Penny woke up to another morning of nausea, waking her up a good hour before the alarm went off. Today was Friday, her day “off,” meaning it was just a day spent doing chores and hanging out with Ezra. It all felt like a chore these days. She’d started showing at only four months, which wasn’t the case with her last four pregnancies, especially compared with Elias. She remembered wondering if she was pregnant at all up until eight months hit. Penny felt like she was ballooning more with each day. Her feet ached when she walked and sweeping and bending at the bakery were no longer tasks she could accomplish on her own, but the family needed the money.
She knelt next to the toilet bowl and heaved up what was left of last night’s dinner, tasting acidic pesto and chunks of pasta. Penny spat the remains into the toilet and flushed. She washed her hands and face and brushed her teeth thoroughly. The taste lingered, so she gargled with Jack’s mouthwash before heading back to bed.
Jack groaned and opened his eyes. “You alright?” he mumbled, half asleep.
“Mm-hmm,” Penny replied, trying to find her voice and force it through her raw throat. “Just morning sickness.”
“Still?” Jack was amazed it was still going on. Penny was a trooper, but enough was enough.
Penny shrugged. “I thought it would’ve gone by now…”
“We should go for another check up. What if-”
“I’m fine,” Penny insisted, “We’ve got another ultrasound in a couple of weeks. We’ll know for sure by then if everything is on track.”
Jack shot her a worried look but said nothing. He turned to her swelling stomach and placed his hand above her belly button. “Have you thought of any more names?” he asked, staring intently at what would soon be two daughters.
“I can’t decide. What about Emmeline and Eugenia?”
“Nah, too long,” Jack replied, “What about Eileen and Elena?”
Penny cocked her head to one side, “Mmm…”
She was interrupted by horrible bawling that came from their daughters’ room across the hall. Both Penny and Jack jumped out of bed and rushed to the room, where they found a pale-faced Esther sitting up in bed, crying and gasping for air. She had thrown up all over her bed sheets. Her older sister, Edith, looked shocked as she tried to comfort Esther, rubbing her back and whispering that it would be okay. “Mommy!” Esther meekly cried out.
“Esther, oh my gosh, what’s wrong?!” Penny exclaimed. She felt the shivering girl’s forehead. It was clammy and feverish. “You’ve got a fever, sweetpea. Don’t worry, we’ll get you cleaned up.” Penny peeled the sheets back and stripped her daughter’s bed while Jack carried the eight-year-old into the ensuite and ran her a bath.
“She said she felt sick last night. I didn’t think she’d end up puking,” Edith sighed.
“It’s okay, love. It’s not your fault your sister’s not feeling well. I’m at home with Ezra today, so it’s not a big deal to keep her at home.” Penny smiled at her oldest daughter and went in for a hug, “Edie, you’re turning into such a responsible girl.”
Edith could feel her mother’s pregnant belly press against her, like her two baby sisters were giving her a hug as well. She wondered if she would have a large family of her own when she grew up. “I love you, Mom,” Edith said.
Elias peeked into his sisters’ room, instantly realizing what had happened. He made a disgusted face, “Gross. I’m heading to school, Mom. Willis said he’d help me with my metal shop project…”
“Have a good day, Eli,” Penny called.
Jack helped his daughter out of her clothes and ran her a bath. “Looks like you get to stay home today with Mom,” he tried to shine some light onto her predicament.
Esther didn’t feel like smiling. She wiped the tears from her face.
“Don’t worry, honey, you’ll feel better once you get cleaned up and back into bed with some fresh sheets. He kissed her forehead, which was still burning hot, “I’ll leave the bathroom door open. Just shout if you need anything.”
Esther nodded. She was hot and shivering at the same time. Her stomach hurt so much she started crying again. “Daddy…” she weakly called, feeling hot tears drip down her pale face.
Jack rushed in, “What do you need, sweetie?”
“Daddy my tummy hurts…” Esther warned. She closed her eyes and clutched her stomach, trying to ground herself and fend off the wave of nausea.
“Do you need to throw up again?” Jack asked.
