Changes – No. 128

Vicki held up a magenta shirt no bigger than her hand. “What about this?”

“I can’t believe it,” whispered Bert, standing behind her right shoulder.

“I guess it is a little bright.” Shrugging, Vicki hung the tiny garment onto the rack. “Did you want to look-?” She paused, finding Bert staring across the pastel clusters of miniature clothes. Following his gaze, she ended at a straight-haired brunette filling a snug business suit with a blouse gleaming as if made of silk, perusing baby-sized shoes. Vicki slipped a hand over her swollen belly, as if blinding the child within from the sight. “Bert?”

He rotated slowly, shoulders and head first followed by his coal-dark eyes wide with shock. “What?”

Vicki cocked an eyebrow.

“Bert? Bert Athenson? Is that you?”

He cringed at the sound of his name, spoken in a husky alto. When he turned, Vicki drifted into his shadow.

“Miranda?” Bert straightened his shoulders beneath his nursery-paint stained tee-shirt so he towered over them both, Vicki in her stout flats, the other in three-inch heels. “It’s been forever.”

Miranda beamed a grin, revealing bleached teeth and pointed canines. “How have you been?”

“Great,” said Bert, his voice wobbling like a tight-rope stretched too far.

Vicki coughed like a settling dove, pivoting Bert’s head as if on a string. The shock on his face dialed down to a pleased, but stunned stupor, like when the test strip had come out blue. The tension in Vicki ebbed when he slipped his arm around her waist, and they turned back to Miranda as one.

“Things have been terrific actually,” said Bert.

Beneath a layer of foundation, Mirada’s pallor gained a green tint. “Busy, I see.”

“Well, yes. Miranda, this is my wife, Vicki.”

“Pleasure,” said Vicki, extending a hand.

Miranda shook with a manicured set of fingers, their tips barely resting on Vicki’s before leaping back like they’d been stung.

Vicki gave her a strained smile as a pin-drop silence descended. “So, what are you shopping for?”

“A co-worker’s shower. It seems like everyone’s popping out kids these days.” Miranda’s crystal blue eyes leapt to Bert, where they latched on as if nothing else existed. “I’m surprised at you, Bert.”

Vicki let out a little gasp as Bert squeezed her close.

“Things change,” said Bert. “People change.”

“I suppose they do,” said Miranda. She tilted her chin up and folded her arms at her waist, as if keeping herself grounded instead of springing at a throat. The inset jewels on the silver watch lacing her wrist glittered. “It was nice seeing you again.” Her gaze dragged off Bert’s face, and Vicki fought not to retreat under the other woman’s dagger-glare. “I hope things don’t change too much for you.”

“We’re anticipating lots of changes actually,” said Vicki, wrapping both hands protectively around her belly.

“I guess it’s better to expect them.” Miranda let out a sharp snort, and forced a thin smile onto her lips. “I wish you all the best.”

“You too,” said Bert.

Vicki leaned into him as Miranda sauntered through the racks and out of the baby department.

“Who was that?”

Bert exhaled from his toes, and glanced down at the floor as if the answer lay in the industrial tile. “We lived together my second year at graduate school.”

“Lived together?” Vicki slipped out from his hold and squared herself before him. “Together, together?”

“Yeah, but it didn’t work out.”

“Obviously.” He winced again and Vicki took a deep breath as her roller coaster of emotions took her on a peak and valley ride. “What happened?”

Bert stuffed his hands into his pockets and peered at the tiny clothes. “We wanted the same things for a while, careers and seven figure salaries. Then, I don’t know, I think her sister or cousin or something got married and that was all she could talk about, all that mattered.” He shrugged. “It wasn’t right for me, not then at least, and we went our separate ways.”

“She seemed…nice.”

Bert chuckled. “You’re too sweet for your own good.” He pecked her on the forehead. “What else was on the list?”

“We still need sheets, but…wait.”

She bit her lip and stared up at Bert, searching his face as her tongue struggled to formulate the right wording for the question bubbling within her.

“What is it?”

“What changed for you?” Vicki steadied herself on the clothes rack as the blurted words hung between them.

Bert gazed at her, and she dove into those inky depths. Leaning in, he kissed her, careful of her tummy’s bulge. Vicki’s cheeks burned, and when he pulled away, Bert’s breath added another layer of warmth on her skin.

“What do you think?” he whispered.

Vicki gave him a cautionary glare, rimmed with the beginning of tears. “Sheets. Then the car seat.”

“Sheets, right. I think they’re this way.”

Bert offered his arm, and Vicki slipped hers through, before resting her head on his shoulder and letting him guide them between the racks.

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