A piercing scream rang through the grocery store and Piper cringed at the sound. She looked up from the linoleum floors which had been holding her attention for the better part of an hour and glared at the mother and child down the aisle. The fat baby was sitting in the shopping cart, its face red and its fists clenched as it cried. The mother was ignoring it and debating between two boxes of cereal. Piper watched as the baby started kicking its pudgy little legs, the screaming and the crying getting worse and worse until the mother, without even looking at her child, pulled a pacifier out of her pocket and shoved it in the little terror's mouth.
Silence. How wonderful.
Piper's attention returned to the floor as she kept her hand on Pierre's cart, casually strolling along next to him. Alistair was coming to visit next weekend. She and Laila would be going up to London and staying with the twins for a few days, something which she had been excited about since arriving in Europe. But now she was dreading it. She knew, no matter how hard she tried to conceal it, Alistair would know something was wrong. She should just tell him. The second she saw him, she should just pull him aside and confess that she was carrying his baby. But it wouldn't be that easy, she knew this.
"Piper?" She heard her name but it didn't register in her mind that she was expected to respond.
"Piper? Milk." Milk? She looked down at her breasts which were already starting to grow. She would have to buy new bras soon.
"Piper!" Pierre's voice finally brought her back to the task at hand: grocery store. Groceries. Right.
"What?" She turned to him and tried to smile.
"Will you hand me some milk?" He asked, looking apprehensive.
"Oh. Yeah, of course." She turned around to the shelves and reached for the first carton her hand could find. She placed it gently in the cart and then looked back at the baby who was now fast asleep, his head resting on his shoulder, the pacifier dangling from his mouth.
"Are you feeling okay, Piper?" Pierre asked.
Pierre gave her a look which told her that he hadn't believed her and Piper immediately looked back down to the ground, following the wheels of the shopping cart as they moved on.
"Pierre?" Piper eventually asked as they rounded the corner to the next aisle. "Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Is Sébastien adopted or is he, you know, like your real kid? No, that's not what I meant. Shit! Sorry. I mean, is he biologically yours or Luc's?"
Pierre smiled, as amused by Piper's question as he was curious about it. "Sébastien is technically my biological son. Luc's step sister is his biological mother."
"Serious?" Piper twisted her lips. "Isn't that awkward?"
Pierre laughed. "Not at all. When Luc and I started talking about having a child, we asked Marie if she would want to donate her eggs. She was happy to do it."
"Does Sébastien know?"
"Yes. We explained it to him when he was very young."
"And was he okay finding out?"
"I don't think he understood everything at the time we told him. But now he is very close with his aunt and all his cousins."
Piper nodded and looked back at the ground. Pierre could tell there was something on her mind and he wanted her to open up to him. She had seemed so lost for the last three weeks, so much so that Pierre and Luc were starting to worry. Until Piper had started this line of questioning, he would have guessed that the girl was just homesick but now he was worried it was something much more serious.
"Pierre, how did you and Luc know that you were ready to have a child?"
His heart broke for her and he studied the girl carefully before answering. She wasn't looking at him, she was staring at her stomach as if she expected it to say something to her. The poor girl was in serious trouble.
"Luc and I had been together for almost six years when we first started thinking about it. With Luc working at the store, we were in a position where it would be easy for him to take care of the child. It was just something we both wanted to do."
Piper nodded again and Pierre watched as her eyes filled with tears. "Were you scared?"
He laughed, trying to lighten her mood. "I was terrified. We went to all the doctor's appointments with the surrogate mother and by month eight I was so scared I could barely sleep at night. But Luc was better. He was calm and eager to have the child."
"What were you scared about?" She asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Everything. I was scared I wouldn't know what to do if the baby was sick. I was scared I wouldn't know how to hold him. I was scared he wouldn't like me."
"Were you scared of how much he would change your life?"
Pierre paused for a moment, stunned by her question. He and Luc had been expecting that change, they had been anticipating it. Nothing about that change had struck him as scary but had it been under different circumstances, had it not been planned, that would have been the most terrifying thing of his life. For a single mom, a young single mother, it very well could be devastating.
"No," he finally answered honestly. "Luc and I were prepared for that. It's just something you have to prepare yourself for."
"But what if," Piper paused and thought about her question. "What did you do to prepare yourself, mentally that is?"
Pierre reached for some vegetables, careful not to push the cart too fast. Piper looked as if she was holding on to it for dear life. "There's no way to completely prepare yourself for a baby. It hits you like, what do you Americans say, a bag of bricks."
Finally Piper cracked a smile.
"But the second you see your child, the first time you hold him, your entire world changes from the inside out. It's amazing."
"Did you know that it was going to be a boy?" Piper finally looked up at him.
"Yes. That was one thing we argued about," Pierre grinned at the memory. "Luc didn't want to know but I insisted."
The smile lingered on Piper's face for a moment but she quickly returned to shuffling her feet and staring at the ground. She thought that if she decided to keep her child she would want to know the sex. But if she and Alistair made the choice to give it up for adoption, she wouldn't want to be told. She wouldn't want to look at it, she wouldn't want to hold it. She knew that would break her heart beyond repair. The unwanted tears started to pool in her lids and her lip started to quiver as she thought about her baby. It would be so tiny and innocent, so precious and needy.
"Is there something you want to talk about?" She heard Pierre ask in a low voice.
"No." She shook her head and refused to look at him.
"Is there something you should be telling your parents?"
Her parents. God, how was she going to tell them? Just the thought of that conversation caused her eyes to overflow and she stopped walking, still holding onto the side of the cart to steady herself. Within seconds she felt Pierre's arms wrap around her and she buried her face in his chest, unable to control her tears. Pierre whispered something to her in French, something she didn't understand, but his voice and embrace were calming.
"Thank you," Piper said after a moment. "I needed a hug."
Pierre took a small step back and smiled at her. "Do you need anything else?"
"Not right now," she said, smiling back. "I'll figure it out this weekend."
"All right. Just let me know if you want to talk."
"I will. Thanks."
Her host father gave her a warm, encouraging smile before returning to his grocery shopping. He picked up a bundle of asparagus and placed them in a plastic bag. "Luc hates asparagus," he told her, changing the subject. "At least he thinks he does. What I don't tell him is that it's the main ingredient in my vegetable soup. He loves it but then always wonders why his piss smells funny."
Piper laughed out loud, shocked to hear Pierre say something so blunt.
"You won't tell him, will you?"
Piper shook her head, still smiling. "Your secret if safe with me."
Pierre smiled and nodded, an unstated agreement passing between them.