Before Esther had the chance to answer, she vomited over the side of the tub, covering the floor in watery, acidic bile. Esther’s eyes widened in fear and she began to wail again.
“It’s okay. You’re gonna be okay,” Jack tried to comfort his daughter. “Let’s put on some new pajamas and see if your mom’s finished making the bed.
“Am I g-gonna d-die?” Esther sobbed.
Jack tried not to laugh at his daughter’s obvious fear. “Of course not! You’ve just got the flu, sweetie.”
Esther stood up and her dad wrapped her in a large towel, carrying her back to bed.
Edith and Penny had finished remaking Esther’s bed. Crisp, pink sheets covered the single mattress along with a new comforter. “Are you feeling a little better, sweetpea?” Penny asked.
Esther shook her head.
“She was sick again,” Jack confessed, laying Esther down in her bed.
Penny sighed and handed their daughter a clean nightie.
“Mom…” Edith started, “I don’t feel so well either.” She sat down on her own bed, closed her eyes, and held her head in her hands.
Penny looked to her other daughter, suddenly feeling overwhelmed. Edith’s skin was looking paler than usual. “Are you going to throw up?” Penny asked.
Edith opened her eyes, looking worried. She charged off to the bathroom.
Jack took a deep breath. “I’m going to check on Edie and clean up Esther’s sick. Are you going to be okay looking after all of them or-”
Penny was already overwhelmed with Ezra. The day had barely begun and she already felt burnt out and useless. There was no way she could ask Jack to help. They needed the money so badly now. “Don’t stay. We need the-”
“Penny, I don’t want you to overexert yourself, especially with the babies…”
“I’m fine,” Penny insisted.
“If this is about money, there’s always a way.”
“I’m fine, Jack.” She gave him her bravest face. “I’m going to check on Ezra.”
Jack sighed heavily, trying to shrug off his worries about Penny overworking herself and having another kid like Ezra. He also knew that missing time at work would eventually lead to defaulting on mortgage or credit card payments, a realistic fear Jack could never communicate to his wife.
Jack pushed open the door to the bathroom, revealing his almost twelve year old daughter kneeling next to the toilet. He knelt next to her and rubbed her back. “Edith, are you still feeling sick?”
She nodded and heaved again.
“I’ve got to clean up this mess before work-”
“Ezra is sick too,” Penny said, creeping in behind her husband. “Jack, you’re going to be late. Go have your shower and I’ll clean up.”
Jack wanted to help, but his wife was right – he had to go to work. He quickly showered, shaved, and put on his poorly cared for suit. He gave Edith, who was still clinging to the toilet, a kiss on the head. “Feel better, Edie.”
Penny was down on her hands and knees still mopping up Esther’s vomit. “Bye, hon,” Penny tried to smile. Her back ached from kneeling down.
Jack felt nothing but regret as he kissed his wife goodbye.
A few hours later, the girls were asleep in their room and all was finally cleaned up. Penny was with Ezra, trying to get him to take some medicine. “Come on, Ez. Be a big boy and open your mouth-” she attempted to spoon feed him some medicine, but he turned away. There were tears in his eyes and he cried out. “Please Ezra…” Penny was beginning to lose her patience. She took a deep breath and put down the spoon. She didn’t like to force Ezra to eat and drink and take medicine. Even the tube in his stomach made her feel like she was failing as a mother. Everything was her fault, including his condition. If she hadn’t fallen down the stairs that day, maybe he would’ve been okay? She wiped Ezra’s tears away with her thumb and kissed him on the forehead. “I’m sorry, Ez. But you need to take your medicine. I promise it’ll make you feel better.” She injected the medicine into his feeding tube. It made her feel like a monster.
Ezra screamed and flailed his arms in defense.
Penny tried to hold back, but felt herself break down a little. She choked back her tears. “I’m sorry…” she whispered and squeezed his hand.
Ezra let out another piercing yelp.
Penny couldn’t bear to sit there for another moment. She was sure she was losing it. She walked downstairs and poured herself a glass of orange juice. Penny stared at the half empty bottle of vodka sitting on the counter. She considered it for a brief moment, before reminding herself of the harm she could potentially do to her unborn daughters. Penny gritted her teeth, wishing so desperately that she could have another drink, just this once. Just for a moment… She downed the orange juice and poured herself a glass of water.
