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My remaining time in rehab flew by quickly. My final session with Dr. Fuller felt much different than the first. I wasn’t shaky and teary eyed as I thought and spoke of my mother. She didn’t want me, but I felt there was nothing wrong with the person she made. My father’s lack of interest in my life still stung, but I didn’t make gaining his approval my top priority. Genette’s affection was a lost cause. No one had it. Looking at my sister, I no longer left like the worthless ugly duckling I once perceived myself to be. I felt really good about myself. I knew it wasn’t just the antidepressants talking. It was the knowledge that I was going to continue making positive changes in my life. I would be attending a new school. I would be able to make new friends. I would have the chance to create my own identity for the first time in my life. I didn’t know how everything was going to turn out, but I was very optimistic about my ability to handle whatever life decided to throw my way.
Of the clothes I brought with me to California, I only had one outfit that still fit me. It consisted of a plain gray t-shirt and lavender draw-string shorts. I had bought them several sizes too big, but they were snug when I pulled them on to wear home. My hair had fully returned to its childhood state – thick, shiny and curly. I found more enjoyment than I should’ve in brushing it. Instead of shedding like it used to, it had grown over the summer, reaching the middle of my shoulder blades.
I picked up the bags I had packed before getting ready. I scanned my room one last time, trying to ensure I wasn’t leaving anything behind. When I saw that I hadn’t, I went to the front desk. I saw Audrey there waiting for me. I smiled widely as I started walking faster.
“I’m free!” I sidehugged her.
She laughed. “You sure are!” She put her hands on my arm.
“You look so good.” She turned to hug me properly.
“Is someone trying to cut in?” I joked, referring to her stomach.
She was wearing an empire-waisted sundress. It made it hard to tell if her pregnancy was the reason her dress was jutting outward or it was simply the cut of the garment. Holding her didn’t clear up my question. I deemed it as a combination of both.
“Yes. I’m in that awkward stage, where people are scared to ask if I’m pregnant. I’ll be sticking to looser clothes until people are able to tell it’s a baby, not a big lunch.” She pulled back with a smile gracing her face.
“For kicks, I’d tell people I wasn’t having a baby if they tried to congratulate me just to freak them out. I’d laugh hysterically as they tried to backpedal. It’s a game I look forward to playing if I ever decide to become a mother.”
She giggled and shook her head at me.
I was reunited with my cellphone and laptop as she signed me out. I waved goodbye to the staff and happily rejoined the real world. Audrey escorted me to her rental car. I placed my bags in the trunk.
“Do Ev’s fans know?” I asked when I joined her in the car.
“No, but he’s too excited. I know he’ll be spilling the beans any second now. There’s barely anything there and he can’t seem keep his hands off of me whenever we’re in the same room.”
“That’s been the case for as long as you’ve been together.” I buckled my seat belt.
She fought off a smile. “It’s very different now; more protective, less flirty.”
“Only less?” I looked over at her with a playful smirk.
She smiled harder. “He’s still Everett. A part of him will always love to play. All of the pregnancy hormones make me very receptive each time he tries something. I’ve started keeping a distance while he should be working to keep him from getting distracted.”
“What is he doing now?”
“The guys are doing an interview at a radio station. Thanks for reminding me.” She switched on the radio and tuned to the channel.
“Everett, you married the muse of Fleeting Moment’s song Audrey earlier this year, breaking the hearts of millions of fans, mine included. What was the wedding like?” The female host subtly flirted.
He laughed. “I warned all of you of her effect on me at the very beginning. Her song was our first single. –“He started playfully. “We, uh, got married in my parents’ backyard in Jersey. We played there as kids and I asked her out there as a teenager. The guys were my groomsmen. I made them play the reception –“
“For free, like the dictator he is.” Mack joked.
“We’re still filing our labor union grievances.” Frank added.
“I’m sure it was a blast. Audrena is one lucky girl.” The host giggled.
I looked over at Aud. She rolled her eyes.
“You don’t care that your husband is eye and ear candy to millions?” I smiled.
“We’re married. I’m pregnant. What they do and how he responds is part of his job. I understand. It hurts when they tear me down, saying he can do better, but they don’t know him or me. The only think they do.” She picked up the smoothie that was sitting in her cup holder.
“Are you hungry? What would you like your first meal as a free woman to be?” She asked between sips.
“The first diner you see, pull in. I need breakfast food as soon as possible.”
