Home > Off the Cuff

Off the Cuff
Author: K.I. Lynn

I rocked the baby in my arms, trying to settle her down. Was she hungry? Did she have a dirty diaper?

My heart sped up as I stared down at her scrunched-up face. What was I thinking?

Panic began to settle in. Only four hours had passed since Social Services called and told me I had a niece. Then, they told me I had to take the baby, or she was going into foster care. Did I let someone else take her? The decision had been a total gut reaction—of course I’d take her.

I wasn’t even aware that my little sister, Ryn, was pregnant, but I hadn’t seen my sister in six months. Not since her last appearance, when she was strung out and desperate for money.

Was she pregnant then? I did the math and began to shake as anger filled me. For years Ryn had chosen drugs over everything, and it seemed having a baby had done nothing to change that.

She ran. Left the hospital and was gone. Disappearing into another crack den.

“Are you hungry?” I asked the tiny baby in my arms. The baby girl didn’t even have a name. My sister couldn’t even do that for her.

Once again, because my sister was addicted to drugs, I was left trying to pick up the pieces.

The baby let out another high-pitched cry, deepening the vibrations inside me. What had I gotten myself into? I knew nothing about babies, and in one afternoon, I had one.

Tears filled my eyes as well and I blew out an unsteady breath.

Thankfully, Social Services was able to provide me with some staples to get me by, but I was going to be spending all night on Amazon one-clicking the crap out of the baby section.

It was only Tuesday. What was I going to do about work in the morning? I’d found a job that I loved and had an amazing boss, but how was he going to react when I suddenly had to take time off? Did I even qualify for any type of family leave?

The suddenness of my parenthood was going to be a huge adjustment, and I needed to strategize. That would have to wait until after I talked to my boss.

If I wasn’t a hyperventilating mess by then.

The biggest hurdle would be my boyfriend, Pete.

In the four years we’d been together we’d talked about our future, about getting married and having kids, but in all that time he’d never done anything to make it happen.

Every time I brought it up, he came back with some excuse. “We’re still young, Roe. We’ve got time.”

A vibrating buzz moved through my veins and worry crawled in. I began to second guess myself, but another little grunt from the bundle in my arms tugged at my heart and reminded me that no matter what, she was worth it.

The door lock clicked and I turned toward the entry, my stomach in knots. Pete stopped mid-step, his brown eyes wide.

“What the hell is that crying?” Pete said as he stared at the baby in my arms. “Are you babysitting?”

“Hey, babe.”

He glanced around the room, his eyes bouncing to the bags lying on the floor. “Explain,” he said as he scowled at the baby in my arms.

I knew that tone. After years together I’d heard all of his intonations, and the hard edge and sharp snap of the word through clenched teeth told me that this conversation was not going to go well.

“This is my niece,” I said, turning the baby to show him her face in hopes it would tame him.

“Ryn had a baby?” he asked, then looked at her, his mouth turned down.

“And she’s going to live here.”

His eyes widened. “Here? With us?”

I swallowed hard. “Yes.”

He shook his head. “No. Call Ryn and tell her to come pick her brat up.”

“Pete! What the heck?” I knew where he was coming from. Ryn had dumped problems on our doorstep many times over the past few years, but this wasn’t the same. This was a baby who needed me. An innocent who needed help.

“Where the hell are we going to put a baby? This apartment is barely big enough for the two of us.”

While the Lenox Hill apartment we were living in was larger than our previous apartment, it was still a small one-bedroom—New York City living at its finest.

“I don’t know, but we can figure it out.”

He shook his head. “No. No, it can’t stay here.”

“She has nowhere else to go,” I said through clenched teeth. There was no discussion—she was staying.

“I don’t give a crap. It’s not our problem! Let someone else deal with it.”

I lifted my chin and shook my head. “She’s family. I’m not going to give her to strangers.”

His gaze narrowed. “It’s not staying.”

“Pete, please,” I said in an attempt to steer the conversation away from the full-blown explosion it was about to become.

Over the years we’d had it out only a few times, but as we went back and forth now, I noticed how this was the most worked up either of us had become in months.

He shook his head. “No, Roe.”

“We can’t even talk about it?” I asked.

“What is there to talk about? I don’t want a kid right now, especially not your crackhead sister’s!”

“What are you saying?” I asked. The crack forming in my heart knew the answer.

Surely the man I’d lived with since college, the first man I’d ever loved, wasn’t about to make me decide, make me choose between him and a completely helpless little girl.

“What I’m saying is that it’s that thing or me.”

And there it was—the ultimatum. The one I knew was coming. Somehow I’d still convinced myself that Pete wasn’t going to disappoint me. I needed clarification.

“You’re asking me to abandon my two-week-old niece?”

He crossed his arms in front of me and sneered at the baby. “I’m telling you that if you don’t give it back, I’m out.”

I couldn’t believe it. My stomach dropped as I looked at him. Really looked at him. His brown hair was an unkempt as always, brown eyes narrowed, and the sleeves of his dress shirt were rolled up, exposing a string of tattoos. To me he was tall, but he was more than a couple inches shorter than six feet. However, in this stance he seemed larger and more imposing.

Trust didn’t come naturally to me. I had reasons, shaped from my life experiences, and I often held a part of myself back. I had one foot out the door at all times. And yet, after years with Pete, I’d silently given him the benefit of the doubt. Believed that our relationship was solid in ways I hadn’t before.

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