“Mommy!” Esther shouted.
Penny sighed, finishing her second drink. “Coming, sweetpea.” She took another longing look at the vodka before heading back upstairs.
“Mommy! I want something to drink!” Esther whined, her mother barely setting foot into the girls’ room.
“Me too,” Edith admitted.
“How about I make you two some lunch as well? I have to feed Ezra soon…” Penny suggested, already feeling like she needed to use the bathroom. The water and juice seemed to have gone right through her.
“I just want juice,” Esther complained.
“Edith, are you ready for lunch?”
The older of the two girls shrugged. “I can wait.”
“Girls, you should both try and eat something,” Penny warned them, “I’ll go get you both a drink and then I’ve got to feed your brother. After that, maybe I’ll make you some chicken soup.”
“I don’t want any food!” Esther whined.
Penny sighed and went back downstairs to grab Ezra’s food and drinks for the girls. The carton of orange juice was completely gone after filling two full glasses for Edith and Esther. Penny checked her watch, wondering if she’d have time for a quick pee before feeding Ezra. She walked back upstairs, carefully as to not disturb her bladder and set the glasses of juice on the nightstand between Edith and Esther’s beds.
“Can I have water instead, Mom?” Edith asked.
Penny winced. “Sure,” she replied.
“Mommy, can I have both glasses of juice?” Esther asked.
“That’s a lot of sugar, Esther…” Penny warned.
“Please? It makes me feel better.”
“Okay,” Penny gave in and headed back downstairs. With each step, she could feel herself growing more desperate. She squeezed her thighs together and took a deep breath. Only a few minutes more… she just had to feed Ezra. She quickly poured a glass of water for Edith and hurried back upstairs. The faster she went, the more uncomfortable she got. Penny bit her lip and held tighter. She adjusted herself and gave Edith the cup. “I have go feed your brother now and then I’ll start lunch for you two, okay?”
Esther was downing orange juice and was occupied enough to disregard her mother’s insistence on the girls eating real food.
Penny walked down the hall, her bladder begging for release. Ezra’s schedule was more important, though. She could hold it for a little longer, just until he was fed. She pressed on her crotch and went into her son’s room. “I’m back, Ez. It’s lunch time!” she tried so hard to have some pep in her voice. She sat down next to him, legs shaking. “God I have to pee,” she admitted, “I think your little sisters are kicking me in the bladder.”
Ezra groggily stared at his mother in response.
“Let’s hurry this up,” she said, administering the syringe full of liquid food into Ezra’s feeding tube. “I hope this is more delicious than it looks.” Penny crossed her legs, trying to hold in whatever dignity she had left. Feeding Ezra seemed to take hours. Penny checked her watch as she administered the last of her son’s food. It had only been a few minutes.
Penny wiped the drool from her son’s mouth. “I hope you had a nice lunch, Ez… I wish feeding Edith and Esther was this easy.”
“Mommy!” Esther shouted, “Mommy I’m hungry!”
Penny sighed. “I’m starting lunch right now,” she yelled back. She slowly got up from her chair, pressing gently on her urethra through her grey leggings and made her way back downstairs to the kitchen. Soup would only take a few minutes. She could make it.
Penny turned on the stove and scraped out the canned chicken noodle soup, slowly adding water as it came to a boil. She turned up the heat, hoping everything would speed up. She crossed her legs and bounced in place, hoping to stop herself from leaking into the obvious grey leggings. The soup was slowly coming to a boil. Only a few more minutes…
Penny felt herself leak into her underwear, immediately shoving her hand down her leggings to plug herself. She groaned and squeezed tighter.
“Mommy I’m so hungry!” Esther shouted.
“It’s coming, sweetpea!” Penny replied, feeling another leak soak her hand. The soup was finally boiling. She haphazardly poured the soup into two bowls, dropping a couple of ice cubes into each. Penny squeezed her legs together, crossing and uncrossing them once more. She just had to make it upstairs… Her knees rubbed together as she carried the two bowls of soup, but the hold wasn’t going to work for much longer. Penny took a few steps, but when she got to the landing, she felt another pang of desperation and felt herself leak more into her panties. She gasped and adjusted herself. Not… Much… Further…
Penny made it to the girls room, shaking with desperation. “H-here you go…” she placed each bowl of soup on the nightstand.
