How do I describe what it was like to be pregnant? Well for starters, it was just so weird. Imagine – me, Phoenix Jin, with a living, squirming, growing little creature inside of me. It was just like in that Sigorney Weaver movie, Alien, except that in a few months, a tiny human baby would come out instead of a creepy, slimy alien.
Being pregnant was also hard. I mean, I had heard of morning sickness before. But I was sick all day long. Aksel was worried that I wasn’t keeping enough food down for myself, let alone for a baby. But over time, the nausea subsided, and I was able to eat again. Too bad for me I was stuck eating the super-healthy weird grains and protein patties that Arvid’s mom sent over for me.
“It’s the Bixsi way,” said Arvid with a shrug when I complained. “It’s just what expecting moms eat here.”
Sometimes, being pregnant was extremely cool. Like when the baby started to kick and turn inside me.
Aksel loved this, too. He would put his face against my round belly and call to the baby. “Hi in there! It’s me, Isi.” I taught him the English word, daddy, too. And even how to say it in Chinese: bába. In fact, over those long nine months, I taught Aksel so much English and so much Chinese that he could speak both almost fluently. With a thick, funny accent, of course.
“What language shall we teach our baby?” he asked.
“All three, of course” I answered.
Aksel smiled. Then he said, “If it’s a boy, I hope we can give him my father’s name, Oliver. At least as a middle name.” He sighed, his eyes staring into the distance. “My father was a good, kind man.”
“Oh, Aksel.” My heart twisted. I couldn’t keep doing this – letting him believe without a doubt that this child I was carrying would be his. How would he feel if it came out looking…alien? It would crush him either way, but I owed it to him to be honest. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
He did not take it well. “You slept with him?” his eyes bulged beneath his glasses. “You had sex with that…that monster?”
I almost said, he’s not always a monster, but I sensed that wouldn’t have helped things. “I had to,” I said. “If I didn’t, if I don’t keep pretending to be his girlfriend, then he’ll stop feeding us. He’ll go back to torturing you. I’m trying to protect you!”
Aksel wore a look of disgust. “Are you? Or are you trying to protect yourself? God, Phoenix, how can someone so smart do something so stupid?”
“I’m sorry!” Hot tears of shame welled in my eyes. “It hasn’t been easy for me. I didn’t want this!” I pleaded with him to understand, but he just shook me off.
“But you chose it.” His voice was cold. “You chose to suffer with him instead of suffering along with me.” With a shake of his head, he turned and strode off into the darkness.
He didn’t sleep at home for the next two weeks. He appeared when the sun rose and worked silently in Arvid’s garden. Then he slunk off each night as the sun set, without a word to me. I drifted through those dark days, so heavy-hearted that even the baby’s movements failed to rouse my spirits. Aksel hated me. I didn’t blame him.
Then, one stuffy night when I couldn’t sleep, I shoved open the back door and stepped out onto the moonlit porch. And there stood Aksel. His eyes weren’t angry anymore. He looked hurt, confused, and just as vulnerable as I felt.
“I’m so sorry,” I said in a whisper. “I should have been honest with you sooner. I should have trusted you.” He didn’t move away as I wrapped my arms around him. “Please don’t go away again. I love you, Aksel.”
He turned and slipped his arms around my wide middle. “I won’t go away again,” he said, “if you promise that we can name our son after my father.”
I half-laughed, half-cried, aching with relief. “You can name him after Jimmy Neutron, if it means you’ll stay.”
He wrinkled his nose. “Who’s Jimmy Neutron?”
“Seriously?” I had so much to teach him if we ever made it back to earth. But for now, I was glad to just be here, back in his arms.