slipped away to check on the state of the food.
“How are you really?” Teddy asked, in an undertone, when she came into the kitchen and sat down.
“Tired. Really tired. And I haven’t even gained any weight, so I don’t understand why my feet hurt.” She flexed her toes, holding onto the counter. “But it could be worse. I could have morning sickness.”
Teddy smiled. “True. Or it could be D pregnant, which would be worse for all of us.”
“Don’t think I didn’t hear that!”
Maizy looked around. “Wow, that was impressive.”
“She’s in the pantry.”
“Because someone wanted freakin’ roasted red peppers, which are in here, I swear—”
Teddy held up a jar, already open, and just slightly shook his head. Ha. Joke’s on D.
“And anyway, I don’t see why we’d make hummus, when we could just buy it—”
“Knock knock? Hello?”
“First barbecue of the year commences,” Teddy said. “Come on in!”
“I know we’re a little early, but maybe we can lend a hand. Hello, Teddy.”
“Jean, so good to see you.” Teddy kissed Jean’s cheek and shook Stan’s hand. “How’s the old salt mine, Stan?”
“Same old, same old. Jersey’s still driving me up a wall and they’re after me all the time to stop buying equipment, but what do they think I’m doing with it? Dragging four-foot rakes home with me to hang on the wall?”
“We could do that. I might be able to make a wall-hung rake work.” Jean turned to Maizy and smiled. Jean had, like, the greatest smile in the world. Her whole body smiled. “Well, hon, spill.”
“Maizy’s harboring alien life,” D called, still in the pantry.
Jean’s smile turned at one corner and morphed into a smirk. “Now, Teddy. What did I tell you about keeping your wife in closets?”
“I’m looking for the roasted red peppers!”
“I’m looking at the roasted red peppers!” Jean called back, picking up the jar. “They’re open, though. Did you need another—” She broke off when D stormed out of the pantry.
“You already had them? I’ve been in there forever!”
“Six minutes, and you were trying to be helpful. Also, when I started to tell you I already had them you launched into a lecture about how white people should only be allowed to cook with red peppers because we can’t handle spice.”
“Well, you can’t.”
“And you can?”
They stared each other down in the kitchen while Stan tried to look invisible. Not Jean, though. It probably never occurred to Jean to look invisible. She caught Maizy’s eye and said, “I, for one, am delighted we arrived early. Come tell me all about alien life.”
“It really does look like that. Roar has the picture if you want to see.”
“No thanks. To tell you the truth, Maizy, I always find those pictures a little creepy.”
“Me too. But Roar stares at it like it’s some kind of coded transmission from the baby.”
Jean grinned and took her arm. “Teddy, shout if you need us.”
“Will do. If you want me to apologize, I can do that, but I was only—”
Married people. Between Geo and Roar out in the courtyard getting teary over a freaky black and white ultrasound picture, and Teddy and D in the kitchen fighting over nothing, Maizy couldn’t really escape couples.
“Tell me you don’t feel it yet. It seems like every girlfriend I have who gets knocked up can feel the baby kicking or moving or whatever before it’s even physically possible.” Jean squeezed her arm, as if she was saying, Can you believe people?
“Well, I can’t feel anything, but some of it’s crazy. I mean, my feet hurt. Why do my feet hurt?”
Stan fell into step with them on the way back to the courtyard, where they could actually sit down. “That could actually be physiological. It only takes a small amount of swelling to affect your feet. I don’t think we respect our feet enough, you know? They hold us up.”
In Maizy’s family, a comment like that would get cracked jokes and laughter, but Jean only nodded. “That, they do. That, they do. Let’s take up the whole corner sofa. Stretch out, Maizy-lou.”
“Yeah, that sounds good.” She stretched out.
Stan always seemed a little bit nervous around Teddy. They used to work together, until Teddy quit in order to take over the self-defense studio, and they’d obviously gotten along or Teddy wouldn’t have started inviting him to his barbecues. But even now, over a year after they Teddy left, he was always glancing around like he should be doing something. Maizy got him to talk about the new data he was gathering for his program over that the rec department, which he was halfway hoping he could eventually take independent, but mostly he just nodded and murmured agreement with Jean.
Jean, though. Jean was like a kindred spirit or something.
“Then, while I’m standing there reeling because she’s just basically told me that commissioned art is a form of prostitution, she delivers the final blow.”
Maizy realized she was leaning forward, over her plate of food, probably getting sauce on her shirt. “So?”
“‘Jean, darling, I know it’s difficult for you to take anything seriously, but your father and I would love to see you successful at some point before we die. At this point we can hardly bear to watch your downward spiral.’ And that was it. Kiss kiss, she disconnects.”
“You’re having a downward spiral?” Mazy asked.
Jean shifted a little closer, pressing their legs together. “I almost called her back just to yell at her. I make more than Stan some months, making art. It’s not consistent, not yet, but this is what I always wanted to do, even as a kid. Unless I get a job somewhere working ten hours a day and hating my life, they’ll always see me as a kept woman.”
But the way she looked at Stan, like he could keep her anytime? Boy. Maybe being a kept woman wasn’t so bad, the way Jean did it.
“They sound like my—” Maizy did a quick scan of her memory; did they know? They must. They’d been coming to barbecues for a year. “My former owners. They were always in control, knew exactly what they wanted out of people and how to get it, but it wasn’t—it wasn’t always nice. But they definitely had a concrete notion of success and how to achieve it.”
“Well, if my parents had ever had an indenture, Maizy, I’d think you must be describing them.”
Oh good, they know. Telling people was always so iffy, even now, almost five years after the law changed.
“I’m glad your parents never had indentures, Jean. I can’t imagine how difficult they’d have been to work for. Actually, I can imagine how difficult they’d be, but I can’t imagine doing it without getting paid.”
“Don’t get me started,” Maizy said. “My former owners? Wanted me to come back, after the Slavery and Indentured Labor Act. So I was like, you know, okay.” More like Oh please, let me come home. But they wouldn’t understand that. She didn’t even really understand it anymore.
“Let me guess—they didn’t offer you a paycheck along with your free status?” A vicious little glint shone in Jean’s eyes. “I hope you told them exactly what to do with that idea.”
“Yeah, but the stupid thing was I was so surprised by it. And I knew what they were like.”
“Well, hon, as you can see, I still can’t believe where my mother gets off, and she’s been my mother for my whole life.”
Maizy smiled, a little weakly. The place where her thigh touched Jean’s was hot, but not a settled heat, a growing heat, like it was spreading over her entire leg. Maybe like it was traveling to other places, too. Could she blame it on pregnancy? Yeah. Right?
No, be honest, Jean’s always been hot.
“Mm, what are you thinking about, Maizy-lou? Whatever it is, I want in.”
She blushed. “Nothing. Anyway.”
Jean laughed out loud. “So tell us more about harboring a parasitic human growth.”
“I don’t really know yet—”
“Did Maiz show you the picture? Wait, no, of course not, because I keep carrying it around.” Roar sat down on the arm of the couch and leaned over to hand the flimsy ultrasound image to Jean.
“Very cute,” Jean said, like anything. She winked at Maizy.
Maizy’s stomach spun in place. That had to be the baby. Yeah. Um, yeah.