A/n: Enjoy the chapter!


Chapter Six

Chill Out, She's Just Having a Baby

I smoothed down the front of my shirt, using the darkened window of a nearby store as a mirror, and pursed my lips. It was a dark plum, cotton polo with the Movieplex's insignia on the left breast. Tucked neatly into a pair of well-fitted black trousers, I had to admit it didn't look that bad. Still, I wasn't a fan of polos.

Actually, I wasn't a fan of anything that had short-sleeves. It just seemed so unprofess—

"Whenever you're done admiring your reflection we can go inside."

Startled and a bit embarrassed, I quickly turned away from the window. I couldn't believe I had let myself get distracted like that as I waited for my shift to start. On my first day, no less.

Way to make an impression, I thought mockingly to myself as I faced the person who had spoken.

When I saw it was Ryan, smirking with amusement, a small wave of relief washed over me. While it still wasn't agreeable to have been caught like that, at least it had happened by a person I was already semi-familiar with and not someone completely new.

The amusement and smirk on Ryan's face and the teasing gleam in his eyes didn't sit so well with me, though. Thus why I tried to argue with him, with "tried" being the operative term. I could barely get out the words "I wasn't—" before he cut me off with a snort and a smooth lift of his pierced, left eyebrow that I was reluctantly impressed by.

"Dude, c'mon," he said. "I was watching you primp as I walked up. You look fine, by the way." Ryan laughed at the frown I was giving him. Then, he jerked his head towards the entrance of the theater, which was still closed off by a metal grate. "Anyway. You ready?"

"Yeah," I said.

"Good," Ryan said with a smile, walking over to the grate. I followed behind him. "'Cause it's just you and me opening this morning. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, but Carissa was in charge of closing last night and she always does a half-ass job so she can skive off early. Which means more work for us and less time for me to train you before everyone else gets here."

"You're training me?" I asked, wondering if I had heard him correctly.

"Yeah." Ryan gave me a cool look as he lifted the grate up just enough for both of us to duck underneath it. I realized then how my question must have come out sounding a bit offensive, though I hadn't meant it to. "You have a problem with that?"

"No," I said hastily. "I just thought Owen would train me himself or assign a supervisor to do it."

A slow, wolf's grin spread across Ryan's face, the silver stud right beneath the middle of his bottom lip glinting in the light he had just flicked on. "I am a supervisor," he said.

"Oh." I blinked. "I…didn't know."

"Obviously."

Having no idea how to respond, I simply stared at him with an expression that I hoped was neutral. On the inside, though, I was anything but. I was feeling uncertain, off-balance, and, to my utter surprise, a little inept. Whether that was due to something about Ryan or the nerves of the first day at a new job, I wasn't sure.

And before I could figure it out, Ryan gave another amused snort as he turned away, walking down a corridor. He beckoned me to come with him, which I did.

"Carissa and Taylor are the other supervisors—or, as we call them, Leaders on Duty," Ryan was telling me as we walked. "Carissa is incompetent, as you will quickly learn if you ever are unlucky enough to be scheduled during one of her shifts. Taylor is a good LOD, even if he is a bit of a hard-ass." Ryan glanced over his shoulder to flash me a grin. "I'm the exciting and fun one." He paused thoughtfully for a second before adding, "Well, until you piss me off, that is."

"Oh," I muttered again for lack of anything else say.

Ryan came to a stop, so suddenly that I almost walked into him, and spun around to face me. He stared with a small, pensive frown and surprisingly shrewd eyes. I raised my eyebrows at him questioningly, but he didn't seem to notice. He merely kept on staring at me for a good while before he made a decisive humming noise in his throat, turned back, and started to walk again just as suddenly as he'd stopped.

"C'mon, Pretty Boy," he said. "We've got a lot of work to do and not a lot of time."

Frowning slightly at the name, I followed Ryan for the third time, because what else was I supposed to do?

X

"Hey, Ryan! Is that the new hire?"

Ryan and I were in the middle of familiarizing me on how to use the computers and ticket dispenser at the entrance of the theater when the voice called out. Distracted, I stopped what I was doing to glance over my shoulder. From beside me, Ryan did the same, giving the guy approaching us a smirk in greeting.

