Stephanie's least favorite chore was trash. It smelled gross, the bags from the upstairs apartment were always heavy, and dragging the bins made a terrible sound that rivalled nails on a chalkboard. And today, in the rain, one of the bags had split. Which meant she had to touch not just garbage, but wet slimy garbage. Her hand froze over the second to last piece. A pregnancy test. Stephanie looked around, knowing she shouldn't look. Not that that ever stopped a Tanner. Stephanie looked around again to make sure nobody was watching, then looked at the test. Positive. Someone in the house was pregnant. It was either DJ or Aunt Becky. Stephanie carefully slipped the test into her pocket and finished with the trash.
Over the next few days, she constantly watched both DJ and Aunt Becky, to see if either of them were giving anything away. She came to the conclusion that the test must be DJ's, because there was no way Uncle Jesse would keep that quiet. Then again, wasn't it her dad who had spilled the beans when Aunt Becky was pregnant with the twins? She couldn't remember how that had all played out, but thought she remembered that Aunt Becky hadn't wanted anyone to know. It hadn't been that long ago, but it was still long enough that the memory was fuzzy. DJ wasn't acting weird though, and Aunt Becky was spending a lot of time in her room.
Stephanie found herself giving a lot of excuses for why she needed to go up to the apartment, whether it was something Alex and Nicky had forgotten downstairs, or something she'd forget to mention to either Uncle Jesse or Aunt Becky. Aunt Becky seemed more withdrawn, but Uncle Jesse was eager to help her out. Still, she was smart enough to know they were getting rid of her as fast as possible. The next time Nicky and Alex were out with Uncle Jesse, Stephanie crept up to the apartment, hoping to glean some more information.
Aunt Becky was on the phone, and even from behind the door, it was obvious she was crying. "Yes, I've got insurance," Aunt Becky was saying. "No, I know they don't cover elective abortion services, but they do cover …"
Stephanie's heart leapt to her throat. Aunt Becky was having an abortion?! How could she! The family would welcome another baby, and her career was in a good place, and did Uncle Jesse know?
Stephanie regained herself from her thoughts long enough to hear Aunt Becky finish "... yes tomorrow at 3. Thank you."
Stephanie crept away from the door. She had to do something, and she knew exactly what.
When the family came downstairs the next morning, there in the center of the table, was Aunt Becky's pregnancy test. DJ was already downstairs and looked as though she wanted to cry.
Before Stephanie could react, their father spoke from behind her. "Sit down, Stephanie. One of you has some explaining to do. And don't worry about denying it. You have a doctor's visit later this afternoon. And anyone over the age of 18 who thinks they can decide not to go because 'they're an adult'" - he used air quotes at this "is too adult to live in this house." Stephanie was torn between outing Aunt Becky now, or waiting. Luckily, she didn't have to decide.
Uncle Jesse came down the stairs, took one look at his brother-in-law's stricken face, glanced at what was on the table, and, immediately upon putting the scene together, said, "Danny, we need to talk. That's not theirs."
Before Stephanie could say something, DJ blurted out, "Aunt Becky's pregnant?!" and Stephanie felt a flood of relief wash over her. Now the cat was out of the bag, and with everyone distracted by the baby, nobody would suspect that she had done anything at all.
Uncle Jesse looked pained. Stephanie could barely hold herself back. She knew about the abortion that was going to happen! She had just enough self-control to wait for Uncle Jesse to answer, but before he could, Aunt Becky came down the stairs.
"Oh," she said when she saw the pregnancy test. She started to cry and Uncle Jesse looked as though he were tearing up too. "There's no heartbeat," Aunt Becky whispered. After that, she was unable to control herself and she fell into Uncle Jesse's arms, sobbing.
"We still love you, Aunt Becky!" Stephanie cried, running from her chair to hug her aunt and uncle. DJ was right behind her, and their father joined in too, a group hug that lingered slightly too long.
Stephanie didn't want kids. Her sister had kids, and while Stephanie loved them, the stories about her new nephew from DJ and Tom were enough for her. She didn't have kids and she got to have a fun, exciting life, full of parties and music and whatever else she wanted. She was her own timeline. And she was never going to settle.
The pain started on her right side. It was always in the middle of her cycles, usually ten days before her period would start. She ignored it at first, but eventually the pain intensified. It led to painful periods, with her curled up for days at a time in whatever house she was crashing at for the week Sometimes it was so intense she couldn't stand. Everything came to a head when her friends hospitalized her in Tokyo after she could only babble at them incoherently.
"Do you want to get pregnant?" the nurse asked and Stephanie's eyes widened.
"No, no, absolutely not," she replied, smiling at the nurse. The nurse didn't smile back.
