“Have you picked out a name yet?”
“Oh, Carley. I thought you understood. I’m not keeping this baby.”
Carley pressed her toes into the porch, tilting the swing up and up. “I know that. But Baby’s going to be a part of your life for ever-ever. If you at least give it a name, you can call it something besides ‘Baby’.”
Evangeline looked over at the 10 year old. She must really be missing Marcus today — the baby-talk was coming out strong. Evangeline decided to try to ignore it.
“But then that name might always make me sad, Carley. I don’t want to name something I’m not going to keep.”
Carley switched tactics, barely missing a beat.
“Oh, fine. Give the baby a name, and after you’ve given it up, get a pet or something and name it the same thing. Then, your happy and sad will all mix together.”
Evangeline raised an eyebrow. Carley had been bugging her parents for a pet recently. It looked like she was turning her sights to the next closest thing to an adult in the house. Perhaps if her parents wouldn’t get a pet, Carley reasoned that could share with Evangeline. Evangeline tried not to laugh at loud at her little charge. “My happy and sad will mix together — if I just get a pet.”
“Uh-huh.” said Carley, a big smile on her face.
“Like a dog or a cat.”
“Or a rabbit, or a gerbil. Not a fish, though. Fish are smelly.”
“I don’t know.” Evangeline pretended to consider. “I’ve always thought little girls made great smelly pets. Do you know any little girls I could have?”
“Evangeline!” Carley giggled. “You know you have to share me with Mom and Dad. Besides, I’m already born, anyway. You can’t name me again.”
“You’re already born? Impossible!” Evangeline faked shock. Then she reached over, grabbed Carley, pulled her close, and tickled her. She enjoyed the way she could get Carley’s goose anytime – and it never got old for either of them. “Well, OK, smarty pants. Since you’re already born and all, I guess we’re just going to have to go eat lunch.”
“Vangie? What do you think Marcus is doing right now?” Carley’s voice went from happy and playful to pensive and sad.
Evangeline’s heart broke at how much Carley missed her big brother. Maybe as much as Evangeline missed him — the big lug. She tried hard to keep her voice light.
“Oh, if I know your brother Marcus, he’s biding his time acting all innocent until the guards aren’t looking. He may even be doing his homework. And I bet if you’re really good, he might even be working on another cartoon for your scrapbook.”
“How much longer is he going to be gone?”
“Oh, I hear they’re going to let him out before Christmas for all his good behavior.”
“That’s good. Then Michael can’t hog all the gingerbread.”
“I don’t anyway, you big sissie!” Came a disembodied voice from under the porch where Carley and Evangeline were sitting and swinging.
“I knew you were there the whole time, Michael! Mom says you shouldn’t play there. She says you’re going to get bit by a spider or a snake or a rat or something.”
“Really?” five year old Michael shot back, “Mommy lets you play down here? Didn’t know that.”
“Ha Ha. Very funny. Forgot to laugh.” Carley yelled back at him.
Evangeline had to stifle her own laughter. The age difference was definitely starting to matter less, as Carley’s mother said it would once Michael started school. Evangeline didn’t have any siblings. Before Marcus had gone away, she and he would pit his two younger siblings against one another, sit back, and watch the fun.
Just then, the baby kicked her hard under the ribs; she gritted her teeth and breathed out against the pain.
“You must be having a boy, Vangie.” Carley said. “Everyone knows boys are a constant pain in your side.”
“Is that right, Miss Carley?” She smiled despite the pain.
“Oh yes. Everyone knows girls are sweet as angels. So you can’t be having a girl.” Carley doubled over laughing at her own joke.
Michael came out of hiding. “Well, girls are a pain in the neck AND in the butt, so there!”
“Evangeline, did you hear the wind blowing?” Carley asked innocently. “I think I smell bad egg smell, too.”
“I’m gonna fart on you, Carley!” Michael retorted.
“Children – children,” Evangeline admonished them despite her chuckles. She knew they were about three retorts away from physical violence, and without Marcus around to deflate (or escalate) the tension, thought she’d better nip it in the bud while she still could. “Michael, why don’t you run down and check the mailbox? Carley,can you come into the kitchen with me? It’s time to get lunch on.”
Michael ran down the short country lane to the mailboxes. Carley and Evangeline left the porch, walked through the living room, and entered the kitchen. Evangeline started to get out the remaining ingredients, having put most of the stuff on the countertop while Carley had been watching cartoons earlier in the morning.
“Are we really making pizza today?”
“We are really making pizza today.”
