Chapter Twenty-two: Disaster at its Finest

"I... I'm pregnant." Stephanie stammered as she toyed with a strand of wavy auburn hair. "This is..." she glanced in my direction and I could see the fear in her eyes, mixed in with nervousness and a hint of shame. The woman snapped away from her daughter to glare daggers at me. I had a pretty good feeling we weren't going to be best friends any time soon.

"I'm Liam, Liam Montgomery. I'm–" I felt awkward and embarrassed as I began to introduce myself, but Stephanie cut me off. I could tell things weren't going to turn out well the moment the words escaped her lips.

"He's my... fiance." Things were definitely not going to turn out well. I merely stared at the mother, trying to appear casual. Inside I was completely flustered, caught off-guard by this sudden and unexpected visit. And by Stephanie's lie. "We... I um..." she tried to speak but only managed to drift off in an uncomfortable silence.

"I teach at the same high school as she does. We met over the summer..." I tried to explain, a falsely cheerful smile on my face. "Stephanie didn't mention she was expecting her family to drop by." I added. She had mentioned that they wouldn't, actually. I could tell Steph was just as surprised by the visit as her mother was to find her daughter pregnant.

"Apparently Stephanie doesn't mention a lot of things." the middle-aged woman said coldly before inviting herself in, gesturing for her teenage children to follow suit. She made a disapproving clicking noise with her tongue as she gave the apartment a once-over. "You should really tidy up before inviting company over Stephanie – and what is that? Take-out food? You should know better than that, young lady! Pregnant women need a healthy, balanced diet... now, what are these?" she was staring down at the pile of work Stephanie had been doing earlier. "Doesn't your boss understand your condition? What bastard would give a pregnant woman work to do over Thanksgiving? I knew teaching would be a bad career for you... You were always too much of a push-over. Unable to stand your ground..."

I was beginning to understand just why Steph had waited to tell her mother. She was... a very complex woman.

"Hi, I'm Damien. Steph's brother – this is Rachel. It's nice to meet you." Damien said in a hushed voice as he held out his hand to me. I glanced from the ranting woman as she paraded around the apartment, pointing out the flaws in the paint job, to look at Stephanie's younger siblings.

"Don't worry about my mom... She's not usually like that... Ever since our dad died she's been..." Steph's sister Rachel added as I shook her hand too. "So, you're Stephanie's baby daddy?" I probably looked a little stunned. "Oh, yeah I've known for a while... Don't tell my mom, but she told me and Damien she was pregnant a few weeks back... the day after she came out of the hospital earlier this month. She never mentioned how gorgeous you were though." The first thing I noticed about Rachel Swann aside from the fact that she had a striking resemblance to her sister? She was a bubbly, talkative young thing.

"Keep it in your pants." Damien muttered with a sly smile. They reminded me a lot of my own relationship with Bonnie.

"Rachel, Damien, help your sister set the table, will you? We're going to eat like a family." Mrs. Swann broke our attempt at small talk, her piercing hazel eyes seeming to dig into my soul as they bore into mine for a moment.

Dinner was awkward. Damien and Rachel sat on either side of their mother while Stephanie sat beside me on the other side of the table. An uncomfortable silence filled the space when Stephanie's mother wasn't drilling me with all sorts of questions.

"Where did you grow up?" she asked randomly. I felt overwhelmed, considering we'd been talking about my past love life moments before. She probably thought I was lying, considering I'd admitted to not really having a love life since high school.

"Um, right here in Chicago..." I stated lamely, picking at the turkey Mrs. Swann had brought for the occasion. I was afraid she'd secretly poisoned it before serving. "In um... Roseland." I added.

"Isn't that a ghetto?" Mrs. Swann mused.

"Mom!" Stephanie hissed.

"Have you ever been in prison?" the mother continued without even bothering to glance at her daughter. "Done any drugs?"

"Mom! Shut up!" Stephanie snapped. "He's a good guy!" she added. From the corner of my eye I could see Stephanie growing more and more stressed out. Her cheeks were tinted with red and her hands were clenched tight together underneath the table.

"It's okay... Um... I've never been to jail but um... I did smoke cigarettes for a year or two in high school... I haven't touched them in years..." I wasn't sure whether I should lie about such things or not. In one hand, I knew it could make her all the more persistent in completely ruining my life, or she could warm up to me and my honesty.

