"I think you need to see a therapist," Aiko said, as she eyed her distressed teenage friend. The girl had dark eyebags, pale complexion and messy hair from sleepless nights.
Mia rolled her bloodshot eyes. "No."
"C'mon, girl, look at the state of you! You look like someone dup up your corpse this morning. No offense," Aiko persisted.
"I can't," Mia sighed in frustration. "I don't have enough money for that."
"Why don't you talk to me instead? You can pretend I'm the therapist!" Aiko suggested. She sat up straighter in her seat and cleared her throat. "Hello there, it's nice to meet you, Miss Jones. What appears to be the problem?"
"Well... um... I dunno."
"Mia!" Aiko whined. "C'mon, don't be like that. Talk to me."
"I'm having family issues."
"Oh? Not to worry, Miss Jones. Family problems are common among everyone. Tell me about your family background," Aiko said, as she gestured for Mia to speak.
"Well... um... it's just a bit... exhausting with my brothers, I guess. I wish Pops was still here with me."
"Tell me more about your brothers," Aiko pressed on.
"All of them?"
"Uh... firstly, there's Leighton Venturi. Even though he's the oldest brother, he's the most irresponsible. He's been doing shady things behind my back - criminal shit. Gang fights, theft, scamming - you name it. There are no limits to his dangerous and illegal ways. And all for what? Money. At first, he was doing it for the family, but now he's just doing it to fuel his own greed. He's making a lot of enemies and attracting the wrong crowds. Every day I'm worried about his life and I fear for our family's safety."
Aiko's eyes were widened in shock. Mia groaned and held onto her forehead.
"Then we have the troublesome twins, Luke and Jake Jones."
"Wait.. why do your brothers have different surnames?"
"'Cause they're my half-brothers," Mia answered.
"Really? I never knew that," Aiko said.
"Yep. Leighton is from my mom's side, while the twins are from my dad's. Luke is the serious and invisible twin, while Jake is very childish for his age. Jake lands himself in sticky situations, and so I'm often babying him more than the other brothers. Unfortunately, Luke has been acting out a lot because he hates being the invisible one. Recently, he's been getting into fights and unnecessary drama - I'm worried that he'll be kicked out of his college."
Aiko tutted. "Tsk. What a shame."
"Then there's Mitch Venturi. He's a high achiever in school, especially excelling at Science and Maths - his personal interests. He's inspired by his favorite inventor - you know, the guy who's famous for the Rocky Products? Yeah, like that. Mitch hopes to create products that contribute to the advancement of technology and science. Unfortunately, his bizarre, explosive inventions drive me crazy! The other day he set the kitchen on fire! He didn't mean to, but it's just his typical experiment that went wrong... like always!"
Aiko exhaled sharply. "Oh my..."
"The last Venturi brother is Zorro," Mia continued. "Biologically, he's not my brother at all and he's the half-brother of Leighton and Mitch. However, since the death of his mother, I raised Zorro when he was five years old and I view him wholeheartedly as my own brother. He has a condition that makes him look older than he really is. So, he's twelve now, but he looks freaking eighteen! He uses this to his advantage, mainly to engage in adult activities that drives me absolutely bonkers. You can already guess what I mean."
"Bloody hell." Then, realizing she was meant to play a role, Aiko quickly said, "I mean... that is rather unfortunate, indeed."
"Mmh... lastly, the baby of the family is Rylo Jones. He's my only full brother. He doesn't like being seen and treated like a baby - especially by me! He insists that he is 'a man', despite being nine years old. He's heavily influenced by our scheming older brothers and their risky party lifestyles. At first, I was merely amused by Rylo's desire for manhood, but then I learned about the horrible activities he's been doing behind my back. And stupid Leighton and Zorro support his crap!"
Mia slammed the desk in front of her angrily. "For me, every day is a new challenge with my brothers and their idiotic and downright illegal ways. I'm trying to be the best carer I can be, but it's hard, you know? I'm only a teenager. It's hard enough trying to juggle school life, but my reckless brothers aren't making things easy for me."
"Wow..." Aiko mumbled, feeling her breath taken away. "That was a lot. You really need to see a proper therapist, Mia. It's a miracle you haven't snapped yet."
Mia groaned aloud, as she slumped over onto the desk. She closed her eyes, feeling extreme tiredness washing over her.
"Yeah, I know... I'm pretty sick of guys, to be frank," she grumbled. "I hope my first child is a sweet little girl."
"Honestly, same," Aiko agreed.
