Authors: Laurie Plissner
F+W Media, Inc
For Jonathan, Charlie, and Molly.
Grace stared at the pale blue cross in the tiny oval window, willing it to disappear, wondering how anyone could call that a positive result. There was nothing positive about being seventeen and pregnant. If you were all grown up, then finding out you were about to have a baby would be the best news in the world, but Grace didn’t even have a high school diploma yet, let alone a husband or a house or a job. Blinking back the tears, she continued to sit on the toilet, not sure where she was going to find the courage to leave her bathroom ever again. When she closed her eyes, she could see herself from above — a bird’s-eye view of her own private train wreck. Stuff like this wasn’t supposed to happen to girls like her.
Lined up like dead soldiers on the marble counter, the first six test sticks all displayed the same maddening plus sign. Three more pregnancy tests waited unopened in a brown bag under the counter, but Grace was beginning to realize that no matter how many times she took it, the results were going to be the same. Denial, though it had kept her from losing her mind for the past couple of weeks, was no longer a viable option. Finally Grace pulled up her pants and stood staring down at the evidence, her damp palms resting on the cool marble counter. Slowly and deliberately, she picked up each test stick and snapped it in two, as if physically destroying the messengers could somehow destroy the bad news itself.
Grace finally looked up and squinted at herself in the mirror. Deciding that she didn’t look any different and almost convincing herself that all seven pluses had to be wrong, that it was just her irregular period being a little more irregular than usual, she was suddenly overwhelmed by nausea. She dove for the toilet and was just barely able to avoid puking all over the floor. Even after there was nothing left inside her, she continued retching, spasm after spasm, grateful there was no one home to hear her body turning inside out. Afterwards, Grace crawled into her bedroom and curled into the fetal position next to her bed, her cheek resting on the fluffy white rug as she stared blankly at a stray Q-tip that had missed the wastebasket. The smell of furniture polish and laundry detergent tickled the inside of her nose, threatening to bring on another bout of hurling. She wondered why it was called morning sickness. It was four o’clock in the afternoon.
Her cell phone rang repeatedly. On the third round she finally felt strong enough to reach up to her bed, where her phone lay, buzzing and vibrating relentlessly. “Hey,” Grace whispered.
“What’s wrong with you? Where have you been? You sound like death.” Jennifer had never been one for small talk.
“I, um, have a problem. More like a disaster.” As much as Grace didn’t want to say it out loud — speaking the actual words would make it a historical fact — she didn’t feel she could last another minute without talking to someone about it. Ready to collapse under a mountain of guilt and fear, she hoped telling Jennifer would somehow lighten her load. Maybe her best friend would have a solution, or maybe she could imagine a scenario in which seven plus signs didn’t mean what Grace already knew they meant.
“Did you wreck your mom’s Lexus? Your parents are going to go apeshit.” Jennifer whistled into the phone. “Do you want to hide out over here for a few days until they cool down?”
“I didn’t crash the car. I
that were it.” Grace longed for a problem that could be undone with a trip to the body shop and a fresh coat of paint.
“Well then, it can’t be that bad. You always get straight As, so it can’t be your report card. You gained a pound, and you’re not size negative two anymore. Is that it?” Jennifer sighed impatiently into the phone, eager to hear what minor mishap Grace deemed so tragic that she could hardly speak. A chipped dinner plate from her mother’s wedding set or a stain on the Oriental rug in the dining room was the worst Jennifer could imagine from Miss Goody Two-Shoes.
“I think I’m pregnant.” Barely whispering the last word, Grace wasn’t sure her voice had carried over the phone line.
There was a squeal followed by a thud as Jennifer dropped the phone. “What the … that’s impossible. Only people who have sex can get pregnant. We had a pact — no hooking up till college. When did you change your mind? Who’d you do it with? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s not always all about
“Whatever. Answer the fucking questions. Who was it?” Jennifer sounded like a hard-nosed cop trying to break down a suspect.
“It was Nick.” Looking back, Grace herself could hardly wrap her head around it. Going all the way on the third date was so not in her playbook.
“Nick Salter, all-American? No way. He doesn’t know people like us exist.”
