The screen froze again, capturing Josh mid-sentence. I snickered and immediately took a screenshot of his face. The way it was contorted made it look like he was either having an orgasmic experience or doing a Viking yell. Either way, it was definitely one for the sneaky saved pics folder I kept on my laptop for moments like these.
After a few seconds, he was live again. "Sorry about that, bro. Nothing like trying to Skype from an army tent smack-dab in the Middle East, am I right?" His goofy grin almost made me forget that my best friend was in a war zone. Almost. "Hey, I don't want to rush things, but there's a bunch of guys waiting their turn to call home. Was there anything else you needed to tell me before we get off?" Josh paused to flash me a wink. "Damn, I wish we were getting off; I could use the stress relief."
"What, no handy fuck buddies over there?" I smirked, trying to find the courage to tell my best friend the real reason I'd asked him to get in touch.
"Nah, just my original handy fuck buddy, Rosie Palm. At this point, I think I’m getting carpal tunnel. Besides, you know you're my only friend with those kinds of benefits." He flashed another wink. Looking past his teasing, I couldn’t help but note the dark circles under his eyes and the new stress lines pinching at the corners of his mouth. "Hey, are you remembering to water Miss Ferngully?"
I rolled my eyes. "Dude. Seriously? What's the point of housesitting when you're deployed if I'm not going to take care of your damn plant? I swear you love that thing more than your last three boyfriends." I leaned back so he could see the healthy potted fern behind me. "See? Miss Ferngully is fat and happy. And I'm taking good care of the apartment, like I promised. I took down the blinds this week and soaked them. They look brand-new. You're not gonna want me to leave when you get back."
"Owen." Josh leaned closer to the screen, his eyes growing serious. "You're doing that rambling thing you do when you're being evasive. What's going on? And don't pretend it's because you're worried about where you'll go when I get back when you know you can always crash with me. Mi casa es su casa, and all that jazz. Now spill; tell me what's going on in that head of yours."
I took a deep breath and let it out. "So, yeah. There is something you need to hear about. And I hope you know that it was an accident because I'd never try to trap you or some lame-ass shit like that when we both know we're just friends." I chewed my lip for a moment, trying to figure out how to say it. Planting my hands on my knees, I squeezed tight for strength as I leaned toward the monitor. "Umm. I don't know how to say it, so I'm just going to spit it out."
"I keep hoping you're going to get to the point. Shit, I’m growing moss waiting for you to get whatever is bugging you off your chest." Josh laughed. "Jeez, I haven't seen you this nervous since Brad Ellis asked you out sophomore year. Come on, Owen. It's just me. You can always tell me anything, you know that."
"I'm pregnant," I blurted. Josh's eyebrows shot so high they nearly touched his hairline as I continued in a rush. "And it's yours, naturally. I haven't been with anyone but you since I broke up with Tony last year. And you know how I feel about family, so you also know I have to keep it, right? I don't know how or what I'll do or where we'll live, but this is my family and I won’t… I mean, I can’t…"
"Owen," Josh interrupted softly, a radiant smile slowly spreading over his handsome face. "This is amazing news. After all the death and destruction I've seen over here, the idea of there being a new life growing in your womb is the best thing I can imagine. Listen, just get all that other worried bullshit out of your head. I know damn well it's mine. You'd never have hooked up with me before I shipped out last month if you’d been seeing someone, that’s not you. Shit, we both know about your fucked-up one-month rule where you always make the new guys in your life die of blue balls before you’ll let them in your bed. So take a breath, okay?"
Nodding numbly, I gave him a trembling smile, relieved to finally have the news out there. "Yeah. Okay. It's just that I don't know how it happened when we're always so careful, and I don't want you to feel like you’re stuck with me when you meet the man of your dreams someday."
Josh snorted. "Please. Any man who wants to get with me would have to accept you and our past anyway. You're my best friend and nothing will ever change that." He paused and shook his head with a rueful grin. "I bet it happened the night we killed that bottle of tequila before I shipped out. Honestly, as many times as we've hooked up when we're between relationships, we're lucky it didn't happen before now. But then again, you know what I always say—things happen when they're meant to happen. Life has meaning, don't forget that. And our baby's life has meaning, Owen. Treasure him, and tell him his alpha daddy loves him until I get home and can talk to your belly to tell him myself, okay?"
