Forty. The big four-zero. Anna sat in her bathroom looking in the mirror. There was the inevitable crow’s feet and smile lines. Those didn’t bother her that much. Her skin still retained a nice creamy glow. Her cheeks even seemed to be more rosy than usual, but she had smudges under her eyes. Even though Amelia had been sleeping through the night since she was about two years old, seemed like Anna couldn’t get enough sleep. She usually got up with Phillip in the mornings so they could chat before he went on his morning run. Lately, she kissed him half asleep as he walked out the door to get to work.
As she turned her head, a glint shone off of her hair. A white glint. She pawed at her scalp. She was getting white hairs? Already? She sighed. This getting old business sucked.
Her cell phone rang, and she smiled when she saw her son had deigned to call her finally. He’d moved to Cedar City a couple of years ago. The only time he ever called was to ask for money or weasel out of coming up to Salt Lake occasionally.
“Hi, mom,” Brody’s voice came from the other end of line. “Do I have to come home this weekend?”
“I could say no but you do remember it’s my birthday and I’m not sure Phillip would appreciate your absence.”
“Ugh,” he said. “It’s such a pain to drive though.”
“No one said you had to go to Southern Utah University,” she said. “University of Utah was more than happy to give you a full-ride scholarship to run for them.”
“Salt Lake is so boring,” Brody said. “There’s way more stuff to do down here in Southern Utah.”
“I’m leaving it up to you,” she said. “But I wouldn’t be your mother if I didn’t guilt trip you just a bit by saying that I would love it if you were here.”
“Mom,” Brody groaned. Anna smiled. He’d never quite grown out of that annoyed way of saying her name. “Fine. I’ll be up there before Saturday.”
“I love you,” she said a little more cheerily than she needed to.
“I love you, too,” he grumbled.
“Who was that?” Phillip asked, coming into the room. Amelia hung off of Phillip’s arm.
“Dad, dad, dad, dad.“ She hung backward off of his arm, crying.
“That was our loving son, Brody, who tried to worm his way out of coming up for my birthday this weekend.”
“It’s only a four-hour drive,” Phillip scowled. “He could come up and then be back later that night.”
“Yes, well, I took care of it,” Anna said. “Mother guilt trips work with him every time.”
“Just when I thought I couldn’t find you any more attractive, I find something else about you I absolutely love,” he said. He tried to lean over and give her a kiss, but Amelia kept pulling on his arm. “Little girl, your dad has just had about enough of that.”
Zoe came in the room. “Melia, why are you giving dad such a hard time?” She pulled the little girl into a hug. Amelia grabbed Zoe around her neck and quieted.
“I need to learn that trick some time,” Phillip said, scratching his head.
“She’s my Melia,” Zoe said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. She took the little girl out of the room, leaving Phillip and Anna alone.
He took advantage of the temporary privacy and kissed Anna.
“How did I seriously lucky out?” Anna said, putting a hand up to his face.
“I could say the same thing,” he said, smiling at her. “So, birthday girl, what are you looking forward to getting for your birthday?”
“No white hairs on my head,” she said, pulling on a stray lock of hair.
“I think you’ll look beautiful,” he said, sitting down on the bed next to her.
“Well, at least you’ll think so. I think I’ll look like some old lady.”
“Anna, you’re still young and beautiful. Is this about the number?”
“Yes. I just never thought of myself as getting old.”
“Love, you’re not old,” he said, taking her hands. “You’re vibrant and fun and extremely sexy.”
“Keep buttering me up, buttercup,” she said, with a grin. “You might like the rewards.”
“Is that a challenge?”
“Maybe,” she grinned. “Or maybe I’ll just fall asleep on you the second my head hits the pillow.”
“Yes,” she said. “It feels sort of like it did when Amelia was a baby—the getting up five times a night, then trying to get up for work.”
He rubbed her back. “Go to bed early tonight then. I’ll make sure Amelia’s taken care of.”
Phillip paused. He looked over at his wife. “Speaking of babies-“
“Phillip, please. Not right now.”
“I know. We’ve had this conversation a million times before. I just can’t help thinking it would be nice-”
“I love you, Phillip. I know you want one more. I just don’t know if I’m up for it again.”
