Becca’s not an idiot.
She’s sleep-deprived as fuck and her boobs are sore and she’s been transported to a parallel universe within a parallel universe where she’s a fucking mother , but she still has eyes.
Her body is the one making baby food so she’s the most in demand, but Sam, Kelly, and Gordie are keeping up with the rotation of Eden-care around the clock. She and Sam aren’t always awake at the same time, and when they are it’s hard to know if it’s morning or night: there are no windows in the fluorescent hospital room and her kid is already ruining their circadian rhythms. When they overlap, though, his new-baby joy is clearly mixed up with him brooding so hard he’s about to pull something. A dog-eared copy of Walden appeared early on by the side of his cot along with his phone charger, and when he’s not rocking Eden or running the gauntlet of the diaper change, he’s always fucking flipping through it.
“Dude. You are being so loud, give it a rest,” she says, finally, signing as she speaks.
Sam looks at her quizzically. What am I doing so loud? he signs.
Thinking. And sighing like a Victorian heroine. She falls back on the bed, throwing a hand to her brow dramatically. Do you have consumption? Did your husband get lost at sea?
He rolls his eyes and laughs. Fuck off, you’re not putting me in a sanitarium. I’m fine. Just getting used to it all.
It’s bullshit, but she’s tired and hungry (again), and she’s kind of a hypocrite anyway if she pushes him about his secrets. Whatever.
She passes out next to a half-empty bag of Doritos Kelly saved from months ago, her fingers covered in Cool Ranch, till Eden’s cries wake her and the day begins again.
It just keeps going when they go back to the house. Gets worse, even. They have more space than a hospital floor again, and in the middle of the night she finds him doing shit like gazing out the window at the moon, looking pensive. He’s gonna start writing poetry soon and she won’t be able to take it (unless it’s about how beautiful and perfect Eden is, which she doubts). He’s always been expressive and sweet, but it was tempered by him being sarcastic and kind of a dirtbag. Becca’s not sure what this is about, but it’s new.
As the hours pass, he’s more anxious than she’s ever seen him, other than when she was literally giving birth (which she’s pretty much blocked out, thank fuck for that particular evolutionary bonus that’ll make it seem like a fine thing to do again). It seems misplaced now that they’re home and Eden’s chubby and robust, cooing happily at their motley crew of friends.
She asks, again, and he denies it, again. They stare each other down and she tries to communicate don’t fucking lie to me, you’re my best friend with her brain, but the mind meld doesn’t work. He hugs her and tells her not to worry about him - “Save it for Eden,” he says, the E handshape over his heart - and goes back to rereading some passage about the woods. Fuck the woods, Becca needs him to be present and go back to making dumb jokes about her boobs. Maybe he has postpartum depression or something.
That theory’s blown out of the water when their group text gets the news: shit’s hitting the fan, again, but the search party is also back safe. Things are falling apart, and yet Sam smiles at his dinner plate that evening when he thinks no one is looking, his palpable anxiety suddenly right back down to whatever a normal post-apocalyptic level is.
The next day, he says he wants to go to the update town hall. Why? she asks. I’m not going, you won’t even know what’s going on?
Gordie’s coming, he’ll help, he signs, which they both know is giving Gordie’s ASL skills way too much credit. I’ll sit in the front so I can see better and catch more .
Becca feels her expression get even more skeptical.
I just want to go out for a bit. See for myself that everyone got back safe this time. They look at each other for a minute, and then Sam turns to get his jacket. She lets out a breath.
Okay, she signs when he’s facing her again. You’re on Eden duty at 8, don’t forget.
He grins. Wouldn’t miss it for the world, he signs, and she smiles at him despite herself. He’s a fucking weirdo but he’s also a dad now, and it looks good on him.
They come back hours later, Gordie and a tired-looking Bean coming in first, followed by Sam and Grizz. She’s a little surprised, but Grizz is a sweetheart and he’s kinda friends with everyone, so it’s not that weird.
Then Sam looks at him as they take off their boots, and Grizz looks back, smiles a little and tucks his weird grown-out hair behind his ear as he leans down. She watches Sam flush, and thinks, oh.
It’s long after 8 and she’s technically supposed to be sleeping or showering or something useful, but instead she marches into the nursery/storage room/closet where Sam’s in the squishy armchair with Eden, and nudges his feet off the footrest with her butt so she can sit. Really stare him down.
He looks down at Eden, then back to her, and raises his eyebrows. “I got it,” he says aloud, his hands full.
I know, she signs. Not about her. What’s the deal with you and Grizz? She exaggerates her questioning expression, leans in to emphasize it.
He blinks, looks away, then back to her. He doesn’t say anything.
Come on, you were staring at each other all evening. It was so obvious. Is that why you were freaked out the whole time the search party was gone?
He sighs. “I...don’t know what the deal is,” he says finally. She pumps her fist in triumph. I knew there was something going on! He’s going pink and she points to his face. You’re blushing. Did something happen? Her signs get bigger, more emphatic. Tell me!
“Okay, okay, I don’t - I don’t know what the deal is now but, um, before he left -” he pauses. “We, uh, spent the day together.”
