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“You OK?” Mila asks me, when she finally gets my attention. “You look distracted.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m fine.” It’s not the full truth, exactly. But it’s much less of a lie than it used to be.

After work on Monday, I’m at the Farmers Market at the Grove when my phone starts to ring. I put down the gourmet jam I’m looking at and dig into my purse to try to find my phone.

It’s Charlie.

“Hey,” I say.

“Hey, do you have a minute?”

I walk away from the stand and find a place to sit. “I’ve got nothing but time,” I say. I say this to be kind, but also, I actually have nothing but time. Being single leaves you a lot of time to spare. “What’s up?”

“I’m going to come home for Christmas,” he says.

“That’s great! We are all going to Mom’s, and I think there is talk of Bill joining us. And Grandma is coming. Not sure about Uncle Fletcher, but I would assume so. So it will be nice to have it with—”

Charlie cuts me off. “Listen, I need your help with something.”

“OK . . .”

“I have some news to tell everyone, and I’m not sure how to do it. And so I was wondering what you thought first.”

“OK,” I say. This is a novel feeling, Charlie caring what I think. But I’m also cautiously terrified. If Charlie is seeking out my advice, if he doesn’t think he can handle it himself, then this has got to be big, right? It’s got to be bad.

“You’re sitting down? Or I mean, you have time to talk?”

“Oh, my God, Charlie, what is it?”

He breathes in, and then he says it. “I’m going to be a dad.”

“You’re going to see Dad?” How does he even know where Dad is? Did Dad call him?

“No, Lauren. I’m having a baby. I’m going to be a dad.”

There are people walking past me, shoppers haggling over tomatoes and avocados, kids calling for their mothers. There are cars whizzing by in the distance. Butchers selling various cuts of meat to women on their way home from work. But I can’t hear any of that. I just hear my own breathing. All I can hear is my own deafening silence. What do I say? I decide to go with, “OK, and how do you feel about that?”

Charlie’s voice starts to brighten. “I think it’s great, honestly. I think it’s the best news I’ve gotten in my entire life.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. I’m twenty-five years old. I have a job I don’t care about. I live across the country from my family. My friends are . . . whatever. But what am I doing? What have I done that’s so great? I keep moving from place to place, thinking I’m going on these adventures, and nothing ever comes of it. And then I happen to meet Natalie, and two months later, I get a call saying that I’m . . . This is good. I really think this is good. I can be a father to someone.”

This is surreal. “And how is it going to work with this Natalie person?” I’m sticking to logistical questions, because I’m out of my league, emotionally.

“Well, that’s part of what makes this complicated but possibly really fortuitous.”

“OK,” I say.

“Natalie lives in L.A., so . . . I’m moving home.”

Whoa. My mom is going to have a grandchild to play with. My grandmother will have a great-grandchild. Charlie solved the problem. He took the pressure off of me. It’s not up to me anymore. That’s good, right? “Wow, this is a lot to take in!” I say.

“I know. But here is the thing. She’s an amazing woman. And I really think she is someone I can try to make it work with. She’s smart, and she’s funny. We have a great time together.”

“How did you two meet?

“We met on an airplane,” he says. “And we . . . hooked up. And I didn’t think anything of it. So, you know, that part is a hard sell.”

“An airplane?” I say, but I’m putting the pieces together faster than I can talk. My brother slept with a woman he met on the plane when he came home for my birthday. That’s what we’re talking about. “Ew, Charlie!” I say, laughing. “Was it, like, on the airplane?”

“In an attempt to protect the dignity of myself and my child’s mother, I decline to answer.” So yes, it was.

“Holy crap,” I say, marveling at just how sudden and insane this all is. “So you are moving in with someone named Natalie. And you two are having a baby.”

“Yep. We’ve been talking every night after work, calling each other, e-mailing. I really like her. We get along very well. We have the same ideas so far about how we want to handle this.”

“That’s great,” I say. “When is she due?”

“End of June.”

“Well, Charlie,” I say, “congratulations!” Admittedly, there is a part of me that feels leapfrogged, passed over, rendered irrelevant.

Charlie sounds relieved. “Thank you. I’m pretty scared to tell Mom.”

“No,” I say. I can feel myself shaking my head. “Don’t be. You sound happy. And Natalie sounds great. And this is, like, the best news Mom could hope for. You’re moving home, and she gets a grandchild. I’m telling you, she’s gonna be so happy.”

“You think so? I feel like most moms probably don’t want to hear their sons say, ‘So I knocked up this girl.’”

“Right, it will be a shock, for sure. But that’s also not what you’re saying. You have a plan. You feel good about it. If you feel good about it, she’s going to feel good about it. Have you told Rachel?”

“No,” he says. “I just wanted to get your take on whether I should call now or do it in person at Christmas. I feel like Rachel can be a bit judgmental about these things. She’s kind of defensive about being single. It’s been so long since she even dated anyone, you know? I want to be sensitive to that.”

“So you figured you’d call your almost-divorced sister,” I say, teasing him.

He laughs. “Oh, come on, you and Ryan will be fine. You said so yourself. I’m not worried about you,” Charlie says. “If anything, I called you because you’re the one who always knows what to do.”

In a time when I feel as if my whole life is in shambles, when I feel as if the last thing I know is what to do, it swells my heart to think that my little brother might look up to me. But if I tell him any of that, if I let on how much it means to me, I’ll lose it right here in the Farmers Market. So instead, I keep a lid on it. “I think your instincts are right to do it in person,” I say. “If you’re coming home for Christmas, maybe just give Mom the heads-up and tell her that you’re going to bring a friend or something? I’m assuming you’ll be staying with Natalie?”

“Yeah,” Charlie says. “So I guess I should maybe let Mom know I won’t be staying with her, that I’ll be staying with someone else. That will trigger her suspicions that something is up, but I’ll just keep it under wraps until I see her. Better to tell her in person, you’re right.”

“Yes, exactly,” I say. “And don’t worry. She really will be happy.”

“Thank you,” Charlie says, and for the first time, I feel the usual edge to his voice is gone.

“I’m so curious,” I say. “So you meet her, and you, you know, wherever you, you know. And how does she track you down? When she finds out she’s pregnant and she knows it’s yours, how does she find you all the way in Chicago?”

“I gave her my number,” Charlie says, as if the answer is perfectly obvious.

“You gave your number to a woman you barely know, who you had sex with once on an airplane?”

“I always give my number to one-night stands,” Charlie says. “Condoms are only ninety-eight-percent effective.”

And that, right there, is my little brother. He somehow manages to be just as thoughtful as he is cynical. And now he’s going to be someone’s dad.

And I’m going to be someone’s aunt.