“As you wish. We’ll go shopping for your school clothes after that. I already bought your uniform pieces in your new sizes, but I’m sure you’ll want clothes for your free time, dancewear, and accessories to customize your everyday look.”
I nodded and tucked my hair behind my ear. “None of my clothes fit. This is tight. –“ I pulled at my shirt.
“Bright side, I actually need a bra now and it turns out that you’re not the only one that inherited Mom’s bum.” I added.
She laughed. “I saw that when I hugged you. It looks great.”
“I’ve got stretch marks all over the place, though. Please say you didn’t get my skirts and jumpers too short.”
“Using the measurements I received from the facility, I ordered the sizes that were recommended for someone of your size online.”
“What do they look like?” I looked over at her.
“Your school colors are red, black, and white. You have two black and white plaid skirts and jumpers. You have a solid black skirt, pair of shorts, and dress. You have short-sleeved and long-sleeved white dress shirts, a red polo, and a white one. You have two red sweater vests, an insignia blazer, a red tie, and a black one. All of it is at the hotel. You can try them on later.”
I took a deep breath and glanced out the window. “I’m not really looking forward to doing that.” I placed my hand on my necklace, rolling the bee charm between my fingers.
“You’re still adjusting to your new body. I’ll be very sensitive to that.”
“I’ve never shopped for myself before. Will you help me?”
“Of course, Sweetie.”
I looked over at her. “Be honest when I ask for your opinion. I want to put my best foot forward.”
She offered me a smile as we sat at a stoplight. “I will. Relax.” She rubbed my shoulder.
“Breakfast!” I cried with excitement, pointing to the 50’s style diner I spotted on the side of the road.
She giggled. “Let’s get it. I’m starving.” She switched on her turn signal to turn around and head in its direction.
After we submitted our drink orders, Aud excused herself to the restroom. I flipped through the menu the waiter had given me, trying to figure out what to order. Originally, my mind started calculating the calories I’d be intaking as I glanced at all the options. I clenched my eyes shut in hopes of turning it off.
“I’m surprised you went for breakfast as your first meal. You’re diving right in. I respect that.”
I opened my eyes when I knew Audrey was back. I cleared my throat.
“When I was little, after dance class, you took me to the diner Everett worked at when you started dating. I felt so grown up hanging out with the two of you. With what I ordered, it was like eating dessert for dinner. I loved it all so much.” I admitted sheepishly.
She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m happy you have something from that time you want to look back on.”
“It’s not your fault. I’ve never blamed you.” I looked into her eyes to convey my sincerity.
“But I still –“
“Not Dad, not Mom, you have always been my hero, the one I could look up to. Please don’t think what happened to me is a result of something you did.” Tears clouded my vision.
“Then I should’ve been the one trying to make you proud, not the other way around.”
“You did. You’re doing great at work, I got to be maid of honor at your wedding, your husband is crazy about you, and you’re making me an aunt. You’ve done your job perfectly.” I subtly dried my eyes with my free hand.
“They love their Aunt Izzie like crazy.”
I smiled. “You can tell this early?”
She nodded. “You’re lovable in every way.”
“I haven’t covered my freckles in months. I’m sure the blur and I look the same age right now.” I joked as I returned my eyes to my menu.
“You look like yourself and you’re adorable. And start calling my baby a baby. Just because you can’t see it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t already have a little face and body.” She added.
“Fine. I’ll break out my magnifying glass.” I teased.
I ended up ordering a beautiful stack of French toast topped with strawberries and whipped cream. It was loaded with calories and fattening; I loved and savored each and every bite. Audrey had to run to the bathroom again before we left the restaurant. I found myself amused by her pregnancy symptoms and overjoyed by the knowledge that she was going to be the best mom ever in a few short months.
I tried my best to relax as we shopped at the mall for my new wardrobe. I found myself gravitating towards things Genette and her stylists never put me in – flowy and naturally textured dresses and shirts with organic and eclectic patterns, worn jeans and vibrantly colored joggers, cotton cardigan and sweaters, a denim vest, and a gray utilitarian-style military jacket; none of it had a recognizable brand name, which is what I loved most. I wasn’t representing a company, I presented a style – a boho chic one, according to Audrey. I didn’t know if it was my personal style or my way of combating the oppression I once felt, but I found my new clothes to be freeing and that’s the feeling I followed.