Becca rolls her eyes. I’m gonna need a little more detail than that.
He flushes a bit more. “It was Thanksgiving. That’s why I missed dinner. We, um, we hooked up and then I fell asleep.”
Becca’s jaw drops. She was expecting a crush. Some pining. Yearning for the love that dare not speak its name, or whatever.
Wait, you...had sex? You had sex with Grizz? She can feel her eyes bugging out crazily, and something is beginning to nag at her, make her insides feel less like excitement about solving the puzzle and more like something else.
“Yeah, I wasn’t expecting it either. But I guess he noticed me, before. Obviously I noticed him, just always thought he was straight. Turns out he’s just really good at acting.”
Damn, really good.
He’s smiling now, more genuinely. “He tried to teach himself to sign just to talk to me. It was really cute.”
Wow , she signs, her excitement fading. She puts her hands in her lap. It’s quiet for a moment.
“Becca. What is it?” he asks, and she’s not really sure, exactly. Just -
What’s going to happen? she signs quickly.
He pauses. “I don’t know. It happened really fast, and then he found out about Eden, and - I don’t know what he wants.”
That’s it. That’s the problem. Her stomach is sinking.
What do YOU want? she asks, because she doesn’t know for sure. People don’t always keep their promises.
He leans forward, closer to her. Eden’s nestled into his chest and her hands and eyes and mouth are so, so small. “Her,” he says, then nods at Becca. “Us.”
Becca's hands tremble a little bit. Does he know?
“No,” he says. He pauses, considering. “But it wouldn’t matter anyway. I’m a package deal. He knows that.”
She looks at him and he’s steady as ever, holding their daughter in the moonlight. The bottom of her stomach isn’t falling out anymore. She touches Eden’s face.
I can’t do this without you now, she signs. Sam smiles. “You don’t have to. Worst case scenario, I’m not dying a good Christian virgin anymore.”
“Best case, she has another person to love her.”
A few days later, there’s a soft knock on the bedroom door. She opens it and Grizz is standing there.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hey, Becca. Um, Sam said that you might still have some of your old ASL books around. Do you have anything I could borrow?”
Sam was right, it’s cute as hell. He’s pretty cute, all things considered. She never really gave Grizz much of a second thought, just lumped him in with the Shitty Football Bro genre of high school dude in her head. But in the new world, maybe he’s something else.
“Yeah, come in, I’m sure they’re here somewhere.” She beckons him in and closes the door behind him. “Just a sec.”
He nods and sits on the side of the bed, looking around. She knows exactly where her old Signing Naturally! books are but she takes her sweet time shuffling through papers on the desk, opening and closing drawers. Considering.
Finally, she comes around to stand in front of him, holding two thick workbooks close to her chest. She’s eye level with him, this way.
“So. You and Sam, huh?” she asks. His eyes widen and he flushes a bit.
“Uh. Maybe?” He runs a hand through his hair nervously. “I mean, I hope so, but I’m not really sure. I, uh, don’t want to get in the way with Eden and everything.”
He chews on his lip a little. “You guys come first for him. I respect that, totally. Um. I guess I’m just...figuring out where I fit in. If I fit in.”
Becca thinks about the look in his eyes when the penny dropped, that day in the hospital. How kind he was anyway. She sits next to him, the books resting on her lap.
“Grizz, how good are you at keeping secrets?”
He huffs out a short laugh. “Well, I figured out I was gay when I was twelve, so. Pretty good.”
She looks at him until he meets her eyes. “What about other people’s secrets?”
He looks calm. “Just as good, if I need to be.”
She nods. “This one stays between you, me, and Sam. No one else.”
“Okay.” He waits, open to whatever it is she might put on his shoulders. Maybe it’ll take a weight off, instead. She doesn’t really know, but it feels right to open the bounds of this secret, just a bit.
“Sam isn’t Eden’s father.”
Grizz’s mouth drops open. “He - “
“Not biologically. I made a - um, I made a mistake and I didn’t want to tell anyone who it was or what happened. And don’t fucking ask me,” she adds fiercely. Grizz nods, closing his mouth. “Sam wanted a family and he didn’t think it would happen any other way. At least not now. So we told everyone it was him.”
Grizz just blinks at her for a moment. “He told me, um, that you guys…” He trails off.
“Yeah, we made that up. Sounded almost believable, right?”
“Yeah, almost,” he says quietly. He looks down at his hands and neither of them speak.
Eventually, he straightens up, and looks back at her. “Thank you. I won’t tell anyone.”
She smiles. “If you guys are gonna do this, you should do it right.”
He grins back at her, eyes a little wet. “We will.”
She hands him the books. “If you want to practice, let me know.”
“Thanks.” He gets up, heading for the door.
“Oh, and Grizz?” He turns. She kinda has to. When else will she get the chance?
“I feel like it’s kinda gauche to make, like, death threats with everything going on, but if you break his heart, I will make sure you regret it in some way.” She smiles again, sunny.
“Noted,” he says. “And I’d deserve whatever was coming to me.” He holds up the books and nods thanks, and then leaves, closing the door behind him.
Becca sits for a while, just thinking. It’s not the worst case scenario. Far from it.
She’s hoping for the best.