My brothers were not happy, to say the least. They were, in fact, still standing in the doorway; their expressions a mixture of pure hatred and disgust. It was probably suffice to say that their shock had worn off to be completely replaced by anger.
"Stephanie Joanna Morgan, explain yourself!" Caleb snapped. I rolled my eyes at his theatrics; I know he was the oldest, but did he really have to act the part? Josh noticed my eye-roll and immediately crossed his arms, coming to stand beside Caleb, and casually raising an eyebrow. Of the two of them, Josh was the one who was more sympathetic towards me, letting me speak my part before jumping to any conclusions. This time, however, I knew I wouldn't be getting any help from him. I sighed deeply, mentally preparing myself to feed him my story. Before I could attempt to mollify their anger, my sister-in-laws graciously came to my rescue.
"Oh, you two. Let's not pretend that you didn't have your own secrets in college. She'll talk to us when she's good and ready to talk to us. Right, Stephanie?" My sister-in-law, Megha, asked me. I had never loved her more than this moment. As she stepped out from behind Caleb, I threw my arms around her in greeting.
"MEG!" I cried. Megha giggled, put her arms around me, and gave me a quick squeeze before stepping back and turning towards her husband.
"Now, let's have dinner and then you can interrogate the poor girl." I groaned in apprehension. I should have known she would be just as curious, if not as angry, as my brothers. Leah, Josh's wife, stepped into my apartment and gave me a hug in greeting before turning towards Jake and introducing herself.
"Hello, Jake, I'm Leah, Josh's wife," she said. Jake shot her a grin and gratefully shook her outstretched hand. I could clearly see the relief etched on his face; at least someone was accepting him. I walked up to Jake's side, who was pushed out of the way to make room for my family, and took his arm in an attempt to give him some support. My brothers were not going to intimidate this one. They were the typical older brothers. As soon as they noticed that I was growing, they realized that other boys noticed me, and that was when it all went downhill. To this day, I couldn't remember a single date that hadn't ended in tears on my part, anger on my brothers,' and an injured body part on my poor date's. By the time I had entered junior year, boys were too scared to look at me, let alone attempt to ask me out on any semblance of a date. And, no, I still hadn't forgiven them for the torment I suffered in high school. Was it fair to watch all your friends go out on date after date, while you were stuck at home moping because boys were too intimidated of your brothers? Yeah, I didn't think so. As I turned to invite my family into the apartment, I noticed shuffling behind my brothers and grinned before bending down.
"Who is that back there?" I asked, feigning curiosity as I heard the giggles escape my nephews and niece. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jake's face contort with confusion and curiosity. "Hmm," I continued, "could it be someone I know?" My nephews and niece again erupted into adorable little giggles before coming out from behind my brothers' legs.
"It's just us, Aunty Steph!" Liam, Caleb's son, giggled. I grinned widely and opened my arms to them as three little bodies launched themselves into my waiting grasp. I laughed and showered them with kisses.
"My favorite children in the world!" I exclaimed and was rewarded with more giggling from the little bodies in my arms.
"We missed you Aunty Stephanie!" Anna, Josh's daughter, said to me, laying a sloppy kiss on my cheek.
"Aww… sweetie, I missed you too." My brothers both laughed at my antics, knowing well how much I loved children while my sister-in-laws looked on in amusement.
"All right kids, let go of Auntie Steph and come into the apartment. We can all catch up in here," Leah's gentle voice suggested. I stood up carefully, aware of the baby inside me and again attached myself to Jake's side. Looking up at his face, I registered the look of wonderment he was casting towards me.
"What?" I whispered, smiling up at him. He cleared his throat carefully and returned my smile.
"You never told me you had nieces and nephews."
"It never really came up." I frowned, realizing just how little we knew about each other. Did he have more siblings? Any nieces or nephews, cousins even? I looked searchingly into his face and watched as he cast his eyes away from me, confusion marring his handsome face.
I watched Stephanie carefully as she interacted with her niece and nephews. She was so carefree with them and I watched helplessly as I registered a feeling I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to decipher. This was definitely different from what I usually saw of her. How could she have even attempted to kill our baby when she so loved her brothers' kids? How could the thought even register to her? I saw her glance at me from the corner of her eyes and quickly attempted to make my face as impassive as possible. Watching her interact with her family was a strange experience. It hadn't even occurred to me that Stephanie could lead such a normal life. I mean, she was the daughter of the infamous Dr. and Felicity Morgan, for crying out loud. Not to mention, she had tried to kill our baby. To be honest, I was just as terrified as she was when it came to the whole "rearing a child" thing. But, if I could accept my fate, couldn't she just have accepted hers? Although, to be fair, she did accept her fate, however terrible it was. Looking back on the whole situation, I realized that maybe my proposal had been misplaced. What did we really know about each other? Hell, I didn't even know she was an aunt until about two minutes ago.
