It was sweet that he wanted to take care of me, especially when he had his own life to live. “Case, I can’t live with you forever.”
“I understand that. But at least for the first year or two. Taking care of a baby by yourself will be impossible.”
“Mothers have been doing it since the dawn of time.” I patted his arm.
“With a husband,” he countered. “You’re completely alone.”
I wished Balto were doing this with me even though he probably knew nothing about children. He was the only person I wanted. No one else. But he wasn’t part of my life anymore. He wasn’t part of my existence at all. We hadn’t seen or spoken to each other since that terrible conversation in his apartment. “If I need help, I’ll call you.”
“It would be easier if I were there all the time—”
“Case, you have your own life. You didn’t sign up for this.”
“So?” he demanded. “You’re my family. Family is all that matters.”
“And we’re still family while I live here. Having a baby around is going to completely disrupt your life. It’ll cry every night, it’ll be messy, and it’ll stink. How are you going to bring women home with a screaming baby in the way?”
He shrugged. “At least she won’t try to sleep over.”
I rolled my eyes. “Case, I’m fine. It’s so sweet that you want me to stay—”
“I really do want you to stay.” He looked at me with desperation in his eyes. “You can’t do this alone—”
“I can do this alone. Give me more credit, Case.”
“It’s not that I think you’re incompetent. It’s just going to be so difficult to handle on your own. Parenting is meant to happen with two parents. And even with two parents, it’s still hard—”
“I’ve survived worse. I can do this.”
He finally shut his mouth.
“If I need help, I’ll ask. I promise.”
He gave a slight nod. “You’re always welcome to come back if you change your mind.”
“I know.” I kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you for building the crib. My back isn’t the same with this stomach.”
He eyed my belly. “You’re definitely showing now.”
My stomach was distended and large, and since the rest of my body was still petite, it made me look even more pregnant. I looked like I was eight months along rather than five. “Yeah, everyone wants to touch my stomach when I go to the grocery store…and the bank. It’s weird.” I would love to feel Balto’s large hand against my stomach, for him to feel the life he put inside me.
I needed to forget that dream. It would never happen.
“That is weird.” He grabbed the thin mattress and placed it in the bottom, along with the sheets and pillow. “Have any names picked out?”
“I haven’t even considered it.”
“You’ve got time. When will the doctor tell you what the sex is?”
“She can tell me anytime. I just haven’t wanted to know.”
“Really?” he asked. “Why not?”
I shrugged. “I’m not sure. I guess I’m just not ready to deal with that. When I know the sex, I’ll start to think about how I’ll raise them…and it’ll just feel more real.”
“Why don’t you want it to feel real?”
“Right now, it’s just about preparing. Picking out baby clothes and setting up the crib. But once the baby is here, everything will be different. I’ll live my life completely for another person. Nothing will ever be the same.”
“Yeah…it’s a big responsibility. It’s normal to be scared.”
“I’m not scared. I just…know everything will be different.”
I worked at the dining table and handled the accounting so Case could work on other things. Now that I was so large, it was difficult for me to stand on my feet all day. My knees hurt, and my lower back was strained.
Case came out of the kitchen and headed right toward me. “Balto is here.”
I did a double take. “He is?”
“He just walked in. If you don’t want to see him, I suggest you hide. You have less than a minute.”
The last thing I wanted was for him to see me. He’d take one look at my belly and know I was pregnant. And he would probably assume it was his. That would introduce a conversation I didn’t want to have. I ditched the chair and went through the door that led into the hallway.
A second later, I heard his voice, deep and powerful. The second he entered the room, his presence filled every corner. His shadow extended over everything and everyone. “Case.”
Case couldn’t mask his hatred. It was obvious in just his tone. “I’ve got your money.” He made some movements then set the heavy bag on the dining table on top of the invoices. “It’s all there.”
I expected to hear Balto’s footsteps as he walked away.
“You want to count it?” Case asked, being a smartass as always. My brother was one of the few people I knew who wasn’t afraid to stand up to Balto. He’d always been that way, even before he knew I was involved with him.