“Is it just me, or does it feel like people are staring?” Aud asked subtly as I tried on shoes in a department store.
I looked up from the pair I had on. I scanned the room and noticed that people were doing double takes each time they passed us. She was seated in the armchair beside mine. She picked up her purse and situated it in front of her stomach when the attention she was receiving became more obvious.
“No, it’s definitely happening.” I replied.
“Are you feeling okay?” I placed my hand on her back.
She nodded. “I’m getting a little tired, though. I’ll probably take a nap when we get back to the hotel.”
“For now, enjoy your pretzel and lemonade. We had to wait in line almost 20 minutes for them.” I teased lightly.
“Craving food. I was rightfully devoted to the cause.” She retorted in a hushed tone.
“You should call Ev. He might’ve said something.” I shifted my attention back to my shoes.
“Great idea. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.”
“I hear a foggy mind is wrapped up into this, at least that’s what Genette kept spouting when she was having Soph.” I replied at a volume only she could hear.
She placed her drink on the floor and removed her phone from her purse. I picked up her drink and started sipping from the straw as I ruled on the shoes on my feet.
“We’re out shopping. Babe, did you say something during one of your interviews today?” She said shortly after he answered his phone.
“You should’ve called. People keep staring at me, hoping to get a glimpse of your baby. It’s making me self-conscious.” She resumed nibbling on her pretzel.
“No, I’m not. I just look bloated.”
“I know all about the small fortune you spend at Taco Bell each month. I’m your wife. And watching Juno and reciting lines at me does not count as educating yourself on my pregnancy.” She tried her best not to smile.
“It really should.” I laughed as I placed the shoes back into their box.
“We’re not anything. Your body doesn’t have three times the amount of blood coursing through it. You’re not running to the bathroom every fifteen minutes and you most definitely won’t be giving birth in about five months.” She corrected.
She smiled at what he said in response. “I’ll be counting on that.”
“I will. Love you. Bye.” She kissed him goodbye. She placed her phone into her bag and put it on the floor.
“Over hiding it?” I tied up the next pair of shoes I wanted to try.
“He told the whole world. I can’t have people thinking I’m ashamed of what we made. Those are cute.” She nodded to my shoes.
“I think they’re keepers.” I flexed my toes.
I took them off and loaded them back into the box. I paid for them using the credit card our father had issued me. We went to our phone carrier’s store and I had my number changed. Our last stop was a dance store. There, I picked up all the supplies I needed for dance instruction. The two of us made it back to the hotel Everett and his band were staying during their stint in LA.
She had my suitcases from Rehab. I had my arms filled with shopping bags. She swiped us into a suite on the top floor.
“You’re staying in the master bedroom with me. The guys have the other rooms. The couch pulls out to another bed. Ev already knows he’s sleeping on it tonight.” She told me as I hobbled in with my shopping bags.
“Sounds good. What are we going to do with all the clothes that don’t fit?” I waited for her in the living room.
She led me to the bedroom after allowing the door to close. “Donate them.”
I dropped all of my bags onto the floor when we were in there. She placed my suitcase and carry on onto the bed. She sent my new clothes to be washed. I tried on the uniform pieces she bought for me.
I checked myself out in the mirror. The shirt I had on was shorter than my fingertips. My arms had always been long, my legs were too, while my torso was short. The disproportionation of my body made gauging the skimpiness of clothing a bit difficult.
“I don’t know if I can pull this off.” I thought aloud.
“You can. It looks good.” “She was seated on the bed, her back rested on the headboard with her hand on her stomach.
I turned around and placed my hands on my hips. “I kind of want to see it.”
“See what?” A hint of a smile graced her face.
“Your belly. The bump that belongs to the baby of pop-rock’s good boy.” I teased lightly.
She giggled as she gestured me over. “Come here.”
I bounced down on the bed beside her. She lifted her dress. The lower portion of her abdomen was distended, making a small, but noticeable bulge.
“There’s really something in there.” I beamed and placed my hand over my mouth.
She nodded. “Want to touch it?”
“Yes.” I lowered my hand and used it to rest my hand on it. I caressed her skin with my thumb.
“I’m getting hungry. Would you like to order room service? There’s no telling when the boys will be back.”
“I can’t deny a pregnant woman food.” I laid back on the bed and looked at the ceiling as she picked up a menu.
“I’m so nervous. Everyone will already know each other.” I admitted.
