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Julie had spoken once all morning, mumbling a few words about feeling sick to her stomach again. The only sounds out of her since were ominous groans, emanating deep within her belly. More than likely, she was still upset about the chaos we had created at the store last night.
I passed by Lance, who leaned on the gritty counter, munching a spoonful of cold cereal, and settled at the table across from my sister.
Julie hoisted a slice of cinnamon toast from the paper plate and turned it in her fingers. She took a bite, nibbling at the sugary crust. A little pink tongue sneaked out of her mouth, cleaning the sugar crystals from two very dry lips. She flipped the toast back on the paper plate, scattering crumbs, and hopped out of the seat. She scrambled towards the bathroom without uttering a word.
“Did you have any trouble sleeping on the airbed?” Lance asked. To my great relief the morning’s silence was broken.
“No, it was pretty comfortable. At first the vinyl was sort of chilly, but we managed to warm it up.”
“I’ll bet you did.” He grinned knowingly.
“I’ll pay you for the bed, just as soon as I cash my paycheck.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Lance swirled his spoon in the cereal bowl. “Think of it as a gift for my favorite couple. Anyway, eighty dollars is a small price to pay to stop you from whining about the futon every morning.”
“At least let me give you something.” I reached into my hip pocket, pawing at my wallet. “A hundred bucks, to help with the rent.” I offered him the last scrap of green paper tucked in my wallet, the hundred dollar bill my mother had given me the night I was thrown out.
His eyes narrowed behind his wiry glasses. “Rick, chill out, you paid your debts.” He rattled the box of strawberry cereal I had picked up at the supermarket.
“A box of Frankenberry hardly makes up for taking Julie and me into your home. Without you I don’t know what we would have done. We had nowhere else to go—“
“That’s right, you had nowhere else to go.” He tipped the bowl and slurped down the sweet, pink milk.
Copper pipes hissed in the ceiling, the sound of waste water being rushed away to the sewer.
“Is short-stuff planning to spend the entire day in the bathroom?” Lance asked.
“She’s got a little stomach bug; she thinks it was something she ate.”
Lance nodded and dropped his bowl in the sink. “And what do the Martins have planned for this muggy Labor Day?”
I leaned back in my chair. “A long day of house hunting or more appropriately, apartment hunting.”
“Well, in that case I have some good news. I talked to the super last night. He said a place should be opening up in building number four next month; we could be neighbors.”
“No offense, buddy, but Julie and I have had our fill of indestructible silverfish.
“She circled a few nice places in the classifieds last night. We won’t be able to afford any of them, but it’ll be nice to know what might have been, because, considering our salaries, we’ll probably end up living in some glorified utility closet.”
“Not everyone can afford this type of luxury.” Lance waved his arm, emphasizing the apartment’s messy, cramped confines. “I just hope living here hasn’t raised your standards of living too high, because, to tell you the truth, it’ll be nice to have some privacy again.
“Do you realize this was the first morning I didn’t wake up to the sounds of you and Julie in the throes of passion. If I fucked the same girl that many times in one week my dick would look like a limp piece of macaroni.”
Julie emerged from the bathroom. Her steps were imprecise as she padded across the apartment floor. She flopped on the half-inflated airbed, draping her bare legs over the side, drawing my eyes to those smooth, pale, femininely curved calves.
One leg stretched high above her body, the short hem of her nightgown afforded me a quick flash of white cotton panties. She waved at me with one compact foot and said, “Rick, come keep me company.” Her tiny voice strained into a whine.
“You are such a lucky bastard,” Lance said. He clapped my shoulder just as his cell phone rang. After digging it out of his pocket, he headed for the privacy of his room.
The airbed shifted as Rick sat on the mattress beside her. He touched her tummy, drawing spirals with the pad of his index finger in an attempt to quell her nausea.
“Why did I swallow your nasty stuff? I’ve been puking it up all morning.” Julie moaned. The acid in her stomach churned and swirled.
“Don’t be such a drama queen. You swallowed my sperm, not arsenic.”
“It might as well have been poison, as sick as I feel.”
“Are you sure that’s why you’re sick?” he asked.
She turned over on the bed. Propped up by an elbow, she focused her dark-ringed eyes on his handsome face. “What do you mean?” Her words trembled as did the lips that formed them.
