Take My Dare

By: J. Kenner

I lay down and close my eyes, and the next thing I know Jackson is standing right over me.

“What?” I blink, confused. “I thought you were going to play in the surf with Ronnie.”

His brow furrows. “Baby, it’s been three hours.”

My eyes fly open and I struggle to sit up. Jackson reaches down to help me, and I cling to him, both grateful and confused. “But—”

“Are you feeling okay?”

The concern is evident in his voice, and I rush to reassure him. “Just tired. I don’t think I’m sleeping well. Your child has a tendency to kick, and it’s hard to get comfortable. But I’m fine.” I hold onto him as I stand up, and then almost fall when my knees go weak.

I manage a thin laugh. “Fine and slightly lightheaded.”

“We’re going back to the cabana and calling the doctor.”

“She’s going to tell me to eat something. I only had that smoothie for breakfast, and apparently that was a very long time ago.” Early in my pregnancy I was consistently lightheaded, so he knows as well as I do that I just need to get some food in me.

“Then let’s get you fed,” he says, then calls Ronnie in from the water. She’s having far too good a time, though, and begs for another hour. And when Jackson refuses, her mood shifts from pleasant to pouty.

“I can walk back myself,” I tell him. “You can stay with her.”

He shakes his head. “No. Both my girls need food and sleep. I’ll call Damien and tell him we’re eating at home.”

Since I’m not in the mood for company, I don’t argue. And when we get back, Jackson makes us both sandwiches and fruit, then tucks me on the couch with the television remote. “I’m going to go down to the dock and say goodbye. You’re staying.”

His tone makes it clear that there will be absolutely no argument. Normally, I’d argue anyway, but the fact is that I really am exhausted, and so I willingly agree.

“How about you?” he asks Ronnie. “Stay with Mommy or come with me?”

Since she’s still annoyed with her dad for pulling her away from the surf, she climbs onto the couch and snuggles next to me. “Stay.”

“Okay then.” He ignores her mood, gives her a kiss, and then gives me a much more intimate one. “Back in thirty minutes.”

“We’re fine,” I say. “Go. Tell everyone thanks again for me.”

As soon as the door shuts behind him, I lift the remote to turn on the TV, but Ronnie’s words stop me.

“Does the baby make you tired?”

I set the remote aside and consider the question. “Well, it’s growing inside me. That means that my body has to work hard. So, yeah, in a way I guess the baby does make me tired.”

She nods as if considering my answer.

“Do I make you tired, too? Is that why we came back?”

“Oh, no, sweetie. You don’t make me tired. But I have to take care of myself for your little brother or sister. That’s why your daddy wanted us to come back. To make sure I’m well and the baby’s well.”

“Am I well?”

“You’re perfect.”

I expect a smile, but instead I get a frown.

“Ronnie? Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

Her eyes dart to my belly. “Will you love it more?”

The question turns me cold. I know what it’s like not to feel loved. To feel like the extraneous child. “No.” I push the word out with all the force I can manage. “Absolutely not. I love you, Veronica, and I will always love you. Just like I’ll always love the baby.”

“But it’s in your tummy. I wasn’t ever in your tummy. So you have to love it more.”

I force myself not to blink, because I cannot cry in front of her. “Sweetie, no. No, that’s not the way it works. I’m your mommy, and it doesn’t matter that you weren’t in my tummy. You’re in my heart,” I say, putting her hand over my chest. “You’re in my heart, and I love you.”

For a moment, she just sits there. Then she nods and snuggles close. I put my arm around her and exhale, wishing that Jackson were here to help me. To tell me that I did okay. That Ronnie’s okay.

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