Amelia came screaming into the room and jumped into her father’s arms. The little girl definitely took more after the Laughlin side than the Mackey side. She had straight light brown hair and big brown eyes, but she got the smattering of freckles across her nose from her mother.
“Zoe won’t let me play the gaming system,” she whined.
“That’s because I told Zoe no one was playing the gaming system tonight,” he said.
“We need to have a word with our son about teaching his little sister bad habits, like dragging out the syllables in our names,” Anna said.
“Melia, I said I’d read to you,” Zoe said, coming into the room.
“I want to play Beyond Duty,” Amelia pouted.
This what Phillip wanted? To have to start over from scratch with Little Miss Gaming Terror on the loose? How would she handle being pregnant then having a newborn at her age, all the while trying to keep up with Amelia? Zoe was in her senior year in high school. Brody was already in college. With Amelia, she’d had two sets of extra hands to help out. Zoe graduated in a few months and Brody had already left the nest. Starting again with two children under eight just as she was turning forty was daunting.
Anna coughed on some bile that came up into her throat unexpectedly.
“You ok, mom?” Zoe asked concerned.
“Yeah, just choking on my own spit, I guess,” Anna said, beating her fist against her chest.
“Dad, I want to play Beyond Duty,” Amelia persisted.
“I’ve already said no,” Phillip said. “Mommy and daddy are talking right now. Have Zoe go read you ‘Bringing Home Baby Bear’.”
Zoe sighed. “Mom, wouldn’t it be so cool if you and Phillip had just one more? Like maybe this time a little boy, so there’s an even number of us.”
“No,” Anna said.
“Yes,” Phillip said.
They said it both at the same time. Zoe looked at them both.
“Come on, Melia, let’s go read the book,” Zoe said. “I’ll let you wear my tiara for prom.”
“Yay!” Amelia screamed, running out of the room.
“What are you guys trying to do to me?”
“I had absolutely no hand in Zoe’s opinion about another sibling,” Phillip said.
“She’s closer to making us grandparents than expecting me to give her another sibling.”
“Um, no,” Phillip said. “Chad and I had a nice little talk the last time he was over and I think I made it sufficiently clear what would happen if we have to have the ‘we messed up’ conversation before she’s eighteen.”
“Was it the Glock or the Berretta?”
“The AR-15,” Phillip said, grinning. “It’s clean and shiny now.”
Anna shook her head, but smiled anyway.
“Anna, please reconsider,” he said. “You know that I’ll support your decision. But I hope you understand how important this is to me.”
“Phillip,” Anna said, exasperated. “Don’t we have enough on our plate already? You’ve got your private practice and your Battle Warrior Foundation, and I’m still teaching school. Brody’s in college and Zoe’s in her senior year. It just seems like it’s all too much right now.”
“The nest is emptying pretty quickly,” Phillip said. “I’d like another child and I’d love Amelia to have a sibling. I don’t want her to grow up as basically an only child. I hated being an only child. But we’re getting to an age where, if we wait any longer, we’ll be attending the baby’s graduation with a walker and an electric wheelchair.”
“I can’t make that decision right now,” Anna said. “There’s too much going on. I’m so tired, and as crappy as I’ve been feeling and how demanding Amelia’s been, I just can’t do it.”
“Can’t or won’t?” Phillip asked.
“Knock it off,” Anna said. “That unfair and you know it.”
“I have a right to express my opinion, Mrs. Laughlin, as much as you do,” he said. “And as usual, I think you’re making this out to be a bigger deal than it really is. You know that I’ll be just as willing to help with a new baby as I was with Amelia. You won’t be doing it by yourself and so I don’t understand why you’re acting like you’ll be on your own.”
“Well, maybe it’s because I’m the one that has to carry the child and not you,” she said. She could feel the tears gathering at the corner of her eyes. “And I’m not saying I’d be doing this all by myself. I know you’d help, but you can’t help all the time. You can’t lift me in and out of my wheelchair every time I need to go to the bathroom or help me pick up something that’s fallen on the floor without feeling like falling out of my wheelchair to get it. You don’t have to wince every time you move because you’re stretching your surgery incision. I do.”