"You're crazy," I said with a giggle, half giddy at how well this had gone, but then I sobered when I remembered that I still had nothing to offer this baby. What did a former foster kid like me know about family? I took a trembling breath and looked into Josh’s whiskey-brown eyes. "I know you need to go, but I'm just wondering what the hell I should do, you know?"
"Well, the first thing you're gonna do is remember to breathe." Josh wagged a finger at me. "Stress isn't good for the baby. You don't need to worry; I promise it will all work out the way it's meant to in the end. It's simple, Owen. You’re already housesitting for me while I’m on tour, right? Just stay there and work on the pieces for your next exhibit. We’ll figure out the whole co-parenting thing when I get home, and I can see about getting the baby on my insurance or something. I’d offer to put you on too, but we’d have to get married and that’s something we’d have to discuss in person.”
“I’m not asking you to marry me, Joshua Landon. Let’s just get that clear right fucking now,” I warned, not wanting him to get the wrong idea.
“No.” Josh laughed. “I know that, dummy. Besides, I don't want you to marry me when we both know that we've never felt more than friendship for each other. I want you to have romance in your life at some point, Owen. You deserve an alpha who will love and worship you. I wish that could be me, but we both know how that worked in the past—or didn’t, I should say."
We shared a smile at the memory of our failed relationship. Yeah, we worked great as friends and fuck buddies, but beyond that? Not so much. A dreamer and a soldier didn’t mesh well. He’d always gotten irritated when I lost myself in my work and forgot to keep on schedule, while I wanted someone who would actually be home every night instead of deployed more often than he was around.
Josh looked over his shoulder and held up a finger to signal he needed one more minute to whoever was waiting. Returning his attention to me, Josh put a hand up to the monitor. I placed my palm over his, happy for even this faux connection right now.
"I have to go, Owen. But I need you to listen to me for a sec, okay? You know we can’t figure out our next steps until I’m there. For now, just stay put. You and Miss Ferngully can hold the fort down until I get home. You’re safe and that’s all that matters. Before I go, tell me if you have enough money and if you’re remembering to eat regularly. You can’t go locking yourself away in your studio all day and forgetting the self-care, especially now that you’re eating for two. Oh, shit! That reminds me, you never told me when the baby is due! I want to download one of those apps with a countdown timer so I can keep track of the pregnancy."
"I'm fine on money, Josh. I sold enough at my last exhibit and I'm not paying you rent, so I'm good. Speaking of my due date, I have something I meant to show you." I smiled and pulled out the ultrasound photo they'd given me at the clinic. At ten weeks, it was only a little pea-sized alien-looking thing, but it was ours. I held it up to the screen, smiling at the way his eyes lit up and hungrily took in the details. "This is our little peanut. She's due on Christmas Day."
"Oh, wow. Talk about the best gift ever, right? My parents will shit themselves!" Owen gave the picture one last smile then flashed me a grin. "And you should really get used to saying ‘he.’ It's totally going to be a boy, I'm calling it now."
"Oh, really? You sound awfully sure of yourself there, Mr. Landon. Let me guess, you want a boy that you can make into a tough little soldier like his daddy?" I set the picture down and held my hand up to the monitor again, needing to feel that imagined connection.
Putting his hand up too, he watched my image on his screen until his hand hovered over mine, then looked back into my eyes. "Hell, no. My kid isn't going to be a soldier if I can help it. No, I'm saying it's a boy because if it's a girl who's born on Christmas, I just know your ass will want to name her something cutesy like Holly or Noelle, and God wouldn't let that happen to my baby. So yeah, it's gonna be a boy."
I snorted. "You know, Noel is a fine boy's name, just saying."
Josh narrowed his eyes. "You wouldn't dare, Mr. Grant." He glanced back over his shoulder and nodded before turning back with a regretful smile. "Hey, I gotta run. I'm sorry. But don't you dare name my son without me! Unless I'm no longer here to have a say in the matter, you have to get my input, promise?"
"Don't even hint that you won't be here, Josh," I chided. "Don't put shit like that out into the universe. Hey, I'll email you a copy of this ultrasound pic so you'll have it on your phone, okay? Talk soon?"
"Definitely, we'll talk again before you know it. And Owen? Thanks for the best news I've ever heard. Take care of my baby and Miss Ferngully, you hear me?" He gave me one last flirty wink and I nodded silently as I mouthed the word goodbye.