"If you think you do, you need to do it now."
Stephanie shook her head. "No, I don't want them, I know I don't want them." She was twenty-three, and carefree. Kids were the furthest thing from her mind.
The nurse firmly added, "You won't be able to later You should talk to your home doctor." Stephanie refrained from mentioning that she didn't have a home doctor.
The medicine helped, and for a few years, Stephanie forgot all about it. When the pain came back enough to send her back to the hospital, she was in New York. As she ran through her slim medical history with the PA, the severity of what was happening started to sink in. "So I can't have kids, right?" she told the PA. "That's what you're going to tell me? I don't want them anyway."
The PA stopped and turned to look at Stephanie. "You're only twenty-seven," she said. "You'll change your mind. You could probably still freeze some of the eggs."
Stephanie laughed it off, "I won't change my mind."
She was wrong. His name was Paul, and he was everything Stephanie wanted in a man. He was kind, but liked to party. He was wild, but faithful. He looked amazing, and reassured her that she was hot. They were perfect together. When he said he eventually wanted to settle down and have children, Stephanie agreed that was something she wanted too. She went to the doctor to check, just to make sure, if nothing else, she could save some eggs. Paul didn't need to know this was an on-going thing. "No," the doctor said softly. "At this point, with you being thirty-one, and the state you're in - you are not going to be able to have a child." Paul broke up with her a week later.
"Aunt Becky?" Stephanie had just left Tommy's room, right behind Aunt Becky. "Can we talk? Some more, I mean?"
Aunt Becky took one look at the look on Stephanie's face and nodded. "Of course. Let's go down to your room?" Stephanie nodded and was suddenly very nervous. She had told DJ, yes, but this seemed different. She hadn't even told her father. Aunt Becky was the closest thing she'd had to a mother; despite that connection, it still felt wrong to talk to her. Stephanie couldn't quite figure it out, but suddenly the memories of her childhood came rushing back and it started to make some more sense.
"You never had another baby," Stephanie said when they were in her room. She looked sad. "I always kept thinking you were the two who deserved to have a kid - I mean another kid. Not that the twins were bad or anything just that-"
"Stephanie," Aunt Becky stopped her. She smiled sympathetically. "We didn't try again after that. By the time we got out into our own place, we were both in a good place in our careers, the twins were older, and we didn't think it was the right time to have another baby. I never went through what you're going through right now."
Stephanie was unsure of how to react. "But you lost a baby," she said. "That's worse."
Aunt Becky frowned, "It doesn't work like that, Stephanie. It's not a competition. I wish you girls had never found out about it. We didn't even tell your father. I was so mortified when he confronted the two of you - I don't even know how he found it."
Stephanie couldn't hold back, "He didn't. I did." She took a deep breath. "And I heard you talking about abortion - when I was trying to figure out if the pregnancy test was yours or DJs."
It took a moment for Aunt Becky to respond. Stephanie wondered if she was digging up old wounds that should have stayed in the past. When Aunt Becky spoke, her voice was soft. "Never, Stephanie," she said. "We would have loved that baby, no matter what the outcome. We never expected -"
Stephanie shook her head. She didn't need to hear the rest. Aunt Becky was getting a baby tomorrow and didn't need to be thinking about the baby she'd lost. "I was young, and stupid. I wanted to solve a mystery, maybe stop DJ from being seen as so perfect, I think from the very start I secretly wanted the baby to be hers, and then it changed once I realized it was yours. I thought if I stopped a baby from being killed …" She trailed off, unsure of how to finish that thought. "I'm so sorry, Aunt Becky."
Aunt Becky smiled, "No need to apologize for something that far in the past, Stephanie. Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?" She was sitting on the edge of the bed, her shoulders squared. Steeling herself for whatever Stephanie might say.
"Jimmy," Stephanie said, shrugging her shoulders. She found herself tearing up. "I don't want to lose him. I lost Paul, and he talked about wanting a baby - they just want babies and I can't - I can't lose him. He's a Gibbler, but I love him."
"Oh, Stephanie," Aunt Becky said. "You have to be honest with him. If he loves you, you're not going to lose him."
Stephanie broke down crying, "I already lost one, I can't lose him too, and oh, now I'm stupidly crying and it's such a big night for everyone - especially you and Uncle Jesse and-"
"Shh, shh, shh," Aunt Becky stood and wrapped Stephanie in a hug. "You don't have to do this alone. We're here for you. I'm here for you."
Stephanie sniffled. "Thanks, Aunt Becky. I'll probably ask you for adoption tips sooner rather than later."
Aunt Becky smiled. "I look forward to it. Now we have a party to get to! Let's go!"
They walked up the stairs and faintly, Stephanie could hear applause.