“Be yourself. I’m sure you’ll make friends in no time. You’re very sweet.”
“What if they all hate me too?”
“You’ll be at a much larger school, filled with kids from all over the country with different backgrounds. The pool of personalities will be much more diverse; the odds of all of them reacting to you the same way are nonexistent.”
“Is that your professional opinion, Dr. Hales-Woods?” I looked over at her, remaining on my back.
She smiled down at me. “Yes, I know what I’m talking about.”
“Order me a burger, will you? It’s my splurge day.” I scooted off the bed.
“Are you going to keep it on? The weight, I mean?” She watched me with a serious expression.
“Yes, I don’t want to return to feeling terrible and lost all the time. This is me. I accept it.”
“Good. There’s nothing wrong with you.”
I removed my skirt. I changed back into the clothes I was released in and folded all of my uniforms. I placed them into my empty suitcase. I picked up my new pointe shoes and the items I needed to prep them and rejoined her on the bed. I put one of them on and marked where I needed to sew on the ribbons. I removed them and started stitching away.
“How long is it going to take you to break those in?” She asked as she continued to scan the menu for what she wanted.
“A few weeks. It’s going to hurt like no other, but I’ll tough it out.” I tore the thread with my teeth.
She called room service and placed our orders. She switched on the television. I continued to work on my shoes.
“How’s Dad’s show going?” I broke the comfortable silence we were sitting in.
“Same as always. People treat him like a God, as if he’s actually helping people with his work instead of composing the rich of plastic. Genette talks about her business like it’s single-handedly keeping the country afloat. Together, they create the most artificial and uninspired hour of television. Their network adores them.”
“Has my ordeal been mentioned?”
“They’ve had to gloss over a good chunk of it because of the lack of footage of you, but they recorded a talking head to address it for the public to appear human. They cried, going on about how easy it is for parents to miss the signs that their child has an eating disorder, that they’ll love you no matter what, and they’ll do whatever it takes to ensure Soph knows she’s beautiful.”
I scoffed and rolled my eyes. “They are class acts.”
“And we’ll continue to keep our distance. They’ve promised not to film you anymore.” She channel surfed as she rested her free hand on her stomach.
“Yeah?” I looked to her in disbelief.
“They don’t want a child-abuse suit, so they’ve decided to back off and let me take care of you.”
“Who’s my legal guardian?”
“He still is. This is all under the table. As far as the world’s concerned, you attend boarding school for the majority of the year and live with them when you are home. In reality, you go to school and stay with me when you’re in town. We all win.”
I tucked my hair behind my ear. “Thanks for looking out for me.” I offered her a small smile.
“You’re the only one I’ve got. That’s always been the case.”
“You’ve got Ev and a baby coming, now.”
“I am talking about my original family. It’s expanded over the years, but growing up, I had you. You’re more than enough.” She focused her eyes on me.
My smile widened. I lightly nudged her shoulder with mine, trying to get past the heavy sentimental level of it all. She tickled my sides, the way she used to when I was little.
“I’ve got a needle! I have to be careful or bed time will be dangerous.” I gasped when I got away from her.
She placed a kiss on my cheek. “I love you, Izzie Bee.”
I jokingly poked my tongue out at her as I resumed sewing. I attached my ribbons, cut them to the appropriate length, and adhered the caps to the tips of the shoes.
“I need to burn the ends of my ribbons. I’ll be back.” I worked myself off the bed using on my legs.
I went into the duffle bag we bought at the dance shop and removed a silver, rectangular lighter.
“Be careful. Pool the sink with water. If a flame starts, drop the ribbon in.” She warned.
“Yes, Mom.” I teased lightly as I made my way to the bathroom.
I stopped up the sink and filled it up, par Aud’s request. I allowed the ends to catch flame. I let them burn for a few seconds and extinguished them with the water. I repeated the process three more times. When I was finished, I sat down on the edge of the tub and put on my pointe shoes. I tied them up securely. I placed my hand on the counter and performed rises in first and sixth position, focusing on rolling through the demi pointe position, up to full pointe, and back down through the demi pointe.
“Food’s here!” Audrey knocked on the door.
I opened the door. She looked down at my shoes. “Do they feel okay?”
“Yeah, I’ll be keeping them on to break them in. I’m very excited about this burger, though.” I walked past her.