I watched in astonishment as three cherubic children threw their tiny arms around my fiancé and giggled helplessly as she showered them with kisses. In spite of myself, I found myself smiling at the sight and I couldn't help but imagine what it would be like watching Stephanie hold our baby, shower our son or daughter with kisses. I smiled at the picture in my mind: a loving Stephanie holding our angelic daughter with Stephanie's heart shaped face, hair, and cupid-bow lips, and my eyes. Yes, I did think she was going to have a girl, whether she agreed or not. The thought brought about such happiness in the pit of my stomach that I couldn't help but grin. I felt Stephanie's brothers' eyes boring into me as if searching for some answer to their questions and I looked up timidly, unsure of how to react to their presence. Did they know about the baby? I met their eyes casually, attempting my best to hide my obvious anxiety and saw, to my chagrin, them glaring daggers at me. I looked away quickly and focused instead on what Stephanie's niece was saying.
"We missed you Auntie Stephanie!" she exclaimed in her angelic voice.
"Aww…sweetie, I missed you too," my fiancé replied, elation present in her voice. I watched, helplessly, as my affection for this side of Stephanie began to grow slightly more. Lost in my own thoughts, I didn't register her movement as she again sidled up to me. Her question brought me out of my own thoughts and I realized, with embarrassment, that I was gazing at her deeply.
"You never told me you had nieces and nephews," I said, curiosity weaved into my question.
"It never really came up," she replied with a look of disapproval. I realized that we had never really talked about our families and, somehow, that didn't feel right. As if, it was almost too impersonal for two people who were going to have a baby and had a wedding looming in the future.
We walked toward the kitchen and sat down at the large dining table before Stephanie wandered over to the cooking range.
"I didn't make any dinner yet. Do you want to stay in or go out?" she asked, pulling open the refrigerator and shuffling around in it.
Before anyone else could answer, Stephanie's brothers cast each other a glance and I felt myself gulping as they looked at me. Their eyes didn't waver from my face as Caleb stood up and addressed Stephanie's question.
"We'll stay in. Why don't Meg, Leah, and you begin dinner? The kids can watch a movie out in the living room and we'll have a nice little chat with Jake here."
I looked over at Stephanie hesitantly. Was she really going to leave me alone with her brothers? She rolled her eyes in her brothers' direction before replying to him in a low voice.
"Fine, but if you do anything to him, I will kill you… understood?" She asked
I caught a dangerous gleam in Caleb's eye before he turned to his sister and replied, "Of course, dear baby sister." I didn't miss his emphasis of "baby" either. I sighed miserably as I realized that this was going to be one long night.
While Stephanie and her sister-in-laws cooked dinner, her brothers relentlessly grilled me with questions. By the time dinner was ready, I was sure that they knew more about me than even I knew about myself. The questions they asked me were disconcerting, to say the least. It had gone beyond casual and quickly delved into the personal. I recalled the casual way they asked me questions about the history of my love life, a dangerous glint in their eyes which was hard to ignore.
"So, did you have girlfriends before Stephanie?" demanded Caleb. Out of the two, he was definitely the more intimidating one. I struggled to control the eye-roll that was threatening to show itself. Well, duh, I had girlfriends before Stephanie, if you could even call her one. I didn't live in a damn bubble before I met her. I kept my voice level and ironed out the sarcasm before answering him.
"Y-yes," I answered, the stammer leaking into my answer to my chagrin.
"Exactly how many before Stephanie?" Josh piped up; a little less cold crept through his voice. I sighed. I hadn't exactly been some kind of player before Stephanie, but I hadn't exactly been serious before her either, except for once, but that was a story I was not willing to recount tonight. But then again, my relationship with Stephanie also begged one question. Was this relationship serious? What exactly did I know about her? Josh cleared his throat and Caleb glared daggers at me as I realized that I had been lost in my thoughts and had not yet answered their question. Well, that certainly did not bode well. Of all the questions to get lost in thought with, honestly. I mentally slapped myself and answered his question timidly.