"You teach English, right? And coach basketball? I tried out my freshman year... didn't turn out so well." Damien butted in. Ah, so Stephanie had said more about me to her siblings than I would have ever realized. I nodded, grateful that he was bailing me out of a tight spot.

"Yeah, we've been on a winning streak so far. I'm hoping to get to the championships this year... We have an away game in Springfield in early February." I stated.

"Basketball? Going away for games – is that healthy for the babies? What if something happens to Stephanie and you aren't around to help her? You should get your priorities straight..." Mrs. Swann attempted to regain the attention.

"Maybe you'll be playing our school, that would be cool." Rachel said with a warm smile before popping a forkful of vegetables into her mouth.

The rest of the dinner went by in a similar fashion, with Damien and Rachel keeping their mother from ripping my head off. The older woman seemed pissed though. Pissed that she didn't have control of the situation – control over me.

"Liam, can you help me clear the table?" Stephanie asked once everyone had finished.

"Oh, no I can get that." I was already half-way out of my chair with my dish in my hands. "Liam, sit." Mrs. Swann told me, similar to a master commanding his disobedient dog.

Stephanie glanced at me. "It's okay, mom! You don't –"

"No, no I insist!" Mrs. Swann said in a stern voice, getting to her feet and smoothing her gray dress before taking the plate from my hands. "Go on, sit down." she added tensely. I glanced at Stephanie, who nodded simply.

"Oh god. I'm so sorry..." Rachel mouthed once Mrs. Swann and Stephanie were safely out of earshot. "You sound great – my sister seems to like you. My mom is just... being my mom." she added.

"Thanks, I appreciate it. And thanks for –" The voices were getting louder at the counter and I suddenly found myself hearing each and every word uttered.

"'re nothing but a filthy whore, Stephanie! No daughter of mine will carry a bastard child – you are not my daughter! My daughter would never do something like this! A one night stand... and with a womanizing stranger no less!" Stephanie's mother was suddenly screaming. I glanced at Damien and Rachel before getting to my feet and hastily making my way into the kitchen part of the studio apartment. Stephanie was motionless, her face red as tears formed themselves in her eyes. I felt my stomach swell in anger at the look of hurt and betrayal evident on her face.

"Hey, hey what's going on?" I said, protectively making my way between the mother and daughter. "Do not talk to her like that!" I added coldly, my blue eyes staring down Mrs. Swann's hazel ones with confidence I never knew I possessed. "If anything... it's my fault this–" The woman cut me off before I could finish, her voice icy and bitter.

"Damn right it's your fault! How dare you take advantage of a woman like that? Didn't your mother ever teach you manners, young man? Sleeping around like that... how many other children have you fathered?" She spat a few other chosen curse words in my direction before turning to Stephanie again. "Your father would not have approved of this." she said. It took all in my power not to rush up to her and break her neck.

"Get out." Stephanie spat, her voice barely audible. "Get out. Now, mother."

Mrs. Swann glared at the both of us before abruptly turning away and calling to her teenage children, ordering Damien to get her purse. Before leaving the apartment, Rachel glanced back at her sister, mouthing a quick apology. I couldn't believe what had just happened... How could she even talk like that...? And to her own fucking daughter!

The door slammed and suffocating silence followed.

We both stood with our feet fixed to the ground for what seemed like the longest of times, just staring at each other. Then finally Stephanie broke, her entire body shaking as she began sobbing, tears cascading down her face. I wrapped my arms around her, steadying her before she could crumble to the ground.

"I'm sorry, Steph. It's my fault..." I whispered as I held her close, letting her cry into my chest. "I'm sorry." I repeated softly.

"No, no it's not... You're not doing anything wrong... far from it." she paused, moving away from me to wipe her eyes, looking down to avoid meeting my gaze. "I'm just... It would have happened anyway... My mother is just really... traditional." she added as she hugged me tight again, choking the last word.

I smiled tentatively. "It's not right what she said to you though." I told her honestly. Stephanie shrugged, walking over to the table and carrying the remaining plates towards the counter. I took them from her and began running the scalding hot water into the sink.

"I'm sorry I got you involved into this though, calling you my fiancé and all. I... I told her we weren't actually getting married... She was asking so many questions – the date, who was coming... what my dress looked like. I just couldn't lie to her... She's my mom... She's a complete bitch, but she's still my mom... Although, the truth didn't really turn out all that well... huh?" she said lamely, laughing through fresh new tears.