“I mean that when I feel really guilty about something, I feel sharp pains right here.” He pressed his etimesgut escort palm to her belly, an action that forced her to gasp for air. “Sometimes it makes me feel sick for days.” His palm stayed in place, resting on her pregnant stomach. She wondered if he somehow knew.
“If there’s something you’re not telling me, Julie, something you feel bad about, you don’t have to keep it inside.”
“I’m fine, really. I think it’s just the stomach flu; it’s been screwing me up inside.”
“Should I take you to the doctor?”
“No!” Julie shouted. “We can’t afford the doctor, not without insurance. It’s nothing serious, really.” She hated to lie to Rick, but knew he wasn’t ready to hear the truth.
“You didn’t have to swallow it,” he said.
“I know, but I wanted to. I would do anything for you, Rick.” Anything.
His hand felt so warm on her stomach, so comforting. It was a father’s first contact with his child, even if he didn’t know it yet.
Julie tasted saliva and phlegm and bile all rising in her throat. She gagged and started to rise. Fortunately, it was a false alarm, her stomach calmed and so did she. Her sweaty hand covered Rick’s as she eased her head back against the malformed feather pillow.
Lance emerged from the bedroom. He was dressed for work, with the exception of a frayed black baseball cap turned backwards. His face looked even paler than she felt.
He folded his cell phone and stuffed it in his pants pocket. “That was Lucas.” The words were slow and deliberate. “There was some kind of accident at the store.” He struggled into a blue vest. “The backroom is…it’s a mess. Every goddamned box…on the floor.”
Lance ripped the cap off his head and crumpled it in his fingers. “He said that’s the way it was when he opened, but you know what a klutz that fucking kid is.”
“I guess we should cancel our plans for today,” Rick said, hopping out of bed.
“No, you promised your sister that you would look for your own place.” Lance’s voice was harried but firm as he squeezed into a pair of canvas tennis shoes. “And I don’t want to see the two of you show up for work tonight without a signed lease.” Lance gave up on tying his shoes, settling for a pair of messy knots that he tried to not trip over as he scrambled out the door.
Julie crawled across the wilting airbed, rolling off the side to the floor. Every movement produced sickening pulsations deep within her stomach, rising higher and higher, too high to hold back. Julie raced for the toilet. Throwing open the lid, she kneeled before the white porcelain and retched.
A woman who introduced herself as Ms. Horowitz had precisely timed her meeting with Julie and Rick in the covered parking garage that adjoined the apartments at Shade Tree Manor. She regarded the young couple with a warm, toothy smile, giving Julie the impression that beneath the smart business attire was an amiable person who would treat her tenants like family.
They toured the facilities first, stopping in a coin-operated Laundromat, then moving on to the vigorously equipped gym before concluding with a stroll around the indoor swimming pool.
The apartment was every bit as lovely as the ad promised. The carpeting was new and lush, the kitchenette was downright airy compared to that elbow-buster of Lance’s and the bathrooms were absolutely immaculate, not a silverfish in sight.
They followed Ms. Horowitz through the smallish apartment. Ironically it had been dubbed a budget apartment, ironic because the rent was twice as expensive as anything they had budgeted.
“As you can see the master bedroom is quite spacious, with it’s own half-bath.” The woman closed the simple oak door and opened another on the adjoining wall. “We also offer a second bedroom that our tenants tend to use as a nursery or a child’s room.”
Ms. Horowitz closed the second door and smiled again at Julie, lines creased her fine Semitic features. She seemed like such a nice older lady; she wore too much makeup but she would have made a great superintendent.
“Do you have any children Mrs. Martin? …Mrs. Martin?”
Mrs. Martin? On instinct Julie glanced over her shoulder. Had her mother suddenly appeared? She was awkwardly silent for a moment before realizing that she was supposed to be Mrs. Martin.
“Not yet.” She didn’t say no or nope or not on your life, she said not yet. Rick was oblivious so she said it again. “Not yet but I hope—“
“We won’t be having children anytime soon,” Rick said. He draped a long arm around Julie’s shoulders.
She recalled the results of her home pregnancy test and bit the inside of her cheek to suppress a frown. They would be having a child much sooner than he imagined.
Julie’s stomach complained, loud enough for Rick and Ms. Horowitz to hear. She apologized and clung to Rick’s arm as they concluded the tour.