“Anna, I didn’t say we had to decide this today,” he said, sighing. “And I know all of that. I lived through it with Amelia. I don’t know why you’re so against it when you’ve done all of this before three times.”
“Because I’m forty, Phillip,” she snarled. “What part of that aren’t you getting? Getting pregnant isn’t some little trifle. I’m not young anymore. It’ll be harder to do everything.” The tears streaked down her cheeks now, and she could feel the saliva building up in her mouth.
“Anna-“ Phillip said, trying to take her hand.
“I’m done for today, Phillip,” she said, yanking it out of his reach. “I don’t appreciate being ambushed with this. And by the gang of you. It’s my decision and yet here I am being pressured by everyone in this family but Brody.”
“No one pressuring you,” Phillip said, frustrated. He stood up. “We are having a civil conversation, or were. It doesn’t have to turn into World War Three.”
“You know what?” she said, glaring at him. “I think I will go to bed early tonight. I don’t feel good and I think we’ve said our piece.”
“Fine, I’ll leave you alone.” He was walking out the bedroom door when suddenly Anna felt sick to her stomach. She raced to the bathroom and only just made it to the toilet before dinner came all the way back up. She looked up as she wiped her mouth with some toilet paper, expecting to see Phillip standing by to help. He was gone. Anger and frustration surged through her as she grabbed her toothbrush. He would definitely get a second helping of her mind in a minute.
Anna made her way out to the TV room after brushing her teeth. “Where’s dad?”
Zoe looked up and shrugged. “We were just sitting here when he walked out the door and took off in his truck.”
Anna’s heart sank. She’d been too harsh. She hated it when he did the escape artist thing because it’s what he did when he was really upset. He’d drive off to cool his head, but until then she’d have to sit feeling penitent and anxious.
She understood what he was saying. And she didn’t blame him for wanting more children that he helped create. Not that he didn’t love Brody and Zoe as much as Amelia, but he wanted another child to add to the family. She didn’t agree, but she understood. If they were maybe ten years younger, then this conversation probably would have never taken place. But she was turning forty. Even she thought that was old, and she was the one with the birthday. Everything would suck at forty.
If she had another baby, that would make four kids—a family of six total. Other places in the country four was huge. Not here in Utah, though, and they weren’t even Mormon. Four for her was huge. She’d never thought beyond having the two she had when Darren was still alive. They were both content to have the two. Now Phillip wanted to add to the craziness. She loved Phillip and understood him. She could have been more diplomatic, but as usual she flew off the handle.
She wandered back to her room. Her stomach still ached. She crawled into bed and lay down on the cool fabric of the comforter. She could barely keep her eyes open. She was just about to fall asleep when Phillip walked back into the room.
“Hello, there, gorgeous,” he said, sitting down on the bed next to her.
“You’re not half bad yourself, handsome,” she said back. “I’m sorry, Phillip. I over-reacted. I don’t know what I want to do. I’m just not sure I want to have a baby right now.”
“Well, babe, you may not have a choice,” he said, holding up a white plastic bag. “Do me a favor and see if I’m right.” He pulled out a pregnancy test.
“If I’m wrong, then we’ll just talk about it some other time,” he said. “Maybe after Zoe graduates. But if I’m right-“
Anna sat up in bed and transferred over to her wheelchair. She prepped the test, and they both waited.
“No matter what, babe,” he said. “We’ve got this. It’s not like you’re turning eighty.” He pulled her into a hug and held her. “And if you were, you look damn hot for an eighty-year-old.”
Anna laughed and hugged him tighter.
They both looked at the test together. They sat in silence for a moment, staring at it.
“Well,” Anna sighed. “Zoe!”
“Can you grab my cell phone out of my purse? I need to call your Aunt Phee. Seems she’s getting another niece or nephew.”
Zoe squealed all the way into Anna’s room with her phone. She jumped up and down and hugged her mom first and then hugged her dad.
“Then I need to call Brody,” Anna said with a smirk. “I wouldn’t want to dump this on him the minute he walks through the door.”
“I know exactly what he’s going to say,” Phillip said. “Gross!”
© Whitney Sivill 2020