I don't think it actually occurred to Naru that the thing giving me super human smell, making me puke at random moments, and rounding out my belly was actually a human being until he was kicked by it.
We had been sitting at the couch as we had made a habit to ever since our honeymoon, with me in between his legs, leaning against his chest, and with him holding a book out in front of us to read. I was only six months along, and was holding it pretty well, so I could still fit between his legs.
"What was that?"
"He just kicked you," I said, having felt it. Baby kicks were a lot like bowel movements—or tiny fists and heels jerking around in essentially a giant blister created by a malicious uterus.
"Kicked me?" He said it as though he could imagine a legless man kicking him with more ease.
I swallowed my mouthful of tea—a preggy safe herbal brand—and rolled my eyes. "Yes. It was against your thigh, wasn't it?"
"Isn't it supposed to be the size of mango?"
Yeah, I'd gotten this app on my phone that told you the size of your baby in relation to fruit and made sure to update Naru whenever our baby changed fruits, mostly because he told me not to. "More like a papaya, I suppose, but yes, now will you finish so we can turn the page already? And it's a 'he,' you stupid scientist. Calling your own son an 'it'."
I had been finding every opportunity I could to say the word 'son' in hopes it would make Naru act, well…more excited, or at least more fatherly. So far he had only managed to treat me as though I had an illness and couldn't take care of myself.
Naru didn't say anything, nor did he turn the page. Instead he pressed his thigh against the side of my waist. I was about to tug the page out from under his thumb anyways, but then I realized he was holding his breath and stopped myself.
A little limb kicked out again. Naru flinched.
"Doesn't that hurt?"
"It does pinch a little with you squeezing your leg on me like that."
His leg moved back. "Those do not feel like arms as thick as my pinky."
"Well, maybe your baby's especially strong," I said. The only thing I was amazed at was how much the little bugger moved at 24 weeks. Weren't they supposed to be asleep most of the time? I sure wish I could sleep all the time, nowadays.
Naru did turn the page after that, but it soon became apparent that his attention was distracted as more little jabs came up and around, moving to his other leg pressed between me and the couch. A smile jerked at the corner of my mouth as Naru's hand on the book dropped to tentively reach his fingers around my round, but still modest stomach to where the assault on his leg was occurring.
Just as sudden as it had begun, it stopped. I almost laughed as Naru's fingers searched the side of my stomach. My irritation (something always close to the surface nowadays) at having my book interrupted melted away and a bubble of content happiness inflated beneath my ribs.
"Where'd he go?" he finally asked. Was that a hint of disappointment I heard?
"I think he fell back asleep," I said, unable to hide my amusement.
We did get back to active reading after that, but from then on whenever he had a chance to do it as naturally as possible, he'd spread a hand over my stomach, waiting for the little bump against his fingers once more. He did let off on treating me like I had an illness. However, the feeling that the only reason he let me come to the office anymore was so he could keep me in his sights increased, no matter how much essential paperwork I did. He was still ever cool, arrogant, and aloof, but I wasn't the only one who noticed how much more jumpy and protective he'd become. Whenever he was called out to inspect a site in person, he would leave Lin behind with me like some grumpy, taciturn babysitter. Ayako, sensing great marital strife about to be inflicted by the grouchy pregnant lady, offered to watch me instead, but even that took some convincing and high emotions. Naru seemed to believe Lin was more capable than Ayako. Whether that was true or not wasn't the problem. I could still walk, talk, and do everything that a normal human being could, and my fierce sense of independence was being infringed on. After I refused to let him near enough to touch or hug me(or more like feel around for baby kicks, not like he'd ever say that out loud), he conceded.
So, really, it had been building up to this point for a long time. On the day of my 32 week check up, I left the house before Ayako had showed up and made my way to the bus stop by myself. It just further powered my rebelliousness that I made it the whole way without waddling or wincing or needing to sit down to take a breather like everyone seemed to be expecting me to. As the bus pulled up, I think I might have scared more than a few people with the look on my face, because I was given a wide berth. A nice business man even let me have his seat. At least I looked pregnant enough for that. Up until then I'd just looked fat, if anything. At least to me it did, no one else said so, but then who would?
I was still savoring my sweet delicious freedom when I walked through the door of the doctor's office with my satchel slung over my shoulder. A small netbook was inside, along with some other essentials. I took every boring moment I could to work on my books, or, at least, I liked to think I did. Of course I didn't watch reruns of Columbo or real crime documentaries.
I checked in at the desk and found a seat next to another young woman about my age. She was rather plain, much as I saw myself, with short cropped hair and a purple striped shirt with jeans and sneakers. As she met my eyes as I sat down, I instantly relaxed, feeling I had found someone similar to myself.
"Hey," I said, quietly, as one often is in a doctor's reception area.
She met my smile with a small one of her own. It moved her face enough to tell me that if she ever smiled full on, it would be brilliantly beautiful. One of those transforming smiles, you know?
I saw her eyes flick down to my stomach and back up as I got out my phone to finally address Ayako's panicked texts. "How far along are you?"
"32 weeks." I said, eyes to my phone. "Though I have a sneaky suspicion I might be further than that with how strong he is. What are you here for? If you don't mind me asking."
She blinked fast, as though caught off guard by the question, and looked towards the door the nurses called out of to bring patients back. "Oh, I'm not sure yet."
"Just been feeling off?" I asked, having heard a lot of pregnancy stories that started out that way.
"Yeah." She tapped her fingers against her knees and looked back to me. "Are you excited?"
I snorted. "Is the sky blue? Though at this point I'm just eager for it to be over. My husband's been treating me like a cripple."
"Oh. That's not good."
"Not like that. He's not abusing me or anything." I gave my phone a bit more of a violent jab than I needed to and stuffed it back in my satchel. "Just being super irritating. Like I'll keel over and die and birth a baby at once if I'm not watched like a hawk."
The little shy smile was back to her face. "It sounds like he really loves you, at least. It's nerve-racking for guys, you know. There isn't anything they can really do to actively help in taking care of the baby and they end up having to sit on the side feeling powerless while you're suffering to do it all yourself. I hear those kinds of guys are the best to have once the baby is born, because they really throw themselves in to helping out."
My initial judgment of her as being someone I might like warmed. There was something about the breathy sound of her voice that I couldn't help but be fond of. It made all her words sound as though she weren't really sure she was there at all, but somewhere high in the clouds, dreaming or sleeping among all the fluffiness.
I heard my phone vibrate and turned to glance into my satchel without taking it out and noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that the receptionist and a few other women in the waiting room were giving me very odd looks. They quickly looked away when they thought I saw, except for the receptionist. She just cocked her head, frowned, and then ducked away into the back. Biting my lip, I rechecked that I was wearing all the essentials and felt my face.
"Hey, is there something weird on my face? Everyone's staring at me like—" I turned back towards my companion.
Except she wasn't there. I hadn't heard a rustle of jeans or felt any brush of air. Only a large window and more chairs were on the side of the room, with nowhere to hide, and she would have had to walk in front of me to go into the doctor's office or out of the reception room into the rest of the building.
Hot with a full on body blush, I covered my face and waited for my name to be called.
Well, I thought. That's a first.