"How many is a few?" Caleb's voice lowered to a threatening growl.
"Umm… about three or four." More like eight or nine, but what was the difference really?
"And you expect us to believe that?" Caleb said incredulously. I gulped down against the tightness in my throat and gave them a weak smile. Before they could grill me anymore with their ridiculous questions, Stephanie came up behind me and put her hands on my shoulders. She laid a careful kiss on my forehead with only a hint of hesitation that I was sure only I could have noticed. While this charade wasn't exactly ideal, I relished in her comforting warmth and thanked whatever power was out there that she was here for moral support while I was interrogated by her brothers. They didn't know the truth about our relationship, about the sham that it really was, but I would never tell.
"Hi," I said, grinning and leaning up to capture her lips in a chaste yet fortifying kiss. I was aware of her brothers watching my every move with narrowed eyes, but I didn't cower. Her presence fortified my emotions against their tyrannical presence. She gave me a reassuring grin before speaking.
"Dinner's ready," she said and turned towards her brothers. "You behaved, right?"
"Oh certainly, Steph," Caleb said, shooting her a disarming smile. She rolled her eyes at him, clearly seeing through his façade.
"Really, guys. I love you and all, but could you back off a little?" She said, annoyance prominent in her tone. Her brothers just grinned at her before standing up and moving towards the kitchen.
"Well, that is certainly something I don't want to repeat in the near future," I said with relief.
"I'm sorry. Was it that bad?" Stephanie asked, concern illuminating her eyes. Instead of answering her, I asked her a question.
"They don't know that you're pregnant do they?" She shook her head, and I swallowed a lump of fear in my throat. "Well, let's just say, I'm really glad they don't. And, I hope they don't find out any time soon. I would appreciate if my head is left securely attached to my shoulders, thank you very much." Stephanie giggled at my words and shook her head.
"Oh, they aren't that bad," she suggested.
"Well, they sure fooled me then," I stated stubbornly. Out of all the older brothers and even fathers I had interacted with in the past, none even came a close second to the fear Stephanie's brothers had instilled in me. But then again, we hadn't exactly met on normal circumstances either. I glanced at Stephanie and scowled at the grin she shot me. She reached up to ruffle my hair casually and I was quickly assaulted with the scent of the lavender and vanilla soap she used. My pulse sped up once again and I sighed. Oh, the prices of attraction. If she was affected by the simple touch, she didn't show it as she again tried to explain her brothers' behavior.
"They've done this with every boyfriend I've ever had," she suggested as we walked towards the kitchen. "I remember one in particular. I was a freshman in high school and this poor guy asked me out on a date. I was so excited too because, obviously, I was blown away with how cute he was, and it was my first real date ever. I had gone on a few double dates with my friends before that. I got all dressed up and my sister helped me with my make-up and stuff. Anyways, the poor guy showed up at my house and my brothers basically grilled him to death and when he brought me back half-an-hour late, they beat the shit out of him. It's probably the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me." I grimaced as she ended her story and tried not to think about what they could possibly do to me if they found out she was pregnant, with my child nonetheless.
When we walked into the kitchen, I again tensed as I realized that her brothers and sisters-in-law were staring expectantly at us. I shuddered helplessly as Caleb and Josh's cold eyes stared through me. Caleb looked away and at Stephanie instead.
"What were you talking about?" He asked nonchalantly, although I could hear the curiosity burning beneath his voice.
"I was telling Jake how rude you two were to my dates in high school," Stephanie replied accusingly. Josh and Caleb looked at each other and grinned before looking towards Stephanie and me again.
"We're your older brothers, Steph. It's our job to protect you from scumbags," they stated, pointedly looking at me with smiles that didn't quite reach their eyes. Beneath the feral looks on their faces, however, I could tell how much they meant what they said, and how much they were enjoying making me as uncomfortable as possible. No matter how uncomfortable they were making me, they loved their sister dearly and I had to respect that. Stephanie grinned at them despite her annoyance and turned towards the hanging cabinets in the kitchen. She opened the cabinet and leaned up to get the plates down from the top shelf. She couldn't reach them, however, and I quickly reached above her and took down a stack of six plates and six bowls while Stephanie moved to a different cabinet and took down six glasses. We busied ourselves with setting the dining table—set in a brightly colored room off of the kitchen—while her brothers and their wives chatted by the floor to ceiling windows at the far end of the kitchen. As we passed the group of four while setting the table, I picked up pieces of the chatter and grinned to myself as my name came up in conversation.
