Authors: Eileen Goudge
She’d cocked her head, eyeing him curiously. “You’re not from around here, are you?” she’d said, her Brooklyn accent lending her an air of streetwise authority.
“Is it that obvious?” he’d replied, with a laugh.
“Where I come from, you lose something, you might as well kiss it good-bye.”
“In Grantsburg, whoever found it would take out an ad.”
They’d exchanged smiles, and Jay had urged, “Come on. It’s worth a try. The worst that can happen is it’ll be a wasted trip.”
Franny had hesitated a moment, then shrugged. “Yeah, why not?”
They’d started off in the direction of the proctor’s office before he’d remembered to introduce himself. “Jay Gunderson.” He’d paused to stick out his hand.
“Franny Richman.” She’d worn a faintly bemused expression, as if trying to decide whether he was for real.
At the proctor’s office she’d been amazed to discover her missing wallet waiting for her, its contents miraculously intact. Afterward they’d wandered over to the student center, where they’d gotten to know each other over coffee and crullers. When Jay had finally glanced at his watch he’d been surprised to see that two hours had passed. From that day on, they’d been inseparable.
“Listen, I want you to know I meant what I said before,” she was telling him now. “You don’t owe me a thing. I’m not going to twist your arm into coming to every soccer match and parent-teacher meeting. You’ll have plenty of that as it is.”
“Who says you’d have to twist my arm?” he replied, somewhat defensively. No matter what, it was still his kid.
“What I mean is, I don’t want you to feel obligated.”
He put on a mock aggrieved face. “Hey, it’s me, remember? I thought we agreed that this wasn’t going to change anything.” It would defeat the purpose if they had to go from finishing each other’s sentences to monitoring every word. “So are we good?”
“Yeah.” She let out a breath, and some of the tension seemed to go out of her as well. “It’s just that it’s a little weird, you know. I’ve never been pregnant with my best friend’s kid.”
“You’ve never been pregnant, period.”
He squeezed her hand reassuringly. “Let’s take it one step at a time, okay?”
She nodded, though her expression remained pensive. In the dim light, her dark eyes seemed to take up her whole face. “No regrets?”
“None.” It wasn’t a lie exactly—he
happy, mainly for Franny—and if he had concerns, it was only natural. She didn’t have to know he worried that this baby would affect more than their friendship, that it would put a strain on his and Vivienne’s relationship as well. “Hey, what’s a little DNA between friends?”
“Speaking of which, I hope he, or she, inherits your nose.” Franny had always thought hers was too big, though in Jay’s opinion it suited her face perfectly. “Long legs would be nice, too.”
He laughed. “Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself? It doesn’t even have fingers or toes yet.” He remembered Vivienne’s first sonogram; it had looked more like a thumbprint than anything human. Not until the doctor told them the sex had the baby become real to him, a boy, for whom they already had a name picked out: Stephan, after Jay’s grandfather.
“Hey, you know me. I’m already looking at schools,” Franny joked.
“Just promise you won’t become a vegetarian and ban me from entering your apartment if I have so much as a single cat hair on me.” These days, with Vivienne on health watch, their loft felt more like a Zen monastery than a home.
“I don’t know about cat hairs. But anyone who comes between me and my pork chops better be prepared for a fight,” Franny mock-growled.
“I’ll drink to that.” He hoisted his beer.
Her smile faded. “Look, I know we’ve been over this ad nauseam, but now that it’s not just a theoretical kid, I can’t help worrying that it’ll get in the way of you and Viv.” It was as if she’d read his mind.
“Viv’ll be thrilled,” he assured her. “It was her idea, remember?”
Some of Franny’s concerns were justified, though. It was complicated with her and Vivienne. Going all the way back to the guy Franny had been so crazy about when she and Vivienne roomed together after college. Vivienne had done nothing to encourage him, but she felt responsible nonetheless for his and Franny’s breakup. Part of the reason she was doing this, he suspected, was to right an old wrong and become the kind of friend she’d always hoped to be, the kind he and Franny were.
“Still.” Franny continued to eye him anxiously. “Promise you’ll tell me if I’m ever stepping on anyone’s toes.” She frowned, her fingers tightening around his.
