"What do you want for your birthday?" The Boss asks, exchanging the TV remote for a mug of tea resting on the coffee table. The steam rising out of the mug leaves a faint trail in the air as she lifts the mug closer to her.
"I dunno... I can't think of anything off the top of my head," Michael replies. "Your birthday is coming up before mine, shouldn't I be asking you want you want?"
"I don't want anything for my birthday. Just a card."
She peers over the top of the mug as she takes a sip. The twinkle in her eye gives away the lie in her last statement. Now holding the mug with both hands in front of her, she smiles quizzically in response to the indignant stare she's receiving.
"Come on. I know you don't want just a card for your birthday. Tell me what you want!" Michael begs jokingly. He remembers last year very well, when he brought a card, and only a card, to her birthday dinner. That trap won't catch me twice. Not if I can help it.
"You tell me what you want, and I'll tell you want I want," The Boss says.
The room falls silent, save for the evening news on the television.
-nd it looks like we'll be getting more rain this weekend, with temperatures inland hovering in the mid-to-high 70's. We can expect to hold on to this weather pattern for a few more days, with clear skies returning for Tuesday. I'll have your full seven-day forecast coming up nex-
"Okay, I've got mine," The Boss, having placed her mug back on the coffee table, settles into the couch, hands clasped together. "You go first."
Michael sighs dramatically, positioning himself on the couch to face The Boss.
"Alright. For my birthday, I want a Lego set... You know? For old time's sake. I'll let you know which one specifically when it gets closer to my birthday."
"Lego's?" The Boss asks, laughing. "Aren't you a little old for Lego's?"
"Never! I'll never be too old for Lego's!" Michael exclaims, suddenly feeling a little juvenile. Switching the focus off of himself, he says, "It's your turn now. What do you want?"
For a moment The Boss falls silent, the expression of laughter falling from her face. She remains quiet for several agonizingly long seconds, her eyes now glistening with the presence of tears.
"I want to have a baby."
The air rushes out of Michael's lungs, immobilizing him. His mind races to find an adequate response before too much time elapses.
"A... a baby?" he stutters. "You want a baby for your birthday?"
Still silent, The Boss nods her head slowly up and down. A tear races down one cheek.
"We can't... we can't have a baby now," Michael says. He places one of her hands in his. "Our finances are a mess, we can't afford a baby at this point."
"I know," The Boss says quietly. Sniffling a bit, she continues: "I was selfish to ask. I'm sorry."
"You are not selfish, and you don't have to apologize. I wish we could have a baby. There are more reasons than just financial. It's ..." Michael looks away as his voice falters and trails off, a lump having suddenly appeared in his throat. The wavering light from the television catches on a tear carving its way through the stubble on his face.
"It's just that, with all that is going on with me medically, I wouldn't want to have a baby, and then have something happen to me. We're still not sure if this is a tumor or not."
Tears are falling steadily onto the fabric of the couch now, The Boss trying in vain to wipe them away. Her bottom lip is trembling, and Michael is frightened by how fragile she looks. A heavy tear drop lands on his thigh, and he realizes that is is crying, too.
"It's not that I don't want to have a baby. I do. But I'm scared that if something happened, I wouldn't be able to provide-"
Michael is cut off as The Boss sits up suddenly and throws her arms around him, pulling him in. He wraps his arms around her and pulls her in even closer, tighter.
"I don't want something to happen to you. I don't want to be ALONE!" The Boss cries out between sobs, her voice picking up in volume as she struggles to get the words out. The last word, almost a shout, rings in Michael's ears. She is shaking now, her body rocking against his arms.
Knowing he can't assure her that her fear isn't going to happen, Michael remains silent. He adjusts his arms to hug her just a little more tightly. The news on the television drones on, ignored wholly by its audience.
"I know," he says at last. "I know."
They sit there together for a moment, crying.
Crying, and holding onto each other with a fierce strength and scared compassion.