"Honestly, you two. I don't know who you think you are, treating poor Jake like that," Megha chastised. I was quite inclined to agree with her. Caleb, on the other hand, mock growled at his wife and drew her to his side.
"We didn't treat him poorly at all," he suggested and then grinned when his wife and sister-in-law simultaneously shook their heads in frustration. Meg pursed his lips and Caleb grinned devilishly before kissing her chastely. I smiled to myself. They were obviously in love with their wives. I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like after Stephanie and I got married. Would we be just as loving, just as close? Oh, who was I kidding? We barely knew each other. Not to mention that we couldn't seem to go a week without getting into some petty argument. I shook my head at the thought and continued to help my fiancé set the table. Before long, we were all sitting down to eat at the table and the kids were sitting in front of the TV watching a Disney movie with plates of food in their tiny laps.
As we served the mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, and chicken casserole Stephanie and her sister-in-laws cooked up, the little giggles from my soon to be niece and nephews drifted up to us. I looked over at Stephanie and grinned helplessly. Was this what our apartment would sound like once we had our own children running around, having the time of their lives? Life was so much more carefree and entertaining when we were too young to know or care about what the world was throwing at us. I turned towards Leah as she asked me a question.
"What are you studying, Jake?"
"I just graduated with a degree in Cellular Molecular Biology. I was a pre-med student and now I'll be going to Med school here at Columbia too."
"That's quite ambitious, isn't it?" Caleb asked snidely. So, he didn't think I was intelligent enough for his sister either?
"Caleb," Stephanie said warningly. "There's no need to be mean. Jake's smart enough to handle it all."
"I wasn't suggesting that he's not smart enough, sis." He paused before smirking and continuing. "Unless, there's something you want to say?"
"Caleb, really? Will you just stop? Honestly, I don't think you have any room to criticize my fiancé. He's never been anything but nice to me and I don't know why you feel you have the place to commandeer my relationship." Caleb looked taken aback by his sister's declaration but Josh stepped up to take his brother's side.
"Now, Stephanie, you know we're just trying to look out for you. You don't know what kind of scumbags are out there in the world and we don't want you to have to experience them first hand." My stomach twisted into a knot of frustration and anger. I was not a scumbag. Before I could protest, however, I heard a hiss of distaste leave my fiancé's mouth and my eyes flickered over to her. Putting my hand on her thigh, I tried to comfort her, letting her know that I didn't mind. They were just asserting their rights as her older brothers after all. She, however, was having none of it. She stood up in anger and leaned on the table with one hand, the other hand traveling to her stomach, the stomach that was becoming more and more rounded by day. I looked across the table at her sister-in-laws and noticed them glance at her stomach and then at me with interest. I swallowed hard against the lump of fear that lodged itself into my throat. Shit, this was not good. If they knew, then it would only be a matter of time before her brothers caught on.
I looked at Caleb fearfully but mentally sighed in relief when I noticed that he was not staring at the hand on Stephanie's abdomen. Rather, he was staring intently at her face, as if he would also stand up at any moment to voice his own argument. Stephanie spoke fiercely and a part of me registered that she was doing this for me. I was the reason she was getting into a heated discussion with her own flesh and blood. She was protecting me. Instantly, I felt gratified at her presence, yet also guilty for being the cause of this rift between the siblings. I watched helplessly as they rounded on each other. I had to say something, anything, before she said something that I knew she was going to regret.
How dare they? How dare they insinuate that Jake wasn't good enough for me? I wasn't stupid. I knew exactly what Caleb meant by his callous comment. He was trying to undermine Jake, trying to test exactly what made him tick. I had seen this move before; many, many times. It was a strategy that both of them employed when they felt the need to step in and take control over this aspect of my life. They were supportive in every other decision that I possibly made but, when it came to my love life, apparently I wasn't smart enough to be able to pick the right guy. Not that Jake was exactly the person I had chosen, but we were thrown together in this twist of fate, and we had to make it work. So, with or without my brothers' approval, Jake would be my choice. I faltered a little at the thought. Their tactics with my dates had never before resulted in such vehement dislike on my part. In fact, with every other guy I dated in the past, I wholeheartedly believed that my brothers knew exactly what they were talking about when they told me not to date them. With Jake, however, I felt my heart thudding in my chest. They were making me absolutely furious!