“It’s a beautiful place. Too bad we’d have to harvest a few organs to afford the lease.” Rick’s voice echoed in the damp parking etimesgut escort bayan garage while Julie munched on the end of a granola bar.
“Why haven’t we at least talked about it?” Julie asked.
“The rent is too expensive. You know better than that.”
He cleared a loose strand of brown hair from her face, tucking it behind her ear. Rick was always doing that, treating her like a stupid little child. She was growing tired of it.
“Both of our paychecks combined—“
Julie growled. “I’m not talking about the damned apartment!” Was this to be it? Was this to be judgment day? She had to unburden herself of the secret before it devoured her insides.
Rick’s head slowly lowered to the roof of the car. “Oh God, not babies again,” he mumbled. “Julie, we definitely don’t have the time for this discussion. There are two more apartments—“
“You’re doing it again, avoiding the subject.” Her shrill voice bounced off the concrete walls, ricocheting from pillar to pillar in the dank garage.
Strange emotions coursed through her body, her cheeks burned with fire and her forehead throbbed. She hadn’t been so angry in a long time. She hadn’t been so angry with Rick in an even longer time; the feeling was almost alien to her.
“We gave up our home and our family to be together!” She tried to control her voice but failed. “I try to talk about starting a new family, one of our own, but you just treat me like a dumb little girl who doesn’t know any better.” Warm tears strained from her eyes. “I’ve been trying to tell you…” She tried to tell him again but failed.
“I’m so scared, Rick,” she said, gasping and falling to her knees on the damp concrete.
He was beside her, reaching beneath her arms to pull her close.
Julie struggled, trying to create a gap between herself and the man who made her so crazy with guilt, love and a billion other emotions. His hold was like quicksand, the harder she struggled the deeper into his embrace she sank.
“Don’t be scared.” Even his voice, as it whispered in her ear, suggested protectiveness, it suggested the unconditional love of a big brother.
She didn’t feel any braver, but allowed herself to relax, to surrender.
“I promise we really will talk about it, later.”
Julie huffed and struggled again at that terrible word “later.” She didn’t want later or someday or eventually; she wanted now. Didn’t he know he was only delaying the inevitable? In a few short weeks she would be ripe, fat, leaving little doubt as to her condition. Little doubt that he would hate her.
“Don’t be upset.” Rick leaned down until the tips of their noses touched. How dare he be a rock while the pieces of her shattered world were ground to dust. “My beautiful, little Mrs. Martin.”
Mrs. Martin, her mother’s name, the name Julie desperately wanted for her own. That name, his words, rescued her, taking away her fear and her pain, if only temporarily.
“Call me that again,” she muttered.
He pressed his lips to hers. “Mrs. Martin,” he mumbled. The words morphed into a kiss.
She wrapped numb fingers around his neck, pulling him closer. Her cheeks warmed again, not out of anger this time. They stayed warm, through the next two visits, first the Wilson Creek Townhouses, then Burlington Place and all the way home.
“I want to celebrate,” Julie said. She climbed on her brother’s back, wrapping her bare legs around his waist as they stepped inside the sanctuary of their temporary abode. Her morning sickness finally dissipated, taking with it the anxiety that prevented her from feeling like her normal self.
She had found their new apartment, a simple ad in black newsprint culled from an entire sea of black newsprint. She circled the ad twice in blue ink, instinctively knowing that the “clean, affordable studio at Burlington Place” was destined to be their first real home away from home.
There had been no guided tour, only a borrowed key and a Xeroxed list of rules. The place was cozy, the perfect size for two young people, and possibly a third, Julie noted, providing that third person was small enough. Yes, it was indeed clean and affordable, and once the lease was signed it would be theirs.
Rick carried her to the half-inflated airbed and deposited her on the sagging vinyl. He pressed the black, plastic control button affixed to the electrical cord and plumped the airbed to a more comfortable firmness.
“I know how we should celebrate.” He laid beside her and grinned.
She wanted to frown, to let him think that she was disappointed with his libidinous suggestion, but could only meet his smile with one of her own. “That’s how you always want to celebrate,” she said. “I think we should do something summery, like have a barbecue or a picnic.”
Rick stroked her knee, giving her tingles in places she didn’t realize could tingle. “Take off your little shorts and I can have one heck of a picnic right here.” He rested his cheek against the crotch escort etimesgut of her canvas shorts. She was sweating from the September heat and desperately in need of a shower. But still, he rested between her thighs as if it were the most luxurious place in the world.