We went into the living room to eat. I saw she had our food spread out on the coffee table and the television all cued up to what she was watching in the other room. I had my burger, juice, and side salad. She had several meals – spaghetti with garlic bread, grilled cheese with waffle fries, and a hot fudge sundae.
“I didn’t know dessert for dinner was an option.” I sat down on the couch.
“It goes with my meal, like a side dish, more accurately, a dipping sauce for my fries, garlic bread, and grilled cheese.”
“That is disgusting.” I giggled.
“No, I’m with child. My tastebuds are very different.” She situated herself comfortably.
We enjoyed our food, watching a show on The History Channel about antique collectors hunting for new treasures. We made it interactive, guessing what each item would cost and was worth upon restoration. Audrey was spot-on most of the time, proving she watched the show regularly.
“—around my baby. It’s a safety issue and I will question your decency if you don’t oblige.“ Ev was mid-conversation with the guys when they walked through the front door.
“What is he boring you with?” Audrey called to them, making our presence known.
“He thinks he’s banning groupies from the tour bus.” Frank answered as he sauntered in.
“I have, Honey, watch. Izzie, bring it in!” Ev cried, approaching me with extended arms.
I hopped up from my seat, giggling.
“You’re beautiful.” He hugged me.
“There are so many girls that would die to hear that from you.” I joked.
“But you’re indifferent?”
“You’re my big brother. I take it platonically.” I corrected.
“I’m glad you’re taking my word for it.” He ruffled my hair after he pulled away.
“I feel good.” I returned to the couch.
“Hey, Iz.” Frank waved at me on this way to his room.
I waved back with a smile. The rest of the guys followed suit as they made themselves at home in the suite.
“Fries!” Mack beamed as he reached out to take some of Aud’s fries.
She swatted his hand away. “Mine.”
Ev chuckled and sat down on the couch beside her.
“Then I’m bringing girls on the bus.” Mack retorted, sitting down in one of the armchairs.
Everett put his arm around Audrey’s waist and rested his hand on her belly. “If you upset my pregnant wife, I will destroy you.” He growled.
She looked up at him from within his arm. “We’re not putting stipulations on their tour activities. No drugs or getting completely wasted because I’ll be sober and won’t feel like dealing with it, but I don’t care if they entertain lady friends as long as they’re considerate.” She intervened.
“That’s why we love you.” Mack replied as he went through the room service menu.
I picked up my salad and started leafing through it with my fork.
Ev leaned down and kissed her on the lips. He kissed the side of her face and neck when she pulled away to resume eating.
“How did you tell people?” She asked as she scooped up her ice cream with fries and put them into her mouth.
“For the past couple of months, every time we pass a baby, he’s reached down and pet it. During our radio interview, the host asked about his sudden interest in children. He replied with, ‘if they like me, I know mine will’.” Mack answered, scratching his beard.
“I told you to stop talking about them like they’re dogs. You’re in time out. Go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.” He told him, removing his face from the crook of her neck.
“Ugh, not again.” He groaned as he rose from his seat with his menu.
“Really? That vague?” Audrey looked to Everett.
He “You told me to put it off for as long as I could. I really tried. That’s when Cara asked if you were pregnant, –“
“Cara?” She interrupted.
“Radio host. She was flirting with him so hard. I swear there was a cartoon thought bubble floating above her with hearts.” Mack chimed in, sitting on the floor in the corner.
“Oh, I heard. Did not appreciate that.”
“I told her I love you and you’re making me a dad. It’s not like I fell for it.” He pecked her on the lips to put her at ease.
“We can’t be like this on tour. The guys will get so sick of us.” She rested her head on his shoulder.
“Him, never you. You’re pregnant, but he’s the one making demands.” Mack dragged the suite phone to his corner.
“She gets calm about things she can study for. I’m sure she’s read all about pregnancy.” I replied.
“I’m still not looking forward to the pain.”
“I’ll be there.” His hand wandered up and down her side.
“I’m not going to be nice. You will be yelled at.”
“Let me have it.” He placed a kiss on the top of her head.
Aud ended up falling asleep relatively early that night. She tried really hard to hold on and help me pack, but I knew she had no control of it. The staff returned my clothes to me. I folded them into my suitcase. All of my bags were ready to go for my flight the next morning when I climbed into bed beside her. I cuddled with Christina and did my best to fall asleep, a mix of nerves and excitement making that task seem impossible.
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