"You know what?" I paused. They knew perfectly well that I did not want that question answered. I leaned over the table a little more and protectively covered my stomach with the hand that wasn't pressed against the table. "I am 21 years old. Do you understand that? 21! I'm old enough to drink, I've had my license for five years, I just graduated with a degree in International Relations, and I'll be going to Law School in the fall. I think, by now, I'm old enough to know who I want to date."
"You're not dating him, Steph. You're getting married to him!" Caleb protested.
"You're pulling semantics on me Caleb. I want you to understand something very clearly. I love Jake. Ok? I love him and I'm going to marry him whether you like it or not." Next to me, I felt Jake tense slightly. I know that we weren't actually in love, but it's not like Jake would ever tell them. Caleb and Josh cast each other a look of defeat before Josh sat up straighter and looked at me again.
"So, explain what happened with Scott then. You know, that guy you were still dating last time we saw you on Thanksgiving." I winced inwardly. That was something I hadn't brought up with Jake at all. Jake, thankfully, saw my discomfort at the question—even if he did look a little curious—and before I could retaliate with an insult, he offered an explanation for my brothers' behavior.
"It's ok, Steph. They're just protecting you. I have sisters too and, I can only imagine what we brothers put them through." I whipped around to look at him and immediately regretted my decision. The sudden movement bombarded me with dizziness and I swayed uneasily on my feet. I put a hand on my forehead to steady myself and I felt Jake launch himself out of his seat.
"Are you all right?" He murmured in my ear. He steadied me and carefully pulled me down to sit in my chair, one of my hands resting on my abdomen while the other gripped his bicep for support.
"Steph?" Leah asked in concern. "Are you all right?"
Before I could answer, however, Josh piped up with a question of his own. "How long, exactly, have you guys been engaged?" I looked over at Jake with a look of confusion and allowed him to answer.
"Since the 17th of February," Jake replied easily. I was surprised he knew the answer so well. But then again, that was the day that both of our lives had turned completely upside down.
"And, how long," Josh asked, "have you been pregnant, Stephanie." I looked at him in shock and felt the color drain out of my face. Shit. They weren't supposed to find out! I felt Jake cringe beside me and saw him turn pale out of the corner of my eye. Before I could answer however, Caleb growled with rage.
"PREGNANT?" He roared.
And, before I could do anything to stop him, he launched himself across the table at Jake and I watched in horror as his fist collided with my fiancé's jaw.
Hey there guys! How's it going? I have finally managed to upload another chapter so, there you go. Don't be too mad at me for the delay! I don't know if I told you guys this but I am now attending a University so I am considerably busier than I ever was before. Thus, I have even less time to write than I did before :( Trust me, this makes me just as sad as it might make you. I know it's really difficult to follow the story because there are such long breaks. But, don't worry, I'm not going to give up on it. I feel a really strong connection to this story. Plus, I know exactly where it's going for now. So, unless my imagination decides to throw me a twist that I absolutely MUST include, this story will keep coming along! I'm going to try and publish as many chapters as I can until I move into my apartment in early September. So, until then, you can expect maybe a couple more chapters from me! In other news, I have begun a oneshot that is nearing completion. It is really coming along and shall be done soon. I am also writing this to appease you, my fans since I have failed to finish this story as quickly as I would have liked to. So expect that to be published as early as tonight and as late as Wednesday (HOPEFULLY!). Unless I have a major writer's block, that will be published within the next couple days. Also, for any of you who were following my story Mistaken Love, I have decided to re-write and re-vamp the whole story. I did not at all like that story. It was very amateur and as I got older and my writing became more mature, I decided that the story was possibly the saddest excuse for a romance EVER! Thus, I am going to re-write it with the perspective of different characters (I also decided that I didn't like the whole Indian arranged marriage theme. It was definitely playing on the stereotype!). Thus, I am thinking of writing it using two characters from this story, who were actually introduced in this chapter- Megha and Caleb. Megha is Indian but it'll be a little different this time since both of her parents are not Indian. Also, I'll probably introduce the characters as already being married and then they have to fall in love blah blah blah... you get the picture. This project will not begin until I have finished with this story since I don't have the attention span to work on more than one story at once :/ haha. As always, please please please don't plagiarize. This work is very dear to me even if I it's not good enough to get published. Plagiarism undermines trust and would force me to discontinue writing/ publishing on this site. As long as the words are mine, you are plagiarizing. Anyhoo, you know how it goes. Read, review, tell me what you think about my ideas!