She giggled, pushing his head aside.
What a summer it had been. Three short months ago, during the infant days of June, Julie and Rick were entrenched in the nearly two decades old role of a sister and her brother. Who would have imagined that by Labor Day, the unofficial last day of summer, they would have found themselves recast as young lovers ignoring the ancient taboos of incest while taking the first precarious steps of a new life together.
He fingered the waistband of her drab shorts, idly trying to open the plastic button with his thumb. She swatted his wrist to deliver a blow in the name of virtue but hoped that he wouldn’t stop touching her. She never wanted him to stop touching her.
“Behave yourself, Rick,” she said, “unless you want me to spank you.”
“What part of my body do you plan on spanking?” he asked.
She tried to swat his backside, but he intercepted first one wrist, then the other. She allowed him to wrestle her back to the bed, where his lips seized control of her own.
She pinched his lips tight and separated them from her own. “There will be plenty of time for those kinds of celebrations once we’re out of this dump. We should go outside and enjoy the weather; we should go swimming. I brought my suit.”
“You expect me to watch my goddess of a little sister splash around in a tight, wet bathing suit? You’ll have me walking around like a hunchback all afternoon.”
She never quite understood Rick. She allowed him almost perpetual access to her naked body, yet still he spoke about her as if she were some kind of exotic beauty queen.
Rick kissed her flushed cheek and grinned. “I brought my suit too but just remember, baby, I’m not a very strong swimmer, so be prepared to give mouth to mouth.”
He rifled through the sloppy stacks of clothes that teetered on the seat of the futon, rooting out his nylon swimming trunks.
She remembered images from the two past summers of those fire engine red trunks plastered over his lower body and his tanned shoulders and chest as they glittered with beads of sweat and water. She had lost her breath each time his tall, lean body emerged from the pool, the lake or anywhere she could drag him in those trunks. Her pulse quickened even as the memory faded. Maybe she understood the way he felt about her body after all.
“Do you want to try the pool out back?” he asked, refolding a pair of boxer shorts that had tumbled to the floor.
“I’ve already checked it out,” Julie said, her compact body halfway buried in a black garbage bag.
All of her clothes remained stored in stretched out garbage bags, a depressing reminder of the hasty retreat from their parents’ home.
“We should definitely find somewhere else to swim, unless you feel comfortable wading in the primordial ooze.”
The swimming pool at Lance’s apartment complex seemed to fulfill the dual purposes of filamentous algae garden and insect breeding ground.
Julie looked forward to having a closet again, a closet and a huge oak dresser, even if she had to share both, especially if she had to share both. Suspecting that the black one-piece bathing suit had settled to the very bottom of the bag, she shoveled through wads of panties and knotted bras until she found it.
Extracting the swath of black Lycra, she held it triumphantly overhead, treating it like a nugget of gold found at the bottom of a mine. She heard a whistle. It was Rick, leering at the discovery of her ebony treasure.
The suit was downright conservative compared to the barely there bikinis worn by her friends, but clinging to Julie’s figure it had always attracted a fair share of attention. She wasn’t interested in attracting attention today, she only wanted to keep Rick’s blue eyes from wandering to the skimpier, skinnier girls.
“Why don’t we try Lake Jude? The county put a new truckload of sand on the swimming beach,” she said.
Julie felt like a total jerk. They hadn’t gone anywhere near Lake Jude in more than a week, not since the night he contemplated taking his own life on Miller’s Bridge.
She tossed the black suit over her shoulder and grabbed his hand, weaving their fingers together. “I’m sorry, Rick. I didn’t even think about—“
He quieted her with a kiss. “It’s okay. I could stop at the bait shop to visit Jerry, see if he has any new fish stories.”
Julie smiled, squeezing his fingers tight. “I’ll let you hold my hand, if you buy me a Coke.”
He leaned down to kiss her cheek, then stroked away the wet spot he had made. “Go put your little suit on.”
She bounced to the bathroom and stripped out of her shorts and top. After sliding out of her panties, she unhooked the bra and watched it helicopter to the floor.
She stepped through the leg holes of the suit, wriggling as she willed the stretchy black Lycra to conform to her changing body. The suit was almost painfully snug, especially on her thighs, butt and waist. She glanced in the bathroom mirror where an otherwise slim body bulged embarrassingly in those crucial areas.
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