I didn't say anything, merely nodding as we silently began doing dishes together. She cleaned, I dried, working as if we were used to doing this on a daily basis. Truth be told, I still found it amusing that she'd gone to the lengths of pretending we were getting married. Who knows, maybe one day...

"Promise me one thing?" I asked her with a playful smile moments later.

She eyed me suspiciously before speaking. "Depends... what exactly am I promising?" She appeared a little hesitant, although she was smiling. That was a good sign – the tears had all but vanished now, leaving behind nothing but the dried up marks on her red cheeks.

"Promise me that once our kids are teenagers... we'll never call them bastard children? Even when we're furious with 'em?" Her response was unexpected – in one swift motion, she threw bubbly soap into my face.

"We'll never call them that, Liam! Ever!" she said.

"You just threw soap at me." I said, feigning bewilderment.

"So what if I did?" she countered with a giggle.

I grinned. She seemed to grasp just what I was about to do seconds before my hand dipped into the soap water, suddenly choking out a noise sounding like both a giggle and a scream as she ran away – fortunately she wasn't fast enough as I got most of her back wet with the dish water.

"You're dead, Swann!" I told her with a playful laugh, grabbing the bottle of dish soap and running after her with it. I caught up to her inches away from her couch; she raised her hands in a surrendering motion, giggling hysterically now.

"You're not – you're not going to attack a pregnant woman, are you?" she said between bouts of laughter. "That would just be cruel!"

She screamed when my hand squeezed the bottle and a string of soap came gushing out, hitting her square in the chest.

"Oh, oh, now you're the one who's going to get it, Montgomery!" she laughed.

Twenty minutes later, the entire studio apartment was a soapy, watery mess. I was soaked to the bone, a bucket filled to the brim with water as I walked around, my eyes darting here and there as I tried to catch a glimpse of the auburn-haired woman hiding somewhere.

"Come on, take this like the strong woman I know you are deep down! Way, way deep down!" I teased, my eyes darting to the table, which we'd managed to tip to the side at one point so that it was now acting like a shield. She wasn't there.

For a few moments I just walked around like a panther on the prowl, searching for my prey. I had to admit, this wasn't such a terrible Thanksgiving after all.

"Okay you know what? I surren–" Before I could finish my sentence, I heard hasty footsteps behind me, followed with the icy cold water poured over my head and down my shirt. "Shit!" I hissed as ran a hand through my hair so that the wet locks didn't cling to my forehead. "You're unreal, you know that?" I added with a smirk as I turned around to face the pregnant woman.

"Hey, all is fair in... soapy water fights!" she beamed. "Besides, you look kind of sexy when you're all wet like that." she added cheekily.

I smirked down at her. "Nice try, but I'm not going to clean this mess up with just a few compliments." I joked, taking a step closer. She did the same. "Are you okay?" I asked.

"I will be... You're mom calling you a whore kind of has an affect on you." she whispered before wrapping her arms around my torso. Protectively my arms wrapped around her in return as we embraced into a hug. "...oh man, that was such a childish thing we did." she added as she took a few steps back to survey the mess we'd made.

I got to my mother's at half past eight – half an hour or so after concluding our childish water fight back at Stephanie's place. I felt horrible for completely forgetting about my family, but I was going to push my luck and hope that they hadn't completely finished the festivities yet.

Bonnie was the one to answer the door upon my third knock, a worried look on her face as she saw my state. "Where were you... and why the hell are you all wet?" were her words of greeting. I had tried my hardest to dry up a little but a pair of jeans and a button-down shirt weren't exactly the easiest things to dry with a bath towel.

"Long story... Is mom mad?" I wondered as I entered through the threshold.

"You know her, she doesn't get mad a lot. Now, if you were to ask if she was disappointed..." Bonnie said with a smile. "Listen, you didn't miss much. Just dinner – and Uncle Jerry's singing. He just passed out... one too many bottles of tequila. Mom's about to get the pumpkin pie out though." Definitely not such a terrible Thanksgiving after all.

I'm really happy with the reviews I got! A new record with four in a day's time! Can we get to five? Also, another new record is this word count. It's my longest to date!

R&R and don't hesitate to bash Steph's mom! She's not done stirring up trouble, let me tell you that.

Coming up next...

Liam faces Mrs. Swann without Steph around.

A school fundraiser for the basketball team gets a little out of hand.