Survivor's Guilt

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It wasn't just crazy. It was completely insane at the hardware store. Each register had a line of at least ten people, even with five cashiers manning the front-end. Me being so massively pregnant and slow probably didn't help much, either.

When there was finally a break in the line of customers, Julia turned her register light off and walked over to help me off the stool. Her not being pregnant was so weird, and almost uncomfortable seeing that I still was.

Just as I was getting down off the stool, more people were lining up with items. I switched my light off quickly, and the woman who was behind a massive cart of poinsettias huffed, then moved down to another open register.

"Geez, people are crazy," Julia said, letting me use her shoulder for support.

"Crazier than the girl who decided her first day back at work would be on Black Friday?" I asked.

"How many times did I tell you that I want to save my maternity leave for when the girls are actually home, and I'm all out of sick time! I don't have a choice."

Julia walked while I waddled slowly next to her to the break room. My mouth watered. I couldn't wait to chow down on the free sub platter we got during holidays, and Black Friday was no exception.

We went around the corner, passed the managers' offices, and stood in front of the break room.

"What the hell? Why are the lights off?" I asked.

"Beats me," Julia said.

We shrugged at each other and I flicked the light switch.

"Surprise!"

I was so freaked out that I thought the boys would just fall out of me and onto the floor. Julia covered her mouth with her hands.

Every employee was crammed into the break room. Pink and blue streamers were all over the lockers. Paper decorations saying, "it's a girl" and "it's a boy" hung from the ceiling.

The folding tables were covered in pink tablecloths with blue plates, cups, and forks. There was a big cake on the table, too, but I couldn't see what it said.

I looked over to my right, where a folding table was set up with subs and potato salad, along with pink and blue cupcakes. Mom came over and squeezed me. Well, squeezed me the best she could with my massive belly in the way. Only about four and a half weeks to go. 

"Wow, are you guys serious?" I said.

"I hope you like it! You looked like you two were really surprised," Mom said.

"I love it!" Julia ran over to the cake and took a bunch of pictures. "Chrys, come see it!"

I went over and looked down at the cake. It was accented in pink and blue writing and flowers. The fancy cursive read: Congratulations, Chrys and Julia! In the top left corner were two sets of blue footprints, and in the bottom right were two sets of pink ones. I took a picture, too.

"You ladies take as much time as you want. We've got plenty of coverage from the front end," said Darnell.

"Wow, thanks Darnell!" Julia said.

"Anything for my two best cashiers!" he said.

I couldn't disagree. A lot of my fellow front-end buddies liked to call out a lot or go to lunch and not come back, which made me end up taking my lunch over an hour late, or getting out late all the time.

Everyone sat around and talked. I took three subs, even though I really wanted five, but didn't want to look like a total hog. Julia showed everyone pictures and talked about how the girls were doing.

"Should be just a couple more weeks in the NICU," Julia said. She took a bite of the cake. "I'm sure it'll be over before I know it, especially since I'm here keeping busy."

"That's the spirit!" I said, trying to sound as positive as possible.

We kept eating and talking. I couldn't take my eyes off the pictures on Julia's phone. Poor Georgie and Genny were still so tiny. Some of their bodies were a little more visible in these new pictures. They had a few monitors on them and tubes in their little noses. Their black hair was starting to form little curls. 

"Almost four pounds now," Julia said, smiling.

Meanwhile, inside of me, my boys were happily rolling around, perfectly healthy. Even if they were born today, they'd still be way better off than Julia's girls.

I felt so guilty, and it was even worse that there was nothing I could do to really help. It reminded me of the survivor's guilt my mom felt after my dad was killed.

"Oh, and look at this one," Julia said, snapping me back into reality.

The picture on her phone was of Carlos, smiling and cradling one of his girls in each arm. I tried to imagine Jace doing the same with the boys. I really could picture him holding them and being a great dad.

"Aww, he's such a good dad," I said, taking another bite of my sandwich.

Before we knew it, an hour passed and Darnell came back into the room. Julia looked up at him and crossed her arms.

"You said we could take as much time as you want!" she said.

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean all day," he said, chuckling. "You can come back in and open the presents during lunch."

"Huh? What presents?" I said.

"The ones covering up that whole table behind you!" Darnell said.

I looked to my right. I didn't even notice it. Everyone was standing in a crowd before, so they were blocking the back table. It was totally covered. Half of it in pink bags, and half of it in blue.

Even though the register was boring, customers were rude sometimes, and the hours were long, I'd never been so happy that I was fired from the Hetchers. When they told me I couldn't work there, I was so worried about finding something else.

Thank goodness for my mom and her connections. And if I hadn't gotten fired by the Hetchers, I also wouldn't have met Julia. I couldn't imagine my life without her. Everything seemed like it was working out.

Now, all I had to do was figure out a way to get Jace out of the tight grips of his parents, which was way easier said than done.

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