“Thanks Mom,” Edith smiled.
Esther said nothing, shoveling the noodles and chicken stock into her hungry mouth.
“You’re very welcome,” Penny replied, weakly waddling down the hall to the ensuite bathroom. She held herself, feeling how wet her leggings already were. Her body was shaking as she took down her leggings and soaked panties and finally sat down, releasing a harsh stream of urine. She let out a deep sigh; her first moment of peace since she’d woken up this morning. It was sheer bliss for those seconds she let loose, until she opened her eyes and saw the spots of blood on her underwear. Penny’s heart began to race with fear. She felt sick. The babies… She felt like she was going to faint. She got up, washed her hands, and ran downstairs to the phone, calling Jack’s direct line.
“Jack… you need to come home, the babies…” she couldn’t muster anymore words before breaking down into tears. She could hear crying behind her, and turned to reveal Esther, whose new nightie was covered in sick, and Edith who was holding her little sister’s hand.
“M-mom? Esther got sick again…” Edith explained, suddenly shocked by her mother’s emotional condition. “Are… are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Penny lied, taking a seat at the kitchen table for fear she wouldn’t be able to stand much longer. “Dad’s coming home from work… we need to go to the hospital.”
“I’m dying!” Esther wailed.
Penny shook her head, choking back more tears. “N-no, it’s your baby sisters… I think there’s something wrong.” Penny buried her head in her hands and let the tears drip down onto the kitchen table.
Edith put her hand on her mother’s shoulder, “Don’t worry Mom. I can stay with Esther and get her cleaned up. I can even look after Ezra while you and Dad are gone.” Edith took her sister’s hand and they went back upstairs to their room.
Penny lay on the examination bed, her pregnant stomach exposed as Dr. Lawrence checked for a heartbeat. She tried not to cry or show fear, but her face was very telling. Jack held her hand, but had no idea how to console her until they heard for sure that their daughters would be alright.
Dr. Lawrence gave Penny a half smile. “Looks like we have a heartbeat…”
“What about the second twin?” Penny asked, heart racing.
Dr. Lawrence looked concerned, moving the ultrasound transducer and staring up at the screen. She took a few minutes before saying, “Both babies seem fine, both have a heartbeat. I want you two to come back in a couple of weeks just to be safe. Sometimes spotting can be from a cervical polyp, intercourse, or exercise, which is probably the case here. Penny, I want you to take it easy for the next week or so.”
“I… I have four other children and one who needs near constant care,” Penny protested.
“It’s not the doctor’s fault we have other children to care for,” Jack told his wife, “We’ll get help. I can stay home. I need you to take some well deserved time off to relax.”
Penny gave him an angry stare. She was starting to feel useless.
When they arrived home, Jack and Penny came in to see all four of their children waiting at the dinner table in anticipation. Elias had returned from school and had helped his brother into his wheelchair. The girls were dressed and looking much better. “Mom, Dad… What happened?” Elias asked, “Is everything okay with the twins?”
Jack nodded. “Everything is fine. Your mother just had a bit of a scare and will need her rest for the next few weeks. She’ll be taking maternity leave as of Monday. You kids will have to help her out a little more around the house.”
“I can get a job,” Elias said, “Willis said I can work nights at the Video Barn.”
“Son, you’re welcome to get a job at any point, but your mother will need you at home. And we’d prefer the money you earn stays with you. We just need you kids to be a little more responsible for yourselves for the next little while.”
Penny weakly smiled. “And you’re all old enough now, and so responsible. Everything will be fine.” She took the sonogram picture out of her pocket and placed it in the centre of the table, placing her hands lovingly on her belly. “These are your sisters.”
The four siblings looked down at the black and white picture in awe.
“And we’ve decided on names,” Penny told them, shining with delight, “Your sisters will be named Erin and Erica.”