"Unless Owen can go from being a built black man to a skinny Asian boy overnight, who else could it be?" Ryan asked, and I blinked, my eyebrows furrowing together.

Skinny Asian boy?

"You never know," the other guy said with an easy shrug. He was about two inches shorter than me with dark blonde hair and brown eyes. I let my eyes discreetly roam over him to take in the rest of his appearance, only to force myself to stop when noticing he had a body of an athlete—most likely a baseball player—went from mere observing to appreciatively checking him out. "Carissa might have gotten sick of being a bitchy Mexican."

Ryan shook his head. "No. The bitchiness is too embedded in her."

"What about the Mexican?"

"Yeah, that too."

I pursed my lips, glancing between the two guys in front of me, not exactly sure what to make of this or them. Regardless of that, I still felt compelled to be well-mannered.

So, I stepped forward, held out my hand to the new guy, and smiled as I said, "Hello. I'm Shaun. It's nice to meet you…?"

"Keith. And it's nice to meet you too," the guy said, while Ryan snorted and muttered something sarcastic about how formal I always was. I ignored him in order to concentrate on analyzing Keith's handshake. His grip was a bit tight, but other than that, it was a rather decent one. I nodded my approval as I let go of his hand.

That was when I realized another person had joined our group—a girl with grey eyes and very short brown hair that accentuated her delicate bone structure. She looked about my age and there was no doubt that she was very pretty. The thing was, the way that she was staring at me, her eyes large and sparkling, made me uncomfortable. It vaguely reminded me of the way Christine had looked at me; though, this girl's stare seemed a little less infatuated and a bit more…excited.

"Oh, my god," she said shortly after I turned my attention towards her. There was a peculiar, daze smile forming on her lips that unnerved me. "You're Asian. I always wanted to be friends with an Asian. But what kind of Asian are y—?"

Suddenly, a hand clamped over her mouth. I stopped staring at her with a strange, semi-offended expression to look at the owner of that hand.

Ryan.

"Sorry about that," he said, smiling sheepishly at me. I noticed there was still an amused glint in his eyes, though. I frowned. "Heather doesn't have a filter from her brain to her mouth."

"And what about you?" I asked.

Ryan's brow creased in confusion. "What d'you mean?"

"'Skinny Asian boy,'" I reminded him with a flat, unimpressed stare.

"Oh." He grimaced and rubbed the back of his head guiltily, messing up his already messy hair. "Yeah, I guess I don't either. Sorry about that. We're not racists. It's just…well, we joke around, you know? It's harmless."

I made a noncommittal noise and turned away from him and the others, back towards the computers. The theater was going to open in—I checked my watch—ten minutes and I still wasn't completely convinced I knew what to do as well as I could. I needed to figure it out before then, with or without Ryan's help.

Preferably without.

Just as I thought that, Ryan told Keith and Heather to turn on the popcorn maker and do another quick check of the theaters. They agreed without question and I heard them walk away. Ryan remained where he was, though; I could sense him standing a few steps behind me. I kept my eyes forward, determined to focus on the computer monitor and only that.

At least, that was the plan until he said my name, using such a commanding tone that I looked over at him before I could think about it. I ground my teeth together in irritation as I faced him.

Ryan was regarding me with a level look that was almost a glare. However, it was the scolding hardness in his eyes—which, for the first time, I noticed where a striking amber color—that reminded me he was my supervisor and I was his subordinate.

Shit.

"Look," he said, his voice pitched lower than I had heard it so far. If it was meant to be intimidating, I had to reluctantly admit it was rather effective. "Sorry we offended you or whatever, but we seriously don't mean anything by it. Like I said, we just fuck around sometimes. Okay?"

"Okay," I echoed. The imperious way he was staring at me with raised eyebrows made me want to hang my head and fidget with discomfort. I didn't, but the feeling was still there.

And wasn't that strange when no one else had ever been able to cow me like that before?

"Good." Ryan smiled at me, but it was tight and a bit callous. "Now, go help Keith check the theaters. Afterwards, you're on ticket stub duty. Got it?"

