593. - Lucien
I don't realise until I check my phone a good hour after waking up. I've mostly been disregarding the thing, not up to dealing with my friends texting me how I'm doing or the constant baby ads peppering my every turn on the Internet because I've searched I've done when life was still liquid sunshine. But today it won't keep buzzing, and when I go to finally investigate I see the endless list of notifications. Texts, missed calls, Instagram posts - I'm flooded on every platform.
The days have been lost on me. It's really April 14th, meaning that it really is my birthday and that I really am twenty-nine years old now. For a second it makes me feel worse about everything that's been going on, but I quickly smother the feeling. It's just a birthday.
I put my phone on do-not-disturb before working through the most important messages. Matthew, who texted because he knows I wouldn't pick up the phone and promises me a good night's drinking when I'm up for it. Kenna, who tells me she loves me and that I age like fine wine. Beth. Eailyn. Gabriel, who's message is short but it's still a message and I reply to it. After blowing up on him, he simply poured me another drink and cleaned up the mess I made by throwing the other against the wall. He put my phone on the charger, set an alarm so I wouldn't miss Emma's procedure, fed Frank, and then he left. We're far from okay, but a lot more so than compared to a week ago.
Finally there's Eschieve, who insists on calling me and tries three times the moment she notices I'm online, straight through DND. I want to ignore it, but know I can't. Besides, I'm fine. If I don't pick up, she's just going to worry. And there's nothing to worry about. I pick up.
It's just a brief call, since she's between classes, and I have to give her points for not treating me like a broken doll: she's her usual bubbly self, talking about some present she got me but I'll have to come get it in France, and then a group of kids her age suddenly sing me joyeux anniversaire. And that's the end of it.
These are the only messages I reply to privately. I'll never be able to keep up with things sent to me across social media and also I don't want to. There's been constant rumours since I cancelled my party under the pretences of a health emergency - since there were pictures of me at the hospital floating around, I figured I'd better lean into it. Thank god none were taken of Emma there, which means most of the rumours are just about me. They range from simple sickness to a relapse into substance abuse, and there's even some people saying I might have cancer. There's theories which do include Emma, because she's been silent too, but there's very few that connect things to a pregnancy. All the better. The sympathy looks from loved ones are bad enough, I don't need them from strangers too.
Frank has made himself comfortable in my lap, purring as I scratch him below his fuzzy chin, but he perks up when a door opens. Dressed in her favourite pajama bottoms and one of my shirts, Emma emerges. Neither of us slept much after her nightmare, but there's a limit to how exhausted one person can feel.
"Morning," she says with a small yawn.
"Morning." I join her in the kitchen to make tea. To my relief, she makes herself breakfast. Just toast with marmalade, but at least she remembered today. Frank twirls around are ankles, begging for some scraps, which eventually I give to him. When the tea is brewing in the pot, I set it on the coffee table so Emma can take a cup whenever. My tired body wants to join her on the couch, but I don't. My routine after providing Emma with breakfast has become cleaning the kitchen or the bathroom, feeding Frank, making a shopping list for groceries - my only outing of the day - and then I'll usually sit at our dining table and take out my laptop to prep myself for going back to school. I haven't picked a university yet, or a time frame, or any way I want to do this, but there's plenty knowledge that needs dusting off. It gives me something logical to focus on. Facts and statements that leave little to debate and that urge you to be rational rather than emotional. It clears my mind, keeps me from going insane. On the background are the sounds of Emma's favourite soap. I've learned to tune them out mostly, but can't help but hum along to the intro. At some point, when the words on my screen start swimming, I have to take a break. I utilise it by making lunch for both of us, which I go to quietly place besides a cold, half-drank cup of tea.
"Lucien," Emma suddenly breathes, just when I've put the plate down. Immediately I'm on high alert, eyes scanning over her to find out what's wrong. Her eyes are glued to the screen of her phone. "It's your birthday." Her eyes flick up to mine, already filled with tears, and when she turns her phone to me it displays a message from Kenna that congratulates her with me.
"Oh, yeah." I shrug. "Don't worry about it. I didn't think we'd be in much of a celebrating mood."
"But I forgot! Lucien, I'm so sorry! I can't believe I did this, that I forgot your birthday!" She furiously wipes tears away. I resist the urge to sit down next to her and take her into my arms.
"Em, you've got a lot going on. I didn't expect you to remember. Hell, I didn't even remember until I saw all the messages."
"That doesn't make it okay!" She cries. "I should have remembered! First you had to cancel your party because I couldn't even keep our baby healthy, and then I even forgot one simple day! I'm the worst!"
"Lo- Emma." I sit next to her now anyway, carefully reaching for her hands. She lets me take them. "You are not the worst. It's just a birthday. There's another one coming next year. But even if you were to forget that, I wouldn't be mad. It's just a day like any other." She doesn't look at me, sniffling quietly. "Here's what we'll do: I'll shop groceries, and I'll get your favourite cake and we can sit here on the couch to eat it as dinner. I'll even get some candles to make it a real birthday cake."
Her brow furrows. "But it's your birthday. Why would you get my favourite cake?"
I shrug. "We both know I don't care much for cake, so we might as well get your favourite. I'll just get a whole box-worth of bags of those maple bacon cheese corn chips you hate so much. And I'll use your card to pay for it. It can be your present."
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