Mia had been dispatched from the hospital, holding a newborn baby in her arms. He was wrapped up in a soft, white blanket, and he appeared to be sleeping. She gazed down at him with so much love in her eyes. She couldn't believe that such a beautiful creature could ever exist. She couldn't believe that he was hers!
"Looks we made it, little guy," she whispered, her green eyes brimming with tears. "I almost thought I'd lost you back there. But you're a toughie, just like your old mama." She brought him closer to her chest. "I'm never letting anyone hurt you. I will protect you with my life. You are my everything... Everything that I have and everything I am is yours... forever." She kissed his forehead softly.
"That's cute and all, but who's the loser that knocked you up?" Rylo asked bluntly. He was reclining on the couch lazily.
"Yeah, Mia, you still haven't said a word about him," Luke said, scratching his blond hair. He had a visible frown across his pale features.
"It's obviously Zac, right?" Jake said, looking around the room for confirmation. "That's what I told Mom and Dad anyway."
"You told them that!?" Mia hissed. She rolled her tired eyes. "Jeez. What did I tell you about spreading false rumors? It's a bad habit of yours that gets us into trouble."
Jake shrugged, clueless. "Who else could it be? You said you loved Zac."
"Man, what do you see in that guy? He's lame," Rylo said, cracking open a soda can.
Mitch stepped forward, as he pushed his glasses up. "I think you'll find that Zac is rather intelligent and he has a thirst for knowledge - despite his external appearance suggesting otherwise," he spoke in a serious tone. "He has quite the passion for astronomy and he wants to study the cosmos beyond our own planet. He desires to observe the universe, the distant galaxies and the-"
"Exactly. He's fucking lame," Rylo interrupted, chugging down his drink.
Just then, the door burst open violently, making everyone's heads turn. Standing near the doorway and blocking the sunshine were two bulky giants. They were holding a scared figure by the scruff of his neck.
"Zac!" Mia cried out.
"Erm... hey there," Zac mumbled, dangling in the air and waving awkwardly at his ex-girlfriend. He winced, as the fierce grip on his neck tightened. "Ow!"
"Let him go, guys!" Mia demanded. She glowered furiously at her two aggressive brothers, Leighton and Zorro.
"Why should we let this dipshit get away? He can't hit it and quit it," Zorro barked.
"Yeah, Mia. You keep nagging at us that we should step up to our duties. And it's our duty to protect you," Leighton said, as he chucked Zac mercilessly onto the ground, directly below his sister's feet.
The boy groaned in pain. He looked up at Mia with his scared, wide eyes. "Is... is it true? Am I really the dad?"
Mia locked eyes with him and she felt her heart flutter. Something about his electrifying, ocean-blue eyes always made her feel warm and tingly inside.
"No, Zac. You're not," she replied with a hint of disappointment.
"Oh, look! The baby's opening his eyes!" Jake exclaimed, bouncing eagerly and pointing with his finger.
Mia looked down at her arms. "Hey, baby," she whispered. "Sorry, did we wake you up?" She threw an accusing look at the two giants.
"Oh wow..." Mitch murmured, standing over her shoulder. "That's very unusual. Usually newborn babies have blue eyes, and overtime it manifests into their permanent eye color. But this one here has black eyes."
"That's cool," Leighton said.
"Black eyes?" Jake whispered, as he cowered behind Luke. "What if he's one of the Black Eyed Children? They eat people, you know."
"Don't be stupid," Luke retorted with an eye roll. "Obviously he's not a cannibal or whatever. He's just a baby."
"I don't know... I have a bad feeling about this," Jake whined.
"The last time you had a bad feeling, you just really needed to take a shit," Rylo said, as he sat up and looked at Jake with his serious, green eyes. "Go to the loo before you crap yourself again, man."
"He's right," Luke said. "Go away, JJ."
There was a fierce thunderous noise, much like a cannon being shot, that caught everyone's attention. Jake jumped up and hid his face in his twin's shoulder, scared.
It was Zorro punching the wall.
"Goddammit, Mia! You know I hate suspense, so cut it out!" He spat out. "Just tell me who the fucking dad is, so I can sort this bullshit out for you. There's no way I'm gonna let you raise this goddamn baby on your own!"
"Watch your language, Zorro! I don't want my baby's first word to be something disgusting," Mia snapped. Then she said calmly, "I want to raise him on my own. I'm perfectly capable. I've raised all of you by myself, haven't I? I can handle Max. He only needs me."
