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I think you should know that Wal-Mart is quite creepy at one in the morning.
I park close to the store, stuffing my hands deep into my pockets and slouching into the bright lights.
“Erin, what’s crackin’?” James, the grave shift greeter, shouts at me.
I just smile at him, but it felts tight. It must have been showing on my face because he just nods and lets me go. I continue past the lobby, heading to the food isles, not at all interested in anything edible.
My old Converse high-tops squeak against the waxed floor. I keep stepping on the back of my jeans, but that’s not new since their two sizes too long.
I find my brother scanning tomato paste in the canned foods section, a can in one hand and a label scanner in the other. I look him over as I get closer.
His face looks so much older than seventeen, dark circles rimming his tired eyes. His brown hair flops into his eyes, a sign he needs a haircut. Black t-shirt, baggy jeans, green Converse and the standard Wal-Mart vest hanging loose. His golden elephant tattoo peaks out from under one of his sleeves and my name is scrawled under it.
“Erin,” He nods.
“Matt,” I watch him scan another tomato paste.
“Dad called me today. He told me I was no longer welcome under his roof.” He says quietly.
“Mom took down all your pictures.” I whisper. “Their taking me to the studio to get new family portraits done on Saturday,”
His jaw clenches. He refuses to say anything, just stares blankly at the shelves for a while. Then, he relaxes, his eyes looking more tired than before. He replaces the can and picks up another.
“This sucks rocks.” I whisper.
A sob claws its way up my throat, but I use my super powers and smother the feeling. I will not break down in front of my year-older brother who has been so strong through this whole thing.
“Emma and I went to the doctors today.” Matt mutters.
Of course I panic, it’s only natural. “Why? Is something wrong?”
“No. We’re having a girl.” He beams at me, and through the face that looks like its seen hell, I can see the old him again.
“I told you so,” I shoot a watery smile at him. Knowing the sex of the baby makes it so much more… real. “You were certain she was a boy. Do you have a name picked out?”
“Erin Marie.” He raises an eyebrow at me.
“What?” I ask, confused.
He grins. “That’s her name… my baby girl.”
I feel a shock go through me. “You named her… after… me?” I say slowly, chewing it over.
“You’re my best friend, my sister. Now that mom and dad have abandoned me, you’re my support group.” He pulls something out of his back pocket. “Take a look.”
I take it from him, unfolding it. A silhouette of a baby is clear. I stare at her, my brother’s child, my little unborn niece.
“Is she…?” I point at the sonogram.
“Sucking her thumb? Yeah. She’s more like you than you realize. Emma even gets cravings for Nutter Butters and dill pickles, just like mom did when she was pregnant with you.” He smiles proudly.
“Emma’s okay? You know, with the name and everything?” I continue to stare at the picture some more.
“She’s the one who suggested; as soon as she knew our baby was a girl, she told me. She loves you, too, you know?” He looks at the picture with me.
“I guess I do.” I murmur.
“I just wish this weren’t so hard. Mom and dad kicking me out. Having to live with Emma’s parents.”
“It’s just going to get harder.” I warn, like I knew any more than he did or something.
“It’s worth it. Emma agrees with me. We love each other, and we’ll love our baby. No biggie.” He grins and slips the sonogram into his back pocket.
“I’ll run by your place and drop off Nutter Butters and dill pickles, if you give me directions.” I suggest.
“She’d love that. She hasn’t had very many visitors, and she’s noticing.” He nods.
Matt wraps me up into an unexpected hug, squeezing me until I can hardly breathe.
“Too…tight…” I gasp.
He releases me, clearing his throat and avoiding my eyes.
“Alright, get gone. Go be with my hormonal girlfriend and our unborn child.” He says gruffly.
I smile, but he can’t see. He goes back to work. “I’m putting the food on your tab. Pregnant people eat a lot.” I say.
I can almost feel him smile as I walk away.