“Awesome! I love to beat the dough.”
“I know you do.”
“I pretend it’s Michael’s face.”
“No, really. I make it into a big ugly ball and then I – Wham! Wham! Beat him until he cries.”
“I bet you do.”
Evangeline sighed. “Yes, Carley?”
“I know you’re giving the baby up because you’re not married and all, but did you love him? Baby’s Daddy, I mean.”
Evangeline hated this topic of conversation, but Carley was tenacious. She wouldn’t let up until she’d gotten a full confession out of her caregiver. Luckily, fairy tales fueled the young romantic’s imagination.
“Well, you know I’ve told you before that I met the most handsomest of handsome princes, yes?”
Carley giggled. “Yes.”
“And how he was visiting our kingdom on his big black charger and swept me off my feet while I was picking apples in the orchard, right?”
Carley giggled harder.
“And I’ve told you how my momma thought he was the fairest prince in all the land and I should make an evil witch’s brew so he would stay forever and ever, right?”
“Vangie, you’re not a witch. Unless you’re a good witch. It’s OK if you’re a good witch.”
“OK. Well, every night I made my GOOD witch’s potion and I poured it into his special cup with dinner and he drank every last drop, right?”
“Right.” Carley giggled some more.
“But one night, a teeny tiny drop of potion was left in the cup and the spell was broken and the prince leaped on his charger and fled the kingdom – never to be seen again.”
“I still don’t know why you had to give him witchy potion. You’re a princess, Evangeline.”
Evangeline chuckled and tousled Carley’s hair. “You’re a sweet girl, Carley. But the handsomest prince in all the land fled the kingdom anyway and was never seen, heard from, or even SMELLED ever again!”
“Why would your handsomest prince ever want to leave you?”
“Well, I guess I was too young to be a queen.”
“Someone should have told that to Baby.”
From the mouths of babes, Evangeline thought. Aloud she said, “and I was still in school; I couldn’t go traveling all the land with the handsomest prince.”
“But you dropped out of school.”
“Only for a little while. It was already May when I left, school was almost over anyway. I’ll go back once the baby has come and gone.” Once I’m not showing anymore, Evangeline thought.
“Yeah, ‘cuz you’ve got to beat Marcus at school.”
“Girl, I already beat Marcus at school.”
Carley giggled. “Yeah, because boys are so dumb.”
“Is that what you think, Miss Carley?”
“Yeah. When I grow up, I’m going to take all the boys that like me and line them up in a line. Then I’m going to smack them with a stick. Whap! Whap!” Carley mimed whacking a rather long line of boys.
Evangeline laughed. “Why would you do that, Carley?”
“Because they’re boys. And boys are stupid. And I would tell them they liked it and they would believe me. Boys will believe anything you tell them and boys will do anything you tell them to.”
“I heard you, Carley!”
“Shut up, Michael! I wasn’t talking to you! Or about you, even.” She leaned conspiratorially to Evangeline. “Well, except he’s a dumb brother. So I kinda was talking about him. But I wasn’t meaning him when I said that about boys.” She laid a flour-coated hand on Evangeline’s dark skin. “Boys are stupid. If your handsomest prince wasn’t so stupid, he’d have married you and made you his princess and Baby would be the heir to his whole kingdom.”
Evangeline just nodded, too choked up to speak. The problem was that Carley had some hell bent romantic notions. In reality, Evangeline did not want the father of this baby lawfully wed to her. She didn’t know where he was; she didn’t even know who he was, not for certain. At this point, she hoped it would stay that way. She remembered waking up in a ditch, bruised and sore all over. She’d been walking back home when Marcus, on his way to school, saw her. She must have looked pretty bad, because he took off his coat and draped it over her shoulders. Without a word, he helped her back to her mother’s house, greeted her mother, and left again. A few weeks later, she stayed home from school with what she thought had to be the flu. However, her momma knew different, and took her to the doctor to confirm it.
Then, there was a baby.
When she got home, her mother made her stay on the porch while her bags were packed. She was 16, pregnant, and alone in the world.
“Evangeline, why are you crying on the pizza dough? Is Baby kicking you again?”
“I’m OK, Carley. Yeah, it was just a kick.”
“Toldja Baby was a boy baby.”
Evangeline wiped her eyes with the sleeve at her elbow, trying not to get flour all over her face. It seemed like everything made her cry these days – she hoped she’d be able to pull it together after the baby was born.
“Yeah, boy baby,” she whispered, just loud enough for Carley to hear, “quit kicking your Momma.”