"No buts!" Mia said sharply. "You don't need to know who the father is because he's completely irrelevant in our lives, do you understand? I don't want him involved at all. He's useless."
"That's fine, he doesn't have to be involved," Leighton said, "But just tell us who he is."
"Yeah, so we can crack his skull open!" Zorro added, as he punched the wall again, denting it.
Jake whimpered. "I don't like this."
"Shh, it's okay. Just don't piss your pants over this," Luke said with a warning tone.
"No, I don't think so!" Mia roared. "Not when you're going to be unnecessarily violent towards him. And will you please stop attacking my wall, Zorro?"
"We won't," Leighton persisted. He pinched Zorro casually, as if to say, 'play it cool'. "You can trust us, sis."
"I really can't," Mia shook her head. "You've proven countless times that you can't be trusted. I'm sorry."
"What the flipping hell, man! We're tryna look out for you here!" Zorro exclaimed. He kicked the wall stubbornly, causing more dents.
"Stop it! You're going to upset my baby," Mia hissed.
"Nah, it ain't even crying," Zorro replied carelessly.
"It? You mean he," Mia glowered. "And he's your nephew, you giant fool."
"Max doesn't really look upset. He's just been staring at Zorro this whole time," Mitch noted.
"Well, of course he would. Zorro's acting like an attention-seeking ape, throwing a tantrum like that," Mia scoffed.
"Hey! Watch it," Zorro huffed, offended.
"It's the truth, bro," Leighton agreed, shrugging.
Zac was standing there silently, observing the chaotic scenery. He seemed out of place with everyone and everything.
"Now, you lot can act like civilized human beings or you can leave," Mia declared firmly, as she pointed towards the door. Then her eyes met Zac's clueless blue pair. "I'm sorry they dragged you into this mess. This has nothing to do with you. You can leave now, if you want to."
The boy scratched the back of his head, seeming uncomfortable. "Um... it's fine. If you need me... I'm here for you."
"You better be, asshole," Rylo muttered. He scrunched up the soda can with his one fist, while a loud burp escaped from him.
"Um, don't you pipe in too, young man!" Mia scolded her youngest brother. Then she returned her attention to her ex-boyfriend, her smile reaching her radiant green eyes. "Thank you, Zac. I really appreciate it."
"Yeah, Zac. You're awesome, mate," Jake said, patting his back.
"You're the only one that likes him," Luke muttered.
"I quite like him too," Mitch spoke up.
"Gay!" Rylo jeered.
"Yo, haven't we seen those black eyes before?" Zorro asked Leighton.
"Uhh... maybe, I guess."
"Wow... it feels like it's only yesterday that we were in high school, just goofing around. But now look at us!" The young woman exclaims. Her cheeks are glowing pink and her brown eyes are sparkling in delight, as she holds her newborn baby closely.
"She's beautiful, just like you," Mia coos. She sets the tray of food down on the table and sits beside her friend on the couch.
"Aww thank you!" Aiko replies warmly. "I don't know why I was so worried about the whole pregnancy thing. It flew by in no time and the birth was easier than I imagined! I'm gonna miss my baby bump." She strokes her daughter's healthy, chubby cheek. "You were right about my hair, though. It grew so fast and thick! I love it. I feel like Rapunzel."
The baby gurgles. Mia's heart melts.
"Listen to those amazing sounds!"
"Yeah, it's great. You know when I play her favorite nursery rhyme, she sings along," Aiko says, as she nods towards her purse resting on the table. "Get my phone out and play Hush Little Baby from my playlist."
Mia follows her friend's instructions. A twinkly, soft tune begins to play and a woman's voice flows with the melody. The baby gurgles more eagerly, following the tune.
Mia clutches onto her chest, her hands above her racing heart.
"Wow," she whispers through a dry throat. "She's so... perfect."
A mixture of emotions swells up inside her. She feels happiness for her friend, but she also feels sadness and jealousy tug at her heart.
"Yeah, she is. Who's a good 'lil princess?" Aiko chirps, as she rubs her nose against her baby's tiny nose. "That's right! You are! Mommy's 'lil angel."
The baby giggles. It is a hearty giggle, straight from the stomach - the most purest of sounds that fills up the room.
"Oh! Listen to that!" Mia gasps, as tears prick her eyes. "She's responding ever so well, bless. I'd give anything for my Max to laugh like that."
Aiko smiles. "Maybe one day, he will. Never lose hope and stay strong, Mia. That's what you've taught me over the years."