You call and leave a voicemail. (You don’t usually bother, and I hated you for it, right after you left, because I could only hear your voice by listening to a tinny soundbite of you singing me happy birthday on my twenty-first. Happy birthday, dear Winnie, happy birthday to you.)
In it, you say empty, other-people things like “meet for coffee” and “catch up.” I call you back and agree. Your world was all open doors around me, and you must’ve realized how much you miss that.
The coffee shop you picked is all wood and windows. I’m early, but you knew I would be, so you order coffee and head up to the balcony to find me wedged into a corner. I see you, but pretend not to, and become entirely preoccupied with a stain on the table. You sit down across from me without saying hi, like this was something we still did, like it’s only been moments, not years, since we last did this.
You’re quick to get to the point: you’re pregnant and there’s no universe — parallel, perpendicular, or otherwise — where I’d tell you to fuck off. I am spineless. You know this. You sat through my months of indecision, how I was brimming with plans but starved of resolve.
I tell you, now, that I have ten months left in my lease and I like the landlord and the neighborhood is quiet and the apartment is babyproof-able. You never doubted I would help you — out of love or nostalgia or pity, you were not in a position to have qualms about the why, just the how. You had expected more false-starts, but I’m taking you in, hardly a question asked, come home.
Relief spreads through you. I watch it relax your face, drop your shoulders, uncross your arm which has laid in protection over your belly. I know I have always meant safety to you.
You remember why you left me, of course. You remember how devoted I was, so hellbent on making impossibilities work out in our favor. The thought that I might be the only person to love you felt like settling. But these last few years have been unkind and a place to settle doesn’t scare you anymore.
I have a condition. A single request of the new arrangement that feels well-worn and ancient. This baby, your baby, is also mine. A few years from now when you’re too comfortable and squirming inside of your skin, planning escape routes and exit strategies, you cannot leave and take my child, a child I’ve raised with you. We’ll be roommates, co-parents, lovers, if we can make our way back to that, if you’ll have me, but I am a mother in this.
When you don’t respond for a long moment, I worry this feels as heavy as the engagement ring you wore when we were younger, but you nod and finish your coffee.
We make our way down to the parking lot.
“I’ll have to have a key made for you. And I haven’t been grocery shopping. There’s only one parking space assigned…but there’s overflow parking.”
“I’ll have to call Mike. Sorry, my landlord. And a lawyer, right?”
“My ex-girlfriend left some stuff. I’ve been meaning to box it up and give it back. That’ll free up some space.”
“Your parents? Do they know?”
“I’d’ve thought Dana would be more understanding.” I dig the toe of my shoe into the loose gravel by my tire. “That’s a shame. Growing up, I thought the world of your mother.”
“She didn’t turn me away.”
“Nothing’s set in stone. I wanted to talk to you, and if it went well, I…”
“Where’s your stuff? Where are you living?”
“With my parents.”
“Why not stay?”
“I didn’t call you because I had no better options. I wanted you, Win. In all of this.” You push your hair back from your eyes. It’s gotten long. “I wanted to talk to you when I missed my period, I wanted you to hold my hand in the doctor’s office. I wanted to hear you quote Gatsby when they told me I was having a girl. When I think of a future… It was always you.”
I blush and look away.
You stoop to catch my gaze. “I want it to be you.”
“I’ll make a key,” I say, needing lists to keep from saying something stupid, like, ‘I love you.’ “And I’ll see about maternity leave. And a baby shower. And we’ll go back for your stuff.”
“And then we’ll trade in our cars for pre-owned Subarus and adopt a whole mess of cats. We’ll be the picture of domesticity.”
I smile and reach out, tempted to place my hand on your cheek so you can nuzzle into it like you used to, but I hesitate. You take my hand and place it along your jaw, closing your eyes.
“Just, you take your car and follow me. We’ll work it out at home, okay?”
You nod, your breath warm on the heel of my hand, your fingers still wrapped around my wrist from where you guided me.
“You gotta let go now, hon.”
“Okay.” You kiss the center of my palm before allowing me to withdraw it. “So I’m following you?”
“It’s not far. I’ll see you there.”
May Bennet is a queer writer who no longer lives in Dayton, Ohio and misses it terribly. She teaches preschool, primarily writes microfictions, and most of her publications have been featured on her mother’s refrigerator.