People like us
were kids who went to the school library to actually study, and who hoped to look back on high school as
the best years of their lives. “Who was it … really?”
“I knew you’d say that. That’s why I didn’t tell you we were going out.”
“I don’t believe you. Are you sure you didn’t imagine this whole thing? Maybe you just dreamed you had sex with Nick. Maybe you’re just bloated.”
“I’m not imagining it. I took seven pregnancy tests.”
“I still don’t believe you. Are we talking about the same Nick Salter? Nick
Salter, captain of the lacrosse team?”
“There’s only one, Jennifer. The day after school let out he asked me if I wanted to go to the movies, and then we went out again, and on our third date it happened. It was my first time, and I got pregnant.”
“Who the hell are
, and what did you do with my best friend?” shrieked Jennifer, certain Grace was the second-to-last person who would have the confidence to put out with an actual boy (Jennifer being the last), and the last one dumb enough to make a baby. “Best friends don’t keep secrets, especially secrets the size of big, fat pregnant bellies.”
“I didn’t tell you because I’m embarrassed. It was such an idiotic thing to do, and I thought if I pretended it never happened, and I never told anybody, it would be like it hadn’t.” As Grace tried to explain her reasoning, she realized what a moron she was. This wasn’t like pretending you hadn’t refilled your Slurpee without paying for it at the 7-Eleven, or didn’t have the answers written on your palm during a Spanish quiz. This was not the bad dream that would go away if she ignored it long enough.
“That’s one way to deal, I guess, unless, of course, you get yourself knocked up. Didn’t you make him use something? What were you thinking?” Jennifer was practically screaming into the phone.
Although she knew she should be more sensitive — it was too late for shoulda, coulda, woulda — Jennifer was so frustrated with her friend’s foolishness, and the fact that she had been left out of the loop for so long, that she wanted to strangle her. Scolding her would have to do, for now. Teen pregnancy was for girls in the life skills program, not a girl with a perfect GPA who spent her spare time trying to solve the twin prime conjecture.
“I thought he did. He said he did. It was dark. I couldn’t tell. Oh shit, I’m such an imbecile. What do I do now?”
Shutting her eyes tight, rocking back and forth as she gripped the phone in her suddenly sweaty hand, Grace prayed for a quick fix … or a painless death. She felt like she’d taken a long nap, and while she’d been sleeping, someone had ruined her life. Except that someone was herself, and this was no dream.
“Did you tell lover boy what happened? It’s
responsibility. He has to step up.” Jennifer was reeling, but she owed it to her friend to stay calm and help her figure out how to get through this. She made a silent vow to herself to stay a virgin until she was at least twenty, maybe thirty. No matter how great sex was supposed to feel, it couldn’t be worth feeling the way Grace sounded over the phone.
“Nick’s in Europe. When he took me home he said he was leaving the next day for a backpacking trip with his cousin, and he wasn’t coming back until Labor Day.”
On the one hand, Grace couldn’t wait to tell him that she was pregnant with his baby. Would he say it had been love at first sight and he couldn’t wait to marry her, take care of her? She floated off into fantasyland for a second, envisioning a bright future married to this budding professional athlete who looked like a model in a cologne ad. They would have a perfect child and a perfect life, just a little bit sooner than she had thought. But even as she daydreamed, she knew that wasn’t how things worked out on MTV, or in real life. And truthfully, she was so humiliated by the whole thing that she couldn’t imagine getting the words out if he was even around so that she could tell him, which was stupid, because what they’d done together in the back seat of his Jeep was way more embarrassing than talking about it, or at least it should have been.
“I hate to be the one to tell you, but either your babydaddy lied to you about his summer plans, or he has an evil twin, because I saw him out on the lake last weekend with a bunch of kids from school. Just because he looks like a movie star and all the girls want to jump him doesn’t mean he’s a good person — in fact, it’s usually just the opposite. The hotter a guy is, the more likely he’s going to be a total tool.” As much as Jennifer liked being right, she hated having to tell her best friend that she’d made the worst mistake of her life with a guy who was nothing more than an empty box wrapped in fancy paper and tied with a shiny ribbon — take away his beautiful packaging and the only things left would be six feet of hair gel and half a bottle of Armani cologne. “Not that I’m saying I told you so. Not that I’m saying if you’d told me what was going on from the very beginning I could’ve saved you from fucking everything up, big time.”
