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Modest Proposal

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The doorbell rang and Simone jumped. She heaved herself off the couch and waddled heavily toward the door of the fetid little trailer, trying not to get her hopes up. She was getting a little old to believe in fairy tales... Still, though, her heart skipped a beat when she looked through the peephole and saw a head of gleaming white hair shining in the desert sun, until the owner of said hair stepped back a bit and she could see him clearly.

Oh. Cecil. What does he want?

He looked like he was about to face a firing squad. She opened the door. Cecil visibly forced his face into a semblance of a smile and dramatically got down on one knee, producing a small box from inside his tunic pocket. He opened it to reveal a ring featuring the smallest diamond Simone had ever seen.

"Simone, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

Simone looked at him for a moment, then started to laugh. And laugh. And laugh. She laughed until her sides hurt, laughed until tears squeezed out of her eyes, laughed until she had to lean on the doorframe for support, and all the while Cecil stayed on his knee, frozen, expression going from bullshit happy to confused to hurt.

"I'm sorry, is something funny?"

"No, I'm sorry, Cecil... It's just... Come on, get up and come inside. You look ridiculous."

Cecil stood and brushed himself off, then followed her inside her little apartment, pouting. "I don't think it's so ridiculous. It's probably pretty romantic."

"Yes, Cee, romantic. Every girl dreams of the day that her boyfriend's gay little brother asks her to make him the unhappiest man on earth."

"Brother? Anyway, I don't know if I'd be entirely despondent. You're a fine young woman with many good qualities. You have beautiful penmanship, for example."

"And that's a great reason to get married, seeing as how we have zero physical or emotional attraction for each other."

"Well, it's something. And what else are you going to do?"

She shrugged. "I dunno. Have the baby. Get a job. Live my life. Get old and fat and boring like people do. You know. It's possible to do this without a partner. You should understand that, of all people."

Cecil looked down at his hands, long fingers worrying the velveteen ring box. "Mom did the best she could, but it wasn't easy. You and the baby should have help. You shouldn't have to be alone."

She patted his shoulder. "We won't be alone. We have lots of help. Josie's already offered to babysit and teach me to make baby food and all kinds of crap, and Steve said he'd pitch in wherever he could --" She broke off to giggle at Cecil's sour expression. "He's not that bad, for real! And of course, there's Cool Uncle Cecil. That sounds a lot better than Miserable Stepfather Cecil, don't you think?"

"Yeah, well..."

"Besides, how could I make the new Scoutmaster cry? I'm no man-stealer."

Cecil blushed. "We're just friends, Simone."

"Sure, you are. Hey, since you're here, wanna put together a crib for me? I'll read you the instructions."

"All right."

For the next hour and a half, Simone read poorly-translated instructions to Cecil as he struggled and sweated and swore, frowning and apologizing to the baby after any particularly pungent strings of cursing. It was touch-and-go for a while, but eventually a crib stood in the middle of the tiny living room, albeit a crooked crib that listed to the right. Simone pulled Cecil to her in an awkward half-hug.

"Thanks, Cee."

Cecil picked at the bandage that Simone had wrapped around his hand after a particularly extravagant fumble with a screwdriver. "Ah, it's nothing. You probably could have done it yourself better."

"Well, y'know, I took Shop, so it's not really a fair comparison. But it's perfect. I'll probably just... tighten the screws or something... for security."

"Thanks for letting me help, Simone."

"Thanks for wanting to help. I'm glad the baby's gonna know the Palmer side of the family."

"Such as it is. Sorry we're all kind of useless."

Simone stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Hey. You said your mom did her best, and her best was pretty fucking good, if you ask me. She raised a guy that's willing to give up the rest of his life to make sure that people he cares about are safe and happy. She'd be proud. And Simon would be proud of you, too. He always was."

Cecil's mouth twisted for a moment, then looked down at her, tears in the corners of his eyes dancing with what might have been the slightest hint of recognition. He closed his eyelids, and when they opened again that flicker was gone. "Who's Simon?" he asked.

Simone took a deep breath and shook her head. "Right, right... Nobody. There's no Simon."

Cecil gave her another hug and left the trailer, screen door slamming behind him, and Simone was alone again. Well, not quite alone. She cradled her belly in her hands and sang a quiet, sad lullaby. The past was full of razor blades and poison and the present an unknowable fever-dream in a rusted Airstream. The future used to be a fast car and a wild boy next to her and the city limits shrinking in the rearview mirror, but now the future was growing inside of her. That might be okay.

She chuckled as she settled back down onto the sagging couch. She really was getting soft. But maybe that was okay, too. She still felt like fighting the world, but she was fighting for a reason now. And she knew she wasn't fighting it alone.