Terri took careful sips from her glass of ice water, glancing away sheepishly whenever our eyes locked. I couldn’t help but chuckle. Some things never changed. Sitting before me, I was reminded that she was still Max’s shy little sister. Of course, with the additional factor that she was expecting.

“So, what’s the plan?” I asked, question rolling off my tongue. “You said you had a plan.”

“Oh, right. Well–” Terri swallowed. Her brows furrowed, nothing but concentration in her eyes. “I’m going job hunting tomorrow,” she explained. “I’m not too sure what kind of jobs will hire a pregnant lady, but I figure it was worth a shot. It may be optimistic of me, but I’m hoping to get a job with benefits. It’d help with the expenses quite a bit.”

“I could ask around for you, if you’d like.”

She raised an eyebrow at me, curious. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. I get to meet quite a few people through my work.”

“Joe, that’d be amazing. That’s so sweet of you.”

I smiled at her. “Don’t go around telling people, though.”

“Would that ruin your reputation as a badass?”

“You think I’m a badass?”

The tips of her ears turned pink. “No,” she said unconvincingly.

I snorted, “Liar.”

Our food arrived shortly after, steaming hot and mouthwateringly delicious. It was a little concerning how quickly and how easily Terri was able to down her food. After taking a single bite, she immediately reached for the siracha bottle and drenched her pad thai with the sauce. I didn’t realize I’d been staring until she looked up at me, blushed bright red, and then gingerly replaced the bottle.

“Cravings,” she giggled. “They’re really weird.”

“Are you going to be able to handle that? You used to think Flaming Hot Cheetos were too spicy.”

Terri gasped and snapped her fingers. “Oh my God, that would be delicious. I think the crunch would really add to the dish. Is there a convenience store around here?”

I couldn’t help but grin, amazed.

“Anyways,” she cleared her throat, trying to move past the awkwardness, “I’m going to save up as much as possible before the baby arrives. Maybe I can find a work-from-home job. That’d be the most convenient. But if you do hear something, please let me know.”

“Is the father not helping out at all?” I inquired.

Terri froze, setting her jaw tight as she pressed her lips into a thin line. She cast her eyes down to the table, suddenly appearing very small. “I… Well, no. He’s not. He doesn’t want anything to do with the child.”

A flicker of anger sparked deep within my gut. “What? Why not?”

She simply shook her head. “It’s a long story.”

“I’ve got nothing but time.”

Terri managed the smallest of smiles, but I knew it wasn’t a genuine one. The happiness didn’t reach her eyes. Instead, I could see nothing but conflict and doubt. “Chris was… Well, I honestly should have known he’d bail. He wasn’t exactly a shining example for the PBC.”

“PBC?” I echoed.

“The Perfect Boyfriend Club.”

I chuckled. “Is that a new term the kids are using these days?”

“What are you talking about, ‘the kids?’ You’re, like, three years older than me.”

“Which offers me the perfect amount of distance from your Tik Tok-making generation.”

“I have never made a Tik Tok in my life.”

“Good. I like you better already.”

Terri giggled softly, voice sweet and bright like the notes of a flute. “This coming from the guy who tried to eat a Tide Pod on a dare.”

My mouth dropped open slightly in mock indignation. “First of all, Max triple dog dared me. Second of all, I’ll have you know I did it twice and lived to tell the tell.”

She gawked. “You didn’t.”

I shrugged a shoulder. “I didn’t. But people don’t need to know that.”

“I can already tell you’re going to be a bad influence on my kid,” she quipped. Terri patted her stomach gently. “You hear that? Don’t ever listen to Uncle Joe and Uncle Max.”

I grinned at this, an inexplicable warmth spreading through me. There was just something incredibly sweet about Terri’s words, something undeniable about the love in her eyes. The baby wasn’t even here yet, and she already looked perfect in the role of mother.

4

Terri

I may or may not have gotten up at the crack of dawn to puke my guts out.

I’d been warned on numerous occasions by various sources –primarily my abuela when she was still around– that Cato women experienced morning sickness like no other. Abuela had gone on and on about how she would spend several hours in the early morning with her head practically glued to the toilet seat, praying to God that the nausea would subside. She was definitely an over sharer, a natural storyteller. My mother went into a lot less detail, but I certainly got the point. The next few months were going to be hell, and a part of me wished that Chris was here to hold my hand through it all. It would have been nice to have someone supportive and loving to hold my hair back, to whisper soft encouragements as they rubbed my shoulders. It would have made this whole messy morning a lot more bearable.

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