Unable to hold it in, Grace let loose a tidal wave of tears. In the back of her mind — well, really in the front of her mind — she knew that three dates with a boy didn’t make a relationship, but she had let herself get tangled up in his adorably messy hair that he was always brushing off his forehead, and lost in his eyes, which, when they looked at her, made her feel like anything but a math troll. And it had all just been a setup, she realized way too late, so that Nick could add another name to his “I did her” list.
She knew that Nick Salter was way out of her league in every respect: a jock, captain of both the soccer and lacrosse teams, and winner of the junior class hot body contest at the spring picnic. When he asked her out, she was at once flattered and baffled. Able to choose from an array of more suitable candidates from the diving team and the cheerleading squad, what could he possibly see in her? She was a perennial benchwarmer on the junior varsity tennis team, whose major accomplishments were in the arena of mathletes, not athletes. It was so beauty and the beast, and she was the beast.
At first Grace thought maybe Nick was playing a joke on her, like one of those movies where a bunch of cool guys bet that one of them can’t transform the class dweeb into a prom queen. But when he took her to the movies, he seemed genuinely interested in Grace as a person, just as she was, asking questions about her family and her future when she would have been perfectly content listening to him talk about himself, as long as she could stare at the perfect line of his jaw and the way he always looked like he almost — but not quite — needed a shave. On top of that, he had behaved like a gentleman, opening doors for her, ordering for her, never letting her pay for anything. Perhaps he was totally different from his public persona, and with her he could be his authentic, not-too-cool-for-school self. It had been too good to be true, and if she’d thought about it for more than a nanosecond she would have figured it out, but Grace had allowed herself to get caught up in the daydream.
Nick was a member of the high school elite, the ruling class in the microcosm of Silver Lake High School, and Grace, though not quite part of the peasant class, fell somewhere in the lower bourgeois rankings. Crossing class ranks happened rarely in friendship, and practically never in boy-girl relationships. It was an unwritten rule that the nobility didn’t go slumming and the lower classes didn’t try to raise their status by associating with those above them in the hierarchy. How could she forget the unbreakable laws of the high school jungle? How could she believe that the rules didn’t apply to her? It was pure arrogance, she realized, and she was being punished for it, in a really big way.
It wasn’t as if her features would turn people to stone if they looked at her. But they
probably offer her cookies and milk and ask her if she was lost. Sweet, freckled, innocent — definitely sneakers, not stilettos — appealing, but not exactly a guy magnet. Like someone’s squeaky-clean little sister, she could still get into the movies for the under-twelve price, and when she went out to eat with her parents, the hostess handed her a children’s menu and a box of crayons. What normal guy would be into that unless he was a burgeoning pedophile? That and the fact that she was scary smart placed her firmly on the geek side of the fence, and there were no geeks among Silver Lake royalty. But now she was questioning her intelligence. How could someone with a 2350 on the SAT end up naked in the back of some sleazebag’s car, seduced by a few well-chosen words whispered in her inexperienced ears? Book smarts and street smarts were clearly two very different things. Looking back, Grace would have gladly traded a couple of hundred points on the test for some good old-fashioned common sense.
“So what do I do now?” Grace stuttered through her tears, trying to catch her breath. Having spent the first four weeks of summer at a Habitat for Humanity build upstate and the last two weeks panicking about the little construction project that was likely going on inside her uterus, Grace had been completely unaware that Nick was on the same continent. So his story about Europe had been nothing more than a kiss-off. Did the fact that he took the trouble to make up a white lie mean he was more or less of an asshole? She couldn’t decide. Much too late, she realized that the fact that he hadn’t given her his cell number or friended her on Facebook meant she wasn’t even a footnote in his life. He had used her up, spit her out, and hadn’t wanted any reminders that she had ever existed. All the road signs had been there, complete with bright flashing lights, but she had been too blinded by the glare of his shiny white teeth to read them.