"Yes," I said with a nod.

Then, I started step to around Ryan, to head in the direction of the corridor. Before I could, though, he blocked my way, leaning in so he was invading my personal space. I went still and stared at him stonily. This close, I could detect the faint smell of cigarettes on him.

"One more thing, Pretty Boy," he said, using that low tone again. "If you're going to work here, you need to pull that stick out of your ass and chill the fuck out."

And, with that said, Ryan shoved past me, his shoulder purposely hitting mine as he went over to open the grate. I was left standing there, blinking, a bit taken aback.

What…what just happened?

With a small, confused frown forming on my lips, I almost looked over my shoulder at Ryan, ready to ask him what he'd meant. At the last second, though, I thought better of it and stopped myself with a shake of my head, choosing to continue on my way down the theater corridor to do the task I'd been assigned instead.

Of course, that didn't stop Ryan's words from repeating in my mind at random moments throughout the rest of the day, causing me to frown once again and brood silently to myself.

X

Liss was pregnant.

I stared at her in silent astonishment, only half-listening to how the reconciliation with her parents (specifically her father) was going. Even though I had known almost from the beginning, the fact had just fully hit me today. She was pregnant. She was going to have a baby—one that growing inside of her right now.

It was hard to believe and wrap my head around. At least, it was until I looked at her stomach. In the past several weeks, it had increased in size and roundness so drastically that, for a split second when I'd walked into the apartment earlier, I had honestly thought there was a large beach ball tucked under her shirt. Seeing that had finally made me understand how someone could be 'verypregnant' instead of just 'pregnant.' And Liss was very pregnant.

Not surprising when she's due in a couple weeks.

My breath caught in my throat as that thought struck, reminding me of the inevitability and making reality sink home. I spent a moment turning it pensively over and over in my head, trying to figure out how I felt about it.

A direct question from Liss cut through my thoughts, distracting me from them, before I could come to a decisive conclusion.

"How's work?"

"Surprisingly good," I told her, reflecting back on the past two and a half weeks since my first day. "Though I would prefer to be back in a restaurant, I don't really mind it all that much. It helps that the people I'm normally scheduled to work with are good company."

Liss raised her eyebrows and tried for an innocent look that wouldn't fool anyone. "Does that include Ryan?"

"It does, actually," I said.

And that was the truth. Sure, Ryan and I had a bit of a rocky start (which I had told Liss about and was nearly sure she had heard from Ryan, too), but that had been all it was. Every day that I had worked with him since, we'd gotten along pretty decently. It helped that, looking back on it, I could see that the only reason I'd been offended in the first place had been because I'd been caught unawares. Now that I knew to expect his snarky sense of humor and how he joked around, I was actually beginning to find the way Ryan bantered with Keith, Heather, Owen, or random moviegoers entertaining. He had even made me laugh a few times.

"That's good to hear," Liss said, smiling. "Ryan's a really good guy. Maybe a bit in-your-face and blunt sometimes, but—"

She abruptly cut herself off with a pained gasp, her hand flying to her stomach and her eyes widening. I sat up straighter, instantly alert.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I think…" Liss trailed off to stare at her stomach with an expression that was incredulous and confused. When she spoke again, her voice had a strange, faraway quality to it. "I think I just had a contraction."

I choked. "What?"

Liss didn't seem to hear me. She was too busy frowning and shaking her head. "No. That can't be," she said as she pushed herself to her feet. "It's too early. I can't be in—"

She froze just as she was about to step away from the couch, and her face flamed red. I felt mine do the same with empathy and embarrassment at having witnessed the reason for the blush.

Her water breaking.

"Oh, my god! No!" Liss cried, tears welling in her eyes. "It's too early! No—this can't be happening! It can't be!" She looked down at herself and, when she saw her swollen stomach and her soiled clothes, she covered her mouth and nose with her hands, sobbing. "Oh, my god!"

The sound of the rising, hysterical panic in her voice was what finally made me stop staring at her, agape in shock, and spring into action.