“Cross my heart, hope to die.” He drew an invisible X over his heart.
She released his hand and sat back, her gaze turning inward—a look he’d come to recognize as that of the secret universe a woman entered when she became pregnant. One with its own language and customs and rhythms, from which men were, for the most part, excluded.
He felt an instant of panic, then the old Franny resurfaced. In a voice that made him breathe a little easier, she said, “Okay, now that that’s settled, I want to hear all about your meeting. Every detail.”
“Your friends were nice,” Jay commented as he and Vivienne were leaving the restaurant later that evening.
She smiled indulgently, tucking an arm into his. “How would you know? You hardly said two words to them all evening.”
He cast her a chastened look. “Sorry. Guess I was a little preoccupied.”
Throughout the meal all he’d been able to think about was Franny’s news. He hadn’t even had a chance to tell Vivienne. By the time he’d gotten to the restaurant, she’d been immersed in talking to her friends. It wasn’t the kind of thing you could just work into the conversation.
Oh, by the way, I just found out I have another one on the way.
He could only imagine what Rob and Melissa’s reaction would have been. On the other hand, he’d better get used to seeing some dropped jaws because soon there’d be no hiding it.
There would be the matter, too, of explaining it to their parents. Vivienne’s weren’t a problem—they were European; nothing shocked them. But his own…They were simple farm people with no frame of reference for a situation like this. How was he supposed to break it to them?
Mom, Dad, listen, you know how you were always on me about grandkids? Well, you’re getting two for the price of one.
His father would scratch his head and give him that
the one that said,
Son, I don’t know what kinds of wickedness you folks get up to in New York City, but out here we have such a thing as family values.
His mother, a staunch Baptist, was under the impression he still regularly attended Sunday services (which he hadn’t exactly gone out of his way to disabuse her of ), and would ask apprehensively if he’d spoken to his pastor about it. Anything not sanctioned by the Bible or the Christian Family Council was, in her mind, suspect.
“Is something the matter?” Vivienne’s voice broke into his thoughts. “You’re a million miles away.”
He brought his attention back to her. “Sorry. I was just thinking.”
“Franny.” He paused in the middle of the sidewalk, turning to face her. “She’s pregnant.” He kept his voice neutral, waiting to see how she’d react, if she’d be okay with it now that it was an actuality.
Vivienne’s face lit up. “Really? That’s wonderful!” She looked even more radiant than usual, her cheeks flushed, her glossy black hair shimmering in the glow of the neon sign overhead. An evening out with friends always had this effect on her. “Why on earth didn’t you say something?” she scolded lightly. “All that time we were chattering on about Rob and Melissa’s new apartment, you were keeping this to yourself.”
“It wasn’t exactly dinner conversation.”
“Your trouble is, you think everyone’s as provincial as your parents.” She gave his arm an affectionate little squeeze as they continued on their way. “Anyway, it’s not as if it’s a deep, dark secret.”
He shrugged. “Guess I’m still getting used to the idea.”
“You’ve had six months, isn’t that long enough?” she teased, placing a hand on her rounded belly.
“I never thought I’d be fathering more than one child at a time.”
“Well, this isn’t just about you. And Franny’s going to need all the support she can get.”
They were strolling along Second Avenue, near St. Mark’s Place, the muggy air blessedly cooled by the breeze blowing in off the East River. The East Village wasn’t like it used to be when he and his friends had taken the train in from Jersey on weekends, he thought. No longer an affordable ghetto for the fringe element, its grunge and graffiti had given way to high-end housing and a chain store on every other block. The Starbucks crowd was moving in, pushing out the starving artists and musicians. These days you saw more tanning-salon tans than tattoos. Jay decided he preferred the East Village of his college days. Progress had a way of making him feel middle-aged.
Or maybe it was just impending parenthood. Friends with kids had warned that it was all-consuming and they’d been right. He and Vivienne talked of little else. Shopping excursions were generally baby related. And he’d spent the past two weekends painting the nursery and assembling the crib. But what he hadn’t been prepared for was just how deeply it would affect him. He felt as if a wonderful gift had been bestowed on him, the chance to give his own son the kind of childhood he hadn’t had.
Would he feel the same way about Franny’s baby?
