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The Beginning After by Kiersten Modglin (16)

Eighteen

FRANK, 2000

Frank woke up to his phone buzzing on the nightstand. He rolled over, lifting it up and blinking, trying to clear the sleep from his eyes. He had two missed calls and a text from Todd.

Todd: Come over quick.

He jumped up, throwing a shirt over his head and running his hands through his hair. He walked out of the apartment, not even bothering to put on shoes, and crossed the hall. He walked into the apartment across from his without knocking. “Hello? Anybody home?”

Peighton appeared from around the corner, a bright smile on her face. She was still dressed in her pajamas, her brown, wavy hair in a loose clip. “Frank’s here,” she called over her shoulder, using a small dish towel to dry the bowl in her hands. Frank followed her as she walked back into the kitchen. She reached up, placing the bowl into a cabinet before turning back to face him.

He leaned in, giving her a quick hug. “Good morning. Todd said to come over quick. Is everything okay?”

She laughed. “Oh god, you didn’t literally have to come right over. Everything’s fine.”

He groaned. “Well, tell your husband how to text like a sane person then. Let a person at least get some shoes on.” He looked down at his bare feet.

She smiled. “He’s your friend.”

Todd appeared from the bedroom, noticing his friend immediately. “Rough night, bro?” he asked, laughing at the sight of Frank. He walked into the kitchen, hopping up on the counter and grabbing a piece of bacon off the plate still sitting out. He popped it in his mouth casually, a growing smile on his face.

Frank frowned. “So, are you going to tell me what’s going on or should we start playing charades?”

Peighton walked to Todd, placing her hands on his knee. “Well…” she said, smiling at Frank with an anxious grin. She glanced at Todd, waiting.

“How do you feel about being an uncle?” Todd asked, shoving another piece of bacon in his mouth casually. It took just a moment for Frank to catch on.

“W-What? Are you serious? You’re pregnant?” Peighton nodded happily, holding her arms out for another hug. He pulled them both together in an embrace, tousling Todd’s hair. “Atta boy!” he teased. “It’s about time.” Todd had confided in him over a year ago that they had begun trying. Frank’s heart swelled with happiness at the news. “This is so awesome.”

“Yeah, we’re very excited,” Peighton said. “But don’t tell anyone yet, okay? It’s still really early and we don’t want to get our hopes up too soon. Our doctor says its best to wait until the second trimester to make an announcement.”

“What? Are you kidding? It’s going to be great. His momma’s great looks and Wonder Bread’s hair?” He cast a playful look at Todd, who touched his hair self-consciously before punching his arm. “This kid’s one lucky son of a bitch.”

* * *

TWO MONTHS LATER

Frank heard the knocking on the door and looked at his watch. It was nearly midnight. He walked to the door and swung it open. Todd stood in front of him, his eyes red. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.

“What’s wrong?” Frank asked, though he worried he already knew. Todd shook his head, tears welling up in his eyes. He fell onto Frank’s shoulders, shaking inconsolably. In between his sobs, in barely a whisper, Frank heard the words he was dreading. “The…baby…”

Frank pulled his friend in the room, shutting the door. He stood there, arms wrapped around Todd, feeling tears in his own eyes. He didn’t know what had happened, and it didn’t matter. In that moment, he knew he was the only one holding Todd up. He patted the back of his neck. “It’s okay, man. It’s going to be okay,” he assured him, though he truly had no idea if that were true.

After a while, Todd pulled away. “I don’t know what to do, man. I don’t know what to tell her. I don’t know how to make this okay.”

Frank shook his head. “You can’t. You just have to be there for her. Where is she?”

“In bed,” he said softly, “I can’t face her. I need to make this better for her, but I can’t stop crying. It only makes it worse for her to see me like this. I just…it wasn’t supposed to be this way.” He wiped his eyes, taking a deep breath.

Frank grabbed hold of his shoulders. “Todd, look at me. Look.” He shook him. Finally, Todd’s eyes drifted over to meet his. “All she needs right now is for you to be there for her. Just be there.”

“I’m just making it worse.”

“No,” he said firmly. “No. You aren’t. You can’t. She needs you right now, Wonder. She needs you to be there for her. No one else can do that like you can. You’re good at this. You’re good with her, okay?”

Todd nodded his head, though he didn’t speak. Frank reached up, pulling him in for a hug once more. “I’m sorry, man.” When they pulled apart this time, Todd turned to the door.

“What do I say to her?”

“Tell her that you love her. That’s all she needs to hear right now.”

“Don’t tell her I was here,” he said softly. “Don’t tell her you know just yet. I don’t want her to know I’m this upset. The doctor told me to be strong for her.”

“Screw the doctor, man. You don’t have to pretend. Peighton’s one of the best girls I know. The best girl you’ve ever been with. Be real with her. Let her know how you feel and that she’s not alone.”

Todd laughed through his tears. “How much do I owe ya, doc?”

Frank grabbed hold of the door, pulling it open. He placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I’ll put it on your tab.”

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