I leapt off the couch, trying to ignore my own mounting panic at the fact that I really had no idea what the fuck to do and the—fluids on her and the floor as I took Liss's wrists gently in my hands. Once I had gotten her to look up, I gazed deeply into her eyes.

"It's going to be okay, Lissa," I told her serenely. "Just calm down. Take deep breaths."

"I can't!" she sobbed.

"You have to," I said. "For the baby. Panicking will only make things worse. You don't want that, do you?"

Whether or not that was actually true (which I truthfully had no idea either way), it worked. Liss tearfully shook her head and then began to take deep—albeit unsteady—breaths. I waited until she calmed down to a point where I was sure the panic wouldn't start again before I let go of her.

"Tell me what to do," I said, ready to turn and walk in whatever direction she told me to go. "What do you need?"

"The hospital bag," said Liss, not looking at me. Instead, she was staring down at her stomach again, rubbing her hands over it in a dazed sort of way. "It's in the bedroom, by the door."

I was already more than halfway there before she finished the sentence. After grabbing the overstuffed bag, I looked back at Liss, hovering in the hallway, with nervous energy I was struggling to reign in coursing through my veins. "What else?"

"Towels for your car for the drive to the hospital. We need to—" Liss suddenly jolted as if something had physically hit her instead of mentally. "Oh! I need to call Patrick! I need—where's my phone? Oh, god, where's my phone!" She looked frantically left and right, a desperate look coming over her face as she then began tearing the couch apart when she didn't immediately see it nearby.

I left Liss to her search and hastily went to grab some towels from the bathroom, telling myself that her panicking over not knowing where her phone was better than her panicking over how she was in labor.

That she was having a baby.

I shook my head in disbelief and continued to go about the apartment, collecting the rest of whatever Liss needed while she called Patrick, her parents, and her doctor as she changed her clothes. Then, I ushered her out to my car and drove to the hospital, perhaps going a little faster than the speed limit called for. The entire time, I did my best to wrap my head around the fact that this was actually happening and simultaneously remain calm as it sunk in.

It was a lot harder than I thought it would be.

X

Claudia Ann.

That was her name.

That was Liss's daughter's name.

I leaned up against the wall, in the back corner of the room, all the air leaving my lungs in a rush.

Everything had happened so fast once we'd gotten to the hospital—much faster than I had expected it to. By the time Patrick and Liss's parents had gotten there, Liss's contractions had only been minutes apart. Her doctor had even voiced her surprise at how quickly everything had been progressing. We had only been there a little over three hours before they had told her to start pushing. Another hour later, it had been over; the baby had been born.

And I'd been there for all of it.

Liss hadn't wanted me to leave. Patrick—who had begun to panic worse than Liss at one point—hadn't wanted me to leave. So, I hadn't. The entire time, though, I'd been in this dazed sort of mental state, which everyone in the room seemed to have had mistaken for calmness. I hadn't bothered to correct them for Liss's and Patrick's sakes.

Not that I could have, even if I'd wanted to. I hadn't been able to do much of anything other than stare and absently grip their hands when they needed me to. It had just been so surreal.

Still is, I thought as I watched the scene before me:

Liss on the hospital bed, cradling a bundled of blankets in her arms, with Patrick sitting in a chair next to her, his head rested on her shoulder. They both looked beyond exhausted, yet proud and happier than words could express as they gazed at their daughter's face. I felt like I was intruding on something incredibly private, considering I was the only other person in the room (Liss's parents went to make phone calls to relatives), and I knew I should probably leave so they could have their moment.

I couldn't bring myself to move, though; all I could do was marvel at them—the three of them.

My best friend has a daughter.

My best friend is a mom.

The air left my lungs in a rush again. I swallowed thickly, my throat suddenly feeling tight. Both of those things combined were enough of a commotion to make Liss look up at me. She smiled softly, her eyes still moist with happy tears.

"Do you want to hold her?" she asked me.

My breath caught. I stared at the bundle—the baby in her arms, red-faced and sleeping, for a long moment before I looked back up at Liss and nodded.

"Yes," I said, and then walked across the room, over to her and Claudia.