Later, at home in bed with his wife snuggled up against him, he was still wrestling with it. Franny wanted him to be a part of their child’s life, and Jay wanted that, too. But how exactly would it work? Would they be a family of sorts? Or would this kid grow up feeling less loved than Stephan?
Vivienne reached for his hand, placing it on her belly so he could feel the baby kick.
“Feels like a foot,” he said with a smile, never ceasing to get a little thrill each time. “That, or a knee.”
“Face it, we’ve got a future NFLer on our hands. Forget onesies, this kid’s going to need a helmet and knee pads.”
“I was the same way. My mom used to joke that she should get a bulk rate from our family doctor, with all my sprains and stitches.”
“I didn’t know you were such a daredevil.”
“I wasn’t, really. It was just normal stuff.” In school, he’d tried out for every team. Luckily for him, he’d turned out to be a natural athlete, excelling not only in football but in wrestling and lacrosse.
“Let’s hope Franny’s baby is a girl then. We’ll have enough gray hairs worrying about Stephan.”
One of each, he thought. Yes, that would be nice. In the darkness, he indulged in his first real smile of the day. He was drifting off to sleep a few minutes later when Vivienne murmured in his ear, “Babe? I forgot to tell you, the Kleins invited us for dinner on Friday.”
“The Kleins?” he echoed groggily.
“From Lamaze. You know, the photographer and his wife. The ones having twins?”
“Oh, right.” He remembered chatting with them after class the other night. Now he asked grumpily, “Is there a law that says just because we’re all in this together, we have to socialize?”
“What a thing to say. They’re very nice people.”
“I’m sure they are. That’s beside the point.” Jay sighed, wide awake now. “Look, I’ve got nothing against Kleins, but I wouldn’t mind a quiet evening at home for a change.”
“We’ll have plenty of that once the baby comes.”
From the tone of her voice, he could tell she was sulking. Vivienne was used to getting her way. He supposed it wasn’t her fault. As the late-in-life daughter of wealthy parents, she’d been denied nothing growing up. Home had been a luxury apartment off the rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré. School had been Le Rosey in Switzerland, where she’d palled around with the sons and daughters of royalty and heads of state. She was fifteen when she’d caught the eye of a modeling scout, and before long she’d been strutting down Paris runways and posing for
magazine. She might have been just another pretty face, but she was too smart for that, so after a few years she’d put her modeling career on hold to attend Columbia. When they’d met, she was two years out of college and trying to reestablish herself in a business where twenty-three was considered over the hill.
It was around the time he’d gotten hired at Saatchi & Saatchi. He’d gone over to see Franny’s new apartment and Vivienne had answered the door—the most gorgeous creature he’d ever laid eyes on. He’d been dumbstruck, scarcely able to form a coherent sentence. But he’d quickly recovered his wits, and once they’d struck up a conversation, he’d found her easy to talk to. After several more visits, he’d gotten up the nerve to ask her out, sparking an on-again, off-again affair that would have him chasing her for the next ten years.
Jay still thought himself the luckiest man on earth. He just wished Vivienne would be content to spend an evening at home more than once or twice a week. After a hard day’s work, all he wanted was a home-cooked meal and some quiet time alone with his wife.
Once the baby’s here, she’ll settle down,
he told himself. Until then, he’d just have to be patient.
He wrapped his arms around her, whispering, “You looked amazing tonight, by the way.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” she said, but he could tell she was thawing.
“Actually, I had somewhere a little more specific in mind.” His hand traveled down under the covers.
She inched away from him. “Better not.”
“The doctor said it was okay,” he reminded her.
“I’m not taking any chances.” She added in her sultriest voice, “I could give you a little something to help you sleep, though.”
But Jay wasn’t interested in sexual favors. He wanted Vivienne. It had been so long…
He rolled onto his back with a sigh. “Thanks, but I should get some shut-eye. I have to be up early. Dan wants to go over the buy schedule for the Welltrek campaign before we meet with their execs.”
It occurred to him then that she hadn’t asked how the Uruchima presentation had gone. He wondered if she would say something now—she knew how important it was to him—but she only yawned and rolled onto her side, murmuring, “Okay. ’Night, babe.”